The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

The middle of nowhere

...is Glasgow, Montana:

[R]esearch, published in Nature last month, allows us to pin down a question that has long evaded serious answers: Where is the middle of nowhere?

To know, you’d have to catalogue and calculate the navigation challenges presented by the planet's complex, varied terrain and the dirt tracks, roads, railroads and waterways that crisscross it. You'd then need to string those calculations together, testing every possible path from every point to every other point.

Armed with this data, and hours and hours of computer time, The Washington Post processed every pixel and every populated place in the contiguous United States to find the one that best represents the “middle of nowhere.”

Congratulations, Glasgow, Mont.!

Of all towns with more than 1,000 residents, Glasgow, home to 3,363 people in the rolling prairie of northeastern Montana, is farthest — about 4.5 hours in any direction — from any metropolitan area of more than 75,000 people.

Looking at Google Maps, it seems the nearest airport with a nonstop flight to London (one of my yardsticks) is most likely Calgary, Alb., 622 km away as the crow flies, or 760 km by the shortest land route. (For comparison, Inner Drive Technology World Headquarters is 14 km away from such an airport.)

I'd bet they've got pretty good stargazing there, though.

Similar origins, different outcomes

The Washington Post has a long biography of two men born into wealthy New York City families just after World War II but have arrived at different places:

They are the sons of wealth, brought up in families accustomed to power. They were raised to show and demand respect, and they were raised to lead.

They rose to positions of enormous authority, the president of the United States and the special counsel chosen to investigate him. They dress more formally than most of those around them; both sport meticulously coiffed hair. They have won unusual loyalty from those who believe in them. They attended elite all-male private schools, were accomplished high school athletes and went on to Ivy League colleges. As young men, each was deeply affected by the death of a man he admired greatly.

Yet Robert Swan Mueller III and Donald John Trump, born 22 months apart in New York City, also can seem to come from different planets. One is courtly and crisp, the other blustery and brash. One turned away from the path to greater wealth while the other spent half a century exploring every possible avenue to add to his assets.

At pivotal points in their lives, they made sharply divergent choices — as students, as draft-age men facing the dilemma of the Vietnam War, as ambitious alpha males deciding where to focus their energies.

It's a long read, but worth it for Mueller's story. You can't help respecting the guy, even if you've never seen him in person. As for the President...well, his story is better known, and instills in me a somewhat different reaction.

The consequences of Parkland

The shootings at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., last week have galvanized students across the country. Here are three of the more thoughtful reactions.

First, David Kurtz at TPM Prime (sub.req.) thinks these murders might finally, and suddenly, break the NRA's choke-hold on the Republican Party:

The NRA’s power lies in having made anything other than maximal support for gun rights a nearly impossible position for Republican officeholders to sustain. The very definition of Republican is to be lockstep in opposition to gun control. That wasn’t always true. The politicization of the GOP that saw the winnowing of moderate Republicans, especially in the Northeast, accelerated the process of making absolutism on guns a defining feature of the modern GOP, more so even than opposition to abortion.

The challenge for the NRA has been to continue to raise the price of apostasy on guns for Republican officeholders high enough and fast enough that it outpaces the cost of holding the line through the carnage of the last decade. It’s a breathtaking political calculation all the way around. Again, I go back to Newtown. For GOP elected officials, it’s safer to cluck and shake your head over Newtown and do nothing than to break with the NRA and the party. Until that calculation changes, nothing else will.

But when it does change, it will change everything.

WaPo's Paul Waldman explains why the Parkland students have made the pro-gun right wing so angry:

The plainer reason is that as people who were personally touched by gun violence and as young people — old enough to be informed and articulate but still children — the students make extremely sympathetic advocates, garnering attention and a respectful hearing for their views. The less obvious reason is that because of that status, the students take away the most critical tool conservatives use to win political arguments: the personal vilification of those who disagree with them.

So right now, conservatives are engaged in a two-pronged attempt to take it back. On the more extreme side, you have the social media trolls, the conspiracy theorists, the more repugnant media figures, who are offering insane claims that the students are paid agents of dark forces, and can therefore be ignored. On the more allegedly mainstream side, you have radio and television hosts who are saying that the students are naive and foolish, and should not by virtue of their victimhood be granted any special status — and can therefore be ignored.

