The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Tories strike again

Thanks in part to Conservative Party mismanagement of the UK transport sector for the last 13 years, things have gotten a bit fraught in the Old Country. And now, I get to spend a bit of extra time getting from Gatwick to my hotel on Saturday:

The Gatwick Express takes about 30 minutes from the airport to London Victoria Station. There is no other train option.

Instead, it looks like I can take a cab straight to my hotel for about £90, or a bus to bloody Heathrow and the Elizabeth Line for about £25. The former will take about an hour. The latter about 2 1/2.

So, I'm on vacation. No expense account. No schedule. Should I spend the extra $55? Sigh. 

Chuck's crowning achievement

Tomorrow, King Charles III and Queen Camilla will hold their coronation in London. Matt Ford says it's all fun and games until someone loses a Parliament:

Charles’s ascent is not important because he actually has a divine right to reign over the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and roughly a dozen other countries. Nor is it important because Harry is attending without Meghan in either a brave stand against his abusive family or a rude snub of his well-intentioned father. The British monarchy is important because its leader wields no small amount of power over a nuclear-armed global financial hub with a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council. And Charles’s coronation matters because he, more than any other recent king or queen, is more likely to upend the whole thing.

[T]o say that the king has no power or influence is not quite accurate. For one thing, he retains personal control over the Duchy of Lancaster, which began as a feudal estate in medieval times and now resembles an investment portfolio. Its holdings include real estate, farms, historical buildings, and other revenue-producing assets. His son William owns the Duchy of Cornwall, a similar enterprise that provides him with income independent of Parliament. These bodies are different from the Crown Estate, which is owned by the monarchy as an institution and sends its revenues directly to the Treasury. For some Britons, Charles and William aren’t just tabloid figures. They are also landlords.

Charles himself has also played a more direct role in trying to influence legislation. After a ten-year legal battle, the British government released a series of memos in 2015 that detailed how the then-Prince of Wales had secretly lobbied ministers on various pet issues ranging from alternative medicine, to badger culls, to helicopters in the Iraq War. It’s long been reported by British media outlets that Charles, as heir, wanted to more vocally champion issues that were close to his heart. Whether he will do so as monarch will be hard to discern: After the memo’s disclosure, Parliament upgraded the royal family’s exemption to freedom-of-information laws to be absolute.

Keep in mind, they are an awfully long-lived family. Charles could remain King well into the 2050s.

What did I do with all my free time before the Internet?

I think I wrote software and read a lot. You know, just what I do today. Stuff like this:

This afternoon we concluded Sprint 84 with a boring deployment, which makes me happy. We've had only one moderately-exciting deployment this year, and even that one didn't take long to fix, so I'm doing something right.

In other news

Stuff read while waiting for code to compile:

Finally, Chicago Tribune food critic Louisa Chu says I should take a 45-minute drive down to Bridgeview to try some Halal fried chicken—just, maybe, after Ramadan ends.

How a sane party deals with its extremists

The UK Labour Party's National Executive Committee voted today to de-list former party leader Jeremy Corbyn, meaning he cannot stand for election as a Labour candidate from now on:

A Labour spokesman said the leader’s motion passed by 22 votes to 12, meaning it is now down to Corbyn to decide whether to run as an independent candidate.

Corbyn, the veteran left-winger who has represented Islington North since 1983, had criticised the move as “undermining the party’s internal democracy” before its approval.

The motion says he “will not be endorsed by the NEC as a candidate on behalf of the Labour party at the next general election”.

Some may recall that Corbyn's combination of incompetence, leftist extremism, and anti-Semitism made the party essentially unelectable during his run as leader, tipping the votes towards Brexit and professional clown Boris Johnson's Conservatives in 2016 and again in 2020. After driving Labour's vote share down to 32% the party finally sacked him as leader in April 2020.

Corbyn will likely stand in the next election as an independent, though I would expect Labour to run someone against him.

Baroness Betty Boothroyd, OM, PC

The first female Speaker of the House of Commons died Sunday:

She served as Speaker from 1992 to 2000, before going on to become a baroness in the House of Lords from 2001.

The current Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle described her as "an inspirational woman" who was known for her "no-nonsense style".

She was the Labour MP for West Bromwich West from 1973 to 2000.

"To be the first woman Speaker was truly groundbreaking and Betty certainly broke that glass ceiling with panache," Sir Lindsay said.

"Betty was one of a kind. A sharp, witty and formidable woman - and I will miss her."

