Autocorrect masks Poor Job Teachers are Doing in Teaching Two of the Three Rs

Posted by PITHOCRATES - May 26th, 2012

Week in Review

What the calculator did for our arithmetic skills autocorrect is doing for our spelling skills.  Well, autocorrect and bad teachers (see Over-reliance on technology is undermining spelling skills by Graeme Paton posted 5/22/2012 on The Telegraph).

Around a third of people in Britain are unable to accurately spell words such as “definitely”, “separate” and “necessary”, it was revealed.

The study found that just a fifth of over-18s could properly pick out a series of potentially tricky words from a list. Teenagers and those in their early 20s were the worst spellers, it emerged…

“With over two-thirds of Britons now having to rely on spell check, we are heading towards an auto-correct generation,” he said…

Females aged over 65 were officially the best spellers, while men aged 18 to 24 were the worst, the study found.

The conclusions come amid growing concerns over standards of literacy in schools.

This is not a British problem.  It’s everywhere.  The quality of teaching has declined.  Our technology hides the horrible job they’re doing teaching spelling to our children.  Computers, smartphones and other electronic gadgets that can correct our spelling are making up for the deficient teaching in our schools.  But when we find out how poorly our children spell we blame these devices instead of the people tasked to make them good spellers.  The teachers.

Why is this happening?  Two of the three Rs in reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmetic involve the written language.  So what are our teachers teaching in school if they’re not teaching the three Rs?  Well, in the U.S. they’re teaching our kids to become Democrat voters.  They may not know how to read or write but they know that capitalism is evil.  And that government is good.  They also learn how to hold a picket sign when their teachers go on strike.  This is the stuff they’re teaching in our classrooms.  Not how to spell ‘definitely’, ‘separate’ and ‘necessary’.  Like they did when our grandparents went to school.  When school was school.  And not political indoctrination.  Today they worry less about teaching their students how to spell correctly.  And more about teaching their students how to vote ‘correctly’.

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Court orders Spanish Doctor to pay Child Care after Botched Abortion allows Baby to be Born

Posted by PITHOCRATES - May 26th, 2012

Week in Review

An interesting court case in Spain places the responsibility of a child not on the parents who conceived the child.  But on the doctor who failed to abort the child.  Odd.  For in the birth of that child the doctor is only an accessory after the fact of coitus (see Spanish doctor ordered to pay for upkeep of child after failed abortion by Giles Tremlett posted 5/25/2012 on The Guardian).

A Spanish doctor has been ordered to pay for the upkeep of a child after a failed abortion operation meant the boy’s mother was obliged to see her pregnancy through to the end…

The boy was born in October 2010, six months after his mother had gone for an abortion at the city’s Emece clinic. The operation had been performed when the mother was almost seven weeks pregnant. The doctor told her two weeks later that a scan proved she was no longer pregnant…

She did not return to the clinic for three months, and only after becoming convinced she must have become pregnant by mistake once more.

A fresh scan revealed, however, that this was the same pregnancy. She was already into her sixth month and past the 22-week limit for abortions in Spain. “I sought advice and was told that it would be a crime to abort at that stage,” she said.

The woman, who had hidden her pregnancy from her family out of fear at their reaction, was forced to confront her parents with the news. She and the child now live with them. Despite the fact that a suction technique had been used to try to remove the embryo, the boy was born healthy.

The mother sued the doctor for damages, with the court awarding her €150,000 (£120,000). It also decided the doctor and his insurer should pay maintenance of €978 a month for 25 years, or a further €293,000.

“I am living off my parents now, and it shouldn’t be like that,” the mother said…

“I am OK now, because I have had to accept things. There is no other option. I’m happy with my son,” she said. “When I have to explain all this to him, I’ll try to make sure that he feels OK about it. It was back then that he was not wanted, not now.”

