January 18, 2007

Paragraph of the Day: Charles Murray on College

I don’t agree with a fair amount of what Murray has to say in his series on the subject of intelligence, the ability of the average person to take on difficult learning tasks, and the implications for education policy. I think he sells a lot of people short.

But there is no denying the fundamental correctness of this paragraph about colleges in Part II:

Advances in technology are making the brick-and-mortar facility increasingly irrelevant. Research resources on the Internet will soon make the college library unnecessary. Lecture courses taught by first-rate professors are already available on CDs and DVDs for many subjects, and online methods to make courses interactive between professors and students are evolving. Advances in computer simulation are expanding the technical skills that can be taught without having to gather students together in a laboratory or shop. These and other developments are all still near the bottom of steep growth curves. The cost of effective training will fall for everyone who is willing to give up the trappings of a campus. As the cost of college continues to rise, the choice to give up those trappings will become easier.

Carnival Barking (Ohio Politics – 011807)

Filed under: News from Other Sites — Tom @ 11:42 am

Newshound’s 57th Carnival of Ohio Politics is here.

Forbes and IBD on Free Trade

Filed under: Economy,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 9:05 am

They don’t address fair trade, which is something I want to get to down the road, but the general point they make that trade deficits are NOT (repeat, NOT) bad in and of themselves needs to be hit hard, especially because the new Congress’s protectionist tendencies are stronger.

First, from Steve Forbes in the Jan. 29 issue (requires subscription):

Anti-free-trade sentiment is being fueled by our record trade deficits. Congress is full of destructive proposals, including one to punish China for “manipulating” its currency. But don’t put too much of the blame on headline-grabbing politicos or xenophobic-minded protectionists. A big part of the blame belongs to the economics profession. While most economists know well the virtues of free trade, they are still tied to the notion that trade deficits or surpluses matter. A surplus is equated to a country’s turning a profit and a deficit to a nation’s running at a loss. But nations don’t trade with each other; individuals and entities do.

FORBES has had a deficit with its paper supplier for more than 89 years. Yet this “imbalance” persists because each side thinks the transaction is beneficial ….. Yet the red ink continues because the parties find it advantageous for it to continue.

In other words, trade numbers are simply one number among many. In and of themselves they tell you nothing about an economy’s health or ill health. It’s like looking at one item on a P&L statement and ignoring everything else. Yet politicos, economists and observers still prattle about America’s “growing overseas lia-bilities.” Hey, folks, unless you’re talking about Treasurys, those liabilities belong to particular companies or individuals. Period.

Many in Congress, the Treasury Department and business believe we should have “reciprocal trade” with other countries. That is, no deficit or surplus. That’s like saying that a business should have reciprocal relations with every one of its accounts. For instance, if Forbes buys paper from a supplier, then that supplier should pay an equivalent amount for subscriptions from us. It’s preposterous, but an all too seductive and destructive notion.

While preaching free trade, the economics profession helps undermine it with this zero-sum mentality focusing on the so-called balance of trade. Remember, this year marks the 400th anniversary of the settlement in Jamestown, Va. Since that time, America has run trade deficits for all but some 50-odd years. Just look at what all that economic sinning has done.

Now to an excerpt from an Investors Business Daily editorial, carried in the “Other Comments Section” of that same issue of Forbes (requires subscription):

The trade deficit isn’t bad for the U.S. economy; it’s actually good for it–and for the rest of the world, too. What most people don’t understand is trade in goods and services is driven by investment flows. When foreigners invest massive amounts in the U.S., we have to run a trade deficit because of the way our global accounts are kept. This is what’s happening now. Investors survey the world and find it full of stagnant economies, ever-menacing terror and growing threats to free markets and trade. The U.S., by contrast, is a safe, transparent, low-inflation haven that provides a slam-dunk return on their money. What’s not to like?

….. If China sells $1 billion in, say, tennis shoes to Wal-Mart and uses the money to buy an off-the-shelf microchip factory for Shanghai, that counts as an “export” and we all applaud. But if it takes that $1 billion and invests in a chip plant here–providing jobs for dozens or hundreds of software engineers, managers and salespeople, it’s counted as an “import.” ….. Yet, those are “imports” we need more of–the kind that make us richer and more productive and which boost the value of our nation’s productive assets. We should seek more, not less.

The trade deficit has crept down a bit in the past few months. That is not automatically good or bad news. To the extent it means that the country’s economic engine might be slowing down in generating the additional spending power that drives purchases of everything, including imports (I don’t think it does, but it might), it would not be good.

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UPDATE: Apparently trade is a popular topic these days — Townhall has good columns by John Stossel and Walter Williams.

Mossberg Comes Off as Uninspired in His Vista Reviews

Filed under: Business Moves,Privacy/ID Theft — Tom @ 6:19 am

(Disclosure: BizzyBlog is a 21-year Mac user familiar [enough] with Windows.)

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Wall Street Journal technology writer Walt Mossberg’s 5-minute video review is available here, and is free to the public. Mossberg makes the whole enterprise feel like a chore. I suspect he sees eating spinach as more fun.

I lost track of how many times Mossberg said that Vista’s features were either already available in the Mac OS or weren’t as good.

His key conclusions (from his print edition review, which is also free):

Vista: Worthy, Largely Unexciting
XP Successor Doesn’t Break New Ground on Ease of Use, But It’s Best Windows Yet

After months of testing Vista on multiple computers, new and old, I believe it is the best version of Windows that Microsoft has produced. However, while navigation has been improved, Vista isn’t a breakthrough in ease of use. Overall, it works pretty much the same way as Windows XP.

