The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

A century ago, in Kansas...

...the 1918-19 influenza pandemic began. Historian John M Barry studied the outbreak, summarizing his findings in a 2017 Smithsonian Magazine article that did nothing to help me feel more comfortable about our present circumstances:

At its worst, the epidemic in Philadelphia would kill 759 people...in one day. Priests drove horse-drawn carts down city streets, calling upon residents to bring out their dead; many were buried in mass graves. More than 12,000 Philadelphians died—nearly all of them in six weeks.

Across the country, public officials were lying. U.S. Surgeon General Rupert Blue said, “There is no cause for alarm if precautions are observed.” New York City’s public health director declared “other bronchial diseases and not the so-called Spanish influenza...[caused] the illness of the majority of persons who were reported ill with influenza.” The Los Angeles public health chief said, “If ordinary precautions are observed there is no cause for alarm.”

For an example of the press’s failure, consider Arkansas. Over a four-day period in October, the hospital at Camp Pike admitted 8,000 soldiers. Francis Blake, a member of the Army’s special pneumonia unit, described the scene: “Every corridor and there are miles of them with double rows of cots ...with influenza patients...There is only death and destruction.” Yet seven miles away in Little Rock, a headline in the Gazette pretended yawns: “Spanish influenza is plain la grippe—same old fever and chills.”

People knew this was not the same old thing, though. They knew because the numbers were staggering—in San Antonio, 53 percent of the population got sick with influenza. They knew because victims could die within hours of the first symptoms—horrific symptoms, not just aches and cyanosis but also a foamy blood coughed up from the lungs, and bleeding from the nose, ears and even eyes. And people knew because towns and cities ran out of coffins.

People could believe nothing they were being told, so they feared everything, particularly the unknown. How long would it last? How many would it kill? Who would it kill? With the truth buried, morale collapsed. Society itself began to disintegrate.

Time and time again, we see that public officials lying or minimizing imminent threats makes the results worse. Time and time again, they lie or minimize imminent threats.

Good thing Mike Pence is on the job today. It's not like he ever lied and minimized an imminent health threat, causing loss of life that his government could easily have prevented.

Trump and the Republican Party have left us dangerously unprepared for this

By "this," I don't mean the Covid-19 outbreak itself, though by cutting CDC pandemic funding 80%, ending epidemic prevention aid to 37 of 47 countries, or by appointing perhaps the worst possible administration official to lead the response effort, he has almost certainly increased the risk of infection to every person in the world.

No, I mean that we're dangerously unprepared for the recession the virus outbreak appears to be encouraging.

Economists have had a hunch we'd eventually get the stock-market correction we got this week, because we had ample evidence that stock values were not in line with fundamentals. However, the S&P 500 losing 10% in one week, wiping out more than a year of gains, has been the fastest correction in history, according to Bloomberg News. And at this writing the indices are still falling.

But the Republican Party passed massive tax cuts two years running, which has resulted in Federal budget deficits exceeding $1 trillion. Now many people are about to find out why a massive deficit in a strong economy reduces our options when the economy slows down.

In a strong economy, people feel wealthy, so they spend more money. We all know that. But people also have a higher tolerance for taxes when they feel rich. In individual states in the US that have constitutional balanced-budget requirements, boom times allow them to save money. In the US writ large, which has no such restrictions, boom times allow us to make investments in infrastructure, education, social programs, and all manner of things we have as a country failed to invest in for years.

Not so coincidentally, the years in which we've failed to invest are the same as the years the Republican Party has preached lower taxes, cutting social benefits, and getting the government so small "you can drown it in the bathtub." The goal is to consolidate wealth in a small minority that can then exert disproportionate control over an ever-more-impoverished majority. As I've said for 30 years, the Republican Party doesn't want to govern; they want to rule. And it's easier to rule peasants than burghers.

The last two years under Trump have made previous Republican wealth grabs look gentle. And they almost got away with it, too. They've kept the economy going just strongly enough, preventing the inevitable slowdown after 10 years of Obama-led growth, to make people feel good about the next election. If only they could have made it to November. Four more years of Trump would, they hoped and planned, allow them to lock in Republican policies for 40 more years.

Walking from the train this morning, I realized the Trump administration has acted like a cocaine addict regarding the economy. They forced lower taxes through Congress (or blocked raising them) since the last years of Obama, then came out of the bathroom with powder on their noses crowing about how low taxes have helped the economy.

At the first signs of a slowdown in 2018 and 2019, they did a couple more bumps to make it last longer, just a little longer. But the crash is upon us, and like a cokehead, it's going to be much worse because it's been too good too long.

So here we are. We've lost hundreds of billions in paper wealth this week, we've got the Spanish Flu exploding all over the world, people are scared, and the front-runners in both parties represent the extremes. A really good recession right now will go a long way to helping the kids understand, on a personal and visceral level, why we don't want extremists in power.

