The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Perfect early-autumn weather

Inner Drive Technology WHQ cooled down to 14°C overnight and has started to climb up into the low-20s this morning, with a low dewpoint and mostly-clear skies. Perfect sleeping weather, and almost-perfect walking weather! In a few minutes I'm going to take Cassie out for a good, long walk, but first I want to queue up some stuff to read when it's pissing with rain tomorrow:

Finally, my indoor Netatmo base station has picked up a funny mid-September thing: cicadas. The annual dog-day cicadas have only a few more days to get the next generation planted in the ground, so the remaining singletons have come out this morning instead of waiting for dusk. As you can see, the ones in the tree right outside the window closest to the Netatmo have been going at it since dawn:

The predominant species in my yard right now are neotibicen pruinosus, or "scissor-grinder" cicadas. But we also have our share of other species in Northern Illinois. And, of course, next May: Brood XIII comes out. That'll be fun (especially for Cassie)!

Annals of the mafia state

Since today is the last Friday of the summer, I'm leaving the office a little early to tackle one of the more logistically challenging itineraries on the Brews & Choos Project. So I'm queueing up a few things to read over the weekend:

Finally, via Bruce Schneier, a report on Mexican food labeling laws, how manufacturers have gone to absurd lengths to skirt them, and how these fights are probably coming the US soon.

Wait, it's *how* old?

Risky Business came out 40 years ago this month:

“Risky Business,” then and now, is an indictment of privilege, and of somehow keeping the uglier world at bay long enough to buy your way into a kind of imperviousness. Except — and here’s what I think I responded to — it’s funny and confident and cool and all of its points about the spoils of capitalism get disguised inside a dream of opulence. It appears to affirm the early Reagan years as ripe for opportunity while, with a much deeper subtlety, undercuts places like the North Shore as chilly incubators of inequality.

Not that everyone saw this criticism of the Reagan Years in Year 2 of the Reagan Years. David Denby wrote in a New York Magazine review that “Risky Business” played as “openly corrupt.” Dave Kehr, closer to the truth as the film critic of the Chicago Reader (then later the Chicago Tribune), would likely have agreed with Denby, for different reasons: He wrote that the movie was “one of the finest film explorations of the end of innocence,” ending with a “complete corruption” of Cruise’s character and “one of the most bitter and plangent sequences allowed to pass in an American movie.” And that’s about the ending that played in theaters; Brickman’s original ending gets far darker.

My guess, if you haven’t seen “Risky Business” in years, little of this sounds right.

Now I gotta watch it tonight...

Those who can't create, execute

Writing for The New Yorker, Inkoo Kang summarizes why the film industry seems in precipitous decline lately:

To survey the film and television industry today is to witness multiple existential crises. Many of them point to a larger trend: of Hollywood divesting from its own future, making dodgy decisions in the short term that whittle down its chances of long-term survival. Corporations are no strangers to fiscal myopia, but the ways in which the studios are currently squeezing out profits—nickel-and-diming much of their labor force to the edge of financial precarity while branding their output with the hallmarks of creative bankruptcy—indicate a shocking new carelessness. Signs of this slow suicide are all around: the narrowing pipelines for rising talent, the overreliance on nostalgia projects, and a general negligence in cultivating enthusiasm for its products. Writers and actors have walked out to demand fairer wages and a more equitable system, but they’ve also argued, quite persuasively, that they’re the ones trying to insure the industry’s sustainability. Meanwhile, studio executives—themselves subject to C-suite musical chairs—seem disinterested in steering Hollywood away from the iceberg. This is perhaps because the landscape is shifting (and facets of it are shrinking) so rapidly that they themselves have little idea of what the future of Hollywood might look like.

Some of the first Cassandras to draw the public’s attention to this slo-mo self-sabotage were the striking writers. W.G.A. members have expressed alarm not only that their profession has become devalued and unstable through low pay but also that the paths that allowed newcomers to eventually become showrunners, which have existed for the past half century, have been eroded by the studios.

