The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

It can't happen here

I've been reading a novel written in 1935 that, except for its contemporary cultural references, could have been written in 2015. Or, heaven forfend!, 2020.

I can't recommend Sinclair Lewis' It Can't Happen Here enough. Donald Trump isn't exactly Buzz Windrip, but he's too close for comfort. 

The problem, of course, is that authoritarian demagogues follow a script, and if you've read that script, you know the ending. Worse, you know the chapters between here and there. Lewis's wife, Dorothy Thompson, covered Germany as a journalist in the early 1930s. In that decade, Americans worried more than we do today about fascism—even without knowing the truth about Nazism's final solution.

The novel has different pacing and dialogue than modern audiences might prefer. The protagonist also sounds a bit preachy. And don't get me started with the casual sexism of Lewis's worldview. But he was prescient. And he showed how, exactly, it could happen here.

The events of the last three years do too. Let's hope our institutions survive.

Five myths about the Beatles

The Washington Post enumerates them:

MYTH NO. 1
The Beatles objected to trading leather outfits for suits and ties.

“In the beginning,” John Lennon told Melody Maker, the British music magazine, in 1970, Brian Epstein, the Beatles’ manager, “. . . put us in neat suits and shirts, and Paul was right behind him. I didn’t dig that, and I used to try to get George to rebel with me.” Lennon later complained to Rolling Stone that by giving up leather for suits, “we sold out.” Soon, the story of the Beatles chafing against Epstein’s directives was part of the lore.

The other Beatles — and sometimes, Lennon himself — remembered things differently. “It was later put around that I betrayed our leather image,” Paul McCartney said in “The Beatles Anthology,” “but, as I recall, I didn’t actually have to drag anyone to the tailors.” George Harrison said that “with black T-shirts, black leather gear and sweaty, we did look like hooligans. . . . We gladly switched into suits to get some more money and some more gigs.” Lennon put it this way to Hit Parader in 1975: “Outside of Liverpool, when we went down South in our leather outfits, the dance hall promoters didn’t really like us. . . . We liked the leather and the jeans but we wanted a good suit, even to wear offstage.” To which he added, “I’ll wear a fucking  balloon if somebody’s going to pay me.”

Yeah, that sounds like John.

I believed a couple of the other myths, too.

Why do we celebrate the 4th?

Writing for NBC News, UT law professor Steve Vladeck reflects on how we celebrate today, and not Constitution Day, as the birthday of our nation:

As Lincoln would have it, Union soldiers weren’t fighting for the separation of powers, the Bill of Rights, or even the supremacy of the federal government (although that theme had often been invoked in the earlier years of the war). Instead, Lincoln suggested they were fighting for liberty from tyrannical government and the equality of all men (and, belatedly, women). This, despite the fact that no provision of the original Constitution reflected such principles (and several were expressly antithetical to them). Our “founding,” in Lincoln’s view, was not when we agreed to the legal system under which we currently operate; it was when we agreed to a more fundamental commitment to everyone’s right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

What this choice of birthday suggests is that, whereas we are governed by the Constitution, our national ethos is more than just the sum of the rules of our legal system — which, too many times in American history, have indulged, if not directly perpetuated, inequality and oppression.

We aspire to more because that was our justification for breaking away from the British in the first place. And so, ever since 1870, July 4, and not any other date, has been recognized by Congress as the day on which we celebrate America’s birthday — defining our core national identity as one of egalitarianism, first and foremost.

This government, of the people, by the people, and for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Hey, there's my old flint arrowhead!

Amsterdam is building a new subway line directly beneath the Amstel River, so they drained it, as one does. Then they let a team of archaeologists go wild:

The excavations in the Amstel yielded a deluge of finds, some 700,000 in all: a vast array of objects, some broken, some whole, all jumbled together. Damrak and Rokin proved to be extremely rich sites on account of the waste that had been dumped in the river for centuries and the objects accidentally lost in the water. The enormous quantity, great variety and everyday nature of these material remains make them rare sources of urban history. The richly assorted collection covers a vast stretch of time, from long before the emergence of the city right up to the present day. The objects paint a multi-facetted picture of daily life in the city of Amsterdam.

The city has published an online catalog that you can view chronologically or alphabetically.

Uptown Theater to reopen...someday

The Uptown Theater in Chicago will reopen in a few years after developers raised $75m for renovations:

The theater, a Spanish Baroque Revival dazzler designed by the kings of movie palace architecture, C.W. and George L. Rapp, is an emblem of Uptown’s lost glamour. Graffiti mars its exterior. Near the top of its bright red marquee, some of the script letters that spelled out the names of its developers, the theater chain owners Balaban & Katz, are missing, like gaps in a row of teeth.

Little is known at this point about the plans of the new developer, Chicago-based Farpoint Development, which is said to have cobbled together $75 million in public and private funds to revive the theater, located at 4816 N. Broadway.

If the Uptown really does wind up being reborn, it will mark a major change from 1961, which witnessed the destruction of Dankmar Adler and Louis Sullivan’s Garrick Theater, a masterpiece of the first Chicago School of Architecture, and its replacement by a parking garage. Along with the demolition of the Chicago Stock Exchange Building in the early 1970s, that traumatic event helped lead to the creation of today’s strong preservation movement in Chicago and the Uptown’s bright new prospects.

Uptown, like Logan Square, has been "the next hot neighborhood" for about 20 years. I'm hopeful that the Uptown Theater will reopen soon, and revitalize the Broadway corridor once again.

It's grim, but we've been here before

Josh Marshall says that, despite what will probably come from a hard-right Supreme Court over the next few years, this isn't the end of the left:

Elections have consequences. Often they are profound consequences stretching years or decades into the future from their inception point. Trumpism is civic poison. There is a temptation to think that this is another reverse coming after Trump’s election, the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord, the reversal of DACA protections and more. I don’t see it that way. These jolts are really only absorbing, fully recognizing the consequences of what happened in November 2016. Once we ingested it into the body politic all sorts of outcomes became either inevitable or possible. [Trump appointing a second conservative justice] is just one more of them, though perhaps the most consequential yet.

Jeffrey Toobin says Roe v Wade will be overturned and abortion in 20+ states within 18 months. This is far from the only change we are likely to see in short order. The most visible, high-profile Court issues tend to be those centering on questions like abortion rights, LGBT equality, religious liberty. Far less visible, though no less consequential, are the issues I expect a new Court to focus on most: using the scaffolding of the law to block legislatures from addressing key economic questions facing our society, much as the Court did in the late 19th and early decades of the 20th century. They are all important; they’re all down by six runs in the 9th inning.

How do we react? I wrote yesterday that we can’t expect the courts to save us. That was clear with yesterday’s decisions. It’s even more overwhelmingly clear today. Litigation remains critical. But the fight for voting rights, for instance, will be won at the ballot box. Change will come through robust political coalitions — at the local and state level, building to the federal level. Everything else must follow the same path. We are on our own, left to our own devices. The history, whatever mistakes, misfortunes and interventions, is simply the terrain we now grapple with.

Remember, the American populace will continue to look less white and less conservative as the years go on. And the Supreme Court will, with its coming 5-seat right rump, make decisions that more and more Americans find distasteful. The Republican Party have chosen the losing side, but like all people, they will fight harder to keep what they have than they fought to get it in the first place.

We've seen startlingly rapid reversals in American history, even when things looked the worst. The Court blocked FDR's first attempts to fix the economy in 1933-1935, but ultimately relented in the face of overwhelming popular support, which contributed to us getting out of the Great Depression.

Things look bad. But they always do right before they get better.

How the last ice age shaped New York City

Total Daily Parker bait:

At the start of the last ice age, 2.6 million years ago, a sheet of frozen water formed atop North America that kept expanding and thickening until it reached a maximum depth of roughly two miles.

At its southern edge, the vast body deposited tons of rocky debris — from sand and pebbles to boulders the size of school buses. Then, some 18,000 years ago, the planet began to warm and the gargantuan sheet of ice began to melt and retreat.

Today, the southernmost edge of that frozen expanse is marked by a line of rubble that extends across the northern United States for thousands of miles. The largest deposits form what geologists call a terminal moraine.

The intermittent ridge runs from Puget Sound to the Missouri River to Montauk Point on Long Island, forming the prominence that supports its old lighthouse. The ancient sheet of ice also left its mark on a very modern phenomenon: New York City.

It's a clear explanation of how the terminal moraine formed the New York metro area, and where in the area you can see direct evidence of glaciation.

Horrifying realization

One of my Facebook friends just posted a photo of our high school graduation program—from 5th June 1988. Thirty years ago.

I am screaming in my head, not just because I missed the anniversary yesterday, but also because 30 YEARS.

The new American aristocracy?

Writing in this month's Atlantic (a magazine by and for the very people he writes about), Matthew Stewart says the 9.9%, not the 0.1%, are the real story in American inequality:

Let’s talk first about money—even if money is only one part of what makes the new aristocrats special. There is a familiar story about rising inequality in the United States, and its stock characters are well known. The villains are the fossil-fueled plutocrat, the Wall Street fat cat, the callow tech bro, and the rest of the so-called top 1 percent. The good guys are the 99 percent, otherwise known as “the people” or “the middle class.” The arc of the narrative is simple: Once we were equal, but now we are divided. The story has a grain of truth to it. But it gets the characters and the plot wrong in basic ways.

It is in fact the top 0.1 percent who have been the big winners in the growing concentration of wealth over the past half century. According to the UC Berkeley economists Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman, the 160,000 or so households in that group held 22 percent of America’s wealth in 2012, up from 10 percent in 1963. If you’re looking for the kind of money that can buy elections, you’ll find it inside the top 0.1 percent alone.

In between the top 0.1 percent and the bottom 90 percent is a group that has been doing just fine. It has held on to its share of a growing pie decade after decade. And as a group, it owns substantially more wealth than do the other two combined. In the tale of three classes (see Figure 1), it is represented by the gold line floating high and steady while the other two duke it out. You’ll find the new aristocracy there. We are the 9.9 percent.

I recommend reading the whole article. But his conclusions jibe with things I've worried about for most of my adult life:

The toxic wave of wealth concentration that arose in the Gilded Age and crested in the 1920s finally crashed on the shoals of depression and war. Today we like to think that the social-welfare programs that were planted by the New Deal and that blossomed in the postwar era were the principal drivers of a new equality. But the truth is that those efforts belong more to the category of effects than causes. Death and destruction were the real agents of change. The financial collapse knocked the wealthy back several steps, and war empowered labor—above all working women.

That gilded, roaring surge of destruction was by no means the first such destabilizing wave of inequality to sweep through American history. In the first half of the 19th century, the largest single industry in the United States, measured in terms of both market capital and employment, was the enslavement (and the breeding for enslavement) of human beings. Over the course of the period, the industry became concentrated to the point where fewer than 4,000 families (roughly 0.1 percent of the households in the nation) owned about a quarter of this “human capital,” and another 390,000 (call it the 9.9 percent, give or take a few points) owned all of the rest.

The slaveholding elite were vastly more educated, healthier, and had much better table manners than the overwhelming majority of their fellow white people, never mind the people they enslaved. They dominated not only the government of the nation, but also its media, culture, and religion. Their votaries in the pulpits and the news networks were so successful in demonstrating the sanctity and beneficence of the slave system that millions of impoverished white people with no enslaved people to call their own conceived of it as an honor to lay down their life in the system’s defense.

That wave ended with 620,000 military deaths, and a lot of property damage. It did level the playing field in the American South for a time—though the process began to reverse itself all too swiftly.

I like where I am, no lie. But I recognize, as does Stewart, that we have a choice to make in how we reverse the trending inequality that has historically led to revolution. Food for thought.