The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Spring, at least in some places

Canada has put the Prairie Provinces on a winter storm warning as "the worst blizzard in decades" descends upon Saskatchewan and Manitoba:

A winter storm watch is in effect for southern Manitoba and southeastern Saskatchewan, with snowfall accumulations of 30 to 50 centimetres expected mid-week, along with northerly wind gusts of up to 90 kilometres per hour, said Environment Canada on Monday.

“Do not plan to travel — this storm has the potential to be the worst blizzard in decades,” the agency warns.

The storm is expected to start Tuesday night, as a Colorado low pressure system moving toward Minnesota will bring a “heavy swath of snow” from southeastern Saskatchewan through most of southern Manitoba.

Snow will start to fall early in the evening near the U.S. border and move north overnight. Blowing snow and high winds will cause zero visibility and whiteout conditions, making driving treacherous.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

And finally, prosecutors in Texas have declined to pursue charges against a 26-year-old woman arrested last week for infanticide after self-inducing an abortion. Welcome to the new 19th Century, at least in the religious South.

US lurches to ending seasonal clock changes

As if from nowhere, the US Senate yesterday unanimously voted to pass S.623 (the "Sunshine Protection Act of 2021"), which would end daylight saving time by making that the new standard time, effective 5 November 2023. This blew up the Time Zone Committee mailing list, mostly with the implementation problems around time zone abbreviations. One of the maintainers listed four separate options, in fact, including moving everyone to a new time zone (Chicago on EST? New York on AST?), or possibly just redefining what CST and EST mean. Canada has a law that essentially lets the US set standard time zones for Canada, so it gets even more complicated the farther down the rabbit hole you go.

Fun fact: most time zone software running on most computers requires 3-character time zone abbreviations to work correctly. That rules out changing CST to, simply, CT. One maintainer suggested P for Permanent; another suggested A for Always (CAT, EAT, MAT?).

You might think this is funny, but we TZDB maintainers have the power to make your brain hurt this way.

By the way, if you think year-round DST is a good idea within our current time zone boundaries, you may want to consider when the latest sunrise will happen in 2024 if the law passes, in ascending order of orneriness:

Location Sunrise Sunset
Eastport, Maine 8:06 17:00
Miami 8:10 18:50
Chicago 8:19 17:33
New York 8:20 17:41
Salt Lake City 8:52 17:13
Detroit 9:01 18:12
Menominee, Mich. 9:29 18:21

The easternmost point in the U.S., Eastport, will have darker mornings, but still perhaps tolerable. Menominee, which actually lies a little west of Chicago, would not be a fun place to live in January.

To review: There is a reason we change the clocks twice a year, which everyone forgets until it's dark at 8:30 am.

Moreover, wall-clock time is arbitrary. We can get up earlier or later if we choose to. Cassie, for instance, gets up at sunrise, and expects me to do the same, so I actually liked the change last weekend.

We also had a bunch of messages today about Iran, which has decreed that they will no longer change their clocks twice a year, with immediate effect. Now someone in Iran has to tell the authoritarian, anti-technology mullahs why it might take up to a year for their cell phones to reflect the change.

More about the insanity of crypto

A couple more resources about "web3" (cryptocurrencies, NFTs, DAOs, etc) crossed my inbox this week. Even before going through these stories and essays, the only way I can understand the persistence of the fantastic thinking that drives all this stuff is that the people most engaged with it turn out to be the same people who believe all kinds of other fantasies and wish-fulfillment stories.

Case in point: the extreme right-wing protestors up in Canada have received almost all of their funding from American right-wingnuts. Remember: the protestors believe, counter to all evidence, that vaccines cause more harm than good, and that they have a right to remain part of a common society without the responsibility of protecting others in that society from easily-avoided harm.

