Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog
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Monday 13 October 2014

The Cranky Flyer took note of an application American Airlines filed last week requesting the Department of Transportation force Delta to give up one of its Tokyo Haneda slots:

Haneda is just much closer to Central Tokyo and is generally the preferred airport if you can get there. Plus, you avoid having to deal with Godzilla. For years after Narita opened, however, only Narita was allowed to handle international traffic. Haneda was still an incredibly important airport with 747s packed to the gills flying around Japan, but it wasn’t until the last few years that international flights were allowed to start creeping in to Haneda.

The crux of the argument is that Delta isn’t really using its [Seattle-to-Haneda] slot.... American calls it “near-dormant,” and that is true. This winter, Delta is doing the bare minimum. It’s flying one week every 90 days on the route and that’s it. In other words, between now and March 29, Delta will fly from Seattle to Haneda only 17 times. That’s nuts, but it’s technically enough to consider the slot active. What American is saying is that even if it meets the rules, we only have 4 slots and the feds should think about how to get the most value out of them.

This doesn't affect Chicago, from which American, JAL, United, and ANA all have daily non-stops to Narita. Getting to Haneda from Chicago requires a lengthy or retrograde connection that obviates the time savings in Japan. (By "retrograde," the fastest routing to Haneda from Chicago goes through Toronto.)

Speaking of Chicago aviation, as of this morning the Aurora ARTCC is back to full operations after the arson attack last month.

Monday 13 October 2014 12:13:06 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation | World | Travel#
Friday 19 September 2014

A clear majority of Scots have rejected independence and elected to remain in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Irleand:

With the results in from all 32 council areas, the "No" side won with 2,001,926 votes over 1,617,989 for "Yes".

Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond called for unity and urged the unionist parties to deliver on more powers.

Prime Minister David Cameron said he was delighted the UK would remain together and that commitments on extra powers would be honoured "in full".

Mr Cameron said the three main unionist parties at Westminster would now follow through with their pledge of more powers for the Scottish Parliament.

The Economist's headline: "Britain Survives:"

By a margin of 55% to 45%, and on a vast 85% turnout, Scots voted to stick with the United Kingdom on September 18th. Thereby they ensured the continuation of the nation state that shaped the modern world, one which still retains great capacity for good. They also preserved the British identity which over a third of Scots, English, Welsh and Northern Irish consider of primary importance. Had around 200,000 more Scots answered “Yes” to the question “Should Scotland be an independent country”, these precious attributes would have been damaged, or destroyed, and Britain with them.

Beginning with tiny Clackmannanshire, a deprived fief of the separatist Scottish National Party (SNP) in central Scotland, which declared for the union at 1.30am, the No vote held up surprisingly strongly in most of Scotland’s 32 councils. The Gaelic-speaking, SNP-voting Western Isles delivered another early snub to the separatists. Dundee—dubbed by the SNP’s leader, and Scotland’s first minister, Alex Salmond, as the “Yes City”—gave him a rare victory, but on a relatively low turnout, of 79%, and by a narrower-than-expected margin. In Angus and Mr Salmond’s own Aberdeenshire, the Yes campaign suffered defeats in the SNP’s heartland. When, at around 4.30am, mighty Glasgow delivered only a modest win for the Yeses, with 53% of the vote, the verdict was clear.

I hope Holyrood can now get on again with the business of governing Scotland as a part of the UK. Alex Salmond isn't going away, but he's largely done now. Good.

Rule Britannia.

Friday 19 September 2014 09:57:30 EDT (UTC-04:00)  |  | Geography | London | World#
Thursday 18 September 2014

Polls have closed in Scotland, with polls showing a slight edge towards union:

A YouGov on-the-day survey published shortly after polls closed suggested "No" was on 54% and "Yes" on 46%.

  • Turnout is widely predicted to top the 83.9% recorded in the 1950 general election - the highest in the UK since the introduction of universal suffrage in 1918
  • Ninety-seven per-cent of the electorate - 4,283,392 people - had registered to vote
  • SNP deputy leader Nicola Sturgeon has hailed the ballot as "an amazing, emotional, inspirational day of democracy"

Results should be announced around midnight Chicago time tonight.

Thursday 18 September 2014 18:28:35 EDT (UTC-04:00)  |  | London | World#
Wednesday 17 September 2014

With only a few hours to go before voting starts in Scotland, things are really weird in the UK:

Has [Prime Minister David Cameron] been on the hustings in Scotland, taking his case to the people? Not exactly:

Sadly, only a small number of Scots got to hear his appeal [last week] directly. That’s because the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom wasn’t actually able to walk the streets of the United Kingdom to deliver his message. He had to stay safely within the confines of a small building for his own security. Yesterday, Ed Miliband, the man who would be the next prime minister of the United Kingdom, also tried to take his case for the Union out onto the streets. And he was chased from those same streets by an angry mob.

You can see the chaos when Miliband tried to walk the streets of Edinburgh here. And, yes, they yelled at him, calling him a “fucking liar” and “serial murderer” (!) to his face. Some of that is from the usual thuggish suspects – but the atmosphere in the campaign has gotten ugly in the past week or so. The one thing that my friends in Britain tell me about politics right now is that there’s enormous discontent with all the major party figures. They seem like a distant metropolitan clique, cushioned in super-safe districts – not real representatives of actual people.

At the moment, No (secession) is ahead by just a bit, but the "undecideds" still make up 10-15% of polling data.

I'll be watching with interest tomorrow. So will tens of millions of Brits.

Wednesday 17 September 2014 11:19:17 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Geography | London | World#
Sunday 14 September 2014

Toronto mayor Rob Ford has dropped out of the race for re-election. His brother Doug has taken up the mantle. A local Toronto paper says this is so Doug can discover he can't win an election:

With just over a month to go before the municipal election, Rob Ford’s mysterious abdominal tumour, which was addressed last night at Mount Sinai hospital by colorectal cancer expert Dr. Zane Cohen, has forced the crack-smoking mayor of Toronto into a hospital bed for further testing. As a result of this medical emergency, Rob Ford’s brother, a kickboxing black-belt holder by the name of Doug Ford, has taken the reigns of Robbie’s campaign and will aim to extend the rich legacy of a Ford-run Toronto into 2018

Doug will have a tough job teaching Toronto how to Dougie (fingers crossed he uses the Cali Swag District song as his campaign theme) when the city has become so accustomed to the aggressive foibles of his brother Rob. He will also need to get some A-list talent on his side, given that Rob has garnered the support of such non-controversial figures as Mike Tyson and Don Cherry. Doug also does not have the late night talk show experience that Rob has, nor has he bro’d down with the people in the same way that his crack smoking, racist brother has been able to capture the hearts and minds of about 28 percent of Toronto’s voting block. In fact, Doug Ford mainly seems to be really, really pissed off a lot of the time.

We knew this would happen someday, but it's still sad to see Rob Ford roll off the Canadian stage. Toronto won't be the same without him, which entire neighborhoods there are happy about.

Sunday 14 September 2014 11:08:49 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | World#
Friday 12 September 2014

A week from today, part of a 400-year-old country may elect to secede:

YouGov’s latest survey has No, on 52%, narrowly ahead of Yes, 48%, after excluding don’t knows. This is the first time No has gained ground since early August. Three previous polls over the past month had recorded successive four point increases in backing for independence. In early August Yes support stood at 39%; by last weekend it had climbed to 51%.

Just one week ago, Scots divided evenly on whether their country would be better or worse off.

Yes, for those of you not paying attention to the Ancestral Homeland, next Thursday Scotland will hold a referendum on remaining in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

If the referendum succeeds, it will set in motion a series of steps that could have Scotland become an independent nation within the EU by 2020. If this sounds like a bad idea to you, you're not alone. The economics are horrible, and that's even before figuring out whether Scotland will remain on Sterling. Never mind things like nuclear armaments, North Sea oil fields, and the fact that 400,000 English live in Scotland and a whopping 600,000 Scots live in England.

The Daily Parker votes No. My ancestors came down with James VI. The Union has always been stronger together.

Friday 12 September 2014 10:40:55 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | London | World#
Thursday 11 September 2014

From my first trip to New York, August 1984:

Thursday 11 September 2014 08:51:18 EDT (UTC-04:00)  |  | Geography | US | World | Religion | Travel#
Saturday 30 August 2014

The Atlantic's Ta-Nehisi Coates spent seven weeks this summer at an immersion French course at Middlebury College:

I was there to improve my French. My study consisted of four hours of class work and four hours of homework. I was forbidden from reading, writing, speaking, or hearing English. I watched films in French, tried to read a story in Le Monde each day, listened to RFI and a lot of Barbara and Karim Oullet. At every meal I spoke French, and over the course of the seven weeks I felt myself gradually losing touch with the broader world. This was not a wholly unpleasant feeling. In the moments I had to speak English (calling my wife, interacting with folks in town or at the book store), my mouth felt alien and my ear slightly off.

he majority of people I interacted with spoke better, wrote better, read better, and heard better than me. There was no escape from my ineptitude. At every waking hour, someone said something to me that I did not understand. At every waking hour, I mangled some poor Frenchman’s lovely language. For the entire summer, I lived by two words: “Désolé, encore.”

From this he examines scholastic opportunity and achievement, how different ethnic groups approach intellectuals in their midst, and class conflict in general, as only Coates can. It's a good read.

Saturday 30 August 2014 10:26:01 PDT (UTC-07:00)  |  | Geography | US | World#
Thursday 28 August 2014

On those rare occasions when I opt for it, I usually enjoy having in-flight WiFi. At this particular moment, however, I'm staring down another two hours of flying time with WiFi throughput under 200 kbps. That speed reminds me of the late 1990s. You know, half the Web ago.

This is painful. I'm not streaming video, nor am I connected to a remote server like the guy next to me. I'm just trying to get some documents written. I believe I will have to write a complaint to GoGo Inflight, as this throughput is completely unacceptable.

But enough about that minor sadness; I've found something truly horrible.

Everyone who took English 1 at my college had to read George Orwell's Politics and the English Language. (I would actually extend this mandate to everyone on the planet who speaks English if I had the power.) In the essay, Orwell calls out a specific passage from Ecclesiastes to show how business English can destroy thought:

I returned and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.

He renders it in modern English thus:

Objective considerations of contemporary phenomena compel the conclusion that success or failure in competitive activities exhibits no tendency to be commensurate with innate capacity, but that a considerable element of the unpredictable must invariably be taken into account.

Two things. First, "modern" English in 1946 seems a lot like modern English in 2014. Frighteningly so.

Second, there are worse translations of that passage in actual, printed Bibles. Now, I'm not a religious person, as even a causal reader of this blog knows. But I have an appreciation for language. So it pains me to see that some people learned Ecclesiastes 9:11 like this:

I saw something else under the sun. The race isn't [won] by fast runners, or the battle by heroes. Wise people don't necessarily have food. Intelligent people don't necessarily have riches, and skilled people don't necessarily receive special treatment. But time and unpredictable events overtake all of them.

("GOD'S WORD® Translation")

Or this:

I have observed something else under the sun. The fastest runner doesn't always win the race, and the strongest warrior doesn't always win the battle. The wise sometimes go hungry, and the skillful are not necessarily wealthy. And those who are educated don't always lead successful lives. It is all decided by chance, by being in the right place at the right time.

NO! No, no, NO! This isn't a children's book. Why does anyone need to dumb it down? I mean, fine, vernacular and all, but can't we at least keep the poetry?

It's no wonder the religious right have such poor cognitive skills. The one book they were allowed to read as children has been reduced to pabulum.

Thursday 28 August 2014 17:57:34 MDT (UTC-06:00)  |  | Aviation | Kitchen Sink | US | World#
Monday 25 August 2014

Someimes—rarely—I disconnect for a couple of days. This past weekend I basically just hung out, walked my dog, went shopping, and had a perfectly nice absence from the Web.

Unfortunately that meant I had something like 200 RSS articles to plough through, and I just couldn't bring myself to stop dealing with (most) emails. And I have a few articles to read:

Now back to your regularly-scheduled week, already in progress...

Monday 25 August 2014 12:25:01 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation | Baseball | Chicago | Kitchen Sink | US | World | Travel#
Thursday 21 August 2014

Philip Shorer on the Atlantic's CityLab blog argues for a 4-day work week:

Beyond working more efficiently, a four-day workweek appears to improve morale and well-being. The president of the UK Faculty of Public Health told the Daily Mail that a four-day workweek could help lower blood pressure and increase mental health among employees. Jay Love of Slingshot SEO saw his employee-retention rate shoot up when he phased in three-day weekends. Following this line of thought, TreeHouse, an online education platform, implemented a four-day week to attract workers, which has contributed to the company's growth.

In this scenario, employees still work 40-hour weeks, but they do so over the course of four days rather than five. This arrangement still sounds sub-optimal, though, as working at full capacity for 10 hours is more demanding than doing so for eight. Despite that, the employees at Stephens’s company still preferred 40 hours in four days to 40 hours in five days. They might be even happier—and work even better—if they worked fewer hours in addition to fewer days.

Of course, counting travel, as a consultant I frequently do four 10-hour days followed by an 8-hour day. Cutting one of those out might be a good thing.

Thursday 21 August 2014 16:01:51 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US | World | Business#
Friday 15 August 2014

Two of my favorite authors, Sam Harris and Andrew Sullivan, recently had a long phone conversation (which Harris transcribed) about Israel. I haven't finished reading it, but as I respect both men, I consider this a must-read.

Also, I'm back in Chicago, possibly for two whole weeks. That said, the Cleveland Client was pretty happy with our work and may move to the next phase, so I may be going back there soon.

Friday 15 August 2014 10:46:45 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US | World | Travel | Work#
Thursday 7 August 2014

He thinks we should all use GMT instead:

[W]ithin a given time zone, the point of a common time is not to force everyone to do everything at the same time. It's to allow us to communicate unambiguously with each other about when we are doing things.

