The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Kim plays chess while Trump plays Chutes and Ladders

What happens when an id-driven man-child with no curiosity who loathes nuance and knowledge tries to negotiate a complex geopolitical deal with the most secretive regime in the world? One of them gets punked, bigly:

The North Koreans appear to have waited until Trump announced a date and a venue to shift gears and make clear that giving up their nuclear weapons was definitely not on the agenda. In the lead-up President Trump was veritably giddy. In late April Trump praised Kim as “very honorable” for his good faith negotiations in preparation for the summit and then later effused over his “excellent” treatment of US prisoners and how “nice” he had been to free them early. (22 year old Otto Warmbier received an unexplained fatal brain injury in North Korean custody last year.)

After all this it was just five days later when the North Koreans canceled a planning meeting and began signaling that “denuclearization” was not up for debate. It’s all pretty clear (and this was widely predicted by area experts). Kim waited and waited and waited, fluffed and fluffed and fluffed until Trump had locked himself into a time and a place before threatening to cancel and saying publicly North Korea would not give up its nuclear weapons. This way Trump is either faced with attending the summit in which the two men will meet as equals and with nuclearization not up for discussion or canceling a meeting upon which Trump has banked so much both domestically and internationally.

This might have something to do with President Trump not caring about the actual contents of the deal. He just wants a deal. Any deal. Whereas Kim really only wants legitimacy, which any photo showing him standing next to Trump will give him.

The Economist points out that this is, in fact, an old script:

South Korea’s unification ministry said the North’s about-face was “regrettable”. [South Korean president] Moon’s office did not even go that far, claiming the move was “just part of the process”. The White House said it had received no indication that the Singapore summit would not go ahead.

North Korea says the summit can proceed only if America is “sincere” about improving relations. But it is the North’s sincerity that has always been in question. At the very least, the kerfuffle is a reminder that until a few months ago, Mr Kim was seen as untrustworthy and belligerent. There is little reason to imagine he has changed.

If all it takes is for Kim to act like a reasonable negotiator for a few weeks for him to get literally everything he wants from the Trump administration, why would he behave differently?

And if Kim has even one percent more patience than Trump—not hard, given that Parker has at least ten—how difficult will this be, really?

The art of the deal

North Korea may have pwned President Trump, for some pretty predictable reasons:

Most U.S. presidents would see North Korea’s threats as a test and would therefore neither budge from the U.S. negotiating stance nor allow our foe to dictate who advises the president. Whether Trump will crumble (as he did in offering China an olive branch on ZTE) remains to be seen. This should nevertheless serve as a warning for U.S. officials, and Trump specifically, to cut the happy talk and maintain a high degree of skepticism about Pyongyang’s intentions.

Trump’s insistence that “no one” has gotten as far as he has in negotiations with North Korea is misguided in several respects. First, we’ve actually had full-blown agreements with North Korea — which North Korea did not abide by. We’ve had many rounds of negotiations with North Korea over the years and even release of imprisoned Americans. Trump on the other hand has gotten nothing concrete from North Korea on its denuclearization; he has not gotten anything of lasting value. Second, the promise of a summit is already buying Kim some international stature and credibility while raising questions as to whether our South Korean partners have been engaged in some wishful thinking regarding the prospects for denuclearization. By offering North Korea a summit, Trump is now at risk of losing something of no strategic value — a world-class photo op — if he does not accede to North Korea’s table-setting demands for the summit. And should he ever get into a room with Kim, one can only imagine what he would give up to get his own version of “peace in our time.”

New Republic's Heather Souvaine Horn agrees:

Three and a half weeks ago, after North Korea announced it would be shutting down its nuclear tests, New Republic contributor Jon Wolfsthal cautioned not to celebrate President Donald Trump’s diplomatic victory just yet. Now, that analysis is looking remarkably prescient.

The reality, Wolfsthal wrote, was that any kind of lasting agreement with North Korea would take months to negotiate and years to implement. If America, led by an impatient president, walks away in frustration, then North Korea can “paint the United States as the unreasonable party.” By raising American expectations and then engaging in periodic obstructionism, Kim could be setting the talks up to fail. If the administration takes the bait, Wolfsthal argued, that would suit Kim just fine.

You know, I really want the U.S. to succeed in the world. Unfortunately, we have a child in the White House, looking out only for himself, and not competent even to understand where he's incompetent.

