No more or less than any other state. But that doesn't mean Iowans have any ability to pick winning candidates for president:
The problem is not that the people of Iowa are stupid. They are not, by most measurements. It’s that Iowa looks nothing like the rest of America. As a result, the winners, more often than not, are nationally unelectable extremists. Who can remember President Rick Santorum or President Mike Huckabee, both previous winners? Or President Uncommitted, who beat Jimmy Carter in 1976? And what to make of the finding that 43 percent of likely Democratic caucusgoers this year are self-described socialists, prepared to select a dyspeptic and unelectable senator as their candidate?
As a bellwether, the Iowa caucuses are no more predictive than a gasbag on an ethanol high swaying from a bridge in Madison County. As a representative exercise relevant to the concerns of a nation of 322 million people, the caucuses are laughable.
Consider that half of all the babies born last year in the United States were nonwhite. Not in Iowa, of course, one of the whitest states in the nation. On Monday, if the Republican caucus is anything like the 2012 turnout, 99 percent of the attendants will be white. That’s not even the United States of 1816, let alone this year.
Meanwhile, the Republican party held a debate last night that their front-runner skipped, which apparently shows how big his testicles are.
I've meant to post this for a while. Here's a photo looking south-west from a point just southwest of the intersection of Wacker and Michigan, here in Chicago, in April 1986:
And here's a similar view today. Note that you can no longer see the Thompson Center, City Hall, or anything else beyond the row of skyscrapers erected on Wacker between Wabash and Clark since then:
The photos aren't from the same vantage point, because this afternoon I only had my phone and not my SLR. I will try to get a photo from approximately the same location and using the same focal length (probably 210mm) soon.
On this day 180 years ago (28 January 1836), John L. Wilson purchased 33 hectares of land about 16 km from the city, by what is now 83rd and Cottage Grove. At the time it was a swath of prairie two hours outside Chicago. But through a series of missteps, slow City workers, and a very long-lived lawsuit, no one developed the land until 1940, by which time the city had grown to surround the lot on all sides:
The property was so remote—and the value so depressed—that nobody paid much attention to it for nearly 40 years. Then, in 1875, Isaac Palmer discovered that the original land patent had been issued in his name by mistake. He decided to cash in on it.
So now the matter went to the Superior Court of Cook County. By the time the Illinois Supreme Court got the case, the City of Chicago was involved, as well as the successors to Wilson and Palmer. In 1887 the Supreme Court ruled that the Wilson successors had legal title to the property. The City of Chicago also had a valid mortgage of $1,500 against it, with 10% annual interest dating back to the unpaid October 1836 mortgage.
Except there was yet another complication—most land records had been lost in the 1871 Chicago Fire. The further details of the dispute don’t need to be elaborated here, except to say that many lawyers were kept busy over the next fifty years, with the 80-acre plot remaining vacant while the rest of the area was built up.
On August 4, 1939 the drama ended. Compound interest over 102 years had ballooned the defaulted $1,500 mortgage to $34,755,000. Because of all the mistakes various governments had made over the years, Janet Fairbank—the last holder in the chain of title from original patentee John L. Wilson—was allowed to settle the debt and have clear title to the property on payment of $30,000.
For what it's worth, $1,500 in 1837 is about $38,000 today, and $34.8m in 1939 is around $590m today.
On this day in 1986, the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded over the Atlantic Ocean:
A little more than a minute after launch and high above Kennedy Space Center, shuttle Challenger was ripped apart after failure of a rubber seal allowed a spurt of rocket flame to ignite the spacecraft's giant fuel tank.
The roiling plume of Challenger's disintegration would sear an image in the nation's psyche that spoke of a particular sorrow; among seven astronauts killed 30 years ago [today] was teacher Christa McAuliffe.
"We will never forget them," said President Ronald Reagan in a broadcast hours later evoking triumph from tragedy. "The Challenger crew was pulling us into the future, and we'll continue to follow them."
Studying the decisions that led to Challenger launching that day uncovered serious cultural problems within NASA. It also led to groupthink about groupthink as people continually mis-applied the lessons from the disaster after not actually understanding them.
I remember exactly when I heard about the disaster: I was taking a final exam in high school when the PA broke in to tell everyone it had happened. (We still had to finish the exam.)
Republican Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner believes in smaller government and lower taxes, so much so that he's blocked the state budget process since the last budget ended in June 2015. Since the state has no budget, we haven't paid our bills, so our IOUs just keep getting bigger:
Moody's Investors Service says the state's backlog of unpaid bills and other obligations now is rising roughly $450 million a month, hitting $6.6 billion as of Dec. 31.
Projections from Rauner's budget are that the total will hit $9 billion by the end of the fiscal year on June 30 and keep rising from there, assuming no budget deal is reached, Moody's says—almost what it was after [former Democratic governor Pat] Quinn took over and pushed through a 66 percent income tax hike that gradually reduced the list of IOUs.
State taxes dropped again on January 1st as earlier, "temporary" tax hikes declined; as a result, Illinois will have $3.6 billion less to spend even if we can pass a budget before June 30th.
So, as a Grover Norquist-inspired plutocrat, Rauner wins if the Democratic legislature passes his budget proposal, and he wins if the state's government remains hobbled. Meanwhile, we residents and taxpayers of Illinois would really like essential government services to resume.
Rauner gives the State of the State address in just a few minutes. It should be interesting.
President Obama and I have the same fitness tracker. His, however, has some customizations:
What counts as must-have features for many people — high-definition cameras, powerful microphones, cloud-connected wireless radios and precise GPS location transmitters — are potential threats when the leader of the free world wants to carry them around.
And so using the latest devices means more than merely ordering one on Amazon for delivery to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. It means accepting the compromises imposed by White House technology experts, whose mission is to secure the president’s communications, and by the Secret Service agents who protect him.
He has not given up, though. Mr. Obama is the first commander in chief to regularly carry a specially secured BlackBerry. He reads briefings and checks scores from ESPN on an iPad (the first of which was given to him by Steve Jobs before its public release). And recently he has been seen wearing the Fitbit Surge, a fitness band packed with all the latest technology, on his left wrist.
The article goes on to speculate (because neither the Secret Service nor Fitbit will comment on presidential security) just which features, exactly, they've removed. And my friend request has so far gone unanswered...
Britons, concerned about the decline of one of their most popular (and useful) species, have found a simple helper for them:
Gary Snyder has holes in his garden fence.
That's not normally the kind of oversight you'd find in a well-kept British garden in a market town like Chipping Norton, 75 miles northwest of London. But the holes are there for a reason: hedgehogs.
Snyder's backyard is now one small rest stop on what conservationists hope will be a network of hedgehog superhighways crisscrossing Britain.
The British Hedgehog Preservation Society has been encouraging people throughout Britain to do the same thing, calling it the Hedgehog Street project. A couple of inches of clearance means that hedgehogs can truck right through suburbia as if it didn't exist.
The NPR article even has a David Attenborough video of hedgehogs mating, if you're curious. Because David Attenborough.
Almost a meter of snow fell on parts of the United States over the weekend. Even in places that get big snowfalls from time to time, the results were grim:
While New York City emerged from the season’s first blizzard with relatively little damage, the toll along the Eastern Seaboard as a whole was more sobering: 29 deaths related to the storm, thousands of homes without power and serious flooding in coastal areas.
In Baltimore, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said on Sunday that she could not give a timeline for clearing the streets. In Washington, the leadership of the House of Representatives — scheduled to convene on Monday for a pro forma session — said no votes would be held this week. Federal offices will be closed on Monday, as will state offices in Maryland and Virginia.
Most of the storm’s victims died while driving on icy highways or shoveling snow. The New York Police Department went to the scene of 401 accidents and towed 367 vehicles by 4 a.m. Sunday, about four hours after the snow stopped. Three of those who died while shoveling were New Yorkers in Queens and on Staten Island, all men over 60, the authorities said. Two others were on Long Island, a 61-year-old man in West Hempstead and a 94-year-old man in Smithtown. His body was found next to a snow blower, the authorities said.
Clear skies today over the East let NASA composite this awesome photo of the snow:
Everything from New York to Richmond, Va., is shut down today as a major winter storm drops meters of snow on 50 million people:
Weather emergencies were declared in at least 10 states, including in New York and New Jersey, and the storm has disrupted travel throughout the region, with thousands of flights canceled and public transit shut down in Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia and New Jersey. In New York, bus lines were scheduled to be suspended at noon Saturday.
Forecasters were predicting 300 to 600 mm of snow to fall in the city by the time the storm ended and warned of flooding in coastal areas, especially along the Jersey Shore. On Saturday morning, water had swept onto the streets of some oceanfront towns in New Jersey, including Ocean City.
“If there was a trend overnight, it was that the heavier axis of snow has now shifted into New York City and onto Long Island,” said Patrick Burke, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.
Around Washington, where some of the city’s police officers were issued shovels at their morning roll call, the storm had already dropped 280 to 380 mm of snow by Saturday morning. Even as the storm moved north, Mr. Burke said the Washington region should still receive lighter snowfall throughout the day, raising totals in some places to over 20 inches.
Meanwhile, in Chicago...nothing. We had a flurry, maybe two, and we're expecting above-normal temperatures—up to 9°C above normal, in fact—through the end of January. The little snow we have on the ground could be gone by tomorrow.
Via Schneier, it may be that England's political system was stable:
For over a century the longbow reigned as undisputed king of medieval European missile weapons. Yet only England used the longbow as a mainstay in its military arsenal; France and Scotland clung to the technologically inferior crossbow. This longbow puzzle has perplexed historians for decades. We resolve it by developing a theory of institutionally constrained technology adoption. Unlike the crossbow, the longbow was cheap and easy to make and required rulers who adopted the weapon to train large numbers of citizens in its use. These features enabled usurping nobles whose rulers adopted the longbow to potentially organize effective rebellions against them. Rulers choosing between missile technologies thus confronted a trade-off with respect to internal and external security. England alone in late medieval Europe was sufficiently politically stable to allow its rulers the first-best technology option. In France and Scotland political instability prevailed, constraining rulers in these nations to the crossbow.
I wonder, though, what that says about the United States allowing its citizens to own the deadliest weapons on earth...