The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Cassie

I seem to have a new addition to my family:

The jumping-into-the-front-seat thing will not happen again, however. We're getting a car harness tomorrow.

Updates as conditions warrant.

What is normal, really?

Well, if you're a climatologist, it's a calculated value based on a 30-year period, updated every 10 years. And the 19991-2020 climate normals for the US will come out this May. Meanwhile, the National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI) has released some teaser images:

NOAA senior science writer Rebecca Lindsey explains:

These images are a sneak peak at how the new normals for winter temperature (top) and precipitation (bottom) are different from the current normals, which cover 1981-2010. Consistent with the long-term warming trend, winter is warmer across most of the contiguous United States, but the amount of warming ranges from nearly 0.0 (light pink) to 1.5 degrees [Fahrenheit] (darker pink) Fahrenheit depending on the location. There are even a few small areas of the Northern Plains where the normal winter temperature for 1991-2020 is slightly cooler than the 1981-2010 normal (light blue).

There’s a lot more variation in the changes in winter precipitation, which includes both rain and snow. The map shows the percent difference in normal winter precipitation in the new normal versus the old normals. The Northern Plains and Upper Midwest have seen the biggest percent increases in normal winter precipitation, while the biggest percent decreases occurred in the Southwest and Southern Plains, including Colorado’s Eastern Plains. (In absolute terms, these changes are equivalent to only fractions of an inch of liquid water because these locations are normally quite dry during the winter.)

Having seen other preliminary data, I expect that the December temperature normals will be the most surprising. Also, NCEI will prepare a second full set of 15-year normals covering 2006-2020 as well. It wasn't reported whether NCEI will produce 15-year normals on a 5-year schedule, however.

The clocks! The clocks!

Most parts of the US and Canada entered daylight saving time overnight, spurring the annual calls for changing the practice:

The so-called "Sunshine Protection Act of 2021" was reintroduced Tuesday by U.S. Senators Marco Rubio, R-Florida; James Lankford, R-Oklahoma; Roy Blunt, R-Missouri; Sheldon Whitehouse, D-Rhode Island; Ron Wyden, D-Oregon; Cindy Hyde-Smith, R-Mississippi; Rick Scott, R-Florida; and Ed Markey, D-Massachusetts.  

In 2018, Florida passed legislation to keep DST, but a federal statue is require for the state to enact the change, according to a press release from Rubio.

The "Sunshine Protection Act of 2021" would apply to states who participate in DST by negating Standard Time, which only lasts between November to March, when Americans turn their clocks back one hour.

Of course, as one would expect from Marco Rubio and the august institution he serves in, abolishing daylight saving time fixes the problem exactly the wrong way. Permanent DST would lead to dark winter mornings for no real benefit winter evenings. Abolishing it makes a lot more sense. Cartographer Andy Woodruff built an app to demonstrate why. Simply, if you like the idea of 8:20 am sunrises in Chicago—which means 9:15 am sunrises in western Michigan—then make DST permanent. I say no.

Wall clock time doesn't really matter, anyway. The world runs on UTC.

Update: I forgot to include Binyamin Applebaum's op-ed in the Times from Friday, exhorting us to "learn[] to love daylight saving time."

Those were the days...

This photo came up in my Facebook memories this morning:

This struck me for a few reasons. First, as I noted when I posted it on Facebook the morning of 13 March 2017, we hadn't gotten any snow for almost three months that winter. No snow in January; no snow in February; no snow the first 12 days of March; then this crap.

Second, four years later, Metra still hasn't finished constructing the new inbound platform at the Ravenswood station. Construction began in 2014. Then it stopped, partially because they needed to build a new inbound track between the new outbound track and the old inbound track, which meant they had to replace all the inbound bridges from Grace to Winnemac. But all of that construction halted in early 2015 when then-governor Bruce Rauner (R-of course) stopped spending state money. So we've had to endure five winters from the inbound platform's projected completion in fall 2015 until now out of an ideological tantrum by one of the best examples of how business CEOs make terrible politicians. Construction finally resumed, uncoincidentally just after governor JB Pritzker (D) took office, and we should have a new platform this summer.

Finally, look at all those people! A year ago this week, those crowds thinned out to nothing. When I went into the office yesterday, four people got on the train with me. A year ago, plus or minus a few days, Ravenswood had the third-largest passenger numbers of any station on Metra.

