The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Just have to pack

The weather forecast for Munich doesn't look horrible, but doesn't look all that great either, at least until Saturday. So I'll probably do more indoorsy things Thursday and Friday, though I have tentatively decided to visit Dachau on Thursday, rain or not. You know, to start my trip in such a way that nothing else could possibly be worse.

Meanwhile, I've added these to yesterday's crop of stories to read at the airport:

Finally, don't skip your dog's walks. They're very important to her health.

Yet another infantile billionaire

Billionaire Bill Ackerman lobbied Harvard's board hard to get president Claudine Gay fired last month, harping on her plagiarism as a key reason she wasn't fit for the job. Business Insider then published two stories alleging what looks like even worse plagiarism by Neri Oxman—Ackerman's wife. So Ackerman did what any self-deceiving, childish, hypocritical billionaire would do: he leaned on the paper's publisher. Because of course he did:

At one point, Ackman wrote that a Harvard student who committed “much less” plagiarism than Claudine Gay would be forced out of the university. Gay resigned from the presidency last week.

But when Business Insider raised plagiarism concerns about his wife’s work, Ackman excoriated the publication, accusing it of unethical journalism, promising to review its writers’ work and predicting that it would “go bankrupt and be liquidated.” In one social media post, he implied that Business Insider’s investigations editor (whom he called “a known anti-Zionist”) may have been “willing to lead this attack” because Oxman is Israeli.

Neither Ackman nor Oxman, whose companies didn’t respond to requests for comment, have pointed to any factual errors in the articles.

Still, Ackman’s complaints seemed to get the attention of Axel Springer, the German media giant that owns Business Insider. On Sunday, the company released an unusual statement saying it would “review the processes” that led up to the articles’ publication, while acknowledging that the stories were not factually wrong.

While Ackman hasn’t raised factual issues with the articles, he has claimed that the outlet didn’t give him and his wife enough time to comment on the second story, about Wikipedia plagiarism, with a space of roughly two hours on late Friday afternoon between when his spokesman was asked for comment and when the story was published. But Ackman first went public with the Wikipedia allegations roughly an hour before the story was published by posting on social media about the impending article, which may have affected Business Insider’s publication schedule.

Cryptocurrency researcher (the good kind) and Wikipedia mega-editor Molly White the Tweet in question apart line by line:

What is it with these guys? I have to wonder if kvetching about how unfairly the world treats you is a prerequisite for amassing a huge fortune. They do tend to project a lot, don't they, these billionaires?

Part of me finds this sort of thing hilarious, another part finds it sad, and yet I have to remember that these whiny babies have a lot of money and the power that goes with it. Not being able to take criticism, especially when one is a public figure and one continually inserts oneself into public discourse, seems like weakness to me. Maybe that's why they get so agitated: deep down, they know the truth backing up their critics.

Any news? No, not one single new

Wouldn't that be nice? Alas, people keep making them:

Speaking of excoriation, David Mamet has a new memoir about his 40 years in the LA film industry, Everywhere an Oink Oink. (Expect to find that on next year's media roundup.) And I still have to read Linda Obst's Hello, He Lied, which I keep forgetting to liberate from my dad's bookshelf.

Evening round-up

I can't yet tell that sunsets have gotten any later in the past two weeks, though I can tell that sunrises are still getting later. But one day, about three weeks from now, I'll look out my office window at this hour, and notice it hasn't gotten completely dark yet. Alas, that day is not this day.

Elsewhere in the darkening world:

  • Mike Godwin, the person who postulated Godwin's Law, believes that invoking it as regards the XPOTUS is not at all losing the argument: "You could say the ‘vermin’ remark or the ‘poisoning the blood’ remark, maybe one of them would be a coincidence. But both of them pretty much makes it clear that there’s something thematic going on, and I can’t believe it’s accidental."
  • Julia Ioffe watches with growing horror at Ukraine's looming money cliff.
  • The rings of a 200-year-old tree in Arizona show just how bad last summer was.
  • The Federal Highway Administration has revised the MUCTD after 14 years, this time after actually listening to people who don't drive cars.

Finally, Tyler Austin Harper shakes his head that university administrators and other people of limited horizons completely misunderstand why the humanities are important:

If we have any hope of resuscitating fields like English and history, we must rescue the humanities from the utilitarian appraisals that both their champions and their critics subject them to. We need to recognize that the conservatives are right, albeit not in the way they think: The humanities are useless in many senses of the term. But that doesn’t mean they’re without value.

It is often faculty who are trying to safeguard their fields from the progressive machinations of their bureaucratic overlords. But faced with a choice between watching their departments shrink or agreeing to hire in areas that help realize the personnel-engineering schemes of their bosses, departments tend to choose the latter. ... At the same time, a generation of Ph.D. students is eyeing current hiring practices and concluding that the only research that has a prayer of landing them a tenure-track position relates to questions of identity and justice.

Instead of trying to prove that the humanities are more economically useful than other majors—a tricky proposition—humanists have taken to justifying their continued existence within the academy by insisting that they are uniquely socially and politically useful. The emergent sales pitch is not that the humanities produce and transmit important knowledge, but rather that studying the humanities promotes nebulous but nice-sounding values, such as empathy and critical thinking, that are allegedly vital to the cause of moral uplift in a multicultural democracy.

The whole essay is worth a read.

In other news...

Despite the XPOTUS publicly declaring himself a fascist (again), the world has other things going on:

Finally, Google has built a new computer model that they claim will increase the accuracy of weather forecasts. I predict scattered acceptance of the model with most forecasters remaining cool for the time being.

Late summer heat comes to an end

Chicago experienced its warmest October 1st through 4th ever, clocking in at 24.4°C, before a cold front pushed through this morning. Many of my friends, plus another 25,000 runners, look forward to Sunday's Chicago Marathon and its predicted 7°C start temperature going up to a high of 14°C.

So, with real autumn temperatures finally upon us, let us chill out:

Finally, something other than the dumpster fire in Congress: Gideon Lewis-Kraus looks into allegations that Duke Professor Dan Ariely and Harvard Professor Francesca Gino fabricated evidence about dishonesty.

Cooler and cloudier with a chance of hypocrisy

Today's weather feels like we might have real fall weather soon. Today's XKCD kind of nails it, too—not the weather, but the calendar.

In addition to nice weather, we have a nice bit of elected-official hypocrisy, too: the president of the Chicago Teachers Union got caught sending her son to a private school, and giving a really crappy explanation for it.

In other news:

  • A jury took all of four hours to convict right-wing intellectual grifter Peter Navarro of contempt of Congress for ignoring the January 6th Committee's subpoena.
  • Josh Marshall yawns at attempts to have the XPOTUS barred from the ballot on 14th Amendment grounds, even while conceding that's exactly what the section 4 of the Amendment is for.
  • Even though they've attacked abortion rights, sex education, books and movies that feature independent women, and pretty much anything that empowers women and girls, the not-at-all-misogynist Republican Party now wants to end no-fault divorce, allowing as it does women to leave the "covenant" they made with their abusers.
  • Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis told US Representative and contender for "Dumbest Person in Congress" Jim Jordan (R-OH) to go—sorry, she essentially said "bless your heart" in a delightful response to his threats of Congressional oversight.
  • Julia Ioffe looks at the increasing cynicism of Africans and their rekindled affection for violent coups d'état.
  • Veteran writer Tom Fontana ("St Elsewhere", "Oz," "Homicide: Life on the Street") reflects on his 4th writers strike in 40 years, and how pissed off he is.
  • Strong Towns highlights a mapping tool to demonstrate how much of your city comprises parking lots. Unless you live in New York, San Francisco, San Juan, Washington, or Chicago, it's pretty grim.
  • The National Hurricane Center warns that Hurricane Lee will reach category 5 before dissipating, but fortunately looks likely to miss more-populated areas—though Puerto Rico could get tropical storm winds early Sunday morning.
  • National Geographic profiles Ann McKee's extraordinary work researching chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), which cripples and kills US footballers more than people admit.

Finally, an old friend traveling back from Burning Man to Montreal plans to crash at my place on Saturday evening. I have two days to read up on the desert full of moop, Cory Doctorow's assertion that this Burn really was different, and the evidence that climate change played an outsized role in the muddy hell at Black Rock City this year.

Last hot weekend of 2023, I hope

The temperature has crept up towards 34°C all day after staying at a comfortable 28°C yesterday and 25°C Friday. It's officially 33°C at O'Hare but just a scoshe above 31°C at IDTWHQ. Also, I still feel...uncomfortable in certain places closely associated with walking. All of which explains why I'm jotting down a bunch of news stories to read instead of walking Cassie.

