The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

The world's favourite airline? Um...

A high court in the U.K. has ordered British Airways cabin crews not to strike over Christmas:

The dispute at BA centres on its desire to cut costs by reducing cabin staff on most flights and limiting wage increases. The airline’s pilots and engineers have already accepted austerity measures; cabin staff, notified of the proposed changes in July, are less inclined to compromise (though some have taken voluntary redundancy). On December 14th Unite, the union which represents almost all of the company’s 13,500 cabin staff, said they had voted overwhelmingly to strike.

The next day BA applied to London’s High Court for an injunction to stop them. The airline argued that Unite had not polled its members correctly: some votes were recorded from people no longer employed by BA, and the call for industrial action did not specify the intention to strike for 12 consecutive days precisely at Christmas. Had members known those details, fewer might have supported a strike, BA argued. The judge agreed, and ruled against the strike.

... Willie Walsh, the airline’s punchy Irish chief executive, was appointed in 2005 to knock such practices into competitive shape. He is unlikely to yield much ground to union militancy. It seems that BA’s core shareholders support him: the share price hardly moved when the strike was announced. Many reckoned that the benefits of BA’s restructuring outweighed the likely damage from the threatened strike. Estimates of potential net revenue loss over the 12 days ranged from £60m to £160m, whereas the benefits of restructuring were put by some analysts at £60m a year.

That court order can't have helped the union. Generally I'm sympathetic to organized labor, being a leftie with some knowledge of labor history, but the union here scored an own goal, as they say in Britain. I'll be on a BA flight in late January, and I can't wait to find out first hand what the cabin crews really think.

Dogs rule

Via the Freakonomics blog, the New Scientist has examined the science behind the eternal question, dogs or cats?


Dogs can hunt, herd and guard. They can sniff out drugs and bombs and even whale faeces; they guide blind and deaf people, race for sport, pull sleds, find someone buried by an avalanche, help children learn and possibly even predict earthquakes. Cats are good if you have an infestation of rodents.

Perhaps that assessment is unfair, though. After all, we love our pets for other reasons. Cats are beautiful and soft, and stroking them has been shown to reduce stress. Then again, dogs are also good stress-busters: owning one can lower your blood pressure and cholesterol levels. What's more, Fido has other health benefits. Daily dog walks may be a chore, but they repay the effort, not just in terms of regular exercise, but also by providing immune-boosting opportunities for social contact with other dog walkers. That's why in a head-to-head contest of health benefits, it's dogs all the way

Having spent the last 9 days watching the two species interact, I have seen evidence of the magazine's conclusions. The cats Parker has suffered (and who have suffered him) haven't demonstrated stellar problem-solving skills, but they have learned that moving quickly across the living room causes lots of noise (the dog barks, the human corrects the dog), while slinking on their bellies slowly sometimes causes nothing more than a growl and a small correction. One of the cats (Nick, the orange pile pictured right) has the IQ of a philodendron, and still has not figured out that moving away from the dog cuts down on the noise. (Nick is just ornery, hissing at people even while getting brushed and purring. Yes, he hisses while purring. But that's a different post.)

Anyway, I vote for dogs. Cats are fine as accent pillows and occasionally if you have a granary you need protected from rodents. Dogs are actually happy to see you when you get home, even if you don't have any food in your hand.

Time to walk Parker.

New dog park

Parker got a chance to explore Oakwood Park today, the first sunny day we've had since we got here a week ago. The park is huge—I would guess about 75 hectares—and Parker (with help) ran around the whole thing:

He also did exceptionally well on come-sit drills, leading me to the conclusion that he knows when I have treats. Of course, so does everyone else, like this beautiful Rhodesian ridgeback who kept sticking her nose into my treat pocket:

Parker is now sleeping, which I hope lasts through the first third of my Decision Models final. And he's tired enough to ignore the cats. Mission: Accomplished!

Why cutting wages doesn't cut unemployment

Krugman has a good summary:

[T]he belief that lower wages would raise overall employment rests on a fallacy of composition. In reality, reducing wages would at best do nothing for employment; more likely it would actually be contractionary.

Here’s how the fallacy works: if some subset of the work force accepts lower wages, it can gain jobs. If workers in the widget industry take a pay cut, this will lead to lower prices of widgets relative to other things, so people will buy more widgets, hence more employment.

But if everyone takes a pay cut, that logic no longer applies. The only way a general cut in wages can increase employment is if it leads people to buy more across the board.

Really, employment won't rise until after the fundamentals get better, and general wages have very little to do with it.

Specific wage decreases do have specific effects; however, smart employers avoid offering significantly lower wages to higher-skilled workers because they don't want those workers to leave as soon as conditions improve.

We're Thru: Vanderbilt

Traffic author Tom Vanderbilt writes this week about the history and future of the American Drive-Thru:

But despite the Stakhanovite quotas being met by the Bluetoothed cadres across the land, all is not well with the drive-through. The facilities saw a 4 percent drop in business in 2008 due to the recession. And—more threatening still—a number of communities have recently passed anti-idling ordinances, some of which implicate even the fastest drive-through windows. ...

Meanwhile, people who would actually contribute no emissions at a drive-through window—pedestrians, cyclists, and the like—haven't exactly been having it their way. Any number of carless individuals have broached the drive-through fortress, only to be rebuffed with vague rejoinders about "company policy" (though there are some exceptions).

But not everyone is taking drive-through restrictions lying down. One Portlander—a cycling mom denied service at Burgerville—went viral, forcing a public change of heart from the company. And cyclists aren't the only ones clamoring for access: A Minnesota woman suffering from degenerative arthritis, driving a Pride Mobility Celebrity X scooter, was refused service at a White Castle, whose policy is to serve only licensed motor vehicles. ...

Sojourning as I am for a fortnight in an area with a walking score about half that of home, I still can't quite bring myself to use drive-thrus. Maybe with more socialization...

Too bad they closed the loophole

Want frequent-flyer miles? Try this:

At least several hundred mile-junkies discovered that a free shipping offer on presidential and Native American $1 coins, sold at face value by the U.S. Mint, amounted to printing free frequent-flier miles. Mileage lovers ordered more than $1 million in coins until the Mint started identifying them and cutting them off.

Coin buyers charged the purchases, sold in boxes of 250 coins, to a credit card that offers frequent-flier mile awards, then took the shipments straight to the bank. They then used the coins they deposited to pay their credit-card bills. Their only cost: the car trip to make the deposit.

Add that to the list titled "Now why didn't I think of that?"

Great moments in trivia contests

A bunch of people went over to Ruckus Pizza on Wednesday for their weekly trivia contest. I do much better at College Bowl-type quizzes, and this one was all pop culture, but that didn't diminish the company and the pizza. All good.

The second round featured advertising slogans. See if you can find one product for which all these slogans work beautifully:

  • "The quicker picker-upper"
  • Two for me, none for you
  • Get up to four hours longer
  • Makes mouth happy
  • Stress stinks, ____ works
  • Any time's a good time for ___

We thought "Viagra" was a pretty good answer...

The drive

I tried to get out ahead of the weather on Tuesday, but it found me. The trip started out at just past 7am with the car in this condition:

By mid-Indiana Parker had had enough:

And on the arrival end, the residents have still not fully accepted their houseguest:

Parker and the cats have had words. Barks, growls, and hisses, actually. We're still trying to get them to stay in the same room together without either freaking out. This means, in practice, one of us coaxing the cats from behind the sofa while the other explains to the dog, with one hand on the choke collar and another firmly pressing down between his shoulder blades, that he is not to bark or growl at the cats. We'll see. After two days they'll ignore each other for half an hour on end, which is encouraging.