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Sunday, February 19, 2012

Sunday Morning News and Views, Part I

For Catholics Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the Easter season.

Fewer people may be traveling for Easter and even fewer this summer. The national average for unleaded gas has risen to $3.50 a gallon only three times in history. This year's rise to that threshold is the earliest ever, and the Department of Energy suggests that prices could near $5 a gallon by the start of the summer driving season. The reason may make you angry. We have plenty of gasoline and fuel oil, so much that we are running out of storage space. Refineries are slowing or shutting down, some for financial reasons (profit margins have become a loss instead of a profit for many of the older plants) and some because there is no demand for additional refined product. So why isn't gas cheap? Because investors / speculators are driving prices up, in anticipation of disruptions in the Middle East and the cost of new exploration around the world, and resulting future profits. 

Not everyone is out to make money. In Missouri farm country, a physicist has started a workshop to build open source prototypes of the industrial machines needed for modern civilization. Completed prototypes of a hydraulic power cube, tractor and compressed earth brick press are functioning on the Open Source Ecology farm in Maysville, Missouri. The machines have been replicated and are now being used in Texas, Indiana and California. The physicist-turned-farmer, Marcin Jokubowski, says the design and production of this open source hardware has profound implications for both the developing and developed world.

70 years ago today President Roosevelt signed an executive order interring Japanese Americans from "zones" (mostly Hawaii and California) in what amounted to prison camps. Camps were later set up in urban cities in the Midwest and east for Japanese and German Americans who were thought sympathetic to the Axis. Despite being treated as foreign prisoners, most internees remained patriotic and loyal to the US. Units made up of German Americans fought in the Pacific against the Japanese, and Japanese American units, all volunteers.

One in 12 marriages are now interracial, according to government statistics. Increased in Hispanic and Asian population are the factors, as marriage between blacks and whites remains stable, although more accepted than in decades past. It is important to note that one partner does not need to classify as "white" to constitute an interracial marriage.

Peggielene Bartels was a secretary at the Embassy of Ghana in Washington, D.C., when she discovered she had been named king of a Ghanaian village at age 55. She became the first female leader of a male-dominated community thousands of miles away from her home in the U.S. Her new book is called "King Peggy: An American Secretary, Her Royal Destiny and the Inspiring Story of How She Changed an African Village."

A digital publishing conference in New York attracted entrepreneurs and innovators more excited than afraid of the transition from print to e-books.  If you have had the opportunity to watch any 5 to 10 year old you will find them using iPads and other pad computers with ease. They prefer color, movement and sound. Many feel that the future of publishing will have to be electronic and interactive to keep a literate America a reality. In addition textbooks and non-fiction can be updated rapidly and with ease, rather than waiting for the expense and time of a new edition print run. Of course the biggest advantage is that e-books may lower cost and increase profits. "May"is the key word, as, depending on the book, there are additional expenses for programmers, graphic artists, video professionals and voice talent.

Self publishing has never been lower in cost. Electronic publishing allows writers to write what they want and offer it on-line, sell by the unit and build and audience. The printing press has been democratised allowing writers to do what they like, with optional editing and print editions only when they can afford it or there is a demand. Much of the on-line books are fluid, meaning the author can change them at will, instead of being fixed in ink and paper. Readership may be small, but a larger dollar amount goes to the author and the ability for fast feedback and communication through websites, discussion boards and e-mail is a welcome one for most writers, changing how the entire industry operates.

The Los Angeles film community is upset about a new bright green bike lane on Spring Street in Los Angeles. The shade of green, and the placement of the bike lane have angered film crews, who normally use the street as a stand-in for metropolitan areas around the country, and for several eras. The change represents a loss of revenue for the industry and the heavily used location.

A protest movement, led by rappers and a journalist, has taken off in Senegal. It's called Y'en a Marre (yon a mar) which, in French slang, means "Enough is enough, we're fed up." The youthful citizens' movement rapidly gained popularity. Its first goal was to mobilize youth and disgruntled voters, ahead of the presidential election (on Feb. 26). The second was to put pressure on Senegal's politicians to focus on the people.

Student loan debt is now higher than credit card debt. Escalating tuition, book costs and cost of living in this "post" recession period are costing students more than ever before. Cuts by states in schools, leading to a decrease in experienced faculty, majors, classes and class sections, have made much higher costing private schools attractive. These schools can guarantee the courses and the faculty, although there are other issues under constant investigation by the government. 

Zabadani, the regime had negotiated a cease-fire with local elders. But the following day, government troops launched an assault that looks very much like the one in Homs -- relentless shelling of civilian neighborhoods followed by  house-to-house raids. Unlike in Homs, the Free Army in Zabadani has melted away. And the civilians are paying the price. A simliar offensive is now being launched in Daraa. This latest offensive makes it impossible for the international community to ignore the bloodshed, but still, analysts say "cheap" solutions like arming the opposition would only make matters worse.  

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