Because Canada really wants them to go away, and even more than that does not want foreigners funding domestic terrorists, the Canadian government blocked the cross-border financial transfers to the Maple Morons through the regular banking system. It took about 36 seconds for the Americans to try again using cryptocurrencies, and about 14 seconds longer for scammers to piggyback on the effort:

Canada Unity 2022, the group of anti-vaccine protestors who have snarled traffic in Ottawa and earned accolades in the right-wing media, wants to talk to you about Bitcoin.

A handful of the group’s organizers held a press conference on Facebook Live Wednesday that quickly devolved into a presentation on the popular form of cryptocurrency, confusing many of their supporters who were watching online.

“Are we at a press conference for Freedom Convoy 2022 or having some guy shove Bitcoin down our throats?” one commenter griped. “Very disappointed! I came to see updates about progress made by our Truckers.”

In some respects, the convergence of the anti-vaxx protests and Bitcoin was probably inevitable. Last month, the protests drew support from one of the biggest proponents of Bitcoin in the world, Tesla CEO Elon Musk, who tweeted “Canadian truckers rule.” Former President Donald Trump has voiced support, and right-wing figures from Tucker Carlson to Ben Shapiro to Michael Flynn have seized on the trucker protests.

Even better, the way organizers have decided to distribute the Bitcoin meant for the rationality- and education-challenged protestors might not exactly show the benefits of cryptocurrencies in the best light:

Instead of giving the truckers the money in a cash format they can actually use, the "professional orange-piller" in charge of the Bitcoin distribution has explained a multi-step plan to give truckers pieces of paper with seed phrases printed on them. The seed phrases will be placed into sealed envelopes along with instructions on how to create a Bitcoin wallet, which are then "numbered and squiggly random lines should be drawn on the envelope to help with later identification". The volunteers then plan to physically destroy the printer with shears and screwdrivers, to try to prevent attackers from pulling the seed phrases out of the device memory. Of course once the trucker has their seed phrase, they have to go through the multi-step process of gaining access to the Bitcoin wallet on their smartphone, and then figure out how on earth to actually use their newfound Bitcoins to, say, pay for fuel.

That comment comes from software engineer Molly White, who has a delightful and detailed series of essays on blockchain in general. If you have any questions about web3 or blockchain and don't want a sales pitch from someone trying to keep the value his holdings inflated until he can dump them on you, start with White.

In a world where people devalue the study of history and economics in favor of shouting to the world about their magical beliefs, the rise of crypto doesn't surprise me. I don't know what will happen when it all collapses, but I have a pretty good idea who'll get hurt. I wonder who the right-wingnuts will blame when they lose everything? Probably not themselves.

Cue the weekend

The temperature dropped 17.7°C between 2:30 pm yesterday and 7:45 this morning, from 6.5°C to -10.2°C, as measured at Inner Drive Technology World Headquarters. So far it's recovered to -5.5°C, almost warm enough to take my lazy dog on a hike. She got a talking-to from HR about not pulling her weight in the office, so this morning she worked away at a bone for a good stretch:

Alas, the sun came out, a beam hit her head, and she decided the bone could wait:

Meanwhile, in the rest of the world:

  • Julia Ioffe interviews Russian diplomat Dr Andrey Sushentsov about Russia's views of the Ukraine crisis. tl;dr: the US and Russia don't even have a common set of facts to discuss, let alone a common interpretation of them.
  • In Beijing, former Olympic figure skater Adam Rippon blasts the Russian team for once again crapping on their own performance with yet another doping scandal.
  • The government of Ontario secured a court order last night allowing the Windsor Police and OPP to start clearing the Ambassador Bridge. So far, they have managed to do so without violence, but a few extremists haven't yet budged.
  • James Fallows updates his earlier post on how framing outrageous actions as "that's just Trump" is an abrogation of the press's responsibility to its consumers. "For perspective here: the late Sandy Berger, who had been Bill Clinton’s National Security Advisor, was investigated, charged, fined $50,000, and sentenced to two years of probation for stuffing copies of a classified document into his socks, and sneaking them out from the National Archives. The story of his downfall was a major news feature back in the mid-2000s."
  • The UK now allows fully-vaccinated travelers from most countries to arrive and depart without getting a swab stuck up their nose.
  • Comedian Bob Saget died of blunt head trauma, consistent with a slip and fall, according to an autopsy. It also found his heart had a 95% blockage, which might have killed him even without the fall.

