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TMQ Tidbits of the Week

Once again, here is the best of Gregg Easterbrook’s Tuesday Morning Quarterback column on ESPN.com. You can read the football bits here.

Stats of the Week No. 10: On” Monday Night Football,” Tony Romo threw more touchdown passes to Chicago players than to Dallas players. (Honestly, this was included because I dislike the Cowboys.)

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Disclaimer of the Week: Reader Dave Muckel of Chester Springs, Pa., notes this story of an FTC crackdown. What dramatic punishment did the companies agree to? They agreed to stop breaking the law.

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$6 Million to Fix an Escalator — Your Tax Dollars at Work: Economic growth has slowed while the national debt has risen: Reckless borrowing has been the rule under both George W. Bush and Barack Obama. Yet hardly anything new is getting built. Government-funded construction projects continue to take too long and cost too much. Corruption in government contracting appears to be rampant, as does the desire of local politicians to drag their feet in order to keep money flowing. In May, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said that cost-effectiveness of subway spending is not as important as “social equity,” by which he seemed to mean channeling handouts to party interest groups. If the people in charge of large government spending projects — whether those people are Republicans or Democrats — think cost-effective use of taxpayers’ money does not matter, that is a formula for reckless borrowing combined with little progress. Exactly what the country’s getting.

A year ago your columnist offered numerous big-picture examples on Reuters. Sometimes the little picture is easier to understand, so consider the reflecting pool between the Washington and Lincoln monuments. Recently there was a federally funded project to renovate the reflecting pool. The renovation took two years — longer than was required to build the pool 90 years ago when machinery was much less efficient — and cost $34 million. Two years and $34 million to rebuild a pool of water.

The super-slow, super-expensive project — perhaps overseen by dozens of senior-grade managers with few if any actual duties — is now finished, and the new pool has immediately filled with algae.

The National Park Service, which supervised the renovation, “said the project was an overall success,” The Washington Post reported. Of course the project was a success — Park Service officials and contractors received millions of dollars for doing very little. That was the whole point all along! At any private business that botched an overpriced project, heads would roll. The Park Service knows that as with all government initiatives, there will never be any accountability. When government botches an overpriced project, everyone gets a raise. Excuse me, a “step increase.”

Here’s another small, comprehensible example. The subsidized public transportation authority of the Washington, D.C., area is taking eight months and $12 million merely to replace two escalators.

The project specifications include two months of full staffing for “adjustment” of the escalators. Two months to adjust two escalators! The agency involved isn’t even embarrassed by this — from appearances, could not care less how much taxpayer money is wasted, so long as cushy government-guaranteed jobs continue.

Now to a big-scale project. The federal government is paying almost all the cost to extend Washington’s subway system from the Virginia suburbs to Dulles Airport. The new line is entirely above ground — no costly tunneling involved. Yet the project is slated to take eight years — the Hoover Dam took five years — and cost at least $6.8 billion, a stunning $296 million per mile. Bridging the 12-lane Washington Beltway while the Beltway is open is involved, and that’s an expensive engineering feat. But most of the project is being built under favorable conditions, on board highway median strips already publicly owned and designed many years ago to accommodate rail construction.

Why is the cost $296 million per mile? Contractors and local authorities are dragging their feet. Since Uncle Sugar is paying, the longer the project takes and the more it costs, the more there is to steal. The federally funded Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority has jurisdiction over parts of the project. Recently an official had to resign; she was being paid $180,000 annually for part-time consulting advice. Another official billed taxpayers for such necessities as $9,000 for first-class airfare to Prague. In order to supervise construction in Virginia, you absolutely must fly first class to Czech Republic!

The disheartening part is that neither Democrats nor Republicans in Washington seem to care. The public be damned! And we’ve only ourselves to blame since next month, practically every politician involved in the mismanagement of public money will be re-elected.

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You Can’t Make This Up: Want the ashes of a departed loved one loaded into shotgun shells?

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These Kids Today! No. 1: The mainstream media [MSM] are run by graying Baby Boomers. When young, they viewed themselves as extremely open-minded, in addition to being the first generation ever to discover sex. Now their collective attitude toward today’s young, the Millennials, may be described with the technical term “harrumph.”

Over the summer, TMQ noted the MSM have proclaimed a shocking, sweeping trend of “hooking up” that supposedly means out-of-control carnality among those of college age — though studies show that sexual activity is in shallow decline among the young. Of course, “Sexual activity in shallow decline among the young” doesn’t make for a salacious headline. Assuming hooking up even exists as some new social phenomenon — it sounds an awful lot like meeting at parties — graying MSM editors view it as empty sex without commitment. And sex in a sleeping bag at Woodstock differed how, exactly?

