The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Before I pack up my Surface

Just noting these things to read later, as I have just a few minutes before boarding:

Finally, The Cut's financial-advice columnist Charlotte Cowles describes how she fell for a financial scam.

Just have to pack

The weather forecast for Munich doesn't look horrible, but doesn't look all that great either, at least until Saturday. So I'll probably do more indoorsy things Thursday and Friday, though I have tentatively decided to visit Dachau on Thursday, rain or not. You know, to start my trip in such a way that nothing else could possibly be worse.

Meanwhile, I've added these to yesterday's crop of stories to read at the airport:

Finally, don't skip your dog's walks. They're very important to her health.

$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.

More info about the Divvy situation

After posting this morning about all the injured and lame e-Divvy bikes around Chicago, a Daily Parker reader just sent me this story from last November, reporting that Divvy planned to (and presumably did) switch its maintenance subcontractor on February 1st of this year:

Periodically we do a [Request for Proposals]," the Lyft staffer said. "We want the best operations and service delivery for our city partners and customers. Motivate's contract was running out on February 1, so we held a competitive procurement process. Both Motivate and Shift were interested in the new contract. Shift runs bike-share systems in Toronoto, Detroit, and Portland, Oregon." Shift also currently operates Divvy's electric scooter fleet.

There's evidence this management switch could be good news for Divvy riders. The system's recent challenges with out-of-service bikes and ineffective rebalancing are well-documented. And then there was the embarrassing July 2022 spotting of a massive number of dysfunctional Divvies sitting in a vacant lot across the alley from the bike-share system's service warehouse at 2132 W. Hubbard St. in West Town. That was definitely not a good look for Motivate, which was managing Divvy's bike maintenance operations at the time.

While the machinations going on right now at Divvy are a little complex, there's no reason to believe they'll be bad for customers or employees.

I mean, except for the transition period, one supposes...

Finally replacing an elderly desktop machine

The computer I'm using to write this post turns 8 years old on April 6th. It has served me well, living through thousands of Daily Parker posts, two house moves, terabytes of photographs, and only one blown hard drive.

So I have finally broken down and ordered a new one: a Dell Precision 3460 that will sit on my desk instead of under it, and will run Windows 11 with TPM 2.0 instead of warning me that it doesn't have the right hardware to get the latest OS.

The new computer will have an 13th Gen Intel Core i5-13600 processor with burst speeds up to 5 GHz, an nVidia T1000 graphics card with 3 DP outputs right on the chassis, a 512 GB SSD as a boot drive, and a pair of 32 GB 4800 MHz DIMMS that I ordered separately. Plus, instead of decrypting and re-encrypting my 4 TB, 7200-RPM data drive, I'm just going to get a 4 TB M.2 2280 SSD, because they're actually less expensive and use less power than the one in my 2016 box.

Unfortunately I'll need to completely replace my 14-year-old Dell monitor, and get an HDMI-to-DP conversion cable for my newer (2018-vintage) monitor, but neither of those things is terribly expensive these days.

I've also updated the math on the March 2016 post announcing my previous computer, to show the progression of computing technology over the past 8 years:

Bought Config, Processor, Ram, HDD $ then $ 2024
Jan 2024 Desktop, Core i5 5.0 GHz, 64 GB, 512 GB SSD + 4TB SSD Data $2009 $2009
Mar 2016 Desktop, Xeon 6C 2.4 GHz, 40 GB, 512 GB SSD + 2TB Data $3406 $4406
Dec 2013 Laptop, Core i7 2.4, 12 GB, 512 GB SSD $1706 $2247
Nov 2011 Laptop, Core i5 2.2 GHz, 8 GB, 256 GB SSD $795 $1078
Nov 2009 Laptop, Core 2 Duo 2.66 GHz, 4 GB, 250 GB $923 $1309
Oct 2008 Desktop, Xeon 4C 2.0 GHz, 8 GB, 146 GB $1926 $2728
Feb 2007 Laptop, Centrino 2.0 GHz, 2 GB, 160 GB $2098 $3163
Jun 2005 Laptop, Pentium M 2.8 GHz, 2 GB, 60 GB $1680 $2650
Oct 2003 Laptop, Pentium M 1.4 GHz, 1 GB, 60 GB $1828 $3031
Oct 2002 Laptop, Pentium 4 1.7 GHz, 512 MB, 40 GB $2041 $3453
Mar 1999 Desktop, Pentium 3 500 MHz, 256 MB, 20 GB $2397 $4457
May 1995 Desktop, Nx 586 90 MHz, 32 MB, 850 MB $2206 $4446
Oct 1991 Desktop, 80386 33 MHz, 4 MB, 240 MB $2689 $6003

I mean, wow. I fully expect to be amazed at the speed—and the video.