And because of our massive deficits, it will be hard to summon the political will to continue those deficits and start necessary spending efforts to keep people employed and the economy from screeching to a halt. The only arrows we have left in our quiver include printing more money or raising taxes in a recession, both of which will increase inflation, wipe out more paper wealth (but of debt holders, not of debtors, which is the point), and possibly make the retirements of Boomers more uncomfortable than their grandparents had it in the Depression. (Oh, and we Xers will get screwed regardless, but that's been the case our whole lives.)

You think we're smarter than Europe in the 1930s? We're about to really find out.

Haymarket Pub, Chicago

Welcome to stop #11 on the Brews and Choos project.

Brewery: Haymarket Pub & Brewery, 737 W. Randolph St., Chicago
Train lines: All Ogilvie and Union Station lines. (Also CTA Green/Pink lines, Clinton)
Time from Chicago: 0 minutes (Zone A)
Distance from station: 800 m from Ogilvie or Union (600 m from CTA)

Haymarket has occupied their current plot in the West Loop for almost 10 years. They haven't changed a bit. I wish they had.

The pub has pub grub, televisions, noise, confusion, and bits of interesting historical paraphernalia scattered around. And they make beer.

I stopped in for the sake of completeness, and even had one of their uninspiring IPAs (the Extra Pale). I've had a lot of their food and beer over the years because most people haven't discovered Ballast Point a few blocks away. And right now, the West Loop has miles of Dining Concepts and such making Haymarket the down-market-but-not-really option for people who want to meet up with friends at a place to which no one will really object. It's never anyone's first choice, but it'll usually be the third choice of everyone in the group, so that's where you'll wind up.

So, yeah, if you find yourself in the West Loop and you want local beer, and Ballast Point is closed, I guess you could go to Haymarket.

Beer garden? No
Dogs OK? No
Televisions? Ubiquitous, unavoidable
Serves food? Full menu, pub food
Would hang out with a book? No
Would hang out with friends? I suppose, if I have to
Would go back? Sure, if we can't agree on anywhere else

After all, who's really signing this contract, anyway?

An AI demonstration website will show you photos of people who don't exist:

You encounter so many people every day, online and off-, that it is almost impossible to be alone. Now, thanks to computers, those people might not even be real. Pay a visit to the website This Person Does Not Exist: Every refresh of the page produces a new photograph of a human being—men, women, and children of every age and ethnic background, one after the other, on and on forever. But these aren’t photographs, it turns out, though they increasingly look like them. They are images created by a generative adversarial network, a type of machine-learning system that fashions new examples modeled after a set of specimens on which the system is trained. Piles of pictures of people in, images of humans who do not exist out.

It’s startling, at first. The images are detailed and entirely convincing: an icy-eyed toddler who might laugh or weep at any moment; a young woman concerned that her pores might show; that guy from your office. The site has fueled ongoing fears about how artificial intelligence might dupe, confuse, and generally wreak havoc on commerce, communication, and citizenship.

Ian Bogost goes from this to a discussion of alienation in crowds, and the delights of urban civilization. But I'm still stuck on the face generator. I might want to meet this person, for example, but she isn't even imaginary:

Here's a video explaining how it works:

Odd day in the news

Some highlights:

Finally, looking at dating like a marketplace doesn't make a lot of sense in practice.

Ballast Point Brewing, Chicago

Welcome to stop #10 on the Brews and Choos project.

Distillery: Ballast Point Brewing, 212 N. Green St., Chicago
Train lines: All Ogilvie and Union Station lines. (Also CTA Green/Pink lines, Morgan)
Time from Chicago: 0 minutes (Zone A)
Distance from station: 1.2 km from Ogilvie or Union (400 m from CTA)

After expanding a bit too quickly, Ballast Point found itself without enough cash and way too many beers to continue profitably. Highwood-based Kings & Convicts (stop #3 on Brews & Choos) bought it out and has just begun merging operations.

Ballast Point's Chicago taproom makes a couple of beers that you can only get on premises. All their other beers come from California. And wow, do they have a lot of beers. This set of taps covers about half of them:

I tried four, left to right described below:

Their Fathom IPA (6%) was a good, solid IPA, with a light flavor that I found malty for the style. The Sculpin IPA (7%) was more hop-forward with grapefruit notes and a good finish. The High Ryes porter (6.3%), a Chicago specialty you can only get in the taproom, had a chocolate and caramel nose, a smooth finish, and a delicious taste. Finally, the Sextant nitro Imperial stout (5%) had a subtle nose, and even more subtle flavor, that was a bit disappointing after the porter.

I'll go back because I know one of the bartenders. But I didn't really like the vibe at all. I lost count of the number of TVs and couldn't find a place in the entire large space where I could avoid them.

