The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Personal travel "should die:" New Republic

Chuck Thompson understands why we travel, but still thinks we shouldn't:

As evidence piles up about the deleterious impact of global tourism, the travel media charade is starting to feel like the almost comical hypocrisy of Trump surrogates ginning up increasingly contorted justifications on cable news for a worldview that’s becoming more detached from reality by the day.

All motorized transport is a problem—cruise ships generate 21,000 gallons of sewage per day, much of it flushed into the ocean—but the primary offenders are airplanes. According to U.K.-based Earth Changers, another outfit dedicated to “sustainable tourism,” aviation emissions account for 3.2 percent of total global carbon emissions. That figure could rise to 12 percent by 2050.

Short of regulations and fuel taxes on a scale that would restructure the entire global market, people probably aren’t going to stop traveling. More likely, as the world becomes ever more distressed by over-tourism—the 145 million annual overseas trips currently taken by Chinese tourists alone is expected to surpass 400 million by 2030—the travel journalists we rely on for hot tips and insider advice will simply conjure new ways of assuaging our guilt. That may serve the interests of their airline underwriters, but it won’t be doing the planet any favors.

I take no joy in saying so. I like travel as much as you do, and I’m not stopping either. Where’s the line between hypocrite and addict? I suspect we’re all going to find out sooner than we’d like.

And to think, I just got a brand-new passport...

Hottest decade in history

Data released today by NOAA and NASA confirm a frightening fact scientists had already guessed:

The past decade was the hottest ever recorded on the planet, driven by an acceleration of temperature increases in the past five years....

According to NOAA, the globe is warming at a faster rate than it had been just a few decades ago. The annual global average surface temperature has increased at an average rate of 0.07 degrees Celsius (0.13 Fahrenheit) per decade since 1880, NOAA found. However, since 1981, that rate has more than doubled since.

Alaska also had its hottest year on record in 2019. It included an alarming lack of ice cover during the winter in the Bering and Chukchi Seas, and in the summer the temperature at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport hit 32°C for the first time.

Still, even as millions of protesters have taken to the streets to demand action, world leaders have so far shown little ability to move as fast as scientists say is necessary to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

In a bleak report last fall, the United Nations warned that the world had squandered so much time mustering the willpower to combat climate change that drastic, unprecedented cuts in emissions are now the only way to avoid an ever-intensifying cascade of consequences. The U.N. report said global temperatures are on pace to rise as much as 3.2°C by the end of the century, and that emissions must begin falling by 7.6 percent each year beginning 2020 to meet the most ambitious goals of the Paris climate accord.

But hey, the President wants to make sure your shower and dishwasher waste more water, so that'll help.

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...

Lunchtime reading

Not that anything has happened lately...

Finally, the New York Times had a feature yesterday on new architecture for Antarctic research stations. Cool stuff (ah ha ha).

Who could have guessed this would be a problem?

Peter Nichols, writing in The Atlantic, points out the problem with President Trump's credibility gap:

Trump faces the gravest foreign-policy crisis of his tenure at a time when his credibility has been shredded. It’s not yet known how Iran will respond to the killing yesterday of its military leader Qassem Soleimani, but the country is already vowing “harsh” revenge. A conflict that has been escalating steadily on Trump’s watch is at risk of erupting into an armed confrontation. In times of war, commanders in chief need people’s trust, but for large swaths of the population, Trump hasn’t earned it. As Samantha Power, who was the ambassador to the United Nations under former President Barack Obama, tweeted this morning: “This is where having credibility—and having a president who didn’t lie about everything—would be really, really helpful.”

Compounding his credibility problem is a desiccated national-security team. Trump’s secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, might be leaving soon to campaign for a Senate seat in Kansas. His longtime defense secretary, James Mattis, resigned last year and was replaced only this summer. His national security adviser, Robert O’Brien, has been in place just a few months—the fourth person to hold the title in three years.

Among his tweets recounting the praise he’s gotten for killing Soleimani, Trump revealed he’s still stuck on impeachment and his own political survival. He posted a video of Representative Russ Fulcher, a Republican from Idaho, delivering a speech on the House floor in his defense, in which the congressman said he would tick off Trump’s crimes and misdemeanors. Then Fulcher stayed silent.