Here is Speaker Boothroyd presiding over Tony Blair's first Prime Minister's Questions in May 1997:

We all need to take time off, Scottish edition

I just got an automated note from HR saying my PTO bank will overflow next month, so look for new Brews & Choos reviews to pop up after March 3rd. We're just that busy on my team.

But that isn't the most interesting thing that happened today. No, that honor goes to waking up to hear that Nicola Sturgeon resigned this morning:

Nicola Sturgeon has confirmed she is resigning as Scotland's first minister after more than eight years in the role.

The Scottish National Party leader said she knew "in my head and in my heart" this was the right time to step down.

Ms Sturgeon said she would remain in office until her successor was elected.

She is the longest-serving first minister and the first woman to hold the position.

The Guardian has more:

Her resignation, which many had suspected could happen nearer the next Holyrood election in 2026, triggered speculation about her successor. Bookmakers quickly tipped Angus Robertson, the SNP’s former Westminster leader and now Sturgeon’s cabinet secretary for culture and external affairs, as the lead candidate.

The SNP leader has had a series of political setbacks recently, including the UK supreme court defeat of her plans for a fresh independence referendum and a damaging row over a double rapist being sent to a female jail after announcing she was a trans woman.

There had been growing speculation that Sturgeon was preparing to stand down at the next Scottish parliamentary election, but not so abruptly. She had repeatedly told reporters she had no plans to quit and intended to lead the Scottish government and SNP into the Holyrood elections in 2026.

Yet a series of opinion polls have shown popular support for Sturgeon personally and for the SNP and independence has fallen in recent weeks, partly fuelled by the intense controversy over the rapist Isla Bryson.

A poll by the Sunday Times at the weekend showed 42% of voters wanted Sturgeon to immediately resign, while 45% said she should remain in post until the next Holyrood election and 13% did not know.

The poll found 15% of those who voted SNP at the 2019 general election wanted her to quit, as did 19% of those who voted yes at the 2014 independence referendum. However, 76% of SNP voters and 72% of yes voters wanted her to remain.

Maybe Sturgeon got a note from HR too?

Notes to self

The sun finally came out around 3:30 this afternoon, as a high overcast layer slid slowly southeast. Of course, the temperature has fallen to -11°C and will keep sliding to -18°C overnight, but at least the gloom has receded! January will still end as the gloomiest ever, however, with around 18% of possible sunshine all month, plus whatever we get tomorrow.

Meanwhile, I want to come back to these articles later:

Finally, looking back a little farther (about 13 billion years), the James Webb Space Telescope has picked out some of the oldest galaxies in the universe. And they're really weird.

The Tory catastrophe

Two writers in the Times looked at two different aspects of the Conservative party's ongoing vandalism to the United Kingdom. First, David Wallace-Wells tracks the post-Brexit economic declines:

By the end of next year, the average British family will be less well off than the average Slovenian one, according to a recent analysis by John Burn-Murdoch at The Financial Times; by the end of this decade, the average British family will have a lower standard of living than the average Polish one.

On the campaign trail and in office, promising a new prosperity, Boris Johnson used to talk incessantly about “leveling up.” But the last dozen years of uninterrupted Tory rule have produced, in economic terms, something much more like a national flatlining. In a 2020 academic analysis by Nicholas Crafts and Terence C. Mills, recently publicized by the economic historian Adam Tooze, the two economists asked whether the ongoing slowdown in British productivity was unprecedented. Their answer: not quite, but that it was certainly the worst in the last 250 years, since the very beginning of the Industrial Revolution. Which is to say: To find a fitting analogue to the British economic experience of the last decade, you have to reach back to a time before the arrival of any significant growth at all, to a period governed much more by Malthusianism, subsistence-level poverty and a nearly flat economic future.

As Burn-Murdoch demonstrates in another in his series of data-rich analyses of the British plight, the country’s obvious struggles have a very obvious central cause: austerity. In the aftermath of the 2008 global financial crisis, and in the name of rebalancing budgets, the Tory-led government set about cutting annual public spending, as a proportion of G.D.P., to 39 percent from 46 percent. The cuts were far larger and more consistent than nearly all of Britain’s peer countries managed to enact; spending on new physical and digital health infrastructure, for instance, fell by half over the decade. In the United States, political reversals and partisan hypocrisy put a check on deep austerity; in Britain, the party making the cuts has stayed steadily in power for 12 years.

