The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Contradictory transit incentives

Two stories this morning seemed oddly juxtaposed. In good news, the City of Chicago announced plans to spend $15 million on 77 km of new bike and pedestrian trails over the next couple of years:

Several of the projects, including plans to convert an old railroad into a trail in Englewood, are still in the planning and design phases. Others, like Sterling Bay’s planned extension of the 606 Bloomingdale Trail into Lincoln Yards, are set to come to fruition through private partnerships. 

The news release lists 12 projects, including several that had been previously announced, that are set to be funded with a $15 million “commitment to jumpstart” the “key projects citywide.” The $15 million comes from a combination of “federal, state and local sources, including general obligation bonds, Tax Increment Financing, and Open Space Impact Fees,” according to a spokesperson for the city’s planning department.

The City also plans to give away 5,000 bicycles to encourage people to get out of their cars. But at the same time, the City announced it would give away 50,000 gas cards to encourage people not to get out of their cars:

The plan, which comes weeks after possible 2023 mayoral candidate Willie Wilson spearheaded several rounds of free gas giveaways, includes gas cards worth $150 each for as many as 50,000 drivers, and transit cards worth $50 each for as many as 100,000 riders. Wilson on Thursday blasted the mayor’s plan and called it a “political stunt.”

Three-quarters of the transit cards would be prioritized for residents in low-income neighborhoods who use the CTA often. The remainder would be distributed throughout the city.

“It will benefit CTA riders across the city, but especially on the South and West sides,” CTA President Dorval Carter said. “Areas that saw the lowest ridership declines during the pandemic, areas where public transit is the best and sometimes the only option.”

Let's pause for just a moment to give political-stunt-incarnate Willie Wilson a golf clap for calling anything a "political stunt."

I get fretting about gasoline prices if you do what you can to save gas and need your car to survive. But on my trip last week, I got passed by idiots in two-ton SUVs who no doubt complain it costs them $100 to fill their tank.

My little Prius got to and from Kentucky on less than $80 of gas, and even with that trip I've still gotten an average of 2.2 liters per 100 km (156 MPG) so far this year. In fact, the second-worst economy I've ever gotten for a tank of gas in this car was on the return trip from Berea, when I got 5.5 L/100 km (43 MPG) over 610 km (400 miles). Of course, since I got back I've averaged 2 L/100 km (140 MPG).

So maybe if people didn't burn as much gasoline, the city wouldn't feel like giving away gasoline was an option? Just a thought.

Not quite back to normal yet

We had two incredible performances of Bach's Johannespassion this weekend. (Update: we got a great review!) It's a notoriously difficult work that Bach wrote for his small, amateur church chorus in Leipzig the year he started working there. I can only imagine what rehearsals were like in 1724. I'm also grateful that we didn't include the traditional 90-minute sermon between the 39-minute first part and the 70-minute second part, and that we didn't conclude the work with the equally-traditional pogrom against the Jews of Leipzig.

It's still a magnificent work of music.

Meanwhile, elsewhere in the world:

Finally, Rachel Feltman lists five myths about Daylight Saving Time. Our annual tradition of questioning it without changing anything will continue, of course.

And it's about 16°C outside, so it's time to take Cassie on her third half-hour walk of the day.

Productive first day of spring

I finished a sprint at my day job while finding time to take Cassie to the dog park and make a stir-fry for lunch. While the unit tests continue to spin on my work computer, I have some time to read about all the things that went wrong in the world today:

I'm heading out tonight to watch President Biden's first State of the Union Address with friends. Robert Reich will also tune in.

Busy couple of days

I've had a lot to do at work the last couple of days, leading to an absolute pile-up of unread press:

Finally, on this day in 1940, Woody Guthrie released "This Land is Your Land," a song even more misunderstood than Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the USA."

