The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Chicago in 2020 is not Berlin in 1924

A peaceful protest in downtown Chicago that began at 2pm yesterday devolved into violence by 8pm, leading to Mayor Lori Lightfoot imposing a 9pm to 6am curfew city-wide:

“I want to express my disappointment and, really, my total disgust at the number of others who came to today’s protests armed for all-out battle.”

Lightfoot singled out “the people who came armed with weapons,’’ calling them “criminals.“

“We can have zero tolerance for people who came prepared for a fight and tried to initiate and provoke our police department.’’

She ruled out calling in the National Guard.

The city lifted bridges and blocked access to downtown, shutting Metra and downtown CTA stations around 8:30. I live about 10 km away from the protests, but I have friends and family in the Loop and South Loop. One sent this photo of police blocking the Congress Parkway:

(Movie fans may recognize the section of grass along the river, top-center in the photo, as the location of the Abegnation housing complex in the movie Divergent.)

Looters smashed windows at Macy's on State Street and Nieman-Marcus on Michigan Avenue. In the South Loop, a friend reported on Facebook:

Will have to see in the daylight but I'm hearing the entire South loop is destroyed. Every business windows smashed and looted broken glass everywhere. From Ida B Wells down to Cermak from Michigan down to Canal. Can verify all the stores on my block are destroyed.

The local CBS affiliate had this:

So, it's scary—but in many ways, it looks a lot better than it would have looked in the 1960s or 1920s. This isn't societal collapse. The Chicago Police remained professional and disciplined throughout. (Other police departments in the US, maybe not so much.) They know what's at stake, and they also know that the "protesters" instigating the violence and attacking them are trying to provoke a disproportionate response.

One of my friends summed up the complexity:

It is entirely possible to support the protesters and stand with them and to be angry and devastated by the murder of George Floyd and by every other similar murder as well as the systemic racism that allows it, and also to be angry and sad about the destruction and looting. Vandalism and looting may be what Dr. King called derivative crimes. Uncontested and deplorable derivative crimes. The people doing these things are criminals.

Yet it is also possible to have anger at the people destroying and looting and also have empathy and compassion for the people doing the destroying and looting and understanding the underlying root causes of their actions.

George Takei Tweeted:

He also pointed out that the Hong Kong protests worked in part because peaceful protesters called out and filmed the agitators infiltrating their events. We should do the same.

Then there's The Onion from 2017. I'll just leave it there.

Continued ethnic unrest in former British colony

The Washington Post's Karen Attiah imagines how an American newspaper would cover the protests in Minnesota if it used the same tropes as typically found in Western articles on politics elsewhere:

The country has been rocked by several viral videos depicting extrajudicial executions of black ethnic minorities by state security forces. Uprisings erupted in the northern city of Minneapolis after a video circulated online of the killing of a black man, George Floyd, after being attacked by a security force agent. Trump took to Twitter, calling black protesters “THUGS”’ and threatening to send in military force. “When the looting starts, the shooting starts!” he declared.

Ethnic violence has plagued the country for generations, and decades ago it captured the attention of the world, but recently the news coverage and concern are waning as there seems to be no end in sight to the oppression.

Around the world, grass-roots organizations, celebrities, human rights activists and even students are doing what they can to raise money and awareness about the dire situation in America.

“It’s sad that the Americans don’t have a government that can get them coronavirus tests or even monthly checks to be able to feed their families,” said Charlotte Johnson, a 18-year-old Liberian student activist, who survived the Ebola pandemic. “100,000 people are dead, cities are burning, and the country hasn’t had a day of mourning? Lives don’t matter, especially not black lives. It’s like they’re living in a failing state.”

Meanwhile, opinion writers have ratcheted up the rhetoric as violence continues around the country.

Shared streets in Chicago

The city has started adding traffic controls to side streets in an effort to encourage outdoor recreation and social distancing:

Earlier this week, officials said at least six streets are expected to be closed to through traffic and opened to the public. The move comes after weeks of transportation advocates asking the city to open up streets to pedestrians, giving them more room to walk, jog and ride bikes so they can safely social distance while outside during the pandemic.

Advocates have long called for streets to be opened to pedestrians during the pandemic. With the lakefront and popular trails like The 606 closed to prevent overcrowding, people have said they need more room to get outside without having to worry about crowds or packed sidewalks.

Other major cities, including New York and Los Angeles, created open streets weeks ago.

