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June 30, 2006

you can never be too thin or too rich but you can be too successful

French Senate and National Assembly members today closed a gaping loophole in French law that had allowed some companies the freedom to decide what products to offer to consumers. Such an untenable situation could not be allowed to endure and so French lawmakers passed legislation that would require Apple to make its iPod player and iTunes store compatible with competitor’s offerings.

Currently, music purchased from Apple’s iTunes can only be played on Apple’s iPod. Where does that leave French consumers? Helpless, their only option being to not purchase an iPod or use iTunes. Or maybe looking into Sony’s competing proprietary player and format. And a number of WMA-compatible services like Rhapsody and Napster. And homegrown solutions such as Fnac. Or just purchase CDs (as the vast majority of people still do) and rip MP3s to any portable music player.

But other than that, nada. 

The situation hits a little close to home for those of us here at Planet Moron. Prior to the French move, we had been under the misconception that our decision last year to forgo the Apple iPod and instead opt for the slightly more cross-platform friendly Napster service had been a “choice.” We now realize that this was merely an illusion created by the vast array of alternative players, services, formats and plans available.

Talk about feeling taken!

Those who are sympathetic to the legislation point out that Apple has 80% of the market. You might think that this merely affirms that Apple is offering a product and service that consumers find both attractive and a reasonable value having carefully weighed all the pros and cons.

That is why you never achieved high elective office in France. Also, you don’t speak French, are not a citizen, never ran and get France confused with Spain every time you look at a map of Europe.

Or Asia. Whatever.

As French National Assembly Deputy Christian Vanneste pointed out, “Apple will need to change the way they do business in France. Apple's business philosophy runs counter to the philosophy of this law and the direction of technology." How does Mr. Vanneste know the direction of technology better than the people who created it? Didn’t we just say he was a deputy in the National Assembly? Try to pay attention here.

While it is unlikely that such forward thinking will “leap the pond” and take hold here in America, there is hope as a California judge (no really, California) is allowing a suit to go forward that charges Apple with monopolization which just goes to show that in America you are always encouraged to do your best.

As long as it isn’t too best.

J.

June 30, 2006 at 05:11 PM in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

June 29, 2006

rhymes with “morose”

In his new book, “The Age of Fallibility: Consequence of the War on Terror,” financial speculator George Soros attempts to patiently explain to those of us who are not billionaires how the world works. As he points out, “America is an open society, but people are not well versed in philosophy and they do not fully understand the principles of open society.”

You see, George Soros understands philosophy. As he says in his chapter on Thinking and Reality, “The fact that our thinking forms part of what we think about, has far reaching implications both for our thinking and for our reality.”

So you see, you only think you think what you think but it is your thinking that makes you think that.

We think.

He goes on: “Our view of the world will never correspond to the world as it is because we are part of the world, and what we think automatically becomes part of our world too. The way we look at the world changes the world.”

Oh, right, now we get it.

Okay, no we don’t.

Maybe the mere act of thinking about the concept changes it into something completely incomprehensible. Call it the social Heisenberg principle.

Or, as Mr. Soros modestly notes, “the truth is not as self-evident as the Founding Fathers thought when they signed the Declaration of Independence.”

(Hey, did Thomas Jefferson ever run an international hedge fund successfully trading currencies and interest rate derivatives? No? Didn’t think so.)

One of the biggest revelations that come from Mr. Soros’ thinking is his contention that “our understanding of reality is inherently imperfect and all human constructs are flawed in one way or another.”  In other words, the world is complex and we don’t always know everything.

He thinks you don’t know this. 

The core thesis of the book is that “America has become a ‘feel-good’ society unwilling to face unpleasant reality.”

Indeed, regardless of your position on Iraq or on the war on terror in general, we can certainly all agree that spending hundreds of billions of dollars and sacrificing many thousands of lives is mostly just a coping mechanism. If only we had the courage and fortitude to face unpleasantness.

After spending millions of his own dollars not getting John Kerry elected in 2004, Mr. Soros realized that he had to “dig deeper and explore what is wrong with contemporary American society.”

