The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Daily Parker bait, times 3

Of course I'm going to blog about these three articles.

First, former George W. Bush speechwriter and lifelong Republican Michael Gerson looks at the culture of celebrity that surrounds the President and says "our republic will never be the same:"

The founders generally believed that the survival and success of a republic required leaders and citizens with certain virtues: moderation, self-restraint and concern for the common good. They were convinced that respect for a moral order made ordered liberty possible.

The culture of celebrity is the complete negation of this approach to politics. It represents a kind of corrupt, decaying capitalism in which wealth is measured in exposure. It elevates appearance over accomplishment. Because rivalries and feuds are essential to the story line, it encourages theatrical bitterness. Instead of pursuing a policy vision, the first calling of the celebrity is to maintain a brand.

Is the skill set of the celebrity suited to the reality of governing? On the evidence, not really.

Second, Crain's business columnist Joe Cahill calls out Eddie Lampert's offer to buy Kenmore for $400m as a call to put Sears into hospice care:

There's plenty to worry about in the latest letter from Lampert's ESL Investments. First, Lampert is offering just $400 million for Kenmore, supposedly the company's crown jewel. When he first floated the idea of buying the household appliance brand in April, estimates pegged the likely selling price at $500 million or more. Maybe the lower bid is intended to elicit higher offers from potential third-party acquirers. Or it may signal that nobody else is interested and ESL is angling for a bargain.

Second, the offer is both nonbinding and contingent on ESL finding a third-party equity backer to finance the purchase. The letter says ESL is "confident" it can find such a backer. In other words, billionaire Lampert isn't willing to risk his own money buying Kenmore. This is consistent with his recent reluctance to raise his bet on Sears Holdings as a whole. As I've written before, he could easily take the company private—at the current market capitalization, the 46 percent he doesn't already own would cost less than $100 million—and capture the full upside of a turnaround. He's shown no interest in doing so.

And finally, on a happier note, the Chicago Tribune lists eight bars where people can go to read:

After living in the United Kingdom, freelance book publicist Jonathan Maunder turned to Chicago’s literary greats to connect to his adopted city. He remembered a night last year visiting Rainbo Club, the bar favored by “Chicago, City on the Make” author Nelson Algren.

“As I stepped out of the bar, a little drunk on both a couple of pints and Algren’s beautiful writing, I stood for a moment under the red neon of the Rainbo Club sign, which was reflected on the just rained on street, and felt a powerful connection to the place I was in and its history,” he said.

[He recommends] Kopi, A Traveler’s Cafe
5317 N. Clark St., 773-989-5674

A friendly, relaxed cafe/bar, which always has people and a good atmosphere (and sometimes accordion players) but never feels overly busy and hectic, in a way that might be distracting from reading.

Given that Kopi is a 20-minute walk from my house, I may just stop in this weekend.

I was a little bummed that the Duke of Perth didn't make the list, though.

The state of American craft brewing

The Chicago Tribune reported today that the largest craft brewer in the United States is now...AB InBev, AKA Anheuser-Busch:

Between 2011 and 2017, Anheuser-Busch bought 10 breweries from coast to coast, beginning with Chicago’s Goose Island Beer Co. and ending (for now) with Wicked Weed Brewing of Asheville, N.C. In between, it picked up breweries in Oregon (10 Barrel), Virginia (Devils Backbone), Seattle (Elysian), Los Angeles (Golden Road), Houston (Karbach) and the metro areas of Phoenix (Four Peaks), Denver (Breckenridge) and New York City (Blue Point).

Anheuser-Busch’s shopping spree appears to have paid off. Last month, industry newsletter Beer Marketer’s Insights reported that the beer giant has surged past Boston Beer and Sierra Nevada in 2018 to become the nation’s top craft beer company in terms of dollar sales.

To be clear, Anheuser-Busch’s craft beer supremacy exists in one very specific metric at the moment; IRI tracks sales in grocery, big box, drug and convenience stores. When factoring in draft and liquor store sales, Beer Marketer’s Insights estimates that Boston Beer remains ahead of Anheuser-Busch in terms of both volume and dollar sales. But the passing of that torch is all but an inevitability during the next year or so.

