The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Not the shortest term as Chancellor ever

UK Chancellor of the Exchequer Kwasi Kwarteng is out on his ass so that PM Liz Truss (who also holds the title First Lord of the Treasury) can put off going to the country for just a little longer:

Jeremy Hunt has been appointed as Liz Truss’s new chancellor, in a stunning reversal of political fortune and a sign that the beleaguered prime minister wants to reach out to other sections of the Conservative party.

Hunt, the former foreign secretary and health secretary, who has twice tried unsuccessfully to become Conservative leader, was named chancellor after Kwasi Kwarteng, in the job for just over five weeks, was sacked by Truss ahead of another U-turn over tax cuts.

Both Labour and the Liberal Democrats said Truss now needed to stand down. Rachel Reeves, the shadow chancellor, said: “We don’t just need a change in chancellor, we need a change in government.”

Kwarteng now holds the record for the shortest-serving Chancellor ever to survive the office:

Mr Kwarteng, formerly Ms Truss’s close political ally, is carrying the can for the financial and political turmoil unleashed by his mini-budget on September 23rd. His tenure of just 39 days in a job that dates back to the Middle Ages is not the shortest. But it’s not far off....

Mr Kwarteng’s chancellorship is the second shortest of modern times. Only Iain Macleod, who died on his 31st day in office, in 1970, spent less time in 11 Downing Street. Mr Kwarteng’s immediate predecessor, Nadim Zahawi, was chancellor for just 64 days. His tenure, it turns out, was not even the shortest of the year.

Mr Kwarteng’s successor, Jeremy Hunt, is the sixth chancellor in just over three years. Philip Hammond gave way to Sajid Javid when Boris Johnson replaced Theresa May as prime minister in July 2019. Mr Javid fell out with Mr Johnson after less than seven months. Rishi Sunak quit this year to force Mr Johnson from office. Mr Zahawi kept the seat warm while the Tories chose a new leader. And now Ms Truss’s catastrophic start has cost her ally his job. It may yet cost her hers.

The parliamentary system means that the government doesn't have to call an election if they don't want to, though an act passed earlier this year will force Parliament to dissolve five years after its opening. As that won't happen until January 2025, the Conservative Party could continue to drag the country through chaos until just after the end of President Biden's first term. Let's all hope they just get out of the way next spring.

How the brain manages illness

As I sit at my desk, sniffling and nursing a scratchy throat from all the dust my packing has thrown up, I found a pair of articles quite timely.

From the Washington Post, new research explains how your brain manages illnesses on your body's behalf:

Two recent studies published in Nature report that specific parts of the brain rapidly respond to illness and coordinate how the body counters it. This new understanding may also hold clues about why some people continue to have chronic problems such as long covid months after a bout of infection.

Big or small, warm or coldblooded, vertebrate or invertebrate, animals also contend with life-threatening infections from viruses, bacteria and other pathogens and “have some sort of response that’s very similar to this,” said [said Anoj Ilanges, a biologist at the Janelia Research Campus], who co-wrote one of the studies.

We tend to look like we are not doing much when we are sick — we are, after all, probably in bed and not moving — but the brain is hard at work. The researchers looked for genetic markers of activity in the brain soon after they injected their mice with a pro-inflammatory agent. “Surprisingly, if you look at the brain, there’s high levels of activity across many regions,” Ilanges said.

James Fallows might find that interesting if he weren't really done with his bout of long Covid:

I was annoyed to become infected, mainly because of the time-sink and inconvenience it involved. But in my 12-day run of testing positive (and being isolated) in June, Covid as I experienced it was a nuisance but not a “problem.”

But starting about six weeks ago, I was aware of feeling just … bad. This is the time to bring up another relevant background point, which is that the most robust part of my inevitably aging body has been its cardiovascular system.

To skip ahead in the story, all the complaints I’d had, even the finger-tingling, appeared to fit one of the ever-emerging, still-not-understood patterns of Covid after-effects. I don’t know whether to call this “long Covid,” or whether it has any bearing to Covid at all

After hearing my symptoms, our nurse-practitioner ordered a range of tests, including a blood reading that is not part of the routine lab panel. This was for the level of vitamin B12 in my system.

As it happened, the test showed a low B12 level. And as it also happens, in the ever-expanding realm of what’s known or guessed about Covid effects, one possibility involves B12 absorption.

Like Fallows, I also got Covid in June, and I felt less productive and less active this summer than in previous years. Maybe Covid?

Building a grocery oligopoly

Bloomberg reports that Kroger and Albertsons, two of the biggest grocery chains in the US, have started merger talks. This would create an enormous entity about the size of Wal-Mart. In Chicago, it would result in the merger of Jewel (Albertsons) and Mariano's (Kroger), just a few years after the dissolution of Dominick's, leaving us with just three major chains including Trader Joe's and Whole Foods Market.

Crain's elaborates:

An agreement could be reached as soon as this week, [unnamed sources] said, asking not to be identified discussing confidential information. No final decisions have been made and talks could still be delayed or falter, according to the people.

A potential tie-up would give the combined entity increased purchasing power, a sprawling shopper-loyalty program and greater heft in technology investments as online grocery sales increase. The resulting giant would be of comparable size in groceries to Walmart Inc., the US market leader.

But any deal would face tough scrutiny from US antitrust authorities, said Jennifer Bartashus, an analyst at Bloomberg Intelligence. The US Federal Trade Commission is already subjecting mergers to close examination, and a Kroger-Albertsons deal would join two large players that directly compete in much of the country.

“This is the type of transaction that really looks good on paper, but the actual practicality of achieving regulatory approval by the FTC could be difficult,” Bartashus said. “If you think about the store bases of the two respective entities, there is a lot of overlap in very competitive markets.”

