The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

"Your call. We're a lighthouse."

So much to watch today in the UK as Parliament gave Prime Minister Boris Johnson one hell of a welcome back in his second appearance there as PM. Josh Marshall sums it up nicely:

[Johnson's] whole effort has been an elaborate game of chicken. Get the Tory leadership and thus the Prime Ministership. Drive headlong into the wall because the wall will decide we’re just crazy enough or just Churchillian enough to plow right into the wall. Seeing that, see stiff upper lip and scowl and all that, the wall will certainly get out of the way and we’ll get what we want.

And yet here we are with Johnson at full speed and the wall showing a marvelous indifference to his approach.

The Post has a less-Schadenfreaudish discussion going on:

In Parliament, Johnson was heckled and catcalled from almost the moment he stood to speak. He noted that Tuesday was the 80th anniversary of Britain’s entrance into World War II and said “This country still stands then as now for democracy for the rule of law.” He was met with jeering laughter.

He insisted that Britain was making progress in talks with European Union leaders about an orderly Brexit, which drew more mocking laughter.

Aided by repeated demands for “Order” by House Speaker John Bercow, Johnson said his opponents’ proposal to delay Brexit by another three months after Oct. 31 would “Force us to beg for yet another pointless delay.”

“It’s really not possible to govern,” said said Catherine Barnard, professor of European law at the University of Cambridge. She said in a less-fractious era, Johnson might find other parties willing to cooperate with him. But, “At the moment nothing is possible at all,” she said.

Barnard said the loss of a majority gives Johnson added incentive to seek a snap general election, which he has warned is possible in the coming weeks. Going to the voters would allow him a chance to strengthen his numbers in Parliament, and claim a mandate for his pursuit of Brexit on Oct. 31, “no matter what.”

Meanwhile, Sterling fell below $1.20 briefly today, clawing back up to $1.21 as of 19:15 BST.

Funny things

First, something legitimately funny, especially if you're Jewish:

And some things that are funny, as in, "the President is a little funny, isn't he?"

OK, that's too much funny for this morning.

The Matrix at 20

The Atlantic's David Sims takes a look back:

The film came out exactly 20 years ago, before 1999’s summer action-movie season had even begun; The Matrix’s big competitors at the theater were comedies such as 10 Things I Hate About You and Analyze This. As an R-rated sci-fi epic about hackers who know kung fu and do battle with machines in a postapocalyptic wasteland, The Matrix was difficult to describe. Yet it somehow became a word-of-mouth hit, the rare blockbuster that opens at No. 1 at the box office, falls to No. 2, and then climbs back to the top position (which it did in its fourth week). It’s the kind of dazzling, original film that inspires a generation of fans and imitators—and the kind of movie Hollywood wouldn’t make in today’s franchise-heavy media landscape.

Twenty years on, much is being written about 1999 as a crucial turning point for Hollywood. By the end of the 20th century, the industry was suddenly crowded with directors fresh from making indie cinema, buzzy music videos, and commercials, many of whom had grown up with the rebellious New Hollywood filmmakers of the ’70s as their artistic lodestars. The future of moviemaking was foreshadowed in the year’s big hits, which included the relaunched big-ticket franchise Star Wars (The Phantom Menace), the low-budget horror of The Blair Witch Project, the provocative teen humor of American Pie, and the twist-ending virality of The Sixth Sense.

Watching today, Neo seems like the poster boy for a disaffected Generation X, a nonconformist who escapes his dull life as a cubicle drone to become a god. (In fact, one of The Matrix’s closest thematic companions from the fertile cinema du 1999 is probably Mike Judge’s Office Space—another sad ballad about humans being swallowed whole by faceless corporations, though Judge’s film has a few more jokes.) The villains of The Matrix are invincible computer programs known as Agents, led by the stone-faced Smith (Hugo Weaving), that take on the appearance of anonymous-looking government officials in bland suits and ties. Meanwhile, Neo and his compatriots, including Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) and Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss), dress like they’re attending a fetish club, and they do battle to a thumping soundtrack of heavy metal and techno music.

In other anniversaries, yesterday marked 80 years since the German Army poured into Poland, officially igniting World War II.

