The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

A frustrating time to be alive

Or, as Tom Lehrer once remarked, "I'm beginning to feel like a Christian Scientist with appendicitis."

The latest exhibit: how the press reacted to Robert Mueller's testimony on Wednesday. Adam Serwer:

In any other administration, in any other time, a special prosecutor, former FBI director, and decorated Marine testifying that the president of the United States was an unprosecuted felon who encouraged and then benefited from an attack on American democracy in pursuit of personal and political gain would bring the country to a grinding halt. But the American political press found Mueller insufficiently dazzling.

All of this, of course, was in Mueller’s report, which most members of Congress still have not read. The press, for its part, first accepted a false summary put forth by Attorney General William Barr, and then largely persisted in repeating his mischaracterizations, even after the bulk of the report was released.

On Wednesday, media outlets had the chance to get the story right. Instead, they largely chose to focus on Mueller’s performance instead of on his findings.

Andrew Sullivan saw in this, and in the Democratic leadership's refusal to hold President Trump accountable for his crimes, as fresh evidence that "the American constitutional system is failing on every level":

The system, it turns out, is not even strong enough to withstand one Trump term, let alone two. Trump intuited this in 2016, and if he wins reelection, as he now has a good chance of doing, what’s left of liberal democracy will be under acute duress.

The “extinction-level event” that I feared in the spring of 2016 is already here. Look around you. And it wasn’t even a fight.

Now, Sullivan has been a pessimist on almost every level for years. But both he and Serwer have a point that it looks like our side don't know how to fight this insanity.

Who needs agents?

In their ongoing battle with large Hollywood agencies, the members of the Writers Guild of America fired all their agents. Subsequently, they went through the usual May cycle of getting new jobs with hardly any difficulty. And this week, the Guild released an online platform to connect writers with jobs.

In a note to the membership, the Guild explained the platform:

Today the WGA is launching our Staffing & Development Platform, which provides valuable new tools to help connect writers with job opportunities in features and TV development. Over 600 producers, PODs, and companies have already registered and set up their profiles. Now, they’re ready to hear from writers like you.

With this new Platform, writers will be able to contact producers, PODs, and companies directly to apply for Open Writing Assignments (OWAs) and to request general meetings. At present, Current members will be able to submit for up to 3 OWAs and 10 general meetings each month. On the first of each month, these counts will be reset to 3 and 10, respectively, whether the previous month’s submissions were used or not.

The dispute revolves around "packaging deals" in which agencies sell studios a "package" of talent for a show or film. The studios pay the agencies a package fee, which the writers never get. In other words, instead of representing the interests of writers, these package deals profit the agencies at the expense of writers, because the agencies have an incentive to reduce writers' fees and increase the package fees.

Agencies still think they're going to come out on top, because of hubris and greed. But the WGA has shown in the past three months, and continues to show with the new platform, that they don't need agents as much as agents need them. In fact, they never have. But as Upton Sinclair said, "it is difficult to get someone to understand a thing when his salary depends on him not understanding it."

Yes, the climate has changed before...just not like this

As our planet warms to global average temperatures not seen in over 125,000 years, a pair of long-range studies has concluded the unique way or climate is changing right now, as opposed to the rest of history:

“The familiar maxim that the climate is always changing is certainly true,” Scott St. George, a physical geographer at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, said in a written commentary about the studies. “But even when we push our perspective to the earliest days of the Roman Empire, we cannot discern any event that is remotely equivalent — either in degree or extent — to the warming over the last few decades.”

One of the studies, published in the journal Nature, shows that the Little Ice Age and other natural fluctuations affected only limited regions of the planet at a time, making modern warming the first and only planetwide warm period in the past two millennia. The other study, published in Nature Geoscience, shows that the rate of modern warming has far outpaced changes that occurred before the rise of the industrial era.

For the Nature Geoscience study, the researchers charted global temperature averages over time, and then compared the data to a set of climate simulations to figure out what might have driven the changes. Neukom and his colleagues found that the fastest warming in the last two millennia occurred during the second half of the 20th century.

