The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

About the schools

Josh Marshall has a good summary of why things suck for parents, kids, and teachers right now:

But the plan [New York] city and most of [New York] state has come up with shows how limited this can be and how much we’ve made a fetish of in-school instruction. There are two big reasons to have in-school instruction. The first and most important is the educational, social and emotional development and well-being of children. The second is the impact on the economy. Many parents can’t work if their children aren’t in school and to the extent they can their children’s remote learning lacks the support it needs.

I think there is a real question whether in-school instruction on these terms is even worth it. At best kids will be in school 1/3 of the time – and it may be less – and under such straightened and perhaps nerve-wracking conditions that most of the educational and social benefit is actually lost. Watching the process as a journalist and a parent it seems to me that the school system and political authorities have been so focused on the absolute necessity of ‘reopening’ the schools that they’ve ended up with something that is not obviously better than full remote learning and called it success.

The truth is that we’re in a horrible situation. We have failed as a country to control the virus and because of that we’re forced into no-win situations and choices which are all bad. As much as anything we simply lack the kind of information that allows us to make informed, smart decisions. And yet September is less than four weeks away.

Meanwhile, Downtown Chicago suffered a coordinated attack of looters last night for no apparent reason, though police returning fire from a suspect and injuring him yesterday afternoon may have been the excuse. Since the looting took place across town and the looters came with U-Haul trucks I can't say I have any sympathy for them on this occasion. If it turns out that any of the looters were right-wing agitators, I will be disappointed but not surprised.

Oh, and the government of Lebanon resigned.

Half Acre Beer Co., Balmoral Brewery

Welcome to stop #29 on the Brews and Choos project.

Brewery: Half Acre Beer Co., Balmoral Brewery, 2048 W Balmoral Ave., Chicago
Train line: Union Pacific North, Ravenswood (Also CTA Brown Line, Damen)
Time from Chicago: 16 minutes (Zone B)
Distance from station: 1.7 km (1.6 km from CTA)

Half Acre actually operates two locations: its original brewpub on Lincoln Ave., and its newer and much larger brewery/restaurant/beer garden just south of Rosehill Cemetery. Both are on the Brews and Choos list, but the beer garden is open this summer while the Lincoln Brewery only has curb-side pickup.

I'm actually cheating a little. You'll have to walk more than 1,500 meters from the Ravenswood Metra station to get to the Balmoral Brewery, but Half Acre makes excellent beer and you'll have to pass two other taprooms (Empirical and Spiteful) to get here. It's worth the trip—especially if you make a summer afternoon of all three.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, you'll need a reservation that costs $15.45, which they apply to your bill. Also they've temporarily curtailed food service and dogs on the patio.

As for the beer, their Daisy Cutter Pale Ale (5.2%) has remained one of my go-tos for years. Try their other pales and IPAs when you visit; they're all excellent. And see what else they've made that month.

When they don't have a raging pandemic to deal with, they serve good pub food including weekend brunch.

Beer garden? Yes
Dogs OK? Suspended during the pandemic
Televisions? None
Serves food? Suspended during the pandemic
Would hang out with a book? Yes
Would hang out with friends? Yes
Would go back? Yes

Taking a minute

A friend I met just last November died on Friday night at 32. She owned Heirloom Books in Chicago's Edgewater community, one of the last independent used-book shops in the neighborhood. (Always a "shop;" never a "store.") She'd only recently adopted a kitten, Pilar, who I met a few weeks ago.

Her father posted on Facebook that she died "peacefully but unexpectedly...from complications arising from a long-standing illness which she fought valiantly against over many years, but which few people were aware of." I was aware of it, and I can say without hesitation it was not inherently fatal. But the endlessness and isolation of the pandemic, exacerbated by a president who's too stupid and too narcissistic to have the least comprehension or compassion a human being needs to call himself one, surely contributed. So did the difficulty of getting affordable health care here.

I'm sad a friend died, and I'm angry that in almost any other country she wouldn't have.

My heart goes out to her parents and her sister.

Sketchbook Brewing Co., Skokie Taproom

Welcome to stop #28 on the Brews and Choos project.

Brewery: Sketchbook Brewing Co. Skokie Taproom, 4901 Main St., Skokie
Train line: CTA Yellow Line, Dempster-Skokie
Time from Chicago: 48 minutes
Distance from station: 900 m

I have gone to Sketchbook Brewing in Evanston for years, so naturally I made a special trip to their Skokie Taproom for its grand opening last Friday. We had perfect weather, social distancing, hand sanitizer, and good beer. The brewery occupies the front part of a 1950s-era light-industrial building next to the CTA, under high-tension power lines, on a medium-busy street—but don't let that stop you.

