Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog
Sunday 29 April 2012

Washington Post columnist Steven Pearlstein yesterday expanded on how American Airlines' unions bested management by dealing directly with US Airways:

Bankruptcy has changed [the unions' bargaining strengths]. Suddenly, airline executives discovered a way to unilaterally abrogate their labor agreements, fire thousands of employees and impose less generous pay and more flexible work rules. Indeed, the technique proved so effective that several airlines went through the process several times. The unions’ strike threat was effectively neutralized.

All of which makes what is happening at American Airlines deliciously ironic. Late last year, American finally decided to join the rest of the industry and make its first pass through the bankruptcy reorganization process after failing to reach agreement on a new concessionary contract with its pilots’ union.

Essentially, US Airways agreed to pay all of its pilots — the American pilots as well as its own — the higher American Airlines wages, along with small annual raises. In return, the union accepted less lavish medical and retirement benefits along with adoption of US Airways work rules that have been rationalized during two trips through the bankruptcy process. In the end, what probably sealed the deal was the US Airways promise of no layoffs.

He concludes:

For years now, Corporate America has viewed the bankruptcy court as a blunt instrument by which failed executives and directors can shift the burden of their mistakes onto shareholders, employees and suppliers. The auto industry bailout orchestrated by the Obama administration posed the first challenge to that assumption. Now the unions at American airlines have taken another step in curbing this flagrant corporate abuse and restoring the rule of law.

The more I think about the two airlines merging, the more excited I get about the deal. The unions and creditors (not to mention the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corp.) are right: a strong airline with competent management is good for everyone, including us customers.

Sunday 29 April 2012 12:02:38 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation | US#

The Tribune has a graphic this morning pointing out a number of things about our lack of snow this past winter. It turns out, the snowfall on March 4th was the earliest last snowfall. That is, in the rest of recorded history (back to 1884), we've always gotten snow later than March 4th. Until this year.

Our entire season gave us only 11 days with 25 mm or more of snow on the ground (normal is 43); it was one of only 10 seasons (out of 128) with less than 500 mm of snowfall total (normal is 932 mm); and it's the second-shortest interval from first to last snowfall ever, at 117 days (normal is 174).

Of course, snow has fallen in 40 Mays of the 128 in history...so this could all be completely wrong. We've even gotten snow in June (on 2 June 1910). But it looks for now like we can add one more quantification to our wonderfully mild winter.

Sunday 29 April 2012 09:34:31 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Weather#
Friday 27 April 2012

New video from the Obama campaign, featuring one of the dumbest things Mitt Romney ever said:

Friday 27 April 2012 12:01:33 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US#
Thursday 26 April 2012

He lasted less than four weeks as office dog.

Workplace tip: when you greet the boss first thing in the morning, do not immediately thereafter poop on his carpet.

Thursday 26 April 2012 17:32:44 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Parker#
Wednesday 25 April 2012

Oh yeah.

Wednesday 25 April 2012 12:55:02 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US#

Despite the rise of right-leaning economics ideology, reality stubbornly retains its liberal bias, with further evidence today coming from the latest UK economic figures:

The UK economy has returned to recession, after shrinking by 0.2% in the first three months of 2012.

A sharp fall in construction output was behind the surprise contraction, the Office for National Statistics said.

"The huge cuts to public spending - 25% in public sector housing and 24% in public non-housing and with a further 10% cuts to both anticipated for 2013 - have left a hole too big for other sectors to fill," said Judy Lowe, deputy chairman of industry body CITB-ConstructionSkills, said.

Or, as Krugman points out, the Conservative's austerity measures have worked no better in the UK than anywhere else in the world:

Now Britain is officially in double-dip recession, and has achieved the remarkable feat of doing worse this time around than it did in the 1930s.

Now, the defense I hear from Cameron apologists is that the austerity mostly hasn’t even hit yet. But that’s really not much of a defense. Remember, the austerity was supposed to work by inspiring confidence; where’s the confidence? Basically, the expansionary aspect should already have kicked in; it’s all contraction from here.

Needless to say, Cameron and Osborne insist that they will not change course, which means that Britain will continue on a death spiral of self-defeating austerity.

It's amazing, really, how Keynes looked back at the Great Depression and learned something, which the right have forgotten for ideological reasons. It's simple: the way out of a recession is for governments to borrow money to get people back to work. This causes growth. The government can then pay back the money when revenues rise because of that growth. Right now, with real interest rates around –4% (yes, minus four), people will actually pay the US government to lend it money. The UK is in a similar situation.

So: the way for the West to get out of the recession is pretty clear, and today's UK GDP growth numbers confirm it. But politicians in most of the world don't believe the facts before them yet. And the recession drags on.

Wednesday 25 April 2012 10:54:27 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US | World#
Tuesday 24 April 2012

MLB logoThe 30-park geas continues apace.

Tuesday 24 April 2012 15:00:10 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Baseball | Cubs#

At least this year, in Illinois, where the average temperature is actually below March's—and it's still above normal:

The statewide average temperature for April 1-22 is 12.3°C. The statewide average temperature for March was 12.8°C, based on the latest numbers from NOAA. That means that April was almost a degree [Fahrenheit] cooler than March. What makes this even more freaky is that the April temperatures are still 1.9°C above normal!

BTW, the statewide normal monthly temperature is 4.8°C for March and 10.9°C for April, a ten degree [Fahrenheit] rise.

State Climatologist Jim Angel concludes by pointing out that we've only had one April in recorded history that was cooler than March, back in 1907. (Recorded history goes back to 1895.)

