The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Azure build error messages aren't helpful

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 that occurred when trying to debug a Web application project that I converted from a Web site project:

  • 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.

The first error message seems straightforward enough: when the project got created, it never added the \csx\Debug folder. After creating the empty \csx\Debug folder, the second message occurs.

When an Azure project builds, it's supposed to create the \csx\Debug folder under the Cloud Service project root. It then copies the service definition (.csdef) and configuration (.cscfg) projects into the folder, which the Azure compute emulator can hook into.

In my project, this wasn't happening. So I created a new Cloud solution to see if this was a system problem or a configuration problem. (First I uninstalled and reinstalled all the Azure tools...which wasn't as big a time-suck as it could have been because I walked Parker while that was going on.)

The Deleteme solution built fine; mine still had the problem. So then I started comparing the configuration, project, and solution files...and completely missed the significance of this:

...except it gnawed at me for a few minutes, until I looked at this:

Why it created a configuration and then decided not to build it I just don't know. The solution to my hours of pain is simply to do change the solution platform to Any CPU (or check "build" on the .NET platform):

I am now going to fix the hole in my desk where I've been pounding my head.

When I started getting these messages, I Googled and I Googled, but the technology is so new that no one else appears to have had exactly this problem. I hope this post pays back some of the Karmic debt I've taken on from all the times when someone else had the right answer.

Have the GOP always been like this?

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.

Texas GOP: To One Over Infinity and Beyond!

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.

Officially hotter than hell

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...

Court upholds the individual mandate; overturns Medicaid expansion

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.)

Court upholds main parts of ACA

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.

But what of tradition?

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.

Google Maps goes inside

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.

Here it comes...

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?

First three major Supreme Court decisions this morning

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...