The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Three unrelated articles

First, New York Times film critic A.O. Scott takes a second look at the 1999 film Election:

The movie has been persistently and egregiously misunderstood, and I count myself among the many admirers who got it wrong. Because somehow I didn’t remember — or didn’t see— what has been right there onscreen the whole time.

Which is that Mr. M is a monster — a distillation of human moral squalor with few equals in modern American cinema — and that Tracy Flick is the heroine who bravely, if imperfectly, resists his efforts to destroy her. She’s not Moby-Dick to his Ahab so much as Jean Valjean to his Inspector Javert.

Second, with Lake Michigan at record-high water levels for the second month in a row, several of Chicago's beaches have disappeared:

This year, the buoyant water has swallowed at least two Chicago beaches entirely and periodically closed others. It has swiped fishermen from piers, swimmers from beaches and submerged jetties, creating hazards for boaters. It has flooded heavily trafficked parts of lakefront bicycle and pedestrian pathways, leaving some stretches underwater and others crumbling.

But perhaps the most worrisome aspect of this summer is that these perils have occurred while the lake has remained mostly calm.

“Fall is the time of the year when wave conditions are historically the most severe on the Great Lakes,” said David Bucaro, outreach manager at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Chicago District. “We’re at a calmer period right now. There’s been some summer storms. But that October, November time period is when we really experience historically the most powerful coastal storms. That’s the conditions that we’re monitoring and are most concerned with.”

Should be fun this fall.

Next, writing for the LA Times, Rebecca Wexler points out that data-privacy laws giving law enforcement the power to snoop on electronic devices is deeply unfair to defendants for an unexpected reason:

Social media messages, photo metadata, Amazon Echo recordings, smart water meter data, and Fitbit readings have all been used in criminal cases. The new laws would limit how defendants can access this key evidence, making it difficult or impossible for defendants to show they acted in self-defense, or a witness is lying, or someone else is guilty of the crime.

The California Consumer Privacy Act, which was approved in 2018, allows law enforcement officers to obtain data from technology companies and prohibit those companies from immediately notifying the person they are investigating. Such delayed notice may be necessary to investigate someone who is dangerous or likely to destroy evidence or flee. But the law does not give defense investigators the same right to delay notification to witnesses or others — who might well pose a threat to the defendant — when they subpoena data from tech companies as part of the defense’s case.

I will now rejoin a long-running data analysis project, already in progress.

The movement to kick Chicago out of Illinois

These movements crop up from time to time, and it's not going to happen in my lifetime. But the Tribune did a lengthy report on the latest effort to separate Chicago and the rest of Illinois into two states:

Over the past two years, the movement to divide the state of Illinois into two states — Cook County in one, the other 101 counties in the other — has been gaining support. In February, as Gov. J.B. Pritzker was pursuing an agenda for Illinois that included new tax and abortion policies, Halbrook refiled a resolution in the state legislature, HR 101, in which he and six co-sponsors asked the U.S. Congress to recognize Chicago as the 51st state. “I hear it a lot from my constituents, that we need to be separate from Chicago,” Halbrook says. “I thought yep, this is what we need to do.”

G.H. Merritt, a Lake County woman who founded New Illinois, the group hosting the Mount Vernon event, starts her presentation after the prayer and Pledge of Allegiance. She points out to the crowd — now using New Illinois brochures to fan themselves as the overwhelmed air conditioning loses its grip — that the idea of a state split isn’t new. In fact, groups from either downstate or Chicago have tried to secede from Illinois several times since 1840, when a group of northern counties asked to be given to Wisconsin. (The state line was set above the tip of Lake Michigan in 1818.) In the 1970s, a group of western counties dubbed themselves the Republic of Forgottonia. And in 1981, a Chicago legislator pushed a secession bill through the state Senate, as a public poke at downstate counties for complaining about CTA funding. The bill was tabled by then Speaker of the House George Ryan. Most recently, downstate legislators proposed a split in 2011, after election data showed that in 2010 Gov. Pat Quinn won only three downstate counties — and gained the governorship by carrying Cook County.

I mean, honestly. Why would anyone in Chicago want a "Southern Illinois" on our border with two Republican senators? Our current polarization is exactly the reason some sensible rejiggering of borders in the US won't happen. You want South Illinois? Great; admit Puerto Rico and DC at the same time.

Requiem for a glacier

Researchers from Rice University and residents of Iceland have put up a memorial to a glacier that disappeared in 2014:

The memorial is “a letter to the future.” It describes what we lost: the Okjokull glacier — and how we lost it: human-caused climate change. And yet it is hopeful, acknowledging “what is happening and what needs to be done.”

“Only you,” future visitor, “know if we did it.”

It’s a reminder of geologic times gone by, like a Mount Rushmore but for the natural landmarks we’ve lost. The plaque, dedicated to Iceland’s first glacier lost to climate change, will be installed next month in Borgarfjordur.

[A]ll of Iceland’s glaciers are projected to melt in the next two centuries. The Rice University researchers say they hope this small memorial helps create a path forward for thinking about climate change and its impact.

It was an ice thing to do as well.

Europe goes to hell

As I mentioned this morning, the UK Met predicts that tomorrow—Boris Johnson's first full day as UK PM—will be the hottest day in recorded history for the country. Today, however, is already the hottest day in recorded history for the Netherlands and Belgium:

The Dutch meteorological service, KNMI, said the temperature reached 39.1°C at Gilze-Rijen airbase near the southern city of Tilburg on Wednesday afternoon, exceeding the previous high of 38.6°C set in August 1944.

