The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Cold again

Today's temperatures have hovered around -9°C, with a forecast of bottoming out around -18°C tomorrow morning. But hey, at least the sun is out, right?

Meanwhile, in the rest of the world:

Finally, if you're looking to get away from it all, you might have to pass on the Isle of Rum off the coast of Scotland. Its population has almost doubled in the past couple of years, to 40.

Quick links

The temperature at Inner Drive Technology World Headquarters bottomed out at -16.5°C around 8am today, colder than any time since February 15th. It's up to -8.6°C now, with a forecast for continued wild gyrations over the next week (2°C tomorrow, -17°C on Monday, 3°C on Wednesday). Pity Cassie, who hasn't gotten nearly enough walks because of the cold, and won't next week as her day care shut down for the weekend due to sick staff.

Speaking of sick staff, New Republic asks a pointed question about the Chicago Public Schools: why should their teachers be responsible for making life normal again?

The Washinigton Post asks, what will people do with the millions of dogs they adopted when they (the people, not the dogs) go back to work?

The lawyers for Cyber Ninjas ask, who's going to pay their fees after the grift-based organization shut down abruptly?

And North Michigan Avenue asks, will any more pieces of the Hancock Center fall off the building?

And I ask, will Cassie ever let me sleep past 7am?

School's still out

The Chicago Public Schools and the Chicago Teachers Union keep butting heads, resulting in CPS closing the schools for another day tomorrow:

Chicago Public Schools and the teachers union have filed unfair labor charges against one another, with each side asking state officials to end the current dispute over in-person learning in their favor.

The latest escalation in the conflict over adequate COVID-19 safety measures in schools comes as CPS saw a new record number of coronavirus cases Tuesday — the last day of classes before the lack of agreement with the Chicago Teachers Union shut down schools districtwide for two days.

As CPS and the union continued their fight Thursday, Illinois reported another record-shattering day for new COVID-19 infections, with 44,089 new confirmed and probable cases reported statewide, with a record 7,098 people hospitalized with the virus overnight Wednesday.

The Mayor and CTU have been at loggerheads for most of her term. Naturally, the parents wish a pox on both their houses:

It’s not clear how long the impasse could last. The city filed an unfair labor practice complaint against the union, and officials are considering litigation to force teachers back to their classrooms if negotiations continue to stall, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Wednesday.

Parents said they’re desperate for a resolution — and a stable learning environment for their kids.

Numerous parents said they scrambled to find last-minute child care Wednesday. The union did not announce its vote to go remote and CPS didn’t officially inform families there wouldn’t be classes until about 11 p.m. Tuesday.

Jennifer Jones, whose two teenagers attend large Northwest Side high schools, said she fully supports the union’s vote to go remote and she was disappointed CPS canceled classes. Jones said her sons are prepared to learn remotely and feel safer learning from home with cases spiking citywide and inconsistent mask-wearing at school.

“Given the ongoing pandemic, CPS should have been prepared for a switch to remote learning,” Jones said.

Josh Marshall sees similar fights brewing in other cities, and concludes that the people making decisions about schools aren't the ones affected:

There’s a deep conventional wisdom out there which has it that liberal Twitter and the broader Blue State commentariat is a hotbed of demands for school closures. The reality is almost diametrically opposed to this. From mid-2020 the country’s most esteemed and prestigious liberal/cosmopolitan publications, electronic broadcasts and university programs have been dominated by voices of highly educated, affluent and mostly white people demanding schools never close, even for brief periods, and almost always in the name of students from minority and/or marginalized communities.

But there is an upside down character to the image these demands create. In fact, during the pre-vaccine period, when significant sections of the country remained in remote leaning, it was precisely these communities which were most resistant to going back to in-person education. The blunt reality is that the staunchest voices against school closures of any sort for any duration are people with PhDs working from home.

And Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot's re-election chances took another hit today when former CPS CEO and US Education Secretary Arne Duncan made some noises about running against her.

The Paper Anniversary

In the US and UK, it's customary to give gifts of paper for the first anniversary. In that spirit, I say we give all the insurrectionists new subpoenas today.

President Biden marked the occasion with a speech excoriating his predecessor:

“The former president of the United States of America has created and spread a web of lies about the 2020 election,” Mr. Biden said, standing in the same National Statuary Hall invaded by throngs of Trump supporters a year ago. “He’s done so because he values power over principle, because he sees his own interests as more important than his country’s interests and America’s interests, and because his bruised ego matters more to him than our democracy or our Constitution. He can’t accept he lost.”

