The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Sick on flying?

The Economist's Gulliver blog this morning asked exactly the same question I did when I woke up: how likely is it to get ill from flying on an airplane? Not very:

Planes are widely regarded as flying disease-incubators. If one passenger is sick with a contagious disease and coughing those germs into the air, it makes sense for fellow-flyers to feel that the germs will simply be inhaled by everyone else on the flight, since there is nowhere else for the things to go.

In reality, though, the situation is not that bad. Allen Parmet, a former US Air Force flight surgeon who serves as an aerospace medicine consultant, explained recently to The Verge, a technology and science news site, that infections actually don’t spread well on planes. The reason is the very dry air in the cabin. Many bacteria die in the low humidity. As for viruses, they travel on water droplets when a person coughs or sneezes. But these water droplets also evaporate in the low humidity, and the plane’s fast airflow from ceiling to floor prevents them from travelling far.

[M]ost viruses take days to show symptoms, and there were indications that the illness was contracted by people before they boarded the plane. This tale will probably end the usual way. A few passengers, by the laws of probability, will get sick in the coming week, and they will assume it had something to do with all the germs floating around the plane. It may not be true, but it is for them a satisfying enough explanation.

Well, sure, but I swear the dozen or so babies and toddlers running around (literally) my cabin earlier this week may have contributed to how I felt today.

The snakes are biting each other now

Yesterday, the New York Times ran an anonymous op-ed from a "senior White House official" that described a "resistance" inside the White House against President Trump's insanity. Greg Sargent calls bullshit:

If anything, the sum total of the revelations offered, while valuable in some respects, reveals the sharp limits on which Trumpian impulses these greatly alarmed patriots discern to be seriously damaging to the country. In so doing, it actually reveals just how deeply insufficient these constraining efforts really are. If the people around Trump think this sort of display will insulate them from any post-Trump reckoning, we’d better make sure it fails ignominiously.

Perhaps the most pointed charge is directed at Trump’s “amorality.” As the piece says: “Anyone who works with him knows he is not moored to any discernible first principles that guide his decision making.”

Except in a sense, Trump absolutely does have “first principles,” and these are precisely the problem. Among them are racism and white nationalism; the prioritization of self-enrichment over all else, even extending to a total lack of concern about foreign sabotage of our democracy, simply because he was its beneficiary; and the corrupt, intertwined convictions that law enforcement is merely an instrument of his political will and that he and his cronies should be protected from institutional accountability at all costs, no matter what damage is done along the way.

These do not come in for condemnation. Nor do the policies and actions they have given rise to — policies and actions that are inflicting an untold human toll and great damage on the country. In this sense, the claim that Trump is “amoral” lacks meaningful moral content, and the assertion that Trump is “anti-democratic” lacks meaningful pro-democratic content.

Josh Marshall agrees:

I say ‘faux-resistance leader’ because I see this exercise primarily as one of anticipatory self-exculpation. As things look darker and darker for the President we are beginning to see the first glimmers of the argument that those who should be tainted forever by their association with President Trump may actually be “unsung heroes” who were resisting from within.

This argument has no merit. Not only does this amount to late in the game special-pleading, on the merits what is described here is not good. Presidents are elected by the people. They run the executive branch. If a President is unfit, committing criminal acts or guilty of misrule, our system has open and lawful paths to rectify the situation. There is the 25th Amendment. There is impeachment. There is the simpler course of disclosure: speaking out publicly, revealing the truth to the people in your own name and being fired. The “two-track presidency” which the author describes, with top advisers using subterfuge and stealth insubordination to frustrate the President’s constitutional rule is, at least in concept, clearly unconstitutional. A more hard-boiled version of what the author describes is this: We are fully cognizant of the the danger the President poses to the country and the fact that he is manifestly unfit for the job. But we are going along with the charade as long as it lasts to pocket deregulation and tax cuts.

The upshot is that the administration is coming apart, which is as unsurprising as it is horrifying.

As Tom Lehrer once said, I'm feeling like a Christian Scientist with appendicitis.

STBX Mayor Emanuel

Getting off the airplane yesterday, I discovered that Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is hanging them up:

After nearly three decades of intense public life, from Chicago to the White House to Congress and back again, it was time for this “empty nester”—the term Emanuel kept dropping, to move on. Likely with a huge push from his wife. The prospect of the upcoming election, which Emanuel insisted he “without a doubt” would have won, wasn't the deciding factor.

In the interview, Emanuel also said he’s “probably not” going to get involved in the race to succeed him. He added that he intends to pursue projects such as Elon Musk’s proposed underground express train to O’Hare International Airport and admitted that his departure could hurt the city’s bid to lure Amazon’s HQ2 and a promised 50,000 well-paying jobs.

“I love this job,” he told me. But “you haven’t sat in the cockpit. I know what this job demands. I have to be honest with the public as to whether I have everything this job takes.”

One thing that took a toll was the city’s incessant and horrid gang violence. “That wears on your soul,” he said. Though the city under his leadership has improved Chicago Public Schools, remade much of its economy and stabilized its finances, his big regret is that public safety does not exist “in all parts our city. . . .That tears at me.”

Another thing clearly was personal, though.

Emanuel spoke about how he yanked his family to Washington only to move them back here after he won the mayor’s job. That forced some difficult choices, he said, like the time “I had to leave my son’s bar mitzvah early to go to the White House to count votes” on the bill to enact Obamacare.

Now that the kids are gone, “We’re empty nesters. We’re still young enough to write another chapter.”

In today's issue of Crains, along with the Emanuel interview is a similar statement from a local former CEO. Pete Kadens, who led Green Thumb Industries, a Chicago-based (technically Canadian) company that grows medical marijuana, insists he really did want to spend more time with his family.

Heading home

I'm sitting in Heathrow Terminal 5 watching planes take off and hoping space opens up in the pay-as-you-go lounge. Wow, do I miss having airline status.

Obviously posting will be light today. Tomorrow I hope to get my annual Parker Day photo, just a few days late.

This should not be a difficult position to take

Apparently Josef Ratzinger, who resigned from being Pope, seems not to understand how resignations actually work:

Ever since Pope Benedict XVI became the first pontiff in six centuries to abdicate the papacy, transitioning to a life of near seclusion in a Vatican City monastery, there have been questions about how the notion of two living popes would impact the Roman Catholic Church.

The events of last week offer something of an answer.

Although many people hoped to hear from Benedict amid new allegations that a cover-up of sexual misconduct reached the highest levels of the church, he has established that an ex-pope should maintain a vow of silence about church matters — even during crises and even though he is particularly well positioned to affirm or knock down the accusations.

Some historians say that, for all of Benedict’s theological work, it is his resignation that will most come to define his legacy. Before his abdication, no pope since Gregory XII in 1415 had been willing to step down. Pope Paul VI had at least considered it, according to a book collecting his letters and documents. But Paul VI, who died in 1978, feared that doing so could open future popes to factional fighting, according to an essay by Thomas Reese, a Jesuit priest. Pope John Paul II reportedly prepared a letter of resignation to submit in the event of a debilitating condition; he never used it. Instead, his physical faculties declined painfully and publicly as he dealt with Parkinson’s disease.

Yes, because it's hard to answer a simple question about whether raping children is acceptable to the organization you used to head. I can totally understand, from a PR perspective, why the organization wouldn't want its previous leader to stand on the balcony of St Peters Square and shout at the top of his lungs, "Thou shalt not rape children!"

Look, my only interest in Catholic Church politics is as far as they don't affect United States politics. Unfortunately that ship sailed when it came out that this particular religious institution, with tens of millions of American followers, was trying to avoid secular laws abut raping children to such an extent that the secular authorities (in the U.S. and Ireland at least) brought the hammer down so hard the organization is about to avail itself of secular bankruptcy laws.

And writing from some basic ignorance of Catholicism, it just seems stupid to me that there is a living ex-Pope who anyone listens to. I'm not even getting into the specifics of that guy. It just seems clear from the theology that the Catholic Church has promulgated in my lifetime that God appoints the Pope, and God calls the Pope home when God has moved on from that relationship.

I mean, if you get into it literally, God should be the ultimate polyamorist, since He literally loves everyone; but still, how do you get to papal infallibility with a papal resignation? It's almost as if the office of Pope were political and not ordained by a supernatural entity. Dear me, doesn't that call into question the entire basis of the Catholic Church's authority?

But again, I'm just an outsider trying to make sense of a news story that only makes sense if you believe that any secular government on earth should care one whit what an obsolete, morally corrupt, and entirely political organization believes. As soon as American Catholics get any distance from believing that the Catholic Church has any influence over their relationships with the Christian God or Jesus, then I think we can start addressing the horrors that the institution has afflicted on Americans for the last century. Just look at Ireland: it is possible.

One more thing. This has nothing to do with people who believe in Jesus or the Christian God. This is entirely about men taking advantage of that belief and using it to cover up gruesome crimes. I don't personally care whether someone believes in God or Jesus; but when they say that the men who wear the big hats can't be brought to justice because they are men of God, I say, render unto Caesar. We have laws in the U.S. (and just about everywhere else) against covering up crimes, which is just the legalistic entree into the basic fact that using a power relationship to take advantage of someone sexually is a crime everywhere in the Christian world.

If ex-Pope Ratzinger has any difficulty understanding that raping children is wrong, or if current Pope Bergoglio doesn't believe that purging the organization he heads of people who rape children is perhaps a win for everyone, then the Catholic Church has no moral authority whatsoever, and should be treated so.

No human being can speak for God; this seems axiom, regardless of your religion. But certainly, no one can claim that God approves of raping children or burying the babies of unwed girls in a field while they're still alive with a straight face that all of us wouldn't line up to punch.

As an outsider, with some respect for the political power of the Catholic Church, and the willingness of that organization to quit themselves of someone like Ratzinger, I had hope for this Pope. But they just can't do it, even with overwhelming evidence that so many of their people are committing crimes against children. Unfortunately for Pope Francis, this is his responsibility. Either God commanded it or he signed up for it; that's a distinction without difference in this case.

Pope Francis has an opportunity for perhaps another few days to make this right, and take an unequivocal position against raping children. If he doesn't, the world will have all the evidence it needs to evaluate the Catholic Church as an institution. That is, to the extent that it doesn't already. But as an outsider, looking at this organization that claims to speak for the creator of the universe, I just. Can't. Even. And neither can my Catholic friends.

This might be what someone used to attack us in Cuba

In late 2016, someone apparently attacked American diplomats in Cuba and China with a device that caused people to hear loud sounds and experience concussion-like brain damage. Now, doctors working with the attack victims may have figured out what it was:

The medical team that examined 21 affected diplomats from Cuba made no mention of microwaves in its detailed report published in JAMA in March. But Douglas H. Smith, the study’s lead author and director of the Center for Brain Injury and Repair at the University of Pennsylvania, said in a recent interview that microwaves were now considered a main suspect and that the team was increasingly sure the diplomats had suffered brain injury.

“Everybody was relatively skeptical at first,” he said, “and everyone now agrees there’s something there.” Dr. Smith remarked that the diplomats and doctors jokingly refer to the trauma as the immaculate concussion.

Strikes with microwaves, some experts now argue, more plausibly explain reports of painful sounds, ills and traumas than do other possible culprits — sonic attacks, viral infections and contagious anxiety.

In particular, a growing number of analysts cite an eerie phenomenon known as the Frey effect, named after Allan H. Frey, an American scientist. Long ago, he found that microwaves can trick the brain into perceiving what seem to be ordinary sounds.

Military strategists have talked about various nonlethal weapons for a long time. I don't remember reading about microwave weapons until now, since sound on its own seemed to be a pretty good way of disabling troops. But this is interesting, and disturbing.

I feel the Source!

I mentioned earlier today (yesterday BST) that I sought the Source. Here it is:

That monument marks the official head of the River Thames, though in September after a long, dry summer, there isn't a lot else that would convince you. Still, boundaries and origins have always fascinated me, so I just had to see it.

Naturally, the closest pub to the monument capitalizes on its notoriety:

Also just as naturally, my trip to Kemble required a totally unanticipated hour and 20 minutes in Swindon, which...well, let me save a thousand words:

Yeah...I don't even know the American analogy to it, but my money's on Elgin: the train doesn't stop in the best spot, but otherwise it's a decent exurb with a history.

Tomorrow I'm staying entirely in London, and planning on going to pub quiz at my second-favorite pub in the world, now that I know they have pub quiz Monday nights. Right now, I aim to finish Redshirts, which I started in Kemble. And then go to sleep. Because my stay-on-Chicago-time strategy has not worked entirely according to plan.

Finding the source

Today's plan is to hop a train for about an hour and 20 minutes and look for a specific monument in a field. One hopes that today I'll remember to put sunscreen on my face. It is, in fact, possible to get a sunburn in the UK in September.

Details and photos tonight.