The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Shoot first, ask what a gun is later

President Trump's administration had no idea what a government shutdown would do until they started looking into it after shutting down the government:

Two devastating reports in the Washington Post over the weekend detail the horrifying scope of their ignorance. The administration did not realize that 38 million Americans lose their food stamps under a shutdown, nor did it know that thousands of tenants would face eviction without assistance from the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

It’s likely the administration was lulled into complacency by a previous, abbreviated shutdown that took place in early 2018. This interruption in funding lasted only a few days and had barely any effect. Perhaps the administration assumed a longer shutdown would work the same way, but, you know, more of it. The reality is that the effects of a shutdown compound over time. Government agencies can creatively stretch their budgets to mask gaps in funding, but at some point, their capacity to maintain services snaps. The relationship between the length of a shutdown and its impact is not linear. A 30-day shutdown is not ten times as damaging as a three-day shutdown. It is probably 100 times as damaging.

The impending reality of millions of Americans going hungry and homeless is just one aspect of the horrors that await us. At some point, the shutdown will impinge upon Trump’s C-suite constituency. Employees of the Transportation Security Administration have had to work without pay, but that cannot continue indefinitely. Already, employees at some airports have begun staging sick-outs. At some point, air travel will grind to a halt, and with it large segments of the economy. By next month, tax refunds will be in jeopardy.

Facing an economic cataclysm, Trump appears to have no endgame in mind.

Also, there's this matter of the air-traffic control system.

We're only two weeks short of the the half-way point in this presidential term, and the White House still hasn't figured out how to do their jobs.

The bell tolls

Over the weekend, Sears Holdings Corp. started making preparations for winding down the business, after chairman and company killer Eddie Lampert's bid fell apart:

The iconic retailer started laying the groundwork for a liquidation after meetings Friday in which its advisers weighed the merits of a $4.4 billion bid by Lampert’s hedge fund to buy Sears as a going concern, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the discussions are private. If the 125-year-old retailer does die in bankruptcy — like Toys “R” Us in 2018, and Borders Group Inc. in 2011 — it would mark the largest fatality yet in the retail apocalypse prompted by a shift to online shopping.

While Lampert’s ESL Investments has failed to convince the bankers of the viability of its bid, it could still make last-minute improvements before a status hearing on Tuesday. Lampert also has outlined a back-up plan in which ESL would pursue the purchase of some of Sears’s parts, including real estate and intellectual property, such as its brand.

Earlier in the bankruptcy, creditors questioned whether transactions involving Lampert had bilked them of $2.6 billion, setting the stage for conflict over deals with the very investor who is offering to salvage the company. Lampert’s ESL said its transactions were made in good faith and on fair terms to other stakeholders.

I think justice demands that Lampert himself suffer bankruptcy and irrelevance. But, as Robert Heinlein said decades ago, TANJ.

Chicago's hidden depths

Slate explains how Chicago's Deep Tunnel project has relieved the city of the worst effects of rainstorms—but just isn't adequate for the new, wetter climate:

The history of Chicago can be told as a series of escapes from wastewater, each more ingenious than the last. Before the Civil War, entire city blocks were lifted on hydraulic jacks to allow for better drainage, and the first tunnel to bring in potable water from the middle of Lake Michigan was completed in 1867. In 1900, engineers reversed the flow of the Chicago River to protect the city’s drinking water, shifting its fetid contents from the Great Lakes to the Mississippi, enraging the city of St. Louis (which sued, and lost) and, years later, making Chicago the single-largest contributor to the “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico. In 1955, the American Society of Civil Engineers declared the river reversal one of the seven engineering wonders of the United States, alongside such better-known undertakings as the Hoover Dam, the Empire State Building, and the Panama Canal.

“The [Metropolitan Water Reclamation District] designed a system of sewers, tunnels, and reservoirs for a city that doesn’t exist anymore,” says Karen Hobbs, a former deputy environmental commissioner in Chicago who oversaw the creation of the city’s climate plan and now works as a policy analyst at the National Resources Defense Council. Metropolitan Chicago is no longer the place it was in 1960. The weather isn’t what it was then either. It’s a cautionary tale for a time when climate change has the nation’s planners, scientists, and engineers contemplating enormous endeavors like storm surge barriers or more radical, long-term geoengineering schemes. It’s also a reminder that any project that spans six decades from commencement to completion will be finished in a different world than the one in which it was conceived.

“It’s a marvel,” Hobbs adds. “But we have this tendency in this country to think we can build our way out of stuff. And we can’t always build our way out.”

Belatedly, the city has started using porous pavement in alleys and encouraging other ways of keeping water out of the sewers.

Restauranteur caught in Spain

Former Embeya owner Attila Gyulai, accused of embezzling over a million dollars from the restaurant he co-owned with chef Thai Dang his wife Komal Patel, was arrested in Spain yesterday:

Gyulai and his wife, Komal Patel, disappeared in summer 2016 after abruptly shutting the restaurant. They abandoned their Ford Flex SUV in front of their River West home, a detail uncovered in an exhaustive investigation by Crain's. Police ticketed the car two​ weeks later and impounded it in mid-August. By then, bank records later would show, their accounts had been used for a series of payments outside the United States.

Though the West Loop restaurant had won praise for its design and Asian cuisine, Cook County Circuit Court records show the couple took $1.5 million out of the restaurant, which was partly owned by chef Thai Dang. Judges had ordered Gyulai and Patel to pay the money back. Gyulai and Patel were last known to be living in Tulum, Mexico.

Dang, who was left to pay creditors after his partner disappeared, now owns Haisous, a restaurant in Pilsen, with his wife, Danielle. "We never thought this day would come this quick," he said via text upon learning of Gyulai's arrest. "We just knew we had to keep moving on with our lives."

Good. If the accusations prove true, he needs to go to jail.

No comment, no response

The White House has simply stopped responding to basic press enquiries, not even bothering to issue a "no comment:"

“This is the least responsive White House press operation I’ve ever dealt with by far,” said Peter Baker, a veteran White House reporter for the New York Times and one of the co-authors of the story about Trump’s isolation. “There are certainly individuals there who are professional and try to be helpful when they can, and I appreciate their efforts, I really do. But as a whole, I’ve learned not to expect answers even to basic questions.”

The White House has had no response to stories large and small in recent days: reports that Trump planned to meet with Federal Reserve chairman Jerome H. Powell, whom he has criticized (no response to Agence France-Presse); the partial shutdown of the federal government (no response to Reuters or USA Today); a report by an advocacy group that wealthy donors gave $55 million to groups supporting his reelection, despite Trump’s stated opposition to such donations during the 2016 campaign (no response to Washington Post); Trump’s statement that former secretary of state Rex Tillerson was “dumb as a rock” (no response to CNBC); a piece in the Times reporting that a podiatrist may have helped Trump dodge the draft when Trump was a young man at the height of the Vietnam War.

At the same time, the White House seems to have all but stopped explaining Trump’s bizarre tweets.

I don't think this should surprise anyone. The current administration, abetted by the Republican Party, don't believe that the US Government works for anyone but them. They have shown for almost two years they don't value the basic values of civic engagement that a republic requires.

Regardless of which Democrats run in 2020, I think at least we can expect that their campaigns (and the resulting new administration) will at least issue a no-comment response.

2018: Hitting reset

In the last half 2018, I made a number of changes in my life that I had put off for years. I moved, got a new car, repaired my dog, and made a couple of changes in my personal life to clear a solid path for next year. What that will bring overall, I have no idea.

Every year at this time I post some statistics for comparison with previous years. In 2018:

  • Travel was way, way down; in fact, I traveled less in 2018 than in any year since 1998, with the longest gap between trips (221 days) in my entire life. Overall, I took the fewest trips (7) on the fewest flights (11) to the fewest other countries (1) and states (7) than in any year since 1995. I did beat 2017's total flight miles (44,680 km this year against 31,042 km last year), but only because of three trips to London. (Side note: the Republican party shut down the US government during two of those trips.)
  • I posted 518 times on The Daily Parker, up 62 from last year and 59 from 2016, and the best showing since 2013 (537). The A-to-Z challenge helped.
  • Parker only got 133 hours of walks, significantly less than last year, principally because of his leg injury. Not to mention he's 12½, slowing down, and wants a nap, dammit.
  • Fitbit steps didn't change much: 5,262,521 for the year, up 2% from last year. It was, however, my best year for steps since getting my first Fitbit in 2014. It also had my biggest stepping day ever.
  • Reading went up just a tiny bit, from 17 to 24. One of my friends read over 100; I'm not going to be there until I take a year off from work. (I predict that will happen in the 2040s.)

The only resolution I have for 2019 is to bring all of these numbers up, but only slightly.

To the dogs!

A couple of news stories have dogged me this week.

First, the TSA has determined that travelers—particularly children—find floppy-eared dogs less threatening than pointy-eared dogs:

TSA Administrator David Pekoske said the agency is also making at least one new change to reduce traveler stress: deploying more floppy-ear dogs, rather than pointy-ear dogs, to sniff out explosives in public areas.

During a recent tour of Washington Dulles International Airport, Pekoske told the Washington Examiner that his agency believes floppy-ear dogs are less intimidating to travelers than dogs with pointy ears.

“We find the passenger acceptance of floppy-ear dogs is just better,” he said. “It presents just a little bit less of a concern. Doesn’t scare children.”

The agency says it trains seven breeds of dogs: German shepherds (pointy ears), Labrador retrievers (floppy ears), German shorthaired pointers (floppy ears), wirehaired pointers (floppy ears), Vizslas (floppy ears), Belgian Malinois (pointy ears) and golden retrievers (floppy ears).

Because of the federal shutdown, TSA representatives could not be reached to comment on how the agency will transition to more floppy-ear dogs.

Parker approves.

Meanwhile, a new California law taking effect tomorrow allows divorce judges to take into account the best interests of family pets, rather than just treating pets as personal property as has been the law since time immemorial:

The law was sponsored by dog owner and state Assembly member Bill Quirk and signed by dog lover Gov. Jerry Brown (Lucy, a borgie, is the state's first dog and Cali, a bordoodle, is the first deputy dog). The measure empowers judges to consider "the care of the pet animal" and create shared custody agreements.

The law "makes clear that courts must view pet ownership differently than the ownership of a car, for example. By providing clearer direction, courts will award custody on what is best for the animal," Quirk said after the bill was signed.

Legal experts said the law means judges can take into consideration factors like who walks, feeds and plays with the pet when deciding who the animal should live with.

Now, I'm pretty sure pets are still personal property under the law, and won't get treated like people. But who's a dog-friendly state? Who's a dog-friendly state? Is California a dog-friendly state? Yes it is! California is a dog-friendly state! Good legislature! Good governor!

Lurching into 2019

The island-nation of Kiritimati just became the first place in the world to enter 2019. Good on 'em.

People may have noticed the Daily Parker tradition of welcoming Kiritimati into the new year. On 30 December 1994, Kiritimati changed time zones from UTC-10 (Hawai'i time) to UTC+14 (ludicrous time), in part so they could become the first place in the world to start the 21st Century. Technically, it worked.

However, since the highest point on the small island (population 6,500) rises only 13 m above the Pacific, the country is completely vulnerable to climate-change-induced sea-level rise. It probably will not be the first place in the world to greet the 22nd century.

So, happy new year, Kiritimati! I hope you outlive me.