The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Hiking

Cassie and I took on a stretch of the Ice Age Trail near La Grange, Wis., this afternoon:

She is snoring peacefully on the couch now, and probably will continue doing so for many hours.

Note to self: bring more water for the dog next hike.

How to talk to the vaccination-wary

I confess to some difficulty talking to people who exhibit willful irrationality. If you don't want to wear a mask or get a vaccine because you somehow equate that with a political party, I don't know what to tell you. But for the people who may just have some irrational fear without making a political statement about it, the New York Times has a helpful interactive training article for you.

In other news, an iceberg slightly larger than Long Island broke away from Antarctica this week. So that's fun.

Brooding about cicadas in suburban New York

Long Island went from idyllic farmland to completely urbanized in 75 years, thanks in part to Robert Moses inability (or unwillingness) to comprehend that any form of transport existed except automobiles. Massive, car-driven development spread inexorably down the Northern and Southern State Parkways, and the Long Island Expressway, covering all those farms and forests with concrete and Walmarts. Even when I spent four years of college there in the early 1990s, one could still find open space east of Ronkonkoma.

Alas, in the past 17 years, all that open space has disappeared, and with it the Brood X cicadas:

Development, pesticide use and the presence of invasive species are destroying historic populations of Brood X cicadas, while climate change spurs bugs from different broods to come up years early, experts say. The disruption of these cycles means some places that were expecting cicadas this year will miss out, while others may be surprised by an unscheduled emergence.

Although these changes are likely happening across the cicadas’ range, they’re particularly visible on Long Island, said Chris Simon, a professor at the University of Connecticut who has been studying cicadas for over 40 years. Long Island was once New York’s last remaining stronghold of Brood X. But the population there has declined in recent decades, and was nearly absent during the last mass emergence in 2004. At the same time, some of the area’s Brood XIV cicadas — scheduled to come up four years from now — may make an early appearance this year instead.

In the past, Long Island has been the easternmost place that can lay claim to this eminent brood. As far back as 1902, New York’s state entomologist recorded Brood X cicadas in both Suffolk and Nassau counties, said Dr. Simon, who has been studying cicadas on Long Island for over 40 years. Their reign continued through 1987....

The brood was absent from more places where it was expected, including in the towns of Shirley and Oakdale, and made only a brief showing in other locations, such as Connetquot State Park, a 3,700-acre reserve south of the Long Island Expressway, said Dr. Simon. Steep declines like this often lead to a complete disappearance, she said — without strength in numbers, the whole population can be devoured.

This year, Dr. Simon and other researchers are encouraging people in and around Long Island to go searching for the insects, and to use an app, Cicada Safari, to report any findings. If they do show up, it will likely be in early June. But she is not optimistic. “I’m afraid that they’re going to be completely gone,” she said.

Chicago's Brood XIII should emerge in three years. I can't wait. At least here, we haven't destroyed their habitat as thoroughly as Nassau and Suffolk Counties have destroyed Brood X's.

Wednesday evening roundup

Happy Wednesday! Here's what I'm reading before my 8pm meeting, now that my 6:30pm meeting just ended:

And finally, the New Yorker's Tom Papa introduces you to "asshole cat behaviors."

The walls close in a little

The New York Attorney General's office has tightened the screws on the Trump Organization:

"We have informed the Trump Organization that our investigation into the organization is no longer purely civil in nature. We are now actively investigating the Trump Organization in a criminal capacity, along with the Manhattan DA. We have no additional comment at this time," Fabien Levy, a spokesperson for the office, said in a statement.

James' years-long probe into Trump's charitable foundation led to its dissolution in 2018. More recently, her investigation into whether Trump's business had inflated the value of its assets for the purposes of tax breaks and loans came to a head in October when Eric Trump, the president's son and an executive at his business, sat for a pre-election deposition.

Aaron Blake speculates on what this could mean:

Perhaps the most significant consensus among former New York state prosecutors I reached out to is that it makes some kind of criminal charges appear more likely than previously known. That doesn’t mean those charges will definitely come or implicate the former president personally. But it’s the kind of statement that James’s office would have known full well would land with some force — and potentially create an expectation about where all this will lead.

Tax fraud would seem to potentially come into play here, given the extensive New York Times investigation into tax schemes Trump engaged in as far back as the 1990s — schemes the Times went as far as to say included “instances of outright fraud.” But the report also noted that much of what it described happened too long ago for criminal charges to be brought.

It’s also fair to ask why this statement was made public. Prosecutors generally don’t disclose such things and will wait for actual charges to be brought before publicly commenting. But in a high-profile case such as this, the former prosecutors say, it was potentially only a matter of time before such a phase of the investigation would be known publicly. The attorney general’s office notified the Trump Organization of the new phase last month, The Washington Post’s Shayna Jacobs and David A. Fahrenthold report.

I've consistently said I don't expect to see the XPOTUS behind bars, nor do I want that outcome. I think it sets a scary precedent for any democracy to jail a former head of government for anything short of violent crime. Don Junior, Jared, and Melania, however, should spend some time in Danbury. The New York AG and New York County DA may well send them to Queensboro instead.

Why do we go through this every year?

Washington Post columnist Helaine Olin argues for a simplified tax filing procedure in the US:

Filing taxes is a time-consuming, bureaucratic chore that the Internal Revenue Service estimates will take the typical American 11 hours. Nationwide, that works out to some 6 billion lost hours a year, according to T.R. Reid, author of the 2017 book “A Fine Mess: A Global Quest for a Simpler, Fairer, and More Efficient Tax System.”

The thing is, filing taxes just doesn’t have to be this hard. In 36 countries, the nation’s tax agency sends eligible residents a pre-filled return, and asks them to sign if they agree with the amount that’s indicated is owed or should be credited to them. Japan does this. So do Sweden, the Netherlands, Spain and others. A 2018 German study found that the pre-filled forms raise tax compliance.

So why not us, you ask?

The short answer: the United States took the British penchant for time-wasting activities and dialed it to 11. The longer answer might have something to do with Intuit's $5.7 million lobbying effort over the past two years.

Lovely to see you again

Almost 16 months since I last flew anywhere, I have returned to O'Hare:

Despite traveling on Saturday afternoon, which historically has meant few delays and a quiet airport, the traffic coming up here was so bad my car's adaptive cruise control gave up. But she got a treat once we got to economy parking:

I don't think I have ever parked that close to the elevators in 48 years of flying. Good thing, too, because the closest non-LEV space was in the next county.

Once I got into the terminal, it took less than 3 minutes to get through security. So the Saturday afternoon airport has at least met half of my expectations.

By my back-of-the-envelope calculations, I will spend 16 of the next 52 hours inside vehicles, moving or otherwise. I had planned to rent a car in San Francisco to see family tomorrow, but at $110 for a Yugo (plus gas, parking, etc) I just made a deal with my family to meet somewhere accessible by public transit. Since that describes almost the entire South Bay, they agreed. So, naturally, I've also brought three books.

Man, I missed air travel.

(NB: Cassie is at a friend's house "settling in well.")

Good morning!

Two travel stories arrived in my mailbox overnight. First, China has landed a probe on Mars, becoming the third country in history to do so:

The touchdown makes China the second country in history to deposit a rover on the surface of Mars. After months in orbit around the red planet, the Tianwen-1 spacecraft released the Zhurong rover for a landing in Utopia Planitia, a vast plain that may once have been covered by an ancient Martian ocean. The 529-pound rover survived a perilous descent to the surface, including atmospheric entry, slowing from supersonic speeds with a parachute, and finally using retrorockets to safely alight on the ground.

China will openly share the data from Tianwen-1 and Zhurong the same way it has shared data from its lunar exploration missions, Long says, benefiting planetary scientists around the world.

The mission will also set the stage for China’s next planned voyage to Mars—an audacious sample-return attempt scheduled to launch around 2028. Beyond Mars, the country has plans to launch a Jupiter probe, including a possible landing on the moon Callisto, to collect samples from a near-Earth asteroid, and to send a pair of Voyager-like spacecraft toward the edges of the solar system.

Closer to home, after suspending service last year because of the pandemic, Greyhound Canada announced this week that it has decided to completely end all Canadian services:

The bus company says all of its remaining routes will cease operations as of midnight Thursday.

The iconic bus carrier pulled out of Western Canada in 2018

It then put its remaining routes in Ontario and Quebec on pause when COVID-19 hit in 2020, but now it is pulling out of domestic Canadian service permanently.

The federal [New Democratic Party] also laid blame on the government. "The loss of all remaining Greyhound bus routes leaves many communities without affordable, safe passenger transportation," Transportation Critic Taylor Bachrach said in a release. "And it disproportionately affects the most marginalized residents, including Indigenous people and seniors."

Rural areas will suffer the most, as since Greyhound's suspension last year left many without any long-distance transportation services.

Leaving on a jet plane

Now that I'm more than two weeks past my second Pfizer jab, I'm heading to O'Hare tomorrow for the first time since January 2020. I remember back in September 2018 when I finally broke my longest-ever drought from flying of 221 days. Tomorrow will mark 481 days grounded.

But that's tomorrow. Today, I'm interested in the following:

And finally, Chicago's endangered piping plovers Monty and Rose have laid three eggs. We should see baby piping plovers in about four weeks.

Unmasked!

The CDC has changed its guidance on Covid-19. People who are fully vaccinated (that's me, 2 weeks as of today!) no longer need to wear masks in most places:

The advice from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention comes as welcome news to Americans who have tired of restrictions and marks a watershed moment in the pandemic. Masks ignited controversy in communities across the United States, symbolizing a bitter partisan divide over approaches to the pandemic and a badge of political affiliation.

Permission to stop using them now offers an incentive to the many millions who are still holding out on vaccination. As of Wednesday, about 154 million people have received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, but only about one-third of the nation, some 117.6 million people, have been fully vaccinated.

In deference to local authorities, the C.D.C. said vaccinated Americans must continue to abide by existing state, local, or tribal laws and regulations, and follow local rules for businesses and workplaces. Individuals are considered fully vaccinated two weeks after the one-dose Johnson & Johnson shot or the second dose of either Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine series.

In related news, The Economist analyzed health records and now believes that between 7.1 and 12.7 million people have died from Covid-19, more than three times the official count. In some places, like Romania and Iran, "excess deaths are more than double the number officially put down to covid-19. In Egypt they are 13 times as big. In America the difference is 7.1%."