The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

How to get rid of religious nutters

Short answer: use their medieval beliefs against them:

Ultra-orthodox Jews in Israel have held protests against the scheduling of the Eurovision Song Contest on the Jewish Sabbath.

At one point, a small number of women held a counter protest, showing their bras.

You see, Jewish crazies believe in modesty to the point where women can't even show their real hair in public (they wear wigs). Their rules also prohibit them from touching members of the opposite sex not related to them, leaving open the option of a small group of women approaching them Romero-style with their arms out threatening to touch the zealots. I expect that's the next counter-protest.

Closer to home, production companies have started to flee the previously-burgeoning film industry in Georgia after the state passed a 19th-century anti-abortion law, and Missouri's new law has forced me to reconsider my planned trip to Busch Stadium in September.

A warm, cozy feeling at Mauna Loa

The Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii reported that atmospheric carbon dioxide had reached 415 ppm on Friday:

In poetic punctuation to that point, Arkhangelsk, Russia, near the Arctic Ocean, recorded a temperature of 29°C Saturday:

In Koynas, a rural area to the east of Arkhangelsk, it was even hotter on Sunday, soaring to 87 degrees (31 Celsius). Many locations in Russia, from the Kazakhstan border to the White Sea, set record-high temperatures over the weekend, some 30 to 40 degrees (around 20 Celsius) above average. The warmth also bled west into Finland, which hit 77 degrees (25 Celsius) Saturday, the country’s warmest temperature of the season so far.

Across the Arctic overall, the extent of sea ice has hovered near a record low for weeks.

Data from the Japan Meteorological Agency show April was the second warmest on record for the entire planet.

These changes all have occurred against the backdrop of unremitting increases in carbon dioxide, which has now crossed another symbolic threshold.

Why is 415 ppm a "symbolic threshold?" Because for years, climate scientists have believed that at 415 ppm, we can't undo the damage; we can only slow it down a little. Even if we return to pre-industrial levels (280 ppm), we now have too much carbon in the atmosphere to stop radical climate change:

For the planet itself, 415 ppm is no BFD. Over the past 4 billion years or so, it’s been much, much higher. But for us humans, 415 is a very dangerous number. The last time CO2 levels were at 415 ppm, during the Pliocene period about 3 million years ago, there was plenty of life on Earth, but the Earth itself was a radically different place. Beech trees grew near the South Pole. There was no Greenland ice sheet, and probably not a West Antarctic ice sheet, either. Sea levels were 50 or 60 feet (or more) higher.

That’s the world we’re creating for ourselves by pushing carbon dioxide levels to 415 ppm. Right now, a lot of atmospheric warming is being absorbed in the oceans. But those oceans are like a big flywheel, and the heat will be radiated out. That means, among other things, goodbye ice sheets, hello condo diving in Miami.

One way to think about carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere is as a thermostat for the planet. As you’ll remember from third-grade science class, carbon dioxide is exhaled by animals, including humans, and inhaled by plants. It is also released when plants and animals decay, volcanoes erupt, and, most importantly, when we burn fossil fuels. Last year, we dumped about 37 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels. The more coal, oil and gas we burn, the faster that number rises. Before the Industrial Revolution, the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was 280 ppm. Sixty years ago, it was 315 ppm. For the past few years, it has been rising by about 2 or 3 ppm a year.

That might not sound like much. However, carbon dioxide molecules happen to be very good at trapping heat in the atmosphere. Scientists have understood this very well since the 19th century. Carbon dioxide molecules are like the prison guards of the Earth’s atmosphere — they let sunlight in, but they don’t let heat out. Scientists argue about exactly how efficient carbon dioxide is at warming the Earth, but there is basic agreement that a doubling of carbon dioxide levels from 280 ppm will warm the Earth’s atmosphere by 2 to 3 degrees Celsius.

We predicted this in time to slow it down or even stop it. Nice work, team.

