The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Record temperature yesterday

Chicago got up to 21°C yesterday, tying the record for March 9th set in 1974. It's already 20°C right now, close to the record 22°C set in 1955.

In other news:

And now that I've finally gotten a .NET 5 application to deploy onto a Microsoft Azure Functions App, I will take a well-earned walk.

Deaths in the news today

Three reports of deaths today, two of them institutional. First, the one with the most relevance to me personally, one of the people most responsible for my sense of humor, died yesterday at 91:

Norton Juster, the celebrated children’s author who has died at 91, stumbled into literature much as his most famous hero, Milo, stumbles into the marvelous world of wordplay and ad­ven­ture in the classic 1961 volume “The Phantom Tollbooth.” They were bored and entirely unsuspecting of the wonders that awaited them.

A budding architect with a self-confessed tendency to procrastinate, Mr. Juster was living in New York City and working — or not working — on a children’s book about cities. A Ford Foundation grant had given the project a degree of urgency. But it was not the book he wanted to write, and soon enough, he recalled years later, he was “waist-deep in stacks of 3-by-5 note cards, exhausted and dispirited.”

To pass the time, Mr. Juster began scribbling the story of Milo, a boy of about 9 or 10 years with no interest in the tedium of school or “learning to solve useless problems, or subtracting turnips from turnips, or knowing where Ethiopia is or how to spell February,” and who was as bewildered by the grown-up world as grown-ups were by him.

Only slightly less relevant to me, writer Jelani Cobb joins the crowd of people observing the death of the Republican Party:

The most widely debated political question of the moment is: What is happening to the Republicans? One answer is that the Party’s predicament might fairly be called the revenge of “the kooks.” In just four years, the G.O.P., a powerful, hundred-and-sixty-seven-year-old institution, has become the party of Donald Trump. He began his 2016 campaign by issuing racist and misogynistic salvos, and during his Presidency he gave cover to white supremacists, reactionary militia groups, and QAnon followers. Trump’s seizure of the Party’s leadership seemed a stunning achievement at first, but with time it seems more reasonable to ponder how he could possibly have failed. There were many preëxisting conditions, and Trump took advantage of them. The combination of a base stoked by a sensationalist right-wing media and the emergence of kook-adjacent figures in the so-called Gingrich Revolution, of 1994, and the Tea Party, have redefined the Party’s temper and its ideological boundaries. It is worth remembering that the first candidate to defeat Trump in a Republican primary in 2016 was Ted Cruz, who, by 2020, had long set aside his reservations about Trump, and was implicated in spurring the mob that attacked the Capitol.

One of the most telling developments of the 2020 contest was rarely discussed: in August, the Republican National Convention convened without presenting a new Party platform. The Convention was centered almost solely on Trump; the events, all of which took place at the White House, validated an increasing suspicion that Trump himself was the Republican platform. Practically speaking, the refusal to articulate concrete positions spared the Party the embarrassment of watching the President contradict them. In 2016, religious conservatives succeeded in getting an anti-pornography plank into the platform, only to be confronted by news of Trump’s extramarital affair with the adult-film performer Stormy Daniels. Now there would be no distinction between the Republican Party and the mendacity, bigotry, belligerence, misogyny, and narcissism of its singular representative.

In addition, the G.O.P.’s steady drift toward the right, from conservative to reactionary politics; its dependence on older, white voters; its reliance on right-wing media; its support for tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans; and its increasing disdain for democratic institutions and norms all portend increasing division and a diminishing pool of voters.

Large things die slowly, though, and the GOP's rot and sickness will pollute our civil discourse for years to come.

Another large, old thing that may not die for a couple more centuries has also let out a gangrenous burp this past week, when Harry Windsor and his wife Meghan unloaded on "the Firm" they recently quit. Leave it to an Irish writer (in this case Patrick Freyne) to sound exactly the right note:

Having a monarchy next door is a little like having a neighbour who’s really into clowns and has daubed their house with clown murals, displays clown dolls in each window and has an insatiable desire to hear about and discuss clown-related news stories. More specifically, for the Irish, it’s like having a neighbour who’s really into clowns and, also, your grandfather was murdered by a clown.