Among the many problems identified by Mr. Soros is our prosperity.  He has found to his dismay that as this century has progressed, “Firms no longer catered to needs but to desires and they manipulated and stimulated those desires.”

You see, you only think you want an iPod. The reality is you’d be perfectly happy with a hollow tree and a stick but for “sophisticated methods of market research and motivational research.”

But it gets worse, this consumerist mentality has in the past half century also managed to corrupt a once pure electoral process as “politicians learned to cater to the desires of the electorate instead of propounding policies they believed in,” strongly suggesting that Mr. Soros has managed to live 75 years without ever going near any kind of book covering American political history.

And after spending 183 pages noting how our knowledge of the world is hopelessly imperfect, Mr. Soros ends by noting that “I checked it out with scientists, and they confirmed that scientific opinion is unanimous about the dangers” of global warming. Apparently, the very act of Mr. Soros thinking about global warming altered reality itself thus eliminating all the opponents.

Ultimately, Mr. Soros does prove himself correct on his core point regarding imperfect knowledge when a French court this month upheld his conviction on insider trading charges related to purchases of stock he made in 1988 after learning of a planned takeover of a company.

Bet he didn’t see that coming.

J.

June 29, 2006 at 01:19 PM in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack

June 27, 2006

sure, they’re trampling a principle, but there’s a symbol at stake here!

If you were to make a list of the most critical issues facing the nation, which would you choose as the top one?

  1. The war in Iraq.
  2. Illegal immigration.
  3. Way too much freedom.

If you chose #3, you just might be fit to serve in the United States Congress.

Setting aside less important issues, the Senate this week takes up the critical task of amending the Constitution to allow Congress to ban desecration of the American flag.

Why is this such an important issue now? For one thing, there is a little-known epidemic of flag burning sweeping the nation. As home heating fuel costs have soared this past year, many residents have found American flags to be “cost competitive” with oil and natural gas. And as the summer BBQ season heats up, many are discovering the unique flavoring that can be imparted on your grilled sirloins if you just add some hickory chips and Old Glory to the briquettes. Mmm good, and a real timesaver if you happen to like steak, AND want to make a protest.

However, the primary concern is that the burning of the American flag causes some people offense making this the conservative version of political correctness. But unlike timid liberals who satisfy themselves with campus speech codes and corporate sensitivity seminars, conservatives don’t mess around, they go straight to the governing document of the country. No doubt, this is fully in the spirit of our Founding Fathers such as John Adams and his brother Bryan (famous for the pre-Revolutionary War ditty, “Summer of 1769”). In fact, James Madison had probably meant to put something in about flag burning, but you know how constitutional conventions are, it’s always rush rush rush.

Many supporters of the amendment cite particular concern that military veterans might be offended by flag desecration. Well, not all of them. And not these guys. Or this one. And this one. And this one.

Congress has tried to ban desecration of the flag before, but that pesky old first amendment got in the way.

Again.

That is why it is necessary to amend the Constitution so we can ensure that all this unbridled freedom of expression be brought under control before someone gets hurt. Emotionally.

After all, most Americans are offended by the desecration of the American Flag including those of us here at Planet Moron where the display of flags, lapel pins and car magnets put us just one drunk uncle and an overcooked hamburger away from every day being like the Fourth of July.

And that’s what the Constitution is all about, protecting the fragile rights of the majority from unpopular, even scary, minority ideas, and is embodied in those timeless opening words every schoolchild knows, “NOSOTROS, el Pueblo de los Estados Unidos, a fin de formar una Unión más perfecta…”

Okay, so the only copy we could find was in Spanish. But it’s probably in there. Somewhere.

J.

UPDATE: The amendment failed by one vote.
Downside: The Stars and Stripes remains imperiled by hordes of crazed flag-burning zealots.
Upside: Additional jobs expected as the butane lighter industry adds extra shifts to handle the demand.

June 27, 2006 at 12:23 PM in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

June 26, 2006

pay no attention to that scientist behind the curtain

If you happen to share Planet Moron’s general skepticism regarding the evangelical zeal that seems to characterize those who support the theory that your SUV is killing all the polar bears and have perhaps wondered why, having carefully examined many of the claims regarding global warming, you might have come to such a conclusion, we finally have an answer for you:

You are an idiot.

This, according to Susan Joy Hassol who told ABC News, "It's a relatively complex scientific issue, and whenever you're trying to educate the public about that, it's a problem."

It is not, however, a problem for Ms. Hassol as she has spent years tirelessly not getting a degree in science but rather writing about science for the general public. This extensive experience conjugating verbs and properly joining independent clauses with semicolons in the absence of coordinating conjunctions has naturally established her as a leading authority on global warming and its causes (that would be you).

In fact, Ms. Hassol pointed out years ago that, “There is scientific consensus that global warming is real, is caused by human activities.” How is such scientific consensus achieved? Well, say you submit a letter to a highly respected scientific journal directly refuting a previously published claim of consensus. That letter is rejected. See how easy that is?  Or, say you are a climate scientist esteemed in your field and had regularly been used to review related papers for that same respected scientific journal. You then submit a paper that raises doubts about global warming. Your paper is rejected and you are dropped as a reviewer (just to ensure a complete cleansing of your impure thoughts).

And that’s how “consensus” is achieved, much in the same way that a consensus would be reached back in junior high that you really didn’t need your lunch money after having your head shoved in a toilet.

"It's frustrating for people like me who work in the scientific community and know how the science is really settled on this issue," Ms. Hassol explains further.

That’s nothing. Imagine how frustrating it must be to work in the scientific community and be an actual scientist and discovering that despite all your professionally informed misgivings, the science has already been “settled” by Ms. Hassol.  This presumably would include the 60 scientists who wrote a letter to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper urging that he reconsider adherence to the Kyoto treaty.  Among them, the group holds 54 doctorates (which would be approximately 54 more than Ms. Hassol).

However, Ms. Hassol points out that there is a “deliberate campaign by special interests, including some in the fossil fuel industry, to undermine or cast doubt on the science.”

These special interests should not be confused with such wholly independent organizations as the “Aspen Global Change Institute” where Ms. Hassol has held several positions and which receives financing from the Packard Foundation which supports efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change,” and the Hewlett Foundation which supports attempts “to reduce the environmental impacts of fossil-fuel energy systems.” These efforts to fund and support research and agendas of personal and direct importance to them should in no way be confused with oil-industry special interests which fund and support research and agendas of personal and direct importance to them.

We will remain skeptical of Ms. Hassol’s assertions for now, regardless of her lengthy credentials in writing stuff. However, should the world ever face a looming global calamity involving dropped infinitives and dangling participles, you know who will be at the top of our must-call list.

J.

June 26, 2006 at 09:04 AM in Global Warming with CONSENSUS WATCH | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

June 23, 2006

sociology: the next best thing to science.

A study published this week in the journal, “American Sociological Review” found that “social isolation” has grown over the past two decades and that “Many more people talk to no one about matters they consider important to them.”

No doubt, you are surprised to learn this, perhaps even enough to put down your cell phone, interrupt your three simultaneous I/M sessions, exit the two chat rooms you were just in and postpone not only that forum entry you were going to make, but the ongoing dialogue you were having with your MySpace friends about your most recent blog entry.

The study was designed as a follow-up to one conducted two decades earlier called the General Social Survey (GSS) and so “asked the same question in 1985 and 2004.” For instance, surveyors asked participants questions about the people they socialized with such as “whether the partner was male or female, his or her race, his or her education and age,” but apparently nothing about why they chose a butterfly as their avatar, what photo hosting service they liked best, and whether they preferred cable or DSL.

Which reminds us, a study of transportation trends in the United States was recently conducted using the same questions and approach as in 1825. The resulting report, “American Crisis: Citizen Mobility In Freefall,” found that while fully 85% of Americans once routinely traveled by horse, that number had plunged to merely 1% by 2005. “We have no explanation for it,” noted one of the researchers, “frankly we have no idea how anyone gets around, but we plan to do some follow ups, that’s for sure.”

