The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Cubs win 5 in a row; trend looks up

The Cubs have won the last five complete games, and were ahead when Tuesday got rained out. They swept the White Sox, and just today beat the Diamondbacks 7-2. In fact, in their last six games, the Cubs have gotten 36 runs to their opponents' 12.

Here's how the season looks at the end of May:

The orange line tracks their position in the division. With their 23-30 record, the Cubs are now 3.5 games ahead of the last-place Brewers (19-33), but fully 9.5 games behind the third-place Reds (33-21).

There's really no hope of a pennant this season, but it's great to see them finally winning some games.

Pedestrian Scramble comes to Chicago

The city began an experiment at the corner of State and Jackson this morning, turning the intersection into a pedestrian zone during stoplight changes similar to Oxford Circus in London. The Tribune's Jon Hilkevitch has details:

The test involves stopping all vehicles — heading east on Jackson and north and south on State — for 35 seconds every third traffic light cycle to let pedestrians cross in all directions, including diagonally.

The test got underway at 10:17 a.m., and some pedestrians cheered and hooted in celebration as they crossed at State and Jackson. Still, there was some skepticism of how the experiment will go, at least at first.

The experiment will last several months and, based on results, could become permanent at that location.

Chicago Transportation Commissioner Gabe Klein said today that traffic at the intersection "will flow better, not worse. We think we can make all modes [of transportation] safer."

The evidence from around the world shows that these kinds of intersections make traffic flow more smoothly, because cars aren't waiting for pedestrians as much, while making it safer for pedestrians to cross. I've seen them in London and Tokyo, and in my experience they work fine. I hope Chicago keeps this one, and creates a few others at high-volume intersections.

End of day roundup

Oh, my, some doozies today:

  • Via Calculated Risk, Fermanagh, Ireland, has put up a Potemkin village to reassure all the G8 leaders that everything is fine. This includes, for example, putting photos of a thriving butcher shop over the boarded-up windows of a former butcher shop. It's a laugh-and-cry moment.
  • The New York Times Magazine published a story about a near-crash on a commercial airliner that...doesn't make sense. Aside from reading like an undergraduate creative-writing assignment, it's simply not plausible that it happened as described. James Fallows dissects it.
  • New Republic's Isaac Chotner puts Chris Kyle in context.
  • Chicago Public Radio examines why all our outdoor cafes are on the North Side.

More as events warrant.

The 114th Congress will be 40% saner than the 113th

Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) won't be running next fall:

Mrs. Bachmann, defiant as ever as she insisted that she would have won re-election had she tried, also said the legal inquiries had nothing to do with her decision. She vowed to continue to fight for the principles she said she holds dear — religious liberty, traditional marriage, family values and protecting innocent life, she said.

“I fully anticipate the mainstream liberal media to put a detrimental spin on my decision not to seek a fifth term,” she said in a gauzy network-television-quality video posted on her campaign Web site. “They always seemed to attempt to find a dishonest way to disparage me. But I take being the focus of their attention and disparagement as a true compliment of my public service effectiveness.”

Yes, of course, because that's what the media do: they report facts that paint Michele Bachmann in a negative light. Or, as Krugman often says, "facts have a well-known liberal bias."

How about one of her House colleagues, then?

“Michele Bachmann is not retiring because she thinks her Tea Party views are out of touch. She’s retiring because she’s under investigation,” said Representative Steve Israel of New York, who heads the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. “What really concerns me now is the competition that will emerge in the House G.O.P. to fill her shoes. That competition is going to pull House Republicans even further to the right of where they are now.”

Yeah, I'm not sure how much farther right than Bachmann the Minnesota GOP can go. Her special brand of bat-shit-crazy simply defies the abilities of mere mortal politicians to recreate.

Bachmann will no doubt land on her feet, thanks to the right-wing sound machine that has gotten Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich lucrative speaking careers. I'm going to miss seeing Bachmann's smiling face on the Daily Show, though.

Update: The Onion has the truthy story:

Saying that it’s the Lord’s will, Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann announced on her website Wednesday that she has decided not to seek reelection in 2014 because God wants her to earn millions of dollars working for a high-powered lobbying firm.

It sounds like it might be a true story, doesn't it?

All 45 GOP Senators lie to the Supreme Court

This morning, the Senate Republican caucus, representing a minority of the U.S. Senate, a minority of the States, and a minority of the American people, sent a brief to the U.S. Supreme Court arguing that the President is thwarting the will of the people:

All 45 Republican senators co-signed an amicus brief filed Tuesday calling on the Supreme Court to curtail the President’s power to temporarily appoint nominees without the Senate’s approval.

“[R]ecess appointments have become a means to sidestep Senate confirmation,” the brief declared. “In any case, the President himself has made clear that he will resort to recess appointments, and indeed has done so, precisely to circumvent perceived Senate opposition.”

