The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Another lovely day

Except for the sun blinding me around 5:30 pm every day due to a quirk in my house's architecture (I will eventually fix it with window treatments), I love sunny spring days. Cassie and I have already spent almost an hour outside and we'll spend another 45 minutes or so when I get back from an odd music gig that I'll describe tomorrow or Monday.

I wanted to highlight just one story from earlier this week, by New Republic's Kate Aronoff, with the accurate and delightful headline "Anything Elon Musk can do a bus can do better:"

Whether on electrification or autonomous vehicles, Tesla has long been hailed as a company uniquely capable of revolutionizing transportation, with Elon Musk portrayed as the big brain in charge. A series of high-profile blunders, though—like Cybertrucks with stick accelerators and a wrongful death settlement—have cast doubt on Tesla’s capacity to speed the world toward an electrified future. Policymakers might want to start asking themselves: When it comes to creating a transportation system fit for our climate-changed twenty-first century, what can Elon Musk do that the humble city bus cannot?

Public buses are an unbeatable value. Here in New York City, $2.90 will get you between and within boroughs, usually just a few blocks from your door. A pilot program initiated last fall included one fare-free route in each borough, in the hopes of eventually making buses free throughout. Boston made a number of bus lines fare-free this year, as well. Olympia and many other Washington municipalities have embraced free buses throughout their entire transit system, following the example set in 2019 by Kansas City, Missouri, and Raleigh, North Carolina. Luxembourg offers free public transit nationwide, and several other countries offer free buses, trams, and trains to people under 18, students, and senior citizens.

The cheapest Tesla, by contrast, costs nearly $40,000, which isn’t counting the cost of insurance, financing, and all the other headaches involved in purchasing and owning a car. Elon Musk has allegedly scrapped plans to make what would have been Tesla’s most affordable offering yet, a smaller car slated to be priced at around $25,000. That announcement had already been delayed for several years, reportedly because Musk demanded that his engineers produce a vehicle without pedals or a steering wheel.

Finally, public buses offer something to the challenge of decarbonizing transportation that Elon Musk never can: scale. If the goal of decarbonized transit is to get as many people moving using as little carbon as possible, then it’s wildly more efficient to invest more public resources into electrifying and expanding mass transit options than in helping a billionaire sell more luxury items.

Aronoff doesn't even need to point out that Musk himself has never invented a single goddamned thing. He leveraged a family fortune made in Apartheid South Africa into controlling shares of several companies that eventually all failed, whether completely or just simply never lived up to the hype.

But Aronoff is right. I've visited London 20 times in the last 10 years and only twice have I had to resort to taking a hired car—once when the Southern Rail went on strike the day I flew into Gatwick last summer, and once when I was well pissed and didn't want to wait for a bus in the rain. Trains and buses cover the entire Southeast region, run all night in most cases, and don't cost all that much. Chicago has them too. Who needs a Tesla truck that will cut your fingers off if you try closing the trunk?

Busy news day

It's a gorgeous Friday afternoon in Chicago. So why am I inside? Right. Work. I'll eventually take Cassie out again today, and I may even have a chance to read all of these:

Finally, a milestone of sorts. The retail vacancy rate in downtown Chicago continues to climb as a longtime institution on North Wells finally closed. That's right, Wells Books, the last adult-entertainment store in the Loop, has closed.

Things we probably could have predicted

The older I get, the less human beings surprise me. Oh, individual people surprise me all the time, mainly because I have smart and creative friends. But groups of people? They're going to be unsurprising and kind of dumb almost always.

Cases in point:

  • The Arizona Supreme Court's decision allowing enforcement of a pre-statehood, Civil War-era abortion law looks even worse when you learn what else is in the 1864 Howell Code.
  • Chicago's Loop neighborhood has 6,000 unsold luxury condos, with no more new projects underway, in part because developers failed to predict that 3% interest rates wouldn't last forever. This, to me, looks like failing to predict it will rain in Seattle eventually, because it hasn't rained in a week.
  • Forget Detroit and Houston; even ultra-wealthy municipalities like Santa Clara, Calif., have obstinately failed to predict that they would ever have to pay ruinous costs to maintain all the infrastructure they built last century.
  • Young women embracing the role of "tradwife" (i.e., becoming a 1950s-style woman of leisure or "stay-at-home-girlfriend") seem destined to unhappy long-term consequences of becoming someone's accessory.
  • Author John Scalzi provides advice which even he thinks aspiring authors should already know: don't fabricate quotes by living authors to sell your new manuscript because you will get caught.