The researchers also found that the main cause of temperature fluctuations changed over time. Prior to 1850, fluctuations were mainly linked to volcanic eruptions, which cooled the planet by spewing sun-blocking ash into the stratosphere; after 1850, greenhouse gas emissions took the wheel.

As if to underscore that, today London saw temperatures over 37°C while France and other parts of Europe set new all-time heat records, with a reading of 42.6°C in Paris today.

Democratic Party strategy?

Adam Eichen bemoans the left's obtuseness in creating, sustaining, and funding a long-term strategy to regain power, the way the radical right has done for 50 years:

Republicans and their donors, on the other hand, got the message. In fact, not long after the memo was written, a handful of billionaires—including John Olin, who made his money in chemical and munitions manufacturing, newspaper publisher Richard Scaife, heir to Mellon fortune, and petrochemical scions David and Charles Koch—began to create an apparatus to shift politics rightward in much the way Powell outlined.

The realization of [Justice Lewis] Powell’s vision and America’s rightward shift did not happen overnight⁠—as Jane Mayer of The New Yorker exposed in her book Dark Money, the road to power took decades, with many disappointments along the way. But, from the formation of think tanks to legitimize radical economic viewpoints to the funding of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) to create corporate-friendly, right-wing bill templates for state legislators; from corporate lobbying and targeted political campaign contributions to Astroturf political mobilizations; from the bolstering of the Federalist Society to reclaim the federal judiciary to the attacks on unions and education, the Kochs and their billionaire allies ultimately succeeded. And once power was obtained, they began rigging the system, via voter suppression and gerrymandering, to prevent Democrats from contesting elections on an even playing field.

What would such an electoral strategy look like?

Daily Kos election expert Stephen Wolf told TNR that, for maximum results, the Democrats should target the Texas State House, Florida State Senate, and both legislative chambers in Pennsylvania in 2020. Each of these chambers only require a handful of seats to flip to win Democratic control. Doing so, in the case of Texas and Florida, would block some of the worst and most devastating partisan gerrymanders of the next decade. Creating a Democratic trifecta in Pennsylvania, on the other hand, would open the door to a major voting rights expansion in a key swing state.

Similarly, Wolf suggests Ohio’s two Supreme Court races should be a priority, as a dual victory would give liberals a majority on the bench, providing the only vehicle moving forward to striking down GOP gerrymandering and voter suppression in the Buckeye State.

On the other hand, there may be a deeper problem. Our side wants to govern, not to rule. Our side believe in the back-and-forth of politics, the need for other voices to be heard, etc., etc. We always have. The fundamental difference between the right and left in the U.S. is the difference between closed and open. And those of us with open minds spend our energy thinking of how to solve real problems, not take power from the opposition. I'm not sure if that can change.

Europe goes to hell

As I mentioned this morning, the UK Met predicts that tomorrow—Boris Johnson's first full day as UK PM—will be the hottest day in recorded history for the country. Today, however, is already the hottest day in recorded history for the Netherlands and Belgium:

The Dutch meteorological service, KNMI, said the temperature reached 39.1°C at Gilze-Rijen airbase near the southern city of Tilburg on Wednesday afternoon, exceeding the previous high of 38.6°C set in August 1944.

In Belgium, the temperature in Kleine-Brogel hit 38.9°C, fractionally higher than the previous record of 38.8°C set in June 1947. Forecasters said temperatures could climb further on Wednesday and again on Thursday.

After several cities in France broke previous temperature records on Tuesday, including Bordeaux, which hit 41.2°C, the national weather service, Météo France, said Paris was likely to beat its all-time high of 40.4°C, set in July 1947, with 42°C on Thursday.

City records in Amsterdam and Brussels are also expected to fall. Cities are particularly vulnerable in heatwaves because of a phenomenon known as the urban heat island effect, in which concrete buildings and asphalt roads absorb heat during the day and emit it again at night, preventing the city from cooling.

Scientists have said such heatwaves are closely linked to the climate emergency and will be many times more likely over the coming decades.

Last month, the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research said Europe’s five hottest summers since 1500 had all occurred in the 21st century – in 2018, 2010, 2003, 2016 and 2002.

