The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Things I have learned in the last day

I got a couple of things right and a couple of things wrong since I left home Tuesday morning, and I finally got a hint of what my friends who've lived in London moan about it.

  • Taking the 9am flight to London did, in fact, prevent jet lag, as I felt fine when I arrived at Heathrow in what my body thought was early evening. Usually I have two hours of fitful sleep and arrive at what my body thinks is the middle of sleep-deprived hell. Yesterday, however, I felt perfectly wide awake when I got to my hotel.
  • On the other hand, the two inches of snow that fell on O'Hare between the time I checked in and the time we finally left the gate caused a 75-minute delay. This in turn led to arriving, not at 22:45 as scheduled, but at midnight. It's important to note at this point that the last tube is at 23:30, and the last Heathrow Express is at 23:45.
  • On the other hand, I got on the N9 night less than 30 minutes after we landed (!) and, for only £1.30 on my Oyster card, whisked me to Hyde Park Gate in less than an hour.
  • On the other hand, I had to get near Paddington, about two miles from Hyde Park Gate, which I considered while standing on a streetcorner at 1:30 in the morning.
  • On the other hand, this is London, a major international capital, so a black cab stopped to pick me up in less than a minute.
  • On the other hand, this is London, so the black cab cost £10 for the ten-minute ride.
  • On the other hand, the hotel took no time at all to check me in and send me to my reasonably-comfortable and inexpensive (£69) room.
  • On the other hand, they put me in the room directly across from the lift next to the security door that people started banging through around 6am—which, you may realize, my body thought was midnight.
  • On the other hand, I managed some sleep, checked out with plenty of time to find coffee, and happily walked around my second-favorite city in the world for two hours.
  • On the other hand, my first attempt at getting coffee failed miserably when the table collapsed, spilling hot latte all over the floor and my jeans.
  • On the other hand, there's plenty of latte in this big, bad city, so I got caffeinated just fine.

Aren't you glad I'm not an economist? What would Harry Truman say...

I'm now back at Heathrow for the second leg of my trip, going to a country I haven't seen in ten years. More later.

Home for a day

Parker got to come home from boarding today even though he's going right back there tonight, a canine prisoner furlough for good behavior. Immediately upon returning home he sat in the kitchen and whined as I parceled out his food for his next prison sentence. Poor dude.

The Duke Dividend, a result of not having 20 hours of schoolwork every week, has started to pay off in books. I'm halfway through Ender's Game, after blasting through The Hunger Games trilogy in three days and re-reading Howl again—a new copy I picked up Saturday at City Lights, which I thought appropriate.

The right of the people peaceably to assemble

Rep. Gabrielle Giffords reads the First Amendment last week:

Andrew Sullivan:

When you put a politician in literal cross-hairs, when you call her a target, when you celebrate how many targets you have hit, when you go on national television and shoot guns, when you use the language of "lock and load" to describe disagreements over healthcare provision ... you are part of the problem.

My thoughts are with Giffords, her family, and the families of the people killed and wounded yesterday in Tuscon.

Bike trail paved with good intentions

When I visit Half Moon Bay, Calif. (which I do about three times a year), I get up several hours before the family because (a) I stay on Chicago time and (b) they sleep later than I do anyway. I usually then walk down California Route 1 for about 1.5 km from the house to the Peet's Coffee so I can work without disturbing anyone.

Since my last visit the city has built a bike trail along the highway, making the trip immeasurably safer and less muddy:

Excellent. They even spent several hundred thousand dollars building this bridge over a drainage ditch:

Astute readers will notice something about this photo: either I took it standing in the drainage ditch or on some other bridge over the same ditch. Three guesses which one is true. In fact, the bike trail parallels the frontage road for about 400 m until it gets to this very expensive bridge, prompting even the most-boosterish citizens to ask why the trail doesn't just dump onto the frontage road before getting to the bridge.