Finally, author Gary Shteyngart floats off on the maiden voyage of Royal Caribbean's Icon of the Seas, the largest cruise ship ever built, and finds what can only be described as a very specific slice of humanity that would make the Golgafrinchans proud.

One news story eclipsed all the others

Ah, ha ha. Ha.

Anyway, here are a couple other stories from the last couple of days:

Finally, Ohio State wildlife and ecology professor Stanley Gehrt has written a book I will have to stop myself (for now) from adding to my ever-expanding shelf of books I need to read. Gehrt spent decades studying Chicago's coyote population and how well they co-exist with us, tagging more than 1,400 coyotes and collaring another 700.

My only complaint about the animals is they don't eat enough rabbits. I live near several suspected dens, the closest only about 400 meters from my front door. I can't wait to read the book.

As for the risks coyotes pose to humans, he lets us know who the real enemy is: “If you were to ask me, ‘What’s the most dangerous animal out there [for urban dwellers]?’, it’s white-tailed deer,” Gehrt said.

What I learned about Google Maps yesterday

Getting down to Whitestown, Ind., yesterday took about 4 hours and 45 minutes, including a stop to empty Cassie, which isn't great but isn't nearly as bad as I'd feared. Getting home, however, taught me about the limitations of Google Maps in a way I'm not likely to forget.

Here's the first leg of our return trip, from Whitestown to just south of Wolcott, Ind., a distance of 109 km:

That took us 3 hours and 41 minutes, an average of 29.6 km/h. People ride bikes faster than that.

You can see spots where we got off Interstate 65 and followed Google's instructions to take alternate roads, because I-65 had an average speed of a portly beagle. (I'm not making up the comparison. I'm talking about a specific beagle.)

As it turned out, though, Google had no data at all about the alternate roads until people started driving on them. So when Google said "take County Road 50 N to County Road 500 W" because it thought no one was on those roads, that was true until Google told 300 people to take them.

That made getting back on I-65 a new kind of hell as stoplights set up to admit the 2 or 3 cars usually going through an intersection completely failed to clear the 5-km line of cars trying to turn.

We finally learned our lesson, too late, after we gave up on Google Maps and lit out on US-231 towards Wolcott. From that point until we got onto the Dan Ryan expressway in Chicago we averaged about 90 km/h. We ignored Google and paralleled I-65 until it looked like the Interstate had finally cleared up.

The other thing we learned was, if there's a 40-minute line for the bathroom, leave. We found a couple of gas stations with no lines just 5 minutes from "Hub Plaza" on the map above.

And as a bonus, we got to see a magnificent sunset over the fields of central Indiana that we would not have seen from the Interstate.

The total return time from Whitesville to Chicago was 6 hours and 48 minutes.

Next time I travel through rural parts of the US, I'm going to go back to the navigation skills I learned before we had satnav in every car.

One more thing: if the US had the same level of technology and similar transport policies as our peer nations (not to mention China), I would simply have gotten on a high-speed train in downtown Chicago and gotten out in Indianapolis 90 minutes later. Alas, American transportation is still stuck in the mid-1900s, with no likelihood of advancing—especially in a reactionary state like Indiana.

But just to be clear: it was totally worth it. There is nothing like seeing a total solar eclipse. I'm already thinking about going to Spain in 2026.

Lovely March weather we're having

We have a truly delightful mix of light rain and snow flurries right now that convinced me to shorten Cassie's lunchtime walk from 30 minutes to 15 minutes to just 9 minutes each time I came to a street corner. I don't even think I'll make 10,000 steps today, because neither of us really wants to go outside in this crap.

I'm also working on a feature improvement that requires fixing some code I've never liked, which I haven't ever fixed because it's very tricky. I know why I made those choices, but they were always the lesser of two evils.

Anyway, elsewhere in the world:

Finally, the cancellation of the UK's HS-2 project north of Birmingham has left more than 50 homes empty for two years. Can't think why the affected constituencies have flipped from Tory to Labour, can you?

The dread of a colorful radar picture

Ah, just look at it:

Rain, snow, wind, and general gloominess will trundle through Chicago over the next 36 hours or so, severely impacting Cassie's ability to get a full hour of walkies tomorrow. Poor doggie.

