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'...

It's a world gone: Mad

Beloved humor magazine of my childhood and my father's Mad Magazine will effectively end its 67-year run with the August issue:

Sources tell [The Hollywood Reporter] that after issue 9, MAD will no longer be sold on newsstands and will only be available through comic book shops as well as mailed to subscribers. After issue 10, there will no longer be new content in subsequent issues save for the end-of-year specials (those will be all-new). Beginning with issue 11, the magazine will only feature previously published content — classic and best-of nostalgic fare — from its massive fault of the past 67 years. DC, however, will also continue to publish MAD books and special collections.

The venerable humor magazine was founded in 1952 by a group of editors led by Harvey Kurtzman. Although it began as a comic book, bimonthly issues were published and became the norm for the satirical content. MAD, with it's always memorable covers featuring the gap-toothed Alfred E. Neuman, has been highly influential on successive generations of comedians, artists, writers and performers.

Fweep. So long, and thanks for all the jokes.

Randy Rainbow in Chicago

If you haven't discovered Randy Rainbow, here you go:

He was in Chicago last night, at Thalia Hall in Pilsen, and I got a chance to hear him live. And today, he's on the cover of the Washington Post Magazine:

In a topsy-turvy era, is it surprising that a political commentator should dress in sequins, feather boas and pink cat-eye glasses? Because that’s Randy Rainbow (yes, it’s his given name). In real life, the 37-year-old leads a solitary existence in an orderly apartment adorned with oversize photographs of Audrey Hepburn, Judy Garland and Barbra Streisand. But millions share his splashy, over-the-top digital life: Since 2016, Rainbow, a Broadway hopeful who fled from cattle-call auditions, has found his own spotlight through the Internet, emerging as a YouTube sensation who dispenses musical-comedy salve for a divided nation.

Hundreds of thousands watch the short videos he produces every 10 days or so, featuring show tunes and pop songs he has refashioned with biting new lyrics. These DIY productions are funny and oh-so-topical and include clever video manipulation of news footage to create sassy mock interviews with prominent political players — mostly of the Trumpian variety — topped off with costumes ordered online.

A sampling of Rainbow’s hot takes includes “Desperate Cheeto” (a take on Luis Fonsi’s “Despacito”), “Border Lies” (Madonna’s “Borderline”), “How Do You Solve a Problem Like Korea?” (“Maria” from “The Sound of Music”) and “GOP Dropout” (“Beauty School Dropout” from “Grease”). Actor-comedian Steve Martin told Rainbow that “A Very Stable Genius” — a takedown of you-know-who sung to Gilbert and Sullivan’s “I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major-General” — is a favorite ditty in the Martin household.

(Note that Tom Lehrer famously also adapted "Major General" but with, shall we say, fewer politics.)

To coin a phrase

Today's Daily Parker flash of inspiration will memorialize my update to an obsolete proverb.

Instead of "a stopped watch is right twice a day," substitute "a dead mobile gets no bad texts."

On second thought, they're not orthogonal. But in my defense, I was thinking of the president at the time.

Where plaid comes from

A farmer in Scotland tweaks American tourists:

A cheeky farmer is winding up American tourists by spray-painting her sheep tartan – and claiming it’s caused by the animals drinking popular Scottish soft drink, Irn-Bru.

Owner Maxine Scott, 62, used her skills with a spray-can to brighten up ewes April and Daisy.

Scott puts up a sign pretending that the sheep turn bright orange naturally and that their fleeces are then used to make tartan wool for kilts and blankets.

The sheep live on Auchingarrich Wildlife Centre, Comrie, Perthshire, and are decorated using marker spray, used by farmers to identify sheep during lamb numbering.

I wonder what clan they're in?

David Graeber on Bullshit Jobs

I've just started reading anthropologist David Graeber's book Bullshit Jobs. It's hilarious and depressing at the same time. For a good summary, I would point you to Graeber's own essay "On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs" that ran in Strike seven years ago:

A recent report comparing employment in the US between 1910 and 2000 gives us a clear picture (and I note, one pretty much exactly echoed in the UK). Over the course of the last century, the number of workers employed as domestic servants, in industry, and in the farm sector has collapsed dramatically. At the same time, ‘professional, managerial, clerical, sales, and service workers’ tripled, growing ‘from one-quarter to three-quarters of total employment.’ In other words, productive jobs have, just as predicted, been largely automated away (even if you count industrial workers globally, including the toiling masses in India and China, such workers are still not nearly so large a percentage of the world population as they used to be.)

