The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Enough Bothsidesism

The journalistic fetish with trying to find balance when none exists has cropped up today in reporting on President Trump's false assertion that he can end birthright citizenship by executive order. He simply has no such power; the 14th Amendment lays out the rule in plain English.

Of course, the president doesn't actually intend to draft such an order. He was lying. Anyone paying attention to the man for any length of time can see that, except perhaps his base, who tend to have a limited grasp of what the Constitution actually says. Josh Marshall calls the president's stunt "a completely ridiculous idea, a sort of clown-show trial-run at rule by decree."

But enter the Post, the Tribune, and countless other newspapers today who have (a) given this lie front-page attention and (b) fallen back on the "most experts agree" language that suggests any doubt about the executive's power to change the Constitution by simple order. No; this is absolute nonsense. (Technically, it was bullshit*, but a particularly ridiculous example of it.)

"Some legal experts" have suggested that birthright citizenship hasn't actually been tested in court; they're flat wrong, as the Post explained in a 2015 article on the subject:

As the justice who authored the majority opinion in U.S. vs. Wong Kim Ark wrote, “to hold that the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution excludes from citizenship the children, born in the United States, of citizens or subjects of other countries would be to deny citizenship to thousands of persons of English, Scotch, Irish, German, or other European parentage who have always been considered and treated as citizens of the United States.” Had the decision gone the other way, Salyer said, instead of a nation of immigrants, America would have become “colonies of foreigners.”

(Yes, that means the president is totally Wong about his power here.)

Paul Krugman has also had enough of this kind of reporting:

False equivalence, portraying the parties as symmetric even when they clearly aren’t, has long been the norm among self-proclaimed centrists and some influential media figures. It’s a stance that has hugely benefited the GOP, as it has increasingly become the party of right-wing extremists.

You might have thought that the horrifying events of recent days would finally break through that norm. But you would have been wrong. Bothsidesism is, it turns out, a fanatical cult impervious to evidence. Trump famously boasted that his supporters would stick with him even if he shot someone on Fifth Avenue; what he didn’t point out was that pundits would piously attribute the shooting to “incivility,” and that Sunday talk shows would feature Fifth-Avenue-shooting advocates and give them a respectful hearing.

This needs to stop, and those who keep practicing bothsidesism need to be shamed. At this point, pretending that both sides are equally to blame, or attributing political violence to spreading hatred without identifying who’s responsible for that spread, is a form of deep cowardice.

Hear, hear!

But alas. We still have this clown for 813 more days. Fortunately, we get a new Congress in 65.

* Read Harry Frankfurt's column on Donald Trump, written before the 2016 election. I imagine none of Frankfurt's opinions has changed.

Why Treasure Island died

Crain's has some good reporting on why local grocery chain Treasure Island went out of business this month:

After Christ Kamberos' death, Maria Kamberos became president and CEO and appointed her son, Christ Kamberos Jr., vice president of development. (Frank Kamberos, who is in his 90s, ceased playing an active role in the chain long ago. Whether he remains an owner in Treasure Island could not be determined, but public records show he does retain ownership, along with Maria Kamberos, of the real estate affiliated with the stores.) They renovated the Gold Coast store in 2013 and the Lake Shore Drive location last year, though some shoppers were underwhelmed by the efforts in comparison to the new Whole Foods and Mariano's stores that cropped up after the demise of Dominick's. As recently as October 2017—a decade after opening in Hyde Park, its newest location—Christ Kamberos Jr. said publicly that the company would open an eighth location in a new luxury apartment development in Uptown. (The store never materialized.)

But inside the stores and the corporate office, employees say, operations notably deteriorated at the beginning of 2018.

Inventory deliveries were intermittent for most of 2018, according to six employees, all of whom asked not to be named. Photos provided to Crain's by a senior employee show a loaf of Treasure Island bakery bread with a July 24, 2018, sell-by sticker placed on top of an original July 4 sticker. Moreover, store-level employees say paychecks not deposited immediately would sometimes take days to clear or would bounce.

Personal squabbles; corner-cutting that backfired; treating employees badly; and the rise of Whole Foods and Mariano's. Those things killed Treasure Island.

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.