The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

President-Elect of the United States Joe Biden

The Electoral College has voted, and with no surprises, as of 16:37 Chicago time Joe Biden has received the requisite 270 votes to be elected President of the United States. And yet, we had a few surprises today:

Finally, John le Carré died at 89 yesterday. Time to revisit Josephine Livingstone's review of "the glorious return of George Smiley," le Carré's 2017 novel A Legacy of Spies.

 

Counting up to 270

The Electoral College started voting early this morning. Each state delegation casts its votes separately, usually in the respective state capitol buildings. The New York just voted a few minutes ago, bringing the totals so far today to Biden 161, STBXPOTUS 158. California votes late in the day, so once again it may seem like it's close but it really isn't.

In just a few hours, Joe Biden will officially be the President-Elect of the United States. The House and Senate will count the votes in a joint session on January 6th, and Joe Biden will take office as the 46th President of the United States on January 20th.

Now, if we can just get the STBXPOTUS to shut up, we might have a happier transition.

How to talk to irrational people

I'm not good at it, personally. But NBC News has some advice they've titled "How to talk to your friends and family about Covid, vaccines and wearing masks:"

“You always want to offer your empathy first,” said Amy Pisani, executive director of Vaccinate Your Family, the nation’s largest nonprofit organization dedicated to vaccine advocacy. “If they have a personal story, start with your shared values.”

Steven Taylor, a clinical psychologist and professor at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, said that confrontation is particularly doomed to failure when talking to people who have fallen down conspiracy rabbit holes.

“Many conspiracy theorists score high in a trait called psychological reactance, which, to put it simply, is like an allergic reaction to being told what to do,” Taylor said. “We have to think of messages that don’t trigger that psychological reactance.”

Rather, it may be more effective to find non-confrontational ways to appeal to people that don’t overtly challenge their sense of self or freedom — a concept that Taylor refers to as introducing “behavioral nudges.” Instead of harping on the scientifically proven benefits of wearing a mask, for instance, people could try to convince friends and family to don face coverings for the good of their community.

Sander van der Linden, a social psychologist at the University of Cambridge in the U.K., said the emergence of conspiracy theories in times of upheaval has been well-documented throughout history.

“What you often see is that in times of uncertainty — whether it’s political uncertainty, economic uncertainty or social uncertainty — there’s a surge in conspiracy theories,” van der Linden said.

And that’s cause for real concern. Van der Linden’s research has shown that people who believe misinformation about the coronavirus are less likely to wear masks or get vaccinated, which makes it critical at this juncture of the pandemic to try to engage, rather than ignore, skeptical loved ones.

In times of extreme stress, we become apes, in other words. Yet somehow, we'll get through this.

Wishful thinking from New Republic

I mean, more than usual. In our delusional fading days of empire, Kyle Edward Williams states the obvious:

[I]t’s worth pondering just how close we came to a hostile private sector takeover of the American political tradition. Modern America has long been infatuated with the transcendental wisdom ascribed to business sense, so it’s something of an oddity that the U.S. has not elected more businesspeople to the high office, even if many have tried. Indeed, it’s never really been the case that America has exhibited total deference to business leadership.

In recent years, presidential candidates have made their business experience an important part of their pitch to the American voter. George W. Bush had a less-than-stellar career as an oil and gas executive, and his first major business success came from a lucrative deal with a group of wealthy family friends that made him managing general partner of the Texas Rangers, but he was still the first president to have an MBA—and his came from Harvard Business School. Time called Bush the “CEO president,” though one suspects that he might have been happier (and almost certainly more effective) as the commissioner of Major League Baseball.

[T]his election may prove to be a turning point in our political discourse. Not just because of Biden’s victory but also because of Trump’s unrelenting attacks on scientific experts, civil servants, and public institutions of almost all kinds, Americans have rallied around the ideal of public service. In the days after November 3, postal workers received standing ovations in the streets of America’s major cities. People wear Anthony Fauci T-shirts. Such displays may strike us as cringeworthy in certain ways—it’s not the point of public service to court mass adulation, after all. But at another level, they’re also a healthy and long-overdue celebration of the real good that democratic institutions can do. A Biden presidency stands poised to rehabilitate the public servant and to put to rest, at least for a time, the myth of the omnicompetent business reformer.

