The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Happy Friday, with its 7pm sunset

It happens every September in the mid-latitudes: one day you've got over 13 hours of daylight and sunsets around 7:30, and two weeks later you wake up in twilight and the sun sets before dinnertime. In fact, Chicago loses 50 minutes of evening daylight and an hour-twenty overall from the 1st to the 30th. We get it all back in March, though. Can't wait.

Speaking of waiting:

Finally, Fareed Zakaria visited Kyiv, Ukraine, to learn the secret of the country's success against Russia.

Good thing there's an El

My commute to work Friday might get a little longer, as Metra has announced that 9 out of its 11 lines (including mine) would likely not operate if railroad engineers and conductors go on strike Friday. Amtrak has already started cancelling trains so they won't get stranded mid-route should the strike happen.

In other news:

  • Cook County tax bills won't come out until late autumn, according to the County President, meaning no one knows how much cash they have to escrow when they sell real estate.
  • The Post has an interactive map showing everywhere in the US that hit a record high temperature this summer.
  • US Rep. Marjorie Taylor "Still Smarter than Lauren Boebert" Greene (R-GA) has come up with a climate-change theory so dumb it actually seems smart.
  • US Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC), another intellectual giant of the 117th Congress, proposed a Federal abortion ban, demonstrating a keen command of how most people in the United States view the issue.
  • Robert Wright explores "why we're so clueless about Putin."
  • Block Club Chicago explains why my neighborhood and a few others experienced massive geysers coming out of storm drains during Sunday's flooding rains.

Finally, right-wing lawyer Kenneth Starr died at age 76. No reaction yet from Monica Lewinsky.

Amazing late-summer weather

The South's misfortune is Chicago's benefit this week as a hot-air dome over Texas has sent cool Canadian air into the Midwest, giving us in Chicago a perfect 26°C afternoon at O'Hare—with 9°C dewpoint. (It's 25°C at IDTWHQ.) Add to that a sprint review earlier today, and I might have to spend a lot more time outside today.

So I'll just read all this later:

Finally, the leader of the Westminster city council in London really wants to close down the "American" candy stores opening up all up and down Oxford Street.

Plan for Sunday: read, write, nap

However, to get to Sunday, I have to finish a messy update to my work project, rehearse for several hours tomorrow, figure out a marketing plan for a product, and walk Cassie for hours.

I also want to read these things:

And tonight I'm going to watch Neil Gaiman's Sandman on Netflix, which has gotten pretty good reviews.

Tomorrow will be quieter

Today, though, I've got a lot of debugging, and several chorus meetings on various topics, plus a condo association meeting that I really don't want to attend. Since I'm president of both the chorus and the condo association (one voluntary, one voluntold), I can't shirk either.

Meanwhile, some of the grain silos that remind Beirut of the massive government incompetence that led to a massive aluminum nitrate explosion two years ago today collapsed, fortunately before the memorial began.

And one of the four finalists in the National Institutes of Standards and Technology (NIST) competition for a quantum-computer-resistant encryption algorithm got cracked by the equivalent of a home laptop in an hour.

Other newsworthy things happened today but I've got to get back to debugging.

Still ridiculously busy

At least I don't have an opera rehearsal tonight. That means I might, just might, have some time to read these once I finish preparing for a 7am meeting tomorrow:

Finally, the old Morton Salt plant on Chicago's Near North Side opened last night as a new music venue called "The Salt Shed." It even got a new coat of paint.

Practical advice on getting narcissists out of politics

This evening I finished psychologist Bill Eddy's Why we elect narcissists and sociopaths and how we can stop. It turns out, we just need to be rational!

OK, so, that's not likely. But Eddy does lay out the obvious: we need to stop electing narcissists and sociopaths. We also need to watch out for sick politicians dividing us into 4 groups that could work together but don't: Loyalists, Resisters, Moderates, and dropouts. The three groups who don't have automatic loyalty to the narcissist in question always outnumber the Loyalists.

In other words, when a politician says "I alone can fix it," the correct response is to ensure he (it's always "he") never holds any power. Because he will always try to increase his power to the detriment of everyone around him. And he will never fix it.

A quick dictionary of political terms

Back in February, Tom Nichols published a short primer on what political terms actually mean, in hopes of more reasonable and accurate discussion:

There was a thing, years ago, called The Handbook of Political Science. It’s now out of print, but no one wants to read hundreds of pages of that. Instead, let me offer a quick and dirty version of some of these terms, with a bit of snark and apologies to Ambrose Bierce (wherever he is) for incompetently lifting a Devil’s Dictionary approach.

Some of my fellow political scientists and historians will take issue with what I have here. I say to them: If you want to have long arguments about Juan Linz or Hannah Arendt, let’s do that in our patched elbows over some sherry. For now, I just want informed and engaged citizens to think twice about the kinds of words they’re slinging about a tad too loosely these days.

Liberal Democracy

What it is: A system of government that lets you read cranky articles about politics like the one you’re reading right now.

More specifically, democracies derive a ruling mandate from the free choices of citizens, who are equal before the law and who can freely express their preferences. Liberal democracies enshrine a respect for basic human rights (including the right of old cranks to speak their mind). Rights are, one might say, unalienable: The losers of elections do not have their rights stripped away. All citizens abide by constitutional and legal rules agreed upon in advance of elections and are willing to transfer power back and forth to each other peaceably.

What it isn’t: “The majority always rules.” Getting everything you want every time. Governing without negotiation or compromise. Winning every election. Never living with outcomes that disappoint you. Never running out of toilet paper or cat food.

Democracy, in sum, is not “things you happen to like.”

It turns out, most things, in sum, are not “things you happen to (dis-)like.”

He also has some comforting words about what the end of our democracy will look like to most people. Not very comforting, but, well... "Remember always that the post-Trump Republicans are now, at heart, mostly a kind of venal junta, a claque of avaricious mooks who want to stay in office but who don’t really know why, other than that they like money, power, and being on television. (Also, I firmly agree with George Will that they don’t want to live among their own constituents, who mostly scare the bejeebers out of them.) Most of them have no actual program beyond political survival."

The resolution of constitutional crises

Max Fisher outlines how constitutional crises resolve, and suggests we should look at Latin America, not Europe, for insight into our own potential upheavals:

Such crises, with democracy’s fate left to a handful of officials, rarely resolve purely on legal or constitutional principles, even if those might later be cited as justification.

Rather, their outcome is usually determined by whichever political elites happen to form a quick critical mass in favor of one result. And those officials are left to follow whatever motivation — principle, partisan antipathy, self-interest — happens to move them.

Taken together, the history of modern constitutional crises underscores some hard truths about democracy. Supposedly bedrock norms, like free elections or rule of law, though portrayed as irreversibly cemented into the national foundation, are in truth only as solid as the commitment of those in power. And while a crisis can be an opportunity for leaders to reinforce democratic norms, it can also be an opportunity to revise or outright revoke them.

Presidential democracies [like ours and those in Latin America], by dividing power among competing branches, create more opportunities for rival offices to clash, even to the point of usurping one another’s powers. Such systems also blur questions of who is in charge, forcing their branches to resolve disputes informally, on the fly and at times by force.

I worry.

Day 2 of isolation

Even though I feel like I have a moderate cold (stuffy, sneezy, and an occasional cough), I recognize that Covid-19 poses a real danger to people who haven't gotten vaccinations or who have other comorbidities. So I'm staying home today except to walk Cassie. It's 18°C and perfectly sunny, so Cassie might get a lot of walks.

Meanwhile, I have a couple of things to occupy my time:

Finally, today is the 210th anniversary of the War of 1812 and the 207th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo.