The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

China launches overnight Beijing to Shanghai and Hong Kong service

Imagine an overnight train from New York to Miami that takes 12 hours. China just opened a $165 train that does about the same thing:

From Hong Kong to Beijing, the overnight trip takes 12 hours 30 minutes, and it covers roughly the same distance as a flight from New York to Miami or Los Angeles to Dallas. It complements the 8 hour 15 minute day train that has run for years.

The overnight trip to Shanghai takes 11 hours. The corresponding day train takes just 7 hours 47 minutes.

We can have similar rail lines and options, if we choose to. The Federal Railroad Administration has in fact published plans that call for HSR service between cities of similar (or longer) distances. For example, the Midwest Regional Rail Plan calls for high-speed trains between St. Paul and Nashville, while the Southeast Regional Rail Plan calls for high-speed trains between Nashville and Orlando.

Together, the plans would create a single HSR line of about 1,500 miles. So, a family in St. Paul could board a sleeper train in the evening and be at Orlando’s Disney World by mid-morning the next day—rested and ready to go, instead of stressed out from driving and poorer from a hotel stay.

I will grant two things that make this a difficult problem for the US: the fifth amendment and our psychotic relationship with cars. The first requires that the government provides just compensation for any property it takes, and buying the land to create a grade-separated high-speed rail line would not be cheap. China just kicks people off their land.

The second is that we've spent a century subsidizing cars and building our physical environment around cars, which prevents even reasonable people from understanding the basic economics behind highways. (Or, if you're the Chicago Tribune editorial board, the basic understanding of how traffic works.)

Still, it frustrates me to no end that we're not even discussing it.

In the early autumn I'm going to get on a train in London, change in Paris, and get off the train in Marseille, which will take about 7 hours, depending on how tight I want to make the connection between Gare du Nord and Gare de Lyon. I'll get to St Pancras about half an hour before the train, very likely from a hotel a few blocks away, and when I get off the train in Marseille, I'll have another walk of a block or two to that hotel. Contrast with my flight home from Marseille, which, including half an hour by transit to the Provence airport, customs, emigration in France and immigration into the UK, will take about the same length of time. And then I'll be at Heathrow, an hour from central London.

I once made it from central Richmond, Va., to a friend's apartment in Murray Hill, Manhattan, in just over 5 hours, door to door. So I know the US has the ability to build real high-speed trains. But will I ever see one in my lifetime?

Hoping not to get rained on this afternoon

A whole knot of miserable weather is sneaking across the Mississippi River right now, on its way to Chicago. It looks like, maybe, just maybe, it'll get here after 6pm. So if I take the 4:32 instead of the 5:32, maybe I'll beat it home and not have a wet dog next to me on the couch later.

To that end I'm punting most of these stories until this evening:

Finally, if you have an extra $500 lying around and want to buy a nice steak with it, Crain's has options ranging from 170 grams of Chateau Uenae rib-eye steak (and a glass of water) at RPM on down to a happy hour of rib-eye steak frites for eight at El Che. The txuleton at Asador Bastian for $83 seems like a good deal to me, even without three other people or a bottle of wine to bring the bill up to $500. But the Wagyu? Maybe if I get a bonus next year. A guy can dream.

Fun international work meeting

I learned this morning that I have a meeting at 6am Wednesday, because the participants will be in four time zones across four continents. Since I'm traveling to Munich later that day, I'll just comfort myself by remembering it's 1pm Central Europe time.

I'm already queuing up some things to read on the flights. I'll probably finish all of these later today, though:

  • Jennifer Rubin highlights four ways in which the XPOTUS has demonstrated his electoral weakness in the past few weeks.
  • Republican pollster Frank Luntz agrees, warning the MAGA Republican extremists to stop screwing around lest the party suffer an historic ass-kicking in November. (For my part, I don't think they will stop, and the ass-kicking is long overdue.)
  • Sean Wilentz warns that the Supreme Court abdicating its responsibility to evaluate the XPOTUS in light of the 14th Amendment's insurrection clause will lead to worse problems later on.
  • James Fallows chastises the Times in particular for creating the controversy about President Biden's age they claimed simply to report on.
  • Ian Bogost moans about the ever-deepening problems of carrying baggage onto planes. (I will be checking my bag through to Munich, for what it's worth, but I may carry it on for the return flight to avoid customs delays changing planes at Charlotte.)

Finally, John Scalzi erupts at the 2023 Hugo Awards administrators for outright fraud and unforgivable cowardice following a report on Chinese political interference in the awards selection process last summer.

Friday after the cold front

A rainy cold front passed over Inner Drive Technology WHQ just after noon, taking us from 15°C down to just above 10°C in two hours. The sun has come back out but we won't get a lot warmer until next week.

I've had a lot of coding today, and I have a rehearsal in about two hours, so this list of things to read will have to do:

Finally, for the first time in 346 days, the Chicago Bears won a football game. Amazing.

Pigeons roosting, etc.

A few of them have come home or are en route:

Finally, climate change has made your favorite hot sauce more expensive, and will continue to do so until pepper farmers adapt their vines to the new reality, or move them.

Beautiful morning in Chicago

We finally have a real May-appropriate day in Chicago, with a breezy 26°C under clear skies (but 23°C closer to the Lake, where I live). Over to my right, my work computer—a 2017-era Lenovo laptop I desperately want to fling onto the railroad tracks—has had some struggles with the UI redesign I just completed, giving me a dose of frustration but also time to line up some lunchtime reading:

Finally, today marks the 30th anniversary of Aimee Mann releasing one of my favorite albums, her solo debut Whatever. She perfectly summed up the early-'90s ennui that followed the insanity of the '80s as we Gen-Xers came of age. It still sounds as fresh to me today as it did then.

