The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Speaking of unexpected rulers...

As interesting as Game of Thrones has been, yesterday's news at City Hall actually has more relevance to the world we live in. Lori Lightfoot took office as our 56th mayor—and our first black, female mayor, and our first openly gay mayor:

Lightfoot bluntly promised to restore integrity to a city government and City Council that has at times been hobbled by allegations against some of its highest-ranking members. Her fiery speech drew numerous standing ovations from a raucous crowd, but also potentially set the stage for future conflict with aldermen as they prepare to jointly tackle some of the city’s other lingering problems — massive budget shortfalls and endemic violent crime.

“For years, they’ve said Chicago ain’t ready for reform. Well, get ready because reform is here,” Lightfoot said in her inaugural address. “I campaigned on change, you voted for change, and I plan to deliver change to our government. That means restoring trust in our city’s government and finally bringing some real integrity to the way this city works.”

During an approximately half-hour speech, Lightfoot drew from Chicago poet Gwendolyn Brooks and called for citywide unity in addressing public safety, education, financial stability and “integrity” — a reference to Chicago’s infamous corruption.

Lightfoot also drew a standing ovation when she noted that the election of Melissa Conyears-Ervin as treasurer and Anna Valencia as clerk marks the first time Chicago’s three citywide positions are held by women of color.

“Children who look like me and come from families like mine shouldn’t have to beat the odds to get an education, pursue their passions, or build a family,” Lightfoot said. “Black and brown kids, low-income kids, every kid in this city should grow up knowing they can pursue anything, they can love anyone — that’s my Chicago dream.”

I'm looking forward to her administration. How will she deal with the Council? Will we get an elected school board? How high will my taxes go? It'll be an interesting four years.

Game of Thrones' anger

Megan Garber has an unexpected take on the series finale:

As the series went on, though, it became more mistrustful of emotion—and of rage, above all. Dany is angry, and that, the implication goes, helps to explain her descent into tyranny. Cersei is angry, and that leads her to a series of political miscalculations. Jon, meanwhile, who has a nearly bottomless capacity for sadness but seems constitutionally incapable of rage? The show has long treated his easy equanimity, even more than his royal bloodline, as the reason he might be worthy of the throne.

The Seinfeld-ian turn of Game of Thrones reflects that discomfort with anger. The lols of that first small council meeting are in one way about fan service, certainly—“any more,” Davos corrects Bronn, when the latter makes a reference to “no more coin,” calling back to his much-loved grammar burn from Season 7—but the yuks also perform a more broadly ritualistic function. They are meant, as Game of Thrones’ story comes to its conclusion, to cleanse that story of its sins. They are meant to suggest that the horrors of the past are of the past. And that we, the viewers, should move on just as these characters seem to have done. Gallows humor, with a Campbellian spin.

To be angry is to be compromised, suggests the show that has so often failed the angry and the marginalized; wisdom is what happens when, surveying the horrors all around you, you are capable of looking away.

This is a profound misreading—not only of the complexity of the human psyche, but also of the whole of human history. It is also a misreading of the show’s particular moment. Game of Thrones is airing into a political environment that is renegotiating the role that anger—and emotions more broadly—plays in political life.

This may not be the final word on this blog about the series.

Who played, who won, and who died?

Last night HBO aired the series finale of Game of Thrones, the TV adaptation (and extension of) George R.R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire. After 73 episodes, perhaps a quarter-million deaths, and 4 years of screen time expanded over 9 years of our time, what have we got?

I think we've got two distinctly different shows, and the second of them, starting with the 6th season, was distinctly less satisfying than the first.

I'm not alone. Here are just a few of the critics on last night's finale:

  • Spencer Kornhaber from the Atlantic complains that "[t]he finale gave us yet another historic reversal, in that this drama turned into a sitcom. Not a slick HBO sitcom either, but a cheapo network affair, or maybe even a webisode of outtakes from one." Shirley Li simply says the show "failed Cersei."
  • From the Times, Jeremy Egner asks, "All hail king who?"
  • Mother Jones digs into the ecological catastrophe of the dragons.
  • The Tribune's Steve Johnson actually found it satisfying, but he felt the person who "won" the game was "a compromise choice in the logic of the series, and he felt like a compromise choice in the moment Sunday night, as we were realizing this is what all of this has been leading to.
  • The Guardian's Lucy Mangan calls this season "a rushed business" that "wasted opportunities, squandered goodwill and failed to do justice to its characters or its actors," but "the finale just about delivered."
  • Over at Vox, Todd VanDerWerff's take on the finale was simply: "Huh." "(Is [Grey Worm] a freshman poli-sci major who’s like, 'Well, if America could just start over ...'?)"

Meanwhile, everyone with a production company has started trying to make the next big hit. Good luck with that. Whatever it is, it will likely fall victim to the problem that faces every television show: it's a business first, and a show second.

Must be spring

Yesterday evening, I needed to wear earmuffs and gloves when walking Parker because of the 7°C weather. Yes, it's the middle of May, but we've had a really screwy spring this year.

Today I don't need gloves. Our official temperature bloomed from 8°C to 26°C in the past six hours. Even close to the lake, where I live, it's already warmer outside than inside—and I had the heat on briefly this morning!

Today the forecast looks hot and humid, before temperatures plunge again Sunday night. Then hot again next weekend. And maybe seasonally appropriate when meteorological summer begins two weeks from today.

Who knows. Welcome to Chicago in spring.

