The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Is it post-empire time yet?

I can't quite draw a line between all of these stories, but it feels like I should:

Finally, a million-liter aquarium in a central Berlin hotel collapsed spectacularly today, causing millions of euros of damage. No people were hurt but 1,500 tropical fish drowned or froze to death in the aftermath.

Another gray morning

As I look out my office window at the blowing snow accumulating on downtown Chicago streets, I think back to days gone by when we had sunlight. Eight straight days of gray tend to wear on a person. It looks like we'll have sun on Sunday, just before the arctic blast comes through and drives temperatures down to -14°C by Wednesday.

This also comes just after Cassie got a perfect bill of health at the vet yesterday—except that she's now 15% overweight. Guess who's getting raw green beans for dinner for the next few weeks? Because even though she has a double coat and loves the cold, -14°C is too cold even for her. Poor bored puppy.

The price of living in the Greatest City in North America

First: the past. Chicago has not seen the sun since last Thursday at all, and hasn't had 50% of possible sunlight since the 4th. We might have sunlight on Sunday—when it's -3°C. Because nothing says "December in Chicago" like 11 days of overcast skies.

Second: the future. Today's forecast predicts temperatures 11°C below normal by next Friday.

But winter builds character.

Disaster averted in London, but not elsewhere

A little less than 50 years ago, the Greater London Council finally abandoned a plan from 1966 that would have obliterated Earls Court, Brixton, Hampstead, and many other central neighborhoods:

If events had turned out differently, Southwyck House would be perched on the edge of the Motorway Box, a 50-mile, eight-lane ring road built across much of inner suburban London, including Brixton. This was only part of the planners’ ambitions. The Box, or Ringway One as it was later titled, was to be the first of three concentric gyratories. Together they would have displaced up to 100,000 people.

Baffling as the idea might seem now, it must be viewed in the context of a time when politicians and planners were panicked about imminent gridlock across the UK’s towns and cities as ever more vehicles took to the roads.

The solution they collectively turned to was the inner-city motorway, an innovation that arguably changed postwar cities as fundamentally as modernist architects’ tower blocks. Here was an entirely new type of street, one that did away with shop fronts, pedestrians, chance encounters or indeed anything recognisably human-scale. For the first time in centuries of urban life, a street was not a public realm, just a conduit between private spaces.

In 1969, while the Ringways plan was being finalised, New York’s mayor, John Lindsay, scrapped [Robert] Moses’ proposal for a massive freeway across lower Manhattan, after pressure from a new breed of activists who had started to ask, for the first time in the automobile era, whether cities should be designed around motor vehicles or human beings.

Most prominent was Jane Jacobs, the visionary urbanist and writer whose idea of a successful city centred on a necessarily organic and unplanned “ballet” of street-based life proved hugely influential in subsequent decades.

Such radical ideas were less embedded in London, and opposition to the Ringways came mainly from a string of small and fragmented local campaigns. But a near-miracle was at hand. In 1970, with the GLC on the verge of starting construction, [Prime Minister Harold] Wilson’s [Labour] government unexpectedly ordered a public inquiry, seemingly spooked by the scale of what was about to be done.

If only other cities had stopped the destruction in time. Here in Chicago, we have three major expressways converging on downtown. In all three cases the construction devastated neighborhoods (usually Black and brown ones) and permanently separated others. They're ugly, and they don't really work; induced demand destroyed their utility almost immediately. And here we are, in 2022, with the city proudly announcing that the "spaghetti bowl," where three massive highways meet just west of Downtown, will reopen this week after a $800 million rebuilding effort.

Cities can recover, but at great expense and often only because an unrelated disaster forces them to act. (See, e.g., San Francisco's Embarcadero Freeway and Rochester, New York's Inner Loop North.) And yet here we are, with 100 years of data about the external costs of high-capacity, limited-access highways in urban areas, unwilling to remove them. Even in places where residents almost universally want the roads removed, politicians refuse to act.

When they write America's obituary, they will list "cars" as one of its causes of death. I'm glad London avoided it.

Where did SBF come from?

Theodore Schleifer examines the intellectual and ethical upbringing of Sam Bankman-Fried, the 30-year-old indicted yesterday for perpetrating one of the biggest frauds in history:

Of all the potentially unanswerable riddles underpinning the Sam Bankman-Fried saga—why did Sequoia invest in a mop-topped kid who played video games during a diligence call; were Alameda and FTX ever really separate?—perhaps the most vexing is how the mastermind of this whole legal and ethical imbroglio was the offspring of two beloved legal scholars who were obsessed with ethics, in an effective-altruist Petri dish focused on analytical rigor, civic-mindedness and, crucially, consequences. How could a family so committed to doing the greatest good for the greatest number end up depriving so many people of so much happiness—and then see their son get arrested?

The optics are complicated for Joe Bankman and Barbara Fried, who flew to The Bahamas amid the collapse of FTX and have remained there to counsel their son, almost as if he were a therapy patient or a legal client. Meanwhile, people on The Farm have been gossiping about how neither parent has any courses at Stanford next year: Joe canceled the one class he was slated to teach over the winter semester, and Barbara is listed as an emerita professor. (She has written that she “hopes” to make a return to teaching in the future.)

