The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

I will travel from state to state in a recreational vehicle

Poor Commander Borodin, the executive officer on the Red October, who never got to live his dream:

Only it turns out, during a pandemic, it's not such a dream:

“Most R.V.s are not set up to be disconnected from utilities for extended periods of time, so as a result, when a shelter-in-place order is issued, it creates a nationwide game of musical chairs for people trying to find a spot to hunker down in,” said Shawn Loring, chief executive of the Escapees RV Club, one of the country’s oldest and largest groups for R.V.ers.

While people can set up on “dispersed” public land — open grounds without utilities — most are still in need of R.V. parks that offer connections for power, water, septic tanks and Wi-Fi, among other services. Leigh Wetzel, co-founder of Campendium, an online resource with 27,600 campsites in its database, said that as of March 20, 9 percent of those sites were closed. A month later it was 46 percent.

Some R.V. advocates have been lobbying to get these parks recognized as essential services. “Local governments don’t understand, only a very small percentage of R.V.s are equipped for off-the-grid living,” said Curtis Coleman, chief executive of RVillage, an online community with about 216,000 members. “They think campgrounds are gathering places and are not thinking they provide an essential service for the full-time R.V.ers who are now displaced.”

Imagine being in a 18 m² room with someone for weeks, and nowhere to go, because you can't get (or unload) water. One shudders.

How crude

Demand for petroleum has crashed so hard and so fast that North American oil producers have run out of space to store the excess. This morning the price of US crude collapsed, falling 105 500% to $-2 $-37.63 per barrel; Canadian oil prices also dropped negative. That's right, if you want to take a million or so barrels off their hands, they'll pay you to do so. (This only affects delivery by month's end; for delivery in May, oil still costs $20 a barrel.)

Meanwhile, in other horrific news:

Finally, the Covid-19 emergency has led to mass layoffs of architects, one of the hardest-hit professions in any recession. I'm currently reading Robert Caro's The Power Broker, his biography of Robert Moses, and just at the point where he mentions that in 1934, 5 out of 6 architects had lost their jobs. Everything old is new again.

And you thought things were getting better

The number of new Covid-19 cases per day may have peaked in Illinois, but that still means we have new cases every day. We have over 10,000 infected in the state, with the doubling period now at 12 days (from 2 days back mid-March). This coincides with unpleasant news from around the world:

  • Covid-19 has become the second-leading cause of death in the United States, accounting for 12,400 deaths per week, just behind heart disease which kills about 12,600.
  • More than 5 million people filed for unemployment benefits last week, bringing the total unemployed to 22 million, the highest percentage of Americans out of work since 1933. April unemployment figures come out May 8th, when we will likely have confirmation of a 13-15% unemployment rate. Note that the unemployment rate was the lowest in history just two months ago.
  • Consumer spending on nearly everything except groceries has fallen, in some places catastrophically. Chicago's heavy-rail authority, Metra, has seen ridership fall 97% system-wide and predicts a $500 million budget deficit this year. (For my own part, since my March 31st post on the subject, my spending on dining out, lunch, and groceries combined has fallen 70% month-over-month.)
  • UK Foreign Secretary (and acting Prime Minister) Dominic Raab announced today that lockdown measures would continue in the UK "for at least the next three weeks," reasoning that premature relaxation would lead to a resurgence of the virus as seen worldwide in 1918.
  • FiveThirtyEight explains why Covid-19 has caused so much more disruption than Ebola, SARS-1, and swine flu.
  • Talking Points Memo takes a deeper look at the hidden mortality of Covid-19.
  • Brian Dennehy has died at 81.
  • Chicago could get 75 mm of snow tonight. In April. The middle of Spring. FFS.

But we also got some neutral-to-good news today:

I pitched the Goat-2-Meeting to my chorus board for our next meeting, and unfortunately got told we don't donate to other NPCs. I guess we're not a bleating-heart organization.

The Endorsement

It's official:

I mean, we all knew this was coming, especially after Bernie Sanders endorsed Biden yesterday. Because, I mean, he had to. Lookit:

And finally, despite my grocery bill, I'm going to take a look at these upside-down drink recipes to preserve my liver through the crisis.

Because life wasn't interesting enough right now

Two forest fires near Vladimirovka, Ukraine, have caused radiation levels in the region to spike:

A fire covering around 20 hectares broke out on Saturday afternoon near the village of Vladimirovka, within the uninhabited Chernobyl exclusion zone, and responders were still fighting two blazes on Monday morning, Ukrainian emergency services said in a statement.

"There is bad news -- in the center of the fire, radiation is above normal," Egor Firsov, head of Ukraine's ecological inspection service, wrote in a Facebook post alongside a video of a Geiger counter. "As you can see in the video, the readings of the device are 2.3, when the norm is 0.14. But this is only within the area of the fire outbreak."

His measurements refer to the microsievert per hour (μSv/h) reading; the maximum allowable amount of natural background radiation is 0.5 μSv/h, the emergency services said, but Firsov's reported amount was nearly five times that.

Vladimirovka sits within the deserted 1,000-square-mile exclusion zone, which was evacuated after the devastating 1986 blast at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant that sent radioactive fallout billowing across Europe and exposed millions to dangerous levels of radiation.

The region has since been taken over by nature, and forest fires are not uncommon.

