Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog
Friday 7 May 2010

We all scratched our heads today as the Dow plunged almost 1,000 points in 15 minutes...then rebounded. Still no explanation:

Traders and Washington policy makers struggled to keep up as the Dow Jones industrial average fell 1,000 points shortly after 2:30 p.m. and then mostly rebounded in a matter of minutes. For a moment, the sell-off seemed to overwhelm computer and human systems alike, and some traders began referring grimly to the day as “Black Thursday.”

But in the end, Thursday was not as black as it had seemed. After briefly sinking below 10,000, the Dow ended down 347.80, or 3.2 percent, at 10,520.32. The Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index dropped 37.75 points, or 3.24 percent, to close at 1,128.15, and the Nasdaq was down 82.65 points, or 3.44 percent, at 2,319.64.

But up and down Wall Street, and across the nation, many investors were dumbstruck. Experts groped for explanations as blue-chip stocks like Procter & Gamble, Philip Morris and Accenture plunged. At one point, Accenture[1] fell more than 99 percent to a penny. P.&G. plunged to $39.37 from more than $60 within minutes.

More:

The height of panic on Thursday was reached shortly after lunchtime in the United States. First some currencies began to fall rapidly, with the euro suffering especially against the Japanese yen.

That could have been an indication that some large traders were unwinding positions. It has been popular to borrow yen at low interest rates and then use the money to speculate in higher yielding assets denominated in other currencies. Anyone unwinding such a trade would buy yen to repay the loan.

Then there's the U.K. election, which didn't go as planned for the Liberal Democrats:

The swing so far from Labour to Conservatives with 250 results in the bag is a little lower than before, at 5.6%. The Tories' share of the popular vote is 34.9%, Labour is on 28.3% and the LibDems on 21%. Compare that with the average of nine main pollsters' final predictions before the elections: 35.6% for the Tories, 27.6% for Labour and 27.4% for the Liberal Democrats. The Tories a little down, Labour a little up and Lib Dems bafflingly down. Still more than half of all seats to go, though.

That was about an hour ago. It's dawn in London right now, and no one knows who'll be in Number 10 at dusk. If no party has an outright majority in Parliament at the end of voting, Gordon Brown will have the right to form another government—but you can bet the UK will have elections again in a few months. This is the most exciting UK election since 1974.

[1] Disclosure: Accenture owns most of Avanade, my employer.

Thursday 6 May 2010 23:23:50 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | World | Business#
Thursday 6 May 2010

Bruce Schneier gives three main reasons:

One, terrorist attacks are harder to pull off than popular imagination -- and the movies -- lead everyone to believe. Two, there are far fewer terrorists than the political rhetoric of the past eight years leads everyone to believe. And three, random minor terrorist attacks don't serve Islamic terrorists' interests right now.

... So, to sum up: If you're just a loner wannabe who wants to go out with a bang, terrorism is easy. You're more likely to get caught if you take a long time to plan or involve a bunch of people, but you might succeed. If you're a representative of al-Qaida trying to make a statement in the U.S., it's much harder. You just don't have the people, and you're probably going to slip up and get caught.

Thursday 6 May 2010 07:36:32 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Security#
Tuesday 4 May 2010

Via one of my classmates, an graphic depiction of the differences between Germany and China by graphic designer Yang Liu. For example, the evolution of transport over the last 40 years:

Tuesday 4 May 2010 10:20:57 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Duke | World#

Apparently United danced with USAirways just to make Continental jealous. It worked:

"What happened here is very simple," Continental President and Chief Executive Jeff Smisek told analysts and reporters on a Monday conference call. "I found out through the news media that Glenn [Tilton, CEO of United] was looking at a potential other combination. I recognized that United is the best possible partner for Continental...I didn't want him to marry the ugly girl. I wanted him to marry the pretty one, and I'm much prettier."

... Executives added on Monday that they expect US Airways to continue being a "valued partner" in the Star Alliance.

Of course, major business combinations like this one happen because of cold, hard finacial logic, not because of petty gossip. But does anyone really think American hasn't started passing USAirways notes in study hall?

Tuesday 4 May 2010 09:11:25 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation#
Monday 3 May 2010

Brilliant:

If the TSA Were Running New York

- All vans or SUVs headed into Midtown Manhattan would have to stop and have their contents inspected. If any vehicle seemed for any reason to have escaped inspection, Midtown in its entirety would be evacuated;

- A whole new uniformed force -- the Times Square Security Administration, or TsSA - would be formed for this purpose;

- The restrictions would never be lifted and the TsSA would have permanent life, because the political incentives here work only one way.

