The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

It's not "reopening"

Josh Marshall points out that talking about "reopening," before we have a cure or vaccine for Covid-19, is facile at best and dangerous at worst:

From the start this metaphor has saddled us with distorting language and a distorted concept which has enabled and driven bad policy. It suggests a binary choice when one doesn’t exist. The impact goes beyond semantics.

Most of Europe and East Asia have been able to stamp out COVID or reduce it to very low, manageable levels. We haven’t. You may have heard about that new outbreak in Beijing. By the time an aggressive eradication plan had stamped it out approximately 250 people had been infected. New York State has two or three times that many cases today and it’s doing better than any other state in the country.

There’s no reason beyond conscious choice and policy failure to explain this. Testing is critical. Absolutely critical. But the truth is that the scale of testing continues to rise in the US and it is currently at or above levels in most of these other countries which are now emerging into a new normal of economic and social life. But testing is to a large degree like an instrument panel on a plane. It tells you where you’re going. Up? Down? Fast? Slow? Are you flying into a mountain? In most of the states which let down their guard and allowed indoor dining and bars to reopen the testing sent really clear signals. The tests are there to tell you what’s coming so you can react. In many of these states the testing data said, “You’re flying into the mountain.” They kept flying straight. You can’t blame that on the testing.

We’ve learned a lot we didn’t know four months ago. At least for Europe and North America masking is perhaps the biggest example. Almost as critical is the importance of indoor transmission. Indoors, close quarters, poor ventilation or air conditioning, lots of loud talking. These all make for COVID free fire zones. They are close to the definition of bars and night clubs. Reopening them before COVID is beaten down to negligible levels is madness. And even then it’s probably a bad idea.

There’s no “reopening”. There are different mitigation strategies and there’s how seriously you take the whole enterprise.

Even Illinois, which had seen consistent declines in infection and positive test rates has now leveled off again. I think this meme sums it up pretty well:

In the news this morning

Vox has called the US Senate Democratic Party primary in Kentucky for Amy McGrath, but the main national outlets don't have it yet. [Note: I have contributed financially to Amy McGrath's campaign.] So while I wait for confirmation from the Washington Post (or, you know, the Kentucky State Board of Elections), here's other fun stuff:

Finally, Jeffrey Toobin attempts to explain "Why the Mueller Investigation Failed."

Update: NBC calls Kentucky for McGrath.

Welp. There goes the neighborhood

A 10-hectare section of Alta, Norway, slipped into the sea on Wednesday, destroying 8 vacation homes and temporarily inconveniencing a dog:

The landslide, which ran 2,133 feet along the shore and went nearly 500 feet inland, was the largest the area has ever seen, according to Anders Bjordal, a Norwegian Water Resources and Energy Directorate senior engineer who was involved in the rescue operation.

“In this municipality, a landslide has not happened in 50 or 60 years, and there has never been one this size,” Mr. Bjordal said on Friday.

Jan Egil Bakkeby, who owned one of the cabins, scrambled out of the building when he heard the landslide begin. “I had just made two slices of bread when I heard it crack in the cabin,” he told the Norwegian newspaper Altaposten. “At first I thought there was someone in the loft, but then I saw out of the window that the power cord was smoking.”

As he moved to higher ground, he filmed the scene as a swath of land under his and others’ properties inched into the water and was soon submerged.

Only one rescue took place: A dog was swept away when the land began to slip, and the animal was carried out to sea, officials said. The dog was able to swim ashore and was rescued by a helicopter that was checking the area for missing people.

The video is surreal:

Saturday morning news clearance

I rode the El yesterday for the first time since March 15th, because I had to take my car in for service. (It's 100% fine.) This divided up my day so I had to scramble in the afternoon to finish a work task, while all these news stories piled up:

Finally, author and Ohio resident John Scalzi sums up why he won't rush back to restaurants when they reopen in his state next week:

My plan is to stay home for most of June and let other people run around and see how that works out for them. The best-case scenario is that I’m being overly paranoid for an extra month, in which case we can all laugh about it afterward. The worst case scenario, of course, is death and pain and a lot of people with confused about why ventilator tubes are stuck down their throats, or the throats of their loved ones, when they were assured this was all a liberal hoax, and then all of us back in our houses until September. Once again, I would be delighted to be proved overly paranoid.

