The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Gonna be a hot one

I've got a performance this evening that requires being on-site at the venue for most of the day. So in a few minutes I'll take two dogs to boarding (the houseguest is another performer's dog), get packed, an start heading to a hockey rink in another city. Fun! If I'm supremely lucky, I'll get back home before the storm.

Since I also have to travel to the venue, I'll have time to read a few of these:

Finally, the Post examined a Social Security Administration dataset yesterday that shows how baby names have converged on a few patterns in the last decade. If you think there are a lot of names ending in -son lately (Jason, Jackson, Mason, Grayson, Failson...), you're not wrong.

China launches overnight Beijing to Shanghai and Hong Kong service

Imagine an overnight train from New York to Miami that takes 12 hours. China just opened a $165 train that does about the same thing:

From Hong Kong to Beijing, the overnight trip takes 12 hours 30 minutes, and it covers roughly the same distance as a flight from New York to Miami or Los Angeles to Dallas. It complements the 8 hour 15 minute day train that has run for years.

The overnight trip to Shanghai takes 11 hours. The corresponding day train takes just 7 hours 47 minutes.

We can have similar rail lines and options, if we choose to. The Federal Railroad Administration has in fact published plans that call for HSR service between cities of similar (or longer) distances. For example, the Midwest Regional Rail Plan calls for high-speed trains between St. Paul and Nashville, while the Southeast Regional Rail Plan calls for high-speed trains between Nashville and Orlando.

Together, the plans would create a single HSR line of about 1,500 miles. So, a family in St. Paul could board a sleeper train in the evening and be at Orlando’s Disney World by mid-morning the next day—rested and ready to go, instead of stressed out from driving and poorer from a hotel stay.

I will grant two things that make this a difficult problem for the US: the fifth amendment and our psychotic relationship with cars. The first requires that the government provides just compensation for any property it takes, and buying the land to create a grade-separated high-speed rail line would not be cheap. China just kicks people off their land.

The second is that we've spent a century subsidizing cars and building our physical environment around cars, which prevents even reasonable people from understanding the basic economics behind highways. (Or, if you're the Chicago Tribune editorial board, the basic understanding of how traffic works.)

Still, it frustrates me to no end that we're not even discussing it.

In the early autumn I'm going to get on a train in London, change in Paris, and get off the train in Marseille, which will take about 7 hours, depending on how tight I want to make the connection between Gare du Nord and Gare de Lyon. I'll get to St Pancras about half an hour before the train, very likely from a hotel a few blocks away, and when I get off the train in Marseille, I'll have another walk of a block or two to that hotel. Contrast with my flight home from Marseille, which, including half an hour by transit to the Provence airport, customs, emigration in France and immigration into the UK, will take about the same length of time. And then I'll be at Heathrow, an hour from central London.

I once made it from central Richmond, Va., to a friend's apartment in Murray Hill, Manhattan, in just over 5 hours, door to door. So I know the US has the ability to build real high-speed trains. But will I ever see one in my lifetime?

Heat addles your brain

First, let me just say how lovely it was to wake up to this today, especially as we're mere minutes from the earliest solstice since the Washington administration:

My windows are open, and I no longer hate the world. Which, it turns out, is a perfectly normal response to high heat:

It turns out even young, healthy college students are affected by high temperatures. During the hottest days, the students in the un-air-conditioned dorms, where nighttime temperatures averaged [27°C], performed significantly worse on the tests they took every morning than the students with A.C., whose rooms stayed a pleasant [21°C].

R. Jisung Park, an environmental and labor economist at the University of Pennsylvania, looked at high school standardized test scores and found that they fell 0.2 percent for every degree above 72 Fahrenheit. That might not sound like a lot, but it can add up for students taking an exam in an un-air-conditioned room during a [32°C] heat wave.

Researchers don’t know why heat affects our cognition and emotions, but there are a couple of theories.

One is that the brain’s resources are being diverted to keep you cool, leaving less energy for everything else. “If you’re allocating all of the blood and all the glucose to parts of your brain that are focused on thermoregulation, it seems like it’s very plausible that you just wouldn’t have enough left for some of these kind of higher cognitive functions,” Dr. [Kimberly Meidenbauer, an assistant professor of psychology at Washington State University,] said.

Yesterday it was still above 31°C when I took Cassie for her last walk. Air conditioning plus a shower helped immensely.

All the (other) things!

