The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Backfield in motion

That's American for the English idiom "penny in the air." And what a penny. More like a whole roll of them.

Right now, the House of Commons are wrapping up debate on the Government's bill to prorogue Parliament (for real this time) and have elections the second week of December. The second reading of the bill just passed by voice vote (the "noes" being only a few recalcitrant MPs), so the debate continues. The bill is expected to pass—assuming MPs can agree on whether to have the election on the 9th, 11th, or 12th of December. Regardless, that means I'll be in London during the first weekend of the election campaign, and I'm elated.

Meanwhile, a whole bunch of other things made the news in the last day:

  • Writing for the New Yorker, Sam Knight argues that before Boris Johnson became PM, it was possible to imagine a Brexit that worked for the UK. Instead, Johnson has poisoned UK politics for a generation.
  • Presidents Trump and Obama came to Chicago yesterday, but only one of the personally insulted us. Guess which one.
  • That one also made top military officers squirm yesterday when he released classified information about our assassination of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, including a photograph of the dog injured in the raid. The dog's name remained classified, even as it seemed clear that he was a very good boy.
  • Grinnell College in Iowa released polling data today showing just how much people don't like President Trump. Moreover, 80% of those polled thought a presidential candidate seeking election help from a foreign government was unacceptable. Adam Schiff cracking his knuckles could be heard all the way to the Grinnell campus.
  • An appellate court in North Carolina ruled that the election maps drawn up by the Republican Party unfairly gerrymander a Republican majority, and must be re-drawn for the 2020 election.
  • Grubhub's share price crashed today after the company released a written statement ahead of its earnings call later this week. The company made $1.0 million on $322.1 million in revenue during the 3rd quarter, and projected a loss for the 4th quarter.
  • The City of Atlanta decided not to pay ransom to get their computers working again, in order to reduce the appeal of ransomware attacks.

Finally, it looks like it could snow in Chicago on Thursday. Color me annoyed.

Things to think about while running a 31-minute calculation

While my work computer chews through slightly more than a million calculations in a unit test (which I don't run in CI, in case you (a) were wondering and (b) know what that means), I have a moment to catch up:

The first 30-minute calculation is done, and now I'm on to the second one. Then I can resume writing software instead of testing it.

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.

Back to childhood for a moment

The Chicago Architecture Foundation is sponsoring its annual Chicago Open House this weekend, so I visited a place I'd wondered about for years. I give you the Garfield-Clarendon Model Railroad:

They're celebrating their 70th anniversary, meaning the direct-train control, wireless throttles, and digital boards probably weren't original parts of the layout.

I had a model railroad for a few years as a kid. It looked nothing like this.

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.

World record set at today's Chicago Marathon

Kenyan runner Brigid Kosgei ran the course in 2:14:04, setting a new world record fastest marathon for a woman:

Paula Radcliffe held the previous record (2:15:25), set at the 2003 London Marathon.

“I’m feeling good and I am happy because I was not expected to run like this,” Kosgei said during a TV interview.

Kosgei also broke the course record (and what was for a year the world record) that Radcliffe first set 17 years ago to the day in Chicago (2:17:18) in 2002.

Conditions in Chicago are ideal: at race time, the course temperature was around 4°C, warming to 9°C by 11am. There's a bit of wind but also a good cloud cover, keeping runners cool.

This comes just a day after Eliud Kipchoge became the first runner ever to break a 2-hour marathon time, completing the INEOS 1:59 challenge in Vienna in 1:59:40.2. However, that race was specifically designed and he was specifically supported during the race to give him the best chance of a sub-2-hour time.

False equivalence and journalistic malfeasance

It has become a lot more likely in the last two weeks that my party will nominate Elizabeth Warren for President. (Note: I am a financial contributor to the Warren campaign.) One way you can tell is that journalists have started writing misleading stories about her:

It is certainly true, as CBS noted, that some people have questioned Warren’s account [of being fired because she was pregnant in 1971]. A story in the Washington Free Beacon, a conservative publication, did so, as did a writer for Jacobin, a socialist publication. But to say that stories have raised questions is not the same thing as saying the questions are good ones.

Over the years, people have also “raised questions” about whether the earth rotates around the sun, the moon landing happened, Communism was fatally flawed, Elvis died and Barack Obama is an American. But I wouldn’t recommend putting any of those questions in a headline.

A good rule: Whenever you see the phrase “raises questions” in a story, you should be deeply skeptical of its assertions. The phrase is a crutch that journalists too often use to make implicit accusations they can’t support.

Regardless of who gets the nomination for either party, the next election (389 days away), we can all to to bed each night knowing the next day will have even worse coverage of the election than the day before. If Warren runs against President Trump, I can scarcely imagine the sexist and anti-intellectual campaigning and journalism we'll get.

Meanwhile, in the same newspaper, Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman puts into words something I've thought for years: we're actually lucky that Trump is an unstable moron.

What's happening today?

Not too much:

And two algorithms I'm testing that should produce similar results are not. So back to the coding window I go.

The sources of pollution

The Guardian has ranked the 20-largest polluters worldwide based on their addition to atmospheric greenhouse gases since 1965. You will not be surprised:

New data from world-renowned researchers reveals how this cohort of state-owned and multinational firms are driving the climate emergency that threatens the future of humanity, and details how they have continued to expand their operations despite being aware of the industry’s devastating impact on the planet.

The analysis, by Richard Heede at the Climate Accountability Institute in the US, the world’s leading authority on big oil’s role in the escalating climate emergency, evaluates what the global corporations have extracted from the ground, and the subsequent emissions these fossil fuels are responsible for since 1965 – the point at which experts say the environmental impact of fossil fuels was known by both industry leaders and politicians.

The top 20 companies on the list have contributed to 35% of all energy-related carbon dioxide and methane worldwide, totalling 480bn tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (GtCO2e) since 1965.

Those identified range from investor-owned firms – household names such as Chevron, Exxon, BP and Shell – to state-owned companies including Saudi Aramco and Gazprom.

Chevron topped the list of the eight investor-owned corporations, followed closely by Exxon, BP and Shell. Together these four global businesses are behind more than 10% of the world’s carbon emissions since 1965.

Columnist George Monbiot says the companies got away with this by blaming you and me for their fossil-fuel extraction:

Even as their own scientists warned that the continued extraction of fossil fuels could cause “catastrophic” consequences, the oil companies pumped billions of dollars into thwarting government action. They funded thinktanks and paid retired scientists and fake grassroots organisations to pour doubt and scorn on climate science. They sponsored politicians, particularly in the US Congress, to block international attempts to curtail greenhouse gas emissions. They invested heavily in greenwashing their public image.

These efforts continue today, with advertisements by Shell and Exxon that create the misleading impression that they’re switching from fossil fuels to renewable energy. In reality, Shell’s annual report reveals that it invested $25bn in oil and gas last year. But it provides no figure for its much-trumpeted investments in low-carbon technologies. Nor was the company able to do so when I challenged it.

The ideology of consumerism is highly effective at shifting blame: witness the current ranting in the billionaire press about the alleged hypocrisy of environmental activists. Everywhere I see rich westerners blaming planetary destruction on the birth rates of much poorer people, or on “the Chinese”. This individuation of responsibility, intrinsic to consumerism, blinds us to the real drivers of destruction.

And the band played on.

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'...