Well, sure. Except the exact people who supported the STBXPOTUS also think he knew how to run a business.

Floating holiday: achievement unlocked

My company gives us the usual American holidays off, and adds two "floating holidays" you can take whenever you want. I took my first one in January and just remembered last week that I hadn't taken the second one. So I took it today. Which gave me some time to read a bunch of things:

Finally, the list I posted Wednesday needs an update. In October 1918, influenza killed 195,000 Americans, or an average of 6,290 per day. So clearly most of that month set records well above the records we set this week.

Iceberg the size of Delaware about to hit island the size of Delaware

Iceberg A-68a broke off from Antarctica's Larsen Ice Shelf in September 2017. It has drifted more or less intact since then, and later this month will very likely hit South Georgia Island in the south Atlantic:

[UK] Government officials have been tracking the 4,200-square-km iceberg closely with the help of the British Royal Air Force, who conducted a reconnaissance mission over the iceberg capturing photos and videos of the large mass.

“The sheer size of the A68a iceberg means it is impossible to capture its entirety in one single shot,” British officials said in a statement.

As of now, the iceberg is just 150 kilometers from the territory, according to BBC News. If it does collide with South Georgia Island scientists warn that it could threaten the wildlife ecosystem and animals' access to food. A large number of whales, seals, and penguins feed off the coast of South Georgia.

This NASA photo from November 5th shows the berg about 200 km from where it is today:

South Georgia Island is a British overseas territory.

Chicago to provide free Covid-19 vaccinations

The city's plan would vaccinate every adult who lives or works in Chicago in 2021:

Initial vaccine doses will be sent to all 34 hospitals in Chicago, city officials said. Health care workers who treat COVID-19 patients or are at high risk for coronavirus spread will be first to receive it, city officials said.

After health care workers, vaccines will be prioritized for a broad group of people including residents and staff at long-term care facilities, individuals at high risk due to underlying medical conditions, people who are 65 and older, and workers in “essential and critical industries.”

Much of the situation remains in flux, officials said, but the city is working through its plans while awaiting federal guidance and vaccines. As the vaccine becomes more widely available, the city will rely on providers including doctors’ offices, pharmacies, federally qualified health centers and hospitals to help distribute doses.

To help ensure equitable access for Chicago residents, the city also will be using centralized sites such as some City Colleges as mass vaccination sites aimed at health care workers who aren’t based in hospitals, [public health Commissioner Dr. Allison] Arwady said.

Vaccines won’t be mandatory for residents, Arwady said, but as the vaccine rolls out further, she anticipates that some industries such as airlines might begin requiring customers to get vaccinated. She said the city will also be encouraging residents to get vaccinated.

“My goal is to really have done the work to build some of that trust so that this is something that people are feeling excited about as opposed to being a major point of discussion,” she said.

We're finally seeing a light at the end of the tunnel. But if people keep behaving like spoiled children, we'll all have trouble getting to it.

There's a meme going around

I saw a slightly-inaccurate version of this on Facebook and corrected it.

Here's a list of the most single day, single cause deaths in American history, through yesterday today. See if you can spot the pattern:

  1. Galveston hurricane, 9 Sep 1900 (~6,000)
  2. Battle of Antietam, 18 Sep 1862 (3,652)
  3. Puerto Rico hurricane, 7 Aug 1899 (3,389)
  4. SF earthquake, 18 Apr 1906 (~3,100)
  5. Covid-19, 9 Dec 2020 (3,011)
  6. Terrorist attacks, 11 Sep 2001 (2,996)
  7. Covid-19, 3 Dec 2020 (2,861)
  8. Okeechobee hurricane, 17 Sep 1928 (~2,800)
  9. Covid-19, 2 Dec 2020 (2,762)
  10. Covid-19, 8 Dec 2020 (2,566)
  11. Pearl Harbor, 7 Dec 1941 (2,467)
  12. Covid-19, 1 Dec 2020 (2,461)
  13. Covid-19, 4 Dec 2020 (2,439)
  14. Covid-19, 5 Dec 2020 (2,310)

More important is that the only disaster to kill more Americans on an annualized basis than Covid-19 is the 1918-1919 flu, and it's a very close number (about 300,000 deaths per year attributable to each). As the winter goes on and Covid-19 deaths increase, I expect it will surpass the 1918 flu on that basis.

