Nobody likes to admit he's the stupidest guy in the class, so I'll go first.
The economy is tanking. We all get that now because we can understand things like a talk with the boss who says "I'm letting you go." But how did this happen? Why didn't the media tell us the financial system was failing us? Where were the regulators?
I submit, based on my view from the back of the classroom, that we were told, we just didn't understand what they were talking about and we didn't want to admit we didn't understand what they were talking about.
Case in point: This morning CNBC ran a segment that the prime -- as opposed to the "subprime" market, which I still don't understand -- may be the next big problem in the United States. And to prove it, they put up this graphic:
Yes, that's certainly something to make us all sit up and take notice because -- as everyone knows -- when prime jumbo securitizations have only 3% subordination to Aaaa tranche, well, do I really have to point out the obvious?
But even if business journalists were required to speak English to us -- or we were all required to get a business degree -- it doesn't make common sense.
Case in point: An Associated Press story today says, "Government plans new program to aid credit issuers." Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson apparently intends to give a slice of the $700 bailout to the companies that jam your mailbox with credit card offers.
Interesting timing because last night I came home to this:
They're getting better at this. Now they make these mailings look like your bill, so you have to open it. And, sure enough, there were checks inside:
Now, let's say I wanted to write a check for $100. It will cost me a minimum $10 fee and an interest rate of 28.99%. Last month, I paid off a credit card bill in full and this month I got a bill for another $2.18 finance charge on my zero balance. Keep in mind, too, the credit card companies get a piece of the action from the merchant when a sale is made. If you're a credit card company, how do you not make money with these things? Moreover, how do you tell an autoworker, his industry is too messed up to get help and tell the credit card company theirs isn't?
Here's a way to help the American consumer. Buy each household one of these:
And make us pay cash.
Update 9:12 a.m. Secretary Paulson is having a news conference at this hour and says the government is stepping in to help credit card companies -- a $200 billion bailout -- because consumers are having a difficult time getting credit.
The central bank also launched a $200 billion facility to back consumer loans, including student, auto, and credit card loans and loans backed by the federal Small Business Administration.
Have you had difficulty getting credit or purchasing anything on credit? Or is you reason for not buying that you didn't want to take on any debt right now? Tell me more. This might be one of those times when "helping" the economy and "helping" the consumer are not the same thing.(9 Comments)
The Minneapolis-based National Institute for Media and the Family is getting lots of local and national coverage today with its report on video games. Its 13th annual Mediawise Video Game Report Card is timed to coincide with the holiday shopping season and a fairly slow period in newsrooms.
The "report card" notes that video games are a part of family life, and that they're used for good in battling obesity, for example. But it saves its fire for the usual suspects:
Another online challenge is the vast and alluring world of mega multiplayer games that put many users at once into virtual worlds. These games, such as Second Life's Teen World and World of Warcraft, put users in unpredictable social environments. There have been anecdotal reports of extreme psychological trauma for players who become too involved in the virtual world. And, any online environment involving kids seems to be a hunting ground for sexual predators. Most parents are aware of the dangers posed by chat rooms and social networking sites, such as Facebook and MySpace, but do not yet realize that predators can gain access to kids through video games as well.
"We parents need to wake up and realize that the games our kids play do influence them," said institute president David Walsh to the Associated Press."And it's our job to make sure they are playing age-appropriate games. It's the nest big step."
The Associated Press story, however, did not bother to point that there's very little science to support the group's assertion that video games are negatively influencing kids, and that anecdotal reports are neither science nor useful, especially when actual scientific research is not included. A story in the Star Tribune today similarly fails to challenge Walsh's basic points.
In many cases the assertions Walsh makes have either never been proven or have been debunked by research. Isn't that worth pointing out?
"Over-dependence on video games could foster social isolation, as they are often played alone," is one oft-repeated claim of Walsh. Sure, video games could foster isolation, but there's ample evidence they don't. An article today from Worcester Polytech Institute in Massachusetts profiles the first-in-the-nation graduating class in a media and game development program.
"I looked at a lot of colleges with general technology programs like the Rochester Institute of Technology and the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York, but those schools either didn't have any course of study in game design or only had it as a minor," Alexander R. Schwartz of Fairfield, Connecticut said. "WPI was the only school that offered a full major in the program."
Want to guess what Schwartz's hobby was as a kid?
But it's hard to get people worked up over the fact kids who play video games -- even ones that are age inappropriate according to Walsh -- could end up in a career that pays tens of thousands of dollars more in average salary than kids who don't.
Walsh's "report card" cites Pew Internet Study research on video games, but doesn't point out that a recent Pew research paper said video games do not lead to social isolation.
Earlier this year, M.I.T. professor Henry Jenkins challenged 8 myths of video gaming, some of which form the underpinning of Walsh's group.
"Playing violent video games may (note the number of times Walsh uses words like "may" or "could") be related to aggressive behavior," Walsh says.
Jenkins asked for proof:
According to federal crime statistics, the rate of juvenile violent crime in the United States is at a 30-year low. Researchers find that people serving time for violent crimes typically consume less media before committing their crimes than the average person in the general population. It's true that young offenders who have committed school shootings in America have also been game players. But young people in general are more likely to be gamers -- 90 percent of boys and 40 percent of girls play. The overwhelming majority of kids who play do NOT commit antisocial acts. According to a 2001 U.S. Surgeon General's report, the strongest risk factors for school shootings centered on mental stability and the quality of home life, not media exposure. The moral panic over violent video games is doubly harmful. It has led adult authorities to be more suspicious and hostile to many kids who already feel cut off from the system. It also misdirects energy away from eliminating the actual causes of youth violence and allows problems to continue to fester.
For the record, researchers at Harvard concluded the same thing.
Of course, there's absolutely nothing wrong with a parent who doesn't want his/her kids playing video games. And Walsh certainly has the right to call attention to his mostly-imagined threats they pose. But there is a lack of evidence to suggest that the parent who allows it isn't a responsible one. And at least today, there's a lack of journalists to say "prove it" to Dr. Walsh
What's this? Airline fees going away?
Delta, new owner of our former hometown airline, is getting rid of some fees, and lowering others, according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution. Among the departed: A charge for an exit row seat, fuel surcharges on award travel, a reduction in the fee for booking a frequent-flyer-mileage ticket(1 Comments)
Posted at 12:20 PM on November 25, 2008
by Bob Collins
A legislative committee was told today that the new completion date for the Wakota Bridge has been moved up a year. The eastbound span of the bridge (it's actually two separate bridges) should open in July 2010.
The massive project began in 2002, and has ballooned by $56 million. It was originally supposed to be finished last year.
The bridge carries I-494 across the Mississippi between Newport and South St. Paul.
There are some headlines you just can't ignore.
Like this one from the BBC today.
Nasa jubilant at urine solution
If you haven't been following this closely, NASA is testing a system of providing drinking water to astronauts that is filtered from their urine. And if you have been following this closely, well, don't tell me you haven't been thinking about this because I know you have.
"Not to spoil anything, but I think up here the appropriate words are 'Yippee!'," space station Commander Mike Fincke told mission control early on Tuesday morning.
He supervised work on the malfunctioning water regeneration system - which distils, filters, ionises and oxidises wastewater including urine, perspiration and bath water, into drinkable water.
Nobody's taking a swig of anything yet. The sampled brew will be tested by NASA when the astronauts return. But let's be indelicate here for just a moment in the interest of science. Suppose this thing works, and the thing spits out lovely drinking water in bottles that say "Pluto Springs." What if at some point in the future, it breaks again. How will they know?
This concept is not limited to space. More and more communities are considering tapping their sewage treatment plants as a source of drinking water.
In California, a plant is already working, as described by the New York Times in an August article:
When you flush in Santa Ana, the waste makes its way to the sewage-treatment plant nearby in Fountain Valley, then sluices not to the ocean but to a plant that superfilters the liquid until it is cleaner than rainwater. The "new" water is then pumped 13 miles north and discharged into a small lake, where it percolates into the earth. Local utilities pump water from this aquifer and deliver it to the sinks and showers of 2.3 million customers. It is now drinking water. If you like the idea, you call it indirect potable reuse. If the idea revolts you, you call it toilet to tap.
More comings and goings in the auto dealer business.
Saturn of St. Paul has closed its East Metro operation on Hudson Road in Maplewood. The dealership has sold the property, according to General Manager David Roen, but not because of the economy, apparently.
"The timing makes it seem that it is related to the current environment but even if times were better we probably would have sold the property. Yes, the other three locations are open for business. Our business seems to be better than the general market. Our used business is up 7%, our midsized car(Aura) business is up 37%, our compact SUV business is down slightly (3%) and our 8 passenger crossover business (Outlook) is up 1%," he said.
Last week, 400 employees of Denny Hecker lost their jobs when his company sold three dealerships and closed six others.
MPR's William Wilcoxen reports more dealer closings are expected in these parts.(3 Comments)
A release from the Secretary of State's office reveals that there will be live streaming video of Wednesday's Canvassing Board meeting in the U.S. Senate recount in Minnesota.
It'll be available on the House TV Web site starting at 9 a.m..
Too many teachers are teaching a subject they know little about, according to a damning report on the ability of schools to prepare kids for careers. It leads to an obvious question, "how are kids going to learn from teachers who don't know the subject?"
The study, from Richard M. Ingersoll of the University of Pennsylvania, was sponsored by The Education Trust, described as a "child advocacy organization." It was based on 2003-04 statistics.
* In high-poverty schools, two in five math classes have teachers without a college major or certification in math.
* In schools with a greater share of African-American and Latino children, nearly one in three math classes is taught by such a teacher.
Perhaps this goes a long way toward explaining why an average 15-year-old in the U.S. is behind the average 15-year-old in 21 industrialized countries in math.
The problem of unqualified teachers was one of the targets of the No Child Left Behind Law, but it was overshadowed by criticism over the NCLB mandate for standardized testing. It required teachers to be "highly qualified," but left it to the states to determine what "highly qualified" means.
The report said Minnesota classes are taught by highly qualified teachers 98.4% of the time. But teachers reported they were "in-field qualified" only 88.9% of the time. Still, only Rhode Island and Indiana had higher percentages.8 Comments)
The Current's Mary Lucia and I were chatting a bit ago about what we would do if we learned an asteroid was heading for earth. Today, a conference got underway in Vienna to try to set up a global plan for diverting an asteroid heading for earth's midsection.
Mary said "at least it will be quick." But maybe not. Theoretically, according to experts, it should be possible to determine 15 years ahead of time that an asteroid is heading our way. Fifteen years. In fact, there's one roaming around around out there right now, experts say, that could hit us in 2029 if it goes through a small "keyhole" of space enough to deflect its orbit right into us.
I'll be 75 then, and not terribly concerned, although it may make me rethink the whole "long term" strategy for dealing with the stock market.
Oh, one of Mary's many listeners sent this video in which has nothing to do with asteroids but must've been frightening on its own. It happened in Edmonton last week and was captured by a dashboard camera on a police car. (link fixed)
You have to give credit to a cop who doesn't even slow down while driving toward a fireball from space that sure seemed as if it was heading straight for him.(2 Comments)