Posts tagged ‘AP’

SAT Variation by Income: The Test Prep Fig Leaf

I was not at all surprised to see that average SAT scores varied strongly by income bracket.  What has surprised me is how quickly everyone has grabbed for the explanation that "its all due to test prep."  It strikes me that the test prep explanation is a sham, meant to try to hide the real problem.

First, Alex Tabarrok says that most of the research out there is that test prep explains at most 20% of the variation by income, and probably less.  This fits my experience with test prep.  I have always felt that 90% of the advantage of test prep was just taking a few practice tests so when the actual test days come, the kids are comfortable they understand how each section of the test works and are not thrown by the types of problems they will face.  My feeling is that most of what you can learn in fancy test prep courses is in those books they sell for about $40.  We sent our kids to a course that cost a lot more than $40, but frankly I did not do it because I thought they would get any special knowledge they could not get in the book, but because I was outsourcing the effort to get them to do the work.  Seriously, I think a parent with $40 and the willingness to make sure their kids actually goes through the book would get most of the benefit.

Which raises the question of whether test prep is correlated to income because of its cost, or whether it is correlated to income because high income folks are more likely to place value on their kids testing well and make them do the prep work.  We will come back to this in a minute.

So if its not test prep, what does drive the difference?  I don't know, because I have not studied the problem.  But I can speak for our family.  My kids do well on SAT-type tests because they go to a tough rigorous private school.  Let's take one example.  When my daughter was a sophomore in high school, she scored a perfect 80 (equivalent of the SAT 800) on the writing and grammar section of the PSAT.  Now, my daughter is smart but no Ivy-bound savant.  She took no prep course.  My daughter aced the PSAT grammar because her freshman teacher drove those kids hard on grammar.  I am talking about a pace and workload and set of expectations that kids in our junior high school start talking about and dreading two years before they even get to the class, and this at a school already known for a tough work load.

This teacher is legendarily fabulous, so obviously that is hard to replicate everywhere.  But she is fabulous because my kids actually came away excited about Homer and other classics.  This is what I pay private-school money for.  But what she did in grammar, what got my daughter her perfect score, could be emulated by about any competent teacher...theoretically.  But in fact it can't happen because such an approach could never survive in a public school.  The work expectations are way too high -- parents and students would revolt.  It only works for those who self-select.

Well, it only works today for those who self-select and can afford a private school.  Unfortunately, we have an education system where everyone is forced to pay tuition to what is at-best a teach-to-the-mean school.  If one wants more, they have to be wealthy enough to pay tuition to a second school.  Which is why school choice makes so much sense.  Why should only the wealthy  have the ability to self-select into more intensive programs?  BUt this is a conclusion most the education establishment is desperate for people not to reach.  Thus, the hand-waving over test prep.

Of course, there are a million other wealth, genetic, and parental effects that come into this equation.  For example, my kids read for fun, probably in large part because my wife and I read for fun.  How many kids read 10+ books outside of school each year?  They do this not because my kids are awesomer than other kids, but simply because that was the expectation they grew up with, that we spend free time reading books.   Other families might spend their free time, say, doing home improvement projects such that their kids all grow up great woodworkers.  I am not sure one set of activities is superior to another, but my kids end up testing well.  Of course, I am not sure they can use a screwdriver.  Seriously, over Christmas break I asked my 20-year-old son to pass me the Phillips head screwdriver and he had no idea which one that was.

I was thinking about the question above of how one separates out parental expectations from all the other effects (like parental DNA and income and quality of schools, etc.)  I interview high schoolers for Princeton admissions, so I have come to learn that some public high schools have advanced programs, to allow kids some self-selection into a more rigorous program within the context of public schools (this is usually either an AP program, an honors program, or an IB program).  By the way, the existence of these programs at public schools correlates pretty highly with the average income of that school's district.

Here would be an interesting study:  Take high schools with some sort of honors program option.  We want to look at the income demographics of the kids who chose the honors program vs. those who choose the standard program.  We would therefore want to look only at high schools that take all comers into the honors program -- if they have some sort of admissions requirement, then this would screw up our study because we want to test solely for how demographics affect the choice to pursue a more rigorous, college-oriented program.  I would love to see the results, but my hypothesis is that test-prep is a proxy for the same thing -- less about income per se and more about parental expectations.

 

Wow, Did I Call This or What? Republicans Consider a Narrow Bill to Fund Parks Only

In several recent posts, I have found humor in the fact that no one seems to be able to identify any services they will miss in the partial government shutdown except parks (here and here).  I joked that

I would love to see the government shutdown rules modified to add National Parks to the critical assets that remain open in a shutdown, since this seems the only thing anyone cares about.  Then it would be fascinating to see how the downside of the shutdown would be spun.  I can see the headlines now.   "AP:  Millions of TPS reports go unfiled".

Wow, suddenly I am a political prognosticator.  

Moments ago Reuters and other wire services report, citing Republican Peter King, that House Republicans plan to pass three funding bills today to reopen Federal Parks, veteran programs and fund for the District of Columbia.