Presidents of both parties have used the recess-appointment power to fill vacancies. But it has taken on a new meaning under Obama, because Republicans have sought to neuter agencies whose functions they oppose — such as the NLRB and Consumer Financial Protection Bureau — by seeking to filibuster all nominees to run them. The White House says the power is both constitutional and necessary to avoid a “significant disruption” in executive governance.

In other words, since the President used one of his Article 2 powers to circumvent the methods of thwarting the will of the American people Senate Republicans have tried so far, the Republicans are asking the branch of government they do control to step in. Because, hey, when you're a nihilist, do-nothing, know-nothing party, you have to stop at nothing to achieve nothing.

Monday already?

I didn't do anything of value of the weekend except continuing to read Before the Deluge. It's making me wonder what would have to happen in the U.S. to have such a stunning collapse of civilization. So the book not only makes me pause every few paragraphs to really absorb what I'm reading, but also I keep going off to Wikipedia to get maps and context.

It's taken me years to figure out that I breathe mentally. Inhaling means reading and watching movies; exhaling means writing and coding. (No idea how photography fits in, though.) Right now I'm inhaling; more specifically, catching my breath after spending four weeks figuring out how to integrate one of our applications with SalesForce.

For my next gasp: the Star Trek: Into Darkness matinee.

Tottenham Court WTF?

While looking up a map of the Tottenham Court Road area of London just now, I saw...something:

Do you see it, just north of the British Museum in the northern corner of Russell Square? Look closely, or click for a full-size capture:

Looks like an A320, doesn't it? Can't tell whose. I just hope that it's as high up as I think it is.

Obamacare picks up steam; Republicans nervous

Yesterday California rolled out is ACA Exchange, and it looks like a rousing success:

An estimated 5.3 million Californians will be eligible for coverage through Covered California, the state agency running the insurance marketplace. The lowest-income people will be referred to public safety net programs, while some 2.6 million middle-income residents will qualify for federal subsidies to help pay their premiums.

Covered California provided examples of what a 40-year-old would pay depending on income and where that person lives.

A San Francisco resident earning more than $46,000 a year will be able to choose among five plans with a monthly premium ranging from $221 to $501.

Meanwhile, a 40-year-old resident in Fresno who earns about $15,400 a year will be able to pick from four plans and will be eligible for federal subsidies. That person can expect to spend between $53 and $102 on premiums each month on a middle-of-the road plan.

In other words, the exchange has done what it promised to do: make insurance available at reasonable prices to uninsured Californians. This is, of course, a disaster for Republicans:

Based on the premiums that insurers have submitted for final regulatory approval, the majority of Californians buying coverage on the state's new insurance exchange will be paying less—in many cases, far less—than they would pay for equivalent coverage today. And while a minority will still end up writing bigger premium checks than they do now, even they won't be paying outrageous amounts. Meanwhile, all of these consumers will have access to the kind of comprehensive benefits that are frequently unavailable today, at any price, because of the way insurers try to avoid the old and the sick.

Obamacare critics have long warned, and Obamacare defenders have long feared, that insurers selling plans through the new exchanges would inevitably jack up premiums—if not to pad profits, than to adjust to the regulations that the new law imposes....

For some young, healthy people who now have skimpy, dirt cheap coverage, the new prices really will seem rather high by comparison. But experts think the number of people who fit that category will be small. That's one reason why, on Thursday, officials and consumer advocates were talking about a very different kind of sticker shock: Premium bids that were lower than expected. “For plan after plan, we’re getting the best-case scenarios,” said Peter Lee, executive director of Covered California.

The availble figures back up that verdict.

Krugman is gleeful:

[T]hink about the political dynamics. Because the Supreme Court decided to let states opt out of the Medicaid expansion, some states — notably Texas — will have a pretty dysfunctional version of Obamacare in 2014, although even those systems will provide significant benefits to many people. Still, the whole political calculus was supposed to be that Republicans in red states could point to the horrors of Obamacare and ride them to political victory. Instead, it looks as if we’re going to see blue-state residents reaping the benefits of a functional health care system, while red-state residents are denied many of those benefits, for what looks like no better reason than mean-spirited spite — because what’s going on is, indeed, mean-spirited spite.

Suddenly 2014 just got a lot more interesting. Politics on one side, policies on the other...which will win?

NPR's incredible visualization of Moore, Okla.

National Public Radio has created an interactive map that uses Google Maps and new satellite images Google obtained yesterday to show 10-meter images of the Oklahoma tornado's destruction:

This may be the best, most timely use of geographic information in a news presentation I've ever seen.

The images are stunning. I can only imagine what life must be like in Moore right now—and with the NPR app, it's a lot easier to understand.