The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Labour backs new Brexit referendum

In an unexpected twist, Jeremy Corbyn announced at a Labour party conference today that he supports a "people's vote" on the Brexit deal the UK Government worked out with the EU, and that hardly anyone in the UK agrees with:

In a statement, the party said it would “put forward or support an amendment in favour of a public vote to prevent a damaging Tory Brexit”.

Corbyn will tell MPs the party “cannot and will not accept” May running down the clock towards no deal. He will say EU officials and leaders in Brussels and Madrid found Labour’s alternative Brexit plan “serious and credible” and it could win support across the House of Commons.

“One way or another, we will do everything in our power to prevent no deal and oppose a damaging Tory Brexit based on Theresa May’s overwhelmingly rejected deal,” he said.

“That’s why, in line with our conference policy, we are committed to also putting forward or supporting an amendment in favour of a public vote to prevent a damaging Tory Brexit being forced on the country.”

Other news sources suggest that Corbyn's volte face came about after the resignations of 9 MPs from Labour last week.

The next Commons vote on Brexit will take place March 12th, according to sources in Parliament, giving the Government only two weeks to react to another rejection before crashing out of Europe. With both Corbyn and May playing chicken with the British public, I can only wonder when the next election will happen.

Boring Chicago politics

Tomorrow is Chicago's mayoral election (with an expected run-off on April 2nd), which is only one of the problems facing Elon Musk's proposal to build a high-speed rail line from O'Hare to the Loop:

The so-called O’Hare Express project sounded like the stuff of science fiction and for [36th Ward Alderman Gilbert] Villegas, it still is. The former Marine and Gulf War veteran’s inaugural trip on a retrofitted Tesla Model X in a mile-long tunnel in Southern California topped out at 40 mph and was bumpy going. He described the ride as uneven, like the feeling of driving a car on an unpaved road. “It wasn’t as smooth as I thought it would be,” Villegas told The Verge. “It certainly felt too experimental for someone to invest a billion dollars in.”

In June, Musk said that one of the reasons he chose Chicago to host the first “publicly useful” Boring Company venture was that “the number of approving authorities is small.”

He had reason to believe that he had automatic approval from one of those authorities — the Chicago City Council. Musk’s bromance with [Chicago Mayor Rahm] Emanuel is strong. During their joint press conference in Chicago last June, the mayor praised Musk as “one of the great visionaries of our time” and jokingly asked for Boring Company stock.

Emanuel’s decision not to seek re-election (he’s abdicating power to write a book about why mayors rule the world) is disastrous for Musk’s O’Hare Express.

It’s possible that Musk could successfully sell his futuristic tunnel to the 14 mayoral candidates lined up to succeed Emanuel in May, but that prospect looks equally bleak. When asked to their opinion on O’Hare Express, the response from Chicago’s mayors-to-be has ranged from neutrality to open contempt.

“It’s going to die on its own. This thing is goofy,” said former Chicago Public Schools chairman Gery Chico during a candidate forum earlier this month according to the Chicago Tribune. Paul Vallas, another mayoral hopeful, had harsher words: “I’d kill it,” said Vallas according to the Tribune. “I can’t wait to kill it.”

Well, that's all pretty unfortunate. I would love to see high-speed rail from O'Hare, but I also know how this city works. We'll get it someday. Just not in the 2020s.

Stuff that piled up this week

I've had a lot going on this week, including seeing an excellent production of Elektra at Lyric Opera of Chicago last night, so I haven't had time to read all of these articles:

And I shall begin reading these...soon. Maybe tomorrow. Sigh.

Difficult vote ahead

Chicago's mayoral primary takes place Tuesday with 256 12 people on the ballot. That means the election will likely determine only the two people who will stand in the runoff election in April.

Many local news organizations have round-ups of the candidates' policy provisions, and interactive tools to help voters figure out who mirrors their own policies most closely. I've gone through Chicago Public Media's guide twice, the second time choosing "No answer" for items that matter less to me than other matters.

My results? Even though the thought of a third Mayor Daley makes me want to move to Saskatchewan, it turns out I don't have to hold my nose and vote for Bill Daley: he's almost at the bottom of my list, with 37% matching policies, ahead of only attorney Jerry Joyce who has no chance anyway.

