The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Ah, the company we keep

If I have to go more than a year without visiting Europe because my fellow Americans are too individualistic to stop the spread of Covid-19, I might have to move there permanently when able:

In case you wondered what President Trump’s glorious triumph over coronavirus looks like to the rest of the world, the news that the European Union may bar Americans from entry due to our spiking cases provides a sobering reality check.

If this goes through, it would mark a continuation of a prohibition that had been in place on travelers from the United States and elsewhere since mid-March. Only now it would be extended through the E.U.’s official reopening in July.

But I want to focus on this remarkable explanation of why this may happen:

Trump, as well as his Russian and Brazilian counterparts, Vladimir V. Putin and Jair Bolsonaro, has followed what critics call a comparable path in their pandemic response that leaves all three countries in a similarly bad spot: they were dismissive at the outset of the crisis, slow to respond to scientific advice and saw a boom of domestic cases as other parts of the world, notably in Europe and Asia, were slowly managing to get their outbreaks under control.

And so, in this, we are parting ways with our Western allies, while being quite similar to Russia and Brazil, whose responses were similarly tangled in their leadership’s disdain for empiricism and science.

I am heartened, however, that the president's declining approval ratings suggest that people have gotten tired of the reality TV show now that reality has intruded.

Yesterday I posted the following on Facebook in response to an acquaintance posting the questionable statement that the ADA allows people to ignore mask regulations:

I don't know if your state has executed legislation requiring you to wear a mask in public. And I don't care.

First, private property owners can deny entrance to anyone on a rational, non-discriminatory basis, particularly when following official guidance. Meaning, if I own a shop, and I make a rule you have to wear a nose-and-mouth covering in my shop, that's property rights. (NB: If I let Karen in without a mask and I make Jim wait outside even though he has a mask, that's discriminatory and illegal under the Civil Rights Act. Fight me.)

Second, the ENTIRE POINT right now is that we are agreeing to waive certain rights in exchange for NOT DYING OR KILLING PEOPLE. I know "civilization" is a new concept on the Internet, but, hey, humans have a million-year tradition of cooperating that I'd like to continue. But, sure, argue in favor of...uh, cytokene storms, I guess, and the rest of us will continue to protect those who can't protect themselves.

Because, ultimately, that's the argument. "Don't tell me what I can and can't do" is the cry of a 5-year-old, not a fully-formed human. We're asking you to do the right thing. And if you refuse, and your refusal puts people at risk of DEATH, then yes, we (your neighbors, friends, and people you voted for to govern shit you didn't have the mental space to govern yourself) will tell you no, we're doing this, because your convenience is less important than your neighbor's kid's life.

So far I have 23 Likes and 6 Loves for that. (My post on Parker's birthday has over 100 Likes, so clearly people have their priorities.)

Parker update

As an old dog just a week past his 14th birthday, Parker has his ups and downs. Today was a bit of a down.

A little before 3 am he pooped on the floor, which is annoying but not the worst thing he regularly does, but then he couldn't stand up. He woke me up when he belly-flopped into the pile. He seemed very sad about this, but he did get a walk more or less immediately plus some very gentle pats on the head after I cleaned up.

He's not in pain, and he's a dog so dignity in these matters isn't quite what it would be for a human. But he has been declining noticeably since last fall.

I hope he stays healthy through the summer so we can celebrate his Gotcha Day in September. Beyond that...I just don't know.

It's way past time for this amendment

Attorney General William Barr's behavior since taking office, and especially over the past week, demonstrates the need for the United States to do what 43 other states already do: elect the Attorney General.

Here's my proposed Constitutional amendment:

Sec. 1. The chief legal officer of the United States and chief executive officer of the Department of Justice shall be an Attorney General, elected by the People for a term of four years, to commence on January 10th of the third year following the most recent election of the President.

Sec. 2. No Person shall be eligible to the Office of Attorney General who shall not have attained to the age of thirty years, and been nine years a Citizen of the United States, and been seven years a resident within the United States.

