The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Justice Thomas joins the liberals

In yesterday's ruling in Harris v Cooper, the Supreme Court ruled against North Carolina's blatant gerrymandering. The surprising bit is that Justice Clarence Thomas voted in the majority on both issues. New Republic's Scott Lemieux postulates reasons why:

In a 2015 case, Thomas provided the fifth vote to an opinion holding that Texas was not required to issue license plates with the Confederate flag as part of its option of personalized license plates. It is not terribly surprising that even a conservative African-American who grew up impoverished in the rural Jim Crow South would have a different perspective on the Confederacy and its legacy than the typical conservative.

Thomas’s votes yesterday were squarely within that tradition. His brief concurring opinion emphasized that the result comported with two of his longstanding views. First, he believes that any use of race by the government, for any purpose, triggers strict scrutiny, a high burden North Carolina could not meet. Since the state conceded that District 1 was intentionally created as a majority-minority district, this made the case easy for Thomas as well as the other conservatives.

He also explained that he joined the liberal faction with respect to District 12 in part because of his belief in deferring to the findings of the trial court unless it clearly errs.

This isn't an evolution, but who Thomas really is, Lemieux says. Maybe Antonin Scalia so overshadowed Thomas that we really didn't see it? I'll need more convincing.

Why it's called Royal Dutch Airlines

It turns out, the King of the Netherlands has an air transport pilot certificate:

King Willem-Alexander, reigning monarch of the Netherlands, revealed in an interview with Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf that he'd regularly flown flights for a subsidiary of the Dutch flag carrier for over two decades.

Calling the part-time role a "hobby," the King says that he'd taken to the cockpit as a co-pilot of KLM Cityhopper -- the airline's short-haul carrier -- flights for over 21 years.

Being the co-pilot also allowed him to retain his anonymity, even while addressing the passengers, he said.

"The advantage is that I can always say that I wish everyone a heartfelt welcome in the name of the captain and the crew," he told De Telegraaf. "So I don't have to say my own name. But most of the (passengers) don't listen anyway."

That's kind of cool.

If anyone wants to get me a nice birthday present...

...this will do splendidly:

A new long-distance train, the East Japan Railway Company’s Shiki-Shima, launched this week, and it’s already earning praise as perhaps the most luxurious train in the world. Its 10 cars hold 17 spacious suites, some kitted out with cypress bathtubs and lofts. And that’s not the only thing that makes it feel like a five-star hotel: This train also sports a piano bar, two glass-walled observatory cars, and even a Michelin-accredited restaurant.

It holds up to 34 passengers, who are squired around eastern Japan for two to four days, paying anywhere between $3,000 and $10,000 for a round-trip ticket.

CGTN has a video review:

We were #1

Forty four years ago today, workers in Chicago completed the Sears Tower:

The original plan was to build two separate buildings. That was changed to a single structure, 1,454 feet high. As board chairman Gordon Metcalf explained, “Being the largest retailer in the world, we thought we should have the largest headquarters in the world.”

Construction began in 1970. The foundations were dug, and the steel frame began to rise slowly over Wacker Drive. On the way up, the Sears Tower passed the former record holder, the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York.

The Sears Tower kept is title until 1996. Today all the sky-piercing structures are going up in Asia.

Meanwhile, in 1992, Sears again moved its headquarters, this time to Hoffman Estates. The tall building on Wacker Drive is now known as the Willis Tower.

And in the meantime, Eddie Lampert has poisoned the company to death.

Morning articles

Things to read today:

And finally, the Chicago Tribune has an article on our concert this weekend, and composer Jeff Beal performing in it:

"I suppose it might have been DNA asserting itself," said Beal, who will be in Chicago May 5 and Evanston May 7 when the celebrated Apollo Chorus includes his "The Salvage Men" and "Poor in Spirit" as part of their 145th-season-ending spring concert, "American Masters," in Chicago and Evanston. "It's true that [my grandmother] passed on her love of improvisation, but there's also something almost eerily similar about what she did, watching a screen and creating her own musical accompaniment, and what I do in my day job."

[H]e had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2007. Though he took seven years to process the news before beginning to write "The Salvage Men" in 2014.

Serendipitously, that was about the time that Apollo Chorus music director Stephen Alltop, who studied with Beal at Eastman, got back in touch to praise Beal's work on" House of Cards" and suggest the possibility of doing a concert together. Which explains why Beal and his new choral works are appearing in Chicago directly after their debuts in London and Los Angeles. Beal also will perform solo trumpet over the comparatively simple text of his "Poor in Spirit," — it consists entirely of one repeated phrase from the Beatitudes: "Blessed are the poor in spirit" — much as he often plays trumpet over the score of "House of Cards."

Tickets are available through the Apollo Chorus website. It's going to be an amazing concert.

Documentary to see

Matt Tyranauer directs Citizen Jane: Battle for the City, a documentary about my hero Jane Jacobs.

