The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Monday afternoon links

Busy day today, but I finished a major task at work just now. As I'm waiting for the CI system to finish compiling and pushing out a test build, I'm going to read these:

Finally, we got our first official (trace) snow of the season this morning, even as forecasters predict temperatures over 21°C this weekend. While I'm packing. All day.

Long train running...to nowhere

Equipment problems caused an Amtrak train to break down on a trip from Detroit to Chicago, turning a 6½-hour trip into a 19-hour adventure:

Passengers traveling Amtrak's Wolverine train No. 351 from Michigan to Chicago expected a trip totaling about 6 1/2 hours on Oct. 7. Instead, they endured delays that turned it into a 19-hour ride that left them without power, heat, lights and access to working bathrooms. Some riders, fed up with being stranded, ignored the rules to stay on the disabled train and opened emergency doors to flee and find other ways to reach their destination.

By the time the train made an unscheduled stop in East Chicago, Ind., late Friday night, "you couldn't go to the bathroom, it was overflowing. So this is when everybody really was like, 'I'm escaping,' " said Sheri Laufer, who often takes the Wolverine as she commutes between her home in suburban Detroit and Chicago. Laufer, a business analyst for Crain Communications—the parent of Crain's Chicago Business—said she wanted to know why Amtrak didn't send buses to rescue passengers.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said the rail agency tried. "We work with a variety of bus vendors; we contacted them all and they all said they had no buses available,” he said.

Maybe if we started properly funding our trains as the public service they are, instead of starving Amtrak the way we starve most of our government functions (see, e.g., the IRS), we might actually have a country worthy of its history.

Packing day

As far as I know, I'm moving in 2½ weeks, though the exact timing of both real-estate closings remain unknown. Last time I moved it took me about 38 hours to pack and 15 to unpack. This time I expect it to go faster, in part because I'm not spending as much time going "oh, I love this book!"

I'm taking a quick break and catching up on some reading:

Finally, a new survey says Chicagoans swear a lot less than most Americans, with people from Columbus, Ohio, swearing the most. Fuck that shit.

Census story maps

James Fallows loves the new data visualizations from the Census Bureau:

Through its existence the Census has been an irreplaceable trove of data. A minor illustration: this past April it released a searchable database of individual records from the 1950 Census, rendered in touchingly precise hand-written form. You can look up the name of anyone included in that Census here — as I did for my mother and father.1 Why the 1950 Census? Because by law personally identifiable Census records are kept private for 72 years after the Census date. Thus the 2020 Census details are scheduled for release in 2092.

A few days ago the Census Bureau put some of its data to work in a very different fashion. This was in a fascinating “Story Map” about the shift in American settlement patterns since the late 1700s.

Story Maps are a narrative and explanatory tool for “geo-journalism,” which we’ve mentioned many times, including here. The technology was developed by our long-time friends at the digital mapping company Esri. A few weeks ago Deb Fallows and Michelle Ellia did a story map about the sea-turtle hatchlings of the Florida coastline—tiny creatures scrambling out of their nests in beachfront sand, along the very same coastline that has been pounded by Hurricane Ian this week.

The new story map from the Census Bureau uses a combination of historical narrative, map-based data, and overlays of economic, ethnic, and other information. Its purpose is to demonstrate how America’s population centers have changed, as the population has steadily grown.

I'll be playing with this a bit today. Because maps! and history!

Two brewery closings this month

One of my favorites (and Cassie's), Urban Brew Labs, closed on September 10th due to inadequate beer sales. They ran out of my favorite brew a couple of weeks earlier but I still managed to get there on the 9th to wish them luck.

In a bit of Karmic balancing, Smylie Brothers closed their awful Lakeview location (on my birthday of all things!), for no apparent reason. I mean, my hypothesis would have to include the food and beer, but owner Michael Smylie declined to comment when Block Club Chicago asked about it.

