The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Not exactly storming the ballustrades

Former Social Security commissioner, whom President Biden fired last week, "defiantly" "showed up" for "work" yesterday morning. It worked about as well as someone not born in the Pleistocene would have guessed:

Ousted Social Security commissioner Andrew Saul, the Trump appointee who declared Friday he would defy his firing by President Biden, on Monday found his access to agency computers cut off, even as his acting replacement moved to undo his policies.

“There will be more,” said Saul, a wealthy former women’s apparel executive and prominent Republican donor who had served on the board of a conservative think tank that has called for cuts to Social Security benefits. “Stay tuned.”

OK, Boomer.

Now, I'm not wild about the president firing an agency head, when the agency probably would have done better to stay out of politics. But when the head of said agency wants to dismantle the agency, maybe firing him is OK?

Inside the Anom phone

Via Bruce Schneier, Motherboard got ahold of a pair of Anom phones, which the FBI and Australian Federal Police used to take down a bunch of criminal networks earlier this year:

Motherboard has obtained and analyzed an Anom phone from a source who unknowingly bought one on a classified ads site. On that site, the phone was advertised as just a cheap Android device. But when the person received it, they realized it wasn't an ordinary phone, and after being contacted by Motherboard, found that it contained the secret Anom app.

After the FBI announced the Anom operation, some Anom users have scrambled to get rid of their device, including selling it to unsuspecting people online. The person Motherboard obtained the phone from was in Australia, where authorities initially spread the Anom devices as a pilot before expanding into other countries. They said they contacted the Australian Federal Police (AFP) in case the phone or the person who sold it was of interest to them; when the AFP didn't follow up, the person agreed to sell the phone to Motherboard for the same price they paid. They said they originally bought it from a site similar to Craigslist.

Anom started when an FBI confidential human source (CHS), who had previously sold devices from Phantom Secure and another firm called Sky Global, was developing their own product. The CHS then "offered this next generation device, named 'Anom,' to the FBI to use in ongoing and new investigations," court documents read.

In June the FBI and its law enforcement partners in Australia and Europe announced over 800 arrests after they had surreptitiously been listening in on Anom users' messages for years. In all, authorities obtained over 27 million messages from over 11,800 devices running the Anom software in more than 100 countries by silently adding an extra encryption key which allowed agencies to read a copy of the messages. People allegedly smuggling cocaine hidden inside cans of tuna, hollowed out pineapples, and even diplomatic pouches all used Anom to coordinate their large-scale trafficking operations, according to court documents.

 

That's some cool and scary shit. I'm glad they got all those criminals, but what happens when the people targeted are political dissidents? As Schneier has discussed at length, there is no such thing as a zero-trust environment.

Yeah, so, 10k steps isn't all that

The New York Times throws cold water on a health fad:

According to Dr. I-Min Lee, a professor of epidemiology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and an expert on step counts and health, the 10,000-steps target became popular in Japan in the 1960s. A clock maker, hoping to capitalize on interest in fitness after the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games, mass-produced a pedometer with a name that, when written in Japanese characters, resembled a walking man. It also translated as “10,000-steps meter,” creating a walking aim that, through the decades, somehow became embedded in our global consciousness — and fitness trackers.

But today’s best science suggests we do not need to take 10,000 steps a day, which is about five miles, for the sake of our health or longevity.

A 2019 study by Dr. Lee and her colleagues found that women in their 70s who managed as few as 4,400 steps a day reduced their risk of premature death by about 40 percent, compared to women completing 2,700 or fewer steps a day. The risks for early death continued to drop among the women walking more than 5,000 steps a day, but benefits plateaued at about 7,500 daily steps. In other words, older women who completed fewer than half of the mythic 10,000 daily steps tended to live substantially longer than those who covered even less ground.

Another, more expansive study last year of almost 5,000 middle-aged men and women of various ethnicities likewise found that 10,000 steps a day are not a requirement for longevity. In that study, people who walked for about 8,000 steps a day were half as likely to die prematurely from heart disease or any other cause as those who accumulated 4,000 steps a day. The statistical benefits of additional steps were slight, meaning it did not hurt people to amass more daily steps, up to and beyond the 10,000-steps mark. But the extra steps did not provide much additional protection against dying young, either.

