The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Molly Ivins clarifies the debate

The United States Senate having a debate about the merits of torture should, in any but the most insane world, have the same result as the Vatican debating the merits of Satanism. Why are we even discussing this? No! No torture! Bad Alberto! Bad!

The Administration (851 days, 3 hours) apparently things the Gestapo had some good ideas, as Molly Ivins points out:

The White House has already specified "water boarding," making some guy think he's drowning for long periods, as a perfectly good interrogation technique. Maybe, but it was also a great favorite of the Gestapo and has been described and condemned in thousands of memoirs and novels in highly unpleasant terms. I don't think we can give it a good name again, and I personally kind of don't like being identified with the Gestapo.

We can at least change this Senate a bit in 45 days and 15 hours.

It's hard to support incompetence

I believe strongly that slowing climate change and providing broad-based economic opportunity must include substantial improvements in public transportation. I also belive that Chicago's public transit system ranks second in the country for its reach and convenience, after New York's but ahead of San Francisco, Boston, and Washington, which are also pretty good.

That said, the CTA still frustrates the ever-lovin' out of me. This week provides a crystal-clear example.

On Tuesday and again on Thursday, I had to travel from my office to a client's office in Lincoln Park. Their office is within 1 km (0.6 mi) of four El stops, two of which are served by three transit lines. In the rush periods, one of those lines—the Purple Line—goes directly from their closest El stop to mine. So during rush periods, the trip takes about 40 minutes door to door.

Outside of rush periods, however, I need to change trains twice. Or, in the alternative, I can change trains once and then catch a bus at Howard. In fact on Tuesday I did just that, because I was going home to let Parker out instead of returning to my office. As a consequence of the CTA's horrible mid-day schedules and a broken-down bus (not to mention the CTA's complete refusal or inability to provide any information about this), I spent more than three hours riding on or waiting for CTA vehicles.

Yesterday I drove to their office, which required spending a total of 50 minutes in my own car, choosing my own route, listening to my own radio station.

By the way, as a client-serving professional, I get paid by the hour. That means, had I driven on Tuesday, I could have billed two more hours for the day. Given that calculus, why on earth would I ever take the CTA during the middle of the day again?

Now, I own a car, so this was merely a bad choice and an inconvenience on my part. But for the hundreds of thousands in Chicago who don't own cars, or who live outside the CTA's service area, it's not a choice. How much economic opportunity is lost every day because people have to spend time waiting for buses and trains? How much is lost to people who live in the suburbs where buses run once an hour and trains only go downtown?

Later: Why insecure, incompetent, and authoritarian almost always go together. And yes, it's related to this post.

Five years on

Frank Rich hits it on the head in his column today:

At the National Cathedral prayer service on Sept. 14, 2001, President Bush found just the apt phrase to describe this phenomenon: "Today we feel what Franklin Roosevelt called 'the warm courage of national unity.' This is the unity of every faith and every background. It has joined together political parties in both houses of Congress." What’s more, he added, "this unity against terror is now extending across the world."
When F.D.R. used the phrase "the warm courage of national unity," it was at his first inaugural, in 1933, as the country reeled from the Great Depression. It is deeply moving to read that speech today. In its most famous line, Roosevelt asserted his "firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance."
What followed under Roosevelt's leadership is one of history’s most salutary stories. Americans responded to his twin entreaties — to renounce fear and to sacrifice for the common good — with a force that turned back economic calamity and ultimately an axis of brutal enemies abroad.
On the very next day after that convocation, Mr. Bush was asked at a press conference "how much of a sacrifice" ordinary Americans would "be expected to make in their daily lives, in their daily routines." His answer: "Our hope, of course, is that they make no sacrifice whatsoever." He, too, wanted to move on...but toward partisan goals stealthily tailored to his political allies rather than the nearly 90 percent of the country that, according to polls, was rallying around him.
This selfish agenda was there from the very start. As we now know from many firsthand accounts, a cadre from Mr. Bush's war cabinet was already busily hyping nonexistent links between Iraq and the Qaeda attacks. The presidential press secretary, Ari Fleischer, condemned Bill Maher's irreverent comic response to 9/11 by reminding "all Americans that they need to watch what they say, watch what they do." Fear itself — the fear that "paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance," as F.D.R. had it — was already being wielded as a weapon against Americans by their own government.