Sam has gone out of way to absolve his parents of any culpability in his financial misdeeds, telling Andrew Ross Sorkin at last month’s Dealbook conference that they “bore no responsibility” for the collapse of FTX. “Anyone close to me, including my parents and employees and co-workers who fought with the company to push forward, they were hurt by this,” he said. “I feel really grateful for the support my parents are still giving me throughout all of this.”

And yet the truth is that both parents, whether they bear responsibility or not, are deep in the barrel with Sam. As Reuters has reported, official property records show that Joe Bankman and Barbara Fried were the named owners of a $16.4 million beachside “vacation home” in Old Fort Bay, part of a broader real estate portfolio owned by FTX and senior executives totalling hundreds of millions of dollars. “They may have stayed there while working with the company sometime over the last year,” Sam told Sorkin, though he denied knowing any details about the $300 million worth of real estate that FTX and his parents bought in the Bahamas. (Joe and Barbara have said they’ve been working to return the property to the company for some time.)

I mean, all the ethical rigor in the world won't help if your son is a sociopath.

Such a quiet neighborhood

Before you freak out, I need to remind you that this made the news because this sort of thing happens so rarely. Still, two armed robberies followed by the getaway car bursting into flames just a few blocks away did get my attention:

A driver fleeing police crashed and their car burst into flames Monday morning on a residential block in Lincoln Square, according to police and the local aldermen.

About 10:45 a.m., several people in a stolen silver Hyundai robbed someone in the 1900 block of West Berteau Avenue, then tried to rob someone again in the 4600 block of North Ravenswood Avenue, Ald. Matt Martin posted on Facebook. The robbers were armed, he wrote.

Not long after, officers spotted the car thought to be used in the robberies. The driver of the Hyundai was driving away when they struck a Department of Streets and Sanitation truck that was stopped at the intersection of Oakley Avenue and Winona Street, police said.

The car was engulfed in flames, and those inside ran away, police said. Firefighters put out the fire. No one was injured in the crash, according to police.

The idiots tried to hide in a garage nearby, but by then the commotion had attracted so many onlookers that it took the police about four seconds to find them.

Long weekend

Both of our Messiah performances went well. We had too few rehearsals and too many new members this year to sing the 11 movements from memory that we have done in the past, which meant that all us veterans sang stuff we'd memorized with our scores open. So like many people in the chorus, I felt better about this year than I have since I started. We got a decent review, too.

Also, we passed a milestone yesterday: 1,000 days since my company closed our Chicago office because of the pandemic, on 16 March 2020. Four days later, the state issued the first stay-at-home order. I didn't go back into the office until June 22nd.

Three cheers for the Secretary of State's Office!

Because I moved, I had to change my drivers license in-person at an Illinois Secretary of State Drivers Services Office (our DMV). Let me tell you how hard that was:

  1. I went online yesterday morning and, after a few clicks, got to "Same-Day Appointments."
  2. I found that the facility closest to me (about 5 km away) had appointment times in the late afternoon, so I signed up.
  3. The sign-up process took me to a checklist that helped me figure out what documents I needed to bring. It took me about 15 minutes to assemble those documents in a folder.
  4. Half an hour before my appointment, I drove to the facility, and found a parking space right away.
  5. I went into the Vehicle Services Office next door, and got redirected to the correct building.
  6. There was no line. I went right to the first station, showed him my documents, and was directed to the photo area.
  7. There was no line, so I got my photo taken, and was directed to the to the document verification window.
  8. After waiting 30 seconds in line, the nice lady at the documentation window went over all my documents, verified and scanned them, signed me up for Motor Voter registration, and sent me to the cashier.
  9. There was no line, so I paid my $5, waited for a few seconds while my temporary license printed out, and that was it. Total time: 22 minutes.
  10. Since I was right there anyway, I went next door to Vehicle Services and updated and renewed my car registration. Total time: 6 minutes.

It took me longer to drive to the facility than to update my drivers license, apply for a Real ID, update my auto registration, and renew the same.

I love living in a state where we care about government enough to fund it properly!

Maps and trees

New York City has a huge online map of every tree they manage, and they just updated their UI:

Near the Tennis House in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park grows a magnificent white oak that stands out for its impressive stature, with a trunk that’s nearly four feet wide. But the massive tree does more than leave visitors in awe. It also provides a slew of ecological benefits, absorbing some 25,000 tons of carbon dioxide and intercepting nearly 9,000 gallons of stormwater each year, according to city data. It also removes pollutants from the air and help the the city conserve enough energy to power a one- or two-bedroom apartment for roughly two months.

In economic terms, just that one tree contributes more than $550 each year.

Such fine-grained information is now available for more than 150,000 trees in parks managed by NYC Parks and Recreation via a new living tree guide from the agency. The New York City Tree Map, launched Thursday, is an expansion of the city’s existing street tree map, which since 2016 has enabled New Yorkers to get up close and personal with the 650,000-some trees that line their neighborhood sidewalks.

Hey, Chicago: when do we get one of these?

Anals (?) of bad URLs

Crain's reported this morning that a company I used to work for has laid off 180 workers, about 10% of its workforce. I hope none of the people I'm still friends with was affected.

Also unfortunate is the URL that Crain's content server generated, which makes the story seem much more complicated than the news would otherwise suggest:

really hope that (a) none of my friends had that happen to them, and (b) some prankster gamed the system to produce that URL. Because in a way, yes, some employees definitely got screwed.