The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Busy day links

I had a lot going on at work today, so all I have left is a lame-ass "read these later" post:

I'd say "back to the mines," but I believe I have a date with Kristen Bell presently.

Hurry home, little blue book

On Tuesday I mailed my passport to the National Passport Agency in Philadelphia with an extra $60 so they'll expedite its replacement. I feel a little anxious without it. Not because I live in 1950s Czechoslovakia or anything; more that I love travel so much, not having a passport even for two weeks every 10 years feels a little off.

Well, not exactly 10 years, more like 9½. While US passports last 10 years, many countries—for example, the UK, where I go several times a year—won't let you in if your passport will expire within six months. For me, my August 2010 passport would not meet UK entry requirements at the beginning of next month, so off it went. But I held onto it until after the new year so that the new one expires in 2030 instead of 2029.

I'll get the new one probably in two weeks. Meanwhile, the only sign of life I have is the certified mail receipt the Postal Service emailed me yesterday. So my old passport arrived safely in Philadelphia after all. I can hardly wait for the new one.

Moments in great timing

First event: Last night around 7pm, my main data drive seized up after storing my stuff for a bit less than 4 years. Let me tell you how much fun Micro Center is at 9pm two days before Christmas. After 12 hours it looks like it's about 75% restored from backup, and I didn't suffer any data loss.

Second event: Just look at this lovely, peaceful scene:

That's the cemetery in my neighborhood a few minutes ago. And that's what we call "dense fog," with about 200 m visibility and what they call "indeterminate" ceilings at 100 m.

Which is exactly what you want in Chicago on Christmas Eve, the second-biggest travel day of the year:

Amid dense fog reducing visibility in Chicago, the Federal Aviation Administration early Tuesday grounded incoming flights at Chicago’s O’Hare International and Midway airports until at least 8 a.m.

For a short time Tuesday morning all flights were grounded, according to the FAA, but as of 7:30 a.m. the agency’s website noted the “ground stoppage,” or halting of flights, was indicated only for airplanes arriving at the city’s two airports. Flights were departing regularly at Midway, according to travelers at the airport.

Still, the ground stoppage for incoming flights means not all departing flights will leave on time and travelers could miss connecting flights, leading to a chain-reaction of air travel delays during a traditionally peak period for travel.

Have a safe and fun travel day, and if you're going to or through Chicago, enjoy your airport time.

I'll take an antacid with my lunch now

With only two weeks left in the decade, it looks like the 2010s will end...bizarrely.

More people have taken a look at the President's unhinged temper tantrum yesterday. I already mentioned that Aaron Blake annotated it. The Times fact-checked it. And Jennifer Rubin says "It is difficult to capture how bizarre and frightening the letter is simply by counting the utter falsehoods...or by quoting from the invective dripping from his pen."

As for the impeachment itself, Josh Marshall keeps things simple:

Here are three points that, for me, function as a sort of north star through this addled and chaotic process.

One: The President is accused of using extortion to coerce a foreign power to intervene in a US presidential election on his behalf.

Two: There is no one in US politics who would ever find that behavior remotely acceptable in a President of the opposite party.

Three: The evidence that the President did what he is accused of doing is simply overwhelming.

In the UK, Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry (Labour—Islington South and Finsbury) has announced a run for Labour Party leader: “Listening to Labour colleagues on the media over the last week, I have repeatedly heard the refrain that the problem we faced last Thursday was that ‘this became the Brexit election’. To which I can only say I look forward to their tweets of shock when next Wednesday’s lunch features turkey and Brussels sprouts … I wrote to the leader’s office warning it would be ‘an act of catastrophic political folly’ to vote for the election, and set out a lengthy draft narrative explaining why we should not go along with it."

The Times review of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker left me feeling resigned to seeing the movie, rather than excited. A.O. Scott said:

The director is J.J. Abrams, perhaps the most consistent B student in modern popular culture. He has shepherded George Lucas’s mythomaniacal creations in the Disney era, making the old galaxy a more diverse and also a less idiosyncratic place.

Abrams is too slick and shallow a filmmaker to endow the dramas of repression and insurgency, of family fate and individual destiny, of solidarity and the will to power, with their full moral and metaphysical weight. At the same time, his pseudo-visionary self-importance won’t allow him to surrender to whimsy or mischief. The struggle of good against evil feels less like a cosmic battle than a longstanding sports rivalry between teams whose glory days are receding. The head coaches come and go, the uniforms are redesigned, certain key players are the subjects of trade rumors, and the fans keep showing up.

Which is not entirely terrible. “The Rise of Skywalker” isn’t a great “Star Wars” movie, but that may be because there is no such thing. That seems to be the way we like it.

