The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

More beer taxes?

There are apparently proposals out there to make beer drinkers sad:

In Congress, the Senate Finance Committee has raised the possibility of a 150% increase in the federal tax on beer to help pay for health care reform. And about three dozen states, including Illinois, have called for alcohol tax hikes to offset budget shortfalls.

The federal government hasn't raised the beer tax in nearly 20 years, but legislators are considering increasing it to the same level as spirits. An equalization of alcohol taxes would be a huge problem for brewing giants such as MillerCoors LLC, which will move its headquarters to Chicago this summer. The tax hikes would raise prices and drive many customers to buy cheaper brands or switch to spirits, beer industry insiders say.

But wait! Turns out, MillerCoors is wrong: the tax increase wouldn't lead people to cheaper beers (as if such existed), it might actually lead people to better beers:

Small brewers would be exempt from the taxes, giving the fast-growing microbrew segment another boost against giants like MillerCoors.

The [Center for Science in the Public Interest, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group] estimates most people would pay little extra if taxes were increased on alcohol because 20% of drinkers consume 85% of the alcohol in the U.S.

In marginally-related news, hoppy beer in San Diego is booming:

A dizzying variety of small breweries are lapping away at the dominance that mild, light-colored lagers have enjoyed since Prohibition, and some of the best-regarded are in North County, short on history and long on the bitter herbs known as hops.

... North County breweries have racked up their share of accolades. The Brewers Association named Port Brewing as the nation's best small brewing company for 2007. The association named Alesmith Brewing Co., in San Diego's Miramar neighborhood, as the best small brewery last year. Beer Advocate magazine called Stone the "best brewery on earth" in December and rated five Stone beers among its top 25. Food & Wine Magazine's June issue dubs Highway 78 a "near-mystical" route for visiting breweries.

So, it the beer tax doesn't seem that bad, especially in Southern California.

May 25th has some history

As we wake up today to news that North Korea has reportedly detonated a 20-kiloton atom bomb (first reported, actually, by the United States Geological Survey), it's worth remembering two other major news events from previous May 25ths.

In 1977, Star Wars came out. (I saw it about a week later, in Torrance, Calif. My dad had to read the opening crawl to me.)

In 1979, American 191 crashed on takeoff from O'Hare, at the time the worst air disaster in U.S. history.

And now we add to that a truly scary development in Asia. And it's not yet 8:30 in Chicago...

Not quite what Van Halen had in mind

Via Cele|bitchy, one more instance of a person confusing fame and infamy:

Mary Kay LeTourneau, who was imprisoned as a 34-year-old teacher for raping a sixth-grade student, will host a "Hot for Teacher" night this weekend at a Seattle bar, KOMO-TV and the Associated Press report.

"It's turned into sort of a love story," says [Mike Morris, owner of the Fuel Sports Eats & Beats bar]. "I realize it had a sick twist at the beginning, but they're both adults now. They're both married by the state of Washington. So, it’s just go and have fun on a Saturday night — and if people are looking to have some fun, just come check us out."

Just...ew.

Bunch of weenies

I'm sweltering in 31°C stickiness at the Inner Drive Technology World Headquarters, because the painter is doing the office windows. Apparently they're much easier to do off the rails than on, and he objected to working around the air conditioner. Tomorrow it'll be 15°C in Chicago, but he's here today, so.

So while the IDT International Data Center barely hangs on (servers hate temperatures over 25°C), and while my hot dog pants on the bathroom floor, apparently Kraft Foods and Sara Lee Corp., two Chicago-area companies, are embroiled in a lawsuit about other hot dogs:

Sara Lee, maker of Ball Park franks, said that Northfield-based Kraft Foods Inc., purveyor of Oscar Mayer hot dogs, is running ads that claim one particular Oscar dog trumps the taste of Ball Park's entire line. One of those ads appeared in Wednesday's USA Today in conjunction with a giveaway of up to $1 million in Oscar Mayer hot dogs.

The full-page USA Today ad claimed that Oscar Mayer Jumbo Beef Franks beat Ball Park and ConAgra Foods' Hebrew National hot dogs in a national taste test. But in a footnote, the ad notes that the Oscar Mayer Jumbo Beef frank is being compared to the "leading beef hot dogs" made by its rivals.

