The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Once is accident, twice is conspiracy...

The House of Commons voted 391-242 this evening to reject PM Theresa May's slightly-revised Brexit deal, further throwing the country's prospects after March 29th into chaos:

Because of this defeat, tomorrow Commons will vote on whether to leave the EU without a deal, and if that vote fails, there will be a vote Thursday on whether to extend Article 50. If that vote fails...holy mother forking shirtballs, the UK is forked.

The world panics about an airplane

Two Boeing 737 Max 8 airplanes have crashed shortly after takeoff in the last few months, killing hundreds of passengers and crew. As a result, the European Union, the UK, China, and other countries have grounded the model pending investigations. Notably, the FAA has not. In the US, only American and Southwest are flying the new plane.

This is, simply put, panic. But no one wants to be the guy who will get blamed if another one goes down, even though that is highly improbable.

The Lion Air crash in Indonesia back in October seems related to a software change in the 737 Max 8 that the pilots didn't know about. That accident is still under investigation. Obviously so is Monday's crash in Ethiopia, with the flight data and voice recorders only retrieved yesterday.

While the Washington Post runs a story about how similar the crashes appear, and the President spouting off about how planes are too complex to fly these days, I turn to fellow pilot James Fallows for a dose of reason:

In the Lion Air crash, the pilots apparently kept trying to pull the plane’s nose back up. The MCAS system kept pushing it down. The automated system eventually won. The question that’s not yet answered about that crash is why the pilots didn’t turn off or disable this system. Such fail-safe override controls are built into every automated flight system I’ve ever heard about. As Patrick Smith discusses in his post, it’s possible that the pilots didn’t understand how the new MCAS system worked, or what it would be trying to do. It’s possible that they didn’t know where the overrides were. It’s possible that … well, anything might have occurred.

Is this what happened in the Ethiopian Airlines case as well? Was the AOA-sensing system that triggers the MCAS flawed or broken? Were the automatic controls trying to push the plane down, down, down, while the pilots fought to keep it up? Did the pilots try to override or disable the system? (For instance, by lowering the plane’s flaps, which happens on every landing and is designed to automatically disable the MCAS system.) Were they caught by surprise and unaware of what that system was doing? Were they fully aware, but still unable to alter the fatal path down?

Or was something else, something entirely unrelated, responsible for this crash? Something that had nothing to do with this model of airplane, or these new automated systems? At the moment, I believe no one knows. That is what Boeing, the Ethiopian authorities, the National Transportation Safety Board, and the world’s airlines are trying to figure out. There are enough differences between the two crashes—for instance, in the fluctuations in speed and altitude before impact—that the causes could turn out to be wholly unconnected.

Fallows links to "Ask the Pilot" Patrick Smith, with this also reasonable thought:

For pilots, dealing with the unwanted nose-down command would be, or should be, straightforward. The MCAS commands, faulty or not, can be overridden quickly through a pair of disconnect switches. Why the Lion Air pilots failed to do this, if in fact they did, is unclear, but unaware of the system’s defect in the first place, we can envision a scenario in which they became overwhelmed, unable to figure out in time what the plane was doing and how to correct it.

“Though it appears there’s a design flaw that Boeing will need to fix as soon as possible,” I wrote in November,“passengers can take comfort in knowing that every MAX pilot is now acutely aware of this potential problem, and is prepared deal with it.”

The Ethiopian accident, though, makes us wonder. With the Lion Air crash fresh on any 737 MAX pilot’s mind, you’d expect the crew to have recognized the malfunction right away and reacted accordingly. Did a disconnect somehow not work? Were they so inundated by a cascade of alarms, warnings, and erratic aircraft behavior that they failed to recognize what was happening? Or was the problem something else completely?

We won't know for a long time, in any event no sooner than the FDR and CVR data gets analyzed.

Semi-annual time-change angst

I'm not going to link to any of the articles published in the last few days about how no one likes changing the clocks to and from Daylight Saving Time. Suffice to say, the debate hinges on two simple questions: how early do you want the sun to set, and how late do you want it to rise, in winter?

For a concrete example, if you live in Chicago, do you want the sun to rise at 7:19 or 8:19 on January 3rd (the latest of the year)? And if the sun rises at 8:19 that morning, is that an acceptable price to pay for the sun setting at 5:20 (instead of 4:20) on December 8th (the earliest of the year)?

A switch to year-long DST would mean that the sun would rise over Lake Michigan after 7am from October 12th until March 17th—five months of morning gloom, offset by the sun never setting before 5pm.

On the western edge of US time zones, the results would be truly weird. Just across Lake Michigan from Chicago is Benton Harbor, Mich. Year-long DST would make the earliest sunset there occur at 6:14pm. But the latest sunrise would be at 9:14am, with the sun rising after 9am from December 7th through January 31st, and the sun rising after 8am from October 17th through March 14th. After 7am? August 22nd through April 19th. Yes, permanent DST would relegate places like Western Michigan, Western Nebraska, and Idaho to nine months of gloomy mornings.

Ultimately I think this is why the permanent-DST proposals will go nowhere in the US. The parts of the US most sensitive to late sunrises (farming areas) will be the ones most affected.

And hey, won't Spain be fun when permanent DST comes to Europe in two years. The sleepy town of Pontevedra, Spain, on the west coast of that country and at about the same latitude as Chicago, will enjoy sunrises at 10:04am in January should Spain go permanently to UTC+2. (But hey, the sun will never set there before 7pm, so maybe that's a good trade-off?)

Of course, this is all about psychology. The sun rises and sets on its own; only our need to agree on time causes these odd artifacts. Maybe in western Spain they'll simply start work at noon? (Or, more likely, switch to UTC+1 year-round.)

Trips to Europe will need EU registration starting in 2021

When I first heard this morning that visa-free travel to Europe would end for US citizens in 2021, I was dismayed. I remember how time-consuming it was to get a visa before the visa-waiver program started in the late 1980s. And I figured that the US would retaliate, requiring visas from Europeans, which would essentially destroy tourism between the two regions.

The reality isn't really anything like that. In fact, it merely brings the EU in line with what the US has required of visa-free travelers for years.

Starting in 2021, Americans will simply need to register with the EU equivalent of our Electronic System for Travel Authorization, or ESTA:

Currently, US citizens can travel to Europe for up to 90 days without any sort of travel authorization. ETIAS will change that.

Visa-free travelers, including US citizens, will need to request ETIAS authorization before visiting the Schengen Area. They can complete an application and pay a service fee of 7 euros (about $8) online. The authorization is valid for three years.

"Completing the online application should not take more than 10 minutes with automatic approval being given in over 95% of cases," the European Commission said in a statement.

The United States won't be the only country affected by the changes. From 2021, citizens from 60 countries will be required to apply for the ETIAS before entering the Schengen Area. Brazil, Canada, New Zealand, Singapore, Israel and Mauritius are among those countries.

So this should not affect taking a last-minute trip on the Eurostar, or crossing from Northern Ireland into the Republic. And it's fair; we've required ESTA registration from all overseas visitors for many years. I'm annoyed particularly at NPR for getting the details totally wrong in their newscast this morning.

Weekend reading list

Just a few things I'm reading that you also might want to read:

And finally, it's getting close to April and the Blogging A-to-Z Challenge. Stay tuned.

Is my party drifting into Corbynism?

Representative Ilhan Omar (D-MN) has made comments throughout her career that sound pretty clearly anti-Semitic. Three of my favorite columnists find this, and the party's response, alarming.

First, Bret Stephens, a Democrat:

Like many self-described progressives, Omar does not like Israel. That’s a shame, not least because Israel is the only country in its region that embraces the sorts of values the Democratic Party claims to champion. When was the last time there was a gay-pride parade in Ramallah, a women’s rights march in Gaza, or an opposition press in Tehran? In what Middle Eastern country other than Israel can an attorney general indict a popular and powerful prime minister on corruption charges?

For those who don’t get it, claims that Israel “hypnotizes” the world, or that it uses money to bend others to its will, or that its American supporters “push for allegiance to a foreign country,” repackage falsehoods commonly used against Jews for centuries. People can debate the case for Israel on the merits, but those who support the state should not have to face allegations that their sympathies have been purchased, or their brains hijacked, or their loyalties divided.

As the criticism of Omar mounts, it becomes that much easier for her to seem like the victim of a smear campaign, rather than the instigator of a smear. The secret of anti-Semitism has always rested, in part, on creating the perception that the anti-Semite is, in fact, the victim of the Jews and their allies. Just which powers-that-be are orchestrating thatcampaign? Why are they afraid of open debate? And what about all the bigotry on their side?