If the whole world used a single GMT-based time, schedules would still vary. In general most people would sleep when it's dark out and work when it's light out. So at 23:00, most of London would be at home or in bed and most of Los Angeles would be at the office. But of course London's bartenders would probably be at work while some shift workers in LA would be grabbing a nap. The difference from today is that if you were putting together a London-LA conference call at 21:00 there'd be only one possible interpretation of the proposal. A flight that leaves New York at 14:00 and lands in Paris at 20:00 is a six-hour flight, with no need to keep track of time zones. If your appointment is in El Paso at 11:30 you don't need to remember that it's in a different time zone than the rest of Texas.

Sigh.

It's even easier to get people to use International System measurements than to get them to understand the arbitrariness of the clock, but let's unpack just one thing Yglesias seems to have missed: the date.

Imagine you actually can get people in Los Angeles to use UTC. Working hours are 16:00 to 24:00. School starts at 15:45 (instead of ending then). In the summer, the sun rises at 12:30 and sets at 02:00.

Wait, what? The sun sets at 2am? So...you come home on a different day? That makes no sense to most people.

Yes, in a world where people are unwilling to give up their 128-ounce gallons and 36-inch yards in favor of 1000-milliliter liters and 100-centimeter meters, a world where ice freezing at 32 and boiling at 212 makes more sense than freezing at 0 and boiling at 100, a world where Paul Ryan is thought to be a serious person, we're not moving away from the day changing while most people are asleep.

And don't even get me started on the difference between GMT and UTC.

Thursday 7 August 2014 09:35:35 EDT (UTC-04:00)  |  | Aviation | Geography | US | World | Travel | Astronomy#
Saturday 19 July 2014

Pilot and journalist James Fallows has an op-ed in today's New York Times explaining how MH17 was following the rules:

Before Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 took off on Thursday, its crew and dispatchers would have known that a few hours earlier Ukrainian authorities had prohibited flights at 32,000 feet and below across eastern parts of their country, “due to combat actions ... near the state border” with Russia, as the official notice put it, including the downing of a Ukrainian military transport plane earlier in the week.

Therefore when they crossed this zone at 33,000 feet, they were neither cutting it razor-close nor bending the rules, but doing what many other airlines had done, in a way they assumed was both legal and safe. Legal in much the way that driving 63 in a 65-mile-per-hour zone would be.

And safe, not just for regulatory reasons, but because aircraft at cruising altitude are beyond the reach of anything except strictly military antiaircraft equipment. During takeoff and landing, airliners are highly vulnerable: They are big, they are moving slowly and in a straight line, they are close to the ground. But while cruising, they are beyond most earthbound criminal or terrorist threats.

This is why, even during wartime, airliners have frequently flown across Iraq and Afghanistan. The restricted zone over Ukraine was meant to protect against accidental fire or collateral damage. It didn’t envision a military attack.

The rebels are reportedly blocking access to the crash site, while the Ukrainian government says it has proof Russia supplied the missile that killed 298 civilians.

And with two 777 hull losses in three months, Malaysia Airlines' future is in doubt.

The drumbeat continues.

Saturday 19 July 2014 14:00:45 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation | World#
Friday 18 July 2014

Stuff to read this weekend, perhaps on my flight Sunday night:

Now back to the mines. Which, given the client I'm working on, isn't far from the truth.

Friday 18 July 2014 11:55:03 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | US | World | Travel#
Thursday 17 July 2014

I'm still outraged at the Russian thugs who shot down MH17 today. But a couple of other things were noteworthy:

  • Someone, possibly Chinese military, infiltrated the e-QIP database that the Office of Management and Budget maintains to keep security clearance information. Schneier points out, "This is a big deal. If I were a government, trying to figure out who to target for blackmail, bribery, and other coercive tactics, this would be a nice database to have."
  • In a turn of events that should surprise no one whose IQ crests 90, it turns out that Stand Your Ground laws actually increase crime, assuming you think shooting people is a criminal act. In states that have adopted these insane laws, more people are shot to death but the overall crime rate stays the same.
  • Someday, I want to go to the Farnborough air show. So, apparently, does the F-35, which wasn't able to fly there this time.

All right. I've got about two hours until my flight leaves—yay, consulting!—and I actually have work to do. But in case I was distraught at having to stay home for three consecutive days, it turns out I get to come back here Sunday night. Again: yay, consulting!

Thursday 17 July 2014 18:18:24 EDT (UTC-04:00)  |  | Aviation | US | World#

Rebel forces in southeastern Ukraine appear to be responsible for downing a civilian plane with 295 passengers and crew aboard. The U.S. has confirmed someone shot the plane down with a Russian-supplied surface-to-air missile:

An unnamed American official has confirmed that the Malaysian passenger jet that crashed in eastern Ukraine on Thursday was shot down, according to multiple media reports.

The official told CNN that a radar spotted a surface-to-air missile track an aircraft right before Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 crashed. According to the official, another system captured a "heat signature" right at the time the plane was struck.

The missile, suspected to be a Russian-made Buk, is capable of hitting aircraft well over 20 km above the ground; MH17 was flying at 10 km.

James Fallows reports that American airplanes have been prohibited from the area since April:

Nearly three months ago, on the "Special Rules" section of its site, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration put out an order prohibiting American pilots, airlines, charter carriers, and everyone else over whom the FAA has direct jurisdiction, from flying over southern parts of Ukraine.

Rebel forces appeared to take responsibility for the attack, even after learning the plane was civilian, but took down the smoking-gun post when they discovered it wasn't Ukrainian.

This is a developing situation, and because the crash site is in rebel-held territory, it might be some time before all the details emerge. For now, it appears that Russian separatists murdered nearly 300 people. What they hoped to accomplish by attacking an airplane is beyond me. That they downed this airplane is sickening.

Thursday 17 July 2014 18:04:16 EDT (UTC-04:00)  |  | Aviation | World#
Sunday 29 June 2014

Peter Beinert points to an interview the former vice president gave to Charlie Rose this week as a repudiation of George W Bush:

[E]arlier this week, Dick Cheney spent an hour on Charlie Rose and, in the guise of attacking President Obama, ripped his former boss’s foreign-policy vision to shreds. Cheney explained that he had recently traveled through the Middle East meeting with a “lot of my friends going back to Desert Storm days.” By which he meant Sunni tyrants in places like Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the rest of the Persian Gulf. Their message to him: The United States isn’t supporting them steadfastly enough.

Cheney wholeheartedly agreed. The Obama administration, he declared, “has undermined these relationships, some of which go back 30, 40, 50 years.” By which he meant: When, during the Arab Spring, the peoples of the Middle East did exactly what George W. Bush had urged them to do—rise up against dictators who had oppressed them for “30, 40, 50 years”—the United States did not “ignore” their “oppression and “excuse” their “oppressors” enough.

It’s worth recognizing how directly Cheney is repudiating Bush’s vision. Bush’s core point—repeated by a thousand supportive pundits—was that when Middle Eastern dictators don’t allow democratic dissent, jihadist terrorism becomes the prime avenue for resistance. Egypt today is a textbook example. The Muslim Brotherhood won a free vote. In power, it ruled in illiberal ways. But Egypt was still due for additional elections in which people could do just what Bush had urged them to: express their grievances democratically. Instead, the military seized on popular discontent to overthrow the government, massively repress freedom of speech, and engineer a sham election. And just as Bush predicted, Egypt’s Islamists are responding by moving toward violence and jihadist militancy.

The depths of Cheney's evil continue to amaze me. He was unfit for public office fourteen years ago, and now he's unfit for going out in public without a warning label. And a significant wing of the opposition party are right there with him.

Sunday 29 June 2014 09:37:42 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US | World#
Thursday 26 June 2014

This map surprised me:

Max Fisher explains:

It's no secret that European colonialism was a vast, and often devastating, project that over several centuries put nearly the entire world under control of one European power or another. But just how vast can be difficult to fully appreciate.

Here, to give you a small sense of European colonialism's massive scale, is a map showing every country put under partial or total European control during the colonial era, which ran roughly from the 1500s to the 1960s. Only five countries, in orange, were spared:

There are only four countries that escaped European colonialism completely. Japan and Korea successfully staved off European domination, in part due to their strength and diplomacy, their isolationist policies, and perhaps their distance. Thailand was spared when the British and French Empires decided to let it remained independent as a buffer between British-controlled Burma and French Indochina. Japan, however, colonized both Korea and Thailand itself during its early-20th-century imperial period.

It's hard to understand why most of the world hates Europeans (and by extension North Americans).

Thursday 26 June 2014 09:57:38 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Geography | World#
Sunday 22 June 2014

Not quite, but in today's New York Times he tries to get Republican acceptance that climate change is real:

We’re making the same mistake today with climate change. We’re staring down a climate bubble that poses enormous risks to both our environment and economy. The warning signs are clear and growing more urgent as the risks go unchecked.

This is a crisis we can’t afford to ignore. I feel as if I’m watching as we fly in slow motion on a collision course toward a giant mountain. We can see the crash coming, and yet we’re sitting on our hands rather than altering course.

We need to act now, even though there is much disagreement, including from members of my own Republican Party, on how to address this issue while remaining economically competitive. They’re right to consider the economic implications. But we must not lose sight of the profound economic risks of doing nothing.

Krugman thinks Paulson is shouting at the wind:

[W]hat’s sad is that he imagines that anyone in the party he still claims as his own is listening. Earth to Paulson: the GOP you imagine, which respects science and is willing to consider even market-friendly government interventions like carbon taxes, no longer exists. The reins of power now rest firmly, irreversibly, in the hands of men who believe that climate change is a hoax concocted by liberal scientists to justify Big Government, who refuse to acknowledge that government intervention to correct market failures can ever be justified.

Given the state of U.S. politics today, climate action is entirely dependent on Democrats, With a Democrat in the White House, we got some movement through executive action; if Democrats eventually regain the House, there could be more. If Paulson believes that he can support Republicans while still pushing for climate action, he’s just delusional.

It's really depressing that the main opposition party in the most powerful country the earth has ever seen has an institutional rejection of evidence and data. It's part of the right-wing mindset: they're right-wing because they can't accept being wrong.

Sunday 22 June 2014 12:40:46 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US | World | Weather#
Thursday 19 June 2014

(I never get that last word, nor do I suspect Billy himself knows what it is.)

It's a beautiful day in northern France, just 20°C and partly cloudy, with 19 or so hours of sunlight. And yet I'm in the airport club at Charles de Gaulle staring at my plane just below. I didn't have as much opportunity to explore Lille as I'd hoped, either. Why? This:

A week into a nationwide train strike that has tangled traffic and stranded tourists, police fired tear gas Tuesday at protesting rail workers. Two polls suggest passengers have little sympathy for the train workers' lament. Even the labor-friendly Socialist government is breaking a long-held French taboo and is openly criticizing the striking unions.

The strike has caused some of the worst disruption to the country's rail network in years — and heated up as the reform bill went to the lower house of Parliament for debate Tuesday. The bill would unite the SNCF train operator with the RFF railway network, which would pave the way to opening up railways to competition.

You have to love the Daily Mail, talking about "paving the way" to competition with rail, without mentioning that trucking and aviation—both of which have more to do with paving—already compete heavily against it. Still, I worry that France is slipping into the privatization illness that the U.S. and U.K. have suffered since Reagan and Thatcher took power. Passenger railroads provide public benefits out of proportion to their direct economic costs; that's why governments need to prop them up.

For example, several hundred people got on the TGV with me at Lille and arrived at De Gaulle just 50 minutes later. This took hundreds of private cars off the highways, or dozens of buses, or even planeloads of people if you like.

Moving back down the ladder of abstraction, however, those hundreds of people had been scheduled to take any of the 10 trains cancelled this afternoon because of the strike (mine included). So, yes, I was on a train that crossed the French countryside faster than the Cessna 172s I usually fly could have done. But I was standing mid-carriage leaning on someone else's luggage while fatigued students sat in the aisle.

That is why I'm staring out the window watching planes land and writing in my blog instead of just getting off the TGV about now. But in a few hours, I'll be in my third-favorite city in the world, hunting down a greasy slice of pizza from a random deli in the east 30s.

Gare Flanders, Lille, France

Thursday 19 June 2014 08:18:16 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation | World | Travel#
Saturday 14 June 2014

Everyone outside the U.S. use chip-and-PIN credit cards. That we still use magnetic strips explains how the U.S. accounted for half of all fraudulent transactions worldwide in 2012. Come October 2015, we'll get to the worldwide standard:

The switch will cost retailers hundreds of millions of dollars. But credit card companies have pushed for the change for years. Beginning in October 2015, they will start leaning harder on banks and merchants by shifting the legal liability for fraud to the party with the least-sophisticated technology. That will be a powerful incentive for retailers to upgrade their systems.

Those of us who travel internationally for business are already used to the difference between American readers and those used in much of the rest of the world—and the accompanying inconveniences. Many automated machines, which are common at petrol stations and supermarkets, do not accept American swipe-and-sign cards at all. And tell a European cashier that you want to sign for a transaction and you will often be met with a bemused look. For those Americans who don't yet have chip-and-pin cards (and that's most of us, since few banks offered them before last year), the coming change will eliminate that awkwardness once and for all. The bottom line for business travellers: if you're not already using a pin with your credit cards, get used to the idea—and start thinking of a good one.

Yes, one of the annoyances of traveling abroad right now is that when I present my chip-and-sign card overseas, I still have to sign a little chit. My bank says they'll switch to PIN with my next card, coming soon.

Saturday 14 June 2014 10:26:11 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US | World | Business | Travel#
Monday 2 June 2014

Three unrelated passings this weekend:

  • Chicago's NHL Blackhawks ended their season last night, losing 5-4 in overtime to the L.A. Kings. It's always nice when a Chicago sports team makes it to the post-season, and also disappointing when they don't make the finals. The Kings will play the New York Rangers for the Stanley Cup.
  • Chicago-based HomeMade Pizza Co., started in 1997, abruptly ceased operations Friday, closing all their stores and online presence without notice. When the chain first started, it quickly became my mom's favorite take-out pizza. The company prepared raw pizzas that you would then bake at home, the idea being the pie would be hot and crispy when you ate it, because there would be no delivery time. Apparently that concept didn't scale to 40 stores in four states.
  • Spain's King Juan Carlos has announced his abdication after 44 years on the throne. He's 76 years old and believes his 45-year-old son, Prince Felipe, will have the "impulso de renovación, de superación, de corregir errores y abrir camino a un futuro decididamente mejor" (motivation of renewal, of action, of correcting errors and making way for a decidedly better future). No word yet on whether HM Queen Elizabeth II, now on the throne 52 years and whose own son is scarcely much younger than Juan Carlos, plans ever to retire.

