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?
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.
An emergency-room doctor grew up in suburban New York learning how to shoot. She has watched gunshot wounds get worse since she started practicing medicine in the 1990s, for a simple reason:
In the 1990s, by which time I was an emergency-room doctor at a Level 1 trauma center in New York City, I became acquainted with the damage that small-caliber handguns could cause. When I started treating gunshot victims, I marveled at how subtle and clean the wounds often were, externally at least. Much cleaner than stabbings or car-wreck injuries.
We searched for a tiny entrance wound and the larger exit wound; they were often subtle and hard to locate. If you couldn’t find the latter, you would often see the tiny metal bullet, or fragments, lodged somewhere internally on an X-ray — often not worth retrieving because it was doing no damage.
Guns and the devastating injuries they cause have evolved into things I don’t recognize anymore. My Remington .22 has about as much in common with an assault-style weapon as an amoeba has with a human life. The injuries they produce don’t belong under one umbrella of “gun violence.” Though both crimes are heinous, the guy who shoots someone with an old pistol in a mugging is a different kind of perpetrator from the person who, dressed in body armor, carries a semiautomatic weapon into a theater, house of worship or school and commences a slaughter.
[N]o disaster drill really prepares an emergency room for a situation where multiple people are shot with today’s semiautomatic weapons. You might save a few people with careful triage and preparation. Most just die.
Any other trade association whose products got more dangerous every day would soon be sued into oblivion. It's time to kill the NRA, and return to sensible firearms regulation.
Humorist Alexandra Petri didn't write a humor column today:
There are several details of the Matt Gaetz story that keep sticking in my head, but the one that sticks in it most is the report that the Florida Republican used to wander around and show his colleagues nude photos of people he had slept with.
I keep coming back to the detail in CNN’s report that this wasn’t something Matt Gaetz did a single time, but repeatedly. Because if it happened more than once — if it happened twice, even — that is because the first time went better than it should have.
To me, this is something you do, ideally, zero times.
So I am not writing this for Matt Gaetz. I am talking to the person who was on the receiving end. The person who was presented with this behavior and had a choice of how to respond. I am talking to the person without whose chuckle or back-slap this situation would, perhaps, have been just a little less bad.
This is a plea for those small awkward no’s. The moment will inevitably come for you to offer one. And when I think of how much difference could be made by just one person, one guy in a locker room, or around a campfire, or even on the floor of Congress, saying, uncomfortably, “What?” or “Why would you show someone that?” — sometimes I want to chew glass. It is a small favor to ask. But it could reshape this whole place, if it happened enough.
She's right. When confronted with an asshole, sometimes you need to tell him he's being one.
A few articles caught my attention this week:
Also, I'm just making a note to myself of Yuriy Ivon's rundown on Microsoft Azure Cosmos DB, because I'm using it a lot more than I have in the past.
In case you needed proof that the world didn't suddenly become an Enlightenment paradise on January 20th, I give you:
You will be happy to know, however, that Egypt has passed its 400-meter kidney stone.
I've spent the last few weeks in my off-hours beavering away at a major software project, which I hope to launch this spring. Meanwhile, I continue to beaver at my paying job, with only one exciting deployment in the last six sprints, so things are good there. I also hope to talk more about that cool software before too long.
Meanwhile, things I need to read keep stacking up:
Finally, check out the World Photography Organisation's 2021 photo contest results.
Even though my life for the past week has revolved around a happy, energetic ball of fur, the rest of the world has continued as if Cassie doesn't matter:
And if you still haven't seen our spring concert, you still can. Don't miss it!
This photo came up in my Facebook memories this morning:
This struck me for a few reasons. First, as I noted when I posted it on Facebook the morning of 13 March 2017, we hadn't gotten any snow for almost three months that winter. No snow in January; no snow in February; no snow the first 12 days of March; then this crap.
Second, four years later, Metra still hasn't finished constructing the new inbound platform at the Ravenswood station. Construction began in 2014. Then it stopped, partially because they needed to build a new inbound track between the new outbound track and the old inbound track, which meant they had to replace all the inbound bridges from Grace to Winnemac. But all of that construction halted in early 2015 when then-governor Bruce Rauner (R-of course) stopped spending state money. So we've had to endure five winters from the inbound platform's projected completion in fall 2015 until now out of an ideological tantrum by one of the best examples of how business CEOs make terrible politicians. Construction finally resumed, uncoincidentally just after governor JB Pritzker (D) took office, and we should have a new platform this summer.
Finally, look at all those people! A year ago this week, those crowds thinned out to nothing. When I went into the office yesterday, four people got on the train with me. A year ago, plus or minus a few days, Ravenswood had the third-largest passenger numbers of any station on Metra.
President Biden just signed the largest relief bill in history:
Doug Mills/New York Times
President Joe Biden signed the $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief package into law Thursday, his first legislative achievement since taking office less than two months ago, a measure to infuse billions into the U.S. economy and bolster funding for vaccines, testing and school reopenings.
The package, which was unanimously opposed by Republicans in Congress, will also provide millions of Americans with $1,400 stimulus checks that are set to go out by the end of the month. The White House is planning a victory lap tomark the achievement with the president, First Lady Jill Biden, and Vice President Kamala Harris hitting the road next week.
The signing from the Oval Office comes just hours before Biden is set to mark one year of coronavirus pandemic shutdowns with his first prime-time address since taking office. The remarks are expected to both look back at the scale of loss over that time and peer ahead at a post-pandemic future.
The law provides immediate payments of $1,400 per person, including dependents, for individuals making less than $75,000 per year or families making less than $150,000; a $3,000 tax credit for every child under 18 ($3,600 under 6); subsidies for child-car costs; an expansion of the Affordable Care Act; and money for pensions, among many other provisions.
Remember when we thought Biden would be just, you know, OK? Or that the Democratic Party would once again cower in fear of the other guys yelling about bipartisanship and deficits?
Welcome to 2021.