Sec. 3. No person shall be elected to the office of the Attorney General more than twice, and no person who has held the office of Attorney General, or acted as Attorney General, for more than two years of a term to which some other person was elected Attorney General shall be elected to the office of the Attorney General more than once.

Sec. 4. No person who has held the office of Attorney General, or acted as Attorney General, shall serve in any Office created by Articles II or III of this Constitution, or legislation based thereon, until four years have passed after serving as Attorney General.

Sec. 5. The Attorney General shall have the power to appoint and remove, with the advice and consent of the Senate, a United States Attorney for each Judicial District that Congress may establish, and a Deputy Attorney General, who shall assume the office of Attorney General should the office become vacant during the term of office. The Attorney General shall have the power to appoint other officers of the Department of Justice as Congress may provide by legislation.

Sec. 6. This article shall take effect on January 10th of the third year following its ratification.

Section 1 establishes that the office and the department she runs are separate from the Executive Branch, and chosen in the midterm elections. Section 2 sets the requirements for office to be the same as for US Senator. Section 3 sets term limits in the same language as the 22nd Amendment. Section 4 shuts the revolving door, except a former AG can still run for Congress. Section 5 gives the AG, and not the President, the power to appoint US Attorneys and her own deputy, with Senate approval; but she can appoint other officers that Congress may create without Senate approval. Section 6 gives the Executive-branch Justice Department two years to fully devolve into its own Constitutional realm.

If this were to be ratified in 2024, for example, we would vote for AG in November 2026 and swear her in on 10 January 2027. That person would then serve until 2031, and be ineligible to serve in the Executive branch or as a Federal judge until 2035.

Thoughts?

What just happened in SDNY?

On Friday night, US Attorney General William Barr announced that Jeffrey Berman, the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, had resigned. Minutes later, Berman said "the hell I have."

A couple of problems immediately present themselves when you think about this. First, only the president can fire a US Attorney. (President Trump finally did that last night.) Second, the highest law-enforcement official in the country, lied in writing about this. Third, the SDNY has multiple, ongoing investigations into the president's associates and businesses. Fourth, Barr's first announcement of Berman's replacement (a well-known Trump fellatist supporter) flouted the actual black-letter law giving that power to the judges of the SDNY (who, in fact, appointed Berman).

Calling this "extraordinary" doesn't do justice to the violence this dealt to the rule of law.

The Times:

The attorney general’s interventions in high-profile cases involving the onetime Trump advisers Roger J. Stone Jr. and Michael T. Flynn have prompted accusations from current and former law enforcement officials that Mr. Barr has politicized the department.

Over the last year, Mr. Berman’s office brought indictments against two close associates of the president’s current lawyer, Mr. Giuliani, and began an investigation into Mr. Giuliani himself, focusing on whether his efforts to dig up dirt in Ukraine on the president’s political rivals violated laws on lobbying for foreign entities.

Mr. Berman’s office also conducted an investigation into Mr. Trump’s inaugural committee, subpoenaing financial and other records as part of a broad inquiry into possible illegal contributions from foreigners.

David Kurtz doesn't stop at "accusations...Barr has politicized the department:"

We’re deep into the worst crisis in the history of the Justice Department, and it keeps deepening. This isn’t alarming for what it signifies or for what it suggests might happen next or because it raises vague future concerns. It’s alarming because this is the corruption and the wrongdoing and the malfeasance. Right here, right now. Not some theoretical future threat. This is the nightmare of a president run amok with a captive Justice Department. We’re there. We’re living it.

James Comey, who worked as an assistant US Attorney in SDNY early in his career, has also spoken up:

There has always been a tension — much of it healthy — between Washington and the Southern District, but the attempt to fire the current United States attorney feels very different. Geoffrey Berman’s office has apparently been handling cases very close to the president. In 136 days, there is an election that the incumbent appears likely to lose. The attorney general, surely not proceeding on his own, acts to bump the well-regarded head of the Office on a Friday night, in the middle of a pandemic. Something stinks.

