Bed Tax

The other day when I checked out of my hotel in Minneapolis I saw that the bill included a “bed tax.”  I think the tax came to $17.98, or some odd number like that.

Bed taxes are just another way for municipalities to raise revenue — I get that.  Minneapolis isn’t alone; you see bed taxes in lots of places.  Sometimes they are levied for specific projects, like building a sports stadium or supporting local arts, and sometimes they just go into the city’s general fund.  Either way, they’re smart taxes from a political standpoint.  You don’t tax the residents who have voting power, all of whom have their own beds; instead, you fleece the business traveler who’s just in town for the night and needs to rent a bed.  And most business travelers aren’t going to get bent out of shape for paying another $17.98, or $22.37, or whatever the “bed tax” is — especially when it’s combined with a “state occupancy tax” and, in some jurisdictions, a “hospitality tax” or other random taxes that are attached to hotel bills.

It’s all an accepted part of doing business for state and local governments, but as I looked at my bill it got me to thinking.  What if the bed tax were calculated on the size and quality of the bed — say, as determined by certified “bed inspectors”?  If I’m going to be taxed for a bed, shouldn’t some government flunky be assessing whether it’s truly tax-worthy?  Shouldn’t a king-sized bed with a nice firm mattress and crisp, clean sheets pay more of a bed tax than an aging queen with a sagging mattress that you sink into and that causes you to wake up with a backache?  And how should the number and utility of pillows that need to be tossed onto the floor enter into the taxation equation?

For that matter, perhaps the “hospitality tax” should be based on how much hospitality the weary traveler actually receives from locals.  If you had a hospitality inspector making judgments on appropriate tax levels, you might encourage some places to up their game in the welcoming department.  New York City, I’m looking at you!

 

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45 Rattlers

A homeowner who lived near Abilene, Texas was experiencing some trouble with his cable TV feed after the area experienced some high winds, so he crawled into the space under his house to check his connections.  That turned out to be a mistake.  When the homeowner saw “a few” snakes in the crawlspace, he beat a hasty retreat, decided he needed professional help, and called Big Country Snake Removal.

rattlesnakes20in20texas20_op_1_cp__1553128408650.jpg_78428046_ver1.0_640_360When the snake removal crew arrived and went under the house, it found 45 — 45! — rattlesnakes cozily curled up in the crawlspace under the home, which the snakes apparently found to be a safe and agreeable place to live.  A creepy video shows the Snake Removal crew lassoing the snakes with an extendable device, causing the snakes to hiss, shake their rattles, and expose their fangs.  The largest rattler was five and a half feet long — which seems like a pretty big damned snake to me.  The owner of Big Country Snake Removal, though, says the snake infestation wasn’t unusual, and “We do this all the time.”  (Sounds like an interesting place to work, doesn’t it?)

In case you’re interested, in addition to its removal services Big Country Snake Removal also offers snake inspections, “rattlesnake avoidance training” for your dog, and “snake-proof fencing.”

45 snakes under one house?  It sounds like a bad Samuel L. Jackson movie.  How many rattlesnakes are there in rural Texas, anyway?  If you were the homeowner, would you continue to live in the house, knowing that rattlers clearly love to camp out, by the dozens, in the crawlspace?  At the very least, I think I’d be investing in some of that “snake-proof fencing,” just in case.

Measuring National Happiness

What’s being called the “World Happiness Report” came out today.  Produced by the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network, the report purports to evaluate the happiness level in individual countries by looking at things like income, healthy life expectancy, “social support,” freedom, trust, and generosity, with a focus on the general well-being of immigrants.

bigraykgtFor Americans, the report is a good news/bad news kind of thing.  The good news? America comes in at number 19, far ahead of the unhappiest country on earth, which is war-torn South Sudan.  The bad news?  America’s happiness rating is falling, and the number 19 position is our lowest rating yet.  Finland tops of the list and a number of other Nordic countries, like Denmark, Norway, Iceland, and Sweden, all are found in the top ten.

How do you possibly determine the “happiness” of an entire country?  According to the article linked above, the Nordic countries do well because they offer “healthy amounts of both personal freedom and social security that outweigh residents having to pay ‘some of the highest taxes in the world.'”  An individual quoted in the article explained:  “‘Briefly put, (Nordic countries) are good at converting wealth into well-being,” and the findings show that “the conditions that we live under matter greatly to our quality of life, that happiness is not only a matter of choice.”

The U.S. apparently is suffering in the rankings because, even though many incomes in America have increased, there is a perception of declining general health, increasing addiction (to a host of things, including cellphones, video gaming, and eating unhealthy foods), “declining social trust,” and “declining confidence in government.”

Is America, as a whole, unhappier now that it has been in the past?  Trying to measure an abstract concept like happiness on a country-wide basis seems like an impossible task to me, because the subjective values of the people doing the evaluations can’t help but affect the evaluation.  But I do believe this:  many Americans seem to be tapping a reservoir of anger, and seem a lot less willing to give people with opposing viewpoints the benefit of the doubt.  The kind of brooding, harsh anger that we see so often these days is not exactly a recipe for happiness.

The Clock Samaritan

It’s been a while since we “sprang forward,” but everywhere you still find clocks that are running on standard time. They aren’t “smart” clocks that are linked to the internet; no, they’re dumb, stand-alone units in wayward places. These poor, ignored clocks, like the clock on the microwave at the coffee station on my floor, are running an hour behind because no one is responsible for adjusting their settings. They’ve been cast onto the grim, littered curb of the information superhighway.

Pity the neglected clocks of America that, through no fault of their own, are doomed to fail in performing their sole and essential purpose — to give accurate time! So this year I’m adopting every orphan clock I see, and doing whatever is necessary to reset their time to return them to total time-telling accuracy. Call me the Clock Samaritan, or the Time Fairy, but it’s time someone makes a stand.

Won’t you help?

Phone App Flim-Flam

How much do you really know about — and how much should you really trust — the apps that you are downloading and installing on your phone?

best_android_phone_uk_phonesLast week I ran across an on-line article with the unnerving headline “Two-thirds of all Android antivirus apps are frauds.”  The article reports on testing that was performed by an Austrian group called AV-Comparatives that specializes in testing antivirus products.  The group looked at 250 Android antivirus apps that were available on the Google Play Store.  It installed the apps on phones, then tried to download malicious software that was in use last year and therefore should be detected by any decent, functioning antivirus app.

The testing found that more than half of the apps didn’t work as advertised.  Many didn’t “scan” and analyze the code of the downloaded software at all, and instead just checked the title of the software against “whitelists” and “blacklists.”  As a result, some antivirus apps found themselves to be malware because the developers forgot to include them on the “whitelist” of approved software.  In addition, some apps were easily fooled because package names that included references to reputable software creators, like “com.adobe,” could bypass the software and permit malware to be installed without detection.

In all, the Austrian group found that 170 of the 250 antivirus apps failed the basic detection tests and were either ineffective or unsafe.  AV-Comparatives concluded that many of the apps were developed by amateurs or were basically being used as platforms for ads and were not legitimate antivirus protection.

I use an Apple iPhone, so I’m not directly affected by issues with Android antivirus apps, but the testing of the antivirus apps raises a more basic question — how are apps being screened, and how much of what is made available to the general public, on either a free or paid basis, is valid and works as advertised?  And, even worse, is anyone trustworthy actually looking at the apps to see whether they are vehicles for getting access to personal phones for fraudulent purposes?  How does anyone know that the app they are downloading isn’t a technological Trojan horse?

The Random Restaurant Tour (XXIV)

In my book, meat loaf is under-appreciated from a culinary creativity standpoint.  There’s room for a little flair in the choice of ground meats to use, and also in the amount, and kind, of bread crumbs to add to the meat mixture.  Depending on the deftness of the preparation, the consistency of the meat loaf can vary widely, from moist to dry and from almost crumbly to a dense, almost impossible to cut brick.  And when you put a slice of meat loaf into a sandwich and think about the different toppings you could add, the possibilities become almost endless.

Saturday afternoon Kish and I took in a film at the Drexel and, because we got there a bit early, we decided to see whether we could find a place for a quick bite to eat.  That’s how we stumbled upon Newfangled Kitchen, a practitioner of the meat loaf arts located in the same block as the Drexel.  The NK offers different kinds of sandwiches, salads, and soups, but the meat loaf sandwiches are appropriately placed at the top of the menu.  In short, the NK gives the meat loaf sandwich the respect it so richly deserves.

All of the meat loaf sandwiches looked good, so I asked the counter person for her recommendation.  She said The Fang is the most popular meat loaf sandwich option, because people love the Fang sauce, but her personal favorite was the Southern Melt because of the pimento cheese.  I’m not a big pimento cheese fan, but I really like grilled sandwiches, so I went along with her suggestion, but hold the tomato.  It turned out to be an excellent decision.  The marbled rye was crisp and crunchy, the meat loaf was succulent, and the melted pimento cheese and red onion gave the sandwich a very hearty and much appreciated zing.  Kish and I split a bottle of diet Cheerwine, a kind of cherry cola that fit perfectly with the Melt.

It’s hard to believe that the Fang sauce could make a better sandwich — but when you find a place that takes a meat loaf sandwich seriously, you’ve got to try all the options just to be sure.  It’s nice to know that, in the future, we can get to the Drexel early and enjoy a little meat loaf artistry to fortify us for the art film to come.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

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Happy St. Patrick’s Day!  No green beer for me today — instead, I’ll be quaffing an authentic black and tan with Guinness and Harp, poured in an authentic pint glass.

And for those of you who want to feel a bit more Irish this morning, I offer the lyrics of Danny Boy, below.  But don’t feel too Irish when you sing it; the melody is a very old Irish tune, but the words were written by an English lawyer.

Danny Boy

O Danny boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling
From glen to glen and down the mountainside
The summer’s gone and all the roses dying
It’s you, it’s you must go and I must bide

But come ye back when summer’s in the meadow
Or when the valley’s hushed and white with snow
‘Tis I’ll be here in sunshine or in shadow
O Danny boy, O Danny boy, I love you so

And when you come and all the flowers are dying
If I am dead, as dead I well may be
You’ll come and find the place where I am lying
And kneel and say an Ave there for me

And I shall hear, though soft your tread above me
And all my grave shall warmer, sweeter be
For you will bend and tell me that you love me
And I shall sleep in peace until you come to me