From CityLab:

Jane Jacobs moved to Toronto in 1968 after being arrested during her ultimately successful battle against Robert Moses and his plans for a Lower Manhattan Expressway. In her new city, where she stayed until her death in 2006, Jacobs fought off yet another planned expressway, consulted on occasional development projects, spoke out against amalgamation, and continued to write books.

But in 2017, the story of how she helped defeat the world’s most infamous urban planning villain still generates inspiration from old and new audiences in New York and afar. A new film by Matt Tyrnauer, Citizen Jane: Battle For The City, packages that story around the damage felt across so many American cities in the 20th century through urban renewal. But it also reminds viewers that today’s urbanizing world has no lack of bad ideas worth fighting against right now.

Citizen Jane doesn’t necessarily shed new light on the main characters or the plot, but it does serve as a concise and approachable lens into what Jacobs stood for. It also shows just how she was able to hand Moses a rare loss in a career that allowed him to easily bulldoze—literally and figuratively—through the five boroughs.

Tyrnauer’s documentary is popping up in select theaters across the country this spring.

It's on my list. But unfortunately not scheduled to open in Chicago this spring.

Draining the river, 25 years ago today

On 13 April 1992, a hole opened under the Kinzie Street Bridge and drowned Chicago's Loop:

During the Great Chicago Flood of 1992, 250,000 gallons of water had the city drowning by the hour.

The leak that sprung in the old freight tunnels under the city quickly turned into a major flood often referred to as the "unseen catastrophe.”

It was a calamity that filled the basements of buildings on State Street, LaSalle Street and even the Merchandise Mart. Water rose to 7 feet, then 10 feet and up. It cut power and evacuated trading floors at the Board of Trade and the Mercantile Exchange. It closed major retails stores like Marshall Fields and even left the Merchandise Mart wet and flooded.

Water poured in from the bottom up. But where was it coming from?

Back in September of 1991, wood pilings were driven into the Chicago River to act as bumpers for the Kinzie bridge house so passing boats wouldn't knock it over. Story has it, the contractor hired to install the pilings hit an  underground freight tunnel in the process creating a slow leak that got bigger and bigger with time until the tunnel gave way seven months later: April 13th, 1992.

Historian J.R. Schmidt has more:

It was an odd disaster.  At street level, everything looked as it always had.  Officials assured the public that the situation was under control. Governor Jim Edgar met with Mayor Richard M. Daley at City Hall. Afterward the governor told reporters there was no need to call out the National Guard.

About 11 a.m. the river locks were opened. That let the Chicago River resume its natural course into Lake Michigan. The water in the tunnels continued to rise, but more slowly.

By evening the water level had finally stabilized. Now the cleaning up and pumping out began. It would take weeks.  A private contractor finally had to be brought in to seal the original leak at Kinzie Street.

The water emergency was expensive. Some estimates place the price tag for damaged goods, repair costs, and lost business at over $100,000,000. For insurance reasons, the event is officially classified as a “leak.” But no matter what name is used, those who experienced it firsthand often echo the reaction of their mayor—“What a day!”

Public transit services shined that day, evacuating about a million people from downtown in only a few hours with no injuries or crime.

 

The BST of times, BBC style

Author Tim Harford, who wrote The Logic of Life and a few other books I've liked, yesterday published an explanation of what telling time is all about:

Water clocks appear in civilisations from ancient Egypt to medieval Persia. Others kept time from marks on candles. But even the most accurate devices might wander by 15 minutes a day. This didn't matter to a monk wanting to know when to pray.

But there was one increasingly important area of life where the inability to keep accurate time was of huge economic significance: sailing.

By observing the angle of the Sun, sailors could calculate their latitude - where they were from north to south. But their longitude - where they were from east to west - had to be guessed.

Mistakes could - and frequently did - lead to ships hitting land hundreds of miles away from where navigators thought they were, sometimes disastrously.

How could accurate timekeeping help? If you knew when it was midday at Greenwich Observatory - or any other reference point - you could observe the Sun, calculate the time difference, and work out the distance.

But does anybody really know what time it is?

Massive flooding in low-lying areas; Continent cut off

Via a longtime reader, geologists have new evidence clarifying how Britain split off from the European mainland 450,000 YBP:

Researchers have found geological proof of one theory, that a catastrophic flood sparked massive waterfalls that cut through the rock ridge running through what's now the Dover Strait.

Analysis of [sonar] imagery, alongside existing supporting data, has led Collier and Gupta to report that Britain left Europe via a much more catastrophic route than erosion simply nibbling away at our connection to the continent. Instead, a glacial lake — perhaps sparked by an earthquake — over spilled its bounds in giant torrents of water.

"The waterfalls were so huge they left behind the plunge pools, some several kilometres in diameter and 100 metres deep in solid rock, running in a line from Calais to Dover," Collier said.

The chalky escarpment - similar to the cliffs at Dover - fell apart and released an epic flood, partially washing away the British land bridge to Europe.

That event wasn't enough to entirely separate the UK from Europe, with the final breach caused by a second megaflood that followed the first by as much as a hundred thousand years.

They conclude, "Had the initial flood not happened, the researchers added that Britain could still be connected to Europe, jutting out the same way Denmark does today."