But no disaster has killed more Americans than HIV/AIDS, except smallpox, depending on when you start counting.

Data from CDC.

Fridge update

The fridge that the previous residents of my house paid $4,000 for has sat quiet and warm since noon. Around 6pm I checked under the freezer drawer to see if anything had thawed out and discovered a centimeter-thick layer of ice on the bottom of the freezer. Actually, by 6pm it was more like a 5 mm layer of ice floating on 5 mm of water. Fifteen minutes and two towels later I managed to get most of the ice into the sink and most of the water out of the freezer. But wow, scraping a half-liter of rime ice from your freezer is not fun.

I can't even guess how long condensation has been pooling there. Obviously there's something else wrong with the freezer. And I have a working hypothesis.

According to the repair guys, if the freezer thermostat gets too frosty, it won't trigger the defrosting heaters that remove condensation from the freezer. The heaters being off would also allow the condensation drain to freeze shut, so even if they did turn on, the water might not have anywhere to go. And the reason this happens with the windows open could be simply that the warmer outside air contains more moisture, which causes more condensation, freezing the thermostat, and starting the downward spiral of events culminating in me fantasizing about dropping the whole unit onto the KitchenAid design offices from a helicopter.

Modern "conveniences" (personal and annoyed)

For the third time in a year, my refrigerator—a KitchenAid KRMF706ESS01, which came with my house and which cost the previous owners north of $3,500—iced up and stopped working. By "stopped working" I mean that the refrigerator section leveled off at 6°C and the freezer part at -4°C and wouldn't get cooler. By "iced up" I mean that the thermostats controlling the fridge and freezer sections ice over, preventing them from accurately sensing temperatures. Apparently this model has a problem with this issue.

The damage isn't so bad. I'll be throwing away some bread, some unopened lox which spent more than 12 hours at an unsafe temperature, and perhaps a frozen dinner or two. I make sure that my home-cooked leftovers go into sealed Ball jars at 70°C or hotter, so they're fine for weeks at refrigerator temperatures. And it's 2°C outside today, though that may go up to 10°C tomorrow. I may lose a bottle of cream and possibly some lunch meat, but the cheese will survive.

The repair guys who stopped by a while ago said they see this all the time with computer-controlled refrigerators. In fact, one of them came by in April and replaced the freezer thermostat, so he didn't seem surprised at all to see me again. His partner, an older guy who has seen everything, told me flat out that newer refrigerators break a lot sooner than older ones, because of their computer controls.

It's also not the last time the thing started behaving badly. In June, and again in September, when I spent days in a row with the windows open, the freezer would go up to maybe -10°C for a day before going back down to its normal -18°C. Or the ice maker would stop working. Or the water line would freeze up. But it almost always self-corrected, until this weekend.

Consumer Reports gives this model 5/5 for temperature control and 3/5 for predicted reliability. (Only LG gets 4/5 for predicted reliability, so maybe the old guy was right.) In fact, the reviews for this model don't inspire confidence. "Best use: to meet a repairman." "The dealer from whom I purchased it said he is getting an ever increasing number of service calls on it." "We have had a repair man in our house at least 5 times to fix it. If it wasn't the ice maker broken, it was the compressor, then the thermostat." I'd have to agree. If I have any more problems with this fridge after today's 24-hour defrost cycle, then I'm going to take it out back and shoot it. A new LG side-by-side fridge that has a lower chance of breaking and costs significantly less might be the answer I'm looking for. I just don't want to spend the money.

I recognize this as a problem that most people throughout history would have welcomed, given that refrigeration only goes back about 150 years. It's still frustrating as fuck. But I'm happy not to eat mammoth jerky for six months straight.