Beer garden? Yes (rooftop)
Dogs OK? No
Televisions? Ubiquitous, unavoidable
Serves food? Full menu, pub food
Would hang out with a book? No
Would hang out with friends? Maybe
Would go back? See above

£53,676 per pour

A single 750 mL bottle of whisky sold at auction this week for £907,500, the highest price ever paid for a bottle:

A European buyer [won] the 1926 Macallan Valerio Adami 60 year old on February 17, 2020, setting a record for Scotland’s most expensive whisky ever auctioned.

It’s also the sixth standard-sized whisky bottle ever to achieve $1 million at auction, and the third-highest auction price ever achieved for a bottle of whisky. Even with the lower premiums charged by online whisky auction houses, this sale unambiguously surpassed the previous record for the Valerio Adami bottle, set in 2018.

That works out to £1,210 per millilitre, or £46,537 per ounce, slightly more than the highest-priced whisky at Duke of Perth (Macallan 25, $73 per ounce, $110 per pour).

Note that the whisky was already 60 years old when it went into the bottle in 1926, meaning Macallan distilled it about a year after the American Civil War ended.

I wonder what it tastes like? If I had a million dollars, I might find out.

CO2 like you've never seen it before

New research shows that global CO2 levels will likely hit 417 ppm this year, the highest ever in human history, and a level not seen since the oceans were 20 m higher:

This year's rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide is expected to be 10 percent higher than normal, according to University of Exeter geography professor Richard Betts, head of the climate impacts division at the Meteorological Office, the U.K.'s national weather service. About 1 percent to 2 percent of the increase will come fromAustralia's devastating wildfire season, [said Martin Siegert, co-director of the Grantham Institute at Imperial College London].

Australia's historic fires, which raged from September through early February, are thought to have unleashed about 900 million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

When the planet last had an atmosphere that mirrored today's chemical makeup, Earth was in the midst of the Pliocene Epoch. During that geologic period, which lasted from about 5.3 million to 2.6 million years ago, humans had yet to appear on the planet, and average sea levels were up to 20 m higher than they are today. Global average temperatures were also around 3°C warmer, with temperatures at the poles likely double that, according to Siegert.

Well, here in Chicago, we're 183 m above sea level. If we were 163 m above sea level it would take us a lot less time to get to the Mississippi Delta by Vicksburg, Miss., or to the Atlantic Coast in Richmond, Va. (I'd really miss Boston and London, though.)

On the other hand, unless Lake Michigan drops about 4 m by Saturday, we're looking at the second consecutive month of record lake levels, after the record year we had in 2019.

Flat Earther died trying to prove it

Daredevil "Mad" Mike Hughes, who either believed the world is flat or merely played the role of a Flat Earther, died Saturday trying to launch a home-made rocket in an effort to "prove" the belief:

In December, buttressed by his conviction and advances in homemade rocketry, “Mad” Mike Hughes flipped on a camera and fantasized about the moment when he shows mankind that it lives on a verdant disk.

The plan: Float dozens of miles high in a balloon, then fly a rocket to the Karman line, the 62-mile-high barrier that separates the atmosphere and the cold vacuum of space, filming the entire way. “For three hours, the world stops,” Hughes said during a live stream, imagining the reaction.

Justin Chapman, a freelance reporter, witnessed the launch while reporting a longer story on Hughes. The rocket’s green parachute tore away moments after takeoff, sending the crowd of 50 or so people into a panic, he said.

Hughes’s support team went to inspect the crash site about a half mile away, Chapman said, and returned with the harrowing news: Hughes was dead, the rocket had pancaked, and the other three parachutes never deployed.

I believe this fits the Greek definition of "tragedy" perfectly.

By the way, here is proof the Earth is a spheroid:

CH Distillery, Chicago

Welcome to stop #9 on the Brews and Choos project.

Distillery: CH Distillery, 564 W. Randolph St., Chicago
Train lines: All Ogilvie and Union Station lines. (Also CTA Green/Pink lines, Clinton)
Time from Chicago: 0 minutes (Zone A)
Distance from station: 200 m (400 m from CTA)

CH Distillery (named after carbon and hydrogen, principal ingredients in alcohol) opened in 2013 with a mission to create "the only organic vodka made from Illinois grain and a variety of core and specialty spirits." They no longer distill much of their stuff at their downtown restaurant, having opened a much larger facility in Pilsen. But they still give tours on Randolph Street.

For $13, they will give you a flight of 4 spirits. I tried their vodka (smooth and sweet with a bit of harshness in the tail), key gin (made with lime and lavender, described as "like Hendrix" but not really), London dry gin (very dry and juniper forward, would go well with tonic), and their Bourbon (101 proof, 2 years old, MGP alcohol, not ready yet).

Because of its proximity to downtown and its upscale drinks and food, CH is a popular date spot. I quite like it every so often.

Beer garden? No
Dogs OK? No
Televisions? None
Serves food? Small plates, charcuterie
Would hang out with a book? Maybe
Would hang out with friends? Yes
Would go back? Yes