Jallianwalh Bagh, 100 years later

One hundred years ago this hour (Sunday 13 April 1919, 17:37 HMT), Brig. General Reginald Dyer order his men to fire on 10,000 unarmed Indian civilians within an enclosed space from which they had no escape:

On the afternoon of April 13, a crowd of at least 10,000 men, women, and children gathered in an open space known as the Jallianwalla Bagh, which was nearly completely enclosed by walls and had only one exit. It is not clear how many people there were protesters who were defying the ban on public meetings and how many had come to the city from the surrounding region to celebrate Baisakhi, a spring festival. Dyer and his soldiers arrived and sealed off the exit. Without warning, the troops opened fire on the crowd, reportedly shooting hundreds of rounds until they ran out of ammunition. It is not certain how many died in the bloodbath, but, according to one official report, an estimated 379 people were killed, and about 1,200 more were wounded. After they ceased firing, the troops immediately withdrew from the place, leaving behind the dead and wounded.

The shooting was followed by the proclamation of martial law in the Punjab that included public floggings and other humiliations. Indian outrage grew as news of the shooting and subsequent British actions spread throughout the subcontinent. The Bengali poet and Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore renounced the knighthood that he had received in 1915. Gandhi was initially hesitant to act, but he soon began organizing his first large-scale and sustained nonviolent protest (satyagraha) campaign, the noncooperation movement (1920–22), which thrust him to prominence in the Indian nationalist struggle.

The government of India ordered an investigation of the incident (the Hunter Commission), which in 1920 censured Dyer for his actions and ordered him to resign from the military. Reaction in Britain to the massacre was mixed, however. Many condemned Dyer’s actions—including Sir Winston Churchill, then secretary of war, in a speech to the House of Commons in 1920—but the House of Lords praised Dyer and gave him a sword inscribed with the motto “Saviour of the Punjab.” In addition, a large fund was raised by Dyer’s sympathizers and presented to him. The Jallianwalla Bagh site in Amritsar is now a national monument.

At an inquest after the event, Dyer had no remorse for his actions, and volunteered that had he managed to get the tank he had with him into the square, he would have used its cannon to further attack the civilians.

Both the massacre and the inquest were dramatized in the 1982 film Gandhi, which won Best Picture that year.

The Commons debate about the incident that took place on 8 July 1920 offers some context for the current Commons debate about Brexit. Indeed, the massacre and its aftermath should put paid any notions that the United Kingdom has always stood up for human rights, even in the last century, or has a particular sensitivity to its own citizens who come from outside the British Isles.

In the debate, the Secretary of State for War, a Mr. Churchill of some repute, gave the view I should hope all Britons would have had:

If the road had not been so narrow, the machine guns and the armoured cars would have joined in. Finally, when the ammunition had reached the point that only enough remained to allow for the safe return of the troops, and after 379 persons, which is about the number gathered together in this Chamber to-day, had been killed, and when most certainly 1,200 or more had been wounded, the troops, at whom not even a stone had been thrown, swung round and marched away. I deeply regret to find myself in a difference of opinion from many of those with whom, on the general drift of the world's affairs at the present time, I feel myself in the strongest sympathy; but I do not think it is in the interests of the British Empire or of the British Army, for us to take a load of that sort for all time upon our backs. We have to make it absolutely clear, some way or other, that this is not the British way of doing business.

Reading through the debate, however, it almost seems as if Churchill were in the minority. He wasn't, but only because the less-racist MPs in the House at that moment largely kept quiet.

The thinking behind Dyer's mass murder led directly to the thinking behind Lord Louis Mountbatten's precipitous and disastrous withdrawal from India in 1947, whose principal consequence has been 72 years of nonstop hostilities between India and Pakistan. And it leads directly to Brexit.

Readings between meetings

On my list today:

Back to meetings...

EU votes on Daylight Saving Time

The European Union Parliament today voted 410-192 to allow member states to end Daylight Saving Time in 2021:

The vote is not the last word on the issue but will form the basis of discussions with EU countries to produce a final law.

The countries have yet to take a stance.

A parliament report in favour of operating on a single time throughout the year said scientific studies link time changes to diseases of the cardiovascular or immune systems because they interrupt biological cycles, and that there were no longer any energy savings.

