The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Monty Python at 50

How did I miss this? Monty Python's Flying Circus turned 50 on Friday:

The Pythons included a prolific diarist – Palin has published three hefty volumes already – but, dismayingly, the months around the start of the first Python show are one of the longest gaps. Palin attributes this to the busy-ness of filming, and having a young child and ailing elderly father.

Although comic weirdness had been introduced to the BBC by The Goon Show, Monty Python went even further. BBC production teams may have sensed something odd was coming from the paperwork: a requisition form to the props department asks for a “selection of bras (6), panties (6), and tights (5)” and “1 swastika flag, approx 4’ x 2.6”. A list of extras for a filming day includes, after one name, the specification “no pigeon on shoulder” (parrots, on shoulders and flat on their perch, would become a Python speciality). A handwritten note asks: “What about topless on fountain?”

While Cleese has latterly attracted a reputation for irascibility, he is caught out in the files in a gesture of striking kindness. A Kent schoolboy called Doug Holman writes, asking for tickets to a recording. Cleese arranges for a pair to be sent. Doug, boldly, writes back, saying he is part of a large group of friends who want to go. Cleese contacts the BBC to request a further 14 tickets, suggesting that the young will be “good laughers”.

Given the passage of five decades, many of the early Python audience have joined the choir invisible with the programme’s late parrot. But I tracked down a Doug Holman who grew up in Kent and is now 69, running a business in Hampshire. My email rapidly received the reply: “It’s a fair cop! Hearty congratulations on your detective work.”

So much happened in 1969 and 1999 that these anniversary posts will probably keep coming through next year. Time keeps on slippin'...

Trump isn't Nixon; he's Johnson

I wanted to call special attention to an article in Mother Jones I linked to earlier this evening. In it, Tim Murphy shows that the historical precedent for President Trump's impeachment isn't Richard Nixon, it's Andrew Johnson. Key paragraph:

The real tragedy of the trial wasn’t poor, pathetic Edmund Ross losing his seat. When the vote fails, Wineapple takes us to places that Kennedy never ventured in his book—churches in Charleston and Memphis where African Americans mourned what they knew they’d lost, steeling themselves for the fight to come. They knew what the impeachment was really about, and they knew who had won. As [Eric Foner, the nation’s foremost Reconstruction scholar,] put it at that panel, “Andrew Johnson was impeached over violating a fairly minor act of Congress, whereas his real crime was trying to deprive 4 million American citizens of all their rights.”

Or more succinctly: "The president was a white nationalist who was nullifying a war." Sound familiar?

Pile-up on the Link Highway

I was busy today, and apparently so was everyone else:

I'm sure there was other news today. But this is what I have open in my browser for reading later on.

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?

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.

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."

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.

How the parties aligned on urbanism

CityLab has a good take on how the Democratic Party became the party of cities in the US:

The story begins in the late 19th century, in the filthy, sweaty maw of the Industrial Revolution. To reduce transportation costs, industrialists had built factories in cities with easy access to ports. These factories attracted workers by the thousands, who piled into nearby tenements. Their work was backbreaking—and so were their often-collapsing apartment buildings. When urban workers revolted against their exploitative and dangerous working conditions, they formed the beginning of an international labor movement that would eventually make cities the epicenter of leftist politics.

While workers’ parties won seats in parliamentary European countries with proportional representation, they struggled to gain power in the U.S. Why didn’t socialism take off in America? It’s the question that launched a thousand political-economy papers. One answer is that the U.S. political system is dominated by two parties competing in winner-take-all districts, making it almost impossible for third parties to break through at the national level. To gain power, the U.S. labor movement had to find a home in one of those parties.

This set up the first major inflection point. America’s socialists found welcoming accommodations in the political machines that sprouted up in the largest manufacturing hubs, such as Chicago, Boston, and New York. Not all of the “bosses” at the helm of these machines were Democrats; Philadelphia and Chicago were intermittently controlled by Republicans. But the nation’s most famous machine, New York’s Tammany Hall, was solidly Democratic. As that city’s urban manufacturing workforce exploded in the early 20th century, Tammany Hall bosses had little choice but to forge an alliance with the workers’ parties.

Of course, the more axes on which the parties differ, the less tolerant they become. The cycle of polarization continues.

Lunch links

A few good reads today:

Haven't decided what to eat for lunch yet...

Another anniversary

Monty Python's Life of Brian turned 40 on August 17th. The BBC has a retrospective:

The Pythons’ satire wouldn’t target Jesus or his teachings, instead caricaturing political militants, credulous crowds, the appeal of throwing stones at people, the complexities of Latin grammar, and the difficulties of being a tyrant when you’ve got a speech impediment. “I thought we’d been quite good,” said Idle in Robert Sellers’ behind-the-scenes book, Very Naughty Boys. “We’d avoided being specifically rude to specific groups.”

It seemed, though, that they hadn’t been quite good enough. Terry Jones was about to start directing the film in Tunisia when the Chief Executive of EMI, Bernard Delfont, finally got around to reading the script, and declared that there was no way his company could fund such an atrocity. The project’s unlikely saviour was George Harrison, the ex-Beatle. A friend of Idle’s and a fan of the Pythons, he volunteered to remortgage his house and chip in the £2 million ($4.1 million) the team needed – a bail-out which has become known as ‘the most expensive cinema ticket’ ever issued.

Once Life of Brian was completed, not everyone was so calm. Some countries, such as Ireland and Norway, banned it outright. (In Sweden it was advertised as being ‘so funny it was banned in Norway’.)  In the US, Rabbi Abraham Hecht, President of the Rabbinical Alliance of America, told Variety magazine: “Never have we come across such a foul, disgusting, blasphemous film before.”

Shortly after the film came out in the UK, John Cleese and Michael Palin were on Tim Rice's show "Friday Night...Saturday Morning" with the Bishop of Southwark. It's quite a show.