Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog
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#
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#
Friday 17 February 2012

The judge responsible for the case against the time zone database filed back in September issued an order yesterday demanding that the plaintiffs actually pursue the case. Under the Federal rules of civil procedure, the plaintiffs now have 21 days to show they've served the defendants, or the case will be dismissed.

I'm asking my attorney friends how common this kind of negligence is.

Friday 17 February 2012 13:44:46 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Astronomy#

Is anyone else just a little nervous that a man who could be the nominee of a major Western political party in the 21st Century appears like he came from the 17th? In 2008, Rick Santorum gave a speech to a little-known religious college in Florida that...well, here:

This is not a political war at all. This is not a cultural war. This is a spiritual war. And the Father of Lies has his sights on what you would think the Father of Lies would have his sights on: a good, decent, powerful, influential country - the United States of America. If you were Satan, who would you attack in this day and age. There is no one else to go after other than the United States and that has been the case now for almost two hundred years, once America's preeminence was sown by our great Founding Fathers.

... He was successful. He attacks all of us and he attacks all of our institutions. The place where he was, in my mind, the most successful and first successful was in academia. He understood pride of smart people. He attacked them at their weakest, that they were, in fact, smarter than everybody else and could come up with something new and different. Pursue new truths, deny the existence of truth, play with it because they're smart. And so academia, a long time ago, fell.

Combine that with his principal donor's idiot remarks and Darrel Issa's atrocious visual yesterday, and this looks like a party that wants to take us back to the '50s. The 1650s.

Friday 17 February 2012 13:03:33 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | US#
Thursday 16 February 2012

If you're driving in San Francisco, don't block the MUNI:

By early next year the city's entire fleet of 819 buses will be equipped with forward-facing cameras that take pictures of cars traveling or parked in the bus and transit-only lanes. A city employee then reviews the video to determine whether or not a violation has occurred — there are, of course, legitimate reasons a car might have to occupy a bus lane for a moment — and if so the fines range from $60 for moving vehicles to more than $100 for parked cars.

City officials consider the pilot program a success. "Schedule adherence" has improved, according to that update, as has general safety, since access to proper bus-stop curbs is impeded less often. In addition, the number of citations issued has risen over the past three years — from 1,311 in 2009 to 2,102 in 2010 and 3,052 last year, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

At the root of the problem is a disconnect between the automobile and transit worldviews, transit planner Jarrett Walker explains in his excellent new book, Human Transit. (More on this in the coming days.) While an empty bus lane is actually a functional bus lane, an empty car lane is a wasted car lane, so drivers are quick to capitalize on what they view as a transportation inefficiency.

That's pretty cool. In principle, I approve of automated parking enforcement, such as Chicago's street sweeper cameras, even though I've had to pay fines as a result. Fair enforcement is all right with me. (But don't get me started on how Chicago puts up street-sweeping signs the day before...)

Thursday 16 February 2012 15:06:17 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | Politics | San Francisco | Cool links#

Illinois State Climatologist Jim Angel predicts our unusual warmth will continue through May:

One of the key things to come into play is the status of La Niña in the Pacific Ocean. A La Niña event occurs when ocean temperatures are colder-than-normal along the eastern part of the Pacific Ocean basin. The associated ocean and atmospheric pattern tends to give us a wet spring in states along the Ohio River Valley. [The National Climate Prediction Center] states that “La Niña is likely to transition to ENSO-neutral conditions during March-May 2012.” That’s government-talk for saying that the La Niña event is fading fast and will be gone before the end of spring.

The outlook for March in Illinois calls for an increased chance of above-normal temperatures and above-normal precipitation. The outlook for March-May calls for an increased chance of above-normal temperatures throughout the state. However, it shows an increased chance of above-normal precipitation in the eastern half of the state while the western half has “equal chances” of above-, below-, near-normal precipitation.

And, of course, they have art (click for full size):

Thursday 16 February 2012 14:54:04 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | Weather#
Wednesday 15 February 2012

My schedule this week has been: SFO to ORD, sleep, client in Suburbistan, dinner with friend, sleep, work, and in a few minutes, ORD to MSP. If I have time at the hotel tonight—and I can remain conscious—I'll silence the critics.

Wednesday 15 February 2012 16:01:45 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink#
Monday 13 February 2012

The Illinois State Climatologist is wondering if 2011-12 qualifies:

The folks at the Chicago NWS office raised the following question. I would add to this that last winter Chicago O’Hare reported 1,470 mm of snow and 67 days with an inch or more of snow on the ground. This winter, through February 13, O’Hare reported 391 mm of snow and only 10 days with an inch or more of snow on the ground.