Political essayist Rebecca Solnit wonders why so many Republicans share the XPOTUS's delusions:

Hannah Arendt used the word “gullible” repeatedly in “The Origins of Totalitarianism,” published in 1951. “A mixture of gullibility and cynicism is prevalent in all ranks of totalitarian movements, and the higher the rank the more cynicism weighs down gullibility,” she wrote. That is, among those gulling the public, cynicism is a stronger force; among those being gulled, gullibility is, but the two are not so separate as they might seem.

Distinctions between believable and unbelievable, true and false, are not relevant for people who have found that taking up outrageous and disprovable ideas is instead an admission ticket to a community or an identity. Without the yoke of truthfulness around their necks, they can choose beliefs that flatter their worldview or justify their aggression. I sometimes think of this straying into fiction as a kind of libertarianism run amok — we used to say, “You’re entitled to your own opinions, but not your own facts.” Too many Americans now feel entitled to their own facts. In this too-free marketplace of ideas, they can select or reject ideas, facts or histories to match their goals, because meaning has become transactional.

A lot of conspiracy theories are organic or at least emerge from true believers on the margins when it comes to topics like extraterrestrials, but those at the top of conservative America have preached falsehoods that further the interest of elites, and those at the bottom have embraced them devoutly. Though when we talk about cults and conspiracies we usually look to more outlandish beliefs, climate denial and gun obsessions both fit this template.

Authoritarians don’t just want to control the government, the economy and the military. They want to control the truth. Truth has its own authority, an authority a strongman must defeat, at least in the minds of his followers, convincing them to abandon fact, the standards of verification, critical thinking and all the rest. Such people become a standing army awaiting their next command.

Author John Scalzi says, just wait for next time:

The GOP is officially done with the notion of democracy in the United States. Its only interest in it at this point is using its remaining functioning processes to shut it down. The GOP has no platform other than a Christianist White Supremacist Authoritarianism, no goal other than a corrupt oligarchy, and no plan for its supporters other than to keep them hyped up on fear and hatred of anyone who is a convenient target. The Republican party problem with the coup is not that it happened. It’s that it was so poorly planned and executed. Now they’ll have to attempt another one.

Which is coming! The GOP has already made it clear they have no intention of honoring another presidential election that might allow a Democrat into the White House. They are attempting all sorts of strategies to limit the ability of suspected non-Republicans to vote, to discount their vote if they still manage to do it, and to disrupt the certification of the vote if it doesn’t go the way they want it to. A Democrat winning is enough evidence of “voter fraud” for a Republican to attempt to gum up the works for as long as possible, to sow distrust in the system, and to pave the way for GOP Coup II, i.e., “We Didn’t Want To But Look What the Dirty Democrats Made Us Do.” This coup may or may not have an “armed citizen” component to it; as noted the GOP has gotten very good at using the processes of democracy against it. The Republicans would love a coup that they could punt up to a compliant Supreme Court, and that would probably not be a coup with shooting in it. But a coup it would be nevertheless.

A political party that can’t turn its back on a traitor who endangered even some of its own members should not be trusted. A political party that embraces that same traitor and doubles down on its allegiance to him should be reviled. A political party that has decided to abandon the constitution and the republic should be dismantled. Here in 2022, when the Republican party has clearly and unambiguously done all three, no person with any sense of moral character or loyalty to the republic should vote for the GOP, for any position, at any level, or support it in any way, but especially with money.

[H]ere’s a simple test: Substitute the words “Donald Trump” with “Hillary Clinton” and “Trump supporters” with “Clinton supporters” and then run January 6 through your memory banks. You good with a President Hillary Clinton encouraging her supporters to storm the Capitol to stop the certification of, say, President-Elect Donald Trump as the 46th president? Unless you are absolutely 100 percent lying to yourself — and you may be! — your answer here is “Hell, no.” And you would be correct. It’s treason, and any political party giving aid and comfort to such an act is beyond redemption.

So, one year out, where are the rest of the indictments?

Winter, CPS, CTU, and THC

Every so often in the winter, a cold front pushes in overnight, giving us the warmest temperature of the day at midnight. Welcome to my morning:

The sun actually came out a few minutes ago—right around the time the temperature started dropping faster.

The forecast says temperatures will continue falling to about -12°C by 3pm, rise ever so slightly overnight and tomorrow, then slide on down to -17° from 3pm tomorrow to 6am Friday. And, because it's Chicago, and because the circumpolar jet stream looks like Charlie Brown's shirt right now, between 6am Friday and 9pm Saturday the temperature will steadily rise more than 20°C (that's 36°F to the luddites out there), peaking at 3°C around 9pm Saturday.