Robert D. Putnam, a professor of public policy at Harvard feels that the GSS report on growing social isolation vindicates his own research in which he found fewer people today have friends over to visit or join clubs. But most troubling of all, he found that more and more people are bowling alone. There are two explanations for this:

  1. It is a sign of the general breakdown in the fabric of our connections with each other leading to the impoverishment of our lives and communities thus suggesting an urgent need to civicly reinvent ourselves.
  2. No one wants to be seen bowling.

Putnam also believes that "If we gave people much more flexibility in their work life,” perhaps through regulatory changes, “they would use that time to spend more time with their aging mom or best friend."

Or surfing for Internet porn.

Lynn Smith-Lovin, a Duke University sociologist who helped prepare the study, believes that our hectic lives make social interaction difficult, observing that, "Maybe sitting around watching 'Desperate Housewives' . . . is what counts for family interaction." And maybe “putting affect control theory together with McPherson’s ecological theory of affiliation” is what counts for family interaction in the Smith-Lovin household.

The authors of the study, startled by the seemingly precipitous decline in close personal interactions, did consider the possibility that “the use of the word ‘discuss’ in the question was interpreted by respondents to exclude other forms of communication that are becoming dominant in our contacts with core confidants,” such as email, chat rooms and the like.

However, this would suggest an equally disturbing social trend: Despite all the obvious hazards, people are engaging in the kinds of communications and social interactions they want to without first consulting the expertise of accredited sociologists.

Maybe they saved that for the next study…

J.

June 23, 2006 at 04:54 PM in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 22, 2006

objectivity: it all depends on how you look at it.

The headlines this morning were alarming. “Earth Is Hottest Now in 2000 Years” screamed USA Today, and “Earth’s Temps At 2000-Year High” echoed the equally agitated ABC News.

That could quite possibly be troubling. But you know what else could be troubling? A report that a tsunami was heading for New York, an alien invasion fleet had passed the orbit of Pluto, and Chris Kattan just signed on for a new reality TV show, “Disappear From Public View With The Stars.” What do those have in common with this morning’s headlines?

They aren’t true either. (Except maybe for the one about Chris Kattan.)

As it turns out, the report from the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) actually said that temperatures are higher now than they have been for 400 years. The authors reported that they had “less confidence” in the data from 400 to 1100 years ago, and “very little confidence” in anything beyond that.

But hey, there are children to frighten and auto ads to sell, so let’s go with 2000. What it lacks in journalistic integrity it more than makes up in “snap.”

Commissioned by Congress to objectively assess the current state of scientific research regarding global warming, the NAS assembled a team of experts representative of the broad spectrum of scientific thought on the subject, from those who believe that human activity contributes to global warming to those who believe that human activity contributes a lot to global warming. 

There was, for instance, John Christy who objectively said last month, "part of what has happened over the last 50 years has clearly been caused by humans," and Kurt M. Cuffey who wrote last year in a newspaper op-ed, “There is now no reasonable doubt that atmospheric pollution is causing global warming,” which in no way should be confused with anything resembling a pre-conceived notion.

There was also Gerald R. North who has open-mindedly dismissed any possibility that global warming could be tied to something such as solar activity and Franco Biondi who without any partisan rancor has spent a career using tree ring data to demonstrate the impact human emissions are having on the environment. 

And we can’t forget Robert E. Dickinson and John M. Wallace who, by co-authoring a report in 2001 that stated, "Greenhouse gases are accumulating in earth's atmosphere as a result of human activities, causing surface air temperatures and subsurface ocean temperatures to rise," make clear that they would be more than happy to objectively entertain the notion of overturning years of research and jeopardize their professional credibility.

To balance things out, the staff included Ellen Druffel who co-signed a letter to Governor Schwarzenegger in 2005 urging reductions in California’s greenhouse gas emissions because she was “deeply concerned that climate change will compromise our children’s quality of life”

There was also Douglas Nychka who has co-authored various papers in which he noted his objective premise was “Global warming (climate change) is occurring ... and most scientists attribute some of the warming to increasing levels of greenhouse gases,” Bette Otto-Bliesner who developed models that suggest global warming could raise sea levels by three feet by the end of the century, and Karl K. Turekian whose book, “Global Environmental Change” finds a familiar home on student textbook requirement lists right next to the equally objective “Earth in the Balance” by Al Gore.

Of course, you would expect an august institution like the National Academy of the Sciences to go out of its way to avoid even the taint of bias. All you have to do is examine their recent work which includes a completely nonpartisan call for government-required universal health care, an objective endorsement of government funding for stem cell research, unbiased approval for more government environmental regulation, a wholly detached call for more government spending on child care, and an impartial suggestion for government regulation of adult material on the Internet.

This demonstrates that no matter the issue, whether liberal calls for regulation of healthcare and the environment or conservative calls for regulation of pornography, the NAS shows no bias.

How much more objective can you get than that?

J.

June 22, 2006 at 10:18 PM in Global Warming with CONSENSUS WATCH | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 21, 2006

it looks like they missed the sand and drew a line in the water

Democrats are initiating a two-phase plan to seize control of the debate over the war in Iraq by offering the kind of clear, bold, stand that is expected of a leading national party hoping to offer the American people a genuine alternative to the GOP:

PHASE 1: Eliminate from the English language the word “withdraw.” Withdraw carries with it certain negative connotations that could easily give someone the impression that you are leaving something. From now on, Democrats will only use the word “redeploy” which suggests not so much leaving a place, as going somewhere else, creating a much more positive environment.

Example:

Bad: We are going to withdraw the forces we have in Iraq.
Good: We are going to redeploy the forces we have in Iraq.
Really Good: We are going to redeploy the forces we have in Iraq and give everyone free healthcare and cars that get 100 MPG and emit only a lovely lavender-scented potpourri.

You can use this in your own daily life. Let’s say you want to buy a boat:

Bad: “Honey, I’m going to withdraw the money we have in little Bobby’s college account.”
Good: “Honey, I’m going to redeploy the money we have in little Bobby’s college account.”
Really Good: “Honey, I’m going to redeploy the money we have in little Bobby’s college account, and say, have you lost weight?”

Or you have a difficult romantic situation:

Bad: “I’m sorry, this just isn’t working out. I’m going to have to withdraw from our relationship.”
Good: “I’m sorry, this just isn’t working out. I’m going to have to redeploy the relationship to your friend Bethany.”
Really Good: “I’m sorry, this just isn’t working out. I’m going to have to redeploy the relationship to your friend Bethany but you can keep the apartment.”

Only by avoiding the word “withdraw” can Democrats demonstrate truly principled leadership by leaving no uncertainty as to where they stand on such a critically important matter of public policy.

PHASE 2: Require that President Bush begin redeploying troops by the end of the year. If he wants to, that is. After talking with the Iraqis. Not that he has to, but he is very strongly advised to do so. No? Okay, well,… fine then. But he must submit a report to Congress outlining his plans for redeployment. If he isn’t too busy. Or if nothing else comes up, because boy, you just never know do you?

"We believe it represents where a majority of our caucus is," said Democratic Senator Carl Levin of Michigan.

By courageously using terms that mean the same thing but sound better, and voting for measures that require the President to not do anything in particular, Democrats are saying to the American public, “Now you have a real choice.”

Democratic Senators Jack Reed and Carl Levin point out that their plan is not, as some claim, “cut and run.”  Let’s call it more, “duck and punt” which leaves us only the Republican’s “stay and pay.”

It’s enough to make you want to “stir and strain.”

J.

June 21, 2006 at 10:12 PM in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

June 20, 2006

generation fret – part 2

Mere hours after I posted my entry yesterday covering Anya Kamenetz’s book, “Generation Debt,” she posted a response in her own blog. This can mean one of two things:

  1. Planet Moron has achieved a level of respectability and gravitas within the halls of established institutions of journalism that has elevated its status among influential east-coast intellectual circles.
  2. Someone likes to Google herself a lot.

