- James Fallows reminds us that the US Senate filibuster "is a perversion of the Constitution," that "enables the very paralysis the founders were desperate to avoid," among other things. (He also links to an essay by former US Senator Al Franken (D-MN) about how cynical the filibuster has become.)
- Jacob Rosenberg brings together workers' own stories about how they got fed up, illustrating how "the big quit" happened.
- Canadian political scientist Thomas Homer-Dixon has had enough of the political disunion in the failing democracy to his south, and worries what that will mean to Canada.
On the hopeful side, though, we have the Webb Space Telescope gently nudging its mirrors into place at a rate of about 1 millimeter per day.
The James Webb Space Telescope took off from French Guiana this morning at 6:20 CST:
Ground teams began receiving telemetry data from Webb about five minutes after launch. The Arianespace Ariane 5 rocket performed as expected, separating from the observatory 27 minutes into the flight. The observatory was released at an altitude of approximately 75 miles (120 kilometers). Approximately 30 minutes after launch, Webb unfolded its solar array, and mission managers confirmed that the solar array was providing power to the observatory. After solar array deployment, mission operators will establish a communications link with the observatory via the Malindi ground station in Kenya, and ground control at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore will send the first commands to the spacecraft.
The telescope will travel for 30 days to Lagrange 2, the point just outside Earth's orbit where the gravities of Earth, the Moon, and the Sun create a stable solar orbit:
This special orbit allows one side of Webb’s sunshield to always face the Sun, Earth, and Moon, blocking their heat and light from reaching the telescope’s heat-sensitive optics. Webb’s month-long journey takes it to the second Lagrange (L2) point, one of five positions in space where the gravitational pull of the Sun and Earth balances the centripetal force required for a spacecraft to move with them. This makes Lagrange points particularly useful for reducing the fuel required for a spacecraft to remain in position. The location also enables continuous communications with Webb through the Deep Space Network, an international array of giant antennas managed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL).
Shortly after the telescope parks at L2, it will start investigating the far-infrared radiation from the era 10 billion years ago when galaxies first formed. At this writing, Webb is 70,000 km from Earth and has another 1.37 million km to go.
SARS-Cov-2-omicron continues its march through the world, aided in part by a lack of tests that could detect and mitigate Covid infections early on. The Times reports that a Texas man died of the omicron variant despite his fantastical belief that a previous Covid infection rendered him immune. One would hope this would cure the metastasizing delusions of "herd immunity" incubated within the thick skulls and vulcanized brains of the voluntarily unvaccinated, but no, we live in 'Murica.
Meanwhile, Omicron looks more and more like a mild but super-contagious virus that probably won't send vaccinated people to the hospital. And the Walter Reed Army Research Institute quietly announced yesterday that they have developed a vaccine that targets all SARS viruses, not just Cov-2. So for people who have either the sense or the compassion to get vaccinated (and boosted), Covid-19 looks well on its way to becoming just another coronavirus, like the common cold.
Don't celebrate victory just yet, though. In the war against Covid-19 we may have gotten to December 1944, but Germany hasn't surrendered. The UK announced 100,000 new Covid cases just yesterday, a new record, and here in the US we've passed 51 million cases and 805,000 deaths, on course to hit 2 million deaths by the lockdown's 2-year anniversary in March.
This map does not make me happy:
About that WWII analogy: By December 1944, the Allies knew they would win eventually. But people living through the war had no idea how long it would continue. Even if they had known, at that point war would continue in Europe for six more months and in the Pacific for three more after that, killing millions more people. Imagine living in eastern France that winter, with the Allies fighting Germany for every hectare of land and you between them, starving. That's where we are today.
I think next summer will feel a lot like the summer of 1945. We'll have a lot to clean up, but we won't be dying as much. Then we can get back to eroding our democracy one congressional district at a time.
Update, 14:15 CST: The Atlantic's Yascha Mounk has similar thoughts.
I've opened nearly every window in my house to let in the 15°C breeze and really experience the first real fall morning in a while. Chicago will get above-normal temperatures for the next 10 days or so, but in the beginning of October that means highs in the mid-20s and lows in the mid-teens. Even Cassie likes the change.
Since I plan to spend nearly every moment of daylight outside for the rest of this weekend, I want to note a few things to read this evening when I come back inside:
Finally, if you really want to dig into some cool stuff in C# 10, Scott Hanselman explains implicit namespace support.
Only about 7 more hours of meteorological summer remain in Chicago. I opened my windows this afternoon for the first time in more than two weeks, which made debugging a pile of questionable code* more enjoyable.
Said debugging required me to put these aside for future reading:
Finally, one tiny bit of good news: more Americans believe in evolution than ever before, perhaps due to the success of the SARS-COV-2 virus at evolving.
Goodbye, Summer 2021. It's been a hoot.
* Three guesses who wrote the questionable code. Ahem.
Having finished Hard Times, I started a new book last night, and realized right away it will take me a year to read. The book, Shit Went Down (On This Day in History) by James Fell relates an historical event for each day of the year. The recommendation came from John Scalzi's blog. I have about 60 recommendations from Scalzi's blog now, and someday I might read a fraction of those books.
Fell's book reminds me that on this day in 1925, a jury in Dayton, Tennessee, convicted John Scopes of teaching human evolution in a state-funded school. Despite the wonderful things that have come out of Tennessee, the state's constant competition with neighboring Mississippi and Alabama for the "stupidest legislation of the decade" award always entertains. My friends from the state assure me that smart people actually do live there, but their protestations have less of a persuasive effect given they left Tennessee at the first opportunity.
In any event, I really need to carve out more time for reading. Come on, UK, open up to vaccinated visitors already! I need the airplane time.
Dan Egan, author of The Death and Life of the Great Lakes (which I read last November while staring out at one of them), explains in yesterday's New York Times how climate change will cause problems here in Chicago:
[T]he same waters that gave life to the city threaten it today, because Chicago is built on a shaky prospect — the idea that the swamp that was drained will stay tamed and that Lake Michigan’s shoreline will remain in essentially the same place it’s been for the past 300 years.
Lake Michigan’s water level has historically risen or fallen by just a matter of inches over the course of a year, swelling in summer following the spring snowmelt and falling off in winter. Bigger oscillations, a few feet up or down from the average, also took place in slow, almost rhythmic cycles unfolding over the course of decades.
In 2013, Lake Michigan plunged to a low not seen since record-keeping began in the mid-1800s, wreaking havoc across the Midwest. Marina docks became useless catwalks. Freighter captains couldn’t fully load their ships. And fears grew that the lake would drop so low it would no longer be able to feed the Chicago River, the defining waterway that snakes through the heart of the city.
That fear was short-lived. Just a year later, in 2014, the lake started climbing at a stunning rate, ultimately setting a record summertime high in 2020 before drought took hold and water levels started plunging again.
Egan explains in detail what that means for us, culminating in the harrowing near-disaster of 17 May 2020, when record rains combined with a record-high lake to make draining downtown Chicago almost impossible.
I should note that, after falling for 11 consecutive months, the lake has started to rise again (blue line), and we haven't even gotten down to our long-term average (green line):
I've said for decades that Chicago will fare better than most places, but that doesn't mean we'll have it easy. Nowhere will.
The decennial update of the 30-year US climate normals dropped this afternoon. They show the US has gotten measurably warmer over the 1981-2010 normals:
NOAA’s new U.S. Climate Normals give the public, weather forecasters, and businesses a standard way to compare today’s conditions to 30-year averages. Temperature and precipitation averages and statistics are calculated every decade so we can put today’s weather into proper context and make better climate-related decisions.
Normals are not merely averages of raw data. Thirty years of U.S. weather station observations are compiled, checked for quality, compared to surrounding stations, filled in for missing periods, and used to calculate not only averages, but many other measures. These then provide a basis for comparisons of temperature, precipitation, and other variables to today’s observations.
As anticipated, changes have occurred in averages since the last ten-year update.
For instance, the north-central U.S. Temperature Normals—for those in the Northern Plains and Upper Midwest—have cooled from 1981–2010 to 1991–2020, especially in the spring. The South and Southwest are considerably warmer. Normals were also generally warmer across the West and along the East Coast.Precipitation-wise, the Southwest was drier; wetter averages emerged in the U.S. east of the Rocky Mountains, especially the Southeast in the spring.
[L]ong-term trends from decade to decade can affect baseline “normal” weather conditions. For instance, the last decade includes the warmest seven years on record for the globe, according to NCEI.
Chicago got just a little warmer and just a little wetter, as anticipated. Southwest Texas got much warmer and dryer. And Florida is still part of the US. Two of these things are suboptimal.
And if you aren't sure climate change is happening, check this out:
Happy 51st Earth Day! In honor of that, today's first story has nothing to do with Earth:
Finally, it looks like I'll have some really cool news to share about my own software in just a couple of weeks. Stay tuned!
This morning, around 2:30 Chicago time, we flew an aircraft over an alien planet:
At about 3:30 a.m., the twin, carbon-fiber rotor blades began spinning furiously, and the chopper, called Ingenuity, lifted off the surface of the Red Planet, reaching an altitude of about 10 feet, where it hovered, turned and landed softly in an autonomous flight that lasted just 30 seconds, the space agency said.
Inside the flight operations center at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, engineers broke into applause when confirmation of the flight arrived, more than three hours after the flight, in a data burst that traveled 178 million miles from Mars to Earth.
To make the brief flight, Ingenuity’s technology had to overcome Mars’s super-thin atmosphere — just 1 percent the density of Earth’s — which makes it more difficult for the helicopters’ blades, spinning at about 2,500 revolutions per minute, to generate lift.
As President Biden once said, this is a big fucking deal.