Now the punchline: the trail ends 50 m farther up:

It's a pretty bridge, though. And I suppose it allowed the city to use up the state and Federal grants more completely, and it employed a few dozen Californians for part of the summer. So it's not completely stupid, right?

"I thought YOU were taking watch!"

A trio of crab fishermen had a very bad day earlier this week about a mile from my dad's house:

A crab fishing boat flipped on its side in the surf at Francis State Beach early Tuesday morning, sending three crew members scrambling to the beach. All three men were reportedly uninjured.

The incident occurred about 1 a.m. Tuesday. The U.S. Coast Guard dispatched a helicopter and rescue boat from their San Francisco stations and, upon arrival, rescuers found the three crew members clinging to the hull of the listing “Phyllis J.”

Coast Guard Lt. j.g. Laura Williams said the three unidentified crewmen apparently were able to make it to shore on their own and that none of the men required medical attention.

Other reports in the town's printed newspaper suggest owner Larry Fortado and two crew members each thought another man was taking watch as the boat headed to its home dock a few miles away. Right now, local, state, and Federal authorities have to deal with the accident's environmental fallout:

In the past two days, a joint response team of public agencies and private companies were able to avoid a potential oil spill by draining 2,000 gallons of diesel fuel and 500 gallons of residual contaminants from the boat, despite being challenged by blustery winds and tide at its grounded location in the surf zone.

"The plan is to cut the vessel in half, and move the boat up on the beach right next to the bluff," Parker said. "Then a crane at the edge of the bluff will pull it up and get it on a transport to the owner's yard, where he'll weld it back together."

When Dad and I checked out the wreck yesterday afternoon, the salvage crew had started trying to tow the boat farther onto the beach, but the machines couldn't get enough traction.

I imagine Fortado will be crabby for some time.

Yes, actually, it's in the Constitution

It turns out that yesterday's swearing-in failure really annoyed some people. Possibly the irony of having the GOP recite (most of) the Constitution and then allow people who had not been properly seated in Congress to vote on things was a bigger deal than the Speaker thought:

Rules committee Democrats are criticizing Drier's scheme, which they say needs to be addressed by the full House, not just the Rules committee. They propose a delay in the repeal hearings so the House can meet and figure out what to do. But in the new reality of Republican control, it's unlikely the Democratic concerns will move from political rhetoric to legislative action.

It's worth noting that Fitzpatrick and Sessions weren't the only ones to miss the swearing-in ceremony Wednesday. Rep. Peter DeFaizio (D-OR) skipped the ceremony to meet with veterans in his home district. He was sworn in on Thursday and his absence, and his absence on Wednesday caused none of the issues Fitzpatrick's and Sessions' did because he cast no votes before becoming a Constitutionally-recognized member of the 112th Congress.

Late Update: The process by which the mess Sessions and Fitzpatrick made will be cleaned up is coming into better focus. The full House will vote twice -- once on the rules for repealing the health care law, and once on "a resolution relating to the status of certain actions taken by Members-elect."

You know, it's not like we have the level of formality they have in the UK. When I toured Westminster Palace during the summer recess in 2009, the tour guide made a point that we could not actually sit down on the benches because that would be, you see, taking a seat in the House.

Update: The House GOP passed an "oops!" bill to fix the error, but now there's a question about whether the two guys were hosting an illegal fundraiser in the Capitol building.

We the people (abridged)

It turns out my idle speculation yesterday about who would read the more unsavory bits of the Constitution on the House floor had some merit:

In consultation with the Congressional Research Service and others, the leaders of the House had decided to read a version of the Constitution that was edited to exclude those portions superseded by amendments — including amendments themselves — preventing lawmakers from having to make references to slaves, referred to in Article I, Section 2 as "three fifths of all other Persons" or to failed experiments like Prohibition. Members were not provided with the version before the reading began.

Representative Jesse L. Jackson Jr. (D-IL) registered a complaint he expanded on later in a prepared statement, essentially arguing that the House was whitewashing history and ignoring the blood, sweat and tears paid to achieve the amendments.

