The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

How is it Friday already?

I spent way too much time chasing down an errant mock in my real job's unit test suite, but otherwise I've gotten a lot done today. Too much to read all these articles:

OK, assuming this build works, I'll have closed 4 story points today—with 4 very small 1-point stories. The harder ones start Monday morning.

Why am I indoors?

It's 22°C and sunny right now, making me wonder what's wrong with me that I'm putting together a software release. I probably should fire off the release, but I'm doing so under protest. I also probably won't get to read all of these things I've queued up:

Finally, Stan's Donuts will open a new store just three blocks from the apartment I moved out of one year ago today. I might have to stop in soon. I will not, however, wash them down with CH Distillery's latest abomination, Pumpkin-Spice Malört.

The cargo cult of happiness

Writing in the current Atlantic, Joe Pinsker points out that emulating the pastimes of happy cultures won't actually create a happy culture:

With the release of each [World Happiness] report, which is published by the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network, the question is not which country will appear at the top of the rankings, but rather which Northern European country will. Finland has been the world’s happiest country for four years running; Denmark and Norway hold all but one of the other titles (which went to Switzerland in 2015).

The rankings are reliably discouraging for Americans, who have never cracked the global top 10. We are merely in the upper middle class of happiness—respectable, but underwhelming for a country with our level of wealth and self-regard.

Taking forest walks and foraging for berries do sound delightful, but a focus on activities and habits reduces entire cultures to individual lifestyle trends and obscures the structural forces that make people satisfied with their lives. No quantity of blankets or candles is going to make up for living in an unequal society with a weak social safety net. The folly of fixating on local customs becomes even clearer if you consider the poverty and violence that are common at the bottom of the rankings: No lifestyle blogger is studying Afghanistan, the least happy country in this year’s report, and recommending that readers avoid Afghan pastimes and customs such as flying kites and going to communal bathhouses.

Of course, we Americans have always tried to create happiness from fantasy, so perhaps missing the entire point of the World Happiness Report comes as naturally to us as a trip to Disneyland. I, personally, would experience more happiness if the United States had universal healthcare and more American cities had fast, frequent, and reliable public transit, but hey, I have nothing against your favorite professional sports team getting more points than the other teams they play.

The UN has made the World Happiness Report 2023 available free online, just in case you want to see which 14 countries ranked higher than the US in this year's report. Only one of them is an active war zone right now.

Chicken soup with rice

Last weekend I made approximately 5 liters of chicken soup due to an unfortunate decision midway through the process to add more salt. Given the saltiness of the soup I put in mason jars, I recommend a 3:2 ratio of soup to water, meaning I effectively made 8 liters of soup. Most of it is in my freezer now, in convenient 250 mL jars, one serving apiece.

Suffice it to say I have had chicken soup for lunch 3 times this week. It is, however, very delicious. Except for over-salting it (which is easily corrected and preventable in future), I know what I'm doing.

Elsewhere in the world, things are not so delicious:

Finally, today is the 50th anniversary of both the Sydney Opera House opening and Nixon's (and Bork's) Saturday Night Massacre. One of those things endures. The other does too, but not in a good way.

Why Americans like European cities

Travel writer Rick Stevens points out that European cities made deliberate choices to become walkable. American cities can do that too:

You know, it's funny, when Americans are in Europe, they marvel at the energy and the people friendliness of the urban cores. But oftentimes, they don't put it together. 

But you walk around these towns—you walk around Rome, you walk around Copenhagen, you walk around Amsterdam and Warsaw—and think, “Where are all the cars? There's just happy people.” I was in Copenhagen once when they were really getting into this: people were walking around the streets wearing plywood cut out the size and shape of a car. And they would walk down the sidewalks in the streets, walking, taking up as much space as a car to make the point. And now when you look around, you realize there's no traffic in Copenhagen downtown. Stop, where are the cars? No cars. Where are the vehicles? 200 bicycles. You stop anywhere, you can see 200 bicycles, but you don't even notice them. And that's how people got there.

I think we have the infrastructure, but the priority for the infrastructure is not people, it's cargo. For Seattle or Portland in Europe, there would be a train every half hour. I wouldn't need a schedule, I would know that at 10 minutes after and at 40 minutes after, there's a bullet train going from my town to Portland, and it would have maybe five stops along the way. It would go 100 miles an hour, and it'd be affordable, it would build community, it'd be sustainable. But what happens when I take the train to Portland from Seattle? It stops in the middle of nowhere for 20 minutes because it's waiting for a freight train to go by. So, our priority is that kind of commerce. I've given up on taking the train to Portland; now I drive. It's just because I'm not cargo: If I was cargo, I'd love to be on a train. But I'm a human being. So, I have to wait.

When [an American city] vacates at night, it becomes dangerous. You get afraid when there’s no people out, and it causes people to have to travel more, and spend more time in traffic to get in and out of work. It doesn't lend itself to a vital community. So, what do you have? You've got a situation where, after dark, the urban core is just a scary, depressing place, and in a lot of cases in Europe, it'd be a thriving place. It's pretty simple, isn't it? People live there. There's public transit, and it's not ruled by cars.

Will the US and Canada ever figure this out? I hope so, and in my lifetime. I grow less optimistic every year.

What the better writers are saying

Yesterday I wrote down some of my thoughts on the Gaza war, and promised to curate a list of other writers who have done a better job than I have. I don't necessarily agree with these folks 100%, but at least they're trying to bring some sanity to the conversation.

Julia Ioffe:

Two years ago, during the last war between Hamas and Israel, I did a little survey on social media and asked people where Jews came from, originally. Most people said “Europe.” It was deeply telling and explained why, in so many narratives I’ve seen proliferate on social media, Jews are considered the white colonizers of Palestinians and people of color. The Jews, in this narrative, were like the British in Africa, India, and Pakistan: white foreigners who came from far away to subjugate brown people and steal their resources. It’s a nice, easy narrative that fits perfectly into the conversations about the evils of colonialism and systemic racism. And it’s why so many groups on the left have aligned themselves exclusively with the Palestinian cause and see Jews as white aggressors.

There’s one problem: it’s not quite true. It would be if the British were originally from India or Africa and returned, 2,000 years later, to claim it as theirs. In fact, most of these misguided narratives also leave out the role of British colonial rule and especially the U.N. in creating the state of Israel—as well as an Arab Palestinian state next to it. (Which Palestinians rejected, for some understandable reasons, after which neighboring Arab countries attacked the new Jewish state.) Israel, in other words, wasn’t a rogue state, but one created and recognized by the international community. It wouldn’t have existed without it.

I don’t know what will happen or what can happen to solve this. Those who talk about a two-state solution are living in a world that hasn’t existed for a decade. Neither Israelis nor Palestinians seem to want one anymore. They each want a state of their own, a state without the other, and the ethno-nationalism that built Israel—born as it was out of slaughter and oppression—has fueled the ethno-nationalism of the Palestinians, born out of the exact same elements. Both sides have hardened to an exclusionary extreme that precludes compromise or coexistence, and the events of the last week will ensure that even the embers of those hopes are doused cold. Before Saturday, the plan seemed to have been to wait each other out—or, if they were Israelis, ignore the problem and their complicity in it. Now, it is to fight to the death.

Andrew Sullivan:

What about the broader context for this latest horror — all the way back to 1948? Yes, that’s a necessary conversation, vital even. But in judging the events of the past week, it’s utterly irrelevant. There is no historical context — none — which can excuse or mitigate what Hamas did and what Hamas is. There is no oppression that justifies the murder of infants in their beds. And from some of the videos, you can see how the act of personally murdering a Jew is cherished by these fanatics, a glorious achievement, a life goal.

But has the Israeli government been reckless, expansionist, and determined to destroy any chance for a Palestinian state for a while now? Yes, it has. Since the excruciating near-miss of 2000, Israel has treated the Palestinians as a menace to be managed and, with any luck, ignored. Has it treated the population in the West Bank appallingly in this century? Yes, it has. Has the Israel lobby supported the unconscionable and relentless establishment of settlements for decades? For all their hand-wringing, yes. Is Israel’s achievement the immiseration and dehumanization of all Palestinians in the occupied territories? I don’t think any objective observer at this point could deny it. The attempt to deny the core problem has only made it worse.

Thomas Friedman:

Hamas’s stated reasons for this war are that Benjamin Netanyahu’s government has been provoking the Palestinians by the morning strolls that Israel’s minister for national security, Itamar Ben-Gvir, was taking around Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem and by the steps that he was taking to make imprisonment of Palestinians harsher. While these moves by Israel were widely seen as provocations, they are hardly issues that justify Hamas putting all its chips on the table the way it did last Saturday.

The bigger reason it acted now, which Hamas won’t admit, is that it saw how Israel was being more accepted by the Arab world and soon possibly by the birthplace of Islam, Saudi Arabia. Iran was being cornered by President Biden’s Middle East diplomacy, and Palestinians feared being left behind.

So Hamas essentially said, “OK, Jews, we will go where we have never gone before. We will launch an all-out attack from Gaza that won’t stop with soldiers but will murder your grandparents and slaughter your babies. We know it’s crazy, but we are willing to risk it to force you to outcrazy us, with the hope that the fires will burn up all Arab-Israeli normalization in the process.”

Yes, if you think Israel is now crazy, it is because Hamas punched it in the face, humiliated it and then poked out one eye. So now Israel believes it must restore its deterrence by proving that it can outcrazy Hamas’s latest craziness.

Helen Lewis:

The terror attack on Israel by Hamas has been a divisive—if clarifying—moment for the left. The test that it presented was simple: Can you condemn the slaughter of civilians, in massacres that now appear to have been calculatedly sadistic and outrageous, without equivocation or whataboutism? Can you lay down, for a moment, your legitimate criticisms of Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, West Bank settlements, and the conditions in Gaza, and express horror at the mass murder of civilians?

In corners of academia and social-justice activism where the identity of the oppressor and the oppressed are never in doubt, many people failed that test. In response to a fellow progressive who argued that targeting civilians is always wrong, the Yale professor Zareena Grewal replied: “Settlers are not civilians. This is not hard.” (She has since locked her X account.) Chicago’s Black Lives Matter chapter posted a picture of a paraglider, referencing the gunmen who descended on civilians at a music festival near the Gaza border from the air. (The chapter said in a statement that “we aren’t proud” of the post, which was later deleted.) Harvard student groups posted a letter stating that its signatories “hold the Israeli regime entirely responsible for all unfolding violence.”

Fitting Israel into the intersectional framework has always been difficult, because its Jewish citizens are both historically oppressed—the survivors of an attempt to wipe them out entirely—and currently in a dominant position over the Palestinians, as demonstrated by the Netanyahu government’s decision to restrict power and water supplies to Gaza. The simplistic logic of pop intersectionality cannot reconcile this, and the subject caused schisms within the left long before Saturday’s attacks.

The leftist belief in the righteousness of “punching up,” a derivation of standpoint theory, is also important here. Again, this idea has mutated from the reasonable observation that different groups have different knowledge based on their experience—I have never experienced being pulled over by a traffic cop as a Black man, and that limits my understanding of the police—to the idea that different rules apply to you depending on your social position. When an oppressed group uses violence against the oppressor, that is justified “resistance.” Many of us accept a mild version of this proposition: The British suffragettes turned to window smashing and bombing after deciding that letter writing and marches were useless, and history now remembers them as heroines. But somehow, in the case of the incursion from Gaza into Israel, the idea of “punching up” was extended to the murder of children. I simply cannot comprehend how any self-proclaimed feminist can watch footage of armed militants manhandling a woman whose pants are soaked with what looks like blood and decide that she has the power in that situation—and deserves her fate.

Eric Levitz:

The West’s apologists for Palestinian war crimes have far less power than its apologists for Israel’s brutal domination of the Palestinian territories and discrimination against Arab citizens of Israel. But precisely because left-wing critics of Israeli apartheid lack power, we must not forfeit our moral authority. For decades, the Israeli government’s knee-jerk defenders have sought to equate opposition to the occupation with contempt for the security of Jewish Israelis. Now, a loud minority of Palestine’s self-styled champions are blithely affirming this smear, insisting that solidarity with Palestine requires callous indifference toward (or, at the very least, silence about) the mass murder of Jews. In so doing, they are making it easier for their adversaries to discredit and marginalize the broader cause of Palestinian liberation.

All this is morally sick and intellectually bankrupt. From my vantage, it looks as though a few leftists were eager to demonstrate their superlative moral clarity by fighting with liberals about the legitimacy of a Palestinian uprising aimed squarely at the IDF and conducted in the name of democratic equality; so eager that they would not be deterred by the fact that the weekend’s events bore scant resemblance to that scenario.

What we actually witnessed was not “the Palestinians” mounting a violent struggle for justice but a far-right theocratic organization committing mass murder in the name of blood-and-soil nationalism. Hamas’s project is antithetical to the left’s foundational values of secularism, universalism, and egalitarianism. And it is also completely at odds with the progressive vision for Palestinian liberation. Western radicals’ predominant prescription for resolving the Israel-Palestine conflict is a “one-state solution,” in which Israelis and Palestinians all enjoy democratic equality in a single binational state. Hamas’s atrocities have not advanced this ideal but set it back, lending credence to those who insist a one-state solution is a recipe for ceaseless civil war. This weekend was not a triumph for the left’s project in Palestine but a disaster.

[I]t is a moral imperative for progressives to condemn Hamas’s atrocities, affirm the human rights of Jewish Israelis, and reject the ethno-nationalist claim that Palestinians have a unique right to reside in the region. And it is also a political imperative for them to do so.

Again, I don't agree 100% with everyone I've quoted. But they all have resisted knee-jerk reactions and they've all put some thought into their pieces. That's what we need right now.

Went to the doctor, and guess what he told me?

Sadly, my doctor did not tell me to try to have fun no matter what I do, though we did have a brief conversation about which Bourbons we both like. Nope, he just said I'm perfectly healthy: I exercise enough, I eat right, I don't drink too much, my vital signs are perfect, and I get enough sleep. Doctor visits should be like software releases: boring.

If only that were true elsewhere:

Finally, for those of you just tuning in, Chicago-based Motorola invented cell phones. And today marks (only!) the 40th anniversary of David Meilahn making the world's first commercial cellular telephone call from Chicago's Soldier Field. Meilahn won a race to get his phone turned on and dialed in order to get that bit of recognition.

On a more serious note, I haven't commented on the war in Gaza yet because I haven't sifted through all the propaganda and disinformation enough. Julia Ioffe said a lot of what I'm thinking on Monday, but right now, no one can hear us moderates. I plan to address it soon. Maybe my lone center-left voice will end 3,000 years of conflict peacefully, who knows?

Sure Happy It's Thursday

I'm iterating on a UI feature that wasn't 100% defined, so I'm also iterating on the API that the feature needs. Sometimes software is like that: you discover that your first design didn't quite solve the problem, so you iterate. it's just that the iteration is a bit of a context shift, so I'm going to read for about 15 minutes to clear my head:

  • Kevin Philips, whose 1969 book The Emerging Republican Majority laid out Richard Nixon's "southern strategy" and led to the GOP's subsequent slide into authoritarianism and ethnic entrepreneurialism has died, but unfortunately his ideas haven't.
  • The US and Qatar have agreed not to release any of the $6 billion of Iran's money that Qatar currently has in escrow for them, which will no doubt make Iran yet another country demanding to know why Hamas attacked Israel just now.
  • The Chicago Tribune digs into Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson's $16.6 billion budget.
  • In the wake of huge class-action settlements, two major Chicago real-estate brokers have changed their commission policies, but we still have to see if they'll change their actions.
  • The History Channel blurbs the origins of Oktoberfest, which started in 1810 and ends for this year today. Und nächstes Jahr, ich möchte nach München zum Oktoberfest gehen!
  • Jacob Bacharach says the core problem with Michael Lewis's recent biography of Sam Bankman-Fried is that SBF is just too boring to be the subject of a biography.

Finally, Chicago's heavy-rail operator Metra formally proposed simplifying its fare structure. This will cut my commuting costs by about 11%, assuming I use the day passes and individual tickets correctly. It will have the biggest impacts on suburban riders who commute into the city, and riders whose travel doesn't include the downtown terminals.

Tuesday Night Links Club

Just a few:

  • US Representative George Santos (R-NY) faces another 21 felony charges in New York, with prosecutors alleging he stole donors' identities and misappropriated their donations.
  • Isabel Fattal attempts to explain Hamas, the terrorist organization that attacked Israel on Saturday.
  • Alex Shephard is glad the news media have gotten better at reporting on the XPOTUS, but they've still missed the biggest part: he's a "singular threat to American democracy."
  • Jason Pargin pays homage to celebrity worship, and goggles at how weird it's gotten.
  • Molly White explains the evidence presented at Sam Bankman-Fried's trial yesterday that (allegedly) shows how they perpetrated the fraud in code.
  • McSweeney's has a helpful template for right-wingers who are upset with Taylor Swift.

Finally, National Geographic gets cozy with the history of bedbugs and their relationship to humans. Fun evening read, y'all!