The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Not a political post

Just a note that this afternoon, American Airlines flew its last scheduled flight on an MD-80 airplane:

The retirements mark the end of an era at American for the workhorse known as the Super 80, whose old-school design and noisy rear engines spawned a love-hate relationship among industry employees over the four decades it flew. The plane once provided the backbone of American, powering the carrier's expansion through the end of last century on bread-and-butter routes such as Chicago to New York or Dallas to St. Louis.

The single-aisle jet could be challenging to fly, but it sharpened pilots' skills and earned the loyalty of pilots like Gomez, who relished having more control over every aspect of the plane.

So on Wednesday, after 36 years, American will operate the last commercial trip of the MD-80, flying from Dallas to Chicago. It's Flight 80.

American will ferry the last 24 of its MD-80 jets to a desert parking lot in Roswell, N.M. Two more will be donated to flight-training schools.

Delta Air Lines continues flying some MD-88s and MD-90s, later vintages of the model.

I don't know exactly how many times I flew on American MD-80s, but it's north of 150. The last time was on 10 November 2018, from Raleigh-Durham to Chicago. And that was, indeed, the last time.

Long night in London

The House of Commons have just finished slogging through 10 amendments to a bill tabled by Labour MP Hilary Benn that would prevent the UK crashing out of the EU without a deal, and have started voting on the "third reading." If the ayes have it, the bill would then pass out of the House of Commons and go to the "other place" (the House of Lords) for passage. After that, the Queen would give her Royal Assent, and Bob's your uncle.

And to underscore how weird all of this is, an amendment passed by accident (because the government didn't put "tellers" in the No lobby, never mind what that means for the moment) that mandates the failed Theresa May deal lurch back to life in the next Parliament.

No one has a good handle on how Lords will vote, or how long it will take, though there was talk of putting a time limit on the Lords' debate so the bill can possibly receive Royal Assent before Parliament prorogues next week.

Earlier today, in his first Prime Minister's Questions, PM Boris Johnson didn't answer any questions put to him by the opposition. It was quite a show. And like another head of government on this side of the Atlantic, Johnson demonstrated his lack of respect for his own office and for the institution of Parliament.

The vote is just in as I'm writing this: Ayes, 327; Nays, 299. The ayes have it, the ayes have it. Unlock!

Now Commons will now consider Boris Johnson's motion to hold an election in October, which will not be agreed because the Benn bill hasn't got Royal Assent yet.

What a day in London

With support of 21 Conservative members, the UK House of Commons this evening voted 328-301 to allow the introduction of a bill tomorrow that would prohibit the country from crashing out of the EU on October 31st absent a deal with the trading bloc. In response, Prime Minister Boris Johnson vowed to table a motion tomorrow calling for a general election on October 14th, and also expelling several of the rebels from the party:

The rebel lawmakers seemed furious on Tuesday. In another era, they would have been the past and future of the Conservatives, with lawmakers like Nicholas Soames, Churchill’s 71-year-old grandson, standing alongside Mr. Stewart, a rising star among younger voters who walks the country filming his conversations with people.

But they said the party was now being set adrift by “entryists,” right-wing newcomers who have rushed into the Conservative fold to push it in a more extreme direction on Brexit. Mr. Hammond accused Dominic Cummings, Mr. Johnson’s most senior adviser, of not being a Conservative at all.

“This is my party — I’ve been a member of this party for 45 years,” Mr. Hammond said in a radio interview on Tuesday morning, brimming with anger. “I’m going to defend my party against incomers, entryists, who are trying to turn it from a broad church into a narrow faction.”

Minutes after Parliament adjourned around 11pm BST, Hammond and other party stalwarts got phone calls from the Whip telling them they could not stand in the next election as Conservatives. With those expulsions and other defections, the Conservative government no longer holds a majority in Commons.

Guardian columnist Rafael Behr had some of the day's harshest (public) words for Johnson:

In part, Johnson is captive to the public school cult of effortless dilettantism that despises diligence as vulgar and swotty. He is also a hostage to his own breezy rhetoric. Even now that the technical complexities and economic hazards of Brexit are indisputable, the prime minister pretends that obstacles are trifling or illusory. He claims that leaving the EU without a deal would not be a calamity, but also that the threat of calamity is necessary to persuade the EU to grant a deal. He says that MPs’ demands for an article 50 extension make it harder to negotiate in Brussels because continental leaders will compromise only when they see that the UK is beyond reason. In short: there is no cliff, and even if there was one, the way to avoid it is by driving towards the edge at full speed with no brakes.

Johnson’s actions are best explained by his congenital aversion to things that are hard. He wants a deal but not the effort of getting a deal. He is lying to the public when he blames the opposition or Brussels for his predicament – but lying also, one suspects, to himself. A man who spent years in estrangement from the truth is unlikely to seek its company now.

I listened to Parliament TV this afternoon, and you can bet I'll have it on again tomorrow. At the moment, the calendar shows Johnson taking his first round of Prime Minister's Questions at noon BST. I can hardly wait.

"Your call. We're a lighthouse."

So much to watch today in the UK as Parliament gave Prime Minister Boris Johnson one hell of a welcome back in his second appearance there as PM. Josh Marshall sums it up nicely:

[Johnson's] whole effort has been an elaborate game of chicken. Get the Tory leadership and thus the Prime Ministership. Drive headlong into the wall because the wall will decide we’re just crazy enough or just Churchillian enough to plow right into the wall. Seeing that, see stiff upper lip and scowl and all that, the wall will certainly get out of the way and we’ll get what we want.

And yet here we are with Johnson at full speed and the wall showing a marvelous indifference to his approach.

The Post has a less-Schadenfreaudish discussion going on:

In Parliament, Johnson was heckled and catcalled from almost the moment he stood to speak. He noted that Tuesday was the 80th anniversary of Britain’s entrance into World War II and said “This country still stands then as now for democracy for the rule of law.” He was met with jeering laughter.

He insisted that Britain was making progress in talks with European Union leaders about an orderly Brexit, which drew more mocking laughter.

Aided by repeated demands for “Order” by House Speaker John Bercow, Johnson said his opponents’ proposal to delay Brexit by another three months after Oct. 31 would “Force us to beg for yet another pointless delay.”

“It’s really not possible to govern,” said said Catherine Barnard, professor of European law at the University of Cambridge. She said in a less-fractious era, Johnson might find other parties willing to cooperate with him. But, “At the moment nothing is possible at all,” she said.

Barnard said the loss of a majority gives Johnson added incentive to seek a snap general election, which he has warned is possible in the coming weeks. Going to the voters would allow him a chance to strengthen his numbers in Parliament, and claim a mandate for his pursuit of Brexit on Oct. 31, “no matter what.”

Meanwhile, Sterling fell below $1.20 briefly today, clawing back up to $1.21 as of 19:15 BST.

Funny things

First, something legitimately funny, especially if you're Jewish:

And some things that are funny, as in, "the President is a little funny, isn't he?"

OK, that's too much funny for this morning.

The Matrix at 20

The Atlantic's David Sims takes a look back:

The film came out exactly 20 years ago, before 1999’s summer action-movie season had even begun; The Matrix’s big competitors at the theater were comedies such as 10 Things I Hate About You and Analyze This. As an R-rated sci-fi epic about hackers who know kung fu and do battle with machines in a postapocalyptic wasteland, The Matrix was difficult to describe. Yet it somehow became a word-of-mouth hit, the rare blockbuster that opens at No. 1 at the box office, falls to No. 2, and then climbs back to the top position (which it did in its fourth week). It’s the kind of dazzling, original film that inspires a generation of fans and imitators—and the kind of movie Hollywood wouldn’t make in today’s franchise-heavy media landscape.

Twenty years on, much is being written about 1999 as a crucial turning point for Hollywood. By the end of the 20th century, the industry was suddenly crowded with directors fresh from making indie cinema, buzzy music videos, and commercials, many of whom had grown up with the rebellious New Hollywood filmmakers of the ’70s as their artistic lodestars. The future of moviemaking was foreshadowed in the year’s big hits, which included the relaunched big-ticket franchise Star Wars (The Phantom Menace), the low-budget horror of The Blair Witch Project, the provocative teen humor of American Pie, and the twist-ending virality of The Sixth Sense.

Watching today, Neo seems like the poster boy for a disaffected Generation X, a nonconformist who escapes his dull life as a cubicle drone to become a god. (In fact, one of The Matrix’s closest thematic companions from the fertile cinema du 1999 is probably Mike Judge’s Office Space—another sad ballad about humans being swallowed whole by faceless corporations, though Judge’s film has a few more jokes.) The villains of The Matrix are invincible computer programs known as Agents, led by the stone-faced Smith (Hugo Weaving), that take on the appearance of anonymous-looking government officials in bland suits and ties. Meanwhile, Neo and his compatriots, including Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) and Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss), dress like they’re attending a fetish club, and they do battle to a thumping soundtrack of heavy metal and techno music.

In other anniversaries, yesterday marked 80 years since the German Army poured into Poland, officially igniting World War II.

Frank Bruni's timely column yesterday

I don't know that Frank Bruni reads The Daily Parker, but his column yesterday made for a nice coincidence with my post earlier today:

My interactions in Central Park are partly about having a dog but just as much about what the dog encourages, even compels: spending time in public spaces that are open to everyone and well situated and appealing enough to guarantee that people from all walks of life cross paths.

And we need dogs, or at least we’re better off with them. They yank us outside of our narrowest selves. They force us to engage. In a perfect world, we’d do that on our own, but in this one, Regan plants herself squarely in front of a Central Park sprinkler, opens her jaws wide, treats the spray as an unusually emphatic water fountain and attracts an eclectic cluster of admirers who then fall easily into chitchat — about the cooling weather, the blooming skyline, new movies, old routines — that probably wouldn’t happen otherwise. We walk away feeling a little less isolated, a little less disconnected. I know I do.

Parker has certainly done the same for me that Regan has done for Bruni. And here's to a few more years with him.

Happy autumn

Summer ends in about two hours here in Chicago, after a kind of perfect late-summer day. The day is ending with a cool, gentle rain, which will clear up before dawn.

The end of August being the end of summer infused art and music for millennia before meteorologists set September 1st as the first day of autumn for statistical convenience. Maybe this is happy alignment of science and art?

Here's Dar Williams with the verdict:

Ride-sharing platforms have no inherent right to exist

I mentioned earlier today Aaron Gordon's evisceration of Uber's and Lyft's business model. It's worth a deeper look:

The Uber and Lyft pretzel logic is as follows: Drivers are their customers and also independent contractors but cannot negotiate prices or any terms of their contract. Uber and Lyft are platforms, not transportation companies. Drivers unionizing would be price-fixing, but Uber and Lyft can price-fix all they want. Riders pay the driver for their transportation, not the platforms, even though the platforms are the ones that set the prices and collect the money and allocate it however they want, often such that the driver does not in fact receive much of the rider’s fare.

There is a version of Uber and Lyft that might be profitable even if drivers are employees, but it is a much humbler one. It is one that uses the genuine efficiencies of app-based taxi hailing—the very ones Uber and Lyft claim is their actual secret sauce other than widespread worker exploitation—to get a smaller number of drivers more customers for each of them. 

Exactly. If Yellow Cab in Chicago had created an app to find and direct taxis, it would be just as good as Uber or Lyft, but it would cost consumers more to use because taxi fares are regulated. That would be OK by me.

I can't wait to see the effects of California Assembly Bill 5 on the two companies.