The December solstice happened about 8 hours ago, which means we'll have slightly more daylight today than we had yesterday. Today is also the 50th anniversary of Elvis Presley's meeting with Richard Nixon in the White House.
More odd things of note:
Finally, it's very likely you've made out with a drowning victim from the 19th century.
The first polls close in the US next Tuesday in Indiana at 6 pm EST (5 pm Chicago time, 22:00 UTC) and the last ones in Hawaii and Alaska at 7pm HST and 8pm AKST respectively (11 pm in Chicago, 05:00 UTC). You can count on all your pocket change that I'll be live-blogging for most of that time. I do plan actually to sleep next Tuesday, so I can't guarantee we'll know anything for certain before I pass out, but I'll give it the college try.
- The US Senate confirmed Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court last night by a vote of 52-48, with only Susan Collins (R-ME) joining the Democrats. It's the first time since Reconstruction that the Senate confirmed an Associate Justice with no votes from the opposition party. And in the history of our country, only two people have been confirmed by a smaller margin: Brett Kavanaugh and Clarence Thomas. I'm sure the three of them will continue to fight for bipartisanship and good jurisprudence as strongly as they ever have.
- Emma Green points out "the inevitability of Amy Coney Barrett," because the Republicans don't care. And Olivia Nuzzi brings us the story of "the tortured self-justification of one very powerful Trump-loathing anonymous Republican."
- Bill McKibben reminds us "there's nothing sacred about nine justices; a livable planet, on the other hand..."
- Speaking of the planet, Tropical Storm Zeta became Hurricane Zeta last night. The 2020 season has now tied the all-time record for the number of named Atlantic storms set in January 2006, and it's only October.
- Bars and restaurants in suburban Cook County have to close again tomorrow as statewide Covid-19 cases exceed 4,500 on a rolling 14-day average. Some parts of the state have seen positivity rates over 7.5% in the last couple of weeks. My favorite take-out Chinese place down by my office is also closing for the winter, which I understand but which still saddens me.
- The Washington Post asked TV screenwriters how 2020 should end.
- In one small bit of good news, the Food and Drug Administration has finally agreed that whisky is gluten-free, as gluten does not evaporate in the distilling process and so stays in the mash.
Finally, from a reader in Quebec comes a tip about violent clashes between a Canadian First Nation, the Mi'kmaw tribe of Nova Scotia, and local commercial fishermen over First Nations lobster rights. If you think Canada is a land without racism, well...they're just more polite about it.
After a 10-hour flight from Spain to Toronto, a rescue Podenco named Crystal discovered that someone had failed to properly secure her crate, and she was off:
Over the next 12 hours, a highly coordinated search ensued, replete with CCTV security, thermal infrared cameras and a call for help to the Falcon Environment Services, the airport wildlife team. All arrivals and departures were suspended for at least an hour on Tuesday morning as staff searched high and low for Crystal.
Finding her wasn’t the issue, Chris Stubbs said — the hardest part was being able to catch her. “There were times where it just looked like a white blur running down the taxiway,” Stubbs said
Podencos are close relatives of the greyhound, native to Spain, and were popularly adopted as hunting dogs, which explains their speed and agility.
At two points, Crystal appeared on the runway as aircraft were landing, forcing pilots to quickly abort.
By the 12th hour, Crystal had worn herself out and crawled under a truck to rest, giving [animal control specialist Keith] Everett the rare opportunity to crawl close and slip a leash over her head. Rather than rush her out, he stayed under the truck with the scared, exhausted pup and tried to gain her trust by talking and giving her treats.
The pandemic saved her, by the way. At full capacity, Pearson has hundreds of takeoffs and landings every day. The airport would have had to use a much quicker and more permanent method to protect aviation safety in that case.
Crystal now lives with her adoptive family in New Brunswick.
I'm glad I took a long walk yesterday and not today, because of this:
In other news:
- State health officials warn that suburban Cook County (the immediate suburbs surrounding Chicago) has experienced a resurgence in Covid-19 cases, and placed it and 29 other counties on warning that social restrictions could resume next week.
- Moreover, Covid-19 leads in a massive wave of excess deaths reported by the Cook County Medical Examiner this week. Suicides, homicides, and overdoses are also at near-record levels.
- Jonathan Russo, writing in TPM Cafe, lays out the case that Russian dictator Vladimir Putin got what he wanted with his meddling in the 2016 US elections, and stands to gain even more if the president wins (or somehow achieves) re-election.
- The nationalist, right-wing disease has started to infect Canada as well, as their new Conservative Party leader Erin O'Toole has adopted a "Canada First" platform.
- Graceland Cemetery, which doubles as an arboretum, will be closed for the longest period in its 160-year history because of damage from the August 10th derecho.
