The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

UK General Election in six weeks

The House of Commons have just voted 438-20 on the third reading of the bill to have a general election in December. This overrides the Fixed-Terms Parliament Act of 2011, as Plaid Cymru MP Liz Saville Roberts pointed out.

Because Amendment 2 to the bill, setting the election date of 9th December, failed about half an hour ago, the election will be on Thursday December 12th.

Under the rules of Parliament, the last sitting day will be next Wednesday, November 6th, and the campaign will officially begin on the 8th--the day I'm flying there.

The last time the UK had an election in December was in 1923. The Conservatives under Stanley Baldwin got the most seats in that poll, but they lost 89 from the previous Parliament. The Liberal Party won 115 seats, the first time a third party won more than 100 seats. The hung Parliament that resulted from this realignment forced another election 10 months later.

Backfield in motion

That's American for the English idiom "penny in the air." And what a penny. More like a whole roll of them.

Right now, the House of Commons are wrapping up debate on the Government's bill to prorogue Parliament (for real this time) and have elections the second week of December. The second reading of the bill just passed by voice vote (the "noes" being only a few recalcitrant MPs), so the debate continues. The bill is expected to pass—assuming MPs can agree on whether to have the election on the 9th, 11th, or 12th of December. Regardless, that means I'll be in London during the first weekend of the election campaign, and I'm elated.

Meanwhile, a whole bunch of other things made the news in the last day:

  • Writing for the New Yorker, Sam Knight argues that before Boris Johnson became PM, it was possible to imagine a Brexit that worked for the UK. Instead, Johnson has poisoned UK politics for a generation.
  • Presidents Trump and Obama came to Chicago yesterday, but only one of the personally insulted us. Guess which one.
  • That one also made top military officers squirm yesterday when he released classified information about our assassination of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, including a photograph of the dog injured in the raid. The dog's name remained classified, even as it seemed clear that he was a very good boy.
  • Grinnell College in Iowa released polling data today showing just how much people don't like President Trump. Moreover, 80% of those polled thought a presidential candidate seeking election help from a foreign government was unacceptable. Adam Schiff cracking his knuckles could be heard all the way to the Grinnell campus.
  • An appellate court in North Carolina ruled that the election maps drawn up by the Republican Party unfairly gerrymander a Republican majority, and must be re-drawn for the 2020 election.
  • Grubhub's share price crashed today after the company released a written statement ahead of its earnings call later this week. The company made $1.0 million on $322.1 million in revenue during the 3rd quarter, and projected a loss for the 4th quarter.
  • The City of Atlanta decided not to pay ransom to get their computers working again, in order to reduce the appeal of ransomware attacks.

Finally, it looks like it could snow in Chicago on Thursday. Color me annoyed.

The hospice of history

Writing in the Guardian, journalist and historian Neal Ascherson says that the long Brexit fight has deepened divisions within the UK that have always been there, but now may have passed the point of no return:

It’s commonly said that the Brexit years have made the English more xenophobic, less tolerant, more angrily divided among themselves. 

[T]he deepest change since 2016 is the weakening of the United Kingdom’s inner bonds.

The “great rest of England” seem to have felt for many years that if the Scots want to leave, “it seems a pity but it’s their right”. Few southerners would feel diminished. Many believe, incorrectly, that England subsidises Scotland. Since 2016, Scotland’s heavy vote to stay in the EU, and the SNP’s incessant campaigning against any sort of Brexit, have become a severe irritant to “British” politics. Devolution is working more scratchily month by month, and the common English assumption for the past few years has been that Scottish independence is inevitable. Curiously, this is not how it looks in Scotland, where minds change slowly and where it’s far from certain that the next independence referendum will drag the yes vote over the line.

In the union of four nations, one – England – has 85% of the population. What the past three years have shown is that the big partner is no longer concerned to put its own interests behind those of the others. A poll this year showed that Tory voters would be ready to “lose Scotland” (revealing words) if that ensured Brexit. In turn, devolution only made sense when all four nations were inside the European Union. If England in 2019 can no longer remember why the union with Scotland and Northern Ireland once made sense, Brexit has delivered the United Kingdom to the hospice of history.

Meanwhile, a deal in the works between the Tories and the Liberal Democrats may end the fixed-terms parliament act and send the UK to the polls on December 9th, instead of December 12th as the Government have previously asked. The EU have voted to postpone Brexit until January 31st, further complicating things for the Labour party (even though Labour demanded the extension).

I expect an earful at the Southampton Arms in two weeks.

Defending the indefensible

Benjamin Wittes, writing for Lawfare, points out that Alexander Hamilton predicted exactly how an impeachment would bring partisan differences into even sharper relief than ordinary politics. So Republicans in Congress have to change the subject:

Yes, Trump’s approval numbers show there are cracks in the wall, as every pundit is busily pointing out. But the larger point, it seems to me, is that there is still a wall. And as Hamilton argued, it is the comparative strength of that wall, not any demonstration of Trump’s innocence or guilt, that will regulate the decision as to the president’s fate. The president’s defense, in other words, has been reduced to raw political power; it is not a genuine examination of facts but rather a numbers game to assemble enough elected officials aligned with the president’s faction to refuse to look reality in the eye and thus to ensure Trump’s acquittal.

Of course, no senators or members of the House of Representatives can say this outright. Despite this era of shredded norms and broken taboos, it is still verboten to state what is so obviously true: “I refuse to support Trump’s impeachment because, however merited it may be, I am a Republican and he is a Republican and the advantage of my party would be ill-served by his removal—which might also threaten my own prospects of reelection, which depend on voters who like the president more than they like me.”

There just isn’t any good argument for Trump at this stage. So what is a poor Republican member of Congress or senator, animated by Federalist 65 but unable to admit it, to do?

Their answer is to make noise.

In other words, get ready for a lot more sound and fury, signifying nothing, from the Republican caucus.

Three quick links

First, former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, who appears entirely too deeply integrated in the President's impeachable offenses to get out without an indictment, and who also owns what he calls a "security consulting service," butt-dialed an NBC reporter. Twice. And the resulting voicemails were...interesting.

Second, how exactly did Justice Brett Kavanaugh pay for his house in 2006? He seems to have gotten almost $250,000 from some undisclosed source.

Finally, the City of Chicago will raise taxes on ride-shares because they cost the city a lot of money. A new report shows that Uber and Lyft have significantly raised traffic levels and delayed buses since their arrival in 2014.

Happy Friday!

Five years with Fitbit

Yesterday was my fifth anniversary using Fitbit products. Since 24 October 2014, I've walked 24,814,427 steps over 21,129.14 km and climbed 32,002 floors. In those 1,828 days I've hit 5,000 steps 1,825 times and 10,000 steps 1,631 times (and 193 days in a row as of yesterday).

So, barring injury, I should hit 25 million steps in about 11 days. Cool.

Best description yet for the UK's current politics

“I’m just saying if I narrowly decided to order fish at a restaurant that was known for chicken, but said it was happy to offer fish, and so far I’ve been waiting three hours, and two chefs who promised to cook the fish had quit, and the third one is promising to deliver the fish in the next five minutes whether it’s cooked or not, or indeed still alive, and all the waiting staff have spent the last few hours arguing about whether I wanted battered cod, grilled salmon, jellied eels or dolphin kebabs, and if large parts of the restaurant appeared to be on fire but no one was paying attention to it because they were all arguing about fish, I would quite like, just once, to be asked if I definitely still wanted fish.”

Originally quoted in Roger Cohen's column in today's New York Times.

Things to think about while running a 31-minute calculation

While my work computer chews through slightly more than a million calculations in a unit test (which I don't run in CI, in case you (a) were wondering and (b) know what that means), I have a moment to catch up:

The first 30-minute calculation is done, and now I'm on to the second one. Then I can resume writing software instead of testing it.

Even I wouldn't want to do this

First, it turns out, my Surface didn't die; only its power supply shuffled off its lithium coil. I got a new power supply and all is well.

Which means I can take a moment to note a proposed flight on QANTAS* that even I would struggle to take. Starting in 2022, the Australian airline proposes a 16,000 km non-stop flight from New York to Sydney that will take 20 hours:

Qantas wants to begin flying the time-saving route commercially as soon as 2022, so the airline used this test trip to explore ways to reduce its inevitable downside: Soul-crushing, body-buckling jet lag. Here’s how my journey unfolded in real time.

It’s shortly after 9 p.m. in New York, our plane has just left JFK International Airport and it’s already become a flying laboratory. Since the goal is to adapt to our destination’s time zone as fast as possible, we click into the Sydney clock right off the bat. That means no snoozing. The lights stay up and we’re under instructions to stay awake for at least six hours — until it’s evening in Australia.

This immediately causes trouble for some passengers.

Down one side of the business-class section, six Qantas frequent flyers are following a pre-planned schedule for eating and drinking (including limiting alcohol), exercise and sleep. They wear movement and light readers on their wrists and have been asked to log their activities; they’ve already been under observation for a few days and will be monitored for 21 days in total. Most of them are bingeing on movies or reading books, but one of them is dozing within minutes. To be fair, I feel his pain. It may be the middle of the day in Sydney, but my body is telling me it’s pushing midnight back in New York.

Obviously the reporter, Bloomberg's Angus Whitely, survived. He said he would take the flight again, but that it took its toll on him. And he traveled westbound; I can only imagine the eastbound return trip. Assuming a 9am take-off from Sydney (2pm in New York), it would arrive in New York the around 10am next day--and this is after crossing the International Date Line and spending almost 16 hours in darkness.

When I go to ANZAC in a year or two, I think I'll lay over in Hawaii. And fly business class.

Dead Surface

My 5-year-old Microsoft Surface, which I use at work to keep personal and client concerns physically separated, has died. I thought it was the power supply, but it seems there is something even more wrong with it. Otherwise I would have posted earlier.

This means I have to make an expensive field trip tonight. Regular posting should resume tomorrow.