That sight gag, in between messages of support for the killing, is what the 45th president wanted his countrymen to see as they anxiously watched the news and wondered whether war was looming.

Meanwhile, it turns out the president blabbed to anyone who would listen at Mar-a-Lago about his plans to attack Soleimani before it happened.

Does this make any sense at all?

Yesterday, the United States assassinated Iranian Major General Qasem Soleimani, head of the Iranian Republican Guard Corps and its elite Quds Force.

While this may feel tactically advantageous, it makes no sense strategically. Even as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters today that the assassination made the world a safer place for Americans, his own department ordered Americans to leave Iraq immediately, and our forces overseas went on high alert.

President Trump appears to have taken this action on his own, without consulting the Gang of Eight as required by law. Or, apparently, without consulting anyone knowledgeable about Middle East policy. Jennifer Rubin:

if there is an overall strategy here, it is hidden under a pile of contradictory impulses. Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper claimed that we acted to deter further attacks on Americans. Nevertheless, it is widely anticipated that Iran will make good on its threat to avenge Soleimani’s death. One immediate consequence: Instead of mass protests against the regime, thousands of Iranians took to the streets to denounce the United States.

In other words, Trump has raised strategic incoherence to new levels. Acting without so much as briefing Congress and despite his own party’s qualms about a new war in the Middle East, Trump risks not only war but also political blowback should Iran retaliate. Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) tweeted the question on most lawmakers’ minds: “Soleimani was an enemy of the United States. That’s not a question. The question is this — as reports suggest, did America just assassinate, without any congressional authorization, the second most powerful person in Iran, knowingly setting off a potential massive regional war?”

There is plenty of reason for anxiety. We stand on the precipice of an international conflagration, with a president whose word cannot be trusted and whose impulsivity and ignorance are unmatched by any modern U.S. president. He is surrounded by yes men who command little if any respect outside the Trump cult.

Colin Powell famously said you need to answer eight questions before going to war: is a vital national security interest threatened? Do we have a clear, obtainable objective? Do we have genuine, broad, international support?

I don't have any idea how we can answer "yes" to any of these questions right now. But I do know that we have lots of strategic interests in the Middle East that Iran threatens. So why kick the hornets' nest like this? Is it, as Donald Trump once said of President Obama, to win an election?

I have a very bad feeling about this.

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.

War criminal

New information has come out that retired Chief Petty Officer Edward Gallagher, the convicted (and pardoned) war criminal, did some truly abhorrent shit while fighting in Iraq:

The trove of materials also includes thousands of text messages the SEALs sent one another about the events and the prosecution of Chief Gallagher. Together with the dozens of hours of recorded interviews, they provide revealing insights into the men of the platoon, who have never spoken publicly about the case, and the leader they turned in.

Platoon members said they saw Chief Gallagher shoot civilians and fatally stab a wounded captive with a hunting knife. Chief Gallagher was acquitted by a military jury in July of all but a single relatively minor charge, and was cleared of all punishment in November by Mr. Trump.

In the video interviews with investigators, three SEALs said they saw Chief Gallagher go on to stab the sedated captive for no reason, and then hold an impromptu re-enlistment ceremony over the body, as if it were a trophy.

“I was listening to it, and I was just thinking, like, this is the most disgraceful thing I’ve ever seen in my life,” Special Operator Miller, who has since been promoted to chief, told investigators.

Special Operator Miller said that when the platoon commander, Lt. Jacob Portier, told the SEALs to gather over the corpse for photos, he did not feel he could refuse. The photos, included in the evidence obtained by The Times, show Chief Gallagher, surrounded by other SEALs, clutching the dead captive’s hair; in one photo, he holds a custom-made hunting knife.

From the outside looking in, the culture in the Navy SEALS seems particularly toxic. People like Portier and Gallagher, far from making Americans safer, put other units in danger through their actions. These are the kinds of people President Trump wants to reward, further threatening our troops overseas.