The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Visiting the family for the holidays

I rarely buy plane tickets this far out, but something made me think buying holiday tickets right now might be a good idea. Things, for example, like this:

The Department of Justice’s somewhat surprising lawsuit to stop the merger of American Airlines with US Airways may not offer much help for passengers hoping that competition among the majors will keep a ceiling on airfares. Like any commodity, airfares are a function of supply and demand — and carriers have been removing supply from the market. Some 13 million departing seats have been vanished from the system in the past year, according to Aviation DataMiner.

It’s crowded up there, and it’s going to stay that way.

Which is to say, don’t expect much in the way of bargains over the next peak period, the Thanksgiving holiday. “Fares will be up slightly, but not a lot,” says George Hobica, president of His advice is to keep checking on prices until you see one you like. Conversely, if you have the travel bug, one of the cheaper times to fly is right about now: September is a slow period of the airlines.

Right now round-trip fares from Chicago to San Francisco for Christmas week start around $400. I can comfort myself thinking that's only $250 in 1995 dollars...

Update: Total fare, $452. That was the lowest available on American for any round-trip that got me into San Francisco for December 24 and 25.

Cubs beat Brewers in hotly-contested race to the bottom

For only the third time this season, I got to see the Cubs win at home. They started strong and...well, that was all that they needed to do, because the Brewers are just as bad as the Cubs this year. Both teams are now tied for last place with 60-80 records. Whoever wins the next two games will be solidly in fourth place.

It was a fun game, though. And really great weather. I think I have only two or three more games on my list this season, and I hope this starts a trend.

Institutional failure in Internet security

Security guru Bruce Schneier has two essays in the Guardian this week. The first explains how the US government betrayed the Internet:

By subverting the internet at every level to make it a vast, multi-layered and robust surveillance platform, the NSA has undermined a fundamental social contract. The companies that build and manage our internet infrastructure, the companies that create and sell us our hardware and software, or the companies that host our data: we can no longer trust them to be ethical internet stewards.

I have resisted saying this up to now, and I am saddened to say it, but the US has proved to be an unethical steward of the internet. The UK is no better. The NSA's actions are legitimizing the internet abuses by China, Russia, Iran and others. We need to figure out new means of internet governance, ones that makes it harder for powerful tech countries to monitor everything. For example, we need to demand transparency, oversight, and accountability from our governments and corporations.

Unfortunately, this is going play directly into the hands of totalitarian governments that want to control their country's internet for even more extreme forms of surveillance. We need to figure out how to prevent that, too. We need to avoid the mistakes of the International Telecommunications Union, which has become a forum to legitimize bad government behavior, and create truly international governance that can't be dominated or abused by any one country.

He followed up today with a guide to staying secure against the NSA:

1) Hide in the network. Implement hidden services. Use Tor to anonymize yourself. Yes, the NSA targets Tor users, but it's work for them. The less obvious you are, the safer you are.

2) Encrypt your communications. Use TLS. Use IPsec. Again, while it's true that the NSA targets encrypted connections – and it may have explicit exploits against these protocols – you're much better protected than if you communicate in the clear.

There are three other points, all pretty simple.

Observatory House, Edinburgh

I only had a day in Edinburgh, and catching up with a friend I hadn't seen in three years took precedence over photography. I took a few dozen shots, but none except this really hit my standards:

That's the Observatory House atop Carlton Hill. It's hard to see the 30 km/h wind blowing us over in this photo, or my unbelievable jet lag, but I assure you, dear reader, both contributed to the dearth of good photography I produced Monday.

The last time I visited Edinburgh (in June 1992), I only had a few hours between trains to lug my backpack up and down the hills. And back then I shot Kodachrome at a dollar a shot.* (Later this weekend I'll post a one or two from that trip.) So I really haven't had enough time to explore either the city or the country on either of my two visits. I hope to really get a good look at Scotland some day, instead of all this mucking about getting to know the people who live there and winning trivia tournaments with old friends.**

* Adjusted for inflation.

** For my American readers, this is called "irony."

How to lie with statistics, UK-style

I'm a big fan of the Ed and Dave show, also known as Prime Minister's Questions, which C-SPAN airs live when the House of Commons is in session. Today's game included a series of set pieces in which Conservative MPs had batting practice with the PM who hit a bunch of pop-ups that any competent infielder should have caught.*

Unfortunately, Ed Milliband leads the Labour Party right now, and—continuing the metaphor into extra innings—his side of the house play like Cubs.

Here's a typical exchange:

Christopher Pincher (Tamworth) (Con):
Since we last met there has been a spate of good economic news, both in Tamworth and around the country. Unemployment is down and the economy is growing. Manufacturing is up, exports are up and construction is up. Is it not time for those who still propose it to stop messing around, give it up and abandon plan B?

The Prime Minister:
My hon. Friend makes an important point. We have had welcome news over the summer: exports are up 5.8% on a year ago, business confidence is at its highest level since January 2008, consumer confidence is up and all the figures on construction, manufacturing and services are going in the right direction. We must not be complacent—these are early days—but it is because of the tough decisions that this Government took that we can now see progress.

We ought to remember that Labour Members told us that unemployment would go up, but it has come down, and that the economy would go backwards, but it has gone forwards. It is time for them to explain that they were wrong and we were right.

OK, since the Labour Party couldn't explain why the Conservatives were wrong, let me try. It's great that the UK's economy has improved in the last six years, but it could have grown faster without the Tory Party's emphasis on cutting the deficit. A lot faster. In fact, Tory policies probably delayed the recovery by 18 months to two years.

My larger point is this: neither side got it right. But to quite literally sit there and take it seems like bad politics. Especially since we got this exchange right at the end of Questions:

John Mann (Bassetlaw) (Lab):
Is it not the case that real wages have fallen by nearly £1,500 a year since the right hon. Gentleman became Prime Minister?

The Prime Minister:
Of course we live in tough times because of the incredible mess we have had to clear up from the Opposition. I have to say that the Opposition complaining about the economy and living standards is like the arsonist complaining to the fire brigade. It is this Government who are turning the economy around, and that is the way we will get living standards up.

Shit and fried eggs, you've got half a million more people in work since 2010, but they're all earning less money? And the Labour MPs have no response? (At least two other Labour back-benchers got in some facts about the profiteering of free—i.e., charter—schools and the £3.3 bn in energy company profits coinciding with an average £300 per-household increase in energy costs. I've indirectly experienced those high energy costs, too.)

Also towards the end, an old reactionary Tory hawk, Dr. Julian Lewis, trashed the Tories' coalition partners, causing nearly all of them to walk out of the House during the session. Oh, not by himself; I think most of them left when Cameron suggested that the Conservatives would rule alone after the next election that the Lib-Dems had had enough.

Oy. At least we've got nearly two years before the next election, giving the Tories a lot more time to screw people. I hope the Labour Party figures out how to win some matches before May 2015.

* Can I use a baseball metaphor when discussing the UK? Of course I can.

Czech Airlines interesting partnership with KAL

The Economist Gulliver blog reported today that Korean Air has partnered with CSA, a strategy that may help both of them in Europe:

Prague offers something that larger airports cannot. Passengers are weary of the congestion and long distances between gates at the mega-hubs, as Which? highlighted. Switching planes is even more of an ordeal if you do not speak the local language. In Prague, connecting times are short and all signage is provided in Korean. Mr Moreels said the Czech capital is styling itself as a "specialised gateway or mini-hub" for Asian traffic, and he promised that Korean passengers would enjoy "special treatment" in the event of delays–a privilege the mega-hubs reserve for customers of their home carriers.

Geography is another advantage. Prague's location in the middle of Europe makes it an ideal springboard for travel to the rest of the continent, including eastern parts of Germany traditionally connected via Lufthansa's Frankfurt hub. CSA's network is not massive, but most of the spots frequented by Korean travellers are served. Interline deals and codeshares between CSA and Korean Air ensure convenient flight times. "We don't want to transfer everybody to everywhere," [CSA CEO Philippe] Moreels emphasised. "We just want to redistribute a big plane from Korea to the rest of Europe."

It's hard to find an appropriate analogy in the U.S. because our market isn't nearly as fragmented as Europe's. But if you can imagine KAL flying into St. Louis on a partnership with pre-merger TWA, that might be close.

Routers that don't speak American, and other UK adventures

I didn't intend to go dark for the last 48 hours, but it turns out none of my devices (laptop, tablet, phone) could connect with the WiFi hub where I've been staying.

Not that I tried any more than the most basic troubleshooting (reset laptop WiFi, reboot router, change router channel). I've been in Edinburgh, with only one full day to explore the city, and struggling with my computer for half an hour seemed like a bad way to spend it.

I've also not shaved since Sunday morning because of Scottish energy prices. Let me explain.

The friend who lent me her spare room last night, and also who generously spent her day touring the city with me, lives in a really cute house just a few minutes outside central Edinburgh. She has a hot-water tank and a boiler, but also, for reasons she has given up trying to work out, an electric shower. The landlord put the electric shower in probably for the same reason people in the US put in granite countertops: because that's what everyone else does. And as she told me, "after looking for a place to live for eight weeks I didn't feel I needed to check the plumbing before signing up."

This friend lived in Chicago for a while, so when she uses relative expressions to compare the two countries, she isn't exaggerating. She told me that heating up an entire tank of hot water costs quite a lot of money. Further, it only goes to the kitchen and W/C taps along with the radiators. So in the summer, she leaves the hot water heater off, since outside the shower (which has an electric heater) she has no compelling need for hot tap water.

You can see where this is going.

It turns out, I don't have an electric shaver; I use shaving cream and a razor. Though my host and I didn't discuss her shaving habits, I infer that she has no difficulty shaving in the shower without a mirror. So, no hot water in the taps, and no mirror in the shower, and at the moment I've got a Don Johnson thing going on, only without the hair, looks, or white jacket.

It's these little differences between the US and UK that keep me coming back.

Southampton Arms, part 2

I've spent the day all over London (oh, so that's Brixton), and I've just got a few minutes to check email and finish this morning's post about the Southampton Arms in Gospel Oak.

This is England:

That is a Curious Pale Ale and a packet of cheese and onions crisps. Later I had an ELB Pale Ale (not as good as the Curious) and a Mosaic Pale Ale, which was better than the first two.

Already present in the pub were a group of visually-impaired people and their guide dogs (3 dogs in all). This is Keira:

Keira decided I had good hands and kept wandering over for a scritch—a fact that her owner would obviously not notice until I returned her or he needed to go to the loo. By the time they all left, Vickie (a Parker-sized black Lab) and Malone (the yellow Lab behind Keira, above) were coming over to me sometimes two at a time, tails wagging. I know that it's impolite to pat working guide dogs, but I think there's a loophole when the dogs are on break at a pub, right?

Then this happened:

That's a pub crawl. They were on Pub #3, and left within half an hour, hoping to get to pub #8 before last orders. There were about eight of them. This guy, Paul, explained that they'd come up with the idea on their pub crawl last month, but they actually made the costumes while sober. Mostly sober.

If I ever move to London, I'm renting the apartment above this pub.

Mustn't moan about the weather

One was able to make do yesterday. Here, for example, is the dreariness on Hampstead Heath:

Also, yesterday I was able to prove conclusively that there is no Airbus A320 hovering over Russell Square:

After suffering through all this non-English weather, I wound up once again at the Southampton Arms:

I will have more to say about it in my next post. (It's getting on to noon and I have to check out of the hotel, so I don't exactly know when that will be.) Suffice it to say that a new show came through about every two hours, and I still managed to finish my book. I could not have spent the day better.