The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Ten million unemployed

More than 6.6 million Americans filed for unemployment insurance last week (including 178,000 in Illinois), following the 3.3 million who filed the week before. This graphic from The Washington Post puts these numbers in perspective:

Hotel occupancy has crashed as well, down 67% year-over-year, with industry analysts predicting the worst year on record.

In other pandemic news:

Finally, unrelated to the coronavirus but definitely related to our natural environment, the Lake Michigan/Huron system recorded its third straight month of record levels in March. The lake is a full meter above the long-term average and 30 cm above last year's alarming levels.

Something to do when the sun's out

Chicago Tribune architecture critic offers an alternative to sitting on your couch and bingeing Netflix:

Here’s a suggestion: Go out for a stroll and take in some architecture.

Walks are allowed under Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s stay-at-home order. You just have to be sure to maintain the social distancing that public health officials say is essential to halting the spread of the deadly virus.

If you know where to look, you might come across something fabulous. Not too far from where I live, for example, is Frank Lloyd Wright’s Frank J. Baker House, a Prairie style head-turner in the 500 block of Lake Street in Wilmette.

There are minor gems out there, too, like the Chicago Transit Authority "L" station in the 1000 block of Central Street in Evanston.

To get you going in the right direction on your walks, it helps to have a good guide. The one I highly recommend is the American Institute of Architects’ “AIA Guide to Chicago,” which, despite its 550-page bulk, is easy to tuck into your coat pocket.

I have this book, and I may go for a walk later today. Because my office, as entertaining as it is, has begun to feel cramped.

A to Z postponed for coronavirus

I had plans to do the Blogging A-to-Z challenge this year as I've done the last two, but reality intervened. In theory I have more time to write than last year. In fact I didn't have the energy required to plan and start drafting entries mid-March, for obvious reasons.

Things have stabilized since my office closed on the 17th, and I've gotten back into the swing of working from home every day. But I feel like a full 26-post series this month would not rise to my own standards of quality for permanent, information-based writing.

Check out my 2018 A-to-Z posts on C# programming and my 2019 posts on music theory. I'll do it again in 2021—or, possibly, in May.

Your apocalypse today

Illinois Governor JB Pritzker extended the state's stay-at-home order through April 30th, which came as absolutely no surprise, as the state nears 6,000 total COVID-19 cases. Rush Hospitals predict 19,000 total cases in Illinois a week from now—far less than the 147,000 they predict would have shown up without the stay-at-home order.

In other news:

Oh, and the stock market suffered its worst first quarter. Ever.

The economy and what I'm doing about it

Goldman Sachs released an economic outlook this morning predicting GDP growth of -9% in Q1 and -34% in Q2, along with 15% unemployment by June 30th. Both Calculated Risk and Talking Points Memo believe the recovery will take longer than the slowdown. In other words, we won't have a V or an L but probably something more like a U with a wide bottom.

I looked at some figures of my own. Looking at 4-week moving averages, as of Sunday my spending on groceries is up 37% from the period between January 27th and February 23rd, which includes a massive grocery bill for a party I threw on February 15th. But my spending on eating out is down 46%, and on lunch (I buy lunch nearly every day when I work downtown) is down 36%. And I have not taken public transit since March 16th, saving $45 a week right there.

I haven't stopped buying food from local restaurants entirely because I want them to be around in three months. Just, I get a lot less take-out food (every 5th lunch and every 5th dinner, staggered), and I don't buy take-out alcohol. (Of course, a local bar has a special deal of a fried chicken sandwich and old fashioned cocktail for $20.) I also have my dog walker coming in twice a week because I want him to be around in two months. His other job is that he plays jazz sax, so without the few walks I and other customers of the walking service send him, he'd have no income at all.

Obviously the uptick in groceries means I'm cooking more. Like last night, when I made my mom's tuna fish casserole recipe, and it came out like I remember it from childhood:

Around the world in coronavirus today

Just a few articles of note today:

  • The City of Chicago urges residents to call 311 to report non-essential business remaining open.
  • President Trump admitted on "Fox & Friends" this morning that adopting common-sense election reforms would mean "you'd never have a Republican elected in this country again." (Unless, I suppose, they changed their policies to match the mainstream, right?)
  • The Times reports on General Motors' efforts to produce 2,000 ventilators a month (an order-of-magnitude change from now) even as the president slagged the company on Twitter.
  • Jennifer Rubin points out that "Trump's narcissism has never been more dangerous."
  • Richard Florida examines how society will need to change after the current stay-at-home phase of the pandemic passes.

And finally, London took advantage of reduced traffic on March 24th to give the Abbey Road zebra crossing a much-overdue paint job.

Some are flattening, some are not

Subway ridership numbers for New York City show a slower-than-expected drop-off. Still, IHME has New York Covid-19 cases peaking April 7th, while Covid Act Now says April 28th. Florida, where idiots flocked to beaches and churches this weekend, should see its peak mid-May with cases lingering through July. IHME puts Illinois' peak at April 18th; Covid Act Now, April 28th. But our shelter-in-place rules should lengthen our experience through the beginning of June. Oh, goody.

The New York Times has new reporting today about how the Chinese fail-safe contagion-detection system failed due to political interference:

The alarm system was ready. Scarred by the SARS epidemic that erupted in 2002, China had created an infectious disease reporting system that officials said was world-class: fast, thorough and, just as important, immune from meddling.

Hospitals could input patients’ details into a computer and instantly notify government health authorities in Beijing, where officers are trained to spot and smother contagious outbreaks before they spread.

It didn’t work.

After doctors in Wuhan began treating clusters of patients stricken with a mysterious pneumonia in December, the reporting was supposed to have been automatic. Instead, hospitals deferred to local health officials who, over a political aversion to sharing bad news, withheld information about cases from the national reporting system — keeping Beijing in the dark and delaying the response.

The central health authorities first learned about the outbreak not from the reporting system but after unknown whistle-blowers leaked two internal documents online.

Then there's the Guardian's extensive reporting on how our own moronic executive branch lost six weeks when we could have slowed the outbreak dramatically.

Life on Mars

At some point, we will probably settle on the red planet. In a fascinating article from 2018, The Atlantic wondered how we'll police it:

Consider the basic science of crime-scene analysis. In the dry, freezer-like air and extreme solar exposure of Mars, DNA will age differently than it does on Earth. Blood from blunt-trauma and stab wounds will produce dramatically new spatter patterns in the planet’s low gravity. Electrostatic charge will give a new kind of evidentiary value to dust found clinging to the exteriors of space suits and nearby surfaces. Even radiocarbon dating will be different on Mars, [UC-Davis archaeologist Christyann] Darwent reminded me, due to the planet’s atmospheric chemistry, making it difficult to date older crime scenes.

The Martian environment itself is also already so lethal that even a violent murder could be disguised as a natural act. Darwent suggested that a would-be murderer on the Red Planet could use the environment’s ambient lethality to her advantage. A fatal poisoning could be staged to seem as if the victim simply died of exposure to abrasive chemicals, known as perchlorates, in the Martian rocks. A weak seal on a space suit, or an oxygen meter that appears to have failed but was actually tampered with, could really be a clever homicide hiding in plain sight.

Imagine a criminal armed with a knife has been cornered on a Martian research base, near a critical airlock leading outside. If police fire a gun or even a Taser, they risk damaging key components of the base itself, endangering potentially thousands of innocent bystanders. Other forms of hand-to-hand combat learned on Earth might have adverse effects; even a simple punch could send both the criminal and the cop flying apart as they collide in the reduced Martian gravity. How can police overpower the fugitive without making things worse for everyone?

And then there's the surveillance....

Covid-19 corporatism

A Tweet is making the rounds right now:

The Covid corporate bonus bailout costs about $18,000 per citizen.

So Congress is taking $18,000 from you, giving $16,800 to corporations and giving you back a check for $1,200.

My reply to the Facebook friend who posted the Tweet:

It's not that simple.

First, given the current political landscape, where a minority of 44% of the population have 53 Senate votes to the 66% of us who have 47, compromise—that is, weakening the recovery legislation—was inevitable.

Second, most of the money going to corporations will actually go to normal people. The legislation keeps people on salary and in health insurance instead of being laid off. (Don't get me started on the link between employment and health insurance. That stop-gap ploy to get around WWII salary caps outlived its usefulness by 1955. But it won't go away until we control the Senate.)

Third, I completely support the phase-out that means people like me won't get a single cent of the recovery money for the simple reason that other people need it more. So not everyone gets $1,200; only about 80% do.

Fourth, taxes don't work like that. On average, the recovery act might cost $18k per taxpayer (not per citizen—let's unpack that word choice later). But most people don't pay $18k in taxes. I don't know the exact proportions, but as a percentage of tax, though the $2.2 trn recovery package takes a lot of tax revenue, it's still only a proportion of what an individual pays.

Fifth, most of the corporations getting bailouts are small businesses. Anecdotes aren't evidence, but I will provide one anyway: A good friend of mine owns a used-book shop. She has no employees. She spends 60 hours a week in her shop. Her entire inventory is donated. The State of Illinois closed her business a week ago, and she doesn't know when she can reopen. She's getting a couple thousand bucks from the recovery legislation. You really want to claw that back because it's a corporation getting the money?

Sixth, I commend to the OP the story of Herbert Hoover's steadfast belief that the market would fix the problems revealed by the 1929 crash and subsequent depression. And then go read about the Capitol Hill Babysitting Co-op, which demonstrated better than any textbook why printing money in a liquidity crisis can save marriages.

Finally, my sincerest hope from this disaster is that people finally understand elections matter. What politicians say matters. What they do matters. When my lot were screaming to the heavens that the Republican Party were no longer able to govern, let alone be a responsible opposition party, 48% of the electorate said they didn't care what he said, only how he made them feel. And here we are.

I have a degree in history. That doesn't give me any special ability to fix these problems. But wow, does it help me understand their magnitude.

I just binge-watched the Netflix series Travelers, which postulates that the fate of humanity rests on the 21st century. I'm starting to agree.