The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Maybe I should visit a cemetery?

The current work sprint ends tomorrow. Throughout, I've had several moments of "wow, I actually did that right three years ago" as I've extended or improved existing features for the next release. I've even added a couple of extra stories that didn't take me long to do.

Meanwhile, I'm starting to get the sense of what it might be like when I'm 80, coughing so much that for the first time in years I'll actually miss rehearsal tonight. Which explains this post's headline: the cemetery is usually where the coffin stops.

Ah, ha ha.

I'm also reminded that, five years ago, we had some weird weather. We have some weird weather today, too, but in the opposite direction.

Anyway, if I can get this coughing under control, and get some sleep tonight, I should have more creative things to say tomorrow.

Republicans care more about their religion than your rape

Between the Dobbs decision allowing states to enforce or enact medieval restrictions on women's rights, an estimated 59,000 pregnancies resulted from rapes in states where women could no longer terminate them:

A new study estimates that more than 64,000 pregnancies resulted from rape between July 1, 2022, and January 1, 2024, in states where abortion has been banned throughout pregnancy in all or most cases. Of these, just more than 5,500 are estimated to have occurred in states with rape exceptions—and nearly 59,000 are estimated for states without exceptions. The authors calculate that more than 26,000 rape-caused pregnancies may have taken place in Texas alone. The findings were published on Wednesday in JAMA Internal Medicine.

“Highly stigmatized life events are hard to measure. And many survivors of sexual violence do not want to disclose that they went through this incredibly stigmatizing traumatic life event,” says Samuel Dickman, chief medical officer at Planned Parenthood of Montana, who led the study. “We will never know the true number of survivors of rape and sexual assault in the U.S.”

The researchers obtained their findings by combining data from multiple sources. Because state-level data weren’t available, the team analyzed national data from a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey on intimate partner sexual violence from 2016 to 2017. The researchers also used a Bureau of Justice Statistics survey on criminal victimization. Putting these together, they determined the number of completed vaginal rapes among girls and women of reproductive age—defined as between the ages of 15 and 45 (although some even younger girls and older women are also capable of pregnancy).

The XPOTUS put the deciding votes on the Supreme Court. George W Bush elevated John Roberts—no moderate, he, despite his PR—to the center seat. When you vote for Republicans, this is what you get.

And I guess Texas governor Greg Abbott needs to work a little harder to "eliminate rape" in his state. How surprising that he never really came through with that promise.

Winter in the air

We officially had our first freeze last night as the temperature at O'Hare dipped to -1°C. At Inner Drive Technology World HQ it only got down to 0.1°C, barely above freezing, but still cold enough to put on ear muffs and gloves taking Cassie to day camp this morning. It'll warm up a bit this weekend, though.

Meanwhile, I'm writing a longer post about propaganda, which I may post today or tomorrow. And that's not the only fun thing happening in the world, either:

  • Ukraine has had a lot of success blowing up $2 million Russian tanks with $400 drones. Good.
  • The XPOTUS keeps making fun of the President's age, which, like everything else he does and says, turns out to have a pretty large element of projection. (Remember: to figure out what the XPOTUS wants to do, listen to what he says our lot are doing.) Bad.
  • Chicago house prices have risen faster than in any other major US city lately, but only because they still lag almost every other US city. Mixed.
  • BlueTriton, the parent company of Poland Springs-brand bottled water, not only sells one of the worst products for degrading our natural environment, but also has engaged in ballsy corruption to "persuade" the Maine legislature to let it continue doing so. Bad.
  • HackRead reports a 587% increase in "quishing" attacks, where bad guys get you to scan bogus QR codes to steal your credentials. Very bad.
  • Paleontologists have published evidence that the dust layer kicked up by the Chicxulub impact 66 million years ago may have persisted for 15 years, shutting down photosynthesis entirely for up to 24 months. Bad for the dinosaurs, good for the paleontologists.

Finally, as you sniffle and snort this winter, it might not comfort you to know that you have two noses that can get congested and runny. Bad.