For most users who want Vista, I strongly recommend buying a new PC with the new operating system preloaded. I wouldn’t even consider trying to upgrade a computer older than 18 months, and even some of them may be unsuitable candidates.

Gradually, all Windows computers will be Vista computers, and that’s a good thing, if only for security reasons. But you may want to keep your older Windows XP box around awhile longer, until you can afford new hardware that can handle Vista.

What I’m having a hard time getting my arms around is why there are SIX versions of the program. Mossberg identifies three:
- Home Basic ($199 New, $100 Upgrade)
- Home Premium ($239 New, $159 Upgrade; Mossberg says most users will want this version)
- Vista Ultimate ($399 New, $259 Upgrade)

Those prices make Apple’s typical prices of $129 or so for incremental OSX upgrades that come about about every 18-24 months look a bit less unreasonable.

Express Computer Online tells us that the other three versions are Vista Business, Vista Enterprise, and Vista Starter for “emerging markets.”

I anticipate that a lot of consumers will bide their time on taking the Vista leap.

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UPDATE: I also don’t see small- or medium-sized businesses jumping on the Vista bandwagon very quickly unless the security improvements are compelling.

UPDATE 2: Welcome to MacSurfer readers.

Some Things You Just Don’t Do

Filed under: Business Moves,Corporate Outrage — Tom @ 6:14 am

Making the video “game” described is one of them, and I support the decision of event organizers in rejecting it, despite the consequences:

Columbine Game Pulled From Festival
Jan 12, 9:06 PM (ET)

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) – A key sponsor has withdrawn from an alternative media festival and six video game makers have pulled their entries over organizers’ rejection of a game depicting the Columbine High School massacre.

Slamdance Film Festival co-founder and president Peter Baxter said organizers couldn’t justify keeping “Super Columbine Massacre RPG!” in the competition.

“I spoke to people who are still suffering very much from Columbine,” Baxter said Friday. “Some things are more important than one game or a festival.”

Yes, I fully realize the sad fact that there is a market for this garbage. And no, I don’t want government intervention. I want game players who would think of buying items like the above to get a serious grip; if it becomes clear that the customers aren’t out there, games like these won’t be developed.

As If Germany Doesn’t Have Enough to Worry About

Filed under: General — Tom @ 6:09 am

There seems to be something of a trend of drivers (HT Right on the Right) following the commands of satellite navigation systems and getting into accidents in the process:

Motorist crashes on satellite navigation command
Mon Jan 15, 3:50 AM ET

BERLIN (Reuters) – A 46-year-old German motorist driving along a busy road suddenly veered to the left and ended up stuck on a railway track — because his satellite navigation system told him to, police said on Sunday.

The motorist was heading into the north German city of Bremen “when the friendly voice from his satnav told him to turn left,” a spokesman said.

“He did what he was ordered to do and turned his Audi left up over the curb and onto the track of a local streetcar line. He tried to back up off the track but got completely stuck.”

The police spokesman said about a dozen trams were held up until a tow lorry arrived to clear the car off the track.

Several German motorists have crashed their cars in recent months, later telling police they were only obeying orders from their satnavs.

From the ‘Trust But Verify, and Be Vigilant’ Department

Filed under: Business Moves,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 6:04 am

From Top Tech News (HT LGF):

U.N. Telecom Not Eying Internet Control

January 15, 2007 12:01PM

“It is not my intention to take over the governance of the Internet,” Hamadoun Toure, director-general of the International Telecommunication Union, told reporters in Geneva at his first press conference. “There is no one single issue that can be dealt with by one organization alone.”

Good — His opinion isn’t universally shared, as was demonstrated at a UN-sponsored conference in Tunisia in November 2005, but it appears that sanity has the upper hand for now.

Positivity: Bob Woodruff Returns to ABC News to Report His Story

Filed under: Positivity — Tom @ 5:59 am

From the Futon Critic, apparently from an ABC News press release — Welcome back, Bob:

To Iraq and Back: Bob Woodruff Reports to Air Tuesday, February 27 at 10:00 p.m., ET on ABC

In his first on-air reporting since being severely injured by a roadside bomb in Iraq last January, ABC News Anchor Bob Woodruff will tell the incredible story of his severe wounding and amazing but painstaking recovery over the past year. Through interviews with the ABC News team and soldiers with him on that fateful patrol, as well as the military and civilian medical teams who saved his life, we learn about Woodruffs journey from the battlefield in Iraq to Germany and finally home to the United States. To Iraq and back: Bob Woodruff Reports will air TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 27 (10:00-11:00 p.m., ET) on the ABC Television Network.

In this special primetime documentary, Woodruffs wife, Lee, will talk for the first time about the gravity of her husbands medical condition and the impact on their family.

As part of the special, the Woodruffs return to Bethesda Naval Hospital for the first time since his six-week stay there to visit the doctors, nurses and staff that cared for Bob. From Bethesda, Woodruff reports on the stories of brave young soldiers and Marines who are learning to carry on despite life-altering injuries.

Tom Yellin is the executive producer of To Iraq and Back: Bob Woodruff Reports. Keith Summa and Gabrielle Tenenbaum are the producers. The program is a production of The Documentary Group for ABC News.