The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Beautiful autumn morning

I've opened nearly every window in my house to let in the 15°C breeze and really experience the first real fall morning in a while. Chicago will get above-normal temperatures for the next 10 days or so, but in the beginning of October that means highs in the mid-20s and lows in the mid-teens. Even Cassie likes the change.

Since I plan to spend nearly every moment of daylight outside for the rest of this weekend, I want to note a few things to read this evening when I come back inside:

Finally, if you really want to dig into some cool stuff in C# 10, Scott Hanselman explains implicit namespace support.

The debt limit "disagreement"

James Fallows destroys any idea you may have that "reasonable people on both sides" have a disagreement about raising the Federal debt ceiling:

In reality, as nearly everyone reporting on this issue understands, this is not a “showdown.” It is not even a “disagreement.” Those terms might apply to questions like the size of the infrastructure-spending bill, or prospective judicial nominees, or what to do about Haitian refugees.

Instead, this is a naked threat. It has exactly zero legitimacy as a “policy” for either party to espouse. I’ll explain why in a moment—in the course of arguing that reporting that fails to convey the fraudulence of the issue, is diminishing rather than increasing our awareness of the truth.

  • The annual U.S. government deficit, and the cumulative U.S. debt, are the results of decisions Congress and an Administration make, not independent variables.Congress votes to authorize spending, and to raise or reduce taxes. The debt and deficit reflect these decisions, rather than controlling them, or being subject to outside dictates about their size.The check you get at the end of a restaurant meal reflects what you have ordered and eaten. The number you see on a bathroom scale reflects calories in, versus energy out. The reading on a thermometer reflects outside heat.In just the same way, the annual deficit-and-debt totals indicate what Congress has already decided on. They’re a measure, not a control. Putting limits on them is like limiting what the bathroom scale can show.
  • [S]tarting in the 1990s, then-Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich began “weaponizing” the debt limit as a political tool. He recognized that there was no “rational” reason to refuse to raise the limit, for spending Congress had already approved. But the threat of doing so would be a serious problem for whatever president was in power—because in practice it would mean that for some time the Treasury would have to stop issuing bonds and notes, which are the backbone of international finance.
  • Final point: Why is a refusal to raise the debt limit a problem? It is not because anyone thinks the U.S. will ultimately default on its Treasury bonds, bills, and notes. It is because, as a technical matter, the Treasury would have to suspend issuing these financial instruments—which are a backbone of international finance.

In short, no one can make a rational policy argument about failing to raise the debt limit. And yet, here we are, with one party trying to govern and the other trying not to.

And the band played on...

How close is the end of the Republic?

According to the Washington Post's Robert Kagan, the end has already begun:

The United States is heading into its greatest political and constitutional crisis since the Civil War, with a reasonable chance over the next three to four years of incidents of mass violence, a breakdown of federal authority, and the division of the country into warring red and blue enclaves. The warning signs may be obscured by the distractions of politics, the pandemic, the economy and global crises, and by wishful thinking and denial.

The stage is thus being set for chaos. Imagine weeks of competing mass protests across multiple states as lawmakers from both parties claim victory and charge the other with unconstitutional efforts to take power. Partisans on both sides are likely to be better armed and more willing to inflict harm than they were in 2020. Would governors call out the National Guard? Would President Biden nationalize the Guard and place it under his control, invoke the Insurrection Act, and send troops into Pennsylvania or Texas or Wisconsin to quell violent protests? Deploying federal power in the states would be decried as tyranny. Biden would find himself where other presidents have been — where Andrew Jackson was during the nullification crisis, or where Abraham Lincoln was after the South seceded — navigating without rules or precedents, making his own judgments about what constitutional powers he does and doesn’t have.

Most Americans — and all but a handful of politicians — have refused to take this possibility seriously enough to try to prevent it. As has so often been the case in other countries where fascist leaders arise, their would-be opponents are paralyzed in confusion and amazement at this charismatic authoritarian. They have followed the standard model of appeasement, which always begins with underestimation. The political and intellectual establishments in both parties have been underestimating Trump since he emerged on the scene in 2015. They underestimated the extent of his popularity and the strength of his hold on his followers; they underestimated his ability to take control of the Republican Party; and then they underestimated how far he was willing to go to retain power. The fact that he failed to overturn the 2020 election has reassured many that the American system remains secure, though it easily could have gone the other way — if Biden had not been safely ahead in all four states where the vote was close; if Trump had been more competent and more in control of the decision-makers in his administration, Congress and the states. As it was, Trump came close to bringing off a coup earlier this year. All that prevented it was a handful of state officials with notable courage and integrity, and the reluctance of two attorneys general and a vice president to obey orders they deemed inappropriate.

So, is the Republican Party a modern-day Catilinarian conspiracy? I guess we'll find out in the next few years. Should be exciting.

Excuse me while I Google a few things...

A pot of pot money

After years of legal marijuana sales at the state level, the House of Representatives has finally proposed a solution to the problem of what to do with the money:

The U.S. House of Representatives will vote this week on a bill that would let banks do business with cannabis companies without fear of penalty. 

The so-called SAFE Banking Act, which is the least disputed reform sought by the growing industry, got picked up as part of broader legislation, and its inclusion in the National Defense Authorization Act was approved by voice vote late Tuesday. It remains to be seen whether the bill will pass the Senate, but the House action gives it a better shot.

The act would be a boon for marijuana companies, which have so far been stymied by the need to deal in cash because of federal restrictions. That has meant they have extra security costs and logistical problems, even as marijuana increasingly becomes legal. Some three dozen states now allow medical or recreational use, according to New Frontier Data, a cannabis research firm. 

For the first time, it looks like the rule change will pass. This means, among other things, consumers will finally be able to pay for their pot with credit cards.

Late morning things of interest

So these things happened:

And finally, break out the Glühwein: Chicago's Christkindlmarket will return to Daley Plaza and Wrigleyville this winter.

End of day links

While I wait for a continuous-integration pipeline to finish (with success, I hasten to add), working a bit later into the evening than usual, I have these articles to read later:

  • Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (Lib-Papineau) called a snap election to boost his party, but pissed off enough people that almost nothing at all changed.
  • Margaret Talbot calls out the State of Mississippi on the "errors of fact and judgment" in its brief to the Supreme Court about its draconian abortion law.
  • Julia Ioffe expresses no surprise that the press and the progressives have come to grief with each other over President Biden.
  • Josh Marshal examines the "crumbling firmament" signified by France's indignation at our deal to supply nuclear submarines to the Australian Navy.
  • New regulations allowing hunters to kill wolves in the northern Rocky Mountain states may have the unintended result of putting the animals back on the endangered-species list.

And I am sad to report, Cassie will not get to the dog beach tomorrow, what with the 4-meter waves and all.

Unfortunate encounter; or why I really don't fear a robot takeover

I have a Roomba. I have a dog. When these two things live in the same house, every dog-and-Roomba owner has the same anxiety: will they interact in such a way that will require a messy cleanup? iRobot, who manufacture Roombas, have a new model advertised (only $850!) to reduce this anxiety considerably.

I do not have this new model. I have an older model. And yesterday, anxiety turned to horror.

Fortunately (depending on how you look at it), Cassie's accident must have happened at least 12 hours before the Roomba found it, so the offending matter had dried up. Unfortunately, the Roomba hit it early in its run. Fortunately, the damage didn't look as bad from out here. And fortunately, I keep a set of Roomba parts on hand just in case.

When I got home last night, Cassie wagged and wiggled exactly to the point of me entering the room where she'd left her present for the robot. Even before I had noticed the mess she tucked tail and ran back to the living room.

Maybe I should buy the $850 model that can avoid small objects on the floor?