Went to the doctor, and guess what he told me?

Sadly, my doctor did not tell me to try to have fun no matter what I do, though we did have a brief conversation about which Bourbons we both like. Nope, he just said I'm perfectly healthy: I exercise enough, I eat right, I don't drink too much, my vital signs are perfect, and I get enough sleep. Doctor visits should be like software releases: boring.

If only that were true elsewhere:

Finally, for those of you just tuning in, Chicago-based Motorola invented cell phones. And today marks (only!) the 40th anniversary of David Meilahn making the world's first commercial cellular telephone call from Chicago's Soldier Field. Meilahn won a race to get his phone turned on and dialed in order to get that bit of recognition.

On a more serious note, I haven't commented on the war in Gaza yet because I haven't sifted through all the propaganda and disinformation enough. Julia Ioffe said a lot of what I'm thinking on Monday, but right now, no one can hear us moderates. I plan to address it soon. Maybe my lone center-left voice will end 3,000 years of conflict peacefully, who knows?

Annual pseudo-flu

I got my Covid and flu boosters yesterday afternoon, which my body noticed around midnight. I spent a couple of hours overnight with a mild (<2°C) fever and feeling generally unpleasant. Last year's jabs worked, as far as I know. I hope this year's do as well.

Right now, though, I could use a nap. And both my arms are sore.

Cooler and cloudier with a chance of hypocrisy

Today's weather feels like we might have real fall weather soon. Today's XKCD kind of nails it, too—not the weather, but the calendar.

In addition to nice weather, we have a nice bit of elected-official hypocrisy, too: the president of the Chicago Teachers Union got caught sending her son to a private school, and giving a really crappy explanation for it.

In other news:

  • A jury took all of four hours to convict right-wing intellectual grifter Peter Navarro of contempt of Congress for ignoring the January 6th Committee's subpoena.
  • Josh Marshall yawns at attempts to have the XPOTUS barred from the ballot on 14th Amendment grounds, even while conceding that's exactly what the section 4 of the Amendment is for.
  • Even though they've attacked abortion rights, sex education, books and movies that feature independent women, and pretty much anything that empowers women and girls, the not-at-all-misogynist Republican Party now wants to end no-fault divorce, allowing as it does women to leave the "covenant" they made with their abusers.
  • Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis told US Representative and contender for "Dumbest Person in Congress" Jim Jordan (R-OH) to go—sorry, she essentially said "bless your heart" in a delightful response to his threats of Congressional oversight.
  • Julia Ioffe looks at the increasing cynicism of Africans and their rekindled affection for violent coups d'état.
  • Veteran writer Tom Fontana ("St Elsewhere", "Oz," "Homicide: Life on the Street") reflects on his 4th writers strike in 40 years, and how pissed off he is.
  • Strong Towns highlights a mapping tool to demonstrate how much of your city comprises parking lots. Unless you live in New York, San Francisco, San Juan, Washington, or Chicago, it's pretty grim.
  • The National Hurricane Center warns that Hurricane Lee will reach category 5 before dissipating, but fortunately looks likely to miss more-populated areas—though Puerto Rico could get tropical storm winds early Sunday morning.
  • National Geographic profiles Ann McKee's extraordinary work researching chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), which cripples and kills US footballers more than people admit.

Finally, an old friend traveling back from Burning Man to Montreal plans to crash at my place on Saturday evening. I have two days to read up on the desert full of moop, Cory Doctorow's assertion that this Burn really was different, and the evidence that climate change played an outsized role in the muddy hell at Black Rock City this year.

A wish list

I'll elaborate on this later, but I just want to list a couple of things I desperately want for my country and city during my lifetime. For comparison, I'm also listing when other places in the world got them first. For context, I expect (hope?) to live another 50 years or so.

Universal health care, whether through extending Medicare to all residents or through some other mechanism. The UK got it in 1948, Canada in 1984, and Germany in 1883. We're the only holdout in the OECD, and it benefits no one except the owners and shareholders of private insurance companies to continue our broken system.