More about the insanity of crypto

A couple more resources about "web3" (cryptocurrencies, NFTs, DAOs, etc) crossed my inbox this week. Even before going through these stories and essays, the only way I can understand the persistence of the fantastic thinking that drives all this stuff is that the people most engaged with it turn out to be the same people who believe all kinds of other fantasies and wish-fulfillment stories.

Case in point: the extreme right-wing protestors up in Canada have received almost all of their funding from American right-wingnuts. Remember: the protestors believe, counter to all evidence, that vaccines cause more harm than good, and that they have a right to remain part of a common society without the responsibility of protecting others in that society from easily-avoided harm.

Because Canada really wants them to go away, and even more than that does not want foreigners funding domestic terrorists, the Canadian government blocked the cross-border financial transfers to the Maple Morons through the regular banking system. It took about 36 seconds for the Americans to try again using cryptocurrencies, and about 14 seconds longer for scammers to piggyback on the effort:

Canada Unity 2022, the group of anti-vaccine protestors who have snarled traffic in Ottawa and earned accolades in the right-wing media, wants to talk to you about Bitcoin.

A handful of the group’s organizers held a press conference on Facebook Live Wednesday that quickly devolved into a presentation on the popular form of cryptocurrency, confusing many of their supporters who were watching online.

“Are we at a press conference for Freedom Convoy 2022 or having some guy shove Bitcoin down our throats?” one commenter griped. “Very disappointed! I came to see updates about progress made by our Truckers.”

In some respects, the convergence of the anti-vaxx protests and Bitcoin was probably inevitable. Last month, the protests drew support from one of the biggest proponents of Bitcoin in the world, Tesla CEO Elon Musk, who tweeted “Canadian truckers rule.” Former President Donald Trump has voiced support, and right-wing figures from Tucker Carlson to Ben Shapiro to Michael Flynn have seized on the trucker protests.

Even better, the way organizers have decided to distribute the Bitcoin meant for the rationality- and education-challenged protestors might not exactly show the benefits of cryptocurrencies in the best light:

Instead of giving the truckers the money in a cash format they can actually use, the "professional orange-piller" in charge of the Bitcoin distribution has explained a multi-step plan to give truckers pieces of paper with seed phrases printed on them. The seed phrases will be placed into sealed envelopes along with instructions on how to create a Bitcoin wallet, which are then "numbered and squiggly random lines should be drawn on the envelope to help with later identification". The volunteers then plan to physically destroy the printer with shears and screwdrivers, to try to prevent attackers from pulling the seed phrases out of the device memory. Of course once the trucker has their seed phrase, they have to go through the multi-step process of gaining access to the Bitcoin wallet on their smartphone, and then figure out how on earth to actually use their newfound Bitcoins to, say, pay for fuel.

That comment comes from software engineer Molly White, who has a delightful and detailed series of essays on blockchain in general. If you have any questions about web3 or blockchain and don't want a sales pitch from someone trying to keep the value his holdings inflated until he can dump them on you, start with White.

In a world where people devalue the study of history and economics in favor of shouting to the world about their magical beliefs, the rise of crypto doesn't surprise me. I don't know what will happen when it all collapses, but I have a pretty good idea who'll get hurt. I wonder who the right-wingnuts will blame when they lose everything? Probably not themselves.

Slow-ish afternoon

I've sent some test results off to a partner in Sydney, so I have to wait until Monday morning before I officially mark that feature as "done." I'm also writing a presentation I'll give on March 16th. So while the larger part of my brain noodles on Microsoft Azure CosmosDB NoSQL databases (the subject of my presentation), the lesser part has this to read:

Finally, software developer Ben Tupper has created a Myst-like game surrounding the mysterious door at 58 Joralemon Street in Brooklyn Heights. I walked past that door every day for almost two years, and even got a peek inside once. It's not really a townhouse, after all.

