The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

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.

It's like a mild cold that can kill your neighbors

On day 3 of my symptomatic Covid-19 experience, I feel about the same as I did yesterday, but more annoyed. It's exactly the kind of day when I would meet friends at a beer garden or outdoor restaurant and not sit inside reading. But I don't want to expose people who can't get vaccinated to possible illness (people who can get vaccinated and choose not to, however...), and after a 3 km walk with Cassie half an hour ago, I really can't do much more than sit and read for a while.

My friends who have gotten this strain in the last six weeks or so report that my experience sounds about right, and I should be through symptoms by Tuesday. And looking ahead at my summer plans, which include a trip to Austin at the end of this month and a trip to the UK at the end of July, plus two opera performances and many afternoons sitting at beer gardens, it turns out this was simply the best weekend for me to miss. Lucky me!

Cassie, on the other hand, seems bored. And she would very much like that squirrel to get just a bit closer:

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.

San Antonio loses an orchestra

The San Antonio Symphony dissolved itself yesterday, to howls of anger from its musicians:

The board of the Symphony Society of San Antonio cited stalled negotiations with the Musicians’ Union and the lack of a labour contract.

In a statement on the San Antonio Symphony’s website, the board said: “The last bargaining session between the Symphony Society and the Musicians’ Union took place on March 8, 2022 after which the Union declined to return to the bargaining table, despite efforts of federal mediators and the Symphony.

The symphony’s musicians had been on strike since late September 2021, when they were asked to take a pay cut from $35,774 (£29,097) to $17,710 (£14,404) a year.

In September Mary Ellen Goree, chair of the San Antonio Symphony musicians negotiating committee and principal second violin, said musicians had been “shocked and appalled” by the proposal, which would have reduced their salaries to less than the living wage.

Goree suggested the board's move might violate an existing contract:

She cited a 2019 contract that specifies what needs to be done if there is a dissolution of the San Antonio Symphony Society, the board that manages the symphony.

She read an excerpt of the document to TPR: “Such transfer of assets shall be subject to the approval of the Union and the members of the orchestra, as well as the Board of Directors of the society.”

The only vote taken was within the Symphony Society.

The news reached Sebastian Lang-Lessing, the symphony's former music director, during a visit to South Korea. He said the move by management was indefensible.

“It's totally in contradiction with the mission of the San Antonio Symphony, and they need to be held accountable for that," he said. "By just dissolving now and ... to blame to the musicians is a very arrogant move.”

The union's own statement calls out the Symphony Board for financial mismanagement:

“What the Symphony can afford,” of course, is directly tied to what the leadership of the Symphony Society is willing to raise. It is telling that the past 30+ years have been an unbroken trend of the San Antonio metropolitan area becoming larger and larger, and the Symphony budget becoming smaller and smaller. Given our population growth and the number of corporations either headquartered or doing significant business in San Antonio, the idea that San Antonio cannot support an orchestra even at the level of Omaha, Nebraska (an orchestra with a $9M budget), is ludicrous.

On September 26, 2021, the SSSA wrongfully declared impasse and imposed draconian terms that would reduce the size of the orchestra by 40%, cut the pay (already barely above a living wage) of the remaining 60% by 33%, and offer most of the remaining 40% of the musicians a salary of just over $11,000 a year with no benefits. Agreeing to such terms would have been meant agreeing to our own destruction, so on September 27, the musicians called an unfair labor practice strike.

There seems to be a lot more to this story, and I'm curious if anyone down there might commit some journalism to finding out what.

Ffffffuuuuuuuuuuuuu

I guess it was inevitable:

So far, I have what feels like a mild cold: sniffy, stuffy, and tired. But my temperature was 36.3°C a few minutes ago, which is perfectly normal for me, and I don't appear to have anything more than an occasional cough.

I am so glad this didn't happen a week ago. Actually, this is about the best time it could have happened. It's still irritating on many levels though.

Theft of the commons

Writer Eula Biss essays on the disappearance of common grazing lands through enclosure laws as part of a larger pattern of class struggle (and no, she's not a Marxist):

In the time before enclosure, shared pastures where landless villagers could graze their animals were common. Laxton [England] had two, the Town Moor Common and the much larger Westwood Common, which together supported a hundred and four rights to common use, with each of these rights attached to a cottage or a toft of land in the village. In Laxton, the commons were a resource reserved for those with the least: both the commons and the open fields were owned by the lord of the manor, and only villagers with little more than a cottage held rights to the commons.

As a visitor from the age of private property, it seems remarkable to me that commoners held rights to land they did not own or rent, but, at the time, it was commonplace. In addition to common pasture, commoners were granted rights of pannage, of turbary, of estovers, and of piscary—rights to run their pigs in the woods, to cut peat for fuel, to gather wood from the forests, and to fish. These were rights to subsistence, rights to live on what they could glean from the land. In the course of enclosure, as written law superseded customary law, commoners lost those rights. Parliament made property rights absolute, and the traditional practice of living off the land was redefined as theft. Gleaning became trespassing, and fishing became poaching. Commoners who continued to common were now criminals.

The story of enclosure is sometimes told as a deal, or a transaction, in which landowners traded away their traditional relationship with the landless in exchange for greater independence. By releasing themselves from their social obligations to provide for the poor, they gained the freedom to farm for profit. And this freedom, or so the story goes, is what allowed the increased efficiencies that we call the agricultural revolution. Commoners lost, in the bargain, the freedom once afforded to them by self-sufficiency. Dispossessed of land, they were now bound to wages.

The landowners who promoted enclosure promised “improvement,” and “improvement” is still the word favored by some historians. But we should be wary of the promotional language of the past. Leaving the commons to the commoners, one eighteenth-century advocate of enclosure argued, would be like leaving North America to the Native Americans. It would be a waste, he meant. Imagine, he suggested, allowing the natives to exercise their ancient rights and to continue to occupy the land—they would do nothing more with it than what they were already doing, and they would not “improve” it. Improvement meant turning the land to profit. Enclosure wasn’t robbery, according to this logic, because the commoners made no profit off the commons, and thus had nothing worth taking.

The whole essay is worth a read.

High temperature record and other hot takes

Chicago's official temperature at O'Hare hit 35°C about two hours ago, tying the record high temperature set in 1994. Currently it's pushing 36°C with another hour of warming likely before it finally cools down overnight. After another 32°C day tomorrow, the forecast Friday looks perfect.

While we bake by the lake today, a lot has gone down elsewhere:

Finally, apparently John Scalzi and I have the same appreciation for Aimee Mann.

Santa Cruz votes to keep abandoned rail line

In what one Daily Parker reader describes as "a Twitter fight come to life," the city of Santa Cruz, Calif., voted to keep an abandoned, unusable railway through its downtown because of the possibility that, in some possible future, trains might once again take passengers to Watsonville:

On June 7, about 70% of Santa Cruz County voters chose to reject a measure called the Greenway Initiative, which would have supported ripping out a portion of the tracks and replacing them with a bike path and pedestrian trail along the old train corridor. Instead, voters affirmed a plan to cling  to the rails and to the possibility of introducing regular passenger train travel, along with building some form of adjacent walkway.

The decisive vote was less of a mandate and more of a symbolic gesture, according to the Santa Cruz County counsel, because what comes next will be decided by the Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission, which owns the rail line and has already been developing plans to create a combined rail-and-trail route to connect the beach city of Santa Cruz with Watsonville, a working-class, predominately Latino city about 20 miles down the coast.

“A train in 25 to 30 years does nothing in the next 25 to 30 years,” said Bud Colligan, a venture capitalist and local philanthropist who donated $20,000 to the measure and was one of its leading backers. “The train is completely unfunded; there’s no plan, we don’t have the population or the tax base to support it, and the likelihood of that happening is next to zero.”

But the fight over the measure was not just a battle of the train-lovers versus the bike-lovers, both of whom profess to have environmental sustainability as their goal. Backers of the Greenway Initiative, which raised more than $450,000, included tech founders and philanthropists like Colligan and leaders of the area’s agriculture industry, fueling suspicions from some locals about their motivations. One of the clearest could have been rail NIMBYism — a desire to keep Watsonville residents from easily accessing more-affluent coastal Santa Cruz neighborhoods. Another was the potential of legal settlements for landowners whose property neighbored the train. 

The Daily Parker reader quoted above described the fracas as "fighting about style and culture:"

It was the techies/business money vs the hippies. Trail or no trail, if they want to restore that train line, the tracks need to be replaced. And now we just have an eyesore through town, no money and no cross town path for car alternatives at all. It is the most asinine fight I’ve ever witnessed.

Fortunately, Santa Cruz has no other problems that require practical government intervention, so the energy expended over this vote was well-spent.

Meanwhile, former Chicago mayor, neighbor of mine, and current US Ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel absolutely loves Japanese trains and takes them everywhere. Because when the population density is high enough, trains make a lot of sense.

Extreme weather, early-summer edition

Last night we delayed the start of Terra Nostra fifteen minutes because a supercell thunderstorm decided to pass through:

The severe supercell thunderstorm that tore through Chicagoland Monday night toppled planes, ripped the roof off at least one apartment building, dropped hail as large as 1.5 inches in diameter and left tens of thousands without power in its wake.

In Cook County, 84 mph winds gusted at O’Hare International Airport. That was strong enough to turn over numerous planes at Schaumburg Regional Airport around 6:25 p.m.

Near Elk Grove Village around 6:30 p.m., roofing material started flying off an industrial building. The entire roof of a three-story apartment building was ripped off near Maywood around 6:50 p.m.

The system reached the Lake Michigan shoreline near downtown Chicago around 6:45 p.m., with “several tree branches downed just northwest of Montrose Harbor,” the weather service reported. Wind speeds of 64 knots were reported a few miles from Navy Pier and a buoy station near Calumet Harbor clocked wind speeds of 54 mph.

The weather report from O'Hare at 6:44pm gives you some indication of what we had in downtown Chicago half an hour later.

Today, the warm front that provided the energy driving that storm has already pushed temperatures over 30°C with a likely high of 36°C:

And wow, it's sticky, with dewpoints near 24°C and heat indices above 38°C. Can't wait for my commute home...