The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Happy Mason-Dixon Day

On this day in 1767, Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon completed their survey of the disputed Maryland-Pennsylvania border, which became even more contentious in 1780 when Pennsylvania aboolished slavery. A group of surveyors started re-surveying the border in 2019; I can't find out whether they finished.

Meanwhile, 255 years later, politics is still mostly local:

Finally, Chicago has perfectly clear skies for only the third time this month after yesterday and the 4th, getting only 39% of possible sunshine for almost the past three weeks.

The Battle of Bamber Bridge

In June 1943, a group of white American MPs attacked a company of Black American soldiers in the town of Bamber Bridge, England (near Blackpool). The English took the side of the Black soldiers:

During the war, American soldiers accounted for the vast majority of black people in Britain. Britain’s population was overwhelmingly white, most of the country almost entirely so. Black Britons numbered around eight thousand in total, and were clustered in London, Liverpool and a few other ports. For the residents of most towns and villages near US bases, the proximity of black people was wholly novel.

Given that most Britons had seen black people only in films or books, you might have expected them to distrust or fear the new arrivals. Instead, as the historian David Olusoga remarks, the natives were “extraordinarily welcoming” to their black visitors. In fact, black GIs were offered a warmer reception than their white counterparts. In the letters and diaries of British inhabitants, White GIs are portrayed as arrogant, flashy, and unruly, while Black GIs, by contrast, are described as courteous, self-disciplined, and charming.

For black GIs, the warm and respectful treatment they received in Britain’s shops, pubs, and church halls threw their relationship with fellow countrymen into sharp relief. At home, black Americans from Southern states were strictly segregated from whites and systematically oppressed. Jim Crow laws ensured that they were politically disenfranchised and economically marginalised, eighty years after the abolition of slavery. The oppression was cultural too: black Americans were routinely  and openly treated as contemptible by their white counterparts.

For many black soldiers, the experience of Britain renewed and sharpened a sense of injustice over how they were treated in the United States. As one put it, “we are treated better in England than we are in a country that is supposed to be our home.” Naturally enough, it led some of them to question why they were fighting. Another GI wrote: “I am an American negro, doing my part for the American government to make the world safe for a democracy I have never known.”

I recently watched the Channel 4 miniseries Traitors, in which American race relations right after World War II in London mattered a great deal to the plot. Learning about Bamber Bridge added more depth to my understanding of the show.

Ancestral homeland opens up

Even thought the Right Honourable Gentleman from Uxbridge and South Ruslip remains a bloviating prat, his ministers did give me a bit of good news this morning:

Double-vaccinated travellers from the US and European Union will have their jab status recognised, meaning they can avoid quarantine when arriving in England from amber list countries, ministers have decided.

After a meeting of senior ministers on Wednesday, sources said the go-ahead was given to treat those who have been fully inoculated in the US and EU the same as British citizens.

Currently, only those who have had two vaccine doses administered by the NHS are eligible for a “Covid pass” they can show upon their arrival in England, meaning they are allowed to avoid isolating for up to 10 days if travelling from an amber list country – so long as they test negative before departure.

A date for the rule change has not yet been set. When it comes into force, it will benefit Britons living abroad, as well as US and EU citizens who are double-jabbed.

So, maybe, just maybe, I can visit the UK this fall? Maybe pretty please with sugar on top?

We're about done with this crap

As Chicago contemplates returning to a more-restrictive environment because of rising Covid-19 cases, those of us who have gotten vaccinated have had about enough of people who refuse to get the jab. This has led to our more-unhinged party backpedaling like they're about to fall off a cliff:

In late Spring it seemed like COVID was basically about over. Critically, it seemed like the non-vaccinated might be able to hitch a ride on the rest of the country’s vaccinated immunity. Everyone could drop their masks and get back into restaurants and theaters and it would all be fine. Clearly that didn’t pan out. One of the most hopeful signs in the last week is that that fact is leading a lot of people to go get vaccinated. After months of declines, the number of vaccinations is starting to rise again. But among the vaccinated there’s a growing realization that we’re going backwards, seeing rates go up, seeing some mask mandates come back because of the non-vaccinated. And people are getting frustrated. That is a big part of why you’re seeing Republicans not simply encouraging people to get vaccinated but even more trying to ditch the vaccine-resistant brand. They’re feeling exposed to shifting public opinion. In short, they don’t want to be accountable for what they’ve done.

