Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog
Tuesday 13 April 2010

Over Great Bear Lake, N.W.T., 16:20 MDT

Note the first: A westbound 13-hour flight seems a lot shorter than a 9-hour flight the other direction. We left Chicago a little more than four hours ago, which equals the flying time from Chicago to San Francisco, the farthest place you can go within the Lower 48. It doesn’t feel that far. The sun confounds perceptions of time: we took off at 1pm and we land at 3:30, chasing the sun across the Canadian permafrost most of the way. I get to Shanghai at 7pm. My clock at home will say 6am. My brain will not have a clue.

Note the second: It turns out that flight attendants covet the Chicago-Tokyo route. Our cabin crew includes a husband-and-wife team, both of whom have worked for American longer than 30 years. The husband told me that the Chicago-Beijing route starting at the end of this month has become the most-sought trip for flight attendants; he expects he’ll be able to bid for it in a couple of years. Let me repeat that: when he has 40 years with the airline he might get on the Chicago-Beijing route.

Tuesday 13 April 2010 16:20:00 MDT (UTC-06:00)  |  | Aviation#

First, a housekeeping note. This is the one of three entries posted after the fact. Almost always, a post time you see on The Daily Parker accurately records when I first posted the blog entry. At this writing I’m on an airplane over Canada’s Northwest Territories, so the post time shows when I took notes about the entry that follows. This all may seem, as my dearest friend might say, “a bit Asperger’s-y.” Perhaps. Another very close friend blogs retrospectively, because she wants her entries to correspond in time to when the experiences happened. I think either is fine as long as it’s consistent. Otherwise, it’s almost like lying to yourself.

(We now rejoin the blog already in progress.)

If you have to fly out of O’Hare, you really can’t beat mid-morning on Tuesday. It took me 11 minutes from the time my cousin dropped me at Terminal 3 to check two bags through to Shanghai and get through security. Eleven minutes. Yes, I have Platinum status, but there weren’t any lines I could see at anywhere else. Always do things when no one else is doing them, someone once told me. Good advice.

In a moment of stupidity I forgot they would feed me on the plane, so I got lunch. The stupidity compounded itself by suggesting that, since I was heading to China, maybe I should skip the usual Terminal 3 two-item combo from Manchu Wok and get something impossible to get in Shanghai, like, say, a Quarter Pounder. Understand, the last time I ate at McDonald’s, ridiculous comparatives hadn’t been invented yet, so all we could say was “it was a long time ago.” I think I last had a Quarter Pounder during the Daley administration. The first one.

I think they’ve changed the recipe. The Quarter Pounder and small fries I had didn’t taste anything like I remembered. What happened to the salt? Where was the grease? What kind of cardboard bun was this? (At least they still make cardboard buns.) What a disappointment. I wanted my last meal in the United States for two weeks to be something quintessentially American, and obviously fattening and hypertensive. Instead I got what tasted like...well, it didn’t taste like anything, actually. Then American Airlines added to my culinary confusion by serving me a quite tasty beef filet in garlic ginger sake sauce with wild mushrooms paired with a decent Australian cabernet.

What is America coming to, when airline food is better than McDonald’s?

Tuesday 13 April 2010 11:50:00 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation | Kitchen Sink#
Monday 12 April 2010

As reported earlier, Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens do not like the Pope's actions in dealing with child abuse. Dawkins has clarified his remarks:

Needless to say, I did NOT say "I will arrest Pope Benedict XVI" or anything so personally grandiloquent. You have to remember that The Sunday Times is a Murdoch newspaper, and that all newspapers follow the odd custom of entrusting headlines to a sub-editor, not the author of the article itself.

What I DID say to Marc Horne when he telephoned me out of the blue, and I repeat it here, is that I am whole-heartedly behind the initiative by Geoffrey Robertson and Mark Stephens to mount a legal challenge to the Pope's proposed visit to Britain. Beyond that, I declined to comment to Marc Horme, other than to refer him to my 'Ratzinger is the Perfect Pope' article here: http://richarddawkins.net/articles/5341.

I thought it sounded unusually acerbic, even for Dawkins.

Monday 12 April 2010 15:38:02 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | World | Religion#

I discovered this joke from the head of Duke's CCMBA IT department:

An accountant is having a hard time sleeping and goes to see his doctor. "Doctor, I just can't get to sleep at night."

