The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

London sets record for warmest day in winter

The UK Met has kept temperature records since 1910, and in all that time, London has never experienced a warmer day in winter than yesterday:

Temperatures in Kew Gardens, south-west London, reached 21.2°C, breaking the record for the warmest February day. The Met Office defines winter from the beginning of December to the end of February, so Tuesday’s sunny spell is also a winter record.

The record had already been broken on Monday, when temperatures exceeded 20°C during winter for the very first time. This week’s unseasonably warm weather differs dramatically from the beginning of the month, when sub-zero temperatures were recorded across the country.

The previous winter record had been 19.7°C in Greenwich, south-east London, in 1998.

“The average temperature for this time of year is 9°C in London and 9°C in north Wales, so what we’re seeing is Δ9°C degrees above average,” said Martin Bowles, a Met Office meteorologist.

Bowles said: “We can’t blame climate change directly because we’re talking about weather, not the climate. But it is a sign of climate change. There’s been a gradual increase of temperatures over the last 30 years so the extreme weather has also been increasing.”

Parts of Britain on Tuesday were hotter than Malibu, Athens, Crete and Barcelona.

The warmest day I ever experienced in London was in August, 2009, when the temperature hit 31°C. Yesterday was almost that warm, and August is still six months out.

Can't wait to see what the summer is like.

Historic Chicago election

I told you the Chicago mayoral election would be difficult. I had no idea that my preferred candidate would come out in first place, setting up an April 2nd election that will elect Chicago's first African-American woman mayor:

It’s only the second time Chicago has had a runoff campaign for mayor, which occurs when no candidate collects more than 50 percent of the vote in the first round.

Unofficial results showed Lightfoot with 17.5 percent of the vote, Preckwinkle with 16 percent and Bill Daley with 14.7 percent, with 96 percent of precincts counted. They were trailed by businessman Willie Wilson with 10 percent, state Comptroller Susana Mendoza with 9 percent, activist and policy consultant Amara Enyia with 8 percent, Southwest Side attorney Jerry Joyce with 7 percent and former CPS board President Gery Chico with 6 percent.

The remaining six candidates, former CPS CEO Paul Vallas, former police Superintendent Garry McCarthy, state Rep. La Shawn Ford, former Ald. Bob Fioretti, tech entrepreneur Neal Sales-Griffin and attorney John Kozlar, each collected less than 6 percent.

The results set up a showdown between two self-styled progressives — Preckwinkle, chair of the Cook County Democratic Party and a former longtime alderman who rose from Hyde Park’s bastion of liberal politics, versus Lightfoot, a first-time candidate who has railed against Chicago’s history of machine politics and vowed to usher in a new era of reform at City Hall.

One of them will become Chicago’s second female mayor, following Jane Byrne, who served one term from 1979 to 1983. And if Lightfoot is elected, she would become the city’s first openly gay mayor. Both would become the second African-American elected Chicago mayor after Harold Washington, who served from 1983 until he died in 1987.

On the other hand, out of 1.5 million registered voters in Chicago, only about a third showed up at the polls. My ward has about 55,000 residents, and the top-two candidates for Alderman only got 8,000 votes between them. (My candidate came in third, sadly.)

Still, I'm pleased with the results. I think Preckwinkle will win the runoff, given her name recognition and County-level machine behind her, but I'm OK with her as mayor. Regardless, the next four years should see some shifts away from policies that benefit people like me towards people who need the benefits more, which ultimately will help the city in the long run. Having an African-American mayor might also stem the flow of African-Americans leaving the city, which, again, will make Chicago stronger.

UK government commits to not banging out of the EU unilaterally

In her speech to the House of Commons this afternoon, PM Theresa May promised a vote on March 13th to avoid a calamitous withdrawal from the European Union less than two weeks later:

Here's the relevant bit from Hansard:

As the Government committed to the House last week, we are today publishing the paper assessing our readiness for no deal. I believe that if we have to, we will ultimately make a success of a no deal. But this paper provides an honest assessment of the very serious challenges it would bring in the short term and further reinforces why the best way for this House to honour the referendum result is to leave with a deal. 

As I committed to the House, the Government will today table an amendable motion for debate tomorrow. But I know Members across the House are genuinely worried that time is running out—that if the Government do not come back with a further meaningful vote, or they lose that vote, Parliament will not have time to make its voice heard on the next steps. I know too that Members across the House are deeply concerned by the effect of the current uncertainty on businesses. So today I want to reassure the House by making three further commitments. First, we will hold a second meaningful vote by Tuesday 12 March at the latest. Secondly, if the Government have not won a meaningful vote by Tuesday 12 March, then they will, in addition to their obligations to table a neutral, amendable motion under section 13 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, table a motion to be voted on by Wednesday 13 March, at the latest, asking this House if it supports leaving the EU without a withdrawal agreement and a framework for a future relationship on 29 March. So the United Kingdom will only leave without a deal on 29 March if there is explicit consent in this House for that outcome.