My top three, to my surprise, are Amara Enyia, Lori Lightfoot, with 69% and 67% matching policies respectively, and a tie between Bob Fioretti and Garry McCarthy at 63%. Enyia and Fioretti will be lucky to clear 10% of the vote, let alone the 50% required to avoid a runoff, so I'm not really considering them. Lightfoot and McCarthy both have fighting chances.

Of the questions that really matter to me, Enyia and Fioretti get one (in favor of city income tax), everyone but Daley, Paul Vallas, and Joyce support an elected school board, and everyone except Daley, Joyce, LaShawn Ford, Toni Preckwinkle, and Willie Wilson support ending "aldermanic perogative."

Lower priorities of mine include raising ride-share fees to benefit the Chicago Transit Authority (Lightfoot and McCarthy say yes, Enyia says no); hiring social workers to assist police in mental-health calls (everyone says yes except Daley and Joyce); and opposing a city-run casino (Enyia agrees with me; Lightfoot doesn't).

So the front-runner for my vote right now is Lori Lightfoot, in part because I believe either Daley or Preckwinkle will also be in the runoff, and Lightfoot has a chance. That said, I would bet a dollar that the April 3rd runoff will be between Daley and Preckwinkle, because they both have huge machines backing them. And this is Chicago.

And all this is just a smaller version of what will happen a year from now when my party starts voting for its nominee to run against the president 619 days from now.

Actually, it is rocket science: personal edition

One of my friends from high school, Beth Moses, today became the 571st person to travel into space:

Virgin Galactic sent three human beings on Unity for the first time in Friday's supersonic test flight, which reached three times the speed of sound on its way up. Just before the flight, Richard Branson's space tourism company told CNBC that astronaut trainer Beth Moses is on the company's spacecraft Unity, along with the two pilots.

"Beth Moses is on board as a crew member," a Virgin Galactic spokeswoman told CNBC. "She will be doing validation of some of the cabin design elements."

The mission launched horizontally, rather than the traditional vertical method of launching rockets. The jet-powered mothership Eve lifted the spacecraft Unity, taking off from the Mojave Air and Space Port. Upon reaching an altitude above 40,000 feet, the carrier aircraft released Unity.

MacKay and Masucci then piloted the spacecraft in a roaring burn. The flight pushed Unity to a speed of Mach 3, which is three times the speed of sound, as it screamed into a climb.

After performing a slow backflip in microgravity, Unity turned, gliding back to land at the runway it took off from about an hour earlier. Unity is the name of the spacecraft built by The Spaceship Company, which Branson also owns. This rocket design is officially known as SpaceShipTwo.

When Beth was in high school, she said she wanted to be an astronaut. After a long career at NASA she joined Virgin Galactic as their chief astronaut instructor. And today, she made history.

Congratulations, Beth! You're officially out of this world.

Beth Moses, center. (Photo courtesy of Danielle Cosma.)

Changing ideas of romance, or just more awareness?

Writing for the Washington Post, columnist Monica Hesse examines how our understanding of the famous V-J Day photo of George Mendonsa kissing Greta Zimmer Friedman have changed between then and Mendonsa's death this week:

Within 24 hours of his passing, a Sarasota, Fla., statue that re-created his and Friedman’s famous kiss was defaced. On Friedman’s aluminum leg, in red spray paint, someone had written, “#MeToo.”

As much as any image, the picture of Mendonsa and Friedman has defined American perception of romance. It’s Richard Gere nipping at Julia Roberts’s fingers with a jewelry box; it’s John Cusack with a boombox beneath Ione Skye’s window. Mendonsa’s grip around Friedman’s waist is fervent; her body is limp as if overwhelmed by the passion of his embrace. Behold, the superlative ideal of a perfect kiss.

Maybe it could be wonderful and exciting to be kissed, by surprise, by a stranger, at the end of a long and terrible war. But when you hear Friedman’s description of it, the whole thing starts to sound unpleasant. The whole photo starts to look unpleasant, too: the way her head is locked into the crook of his elbow, unable to move or avoid his lips.