Over two centuries, a tiny island nation made itself an empire and a capitalist fable, essentially inventing economic growth and then, powered by it, swallowing half the world. Over just two decades now, it has remade itself as a cautionary tale.

The Tories' lazy malfeasance in promoting and then implementing Brexit may also unwind 25 years of community-building on Eire in ways literally everyone predicted, says writer Christopher Caldwell:

Ireland remains part of the European Union but Northern Ireland no longer is — and yet the two parts of the island are bound by trade and a 25-year-old peace treaty that helped defuse a terrorist conflict between Protestant unionists and Catholics.

Those loose ends were tied up in a little-understood clarification of Brexit called the Northern Ireland protocol, ratified in January 2020. It looked like a mere codicil three years ago; now it looks like a serious diplomatic blunder that could threaten Britain’s territory and the region’s peace.

[Former Prime Minister Theresa] May promised — too hastily, in retrospect — to honor the 1998 Good Friday peace agreement among Britain, Northern Ireland’s political parties and the Republic of Ireland. One of the main things the agreement did was to bind together the economies of Ireland’s north and south. But adapting that arrangement to a post-Brexit world came at a steep constitutional price for the north. To protect the European single market against smuggling and the transfer of unauthorized goods through Northern Ireland, a customs border would be established between Northern Ireland and Britain. To administer the single market, the European Court of Justice was given authority to interpret E.U. law in Northern Ireland.

Caldwell seems to favor UK independence from the EU, but he makes a good point. Something has to give. And it looks like even odds whether Brexit winds up unifying Eire into one Republic of Ireland, or reigniting the Troubles. Can't wait to find out...

Disaster averted in London, but not elsewhere

A little less than 50 years ago, the Greater London Council finally abandoned a plan from 1966 that would have obliterated Earls Court, Brixton, Hampstead, and many other central neighborhoods:

If events had turned out differently, Southwyck House would be perched on the edge of the Motorway Box, a 50-mile, eight-lane ring road built across much of inner suburban London, including Brixton. This was only part of the planners’ ambitions. The Box, or Ringway One as it was later titled, was to be the first of three concentric gyratories. Together they would have displaced up to 100,000 people.

Baffling as the idea might seem now, it must be viewed in the context of a time when politicians and planners were panicked about imminent gridlock across the UK’s towns and cities as ever more vehicles took to the roads.

The solution they collectively turned to was the inner-city motorway, an innovation that arguably changed postwar cities as fundamentally as modernist architects’ tower blocks. Here was an entirely new type of street, one that did away with shop fronts, pedestrians, chance encounters or indeed anything recognisably human-scale. For the first time in centuries of urban life, a street was not a public realm, just a conduit between private spaces.

In 1969, while the Ringways plan was being finalised, New York’s mayor, John Lindsay, scrapped [Robert] Moses’ proposal for a massive freeway across lower Manhattan, after pressure from a new breed of activists who had started to ask, for the first time in the automobile era, whether cities should be designed around motor vehicles or human beings.

Most prominent was Jane Jacobs, the visionary urbanist and writer whose idea of a successful city centred on a necessarily organic and unplanned “ballet” of street-based life proved hugely influential in subsequent decades.

Such radical ideas were less embedded in London, and opposition to the Ringways came mainly from a string of small and fragmented local campaigns. But a near-miracle was at hand. In 1970, with the GLC on the verge of starting construction, [Prime Minister Harold] Wilson’s [Labour] government unexpectedly ordered a public inquiry, seemingly spooked by the scale of what was about to be done.

If only other cities had stopped the destruction in time. Here in Chicago, we have three major expressways converging on downtown. In all three cases the construction devastated neighborhoods (usually Black and brown ones) and permanently separated others. They're ugly, and they don't really work; induced demand destroyed their utility almost immediately. And here we are, in 2022, with the city proudly announcing that the "spaghetti bowl," where three massive highways meet just west of Downtown, will reopen this week after a $800 million rebuilding effort.

Cities can recover, but at great expense and often only because an unrelated disaster forces them to act. (See, e.g., San Francisco's Embarcadero Freeway and Rochester, New York's Inner Loop North.) And yet here we are, with 100 years of data about the external costs of high-capacity, limited-access highways in urban areas, unwilling to remove them. Even in places where residents almost universally want the roads removed, politicians refuse to act.

When they write America's obituary, they will list "cars" as one of its causes of death. I'm glad London avoided it.