The country is well-served by the independent spirit and reputation of the Southern District of New York. It has long been the place where hard cases could be done in a way Americans trusted. It was where Bill Clinton’s 11th-hour pardon of fugitive financier Marc Rich could be credibly investigated. It is also the place with jurisdiction over so much of this president’s complicated life.

And it is a place that follows the facts alone to reach conclusions, without regard to politics, just as [Henry L.] Stimson wanted. Maybe that’s why William P. Barr moved to knock off Berman on a Friday night and announced President Trump’s intention to replace him with someone who has never worked there. And maybe that’s why Berman, in the finest traditions of the office, stood up.

House Judiciary Chair Jerry Nadler (D-NY) has opened an investigation, with a hearing already scheduled for Tuesday.

Where I was supposed to be today

In November, the Apollo Chorus of Chicago performed in the Chicago Opera Theater production of Everest, a 2015 opera by Joby Talbot. After the second performance, Talbot and a number of the soloists met some of us out for drinks nearby. Andrew Bidlack, who sang the role of Rob Hall, mentioned they were going to London to perform the work at the Barbican. I told him I'd be there.

That performance should have taken place tonight at 7:30 BST. Obviously, it's cancelled, and even if it weren't, Covid-19 precautions mean I can't even get into the UK right now without a 14-day quarantine after arrival.

The middle half of 2020 may turn out to be the most disappointing period in my lifetime. But I'm optimistic about the fourth quarter, and about 2021. We'll get through this.

Then and now: Wilson Yard

I found this photo from 1964 at Chicago-L.org, looking north along what is now the Red Line from above Buena Park:

Here's almost the same view yesterday:

So, a few changes. Two the west, three city blocks of apartments became Truman College in 1974. Wilson Yards and the Wilson Avenue Shop (the El structure in the center) burned down in 1994, replaced now by a Target and an apartment building. And all the trees have grown up.

Another thing: I found out more about how high I can take the drone. Generally, it's limited to 120 m AGL. But I can also take it up 120 m above any "structure" as long as I'm within 120 m of the structure. The flagpole on top of the Byline Bank is 58 m above the ground, meaning I could, with a quick adjustment to the drone settings, try taking it up to 178 m... Hmm...

Update, 40 minutes later: Yep. It'll go up to 130 m no problem in calm winds:

Water, water, everywhere, and all is safe to drink

The Midwest has an embarrassment of riches right now as the Lake Michigan-Huron system enters its sixth straight month of record water levels, a mere 12 cm below its all-time high:

The lake is nearly 3 feet higher than usual for early summer and approaching the historical high, set in October 1986, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which maintains the official records for all of the Great Lakes.

As Chicagoans return to the lakefront and the 18-mile Lakefront Trail, which officially reopens in most areas Monday, they will notice waves lapping onto flooded pathways, disappearing beaches, submerged breakwaters and stone revetments unable to hold back the pulsating water.

“If people haven’t been back to the beach or their favorite spot in a while, it may be very different with erosion or a lot less beach,” said John Allis, the Army Corps’ chief of the Great Lakes hydraulics and hydrology office, based out of the Detroit District. “Conditions can be very different on the coastline than people may be used to in the past.”

The high water levels can be seen up and down Chicago’s shoreline. Near Belmont Harbor, the path for walkers and joggers that skirts the inner part of the harbor was partially covered with water on Monday. Runners dodged water or splashed gingerly on their way. Nearby, a section of the trail was blocked with barricades and a bright yellow warning sign: “Caution Undermining Erosion.”

The Belmont Harbor Dog Beach was almost entirely submerged, with only a small spit of sand available for dogs and their owners. “It’s gone,” one woman mentioned to her companion as they walked past, “It’s underwater.”

Scientists say a confluence of factors has contributed to the high water: recent record precipitation complete with drenching downpours, milder winters and warming overall temperatures throughout the Midwest.

Heavy rains in the spring and summer of 2019 raised lake levels, setting the table for the record highs of 2020.

