The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Letter to SXM

Pilot Patrick Smith writes an ode to Maho Beach, Sint Maarten, which remains closed after being partially destroyed by Hurricane Irma three weeks ago:

St. Maarten — or St. Martin — is part French and part Dutch. Princess Juliana (SXM) is in the Dutch section, and Maho sits just off end of runway 10. And when I say “just off,” I mean only a few hundred feet from the landing threshold. As arriving planes cross the beach, they are less than a hundred feet overhead. For an idea of close this is, you can check out any of a zillion online pics. Like the one above. Or this one, or this one, or any of hundreds of YouTube videos. Unlike so many other scary-seeming airplane pictures you’ll come across, they are not retouched.

Thus, planespotting at Maho beach is an experience unlike any other in commercial aviation. Not that you need to be an airplane buff to enjoy it. For anybody, the sights, sounds, and sensations of a jetliner screaming overhead at 150 miles-per-hour, nearly at arm’s reach, are somewhere between exhilarating and terrifying.

This is what he's talking about:

Kazuo Ishiguro wins Nobel in Literature

One of my favorite authors just got awarded N.Kr. 9m:

The novelist was praised by the Swedish Academy as a writer "who, in novels of great emotional force, has uncovered the abyss beneath our illusory sense of connection with the world".

His most famous novels The Remains of the Day and Never Let Me Go were adapted into highly acclaimed films. He was made an OBE in 1995.

The 62-year-old writer said the award was "flabbergastingly flattering".

His work, which includes scripts for film and television, looks at themes of memory, time and self-delusion.

The Nobel committee praised his latest book The Buried Giant, which was released in 2015, for exploring "how memory relates to oblivion, history to the present, and fantasy to reality".

I've just given a friend a copy of Never Let Me Go, and I've got The Sleeping Giant in my to-be-read pile.

Los Angeles of the future

Carl Abbot, writing for CityLab, discusses Blade Runner's impact:

Blade Runner fused the images, using noir atmosphere to turn Future Los Angeles into something dark and threatening rather than bright and hopeful. Flames randomly burst from corporate ziggurats. Searchlights probe the dark sky. But little light reaches the streets where street merchants and food cart proprietors compete with sleazy bars—a setting that Blade Runner 2049 revisits. The dystopic versions of New York in Soylent Green and Escape from New York are set in a city crumbling from age and overuse. In contrast, Blade Runner uses the imagery of the future for similar stories of deeply embedded inequality.

When it comes down to it, of course, there’s more fun and schadenfreude in imagining trouble striking a big city than a small town. Terminator 2: Judgment Day would not be half so exciting if T-1000 chased Arnold Schwarzenegger along the banks of the puny Miami River in Dayton, Ohio, rather than the concrete arroyo of the Los Angeles River. In the 1980s, the fictional destruction of New York was old hat. Los Angeles was a relatively fresh target and, for the film industry, a logistically convenient one. Moviegoers were increasingly willing to disparage it, too.

Blade Runner was a catalyst for a dystopian decade that was accentuated by the rioting and violence that followed the April 1992 acquittal of police officers accused of beating Rodney King. Moviegoers would soon get Falling Down, whose filming was interrupted by the Rodney King riots, Pulp Fiction, and Independence Day, with its total obliteration of the metropolis. In print in the early 1990s were Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash, Cynthia Kadohata’s In the Heart of the Valley of Love, and Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower, all depicting a near-future Los Angeles fragmenting into enclaves and drifting toward chaos, capped by Mike Davis’s The Ecology of Fear.

 

I've got tickets to Blade Runner 2049 already. Can't wait.

Our other national calamity

James Fallows eloquently sums up the worst bits of American culture, in the wake of Sunday's mass shooting in Las Vegas:

I am an optimist about most aspects of America’s resilience and adaptability, but not about reversing America’s implicit decision to let these killings go on.

Decision? Yes. Other advanced societies have outbreaks of mass-shooting gun violence. Scotland, in 1996. Australia, in 1996 as well. Norway in 2011. But only in the United States do they come again and again and again.

No other society allows the massacres to keep happening. Everyone around the world knows this about the United States. It is the worst aspect of the American national identity.

...

The identity of the shooter doesn’t affect how many people are dead or how grievously their families and communities are wounded. But we know that everything about the news coverage and political response would be different, depending on whether the killer turns out to be “merely” a white American man with a non-immigrant-sounding name.

