The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Because life wasn't interesting enough right now

Two forest fires near Vladimirovka, Ukraine, have caused radiation levels in the region to spike:

A fire covering around 20 hectares broke out on Saturday afternoon near the village of Vladimirovka, within the uninhabited Chernobyl exclusion zone, and responders were still fighting two blazes on Monday morning, Ukrainian emergency services said in a statement.

"There is bad news -- in the center of the fire, radiation is above normal," Egor Firsov, head of Ukraine's ecological inspection service, wrote in a Facebook post alongside a video of a Geiger counter. "As you can see in the video, the readings of the device are 2.3, when the norm is 0.14. But this is only within the area of the fire outbreak."

His measurements refer to the microsievert per hour (μSv/h) reading; the maximum allowable amount of natural background radiation is 0.5 μSv/h, the emergency services said, but Firsov's reported amount was nearly five times that.

Vladimirovka sits within the deserted 1,000-square-mile exclusion zone, which was evacuated after the devastating 1986 blast at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant that sent radioactive fallout billowing across Europe and exposed millions to dangerous levels of radiation.

The region has since been taken over by nature, and forest fires are not uncommon.

While researching this post, I discovered that Google has Street View photos of Pripyat and Chernobyl. How did they get permission to do that?

17 million unemployment claims in 3 weeks

Unemployment claims jumped another 6.6 million in the US last week bringing the total reported unemployed to 16.8 million, the largest number of unemployment claims since the 1930s. Illinois saw 200,000 new claims, an all-time record, affecting 1 in 12 Illinois workers. And that's just one headline today:

After all of that, why don't you watch this adorable video of skunks chattering away as they investigate a cyclist?

Day 21 of working from home

As we go into the fourth week of mandatory working from home, Chicago may have its warmest weather since October 1st, and I'm on course to finish a two-week sprint at work with a really boring deployment. So what's new and maddening in the world?

And finally, two big gyros manufacturers, Kronos and Grecian Delight, are merging. Kind of like all the lamb and stuff that merges to form gyros.

Enjoy the weather, Chicago. The cold returns Thursday.

Mystery neighborhoods in Chicago

Historian John Schmidt reminisces about looking for southeast-side neighborhoods that turned out not to exist:

As I poured over Grandpa’s Rand McNally city map, I was particularly intrigued with the area just east of Lake Calumet. One group of streets was fronted by Chippewa Avenue, a curved thoroughfare that skirted the edge of the lake. To the south, another group was clustered around a river channel, near the Chicago border with Calumet City. Most interesting of all was a tiny, two-square-block group on the lake’s northeast corner. The streets there were totally isolated from any other streets.

I finally got a car and could get around on my own. Now I could play all the public golf courses that had been too far to reach on the bus. After one visit to the Burnham Woods Golf Course in Burnham, I decided to check out those three subdivisions.

All three were totally vacant. There weren’t any streets to be seen. Just empty, undeveloped land.

It turns out, they were map traps:

Those were fake towns that map-makers would intentionally put on their maps. That way, if a rival map later came out with the fake town on it, the original map-maker could prove plagiarism. Were these streets Rand McNally’s version of trap streets?

Most likely. Here's one of the examples he points to:

Here's the same area today. Note that Lake Calumet got significantly filled in during the post-war years, and the city eventually pushed South Stony Island through:

A tale of two realities

Indiana University history professor Rebecca Spang compares the world's response to Covid-19 to the conditions that led to the French Revolution in 1789:

Fear sweeps the land. Many businesses collapse. Some huge fortunes are made. Panicked consumers stockpile paper, food, and weapons. The government’s reaction is inconsistent and ineffectual. Ordinary commerce grinds to a halt; investors can find no safe assets. Political factionalism grows more intense. Everything falls apart.

This was all as true of revolutionary France in 1789 and 1790 as it is of the United States today. Are we at the beginning of a revolution that has yet to be named? Do we want to be? That we are on the verge of a major transformation seems obvious.

An urgent desire for stability—for a fast resolution to upheaval—is in fact absolutely characteristic of any revolutionary era. “I pray we will be finished by Christmas,” wrote one beleaguered member of the French Constituent Assembly to a good friend in October 1789. In reality, of course, the assembly took another two years to finish its tasks, after which another assembly was elected; a republic was declared; Louis XVI was put on trial and executed in January 1793; General Napoleon Bonaparte became “first consul” in 1799 and emperor in 1804; Europe found itself engulfed in wars from 1792 to 1815. In short, life never went back to how it had been before 1789.

People sometimes imagine yesterday’s revolutions as planned and carried out by self-conscious revolutionaries, but this has rarely, if ever, been the case. Instead, revolutions are periods in which social actors with different agendas (peasants stealing rabbits, city dwellers sacking tollbooths, lawmakers writing a constitution, anxious Parisians looking for weapons at the Bastille Fortress) become fused into a more or less stable constellation. The most timeless and emancipatory lesson of the French Revolution is that people make history. Likewise, the actions we take and the choices we make today will shape both what future we get and what we remember of the past.

Keep that in mind as you read these indications that Republicans have entirely incompatible views with the rest of the world about most things:

  • Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly addressed the crew of the USS Theodore Roosevelt yesterday, calling the CO he removed last week "stupid," among other things certain to endear him to everyone in the Navy.
  • Conservative propaganda news outlets continue to repeat the president's lie assertion that no one knew how bad the pandemic would get, despite ample evidence that it would.
  • It looks like the Federal government is seizing protective equipment en route to Democratic-leaning states, but no one seems to know (or will admit) why.
  • Three academics who specialize in health policy warn that when, not if, Covid-19 starts hitting rural areas in force, it will get much worse, owing to the older populations as well as a general lack of hospitals and supplies outside of cities.
  • This week's New Yorker takes a long look at Illinois' response to the crisis, which is different than, say, Georgia's.
  • Wisconsin governor Tony Evans issued an executive order earlier today postponing the state's primary election until June 9th. The state was to hold its primary election tomorrow, despite the Democratic governor and Democratic minority in the state legislature demanding postponement or universal mail-in ballots. The Republican-controlled legislature refused even to take up the proposal, perhaps because, as other Republicans have admitted, more votes means Republicans lose. The state's top Republicans, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester), said the governor "cave[d] under political pressures from national liberal special interest groups" like, one must assume, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a known hotbed of partisan Democratic thought.

Finally, ever wonder about the origin of those creepy plague-doctor outfits from the 17th century?

Ten million unemployed

More than 6.6 million Americans filed for unemployment insurance last week (including 178,000 in Illinois), following the 3.3 million who filed the week before. This graphic from The Washington Post puts these numbers in perspective:

Hotel occupancy has crashed as well, down 67% year-over-year, with industry analysts predicting the worst year on record.

In other pandemic news:

Finally, unrelated to the coronavirus but definitely related to our natural environment, the Lake Michigan/Huron system recorded its third straight month of record levels in March. The lake is a full meter above the long-term average and 30 cm above last year's alarming levels.

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.