Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog
Saturday 30 June 2012

When working with Microsoft Windows Azure, I sometimes feel like I'm back in the 1980s. They've rushed their development tools to market so that they can get us developers working on Azure projects, but they haven't yet added the kinds of error messages that one would hope to see.

I've spent most of today trying to get the simplest website in my server rack up into Azure. The last hour and a half has been spent trying to figure out two related error messages:

  • Failed to debug the Windows Azure Cloud Service project. The output directory ' { path }\csx\Debug' does not exist.
  • Windows Azure Tools: Can't locate service descriptions.

If you're interested in these error messages, click through. For non-technical readers, I'll put up a photo of Parker tomorrow, I promise.

Saturday 30 June 2012 18:17:08 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Software | Cloud#
Friday 29 June 2012

The Texas Republicans published their 2012 platform this week, vowing to stop teaching children critical reasoning skills in the next four years. I was curious about other GOP platforms, to see if Texas was an aberration, and I found this one:

Resolved, That we, the delegated representatives of the Republican electors of the United States, in convention assembled, in discharge of the duty we owe to our constituent and our country, unite in the following declarations:

...

8. That the normal condition of all the territory of the United States is that of freedom; that as our republican fathers, when they had abolished slavery in all our national territory, ordained that no "person should be deprived of life, liberty or property, without due process of law," it becomes our duty, by legislation, whenever such legislation is necessary, to maintain this provision of the constitution against all attempts to violate it; and we deny the authority of congress, of a territorial legislature, or of any individuals, to give legal existence to slavery in any territory of the United States.

12. That while providing revenue for the support of the general government by duties upon imports, sound policy requires such an adjustment of these imposts as to encourage the development of the industrial interests of the whole country, and we commend that policy of national exchanges which secures to the workingmen liberal wages, to agriculture remunerating prices, to mechanics and manufacturers an adequate reward for their skill, labor and enterprise, and to the nation commercial prosperity and independence.

14. That the Republican Party is opposed to any change in our naturalization laws, or any state legislation by which the rights of citizenship hitherto accorded by emigrants from foreign lands shall be abridged or impaired; and in favor of giving a full and efficient protection to the rights of all classes of citizens, whether native or naturalized, both at home and abroad.

The rest of it is pretty interesting, and also short. Obviously I'm quoting their first presidential-election-year platform, from 1860, so much of it applies to the situation that existed right before the Civil War.

Today's Illinois GOP platform, while saner (only just) than the Texas platform, still has these planks:

  • A call to "meet the contractual obligations of our state by properly funding the various state pension systems" without raising revenue to do it;
  • An assertion that kids are better off "within a two-parent family based on the principle of marriage between one man and one woman;" and
  • The anti-science position that "The Illinois Republican Party opposes the fostering of utilitarian experiments which sacrifice human embryos in what appears to be a futile search for medical cures."

On the other hand, some of their planks really surprised me:

  • "We call on the Federal Government to streamline the task of citizenship for legal immigrants to assimilate and complete the process of becoming Americans."
  • "We call for the granting of full citizenship rights to be granted to any immigrant upon the completion of service to the armed forces of the United States."
  • "[W]e endorse...[t]he use of criminal and mental background checks by licensed firearms dealers...."

Finding three planks to support out of the entire platform took some effort, though. A lot of it repeats the right-wing policies of the national GOP, like opposition to taxes in general, support for a concealed-carry firearms law, and one of my favorites, "We call on the United States Senate to reject treaties which cede the powers and rights of the American people to the United Nations and other international agencies." (Because of the black helicopters following some of the more, ah, committed party members, you see.)

I'm sure a careful reading of my party's platform (which, unfortunately, is spread across 14 pages of the party website rather than being written down in any one document) would uncover a few planks I don't support. I expect, though, I've chosen the right bunch for now. When the Republicans shed themselves of the right-wing nutters currently running things for them, maybe I'll take another look.

Friday 29 June 2012 08:58:12 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US#

The Texas Republican Party has published their platform after their recent convention, and...well:

We decry the appointment of unelected bureaucrats, and we urge Congress to use their constitutional authority to defund and abolish these positions and return authority to duly elected officials, accountable to the electorate.

