The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

One year later

The first official Covid-19 death in the US happened on 29 February 2020, 508,949 deaths ago. On Weekend Edition Sunday this morning, NPR talked to a few people about when they realized things had changed. (I realized it on March 12th, when our dress rehearsal for Bach's Johannespassion became our only performance of the work when the venue voted to close while we were rehearsing. At least we got a good recording of it. [I can't link to the video because of music union rules.])

Things continue to improve, though. US regulators Friday cleared the Johnson & Johnson vaccine for general use:

The FDA said J&J’s vaccine offers strong protection against what matters most: serious illness, hospitalizations and death. One dose was 85% protective against the most severe COVID-19 illness, in a massive study that spanned three continents — protection that remained strong even in countries such as South Africa, where the variants of most concern are spreading.

J&J initially is providing a few million doses and shipments to states could begin as early as Monday. By the end of March, J&J has said it expects to deliver 20 million doses to the U.S., and 100 million by summer.

J&J also is seeking authorization for emergency use of its vaccine in Europe and from the World Health Organization. The company aims to produce about 1 billion doses globally by the end of the year. On Thursday, the island nation of Bahrain became the first to clear its use.

“This is exciting news for all Americans, and an encouraging development in our efforts to bring an end to the crisis,” President Joe Biden said in a statement. “But I want to be clear: this fight is far from over,” he added, encouraging people to stick with masks and other public health measures.

Meanwhile, Dr Anthony Fauci urges everyone to get whatever vaccine they can, when they can:

In an interview with "Meet the Press," Fauci said that he would take any of the three approved vaccines — from Moderna, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson — because all provide strong protection from severe disease related to the coronavirus. As director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Fauci was vaccinated late last year amid an early push to inspire confidence in the vaccine rollout.

“All three of them are really quite good, and people should take the one that's most available to them,” he said.

"If you go to a place and you have J&J, and that's the one that's available now, I would take it. I personally would do the same thing. I think people need to get vaccinated as quickly and as expeditiously as possible.”

We might not have a completely-normal summer, but if we "keep our foot on the accelerator," as Dr Fauci urges, we can have a completely-normal autumn.

Last weekday of the winter

I get to turn off and put away my work laptop in a little bit in preparation for heading back to the office on Monday morning. I can scarcely wait. 

Meanwhile, I've got a few things to read:

OK, one more work task this month, then...I've got some other stuff to do.

Good morning!

Now in our 46th hour above freezing, with the sun singing, the birds coming up, and the crocuses not doing anything noteworthy, it feels like spring. We even halted our march up the league table in most consecutive days of more than 27.5 cm of snow on the ground, tying the record set in 2001 at 25 days. (Only 25 cm remained at 6am, and I would guess a third of that will melt by noon.)

So, what else is going on in the world?

And now, back to work.

About time we learned something

As the night follows the day, now that Republicans have lost power they're once again all a-flutter about deficits. This time, Democrats aren't having it:

Twelve years ago, Barack Obama entered the White House amid somewhat similar circumstances: The economy was in a tailspin; stimulus and relief were desperately needed. His administration spent weeks watering down a bill that was more aimed at winning Republican support than adequately filling the yawning hole in the economy: The bill’s bottom-line figure was kept below $1 trillion so as not to spook the deficit hawks, and much of the relief it did include was engineered to flow into the gap with such subtlety that it was destined to be barely felt at all.

For all of Obama’s entreaties to his political opponents, Republicans rejected it anyway. They were rewarded for all that intransigence first with a big opinion swing against the stimulus and then by a wave election that took back control of the House of Representatives in 2010.

Despite all that has happened between January 2009 and February 2021, Republicans are running the same plays: fighting against economic relief in the hopes that they can use the immiseration that would follow for their political benefit.

But this is not 2009. The situation may be vaguely similar—an economic crash following catastrophic Republican governance—but the world has changed a great deal. The Black-Eyed Peas have faded toward irrelevance; most people now acknowledge that The Curious Case of Benjamin Button was bad. And the attacks on Democratic spending have lost some of their spicy tang after another deficit-busting GOP administration.

The media also seems to have learned some lessons from the radicalization of the GOP. Once, a lack of opposition votes was a scandal in miniature. In 2009, McConnell was able to weaponize that idea, pushing the Obama administration to downgrade its asks without ever having to give anything up in return. McConnell got cover from media luminaries such as David Broder, who approvingly cited Obama’s bipartisan yearnings: “The president has told visitors that he would rather have 70 votes in the Senate for a bill that gives him 85 percent of what he wants rather than a 100 percent satisfactory bill that passes 52 to 48.” It’s taken a while—and a deadly pandemic—but many in the often fabulously naïve Beltway press have gotten smarter. Now the narrative is increasingly centered on McConnell’s intransigence, rather than some failure on the part of Democrats to persuade Republicans to vote for legislation that would have been bipartisan not that long ago.

Right. It only took a Republican administration's incompetence allowing mass death from a pandemic to finally—finally!—get people understand they have no interest in governing.

Might we soon enter a truly progressive era in American politics? It's about damn time if we do.

500,000

Yesterday, the United States officially passed half a million Covid-19 deaths, more than a week before the first anniversary of the first official death:

If 500,000 passengers traveled by bus …

An average motor coach — the kind of bus you would take from one city to another — holds 50 people. Transporting only the number of people who died last month would require dozens of buses.

In January, the deadliest month of the pandemic, an average of 3,100 people died every day of covid-19. A caravan of buses containing that many passengers would span more than half a mile.

National Geographic also has a set of visualizations. More from the Times and Post, including President Biden's address today.

The ossification of right-wing "constitutional originalists"

Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-CO) Tweeted yesterday morning, "Protecting and defending the Constitution doesn’t mean trying to rewrite the parts you don’t like." Josh Marshall wasted no time taking her to school:

Who's gonna tell her?

There's a worthwhile point that we can draw out of this otherwise useless dumbshittery. Folks on the right who stile themselves "constitutional conservatives" generally know next to nothing about the constitution and treat it as a kind of go to unicorn to validate what they want to be true.

But even to the extent some have a decent understanding of the original document, or even the original with the first batch of amendments, there is a strong implicit and sometimes explicitly assumption that the "real" constitution is what we might call the first edition. But of course it's not.

The system was designed with a roadmap and set of rules for revision built in. Toward the end of his life Justice Thurgood Marshall gave a speech in which he said the original constitution was a morally defective document which has no claim on anyone's allegiance today. It's only with the Civil War Amendments (13-15) that the American republic and its foundational document assume any moral force and claim on a patriotic allegiance today.

To the extent there are 'founders' in whose house we currently live, who have a claim on us over the centuries it's the founders of this second republic, the authors of Reconstruction.

In other words, how can you claim to love the Constitution but pretend Article V doesn't exist?

More winter photos

If the forecast holds, today will be the 15th of 16 straight days of below-freezing temperatures, and the 19th consecutive day with 30+ centimeters of snow on the ground. On Sunday, though the temperature will just barely break the freezing point (1°C predicted), this winter will move from 5th to 4th place in history on that last statistic. Officially O'Hare has 46 cm of snow right now, and until Tuesday's predicted mostly-sunny 6°C, not a lot of that will melt. (The last time we had this much snow on the ground for three weeks was the 25-day period ending 12 January 2001, which sounds impressive until you realize I remember very clearly the 46-day stretch of 30+ centimeters of snow that ended 28 February 1979.)

It has some aesthetic appeal, though:

And then we have this, along the north wall of my apartment building (and thus never to get direct sunlight), the result of 40 centimeters of snow on the roof:

So, if you do a little math, 40 cm of snow * 102 square meters of roof served by that downspout = 41 cubic meters of snow, which at 10:1 water content makes 4.1 cubic meters (yes, that's 4.1 tons, or 4,100 liters). If only one centimeter of snow melts, 410 liters of water will cascade off the roof, and if it's -19°C, it'll re-freeze on its way down. Multiply this times all the roofs in Chicago and you get more than a few collapses. (This is our biennial reminder that the developer who converted our building into condos back in 1996 may have skimped a little on insulation between the top-floor units and the roof.)

And I hate Ted Cruz

The junior US Senator from Texas, Republican Ted Cruz, has demonstrated a particular unfitness for office this week:

Nero fiddled while Rome burned; Ted Cruz jetted to Cancún. And although the emperor was at least ensconced in a lavish, louche palace, the senator from Texas was stuck in economy class with the peasantry.

Cruz’s appeal as a politician, such as it is, has never been about being lovable or relatable, but the latest incident is embarrassing even by his standards. He was spotted on a flight to Mexico yesterday, amid a catastrophic storm that has left Texans without power, heat, and sometimes water, huddled in freezing homes and community centers as the state’s electrical grid verges on collapse. More than a dozen of his constituents have already died. Cruz is headed home today—if not necessarily chastened, at least eager to control the damage. In a statement, he said he took the trip at his daughters’ behest. Blaming your children is a curious tack for an embattled politician, but he doesn’t have much else to work with.

It is tempting to turn the “hypocrite” label on Cruz, but his sin is worse. Every politician is a hypocrite at some point. Cruz’s error is not that he was shirking a duty he knew he should have been performing. It’s that he couldn’t think of any way he could use his power as a U.S. senator to help Texans in need. That’s a failure of imagination and of political ideology.

Cruz’s callousness about his constituents’ suffering is not just morally appalling. It is also—and this probably weighs more heavily on Cruz—politically dangerous. There’s growing evidence that even Republicans drifted toward a larger role for government in the Donald Trump era.

In related news, former US Senator Al Franken (D-MN) reports on Facebook that his "And I Hate Ted Cruz" coffee mugs are flying off the shelves today.

Reminder from OneDrive

Microsoft has started sending little reminders of things that happened "on this day," no doubt taking cues from Google Timeline and Facebook Memories. But I did enjoy getting a reminder that I took this photo 14 years ago this morning:


Parker at Bardwell Park, Evanston, Ill., 18 February 2007.

It'll be 3 months tomorrow. I do miss him.