The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

In the news this morning

Vox has called the US Senate Democratic Party primary in Kentucky for Amy McGrath, but the main national outlets don't have it yet. [Note: I have contributed financially to Amy McGrath's campaign.] So while I wait for confirmation from the Washington Post (or, you know, the Kentucky State Board of Elections), here's other fun stuff:

Finally, Jeffrey Toobin attempts to explain "Why the Mueller Investigation Failed."

Update: NBC calls Kentucky for McGrath.

Happy Monday!

Need another reason to vote for Biden? Slower news cycles. Because just this morning we've had these:

So, you know, nothing too interesting.

Harbor Brewing Co., Winthrop Harbor

Welcome to stop #26 on the Brews and Choos project.

Brewery: Harbor Brewing Co., 811 Sheridan Rd., Winthrop Harbor
Train line: Union Pacific North, Winthrop Harbor
Time from Chicago: 1 hour, 28 minutes (Zone I)
Distance from station: 800 m
Biergarten is 800 m to the east

It turns out, one can get beer during a pandemic. Harbor Brewing has two locations: a brewpub, which is closed due to Covid-19, and a Biergarten, which is very open.

I tried three beers. The Harbor Light Ale (4.0% ABV) lives up to its name, having tons more flavor than an industrial light beer but still having the insubstantial feeling of it. The Hazy Afternoon NEIPA (7.4% ABV) was my favorite, and perfect for a hazy afternoon by the water. The Locoe NEIPA (7% ABV) had a similar flavor but more juiciness and citrus notes.

Since Winthrop Harbor is the farthest from Chicago I've gone on the project, and since I had a lot of time between trains, I took a walk from the Metra station all the way to the invisible energy field between Illinois and Wisconsin, the latter on the left in this photo:

Beer garden? Yes
Dogs OK? Yes
Televisions? No
Serves food? Independent food tents, BYOF
Would hang out with a book? Yes
Would hang out with friends? Yes
Would go back? Yes

Three cheers for a friendly fungus

As this 2017 article from National Geographic explains, humans and yeast have had a tremendously successful relationship for the last 9,000 years or so:

From our modern point of view, ethanol has one very compelling property: It makes us feel good. Ethanol helps release serotonin, dopamine, and endorphins in the brain, chemicals that make us happy and less anxious.

To our fruit-eating primate ancestors swinging through the trees, however, the ethanol in rotting fruit would have had three other appealing characteristics. First, it has a strong, distinctive smell that makes the fruit easy to locate. Second, it’s easier to digest, allowing animals to get more of a commodity that was precious back then: calories. Third, its antiseptic qualities repel microbes that might sicken a primate. Millions of years ago one of them developed a taste for fruit that had fallen from the tree. “Our ape ancestors started eating fermented fruits on the forest floor, and that made all the difference,” says Nathaniel Dominy, a biological anthropologist at Dartmouth College. “We’re preadapted for consuming alcohol.”

Flash forward millions of years to a parched plateau in southeastern Turkey, not far from the Syrian border. Archaeologists there are exploring another momentous transition in human prehistory, and a tantalizing possibility: Did alcohol lubricate the Neolithic revolution? Did beer help persuade Stone Age hunter-gatherers to give up their nomadic ways, settle down, and begin to farm?

The idea that’s gaining support...was first proposed more than half a century ago: Beer, rather than bread, may have been the inspiration for our hunter-gatherer ancestors to domesticate grains. Eventually, simply harvesting wild grasses to brew into beer wouldn’t have been enough. Demand for reliable supplies pushed humans first to plant the wild grasses and then over time to selectively breed them into the high-yielding barley, wheat, and other grains we know today.

Alcohol may afford psychic pleasures and spiritual insight, but that’s not enough to explain its universality in the ancient world. People drank the stuff for the same reason primates ate fermented fruit: because it was good for them. Yeasts produce ethanol as a form of chemical warfare—it’s toxic to other microbes that compete with them for sugar inside a fruit. That antimicrobial effect benefits the drinker. It explains why beer, wine, and other fermented beverages were, at least until the rise of modern sanitation, often healthier to drink than water.

Alas, the SARS-Cov-2 virus has made it nearly impossible to continue the Brews and Choos Project, which celebrates the ingenuity of yeast and the single-mindedness of humans.

Speaking of the B&CP, I may cautiously resume the project this coming Friday. Or tomorrow. It depends on the weather, because regardless of the state's official relaxation of distancing rules, I don't think going into a restaurant or brewpub makes a lot of sense until I can confirm my own immunity to and inability to transmit the virus. I have no idea when that will be, in large part because of the Trump Administration's endemic incompetence. But many brewpubs have outdoor patio space, and on a warm sunny day, risks seem to be lower.

Ah, the company we keep

If I have to go more than a year without visiting Europe because my fellow Americans are too individualistic to stop the spread of Covid-19, I might have to move there permanently when able:

In case you wondered what President Trump’s glorious triumph over coronavirus looks like to the rest of the world, the news that the European Union may bar Americans from entry due to our spiking cases provides a sobering reality check.

If this goes through, it would mark a continuation of a prohibition that had been in place on travelers from the United States and elsewhere since mid-March. Only now it would be extended through the E.U.’s official reopening in July.

