The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Welcome to the Fourth Quarter

October began today for some of the world, but here in Chicago the 29°C weather (at Midway and downtwon; it's 23°C at O'Hare) would be more appropriate for July. October should start tomorrow for us, according to forecasts.

This week has a lot going on: rehearsal yesterday for Apollo's support of Chicago Opera Theater in their upcoming performances of Everest and Aleko; rehearsal tonight for our collaboration Saturday with the Champaign-Urbana Symphony of Carmina Burana; and, right, a full-time job. (The Dallas Opera put their video of Everest's premiere on YouTube.) 

We also have a few things going on in the news, it seems:

I will now return to reverse-engineering a particularly maddening interface.

Lunchtime links

I'm surprised I ate anything today, after this past weekend. I'm less surprised I haven't yet consumed all of these:

Is it nap time yet?

The Fifth Risk

"You'll never guess where I am," he said archly.

As I mentioned yesterday, I'm here to see the last team on my list play a home game. More on that tomorrow, as I probably won't blog about it after the game tonight.

I'm killing time and not wandering the streets of a city I don't really like in 33°C heat. Downtown St Louis has very little life that I can see. As I walked from the train to the hotel, I kept thinking it was Saturday afternoon, explaining why no one was around. Nope; no one was around because the city ripped itself apart after World War II and flung all its people into the suburbs.

On the train from Chicago I read all but the last two pages of Michael Lewis's most recent book, The Fifth Risk. The book examines what happens when the people in charge of the largest organization in the world have no idea how it works, starting with the 2016 election and going through last summer. To do that, Lewis explains what that organization actually does, from predicting the weather to making sure we don't all die of smallpox.

From the lack of any transition planning to an all-out effort to obscure the missions of vital government departments for profit, Lewis describes details of the Trump Administration's fleecing of American taxpayers that have probably eluded most people. By putting AccuWeather CEO Barry Myers in control of the National Weather Service, for example, Trump gave the keys to petabytes of data collected at taxpayer expense and available for free to everyone on earth to the guy who wants you to pay for it. Along the way, Lewis introduces us to people like DJ Patil, the United States' first Chief Data Scientist and the guy who found and put online for everyone those petabytes of weather data:

"The NOAA webpage used to have a link to weather forecasts," [Patil] said. "It was highly, highly popular. I saw it had been buried. And I asked: Now, why would they bury that?" Then he realized: the man Trump nominated to run NOAA thought that people who wanted a weather forecast should pay him for it. There was a rift in American life that was now coursing through American government. It wasn't between Democrats and Republicans. It was between the people who were in it for the mission, and the people who were in it for the money. (190-191)

I recommend this book almost as much as I recommend not coming to St Louis when it's this hot. Go buy it.

Also 50 years ago...and 20...

Not only is today the anniversary of Abbey Road, it's also the anniversary of two other culturally-significant events.

Also 50 years ago this month, the Cubs entered September 1969 with a solid first-place 83-52-1 record and before dropping 17 games (including a two-week 2-14 streak) to end the month out of contention at 91-69-1.

I mention this because tomorrow I head to St Louis to see the Cubs play at Busch Stadium. Two weeks ago, the first-place Cardinals were only 4 games ahead of the second-place Cubs, who had the third-best record in the league. Yesterday, the Cubs got eliminated, having fallen to 7.5 games back on an 8-game losing streak. This seems eerily familiar in light of the 1969 season.

Tomorrow's game will be important, as the Cardinals need to hang on to first place against the Brewers, and also because it will complete the 30-Park Geas. It would be nice if the Cubs won for both reasons.

The other anniversary of note is the debut of The West Wing 20 years ago. The Atlantic's Megan Garber argues that Allison Janney's character CJ Cregg "was the heart of the Aaron Sorkin drama." This weekend might be a good time to re-watch a few classic episodes.

Boris Trump

I watched PM Boris Johnson's statement to the House yesterday as it happened, and I have to say, he seemed like a more-articulate version of Donald Trump. Instead of scowling, he smirked; instead of rambling incoherently, he banged the table succinctly. But otherwise, he demonstrated his unfitness for office and, as a bonus, the Conservative Party demonstrated theirs by giving him a standing-O.

Guardian columnist Polly Toynbee put it well:

If his party had some notion that the mantle of office would sober up this self-intoxicated scoundrel, they were wrong. If they thought charm and wit would be his winning political weapons, they were wrong. Not a scintilla remains of that “one nation”, “healing” and “bringing the country together” guff he talked in the leadership campaign. This is two-nation politics, deliberately driving the rift ever deeper. This is calculated contempt for parliament and the judiciary, designed to stir anger among his Brexit base outside against that imagined “elite”. That’s the definition of demagoguery, turning voters into “the mob” to force his way where he finds democratic and judicial processes barring his wishes.

ohnson’s strategy, devised with his unwise adviser Dominic Cummings, is to act so savagely that he provokes Labour into calling a vote of no confidence, as time and again he goaded Corbyn for cowardice, too frit to face the voters. Neither Labour nor the other opposition parties will be so foolish: they will call an election only when the no-deal danger has been delayed with an extension to the 31 October leaving date.

