The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Moments in great timing

First event: Last night around 7pm, my main data drive seized up after storing my stuff for a bit less than 4 years. Let me tell you how much fun Micro Center is at 9pm two days before Christmas. After 12 hours it looks like it's about 75% restored from backup, and I didn't suffer any data loss.

Second event: Just look at this lovely, peaceful scene:

That's the cemetery in my neighborhood a few minutes ago. And that's what we call "dense fog," with about 200 m visibility and what they call "indeterminate" ceilings at 100 m.

Which is exactly what you want in Chicago on Christmas Eve, the second-biggest travel day of the year:

Amid dense fog reducing visibility in Chicago, the Federal Aviation Administration early Tuesday grounded incoming flights at Chicago’s O’Hare International and Midway airports until at least 8 a.m.

For a short time Tuesday morning all flights were grounded, according to the FAA, but as of 7:30 a.m. the agency’s website noted the “ground stoppage,” or halting of flights, was indicated only for airplanes arriving at the city’s two airports. Flights were departing regularly at Midway, according to travelers at the airport.

Still, the ground stoppage for incoming flights means not all departing flights will leave on time and travelers could miss connecting flights, leading to a chain-reaction of air travel delays during a traditionally peak period for travel.

Have a safe and fun travel day, and if you're going to or through Chicago, enjoy your airport time.

Christmas crabs

Actually, Christmas Island crabs, which migrate around Christmas, and were the subject of an NPR story yesterday:

Palm fronds, turquoise lagoons and a clattering army of crustaceans making their way from the island's forest to the beaches. Christmas Island red crabs - 50 million of them. Jahna Luke works for Christmas Island's tourism association and lives there. She says everyone has a hand in the crabs' journey.

JAHNA LUKE: We have all these measures in place to keep the crabs safe while they make their migration down to the ocean. Even cars on the island - we all have rakes in our cars so that on our way to work or wherever it is we need to go, we - we're out raking the crabs off the road to clear our way.

It's a real thing, and not just because NPR talked about it:

So if you feel crabby this week, imagine being on Christmas Island, which should not be confused with Kiritimati. We'll return to Kiritimati in about a week, as they will be the first place on earth to enter the 2020s. Meanwhile, enjoy the crabs.

Feeling saucy

Armed with an InstantPot, a Cuisinart, and some basic understanding of cooking, I made this today:

Starting here:

Ingredients used (amounts where known):

Hot Italian sausage, 300 g Salt
Mild Italian sausage, 150 g Pepper
Diced pancetta, 50 g Butter
Tomato puree, 800 mL Juice of 1 lemon
Tomato paste Juice of 1 lime
Olive oil Basil
Mirepoix (onion, carrot, celery) Sage
Shallot Rosemary
Garlic Thyme
Romano Smoked chile powder
Parmesan Chipotle powder
Red pepper flakes Mushrooms
Coriander Bay leaves

I sautéed the meat first, then after a few minutes, added the onion, garlic, and shallot. All of that got browned. In went the carrots and celery, a few more garlic cloves, and everything else a few minutes later with the heat off. Mixed the lot, then cooked at high pressure for 20 minutes with 7 minutes slow release before opening the steam vent for fast release.

So, it came out well, and it's very tasty. But I will do some things differently next time:

  • Put the cheese and tomato paste on top and last to prevent burning.
  • Don't forget the wine!
  • Prep the herbs better, and use more of them, especially basil.
  • In fact, add more salt, olive oil, butter, mushrooms (smaller pieces), and acid (one more lemon).
  • Skip the hot sausage. Use neutral ground meat (bison or beef) and mild sausage at 1:1. 500 grams of meat was about right, though.
  • Skip the pancetta. it got completely obliterated.

Also, it probably doesn't need to cook so long.

But now I've got two litres of deliciousness to eat or freeze.

I love this car

A year ago today, I got this lovely plug-in hybrid:

Because she (her name is Hana, or 初夏) has an on-board computer (well, probably a couple dozen, to be honest), I know exactly how well she did:

Total distance 6,969.4 km
Total fuel consumed 186.7 L
Fuel economy 2.7 L/100 km
Farthest north 43.68°N
Farthest south 41.32°N
Farthest east 79.37°W
Farthest west 87.96°W

Sad to see she never made it all the way to the 88th meridian, given that I live only about 21 minutes east of it. But she did make it to five states and one Canadian province, with trips to Toronto and Cleveland.