Universal child care, which would enable single parents to work without going broke on daycare. Much of Continental Europe makes this a no-brainer, with free day care for little kids and extended school hours for older ones. In a report covering 41 rich countries, UNICEF puts Luxembourg first, Germany 5th, Canada 22nd...and the US 40th. Only Slovakia treats its kids worse. (The UK is 35th, which is sad.)

Term limits on appellate judges, including an 18-year term for the Supreme Court and a 13-year term for the Circuit Courts. The UK and Canada require judges to retire at 75; Japan at 70; and Mexico after 15 years. Every US State (except Rhode Island) has some limitation on its supreme court, whether through mandatory retirement, term limits, or elections. This doesn't require anything more than an act of Congress, as former Justices and Appellate Judges would still continue to serve in other Federal courts "during good Behaviour." I would also like to see a Governor-appointed, single-term Illinois supreme court.

A functioning opposition party, both at the Federal level (either through the Republicans coming to their senses or a serious third party replacing them in opposition or governance), and here in Illinois. As much as I like the current Democratic trifecta in my state, I don't think single-party governance is healthy, as it tends to become single-party rule, followed shortly by something worse. All of our peer nations (except possibly the Republic of Korea) have had two or more functioning parties since the end of World War II. Only 11 US states currently have divided governments, and in 4 of the 6 most populous (California, New York, Texas, and Illinois), the party out of power has almost no power at all and no hope of getting elected this decade. Illinois farmers need an effective voice in the General Assembly; right now, they have the modern GOP.

A larger House of Representatives. We last expanded our lower house in 1913, when the US population was less than 1/3 what it is today. As of 2020, each congressional district has an average population of 762,000, with Delaware having its entire population of nearly 1 million represented by one person. The average Canadian riding has 108,000, the average UK constituency is between 56,000 (Wales) and 72,000 (England), and the Bundestag elects 598 members on a proportional basis by party and Land population. One plan I like would take the largest state that currently has 1 representative (Delaware), give it and the three smaller states 2, then use that as the size of the other districts. At roughly 500,000 per district, we'd have around 650 representatives, giving us a House the size of the UK House of Commons.

End Gerrymandering. Require that all electoral districts for any office have compact, contiguous outlines drawn by non-partisan commissions at each level of government. I would also allow multi-representative districts chosen by proportional vote (for example, a 2-person district where the first and second vote-getters win). Canada passed legislation making malapportionment much harder in the 1990s, as did the UK in 2015, while Germany has proportional representation which nearly (but not totally) obviates it. This has to be done nationally, because as the Democratic legislatures in California and Illinois would like to remind the Republican legislatures in Texas and Florida, we'll put down our guns when you put down yours.

Realistic gun regulation, including mandatory licensure and registration, limits and painful taxes on ammunition purchases, and allowing local jurisdictions to set their own regulations—up or down, for the sake of rural residents—on who can own what kinds of firearms. The UK and Australia famously enacted tough laws after mass shootings in 1996; Canada in 1977; Germany in 1973. I should also point out that Switzerland—where every adult male must own a gun—has more liberal gun laws than the US in some ways, but still restricted entire classes of weapons in 2019, and has severe penalties for misusing them.

De-militarize local police forces. There's a reason George Washington feared a standing army, and why many Americans fear they live with one today. Everyone who cares about police policy should read Radley Balko's The Rise of the Warrior Cop. All of our peer nations have strict rules against police agencies using military weapons and tactics, and most UK cops still walk around unarmed and unmolested to this day. I've used Germany as a Continental example for many of these points, so let me just say that Germany has a great deal of experience with heavily-armed local paramilitary forces, and they don't ever want to see them again. Why are we building them here? We frogs need to hop out of the pot—and soon.