Apparently it is going nowhere.  By the way, I have spent most of the day on the phone with supposedly-furloughed employees discussing the parks we operate, which look like they are going to stay open.

Seriously, Media Cannot Find Cost to Closure Beyond Parks

I wrote earlier that the only downside the AP could find with the looming shutdown were National Park closures.  I am not exaggerating.  It is the only thing they have.  Here is the CNN site about 45 minutes before midnight.  I added the red arrow

cnn-screen

 

As I wrote earlier, the only other function the 800,000 to-be-furloughed government employees seem to have is drawing a paycheck. Clicking on the article above the parks article entitled "multibillion$$ hit", we find absolutely no hint that these employees do anything of economic value or that their lost work will hurt the economy.   The only thing that they apparently usefully do is spend tax money

A government shutdown could cost the still-struggling U.S. economy roughly $1 billion a week in pay lost by furloughed federal workers. And that's only the tip of the iceberg....

The total economic impact is likely to be at least 10 times greater than the simple calculation of wages lost by federal workers, said Brian Kessler, economist with Moody's Analytics. His firm estimates that a three to four week shutdown will cost the economy about $55 billion.

Really?  There is a 10x Keynesian multiplier on these people's paychecks?   I would sure love to see what kinds of stuff they spend money on because I have never heard of a number that absurdly high.

What else can they think of to worry about beyond these lost paychecks?  Only one other specific is mentioned in the article.  Get ready for it -- the national parks will close!

Many federal contractors will also have to cut back on staffing if they don't get the business they normally do from the government. There's also a large variety of businesses that depend on the government to conduct their normal operations -- tourism businessesthat depend on national parks staying open, for example.

So there you have it.  The government shutdown does two things:  It closes the national parks and lays off 800,000 people who apparently do no valuable work (other than keep parks open!) but who have the highest Keynesian multipliers on their spending of any individuals in the nation.

A Third of Government is Shutting Down and The Only Lost Function Anyone Can Name is Parks

First, you did not read the title wrong.  A government shutdown means only about a third of the government actually shuts down.  But the more amazing thing is that given multiple opportunities to name what we would lose if this one third goes away, all anyone can name is parks.  This is from a Q&A by the Associated Press via Zero Hedge, which says we would lose parks and have some delays in new disability applications and, uh, we would lose parks.

About one-third of the government will shut down. About 800,000 of about 2.1 million federal employees will be sent home without pay. National parks will close.

NASA will continue to keep workers at Mission Control in Houston and elsewhere to support the International Space station, where two Americans and four other people live. Aside from that only about 3 percent of NASA's 18,000 workers will keep working.

The military and other agencies involving safety and security would continue to function. These include air traffic controllers, border patrol and law enforcement officers. Social Security, Medicare and veterans' benefits payments would continue, but there could be delays in processing new disability applications.

A partial shutdown that lasts no more than a few days wouldn't likely nick the economy much. But if the shutdown were to persist for two weeks or more, the economy would likely begin to slow, economists say.

Extended closures of national parks would hurt hotels, restaurants and other tourism-related businesses. Delays in processing visas for overseas visitors could interrupt trade. And the one-third of the federal workforce that lost pay would cut back on spending, thereby slowing growth.

So there you have it -- we lay off 800,000 government workers and the only two losses the AP can come up with is that national parks will close and those 800,000 people will have less to spend.    Since the NPS employs about 22,000 people, this means that the other 778,000 have a contribution to the economy that consists mainly of drawing and then spending a salary?

I would love to see the government shutdown rules modified to add National Parks to the critical assets that remain open in a shutdown, since this seems the only thing anyone cares about.  Then it would be fascinating to see how the downside of the shutdown would be spun.  I can see the headlines now.   "AP:  Millions of TPS reports go unfiled".

Update:  My company runs parks under concession contract in the National Forest and for other government agencies.  In all previous shutdowns, we have remained open, since we pay money into the government budget rather than draw money out, and since the parks we operate employ no government workers.  This time, though, we are starting to get notices we have to shut down too.  This may be an attempt by the administration to artificially make the shutdown worse than it needs to be.  I will update you as I learn more.

Spying on the Press

Well, the silver lining of this story is that the press, who until now have generally yawned at libertarian concerns about warrantless searches and national security letters, particularly since that power has been held by a Democrat rather than a Republican, will now likely go nuts.

You have probably seen it by now, but here is the basic story

The Justice Department secretly obtained two months of telephone records of reporters and editors for The Associated Press in what the news cooperative's top executive called a "massive and unprecedented intrusion" into how news organizations gather the news.

The records obtained by the Justice Department listed incoming and outgoing calls, and the duration of each call, for the work and personal phone numbers of individual reporters, general AP office numbers in New York, Washington and Hartford, Conn., and the main number for AP reporters in the House of Representatives press gallery, according to attorneys for the AP.