In all, I filled up the car six times, five of those on road-trips, and spent only $130.77 on gasoline all year.

As I suspected when I went car shopping a year ago, a plug-in hybrid is the perfect car for me. On average I drove 18.6 km per day overall, which is deceptive because I didn't drive on 228 days of the last 366. On the 138 days I did drive, I averaged 50.5 km per day. Which again doesn't paint the full picture, because I only crested 50 km on 19 occasions, 100 km on 10, and 200 km on 4. Take those 19 days out and I averaged just 21 km per day.

In other words, out of 366 days, I needed to use gasoline about 30 times, and usually only a few centilitres per trip. Hana can go about 40 km on a charge in winter and 50 km in summer (because the heater uses more power than having the windows down).

For an urban dweller who primarily uses public transportation, but who occasionally needs to haul a big old dog somewhere or go out of town, a plug-in hybrid makes a ton of sense. And it's fun to drive, too.

Defending debate is not defending all sides

OK, guys, chill.

On Wednesday, researcher Maya Forstater lost an employment arbitration case in London after being fired for expressing the belief that "it is impossible to change sex." (Andrew Sullivan believes the same thing, but as a Tory and a cis-gendered gay man apparently when he says it no one freaks out.)

Author JK Rowling Tweeted out a narrow bit of support for Forstater:

What constitutes gender and what constitutes sex are, to put it mildly, controversial topics. And in a free society, we have to be free to have that debate. That is Rowling's point.

But in the last few days, a good chunk of the Left has lost its collective mind. Rowling has received scathing criticism for her Tweet, as if the last three words suddenly make people think trans wizards wouldn't be welcome at Hogwarts. (You remember that the school had a gay headmaster for fifty years, right?)

But my god, read the words. Rowling is defending free speech, period. (She also defends the rights of people to live "in peace and security," something all of us probably agree with.) Nowhere in the Tweet does Rowling express agreement with Forstater's views. And even if she does...maybe persuasion might help change them? Because militant condemnation won't.

Sullivan:

One of the long-held principles of the gay-rights movement has been that it’s wrong to fire someone just because they’re gay. Now, one of the principles of the LGBTQ movement is that it’s fine to fire someone if they disagree in the slightest with every claim of gender ideology.

This shift from a “live and let live” to a “do what I say or else” movement is one reason I don’t identify with this activism any more. I loathe the idea of forcing people to say things they don’t believe, demonizing and ostracizing them for their dissent, and enshrining in law penalties for wrongthink. I am very happy to live alongside people whose faith makes them consider me a sinner. As long as they cannot touch a hair on my head or use the law to punish me for what I believe and how I live, I’m fine. But that pluralist worldview is anathema to the “social justice” movement, as it proves every single day.

It’s vital to note that Forstater is prepared to treat any trans woman as a woman in real life, defends trans people’s rights to define themselves as they wish, has not been charged with any kind of harassment or in-person abuse, is happy to accept anyone’s adoption of any of a thousand possible genders, but simply refuses to say what she doesn’t believe: that sex can be chosen or assigned, rather than simply observed as a matter of biology. “I accept everybody’s gender identity; I just do not believe it overrides their sex,” she told the court. “I refuse to believe human beings can change their sex.” This view — almost universally held for millennia until five minutes ago, and rooted in the plain facts of science — is now, the court ruled, subject to legal sanction. Such a view is “incompatible with human dignity and fundamental rights of others“ and “not worthy of respect in a democratic society.” So anyone expressing an opinion like Forstater’s can be fired with no recourse.

My point in wading into this mess is simply that without free debate, the Right will win every time. The entire point of liberalism is that ideas must be free, even bad ideas, even hateful ideas. Stifling expression must be rare and well-thought (e.g., "falsely shouting fire in a theater and causing panic"). If we, on the Left, give in to the idea that sometimes it's OK to censor speech we don't like, the Right will run with that to an extreme we haven't seen in the English-speaking world for centuries.

We have a long way to go to settle questions about sex and gender. I've been thinking about these questions for 35 years and I'm no closer to answers than I was in 1985. Rowling, Forstater, Sullivan, and you aren't close, either. And I guarantee you that neither Rowling, Forstater, Sullivan, nor I will ever discriminate against someone on the basis of sex, gender, or identity.

Seriously. Let's chill for a bit and not eat our own.

More weird weather

If the forecasts remain accurate, Christmas in Chicago will round out only the fifth "holiday temperature reversal" in history:

This could be only the 5th time that Christmas will be warmer than BOTH Halloween and Thanksgiving since records began in Chicago back in 1871.
  Halloween Thanksgiving Christmas
1873 -1°C 1°C 3°C
1895 6°C 5°C 13°C
1954 4°C 6°C 7°C
1982 7°C 3°C 9°C
2019 1°C 3°C 7°C

I'd say "cool" but that's cheap.

A theory on the Trump aesthetic

Former Deadspin editor David Roth examines the evidence in this year's White House Christmas decorations video:

Even though Melania is also a cipher whose relationship to her powerful husband has for years seemed tragicomically ceremonial, her Christmas video delivers an insight into a crucial mystery of the Trump aesthetic: Why is all this always so shittyHow is it possible for something so fancified to feel so repellent and cheap? Again, in one sense, there’s just nothing there to find. Trump himself doesn’t really know why he does anything, and every decision that he makes—personally, politically, aesthetically, whatever—ultimately resolves to him servicing whatever rude personal want is currently making itself felt. This doesn’t really explain how every space that the man inhabits became so desperately gilded and singularly inhospitable, although it does suggest he doesn’t much care about how other people experience it. But Melania’s latest foray into haunted festive design comes closer to providing a skeleton key for the warped mimetic rules of Trumpism than Trump himself ever has.

What’s spooky about it goes beyond Melania’s personal uncanniness or Trump’s world-historic tastelessness or the built-in stiltedness of White House ritual. The pure anhedonic cheerlessness of it all points back to a deeper psychic deficit: an inability to understand what any of this might even be for, if not to spite or defeat someone else. Of course there’s too much of it. They don’t know when to stop—they never have known when to stop, they do not know how to stop—because they have never really understood why they got started in the first place. After all, look where it’s gotten them.

Also, Roth does not say, but we can all observe, just how many id-driven strongmen have no taste at all.

Hot time down under

(Say it with me: "Under where?")

Australia just hit a record temperature—for the whole country:

The Australian Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) reports preliminary data showing that for Dec. 18, the nationally averaged maximum temperature was 41.9°C. This beat the old record of 40.9°C, which had been set the day before. Before this heat event, the country’s hottest day was Jan. 7, 2013, which had an average high temperature of 40.3°C.

Human-caused global climate change is making heat waves such as this one more likely to occur, more severe and longer-lasting. An early analysis of the ongoing heat event shows that climate change may have made the Australian national heat record at least 20 percent more likely to occur now than in a climate that had not been influenced by human emissions of greenhouse gases. It’s possible that forthcoming research will show that this event could not have occurred without human-caused global warming, as previous analyses of other events have found.

That's insane. Not to mention the extensive brush fires—including the largest ever recorded in Australia—that have rendered Sydney almost uninhabitable.

Johnson, Clinton, Trump

Yesterday, the House of Representatives impeached the president for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress:

After 11 hours of fierce argument on the House floor between Democrats and Republicans over Trump’s conduct with Ukraine, lawmakers voted almost entirely along party lines to impeach him. Trump becomes the third president in U.S. history to face trial in the Senate — a proceeding that will determine whether he is removed from office less than one year before he stands for reelection.

The Democratic-controlled House passed two articles of impeachment against Trump — abuse of power and obstruction of Congress — related to the president’s attempts to withhold military aid to Ukraine and pressure its government to investigate former vice president Joe Biden, a potential 2020 Democratic opponent.

The House voted 230 to 197 to approve the article charging abuse of power, with the gavel falling about 8:30 p.m. On the obstruction of Congress vote, which followed soon after, the tally was 229 to 198.