Tuesday 24 April 2012 11:21:35 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Weather#
Monday 23 April 2012

Over the weekend it came out that US Airways had started discussions with pilots, mechanics, and flight attendants at rival American Airlines. The unions are encouraging the companies to merge:

The first thing to know is that this doesn't mean that the two airlines are merging—it's a step towards a merger, but a deal is far from certain. AA, for its part, has said that it wants to emerge from bankruptcy as an independent airline. But industry analysts have long discounted that as an unrealistic goal—as separate airlines, US Airways and American would probably find it increasingly difficult to compete with the combined United-Continental (now United) and Delta-Northwest (now Delta) juggernauts.

The letter from the head of US Airways, Doug Parker, to his employees, which the airline filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission on Friday, is a fairly lucid explanation of the situation. US Airways has reached deals with the AA units of the Transport Workers Union (mechanics, maintenance workers, ground crews and so on), the Association of Professional Flight Attendants and the Allied Pilots Association. AA's current plan includes cutting north of 13,000 jobs; US Airways' plan would save "at least 6,200" of those jobs, according to Mr Parker.

If the airlines do merge—which seems likelier by the day—it would probably retain American Airlines' name and Dallas headquarters, but with new management from US Airways. It would also probably retain its Chicago, Miami, Charlotte, and Phoenix hubs, though it's not clear what would happen to secondary hubs like Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Brussels. Regulators would insist that the new airline stay in the oneworld alliance, and customers, like me, would insist that the two frequent-flyer programs merge without loss of value.

The fact remains: American has to merge with someone, and US Airways is an obvious fit. This action by American's union is like the kids saying they like their single parent's new paramour: it has no real persuasive force other than to mean the marriage will go more smoothly.

Update: The Dallas CBS affiliate is suggesting what the new airline would look like.

Monday 23 April 2012 12:17:48 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation#

I had meant to make a note of my 3,000th blog posting, but I completely forgot it was coming. So, after 2,353 days (and 24 minutes), three house moves, a few significant personal events, and Parker's entire life, The Daily Parker is still going strong.

At the historical posting rate for the blog (1.28 per day), I'll hit 6,000 entries in September 2018 and 10,000 entries by April 2027. (For the last two years, though, I've posted about 1.5 per day, so you could see 10,000 as early as April 2025.) Stick around.

And thanks for reading.

Monday 23 April 2012 11:23:50 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink | Blogs#
Sunday 22 April 2012

I had a visceral, negative reaction to Marlins Ballpark, which I have tried to figure out since Thursday's game. Going to Tropicana Field the next evening, and driving through Florida for six hours or so from Miami to Tampa Bay to Orlando, gave me some perspective.

According to my camera, Marlins Ballpark's playing field had a full stop more light than Tropicana's. That means the playing field in Miami had twice as much light falling on it as the field in St. Petersburg. Yet Miami's stadium seemed darker and more like a night game. Here's the outfield, with the dark roof and the wall of windows to its east:

And here, again, is Tropicana Field:

The darker stands had, I think, a subduing effect on the crowd. The Rays game had 18,700 fans in a 37,000-seat stadium; the Marlins pulled 23,000 into about the same number of seats. Yet Miami seemed emptier, quieter, less engaged. (Maybe Miami fans need cowbells?)

One more difference: Marlins Ballpark seemed to have no roving vendors. No one sold peanuts, beer, or those "We're Number 1" foam hand things. At Tropicana Field, you could hear these guys all over the park, many of them with, shall I say, distinctive ways of getting attention.

Marlins Ballpark, the newest and possibly most expensive ballpark in Major League Baseball, ranks bottom on my list, below even O.Co Coliseum in Oakland and Sox Park here in Chicago. Like Marlins Ballpark, O.Co gets low marks also because of its architecture: from the razor-wire-covered gangways to Mount Davis, it's an ugly, purely-functional park, redeemed only by the A's fans. (Sox Park has the Chicago White Sox; 'nuff said.) Keep in mind, I still have 10 left to visit before I can be certain—but I don't think any of the remaining 10 will feel so unlike Wrigley that I never would want to return. I mean, I had a great time at the Oakland game, so I might go back; but a free World Series ticket to Marlins Park? Not unless the Cubs were playing.

Sunday 22 April 2012 09:21:52 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Baseball#

Home, finally, after a pretty relaxing day of traveling and reading, with some help from American Airlines getting me home four hours earlier than expected. I hadn't planned to post tonight, but then I heard about this:

That's the 21st time in Major League history:

It was baseball's 21st perfect game and first since Philadelphia's Roy Halladay threw one against the Florida Marlins on May 29, 2010. It was the third in White Sox's history, joining Mark Buehrle against Tampa Bay on July 23, 2009, and Charles Robertson against Detroit on April 30, 1922.

Nice work, Mr. Humber. Nice work.

Saturday 21 April 2012 21:24:30 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Baseball#
Saturday 21 April 2012

Poor Tropicana Field. It's the last of the old domed multi-use parks. It opened in 1990, just two years before Oriole Park at Camden Yards, the park that brought back classic baseball architecture.

Despite my complaints about the pretty-but-sterile "Baseball Experience" at Marlins Park, I do understand the need for roofs in places where it gets hot and rainy. I actually like Miller Park quite a bit, and mostly I like Enron Field Minute-Maid Park. They feel like baseball parks.

Tropicana Field tries so hard but has so much to overcome. Its façade, for starters:

Inside, it has some really good concessions (two thumbs up for Everglades BBQ and their pulled pork sandwich), good seating (enhanced by having only 18,900 people show up to the game), some fun fans (more cowbell! more cowbell!), and a baseball team who seem to enjoy being there. The roof is kind of cool, too:

I mean, I wouldn't necessarily want to be on the field during a hurricane, but it does keep the rain and heat out.