That still leaves almost 140 breweries and distilleries on the Brews & Choos Project list, including 63 I've yet to visit. And I plan to, with somewhat more vigor after I move next month.

Almost as long as a Mahler symphony

Wow, yesterday went on a bit. From getting on the bus to Peoria to getting off the bus back in Chicago, I spent 18 hours and 20 minutes doing something connected with the Peoria Symphony's performance of Beethoven's 9th yesterday. I think it went quite well, and I expect they'll ask us back the next time they do a huge symphonic choral work.

Right now, Cassie has plotzed completely after two nights in boarding, and I need to figure out what I'm eating this week. So I'll post something more interesting later today.

In the meantime, enjoy this Saturday Night Live bit that will challenge even the most attentive English speakers throughout the former colonies:

Update on the Ravenswood Metra station

The local alderman's office sent me an update this afternoon on Metra's and the Union Pacific Railroad's stupefying 9-year mission to construct a single station platform that thousands of commuters per day would like to start using:

I spoke to the foreman this week who, unfortunately, informed me of further delays on this project. The project is still awaiting a delivery of tiles from the manufacturer who, due to one person catching Covid recently, has informed them that the tiles won't be ready until the end of the year. This is on par which many of the delays on this project, which have been due to supply chain issues.

This pushes final completion of the project closer to March of next year. We are in communication with Metra to see if they might be able to reopen a portion of the station to commuters before that date, as most of it is complete by now.

Yes, of course: the tiles. It took me a moment to realize that the foreman meant the tiles that will cover the walls of the stairwells and ramps from the street to the platform, which I expect will reduce maintenance costs. All things equal, tiles are probably easier to clean than concrete.

Looking across Lawrence Avenue at the yet-to-open platform, though, I would say it just needs guardrails so people don't fall onto the street below.

But when I'm standing on the "temporary" 10-year-old platform across the street in a snowstorm some Monday morning this winter, I'll comfort myself knowing I'm doing it for the tiles.

We heard a loud crash in the Chancellor's office

UK Chancellor of the Exchequer (equivalent to the US Treasury Secretary) Kwasi Kwarteng (Cons.) announced significant tax cuts along with £72 billion in new spending to forestall higher energy bills this winter. Unfortunately, this massive stimulus comes during some of the highest inflation the UK has seen in a generation, estimated to be nearly 10% annualized as of this week.

Consequence? This, as of just a few minutes ago:

Sterling hasn't gone below $1.10 since 1985, and it probably won't again during my lifetime.

The Economist has no confidence in the scheme:

[Prime Minister Liz] Truss’s attempt to emulate the Gipper’s success is doomed. To see why, consider the currency markets. Reaganomics was accompanied by a strengthening dollar. So were Donald Trump’s tax cuts in 2018, which also happened alongside monetary tightening.

In Britain, though, the pound has slumped by 16% against the dollar in 2022.

As a result, the BOE will get no help from currency markets as it offsets Ms Truss’s fiscal stimulus with tighter monetary policy. Instead more expensive imports are boosting inflation. That is a big headache for an economy that depends on trade as much as Britain’s does.

Ms Truss’s cheerleaders seem to have read only the first chapter of the history of Reaganomics. The programme’s early record was mixed. The tax cuts did not stop a deep recession, yet by March 1984 annual inflation had risen back to 4.8% and America’s ten-year bond yield was over 12%, reflecting fears of another upward spiral in prices. Inflation was anchored only after Congress had raised taxes. By 1987 America’s budget, excluding interest payments, was nearly balanced. By 1993 Congress had raised taxes by almost as much as it had cut them in 1981. If Britain’s government does not correct its course in the same way, the result will be more conflict between monetary and fiscal policies—and a risk that inflation becomes entrenched.

On the other hand, lower costs in the UK combined with the usual slowdown in tourism across the Atlantic in autumn have made this possible on a 21-day advance purchase:

If only I weren't moving or performing in an opera in the next eight weeks, I'd buy a ticket to London right now.