We strongly support the immediate repeal of the Endangered Species Act. We strongly oppose the listing of the dune sage brush lizard either as a threatened or an endangered species. We believe the Environmental Protection Agency should be abolished.

We oppose the teaching of Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) (values clarification), critical thinking skills and similar programs that are simply a relabeling of Outcome-Based Education (OBE) (mastery learning) which focus on behavior modification and have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority.

We urge that the Voter Rights Act [sic] of 1965 codified and updated in 1973 be repealed and not reauthorized.

We affirm that the practice of homosexuality tears at the fabric of society and contributes to the breakdown of the family unit. Homosexual behavior is contrary to the fundamental, unchanging truths that have been ordained by God, recognized by our country’s founders, and shared by the majority of Texans.

If you're happy and you know it, clap your eyes.

This makes me curious, actually. I might check out the platforms of other states' Republican parties, particularly Illinois'. And the Democratic Party platform here. Updates as warranted.

Friday 29 June 2012 07:14:05 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US#
Thursday 28 June 2012

The temperature in downtown Chicago edged up to 100°F (38°C) this afternoon:

At 2:23 pm the temperature at Midway Airport as measured by observer Frank Wachowski reached 37.83°C . Last summer Midway recorded triple-digits on two occasions: July 20, 37.8°C, and July 21, 38.3°C. On both of those days the city's official thermometer at O'Hare International Airport peaked at 37.2°C.

So far today O'Hare's temperature has peaked at 37.2°C but should reach 37.8°C or higher later this afternoon. The city's last official 37.8°C day was on July 24, 2005 when the mercury hit 38.9°C.

I really don't want to go outside...but I have to go home at some point. Maybe I'll do an impromptu pub crawl to and from the El...

Thursday 28 June 2012 15:53:59 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Weather#

In my first pass through National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius, I am alternately stunned, fascinated, confused, and relieved. The more I think about it, though, the more I realize that big business was the big winner today.

Chief Justice Roberts delivered the opinion of the Court, upholding nearly all the provisions of the Affordable Care Act (aka "Obamneycare"). Justice Kennedy, usually the swing vote, joined on the right-wing dissent.

In a nutshell, the court ruled:

  • The Anti-Injunction Act didn't bar the suit;
  • The individual mandate can stand; but
  • Congress can't cut off Medicaid funds to states if the states fail to expand Medicare coverage.

The Court decided the first two points on mutually-contradictory grounds. The Anti-Injunction Act prohibits people from filing suit "for the purposeof restraining the assessment or collection of any tax." So if the individual mandate is a tax, then no one can sue to stop it until after it actually takes effect. Under the individual mandate part of the ACA, the law says if you don't buy insurance as mandated starting in 2014, you have to pay a "penalty" to the IRS. Well, said Roberts, if Congress says it's a penalty, then it's not a tax, and so the Anti-Injunction Act doesn't apply. In other words, if Congress says something is a horse, then you can't sue it to keep it from flying.

In law school, we learn a Jedi mind trick called "permissibly advancing mutually-exclusive arguments." That is, a lawyer is not only permitted but expected to offer all reasonable theories of a case when making an appeal, even if they don't make any sense when viewed all together.

Say a lawyer is appealing a murder conviction. She may, with the Court's blessing, argue: "First, the judge used the wrong set of jury instructions. Second, the jury was tainted by the prosecutor. Third, the judge improperly let my client's confession into evidence. Fourth, the eyewitnesses who testified they saw my client kill the guy were tainted by the prosecutor. Fifth, the judge should have allowed my client's rabbi to testify. Sixth..."

Obviously, they can't all be true. And a reasonable person (other than a lawyer) might surmise from the arguments that, really, the client's a murderer. This is the sort of thing that (a) makes people hate lawyers and (b) provides us with safeguards against the legal process running amok. It's not obvious to most people, but the ability to make all possible arguments on appeal, even if some are self-contradictory, is much fairer to everyone than trying to guess which one argument will prevail.