I've hit 10,000 steps 139 days in a row, but I have to keep that up through December 31st to tie my record of 312 days. In fact, in the last year, I've hit the goal 345 times, and since getting a Fitbit in October 2014, I've hit the goal 91.4% of the time. Will it kill me to stop after 9,000 steps? No. But it's an easy goal to understand and to work towards.

More heat records out west

On Friday, Death Valley National Park hit 55°C—130°F—on Friday and 54°C yesterday. Friday's temperature tied the record for the highest-known temperature on the planet:

As the third massive heat wave in three weeks kicked off in the West on Friday, Death Valley, Calif., soared to a searing 130 degrees. If confirmed, it would match the highest known temperature on the planet since at least 1931, which occurred less than a year ago.

Death Valley also hit 130 degrees last August, which at the time preliminarily ranked among the top three highest temperatures ever measured on the planet. It is still being reviewed by the World Meteorological Organization, which is the arbiter of international weather records.

The 130-degree reading observed Friday and last August only trail two other high temperatures ever measured on the planet: 1) The high of 134 set in Death Valley on July 10, 1913, and 2) a 131-degree reading from Kebili, Tunisia, set July 7, 1931.

But Christopher Burt, an expert on world weather extremes, questions the legitimacy of both of those measurements. He called the 1913 Death Valley reading “essentially not possible from a meteorological perspective” and wrote that the 1931 Tunisia reading has “serious credibility issues.”

In other words, the 130-degree readings from Death Valley on Friday and last year, if validated, may be the highest pair of reliably measured temperatures ever observed on Earth.

The National Weather Service forecasts today's high will hit 54°C again. By the time the heat wave finally breaks (sort of) on Tuesday, the weather station will have tied the record for the most consecutive days above 52°C (125°F):

The record for the number of consecutive days at 125 degrees or higher is 10, set in 1913 (June 28-July 5). This year, Death Valley hit 126 on July 7 and will likely continue that stretch of days with 125-plus temperatures through Tuesday. This would be eight straight days, which would be the second-longest streak in recorded history (tying eight days in 2013).

"An anomalously strong high pressure system overhead will remain overhead for multiple days," said Chelsea Peters, meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Las Vegas. "When the overnight low is warmer than the previous day's and similar temperature trends are expected, the daytime high would likely end up being just as hot, or hotter than the previous day."

Here in Chicago, we've got an England-like 20°C with very English rain, which could continue through Tuesday.

Getting closer to London

I last visited my second-favorite city in the world in November 2019. At my day job, I report just two levels up to the head of the London office, so had things gone to plan, I'd have visited at least three times since then. But time and chance happens to us all, as everyone now knows.

This week the UK's Departments for Transport and of Health & Social Care announced a loosening of travel rules that, I hope, signals the possibility of going back this fall. As of July 19th, UK residents returning from most countries (including the US) who have NHS jabs can skip testing and quarantine in most cases. The next step for the UK will be to allow people who've gotten vaccinated abroad to do the same.

When that happens, I will follow NPR's Frank Langfitt's latest report, and visit three historical pubs in various parts of the capital:

I started at The Mayflower, which sits along the south bank of the Thames about a mile and a half downstream from Tower Bridge. I first got to know The Mayflower several years ago when I attended a Thanksgiving celebration there with fellow Americans. It was an appropriate venue. In 1620, the Mayflower, the ship, was moored just off shore and began its long voyage to what would become America. In honor of that trans-Atlantic connection, the pub flies a U.S. and British flag from either end of its deck.

Along the walls of the dimly lit pub today, you can see replicas of the notes some of the passengers left, bequeathing wages and jewelry to their loved ones if they failed to survive the journey. Behind the bar, manager Leigh Gillson keeps a guest book, signed by some of the passengers' descendants who've visited.

He also stopped at The Eagle in Farringdon, not too far from my company's office in the City, and at The Carlton Tavern in Maida Vale, about a 10-minute walk from Abbey Road Studios. The latter got destroyed illegally by a property developer, who then had to rebuild it brick by brick under court order.

