The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Supposes Moses was an Asshat

Not Moishe, the mythological figure; Moses, the all-too-real figure in New York City history. I'm about halfway through Robert Caro's biography of Robert Moses, The Power Broker, and I want to dig Moses up and punch him in the face.

The thing about really intelligent narcissists is they can, in fact, get their way, even when—especially when—they encounter real criticism. The crowning achievement of Moses' narcissism might be the West Side Improvement, comprising the West Side Highway and Henry Hudson Parkway, which run along the Hudson River from the top of Manhattan Island to the bottom. The story of how and why Moses built it where he built it takes up about 40 pages of the book, but Caro sums it up starting at the bottom of page 565:

Robert Moses had spent $109,000,000 [in 1938, worth $2.05 billion in 2021] of the public's money on the West Side Improvement. Counting the money expended on his advice by other city agencies on the portion of the Improvement south of Seventy-second Street, the Improvement had cost the public more than $200,000,000 [$3.8 billion in 2021].

But the total cost of the Improvement cannot be reckoned merely in dollars. The West Side Improvement also cost the people of New York City their most majestic waterfront, their most majestic forest, a unique residential community, and their last fresh-water marsh.

When the Improvement was finished, all these things were gone forever.

Adding them to the cost of the West Side Improvement, one might wonder if the Improvement had not cost New York City more than it was worth. Adding them into the cost, one might wonder if the West Side Improvement was really, on its total balance sheet, an "improvement" at all. One might wonder if it was not, on balance, a tragic and irremediable loss.

In the pages leading up to that conclusion, Caro spends some time discussing how the park Moses built along highway stopped at 125th Street. From there up to 155th Street, instead of a park, the African-American residents of Harlem got an elevated highway, with one little playground whose finishes included little monkey carvings on the stonework. You will not be surprised to learn that no other park in the project had a monkey motif.

Another thing, of which I can almost excuse him, was Moses' complete rejection of evidence of "induced demand," how increasing road capacity also increases congestion at a faster rate. That is, if you double road capacity, you will more than double the number of cars on the road. I can almost excuse him because traffic planners still ignore this phenomenon much of the time.

So halfway through the book I'm only at the end of 1938. We still have 25 years or so before Moses meets Jane Jacobs—and according to the index, Caro doesn't even cover that.

Thursday evening post

Some stories in the news this week:

Finally, the House Oversight and Reform Committee advanced DC statehood legislation. The full house may even pass the DC Admission Act next week.

The timing isn't a random coincidence

Getting my first Pfizer-Biontech SARS-COV-2 vaccine today comes on the heels of Chicago setting a new one-day record for vaccine administration:

The 7-day daily average of administered vaccine doses is 112,680, with 154,201 doses given on Wednesday. Officials also say a total of 6,707,183 vaccines have now been administered.

Illinois next week will make 150,000 first-dose appointments for coronavirus vaccinations available at 11 state-run mass vaccination sites in the Chicago suburbs and at area pharmacies as Illinois opens eligibility to everyone 16 and older, Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Thursday.

Also, two weeks after my second dose, I'll be on an airplane for the first time since 12 November 2019.

One down

I got my first Pfizer Biontech jab this morning, and will get the second one in three weeks. So far, no side-effects. And Cassie seemed to enjoy being with me for the portions of the morning involving the car, though she didn't seem all that pleased with the car itself.

In related news, I've booked a flight for mid-May.

I feel better already.

Improved national rail service?

Amtrak has big plans—especially for Chicago—if it gets a piece of President Biden's $2-trillon infrastructure bill:

Chicago passenger-rail riders ought to thrilled. A proposed map released by Amtrak shows rail service out of the Windy City absolutely exploding, with enhanced service to Detroit, Milwaukee, Indianapolis, St. Louis, and other locales, plus new service to cities including Minneapolis/St. Paul, Green Bay, Iowa City, Rockford, Cleveland and Louisville.

According to spokesman Marc Magliari, the “vision statement” fact sheet is an idea of what the long financially challenged passenger rail agency could do if Washington fully climbs aboard.

“It’s our vision of what can be ahead, given that the president has set the table,” Magliari said. “We hope to have more details soon.”

Key details about Amtrak's expansion proposal are not yet available. Such as timing – Magliari says the “vision plan” runs 15 years into the future – or whether states would have to at all match capital or operating subsidies.

Amtrak has already made some improvements. After upgrading rights of way in Illinois, the carrier has begun testing 175 km/h service between Chicago and St Louis—a big improvement over today's 145 km/h speeds.

One year and two weeks

We've spent 54 weeks in the looking-glass world of Covid-19. And while we may have so much more brain space than we had during the time a certain malignant personality invaded it every day, life has not entirely stopped. Things continue to improve, though:

Finally, today is the 40th anniversary of the day President Reagan got shot. I'm struggling a bit with the "40 years" bit.

It's Monday again

In case you needed proof that the world didn't suddenly become an Enlightenment paradise on January 20th, I give you:

You will be happy to know, however, that Egypt has passed its 400-meter kidney stone.

Still stuck, with no laxative in sight

The Ever Given continues to plug up the Suez Canal, halting some $10 billion a day in global trade:

Canal authorities said on Saturday that dredgers had managed to dig out the rear of the ship on Friday night, freeing its rudder, and that by Saturday afternoon they had dredged 18 meters down into the canal’s eastern bank, where the ship’s bow was stuck solid. But after a salvage team failed once more to dislodge the four-football-field-long leviathan from the sand bank where it ran aground on Tuesday, blocking all shipping traffic through the canal, global supply chains churned closer to a full-blown crisis.

Easing the bottleneck depends on the salvagers’ ability to clear away the sand, mud and rock where the Ever Given is stuck and to lighten the ship’s load enough to help it float again, all while tugboats try to push and pull it free. Their best chance may arrive on Monday, when a spring tide will raise the canal’s water level by up to about 18 inches, analysts and shipping agents said.

All the while, they must hope the Ever Given remains intact. With the ship sagging in the middle, its bow and stern both caught in positions for which it was not designed, the hull is vulnerable to stress and cracks...experts said.

I found this sentence particularly amusing: "[T]he Ever Given had succumbed to Murphy’s Law: Everything that could go wrong did, starting with the ship’s size, among the world’s largest."

The ship's size had nothing to do with Murphy's Law. Evergreen made a business decision to float a 400-meter container ship and send it down Suez. And the Suez authorities let it through. Maybe it's not so much Murphy's Law as the Omnibus Explanation: "When you cannot explain a human decision through logic, the actual reason for the decision is stupidity."

Feeling a little blocked, here

Since Wednesday, a 400-meter container ship has blocked the Suez Canal in Egypt, disrupting international trade and costing the world economy millions per day:

International efforts to dislodge the skyscraper-size cargo ship blocking Egypt's Suez Canal intensified but made little progress Thursday as the maritime traffic jam wreaked havoc on global trade.

Egyptian authorities said navigation was still "temporarily suspended" after the container got stuck sideways across the canal because of a severe dust storm and poor visibility.

That meant traffic remained at a standstill on a route that accounts for about 12 percent of global trade as the shipping saga passed the 48-hour mark.

The Suez Canal usually allows 50 cargo ships pass daily between the Mediterranean and the Red Sea, providing a vital trade corridor between Europe and Asia.

Photos released by Suez authorities showed a digger removing earth and rock from the canal's bank and around the ship's bow.

More on that in a sec. The BBC explains how the canal authorities have tried unsuccessfully to get the ship out of the way:

The focus however has now turned to digging out sand and mud from around the vessel's hull.

The Netherlands-based dredging company Boskalis is managing this operation.

The ship's management company BSM says an additional specialist "suction dredger" is now in place able to shift 2,000 cubic meters of material every hour.

"It might take weeks depending on the situation" to free the ship using a combination of dredging, tugging and the removal of weight from the vessel.

These efforts have led to the meme of the pandemic:

The world keeps turning

Even though my life for the past week has revolved around a happy, energetic ball of fur, the rest of the world has continued as if Cassie doesn't matter:

And if you still haven't seen our spring concert, you still can. Don't miss it!