Fully-electric commuter rail in Chicago. London skipped from coal to electric in the 1950s, and Munich in the 1920s. Toronto, sadly, still uses diesel trains, but they're fixing that. Sure, this would cost about $5 billion, but it would bring more than that in benefits to the whole Chicago area. For example, a side-effect of London electrifying was to drastically increase the value of workingmen's houses along rights-of-way (seriously, £1.2 m for a tiny house!), as they're awfully convenient to Central London without getting flaming cinders dropped on them anymore.

High-speed rail between most US cities less than 500 km apart, like Chicago-Detroit, San Francisco-L.A.-San Diego, and Dallas-Houston-San Antonio. (Not to mention, real high-speed rail throughout the Northeast Corridor, none of this anemic 110 km/h crap.) Most of Europe has had true HSR since the 1990s, starting with the French TGV in the 1980s. The London-Paris Eurostar came in 1994, moving people between the two cities in just over two hours—quicker than you can get from central London to your airplane seat at Heathrow. It's criminal that it takes 4½ hours to travel the 450 km between Chicago and Detroit, while you can get from Paris to Lyon (also about 450 km) in just over 2. And if they can spend £25 billion (in 2023 pounds) to build a 50-kilometer tunnel under the English Channel, we can spend half that to build a 20-kilometer tunnel under Long Island Sound, FFS.

This list isn't exhaustive, by any means. I believe the US has the resources to accomplish all of them in the next 10 years, let alone the next 50. We just lack the political will, especially in the modern Republican Party, which lacks the understanding that American greatness has always depended on collective effort.

The United States is no longer the greatest country in the world...but it could be again.

A tale of two health systems

The US and the UK share a common language, a common legal tradition, and a common scourge of right-leaning political parties trying to destroy anything that the government does better than private industry. Despite over a century of evidence that many public services are natural monopolies, and therefore will provide poor quality at inflated prices whenever personal profits get involved, the electorates of both countries keep believing the lie that "industry does it better."

That's why 13 years of Conservative rule has hollowed out the UK's National Health Service (NHS), and why 25 years of Republican obstructionism has allowed corporate mergers to gut US health care.

First the NHS. As journalist Sam Freedman recently explained, NHS administration plus the Tories cutting funding to the NHS repeatedly have left the UK almost as badly off as the US in health-care outcomes:

It is well known within health policy circles that the NHS is severely undermanaged compared to other systems. The UK spends less than half the OECD average on management and administration, which is why I bang my head against the nearest wall whenever I see a newspaper splash bemoaning fat cat managers, or yet another politician promising to get more resources to the “frontline”. It is, of course, the case that if frontline staff are not properly supported they end up becoming expensive admin staff themselves (see also policing). Meanwhile the number of managers per NHS employee has fallen by over 25% since 2010 due to deliberate policy decisions from the centre of government, particularly Andrew Lansley’s disastrous “reforms”.

Meanwhile the central bureaucracy has grown to manage all this complexity. There are fewer managers but more managers managing the managers. .... The lack of clarity as to what they are supposed to be achieving is concerning, and we’ve already seen the Secretary of State slash their funding, which can hardly help.

Overall though we are drifting further into crisis due to a stubborn refusal to accept the obvious. Doctors need to be paid more. There needs to be significantly greater capital investment – in beds, equipment and IT. We need more managers, with greater autonomy. Yes this all costs money but at the moment we are wasting enormous sums on a low productivity system.

Meanwhile, the ever-more-desperate search for higher returns has led private equity to invest heavily in US health care providers, even though (a) they know nothing about health care and (b) it elevates profit-seeking behavior to actual rent-seeking, not to mention driving doctors and nurses out of practice:

E.R. doctors have found themselves at the forefront of these trends as more and more hospitals have outsourced the staffing in emergency departments in order to cut costs. A 2013 study by Robert McNamara, the chairman of the emergency-medicine department at Temple University in Philadelphia, found that 62 percent of emergency physicians in the United States could be fired without due process. Nearly 20 percent of the 389 E.R. doctors surveyed said they had been threatened for raising quality-of-care concerns, and pressured to make decisions based on financial considerations that could be detrimental to the people in their care, like being pushed to discharge Medicare and Medicaid patients or being encouraged to order more testing than necessary. In another study, more than 70 percent of emergency physicians agreed that the corporatization of their field has had a negative or strongly negative impact on the quality of care and on their own job satisfaction.

