The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Summertime daftness everywhere

A few examples of idiocy, bad intent, or general ineptness crossed my desk this morning:

Finally, in an effort not to complain about politics or the Olympics, Gail Collins takes on robocalls.

Sunday morning reading (and listening)

Just a couple of articles that caught my interest this morning:

Finally, today is the 65th anniversary of the collision between the Stockholm and the Andrea Doria off the coast of Nantucket in which 1,646 people were saved before the Doria sank.

The preservationist leanings of Scooby-Doo

CityLab's Feargus O'Sullivan riffs on an Instagram account that celebrates Scooby-Doo's Victorian backdrops:

It should come as no surprise that creaking mansard roofs, vaulted dungeons and abandoned one-horse towns occur so often as settings. Americans have been identifying the Victorian with the macabre for more than 100 years. It still seems not completely coincidental that these particular backdrops were so often used for a show in its heyday in the late 1960s and the 1970s.

This, after all, is a period when America’s Victorian architecture lay on a major fault line. Long decaying as wealthier residents moved to the suburbs, America’s many Victorian neighborhoods fell prey to demolition during this period as urban renewal projects smashed through buildings that were often seen as musty, decrepit hangovers from a poorer, miserably car-less past.

San Francisco’s Fillmore District, for example, was substantially redeveloped, scattering its mainly African American residents to the East Bay, while the now celebrated Victorian district of Old Louisville saw over 600 buildings demolished between 1965 and 1971 alone.

Indeed, the show sometimes tackles these issues directly. The classic Scooby-Doo villain is a developer or greedy landowner, scaring people away from their property by dressing as a ghost or monster, only to be unmasked and confess everything to the band of “pesky kids” just before each episode’s final curtain. Occasionally, even urban renewal itself crops up. In one episode a developer constructing new buildings in Seattle is also secretly plundering treasures from the subterranean street network built in the aftermath of the Great Fire of 1889.

Down the street from me, a 6-bedroom house built in 1897 just sold for $412,500—less than half its estimated value, and probably closer to a third of what it might fetch once its restoration finishes next year. It went for $28,500 in 1979, which works out to about $110,000 today, during the worst period of urban decay in Uptown. Other gorgeous houses and apartments from the 1890s through 1920s in Chicago barely survived the 1970s, sometimes only because no one wanted to invest in the neighborhoods.

I've written about this phenomenon before, of course.

Down the Memory Hole

Yale history professor Timothy Snyder warns that "memory laws" recently passed in several Republican-held states bear a strong resemblance to similar laws supported by horrifying regimes:

After the Soviet Union came to an end in 1991, citizens of a newly independent Ukraine began commemorating the dead of the 1932-33 famine, which they call the Holodomor. In 2006, the Ukrainian Parliament recognized the events in question as a genocide. In 2008, the Russian Duma responded with a resolution that provided a very different account of the famine. Even as Russian legislators seemed to acknowledge the catastrophe, they turned it against the main victims. The resolution stated that “there is no historical proof that the famine was organized along ethnic lines,” and pointedly mentioned six regions in Russia before mentioning Ukraine.

This ordering became habitual in the Russian state press: Mentions of the famine included an awkwardly long list of regions, downplaying the specificity of the Ukrainian tragedy. The famine was presented as a result of administrative mistakes by a neutral state apparatus. Everyone was a victim, and so no one was.

This spring, memory laws arrived in America. Republican state legislators proposed dozens of bills designed to guide and control American understanding of the past.

[T]he most common feature among the laws, and the one most familiar to a student of repressive memory laws elsewhere in the world, is their attention to feelings. Four of five of them, in almost identical language, proscribe any curricular activities that would give rise to “discomfort, guilt, anguish or any other form of psychological distress on account of the individual’s race or sex.”

In most cases, the new American memory laws have been passed by state legislatures that, in the same session, have passed laws designed to make voting more difficult. The memory management enables the voter suppression. The history of denying Black people the vote is shameful. This means that it is less likely to be taught where teachers are mandated to protect young people from feeling shame. The history of denying Black people the vote involves law and society. This means that it is less likely to be taught where teachers are mandated to tell students that racism is only personal prejudice.

The Republican Party continues to follow established patterns to further its goal of minority rule. Memory laws fit them like a comfortable pair of jackboots.

Always wrong, never contrite

Former US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld died Tuesday at age 88:

Mr. Rumsfeld had the distinction of being the only defense chief to serve two nonconsecutive terms: 1975 to 1977 under President Ford, and 2001 to 2006 under President Bush. He was also the youngest, at 43, and the oldest, at 74, to hold the post — first in an era of Soviet-American nuclear perils, then in an age of subtler menace by terrorists and rogue states.

A staunch ally of former Vice President Dick Cheney, who had been his protégé and friend for years, Mr. Rumsfeld was a combative infighter who seemed to relish conflicts as he challenged cabinet rivals, members of Congress and military orthodoxies. And he was widely regarded in his second tour as the most powerful defense secretary since Robert S. McNamara during the Vietnam War.

Like his counterpart of long ago, Mr. Rumsfeld in Iraq waged a costly and divisive war that ultimately destroyed his political life and outlived his tenure by many years. But unlike McNamara, who offered mea culpas in a 2003 documentary, “The Fog of War,” Mr. Rumsfeld acknowledged no serious failings and warned in a farewell valedictory at the Pentagon that quitting Iraq would be a terrible mistake, even though the war, the country learned, had been based on a false premise — that Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi leader, had been harboring weapons of mass destruction.

Let's not mince words. Of the 28 men actually confirmed in the job, plus the 7 acting defense chiefs, Rumsfeld was without question the worst. George Packer:

Rumsfeld started being wrong within hours of the [9/11] attacks and never stopped. He argued that the attacks proved the need for the missile-defense shield that he’d long advocated. He thought that the American war in Afghanistan meant the end of the Taliban. He thought that the new Afghan government didn’t need the U.S. to stick around for security and support. He thought that the United States should stiff the United Nations, brush off allies, and go it alone. He insisted that al-Qaeda couldn’t operate without a strongman like Saddam. He thought that all the intelligence on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction was wrong, except the dire reports that he’d ordered up himself. He reserved his greatest confidence for intelligence obtained through torture. He thought that the State Department and the CIA were full of timorous, ignorant bureaucrats. He thought that America could win wars with computerized weaponry and awesome displays of force.

By the time Rumsfeld was fired, in November 2006, the U.S., instead of securing peace in one country, was losing wars in two, largely because of actions and decisions taken by Rumsfeld himself.

The Nation:

War Criminal Found Dead at 88

Unlike the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, Afghans, and so many others killed in the wars he launched and in the torture cells he oversaw, Donald Rumsfeld died peacefully.

[W]ithin just a few months of the overthrow of the Taliban government in Afghanistan and its replacement by an imposed government of Afghan exiles vetted and chosen by the US-led coalition, Washington’s strategic military energy turned from Kabul to Baghdad. Rumsfeld was in his element.

First came the lies. Rumsfeld’s false claims justifying war in Iraq continued and escalated. The inaugural lie, of course, was the entire premise that Iraq’s government was somehow connected to the 9/11 attacks. Assertion was easy, and with a mainstream media largely unwilling to challenge even known lies, there were few questions asked. Then came weapons of mass destruction, uranium yellowcake from Niger, Iraq’s purchase of aluminum tubes that could “only” be used for nuclear weapons production. The deception at the UN Security Council, where the supposed good guy among the Bush war criminals, Secretary of State Colin Powell, got up and lied to the council, lied to the American people, and lied to the world about what the United States “knew” about Iraq’s nonexistent WMDs.

After the lies came the scandals. Torture, from the beginning. First at CIA “black sites” in countries around the world that would promise—for a price—to keep silent about the hooded, shackled men brought into their territory to secret CIA-run torture centers. Then Guantánamo—turning the illegally occupied US naval base in Cuba into a harsh, isolated, and brutal prison. Then the prisons created by Rumsfeld’s Pentagon, which kept popping up across Iraq—Abu Ghraib (remember the photographs of Rumsfeld’s young men and women soldiers torturing and humiliating Iraqi prisoners in 2004?) and Camp Bucca (where Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, later the founder of ISIS, was imprisoned that same year by Rumsfeld’s Pentagon). Rumsfeld’s bureaucrats described torture in banal, regulated lists of “enhanced interrogation methods”—sleep deprivation, extremes of cold and heat, hours in painful stress positions, waterboarding.

Killing of civilians was a feature of Rumsfeld’s war in Iraq. Air strikes ostensibly aimed at “enemy” forces (whoever the “enemy” was that month or that year) somehow kept managing to hit funeral processions and wedding parties and markets. And children. Ground troops shot at anything, or anyone, that moved—including children. Special Forces kicked in doors, killing everyone inside—including children—and planted weapons to make it look like a gun fight. Almost no one was ever charged, let alone convicted, of a crime. On the rare occasion that some soldiers or Pentagon-paid military contractors did face charges for killing civilians, they almost never spent time in prison. The four Blackwater contractors finally convicted, one of first-degree murder and others of manslaughter, and sentenced to 30 years or life in prison, were soon pardoned by Donald Trump and released from prison. They had killed 14 unarmed Iraqi civilians for no reason in Nisour Square in downtown Baghdad in 2007. Including children.

Even in October 2006, just before President Bush finally fired him, Jonathan Chait had some choice words:

[I]t seems as good a time as any to reexamine the wave of Rumsfeld hagiography that was in vogue for about two years following September 11, 2001. These documents offer a prime window into the pathologies of conservative thought in the Bush era. To be a loyal conservative during the last half-dozen years, you had to convince yourself to accept a series of propositions that ran the gamut from somewhat implausible to completely absurd. As those propositions collapse, one by one, conservatives are reacting much the same way as communists did following the fall of the Berlin Wall. There are the frantic efforts to rescue conservative orthodoxy by defining the party’s leaders as apostates who deviated from the true faith. And there are the dazed true believers coming to grips with certain realities—Katherine Harris is a not a paragon of wisdom and fair-mindedness, after all; the administration’s fiscal policies may not be completely sound; President Bush is not quite the visionary war leader we made him out to be; and so on. Only by revisiting the conservative propaganda in light of history’s verdict can we see how delusional the movement had become. And on perhaps no topic were conservatives quite as delusional as on the leadership genius of Donald Rumsfeld.

To plunge back into the conservative idealization of Rumsfeld, given what we know today, is a bizarre experience. You enter an upside-down world in which the defense secretary is a thoughtful, fair-minded, eminently reasonable man who has been vindicated by history—and his critics utterly repudiated.

Around the world:

  • The Guardian: "Donald Rumsfeld, who has died aged 88, arguably did more damage to the US’s military reputation than any previous secretary of defence."
  • The Toronto Star: "For all Rumsfeld’s achievements, it was the setbacks in Iraq in the twilight of his career that will likely etch the most vivid features of his legacy."
  • El País: "Argumentando que las armas de destrucción masiva iraquíes representaban un peligro para el mundo -a pesar que nunca se encontraron tales armas-, Rumsfeld intentó responder a la pregunta de un reportero sobre esa cuestión con una de las frases más incomprensibles -y famosa- jamás pronunciada por una personalidad política." ("Arguing that the Iraqi weapons of mass destruction represented a danger to the world, despite never finding these arms, Rumsfeld answered a reporter's question about it with the most incomprehensible and famous pronunciation of any political personality. 'There are known knowns...'")
  • Le Monde: "De la prison de Guantanamo (Cuba) à celle d’Abou Ghraib (Irak), son nom reste attaché à quelques-unes des pages les plus sombres de la « guerre globale contre le terrorisme », le concept qu’il a revendiqué après les attentats du 11 septembre 2001." ("From the prison in Guantanamo to a cell in Abu Ghraib, his name remains attached for many years to the most somber pages in the Global War on Terrorism, the concept he conceived after the attacks of 9/11.")
  • Al-Jazeera: "While [former US President George W] Bush remembers Rumsfeld well, it is likely history will not look kindly on their legacy, judging from initial reactions to Rumsfeld’s death."

Rumsfeld grew up only a couple of kilometers from me, and in similar circumstances. Somehow, I managed not to become a war criminal responsible for hundreds of thousands of needless deaths.

And wow, he lived almost long enough to watch the Taliban take over Afghanistan. Again.

Misunderstanding national happiness

After the World Happiness Report comes out each year, everyone wants to live in Scandinavia, which usually dominates the top 10 every time. But people seem not to understand why Norway, Denmark, Finland, and the rest rank so high. Perhaps it's not hygge but lagom. Or maybe it's free health care:

Sort of like how the launch of Sputnik in 1957 led Americans to feel like their country was falling behind technologically, or how the results of international standardized tests in the 2000s led them to feel like their kids were falling behind educationally, the happiness rankings have subtly encouraged an anxiety fit for our era of self-optimization: that somewhere, other people are doing things that make them much happier than we are.

This disturbing thought has contributed to the rise of a genre of lifestyle content that aims to help unhappy Americans emulate the daily practices and philosophies of happier places, whether that means taking a dip in frigid water or making your living room super-cozy. Wanting to copy the happiest people in the world is an understandable impulse, but it distracts from a key message of the happiness rankings—that equitable, balanced societies make for happier residents. In the process, a research-heavy, policy-oriented document gets mistaken, through a terrible global game of telephone, for a trove of self-help advice.