Unfortunately, it appears Ms. Kamenetz pulled her entry after only a few hours but not before Technorati logged it and saved the first paragraph. (Damn you digital age, damn you all to hell!)

I address her preserved remarks:

“Nice blog, Moron! (ha, ha, that never gets old.)”

Okay, I have to admit, I do like her style. 

“Thanks for giving me the chance to revisit some old numbers. According to the Census Bureau's Current Population Survey, the percentage of the US population aged 25-29 with a high school degree has increased not at all since the late 1970s,”

This is true, but only if you hold the chart upside down (which can not only result in data errors, but make the number “3” look like an “E” and you can imagine the havoc that can wreak on mathematical models). In fact, the US Census Bureau Data from 2003 (the most recent I could find on their site) leads off a discussion of this subject with, “The younger population is more educated than the older population,” and titled a press release heralding the results of the survey, “High School Graduation Rates Reach All-Time High.”

Of course, this is all open to interpretation, by which I mean your interpretation of the terms “more,” “all-time,” and “high.”

“…while the percentage with a bachelor's degree has increased 3 points.”

More like 10, but why quibble over orders of magnitude?

“Furthermore, 28.4% of people aged 25-29 have a bachelor's degree compared with 29.9% of 45-49 year olds and 31.1% of 50-54 year olds ...” 

This got us thinking. What else do older people have more of than younger people? 

  • Moles 
  • Body hair 
  • Memories of the past 
  • Number of years lived 
  • Times people have said “good morning” to them.

There must be some connection between age and having more of certain things, but what could it be, what could it be

At around the same time, Ms. Kamenetz also posted an entry over at The Huffington Post in which she takes on Neal McCluskey of the CATO Institute for stating that, "Between 1994-95 and 2004-05 inflation-adjusted grant aid per student from both federal and other sources ballooned 51 percent, from $2,965 to $4,479, and overall aid rose 61 percent, from $6,261 to $10,119.

In her “take-no-prisoners” style, Ms. Kamenetz goes right for the jugular by noting that Mr. McCluskey’s claim is “a true fact.” 

(So, when Ms. Kamenetz stated in her book that there has been a “decline in public investment in education at every level” she probably meant every other level. Just a typo, we’re sure.) 

But Ms. Kamenetz does not stop there. She points out that even though overall aid has increased, two components of the aid, Pell Grants and aid from individual states, are down.

(That reminds me, I am really ticked off at my boss. While my overall pay has gone up, I’m not getting as many tens as I used to. It’s mostly fives and twenties now. Sure, I suppose I could make change but still, I really liked those tens.)

Ms. Kamenetz’s real complaint is that too much aid is coming in the form of loans rather than outright grants. This is truly a scandal. After all, what are these graduates supposed to do, dip into the average $13,800 that they make in annual after-tax earnings over and above what those with only a high school diploma make? What kind of crazy social policy holds that people who reap large financial rewards from public funds should have to pay those funds back to the public over time and at artificially low interest rates?

But then, the biggest strain being placed on the public funding of education isn’t a decline in dollars being committed (those are up, in total, and by every measure) but the rapid increase in student enrollment, up over 14% in the past five years.

More students. More funding. More education.

What we really need is more crises like this one.

J.

June 20, 2006 at 03:02 PM in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

June 19, 2006

Generation Fret

Enterprising journalist Anya Kamenetz has spent a great deal of time looking into the problems many young people are having these days in navigating our modern economy and the difficulties they face in a highly competitive job market. In her book, Generation Debt: Why Now Is A Terrible Time To Be Young, she reaches a startling conclusion:

It’s somebody else’s fault.

In her book she cites as one of the sources of the problem the fact that we have experienced a “decline in public investment in education at every level.”

Sure, if you look at state and local data, you’ll find that spending has increased steadily over the years and is up nearly 100% since 1995 alone.

But then, the truly dark side of our decline in public investment in education is revealed when you look at U.S. Department of Education outlays which, well, okay, those have more than doubled in ten years.

Hold it, we’ve got it. Let’s not look only at the Department of Education, but at total federal funds budgeted for education and related programs. That will surely expose the… wait, those doubled too.

How about we look at secondary education as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), just to get a relative measure and… oh, crap, those are also up, as is per-capita spending in every category.

Okay, so, other than federal, state, and local spending, measured in terms of total dollars, as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product, and on a per-capita basis, we are all party to a scandalous decline in investment in education. Somewhere. Probably.

And where has this woefully pitiful increase in spending on education left us? Kamenetz writes, “young people today are actually less educated than their parents.”

Now, sure, there are those pedantic naysayers out there who will insist on applying an overly strict interpretation of the data and conclude that a number that is higher than another is considered to represent “more” of something. These people will then claim that based on this slavish devotion to math, the percentage of people completing high school (not to mention college) has been rising steadily over the past ten years. And the past 30 years. And 100 years.

But then, Kamenetz's book is about more than just hard numbers, it’s about personal tales that illustrate the larger plight of young people in general such as the ones she highlights in her Village Voice column. There is, for example, “Brigette” who is struggling to get by on food stamps in Brooklyn, NY. Yes, she has a Bachelor of Arts degree in Film, but that is no longer considered the easy ticket to the middle class and its station wagon and white picket fence it once was. Maybe our parents' generation could find secure work in the once-lucrative and dependable “experimental film” industry as Brigette is trying to do, but sadly those days are long gone.

So, as you can see, it truly is a terrible time to be young.

Being young and also writing about how terrible it is?

Not so much.

J.

June 19, 2006 at 03:09 PM in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

June 17, 2006

always low standards for research. always.

The Economic Policy Institute (EPI) released a study this week that sent economists scrambling to reexamine long-held assumptions regarding the fundamental workings of our economy.

In the study, the EPI found that if Wal-Mart paid its workers more, the company would make less money.

We found it hard to believe too thinking perhaps it was merely an optical illusion or maybe just a Sudoku puzzle gone horribly wrong, but we’ve run the numbers several times ourselves making use of such complex mathematical concepts as subtraction (thanks for making me stick it out in the first grade, dad, instead of abandoning my education for a career in finger painting and "seeing how far you have to drop a watch to make it break") and sure enough, if you increase costs, profits go down. It’s just uncanny.

EPI has long believed that Wal-Mart employees should be paid more. Under current practice, Wal-Mart must attract workers in a competitive marketplace with a combination of wages, benefits, schedules, working conditions and a host of other factors that are attractive enough to prospective employees that they choose to work there rather than pursue other opportunities. There is a word for this:

Exploitation. 

How can you tell when you are being exploited? It’s really quite easy. Just ask yourself one simple question: “Do I have a PhD in economics? If the answer is no, you are being exploited. Please proceed directly to the nearest university for assistance. (If classes are out, check the Saab dealerships.)

Josh Bivens, one of the authors of the study, is one such PhD (although he got his doctorate at the New School for Social Research which, well, let’s just say it falls somewhere between receiving a degree from the University of Chicago and being mailed a certificate of completion from Joe Kubert’s World of Cartooning). He wrote in the report that Wal-Mart could provide more pay to workers and, at about 2.9%, still report 50% higher profit margins than Costco, one of its competitors, and so concluded that the increased wages would in no way “negate Wal-Mart's competitive edge.”

Well, with one possible exception: When compared to the 3.4% average profit margin of the entire discount/variety store industry sector not to mention the much larger Target Corp’s 4.6%. (It was probably just a “clerical error.”)

EPI is of course a “nonpartisan think tank.” They ensure they remain nonpartisan by choosing members for their board of directors from all walks of life, from the president of the American Federation of Teachers, to the president of the United Auto Workers, to the president of the Service Employees International Union all the way to the president of the International Association of Machinists just to make sure that “all voices are heard.”

So, should you ever find yourself looking for a job check out EPI. And even though they say they offer a “competitive salary” be sure to ask for more than that anyway.

You know, just to “better reflect the public interest.”

J.

June 17, 2006 at 11:30 AM in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack