The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Sunny and (relatively) warm

It's exactly 0°C in Chicago this afternoon, which is a bog-standard temperature for February 3rd. And it's sunny, which isn't typical. So, with the forecast for a week of bitter cold starting Friday evening, I'm about to take a 30-minute walk to take advantage of today's weather. First, though:

Early February is also the time of year when we start imagining spring. Tomorrow's sunrise is at 7am for the first time since December 1st, and we had 10 hours of daylight last week for the first time since mid-November. Yes, Chicago typically has an Arctic blast sometime during February. But Spring begins in 25 days. We can make it.

We invite you to support this bipartisan bill

Senate Democrats gave the opposition three whole days to stop dicking around with the latest Covid-19 relief package. Then today, with no more than a shrug, they told the Republicans they're tired of the crap:

Senate Democrats took the first step Tuesday toward passing a $1.9 trillion stimulus bill without Republican support, advancing their efforts to avoid a GOP filibuster.

The vote to kickstart the budget reconciliation process, which passed 50-49, is a sign that leadership expects to have the full Democratic caucus on board for the final package.

The vote comes a day after President Joe Biden met with a group of Senate Republicans, who are offering a $618 billion counterproposal. Although Biden told Senate Democrats Tuesday on a private caucus call that the meeting went well, he also said the Republican proposal is not sufficient, according to sources on the call.

Economist Paul Krugman has already explained the ways the GOP's $618 billion "offer" wasn't serious:

It’s not just that the G.O.P. proposal is grotesquely inadequate for a nation still ravaged by the coronavirus pandemic. Beyond that, by their behavior — not just over the past few months but going back a dozen years — Republicans have forfeited any right to play the bipartisanship card, or even to be afforded any presumption of good faith.

But what about bipartisanship? As Biden might say, “C’mon, man.”

First of all, a party doesn’t get to demand bipartisanship when many of its representatives still won’t acknowledge that Biden won legitimately, and even those who eventually acknowledged the Biden victory spent weeks humoring baseless claims of a stolen election.

Complaints that it would be “divisive” for Democrats to pass a relief bill on a party-line vote, using reconciliation to bypass the filibuster, are also pretty rich coming from a party that did exactly that in 2017, when it enacted a large tax cut — legislation that, unlike pandemic relief, wasn’t a response to any obvious crisis, but was simply part of a conservative wish list.

Yes. It only took, what, 12 years? But our party's leadership have finally figured out not to play this game. We're not giving Lucy the football on this one.

Party like it's 1850? 1828? 1964? Who knows

I've often compared this era in American politics with previous eras, most notably the Antebellum period from Jackson on. Yale historian Joanne Freeman zeroes in on 1850—at least as far as our representatives' behavior in Congress

Although couched in calls for unity, [Republican] warnings are remarkably one-sided. There is no talk of reconciliation or compromise. No acceptance of responsibility. Lots of blame casting. And little willingness to calm and inform their base. Even now, some Republicans refuse to admit that Joe Biden won the election, and the Senate vote on an impeachment trial on Jan. 26 suggests that most Republicans want no investigation and will place no blame. They want reconciliation without apologies, concessions without sacrifice, power without accountability.

This is bullying as politics, the modus operandi of our departed chief. Hardly a Trumpian innovation, its heyday was in the decades before the Civil War. During the 1840s and 1850s, America was divided over the fate of slavery. Political parties were splintering under the strain. National institutions were struggling — and failing — to contain it. The press sensationalized the struggle to serve a cause and sell papers.

Southerners had long dominated the national government, and they felt entitled to that power. They were also worried about losing it, a product of the rise of abolitionism and potentially free states forming in the West. Viewing their violence as defensive and justifiable, they fended off attacks on slavery with force when necessary, demanding compliance or silence from their foes, and sometimes getting it.

For some Southerners, this brand of politics wasn’t much of a stretch; their slave regime was grounded in violence, and mastery was their way of life. Between 1830 and 1860, there were at least 70 violent incidents on the House and Senate floors, most of them prompted by Southerners.

With the centuries-long history of Southern white politicians advocating for Southern white minority power, does their behavior today surprise anyone? Freeman concludes:

It needs to assert the power of democratic institutions and the rule of law with a comprehensive investigation into the attack and punishment of its enablers, not in a spirit of revenge, but justly, fairly and consistently. It’s stunning that it needs to be said, but it must be: People who stage, support, or incite violent attacks on the federal government — whether they’re American citizens, members of Congress or the president himself — should be held accountable, not only to restore order in the present, but to fend off similar attacks in the future. Uniting the nation requires no less.

Yes. Lest we find ourselves lurching through the 1850s again. We all know how that ended.

