The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Other things I'm reading

If the Kanye West–Donald Trump crazyfest didn't do it for you, there are plenty of other things to take a look at this lunchtime:

That's all for now. Enough crazy for one Friday.

How to out-crazy the President while in the Oval Office

I just read through the complete, official transcript of Kanye West's meeting with President Trump yesterday, and...wow. That man has some serious untreated mental illness and should seek help.

I know, that sentence was ambiguous, because "that man" could refer to either Trump or West, but in this case I thought West came across as the less coherent. Sample:

MR. WEST:  We have a good — and the thing is, let’s stop worrying about the future.  All we really have is today.  We just have today.  Over and over and over again, the eternal return.  The hero’s journey.  And Trump is on his hero’s journey right now.  And he might not have expected to have a crazy motherfucker like Kanye West run up and support, but best believe we are going to make America great.

And, earlier:

There’s a lot of things affecting our mental health that makes us do crazy things that puts us back into that trap door called the 13th Amendment.

I did say “abolish” with the hat on.  Because why would you keep something around that’s a trap door?  If you’re building a floor — the Constitution is the base of our industry, right?  Of our country, of our company.  Would you build a trap door that if you mess up and you — accidentally something happens, you fall and you end up next to the Unabomber?  You end up — you got to remove all that trap door out of the relationship.

The four gentlemen that wrote the 13th Amendment — and I think the way the universe works, it’s perfect.  We don’t have 13 floors, do we?  You know, so the four — the four gentlemen that wrote the 13th Amendment didn’t look like the people they were amending.  Also at that point, it was illegal for blacks to read — or African Americans to read.  And so that meant if you actually read the Amendment, you would get locked up and turned into a slave.

What is all that? Word salad? Dog-whistle quodlibet?

Here's the pool video from NBC; judge for yourself:

The end is nigh for Sears

Oh, Sears. You've come to represent much that is wrong with American corporate culture, especially a CEO who embodies the Dunning-Krueger Effect with every syllable he utters.

Crain's Joe Cahill argues that Eddie Lampert, while Sears' proximate cause of death, didn't act alone in its murder:

There's no denying the hedge fund mogul who thought he knew more about retailing than the retailers made critical errors that turned Sears' struggles into an inexorable decline. But Sears started down the wrong path long before Lampert appeared. And its sad fate isn't so much a story of operational missteps as one of missed opportunity. In short, Sears chose to imitate Walmart when it should have tried to pre-empt Amazon.

Like so many established companies threatened by newcomers with innovative business models, Hoffman Estates-based Sears tried to beat the interlopers at their own game, rather than looking ahead to the next big thing. The company that recognized the potential of railroads to support a nationwide retail operation and foresaw that postwar suburban sprawl and shopping malls would redefine retailing for a new generation failed to appreciate the implications of internet technology for the industry it dominated for more than a century.

As for Lampert, he showed no better vision than his predecessors. When he took control of Sears by merging it with Kmart, the combined company still had an opportunity to carve out a strong presence in e-commerce. Amazon had already emerged as the leading internet retailer, but with $8.49 billion in 2005 revenue, it was one-sixth the size of Sears, and barely profitable.

Meanwhile, two other Crain's stories outline the thousands of other victims of this crime: the company's pensioners and all of the malls about to lose their anchor tenants.

Press reports reckon the company has less than 48 hours to live.

Why American transit systems suck

Anyone who has traveled from the US to Canada or Europe notices quickly that their transit systems simply work better. Londoners may moan about the Tube, but one can get from any part of Greater London to any other at almost any time of day using trains or buses.

Writing for Citylab, Jonathan English explains why and how the rest of the world got it right and we got it so very wrong:

[T]o briefly summarize: Transit everywhere suffered serious declines in the postwar years, the cost of cars dropped and new expressways linked cities and fast-growing suburbs. That article pointed to a key problem: The limited transit service available in most American cities means that demand will never materialize—not without some fundamental changes.

Many, though not all, major cities in the U.S. have a number of rail lines radiating out of their centers. Most of them are only used by freight or a few commuter train trips a day. It’s a huge, untapped resource. There’s no reason why those railway lines can’t be turned into what are effectively subway lines—high-capacity routes that allow people to get across the city quickly—without the immense cost of tunneling. In Europe, what we usually call “commuter rail” operates frequently, all day, and cost the same fare as other local transit. That’s the difference between regional rail and commuter rail. A transit system with service that is only useful to 9-to-5 commuters to downtown will never be a useful one for most people.

Fares need to be low enough that people can afford to take transit. New York City will soon join other cities like Tucson and Ann Arbor in having discounted fares for low-income people. That is important to make transit accessible to everyone. But fair fares isn’t just about keeping fares low. It’s also about eliminating arbitrary inequities. People shouldn’t have to pay a transfer penalty or a double fare just because they switch from bus to rail, transfer between agencies, or travel across the city limits. A transfer is an inconvenience—you shouldn’t have to pay extra for it.

Fares should be set for the convenience of riders, not government agencies. A trip of a similar distance should have a similar fare, regardless of whether it’s on a bus or train, or if you have to cross city limits. Commuter rail shouldn’t be a “premium service” that only suburban professionals can afford.This is the kind of unfairness that infuriates people and drives them away from transit.

Chicago, by the way, has contemplated a regional farecard system for decades. Maybe someday...

Sears in hospice care

Crains is reporting this morning that Sears has hired bankruptcy advisors and could file in the next couple of days:

[S]taffers of the advisory firm, New York-based M-III Partners, have been observed at the troubled retailer's Hoffman Estates headquarters in recent days. Sears, meanwhile, continues to evaluate other options that could still avert a trip to Bankruptcy Court.

Separately, Sears added restructuring expert Alan Carr to its board of directors as the company faces critical debt repayments and looks to overhaul its borrowings, the company said earlier today.

Carr is CEO of restructuring advisory firm Drivetrain and has over 20 years of experience with financially distressed companies as both an investor and an adviser, according his firm’s website. Before his current role, he was a distressed-debt and private equity investor at Strategic Value Partners.

Thank you, Eddie. You've done a man's job killing one of Chicago's oldest brands.

What we can really expect from climate change

Washington Post political reporter Philip Bump lays it out:

[T]he effects of the increased heat are much broader than simply higher temperatures. In an effort to delineate what scientists expect to see as the world warms, I spoke with Alex Halliday, director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University.

Direct effects of higher temperatures

Increased health risks. One of the most immediate effects of higher temperatures is an increased threat of health risks such as heat stroke. As noted above, this is probably the most easily understood risk.

Drought. There will be more droughts. For one thing, higher temperatures will lead to faster evaporation of surface water. For another, they will mean less snowfall, as precipitation will be more likely to fall as rain. In some regions, like much of the Southwest, flows of water through the spring and summer are a function of snow melting in the mountains. Reduced snowpack means less water later in the year.

Wildfires. Higher temperatures and drier conditions in some places will also help wildfires spread and lengthen the wildfire season overall.

It gets better from there. So its nice to know that the world's second-biggest emitter of greenhouse gases plans to reduce regulations to allow even more emissions.

The Big Disruption

I started reading Jessica Powell's online novel The Big Disruption last week. It's hilarious. And it has a lot to say about the archetypes of software development.

The premise is that the monarch of a fictional country has been exiled to California, where he found work first as a janitor at Stanford and then at a hot startup. He applies to a Google-like company and gets hired—but by accident, as a product manager.

Sample:

Arsyen washed his hands and returned to the cubicle, armed with his new vocabulary.

When Roni asked Arsyen about prioritization, Arsyen asked, “Is this on the roadmap?”

When Sven suggested adding images of attractive women to the car dashboard, Arsyen rubbed his chin.

“Does this align with our strategy?”

When all three looked to him for an opinion in how best to implement Symmetry Enhancement, Arsyen stood and put his hands on his hips.

“Does this align with the strategy on our roadmap?”

No one seemed to notice anything was amiss. If anything, it seemed like product managers just asked questions that other people had to answer.

“Good brainstorm, everyone. Let’s break for lunch,” Roni said. “Oh, and Arsyen, this is still very confidential, so let’s get this whiteboard cleaned off.”

Arsyen jumped up and began to wipe the whiteboard clean as Sven and Jonas scooted their chairs back to their desks. Arsyen was pleased that product managers seemed to have some janitorial tasks in their role. Maybe this wouldn’t be such a stretch after all.

I can't read it at work because I would have to explain why I'm laughing so hard.

Warming up to climate change

The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released an alarming new report this weekend:

The world stands on the brink of failure when it comes to holding global warming to moderate levels, and nations will need to take “unprecedented” actions to cut their carbon emissions over the next decade, according to a landmark report by the top scientific body studying climate change.

With global emissions showing few signs of slowing and the United States — the world’s second-largest emitter of carbon dioxide — rolling back a suite of Obama-era climate measures, the prospects for meeting the most ambitious goals of the 2015 Paris agreement look increasingly slim. To avoid racing past warming of 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) over preindustrial levels would require a “rapid and far-reaching” transformation of human civilization at a magnitude that has never happened before, the group found.

Most strikingly, the document says the world’s annual carbon dioxide emissions, which amount to more than 40 billion tons per year, would have to be on an extremely steep downward path by 2030 to either hold the world entirely below 1.5 degrees Celsius, or allow only a brief “overshoot” in temperatures. As of 2018, emissions appeared to be still rising, not yet showing the clear peak that would need to occur before any decline.

Overall reductions in emissions in the next decade would probably need to be more than 1 billion tons per year, larger than the current emissions of all but a few of the very largest emitting countries. By 2050, the report calls for a total or near-total phaseout of the burning of coal.

Meanwhile, the next person to regulate the coal industry in the U.S. will likely come from the coal industry.

Go Dutch!

As in, "nice work, Dutch military, for unraveling a GRU operation and blowing 300 GRU agents worldwide:"

Dutch authorities have photographs of four Russian military intelligence (GRU) operatives arriving at the Amsterdam airport last April, escorted by a member of the Russian embassy. They have copies of the men’s passports — two of them with serial numbers one digit apart. Because they caught them, red-handed, inside a car parked beside the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in The Hague — the GRU team was trying to hack into the OPCW WiFi system — Dutch authorities also confiscated multiple phones, antennae and laptop computers.

On Thursday, the Dutch defense minister presented this plethora of documents, scans, photographs and screenshots on large slides at a lengthy news conference. Within seconds, the images spread around the world. Within hours, Bellingcat, the independent research group that pioneered the new science of open source investigation, had checked the men’s names against several open Russian databases. Among other things, it emerged that, in 2011, one of them was listed as the owner of a Lada (model number VAZ 21093) registered at 20 Komsomolsky Prospekt, the address of the GRU. While they were at it, Bellingcat also unearthed an additional 305 people — names, birthdates, passport numbers — who had registered cars to that very same address. It may be the largest security breach the GRU has ever experienced.

That's a great way to fight back: exposure. This is an example of the integrity and ingenuity which almost led to the Dutch controlling the world instead of the British way back when.

An iconic Chicago brand comes home

I'm not sure how I feel about CH Distillery buying the Malort wormwood liqueur brand:

Since the 1970s, Malort has been distilled in Florida, though its primary market has remained Chicago. Many Malort enthusiasts would agree that the liquor’s powerful aftertaste assaults the taste buds, a phenomenon that’s ironically helped grow the brand’s popularity on social media and in Chicago bars.

Why would Tremaine Atkinson, founder of CH Distillery, want to purchase Malort?

“Oh my gosh, why not? … I love everything about it. I hate everything about it. It’s such a great iconic Chicago thing,” Atkinson said Thursday. “It fits at the psychic level, the business level and the cultural level.”

Atkinson, 54, said he first tried Malort when a friend bought him a shot after moving to Chicago some 20 years ago. His reaction was not atypical.

“I drank it and said, ‘Why did you do that to me?’” Atkinson said.

Atkinson compared the flavor to taking a bite out of a grapefruit and then drinking a shot of gasoline, then acknowledged that’s actually a fairly tame description compared to some found on the internet.

That sounds about right. I've had precisely one shot of Malort in my life, which is approximately the correct number. I say "approximately" because the correct number is, in fact, zero.

But like the Cubs choking in October, it's very much a Chicago thing. And now it's coming home.