One of the streets announced as the first to switch runs right past my block. Unfortunately for my side of the neighborhood, our alderman threw cold water on the city's announcement in an email to constituents he sent last night:

Unfortunately, a web blog errantly [sic] and preemptively posted this information before the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) had finalized their plans.  The portion of Leland in the 46th Ward, from Clark to Sheridan, was never going to be a part of this plan because Leland already has, or will have, significant construction taking place this summer. So, according to CDOT, this portion of Leland is unsafe for promoting a shared streets concept.

For reference, these projects include: MCI utility installation, resurfacing of the 1200 block of Leland and the 4700 block of Malden, water main installation on Racine that will cross Leland, and the ongoing building construction at Sheridan and Leland for the new Sarah's Circle facility. It is because of all of these conflicts that CDOT is not supporting Leland as a shared street at this time.

Safe open space is critically important for everybody's mental and physical health during these Stay at Home orders, and that is why we continue to advocate for the Lakefront trails to reopen. This is a plea my office hears daily from residents, and I agree that the trails should open in a phased and planned way to provide safe, and equitable social distancing for recreation and transportation throughout the city.

In other words, yes, Leland will become a shared street—right up to the border of my ward and not actually in my ward. Nice to hear he's lobbying the mayor to reopen the lakefront, though Monty and Rose might want to keep it closed.

Also yesterday, the mayor announced that the city will close a few streets to traffic to encourage restaurants to expand outdoor dining. The Tribune said, however, "it was unclear when the program would start."

Minneapolis police "inadvertently" arrest reporter live on air

As CNN reporter Omar Jimenez and his crew asked riot police where they would like them to move early this morning, the police abruptly arrested the group:

Minnesota Governor Tim Walz spoke with CNN president Jeffrey Zucker shortly after:

Mr. Walz told Mr. Zucker that the arrest was “inadvertent” and “unacceptable,” according to CNN’s account of the call. By about 6:30 a.m. local time, the crew had been released and was back on television.

“Everyone, to their credit, was pretty cordial,” Mr. Jimenez said of his interaction with the police officers after his arrest. “As far as the people that were leading me away, there was no animosity there. They weren’t violent with me. We were having a conversation about just how crazy this week has been for every single part of the city.”

At a news conference on Friday, Mr. Walz issued what he called “a very public apology” to CNN for the morning’s events, saying, “I take full responsibility; there is absolutely no reason something like this should happen.”

Christiane Amanpour, CNN’s chief international anchor, wrote on Twitter that “arresting journalists is the kind of thing that happens in dictatorships and authoritarian regimes. We live in a democracy.” Bret Baier of Fox News wrote that “this should never have happened. Period.”

The presumptive Democratic nominee for president, former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., weighed in on the incident in a Twitter post on Friday. “This is not abstract: a black reporter was arrested while doing his job this morning, while the white police officer who killed George Floyd remains free,” Mr. Biden wrote. “I am glad swift action was taken, but this, to me, says everything.”

Exactly. I expect that someone in the Minnesota State Patrol will get fired over this, but probably not the person who ordered the arrest. I find it shocking that this happened in Minneapolis, one of the most progressive cities in the country.

But police killings have not declined despite years of attempted reforms. As Radley Balko wrote today, "White people can compartmentalize police brutality. Black people don't have the luxury."

Planting seeds to dispute the election

President Trump today signed an executive order that will likely have no legal effect and could very well backfire on him, directing the Federal Communications Commission to revisit Section 230 of the Communication Decency Act:

Under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, online companies have broad immunity from liability for content created by their users.

But the draft of the executive order, which refers to what it calls “selective censoring,” would allow the Commerce Department to try to refocus how broadly Section 230 is applied, and to let the Federal Trade Commission bulk up a tool for reporting online bias.

It would also provide limitations on how federal dollars can be spent to advertise on social media platforms.

Although the law does not provide social media companies blanket protection — for instance, the companies must still comply with copyright law and remove pirated materials posted by users — it does shield them from some responsibility for their users’ posts.

This apparently comes in response to Twitter having the temerity to label one of his lies as such, but not really. The president more likely sees this as another way to whip up his base of the illegitimacy of November's election, which (a) is only 159 days away and (b) looking more like a Biden win. Keep in mind the specific lie that Twitter called out concerned mail-in ballots. We can expect more attacks on the people actually trying to keep the election free and fair as we get closer.

Because 2020 couldn't get any more fun, right?

Predicting the future based on history

This morning, the Labor Department reported 2.1 million new unemployment claims, bringing the total to almost 41 million since the pandemic hit the US. As horrifying as that number is, I actually wanted to highlight two articles that appeared today.

The first, by Trump biographer Tony Schwartz in Medium, warns us that having a psychopathic president makes November's election "a true Armageddon:"

The trait that most distinguishes psychopaths is the utter absence of conscience — the capacity to lie, cheat, steal and inflict pain to achieve his ends without a scintilla of guilt or shame, as Trump so demonstrably does. What Trump’s words and behavior make clear is that he feels no more guilt about hurting others than a lion does about killing a giraffe.

What makes Trump’s behavior challenging to fathom is that our minds are not wired to understand human beings who live far outside the norms, rules, laws and values that the vast majority of us take for granted. Conscience, empathy and concern for the welfare of others are all essential to the social contract. Conscience itself reflects an inner sense of obligation to behave with honesty, fairness, and care for others, along with a willingness to express contrition if we fall short of those ideals, and especially when we harm others.

So what does all this tell us about how we can expect Trump to behave going forward? The simple answer is worse. His obsession with domination and power have prompted Trump to tell lies more promiscuously than ever since he became president, and to engage in ever more unfounded and aggressive responses aimed at anyone he perceives stands in his way.

In the end, Trump does what he does because he is who he is, immutably.

Trump revels in attention, domination and cruelty. “The sociopath wants to manipulate and control you,” explains Martha Stout, “and so you are rewarding and encouraging him each and every time you allow him to see your anger, confusion or your hurt.” Even so, in order to protect our democracy and our shared humanity, it’s critical to push back, calmly and persistently, against every single lie Trump tells, and every legal and moral boundary he violates. We must resist what Hanna Arendt has called “the banality of evil” — the numbness and normalizing that so easily sets in when unconscionable acts become commonplace. “Under conditions of terror, most people will comply,” Arendt has written, “but some people will not.”

Understanding what we’re truly up against — the reign of terror that Trump will almost surely wage the moment he believes he can completely prevail — makes the upcoming presidential election a true Armageddon.

The second, from Jeremy Peters at the New York Times, reviews a 1991 book by William Strauss and Neil Howe that predicted the "Crisis of 2020:"

Their conclusions about the way each generation develops its own characteristics and leadership qualities influenced a wide range of political leaders, from liberals like Bill Clinton and Al Gore to pro-Trump conservatives like Newt Gingrich and Stephen K. Bannon.

Seems as if they were on to something. So now what?

More insightful than the date itself was the assertion that historical patterns pointed toward the arrival of a generation-defining crisis that would force millennials into the fire early in their adulthood. (Mr. Strauss and Mr. Howe were the first to apply that term to those born in the early 1980s because they would come of age around the year 2000.)

More than just a novelty, their theory helps explain why some of the most prominent voices calling for political reform from left, center and right have been young — Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, 30; Pete Buttigieg, 38; Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri, 40.

And as baby boomers continue to age out of public service, the theory says, fixing the problems created by the pandemic will fall to this younger, civically oriented generation. Mr. Howe, who at 68 is a member of the cohort he is critical of, said in an interview that it was no coincidence that the boomer president and many people in his generation — especially the more conservative ones — have generally taken a more lax attitude toward the coronavirus than younger people.

But now, I have to debug an Azure function app...

The grim reaper's league table

We hit a new milestone today. So, to put things in perspective, here are the number of Americans who have died from:

  • European genocide of Native Americans (1492-1900), ~25 million over 500 years
  • Motor vehicle accidents (1899-2018), 3.8 million over 119 years
  • Firearms (intentional or accidental, 1968-2018), ~1.4 million over 50 years
  • Civil War (1861-1865), 755,000 over 48 months
  • Influenza pandemic (1918-1919), 675,000 over 15 months
  • World War II (1941-1945), 418,500 over 45 months
  • World War I (1917-1918), 116,516 over 20 months
  • Covid-19 (2020), 100,000 over 4 months
  • Vietnam War (1955-1975), 58,209 over 20 years
  • Galveston, Texas, hurricane (1900), ~12,000 over 3 days
  • 9/11 (2001), 2,996 in one day

I don't have time to do the math, but I believe Covid-19 comes second on the list in deaths per day after the 1918 pandemic. Imagine if we'd actually started fighting it earlier.