As I mentioned after lunch, a lot of other things crossed my desk today than just wasted sushi:

Finally, Taylor Swift fans have roundly rejected Ticketmaster's monopolistic gouging by flying to Europe to catch the Eras Tour, often saving so much money on tickets that it pays for their travel. I personally know one such Swiftie who took her honeymoon in Stockholm, where Swift played earlier this year. It turns out, Europe has stricter rules against the kind of parasitic behavior Ticketmaster perpetrates on Americans.

Sushi, sushi, everywhere, and most goes in the dump

Heat makes me cranky. Even though I have good air conditioning, I also don't want to overdo it, so my home office is 25°C right now. Not too hot, but not what I would call super-comfortable. Still, it's cooler than the 37°C heat index that Cassie and I just spent 12 minutes walking in. Adding to the misery: both Chicago airports hit record high temperatures (36°C) yesterday.

The heat wave should break tomorrow night. Until then I'll continue slamming back water during the day and tonics with lime (minus the gin) in the evening. That's right: it's so damn hot, I don't even want a proper G&T. Maybe when it gets below 30°C.

Two things I read today dovetailed unexpectedly. The first, a speech Bruce Schneier gave to the RSA conference on 25 April 2023 and just posted this morning, suggests new ways of thinking about how democracy and AI can work together. A few minutes into the speech, Schneier sets up this critique of market economies:

[T]he cost of our market economy is enormous. For example, $780 billion is spent world-wide annually on advertising. Many more billions are wasted on ventures that fail. And that’s just a fraction of the total resources lost in a competitive market environment. And there are other collateral damages, which are spread non-uniformly across people.

We have accepted these costs of capitalism—and democracy—because the inefficiency of central planning was considered to be worse. That might not be true anymore. The costs of conflict have increased. And the costs of coordination have decreased. Corporations demonstrate that large centrally planned economic units can compete in today’s society. Think of Walmart or Amazon. If you compare GDP to market cap, Apple would be the eighth largest country on the planet. Microsoft would be the tenth.

Shortly after, I came across a BBC article rolling up just how much sushi gets wasted in Japan every day:

Every year on Setsubun, stores across the country stock a holiday sushi roll called ehomaki. At the end of the night, hundreds of thousands of these rolls wind up in the garbage. "Shops always provide what customers want, which means their shelves have to always be stocked," [Riko Morinaga, a recent high school graduate in Tokyo,] says. "This contributes to the food loss problem."

The exact size of the problem is difficult to quantify, because convenience store companies usually are not transparent about their losses. Representatives from 7-Eleven Japan and Lawson, two major chains, told BBC.com that they do not disclose the amount of food waste generated by their stores. Representatives from FamilyMart, another major chain, did not respond to interview requests, but the company indicates on its website that its stores generate 56,367 tonnes of food waste per day. In 2020, the Japan Fair Trade Commission estimated that Japan's major convenience store chains throw away on average 4.68m yen ($30,000; £24,000) of food per shop per year – equating to an approximate annual loss of more than 260bn yen (1.7bn; £1.3bn) in total.

Those numbers may seem fishy, but they represent a huge problem, not just in Japan, but everywhere that retailers feel they need to over-stock perishable food items.

I have a bunch more things queued up from earlier today that I'll link to in a bit. But first I have to stick my head in a bucked of ice water.

Definitely summer in Chicago

Cassie and I just got back from a short walk around the block. We did a 45-minute walk at 7:15, when we both could still tolerate the temperature, but just now my backyard thermometer shows a temperature of 33.1°C with a dewpoint of 23.3°C, which gives us a heat index of 38.5°C (101.4°F). Honestly, I prefer winter to this.

The National Weather Service predicts the heat wave could extend through the week.

Meanwhile, in the rest of the world:

Finally, author Edward Robert McClelland visited all 77 community areas in Chicago, and lived to write about it.

Truly a dog's life

Yesterday Cassie got to sample whatever she found on the ground at Ribfest, but she hoped for so much more:

And today, we spent an hour walking around St James Farm out in Suburbistan with one of her friends:

We're just about to head back to Ribfest for Day 2. I may not get to all the vendors this year, but I think I'll get to the good ones.

Authentic frontier gibberish

Tom Nichols says it's past time to quit disregarding the convicted-felon XPOTUS's disordered mental state:

For too long, Trump has gotten away with pretending that his emotional issues are just part of some offbeat New York charm or an expression of his enthusiasm for public performance. But Trump is obviously unfit—and something is profoundly wrong with a political environment in which he can now say almost anything, no matter how weird, and his comments will get a couple of days of coverage and then a shrug, as if to say: Another day, another Trump rant about sharks.

