QuickNews, Tuesday, Dec. 29.
Why can't America make anything? Two words: business school. (New Republic)
AFTERSHOCKS OF TERRORIST AIRPLANE BOMB SCARE
Sniffer dogs patrol Detroit Metropolitan Airport on Sunday. A suspected terrorist on board a Detroit-bound Northwest flight attempted to blow up the aircraft Christmas Day. -Photo: Reuters.
OBAMA VOWS AIRLINE-SAFETY VILIGANCE | Announces stepped-up security measures. NYT headline "Key Dates Surrounding the Christmas Day Attack" is typical of alarmist coverage. (9/11 was an attack; what happened last Friday was a bungled attack.) Also noteworthy: Yemeni-backed terror group recruited 23-year-old Nigerian as the intended suicide bomber. Why not a Yemeni? And why not a bomber subjected to a "run-through" on how to detonate the device? Critics angry that suspect was placed on suspect list after his well-connected Nigerian father, a banker, warned U.S. embassy in Lagos that his son was seduced by Islamic extremism. In which case, why issue the suspect a U.S. visa in 2008? Answer is that there are about 500,000 people on that list, people who once talked with a person suspected of a terrorist connection - in other words, what police describe as "persons of interest." Suspect's name did not appear on the much smaller "no-fly" list. Real problem originates at Amsterdam's Schipol, one of Europe's four principal gateways, where screeners failed to detect explosives. And this particular explosive is easy to source and difficult to identify, which means the real focus of enhanced security should be on machines better able to detect it, and not more hassles for everyday passengers, which would not have prevented this incident. Such machines are available but costly. * Airline shares fall yesterday on first day of trading after Friday incident.
IS CLEAN TECH THE NEXT BUBBLE? | Billions are flooding into alternative-energy R&D. Critics note that solar and wind power are four times more costly to produce than conventional methods. What they're missing is that the alternative methods are in their infancy, the technology will become affordable as we settle on common standards, and the existing power grid makes alternatives costlier because it hasn't yet been retrofitted to transmit power from unconventional sources. I do believe billions will be "wasted" as some experimental technologies don't pan out. But a few will prove successful and become "the new normal," and firms developing those alternatives will be the Microsofts and Intels of the next decade. * Critics say Canada falling behind in alternative-energy race.
U.S. TO POISED TO PROMOTE NUKE POWER | Some $18.5 billion in loan guarantees. Obama is determined to unlock those funds, authorized by Congress back in 2005, to spur the first construction of U.S. civilian nuclear power plants since the Three Mile Island accident of 1979 brought new construction to a halt. Candidate Obama described himself as "agnostic" on alternatives to fossil-fuel power production, and here's more proof of it. For the U.S. is also now backing solar, wind, biofuels and other alternatives - everything and anything that might work. Notice these are mere guarantees, with the expectation Uncle Sam won't actually dip into the treasury. In some cases, D.C. is using $1 to leverage $10 out of the private sector. In this case, it's leveraging only a guarantee in the event of cost-overruns, and even those will be backed by hard assets with commercial value. Energy Department is hardly scattering the backing, having narrowed likely recipients of loan guarantees to just four firms: Southern Co, Constellation Energy, NRG Energy and SCANA Corp. Expectation is that private sector will foot the bill. "When DOE issues their first loan guarantee, that's going to send an important signal to private-sector financing, and Wall Street in particular," said John Keeley, a spokesman for the Nuclear Energy Institute.
IRAN SAID TO ARREST PRO-REFORM FIGURES | Detains aides to opposition leaders, reports say. The reports are uncomfirmed, as Tehran has exiled or sequestered foreign journalists during the current, widespread protests. Pro-reform websites are reporting on the crackdown.
UPBEAT LEADING INDICATOR | U.S. retail holiday sales were better than last year's. But we'll have to wait for corporate earnings reports to determine impact of heavy discounting on P&L. Still, shoppers are in the stores again, a good sign.
NFB CAPTURES RECESSION IN DOCS | Film board commissions real-life tales of getting by. Money well spent as scores of young Canadian filmmakers get valuable early experience. And their subject is everyday Canadians, not the bafflegab of economists. Reminiscent of FDR's Depression-era funding of artists and of writers - many destined for bestsellerdom - to document local and state history.
GOOGLE GOBBLE | Search giant needs to be reined in, argues NYT op-ed contributor. Cites various and proliferating methods by which Google favors its own ad-linked searches, and buries competition low on scroll or banishes altogether. * Here's an NYT-sponsored debate among experts on "the Google problem."
E-READERS AS NEWSPAPER SALVATION? | Well, they can't hurt. Kindle owners are actually buying access to newspapers they could read free on the Internet. Kindle is still priced too high to be within reach of vox populi and is tougher to navigate than iPhone, which helped rescue music business by converting pirating music lovers to downloaders of tunes at 99 cents apiece. Good news is that Kindle price will come down, usability improve with next generation. Meanwhile, Apple ever closer to launching its much anticipated reader, code-name Tablet, which promises the greater ease of use that made Apple's iPod a must-have.
YVES ROCHER DIES AT 79 | Pioneered plants and other natural ingredients in cosmetics. The French firm remains in operation and in family hands.
ROM MOCKED AS UGLIEST NEW BUILDING | Toronto museum smacked again. This time it's the Washington Post finding the so-called Royal Ontario Museum "Crystal" (actually a metal shed with a few strips of glass) to be atop the list of eyesores of the decade. "Sure, there were a lot of Wal-Marts thrown up in the Aughts, but Daniel Libeskind's addition to the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto surpasses the ugliness of bland buildings by being both ugly and useless," writes the Post's Philip Kennicott. Earlier this month, VirtualTourist.com put the Libeskind/Thorsell monstrosity #8 on its list of the world's 10 ugliest buildings. (It was forceful ROM director William Thorsell's enchantment with Libeskind that forced the ROM board's approval of the monstrosity.)
OPP CELLPHONE CRACKDOWN | Force already has fined 50 phone-drivers. Edict doesn't become law until Feb. 1, but Ontario Provincial Police are already nabbing motorists whose driving behaviour it deems erratic.
QUOTE OF THE DAY | "There is a certain relief in change, even though it be from bad to worse; as I have found in traveling in a stagecoach, that it is often a comfort to shift one's position and be bruised in a new place." -Washington Irving.
Courtesy, The New Yorker, Dec. 14 edition.