The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Who we honor

In a move that surprised no one but disappointed millions anyway, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin told Congress yesterday that the Treasury has put on hold plans to replace Andrew Jackson with Harriet Tubman on the $20 note until President Trump leaves office:

Plans to unveil the Tubman bill in 2020, an Obama administration initiative, would be postponed until at least 2026, Mr. Mnuchin said, and the bill itself would not likely be in circulation until 2028.

Until then, bills with former President Andrew Jackson’s face will continue to pour out of A.T.M.s and fill Americans’ wallets.

Mr. Mnuchin, concerned that the president might create an uproar by canceling the new bill altogether, was eager to delay its redesign until Mr. Trump was out of office, some senior Treasury Department officials have said. As a presidential candidate in 2016, Mr. Trump criticized the Obama administration’s plans for the bill.

When Republicans and other propagandists say that the "media" frame perfectly innocuous behavior such that it makes President Trump look like a racist asshole when in fact he isn't, things like this remind us that the facts have an anti-Trump bias.

So, to recap, the administration won't go through with plans to change the portrait on the $20 note from a slave-holding, genocidal, ignorant hick who cheated his way into public office, to a former slave who led hundreds of other slaves to freedom and helped drive slavery off the continent. And the best reason Mnuchin can give for the decision is that Treasury "was now focused on enhancing the anti-counterfeiting security features of the currency."

Let's all do what we can to make sure the President and Mnuchin all leave office in January 2021.

Newest national park is closest to Chicago

The Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, just 50 km from downtown Chicago, became Indiana Dunes National Park in February:

Supporters of the switch, who have watched the proposal ebb and flow like Lake Michigan along the shoreline over the past few years, said they are excited by the change and hope the already popular attraction draws even more people, particularly those who make it a point to visit designated national parks.

Operations at the park, other than a change in signs, won’t be any different, said Paul Labovitz, park superintendent.

“There’s no real budget implications but perceptually, the change will probably result in more attention and more investment outside the park,” he said, adding the National Park Service also may invest more in the park’s infrastructure over time.

Also upping its marketing will be the South Shore Line, which is working on plans to encourage more people from Chicago, Michigan and Indiana to come check out the park using commuter rail, Nicole Barker, director of capital investment and implementation, said in an email.

“Thanks to the South Shore Line’s Bikes on Trains program, which allows bicycles on select off-peak trains, it is easier than ever to come visit the dunes by bike,” Barker said.

Trains from Chicago's Millennium Station to the Dune Park station take about 80 minutes and cost $9 each way.

Not Norway's best export

Due to climate change and gentrification, rat sightings in North America have gone up:

New York has always been forced to coexist with the four-legged vermin, but the infestation has expanded exponentially in recent years, spreading to just about every corner of the city.

Rat sightings reported to the city’s 311 hotline have soared nearly 38 percent, to 17,353 last year from 12,617 in 2014, according to an analysis of city data by OpenTheBooks.com, a nonprofit watchdog group, and The New York Times. In the same period, the number of times that city health inspections found active signs of rats nearly doubled.

Milder winters — the result of climate change — make it easier for rats to survive and reproduce. And New York’s growing population and thriving tourism has brought more trash for rats to feed on.

Chicago — crowned the nation’s rat capital in one study — has more than doubled its work crews dedicated to rats, who set out poison and fill in burrows in parks, alleys and backyards. It also passed ordinances requiring developers and contractors to have a rat-control plan before demolishing buildings or breaking ground on new projects.

Yah, thanks for that "rat capital" thing, New York Times.

Rats don't bother me, despite their urine often containing deadly bacteria. They clean up after us, feed crows and coyotes, and spread disease less than other local rodents. (Rabbits have made Parker sick a lot more often than rats.) And squirrels? Just ask a moose.

A road trip in search of perfect weather

Meteorologist Brian Brettschneider has figured out a road trip route that keeps you at a (normal) temperature of 21°C for a whole year:

For his data, Brettschneider pulled daily “normal” high temperatures from the National Centers for Environmental Information and Environment Canada. “Normals are a smoothed average of all days between 1981 and 2010,” he explains. He took temperatures from every weather station in the U.S. and Canada and “just connected the dots,” he says. “There were some decisions I made to maximize area and connectivity.”