The movies may be in grimmer shape. The industry’s pursuit of I.P. at the expense of originality has all but trained younger audiences not to expect novelty or surprise at the multiplex, assuming that they’re going to the theatre at all. Hollywood has never been known for overestimating the audience’s intelligence, but it’s hard not to wonder how it is supposed to be inculcating a love of cinema in children—that is, future moviegoers—when the splashiest films on offer are explicitly buckets of regurgitation.

Barbie,” meanwhile, saw the director Greta Gerwig infuse the half-century-old blond blank slate with her own idiosyncratic anxieties to produce a Zeitgeist-capturing film with an unmistakable authorial imprimatur. But Hollywood’s ignoring the obvious takeaway, which is that viewers appreciate novelty. Instead, Mattel has announced that it will follow up “Barbie” by raiding its toy closet for more I.P., and has put dozens of projects based on its products into development.

Last week I finished, at some personal cost, a slog through a streaming show I had hoped to like: the third season of Star Trek: Picard. I loved Star Trek as a kid, and I thought most of TNG worked. (TNG may look clunky today, but the original series looked clunky in 1988, just as today's ultra-low-gamma, poorly-mixed film will look horrible in 2050.)

I note this because it disappointed me for all the reasons that the film industry disappoints everyone today: poor writing, poor storytelling, yet one more whack at the empty Star Trek piñata, and poor writing. I imagine ST:P came out of the dreaded mini-rooms from writers who got paid little and probably threw out their AA pins when they saw the final product.

Every so often, an industry blows up. Film won't disappear in my lifetime: people have watched visual stories since they first sat around campfires a hundred millennia ago. But we may have reached the end of the amazing and original movies and films that started with Life Goes On and Babylon 5 in the 1990s through Battlestar Galactica and Deadwood in the 2000s. Go watch a 1970s sitcom and weep.

Papagena lebe!

I'm just over a week from performing with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at Ravinia in Mozart's Die Zauberflöte, so as I try to finish a feature that turned out to be a lot bigger than I thought, I'm hearing opera choruses in my head. Between rehearsals and actual work, I might never get to read any of these items:

Finally, New York City (and other urban areas) are experiencing a post-pandemic dog-poop renaissance. Watch where you step!

And now, I will put on "Dank sei dir Osiris" one more time.

Clearer air on an "inside" day

I had one of those "why am I working inside today?" moments when I got my lunch a few minutes ago. The obvious answer—Cassie needs dog food—doesn't always work when it's 27°C and sunny. It did get me to re-evaluate my dinner plans, however. Cooking pasta just doesn't appeal when my favorite sushi place has an outdoor patio that allows dogs.

Meanwhile, I'm adding a feature that might take the remainder of this sprint as it completely changes how we store and present 3rd-party calculation results to the end user. Previously we just presented the user's most recent calculation on the results page. But our pesky users seem to want to see their previous calculation results as well. Since we were throwing those away when the user made a new calculation, I have some work to do.

Meanwhile:

  • Via Bruce Schneier, the Gandalf AI app lets you socially-engineer an AI to get its password. Schneier himself hasn't gotten past Level 7, so good luck to you.
  • Tyler Austin Harper sees an uncomfortable connection between the movies Oppenheimer and Barbie, both of which open this weekend.
  • Office furniture brokers have a glut of inventory as post-pandemic return-to-office plans get slower and slower.
  • Today is the anniversary of Massachusetts Commodore Dudley Saltonstall's incompetent attack on the British garrison at present-day Penobscot, Maine, in 1779, that should remind all y'all commando wannabes what happens when amateurs attack a vastly superior professional force. (Also a reminder that Benjamin Franklin's diplomacy really won our War of Independence, not George Washington's soldiering.)
  • In what can't be politely described, so I'll call it a dick move, Universal Studios denuded a stand of trees along Barham Blvd. in Los Angeles to harass the striking writers and actors who had used the trees for shade in the 32°C heat. And the suits continue to wonder why everyone roots for the talent.
  • Of course, the suits broke the business in the first place, so maybe that has more to do with it.

Finally, now that Cassie has had her birthday photo and her sardine dinner, it's time for her bath. Wow, does she need one. And she's going to get one tomorrow morning, traumatizing though it is for her.

Of note, Monday afternoon

Just a few items for my reading list:

  • The Supreme Court's Republican majority have invented a new doctrine that they claim gives them override any action by a Democratic administration or Congress.
  • John Ganz thinks all Americans are insane, at least when it comes to conspiracy theories.
  • Chicago's Deep Tunnel may have spared us from total disaster with last week's rains, but even it can't cope with more than about 65 mm of rain in an hour.
  • Oregon's Rose Quarter extension of Interstate 5 will cost an absurd amount of money because it's an absurdly wide freeway.

Finally, for those of you just tuning in to the multiple creative labor actions now paralyzing the film industry, the Washington Post has a succinct briefing on residuals, the principal point of disagreement between the suits and the people actually making films.

They've stopped acting because they're pissed

The Screen Actors Guild/AFTRA voted to strike today, halting most TV and film production worldwide (and even ending the Oppenheimer red carpet). The Times explains:

About 160,000 television and movie actors are going on strike at midnight, joining screenwriters who walked off the job in May and setting off Hollywood’s first industrywide shutdown in 63 years.

The leaders of the union, SAG-AFTRA, approved a strike on Thursday, hours after contract talks with a group of studios broke down. Actors will be on the picket line starting on Friday.

“What’s happening to us is happening across all fields of labor,” said Fran Drescher, SAG-AFTRA’s president. “When employers make Wall Street and greed their priority and they forget about the essential contributors who make the machine run, we have a problem.”

While some actors do get $15 million for a single movie, most just do their jobs and hope they get a fair wage. They also hope that the studios will pay them when their work gets re-run, which still happens on network television but not, it turns out, on streaming services:

In December, 2020, in the depths of pandemic winter, the actress Kimiko Glenn got a foreign-royalty statement in the mail from the screen actors’ union, sag-aftra. Glenn is best known for playing the motormouthed, idealistic inmate Brook Soso on the women’s-prison series “Orange Is the New Black,” which ran from 2013 to 2019, on Netflix. The orchid-pink paper listed episodes of the show that she’d appeared on (“A Whole Other Hole,” “Trust No Bitch”) alongside tiny amounts of income (four cents, two cents) culled from overseas levies—a thin slice of pie from the show that had thrust her to prominence. “I was, like, Oh, my God, it’s just so sad,” Glenn recalled. With many television and movie sets shuttered, she was supporting herself with voice-over jobs, and she’d been messing around with TikTok. She posted a video in which she scans the statement—“I’m about to be so riiich!”—then reaches the grand total of twenty-seven dollars and thirty cents and shrieks, “WHAT?”

When “Orange” premièred, ten years ago this week, it broke ground in multiple ways. ... A decade on, however, some of the cast feel disillusioned about how they were compensated, both during the original run and in the years since. Television actors have traditionally had a base of income from residuals, which come from reruns and other forms of reuse of the shows in which they’ve appeared. At the highest end, residuals can yield a fortune; reportedly, the cast of “Friends” has each made tens of millions of dollars from syndication. But streaming has scrambled that model, endangering the ability of working actors to make a living.

Netflix didn’t share its viewership numbers (and still mostly doesn’t), making it harder for the actors to negotiate higher salaries. But the “Orange” cast could tell that the show was a megahit from their overnight fame.

Despite the Beatlemania-like fame, many cast members had to keep their day jobs for multiple seasons. They were waiting tables, bartending. DeLaria continued doing live gigs to keep up with her rent.

We saw this with video recordings and cable. We'll see it with the next technology that comes along. Because as in all fields, the owners of the businesses want to make money, and if they can get labor (or anything else considered "supply") cheaper, they do.

Pity the Emmys won't have a script this year. Or actors. Or, possibly, a telecast.