All Republicans voted against both articles. Among Democrats, two voted no on the first article and three on the second, with one — Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) — voting “present” both times.

George Conway says the president's malignant narcissism made impeachment inevitable:

It was inevitable because of Trump himself, his very character, whose essential nature many who now support him have long understood.

In essence, Trump thinks everything should be about him, for him, for his benefit and glorification—and he can’t comprehend, and doesn’t care about, anything that isn’t. The American diplomat David Holmes testified that Ambassador Gordon Sondland explained to him that “the president only cares about ‘big stuff’”—clarifying, according to Holmes, that this meant “big stuff that benefits the president.”

And that’s why Trump can’t comply with his duties to the nation, and why he now stands as the third president ever to have been impeached. His own stated view of his constitutional authority can only be described as narcissistic: “I have an Article II, where I have to the right to do whatever I want as president.” But as the House Judiciary Committee’s impeachment report rightly explains, “Impeachment is aimed at Presidents who believe they are above the law, and who believe their own interests transcend those of the country and Constitution.” Or, as then-Representative Mike Pence put it in 2008: “This business of high crimes and misdemeanors goes to the question of whether the person serving as President of the United States put their own interests, their personal interests, ahead of public service.” It was inevitable that, given his boundlessly self-centered bent, this president would do precisely that.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has put the Articles of Impeachment in a drawer, ostensibly to get cooperation from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) on trial procedures, but also, as Josh Marshall points out, to keep the initiative and keep the focus on Republican intransigence.

And so, as we go into the last two weeks of the decade, things keep getting more interesting. To that end, I'll have a bit about this morning's Queen's Speech once I've read it.

I'll take an antacid with my lunch now

With only two weeks left in the decade, it looks like the 2010s will end...bizarrely.

More people have taken a look at the President's unhinged temper tantrum yesterday. I already mentioned that Aaron Blake annotated it. The Times fact-checked it. And Jennifer Rubin says "It is difficult to capture how bizarre and frightening the letter is simply by counting the utter falsehoods...or by quoting from the invective dripping from his pen."

As for the impeachment itself, Josh Marshall keeps things simple:

Here are three points that, for me, function as a sort of north star through this addled and chaotic process.

One: The President is accused of using extortion to coerce a foreign power to intervene in a US presidential election on his behalf.

Two: There is no one in US politics who would ever find that behavior remotely acceptable in a President of the opposite party.

Three: The evidence that the President did what he is accused of doing is simply overwhelming.

In the UK, Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry (Labour—Islington South and Finsbury) has announced a run for Labour Party leader: “Listening to Labour colleagues on the media over the last week, I have repeatedly heard the refrain that the problem we faced last Thursday was that ‘this became the Brexit election’. To which I can only say I look forward to their tweets of shock when next Wednesday’s lunch features turkey and Brussels sprouts … I wrote to the leader’s office warning it would be ‘an act of catastrophic political folly’ to vote for the election, and set out a lengthy draft narrative explaining why we should not go along with it."

The Times review of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker left me feeling resigned to seeing the movie, rather than excited. A.O. Scott said:

The director is J.J. Abrams, perhaps the most consistent B student in modern popular culture. He has shepherded George Lucas’s mythomaniacal creations in the Disney era, making the old galaxy a more diverse and also a less idiosyncratic place.

Abrams is too slick and shallow a filmmaker to endow the dramas of repression and insurgency, of family fate and individual destiny, of solidarity and the will to power, with their full moral and metaphysical weight. At the same time, his pseudo-visionary self-importance won’t allow him to surrender to whimsy or mischief. The struggle of good against evil feels less like a cosmic battle than a longstanding sports rivalry between teams whose glory days are receding. The head coaches come and go, the uniforms are redesigned, certain key players are the subjects of trade rumors, and the fans keep showing up.

Which is not entirely terrible. “The Rise of Skywalker” isn’t a great “Star Wars” movie, but that may be because there is no such thing. That seems to be the way we like it.

Well, that's a ringing endorsement. I mean, I'm sure I'll come out of it feeling like it was worth $15, but I'm not sure I'll see it over 200 times like I have with A New Hope. (It helps that ANH came out when I was about to turn 7.)

And in other news:

Will the world be better in 2020? We'll see.