Plus, 78% of the days from December 1st until now have been above average, with more than half of those days almost 6°C above average. It's the 8th warmest winter in history, and the warmest since 1921.

There are still 15 days left in meteorological winter. We might actually move up in the ranks this year. We'll see.

Monday 13 February 2012 10:46:45 PST (UTC-08:00)  |  | Chicago | Weather#

Author Sam Harris likens our love of wood fires to other unshakable beliefs:

The case against burning wood is every bit as clear as the case against smoking cigarettes. Indeed, it is even clearer, because when you light a fire, you needlessly poison the air that everyone around you for miles must breathe. Even if you reject every intrusion of the “nanny state,” you should agree that the recreational burning of wood is unethical and should be illegal, especially in urban areas. By lighting a fire, you are creating pollution that you cannot dispose. It might be the clearest day of the year, but burn a sufficient quantity of wood and the air in the vicinity of your home will resemble a bad day in Beijing. ...

Most people I meet want to live in a world in which wood smoke is harmless. Indeed, they seem committed to living in such a world, regardless of the facts. To try to convince them that burning wood is harmful—and has always been so—is somehow offensive. The ritual of burning wood is simply too comforting and too familiar to be reconsidered, its consolation so ancient and ubiquitous that it has to be benign. The alternative—burning gas over fake logs—seems a sacrilege.

The entire essay is worth reading. And when you dig into it, given how few people have ever tried to annihilate their neighbors over wood smoke...well, you can see where Harris is going.

Sunday 12 February 2012 20:45:38 PST (UTC-08:00)  |  | Religion#
Sunday 12 February 2012

I've spent the morning working at the Peet's Coffee in Half Moon Bay, Calif.. For some reason, this location has blocked HTTP access to most Google addresses.

The most obvious symptom is that browser requests to Google, Youtube, and other Google properties (including GMail) simply don't go through. Chrome reports "connection reset" after timing out; IE simply spins into oblivion. Another symptom, which took me a few moments to figure out, is that sites that have Google Analytics bugs (like this one) sometimes, but not always, fail to load. Reading the page source shows that the entire page has loaded, but the browser doesn't render the page because part of it is being blocked.

Using nothing more sophisticated than Ping and Tracert, I've determined that the block occurs pretty close to my laptop, possibly even in the WiFi router or in Peet's proxy server. Pinging Google's public DNS service (8.8.8.8) works fine, as does making nslookup requests against it. But pinging www.google.com, www.youtu.be, and www.gmail.com all fail. Tracerts to these URLs and directly to their public IPs also fail at the very first hop.

Google IPs appear to start with 74.125.x.y. Tracert to 8.8.4.4 passes through 74.125.49.85 a few hops away; www.google.com resolves to 74.125.224.84; etc. However, reverse DNS lookups show something slightly different. 8.8.4.4 resolves back to google-public-dns-b.google.com; however, 74.125.224.84 resolves back to nuq04s07-in-f20.1e100.com. 74.125.224.69 (www.youtu.be) resolves back to another 1e100.com address.

All other sites appear to work fine, with decent (megabit-speed) throughput.

So, the mystery is: who has blocked Google from this Peet's store, and why? I have sent Peet's a request for comment.

Sunday 12 February 2012 11:54:07 PST (UTC-08:00)  |  | Security#

There are a few examples of public transportation in the world that double as fun things for tourists over and above their practical uses for commuters. The Chicago El's Loop section, for example, or New York's Roosevelt Island Tramway.

In San Francisco, tourists mob the cable cars, pushing regular commuters aside, and removing them from this category. Same, to some extent, with the Muni F-line streetcars. but near the convergence of the F and California St. Cable Car is the Ferry Terminal Building, which, despite its transformation in the last 20 years into an urban market, actually has ferries. I took one of them yesterday.

I had to get from the city to Sausalito. The Sausalito Ferry is, it turns out, the best way to do that. The $4.85* fare not only gets you to Sausalito, but it also gives you this view:

The whole trip is like that. In fairness to the city, it wasn't as gloomy as it appears in the photo; I just caught it at a particularly dramatic moment.

Upon disembarking in Sausalito, however, this sign greeted me:

I have no idea what that means, especially since without cholesterol, animals die. But, hey, it's California, and no one from the Sausalito Police came to steal my cholesterol.

----

* It's $4.85 if you have a Clipper Card. Otherwise it's $9. If you regularly travel to a particular city, I recommend getting a transit card.

Sunday 12 February 2012 08:27:50 PST (UTC-08:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink | San Francisco#
Saturday 11 February 2012

Krugman adds his voice to the chorus slamming Charles Murray's new book positing that declining morals are responsible for white, working-class problems. Bull:

Mr. Murray and other conservatives often seem to assume that the decline of the traditional family has terrible implications for society as a whole. This is, of course, a longstanding position. Reading Mr. Murray, I found myself thinking about an earlier diatribe, Gertrude Himmelfarb’s 1996 book, “The De-Moralization of Society: From Victorian Virtues to Modern Values,” which covered much of the same ground, claimed that our society was unraveling and predicted further unraveling as the Victorian virtues continued to erode.

Yet the truth is that some indicators of social dysfunction have improved dramatically even as traditional families continue to lose ground. ...

Still, something is clearly happening to the traditional working-class family. The question is what. And it is, frankly, amazing how quickly and blithely conservatives dismiss the seemingly obvious answer: A drastic reduction in the work opportunities available to less-educated men.

This is obvious, which means the right has to change the conversation to something else. They do post hoc ergo propter hoc better than anyone in history, so it's almost a children's game for them to shift the blame for people's anger from rich white guys to poor white guys. And if you dig a little deeper, it turns out the things the right blames on the poor aren't actually there.

Shorter Republican: "Barack Obama is to blame for the monster under your child's bed!"

Do they even believe themselves any more? (Side note: this is the question Paul Suderman at reason.com raises about Romney.)

Saturday 11 February 2012 09:45:37 PST (UTC-08:00)  |  | US#

I'm back in San Francisco for a couple of days, narrowly escaping Chicago's lake-effect nightmare yesterday. I enjoyed walking around without a coat last night, until the rain started. (Did you know it rains here in February? Yes? You're ahead of me, then.) A friend and I wanted to check out a bar over by Civic Center, Smuggler's Cove, which I might Yelp later today. I must say, waiting outside in the rain for 35 minutes to go into a bar has lost its appeal for me over the years. Fortunately, the bodega right on the corner had umbrellas. This, by the way, is why I love San Francisco and New York: you can get what you need with a minimum of fuss.

Today will see me ferrying across the bay for lunch in Sausalito, then heading down to the Ps. Apparently there are ribs in the future for me. I might skip food at lunch, just in case.

Saturday 11 February 2012 09:31:57 PST (UTC-08:00)  |  | San Francisco#

Earlier I mentioned how technology makes aviation easier. Now here's how it makes aviation cooler: For the first time in Daily Parker history, I'm writing about a flight in real time.

I am approximately here:

FlightAware adds the third dimension, putting me at FL360.

Of course, I have actual work to do, which is really why I bought Internet access for this flight. I still think this is incredibly cool.

(For the record, my flight didn't leave on time, but it did leave. At takeoff, O'Hare conditions were 1600 m visibility with 400 m indefinite ceiling, blowing snow, and 48 km/h wind gusts. Had my plane not gotten to O'Hare when it did, it might still be holding over Janesville. Also for the record, the picture above shows my location when I started this post; the little globe icon below right will show you where I was when I posted it.)

Friday 10 February 2012 18:22:01 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Aviation | Cool links#
Friday 10 February 2012

Via James Fallows, here is the FlightAware track (and the KML) for yesterday's Boeing 787 test flight:

That. Is. Cool.

Friday 10 February 2012 15:56:31 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Aviation | Cool links#

I remember traveling in the 1970s and 1980s, when no one could reliably answer this question until the plane actually left the runway. But today I'm at O'Hare while snow is falling, and it looks like my flight will in fact take off on time despite the snow and the lengthening list of delayed flights on the arrivals board.

How do I know?

First stop is the American Airlines website. Their flight status tool says my plane departs on time from gate K5. And the page has a link to "arriving flight information," which tells me that the plane I'm on will land in 10 minutes.

Oh, really? Yes, really, as Flight Aware's real-time tracker shows me. At this moment, the airplane taking me to San Francisco is heading straight for the O'Hare VOR about 70 km away. (It's over Joliet—no, wait, now it's over Naperville!)

The airline has done it right. By providing real-time information, they're putting me at ease. Even if the incoming plane were circling over Springfield, that would still help me by letting me plan how long I can sit here working before I have to schlepp to the gate.

Update: In the time it took to write this entry, my plane has arrived, and I can see it taxiing towards me right now. I am not making this up. That's not my plane, by the way. That's a plane being de-iced, to show you why I might be a little on edge about my actual departure time today.