It's clear to me, after visiting 21 parks, that the era between the last jewel-box park in the 1940s and Camden Yards in 1992 produced some of the unhappiest places on earth. Let me turn it around: I am very happy that baseball architects have, for 20 years, built enjoyable parks that still evoke the best parts about going to a game. This summer I plan to go to Petco Park and, possibly, Citi Field. Oh, and Wrigley, of course.

Which reminds me: yesterday was the 100th anniversary of Fenway Park's opening. Wrigley's century is two years from now. Possibly one of the teams will make the post-season by then.

Saturday 21 April 2012 09:53:09 EDT (UTC-04:00)  |  | Baseball#

I'm pooped, so I'll just post the Obligatory Field Photo from my (inexpensive and very good front-row upper-deck) seat:

More photos and some stuff about the longest, straightest road I've ever driven, when our program continues...

Friday 20 April 2012 23:24:53 EDT (UTC-04:00)  |  | Baseball#
Thursday 19 April 2012

What a surprising phenomenon.

Miami has constructed the—well, let's not pussyfoot here—newest baseball park in the country, and somehow has created the most boring venue in history for watching a baseball game ever devised.

In fairness, I went to the park expecting the Marlins to win, for the simple reason that my Cubs suck like a Dyson this year. (No, really, I mean more than usual.) The Cubs did not disappoint, leaving forty men on and losing 127 to 3. I feel confident that we'll go all the way to 160 games this year, and possibly next year, though I'm skeptical of the Cubs getting into the post-season during Parker's lifetime. Or mine.

I digress. I was excited to go to the newest of baseball's jewels, and to see what $515m buys a club these days. I was...underwhelmed. And then I got antsy. And then I decided that $515m buys a baseball park so devoid of anything resembling baseball that it's best described as a "Baseball Experience" at some theme park in a place where no child has ever held a bat or a ball.

By the third inning, I hit upon the one thing that, more than any other, explained my discomfort and disappointment. There are no shadows. Not on the field, the players, the stands, on nothing. Everything looked flat and sterile. It was like being locked in a warehouse on the first spring day of the year, knowing that life was brighter and more real outside, but unable to join it until the sadness in front of you finished.

Outside, it was 25°C and sunny. Inside, it was 23°C and...inside. No breezes, no shadows, no connection to the rest of the world. Inside Marlins Park I experienced Entertainment, not a baseball game. (I spoke to a press agent at the park who confirmed that they closed retractable roof about an hour before game time, because they worried about the heat. The heat. In Chicago we cry for joy when we have a game day this beautiful; in Miami, they close the roof.)

Apparently I'm not the only one who thought so, judging by my section around the 5th inning:

I'm not satirizing here. This was the 7th game ever in this park, and barely 3/4 of the seats had asses in them. And do you know why? (I'm addressing you, Mr. Loria.) Because it wasn't baseball. It was indistinguishable from any other corporate-designed, corporate-managed Experience that attempts to distill something down to its marketable components and misses entirely the reason that people enjoy it. People who like Marlins Park will probably Olive Garden, the Twlight books, and Mitt Romney: facsimiles all. But none of them real.*

I mean, would Wrigley Field ever stoop to this?

All right, I concede, Ricketts might hire cheerleaders, but they'd be real cheerleaders, dammit.

I will close with this, the view from my seat, which the park designers got right. Every seat in the park, I am certain, had a good view (which we know is not the case at Wrigley). But after tomorrow's game, I'm going to rank-order the 20 parks I will have seen, and I suspect Marlins Ballpark might come out poorly.

* And also not worth $40 for the ticket and $10 for each beer. Not to mention, for the love of dog, can you at least have more than four awful beers on tap? Heineken, Corona Light, Bud Light, and Miller Light qualify, collectively, as 1.25 beers—and Heineken is 0.8 beers on its own. Is there a single brewery in Florida? Dang.

Thursday 19 April 2012 19:23:23 EDT (UTC-04:00)  |  | Baseball | Cubs#
Wednesday 18 April 2012

The retiring congressman sat down with New York magazine in February:

The main reason for the increase in partisanship is Newt Gingrich and the success of his decision to demonize the opposition as a way to win. That was reinforced by the right-wing takeover of the Republican Party, And finally, modern communications. Twenty years ago, people had a common set of facts that they read. They read opinion journalists, but they got their information generally from newspapers and from broadcasts. Now the activists, left and right, live in parallel universes which are both separate and echo chambers for each. If you’re on the left, you listen to MSNBC, you go to the blogs, Huffington Post, etc., and others, and you basically hear only what you agree with. If you’re on the right, you watch Fox News and the talk shows and you hear only what you agree with. That’s greatly intensified it. You know, it’s the primaries: People who want to be moderate lose. And when we try to compromise, what you find is not people simply objecting to the specific terms of the compromise but the activists object even to your trying to compromise, because they say, “Look, everybody I know agrees with us, so why are you giving in?”

Mike Oxley was chairman of that committee in 2003 until 2007. I was able to work with him. When I was the ranking member and he was the chairman, and even the chairman before that—so I was able to work with the Republicans from ’95, when they first took power, through 2007, when I became the chairman. I was able to work with Jim Leach and Mike Oxley on a lot of things, so I’d say that’s when things really changed.

When we took power, they moved very far to the right, and from the time I became chairman in 2007, it became virtually impossible to work with them. Spencer Bachus, who was the senior Republican, tried to work with me, and he almost lost his position because of it. When 2007 came, they really imposed this rigid discipline, so from 2007 on, as chairman, I was an institutionalist, but I spent almost all of my time making sure I had a majority. As I said, in 2007 and 2008, and 2009 and 2010—well, in 2009, we were doing the financial-reform bill, there were 71 members of the committee, 42 Democrats and 29 Republicans, and as I said, the last thing I thought of every night when I went to sleep was 36. Thirty-six is one more than half of 71, and I just had to keep 36 Democrats, always Democrats, never once did I have a Republican in my four years as chairman who was critical to a majority.