In all, the government seized those records for more than 20 separate telephone lines assigned to AP and its journalists in April and May of 2012. The exact number of journalists who used the phone lines during that period is unknown but more than 100 journalists work in the offices whose phone records were targeted on a wide array of stories about government and other matters.

The AP believes this is an investigation into sources of a story on May 7, 2012 about a foiled terror attack.  This bit was interesting to me for two reasons:

The May 7, 2012, AP story that disclosed details of the CIA operation in Yemen to stop an airliner bomb plot occurred around the one-year anniversary of the May 2, 2011, killing of Osama bin Laden.

The plot was significant because the White House had told the public it had "no credible information that terrorist organizations, including al-Qaida, are plotting attacks in the U.S. to coincide with the (May 2) anniversary of bin Laden's death."

The AP delayed reporting the story at the request of government officials who said it would jeopardize national security. Once government officials said those concerns were allayed, the AP disclosed the plot because officials said it no longer endangered national security. The Obama administration, however, continued to request that the story be held until the administration could make an official announcement.

First, it seems to fit in with the White House cover-up over Benghazi, in the sense that it is another example of the Administration trying to downplay, in fact hide, acts of organized terrorism.  I have criticized the Administration for throwing free speech under the bus in its Benghazi response, but I must say their reasons for doing so were never that clear to me.  This story seems to create a pattern of almost irrational White House sensitivity to any admission of terrorist threats to the US.

Second, note from the last sentence that the White House is bending over backwards to investigate the AP basically for stealing its thunder before a press conference.  Wow.  Well if that were suddenly illegal, just about everyone in DC would be in jail.

Update:  Some thoughts from Glenn Greenwald

how media reactions to civil liberties assaults are shaped almost entirely by who the victims are. For years, the Obama administration has been engaged in pervasive spying on American Muslim communities and dissident groups. It demanded a reform-free renewal of the Patriot Act and the Fisa Amendments Act of 2008, both of which codify immense powers of warrantless eavesdropping, including ones that can be used against journalists. It has prosecuted double the number of whistleblowers under espionage statutes as all previous administrations combined, threatened to criminalize WikiLeaks, and abused Bradley Manning to the point that a formal UN investigation denounced his treatment as "cruel and inhuman".

But, with a few noble exceptions, most major media outlets said little about any of this, except in those cases when they supported it. It took a direct and blatant attack on them for them to really get worked up, denounce these assaults, and acknowledge this administration's true character. That is redolent of how the general public reacted with rage over privacy invasions only when new TSA airport searches targeted not just Muslims but themselves: what they perceive as "regular Americans". Or how former Democratic Rep. Jane Harman -- once the most vocal defender of Bush's vast warrantless eavesdropping programs -- suddenly began sounding like a shrill and outraged privacy advocate once it was revealed that her own conversations with Aipac representatives were recorded by the government.

And People Say Libertarians Lack Empathy

People live every day with excruciating pain that is untreatable with current medications, either because the medication has nasty side effects or they have built a tolerance or both.  So I would have thought the prospect of a new medication to help these folks would be an occasion for good news.

But not according to Chris Hawley of the Associated Press.  I first saw this story in our local paper, and was just staggered at its tone.  The article begins this way:

Drug companies are working to develop a pure, more powerful version of the nation's second most-abused medicine, which has addiction experts worried that it could spur a new wave of abuse.

And it goes on and on in that vein, for paragraph after paragraph.  Through it all there is all kinds of over-wrought speculation, with nary a statistic or fact in sight.   This is not atypical of the tone:

"It's like the wild west," said Peter Jackson, co-founder of Advocates for the Reform of Prescription Opioids. "The whole supply-side system is set up to perpetuate this massive unloading of opioid narcotics on the American public."

or this gem:

Critics say they are troubled because of the dark side that has accompanied the boom in sales of narcotic painkillers: Murders, pharmacy robberies and millions of dollars lost by hospitals that must treat overdose victims.

Recognize that murders and robberies associated with narcotics are almost always due to their illegality, not their basic nature.  These are a function of prohibition, not the drug itself, which in fact is more likely to make users docile than amped up to commit crime.

It is not until paragraph 11 that the article actually acknowledges there might be some folks who benefit from this new medication.  And even this is a dry discussion of side effects by some doctors -- how about heart-rending quotes from pain sufferers?  Newspapers love to include these, except in articles on pain medications where I have yet to see one such quote.

But then the author quickly goes back to arguing that pharmaceutical companies are purposefully addicting patients as part of the business model

"You've got a person on your product for life, and a doctor's got a patient who's never going to miss an appointment, because if they did and they didn't get their prescription, they would feel very sick," said Andrew Kolodny, president of Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing. "It's a terrific business model, and that's what these companies want to get in on."

That's a pretty ugly way to portray this.  Couldn't you argue the same thing about, say, medications that suppress HIV?  What these opponents never discuss is that they are basically proposing to consign people who have chronic pain to life-long torture.   They are saying "better in pain than addicted."  Really?  I will take the addiction.  Hell, by the same logic I am addicted to water and air too.