After that explanation, it should come as no surprise that the Court found the individual mandate constitutional because it's a tax. Yes, Congress called it a horse; but it's a duck after all, and ducks gotta fly. "[I]t is well established that if a statute has two possible meanings, one of which violates the Constitution, courts should adopt the meaning thatdoes not do so," Roberts said in the Court's opinion today:

As we have explained, "every reasonable construction must be resorted to, in order to save a statute from unconstitutionality." Hooper v. California, 155 U. S. 648, 657 (1895). The Government asks us to interpret the mandate as imposing a tax, if it would otherwise violate the Constitution. Granting the Act the full measure of deference owed to federal statutes, it can be so read....

I should underscore here that the Court said the individual mandate is not constitutional as a regulation of interstate commerce or as a "necessary and proper" act of Congress. This, I believe, is how the four moderate Justices got Roberts on board. Roberts seems like a true conservative. He generally doesn't want to overturn acts of Congress, but at the same time he generally doesn't to expand Federal power. He writes: "The Federal Government does not have the power to order people to buy health insurance. Section 5000A would therefore be unconstitutional if read as a command. The Federal Government does have the power to impose a tax on those without health insurance. Section 5000A is therefore constitutional, because it can reasonably be read as a tax."

Similarly, he overturns the Medicaid expansion program, with its penalty of withholding substantial Medicaid funding if states don't comply, as:

much more than "relatively mild encouragement"—it is a gun to the head. Section 1396c of the Medicaid Act provides that if a State’s Medicaid plan doesnot comply with the Act’s requirements, the Secretary ofHealth and Human Services may declare that "further payments will not be made to the State." 42 U. S. C. §1396c. A State that opts out of the Affordable Care Act’s expansion in health care coverage thus stands to lose not merely “a relatively small percentage” of its existing Medicaid funding, but all of it.

(Emphasis in the original.) He goes on, rebutting a point Justice Ginsburg makes in her concurrence:

The Medicaid expansion, however, accomplishes a shift in kind, not merely degree. The original program was designed to cover medical services for four particular categories of the needy: the disabled, the blind, the elderly, and needy families with dependent children. See 42 U. S. C. §1396a(a)(10). Previous amendments to Medicaid eligibility merely altered and expanded the boundaries of these categories. Under the Affordable Care Act, Medicaid is transformed into a program to meet the health careneeds of the entire nonelderly population with income below 133 percent of the poverty level. It is no longer aprogram to care for the neediest among us, but rather anelement of a comprehensive national plan to provide universal health insurance coverage.

Ah, there it is. The bugbear. The Policy that Will Not Pass: National health insurance coverage.

Roberts' opinion is a grudging concession to the 21st century, not a victory for progressives. His rationales for overturning Medicaid expansion, and for rejecting two good reasons for the individual mandate are designed to prevent a future Congress from moving to a single-payer system in the future. The opinion holds the line on keeping wealth in private hands, which, after all, is the right's principal goal. Private interests—insurance companies—will continue to profit from what ought to be a public service. (Don't forget: big insurance companies wanted the mandate, because it solves a huge business problem for them.)

Today is a win for the American people, and for President Obama; but Roberts, no idiot he, made sure it was a win for the big-business right as well.

(If I have the stomach for it, I'll read the Alito dissent later today.)

Thursday 28 June 2012 11:12:32 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US#

The New York Times just sent me a bulletin saying the Supreme Court has ruled on the Affordable Care Act, so I rushed to the Court's website to find...U.S. v. Alvarez.

In this case, a man falsely claimed to have won the Medal of Honor, and was convicted under 18 USC 704 (the "Stolen Valor Act"), which makes it a crime to lie about receiving military honors. In a 5-3 decision, the court said the act is unconstitutional under the first amendment. Justice Kennedy wrote the court's opinion, joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Sotomayor and Ginsburg; Justice Breyer concurred (joined by Justice Kagan); and Justices (and Republican party operatives) Alito, Scalia, and Thomas dissented.

I'll come back to that—because the Court just announced National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius. Let me read this and follow up. Gimme a second.