"Have you tried counting sheep?"

"That's the problem - I make a mistake and then spend three hours trying to find it."

And 24 hours from now, I'll be somewhere over Minnesota on my way to Shanghai...

Monday 12 April 2010 14:07:23 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Duke | Jokes#

Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, whose work I have followed for years, want to arrest the Pope when he visits the U.K. in September:

Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, the atheist author, have asked human rights lawyers to produce a case for charging Pope Benedict XVI over his alleged cover-up of sexual abuse in the Catholic church.

The pair believe they can exploit the same legal principle used to arrest Augusto Pinochet, the late Chilean dictator, when he visited Britain in 1998.

Dawkins and Hitchens believe the Pope would be unable to claim diplomatic immunity from arrest because, although his tour is categorised as a state visit, he is not the head of a state recognised by the United Nations.

I think the Pope's conduct in the child-abuse cover-up completely destroys any credibility and moral authority Ratzinger claims to have through his office. Still, despite the history of the U.K. vis a vis the Catholic Church, I caution Dawkins that perhaps this isn't the best way to make his case.

I think Dawkins was correct last month when he suggested the Pope "should remain in charge of the whole rotten edifice - the whole profiteering, woman-fearing, guilt-gorging, truth-hating, child-raping institution - while it tumbles," which creates dramatic irony, rather than trying to arrest him, which makes Ratzinger a victim. I just hope more children aren't tied up and raped before it happens.

Monday 12 April 2010 10:09:18 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | World | Religion#
Sunday 11 April 2010

Darwin's Tears is now available in printed form. (It's been available for Kindle for a couple of weeks.)

Sunday 11 April 2010 10:18:51 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink#

Before continuing yesterday's list of Star Wars lines that only a 14-year-old could love, I need to tip my hat to reader AS who found this sparkling diamond of a list. Change one word in a Star Wars quote to "pants" and you get, for example, "I find your lack of pants disturbing," or, "In his pants you will find a new definition of pain and suffering." Fascinating that the list includes lines from all six movies, and yet only lines from the first three made it into the top 20.

Here's a clue. Here are the top 10 lines from The Empire Strikes Back:

  1. "And I thought they smelled bad...on the OUTSIDE!"
  2. "Possible he came in through the south entrance."
  3. "I must've hit it pretty close to the mark to get her all riled up like that, huh, kid?"
  4. "Hurry up, golden rod..."
  5. "That's OK, I'd like to keep it on manual control for a while."
  6. "But now we must eat. Come, good food, come..."
  7. "Control, control! You must learn control."
  8. "There's an awful lot of moisture in here."
  9. "Size matters not. Judge me by my size, do you?"
  10. "I thought that hairy beast would be the end of me!"

And from Return Of The Jedi:

  1. "I need more men."
  2. "Our instructions are to give it only to Jabba himself."
  3. "Thanks for coming after me."
  4. "Rise, my friend."
  5. "I can't do it, R2."
  6. "Look, I want you to take her."
  7. "I'm endangering the mission. I shouldn't have come."
  8. "General Solo, somebody's coming."
  9. "I have felt him, my master." "Strange that I have not."
  10. "Back door. Good Idea!"

Further evidence that Lucas lost his art when he did the first three.

Sunday 11 April 2010 09:37:46 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Jokes#
Saturday 10 April 2010

Did you ever wonder about these lines from the original Star Wars?

  1. "She may not look like much, but she's got it where it counts, kid."
  2. "Curse my metal body, I wasn't fast enough!"
  3. "Look at the size of that thing!"
  4. "Sorry about the mess..."
  5. "You came in that thing? You're braver than I thought."
  6. "Aren't you a little short for a storm trooper?"
  7. "You've got something jammed in here real good."
  8. "Put that thing away before you get us all killed!"
  9. "Luke, at that speed, do you think you'll be able to pull out in time?"
  10. "Get in there, you big furry oaf, I don't care what you smell!"

Looked at a certain way—i.e., like a 14-year-old would—they're kind of funny.

Bonus 11th line, from reader SSH: "Take care of yourself, Han. I guess that's what you're best at, isn't it?"

