The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

It was 20 years ago today

...that I finally passed my private pilot checkride and got my certificate.

I finished all the requirements for the checkride except for two cross-country flights for practice on 18 July 1999. Unfortunately, the weather in New Jersey sucked on almost every weekend for the next six months.

I finally took a day off from work in early December, took my checkride...and failed a landing. (I was too far off centerline to pass, but otherwise it was a perfectly safe landing.) It then took another six weeks to take that one part of my checkride over, on 15 January 2000.

Someday soon, I hope to get back in the air. Probably this spring. But as any private pilot can tell you, life sometimes interferes.

Spot the theme

A few articles to read at lunchtime today:

  • Will Peischel, writing for Mother Jones, warns that the wildfires in Australia aren't the new normal. They're something worse. (Hint: fires create their own weather, causing feedback loops no one predicted.)
  • A new analysis finds that ocean temperatures not only hit record highs in 2019, but also that the rate of increase is accelerating.
  • First Nations communities living on Manitoulin Island in Lake Huron—the largest freshwater island in the world—warn that human activity is disrupting millennia-old ecosystems in the Great Lakes.

Fortunately, those aren't the only depressing stories in the news today:

Now that I'm thoroughly depressed, I'll continue working on this API over here...

Get them while they're young, Evita, get them while they're young

The New York Times analyzed eight social-studies textbooks published in both California and Texas. Both states have state-wide standards for education, which textbook makers have to honor given the number of students in each state. You can guess some of the results:

The books have the same publisher. They credit the same authors. But they are customized for students in different states, and their contents sometimes diverge in ways that reflect the nation’s deepest partisan divides.

Hundreds of differences — some subtle, others extensive — emerged in a New York Times analysis of eight commonly used American history textbooks in California and Texas, two of the nation’s largest markets.

The differences between state editions can be traced back to several sources: state social studies standards; state laws; and feedback from panels of appointees that huddle, in Sacramento and Austin hotel conference rooms, to review drafts.

Requests from textbook review panels, submitted in painstaking detail to publishers, show the sometimes granular ways that ideology can influence the writing of history.

Context: I have a Bachelor's in history, and a law degree, which means I have read a lot of social studies texts (not just textbooks) in my life. I have Howard Zinn next to Paul Johnson in my bookshelf, for example. So I favor the California method of teaching kids about the warts. I also believe that knowing how we screwed up in the past helps us become a better nation.

I'm glad the Times did this analysis. It helps show one more way in which we live in two Americas, and how politicians try to keep it that way.

But I think George Washington's farewell address might guide us even today: "One of the expedients of party to acquire influence, within particular districts, is to misrepresent the opinions and aims of other districts. You cannot shield yourselves too much against the jealousies and heart-burnings, which spring from these misrepresentations; they tend to render alien to each other those, who ought to be bound together by fraternal affection."

(The title of this post refers to this bit from Evita.)

Two big 20th anniversaries today (and a centennial)

We typically think of January 1st as the day things happen. But December 31st is often the day things end.

On 31 December 1999, two things ended at nearly the same time: the presidency in Russia of Boris Yeltsin, and the American control of the Panama Canal Zone.

Also twenty years ago, my company gave me a $1,200 bonus ($1,893 in 2019 dollars) and a $600 suite for two nights in midtown Manhattan because I volunteered to spend four hours at our data center on Park Avenue, just so that Management could say someone was at the data center on Park Avenue continuously from 6am on New Year's Eve until 6pm on New Year's Day. Since all of the applications I wrote or had responsibility for were less than two years old, literally nothing happened. Does this count as an anniversary? I suppose not.

And one hundred years ago, 31 December 1919 was the last day anyone could legally buy alcohol in the United States for 13 years, as the Volstead Act took effect at midnight on 1 January 1920.

I'm DD tonight, but I will still raise a glass of Champagne to toast these three events.

Photo by Harris & Ewing - Library of Congress, Public Domain, Link

Four stories, more related than they seem

Article the first: Stocks have continued going up relentlessly even though producer prices are also up, exports are way down, and wages have stagnated. This means, essentially, our economy is rent-seeking and not producing.

