The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

I will need alcohol after this exercise

I'm finally reading last night's State of the Union address, and...well...oy, gevalt.

The speech doesn't really have a lot of coherence, but SOTU speeches rarely do. Still, there's something about reading it that makes me wonder who Steve Miller actually thought would deliver it.

For example, these two passages:

All Americans deserve accountability and respect—and that is what we are giving them. So tonight, I call on the Congress to empower every Cabinet Secretary with the authority to reward good workers—and to remove Federal employees who undermine the public trust or fail the American people.

In our drive to make Washington accountable, we have eliminated more regulations in our first year than any administration in history.

First, that's a single excerpt, one clip, of the speech. There are three thoughts here, and I kind of see how they hang together. But eliminating regulations doesn't to me have much to do with accountability. In fact, the specific regulations they're eliminating will, in fact, make industry less accountable to the people, and we should start seeing unintended consequences (like death and destruction) pretty soon.

But look what he's asking for: an end to civil service protections and the politicization of the Federal bureaucracy. That's pretty consistent with authoritarian rulers the world over. It must not happen here.


America has also finally turned the page on decades of unfair trade deals that sacrificed our prosperity and shipped away our companies, our jobs, and our Nation's wealth.

The era of economic surrender is over.

From now on, we expect trading relationships to be fair and to be reciprocal.

We will work to fix bad trade deals and negotiate new ones.

And we will protect American workers and American intellectual property, through strong enforcement of our trade rules.

So...we're scrapping multilateral trade deals in favor of making lots of bilateral deals, all while removing regulations from industry? How will that work, exactly? Won't having ten or a hundred bilateral treaties cause a hundredfold increase in regulations? I know the President doesn't know how this works, but surely someone in the administration must, right?

And then this:

So tonight, I am extending an open hand to work with members of both parties—Democrats and Republicans—to protect our citizens of every background, color, religion, and creed. My duty, and the sacred duty of every elected official in this chamber, is to defend Americans—to protect their safety, their families, their communities, and their right to the American Dream. Because Americans are dreamers too.

You know what? F you too, Donnie. "Let's work together, we all want the same thing, and you know what? You're all ugly." (This is where some Democrats booed him.)

I could go on to his bald-face lies about how visas work, to his claiming a number of President Obama's achievements as his own, to his touting a tax "reform" that swindles the middle class out of being middle class...but no, I'll let the professionals chime in for the rest:

I can't wait till the next one, and hope he gives it to a Democratic majority.

Amazon as Tom Sawyer (with billions in cash)

Amazon's bidding process for its second headquarters (HQ2) has given the company a bonanza of information about what 238 cities are willing to give up in order to get a piece of the action, and thus what levers Amazon can pull to get public money for its private gain. Not to mention, the applications gave the company millions of dollars worth of marketing data:

Amazon asked every city and state applying for its second headquarters for details about local resources, like available talent and transit options. Local officials were also prodded for tips on local education programs and tax incentives.

The answers — most of which have not been released publicly — essentially do Amazon’s homework for it, providing valuable information that the company otherwise would have needed to dig up on its own or obtain through one-on-one negotiations.

“This is not just about HQ2,” said Richard Florida, an authority on urban development and a professor at the University of Toronto. “It’s about a broader locational strategy. HQ2 is the carrot. That’s the only thing that makes sense.”

Meanwhile, CityLab has put together a guide to the "HQ2 Hunger Games" with detailed breakdowns of the 20 finalists. And they second the Times' assessment on Amazon's ulterior motives: "As CityLab has previously reported, the economic incentives being offered to lure Amazon’s 50,000 jobs and $5 billion in investment were historic in proportion even before the company announced the finalists."

No, that is not Scotch

Diageo, the international beverage behemoth that owns about a quarter of Scotland's distilleries (including Caol Ila and Talisker) is investigating how to produce horrible shite that isn't at all Scotch under its existing brands:

First, Diageo is considering creating “scotch whisky infusions,” low-alcohol and/or flavored alcoholic beverages sold under the same name as existing single malt or blended whisky brands. Secondly, Diageo has sought permission from the [Scotch Whisky Association trade group] to finish some of its single malts in Don Julio tequila barrels, a move that the association did not approve.

“Scotch infusions” as described in the article would fail to meet two criteria for Scotch whisky. First, scotch must be bottled at a minimum of 40% ABV—so anything lower than that would disqualify it as whisky. Secondly, nothing can be added to scotch other than water and caramel coloring.

But there’s another issue at stake here: the use of existing Scotch whisky brand names on non-scotch products. An infusion made with scotch as a base and then bottled under a new name likely would not be an issue, but using the name of an existing single malt or blended scotch brand could lead to confusion among drinkers who think that what they’re buying legally qualifies as whisky. In the U.S., bourbon, straight rye, and other straight whiskeys can’t have anything added either. Yet brands like Jim Beam offer flavored whiskeys under the same brand name as their straight products, using language like “Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey Infused With Natural Flavors” (Jim Beam Red Stag).

