The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

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.

One year and two weeks

We've spent 54 weeks in the looking-glass world of Covid-19. And while we may have so much more brain space than we had during the time a certain malignant personality invaded it every day, life has not entirely stopped. Things continue to improve, though:

Finally, today is the 40th anniversary of the day President Reagan got shot. I'm struggling a bit with the "40 years" bit.

Deaths in the news today

Three reports of deaths today, two of them institutional. First, the one with the most relevance to me personally, one of the people most responsible for my sense of humor, died yesterday at 91:

Norton Juster, the celebrated children’s author who has died at 91, stumbled into literature much as his most famous hero, Milo, stumbles into the marvelous world of wordplay and ad­ven­ture in the classic 1961 volume “The Phantom Tollbooth.” They were bored and entirely unsuspecting of the wonders that awaited them.

A budding architect with a self-confessed tendency to procrastinate, Mr. Juster was living in New York City and working — or not working — on a children’s book about cities. A Ford Foundation grant had given the project a degree of urgency. But it was not the book he wanted to write, and soon enough, he recalled years later, he was “waist-deep in stacks of 3-by-5 note cards, exhausted and dispirited.”

To pass the time, Mr. Juster began scribbling the story of Milo, a boy of about 9 or 10 years with no interest in the tedium of school or “learning to solve useless problems, or subtracting turnips from turnips, or knowing where Ethiopia is or how to spell February,” and who was as bewildered by the grown-up world as grown-ups were by him.

Only slightly less relevant to me, writer Jelani Cobb joins the crowd of people observing the death of the Republican Party:

The most widely debated political question of the moment is: What is happening to the Republicans? One answer is that the Party’s predicament might fairly be called the revenge of “the kooks.” In just four years, the G.O.P., a powerful, hundred-and-sixty-seven-year-old institution, has become the party of Donald Trump. He began his 2016 campaign by issuing racist and misogynistic salvos, and during his Presidency he gave cover to white supremacists, reactionary militia groups, and QAnon followers. Trump’s seizure of the Party’s leadership seemed a stunning achievement at first, but with time it seems more reasonable to ponder how he could possibly have failed. There were many preëxisting conditions, and Trump took advantage of them. The combination of a base stoked by a sensationalist right-wing media and the emergence of kook-adjacent figures in the so-called Gingrich Revolution, of 1994, and the Tea Party, have redefined the Party’s temper and its ideological boundaries. It is worth remembering that the first candidate to defeat Trump in a Republican primary in 2016 was Ted Cruz, who, by 2020, had long set aside his reservations about Trump, and was implicated in spurring the mob that attacked the Capitol.

One of the most telling developments of the 2020 contest was rarely discussed: in August, the Republican National Convention convened without presenting a new Party platform. The Convention was centered almost solely on Trump; the events, all of which took place at the White House, validated an increasing suspicion that Trump himself was the Republican platform. Practically speaking, the refusal to articulate concrete positions spared the Party the embarrassment of watching the President contradict them. In 2016, religious conservatives succeeded in getting an anti-pornography plank into the platform, only to be confronted by news of Trump’s extramarital affair with the adult-film performer Stormy Daniels. Now there would be no distinction between the Republican Party and the mendacity, bigotry, belligerence, misogyny, and narcissism of its singular representative.

In addition, the G.O.P.’s steady drift toward the right, from conservative to reactionary politics; its dependence on older, white voters; its reliance on right-wing media; its support for tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans; and its increasing disdain for democratic institutions and norms all portend increasing division and a diminishing pool of voters.

Large things die slowly, though, and the GOP's rot and sickness will pollute our civil discourse for years to come.

Another large, old thing that may not die for a couple more centuries has also let out a gangrenous burp this past week, when Harry Windsor and his wife Meghan unloaded on "the Firm" they recently quit. Leave it to an Irish writer (in this case Patrick Freyne) to sound exactly the right note:

Having a monarchy next door is a little like having a neighbour who’s really into clowns and has daubed their house with clown murals, displays clown dolls in each window and has an insatiable desire to hear about and discuss clown-related news stories. More specifically, for the Irish, it’s like having a neighbour who’s really into clowns and, also, your grandfather was murdered by a clown.

The most recent internecine struggle is between the royal family and a newly disentangled Prince Harry and his wife, the former actor Meghan Markle. Traditionally, us peasants would be nervously picking a side and retrieving our pikes from the thatch. Luckily, these days the pitched battles happen in television interviews.

Over the course of the interview Harry and Meghan, who are charming, clever and good at being celebrities, make the monarchy look like an archaic and endemically racist institution that has no place in the modern world. Well duh. And despite all the outrage you might read in the UK tabloids right now, they also did something else that renders everything else irrelevant: they officially launched themselves in the United States.

Harry and Meghan are ultimately going to win. Despite the tabloid frenzy, this was never the story of an ungrateful pauper being elevated by the monarchy. This was about the potential union of two great houses, the Windsors and Californian Celebrity. Only one of those things has a future, and it’s the one with the Netflix deal.

Well, OK, only one of those things has actually, permanently died. But I expect the other two will die before I do.

The Queen's Consent

The Guardian has apparently just discovered a parliamentary procedure in use for the past, oh, 300 years, and...well, that's about it. In the UK, the House of Commons routinely shares proposed legislation with the Queen or the Prince of Wales when the matter under consideration directly affects the Royal Family. The Queen has no power to change the legislation, and indeed has never withheld her consent as doing so would cause a Constitutional crisis.

Still, it seems, as we say in the US, a bit hinky. And it seems that the Royals occasionally had something to say about the proposals. Naturally, the committed republicans of The Guardian are clutching their pearls indeed:

The Guardian has compiled a database of at least 1,062 parliamentary bills that have been subjected to Queen’s consent, stretching from the beginning of Elizabeth II’s reign through to the present day.

The database illustrates that the opaque procedure of Queen’s consent has been exercised far more extensively than was previously believed.

The investigation uncovered evidence suggesting that she used the procedure to persuade government ministers to change a 1970s transparency law in order to conceal her private wealth from the public.

The documents also show that on other occasions the monarch’s advisers demanded carve-outs on proposed laws relating to road safety and land policy that appeared to affect her estates, and pressed for government policy on historic sites to be altered.

A spokesperson for the Queen said: “Whether Queen’s consent is required is decided by parliament, independently from the royal household, in matters that would affect crown interests, including personal property and personal interests of the monarch.

“If consent is required, draft legislation is, by convention, put to the sovereign to grant solely on advice of ministers and as a matter of public record.”

She added: “Queen’s consent is a parliamentary process, with the role of sovereign purely formal. Consent is always granted by the monarch where requested by government. Any assertion that the sovereign has blocked legislation is simply incorrect.”

I would also consider myself to be a republican in the UK sense, happy to have the Windsors out of the process of governing the UK and taxable just like anyone else. But the UK Constitution, at the moment, has Elizabeth II Regina as Head of State, whose consent is required for all laws passed by her Government.

I imagine this article will elicit an enormous shrug from the British people.

Good morning!

Just an hour or so into the first business day of 2021, and morning news had a few stories that grabbed my attention:

Finally, don't eat icicles. They're basically frozen bird poop.