The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

It's 5pm somewhere

Actually, it's 5pm here. And I have a few stories queued up:

Finally, author John Scalzi puts Rogue One in third place on his ranked list of Star Wars films, with some good reasons.

Spring, at least in some places

Canada has put the Prairie Provinces on a winter storm warning as "the worst blizzard in decades" descends upon Saskatchewan and Manitoba:

A winter storm watch is in effect for southern Manitoba and southeastern Saskatchewan, with snowfall accumulations of 30 to 50 centimetres expected mid-week, along with northerly wind gusts of up to 90 kilometres per hour, said Environment Canada on Monday.

“Do not plan to travel — this storm has the potential to be the worst blizzard in decades,” the agency warns.

The storm is expected to start Tuesday night, as a Colorado low pressure system moving toward Minnesota will bring a “heavy swath of snow” from southeastern Saskatchewan through most of southern Manitoba.

Snow will start to fall early in the evening near the U.S. border and move north overnight. Blowing snow and high winds will cause zero visibility and whiteout conditions, making driving treacherous.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

And finally, prosecutors in Texas have declined to pursue charges against a 26-year-old woman arrested last week for infanticide after self-inducing an abortion. Welcome to the new 19th Century, at least in the religious South.

Early afternoon roundup

Now that I've got a few weeks without travel, performances*, or work conferences, I can go back to not having enough time to read all the news that interests me. Like these stories:

Finally, Michelin has handed out its 2022 stars for Chicago. Nothing surprising on the list, but I now have four more restaurants to try.

* Except that I volunteered to help a church choir do five Messiah choruses on Easter Sunday, so I've got two extra rehearsals and a service in the next 12 days.

Bonus update: the fog this morning made St Boniface Cemetery especially spooky-looking when Cassie and I went out for her morning walk:

US lurches to ending seasonal clock changes

As if from nowhere, the US Senate yesterday unanimously voted to pass S.623 (the "Sunshine Protection Act of 2021"), which would end daylight saving time by making that the new standard time, effective 5 November 2023. This blew up the Time Zone Committee mailing list, mostly with the implementation problems around time zone abbreviations. One of the maintainers listed four separate options, in fact, including moving everyone to a new time zone (Chicago on EST? New York on AST?), or possibly just redefining what CST and EST mean. Canada has a law that essentially lets the US set standard time zones for Canada, so it gets even more complicated the farther down the rabbit hole you go.

Fun fact: most time zone software running on most computers requires 3-character time zone abbreviations to work correctly. That rules out changing CST to, simply, CT. One maintainer suggested P for Permanent; another suggested A for Always (CAT, EAT, MAT?).

You might think this is funny, but we TZDB maintainers have the power to make your brain hurt this way.

By the way, if you think year-round DST is a good idea within our current time zone boundaries, you may want to consider when the latest sunrise will happen in 2024 if the law passes, in ascending order of orneriness:

Location Sunrise Sunset
Eastport, Maine 8:06 17:00
Miami 8:10 18:50
Chicago 8:19 17:33
New York 8:20 17:41
Salt Lake City 8:52 17:13
Detroit 9:01 18:12
Menominee, Mich. 9:29 18:21

The easternmost point in the U.S., Eastport, will have darker mornings, but still perhaps tolerable. Menominee, which actually lies a little west of Chicago, would not be a fun place to live in January.

To review: There is a reason we change the clocks twice a year, which everyone forgets until it's dark at 8:30 am.

Moreover, wall-clock time is arbitrary. We can get up earlier or later if we choose to. Cassie, for instance, gets up at sunrise, and expects me to do the same, so I actually liked the change last weekend.

We also had a bunch of messages today about Iran, which has decreed that they will no longer change their clocks twice a year, with immediate effect. Now someone in Iran has to tell the authoritarian, anti-technology mullahs why it might take up to a year for their cell phones to reflect the change.

Not quite back to normal yet

We had two incredible performances of Bach's Johannespassion this weekend. (Update: we got a great review!) It's a notoriously difficult work that Bach wrote for his small, amateur church chorus in Leipzig the year he started working there. I can only imagine what rehearsals were like in 1724. I'm also grateful that we didn't include the traditional 90-minute sermon between the 39-minute first part and the 70-minute second part, and that we didn't conclude the work with the equally-traditional pogrom against the Jews of Leipzig.

It's still a magnificent work of music.