Perhaps deeper insights can be gained from looking beyond the trends of cozy hearths and nature walks. Even the Nordic countries themselves have a lesser-known cultural ideal that probably brings happiness more reliably than hygge. Jukka Savolainen, a Finnish American sociology professor at Wayne State University, in Michigan, argued in Slate that the essence of his happy home region is best captured by lagom, a Swedish and Norwegian word meaning “just the right amount.”

In other words, people report feeling happier when they don't have to worry about bankruptcy after incurring minor medical expenses, when they have adequate public services, and when they just don't want to acquire more stuff. But hey, buy more cardamom if it feels good.

Record heat in the Pacific Northwest

Portland, Ore., hit an all-time high temperature of 43°C yesterday, with a forecast of 45°C today:

The National Weather Service issued an Excessive Heat Warning for much of Oregon and Washington with historic highs -- and historic lows -- forecast across the region. Starting at 10 a.m. on Saturday, the warning took effect as a massive ridge of high pressure encompasses the Pacific Northwest, leading to triple digits all weekend and through Monday.

By 4 p.m. Saturday, the temperature at the Portland International Airport reached 103 degrees, according to the NWS. This not only broke the previous high-temperature record for this day (which was set at 102 degrees back in 2006), but also broke the record for the month of June.

An hour later, Portland hit 107 degrees, tying the all-time record high that has only been felt three times in recorded history from 1965 to 1981.

But the heat didn't stop there. Notching up one more degree, Portland set a new record for the hottest day.

During this heatwave, the Portland metro area and the Willamette Valley can expect to see anywhere from 105 to 110 degrees, with the hottest day likely being Sunday, where the afternoon high in Portland is 110.

Seattle also had ludicrous heat. And the excessive drought covering 26% of the Western states doesn't help, as it has encouraged a persistent high-pressure area over the region that keeps it hot and dry.

But nope, no climate change! Move along!

Canadians pretending to be American

We know our neighbor to the north has its own contingent of crazy. But usually they just behave in Canadian-crazy ways. Apparently now, a group of anti-vaxxers has blockaded the Trans-Canada Highway at the Nova Scotia-New Brunswick border near Aurac, N.B.:

The main border crossing between Nova Scotia and New Brunswick has been closed for more than 18 hours, blocked by dozens of protesters demonstrating against restrictions that require most travellers from New Brunswick to self-isolate upon arrival in Nova Scotia.

The protesters include a number with anti-vaccine views. At one point, some briefly tried to stop a tractor-trailer they believed had COVID-19 vaccine, but which RCMP officers at the scene said contained blood products, from being escorted by police across the border into Nova Scotia. 

The truck eventually passed through, as did some nurses and doctors trying to get to work at the hospital in Amherst, N.S.

The Nova Scotia government announced Tuesday afternoon that most travellers from New Brunswick will continue to have to self-isolate upon arrival, a decision that came less than 24 hours before Nova Scotia opened its borders with P.E.I. and Newfoundland and Labrador without isolation or testing requirements.

Nova Scotia has for months required most travellers to quarantine for 14 days when they arrive in the province after applying for entry online. People have had to present documentation at the border showing they've been approved for entry.

Note that the quarantine rules generally don't apply to people who have gotten vaccinated against Covid-19. So only the boneheads who refuse to get the jab would have to self-isolate. And note the irony of blocking a road to protest a restriction on free travel between the provinces.

This sort of thing happens in the US, because Americans produce more batshit than any other nation on the planet. It makes me sad to see it seeping into Canada, though. Especially in the Maritimes, which I always thought had more sense than that. Ontario? Alberta? Quebec? Sure. But New Brunswick?

Relaxing weekend

Cassie and I headed up to Tyranena Brewing in Lake Mills, Wis., yesterday to hang out with family. Today, other than a trip to the grocery and adjacent pet store where Cassie picked out an "indestructible" toy that now lies in tatters on the couch, we've had a pretty relaxing Sunday. I thought I'd take a break from Hard Times to queue up some stuff to read tomorrow at lunch:

I will now return to Dickens, because it's funny and sad.

So, nu, how's by you?

After taking Cassie on a 45-minute walk before the heat hits us, I've spent the morning debugging, watching these news stories pile up for lunchtime reading:

Finally, Chicago architecture firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill has revealed conceptual drawings for a moon base.