Meanwhile, writing for the New York Times, Michael Ian Black argues that part of the problem is how too many boys are "trapped in an outdated model of masculinity"

...where manhood is measured in strength, where there is no way to be vulnerable without being emasculated, where manliness is about having power over others. They are trapped, and they don’t even have the language to talk about how they feel about being trapped, because the language that exists to discuss the full range of human emotion is still viewed as sensitive and feminine.

And so the man who feels lost but wishes to preserve his fully masculine self has only two choices: withdrawal or rage. We’ve seen what withdrawal and rage have the potential to do. School shootings are only the most public of tragedies. Others, on a smaller scale, take place across the country daily; another commonality among shooters is a history of abuse toward women.

To be clear, most men will never turn violent. Most men will turn out fine. Most will learn to navigate the deep waters of their feelings without ever engaging in any form of destruction. Most will grow up to be kind. But many will not.

Are we finally at a point where we can prevent gun murders without adding more guns to the mix? Do we all have to live in fear of angry men with military-grade weapons?

And let's remember one of the best public service announcements on the topic:

Frequency vs efficiency

Pilot Patrick Smith takes airlines to task for scheduling lots of little planes instead of fewer, larger planes as they did in the past:

What’s happened is three things. First, aircraft and engine technology has advanced to the point where smaller jets with limited capacity can be profitable even on long segments. And many of these planes are operated by low-paying regional carriers, two whom the airlines have outsourced much of their domestic flying. Second, the U.S. airline industry has fragmented. There are more airlines flying between more cities. Probably the biggest factor, though, is the way airlines have come to use frequency as a selling point. In a lot of ways, frequency of flights has become the holy grail of airline marketing. Why offer three daily nonstops to LAX using 300-seat planes, when you can offer six flights using 150-seat planes? And so here we are: there are city-pairs all across America connected by a dozen, fifteen, or even twenty flights a day — all in narrow-body jets carrying fewer than 200 people.

Airlines don’t sell frequency so much as they sell the promise, or the illusion of it. Under optimum circumstances, it works for both the industry and its customers. But when the weather doesn’t cooperate, it can be a disaster. The question for the consumer is this: would you prefer ten flights a day that might arrive on time, or five flights a day that will arrive on time?

He included in his post photos of American DC-10s at LaGuardia in the 1980s, which I can scarcely remember. But I do remember that the Boeing 757 was designed to get 250 passengers to that specific airport, with its relatively short runways that end in Flushing Bay.

Too many apartments?

Crain's reported today that rents in Class-A properties in Chicago's Loop area have remained steady despite 4,500 new units hitting the market in 2017:

Demand for downtown apartments has been especially robust as job growth has picked up: Downtown Chicago added 19,448 workers in 2017, a 3.4 percent increase, the biggest annual gain in at least five years, according to Integra. That's one reason a key measure of apartment demand, absorption—the change in the number of occupied units—rose to 3,385 units in 2007, a record.

Still, developers threatened to ruin the fun. Even though absorption soared last year, it couldn't keep up with the a 4,500-unit increase in supply last year. Last fall, with the leasing season ending, many buildings offered generous concessions—two months of free rent over a 12-month lease wasn't uncommon—to attract renters.

Yes, but the Tribune says another 7,000 apartments will be built before the end of 2019:

While only about 3,000 apartment units are expected to be completed this year, developers next year could challenge the record number of downtown apartments — 4,350 units — built in 2017, Integra Realty Resources executives said Tuesday during the firm’s annual apartment and condominium forecast luncheon.

The firm projects that about 4,200 units will be completed in 2019.

The rate of downtown apartment construction is being closely watched amid concerns of an oversupply. Yet even amid the frenzied pace of construction, 2017 also brought a record for absorption: 3,385 units, a 31 percent increase from 2016. Absorption measures the change in the number of leased apartments compared with the previous year.

So what's going on? Shouldn't rents change one way or the other? The Atlantic suggests an answer:

Airbnb’s great contribution was to allow travelers to live as locals do—in the busy downtown residential areas, near the best restaurants, bars, and other local hangouts. Business travelers might prefer the amenities of a hotel. But what Airbnb offered was a superior simulacra of the local experience for leisure travelers—for an affordable price, which happened to support some local dwellers’ income.