Cities don't actually collapse like that

Annalee Newitz, author of Four Lost Cities, explains that urban collapse doesn't look anything like dystopian fiction would have it:

It’s always lurking just around the corner, seductive and terrifying, but it never quite happens. Lost-city anxieties, like the ones aroused by the pandemic, result from a misunderstanding of what causes cities to decline. Pandemics, invasions, and other major calamities are not the usual culprits in urban abandonment. Instead, what kills cities is a long period in which their leaders fail to reckon honestly with ongoing, everyday problems—how workers are treated, whether infrastructure is repaired. Unsustainable, unresponsive governance in the face of long-term challenges may not look like a world-historical problem, but it’s the real threat that cities face.

This slow-motion catastrophe—a combination of natural disaster and political indifference—was far more important to [Angkor's] transformation than the Ayutthaya invasion [in 1431]. And it stands as a warning to many cities in the U.S. Without a coherent response from local government, cities lashed by climate change will gradually lose their populations. The demise won’t be spectacular, even if the storms are monstrous. Instead, people will leave in dribs and drabs, and the exodus could take generations.

So, I'm going to stay in Chicago, which will likely remain a thriving urban center for hundreds more years.

The crazy gets crazier

The Republican Party had several chances to pull itself back from the brink. They failed. Instead, they keep going deeper into the dark hole of wanting to invalidate an election for the sole reason that their guy lost. Josh Marshall outlines their dangerous insanity:

What we see most clearly today is the GOP moving quickly to align itself with the instigators of the January 6 insurrection and the coup plotters who laid the groundwork for it. This may seem like hyperbole, but it is not. Kevin McCarthy, who earlier this month was saying President Trump bore responsibility for instigating the assault, is now making his pilgrimage to Mar-a-Lago to meet with the disgraced former President and secure his blessing. The only Republicans who stood clearly against the insurrection – like Liz Cheney – are being purged from the party. Trumpist luminaries like Tucker Carlson are already mocking the fears of representatives who feared they’d be murdered on January 6. (That’s right out of the rightist troll culture where you’re blamed for the predation against you for “not getting it.”)

The GOP has had a series of decision points over recent months, the most recent of which was after the January 6 insurrection. The shock of actually being the targets of the assault in many cases created a moment of hesitation. But that wore off quickly.

After early efforts to deflect blame or even blame Antifa for the Capitol insurrection, Republicans are shifting to the view that it was understandable, even justified and may need to happen again to secure Republican ends.

Kathleen Parker says simply that the GOP is dead:

Where conservatism once served as a moderating force — gently braking liberalism’s boundless enthusiasm — the former home of ordered liberty has become a halfway house for ruffians, insurrectionists and renegadewarriors.

The party’s end was inevitable, foreshadowed in 2008 when little-boy Republican males, dazzled by the pretty, born-again, pro-life Alaska governor, thought Sarah Palin should be a heartbeat away from the presidency. The dumbing down of conservatism, in other words, began its terminal-velocity plunge, with a wink and a pair of shiny red shoes.

Going forward, not only will House Republicans be associated with a colleague who “liked” a Twitter post calling for Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s murder. They’ll be attached to QAnon, which promotes the extraordinary fiction that Trump was leading a war against Satan-worshiping pedophiles and cannibals, whose leadership includes Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Oprah Winfrey, Tom Hanks and, oh, by the way, yours truly, as well as U2’s Bono.

To those Republicans who can read: You own all of this. The party isn’t doomed; it’s dead. The chance to move away from Trumpism, toward a more respectful, civilized approach to governance that acknowledges the realities of a diverse nation and that doesn’t surrender to the clenched fist, has slipped away.

Predictably, the House and Senate GOP caucuses continue to mock President Biden's calls for unity by insisting that the only unified path forward is for Biden to do what the GOP wants. Also predictably, the Republican Party has less and less to say about policy these days, so it really isn't clear what they want. It seems only that they want power, but they have no idea (or they're not saying) what they would do with it should they obtain it.

For the last 10 days I've felt relieved in ways I didn't even realize that the XPOTUS has left the public arena, possibly for good. But about a third of my fellow Americans seem to have lost their minds. So I'm not completely relieved.

All the pretty press secretaries

Fox News has a habit of hiring the XPOTUS's press secretaries (even when no one else will), for a very simple reason:

The appeal of all four to a network like Fox News is that, more than any cluster of unprofessionals in former president Donald Trump’s orbit, his former press secretaries have the most experience in covering up, promoting and articulating lies. Fox News hired [Sarah] Sanders, for instance, just months after the Mueller report showed she lied about alleged support within the FBI for the May 2017 firing of then-FBI Director James B. Comey. [Kayliegh] McEnany carried forward the tradition of disinformation stemming from the Trump White House, most egregiously in the final two months of her tenure, as she pushed specious report after specious report in service of the lie that the election had been stolen from her boss.

Meanwhile, current White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki will appear on tomorrow's Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me! on NPR, after giving almost a dozen mercifully boring and accurate press briefings. It's so delightful I could cry.

This wobbly earth (and other stories)

I'm having a series of productive days lately, which has taken me away from wasting a bunch of time. So for example, I haven't yet today read these items:

And all of this on the coldest day in two years, in a month in which most days have had no sunlight. But hey, we're still having an abnormally-mild winter, so again, we're not complaining.

