The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Hot times in the New York subway

The New York City subway, with its passive air exchange system and tunnels too small for active ventilation or air conditioning, have gotten excessively hot this summer:

On Thursday, temperatures inside at least one of the busiest stations reached 40°C—nearly 11°C warmer than the high in Central Park.

The Regional Plan Association, an urban planning think tank for the greater metropolitan area, took a thermometer around the system’s 16 busiest stations, plus a few more for good measure, and shared the data with CityLab. A platform at Union Square Station had the 40°C reading at 1 p.m., which was the hottest they found, although Brooklyn Bridge-City Hall and Columbus Circle weren’t far off at 39°C and 38½°C, at around 10 and 11 a.m., respectively. Twelve out of the 16 busiest stops boiled at or over the 32°C mark in the late morning and early afternoon.

One might think that subway stations would offer crisp respite to sweaty New Yorkers, being underground and all. But you’d be wrong. Heat doesn’t only “rise”—it just diffuses to cooler areas, which can include below-ground spaces. Plus, only a few of the city’s 472 stations are equipped with air conditioning; most rely on a passive ventilation system better known for their Marilyn Monroe moments above ground. This system was built in the days before AC, and the MTA says it’s not possible to squeeze the station-cooling machinery that other metro systems have inside New York’s narrow tunnels. Meanwhile, the units that cool passengers inside cars actually shed heat into the stations as trains pass through.

That onboard air-conditioning can fail, too. The MTA has also seen a rising number of complaints about overheated cars in recent years. In today’s issue of Signal Problems, his indispensable newsletter focused on subway accountability, the journalist Aaron Gordon reports that “about two percent of all subway cars in service on any given day might not have working A/C,” according to the MTA. That means at least 100 cars are roasting passengers on any given day this summer.

This problem also bedevils the London Underground.

Meanwhile, here in Chicago, we're having our 73rd day this year above 27°C, just 10 short of the record. Given the normal number of temperatures that warm between now and October, I think we'll probably set a new one.

And the sunlight here looks eerily orange and hazy today, because of climate change-driven wildfires out west.

Welcome to the future.

Fallows on the Seattle plane crash

Friday evening, a baggage worker at SEATAC airport outside Seattle stole an empty commuter plane and crashed it into an uninhabited part of an island in Puget Sound. Pilot and journalist Jim Fallows has an analysis:

Bizarre, frightening, and tragic this certainly was. Was it a sign of an alarming failure in security practices, and some press accounts immediately asserted? (For instance, from the UK’s Telegraph, soon after the event: “It has raised fundamental questions about airline security at America’s major airports after the mechanic was able to board the plane, taxi onto the runway and take off without being stopped. Aviation experts questioned what the authorities would have been able to do if the pilot was determined to fly the plane into a city rather than do loop-the-loops.”

Maybe this will be the appropriate response when more facts are known. For the moment, as is usually the case with aviation disasters, many of the most important questions about what happened are impossible to answer right away.

I hope that, when the facts are in, the response to this odd, sad incident will resemble what the aviation system usually does with its failures, rather than the way the political system often behaves. That is, I hope it serves as a source of guidance for further threat reduction, rather than as fuel for panic and finger-pointing about the modern realities that some “What if?” will always remain.

What a strange story.

Why all the optimism?

Washington Post columnist Anne Applebaum, watching the Manafort trial unfold, wonders why anyone thinks our institutions are up to the challenge of stopping the Trump organization:

America’s federal institutions are not the only ones designed to prevent someone like Trump from undermining the Constitution. We have other kinds of institutions, too — legal organs, regulatory bodies, banks — that are supposed to prevent men like Trump from staying in business, let alone acquiring political power. The truth is that many of these equally important American institutions failed a long time ago. Trump is not the cause of their failure. He is the result.

Nearly 40 years ago, in 1980, Trump employed 200 illegal Polish workers to destroy the Bonwit Teller department store, a historic building on Fifth Avenue, to make way for what would become Trump Tower. The men earned half the union wage and worked 12-hour shifts without hard hats; at one point, their contractor stopped paying them. Eventually they sued. In 1998, Trump paid $1.375 million to settle the case.

Trump broke immigration law and employment law, and he violated union rules, too. Yet neither immigration authorities nor employment regulators nor union bosses put him out of business. Why not? Why were the terms of that settlement kept confidential? Why, with his track record, was he allowed to get a casino license? Building permits? Wall Street banks did, it is true, stop lending to him. But when he began looking abroad for cash — doing extremely dodgy deals in Georgia and Azerbaijan, for example — no one stopped him.

She's right. A country with functioning legal institutions would have stopped this guy long ago. The Russian government has had so much success undermining our faith in democracy because we'd already eroded it ourselves.