The men who wouldn't shut up

Two stories, related only in the self-perception of their protagonists. First, this morning Fox "News" announced that Tucker Carlson uttered his last bigotry for them on Friday:

A reason was not immediately provided.

“Mr. Carlson’s last program was Friday April 21st,” a statement read. “Fox News Tonight will air live at 8 PM/ET starting this evening as an interim show helmed by rotating FOX News personalities until a new host is named.”

The shock announcement ends Carlson’s meteoric rise at Fox News, where his brand of xenophobia, white grievance, and hate transformed Carlson into a singular force at the conservative news network—and its top presenter. Tucker Carlson Tonight has also been labeled the most racist show in the history of cable news.

Meanwhile, a quarter of the world away, the Chinese ambassador to France said out loud what China and Russia have said privately for years, with unfortunate results:

Lu Shaye, China’s ambassador to France, said the countries in eastern Europe that gained independence following the USSR’s fall in 1991 did not have “effective” sovereign status in international law.

Officials in Europe reacted furiously, especially in the Baltic states of Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania, which are in constant fear of meddling and even attack from neighboring Russia.

Lu has "pulled the rug out from under China’s intention of being any sort of mediator between Russia and Ukraine,” tweeted Sari Arho Havrén, an adjunct professor at the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies, a research organization run by the American and German militaries. “Not recognizing Ukraine as a sovereign state, exactly as Russia claims, makes China 100% on Russia’s side.”

Actually, I suspect China doesn't really care what happens to Ukraine, or the Baltic states, being focused as they are on an island 100 kilometers off the coast of Quanzhou. (You could even say they have worried about the island formosa the time since they parted ways, but that's cheap even for me.)

I've got the popcorn out to watch the fallout from both events.

Ten days to After Hours

The Apollo Chorus annual fundraiser/cabaret is on April 1st, and tickets are still available. If you can't make it, you can still donate.

Meanwhile, in the rest of the world:

And finally, screenings of Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey, the new slasher pic featuring Winnie and Piglet as serial killers, will not be shown in Hong Kong and Macau, because Chinese dictator Xi Jinping thinks it's a jab at him. Seriously.

Layout frustrations

I'm arguing with the Blazorise framework right now because their documentation on how to make a layout work doesn't actually work. Because this requires repeated build/test cycles, I have almost no time to read all of this:

Finally, a group of Chicago aldermen have proposed that the city clear sidewalks of snow and ice when property owners don't. Apparently the $500 fines, which don't happen often, don't work often either.

Neunundneunzing Luftballons

With everything else going on in the world, the Chinese balloon that the US shot down off the coast of South Carolina on Monday has gotten a lot of attention.

First, Spencer at Legal Eagle takes on the legalities of us shooting it down:

Julia Ioffe too:

The local photography buff raced to get his camera and used it to snap a photo that quickly went viral. “I had posted a couple of photos just to social media, just joking, like I thought I saw a UFO,” the photographer, Chase Doaktold the local news station. “It was just right here. I was literally just right here in the vicinity of my driveway.” 

Well, it seemed that Chase Doak and his camera forced the Biden administration to go public earlier than it wanted—if it wanted to at all. It also didn’t help that the Pentagon scrambled fighter jets to try to shoot the balloon down that afternoon while closing the civilian airport in Billings, only to determine that the debris radius—the undercarriage, the Pentagon later said, was the size of three buses—would be massive. Moreover, the Defense Department wondered, what if, in shooting at the balloon, it merely blew a hole in it, causing it to slowly drift down to the ground for hundreds of miles, landing god knows where? So the generals recommended against shooting at the thing while it was still over land and the jets were called back, but by this point the Chinese balloon was out of the proverbial bag, and held the entire nation in its thrall.

It was the perfect story for this nation of ours. Both parties now agree that China is a threat to U.S. interests and the balloon became a brilliant image and political foil. It allowed Republicans to paint Joe Biden as weak on China for not immediately blasting the thing out of the sky (though they would, I’m sure, have blasted him as reckless for any resulting damage on the ground). And when the Sidewinder did hit its target, shattering the spy balloon over the Carolina coast, it allowed Democrats to show their boss as cool and in control. 

For national security types in D.C., however, it was a deeply weird and somewhat frustrating event. “I really would like fewer news cycles about the balloon,” one Congressional aide who works on intelligence matters groaned. “It’s like this was a TV episode written by Hollywood,” added one former senior national security official. “It’s not the most significant intrusion by the Chinese. They got, like, 5 million Americans’ personal data when they hacked the Office of Personnel Management and they got the SF86’s of everyone who served in the Obama administration,” the official continued, referring to the form one has to fill out to get a security clearance.

Boy, was it. “It’s the length of a narrative arc that Americans can pay attention to,” the official said. “The Ukrainians are coming up on a year of fighting. That’s too long for Americans.” Sad but true.

Meanwhile, the US says the balloon was part of a larger surveillance program:

The surveillance balloon effort, which has operated for several years partly out of Hainan province off China’s south coast, has collected information on military assets in countries and areas of emerging strategic interest to China including Japan, India, Vietnam, Taiwan and the Philippines, according to several U.S. officials, who, like others interviewed for this story, spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the matter’s sensitivity.

While most of China’s long-range surveillance efforts are conducted by its expanding military satellite array, PLA planners have identified what they consider to be an opportunity to conduct surveillance from the upper atmosphere at altitudes above where commercial jets fly, using balloons that fly between 60,000 and 80,000 feet or higher, officials said.

In recent years, at least four balloons have been spotted over Hawaii, Florida, Texas and Guam — in addition to the one tracked last week. Three of the four instances took place during the Trump administration but were only recently identified as Chinese surveillance airships. Other balloons have been spotted in Latin America and allied countries in the Pacific, officials have said.

And, of course, Weekend Update led with it: