The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

More stuff to read

I know, two days in a row I can't be arsed to write a real blog post. Sometimes I have actual work to do, y'know?

Finally, as I've gone through my CD collection in the order I bought them, I occasionally encounter something that has not aged well. Today I came across Julie Brown's "The Homecoming Queen's Got a Gun," which...just, no. Not in this century.

Floods in Northwest Europe

Hundreds of people are missing and dozens confirmed dead in some of the worst flooding in European history:

Following a day of frantic rescue efforts and orders to evacuate towns rapidly filling with water unloosed by violent storms, the German authorities said late Thursday that after confirming scores of deaths, they were unable to account for at least 1,300 people.

That staggering figure was announced after swift-moving water from swollen rivers surged through cities and villages in two western German states, where the death toll passed 90 on Friday in the hardest-hit regions and other fatalities were expected.

The devastation caused by the severe weather came just days after the European Union announced an ambitious blueprint to pivot away from fossil fuels over the next nine years, as part of plans to make the 27-country bloc carbon-neutral by 2050. Environmental activists and politicians were quick to draw parallels between the flooding and the effects of climate change.

“The water is still flowing knee-high through the streets, parked cars are thrown sideways, and trash and debris are piling up on the sides,” Alexander Bange, the district spokesman in the Märkische region of North Rhine-Westphalia, told the German news agency D.P.A.

I hope the rains abate long enough, and the rivers empty quickly enough, to limit the damage and deaths that continue today.

More heat records out west

On Friday, Death Valley National Park hit 55°C—130°F—on Friday and 54°C yesterday. Friday's temperature tied the record for the highest-known temperature on the planet:

As the third massive heat wave in three weeks kicked off in the West on Friday, Death Valley, Calif., soared to a searing 130 degrees. If confirmed, it would match the highest known temperature on the planet since at least 1931, which occurred less than a year ago.

Death Valley also hit 130 degrees last August, which at the time preliminarily ranked among the top three highest temperatures ever measured on the planet. It is still being reviewed by the World Meteorological Organization, which is the arbiter of international weather records.

The 130-degree reading observed Friday and last August only trail two other high temperatures ever measured on the planet: 1) The high of 134 set in Death Valley on July 10, 1913, and 2) a 131-degree reading from Kebili, Tunisia, set July 7, 1931.

But Christopher Burt, an expert on world weather extremes, questions the legitimacy of both of those measurements. He called the 1913 Death Valley reading “essentially not possible from a meteorological perspective” and wrote that the 1931 Tunisia reading has “serious credibility issues.”

In other words, the 130-degree readings from Death Valley on Friday and last year, if validated, may be the highest pair of reliably measured temperatures ever observed on Earth.

The National Weather Service forecasts today's high will hit 54°C again. By the time the heat wave finally breaks (sort of) on Tuesday, the weather station will have tied the record for the most consecutive days above 52°C (125°F):

The record for the number of consecutive days at 125 degrees or higher is 10, set in 1913 (June 28-July 5). This year, Death Valley hit 126 on July 7 and will likely continue that stretch of days with 125-plus temperatures through Tuesday. This would be eight straight days, which would be the second-longest streak in recorded history (tying eight days in 2013).

"An anomalously strong high pressure system overhead will remain overhead for multiple days," said Chelsea Peters, meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Las Vegas. "When the overnight low is warmer than the previous day's and similar temperature trends are expected, the daytime high would likely end up being just as hot, or hotter than the previous day."

Here in Chicago, we've got an England-like 20°C with very English rain, which could continue through Tuesday.

Even Chicago will have climate-related troubles

Dan Egan, author of The Death and Life of the Great Lakes (which I read last November while staring out at one of them), explains in yesterday's New York Times how climate change will cause problems here in Chicago:

[T]he same waters that gave life to the city threaten it today, because Chicago is built on a shaky prospect — the idea that the swamp that was drained will stay tamed and that Lake Michigan’s shoreline will remain in essentially the same place it’s been for the past 300 years.

Lake Michigan’s water level has historically risen or fallen by just a matter of inches over the course of a year, swelling in summer following the spring snowmelt and falling off in winter. Bigger oscillations, a few feet up or down from the average, also took place in slow, almost rhythmic cycles unfolding over the course of decades.

No more.

In 2013, Lake Michigan plunged to a low not seen since record-keeping began in the mid-1800s, wreaking havoc across the Midwest. Marina docks became useless catwalks. Freighter captains couldn’t fully load their ships. And fears grew that the lake would drop so low it would no longer be able to feed the Chicago River, the defining waterway that snakes through the heart of the city.

That fear was short-lived. Just a year later, in 2014, the lake started climbing at a stunning rate, ultimately setting a record summertime high in 2020 before drought took hold and water levels started plunging again.

Egan explains in detail what that means for us, culminating in the harrowing near-disaster of 17 May 2020, when record rains combined with a record-high lake to make draining downtown Chicago almost impossible.

I should note that, after falling for 11 consecutive months, the lake has started to rise again (blue line), and we haven't even gotten down to our long-term average (green line):

I've said for decades that Chicago will fare better than most places, but that doesn't mean we'll have it easy. Nowhere will.

UIC's Dis/Placements project maps Uptown

Via Bloomberg CityLab and Block Club Chicago, the University of Illinois at Chicago started a project in 2017 to chart the "displacements of people and struggles over land, housing, and community in the city of Chicago:"

The issue of displacement and the efforts to stop it, in fact, has been present in Uptown for nearly 200 years. That history — in the words of the people who were displaced — is now being recounted through a new University of Illinois Chicago research project.

“In general, it’s poor communities and communities of color that have faced the brunt of the efforts to develop neighborhoods,” said UIC Professor Gayatri Reddy. “Uptown captures some of these remaining issues.”

The project also recounts the efforts to stop displacement and points to how modern activist movements have picked up the mantle from previous generations in the still very-much-alive fight in Uptown, the professors said.

Displacement and development that adversely impact the poor and communities of color have been happening in Uptown, and America, since its founding. But at least in Uptown, the scale of displacement has accelerated in modern times, Reddy said.

“It seems to us that there has been a steady rise in the breadth and scale of such efforts in the last 20 [plus] years,” she said. “With gentrification and other displacement mechanisms impacting an even wider swath of the population.”

The project site has interactive and VR visualizations of Uptown's history, with scads of GIS data and spotlights on specific instances of uncomfortable history.

Misunderstanding national happiness

After the World Happiness Report comes out each year, everyone wants to live in Scandinavia, which usually dominates the top 10 every time. But people seem not to understand why Norway, Denmark, Finland, and the rest rank so high. Perhaps it's not hygge but lagom. Or maybe it's free health care:

Sort of like how the launch of Sputnik in 1957 led Americans to feel like their country was falling behind technologically, or how the results of international standardized tests in the 2000s led them to feel like their kids were falling behind educationally, the happiness rankings have subtly encouraged an anxiety fit for our era of self-optimization: that somewhere, other people are doing things that make them much happier than we are.

This disturbing thought has contributed to the rise of a genre of lifestyle content that aims to help unhappy Americans emulate the daily practices and philosophies of happier places, whether that means taking a dip in frigid water or making your living room super-cozy. Wanting to copy the happiest people in the world is an understandable impulse, but it distracts from a key message of the happiness rankings—that equitable, balanced societies make for happier residents. In the process, a research-heavy, policy-oriented document gets mistaken, through a terrible global game of telephone, for a trove of self-help advice.

Perhaps deeper insights can be gained from looking beyond the trends of cozy hearths and nature walks. Even the Nordic countries themselves have a lesser-known cultural ideal that probably brings happiness more reliably than hygge. Jukka Savolainen, a Finnish American sociology professor at Wayne State University, in Michigan, argued in Slate that the essence of his happy home region is best captured by lagom, a Swedish and Norwegian word meaning “just the right amount.”

In other words, people report feeling happier when they don't have to worry about bankruptcy after incurring minor medical expenses, when they have adequate public services, and when they just don't want to acquire more stuff. But hey, buy more cardamom if it feels good.

So, nu, how's by you?

After taking Cassie on a 45-minute walk before the heat hits us, I've spent the morning debugging, watching these news stories pile up for lunchtime reading:

Finally, Chicago architecture firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill has revealed conceptual drawings for a moon base.

View From Your Window contest

Welp, I was about 99% correct, but this week they had over 100 correct answers, so no prize:

It’s the John A. Blatnik Bridge connecting Duluth and Superior. It was finished in 1961, when I was about 10, and I remember my first drive over the bridge on the day it officially opened — five kids, mom and dad in the Plymouth, topping out 120 fucking feet(!) above the harbor surface. At that time, it was the highest distance above earth I had ever been. The Blatnik Bridge had replaced a swinging bridge that carried trains as well as cars across the harbor.

As for the exact location and window? 212 Piedmont Avenue [in Duluth, Minn.]

I got right block, but the wrong house. My guess:

I was so sure it was an East Coast bridge that I spent half an hour ranging up and down from Virginia to PEI looking for east-west rivers that a bridge that size could cross. Then I started searching for bridge types, and found https://bridgehunter.com/. Eventually I looked up the Bayonne Bridge to figure out what type it was (steel through arch), and just started looking at all of them, comparing the photos with the VFYW. I’d find one that looked promising, then examine Google Maps to find other features I’d noticed: industry on both sides of the river, the bridge coming to a T intersection on the near side with another highway, a rail yard between the photographer and the bridge, and a Y intersection close aboard to the photo at just the right angle to the bridge.

Once I found the John A. Blatnik Bridge in Duluth, things came together quickly. Here’s the map I drew in my head with my guess about where the photographer must have been (first photo). Then I zoomed in north of the rail yard and started looking for the weird Y intersection that ended in “W **** St” (second photo).

Ah, well. This week's contest looks very French, but I'll find out with everyone else next Friday.