When shit got real

Has this really been a full year? March 11th and 12th seem to be the days when everyone realized this was not a drill. John Scalzi:

I was on the JoCo Cruise at the time and had intentionally avoided news up to that point, but then two things happened. One, people came up to me wanting to tell me about Tom Hanks contracting the COVID virus (people knew that I know him personally), and two, my editor Patrick sent me a cryptic email telling me that I should call him immediately. After reminding him I was on a cruise and the ocean does not have cell phone towers, he told me via email that my book tour was cancelled and that plague was everywhere. I gave in at that point and caught up with the news from the world, all bad.

Josh Marshall:

As evidenced by what I tweeted on March 10, 2020, our last day in the New York team’s Manhattan office, I and a lot of my colleagues didn’t expect this to last a full year and longer. We sipped some whiskey as we locked things down for what we expected to be a month or two away. We were naive to the severity. We didn’t expect the catastrophic loss or the debilitating fear or the deep ineptitude of the previous administration’s handling of the virus.

And me:

What an exciting 24 hours.

President Trump made a statement from the Oval Office last night about the COVID-19 pandemic that completely failed to reassure anyone, in part because it contained numerous errors and misstatements. By announcing a ban on travel from the Schengen area of 26 European countries that applies to non-US residents, he enraged our European allies while doing nothing to stop the spread of the virus for the simple reason that the virus has already spread to the US. Not to mention, having a US passport doesn't magically confer immunity on people.

Meanwhile, historian John Barry, who has written a book about the 1918 influenza pandemic, points out the grave dangers in giving up masks right now:

There is no reason to expect that this virus will suddenly turn into 1918. There are limits as to how far it can mutate. But the more people who abandon masks and social distancing, the more infections can be expected — and the more variants will emerge.

In gambling terms: If you roll the dice once, yes, there is only a 2.77 percent chance you will hit snake eyes. But if you roll the dice 100,000 times, it is virtually certain snake eyes will come up several thousand times.

We know masks decrease transmission. Lifting a masking order not only means more people will get sick and die. It also gives the virus more rolls of the dice. That is a fact.

We're close to the end of this tunnel. But what a long year we've had.

Joe's enormous package

President Biden just signed the largest relief bill in history:


Doug Mills/New York Times

President Joe Biden signed the $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief package into law Thursday, his first legislative achievement since taking office less than two months ago, a measure to infuse billions into the U.S. economy and bolster funding for vaccines, testing and school reopenings.

The package, which was unanimously opposed by Republicans in Congress, will also provide millions of Americans with $1,400 stimulus checks that are set to go out by the end of the month. The White House is planning a victory lap tomark the achievement with the president, First Lady Jill Biden, and Vice President Kamala Harris hitting the road next week.

The signing from the Oval Office comes just hours before Biden is set to mark one year of coronavirus pandemic shutdowns with his first prime-time address since taking office. The remarks are expected to both look back at the scale of loss over that time and peer ahead at a post-pandemic future.

The law provides immediate payments of $1,400 per person, including dependents, for individuals making less than $75,000 per year or families making less than $150,000; a $3,000 tax credit for every child under 18 ($3,600 under 6); subsidies for child-car costs; an expansion of the Affordable Care Act; and money for pensions, among many other provisions.

Remember when we thought Biden would be just, you know, OK? Or that the Democratic Party would once again cower in fear of the other guys yelling about bipartisanship and deficits?

Welcome to 2021.

Record temperature yesterday

Chicago got up to 21°C yesterday, tying the record for March 9th set in 1974. It's already 20°C right now, close to the record 22°C set in 1955.

In other news:

And now that I've finally gotten a .NET 5 application to deploy onto a Microsoft Azure Functions App, I will take a well-earned walk.

Ten years ago

This week in 2011 had a lot going on. Illinois governor Pat Quinn (D) signed legislation that abolished the death penalty in the state on March 9th, for starters. But the biggest story of 2011 happened just before midnight Chicago time on March 10th:

On March 11, 2011, Japan experienced the strongest earthquake in its recorded history. The earthquake struck below the North Pacific Ocean, 130 kilometers (81 miles) east of Sendai, the largest city in the Tohoku region, a northern part of the island of Honshu.

The Tohoku earthquake caused a tsunami. A tsunami—Japanese for “harbor wave”—is a series of powerful waves caused by the displacement of a large body of water. Most tsunamis, like the one that formed off Tohoku, are triggered by underwater tectonic activity, such as earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. The Tohoku tsunami produced waves up to 40 meters (132 feet) high,

More than 450,000 people became homeless as a result of the tsunami. More than 15,500 people died.

Of somewhat lesser importance, on this day in 1997, Buffy the Vampire Slayer premiered on The WB.

It does not seem like 10 (or 24) years ago.