He's forthright and lucid. And he's firmly in the reality-based community. He will be missed.

Wednesday 18 April 2012 15:53:29 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US#

The word we would use in programming to describe this situation is: "FFFUUUUUUUUU—":

Someone parked by Braille. Someone has grey paint on his bumper. Someone is my sworn enemy.

Wednesday 18 April 2012 10:52:46 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink#

Via Gulliver, one of the pilots on a Toronto to Zurich flight in January 2011 took evasive action to avoid...a planet:

The FO [first officer] had rested for 75 minutes but reported not feeling altogether well. Coincidentally, an opposite–direction United States Air Force Boeing C–17 at 34 000 feet appeared as a traffic alert and collision avoidance system (TCAS) target on the navigational display (ND). The captain apprised the FO of this traffic.

Over the next minute or so, the captain adjusted the map scale on the ND in order to view the TCAS target 5 and occasionally looked out the forward windscreen to acquire the aircraft visually. The FO initially mistook the planet Venus for an aircraft but the captain advised again that the target was at the 12 o'clock position and 1000 feet below. The captain of ACA878 and the oncoming aircraft crew flashed their landing lights. The FO continued to scan visually for the aircraft. When the FO saw the oncoming aircraft, the FO interpreted its position as being above and descending towards them. The FO reacted to the perceived imminent collision by pushing forward on the control column. The captain, who was monitoring TCAS target on the ND, observed the control column moving forward and the altimeter beginning to show a decrease in altitude. The captain immediately disconnected the autopilot and pulled back on the control column to regain altitude. It was at this time the oncoming aircraft passed beneath ACA878. The TCAS did not produce a traffic or resolution advisory.

The airplane experienced -0.5 g to +2.0 g vertical accelerations, which caused several passengers sleeping across seats in Economy Class to smash into the overhead bins in one direction and into the armrests in another. (Always wear your seatbelts, folks.) In all, 14 passengers and two flight attendants got hurt.

The Canadian Transportation Safety Board report continues, analyzing the pilot's home life (he recently had children, and now doesn't get as much sleep), and the effects of overnight North America to Europe flights, noting "these types of flights are characterized by long periods of darkness with few operational demands while mid–Atlantic, creating inherently soporific conditions."

For an incident in which no one was seriously injured, the CTSB has prepared a thorough report with multiple points of action. It's worth reading, especially if you wonder why I prefer taking American's 9am flight to London instead of the 11pm flight.

Wednesday 18 April 2012 10:42:44 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation#
Tuesday 17 April 2012

NBC News has hired the 32-year-old Clinton as a feature reporter. Naturally, given her parents, there is some controversy:

Upon her arrival [at 30 Rockefeller Center], Chelsea was given a welcome bag, filled with NBC swag, 30 Rockers tell me. NBC’s David Gregory responded by jokingly asking: “Where’s my welcome bag?”

Gregory’s joke hints at the unprecedented level of special treatment Chelsea receives: she didn’t do live shots on her Rock Center debut; she gets chauffeured everywhere in a town car while others her age strap hang with the suckers in Gotham’s sewers; she has her own personal spokesperson; and she has her own chief-of-staff, Bari Lurie. (Lurie is to Chelsea what Huma Abedin is to Hillary: a fiercely loyal female aide and confidante, who logged over 7,000 miles with her during the 2008 campaign.) Other top talent at the network noticed that luxury: Lester Holt, Hoda Kotb, Natalie Morales, and Savannah Guthrie all share a single assistant. (An NBC spokesperson says, however, that Chelsea pays for her own chief of staff.)

“Everyone needs to get a grip,” says [a] high level [NBC] executive. “She’s hardworking, she’s taking it very seriously. She really wants to genuinely do these Making a Difference pieces. She knows she’s a lightening rod. When people write nasty things, she takes the lumps.” After all the bad press during the roll out, there were fears Chelsea was going to pack it in. Instead, she decided to tough it out. “I respect that,” says the NBC insider. Clinton’s personal spokesperson, Matt McKenna, had strong words for her detractors: "When Chelsea's critics are ready to step forward and use their names, she'll be more than happy to answer them. In the meantime, she's enjoying working for NBC and NBC is glad she's a part of their team."

So how did she do in her first segment? Take a look:

I've seen a lot of TV, both amateur and professional. This is average professional work. It's a good package, maybe not that exciting, but one that tells a harmlessly good-feeling story.

Of course Clinton won't have the same treatment at NBC as other kids her age; she's already a public figure, with a view of history that even the top Medill grads probably won't have had. Of course this will cause resentment. I hope Clinton handles it with the same grace she's already handled the derision and ridicule people have heaped on her since she turned 13. The only question that matters in the present situation is: does this hire make sense for NBC? I think we'll see pretty soon.

Tuesday 17 April 2012 13:34:09 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US#
Monday 16 April 2012

I'm reading Chris Mooney's latest, The Republican Brain, which attempts to explain the differences between conservatives and liberals based on their psychological makeups. For instance, conservatism correlates negatively with openness but positively with conscientiousness. He also talks about episetemic closure, which psychology predicts (and we can observe) is far more likely on the right than on the left.

I plowed half-way through the book yesterday, and I expect to finish it on the plane Wednesday. As Jon Stewart would say, buy it, read it, it's on shelves now.

Monday 16 April 2012 15:13:57 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US#
Sunday 15 April 2012

Transport analyst and writer Tom Vanderbilt has a four-part series in Slate about the crisis in American walking:

The United States walks the least of any industrialized nation. ... Why do we walk so comparatively little? The first answer is one that applies virtually everywhere in the modern world: As with many forms of physical activity, walking has been engineered out of existence. With an eye toward the proverbial grandfather who regales us with tales of walking five miles to school in the snow, this makes instinctive sense. But how do we know how much people used to walk? There were no 18th-century pedometer studies.

