The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Back to childhood for a moment

The Chicago Architecture Foundation is sponsoring its annual Chicago Open House this weekend, so I visited a place I'd wondered about for years. I give you the Garfield-Clarendon Model Railroad:

They're celebrating their 70th anniversary, meaning the direct-train control, wireless throttles, and digital boards probably weren't original parts of the layout.

I had a model railroad for a few years as a kid. It looked nothing like this.

Lost technologies

The Guardian gave a group of London teenagers five technologies from the distant past to see if they could use them:

1 Phone home… with a rotary dial telephone

They recognise the old phone from movies (and from watching The Sweeney in media studies – I want to go to Mr Rushworth’s media studies classes). Do you have to call the operator first, wonders Jannugan? Is the operator even still there?

But obviously they don’t know their numbers, although Jannugan knows his mother’s ends in 202. Hang on, he does know his landline number, amazingly, for emergencies, and there’s always someone home. So let’s dial it.

This is when the fun begins. Someone knows you have to turn the dial, but how far? They put their fingers in, then dial a teeny bit, then dial back, is that it? It’s hopeless, none of them dials right round to the stopper, then releases before moving on to the next number. And they haven’t taken the handset off the cradle, so they wouldn’t be getting through anyway. Sad, worried parents, not to mention the lonely operator, would remain unrung.

The kids then had to work out how to use a wind-up alarm clock, a radio, an encyclopedia, a Nintendo Game Boy, a turntable, a Sony Walkman, a 35mm camera, pen and paper, and...a map.

Since this group of kids—the college class of 2027—has never known a world without Facebook and whose earliest memories may be the financial crisis of 2008 or Boris Johnson being elected mayor of London, they just don't understand.

What a silly bunt

British PM Boris Johnson is now, I believe, 0 for 8 in votes in Commons as the chamber voted 322 to 306 this afternoon (London time) to force the government to delay Brexit until January:

The prime minister will be legally obliged to request a Brexit delay at 11pm under the terms of the rebel Benn act, after the government lost the critical vote.

It came during a historic Saturday sitting of parliament, which saw the PM adopt an emollient tone, as he implored MPs to throw their weight behind his deal.

Letwin said he was minded to support Johnson’s deal, but the aim of his amendment was “to keep in place the insurance policy provided by the Benn act, which prevents us from crashing out automatically if there is no deal by 31 October”.

Downing Street has repeatedly insisted it will comply with the requirements of the Benn act, which forces the PM to write to the EU and request an extension if he has not received parliamentary support for his deal by the deadline. But Johnson has also insisted he will not delay Brexit.

Johnson could still force the UK out of the EU a week from Thursday, but doing so would run afoul of Parliament and would certainly trigger a constitutional crisis.

Meanwhile, if any of my UK readers would like some tariff-free Bourbon in exchange for some tariff-free Scotch, I'll be in the Big Stink on 9th November. I can bring two litres duty-free. Hit me up.

Climate-change protesters pick the worst target possible

Extinction Rebellion, a climate-change protest group, targeted three working-class Tube stops near the Canary Wharf financial district in east London this week. In doing so they've given their opponents a massive boost:

The stations targeted by activists—Canning TownStratford, and Shadwell—are physically very close to the financial district of Canary Wharf. But they are a world removed from it. These stations serve some of the poorest areas not just in London, but in Western Europe. Most commuters shuffling to the train platforms at 7 a.m. (in a country where professionals usually start work after 9) are not wealthy financiers—they’re lower-income workers scraping a living in a notoriously expensive city. Footage of climate protesters with what British people would instantly read as middle-class accents blocking working-class men and women trying to get to their jobs soon after dawn—where they might be sanctioned for lateness—is terrible image-making. It plays into the hands of people who dismiss environmental activism as a hobby for privileged progressives.

These protests not only missed their intended target—the finance companies of Canary Wharf, which are located on private land with ludicrously tight security controls—they ended up creating a false dichotomy, setting up a conflict between the climate movement and public transit users. The optics of the incident end up wrongly implying that working-class London commuters neither care about, nor are affected by climate change.