I will say that my hope that the computer I bought in March 2016 would last at least 4 years came true twice over. In fact, from 1991 to 2016, I upgraded my main computer about every 2.7 years on average. Only two made it past 5 years, but only by 4 and 6 months.

It's been a really great machine. And I'm sure I'll discover that it can do one or two things that my new box can't, just like this one lost a couple of features I still sometimes miss. (My 2008 desktop could make mix CDs. I've never set this one up to do that.)

Theft from trains: capitalism eating its own tail

The New York Times Magazine ran a lengthy story about the scourge of modern robber barons: massive thefts from trains. It turns out, the super-long container trains that the duopoly of railroad companies run throughout the western US don't seem worth defending, unless you talk to the shippers' insurance companies. The threads of early-21st-century corporate amalgamation all kind of come together in this one story:

Some 20 million containers move through the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach every year, including about 35 percent of all the imports into the United States from Asia. Once these steel boxes leave the relative security of a ship at port, they are loaded onto trains and trucks — and then things start disappearing. The Los Angeles basin is the country’s undisputed capital of cargo theft, the region with the most reported incidents of stuff stolen from trains and trucks and those interstitial spaces in the supply chain, like rail yards, warehouses, truck stops and parking lots. Cases of reported cargo theft in the United States have nearly doubled since 2019....

The most extreme type of modern train theft occurs when thieves cut the air-compression brake hoses that run between train cars, thereby triggering an emergency braking system. When that happens, the engineer stays in the cab and the conductor walks the length of the stopped train, trying to locate the source of the problem. (Thieves can also stop a train by decoupling some of its cars.) Of course, if a train is miles long, that walk takes a while. In the meantime, the pilferers unload.

On the website of Operation Boiling Point, which the Department of Homeland Security recently created to go after organized theft groups, the agency states that cargo theft accounts for between $15 billion and $35 billion in annual losses. The Federal Bureau of Investigation, in a statement emailed to me, estimated that cargo-theft losses amounted to $1 billion nationally in 2021, but the agency acknowledged that that was an undercount.

Over the past decade, in a push for greater efficiency, and amid record-breaking profits, the country’s largest railroads have been stringing together longer trains. Some now stretch two or even three miles in length. At the same time, these companies cut the number of employees by nearly 30 percent, so fewer people now manage these longer trains.

The technology exists to make containers less susceptible to theft. Companies sell container-locking devices with GPS and cellular connectivity that permit the containers to be tracked at all times. Sensors stuck on the freight itself can report locations and precise conditions inside containers, including temperature, humidity and the bumpiness of the ride. Containers can be outfitted with smart seals, motion-detection alarms, video surveillance and infrared imaging systems that can detect intruders’ body heat. And yet, the locks so often used to secure containers with hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of merchandise inside are easier to cut off than the lock I use to secure my old beater bicycle.

Why? The answers were varied, but as far as I can tell, the reason is that in the last several decades, the cost of shipping has fallen so much that cheap shipping has become part of the essential energy force pushing the tsunami of low-cost goods across the seas and onto our shores. A company with 20,000 containers might decide it isn’t worth an extra $10 per container for better locks or seals. In part because even if they did opt for the upgraded security, who or what would respond when the alarm goes off or when the smart seal sends notice that it’s been breached?

I would call this a case of seriously misaligned incentives, not to mention a field ripe for the kinds of regulation that made the world a lot less horrific than it was the last time corporations got this big in the 1890s and 1900s.

Perhaps the Republican Party will resume its duties in government soon, so that we can fix some of these problems. Unless, of course, their ineffectuality is a feature, not a bug.

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.

