The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

We can't even have a conversation

Josh Marshall argues that our inability to discuss gun control in any meaningful way has rendered us collectively impotent to prevent gun massacres:

Do you really need an AR-15? For some people, it’s just fun to fire off an AR-15. I begrudge no one that fun. You’re at the range. It’s just cool. I get it. But maybe, because it’s also the weapon of choice for virtually every school massacre, to have that fun you need to do a background check not just for institutionalization or felony records but something a bit more thorough-going to know you’re not someone with all the markers of a mass shooter. Or maybe you can have it and fire it as often as you want but you need to leave it in a locker at the range. These changes would be a bit of a pain for enthusiasts. But changing mores about drunken driving also made social drinking a bit more difficult. You have to think through how you’re getting home if you’re going to go out and have more than a couple drinks. Does your spouse or partner not drink? Do you have a designated driver? Public transportation? It’s a bit of a pain. We’ve decided this pain is more than worth it. The ability to drink in any way or to any extent at any time is not an absolute value.

The specific reforms are beside the point for these purposes. The point is the need for and public agreement to some balancing, some inconveniences and impediments to total freedom to do anything with guns up to the doorstep of a felony or a massacre. Until we do this, not only do we not have any of even the most basic reforms which could begin to make it a little harder to commit massacres, we also collectively send a signal as a society. Guns are not only potentially fatal as tools. They are all powerful totems. They are untouchable. They reduce adults who promise to spare no exertion to protect the country from various public or domestic threats to be reduced to the gibberish and nonsense of “thoughts and prayers.” Nothing is a deeper testament to the cultural power and invincibility of the gun in our society. And it is that power which is at the heart of the massacre spectacle – the desire and all-consuming need and drive to destroy lives including your own indiscriminately in a final burst of total power. Our collective impotence not only sharpens that weapon, that symbol for the perpetrators of the actual massacres. It also gives sanction for all the precursor behavior (the gun nut who is stockpiling AR-15s and ammo but never actually kills anyone).

The reforms are critical. And more of them than are even close to the current debate will be required. But the core of the culture of massacre is equally driven by the social sickness of inaction itself. It is the ultimate validation of the power of the gun that is at the heart of the sick social disease. Until we recognize that the collective message of the power and singular importance of guns is at the heart of the gun massacre scourge, we’ll never be rid of it.

My current Facebook status is, "Have we all forgotten that, at its core, the NRA is a trade association?" And one with questionable sources of funds at that.

Plain old paper can make our elections more secure

Via Bruce Schneier, Michael Chertoff and Grover Norquist (of all people) explain in the Washington Post how we can make our elections more secure:

It should also be no surprise that hackers have U.S. voting systems in their sights. They’re a relatively easy target. Researchers have studied a range of electronic voting infrastructure — including touch screens, optical scanner systems and registration databases — and found serious vulnerabilities that could allow even moderately sophisticated attackers to pose threats to voting integrity. This year, about 40 states are set to use electronic voting or tabulation systems that are more than a decade old — many of which run on software that’s too old to be serviced with vendor security patches. A survey of nearly 300 election officials in 28 states found that a clear majority report needing new voting systems.

We believe there is a framework to secure our elections that can win bipartisan support, minimize costs to taxpayers and respect the constitutional balance between state and federal authorities in managing elections. In September, Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), who chairs the conservative House Freedom Caucus, introduced legislation that would help solve the problem with an elegantly simple fix: paper ballots. Meadows’s Paper Act would authorize cost-sharing with states for the replacement of insecure electronic systems with those that produce a voter-verified physical record. The bill also lays the groundwork for states to regularly implement risk-limiting audits — procedures that check a small random sample of paper records to quickly and affordably provide high assurance that an election outcome was correct.

Of course, the Trump administration has no interest in returning people's faith in the elections process. Like authoritarians everywhere, they benefit from FUD. So it's interesting seeing Chertoff and Norquist taking a position I completely agree with.

Mid-week link roundup

Lots of things popped up in my browser today:

And now, back to work.

Peace in our time, canid edition

Coyotes and red foxes seldom interact in the wild, as foxes tend to give coyotes a wide berth. In urban areas, however, they seem to get along just fine:

Over the years, foxes and coyotes, like so many other wild species, have settled in the city, and they’re inevitably here to stay. It’s not uncommon to see them scampering across their neighborhoods. Some animal species have adapted to thrive amid the human-dominated landscape of high rises, fragmented green space, and heavy traffic. Now, at least in the case of these two wildlife predators, they may be changing their behavioral instincts to coexist with each other—thanks in part to the abundance of food.

[A recent] study has found instances where the two species forage for food at roughly 90 m from one another without incident. And in a rarely seen moment captured in Madison by PBS for their documentary, “Fox Tales,” a vixen remains alert as a pair of coyotes scavenges alarmingly close to a den with her pups inside. Drake said the interaction happened weekly for over a month, and yet there was no attempt for the mother to move her den.

Both species seem to live pretty close to me in the Uptown neighborhood of Chicago. I've seen more than one coyote on my street. (Fortunately, while foxes may not bother them, they still run away from humans.) I'm also seeing fewer rats. So, hey, foxes and coyotes are both welcome in Chicago, as far as I'm concerned. I'm glad they're not competing.

Buy me a ticket

Eurostar will launch London-to-Amsterdam service on April 4th. Airlines are worried:

Currently, a Londoner bound for Amsterdam by train can expect the journey to take a little under five hours, with a change of trains in Brussels. The new service will reach speeds of up to 186 miles per hour and cancel the need to change in Brussels, shaving off over an hour.

The prospect has already generated a palpable buzz, and the 900 tickets offered a day (starting at a reasonable $47 one way) are likely to sell out fast. But it’s not clear how the service will fare if it extends beyond two trains a day (as it likely will) on a route where price competition with airlines is already fierce. ... Can a train trip that takes more than than three-and-a-half hours succeed in competing with a flight time of scarcely an hour?

The tentative answer provides an interesting snapshot of just how much European travel has changed: 20 years ago, a train taking more than three hours would struggle to compete with an hour-long flight. Today, however, such as service is at a distinct advantage. It’s not necessarily the case that speed and comfort have necessarily skyrocketed for train travel (though there are indeed more fast routes now on offer). It’s because—especially for shorter distances—flying has become increasingly hellish and time-consuming.

Yep. And seriously, €50 return fares to Amsterdam sound really enticing. Hell, at €100, it's still cheaper than flying and takes less time. St. Pancras is in the center of London; Amsterdam's Centraal station is (you will be surprised to learn) also central. Next time I'm in the UK, I will seriously consider taking a day-trip to the Netherlands.

So much snow

Over the last two weeks, Chicago tied a record for the most consecutive days with measurable snowfall:

Chicago logged a record-tying ninth consecutive day with measurable snowfall on Sunday, equaling similar nine-day runs from Jan. 29-Feb. 6, 1902 and Jan. 6-14, 2009. Measurable snow has now been logged daily from February 3-11.

No snow is expected Monday, so the record should not be broken.

The past nine days have also completely obliterated the 2017-18 seasonal snow deficit. Through midnight Saturday night/Sunday morning, 625 mm had fallen at O'Hare compared to the normal of 607 mm up to February 11.

As of noon Sunday, there's 330 mm of snow on the ground at O'Hare, 356 mm at Midway, and 381 mm in Arlington Heights.

I should remind readers that the 2017-18 winter was just fine, thank you.


That was my step total yesterday: 9,971. All I had to do was look at my Fitbit before midnight and take 30 steps right then. So frustrating.

My numbers have been off all year, mainly owing to the bitter cold early on and the buckets of snow in the past week. We've gotten some precipitation every day of the past 8 (and on Monday bitter cold as well), so that this morning there was 300 mm on the ground at O'Hare.

Still, if I got 99.7% of the way to my daily step goal, I could have taken 30 more steps before midnight. That feels way worse than the 6,071 steps I got on Friday.

Anti-liberalism on the left

Andrew Sullivan cautions the American left against turning into the very thing it hates about the far-right:

The idea of individual merit — as opposed to various forms of unearned “privilege” — is increasingly suspect. The Enlightenment principles that formed the bedrock of the American experiment — untrammeled free speech, due process, individual (rather than group) rights — are now routinely understood as mere masks for “white male” power, code words for the oppression of women and nonwhites. Any differences in outcome for various groups must always be a function of “hate,” rather than a function of nature or choice or freedom or individual agency. And anyone who questions these assertions is obviously a white supremacist himself.

Polarization has made this worse — because on the left, moderation now seems like a surrender to white nationalism, and because on the right, white identity politics has overwhelmed moderate conservatism. And Trump plays a critical role. His crude, bigoted version of identity politics seems to require an equal and opposite reaction. And I completely understand this impulse. Living in this period is to experience a daily, even hourly, psychological hazing from the bigot-in-chief. And when this white straight man revels in his torment of those unlike him — and does so with utter impunity among his supporters — there’s a huge temptation to respond in kind. A president who has long treated women, in his words, “like shit,” and bragged about it, is enough to provoke rage in any decent person. But anger is rarely a good frame of mind to pursue the imperatives of reason, let alone to defend the norms of liberal democracy.

Look: I don’t doubt the good intentions of the new identity politics — to expand the opportunities for people previously excluded. I favor a politics that never discriminates against someone for immutable characteristics — and tries to make sure that as many people as possible feel they have access to our liberal democracy. But what we have now is far more than the liberal project of integrating minorities. It comes close to an attack on the liberal project itself. Marxism with a patina of liberalism on top is still Marxism — and it’s as hostile to the idea of a free society as white nationalism is. So if you wonder why our discourse is now so freighted with fear, why so many choose silence as the path of least resistance, or why the core concepts of a liberal society — the individual’s uniqueness, the primacy of reason, the protection of due process, an objective truth — are so besieged, this is one of the reasons.

The goal of our culture now is not the emancipation of the individual from the group, but the permanent definition of the individual by the group. We used to call this bigotry. Now we call it being woke.

I'm not sure I completely agree with him, but I see some signs that he may be more right than wrong.

The answer to the right-wing's ascendance in American politics through obnoxious bigotry and inflaming feelings of identity-based resentment cannot be obnoxious bigotry and inflaming feelings of identity-based resentment. That's insane.

What are the odds of this?

North suburban New Trier High School—one of the richest public schools in the world—has a world-record 44 sets of twins (and one set of triplets) in the 10th grade class alone. I'm going to ask Deeply Trivial to help figure out, what is the probability this happened entirely by chance?

Kathy Routliffe has the story for Pioneer Press:

Their numbers are noteworthy, given that the class has slightly more than 1,000 students, according to New Trier officials. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention put the rate of U.S. twins at 33.5 per 1,000 births in 2015, making New Trier's sophomore class statistically impressive.

Even more so is the fact that some sophomore twins chose not to take part in the project, and that other New Trier classes also boast twins, Winnetka campus principal Denise Dubravec said Wednesday.

Most, 22 sets of twins, and the triplets, come from Wilmette. Many were part of Ryan and Luke [Novosel]'s first record-setting effort: They got their fifth grade class at Wilmette's Highcrest Middle School certified for the same record back in 2013, with 24 sets.

Guinness officials certified the numbers last May, although they didn't send word to Ryan and Luke until January, Fendley said. When they did, Ryan and Luke learned their class set two records, one for the most number of twins, and one for the highest numbers of multiples, thanks to the triplets.

Seriously, there has to be a non-random cause here. Fertility treatments, maybe?

(Incidentally, a number of my close family members and some friends attended NTHS, and I grew up in a neighboring district.)

Another ruling in the gig economy

The Federal court in the Northern District of California ruled today that GrubHub delivery drivers are contractors, not employees:

The ruling may have far-reaching implications for other sharing economy companies, including Uber Technologies Inc., whose business models are built on pairing customers with products and services through apps and typically avoid the costs of traditional employment.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Jacqueline Scott Corley in San Francisco concluded Thursday, in a first-of-its-kind ruling, that a gig-economy driver doesn't qualify for the protections of employees under California law.

Charlotte Garden, an associate law professor at Seattle University, said Corley's decision is a “doubly big” win for GrubHub due to California's relatively high standard for establishing workers as independent contractors.

“If they can make it here, they can more likely make it anywhere,” Garden said. “It is also the first federal court to reach a verdict on whether workers in the gig economy are employees or not, so companies like Uber and Lyft will also be celebrating this win.”

(Of course, Uber may not survive its ongoing struggle with the Justice Department for other reasons, but that's not the point.)

Judge Corley admonished the state legislature to fix the problem this case exposed: “Under California law whether an individual performing services for another is an employee or an independent contractor is an all-or-nothing proposition,” she wrote. “With the advent of the gig economy, and the creation of a low wage workforce performing low skill but highly flexible episodic jobs, the legislature may want to address this stark dichotomy.”

We can expect multiple lawsuits in other Federal circuits any day now.