But rather than allowing a massive reduction of working hours to free the world's population to pursue their own projects, pleasures, visions, and ideas, we have seen the ballooning of not even so much of the ‘service’ sector as of the administrative sector, up to and including the creation of whole new industries like financial services or telemarketing, or the unprecedented expansion of sectors like corporate law, academic and health administration, human resources, and public relations. And these numbers do not even reflect on all those people whose job is to provide administrative, technical, or security support for these industries, or for that matter the whole host of ancillary industries (dog-washers, all-night pizza delivery) that only exist because everyone else is spending so much of their time working in all the other ones.

These are what I propose to call ‘bullshit jobs’.

It's as if someone were out there making up pointless jobs just for the sake of keeping us all working. And here, precisely, lies the mystery. In capitalism, this is precisely what is not supposed to happen. Sure, in the old inefficient socialist states like the Soviet Union, where employment was considered both a right and a sacred duty, the system made up as many jobs as they had to (this is why in Soviet department stores it took three clerks to sell a piece of meat). But, of course, this is the sort of very problem market competition is supposed to fix. According to economic theory, at least, the last thing a profit-seeking firm is going to do is shell out money to workers they don't really need to employ. Still, somehow, it happens.

The book expands on the essay's themes, and adds scholarship, so it's therefore even more depressing than the original column. But he suggests an alternative: public policies to redistribute wealth back to the people who created it, and actually free up our time from these bullshit jobs.

Stuff to read on the plane

Just a quick post of articles I want to load up on my Surface at O'Hare:

Off to take Parker to boarding. Thence the Land of UK.

Wieners Circle closing?

The owner of the property that houses Chicago's infamous Wieners Circle hot-dog stand has put it up for sale:

The Wieners Circle, that Lincoln Park institution known as much for its late-night insults as its hot dogs, may soon have to take its shtick somewhere else.

The hot dog stand's longtime landlord has hired a broker to sell the Clark Street property and an apartment building next door, potentially setting the stage for a developer to raze the 36-year-old restaurant and put up apartments or condos in its place.

"Obviously, a 700-square-foot, single-story restaurant is not the highest and best use for that lot," said Jeff Baasch, senior vice president at SVN Chicago Commercial, the brokerage marketing the property to investors.

Under current zoning, a developer could renovate the five-story apartment building, which "needs work," Baasch said, and also put up a building with ground-floor commercial space topped by about six residential units on the Wieners Circle site.

That's too bad. The Wieners Circle is a Chicago legend. And here, via Conan O'Brian, is a glimpse through the doors:

The Thick of It is now

In a column last summer, UC Berkeley professor Ned Resnikoff saw Armando Ianucci's British sitcom The Thick of It as a warning:

As scathing as The Thick of It can be in its depiction of craven, self-interested political behavior, it’s difficult to imagine any of its protagonists engaging in criminality on a scale equal to what Trump’s inner circle may have committed.

Nor can The Thick of It capture the dizzying instability of American politics in 2017, though it has occasionally gotten close. The conventions of the sitcom genre usually demand that, for all the frantic activity in one episode or another, very little ever really changes; the prime minister might get ousted and the opposition may become the governing party, but the political system itself remains static. It’s barely five years later that we understand just how fragile that apparent stasis was all along.

Indeed, one can imagine a contemporary version of The Thick of It in which its starring hacks cross the murky boundary between unethical behavior and blatantly illegal acts,the usual unprincipled goons suddenly finding themselves locked into a partnership of convenience with committed racists; and in which the collateral damage they wreak has expanded to institutional and geopolitical dimensions. While that show does not yet exist, one can see the seeds of proto-Trumpian government-as-PR-crisis in old Thick of It episodes, like a warning we all failed to heed.

Yes. We're longing for the halcyon days of Malcolm Tucker. Welcome to the Trump Administration.