The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Ninety years ago

Time is funny. On this day, 90 years ago, radio station WXYZ in Detroit began a serial called "The Lone Ranger," written by Fran Striker, who had probably never seen Texas or a Native American person in his life.

When I read that this morning, it struck me that the radio audience in Detroit had living memory of the closest historical analogue to the entirely-fictional Lone Ranger character. Deputy US Marshall Bass Reeves served from 1875 to 1907, retiring just 26 years before the radio show started. So to the radio audience, the period depicted in the show was only as far back as 1997 is to us. The Lone Ranger show, in other words, was as historical to the audience as Life On Mars was to its viewers in 2007, or NYPD Blue is to us today.

I remember growing up in the 1970s and thinking that the 1960s were this weird, long-forgotten time before my world existed. Kind of like my friends' kids think the 2000s were the same.

One other thing. In one of life's weird coincidences, 30 January 1933 also saw the appointment of a new German Chancellor who nearly destroyed Europe. The guy appointing him to the spot thought the grown-ups in the room could contain him. Glad we learned from that mistake.

Collateral damage from urban interstates

I've written before about urban highways, never favorably. Ploughing massive roads through dense urban areas has done incalculable damage to North American cities that tearing them down or burying them has only just started to fix—but usually with an order of magnitude more cost than their initial construction.

Today I got an innocent little email listing houses for sale around Chicago, both because I'm interested to see what's out there, and also because I've been too lazy to turn it off since I last moved. But one house stood out today: a beautiful, 4-bedroom Victorian built in 1898 with a lovely wraparound porch, tons of light and air, steps from everything.

I would love to live in a house just like this. In fact, there are similar houses near me, with price tags around $2-$3 million.

This stately lady in Old Irving Park can be yours for only $750,000. And that jaw-dropping difference in value is entirely due to its location.

You see, even though this house is steps from everything—only four blocks to the Metra, three blocks to the El, close to the shops in the historic commercial corridor along Elston—it's also just 200 meters from the 10-lane I-90/94 expressway:

I mean, holy hell. Getting to the El or to the Metra stations at Mayfair or Irving Park requires crossing all those lanes of traffic. I've done it; the Montrose and Irving Park bridges are soul-crushing for pedestrians. Worse, the Keeler underpass (which you'd take to the Irving Park station) requires you to cross two entrance and exit ramps on either side of a half-block-long underpass.

I'm not even going to talk about how loud the 10 lanes of traffic must be.

In short, this beautiful house, "the second built in the area," can't get anywhere near the price it would had the city not destroyed the neighborhood in the 1950s.

Sad.

Friday night I crashed your party

Just a pre-weekend rundown of stuff you might want to read:

  • The US Supreme Court's investigation into the leak of Justice Samuel Alito's (R) Dobbs opinion failed to identify Ginny Thomas as the source. Since the Marshal of the Court only investigated employees, and not the Justices themselves, one somehow does not feel that the matter is settled.
  • Paul Krugman advises sane people not to give in to threats about the debt ceiling. I would like to see the President just ignore it on the grounds that Article 1, Section 8, Article VI, and the 14th Amendment make the debt ceiling unconstitutional in the first place.
  • In other idiotic Republican economics (redundant, I know), Rep. Buddy Carter (R-GA) has proposed a 30% national sales tax to replace all income and capital-gains taxes that I really hope the House passes just so the Senate can laugh at it while campaigning against it.
  • Amazon has decided to terminate its Smile program, the performative-charity program that (as just one example) helped the Apollo Chorus raise almost $100 of its $250,000 budget last year. Whatever will we do to make up the shortfall?
  • How do you know when you're on a stroad? Hint: when you really don't want to be.
  • Emma Collins does not like SSRIs.
  • New York Times science writer Matt Richtel would like people to stop calling every little snowfall a "bomb cyclone." So would I.
  • Slack's former Chief Purple People Eater Officer Nadia Rawlinson ponders the massive tech layoffs this week. (Fun fact: the companies with the most layoffs made hundreds of billions in profits last year even as market capitalization declined! I wonder what all these layoffs mean to the shareholders? Hmm.)
  • Amtrak plans to buy a bunch of new rail cars to replace the 40-year-old rolling stock on their long-distance routes. Lots of "ifs" in there, though. I still hope that, before I die of old age, the US will have a rail travel that rivals anything Europe had in 1999.
  • The guy who went to jail over his fraudulent and incompetent planning of the Fyre Festival a couple of years ago wants to try again, now that he's out.

