You are currently browsing the Breaching The Web blog archives for February, 2009.

Heartbreak

February 20th, 2009

A rare bird, Worcester’s buttonquail (Turnix worcesteri), long though to be extinct was photographed and videotaped recently. This is the first photograph ever recorded of this bird. The Worcester’s buttonquail is very secretive, with no song, and it avoids contact with humans and other animals.

After it was photographed, it was sold to a poultry market, where it was slaughtered, butchered, sold for food and presumably eaten. The hunter that caught it didn’t know how rare it was. To make this story even sadder, it’s thought that the bird was female, suggesting that it might have laid eggs somewhere — and if there had been a male hiding somewhere too, there might have been a sliver of hope for the species. Link via glitter_trash on Twitter.

Tea Coins

February 20th, 2009

I’m very curious about tea coins, which are compressed tea disks that can be used to brew up to 4 cups of tea. There are afew different kinds available via Amazon.com. One nice thing about them is that they are compressed by tea producers themselves rather than being sent out for packaging — which retains more jobs and more of the profit in the region that produced the tea. Interesting.

Creeping protectionism

February 19th, 2009

I’m cheesed off about the Bush administration’s last-minute increase of tariffs on Roquefort cheese. I like moldy cheese, thank you very much, and I like the occasional imported Roquefort. Although this is a bit of a sideshow, it’s an important trade issue, as the tariff was increased in retaliation of the French ban on US beef.

Now the Obama administration has doubled the tariff on a Spanish ham called jamon iberico, which costs up to $200 per ham.

Now the market for French Cheese and Spanish ham isn’t all that big or all that important, but these are small indicators of a rising preference for protectionism — the largest of which was the “buy American” clause in the new stimulus bill. This is troubling — protectionism was a major problem during the 1930s, isolating, stifling, and limiting trade while at the same time making products so expensive that people couldn’t buy them even if they wanted to. Protectionism would be even worse this time around because of how much more integrated the world economy is. It’s a worry.

Wowsa!

February 19th, 2009

I’m looking at Sexy People — are you? (work safe!)

Terror by example

February 18th, 2009

I can’t say that I’ve paid all that much attention to the California budget crises. I’ve read the occasional news article when I came across it and read the occasional rant on Hullabaloo when I happened to see it. I’ve even dealt with the fallout a bit in my job, because we have a contract with the state. But beyond that, I haven’t watched too carefully, in part because it’s simply too awful to contemplate the way the state’s Republican minority has obstinately refused to compromise with the Democratic leadership.

I think I need to start paying attention though, in light of the Republicans rejection of the Federal stimulus bill. It seems that they are taking a page from the California playbook, where the Republicans have dug in their heels and refused to vote for anything but tax cuts. They won’t abide tax increases or deficit spending. It’s like someone handed us a crystal ball in which we can see what the national Republicans are likely to spend the next four years doing, and I intend to gaze into it through Calitics, California Progress Report and California Majority Report, among others. Won’t you join me?

I didn’t have a camera

February 10th, 2009

I went for a walk in my neighborhood on Sunday. It was a beautiful, warm Spring-like day. It will get cold again here soon, but on Sunday I had a preview of Spring.

I saw snowdrops blooming in a yard. I didn’t have a camera, so I can’t show them to you, but they were tiny, fragile, and magnificent. They were the first flowers of Spring.

Italian and German Internees

February 4th, 2009

From the ephemera blog comes this story of how the return address on an envelope led to the discovery of the little-known story of Italian and German Internees during World War II.

Richard Sheaff has published an article in the December issue of American Philatelist that tells the story of his research into an unstamped 1947 envelope marked “Free Civil Internees Mail.” In research prompted by the envelope, Sheaff found there were 11,000 American-born Germans and 3,000 Italian Americans confined to detention camps. The story of naturalized citizens of Japan being interned is well known, but Sheaff sheds light on this lesser known phenomenon.

It’s worth reading.

Soil temperature

February 3rd, 2009

I’m anxiously awaiting spring so that I can start my garden. I’ve been planning and plotting what to grow and buying lots of seeds. You can read about those plans in my journal at MyFolia if you are interested.

I was really pleased to find this soil temperature map, which provides forecasts by region for soil temperatures for the next five days. Certain seeds will not germinate until the soil temperature is warm enough, so this is useful and interesting information. Since my garden was new last year, most of my soil was new and I didn’t have to wait for it to warm up. I have a thermometer and will take readings, but the map will give me an idea of when I should start paying attention.

Education stimulus

February 1st, 2009

I have been following the news about the stimulus plan with interest, but not as closely as I might. So it’s possible that others have already discussed this, but I believe it is important.

One of the issues that has drawn ire of House Republicans is the inclusion of additional funding for Pell grants in the plan. Most people who have written to defend funding for Pells have focused on the importance of having an educated workforce, or on regaining some competitive ground America’s universities have lost (here’s one example. These are both important and valid reasons to include educational funding in the stimulus package, which is not just aimed at economic recovery, but also at economic growth.

But equally important is the need to delay the entry of young people into the workforce. In a period of rising unemployment, as 2009 is anticipated to be, any policy that increases the number of young people who choose college over working will benefit unemployed workers, especially lower-income unemployed workers. Of course, most people who receive Pell grants will also work — a Pell doesn’t pay one’s entire tution — but the number of jobs available to the unemployed will still be higher than it would be otherwise.

This is not an unusual function for a social program. The U.S. welfare program — Aid to Dependent Children (ADC), and later renamed Aid to Families with Dependent Children (more commonly known as AFDC or just as “welfare”) — had similar ambitions. It was designed primarily to assist families where the male bread-winner was deceased. But it wasn’t just a bleeding-heart scheme to help the less fortunate. Passed in 1935 in the middle of the Great Depression, the measure was a way to keep widowed women with children out of the workforce, thus preserving the jobs they might have taken for unemployed men. Sadly, ADC was massively underfunded at passage, receiving only $25 million of the requested $120 million, so it didn’t have as large an effect on the workforce as it otherwise might have, but it did keep some people out of the workforce and ration jobs. It’s also worth noting that the GI Bill served a similar job rationing function as men returned from World War II and flooded the labor market.

Unfortunately for us today, AFDC was replaced by Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) in 1995. TANF imposes time limits on the number of years a person can receive TANF assistance in their lifetimes. This means that TANF does not serve the job-rationing function that AFDC did. One of the key criticisms made against AFDC was that it gave parents the option of staying out of the workforce — which was in fact an outcome it was designed to produce, but during the era of 3% unemployment, no one cared about that. Although many, many states have waivers freeing them from the time limit requirement, many don’t. It’s not likely that the Obama administration will ever revise TANF overtly given the intense opposition that welfare programs always face from conservatives (of both parties) and it’s unlikely that the states will be able to fund further changes to their systems via more waivers any time soon, given their dire financial circumstances. It’s too bad, because the labor market could use all the help it can get right now and welfare programs are an important way to leverage available jobs.

In any case, my point here is that of course Pell grants are important for helping low-income students, for educating the workforce, and for retooling for the future. But they are also critically important for limiting the rise of unemployment right now. They have a very proper place in the stimulus plan.