None of these is connected, as far as I know.

Monday 2 June 2014 08:19:43 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Kitchen Sink | World#
Tuesday 13 May 2014

Security expert Bruce Schneier is not an alarmist, but he is alarmed:

In addition to turning the Internet into a worldwide surveillance platform, the NSA has surreptitiously weakened the products, protocols, and standards we all use to protect ourselves. By doing so, it has destroyed the trust that underlies the Internet. We need that trust back.

By weakening security, we are weakening it against all attackers. By inserting vulnerabilities, we are making everyone vulnerable. The same vulnerabilities used by intelligence agencies to spy on each other are used by criminals to steal your passwords. It is surveillance versus security, and we all rise and fall together.

Security needs to win. The Internet is too important to the world -- and trust is too important to the Internet -- to squander it like this. We'll never get every power in the world to agree not to subvert the parts of the Internet they control, but we can stop subverting the parts we control. Most of the high-tech companies that make the Internet work are US companies, so our influence is disproportionate. And once we stop subverting, we can credibly devote our resources to detecting and preventing subversion by others.

It really is kind of stunning how much damage our intelligence services have done to the security they claim to be protecting. I don't think everyone gets it right now, but the NSA's crippling the Internet will probably be our generation's Mosaddegh.

Monday 12 May 2014 21:06:16 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US | World | Security#
Saturday 10 May 2014

Their super-hero mayor had a fun night in March, apparently:

Loaded behind the wheel of his Cadillac Escalade, high on his Jimmy Kimmel interview, Mayor Rob Ford is winding through the streets of his city.

It’s two days after Ford’s celebrated appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live, two months before rehab.

In the course of this March 5 night, Ford will bring together two of his closest felon friends, beating one and accepting drugs from another; go on a racist tirade; and boast that he often has sex with “girls” in front of his wife, according to an account of the evening. He will suggest one man could have sex with her, a source has told the Star, recalling Ford’s words.

And yet, he remains in office, and Toronto has no recall laws. Fun times, fun times...

Saturday 10 May 2014 08:24:00 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | World#
Thursday 8 May 2014

I may come back to these again:

Publishing the Inner Drive Extensible Architecture™ to NuGet is still coming up...just not this weekend.

Thursday 8 May 2014 12:52:22 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Geography | World | Blogs | Business#
Wednesday 7 May 2014

I almost forgot, even though Illinois Climatologist Jim Angel blogged it earlier today. The new NCA is here. Highlights—with a distinctly Illinois-centered view—via Angel:

  • In the next few decades, longer growing seasons and rising carbon dioxide levels will increase yields of some crops, though those benefits will be progressively offset by extreme weather events. Though adaptation options can reduce some of the detrimental effects, in the long term, the combined stresses associated with climate change are expected to decrease agricultural productivity.
  • Increased heat wave intensity and frequency, increased humidity, degraded air quality, and reduced water quality will increase public health risks.
  • Climate change will exacerbate a range of risks to the Great Lakes, including changes in the range and distribution of certain fish species, increased invasive species and harmful blooms of algae, and declining beach health. Ice cover declines will lengthen the commercial navigation season [this winter was the exception to the rule - Jim].

If you don't mind using 170 megabytes of bandwidth, you can download the whole thing (or just the parts you want).

Wednesday 7 May 2014 14:41:46 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Geography | US | World | Weather#
Tuesday 6 May 2014

Via Sullivan, a great example of someone ">committing journalism on a politician:

Sullivan comments:

Over the weekend, Washington’s journalistic class was hobnobbing with the people they cover. Bob Woodward has helped pioneer access-journalism in which favored courtiers in The Village act as stenographers for the powerful – their skills deployed merely to figuring out which of their exclusive sources is telling the truth (a wrinkle unknown, it seems, to the access-journo of the day, Jo Becker). The idea that they would wreck their access by asking a politician questions that he really doesn’t want to answer – “Isn’t your wife German?” (see above), “Can you give us evidence for your crazy pregnancy stories?” – is preposterous.

So I give you the above video, by the intrepid BBC political reporter, Nick Robinson. Watch him go for the jugular, and watch him not release his grip until the prey is whimpering, near-lifeless on the ground. A joy to watch, and Hitch, I suspect, would approve.

Brillian. "Was your wife taking someone else's job?"

Tuesday 6 May 2014 15:28:54 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | World#
Saturday 3 May 2014

The Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UCSD reported this week that atmospheric carbon dioxide averaged more than 400 ppm in April, a new milestone:

Every single daily carbon dioxide measurement in April 2014 was above 400 parts per million. That hasn’t happened in nearly a million years, and perhaps much longer. Climate scientists have proven that the rise in human-produced greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide are “extremely likely” to be the dominant cause of global climate change. The likelihood of dangerous impacts—like sea level rise, hotter heat waves, and certain types of extreme weather—increases with each incremental annual rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide.

Carbon dioxide levels have increased by more than 40 percent since humans first started burning fossil fuels in large quantities about 250 years ago. Once released, the carbon dioxide from coal, oil, and natural gas burning can remain in the atmosphere for centuries. Thus, the crux of the problem: There just hasn’t been enough time yet since those first coal-powered factories in Europe for the atmosphere to return to equilibrium. What’s more, the pace of fossil fuel burning has since dramatically quickened—there’ve been more greenhouse gas emissions in the last 40 years than over the previous 200—so carbon dioxide buildup keeps accelerating.

So what about the hockey stick? If you look at the last 800,000 years, the chart of CO2 concentration looks more like a brick wall:

Scary.

Saturday 3 May 2014 08:11:43 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US | World | Weather#
Sunday 16 March 2014

As predicted last week in private Kremlin memoranda, today's referendum in Crimea has determined that more people on the peninsula support union with Russia than actually live on the peninsula. As someone once said more eloquently than I:

But here's the BBC:

Some 95.5% of voters in Crimea have supported joining Russia, officials say. after half the votes have been counted in a disputed referendum.

Crimea's leader says he will apply to join Russia on Monday. Russia's Vladimir Putin has said he will respect the Crimean people's wishes.

Some review, I think, is in order.

First, Crimea doesn't have a leader that can apply for union with Russia any more than Long Island has a leader that can apply for union with Bermuda.

Second, Putin's respect for the Crimean people's wishes notwithstanding, I can't decide if we're back in 1980, 1939, 1914, or 1836; regardless, it's nice to have the USSR back in town as we're all sick of terrorists.

Third, is there anyone who thinks about these things seriously and believes that this action shows anything other than Russian weakness? Authoritarian leaders always make this mistake, and they wind up destroying their countries. You can't conquer your way to security. Just ask, well, us.

Sunday 16 March 2014 17:01:04 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | World#

The news recently and Krugman this morning have brought Tennyson to mind:

Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die:
Into the valley of Death
  Rode the six hundred.

Heroism has its place, but not when it takes everyone else through hell.

Sunday 16 March 2014 11:51:18 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | World | Business#
Tuesday 4 March 2014

The sun rises in the Crimean Peninsula in just over an hour, at 6:16 local time. A rumor circulating earlier today was that Russian commanders occupying the region had threatened to attack unless the Ukrainian military surrendered by 0300 UTC this evening—20 minutes ago. The Russian navy has denied this. We'll see.

Russia, of course, has the power to take and hold the peninsula, and it seems to have support from a sizable portion of Crimean residents. But at what cost? Again, we'll see.

One thing is certain: Ukrainians are terrified. Ukrainians are in shock. But also, Ukrainians are Ukrainians, from Donetsk to Lviv.

Ask anyone we've invaded. Nothing brings a country together like an occupying army.

Monday 3 March 2014 21:34:01 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | World#
Saturday 1 March 2014

Parker, 14 weeksI'm David Braverman, this is my blog, and Parker is my 7½-year-old mutt. I last updated this About... page in September 2011, more than 1,300 posts back, so it's time for a refresh.

The Daily Parker is about:

  • Parker, my dog, whom I adopted on 1 September 2006.
  • Politics. I'm a moderate-lefty by international standards, which makes me a radical left-winger in today's United States.
  • The weather. I've operated a weather website for more than 13 years. That site deals with raw data and objective observations. Many weather posts also touch politics, given the political implications of addressing climate change, though happily we no longer have to do so under a president beholden to the oil industry.
  • Chicago (the greatest city in North America), and sometimes London, San Francisco, and the rest of the world.
  • Photography. I took tens of thousands of photos as a kid, then drifted away from making art until early 2011 when I finally got the first digital camera I've ever had whose photos were as good as film. That got me reading more, practicing more, and throwing more photos on the blog. In my initial burst of enthusiasm I posted a photo every day. I've pulled back from that a bit—it takes about 30 minutes to prep and post one of those puppies—but I'm still shooting and still learning.

I also write a lot of software, and will occasionally post about technology as well. I work for 10th Magnitude, a startup software consultancy in Chicago, I've got more than 20 years experience writing the stuff, and I continue to own a micro-sized software company. (I have an online resume, if you're curious.) I see a lot of code, and since I often get called in to projects in crisis, I see a lot of bad code, some of which may appear here.

I strive to write about these and other things with fluency and concision. "Fast, good, cheap: pick two" applies to writing as much as to any other creative process (cf: software). I hope to find an appropriate balance between the three, as streams of consciousness and literacy have always struggled against each other since the first blog twenty years ago.

If you like what you see here, you'll probably also like Andrew Sullivan, James Fallows, Josh Marshall, and Bruce Schneier. Even if you don't like my politics, you probably agree that everyone ought to read Strunk and White, and you probably have an opinion about the Oxford comma—punctuation de rigeur in my opinion.

Thanks for reading, and I hope you continue to enjoy The Daily Parker.

Saturday 1 March 2014 14:27:44 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Aviation | Baseball | Biking | Cubs | Geography | Kitchen Sink | London | Parker | Daily | Photography | Politics | US | World | Religion | Software | Blogs | Business | Cloud | Travel | Weather | Windows Azure | Work | Writing#
Tuesday 25 February 2014

The Economist on Ukraine:

While politicians in Kiev are scared to mention federalisation because of its separatist undertones, in reality it is already happening. The biggest danger for Ukraine’s integrity is not federalisation, but that Russian interferes and exploits it. That could involve an attempt to annex Crimea, carelessly given to Soviet Ukraine by Nikita Khrushchev in 1954. Over the weekend 20,000 people were out on the streets in Crimea, welcoming back riot police from Kiev as heroes. Russian armoured vehicles have already been spotted around Sevastopol, home to the large Russian naval base.

Mr Putin clearly has no interest in defending Mr Yanukovych. He may have also decided that since Ukraine’s shift towards Europe now looks all but inevitable, grabbing Crimea quickly is the best Russia can do.

But don't forget Venezuela:

This degradation was years in the making. First, the opposition boycotted the 2005 parliamentary elections, which ended with a meager 25 percent voter turnout. This broke not only the checks and balances, but the opposition walked out of a space of dialogue. A culture of imposition was created inside the halls of the National Assembly, one we really haven’t shaken off yet. For five years the opposition was not to be represented in the central government, and no alternative outlet for discontent was provided.

The 2010 reforms, just weeks prior to a new legislature taking office, left the Parliament an institutional husk. This was exacerbated with every Enabling Law that gave the President the power to legislate by decree, of which we have had two since 2010. Add to that aggressive nationwide gerrymandering in 2009, which ensured the government ended up with 49 percent of the votes and 59 percent of the seats, and the Parliament’s emasculation was complete.

Still watching both stories.

Tuesday 25 February 2014 14:27:28 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | World#
Monday 24 February 2014

A person was removed from a commuter train this morning and taken to a hospital for psychiatric evaluation. Why? It could have to do with where he was standing:

Passengers on the Metra Union Pacific North line train heading out of the city witnessed a person jumping from the top of the outbound train to the inbound train that was headed to downtown Chicago.

"We can see his shadow," passenger Mike Pastore told RedEye. "There's a building next to the train and we can see the shadow of the man on top of the train. We can't see him directly, but we can hear him running back and forth on top of the train."

In another story about a man being removed from somewhere he should never have been, CNN has fired Piers Morgan. Don't let the door hit your ass, Piers.

Monday 24 February 2014 11:25:09 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | US | World | Travel#
Sunday 23 February 2014

My friend in Ukraine gave me an update overnight:

It's not the opposition that has taken over president's residence; [Yanukovich] has abandoned it, and it was available for public to see. The Maidan guys are actually guarding it so it does not get burnt down.

The Opposition is not "controlling" the city. We have a fully-legitimate parliament that is working, and yes, patrols from Maidan are around to prevent crime as thousands of "titushkies" (thugs) are in Kiev, paid by the government.

Another very important point: the opposition for us is basically three guys who have their own political agenda. When it was starting peacefully back in November, they had their political rallies next door to Maidan, which is the main place. Soon they agreed to join efforts if they each of them stopped individually using the "Maidan," as the place represents every party. The protests were first for EU, and then changed into anti-Yanukovich issues once students's blood was shed in November. So our "opposition" is not the driving force. It's a bit of a façade. But they're not the power, and they get kicked by Maidan, too.

But the guys who were the majority of the Parliament, the Party of Regions, are gradually leaving the party. So there is no one "controlling" the parliament. They are simply scared for their future, so they change colors, and they vote vote vote with the majority.

The capital is quieter today, and Russia, preoccupied with the closing ceremonies in Sochi, haven't turned their attention back to their old province. That, I expect, will happen tomorrow.

