The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Three seasons in one day

It's official: with two days left, this is the warmest winter in Chicago history, with the average temperature since December 1st fully 3.5°C (6.3°F) above normal. We've had only 10 days this winter when the temperature stayed below freezing, 8 of them in one week in February. This should remain the case when spring officially begins on Friday, even though today's near-record 23°C (so far) is forecast to fall to -6°C by 6am. And that's not even to discuss the raging thunderstorms and possible tornadoes we might get as an energetic cold front slices through tonight. By "energetic," I mean that the NWS predicts a drop by as much as 16°C (30°F) in one hour around 10pm.

Not to worry: it'll be 17°C by Sunday. (The normal high temperatures are 4.7°C for February 27th and 5.4°C for March 3rd; the records are 23.9°C and 26.7°C, respectively.)

Meanwhile, I don't have time to read all of these before I pack up my laptop tonight:

And now, back to getting ready for the Sprint 103 release. That's a lot of sprints.

Before I pack up my Surface

Just noting these things to read later, as I have just a few minutes before boarding:

Finally, The Cut's financial-advice columnist Charlotte Cowles describes how she fell for a financial scam.

$350 million in fines

New York Justice Arthur Engoron just handed the XPOTUS a $350 million fine and barred him and his two failsons from running a business in New York for years:

The decision by Justice Arthur F. Engoron caps a chaotic, yearslong case in which New York’s attorney general put Mr. Trump’s fantastical claims of wealth on trial. With no jury, the power was in Justice Engoron’s hands alone, and he came down hard: The judge delivered a sweeping array of punishments that threatens the former president’s business empire as he simultaneously contends with four criminal prosecutions and seeks to regain the White House.

Mr. Trump will appeal the financial penalty — which could climb to $400 million or more once interest is added — but will have to either come up with the money or secure a bond within 30 days. The ruling will not render him bankrupt, because most of his wealth is tied up in real estate.

Of course he'll appeal, but New York doesn't give him many grounds to do so. And given the scale of the fraud he perpetrated on the State, even this eye-watering sum will probably survive scrutiny from the appellate court.

In other news this afternoon:

Finally, the Tribune has a long retrospective on WGN-TV weather reporter Tom Skilling, who will retire after the 10pm newscast on the 28th.

Fun international work meeting

I learned this morning that I have a meeting at 6am Wednesday, because the participants will be in four time zones across four continents. Since I'm traveling to Munich later that day, I'll just comfort myself by remembering it's 1pm Central Europe time.

I'm already queuing up some things to read on the flights. I'll probably finish all of these later today, though:

  • Jennifer Rubin highlights four ways in which the XPOTUS has demonstrated his electoral weakness in the past few weeks.
  • Republican pollster Frank Luntz agrees, warning the MAGA Republican extremists to stop screwing around lest the party suffer an historic ass-kicking in November. (For my part, I don't think they will stop, and the ass-kicking is long overdue.)
  • Sean Wilentz warns that the Supreme Court abdicating its responsibility to evaluate the XPOTUS in light of the 14th Amendment's insurrection clause will lead to worse problems later on.
  • James Fallows chastises the Times in particular for creating the controversy about President Biden's age they claimed simply to report on.
  • Ian Bogost moans about the ever-deepening problems of carrying baggage onto planes. (I will be checking my bag through to Munich, for what it's worth, but I may carry it on for the return flight to avoid customs delays changing planes at Charlotte.)

Finally, John Scalzi erupts at the 2023 Hugo Awards administrators for outright fraud and unforgivable cowardice following a report on Chinese political interference in the awards selection process last summer.

Waiting for the build before walking two dogs

Another sprint has ended. My hope for a boring release has hit two snags: first, it looks like one of the test artifacts in the production environment that our build pipeline depends on has disappeared (easily fixed); and second, my doctor's treatment for this icky bronchitis I've had the past two weeks works great at the (temporary) expense of normal cognition. (Probably the cough syrup.)

Plus, Cassie and I have a houseguest:

But like my head, the rest of the world keeps spinning:

And now, my production test pipeline has concluded successfully, so I will indeed have a boring release.

Republicans care more about their religion than your rape

Between the Dobbs decision allowing states to enforce or enact medieval restrictions on women's rights, an estimated 59,000 pregnancies resulted from rapes in states where women could no longer terminate them:

A new study estimates that more than 64,000 pregnancies resulted from rape between July 1, 2022, and January 1, 2024, in states where abortion has been banned throughout pregnancy in all or most cases. Of these, just more than 5,500 are estimated to have occurred in states with rape exceptions—and nearly 59,000 are estimated for states without exceptions. The authors calculate that more than 26,000 rape-caused pregnancies may have taken place in Texas alone. The findings were published on Wednesday in JAMA Internal Medicine.

“Highly stigmatized life events are hard to measure. And many survivors of sexual violence do not want to disclose that they went through this incredibly stigmatizing traumatic life event,” says Samuel Dickman, chief medical officer at Planned Parenthood of Montana, who led the study. “We will never know the true number of survivors of rape and sexual assault in the U.S.”

The researchers obtained their findings by combining data from multiple sources. Because state-level data weren’t available, the team analyzed national data from a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey on intimate partner sexual violence from 2016 to 2017. The researchers also used a Bureau of Justice Statistics survey on criminal victimization. Putting these together, they determined the number of completed vaginal rapes among girls and women of reproductive age—defined as between the ages of 15 and 45 (although some even younger girls and older women are also capable of pregnancy).

The XPOTUS put the deciding votes on the Supreme Court. George W Bush elevated John Roberts—no moderate, he, despite his PR—to the center seat. When you vote for Republicans, this is what you get.

And I guess Texas governor Greg Abbott needs to work a little harder to "eliminate rape" in his state. How surprising that he never really came through with that promise.

Theft from trains: capitalism eating its own tail

The New York Times Magazine ran a lengthy story about the scourge of modern robber barons: massive thefts from trains. It turns out, the super-long container trains that the duopoly of railroad companies run throughout the western US don't seem worth defending, unless you talk to the shippers' insurance companies. The threads of early-21st-century corporate amalgamation all kind of come together in this one story:

Some 20 million containers move through the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach every year, including about 35 percent of all the imports into the United States from Asia. Once these steel boxes leave the relative security of a ship at port, they are loaded onto trains and trucks — and then things start disappearing. The Los Angeles basin is the country’s undisputed capital of cargo theft, the region with the most reported incidents of stuff stolen from trains and trucks and those interstitial spaces in the supply chain, like rail yards, warehouses, truck stops and parking lots. Cases of reported cargo theft in the United States have nearly doubled since 2019....

The most extreme type of modern train theft occurs when thieves cut the air-compression brake hoses that run between train cars, thereby triggering an emergency braking system. When that happens, the engineer stays in the cab and the conductor walks the length of the stopped train, trying to locate the source of the problem. (Thieves can also stop a train by decoupling some of its cars.) Of course, if a train is miles long, that walk takes a while. In the meantime, the pilferers unload.

On the website of Operation Boiling Point, which the Department of Homeland Security recently created to go after organized theft groups, the agency states that cargo theft accounts for between $15 billion and $35 billion in annual losses. The Federal Bureau of Investigation, in a statement emailed to me, estimated that cargo-theft losses amounted to $1 billion nationally in 2021, but the agency acknowledged that that was an undercount.

Over the past decade, in a push for greater efficiency, and amid record-breaking profits, the country’s largest railroads have been stringing together longer trains. Some now stretch two or even three miles in length. At the same time, these companies cut the number of employees by nearly 30 percent, so fewer people now manage these longer trains.

The technology exists to make containers less susceptible to theft. Companies sell container-locking devices with GPS and cellular connectivity that permit the containers to be tracked at all times. Sensors stuck on the freight itself can report locations and precise conditions inside containers, including temperature, humidity and the bumpiness of the ride. Containers can be outfitted with smart seals, motion-detection alarms, video surveillance and infrared imaging systems that can detect intruders’ body heat. And yet, the locks so often used to secure containers with hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of merchandise inside are easier to cut off than the lock I use to secure my old beater bicycle.

Why? The answers were varied, but as far as I can tell, the reason is that in the last several decades, the cost of shipping has fallen so much that cheap shipping has become part of the essential energy force pushing the tsunami of low-cost goods across the seas and onto our shores. A company with 20,000 containers might decide it isn’t worth an extra $10 per container for better locks or seals. In part because even if they did opt for the upgraded security, who or what would respond when the alarm goes off or when the smart seal sends notice that it’s been breached?

I would call this a case of seriously misaligned incentives, not to mention a field ripe for the kinds of regulation that made the world a lot less horrific than it was the last time corporations got this big in the 1890s and 1900s.

Perhaps the Republican Party will resume its duties in government soon, so that we can fix some of these problems. Unless, of course, their ineffectuality is a feature, not a bug.

Busy weekend

I grabbed a friend for a couple of Brews & Choos visits yesterday, and through judicious moderation (8-10 oz of beer per person at each stop), we managed to get the entire West Fulton Corridor cluster done in six hours. So in a few minutes I'll start writing four B&C reviews, which will come out over the next three days.

Before I start, though, I'm going to read all these stories that have piled up since Friday:

Finally, the Roscoe Rat (really a squirrel) Hole got its own NPR story this morning. And in my social media I saw a photo of someone proposing to her boyfriend at the rat hole. Color me bemused.

You'll get there in a few millennia

An Ottawa judge told the Crown Prosecution Service to return a suspect's mobile phones after prosecutors failed to unlock them after trying 175 million passwords:

The police seized the phones in October 2022 with a warrant obtained based on information about a Google account user uploading images of child pornography. The contents of the three phones were all protected by complex, alpha-numeric passcodes.

Ontario Superior Court Justice Ian Carter heard that police investigators tried about 175 million passcodes in an effort to break into the phones during the past year.

The problem, the judge was told, is that more than 44 nonillion potential passcodes exist for each phone.

To be more precise, the judge said, there are 44,012,666,865,176,569,775,543,212,890,625 potential alpha-numeric passcodes for each phone.

In his ruling, Carter said the court had to balance the property rights of an individual against the state’s legitimate interest in preserving evidence in an investigation. The phones, he said, have no evidentiary value unless the police succeed in finding the right passcodes.

The article helpfully describes how dictionary attacks work, but doesn't attempt to figure out how long it would take to brute-force them. (I'm not going to attempt that, either, but I expect it's a while.)

Annals of brilliant lawyering

When you don't pay your attorneys, and then you don't pay the attorneys you had to hire because the first set of attorneys sued you for payment, you start to look like an absolute ganif to the legal community. Maybe that's why the XPOTUS could only find the kind of attorney who would advance a legal theory that surprised just about everyone in the DC Circuit Court of Appeals yesterday:

In a hearing before the D.C. Circuit Court, the former president’s lawyers argued that he should be immune from criminal prosecution for his role in the attempt to steal the 2020 presidential election. This argument has an obvious flaw: It implies that the president is above the law. Such a blunt rejection of the Constitution and the basic concept of American democracy is too much even for Trump to assert—publicly, at least—so his lawyers have proposed a theory. They say that he can’t be criminally prosecuted unless he is first impeached and convicted by Congress.

This argument is no less dangerous, as a hypothetical asked in court demonstrated in chilling terms. Judge Florence Pan asked Trump’s attorney, D. John Sauer, if “a president who ordered SEAL Team 6 to assassinate a political rival” could be criminally prosecuted. Sauer tried to hem and haw his way through an answer but ultimately stated that such a president couldn’t be prosecuted unless he was first impeached, convicted, and removed by Congress.

In effect, Trump has realized that, just as none of his voters would desert him over murdering a man on Fifth Avenue, nothing he could do would be so bad that congressional Republicans would abandon him. He doesn’t need a majority, either. Under the argument his lawyers made in court today, all Trump needs is 34 Republicans who will vote not to convict, and that’s sufficient to guarantee he can act with impunity.

Yes, but what about that little logical flaw, the one that Judge Florence Pan saw immediately? Doesn't the argument admit something at odds with the XPOTUS's claim of absolute immunity? Well, yes, actually:

[Pan] pointed out that this would mean presidents can be criminally prosecuted under certain circumstances. In other words, Trump does not have absolute immunity.

“Doesn’t that narrow the issues before us to…‘can a president be prosecuted without first being impeached and convicted?’” Pan said. “All of your other arguments seem to fall away.”

“Once you concede that there’s not this absolute immunity, that the judiciary can hear criminal prosecutions under any circumstances—you’re saying there’s one specific circumstance—then that means that there isn’t this absolute immunity that you claim.”

Pan also noted that Trump appeared to be trying to have it both ways. During his second impeachment trial, Trump and some of his Republican allies argued that the Senate shouldn’t convict him because he would face criminal prosecution later. But now, he claims he shouldn’t have to face prosecution, either.

I guess you don't have to represent yourself in court to have a fool for a lawyer. (He was going to do that, too, before the judge told him he'd go to jail for contempt if he speechified.) Then again, John Sauer has a fool for a client, so...