I have one question.  Where’s the father?  Why isn’t he paying child support for his child?  I can understand the penalty for the botched abortion but child support?  The doctor didn’t make that baby.  He only failed to abort it.

Okay to abort within 22 weeks.  But a crime to abort after 22 weeks.  Okay at 5 months.  But not at 6 months.  Makes you scratch your head and think about the argument over when life begins.  At conception?  Or after 22 weeks.  Sounds rather arbitrary, 22 weeks.  Especially when you can hear a heartbeat at 8 weeks.

You hear some people joke about not being a planned baby.  About being an accident.  I imagine if one thinks about that too much it could make one question one’s purpose in life.  And question how much of an unwanted burden one was on one’s parents.  But surviving an abortion?  I don’t think that’s something a person should ever learn.  What possible good could come from that?  If mother and child bond and grow up loving each other why take a chance on ruining that?  It’s bad enough the mother has to live with this memory.  The child doesn’t.  In time perhaps the mother will feel it unnecessary to explain this unpleasant fact about his prenatal life.

But once again, where’s the father?

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The Chinese Economy is mostly Bad Investments, Savings and little Domestic Consumption

Posted by PITHOCRATES - May 26th, 2012

Week in Review

The Chinese economic juggernaut is losing steam.  The communist 5-year plans in infrastructure projects isn’t having the magic it once did.  Exports are down thanks to a worldwide recession.  And worse of all for Keynesians everywhere savings are outpacing consumption.  People across China are acting responsibly.  And this just won’t do (see Chinese urged to spend more, save less by Mure Dickie posted 5/25/2012 on The Washington Post).

Yet with China’s economy slowing — to a relatively modest annual rate of 8.1 percent growth in the first quarter — some observers fret that consumption could be faltering. Retail spending in April was weaker than expected. And while Wen Jiabao, the premier, last week signaled action to shore up growth, the government appears to have set its policy focus on promoting investment rather than consumption…

Indeed, [Andrew] Batson [research director at GK Dragonomics] suggests that the present slowdown could promote a much-heralded rebalancing of China’s economy, away from reliance on increasingly unproductive investment to a healthier consumption-driven model.

While the government has long talked of such a shift, the proportion of gross domestic product accounted for by investment actually soared to 46 percent in 2010, while household consumption’s share of GDP slumped to just 35 percent…

So China’s investment is increasingly unproductive.  Perhaps their high-speed train program isn’t the only black hole for their investment capital to disappear in.  The Chinese have invested a fortune in their high-speed trains but so far that has been an investment earning a negative return.  Sure, it created a lot of jobs but their high-speed trains can’t turn a profit.  So far they’re only accumulating debt.  But they keep spending this money.  Adherents to Keynesian economics that they are.  For the Keynesians say anything that puts more money into a workers pocket is good.  Because that worker will spend that money.  Even if we pay him to dig a ditch.  And then pay him to fill it back in.  Or pay him to build a very costly high-speed railway that the people don’t need.  Or can ever pay for itself.  A Keynesian will say that’s good.  Because it will give the worker money.  And that worker will spend that money.  Thus increasing consumption.  Unless that worker does something stupid like put it in the bank.

Some economists say the government needs to do more to promote this rebalancing in a country where citizens still save a far larger proportion of their incomes than do their counterparts in developed economies…

Lower-income consumers also save fiercely. In the village of Wuti in northern Hebei province, house builder Li Moxiang and his farmer wife aim to set aside $3,150 or more a year to help raise their future grandchild — even though stingy state-set interest rates mean such savings are constantly eroded by inflation…

A big motivation for such saving is the lack of a social security system to cushion Chinese in old age or ill health. Serious illness or accident often spells household bankruptcy. For most rural people, children have to play the role of pension provider.

In a report this week, the World Bank said fiscal measures to support consumption — including targeted tax cuts, social welfare spending and other social expenditures — should be Beijing’s top priority as it seeks to avert an economic “hard landing.”

