The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Third Monday in September

Today might be the last hot day of the year in Chicago. (I hope so, anyway.) While watching the cold front come through out my office window, with the much-needed rain ahead of it, I have lined up some news stories to read later today:

And finally, Metallica has an unexpected show tonight at Metro Chicago, about two kilometers from my house. Tickets are $20. I hope people show up for my board meeting tonight.

E-books are terrible

Writing in The Atlantic, Ian Bogost explains better than I could why I stopped using my Kindle a few years back:

A particular reader’s receptivity to ebooks...depends on the degree to which these objects conform to, or at least fail to flout, one’s idea of bookiness. But if you look back at the list of features that underlie that idea, ebooks embrace surprisingly few of them.

An ebook doesn’t have pages, for one. The Kindle-type book does have text, and that text might still be organized into sections and chapters and the like. But the basic unit of text in an ebook does not correspond with a page, because the text can be made to reflow at different sizes and in various fonts, as the user prefers. That’s why Amazon invented “locations” to track progress and orientation in a book. You’d think the matter displayed on an iPad screen would feel more familiar—it’s just pictures of actual pages—but oddly it often feels less like leaves of paper than its e-ink brethren does. The weird way you tap or push a whole image of a page to the side—it’s the uncanny valley of page turning, not a simulation or replacement of it.

Ebook devices are extremely compatible with an idea of bookiness that values holding and carrying a potentially large number of books at once; that prefers direct flow from start to finish over random access; that reads for the meaning and force of the words as text first, if not primarily; and that isn’t concerned with the use of books as stores of reader-added information or as memory palaces. Some of the reading that corresponds particularly well with this conception of bookiness includes fiction in general and genre fiction—such as mysteries, sci-fi, young-adult fiction, and romance—in particular.

I guess I have my answer, then: I hate ebooks because I don’t read much genre fiction, but I read a lot of scholarly and trade nonfiction. I also buy a lot of books on art, architecture, and design, whose subjects work best—or feel most bookish—when they are large-format, open-spread, and richly illustrated. As a somewhat haughty book person, I also can’t quite wrap my spleen around every book looking and feeling the same, like they do on an ebook reader. For me, bookiness partly entails the uniqueness of each volume—its cover, shape, typography, and layout.

If you like ebooks, great. Enjoy your dim, gray screen in peace. If you hate them, don’t worry about it. Who says everything must involve a computer? Maybe it’s better, even, to protect the print-book market by building a firewall against ebooks’ expansion beyond their rule over genre fiction. Just give up and read normal books, like humankind has done for 2,000 years.

I read dozens of books on Kindles while traveling for school and work, and I remember very little of them. Yet I can often recall the place on the page where I read a particular line in a book.

Horse Thief Hollow, Chicago

Welcome to stop #57 on the Brews and Choos project.

Brewery: Horse Thief Hollow, 10426 S. Western Ave., Chicago
Train line: Rock Island, 103rd–Beverly Hills
Time from Chicago: 26 minutes (Zone C)
Distance from station: 1.3 km

About 180 years ago, the low, swampy area where 111th Street meets Vincennes Avenue today provided excellent cover for a band of horse thieves who plagued the farmers far to the south of Chicago. In 2013, Neil Byers opened a restaurant and brewery nearby.

Eight years in, they are worth the trip to the hind end of Chicago. They not only have many tasty beers, but also they have a smoker and lots of pork to smoke in it. I tried their flight, which comprises six 100-mL pours:

I started with the Little Wing Pilsner (5.2%), a crisp, malty lager with a clean finish. Next, the Annexation West Coast IPA (7.2%), bursting with Citra fruitiness and almost a little tartness, a good example of the expression—but my socks stayed on my feet. The Kitchen Sink "Old School" APA (5.7%) was very good, more flavorful than the Annexation but not obnoxiously so. I had two Spoonful double dry-hopped hazy IPAs (6.5%), and found them nice and hoppy with good juiciness and a clean finish. Finally, I tried the Mannish Boy American Stout (5.0%), which was dryer than I expected, with great flavor, and a long hoppy finish I liked.

The pulled pork sandwich did, it turns out, knock my socks off. So did the beer garden, which (alas) will revert to being a parking lot when the weather turns colder.

As I mentioned yesterday, I got pinned down for an hour by a fast-moving but strong thunderstorm. Fortunately they serve beer inside as well. After the storm passed I had about 25 minutes to walk to the Metra, so I took my time strolling through Beverly. About three blocks in, I encountered this guy:

He didn't seem particularly interested in me, though he kept his distance. Instead he rid the neighborhood of at least one rat and carried on with his evening. Thanks, friend fox.

Beer garden? Yes (summer only)
Dogs OK? No
Televisions? A few, avoidable
Serves food? Full menu
Would hang out with a book? Yes
Would hang out with friends? Yes
Would go back? Yes

Open Outcry Brewing, Chicago

Welcome to stop #56 on the Brews and Choos project.