The reading included a classically-ironic fail by two Republican members who need to read more Marshall McLuhan:

[O]ne new member, Representative Mike Fitzpatrick (R-PA), who failed to be officially sworn in Wednesday, proceeded nonetheless to participate in the reading, one of the first official acts of House members in the 112th Congress.

At the time of the oath-taking, both Mr. Fitzpatrick and Representative Pete Sessions of Texas were elsewhere, watching the proceedings on television. They raised their respective right hands as the oath was administered, but that was not enough to make them official.

Both men were sworn in for real on Thursday afternoon. But before that happened, a Rules Committee hearing had to be halted because Mr. Sessions was taking part in it, and both men had cast votes on the floor. House leaders were conferring to see what steps might need to be taken to make things right.

Ha ha ha, harmless error, right? Maybe. But this isn't the first time the GOP have run over the formalities of taking power in their mad grabs for it. A couple of years ago, GOP staffers made changes to a bill after it was passed but before it was embossed and presented to the President, which some might call a minor coup d'état if one were into calling things as they really are.

Good thing (most) of the new Representatives swore to uphold the Constitution before reciting an edited version of it. I only hope they knew the difference.

Update: Washington Post columnist David Cole imagines the Conservative Constitution:

We, the Real Americans, in order to form a more God-Fearing Union, establish Justice as we see it, Defeat Health-Care Reform, and Preserve and Protect our Property, our Guns and our Right Not to Pay Taxes, do ordain and establish this Conservative Constitution for the United States of Real America.

Article II. The President shall faithfully execute the laws, except when, as Commander in Chief, he decides he'd really rather not.

Amendment 3. The right of Corporations, Hedge Funds, Business Leaders and Lobbyists to spend endless cash on campaigns and influence-purchasing shall not be infringed. The so-called right of Unions to associate shall be denied as fundamentally un-American and contrary to the agenda of the Chamber of Commerce.

We the people...

Of all the eye-rolling things the new House majority has done in the past day, Speaker Boehner's squawking about taking the government back for the people grated the most. Given the Republicans' 20-year reign as the country's least popular option—if we had a parliamentary system we'd have had Democratic governments since 1992 without interruption—I wonder which people he means.

But by far the oddest thing they've decided to do, the House will today read the U.S. Constitution on the House floor. I'm not so much concerned with the cost of the exercise (about $1.1m), and in fact I think many of our representatives could use a refresher course. But given this is a Republican initiative, it brings up several touchy points. First, do they plan to read the entire document? If so, who gets to read the bits about "three-fifths of other persons?" How will they bring the requisite drama and pomp to the twelfth amendment, most of which has been superseded anyway? What about the 18th and 21st, which cancel each other out?

I'm so sorry I'll be on an airplane and unable to watch. I really do like the document, even if I'm pretty sure not to like the GOP's interpretation of it.

One embarrassed pilot, 255 annoyed passengers


The cause of the communications equipment problem that caused a United Airlines flight out of O'Hare International Airport to make an unscheduled stop in Toronto this week was the pilot's spilled cup of coffee, Canadian officials said.

The flight to Frankfurt, Germany was diverted after the pilot dumped a cup of coffee on the plane's communication's equipment. The unwanted liquid triggered a series of emergency codes, including one for a hijacking, according to Transport Canada, the agency that regulates transportation in Canada.

News reports today have mentioned "communications equipment," but it should be clear that they meant the airplane's transponder. Every airplane flying on an instrument flight plan (which includes every airplane flying above 5,500 m) broadcasts its altitude along with a discrete base-7 code number. The numbers from 7000 to 7777 are reserved for emergencies. So in the pilot's defense, I have to ask why the transponder started sending out 7000-series codes when it got wet. You'd think it would just shut off? And can you imagine the scene at the local TRACON when "United 940 Heavy" started rapidly changing its call sign? What would that look like on the scope?

By the way, the important 7000 codes (7500, 7600, 7700) cause TRACON scopes to go nuts. That would have been exciting to watch, I'm sure.