Second, Michele Goldberg, who is not a Democrat but is Jewish:

I think Omar deserves criticism. Criticism, however, is not the right word for what she’s faced. As one of the first two Muslim women in Congress — and the first to wear a hijab — Omar has been subject to a terrifying campaign of racist vilification, including a poster in the rotunda of the West Virginia Capitol linking her to 9/11. She is treated as a dangerous foreign interloper in American politics and the embodiment of anti-Semitism, even though her Republican colleagues routinely demonstrate far worse anti-Jewish bigotry.

House Democratic leaders have been widely panned for their handling of the Omar affair, but its contradictions put them in a near-impossible bind. To ignore her words would be to tolerate mild anti-Semitism, an unsavory proposition at any time, but especially now, when many Jews feel newly vulnerable in a country that’s long been a haven. To publicly rebuke her would mean joining in the over-the-top demonization of a black Muslim woman facing death threats. Ultimately, Democrats on Thursday settled on a resolution condemning anti-Semitism, anti-Muslim discrimination, and “bigotry against minorities,” a blandly inoffensive document that didn’t seem to satisfy anyone.

Every Democrat present backed the resolution, but 23 Republicans voted against it. It was a reminder that while Democrats sometimes fail to live up to the ideals of multiethnic democracy, Republicans don’t seem to recognize those ideas at all. Omar needs to do better, but right now there’s still only one political party in America that is a safe place for hate.

Finally, Andrew Sullivan, who is neither a Democrat nor Jewish:

It should be possible to criticize Washington’s relationship with Israel without deploying crude and freighted language like this. But it got me wondering: Is it possible to write honestly about the Israel lobby’s power in D.C. without using any anti-Semitic “tropes” at all?

The basic facts are not really in dispute. A very powerful lobby deploys the money and passions of its members to ensure that a foreign country gets very, very special treatment from the U.S. Many of its supporters are Evangelical Protestants who want to accelerate the Second Coming. Others spring from an older and very American form of Christian Zionism. Many others are also American Jews with a commitment to Israel that has its roots both in the Torah and in a vow never to allow a second Holocaust.

The first bill introduced into the Senate in this Congress was one that made it illegal for any American to boycott goods from the West Bank, without suffering real economic consequences from their own government. It’s a federal bill designed to buttress several state bans on Americans’ right to boycott Israeli goods. Now here’s a clear case of conflict between the free speech rights of Americans and Israel’s continuing occupation of the West Bank. And the Senate voted for Israel’s occupation over the rights of its own citizens by a margin of 77– 23. One recalls what a former AIPAC head, Steve Rosen, said to Jeffrey Goldberg over lunch in 2005: “‘You see this napkin? In 24 hours, we could have the signatures of 70 senators on this napkin.” He was too modest.

I think this grotesque distortion of U.S. foreign policy deserves a much wider debate, but is constrained by cheap accusations of anti-Semitism. To give an example, if a critic of Israel were to use the exact same words as Steve Rosen, and argue that AIPAC is so powerful it could snap its fingers and have 70 senators’ signatures on a bill within 24 hours, he’d likely be deemed a bigot. And that is part of the Israel lobby’s power: its capacity to punish anyone for opposing it. It seems to me that it is simply a fact that the Israel lobby uses money, passion, and persuasion to warp this country’s foreign policy in favor of another country — out of all proportion to what Israel can do for the U.S. That comes perilously close to anti-Semitic tropes, but it’s also the truth. AIPAC, like the NRA, is a uniquely American phenomenon, and again like the NRA, full of an intense fanaticism that sometimes beggars belief. In many ways, this passionate intensity is understandable. History matters. But it’s not a rational way for a great power to conduct foreign policy. The one-way street has also corrupted Israel, wrecked its moral standing, and enabled the country to keep ratcheting toward the far right in self-destructive ways.

We're still nowhere close to the rampant anti-Semitism in Jeremy Corbyn's Labour party, but Sullivan is right that we need to discuss this further. 

Gosh, who do you root for?

The Times is reporting that Michael Cohen has sued the Trump Organization for $1.9m in unpaid legal fees:

The lawsuit, filed in New York Supreme Court in Manhattan, said that the Trump Organization had agreed to pay Mr. Cohen attorney’s fees or related costs connected to his work with the Trump Organization but had failed to live up to that promise.

