The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

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'...

Overcooked

The UK has started a £100 m repatriation scheme to get stranded Thomas Cook customers home:

The government has said it will run a "shadow airline" for two weeks to repatriate the 155,000 UK tourists affected by the firm's collapse.

Transport secretary Grant Shapps said its response to the crisis was "on track so far" and "running smoothly".

Mr Shapps, who earlier attended an emergency Cobra government meeting on the government's response, said: "People will experience delays, we're not running the original airline, but we intend to get this done all in the next two weeks and then end this phase of the rescue."

He also stressed people should not come home early from their holidays but should "carry on and leave on the date they were supposed to leave, having first checked the Thomas Cook website before leaving for the airport".

The government has to chip in because of the way UK bankruptcy laws work:

Had Thomas Cook been based here, it would have most likely filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and tried to reorganize while still flying. But Thomas Cook is a UK company, and that means that when the 178-year old business ran out of financing options Sunday night, it effectively just disappeared as far as the public is concerned. The UK government is solely focused on picking up the pieces in the near term while it prepares for a massive liquidation in the long run.

But:

These repatriation flights are only for those who already left the UK and needed to get back home. Everyone else just gets refunds, and that means airlines like easyJet and Jet2 are about to get a windfall of new business. TUI will pick some up as well, and I’m sure all low-cost carriers that touch the UK at all, like Ryanair and Wizz, will see a healthy uptick in bookings. But in the long run, someone is going to step up. This capacity won’t simply disappear.

So what happened? How did the company accrue billions of pounds of debt when the aviation part of their business remained profitable? Because fewer people like package tours than before:

Meanwhile, as the rescue operation kicks into gear, people are already conducting a post mortem into the death of this 178-year-old travel-industry leviathan—a British household name, with storefronts offering all-in-one resort vacations on almost every main street in the country. Among the causes, one striking possibility has emerged: Did the apparently unstoppable rise of the city break cause the company’s demise?

The rise in popularity of shorter urban breaks does indeed seem to have been a factor. In 2019, the average Briton is far more likely to be found wandering around Barcelona or Amsterdam than, say, sunbathing on the beaches of Spain’s Costa Del Sol, a 1980s favorite.

The number of Britons taking a yearly two-week vacation (a travel-agency staple, long standard because of the country’s generous vacation days) has fallen by more than 1 million since 1996. The number of short trips, meanwhile, has skyrocketed. By 2017, more than half of people in the U.K. were taking at least one short trip annually. This shift is crucial, because it meant that most growth happened in a sector where travel agents do relatively poor business.

Most of all, though, it’s the liberalization of the aviation industry in Europe since the late 1990s that has radically changed people’s destination choices. Before the advent of bargain airlines such as easyJet and Ryanair, the only really cheap flights to be had were summer charters to beach destinations, so that’s where people went. Nowadays, the volume of affordable, even obscure destinations has hugely expanded. Previously far-flung cities such as Trieste, Italy, or Riga, Latvia, are now weekend-break destinations. Travel agencies that depend on block-booking a large number of rooms in high-volume destinations find it hard to capitalize on this trend.

I'm sure AirBnB and Hipmunk contributed as well.

I always feel a little sad (or outraged) when a venerable business dies. Everyone will get home from their holidays after this mess, but a company older than a third of the states in the US is no more.

Bad trip

Thomas Cook, founded in 1841, collapsed yesterday, stranding 150,000 people and causing the largest repatriation effort in British history:

The Civil Aviation Authority announced at 2am on Monday morning that the world’s oldest holiday company had gone into administration and that all flights and bookings had been cancelled.

The official administration was timed for the early hours when the largest number of the 94-strong fleet of planes were on the ground.

The tour operator is understood to have made a number of proposals, including asking lenders to reduce a £200m demand for extra funding and for credit card companies to release about £50m of cash they are holding as collateral against Thomas Cook bookings.

A couple planning to get married next weekend, having booked the whole thing through Thomas Cook, are among the disappointed.

Lunch links

A few good reads today:

Haven't decided what to eat for lunch yet...

Not a slow news day

Let's see, where to begin?

Finally, RawStory has a collection of responses to the President's Sharpie-altered weather map. (This is not, however, the first time the Administration has tried to make one of its Dear Leader's errors be true.) Enjoy.

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.

More reactions to the UK ambassador's departure

Unlike the Woody Donald Trump thrust into the Court of St James's, the UK's ambassador to the US, Sir Kim Darroch, has been a model of Britain's diplomatic civil service. Even his leaked cables (ask: who benefited from the leaks?) show a certain level of restraint that, as a professional diplomat, he didn't need to show.

Contrast that with the behavior of our diplomats overseas, let alone the guy who appointed them:

In Berlin, one U.S. ambassador openly undermines the government; another in Amsterdam became a laughingstock for refusing to answer journalists’ questions, and yet another in Jerusalem openly shows bias in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. From Kenya to New Zealand, the ambassadors appointed by Trump have offended their hosts.

Ultimately, the rot comes from the top.

It took mere hours for Richard Grenell, the U.S. ambassador to Germany, to offend his hosts in May with a tweet that appeared to give an order: “German companies doing business in Iran should wind down operations immediately.” A month later, Grenell gave an interview with the conservative news site Breitbart in which he said he wanted to “empower” hard-right conservatives in Europe.

Meanwhile, David M. Friedman, the U.S. ambassador to Israel and Trump’s former lawyer, often appears much too cozy with his host government — and only interested in talking to one set of people in the Israeli and Palestinian territories. ... Along with Trump’s decision to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, the closure of its consulate in East Jerusalem and much more, it was yet another sign that the United States had picked a side.

The UK knows a thing or two about squandering good will in the world. And they still haven't completely recovered, despite (or perhaps because of) how much Russian money has flowed into London. So here we are, bankrupting ourselves diplomatically nearly everywhere we go. It's not so far from where we are today to two vast and trunkless legs of stone standing in the desert.

Sadiq Khan on Trump

I mentioned earlier that President Trump had insulted the Mayor of London. Here's what Khan wrote to make Trump so angry:

Praising the “very fine people on both sides” when torch-wielding white supremacists and antisemites marched through the streets clashing with anti-racist campaigners. Threatening to veto a ban on the use of rape as a weapon of war. Setting an immigration policy that forcefully separates young children from their parents at the border. The deliberate use of xenophobia, racism and “otherness” as an electoral tactic. Introducing a travel ban to a number of predominately Muslim countries. Lying deliberately and repeatedly to the public.

No, these are not the actions of European dictators of the 1930s and 40s. Nor the military juntas of the 1970s and 80s. I’m not talking about Vladimir Putin or Kim Jong-un. These are the actions of the leader of our closest ally, the president of the United States of America.

I am proud of our historic special relationship, which I’m certain will survive long after President Trump leaves office. The US is a country I love and have visited on many occasions. I still greatly admire the culture, the people and the principles articulated by the founding fathers. But America is like a best friend, and with a best friend you have a responsibility to be direct and honest when you believe they are making a mistake.

History teaches us of the danger of being afraid to speak truth to power and the risk of failing to defend our values from the rise of the far right. At this challenging time in global politics, it’s more important than ever that we remember that lesson.

Spot on.

Where plaid comes from

A farmer in Scotland tweaks American tourists:

A cheeky farmer is winding up American tourists by spray-painting her sheep tartan – and claiming it’s caused by the animals drinking popular Scottish soft drink, Irn-Bru.

Owner Maxine Scott, 62, used her skills with a spray-can to brighten up ewes April and Daisy.

Scott puts up a sign pretending that the sheep turn bright orange naturally and that their fleeces are then used to make tartan wool for kilts and blankets.

The sheep live on Auchingarrich Wildlife Centre, Comrie, Perthshire, and are decorated using marker spray, used by farmers to identify sheep during lamb numbering.

I wonder what clan they're in?