To date, the PM’s every tactic has been a disaster: losing every vote, his proroguing of parliament failed, blundering into the supreme court’s damning verdict. The net effect last night was yet again to bolster Jeremy Corbyn’s standing, his calm dignity of language casting Johnson as the wild-man extremist. The prime minister bawling insults at him as “a communist” fails when in front of everyone’s eyes is a grownup refusing to be riled by this spoilt adolescent.

Those who have left look back on their old party with horror: Amber Rudd warned yesterday of Johnson’s “dishonest and dangerous” language, but they have all quit. New candidates to replace the 21 departed will be of the Johnson stamp, chosen by the same aged firebrands who foisted this unspeakable prime minister on the country. It was never more imperative that this party should be resoundingly defeated at the next election – and that will take tactical collaboration by a progressive alliance of opposition parties. Johnson last night will have helped forge that determination.

Meanwhile, this government shambles towards a devastating no-deal Brexit. But make no mistake: Johnson, as PM, can lose every single vote and still crash the UK out of the EU on October 31st.

And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the release of Abbey Road, the Beatles' final album.1 The New York Post, not a newspaper I quote often, has a track-by-track retrospective:

“Something”

Frank Sinatra once described this George Harrison composition as “the greatest love song of the past 50 years.” But the tune also hints that it wasn’t all love among the Beatles at the time.

“Here Comes the Sun”

The most downloaded and most streamed Beatles song of the 21st century didn’t come from the sunniest of places.

“That’s a song written when the Beatles were not getting along,” Flanagan says. “So George played hooky and went over to Eric Clapton’s house. He borrows one of Eric’s guitars and walks out in the garden and starts singing, ‘Here Comes the Sun.’”

Yeah, Her Majesty's a pretty nice girl, and someday I'm gonna make her mine.2

1. Let It Be came out a few months later but the group had recorded it earlier in 1969.

2. A remarkably similar sentiment to the 10th movement in Carl Orff's Carmina Burana, "Were diu werlt alle min."

What a morning

PM Boris Johnson is now addressing the House of Commons, capping a crazy day in the UK. And that's not even the most explosive thing in the news today:

I'll be listening to Johnson now, daring the House to call for a vote of no-confidence, daring them to have an election before October 31st.

Overcooked

The UK has started a £100 m repatriation scheme to get stranded Thomas Cook customers home:

The government has said it will run a "shadow airline" for two weeks to repatriate the 155,000 UK tourists affected by the firm's collapse.

Transport secretary Grant Shapps said its response to the crisis was "on track so far" and "running smoothly".

Mr Shapps, who earlier attended an emergency Cobra government meeting on the government's response, said: "People will experience delays, we're not running the original airline, but we intend to get this done all in the next two weeks and then end this phase of the rescue."

He also stressed people should not come home early from their holidays but should "carry on and leave on the date they were supposed to leave, having first checked the Thomas Cook website before leaving for the airport".

The government has to chip in because of the way UK bankruptcy laws work:

Had Thomas Cook been based here, it would have most likely filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and tried to reorganize while still flying. But Thomas Cook is a UK company, and that means that when the 178-year old business ran out of financing options Sunday night, it effectively just disappeared as far as the public is concerned. The UK government is solely focused on picking up the pieces in the near term while it prepares for a massive liquidation in the long run.

But:

These repatriation flights are only for those who already left the UK and needed to get back home. Everyone else just gets refunds, and that means airlines like easyJet and Jet2 are about to get a windfall of new business. TUI will pick some up as well, and I’m sure all low-cost carriers that touch the UK at all, like Ryanair and Wizz, will see a healthy uptick in bookings. But in the long run, someone is going to step up. This capacity won’t simply disappear.

So what happened? How did the company accrue billions of pounds of debt when the aviation part of their business remained profitable? Because fewer people like package tours than before:

Meanwhile, as the rescue operation kicks into gear, people are already conducting a post mortem into the death of this 178-year-old travel-industry leviathan—a British household name, with storefronts offering all-in-one resort vacations on almost every main street in the country. Among the causes, one striking possibility has emerged: Did the apparently unstoppable rise of the city break cause the company’s demise?

The rise in popularity of shorter urban breaks does indeed seem to have been a factor. In 2019, the average Briton is far more likely to be found wandering around Barcelona or Amsterdam than, say, sunbathing on the beaches of Spain’s Costa Del Sol, a 1980s favorite.