Two local stories

As the State of Illinois starts abandoning the Helmut Jahn-designed Thompson Center in Chicago's Loop, the Governor's Office announced the state has purchased PepsiCo's old building at 555 W Monroe St:

The 18-year-old structure has 430,000 square feet of office space and has green certification for energy efficiency.

More than 1,000—and potentially 1,400—of the 3,500 state workers now based in downtown Chicago eventually will relocate to the new facility, starting in April, according to Ayse Kalaycioglu, chief operating officer of the Illinois Department of Central Management Services, which manages the state’s real estate needs.

About 900 of the employees moving to 555 W. Monroe will be coming from the Thompson Center, leaving 1,300 in the structure named after the named the former governor who championed its construction and mourned its declining fortunes. But they won’t be there long, said Kalaycioglu and Deputy Gov. Dan Hynes in an interview late yesterday.

I'm sorry to hear so many people calling the Thompson Center "so old" and "dilapidated" given it opened in 1984 and sits directly across the street from the century-old City Hall. But: "In comparison, the state says the Thompson Center has $325 million in deferred maintenance needs now, a figure projected to grow to $525 million by 2026." (I took the below photo about a year after it opened.)

The other story is that seven new pizza places have recently opened in the city, and I may have to try a few of them. That square of Bill's Original Tavern Pizza at the top of the article made me hungry.

Waiting for one CI build, then another

It's every other Tuesday today, so I'm just waiting for the last continuous-integration (CI) build to finish before deploying the latest software to our production environment. So far, so boring, just the way I like it. Meanwhile, in the real world:

  • In a symbolic but meaningless vote, all but 5 Republican members of the US Senate voted to let the XPOTUS off the hook for inciting an insurrection against, well, them, as this way they believe they get to keep his followers at no cost to themselves. If this past year were a novel, the next sentence might begin with "Little did they know..." Which, you know, describes those 45 Republicans to a T.
  • Dutch police arrested more than 180 people in Amsterdam and Rotterdam for rioting against Covid-19 lockdowns: "A leading Dutch criminologist, Henk Ferwerda, said the riots involved 'virus deniers, political protesters and kids who just saw the chance to go completely wild – all three groups came together.'"
  • Air travelers across the US can rejoice that CNN Airport News will go away on March 31st.
  • Over 1 teratonne of ice melted over each of the past few years, increasing concerns about global sea level rises.
  • Two mathematicians argue that time-travel paradoxes don't exist, because the universe routes around them.

Finally, snow continues to fall in Chicago, so far accumulating to about 100 mm by my house and as of noon about 125 mm at O'Hare. Calling this a "snowstorm" seems a bit over the top as it's coming down at under 10 mm per hour and forecast to stop before too long. Plus it's barely below freezing for now—but forecast to cool down to -11°C by Wednesday night before creeping above freezing Friday and Saturday. So we might have a blanket of snow for a bit. Still, it's the most snow we've gotten all season, with less than 5 weeks to go before meteorological spring starts March 1st. I'm OK with this mild winter, though it might presage a very hot summer.

Three-pointer

Today is the last day of Sprint 28 at my day job, and I've just closed my third one-point story of the day. When we estimate the difficulty of a story (i.e., a single unit of code that can be deployed when complete), we estimate by points on a Fibonacci scale: 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21. A 2-point story is about twice as hard as a 1-point story; a 5 point story is about 5 times harder than a 1-point story; etc. If we estimate 8 or more points on my current team, we re-examine the story in order to break it into smaller chunks. Similarly, a 1-point story could turn out to have so little complexity that it takes almost no time, like today's story #304 that required adding one line of code to here and removing 37 lines of code from there. That one took about 15 minutes. The other two took a couple of hours each, as "knowing where to put the bolt" takes longer than actually attaching the bolt.

While all that happened on the west side of my desk, the monitors on the south side lit up a few stories for me to read when I get back from the walk I'm about to take:

  • Jennifer Rubin lists 50 things that have improved in the US in the past 5 days, starting with "you can ignore Twitter."
  • Though Rubin mentioned replacing Andrew Jackson's portrait in the Oval Office, she didn't mention that the Biden Administration has taken steps to complete replacing his racist mug on the $10 note with a portrait of Harriet Tubman. (The outgoing administration, for obvious reasons, mothballed this plan upon taking office.)
  • Charles Blow warns against the Democratic Party should keep advocating and stop "subconsciously modulating responses" in the face of Republican criticism.
  • National Geographic describes the Roman road network that spanned over 320,000 km and still remains largely intact today.
  • Philippa Snow suggests the French series Call My Agent if you're looking for serious entertainment. For my part I'm about to start Series 2 of Peaky Blinders.
  • Loyola University Chicago professor Devon Price has a new book out: Laziness Does Not Exist. I may have to buy a copy. Eventually.

And I will now try to get in a 45-minute fast walk as our first real winter storm bears down on us from Iowa.