... The point of terrorism is not to "destroy." It is to terrify. And for eight and a half years now, the dominant federal government response to terrorist threats and attacks has been to magnify their harm by increasing a mood of fear and intimidation. That is the real case against the ludicrous "orange threat level" announcements we hear every three minutes at the airport. It's not just that they're pointless, uninformative, and insulting to our collective intelligence; it's that their larger effect is to make people feel frightened rather than brave.

It always strikes me that Israel, which has actual, ongoing terrorism, doesn't x-ray people's shoes.

Monday 3 May 2010 18:06:09 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Security#

For some reason, the Cultural Disconnect I just wrote for the Shanghai residency was the hardest. I don't know if that's good or bad.

Full text on The Daily Parker.

Monday 3 May 2010 17:56:35 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Duke | Geography#

United and Continental have officially voted to merge, which won't suck for Chicago:

The new United's operations headquarters will be located in Chicago's Willis Tower, which was formerly known as the Sears Tower. United will move forward with plans to place its crucial nerve center and 2,800 staffers in the skyscraper starting in October.

The combined airline would have revenues of $29 billion, based on 2009 results, and hold an unrestricted cash balance of about $7.4 billion. The carriers said in a press release Monday that they expect to complete the transaction in the fourth quarter of 2010.

Unlike the earlier merger that United had contemplated with US Airways, this deal isn't expected to involve large-scale cuts since United's and Continental's networks have little overlap. The carriers expect to continue serving the 370 cities where United or Continental currently fly, and will operate 10 hubs, including bases in the four largest cities in the U.S.

(The photo above shows the new color scheme on a Boeing 787, of which Continental has ordered 25 and United has ordered none, as of November.)

American and USAirways will have to merge, really. Or USAirways will have to join oneworld. That will leave three major international airlines in the U.S., which won't do a lot to help prices.

Monday 3 May 2010 14:02:18 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation | Chicago#
Friday 30 April 2010

By 2013, the EU will stop confiscating your lunch:

Liquids, gels and aerosols will instead be run through a new generation of explosives scanners able to screen them for harmful materials. Getting these machines up and running will be very expensive, and the technology is not yet foolproof. But nothing in aviation security is foolproof, and anything is better than the chaotic confiscation policies now in place.

Why are the Europeans always one step ahead of us?

... The 3-ounce container rule is silly enough -- after all, what's to stop somebody from carrying several small bottles, each full of the same substance -- but consider for a moment the hypocrisy of TSA's confiscation policy. At every concourse checkpoint you'll see a bin or barrel brimming with contraband containers taken from passengers for having exceeded the volume limit. Now, the assumption has to be that the materials in those containers are potentially hazardous. If not, why were they seized in the first place? So why are they dumped unceremoniously into the trash? The agency seems to be saying that it knows these things are harmless. But it's going to take them anyway, and either you accept it or you don't fly.

Smith also, bless him, acknowledges another problem with the US enforcement regime: "The maximum allowable container size is actually 3.4 ounces, by the way, or a hundred milliliters."

In other aviation news, United is eating Continental. That will cause American to eat USAirways, leaving only three major airlines in the US, and a Herfindahl-Hirschman Index climbing to heaven. Lovely.

Friday 30 April 2010 07:11:37 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation#
Thursday 29 April 2010

I haven't had a lot of time to go through all the Shanghai photos. These two caught my eye, though. First, the Urban Planning Museum in People's Square:

And, just because I thought it looked cool, Terminal 2 at Pudong International Airport:

Thursday 29 April 2010 09:27:49 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Duke | Geography#

The video doesn't do the experience justice. I have to say, moving on land at 430 km/h on a public conveyance was a lot of fun. That's better than twice the cruising speed of the Cessna airplanes I fly (195 km/h).

More photos later today.

Thursday 29 April 2010 08:26:30 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Duke | Geography#
Wednesday 28 April 2010

With Labour trailing behind both the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats, the Prime Minister today committed what may be the worst gaffe by a politician in modern British history:

And then – the journey into the car – the microphone left on…

"You should never have put me with that woman, whose idea was that, it's just ridiculous ... she's just a bigoted woman."

When the broadcasters catch up with her Mrs Duffy takes a while to understand what happened, but when she does, the nation sees the shock on her face.

“I’m very upset. He's an educated person ... and I'm an ordinary woman just asking him just questions like anyone would ask him ... I want to know why, with those comments I said there, why I was called a bigot.”

The moral is, of course, don't get into the car with a Sky microphone still attached to your lapel. More from the Times blog.

Did I mention I'd vote Lib-Dem this time if I were a UK citizen?

Wednesday 28 April 2010 10:37:48 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | World#

Every time I think our legislature has a bunch of crazies in it, I remind myself it could be a lot worse:

The speaker of Ukraine's parliament huddled under umbrellas as eggs rained down and smoke bombs filled the chamber with an acrid cloud. Then the lawmakers attacked each other, punching and brawling in the aisles.

The chaos erupted Tuesday as parliament approved a treaty allowing Russia to extend the lease on a naval base in a Ukrainian port on the Black Sea until 2042 — a move bitterly opposed by pro-Western lawmakers. Ukraine would get cheap natural gas from Russia in exchange.

Yeah. We've got a long way to fall before we can compete with that.

Tuesday 27 April 2010 20:53:46 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | World#
Tuesday 27 April 2010

Via reader MB, one of the best beers in the world has been sold to a pair of beer-loving entrepreneurs:

Fritz Maytag, the washing machine heir who launched the microbrewery movement, has sold Anchor Brewing Co. in San Francisco to a pair of Bay Area entrepreneurs who plan to preserve and expand the iconic brand.

No terms were disclosed for the sale of the 70-person Mariposa Street brewery and distillery that traces its roots to the Gold Rush, when local brewers produced a heady elixir known as steam beer.

In 45 years at the helm of Anchor Brewing, Maytag helped spark a revival in the craft of making beer by hand and inspired thousands of entrepreneurs to follow him in creating small, artisanal breweries.

Judging by the reactions of people in my class to a case we read on the Boston Beer Co., it's likely that overseas readers don't appreciate what Maytag did for beer lovers. Within a few hours of Chicago there are dozens of craft breweries, including Tyranena and, of course, Goose Island, two of the best in the world. Only Japan has anything like the American craft-brew culture, but sadly they don't export it. Neither do most of the craft brewers; their batches are too small even to ship farther than the next state over. So, in Chicago, I get to have a Mad Hatter, and in Raleigh I get to have a Angry Angel; but throughout this fine, beer-loving nation, we'll still have Anchor Steam.

Tuesday 27 April 2010 11:17:24 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Geography | Raleigh | San Francisco#

There is, fortunately, nothing like a Full English Breakfast, like this one I had a few months ago in London:

Via reader EB, Times writer Cole Morton traveled around the country wondering why people still eat them:

Here, then, is proof that English bloodymindedness endures. Never mind anti-obesity campaigns, free fruit or the knowledge that the big plate of fatty crap is killing us, some people will just pile on more.

We’re addicted to salt and still eating for the hearty, manual labour of old, when most of our work now involves sitting down, says the social anthropologist Kaori O’Connor. The Full English was born at a time during the Victorian era when new forms of energy allowed us to move from two meals a day — mid-morning, and just before the sun went down — to beginning with an early cooked feast. This then became a symbolic meal.

“The full breakfast is the secular sacrament of Englishness,” says Dr O’Connor, author of The English Breakfast. “In the devout early Victorian period, the day would begin with morning prayers before breakfast, which was a civilised meal for a civilised country. In time, the prayers dropped away and breakfast became a sacrament. You ate it as an article of faith.”

The Breakfast Book by Georgina Hill, published in 1865, lists some “things most commonly served for family breakfast” in a country-house buffet. They include “anchovies, bloaters, brain cakes, caviare, cold tongue, devilled bones, dried sprats...” Surely only those who could afford feasts had this high ideal of breakfast.

“No. Everybody had it,” says O’Connor. “Breakfast was the meal that everybody began the day with, whatever their place in society and however meagre the portions.”

I write this eating a small bowl of Raisin Bran with 2% milk. But the next time I visit the U.K., I will have a Full English. Oh yes. I will. If only to remind myself why I only eat them there.

Tuesday 27 April 2010 08:43:34 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Geography | Kitchen Sink#
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On this page....
Wild swings in markets and UK
Why aren't there more terror attacks?
Germany v. China infographics
Nobody puts USAirways in a corner
Fallows on Times Square
Shanghai cultural disconnect
Unidental? Continited? Either way, have fun at O'Hare
EU phasing out liquid restrictions
Two more from Shanghai
Vroom — I mean, vroom
That's the ballgame
And all we have is Michele Bachmann
Anchor Brewing sold
In praise (?) of the Full English Breakfast
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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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