The state of American craft brewing

The Chicago Tribune reported today that the largest craft brewer in the United States is now...AB InBev, AKA Anheuser-Busch:

Between 2011 and 2017, Anheuser-Busch bought 10 breweries from coast to coast, beginning with Chicago’s Goose Island Beer Co. and ending (for now) with Wicked Weed Brewing of Asheville, N.C. In between, it picked up breweries in Oregon (10 Barrel), Virginia (Devils Backbone), Seattle (Elysian), Los Angeles (Golden Road), Houston (Karbach) and the metro areas of Phoenix (Four Peaks), Denver (Breckenridge) and New York City (Blue Point).

Anheuser-Busch’s shopping spree appears to have paid off. Last month, industry newsletter Beer Marketer’s Insights reported that the beer giant has surged past Boston Beer and Sierra Nevada in 2018 to become the nation’s top craft beer company in terms of dollar sales.

To be clear, Anheuser-Busch’s craft beer supremacy exists in one very specific metric at the moment; IRI tracks sales in grocery, big box, drug and convenience stores. When factoring in draft and liquor store sales, Beer Marketer’s Insights estimates that Boston Beer remains ahead of Anheuser-Busch in terms of both volume and dollar sales. But the passing of that torch is all but an inevitability during the next year or so.

However, it’s not all good news for Anheuser-Busch’s craft effort.

Its lead horse, Goose Island, had a rough 2017, and 2018 is proving just as difficult. In early August, the Goose Island portfolio was down double digits across the previous three months....

I've said before, part of craft beer's appeal is that it comes from actual craft breweries. And big beer companies don't actually like craft beer—because they can't compete with them.

So, mazel tov to InBev, but I'm going to stick with Revolution, Dovetail, Begyle, and Empircal, all of which brew within a 10-block radius of my house.

The TSA finally talks frankly about security

Bruce Schneier says that the TSA's thoughts about security at smaller airports are exactly the conversation they should be having:

Last week, CNN reported that the Transportation Security Administration is considering eliminating security at U.S. airports that fly only smaller planes -- 60 seats or fewer. Passengers connecting to larger planes would clear security at their destinations.

To be clear, the TSA has put forth no concrete proposal. The internal agency working group's report obtained by CNN contains no recommendations. It's nothing more than 20 people examining the potential security risks of the policy change. It's not even new: The TSA considered this back in 2011, and the agency reviews its security policies every year.

We don't know enough to conclude whether this is a good idea, but it shouldn't be dismissed out of hand. We need to evaluate airport security based on concrete costs and benefits, and not continue to implement security theater based on fear. And we should applaud the agency's willingness to explore changes in the screening process.

There is already a tiered system for airport security, varying for both airports and passengers. Many people are enrolled in TSA PreCheck, allowing them to go through checkpoints faster and with less screening. Smaller airports don't have modern screening equipment like full-body scanners or CT baggage screeners, making it impossible for them to detect some plastic explosives. Any would-be terrorist is already able to pick and choose his flight conditions to suit his plot.

And just think, it's only taken 15 years and $45 billion to get here...

Hot times in the early days of mammals

About 50 million years ago, when mammals had just started taking over the planet, atmospheric CO2 levels were about 1000 ppm. And wow, was it hot here:

[A]round 50 million years ago there were crocodiles, palm trees, and sand tiger sharks in the Arctic Circle. On the other side of the blue-green orb, in waters that today would surround Antarctica, sea-surface temperatures might have topped an unthinkable 86degrees Fahrenheit, with near-tropical forests on Antarctica itself. There were perhaps even sprawling, febrile dead zones spanning the tropics, too hot even for animal or plant life of any sort.

[U]nder this past regime of high CO2, in the ancient U.K., Germany, and New Zealand, life endured mean annual temperatures of 23–29°C or 10–15°C warmer than modern times.

And yet, there is a seeming disconnect, between traditional projections for future warming—like those made by the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which predicts around 4°C of warming by the end of the century under a business-as-usual emissions scenario (still frightening) and sea-level rise measured in mere inches (still frightening)—and the scarcely recognizable Earths buried in the rocks and created under similar CO2 regimes, like those that Eberle unearths.

One obvious way to reconcile this disparity is by noticing that the changes to the ancient earth took place over hundreds-of-thousands to millions of years and (IPCC graphs notwithstanding) that time won’t stop at the end of the 21st century. The changes that we’ve already set in motion, unless we act rapidly to countervail them, will similarly take millennia to fully unfold. The last time CO2 was at 400 ppm (as it is today) was 3 million years ago during the Pliocene epoch, when sea levels were perhaps 24 m higher than today. Clearly the climate is not yet at equilibrium for a 400-ppm world.

Good thing we've stopped pumping CO2 into the atmosphere! Oh, wait...

Trollin' trollin' trollin', keep those Russkies trollin'

Researchers at Clemson University, working with 538.org, identified 3 million tweets from 2,800 Twitter handles belonging to Russian trolls:

“We identified five categories of IRA-associated Twitter handles, each with unique patterns of behaviors: Right Troll, Left Troll, News Feed, Hashtag Gamer, and Fearmonger. With the exception of the Fearmonger category, handles were consistent and did not switch between categories.”

The five types:

  • Right Troll: These Trump-supporting trolls voiced right-leaning, populist messages, but “rarely broadcast traditionally important Republican themes, such as taxes, abortion, and regulation, but often sent divisive messages about mainstream and moderate Republicans…They routinely denigrated the Democratic Party, e.g. @LeroyLovesUSA, January 20, 2017, “#ThanksObama We're FINALLY evicting Obama. Now Donald Trump will bring back jobs for the lazy ass Obamacare recipients,” the authors wrote.
  • Left Troll: These trolls mainly supported Bernie Sanders, derided mainstream Democrats, and focused heavily on racial identity, in addition to sexual and religious identity. The tweets were “clearly trying to divide the Democratic Party and lower voter turnout,” the authors told FiveThirtyEight.
  • News Feed: A bit more mysterious, news feed trolls mostly posed as local news aggregators who linked to legitimate news sources. Some, however, “tweeted about global issues, often with a pro-Russia perspective.”
  • Hashtag Gamer: Gamer trolls used hashtag games—a popular call/response form of tweeting—to drum up interaction from other users. Some tweets were benign, but many “were overtly political, e.g. @LoraGreeen, July 11, 2015, “#WasteAMillionIn3Words Donate to #Hillary.”
  • Fearmonger: These trolls, who were least prevalent in the dataset, spread completely fake news stories, for instance “that salmonella-contaminated turkeys were produced by Koch Foods, a U.S. poultry producer, near the 2015 Thanksgiving holiday.”

Will learning that Russian trolls' "mission was to divide Americans along political and sociocultural lines, and to sow discord within the two major political parties" help people call bullshit on trolling tweets and posts? Probably not. But a guy can dream.

Thirty years ago in Chicago

On 8 August 1988, the Chicago Cubs played their first night game at Wrigley Field. The Tribune rounds up memories from people who supported and opposed the installation of lights at the park:

Ryne Sandberg, Cubs second baseman, 1982-1997: Leading up to ’88, the talk within the organization was that lights were necessary to create a schedule more conducive to resting the home team, getting us out of the sun. Before that, with some of those 10-day homestands with all day games (it was) in 90-plus temperatures.

Rick Sutcliffe, Cubs pitcher, 1984-1991: There's nothing better than playing a day game and going home to have dinner with your family. But when you come back from a West Coast trip, and let’s say you had a long game … sometimes we went straight from the airport to the ballpark. It’s really difficult that whole homestand. You just feel wiped out. … I would throw nine innings at Dodger Stadium and might lose anywhere from 2 to 4 pounds. There were times at Wrigley Field during that heat that I lost 10 to 15 pounds. I would love to go start a game to lose 15 right now!

Did lights help the Cubs? Probably; but there's no definitive way to say.

Another look at Hiroshima

Yesterday was the 73rd anniversary of our nuclear attack on Hiroshima, Japan. On the event's 50th anniversary, The Atlantic asked, "Was it right?"

I imagine that the persistence of that question irritated Harry Truman above all other things. The atomic bombs that destroyed the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki fifty years ago were followed in a matter of days by the complete surrender of the Japanese empire and military forces, with only the barest fig leaf of a condition—an American promise not to molest the Emperor. What more could one ask from an act of war? But the two bombs each killed at least 50,000 people and perhaps as many as 100,000. Numerous attempts have been made to estimate the death toll, counting not only those who died on the first day and over the following week or two but also the thousands who died later of cancers thought to have been caused by radiation. The exact number of dead can never be known, because whole families—indeed, whole districts—were wiped out by the bombs; because the war had created a floating population of refugees throughout Japan; because certain categories of victims, such as conscript workers from Korea, were excluded from estimates by Japanese authorities; and because as time went by, it became harder to know which deaths had indeed been caused by the bombs. However many died, the victims were overwhelming civilians, primarily the old, the young, and women; and all the belligerents formally took the position that the killing of civilians violated both the laws of war and common precepts of humanity. Truman shared this reluctance to be thought a killer of civilians. Two weeks before Hiroshima he wrote of the bomb in his diary, "I have told [the Secretary of War] Mr. Stimson to use it so that military objectives and soldiers and sailors are the target and not women and children. … " The first reports on August 6, 1945, accordingly described Hiroshima as a Japanese army base.

This fiction could not stand for long. The huge death toll of ordinary Japanese citizens, combined with the horror of so many deaths by fire, eventually cast a moral shadow over the triumph of ending the war with two bombs.

It's a sobering essay. It's also a good argument, indirectly, in favor of making sure nuclear weapons are never used again.