These people are indeed deranged and angry and disturbed, and the full story of today’s killer is not yet known. It is possible that he will prove to have motives or connections beyond whatever was happening in his own mind (as Graeme Wood explains). But we know that if the killers were other than whites with “normal” names, the responsibility for their crime would not be assigned solely to themselves and their tortured psyches.

I've just finished Ta-Nehisi Coates' essay "The First White President." Combined with Trump's performance today in Puerto Rico, and our inability as a polity to slow—let alone stop—gun violence, makes me despair for my country.

What is WRONG with this man?

I...I just...

President Trump on Tuesday told Puerto Rico officials they should feel “very proud” they haven’t lost thousands of lives like in “a real catastrophe like Katrina,” while adding that the devastated island territory has thrown the nation’s budget “a little out of whack.”  

“Every death is a horror, but if you look at a real catastrophe like Katrina, and you look at the tremendous — hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people that died, and you look at what happened here, with really a storm that was just totally overpowering, nobody’s ever seen anything like this,” Trump said, before turning to a local official to ask how many people had died in storm. “What is your death count as of this moment? 17? 16 people certified, 16 people versus in the thousands.”

“I think it’s now acknowledged what a great job we’ve done, and people are looking at that,” he said. “And in Texas and in Florida, we get an A-plus. And I’ll tell you what, I think we’ve done just as good in Puerto Rico, and it’s actually a much tougher situation. But now the roads are cleared, communications is starting to come back. We need their truck drivers to start driving trucks.”

Video, just in case anyone is making up quotes that show the President as a sociopathic man-child:

It's one thing to make a joke. It's quite another to make a joke like that, in that place, when so many people are already unhappy with your cavalier attitude.

Vieques post-Maria

The New York Times talked to people on the American island of Vieques and has this report on the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria two weeks ago:

The 9,000 people living on this island eight miles east of the Puerto Rican mainland have been largely cut off from the world for 11 days since Hurricane Maria hit, with no power or communications and, for many, no running water. People scan the skies and the sea hoping to sight the emergency aid that has been arriving drip by drip, on boats, in helicopters or in the bellies of eight-seat propeller planes.

“We’re on this island, we can’t get off it,” Aleida Tolentino, 56, said on Saturday, as she gazed out over the brown hillsides of uprooted trees and branches stripped of every leaf, with rain rolling in from the east.

The grinding lack of electricity and communications services has created archipelagos of isolation across Puerto Rico. Dozens of towns and neighborhoods, from the coffee-growing mountains to the industrial shoals of the capital, are now virtual islands unto themselves, stranded by destroyed roads, downed cables and splintered cellphone towers.

Even death is an emergency. On Saturday morning, Marlon Esquilín, the funeral director in Isabel Segunda, opened the doors of his hearse to pull out the blackbagged body of an older woman who had died of natural causes the night before.

Someone stole his generator, so he has no power to embalm bodies, and no way to keep them cold in storage. The hospital’s backup generator was also stolen, he said, so he cannot keep bodies there either.

The island has been blasted back to the 19th Century. If only it were part of the United States, then maybe we could help them. Oh, wait...

Could have been worse

An Air France A380 carrying 520 passengers lost an engine over the Atlantic this weekend:

“Flight 066 landed without further damage at the Goose Bay military airport in Canada and all of the 520 people on board were evacuated with no injuries,” an Air France spokesman in Paris said.

Video and photo images posted on social media, apparently by passengers or their relatives, showed extensive damage to the front of the outer starboard engine, with part of its external cowling stripped away.

The cause of the problem was unknown, with one of the plane’s passengers suggesting that a bird might have collided with the engine which was damaged.

There are many potential causes of the engine losing its cowling in flight, but a bird strike at FL400 is not likely one of them.

Also, the passengers were never in any danger. Four-engine planes have to be able to fly upwards of 275 km on two engines to pass certification.

New project meetings

Yesterday and today I've been in meetings all day starting a new project at work. Unusually for my career, the project is not only a matter of public record, but the work will be in the public domain. That's right: I'm doing a project for the largest organization in the world, the United States Government.

Some parts of the project touch on confidential information, and I'm going to remain professionally discrete about the project details. But the project itself is unclassified, and we have permission from the sponsor to discuss it openly.

I'll have more about it tomorrow, including a photo or two I never thought I'd be able to take, let alone share publicly. Stay tuned.