But Airbnb's success also encouraged dubious behavior on the part of “commercial” power users—property owners who listed downtown units (especially second residences) all year long, as if they were hotel rooms. Why would would that be a problem? Open apartments occupied for much of the year by Airbnb-using travelers reduce the number of available homes to people who want to move into that building. High demand, plus lower supply, leads to higher prices. Several studies—including research from Harvard, MIT, UCLA, USC, and the University of Massachusetts Boston—have come to the same conclusion: Airbnb altogether drives up the price of rent in many neighborhoods. 

Increasing supply, not completely accounted for by absorption, should be pushing rents lower in downtown areas. But speculators (i.e., people buying apartments to list on AirBnB) are driving the price up.

As both a landlord and a renter, I'm watching this closely.

Volatility

Late winter and early spring in Chicago have always had some ups and downs in temperature. This year, with a week left to go in meteorological winter, has been nuts.

It got down to -2.8°C just before 8am today. That's not too far from normal—for March 8th. But here are the temperatures over the past 10 days:

Date High Low Avg
Tue Feb 20 18.9°C 1.1°C 10.0°C
Mon Feb 19 15.6°C 2.8°C 9.2°C
Sun Feb 18 5°C -11.1°C -3.1°C
Sat Feb 17 1.7°C -8.3°C -3.3°C
Fri Feb 16 2.8°C -6.7°C -1.9°C
Thu Feb 15 8.9°C 3.3°C 6.1°C
Wed Feb 14 6.7°C -4.4°C 1.2°C
Tue Feb 13 1.7°C -13.9°C -6.1°C
Mon Feb 12 -2.8°C -15.6°C -9.2°C
Sun Feb 11 -5.6°C -11.7°C -8.7°C


But looked at another way, using the normal temperatures for each day in Chicago, we've been all over the calendar:

Date Felt like
Tue Feb 20 May 2 Mar 30 Apr 17
Mon Feb 19 Apr 17 Apr 9 Apr 13
Sun Feb 18 Mar 2 Brrr! Feb 11
Sat Feb 17 Feb 13 Feb 4 Feb 11
Fri Feb 16 Feb 19 Feb 16 Feb 16
Thu Feb 15 Mar 19 Apr 12 Apr 6
Wed Feb 14 Mar 9 Feb 26 Mar 6
Tue Feb 13 Feb 13 Brrr! Brrr!
Mon Feb 12 Brrr! Brrr! Brrr!
Sun Feb 11 Brrr! Brrr! Brrr!


In other words, yesterday's high temperature felt like April 30th; the low felt like March 30th; but the overall temperature of the day felt like May 19th. (Where it says "Brrr!" the temperature was below the normal temperature for any day of the year. In other words, it felt like mid-January on a bad day.) Also: nice going, February 16th! Totally normal day in February.

I should point out, these are the 1981-2010 normals. I'll leave it as an exercise for the reader to recalculate these values using earlier normal sets; 1951-1980 would be particularly interesting, I should think.

It's all part of the fun in a continental climate that has tons more energy, and thus volatility, than it had in centuries past. And thanks to continued anthropogenic climate change, we will continue to have winters that whipsaw between frigid and spring-like for a few decades, until Chicago's climate settles into a subtropical pattern where it rarely freezes. If you remember what Tennessee or North Carolina was like 50 years ago, that's where Chicago is headed 50 years from now.

Bronze age defenses, modern attacks

Via Bruce Schneier, DHS Senior Analyst Jack Anderson describes how walls are still a dominant security metaphor, and the consequences of that choice:

Walls don’t fail gracefully. But there is a bewitching tendency to trust them more than we should, and this leads to dangerous liabilities. Extreme risk prognosticator Pasquale Curillo calls this tendency to depend too much on controls we’ve put in place the “fence paradox.” By protecting things — which they must — organizations can encourage situations where they stand to lose a lot if their wall is breached. When that fortification fails (and eventually, every fortress fails) it fails catastrophically. The scale of the Equifax hack in 2017 and the Brussels bombings in 2016 both illustrate the way that organizations and systems organize risk, tending to put together massive targets for potential threats. Walls actually encourage this kind of thinking. If you build walls to protect something, it makes sense to expect them to work. But network architects and airport security designers both need to listen to de Montluc, the 16th century French military mastermind: “Nothing is impregnable.”