Guinness to open Chicago brewery

Yes, that Guinness. They've found a derelict railway building in the Fulton Market area and plan to open a new stop on the Brews & Choos Project:

Chicago developer Fred Latsko has struck a deal with Irish beer brand Guinness to open a brewery and beer hall in a long-vacant Fulton Market District building while he lines up plans to build what could be one of the former meatpacking neighborhood's tallest office buildings next door.

Guinness is poised to open the venue as part of a revival of the graffiti-clad former Pennsylvania Railroad Terminal building on the eastern edge of Latsko's property at 375 N. Morgan St., according to sources familiar with the plans. Separately, a Latsko venture aims to develop a 33-story office building on the vacant western edge of the property near the corner of Morgan and Kinzie streets, according to a document submitted to City Council this month by 27th Ward Ald. Walter Burnett.

Details of each project remain unclear, and Latsko and Burnett couldn't be reached for comment. A Guinness spokeswoman declined to comment.

A lot can happen before this becomes real. But Guinness opened a brewery in Baltimore three years ago, though they don't brew their iconic Stout there. Instead, the taproom sells experimental beers brewed on site and Stout brewed in Dublin. I expect the Chicago iteration will have the same strategy.

Third Monday in September

Today might be the last hot day of the year in Chicago. (I hope so, anyway.) While watching the cold front come through out my office window, with the much-needed rain ahead of it, I have lined up some news stories to read later today:

And finally, Metallica has an unexpected show tonight at Metro Chicago, about two kilometers from my house. Tickets are $20. I hope people show up for my board meeting tonight.

E-books are terrible

Writing in The Atlantic, Ian Bogost explains better than I could why I stopped using my Kindle a few years back:

A particular reader’s receptivity to ebooks...depends on the degree to which these objects conform to, or at least fail to flout, one’s idea of bookiness. But if you look back at the list of features that underlie that idea, ebooks embrace surprisingly few of them.

An ebook doesn’t have pages, for one. The Kindle-type book does have text, and that text might still be organized into sections and chapters and the like. But the basic unit of text in an ebook does not correspond with a page, because the text can be made to reflow at different sizes and in various fonts, as the user prefers. That’s why Amazon invented “locations” to track progress and orientation in a book. You’d think the matter displayed on an iPad screen would feel more familiar—it’s just pictures of actual pages—but oddly it often feels less like leaves of paper than its e-ink brethren does. The weird way you tap or push a whole image of a page to the side—it’s the uncanny valley of page turning, not a simulation or replacement of it.

Ebook devices are extremely compatible with an idea of bookiness that values holding and carrying a potentially large number of books at once; that prefers direct flow from start to finish over random access; that reads for the meaning and force of the words as text first, if not primarily; and that isn’t concerned with the use of books as stores of reader-added information or as memory palaces. Some of the reading that corresponds particularly well with this conception of bookiness includes fiction in general and genre fiction—such as mysteries, sci-fi, young-adult fiction, and romance—in particular.

I guess I have my answer, then: I hate ebooks because I don’t read much genre fiction, but I read a lot of scholarly and trade nonfiction. I also buy a lot of books on art, architecture, and design, whose subjects work best—or feel most bookish—when they are large-format, open-spread, and richly illustrated. As a somewhat haughty book person, I also can’t quite wrap my spleen around every book looking and feeling the same, like they do on an ebook reader. For me, bookiness partly entails the uniqueness of each volume—its cover, shape, typography, and layout.

If you like ebooks, great. Enjoy your dim, gray screen in peace. If you hate them, don’t worry about it. Who says everything must involve a computer? Maybe it’s better, even, to protect the print-book market by building a firewall against ebooks’ expansion beyond their rule over genre fiction. Just give up and read normal books, like humankind has done for 2,000 years.

I read dozens of books on Kindles while traveling for school and work, and I remember very little of them. Yet I can often recall the place on the page where I read a particular line in a book.