Warmer temperatures mean fewer blasts of cold air, less ice cover and less-than-normal evaporation since cool surface water is a driver of evaporation, said Lauren Fry, a physical scientist with NOAA’s Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory.

“Climate factors,” Fry said, “are the primary drivers of water levels.”

The Lake Michigan-Huron system is already the largest freshwater lake in the world, with an area of 117,400 km² and the largest source of fresh water in the hemisphere. It also used to be a lot bigger: only 8,000 years ago, the lake came all the way up to Clark Street, before the ice dam holding it back gave way in what must have been one of the most spectacular hydrologic events in the planet's history. (If I ever get a time machine, that's one of the things I want to see. That, and the moment the Atlantic Ocean breached the Strait of Gibraltar, creating an epic flow of water that may have filled up the Mediterranean Basin in only two years.)

How does he keep winning so much?

President Trump predictably went off the rails (which makes a big assumption about his relationship to said rails in the first place) after this morning's 5-4 Supreme Court decision essentially telling him he screwed up trying to screw over the Dreamers:

The vote was 5-4 with Chief Justice John Roberts casting the decisive fifth vote that sought to bridge the liberal and conservative wings of the court.

Roberts and the court's four liberal justices said the Department of Homeland Security's decision to rescind the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, was arbitrary and capricious under the Administrative Procedure Act.

In his opinion, Roberts wrote: "The appropriate recourse is therefore to remand to DHS so that it may reconsider the problem anew."

The best President we've had in over three years held out for eight whole minutes before Tweeting:

He Tweeted a couple more dumb things later, shortly before Facebook took down an ad his re-election campaign paid for because it literally had Nazi symbols in it:

In its online salvo against antifa and “far-left mobs,” President Trump’s reelection campaign displayed a marking the Nazis once used to designate political prisoners in concentration camps.

A red inverted triangle was first used in the 1930s to identify Communists, and was applied as well to Social Democrats, liberals, Freemasons and other members of opposition parties. The badge forced on Jewish political prisoners, by contrast, featured a yellow triangle overlaid by a red triangle.

The red symbol appeared in paid posts sponsored by Trump and Vice President Pence, as well as by the “Team Trump” campaign page. It was featured alongside text warning of “Dangerous MOBS of far-left groups” and asking users to sign a petition about antifa, a loose collection of anti-fascist activists whom the Trump administration has sought to link to recent violence, despite arrest records that show their involvement is trivial.

“We removed these posts and ads for violating our policy against organized hate,” said Andy Stone, a Facebook spokesman. "Our policy prohibits using a banned hate group’s symbol to identify political prisoners without the context that condemns or discusses the symbol.”

We get to see this crap for another 138 days before we can vote this psychopath out of office.

Then and Now, Lawrence and Broadway

Now that I have a drone, I've been looking for historical aerial photos of Chicago. I found this 1933 photo of Uptown through the Chicago Public Library collection:

Here's approximately the same view about an hour ago:

Some things immediately jump out. First, the trees. My how they've grown! Second, in the distance you can see the construction of Montrose Harbor in 1933 and the completed harbor (by 1937) in 2020. Third, we have a lot more parking lots and a lot less grime on our buildings these days. And what the hell is that huge industrial building billowing smoke at the corner of Montrose and Clarendon (upper-right corner of 1933)?

Since drones can only legally fly 120 m above the ground in the US, I couldn't get exactly the same angle as in the original photo. My best guess from a number of clues is that the top photo was taken from an airplane flying about 250 m (maybe not even that high) AGL shortly after 1pm on a sunny but hazy early-April afternoon. The air quality in Chicago in 2020 is so much better than at any point in the 20th century that almost no aerial photos from that era will have light as sharp and clear as we get today.

I have a couple more of these up my sleeve. Stay tuned.

Afternoon news roundup

My inbox does not respect the fact that I had meetings between my debugging sessions all day. So this all piled up:

Finally, conferencing app Zoom will roll out true end-to-end encryption in July.