Thirdly, if the House, having rejected leaving with the deal negotiated with the EU, then rejects leaving on 29 March without a withdrawal agreement and future framework, the Government will, on 14 March, bring forward a motion on whether Parliament wants to seek a short, limited extension to article 50, and, if the House votes for an extension, seek to agree that extension approved by the House with the EU and bring forward the necessary legislation to change the exit date commensurate with that extension. ... They are commitments I am making as Prime Minister, and I will stick by them, as I have previous commitments to make statements and table amendable motions by specific dates.

But let me be clear—I do not want to see article 50 extended. Our absolute focus should be on working to get a deal and leaving on 29 March.

The video includes all the derisive laughter from both sides of the house.

This, along with Jeremy Corbyn's about-face yesterday, means that there could actually be a second Brexit referendum:

There is now a real prospect of another referendum. Labour has committed to several parliamentary manoeuvres including one final stab at its own Brexit, which will certainly fail; another to support Yvette Cooper’s attempt to push no deal further into the realm of destructive fantasy, where it belongs; and a vote on an amendment demanding that any Brexit deal approved by the Commons must be ratified in a public referendum. In that public vote, Labour will campaign to remain in the EU.

“Sources” within Labour continue to deny this new reality, even as its senior frontbenchers have announced it. “It’s a disgrace,” one told me, “that unelected, unsourced voices are briefing against Labour’s frontbench.” “If they want to speak for the Labour party,” a staffer said, “they should stand for the Labour party.” The position as it stands now is not the seismic shift some suggest. It is a continuation of the policy adopted at Labour’s party conference last September. And credit for it belongs with the grassroots of the Labour party.

So, will the UK come back from the brink on Brexit? We'll find out in the next four weeks. 

Labour backs new Brexit referendum

In an unexpected twist, Jeremy Corbyn announced at a Labour party conference today that he supports a "people's vote" on the Brexit deal the UK Government worked out with the EU, and that hardly anyone in the UK agrees with:

In a statement, the party said it would “put forward or support an amendment in favour of a public vote to prevent a damaging Tory Brexit”.

Corbyn will tell MPs the party “cannot and will not accept” May running down the clock towards no deal. He will say EU officials and leaders in Brussels and Madrid found Labour’s alternative Brexit plan “serious and credible” and it could win support across the House of Commons.

“One way or another, we will do everything in our power to prevent no deal and oppose a damaging Tory Brexit based on Theresa May’s overwhelmingly rejected deal,” he said.

“That’s why, in line with our conference policy, we are committed to also putting forward or supporting an amendment in favour of a public vote to prevent a damaging Tory Brexit being forced on the country.”

Other news sources suggest that Corbyn's volte face came about after the resignations of 9 MPs from Labour last week.

The next Commons vote on Brexit will take place March 12th, according to sources in Parliament, giving the Government only two weeks to react to another rejection before crashing out of Europe. With both Corbyn and May playing chicken with the British public, I can only wonder when the next election will happen.

Boring Chicago politics

Tomorrow is Chicago's mayoral election (with an expected run-off on April 2nd), which is only one of the problems facing Elon Musk's proposal to build a high-speed rail line from O'Hare to the Loop:

The so-called O’Hare Express project sounded like the stuff of science fiction and for [36th Ward Alderman Gilbert] Villegas, it still is. The former Marine and Gulf War veteran’s inaugural trip on a retrofitted Tesla Model X in a mile-long tunnel in Southern California topped out at 40 mph and was bumpy going. He described the ride as uneven, like the feeling of driving a car on an unpaved road. “It wasn’t as smooth as I thought it would be,” Villegas told The Verge. “It certainly felt too experimental for someone to invest a billion dollars in.”

In June, Musk said that one of the reasons he chose Chicago to host the first “publicly useful” Boring Company venture was that “the number of approving authorities is small.”

He had reason to believe that he had automatic approval from one of those authorities — the Chicago City Council. Musk’s bromance with [Chicago Mayor Rahm] Emanuel is strong. During their joint press conference in Chicago last June, the mayor praised Musk as “one of the great visionaries of our time” and jokingly asked for Boring Company stock.

Emanuel’s decision not to seek re-election (he’s abdicating power to write a book about why mayors rule the world) is disastrous for Musk’s O’Hare Express.