Sunday 23 February 2014 10:12:45 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | World#
Saturday 22 February 2014

It's coming up on midnight in Ukraine, and former prime minister (and convicted felon) Yulia Tymoshenko is out of jail, addressing the crowds. The Beeb and Times are reporting that she's surrounded by ecstatic crowds, but other sources, including my friend in Kyiv, are not so enthusiastic. As political as Tymoshenko's trial was, there was enough truth to it that Ukrainians believe she deserved jail. I haven't got a strong opinion on that if for no other reason than Illinois' last governor is also in jail for corruption.

In fact, the exact phrase my friend used was "на воды СРОЧНО," which translates roughly to "get thee to a nunnery." She reports further that Ukrainians have moved past both Tymoshenko and Yanukovich, and are ready for a real government now, thank you. Tymoshenko is a modern-day Alexandre Auguste Ledru-Rollin, shouting "there go my people, I must find out where they are going so I can lead them."

Yanukovich, for his part, has fled the capital, though without actually reading the histories of Louis XVI or Nicolae Ceaușescu. So he got caught, and now he appears to be in the eastern city of Kharkiv, waiting desperately for the Olympics to finish so he can once again get Russian help. Only, like Ceaușescu before him, it looks unlikely Russia will do anything at all as long as Ukraine doesn't slip into total chaos.

Wait, let me revise and extend those comments. My non-expert bet would be that Russia announces new sanctions against Ukraine on Monday, and then shuts off their gas. Europe simply doesn't have enough to send east to Ukraine, so I expect people in Kyiv will be awfully cold for a few weeks.

Still, Yanukovich's plight brings Oscar Wilde's Lady Bricknell to mind: "To lose one's country to a popular uprising, Mr Worthing, may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose it twice looks like carelessness."

Update, Sunday, 10:49am: Julia Ioffe agrees.

Saturday 22 February 2014 16:09:55 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | World#

While things go from scary to stunning in Ukraine, the New Republic's Julia Ioffe has kept me riveted with her series of posts about Russia.

Yesterday, for example. "The Kremlin, the Russian Liberals, and the West All See What They Want to See in Ukraine:"

[T]he battle unfolding in the streets of Kiev today is proving to be yet another geopolitical blank slate, projected onto the shields and helmets and backs of the scurrying warriors on both sides. The storming of the Maidan of Independence, the rapidly mounting casualties, the guns, the bullets—all are subject to highly politicized debate. Because the details matter, and, flipped this way or that, plucked this way or that, totally change the story, and the message. And through the people on the streets, everyone else, near and far, is fighting their own fight.

The Russian Government: Most of the coverage coming from Kremlin-controlled media in Russia is about the mounting casualties ... among police officers.

Tuesday: "Russian Team Eliminated in Hockey, Surprising Only the Russians."

Monday: "What's Happening in Kiev Right Now Is Vladimir Putin's Worst Nightmare."

According to her Facebook page, she's in Kyiv right now. I'm looking forward to her dispatches.

Saturday 22 February 2014 08:59:57 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | World#

NPR reported earlier this morning that Ukrainian President Victor Yanukovich has fled Kyiv and his supporters in Parliament have started resigning. Things are changing quickly on the ground, however. Here's the New York Times half an hour ago:

An opposition unit took control of the presidential palace outside Kiev on Saturday, as leaders in Parliament said Ukraine’s president, Viktor F. Yanukovych, had fled the capital a day after a deal was reached aimed at ending the country’s spiral of violence.

Members of an opposition group from Lviv called the 31st Hundred — carrying clubs and some of them wearing masks — were in control of the entryways to the palace Saturday morning. And Vitali Klitschko, one of three opposition leaders who signed the deal to end the violence, said that Mr. Yanukovych had “left the capital” but his whereabouts were unknown, with members of the opposition speculating that he had gone to Kharkiv, in the northeast part of Ukraine.

The BBC has a different story as of 10 minutes ago:

Ukrainian President Yanukovych has said he has no intention of quitting and has described events in the capital Kiev events as a "coup".

The opposition is effectively in control of the city and parliament.

NPR, just now:

Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, who has reportedly left the capital Kiev, was quoted by Russia's Interfax news agency as saying events in the country amounted to a coup.

"The events witnessed by our country and the whole world are an example of a coup d'etat," he was quoted as saying.

If true, it may constitute a coup, which is troubling. But the Parliament—now in control of the opposition—appears to be trying to keep the institutions of government functioning, with elections apparently scheduled for May 25th.

I'm hedging, because obviously no one knows what's going on there. My friend in Kyiv is still online, but doesn't have a direct view of the Maidan at the moment.

I'll be watching this closely today.

Saturday 22 February 2014 08:41:12 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | World#
Wednesday 29 January 2014

"Mister Speaker, the President of the United States."

My live-blogging of the State of the Union this year turned out to be NSFW. Click through for the result.

Tuesday 28 January 2014 20:00:45 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | US | World#
Tuesday 28 January 2014

Via Sullivan, Washington Post staffer Max Fisher explains how Ukraine's divisions are about more than one politician:

Ukrainian is the majority and official language of Ukraine. But, as a legacy of of the country's subjugation by Russia, many Ukrainians speak Russian, which is the native language for about one-third of the population. The Russian speakers are clustered in the south and east. A significant chunk of them are ethnic Russian, as well. In some regions, more than three-quarters of the population speaks Russian as their primary language.

Heavily Russian-speaking regions can tend to be more sympathetic (or at least less hostile) to policies that bring their country closer to Russia, as Yanukovych has been doing. But the Ukrainian-speaking regions have historically sought a Ukrainian national identity that is less Russia-facing and more European. So this is about politics, yes, but it's also about identity, about the question of what it means to be Ukrainian.

I visited Kyiv (Kiev) in 2009, a few months before Yanukovich's return to power. My host and I didn't talk about politics much, but she did show me where the protests that unseated him in 2004 had happened.

Kyiv has roughly equal populations of Ukrainian and Russian speakers, being the capital and all, though it's pretty firmly within the Ukrainian-speaking part of the country. I got the sense, from the few people I talked to, that Russia made everyone a little nervous. But it was spring, the weather was perfect, and I was really only there to see things like this:

My Ukrainian friends here and in Europe are scared for their country. Remember, it's only been independent for 23 years, after centuries of subjugation by others. (Sound familiar?) We'll see. There are a lot of angry people there right now.

Tuesday 28 January 2014 11:37:33 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | World#
Monday 20 January 2014

I've got outside meetings every day this week, and those tend to compress my days. So there might be more link lists like this one coming up:

Back to the mines.

Monday 20 January 2014 13:51:07 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink | US | World#
Thursday 2 January 2014

Andrew Sullivan, commenting on evidence that requiring visas keeps tourists away, explains why arriving in America generally sucks for most people:

This may seem trivial, but it isn’t with respect to American soft power. Most [of my readers] are American citizens, so they don’t fully see what it is like to enter the US as a non-citizen. It’s a grueling, off-putting, frightening, and often brutal process. Compared with entering a European country, it’s like entering a police state. When you add the sheer difficulty of getting a visa, the brusque, rude and contemptuous treatment you routinely get from immigration officials at the border, the sense that all visitors are criminals and potential terrorists unless proven otherwise, the US remains one of the most unpleasant places for anyone in the world to try and get access to.

