The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

All. Freaking. Done.

It's only taken this long—11 days—to finish the last little bits of unpacking. Everything is the way it's going to be for a while.

Except for the 100 empty boxes in the guest room. Anyone need boxes? Please take them.

John Kinzie's servant

One of the earliest settlers in Chicago, John Kinzie, illegally held a man as a slave who ultimately ran away. Kinzie then sued him in Louisiana to get him back:

In 1804 John Kinzie moved into the old DuSable cabin on the north bank of the Chicago River and began trading with the local Native tribes. Thomas Forsyth Jr, his half-brother, was in business with him. That spring the partners took on an indentured servant named Jeffrey Nash.

Sometime after the 1804 indenture was instituted, Forsyth took Nash there. And sometime later Nash ran away. He eventually made his way to New Orleans, married, and started a family.

The traders were not about to let Nash go. In 1813 they began proceedings in Louisiana to get him back. The case was labeled Kensy (sic) and Forsyth, plaintiffs v. Jeffrey Nash, defendant.

Now the plaintiffs claimed that Nash was not a free-born servant under indenture, but actually their slave. Residents of Peoria had recognized Nash as Forsyth’s slave. Nash himself was said to have admitted being a slave, and had run away when Forsyth broke a promise to free him. The traders also produced a bill of sale transferring the slave Nash to them, dated September 5, 1803.

However, the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 banned slavery from the territory that would eventually become Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Illinois, and Wisconsin. The only exceptions were for persons convicted of a crime, or fugitive slaves escaping from a slave-holding state. Nash did not fall under either of these categories. Therefore, the court found in his favor. He would remain a free man.

The road in downtown Chicago named after Kinzie was the locus of the biggest disaster in city history.

The nihilism of the GOP

Writing for New Republic, Garret Keizer argues that nihilism, not racism or anger at elites, really drives Trump voters:

A nihilist is someone who dedicates himself to not giving a shit, who thinks all meanings are shit, and who yearns with all his heart for the “aesthetic pleasure” of seeing the shit hit the fan. Arguing with a nihilist is like intimidating a suicide bomber: The usual threats and enticement have no effect. I suspect that is part of the appeal for both: the facile transcendence of placing oneself beyond all powers of persuasion. A nihilist is above you and your persnickety arguments in the same way that Trump fancies himself above the law.

[I]t’s probably a mistake to view nihilism as “an explanation apart” from the common analyses of the Trump phenomenon. Economic dispossession and virulent racism stand in relation to nihilism not as alternative theories but as reciprocal causes and effects. In other words, all three flourish in a moral vacuum.

A sense of radical incredulity, spectacularly typified by Trump’s refusal to believe his own intelligence services, is but one manifestation of the nihilism that brought him to power. What makes him “the real deal” in the eyes of his most ardent admirers is largely his insistence that almost everything else is fake. Like him, they know that the news is fake, the melting ice caps are fake, the purported citizenship of certain voters is fake, science is fake, social justice is fake, the whole notion of truth is fake. Whatever isn’t fake is so relative that it might as well be fake; “true for you,” maybe, but that’s as far as it goes. Among those who call themselves “believers” and are thus at least technically not nihilists, one frequently finds an obsession with apocalypse, a gleeful anticipation of the living end that will destroy the inherent fakery of all things. The social teachings of the Gospels need not trouble the Christian conscience so long as the troubles predicted in Revelation come to pass.

Another pertinent factor is envy, a basic human emotion that rising social inequality can only exacerbate. To put it in cruder terms: “The world sucks for me, so I am going to make it suck for you too. I have lost my job, my status as a white male, and may even lose my gun. So you, my smug, privileged friend, are going to lose your civil liberties, your faith in social progress, your endangered species, your affirmative action, your reproductive freedom, your international alliances, your ‘wonderful’ exchange student from Syria.” The rationale is probably not too distant from that of the jealous husband who shoots his wife, her lover, and himself. Enjoying ourselves, are we? We will enjoy nothing!—which is to say, we will enjoy the only thing a nihilist can enjoy.

It's a slightly depressing essay, but probably accurate. Sigh.

Serious national-security risk

Worse than the president's unsecured iPhone are the obvious but undisclosed conflicts of interest in his family. Add the unelected, unconfirmed Jared Kushner on top and we've got serious problems:

Senior adviser Jared Kushner was the one who pushed a Saudi-centric policy. One can easily see why. In the crown prince Kushner no doubt saw a kindred spirit — a young sophisticate living in his family’s shadow who had great potential to transform the region. He (Kushner) and the actual crown prince, MBS, were a match made in heaven, although hardly an even match. Kushner seemed to ingest every foolish idea about the Middle East (“the conflict between Arabs and Israelis was essentially a real-estate problem, a deal to be worked out”) and, like his father-in-law, fell prey to the flattery of whomever he faced at the moment. MBS convinced Kushner that making the Saudis the Trump administration’s surrogate would work out for both.

The irony is that conservatives with varying degrees of justification accused the Obama team of not driving hard enough bargains on foreign policy. The Trump-Kushner team, however, has done one better (worse?) — giving our worst foes a pass on egregious human rights violations and allowing our allies to run wild. This comes from the president who is always accusing our allies of taking advantage of us. Well, now they are, and what does Trump intend to do about it?

Putting together a viable policy while simultaneously trying to avoid U.S. commitments to the region won’t be easy. His effort to peddle minimalist sanctions is unlikely to work — and judging from his willingness to dump the problem into Congress’s lap, the White House knows it. The Saudis will not escape unscathed if Congress has its way, and the young menace, the callow heir, who has arguably made the Middle East more unstable and less amenable to U.S. leadership, should go. And MBS should go as well.

Both families need to go in their entireties. Unfortunately we're stuck with ours for the next 818 days.

Dog bites man, Sears edition

The Chicago Tribune points out that Sears' $5 bn in losses could actually help the guy who killed it, Eddie Lampert:

As of the retailer's bankruptcy on Oct. 15, Sears estimated it had net operating losses it could use to offset $5 billion of future taxable income, and separate tax credits of around $900 million. These are the most valuable assets Sears has, and under U.S. tax law, they could disappear in bankruptcy if another company or investor takes the company over.

When a company has accumulated net operating losses, it can use them to offset future taxable income, which in turn cuts into its tax bills. The rule is meant to give struggling companies more breathing room. That means big benefits on the balance sheet. For example, Sears saved $1.7 billion in deferred taxes in 2017, according to its most recent quarterly filing.

While a sale in bankruptcy would often mean a change in control, meaning that such tax benefits are lost, Lampert's stock and debt stakes would help him avoid that. Lampert and his hedge fund ESL Investments Inc., together own about 49 percent of Sears shares, and are among Sears's biggest creditors, having extended it $2.66 billion in debt through various loans.

Creditors who have held debt for 18 months before the filing and whose debt rose in the ordinary course of Sears's business are "qualified creditors" who can thus avoid losing the tax assets even if there's a shift in control towards them.

He profits from destroying the company. Ain't America grand?

Mystery of the rapidly-warming house

I finished unpacking from my move yesterday, with only a few chores left (like finding a home for all the little things in my office that have taken over my desk). Shortly after finishing, I took out the trash, and started to wind down. Then I noticed my house getting warmer.

The previous owners had an Ecobee thermostat, which, because I'm on the Google ecosystem, I will replace with the Nest thermostat that should arrive today. I noticed that this Ecobee had a very strange reading: 63°F. And falling. And running the heater full-blast to try getting the temperature back up to normal.

Once it got to 60°F I shut off the heating system. Other thermometers in my house showed 20–21°C and steady. Plus, if it really had been that cold, I would be shivering or at least wearing a sweater.

When I woke up this morning, the Ecobee told me the house was 44°F—just a degree or two warmer than the temperature outside.

Then I realized what had happened.

As with the Nest thermostat, Ecobees can use multiple small sensors throughout the house for zone coverage. One of those Ecobee sensors was now in a trash bag in the dumpster by the alley, and broadcasting with sufficient power that the main thermostat thought the guest bedroom was freezing cold.

So the heating system is still off, which is fine because (a) Parker has two fur coats and doesn't mind and (b) I can see from other sensors that the house is still around 19°C, which is perfectly comfortable for both of us.

All of this is part of the unintended fun of home automation, and of moving.

Calçada portuguesa

Lisbon has unique sidewalks, which are beautiful—and dangerous:

In a city without an iconic monument like Paris’s Eiffel Tower or Rome’s Colosseum, Portuguese pavement has become become Lisbon’s calling card. Its graphic black-and-white patterns are printed on souvenir mugs, canvas bags and T-shirts. City Council has even gone so far as to propose the sidewalks be added to UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage list, alongside Portugal’s melancholic national music, fado.

Portuguese pavement is excellent for subterranean aquifers because they allow rainwater to seep through the junctures between the stones, helping prevent flooding. But their maintenance is nothing short of Sisyphean. No sooner have crews of specialized workers, known as calceteiros, finished the arduous task of breaking limestone into bits of the proper shape, laying them out like puzzle pieces and hammering them into place with what looks like an oversized wooden pestle, do the stones start popping out. A single missing stone can trigger a snowball effect, causing others to fall out and leaving lurking holes.

Rainfall makes the situation even dicier. A 2011 survey of elderly Lisbon residents put the sidewalks at the top of their list of things they most fear. They’re also a daily crucible for disabled people, and  those with strollers or suitcases.

Yeah, but they're gorgeous. I might have accidentally stolen one, too.

My daily living hell

We've known this for 50 years: open-plan offices do nothing good for companies except reduce rent costs, but they do a whole lot of bad. They are not "fun;" they are not "collaborative;" they are not "start-uppy." They just suck:

Over the decades, a lot of really stupid management fads have come and gone, including:

  1. Six Sigma, where employees wear different colored belts (like in karate) to show they've been trained in the methodology.
  2. Stack Ranking, where employees are encouraged to rat each other out in order to secure their own advancement and budget.
  3. Consensus Management, where all decisions must pass through multiple committees before being implemented.

It need hardly be said that these fads were and are (at best) a waste of time and (at worst) a set of expensive distractions. But open plan offices are worse. Much worse. Why? Because they decrease rather than increase employee collaboration.

Previous studies of open plan offices have shown that they make people less productive, but most of those studies gave lip service to the notion that open plan offices would increase collaboration, thereby offsetting the damage.

The Harvard study, by contrast, undercuts the entire premise that justifies the fad. And that leaves companies with only one justification for moving to an open plan office: less floor space, and therefore a lower rent.

As an introvert in a field that requires concentration, minimal distractions, and time to reflect and think about what I'm doing—not to mention, a field predominantly comprising introverts—it's even worse.

I wish I had at least a cubicle.

It continues

Two milestones yesterday: I tested my grill with some friends and with decent results (note to self: soak the cedar plank first), and I finished unpacking the guest bedroom.

Regular posting will resume at some point.