The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

The UK's reputation in Europe

Whether you prefer "shooting oneself in the foot" or "circular firing squad" as your metaphor, the UK's flailing with just a week left to go before crashing out of the EU has disappointed many people in Europe:

For politicians, diplomats and officials across the continent, the past two-and-a-half years of the Britain’s fraught, seemingly interminable and increasingly shambolic departure from the EU have proved an eye-opener.

Some have responded with humour. Nathalie Loiseau, France’s Europe minister, said recently that if she had one, she would call her cat Brexit: “It wakes me up miaowing because it wants to go out. When I open the door, its sits there, undecided. Then it looks daggers at me when I put it out.”

Others have found it harder to laugh. To the shock of many, ;Brexit has revealed a country they long looked up to locked in a narrative of its own exceptionalism, talking mainly to itself, incoherent, entitled, incapable of compromise (with itself or its neighbours), startlingly ignorant of the workings of an organisation it has belonged to for nearly 50 years, and unrealistic.

Only, Britain has been here so many times before. Crashing out of India so hard that the country hasn't had a day of peace in 70 years? Check. Getting rolled by the Soviets after putting a Soviet spy in charge of rooting out Soviet spies? Check. Appeasing a fascist regime bent on European hegemony? Check.

And now, it seems, Russia has rolled them again, as no country stands to gain more from Brexit than they. And still they're flailing about, going through the worst Constitutional crisis (self-inflicted!) since the 17th Century.

It's really sad.

No third Brexit vote allowed: John Bercow

House of Commons Speaker John Bercow yesterday ruled that the Government may not bring a third vote on a motion that has been rejected by the House twice:

3.33pm
Mr Speaker

The 24th edition of “Erskine May” states on page 397:

“A motion or an amendment which is the same, in substance, as a question which has been decided during a session may not be brought forward again during that same session.”

It goes on to state:

“Attempts have been made to evade this rule by raising again, with verbal alterations, the essential portions of motions which have been negatived. Whether the second motion is substantially the same as the first is finally a matter for the judgment of the Chair.” ...

In my judgment, that second meaningful vote motion did not fall foul of the convention about matters already having been decided during the same Session. This was because it could be credibly argued that it was a different proposition from that already rejected by the House on 15 January. It contained a number of legal changes which the Government considered to be binding and which had been agreed with the European Union after intensive discussions. Moreover, the Government’s second meaningful vote motion was accompanied by the publication of three new documents—two issued jointly with the EU and a unilateral declaration from the UK not objected to by the EU. In procedural terms, it was therefore quite proper that the debate and the second vote took place last week. The Government responded to its defeat, as they had promised to do, by scheduling debates about a no-deal Brexit and an extension of article 50 on 13 and 14 March respectively.

It has been strongly rumoured, although I have not received confirmation of this, that a third, and even possibly a fourth, meaningful vote motion will be attempted. Hence this statement, which is designed to signal what would be orderly and what would not. This is my conclusion: if the Government wish to bring forward a new proposition that is neither the same nor substantially the same as that disposed of by the House on 12 March, that would be entirely in order. What the Government cannot legitimately do is to resubmit to the House the same proposition or substantially the same proposition as that of last week, which was rejected by 149 votes. This ruling should not be regarded as my last word on the subject; it is simply meant to indicate the test which the Government must meet in order for me to rule that a third meaningful vote can legitimately be held in this parliamentary Session.

Here's video from Parliament TV:

This has caused apoplexy in the Government benches, and makes it almost impossible for Britain to exit the EU next Friday:

With 11 days to go until Britain is due to leave the EU, May was forced to pull her plans for another meaningful vote because John Bercow said she could not ask MPs to pass the same deal, after they rejected it twice by huge margins. EU officials, meanwhile, were considering offering her a new date for a delayed Brexit to resolve the crisis.

Bercow’s surprise intervention means May is likely to have to go to Thursday’s Brussels summit with a request for a long extension to article 50, which could mean the UK has to spend more than £100m on participating in European parliament elections.

Sources in Brussels suggested the EU may offer May a helping hand by agreeing on a new delayed Brexit date at the summit, which could allow her to argue next week that the deal is sufficiently different to merit a third vote in parliament.

Some hardline Conservative Brexit supporters were pleased that May’s efforts to pass her deal were being frustrated, hoping the EU would veto an extension and the UK would be forced to exit without a deal on 29 March. Government sources downplayed such a scenario, saying the EU was highly likely to grant an extension.

