The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Plug-in hybrid car + city living

Many people, particularly in the US, have suffered recently because of their choices to live in places without meaningful alternatives to driving, their neighbors' choices not to fund meaningful alternatives to driving, and a war in Eastern Europe that has directly and indirectly raised worldwide oil prices to real values not seen since 1973.

I feel a bit of smugness coming on. See, my house has a Walk Score of 95 and a transit score of 81. I live within 1500 meters (about a mile*) of two rapid-transit train lines and a heavy-rail line, not to mention nine bus routes, three of which operate 24 hours a day. I live within a short walk of multiple grocery stores, bars, restaurants, my Alderman's office, a Target, and basically everything I need.

Also, when my last car gave up the ghost 3½ years ago, I decided to get a plug-in hybrid. It can go about 40 km (25 miles) on a charge, so I hardly ever have to use its gasoline engine when I run ordinary errands.

So yesterday, when I drove to Bloomington, Ill., and back (round-trip: 466 km, 291 mi), I had to fill up for the first time since March 25th. Over the 100 days I went without buying gasoline, I drove 1,400 km (900 mi) and burned 34 L (9 gal) of gas, for an average economy of 2.4 L/100 km (97.9 MPG). In 3½ years I've driven 20,000 km (12,300 mi) and spent $395 on gasoline.

I know many people can't make the same choices I've made, but as a nation, we could make better transit and regulatory choices so that my experience is much more common.

* I'm going to translate everything into American** measurements for the benefit of readers who need to think about these concepts.

** Sure, they're technically "Imperial" measurements, but as that Empire no longer exists, and its remaining bits use the International System (SI), really the only people who need translations live in the United States.

One good thing about Texas

I did enjoy the barbecue:

That's a bit of brisket and accoutrements from Stiles Switch BBQ, and it was so good. We also got some from Black's BBQ, which might have actually been better. Of course, even if I ever go back to Austin, I'll have to try one of the other 42,167 BBQ places.

I also stopped by the Home for Developmentally-Disabled Adults and their Democratic Caretakers:

About three meters to my right, which I chose not to photograph, was a giant monument to "The Horrible Men Who Murdered for Slavery," which got mistranslated into "The Brave Men Who Died for States' Rights" by the Texas Lege when they erected it in the 1890s.

Once I got home and collected her from boarding, it took Cassie about ten minutes before she just passed out. This is a happy dog:

Thursday afternoon round-up

A lot has happened in the past day or so:

Finally, let's all congratulate Trumpet, the bloodhound who won the Westminster Kennel Club's dog show last night. Who's a good boy!

Hottest day in 10 years–almost

Chicago's official temperature last hit 38°C (100°F) on 6 July 2022, almost 10 years ago. As of 4pm O'Hare reported steady at 37°C (98°F) with the likelihood of breaking the record diminishing by the minute. At Inner Drive Technology World Headquarters, we have 37.2°C, still climbing, but leveling off.

In other hotness around the world:

Finally, Florida Fish and Wildlife Officials captured a 95-kilogram, 5.4-meter Burmese python, the largest ever discovered in the state. Apparently it had recently dined on a deer. So far they have found over 15,000 of the snakes, none of them quite so large.

Update: Not that I'm complaining, but after holding just under 37°C for three hours, the temperature finally started to drop. At 6pm O'Hare reported 36°C. So no record.

Theft of the commons

Writer Eula Biss essays on the disappearance of common grazing lands through enclosure laws as part of a larger pattern of class struggle (and no, she's not a Marxist):

In the time before enclosure, shared pastures where landless villagers could graze their animals were common. Laxton [England] had two, the Town Moor Common and the much larger Westwood Common, which together supported a hundred and four rights to common use, with each of these rights attached to a cottage or a toft of land in the village. In Laxton, the commons were a resource reserved for those with the least: both the commons and the open fields were owned by the lord of the manor, and only villagers with little more than a cottage held rights to the commons.

As a visitor from the age of private property, it seems remarkable to me that commoners held rights to land they did not own or rent, but, at the time, it was commonplace. In addition to common pasture, commoners were granted rights of pannage, of turbary, of estovers, and of piscary—rights to run their pigs in the woods, to cut peat for fuel, to gather wood from the forests, and to fish. These were rights to subsistence, rights to live on what they could glean from the land. In the course of enclosure, as written law superseded customary law, commoners lost those rights. Parliament made property rights absolute, and the traditional practice of living off the land was redefined as theft. Gleaning became trespassing, and fishing became poaching. Commoners who continued to common were now criminals.

The story of enclosure is sometimes told as a deal, or a transaction, in which landowners traded away their traditional relationship with the landless in exchange for greater independence. By releasing themselves from their social obligations to provide for the poor, they gained the freedom to farm for profit. And this freedom, or so the story goes, is what allowed the increased efficiencies that we call the agricultural revolution. Commoners lost, in the bargain, the freedom once afforded to them by self-sufficiency. Dispossessed of land, they were now bound to wages.

The landowners who promoted enclosure promised “improvement,” and “improvement” is still the word favored by some historians. But we should be wary of the promotional language of the past. Leaving the commons to the commoners, one eighteenth-century advocate of enclosure argued, would be like leaving North America to the Native Americans. It would be a waste, he meant. Imagine, he suggested, allowing the natives to exercise their ancient rights and to continue to occupy the land—they would do nothing more with it than what they were already doing, and they would not “improve” it. Improvement meant turning the land to profit. Enclosure wasn’t robbery, according to this logic, because the commoners made no profit off the commons, and thus had nothing worth taking.

The whole essay is worth a read.

Santa Cruz votes to keep abandoned rail line

In what one Daily Parker reader describes as "a Twitter fight come to life," the city of Santa Cruz, Calif., voted to keep an abandoned, unusable railway through its downtown because of the possibility that, in some possible future, trains might once again take passengers to Watsonville:

On June 7, about 70% of Santa Cruz County voters chose to reject a measure called the Greenway Initiative, which would have supported ripping out a portion of the tracks and replacing them with a bike path and pedestrian trail along the old train corridor. Instead, voters affirmed a plan to cling  to the rails and to the possibility of introducing regular passenger train travel, along with building some form of adjacent walkway.

The decisive vote was less of a mandate and more of a symbolic gesture, according to the Santa Cruz County counsel, because what comes next will be decided by the Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission, which owns the rail line and has already been developing plans to create a combined rail-and-trail route to connect the beach city of Santa Cruz with Watsonville, a working-class, predominately Latino city about 20 miles down the coast.

“A train in 25 to 30 years does nothing in the next 25 to 30 years,” said Bud Colligan, a venture capitalist and local philanthropist who donated $20,000 to the measure and was one of its leading backers. “The train is completely unfunded; there’s no plan, we don’t have the population or the tax base to support it, and the likelihood of that happening is next to zero.”

But the fight over the measure was not just a battle of the train-lovers versus the bike-lovers, both of whom profess to have environmental sustainability as their goal. Backers of the Greenway Initiative, which raised more than $450,000, included tech founders and philanthropists like Colligan and leaders of the area’s agriculture industry, fueling suspicions from some locals about their motivations. One of the clearest could have been rail NIMBYism — a desire to keep Watsonville residents from easily accessing more-affluent coastal Santa Cruz neighborhoods. Another was the potential of legal settlements for landowners whose property neighbored the train. 

The Daily Parker reader quoted above described the fracas as "fighting about style and culture:"

It was the techies/business money vs the hippies. Trail or no trail, if they want to restore that train line, the tracks need to be replaced. And now we just have an eyesore through town, no money and no cross town path for car alternatives at all. It is the most asinine fight I’ve ever witnessed.

Fortunately, Santa Cruz has no other problems that require practical government intervention, so the energy expended over this vote was well-spent.

Meanwhile, former Chicago mayor, neighbor of mine, and current US Ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel absolutely loves Japanese trains and takes them everywhere. Because when the population density is high enough, trains make a lot of sense.

Friday afternoon reading

Yesterday I had a full work day plus a three-hour rehearsal for our performance of Stacy Garrop's Terra Nostra on Monday night. (Tickets still available!) Also, yesterday, the House began its public hearings about the failed insurrection on 6 January 2021. Also, yesterday was Thursday, and I could never get the hang of Thursdays.

Finally, Wired takes a look at the law of war, and how Ukrainian civilians may cross the line into belligerents by using apps to report military intelligence to the Ukrainian army.

My houseguest has departed

After four nights, five puddles, four solid gifts, and so much barking that the neighbors down the block left a note on my door, Sophie finally went home this afternoon. I also worked until 11:30 last night, but that had nothing to do with her. It did cause a backup in my reading, though:

Finally, army dude-bros in several countries have gotten into arguments over online tank games and, to win those arguments, have posted classified information about real tanks. The defense authorities in the US, UK, France, and China are investigating.

Sticking with the good news for now

Because it's the first day of summer, I'm only posting fun things right now. First, I'd like to thank Uncle Roger for upping my egg fried rice game. Here's my lunch from earlier today. Fuiyoooh!

Around the time I made this delicious and nutritious lunch, a friend who teaches music in a local elementary school sent me a photo of the family of ducks she escorted from one side of the school to the other:

In other good news:

  • Believe it or not, today is the 55th anniversary of Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. I remember the day in 1987 when it really was "20 years ago today." People born on that day are now old enough to be president. Yeek.
  • Chicago's heavy-rail system, Metra, will start offering unlimited system-wide monthly passes for $100 at the end of this month. Unless you live on the Rock Island or Metra Electric lines. Hiyaaah!

And...well, that's it for good news. Check back later when I have regular, horrifying news.