And this, of course, is a function not only of a vast and all-powerful bureaucracy. It’s a function of this country’s paranoia and increasing insularity. It’s a thoroughly democratic decision to keep foreigners out as much as possible. And it’s getting worse and worse.

Even for returning U.S. citizens, our border can be a pain in the ass. This is why I am overjoyed to have a Global Entry endorsement. But even though I've seen the lines, I've never experienced coming here as a foreigner. My experiences in most other countries—Russia being the most memorable exception—have been completely benign. Plus, only a dozen or so countries require me to get a visa before arriving. Only Norwegians can visit more countries visa-free than we can.

Has anyone out there had a negative experience at our border?

Thursday 2 January 2014 13:59:17 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | US | World | Travel#
Friday 27 December 2013

Nephew #1 arrived yesterday evening while I sat a mile away talking with the manager of San Benito House and, apparently, challenging people to a Scrabble game later today. Nephew #1 is a much lighter sleeper than the rest of us, which causes him frustration, and when he gets frustrated he sets out to determine how much noise is required to make everyone exactly as light a sleeper as he.

Fortunately, I'm on Chicago time, so getting up at 5am PST (7am CST) does not bother me. And it gives me some time to read the articles that crossed my inbox overnight:

It's still an hour before dawn here, so I'm rocking out the nearly-empty Peet's, about to resume some client work. I promise another photo of the ocean before I return home tomorrow.

Friday 27 December 2013 06:15:59 PST (UTC-08:00)  |  | Geography | Kitchen Sink | US | World#
Thursday 26 December 2013

What is it about the right? I have difficulty imagining what it must be like to have such a constricted worldview that every provocation requires an escalation.

The latest example of right-wing anti-diplomacy comes not from a state representative somewhere in the southern U.S., nor from a local Chinese official, nor from Marine le Pen. No, this time it's serial dick-swinger Shinzo Abe, who decided to help diffuse the tense diplomatic situation in the Sea of Japan by poking his finger in China's and Korea's eyes:

At first I didn't believe the news this evening that Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe had visited Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo. I didn't believe it, because such a move would be guaranteed to make a delicate situation in East Asia far, far worse. So Abe wouldn't actually do it, right? 

It turns out that he has. For a Japanese leader to visit Yasukuni, in the midst of tensions with China, is not quite equivalent to a German chancellor visiting Auschwitz or Buchenwald in the midst of some disagreement with Israel. Or a white American politician visiting some lynching site knowing that the NAACP is watching. But it's close.

In short, there is almost nothing a Japanese prime minister could have done that would have inflamed tempers more along the Japan-China-South Korea-U.S. axis than to make this visit. And yet he went ahead. Last month, I said that China had taken a kind of anti-soft-power prize by needlessly creating its "ADIZ" and alarming many of its neighbors. It seems that I was wrong. The prize returns to Japan.

Really, this is the right-wing mindset. Aggression, nationalism, belligerence, and domestic policies that completely undermine foreign policies. Shinzo Abe, Binyamin Netanyahu, Recep Erdoğan, Vladimir Putin, Viktor Yanukovich...there sure is a lot of this going around recently.

Good thing none of those people has the power to start a major regional war that would suck the U.S. into someone else's crap.

Thursday 26 December 2013 08:30:09 PST (UTC-08:00)  |  | World#
Saturday 21 December 2013

A couple of days ago people wigged out that car-share service Uber had significantly increased prices during a snowstorm out East. I posted on Facebook that this made perfect sense, and people getting all mad about it just didn't understand economics.

Today on his blog, Krugman adds Keynesian context:

Uber, it turns out, doesn’t charge fixed prices; it practices surge pricing, in which prices depend on the state of demand. So when there’s a snowstorm or something that makes everyone want a car at the same time, prices go way up — sometimes sevenfold.

This makes a lot of sense from a rational economic point of view — and it makes people totally furious. It turns out that people are OK with fluctuating prices when it’s really an impersonal market — but they get really angry at any hint that someone with whom they have some sort of ongoing relationship is exploiting their distress. In fact, Uber’s surge pricing is really bad public relations, and I won’t be surprised to see the company modify its strategy if only for marketing purposes.

What does this have to do with [Keynesian macroeconomics]? Well, back in the 1990s the economist Truman Bewley...found...that issues of fairness and morale were key. Employers didn’t cut wages, even when unemployment was high and they knew that employees had no place to go, because they believed that morale and workplace cooperation would collapse if their employees felt that the company was exploiting a bad economy for its own gain.

This was part of a set of posts he's written concerning the difference between saltwater (Keynesian) and freshwater (anti-Keynesian) economics.

On a similar theme, in his column yesterday Krugman made a solid argument that UK Chancellor George Osborne is a stooge. I have to agree; but why Ed Milliband doesn't run with this (or at least with the sound economics behind saying it) I cannot figure out.

Saturday 21 December 2013 14:55:37 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | US | World#
Wednesday 18 December 2013

Shortly after my last trip to London I blogged that UK Prime Minister David Cameron's crowing about Britain's economic recovery entirely missed the point of how awfully and slowly that recovery was going. This morning Krugman freshens the evidence:

A couple of weeks ago I tried to get at what’s wrong with the latest tactic of the austerians in terms of a classic Three Stooges scene. Curly is seen banging his head against the wall; when Moe asks why, he replies, “Because it feels so good when I stop.”

As Simon Wren-Lewis tries to explain, this is exactly the basis of the Cameron government’s triumphalism now that UK GDP is growing again.

The basic fact of UK economic performance since the financial crisis is that it has been terrible — in fact, as the NIESR documents, GDP performance has been substantially worse than during the Great Depression.

It's tragic, really. The only question going into the May 2015 elections will be: do Britons understand how much better off they could have been?

Wednesday 18 December 2013 11:52:29 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | London | World#
Tuesday 3 December 2013

After going to the Korean history museum on Sunday, I went over to the War Memorial. This isn't entirely a memorial to the Korean War, though about half the building is devoted to it. The basement has artifacts and busts commemorating two millennia of wars on the peninsula.

Outside the memorial building is an assortment of weapons from World War II onwards, including OH MY GOD THAT IS A B-52:

A B-52 that children can climb on, apparently:

They also have a Nike missile next to a SCUD, which was disconcerting. (Not nearly as disconcerting as discovering that I live 2 km from a 1950s-era Nike battery. Yes: we had nuclear bombs in Belmont Harbor.)

I've threatened promised to talk more about the Korean War's influence on Seoul, and I will, possibly even this afternoon. At the moment, I'm about to check out of the hotel and spend my last couple of hours exploring the city. Plus, I found a sushi place. I can't leave East Asia without getting sushi!

Tuesday 3 December 2013 09:36:40 KST (UTC+09:00)  |  | US | World | Travel#
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David Braverman is a software developer in Chicago, and the creator of Weather Now. Parker is the most adorable dog on the planet, 80% of the time.
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