Thursday 28 June 2012 09:39:17 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US#
Wednesday 27 June 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click that. And then explore.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do you call a system in which:

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

Feudalism.

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

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

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

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

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

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

And the Republicans want to kill it:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday 19 June 2012 09:01:26 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Weather#
Monday 18 June 2012

Before coming to 10th Magnitude, I was an independent consultant, mostly writing software but occasionally configuring networks. I hate configuring networks. And yet, since 2008, I’ve had a 48U server rack in my apartment.*

A “U” is 25mm, so this means I have a 1.2 m steel rack behind an antique dressing screen in my living room home office, which sits between my dining room and my bedroom in a compact apartment in Chicago:

It looks modest enough, but the four rack-mount servers behind it make a huge racket. Constantly.

I'm getting rid of the lot. Read on.

Monday 18 June 2012 14:54:53 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Business | Work#
Sunday 17 June 2012

As promised, Parker's birthday photo from yesterday:

1/250 at f/5.6, ISO-3200, 116mm

Sunday 17 June 2012 08:49:30 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Parker | Photography#
Saturday 16 June 2012

Parker turns six today:

That was then (September 2006, when he was about 11 weeks old). The "now" picture will come tomorrow.

Saturday 16 June 2012 14:09:35 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Parker#
Friday 15 June 2012

...and only four blocks from my house:

Friday 15 June 2012 15:38:54 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Jokes#

The Dept. of Homeland Security announced today that most undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children will not be deported:

Those who demonstrate that they meet the criteria will be eligible to receive deferred action for a period of two years, subject to renewal, and will be eligible to apply for work authorization.

“Our nation’s immigration laws must be enforced in a firm and sensible manner,” said [Homeland Security] Secretary [Janet] Napolitano. “But they are not designed to be blindly enforced without consideration given to the individual circumstances of each case. Nor are they designed to remove productive young people to countries where they may not have lived or even speak the language. Discretion, which is used in so many other areas, is especially justified here.”

The order affects people who arrived before turning 16, are still under 30, have lived here for at least 5 years, and have demonstrated through school or military service and staying out of jail that they're the kind of people we want to keep.

I'd like to see Congress actually pass comprehensive immigration reform that grants citizenship to military veterans and grants permanent residence to people who finish two years of college, but that's crazy talk. The GOP doesn't want poor, huddled masses yearning to breathe free, whether they come from Mexico or Mississippi.

Update: Brian Buetler at TPM points out, "for Republicans, embracing Obama’s move carries the same risk with their base as rejecting it does with immigrants — the voting bloc they’re most concerned about alienating. A hunch: prepare yourself for a deluge of condemnations of executive-branch overreach, paired with real reluctance to say anything meaningful about what the directive actually accomplishes."

That sounds about right.

Friday 15 June 2012 09:53:39 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US#
Thursday 14 June 2012

Because it sounds utterly ridiculous when grown-ups use her arguments:

Sen. Paul is basically reading from Atlas Shrugged. And it's nonsense, as Sen. Sanders demonstrates. Further, I think Paul knows it is.

If you're just tuning in, Ayn Rand believed (as apparently Rand Paul believes) that taxes were only taken by force, and were therefore always illegitimate. She believed that a government levying taxes and providing services from those taxes was doing so "at the point of a gun," even if nearly everyone in the society agreed to the taxes and services.

It's a seductive argument. Of course governments force you to pay taxes—though in the U.S., it's unlikely that the local police will break down your door and haul you off to jail if you don't. But the piece that Rand's argument misses is blindingly obvious: there really isn't any way to ensure that everyone contributes without some sanctions for failing to comply. Otherwise people would simply not pay taxes.

No, it isn't the force that makes taxes illegitimate to the Rands and Pauls of the world. They just hate taxes. In Rand's vision, we wouldn't have governments; private interests would provide everything we needed because the "market" would encourage them to do so. For example, if there were enough demand for nuclear submarines, a company would enter the market and make them as long as doing so were profitable. Same with voting booths, bus service to poor neighborhoods, and firefighting services.

It turns out, there was a time when most things our government supplies came from private interests. We call this time "feudalism," which no doubt Rand Paul would like to see return to the world.