Saturday 10 April 2010 09:36:37 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Jokes#

Truly stunning news from Russia this morning, with devastating repercussions for Poland:

A plane carrying the Polish president, Lech Kaczynski, and dozens of the country’s top political and military leaders crashed in a heavy fog in western Russia on Saturday morning, killing everyone aboard.

... Among those on board, according to the Web site of the newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza, were [President Lech] Kaczynski; his wife, Maria; former Polish president-in-exile Ryszard Kaczorowski; the deputy speaker of Poland’s parliament, Jerzy Szmajdzinski; the head of the president’s chancellery, Wladyslaw Stasiak; the head of the National Security Bureau, Aleksander Szczyglo; the deputy minister of foreign affairs, Andrzej Kremer; the chief of the general staff of the Polish army, Franciszek Gagor; the president of Poland’s national bank, Slawomir Skrzypek; the commissioner for civil rights protection, Janusz Kochanowski; the heads of all of Poland’s armed forces; and dozens of members of parliament.

The crash fits the strict definition of tragedy, as have so many air crashes involving VIPs:

A press secretary for ... the governor of Smolensk, said the landing took place under very bad visibility, and Russian air traffic controllers advised the crew to land in Minsk, but the crew decided to land anyway. The Polish news channel TVN24 reported that moments before the crash, air traffic controllers had refused a Russian military aircraft permission to land, but that they could not refuse permission to the Polish plane.

And unbelievable irony:

[Kaczynski] had been due in western Russia to commemorate the anniversary of the murder of thousands of Polish officers by the Soviet Union at the beginning of World War II. The ceremonies were to be held at a site in the Katyn forest close to Smolensk, where 70 years ago members of the Soviet secret police executed more than 20,000 Polish officers captured after the Soviet Army invaded Poland in 1939.

The crash quite literally decimated the Polish government. Poland has some difficult days ahead.

Update: Author and pilot James Fallows explains why this is a tragedy in the literal, Greek-dramatic sense I meant above.

Saturday 10 April 2010 08:18:25 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation | World#
Thursday 8 April 2010

That the governor of Virginia is stupid, or racist? And how well does he actually represent the Virginia Republican Party?

This time, he proclaimed April "Confederate History Month," but left out a detail:

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell apologized Wednesday for leaving out any reference to slavery in his recent proclamation designating April as Confederate History Month, calling it a "major omission."

"The failure to include any reference to slavery was a mistake, and for that I apologize to any fellow Virginian who has been offended or disappointed," McDonnell said in a written statement.

Some mistake. The proclamation read, in part, "It is important for all Virginians to reflect upon our Commonwealth's shared history, to understand the sacrifices of the Confederate leaders, soldiers and citizens during the period of the Civil War, and to recognize how our history has led to our present." It left out how the sacrifices of the Virginia Commonwealth had as their proximate cause Robert E. Lee's abrogation of his oath to the U.S. Army, and had as their consequences the deaths of 600,000 Americans.

CNN buries some inconvenient facts for Gov. McDonnell at the end of today's article:

The Sons of Confederate Veterans asked the governor to declare April Confederate History Month in Virginia, which had seceded from the Union on April 17, 1861.

Brandon Dorsey, a spokesman for the group, told CNN Radio that Confederate History Month isn't about slavery or race, but about studying the four-year history of the Confederacy. He said it will also help draw visitors to the many Civil War battle sites in Virginia, helping to boost tourism.

"The proclamation's main goal is to call attention to the fact that there is Confederate history in the state of Virginia, of course, across the South," Dorsey said. "It's simply a tool to expose individuals to that history. ... It's not meant to discriminate against anybody."

Other Southern states have issued similar proclamations for April. In Alabama, Republican Gov. Bob Riley declared April, the month the Civil War began, as Confederate History and Heritage Month. His statement condemned slavery.

Note to Confederates everywhere: you can honor the memory the Civil War without appearing to endorse slavery by simply remembering the war. If you think Virginia attempting to secede from the U.S. was a good idea, that's of course your right as an American. But the Confederate leaders picked the wrong issue to go to war over. Slavery was vital to the Southern economy through the 1860s. That doesn't mean it was defensible.

I'm glad the Party of Lincoln has come full circle. It keeps things nice and ironic.