Meanwhile, elsewhere in the world:

Finally, Rachel Feltman lists five myths about Daylight Saving Time. Our annual tradition of questioning it without changing anything will continue, of course.

And it's about 16°C outside, so it's time to take Cassie on her third half-hour walk of the day.

It's not just Putin

Julia Ioffe, one of the best, most competent reporters covering Russia today, reminds us why Vladimir Putin's death or exile wouldn't change as much as some in the West think:

The first time I took a Soviet history class, it was taught by the legendary scholar and Stalin biographer Stephen Kotkin, who asked a question that has since been seared into my memory. During his lecture on Stalin’s terror, Kotkin asked, essentially, how can one man kill millions of people? Sure, Stalin could have said, kill the following 1,000 people. But any of us could say the same thing and nothing would happen. Not a single person would die. So how did Stalin kill not just 1,000 or 10,000 people, but millions of them?

When you read histories and memoirs of that era, you realize how many people were required to put the terror in motion and maintain it. When you think about all the snitches, investigators, drivers, interrogators, guards, cooks, doctors, and supervisors needed to carry out the execution and internment of tens of millions of people, you realize that there were probably more collaborators than victims. These were people who showed up at other people’s doors before dawn, ransacked their homes, and led them down to a waiting car, which someone then had to drive to a fully staffed, giant prison complex, where the prisoners were processed, thoroughly searched, and put in filthy, overcrowded cells. And on and on down the line.

If [this] was only Putin’s war, then nothing would have happened when he gave the order to invade Ukraine—much as nothing would happen if I gave the command to seize my neighbor’s car. It happened because millions of Russians are carrying out his orders, pulling the triggers and driving their tanks into Ukraine. It’s happening, too, because Russian people allow it to happen. Because, despite the thousands who protested the war over the weekend, tens of millions more support it. Three recent polls indicate that two-thirds of Russians support the war in Ukraine, at least the version they’re shown on television.

That’s why I believe that even if Putin dies tomorrow, we are far more likely to get a Yuri Andropov than a Khrushchev, though both were more than happy to continue with the system Stalin built, just with some modifications. Could a palace coup sweep out Putin’s old guard and change Russia completely and for the better, at least according to what we in the West think is better? Sure. Is it likely? I doubt it. The brilliant screenwriter and director Michael Idov once joked to me that, in 100 years, Russia had reproduced essentially the same system three times: an authoritarian bureaucracy with a cult of personality at its center. Whatever its ideological trappings—monarchist, communist, neo-fascist—the core was the same. It was, he joked, a robust enough pattern for a New York Times trend story.

Meanwhile, astronaut Scott Kelly (brother of former astronaut and current Democratic US Senator from Arizona Mark) nicely burned the head of the Russian space agency after the latter Tweeted a Putin-boot-licking video of Russian technicians removing foreign flags from a joint-venture rocket.

Europe's 9/11

Julia Ioffe remains one of the clearest voices about Russia in the Western press, not surprising as she was born in the USSR and lived the first few years of her life in Moscow. Her analysis of the first week of the Ukrainian invasion is a must-read:

For America, World War II was Pearl Harbor, island hopping in the Pacific, D-Day, the Battle of the Bulge. As bloody and horrific as those events were, they pale in comparison to what Europe experienced. In six years of war, the continent was leveled. Tens of millions of people were killed in the most novel and horrific ways. Many countries endured the brutality of military occupation. The trauma of that war is still present today in Europe in a way that is foreign to the United States. It is passed down from generation to generation. (The same thing is true of Ukraine and Russia. The Soviet Union lost 27 million people—15 percent of its population—in just four years. Every family lost many, many loved ones, and the trauma of that war is alive and well, thanks in part to Putin’s propaganda machine.) If you could make the images coming out of Ukraine black and white, it might be hard to tell the difference between September 1939 or June 1941. The fact that there is a land war happening again, in Europe, less than a century since the last one, and using a lot of the same language, has been extremely triggering for Europeans (as well as for Russians and Ukrainians). For Europeans, as some of the continent’s officials have told people in the Biden administration, “this is our 9/11.”

Putin is determined to see this matter through—all the way through. There is no way he stops now, and the more the Ukrainian people stand up to him, the more they mock him, the more determined he will be to crush them. He will not be humiliated by “Little Russians,” by residents of a country he doesn’t believe is real. He will not be vanquished by a Ukraine he thinks is a puppet of his mortal enemy, the United States. And because he has more troops and more firepower, he can have his way, even if it won’t be as easy as he initially thought. It’s why absolutely no one should discount the possibility that Putin might make good on his threat to use a nuclear weapon. He is that angry, and he wants it badly enough. It is existential for him now. As Russian TV host Dmitry Kiselev threatened on his Sunday night show, Russia is fully willing to fire 500 nuclear warheads at NATO countries. He explained why Russia would do this. “The principle is: why do we need the world if Russia won’t be in it?”

Earlier this week, I was on Morning Joe, and one of the other guests, Senator Chris Coons of Delaware, said that he believes that, in the end, Ukraine will triumph. Good will conquer evil. For a moment, I was dumbstruck. Everything he had said on the show until then was so rational and honest, so deeply grounded in grim reality. And yet, somehow, he managed to shoehorn this cloying little bromide in there: Ukraine is vastly outgunned, a no-fly zone is not possible, Russia will eventually get the upper hand—but Ukraine will win, eventually, because good conquers evil

What a perfectly American sentiment, I thought, born of the privilege of having never been invaded or occupied, of joining world wars long after the opening shots have been fired and then claiming the victors’ podium, of wearing nice little blinders that allow you to believe that progress is inevitable, linear, and irreversible. How nice it must be, as a white man in America, to never have to experience the consequences of the moral arc of the universe collapsing under the weight of the universe’s capacity for injustice, of evil getting away with absolutely everything. 

By the way, Ioffe named her blog "Tomorrow will be Worse." Yeah.\

For more fun reading, Craig Unger provides a timeline of the XPOTUS's career as a Russian asset.

Productive first day of spring

I finished a sprint at my day job while finding time to take Cassie to the dog park and make a stir-fry for lunch. While the unit tests continue to spin on my work computer, I have some time to read about all the things that went wrong in the world today:

I'm heading out tonight to watch President Biden's first State of the Union Address with friends. Robert Reich will also tune in.

Goodbye, winter

The temperature already hit 11°C at O'Hare today, melting the last bits of snow covering roads and sidewalks, and letting me wear regular shoes and a lighter coat for the first time in a couple of weeks. Spring officially starts tomorrow, and I'm ready for it.

I don't know the temperature in Kyiv, though, because they stopped sending weather reports after 5pm Saturday. I do know that the city still has water and electricity, because my friend keeps posting to Facebook. And I know from Julia Ioffe's reporting that Putin is losing, badly:

What’s key is that, for the third day in a row, the Russian army hasn’t been able to take a single regional capital or a single city. The Russians thought they would be greeted as liberators, but no one is greeting them. And the most important thing is that we all understand that they don’t have a chance. There is a clear understanding that they’ll never be able to capture the cities. They just won’t get in, because every brick and every piece of asphalt will fight them. There are 25,000 weapons in Kyiv alone and all these people will defend their city, they will all repel the invader. Because the Russians don’t have a chance. They haven’t been able to secure any territory. It’s incredible. The biggest army on the continent that has such power, and yet they haven’t taken a single city.

in the last three days, something very important happened. First of all, no one is scared anymore. At first, everyone was very scared. But then we all understood that there was no way out. We’re on our own land, we have to fight and we will fight. Now, people are still scared but there’s a sense that something shifted. I can’t imagine people laying down their arms. It’s impossible. People won’t lay down their arms. 

That’s why we’re seeing Putin start to break. The image of this great leader, he can do anything he wants in Moscow, he can get his way by breaking anyone over his leg like a twig—but not here. Here, you can go take a hike, bro. It’s not going to happen here. Everyone is telling you to fuck off. It’s become cool here. Our streets are now covered with billboards that say, “Russian ship, go fuck yourself.” Our railroad company wrote to the Russians, “Russian train, go fuck yourself.” Now everyone has told him to fuck off: all the countries of the European Union, who have closed their air space to him. Now we know that the Putin that we all thought was omnipotent, this image that he created and that his government media propagated, no longer exists. Now we all see that he’s a pathetic person who, despite having a massive army, couldn’t conquer anything.

There is no Putin. He made himself up and imposed himself on a huge nation that is now in total shock that this midget turned out to be a midget, rather than a king.

Yes, but the Russian Army still controls a lot of Ukraine. Stay tuned.