The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

True Conservatives

If you believe in small government, individual liberty, and all the other things that conservatives traditionally believe, then equal rights for gays naturally follows. As evidence I give you the British Conservative Party's leader (and probably the next prime minister), David Cameron:

[N]o-one should be in any doubt that the Conservative party abhors homophobia, that we support equal rights, that we support civil partnerships, that we think that part of being a strong central right party in Britain today.

One of the bedrock issues is being in favour of proper equality for people whether they are straight or gay, or black or white, or men or women, or whether they live in the town or the countryside or whatever God they worship - important points.

He's the Conservative Party leader. That's what a center-right politician looks like everywhere else in the world. His positions are entirely within the foundational beliefs of conservatism (and liberalism, of course).

Incidentally, the interview quoted above was with—wait for it—Gay Times magazine. Now stop, for a moment, and consider the crashing improbability of Sarah Palin or John Boehner sitting down with the Advocate and you start to see how out of touch with conservatism the Republican leadership really is.

Why the euro isn't the dollar

Paul Krugman has a good explanation today why the problems of Spain and Greece come from the ways Europe and the U.S. are different:

[T]here’s not much that Spain’s government can do to make things better. The nation’s core economic problem is that costs and prices have gotten out of line with those in the rest of Europe. If Spain still had its old currency, the peseta, it could remedy that problem quickly through devaluation — by, say, reducing the value of a peseta by 20 percent against other European currencies. But Spain no longer has its own money, which means that it can regain competitiveness only through a slow, grinding process of deflation.

Now, if Spain were an American state rather than a European country, things wouldn’t be so bad. For one thing, costs and prices wouldn’t have gotten so far out of line: Florida, which among other things was freely able to attract workers from other states and keep labor costs down, never experienced anything like Spain’s relative inflation. For another, Spain would be receiving a lot of automatic support in the crisis: Florida’s housing boom has gone bust, but Washington keeps sending the Social Security and Medicare checks.

And then there was Hawaii

Forty nine states have snow on the ground right now thanks to a rash of snowstorms caused, in part, by human-induced climate change (.pdf, 1.8 MB). First, the situation on the ground:

The extraordinary rash of snowstorms which have swept the U.S. in recent weeks, many generating record snowfall, have produced one of the country's most expansive snow packs in recent memory. National Weather Service researchers charged with monitoring the country's snow cover and its water content estimated Friday that more than 67% of the Lower 48 sat beneath a veil of snow. Hawaii, despite the presence of mountains which can and often do become snow-covered in winter, is the only state not to report at least some snow on the ground. The snow has been so widespread in recent weeks, even perennially snow-free Florida has failed to escape. De Funiak Springs, in the state's panhandle near the Georgia border, reported a 1" snow accumulation late Friday afternoon at the same time a thundery squall line in warmer air to the south was diving southward the length of the Florida peninsula unleashing driving rains and 70 mph gusts.

And the prediction the National Climatic Data Center summarized on their Climate Change FAQ page:

In some areas where overall precipitation has increased (ie. the mid-high northern latitudes), there is evidence of increases in the heavy and extreme precipitation events. Even in areas such as eastern Asia, it has been found that extreme precipitation events have increased despite total precipitation remaining constant or even decreasing somewhat. This is related to a decrease in the frequency of precipitation in this region.

Now, I'm not a physicist, but I do understand that putting the same amount of energy into a system while cutting off the avenues for the energy to dissipate means more energy remains in the system, like having a slow drain in a bathtub. All the evidence might support a different conclusion, of course, which is why scientists are looking for more evidence. Maybe climatologists are wrong. Maybe we're not experiencing an unprecedented shift in worldwide climate, and maybe we didn't cause it. At the moment, though, that's wishful thinking.