[S]ince our uncommon commitment to the car is at least in part to blame for the new American inability to put one foot in front of the other, the transportation engineering profession’s historical disdain for the pedestrian is all that much more pernicious. In modern traffic engineering the word has become institutionalized, by engineers who shorten pedestrian to the somehow even more condescending “peds”; who for years have peppered their literature with phrases like “pedestrian impedance” (meaning people getting in the way of vehicle flow).

As Vanderbilt says, traffic engineers and our obsession with the car have driven most of the problems. Even though engineer Charles Mahron and people like him crusade against the worst urban designs (see, e.g., Brainerd, Minn.), I don't think anything will change without a disruptive and permanent external shift. I don't really want $10 gas, but wow would that focus people's attention on driving.

Sunday 15 April 2012 09:20:03 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Geography | US#
Friday 13 April 2012

At a client site all day, with about 10 minutes for lunch. Regular posting will resume Sunday.

Friday 13 April 2012 13:01:21 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink#

Krugman explains:

Mr. Christie’s big move — the one that will define his record — was his unilateral decision back in 2010 to cancel work that was already under way on a new rail tunnel linking New Jersey with New York. At the time, Mr. Christie claimed that he was just being fiscally responsible, while critics said that he had canceled the project just so he could raid it for funds.

Now the independent Government Accountability Office has weighed in with a report on the controversy, and it confirms everything the critics were saying.

The governor asserted that the projected costs were rising sharply; the report tells us that this simply wasn’t true. The governor claimed that New Jersey was being asked to pay for 70 percent of a project that would shower benefits on residents of New York; in fact, the bulk of the financing would have come either from the federal government or from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which collects revenue from residents of both states.

But while it’s important to document Mr. Christie’s mendacity, it’s even more important to understand the utter folly of his decision. The new report drives home just how necessary, and very much overdue, the tunnel project was and is. Demand for public transit is rising across America, reflecting both population growth and shifting preferences in an era of high gas prices. Yet New Jersey is linked to New York by just two single-track tunnels built a century ago — tunnels that run at 100 percent of capacity during peak hours.

Someday—maybe five years from now, maybe ten—the Port Authority will have to resume the tunnel project. And then, it will be much more expensive, and much more dire.

Will people remember why?

Thursday 12 April 2012 21:40:46 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US#
Thursday 12 April 2012

Connecticut's house has voted to repeal the death penalty, which will make the state the 17th to abolish it:

Senate Bill 280 cleared the House 86-62, a vote that broke largely along party lines. The bill now goes to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who has pledged to sign it, ending a form of punishment in the state that dates back to Colonial times when those convicted of being witches were sent to the gallows.

[S]upporters of the repeal effort say the state's death penalty is irrevocably broken — just one man, serial killer Michael Ross, has been executed in the past 50 years, and that was after he waived his appeals. Rep. T.R. Rowe, a Republican from Trumbull who supported the repeal bill, called the current death penalty "a paper tiger."

Others pointed out that government is not infallible, and the chance, however slight, of an innocent person being executed is too grave a risk when the punishment is death.

And just a quick reminder, here are the jurisdictions that still have capital punishment: Belarus, China (PRC), Cuba, Egypt, India, Iran, Iraq, Japan, Malaysia, Mongolia, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan (ROC), Tonga, United States, Vietnam. We executed 46 people in 2010, putting us ahead of everyone in the world except China (over 4,000), Iran (252), North Korea (60), and Yemen (53). Great company to be in.

Oh, and thanks to a couple southern states, we're the only democracy that executes children.

Connecticut is making the right move. I hope the rest of the country follows suit.

Thursday 12 April 2012 09:55:59 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US | World#
Wednesday 11 April 2012

Pauvre chat:

(Via Sullivan.)

Wednesday 11 April 2012 16:31:34 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink#
Tuesday 10 April 2012

I'd say he's performing about as expected:

Tuesday 10 April 2012 12:22:52 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Parker#

Theories also have predictive value; that is, in order for a hypothesis to graduate to theorydom, it has to fit all the available facts and predict future events. You know, like anthropogenic climate change, which gets closer to being a true theory every day. For example, via Fallows, a paper written in 1981 seems to have predicted it pretty well:

Sometimes it helps to take a step back from the everyday pressures of research (falling ill helps). It was in this way we stumbled across Hansen et al (1981) (pdf). In 1981 the first author of this post was in his first year at university and the other just entered the KNMI after finishing his masters. Global warming was not yet an issue at the KNMI where the focus was much more on climate variability, which explains why the article of Hansen et al. was unnoticed at that time by the second author. It turns out to be a very interesting read.

[T]hey attribute global mean temperature trend 1880-1980 to CO2, volcanic and solar forcing. Most interestingly, Fig.6 (below) gives a projection for the global mean temperature up to 2100. At a time when the northern hemisphere was cooling and the global mean temperature still below the values of the early 1940s, they confidently predicted a rise in temperature due to increasing CO2 emissions. They assume that no action will be taken before the global warming signal will be significant in the late 1990s, so the different energy-use scenarios only start diverging after that.

And the band played on...

Tuesday 10 April 2012 11:56:57 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US | Weather#

The FBI has put together a committee of university presidents to root out foreign spies who have infiltrated American colleges:

While overshadowed by espionage against corporations, efforts by foreign countries to penetrate universities have increased in the past five years, [Frank] Figliuzzi, [Federal Bureau of Investigation assistant director for counterintelligence] said. The FBI and academia, which have often been at loggerheads, are working together to combat the threat, he said.

