The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Leapin' lizards

Stories for the last day of winter, this year on the quadrennial day when your Facebook Memories have the fewest entries and, apparently, you can't pay for gas in New Zealand:

Finally, Economist editor Steve Coll got access to hundreds of hours of Saddam Hussein's taped strategy meetings. He concluded that both the CIA and Hussein had no understanding at all about what the other was thinking.

Also, the temperature at IDTWHQ bottomed out at -5.3°C just after 7am and has kept climbing since then. The first day of spring should get it up into the high teens, with 20°C possible on Sunday. Weird, but quite enjoyable.

The OTHER lounge

I forgot that one of the perks of flying in international first class—even if it's a miles ticket—is access to American's Flagship Lounge. I have to say, I see the appeal.

But like so much in the United States, the top-tier lounge in Chicago has roughly the same amenities and food as the regular lounges in Europe and Asia.

I'm heading to Munich, as mentioned earlier, in part to enjoy modern technology, now that my own country has drifted to the back of the pack amongst its peer countries. It's very frustrating, to put it mildly, that the Most Powerful Nation in the History of the Planet™ can't figure out how to build a high-speed train, for example.

The same thing happened to Rome, of course. By the 1st century CE, Rome had the largest empire and most powerful military the world had ever seen till then, but Constantinople had already started to pull ahead in technology. By 500 CE, Rome had become a provincial outpost with ruined monuments, and Constantinople was beyond anything the Romans could imagine.

$350 million in fines

New York Justice Arthur Engoron just handed the XPOTUS a $350 million fine and barred him and his two failsons from running a business in New York for years:

The decision by Justice Arthur F. Engoron caps a chaotic, yearslong case in which New York’s attorney general put Mr. Trump’s fantastical claims of wealth on trial. With no jury, the power was in Justice Engoron’s hands alone, and he came down hard: The judge delivered a sweeping array of punishments that threatens the former president’s business empire as he simultaneously contends with four criminal prosecutions and seeks to regain the White House.

Mr. Trump will appeal the financial penalty — which could climb to $400 million or more once interest is added — but will have to either come up with the money or secure a bond within 30 days. The ruling will not render him bankrupt, because most of his wealth is tied up in real estate.

Of course he'll appeal, but New York doesn't give him many grounds to do so. And given the scale of the fraud he perpetrated on the State, even this eye-watering sum will probably survive scrutiny from the appellate court.

In other news this afternoon:

Finally, the Tribune has a long retrospective on WGN-TV weather reporter Tom Skilling, who will retire after the 10pm newscast on the 28th.

Ukrainian engineering

With the news this morning that Ukraine has disabled yet another Russian ship, incapacitating fully one-third of the Russian Black Sea fleet, it has become apparent that Ukraine is better at making Russian submarines than the Murmansk shipyards. Russia could, of course, stop their own massive military losses—so far they've lost 90% of their army as well—simply by pulling back to the pre-2014 border, but we all know they won't do that.

In other news of small-minded people continuing to do wastefully stupid things:

Finally, a reader who knows my perennial frustration at ever-lengthening copyright durations sent me a story from last March about who benefits from composer Maurice Ravel's estate. Ravel died in 1937, so his music will remain under copyright protection until 1 January 2034, providing royalties to his brother’s wife’s masseuse’s husband’s second wife’s daughter. Please think of her the next time you hear "Bolero."

Still chilly, but not like 1985

My socials today have a lot of chatter about the weather, understandably as we're now in our fourth day below -15°C. And yet I have vivid memories of 20 January 1985 when we hit the coldest temperature ever recorded in Chicago, -32°C. The fact that winters have gotten noticeably milder since the 1970s doesn't really matter during our annual Arctic blast. Sure, we had the coldest winter ever just 10 years ago, but the 3rd and 5th coldest were 1977-78 and 1978-79, respectively. I remember the snow coming up to my chin those years, and the never-ending below-freezing temperatures (like the 43 days from 28 December 1976 to 8 February 1977).

That said, I completely support the Chicago Public Schools closing today and tomorrow. And that they smoothed out all the streets since I was younger, so kids don't have to walk uphill both ways in the snow. But given the wind-chill advisory in effect until tomorrow morning, none of us wanted to go into the office either.

So instead of commuting, I'll have some time to read these as I shiver in my home office:

Finally, should I get an induction burner? I've been using my electric teakettle to pre-boil water for pasta, which saves a ton of time. The Post looked into the benefits of induction vs natural gas, principally around air quality. Looks like it's worth $120 to reduce my gas use. Of course, since I have gas furnaces, it might not do a lot for me this week.

And now for some actual lawyering, ICJ edition

Julia Ioffe interviews David Scheffer, a lawyer and professor who served as Bill Clinton's ambassador-at-large for war crimes, to provide some clarity around South Africa's suit against Israel in the International Court of Justice:

South Africa is alleging the entire corpus of the Genocide Convention and its application, namely that Israel has failed to prevent genocide against Gaza and that it is committing genocide against Gaza. It is a very fulsome application. South Africa is not asking the I.C.J. to make a finding of a failure to prevent, or a commission of, genocide. They are asking the I.C.J. to direct Israel through what are called provisional measures to do what is necessary to prevent and not commit genocide in Gaza, to take those measures while the I.C.J., over a much longer period of time, considers the merits of South Africa’s allegations. For a commission of genocide, one needs to establish that both the genocidal act has occurred and that it has occurred with the specific intent to destroy all or part of a national, racial, religious, or ethnic group. The dolus specialis, we call it—the specific intent to do that. That’s why, particularly on a merits stage, it takes time to put those two together: the genocidal acts, and the mens rea of the specific intent.

The application disgorges an enormous amount of publicly available information about what has happened in Gaza. We all know that it’s a humanitarian catastrophe of some dimension in Gaza right now. I don’t want to diminish the importance of that. But nowhere in South Africa’s application is there any recognition that there is a war taking place. This is not a genocide like Rwanda or of the Rohingya or the Yazidis in recent times, where these were just authoritarian regimes that went after populations that were not attacking them.

But this is a war. There is an act of self-defense by Israel. Now, that does not mean that Israel has clean hands on absolutely everything it’s done, absolutely not.

I think genocide is a very powerful word. You get everyone’s attention. South Africa could just as easily say, “We clearly think atrocity crimes are occurring now in Gaza. We’re not prepared yet to say whether it’s genocide or not.” But they did make a determination: They want to call it genocide. And they’re free to do so. I don’t blame them. 

But in the court of law as well as in the court of public opinion, I think it’s very important that we not embrace that word in this particular conflict until there’s a better understanding of what is occurring in terms of warfare and of the humanitarian plight of the Palestinian people. 

At the same time, as I have pointed out, Hamas could stop it all tomorrow by surrendering. Hamas has the power to prevent genocide. It has had the power to prevent genocide even after it, itself, probably committed genocide on October 7th. It had the power, after October 7th, to subject none of the Palestinian population to what South Africa describes as genocide. Hamas had the power and it did not use that power. Hamas has no right to fight on. It has no right of self-defense. And furthermore, by virtue of the fact that it continues to fight, it brings an enormous amount of suffering and destruction upon the Palestinian people, all of which it could stop by simply surrendering.

The last paragraph I quoted is particularly important. For all the online outrage I see about Israel's military campaign against Hamas, I don't see many Palestine supporters recognizing that Hamas started this, and Hamas can end it.

Because really, October 7th and what happened afterwards comes down to Hamas wanting to destroy Israel. People seem to forget that.

Netanyahu has to go, soon, along with all the right-wing crazies propping up his government. But so does Hamas.

Cartoon villainy from our "friends" in the Mid-East

Climate scientist Rollie Williams explains the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia's not-so-secret plan to get "every molecule" of hydrocarbons out of the ground:

Seriously. You can almost hear them twiddling their mustaches and tying the maiden to the tracks in this one.

Ordinarily I'd quote Upton Sinclair, but the government of KSA completely understands the thing. Then again, with temperatures on the Arabian peninsula routinely cresting 45°C and sometimes exceeding 50°C, what do they think will happen if their plans to burn all those fossil fuels succeed?

Evening round-up

I can't yet tell that sunsets have gotten any later in the past two weeks, though I can tell that sunrises are still getting later. But one day, about three weeks from now, I'll look out my office window at this hour, and notice it hasn't gotten completely dark yet. Alas, that day is not this day.

Elsewhere in the darkening world:

  • Mike Godwin, the person who postulated Godwin's Law, believes that invoking it as regards the XPOTUS is not at all losing the argument: "You could say the ‘vermin’ remark or the ‘poisoning the blood’ remark, maybe one of them would be a coincidence. But both of them pretty much makes it clear that there’s something thematic going on, and I can’t believe it’s accidental."
  • Julia Ioffe watches with growing horror at Ukraine's looming money cliff.
  • The rings of a 200-year-old tree in Arizona show just how bad last summer was.
  • The Federal Highway Administration has revised the MUCTD after 14 years, this time after actually listening to people who don't drive cars.

Finally, Tyler Austin Harper shakes his head that university administrators and other people of limited horizons completely misunderstand why the humanities are important:

If we have any hope of resuscitating fields like English and history, we must rescue the humanities from the utilitarian appraisals that both their champions and their critics subject them to. We need to recognize that the conservatives are right, albeit not in the way they think: The humanities are useless in many senses of the term. But that doesn’t mean they’re without value.

It is often faculty who are trying to safeguard their fields from the progressive machinations of their bureaucratic overlords. But faced with a choice between watching their departments shrink or agreeing to hire in areas that help realize the personnel-engineering schemes of their bosses, departments tend to choose the latter. ... At the same time, a generation of Ph.D. students is eyeing current hiring practices and concluding that the only research that has a prayer of landing them a tenure-track position relates to questions of identity and justice.

Instead of trying to prove that the humanities are more economically useful than other majors—a tricky proposition—humanists have taken to justifying their continued existence within the academy by insisting that they are uniquely socially and politically useful. The emergent sales pitch is not that the humanities produce and transmit important knowledge, but rather that studying the humanities promotes nebulous but nice-sounding values, such as empathy and critical thinking, that are allegedly vital to the cause of moral uplift in a multicultural democracy.

The whole essay is worth a read.

European cities mend car-centric streets

Paris, Barcelona, and Brussels have taken back streets for pedestrians, streets never designed for cars:

Strategies vary, from congestion charges, parking restrictions and limited traffic zones to increased investment in public transport and cycle lanes. Evidence suggests that a combination of carrot and stick – and consultation – works best.

A startling statistic emerged in Paris last month: during the morning and evening rush hours, on representative main thoroughfares crisscrossing the French capital, there are now more bicycles than cars – almost half as many again, in fact.

The data point is the latest to comfort Anne Hidalgo, the Socialist mayor, who since she was first elected in 2014 has pursued some of the toughest anti-car policies of any major city – starting with closing the 1970s Right Bank Seine expressway to traffic.

Hidalgo has since sealed off famous streets such as the Rue de Rivoli to most traffic, created an expanding low-emission zone to exclude older cars, and established 1,000km (620 miles) of bike routes, 350km of them protected lanes.

Due in part to her policies and those of her predecessor, Bertrand Delanoë, driving within Paris city limits has fallen by about 45% since the early 1990s, while public transport use has risen by 30% and cycle use by about 1,000%.

I admit that the US has huge difficulties breaking away from its car-centric development pattern because most existing US infrastructure was built for cars. But the inability of US voters to imagine a better life with alternatives to driving hurts us as well. I've chosen to live in a city that pre-dates mass car ownership (at least in some parts), but even here, we struggle with compact, walkable development.

Still, Paris and other European cities are showing that it's possible to undo some of the damage cars and car-centric development cause. I hope more of the US catches on to this in my lifetime.

Lyin' liars gonna lie

In a few related stories from the last day or so, it appears the Republican Party just can't help themselves with their dishonesty:

  • Tom Nichols points out the disingenuousness of Republicans holding up Ukrainian aid, which "might count as one of the most devastatingly efficient and effective defense expenditures of American treasure in the history of the republic," until Ukraine presents an "exit plan:" "For Ukraine, the only exit strategy is survival, just as it was for Britain in 1940 or Israel in 1973. The Ukrainians will keep fighting, because the alternative is the enslavement and butchery of the Ukrainian people, and the end of Ukraine as a nation."
  • Earlier today, the House passed the Senate's $886 billion defense reauthorization bill shorn of all its cultural hot button issues, despite all the bullshit Republicans and Fox News have fed their constituents about "the woke military."
  • Meanwhile, House Republicans also passed a formal impeachment inquiry into President Biden's non-existent corruption, despite knowing he hasn't got any and they won't find any in the inquiry.

Of course, as Charles Blow points out, Republicans are lying about these things because they see the hastening arrival of authoritarianism in the US and want jobs as gauliters:

Confidence in many of our major institutions — including schools, big business, the news media — is at or near its lowest point in the past half-century, in part because of the Donald Trump-led right-wing project to depress it. Indeed, according to a July Gallup report, Republicans’ confidence in 10 of the 16 institutions measured was lower than Democrats’. Three institutions in which Republicans’ confidence exceeded Democrats’ were the Supreme Court, organized religion and the police.

And as people lose faith in these institutions — many being central to maintaining the social contract that democracies offer — they can lose faith in democracy itself. People then lose their fear of a candidate like Trump — who tried to overturn the previous presidential election and recently said that if he’s elected next time, he won’t be a dictator, “except for Day 1” — when they believe democracy is already broken.

As I and others have said before, the Republican Party needs to change its policies or accept losing elections. But they don't believe that, so they're willing to torch our democracy to keep our lot from changing it for the better.