And the band played on.

Sic transit gloria Brittania

Unelected former Prime Minister Theresa May tendered her resignation to the Queen a few minutes ago. Unelected incoming Prime Minister Boris Johnson is, at this moment, meeting with Her Majesty in hopes that she will invite him to form a new government.

May's last Prime Ministers Questions were at noon BST today:

I recommend just a few opinion pieces on Johnson out this morning:

Meanwhile, to underscore that the UK may have gone to hell today, the Met Office predicts that tomorrow may be the hottest day ever in the country. Ever.

Lunch link list

Queued up a few articles to read after work today:

Now, off to find food, then back to the mines.

Old, white Englishmen elect new leader

The Conservative Party membership have elected Boris Johnson, an incompetent layabout and buffoon, to lead the Party, passing over the competent and level-headed Foreign Secretary Jeffrey Hunt by almost a 2:1 majority (92,153 to 46,656). Wednesday afternoon, Johnson will go to Buckingham Palace where, no doubt masterfully hiding her disgust, the Queen will invite him to form what will probably be the last government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Johnson will become the second PM not chosen in a general election, sort of if Gerald Ford had stepped down and made Pat Buchanan President in early 1976. The 92,000 Conservatives who voted for him are nearly all old, white, male, and English, representing only a bit more than 1/10 of 1% of the UK population.

Johnson has pledged to crash the UK out of the European Union by October 31st "do or die," which he may accomplish, though a narrow window still exists for a vote of no confidence followed by the statutory 60 days of dithering before a new election can happen.

The fun bit is that now Johnson completely and totally owns Brexit. His misleading campaign in 2016 persuaded the UK's equivalent of Trumpland to vote by a narrow margin for the policy that will, everyone can see, break Scotland and Northern Ireland out of the Union. And now he gets to lead the country through all that chaos. Only, he hasn't exactly got a record of taking responsibility or even of acknowledging that such a thing can even happen to him, so the next few months should be entertaining. As Guardian columnist Gary Younge said this morning, "The leave campaign had no more plans for leaving the European Union than a dog chasing a car has to drive it."

It's hard not to look at Johnson as less than the apotheosis of upper-class twittery that the Conservative Party has kept alive for a couple of centuries now. And with Labour careening so far to the left under Jeremy Corbyn, it almost seems like we're in for a return to the Callaghan/Heath years of the early 1970s, with the British economy stagnating under state ownership of industry while a patrician right-wing Tory party offers to do in the NHS.

And the best part? All of this is in Russia's best interests. We're going back to the '70s all right, only this time, the Soviets are winning.

The creepiest forest on Staten Island

Arborist William Bryant Logan takes a trip to the botanical hell that is the Fresh Kills Landfill, and finds something wonderful:

From a coyote’s-eye view, you could see what the trees were up to: Growth, failure, decay and the drip of acid water through the gravel were mixing a dirt out of the detritus. This hideous forest, I suddenly realized, was there to repair the damage done, and not at our bidding. Its intent was not to look good. Its intent was to stay alive, year by year, century by century, until at last it had recycled even the nylon stocking.

We know how long it takes most kinds of leavings to decay. Organic material goes quickly: cardboard in three months, wood in up to three years, a pair of wool socks in up to five. A plastic shopping bag may take 20 years; a plastic cup, 50. Major industrial materials will be there for much longer: An aluminum can is with us for 200 years, a glass bottle for 500, a plastic bottle for 700, and a Styrofoam container for a millennium.

The forest does not know this. It does not think. It just acts. Because it is so good at sprouting, resprouting, reiterating, and repeating the entire process, it can keep up the living and dying for as long as it takes, even if that is a thousand years. The trees are not conscious. They are something better. They are present.

It almost makes one want to visit the place. Almost.

Cooldown

For seven of the last 11 days Chicago has had highs above 32°C, maxing out yesterday afternoon at 35°C. Then around 4pm yesterday, a cold front dropped temperatures 10°C in an hour—along with 20 mm of rain.

It wasn't the worst summer weather Chicago has had in its history, but we're pretty sure it'll be more common in years to come.