Mid-afternoon roundup

Before heading into three Zoom meetings that will round out my day, I have a minute to flip through these:

  • US Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) made a bold grab for the Dumbest Person in Congress award yesterday when she warned OAN viewers about House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's "gazpacho police." Let the memes begin.
  • The Economist has an update to the Democratic Freedoms Map, and things do not look good—unless you live in Norway.
  • Along similar lines, WBEZ reports on the Urban Institute's findings that Cook County, Illinois, which contains Chicago, has some extraordinary wealth gaps.
  • 99% Invisible explains how the "future" office historically looks a lot like the past.
  • Arthur C Brooks advises singles to look for complementary, rather than similar, characteristics in potential mates.
  • The Pullman House Project here in Chicago will soon offer tours of the Thomas Dunbar House in the Pullman National Historic Site.

Finally, Tesla has some impressive software in its cars, but it still has a few (very frightening) bugs.

Goo goo g'joob

A Dutch prankster has started a Facebook group that has so far attracted 13,000 people who want to throw rotten eggs at Jeff Bezos' new superyacht:

"Calling all Rotterdammers, take a box of rotten eggs with you and let's throw them en masse at Jeff's superyacht when it sails through the Hef in Rotterdam," wrote organizer Pablo Strörmann.

It all started last week when Dutch broadcaster Rijnmond reported that the city appeared willing to grant a request to dismantle the centuries-old steel bridge so that Bezos' yacht could pass through.

De Hef was built in 1927 as a railway bridge, with a midsection that can be lifted to allow ship traffic to pass underneath, according to The Washington Post. It was replaced by a tunnel and decommissioned in 1994, but was saved from demolition by public protests and later declared a national monument.

The ship's three masts are apparently too high for the bridge's roughly [40-meter] clearance.

Bezos' boat will be the largest superyacht ever built in the Netherlands. At 126 meters, it will be about as long as the Perry-class frigate that appeared in The Hunt for Red October.

As for the feasibility of hitting Bezos' boat with rotten eggs, Curbed looked into it. Yes, they said, it's totally possible. I hope someone posts video.

Monday, Monday

The snow has finally stopped for, we think, a couple of days, and the city has cleared most of the streets already. (Thank you, Mike Bilandic.) What else happened today?

Finally, Weber Grills apologized today for its really unfortunate timing last week, when it emailed thousands of customers a recipe for BBQ meat loaf—on the day singer Meat Loaf died.

Finance stabs another media outlet

Private equity only knows and only cares about money. Starting from that uncontroversial statement, it takes even less imagination and storytelling skills than private-equity-driven G/O Media possesses to predict the ultimate fate of A.V. Club:

Top editorial staff at the Chicago-based A.V. Club, a sister publication to The Onion, are exiting the entertainment website en masse after refusing a mandatory relocation to new offices in Los Angeles.

The seven employees, including the managing editor, TV editor and film editor, all gave the West Coast move the thumbs-down by a Jan. 15 deadline imposed by the A.V. Club’s owner, New York-based G/O Media.

G/O Media, which is owned by Boston-based private equity firm Great Hill Partners, acquired The Onion, A.V. Club and other digital sites from Spanish language broadcaster Univision for an undisclosed price in 2019. Since then, the company has locked horns several times with the Writers Guild of America, East, the union representing editorial staffers at its portfolio of websites.

In October 2019, Deadspin, the irreverent sports website, was all but shut down by a mass exodus of more than 20 New York-based writers and editors who resigned in protest over the editorial direction under its new owners, G/O Media. After a monthslong standoff with the union, G/O Media announced it was relocating Deadspin to Chicago, where it relaunched in March 2020 under the same roof as The Onion.

Well, why would G/O Media care about the current editorial staff? From the perspective of G/O's vacant-eyed suits, A.V. Club is just a series of cash flows, not a group of writers with a 30-year history and a unique perspective on popular culture. G/O cares less about A.V. Club's content than an earthworm cares about Shakespeare. To increase cash flows, reduce costs.

You can't force people to have consciences or empathy, or to care about art or journalism. But you don't have to reward them for apathy.