The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

March madness

At 7pm CT last night, it was 16°C; now, twelve hours later, it's -8°C, a 24°C drop. Can anyone say "cold front?"

It's not the biggest twelve-hour drop in Chicago history, but it does wake you up in the morning.

About that weather

I got so caught up in the rampant destruction in my office yesterday I forgot to mention it was the warmest day we've had since November 6th, four months ago. At least Tom Skilling reported it, else no one would have known.

Skilling said November 5th, but the official high maximum on November 6th—at midnight, sadly—was 18.3°C, same as yesterday's. Not that it matters; Parker and I haven't had a good, 90-minute walk in about that long.

More on John Yoo's Unique Scholarship

Now that the press have had a couple of days to digest the Bush Administration's anti-terror legal memos, a consensus of sorts is emerging:

Yale law professor Jack Balkin called [the memos] a "theory of presidential dictatorship. They say the battlefield is everywhere. And the president can do anything he wants, so long as it involves the military and the enemy."

The criticism was not limited to liberals. "I agree with the left on this one," said Orin Kerr, a law professor at George Washington University. The approach in the memos "was simply not a plausible reading of the case law. The Bush [Office of Legal Counsel] eventually rejected [the] memos because they were wrong on the law, and they were right to do so."

In a similarly outrageous bit of memorandizing, the Tribune on its Metromix site completely failed to include Duke of Perth in its list of the best fish and chips in Chicago. I mean, "skate crusted in panko with fries tossed in garlic oil, Pecorino-Romano and chives"? I'd bet it wouldn't even stain a paper towel.

All right, that's not in the same league as asserting dictatorial powers and destroying American democracy, but then again, all politics is local.

Pension bombs

Crain's Chicago Business reports today that the pension liabilities of several prominent employers have exploded just as their assets have imploded:

Boeing Co.'s shareholder equity is now $1.2 billion in the hole thanks to an $8.4-billion gap between its pension assets and the projected cost of its obligations for 2008. At the end of 2007, Boeing had a $4.7-billion pension surplus. If its investments don't turn around, the Chicago-based aerospace giant will have to quadruple annual contributions to its plan to about $2 billion by 2011.

... At Peoria-based Caterpillar, shareholder equity dropped more than 25% from the previous year after the company booked a $5.8-billion pension shortfall and its plan went from 93% funded to 61% funded.

That means Cat has to pay an additional 1.5 percentage points of interest to keep its untapped credit lines intact, according to SEC filings. Its pension assets sank 30% last year, and this year's contribution will more than double to about $1 billion. A Cat spokesman declines to comment.

In many cases these pension deficits will hurt exactly the people who need them most.

New Orleans, Chicago style

A report released today says the century-old Illinois Sanitary and Ship Canal is crumbling, which could be bad news for Joliet:

"We have 39 feet of water that we are holding off Joliet," [Lockmaster Dave] Nolen said, pointing downstream to downtown Joliet as he stood Thursday on a deck overlooking the watertight gates at one end of the lock. "People in Joliet probably wouldn't be able to sleep at night if they knew how devastating the flooding would be because of a breach," he said, raising his voice to be heard above the roar of 25 million gallons of swirling water being released downstream after a barge traveling up-river passed through the lock.

... "Modernizing the nation's waterways provides an incredible return on the dollar," said Jim Farrell, executive director of the chamber's infrastructure council. "It's a relatively minor cost compared to fixing O'Hare [International Airport] or modernizing the rapid transit system in Chicago." A single barge has the cargo capacity equivalent to 15 jumbo hopper freight cars or 58 large semitrailer trucks, according to transportation experts.

Of course, the Godforsaken Old Party would call fixing the locks an "earmark," so it's unclear where the money will come from.

Eat, bubbe! Eat!

One of my oldest friends—I mean, 5th-grade-old—opened a restaurant this past fall: Mint Julep Bistro, 53 W. Slade St., Palatine, +1 (847) 934-3000. The Chicago Tribune has now reviewed it:

Without reservations on a recent Saturday, we waited in the intimate lounge where, to management's credit, nobody pushed apps or booze on us. But we wanted both, and it fortunately didn't take long to fill our order. There's plenty of bourbon and a lovely wine list by the glass/bottle. We bypassed the bourbon (we’ll be back for that) and ordered a glass of French viognier ($6.25) and a winter white ale ($4.25) to accompany an order of three scrumptious, sizable crab cakes ($10.50). Fall-apart tender and made with the prime meat from the claw, the cakes were further enhanced with the well-balanced remoulade sauce.

But don't fill up too much. The menu is big, with one tempting entree after another starring seafood, beef, poultry and a vegetarian platter. (We heard a grateful remark from a nearby diner, who hadn't expected that.) I opted for seafood, and the menu’s plainly titled Shrimp 'n Grits ($16) belied a far more evocative entree: Six firecracker shrimp elegantly plated with a trio of perfectly fried, crunchy-tender grit cakes in a velvety bourbon cream sauce. Rich and almost over the top. My companion’s butcher’s cut steak ($22), a grilled-to-order cut from meat above the filet, arrived with melt-in-your-mouth acorn squash and potato-andouille hash that offered a fresh departure from plain mashed spuds.

Both chefs made appearances throughout their restaurant, stopping at tables and chatting with the clientele. Nice touch.

It's a long haul from the city, but some of us have plans to go back up there again soon. Rich, the aforementioned friend, has a smoker, and the pulled pork is worth the trip.

At least he got a new line on his tombstone

Ah, Roland, we hardly knew ye:

U.S. Sen. Roland Burris said today he is open to a Senate ethics investigation into how he got the Senate seat from ex-Gov. Rod Blagojevich and that he has reached out to a Sangamon County prosecutor who is reviewing Burris' sworn testimony before Illinois lawmakers.

No one in the U.S. can be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, but if someone really, really wants to—say, by babbling to a room full of reporters— he is certainly allowed.

Yes, it's good to be home.