We need a new awareness of what walls do. It’s tempting to think of them as blocking threats, but they don’t. They behave more like filters — winnowing out only those threats not serious enough to circumvent them. And this implies a secondary problem apart from the fence paradox. A wall that prevents large-scale foot traffic across unsecured locations in the U.S border means that only determined, capable adversaries will be able to cross the wall. The people who are the least threatening are the only ones who are easily deflected. It may prevent smaller scale losses, but it actually encourages your biggest threat to innovate, leaving room for catastrophe. Bag checks and barricades moved a perimeter outward at the Mandalay Bay Casino last October, but Stephen Paddock circumvented this by moving his position upward. As Washington considers the marginal benefits of a massive border wall, it needs to think equally of this revenge effect.

This weakness is where the idea of “defense in depth” (layered security) comes from. A good summary of the reasons for defense in depth comes from a 1921 Infantry Journal, published by the U.S. Infantry Association: “All essential elements of the defense should be organized in depth. If the forward defensive areas are captured, resistance is continued by those in the rear.”

That's bronze-age wisdom, in fact. And yet security designers don't seem to learn. And the President's wall around Fantasyland will not prevent the threats he fears, not one little bit.

"Told you so."—George Washington, 1796

Thomas Pickering and James Stoutenberg, writing for the New York Times, point out that George Washington warned us about someone like the modern Republican Party or Donald Trump taking power in the U.S.:

In elaborate and thoughtful prose, Washington raised red flags about disunity, false patriotism, special interests, extreme partisanship, fake news, the national debt, foreign alliances and foreign hatreds. With uncanny foresight, he warned that the most serious threat to our democracy might come from disunity within the country rather than interference from outside. And he foresaw the possibility of foreign influence over our political system and the rise of a president whose ego and avarice would transcend the national interest, raising the threat of despotism.

He wrote that should one group, “sharpened by the spirit of revenge,” gain domination over another, the result could be “a more formal and permanent despotism.” The despot’s rise would be fueled by “disorders and miseries” that would gradually push citizens “to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual.”

“Sooner or later,” he concluded, “the chief of some prevailing faction, more able and more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purpose of his own elevation on the ruins of public liberty.”

And then he arrived at one of his greatest concerns: The ways in which hyperpartisanship could open the door “to foreign influence and corruption, which find a facilitated access to the government itself through the channels of party passions. Thus the policy and the will of one country are subjected to the policy and will of another.”

As someone with a degree in history, all I can do is watch the train wreck and hope to survive it.

Laughing their asses off in the Kremlin

As Jennifer Rubin points out, President Trump's unhinged tweets over the weekend have some truth to them—but not in the way Trump meant:

Trump lashed out: “If it was the GOAL of Russia to create discord, disruption and chaos within the U.S. then, with all of the Committee Hearings, Investigations and Party hatred, they have succeeded beyond their wildest dreams. They are laughing their asses off in Moscow. Get smart America!” Actually, they succeeded and are laughing, very likely, because they helped elect an unhinged, erratic president who will not protect the United States against Russian meddling. The discord comes from Trump smearing the FBI and making up lies (e.g., accusing President Barack Obama of wiretapping Trump Tower).

It was a new low, hiding behind the bodies of dead children and teachers to shield himself from accountability.

He blamed Democrats for not passing gun control when it was Republicans who torpedoed a compromise bill after the Sandy Hook massacre. David Hogg, a 17-year-old survivor of the massacre at his high school, spoke for many when he responded on “Face the Nation”: “President Trump, you control the House of Representatives. You control the Senate and you control the executive. You haven’t taken a single bill for mental health care or gun control and passed it. And that’s pathetic."

Aside from the blizzard of lies, one is struck by how frantic Trump sounds. The number and looniness of the tweets arguably exceed anything he has previously done. His conduct reaffirms the basic outline of an obstruction charge: Desperate to disable a Russia probe that would be personally embarrassing to him, he has tried in many ways to interfere with and end the investigation. In doing so, he, at the very least, has abused his office.

How is this man our President? Because one of the major parties in our country have descended into winner-takes-all, scorched-earth politics, and will hold onto power until the voters finally pry it from the party's cold, dead fingers.

Not much going on today

The day after hosting a big party is never one's most productive. My Fitbit says I got 5 hours and 18 minutes of sleep, which turns out to be better than last year, thanks in part to Parker's forbearance this morning. Usually he's up by 7; but today he let me sleep until 9:15. Good dog.

Regular posting should resume tomorrow. I'm betting on getting to bed around 9pm tonight...