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the column of lasting insignificance: July 28, 2012
by John Wilcock

"Unlike the Jubilee, this is not a great popular festival, but an assertion of power by our grasping, arrogant, boring elites."
—Charles Moore writing in the
Spectator about the growing anger about the parks and roads closed and the inconvenience to ordinary Londoners by "the loathsome ideology of the Olympics"

WE’RE GETTING CLOSER to the day when enough sensible people will realize that a college degree, especially an exorbitantly expensive one that puts a student in debt for life, is not a necessity. Millions of people manage to pursue happy and successful lives by avoiding college altogether, exploring the world and its possibilities from the moment they leave school. (The mind-set that will take the longest to change are the companies that believe only an inconsequential degree makes somebody employable. But that, too, will change eventually). How about a government plan that gives every kid who agrees to leave the U.S. for a year—to learn about the real world—a few thousand dollars and the promise that when they return they will have earned free credits at any college that will accept them, for any subject that they’d like to study?
   Thomas Frank’s recent essay in Harper’s points out that “academia’s pricing, which has hung student debt like a millstone around the neck of an entire generation is completely out of whack”. Price-fixing among the Ivy League schools was described by the attorney general as “a collegiate cartel” 20 years ago when tuition was around $16,000. It resulted then in Justice Department curbs that expired ten years ago. Today, including room and board, the figure is close to $54,000.
   Back in 1991, Frank writes, Ivy League brass claimed their universities were charities, not businesses. “(But) charitable institutions do not exploit the labor of their charges….run their endowments as you would a hedge fund…They don’t sell their souls for seats on corporation boards or research grants from tobacco companies….These are the deeds of profit-maximising entities,” he suggested, saddling young people with enormous inescapable debt.

A $100 MASTER’S DEGREE is the unlikely prospect envisaged by inventor Sebastian Thrun, who wants to revolutionize teaching via his on-line start-up, Udacity which has already pulled in millions from enthusiastic backers. Thrun’s track record is impressive. He was the funding head of Google’s advanced-research X Lab, whose self-driving robot cars have proved safe enough for approval on Nevada’s roads. Formerly a tenured professor at Stanford, Thrun, 45, started Udacity in a nearby office building, currently offering his computer science and mathematics courses free, with the aim of reaching thousands of students worldwide via highly interactive courses online
   “It’s pretty obvious that degrees will (eventually) go away” he says. “The idea of a degree is that you spend a fixed time right after high school to educate yourself for the rest of your career. But careers change so much over a lifetime now, that this model isn’t valid any more”. Forbes explains that thanks to a global boom in cheap, high-speed Internet connectivity, “such courses can be beamed around the world for just 50c to $1 per student (with) most footage consisting of close-up shots of instructors writing out key lecture points on a digital tablet”. Faculty pay runs between $5,000 and $10,000 per course and many of Udacity’s students are midcareer professionals who want to sharpen specific skills.
   “Big name universities are understandably loath to alter long-held procedures for course content, academic credit and faculty status” says the mag. “So be it, Thrun says. Udacity, still in its infancy, cam write its own rulebook”. I Like Ike

I LIKE IKE was the succinct slogan that helped propel Dwight Eisenhower to the 34th presidency in 1953. But memories fade over time and now there are heated disputes about how much space on the National Mall that liking is worth—and how much it should cost. The four-acre memorial is on the eve of final approval, says the weekly Standard, and half the estimated $142 million cost approved, but “ (Frank) Gehry’s design is more about ego than Ike” and “by its very size produces confusion, architectural preening and pomposity”. Until recently, says the mag, “the Gehry behemoth seemed a sure thing, but no longer” anticipating that continued protests about the monument’s inappropriateness might change official minds.

AMERICAN REALTORS charge more than twice as much in commission for selling your house, than does an estate agent in England. Are they worth it? asks the Economist. “The internet has squelched middlemen in other industries, from insurance brokers to travel agents. Why not American realtors (who) have somehow maintained their market share of 80% without raising fees”. The country’s rising housing boom might be one explanation or maybe the industry is not as competitive as it thinks.

BIKE-SHARING PROJECTS have already spread all over the world but if New York’s plan takes off this week it will be the largest system in America—“a brand industry in the U.S.” says Alison Colen, whose company Alta Bicycle Share, will manage the fleet. Ten thousand blue bikes, paid for by Citibank and Mastercard, will be only half the number in Paris and one-sixth of those in Hangzhou, China, but boosters are hoping this is just the start. Membership fees start at ten bucks for the day, $25 for the week and $95 annually but casual users pay escalating fees after the first (free) half hour because, “they’re for transportation, not recreation” the city’s transportation commissioner Sadik Khan told Fast Company. The biggest challenge, says Cohen, “is balancing the system’, aided by a fleet of white vans that will be constantly moving them around the city at peak hours. The company already operates similar schemes in Boston and Washington and just opened in Chatanooga, TN.

A Kerryman won a round-the-world cruise in a raffle. He refused to accept his prize because he said that he had no way of getting back.

THE WILCOCK WEB: Probably the reason why Mitt Romney doesn’t want to admit how much he earned in those secret tax forms, is that the figure is different from the one he gave the IRS…”This election is about the rich versus says the rest” writes NYT columnist Paul Krugman, which, by now, should be obvious to everyone except fools and obtuse Republicans (who are beginning to look like the same thing)…..Getting things done would be much simpler if somebody would compile a list of just how much each Congressman needs to buy his vote…. The largest of America’s convention centers, Chicago’s McCormick Place, noted a 40% drop in attendance last year, a decline echoed at its biggest rivals and indicative of a business trend away from these big gatherings… After his celebrated nine-year NBA career, the 7ft6ins Houston Rockets center Yao Ming is now back in China and owner of the Shanghai Sharks. Before leaving the US he founded a Napa Valley winery and is already selling its product in Hong Kong….Newest competitor to Nike and Reebok is China’s Li-Ning Company whose eponymous gymnast owner won six medals at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics…. “Words that soak into our ears”, says The Ol Farmer, ”are whispered,.not yelled”…. There wouldn’t be a shortage of corn if we hadn’t wasted so much of it making ethanol instead of spending so much less to buy it from Brazil….. Why don’t the pols fix the post office problem? Because they think taking a vacation next month is more important…., "America has the best politicians money can buy," said Will Rogers …..For your last chance this year to visit Cuba with a study group, check out globaljusticecenter.org…. The newest tenant of Baltimore’s Arundel Mills shopping center is a casino with 3,000 slot machines…. An abstainer is a weak person who yields to the temptation of denying himself a pleasure , was Ambrose Bierce’s definition. …The global pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline, in the process of converting its offices into open spaces where employees are restricted to a phone-equipped laptop, a personal locker and one file drawer, says the result has been a huge “increase in the speed of decision- making”…. Eye-catching July cover of The Progressive about “the nine most loathsome lobbyists includes many of the usual suspects: Billy Taubin for Big Pharma; Tony Podesta (Bank of America, Mubarak, BP); Haley Barbour (tobacco); John Lovell (Prop 19’s anti cannabis); Edward Yingling (American Bankers Assn); Jack Gerard (American Petroleum Inst)….Due next month, another stupid book: Jane Eyre Laid Bare….Kenya has so many speedy runners, says the Economist, that it was hard for the country to pick a three-man Olympics team because the 20 fastest men’s times in the past year have all been run by Kenyans…. A University of Missouri speech therapist says an increasing number of old folk are taking courses in making their voices sound younger…. ….”By appreciation, we make excellence in others our own property”—Voltaire (1694-1778)

The war on drugs cannot be won




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