Concerns about the corporate takeover of America’s medical system are hardly new. More than half a century ago, the writers Barbara and John Ehrenreich assailed the power of pharmaceutical companies and other large corporations in what they termed the “medical-industrial complex,” which, as the phrase suggests, was anything but a charitable enterprise. In the decades that followed, the official bodies of the medical profession seemed untroubled by this. To the contrary, the American Medical Association consistently opposed efforts to broaden access to health care after World War II, undertaking aggressive lobbying campaigns against proposals for a single-payer public system, which it saw as a threat to physicians’ autonomy.

Throughout the medical system, the insistence on revenue and profits has accelerated. This can be seen in the shuttering of pediatric units at many hospitals and regional medical centers, in part because treating children is less lucrative than treating adults, who order more elective surgeries and are less likely to be on Medicaid. It can be seen in emergency rooms that were understaffed because of budgetary constraints long before the pandemic began. And it can be seen in the push by multibillion-dollar companies like CVS and Walmart to buy or invest in primary-care practices, a rapidly consolidating field attractive to investors because many of the patients who seek such care are enrolled in the Medicare Advantage program, which pays out $400 billion to insurers annually. Over the past decade, meanwhile, private-equity investment in the health care industry has surged, a wave of acquisitions that has swept up physician practices, hospitals, outpatient clinics, home health agencies. McNamara estimates that the staffing in 30 percent of all emergency rooms is now overseen by private-equity-owned firms. Once in charge, these companies “start squeezing the doctors to see more patients per hour, cutting staff,” he says.

As demonstrated repeatedly in public services as diverse as transport and drinking water, taking the profit (or rent-seeking) motivation out of the equation leads to better outcomes for everyone—except the private monopolists. But that's what governments are for.

Universal coverage is more important than who pays

Dr Aaron Carroll of Indiana University studied five other rich-country health systems to figure out what we need in the US:

We are one of the few developed countries that does not have universal coverage. We spend an extraordinary amount on health care, far more than anyone else. And our broad outcomes are middling at best.

When we do pay attention to this issue, our debates are profoundly unproductive. Discussions of reform here in the United States seem to focus on two options: Either we maintain the status quo of what we consider a “private” system, or we move toward a single-payer system like Canada’s.

It’s outrageous that the health care system hasn’t been a significant issue in the 2024 presidential race so far.

Even if we did have that national conversation, I fear we’d be arguing about the wrong things. We have spent the last several decades fighting about health insurance coverage.

No other country I’ve visited has these debates the way we do. Insurance is really just about moving money around. It’s the least important part of the health care system.

Universal coverage matters. What doesn’t is how you provide that coverage, whether it’s a fully socialized National Health Service, modified single-payer schemes, regulated nonprofit insurance or private health savings accounts. All of the countries I visited have some sort of mechanism that provides everyone coverage in an easily explained and uniform way. That allows them to focus on other, more important aspects of health care.

It's almost as if entrenched special interests, like the insurance industry, want us to keep debating insurance rather than health care outcomes. And we seem to fall for it every election.

Asyncing feeling

I spent all day updating my real job's software to .NET 7, and to predominantly asynchronous operation throughout. Now I have four stubbornly failing unit tests that lead me to suspect I got something wrong in the async timing somewhere. It's four out of 507, so most of today's work went fine.

Meanwhile, the following stories have backed up:

Finally, a very rich person is very annoyed after his or her private jet got stuck in the mud at Aspen's airport. It seems the guy sent to pull it out of the mud maybe needed another lesson on how planes work, because he managed to snap the nose gear right off the $3.5 million airplane. Oopsi. (There's video!)