It’s possible that Musk could successfully sell his futuristic tunnel to the 14 mayoral candidates lined up to succeed Emanuel in May, but that prospect looks equally bleak. When asked to their opinion on O’Hare Express, the response from Chicago’s mayors-to-be has ranged from neutrality to open contempt.

“It’s going to die on its own. This thing is goofy,” said former Chicago Public Schools chairman Gery Chico during a candidate forum earlier this month according to the Chicago Tribune. Paul Vallas, another mayoral hopeful, had harsher words: “I’d kill it,” said Vallas according to the Tribune. “I can’t wait to kill it.”

Well, that's all pretty unfortunate. I would love to see high-speed rail from O'Hare, but I also know how this city works. We'll get it someday. Just not in the 2020s.

Stuff that piled up this week

I've had a lot going on this week, including seeing an excellent production of Elektra at Lyric Opera of Chicago last night, so I haven't had time to read all of these articles:

And I shall begin reading these...soon. Maybe tomorrow. Sigh.

Difficult vote ahead

Chicago's mayoral primary takes place Tuesday with 256 12 people on the ballot. That means the election will likely determine only the two people who will stand in the runoff election in April.

Many local news organizations have round-ups of the candidates' policy provisions, and interactive tools to help voters figure out who mirrors their own policies most closely. I've gone through Chicago Public Media's guide twice, the second time choosing "No answer" for items that matter less to me than other matters.

My results? Even though the thought of a third Mayor Daley makes me want to move to Saskatchewan, it turns out I don't have to hold my nose and vote for Bill Daley: he's almost at the bottom of my list, with 37% matching policies, ahead of only attorney Jerry Joyce who has no chance anyway.

My top three, to my surprise, are Amara Enyia, Lori Lightfoot, with 69% and 67% matching policies respectively, and a tie between Bob Fioretti and Garry McCarthy at 63%. Enyia and Fioretti will be lucky to clear 10% of the vote, let alone the 50% required to avoid a runoff, so I'm not really considering them. Lightfoot and McCarthy both have fighting chances.

Of the questions that really matter to me, Enyia and Fioretti get one (in favor of city income tax), everyone but Daley, Paul Vallas, and Joyce support an elected school board, and everyone except Daley, Joyce, LaShawn Ford, Toni Preckwinkle, and Willie Wilson support ending "aldermanic perogative."

Lower priorities of mine include raising ride-share fees to benefit the Chicago Transit Authority (Lightfoot and McCarthy say yes, Enyia says no); hiring social workers to assist police in mental-health calls (everyone says yes except Daley and Joyce); and opposing a city-run casino (Enyia agrees with me; Lightfoot doesn't).

So the front-runner for my vote right now is Lori Lightfoot, in part because I believe either Daley or Preckwinkle will also be in the runoff, and Lightfoot has a chance. That said, I would bet a dollar that the April 3rd runoff will be between Daley and Preckwinkle, because they both have huge machines backing them. And this is Chicago.

And all this is just a smaller version of what will happen a year from now when my party starts voting for its nominee to run against the president 619 days from now.

Actually, it is rocket science: personal edition

One of my friends from high school, Beth Moses, today became the 571st person to travel into space:

Virgin Galactic sent three human beings on Unity for the first time in Friday's supersonic test flight, which reached three times the speed of sound on its way up. Just before the flight, Richard Branson's space tourism company told CNBC that astronaut trainer Beth Moses is on the company's spacecraft Unity, along with the two pilots.

"Beth Moses is on board as a crew member," a Virgin Galactic spokeswoman told CNBC. "She will be doing validation of some of the cabin design elements."

The mission launched horizontally, rather than the traditional vertical method of launching rockets. The jet-powered mothership Eve lifted the spacecraft Unity, taking off from the Mojave Air and Space Port. Upon reaching an altitude above 40,000 feet, the carrier aircraft released Unity.

MacKay and Masucci then piloted the spacecraft in a roaring burn. The flight pushed Unity to a speed of Mach 3, which is three times the speed of sound, as it screamed into a climb.

After performing a slow backflip in microgravity, Unity turned, gliding back to land at the runway it took off from about an hour earlier. Unity is the name of the spacecraft built by The Spaceship Company, which Branson also owns. This rocket design is officially known as SpaceShipTwo.

When Beth was in high school, she said she wanted to be an astronaut. After a long career at NASA she joined Virgin Galactic as their chief astronaut instructor. And today, she made history.

Congratulations, Beth! You're officially out of this world.

Beth Moses, center. (Photo courtesy of Danielle Cosma.)