As they had just opened that afternoon, they had a couple of operational hiccups, but nothing that detracted from our enjoyment. I stuck with the Orange Door IPA as they had just finished a run of the No Parking Citra IPA and didn't have any in Skokie that night.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, they require reservations. And a tip: If you're coming from downtown Chicago on a weeknight, change to the Linden-bound Purple Line Express at Belmont and shave 10 minutes off your trip.

Beer garden? Yes, in front
Dogs OK? Yes
Televisions? None
Serves food? Snacks only; "BYOF" (bring your own food) policy
Would hang out with a book? Yes
Would hang out with friends? Yes
Would go back? Yes

Burning it down won't solve the problem

Writing for The Week, David Linker lays out the problem confronting the Republican Party even if they get a solid thumping this November:

[Y]es, it would be very good for the Republican Party of Donald Trump, Mitch McConnell, Ted Cruz, Tom Cotton, Lindsey Graham, Louie Gohmert, Devin Nunes, and all the rest of them to be leveled to the ground so a wholly new party — a more reasonable, responsible, principled, and honorable party — can be built in its place.

There's just one difficulty with the plan: It does nothing to address the root of the problem, which no one — not the minimalist Trump haters, and not the fiercest maximalists out to pummel the party's establishment — has a clue how to solve.

That is the problem of the Republican voter.

The voters who swooned for Sarah Palin in 2008; who seriously considered giving the nod to Herman Cain, Michele Bachmann, Ben Carson, and Rick Santorum in 2012; who four years later elevated a reality-show conman to the head of their party, cast ballots for him to win the presidency, and have rallied around him ever since — most of these voters remain undaunted in their conviction that politics is primarily about the venting of grievances and the trolling of opponents. The dumber and angrier and more shameless, the better.

Could anything change these voters — turning them, not into liberals or progressives obviously, but into thoughtful citizens capable of engaging with reality, thinking about actual problems, and rewarding public servants who make a good-faith effort to respond to them? The honest truth is that I don't have the slightest clue how to make it happen. Which also means that I have no idea how the United States might work its way back to having two civically responsible parties instead of just one.

Which also means we will have to go through some version of all this nonsense again in 2022, 2024, 2026...until something shifts and these wankers grow up.

Where did it all go wrong?

I admire the New York Times for digging into how our pandemic response was so much worse than every other rich country, but ultimately, we already knew:

First, the United States faced longstanding challenges in confronting a major pandemic. It is a large country at the nexus of the global economy, with a tradition of prioritizing individualism over government restrictions. That tradition is one reason the United States suffers from an unequal health care system that has long produced worse medical outcomes — including higher infant mortality and diabetes rates and lower life expectancy — than in most other rich countries.

The second major theme is one that public health experts often find uncomfortable to discuss because many try to steer clear of partisan politics. But many agree that the poor results in the United States stem in substantial measure from the performance of the Trump administration.

In no other high-income country — and in only a few countries, period — have political leaders departed from expert advice as frequently and significantly as the Trump administration. President Trump has said the virus was not serious; predicted it would disappear; spent weeks questioning the need for masks; encouraged states to reopen even with large and growing caseloads; and promoted medical disinformation.

Some Republican governors have followed his lead and also played down the virus, while others have largely followed the science. Democratic governors have more reliably heeded scientific advice, but their performance in containing the virus has been uneven.

The Republicans who have done this, up to and including the president, need to face serious consequences for their inaction and malfeasance.

Here in Chicago, we've lost yet another convention, bringing our economic losses into the billions, including an estimated 1.3 million lost room-nights this year alone.

Reactionary right-wing corruption under scrutiny

New York Attorney General Letitia James has filed suit to dissolve the National Rifle Association:

The lawsuit sets up a legal confrontation that could take years to play out and will leave the 148-year-old N.R.A. — long the nation’s most influential gun-rights lobby but recently hobbled by financial woes and infighting — fighting for its survival. The attorney general’s office previously presided over the dissolution of President Trump’s scandal-marred charitable foundation, but the N.R.A., with more than five million members, is a far larger organization that is expected to put up a more prolonged fight.

The lawsuit was swiftly followed by two others: The N.R.A. filed a suit against Ms. James’s office in federal court in Albany, claiming her action was politically motivated and violated the organization’s First Amendment rights. In addition, Karl Racine, the attorney general of Washington, D.C., filed suit against the N.R.A. and its charitable foundation, which is based in the city. Mr. Racine is seeking changes to the foundation and alleges that the N.R.A. misused millions of dollars of the foundation’s funds.

The suit accuses the N.R.A. and the executives of “violating numerous state and federal laws” by enriching themselves, as well as their friends, families and allies, and taking improper actions that cost the organization $64 million over three years. The attorney general has regulatory authority over the N.R.A. because it is chartered as a nonprofit in New York. She is also seeking to oust Mr. LaPierre and Mr. Frazer, and to bar all four men from ever serving on nonprofit boards in New York again.

The lawsuit, which was filed in State Supreme Court in Manhattan, is a civil action, and outlined a number of alleged tax violations. Ms. James said during a news conference that she was referring the matter to the Internal Revenue Service in addition to taking her own action, and did not rule out making a future criminal referral.

Never forget: the purpose of authoritarianism is theft. And very few organizations the size of the NRA represent authoritarianism so obviously. Never mind what they say; watch what they do. (Hey, Mr LaPierre, where were all your members when actual jack-booted government agents came to Portland and DC?)

The Post has more:

James said at a news conference Thursday that she is seeking to dissolve the NRA because of the brazenness of the group’s violations of law.

“The corruption was so broad and because they have basically destroyed all the assets of the NRA,” she said. “Enough was enough … No one is above the law, not even the NRA.”

The lawsuit also claims LaPierre failed to report large sums of personal income to the IRS. James’s office said it found that the NRA chief funneled personal expenses through an outside public relations firm, allowing him to avoid reporting hundreds of thousands of dollars of personal income.

In response, the NRA said Thursday that it was filing its own lawsuit against James, alleging that the New York attorney general has violated the group’s free speech rights.

“This was a baseless, premeditated attack on our organization and the Second Amendment freedoms it fights to defend,” NRA President Carolyn Meadows said in a statement. “You could have set your watch by it: the investigation was going to reach its crescendo as we move into the 2020 election cycle."

Waaaaah. Another thing authoritarians hate: being called on their wrongdoing.

Do I think the lawsuit will succeed in dissolving the NRA? No, sadly. And anyway, gun manufacturers would simply create a new trade and propaganda association to continue making the Second Amendment a parody of itself.

But with this suit, and the deepening investigation into the Trump Organization's finances, also in New York State, I think the era of right-wing over-reach may have reached its conclusion. Don't expect them to go quietly, however.

Beirut update

Casualties continue to mount along with accusations of official malfeasance from Tuesday evening's blast at the Port of Beirut:

Lebanon's President, Michel Aoun, blamed the detonation on 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate that he said had been stored unsafely at a warehouse in the port.

A similar amount of the chemical arrived on a Moldovan-flagged cargo ship, the MV Rhosus, which docked in Beirut in 2013 after suffering technical problems while sailing from Georgia to Mozambique.

The Rhosus was inspected, banned from leaving and was shortly afterwards abandoned by its owners, according to Shiparrested.com. Its cargo was reportedly transferred to Warehouse 12 following a court order, and should have been disposed of or resold.

The 137 people who were killed included Jean-Marc Bonfils, a Beirut-born French architect. Mr Bonfils, who was involved in restoring buildings damaged in the city during the civil war, was broadcasting video of the incident live on Facebook after the first explosion but was injured in the second and later died. French Culture Minister Roselyne Bachelot said that France and Lebanon were united in grief at his death.

Mr Koraytem and the director general of Lebanese Customs, Badri Daher, said their warnings about the danger posed by the stored ammonium nitrate and calls for it to be removed were repeatedly ignored.

"We requested that it be re-exported but that did not happen. We leave it to the experts and those concerned to determine why," Mr Daher told broadcaster LBCI.

Documents circulated online appeared to show that customs officials sent letters to the judiciary seeking guidance at least six times from 2014 to 2017.

Endemic corruption and lax regulatory enforcement seem to have contributed.

Also, a correction to yesterday's post. It turns out ammonium nitrate has about 40% the explosive power of TNT, so my comparison of the blast to a 3 kT tactical nuclear weapon was off a bit. It was only equivalent to a 1.1 kT tactical nuclear weapon—like the W54 the US Army developed in the 1950s—with about 9% of the yield of the bomb we dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, 75 years ago today. Even with such a small yield, and even though it exploded in a port area rather than in a dense residential or commercial zone, it injured over 5,000 people, killed over 150, and displaced 300,000 from their homes.

The equivalent of a 3-kiloton bomb

Yesterday approximately 2,700 tonnes of ammonium nitrate exploded in the Port of Beirut, Lebanon, leaving hundreds feared dead and thousands injured. If you've ever worried what a "tactical" nuclear weapon can do to a city, here are photos of ground zero from (apparently) just a few days ago and this morning:

Here's the Nukemap, showing pretty much exactly what happened:

For scale, here's the same detonation at the Sears Tower:

The search for survivors continues, with 300,000 people evacuated and Port of Beirut officials reported to be under house arrest.