Friday 10 February 2012 15:39:32 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Aviation | Chicago | San Francisco | Cool links#
Thursday 9 February 2012

That's the gist of an article in this month's Atlantic, profiling the work of biologist Jaroslav Flegr:

[I]f Flegr is right, the “latent” [Toxoplasma gondii] parasite may be quietly tweaking the connections between our neurons, changing our response to frightening situations, our trust in others, how outgoing we are, and even our preference for certain scents. And that’s not all. He also believes that the organism contributes to car crashes, suicides, and mental disorders such as schizophrenia. When you add up all the different ways it can harm us, says Flegr, “Toxoplasma might even kill as many people as malaria, or at least a million people a year.”

Flegr was especially surprised to learn, though, that the protozoan appeared to cause many sex-specific changes in personality. Compared with uninfected men, males who had the parasite were more introverted, suspicious, oblivious to other people’s opinions of them, and inclined to disregard rules. Infected women, on the other hand, presented in exactly the opposite way: they were more outgoing, trusting, image-conscious, and rule-abiding than uninfected women.

The idea that parasites affect our behavior is relatively new, but gaining ground. And T. gondii may not be the only one that affects human behavior. This is a bit of science to watch.

Thursday 9 February 2012 13:29:22 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink#

Zack Beauchamp, writing on Andrew Sullivan's blog, has a well-argued explanation of how the Obama administration is not threatening the religious freedom of the Catholic Church by enforcing regulations on health insurance coverage:

Allowing "conscience" exemptions whenever an employer doesn't feel morally clean when complying with regulations in principle neuters all regulation. The argument for allowing Catholic hospitals a pass on covering birth control has to rest or fall on the specifics of the case rather than a general commitment to protecting "voluntary communities."

This is where the case against the Administration's ruling is at its weakest. Birth control is for 98% of women the principal means of protecting a right central to their own liberty - the right to choose when to create a family. Chances are most women employed by Catholic universities and hospitals are part of the 98%. For these women, not having access to birth control renders a crucially important right meaningless.

I'm fine with religious freedom. I am not fine with religious organizations taking public money, and then claiming special conditions on how they'll accept it.

Wednesday 8 February 2012 21:48:46 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | US | Religion#
Wednesday 8 February 2012

Maldives, an archipelago of 400,000 people with less than twice the area of Washington, D.C., has overthrown its government:

The ex-president of the Maldives said on Wednesday that he was forced to resign at gunpoint, despite earlier claims by the Indian Ocean resort islands' new leader that there had been no coup.

"Yes, I was forced to resign at gunpoint," Mohamed Nasheed told reporters after his party meeting a day after his resignation. "There were guns all around me and they told me they wouldn't hesitate to use them if I didn't resign.

The Maldives, one of the world's most high-profile luxury tourist destinations, installed Mohamed Waheed Hassan as president on Tuesday after the man credited with bringing democracy to the islands resigned, apparently under military pressure following a police mutiny. It was not immediately clear who was holding the guns.

The U.S. State Department, usually right on top of these things, has not yet issued a travel warning; however, the British Foreign Office has advised against travel to the capital, Male.

Wednesday 8 February 2012 14:31:54 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | World#

None of the lower 48 had their warmest January ever (Illinois had its 6th warmest), but according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, January averaged out to be the 4th-warmest ever:

The average contiguous U.S. temperature in January was 2.4°C, 3.0°C above the 1901-2000 long-term average -- the fourth warmest January on record, and the warmest since 2006. Precipitation, averaged across the nation, was 46.9 mm. This was 9.4 mm below the long-term average, with variability between regions.

In contrast to the contiguous United States being much warmer than average, several towns across Alaska had their coldest average January temperatures on record -- Nome (-27.0°C), Bethel (-27.4°C) McGrath (-33.6°C), and Bettles (-37.6°C).

And none of the four Republican front-runners acknowledges anthropomorphic climate change theory...

Wednesday 8 February 2012 07:38:51 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | US | Weather#
Tuesday 7 February 2012

Earlier today, Komen's head of public policy, Karen Handel, resigned from the organization, mischaracterizing her opponents as having mischaracterized her:

Karen Handel, the charity's vice president for public policy, told Komen officials that she supported the move to cut off funding for Planned Parenthood. She said the discussion started before she arrived at the organization and was approved at the highest levels of the charity.