Deaths in the news today

Three reports of deaths today, two of them institutional. First, the one with the most relevance to me personally, one of the people most responsible for my sense of humor, died yesterday at 91:

Norton Juster, the celebrated children’s author who has died at 91, stumbled into literature much as his most famous hero, Milo, stumbles into the marvelous world of wordplay and ad­ven­ture in the classic 1961 volume “The Phantom Tollbooth.” They were bored and entirely unsuspecting of the wonders that awaited them.

A budding architect with a self-confessed tendency to procrastinate, Mr. Juster was living in New York City and working — or not working — on a children’s book about cities. A Ford Foundation grant had given the project a degree of urgency. But it was not the book he wanted to write, and soon enough, he recalled years later, he was “waist-deep in stacks of 3-by-5 note cards, exhausted and dispirited.”

To pass the time, Mr. Juster began scribbling the story of Milo, a boy of about 9 or 10 years with no interest in the tedium of school or “learning to solve useless problems, or subtracting turnips from turnips, or knowing where Ethiopia is or how to spell February,” and who was as bewildered by the grown-up world as grown-ups were by him.

Only slightly less relevant to me, writer Jelani Cobb joins the crowd of people observing the death of the Republican Party:

The most widely debated political question of the moment is: What is happening to the Republicans? One answer is that the Party’s predicament might fairly be called the revenge of “the kooks.” In just four years, the G.O.P., a powerful, hundred-and-sixty-seven-year-old institution, has become the party of Donald Trump. He began his 2016 campaign by issuing racist and misogynistic salvos, and during his Presidency he gave cover to white supremacists, reactionary militia groups, and QAnon followers. Trump’s seizure of the Party’s leadership seemed a stunning achievement at first, but with time it seems more reasonable to ponder how he could possibly have failed. There were many preëxisting conditions, and Trump took advantage of them. The combination of a base stoked by a sensationalist right-wing media and the emergence of kook-adjacent figures in the so-called Gingrich Revolution, of 1994, and the Tea Party, have redefined the Party’s temper and its ideological boundaries. It is worth remembering that the first candidate to defeat Trump in a Republican primary in 2016 was Ted Cruz, who, by 2020, had long set aside his reservations about Trump, and was implicated in spurring the mob that attacked the Capitol.

One of the most telling developments of the 2020 contest was rarely discussed: in August, the Republican National Convention convened without presenting a new Party platform. The Convention was centered almost solely on Trump; the events, all of which took place at the White House, validated an increasing suspicion that Trump himself was the Republican platform. Practically speaking, the refusal to articulate concrete positions spared the Party the embarrassment of watching the President contradict them. In 2016, religious conservatives succeeded in getting an anti-pornography plank into the platform, only to be confronted by news of Trump’s extramarital affair with the adult-film performer Stormy Daniels. Now there would be no distinction between the Republican Party and the mendacity, bigotry, belligerence, misogyny, and narcissism of its singular representative.

In addition, the G.O.P.’s steady drift toward the right, from conservative to reactionary politics; its dependence on older, white voters; its reliance on right-wing media; its support for tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans; and its increasing disdain for democratic institutions and norms all portend increasing division and a diminishing pool of voters.

Large things die slowly, though, and the GOP's rot and sickness will pollute our civil discourse for years to come.

Another large, old thing that may not die for a couple more centuries has also let out a gangrenous burp this past week, when Harry Windsor and his wife Meghan unloaded on "the Firm" they recently quit. Leave it to an Irish writer (in this case Patrick Freyne) to sound exactly the right note:

Having a monarchy next door is a little like having a neighbour who’s really into clowns and has daubed their house with clown murals, displays clown dolls in each window and has an insatiable desire to hear about and discuss clown-related news stories. More specifically, for the Irish, it’s like having a neighbour who’s really into clowns and, also, your grandfather was murdered by a clown.

The most recent internecine struggle is between the royal family and a newly disentangled Prince Harry and his wife, the former actor Meghan Markle. Traditionally, us peasants would be nervously picking a side and retrieving our pikes from the thatch. Luckily, these days the pitched battles happen in television interviews.

Over the course of the interview Harry and Meghan, who are charming, clever and good at being celebrities, make the monarchy look like an archaic and endemically racist institution that has no place in the modern world. Well duh. And despite all the outrage you might read in the UK tabloids right now, they also did something else that renders everything else irrelevant: they officially launched themselves in the United States.

Harry and Meghan are ultimately going to win. Despite the tabloid frenzy, this was never the story of an ungrateful pauper being elevated by the monarchy. This was about the potential union of two great houses, the Windsors and Californian Celebrity. Only one of those things has a future, and it’s the one with the Netflix deal.

Well, OK, only one of those things has actually, permanently died. But I expect the other two will die before I do.