The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

We're number 1?

Via Gulliver, a new study of taxes levied on visitors to U.S. cities finds Chicago in the lead:

The study provides several different views of travel taxes to help readers make informed choices. The top 50 markets are ranked by overall travel tax burden, including general sales tax and discriminatory travel taxes, and by discriminatory travel tax burden, excluding general sales taxes to count only taxes that target car rentals, hotel stays and meals. Separate data are offered for central city and airport locations, as the tax regimes are often distinct.

No word on cities overseas, though the story does mention that some cities tax visitors indirectly at much higher rates.

People unclear on the concept

NPR's Morning Edition has a story today on a "tea party" rally in Nevada. Listening to the people interviewed, the only thing preventing me from recommending that no one be allowed to protest against the government without having taken a basic civics class is that I have taken a basic civics class.

Now, I know many people with center-right leanings who can make coherent arguments in favor of or against various policies. I enjoy those debates immensely. The people who spoke to NPR, though? Each had some different reason for yelling at their Congressman, ranging from self-interested fear to abject panic, while seeming immune to the basics of what the state actually does in this country.

Item: A woman complained that the EPA has wants to close a public road near her house for unspecified environmental reasons, which will prevent her "three little children" from riding all over the place on all-terrain vehicles. What gives the government the right to close a public road, she asks?

Item: A man rants that "people" (i.e., "you people") are telling him what to do because "Obama won, and they think that gives them the right, like everyone wants to do this, and I'm not 'everyone.'"

Item: Another man believes the government wants to "take over the Internet" in an emergency, and he doesn't want "the government" telling him what to do.

OK. Let's review.

The "government," in a republic like the U.S., is us. "Government" also means many, many different things: Federal, state, county, township, city, water reclamation district, parks authority, and on and on. So, when the "government" wants to close a "public" road (meaning, a road the "government" built in the first place), who gave "them" the right? Well, you did.

You see—and here we need less a civics class than a good Kindergarten teacher—we can't have everything we want. So, every so often, you get to go and vote for the person you think best represents you in "government." Your neighbors vote too. Sometimes they want things you don't; sometimes they do. If the "government" wants to close a road instead of allowing your children to risk death while tearing up the landscape and polluting the air and scaring the bejeebus out of your neighbor's livestock, my bet is that you need to take up the matter with your neighbors, not with the President. And, ma'am, sometimes you lose.

As for the third guy, this presents a trickier problem. Ignorance of basic technical matters often complicates debate. But to discuss the difficulties in "taking over" the Internet, we first have to close our eyes to the subtext of his comment, which involves U.N. troops in black helicopters keeping him under constant surveillance as part of their nefarious plot to control our children with fluoride in the drinking water.

It bothers me that saying we need rational debate between people who have passing acquaintance with the Constitution angers people. But come on. We have serious problems and we need serious discussions to solve them. Let's stop wasting time with the cranks.


It's amazing what you can do for £20. You can ride a train that goes 200 km/h non-stop from London's King's Cross to Cambridge in 45 minutes, non-stop. Think: Chicago to Milwaukee in 45 minutes. Vroom.

Cambridge was certainly worth the trip. I didn't do the main touristy thing (punting down the Cam) but I did watch others do it:

Of course there's King's College, founded 50 years before Columbus reached America and 490 years before my alma mater:

Speaking of really impressively old, the place where I had lunch opened in 1525, and among other patrons counted Drs. Watson and Crick while they were, you know, discovering DNA and all:

Lunch? Bangers and mash with a pint of Old Speckled Hen real ale:

Side trips (Post-residency London)

I did three touristy things today: first, a stop at Westminster Palace for the official tour, during which I got to stand right in the Government benches in the House of Commons, less than a meter from where the P.M. sits when they're in session. No photographs allowed, I'm afraid; but now the whole setup makes a lot more sense to me. I'm all set for the resumption of Question Time, the comedy half-hour broadcast every Wednesday from the chamber.

Second, a direct boat trip down the Thames to Greenwich, with some wanderings through the Royal Observatory:

Finally, a trip out to Southend-on-Sea to see the sea. And, apparently, to get rained on; here's the storm blowing in:

In all, a very fun day with lots of walking. (I'll eventually put my Google Earth tracks up.)

Tomorrow: Cambridge.

And in the end (London residency day 12)

Three hours from the financial accounting mid-term, with images of balance sheets dancing in our heads, we're just about done with the first CCMBA residency. The last 12 days seem like 12 months. Many of us haven't left the hotel since Tuesday, except for dinner or a run near St. Katharine's Docks.

Six hours from now, we'll be done with the residency, and thinking about next week. Right now—back to the books.

Securely stupid (London residency day 11)

I learned a valuable lesson yesterday: when you lock your computer to your hotel room desk, and you put the cable-lock key in your pocket, you have to remove the key from your pocket before sending the slacks down to the laundry.

This realization crept up on me over a very quiet 90-second period that started when I looked in my room safe for the key and didn't find it there.

I won't keep you in suspense: housekeeping found and returned the key this morning. This is good, because I had no idea how I was going to fit the desk in the overhead compartment on my flight home.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch... (London residency day 10)

The U.S. Postal Service finally plans to sell the Old Post Office building in Chicago, which they abandoned more than 10 years ago:

One of the biggest real estate auctions in the city’s history is slated for Thursday, when the U.S. Postal Service is to sell the Old Main Post Office.

And even though the postal service is planning an "absolute auction" — meaning the building is to be sold regardless of price, with a suggested opening bid of just $300,000 — the question remains who will step up for the roughly 279,000 m² building at 433 W. Van Buren St., which straddles the Congress Parkway and has been vacant for more than a decade.

This is the same building into which the Postmaster for Chicago ploughed $1 million to renovate his own office—about 6 months before the USPS moved out.