As the urgency for climate action grows, Londoners who support Extinction Rebellion’s broader aims can only hope that the group can learn from this experience and adjust their tactics accordingly. The group suggested as much in a statement it released after the incident: “In light of today’s events, Extinction Rebellion will be looking at ways to bring people together rather than create an unnecessary division.”

If that happens, a vital lesson will have been learned. The U.K. capital is a critical player in the global battle for decarbonization. The climate movement needs victories here, and can ill afford to lose the sympathies of its residents.

Nice work, guys. Even absent the class conflict this particular action set up, I would recommend not disrupting public transport, which, you know, helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The tariffs get personal

The WTO approved a set of tariffs that the US can levy against the EU recently in retaliation for subsidies from EU governments to Airbus Industrie. These tariffs will now affect me personally, and I am displeased:

[W]ith the Oct. 31 deadline for Brexit fast approaching, the Trump administration imposed 25 percent tariffs on a menu of goods including French wine, Italian cheese and — in a move that could drive a Scotsman to drink — single malt whisky.

Whisky underpins the economy of Islay and much of Scotland. Kilchoman and eight rival Scotch whisky distilleries have flourished here in the past decade. Tourists from the United States, Europe and Japan come to wonder at Islay’s coastal beauty, take pictures of hillsides filled with sheep and hairy Highland cattle that look as if they’ve had vigorous blow dries, and soak up the pricey local spirits.

Annual exports of Scotch whisky are worth £4.7 billion, or about $5.9 billion, accounting for 70 percent of Scotland’s food and drink exports and 21 percent of Britain’s.

Karen Betts, the chief executive of the Scotch Whisky Association, said the Trump administration’s decision to apply tariffs only to single malts was likely to hit smaller producers harder.

By "smaller producers" they mean some of the best in Scotland, including Kilchoman on Islay. And even if Brexit happens in two weeks, the tariffs may stay in place.

Sure Happy It's Thursday!

Here are the news stories that filtered through today:

See? You thought more of the news would be bad.

Why would anyone live there?

As Qatar prepares for the 2022 World Cup, climate change has pushed temperatures in its capital, Doha, above 50°C. Welcome to hell:

Already one of the hottest places on Earth, Qatar has seen average temperatures rise more than 2°C above preindustrial times, the current international goal for limiting the damage of global warming. The 2015 Paris climate summit said it would be better to keep temperatures "well below" that, ideally to no more than 1.5°C.

Over the past three decades, temperature increases in Qatar have been accelerating. That’s because of the uneven nature of climate change as well as the surge in construction that drives local climate conditions around Doha, the capital. The temperatures are also rising because Qatar, slightly smaller than Connecticut, juts out from Saudi Arabia into the rapidly warming waters of the Persian Gulf.

The danger is acute in Qatar because of the Persian Gulf humidity. The human body cools off when its sweat evaporates. But when humidity is very high, evaporation slows or stops. “If it’s hot and humid and the relative humidity is close to 100 percent, you can die from the heat you produce yourself,” said Jos Lelieveld, an atmospheric chemist at the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Germany who is an expert on Middle East climate.

That became abundantly clear in late September, as Doha hosted the 2019 World Athletics Championships. It moved the start time for the women’s marathon to midnight Sept. 28. Water stations handed out sponges dipped in ice-cold water. First-aid responders outnumbered the contestants. But temperatures hovered around 32°C and 28 of the 68 starters failed to finish, some taken off in wheelchairs.

The only reason for Doha to exist as a human settlement is its proximity to the Strait of Hormuz, through which a good chunk of the world's oil supply travels. But wow, I can scarcely think of a worse climate to live in.

Sleazy real-estate guy

For years, people said that Donald Trump's business practices would never survive first contact with law enforcement. Pro Publica just published a big reason why:

Documents obtained by ProPublica show stark differences in how Donald Trump’s businesses reported some expenses, profits and occupancy figures for two Manhattan buildings, giving a lender different figures than they provided to New York City tax authorities. The discrepancies made the buildings appear more profitable to the lender — and less profitable to the officials who set the buildings’ property tax.

For instance, Trump told the lender that he took in twice as much rent from one building as he reported to tax authorities during the same year, 2017. He also gave conflicting occupancy figures for one of his signature skyscrapers, located at 40 Wall Street.

Trump’s team told Ladder that occupancy was rebounding after registering a lackluster 58.9% on Dec. 31, 2012. Since then, Trump representatives reported, the building had signed new tenants. Income from them hadn’t fully been realized yet, largely because of free-rent deals, they said. But after 2015, they predicted, revenues would surge.

Documents submitted to city property tax officials show no such run-up. Trump representatives reported to the tax authorities that the building was already 81% leased in 2012.

New York prosecutors will, eventually, get Trump's tax returns. And wow, will that be fun.

Do we really know what's wrong with him?

As newsworthy as last night's Democratic presidential debate was, and as historic as the Nationals winning the pennant was, neither really shocked anyone. President Trump's behavior yesterday in a private meeting with the British family whose son died after being struck by an American diplomat's wife driving the wrong way on a road did shock me:

"The bombshell was dropped not soon after we walked in the room: Anne Sacoolas was in the building and was willing to meet with us," Dunn's mother, Charlotte Charles, told reporters in Washington afterward. "We made it very clear that as we've said all along … we would still love to meet with her but it has to be on our terms and on U.K. soil."

Mark Stephens, a lawyer for the Dunn family, told Sky News on Wednesday the plan of the Trump team was to set up the meeting and then "bring in the press corp to show it was all happy families."

"Unfortunately, that was a gargantuan miscalculation," he said, describing the way the meeting was proposed as "so wrong."

Stephens also described Sacoolas as a "fugitive from justice."

The Post has more color:

White House officials were skeptical of having Dunn’s parents and Sacoolas in the West Wing at the same time, but Trump was keen on having a “hug and make up moment,” according to a person with knowledge of the discussions.

Trump believed he could solve the problem, the official said.

Appearing on “CBS This Morning” on Wednesday, Dunn’s parents, Charlotte Charles and Tim Dunn, described the meeting, explaining that they had no idea they were meeting with the president and had been invited to the White House to meet with “a senior official.”

Dunn’s parents say Trump offered his condolences before quickly alerting them that Sacoolas was in the building. “It took your breath away when he mentioned it the first time,” Dunn’s father said.

Yes, it rather does, doesn't it?

The president does not understand normal people. We may never find out for sure whether it's age-related dementia, sociopathy, or a cluster-B personality disorder. But should we even care?

Today is the 1,000th day of the Trump Administration. Seems like a lot longer than that.

The president's gut

...has once again gotten us into calamity that literally everyone predicted. Pity his gut is so much bigger than his brain:

Rarely has a presidential decision resulted so immediately in what his own party leaders have described as disastrous consequences for American allies and interests. How this decision happened — springing from an “off-script moment” with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, in the generous description of a senior American diplomat — probably will be debated for years by historians, Middle East experts and conspiracy theorists.

But this much already is clear: Mr. Trump ignored months of warnings from his advisers about what calamities likely would ensue if he followed his instincts to pull back from Syria and abandon America’s longtime allies, the Kurds. He had no Plan B, other than to leave. The only surprise is how swiftly it all collapsed around the president and his depleted, inexperienced foreign policy team.

“This president keeps blindsiding our military and diplomatic leaders and partners with impulsive moves like this that benefit Russia and authoritarian regimes,” said Senator Jack Reed, the Rhode Island Democrat and longtime member of the Armed Services Committee.

“If this president were serious about ending wars and winning peace, he’d actually articulate a strategy that would protect against a re-emergence of ISIS and provide for the safety of our Syrian partners,” Mr. Reed added. “But he has repeatedly failed to do that. Instead, this is another example of Donald Trump creating chaos, undermining U.S. interests, and benefiting Russia and the Assad regime.”

The other major beneficiary is Iran, perhaps Mr. Trump’s most talked-about geopolitical foe, which has long supported the Syrian regime and sought freer rein across the country.

Yesterday I called this an own-goal, but really it's more like our goalie plays for the other team.

Either he's a very stable genius, or he's the biggest chump ever to live in the White House. His father would be so proud.