Three on climate change

Earlier this week, the Post reported on data that one of the scariest predictions of anthropogenic climate change theory seems to be coming true:

The new research, based on ocean measurements off the coast of East Antarctica, shows that melting Antarctic glaciers are indeed freshening the ocean around them. And this, in turn, is blocking a process in which cold and salty ocean water sinks below the sea surface in winter, forming “the densest water on the Earth,” in the words of study lead author Alessandro Silvano, a researcher with the University of Tasmania in Hobart.

In other words, the melting of Antarctica’s glaciers appears to be triggering a “feedback” loop in which that melting, through its effect on the oceans, triggers still more melting. The melting water stratifies the ocean column, with cold fresh water trapped at the surface and warmer water sitting below. Then, the lower layer melts glaciers and creates still more melt water — not to mention rising seas as glaciers lose mass.

"The idea is that this mechanism of rapid melting and warming of the ocean triggered sea level rise at other times, like the last glacial maximum, when we know rapid sea level rise was five meters per century,” Silvano said. “And we think this mechanism was the cause of rapid sea-level rise.”

Meanwhile, Chicago magazine speculates about what these changes will mean to our city in the next half-century:

Can Chicago really become a better, maybe even a far better, place while much of the world suffers the intensifying storms and droughts resulting from climate change? A growing consensus suggests the answer may be a cautious yes. For one, there’s Amir Jina, an economist at the University of Chicago who studies how global warming affects regional economies. In the simulations he ran, as temperatures rise, rainfall intensifies, and seas surge, Chicago fares better than many big U.S. cities because of its relative insulation from the worst ravages of heat, hurricanes, and loss of agriculture.

Indeed, the Great Lakes could be considered our greatest insurance against climate change. They contain 95 percent of North America’s supply of freshwater—and are protected by the Great Lakes Water Compact, which prohibits cities and towns outside the Great Lakes basin from tapping them. While aquifers elsewhere run dry, Chicago should stay flush for hundreds of years to come.

“We’re going to be like the Saudi Arabia of freshwater,” says David Archer, a professor of geophysical science at the University of Chicago. “This is one of the best places in the world to live out global warming.”

There’s just one problem: Water, which should be our salvation, could also do us in.

The first drops of the impending deluge have already fallen. Every one-degree rise in temperature increases the atmosphere’s capacity to hold water vapor by almost 4 percent. As a result, rain and snow come down with more force. Historically, there’s been a 4 percent chance of a storm occurring in any given year in Chicago that drops 5.88 inches of rain in 48 hours—a so-called 25-year storm. In the last decade alone, we have had one 25-year storm, plus a 50-year storm and, in 2011, a 100-year storm. In the best-case scenario, where carbon emissions stay relatively under control, we’re looking at a 25 percent increase in the number of days with extreme rainfall by the end of the century. The worst-case scenario sees a surge of 60 percent. Precipitation overall may increase by as much as 30 percent.

And in today's Times, Justin Gillis and Hal Harvey argue that cars are ruining our cities as well as our climate:

[T]he truth is that people who drive into a crowded city are imposing costs on others. They include not just reduced mobility for everyone and degraded public space, but serious health costs. Asthma attacks are set off by the tiny, invisible soot particles that cars emit. Recent research shows that a congestion charge in Stockholm reduced pollution and sharply cut asthma attacks in children.

The bottom line is that the decision to turn our public streets so completely over to the automobile, as sensible as it might have seemed decades ago, nearly wrecked the quality of life in our cities.

We are revealing no big secrets here. Urban planners have known all these things for decades. They have known that removing lanes to add bike paths and widen sidewalks can calm traffic, make a neighborhood more congenial — and, by the way, increase sales at businesses along that more pleasant street. They have known that imposing tolls with variable pricing can result in highway lanes that are rarely jammed.

We're adapting, slowly, to climate change. Over my lifetime I've seen the air in Chicago and L.A. get so much cleaner I can scarcely remember how bad it was growing up. (Old photos help.) But we're in for some pretty big changes in the next few years. I think Chicago will ultimately do just fine, except for being part of the world that has to adapt more dramatically than any time in the last few thousand years.

The Thick of It is now

In a column last summer, UC Berkeley professor Ned Resnikoff saw Armando Ianucci's British sitcom The Thick of It as a warning:

As scathing as The Thick of It can be in its depiction of craven, self-interested political behavior, it’s difficult to imagine any of its protagonists engaging in criminality on a scale equal to what Trump’s inner circle may have committed.

Nor can The Thick of It capture the dizzying instability of American politics in 2017, though it has occasionally gotten close. The conventions of the sitcom genre usually demand that, for all the frantic activity in one episode or another, very little ever really changes; the prime minister might get ousted and the opposition may become the governing party, but the political system itself remains static. It’s barely five years later that we understand just how fragile that apparent stasis was all along.

Indeed, one can imagine a contemporary version of The Thick of It in which its starring hacks cross the murky boundary between unethical behavior and blatantly illegal acts,the usual unprincipled goons suddenly finding themselves locked into a partnership of convenience with committed racists; and in which the collateral damage they wreak has expanded to institutional and geopolitical dimensions. While that show does not yet exist, one can see the seeds of proto-Trumpian government-as-PR-crisis in old Thick of It episodes, like a warning we all failed to heed.

Yes. We're longing for the halcyon days of Malcolm Tucker. Welcome to the Trump Administration.

What really was the Cuban sonic weapon?

About a year ago, a number of American diplomats and their families in Cuba were injured by what our military speculated might be a sonic weapon. A sonic weapon directs sonic energy at a target to disable, but not necessarily permanently damage, the person. Over a few months, people reported "blaring, grinding noise," hearing loss, speech problems, nausea, disequilibrium...exactly what a sonic weapon could cause.

Via Bruce Schneier, a team at the University of Michigan working in association with the IEEE has published a paper speculating on the variety of weapon how it might have worked:

On the face of it, it seems impossible. For one thing, ultrasonic frequencies—20 kilohertz or higher—are inaudible to humans, and yet the sounds heard by the diplomats were obviously audible. What’s more, those frequencies don’t propagate well through air and aren’t known to cause direct harm to people except under rarefied conditions. Acoustic experts dismissed the idea that ultrasound could be at fault.

Then, about six months ago, an editor from The Conversation sent us a link to a video from the Associated Press, reportedly recorded in Cuba during one of the attacks.

To make the problem tractable, we began by assuming that the source of the audible sounds in Cuba was indeed ultrasonic. Reviewing the OSHA guidance, Fu theorized that the sound came from the audible subharmonics of inaudible ultrasound. In contrast to harmonics, which are produced at integer multiples of a sound’s fundamental frequency, subharmonics are produced at integer divisors (or submultiples) of the fundamental frequency, such as 1/2 or 1/3. For instance, the second subharmonic of an ultrasonic 20-kHz tone is a clearly audible 10 kHz. Subharmonics didn’t quite explain the AP video, though: In the video, the spectral plot indicates tones evenly spaced every 180 Hz, whereas subharmonics would have appeared at progressively smaller fractions of the original frequency. Such a plot would not have the constant 180-Hz spacing.

Of course, to this day, no one knows exactly why the attacks occurred, and even to say "attacks" makes a reasonable but not certain assumption.

Tuesday link round-up

Late afternoon on Tuesday, with so much to do before the end of the week, I can only hope actually to read these articles that have passed through my inbox today:

And now for something completely different tonight: Improv and Arias. Which is why I wonder whether I'll actually get to read all of the articles I just posted about.

Politically-motivated Spam from an island nation's PR department?

Over the past few weeks I've gotten several emails from someone purporting to be "Jess Miller" in New Zealand, mentioning she'd noticed a post I did on the Maldives in 2012. That post reported on the violent coup d'état that overthrew the democratically elected government of the island nation just southwest of the Indian subcontinent. And just a few weeks ago, the military dissolved Parliament and threw the country into more unrest. The U.S. State Department has issued a level-2 caution. Understandably, tourism has declined somewhat, which is a pity because it's unlikely the country will exist after another 50 years of climate-change-induced sea-level rise.

Anyway, "Jess" sent me an email about my "wonderful blog post" and called out "a solid blog post [she'd] read in the past," which turned out to be the U.K. Foreign Office travel warning about the place.

Then there's the punchline: "Jess" wants to cross-post with her "best things to do in the Maldives" article on her own site.

I think the best thing to do in the Maldives right now is not to go there.

So, "Jess," your article is very attractive and I think a wonderful list of things to do once the government of the Maldives returns to civilian control, their economy stops its free-fall, tourists stop getting robbed in their hotel rooms, and climate change goes into reverse so they stop suffering the existential peril that is driving all these problems.

Any takers on a bet that "Jess" has funding from a Maldives tourist agency?

First look at the Boeing 797?

Via Cranky Flyer, blogger Jon Ostrower has a look at early drawings of Boeing's next transport airplane, which could fly as early as 2025:

The yet-to-be-launched NMA is slated to arrive in 2025. First with the base model, the NMA-6X (225 passengers at 5,000nm) and the NMA-7X (265 passengers at 4,500nm) two years later, according to two people familiar with Boeing’s planning today.