Article the second: President Trump's tariffs have hurt agriculture and commodities, caused job losses, and hit the most vulnerable people in Trump Country. They haven't helped the economy at all. Question: bugs or features?

Article the third: Michiko Katutani draws direct parallels between the "end of normal" of the 2010s and Richard Hofstadter's "paranoid style."

Article the fourth: The 2010s also had good-looking celebrities pushing (almost literal) snake oil on us, and people bought it up wholesale. Actors and other Dunning-Krueger sufferers made billions on imaginary health and wellness products that helped neither health nor wellness.

So as we go into the bottom of the 10s, this is America today. Can't wait to see the '20s on Wednesday when it's all better.

End of the decade? Yes, dammit

Nineteen years ago, I banged the drum pretty hard that 2000 was not the first year of the 21st Century, because the Christian calendar has no year zero. But yesterday, I disagreed entirely with Sandi Duncan, managing editor of the Farmers' Almanac, during her interview on NPR:

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST: I mean, it feels like a big deal, 2019 to 2020. Why is there such a debate about whether or not this is the end of the decade?

SANDI DUNCAN: You know, it's really interesting. But I hate to tell you it's not.

MARTIN: It's not?

DUNCAN: Actually, no. We ran a story several years ago. In fact, you know, remember the big celebration in 1999. People thought that the new millennial was going to start the next year. But really, a decade begins actually with the year ending in the numeral one. There was never a year zero. So when we started counting time way back when, it goes one through 10. So a decade is 10 years. So in actuality, the next decade won't start until January 1, 2021.

That's such a narrow technical point—I should know, I made the same point in 1999—but it isn't what Martin asked.

Duncan concluded, "I mean, what do you call the decades of the '20s? I guess it's the '20s, but is that the 1920s or the 2020s? So it's one of those fun things that you can argue about until next - the new decade, which starts on January 1, 2021."

We'll call it "the '20s" because, you know, the numbers all have 20 in them.

So, let's clarify. 2000 was the first year of the 2000s but the last year of the 20th century. The 21st century began on 1 January 2001. So 2020 will be the first year of the '20s (duh!) but technically, just technically, it will be the last year of the 202nd decade of the Common Era.

Got that?

Johnson, Clinton, Trump

Yesterday, the House of Representatives impeached the president for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress:

After 11 hours of fierce argument on the House floor between Democrats and Republicans over Trump’s conduct with Ukraine, lawmakers voted almost entirely along party lines to impeach him. Trump becomes the third president in U.S. history to face trial in the Senate — a proceeding that will determine whether he is removed from office less than one year before he stands for reelection.

The Democratic-controlled House passed two articles of impeachment against Trump — abuse of power and obstruction of Congress — related to the president’s attempts to withhold military aid to Ukraine and pressure its government to investigate former vice president Joe Biden, a potential 2020 Democratic opponent.

The House voted 230 to 197 to approve the article charging abuse of power, with the gavel falling about 8:30 p.m. On the obstruction of Congress vote, which followed soon after, the tally was 229 to 198.

All Republicans voted against both articles. Among Democrats, two voted no on the first article and three on the second, with one — Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) — voting “present” both times.

George Conway says the president's malignant narcissism made impeachment inevitable:

It was inevitable because of Trump himself, his very character, whose essential nature many who now support him have long understood.

In essence, Trump thinks everything should be about him, for him, for his benefit and glorification—and he can’t comprehend, and doesn’t care about, anything that isn’t. The American diplomat David Holmes testified that Ambassador Gordon Sondland explained to him that “the president only cares about ‘big stuff’”—clarifying, according to Holmes, that this meant “big stuff that benefits the president.”

And that’s why Trump can’t comply with his duties to the nation, and why he now stands as the third president ever to have been impeached. His own stated view of his constitutional authority can only be described as narcissistic: “I have an Article II, where I have to the right to do whatever I want as president.” But as the House Judiciary Committee’s impeachment report rightly explains, “Impeachment is aimed at Presidents who believe they are above the law, and who believe their own interests transcend those of the country and Constitution.” Or, as then-Representative Mike Pence put it in 2008: “This business of high crimes and misdemeanors goes to the question of whether the person serving as President of the United States put their own interests, their personal interests, ahead of public service.” It was inevitable that, given his boundlessly self-centered bent, this president would do precisely that.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has put the Articles of Impeachment in a drawer, ostensibly to get cooperation from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) on trial procedures, but also, as Josh Marshall points out, to keep the initiative and keep the focus on Republican intransigence.

And so, as we go into the last two weeks of the decade, things keep getting more interesting. To that end, I'll have a bit about this morning's Queen's Speech once I've read it.

Watchmen in real life

On Sunday HBO broadcast the season (and possibly series) finale of Watchmen, which I thought one of the best things I've ever seen on TV. New York Times media critic James Poniewozik agrees:

It’s hard to overstate how risky, how primed for disaster, was the challenge that the creator, Damon Lindelof, signed up for. First, to adapt a notoriously hard-to-adapt subversive superhero comic. Then to lovingly, impishly subvert that subversion, extending the story backward and forwards in time. To do all that while reframing the story as an antiracist pulp thriller, weighty without being pompous or exploitative. Oh — and could it also be electrifying and playful and fun?

Amazingly it could, culminating in “See How They Fly,” a mind-bending, gravity-defying finale that successfully landed this improbable airship.

Like a fine watch or a chicken’s egg, the symbols the finale returned to, this season was a marvel of self-contained engineering. It succeeded, first, in craft and performance, with visual invention and memorable work from [Hong] Chau, Regina King, Jean Smart, Jeremy Irons, Louis Gossett Jr. and many others. It set up a domino chain of mysteries that the finale satisfyingly paid off.

But it also created something more: an urgent entertainment that was as unignorable as the pealing of an alarm bell.

And by coincidence, researchers at the University of Oklahoma say they have found evidence of a mass grave containing the remains of victims of the 1921 white terrorism attack that wiped out the African-American section of Tulsa--a major plot-point of Watchmen:

Geophysical scanning identified two spots at the Oaklawn Cemetery that might bear bodies of those killed in the city's race riots almost 100 years ago, Scott Hammerstedt, a senior researcher for the Oklahoma Archeological Survey, said Monday at a public hearing in Tulsa.

Surveys confirmed suspicions that one area might be a grave, in addition to a newly discovered trench under the soil of about 30 by 25 feet.

Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum initiated an investigation into rumored mass graves of the Tulsa Race Massacre in October 2018, calling the riots a "point of shame for our community," NBC affiliate KJRH reported at the time.

You don't think of Oklahoma as a particularly nasty place to be a person of color. But it always has been. Just ask Pore Jud.

Who has won the most votes?

At the moment, Elizabeth Warren has won more votes on her own in an election than anyone else running for the Democratic Party nomination. Here are some of the numbers:

Warren, US Senate, 2012: 1,696,346
Booker, US Senate, 2014: 1,043,866
Bloomberg, New York Mayor, 2005: 753,090
Biden, US Senate, 2008: 257,539
Sanders, US Senate, 2012: 207,848
Buttigieg, South Bend, Ind., Mayor, 2015: 8,515

Until she dropped out, Kamala Harris had won more votes than anyone else, with 7,542,753 voting for her in 2016 for US Senate.

And one shouldn't forget that Joe Biden won national election as Vice President with 69,498,516 votes in 2008—but he didn't do it on his own.

None of this means much, of course. It's interesting, though, who actually has experience winning millions of votes and who doesn't.

In the news today

As the House Judiciary Committee goes through the unfortunately necessary step of having expert witnesses state the obvious, other things caught my attention over the course of the morning:

Finally, two CTA employees were fired after one of them discovered an exploitable security hole in bus-tracking software, and the other tested it. The one who discovered it has sued under a Federal whistle-blower statute. Firing someone for discovering a potentially-catastrophic software design error is really dumb, people.