The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Kicking the can down the road

The Atlantic's Alexis Madrigal points out that while PG&E has some responsibility for California's wildfires, the real culprits are the voters and elected officials who have ignored routine maintenance for two generations:

A kind of toxic debt is embedded in much of the infrastructure that America built during the 20th century. For decades, corporate executives, as well as city, county, state, and federal officials, not to mention voters, have decided against doing the routine maintenance and deeper upgrades to ensure that electrical systems, roads, bridges, dams, and other infrastructure can function properly under a range of conditions. Kicking the can down the road like this is often seen as the profit-maximizing or politically expedient option. But it’s really borrowing against the future, without putting that debt on the books.

In software development, engineers have long noted that taking the easy way out of coding problems builds up what they call “technical debt,” as the tech journalist Quinn Norton has written.

Like other kinds of debt, this debt compounds if you don’t deal with it, and it can distort the true cost of decisions. If you ignore it, the status quo looks cheaper than it is. At least until the off-the-books debt comes to light.

In the same vein—or, perhaps, in a root-cause analysis—Vox recently interviewed author Bruce Gibney about his 2017 book A Generation of Sociopaths: How the Baby Boomers Betrayed America:

[T]he damage done to the social fabric is pretty self-evident. Just look around and notice what’s been done. On the economic front, the damage is equally obvious, and it trickles down to all sorts of other social phenomena. I don’t want to get bogged down in an ocean of numbers and data here (that’s in the book), but think of it this way: I’m 41, and when I was born, the gross debt-to-GDP ratio was about 35 percent. It’s roughly 103 percent now — and it keeps rising.

The boomers inherited a rich, dynamic country and have gradually bankrupted it. They habitually cut their own taxes and borrow money without any concern for future burdens. They’ve spent virtually all our money and assets on themselves and in the process have left a financial disaster for their children.

We used to have the finest infrastructure in the world. The American Society of Civil Engineers thinks there’s something like a $4 trillion deficit in infrastructure in deferred maintenance. It’s crumbling, and the boomers have allowed it to crumble. Our public education system has steadily degraded as well, forcing middle-class students to bury themselves in debt in order to get a college education.

Then of course there’s the issue of climate change, which they’ve done almost nothing to solve. But even if we want to be market-oriented about this, we can think of the climate as an asset, which has degraded over time thanks to the inaction and cowardice of the boomer generation. Now they didn’t start burning fossil fuels, but by the 1990s the science was undeniable. And what did they do? Nothing.

There's a reason the latest meme sweeping Gen Z is "ok, boomer."

The sack of Kurdistan

Could President Trump be not only a very stable genius, but a strategic one as well, for pulling American troops out of Syria ? I mean, given the obvious consequences of our pull-out (i.e., Russia and Turkey carving up Kurdistan), the alternative explanation is that the Situation Room this week looked a lot like Sir Bedevere explaining to King Arthur how the wooden rabbit trick would work.

Maybe his 71-minute oration at his cabinet meeting yesterday could give us more information about his state of mind and battlefield thinking:

“We have a good relationship with the Kurds. But we never agreed to, you know, protect the Kurds. We fought with them for 3½ to four years. We never agreed to protect the Kurds for the rest of their lives.”

Trump misleadingly frames the agreement as the “rest of their lives.” But the United States had certainly made a deal with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which lost 11,000 soldiers in defeating the Islamic State, after being trained and equipped by the United States. (Turkey considers elements of this force to be a terrorist threat.) To prevent a Turkish invasion, the United States persuaded the SDF to pull back up to nine miles from the Turkish border. In August, the SDF destroyed its own military posts after assurances the United States would not let thousands of Turkish troops invade. But then Trump tossed that aside.

“I don’t think you people, with this phony emoluments clause — and by the way, I would say that it’s cost me anywhere from $2 billion to $5 billion to be president — and that’s okay — between what I lose and what I could have made.”

The emoluments clause is not phony; it’s right in the Constitution (Article I, Section 9, Paragraph 8): “No Title of Nobility shall be granted by the United States: And no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.”

Trump’s net worth is valued at $3 billion, so it’s difficult to see how being president could cost him even more than his net worth. Bloomberg News recently estimated that his net worth grew 5 percent in 2018, following two years of declines, bringing it back to the level calculated in 2016. Forbes calculated that as of September, his net worth is $3.1 billion.

So, my conclusion, based on this tiny bit of evidence (and the years of evidence that came before) is that the president is a narcissistic idiot. Why are we still talking about impeachment when the 25th Amendment makes more sense? Oh, right. The Republican Party.

Opening, start Nov. 4: £155k p.a., free room & board, thick skin req.

Speaker of the House of Commons John Bercow retires next week after ten years in the job. Nine MPs want to succeed him:

The victorious candidate will assume one of the grandest and most important jobs in politics — a position so ancient that it makes the prime ministership, dating from the 18th century, look like a recent development.

Thomas Hungerford was the first to hold the speaker’s title, in 1377, although presiding officers were identified as far back as 1258, when Peter de Montfort is thought to have fulfilled that role in the so-called Mad Parliament held at Oxford that year.

The favorite [to succeed Bercow] seems to be Lindsay Hoyle, a deputy speaker and Labour lawmaker from northern England, who refused to say how he voted in the 2016 Brexit referendum. Mr. Hoyle promised to be neutral and fair, and to hold the executive to account. “I want to make this place happy,” he added, setting himself arguably a harder task.

Another prominent candidate is Harriet Harman, a Labour lawmaker who is the body’s longest-serving woman, who said she would be the “champion of Parliament.”

The House votes on November 4th. My money's on Hoyle, having seen him in the chair during Bercow's absences, though I fear he won't have the backbone Bercow has shown recently.

Today, for example, Bercow spent over an hour fending off enraged accusations of bias from Government MPs, to whom he pointed out the numerous times they've actually liked his rulings. Whoever succeeds him will not have an easy time of it.

Lost technologies

The Guardian gave a group of London teenagers five technologies from the distant past to see if they could use them:

1 Phone home… with a rotary dial telephone

They recognise the old phone from movies (and from watching The Sweeney in media studies – I want to go to Mr Rushworth’s media studies classes). Do you have to call the operator first, wonders Jannugan? Is the operator even still there?

But obviously they don’t know their numbers, although Jannugan knows his mother’s ends in 202. Hang on, he does know his landline number, amazingly, for emergencies, and there’s always someone home. So let’s dial it.

This is when the fun begins. Someone knows you have to turn the dial, but how far? They put their fingers in, then dial a teeny bit, then dial back, is that it? It’s hopeless, none of them dials right round to the stopper, then releases before moving on to the next number. And they haven’t taken the handset off the cradle, so they wouldn’t be getting through anyway. Sad, worried parents, not to mention the lonely operator, would remain unrung.

The kids then had to work out how to use a wind-up alarm clock, a radio, an encyclopedia, a Nintendo Game Boy, a turntable, a Sony Walkman, a 35mm camera, pen and paper, and...a map.

Since this group of kids—the college class of 2027—has never known a world without Facebook and whose earliest memories may be the financial crisis of 2008 or Boris Johnson being elected mayor of London, they just don't understand.

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."