The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Busy day links

I had a lot going on at work today, so all I have left is a lame-ass "read these later" post:

I'd say "back to the mines," but I believe I have a date with Kristen Bell presently.

Spot the theme

A few articles to read at lunchtime today:

  • Will Peischel, writing for Mother Jones, warns that the wildfires in Australia aren't the new normal. They're something worse. (Hint: fires create their own weather, causing feedback loops no one predicted.)
  • A new analysis finds that ocean temperatures not only hit record highs in 2019, but also that the rate of increase is accelerating.
  • First Nations communities living on Manitoulin Island in Lake Huron—the largest freshwater island in the world—warn that human activity is disrupting millennia-old ecosystems in the Great Lakes.

Fortunately, those aren't the only depressing stories in the news today:

Now that I'm thoroughly depressed, I'll continue working on this API over here...

Get them while they're young, Evita, get them while they're young

The New York Times analyzed eight social-studies textbooks published in both California and Texas. Both states have state-wide standards for education, which textbook makers have to honor given the number of students in each state. You can guess some of the results:

The books have the same publisher. They credit the same authors. But they are customized for students in different states, and their contents sometimes diverge in ways that reflect the nation’s deepest partisan divides.

Hundreds of differences — some subtle, others extensive — emerged in a New York Times analysis of eight commonly used American history textbooks in California and Texas, two of the nation’s largest markets.

The differences between state editions can be traced back to several sources: state social studies standards; state laws; and feedback from panels of appointees that huddle, in Sacramento and Austin hotel conference rooms, to review drafts.

Requests from textbook review panels, submitted in painstaking detail to publishers, show the sometimes granular ways that ideology can influence the writing of history.

Context: I have a Bachelor's in history, and a law degree, which means I have read a lot of social studies texts (not just textbooks) in my life. I have Howard Zinn next to Paul Johnson in my bookshelf, for example. So I favor the California method of teaching kids about the warts. I also believe that knowing how we screwed up in the past helps us become a better nation.

I'm glad the Times did this analysis. It helps show one more way in which we live in two Americas, and how politicians try to keep it that way.

But I think George Washington's farewell address might guide us even today: "One of the expedients of party to acquire influence, within particular districts, is to misrepresent the opinions and aims of other districts. You cannot shield yourselves too much against the jealousies and heart-burnings, which spring from these misrepresentations; they tend to render alien to each other those, who ought to be bound together by fraternal affection."

(The title of this post refers to this bit from Evita.)

Lunchtime reading

Not that anything has happened lately...

Finally, the New York Times had a feature yesterday on new architecture for Antarctic research stations. Cool stuff (ah ha ha).

Short supply

Not that anyone was surprised, though many I'm sure were disappointed:

A handful of marijuana dispensaries around Illinois halted recreational weed sales over the weekend and plan to remain closed to the public for part of the week as they deal with product shortages.

Legal weed sales kicked off in Illinois on Wednesday, and customers spent almost $3.2 million at dispensaries that first day. It marked one of the strongest showings of any state in the history of pot legalization. Second day sales reached nearly $2.3 million, the state said.

Dispensary operators say long lines continued to form even after the first day. Over the weekend, certain dispensaries stopped selling recreational product. And for many of them, it is uncertain when they will start again.

Given the availability of marijuana in modern America through, ah, bespoke retail services, why the run on dispensaries? Novelty?

Who could have guessed this would be a problem?

Peter Nichols, writing in The Atlantic, points out the problem with President Trump's credibility gap:

Trump faces the gravest foreign-policy crisis of his tenure at a time when his credibility has been shredded. It’s not yet known how Iran will respond to the killing yesterday of its military leader Qassem Soleimani, but the country is already vowing “harsh” revenge. A conflict that has been escalating steadily on Trump’s watch is at risk of erupting into an armed confrontation. In times of war, commanders in chief need people’s trust, but for large swaths of the population, Trump hasn’t earned it. As Samantha Power, who was the ambassador to the United Nations under former President Barack Obama, tweeted this morning: “This is where having credibility—and having a president who didn’t lie about everything—would be really, really helpful.”

Compounding his credibility problem is a desiccated national-security team. Trump’s secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, might be leaving soon to campaign for a Senate seat in Kansas. His longtime defense secretary, James Mattis, resigned last year and was replaced only this summer. His national security adviser, Robert O’Brien, has been in place just a few months—the fourth person to hold the title in three years.

Among his tweets recounting the praise he’s gotten for killing Soleimani, Trump revealed he’s still stuck on impeachment and his own political survival. He posted a video of Representative Russ Fulcher, a Republican from Idaho, delivering a speech on the House floor in his defense, in which the congressman said he would tick off Trump’s crimes and misdemeanors. Then Fulcher stayed silent.

That sight gag, in between messages of support for the killing, is what the 45th president wanted his countrymen to see as they anxiously watched the news and wondered whether war was looming.

Meanwhile, it turns out the president blabbed to anyone who would listen at Mar-a-Lago about his plans to attack Soleimani before it happened.

Does this make any sense at all?

Yesterday, the United States assassinated Iranian Major General Qasem Soleimani, head of the Iranian Republican Guard Corps and its elite Quds Force.

While this may feel tactically advantageous, it makes no sense strategically. Even as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters today that the assassination made the world a safer place for Americans, his own department ordered Americans to leave Iraq immediately, and our forces overseas went on high alert.

President Trump appears to have taken this action on his own, without consulting the Gang of Eight as required by law. Or, apparently, without consulting anyone knowledgeable about Middle East policy. Jennifer Rubin:

if there is an overall strategy here, it is hidden under a pile of contradictory impulses. Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper claimed that we acted to deter further attacks on Americans. Nevertheless, it is widely anticipated that Iran will make good on its threat to avenge Soleimani’s death. One immediate consequence: Instead of mass protests against the regime, thousands of Iranians took to the streets to denounce the United States.

In other words, Trump has raised strategic incoherence to new levels. Acting without so much as briefing Congress and despite his own party’s qualms about a new war in the Middle East, Trump risks not only war but also political blowback should Iran retaliate. Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) tweeted the question on most lawmakers’ minds: “Soleimani was an enemy of the United States. That’s not a question. The question is this — as reports suggest, did America just assassinate, without any congressional authorization, the second most powerful person in Iran, knowingly setting off a potential massive regional war?”

There is plenty of reason for anxiety. We stand on the precipice of an international conflagration, with a president whose word cannot be trusted and whose impulsivity and ignorance are unmatched by any modern U.S. president. He is surrounded by yes men who command little if any respect outside the Trump cult.

Colin Powell famously said you need to answer eight questions before going to war: is a vital national security interest threatened? Do we have a clear, obtainable objective? Do we have genuine, broad, international support?

I don't have any idea how we can answer "yes" to any of these questions right now. But I do know that we have lots of strategic interests in the Middle East that Iran threatens. So why kick the hornets' nest like this? Is it, as Donald Trump once said of President Obama, to win an election?

I have a very bad feeling about this.

Long lines at head shops

As marijuana sales became legal (-ish) in Illinois yesterday, budding demand became overwhelming demand even before the stores opened:

Weed shops around the state opened at 6 a.m. to throngs of people. Cars packed the streets of a light-industrial park in Mundelein, home to the state’s busiest dispensary, Rise, owned by Green Thumb Industries. It’s one of the few that’s open in the northern suburbs.

When CEO Ben Kovler arrived at 5:30 a.m., there were more than 500 people lined up in the parking lot. “Our first customer said he got here at 5 last night,” Kovler said. “It’s a bigger crowd than we expected. The tidal wave (around recreational cannabis) is real.”

The first sale in the state was recorded at Dispensary 33 on North Clark Street in Uptown.

Cresco said it sold more than 9,000 cannabis items to about 3,400 customers at its five shops around the state. The average ring was $135.

So that's a lot of tax revenue. Let's hope it stays high. I did not wait in line to buy weed yesterday and I'm unlikely to do so any time soon. But I'm glad people can relax when they relax now.

And if you don't know how, the Chicago Tribune published some tips.

Two big 20th anniversaries today (and a centennial)

We typically think of January 1st as the day things happen. But December 31st is often the day things end.

On 31 December 1999, two things ended at nearly the same time: the presidency in Russia of Boris Yeltsin, and the American control of the Panama Canal Zone.

Also twenty years ago, my company gave me a $1,200 bonus ($1,893 in 2019 dollars) and a $600 suite for two nights in midtown Manhattan because I volunteered to spend four hours at our data center on Park Avenue, just so that Management could say someone was at the data center on Park Avenue continuously from 6am on New Year's Eve until 6pm on New Year's Day. Since all of the applications I wrote or had responsibility for were less than two years old, literally nothing happened. Does this count as an anniversary? I suppose not.

And one hundred years ago, 31 December 1919 was the last day anyone could legally buy alcohol in the United States for 13 years, as the Volstead Act took effect at midnight on 1 January 1920.

I'm DD tonight, but I will still raise a glass of Champagne to toast these three events.

Photo by Harris & Ewing - Library of Congress, Public Domain, Link