Daily Archives: May 10, 2008

Gas Prices Send Surge of Riders to Mass Transit

With the price of gas approaching $4 a gallon, more commuters are abandoning their cars and taking the train or bus instead.

Mass transit systems around the country are seeing standing-room-only crowds on bus lines where seats were once easy to come by. Parking lots at many bus and light rail stations are suddenly overflowing, with commuters in some towns risking a ticket or tow by parking on nearby grassy areas and in vacant lots.

“In almost every transit system I talk to, we’re seeing very high rates of growth the last few months,” said William W. Millar, president of the American Public Transportation Association.

“It’s very clear that a significant portion of the increase in transit use is directly caused by people who are looking for alternatives to paying $3.50 a gallon for gas.”

Some cities with long-established public transit systems, like New York and Boston, have seen increases in ridership of 5 percent or more so far this year. But the biggest surges ”” of 10 to 15 percent or more over last year ”” are occurring in many metropolitan areas in the South and West where the driving culture is strongest and bus and rail lines are more limited.

Read it all.

Posted in * Economics, Politics, Energy, Natural Resources

The Economist: The American house-price bust has a long way to go

Optimists point out that some measures of housing affordability have dramatically improved. According to NAR figures, monthly payments on a typical house with a 30-year mortgage and 20% downpayment were 18.5% of the median family’s income in February, down from almost 26% at the peak””and close to the historical average. But this measure is misleading, not least because credit standards have tightened. A survey of loan officers conducted by the Fed suggested on May 5th that 60% of banks tightened their lending standards for prime mortgages in the first three months of 2007. And, as Michael Feroli of JPMorgan points out, the affordability gauge depends on what measure of home prices you look at. Use the Case-Shiller index, where the affordability of housing worsened sharply during the boom, and mortgage payments are still high in relation to incomes.

A better measure of housing fundamentals is the relationship between house prices and rents. This is a sort of price/earnings ratio for the housing market: the price of a house reflects the discounted value of future ownership, either as rental income or as rent saved by an owner who lives in the house.

A recent analysis by Morris Davis of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Andreas Lehnert and Robert Martin of the Fed, shows that the rent/price yield in America ranged between 5% and 5.5% from 1960 to 1995, but fell rapidly thereafter to reach a historic low of 3.5% at the height of the boom. Given the typical pace of rental growth, Mr Feroli reckons house prices (as measured by the Case-Shiller index) need to fall by 10-15% over the next year and a half for the rent/price yield to return to its historical average. Again, that suggests the national housing bust is only halfway through. And, given the scale of excess supply, house prices are likely to overshoot. All told, the pressure on policymakers to help struggling homeowners is bound to increase.

Read the whole article.

Posted in * Economics, Politics, Economy, Housing/Real Estate Market

Food crisis hits middle class here, abroad

SEAN COLE: Jen Peterson is a candidate for city council, and early last week she and her eight-year-old daughter Harley and I all piled into her minivan for a drive to the local food shelf.

JEN PETERSON: The Friends in Need Food Shelf in St. Paul Park.

This wasn’t a campaign stop. She was dropping by to pick up some food for her family. It was just her second visit this year.

JEN PETERSON: But I see a trend developing.

COLE: In your life?

JEN PETERSON: Yeah in this need.

Jen knows that trend well. When she was a single mom with four kids she had to lean on all kinds of state aid. She and her current husband, Tony, both work two jobs, and after a big child support settlement in 2004, they were able to make do without assistance.

JEN PETERSON: So we were, you know, living pretty happy, middle class, dual-income parents.

Except both Tony and Jen’s ex are in the building industry, and after the foreclosure crisis hit, she found herself back at the food shelf for the first time in four years.

JEN PETERSON: It’s just hard to keep the cupboards full without having to spend more and more money, and this is, you know, the food shelf is the one way that we can supplement that.

Read or listen to it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, Dieting/Food/Nutrition, Economy

Notable and Quotable

Mo Udall, the great Democrat from Arizona, said the only known cure for the presidential virus once it invades a politician’s body is embalming fluid. And I think there’s great truth to that.

Mark Shields on last night’s Lehrer News Hour

Posted in * Economics, Politics, US Presidential Election 2008

Rod Dreher Dares to Suggest Maybe College isn't for Everytbody

What drives this essay emotionally is not disdain for and disgust with dim-bulb students. X says he really identifies with his students and their struggles in life, and wants to help them along. “I could not be aloof even if I wanted to be,” he writes. But he can’t compromise academic standards out of pity or solidarity.