In Belgium, the temperature in Kleine-Brogel hit 38.9°C, fractionally higher than the previous record of 38.8°C set in June 1947. Forecasters said temperatures could climb further on Wednesday and again on Thursday.

After several cities in France broke previous temperature records on Tuesday, including Bordeaux, which hit 41.2°C, the national weather service, Météo France, said Paris was likely to beat its all-time high of 40.4°C, set in July 1947, with 42°C on Thursday.

City records in Amsterdam and Brussels are also expected to fall. Cities are particularly vulnerable in heatwaves because of a phenomenon known as the urban heat island effect, in which concrete buildings and asphalt roads absorb heat during the day and emit it again at night, preventing the city from cooling.

Scientists have said such heatwaves are closely linked to the climate emergency and will be many times more likely over the coming decades.

Last month, the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research said Europe’s five hottest summers since 1500 had all occurred in the 21st century – in 2018, 2010, 2003, 2016 and 2002.

And the band played on.

Lunch link list

Queued up a few articles to read after work today:

Now, off to find food, then back to the mines.

The creepiest forest on Staten Island

Arborist William Bryant Logan takes a trip to the botanical hell that is the Fresh Kills Landfill, and finds something wonderful:

From a coyote’s-eye view, you could see what the trees were up to: Growth, failure, decay and the drip of acid water through the gravel were mixing a dirt out of the detritus. This hideous forest, I suddenly realized, was there to repair the damage done, and not at our bidding. Its intent was not to look good. Its intent was to stay alive, year by year, century by century, until at last it had recycled even the nylon stocking.

We know how long it takes most kinds of leavings to decay. Organic material goes quickly: cardboard in three months, wood in up to three years, a pair of wool socks in up to five. A plastic shopping bag may take 20 years; a plastic cup, 50. Major industrial materials will be there for much longer: An aluminum can is with us for 200 years, a glass bottle for 500, a plastic bottle for 700, and a Styrofoam container for a millennium.

The forest does not know this. It does not think. It just acts. Because it is so good at sprouting, resprouting, reiterating, and repeating the entire process, it can keep up the living and dying for as long as it takes, even if that is a thousand years. The trees are not conscious. They are something better. They are present.

It almost makes one want to visit the place. Almost.

What's the fastest way to O'Hare?

Four Chicago Tribune reporters had a race from Randolph and Michigan to O'Hare:

We sent four reporters, with carry-on luggage, in a personal car, a ride-share, on CTA and on Metra, starting at 2:15 p.m. Wednesday at the Prudential Building at Michigan Avenue and Randolph Street. The destination was Security Gate 3 in O'Hare's Terminal 1, with the goal of catching an imaginary 5 p.m. United Airlines flight.

The winner was an Uber ride-share that took 69 minutes, followed by the CTA at 80 minutes, a private car (parked at an economy lot) at 90 minutes and Metra at 98 minutes.

It's clear from our test that the fastest way is not the cheapest, while the cheapest way may not work for everybody. We also know the fastest way could have been the slowest if we had tried the race during rush hour. Improvements to the Blue Line and more frequent and/or express Metra North Central Service trains would have made these options even better than they already are.

The more nuanced verdict: If you're coming from most parts of the Loop, the Blue Line is probably your best value, especially during rush hour. From the West Loop (close to Union Station), at certain times of the day, Metra would be.

The article's graphics and animation are kind of cool. It's almost like the Tribune has brought itself into the 21st Century.

The Center of Chicago

WBEZ's Curious City blog re-posted an bit from 2016 identifying the geographic center of Chicago:

Calculating a center point is straightforward for geographers now, according to Todd Schuble, manager of GIS Research for the University of Chicago’s Division of Social Sciences.

Modern mapping software can find the center of any boundary automatically, even one as oddly shaped as Chicago. The process involves looking for any spot that a boundary bends, noting the coordinates, and then averaging them.

So where does Schuble put Chicago’s exact geographic center?

“It’s approximately 31st and Western,” Schuble says. “The [Sanitary and Ship] canal runs right there. The geographic center point itself runs through the canal.”

Chicago does have a monument that marks the center of the city, it’s just that it’s not at the actual center point (which, again, sits in the canal, south of 31st and Western). This is where the politics come in.

In 1979 outgoing Chicago Mayor Michael Bilandic presided over a ceremony declaring the intersection of W. 37th and S. Honore streets in the McKinley Park neighborhood the city’s geographic center point. There was even a white sign with black letters reading “Welcome to W 37th and S Honore Streets, The Geographic Center of Chicago, Greatest City in America.”

Mayor Bilandic was not the intellectual giant among our historical mayors. He lost the 1979 election by declaring, in the worst winter in recorded history, "snow melts." And so, apparently, he also got the geography of the city wrong, forgetting that we'd annexed the land that is now O'Hare in 1959.

The monument is still there; just check Google Street View.

Capital flooding

Yesterday, Washington D.C. experienced its heaviest rainfall on record:

In just an hour, about a month’s worth of rain drowned the District, a staggering 83 mm falling at Reagan National Airport.

This hourly output was Washington’s highest since at least 1936 (National Airport is the city’s official weather observing site), the Maxar Weather Desk, a consulting group based in Gaithersburg, Md. discovered.

“According to data from the Iowa Mesonet ... the 83 mm recorded between 8:52-9:52 AM yesterday was Washington DC’s highest hourly precip report in records dating back to 1936," Maxar tweeted.

As Monday’s torrent raged, the first-ever flash flood emergency was declared for the city as well as nearby Arlington and Alexandria, which suffered damaging downpours.

In total, it rained 11.4 billion litres on the city.

Meanwhile, closer to home, the Great Lakes remain at or near record levels.