The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Tuesday's child is a weird one

It's Tuesday afternoon, and I think I'm caught up with everything in the way of me ploughing through some coding at work the remainder of the week. At some point, I might even read all of these through:

Finally, North Korean troops detained a US soldier after he intentionally crossed the demarcation line in the Joint Security Area, apparently after deserting while en route to the US for unspecified disciplinary measures arising from a separate incident. When I visited the JSA in 2013, a tour guide told me that this happens occasionally, and the North Korean army rarely gives the person back. Not sure life in a North Korean prison beats an other-than-honorable discharge from the US Army, but what do I know?

Run, you clever unit tests, and pass

The first day of a sprint is the best day to consolidate three interfaces with three others, touching every part of the application that uses data. So right now, I am watching most of my unit tests pass and hoping I will figure out why the ones that failed did so before I leave today.

While the unit tests run, I have some stuff to keep me from getting too bored:

Finally, the 2023 Emmy nominations came out this morning. I need to watch The White Lotus and Succession before HBO hides them.

Update: 2 out of 430 tests have failed (so far) because of authentication timeouts with Microsoft Key Vault. That happens on my slow-as-molasses laptop more often than I like.

No hurry to get to Ravinia tonight

I've got tickets to see Straight No Chaser with some chorus friends at Ravinia Park tonight—on the lawn. Unfortunately, for the last 8 hours or so, our weather radar has looked like this:

I haven't got nearly as much disappointment as the folks sitting in Grant Park right now waiting for a NASCAR race that will never happen in this epic rainfall. (I think Mother Nature is trying to tell NASCAR something. Or at least trying to tell Chicago NASCAR fans something. Hard to tell.)

While I'm waiting to see if it will actually stop raining before my train leaves at 5:49pm, I have this to read:

I am happy the roofers finished my side of my housing development already. The people across the courtyard have discovered the temporary waterproofing was a bit more temporary than the roofers intended.

Government by criminal gangs

While "nobody knows nothin'" about why Yevgeny Prigozhin started or stopped his march on Moscow over the weekend, it exposed the horrible truth that under Vladimir Putin, Russia has become a failed, captured state governed by gangs:

Prigozhin, like Putin, was born and raised in Leningrad, which was renamed St. Petersburg as the Soviet Union was crumbling. As a young man, Prigozhin was a petty criminal and was eventually arrested and sentenced to twelve years in prison for robbing apartments. He was released after nine years. The rest of his biography resembles that of so many around Putin. After making some money selling hot dogs at the local flea market, he got involved in the grocery business, then casinos, construction, catering, and restaurants. He formed a close relationship with Putin, a frequent diner at his establishments, and that put him in a position to increase his good fortune. Private planes, helicopters, and immense residences soon followed—as did the founding of troll farms in St. Petersburg and the Wagner Group, a military contractor that was heartily supported by Putin as a way to help assist Russian Army troops.

In the early days of his reign, Putin was known in the West mainly for his background in the K.G.B. But his popular appeal also had to do with his ability to exploit the street swagger and the language of his days as a kid who played and fought in the poorer courtyards of his home town. Putin was not afraid to make cutting jokes or use profanity in public appearances. He promised to kill enemies in their “outhouses.” This distinguished him, back then, as a man close to ground, close to the narod, the people.

[Kremlin reporter Mikhail Zygar explains], “The F.S.B. [a successor to the K.G.B.] and G.R.U. [military intelligence] is not a single clan; it is a mixture of different clans, and we will see how they are going to react. For years, Putin has selected his inner circle with only one criterion: a lack of ambition. They are not the best of the best. They are the worst of the worst. So how will such mediocrities face up to one desperately brave person, or a desperately brave group of terrorists? We will see.”

It's a bit sobering to think of Don Corleone controlling 3,000 nuclear weapons, isn't it? Meanwhile, no one has heard from Prigozhin since Saturday...

A wish list

I'll elaborate on this later, but I just want to list a couple of things I desperately want for my country and city during my lifetime. For comparison, I'm also listing when other places in the world got them first. For context, I expect (hope?) to live another 50 years or so.

Universal health care, whether through extending Medicare to all residents or through some other mechanism. The UK got it in 1948, Canada in 1984, and Germany in 1883. We're the only holdout in the OECD, and it benefits no one except the owners and shareholders of private insurance companies to continue our broken system.

Universal child care, which would enable single parents to work without going broke on daycare. Much of Continental Europe makes this a no-brainer, with free day care for little kids and extended school hours for older ones. In a report covering 41 rich countries, UNICEF puts Luxembourg first, Germany 5th, Canada 22nd...and the US 40th. Only Slovakia treats its kids worse. (The UK is 35th, which is sad.)

Term limits on appellate judges, including an 18-year term for the Supreme Court and a 13-year term for the Circuit Courts. The UK and Canada require judges to retire at 75; Japan at 70; and Mexico after 15 years. Every US State (except Rhode Island) has some limitation on its supreme court, whether through mandatory retirement, term limits, or elections. This doesn't require anything more than an act of Congress, as former Justices and Appellate Judges would still continue to serve in other Federal courts "during good Behaviour." I would also like to see a Governor-appointed, single-term Illinois supreme court.

A functioning opposition party, both at the Federal level (either through the Republicans coming to their senses or a serious third party replacing them in opposition or governance), and here in Illinois. As much as I like the current Democratic trifecta in my state, I don't think single-party governance is healthy, as it tends to become single-party rule, followed shortly by something worse. All of our peer nations (except possibly the Republic of Korea) have had two or more functioning parties since the end of World War II. Only 11 US states currently have divided governments, and in 4 of the 6 most populous (California, New York, Texas, and Illinois), the party out of power has almost no power at all and no hope of getting elected this decade. Illinois farmers need an effective voice in the General Assembly; right now, they have the modern GOP.

A larger House of Representatives. We last expanded our lower house in 1913, when the US population was less than 1/3 what it is today. As of 2020, each congressional district has an average population of 762,000, with Delaware having its entire population of nearly 1 million represented by one person. The average Canadian riding has 108,000, the average UK constituency is between 56,000 (Wales) and 72,000 (England), and the Bundestag elects 598 members on a proportional basis by party and Land population. One plan I like would take the largest state that currently has 1 representative (Delaware), give it and the three smaller states 2, then use that as the size of the other districts. At roughly 500,000 per district, we'd have around 650 representatives, giving us a House the size of the UK House of Commons.

End Gerrymandering. Require that all electoral districts for any office have compact, contiguous outlines drawn by non-partisan commissions at each level of government. I would also allow multi-representative districts chosen by proportional vote (for example, a 2-person district where the first and second vote-getters win). Canada passed legislation making malapportionment much harder in the 1990s, as did the UK in 2015, while Germany has proportional representation which nearly (but not totally) obviates it. This has to be done nationally, because as the Democratic legislatures in California and Illinois would like to remind the Republican legislatures in Texas and Florida, we'll put down our guns when you put down yours.

Realistic gun regulation, including mandatory licensure and registration, limits and painful taxes on ammunition purchases, and allowing local jurisdictions to set their own regulations—up or down, for the sake of rural residents—on who can own what kinds of firearms. The UK and Australia famously enacted tough laws after mass shootings in 1996; Canada in 1977; Germany in 1973. I should also point out that Switzerland—where every adult male must own a gun—has more liberal gun laws than the US in some ways, but still restricted entire classes of weapons in 2019, and has severe penalties for misusing them.

De-militarize local police forces. There's a reason George Washington feared a standing army, and why many Americans fear they live with one today. Everyone who cares about police policy should read Radley Balko's The Rise of the Warrior Cop. All of our peer nations have strict rules against police agencies using military weapons and tactics, and most UK cops still walk around unarmed and unmolested to this day. I've used Germany as a Continental example for many of these points, so let me just say that Germany has a great deal of experience with heavily-armed local paramilitary forces, and they don't ever want to see them again. Why are we building them here? We frogs need to hop out of the pot—and soon.

Fully-electric commuter rail in Chicago. London skipped from coal to electric in the 1950s, and Munich in the 1920s. Toronto, sadly, still uses diesel trains, but they're fixing that. Sure, this would cost about $5 billion, but it would bring more than that in benefits to the whole Chicago area. For example, a side-effect of London electrifying was to drastically increase the value of workingmen's houses along rights-of-way (seriously, £1.2 m for a tiny house!), as they're awfully convenient to Central London without getting flaming cinders dropped on them anymore.

High-speed rail between most US cities less than 500 km apart, like Chicago-Detroit, San Francisco-L.A.-San Diego, and Dallas-Houston-San Antonio. (Not to mention, real high-speed rail throughout the Northeast Corridor, none of this anemic 110 km/h crap.) Most of Europe has had true HSR since the 1990s, starting with the French TGV in the 1980s. The London-Paris Eurostar came in 1994, moving people between the two cities in just over two hours—quicker than you can get from central London to your airplane seat at Heathrow. It's criminal that it takes 4½ hours to travel the 450 km between Chicago and Detroit, while you can get from Paris to Lyon (also about 450 km) in just over 2. And if they can spend £25 billion (in 2023 pounds) to build a 50-kilometer tunnel under the English Channel, we can spend half that to build a 20-kilometer tunnel under Long Island Sound, FFS.

This list isn't exhaustive, by any means. I believe the US has the resources to accomplish all of them in the next 10 years, let alone the next 50. We just lack the political will, especially in the modern Republican Party, which lacks the understanding that American greatness has always depended on collective effort.

The United States is no longer the greatest country in the world...but it could be again.

Late lunch

I had a lot going on this morning, so I'm only now snarfing down a Chipotle bowl. Also, I'm going to have to read these things tomorrow:

Finally, today is the 35th anniversary of the best baseball movie of all timeBull Durham. If I had time I'd watch it tonight.

Three very bad dudes died last week

We lost three people last week whose deaths have made the world ever so slightly better on balance. Religious swindler Pat Robertson went first on Wednesday. Then Saturday, Ted Kaczynski, also known as the "Unabomber" for his terror campaign against university professors in the 1990s, killed himself in his jail cell:

Kaczynski was found unresponsive in his cell around 12:30 a.m. ET and transported to a local hospital where he was pronounced dead, according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

Kaczynski was previously in a maximum security facility in Colorado but was moved to a federal medical center in Butner, North Carolina, in December 2021 due to poor health.

Kaczynski, who went nearly 20 years without being captured until his arrest in 1996, was considered America's most prolific bomber.

Between 1978 and 1995, Kaczynski placed or mailed 16 bombs that killed three people and injured two dozen others, according to authorities.

Finally, yesterday the world lost Silvio Berlusconi, the corrupt former prime minister of Italy whose entry into politics to stymie the many legal cases against him  may have inspired the XPOTUS to do the same:

Liberal politicians, and the prosecutors he demonized as their judicial wing, watched in dismay as he used appeals and statutes of limitations to avoid punishment despite being convicted of false accounting, bribing judges and illegal political party financing.

His governments spent an inordinate amount of time on laws that seemed tailor-made to protect him from decades of corruption trials, a goal that some of his closest advisers acknowledged was why he had entered politics in the first place.

One law overturned a court ruling that would have required Mr. Berlusconi to give up one of his TV networks; others downgraded the crime of false accounting and reduced the statute of limitations by half, effectively cutting short several trials involving his businesses. He enjoyed parliamentary immunity, but in 2003 his government went further, passing a law granting him immunity from prosecution while he remained in office — in effect suspending his corruption trials.

By the time he finally resigned in 2011, amid a fractured conservative coalition and general national malaise, a good deal of damage seemed to have been done. Many analysts held him responsible for harming Italy’s reputation and financial health and considered his time in power a lost decade that the country had struggled to recover from.

On a totally different topic, while I traveled last week I read Death of the Great Man by psychiatrist Peter Kramer, a book journalist James Fallows recommended back in April.

OK, maybe not a totally different topic. You should read the book, though.

Wednesday afternoon potpourri

On this day in 2000, during that more-innocent time, Beverly Hills 90210 came to an end. (And not a day too soon.) As I contemplate the void in American culture its departure left, I will read these articles:

Finally, a new genetic study suggests that "modern humans descended from at least two populations that coexisted in Africa for a million years before merging in several independent events across the continent." Cool.

Too much to read

A plethora:

  • Google has updated its satellite photos of Mariupol, clearly showing the destruction from Russia's invasion and subsequent siege.
  • Senators Angus King (I-ME) and Lisa Murkowsky (R-AK) have introduced legislation to force the Supreme Court—read: Justices Thomas (R$) and Gorsuch (R)—to adopt a binding code of ethics. Presumably a Democratic bill that would actually let Congress set the Court's ethical standards will come soon.
  • On Monday, the city will cut down a bur oak they estimate has lived over 250 years.
  • The US Army will rename a Virginia fort after Lt. Gen. Arthur Gregg and Lt. Col. Charity Adams, replacing the name of a disgraced traitor named Robert E. Lee.
  • Carolyn Bryant Donham, whose false accusation that teenager Emmett Till whistled at her resulted in her fellow racists lynching the boy, died on Tuesday at 88.
  • Emma Durand-Wood discovers what many of us already knew: having a fitness tracker, and getting your steps in, makes you very aware of walkable environments.
  • Nicholas Dagen Bloom's new book explains why public transit in the US has done poorly for the last 75 years (hint: racism).
  • Max Holleran suggests a way to make US cities cleaner (and encourage more public transit use): make parking impossible.
  • Bruce Schneier suggests a publicly-funded AI could help save democracy—or at least offset the likely harms from only having privately-owned AIs.
  • Three Colorado teens face murder charges after an evening of throwing rocks from an overpass killed a 20-year-old driver.
  • In a less destructive prank gone wrong, seniors at Northridge Prep, a Catholic high school in north suburban Niles, accidentally let a steer loose in the village this morning.

Finally, as we approach the 50th anniversary of Gary Gygax creating Dungeons & Dragons, Christopher Borrelli suggests putting a statue of him up in downtown Lake Geneva. I concur. Or, since he spent the first seven years of his life just a few blocks away from where I'm sitting right now (on Kenmore near Wrigley Field), why not put one there, too? (One of my favorite memories from childhood is playing 5 minutes of AD&D with Gygax as DM.)

The men who wouldn't shut up

Two stories, related only in the self-perception of their protagonists. First, this morning Fox "News" announced that Tucker Carlson uttered his last bigotry for them on Friday:

A reason was not immediately provided.

“Mr. Carlson’s last program was Friday April 21st,” a statement read. “Fox News Tonight will air live at 8 PM/ET starting this evening as an interim show helmed by rotating FOX News personalities until a new host is named.”

The shock announcement ends Carlson’s meteoric rise at Fox News, where his brand of xenophobia, white grievance, and hate transformed Carlson into a singular force at the conservative news network—and its top presenter. Tucker Carlson Tonight has also been labeled the most racist show in the history of cable news.

Meanwhile, a quarter of the world away, the Chinese ambassador to France said out loud what China and Russia have said privately for years, with unfortunate results:

Lu Shaye, China’s ambassador to France, said the countries in eastern Europe that gained independence following the USSR’s fall in 1991 did not have “effective” sovereign status in international law.

Officials in Europe reacted furiously, especially in the Baltic states of Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania, which are in constant fear of meddling and even attack from neighboring Russia.

Lu has "pulled the rug out from under China’s intention of being any sort of mediator between Russia and Ukraine,” tweeted Sari Arho Havrén, an adjunct professor at the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies, a research organization run by the American and German militaries. “Not recognizing Ukraine as a sovereign state, exactly as Russia claims, makes China 100% on Russia’s side.”

Actually, I suspect China doesn't really care what happens to Ukraine, or the Baltic states, being focused as they are on an island 100 kilometers off the coast of Quanzhou. (You could even say they have worried about the island formosa the time since they parted ways, but that's cheap even for me.)

I've got the popcorn out to watch the fallout from both events.