Forging a route was no easy task, as weather stations hit normal high temperatures of 70 degrees over vast amounts of time and space. This visualization gives an indication of how America’s daily 70-degree highs shift throughout the year:

Might be a fun retirement trip. And it only requires driving 21,295 km.

More Game of Thrones commentary

The TV show's finale even got political commentator Ross Douthat to comment:

Two of the most successful completed sagas of the last 20 years, Robin Hobb’s Farseer novels and Tad Williams’s “Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn,” balance political machinations that would be at home in Shakespeare’s histories and larger world stories about the death and life of magic. And the promise of George R.R. Martin’s saga was that it might, in its somewhat pulpy way, offer the most successful integration yet, with a political and social world rich enough to feel like a piece of 14th- and 15th-century history they forgot to teach in school, with a chivalric order breaking down and a commercial and technological order waiting to be born … except that in this world, the dragons and the prophecies and fair folk won’t go gently into the good night.

Martin has not delivered on this promise, of course, because he hasn’t delivered a new novel in his saga in eight long years. But now, in the disappointment with the show’s finale and final seasons, he has an example of what not to do.

In its rush to finish, the show effectively lost sight of both reasons for fantasy’s appeal. The showrunners, David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, seemed bored with and embarrassed by the magical element of the saga, hustling through the supernatural stuff and declining to explain crucial motivations and purposes, in order to get back to the political material … but then their haste also deprived the political plot of its sociological complexity, its ripped-from-the-pages-of-history plausibility, that was necessary to make the horror and catharsis of the early seasons work.

They either didn’t understand what made Martin’s books distinctive, or they found the synthesis of genre elements too difficult once they went beyond his finished books. And so the show’s ending embodied many of the dismissive clichés about fantasy, rather than representing the genre come of age.

A knowledgeable insider I spoke with yesterday provided a different take. He said that DB & D (as people in the industry refer to them) had an entire writing staff who, one assumes, read the Internet. And they also had GRRM in the room. And they had a budget. And they still managed to land the most epic television series in history without crashing the plane.

And what about the books?

Winding up a story takes a lot of effort. Getting one on TV takes even more. I think even the haters will miss this one soon.

On the other hand, next week brings us the Deadwood movie on HBO, Good Omens on Amazon, and...one hopes...summer in Chicago. So I think we'll survive.

How to get rid of religious nutters

Short answer: use their medieval beliefs against them:

Ultra-orthodox Jews in Israel have held protests against the scheduling of the Eurovision Song Contest on the Jewish Sabbath.

At one point, a small number of women held a counter protest, showing their bras.

You see, Jewish crazies believe in modesty to the point where women can't even show their real hair in public (they wear wigs). Their rules also prohibit them from touching members of the opposite sex not related to them, leaving open the option of a small group of women approaching them Romero-style with their arms out threatening to touch the zealots. I expect that's the next counter-protest.

Closer to home, production companies have started to flee the previously-burgeoning film industry in Georgia after the state passed a 19th-century anti-abortion law, and Missouri's new law has forced me to reconsider my planned trip to Busch Stadium in September.

Speaking of unexpected rulers...

As interesting as Game of Thrones has been, yesterday's news at City Hall actually has more relevance to the world we live in. Lori Lightfoot took office as our 56th mayor—and our first black, female mayor, and our first openly gay mayor:

Lightfoot bluntly promised to restore integrity to a city government and City Council that has at times been hobbled by allegations against some of its highest-ranking members. Her fiery speech drew numerous standing ovations from a raucous crowd, but also potentially set the stage for future conflict with aldermen as they prepare to jointly tackle some of the city’s other lingering problems — massive budget shortfalls and endemic violent crime.

“For years, they’ve said Chicago ain’t ready for reform. Well, get ready because reform is here,” Lightfoot said in her inaugural address. “I campaigned on change, you voted for change, and I plan to deliver change to our government. That means restoring trust in our city’s government and finally bringing some real integrity to the way this city works.”

During an approximately half-hour speech, Lightfoot drew from Chicago poet Gwendolyn Brooks and called for citywide unity in addressing public safety, education, financial stability and “integrity” — a reference to Chicago’s infamous corruption.

