The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

331,449,281

The Census Bureau released the top-line population counts for the United States at 2pm Chicago time today:

The U.S. Census Bureau announced today that the 2020 Census shows the resident population of the United States on April 1, 2020, was 331,449,281.

The U.S. resident population represents the total number of people living in the 50 states and the District of Columbia. The resident population increased by 22,703,743 or 7.4% from 308,745,538 in 2010.

The new resident population statistics for the United States, each of the 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico are available on census.gov

  • The most populous state was California (39,538,223); the least populous was Wyoming (576,851).
  • The state that gained the most numerically since the 2010 Census was Texas (up 3,999,944 to 29,145,505).
  • The fastest-growing state since the 2010 Census was Utah (up 18.4% to 3,271,616).
  • Puerto Rico's resident population was 3,285,874, down 11.8% from 3,725,789 in the 2010 Census.

Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, West Virginia, and for the first time ever, California, will each lose one seat in Congress. Montana gets a second seat, while Oregon, Florida, North Carolina, and Colorado pick up one more each, and Texas gets two more.

Now comes the plague of lawsuits in several states whose reapportionment had to wait until today...

Lunchtime reading before heading outside

Today is not only the 35th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster, it's also the 84th anniversary of the Nazi bombing of Guernica. Happy days, happy days.

In today's news, however:

I will now get lunch. And since it's 17°C right now (as opposed to yesterday's 5°C), I may eat it outside.

Day 400

Illinois issued its pandemic-related closure orders on Friday 20 March 2020, exactly 400 days ago. Yesterday the New York Times reported that the US had its highest-ever-above-normal annual death rate in 2020:

A surge in deaths from the Covid-19 pandemic created the largest gap between the actual and expected death rate in 2020 — what epidemiologists call “excess deaths,” or deaths above normal.

Aside from fatalities directly attributed to Covid-19, some excess deaths last year were most likely undercounts of the virus or misdiagnoses, or indirectly related to the pandemic otherwise. Preliminary federal data show that overdose deaths have also surged during the pandemic.

In the first half of the 20th century, deaths were mainly dominated by infectious diseases. As medical advancements increased life expectancy, death rates also started to smooth out in the 1950s, and the mortality rate in recent decades — driven largely by chronic diseases — had continued to decline.

In 2020, however, the United States saw the largest single-year surge in the death rate since federal statistics became available. The rate increased 16 percent from 2019, even more than the 12 percent jump during the 1918 flu pandemic.

In 2020, a record 3.4 million people died in the United States. Over the last century, the total number of deaths naturally rose as the population grew. Even amid this continual rise, however, the sharp uptick last year stands out.

And lest we forget who made the pandemic far, far worse than it needed to be, yesterday was also the anniversary of the now-XPOTUS making this extraordinary claim:

Just think of how many thousands of people he could have saved by following his own advice.

Quite an anniversary

Today I learned that the office of Prime Minister of the United Kingdom took its modern form 300 years ago this month, when Sir Robert Walpole took office as First Lord of the Treasury on 4 April 1721.

Of course, this being the UK, governed more by tradition and custom than a founding document like nearly every other country on Earth, it gets a bit fuzzier on investigation. The office of First Lord of the Treasury dates back to 1126, when King Henry I appointed Nigel, Bishop of Ely, his Lord High Treasurer. The office morphed into First Lord of the Treasury in 1714 when Charles Montagu, First Earl Halifax, assumed the post.

But when Walpole took the brief for the second time in 1721 (he also held the post from 1715 to 1717), King George I granted him emergency powers to stabilize the country after the South Sea Company's collapse in 1720. He not only handled the emergency, but he also managed to make the office part of the constitutional framework of UK governance. It would take until 1937 for UK law to recognize the office of Prime Minister formally.

Supposes Moses was an Asshat

Not Moishe, the mythological figure; Moses, the all-too-real figure in New York City history. I'm about halfway through Robert Caro's biography of Robert Moses, The Power Broker, and I want to dig Moses up and punch him in the face.

The thing about really intelligent narcissists is they can, in fact, get their way, even when—especially when—they encounter real criticism. The crowning achievement of Moses' narcissism might be the West Side Improvement, comprising the West Side Highway and Henry Hudson Parkway, which run along the Hudson River from the top of Manhattan Island to the bottom. The story of how and why Moses built it where he built it takes up about 40 pages of the book, but Caro sums it up starting at the bottom of page 565:

Robert Moses had spent $109,000,000 [in 1938, worth $2.05 billion in 2021] of the public's money on the West Side Improvement. Counting the money expended on his advice by other city agencies on the portion of the Improvement south of Seventy-second Street, the Improvement had cost the public more than $200,000,000 [$3.8 billion in 2021].

But the total cost of the Improvement cannot be reckoned merely in dollars. The West Side Improvement also cost the people of New York City their most majestic waterfront, their most majestic forest, a unique residential community, and their last fresh-water marsh.

When the Improvement was finished, all these things were gone forever.

Adding them to the cost of the West Side Improvement, one might wonder if the Improvement had not cost New York City more than it was worth. Adding them into the cost, one might wonder if the West Side Improvement was really, on its total balance sheet, an "improvement" at all. One might wonder if it was not, on balance, a tragic and irremediable loss.

In the pages leading up to that conclusion, Caro spends some time discussing how the park Moses built along highway stopped at 125th Street. From there up to 155th Street, instead of a park, the African-American residents of Harlem got an elevated highway, with one little playground whose finishes included little monkey carvings on the stonework. You will not be surprised to learn that no other park in the project had a monkey motif.

Another thing, of which I can almost excuse him, was Moses' complete rejection of evidence of "induced demand," how increasing road capacity also increases congestion at a faster rate. That is, if you double road capacity, you will more than double the number of cars on the road. I can almost excuse him because traffic planners still ignore this phenomenon much of the time.

So halfway through the book I'm only at the end of 1938. We still have 25 years or so before Moses meets Jane Jacobs—and according to the index, Caro doesn't even cover that.

The American Republic

I'm sure I must have read this when it came out, but I have just (re-?)read Andrew Sullivan's 2019 essay "Our Caesar," just to refresh my sadness at the parallels between early-21st-century America and early-2nd-century-BCE Rome:

It’s impossible to review the demise of the Roman Republic and not be struck by the parallel dynamics in America in 2019. We now live, as the Romans did, in an economy of massive wealth increasingly monopolized by the very rich, in which the whole notion of principled public service has been eclipsed by the pursuit of private wealth and reality-show fame. Cynicism about the system is endemic, as in Rome. The concept of public service has evaporated as swiftly as trust in government had collapsed. When the republican virtues of a Robert Mueller collided this year with the populist pathologies of Donald Trump, we saw how easily a culture that gave us Cicero could turn into a culture that gave us Caesar.

Some argue that although the president has obviously attempted to break the law many times and lies with pathological abandon, he still hasn’t openly defied a court order, suspended an election, or authorized something as lawless as torture. He talks and walks like a dictator, but in practice, his incompetence and inability to focus or plan or even read saves us. That, it seems to me, misses three things. The first is the president’s rhetoric. What happened to the Roman republic was a slow slide into public illegitimacy, intensified by the way in which elites played by the rules only when it suited them and broke precedents and norms when it came to defending their own interests, complaining loudly when others did the same.

If republican virtues and liberal democratic values are a forest of traditions and norms, Trump has created a vast and expanding clearing. What Rome’s experience definitively shows is that once this space is cleared, even if it is not immediately filled, some day it will be. Someone shrewder, more ruthless, focused, and competent, can easily exploit the wider vista for authoritarianism. Or Trump himself, more liberated than ever in a second term, huffing the fumes of his own power, could cross a Rubicon for which he has prepared us all.

It took about 200 years and unending civil war for the Roman Republic to become the Roman Empire. How much time have we got?

Thursday evening post

Some stories in the news this week:

Finally, the House Oversight and Reform Committee advanced DC statehood legislation. The full house may even pass the DC Admission Act next week.

Winthrop Cooperative, Monday

The United Winthrop Tower Cooperative started life in the early 1970s as a public housing development. In response to rising crime and costs on the order of $1m a year, the residents bought the building from the Department of Housing and Urban Development in 1993 and turned it into the affordable-housing co-op it remains today.

We had a really cool sunset Tuesday evening, so I snapped this on my walk with Cassie.

Ten years ago

Just a quick note: I'm halfway to the "20 years from now" I mentioned in this post from 13 April 2011. And as I'm engaged in two software projects right now—one for work, one for me—that have me re-thinking all of the application design skills I learned in the 10 years leading up to that 2011 post, I can only hope that I'm not walking down a technological cul-de-sac the way Data General did in 1978.

Local history

Today is the 29th anniversary of the Great Chicago Flood, in which no one got hurt despite nearly a billion liters of water surging through Loop basements:

On April 13th, 1992, Chicago was struck by a man-made natural disaster. The Great Chicago Flood of 1992 occurred completely underground and, fortunately, nobody was hurt. There were no dramatic rescues from office buildings and there were no canoes paddling Michigan Avenue. Still, the flood was a big deal. It made national news and shut down the Mercantile Exchange, The Sears Tower, and the Art Institute. It damaged records in City Hall, closed businesses in the Loop (some for weeks), and ultimately caused hundreds of millions of dollars in damage to Chicago buildings.

In September of 1991, Great Lakes Dredging, an independent contractor, replaced pilings in the Chicago river. Pilings protect the bridges from runaway barges. One of their new pilings near the Kinzie Street bridge damaged the roof of a freight tunnel, allowing water to slowly leak in.

In January of 1992 a television cable company discovered a leak in the tunnels. They tried to notify James McTigue — who they knew was familiar with the tunnels — but the city had recently re-organized and they couldn’t locate him until February. McTigue tracked down the leak, took photos, and showed them to his supervisors in March, explaining a leaking tunnel under the river could lead to a massive flood. Despite that warning, the city did not expedite repairs.

The city rejected an initial repair bid of $10,000 because it considered the cost too high, and new contractors were scheduled to inspect the tunnels on April 14th. In the early morning of April 13th, that small leak finally gave into the enormous water pressure of the Chicago River above. The tunnel’s ceiling collapsed and water began filling in. As they were in the system’s early days, many of the tunnels were still connected to the basements of many buildings in the Loop.

What followed (and, frankly, what led to the disaster) made this "the most Chicago story ever."

In other news of historic disasters, one of Chicago's oldest shopping malls, Northbrook Court, may soon become a neighborhood instead of a massive car park. As it represents just about everything wrong with the suburbs, good riddance. Maybe they'll even put in some shops people can walk to?