Sure, it seems funny—Haha! Uncle Don is telling that crazy shark story again!—until we remember that this man wants to return to a position where he would hold America’s secrets, be responsible for the execution of our laws, and preside as the commander in chief of the most powerful military in the world. A moment that seems like oddball humor should, in fact, terrify any American voter, because this behavior in anyone else would be an instant disqualification for any political office, let alone the presidency.

Worse, the people who once managed Trump’s cognitive and emotional issues are gone, never to return. A second Trump White House will be staffed with the bottom of the barrel—the opportunists and hangers-on willing to work for a reprehensible man. His Oval Office will be empty of responsible and experienced public servants if the day comes when someone has to explain to him why war might be about to erupt on the Korean peninsula or why the Russian or Chinese nuclear forces have gone on alert, and he starts talking about frying sharks with boat batteries.

The 45th president is deeply unwell. It is long past time for Americans, including those in public life, to recognize his inability to serve as the 47th.

I mean, who said it better, the convicted-felon XPOTUS, or Gabby Johnson?

Sure, they get a party

Dignitaries and Metra executives celebrated the opening of the Peterson-Ridge station on the UP-North line this past Sunday:

Hopefully West Ridge, Edgewater, and Lincoln Square residents remembered that patience is a virtue, as they waited for more than ten years for Metra's new Peterson/Ridge station, 1780 W. Peterson Ave., to serve their communities. The commuter railroad, elected officials, and neighbors rejoiced over the completion of the Union Pacific North line stop, which opened on May 20, with an official ribbon-cutting ceremony this morning.

The $27.8 million project included a pair of new six-car platforms; heated concrete stairs and wheelchair ramps; a warming house; two shelters; an access drive; and lots of car and bicycle parking. It was bankrolled with $15 million from the state's Rebuild Illinois capital program, with the remainder of the cash coming from the Federal Transit Administration.

The new station was discussed for over a decade, and took more than two-and-a-half years to construct. That was about a year longer than planned, and the project cost roughly $5 million more than expected, according to a Tribune report last month by Sarah Freishtat.

"I'm glad it's finally done!" local alder Andre Vasquez (40th) told Streetsblog this morning. "This was like, I wouldn't say a CTA-level delay, but it's completed, so that's awesome... We kind of showed up on the last leg of it. [Ald. Vasquez took office last year.] During the [Governor Bruce] Rauner era there were funding challenges."

Just 3 km south, the Ravenswood station—my damn station—took more than 12 years to rebuild because of "Rauner era funding challenges." When it finally opened almost a year ago, did we get a fancy ribbon-cutting? No. Did politicians show up and give speeches? Nope. Did anyone even mention it before, one day, they cordoned off the 10-year-old "temporary" platform? Guess again.

Ravenswood, by the way, was the busiest station on the UP-N and the 3rd-busiest overall just before the pandemic. Ridge-Peterson never existed before, though trains used to stop at the Rosehill Cemetery gate two blocks south and at Granville, a block north, until 1958. (A 1955 schedule I saw showed a 40-minute travel time between Ravenswood and the Loop. It's now 16-18 minutes.)

RIP Carmen Sancicada (2007-2024)

I had a dentist appointment up in Hubbard Woods this morning, so I took half a day off and had a relaxing walk through Winnetka. And as on Sunday, I encountered a lot of cicadas.

I found one attached to my bag as I boarded the train back to the Loop:

She* tried wandering off the bag in various directions, which prompted me to help her out from time to time. She could not get a grip, mentally or physically, on the outer surface of my bag, nor on the vinyl seats or metal frame of the train car. By the time we got to downtown Chicago, she had gone about 2,000 times farther than she ever would have gone without bumping into me (unless the wind or an animal gives them a push, cicadas live and die within about 15 meters of where they emerge), and she was thoroughly exhausted. I suspect she was already exhausted when she attached herself to my bag, though.

She finally stopped trying to go somewhere and remained attached to my bag as I got off the train:

Alas, when I stopped to get another selfie with her by the schedule board, she was gone. I infer she jumped or fell off my bag onto the platform, and with all the people getting off the train, I further infer that she remains on the platform still, albeit a lot thinner and a lot less alive.

Poor thing. I hope she at least enjoyed the adventure, and that she died quickly and painlessly. I suspect, however, she spent the last hour of her life completely bewildered.

* Female cicadas have pointy abdomens, while male cicadas have buzzing plates on the thorax. Also, male cicadas tend to buzz when you pick them up; females don't.