What this actually means requires one more EU-wide step:

All 28 member states would need to inform the European Commission of their choice ahead of the proposed switch, by April 2020. They would then coordinate with the bloc's executive so that their decisions do not disrupt the functioning of the single market.

Last year, the European Commission proposed abolishing the seasonal clock change after an EU-wide online poll showed overwhelming support. It has been accused, however, of rushing through the vote ahead of European Parliament elections in May. 

More:

Countries that wanted to be permanently on summertime would adjust their clocks for the final time on the last Sunday in March 2021. Those that opt for permanent wintertime would change their clocks for the final time on the last Sunday of October 2021.

The British government has yet to offer any formal opinion on the proposal, which risks creating fresh problems over the status of Northern Ireland after Brexit.

I think we can predict, just by looking at longitude, which countries will go which direction. The UK has made noises that it will keep the twice-yearly time changes, thank you very much. My guess is that Portugal, Spain, the Baltics, and other countries at the western ends of their time zones will opt for standard time, while other countries will go to summer time. That would prevent the problems I outlined when this measure first came into the news a few weeks ago.

Not out of the woods yet, Britain

Even though the EU has agreed to extend the UK's Article 50 exit date to mid-May, Parliament still has to pass the enabling legislation to accept the deal. After that, Brexit Minister and England's Most Unhappy Frontbencher Kwasi Kwarteng spent half an hour yesterday getting to the phrase "next week," partly because the Government still haven't fully sorted what they will present to Commons then:

Almost half an hour into Kwarteng’s response to an urgent question following the EU’s imposition of an extended Brexit timetable at a summit in Brussels, the Labour MP David Hanson told the minister there was “a world outside this chamber who would like to know what day we are voting on any meaningful vote”.

Kwarteng responded: “The government fully intends to have a meaningful vote next week.”

The secondary legislation needed to change the departure date would also be tabled next week, he said, but declined to give any further details on timings, adding: “On this Friday I’m not going to say the exact hour and time of when the meaningful vote will take place.”

Separately, No 10 said the EU’s agreement to extend article 50 was contingent on holding the vote next week. The exact date has not been set, but it is likely to be on Tuesday or Wednesday, to give MPs and peers time to pass legislation to change the exit date before 29 March.

“The consideration is to hold it when we believe we have a realistic prospect of success,” May’s spokesman said. “My understanding of last night is that the extension to 22 May was contingent on winning the vote next week.”

May will meet cabinet ministers in Downing Street and spend the weekend working at Chequers, her country retreat.

Holy Brinksmanship, Batman. Vladimir Putin has to be sitting in the Kremlin with the Soviet equivalent of popcorn watching this farce, laughing out loud. Of course, he could be laughing at President Trump's announcement yesterday that the US will recognize Israel's conquest of the Golan Heights, which makes Putin's conquest of Crimea almost legitimate:

Trump’s push to assert Israel’s ownership of the strategic heights along the Syrian-Israeli border, conveyed in a tweet on Thursday, marked a major shift in U.S. policy and has been welcomed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. But it also raised concerns that confrontations along the cease-fire line could escalate.

Israel seized two-thirds of the Golan during the 1967 war, and since 1973 Syria has made no military effort to regain it. Its army is no match for Israel’s superior military capabilities.

The U.S. assertion of Israeli claims will give Iran a propaganda boost at a time when the Trump administration is pressing allies in the region to join efforts to roll back Iranian influence. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrived in Beirut on Friday morning on a visit aimed at urging Lebanese leaders to take action to limit Hezbollah’s growing prominence in the Lebanese government.

This, the day before our Secretary of State visits the region. I'd call it unbelievable but it really isn't.

Critics of the Web—30 years ago

Alexis Madrigal takes a look at criticisms of the World Wide Web from when it was new:

Thirty years ago this week, the British scientist Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web at CERN, the European scientific-research center. Suffice it to say, the idea took off. The web made it easy for everyday people to create and link together pages on what was then a small network. The programming language was simple, and publishing was as painless as uploading something to a server with a few tags in it.

Just a few years after the internet’s creation, a vociferous set of critics—most notably in Resisting the Virtual Life, a 1995 anthology published by City Lights Books—rose to challenge the ideas that underlay the technology, as previous groups had done with other, earlier technologies.

Maybe as a major technological movement begins to accelerate—but before its language, corporate power, and political economics begin to warp reality—a brief moment occurs when critics see the full and awful potential of whatever’s coming into the world. No, the new technology will not bring better living (at least not only that). There will be losers. Oppression will worm its way into even the most seemingly liberating spaces. The noncommercial will become hooked to a vast profit machine. People of color will be discriminated against in new ways. Women will have new labors on top of the old ones. The horror-show recombination of old systems and cultures with new technological surfaces and innards is visible, like the half-destroyed robot face of Arnold Schwarzenegger in Terminator 2.

Then, if money and people really start to pour into the technology, the resistance will be swept away, left dusty and coughing as what gets called progress rushes on.

The whole piece is worth a read.

Two on data security

First, Bruce Schneier takes a look at Facebook's privacy shift:

There is ample reason to question Zuckerberg's pronouncement: The company has made -- and broken -- many privacy promises over the years. And if you read his 3,000-word post carefully, Zuckerberg says nothing about changing Facebook's surveillance capitalism business model. All the post discusses is making private chats more central to the company, which seems to be a play for increased market dominance and to counter the Chinese company WeChat.

We don't expect Facebook to abandon its advertising business model, relent in its push for monopolistic dominance, or fundamentally alter its social networking platforms. But the company can give users important privacy protections and controls without abandoning surveillance capitalism. While some of these changes will reduce profits in the short term, we hope Facebook's leadership realizes that they are in the best long-term interest of the company.

Facebook talks about community and bringing people together. These are admirable goals, and there's plenty of value (and profit) in having a sustainable platform for connecting people. But as long as the most important measure of success is short-term profit, doing things that help strengthen communities will fall by the wayside. Surveillance, which allows individually targeted advertising, will be prioritized over user privacy. Outrage, which drives engagement, will be prioritized over feelings of belonging. And corporate secrecy, which allows Facebook to evade both regulators and its users, will be prioritized over societal oversight. If Facebook now truly believes that these latter options are critical to its long-term success as a company, we welcome the changes that are forthcoming.

And Cory Doctorow describes a critical flaw in Switzerland's e-voting system:

[E]-voting is a terrible idea and the general consensus among security experts who don't work for e-voting vendors is that it shouldn't be attempted, but if you put out an RFP for magic beans, someone will always show up to sell you magic beans, whether or not magic beans exist.

The belief that companies can be trusted with this power [to fix security defects while preventing people from disclosing them] defies all logic, but it persists. Someone found Swiss Post's embrace of the idea too odious to bear, and they leaked the source code that Swiss Post had shared under its nondisclosure terms, and then an international team of some of the world's top security experts (including some of our favorites, like Matthew Green) set about analyzing that code, and (as every security expert who doesn't work for an e-voting company has predicted since the beginning of time), they found an incredibly powerful bug that would allow a single untrusted party at Swiss Post to undetectably alter the election results.

You might be thinking, "Well, what is the big deal? If you don't trust the people administering an election, you can't trust the election's outcome, right?" Not really: we design election systems so that multiple, uncoordinated people all act as checks and balances on each other. To suborn a well-run election takes massive coordination at many polling- and counting-places, as well as independent scrutineers from different political parties, as well as outside observers, etc.

And even other insecure e-voting systems like the ones in the USA are not this bad: they decentralized, and would-be vote-riggers would have to compromise many systems, all around the nation, in each poll that they wanted to alter. But Swiss Post's defect allows a single party to alter all the polling data, and subvert all the audit systems. As Matthew Green told Motherboard: "I don’t think this was deliberate. However, if I set out to design a backdoor that allowed someone to compromise the election, it would look exactly like this."

Switzerland is going ahead with the election anyway, because that's what people do when they're called out on stupidity.

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.