The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

A century ago, in Kansas...

...the 1918-19 influenza pandemic began. Historian John M Barry studied the outbreak, summarizing his findings in a 2017 Smithsonian Magazine article that did nothing to help me feel more comfortable about our present circumstances:

At its worst, the epidemic in Philadelphia would kill 759 people...in one day. Priests drove horse-drawn carts down city streets, calling upon residents to bring out their dead; many were buried in mass graves. More than 12,000 Philadelphians died—nearly all of them in six weeks.

Across the country, public officials were lying. U.S. Surgeon General Rupert Blue said, “There is no cause for alarm if precautions are observed.” New York City’s public health director declared “other bronchial diseases and not the so-called Spanish influenza...[caused] the illness of the majority of persons who were reported ill with influenza.” The Los Angeles public health chief said, “If ordinary precautions are observed there is no cause for alarm.”

For an example of the press’s failure, consider Arkansas. Over a four-day period in October, the hospital at Camp Pike admitted 8,000 soldiers. Francis Blake, a member of the Army’s special pneumonia unit, described the scene: “Every corridor and there are miles of them with double rows of cots ...with influenza patients...There is only death and destruction.” Yet seven miles away in Little Rock, a headline in the Gazette pretended yawns: “Spanish influenza is plain la grippe—same old fever and chills.”

People knew this was not the same old thing, though. They knew because the numbers were staggering—in San Antonio, 53 percent of the population got sick with influenza. They knew because victims could die within hours of the first symptoms—horrific symptoms, not just aches and cyanosis but also a foamy blood coughed up from the lungs, and bleeding from the nose, ears and even eyes. And people knew because towns and cities ran out of coffins.

People could believe nothing they were being told, so they feared everything, particularly the unknown. How long would it last? How many would it kill? Who would it kill? With the truth buried, morale collapsed. Society itself began to disintegrate.

Time and time again, we see that public officials lying or minimizing imminent threats makes the results worse. Time and time again, they lie or minimize imminent threats.

Good thing Mike Pence is on the job today. It's not like he ever lied and minimized an imminent health threat, causing loss of life that his government could easily have prevented.

CO2 like you've never seen it before

New research shows that global CO2 levels will likely hit 417 ppm this year, the highest ever in human history, and a level not seen since the oceans were 20 m higher:

This year's rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide is expected to be 10 percent higher than normal, according to University of Exeter geography professor Richard Betts, head of the climate impacts division at the Meteorological Office, the U.K.'s national weather service. About 1 percent to 2 percent of the increase will come fromAustralia's devastating wildfire season, [said Martin Siegert, co-director of the Grantham Institute at Imperial College London].

Australia's historic fires, which raged from September through early February, are thought to have unleashed about 900 million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

When the planet last had an atmosphere that mirrored today's chemical makeup, Earth was in the midst of the Pliocene Epoch. During that geologic period, which lasted from about 5.3 million to 2.6 million years ago, humans had yet to appear on the planet, and average sea levels were up to 20 m higher than they are today. Global average temperatures were also around 3°C warmer, with temperatures at the poles likely double that, according to Siegert.

Well, here in Chicago, we're 183 m above sea level. If we were 163 m above sea level it would take us a lot less time to get to the Mississippi Delta by Vicksburg, Miss., or to the Atlantic Coast in Richmond, Va. (I'd really miss Boston and London, though.)

On the other hand, unless Lake Michigan drops about 4 m by Saturday, we're looking at the second consecutive month of record lake levels, after the record year we had in 2019.

Dastardly Do-Right?

Via reader ML, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police have stepped in it over protests on First Nations land in northern British Columbia:

Canadian federal police had “no legal authority” to make ID checks and searches on activists seeking to block a pipeline project on Indigenous territory, according to newly released correspondence from the force’s oversight body.

The nine-page letter written by Michelaine Lahaie, chair of the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP, offers scathing criticism of the police’s continued use of tactics against Indigenous people which she had previously warned against.

In recent weeks, demonstrations have sprung up across the country, blockading major railway lines and obstructing access to ports and government buildings.

On Thursday, Canada’s largest rail operator, CN Rail, obtained a court injunction giving it permission to remove a blockade in St-Lambert, a suburb of Montreal.

Al Jezeera has an overview of the issues:

Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs, who hold authority over their land, say they were not properly consulted on the 670km (416-mile) Coastal GasLink pipeline. The company says it reached agreements with 20 elected First Nations band councils. In December, the BC Supreme Court granted Coastal GasLink an injunction to continue work on the pipeline. 

