The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

War in Europe

Some things to remember:

  • "Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent."—Isaac Asimov
  • Russian president Vladimir Putin lost the argument. This is his tantrum. But like a 15-year-old with a rifle, he's still a threat to everyone else.
  • The argument is that liberal democracy produces better outcomes for everyone than lawless autocracy. Notice that Russian kleptocrats keep their money in the US and UK, countries with strong institutions and rule of law.
  • Russia's economy, which is based on resource extraction, is the 11th largest in the world, after Italy, Canada, and South Korea. It's smaller than New York State's and just a little bigger than Illinois' and Florida's. California's GDP is more than double Russia's. So is the UK's.
  • Wars never stay confined to their initial theater. How badly this spills out should keep us awake at night.

A friend in Kyiv sent these photos earlier today. People leaving Kyiv:

Explosions in the city:

Photos by Татьяна Мисиюк

Here's what the professionals have to say:

I'll be monitoring this situation closely.

Busy couple of days

I've had a lot to do at work the last couple of days, leading to an absolute pile-up of unread press:

Finally, on this day in 1940, Woody Guthrie released "This Land is Your Land," a song even more misunderstood than Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the USA."

Some questions about Ukraine

Russian president Vladimir Putin asserted yesterday that Ukraine doesn't exist, reasoning that Russia created the territory sometime in the past and therefore it remains part of Russia today. This raises some questions:

  1. If that were the case, how can Russia now recognize two "independent republics" with governments legally authorized to request Russian "peacekeepers?"
  2. Should New York send troops into its breakaway region in Vermont, and Massachusetts take back its former territory of Maine?
  3. How unpopular must Putin be at home that he needs to do something this dramatic to distract the world?

Let's also not forget that the Ukrainian fracas has taken the world's attention away from the South China Sea, where the next real war will probably happen. Fun times, fun times.

Missing the point of the sport

I don't understand why Russian figure-skating coaches have such a bad reputation:

One of the joys of watching the Olympics is seeing moments like this, dreams realized. I have indelible memories of such celebrations. In 1998, Tara Lipinski leapt into the air and released a series of ear-splitting shrieks when she found out she won, embracing her coaches in pure joy. In 2002, Sarah Hughes fell to the ground in shock backstage, laughing and smiling in disbelief, her coach grabbing her face and exclaiming, “You won the gold medal at the Olympics!”

At the 2022 Beijing Olympics, there was no such moment of joy. The scene that I witnessed instead made me feel hollow and heartbroken, like I was somehow complicit in the mental anguish of these young women by even watching. When it was announced that 17-year-old Anna Shcherbakova was the gold medalist, the camera didn’t even cut to her for several minutes. Instead, we watched 15-year-old Kamila Valieva, the girl at the center of the Olympic doping scandal, the skater seen as near certain to capture the gold medal, crumple into a ball of tears upon learning she had ended up in fourth place after a disastrous free skate. Valieva received only perfunctory support from her coach, Eteri Tutberidze, who had berated her as soon as she stepped off the ice: “Why did you let it go? Why did you stop fighting? Explain it to me, why? You let it go after that axel. Why?”

As Valieva exited the kiss and cry, she passed silver medalist Alexandra Trusova, also crying, throwing what can only be described as a temper tantrum. When someone offered Trusova an arm of support, she jumped away and shouted in Russian: “I can’t see this! I won’t see this!” One might have imagined these remarks were in sympathy for her training mate Valieva, but later comments made it clear it was bitterness over receiving silver. Trusova is quoted as exclaiming, “I hate it! … I don’t want to do anything in figure skating ever in my life! … Everyone has a gold medal, and I don’t!” One can forgive a teenage girl for having an emotional response to disappointment in a high-stakes situation, but Trusova’s reaction was an ugly display of poor sportsmanship, happening mere feet from a devastated Valieva. Trusova would later have to be coaxed into even coming back onto the ice to accept her second place finish.