Yet another infantile billionaire

Billionaire Bill Ackerman lobbied Harvard's board hard to get president Claudine Gay fired last month, harping on her plagiarism as a key reason she wasn't fit for the job. Business Insider then published two stories alleging what looks like even worse plagiarism by Neri Oxman—Ackerman's wife. So Ackerman did what any self-deceiving, childish, hypocritical billionaire would do: he leaned on the paper's publisher. Because of course he did:

At one point, Ackman wrote that a Harvard student who committed “much less” plagiarism than Claudine Gay would be forced out of the university. Gay resigned from the presidency last week.

But when Business Insider raised plagiarism concerns about his wife’s work, Ackman excoriated the publication, accusing it of unethical journalism, promising to review its writers’ work and predicting that it would “go bankrupt and be liquidated.” In one social media post, he implied that Business Insider’s investigations editor (whom he called “a known anti-Zionist”) may have been “willing to lead this attack” because Oxman is Israeli.

Neither Ackman nor Oxman, whose companies didn’t respond to requests for comment, have pointed to any factual errors in the articles.

Still, Ackman’s complaints seemed to get the attention of Axel Springer, the German media giant that owns Business Insider. On Sunday, the company released an unusual statement saying it would “review the processes” that led up to the articles’ publication, while acknowledging that the stories were not factually wrong.

While Ackman hasn’t raised factual issues with the articles, he has claimed that the outlet didn’t give him and his wife enough time to comment on the second story, about Wikipedia plagiarism, with a space of roughly two hours on late Friday afternoon between when his spokesman was asked for comment and when the story was published. But Ackman first went public with the Wikipedia allegations roughly an hour before the story was published by posting on social media about the impending article, which may have affected Business Insider’s publication schedule.

Cryptocurrency researcher (the good kind) and Wikipedia mega-editor Molly White the Tweet in question apart line by line:

What is it with these guys? I have to wonder if kvetching about how unfairly the world treats you is a prerequisite for amassing a huge fortune. They do tend to project a lot, don't they, these billionaires?

Part of me finds this sort of thing hilarious, another part finds it sad, and yet I have to remember that these whiny babies have a lot of money and the power that goes with it. Not being able to take criticism, especially when one is a public figure and one continually inserts oneself into public discourse, seems like weakness to me. Maybe that's why they get so agitated: deep down, they know the truth backing up their critics.

Non-political news stories of the day

A small collection:

Finally, in her column on December 31st, Jennifer Rubin suggested people get some perspective on history to understand that the past was much worse than today.

Update: A friend sent this security-cam photo of the first Yellow Line pulling into the Dempster station after service resumed:

I hope we're well shot of him

Facing a criminal trial for corruption that he will probably lose, National Rifle Association CEO Wayne LaPierre resigned earlier today:

Mr. LaPierre, 74, has led the organization for more than three decades. But his resignation came as he faced his gravest challenge yet, a corruption trial in Manhattan amid a legal showdown with New York’s attorney general, Letitia James. Jury selection has already begun and opening arguments were scheduled for early next week.

The announcement took place during a board meeting in Irving, Texas. The N.R.A. said Mr. LaPierre had “cited health reasons” as being behind his decision.

The development will change the shape of the Manhattan trial, since Ms. James was seeking to oust Mr. LaPierre from his position. She is also seeking financial penalties from Mr. LaPierre and three other defendants.

Mr. LaPierre played a leading role in transforming gun culture in America, but the last half decade of his tenure at the N.R.A. was marred by scandals and internal upheaval.

"Transforming gun culture" is a polite way of saying that LaPierre advocates giving every first-grader an Uzi. Instead of just leading a trade organization of firearms manufacturers, he claimed that the NRA was on a holy quest to interpret the US Constitution's second amendment—but only its second clause, not the first—instead of trying to enrich his member corporations.

That LaPierre succeeded in both is easy to see in both US gun-murder statistics during his tenure (almost doubled since 1999) and manufacturer sales (more than doubled since 1999). PBS has some helpful charts (from 2022) explaining how we made so many gun manufacturers rich at the cost of a few dozen hundred thousand children.

LaPierre is evil. I hope a jury sees at least enough of that to convict him of stealing from the NRA. But we can all imagine a more poetic end to the person who has done so much to hurt so many.