That move doesn’t fly in Scotland, where the regulations seem to prohibit producers from using their existing brands on drinks that don’t legally qualify as scotch. Section 6 (2) reads: “A person must not label, package, sell, advertise or promote any drink in any other way that creates a likelihood of confusion on the part of the public as to whether the drink is Scotch Whisky.”

The second issue at stake with Diageo’s plans—whether or not scotch can be finished in Don Julio tequila barrels—is a less clear-cut example of violating the rules.

One clue is that Diageo requested to use Don Julio tequila barrels specifically. Diageo owns Don Julio, and if the company wanted to use the Don Julio brand name on its whisky labels, then it’s no surprise the request was turned down. The SWA is notably more wary of listing a distillery than a wine region on a label....

Diageo is a big company, and it wants to make a lot of money for its owners. But it's also a cautionary tale about how scaling up craft products doesn't work for consumers. Sure, people will probably buy "Johnnie Walker Don Julio-finished Honey Chipotle Scotch Infusion" and claim to like it (especially if they put a lot of sugar in it), but that won't be Scotch.

I just hope they continue leaving Talisker alone. That's from the island of my forebears, Skye. In fact it's about the only thing produced on Skye that anyone's heard of (other than loads of wool).

Extreme weather still a danger in warmer climate

Even though Chicago's winters have gotten milder overall in the last 50 years, extreme temperatures like we had between Christmas and January 7th still kill people:

Unlike other more dramatic types of weather, such as hurricanes, floods or tornadoes, the threat of extreme cold or heat tends to be overlooked, said Laurence Kalkstein, a University of Miami public health sciences professor who studies the effects of climate on human health.

“People don’t think of it as much of a threat mainly because there are no physical signs that a calamity has taken place,” Kalkstein said. “Clearly, it is underestimated as a danger.”

Cold weather has claimed the lives of hundreds of Illinois residents during the past decade. The Illinois Department of Public Health reports 593 people died from exposure to excessive natural cold or hypothermia between 2008 and 2016. The highest yearly total was 110 in 2014, when the polar vortex hit in January.

[T]he overall mortality rate in the winter is about 10 to 12 percent higher than in the summer because of all the indirect ways cold, snow and ice contribute to deaths, including car crashes, falls and heart attacks. There are also a higher number of infectious-disease deaths because influenza thrives when people remain inside because of cold weather....

We had March-like temperatures this weekend, but this morning, it's January again. At least we've got noticeably more daylight, and only 31 more days of meteorological winter.

Friday afternoon link round-up

Where to start?

And now, a stand-up meeting.

Increasing inequality correlates with urbanization: Richard Flordia

Writing for CityLab today, Richard Florida cautions that Republican policies will increase the wealth and political divides in the country (which, after all, may be their plan):

[T]he declining parts of America now control our politics, and not just nationally, but also in the states. As Brownstein sums up: “The nation is poised for even greater tension between an economic order that increasingly favors the largest places—and a political dynamic that, for now, sublimates them to the smaller places that are economically falling behind.”

Far from Making America Great Again, Trump and the GOP are putting into place a backward-looking economic and social policy that threatens to undermine the key pillars of American innovation and economic prosperity. They are curtailing immigration and excluding global talent; slashing federal spending for research and development; lashing out at gay and women’s rights; cutting back on spending for state universities; and making efforts to undermine and preempt cities.

Once America’s innovative engine is dismantled, and talented people start to go elsewhere, it will be hard to put it back together again. For the first time in a very long time—perhaps since the Civil War—America’s divides threaten to put it on the wrong side of history.

After reading Why Britain Is At War over the weekend, and remembering Before the Deluge from a couple of years ago, I have to say the GOP's strategy sounds familiar. And troubling.

Craft beer is the anti-monopoly hero

CityLab digs into "the strangest, happiest economic story in America:"

In almost every economic sector, including television, books, music, groceries, pharmacies, and advertising, a handful of companies control a prodigious share of the market.

The beer industry has been one of the worst offenders. The refreshing simplicity of Blue Moon, the vanilla smoothness of Boddingtons, the classic brightness of a Pilsner Urquell, and the bourbon-barrel stouts of Goose Island—all are owned by two companies: Anheuser-Busch InBev and MillerCoors. As recently as 2012, this duopoly controllednearly 90 percent of beer production.

But in the last decade, something strange and extraordinary has happened. Between 2008 and 2016, the number of brewery establishments expanded by a factor of six, and the number of brewery workers grew by 120 percent. Yes, a 200-year-old industry has sextupled its establishments and more than doubled its workforce in less than a decade. Even more incredibly, this has happened during a time when U.S. beer consumption declined.

Average beer prices have grown nearly 50 percent. So while Americans are drinking less beer than they did in the 2000s (probably a good thing) they’re often paying more for a superior product (another good thing). Meanwhile, the best-selling beers in the country are all in steep decline, as are their producers. Between 2007 and 2016, shipments from five major brewers—Anheuser-Busch, MillerCoors, Heineken, Pabst, and Diageo, which owns Guinness—fell by 14 percent.

It's not just the United States. The UK passed 2,000 breweries last fall, with organisations like the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) leading the charge.

At least as far as good-tasting, high-quality beer goes, it's a good time to be alive in the English-speaking world.