While researching this post, I discovered that Google has Street View photos of Pripyat and Chernobyl. How did they get permission to do that?

17 million unemployment claims in 3 weeks

Unemployment claims jumped another 6.6 million in the US last week bringing the total reported unemployed to 16.8 million, the largest number of unemployment claims since the 1930s. Illinois saw 200,000 new claims, an all-time record, affecting 1 in 12 Illinois workers. And that's just one headline today:

After all of that, why don't you watch this adorable video of skunks chattering away as they investigate a cyclist?

Day 21 of working from home

As we go into the fourth week of mandatory working from home, Chicago may have its warmest weather since October 1st, and I'm on course to finish a two-week sprint at work with a really boring deployment. So what's new and maddening in the world?

And finally, two big gyros manufacturers, Kronos and Grecian Delight, are merging. Kind of like all the lamb and stuff that merges to form gyros.

Enjoy the weather, Chicago. The cold returns Thursday.

Mystery neighborhoods in Chicago

Historian John Schmidt reminisces about looking for southeast-side neighborhoods that turned out not to exist:

As I poured over Grandpa’s Rand McNally city map, I was particularly intrigued with the area just east of Lake Calumet. One group of streets was fronted by Chippewa Avenue, a curved thoroughfare that skirted the edge of the lake. To the south, another group was clustered around a river channel, near the Chicago border with Calumet City. Most interesting of all was a tiny, two-square-block group on the lake’s northeast corner. The streets there were totally isolated from any other streets.

I finally got a car and could get around on my own. Now I could play all the public golf courses that had been too far to reach on the bus. After one visit to the Burnham Woods Golf Course in Burnham, I decided to check out those three subdivisions.

All three were totally vacant. There weren’t any streets to be seen. Just empty, undeveloped land.

It turns out, they were map traps:

Those were fake towns that map-makers would intentionally put on their maps. That way, if a rival map later came out with the fake town on it, the original map-maker could prove plagiarism. Were these streets Rand McNally’s version of trap streets?

Most likely. Here's one of the examples he points to:

Here's the same area today. Note that Lake Calumet got significantly filled in during the post-war years, and the city eventually pushed South Stony Island through:

A tale of two realities

Indiana University history professor Rebecca Spang compares the world's response to Covid-19 to the conditions that led to the French Revolution in 1789:

Fear sweeps the land. Many businesses collapse. Some huge fortunes are made. Panicked consumers stockpile paper, food, and weapons. The government’s reaction is inconsistent and ineffectual. Ordinary commerce grinds to a halt; investors can find no safe assets. Political factionalism grows more intense. Everything falls apart.

This was all as true of revolutionary France in 1789 and 1790 as it is of the United States today. Are we at the beginning of a revolution that has yet to be named? Do we want to be? That we are on the verge of a major transformation seems obvious.

An urgent desire for stability—for a fast resolution to upheaval—is in fact absolutely characteristic of any revolutionary era. “I pray we will be finished by Christmas,” wrote one beleaguered member of the French Constituent Assembly to a good friend in October 1789. In reality, of course, the assembly took another two years to finish its tasks, after which another assembly was elected; a republic was declared; Louis XVI was put on trial and executed in January 1793; General Napoleon Bonaparte became “first consul” in 1799 and emperor in 1804; Europe found itself engulfed in wars from 1792 to 1815. In short, life never went back to how it had been before 1789.

People sometimes imagine yesterday’s revolutions as planned and carried out by self-conscious revolutionaries, but this has rarely, if ever, been the case. Instead, revolutions are periods in which social actors with different agendas (peasants stealing rabbits, city dwellers sacking tollbooths, lawmakers writing a constitution, anxious Parisians looking for weapons at the Bastille Fortress) become fused into a more or less stable constellation. The most timeless and emancipatory lesson of the French Revolution is that people make history. Likewise, the actions we take and the choices we make today will shape both what future we get and what we remember of the past.

Keep that in mind as you read these indications that Republicans have entirely incompatible views with the rest of the world about most things:

  • Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly addressed the crew of the USS Theodore Roosevelt yesterday, calling the CO he removed last week "stupid," among other things certain to endear him to everyone in the Navy.
  • Conservative propaganda news outlets continue to repeat the president's lie assertion that no one knew how bad the pandemic would get, despite ample evidence that it would.
  • It looks like the Federal government is seizing protective equipment en route to Democratic-leaning states, but no one seems to know (or will admit) why.
  • Three academics who specialize in health policy warn that when, not if, Covid-19 starts hitting rural areas in force, it will get much worse, owing to the older populations as well as a general lack of hospitals and supplies outside of cities.
  • This week's New Yorker takes a long look at Illinois' response to the crisis, which is different than, say, Georgia's.
  • Wisconsin governor Tony Evans issued an executive order earlier today postponing the state's primary election until June 9th. The state was to hold its primary election tomorrow, despite the Democratic governor and Democratic minority in the state legislature demanding postponement or universal mail-in ballots. The Republican-controlled legislature refused even to take up the proposal, perhaps because, as other Republicans have admitted, more votes means Republicans lose. The state's top Republicans, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester), said the governor "cave[d] under political pressures from national liberal special interest groups" like, one must assume, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a known hotbed of partisan Democratic thought.

Finally, ever wonder about the origin of those creepy plague-doctor outfits from the 17th century?

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.