But I want to focus on this remarkable explanation of why this may happen:

Trump, as well as his Russian and Brazilian counterparts, Vladimir V. Putin and Jair Bolsonaro, has followed what critics call a comparable path in their pandemic response that leaves all three countries in a similarly bad spot: they were dismissive at the outset of the crisis, slow to respond to scientific advice and saw a boom of domestic cases as other parts of the world, notably in Europe and Asia, were slowly managing to get their outbreaks under control.

And so, in this, we are parting ways with our Western allies, while being quite similar to Russia and Brazil, whose responses were similarly tangled in their leadership’s disdain for empiricism and science.

I am heartened, however, that the president's declining approval ratings suggest that people have gotten tired of the reality TV show now that reality has intruded.

Yesterday I posted the following on Facebook in response to an acquaintance posting the questionable statement that the ADA allows people to ignore mask regulations:

I don't know if your state has executed legislation requiring you to wear a mask in public. And I don't care.

First, private property owners can deny entrance to anyone on a rational, non-discriminatory basis, particularly when following official guidance. Meaning, if I own a shop, and I make a rule you have to wear a nose-and-mouth covering in my shop, that's property rights. (NB: If I let Karen in without a mask and I make Jim wait outside even though he has a mask, that's discriminatory and illegal under the Civil Rights Act. Fight me.)

Second, the ENTIRE POINT right now is that we are agreeing to waive certain rights in exchange for NOT DYING OR KILLING PEOPLE. I know "civilization" is a new concept on the Internet, but, hey, humans have a million-year tradition of cooperating that I'd like to continue. But, sure, argue in favor of...uh, cytokene storms, I guess, and the rest of us will continue to protect those who can't protect themselves.

Because, ultimately, that's the argument. "Don't tell me what I can and can't do" is the cry of a 5-year-old, not a fully-formed human. We're asking you to do the right thing. And if you refuse, and your refusal puts people at risk of DEATH, then yes, we (your neighbors, friends, and people you voted for to govern shit you didn't have the mental space to govern yourself) will tell you no, we're doing this, because your convenience is less important than your neighbor's kid's life.

So far I have 23 Likes and 6 Loves for that. (My post on Parker's birthday has over 100 Likes, so clearly people have their priorities.)

Where I was supposed to be today

In November, the Apollo Chorus of Chicago performed in the Chicago Opera Theater production of Everest, a 2015 opera by Joby Talbot. After the second performance, Talbot and a number of the soloists met some of us out for drinks nearby. Andrew Bidlack, who sang the role of Rob Hall, mentioned they were going to London to perform the work at the Barbican. I told him I'd be there.

That performance should have taken place tonight at 7:30 BST. Obviously, it's cancelled, and even if it weren't, Covid-19 precautions mean I can't even get into the UK right now without a 14-day quarantine after arrival.

The middle half of 2020 may turn out to be the most disappointing period in my lifetime. But I'm optimistic about the fourth quarter, and about 2021. We'll get through this.

Then and now: Wilson Yard

I found this photo from 1964 at Chicago-L.org, looking north along what is now the Red Line from above Buena Park:

Here's almost the same view yesterday:

So, a few changes. Two the west, three city blocks of apartments became Truman College in 1974. Wilson Yards and the Wilson Avenue Shop (the El structure in the center) burned down in 1994, replaced now by a Target and an apartment building. And all the trees have grown up.

Another thing: I found out more about how high I can take the drone. Generally, it's limited to 120 m AGL. But I can also take it up 120 m above any "structure" as long as I'm within 120 m of the structure. The flagpole on top of the Byline Bank is 58 m above the ground, meaning I could, with a quick adjustment to the drone settings, try taking it up to 178 m... Hmm...

Update, 40 minutes later: Yep. It'll go up to 130 m no problem in calm winds:

Returning to normal, slowly

Finally, after 97 days and an hour-long webinar on Covid-19 safety precautions, I will finally get to work in my actual office on Monday. We're allowed 2 or 3 times a week, with masks, sanitizer, and no passing between floors. (This matters only because my floor doesn't have an ice machine.)

During the informative webinar just now, I scheduled walks for Parker and started rejiggering my meal plans. (We're discouraged from using the refrigerators, so I'll have to scrounge lunch downtown.)

I'm actually kind of excited about this. And today, the city allowed bars and brewpubs to open, so maybe...could it be...the Brews and Choos Project can resume this weekend?

Another perfect night to fly

The Mini has a service ceiling of 120 m AGL (above ground level) by default. I can jump through some hoops to increase that, but for now, while I'm getting to know how the aircraft handles, that seems just fine.

For example, here are two shots from 110 m half an hour after sunset:

The second one is a dry-run for a before-and-after pair I really can't wait to share. I just want to say, I hope I'm giving historians of the future some good data.

Why didn't I get one of these things years ago?

Beautiful night in Chicago

A combination of crystal-clear air, calm winds, and a setting sun gave me some great shots from the Mini this evening. I visited two locations in Lincoln Square: Welles Park, and the corner of Wilson and Ravenswood. I got this still just a few seconds after taking off:

And here's the highlight reel:

After dinner, I discovered on a third flight that it doesn't shoot great video in low-light conditions. Good to know.

Update: Here's the raw video from my altitude test this morning: