The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Phil saw his shadow; I didn't

It's Groundhog Day!

And it's official: Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow, meaning another six weeks of winter. And he wrote a little poem about it, which is pretty impressive for a marmot. (You'll have to read the poem on the official Groundhog Day site.)

Also impressive, this rodent has been around for 120 years, as the FAQ explains:

How many "Phils" have there been over the years? There has only been one Punxsutawney Phil. He has been making predictions for over 120 years! Punxsutawney Phil gets his longevity from drinking "groundhog punch," a secret recipe. Phil takes one sip every summer at the Groundhog Picnic and it magically gives him seven more years of life.

I'm thinking it would make more sense to drink the punch every 6 years instead of every year, but maybe Phil is banking on the future.

Also, he's seen his shadow in 8 of the past 10 years, and though there is no record of his prognositcal success, I'm quite certain that winters have gotten milder recently. This makes me wonder if Phil isn't playing around a bit with the definition of "winter," and the two times he didn't see his shadow were in years when spring began not on March 20th, as usual, but on Mardi Gras.

I, by the way, didn't see my shadow, as it's a perfectly normal grey Chicago morning here. This is what it looked like at sunrise:

Because they're the phone company

We were dark for over 6 hours today because someone at SBC did something, though no one seems to know who or what. The result was that the Inner Drive Technology World Headquarters had no phone or Internet service from 9:15 am CT/15:15 UTC until 3:30 pm CT/21:30 UTC.

Sadly, this came on the first day of our Weather Now beta launch, which shows off some of our coolest stuff ever. (At this writing it's still a few hours behind, with weather from lunchtime today, but it's catching up as fast as it can.)

One of my friends asked, "How can they do that?" Well, like I said...they're the phone company.

President at 39%; State of the Union "Unwatchable"

The latest NBC/WSJ poll finds only 39% of Americans think the President is doing a good job. I can't remember a President with lower approval ratings, ever. And still this one believes he has a mandate. Incredible.

A related item: Journalist Josh Marshall finds the State of the Union address "unwatchable" in general. I think if it weren't on a Tuesday and one could make a serious drinking game out of it, perhaps it could be more fun, but alas. I'll probably watch it anyway, though Anne might want to leave the house for all the cursing it's sure to evoke.

Round-up of sad news stories

Not that anyone is surprised, but Samuel Alito got confirmed an Associate Justice of the U.S. today.

Civil-rights activist Corretta Scott King died this morning.

Exxon reported a $36 billion profit in 2005, the largest corporate profit ever, making Exxon shareholders the largest beneficiaries in history of the ongoing environmental degradation of our planet.

And today is Alan Greenspan's last day as Federal Reserve Chairman, which actually may be good news for our children, since it's unlikely that incoming chariman Ben Bernanke will allow the structural imbalances in the U.S. economy that Greenspan encouraged to continue. More on that later.

Finally, the Oscar nominees were announced this morning, prompting me to send a very long, pun-filled email to Anne, which I will spare my loyal readers.

That is all.

Use property accessor methods, even inside your classes

Genius Boy here just spent ten minutes debugging a class because I used the private field directly inside the class, instead of the property accessor method.

Here's what the property looked like:

public string FileSpec
{
	get { return _fileSpec; }
}
private string _fileSpec;

Notice there's no set method. The file spec is set only in the constructor, and is immutable at runtime. That means that throughout the class I had code like this:

if (File.Exists(_fileSpec))
{
	_cache.Load(_fileSpec);
}

The problem? Well, the private data could contain any number of tokens representing disk or remote folders, which wasn't a requirement when the class was first built.

The solution? C# 2.0 gives you the power to create an accessors of different visibilities, like this:

public string FileSpec
{
	get { return _fileSpec; }
	private set
	{
		_fileSpec = DeTokenize(value);
	}
}

The constructor now looks like this:

public MyClass(string fileSpec)
{
	FileSpec = fileSpec;
}

And then the code that uses the value can do this:

if (File.Exists(FileSpec))
{
	_cache.Load(FileSpec);
}

All better.

An analogy about climate change

Imagine you're a fisherman in an English village sometime in the 10th century. You notice, on the horizon, some longboats. You get worried, because you know the Norse have raped and pillaged from Dover to York for many years, which always ends badly for those raped and pillaged.

You mention it to the lord of the manor, who asks, "how many boats?" You say you don't know; it could be two, it could be four, they're still a ways away. "Come back when you know for sure," he tells you.

Another villager runs in to tell the manor lord essentially the same thing: He has seen Norsemen coming, they're heading right for us, hadn't we better get the men at arms ready?

No, says the manor lord, and further if you challenge my authority again, I shall shackle you to the wall.

A third villager runs in, shouting that the Norsemen are coming, at least two boats with 160 men, they'll arrive within the hour.

The manor lord shackles the third man to the wall, and shortly thereafter gets a Norse battle axe through the skull.

This is, of course, an (admittedly bad) analogy to the Bush Administration's handling of the ongoing global warming crisis, which has just gotten worse. Scientists now have stronger evidence that we're heading to a "tipping point" where climate change will accelerate beyond our ability to adapt, never mind our ability to prevent it.

Notice I said "stronger evidence." Climatologists have, in fact, predicted this scenario for at least 20 years, and until Dubya our government was listening—sometimes with only half an ear, true, but that's better than now.

Our current administration just doesn't want to hear about climate change. Their prinicpal argument has been that since the actual degree of change is uncertain, we don't know what actions to take yet, so we should do nothing lest we do the wrong thing. This, of course, makes no sense, as the principal actions to take are quite obvious to anyone remotely paying attention.

As they have done with other bits of evidence they didn't like, they've exerted political pressure to squelch it:

"There's no agreement on what it is that constitutes a dangerous climate change," said [President Bush's chief science adviser, John H.] Marburger, adding that the U.S. government spends $2 billion a year on researching this and other climate change questions. "We know things like this are possible, but we don't have enough information to quantify the level of risk."
This tipping point debate has stirred controversy within the administration; [NASA's Goddard Institute of Space Studies director James E.] Hansen said senior political appointees are trying to block him from sharing his views publicly. When Hansen posted data on the Internet in the fall suggesting that 2005 could be the warmest year on record, NASA officials ordered Hansen to withdraw the information because he had not had it screened by the administration in advance, according to a Goddard scientist who spoke on the condition of anonymity. More recently, NASA officials tried to discourage a reporter from interviewing Hansen for this article and later insisted he could speak on the record only if an agency spokeswoman listened in on the conversation.

(Personal aside: the Washington Post article quoted above ends with this bit:

The small island nation of Kiribati is made up of 33 small atolls, none of which is more than 2 m (6.5 ft) above the South Pacific, and it is only a matter of time before the entire country is submerged by the rising sea. "For Kiribati, the tipping point has already occurred," Schneider said. "As far as they're concerned, it's tipped, but they have no economic clout in the world."

...which is interesting to me because my friend Danielle just got back from Peace Corps duty there.)

I chose the analogy to Norsemen because I'm just finishing up Jared Diamond's book Collapse, whose central thesis is that societies collapse primarily because of ecological changes combined with the societies' responses to them. Witness the Norse in Greenland dying out after 450 years, while the Inuit happily lived on to the present day.

Someday, when we spend half a trillion dollars to build seawalls around New York and Miami, we're going to look back on this Administration the way the French look back on Louis XVI.

Stuff we already knew about Abramoff

Not that anyone who reads a newspaper will be surprised, but Abramoff didn't give money to Democrats, only Republicans:

A new and extensive analysis of campaign donations from all of Jack Abramoff’s tribal clients, done by a nonpartisan research firm, shows that a great majority of contributions made by those clients went to Republicans. The analysis undercuts the claim that Abramoff directed sums to Democrats at anywhere near the same rate.

It's the corruption, stupid.

Photo-irrelevance

For the record: The existence, or quantity, of any photos of the President shaking Jack Abramoff's hand, is totally irrelevant.

As Josh Marshall points out, Abramoff was the #1 most-connected guy in Republican fundraising during Bush's first term. So it's unlikely that Bush didn't know him, regardless of what either says on the subject.

Haven't we had enough of this already? One president lies about extra-marital sex, the other about helping his friends steal billions and kill thousands. One gets impeached, the other re-elected.

It's sad, really.