I really hope the FTC shuts this thing down. While bigger and fewer grocery stores might make some business sense in less-dense areas, here in Chicago we like having more, smaller stores—and more choice.

Consequences

Man-shaped bag of feces Alex Jones may be "done saying I'm sorry," but a Connecticut jury suggests he should have tried just one more time:

The conspiracy theorist Alex Jones must pay $965 million to the families of eight Sandy Hook shooting victims and an FBI agent who responded to the attack for the suffering he caused them by spreading lies on his platforms about the 2012 massacre, a Connecticut jury found on Wednesday.

Jones had already been found liable by a judge after refusing to hand over critical evidence before the trial began, and this six-member jury was only asked to decide how much Jones should pay.

During closing arguments, Christopher Mattei, a lawyer for the families and agent, suggested that Jones should be ordered to pay at least $550 million, saying that the host's Sandy Hook content got an estimated 550 million views from 2012 to 2018.

“I’ve already said I’m sorry hundreds of times, and I’m done saying I’m sorry,” Jones said. 

A defiant Jones said he believed Sandy Hook was a hoax when he spread his lies. “I legitimately thought it might have been staged and I stand by that. I don’t apologize for it.”

News reports suggest he can afford it—barely. And of course, he'll just make up more vile shit that the MAGA folks will eat, because we're at that point in an historic cycle of stupidity. Maybe this means the cycle could end soon? I hope so.

Packing day

As far as I know, I'm moving in 2½ weeks, though the exact timing of both real-estate closings remain unknown. Last time I moved it took me about 38 hours to pack and 15 to unpack. This time I expect it to go faster, in part because I'm not spending as much time going "oh, I love this book!"

I'm taking a quick break and catching up on some reading:

Finally, a new survey says Chicagoans swear a lot less than most Americans, with people from Columbus, Ohio, swearing the most. Fuck that shit.

Complete pile-up in my "to be read" stack

I've had a busy day. I finally solved the token-authentication problem I've been working on all week for my day job (only to discover another flavor of it after deploying to Azure), while dealing with a plumber ($1600 repair!), an HVAC inspector ($170 inspection!) and my buyer's mortgage appraiser (not my problem!). That left some reading to do tonight:

Finally, despite the crashing temperatures outside my window right now (down 5.5°C in the past 2 hours), Illinois had a pretty dry and mild start to autumn.

Census story maps

James Fallows loves the new data visualizations from the Census Bureau:

Through its existence the Census has been an irreplaceable trove of data. A minor illustration: this past April it released a searchable database of individual records from the 1950 Census, rendered in touchingly precise hand-written form. You can look up the name of anyone included in that Census here — as I did for my mother and father.1 Why the 1950 Census? Because by law personally identifiable Census records are kept private for 72 years after the Census date. Thus the 2020 Census details are scheduled for release in 2092.

A few days ago the Census Bureau put some of its data to work in a very different fashion. This was in a fascinating “Story Map” about the shift in American settlement patterns since the late 1700s.

Story Maps are a narrative and explanatory tool for “geo-journalism,” which we’ve mentioned many times, including here. The technology was developed by our long-time friends at the digital mapping company Esri. A few weeks ago Deb Fallows and Michelle Ellia did a story map about the sea-turtle hatchlings of the Florida coastline—tiny creatures scrambling out of their nests in beachfront sand, along the very same coastline that has been pounded by Hurricane Ian this week.

The new story map from the Census Bureau uses a combination of historical narrative, map-based data, and overlays of economic, ethnic, and other information. Its purpose is to demonstrate how America’s population centers have changed, as the population has steadily grown.

I'll be playing with this a bit today. Because maps! and history!

Getting a jab today

No, not the Covid booster. I'm getting the flu shot. You should too:

"It's time to get your flu shot right now," advises Dr. William Schaffner, a professor of infectious disease at Vanderbilt University.

"People should get them now," agrees Shaun Truelove, an assistant scientist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health who's helping lead a new effort to project this year's flu season for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The usual flu season starts in November in the U.S. and peaks in January or February. "In normal years, it makes sense to hold off on the flu shot until late fall, as protection really doesn't last more than a few months and late fall/winter is when the flu wave usually hits here," says Deepta Bhattacharya, an immunologist at the University of Arizona College of Medicine. "So in a normal year, I would probably try to wait until mid-October and get the flu shot then," he says. But this year, he says, "flu cases are already starting to go up, so it makes sense to get it sooner — i.e., now."

The reason experts are particularly concerned about the flu this year is that many people, especially very young children, may have little or no immunity against the respiratory infection because the masking, social distancing and other behaviors aimed at protecting against COVID have blunted flu's spread, too. Also, the CDC notes, young children would do well to get a flu shot soon because they require two shots one month apart, and it takes time to build up immunity.

So if you live in the northern hemisphere, get your flu jab this week!

Ian makes landfall

Hurricane Ian has made landfall over Tampa, Fla., as a strong Category-4 storm:

In a 3:05 p.m. update, the National Hurricane Center said the massive Category 4 storm made landfall on the southwest coast with 240 km/h maximum sustained winds. The most immediate and life-threatening concern was storm surge — the waters of the Gulf of Mexico pushed inland by Ian.

The surge predictions from the National Hurricane Center soared overnight to 4 to 6 meters for Englewood to Bonita Bay, a forecast so high a new color was added to the National Hurricane Center’s peak storm surge prediction map. The worst of that storm surge is expected after landfall and later this evening.

Here is the GOES-East satellite image for the past 4 hours:

I have friends in Tampa and Orlando I'm keeping tabs on. I hope they're all right as the storm moves (very slowly) north. Currently, the probability cone has the storm also hitting just west of the RDU area as a tropical depression. As my (Hungarian) primary flight instructor often said all those years ago, "it mights gonna to be a bit vindy."