I have sympathy for the people who are all, the hell with this, I’ll risk getting sick, just let me out of my fucking apartment. I get where you’re coming from. You probably don’t actually know what you’re asking for. I hope that you never have to learn.

Note to Mr Scalzi: I hope to start The Last Emperox this week. I really do.

Unprecedented numbers

The US unemployment rate exploded to 14.7% in April as 20.5 million people officially left the workforce, with millions more people leaving full-time work and others not even trying to find new jobs. April's job losses were more than 10 times the 1.9 million reported in September 1945 as the US demobilized from World War II.

Once you've absorbed that, there's more:

Finally, today is the 75th anniversary of V-E Day, when the Nazi army finally surrendered to the Allies, ending the war in Europe. Germans celebrated the event today as a day of liberation from the Nazis.

Because life wasn't interesting enough right now

Two forest fires near Vladimirovka, Ukraine, have caused radiation levels in the region to spike:

A fire covering around 20 hectares broke out on Saturday afternoon near the village of Vladimirovka, within the uninhabited Chernobyl exclusion zone, and responders were still fighting two blazes on Monday morning, Ukrainian emergency services said in a statement.

"There is bad news -- in the center of the fire, radiation is above normal," Egor Firsov, head of Ukraine's ecological inspection service, wrote in a Facebook post alongside a video of a Geiger counter. "As you can see in the video, the readings of the device are 2.3, when the norm is 0.14. But this is only within the area of the fire outbreak."

His measurements refer to the microsievert per hour (μSv/h) reading; the maximum allowable amount of natural background radiation is 0.5 μSv/h, the emergency services said, but Firsov's reported amount was nearly five times that.

Vladimirovka sits within the deserted 1,000-square-mile exclusion zone, which was evacuated after the devastating 1986 blast at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant that sent radioactive fallout billowing across Europe and exposed millions to dangerous levels of radiation.

The region has since been taken over by nature, and forest fires are not uncommon.

While researching this post, I discovered that Google has Street View photos of Pripyat and Chernobyl. How did they get permission to do that?

Back when we sabotaged an empire

People who don't study history tend not to understand why our foreign allies and adversaries behave the ways they do. Case in point: the Soviet Union, of which the largest part lives on as the Russian Federation, ended in part because we forced them to spend down their economy just to keep up with us. They might still hate us a little for that.

One man who helped this effort, Gus Weiss, hit on the idea of sabotaging the technology that Soviet spies bought or stole from American and other Western companies. Via Bruce Schneier, Wired has a long-form description of Weiss and his plan:

This plan to feed defective technology, which Weiss says carried the operation designation “Kudo,” existed as part of a larger government mobilization in response to the Farewell intelligence across the national security community. “It was multilayered operation,” Galahad told me. According to Galahad, Weiss didn’t hold any formal leadership role in this effort; instead, “Gus did his work through his own contacts. He was a White House guy. He could get people to pay attention to his ideas. He had friends in the computer business. He had Casey’s ear.”

Galahad told me that Weiss zeroed in on the Soviet industrial sector; he wanted to gut punch the Soviet economy. Galahad recalled that Weiss was friendly with the analysts in the CIA’s Office of Soviet Research. “Let’s say the Italians were building a tractor factory for the Russians in the Ukraine—the guys in OSR would have had access to those blueprints. Gus shared his ideas and recommendations based on that intelligence to his friends at the DoD.”

Meanwhile, the government worked with private sector software companies to create doctored industrial products. They were then made available to the patent clerks and engineers in American technology and arms companies who’d been recruited by the KGB.

High up on the Soviet tech shopping list was software to regulate the pressure gauges and valves for the critical Siberian gas pipeline. According to Tim Weiner’s Legacy of Ashes, the Soviets sought the software on the open market. American export controls prohibited its sale from the US. However, a small industrial software company located in Calgary called Cov-Can produced what the Soviets wanted. As Weiner writes, “The Soviets sent a Line X officer to steal the software. The CIA and the Canadians conspired to let them have it.”

The faulty software “weaved” its way through Soviet quality control. The pipeline software ran swimmingly for months, but then pressure in the pipeline gradually mounted. And one day—the date remains unclear, though most put it in June 1982—the software went haywire, the pressure soaring out of control. The pipeline ruptured, igniting a blast in the wilds of Siberia so massive that, according to Thomas C. Reed’s At the Abyss, “at the White House, we received warning from our infrared satellites of some bizarre event out in the middle of Soviet nowhere. NORAD feared a missile liftoff from a place where no rockets were known to be based. Or perhaps it was the detonation of a nuclear device. The Air Force chief of intelligence rated it at three kilotons.”

I wonder if Presidents Putin and Trump discussed this history during any of their recent unrecorded conversations?

More ridiculousness in the world

Did someone get trapped in a closed time loop on Sunday? Did I? Because this week just brought all kinds of insanity:

Well, one of those is good news...

Same job, new title

For the past seven months I've worked as a contract development lead in Milliman's Cyber Risk Solutions group. Today I officially convert to a new full-time role as Director of Product Development for Cyber Risk Solutions.

We have a lot to do in 2020, and I'll post about it what I can. So far we've started building "a new generation risk platform which uses an ensemble of cutting edge techniques to integrate what is known, knowable and imaginable about complex risks in order help risk managers identify, assess and monitor dynamic, high velocity, complex risk such as cyber," as the partner in charge of my practice says. It's cool shit, I say. And I'm happy to make Milliman my permanent home.

The role now shifts a little bit from building out the minimum-viable product to building out the team. I'll still have to write a lot of software, but I'll also expand our partnerships with teams in London, Sydney, and Lyon, and will probably have to visit at least two of those places more than once in 2020. In fact, at minimum I'll be in the London office four times, probably six. The only one sad about this is Parker.

And as an example of how great the management team is, they're starting me today so that my benefits kick in tomorrow. That was a very cool gesture.

Watch this blog for more updates.

Parisian unions throw a tantrum

Paris has essentially shut down for the past 12 days as transport unions protest pension reform:

Au onzième jour de mobilisation contre la réforme des retraites, le trafic restait fortement perturbé dans les transports publics, dimanche 15 décembre. A Paris, le trafic des métros était particulièrement compliqué, avec quatorze lignes complètement fermées.

Dans le métro parisien, les lignes automatiques 1 et 14 fonctionnaient normalement, avec un risque de saturation, de même que les lignes Orlyval, RoissyBus (deux bus sur trois) et OrlyBus (quatre bus sur cinq), qui desservent les aéroports. En revanche, les lignes 2, 3 bis, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 7 bis, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12 et 13 sont totalement fermées.

Translation: Most of the Metro is closed, most trains aren't running, most buses aren't running, and Paris can barely function.

NPR's Paris-based Eleanor Beardsley has a first-person account on today's Weekend Edition Sunday.

Why is this happening? Here is the Times:

While France’s official retirement age may be 62, the actual age varies widely across the country’s labyrinthine system. Train drivers can retire at 52, public electric and gas workers at 57, and members of the national ballet, who start dancing at a very young age, as early as age 42. That is to name just a few of the stark differences.

It is this sheer complexity that [French President Emmanuel] Macron has vowed to untangle, aiming to standardize 42 different public and private pension schemes into one state-managed plan.

The system is staring at a potential deficit of 19 billion euros by 2025 if no action is taken, according to a landmark report issued by France’s pension czar, Jean-Paul Delevoye.

So Mr. Macron says he wants to merge the disparate systems, public and private, into one state-managed system by 2025.

He also wants to keep the deficit from growing, which Patrick Artus, chief economist of Paris-based Natixis bank, said could be achieved if every worker works at least another six months before retiring.

France isn't the US or the UK, and French unions have tremendous power that unions in the Anglo-American world never had. But years of strikes in the UK during the 1970s drove British voters to Margaret Thatcher's Conservative party and the heavy-handed anti-labour policies she enacted.

I don't think France will ever see that kind of anti-union governance. But I do suggest that perhaps this tantrum needs to end so that the government and the unions can work to fix the structural problems that everyone knows exist.