Finally, in 2018 Rebecca Mead returned to London after living in New York for 30 years. Her 15-year-old son now speaks with a unique accent Mead says has become the new standard "Multicultural London English."

More about the dangerous situation in Ottawa

Via Josh Marshall, Canadian journalist Matt Gurney raises the alarm about the other group of truckers camping in Ottawa:

You may have heard reports of a secondary encampment that is well removed from the main protest sites around Parliament Hill. I certainly had. It has been described in different reports as either a logistics area or some kind of staging ground for protesters.

This site, for lack of a better term, has been fortified. There are many trucks parked in the parking lot, but some of them have been arranged to form outer walls. These walls have been augmented with wooden sawhorses and what looked to me to be stacked pallets of some kind.

[T]he police are very much aware of the site, and they are very worried about the presence of a hard-right-wing, organized faction that isn't there to protest mandates and vaccine passports, but to directly create conflict with the government. This hard-right element probably includes some non-Canadians, here for the party. The broader complaints of the protesters are a cover for the group seeking open conflict.

My government and security sources do not agree. What’s happening in Ottawa, they were clear, is two separate events happening in tandem: there is a broadly non-violent (to date) group of Canadians with assorted COVID-related gripes, ranging from the somewhat justified to totally frickin’ insane. But that larger group, which has knocked Ottawa and too many of our leaders into what my colleague Jen Gerson so perfectly described as “stun-fucked stasis,” is now providing a kind of (mostly) unwitting cover to a cadre of seasoned street brawlers whose primary goal is to further erode the legitimacy of the state — not just the city of Ottawa, or Ontario or Canada, but of democracies generally.

Andrew Sullivan also takes a look, and sees it as part of a larger reaction against what he calls the "successor ideology:"

To be honest, I didn’t quite see the Canadian truckers coming. I’ve watched a lot of Canada coverage over the years (mainly via South Park, I concede) and the whole anti-vaxxer, campfire-burning, horn-tooting, macho revolt among our gentle neighbors to the north nonetheless took me by surprise.

Rob Ford was a harbinger, I guess. It’s as if the ancient, manly, lumberjacky Canadian id was finally roused from its cultural slumber by a soy-boy prime minister, forcing truckers to take a jab or forfeit their livelihood. And some reports suggest that the vaccine issue seems just the proximate trigger for the rage, and not the real source — a rage which has been steadily building for some time, especially in the pandemic, in the most progressive-left country on the planet.

And there’s something very blue-collar male about this populist anger.

The rise of the angry macho right is easily explained by its progressive foes. It’s a fevered backlash to white patriarchal privilege finally being dismantled — so enjoy the white male tears. And this contains, as many woke insights do, a kernel of truth. It is a good thing that the default identity in America is no longer white, straight and male. It’s a great thing that women’s talents and abilities are no longer so constrained. The workplace-harassment bill that just passed with wide bipartisan support, for example, seems a positive development. It’s wonderful that gay and trans people who are sometimes seen as foils to this “cis-hetero-patriarchy” are so much more visible than before, most recently with Amy Schneider, the brilliant and charismatic Jeopardy champ.

But the successor ideology will not stay there. It never rests. It insists that masculinity itself is entirely socially constructed and can and should therefore be entirely deconstructed; it regards the construction of masculinity as inherently oppressive; it regards men as problematic and privileged; it affirms that the “future is female”; and it treats the straight white male on campus as an unfortunate burden at best.

I eagerly await an email about this from my friend in Montreal.