Laughed out of court

Federal judge Amit Mehta could not believe the arguments the president's lawyer, William Consovoy, made on Monday:

Consovoy, a beefy former law clerk to Justice Clarence Thomas, offered two related points:

(A) Congress can’t issue a subpoena or otherwise probe a president unless it is doing so for a “legitimate legislative purpose.”

(B) Any “legitimate legislative purpose” Congress could conceivably devise would be unconstitutional.

As a result, Consovoy argued, Congress can’t investigate to see if a law is being broken, can’t inform the public of wrongdoing by the executive and can’t look for presidential conflicts of interest or corruption, because that would be “law enforcement.”

I can't believe these arguments either. Dana Milbank suggests that Consovoy expects to drag out the appeals process and essentially run out the clock on Congress's ongoing investigations.

This may explain why Democratic activist Tom Steyer released this ad yesterday:

Pretty damning stuff. And it gets to the frustration that many of us feel.

I'm willing to give the House Democrats more time. But just a little. Because we need to get the facts out there before the next election.

More news today

Though we'll probably talk about this week's news out of Mauna Loa for many years to come, other stories got to my inbox today:

And finally, the Illinois Craft Brewers Guild has a new Summer Passport program that entitles people to a free membership after getting stamps at 40 brewpubs and taprooms between now and August 10th. Forty breweries in 87 days? Challenge...accepted!

A warm, cozy feeling at Mauna Loa

The Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii reported that atmospheric carbon dioxide had reached 415 ppm on Friday:

In poetic punctuation to that point, Arkhangelsk, Russia, near the Arctic Ocean, recorded a temperature of 29°C Saturday:

In Koynas, a rural area to the east of Arkhangelsk, it was even hotter on Sunday, soaring to 87 degrees (31 Celsius). Many locations in Russia, from the Kazakhstan border to the White Sea, set record-high temperatures over the weekend, some 30 to 40 degrees (around 20 Celsius) above average. The warmth also bled west into Finland, which hit 77 degrees (25 Celsius) Saturday, the country’s warmest temperature of the season so far.

Across the Arctic overall, the extent of sea ice has hovered near a record low for weeks.

Data from the Japan Meteorological Agency show April was the second warmest on record for the entire planet.

These changes all have occurred against the backdrop of unremitting increases in carbon dioxide, which has now crossed another symbolic threshold.

Why is 415 ppm a "symbolic threshold?" Because for years, climate scientists have believed that at 415 ppm, we can't undo the damage; we can only slow it down a little. Even if we return to pre-industrial levels (280 ppm), we now have too much carbon in the atmosphere to stop radical climate change:

For the planet itself, 415 ppm is no BFD. Over the past 4 billion years or so, it’s been much, much higher. But for us humans, 415 is a very dangerous number. The last time CO2 levels were at 415 ppm, during the Pliocene period about 3 million years ago, there was plenty of life on Earth, but the Earth itself was a radically different place. Beech trees grew near the South Pole. There was no Greenland ice sheet, and probably not a West Antarctic ice sheet, either. Sea levels were 50 or 60 feet (or more) higher.

That’s the world we’re creating for ourselves by pushing carbon dioxide levels to 415 ppm. Right now, a lot of atmospheric warming is being absorbed in the oceans. But those oceans are like a big flywheel, and the heat will be radiated out. That means, among other things, goodbye ice sheets, hello condo diving in Miami.

One way to think about carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere is as a thermostat for the planet. As you’ll remember from third-grade science class, carbon dioxide is exhaled by animals, including humans, and inhaled by plants. It is also released when plants and animals decay, volcanoes erupt, and, most importantly, when we burn fossil fuels. Last year, we dumped about 37 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels. The more coal, oil and gas we burn, the faster that number rises. Before the Industrial Revolution, the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was 280 ppm. Sixty years ago, it was 315 ppm. For the past few years, it has been rising by about 2 or 3 ppm a year.

That might not sound like much. However, carbon dioxide molecules happen to be very good at trapping heat in the atmosphere. Scientists have understood this very well since the 19th century. Carbon dioxide molecules are like the prison guards of the Earth’s atmosphere — they let sunlight in, but they don’t let heat out. Scientists argue about exactly how efficient carbon dioxide is at warming the Earth, but there is basic agreement that a doubling of carbon dioxide levels from 280 ppm will warm the Earth’s atmosphere by 2 to 3 degrees Celsius.

We predicted this in time to slow it down or even stop it. Nice work, team.

What to teach new coders

Scott Hanselman recommends teaching systems thinking over technical coding:

I told this young person to try not to focus on the syntax of C# and the details of the .NET Framework, and rather to think about the problems that it solves and the system around it.

This advice was .NET specific, but it can also apply to someone learning Rails 3 talking to someone who knows Rails 5, or someone who learned original Node and is now reentering the industry with modern JavaScript and Node 12.

Do you understand how your system talks to the file system? To the network? Do you understand latency and how it can affect your system? Do you have a general understanding of "the stack" from when your backend gets data from the database makes anglebrackets or curly braces, sends them over the network to a client/browser, and what that next system does with the info?

Squeezing an analogy, I'm not asking you to be able to build a car from scratch, or even rebuild an engine. But I am asking you for a passing familiarity with internal combustion engines, how to change a tire, or generally how to change your oil. Or at least know that these things exist so you can google them.

This is why I'm a fan of Hanselman. He's right. Learning technical skills is easy; learning how to think is hard.