The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Three notable recent deaths

In no particular order:

  • Dale Clevenger played French horn for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra from 1966 to 2013. He was 81.
  • Sheldon Silver went to jail for taking bribes while New York Assembly Speaker. He was 77.
  • Lisa Goddard made climate predictions that came true, to the horror of everyone who denies anthropogenic climate change. She was 55.

In a tangential story, the New Yorker profiles author Kim Stanley Robinson, who has written several novels about climate change. (Robinson hasn't died, though; don't worry.)

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.

Thanks again, Bruce!

Former Illinois governor Bruce Rauner (R, of course) famously stopped almost all discretionary spending in the state during his term in office by continually vetoing state budgets passed by the Democratically-controlled legislature. His term overlapped with a project to rebuild 11 railroad bridges on the North Side of Chicago, and which included a companion project, partially necessitated by the track reconfigurations required to replace the bridges, to rebuild the Ravenswood Metra station serving Uptown and Lincoln Square.

That's my Metra station.

The project started in 2013 when the railroad opened two temporary platforms north of Lawrence Ave. and removed the inadequate but semi-permanent platforms south of the street. The old platforms had a couple of small shelters; the "temporary" platforms did not.

Nevertheless, the outbound (West-side) platform opened in late 2016, more or less on time. They couldn't open it until the west-side bridges were up, and the outbound track rebuilt, so we all completely understood the delay. The inbound (east-side) platform had the same issue, so when the bridge project finished in 2017, we could all imagine a day just a few months later when we'd have a shiny new platform with end-to-end shelters, a heated waiting area, and other amenities that most other Metra riders get for free.

But because Rauner stopped paying Illinois' portion of the station rebuild, work stopped on the inbound platform until 2020, and when it resumed, it didn't exactly go at full speed. We are now nine years into the project. This morning, I had to wait for fifteen minutes in blowing snow, all because Bruce Rauner (a billionaire) didn't want to release state funds for a project to which the Federal government contributed 75% of its costs:

Rauner now lives in Florida. I guess he got tired of his neighbors—yes, even his rich Winnetka neighbors—telling him to do his fucking job.

If I ever encounter a Djinn, I might wish for all the anti-tax billionaire politicians to spend a year with the consequences of their decisions. In Rauner's case, that would look like having to take underfunded public transit everywhere, with occasional videos of European transit systems to see what it could be.

The line Boris Johnson crossed

Boris Johnson attending a holiday party the night before Prince Philip's funeral outraged the UK because no one hates anything more than moral hypocrisy:

Moral hypocrisy — behaving badly while simultaneously hectoring the rest of us to do good — evokes a level of anger that neither lying nor wrongdoing bring out on their own, studies have repeatedly found.

Mr. Johnson’s real sin, in this telling, was pushing Britons to go without for the common good, all while his office held events that violated this spirit of shared sacrifice and, by risking viral spread, undermined its effect.

As if to underscore the backlash that such transgressions can bring, the tennis star Novak Djokovic simultaneously faces, after his own long record of controversies never quite catching up with him, severe professional damage over accusations that he fabricated or obfuscated in his application for an exemption to Australia’s Covid vaccination requirement.

The incident has become a flashpoint in global debates over vaccine rules. But it has also inspired fierce anger perhaps in part because, like Mr. Johnson, Mr. Djokovic was seeking to benefit from society’s compliance with those rules, which made Australia safe enough to hold the tournament in which he was scheduled to play. And he has done it while bending or breaking those same rules to satisfy his own desires to avoid the vaccine and travel freely.

They're both reprehensible people. I'm glad they finally got people to understand that to the point where their careers will suffer.

Happy 2nd Covidversary! And 5G...

Yes, today is the second anniversary of the first confirmed Covid-19 case popping up in Washington State. But that's not what this post is about.

No, instead, I want to highlight two articles about why airlines really do not like 5G mobile networks—at least, not the way the US implemented them:

“TO BE BLUNT,” reads a statement from ten U.S. airline executives, “the nation’s commerce will grind to a halt.” That was in a letter sent to the White House, the FAA and the FCC. “Unless our major hubs are cleared to fly,” it continues, “the vast majority of the traveling and shipping public will essentially be grounded.”

There’s perhaps an element of hysteria and hyperbole in play here, as you’d maybe expect. But there’s also a big problem, and unless things are quickly worked out, the potential does exist for massive flight disruptions.

Most of the issue revolves around a cockpit device known as a radar altimeter (sometimes called a “radio altimeter”). Unlike the plane’s primary altimeters, which measure height above a particular barometric pressure level, the radar altimeter measures height above the ground itself. Essentially it bounces a signal off the terrain below and determines its vertical distance, displayed in feet.

What this interference would actually look like, I’m not sure. Would it be some transient flickering? A failure of the instrument? Whatever it might be, the implications of an outside signal messing with this data, when you’re low over the runway in the fog or blowing snow, hardly need explaining.

The FAA has published a list of at-risk runways; there are hundreds of them. Pilots may not land on these runways during low-vis conditions that require a radar altimeter — i.e. Category II or III approaches — without a special authorization. That authorization comes in the form of something called an “alternative means of compliance,” or AMOC. Two types of radar altimeters commonly installed on Boeing and Airbus models have been judged safe for operation into certain runways. For now, however, this AMOC clearance applies only to around 20 percent of the country’s busiest airports.

The entire thing is a mess. And we saw it coming. Airlines, along with pilot unions and other industry groups, have been sounding the alarm on this for the better part of two years.

How did this happen? Well, the previous administration didn't believe that governments should interfere with business, so no one at the FCC (which approved the 5G implementation) discussed it with anyone at the FAA until the FAA blew a gasket. And yet, in other countries, 5G rollouts haven't caused any of these problems. Maybe because the other countries, with their functioning governments, got the implementation right:

The French antennas have permanent safeguards in airport buffer zones that provide more protection than the US ones. Further, the French antennas near airports have to be tilted downward to reduce interference, and the French antennas have far less power. Not mentioned here but also notable is that in Europe, the C-Band spectrum is in the 3.4 to 3.8 GHz range, so it’s further away from the range that radio altimeters use.

The FAA has a handy infographic explaining this in more detail:

It must be nice to live in a country with a functioning government.

Update: The Times columnist Peter Coy has more about the previous administration's political infighting that led us here.

Civis romanus sum

A grand jury convened by the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York has indicted four Belarusian security officials for air piracy:

In response to a purported bomb threat, Aleksandr G. Lukashenko, Belarus’s authoritarian president, sent a fighter jet on May 23 to intercept the Ryanair Boeing 737-800 carrying some 170 passengers from Athens to Vilnius, Lithuania — among them the journalist, Roman Protasevich. The forcing down of the plane and his seizure led to international outrage.

The bomb threat was a fake, orchestrated by senior Belarus officials who were seeking to detain Mr. Protasevich in Minsk, the capital of Belarus, the indictment says.

The move was seen as a marker of how far Mr. Lukashenko, with the support of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, was willing to go to repress dissent in his country.

The criminal complaint acknowledges that the incident occurred "out of the jurisdiction of any particular State or district of the United States," but 49 USC 46502(b)(2)(A) gives the United States jurisdiction over any unlawful seizure of an aircraft when a US national is onboard. This comes by way of the Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Seizure of Aircraft, which the US signed in September 1971 and, here's the thing, Belarus signed on December 30th of the same year.

I doubt that any of the defendants will avail themselves of the American justice system voluntarily. But the SDNY has issued arrest warrants for them, and I expect Interpol will get the warrants soon. And guess what? Belarus is a member of Interpol.

This indictment also won't bring down Lukashenko's government, especially not with Russia's dictator Vladimir Putin needing a pliant Belarus to maintain his own internal power. But the four guys who actually carried out his illegal orders might wind up leaving Belarus in someone's diplomatic bag.

Finance stabs another media outlet

Private equity only knows and only cares about money. Starting from that uncontroversial statement, it takes even less imagination and storytelling skills than private-equity-driven G/O Media possesses to predict the ultimate fate of A.V. Club:

Top editorial staff at the Chicago-based A.V. Club, a sister publication to The Onion, are exiting the entertainment website en masse after refusing a mandatory relocation to new offices in Los Angeles.

The seven employees, including the managing editor, TV editor and film editor, all gave the West Coast move the thumbs-down by a Jan. 15 deadline imposed by the A.V. Club’s owner, New York-based G/O Media.