Attempts by countries in East Asia, including China, to obtain classified or proprietary information by “academic solicitation,” such as requests to review academic papers or study with professors, jumped eightfold in 2010 from a year earlier, according to a 2011 U.S. Defense Department report. Such approaches from the Middle East doubled, it said.

The problem with this, as a number of people pointed out in the article, is that academics share information freely. That's their freaking job. And the U.S. has hundreds of thousands of foreign students—76,000 from China alone—because, for now anyway, we have the best schools in the world.

Of course the FBI should go after real spies, and discovering former Russian intelligence agent Sergei Tretyakov probably prevented Russia from stealing information that would have helped them catch up to where we'd gotten ten years earlier.

The university presidents on the FBI's committee need to remember their first duty. I hope some of them will remind the FBI that suspecting lots of foreigners of trying to spy on us will cost more than it will save.

This is a very old conversation. There are always people who see enemies everywhere. Sometimes they're right; but we need to make sure that when they're wrong, they don't cause more damage than they're trying to prevent.

Tuesday 10 April 2012 10:40:32 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US | Security#
Monday 9 April 2012

I like being busy, but it does take time away from lower-priority pursuits like blogging. If I had more time, I'd pontificate on the following:

For now, though, it's back to the mines.

Monday 9 April 2012 11:36:07 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink | US | Cool links | Travel#
Sunday 8 April 2012

Mike Wallace: Now, you've watched this gate for many years, right?

St Peter: Yes, that's right.

MW: And do you decide who gets in the gates?

SP: Well...I mean, I don't make the final decisions, no...

MW: But you can, for example, send someone to the back of the line?

SP: That's...you know, that's not something that would be done. In some, rare cases, people decide to return to the end of the line on their own.

MW: Peter, come on. Did Carl Sagan go back on his own?

SP: Well, look...you know, Carl was...look, Carl was a special case, being an atheist and all. There wasn't a decision made or anything. He got to the gate and decided, you know, on his own I think, that he didn't want to go in.

MW: Well, we spoke to Carl a little while ago, and he said, I'm quoting here, "There were billions and billions of people in the line, and I had to walk past all of them after St. Peter turned me away." What do you think about that? Did you make Carl Sagan walk back to the end of a line containing billions of people?

SP: OK, you know, I'm not... Look, if a decision was made, it wasn't made by me. I don't make policy, I'm just the guy, you know, at the gate.

MW: Sagan went on to say that you said a couple of other things to him. Peter, did you call Carl Sagan a "dirty unbeliever" and an "apostate?"

SP: Now, wait, that's just... Look, I can't comment on that.

MW: Peter, did you send Carl Sagan to the end of the line?

SP: Mike, I'm sorry, I really can't answer that question.

MW: Peter, did you send Carl Sagan to the end of the line because he was an atheist?

MW (in studio): Peter ended the interview at that point. But still, we're left with the question, who decides who gets in? After repeated denials from the Trinity, we were able to speak to Metatron...

Sunday 8 April 2012 10:11:36 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink#

Some items that have gotten my attention:

More, I'm sure, later.

Sunday 8 April 2012 08:49:31 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink | US | Cool links#
Saturday 7 April 2012

I found out, after too many failed download attempts for no reason I could ascertain (come on, Amazon), the 1940 Census data is also available on Ancestry.com. Their servers actually served the data correctly. And so, I found this:

The apartment numbers aren't listed, and the building added an apartment to my entrance sometime in the last 70 years, but I think I can work it out. The first column shows the rent for each apartment. The three higher-rent apartments have to be the larger ones to the west. That means mine is either one of the two $65 apartments on the table or was vacant on 1 April 1940.

So the best I can do is that the three apartments on my side of the stairs that existed in 1940 contained a 35-year-old divorcée from Illinois who worked as an office manager in a brokerage, and a 64-year-old broker/solicitor from Nebraska who lived with his 84-year-old mother. My neighbors included a 51-year-old mother who lived with her 29- and 23-year-old sons, both of whom worked as wholesale salesmen; the 57-year-old treasurer of a wholesale varnish company and his 53-year-old wife; the 46-year-old head of the complaints department at Illinois Bell and his 39-year-old wife; and the building engineer and his wife, both of whom were 49.

All of these people were white, professional, and at least high-school educated. Six of eleven had college educations, a significantly higher proportion than the general public at the time. There were no children in the tier. All but two were U.S.-born. (The varnish-company treasurer came from the Republic of Ireland; his wife was English-Canadian.) All but the divorcée had lived in the same apartment for at least 5 years. Seven of eleven worked at least 40 hours during the previous week, including the poor janitor who worked 70. Salaries ranged from $600 (the 29-year-old son who sold furniture wholesale) to $5000+ (the Irish varnish company treasurer). Mrs. G.R. Walker, the most likely candidate for my predecessor in this apartment, made $2000, somewhat higher than the U.S. average salary in 1940 and approximately eqivalent to $32,000 today.

Today we're entirely professional (including three attorneys and two professional musicians), with a handful of young children, all of us college-educated or better. There is one foreign-born person; our average age, not counting the children, is about 38; and none of us worked 70 hours last week. Two of the seven apartments are rentals, the rest are owned. Adjusting for inflation, they cost almost exactly the same as in 1940.

In other words, the people who lived in my apartment building 70 years ago looked a lot like the people who live here today. And I wish I could meet them.

Saturday 7 April 2012 11:58:22 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Geography | Cool links#

The Census and the National Archives have released the entire 1940 enumeration quasi-digitally. I think the data drop is great. I am going to download a few specific documents based on what I know about my own family, and about some of the places I've lived that were around in April 1940.

But as a software developer who works mainly with Cloud-based, large-data apps, I am puzzled by some of the National Archives' choices.