Writing for the Post, British journalist Nick Cohen says this is one demonstration of how "the quest for Brexit has killed Britain:"

Brexit Britain has reached populism’s inevitable terminus. The government is collapsing as Conservative ministers vote against their own administration with impunity. The equally chaotic opposition cannot oppose. No one can say whether my country will crash out of the European Union provoking an economic and social crisis. Honest commentators don’t make predictions anymore, but stare at the wreckage with slack-jawed disbelief.

The British crisis is deeper than the United States’ because at its heart lies a failure of truth-telling. We have no equivalent of the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives; no power center or coherent voice that can expose the populist politicians whose combination of cynicism and magical thinking led us to this pass.

Like populist movements across the West, the Leave campaign refused to make a tough call. Instead, it promised that wrenching change could be achieved without pain. Unlike the nationalists of the 20th century, who fetishized sacrifice, their successors are the authentic representatives of a baby-boomer generation that wants to have it all. Boris Johnson, an upper-class politician who could make President Trump seem a model of integrity, and his fellow supporters of Brexit promised that the task of securing a fresh trade deal with the E.U. would be “one of the easiest in human history.” As it has turned out, the tension of reconciling the populist propaganda of the referendum campaign with protecting the economy has caused a nervous breakdown in politics, and the real negotiations haven’t even begun yet. Meanwhile, British exceptionalists, like their American counterparts, insisted that other countries would bow before us. We were repeatedly assured that the E.U. needed us more than we needed them, a brag that grows more absurd by the day.

It is anyone’s guess what will happen next. There’s talk this week that perhaps May’s withdrawal agreement will pass Parliament on the third or fourth attempt, but parliamentary procedure might prevent her trying again. No one knows. Parliament said on Thursday it is now prepared to ask the E.U. to extend the deadline for Britain’s departure beyond March 29. The E.U. is under no obligation to agree. Even if it does, what would be the point? There is no consensus on what we should do next. Britain is deadlocked, and the catastrophic possibility of the country crashing out of the E.U. without a deal should not be underestimated.

I have no wish to diminish the seriousness of the criticisms against Trump or suggest that he is fit to govern a great country. But Trump will be gone by 2020 or, if the Democrats mess up, by 2024. Brexit gives every indication that it will paralyze Britain for a generation.

If it were any other country, I would gleefully munch popcorn while watching the circus act. But this is my ancestral homeland, my country's second-closest ally, the strongest military power in Europe after Russia, and the largest economy in Europe after Germany. This is insane. And no one knows what will happen.

Short distance office move

My team have moved to a new space we've leased on a different floor of Chicago's Aon Center. This morning, this was my view:

And now, one floor lower and facing the opposite direction, this is my view:

I actually prefer the south view, but only marginally. In fact, I'll probably keep taking photos of the south view. But neither view sucks.

The Art of the Possible, Illinois marijuana edition

Yet another Chicago-based medical marijuana company has merged with an out-of-state company ahead of an expected legalization of recreational pot this summer:

Chicago’s Cresco Labs on Monday unveiled a $120 million merger that allows it to expand into Florida, where analysts predict demand for medical marijuana will significantly grow in the coming years. By 2022, the market for medical pot could reach a whopping $1.7 billion, according to analysts’  projections.

Under the agreement, Cresco will acquire Florida marijuana grower and retailer VidaCann, a move that will allow Cresco to operate 30 medical dispensaries in the nation’s third most populous state. The company aims to significantly expand its operations by the end of the year, in part by doubling the size of its medical marijuana cultivation center. It also plans to have 20 dispensaries open by year’s end.

Last week, a Phoenix company announced one of the largest pot deals in U.S. corporate history by taking over Chicago-based Verano Holdings for $850 million.

If Cresco’s ownership of VidaCann is approved, Cresco could surpass another major marijuana player based in Chicago — Green Thumb Industries, which currently has 11 cultivation centers.

A vote on legalizing recreational cannabis could come as early as July, and is expected to pass.

More on the 737 MAX 8 crashes

Pilot and author James Fallows points out this Seattle Times article as a good explanation of how the Boeing-led safety process for the 737 MAX 8 airplane may have contributed to their recent accidents:

The FAA, citing lack of funding and resources, has over the years delegated increasing authority to Boeing to take on more of the work of certifying the safety of its own airplanes.

Early on in certification of the 737 MAX, the FAA safety engineering team divided up the technical assessments that would be delegated to Boeing versus those they considered more critical and would be retained within the FAA.

But several FAA technical experts said in interviews that as certification proceeded, managers prodded them to speed the process. Development of the MAX was lagging nine months behind the rival Airbus A320neo. Time was of the essence for Boeing.

A former FAA safety engineer who was directly involved in certifying the MAX said that halfway through the certification process, “we were asked by management to re-evaluate what would be delegated. Management thought we had retained too much at the FAA.”

“There was constant pressure to re-evaluate our initial decisions,” the former engineer said. “And even after we had reassessed it … there was continued discussion by management about delegating even more items down to the Boeing Company.”

Wow, that sounds familiar. And this is why we need competent, well-funded regulators for safety-critical industries.

The Ethiopian government says they'll release the preliminary accident report in 30 days.

Changes to US copyright law

On March 4th, the U.S. Supreme Court decided two cases that change how copyright infringement cases work in the U.S. In Fourth Estate Public Benefit Corporation v. Wall-Street.com, the Court held that a copyright owner must wait for the Copyright Office to accept or reject a registration application before the owner can sue for infringement:

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (who had not attended the oral argument because she was home recovering from surgery) delivered the court’s opinion. She analogized the registration requirement to an administrative exhaustion requirement that an owner must satisfy before suing to enforce ownership rights.

The court concluded that the only satisfactory reading of the text of Section 411(a) is that the Copyright Office must have registered the copyright in order for registration to have been made. Fourth Estate had argued that the phrase should be read to refer to the copyright owner’s submission of a completed application.

Note that this does not mean creators need to register every creation. Copyright accrues to the author of a work at the moment of its creation. The registration requirement only applies to lawsuits for infringement. Neither creators nor the Copyright Office want to register every single creation in the United States; that's insane. But if you infringe on a copyright, the creator may register the work and then sue you, even if the work wasn't registered when you infringed on it.

Law firm K&L Gates still recommends registration: "An initial cease and desist letter to an infringer containing proof of copyright registration demonstrates that the claim may be filed in court, providing leverage to the copyright owner. Companies and other creators should consider routine copyright application filing to protect their valuable assets without loss of time and damages waiting for registration to occur after the infringement is discovered."

So calm down: don't send every blog post or Instagram photo you create to the Copyright Office. They don't want them. If you want to sue for infringement, then register the work. But how often does that happen?

The other case, Rimini Street, Inc. v. Oracle USA, Inc., clarified what "full costs" mean in an infringement suit, and won't apply to most creators the way Fourth Estate will.

Critics of the Web—30 years ago

Alexis Madrigal takes a look at criticisms of the World Wide Web from when it was new:

Thirty years ago this week, the British scientist Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web at CERN, the European scientific-research center. Suffice it to say, the idea took off. The web made it easy for everyday people to create and link together pages on what was then a small network. The programming language was simple, and publishing was as painless as uploading something to a server with a few tags in it.

Just a few years after the internet’s creation, a vociferous set of critics—most notably in Resisting the Virtual Life, a 1995 anthology published by City Lights Books—rose to challenge the ideas that underlay the technology, as previous groups had done with other, earlier technologies.

Maybe as a major technological movement begins to accelerate—but before its language, corporate power, and political economics begin to warp reality—a brief moment occurs when critics see the full and awful potential of whatever’s coming into the world. No, the new technology will not bring better living (at least not only that). There will be losers. Oppression will worm its way into even the most seemingly liberating spaces. The noncommercial will become hooked to a vast profit machine. People of color will be discriminated against in new ways. Women will have new labors on top of the old ones. The horror-show recombination of old systems and cultures with new technological surfaces and innards is visible, like the half-destroyed robot face of Arnold Schwarzenegger in Terminator 2.

Then, if money and people really start to pour into the technology, the resistance will be swept away, left dusty and coughing as what gets called progress rushes on.

The whole piece is worth a read.

Two on data security

First, Bruce Schneier takes a look at Facebook's privacy shift:

There is ample reason to question Zuckerberg's pronouncement: The company has made -- and broken -- many privacy promises over the years. And if you read his 3,000-word post carefully, Zuckerberg says nothing about changing Facebook's surveillance capitalism business model. All the post discusses is making private chats more central to the company, which seems to be a play for increased market dominance and to counter the Chinese company WeChat.

We don't expect Facebook to abandon its advertising business model, relent in its push for monopolistic dominance, or fundamentally alter its social networking platforms. But the company can give users important privacy protections and controls without abandoning surveillance capitalism. While some of these changes will reduce profits in the short term, we hope Facebook's leadership realizes that they are in the best long-term interest of the company.

Facebook talks about community and bringing people together. These are admirable goals, and there's plenty of value (and profit) in having a sustainable platform for connecting people. But as long as the most important measure of success is short-term profit, doing things that help strengthen communities will fall by the wayside. Surveillance, which allows individually targeted advertising, will be prioritized over user privacy. Outrage, which drives engagement, will be prioritized over feelings of belonging. And corporate secrecy, which allows Facebook to evade both regulators and its users, will be prioritized over societal oversight. If Facebook now truly believes that these latter options are critical to its long-term success as a company, we welcome the changes that are forthcoming.

And Cory Doctorow describes a critical flaw in Switzerland's e-voting system:

[E]-voting is a terrible idea and the general consensus among security experts who don't work for e-voting vendors is that it shouldn't be attempted, but if you put out an RFP for magic beans, someone will always show up to sell you magic beans, whether or not magic beans exist.

The belief that companies can be trusted with this power [to fix security defects while preventing people from disclosing them] defies all logic, but it persists. Someone found Swiss Post's embrace of the idea too odious to bear, and they leaked the source code that Swiss Post had shared under its nondisclosure terms, and then an international team of some of the world's top security experts (including some of our favorites, like Matthew Green) set about analyzing that code, and (as every security expert who doesn't work for an e-voting company has predicted since the beginning of time), they found an incredibly powerful bug that would allow a single untrusted party at Swiss Post to undetectably alter the election results.

You might be thinking, "Well, what is the big deal? If you don't trust the people administering an election, you can't trust the election's outcome, right?" Not really: we design election systems so that multiple, uncoordinated people all act as checks and balances on each other. To suborn a well-run election takes massive coordination at many polling- and counting-places, as well as independent scrutineers from different political parties, as well as outside observers, etc.

And even other insecure e-voting systems like the ones in the USA are not this bad: they decentralized, and would-be vote-riggers would have to compromise many systems, all around the nation, in each poll that they wanted to alter. But Swiss Post's defect allows a single party to alter all the polling data, and subvert all the audit systems. As Matthew Green told Motherboard: "I don’t think this was deliberate. However, if I set out to design a backdoor that allowed someone to compromise the election, it would look exactly like this."

Switzerland is going ahead with the election anyway, because that's what people do when they're called out on stupidity.

Spring, finally

I moved into my current place back in October. For the first time since then, just now, I opened one of the windows in my office. (I'll have to close it again pretty soon because of the squall line coming this way.)

That's because, for the first time since October 31st—when I wasn't home during the day to open it—it's 16°C at O'Hare.

It's about time.

Duke killed public transit?

CityLab reports that my alma mater has doomed the Durham-Orange Light Rail Transit project in North Carolina:

DOLRT has consumed more than $130 million in public money. In 2011 and 2012, voters in Durham and Orange counties approved half-cent sales taxes to fund transportation improvements, including the light rail, to better connect major employers like UNC-Chapel Hill, Duke University, N.C. Central University, a VA hospital, and businesses in bustling downtown Durham. Construction of the estimated $2.7 billion project was to start next year; an application to the Federal Transit Administration was due this spring for federal funding of $1.25 billion. The state agreed to contribute $190 million.

But all this came to a screeching halt on February 27, when Duke University officials said they would not sign a cooperative agreement. (The project required 11 partners to ink cooperative agreements; only Duke, Norfolk Southern, and the North Carolina Railroad Company, which manages a major rail corridor, remain unsigned.) A week later, Duke declined a request to participate in a mediated negotiation with GoTriangle, the region’s transportation authority.

What happened?

In a letter to GoTriangle, Duke President Vincent Price and other officials cited issues with the light rail’s alignment along Erwin Road in Durham, which runs next to the university’s sprawling medical complex. Price expressed concerns that magnetic interference could hurt high-tech diagnostic and research equipment. Other issues included construction disruption that could affect a utility line, and vibrations from digging and placing the supports for an elevated track, and legal liability. In declining further talks, the Duke leaders said that the project’s route “poses significant and unacceptable risks to the safety of the nearly 1.5 million patients who receive care at our hospital and clinics each year, and the future viability of health care and research at Duke.”

That seems...unlikely. So what is Duke really complaining about? It's unclear. But that they brought this point up now and not in 2016 or even earlier seems intentional. And that's really crappy.