Many whine! Much sad!

The most powerful man in the world threw a hissy fit yesterday when Twitter finally—finally!—slapped a misinformation warning on one of his lies:

President Donald Trump on Wednesday threatened social media companies with new regulation or even shuttering a day after Twitter added fact checks to two of his tweets.

The president can’t unilaterally regulate or close the companies, which would require action by Congress or the Federal Communications Commission. But that didn't stop Trump from angrily issuing a strong warning.

Claiming tech giants “silence conservative voices,” Trump tweeted, “We will strongly regulate, or close them down, before we can ever allow this to happen.”

Trump and his campaign angrily lashed out Tuesday after Twitter added a warning phrase to two Trump tweets that called mail-in ballots “fraudulent” and predicted that “mail boxes will be robbed,” among other things. Under the tweets, there is now a link reading “Get the facts about mail-in ballots” that guides users to a Twitter “moments” page with fact checks and news stories about Trump’s unsubstantiated claims.

Trump replied on Twitter, accusing the platform of “interfering in the 2020 Presidential Election” and insisting that “as president, I will not allow this to happen.” His 2020 campaign manager, Brad Parscale, said Twitter’s “clear political bias” had led the campaign to pull “all our advertising from Twitter months ago.” Twitter has banned all political advertising since last November.

Since the only response that people of any intelligence should give this malarkey is laughter, I present to you the president's own words as lip-synced by comedian Sarah Cooper:

Day 71

It's a little comforting to realize that we've only dealt with Covid-19 social distancing rules about 5% as long as we dealt with World War II (1,345 days from 7 December 1941 to 13 August 1945). It's still a grind.

In the news today:

Finally, perhaps jealous of Mayor Lori Lightfoot's memes, Cook County President Toni Preckwinkle put this out on Facebook recently:

Strange juxtapositions in CD library explained

I'm still plowing through all the CDs I bought over the years, now up to #55 which I got in November 1988. It's a 1957 recording of the Robert Shaw Chorale performing various Christmas carols. (Remember, remember, I got it in November.)

This comes between Billy Joel's Piano Man and Glenn Gould performing Bach's Inventions and Sinfonias. Then I'll get Simon & Garfunkel, Mozart, William Byrd, and Haydn.

At least part of this strangeness comes from my experience as a music major during my first year at university, when the music department announced a new requirement for every music major to take a listening exam every year. They published four lists, one for each school year, effectively giving students up to 3½ years to listen to all 100 works. The list drove a lot of my CD purchases while there.

In mid-April, you'd go to the music library and listen to a cassette with 60-second excerpts of music. (I think there were 50 excerpts.) You got one point for naming the composer, a point for naming the work, and if applicable, a point for identifying the movement. To pass the exam, you had to get 80% of the total points available.

Here are some of the works on the 1988-89 list:

  • Bach, Cantata #4, "Christ lag in Todesbanden"
  • Beethoven, Symphony #6
  • Mozart, Requiem K626 (but only the "Introitus," "Kyrie," and "Dies Irae")
  • Varèse, Ionisation
  • Verdi, La Traviata

The lists got progressively more difficult, with the 1991-92 list containing obscurities like Schubert's Der Erlkönig and Bach's Brandenburg Concerto #2.

The music faculty believed, quite reasonably, that musicians should have some passing familiarity with these 100 works for the same reason one would expect an English major to know a few Shakespeare plays or a computer-science major could explain the bubble-sort algorithm to a non-major. It's called the canon.

In April 1989, I was the only music major to pass the exam. I didn't take the 1990 exam because I'd switched majors; but in 1991, the music department asked me to take the exam again as a control, because in 1990 no one passed the first time. Once again, I was the only person to pass the first time out.

I just couldn't fathom why. Each list had such variety, just knowing the pieces on them should give you 67% of the right answers without even trying. For example, the 1990 exam included polar opposites Berg's Wozzeck and Brahms' piano quintet in f-minor. You'd think someone could easily distinguish them. If I recall correctly, the department even let people bring in the list after the 1989 debacle. So you could just look at the list and decide whether the thing you're listening to is atonal singing in German with orchestra or a small ensemble with four strings and a piano. Or if it's a choral work instead of a massive symphony. Or if it's something by Bach or something by Ives.

It was about this time that I started worrying for the future of the arts.

If you're interested, here's the 1988-89 list. If you know anything about classical music, you should be able to identify most of these works.