The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Slow news day

Wow, so I'm out of touch for a few hours, and this happens:

  • The Federal judge in the Ted Stevens corruption trial has ordered a criminal investigation of the prosecutors who tried the case. It may be surprising, but apparently a heavily-politicized Republican Justice Department may have deliberately thrown it. Hmm.
  • The Canadian dude who stole a Cessna yesterday was apparently attempting suicide by fighter jet, but for some reason opted out of suicide by crashing into the ground, and so will now face Federal prosecution.
  • As absentee ballots get counted in Minnesota's (longest-in-history) U.S. Senate race, Democrat Al Franken's lead has opened up to 312. Republican former Senator Norm Coleman has vowed to take the case all the way to the Supreme Court, where he hopes to get five more votes. His lawyer, by the way, is the same guy who got five extra votes for Dubya in 2000.
  • And, oh yeah, Vermont legalized gay marriage, overriding the governor's veto to do so.

OK, I have about 90 minutes to enjoy (*kaff*) downtown Houston before going to my first Cubs game of the season. Then I'm going to an odd little bar that I discovered when I worked in this fine city back in 2001. In fact, my hotel room looks out over the dazzling, deodorant-stick-shaped building that the client I worked for owned before they went bankrupt spectacularly later in the year. Hmmmm...can't remember their name... I'll have to compare photos of the building to help me remember.

Resuming the Geas

No, I'm not talking about those annoying smelly birds that take airplanes out of the sky. I mean the 30-Ballpark Geas, which resumes today in Houston.

The last game I attended really showcased the Cubs ability to blow a game, but at least were in first place; so they are today after beating Houston last night 4-2. I'm looking forward to either a 2-0 season opening, or at least having enough beer that it doesn't matter.

Photos and results tomorrow afternoon.

Reading a METAR

Here's an interesting meteorological aviation record (METAR) code, describing unusual events in Chicago for this late in the year:

KORD 060151Z 02020G25KT 1/2SM R14R/4000V5500FT SN FG BKN006 OVC012 01/M01 A2971 RMK AO2 PK WND 02027/0118 SLP066 SNINCR 1/1 P0012 T00061011 $

Hmmm....what does all that mean?

KORD: That's Chicago O'Hare International, the offical weather station for my home city.

060151Z: The record is from the 6th at 1:51 Zulu, or 8:51 pm CDT. Twenty minutes ago.

02020G25KT: The winds are from the north (20°) at 20 knots gusting to 25 knots. This is officially known as "inside-out umbrella speed." More locally, at least in my world, it's known as "Parker-would-you-@&%(*!-hurry-up" speed.

1/2 SM: Visibility is half a mile. (R14R/4000V5500FT means on runway 14R visibility is variable betwen 4000 ft and 5500 ft.)

SN FG: There is snow and fog.

OVC012: There is an overcast cloud layer at 1200 ft above the ground, roughly around the 70th floor of the Hancock Center.

01/M01: The temperature is a balmy 1°C with a dewpoint of -1°C, just the right temperature for really heavy and wet snow. And fog.

A2971: The barometric pressure (altimeter reading) is 29.71 inches, indicating a low pressure zone.

RMK: Remarks follow. Oh, do they.

PK WND 02027/0118: There was a peak, 1-minute wind of 27 knots at 01:18 Zulu, 8:18 pm CDT.

SLP066: Sea-level pressure was 1006 hPa. Because Chicago is less than 200 m above sea level, though, this isn't the most helpful measurement. Nor is it the most interesting remark; no, that's:

SNINCR 1/1: Snow is increasing rapidly at the rate of 1 inch per hour. Yummy.

P0012: A total of 0.12 inches of precipitation fell in the last hour. Snow, though. In April.

T00061011: More precisely than reported in the "official" METAR, the temperature was 0.6°C and the dewpoint was -1.1°C.

$: The weather instruments need maintenance, no doubt because they're dumbfounded that there's a blizzard on April 6th.

So now you have a thorough explication of the current METAR code describing for pilots the weather that (a) they shouldn't really fly through and (b) I just walked my dog in. In April.

My friend in Kyiv, which was 15°C and sunny today, actually sent me a message to laugh at me. Kyiv. The capital of Ukraine. Which actually has spring weather in April.

I'm going to go cry now, and thank the Baseball Powers that Be for scheduling the Cubs opener tomorrow in Houston.