Thursday 14 June 2012 17:43:04 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US#

Via Sullivan through Lloyd Grove's review of tonight's HBO documentary on President George H.W. Bush:

Touting his qualifications for the presidency, including jobs as U.S. envoy to China and director of the CIA, he tellingly remarks: “It wasn’t like out of the clear blue sky some hick from West Texas coming in.”

I wonder who he's comparing himself to, there... Nope. Not gonna do it. Wouldn't be prudent.

Thursday 14 June 2012 14:05:10 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US#
Wednesday 13 June 2012

The branding cops from the International Olympic Committee are making sure the London 2012 sponsors get their £1 bn worth:

With far more Olympic funds coming from taxpayers than sponsors, there is some resentment that the public is underwriting a massive advertising platform for big companies who then treat the games as their sole property.

Stricter still are rules within the 35-day Brand Exclusion Zone due to be thrown about half a mile around London’s Olympic Park, where any advertising or endorsement of non-sponsors is forbidden. Given that these sponsors are contributing a massive £1 billion to the games, it’s understandable they want to protect their investment. But with negative publicity for moves such as Visa’s demand that all non-Visa ATMs are removed from the Olympic zone, companies supporting the games are doing themselves few promotional favors by insisting on an over-zealous approach.

The complaints have flooded in, and it looks like the Cameron government may relax the sponsorship laws a bit. Meanwhile, Londoners are annoyed, but then again they're usually so. It's also yet another reason why we in Chicago are happy we didn't get the 2016 games.

Wednesday 13 June 2012 15:22:05 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | World#
Tuesday 12 June 2012

Via WBEZ, the new route will help eliminate "pride island:"

The parade, which will be held on Sunday, June 24, has grown annually, with over 800,000 attendees last year. The growth has made handling the auto and pedestrian traffic an arduous task for the city and organizers. Last year, crowds were difficult to disperse and streets took longer than usual to clean and open up to traffic.

The parade traditionally circled from north Halsted Street, then headed south on Broadway Street. Now, the route is reversed, and with a start as far north as Montrose Avenue.

The obvious, but unsaid effect of the parade's popularity and growing tolerance of gays: Both gay and straight Chicagoans have united on the front of celebratory drinking—en masse.

What? A giant open-air party in Chicago? I am shocked—shocked!—to find drinking in this city.

In any event, the new route will give the parade a much larger capacity, and will still take it through the center of Boystown.

Also: here are photos from last year's event.

Tuesday 12 June 2012 13:31:48 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago#

Robert Wright wonders:

A few decades ago, Darwinians and creationists had a de facto nonaggression pact: Creationists would let Darwinians reign in biology class, and otherwise Darwinians would leave creationists alone. The deal worked. I went to a public high school in a pretty religious part of the country--south-central Texas--and I don't remember anyone complaining about sophomores being taught natural selection. It just wasn't an issue.

A few years ago, such biologists as Richard Dawkins and PZ Myers started violating the nonaggression pact. ... I don't just mean they professed atheism--many Darwinians had long done that; I mean they started proselytizing, ridiculing the faithful, and talking as if religion was an inherently pernicious thing. They not only highlighted the previously subdued tension between Darwinism and creationism but depicted Darwinism as the enemy of religion more broadly.

My fear is that the damage is broader--that fundamentalist Christians, upon being maligned by know-it-all Darwinians, are starting to see secular scientists more broadly as the enemy; Darwinians, climate scientists, and stem cell researchers start to seem like a single, menacing blur.

Three centuries after the Enlightenment and 46% of the people in the world's most powerful country believe a mythical being created humans from scratch. Wright may be on to something.

It's true that if you tell someone he's wrong, he'll often dig his heels in. But I think Wright misses the basic distinguishing feature separating religionists from atheists: we atheists tend to believe evidence, while religionists tend to have faith in magic. Tell an atheist he's wrong and generally he finds real, testable evidence to support his claim—or he changes his mind.

Tuesday 12 June 2012 09:49:07 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US | Religion#

Via Sullivan, artist Jon Rafman has collected Street View oddities:

(Yes, that's in Chicago.)

