The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

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.

Tuesday night round-up

In other news:

And finally, a glimmer of hope that the 10-year project to build one damn railroad station near my house might finally finish in the next few weeks.

Molly White is exactly who we need right now

Accused fraudster Sam Bankman Fried did what every prosecutor hopes a defendant will do: start a blog. Researcher Molly White annotated his first post:

Sam Bankman-Fried has apparently decided to fill his time spent confined to his parents' Palo Alto home with blogging, perhaps in the hopes that he can just blog his way out of the massive criminal and civil penalties he's facing.

Although many of his statements here repeat things he's said elsewhere, I think it is useful to be able to analyze some of the story he's trying to spin all in one place, rather than cobbling his narrative together from multiple sources.

It's remarkable the extent to which SBF outright lies, or at the very least twists his version of events to distort reality in his favor. I don't intend to annotate further posts from him—which I suspect will be many—but instead hope that this will be sufficient to give some idea of just how thoroughly misleading his statements are.

Sample annotation:

If I was going to try to pick out a crypto firm that suffered large losses in an attempt to say "look, it was happening to everyone!", I might not pick the one whose founders have allegedly been in hiding for the last six months.34

And this:

It's clear that SBF's definition of "accurate" differs from most people's. SBF seems to think that if you tell someone that you have $1,000, and then later you say "...in monopoly money", it was still an accurate and defensible statement.

You know, I'm beginning to think 2023 will be the year people lose patience with lying fraudsters.

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.

Catching up at home

New Zealand's prime minister, Jacinda Arden, just resigned unexpectedly, which is a much more surprising story than any of these I queued up:

Finally, I'm glad to discover that ibuprofen may be more effective than acetaminophen for treating tension headaches, so I will now take one.

Black Hammer Brewing, San Francisco

Welcome to an extra stop on the Brews and Choos project.

Brewery: Black Hammer Brewing, 544 Bryant St., San Francisco
Train line: Caltrain, San Francisco terminal
Time from Chicago: about 4½ hours by air
Distance from station: 600 m

I spent most of Monday in Palo Alto, Calif., one of the few places in California that has an actual commuter rail station. Caltrain's northern terminus, at 4th and King, is only three blocks from an actual brewery, so naturally I stopped in.

My $20 flight started with the Jaded River ESB (5%), a West Coast interpretation of English bitter ale that tasted good to me but had a stronger hop concentration than any Real Ale I've had over there. Next I tried their flagship Western IPA, the Kaleido APA (6%), which had a big flavor for something billed as an APA, with lots of hops and just the right amount of malt. I'm sure you can pick out the Cuddle Puddle NEIPA (6.1%), with all that hazy, Citra goodness, that actually tasted a lot lighter than I expected. I finished with the Vesuvio DIPA (8.1%), a huge beer that sneaks up on you before you get a small explosion of grapefruit, orange, and what I can only describe as Humboldt County mother nature.

Special mention goes out to this guy:

Growler—and what a name for a brewery dog—kept flirting with me before deciding that I didn't have any treats on me, even though my coat pocket smelled just like the bacon nibbles I carry for Cassie. So after someone put him on the barstool across from me, he stared. And stared. And willed me to bring him a treat. Because he knew that the bartender had a whole box of them, and at some point, I would crack and bring him one.

He was absolutely right.

Beer garden? Sidewalk, covered
Dogs OK? Clearly
Televisions? Two, avoidable
Serves food? BYO
Would hang out with a book? Yes
Would hang out with friends? Yes
Would go back? Yes

Let's acknowledge this is weird

I just got an alert that the outside temperature at my house went above 10°C:

It's mid-January, and my house in Chicago is only 2°C cooler than San Francisco. (O'Hare is only 1°C cooler.)

Maybe I have the wrong attitude. Chicago will likely have its 2nd or 3rd warmest January in history, followed by a warm and lovely spring, with flowers and sunshine for all. So I should just enjoy it. Cassie sure is.

I keep saying that the decently-governed city whose winters have gotten remarkably better in my lifetime next to the largest source of fresh water in the country will, as I've predicted for years, become a pretty good place to live in a 2°C-warmer environment. After all, a 10°C HVAC delta between inside and outside in July is less costly than a 40°C delta in February. (Seriously, if you like the idea of having unlimited fresh water to drink and only a few days a year with weather that can kill you, move to Chicago.)

And yet, I'm solidly Generation X. We learned from a young age that when things seem way better than we expected, they'll average out with a vengeance soon enough.

Sure, Chicago has a better chance of success than any other city its size over the next 100 years. But tens of millions will die worldwide and hundreds of millions will have to move after the first pulse. Then we'll have another pulse. Then a third. When my nephews' grandchildren explore the world, they'll volunteer on farms in Greenland and surf beaches outside Raleigh, and they might be the last people who taste real maple syrup.

If I found a djinn, my first wish might be that people worldwide understand that, if we continue to deny how much we're affecting the world, we'll only have a few places (like Chicago) that people will want to live in. If only that were enough. 

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 big hole the road sunk into is not a sinkhole!

One Daily Parker reader sent me this clarification that the big hole in CA-92 preventing people in Half Moon Bay, Calif., from reaching Silicon Valley is not, technically, a sink hole:

The first thing to know about that sinkhole that opened on Highway 92 on Thursday: It’s not a sinkhole:

Geologists make a distinction between sinkholes, which require a particular blend of soils — limestone, salts, gypsum and other components — and caverns that appear with water due to engineering failures, aging infrastructure or simply not building enough capacity to handle the kind of runoff experienced in San Mateo County this month. They also note it’s a distinction without a difference for anyone stuck in traffic.

“Even scientists can’t always agree whether we want to call them sinkholes,” said Randy Orndorf, a research geologist for the USGS in Reston, Va., who is known as the sinkhole expert within the service. “I think about 20 years ago when I started doing research, we tried to say these are infrastructure failures and people still wanted to call them sinkholes.”

For the most part, sinkholes are limited to regions of karst terrain, which underpin about 25 percent of the United States land mass. Sinkholes are most common in these areas, where the underlying soil simply dissolves in water. Sinkholes are most common in Florida, Alabama, Missouri, Kentucky, Texas, Tennessee and Pennsylvania, according to the USGS. No one knows how many sinkholes develop in a given year because most likely occur in remote areas.

(The photo caption really summarizes things well: "Geologists say this isn't a sinkhole, but they acknowledge it doesn't really matter what you call it.")

Thanks for filling us in, USGS. (Actually, I love this kind of journalism. What can you say about rain in California? Let's dig into the issue! [Sorry.])

And every time I think about sinking, I sink of this: