The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Articles that annoyed me today

In descending order of pissed-off-making:

  • Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called making Election Day a holiday "a power grab," because more people voting does in fact take power away from the Republican Party. (We used to call this sort of thing a gaffe.)
  • US Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) criticized adolescent Sears Holdings CEO Eddie Lampert for exactly the things The Daily Parker has criticized him for all along. "It appears that you have enriched yourself while driving the company into bankruptcy," said Warren. No kidding. (She didn't annoy me; Lampert did.)
  • Restaurants have gotten so loud even restaurant critics have noticed: "Those beautiful, minimalist spaces that are so in vogue reflect sounds, making it hard to hear your dining companions."
  • The tolerant, thoughtful guys over at Immigration and Customs Enforcement set up a fake university to find and deport people committing immigration fraud through student visa abuse. (I'm not as much annoyed as concerned when law enforcement uses blatant deception to catch people, but I agree that policing student visas is appropriate.)
  • Lack of sleep has become a national health crisis. (I almost forgot to add that I've averaged 6½ hours for the first 30 nights of 2019, getting 7 hours only 9 times this year, according to my Fitbit.)

And with that last one, I may now go take a nap.

This shouldn't surprise anyone

The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation—read: the government—read: us, as we live in a frickin' REPUBLIC—has taken over the Sears Holdings pension fund because, basically, Eddie Lampert has driven it into the ground:

The agency covers individuals’ pensions, up to certain limits, if an insured pension plan shuts down without enough money to pay all benefits. It estimates Sears’ two pension plans are underfunded by about $1.4 billion. As a creditor, the agency could attempt to recover some of that money through the bankruptcy.

Ron Olbrysh, chairman of the National Association of Retired Sears Employees, said the guarantee means retirees aren’t worried about losing pensions, but they do have concerns about other benefits.

“The pensions are secure through Sears or through the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp.,” he said. “The big impact if Sears does liquidate is that retirees will lose life insurance.”

The Daily Parker has followed the destruction of America's iconic retailer for years, watching the incompetence and self-dealing of Eddie Lampert the whole time. And here we are. Lampert will slide away from Sears with tens, or even hundreds, of millions of dollars, while the people who actually showed up every day to keep the stores open go bankrupt. Ironically, Lampert gets to do this by declaring bankruptcy. And the banks and investors he's stiffing have known this would happen for years. But they'll still show up in Federal court to argue that their claims to Sears' assets trump (no irony there) the employees'.

There seems to me a simple solution to the problem that Lampert's destruction of Sears epitomizes. Let's just change the law slightly to make officers of corporations liable in civil and criminal actions for the behavior of the corporations they represent. It's not a radical idea: corporations already have the right to act as people under the law. This is a simple balancing.

I don't think it's controversial to say that Eddie Lampert should experience all the consequences of his horrible management of Sears, including going down with the sinking ship. Especially because his management of the company was to drill a hole in the keel and then let his managers fight over how to keep the ship afloat.

When the revolution comes, I hope Lampert—and by extension, his adolescent worship of Ayn Rand—will be first against the wall.

Warmest oceans ever

The planet's oceans have absorbed most of the extra heat greenhouse gases have prevented leaving the atmosphere, with consequences:

“2018 is going to be the warmest year on record for the Earth’s oceans,” said Zeke Hausfather, an energy systems analyst at the independent climate research group Berkeley Earth and an author of the study. “As 2017 was the warmest year, and 2016 was the warmest year.”

But the surging water temperatures are already killing off marine ecosystems, raising sea levels and making hurricanes more destructive.

As the oceans continue to heat up, those effects will become more catastrophic, scientists say. Rainier, more powerful storms like Hurricane Harvey in 2017 and Hurricane Florence in 2018 will become more common, and coastlines around the world will flood more frequently. Coral reefs, whose fish populations are sources of food for hundreds of millions of people, will come under increasing stress; a fifth of all corals have already died in the past three years.

People in the tropics, who rely heavily on fish for protein, could be hard hit, said Kathryn Matthews, deputy chief scientist for the conservation group Oceana. “The actual ability of the warm oceans to produce food is much lower, so that means they’re going to be more quickly approaching food insecurity,” she said.

And still the leaders of the world's biggest economies deny this is happening.

Correlation is not causation

American diplomats injured in Cuba in 2016 reported hearing strange noises before their symptoms set in. Apparently they heard crickets:

[W]hen the biologist Alexander Stubbs heard a recording, uploaded by the Associated Press, he heard not mechanical bugs, but biological ones. He realized that the noise sounded like the insects he used to hear while doing fieldwork in the Caribbean.

Together with Fernando Montealegre-Z, an expert on entomological acoustics, Stubbs scoured an online database of insect recordings. As first reported by Carl Zimmer in The New York Times, they found that one species—the Indies short-tailed cricket—makes a call that’s indistinguishable from the enigmatic Cuban recording. The duo have written a paper that describes their findings and are set to submit it to a journal for formal peer review.

That's interesting, but not the point. There was some speculation that the diplomats' injuries came from a microwave weapon, but that hypothesis didn't hold up. Last month, some evidence appeared that it may have been a sonic weapon after all. But probably not crickets.

Don't air the speech

James Fallows argues that television networks have clear precedents as well as unprecedented reasons not to air President Trump's speech tonight:

The challenge for the news media was to “make the important interesting,” rather than to search for the purely interesting. Car-crash footage, or the last seconds of a sudden-death playoff game, will always be more eye-catching than reports on a drought, or on sexual-harassment patterns, or emergency-room standards, or a million other topics. But things that are merely interesting will never lack for coverage. The definition of news is that it attempts to explain things that matter, things that a democratic society needs to know about in order to make sane decisions.

Donald Trump has been the most entertaining figure on the public stage since he came down the golden escalator in 2015. TV news, in particular, has therefore not been able to resist showing him (and his rallies) or talking about him. It’s the civic equivalent of seeing that 9-year-olds are guzzling down the Mountain Dew and asking for more Spam. Trump’s going live? Let’s switch to the White House! This needs to change.

Trump just lies. He doesn’t know, or he doesn’t care, about the difference between claims that are true and those that are obviously made up. (Daniel Dale, of the Toronto Star, has indefatigably catalogued Trump’s lies, at a rate of more than 100 per week.) Maybe 4,000 “terrorists” have been apprehended at the southern border? Maybe zero? Who can ever really know? Over the past week Trump has claimed that former presidents “privately” told him they supported building his wall. All four living ex-presidents have taken the unusual step of denying that they said any such thing.

The network executives’ position has a lot in common with that of the Senate Republicans. Each group knows with perfect clarity what Trump is actually doing. The Senate Republicans know that Trump is using the wall as a distraction and life raft. They know that because they had unanimously approved, by voice-vote, a plan to keep the government open, with no mention of the wall, before Trump panicked in the face of criticism from Ann Coulter and Fox News. They could pass that resolution again tomorrow—but they won’t speak up in public, so fearful do they remain of being criticized, too. For their part, the network executives know exactly what Trump will do if given air time. (Though they also realize that the formal Oval Office speech is Trump’s weakest venue. He’s not good at reading prepared texts, with his trademark ad-libs of “that’s so true” when he encounters lines he had clearly not seen before.) But they are giving it to him.

They were not afraid of criticism for turning down Obama. They are afraid about what would happen if they turned down Trump. You can think of lots of explanations. But the difference is clear.

I won't watch or listen to the speech live because I have other plans, and because Fallows is right. Why listen to half an hour of untruths coming from a person manifestly unfit to sit behind the desk he'll be sitting behind?

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.

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.