The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Wettest May ever

So far—and keep in mind, we're only 2/3 done with the month—Chicago has had more precipitation this May than in any previous May, with 216 mm total. It's interesting to note that 2019 and 2018 were also the wettest Mays ever, with 210 mm and 208 mm respectively.

In Northwest Michigan, the record rainfall caused a pair of dams to break, flooding the town of Midland under 2.75 m of water.

The Lake Michigan-Huron system continues at record levels for the fifth month in a row, with no sign of receding.

Welcome to the new normal.

Did someone call "lunch?"

I think today is Tuesday, the first day of my 10th week working from home. That would make today...March 80th? April 49th? Who knows.

It is, however, just past lunchtime, and today I had shawarma and mixed news:

Earlier, I mentioned that the state's unemployment office accidentally revealed thousands of records in an own goal. Turns out, Deloitte Consulting did the work, so I am no longer surprised. Note to anyone who needs software written: don't hire a big consulting firm. They don't attract the best developers because they use manager-driven development patterns that irritate the hell out of anyone with talent.

Evening round-up

Long day, with meetings until 8:45pm and the current sprint ending tomorrow at work, so I'll read most of these after the spring review:

Finally, Sheffield, U.K., wildlife photographer Simon Dell built a Hobbiton for the local field mice. It's as adorable as it sounds.

Another time people ignored dire warnings

On 18 May 1980, forty years ago today, the Washington-state volcano Mt St Helens exploded, killing dozens of people who had been warned to evacuate days earlier:

I was 150 miles away on May 18, 1980, when Mount St. Helens blew, but my bed shook and the windows on my Oregon A-frame rattled.

I rushed to my radio station and its clacking Associated Press wire machine, and pulled up a pile of wire copy from the floor. The reports coming in from southwest Washington state were hard to believe....

Despite two months of earthquakes, ashfall, and a growing bulge on the north side of the mountain, the night before was quiet. That morning was tranquil. The cone-shaped mountain had a white mantle of snow.

U.S. Geological Survey geologist David Johnston was [10 km from the mountain]. He had a car and camper and was calling in reports to the USGS command post in Vancouver, Wash. The day before, he convinced visitors from the University of Washington to leave. They wanted to camp with him overnight. "It's too dangerous," he told them.

The death toll reached 57 and included ham radio operator Gerry Martin and USGS geologist David Johnston. All but three of those killed were outside the "red zone" established by Washington Gov. Dixy Lee Ray. Geologists had pushed for a larger area with mandatory evacuations. But pressure to shrink the danger zone was intense from cabin owners, campers and hikers, and logging companies, including Weyerhaeuser, the timber giant that owned private forests in the area.

National Geographic explains what we've learned since then:

The volcano’s defiant position out of line perches it atop a zone of rock too cold to produce the magma necessary to feed its furious blasts.

“There shouldn’t be a volcano where Mount St. Helens is,” says Seth Moran, scientist-in-charge at the U.S. Geological Survey’s Cascades Volcano Observatory in Vancouver, Washington.

Four decades after Mount St. Helens’ eruption, scientists finally are unearthing some clues to its curious position. In one of the most comprehensive efforts to trace a volcano’s roots, the Imaging Magma Under St. Helens project, or iMUSH for short, used a slew of analyses to bring these subterranean secrets to light. Overall, the volcano doesn’t follow the textbook picture of a peak sitting above a chamber of molten rock. Instead, it seems, a diffuse cloud of partially molten blobs lingers deep below the surface, offset to the east of the edifice, toward the neighboring Mount Adams.

Most of the Cascade volcanoes—and others around the world—take shape above the spots where the plunging slab descends to roughly 62 miles deep, where temperatures get high enough for magma to form. But the situation is different at Mount St. Helens. Standing tens of miles to the west of other volcanoes, the infamous peak perches a mere 42 miles above the subducting plate.

Mt St Helens remains active, having erupted most recently in 2008.

Domestic terrorism in Michigan

Charlie Pierce, noting that "[p]eople with firearms forced the civil government of the state of Michigan to shut itself down," wants to know in what sense this isn't terrorism. In other fun weekend stories:

And it's pouring, and will continue to do so for several more hours.

