The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

More news today

Though we'll probably talk about this week's news out of Mauna Loa for many years to come, other stories got to my inbox today:

And finally, the Illinois Craft Brewers Guild has a new Summer Passport program that entitles people to a free membership after getting stamps at 40 brewpubs and taprooms between now and August 10th. Forty breweries in 87 days? Challenge...accepted!

Stevens' own private Heller

Former Associate Justice John Paul Stevens believes District of Columbia v Heller was "unquestionably the most clearly incorrect decision that the Supreme Court announced during [his] tenure on the bench:"

The text of the Second Amendment unambiguously explains its purpose: “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” When it was adopted, the country was concerned that the power of Congress to disarm the state militias and create a national standing army posed an intolerable threat to the sovereignty of the several states.

Throughout most of American history there was no federal objection to laws regulating the civilian use of firearms. When I joined the Supreme Court in 1975, both state and federal judges accepted the Court’s unanimous decision in United States v. Miller as having established that the Second Amendment’s protection of the right to bear arms was possessed only by members of the militia and applied only to weapons used by the militia. In that case, the Court upheld the indictment of a man who possessed a short-barreled shotgun, writing, “In the absence of any evidence that the possession or use of a ‘shotgun having a barrel of less than eighteen inches in length’ has some reasonable relationship to the preservation or efficiency of a well regulated militia, we cannot say that the Second Amendment guarantees the right to keep and bear such an instrument.”

So well settled was the issue that, speaking on the PBS NewsHour in 1991, the retired Chief Justice Warren Burger described the National Rifle Association’s lobbying in support of an expansive interpretation of the Second Amendment in these terms: “One of the greatest pieces of fraud, I repeat the word fraud, on the American public by special-interest groups that I have ever seen in my lifetime.”

And after Heller came Sandy Hook, Las Vegas, Sutherland Springs...and on and on.

First, let's kill all the townships

The Northwest Ordinance of 1787 divided most of the land west of Pennsylvania into 6-by-6 mile squares called "townships." You can see the physical effects of the Ordinance any time you fly over the Great Plains: uniform squares of roads linking towns about 9½ km apart.

The Ordinance established townships to allow rural residents to get to their centers of government and home in the same day. In the era of travel by horseback, this saved days or weeks of travel for farmers and townsfolk alike.

In the era of travel by car, however, we no longer need the redundancy. Chicago magazine recommends getting rid of them altogether:

It’s not just urban counties that find remnant townships burdensome. Some rural counties want to get rid of their townships, too. Last month, State Rep. David McSweeney, R-Barrington Hills, passed a bill that would allow McHenry County townships to dissolve themselves.

“My goal is to reduce the number of governmental bodies — it’s one of the reasons our property taxes are so high,” McSweeney said. “Consolidation, I think, is the key to reducing property taxes and administrative fees.”

Like most Illinois counties, Cook was originally platted with a grid of townships. The townships now contained by Chicago, including Rogers Park, Hyde Park, and Lake View, passed out of existence upon annexation. In the suburbs, townships still exist, even if all their land has been incorporated. In Cook County, remnant unincorporated bits of township could be required to join the nearest municipality, which would then take over township duties, as Evanston did.

There’s a saying that bureaucracy perpetuates itself, and that’s certainly true of townships. They’re so hard to get rid of because they’re a juicy source of jobs, patronage, and double-dipping for elected officials.

The Daily Parker agrees. Time to move on from one of the best ideas of the 1780s.

Is Moneyball killing a game show?

Washington Post columnist Charles Lane sees a disturbing connection between Jeopardy! champion's streak on the show and the data-driven approach that has made baseball less interesting:

People seem not to care that Holzhauer’s streak reflects the same grim, data-driven approach to competition that has spoiled (among other sports) baseball, where it has given us the “shift,” “wins above replacement,” “swing trajectories” and other statistically valid but unholy innovations.

Like the number crunchers who now rule the national pastime, Holzhauer substitutes cold, calculating odds maximization for spontaneous play. His idea is to select, and respond correctly to, harder, big-dollar clues on the show’s 30-square gameboard first. Then, flush with cash, he searches the finite set of hiding places for the “Daily Double” clue, which permits players to set their own prize for a correct response — and makes a huge bet. Responding correctly, Holzhauer often builds an insurmountable lead before the show is half over.

Dazed and demoralized opponents offer weakening resistance as his winnings snowball. And, with experience gained from each new appearance on the show, Holzhauer’s personal algorithms improve and his advantage grows.

In short, this professional gambler from Las Vegas does not so much play the game as beat the system. What’s entertaining about that? And beyond a certain point, what’s admirable?

Of course, Holzhauer’s strategy could not work without his freaky-good knowledge of trivia, just as baseball’s shift requires a pitcher skilled at inducing batters to hit into it. The old rules, though, would have contained his talent within humane channels. As it is, he’s set a precedent for the further professionalization of “Jeopardy!,” a trend which began 15 years ago with 74-time winner Ken Jennings.

If you enjoy watching nine batters in a row strike out until the 10th hits a homer, you’re going to love post-Holzhauer “Jeopardy!”

Also interesting is the timing: Charles van Doren died April 9th. He won the equivalent of $1.2m in 1957 by cheating on a game show.

Busy news day

A large number of articles bubbled up in my inbox (and RSS feeds) this morning. Some were just open tabs from the weekend. From the Post:

In other news:

And now, to work, perchance to write...

Quick links

The day after a 3-day, 3-flight weekend doesn't usually make it into the top-10 productive days of my life. Like today for instance.

So here are some things I'm too lazy to write more about today:

Now, to write tomorrow's A-to-Z entry...