Slow-ish afternoon

I've sent some test results off to a partner in Sydney, so I have to wait until Monday morning before I officially mark that feature as "done." I'm also writing a presentation I'll give on March 16th. So while the larger part of my brain noodles on Microsoft Azure CosmosDB NoSQL databases (the subject of my presentation), the lesser part has this to read:

Finally, software developer Ben Tupper has created a Myst-like game surrounding the mysterious door at 58 Joralemon Street in Brooklyn Heights. I walked past that door every day for almost two years, and even got a peek inside once. It's not really a townhouse, after all.

Lazy Sunday

Other than making a hearty beef stew, I have done almost nothing of value today. I mean, I did some administrative work, and some chorus work, and some condo board work. But I still haven't read a lick of the books I've got lined up, nor did I add the next feature to the Weather Now 5 app.

I did read these, though:

  • An Illinois state judge has enjoined the entire state from imposing mask mandates on schools, just as NBC reports that anti-vaxxer "influencers" are making bank off their anti-social followers.
  • Across the border, Canadians, generally a less sociopathic lot than American conservatives, have run out of patience with their own anti-vax protestors.
  • The Washington Post demonstrates how the worst gerrymanders in the US work—like the one here in Illinois.
  • Local bicyclists have had enough of winter, blaming the city for filling bike lanes with slush. But...the city didn't make it snow, right?

OK, back to doing nothing. Cassie, at least, is getting a lot of attention.

Is the Covid test plan a stealth argument for single-payer? One can dream

New Republic Natalie Shure points out the absolute, crashing idiocy of getting private health insurance companies involved in procuring free Covid testing, because their whole reason for being is to prevent the efficient procurement of health care:

This rollout will be a disaster. And really, that should have been obvious: There’s a reason that the Covid-19 vaccines, monoclonal antibody treatments and antiviral drugs have been made free at the point of use, rather than routed through private insurers. It’s because the insurance industry is structurally incapable of achieving anything universally or efficiently.

That’s not hyperbole, it is by design: The role of private insurers within a for-profit multi-payer system is to restrict access as a gatekeeper, determining who is entitled to use which healthcare services and how much they pay for this. To keep these obligations profitable, they employ an army of claims assessors to argue with you, erect arbitrary hoops for providers and patients to jump through to prove you actually need certain care, raise copays and deductibles as high as possible, and foist as much of the paperwork as possible onto patients.

Insurance companies play the single ghastliest role in a legendarily ghastly healthcare system: Whatever invective you can hurl in Big Pharma’s direction, they at least produce something we actually need. Health insurers offer no value whatsoever; they have nothing to do with care itself and if the industry vaporized completely tomorrow, no one would mourn its demise—we’d all be better off. We’re maddeningly stuck with them for now, owing to a host of reasons ranging from inertia to political capture by industry.

[T]his is an object lesson: We’re in the hands of an industry that was never built to serve patients, a problem which no regulatory tweak will ever fix.

Yes, this is true. I learned that early in my career, leading to a long-standing policy of never working for a health insurer in any capacity.

Let me catalog some of my own experiences when big health-insurance companies have claimed to pay me to write software:

  • The first time, a major health-insurance company hired me to write software using a then-current technology, but the project wasn't ready to start, so they involuntarily put me on a team working with obsolete technology and a process so stultifying I didn't actually get to write code. I literally picked up my signing bonus on the way to several interviews in New York, and quit the day I got back. The entire division got dissolved about a year later.
  • Well into my professional career, I went to another major health-insurance company along with 8 other developers and managers, but under the aegis of a moderately-big consulting firm. The on-site project cost the client of about $150,000 per week. Of course, they couldn't get us network access or even a project charter. After about a month and about $750,000 spent, the company cancelled the project. I never even found out what software they proposed to build, had they gone through with, you know, building it.
  • More recently, a major health-insurance company hired me through a recently-acquired subsidiary as the 6th member of a team writing software in a language less than 3% of software developers ever use. I only took the gig because the subsidiary claimed a level of autonomy from the parent company it did not, in fact, enjoy. It occurred to me less than a week after starting that if the product we were building worked, it would undermine one of the key revenue streams of the parent company. Nevertheless, they hired a new developer to the team about every three weeks (despite an admitted 6-month ramp-up time in the language and product), at an average all-in cost of $18,000 per month per developer. I left after three months, as the team grew past 12 people and yet only completed about 5 function points a week.
    The parent company killed not only the project but also the entire acquired company about two years later. The software never shipped, though I did hear they had completed about half of the planned function points.
    On my way out the door I asked my manager what it said to him that the parent company didn't care about burning $200,000 a month on software that he and I both knew a couple of us could build in a garage in four months. He didn't say anything, but Upton Sinclair did*.

You may not see the connection between these failures, or why I jumped ship so quickly the third time, but it's actually really simple. In all three cases, the companies needed to show their shareholders ongoing investments in technology, and needed to show the general public plans for really great tools to make people's lives better any day now. But the best way any of these companies could have made anyone's lives better would be for the US government to obviate their health divisions by paying for our health care directly.

According to the World Bank, the US spends 17% of GDP on health care, behind only Tuvalu and the Marshall Islands (combined populations: 72,000). The first OECD countries on the list are Switzerland (11.9%), Germany (11.4%), and France (11.3%), all of which have vastly better outcomes than the US. How do they achieve this? By not having fat, bloody leeches draining their health spending on useless bullshit. Example: the National Institutes of Health found in a 2020 study that a staggering 34.2% of health-care expenditures in the US went into administration, compared with just 17% in Canada—and Canada has better health-care outcomes overall than we do.

Shure ends her column with an inescapable truth:

[I]t’s pretty telling that the very moment a life-threatening pandemic necessitated mass vaccination, the idea of involving private health insurance companies with that project was absolutely unthinkable. Who in their right mind would attempt to involve them in something urgent? And if they’re such a dismal way to confer access to Covid-19 testing to anyone who needs it, why the hell are they still playing the role they do in the healthcare system writ large?

Let's end this farce and get real single-payer health care in the US, so we can finally enter the 21st century with the rest of the OECD.

* "It is difficult to get a man to understand a thing when his salary depends on him not understanding it."

Fed up with all that

Three items:

  1. James Fallows reminds us that the US Senate filibuster "is a perversion of the Constitution," that "enables the very paralysis the founders were desperate to avoid," among other things. (He also links to an essay by former US Senator Al Franken (D-MN) about how cynical the filibuster has become.)
  2. Jacob Rosenberg brings together workers' own stories about how they got fed up, illustrating how "the big quit" happened.
  3. Canadian political scientist Thomas Homer-Dixon has had enough of the political disunion in the failing democracy to his south, and worries what that will mean to Canada.

On the hopeful side, though, we have the Webb Space Telescope gently nudging its mirrors into place at a rate of about 1 millimeter per day.

Visiting the remote bits of the world

I've just added two places to my shortlist of vacation spots once travel becomes a little easier.

On Tuesday, I saw Japan's entry for this year's Academy Award for best foreign film, Drive My Car (ドライブ・マイ・カー). Most of it takes place in Hiroshima, Japan. Clearly director Ryusuke Hamaguchi loves the city. For obvious reasons most of the central parts of Hiroshima only date back 70 years, but the hills and islands surrounding the postwar downtown look like the Pacific Northwest.

And this morning, the New York Times Canada Letter reported from Newfoundland. I've wanted to see the Maritime Provinces for years. Maybe Cassie and I can spend a couple of weeks some summer driving from Maine to Nova Scotia to PEI and then take a ferry to "The Rock?" (There's a ferry from North Sydney, N.S., to Channel-Port aux Basques, Nfld.)

For what it's worth, I think I'd fly to Western Japan...