Tuesday 12 June 2012 09:36:51 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Geography | Cool links#
Monday 11 June 2012

Just about:

Then again, it's a hard accusation to prove: after all, one person's economic sabotage is another person's principled anti-government conservatism.

Beyond McConnell's words, though, there is circumstantial evidence to make the case. Republicans have opposed a lion's share of stimulus measures that once they supported, such as a payroll tax break, which they grudgingly embraced earlier this year. Even unemployment insurance, a relatively uncontroversial tool for helping those in an economic downturn, has been consistently held up by Republicans or used as a bargaining chip for more tax cuts. Ten years ago, prominent conservatives were loudly making the case for fiscal stimulus to get the economy going; today, they treat such ideas like they're the plague.

Traditionally, during economic recessions, Republicans have been supportive of loose monetary policy. Not this time. Rather, Republicans have upbraided Ben Bernanke, head of the Federal Reserve, for even considering policies that focus on growing the economy and creating jobs.

This collection of more-harm-than-good policies must also include last summer's debt limit debacle, which House speaker John Boehner has threatened to renew this year. This was yet another GOP initiative that undermined the economic recovery.

In other words, they're quacking. And as Sullivan says, "At some point, Obama has to stop sounding defensive on the faltering recovery and start pointing to who is actually responsible."

Why does it take a British newspaper and a British-American pundit to point this out?

Monday 11 June 2012 11:48:38 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US#

Krugman says bailing out Spanish banks doesn't change the fundamentals:

[T]he whole story is starting to feel like a comedy routine: yet again the economy slides, unemployment soars, banks get into trouble, governments rush to the rescue — but somehow it’s only the banks that get rescued, not the unemployed.

Just to be clear, Spanish banks did indeed need a bailout. Spain was clearly on the edge of a “doom loop” — a well-understood process in which concern about banks’ solvency forces the banks to sell assets, which drives down the prices of those assets, which makes people even more worried about solvency.

Meanwhile, senior officials are asserting that austerity and internal devaluation really would work if only people truly believed in their necessity.

Put all of this together and you get a picture of a European policy elite always ready to spring into action to defend the banks, but otherwise completely unwilling to admit that its policies are failing the people the economy is supposed to serve.

It's depressing, watching Europe make the same mistakes they made in the early 1930s. It's happening in the US as well, thanks to a craven, almost-criminal effort by the GOP to kill anything that would help our economy before the election. I sincerely hope President Obama becomes FDR after his re-election. The other two possibilities—he stays the same, cautious guy, or Romney gets elected—will mean years more depression in the US.

Monday 11 June 2012 10:26:33 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US#
Sunday 10 June 2012

Parker never really likes the walk up to Ribfest. It's about 5 km, and yesterday the temperature hit 33°C, making him a very hot dog. He did, however, get a few bits of ribs, and when we stopped in the Urban Pooch booth, two entire elk jerky sticks he stole from the display case.

This year's results:

  • Mrs. Murphy's Irish Bistro, again my favorite;
  • Itinerant Chicago BBQ, again my second-favorite;
  • Corner 41, who had a good, hot vinegar sauce and fall-off-the-bone ribs (with a little too much fat, though); and
  • Perennial Chicago fixture Smoke Daddy ("Ribs so good you'll slap your pappy!"), whose ribs had the smokiest flavor and also the most fat.

Smoke Daddy gave Parker a free pig's ear, so they get points for that.

All of the ribs this year fell off the bone, with no tug, which disappointed me a little. I might have to go back this evening to find some tug-off-the-bone ribs, maybe with a nice, thick tomato-based tangy sauce...yeah...

Sunday 10 June 2012 11:46:22 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Kitchen Sink | Parker#
Friday 8 June 2012

Time to rend the clothing and tear the hair. Click and Clack are retiring:

TOM: And with Car Talk celebrating its 25th anniversary on NPR this fall (35th year overall, including our local years at WBUR)…

RAY: …and my brother turning over the birthday odometer to 75, we’ve decided that it’s time to stop and smell the cappuccino.

TOM: So as of October, we’re not going to be recording any more new shows. That’s right, we’re retiring.

RAY: So, we can finally answer the question, if my brother retired, how would he know?

The show will continue indefinitely as an endless "best of" reel, which won't be the same.

Very sad. Inevitable, but sad.

Friday 8 June 2012 11:45:18 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink#

The Atlantic's Max Fisher has a roundup:

Flipping through a few of the many English-language tourist guides provides a fascinating, if non-scientific and narrow, window into how people from the outside world perceive America, Americans, and the surprises and pitfalls of spending time here.

Of the many pieces of advice proffered, four of the most common are: eat with your fingers (sometimes), arrive on time (always), don't drink and drive (they take it seriously here!), and be careful about talking politics (unless you've got some time to spare). But they say more than that.

In many ways, the tour books say as much about the world as they do about the U.S., by highlighting the ways in which American practices and standards deviate. Anyone who's traveled widely, particularly in the developing world, will understand why these books are so emphatic about, for example, punctuality, personal space, and the unreliability of our trains.

All of them, of course, have sections on tipping. It's difficult to overstate how confusing that can be to foreign visitors.

Thursday 7 June 2012 20:34:26 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US | Travel#
Thursday 7 June 2012

It turns out, the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva gets a little out-of-sorts because of it:

The moon’s own gravitational field was pulling more strongly one side of the Large Hadron Collider, every-so slightly deforming the tunnel through which the proton beams pass.

The deformation also changed as the Moon rose and fell in the night sky. In order to keep the proton beams on track, the operator at the LHC’s control center had to subtly alter the direction of the proton beams to accomodate the Moon’s pull, “every hour or two,” [Indiana University physics professor Dr. Pauline] Gagnon explained in an email to TPM.

The Daily Parker could not confirm reports that some of the near-light-speed protons were later seen running naked through the lab.

Thursday 7 June 2012 16:16:25 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink#
Wednesday 6 June 2012

I've got a deadline, which didn't stop me reading these articles (but did stop me posting thoughts about them):

Back to the mines...

Wednesday 6 June 2012 14:17:06 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Geography | Kitchen Sink | US | World | Weather#
Wednesday 6 June 2012 09:48:52 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Jokes | Photography#
Tuesday 5 June 2012

Because they improved downtown L.A. immensely:

In 1999, Los Angeles passed its Adaptive Reuse Ordinance, making it easier and cheaper for real estate developers to convert old offices to new housing. While the ordinance arguably jump-started the revitalization of downtown L.A., a key (though overlooked) element was pet-friendly policies in these newly converted lofts.

Walking dogs drove residents out of their homes and into the street at least twice each day. Elsewhere in Los Angeles, where single-family homes predominate, dog owners often have the luxury of sending Fido out to the yard to do his business. But downtown, dogs and their owners have become a crucial component of the rebounding neighborhood's culture.

Of course, if the office dog poops on the CEO's carpet, he'll still get fired.

Tuesday 5 June 2012 12:27:13 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink | Parker | Business#

Assuming the polls are correct, the contest in Wisconsin today will be close. Whatever the result, Scott Walker can hardly claim a mandate with somewhere around half the state wanting to take the unprecedented (for Wisconsin) step of yanking him from office. This is not trivial: voters have to overcome their natural disinclination to end a governor's term early, and then they have to select someone who lost an election just two years ago.

I look forward to the results.

Tuesday 5 June 2012 11:37:31 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US#
Monday 4 June 2012

Apparently it's more common than I thought to gag on raw tomatoes even while having no problem with tomato sauce:

People like me just lack certain key taste receptors, preventing us from appreciating the rich, sweet, meaty flavor of raw tomatoes that the rest of you are always rhapsodizing about. The problem is that tomatoes have something on the order of 400 volatile compounds and who knows which one of those (or combination thereof) might be responsible for the harsh reaction many of us experience in response to raw tomatoes?