Most elected Republicans haven’t been explicitly anti-vaccination. Indeed, even before the last couple weeks many have made low volume statements saying they’ve been vaccinated and encouraging others to do so. But they’ve almost all participated in the effort to make vaccine resistance into a kind of freedom movement – banning government or private businesses from using vaccine passports, banning mask mandates, politicizing debates over school reopenings. As a party they’ve leaned into valorizing vaccine resistance and banning any private or governmental efforts to place the burden of the consequences of non-vaccination on those who choose not to be vaccinated.

They thought that would supercharge their already happy prospects for 2022 by riding an anti-vax or anti-vax mandate wave. And now they’re thinking they may have miscalculated.

David Frum says that vaccine hesitancy, rather than outright refusal, has played a bigger role in this than those on the rational side may expect, but yeah, we're  still done with that crap:

Part of the trouble is that pro-Trump state legislatures are enacting ever more ambitious protections for people who refuse vaccines. They are forbidding business owners to ask for proof of vaccination from their customers. They are requiring cruise linessports stadiums, and bars to serve the unvaccinated. In Montana, they have even forbidden hospitals to require health-care workers to get vaccinated.

Pro-Trump vaccine resistance exacts a harsh cost from pro-Trump loyalists. We read pitiful story after pitiful story of deluded and deceived people getting sick when they did not have to get sick, infecting their loved ones, being intubated, and dying. And as these loyalists harm themselves and expose all of us to unnecessary and preventable risk, publications—including this one—have run articles sympathetically explaining the recalcitrance of the unvaccinated.

Reading about the fates of people who refused the vaccine is sorrowful. But as summer camp and travel plans are disrupted—as local authorities reimpose mask mandates that could have been laid aside forever—many in the vaccinated majority must be thinking: Yes, I’m very sorry that so many of the unvaccinated are suffering the consequences of their bad decisions. I’m also very sorry that the responsible rest of us are suffering the consequences of their bad decisions.

Compassion should always be the first reaction to vaccine hesitation. Maybe some unvaccinated people have trouble getting time off work to deal with side effects, maybe they are disorganized, maybe they are just irrationally anxious. But there’s no getting around the truth that some considerable number of the unvaccinated are also behaving willfully and spitefully. Yes, they have been deceived and manipulated by garbage TV, toxic Facebook content, and craven or crazy politicians. But these are the same people who keep talking about “personal responsibility.” In the end, the unvaccinated person himself or herself has decided to inflict a preventable and unjustifiable harm upon family, friends, neighbors, community, country, and planet.

Will Blue America ever decide it’s had enough of being put medically at risk by people and places whose bills it pays? Check yourself: Have you?

Oh, yes I bloody well have. And I'm looking at the Right Honourable Gentleman from Uxbridge and South Ruislip for cocking it up in my Ancestral Homeland as well. Politicizing a pandemic isn't the stupidest thing the right have ever done, but it's in the top five.

In the news today...

I haven't had time to read a lot lately, as I mentioned. Maybe these explain why:

And finally, a man in Chicago suburb Lisle, Ill., has made a life's work out of preserving old TV commercials.

Fallen on Hard Times

I've just yesterday finished Charles Dickens' Hard Times, his shortest and possibly most-Dickensian novel. I'm still thinking about it, and I plan to discuss it with someone who has studied it in depth later this week. I have to say, though, for a 175-year-old novel, it has a lot of relevance for our situation today.

It's by turns funny, enraging, and strange. On a few occasions I had to remind myself that Dickens himself invented a particular plot device that today has become cliché, which I also found funny, enraging, and strange. Characters with names like Gradgrind, Bounderby, and Jupe populate the smoke-covered Coketown (probably an expy for Preston, Lancashire). Writers since Dickens have parodied the (already satirical) upper-class twit and humbug-spewing mill owner so much that reading them in the original Dickens caused some mental frisson.

Dickens also spends a good bit of ink criticizing "political economics" in the novel, as did a German contemporary of his, whose deeper analysis of the same subject 13 years later informed political philosophy for 120 years.

It's going to sit with me for a while. I understand that Tom Baker played Bounderby in a BBC Radio adaptation in 1998; I may have to subscribe to Audible for that.

Brexit, five years on

Not everything I predicted about the idiotic Brexit vote on 23 June 2016 has come true, but the UK still remains as divided as then:

Five years after Britons voted to leave the European Union, the aftershocks are still being registered. But few parts of the country have felt its impact more than this corner of England close to its Channel ports and the white cliffs of Dover, where a majority voted for Brexit.

When Britain was inside the E.U., the trucks that flowed ceaselessly to and from France did so with few checks. But Brexit has brought a blizzard of red tape, requiring the government to build the checkpoint nicknamed the “Farage garage,” a reference to the pro-Brexit campaigner Nigel Farage.

“For people living nearby it’s an absolute catastrophe with the night sky completely lit up. Honestly, it’s like Heathrow Airport,” said Geoffrey Fletcher, chairman of the parish council at Mersham (pronounced “Merzam”).

Consultation on the 24-hour truck park had been minimal and suggestions on how to limit problems ignored, he said. Yet, so polarized is the debate over an issue that divided the country, that Mr. Fletcher thinks few minds have changed on Brexit.

“I have not met anybody who has said they would vote differently,” said Mr. Fletcher, a Brexit voter, over coffee in the garden of his former farmhouse, part of which dates from the 15th century.

The Guardian calls it a straight-up calamity:

Few have changed their mind: though polls put remain (or return) ahead by a nose, no one wants to be put through that hell again. Brexit is done for the foreseeable future, though a government thriving on national disunity strives to keep it alive with infantile culture wars and “anti-woke” phoney patriotism.

Yet barely a day goes by without further proofs of Brexit’s damage, some of it now forcing its way into the Tory press. This week, pigeon fanciers are barred from having their birds participate in cross-Channel races by new rules. Less niche is the alarming 17% rise in food prices: Ian Wright, of the Food and Drink Federation, tells me Brexit costs and obstructions have sent commodity prices soaring, and those are now working their way on to the shelves. The unexpected £2bn fall in UK food and drink exports to the EU in just the first quarter of this year is, Wright tells me, “no teething problem, but very real and sustained. Smaller firms have stopped exporting”, overwhelmed by the new obstacles. The government may turn a permanent blind eye to import checks starting next week: “But that soon gets dangerous. When no one checks, who knows if imported food is what it says on the tin, and not, say, horse meat?”

Wherever you look, expect the same story. The assault on the arts, music and broadcasting is lethal for a sector where Britain excels. This week, the music industry has been begging for an end to the deadlock over EU touring, vital for its viability. Another thunderbolt struck this week with a report showing the EU is likely to enforce its rules limiting non-EU content in its broadcasting: nothing new here, the EU is always strict on cultural protection against the US. That strips millions from financing for drama and other programmes, on top of BBC cuts and the possible privatisation of Channel 4.

I suppose Brexit hasn't been as awful as it could have been. But then, neither was First Bull Run.

Leaving on a jet plane

Now that I'm more than two weeks past my second Pfizer jab, I'm heading to O'Hare tomorrow for the first time since January 2020. I remember back in September 2018 when I finally broke my longest-ever drought from flying of 221 days. Tomorrow will mark 481 days grounded.

But that's tomorrow. Today, I'm interested in the following:

And finally, Chicago's endangered piping plovers Monty and Rose have laid three eggs. We should see baby piping plovers in about four weeks.

Quite an anniversary

Today I learned that the office of Prime Minister of the United Kingdom took its modern form 300 years ago this month, when Sir Robert Walpole took office as First Lord of the Treasury on 4 April 1721.

Of course, this being the UK, governed more by tradition and custom than a founding document like nearly every other country on Earth, it gets a bit fuzzier on investigation. The office of First Lord of the Treasury dates back to 1126, when King Henry I appointed Nigel, Bishop of Ely, his Lord High Treasurer. The office morphed into First Lord of the Treasury in 1714 when Charles Montagu, First Earl Halifax, assumed the post.

But when Walpole took the brief for the second time in 1721 (he also held the post from 1715 to 1717), King George I granted him emergency powers to stabilize the country after the South Sea Company's collapse in 1720. He not only handled the emergency, but he also managed to make the office part of the constitutional framework of UK governance. It would take until 1937 for UK law to recognize the office of Prime Minister formally.

Duke of Edinburgh dies at 99

His Royal Highness The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, Earl of Merioneth, Baron Greenwich of Greenwich in the County of London, Lord High Admiral of the United Kingdom, has died just shy of his 100th birthday:

A statement issued by the palace just after midday spoke of the Queen's "deep sorrow" following his death at Windsor Castle on Friday morning.

The Duke of Edinburgh, the longest-serving royal consort in British history, was at the Queen's side for more than her six decades of reign.

The BBC's royal correspondent Nicholas Witchell said it was "a moment of sadness" for the country and "most particularly, for the Queen losing her husband of 73 years - a bigger span of years than most of us can imagine".

He said Prince Philip had made "a huge contribution to the success of the Queen's reign", describing the duke as "utterly loyal in his belief in the importance of the role that the Queen was fulfilling - and in his duty to support her".

The Duke would have turned 100 on June 10th. Prince Charles became the new Duke of Edinburgh upon his father's death. The title will revert to the Crown when Charles becomes King.