Wrapping up the second quarter

Here is the state of things as we go into the second half of 2023:

  • The government-owned but independently-edited newspaper Wiener Zeitung published its last daily paper issue today after being in continuous publication since 8 August 1703. Today's headline: "320 years, 12 presidents, 10 emperors, 2 republics, 1 newspaper."
  • Paula Froelich blames Harry Windsor's and Megan Markle's declining popularity on a simple truth: "Not just because they were revealed as lazy, entitled dilettantes, but because they inadvertently showed themselves for who they really are: snobs. And Americans really, really don’t like snobs."
  • Starting tomorrow, Amtrak can take you from Chicago to St Louis (480 km) in 4:45, at speeds up to (gasp!) 175 km/h. Still not really a high-speed train but at least it's a 30-minute and 50 km/h improvement since 2010. (A source at Amtrak told me the problem is simple: grade crossings. They can't go 225 km/h over a grade crossing because, in a crash, F=ma, and a would be very high.)
  • The Federal Trade Commission will start fining websites up to $10,000 for each fake review it publishes. "No-gos include reviews that misrepresent someone’s experience with a product and that claim to be written by someone who doesn’t exist. Reviews also can’t be written by insiders like company employees without clear disclosures."
  • A humorous thought problem involving how many pews an 80-year-old church can have explains the idiocy behind parking minimums.
  • Chicago bike share Divvy turned 10 on Wednesday. You can now get one in any of Chicago's 50 wards, plus a few suburbs.
  • Actor Alan Arkin, one of my personal favorites for his deadpan hilarity, died yesterday at age 89.

And finally, the Chicago Tribune's food critic Nick Kindelsperger tried 21 Chicago hot dogs so you don't have to to find the best in the city.

Week-end round-up

I think I finally cracked the nut on a work problem that has consumed our team for almost three years. Unfortunately I can't write about it yet. I can say, though, that the solution became a lot clearer just a couple of weeks after our team got slightly smaller. I will say nothing more. Just remember, there are two types of people: those who can infer things from partial evidence.

Just a few articles left to read before I take Cassie on her pre-dinner ambulation:

  • Titanic director James Cameron, who has made 30 dives to the famed wreck, slammed the news media for "a cruel, slow turn of the screw for four days" as he, the US Navy, and probably most of the rescuers already figured out the submarine Titan had imploded on its descent Sunday morning.
  • The US Navy in turn reported that its Atlantic sonar net had picked up the implosion when it happened, but didn't explain (see re: inferences, above) that it waited until the accident had been confirmed by other sources because the Navy's sonar capabilities are highly classified military secrets. And since the Titan didn't have any kind of black-box recorder, they would not make any effort to bring it up from the bottom.
  • New York Times columnist Jesse Wegman slaps his forehead and asks, "Does Justice Alito (R) hear himself?" (See re: inferences, above.) James Fallows argues that "it is time for outside intervention, and supervision" of the Court. Josh Marshall sees the "fish and flights" as emblematic of deeper corruption: "The guiding jurisprudence might best be described as 'Too bad, suckas' or perhaps 'Sucks to be you.' "
  • Biologists Jerry A Coyne (University of Chicago emeritus) and Luana S Maroja  (Williams College) argue that ideology is "poisoning" the study and teaching of biology.
  • The 2 quadrillion liters (give or take) of groundwater we humans have pumped out in the last 30 years found its way to the oceans, redistributing the mass of the earth and shifting our planet's axis by about 800 mm—not enough to change the seasons, but enough to subtly interfere with global positioning and astronomy.
  • LEDs in street lights and houses have added about 10% more light pollution to our skies each year, according to new research. Of course, LEDs provide more light and save 90% of the energy we used to waste on incandescent and nonmetal-vapor lights, so...

And finally, the Illinois legislature extended by 5 years the Covid-era regulations allowing restaurants to sell go-cups. We're not New Orleans by any stretch, but you can continue to take that margarita home with your leftover burritos.

I will now retire to my lovely patio...