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the column of lasting insignificance: September 28, 2013
by John Wilcock

‘This time it’s different’ are the four most dangerous words in finance. I’ve heard them after every big financial mess since the late 1960s—and a few years later there’s another mess. These words haven’t proved right yet. And they won’t be right this time either.”
—Senior financial writer Allan Sloan asking in Fortune
‘Are we ready for the Next Meltdown’?

CHINESE STUDENTS ARE flooding into American colleges and not everybody is happy about it. In most cases the colleges are delighted to have the enhanced fees paid by out-of-state pupils but some states, such as Washington, have passed legislation restricting their number, alarmed that they may be crowding out and taking slots away from their own students. “Since 2006, the total number of international students at U.S. colleges and universities has ballooned by roughly 200,000—growing to more than 764,000 in less than six years” reports Washington Monthly. “China has increased the number of students it sends to the U.S. by 20% every year since 2008, reaching 194,000 last fall… Chinese parents are willing to pay the price for an American education which they consider the best in the world”.
    There are complaints from both sides. “I can’t ignore the stories I’ve heard from colleagues and former students about how Chinese students behave on American campuses” says Jian Xueqin, director of Peking University High School’s International Division. “I’ve heard complaints that Chinese students segregate themselves, and only speak Mandarin…Plagiarism and disciplinary violations are rife. Americans, historically accustomed to the stereotypically polite and diligent Chinese student, become overwhelmed when confronted with this new crop.”
    And, says the magazine, the dissatisfaction can go both ways, with many Chinese students reporting a general impression that Americans have no interest in learning anything about Chinese culture or attempting to understand them, with “both Chinese and American students (having) a notable lack of interest in crossing the cultural divide”.

THE WORLD’S RICHEST PEOPLE, it won’t surprise anybody to learn, are the quarter of a million citizens of Qatar who enjoy an average income of $100,000. Not so the 1.6 million low-income workers—cleaners, construction laborers, drivers, even soldiers and policemen—who make up more than 85% of the population. Qatar will host the World Cup in 2022, prior to which it has earmarked $200bn for air-conditioned stadiums (temperatures can hit 120 degrees) along with a subway, freeways, ports, and hotels.
    The pint-size power—smaller than Connecticut, says Fortune—sits atop 25.4bn barrels of oil and almost 900 trillion cubit feet of natural gas, but has limited water supplies, virtually no farms or reservoirs and needs to import 90% of its food. It does, however, invest huge sums all over the world: banks in Brazil and China, industrial giants in Germany, even the Italian fashion house Valentino. The country’s Investment Authority owns Harrods department store and 20% of the London Stock Exchange, as well as the biggest department store in Paris where it owns the local soccer club.
    “The Qataris have treated Europe’s capital cities like so many shopping malls” the mag comments, adding that its youthful new ruler, Sheik Tamin, 33, has inherited not only great wealth but also huge political influence, some of it via the government-owned Qatar TV’s Al Jazeera.

ARE CATS AND DOGS colorblind? It seems that photoreceptor cells, common to both animals and humans have S-cones that absorb blue and M-cones (green) but animals lack the additional L-cones, which allow humans to see red. So animals (wrote a Daily Mail contributor) “see the world in shades of yellow, blue and grey.”

NOW THE FOCUS is on cars powered by hydrogen, about which Fortune quotes an old joke: It’s the fuel of the future—and always will be. Back in 1966, GM created the first fuel-cell vehicle with the entire rear section of its Electrovan filled with hydrogen tanks. Automakers have spent billions in the years since to make the equipment smaller, cheaper and more efficient but fewer than 500 fuel-cell vehicles were sold last year. Now Toyota, working with BMW, plans to launch a new hydrogen-powered vehicle at November’s auto show in Tokyo, and versions from Hyundai, Honda GM and a quartet involving Renault, Nissan, Daimler, and Ford are all in development. The new activity, the mag suggests, may be rooted in California’s mandate that 22% of auto sales be zero-emission or plug-in hybrids by 2025 “With electric car sales not living up to expectations” says analyst Kevin See, “the carmakers are looking for a hedge to meet the standards”. The US Department of Energy offers an optimistic forecast that a single tank of hydrogen can offer 254 miles of driving, but the prospects are limited as they have always been by lack of infrastructure. Each new hydrogen station costs as much as $3million to build and it will be a long time before the numbers will reach anything like as many as the existing 170,000 gasoline stations.