Time to hug the dog

One year into the Obama administration, it seems that a sizable portion of the country believe that because he hasn't cleaned up the unprecedented mess left by the former occupant, he somehow caused it. That, anyway, comes through in the reports of GOP focus groups of independent voters in Massachusetts. That, and crashing ignorance:

"I like what Scott Brown stands for and I feel that the Democrats cannot run the country anymore. That too many people that don’t have jobs are going hungry. They’re not taking care of business. They’re not doing their jobs. They’re caught up in this health care thing. I’m saying they’re not taking care of the people that are unemployed.” (Independent Man, Bristol)

Except for the bits in the past year where the Democratic Congress expanded unemployment insurance, passed a stimulus package, prevented massive bank failures, and started winding down two wars.

"Scott Brown ran a campaign as an underdog and he ran without support and is getting his message out, it doesn’t feel like he’s tied to anybody...." (Independent Woman, Norfolk)

Except for the largest single GOP money-drop in a decade.

"Brown would be the forty-first elected Republican, breaking the monopoly the Democrats have in Congress. I think they’re running away with their agenda and not listening to the American people. Just that there are so many cases where, for example the tea party, people are out there expressing their opinions. I see interviews with Harry Reid, not hearing the majority." (Independent Man, Bristol)

Except for the majorities who voted for the Democratic Congress, Senate, and President (53%, 52%, and 53%, respectively) in 2008.

In fact, the Democratic Congress' failing could be that they've tried too hard to represent the entire country, including the obstructionist right wing, when they should have taken their mandate and rammed their policies through. This, if you recall, is what the Republicans did in 1994 and 2000. Andrew Sullivan summarizes:

[The health care reform bill is m]ore conservative than Nixon or Clinton - and yet it's a threat to the meaning of America. This is claptrap. Hooey. Hysteria. And wrong. If the Democrats give into this FNC/RNC campaign to smear Obama as something he is not, they will miss the only chance of real, imperfect but meaningful reform. They will have blinked after being psyched out.

The Republican Party doesn't care about policy, they don't care about governing, they don't care about helping people, and they certainly don't care what the majority of Americans want or need. The Republican Party cares about winning qua winning. And then what? Well, they don't care.

And yet, today's aftershock in Haiti and Japan Airlines' bankruptcy (¥2 trillion) will probably be more important events a year from now.

Economic analysis of Dubai and the UAE

The Duke CCMBA has a five-term course called "Culture, Civilization, and Leadership" that gives us structures to help us understand—wait for it—cultures and civilizations. At the end of each term, each team produces a paper analyzing the place in which we started the term. This term, I drew the short straw volunteered to write the first draft. We just submitted the final paper, after a few days of revisions. If you're interested, here it is.

We didn't put it in the paper, but throughout the process, I kept hearing Ozymandias in my head. Can't think why:

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said:—Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shatter'd visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamp'd on these lifeless things,
The hand that mock'd them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains: round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

We'll see.

American exceptionalism

Once again, a major American newspaper has reported on something as universal fact, but that only makes sense in the U.S.:

The day is a palindromic date: 01-02-2010, meaning the number can be read the same way in either direction.

There will be 12 palindromic days this century, [Aziz Inan, a professor of electrical engineering at the University of Portland in Oregon,] said, and Saturday is the second. The first was 10-02-2001. (To check out his complete list:

Well, only here. Almost everywhere else in the world, people use different formats for dates. In Europe, for example, today is 2/1/10; the next "palindrome" date is February 1st (01-02-2010), and the last was 10 February 2001 (10-02-2001).

Except maybe not. Most people don't customarily use leading zeroes when writing dates. That makes today 2/1/10 most places, and means the next "palindrome" really won't be until 1/1/11. Or 11/1/11. Or 11/11/11. (20-11-2011? What manner of numerical silliness will that date cause people?)

Don't even get me started on International System measurements and American exceptionalism[1]. But it's the same idea.

In his defense, Prof. Inan isn't serious (and neither am I): "Despite Inan's excitement, he dismisses the notion that mysticism and magic lie behind such dates. He doesn't, for example, fear Dec. 21, 2012, the date the Mayan "Long Count" calendar marks the end of a 5,126-year era. Some folks think the date portends a revolution or an apocalypse. Jan. 2, 2010, and Dec. 21, 2012, he said, just happen to be really cool dates."

[1] There are 310 million people in the U.S. of 6.5 billion worldwide—we're 1/19th of the world population—and the only country including England who still use the English system of measurements.

Better security at airports? Look at Israel

Not only does Ben Gurion Airport have, by every measure, more effective security than at U.S. airports, but they move passengers through more quickly, too:

Despite facing dozens of potential threats each day, the security set-up at Israel's largest hub, Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion Airport, has not been breached since 2002, when a passenger mistakenly carried a handgun onto a flight. How do they manage that?

The first layer of actual security that greets travellers at Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion International Airport is a roadside check. All drivers are stopped and asked two questions: How are you? Where are you coming from?

"Two benign questions. The questions aren't important. The way people act when they answer them is," [Rafi Sela, the president of AR Challenges, a global transportation security consultancy] said.

Officers are looking for nervousness or other signs of "distress" — behavioural profiling. Sela rejects the argument that profiling is discriminatory.

In other words, more emphasis on people, less on technology. Will body scanners protect us against the next idiot who tries to blow up an airplane? Maybe; but watching people is probably more effective. Says Sela:

"First, [Israeli security is] fast — there's almost no line. That's because they're not looking for liquids, they're not looking at your shoes. They're not looking for everything they look for in North America. They just look at you," said Sela. "Even today with the heightened security in North America, they will check your items to death. But they will never look at you, at how you behave. They will never look into your eyes ... and that's how you figure out the bad guys from the good guys."

That's the process — six layers, four hard, two soft. The goal at Ben-Gurion is to move fliers from the parking lot to the airport lounge in a maximum of 25 minutes.

Instead, we're investing in body scanners, which have created a completely different kind of idiocy:

We're willing to ethnically profile, do all sorts extra-judicial surveillance, maintain massive databases of hundreds of thousands of people who have some vague relationship to extremism, torture captives, condemn people to hours unable to go the bathroom on planes, even launch various foreign military adventures, but when it comes to submitting to a quick scan that might show a vague outline of boobs or penises (almost certainly no more than is exposed in most bathing suits), that's a bridge too far.

Something about that doesn't compute to me. And what I like about this is that there's no clear partisan division on this one. Everyone seems to agree. It just tells me that at some level we're not really serious about this.

No, we're not really serious about this. It's theater. And it will continue until enough people care more about security than silliness.

Wrong type of snow

What is it with U.K. rail? One would think the wrong type of snow would no longer stop an entire train line, but the snow struck again:

IT'S NOT the snow that shut down Eurostar. It's the type of snow. "Fluffy" snowflakes got through special screens and into the power cars of five trains on Friday, shorting out the engines and stranding thousands of travellers in the Channel Tunnel for hours. Service remains cut by a third, and normal service will not resume before Christmas. Some 100,000 people have had their travel plans fouled up, by the Times' count.

... Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, has ordered Eurostar to get its trains running again.

Airlines are charging up to £499 to fly between London and Paris until Eurostar gets things sorted.

My question: how exactly did it snow in the Chunnel?

Germany tells Emirates to raise prices

From the Economist's Gulliver blog:

The Germans said in a letter to the Dubai-based carrier that under European law it was not allowed “to engage in price leadership” on routes from Germany to non-EU locations. Emirates, which condemned the decision as “commercially nonsensical”, responded by raising prices by 20% on some routes.

Andrew Parker of Emirates told the Financial Times, "We are adamant this is selective and clearly an attempt by Lufthansa [Germany's national carrier] to pursue Emirates versus a legitimate policy."

Yes, but on the other hand, it would not surprise me to learn that Emirates had priced the seats as a loss-leader to undercut its competitors, including Lufthansa. Regardless, this seems a good example of the African proverb, "When elephants wrestle, the grass suffers."

At this writing, a 7-day advance, Saturday-to-Thursday (discount) business class ticket from Frankfurt to Dubai was €2,245 on Emirates and €2,954 on Lufthansa. I can see why Lufthansa (and the German goverment) might suspect anti-competitive behavior...but still, raising prices for everyone doesn't seem sporting.