Archive for March 13th, 2012
When your party’s strength is based on its members’ ignorance, the last thing you want is for those members to become better educated and better informed. This means, among other things, opposing education. Paul Krugman spells it out in this 2 March column:
One way in which Americans have always been exceptional has been in our support for education. First we took the lead in universal primary education; then the “high school movement” made us the first nation to embrace widespread secondary education. And after World War II, public support, including the G.I. Bill and a huge expansion of public universities, helped large numbers of Americans to get college degrees.
But now one of our two major political parties has taken a hard right turn against education, or at least against education that working Americans can afford. Remarkably, this new hostility to education is shared by the social conservative and economic conservative wings of the Republican coalition, now embodied in the persons of Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney.
And this comes at a time when American education is already in deep trouble.
About that hostility: Mr. Santorum made headlines by declaring that President Obama wants to expand college enrollment because colleges are “indoctrination mills” that destroy religious faith. But Mr. Romney’s response to a high school senior worried about college costs is arguably even more significant, because what he said points the way to actual policy choices that will further undermine American education.
Here’s what the candidate told the student: “Don’t just go to one that has the highest price. Go to one that has a little lower price where you can get a good education. And, hopefully, you’ll find that. And don’t expect the government to forgive the debt that you take on.”
Wow. So much for America’s tradition of providing student aid. And Mr. Romney’s remarks were even more callous and destructive than you may be aware, given what’s been happening lately to American higher education. . .
I read that Obama’s popularity is taking a hit because of the surge in gasoline prices. That seems fair since Obama did nothing to fight oil speculation when he had the chance. Kevin Hall reports for McClatchy on 1 March 2012:
When oil and gasoline prices soared last April, President Barack Obama announced to fanfare that the Department of Justice would lead a task force designed to root out manipulation of the oil market and gouging of consumers at the gas pump.
Since then the group has met only a handful of times and has never reported to the public.
The Oil and Gas Price Fraud Working Group has met only four or five times since its creation last April 21, and most of those meetings came at the time of its inception. Back then, Obama promised that the group would “root out any cases of fraud or manipulation” and noted that its scope would include the “role of traders and speculators.”
Although the task force was announced during a time when Obama’s poll numbers were sagging and he left the impression that it was investigative in nature, it’s actually a subset of the Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force, an independent entity.
Far from being a new sheriff in town, the oil and gasoline working group assembles regulators from several agencies with overlapping jurisdiction to discuss what they’re looking into separately, see what information they can legally share and compare experiences.
An official from the Department of Justice, demanding anonymity because of a lack of authorization to speak to journalists on the matter, confirmed that the panel is acting as a clearinghouse, hoping that sharing information from one agency might push another forward.
That may prove little comfort for consumers, who are watching gasoline prices soar again and asking why.
Back on April 21, gasoline prices had climbed 30 cents a gallon to a nationwide average of $3.84 in a single month, which led to the president’s announcement. As of Thursday, gasoline prices stood at $3.73, an increase of 29 cents from a month earlier.
The Justice Department-led working group is concerned about rising prices, said Adora Andy, a spokeswoman for the department. “With the recent increase of gasoline prices, the working group is monitoring the situation, and if we find any evidence of criminal behavior or other misconduct we will respond immediately,” she told McClatchy.
McClatchy has learned that the task force is assisting the Federal Trade Commission in a probe into the practices of U.S. refiners, which turn crude oil into gasoline, diesel and jet fuel and other products.
In a letter Dec. 5 to Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz acknowledged that the probe into refiners is receiving support from task force members. Under pressure from lawmakers, the FTC began trying last spring to determine whether refiners engaged in anti-competitive practices or manipulation to drive up gasoline prices or keep them artificially high.
“In addition, the commission is conducting other, nonpublic investigations in the petroleum sector,” Leibowitz wrote to Cantwell in the letter McClatchy obtained.
First approached by McClatchy in late February, the FTC was mum about developments in the eight months since its probe into refiners was announced.
“We have no comment,” said Mitchell Katz, an agency spokesman.The agency changed gears Thursday after Sens. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., and Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., released a copy of a letter they sent to Leibowitz pressuring the FTC to wrap up its probe. . .
As I watch the ceaseless parade of mystery series and movies that now serve me in lieu of reading, I become increasingly consciously of the social structure—a massive net of interlinkages, flexing like a many-dimensional basket, strands stretching, joining, breaking, and sprouting in new directions as people interact with each other and with the structures created by various social groups. The social structures interlink and exist at every level: businesses, religions, play groups, governments, classes, social circles, and so on: every involvement between and among people occurs in the intersection of various social structures and contributes its own spin on their various directions. You cannot, for example, even so much as place yourself in your imagination in a social context (e.g., in one of the locales of a mystery—say the Oxford of Inspector Lewis—without identifying and delineating an entire variety of social markers—position, class, education, profession, family, acquaintances, and so on.
It occurs to me that I’ve been unaware of how pervasive and vast is this sea in which we swim for the same reason that fish are doubtless mostly unaware of the sea that is home to them. But every now and then one realizes just how unique and strange this structure is. Bruce Bower reports in Science News:
Preschool kids angling for a reward display social skills that may, on a grander scale, turn human cultures into cauldrons of change and innovation.
Groups of 3- to 4-year-olds, but not clusters of chimpanzees or capuchin monkeys, solved progressively more complex tasks in a puzzle box by employing three key social strategies, say zoologist Rachel Kendal of Durham University in England and her colleagues. First, children who solved a task taught struggling peers what to do. Second, kids often copied what others did. And finally, task solvers frequently shared stickers they received as rewards with kids who hadn’t yet earned stickers.
This package of social behaviors characterized four- or five-person groups in which at least two kids solved a three-stage puzzle and most of the rest reached stage two, Kendal’s team reports in the March 2Science. Chimps and capuchins in groups of eight to 32 rarely got beyond stage one of the same puzzle, the researchers say. No evidence of teaching or sharing of food rewards appeared in these primates. Chimps copied others at the first stage but not at higher stages.
“The stark contrast in skills supporting cultural ability between children and both chimps and capuchins was surprising,” Kendal says. Her study is the first to use the same task to explore social learning in different species.
Previous studies of children’s problem-solving in groups have similarly focused on teaching, imitation and sharing, remarks anthropologist Joseph Henrich of the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. These behaviors critically enable human cultures to make rapid advances in knowledge and technology, he says. Further research needs to untangle precisely how this process works, Henrich adds. . .
I don’t think deregulation really worked out all that well for the airline industry or the public. It may have seemed like a good idea at the time, but now the results are in—and they’re ugly. Philip Longman and Lina Kahn report in the Washington Monthly:
“It was certainly one of the hardest choices that I’ve ever made,” explained Fernando Aguirre. He’d raised his family and built his career in Cincinnati, Ohio, rising through the ranks of the city’s business elite, first as an executive at Procter & Gamble’s headquarters and later as CEO and chairman of Chiquita Brands International. Along the way, he became a fanatical fan and part owner of the Cincinnati Reds baseball team, as well as a proud sponsor of the Chiquita Classic golf tournament, the proceeds from which he poured into local philanthropies.
But last fall, Aguirre confirmed Cincinnati’s worst fears by announcing that he and his company were—very reluctantly—skipping town, and for a reason that cast an even deeper shadow over the city’s economic future. Cincinnati has long been (and for now remains) a major business center, the headquarters of six Fortune 500 companies and fifteen Fortune 1000 companies, including not just household-name producers like Procter & Gamble and Chiquita but also retail giants like Macy’s and the Kroger grocery chain. With a population of 2.1 million, it’s the twenty-seventh-largest metro area in the United States. But running a national, much less international, business out of Cincinnati is becoming more and more problematic for a simple reason: inadequate air service.
As recently as 2004, the Cincinnati/North Kentucky Airport (CVG) was a major hub for Delta, and offered nonstop flights to 129 major cities, including Frankfurt, Amsterdam, London, and Paris. Today, the number of flights through CVG has fallen by two-thirds, and an entire concourse stands eerily empty. At the same time, flights out of the airport have the highest fares in the country. This means that if you live or do business in Cincinnati, it’s hard to fly anywhere without paying a fortune and having to cool your heels for hours while waiting to change planes in a city like Atlanta or Charlotte. And if you’re a global business like Chiquita, which operates in seventy countries and needs to be able to attract global talent, the situation is untenable.
So Aguirre is moving Chiquita’s headquarters to the NASCAR Plaza in uptown Charlotte, just a thirteen-minute drive from that city’s busy international airport. The move will be a boon to Charlotte, creating more than 400 jobs with an average wage of over $100,000. But it will be gut-wrenching for existing employees, as well as for Aguirre personally. He recently had to explain to Charlotte’s local press that he is no fan of NASCAR (“I have never gone to a NASCAR race. I’m sure I will end up going to a few from now on”), and that he still pines for his beloved Reds. But at least he and his employees have had time to prepare themselves mentally. “We’ve been dealing with the logistics of our business and the airport for so long now,” says Aguirre, “that everyone knew that the likelihood of moving was very high. It was just a matter of where and when.”
A generation ago, Aguirre and his employees at Chiquita would not have had to face such a difficult choice. Until 1978, the United States viewed airline service as a “public convenience and necessity,” and used a government agency—the Civil Aeronautics Board, or CAB—to assign routes and set fares. This regulation was designed to ensure that citizens in cities like Cincinnati received service roughly equal, in quality and price, to that provided to other comparably sized communities like Charlotte. The government also made sure that smaller cities maintained vital links to the national air network.
In 1978, however, a group of liberals including Ralph Nader, Ted Kennedy, Kennedy’s then Senate aide Stephen Breyer, and an economist named Alfred Kahn, whom President Jimmy Carter chose to run the CAB, conjured up a plan to drive down the cost of airline fares by fostering more price competition among airlines. Though they called it “deregulation,” the practical effect of eliminating the CAB, especially after subsequent administrations abandoned antitrust enforcement as well, was to shift control of the airline industry from experts answerable to the public to corporate boardrooms and Wall Street.
Over the years, most Americans have adopted a pretty standard line about the results. On the one hand, complaining about the indignities of flying—overbooked, late, or canceled flights; surly flight attendants; and, more recently, terrible in-flight food service and high fees for checked baggage— has become a staple of American life, much like complaining about Internet providers or health insurance companies. On the other hand, we’ve told ourselves, at least the increased competition has made air travel cheaper. And at least most of us can still get where we need to go by air.
But now we find ourselves at a moment when nearly all the promises of the airline deregulators have clearly proved false. If you’re a member of the creative class who rarely does business in the nation’s industrial heartland or visits relatives there, you might not notice the magnitude of economic disruption being caused by lost airline service and skyrocketing fares. But if you are in the business of making and trading stuff beyond derivatives and concepts, you probably have to go to places like Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Memphis, St. Louis, or Minneapolis, and you know firsthand how hard it has become to do business these days in such major heartland cities, which are increasingly cut off from each other and from the global economy.
And it’s about to get worse. Despite a wave of mergers that is fast concentrating control in the hands of three giant carriers, the industry remains essentially insolvent. Absent any coherent outcry, the directors of these private corporations remain free to respond to the crisis in the manner of an electrical utility company that, when it runs short of money, simply cuts off power to the neighborhoods of its own choosing.
The loss of airline service to rural and remote areas is an old story; by the 1980s, even some state capitals— such as Olympia, Washington; Dover, Delaware; and Salem, Oregon—became places you could no longer fly to except in a private plane. But over the last five years, service to medium-sized airports fell by 18 percent. This latter trend is much more disruptive to the economy, reflecting lost service to important centers of commerce that until recently had major airports but are now isolated—most often due to the frantic pace of airline mergers and downsizing.
St. Louis, for example, . . .
Yesterday’s shave was on a commercial rose theme—specifically, Geo. F. Trumper—and today’s takes the same fragrance in an artisanal direction.
After using the VDH glycerine shave soap as a my pre-shave wash, I rubbed the (previously unused) Mama Bear Rose shave stick against the morning stubble’s grain, then worked up a fine lather with the Rooney Heritage Victorian. As you can see in the photo, the bristles with their interlocking hooked tips have dried in the hedgehog shape characteristic of this type of bristle. These are not rare, but still most badger brushes don’t do this. I could have restored the smooth appearance by simply brushing the tips of the bristles across my dry hand, which immediately disentangles the tips.
Todd Oppenheimer pointed out to me the peculiar tacky feel these tips have when they are wet: if you rub your finger across them, the tips seem to stick softly to your finger like a gecko’s foot. He also pointed out how this particular knot seems to push the lather forward rather than hoarding it at the center.
Withal, a very fine lather indeed, and ample for all three passes. The Gillette President—quite similar in action and appearance to the (gold-plated) 1940’s Aristocrat—has been replated in rhodium, thus its stellar appearance. I loaded it with a brand new Astra Superior Platinum blade and got a really excellent shave.
A splash of Saint Charles Shave’s Savory Rose aftershave, and I’m ready for the day. The smoked ham shank is in the oven at 275ºF (two-seven-five) until 11:30, and the red beans are already cooked.