The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

High-speed rail corridor in Illinois? Define "high-speed"

A couple of weeks ago I mentioned a Tribune article about how the U.S. lags the rest of the industrialized world in rail technology. The Economist this week continues the discussion:

There are reasons, however, to be cautious. First, the cost of any one project far exceeds the money available. California, which has the most advanced plan, would connect the state's biggest cities with trains running at more than 200mph. In November Californians approved $9.95 billion of bonds for the project. On top of this, officials hope to get $12 billion-16 billion from Washington. The plan is expected to cost $40 billion in all. But the stimulus contains only $8 billion for the whole country.

Second, many plans would make trains high-speed only in a relative sense. Proposals that are cheaper than California’s are also much slower. A plan for the Chicago-St Louis line, for example, would speed up trains from 79mph to only 110mph. Multiple road crossings require trains to move more slowly than in Europe. Adding to the problem, most passenger trains run on track owned by freight railways. Congestion makes service less reliable.

I'm actually sad to see $2 gasoline again, because I think a couple years of gas prices around $4 (or even $9, like in Europe) would finally give us a decent rail system. So the next time I fly to London I'll take solace in the Heathrow Express when I get there, and try to forget about the Blue Line that brought me to O'Hare. (Though, in fairness to the CTA, in the past two years they have cut the trip from the Loop to O'Hare from an hour and a quarter down to 40 minutes.)

ParkerCam experiments

As Parker gets older and less likely to shred things, I'm leaving him alone for a few hours at a time without stuffing him in his crate. Of course, when he's crated, it's easy to put a camera on him. Not so much when he has run of the house.

So, I've tried pointing the camera at places I thought he'd be likely to hang out. His crate, for example:

Yes, that's an empty crate. OK, he doesn't hang out there when I'm gone. Got it.

His bed in the living room, maybe? Well, he did stop by long enough to grab a peanut-butter-stuffed Kong:

After picking up the Kong, though, he went somewhere else, so the ParkerCam showed an empty bed for a couple of hours:

I have a couple other thoughts on where he goes when I'm out, so I'll keep trying to find him. That said, there may be a Heisenberg problem: he may not want to sleep near a whirring laptop. So the ParkerCam may have to suffer for Parker's general comfort.

The line between ignorance and abject stupidity

Moments like these need to be savored. Via Talking Points Memo, the National Organization for Marriage, an anti-gay group, has announced a new initiative:

Now that activist legislators are legislating from their legislatures to legalize gay marriage, activists are turning up the volume on anti-gay marriage rhetoric.

There's just one, ahem, kink.

In an unintentional but hilarious nod to gay sex chatters everywhere, the National Organization for Marriage has dubbed their campaign "2 Million for Marriage". Or 2M4M.

This initiative comes as the group announces their new P.R. director, ormer U.S. Senator Larry Craig (R-MN).

Greetings from Amazon

Talk about good news, bad news. I just got an email from

We now have delivery date(s) for the order you placed on January 27 2009 09:59 PST
(Order# 123-4567890-1234567):
   Matthew Fox, et al "Lost: The Complete Fifth Season [Blu-ray]" [Blu-ray]
   Estimated arrival date: 12/10/2009

Sigh. I guess I can wait until December. But when will I get my Mad Men Season 2?

How not to hold secret documents

Via Bruce Schneier, a demonstrably incompetent police chief in the UK has resigned after mishandling a secret document:

Police were forced to carry out raids on addresses in the north-west of England in broad daylight yesterday, earlier than planned, after [Bob] Quick, the Metropolitan police's assistant commissioner [and senior-most counter-terrorism official], was photographed carrying sensitive documents as he arrived for a meeting in Downing Street.

A white document marked "secret", which carried details of the operation being planned by MI5 and several police forces, was clearly visible to press photographers equipped with telephoto lenses.

Yesterday, realising the existence of the ­photographs of the ­document – which included the names of several senior officers, sensitive locations and details about the nature of the overseas threat – the government imposed a "D notice" to restrict the media from revealing the contents of the picture.

The Guardian article has a photo of the document, taken as Quick got out of his car.

Police also revealed that Quick's Windows password was "bob1" and that he routinely leaves his keys in his car "so [he'll know] where to find them."

Pair of ducks

I asked the Nature Nerd why the duck on the right has different coloring than the one on the left:

She said, "Quick research indicates that mallards have, in some cases, hybridized with domestic ducks, producing color variations."

I asked if that meant he was a lucky duck, or if his goose was cooked.

Her reply: "Only evolution will tell, I guess..."

Slow news day

Wow, so I'm out of touch for a few hours, and this happens:

  • The Federal judge in the Ted Stevens corruption trial has ordered a criminal investigation of the prosecutors who tried the case. It may be surprising, but apparently a heavily-politicized Republican Justice Department may have deliberately thrown it. Hmm.
  • The Canadian dude who stole a Cessna yesterday was apparently attempting suicide by fighter jet, but for some reason opted out of suicide by crashing into the ground, and so will now face Federal prosecution.
  • As absentee ballots get counted in Minnesota's (longest-in-history) U.S. Senate race, Democrat Al Franken's lead has opened up to 312. Republican former Senator Norm Coleman has vowed to take the case all the way to the Supreme Court, where he hopes to get five more votes. His lawyer, by the way, is the same guy who got five extra votes for Dubya in 2000.
  • And, oh yeah, Vermont legalized gay marriage, overriding the governor's veto to do so.

OK, I have about 90 minutes to enjoy (*kaff*) downtown Houston before going to my first Cubs game of the season. Then I'm going to an odd little bar that I discovered when I worked in this fine city back in 2001. In fact, my hotel room looks out over the dazzling, deodorant-stick-shaped building that the client I worked for owned before they went bankrupt spectacularly later in the year. Hmmmm...can't remember their name... I'll have to compare photos of the building to help me remember.

Resuming the Geas

No, I'm not talking about those annoying smelly birds that take airplanes out of the sky. I mean the 30-Ballpark Geas, which resumes today in Houston.

The last game I attended really showcased the Cubs ability to blow a game, but at least were in first place; so they are today after beating Houston last night 4-2. I'm looking forward to either a 2-0 season opening, or at least having enough beer that it doesn't matter.

Photos and results tomorrow afternoon.

Amazing feat of flying

A pair of F-16 fighters escorted a Cessna 172 stolen from a Canadian flight school all the way from Michigan to Missouri this afternoon:

The plane was reported stolen at about 2:30 p.m. ET and was spotted flying erratically.

At about 5 p.m., the state capital building in Madison, Wis., was evacuated before the plane passed near the region. Police cars cordoned off the streets around the building and officers told people to move away from the area.

What I find amazing: How did the F-16s fly that slowly? I mean, the stall speed in a C172 is around 35 knots with full flaps; I think F-16s move that fast when parked.

And another thing, how amazing is it to find a Canadian that stupid? Or did some American dude sneak over the border and steal the plane?

I hope there's follow-up on this story. It seems improbable.