The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Traffic jam at the top of the world

The Apollo Chorus performed Joby Talbot's Everest a few weeks ago, and to prepare for the opera I read Jon Krakauer's Into Thin Air. (The opera is based on the events described in that book.) I concluded that climbing Mt Everest is insane.

That didn't stop about 100 climbers from attempting to summit on May 23rd of this year, contributing to one of the deadliest days in the mountain's history:

[T]wo decades on, the Everest experience often seems to have devolved even further into a circus-like pageant of stunts and self-promotion. In April 2017, DJ Paul Oakenfold outraged mountaineering purists by hosting an EDM concert at the base camp in Nepal; this year three Indian climbers returned home to celebratory crowds after they supposedly summited on May 26, only to be accused of fraud after other mountaineers claimed that they never made it past 23,500 feet.

And then there are the growing crowds. For this year's climbing season, Nepal handed out 381 permits to scale Everest, the most ever. The Chinese government distributed more than 100 permits for the northern side. According to the Himalayan Database, the number of people summiting Everest has just about doubled in the past decade. And in that time the mountain has become accessible even to relative novices, thanks to a proliferation of cut-rate agencies that require little proof of technical skill, experience, or physical fitness. “Some of these companies don't ask any questions,” says Rolfe Oostra, an Australian mountaineer and a founder of France-based 360 Expeditions, which sent four clients to the summit this year. “They are willing to take anybody on, and that compounds the problems for everyone.”

On May 22—the day before Grubhofer reached the top—a long line near the summit had already begun to form. One of those pinned in the throng was a Nepali climber named Nirmal Purja. That morning, Purja snapped a photo of the chaos. The picture showed a near unprecedented traffic jam on the popular southern side: a column of hundreds of climbers snaking along the knifelike summit ridge toward the Hillary Step, the last obstacle before the top, packed jacket-to-jacket as if they were queued up for a ski lift in Vail. The image rocketed around the world and, as the events on the mountain were still developing, raised an urgent question: What the hell is going on atop Mount Everest?

I still think these people are crazy. If I ever see Mt Everest, it will be from the pressurized cabin of a transport-class airplane. I'm fine with that.

I will, however, see the opera again when it comes to the Barbican on June 20th.

Someone call lunch

Today in Chicago we have seen more sun than in the past several weeks, and yet here I toil in my cube. But a lot is going on outside it:

And we now return to our regular JSON debugging session, already in progress.

Sick day reading

I hate taking sick days, I really do. Fortunately, the Internet never takes one:

I'm now going to try to do a couple of hours of work, but really, I just want to go back to sleep.

Confirming expectations

Yesterday, the President of the United States mused aloud why we haven't celebrated the centennial of the 19th Amendment's passage in 1920 sooner:

After working his way through the prepared remarks, Trump interjected with his own riff. “They’ve been working on this for years and years,” he said, suddenly wondering, “And I’m curious, why wasn’t it done a long time ago, and also — well, I guess the answer to that is because now I’m president, and we get things done. We get a lot of things done that nobody else got done.”

The task of explaining to Trump that “centennial” means “100th anniversary” fell to Republican Senator Marsha Blackburn. Blackburn gently recounted that the bill worked its way through both chambers of Congress. ... She proceeded to note that “August 18th, 1920 is when the 19th Amendment was ratified.”

Mystery solved! They’re observing the women’s suffrage centennial now because next year is the centennial. That is how time works.

Even after this clear accounting, Trump nonetheless was still confused.

Dementia? Alzheimer's? The Omnibus Explanation? Probably the last one, as it would explain how he doesn't grasp that people who look at his financial disclosures easily spot the endemic fraud, such as what ProPublica reported today.

The election is in 342 days. Angels and ministers of grace, defend us.

Mid-day link roundup

As I try to understand why a 3rd-party API accepts one JSON document but not another, nearly-identical one, who could fault me for taking a short break?

Back to JSON and my miserable cold.

Dog behavior in the news

Two articles came out today about dogs. The first, in the New York Times, explores how dogs became so indiscriminately friendly:

In the early 2000s, when Dr. [Clive] Wynne began research on dogs, one of his experiments was a follow-up on the work of Dr. [Brian] Hare who had concluded that dogs were better than wolves or other animals at following human directions. In particular, dogs followed human pointing better than other animals. Dr. Wynne and Monique Udell, an animal behaviorist at Oregon State University, expected to confirm Dr. Hare’s findings.

The wolves they chose to work with were hand-raised and socialized at Wolf Park, in Lafayette, Ind. Dr. Wynne said he found the wolves were as good at following human pointing as the best pet dogs.

Dr. Hare and his colleagues responded by questioning whether the experiments were really comparable, maintaining that dogs have an innate ability to follow human pointing without the special attention the wolves were given. The debate continues.