  • First, if you have tomorrow off for Labor Day, you can thank Chicago workers. (Of course, if you have May 1st off for Labor Day, you can also thank us on the actual day that they intended.)
  • A new study suggests 84% of the general population want to experience an orchestral concert, though it didn't get into how much they want to pay for such a thing. (You can hear Händel's complete Messiah on December 9th at Holy Name Cathedral or December 10th at Millar Chapel for just $50!)
  • An FBI whistleblower claims Russian intelligence co-opted Rudy Giuliani in the run-up to the 2020 election—not as a Russian agent, mind you, just as a "useful idiot."
  • Rapper Eminem has told Republican presidential (*cough*) candidate Vivek Ramaswamy—who Michelle Goldberg calls "very annoying"—to stop using his music in his political campaign.
  • The government of Chile has promised to investigate the 3000 or so disappearances that happened under dictator Agosto Pinochet, though they acknowledge that it might be hard to find the ones thrown out of helicopters into the sea, or dropped down mine shafts. And with most of the murderers already dead of old age, it's about time.
  • Julia Ioffe wonders when the next putsch attempt will get close to Moscow, now that Prigozhin seems to be dead.
  • About 70,000 people continue to squelch through ankle-deep mud at Black Rock City after torrential rains at Burning Man this weekend. (I can't wait to see the moop map...)
  • University of Michigan Law Professor Nicholas Bagley had a cogent explanation of why pharmaceutical companies don't want to negotiate drug prices with Medicare. (Hint: record profits.)
  • Switching Chicago's pre-World War II bungalows from gas to electric heating could cut the city's GHG emissions by 14%.
  • Molly White's weekly newsletter starts off with some truly clueless and entitled behavior from Sam Bankman-Fried and gets weirder.
  • Zoning laws, plus the inability of the Portland, Ore., government to allow variances in any useful fashion, has condemned an entire high school to send its kids an hour away by bus while the building gets repaired, rather than just across the street to the community college many of them attend in the evenings. (Guess what skin color the kids have. Go on, guess.)
  • A group of hackers compromised a Portuguese-language "stalkerware" company and deleted all the data the company's spyware had downloaded, as well as the keys to the compromised phones it came from, then posted the company's customer data online. "Because fuck stalkerware," they said.
  • Traffic engineers, please don't confuse people by turning their small-town streets into stroads. It causes accidents. Which you, not they, have caused.
  • Illinois had a mild and dry summer, ending just before our ferociously hot Labor Day weekend.
  • James Fallows talks about college rankings, "which are marginally more encouraging than the current chaos of College Football."

Finally, I'll just leave this Tweet from former labor secretary Robert Reich as its own little monument to the New Gilded Age we now inhabit:

Everything I love about movement conservatism in one story

The religious right's endless struggle to steal billions of dollars from American taxpayers to fund their own religious schools dovetails nicely with the penchant for right-wingers to steal millions of dollars from their own kind:

In recent years, [conservative Christianist lawyer Michael Farris] has reached the pinnacle of the conservative legal establishment. From 2017 to 2022, he was the president and chief executive of the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), a powerhouse Christian legal group that helped draft and defend the restrictive Mississippi abortion law that led to the overturning of Roe v. Wade. ADF and its allies have filed a flurry of state and federal lawsuits over the past two years alleging that public schools are violating parental and religious rights.

Yet it is outside the courtroom that Farris’s influence has arguably been most profound. No single figure has been more instrumental in transforming the parental rights cause from an obscure concern of Christian home-schoolers into a GOP rallying cry.

When former president Donald Trump called for a federal parental bill of rights in a 2023 campaign video, saying secular public school instruction had become a “new religion,” he was invoking arguments Farris first made 40 years ago. The executive order targeting school mask mandates that Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) signed on his first day in office cited a 2013 state law guaranteeing “fundamental” parental rights that Farris helped write.

his most famous confrontation with public school officials came during a 1986 trial in Tennessee. His clients were born-again Christians who argued their children should not be required to read “Rumpelstiltskin,” “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” and other material that they said undermined their religious beliefs.

A federal judge agreed, ordering that the children could opt out of the school’s reading lessons. But the decision in the case, Mozert v. Hawkins, was reversed by the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled that merely exposing children to ideas did not violate their rights.

“We are simply clarifying a right that exists — a right which comes from God,” Farris said.

Make no mistake: Farris wants you to pay for Christian education. The whole "parents rights" angle is nonsense when you think about it. As one wag on Facebook put it, "I don't want my kids playing with those kids at a public park, so you should give me my share of the park district budget to build my own." And hey, it turns out, the ones making the argument usually have a sideline in private park development.

Even without the religious aspect, when natural monopolies emerge from civil society, the only thing that privatization accomplishes is to funnel money into people's pockets without improving the overall good. Health care in the US is the best example of this, but spending public money for private education is the same basic pattern.

It's yet another example of the religious right's continuing pattern of conflating their right to opt out of consuming public goods, which they certainly have, with a belief that they're somehow owed the equivalent value of the public good as their own private property. But that's not how civil society works. And I'll bet you all the money in my pockets against all the money in your pockets that Farris makes a great deal off the religious people he's convinced to follow him down this anti-social and destructive path.