Thursday 8 April 2010 13:12:42 EDT (UTC-04:00)  |  | US#

Last one today, with two articles on paying cash v. paying with credit cards. First, Ryan Sager at Neuroworld:

Every person’s financial situation and mind works differently. For some people, doing many more of their transactions in cash (or check — you have to have some way to pay bills) would be a huge improvement. If you shop a lot recreationally, for instance, this could slow you down. For some people, just using a debit card could be the answer. For me and other people who like a lot of control and data and feedback — and I swear this whole post isn’t a viral add for Mint.com — a solution like credit cards plus something like… Mint.com is a good answer.

The key, as in so many things, is a high degree of self knowledge, a willingness to experiment and track results, and the information to understand what biases might be driving your behavior.

An older article on the same subject from Jonah Lehrer:

What's interesting to me is the way credit cards take advantage of some innate flaws in the brain. When we buy something with cash, the purchase involves an actual loss - our wallet is literally lighter. Credit cards, however, make the transaction abstract, so that we don't really feel the downside of spending money. Brain imaging experiments suggest that paying with credit cards actually reduces activity in the insula, a brain region associated with negative feelings. As George Loewenstein, a neuroeconomist at Carnegie-Mellon says, "The nature of credit cards ensures that your brain is anaesthetized against the pain of payment." Spending money doesn't feel bad, so you spend more money.

Once again I remember the semi-dystopian Friday by Robert Heinlein, in which he imagines a Republic of California with a constitutional right to credit. Of course, that means everyone in California is in debt....

Thursday 8 April 2010 10:34:54 EDT (UTC-04:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink#

It turns out, all that pollen covering my car happened in part because of the really pleasant winter we had in Raleigh this year. Really:

The N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources' Air Quality Division measured a sample of air Wednesday that had 3,524 pollen grains per cubic meter at its Raleigh office.

The count normally falls between 1,000 and 1,500 in the spring. The previous peak was on March 27, 2007, when air quality staff over at DENR measured 2,925 pollen grains per cubic meter.

The jump in pollen has made this a stuffy, sneezy, eye-itching spring for pollen-allergic Triangle residents.

Be grateful, however, you're not in Winston-Salem. The pollen count there was measured at 9,632 grains per cubic meter on Tuesday, according to DENR.

Despite the predicted thunderstorms tonight, predicted pollen levels remain "very high" (only because "OMFG" isn't an official pollen level).

Apparently, though, it's worse elsewhere:

Thursday 8 April 2010 10:27:31 EDT (UTC-04:00)  |  | Raleigh | Weather#

Via Andrew Sullivan, a bit of morning hilarity (NSFW and kind of gross around 4:00 but funny as hell):

Thursday 8 April 2010 10:14:56 EDT (UTC-04:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink#
Wednesday 7 April 2010

The Spirit of Stupidity:

The next obsession, at least for passengers of Spirit Airlines, may be cramming items under airplane seats. The Florida discount carrier said Tuesday that it would charge customers as much as $45 each way to place bulky items in overhead bins, in an effort to get people on and off its planes faster. Other airlines will watch Spirit's experiment.

Carry-on bags didn't become the primary source of luggage for passengers until carriers introduced fees for infrequent fliers and then raised them to $25 to check a first bag and $35 for a second item. United, among the first to adopt the fees, has seen the volume of checked bags fall for 25 consecutive months, said Cindy Szadokierski, United's vice president of airport operations planning and United Express.

Every major U.S. airline except for Southwest Airlines has introduced such fees since 2008, and no wonder. The 10 largest U.S. carriers collected $739.8 million in baggage charges during the third quarter of 2009, double prior-year totals, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

Being a oneworld loyalist, I doubt I'd ever fly Spirit Airlines. But if I had to fly a route they served that American didn't, I'd rather pay a competitor $50 more than pay them $25 to carry on a bag. I suspect many people will make a similar calculation.

Then there's the possible fraudulent element. If Spirit airfares show up on aggregators $10 less than competing fares, but really you have to spend $25 extra just to board the plane, doesn't that seem, well, wrong?

Wednesday 7 April 2010 14:52:33 EDT (UTC-04:00)  |  | Aviation#
Tuesday 6 April 2010

U.K. Prime Minister Gordon Brown requested the Queen dissolve Parliament today in advance of their May 6th general election:

The formalities between the Prime Minister and monarch lasted 23 minutes. The details of their conversation will remain private but Mr Brown was to ask the Queen for a dissolution next Monday. He then returned to Downing Street to name the date on the steps of No 10.

[Conservative Party leader David] Cameron was not in a mood to wait, starting his campaign appearance while Mr Brown's motorcade was still moving. The Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg was also out campaigning.

Mr Brown finally emerged from No 10 at around 10.45am, announced what he called "probably the worst-kept secret of recent years" and started the pitch to voters that Labour campaign strategists hope will lead to a record fourth term for Labour.

I don't think we should have the Queen dissolve Congress—the last time that happened things ended badly for the U.K.—but I do like the British 5-week limit on campaigning. Can you imagine how much Congress would get done if they could only campaign for re-election during the months of October and November?

Cameron's party will likely win more seats than they have now, but Labour may retain a plurality. That would cause a hung Parliament, and give the Liberal Democrats a lot of power to form a coalition (probably with Labor). So on May 7th, look for Gordon Brown retaining his job but Nick Clegg in the Cabinet. That should be interesting. (Also look to Brown to resign shortly after the election. Prime Minister Darling, one wonders?)

Tuesday 6 April 2010 11:16:17 EDT (UTC-04:00)  |  | World#

I think I can get used to having an association with a national champion team of some kind, which in my life hasn't happened since 1998:

The Duke Blue Devils officially were the last team standing Monday night, the only team on the podium with the championship trophy in hand.

Duke claimed its fourth NCAA championship but the first for any of its current players with a 61-59 victory over hometown favorite Butler in front of 70,000-plus fans at Lucas Oil Stadium.

More:

The Blue Devils won with defense. Holding the Bulldogs to 34 percent shooting and contesting every possession as tenaciously as Butler, which allowed 60 points for the first time since February. Zoubek, the 7-foot-1 center, finished with two blocks, 10 rebounds and too many altered shots to count, but also came out to trap the Butler guards and disrupt an offense that was already struggling.

Now if only the Cubs can win a game. At the moment, they're 161 games out of first place, which isn't the worst they've ever been.

Update: I suppose I have to mention this as another reason to be thankful I'm a Dukie:

ATLANTA — The Cubs are marketing the 2010 season as "Year One," referring to the first year of the Ricketts family ownership. But on the first day of Year One, the Cubs suffered their worst Opening Day defeat in 126 years, losing 16-5 to Atlanta before 53,081 at Turner Field.

I mean, day-um.

Tuesday 6 April 2010 09:59:47 EDT (UTC-04:00)  |  | Duke#

This greeted me on my return to Raleigh today:

Monday 5 April 2010 20:34:24 EDT (UTC-04:00)  |  | Raleigh | Weather#
Monday 5 April 2010

A 7.2-magnitude earthquake rumbled through Baja California yesterday afternoon, killing one person directly and another indirectly:

The quake struck about 6 miles below the earth's surface at 3:40 p.m. PT Sunday, about 110 miles east-southeast of Tijuana, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

After examining data, seismologists upgraded the size of Sunday's 25-second quake from a magnitude 6.9 to 7.2, according to Dr. Lucy Jones of Caltech.

"This is the largest earthquake since the [7.3 magnitude] Landers earthquake of 1992," Jones said, "A 7.2 is going to happen over a pretty long fault, probably close to 50 miles long."

... According to reports, the force from Sunday's temblor caused high-rise buildings in San Diego to sway back and forth around 30 seconds before rocking high-rise buildings in downtown Los Angeles.

Caltech officials reported that over 20 million people felt shaking related to the 7.2 magnitude earthquake.

Oddly, none of the national news services I subscribe to have mentioned it.

In Chicago, for example, one of the top stories was Blagojevich getting fired from "Celebrity Apprentice." That has nothing to do with earthquakes, but it's amusing enough to mention.

Monday 5 April 2010 09:38:43 EDT (UTC-04:00)  |  | Chicago | Weather#
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Bad food choices
Dawkins clarifies
On the way to get my 3rd term grades
Possibly not the best approach
Hard copy
Episodes V and VI
Star Wars Episode 4: A New Misunderstanding
Polish President and other top officials killed
Which is worse?
The neurology of spending
Worst. Pollen. Ever.
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That's the spirit
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Shocking—to a Cubs fan
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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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