The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Oh, sad day for NPR

Carl Kasell is retiring December 30th:

Kasell will, however, continue as official judge and scorekeeper of the Chicago Public Radio-produced quiz program, "Wait Wait … Don't Tell Me!," "the show that turned him from a newsman into a rock star," as noted in a memo to staff Monday from David Sweeney, NPR's managing editor for news, and Margaret Low Smith, its vice president of programming.


Quick update

Remember how I mentioned packing for two out of the three climates I expected to encounter on this trip? I should note that I expected London to be warmer than Chicago. I also expected that I would only be outside in Chicago traveling from the O'Hare tram to my car, and my car to my apartment.

I'm debating finding a wollens store and buying a good, heavy, Scottish sweater.

Our next residency lets me do the same thing only moreso, when I get to go from Chicago to Delhi, India, at the end of January. At least I'll have a heavy coat, gloves, and a hat with me on the trip. One of my classmates mentioned how cold Delhi gets in winter, but I think she meant "relative to summer" and not "relative to what anyone else would consider cold."

This isn't a complaint, of course. In Chicago, if you complain about any temperature warmer than, say, -20°C, you're just whining. So I'm not complaining. I'm just acknowledging that I'm dressed inappropriately for the weather.

Bonus photo from half an hour ago. I'm definitely not in Dubai anymore:

In transit

I've stopped in London for a day and a half to get my bearings and ease the transition back to real life. Also because it was less expensive than changing my return flight to the U.S. or staying one more night in Dubai.

Some observations:

  • This isn't your granddad's British Airways. The flight from Dubai landed early, and the flight's bags got to the carousel before the passengers. Yes, you say, because British immigration takes forever. No! I say, because from the plane stopping at the gate (in their spanking-new Terminal 5) to baggage claim took me 20 minutes. You can't even get from the gate to immigration at O'Hare Terminal 5 that fast.
  • While walking around South Kensington last night, I heard a weird snapping sound across the street from me. It turned out a fox was trying to remove a windshield wiper from a car. I must have spooked it because it jumped off the car and scooted into a nearby shrubbery when I looked at it. South Kensington is right smack in London's Zone 1—equivalent (in many ways) to Lincoln Park in Chicago, or the West Village in New York. You don't expect to see foxes in dense residential neighborhoods just like you don't expect to find coyotes in the drink cooler at a downtown Chicago Quizno's.
  • In Dubai you might see a shawerma restaurant next to a Lebanese restaurant, both with Arabic signs. In London last night I saw a shawerma place next to a Lebanese place, both with Arabic signs, but with a wine shop between them. That you don't see in Dubai.
  • Right now it's 34°C in Dubai, 4°C in London, and 14°C in Chicago. Good thing I packed for two out of three climates.

I am now off to explore this area of London, once I work out what day, time, and month it is.

They grow 'em tall here

Dubai has tall buildings. Many of them. Like our hotel, the Jumeirah Emirates Towers:

The 51-story hotel is 309 m tall, about the height of the Chrysler Building.

But that's not the tallest building here. No, from my hotel window I can see this:

That's the Burj Dubai, which at 818 m is almost double the height of Sears Willis Tower back home. Here's a comparison (from Wikipedia):

I'm working on an essay (not explicitly for the CCMBA) about Dubai's growth, including its monumental projects like the Burj, and what that may say about its future. Later though; right now I'm exhausted.

Highway robbery? You bet

Chicago Tribune transport columnist John Hilkevich is shocked—shocked!—this morning to find that Chicago parking tickets are up 26% this year:

The stepped-up enforcement contributed to a $7 million year-over-year increase in parking ticket revenue, which totaled $119.2 million from January through August, the Chicago Department of Revenue reported.

Fines assessed from tickets go to the city's nearly depleted general fund. Revenue collected from a four-fold increase in parking rates this year is kept by Chicago Parking Meters LLC, which paid the city $1.15 billion as part of a 75-year lease to manage on-street parking.

The extra emphasis on enforcement may be contributing to an abundance of parking spaces in many parts of the city where finding street parking was previously luck of the draw.

The clampdown also is discouraging some suburbanites and others to limit their trips to the city.

Discouraging? No kidding. I'm in North Carolina this weekend, where I took advantage of a clothing sale I could have gone to at the same store in Chicago, because even N.C.'s 7.5% sales tax is better than downtown Chicago's 10.5%. (Maine was just too far to go for one suit.)

Mayor Daley fils has done some great things for Chicago, but the biggest things—privitization of public assets, unbelievable taxation, etc.—threaten his legacy. Perhaps now that we don't have the distraction of the 2016 Olympics anymore, he'll turn his energies toward making the city more financially livable again.

High-speed train robbery? Not really

The state of Illinois mysteriously doubled its funding request for upgrading the Chicago-St. Louis rail corridor to handle moderately-high-speed trains. First, of the $4.5 bn now requested, only $1.2 bn will go to the actual track upgrades; the state now wants additional funds to build a second track along the route. Second, the upgrades will increase the route's top speed from 126 km/h to only 176 km/h, not exactly a serious rival for other HSR projects worldwide (like, for example, Shanghai's MagLev, which has hit 501 km/h, or France's TGV which routinely travels at 320 km/h.)

Here's Crain's:

"The state's plan is not high-speed rail," says Richard Harnish, executive director of the Midwest High Speed Rail Assn., which advocates a new, 350 km/h Chicago-St. Louis route. "Four hours doesn't change a lot. It's not transformative. What is transformative is two hours."

That would cost $12 billion to $13 billion, he estimates, in line with a detailed, 256-page proposal for a complete Midwest high-speed rail system centered on Chicago that French National Railways, known by its French acronym, SNCF, filed recently with the Federal Railroad Administration.

... With Chicago's status as the nation's rail hub, the state's longtime subsidization of passenger rail and its unprecedented clout with the Obama administration, Illinois is considered likely to get a big chunk of the $8 billion in federal stimulus funds for high-speed rail to be disbursed soon, plus billions more expected in future years as Congress embraces one of the president's top priorities

Is it worth billions to improve rail traffic between Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Louis, and Detroit? I don't think there's an objectively correct answer, but I vote yes. The European experience of moving more people more cheaply (and more quickly) by rail than by air, with significantly lower greenhouse gas emissions, shows that HSR can make a huge difference in a region. But Europe makes different choices than the U.S., and in a democracy it's permissible for one population to decide that its quality of life has a higher price than for another.

Still, two hours to St. Louis? Thirty minutes to Milwaukee? That would be cool.

I guess the parking meter deal wasn't all that

Mayor Daley found another $500m hole in the city's budget this year, so he's proposing...nothing new:

Mayor Richard Daley unveils his new budget this morning, and he's going to call for spending more money from the controversial parking meter lease, slashing the tourism promotion budget and ending Chicago's longest-running public party, Venetian Night.

A key labor union that bankrolled challengers to Daley's council allies in the last election praised the mayor's decision to raid reserves from the $1.15 billion parking meter deal. The 75-year lease, which aldermen quickly approved last year, ushered in sharp rate increases at more than 36,000 public parking spots.

More than $400 million was used to balance this year's budget, records show. And the city already has announced plans to spend at least $146.3 million in privatization proceeds next year.

Remember that, even at a conservative discount rate, the $1.15bn parking meter deal was about $3bn too cheap. So we've given up 75 years of parking meter revenues worth $3bn in exchange for, what, about 6 years of partial operating revenue?

We also got some bad news from recent arrival Boeing, which lost $1.6bn last quarter:

Boeing, the world's second-largest commercial plane maker after Europe's Airbus, has struggled with a series of setbacks: Production problems have delayed its eagerly awaited 787 passenger aircraft and a bigger version of its 747 jumbo jet, resulting in charges from write-downs and penalties.

Those charges, which were expected, led the company to cut its 2009 profit forecast to $1.35 to $1.55 per share, down from $4.70 to $5 per share. Analysts had predicted $1.53.

On the other hand, today is probably the warmest day we've had in a month, and probably the warmest we'll have until next spring. So Parker and I will now go for a long walk.

How not to market your restaurant

A Wicker Park chicken-wing stand annoyed hundreds of potential customers recently by sticking fake parking ticket advertisements in their windshields:

Wing Stop's "parking tickets" are menus that look strikingly similar to Chicago's more menacing version, both in design and color scheme. But instead of expensive violations for expired meters and double parking, the restaurant's version has citations listing the restaurant's signature hot wings, sides, drinks and even offers a free order of fries with your ticket.

Representatives of Malcolm X College and William H. Brown elementary school, along with a host of upset recipients of Wing Stop's ticket menu called to voice their displeasure according to Barjas and Pirozzoli. The Chicago Police Department called the other day to ask the restaurant to stop passing out the fliers as multiple complaints had come into the 14th District headquarters. And the City of Chicago called to discourage the promotion as well.

"Advertising taking the form of parking tickets can be confusing to motorists," explains Chicago Department of Revenue spokesperson Ed Walsh. "Sometimes it generates complaints. As such, we ask businesses to refrain."

Personally, I won't patronize any seller who sticks anything on my windshield...but in this case, I might have called the health department on them, just out of orneryness.