I'm so tired of private interests taking public money for things that public organizations can do just as well, particularly if they stop having to fight for table scraps.

Shocking Supreme Court decisions just announced!

Ah, ha ha. I'm kidding. Absolutely no one on Earth found anything surprising in the two decisions the Court just announced, except perhaps that Gorsuch and not Alito delivered the First Amendment one. Both were 6-3 decisions with the Republicans on one side and the non-partisan justices on the other. Both removed protections for disadvantaged groups in favor of established groups. And both lend weight to the argument that the Court has gone so far to the right that they continue to cause instability in the law as no one knows how long these precedents will last.

Let's start with 303 Creative v Elenis, in which the Court ruled that a Colorado web designer did not have to create websites for gay weddings, on the philosophy that religiously-motivated anti-gay bigotry is protected under the First Amendment:

The decision also appeared to suggest that the rights of L.G.B.T.Q. people, including to same-sex marriage, are on more vulnerable legal footing, particularly when they are at odds with claims of religious freedom. At the same time, the ruling limited the ability of the governments to enforce anti-discrimination laws.

The designer, Lorie Smith, said her Christian faith requires her to turn away customers seeking wedding-related services to celebrate same-sex unions. She added that she intends to post a message saying the company’s policy is a product of her religious convictions.

A Colorado law forbids discrimination against gay people by businesses open to the public as well as statements announcing such discrimination. Ms. Smith, who has not begun the wedding business or posted the proposed statement for fear of running afoul of the law, sued to challenge it, saying it violated her rights to free speech and the free exercise of religion.

I actually might agree with the very narrow outcome of this specific case: I don't think someone should be forced to create something they morally oppose. That said, I fear, as do many others, that people will see this as license to scale back anti-discrimination measures against all marginalized groups. And this is why I think the case is going to be a problem for a generation. I'll read Gorsuch's opinion over the weekend, hoping that he resisted the urge to fill it with Federalist Society-approved obiter dicta. But I expect to see more litigation on anti-discrimination statutes as a result of the ruling. It's part of the Republican strategy to erode hard-won rights by creating fear and doubt in marginalized groups, and it's working.

The other ruling (Biden v Nebraska), also pitting the Republicans against everyone else in the free world, killed the President's program to waive about $405 billion in student debt that hundreds of thousands of low- and middle-income borrowers owed to the Federal Government. The Court found the thinnest of pretexts to allow the State of Missouri just enough standing to keep the case from evaporating entirely, and then rug-pulled all those people for whom $10,000 might be the difference between poverty and continued daily meals by saying the President exceeded authority granted him by Congress to "waive or modify" the loans:

The court has rejected the administration’s expansive arguments in the past. The court lifted a pandemic-era moratorium on rental evictions put in place by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It threw out a coronavirus vaccination-or-testing mandate imposed on large businesses by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. And in a ruling unrelated to the pandemic, it cited the “major questions” doctrine to limit the Environmental Protection Agency’s options for combating climate change.

The legal battles have left millions of student loan borrowers in limbo. More than half of eligible people had applied for the forgiveness program before it was halted by the courts, with the Education Department approving some 16 million applications.

Biden’s debt relief program has been a divisive issue on Capitol Hill. On June 7, Biden vetoed a Republican-led resolution to strike down the controversial program and restart loan payments for tens of millions of borrowers. The measure passed the Senate with the backing of Sens. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.). Despite Biden’s veto, the resolution shows the likely difficulty of getting any future debt relief plan through Congress.

This, like yesterday's affirmative action decision, shows the Republican majority gleefully rolling back all the things they have hated ever since Lyndon Johnson had the gall to give those people civil rights in 1964. They firmly believe in the ability of everyone born on second base to get a home run even if it means everyone else strikes out, because (and I'm really not making this up, if you dig into what these people have written) they deserve it. (Best Tweet of the day, from the ever-scathing New York Times Pitchbot: "Opinion | Without the burden of affirmative action, Harvard can finally become a true meritocracy—by Jared Kushner and Robert F. Kennedy Jr.")

The good news—in the most general sense as the 6-3 split will continue to be very bad news in specific for years—is that this kind of reactionary behavior by the right wing tends to flame out in a generation or so. It's the desperate clawing back of gains made by the lower orders to hold onto inherited privilege for just a little longer that happens when the old guard know they're on their way out. We've seen it in the US before, and in the UK, and in lots of other times and places.

Unfortunately, undoing the damage the revanchists cause hurts like hell. The next 10-15 years are going to suck for a lot of people.