The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

More than €700m pledged to rebuild Notre-Dame

Yesterday's devastating fire in the Cathédral de Notre-Dame de Paris fortunately left the walls and bell towers intact. But the destruction of the fire and roof could take 10-15 years to fix, according to Le Monde. So far, corporations and other European governments have pledged over €700m ($790m, £605m) towards rebuilding it:

  • La famille Arnault a la première annoncé un "don" de 200 millions d'euros par le groupe de luxe LVMH et a proposé que l'entreprise mette à disposition ses "équipes créatives, architecturales, financières" pour aider au travail de reconstruction et de collecte de fonds ;
  • La famille Bettencourt a annoncé deux dons de 100 millions d'euros, l'un via L'Oréal et l'autre via sa fondation ;
  • La famille d'industriels Pinault, qui possède le groupe Kering, a annoncé débloquer 100 millions d'euros via sa société d'investissement Artemis ;
  • Le PDG du groupe Total, Patrick Pouyanné, a annoncé sur son compte Twitter, que le groupe, qui se présente comme le "premier mécène de la Fondation du patrimoine", allait faire un "don spécial" de 100 millions d'euros.

In the past few weeks, 9 churches in France have burned; however, the Paris Police have opened an accident investigation, suggesting they don't believe it's related. Also, firefighters appear to have saved not only the bell towers but also the grand organ:

The culture minister, Franck Riester, said religious relics saved from the cathedral, including the Crown of Thorns and Saint Louis’s tunic, were being securely held at the Hôtel de Ville, and works of art that sustained smoke damage were being taken to the Louvre where they would be dried out, restored and stored.

He said three stained-glass “rose” windows did not appear to be damaged but would be examined more closely when the cathedral was made safe. Photos from inside the monument suggest Notre Dame’s grand organ, built in the 1730s and boasting 8,000 pipes, was spared from the flames.

Sixteen copper statues that decorated the spire, representing the 12 apostles and four evangelists, had been removed for restoration only a few days before the fire. Relics at the top of the spire are believed lost as the spire was destroyed.

Still, the damage is appalling. I join with the people of France in hoping that they will be able to rebuild, even if it takes until the 2030s.

Third time's a darn

Prime Minister Theresa May failed, for a third time, to get the agreed-to deal with the EU through the House of Commons:

The Guardian explains the consequences:

A string of Brexit-backing Conservative backbenchers who had rejected the deal in the first two meaningful votes, including the former Brexit secretary Dominic Raab, switched sides during the debate to support the agreement.

But with Labour unwilling to change its position, and the Democratic Unionist party’s 10 MPs determined not to support it, it was not enough to secure a majority for the prime minister.

Afterwards, May told MPs: “The implications of the house’s decision are grave,” and added: “I fear we are reaching the limits of this process in this house.”

Under the deal agreed by EU leaders in Brussels last week, Brexit was to be delayed until 22 May if the prime minister could win parliament’s backing for the withdrawal agreement this week.

Instead, she will have to return to Brussels before 12 April to ask for a longer delay – requiring Britain to hold European elections in May – or accept a no-deal Brexit.

Welp. We're getting close to Britain crashing out of the EU without a deal two weeks from today. How many own goals can one team score?

EU votes on Daylight Saving Time

The European Union Parliament today voted 410-192 to allow member states to end Daylight Saving Time in 2021:

The vote is not the last word on the issue but will form the basis of discussions with EU countries to produce a final law.

The countries have yet to take a stance.

A parliament report in favour of operating on a single time throughout the year said scientific studies link time changes to diseases of the cardiovascular or immune systems because they interrupt biological cycles, and that there were no longer any energy savings.

What this actually means requires one more EU-wide step:

All 28 member states would need to inform the European Commission of their choice ahead of the proposed switch, by April 2020. They would then coordinate with the bloc's executive so that their decisions do not disrupt the functioning of the single market.

Last year, the European Commission proposed abolishing the seasonal clock change after an EU-wide online poll showed overwhelming support. It has been accused, however, of rushing through the vote ahead of European Parliament elections in May. 

More:

Countries that wanted to be permanently on summertime would adjust their clocks for the final time on the last Sunday in March 2021. Those that opt for permanent wintertime would change their clocks for the final time on the last Sunday of October 2021.

The British government has yet to offer any formal opinion on the proposal, which risks creating fresh problems over the status of Northern Ireland after Brexit.

I think we can predict, just by looking at longitude, which countries will go which direction. The UK has made noises that it will keep the twice-yearly time changes, thank you very much. My guess is that Portugal, Spain, the Baltics, and other countries at the western ends of their time zones will opt for standard time, while other countries will go to summer time. That would prevent the problems I outlined when this measure first came into the news a few weeks ago.

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.

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.

Once is accident, twice is conspiracy...

The House of Commons voted 391-242 this evening to reject PM Theresa May's slightly-revised Brexit deal, further throwing the country's prospects after March 29th into chaos:

Because of this defeat, tomorrow Commons will vote on whether to leave the EU without a deal, and if that vote fails, there will be a vote Thursday on whether to extend Article 50. If that vote fails...holy mother forking shirtballs, the UK is forked.

Trips to Europe will need EU registration starting in 2021

When I first heard this morning that visa-free travel to Europe would end for US citizens in 2021, I was dismayed. I remember how time-consuming it was to get a visa before the visa-waiver program started in the late 1980s. And I figured that the US would retaliate, requiring visas from Europeans, which would essentially destroy tourism between the two regions.

The reality isn't really anything like that. In fact, it merely brings the EU in line with what the US has required of visa-free travelers for years.

Starting in 2021, Americans will simply need to register with the EU equivalent of our Electronic System for Travel Authorization, or ESTA:

Currently, US citizens can travel to Europe for up to 90 days without any sort of travel authorization. ETIAS will change that.

Visa-free travelers, including US citizens, will need to request ETIAS authorization before visiting the Schengen Area. They can complete an application and pay a service fee of 7 euros (about $8) online. The authorization is valid for three years.

"Completing the online application should not take more than 10 minutes with automatic approval being given in over 95% of cases," the European Commission said in a statement.

The United States won't be the only country affected by the changes. From 2021, citizens from 60 countries will be required to apply for the ETIAS before entering the Schengen Area. Brazil, Canada, New Zealand, Singapore, Israel and Mauritius are among those countries.

So this should not affect taking a last-minute trip on the Eurostar, or crossing from Northern Ireland into the Republic. And it's fair; we've required ESTA registration from all overseas visitors for many years. I'm annoyed particularly at NPR for getting the details totally wrong in their newscast this morning.

Europe may end Daylight Saving Time...badly

The EU could vote this month to end Daylight Saving Time in 2021, but it turns out popular support for the measure may have been...überwiegend Deutsch:

Time is up for European Union-mandated daylight savings time. The European Commission and European Parliament have agreed on that. All the relevant committees in Parliament are for the change, according to Germany's conservative Christian Democrat (CDU) MEP Peter Liese, who has devoted a lot of time to the issue.

Now that the lead committee on transport and tourism has given its blessing, by a large majority, EU lawmakers could vote on the change by the end of March. After that, all 28 member states will need to rubberstamp the ruling.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker's brash statement back in September, asserting that the amendment would go ahead quickly, has proven to be premature. At the time, Juncker was referring to an overwhelming response to an EU online survey, where an unexpected 80 percent of respondents said the practice of changing the clock twice a year was outdated.

But the survey was not representative, with 3 million of the 4.6 million votes coming from Germany. This led to diplomats from smaller EU countries complaining behind closed doors that the European Commission wanted to impose German will on the other states through sheer populism.

That's great, but some member states want to keep daylight saving time. Won't that be fun.

Labour backs new Brexit referendum

In an unexpected twist, Jeremy Corbyn announced at a Labour party conference today that he supports a "people's vote" on the Brexit deal the UK Government worked out with the EU, and that hardly anyone in the UK agrees with:

In a statement, the party said it would “put forward or support an amendment in favour of a public vote to prevent a damaging Tory Brexit”.

Corbyn will tell MPs the party “cannot and will not accept” May running down the clock towards no deal. He will say EU officials and leaders in Brussels and Madrid found Labour’s alternative Brexit plan “serious and credible” and it could win support across the House of Commons.

“One way or another, we will do everything in our power to prevent no deal and oppose a damaging Tory Brexit based on Theresa May’s overwhelmingly rejected deal,” he said.

“That’s why, in line with our conference policy, we are committed to also putting forward or supporting an amendment in favour of a public vote to prevent a damaging Tory Brexit being forced on the country.”

Other news sources suggest that Corbyn's volte face came about after the resignations of 9 MPs from Labour last week.

The next Commons vote on Brexit will take place March 12th, according to sources in Parliament, giving the Government only two weeks to react to another rejection before crashing out of Europe. With both Corbyn and May playing chicken with the British public, I can only wonder when the next election will happen.

We've already seen what happens when the UK leaves abruptly

Author Pankaj Mishra thinks Brexit may be comeuppance for the British ruling class. Exhibit 1: Indian Partition:

Describing Britain’s calamitous exit from its Indian empire in 1947, the novelist Paul Scott wrote that in India the British “came to the end of themselves as they were” — that is, to the end of their exalted idea about themselves. Scott was among those shocked by how hastily and ruthlessly the British, who had ruled India for more than a century, condemned it to fragmentation and anarchy; how Louis Mountbatten, accurately described by the right-wing historian Andrew Roberts as a “mendacious, intellectually limited hustler,” came to preside, as the last British viceroy of India, over the destiny of some 400 million people.

Britain’s rupture with the European Union is proving to be another act of moral dereliction by the country’s rulers. The Brexiteers, pursuing a fantasy of imperial-era strength and self-sufficiency, have repeatedly revealed their hubris, mulishness and ineptitude over the past two years. Though originally a “Remainer,” Prime Minister Theresa May has matched their arrogant obduracy, imposing a patently unworkable timetable of two years on Brexit and laying down red lines that undermined negotiations with Brussels and doomed her deal to resoundingly bipartisan rejection this week in Parliament.

Mountbatten, derided as “Master of Disaster” in British naval circles, was a representative member of a small group of upper- and middle-class British men from which the imperial masters of Asia and Africa were recruited. Abysmally equipped for their immense responsibilities, they were nevertheless allowed by Britain’s brute imperial power to blunder through the world — a “world of whose richness and subtlety,” as E.M. Forster wrote in “Notes on the English Character,” they could “have no conception.”

From David Cameron, who recklessly gambled his country’s future on a referendum in order to isolate some whingers in his Conservative party, to the opportunistic Boris Johnson, who jumped on the Brexit bandwagon to secure the prime ministerial chair once warmed by his role model Winston Churchill, and the top-hatted, theatrically retro Jacob Rees-Mogg, whose fund management company has set up an office within the European Union even as he vehemently scorns it, the British political class has offered to the world an astounding spectacle of mendacious, intellectually limited hustlers.

And yet, here we are, 10 weeks from Brexit with no plan and no likelihood of one. I hope on Her Majesty's petticoats that they hold another referendum and stop this from happening.