Finally, Monica Lewinsky ruminates on the 25 years since her name popped up on a news alert outing her relationship with President Clinton. One thing she realized:

The Tonight Show With Jay Leno died in 2014. For me, not a day too soon. At the end of Leno’s run, the Center for Media and Public Affairs at George Mason University analyzed the 44,000 jokes he told over the course of his time at the helm. While President Clinton was his top target, I was the only one in the top 10 who had not specifically chosen to be a public person.

If you don't follow her on social media, you're missing out. She's smart, literate, and consistently funny.

San Francisco photos

First, on the flight from Dallas to San Francisco, this handsome boi slept peacefully on the floor four rows ahead of me:

Bane is a malamute mix, 11 years old, and here in the SFO baggage claim area, very tired.

Monday morning, I walked over to the Ferry Terminal on my way to the Caltrain terminal at 4th and King. This guy posed long enough for me to compose and take a shot:

I don't know his name, or even whether he's male. Sorry.

Later, in Palo Alto, I stumbled upon this historic site:

That's the garage at Dave Packard's house where he and Bill Hewlett created their company in 1939.

I didn't bring my real camera to San Francisco this time because I thought it would rain throughout the trip. Next time, though.

Another step in the slow decline of an empire

The United States once had the best universities in the world. Maybe we still do, to an extent. Most empires, in their primes, have them. But in every culture, some people simply don't (or can't) understand the benefits of learning for its own sake. In the waning days of empire, when politics drifts farther from governing and closer to self-dealing, people who do understand why we need great universities nevertheless see political advantage in pretending we don't.

In the last week I've seen three unrelated articles about this symptom of American decline, from three different perspectives, that make me thing the United States has another century or so before we no longer have the tools or the will to remain the shining beacon on the hill we have always fancied ourselves.

First, Tom Nichols provides a snapshot of one university where the students exercise so much control over the curriculum that they have shut themselves off from real learning:

Unless you follow academic politics, you might have missed the recent controversy at Hamline University, a small private college in St. Paul, Minnesota. The short version is that a professor named Erika López Prater showed students in her global-art-history class a 14th-century painting depicting the Prophet Muhammad. Aware that many Muslims regard such images as sacrilege, she warned ahead of time that she was going to show the picture and offered to excuse any student who did not want to view it.

Professor López Prater’s contract has not been renewed, and she will not be returning to the classroom. The university strenuously denies that she was fired. Of course, colleges let adjuncts go all the time, often reluctantly. But this, to me, seems like something more.

The “rights” of students were not jeopardized, and no curriculum owes a “debt” to any student’s “traditions, beliefs, and views.” (Indeed, if you don’t want your traditions, beliefs, or views challenged, then don’t come to a university, at least not to study anything in the humanities or the social sciences.) Miller’s view, it seems, is that academic freedom really only means as much freedom as your most sensitive students can stand, an irresponsible position that puts the university, the classroom, and the careers of scholars in the hands of students who are inexperienced in the subject matter, new to academic life, and, often, still in the throes of adolescence.

The consumer-driven view of academia weakens institutions from within. Which works just fine if you're an ethnic entrepreneur who wants to squelch critical thinking and has the power to destroy an entire state's university system from without:

New College is undoubtedly a liberal enclave: Florida Governor Ron DeSantis carried Sarasota County by over 20 points in November, and two months earlier a slate of MAGA candidates won a local school board election with support from the Proud Boys. It was perhaps inevitable, then, that the school would find itself in the crosshairs of DeSantis’s ongoing neo-McCarthyite crusade. On Friday morning, DeSantis announced six appointees to the New School board of trustees. Of the six, the three most eye-catching are Christopher Rufo, who’s risen to notoriety as one of the best-known voices inveighing against “critical race theory” and stoking back-in-vogue incendiary anti-LGBTQ rhetoric; Charles Kesler, a senior fellow at the Claremont Institute, a far-right think tank; and Matthew Spalding, a professor of government at Michigan’s Hillsdale College, a deeply conservative private Christian college that both Rufo and DeSantis’s chief of staff explicitly held up as a model for the Florida school.

There’s no better avatar than Rufo for DeSantis’s ambitions to make Florida “where woke goes to die.” In his demagogic campaign to “lay siege to the universities,” Rufo has relentlessly pursued a series of “educational gag orders” in a number of states that have sought to forbid professors from discussing certain topics related to race, gender, and sexuality. In October, he also appeared to celebrate a targeted campaign against one such professor: When a University of Chicago undergrad-cum-conservative-influencer unleashed a wave of rape and death threats on an adjunct professor who was set to teach a winter course on “The Problem of Whiteness,” Rufo praised the student’s “excellent work” after he took to Twitter to brag about getting the class canceled. (In reality, the class was postponed to allow for time to institute safety precautions.) That student is now the national chairman of “Students for Ye,” a far-right youth organization dedicated to a Kanye West presidency.

So what is driving these appointments? “You’re attacking such a small school with these kids who are really brilliant, and which has a high proportion of students who have faced backlash just to who they are,” [New College alumnus Derek] Black said. “For almost everybody I’ve ever known who went to New College, it was [a place where] you can figure out who you are, you can share that with your peers, and you can find a group of people who are going to make you a space where you can explore that and feel comfortable with it. I have a lot of trouble seeing this announcement as anything other than feeling uncomfortable with students being able to just feel like they don’t have to uphold any sort of traditional identity.”

Republican Florida governor Ron DeSantis—who very well could get sworn in as President two years and five days from now—gets a win no matter how the New College battle goes. Either he destroys the college completely, making it that much less likely to find effective critical thought in Florida, or New College survives, but as a huge target for attacks on "wokeness."

Finally, we have an op-ed in this morning's Times from historian Daniel Bessner, sounding the alarm about the decline of humanities study because people don't see its value:

[O]nly 27 percent of those who received a Ph.D. in history in 2017 were employed as tenure track professors four years later. The work of historians has been “de-professionalized,” and people like myself, who have tenure track jobs, will be increasingly rare in coming years. This is true for all academic fields, not just history. As Adrianna Kezar, Tom DePaola and Daniel T. Scott note in their book “The Gig Academy,” about 70 percent of all college professors work off the tenure track. The majority of these professors make less than $3,500 per course, according to a 2020 report by the American Federation of Teachers. Jobs that used to allow professors to live middle-class lives now barely enable them to keep their heads above water.

What is to blame? In the past generation the American university has undergone a drastic transformation. To reduce costs, university administrators have dramatically reduced tenure. And as the protections of tenure have withered away, the size of nonteaching university staffs have exploded. Between 1976 and 2018, “full-time administrators and other professionals employed by those institutions increased by 164 percent and 452 percent, respectively,” according to a 2021 paper on the topic. Professors have been sacrificed on the altar of vice deans.

At the same time, in an effort to fund research that might redound to their financial benefit and to demonstrate their pragmatic value to politicians and to the public, universities have emphasized science, technology, engineering and math at the expense of the humanities. As the American Academy of Arts and Sciences reported, citing data from 2019, “spending for humanities research equaled 0.7 percent of the amount dedicated to STEM R.&D.”

Entire areas of our shared history will never be known because no one will receive a living wage to uncover and study them. It’s implausible to expect scholars with insecure jobs to offer bold and innovative claims about history when they can easily be fired for doing so. Instead, history will be studied increasingly by the wealthy, which is to say those able to work without pay. It’s easy to see how this could lead American historical scholarship to adopt a pro-status-quo bias. In today’s world, if you don’t have access to elite networks, financial resources or both, it just doesn’t make sense to pursue a career in history. In the future, history won’t just be written by the victors; it’ll also be written by the well-to-do.

As a historian, Bessner knows that this has happened before, and knows what happened afterward.

The dark ages from the fall of the Western Roman Empire until the early medieval period saw Europe slip from the center of literature, art, and architecture, into an intellectual backwater ridiculed in the great universities of the Arab world. It took a thousand years for Europe to recover. Fortunately, the rest of the world moved on. But Europeans endured centuries of intellectual stagnation and religious repression until the hidden repositories of knowledge finally peeked out of the darkness in the 11th and 12th centuries.

The founders of the United States hoped they could create a country with all the best parts of Rome and none of the worst parts. I only wish they'd had more accurate histories of the Roman Empire so they could have seen how valuable learning for its own sake actually was.

The beginning of the end of baseball

Fifty years ago today, Major League Baseball adopted a rules change for the American League that led by increments to the 10th-inning-runner rule adopted last season:

On January 11, 1973, the owners of America’s 24 major league baseball teams vote to allow teams in the American League to use a “designated pinch-hitter” who could bat for the pitcher while still allowing the pitcher to stay in the game.

The idea of adding a player to the baseball lineup to bat for the pitcher had been suggested as early as 1906 by revered manager Connie Mack. In 1928, John Heydler, president of the National League, revived the issue, but the rule was rejected by the AL management.

The NL resisted the change, and for the first time in history, the two leagues would play using different rules. Though it initially began as a three-year experiment, it would be permanently adopted by the AL and later by most amateur and minor league teams.

Major League Baseball continues to believe that more runs means more money, even though the appeal of baseball has always been as a pastime. But what do I know? I was a Cubs fan for 40 years.

My office is still and here

In a form of enlightened laziness, I often go into my company's downtown Chicago office on Friday and the following Monday, avoiding the inconvenience of taking my laptop home. It helps also that Fridays and Mondays have become the quietest days of the week, with most return-to-office workers heading in Tuesdays through Thursdays.

And after a productive morning, I have a few things to read at lunch:

Finally, National Geographic digs down to find explanations for the disappearances of five ancient cities, and what that might tell us about our own culture.

More black smoke

Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) has lost his seventh bid for Speaker—nope, eighthwhile Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) has amassed more cumulative votes for the office than anyone except Sam Rayburn. Things in the House have become surreal, even without a bad lip reading for levity. As Tom Nichols puts it,

What all of these GOP members do seem to have in common is a shared belief that they should be in Congress in order to make other people miserable. Usually, those “other people” are Democrats and various people on the generic right-wing enemies list, but lately, the targets include the few remaining Republicans who think their job in Washington is to legislate and pass bills and other boring twaddle that has nothing to do with keeping the hometown folks in a lather, getting on television, and getting reelected.

And yet, the XPOTUS remains absent from the proceedings, with both sides of the Republican Party basically ignoring him. His "wishes, feelings, threats, anger and really anything else about him are just completely absent from this entire drama. In a way that is the biggest story here."

Meanwhile, back in the real world:

Finally, the most recent defense authorization bill the outgoing Congress passed last week included a provision promoting Ulysses S Grant to General of the Armies. Only George Washington and John J Pershing have held that rank (O-11).

Still no Speaker

The House will probably elect a Speaker before the end of March, so we probably won't set any records for majority-party dickery before the Congress even starts. (We might for what the 118th Congress does, though.) But with three ballots down and the guy who thought he'd get the job unable to get the last 19 votes he needs, it might take a few days.

Meanwhile:

Finally, a ground crew worker at Montgomery Airport in Alabama fell into a running jet engine on Saturday; the NTSB is investigating. Yecch.

Statistics: 2022

We've now got two full years between us and 2020, and it does look like 2022 got mostly back to normal.

  • The Daily Parker got 487 posts in 2022, 51 fewer than in 2021 and 25 below median. As usual, I posted the most in January (46) and fewest in November (37), creating a very tight statistical distribution with a standard deviation of 3.45. In other words: posting was pretty consistent month to month, but down overall from previous years.
  • I flew 10 segments and 16,138 flight miles in 2022, low for the 21st century but about average for my lifetime.
  • Once again, I visited only one other country (the UK, of course), but 8 other states: North Carolina, Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, Wisconsin, California, Texas, and Michigan. In 2023, I plan to visit a bunch of new countries, but we'll see. Altogether I spent 107 hours traveling.
  • I walked Cassie for a little more than 369 hours, somewhat fewer than in 2021 (422) but still an average of over an hour a day. It's about half as much as she wanted.
  • I got 4,537,290 steps for 3,693 km of walking, a little below 2021 but about average overall. I only hit my step goal 327 times, though, due to no longer getting worked up about missing it in bad weather. I still averaged 12,393 a day, which doesn't suck.
  • I drove 5,925 km on 144 L of gasoline, for an average of 2.4 L/100 km (96.4 MPG). The last four months of the year I used only 4 L of gas over 1,179 km, meaning I'm heading into 2023 with a nearly-full tank I last filled on August 21st. I do love living in the city!
  • I worked 1,894 hours for my real job, including 1,260 from home and 580 in the office. The remainder went to conferences and work events. Plus, I spent 103 hours commuting, all of it by public transit (see above re: gasoline use).
  • My commitment to the Apollo Chorus went up by a third this year, with 318 hours overall split between rehearsing and performing (220 hours) and my responsibilities as president (98 hours). Last year I spent 57 hours on rehearsals and performances and 71 hours on board stuff, but the first half of 2021 we were still virtual. In the last full year before the pandemic, 2019, I spent 200 hours overall (27 for the Board, 144 on rehearsals and performances, 29 for the fundraiser), so we really did do more this year than in years past.
  • Finally, reading stayed the same, with 27 books started (cf. 28 in 2021) and 24 finished (cf. 23 in 2021)—both numbers exactly at median for me. But I watched a whopping (for me) 56 movies and 50 TV show seasons or miniseries. Yeek.

So, yeah, except for the permanent, post-pandemic shift to working from home 2/3 of the time, 2022 really did get back to normal in most ways. I'll take it. Here's to continued normal in 2023!