Even bad news helps about buses

I've come out in favor of the CTA Bus Tracker because it provides very helpful information when you need it. Like recently, as I watched the #22 pass my winter office while getting my coat on, I checked the next bus time. Fourteen minutes. Phooey. What about the #36, which passes a block away? "Arriving." Yep, I can see it passing a block away. Next one in 16 minutes. Phooey.

The problem is, it's a 15-minute walk.

So while the CTA Bus Tracker saved me waiting in the cold for longer than it would take to walk home, the CTA itself spaced the buses so far apart that any advantage from having the information was lost by having to walk home after all.

And yes, the next #22 passed me right on time as I walked past my home stop.


Elected office as a criminal enterprise...that's the Chicago way!

U.S. Attorney Pat Fitzgerald announced a new, 16-count indictment (pdf) of former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich today, with a new twist:

The RICO conspiracy count alleges that Blagojevich personally, the Office of the Governor of Illinois and Friends of Blagojevich were associated and, together, constituted the "Blagojevich Enterprise," whose primary purpose was to exercise and preserve power over Illinois government for the financial and political benefit of Blagojevich....

As part of the racketeering conspiracy, Blagojevich allegedly permitted [defendants Christopher] Kelly and [Tony] Rezko to exercise substantial influence over certain gubernatorial activities, as well as state boards and commissions, knowing that they would use this influence to enrich themselves and their associates. In return, Kelly and Rezko allegedly benefitted Blagojevich by generating millions of dollars in campaign contributions and providing financial benefits directly to Blagojevich and his family.

Look, I know Chicago tolerates a certain, baseline level of corruption, but it's usually like calling your alderman to get a pothole fixed in exchange for, you know, a couple-two-tree votes in April. But this? Yeah, even Chicagoans recoil at the brazenness. Let's all just hope Fitzgerald doesn't pull a Spitzer...

Sun-Times beats Tribune in race to entropy

The Chicago Sun-Times has filed for Chapter 11 protection:

The publisher of the Chicago Sun-Times and other Chicago-area papers emphasized that it will continue to operate its newspapers and online sites as usual "while it focuses on further improving its cost structure and stabilizing operations" during the Chapter 11 financial reorganization.

Tuesday's filing can't be characterized as a surprise. Many observers have marveled that the company has been able to stay on its feet as long as it has, given the pressures it faces.

What will replace newspapers? I orry that too many people forget why we have newspapers in the first place.

CTA Bus Tracker

Despite recently complaining about public transit in Chicago, I have to say I like, the Chicago Transit Authority's online bus tracker. It's a public-private venture with Google, and I think everyone benefits.

In fact, I'm writing this blog entry because I have 11 minutes before my bus comes, and it only takes me 4 minutes to shut down my laptop and get to the bus stop. This, I think, is the epitome of efficient labor markets.

All right, maybe not the epitome, but certainly a good example of them.

Ah, Chicago in the spring

This morning, consistent with other early spring mornings I remember from years past, Chicago is having a blizzard. We're on the backside (in so many ways) of a low-pressure center, getting some fresh spring breezes (41 km/h gusts out of the north), delightful spring warmth (0°C with a windchill of -6°C), and a gentle sodden wet heavy snowfall.

In other happy news, the New York Times health blog yesterday reported 86,000 emergency room visits each year by people who tripped over their pets:

That translates into about 240 people who are treated for injuries caused by pets every single day in the United States, [a CDC] study found.

Cats are involved in some of the falls, but dogs — man's best friend — are the real culprits, responsible for seven times as many injuries as cats, often while they’re being walked, the report found.

I can attest that dogs bolt sometimes, surprising both dog and owner when the dog's increased kinetic energy encounters the owner's dug-in heels.

Again with the broken parking meters!

The city of Chicago, apparently responding to citizen complaints, has started fixing broken parking meters on its own and billing the company:

Indications of a more urgent approach to fixing the problems became apparent Monday morning when the Tribune observed meter inspectors and repair personnel working downtown.

It followed a Tribune story on Friday that exposed the broad scope of the problems and how drivers and business owners are angry at the city, which watched rates quadruple this year as part of a 75-year deal to lease 36,000 meters to Chicago Parking Meters LLC for almost $1.2 billion.

There's not much more in the article. But I have to wonder, will the city actually collect the money it bills? And if not, will the city boot the company's office building?