THE FOLLOWING ITEM has been bouncing around the Web for a couple of years, and although it hasn’t been possible to track down its provenance, such is the low esteem in which we hold our politicians, most readers would assume it must be true. In the spirit of generosity, we have deleted the actual names which accompanied the original document.

A DC airport ticket agent offers some examples of 'why' our country is in trouble:

  1. I had a New Hampshire Congresswoman ask for an aisle seat so that her hair wouldn't get messed up by being near the window. (On an airplane!)

  2. I got a call from a Kansas Congressman's staffer who wanted to go to Capetown. I started to explain the length of the flight and the passport information, and then he interrupted me with, “I'm not trying to make you look stupid, but Capetown is in Massachusetts....“Without trying to make him look stupid, I calmly explained, ‘Cape Cod is in Massachusetts, Capetown is in Africa”. His response—click.

  3. A senior Vermont Congressman called, furious about a Florida package we did. I asked what was wrong with the vacation in Orlando. He said he was expecting an ocean-view room. I tried to explain that's not possible, since Orlando is in the middle of the state. He replied, “don't lie to me, I looked on the map and Florida is a very thin state!”

  4. I got a call from a lawmaker's wife who asked, “Is it possible to see England from Canada ?” I said, “No.” She said, “But they look so close on the map.”

  5. An aide for a cabinet member once called and asked if he could rent a car in Dallas. I pulled up the reservation and noticed he had only a 1-hour layover in Dallas. When I asked him why he wanted to rent a car, he said, “I heard Dallas was a big airport, and we will need a car to drive between gates to save time.”

  6. An Illinois Congresswoman called last week. She needed to know how it was possible that her flight from Detroit left at 8:30 a.m. and got to Chicago at 8:33 a.m. I explained that Michigan was an hour ahead of Illinois, but she couldn't understand the concept of time zones. Finally, I told her the plane went fast, and she bought that.

  7. A New York lawmaker called and asked, “Do airlines put your physical description on your bag so they know whose luggage belongs to whom?” I said, ‘No, why do you ask?’ He replied, “Well, when I checked in with the airline, they put a tag on my luggage that said (FAT), and I'm overweight. I think that's very rude!” After putting him on hold for a minute, while I looked into it. I came back and explained the city code for Fresno, Ca. is (FAT—Fresno Air Terminal), and the airline was just putting a destination tag on his luggage.

  8. A Senatorial aide called to inquire about a trip package to Hawaii. After going over all the cost info, she asked, “Would it be cheaper to fly to California and then take the train to Hawaii ?”

  9. I just got off the phone with a freshman Congressman, from Alabama who asked, “How do I know which plane to get on?” I asked him what exactly he meant, to which he replied, “I was told my flight number is 823, but none of these planes have that number on them.”

  10. A West Coast Senator called and said, “I need to fly to Pepsi-Cola, Florida. Do I have to get on one of those little computer planes?” I asked if she meant fly to Pensacola, FL on a commuter plane. She said, “Yeah, whatever, smarty!”

  11. A Louisiana Senator called and had a question about the documents she needed in order to fly to China. After a lengthy discussion about passports, I reminded her that she needed a visa. “Oh, no I don't. I've been to China many times and never had to have one of those.” I double checked and sure enough, her stay required a visa. When I told her this she said, “Look, I've been to China four times and every time they have accepted my American Express!”

  12. A New Jersey Congressman called to make reservations, “I want to go from Chicago to Rhino, New York.” At a loss for words, finally, I said, “Are you sure that's the name of the town? ” “Yes, what flights do you have?” replied the man. After some searching, I came back with, “I'm sorry, sir, I've looked up every airport code in the country and can't find a Rhino anywhere.” “The man retorted, “Oh, don't be silly! Everyone knows where it is. Check your map!” So I scoured a map of the state of New York and finally offered, “You don't mean Buffalo, do you?” The reply? “Whatever! I knew it was a big animal.”

from the Internet (source unknown)

9/21/13

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