However, it’s not all good news for Anheuser-Busch’s craft effort.

Its lead horse, Goose Island, had a rough 2017, and 2018 is proving just as difficult. In early August, the Goose Island portfolio was down double digits across the previous three months....

I've said before, part of craft beer's appeal is that it comes from actual craft breweries. And big beer companies don't actually like craft beer—because they can't compete with them.

So, mazel tov to InBev, but I'm going to stick with Revolution, Dovetail, Begyle, and Empircal, all of which brew within a 10-block radius of my house.

Thirty years ago in Chicago

On 8 August 1988, the Chicago Cubs played their first night game at Wrigley Field. The Tribune rounds up memories from people who supported and opposed the installation of lights at the park:

Ryne Sandberg, Cubs second baseman, 1982-1997: Leading up to ’88, the talk within the organization was that lights were necessary to create a schedule more conducive to resting the home team, getting us out of the sun. Before that, with some of those 10-day homestands with all day games (it was) in 90-plus temperatures.

Rick Sutcliffe, Cubs pitcher, 1984-1991: There's nothing better than playing a day game and going home to have dinner with your family. But when you come back from a West Coast trip, and let’s say you had a long game … sometimes we went straight from the airport to the ballpark. It’s really difficult that whole homestand. You just feel wiped out. … I would throw nine innings at Dodger Stadium and might lose anywhere from 2 to 4 pounds. There were times at Wrigley Field during that heat that I lost 10 to 15 pounds. I would love to go start a game to lose 15 right now!

Did lights help the Cubs? Probably; but there's no definitive way to say.

Mann, that was fun

Aimee Mann performed last night at Pritzker Pavilion in Chicago's Millennium Park—for free! So naturally I went.

The weather couldn't have been better, so the picnic area was totally full. Which meant that the pavilion itself had plenty of seats. Which meant I got to see her directly rather than just projected on a big screen.

Just for posterity, here's her set list:

  1. 4th of July
  2. Little Bombs
  3. Patient Zero
  4. The Moth
  5. Labrador
  6. Humpty Dumpty
  7. You Can't Help Me
  8. You Never Loved Me
  9. Goose Snow Cone (which, she explained, really is about her cat)
  10. Save Me
  11. Going Through the Motions
  12. Borrowing Time
  13. Long Shot
  14. Encore: One
  15. Encore: Wise Up
  16. Encore: Voices Carry

I love Aimee Mann's songs. I am conscious, however, that when her songs become my life's soundtrack, things are seriously out of joint. Sample lyric, from "Long Shot," which opened her 1996 album I'm With Stupid: "You fucked it up / You should have quit / Til circumstances / Had changed a bit." Or from "Save Me:" "You look like / A perfect fit / For a girl in need of / A tourniquet."

Seriously good, but seriously unhappy.

But totally worth the ticket price, I must say. And now I need to download Mental Illness, her last album.

Chicago's first opera

On this day in 1850, Chicago had its first (sort-of) professional opera performance. It wasn't exactly up to the Lyric's standards:

In New York, P.T. Barnum was paying Jenny Lind—“The Swedish Nightingale”—$1,000 a night to perform. Chicago’s first opera didn’t have Jenny Lind. But the local promoters were crafty enough to choose one of her biggest hits for their first show, at Rice’s Theatre. The opera was Bellini’s La Sonnambula.

Four singers are not enough for an opera. So the Chicago cast was filled out with local amateurs. A few of them had good voices, most of them didn’t. Rehearsals were—I think “confused” is a good word to describe them.

Just like in one of those bad old Hollywood movies, the show had problems. The audience kept applauding at the wrong time—whenever one of the hometown amateurs showed up on stage, his friends in the audience would stand up and cheer. Meanwhile, one of the extras named J.H. McVicker sang so loudly he drowned out everybody else.

It helps to remember that 18 years after the city's founding, it more resembled a frontier town than the international metropolis it became in the 20th century. Still, it sounds like a fun show.

And then the theater burned down the next day...

It can't happen here

I've been reading a novel written in 1935 that, except for its contemporary cultural references, could have been written in 2015. Or, heaven forfend!, 2020.

I can't recommend Sinclair Lewis' It Can't Happen Here enough. Donald Trump isn't exactly Buzz Windrip, but he's too close for comfort. 

The problem, of course, is that authoritarian demagogues follow a script, and if you've read that script, you know the ending. Worse, you know the chapters between here and there. Lewis's wife, Dorothy Thompson, covered Germany as a journalist in the early 1930s. In that decade, Americans worried more than we do today about fascism—even without knowing the truth about Nazism's final solution.

The novel has different pacing and dialogue than modern audiences might prefer. The protagonist also sounds a bit preachy. And don't get me started with the casual sexism of Lewis's worldview. But he was prescient. And he showed how, exactly, it could happen here.

The events of the last three years do too. Let's hope our institutions survive.

Hint Fiction

Since hearing about it on NPR almost 8 years ago, I have loved the book Hint Fiction. It's collection of short stories, none more than 25 words long.

The other day I had an inspiration and wrote one of my own:

Acquired, 1989

She left the office, reading the paper again.

"This isn't possible," she thought. "Brad's not gay."

These may pop up here from time to time.

Gooooool!

As I write this, my Ancestral Homeland's football team are up 1-0 over Croatia in the World Cup semifinals. This wasn't supposed to happen:

Since 2006, England’s performance on the world stage has been lamentable, a comedy of errors marked by group-stage evictions, racism scandals, and grifters. In 2016, after the abrupt departures of two successive managers, the former England player and manager of its feeder under-21 team Gareth Southgate was given temporary charge of the national team, a decision that seemed safe, if uninspired. Expectations for Russia 2018 were muted, to say the least. “Before the tournament started, I could not make a case for us winning it,” the former England captain Alan Shearer wrote, Eeyore-ishly, in a column for the BBC. “I just wanted to see some signs of improvement.”

What happened instead has been a surprisingly smooth path to Wednesday night’s semifinal against Croatia, as a youthful and undaunted England side swept away a nation’s pessimism. Southgate’s great accomplishment—aside from the manager’s natty collection of waistcoats—has been getting the squad to envision itself as a team, as opposed to a collection of surly prima donnas who’d rather be spending their summers on Roman Abramovich’s yacht. England has one of the youngest and most inexperienced squads of all the teams competing in Russia, with an average age of 26.

As England heads toward its Wednesday-night match with Croatia, the anticipation of a potential victory (and a spot in the finals for the first time in 52 years) offers some welcome relief from the turbulence surrounding Theresa May’s government and the ongoing gloom of Brexit. (Almost as perturbing as the England team’s current run of success is the fact that Sunday marked England’s 50th straight day of sunshine.) Waistcoat sales are cresting. Motorways and shopping malls are being abandoned. Even Southgate is daring to dream. “How far can we go?” he told The Guardian.Let’s push the boundaries, let’s create our own history.”

We've got the match on in the office. Updates as conditions warrant.

Five myths about the Beatles

The Washington Post enumerates them:

MYTH NO. 1
The Beatles objected to trading leather outfits for suits and ties.

“In the beginning,” John Lennon told Melody Maker, the British music magazine, in 1970, Brian Epstein, the Beatles’ manager, “. . . put us in neat suits and shirts, and Paul was right behind him. I didn’t dig that, and I used to try to get George to rebel with me.” Lennon later complained to Rolling Stone that by giving up leather for suits, “we sold out.” Soon, the story of the Beatles chafing against Epstein’s directives was part of the lore.

The other Beatles — and sometimes, Lennon himself — remembered things differently. “It was later put around that I betrayed our leather image,” Paul McCartney said in “The Beatles Anthology,” “but, as I recall, I didn’t actually have to drag anyone to the tailors.” George Harrison said that “with black T-shirts, black leather gear and sweaty, we did look like hooligans. . . . We gladly switched into suits to get some more money and some more gigs.” Lennon put it this way to Hit Parader in 1975: “Outside of Liverpool, when we went down South in our leather outfits, the dance hall promoters didn’t really like us. . . . We liked the leather and the jeans but we wanted a good suit, even to wear offstage.” To which he added, “I’ll wear a fucking  balloon if somebody’s going to pay me.”

Yeah, that sounds like John.

I believed a couple of the other myths, too.