Almost 16 months since I last flew anywhere, I have returned to O'Hare:
Despite traveling on Saturday afternoon, which historically has meant few delays and a quiet airport, the traffic coming up here was so bad my car's adaptive cruise control gave up. But she got a treat once we got to economy parking:
I don't think I have ever parked that close to the elevators in 48 years of flying. Good thing, too, because the closest non-LEV space was in the next county.
Once I got into the terminal, it took less than 3 minutes to get through security. So the Saturday afternoon airport has at least met half of my expectations.
By my back-of-the-envelope calculations, I will spend 16 of the next 52 hours inside vehicles, moving or otherwise. I had planned to rent a car in San Francisco to see family tomorrow, but at $110 for a Yugo (plus gas, parking, etc) I just made a deal with my family to meet somewhere accessible by public transit. Since that describes almost the entire South Bay, they agreed. So, naturally, I've also brought three books.
Man, I missed air travel.
(NB: Cassie is at a friend's house "settling in well.")
Two travel stories arrived in my mailbox overnight. First, China has landed a probe on Mars, becoming the third country in history to do so:
The touchdown makes China the second country in history to deposit a rover on the surface of Mars. After months in orbit around the red planet, the Tianwen-1 spacecraft released the Zhurong rover for a landing in Utopia Planitia, a vast plain that may once have been covered by an ancient Martian ocean. The 529-pound rover survived a perilous descent to the surface, including atmospheric entry, slowing from supersonic speeds with a parachute, and finally using retrorockets to safely alight on the ground.
China will openly share the data from Tianwen-1 and Zhurong the same way it has shared data from its lunar exploration missions, Long says, benefiting planetary scientists around the world.
The mission will also set the stage for China’s next planned voyage to Mars—an audacious sample-return attempt scheduled to launch around 2028. Beyond Mars, the country has plans to launch a Jupiter probe, including a possible landing on the moon Callisto, to collect samples from a near-Earth asteroid, and to send a pair of Voyager-like spacecraft toward the edges of the solar system.
Closer to home, after suspending service last year because of the pandemic, Greyhound Canada announced this week that it has decided to completely end all Canadian services:
The bus company says all of its remaining routes will cease operations as of midnight Thursday.
The iconic bus carrier pulled out of Western Canada in 2018.
It then put its remaining routes in Ontario and Quebec on pause when COVID-19 hit in 2020, but now it is pulling out of domestic Canadian service permanently.
The federal [New Democratic Party] also laid blame on the government. "The loss of all remaining Greyhound bus routes leaves many communities without affordable, safe passenger transportation," Transportation Critic Taylor Bachrach said in a release. "And it disproportionately affects the most marginalized residents, including Indigenous people and seniors."
Rural areas will suffer the most, as since Greyhound's suspension last year left many without any long-distance transportation services.
Now that I'm more than two weeks past my second Pfizer jab, I'm heading to O'Hare tomorrow for the first time since January 2020. I remember back in September 2018 when I finally broke my longest-ever drought from flying of 221 days. Tomorrow will mark 481 days grounded.
But that's tomorrow. Today, I'm interested in the following:
And finally, Chicago's endangered piping plovers Monty and Rose have laid three eggs. We should see baby piping plovers in about four weeks.
The CDC has changed its guidance on Covid-19. People who are fully vaccinated (that's me, 2 weeks as of today!) no longer need to wear masks in most places:
The advice from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention comes as welcome news to Americans who have tired of restrictions and marks a watershed moment in the pandemic. Masks ignited controversy in communities across the United States, symbolizing a bitter partisan divide over approaches to the pandemic and a badge of political affiliation.
Permission to stop using them now offers an incentive to the many millions who are still holding out on vaccination. As of Wednesday, about 154 million people have received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, but only about one-third of the nation, some 117.6 million people, have been fully vaccinated.
In deference to local authorities, the C.D.C. said vaccinated Americans must continue to abide by existing state, local, or tribal laws and regulations, and follow local rules for businesses and workplaces. Individuals are considered fully vaccinated two weeks after the one-dose Johnson & Johnson shot or the second dose of either Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine series.
