The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Two big 20th anniversaries today (and a centennial)

We typically think of January 1st as the day things happen. But December 31st is often the day things end.

On 31 December 1999, two things ended at nearly the same time: the presidency in Russia of Boris Yeltsin, and the American control of the Panama Canal Zone.

Also twenty years ago, my company gave me a $1,200 bonus ($1,893 in 2019 dollars) and a $600 suite for two nights in midtown Manhattan because I volunteered to spend four hours at our data center on Park Avenue, just so that Management could say someone was at the data center on Park Avenue continuously from 6am on New Year's Eve until 6pm on New Year's Day. Since all of the applications I wrote or had responsibility for were less than two years old, literally nothing happened. Does this count as an anniversary? I suppose not.

And one hundred years ago, 31 December 1919 was the last day anyone could legally buy alcohol in the United States for 13 years, as the Volstead Act took effect at midnight on 1 January 1920.

I'm DD tonight, but I will still raise a glass of Champagne to toast these three events.

Photo by Harris & Ewing - Library of Congress, Public Domain, Link

Four stories, more related than they seem

Article the first: Stocks have continued going up relentlessly even though producer prices are also up, exports are way down, and wages have stagnated. This means, essentially, our economy is rent-seeking and not producing.

Article the second: President Trump's tariffs have hurt agriculture and commodities, caused job losses, and hit the most vulnerable people in Trump Country. They haven't helped the economy at all. Question: bugs or features?

Article the third: Michiko Katutani draws direct parallels between the "end of normal" of the 2010s and Richard Hofstadter's "paranoid style."

Article the fourth: The 2010s also had good-looking celebrities pushing (almost literal) snake oil on us, and people bought it up wholesale. Actors and other Dunning-Krueger sufferers made billions on imaginary health and wellness products that helped neither health nor wellness.

So as we go into the bottom of the 10s, this is America today. Can't wait to see the '20s on Wednesday when it's all better.

War criminal

New information has come out that retired Chief Petty Officer Edward Gallagher, the convicted (and pardoned) war criminal, did some truly abhorrent shit while fighting in Iraq:

The trove of materials also includes thousands of text messages the SEALs sent one another about the events and the prosecution of Chief Gallagher. Together with the dozens of hours of recorded interviews, they provide revealing insights into the men of the platoon, who have never spoken publicly about the case, and the leader they turned in.

Platoon members said they saw Chief Gallagher shoot civilians and fatally stab a wounded captive with a hunting knife. Chief Gallagher was acquitted by a military jury in July of all but a single relatively minor charge, and was cleared of all punishment in November by Mr. Trump.

In the video interviews with investigators, three SEALs said they saw Chief Gallagher go on to stab the sedated captive for no reason, and then hold an impromptu re-enlistment ceremony over the body, as if it were a trophy.

“I was listening to it, and I was just thinking, like, this is the most disgraceful thing I’ve ever seen in my life,” Special Operator Miller, who has since been promoted to chief, told investigators.

Special Operator Miller said that when the platoon commander, Lt. Jacob Portier, told the SEALs to gather over the corpse for photos, he did not feel he could refuse. The photos, included in the evidence obtained by The Times, show Chief Gallagher, surrounded by other SEALs, clutching the dead captive’s hair; in one photo, he holds a custom-made hunting knife.

From the outside looking in, the culture in the Navy SEALS seems particularly toxic. People like Portier and Gallagher, far from making Americans safer, put other units in danger through their actions. These are the kinds of people President Trump wants to reward, further threatening our troops overseas.

End of the decade? Yes, dammit

Nineteen years ago, I banged the drum pretty hard that 2000 was not the first year of the 21st Century, because the Christian calendar has no year zero. But yesterday, I disagreed entirely with Sandi Duncan, managing editor of the Farmers' Almanac, during her interview on NPR:

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST: I mean, it feels like a big deal, 2019 to 2020. Why is there such a debate about whether or not this is the end of the decade?

SANDI DUNCAN: You know, it's really interesting. But I hate to tell you it's not.

MARTIN: It's not?

DUNCAN: Actually, no. We ran a story several years ago. In fact, you know, remember the big celebration in 1999. People thought that the new millennial was going to start the next year. But really, a decade begins actually with the year ending in the numeral one. There was never a year zero. So when we started counting time way back when, it goes one through 10. So a decade is 10 years. So in actuality, the next decade won't start until January 1, 2021.

That's such a narrow technical point—I should know, I made the same point in 1999—but it isn't what Martin asked.

Duncan concluded, "I mean, what do you call the decades of the '20s? I guess it's the '20s, but is that the 1920s or the 2020s? So it's one of those fun things that you can argue about until next - the new decade, which starts on January 1, 2021."

We'll call it "the '20s" because, you know, the numbers all have 20 in them.

So, let's clarify. 2000 was the first year of the 2000s but the last year of the 20th century. The 21st century began on 1 January 2001. So 2020 will be the first year of the '20s (duh!) but technically, just technically, it will be the last year of the 202nd decade of the Common Era.

Got that?

Happy Christmas all

Every year at this time, it's important to talk about language skills. There is a tribe in the remotest part of the Amazon forest who, every December 25th, dance around a large pile of dirt, singing to it and telling it stories. This is because of a tragic mistranslation by a missionary centuries ago, who told them, "On this day the ton of sod was bored."

Die hard but not quickly

Eddie Lampert continues to destroy the once-great retailer Sears piece by piece. Yesterday, the company revealed that it has sold the DieHard battery brand to Advance Auto Parts for $200m in cash:

The move follows news in October that Sears had hired investment bankers to advise it on potential asset sales, including the DieHard brand, according to the Wall Street Journal at the time.

Sears has spent the last several years selling key brands to receive cash infusions and survive. In 2017, it sold the Craftsman tool brand to Stanley Black & Decker.

In February 2019, Transform Holdco, owned by former Sears CEO Edward Lampert and his hedge fund, emerged as the buyer of 425 Sears Holdings stores after the company filed for bankruptcy in late 2018.

I really hate that man, but not, one suspects, as much as the tens of thousands of people he's put out of work while killing Sears.

Christmas crabs

Actually, Christmas Island crabs, which migrate around Christmas, and were the subject of an NPR story yesterday:

Palm fronds, turquoise lagoons and a clattering army of crustaceans making their way from the island's forest to the beaches. Christmas Island red crabs - 50 million of them. Jahna Luke works for Christmas Island's tourism association and lives there. She says everyone has a hand in the crabs' journey.

JAHNA LUKE: We have all these measures in place to keep the crabs safe while they make their migration down to the ocean. Even cars on the island - we all have rakes in our cars so that on our way to work or wherever it is we need to go, we - we're out raking the crabs off the road to clear our way.

It's a real thing, and not just because NPR talked about it:

So if you feel crabby this week, imagine being on Christmas Island, which should not be confused with Kiritimati. We'll return to Kiritimati in about a week, as they will be the first place on earth to enter the 2020s. Meanwhile, enjoy the crabs.

A theory on the Trump aesthetic

Former Deadspin editor David Roth examines the evidence in this year's White House Christmas decorations video:

Even though Melania is also a cipher whose relationship to her powerful husband has for years seemed tragicomically ceremonial, her Christmas video delivers an insight into a crucial mystery of the Trump aesthetic: Why is all this always so shittyHow is it possible for something so fancified to feel so repellent and cheap? Again, in one sense, there’s just nothing there to find. Trump himself doesn’t really know why he does anything, and every decision that he makes—personally, politically, aesthetically, whatever—ultimately resolves to him servicing whatever rude personal want is currently making itself felt. This doesn’t really explain how every space that the man inhabits became so desperately gilded and singularly inhospitable, although it does suggest he doesn’t much care about how other people experience it. But Melania’s latest foray into haunted festive design comes closer to providing a skeleton key for the warped mimetic rules of Trumpism than Trump himself ever has.

What’s spooky about it goes beyond Melania’s personal uncanniness or Trump’s world-historic tastelessness or the built-in stiltedness of White House ritual. The pure anhedonic cheerlessness of it all points back to a deeper psychic deficit: an inability to understand what any of this might even be for, if not to spite or defeat someone else. Of course there’s too much of it. They don’t know when to stop—they never have known when to stop, they do not know how to stop—because they have never really understood why they got started in the first place. After all, look where it’s gotten them.

Also, Roth does not say, but we can all observe, just how many id-driven strongmen have no taste at all.

Hot time down under

(Say it with me: "Under where?")

Australia just hit a record temperature—for the whole country:

The Australian Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) reports preliminary data showing that for Dec. 18, the nationally averaged maximum temperature was 41.9°C. This beat the old record of 40.9°C, which had been set the day before. Before this heat event, the country’s hottest day was Jan. 7, 2013, which had an average high temperature of 40.3°C.

Human-caused global climate change is making heat waves such as this one more likely to occur, more severe and longer-lasting. An early analysis of the ongoing heat event shows that climate change may have made the Australian national heat record at least 20 percent more likely to occur now than in a climate that had not been influenced by human emissions of greenhouse gases. It’s possible that forthcoming research will show that this event could not have occurred without human-caused global warming, as previous analyses of other events have found.

That's insane. Not to mention the extensive brush fires—including the largest ever recorded in Australia—that have rendered Sydney almost uninhabitable.