Spring weather, mostly

Yesterday was sunny and 25°C. Today it's not as sunny and not as warm, but still hike-worthy. So that's what I'm about today. Tomorrow it will rain all day, so expect more postings then.

Mostly tangential news

Today I'll try to avoid the most depressing stories:

  • The North Shore Channel Trail bridge just north of Lincoln Avenue opened this week, completing an 11 km continuous path from Lincoln Square to Evanston.
  • Experts warn that herd immunity (a) is an economic concept, not a health concept and (b) shouldn't apply to humans because we're not herd animals.
  • Wisconsin remains in total chaos today after the state supreme court terminated Governor Tony Evans' stay-at-home order, approximately two weeks before a predictable, massive uptick in Covid-19 cases.
  • Delta Airlines has decided to retire its fleet of 18 B777 airplanes years ahead of schedule due to an unexpected drop in demand for air travel.
  • The pro-contagion, rabid right-wingers flashing placards saying "Be Like Sweden" clearly have no comprehension of Sweden's efforts to slow the spread of SARS-CoV-2.
  • US retail sales declined 16.4% in April, pushing the total decline since February to nearly 25%, the worst decline in history.
  • Wired has a portrait of Marcus Hutchins, the hacker who stopped the WannaCry virus from killing us all and then went to jail for his previous activities designing and spreading malware.
  • Andrew Sullivan tells the story of Samuel Pepys, "the very first pandemic blogger."

Finally, Vanity Fair has reprinted its 1931 cover article on Al Capone, which seems somehow timely.

Happy birthday, DuSable Bridge!

The bascule bridge over the Chicago River at Michigan Avenue turned 100 today. The Chicago Tribune has photos.

Also:

And the New York Times interviewed science-fiction author John Scalzi, whose The Last Emperox came out two weeks ago.

Wednesday, 74 March 2020

Just when you thought the Republican Party couldn't become more anti-science and pro-profit (at the expense of workers), the Wisconsin Supreme Court just struck down Wisconsin's stay-at-home order on a 4-3 party-line vote.

If only that were all:

Someday, we'll all look back on this time, laugh nervously, and change the subject.

That's not how this works

This is a wonky post about tax law and at the same time a pissed-off post about political advocacy under cover of "neutral" commentary that takes advantage of people's ignorance of a nuanced area of law.

Bruce Willey, an Iowa-based tax lawyer, claims in a pearl-clutching post on Kiplinger that recent IRS guidance on Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan forgiveness "could bankrupt small businesses:"

On April 30, late in the evening — when few people were likely paying attention — the IRS released guidance that essentially nullified much of the benefit of the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) created under the CARES Act. It stated that those who receive PPP may not receive tax deductions for using those funds to pay expenses. That includes expenses like payroll and rent, the very point of the PPP.

Let’s say a small-business owner requests and receives $600,000 to cover payroll for the 10 weeks where he or she is covered by the PPP. If they can’t deduct that amount as expenses, that means their federal tax burden clocks in at a rate of 37%.

That equates to a $222,000 increase in their taxable income. Meaning the effective tax-free benefit of the loan is $378,000, not the $600,000 intended by the law.

No, no, no, it does not. And it's easy to see why.

Let's say that the small business takes $600k in PPP loans and pays out $600k in payrolls (including employer payroll taxes) in 2020. Let's also say the business takes in $600k in sales revenue, and that their total 2020 deductible expenses would be $1.2m regardless of the PPP.

So: Under the CARES act, they have $600k in taxable income and $1.2m in deductible expenses. But, since 50% of their 2020 books income was the $600k grant, they can only deduct 50% of that $1.2m—i.e., $600k. Result: $0 adjusted gross income and $0 taxes.

Now let's look at what happens if Bailey's wish comes true, and why the IRS said no. If the business can deduct the full $1.2m, they will have a net operating loss (NOL) of $600k, that they can use to offset future income. And that can generate future NOLs until they finally have enough AGI to offset the full NOL. A $600k NOL for a $1.2m-a-year business would probably wipe out their income tax burden for many years.

In other words, the result of the IRS guidance isn't that the IRS would cost the business money; it's that it would prevent the business from avoiding legitimate taxes in future years. And Willey knows this; he's just hoping you don't.

(Also, the IRS releases guidance every Friday night, which he also knows. But people who don't deal with income tax regularly probably don't, which he's counting on.)