More than €700m pledged to rebuild Notre-Dame

Yesterday's devastating fire in the Cathédral de Notre-Dame de Paris fortunately left the walls and bell towers intact. But the destruction of the fire and roof could take 10-15 years to fix, according to Le Monde. So far, corporations and other European governments have pledged over €700m ($790m, £605m) towards rebuilding it:

  • La famille Arnault a la première annoncé un "don" de 200 millions d'euros par le groupe de luxe LVMH et a proposé que l'entreprise mette à disposition ses "équipes créatives, architecturales, financières" pour aider au travail de reconstruction et de collecte de fonds ;
  • La famille Bettencourt a annoncé deux dons de 100 millions d'euros, l'un via L'Oréal et l'autre via sa fondation ;
  • La famille d'industriels Pinault, qui possède le groupe Kering, a annoncé débloquer 100 millions d'euros via sa société d'investissement Artemis ;
  • Le PDG du groupe Total, Patrick Pouyanné, a annoncé sur son compte Twitter, que le groupe, qui se présente comme le "premier mécène de la Fondation du patrimoine", allait faire un "don spécial" de 100 millions d'euros.

In the past few weeks, 9 churches in France have burned; however, the Paris Police have opened an accident investigation, suggesting they don't believe it's related. Also, firefighters appear to have saved not only the bell towers but also the grand organ:

The culture minister, Franck Riester, said religious relics saved from the cathedral, including the Crown of Thorns and Saint Louis’s tunic, were being securely held at the Hôtel de Ville, and works of art that sustained smoke damage were being taken to the Louvre where they would be dried out, restored and stored.

He said three stained-glass “rose” windows did not appear to be damaged but would be examined more closely when the cathedral was made safe. Photos from inside the monument suggest Notre Dame’s grand organ, built in the 1730s and boasting 8,000 pipes, was spared from the flames.

Sixteen copper statues that decorated the spire, representing the 12 apostles and four evangelists, had been removed for restoration only a few days before the fire. Relics at the top of the spire are believed lost as the spire was destroyed.

Still, the damage is appalling. I join with the people of France in hoping that they will be able to rebuild, even if it takes until the 2030s.

Jallianwalh Bagh, 100 years later

One hundred years ago this hour (Sunday 13 April 1919, 17:37 HMT), Brig. General Reginald Dyer order his men to fire on 10,000 unarmed Indian civilians within an enclosed space from which they had no escape:

On the afternoon of April 13, a crowd of at least 10,000 men, women, and children gathered in an open space known as the Jallianwalla Bagh, which was nearly completely enclosed by walls and had only one exit. It is not clear how many people there were protesters who were defying the ban on public meetings and how many had come to the city from the surrounding region to celebrate Baisakhi, a spring festival. Dyer and his soldiers arrived and sealed off the exit. Without warning, the troops opened fire on the crowd, reportedly shooting hundreds of rounds until they ran out of ammunition. It is not certain how many died in the bloodbath, but, according to one official report, an estimated 379 people were killed, and about 1,200 more were wounded. After they ceased firing, the troops immediately withdrew from the place, leaving behind the dead and wounded.

The shooting was followed by the proclamation of martial law in the Punjab that included public floggings and other humiliations. Indian outrage grew as news of the shooting and subsequent British actions spread throughout the subcontinent. The Bengali poet and Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore renounced the knighthood that he had received in 1915. Gandhi was initially hesitant to act, but he soon began organizing his first large-scale and sustained nonviolent protest (satyagraha) campaign, the noncooperation movement (1920–22), which thrust him to prominence in the Indian nationalist struggle.

The government of India ordered an investigation of the incident (the Hunter Commission), which in 1920 censured Dyer for his actions and ordered him to resign from the military. Reaction in Britain to the massacre was mixed, however. Many condemned Dyer’s actions—including Sir Winston Churchill, then secretary of war, in a speech to the House of Commons in 1920—but the House of Lords praised Dyer and gave him a sword inscribed with the motto “Saviour of the Punjab.” In addition, a large fund was raised by Dyer’s sympathizers and presented to him. The Jallianwalla Bagh site in Amritsar is now a national monument.

At an inquest after the event, Dyer had no remorse for his actions, and volunteered that had he managed to get the tank he had with him into the square, he would have used its cannon to further attack the civilians.

Both the massacre and the inquest were dramatized in the 1982 film Gandhi, which won Best Picture that year.

The Commons debate about the incident that took place on 8 July 1920 offers some context for the current Commons debate about Brexit. Indeed, the massacre and its aftermath should put paid any notions that the United Kingdom has always stood up for human rights, even in the last century, or has a particular sensitivity to its own citizens who come from outside the British Isles.

In the debate, the Secretary of State for War, a Mr. Churchill of some repute, gave the view I should hope all Britons would have had:

If the road had not been so narrow, the machine guns and the armoured cars would have joined in. Finally, when the ammunition had reached the point that only enough remained to allow for the safe return of the troops, and after 379 persons, which is about the number gathered together in this Chamber to-day, had been killed, and when most certainly 1,200 or more had been wounded, the troops, at whom not even a stone had been thrown, swung round and marched away. I deeply regret to find myself in a difference of opinion from many of those with whom, on the general drift of the world's affairs at the present time, I feel myself in the strongest sympathy; but I do not think it is in the interests of the British Empire or of the British Army, for us to take a load of that sort for all time upon our backs. We have to make it absolutely clear, some way or other, that this is not the British way of doing business.

Reading through the debate, however, it almost seems as if Churchill were in the minority. He wasn't, but only because the less-racist MPs in the House at that moment largely kept quiet.

The thinking behind Dyer's mass murder led directly to the thinking behind Lord Louis Mountbatten's precipitous and disastrous withdrawal from India in 1947, whose principal consequence has been 72 years of nonstop hostilities between India and Pakistan. And it leads directly to Brexit.