Brewery: Open Outcry Brewing, 10934 S. Western Ave., Chicago
Train line: Rock Island, 111th–Morgan Park
Time from Chicago: 30 minutes (Zone C)
Distance from station: 1.1 km

Yesterday I snuck out of the office before sunset and headed out to Tinley Park to see the new beer garden at Banging Gavel Brews. Despite my very careful reading of train schedules to visit three Rock Island Line stops in one evening, I did not read Banging Gavel's website carefully enough, and wound up spending 21 minutes wandering around the Tinley Park Metra station feeling kind of dumb.

It turned out, the mistake allowed me to spend more time at Open Outcry and Horse Thief Hollow. So did the violent thunderstorm. It was a fun evening.

Anyway, I don't know if or when I've ever visited the Morgan Park neighborhood on Chicago's far South Side, but I will have to go back. Open Outcry Brewing opened in 2017 on what has to be the only semi-attractive stretch of Western Avenue in Chicago. (Seriously, the longest street in Chicago may also be its ugliest.)

They have a huge rooftop beer garden, and I had no trouble getting a seat in the shade overlooking the street.

They have flights for only $9, so naturally I tried a few:

From left to right, I tried the Self Regulator New England Pale Ale (5.5%), a juicy, fruity, Citra forward pale that wasn't too hoppy; the Fresh Hopped Louis Winthorpe NEIPA (7.2%), a yummy balanced hazy beer with big flavor and a great finish; the Open Interest NEIPA (6.3%), which had a little more hop and fruit than the Winthorpe; and the Dark Pool Russian Imperial Milk Stout (10.5%), whose coffee and chocolate flavors hit like a brick wrapped in gold foil. That last one is a very dangerous beer. And the guests at the next table had a small pizza that I will have to try.

They don't allow dogs except for the three tables along the sidewalk, so call first to make sure you can get one. Also, the rooftop is open all winter, with a half-dozen heated yurts (reservations required).

Beer garden? Yes (rooftop)
Dogs OK? Not really
Televisions? A few, avoidable
Serves food? Full menu
Would hang out with a book? Yes
Would hang out with friends? Yes
Would go back? Yes

What happened to public transit in the US?

In a CityLab article from this summer (which for some reason they put on today's newsletter, and not the one from June 25th), Tony Frangie Mawad examines the decline in American public transit since the late 20th century:

Back in 1970, 77 million Americans commuted to work every day, and 9% of them took a bus or a train. By 2019, the number of U.S. workers had nearly doubled, to more than 150 million. But the vast majority of these new workers chose to drive: The number of public transit riders increased by only around 1 million during those years, and their share of the country’s overall commuters collapsed to 5%.

“In a number of other countries, the Department of Transportation and the Department of Housing and Urban Development are combined in one entity,” [said Yonah Freemark, a senior research associate with the Urban Institute]. “In the United States, we ended up with two different entities.” As a result, housing and mobility needs have been poorly aligned; the landscape is laden with housing that lacks access to public transportation, light rail lines that course through sparsely settled areas, and too many cities whose transit networks can’t connect riders with jobs.

But as Freemark’s new analysis of commuting data shows, based on his database of long-term trends in U.S. metros, regional patterns reveal a more complex story. Some cities have bucked national trends and gained transit commuters over the last 50 years. Coastal cities like New York City, Washington, D.C., San Francisco, Seattle, and Boston saw an increase of hundreds of thousands of transit commuters between 1970 and 2019. Pre-pandemic, 3 million New Yorkers commuted by bus, subway and train daily — 500,000 more than in 1970 — and the region’s share of transit commuters held relatively steady.

Cities where transit use has seen massive reductions tend to be those that have endured deindustrialization and suburbanization during the last 50 years, with a concurrent rise in investments in highways designed to shuttle car-driving commuters in and out of town. “These used to be places that had really successful downtowns, but now most of their workforce has suburbanized,” says Freemark.

Here in Chicago, former Illinois Governors Bruce Rauner (R) and James Thompson (R) starved the Regional Transit Authority of funds—Rauner going so far as to halt almost all infrastructure improvements throughout the Chicago transit area.

Declines in transit use, therefore, come from policy decisions that we can reverse. Let's start by adequately funding the existing transit networks, and de-funding highway expansions, for example.

Entering Beverly

The Brews & Choos Project continues this evening with a short trip to the South Side. Beverly (probably named after the one in Massachusetts) became one of the city's most diverse neighborhoods in the mid-20th century, and remains so today. I would call it the most North Side-like part of the South Side. (I'll also visit Morgan Park, just a little below 107th Street.)

To celebrate this occasion, enjoy this fun ditty by John Forster:

The last Sears store in its home state will close

Eddie Lampert, corporate murderer, has managed to drive his once-great company out if its home state:

Sears' last Illinois location, at Woodfield Mall in Schaumburg, is set to close in November.

The Hoffman Estates-based retailer’s parent company, Transformco, announced the decision today.

"This is part of the company's strategy to unlock the value of the real estate and pursue the highest and best use for the benefit of the local community," the company said in a statement.

Ah, yes, because under the sociopathic, finance-driven Lampert, Sears is nothing more than a series of cash flows. It has no people, no history, no relevance, no value to him, other than money.