Well, that's a ringing endorsement. I mean, I'm sure I'll come out of it feeling like it was worth $15, but I'm not sure I'll see it over 200 times like I have with A New Hope. (It helps that ANH came out when I was about to turn 7.)

And in other news:

Will the world be better in 2020? We'll see.

In other news...

Let me first acknowledge that the biggest news story today today came from the House Judiciary Committee, which has drawn up two articles of impeachment against President Trump. This comes after committee chair Jerry Nadler nearly lost control of yesterday's meeting.

As Josh Marshall points out, no one expects the Senate to remove the president from office. So the Democratic Party's job is just to demonstrate how much malfeasance and illegality the Republican Party will tolerate from their guy.

If only that were the only story today.

And tonight, I get to preside over a condo-board meeting that will be at least as fun as yesterday's Judiciary Committee meeting.

News? What news?

As Gordon Sondland throws the president under the bus (probably because (a) he's under oath and (b) the president would do it to him soon enough), there are actually a lot of other things going on in the world:

More work to do now.

O'Hare's "interim fly quiet" plan

Chicago has the world's 6th busiest airport, with hundreds of thousands of aviation operations every year. Naturally the people who live nearby get an earful. I live about 16 km east of the approach end of runway 28C, the preferred landing runway from destinations south and west of Chicago. Even though the planes are about 4,000 feet up when they cross the lakefront, I can still hear them well enough to tell them apart by sound. (No machine in the world sounds like a 747, I assure you.)

Starting today, the airport will use a rotating arrangement of landing and departing runways for nighttime operations (10pm to 7am). Despite its name, the "interim fly quiet" plan won't actually reduce aggregate noise emissions. It'll just spread them around more evenly:

Currently, O’Hare uses just the parallel, east-west runways at night. The so-called “Interim Fly Quiet” plan will mix in diagonal runways, so an east-west runway will be used one week, then a diagonal runway the next, then back to east-west, with adjustments made depending on weather and other factors.

It will mean more noise for suburbs like Des Plaines, to the northwest of the airport, while areas more directly east or west, such as Bensenville and some North Side Chicago neighborhoods, will get less.

Note that this only applies to nighttime operations, when planes land about every 10 minutes. During peak hours, O'Hare brings them in on two parallel runways at 90-second intervals. When runway 9C/27C opens soon, it will be possible for O'Hare to land one plane a minute on 3 parallel runways.

Even I wouldn't want to do this

First, it turns out, my Surface didn't die; only its power supply shuffled off its lithium coil. I got a new power supply and all is well.

Which means I can take a moment to note a proposed flight on QANTAS* that even I would struggle to take. Starting in 2022, the Australian airline proposes a 16,000 km non-stop flight from New York to Sydney that will take 20 hours:

Qantas wants to begin flying the time-saving route commercially as soon as 2022, so the airline used this test trip to explore ways to reduce its inevitable downside: Soul-crushing, body-buckling jet lag. Here’s how my journey unfolded in real time.

It’s shortly after 9 p.m. in New York, our plane has just left JFK International Airport and it’s already become a flying laboratory. Since the goal is to adapt to our destination’s time zone as fast as possible, we click into the Sydney clock right off the bat. That means no snoozing. The lights stay up and we’re under instructions to stay awake for at least six hours — until it’s evening in Australia.

This immediately causes trouble for some passengers.

Down one side of the business-class section, six Qantas frequent flyers are following a pre-planned schedule for eating and drinking (including limiting alcohol), exercise and sleep. They wear movement and light readers on their wrists and have been asked to log their activities; they’ve already been under observation for a few days and will be monitored for 21 days in total. Most of them are bingeing on movies or reading books, but one of them is dozing within minutes. To be fair, I feel his pain. It may be the middle of the day in Sydney, but my body is telling me it’s pushing midnight back in New York.

Obviously the reporter, Bloomberg's Angus Whitely, survived. He said he would take the flight again, but that it took its toll on him. And he traveled westbound; I can only imagine the eastbound return trip. Assuming a 9am take-off from Sydney (2pm in New York), it would arrive in New York the around 10am next day--and this is after crossing the International Date Line and spending almost 16 hours in darkness.

When I go to ANZAC in a year or two, I think I'll lay over in Hawaii. And fly business class.

A tale of two periodicals

This morning I pointed to William Langewische's essay the New York Times Magazine published this morning about the 737-MAX airplane crashes last year. Lagnewische has flown airplanes professionally and covers aviation as part of his regular beat. He has written, among other things, analyses of the Egypt Air Flight 990 suicide-murder in 1999; an entire book about the USAirways 1549 Hudson River ditching in 2009; and numerous other articles and essays of varying lengths about aviation. His father, Wolfgang, wrote one of the most widely-read books about aviation of the 20th Century.