Some economists would like to see mass privatization to shift wealth out of the dominant and domineering state sector.

Keynesians hate savings.  They want people to spend their money.  And not be responsible and save for their retirement.  Or to save to pay for any unexpected expenses.  Why they hate savings so much that they constantly inflate the currency to dissuade you from saving.  For if you do save you’ll only see inflation eat away the value of your savings.  Sort of like putting an expiration date on your money.  Telling you saving is for fools.  That consumption is the smart way to go.  And so what if you can’t afford food or housing in your retirement.  Or pay for medical care.  That’s what family is for.  So you can be a burden to them.

Right now the social democracies of Europe are imploding from the massive debts they incurred from their social spending.  And the World Bank is encouraging Beijing to increase their social spending.  To be as irresponsible as the Europeans were.  Unbelievable.  Europe is burning because of the social expenditures they can no longer afford to pay.  And the people are rather reluctant to give up.  So when the government tries to live within their means with a touch of austerity the people reply with riots.  And this is what the World Bank is advising the Chinese to do.

History repeats.  For everything the Chinese are doing, or trying to do, or are being advised to do has been done by every nation with a spending and debt problem.  Sure, China is still enjoying 8% GDP growth.  But a lot of that growth is from building stuff that the market isn’t demanding.  Consumer spending in China is only at 35%.  With the worldwide recession hurting Chinese exports that leaves that 35% as a large component of their market-driven spending.  And you can rarely sustain economic growth from making stuff the market isn’t demanding.  Instead this artificial growth usually leads to some kind of a bubble.  And a painful recession to correct the mess the government made while artificially increasing economic output.

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Canadians living Near the Border Escape their High Taxes by Shopping in the United States

Posted by PITHOCRATES - May 26th, 2012

Week in Review

High prices in Vancouver getting you down?  No problem.  Just hop into the car and head to the U.S. border.  Everyone else is (see Cross-border shopping: price trumps moral suasion in the fight for consumers by Craig McInnes posted 5/22/2012 on The Vancouver Sun).

I always feel a little guilty when I shop in the U.S. I would much rather support local merchants. I get the whole notion that local merchants employ my neighbours and that the money they earn stays in the community and creates more jobs.

But as the report from the Bank of Montreal pointed out last week, the price gap between Canada and the U.S. is too great to be ignored. The report predicts that gap, combined with new rules about how much Canadians can bring back duty free, is going to increase the already powerful pull of cross-border bargain hunting.

We learn early on that a penny saved is worth two pennies earned, thanks to the effect of income and consumption taxes. So mining lower prices is both a thrill and sound financial management.

The gap between sample retail prices in the U.S. and Canada documented in the Bank of Montreal study is compelling. Running shoes were 37-per-cent more on this side of the border. A Canon camera was five-per-cent more, a Gap Kids T-shirt cost $5 more here…

And it’s not just price. The bigger market in the U.S. offers more choice as well…

But is this short-sightedness on my part? Am I undermining my community, my country and ultimately myself in my drive to save money by passing over the merchants in my neighbourhood and town?

No.  It’s not short-sightedness.  It’s you getting the most value out of your money.  For why should you pay higher prices to subsidize uncompetitive businesses?  However, if you want all of those government benefits you pay for with those high income and consumption taxes then, yes, you should pay the higher prices.  Which pay for all of those government benefits.  Including that national health care everyone in America is so envious about.

It makes it tough on a government to put high taxes on gasoline and other goods & services in cities close to the U.S. border.  For those living in the interior of Canada can’t escape this social democracy as easy as those living near the border can.  And this is the greatest threat of any social utopia.  Better stuff across the border.  Because if people can escape the high taxes of their utopia so they can better afford to live it will only put pressure on the government to raise taxes further.  To make up for that lost tax revenue on those purchases across the border.

Of course to have this problem can only mean one thing.  Canadians are taxed too much.  Those consumption taxes really inflate prices in the supply chain.  Adding a tax whenever someone adds value.  It adds up.  And given the opportunity people will avoid it.  A lesson as old as time.  People are smart shoppers.  They spend their money wisely.  And they will go where they will get more value.  And typically that will be where there is more capitalism.  And less socialism.  Even if you live in a country that has just a little socialism.  For in the social democracies of the West there are varying degrees of socialism in these countries.  But one thing is always certain.  This kind of cross-border shopping traffic is always towards the country with less socialism.

This even holds true for health care.  For people who want the best in health care will travel from a country that has more socialism to a country that has less socialism.  Even in Canada.  Where they pay high income and consumption taxes in part to pay for that free national health care.  Of course Obamacare will put a stop to that.  For when Obamacare is just like the Canadian system there will be no reason for Canadians to cross the border.  For the amount of socialism in our health care systems will be the same as in the Canadian system.  And the American system will no longer be better than the Canadian system.

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High Fuel Costs makes Union Contracts too Costly on Qantas’ International Flights

Posted by PITHOCRATES - May 26th, 2012

Week in Review

There is an inverse relation between gas prices and driving distance on your summer vacation.  The higher the gas price the shorter your drive.  When gas is cheap you can travel across the country in a recreational vehicle.  When gas prices are high you may limit your drive to a single day.  Perhaps even a single fill up.  Because driving adds up.  If you fill up twice a day you may pay $150 at the gas pump.  If you drive two days out and two days back that’s $600 in driving costs.  Which you could put towards a nice hotel or some fun.  Or into your gas tank.  Which isn’t really a whole lot of fun.  Especially when you have some bored kids fighting each other in the back seat.

Fuel costs can make the difference between a nice vacation and a bad one.  And between a profitable operation and an unprofitable operation (see Australia’s Qantas to Split Business into Two by Reuters posted 5/22/2012 on CNBC).

Qantas Airways, said it plans to split its loss-making international and profitable domestic businesses, though Australia’s top airline was viewed by analysts as unlikely to spin off or sell the international operations…

The changes are part of a five-year turnaround plan aimed at shrinking costs and getting the international operations into profit…

The airline…is emerging from a bruising industrial dispute with unions…

Weak demand and high fuel prices are taking a toll on airline profits, pushing airlines across the world to cut costs and delay capital expenditure. 

The reason companies go through these bruising disputes with their unions is because of the good times when all other costs aren’t so bad.  When fuel was cheap the airlines were making some decent profits.  And it was affordable to be generous to their unions.  When they had little choice but to be generous.  For a strike during busy times is not good to the bottom line.  So they enter into these agreements that just cripple a company when fuel costs soar.

The international business is losing money because it takes a lot more fuel on those international routes.  And when demand is low it is very difficult to raise ticket prices.  Because even though Qantas is a quality airline there are other quality airlines out there trying to make it in an industry suffering from low demand.  And they are all trying to keep their ticket prices as low as possible to get the few passengers out there still flying.  It’s gotten so bad that some airlines are charging for things they’ve never charged for before. 

Such as carryon bags.  Which helps revenue in two ways.  It helps pay for fuel costs.  And it discourages passengers from carrying on luggage.  Which reduces weight and saves on fuel costs.  For an airline only puts into their fuel tanks the amount they need to fly.  They don’t top them off.  They count everything going onto that airplane and calculate the weight to add to the weight of the airplane and the weight of the fuel they carry.  The less the weight on that plane the less fuel they have to burn.

The short routes tend to be the more profitable ones.  There are more of them (one plane can make 2-3 round trips in a day).  And they burn less fuel.  That adds up to profitability.  Which is why Qantas is profitable on their domestic routes.  But not on their international routes.  And why the domestic business can pay the high union contracts.  While the international business can’t.

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China Spending less on Unprofitable High-Speed Trains, wants Private Investors to Lose Money Instead

Posted by PITHOCRATES - May 26th, 2012

Week in Review

Governments everywhere want to build high-speed trains.  They like them because they’re very high profile and can stand as memorials to the politicians that gave them to us.  They like them because they are so costly, both to run and to operate.  Requiring higher taxes and lots of government borrowing.  They like them because they are so labor intensive.  Both to build and to operate.  This creates a lot of jobs.  Yes, they are all of these things.  But one thing they are not is profitable (see Railways try to get investors on track by Wei Tian and Xin Dingding posted 5/21/2012 on China Daily).

Experts predict lukewarm response as sector seeks private capital…

Zhou, who is chairman of the Wenzhou Small and Medium-sized Enterprises Development Association, represents a group of wealthy industrialists in East China’s Zhejiang province.

The railway authority in Wenzhou, he said, has been negotiating with entrepreneurs but so far the government is offering just 8 percent of the profits.

“Eight percent is not attractive,” he said. Railway programs require huge investment, the sector has suffered losses and entrepreneurs are cautious, he said.

According to data released by the ministry, its debt reached 2.43 trillion yuan ($384 billion) by the end of March, with a debt ratio of 60.6 percent.

The ministry also reported a loss of 6.98 billion yuan in the first quarter.

Meanwhile, fixed investment in railways was 89.6 billion yuan, 48.3 percent less than the same period last year…

…private capital is already involved in railway construction, he said, explaining that a 624-kilometer coal transport line, partially funded by the privately owned Xinjiang Guanghui Industry Investment Group, had begun construction in late March.

However, he warned that it will not be easy to attract private investors into industries that are no longer profitable.

Building these railways gave the government a huge debt.  That debt ratio (total liabilities divided by total assets) means lenders are not all that happy.  With over half the total assets of the railway programs paid for by debt and an annualized loss of 27.9 billion Yuan (4 X 6.98 billion Yuan) investors see these railway programs for what they are.  Investment losers.  They rack up debt and can’t operate at a profit.  Even the government doesn’t want to pay for them anymore and is trying to find private investors to throw away their money.

Railroads are so costly because there is infrastructure everywhere a train travels.  And the revenue from the train has to pay for this infrastructure.  From the first survey to the first grading to the first ballast to the first track to the first switch to the first signal there are nothing but high capital costs.  Followed by high operating costs to make everything work.  From maintenance crews to engineers to conductors to train crews to dispatch centers to ticket sellers.  High-speed passenger rail is the most expensive rail of all.  Because they’re typically electric which requires even more infrastructure wherever that train travels.  And no grade crossings.  So that’s more tunnels and bridges.

Only two high-speed lines earn enough revenue to pay both their capital and operating costs.  One in Japan.  And one in France.  Governments subsidize all other passenger rail.  Only the freight railroads are profitable.  Which is why companies in the private sector still own the freight railroads.   Why freight?  Because there is no more cost effective way to move containers or bulk freight.  Like coal.  Which is where private capital is currently going to in China.  Because coal is never an investment loser.  And there is no better way to move coal overland than by train.

The bidding process has come in for harsh criticism by the public after a crash involving two high-speed trains in Zhejiang province killed at least 40 people and injured more than 200 others in July.

According to the findings of an investigation announced last December, malpractice and illegal contracts were found in the bidding process administered by the Ministry of Railways and its subordinate bureaus, which resulted in the failure of a train control system that had never undergone field tests before launch, Xinhua reported.

The national auditor said in March that it had uncovered evidence of fraud, waste, mismanagement and irregular accounting and procurement totaling billions of yuan at the ministry’s flagship high-speed Beijing-Shanghai railway.

And here’s the other reason why politicians love high-speed rail.  It is so much easier to conceal fraud, waste and irregular accounting and procurement practices when the money amounts are so large.  It’s a sad thing that government is not very good at building and running trains but is very good at the fraud.  We should remember this the next time government wants to spend a fortune on high-speed rail.

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