I say "quasi-digitally" because the National Archives didn't enter all the tabulated data per se; instead they scanned all the documents and put them out as massive JPEG images. I'm now downloading the data for one census tract, and the 29 MB ZIP file is taking forever to finish. The actual data I'm looking would take maybe 1-2 kB. That said, I understand it's a massive undertaking. There are hundreds of thousands of pages; obviously entering all the data would cost too much.

But this goes to the deeper problem: The Archives knew or should have known that they'd get millions of page views and thousands of download requests. So I need to ask, why did they make the following boneheaded technical decisions?

  • They used classic ASP, an obsolete technology I haven't even used since 2001. The current Microsoft offering, ASP.NET MVC 3, is to classic ASP what a Boeing 787 is to a DC-3. It's an illuminated manuscript in the era of steam-driven presses.
  • They organized the data by state and city, which makes sense, until you get to something the size of Chicago. Northfield Township, where I grew up, takes up one map and about 125 individual documents. Chicago has over 100 maps, which you have to navigate from map #1 to the end, and a ridiculous number of individual documents. You can search for the census tract you want by cross streets, but you can't search for the part of the city map you want by any visible means.
  • I'm still waiting for my 32-page document after 22 minutes. Clearly the Archives don't have the bandwidth to handle this problem. Is this a budget issue? Perhaps Microsoft or Google could help here by donating some capacity until the rush is over?

In any event, once I get my documents, I'm going to spend some time going over them. I really want to find out what kind of people lived in my current apartment 70 years ago.

Update: The first download failed at 1.9 MB. The second attempt is at 6.6...and slowing down...

Update: The second and third attempts failed as well. I have, however, discovered that they've at least put the data out on Amazon Web Services. So...why are the downloads pooping out?

Saturday 7 April 2012 10:24:25 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Geography | Cool links#
Friday 6 April 2012

My company, 10th Magnitude, finally moved into its new office today. One of the criteria we had for selecting the new office was that they allow dogs. Everyone wins! (Hat tip MW.)

It's hard to tell who likes the Office Dog concept more, Parker or my co-workers:

Friday 6 April 2012 12:05:22 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Parker | Work#

Chicago's record-shattering run of above-normal temperatures ended yesterday:

The abnormal, all-too-often record warmth, couldn't continue indefinitely. For 26 consecutive days, Chicagoans were treated to temperature levels which would have been at home in June and July. They were without precedent in March and early April.

The impact of that warmth continues, even in the midst of noticeably cooler air here. And while Easter weekend temperatures are expected to rebound to the 60s, an even cooler air mass seems determined to settle southward over the eastern half of the country next week.

April's opening 5-days continue to run 3°C warmer than the same period a year ago. The results of the abnormal warmth have been tangible. Vegetation in and around Chicago has bloomed 4 to 6 weeks early, a trend which has already spawned an extremely challenging pollen-season through which many continue to suffer.

Thursday marked the first day in 27 in which temperatures finished "below normal".

Next week it's supposed to be "seasonal," which could include a freeze.

Friday 6 April 2012 11:37:24 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Weather#
Thursday 5 April 2012

The opening days of April have seemed a lot cooler than all but one or two days in March, but as it turns out, we're still above normal:

Despite the chilly feel to the air in recent days, the books closed on a 26th consecutive above normal average daytime temperature here Wednesday. The day finished 4.4°C above normal with a high of 14.4°C.

Any clarity in the forecast for the summer, though? The Climate Prediction Center still sees only a 33% chance of above-normal temperatures through the middle of June, as the La Niña that gave us the warmest March ever winds down to a neutral state over the next couple of weeks.

If we have the warmest spring followed by a cooler-than-normal summer, there will be much rejoicing at The Daily Parker.

Thursday 5 April 2012 09:40:27 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Weather#
Wednesday 4 April 2012

...by finally stating the obvious:

[Y]ou would think that after the results of this experiment in trickle-down economics, after the results were made painfully clear, that the proponents of this theory might show some humility, might moderate their views a bit. You'd think they’d say, you know what, maybe some rules and regulations are necessary to protect the economy and prevent people from being taken advantage of by insurance companies or credit card companies or mortgage lenders. Maybe, just maybe, at a time of growing debt and widening inequality, we should hold off on giving the wealthiest Americans another round of big tax cuts. Maybe when we know that most of today’s middle-class jobs require more than a high school degree, we shouldn’t gut education, or lay off thousands of teachers, or raise interest rates on college loans, or take away people’s financial aid.

But that’s exactly the opposite of what they’ve done. Instead of moderating their views even slightly, the Republicans running Congress right now have doubled down, and proposed a budget so far to the right it makes the Contract with America look like the New Deal. (Laughter.) In fact, that renowned liberal, Newt Gingrich, first called the original version of the budget "radical" and said it would contribute to "right-wing social engineering." This is coming from Newt Gingrich.

And yet, this isn’t a budget supported by some small rump group in the Republican Party. This is now the party’s governing platform.

If you didn't hear the speech, it's worth reading.

Republicans, naturally, bleated like sheep but largely confirmed the President's main points. Oh, what a fun election this will be.

Wednesday 4 April 2012 12:44:31 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US#

Illinois State Climatologist Jim Angel rounded up some explanations of last month's record heat. Here's the NWS Chicago office:

The 2.7°C difference between the average temperature for March 2012 at Chicago-O'Hare and the previous record for warmest March is by far the largest difference between 1st and 2nd place between record warm or cold months in Chicago. The second largest difference between 1st and 2nd place is the 1.7°C separating the average temperature of January 1880 (4.3°C) and January 1933 (2.6°C) for the warmest Januarys on record in Chicago.

The 8.67°C departure from normal for March 2012 is the 3rd largest departure from the 1981-2010 normal for any month in Chicago. The only months that had higher departures from normal were January 1877, which with an average temperature of 4.3°C, was 8.9°C above the 1981-2010 average January temperature, and December 1877, which with an average temperature of 6.3°C, was 8.72°C above the 1981-2010 average December temperature.

For a more technical discussion, check out NOAA's analysis, which concludes:

A black swan most probably was observed in March 2012 (lest we forget 1910). Gifted thereby to a wonderful late winter of unprecedented balmy weather, we also now know that all swans are not white. The event reminds us that there is no reason to believe that the hottest, "meteorological maddest" March observed in a mere century of observations is the hottest possible. But this isn't to push all the blame upon randomness. Our current estimate of the impact of GHG forcing is that it likely contributed on the order of 5% to 10% of the magnitude of the heat wave during 12-23 March. And the probability of heatwaves is growing as GHG-induced warming continues to progress. But there is always the randomness.

April, so far, has been bog-standard normal.

Wednesday 4 April 2012 10:18:11 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Weather#
Tuesday 3 April 2012

Raganwald yesterday posted a facetious resignation outlining the dangers to employers of asking prospective employees to disclose social media information:

I have been interviewing senior hires for the crucial tech lead position on the Fizz Buzz team, and while several walked out in a huff when I asked them to let me look at their Facebook, one young lady smiled and said I could help myself. She logged into her Facebook as I requested, and as I followed the COO’s instructions to scan her timeline and friends list looking for evidence of moral turpitude, I became aware she was writing something on her iPad.

“Taking notes?” I asked politely.

“No,” she smiled, “Emailing a human rights lawyer I know.” To say that the tension in the room could be cut with a knife would be understatement of the highest order. “Oh?” I asked. I waited, and as I am an expert in out-waiting people, she eventually cracked and explained herself.

“If you are surfing my Facebook, you could reasonably be expected to discover that I am a Lesbian. Since discrimination against me on this basis is illegal in Ontario, I am just preparing myself for the possibility that you might refuse to hire me and instead hire someone who is a heterosexual but less qualified in any way. Likewise, if you do hire me, I might need to have your employment contracts disclosed to ensure you aren’t paying me less than any male and/or heterosexual colleagues with equivalent responsibilities and experience.”

Three things:

  • He's right on the main point. Looking through employees' Facebook pages uninvited is tricky enough. Determining whether or not to hire someone based on a Facebook page is closer to the line. Forcing the disclosure crosses the line, surveys the land, plants a flag, and invites the natives to kill you in your sleep.
  • Disclosing a password to anyone for any reason is, almost always, a bad idea. Authentication is half of security (the other is authorization, which depends on you being who you say you are). The corollary to authentication is deniability. If you lose control over your Facebook password, you expose yourself to identity theft. To emphasize this point, in our office we routinely prank developers who leave their keyboards unlocked when they leave the room. Walking away at a client site could let clients see other clients' materials, for starters, but it also could allow someone to send email or make Facebook posts in your name.
  • I am proud to report that Illinois is right now passing a law to prohibit this practice. It will probably be signed later this month.
Tuesday 3 April 2012 08:55:13 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US | Security#
Monday 2 April 2012

The Atlantic Cities today examines the retro ballpark trend, of interest to anyone following my 30 Park Geas:

The retro style quickly split into two schools; one, like Camden Yards, that strictly embraced classical design elements and the other that used more progressive forms (i.e. curtain walls, retractable roofs) while still implementing postmodern idiosyncrasies.

The historical references and unique site configuration that makes Camden Yards successful was eventually re-imagined in other cities through forcibly quirky stadiums surrounded by seas of parking. The best example of that, and what fittingly could be the last retro-classic ballpark, would be Citi Field.

The more modern half of the movement, meanwhile, has pushed along to an almost unrecognizable point. Since the Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati opened in 2003 with its contemporary, glass-wrapped facade, newer stadiums are more willing to embrace less familiar forms.

The anti-Camden trend takes its next step when Marlins Park officially debuts next Wednesday. Similar in form to the spaceship and entertainment palace known as Cowboys Stadium, Miami's new facility moves baseball stadium design even further from the nostalgia-drenched movement.

Next up for me: Miami and Tampa Bay in two weeks.

Monday 2 April 2012 14:32:41 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Baseball#
Sunday 1 April 2012

Yesterday, the forecast for tomorrow's Chicago weather called for—no April Fool's joke here—32°C. Just a few hours ago the forecast had changed to a more comfortable 25°C, which is about as close to ideal as I can imagine. Just now, though, the National Weather Service says to expect nothing better than 13°C. Aw, come on.

On the other hand, Chicago had its warmest March in history, at 11.9°C, which beat the previous record (set in both 1945 and 1910) of 9.2°C. So, you know, the weather hasn't been that awful lately.

Sunday 1 April 2012 17:58:40 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Weather#

The Economist reported this morning that engineers have developed a machine to create bespoke pets:

[A] small Californian company, the Gene Duplication Corporation, based in San Melito, proposes to push the technology to its limits. On Sunday it will announce plans to use 3D printing to make bespoke pets.

GeneDupe, as the firm is known colloquially, has previously focused on the genetic engineering of animals. However Paolo Fril, the company’s boss, is keen to expand into manufacturing them from scratch.

There are still a few technical difficulties to overcome, of course, but Dr Fril plans to start taking orders soon. And he is already looking forward to the firm’s next product, custom-printed boyfriends and girlfriends for those who cannot find the right partner by conventional means—a surprisingly large proportion of the population. If all goes well, these will be available by St Valentine’s day. If not, customers will probably have to wait until April 1st of next year.

In related news, Antonin Scalia pretended to be a lying, partisan hack this week. I'm sure he was making an early April Fool's joke as well.

Sunday 1 April 2012 13:31:52 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Jokes | US#
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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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