The notion that we should force a person to live in lifelong pain because some other person makes choices we don't like regarding their own narcotic use is just awful.  Seriously, these are the same folks who say that libertarians have no empathy.

Postscript.  Only after her death have I really learned about the contributions of Siobhan Reynolds, who died the other day after years of fighting to bring the interests of pain sufferers into this debate.  Radley Balko has a memorial, but this AP article is about all you need to understand what she was fighting, and how easily the plight of pain sufferers is ignored in these discussions.

Say It Ain't So, Joe

Apparently, while Sheriff Arpaio was busy raiding businesses and zip-tieing everyone with brown skin and distracted by his attempts to arrest judges that handed down unfavorable decisions, there was actual violent crime happening in Maricopa County.  With the Sheriff busy with celebrities raiding homes suspected of cockfighting with tanks, minor stuff like rape got put on the back burner.  The story has just been discovered by the AP but it has been kicking around town for a while:

The Maricopa County Sheriff's Office failed to adequately investigate more than 400 sex-crime cases, including dozens in El Mirage, over a two-year period because of poor oversight and former Chief Deputy David Hendershott's desire to protect a key investigator from bad publicity, according to documents pertaining to a recent internal investigation released by the Sheriff's Office.

The errors led to interminable delays for victims of serious crimes who waited years for the attackers to be brought to justice, if they were ever caught.

More than 50 El Mirage sex-crime cases, most involving young children reportedly victimized by friends or family, went uninvestigated after police took an initial report. The lack of oversight was so widespread in El Mirage that it affected other cases: roughly 15 death investigations, some of them homicides with workable leads, were never presented to prosecutors, and dozens of robberies and auto-theft cases never led to arrests.

The East Valley Tribune actually had details on this story over three years ago, in a story that won a Pullitzer, but the Sheriff never bothered to do anything until the story hit the AP.

Employees were preparing to close the 99 Cent Discount Store in El Mirage on Aug. 20, 2006, when a teenage girl ran inside.

Agitated and refusing to leave, the 15-year-old girl told the store's manager that two men had just raped her in a ditch outside, a police report says.

Paramedics took the girl to Del E. Webb Hospital in Sun City West, where medical staff found physical evidence of sexual assault, according to deputy chief Bill Knight, head of the sheriff's central investigations, who researched the case.

At midnight, a detective from the MCSO's special victims unit arrived at the hospital to begin an investigation, the report says.

But the investigation never really began.

The MCSO closed the case a month later by designating it "exceptionally cleared," which is supposed to be applied to cases where a suspect is known and there's enough evidence to make an arrest but circumstances prevent an arrest. That designation allows the MCSO to count the case in the same reporting category as investigations that end in arrest.

But in this case, the detectives didn't have a suspect and appear to have done no work on the case.

I would love to see a reincarnation of "the Wire" focused on our Sheriff's department.  All the same corruptions in the show are on display every day here in Arizona.

Journalistic Ethics

This is an interesting story on the AP and journalistic ethics

The Associated Press purchased an advanced copy of the book. It is set for release on Nov. 15.

Let's start with the second paragraph.  It's a lie, pure and simple--and the papers that reprinted the stories know it.  Giffords didn't sell any "advanced copy" of the book.  The book is strictly embargoed so that she can control the timing of the media stories that surround it.  Bookstores, however, have copies locked up in storage rooms so the copies can all be put on the shelves at the same time.  Someone stole one of those copies...or perhaps stole a proof text from the publisher...and then sold it to the Associated Press.

Rather than admit that they illegally purchased and then printed excerpts from a stolen copy, the Associated Press lied and said that they "purchased an advanced copy of the book."  That would be a big story by itself, but the newspapers that have contracts with the AP didn't want to blow a good story, so that meekly reprinted the lie.

What's worse is that the AP not only stole Giffords' book and disrupted the timing of her planned roll out...they botched the story and made Giffords issue a denial. ...

...faced with an ambiguous quote in a stolen book and no chance to verify it, the AP did just what they teach you in the ethics classes in Journalism school...they ran with the most tantalizing, headline grabbing interpretation and then made Gabby deny it.  Nice.

Scenes From My Son Studying For His AP Exams

Scene 1, History AP:  My son asked me how WWII ended the Depression.  I said that the draft soaked up a lot of excess workers, which reduced unemployment, and British buying for the war helped our economy but that the war generally destroyed rather than created wealth.  He said, "Dad, you can't tell it to me that way.  The guy grading the AP is going to be a Keynesian."  So we talked multipliers and aggregate demand.

Scene 2, Spanish AP:  My son hands me a list of Spanish words he is trying to learn.  They are the Spanish words for things like "social justice,"  "poverty", "exploitation", etc.  I told him it was an odd selection of words.  He said that nearly every Spanish essay in every Spanish textbook he had ever had were about revolution and stopping the rich from exploiting the poor and fighting global warming.  So he wanted to be prepared for a similar topic on the AP.    After the test, I remembered this conversation and asked him what the essay was.  He said the topic was "show why the government of poor countries should give free bicycles to the poor to fight global warming."

Rapid Obsolescence

My son is taking the Spanish AP exam tomorrow and told me on Sunday he needed a cassette tape recorder for the oral part of the exam -- not one of the mini dictation ones but the kind of cassettes you used to use in your car.

Talk about a ubiquitous technology that has all but disappeared in 10 years!  After a lot of looking, thank God for Amazon same day home delivery, I found one they could deliver in time today  (the item gets good reviews, though the most recent review was in 2002!)

Update: Per the comments, fortunately they are providing the tape.

What Kind of Freaking Lawyer is This Lady?

Everyone seems to know who Gloria Allred is, though I have never heard of her.  Apparently she is opposed to Meg Whitman getting elected (I am not even sure - is Whitman running for Senator or Governor?).  But her approach is weird.  She attacks Whitman for not identifying and firing an illegal immigrant fast enough.  There is no way for this accusation to be true given the timeline Allred outlines unless Ms. Whitman's illegal immigrant maid at some point farbricated or falsified documents.  In specific, Allred is claiming Whitman did not act fast enough when the Feds sent her a letter saying there was a problem with her maid's social security number.  Implicit in all this is that Whitman's maid must have fabricated documentation and as a minimum provided a false or stolen social security number.

OK, all normal team pepsi - team coke political BS, except for this:  Whitman's maid is Allred's legal client.  Allred, in order to publicly score points on Whitman, is hanging her own client out to dry by as much as admitting her client engaged in identity theft.  The maid's lawyer is complaining that her client was not fired fast enough.  Unbelievable.  Is this the true state of legal ethics today?  And not a mention of this obvious ethical issue in the AP story.

Headline of the Day

A reader sent this to me:

Snow shuts down federal government, life goes on

WASHINGTON (AP) - If snow keeps 230,000 government employees home for the better part of a week, will anyone notice?

With at least another foot of snow headed for Washington, Philadelphia and New York, we're about to find out. The federal government in the nation's capital has largely been shut down since Friday afternoon, when a storm began dumping up to 3 feet of snow in some parts of the region. Offices were remaining closed at least through Wednesday.

Why Is the Media So Much Smarter About Legislation After it is Passed

I have decided there is something that is very predictable about the media:  they usually are very sympathetic to legislation expanding government powers or spending when the legislation is being discussed in Congress.  Then, after the legislation is passed, and there is nothing that can be done to get rid of it, the media gets really insightful all of a sudden, running thoughtful pieces about the hidden problems and unintended consequences of the legislation.  I remember that they did this with the ethanol mandates, when I summarized:

All this stuff was known long before Congress voted for the most recent ethanol mandates.  Why is it that the media, who cheerled such mandates for years, is able to apply any institutional skepticism only after the mandates have become law?

And now we are seeing it with the stimulus bill:

A federal spending surge of more than $20 billion for roads and bridges in President Barack Obama's first stimulus has had no effect on local unemployment rates, raising questions about his argument for billions more to address an "urgent need to accelerate job growth."An Associated Press analysis of stimulus spending found that it didn't matter if a lot of money was spent on highways or none at all: Local unemployment rates rose and fell regardless. And the stimulus spending only barely helped the beleaguered construction industry, the analysis showed.

With the nation's unemployment rate at 10 percent and expected to rise, Obama wants a second stimulus bill from Congress including billions of additional dollars for roads and bridges "” projects the president says are "at the heart of our effort to accelerate job growth."...

Even within the construction industry, which stood to benefit most from transportation money, the AP's analysis found there was nearly no connection between stimulus money and the number of construction workers hired or fired since Congress passed the recovery program. The effect was so small, one economist compared it to trying to move the Empire State Building by pushing against it.

Well, better late than never.  And actually moderately timely in this case because we are considering a second stimulus bill.  It even includes this insight which is almost NEVER raised in stimulus-related discussions:

"As a policy tool for creating jobs, this doesn't seem to have much bite," said Emory University economist Thomas Smith, who supported the stimulus and reviewed AP's analysis. "In terms of creating jobs, it doesn't seem like it's created very many. It may well be employing lots of people but those two things are very different."

Exactly.  Stealing $10 million from Peter so Paul can hire three more people doesn't net increase jobs until you understand what Peter would have done with the money.  One has to argue that the market did a poor job in allocating capital to Peter and that the government will employ this capital more productively (hah!)

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood defended the administration's recovery program Monday, writing on his blog that "DOT-administered stimulus spending is the only thing propping up the transportation construction industry."

Well, as the article goes on to say, this turns out not to be the case.  But even if it were true, what industries were gutted by having their capital taken away so that one government-favored industry could be stimulated.

By the way, never underestimate the power of politicians to use every tool up to and including malfeasance to get more money and power for themselves (because that is exactly what the stimulus bills are -- a substitution of the markets with Congress in the capital allocation process).

It is also becoming more difficult to obtain an accurate count of stimulus jobs. Those who receive stimulus money can now credit jobs to the program even if they were never in jeopardy of being lost, according to new rules outlined by the White House's Office of Management and Budget.

The new rules, reported Monday by the Internet site ProPublica, allow any job paid for with stimulus money to count as a position saved or created.

Good Job With Those Layers Of Editing

From the AP today, whose editors obviously all failed chemistry

apco

Must be edited by Mr. Mom -- CO, CO2, whatever it takes.

Dumbest Thing I Have Read Today

From the department of wishful thinking comes this:

The worst oil shock since the 1970s has put a permanent mark on the
American way of life that even a drop in oil's price below $100 a
barrel won't erase.

Public transportation is in. Hummers are out. Frugality is in. Wastefulness is out....

As prices come falling back to earth, Americans aren't expected to
drop their newfound frugality. The jarring reality of $4-a-gallon
gasoline stirred up an unprecedented level of consumer angst that
experts say will keep people from reverting to extravagant energy use
for years to come - if ever again.

High gas prices prompted calls to lower speed limits to 55 mph in some states and touched off a seemingly endless wave of "Go Green" campaigns.

"I see a permanent shift," said Kit Yarrow, a consumer psychologist
at San Francisco's Golden Gate University who has studied how high oil
prices have affected Americans' buying behavior. "Historically, when
gas prices come down, people use more. But we've learned a lot of new
things during this period and it will be hard to go back to our
gas-guzzling ways."

Really?  I could have sworn people said that in 1972 and again in 1978.  But the SUV and the Hummer were not even invented until after these oil shocks.  He mentions the 55 mph speed limit, but we once had a national speed limit at 55 in the 1970s and we chucked it.  What possible evidence does this guy have, particularly since the recent shock was not nearly as bad as 1972 or 1978.  In fact, you can see that here in this graph of gas price pain:

Gas_prices_2

And, we have not seen the absolute shortages and gas lines we saw in the 1970s.  Usually these weird statements like this published by the AP are the start of some kind of broader political campaign.  The only thing I can guess is that this is the front end of some leftish/Obama polical message that we need to keep slamming on government conservation directives and alt-energy subsidies even as prices fall.

Key Fact Missing

The AP does a great job in this story reporting absolutely everything but the most important fact:

The Supreme Court has refused to offer help to Hurricane Katrina
victims who want their insurance companies to pay for flood damage to
their homes and businesses.

Wow, those insurance companies suck, and they have the Supreme Court in their pocket.  The only teeny-tiny fact missing is that the people suing had policies that very explicitly did not cover flood damage.    They sortof acknowledge this but say the insurance companies should pay anyway, because the flood was caused by a broken levee and that somehow is not really the same kind of flood, sort of.  Or whatever. 

Ethanol and Deforestation

From an AP report:

The widespread use of ethanol from corn could result in nearly twice the greenhouse gas emissions
as the gasoline it would replace because of expected land-use changes,
researchers concluded Thursday. The study challenges the rush to
biofuels as a response to global warming.

The researchers said that past studies showing the benefits of ethanol in combating climate change
have not taken into account almost certain changes in land use
worldwide if ethanol from corn "” and in the future from other
feedstocks such as switchgrass "” become a prized commodity.

"Using good cropland to expand biofuels will probably exacerbate
global warming," concludes the study published in Science magazine.

Promoters of biofuels often hold up Brazil as an example of a model ethanol mandate.  Forget for a moment that in fact ethanol still makes up only a small percentage of the transportation fuel market in Brazil.  Think of all those satellite photos we used to see of farmers burning the Amazon to expand cropland:

1016nasa

I know that correlation is not equal to causation, but the fact is that this land clearing, which has always one on, really accelerated after the Brazilian ethanol mandates and subsidies.  My prediction is that careful academic work in the coming years will pin the blame for a lot of the destruction of the Amazon on ethanol.

Moonbattery has a fitting conclusion:

The study's findings aren't likely to change government policy, since
ethanol mandates are a political boondoggle that only dupes expect to
have any effect on the climate. If the first caucuses were held in
Hawaii, they'd be forcing us to run our cars on macadamia nuts instead
of corn.

People Without a Country

I have written a number of times about the growing ranks of RVers who have completely abandoned a permanent address and spend their entire life on the road.  I know these folks because I hire about 400 of them every summer to run our campgrounds and recreational facilities.  It is a fascinating subculture, that in some ways mirrors the habits of a great nomadic tribe that roams all over the country but comes together in a few camps to meet and interact in the winter (e.g. Colorado River between Yuma and Quartzite).  The numbers are large:

The Census says more than 105,000 Americans live full-time in RVs,
boats or vans, though one RV group says the number is more like half a
million. Because of their nomadic ways, pinning down their number with
any certainty is difficult.

The AP has an article about how difficult it is becoming for some of these folks to vote, since a number of states are beginning to require a permanent physical address  (most of these folks have PO Boxes run by companies that forward their mail).

A total of 286 people who live full-time in their recreational vehicles
were dropped from the voter rolls in one Tennessee county over the past
two years because they did not have a genuine home address, only a
mailbox. That has left them unable to vote in national or local
elections....