The most recent internecine struggle is between the royal family and a newly disentangled Prince Harry and his wife, the former actor Meghan Markle. Traditionally, us peasants would be nervously picking a side and retrieving our pikes from the thatch. Luckily, these days the pitched battles happen in television interviews.

Over the course of the interview Harry and Meghan, who are charming, clever and good at being celebrities, make the monarchy look like an archaic and endemically racist institution that has no place in the modern world. Well duh. And despite all the outrage you might read in the UK tabloids right now, they also did something else that renders everything else irrelevant: they officially launched themselves in the United States.

Harry and Meghan are ultimately going to win. Despite the tabloid frenzy, this was never the story of an ungrateful pauper being elevated by the monarchy. This was about the potential union of two great houses, the Windsors and Californian Celebrity. Only one of those things has a future, and it’s the one with the Netflix deal.

Well, OK, only one of those things has actually, permanently died. But I expect the other two will die before I do.

Top of the inbox this morning

The CDC just released guidance on how vaccinated people should behave. It doesn't seem too surprising, but it also doesn't suggest we will all go back to the world of 2019 any time soon.

In other news:

And now, I have to wait for IT to unlock my work account, after fat-fingering my password once too often.

The pandemic is still making us crazy

I read three things to reinforce this today. First, National Geographic acknowledges the global mental health crisis, and how we're procrastinating more as a result:

People don’t necessarily procrastinate because they are lazy. Procrastination has roots in our evolutionary development, with two key parts of the brain vying for control.

“Procrastination is an emotion-focused coping strategy,” says Tim Pychyl, a psychology professor at Carleton University in Ottawa, Ontario, and author of Solving the Procrastination Puzzle. “It is not a time-management problem; it is an emotion-management problem.”

Experts who study procrastination define it as the voluntary delay of an intended act despite the fact that you can expect to be worse off in the long run by putting off the task. We know the task doesn’t go away, but sometimes we let our emotions get the best of us. Our “present self” calls the shots, and our “future self” suffers because of it.

Neuroscientists have found that procrastination is a battle between an ancient part of the brain called the limbic system and a relatively younger part known as the prefrontal cortex.

However, when strong emotions such as anxiety and fear become overwhelming, the impulsive limbic system can still win out.

Paul Krugman today describes another form of insanity, in which the states of Texas and Mississippi (34th and 46th in public education rankings, respectively) have consigned a non-zero number of people to death because of the politics of masks:

Wearing a mask in public, like holding it in for a few minutes, is slightly inconvenient, but hardly a major burden. And the case for imposing that mild burden in a pandemic is overwhelming. The coronavirus variants that cause Covid-19 are spread largely by airborne droplets, and wearing masks drastically reduces the variants’ spread.

So not wearing a mask is an act of reckless endangerment, not so much of yourself — although masks appear to provide some protection to the wearer — as of other people. Covering our faces while the pandemic lasts would appear to be simple good citizenship, not to mention an act of basic human decency.

Refusing to wear a mask has become a badge of political identity, a barefaced declaration that you reject liberal values like civic responsibility and belief in science. (Those didn’t used to be liberal values, but that’s what they are in America 2021.)

I don’t know how many people will die unnecessarily because the governor of Texas has decided that ignoring the science and ending the mask requirement is a good way to own the libs. But the number won’t be zero.

Finally, I got a lengthy email today that someone sent through Weather Now, for some reason, warning me of the dangers of vaccination:

I was praying and fasting, regarding the Covid-19 vaccine during the time I’ve received this dream:

In my dream, God took me into the near future of America. I was overlooking America (like a birds eye view), and I looked to my right of America (the Eastside) and was overlooking New York State as well.. And I saw millions of people in America, had received the Covid-19 vaccine.

And also throughout America, I could see 5G towers monitoring VERY closely the covid-19 vaccinated individuals (victims).

When I saw this, I immediately asked God, “How are they completely connected to these 5G towers and the towers to them?” Right after I asked God this, He took me to a hospital in New York. There, I saw a doctor giving a patient, the covid-19 vaccine. (The doctor and patient couldn’t see me.)

But while the doctor was injecting into the patient’s arm, the covid-19 vaccine shot.. I saw hundreds/thousands of little specs of microchips, [nanobots] INSIDE the covid-19 vaccine, flowing through the shot, and into that individual.

The email went on like this for five pages. I selected only the most coherent bits for this message. I should point out, however, that the IP address from which the message originated is in Vietnam, so I'm not too worried there's an unhinged fundamentalist trying to save my soul through a weather application's feedback page. I am worried that fear leads to stupidity (a crucial step Yoda forgot to mention) and stupidity leads to people believing crazy things.

Craziness usually follows plagues. Let's hope we get through our crazy period as rationally as we can.

Not a surprising coincidence

A local Vietnamese restaurant—only a few blocks from me, in fact—had to pay $700,000 in back wages to its workers after a Department of Labor investigation that ended in October:

Tank Noodle has been forced to pay nearly $700,000 in back wages after making some of its employees work only for tips, according to the U.S. Deptartment of Labor.

The popular Vietnamese restaurant at 4953 N. Broadway withheld wages and used illegal employment practices for 60 of its employees, a labor department investigation found. Some employees were owed more than $10,000 by the restaurant.

The investigation found some servers at the restaurant worked only for tips, a violation of federal work laws. Tank Noddle also shorted servers when the business pooled tips and divided the money among all staff, including management, another federal work violation.

Tank Noodle violated overtime laws and sometimes paid staff flat fees for a day’s work regardless of the number of hours worked, according to the labor department.

There's the setup. Now the punchline:

[Tank Noodle's] owners attended a Jan. 6 rally in support of former President Donald Trump that ended in the storming of the U.S. Capitol.

The Ly family, which owns Tank Noodle, posted photos from the rally, which were widely circulated on social media.

Too bad for the Ly family that the neighborhood has about two dozen other places with better phở.

Evening news

Just a few stories:

Finally, it only took 375 years and satellite imagery, but geologists have demonstrated that New Zealand is on its own continent.

"Just F this guy"

So says Josh Marshall who, after five years of being obligated by his job to listen to the XPOTUS's speeches, finally turned him off this week:

Part of this may be fatigue. I want to be done with this guy. But I don’t think it was mainly that. I’ve wanted to be done with him for years. The centrality of Trump, what’s held so many of our attentions for years is the inescapable reality that he was President. He controls the FBI, the DOJ, the military, what other countries sometimes call the ‘power ministries’. He’s got the nukes. However terrible and absurd he may be what he says and what he thinks and even his mood really matters because of the awful powers he had acquired by being elected President.

Many times I’ve analogized the Trump presidency to living in a household with an abuser. Part of that experience is hyper-vigilance and attention to the actions and moods of the abuser. That person has the power. That person controls the violence. Absent that power, though, Trump’s lies and general crap don’t really matter to me as much. Absent that power, he’s just another entitled jerk who wants space in my head.

Josh, I turned him off years ago. But it's nice that no one has to listen to him any more.

Odds and ends

Just a couple passing stories this afternoon:

Finally, Merck and Johnson & Johnson announced a plan to combine production of Covid-19 vaccines, an "unprecedented" collaboration between competitors.

No key left behind

I think we can all appreciate the novel and—can I just say?—courageous interpretation of the National Anthem that not even the lads from the Anacreontic Society could have managed when they penned the tune lo these many centuries past.

Last weekday of the winter

I get to turn off and put away my work laptop in a little bit in preparation for heading back to the office on Monday morning. I can scarcely wait. 

Meanwhile, I've got a few things to read:

OK, one more work task this month, then...I've got some other stuff to do.