The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Democracy may be up for debate

The XPOTUS has agreed to "debate" President Biden twice before the election:

President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump agreed Wednesday to participate in general election debates on June 27 and Sept. 10.

A press release from CNN said the first, on June 27, would start at 9 p.m. ET and will be held in the news organization's studios in Atlanta.

“I’ve also received and accepted an invitation to a debate hosted by ABC on Tuesday, September 10th," Biden said on X. "Trump says he’ll arrange his own transportation. I’ll bring my plane, too. I plan on keeping it for another four years.”

One of my friends doesn't think the President should have agreed to debate the XPOTUS, arguing that someone who attempted a coup "does not get a debate." He worries it "will be judged on who talks the loudest, who is the rudest, etc. It'll be closer to professional wrestling than a political debate."

I disagree. I think the XPOTUS will show people who don't seek him out (read: swing voters) exactly how demented he has become. James Fallows likens him to "[t]he kind of person you’d assume to be drunk if you didn’t know he teetotaled, or you’d think was in other ways disturbed." Commenting on the XPOTUS's Atlantic City rally over the weekend, Fallows says, "We’ve all heard things like this. In bars. In public parks. In institutional care. We move away from people talking this way."

Even before we get there, we have to wonder how a good hunk of the population seem to have forgotten how shambolic the guy's administration actually was, especially doing the one thing in his job description:

There was no breathing room — no calm in the eye of the storm. From beginning to end — from the “American carnage” inaugural on Jan. 20, 2017, to the attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021 — it felt as though the country was in constant flux, each week a decade. We lurched from dysfunction to chaos and back again, eventually crashing on the shores of the nation’s worst domestic crisis since the Great Depression.

Trump presided over a recession worsened by his total failure to manage the coronavirus. As Covid deaths mounted, Trump spread misinformation and left states scrambling for needed supplies. It was not until after the March stock market crash that the White House issued its plan to blunt the economic impact of the pandemic. And the most generous provisions found in the CARES Act, including a vast expansion of unemployment benefits, were negotiated into the bill by Democratic lawmakers.

No other president has gotten this kind of excused absence for mismanaging a crisis that happened on his watch. We don’t bracket the secession crisis from our assessment of James Buchanan or the Great Depression from our judgment of Herbert Hoover or the hostage crisis in Iran from our assessment of Jimmy Carter. And for good reason: The presidency was designed for crisis. It was structured with the power and autonomy needed for handling the acute challenges of national life.

With 174 days until the election, one feels like a Christian Scientist with appendicitis...

Mentally exhausting day, high body battery?

My Garmin watch thinks I've had a relaxing day, with an average stress level of 21 (out of 100). My four-week average is 32, so this counts as a low-stress day in the Garmin universe.

At least, today was nothing like 13 March 2020, when the world ended. Hard to believe that was four years ago. So when I go to the polls on November 5th, and I ask myself, "Am I better off than 4 years ago?", I have a pretty easy answer.

I spent most of today either in meetings or having an interesting (i.e., not boring) production deployment, so I'm going to take the next 45 minutes or so to read everything I haven't had time to read yet:

All righty then. I'll wrap up here in a few minutes and head home, where I plan to pat Cassie a lot and read a book.

Arts patronage at all-time low

Crain's Chicago Business reported this morning on the precipitous decline in performing-arts audiences (sub.req.) since March 2020:

Chicago arts and cultural organizations emerged from COVID-19 lockdowns, virtual performances and fully masked audiences to slow-to-return patrons, reduced ticket sales and scaled-backed productions. A decline in subscription rates, shockingly higher costs, and donations that haven't kept pace with inflation have thrown some arts organizations off balance and spiraled others into crisis.

Museums, music and dance venues have bounced back faster. Theaters struggled, perhaps, due to the expense and complexity of producing and staging plays.

One widespread explanation: People are still holed up at home in their pandemic pajamas binge-watching "The Bear" and "Ted Lasso." Or they're amusing themselves with YouTube videos. On the other hand, music fans will pay thousands to see a Taylor Swift extravaganza.

Even when audiences show up, they're buying tickets at the last minute. That makes for a white-knuckled ride for theater planners. And with theater-goers forgoing subscriptions, there's less money upfront as a cushion. In the long run, that could make planners less inclined to take a risk on a controversial or innovative work.

Between 2019 and 2022, average in-person attendance at performing arts events plunged 59% to 13,104, with theaters being the hardest hit, according to the DCASE study. "We were the first to close and the last to reopen," says PJ Powers, artistic director at TimeLine Theatre. "You can't just flip on the lights and you're back."

I've served as president of the Apollo Chorus of Chicago since September 2020. Let me tell you, it's bad. We're all suffering. I have meetings with venues that want the same amount we paid them (or more) in 2018, but we just don't have the audience. We're working on how to increase our funding, but until we get corporate sponsorship or major donations from people who love us, we have to go to smaller venues and perform works with smaller instrumentation. (Last spring, for example, we performed Rossini's Petite Messe Solennelle, whose orchestration includes two pianos and a harmonium.)

So. Anyone want to donate $50,000 to a nice non-profit chorus? We'll put your name top of the program.

RTO costs more for everyone

I mentioned that my office recently went back to a Tuesday through Thursday schedule downtown. Since our final return to office (RTO), I'd gone in twice a week, usually Wednesday and Thursday. I actually prefer a Friday and Monday schedule, but since the rest of my team comes in mid-week, I have to go in then.

The additional day actually costs additional money. The Sun-Times reported yesterday that RTO costs employees about $51 per day on average. Perhaps; but it costs me about $80 per day, broken down as follows: Cassie's day care, $51; train fare, $8.30; coffee, $4; breakfast, $5; lunch, $10. At least the train fare is pre-tax money. But really, that means, if you add income tax, RTO costs me $100 per day.

But now that she goes to school three days a week instead of just two, at least someone gets a huge benefit from the extra expense:

Fridays, for Cassie, are nap days. For me, they're definitely not. And that $51 per day for day care really stings.

Annual pseudo-flu

I got my Covid and flu boosters yesterday afternoon, which my body noticed around midnight. I spent a couple of hours overnight with a mild (<2°C) fever and feeling generally unpleasant. Last year's jabs worked, as far as I know. I hope this year's do as well.

Right now, though, I could use a nap. And both my arms are sore.

Two more senior Navy jobs blocked by Coach Tuberville

Former college football coach Tommy Tuberville, now a United States Senator grâce a the wisdom and good sense of the fine people of Alabama, continues to degrade the United States military by preventing the US Senate from confirming 301 (and counting) general and flag officers from formally taking the jobs they're already doing. Earlier this month, the commanders of the Naval Air Forces and Naval Sea Systems Command retired, passing their responsibilities—but, crucially, not their policy-setting powers—to their putative successors. US Senator Mark Kelly (D-AZ), a retired US Navy Captain and 4-time Space Shuttle astronaut, stopped just short of calling Tuberville an idiot on today's NPR Morning Edition.

In other news:

Finally, John Scalzi's blog turned 25 today, making the Hugo-winning author a relative new arrival to the blogging scene, at least when compared with The Daily Parker.

Run, you clever unit tests, and pass

The first day of a sprint is the best day to consolidate three interfaces with three others, touching every part of the application that uses data. So right now, I am watching most of my unit tests pass and hoping I will figure out why the ones that failed did so before I leave today.

While the unit tests run, I have some stuff to keep me from getting too bored:

Finally, the 2023 Emmy nominations came out this morning. I need to watch The White Lotus and Succession before HBO hides them.

Update: 2 out of 430 tests have failed (so far) because of authentication timeouts with Microsoft Key Vault. That happens on my slow-as-molasses laptop more often than I like.

Converting office buildings to apartments

The New York Times today has an interactive feature explaining how converting pre-war offices to apartments is a lot easier than converting modern office buildings. Simply put, before the 1940s, no one had air conditioning, so the buildings had more light and air:

These kinds of buildings, often dating to the early 20th century, make for simpler conversions because the same logic that shaped how they were designed as offices a century ago determines how apartments are planned today. Both share a rule of thumb that no interior space be more than 8 or 9 meters from a window that opens.

Iconic prewar skyscrapers like the Empire State Building were designed to this standard, and with this smallest unit in mind: a single rentable office 3 to 6 meters wide and about 8 meters from the windows to the common corridor. That was just the right amount of space for a receptionist’s anteroom and a windowed office.

Dan Kaplan, a senior partner with the architecture firm FXCollaborative in New York, identifies the private-eye suite in any film noir as a classic example: frosted glass doors, a secretary framed by interior transom windows, and then the detective in his private office flooded with natural light.

But the conversion puzzle gets more complex with offices built after World War II. That’s because the modern office has strayed far — increasingly far — from the window rule.

Two inventions liberated office space from the window: air-conditioning and the fluorescent light bulb. Just as the elevator and steel-cage construction enabled buildings to grow taller in the late 19th century, the architectural historian Carol Willis has written, fluorescent lighting and air-conditioning enabled their floor plates to become much deeper.

Then local rules add still more complexity: Maybe the building has to meet stricter seismic requirements as an apartment than as an office (much of the West Coast), or the whole facade must be replaced to meet current wind-load standards (hurricane-prone places). Or you can only convert 18 of the 32 existing office floors into residential use (in Manhattan, such use caps depend on a building’s age and location). Or units must average at least 500 square feet in size per building (downtown Chicago). Or every legal bedroom must have its own working window (New York requires this but Philadelphia and San Francisco don’t).

Still, the commercial real-estate collapse of the last three years has made conversions imperative in big-city downtowns like the Chicago Loop.

The result, probably in only a few years, will be to transform former dense commercial districts like the Loop into dense mixed-use districts that people want to live in. 

Three articles about urban issues

I see a connection between all of these.

First, the city has accepted six proposals to convert office buildings on LaSalle Street to apartments. I used to work in one of them, so that should be interesting. These will go through community review, and will cost over $1 billion, but could bring almost 2,000 apartments to the Loop.

Second, Zurich Re and Motorola have separately sued the Chicago suburb Schaumburg, Ill., one of the most dismal suburban hellscapes I've ever seen, to get the $100 million in tax breaks the village promised before the pandemic. The village offered these incentives to get the two corporations to build sleek new office buildings surrounded by parking lots that they hoped would bring in $300 million a year in secondary benefits to the village. Then came the pandemic. Since no one really wants to go to Schaumburg voluntarily, everyone is SOL here.

Finally, a man recently won a $91 million settlement after a car crashed through a 7-11 in Chicago and injured him. It turns out, a car crashes through a 7-11 on average 20 times a day in the U.S., in part because the company doesn't want to spend the $2,000 per store to put up bollards, and in part because cars and people should not occupy the same infrastructure at the same time.

What do these things have in common? They're all points in evidence that pedestrian-focused urban development makes a lot more sense than the horrific car-focused alternatives.