In related news, The Economist analyzed health records and now believes that between 7.1 and 12.7 million people have died from Covid-19, more than three times the official count. In some places, like Romania and Iran, "excess deaths are more than double the number officially put down to covid-19. In Egypt they are 13 times as big. In America the difference is 7.1%."
The Atlantic's Amanda Mull believes that workers will benefit most from choosing when to work from home or in the office themselves, rather than through corporate policies:
[R]umors of the office’s death have been greatly exaggerated, as have those of its triumphal return. Most companies are still deciding exactly what their post-pandemic workspaces look like, which means many office-going Americans are about to enter a few months of relative freedom during phased, attendance-capped reopenings. Employers are trying to figure out what they can get away with down the line, and workers are trying to figure out what they can demand.
What would be best for most office workers—and what’s most likely to happen for many of them—is something between the extremes of old-school office work and digital nomadism. What’s right for you might end up being a little further in either direction, depending on how social or siloed your job is, or if you’re a particularly extreme introvert or extrovert. But I’m here to argue for a particular baseline: three days in the office, and two at home.
In a 2020 survey from Gensler, an architecture and design firm, more than half of respondents said that they’d ideally split their time between home and the office. (Only 19 percent said that full-time remote work was their ideal setup.) Many people benefit from working and living in separate places. Commutes can have upsides. Last year, I was somewhat embarrassed to realize that I was among the half of American office workers who missed mine; the time I used to spend walking and riding the train every morning provided a psychological in-between, when all I needed to do was let my brain transition into work mode while I listened to a podcast.
I'm with Mull. As soon as my company allowed it (June 22nd), I went back to the office on Mondays and Fridays, leaving my work laptop at work and my home office desk clear over the weekends. This gave me 5 days a week with Parker and did not seem to cause any loss of productivity. I only stopped after November 2nd in order to spend Parker's last few weeks with him full-time. The office closed again the day before he died, so I stayed home until this past March 1st.
This flexibility, along with not having my work computer on my desk from Thursday night until Tuesday morning, seems like the best balance for me. Cassie only goes to daycare twice a week (it's about $45 a day), I eat most of my lunches at home but still get the occasional 65 Chinese BBQ pork on rice downtown, and miraculously my productivity remains about the same.
In fact, my office's closings and reopenings have provided an ongoing natural experiment in productivity. So far, my productivity cycles about 28-35 days between peaks and appears to have no connection to where I'm working.
Back to Mull's point, though: giving workers control over when they stay home or go in is really the point. And as we won't be having meetings with 15 people crammed into a conference room for a very long time, it really does seem like the best option for everyone.
The bankruptcy court for the Northern District of Texas has dismissed the National Rifle Association's bankruptcy petition as a sham meant to avoid the New York Attorney General's case against them:
"The question the Court is faced with is whether the existential threat facing the NRA is the type of threat that the Bankruptcy Code is meant to protect against. The Court believes it is not," U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Harlin Hale wrote in a 38-page decision.
The group filed for bankruptcy in January at the direction of the NRA's chief executive, Wayne LaPierre — and unbeknownst to some of the organization's board of directors and top officials.
"What concerns the Court most though is the surreptitious manner in which Mr. LaPierre obtained and exercised authority to file bankruptcy for the NRA. Excluding so many people from the process of deciding to file for bankruptcy, including the vast majority of the board of directors, the chief financial officer, and the general counsel, is nothing less than shocking," the Northern District of Texas judge wrote.
Bankruptcy judges tend not to take a lot of bullshit. I'm pretty sure Judge Hale not only found the NRA's petition baldly disingenuous, but he probably also believed that the NRA chose to file in his court because Wayne LaPierre thought a court in Texas might have some sympathy for the gun-rights organization. Maybe Hale does; but that clearly didn't translate into sympathy for LaPierre.
Pass the popcorn.
A supporter of the XPOTUS has organized, with the help of the Arizona State Senate, a private hand-recount of Maricopa County's ballots. Apparently they're looking for bamboo fibers? Yeah, it's just as crazy as it sounds:
On the floor of Veterans Memorial Coliseum, where Sir Charles Barkley once dunked basketballs and Hulk Hogan wrestled King Kong Bundy, 46 tables are arrayed in neat rows, each with a Lazy Susan in the middle.
Seated at the tables are several dozen people, mostly Republicans, who spend hours watching ballots spin by, photographing them or inspecting them closely. They are counting them and checking to see if there is any sign they were flown in surreptitiously from South Korea. A few weeks ago they were holding them up to ultraviolet lights, looking for a watermark rumored to be a sign of fraud.
The 2.1 million ballots were already counted by Maricopa County election officials in November, validated in a partial hand recount and certified by Gov. Doug Ducey. Two extra audits confirmed no issues. No evidence of fraud sufficient to invalidate Joe Biden’s narrow victory in Arizona and Maricopa County has been found.
Still, counters are being paid $15 an hour to scrutinize each ballot, examining folds and taking close-up photos looking for machine-marked ballots and bamboo fibers in the paper. The reason appears to be to test a conspiracy theory that a plane from South Korea delivered counterfeit ballots to the Phoenix airport shortly after the election.
When the recount started, the ballots were viewed under ultraviolet light to check for watermarks. A theory popular with QAnon followers has it that Trump secretly watermarked mail ballots to catch cheating.
Meanwhile, our named adversary, Russia, continues to disrupt our economy with impunity because people don't know how to do security.
With France and the UK sending naval vessels to the Isle of Jersey last week, it's only fitting that Belgium got into the historical reenactment game:
Apparently frustrated by a 200-year-old stone border marker, a Belgian farmer dug it out and moved it about seven feet into French territory, local officials told French news media, thus slightly enlarging his own land as well as the entire country of Belgium.
The stone markers, each believed to weigh between 300 and 600 pounds, were laid when the 390-mile border between France and what is now Belgium was established under the 1820 Treaty of Kortrijk.
It is unclear whether the farmer knew the significance of the stone, which has 1819 carved into its face.
The farmer could face criminal charges if he does not return the Franco-Belgian border to the correct location.
I also found it fascinating that France has clubs who walk the Belgian border looking for exactly these kinds of things. I wonder how many other borders in the world have changed slightly due to adverse possession by people who don't know they're invading the other country?
University of Edinburgh literature professor David Farrier adapts his book Footprints: In Search of Future Fossils for the BBC:
If cities have a geological character, it begs the question of what they will leave behind in the stratigraphy of the 21st Century. Fossils are a kind of planetary memory of the shapes the world once wore. Just as the landscapes of the deep past are not forgotten, how will the rock record of the deep future remember Shanghai, New York and other great cities?
The main components of a modern city have their origins in geology and are therefore, in their different ways, highly durable. The majority of the world’s iron ore formed nearly two billion years ago. The sand, gravel, and quartz in concrete are among the most resilient substances on Earth. These hard-wearing materials once existed in natural deposits. But where before it was only water, gravity, or tectonic activity that moved them, now it’s a combination of human initiative and hydrocarbon fuels.
At first [a] car will simply rust but, as iron dissolves well in anoxic water, once the oxygen level decreases its metal components will begin to dissolve. Or perhaps a part of the chassis will mineralise, reacting with sulphides to form pyrite. The iron in steel beams or embedded in reinforced concrete, kitchen implements, or even tiny quantities of iron in the speaker of a mobile phone will all acquire a glittering sheen. Even whole rooms – a food court kitchen fitted with stainless steel worktops – might be transformed into fool’s gold.
Of course, if humans continue to live in a technological society far into the future (and why not?), modern cities might vanish by our hands. Won't that confuse future archaeologists.
Travel in the US just got slightly easier now that the Department of Homeland Security has extended the deadline to get REAL ID cards to May 2023. Illinois just started making them a year ago, but you have to go to a Secretary of State office in person to get one. Due to Covid-19, the lines at those facilities often stretch to the next facility a few kilometers away.
Reading that made me happier than reading most of the following:
And finally, Ravinia has announced its schedule for this summer, starting on June 4th.