Lightfoot also drew a standing ovation when she noted that the election of Melissa Conyears-Ervin as treasurer and Anna Valencia as clerk marks the first time Chicago’s three citywide positions are held by women of color.

“Children who look like me and come from families like mine shouldn’t have to beat the odds to get an education, pursue their passions, or build a family,” Lightfoot said. “Black and brown kids, low-income kids, every kid in this city should grow up knowing they can pursue anything, they can love anyone — that’s my Chicago dream.”

I'm looking forward to her administration. How will she deal with the Council? Will we get an elected school board? How high will my taxes go? It'll be an interesting four years.

Game of Thrones' anger

Megan Garber has an unexpected take on the series finale:

As the series went on, though, it became more mistrustful of emotion—and of rage, above all. Dany is angry, and that, the implication goes, helps to explain her descent into tyranny. Cersei is angry, and that leads her to a series of political miscalculations. Jon, meanwhile, who has a nearly bottomless capacity for sadness but seems constitutionally incapable of rage? The show has long treated his easy equanimity, even more than his royal bloodline, as the reason he might be worthy of the throne.

The Seinfeld-ian turn of Game of Thrones reflects that discomfort with anger. The lols of that first small council meeting are in one way about fan service, certainly—“any more,” Davos corrects Bronn, when the latter makes a reference to “no more coin,” calling back to his much-loved grammar burn from Season 7—but the yuks also perform a more broadly ritualistic function. They are meant, as Game of Thrones’ story comes to its conclusion, to cleanse that story of its sins. They are meant to suggest that the horrors of the past are of the past. And that we, the viewers, should move on just as these characters seem to have done. Gallows humor, with a Campbellian spin.

To be angry is to be compromised, suggests the show that has so often failed the angry and the marginalized; wisdom is what happens when, surveying the horrors all around you, you are capable of looking away.

This is a profound misreading—not only of the complexity of the human psyche, but also of the whole of human history. It is also a misreading of the show’s particular moment. Game of Thrones is airing into a political environment that is renegotiating the role that anger—and emotions more broadly—plays in political life.

This may not be the final word on this blog about the series.

Who played, who won, and who died?

Last night HBO aired the series finale of Game of Thrones, the TV adaptation (and extension of) George R.R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire. After 73 episodes, perhaps a quarter-million deaths, and 4 years of screen time expanded over 9 years of our time, what have we got?

I think we've got two distinctly different shows, and the second of them, starting with the 6th season, was distinctly less satisfying than the first.

I'm not alone. Here are just a few of the critics on last night's finale:

  • Spencer Kornhaber from the Atlantic complains that "[t]he finale gave us yet another historic reversal, in that this drama turned into a sitcom. Not a slick HBO sitcom either, but a cheapo network affair, or maybe even a webisode of outtakes from one." Shirley Li simply says the show "failed Cersei."
  • From the Times, Jeremy Egner asks, "All hail king who?"
  • Mother Jones digs into the ecological catastrophe of the dragons.
  • The Tribune's Steve Johnson actually found it satisfying, but he felt the person who "won" the game was "a compromise choice in the logic of the series, and he felt like a compromise choice in the moment Sunday night, as we were realizing this is what all of this has been leading to.
  • The Guardian's Lucy Mangan calls this season "a rushed business" that "wasted opportunities, squandered goodwill and failed to do justice to its characters or its actors," but "the finale just about delivered."
  • Over at Vox, Todd VanDerWerff's take on the finale was simply: "Huh." "(Is [Grey Worm] a freshman poli-sci major who’s like, 'Well, if America could just start over ...'?)"

Meanwhile, everyone with a production company has started trying to make the next big hit. Good luck with that. Whatever it is, it will likely fall victim to the problem that faces every television show: it's a business first, and a show second.

Must be spring

Yesterday evening, I needed to wear earmuffs and gloves when walking Parker because of the 7°C weather. Yes, it's the middle of May, but we've had a really screwy spring this year.

Today I don't need gloves. Our official temperature bloomed from 8°C to 26°C in the past six hours. Even close to the lake, where I live, it's already warmer outside than inside—and I had the heat on briefly this morning!

Today the forecast looks hot and humid, before temperatures plunge again Sunday night. Then hot again next weekend. And maybe seasonally appropriate when meteorological summer begins two weeks from today.

Who knows. Welcome to Chicago in spring.