- Mother Jones obtained video from a 10 December 2015 deposition showing Donald Trump boasting about his lack of ethics and ignorance of the law.
Finally, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine has called for an end to Daylight Saving Time—not just the twice-annual time changes associated with the practice.
Illinois has had a stay-at-home order in effect for over seven weeks now, though last week the state and county opened up forest trails and other outdoor activities that allow for proper distancing and discourage people clumping together in groups. So today I drove up to the northern suburbs to the site of the largest Civilian Conservation Corps project undertaken during the agency's run from 1933 to 1940.
It was good to get outside. Not my fastest-ever pace, but still respectable, and somehow I got over 10,000 steps just on the walk.
And when I got back, this was waiting in my inbox:
Remember slow news days? Me neither.
And finally, a cute diner in Toronto where I had breakfast last June has moved to delivery service during the lockdown. Too bad they can't deliver to Chicago.
Happy May Day! Or m'aidez? Hard to know for sure right now. The weather in Chicago is sunny and almost the right temperature, and I have had some remarkable productivity at work this week, so in that respect I'm pretty happy.
But I woke up this morning to the news that Ravinia has cancelled its entire 2020 season, including a performance of Bernstein's White House Cantata that featured my group, the Apollo Chorus of Chicago. This is the first time Ravinia has done so since 1935.
If only that were everything.
First, via Josh Marshall, former Obama Administration disaster-preparedness expert Jeremy Konydndyk lays out the facts about our plateau (60,000 excess weekly deaths) and how the Trump Administration continues to do nothing to help us slow Covid-19 deaths.
Next, all of this:
- The Experimental Aviation Association cancelled AirVenture 2020, the huge annual fly-in that brings thousands of airplanes to Oshkosh, Wis. (Bonus: video of a brand-new Airbus A-380 landing at the small Wisconsin airport in 2009.)
- The New Republic on "the morbid ideology behind the drive to reopen America."
- Republican legislatures and governors made it harder to get unemployment benefits in general, which makes it needlessly difficult to get them in this current crisis.
- Trump whipped out his "very good people" trope to support the armed protesters who stormed the Michigan State Capitol this week.
- Paul Krugman: "Crashing economy, rising stocks: What's going on?"
- Megan Garber: "Groundhog Day was a horror movie all along."
- Bruce Schneier says Covid-19 contact tracing apps "have absolutely no value." Only "ubiquitous, cheap, fast, and accurate testing" will make a difference.
- Alexandra Petri: "Heroes, we cannot possibly repay you for your sacrifice, so we will make no effort to." ("We will give you everything except PPE, and we will offer you all the thanks in the world but an increase in compensation.")
But some good news:
Finally, while alarming in its own right, the record water levels in Lake Michigan (4 months in a row now) have exposed some historic shipwrecks.
Demand for petroleum has crashed so hard and so fast that North American oil producers have run out of space to store the excess. This morning the price of US crude collapsed, falling 105 500% to $-2 $-37.63 per barrel; Canadian oil prices also dropped negative. That's right, if you want to take a million or so barrels off their hands, they'll pay you to do so. (This only affects delivery by month's end; for delivery in May, oil still costs $20 a barrel.)
Meanwhile, in other horrific news:
Finally, the Covid-19 emergency has led to mass layoffs of architects, one of the hardest-hit professions in any recession. I'm currently reading Robert Caro's The Power Broker, his biography of Robert Moses, and just at the point where he mentions that in 1934, 5 out of 6 architects had lost their jobs. Everything old is new again.
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.
A bomb snowstorm buried much of Newfoundland this week, breaking all kinds of records in the process:
The historic blizzard that slammed Canada’s easternmost province is headed for Greenland — but it left snow-buried neighborhoods, a slew of power outages and shattered records in its wake.
St. John’s superseded its record for the most snow in 24 hours, recording 762 mm, as the storm hit Newfoundland and Labrador on Friday. A state of emergency continued in the provincial capital and elsewhere through Sunday as most businesses were ordered closed and few beyond emergency vehicles were allowed on the roads. Snow drifts rose 4–5 meters high on some highways, officials said. The Canadian armed forces were called in to help clear the deluge.
The storm was a meteorological “bomb,” having undergone a process of rapid intensification known as bombogenesis. With its central air pressure dropping quickly, the storm drew surrounding air into its center, causing sustained winds in some parts of Newfoundland and Labrador to reach 118 km/h or greater, with higher gusts. The winds combined with the heavy snowfall to create whiteout conditions.
NOAA’s Ocean Prediction Center determined the central air pressure of the storm bottomed out at 954 millibars early Saturday morning, more than a 54-millibar drop in less than 48 hours.
And you thought your winter weather sucked...