I really miss the Big Smoke. It looks more likely by the day that I'll get to visit her sometime in 2021.

The preservationist leanings of Scooby-Doo

CityLab's Feargus O'Sullivan riffs on an Instagram account that celebrates Scooby-Doo's Victorian backdrops:

It should come as no surprise that creaking mansard roofs, vaulted dungeons and abandoned one-horse towns occur so often as settings. Americans have been identifying the Victorian with the macabre for more than 100 years. It still seems not completely coincidental that these particular backdrops were so often used for a show in its heyday in the late 1960s and the 1970s.

This, after all, is a period when America’s Victorian architecture lay on a major fault line. Long decaying as wealthier residents moved to the suburbs, America’s many Victorian neighborhoods fell prey to demolition during this period as urban renewal projects smashed through buildings that were often seen as musty, decrepit hangovers from a poorer, miserably car-less past.

San Francisco’s Fillmore District, for example, was substantially redeveloped, scattering its mainly African American residents to the East Bay, while the now celebrated Victorian district of Old Louisville saw over 600 buildings demolished between 1965 and 1971 alone.

Indeed, the show sometimes tackles these issues directly. The classic Scooby-Doo villain is a developer or greedy landowner, scaring people away from their property by dressing as a ghost or monster, only to be unmasked and confess everything to the band of “pesky kids” just before each episode’s final curtain. Occasionally, even urban renewal itself crops up. In one episode a developer constructing new buildings in Seattle is also secretly plundering treasures from the subterranean street network built in the aftermath of the Great Fire of 1889.

Down the street from me, a 6-bedroom house built in 1897 just sold for $412,500—less than half its estimated value, and probably closer to a third of what it might fetch once its restoration finishes next year. It went for $28,500 in 1979, which works out to about $110,000 today, during the worst period of urban decay in Uptown. Other gorgeous houses and apartments from the 1890s through 1920s in Chicago barely survived the 1970s, sometimes only because no one wanted to invest in the neighborhoods.

I've written about this phenomenon before, of course.

Andrew Sullivan moves left a little

But he still has a lot to say about what he calls "successor ideology:"

The best moniker I’ve read to describe this mishmash of postmodern thought and therapy culture ascendant among liberal white elites is Wesley Yang’s coinage: “the successor ideology.” The “structural oppression” is white supremacy, but that can also be expressed more broadly, along Crenshaw lines: to describe a hegemony that is saturated with “anti-Blackness,” misogyny, and transphobia, in a miasma of social “cis-heteronormative patriarchal white supremacy.” And the term “successor ideology” works because it centers the fact that this ideology wishes, first and foremost, to repeal and succeed a liberal society and democracy.

In the successor ideology, there is no escape, no refuge, from the ongoing nightmare of oppression and violence — and you are either fighting this and “on the right side of history,” or you are against it and abetting evil. There is no neutrality. No space for skepticism. No room for debate. No space even for staying silent. (Silence, remember, is violence — perhaps the most profoundly anti-liberal slogan ever invented.)

And that tells you about the will to power behind it. Liberalism leaves you alone. The successor ideology will never let go of you. Liberalism is only concerned with your actions. The successor ideology is concerned with your mind, your psyche, and the deepest recesses of your soul. Liberalism will let you do your job, and let you keep your politics private. S.I. will force you into a struggle session as a condition for employment.

Obama was a straddler, of course, and did not deny that “so many of the disparities that exist in the African-American community today can be directly traced to inequalities passed on from an earlier generation that suffered under the brutal legacy of slavery and Jim Crow.” I don’t deny that either. Who could? But neither did he deny African-American agency or responsibility:

It means taking full responsibility for own lives — by demanding more from our fathers, and spending more time with our children, and reading to them, and teaching them that while they may face challenges and discrimination in their own lives, they must never succumb to despair or cynicism; they must always believe that they can write their own destiny.

To say this today would evoke instant accusations of being a white supremacist and racist. That’s how far the left has moved: Obama as an enabler of white supremacy.

Personally, I favor liberalism, and I always will. We have the most successful multiracial society in history. We can do better; we must do better; but damn, we're not all good or all evil.

Even Chicago will have climate-related troubles

Dan Egan, author of The Death and Life of the Great Lakes (which I read last November while staring out at one of them), explains in yesterday's New York Times how climate change will cause problems here in Chicago:

[T]he same waters that gave life to the city threaten it today, because Chicago is built on a shaky prospect — the idea that the swamp that was drained will stay tamed and that Lake Michigan’s shoreline will remain in essentially the same place it’s been for the past 300 years.

Lake Michigan’s water level has historically risen or fallen by just a matter of inches over the course of a year, swelling in summer following the spring snowmelt and falling off in winter. Bigger oscillations, a few feet up or down from the average, also took place in slow, almost rhythmic cycles unfolding over the course of decades.

No more.

In 2013, Lake Michigan plunged to a low not seen since record-keeping began in the mid-1800s, wreaking havoc across the Midwest. Marina docks became useless catwalks. Freighter captains couldn’t fully load their ships. And fears grew that the lake would drop so low it would no longer be able to feed the Chicago River, the defining waterway that snakes through the heart of the city.

That fear was short-lived. Just a year later, in 2014, the lake started climbing at a stunning rate, ultimately setting a record summertime high in 2020 before drought took hold and water levels started plunging again.

Egan explains in detail what that means for us, culminating in the harrowing near-disaster of 17 May 2020, when record rains combined with a record-high lake to make draining downtown Chicago almost impossible.

I should note that, after falling for 11 consecutive months, the lake has started to rise again (blue line), and we haven't even gotten down to our long-term average (green line):

I've said for decades that Chicago will fare better than most places, but that doesn't mean we'll have it easy. Nowhere will.

More Covid-19 business casualties

Southport Lanes, the 99-year-old bar and bowling alley in Chicago's Lakeview neighborhood, has closed permanently:

The bar, restaurant and bowling alley at 3325 N. Southport Ave. is permanently closed after efforts to revive the business were unsuccessful, said Lacey Irby, a spokeswoman for the group that owns the building at Southport and Henderson Street.

The business had reopened in mid-July after coronavirus restrictions lifted before closing again in the fall, and has not reopened since.

“After giving it a lot of thought, building ownership decided to go the route of auctioning off the assets for the business formerly known as Southport Lanes,” Irby said. “Ownership, unfortunately, does not see the business recovering any time soon, so the business is now permanently closed.”

Items for sale include the venue’s famous sign, bowling lanes and equipment, and pool tables and equipment, according to the Winternitz website.

Other items available in the auction include kitchen equipment, televisions, furniture and two large murals.

Also, The Daily Parker exchanged emails yesterday with Begyle Brewery's front-of-house manager Brett Knickerbocker, who informed us that—no! wait! They're not closing! Read the whole thing!they have to stop letting dogs in the taproom because they lost the larger upstairs area during the pandemic.

UIC's Dis/Placements project maps Uptown

Via Bloomberg CityLab and Block Club Chicago, the University of Illinois at Chicago started a project in 2017 to chart the "displacements of people and struggles over land, housing, and community in the city of Chicago:"

The issue of displacement and the efforts to stop it, in fact, has been present in Uptown for nearly 200 years. That history — in the words of the people who were displaced — is now being recounted through a new University of Illinois Chicago research project.

“In general, it’s poor communities and communities of color that have faced the brunt of the efforts to develop neighborhoods,” said UIC Professor Gayatri Reddy. “Uptown captures some of these remaining issues.”

The project also recounts the efforts to stop displacement and points to how modern activist movements have picked up the mantle from previous generations in the still very-much-alive fight in Uptown, the professors said.

Displacement and development that adversely impact the poor and communities of color have been happening in Uptown, and America, since its founding. But at least in Uptown, the scale of displacement has accelerated in modern times, Reddy said.

“It seems to us that there has been a steady rise in the breadth and scale of such efforts in the last 20 [plus] years,” she said. “With gentrification and other displacement mechanisms impacting an even wider swath of the population.”

The project site has interactive and VR visualizations of Uptown's history, with scads of GIS data and spotlights on specific instances of uncomfortable history.