Before the cold front hit last night, the Chicago Teachers Union voted to halt in-person teaching, citing alarming Covid numbers. The Chicago Public Schools promptly locked them out of virtual teaching, giving about 100,000 nothing to do and nowhere to go. (Some CPS staff have at least opened the school buildings so kids can get lunches and stay warm, but the SEIU won't cross what it sees as a picket line, so...)

Since most of the area's colleges and universities have moved back to virtual instruction for the next two weeks, I have trouble understanding the CPS position here, or why CPS locked the teachers out. Sure, the teachers may lose a day's pay, but the kids will suffer more harm than either organization.

Chicago's public health officials say the schools are safe, with Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot complaining that "There’s no reason to shut down the entire system, particularly given the catastrophic consequences that will flow." But the CTU didn't call a work stoppage; they called for virtual classes, something CPS has done for almost two years. That leaves me with the impression that Lightfoot and CPS want to stand up to the CTU more than they want to find a solution.

Frankly, both sides look bad here. And again: the kids get the worst of it.

Hard to imagine why Illinois recreational marijuana sales doubled to $1.38 billion in 2021.

Pandemic + guns = mayhem

Chicago had almost 800 murders last year, the first time since 1996 that we've seen so many:

But that total count does not include people shot and killed in shootings on Chicago expressways, as they are the jurisdiction of the Illinois State Police. When that number is included the city reached at least 800 homicides, according to Tribune reporting in 2021.

The CPD figure also does not include self-defense shootings or fatal shootings by police officers.

All told, there were at least 4,300 gunshot victims, including those who suffered both fatal and nonfatal injuries, according to CPD data. The number is a significant increase from 2018, when 2,800 people were shot.

The increase in gun violence, mirrored in other major cities, has coincided with the two years of the deadly COVID-19 pandemic.

Yes, it did coincide with the pandemic, but the conservative Chicago Tribune muddies the waters a bit. In the last two years, Americans bought more guns than in any other two-year period. According to The Guardian, 5.4 million Americans bought guns for the first time in from January 2020 to April 2021, compared with 2.4 million in 2019.

The US Supreme Court's Republican majority seems poised to invalidate the last remaining restrictions on who can carry a firearm in public. What will it take to restore meaningful gun regulations in the US? Or at least in places like Chicago that need them?

The most important stories of the day

Washington Post columnist Megan McArdle read through a week of newspapers to understand the hot topics of 100 years ago:

First, there is news of the great Washington Naval Conference, which has commanded half of the front page since opening in mid-November. The idea of the conference is for the great powers to jointly reduce their armaments, so everyone can spend the money on better things.

Inside the paper, we may spend some time browsing the ads, perhaps pausing over the homage to the REO Speed Wagon — still a modern commercial vehicle in 1921, rather than an elderly rock band. We find predictions that Russia will soon be forced to abandon communism and embrace capitalism to feed its people.

Once you imagine your descendants peering back in surprise across the centuries, chuckling at the sight of you passionately arguing some historical irrelevancy, it gets easier to relax and stop shouting at each other. Or heck, maybe even put down our phones and attend to the biggest story most of us will ever live through — not what’s happening in the news but in the homes where we read it.

Somehow, though, I think the storming of the US Capitol a year ago, and the likelihood of more political violence this year, might be remembered.

Inflated importance

The Times reported last night that the Personal Consumption Expenditures (PCE) price index had its highest rate of increase since 1982 in November, and yet they (and most other news outlets) completely missed the bigger story:

The data came as a rising number of Omicron infections makes the inflation and economic outlook hazier. On one hand, the virus could slow the growth of the economy and of prices if it prompts furloughs at a time when the government is no longer stepping in to fill the void, costing households and hurting demand. On the other hand, surging global caseloads could push prices up as they close factories and keep cars, furniture, toys and other goods in short supply.

Even before the new variant surfaced, consumer spending failed to eke out a gain last month after adjusting for inflation, the Thursday data showed. Economists said the lack of growth might simply reflect that people shopped for the holidays earlier this year to guard against shortages — spending surged in October. But the blip underscores how challenging it is to understand incoming data about consumption, growth and prices in a pandemic-stricken economy.

James Fallows expressed the same frustration I feel whenever I read one of these "OMG inflation!" stories. Because, you see, households are much better off now than they have been for the last several years, for a simple and obvious reason:

I contend that [news stories like this] fit a general recent pattern of emphasis from the “serious” media: placing vastly more stress on the threat of inflation, which indeed is getting worse, than on the evil of unemployment, which is getting much better. (For more about this pattern of coverage, see Eric Boehlert among others.)

