Google Earth, street view

United States

United States (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As a young, unmarried man, I drove around the USA extensively on holiday to see the USA, but not in a Chevrolet. My first car was a Corvair that I quickly replaced with a Buick. Now it is possible on Google Earth to drive the streets of the US and most of Europe at ground level at about 15 miles per hour, riding along with the Google truck photographing most of our streets and highways. In fact using a more portable version of its hardware, Google is now photographing many trails within our national parks. Soon it will be possible to remotely go almost anywhere one wants to go without leaving home.

To use Google Earth to explore our world,  zoom down to street level or drag the small human figure from the upper right side of the screen to any dark blue line on your monitor. Street view will appear and can be navigated using the lower of two compass roses and by following the computer generated white or yellow lines on the pavement. To return to an overhead view, just click the button labelled “Exit Street View.”

Air travel

Logo on an Eastern Air Lines DC-3

Logo on an Eastern Air Lines DC-3 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Western Airlines

Western Airlines (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

While recently driving between Saint George, Utah and Ventura, California, my wife and I started discussing why we drive the seven-hour trip rather than fly. It was during when air travel was snarled in the East by winter storms. We decided that there are too few airlines competing for business and large, national carriers are more affected by weather than smaller, regional carriers. In my younger days, there was a carrier based in the East named Eastern Air Lines and one in West named Western Airlines. They did not compete, connect or share resources, such as airplanes and pilots. Weather or mechanical problems on one carrier did not directly affect the other. Those times are long past. Within large national carriers, problems in one sector often can and do affect service throughout the carrier’s area of service. Bad weather in the East may produce delays and cancellations elsewhere.

I used to fly often for business and pleasure both in the front and back of airplanes. Lacking much recent experience, I decided to query a friend who flies frequently. His greatest dissatisfaction with the present system is the hassle of security by TSA. He described the frequent practice of airlines to overbook leading to packed flights, at least in coach. He believes that the present poor service he has experienced is due to airlines striving for efficiency, and of course, greater profit. I have a somewhat different view of the current state of air travel.

I have always viewed air travel as a necessary chore; I prefer to drive where possible. My friend has been occasionally upgraded to business class, and his description of the experience is more in line with my memory of air travel than is today’s flying experience for the vast majority of air travelers. Why does today’s flying public put up with the inconveniences of air travel today? Partly I think that many travelers don’t know how much the flying experience has deteriorated and partly because many cannot afford to pay for a better experience. The same stagnation in middle-class incomes that leads to shopping at discount stores also produces a public that flies in the rear of airplanes and lacks other forms of travel.

And this situation will continue as long as the 1% and their supporters in Congress do not fly on the same planes that you and I do. The tax laws are written so that many of the 1% fly for free or nearly free in corporate jets. They do not experience the hassle of TSA inspections. One member of the 1% was quoted as saying, ” Only losers fly commercial.” It is not possible to gauge how prevalent that attitude is, but do you remember the fast reaction to the air traffic controller inspired delays produced by the sequester cuts? Congress immediately legislated relief. Not because of the inconvenience to the flying public, but because of possible inconvenience to the 1% flying in private aircraft.

Today’s flying experience is made worse by the fact that airlines are making seats smaller to increase profits while at the same time some airlines are eliminating galleys and some toilets. Over recent decades, Americans have grown taller, wider and heavier while leg room and the ability of seats to recline have shrunk. When I was flying often, airlines flew with some empty seats which made flying a better experience. Now some airlines charge extra for every amenity including aisle or window seats.

What will it take to produce relief for those of us in the 99% who want a better experience while traveling by air? We won’t see any improvement while the politically connected have their own, separate system of air travel. One way would be to increase income levels so that more people can afford to fly in the middle or front of airplanes. Another way would be to break up the large airlines into smaller ones to promote more competition. Another would be a concerted effort to develop a nation-wide system of high-speed rail to give travelers an alternative to air travel.

To get the support of the 1% for the effort, I would suggest customer satisfaction surveys every 90 or 180 days. If customer satisfaction falls below a certain level, say 90% on time and other important measures, then corporate jets would be banned from US airspace until the metric is met. That certainly would get the attention of the 1% and ensure their support for ensuring higher air passenger satisfaction.

Derivatives

English: Wall Street sign on Wall Street

English: Wall Street sign on Wall Street (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The abuse of unregulated derivatives by Wall Street caused the Great Recession. That is the conclusion reached in Republic, Lost, How Money Corrupts Congress–and a Plan to Stop It by Lawrence Lessig. The following quotation is the simple analogy he uses to explain what happened. The regulation of derivatives is compared to laws regulating automobile highway speeds.

“A speed limit that applies to black cars only will not only incentivize the sale of colorful vehicles, it will also be a boon to the paint departments of auto body shops everywhere. That’s the story of Wall Street in the 2000s. While some portion of the market for derivatives was no doubt driven by a genuine meed for the particular flexibility of a derivative, a huge proportion was simply black cars being painted red. The winners in this new market were the drivers of those freshly painted cars, and the firms that had done the paint jobs (aka Wall Street). The losers were–surprise, surprise–the rest of us.”

The derivatives in question were backed by US mortgages and rated AAA by Standard and Poor and others. Derivatives were exempt from regulation by act of Congress as urged by Alan Greenspan and others. Financial instruments still regulated by law were recast as derivatives to escape regulation. And without the discipline of regulation, Wall Street took on excessive risk. And it came tumbling down in 2007-8 birthing the Great Recession.

I love Obamacare

Icon from Nuvola icon theme for KDE 3.x.

Icon from Nuvola icon theme for KDE 3.x. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We took our son out to dinner yesterday to a restaurant in Ancestor Square, the very heart of Saint George where Brigham Young used to winter with some of his wives. Here in Saint George we hear nothing but scorn for the Affordable Care Act and President Obama, and Utah refused to offer expanded health care to its citizens. To my surprise and delight, I saw a parked, upscale SUV with a sticker in its rear window, I love Obamacare. So even here in the reddest state in the union, there are some supporters of the President and his signature, at least so far, accomplishment

 

Economics 101

English: Cropped version of File:Official port...

English: Cropped version of File:Official portrait of Barack Obama.jpg. The image was cropped at a 3:4 portrait ratio, it was slightly sharpened and the contrast and colors were auto-adjusted in photoshop. This crop, in contrast to the original image, centers the image on Obama’s face and also removes the flag that takes away the focus from the portrait subject. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“You didn’t make this,” said Barack Obama during the 2012 campaign and the GOP made a big deal of it, even adopting the idea as the theme of their convention. Apparently Barack was paying more attention in class than Mitt and the business-oriented leaders of the GOP did. The standard text in Economics 101 is Economics by Samuelson and Nordhaus. The quote below is from the 17th edition.

“It is only too clear that all of us reap the benefits of an economic world we never made. as the great British sociologist L. T. Hobhouse said: The organizer of industry who thinks that he has ‘made’ himself and his business has found a whole social system ready to his hand in skilled workers, machinery, a market, peace and order–a vast apparatus and a pervasive atmosphere, the joint creation of millions of men and scores of generations. Take away the whole social factor and we [are} but…savages living on roots, berries, and vermin.”