Frankly, the scientific community has been sadly remiss in getting to the bottom of the mystery of why raw tomatoes make some of us gag, despite a few scattered flavor studies. But they’re hot on the case of cilantro, an even more polarizing herb. I love cilantro. To me, it tastes fresh and citrusy with just a tinge of an herbal edge to it. But to some people, it just tastes like soap. Or worse. They have as strong a visceral reaction to cilantro as I have to fresh raw tomatoes.

Of course, it could be the gloppy, lumpen nature of tomatoes that makes us gag, too. I'll stick with purée.

Monday 4 June 2012 15:31:19 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink#
Sunday 3 June 2012

As feared, Chicago is experiencing a weekend of perfect weather. As a consequence, Parker and I just finished an hour-and-three-quarters walk that had to include time at Noethling Park (aka "Wiggly Field"). We're recovering for a moment before heading outside again for another one.

Regular updates will resume when the crisis concludes.

(Note: Ordinarily I would have linked to the Chicago Park District's official page on one of its parks, but apparently they forgot to pay the Internet bill, so at this writing their site dead-ends at Network Solutions. Nice work, guys.)

Sunday 3 June 2012 13:15:56 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Parker | Weather#

After logging the warmest spring and third-mildest winter in Chicago history, we have a huge likelihood of a warmer-than-normal summer. Yesterday, though, we had one of those perfect days Chicagoans can count on two hands every year: sunny, dry, and 24°C, the kind of day that Parker and I spend entirely outside.

It turns out, a relatively unusual weather pattern could give us more than a week of this sort of thing:

[C]omputer models indicate what is meteorologically-termed an upper-level "Omega Blocking" pattern will establish itself over the United States for the remainder of the workweek. With a trough of low pressure over the east and west coasts and a high pressure ridge over the central plains. This will establish an extensive low-level cool high pressure air mass over eastern Canada into the northeastern and north-central U.S. For Chicago, situated in the southwestern quadrant of the high pressure, it in turn means an extended period of east to southeasterly flow, relatively dry conditions and daily temperatures around normal levels, except cooler readings along the lakefront and beaches.

The official forecast calls for temperatures around 20°C (after 26°C today) and sunny skies through Saturday.

It's all very confusing to us here, all this nearly-perfect weather. We'll just have to muddle through...

Sunday 3 June 2012 09:39:11 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Weather#
Saturday 2 June 2012

As just about everyone who watches these things predicted, Groupon's shares declined 9% just as soon as insiders were able to start trading them:

Friday marked the end of the company's lock-up period, which prevented insiders from unloading their Groupon stock. Groupon went public in November with a small float. The expiration of the lock-up period puts into play 600 million shares, amounting to 93 percent of the company's total outstanding shares. About one-third of those shares will not be sold, as they are in the hands of co-founders Andrew Mason, Eric Lefkofsky and Brad Keywell. Mason, who is also chief executive, said last month that the trio had no intention of selling their holdings.

Analysts had said they expected downward pressure on Groupon's shares as a result of the lock-up expiration but that many insiders -- a group that includes current and former senior executives, board members and early investors -- would hang onto their stock to wait for a rebound in the price. While Groupon's shares rebounded last month after the company reported first-quarter earnings, they remained well below their IPO price of $20.

Why did Groupon even have an IPO? Probably for the same reason Facebook did: to enrich the VCs and founders. That's easy. But why did anyone buy Groupon at $20 or Facebook at $38? Because math class is tough, but history is tougher, apparently.

Saturday 2 June 2012 11:13:27 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Business#
Friday 1 June 2012

As I mentioned yesterday, Illinois state climatologist Jim Angel has certified that March 1 to May 31 was the warmest spring in Illinois history:

This year the statewide average temperature for spring in Illinois was 15.1°C. That makes it the warmest spring on record for Illinois. The statewide records go back to 1895. The [three] warmest springs in Illinois were:

2012 with 15.1°C
1977 with 14.1°C
1921 with 13.3°C

It was also Illinois' fifth-warmest May ever. And so far, it's the warmest year ever in Illinois (since January 1). Interestingly, Angel points out, "of the top five warmest January-May periods, three have occurred in the last 15 years."

Friday 1 June 2012 11:27:20 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Weather#
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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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