The second part of Dr. Wynne’s argument has to do with how social dogs are. There is no question that they bond with people in a way that other canines do not. Dr. Wynne recounted an experiment showing that as long as puppies spend 90 minutes a day, for one week, with a human any time before they are 14 weeks old, they will become socialized and comfortable with humans.

The Washington Post reported on economics research that put the economic value of a dog at about $10,000:

For the study, the authors asked nearly 5,000 dog owners about their willingness to pay for a hypothetical vaccine that would reduce their dog’s risk of death from a particular canine virus from 12 percent to 2 percent in a given year.

Rather than simply ask, “How much would you be willing to pay” for such a vaccine, respondents were given specific price points, ranging from $5 to $3,000, and asked if they whether they would be willing to pay that amount.

The end result: a distribution of nearly 5,000 responses that allowed the researchers to identify an average acceptable price point of somewhere between $500 and $900. That’s the cost, in other words, of a 10 percentage point mortality reduction for a dog.

The study's authors intended the $10,000 figure as an approximation. I can tell you, however, that in the year from April 2018 to March 2019, my dog cost considerably more than $10,000. (I'll have the exact figure this weekend.)

Which weed for me?

In case you had questions about what to do when THC becomes legal for recreational use in Illinois in six weeks, Chicago Public Media has your back:

What type of high are you looking for?

The type of high you get depends on what strain of weed you use.

The three most common categories are indicas, sativas and hybrids. Indica is a strain of weed that’s meant to help you relax or sleep. Sativa is a strain of weed that’s supposed to give you energy. And there are hybrid strains that are a combination of both strains.

Most forms of weed (joints, edibles, concentrates) come in all three strains.

How high do you want to get?

The answer to this question lies in the concentration of CBD and THC in the product you choose. THC is the ingredient that gets you high and CBD is the ingredient that’s believed to relax your mind, Vale said. So the higher the concentration of THC, the higher you’re likely to get.

You’ll also pay more for highly THC-concentrated products, because the state taxes weed at different levels depending on how strong it is.

Here's what the purchasing process looks like

All purchases are cash only, though many dispensaries have ATMs and some have created their own credit cards.

You’ll need to present your I.D. when you walk into the store in order to prove that you’re 21 or older, and then potentially again when you’re purchasing. Illinois lawmakers say this information won’t be stored.

And it’ll be expensive at first: a gram of weed (about enough for a joint or two) currently runs for $20 on the medical market — and $15 on the black market. That’ll automatically be anywhere from $24 to $27 per recreational gram because of steep taxes. Illinois residents could also see a spike in prices due to high demand and anticipated supply shortages as the industry gets off the ground.

All good to know. I'm fortunate that one of the first dispensaries to get a recreational sales license in the state is less than a kilometer from my house. What a relaxing way to start 2020!

News? What news?

As Gordon Sondland throws the president under the bus (probably because (a) he's under oath and (b) the president would do it to him soon enough), there are actually a lot of other things going on in the world:

More work to do now.

Looking good for 7,000

National Geographic describes a reconstruction of a woman who lived 7,000 years ago on the Swedish Coast:

The woman was buried upright, seated cross-legged on a bed of antlers. A belt fashioned from more than 100 animal teeth hung from her waist and a large slate pendant from her neck. A short cape of feathers covered her shoulders.

From her bones, archaeologists were able to determine that she stood a bit under five feet tall and was between 30 and 40 years old when she died. DNA extracted from other individuals in the burial ground where she was found confirmed what we know about Mesolithic peoples in Europe—that they were dark skinned and pale eyed.

Ingela Jacobsson, director of the Trelleborg Museum, agrees. “She had some sort of special position in society considering everything that she was buried with, but beyond that we cannot make any sort of determinations.”

The reconstruction doesn't look like a modern Swede for many reasons, not least of which that pale skin didn't sweep through northern Europe until about 3,500 years ago.

You don't have to be a super-spy to know this

I found myself actually shocked at one piece of testimony in yesterday's impeachment hearing:

A U.S. ambassador’s cellphone call to President Trump from a restaurant in the capital of Ukraine this summer was a stunning breach of security, exposing the conversation to surveillance by foreign intelligence services, including Russia’s, former U.S. officials said.

The call — in which Trump’s remarks were overheard by a U.S. Embassy staffer in Kyiv — was disclosed Wednesday by the acting U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, William B. Taylor Jr.

“The security ramifications are insane — using an open cellphone to communicate with the president of the United States,” said Larry Pfeiffer, a former senior director of the White House Situation Room and a former chief of staff to the CIA director. “In a country that is so wired with Russian intelligence, you can almost take it to the bank that the Russians were listening in on the call.”

Republicans, who used to bang the drum on security issues so loudly you could barely make out the words they were actually saying, do not seem to have noticed this event. Which shocks me even more.