The number of Britons taking a yearly two-week vacation (a travel-agency staple, long standard because of the country’s generous vacation days) has fallen by more than 1 million since 1996. The number of short trips, meanwhile, has skyrocketed. By 2017, more than half of people in the U.K. were taking at least one short trip annually. This shift is crucial, because it meant that most growth happened in a sector where travel agents do relatively poor business.

Most of all, though, it’s the liberalization of the aviation industry in Europe since the late 1990s that has radically changed people’s destination choices. Before the advent of bargain airlines such as easyJet and Ryanair, the only really cheap flights to be had were summer charters to beach destinations, so that’s where people went. Nowadays, the volume of affordable, even obscure destinations has hugely expanded. Previously far-flung cities such as Trieste, Italy, or Riga, Latvia, are now weekend-break destinations. Travel agencies that depend on block-booking a large number of rooms in high-volume destinations find it hard to capitalize on this trend.

I'm sure AirBnB and Hipmunk contributed as well.

I always feel a little sad (or outraged) when a venerable business dies. Everyone will get home from their holidays after this mess, but a company older than a third of the states in the US is no more.

Why does Greta Thunberg bother you?

The arrival in New York this week of climate activist Greta Thunberg has thrown the Right into their version of pearl-clutching hyperventilation. Unfortunately for civil discourse, their version involves death threats and impotent rage. So why has Thunberg's quest for a reduction in climate-changing pollution make so many people so irrational?

Possibly they're hyper-masculine climate deniers, with more than a soupçon of misogyny:

In 2014, Jonas Anshelm and Martin Hultman of Chalmers published a paper analyzing the language of a focus group of climate skeptics. The common themes in the group, they said, were striking: “for climate skeptics … it was not the environment that was threatened, it was a certain kind of modern industrial society built and dominated by their form of masculinity.”

The connection has to do with a sense of group identity under threat, Hultman told me—an identity they perceive to be under threat from all sides. Besieged, as they see it, both by developing gender equality—Hultman pointed specifically to the shock some men felt at the #MeToo movement—and now climate activism’s challenge to their way of life, male reactionaries motivated by right-wing nationalism, anti-feminism, and climate denialism increasingly overlap, the three reactions feeding off of one another.

“There is a package of values and behaviors connected to a form of masculinity that I call ‘industrial breadwinner masculinity.’ They see the world as separated between humans and nature. They believe humans are obliged to use nature and its resources to make products out of them. And they have a risk perception that nature will tolerate all types of waste. It’s a risk perception that doesn’t think of nature as vulnerable and as something that is possible to be destroyed. For them, economic growth is more important than the environment” Hultman told Deutsche Welle last year.

Or perhaps it's because she's a teenager:

Thunberg and a handful of other young climate activists were receiving the Ambassador of Conscience Award from Amnesty International in Washington, D.C., last Monday. In the past 17 years, Amnesty has given the award to other icons: Nelson Mandela, Colin Kaepernick, and Ai Weiwei. Backstage, grizzled men in their 40s exchanged boisterous handclasps. Interns and assistants buzzed around: anxious, helpful, and attuned to hierarchy. Somewhere Maggie Gyllenhaal was in a dressing room.

Yet when I saw Thunberg—in jeans, sneakers, and a pink tank top—she seemed small, quiet, and somewhat overwhelmed. Thunberg has Asperger’s, which she calls her “superpower,” and which she says allows her to be more direct and straightforward about climate change.

Her answers were direct but earnest. She sometimes searched for an English word. Unlike politicians and book-touring authors who have been brain-poisoned by media training, she answered the questions posed. When I asked whether there was a climate fact that caused her particular worry, she frowned and first said she could not think of any one fact in particular. Then she added that she was worried about what she’d heard would be in the upcoming UN Intergovernmental Panel report on sea-level rise. Same, Greta.

She is strikingly nonradical, at least in tactics. Unlike other young climate activists—such as members of the Sunrise Movement in the United States, which is led by college students and early 20-somethings—she rejects specific policy proposals such as the Green New Deal, instructing politicians instead to “listen to the science.” She has even declined to endorse a specific platform in the European Union, where her “Fridays for Future” movement has taken hold. When I asked how other teenagers should fight climate change, she said, “They can do everything. There are so many ways to make a difference.” Then she gave, as examples, joining an activist movement and “also to, if you can, vote.”

Thunberg epitomizes, in a person, the unique moral position of being a teenager. She can see the world through an “adult” moral lens, and so she knows that the world is a heartbreakingly flawed place. But unlike an actual adult, she bears almost no conscious blame for this dismal state. Thunberg seems to gesture at this when referring to herself as a “child,” which she does often in speeches.

But if you just read what Thunberg says, ignoring her age, gender, and national origin--not to mention every other irrelevancy--then she makes a lot of sense. So attacking Thunberg really just exemplifies the old adage, "If the facts are against you, hammer the law. If the law is against you, hammer the facts. If the fact and the law are against you, hammer opposing counsel."

The Right are, as always, hammering opposing counsel.