The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Historical precedents for periodic self-destruction

London-based historian Tobias Stone sees the same parallels I see to periodic bouts of self-destruction. Le sigh:

[W]e humans have a habit of going into phases of mass destruction, generally self imposed to some extent or another.

At a local level in time people think things are fine, then things rapidly spiral out of control until they become unstoppable, and we wreak massive destruction on ourselves. For the people living in the midst of this it is hard to see happening and hard to understand. To historians later it all makes sense and we see clearly how one thing led to another.

But at the time people don’t realise they’re embarking on a route that will lead to a destruction period. They think they’re right, they’re cheered on by jeering angry mobs, their critics are mocked. This cycle, the one we saw for example from the Treaty of Versaille, to the rise of Hitler, to the Second World War, appears to be happening again. But as with before, most people cannot see it because:

1. They are only looking at the present, not the past or future

2. They are only looking immediately around them, not at how events connect globally

3. Most people don’t read, think, challenge, or hear opposing views

Trump is doing this in America. Those of us with some oversight from history can see it happening.

What can we do? Well, again, looking back, probably not much. The liberal intellectuals are always in the minority. See Clay Shirky’s Twitter Storm on this point. The people who see that open societies, being nice to other people, not being racist, not fighting wars, is a better way to live, they generally end up losing these fights. They don’t fight dirty. They are terrible at appealing to the populace. They are less violent, so end up in prisons, camps, and graves. We need to beware not to become divided (see: Labour party), we need to avoid getting lost in arguing through facts and logic, and counter the populist messages of passion and anger with our own similar messages. We need to understand and use social media. We need to harness a different fear. Fear of another World War nearly stopped World War 2, but didn’t. We need to avoid our own echo chambers. Trump and Putin supporters don’t read the Guardian, so writing there is just reassuring our friends. We need to find a way to bridge from our closed groups to other closed groups, try to cross the ever widening social divides.

Perhaps it's time to figure out where I can go into exile, if this is in fact inevitable. Is the UK (read, post-Brexit: Scotland) going to work? Is Canada safe as it has been for the past few centuries? Maybe New Zealand, which, as far as I know, has never been attacked by a foreign power?

Also when: do I go immediately if Trump gets elected, or should I wait until the purge begins?

Fun times, fun times.

Catalog of New York photos

This is one of the coolest things I've seen in a long time:

A new site called OldNYC delivers a Street View-like view of what the city looked like in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The site includes a map of New York City and a slew of dots that can be clicked on to see different images of that particular location.

According to Business Insider, which earlier reported on the site, it was developed by Dan Vanderkam in collaboration with the New York Public Library, which has acollection of more than 80,000 photographs of New York City shot from the 1870s to the 1970s.

While OldNYC is not a Street View clone—users will not be able to "drive" their way through the streets like they would on Google's service—it's somewhat similar. Indeed, users can zoom in and out on a particular location, pick their favorite crossing, and click on the small red dot. Upon doing so, images related to that location are displayed.

I'll be playing with this for a few minutes...

A little fishy in Chicago

Today marks the 49th anniversary of the most odiferous disaster ever to strike the shores of Chicago:

[D]uring the 1930s, these alewives got into Lake Michigan. They weren’t much of a problem because the bigger fish–like the trout–would eat them. But the sea lamprey came along and ate the trout. Sea lampreys didn’t eat alewives, so suddenly, the lake had all these alewives and no predators.

Pretty soon there are alewives filling the lake. That’s what today’s story is about—July 7, 1967. There are so many alewives around Chicago that it’s become national news. Even Time magazine is talking about it.

Of course, those alewives would be decaying, and you can imagine the smell—well, you probably don’t want to. The flies would come in, and the beaches would be a mess.  The city would have to use tractors and bulldozers to clear off the beaches.

Nobody knew how many dead alewives there were. Experts said hundreds of millions, maybe a billion. A guy in a plane over the lake saw a ribbon of drifting dead alewives 40 miles long.

I remember these die-offs continuing until the late 1970s. Today, we have salmon in the lake, so fewer alewives. At least, until the carp get here...

 

Then and now

Chicago historian John R. Schmidt frequently has "Then and Now" features where he shows a part of the city as it appeared when he was a kid against how it appears now. I just found a trove of historical photos produced by the Illinois Dept. of Transportation, including a few dozen from my neighborhood, so I can play the same game.

Here's the intersection of Sheridan, Broadway, and Montrose, looking west down Montrose, from March 1936, more than 80 years ago:

Here's this past Tuesday:

Though some of the details have changed, both buildings flanking the north side of Broadway still exist. But the Wilson Yard development, from 2006, has taken over most of the area between Broadway and the El tracks. And past the El, the mature trees have changed the character of Montrose.

Another thing I notice about photos of Chicago and other U.S. cities before about 1990: the haze. Starting in the 1970s in California and the 1980s elsewhere, governments cracked down on air pollution. Chicago in 1936 would have been intolerably polluted to Millennials. The top photo gives a hint of why.

Retrenchment; or, remember the 1950s

On this day in 1954, the Supreme Court handed down Brown v Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, which ended "separate but equal" education after finding that the two concepts are antagonistic. Also on this day in 1954, the City of Chicago announced plans for the Stateway Gardens housing project, which eventually replaced an African-American slum with a high-rise hell-on-earth housing African Americans. As historian John R. Schmidt comments, "Maybe the new public housing projects were an attempt to keep Black people on 'their side of the tracks.'" (They were; he's being sarcastic.)

A similar pattern exists today. Despite historic, unprecedented support for the LGBT community throughout most of the U.S., the right has taken on the non-existent issue of predators in bathrooms to win votes in an election year. The small minority of people who (a) care about this issue and (b) are afraid of gays nevertheless has support from latter-day Sheriff Clark figures like Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and other Republicans.

Progress is never smooth. I just wish people on the wrong side of history would get out of the way sometimes.

Things in my Inbox

Some articles:

Today's other tasks include cleaning my house and writing code for about four hours.

Three unfortunate events on May 4th

Sometimes there are odd coincidences.

Three unfortunate events in the English-speaking world happened on May 4th. Here in Chicago, 130 years ago today in 1886, the Haymarket Riot occurred near the corner of Desplaines Avenue and Randolph Street.

Forty six years ago today in 1970, four students were killed at a nonviolent anti-war protest at Kent State University in Ohio. Tin soldiers and Nixon coming...

And 37 years ago today in 1979, Margaret Thatcher took office as the first woman Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, jolting the country rightward, destroying traditional English industries, and unsuccessfully trying to disenfranchise the poor and underclass.

But today, let's forget all that. May the Fourth be with you. And in honor of May 4th, it looks this morning like George Lucas has decided to stop beating his head into a wall, and is taking his museum somewhere else.