Obviously Lampert isn't unique. Venkatesh Rao wrote a magnificent description of modern corporate thinking in 2009 based on the TV series The Office. Sears just inhabits the end stage of the "MacLeod Life Cycle," as Rao describes it. But it's a particularly tragic example.

How many steps must a person take?

About 7,000 a day, though it won't hurt to do 10,000:

[T]wo studies, which, together, followed more than 10,000 men and women for decades, show that the right types and amounts of physical activity reduce the risk of premature death by as much as 70 percent.

But they also suggest that there can be an upper limit to the longevity benefits of being active, and pushing beyond that ceiling is unlikely to add years to our life spans and, in extreme cases, might be detrimental.

[A]t 10,000 steps, the benefits leveled off. “There was a point of diminishing returns,” said Amanda Paluch, an assistant professor of kinesiology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, who led the new study. People taking more than 10,000 steps per day, even plenty more, rarely outlived those taking at least 7,000.

Both studies pinpoint the sweet spot for activity and longevity at somewhere around 7,000 to 8,000 daily steps or about 30 to 45 minutes of exercise most days. Doing more may marginally improve your odds of a long life, Dr. O’Keefe said, but not by much, and doing far more might, at some point, be counterproductive.

I get about 13,000 per day, in part because of Cassie. Which seems fine, according to the report. Note that neither study actually found a causal link between steps and health; the effects only appear related.

Total recall failure

As expected (but not as most news organizations made it seem), California Governor Gavin Newsom (D) did not lose his job yesterday:

With 100% of precincts reporting at least some results, Gavin Newsom has avoided being recalled by a 63.9% to 36.1% margin.

The numbers from the California Secretary of State show a clear divide in the state: coastal counties, the Bay Area and nearly all of Southern California voted to keep Newsom. Central California and most of the rural Northern California counties voted to oust him. 

Republican Larry Elder was the top candidate to replace Newsom, but he only received a paltry 2,373,551 votes. That was good for 46% of the votes for a replacement candidate, followed by Democrat YouTuber Kevin Paffrath (9.8%) and former San Diego mayor Kevin L. Faulconer (8.6%).

Author John Scalzi yawns:

California governor Gavin Newsom has defeated the recall initiative against him, and apparently by a margin large enough that even committed conspiracists can’t make a claim that the vote was tainted with a straight face. Oh, some of them will, because they can’t not, but every time they do they weaken the argument for later by showing that there’s no election result they won’t claim “fraud” for, no matter the circumstances. So on second thought, go right ahead, conservatives, whine that this election was tainted.

Back in the real world, however, the result is not entirely surprising in a state where the Democrats have a 2-1 party registration advantage over the GOP, and where the conservative candidate’s pitch was that he planned to make California more like Florida, where the recent infectious peak of COVID (August 16) was almost four times higher than California, despite the latter state having far more people. “Make California More Infected” turns out not to be the winning slogan GOP folks seem to think it is.

The vote to deny his recall had as much to do with Democratic (and Californian) annoyance at the GOP wasting everyone’s time (and Elder being a pro-COIVD dimwit with a shady history) than any referendum on Newsom himself. In my view as a former Californian who spends at least a little time keeping up with my former state’s politics, it was unlikely that Newsom would have been recalled in any circumstance, but if I were Newsom, I wouldn’t be smug about the result. He’s still got fences to mend, and not with the GOP.

Sacramento Republican strategist Rob Stutzman pointed out "when you have the near-perfect caricature of a MAGA candidate, well, you can turn your voters out." But that in itself should give us hope that perhaps voters have gotten tired of Republican whining. When the party in opposition has nothing to say other than they're not the party in government, people start to lose interest.

I am serious. And don't call me partisan.

Matt Ford points out the surreality of Justice Amy Coney Barrett's appearance at an event with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) over the weekend:

If you were a parodist for The Onion, “Justice Amy Coney Barrett Insists Supreme Court Isn’t Partisan at McConnell Center Event” probably wouldn’t even get you a courtesy chuckle from your co-workers at a pitch meeting. Reality, however, clearly has a more surreal sense of humor than any mortal can muster, because this incredible moment of irony is exactly what occurred this weekend in Louisville, Kentucky.

“My goal today is to convince you that this court is not comprised of a bunch of partisan hacks,” the court’s newest justice reportedly told an audience at an event celebrating the thirtieth anniversary of the University of Louisville’s McConnell Center. The center is named for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who was present as Barrett spoke, and who has, for these past many years, served as the loyal bagman for the larger conservative judicial project.

conservatives have navigated between the Scylla and Charybdis of judicial politics over the past few decades. They can’t nominate Supreme Court justices whose views are too well known, à la Bork, lest they share his fate. Nor can they throw their support behind nominees whose views on constitutional law are too mysterious, lest they nominate another David Souter, the George H.W. Bush pick who quickly became a reliable liberal justice after his confirmation. One of their solutions to this quandary was social networking: Groups like the Federalist Society function less like the top-down clearinghouse that most liberals imagine it to be and more like a Facebook or LinkedIn for like-minded lawyers.

So, no, Barrett, Kavanaugh, and the rest of the Republican justices don't self-identify as Republicans anymore. But Barrett's claim that they're apolitical is as nonsensical as it seems.