But some elections officials say that voters should have a real
connection to the place where they are casting ballots, and that RVers
are registering in certain states simply to avoid taxes. Some of them
rarely, if ever, set foot in those states.

I guess they need a real connection to their state, kind of like, say, Hillary Clinton had to New York when she ran for the Senate there.  I know that the immediate reaction from many of you may be that this is
somehow weird and, being weird, it is OK to lock them out of voting.
But I can attest these folks are all quite normal people who are
seduced by the ability to live anywhere they want, on the spur of the
moment, and who revel in being able to simplify their life enough to
fit all their worldly goods into an RV and hit the road.

This part is total BS:

David Ellis, the former Bradley County Election Commission director who
started removing full-time RVers, said they have no connection to the
area and are simply "dodging their responsibility to pay their fair
share" of taxes.

RVers pay taxes in the states in which they work, not in their home state  (just like everyone else, by the way).  RVers, who rent their living site, pay the same property taxes (ie zero) that any other renter pays.

For the record, none of my folks have reported a problem.  However, these problems are just going to get worse.  Crackdowns both on illegal immigration and hypothesized terrorism are making more difficult to complete any number of basic tasks, like banking, without a permanent physical address.

Your Government at Work

Captardj10503071912fema_trailer_sale_ard

20,000 FEMA trailers panic-purchased after Katrina, now (maybe) up for sale.  Via AP

The Official End of Sanity

From Q and O:

CARMEL, N.Y. (AP) - It was quite a New Year's Eve at the home of
Richard Berger in Carmel - in Putnam County. Someone in the house broke
a rectal thermometer and the family called 911 around 10:30 to report
the small mercury spill.

Several dozen volunteers [the headline says 100] from the Carmel Fire Department responded to the house on Brookview Drive.

Fire Chief Darryl Johnson says mercury is a hazardous material that can cause stomach problems if inhaled.

Men wearing protective gear used wet sponges to clean up the puddle.

It was packaged and brought to the Carmel firehouse where the county health department will dispose of it today.

The Berger family was not hurt.

I remember breaking a few thermometers when I was a kid.  You took a piece of paper, creased it into a cup shape, and used the edge to pick up the little blobs without touching them.  I still seem to be alive today.  I am sure those little blobs are buried deep in some landfill now, a ticking time bomb for future generations.  And people wonder why gas prices are so high.  A country this panicky over a fraction of a gram of mercury will never let a new refinery get constructed.

Rates are Too High -- So Lets Limit Competition

Apparently, some of our local politicians in the Phoenix area are upset about payday loan companies.  According the an AP report in the AZ Republic:

The stores cater to customers who live paycheck to paycheck who need
quick access to a few hundred dollars for rent, car repairs or just to
make ends meet. Banks traditionally don't make those type of small,
short-term loans.

So these stores provide loans to people no one else will touch.  And customers use their services of their own free will.  So what is the problem?  Well, not surprisingly, the rates on these loans are high, and the default terms tend to be drastic.  "Activists" think that people are making the wrong decision using these services, and, to be fair, I would certainly advise anyone who asked to try to find another alternative.  But what do my preferences matter?  Its easy for me to say in my middle-upper class hubris that such services don't make sense, but I have a steady job and ready access to bank loans.  In a free society, both I and those activists are free to convince people to not use these services, but its wrong to artificially limit people's choices out of some elitist sense that we can make decisions for other people better than they can for themselves.

Besides, lets think about the alternative.  These folks are not going to get bank loans -- in fact many customers may be illegal aliens who are, post 9/11, effectively barred from the banking system.  The only other alternative before these payday loan companies were loan sharks, whose interest is even higher and whose penalty for non-payment even more dire. This reminds me of the people who decry Nike "sweatshop" jobs in poor countries.  "Activists" similarly decry these jobs as if the alternative is $25 an hour office work, when in fact the alternative is actually grinding subsistence agricultural work for half the pay.  You may not like the payday loan companies, but they are replacing a much worse system.

But the really funny thing about this article is their proposed solution to the problem of rates for these payday loan services being too high.  Their solution?  Limit competition!  (emphasis added)

Arizona now has more than 600 payday loan stores - with 165 in the [Phoenix suburb] Mesa area alone - and some residents are upset about it.

"People are sick of it in west Mesa," said Dave Richins, a neighborhood
activist and executive director of the West Mesa Community Development
Corporation.

Richins and other critics claim the stores exploit customers with high interest rates.

[Phoenix suburb] Peoria blocks the shops from opening within 1,000 feet of a competing
store. Phoenix and Tucson are looking to that city's restrictions as a
model for new rules in their communities, with action possible by early
next year.

Gee, I bet that will help keep rates down -- make sure there are no competitors nearby!  Lets make sure it is as hard as possible to compare rates, particularly since the customer base is one that can't afford the gas, or doesn't even have a car, to drive all over town shopping.  I wonder why no one is suggesting the same thing for gas stations to keep gas prices down, lol.