Frank Bruni's timely column yesterday

I don't know that Frank Bruni reads The Daily Parker, but his column yesterday made for a nice coincidence with my post earlier today:

My interactions in Central Park are partly about having a dog but just as much about what the dog encourages, even compels: spending time in public spaces that are open to everyone and well situated and appealing enough to guarantee that people from all walks of life cross paths.

And we need dogs, or at least we’re better off with them. They yank us outside of our narrowest selves. They force us to engage. In a perfect world, we’d do that on our own, but in this one, Regan plants herself squarely in front of a Central Park sprinkler, opens her jaws wide, treats the spray as an unusually emphatic water fountain and attracts an eclectic cluster of admirers who then fall easily into chitchat — about the cooling weather, the blooming skyline, new movies, old routines — that probably wouldn’t happen otherwise. We walk away feeling a little less isolated, a little less disconnected. I know I do.

Parker has certainly done the same for me that Regan has done for Bruni. And here's to a few more years with him.

Happy autumn

Summer ends in about two hours here in Chicago, after a kind of perfect late-summer day. The day is ending with a cool, gentle rain, which will clear up before dawn.

The end of August being the end of summer infused art and music for millennia before meteorologists set September 1st as the first day of autumn for statistical convenience. Maybe this is happy alignment of science and art?

Here's Dar Williams with the verdict:

Ride-sharing platforms have no inherent right to exist

I mentioned earlier today Aaron Gordon's evisceration of Uber's and Lyft's business model. It's worth a deeper look:

The Uber and Lyft pretzel logic is as follows: Drivers are their customers and also independent contractors but cannot negotiate prices or any terms of their contract. Uber and Lyft are platforms, not transportation companies. Drivers unionizing would be price-fixing, but Uber and Lyft can price-fix all they want. Riders pay the driver for their transportation, not the platforms, even though the platforms are the ones that set the prices and collect the money and allocate it however they want, often such that the driver does not in fact receive much of the rider’s fare.

There is a version of Uber and Lyft that might be profitable even if drivers are employees, but it is a much humbler one. It is one that uses the genuine efficiencies of app-based taxi hailing—the very ones Uber and Lyft claim is their actual secret sauce other than widespread worker exploitation—to get a smaller number of drivers more customers for each of them. 

Exactly. If Yellow Cab in Chicago had created an app to find and direct taxis, it would be just as good as Uber or Lyft, but it would cost consumers more to use because taxi fares are regulated. That would be OK by me.

I can't wait to see the effects of California Assembly Bill 5 on the two companies.

Slow news day? Pah

It's the last weekday of summer. Chicago's weather today is perfect; the office is quiet ahead of the three-day weekend; and I'm cooking with gas on my current project.

None of that leaves a lot of time to read any of these:

Now, to find lunch.

The myth of "consumer" security systems

Bruce Schneier takes apart Attorney General Bill Barr's proposal to weaken civilian computer security:

The Department of Justice wants access to encrypted consumer devices but promises not to infiltrate business products or affect critical infrastructure. Yet that's not possible, because there is no longer any difference between those categories of devices. Consumer devices are critical infrastructure. They affect national security. And it would be foolish to weaken them, even at the request of law enforcement.

The thing is, that distinction between military and consumer products largely doesn't exist. All of those "consumer products" Barr wants access to are used by government officials -- heads of state, legislators, judges, military commanders and everyone else -- worldwide. They're used by election officials, police at all levels, nuclear power plant operators, CEOs and human rights activists. They're critical to national security as well as personal security.

Barr can't weaken consumer systems without also weakening commercial, government, and military systems. There's one world, one network, and one answer. As a matter of policy, the nation has to decide which takes precedence: offense or defense. If security is deliberately weakened, it will be weakened for everybody. And if security is strengthened, it is strengthened for everybody. It's time to accept the fact that these systems are too critical to society to weaken. Everyone will be more secure with stronger encryption, even if it means the bad guys get to use that encryption as well.

Schneier doesn't say it explicitly, but this is one more example of how Barr and other Republicans of his generation haven't caught up to the rest of the world.

More on Parliament vs the PM

More stories since yesterday about how Boris Johnson wants to wreck Britain:

Fun times, fun times.