The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Epic trolling, or actually that dumb?

Tucker Carlson last night spent a full 90 seconds ranting against the "yoke of tyranny" called the "metric system:"

Fox News host Tucker Carlson railed against the metric system of measurement in his show on Wednesday night, describing it as "inelegant" and "creepy." James Panero, a cultural critic and executive editor of The New Criterion, joined Carlson for the segment.

Panero recently wrote an article for The Wall Street Journal attacking the metric system with its meters and kilograms and urging America to stick to its customary system of measurement, which resembles the old British Imperial system.

"Almost every nation on Earth has fallen under the yoke of tyranny—the metric system," Carlson said. "From Beijing to Buenos Aires, from Lusaka to London, the people of the world have been forced to measure their environment in millimeters and kilograms. "The United States is the only major country that has resisted, but we have no reason to be ashamed for using feet and pounds."

Panero called the metric system "the original system of global revolution and new world orders."

Carlson replied: "God bless you, and that's exactly what it is. Esperanto died, but the metric system continues, this weird, utopian, inelegant, creepy system that we alone have resisted."

They went on to laud the "ancient wisdom" of 12s and 60s that divide more easily into thirds, as opposed to the international system that's "totally made up."

I really wish I had made this up.

Knowing a bit about Carlson, I really can't tell if he's trolling. He may actually believe all of this. But knowing a bit about Fox News, it seems more likely that this rant fits more in the us-vs-them dynamic Fox encourages in its viewers. Anti-intellectualism separates "real muricans" from the kilogram-loving "coastal elites," I suppose.

I wonder if anyone told his viewers that most of our economy outside agriculture, and all of our defense spending, uses SI units?

Whatever. As Media Matters says, this is all part of Carlson's "absurd, ongoing caricature of 'the left'."

Welcome home, Attila

The former owner of Chicago restaurant Embeya has returned to the city to face charges he misappropriated $300,000 of the restaurant's money:

Attila Gyulai hasn’t been seen in Chicago since traveling overseas in 2016 shortly after shuttering Embeya — then one of the city's most illustrious restaurants. At the time, Gyulai blamed family obligations and the demands of running a restaurant.

But his partners, Thai and Danielle Dang, filed a lawsuit alleging he had been looting the business. And more than a year and a half later, federal prosecutors charged Gyulai with wire fraud, alleging he had misappropriated at least $300,000 “by means of materially false and fraudulent pretenses, representations and promises.”

Gyulai was arrested in late December in Valencia, Spain, where he’d traveled from Ecuador on a 10-day vacation. He waived extradition in March and was finally brought back to the U.S. to face the charges this month, court records show.

An upscale Vietnamese restaurant on the highly competitive Randolph Row, Embeya opened in 2012 to praise for polished cooking by chef Thai Dang and the artfully designed dining room.

Yet the charges alleged that Gyulai, who with his wife owned 56.5 percent of the restaurant and handled the finances, was engaged in fraud from as early as August 2011 to just after Embeya closed.

When the Dangs raised concerns about how the restaurant was being managed, Gyulai fired them and brought in a new chef.

The Dangs prevailed in two court cases against Gyulai, one for $90,000 in unpaid wages and another for breach-of-fiduciary duty among other claims, winning a $1.4 million default judgment in May 2017, according to a previous Tribune report. 

I guess $300,000 doesn't go as far as it used to. Maybe he's just done running? Or maybe he forgot Spain and the US cooperate on law enforcement?

Busy weekend

Just a few things in the news:

And hey, summer begins in three days.

What. The. Fuck?

Burger King has decided to embrace the suck:

Sir, this was a Burger King commercial. Part of a partnership with the nonprofit Mental Health America — as well as an unsubtle dig at the McDonald’s Happy Meal — the nearly two-minute “short film” promotes a limited-time, select-city product called “Real Meals,” which correspond to a customer’s “real” mood: Blue, Salty, Pissed, DGAF and YAAAS. In place of information about where to seek help if you’re experiencing feelings of depression, which would usually appear at the end of a public-service announcement, title cards explain: “No one is happy all the time. And that’s O.K.,” followed by an image of each of the Real Meals, jarring pops of color after the gloomy video. (No matter which mood you announce to the cashier taking your order, or to the touch screen that has replaced her, each box contains the same thing: a Whopper, fries and a drink.)

Insulting both the customer and the product might seem like a bad strategy for selling stuff. But it’s consonant with a broader shift in advertising, fueled by social media, whereby brands have felt compelled to veer dramatically off-script and imitate the most attention-seeking people online: Netflix recently ranted on Twitterabout the sexist connotations of the term “chick flicks”; inspired by a negative comparison, Vita Coco threatened to send one hater a jar of urine; Steak-umm has cultivated a bizarre, meme-fluent Twitter presence that breaks the fourth wall to discuss the difficulty of social media marketing and refers to the company’s core product as “frozen beef sheets.” All this antiadvertising has succeeded in doing is making our world feel yet more corporatized. Even our friends’ cheerful recommendations for miracle skin-care products or life-changing apps can sound as if there’s something in it for them. Everywhere is an Arby’s, sir.

“Life sucks — you might as well eat Burger King” is a reasonable attitude for an individual to espouse in this situation. ... [But] Burger King is not a person; life sucks at least in part because of Burger King.

I hope this trend stops soon. Of course, having studied marketing in a data-oriented school, I can tell you that no one really knows if marketing works. So Burger King and the other brands taking these bizarre turns in marketing will continue to do so because they won't have any data telling them not to.

I keep thinking of Robert Heinlein's novel Friday, in which Heinlein's own expy says this: "A dying culture invariably exhibits personal rudeness. Bad manners. Lack of consideration for others in minor matters. A loss of politeness, of gentle manners, is more significant than is a riot."

In other news...Therexit!

Burger King's brand implosion aside, other, more important news came out in the last couple of days:

  • This morning, UK Prime Minister Theresa May announced she would step down on June 7th, having lost the confidence of the right-wing crazies holding her majority together. The likely outcome of this will be Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who is actually less popular than May, forcing a general election through incompetence by the August bank holiday.
  • The heads of NOAA and NASA have raised the alarm that the proposed 24 GHz frequency band proposed for 5G wireless will mask the existing 23.8 GHz frequency of passive microwave energy which weather forecasting systems need to actually forecast weather.
  • Since February 2017, when he took his first of over a hundred golf trips as president, Donald Trump has cost us more than $100 million playing golf.
  • San Francisco's KPIX-TV Broadcast Operations Manager Eliot Curtis apparently gave himself an LSD trip while repairing a 1960s-era synthesizer.

Must be Friday.

Newest national park is closest to Chicago

The Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, just 50 km from downtown Chicago, became Indiana Dunes National Park in February:

Supporters of the switch, who have watched the proposal ebb and flow like Lake Michigan along the shoreline over the past few years, said they are excited by the change and hope the already popular attraction draws even more people, particularly those who make it a point to visit designated national parks.

Operations at the park, other than a change in signs, won’t be any different, said Paul Labovitz, park superintendent.

“There’s no real budget implications but perceptually, the change will probably result in more attention and more investment outside the park,” he said, adding the National Park Service also may invest more in the park’s infrastructure over time.

Also upping its marketing will be the South Shore Line, which is working on plans to encourage more people from Chicago, Michigan and Indiana to come check out the park using commuter rail, Nicole Barker, director of capital investment and implementation, said in an email.

“Thanks to the South Shore Line’s Bikes on Trains program, which allows bicycles on select off-peak trains, it is easier than ever to come visit the dunes by bike,” Barker said.

Trains from Chicago's Millennium Station to the Dune Park station take about 80 minutes and cost $9 each way.

More Game of Thrones commentary

The TV show's finale even got political commentator Ross Douthat to comment:

Two of the most successful completed sagas of the last 20 years, Robin Hobb’s Farseer novels and Tad Williams’s “Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn,” balance political machinations that would be at home in Shakespeare’s histories and larger world stories about the death and life of magic. And the promise of George R.R. Martin’s saga was that it might, in its somewhat pulpy way, offer the most successful integration yet, with a political and social world rich enough to feel like a piece of 14th- and 15th-century history they forgot to teach in school, with a chivalric order breaking down and a commercial and technological order waiting to be born … except that in this world, the dragons and the prophecies and fair folk won’t go gently into the good night.

Martin has not delivered on this promise, of course, because he hasn’t delivered a new novel in his saga in eight long years. But now, in the disappointment with the show’s finale and final seasons, he has an example of what not to do.

In its rush to finish, the show effectively lost sight of both reasons for fantasy’s appeal. The showrunners, David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, seemed bored with and embarrassed by the magical element of the saga, hustling through the supernatural stuff and declining to explain crucial motivations and purposes, in order to get back to the political material … but then their haste also deprived the political plot of its sociological complexity, its ripped-from-the-pages-of-history plausibility, that was necessary to make the horror and catharsis of the early seasons work.

They either didn’t understand what made Martin’s books distinctive, or they found the synthesis of genre elements too difficult once they went beyond his finished books. And so the show’s ending embodied many of the dismissive clichés about fantasy, rather than representing the genre come of age.

A knowledgeable insider I spoke with yesterday provided a different take. He said that DB & D (as people in the industry refer to them) had an entire writing staff who, one assumes, read the Internet. And they also had GRRM in the room. And they had a budget. And they still managed to land the most epic television series in history without crashing the plane.

And what about the books?

Winding up a story takes a lot of effort. Getting one on TV takes even more. I think even the haters will miss this one soon.

On the other hand, next week brings us the Deadwood movie on HBO, Good Omens on Amazon, and...one hopes...summer in Chicago. So I think we'll survive.

Game of Thrones' anger

Megan Garber has an unexpected take on the series finale:

As the series went on, though, it became more mistrustful of emotion—and of rage, above all. Dany is angry, and that, the implication goes, helps to explain her descent into tyranny. Cersei is angry, and that leads her to a series of political miscalculations. Jon, meanwhile, who has a nearly bottomless capacity for sadness but seems constitutionally incapable of rage? The show has long treated his easy equanimity, even more than his royal bloodline, as the reason he might be worthy of the throne.

The Seinfeld-ian turn of Game of Thrones reflects that discomfort with anger. The lols of that first small council meeting are in one way about fan service, certainly—“any more,” Davos corrects Bronn, when the latter makes a reference to “no more coin,” calling back to his much-loved grammar burn from Season 7—but the yuks also perform a more broadly ritualistic function. They are meant, as Game of Thrones’ story comes to its conclusion, to cleanse that story of its sins. They are meant to suggest that the horrors of the past are of the past. And that we, the viewers, should move on just as these characters seem to have done. Gallows humor, with a Campbellian spin.

To be angry is to be compromised, suggests the show that has so often failed the angry and the marginalized; wisdom is what happens when, surveying the horrors all around you, you are capable of looking away.

This is a profound misreading—not only of the complexity of the human psyche, but also of the whole of human history. It is also a misreading of the show’s particular moment. Game of Thrones is airing into a political environment that is renegotiating the role that anger—and emotions more broadly—plays in political life.

This may not be the final word on this blog about the series.

Who played, who won, and who died?

Last night HBO aired the series finale of Game of Thrones, the TV adaptation (and extension of) George R.R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire. After 73 episodes, perhaps a quarter-million deaths, and 4 years of screen time expanded over 9 years of our time, what have we got?

I think we've got two distinctly different shows, and the second of them, starting with the 6th season, was distinctly less satisfying than the first.

I'm not alone. Here are just a few of the critics on last night's finale:

  • Spencer Kornhaber from the Atlantic complains that "[t]he finale gave us yet another historic reversal, in that this drama turned into a sitcom. Not a slick HBO sitcom either, but a cheapo network affair, or maybe even a webisode of outtakes from one." Shirley Li simply says the show "failed Cersei."
  • From the Times, Jeremy Egner asks, "All hail king who?"
  • Mother Jones digs into the ecological catastrophe of the dragons.
  • The Tribune's Steve Johnson actually found it satisfying, but he felt the person who "won" the game was "a compromise choice in the logic of the series, and he felt like a compromise choice in the moment Sunday night, as we were realizing this is what all of this has been leading to.
  • The Guardian's Lucy Mangan calls this season "a rushed business" that "wasted opportunities, squandered goodwill and failed to do justice to its characters or its actors," but "the finale just about delivered."
  • Over at Vox, Todd VanDerWerff's take on the finale was simply: "Huh." "(Is [Grey Worm] a freshman poli-sci major who’s like, 'Well, if America could just start over ...'?)"

Meanwhile, everyone with a production company has started trying to make the next big hit. Good luck with that. Whatever it is, it will likely fall victim to the problem that faces every television show: it's a business first, and a show second.