We can show the President and his party what we think of his performance since September 11th when polls open in 57 days and 15 hours.

Veritas Airlines

This weeks Economist has a terrific parody of pre-flight announcements:

Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. We are delighted to welcome you aboard Veritas Airways, the airline that tells it like it is. Please ensure that your seat belt is fastened, your seat back is upright and your tray-table is stowed. At Veritas Airways, your safety is our first priority. Actually, that is not quite true: if it were, our seats would be rear-facing, like those in military aircraft, since they are safer in the event of an emergency landing. But then hardly anybody would buy our tickets and we would go bust.

Pilot locked out after bathroom break

Forget the comedy, this has security implications:

An Air Canada pilot who left the flight deck to visit the washroom found himself locked out of the cockpit when he tried to return—forcing the crew to remove the door from its hinges.
For approximately 10 minutes, passengers described seeing the pilot bang on the door and communicating with the cockpit through an internal telephone, but being unable to open the cabin door. Eventually, the crew forced the door open by taking the door off its hinges completely...

Gosh, that's nice to know. Comforting.

I suppose if the pilots noticed someone trying to take the door off the hinges, they could take corrective action easily, like inverting the plane or diving (which pretty much stops all movement in the cabin). But still, that seems like a little security issue, doesn't it? Sort of like having a debug mode on a login prompt?

Only 64 days until Christmas?

As little Parker (Cutest. Puppy. Ever.) alternates between chewing his rawhide stick, a vegan snack my mom found, my laptop power cord, and my toes, I'm loading up on carbs for today's ride and reading the news. The Washington Post had a heartwarming story that made me almost as happy as Parker's second accident-free night with us:

Facing the most difficult political environment since they took control of Congress in 1994, Republicans begin the final two months of the midterm campaign in growing danger of losing the House while fighting to preserve at best a slim majority in the Senate, according to strategists and officials in both parties.
Over the summer, the political battlefield has expanded well beyond the roughly 20 GOP House seats originally thought to be vulnerable. Now some Republicans concede there may be almost twice as many districts from which Democrats could wrest the 15 additional seats they need to take control.

If you're at all unhappy with the war, the imminent collapse of the housing market, the enormous differences between how the rich are getting richer while everyone else isn't, or how the government is listening to your phone calls, and you happen to live in a Republican district, you can do something to change it when polls open in 64 days and 15 hours.

Phone tax refund

Everyone with a phone will get a tax refund this year:

Individuals will be eligible for a refund of the long-distance tax billed for any phone service—cell, fax, computer or land-line—in the 41-month period from Feb. 28, 2003, through July 31, 2006. Taxpayers can claim a maximum refund of $60 with no questions asked, meaning they don't have to produce copies of phone bills to get money back.
For the 2006 return, a person filing a return with one exemption can claim $30; two exemptions, $40; three exemptions, $50; and four or more exemptions, $60. The agency cited this example: A married couple filing a joint return with two dependent children, for a total of four exemptions, would be eligible for the maximum amount of $60. A line for the refund will appear in the 2006 federal tax return.

Apparently, the government has collected this tax since 1898. The Spanish-American War, for which this tax was imposed, has been paid for already.

Two quick hits

First, I just put a major project to bed. It was my first time out doing litigation support, meaning I wrote software to crunch a whole bunch (= about a billion) of numbers for a law firm who represent a large (= about 350,000) class of plaintiffs. They got the results just now, so unless the defendant chooses not to settle and I get subpoenaed, I believe I'm done.

Second, at least one petty little man on the South Shore Line apparently doesn't "get" the whole idea of bikes on a train:

A day trip to South Bend ended up costing a Lincoln Park man $150 in cab fare after a South Shore Line crew member told him he would have to get his bicycle off the train.
What startled Alan Forester, 34, was that he had taken the South Shore Line to South Bend earlier in the day Sunday and no one said anything to him about his bike. Even more puzzling, he said he had followed the bicycle policy that he read on the railroad's Web site.

I had a similar problem about two years ago, when, after bonking on a very long ride, I attempted to board a Union Pacific North Line train at Highland Park, and got turned away by a conductor who thought my bungee cord was too short. (I think I may have told him at least I had a bungee cord, but we won't go there right now.)

The CTA largely gets it right. All CTA buses have bike racks. This means people can get out of their cars and save the environment by biking without worrying they'll be stranded because of weather or traffic. Why is Metra so opposed to the idea?