I’d like to think of it more as a statement of fact. Today, this iconic photo might be considered an assault. It doesn’t mean Mendonsa was a monster. It doesn’t mean humans were bad in 1945. It just means that stories don’t always behave as we’d like. Our fantasies can be punctured by the reality of other people’s feelings.

Friedman said she and Mendonsa kept in occasional contact and exchanged holiday cards. When a Life photographer invited the pair to reunite in Times Square in 1980, she went. But she said she didn’t want to reenact the kiss.

A kiss based on one person’s joy and another person’s non-consenting shock isn’t really a perfect kiss. And actually, it never was.

What images from 2019 will look weird in 2094? Someone with a time machine, please let me know.

Make no small plans

Chicagoan Bob Lempa had a simple question for Peggy Baker on Tuesday:

WGN-TV reporter Shannon Halligan tracked down the story:

The man behind the message is Bob Lempa, who made big Valentine's Day plans this year. He wanted to write a proposal message so big his girlfriend Peggy Baker could see it from her 37th floor window in the Blue Cross Blue Shield building. The couple have been together for nine years since they met at a party for a mutual friend, and he was ready to pop the question.

"I had been by Maggie Daley Park a number of times just getting the feel of where I could do it, how big it would have to be, because Peggy’s on the 37th floor so I knew it had to be big to be seen," Lempa said.

But when the big day rolled around, there was one problem: no snow. So he decided to wait until Tuesday, when there was finally enough on the ground for him to clear away and write his message. It wasn’t an easy surprise to pull off. The letters were 45 feet tall and 31 feet wide, and took a little over six hours to make.

Halligan reports Baker said yes. Gawd, I hope so.

Here's the message in a larger view from my office yesterday:

Nicely done, Bob. And good luck to you both!

An end to civil forfeiture?

The US Supreme Court ruled today that the 8th Amendment rule against "excessive fines" applies to the states as well as to the Federal Government:

The decision is a victory for an Indiana man whose luxury SUV was seized after he pleaded guilty to selling heroin. It is also a blow to state and local governments, for whom fines and forfeitures have become an important source of funds.

In an opinion by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the court seemed to regard the basic question before it as an easy one. The justices explained that the “historical and logical case for concluding that” the ban on excessive fines applies to the states through the 14th Amendment – which bars states from depriving anyone “of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law” – is “overwhelming.”

States and municipalities have relied on civil forfeiture laws for revenue over the past three decades or so, with ridiculous and horrifying results. Today's decision will go a long way to curbing those abuses.

Speedbirds in the news yesterday

From a longtime reader in the UK comes the story of British Airways (callsign: "Speedbird") celebrating the airline's 100th anniversary and the 50th anniversary of the Boeing 747 by painting one in its 1964-to-1974 BOAC livery:

Large crowds turned out at Heathrow on Monday to welcome the plane, decked out in livery not seen for four decades.

The plane will keep flying in its retro BOAC design until 2023, British Airways said in a statement.

Tuesday's flight retraces the first route a Boeing 747 took in BOAC colors.

Also yesterday, a Virgin Atlantic B787 caught an unusual jet stream over the Atlantic that propelled it to a record-breaking ground speed:

A Virgin Atlantic flight from Los Angeles to London peaked at a whopping 1,289 km/h Monday evening 10,500 m over Pennsylvania. “[N]ever ever seen this kind of tailwind in my life as a commercial pilot,” tweeted Peter James, a jet captain.

It appears that’s a record for the Boeing 787-9 twin jet, which in the past has flown at speeds up to 1,249 km/h. The ordinary cruising speed of a Dreamliner is 903 km/h, with a maximum propulsion of 944 km/h. Any speed gained on top of that is thanks to Mother Nature’s helpful boost.

Although the plane didn’t remain in the “jet streak” — the zone of maximum wind embedded within the jet stream — for long, it still arrived 48 minutes early. And you might notice something suspect about the 1,289 km/h reading — it’s above the speed of sound (1,234 km/h). However, whether air travel breaks the sound barrier is dependent on its airspeed — not its ground speed.

Vroom.