The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

How the Great Gatsby explains Trump

Brilliant essay in The Atlantic by Rosa Inocencio Smith:

There’s an eerie symmetry between Donald Trump and The Great Gatsby’s Tom Buchanan, as if the villain of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 novel had been brought to life in a louder, gaudier guise for the 21st century. It’s not just their infamous carelessness, the smashing-up of things and creatures that propels Tom’s denouement and has seemed to many a Twitter user to be the animating force behind Trump’s policy and personnel decisions. The two men, real and fictional, mirror each other in superficial but telling ways. Tom moves like Trump, aggressive and restless, and talks like him, with ponderous pride. He picks personal fights in public, “as though … it would be a privilege to partake vicariously of [his] emotions.” Tom surprises his dinner guests with disjointed political speeches, warning insistently that “civilization’s going to pieces.” His patrician mannerisms are shot through with flashes of anxiety, “as if his complacency, more acute than of old, was not enough to him any more.” 

Tom—the Yale man, the football star, the spender of old money, the scion of what he calls the Nordic race—embodies the peak of social status in his century. Trump—the former Playboy-cover subject, the billionaire celebrity, the most powerful man in America—does the same for his. And their shared personality traits are the product of their shared relationship to power—the casual unreflective certainty that comes from inheritance, and enables its holders to wield its blunt force as both a weapon and a shield. Such power has its own logic; it responds not to social or moral rules, but to what it perceives as danger. It’s for these reasons that in 2018, The Great Gatsbyreads like a warning. For as much as it is a story about the American Dream, it is also a story about power under threat, and of how that power, lashing out, can render truth irrelevant.

History rhymes, and literature provides insights.

The scariest book I've read in years

Yesterday I finished Dr. Jeffrey Lewis's speculative novel, The 2020 Commission Report on the North Korean Nuclear Attacks Against the United States. Why scary? Because Lewis lays out, clearly and without hyperbole, a plausible scenario for what could be the most destructive conflict in human history.

In conjunction with Bob Woodward's Fear and the soon-to-be released The Apprentice, it's even scarier—and no less plausible.

Spend $15 and read this book.

Lunchtime reading list

While trying to debug an ancient application that has been the undoing of just about everyone on my team, I've put these articles aside for later:

Back to the mouldering pile of fetid dingo kidneys that is this application...

Places I've never been before

I had thought about going to see the Chelsea v Bournemouth match at Stamford Bridge today, and even tried to get tickets online for weeks. But getting an English Premier League ticket when you're not a club member is a bit like trying to get a Yankees-Red Sox ticket at Fenway day of game.

I did, however, (a) see Stamford Bridge and (b) buy a shirt, so I feel a bit like I participated.

On the way back, I walked through Brompton Cemetery, which, like Graceland Cemetery back home, is something very close by that I haven't seen before. It was worth the detour:

Note how not very green the place is right now. The UK really hasn't gotten a lot of rain this summer. It's quite grim.

I will now take a brief nap before heading out to Hampstead Heath on my way to Southampton Arms. And if my favorite pub in the UK is also closed, I will...go somewhere else, I suppose.

Bad timing, good timing

My strategy of sleeping until noon (i.e., 6am Chicago time) to avoid shifting my body clock didn't exactly work this trip. That's because, unfortunately, my hotel's air conditioning is being replaced. Fortunately I'm here now, when it's 23°C, not a month ago when it was 34°C. And fortunately, my windows open. That means I had the windows wide open last night, which, unfortunately, meant the sun poured in starting around 6am. Fortunately, I have this view:

And the hotel left a couple of big fans in the room, fortunately.

Then, unfortunately, this terribly disappointing thing is also going on right now:

That's The Blackbird, my second-favorite pub in London, undergoing a gut rehab, apparently. It closed mid-July and won't open again until mid-October, according to my hotel's staff.

But fortunately, the Prince of Teck is just down the road a bit, and they have a pretty good Full English breakfast:

Now, having only gotten four hours of sleep last night, I'm going to have a kip. Because fortunately, I have absolutely nothing scheduled for today.

Another win for the Vogons

Two weeks after a local artist completed a mural commissioned by the local chamber of commerce, Chicago's Streets and Sanitation department destroyed it:

Chicago-based artist JC Rivera’s signature bright yellow “bear champ” went up earlier this month at the CTA Paulina Brown Line stop. But the mural, commissioned by the Lakeview Chamber of Commerce and paid for out of a special taxpayer fund, wasn’t long for this world: In fact, it was on display for a shorter time than it took Rivera to paint the piece.

Late last week, someone notified the city’s 311 nonemergency center and reported the mural as graffiti, triggering a request for its removal, said Marjani Williams, a spokeswoman for the city’s Department of Streets and Sanitation. The city did not detail the 311 request.

It’s the latest instance of Streets and Sanitation workers wiping out something considered public art. In March, the work of French street artist Blek le Rat was blasted away from the side of Cards Against Humanity’s headquarters as the city stepped up graffiti cleanup near proposed sites for Amazon’s second headquarters.

Sigh.

It doesn't seem like Streets & San is doing this on purpose. They just don't care. Fortunately, one of our aldermen has proposed a city-wide mural registry to prevent this sort of thing from happening.

Missed the rain, barely

Yesterday, the Cubs and Mets played to a 1-1 draw at Wrigley when the game got suspended in the 10th due to torrential rain. (They resume in about 20 minutes.) My department bought us rooftop tickets, so we got to see most of the game between the waves of thunderstorms that preceded and interrupted it:

I got supremely lucky: the first wave of thunderstorms hit just as I was getting on the bus to go to the park, finished its deluge just as I got off the bus, and the second wave hit while I was on the bus going back home. So I caught the tail end of the second wave, but only a few drops between the bus and my house.

I'll update this post with the final score whenever they have one.

Update: The Cubs won, 2-1 in the 11th.

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.