The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Mystery of 96-year-old woman's death deepens with new revelations

The Registrar General for Scotland finally released a death certificate that raised more questions than it answered:

Queen Elizabeth II’s cause of death is described as “old age” in the register of deaths released on Thursday.

The registrar general for Scotland, Paul Lowe, confirmed that the Queen’s death was registered in Aberdeenshire on 16 September.

Suspicious, innit? She survived in power for 70 years and this is the best you've got? Apparently Scottish law allows this sort of obfuscation:

Old age is acceptable if the doctor certifying death has cared for the patient for a long time, was not aware of any disease or injury that contributed to death and had observed a gradual decline in the person’s general health and functioning.

The Queen had been experiencing sporadic mobility problems during the final period of her life and used a walking stick regularly in public. Her use of a walking stick came after she was admitted to a private London hospital for “preliminary investigations” in October last year – her first overnight admission for eight years.

Oh? The People deserve a full investigation! A similar fate could befall the current heads of state of not just the UK, but Cameroon, Lebanon, Norway—or even the United States.

We demand the truth!

Ian makes landfall

Hurricane Ian has made landfall over Tampa, Fla., as a strong Category-4 storm:

In a 3:05 p.m. update, the National Hurricane Center said the massive Category 4 storm made landfall on the southwest coast with 240 km/h maximum sustained winds. The most immediate and life-threatening concern was storm surge — the waters of the Gulf of Mexico pushed inland by Ian.

The surge predictions from the National Hurricane Center soared overnight to 4 to 6 meters for Englewood to Bonita Bay, a forecast so high a new color was added to the National Hurricane Center’s peak storm surge prediction map. The worst of that storm surge is expected after landfall and later this evening.

Here is the GOES-East satellite image for the past 4 hours:

I have friends in Tampa and Orlando I'm keeping tabs on. I hope they're all right as the storm moves (very slowly) north. Currently, the probability cone has the storm also hitting just west of the RDU area as a tropical depression. As my (Hungarian) primary flight instructor often said all those years ago, "it mights gonna to be a bit vindy."

Bank of England fights "moron risk premium"

After Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng's shocking mini-budget announcement last week, worldwide markets (and the IMF) have clobbered Sterling and the Conservative government in general. Today the Bank of England intervened in bond markets to try undoing the worst damage:

The Bank will start buying government bonds at an "urgent pace" to help restore "orderly market conditions".

So called Liability Driven Investment funds - which support defined benefit pensions schemes - were facing a collapse in the value of the bonds they hold, which in turn could have forced them to rush to sell other assets, sparking yet more market panic.

The Bank has already said it will "not hesitate" to hike interest rates to try and protect the pound and try and stem surging prices. Some economists have predicted the Bank of England will raise the interest rate from the current 2.25% to 5.8% by next spring.

Despite the Bank's action, the pound continued to fall with some analysts warning it could even reach parity with the dollar.

"What today shows us, is that the market doesn't see this as a problem that just the Bank of England can clean up," said Jane Foley, a currency strategist at Rabobank. "This is just firefighting".

Economist Tony Yates, formerly of the Bank, believes the markets expect a reversal to the Tories' new policy, either as a volte-face soon or at the next election:

The combination of falling sterling and rising rates is particularly damning. Normally a country embarking on a monetary-policy contraction to combat an inflationary surge—imparted by a fiscal loosening—might be expected to see a rise in its exchange rate. But the government’s move has shaken markets’ faith in its fiscal competence and its grasp of macroeconomic realities. That loss of confidence produced the exchange-rate fall.

Mr Kwarteng’s delusions will come to an end. The worst return to reality would see Britain slide into a full-blown financial crisis. In this regard the fall in sterling is less important than the rise in the cost of government finances. That is partly because investors are demanding a premium: they expect to compensate themselves for the upheavals of recent days and the uncertainty they have introduced. (The economists Paul Krugman and Dario Perkins have called this a “moron risk premium”.) In a doomsday scenario this premium generates a self-fulfilling vicious cycle. It raises spending (on interest payments on existing government debt) and lowers revenues (a dearth of confidence will lead to less economic activity). This will raise the “moron premium” further, worsening the funding gap. And so on.

Ironically the fiscal plans of a prospective left-wing government are providing the confidence anchor for the right-wing government it is expected to defeat in the next election. And the more this is expected to happen, and the sterner and clearer Labour’s plans become, the less awful the crisis will be in the meantime. The stupidity of Mr Kwarteng’s policy and its unpopularity are helping to limit the damage done by it. Markets believe that things won’t carry on as they are indefinitely.

Of particular concern, most mortgages in the UK have floating rates, unlike here in the US where fixed rates are most common. So the rising interest rates and declining pound will start hitting mortgage borrowers hard, just when gas prices blow up later this autumn.

I only wish I had a few extra bucks right now for a trip to the Ancestral Homeland. Given the current Tory resistance to change in the face of direct evidence, though, I suspect the exchange rate will remain pretty favorable to Americans through the winter.

If you won't buy my gas, you can't have it anyway

Someone—who, pray, could it be?—apparently blew up two parts of the Nord Stream 1 pipeline that brings gas from Russia to Europe:

European officials on Tuesday launched investigations into possible “sabotage” following three mysterious leaks in the Nord Stream pipelines, built to carry Russian natural gas to Europe, after the system operator reported “unprecedented” damage to the lines in the Baltic Sea.

The damage — which seismic authorities registered as two significant underwater explosions — drew immediate accusations from European leaders that Russia was to blame. They offered no immediate evidence. But some officials suggested it might be revenge for Europe’s efforts to find alternatives to Russian natural gas or a threat that other gas pipelines that crisscross the Baltic Sea were vulnerable — including one inaugurated on Tuesday.

The leaks had no immediate impact on energy supplies to the European Union, since Russia had already cut off gas flows. But gas had remained in the pipes, raising concerns about possible environmental harm from leaking methane — the main component of natural gas and, when in the atmosphere, a major contributor to climate change. Images supplied by the Danish military showed gas bubbles reaching the surface of the water.

A senior European defense official and a European environmental official said that the primary, most obvious suspect behind the leaks was Russia. Russian officials had a motivation: sending a message to Europeans about the consequences of getting gas via the new Baltic pipeline. They also have the capability: a robust submersible program.

“No one on the European side of the ocean is thinking this is anything other than Russian sabotage,” the environmental official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal thinking about the leak.

I expect that the US Navy knows exactly what happened, and the Russian Navy probably knows we know, but it'll take some time for declassified reports filter out to the public. That said, if our navy knows, then we would have shared that info with the UK and most of NATO by now. I'm going to watch what the diplomats say for the next week on this.

Two brewery closings this month

One of my favorites (and Cassie's), Urban Brew Labs, closed on September 10th due to inadequate beer sales. They ran out of my favorite brew a couple of weeks earlier but I still managed to get there on the 9th to wish them luck.

In a bit of Karmic balancing, Smylie Brothers closed their awful Lakeview location (on my birthday of all things!), for no apparent reason. I mean, my hypothesis would have to include the food and beer, but owner Michael Smylie declined to comment when Block Club Chicago asked about it.

That still leaves almost 140 breweries and distilleries on the Brews & Choos Project list, including 63 I've yet to visit. And I plan to, with somewhat more vigor after I move next month.

Sterling drops to lowest price ever

The pound fell to $1.033 in early trading this morning before rebounding to the still-ahistorical $1.08 by mid-day:

Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak hasn't had the job for three weeks and he's already tanked British currency markets. The Guardian's economics editor Larry Elliott calls the mini-budget that started this catastrophe a "schoolboy error:"

Part of the story of the pound’s weakness is a function of dollar strength but that does not explain why sterling has fallen so rapidly since the end of last week. There are three UK-related factors behind the fall.

First, once a currency hits the skids it is hard to stop it. Momentum trading took over in the aftermath of Kwasi Kwarteng’s mini-budget and it has proved hard to halt.

Second, Kwarteng committed a schoolboy error by pledging further tax cuts in a full budget planned for later this year. If the markets are worried about the state of the government’s finances and the increase in borrowing needed to fund your plans, it is not the wisest course of action to add to those concerns. Kwarteng’s inexperience has been exposed.

Third, the financial markets don’t really know how the Bank of England will respond to the events of the past three days. Threadneedle Street raised interest rates by half a point last Thursday but there has been speculation of an emergency meeting of the Bank’s monetary policy committee as early as Monday.

The Economist expands:

Five-year British yields have risen from 1.5% at the beginning of August to above 4.5% now: an increase of about one percentage point in just two days.

That combination of rising yields and a falling currency has prompted discussions of a broader crisis of confidence in Britain’s economy and its assets. The government’s tax cuts will mean a growing budget deficit and higher public-debt levels in the future. Britain’s current-account deficit reached 8.3% of gdp in the first three months of the year, the deepest in modern history, driven by surging energy prices. A gaping current-account deficit is something that often worries those who invest in developing economies.

But in other ways Britain is an unusual candidate for a currency crisis. Its exchange rate is flexible, meaning that there is no link to another currency, as was the case when Britain was forced out of the European Exchange Rate Mechanism in 1992. Its financial markets are deep and sophisticated. It has minimal debt denominated in foreign currencies, and its central bank is independent from the government.

The most simple explanation for the sell-off, then, is that investors do not believe that the government’s tax cuts will lead to the real economic growth Mr Kwarteng wants. Instead, they foresee higher inflation that the Bank of England will be unwilling to fully offset with interest-rate increases. Currency analysts at the Bank of America suggest that a combination of Britain’s changing fiscal stance and the long-running effects of its decision to leave the European Union have led to a profound rethink of the pound by investors. That leaves the currency more vulnerable in the years ahead.

I was joking with friends that I should hop over there to finally get a pint and a bap for under $10, until one of them pointed out that it would be a $1210 pint and bap given airfares and hotel costs. Ah, well. It doesn't look like the pound will recover before the end of the year, so maybe Christmas in London again? Any bets on whether PM Liz Truss will have to call an election before then?

Almost as long as a Mahler symphony

Wow, yesterday went on a bit. From getting on the bus to Peoria to getting off the bus back in Chicago, I spent 18 hours and 20 minutes doing something connected with the Peoria Symphony's performance of Beethoven's 9th yesterday. I think it went quite well, and I expect they'll ask us back the next time they do a huge symphonic choral work.

Right now, Cassie has plotzed completely after two nights in boarding, and I need to figure out what I'm eating this week. So I'll post something more interesting later today.

In the meantime, enjoy this Saturday Night Live bit that will challenge even the most attentive English speakers throughout the former colonies:

Update on the Ravenswood Metra station

The local alderman's office sent me an update this afternoon on Metra's and the Union Pacific Railroad's stupefying 9-year mission to construct a single station platform that thousands of commuters per day would like to start using:

I spoke to the foreman this week who, unfortunately, informed me of further delays on this project. The project is still awaiting a delivery of tiles from the manufacturer who, due to one person catching Covid recently, has informed them that the tiles won't be ready until the end of the year. This is on par which many of the delays on this project, which have been due to supply chain issues.

This pushes final completion of the project closer to March of next year. We are in communication with Metra to see if they might be able to reopen a portion of the station to commuters before that date, as most of it is complete by now.

Yes, of course: the tiles. It took me a moment to realize that the foreman meant the tiles that will cover the walls of the stairwells and ramps from the street to the platform, which I expect will reduce maintenance costs. All things equal, tiles are probably easier to clean than concrete.

Looking across Lawrence Avenue at the yet-to-open platform, though, I would say it just needs guardrails so people don't fall onto the street below.

But when I'm standing on the "temporary" 10-year-old platform across the street in a snowstorm some Monday morning this winter, I'll comfort myself knowing I'm doing it for the tiles.