"I am deeply disappointed by the gross mischaracterizations of the strategy, its rationale, and my involvement in it," Handel said in her letter. "I openly acknowledge my role in the matter and continue to believe our decision was the best one for Komen's future and the women we serve."

A source with direct knowledge of decision-making at Komen's headquarters in Dallas said the grant-making criteria were adopted with the deliberate intention of targeting Planned Parenthood. The criteria's impact on Planned Parenthood and its status as the focus of government investigations were highlighted in a memo distributed to Komen affiliates in December.

According to the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of repercussions, a driving force behind the move was Handel, who was hired by Komen last year as vice president for public policy after losing a campaign for governor in Georgia in which she stressed her anti-abortion views and frequently denounced Planned Parenthood.

Shorter version: Karen Handel is lying. But so are other people at Komen, who either can't see, don't understand, or don't care about the damage they've done to the organization by bringing naked politics into it. Then again, criticisms of Komen's politics and methods go back many, many years; their troubles this week may be less "implosion" and more "straw on the camel's back."

Meanwhile, on the other side of the country, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled today that Proposition 8 is unconstitutional. Writing for the court, Circuit Judge Stephen Reinhardt said,

Proposition 8 serves no purpose, and has no effect, other than to lessen the status and human dignity of gays and lesbians in California.... The Constitution simply does not allow for "laws of this sort."

More analysis later. For now, lots of people are wondering whether the law remains in force pending appeal, whether the Supreme Court will hear the case, and whether the bigots in California will lose now or in five years.

Tuesday 7 February 2012 13:39:36 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | US#

A man accused of rape in Alabama got into an online argument with the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office on the office's Facebook page:

U.S. Marshals took Dustin McCombs into custody today in Ohio, said Chief Deputy Randy Christian.

The U.S. Marshal's Gulf Coast Regional Task for in Birmingham shared information with their counterparts in Ohio who tracked down the fugitive.

McComb's was featured on the Jefferson County Sheriff Department's Facebook page as its "Creep of the Week" because of an outstanding forcible rape charge.

McCombs apparently decided that was a challenge, taking up a posting duel with the department on Facebook, according to the website Gizmodo.

Of course, McCombs has not been convicted of the crime that led to his arrest warrant, but wow is he stupid. The entire exchange is still available on Failbook, and worth a look. So is the sheriff's Facebook page, which seems like an effective use of social media by government.

Tuesday 7 February 2012 08:10:16 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | US | Security#
Monday 6 February 2012

Writer Matt Glassman wrestles with why Bradshaw didn't take a knee on the 1 in yesterday's game:

League wide, 99.4% of extra points were made this year. The Giants were 45 for 45. You think Brady has less than a 0.6% chance of leading a TD drive with a minute and two timeouts? Not a chance. According to the NFL win probability stat, the Pats had a 4% chance to win when they got the ball back. And they only had 1 timeout as it turned out. And win probability doesn’t take into account the individual team, or whether or not you have Tom Brady. Here’s the thing: football is a zero-sum game. If Belichek was correct to let the Giants score, then by definition the Giants were wrong to get into the end zone there. By the above math, the Giants gave the Pats a 24-1 chance to win, when they could have made it roughly a 199-1 chance. That’s right: by getting in the end zone, the Giants increased their chance of losing eightfold.

He goes on to outline how it was the wrong choice by the numbers, but probably the better choice for the individuals involved. Good stuff.

Monday 6 February 2012 13:02:08 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink#
Sunday 5 February 2012

The Superbowl starts in a little over an hour, with weather in Indianapolis no one expected: clear skies and 9°C. In Chicago it's just a smidge cooler, but still a beautiful afternoon for February. Or for March, for that matter.

Parker gets one more walk before the game. Go Giants! (For why, see Robert Wright's decision tree on the subject.)

Sunday 5 February 2012 16:21:34 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | Kitchen Sink | Weather#

Erin Ryan at Jezebel put together a brief outline of the Susan Komen Race for the Cure public relations disaster over the past week:

We reported that the timing of Planned Parenthood's defunding seemed oddly coincidental, seeing as less than a year ago, Komen appointed a woman named Karen Handel to serve as the charity's Senior Vice President of Public Policy. Handel had run unsuccessful for governor of Georgia in 2010 on an anti-choice platform that cited as one of its central tenets the necessity of defunding Planned Parenthood. Could the defunding of Planned Parenthood have been a political move forced by external anti-choice voices as well as Komen's own personnel?

On Thursday, Joseph Goldberg at The Atlantic reported that according to sources inside Komen, Karen Handel was indeed behind the curiously recent "rule change" that led to Planned Parenthood's defunding, and that when the rule was put on the books in December, it upset one high-level Komen employee so much that she resigned in protest.

People's initial reaction—Komen bowed to pro-life pressure—has given way to the uncomfortable realization that Komen was the pro-life pressure. It's sad, really. But Komen isn't the only organization fighting breast cancer. New Jersey reporter Kathleen O'Brien came up with three local alternatives (who don't have prominent Republicans as CEOs) in just a few minutes: The Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation, Friend 2 Friend/Sussex County (N.J.) Women's Forum, and Operation Bling.

As one commenter at Jezebel wrote, "In all honesty, I'm sort of weirdly glad that all this happened, because finally I won't have people being all "WHY DO YOU HATE THIS CHARITY OBVIOUSLY YOU LOVE BREAST CANCER YOU HEARTLESS WITCH" whenever I state that I think Susan G. Komen is a bloated money-making machine that's focused more on selling pink crap and creating this simultaneously sanitized and sexualized image of breast cancer than actually helping women."

Harsh, perhaps, but Komen's complete mishandling of this event, orchestrated in part by former George W. Bush Press Secretary Ari Fleischer, of all people, may have politicized the organization into irrelevance. Let's see what happens to pink ribbons over the next few months.

Sunday 5 February 2012 09:29:00 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | US#
Saturday 4 February 2012

The international airline consortium oneworld, which includes American Airlines and British Airways, this week lost one member and had an applicant postpone membership. On Thursday, Hungarian flag carrier Malév suspended operations:

Malev, the state-owned Hungarian airline, ceased flying with debts of €205 million after the government withdrew financing. The airline, which was placed under bankruptcy protection earlier this week, stopped operating all fights at 06.00 this morning.

Ryanair today announced that it will base four new Boeing 737-800 series aircraft at Budapest Airport commencing on Friday 17th February and open 31 new routes, “subject to reaching final agreement with Budapest Airport today on costs, facilities and handling”.

Then, Kingfisher Airlines said it needs more time to get its financial house in order before joining the alliance:

oneworld CEO Bruce Ashby said: "These are turbulent times for the airline industry in India and many other parts of the world. We have been working closely with Kingfisher Airlines over the past months and it has become increasingly clear recently that the airline needs more time to resolve the financial issues it is confronting before it can be welcomed into oneworld.

"We wish it well during this process and will work with Kingfisher Airlines with the aim of setting a new joining date once it is through this current period of turbulence."

In good news, however, Air Berlin will join the alliance on March 20th, and has jumped in to help mitigate the Malév collapse.

Saturday 4 February 2012 12:19:41 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Aviation#
Thursday 2 February 2012

Sure, I've posted photos of the moon before, but it never gets old to me:

Well, all right, at 4½ billion years it is old to me, but you know what I meant.

On a side note, I just Googled "age of the moon" and discovered that many of the top results are from outside the reality-based community. For example, the second item on my results came from the Institute for Creation Research ("Biblical. Accurate. Certain."), in which one Thomas G. Barnes, D.Sc., begins with the assertion: "It takes but one proof of a young age for the moon or the earth to completely refute the doctrine of evolution." If you're a science teacher, you might want to have a look at this article, because it could be a great way to introduce kids to the meanings of theory, hypothesis, and fallacy.

And could someone please tell me what the credential "D.Sc." purports to be?

Thursday 2 February 2012 08:59:22 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | US | Religion | Astronomy#
Wednesday 1 February 2012

The thing I like most about February: at the end of it, Chicago has an hour and a quarter more daylight than at the beginning of it. Today we have 10 hours of daylight, the most since November 10th, and on the 29th we have 11 hours and 14 minutes.

I notice this every year around now, just as I forget every year how grim December can be.

Wednesday 1 February 2012 16:50:22 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | Astronomy#

With yesterday's temperatures more like April than January, Chicago magazine's explanation of it is timely:

So what is going on? It's the warmest La Niña on record. That brings the global temperature down, but causes different effects in different places. Chicago is going through a near-record warm spell—strong La Niñas correlate with above average temperatures, like the 18°C we hit in 1989 when the mean January max was 11°C, 2°C higher than this month's mean. Meanwhile, Alaska and northern Europe are suffering through deadly cold snaps.

This came to me through the WGN weather blog, which in the same story points out that groundhogs are less accurate than random chance at predicting the weather. Just a heads-up for tomorrow.

Wednesday 1 February 2012 13:09:36 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | 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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