Elements adapted from existing aircraft are apparent across this early iteration of the NMA design: A 737 Max-style tail cone, larger 787/777X-sized cabin windows, and a 757/767/777-style wind screen. The door arrangement matches that of Boeing’s last “small twin,” the 767-200, very strongly suggesting a twin-aisle design.

Equally important is what’s not visible. The angle doesn’t show the most distinctive – and potentially technically challenging – aspect of the design. The ovoid shape of the fuselage isn’t readily apparent, but the curve in the future nose hints at the ‘hybrid design.”

The aim of such a design is to maximize the passenger space in the cabin; notionally a seven-abreast 2-3-2 twin-aisle economy arrangement above the floor with room for a single-aisle-sized cargo hold below, according to those familiar with the design. The debate between North American and Asian airlines over the shape and capacity of the belly (and ensuing wing-sizing and engine thrust capabilities) was detailed last week by Bloomberg News’ Julie Johnsson.

These early images only hint at Boeing's direction. The final airplane design will look much different. But Boeing's strategy is interesting, and probably the right one: build a fuel-efficient mid-size airplane for trans-Atlantic flights to add a host of new city pairs to the mix. Just as one example, American has sometimes flown a 767 from Raleigh, N.C., to London; I've been on the flight a few times. It's always half-empty. That's a perfect route for a 737-size airplane that has the range of a 787.

Of course, I live in Chicago, which still has the second-busiest airport in the world, and from where one can get a nonstop flight to almost as many countries as from Heathrow. But having more city pairs could reduce the pressure on cities like Chicago, Miami, and Los Angeles, and make flying overseas more convenient for everyone.

I'm looking forward to riding on the 797 in a few years. We'll see what it looks like, and how scared Airbus is, well before then.

Warming Arctic, chilling Northeast

Writing in the New York Times, University of Washington professor Cecilia Bitz sounds a four-klaxon alarm about the rapidly-warming Arctic:

In late February, a large portion of the Arctic Ocean near the North Pole experienced an alarming string of extremely warm winter days, with the surface temperature exceeding 25 degrees Fahrenheit above normal.

These conditions capped nearly three months of unusually warm weather in a region that has seen temperatures rising over the past century as greenhouse gas concentrations (mostly carbon dioxide and methane) have increased in the atmosphere. At the same time, the extent of frozen seawater floating in the Arctic Ocean reached new lows in January and February in 40 years of satellite monitoring.

In recent years, the air at the Arctic Ocean surface during winter has warmed by over 5 degrees Fahrenheit above normal. So was this recent spate of warm weather linked to longer-term climate change, or was it, well, just the weather?

What we can say is this: Weather patterns that generate extreme warm Arctic days are now occurring in combination with a warming climate, which makes extremes more likely and more severe. What’s more, these extreme temperatures have had a profound influence on sea ice, which has become thinner and smaller in extent, enabling ships to venture more often and deeper into the Arctic.

This coincides with an article in the Washington Post describing new research that the unusually cold and snowy winter just ended in the Northeast U.S. and in Europe is a direct consequence of warmer Arctic weather:

The study, titled “Warm Arctic episodes linked with increased frequency of extreme winter weather in the United States,” shows that severe winter weather, late in the season, has increased over the eastern United States since 1990 as the Arctic has dramatically warmed, faster than any other part of the world.

When the Arctic is warm, the study finds, cold weather and heavy snowfalls in the eastern United States are two to four times more likely than when it is cold.

“This paper argues that the weather was cold not in spite of climate change but likely because of climate change,” said Judah Cohen, lead author of the study.

As Arctic temperatures have warmed in recent decades, late winter weather severity has increased in the East while decreasing in the West, the study found.

Because the increase in winter weather severity in the East has been most pronounced in February and March, when the biggest winter storms tend to form, major East Coast cities have seen an uptick in the frequency of crippling snowstorms. “We found a statistically significant increase in the return rate of heavier snowfall in Boston, New York  and Washington,” Cohen said.

Scientists haven't found the exact causes of the relationship, but evidence for the correlation got a lot more significant this year. But the prediction that anthropogenic climate change would lead to a feedback loop and rapidly-warming Arctic, in combination with extreme weather events elsewhere at the same time, has been around for decades. We're now seeing the predictions come true.

In other words, we're going to experience harsh winters in places that haven't had them for a few years, before the ocean becomes so warm that weather patterns shift again, probably suddenly (i.e., within a couple of decades). We don't know what the next pattern will look like. But we can predict it will be more extreme, and that beachfront property in the mid-Atlantic looks like a bad investment.

Ides of March reading list

I'm writing a response to an RFP today, so I'll have to read these when I get a chance:

There were two more stories in my inbox this morning, but they deserve their own post after lunch.