G/O Media, which is owned by Boston-based private equity firm Great Hill Partners, acquired The Onion, A.V. Club and other digital sites from Spanish language broadcaster Univision for an undisclosed price in 2019. Since then, the company has locked horns several times with the Writers Guild of America, East, the union representing editorial staffers at its portfolio of websites.

In October 2019, Deadspin, the irreverent sports website, was all but shut down by a mass exodus of more than 20 New York-based writers and editors who resigned in protest over the editorial direction under its new owners, G/O Media. After a monthslong standoff with the union, G/O Media announced it was relocating Deadspin to Chicago, where it relaunched in March 2020 under the same roof as The Onion.

Well, why would G/O Media care about the current editorial staff? From the perspective of G/O's vacant-eyed suits, A.V. Club is just a series of cash flows, not a group of writers with a 30-year history and a unique perspective on popular culture. G/O cares less about A.V. Club's content than an earthworm cares about Shakespeare. To increase cash flows, reduce costs.

You can't force people to have consciences or empathy, or to care about art or journalism. But you don't have to reward them for apathy.

Lunchtime roundup, falling temperatures edition

We have one of those lovely January days when a tongue of cold air pushes south from Canada and gives us the warmest temperature of the day at midnight. Yesterday the Inner Drive Techology World Headquarters got up to 6°C around 3:30pm, stayed around 5°C from 6:30 pm until 1am, and since then has cooled down to -5°C. The forecast calls for continued cooling until reaching -13°C around 6am tomorrow.

Yesterday's weather conditions encouraged the formation of "pancake ice" on Lake Michigan. Block Club Chicago has tons of photos and videos of the phenomenon if you're curious.

Block Club Chicago's story on pop-up Covid testing facilities bilking consumers and governments alike got the attention of Bruce Schneier, who assures his readers that no, these guys aren't going to sell your data. They're just ordinary multi-level marketing scammers.

In other Chicago journalism news, Chicago Public Media's board voted unanimously yesterday to acquire the Chicago Sun-Times newspaper. The deal will create the biggest non-profit journalism organization in Chicago, and has the backing of billionaire Michael Sacks. (Note: I am a Leadership Circle contributor to Chicago Public Media, and once worked for Sacks at GCM.)

Now, Cassie and I will brave the cold for a few minutes so she can take care of her important business.

Fast and furious?

Josh Marshall lays out the evidence that the Omicron Covid variant hit hard and fast, but as in South Africa, appears to have a short life-span:

New York City was one of the first parts of the United States hit by the Omicron variant. The trajectory of the city’s surge now appears remarkably similar to the pattern we saw earlier in South Africa and other countries.

Data out of South Africa showed a roughly four week interval between the start of the Omicron surge and its peak. “Peak in four weeks and precipitous decline in another two,” said Fareed Abdullah of the South African Medical Research Council. “It was a flash flood more than a wave.”

New York City numbers appear to match this pattern almost exactly.

It looks like we may have much lower Covid numbers by the end of January here in Chicago. That said, not that it surprised anyone, but the way the city and State of Illinois have managed testing here seems a bit...hinky:

As Omicron cases surged, Chicagoans were told repeatedly by city, state and federal officials to get tested for COVID-19 — but few testing options were available.

The city previously shut down many of the free testing sites it ran, and the few government-run sites and health clinics still open were booked up. At-home tests sold out. Thousands of people turned to pop-ups that promised quick results, especially as they tried to keep family and friends safe during the holidays.

Now, many who tested at pop-ups are questioning if they got accurate results — and wondering where they can go to for trusted testing. Some have said they’re frustrated the government hasn’t done more to provide legitimate testing options, stockpile testing supplies and shut down bad actors.

Last week, Block Club highlighted how one locally based chain — the Center for COVID Control, with 300 locations across the United States — is now the subject of federal and state investigations after numerous people filed complaints about not getting results or getting delayed results. Authorities said the chain wasted more than 40,000 PCR tests and didn’t properly process rapid tests in multiple instances, among other concerns.

Officials are also beginning to crack down on the pop-ups. The Illinois Attorney General’s office and other agencies are investigating the Center for COVID Control, and the Attorney General’s Office has warned people to be cautious around pop-ups in general.

So, some opportunists predicted a Covid surge in December, bought up all the rapid tests, then opened pop-up stores to bilk the government and the people out of hundreds for "free" tests they could have gotten without "help" from the pop-ups.

The only people who could have predicted this turn of events were millions of us who grew up in Chicago.