From our local television station, WGN-TV, an amazing video of ice breaking up on Lake Michigan this past Sunday and Monday:
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.)
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.
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.
Extreme cold and winter weather slammed Texas over the weekend, dropping temperatures to -9°C in Houston and causing snow in Galveston. But Texas politics has made the situation far, far worse as power failures have affected a quarter of all Texans:
As this map makes obvious, politics seems to have caused the worst of it. The right-wing Republican government of Texas slashed regulations and even disconnected Texas from the National Grid to avoid Federal rules. And now, the poorest and hardest-hit in the state are being charged extortionate rates for what little electricity the state can produce:
Until recently, the average price for electricity in Texas was a bit more than 12 cents per kilowatt-hour, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Even before the storm's full effects were felt, Griddy warned its customers on Friday that prices rose to an average of around 30 cents per kilowatt-hour. Things got even worse over the weekend and the Presidents Day holiday.
With demand high and market pressures raising costs, wholesale power prices "were more than $9,000 per megawatt hour late Monday morning, compared with pre-storm prices of less than $50 per megawatt hour," Reuters reported.
While Republican Texas Governor Greg Abbott calls for an investigation into the regulatory body that his own party created, conservative trolls have tried to deflect their own malfeasance by claiming the renewable energy producers in Texas have failed, even though (a) only 10% of Texas electricity comes from renewables and (b) the renewable sources have actually increased their output to meet the new demand after the storm.
To put it bluntly, government policies favoring wealthy white men in Texas caused this entirely preventable, and entirely predictable, catastrophe. And, equally as predictable, the people most responsible for endangering the lives of their state's poorer and browner citizens have tried to blame everyone except themselves for it.
Meanwhile, about 10% of Oregon's residents went without electricity after a massive ice storm knocked out power lines and equipment throughout the Willamette Valley, resulting in the largest power outage in the state's history. Unlike the situation in Texas, this will not result in predatory pricing or people starving to death, because Oregon has a functioning government.
The Daily WTF today takes us back to one of the worst software bugs in history, in terms of human lives ruined or lost:
The ETCC incident was not the first, and sadly was not the last malfunction of the Therac-25 system. Between June 1985 and July 1987, there were six accidents involving the Therac-25, manufactured by Atomic Energy Canada Limited (AECL). Each was a severe radiation overdose, which resulted in serious injuries, maimings, and deaths.
As the first incidents started to appear, no one was entirely certain what was happening. Radiation poisoning is hard to diagnose, especially if you don't expect it. As with the ETCC incident, the machine reported an underdose despite overdosing the patient. Hospital physicists even contacted AECL when they suspected an overdose, only to be told such a thing was impossible.
With AECL's continued failure to explain how to test their device, it should be clear that the problem was a systemic one. It doesn't matter how good your software developer is; software quality doesn't appear because you have good developers. It's the end result of a process, and that process informs both your software development practices, but also your testing. Your management. Even your sales and servicing.
While the incidents at the ETCC finally drove changes, they weren't the first incidents. Hospital physicists had already reported problems to AECL. At least one patient had already initiated a lawsuit. But that information didn't propagate through the organization; no one put those pieces together to recognize that the device was faulty.
On this site, we joke a lot at the expense of the Paula Beans and Roys of this world. But no matter how incompetent, no matter how reckless, no matter how ignorant the antagonist of a TDWTF article may be, they're part of a system, and that system put them in that position.
TDWTF's write-up includes a link to a far more thorough report. It's horrifying.