If only that were the worst thing I saw this morning:

  • The XPOTUS called for an end to the war in Gaza, but without regard to the hostages Hamas still holds, irritating just about everyone on the right and on the left.
  • Knight Specialty Insurance Company of California has provided the XPOTUS with the bond he needed to prevent the Manhattan District Attorney from seizing $175 million of his assets, which makes you wonder, what's in it for the insurer?
  • Related to that, Michelle Cottle analyzes the Republican Party's finances and concludes that the XPOTUS is destroying them.
  • These are the same Republicans, remember, who are threatening to block money needed to re-open the Port of Baltimore and replace the Key Bridge.
  • Massachusetts US District Judge Allison Burroughs has ruled that a case against the private air carrier who flew migrants to Martha's Vineyard may proceed, and the case against the politicians who paid for the flight could come back with an amended complaint.
  • Charles Marohn argues that cities using cash accounting, rather than accrual accounting, end up completely overwhelming future generations with debt they would never have taken on with an accurate view of their finances.
  • But of course, the prevalence of the city-killing suburban development pattern in the US has an upside of sorts: everywhere you go in the US feels like home.

And after all this, does it surprise me that Mother Jones took a moment to review a book called End Times?

Joe Lieberman dead at 82

Former US Senator Joe Lieberman (D, maybe?–CT) and Al Gore's running mate in 2000 has died:

Joseph I. Lieberman, the doggedly independent four-term U.S. senator from Connecticut who was the Democratic nominee for vice president in 2000, becoming the first Jewish candidate on the national ticket of a major party, died March 27 in New York City. He was 82.

The cause was complications from a fall, his family said in a statement.

Mr. Lieberman viewed himself as a centrist Democrat, solidly in his party’s mainstream with his support of abortion rights, environmental protection, gay rights and gun control. But he was also unafraid to stray from Democratic orthodoxy, most notably in his consistently hawkish stands on foreign policy.

His full-throated support of the 2003 invasion of Iraq and the increasingly unpopular war that followed doomed Mr. Lieberman’s bid for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2004 and led to his rejection by Connecticut Democrats when he sought his fourth Senate term in 2006. He kept his seat by running that November as an independent candidate and attracting substantial support from Republican and unaffiliated voters.

His transition from Al Gore’s running mate in 2000 on the Democratic ticket to high-profile cheerleader for Republican presidential candidate John McCain eight years later was a turnaround unmatched in recent American politics.

Meanwhile, in other news:

  • Stanford University sophomore Theo Baker expresses alarm at his classmates' growing anti-rational beliefs.
  • Slate's David Zipper analyzes what the Baltimore bridge collapse will do to the city's traffic.
  • The Economist reviews the lasting influence (or surprising lack thereof) of Steven Levitt's Freakonomics books.
  • The Chicago Dept of Transportation announced major construction on Division Street that will include new protected bike lanes and replacement of two bridges.
  • The National Transportation Safety Board has released its final report on the crash of a one-third scale B-29 in Kokomo, Indiana, last year.

Finally, the Atlantic's Faith Hill wonders, why do we date the same person over and over again?

Major bridge collapse in Maryland

The Francis Scott Key bridge carrying I-695 southeast of Baltimore collapsed overnight after a container ship collided with one of the support pylons:

Baltimore’s Francis Scott Key Bridge collapsed early Tuesday after a container ship struck a support column, sending at least seven cars into the Patapsco River, launching a search-and-rescue operation and prompting Gov. Wes Moore to declare a state of emergency.

In a news conference just a few hours after the 1:20 a.m. collision, Baltimore Fire Department Chief James Wallace said authorities are “still very much in an active search and rescue posture,” noting they are searching for “upwards of seven individuals” and that sonar has detected the presence of vehicles in the water.

There was no indication that the event was intentional, Wallace said.

Authorities have not determined the cause, but U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin told The Baltimore Sun in a phone interview that indications point to the vessel losing power, causing it to lose steering.

“What’s been indicated is the vessel lost power, and when you lose power you lose steering,” Cardin said. “But they’re doing a full investigation.”

Video of the accident shows the ship losing power twice and before turning hard starboard directly into the pylon. Engineers who viewed the video said the collapse seemed inevitable once the collision. The NTSB is investigating.