Oh Jeez, Not This Again

Via the AP wire:

The
House on Wednesday approved a constitutional amendment that would give
Congress the power to ban desecration of the American flag, a measure
that for the first time stands a chance of passing the Senate as well.

By a
286-130 vote - eight more than needed - House members approved the
amendment after a debate over whether such a ban would uphold or run
afoul of the Constitution's free-speech protections.

Approval
of two-thirds of the lawmakers present was required to send the bill on
to the Senate, where activists on both sides say it stands the best
chance of passage in years. If the amendment is approved in that
chamber by a two-thirds vote, it would then move to the states for
ratification.

Why is it there is so much obsession of late with freakin icons?  The Left gets bent out of shape that some books were mishandled in Cuba and the Right is back on its no flag-burning kick.  The US Flag is a piece of cloth, that has meaning to the extent that one respects what it stands for.  Legislating against burning flags will do nothing to increase respect for what the flag stands for, and in reality helps undermine those values.  No one who loves the US thinks less of our country when they see someone burning flag -- they think less of the flag-burners.

A hundred years ago, the Constitution was modified to allow income taxes, an amendment that was sold to the public as but a small, small exception to constitutional protections.  We see now what has been driven since through this small crack.  Lets not do the same with free speech - we cannot create an exception to our strong Constitutional protections of free speech.

Fascinating Data on Earnings by Race (maybe)

Michelle Malkin pointed out this AP story:

Census Bureau findings show black and Asian women with bachelor's
degrees earn slightly more than similarly educated white women, and
white men with four-year degrees make more than anyone else.

According to the data, a white woman with a bachelor's degree typically
earned nearly $38,000 in 2003, compared with nearly $44,000 for a
college-educated Asian woman and $41,000 for a college-educated black
woman.

If true, this is really good news.  Unfortunately, as I have said in the past, if journalists had been any good at math and science in school, they probably wouldn't have been journalism majors.  Never, ever trust stats at first blush in the newspaper.  My guess is that the pool of people in these stats is "all women" as opposed to "women currently in the workforce".  This would mean that stay-at-home moms would average in as "0", distorting any conclusions one might draw about actual salaries since the prevalence of stay at home moms may vary from race to race.   However, this is still good news, especially given the increase in black women going to college.

AP Defends Photo as "Fake but Accurate"

Release from the Associated Press:

Photo of Kidnapped Soldier Fake, But Accurate

London:  We are working hard to authenticate the photograph of the American Soldier we reported kidnapped by Islamic terrorists freedom fighters.  A number of extremist right-wing reactionary bloggers have accused the AP of being duped by a photo of an action figure propped against a cement block.  Bloggers point to differences in clothing vs. standard US combat gear as well as a similarity in appearance to the "Cody" action figure.

The AP stands by its story.  We have engaged a world famous collector of 1970's Barbie dolls that we met in an eBay chat room who has assured us that no action figure clothing ever made could possibly match what is shown in the photo.  We are meeting with our expert next month at the Houston rodeo to review his findings.

Even if the photo is eventually determined to be fake, we still believe it is an accurate representation of our need to find a negative story in Iraq to counterbalance the positive press President Bush has gotten after the recent elections. 

And, in a related story... well, not really related, except it is also about Iraq... OK, actually its related only because I am too lazy to start a new post:

UN officials reacted strongly to the attacks on its recent blogads taking credit for the recent Iraqi election.  Critics called the ads rank hypocrisy, given the fact that the UN funneled over $20 billion of food money to Saddam, opposed the overthrow of Saddam, and cut-and-run from helping to rebuild Iraq at the first sign of violence.  The UN said that the ads were perfectly consistent with its policy, since it "was against elections before it was for them."

Interviews of Iraqi citizens on the street showed strong support for the UN's lack of support.  Said one Iraqi who asked to remain anonymous, "given the UN peacekeepers terrible performance in Kosovo and their serial rape and white slavery in the Congo and their sanctioning of genocide in the Sudan, we haven't really missed them."

Great Moments in Media Fact Checking

Via Wizbang, who helped point the finger at the CBS forged memos, comes this story about an AP Report of a American service man supposedly held hostage:

Iraqi militants claimed in a Web statement Tuesday to have taken an American soldier hostage and threatened to behead him in 72 hours unless the Americans release Iraqi prisoners.

The posting, on a Web site that frequently carried militants' statements, included a photo of what appeared to be an American soldier in desert fatigues seated with his hands tied behind his back.

A gun barrel was pointed at his head, and he is seated in front of a black banner emblazoned with the Islamic profession of faith, "There is no god but God and Muhammad is His prophet."

It even is accompanied with this picture:

Soldier_held

Only problem is that this is actually a photo of a GI Joe doll. 

Bd0450_1

The "professionals" at the AP were taken in hook line and sinker, leaving it to "amateurs" on the web to debunk the hoax in about a half and hour.  Read all about it at the Wizbang link above.

Update:  CNN has caught up on the story