After reading Schleicher's account of last Wednesday's awfulness, and a few others that crossed my desk over the week, I have two questions: first, why are Russians competing at all this year, when clearly their suspension for doping did nothing to stop them from doping? And second, why do people want to watch children destroying their lives for figure skating? It's past time to kick the Russian teams out of international competitions until they stop cheating, and past time to raise the age of participation in all Olympic sports to 18.

What happened to Tuesday?

And wasn't it just Tuesday?

I got an email from HR this morning reminding me that I'm approaching the upper limit for paid time off in my bank. I thought, what with taking half a day here and there over the past year, I might not already have almost a month of vacation to use. Cue searching on VRBO for places Cassie and I might like.

Meanwhile, back in the present:

But back to vacation: how cute is this place?

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."

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.

The measure of a dictator

Johns Hopkins University professor Eliot Cohen believes Russian President Vladimir Putin played a bad hand well, but that doesn't make him a genius:

Ukraine is a problem for Putin’s Russia not because it may join NATO, but because it is democratizing—slowly, awkwardly, imperfectly—and after 30 years of independence is constructing a new national identity. So, too, have the other former Soviet republics, a number of which (Azerbaijan, for example) have quietly sided with Kyiv. The aim of reconstructing if not the Russian empire, then a 21st-century version of it, is slipping out of Putin’s grip, and he knows it. In many ways, what we’re seeing now from Moscow is a spasm of atavistic postimperial assertion, which, rather like British and French intervention in Egypt in 1956, may begin well but will probably end poorly.

Western strategic clichés usually portray the Russians as incomparably deft chess masters, wily manipulators of the use of force to support policy, who consistently outplay their Western opponents. But that characterization is less true than one might think. Indeed, American and British intelligence were shrewd in warning of Russian false-flag operations and provocations and in naming a range of Ukrainian quislings who were being vetted to take power. These revelations are an antidote to the poisoned needles being prepared by the Russian secret services.

Armed forces reflect their societies, and although Russia is a lot better off than it was in the ’90s, it remains a society with poor public health; a crude, resource-based economy; and a deeply corrupt and self-seeking elite. Russia is also vulnerable to sanctions and cyberattacks. And at the top, the country is led by an aging dictator who does not hear many uncomfortable truths from advisers who know better.

The comparison he makes between Putin and Robert E Lee is instructive. At some point, Putin will make a mistake. Let's all hope NATO can use it wisely.

NotPetya was NotRussia, says court

Via Bruce Schneier, the New Jersey Superior Court has found that the NotPetya attack that disabled much of Merck's shipping network in 2017 was not an act of war by the Russian government, and therefore Merck's insurer may be on the hook for a $1.4 billion payout:

The parties disputed whether the Notpetya malware which affected Merck's computers in 2017 was an instrument of the Russian government, so that the War or Hostile Acts exclusion would apply to the loss.

The Court noted that Merck was a sophisticated and knowledgeable party, but there was no indication that the exclusion had been negotiated since it was in standard language. The Court, therefore, applied, under New Jersey law, the doctrine of construction of insurance contracts that gives prevalence to the reasonable expectations of the insured, even in exceptional circumstances when the literal meaning of the policy is plain.

The Court also noted that under New Jersey law, 'all risks' policies extended coverage to risks not usually contemplated by the parties unless a specific provision excluded the loss from coverage.

36 Group's article included the court order from December 6th. The ruling only applies to New Jersey, but I expect insurance companies will take hard looks at all of their "all risks" policies to see how much exposure they could have to another cyberattack. I suspect insurers will start demanding people protect their networks better, too, the way they have encouraged people to buy safer cars.

It might also bankrupt Ace American Insurance Co., but that won't change the follow-on effects of this ruling.

Monday, Monday

The snow has finally stopped for, we think, a couple of days, and the city has cleared most of the streets already. (Thank you, Mike Bilandic.) What else happened today?

Finally, Weber Grills apologized today for its really unfortunate timing last week, when it emailed thousands of customers a recipe for BBQ meat loaf—on the day singer Meat Loaf died.