Following the arrests of Wet'suwet'en land defenders about two weeks ago, tensions have mounted as solidarity actions have grown across the country, with many calling on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to solve the crisis.

"This is not a new resistance," said [lawyer Sylvia] McAdam, one of the founders of Idle No More, a movement born in 2012 in response to parliamentary bills that threatened Indigenous sovereignty and environmental protections.

"I think today we're reaching a boiling point where Indigenous people are so tired of the racism, they're tired of colonisation, they're tired of protecting and defending (rights and land)," she told Al Jazeera.

McAdam said Canada needs to reckon with its past and pay the debts it owes First Nations.

I'll be checking back on this story as it unfolds.

Working from home is still working

While I do get to sign off a bit earlier today, I might not read all of these articles until tomorrow:

Finally, despite today's near-record low temperatures in Chicago, we expect a 12°C increase from earlier this morning until tomorrow afternoon. Hey, if this is the only day all winter that even flirts with -18°C, I'm happy.

Shaking my head, for the next 265 days

Some headlines this morning:

Happy Wednesday!

Fastest JFK-to-LHR flight since the Concorde

British Airways flight 112 arrived at 4:47 this morning at Heathrow, having made the trip from New York in an astonishing 4 hours, 56 minutes:

Virgin Atlantic wasn’t far behind British Airways, though. VS4 from New York JFK to London Heathrow was scheduled to depart at exactly the same time. The flight was operated by an A350-1000, and that plane completed the flight in just 4hr57min. It ended up arriving at the gate at Heathrow at 5:05AM, a full 1hr25min ahead of schedule.

Tail winds on both flights were as high as 425 km/h, and the planes reached maximum [ground] speeds of over 1,325 km/h.

It should be noted that this was not the fastest trans-Atlantic trip since Concorde, or even last night:

Aer Lingus flew from Boston to Dublin in a flight time of 4hr49min, which is actually not that impressive when you consider that the flight is nearly 800 km shorter (however, the 747 has a faster cruising speed than the A330).

It's still impressive.

Balmy day in Antarctica

The frozen continent hit its all-time-warmest temperature yesterday:

Just days after the Earth saw its warmest January on record, Antarctica has broken its warmest temperature ever recorded. A reading of 18°C was taken Thursday at Esperanza Base along Antarctica’s Trinity Peninsula, making it the ordinarily frigid continent’s highest measured temperature in history.

The Antarctic Peninsula, on which Thursday’s anomaly was recorded, is one of the fastest-warming regions in the world. In just the past 50 years, temperatures have surged a staggering 3°C in response to Earth’s swiftly warming climate. Around 87 percent of glaciers along the peninsula’s west coast have retreated in that time, the majority doing so at an accelerated pace since 2008.

The WMO notes that cracks in the Pine Island Glacier “have been growing rapidly” in the past several days, according to satellite imagery.

Additional extreme warmth is likely in the Antarctic Peninsula in the coming days. Temperatures some 22–28°C above normal are predicted by some models.

Oh dear.

More ridiculousness in the world

Did someone get trapped in a closed time loop on Sunday? Did I? Because this week just brought all kinds of insanity:

Well, one of those is good news...

If you see one carrying a box marked "Acme..."

A coyote (or coyotes, but maybe just one) has had enough of humanity in Chicago:

Another coyote attack was reported Wednesday night when a man walked into a hospital with a wound on his buttocks that he says came from a coyote.

The 32-year-old man showed up at Northwestern Memorial Hospital with a scratch on his behind, according to Chicago police.

He told officers that on Wednesday evening a coyote attacked him from behind and bit him in the buttocks while he walked on a sidewalk in the 700 block of North Fairbanks Court, police said.

Earlier that afternoon, a 5-year-old boy was bitten in the head by a coyote on Wednesday afternoon outside a nature museum in Lincoln Park.

This coyote (or coyotes) is not behaving normally. First, they're primarily nocturnal animals. Second, while they have acclimated to humans, they do not typically approach humans. According to local Animal Care and Control officials, however, the increased aggression may come from simple hunger, as food supplies dwindle during the winter.

If you see a coyote, "making loud noises, or using a whistle, is a good way to spook a coyote into leaving. Waving your hands and jumping up and down can also work, according to experts."

About 4,500 coyotes live in Cook County, with about 2,000 of those in Chicago. Longtime readers of The Daily Parker will remember that the cemeteries north and south of my apartment have multiple dens, and also that AC&C officials pulled a coyote out of a drinks cooler in downtown Chicago about 12 years ago.

More on coyotes from the Cook County Forest Preserve District.