Mr. Cohen is also seeking reimbursment for an additional $1.9 million he was ordered to pay in fines, forfeitures and restitution after he pleaded guilty to breaking campaign finance laws, tax evasion and lying to Congress, the lawsuit said.

The complaint said that around July 2017, Mr. Cohen and the Trump Organization entered an agreement under which the company would pay for Mr. Cohen’s legal fees and costs connected to investigations being conducted by Congress and Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel who is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election.

This should be interesting. I wonder if Trump will plead that the contract was unlawful because it served a corrupt purpose?

Europe may end Daylight Saving Time...badly

The EU could vote this month to end Daylight Saving Time in 2021, but it turns out popular support for the measure may have been...überwiegend Deutsch:

Time is up for European Union-mandated daylight savings time. The European Commission and European Parliament have agreed on that. All the relevant committees in Parliament are for the change, according to Germany's conservative Christian Democrat (CDU) MEP Peter Liese, who has devoted a lot of time to the issue.

Now that the lead committee on transport and tourism has given its blessing, by a large majority, EU lawmakers could vote on the change by the end of March. After that, all 28 member states will need to rubberstamp the ruling.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker's brash statement back in September, asserting that the amendment would go ahead quickly, has proven to be premature. At the time, Juncker was referring to an overwhelming response to an EU online survey, where an unexpected 80 percent of respondents said the practice of changing the clock twice a year was outdated.

But the survey was not representative, with 3 million of the 4.6 million votes coming from Germany. This led to diplomats from smaller EU countries complaining behind closed doors that the European Commission wanted to impose German will on the other states through sheer populism.

That's great, but some member states want to keep daylight saving time. Won't that be fun.

Chicago's sinking, but don't worry

Wherever a landmass had several kilometers of ice on top, it deformed. Glaciers covered much of North America only 10,000 years ago. Since they retreated (incidentally forming the Great Lakes and creating just about all the topography in Northern Illinois), the Earth's crust has popped back like a waterbed.

Not quickly, however.

But in the last century, Chicago has dropped about 10 cm while areas of Canada have popped up about the same amount:

In the northern United States and Canada, areas that once were depressed under the tremendous weight of a massive ice sheet are springing back up while others are sinking. The Chicago area and parts of southern Lake Michigan, where glaciers disappeared 10,000 years ago, are sinking about 10 to 20 cm each century.

One or 2 millimeters a year might not seem like a lot, but “over a decade that’s a centimeter. Over 50 years, now, you’re talking several inches,” said Daniel Roman, chief geodesist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “It’s a slow process, but it’s a persistent one.”

While Chicago’s dipping is gradual, this dynamic could eventually redefine flood plains and work against household sewer pipes that slope downward to the sewer main.

The same phenomenon has affected the UK as well. Scotland is popping up and England is sinking, as are other pairs of regions similarly glaciated. (Sterling, however, has a long way to go...)

More winning by the administration! Well, the Putin administration, anyway

Paul Krugman points out how President Trump's alternating bluster and surrender over trade has left us "less trusted, less respected, and weaker than we were before:"

On U.S. unreliability, consider the way the current administration has treated Canada, probably the friendliest neighbor and firmest ally any nation has ever had. Despite generations of good relations and a free-trade agreement, Trump imposed large tariffs on Canadian aluminum and steel, invoking national security as a justification. This was obviously specious — in fact, Trump himself basically conceded this point, justifying the tariffs instead as retaliation for Canadian dairy policy (which was also specious).

The lesson for the world is that America can’t be trusted. Why bother making deals with a country that’s willing to slap sanctions on the best of allies, and clearly lie about the reasons, whenever it feels like it?

Meanwhile, the sudden retreat in the confrontation with China shows that we talk loud but carry a small stick. It would be one thing if the U.S. had changed course on the merits. But backing down so easily, after all the posturing, tells the world that the way to deal with America is not to bargain in good faith, but simply to threaten the president’s political base, and maybe offer some payoffs, political and otherwise. (I’m still wondering about those floors China’s largest bank rents at Trump Tower.)

Meanwhile, Michelle Goldberg looks forward to the multiple congressional inquiries launched this week as "Trump's TV Trial."

As America and the West get weaker, Russia gets stronger. So much winning. Just not ours.