As a reminder: current U.S. job prospects are not simply “better” when judged on the historical curve, with these record-low unemployment claims. They are almost unbelievably better, in light of the sudden loss of more than 20 million U.S. jobs in just one month last year, as the pandemic took hold.

The over-emphasis on inflation numbers, relative to employment trends, blurs the fact that while both are problems, for the people living through it unemployment is much worse.

Inflation erodes a family’s purchasing power. Unemployment eliminates it.

That makes a huge difference.

Yes. We have mild inflation compared with what some of us remember in the 1970s and 1980s, but with miraculously low unemployment numbers which we did not have back then.

Who worries about inflation the most? People on fixed incomes, surely; but the Social Security Administration will give pensioners the highest cost-of-living adjustment in 40 years next Saturday.

No, the biggest victims of inflation are net creditors. As we get a bit of post-disaster price increases with concomitant wage increases, the debts we owe (mortgages, student loans, even credit cards) become easier to pay. In other words, their real value has declined in the past 12 months. So net creditors—big banks, hedge funds, the like—are losing money. Everyone: awwww.

Expect, therefore, to see more emphasis on inflation numbers and less on employment numbers as the economy re-adjusts after 20 months of pandemic-induced coma. And expect that your student loans and mortgages will be that much easier to pay off in the near future.

Another big, red map that should make you uncomfortable

Via The Washington Post, Climate Central reports that winters have gotten significantly warmer in the US, especially in the Great Lakes and Northeast regions:

[W]inter in the United States is warming faster than any other season. Since 1970, average winter temperatures have increased [0.6°C] or more in every state, while 70 percent have seen increases of at least [1.7°C].

Other studies have shown the length of winter season shrinking globally as well. From 1952 to 2011, winter shrank by at least 2.1 days per decade on average. By 2100, winter could be less than two months and could start a half-month later.

Changes in the blooms of fruits and plants can affect other links in the food chain. For instance, many migratory birds travel north according to the movement of the sun. If plants bloom earlier or insects move because higher temperatures occur earlier, the birds may arrive when most of their food is no longer abundant.

Across the eastern United States, Climate Central found that cold weather still will occur in the coming decades, although cold snaps have become shorter and less frequent recently.

In Chicago, we've seen a full 2°C rise in temperatures in my lifetime:

In case the raw statistics don't get you to notice climate change, Climate Central also has an interactive map where you can raise sea level a bit and watch your favorite cities disappear. At 1.5 meters, for example, my old place in Hoboken, N.J., pokes out of a shallow lagoon. At 5 meters, we no longer care about Florida.

There are still 9 more Greek letters

SARS-Cov-2-omicron continues its march through the world, aided in part by a lack of tests that could detect and mitigate Covid infections early on. The Times reports that a Texas man died of the omicron variant despite his fantastical belief that a previous Covid infection rendered him immune. One would hope this would cure the metastasizing delusions of "herd immunity" incubated within the thick skulls and vulcanized brains of the voluntarily unvaccinated, but no, we live in 'Murica.

Meanwhile, Omicron looks more and more like a mild but super-contagious virus that probably won't send vaccinated people to the hospital. And the Walter Reed Army Research Institute quietly announced yesterday that they have developed a vaccine that targets all SARS viruses, not just Cov-2. So for people who have either the sense or the compassion to get vaccinated (and boosted), Covid-19 looks well on its way to becoming just another coronavirus, like the common cold.

Don't celebrate victory just yet, though. In the war against Covid-19 we may have gotten to December 1944, but Germany hasn't surrendered. The UK announced 100,000 new Covid cases just yesterday, a new record, and here in the US we've passed 51 million cases and 805,000 deaths, on course to hit 2 million deaths by the lockdown's 2-year anniversary in March.

This map does not make me happy:


About that WWII analogy: By December 1944, the Allies knew they would win eventually. But people living through the war had no idea how long it would continue. Even if they had known, at that point war would continue in Europe for six more months and in the Pacific for three more after that, killing millions more people. Imagine living in eastern France that winter, with the Allies fighting Germany for every hectare of land and you between them, starving. That's where we are today.

I think next summer will feel a lot like the summer of 1945. We'll have a lot to clean up, but we won't be dying as much. Then we can get back to eroding our democracy one congressional district at a time.

Update, 14:15 CST: The Atlantic's Yascha Mounk has similar thoughts.