What it all boils down to, he says, is that a cruel hoax is being played on these students. “America, ever-idealistic, seems wary of the vocational-education track. We are not comfortable limiting someone’s options,” he writes. And he sympathizes with this ideal — but he’s the one who has to see how little it has to do with reality. His students aren’t college material. They don’t read (some of them can’t really read). They don’t share even the rudiments of a common intellectual culture on which to build. He says he tries to explain the basics of narrative to them in terms of movies, but they haven’t all seen the same movies. They are more or less well-mannered, hard-working barbarians. The only thing they all share is a sense that they are good people for being in college, and that they can be anything they want to be.

Prof. X says the whole system, premised on a false egalitarianism, is to blame here. One key question this excellent essay raises by implication is this: if quite a lot of Americans are incapable of doing college work, what does that do to the Thomas Friedmanesque understanding that in order to compete in a flattened, globalized world, US laborers are simply going to have to get retrained and better educated? What if there are natural limits to their ability to expand their cognitive skills? What then?

I mean, look, what if things were flipped, and the Friedmans of the world were telling the “knowledge workers,” for lack of a better term, that staying competitive in this globalizing world economy meant having a stronger back. Ergo, nerdling, you’re just going to have to start spending a lot more time at the gym to develop a longshoreman’s body, or get left behind. We’d laugh at this, because we have no problem grasping that nature has not endowed all of us equally well in terms of physical strength and capabilities. The nerdling would be able to improve his strength to a certain degree, but to tell him his physical limits are defined only by his desires and will to succeed is to play a cruel hoax on him.

Are we not doing that with some of the people who are in college now?

Read it all and make sure to check out the comments as well.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, * International News & Commentary, America/U.S.A., Education

Lamar Alexander's Plan for energy independence

Thom Mason, director of Oak Ridge National Laboratory, said a Manhattan-like project for energy independence could employ some of the same development techniques used during the A-bomb work – such as parallel testing of different ideas to see which ones work best.

However, energy independence is likely to be an even more complicated task, Mason said, because unlike the World War II project it doesn’t have a single, dedicated “deliverable” – a bomb to end the war.

A number of ORNL scientists, including David Greene, a top fuel economist and transportation researcher, offered comments during the session and discussed what should be priorities. Greene said transportation is at the heart of the nation’s oil-dependence problem, and he said one goal should be doubling the fuel economy over today’s level by 2030.

But production of biofuels and greater fuel economy won’t be enough to achieve energy independence, Greene said.

“To accomplish that goal, we must make electricity, hydrogen – or both – clean, carbon-free, competitive choices for American motorists,” he said. Greene cited the need for a new generation of advanced batteries and fuel cells and better, safer ways of storing hydrogen aboard vehicles.

Read it all.

Posted in * Economics, Politics, Energy, Natural Resources

U.S. scholarships bridge cultural divides

Watch it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, Education, Globalization

National Catholic Register: A theologian answers the atheists

Just as the Christian church patronized the arts, so it vigorously supported scientific research. The caricature of an obscurantist, ignorance-promoting church simply doesn’t correspond to historical truth.

Some of history’s greatest scientists ”” Newton, Pasteur, Galilei, Lavoisier, Kepler, Copernicus, Faraday, Maxwell, Bernard and Heisenberg ”” were all Christians, and the list doesn’t stop there. Some important scientists, such as astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus, were actually Catholic priests!

Christianity is not against science, but against an absolutist reading of science. The empirical sciences cannot do everything, and hold no monopoly on knowledge and truth. Many important questions ”” the most important, really ”” fall outside the purview of science.

What is the meaning of life? How should people treat one another? What happens to us when we die?

No matter how long a white-coated scientist toils and sweats in his laboratory, his instruments will never reveal the answers to these questions. Science is the wrong tool for the job.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Religion News & Commentary, Apologetics, Other Churches, Religion & Culture, Roman Catholic, Science & Technology, Theology

Geoffrey Rowell: The celestial fire that brings us new life and inspiration

The Spirit, the dynamic energy of God, the breath of the divine life, is often associated with random inspiration, with inspired prophets and enthusiasts who do their own thing. But in the Bible the Spirit is also the one who orders. The mighty wind that swept over the waters of chaos in the very opening verses of Scripture brings order and pattern and shaping life. Energy and order are not opposed in the order of the new creation of God’s life-giving Spirit any more than they are in the patterns of energy that make up the order of the universe. The church is to be and to live the order of the new creation. The Spirit is the Spirit of transforming holiness, shaping men and women in the pattern of the divine love in whose image they are made.

St Augustine knew that a fallen world was a world of disordered desire. He went so far as to say that all thefts, all murders and adulteries sprang from disordered love. “Shall we stop loving then?” he asks. “No, if you stop loving you will become a block of wood, a dead thing.”

Our calling is to “set love in order”, to be shaped and ordered, we might say, by the internet of the Spirit, the Lord and the Giver of life, who “alone can order the unruly wills and passions of sinful men”. And that grace and that life is at the heart of the Church’s being, and of what it is to be human, and so at Pentecost we pray: “Come Holy Ghost, our souls inspire, and lighten with celestial fire!” for “the Spirit of the Lord has filled the whole world. Alleluia!”.

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Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, * Christian Life / Church Life, Anglican Provinces, Church of England (CoE), Church Year / Liturgical Seasons, CoE Bishops, Pentecost

USA Today: Their workday is etched in grief

At first glance, the two men in monogrammed T-shirts and jeans with their rumbling generator could be mistaken for any of the hundreds of maintenance workers scattered across the vast public grounds of the city.

But Kirk Bockman, 52, and Jim Lee, 59, are highly skilled artisans whose specialized craft is cloaked in grief.

In a yearly ritual that began in 1991 with the dedication of the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial, Bockman and Lee have carefully etched 18,274 names of fallen officers into marbleized limestone.

This year, the engravers’ burden was heavy as they prepared for the annual vigil for slain officers on Tuesday.

The pair has recorded the names of the 181 officers killed in 2007, one of the deadliest years for police in two decades. They also added 177 officers whose deaths had not been previously recorded, some dating to the 19th century, says Berneta Spence, the memorial’s director of research.

“When we do this, we really feel like we become part of their family history,” Bockman says, his voice hushed in deference to a victim’s mother.

Read it all and don’t miss the great story at the end about their visit to the White House.

Posted in * Christian Life / Church Life, * Culture-Watch, Death / Burial / Funerals, Military / Armed Forces, Parish Ministry

Christian doctrine disguised in Dr. Seuss stories?

So when Horton’s world of Who-ville was “saved by the Smallest of All,” Robert Short saw the savior of the Whos as a symbol for the Savior of all people. From Green Eggs and Ham to How the Grinch Stole Christmas , Short has reinterpreted many of Theodor Seuss Geisel’s stories as subtle messages of Christian doctrine in the new book, The Parables of Dr. Seuss.

Questions remain, however, about whether the original author intended such an interpretation or Short, a retired Presbyterian minister, is just seeing the stories through the lens of his own life.

“I was amazed at what I found when I started looking at it ”” all this Christian imagery was very carefully factored into his stories,” Short said in an interview from his home in Little Rock.

“And that’s what this book intends to do, is show how he has done this in a very carefully crafted way. It’s there, and you could make an argument for it being intentionally there, because it’s done with such great care.”

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, Poetry & Literature, Religion & Culture

One South Carolina Student goes from life of crime to top 10 in class

By his 16th birthday, Mark Cabrera had not been so sweet.

He carried a knife to school, got caught with drugs, skipped classes, broke into a shed and stole a car, jewelry and reptiles at different times.

He was becoming an alcoholic and was getting high on drugs. He was angry and rebellious. He thought he could make more money selling drugs than he could completing an education. He was in and out of juvenile and criminal courts. His life was a mess.

For violating probation after being caught with marijuana, the Stratford High School ninth-grader served 43 days at Coastal Evaluation Center.

That’s where he began to turn his life around.

On Thursday, he was one of 23 Berkeley County School District students honored by the district with a Turnaround Achievement Award.

Read it all from the front page of yesterday’s local paper.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, * South Carolina, Education

Sarah Hey Describes the Tragic Events at St. Christopher’s, Spartanburg

Read it all.

Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, Episcopal Church (TEC), TEC Conflicts, TEC Departing Parishes, TEC Parishes

From the Do Not Take Yourself Too Seriously department

Posted in * General Interest, Humor / Trivia

Gas jumps above $3.67, oil passes $126 on Venezuela concerns

Oil rose above $126 a barrel for the first time Friday, bringing its advance this week to nearly $10, as investors questioned whether a possible confrontation between the U.S. and Venezuela could cut exports from the OPEC member. Gas prices, meanwhile, rose above an average $3.67 a gallon at the pump, following oil’s recent path higher.

On Friday, The Wall Street Journal published a report that suggested closer ties between Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and rebels attempting to overthrow Colombia’s government. Chavez has been linked to Colombian rebels previously, but the paper reported it had reviewed computer files indicating concrete offers by Venezuela’s leader to arm guerillas. That appears to heighten the chances that the U.S. could impose sanctions on one of its biggest oil suppliers.

“If we put on sanctions, I’m sure Chavez would threaten to cut off our oil supply,” said Phil Flynn, an analyst at Alaron Trading Corp. “Obviously that would have a major impact on oil prices.”

Read it all.

Posted in * Economics, Politics, Economy, Energy, Natural Resources