The Sara Lee suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Chicago, says the ad is false and misleading because in large type it implies one Oscar Mayer dog bested the taste of all Ball Park dogs. But the footnote, "in very small type," says that Oscar Mayer compared its hot dogs to "the leading beef franks" of its main rivals.

Parker and I will investigate the competing claims and report back soon.

Next, sheep at the zoo

Naturalists in Chicago would like residents to count squirrels:

The Chicago Academy of Sciences, Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, and University of Illinois at Chicago are asking for contributions to www.projectsquirrel.org. Urban ecologist Steve Sullivan leads the effort and says the Midwest is a "squirrel hot spot."

Researchers say the data offers insight into to the rodents' behavior and the overall ecology of the region.

I'm waiting for the squirrel activists to protest the census for under-counting urban squirrels. The local coyote population was also said to be interested in the results....

Oy, mein altekaker Kindle!

Via Sullivan, I suddenly feel very old:

We extracted about 75 percent of the responses on age (representing about 700 responses, taking equally from the earliest and most recent postings, which show very similar age distributions). Per John Makinson's quip at an LBF panel, over half of reporting Kindle owners are 50 or older, and 70 percent are 40 or older.

So many users said they like Kindle because they suffer from some form of arthritis that multiple posters indicate that they do or do not have arthritis as a matter of course. A variety of other impairments, from weakening eyes and carpal-tunnel-like syndromes to more exotic disabilities dominate the purchase rationales of these posters.

Wait! I'm not 40 yet! And I see just fine, with a little help.

This, on the day that I took a final exam in a class (Introduction to Microeconomics) in which every other student was younger than half my age. Yes, there were about 50 of us in there, and the day the Berlin Wall fell down I was older than they are now.

Sigh.

Recovery in a coffee cup

For a variety of reasons that are really much less lucky or indicative of good planning than one might think, I managed to avoid having a huge portion of my retirement savings wiped out in this current downturn. For one thing, I rarely invest in single-issue securities, having little appetite for eggs when placed in a single basket.

Just now, though, I'd like to gloat that the only single-issue stock currently in my portfolio just rose above the price I paid for it, commission and all, meaning I have an actual capital gain since buying the security in December 2007.

The stock? Peet's Coffee (NASDAQ: PEET), whose slow-growth strategy combined with extremely high quality standards not only means I drink their coffee and tea every single day, but also that their stock is going up in the middle of a crash. (Their 46% profit growth last quarter didn't hurt their stock price, either.)

I can't wait for Summer House to come back next month...

Math is hard! Panic is fun!

I'm really not sure from where the panic over H1N1 (swine) flu comes, but I have some faith that it's going to kill more people than the virus. Take, for example, the mad rush to buy hand sanitizer:

Stores are quickly being depleted of products used to help stave off or battle the flu, a combination of swine, bird and human virus strains that in some cases has been fatal. The disease is suspected in at least 160 deaths, the majority in Mexico. The only reported U.S. death was that of a toddler in Houston.

There are nine probable cases in Illinois, five of them in Chicago, the Illinois Department of Public Health reported Wednesday. An elementary school on the city’s North Side was shut down Wednesday after a child was diagnosed with what is believed to be swine flu.

I don't have the exact numbers here, but I would imagine that more than one extra person will die and more than nine extra people will be injured because of people driving to the store to buy hand sanitizer than would otherwise be killed or injured without the extra driving. It's like the rise in traffic fatalities after 9/11, attributed to a mix of more driving and stress, both of which came at least partially from blind fear.

Of course, it's possible that this flu could be the end of civilization. History suggests otherwise.

But if it makes people feel better, by all means jump in your cars and buy toxic chemicals to rub on your hands in a futile effort to kill invisible agents of your...um...sneezing. Even better if you drive to the store without wearing a seatbelt.

Quick hits

I'm returning from San Francisco this afternoon, so tomorrow I'll have photos from Saturday's A's game and, if I get my very own YouTube account, a video of my sister's dog. I'll leave that for now.

This morning, just a link: TheExpiredMeter.com, of interest to anyone who deals with the Chicago parking system. I found it because I discovered only yesterday that, sometime today, my car will get a parking ticket. I discovered this when my alderman's office sent a notice of street sweeping yesterday saying they'll be sweeping the block my car is on today. A little more notice might have helped. Welcome to summer in the city.