Langewishce's essay takes a sober, in-depth approach to disentangling the public perception of Boeing and its management from the actual context of both 737-MAX crashes. While he doesn't absolve Boeing entirely, he explains how the regulatory, training, and safety mindsets (or lack thereof) in Indonesia and Ethiopia probably contributed much more to the accidents.

This afternoon comes a different perspective from the New Republic. In her first article for the magazine, New York-based writer Maureen Tkacik takes aim squarely at Boeing's management. Her tone seems a bit different than Langewische's:

In the now infamous debacle of the Boeing 737 MAX, the company produced a plane outfitted with a half-assed bit of software programmed to override all pilot input and nosedive when a little vane on the side of the fuselage told it the nose was pitching up. The vane was also not terribly reliable, possibly due to assembly line lapses reported by a whistle-blower, and when the plane processed the bad data it received, it promptly dove into the sea.

[T]here was something unsettlingly familiar when the world first learned of MCAS in November, about two weeks after the system’s unthinkable stupidity drove the two-month-old plane and all 189 people on it to a horrific death. It smacked of the sort of screwup a 23-year-old intern might have made—and indeed, much of the software on the MAX had been engineered by recent grads of Indian software-coding academies making as little as $9 an hour, part of Boeing management’s endless war on the unions that once represented more than half its employees.

But not everyone viewed the crash with such a jaundiced eye—it was, after all, the world’s first self-hijacking plane. Pilots were particularly stunned, because MCAS had been a big secret, largely kept from Boeing’s own test pilots, mentioned only once in the glossary of the plane’s 1,600-page manual, left entirely out of the 56-minute iPad refresher course that some 737-certified pilots took for MAX certification, and—in a last-minute edit—removed from the November 7 emergency airworthiness directive the Federal Aviation Administration had issued two weeks after the Lion Air crash, ostensibly to “remind” pilots of the protocol for responding to a “runaway stabilizer.”

She does mention the reputation of Indonesian aviation about mid-way through: "And so all the early hot takes about the crash concerned Indonesia’s spotty safety record and Lion Air’s even-less-distinguished one."

I searched for a few minutes to find out what experience Tkacik has flying airplanes or reporting on aviation, and while no results don't necessarily mean she has none, I would conclude from what I found that she has many different experiences.

Tkacik's take isn't entirely wrong; Boeing has some responsibility here. But the contrast between Langewische's sober, fact-based reporting and Tkacik's damn-them-all-to-hell point-of-view piece really surprised me today, as did Tkacik's choice not to report more deeply on why Boeing made certain choices, and what I find to be an over-reliance on a single source who seems to have a bone to pick with his former employer.

Of course, her article it's completely in line with the New Republic's anti-corporate editorial philosophy. Yet I found myself rolling my eyes after the first couple of paragraphs because it's so anti-corporate, and frustratingly shrill. It's why I stopped reading The Nation, another outlet Tkacik has written for, and why I find myself fact-checking Mother Jones. If everything is an outrage, and all corporations are evil, where does that leave us?

Why two 737-MAX airplanes crashed a year ago

Pilot and journalist William Langewische, well known to Daily Parker readers, has a long essay in the New York Times Magazine this week examining the problems with Boeing's 737-MAX airplane—and the pilots who crashed them:

From 2003 to 2007, the Indonesian accident rate as measured by fatal flights per million departures had grown to be 15 times as high as the global average. The United States Embassy in Jakarta advised Americans to avoid travel on Indonesian airlines, though within Indonesia that was practically impossible to do.

In 2007, the European Union and the United States permanently banned all Indonesian airlines from their national territories. This was done for reasons of safety. The ban was largely symbolic, because the Indonesians were focused on their expanding regional markets and had no immediate plans to open such long-distance routes, but it signaled official disapproval of Indonesia’s regulatory capabilities and served as a public critique of a group of airlines, some of which were out of control.

Lion Air had been contributing to the casualties almost since its inception. By the time of the signing ceremony in Bali, it was responsible for 25 deaths, a larger number of injuries, five total hull losses and an unreported number of damaged airplanes. An old truth in aviation is that no pilot crashes an airplane who has not previously dinged an airplane somehow. Scratches and scrapes count. They are signs of a mind-set, and Lion Air had plenty of them, generally caused by rushed pushbacks from the gates in the company’s hurry to slap airplanes into the air.

He doesn't exonerate Boeing, and he makes it clear that Airbus's automation brings problems of its own. He makes it clear, however, that the lack of pilot training, lack of pilot experience, and lack of an innate safety culture, made the Indonesia and Ethiopia crashes much more likely. (His description of pilot training at Indonesia's Lion Air is terrifying.)