Last week the august New York Times (that’s the august paper, not an August issue) declared a new shocking Millennials trend: College kids don’t spend enough time drinking in dive bars! The horror! This sweeping trend supposedly is happening “in college towns across America.” The Times provided two actual examples: college bars that closed in Ithaca, N.Y., across from Cornell University (and also across from Ithaca College, a 6,000-student institution of whose existence the Times seems unaware) and “Iowa City, where at least four bars have closed since 2011.”

Seems kids today are using that InterWeb thing to socialize without paying for drinks in bars. When in doubt, blame Facebook! The Times went on to suggest that college-aged kids are drinking to wild excess. Entire bottles of champagne poured into 32-ounce cups, half bottles of vodka in fishbowls, the hard stuff said to be flowing freely. “I drink liquor because it takes too long to drink beer,” a college reveler is quoted as saying. That’s always been my complaint about a glass of beer — takes way too long to drink.

Yet research shows that U.S. alcohol consumption has remained relatively stable. This 2010 Gallup study found that U.S. alcohol consumption peaked in 1978 and is mainly down since. This year, Gallup’s Wellbeing arm found that college-aged Americans report 5.4 drinks per week, hardly Dionysian, that only one-third in the college-aged group say they “sometimes drink too much.” Gallup also found young men prefer beer while young women prefer wine; liquor is a low priority to the college-aged.

Of course there are examples of college kids who drink too much and of bars that close; in a country of 308 million souls, you can find examples of anything. The college-bars article, like most “these kids today!” commentaries, labors under the assumption that every anecdote equals a trend.

Now check the correction posted just hours after The New York Times edition containing the story was delivered to aging Boomers who still get the printed version:

“An article on Thursday described the effect of social media use on the bar scene in several college towns, including the area around Cornell. After the article was published, questions were raised by the blog IvyGate about the identities of six Cornell students quoted in the article or shown in an accompanying photo. None of the names provided by those students to a reporter and photographer for The Times — Michelle Guida, Vanessa Gilen, Tracy O’Hara, John Montana, David Lieberman and Ben Johnson — match listings in the Cornell student directory, and The Times has not subsequently been able to contact anyone by those names.”

Who figured out something the MSM missed? The Cornell student newspaper and bloggers using that InterWeb thing.

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In “Taken 3,” Neeson Rescues the Writers Who Were Kidnapped from the First Two Productions: As “Taken 2” premieres, forget that Liam Neeson once was an actor. Forget that at age 60, he is depicted as effortlessly beating up gangsters half his age. Forget that not once, not twice, but three times in “Taken,” Neeson’s character walked into a situation unarmed and within seconds had killed half a dozen men who had guns.

The most unrealistic scene of “Taken” occurred off camera, at the end. In the act of rescuing his daughter, Neeson’s character has shot dead at least 50 people in Paris. He’s caused a huge explosion, killed multiple rich people at a high-society party in a mansion and slaughtered everyone on a luxury yacht on the Seine. Then he and his daughter just go to the airport and fly home. Neeson doesn’t have any kind of diplomatic status or CIA protection, he’s in Paris as a rogue. He shoots dozens of people, then gets on a plane without anyone noticing or any police watching the airports.

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Unified Field Theory of Creep: Jake Greenland of Nepean, Ontario, reports that Bruce Arthur has been named 2012 Canadian sportswriter of the year — with a quarter of the year remaining, including the 100th Grey Cup.

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Pennies Are Not From Heaven: Canada has announced it will withdraw pennies from circulation, joining Australia, Brazil, Finland, Israel, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Switzerland and the United Kingdom as countries that have eliminated the penny or its equivalent.

TMQ has long maintained the United States ought to eliminate the penny — and the nickel and dime, too. Adjusting for inflation, a penny of the year 1900 equals 26 cents today. That makes today’s penny too trivial to bother with, while “the quarter is the smallest unit of currency that bears meaning in modern society.”

With the cost of minerals rising in the past decade, the United States Mint now spends 2.4 cents for every penny produced. Thus today’s penny has negative value — government loses money minting pennies, while consumers and businesses lose money sorting and counting such inconsequential coins. It makes more economic sense to throw pennies into the trash than to waste resources carrying them around.

So why does the penny endure? The zinc lobby profits from the penny. The zinc lobby is not exactly the oil lobby or the Hollywood lobby. But it’s a lobby, and in modern American politics, every lobby seems to get whatever it asks, the public be damned.

If Congress is too timid to abolish the penny, what do you suppose is happening with obsolescent programs involving serious costs? Members of Congress are not taking their campaign donations and their kickbacks in pennies, that’s for sure.

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These Kids Today! No. 2: The entertaining aspect of the fizzled Newt Gingrich presidential campaign was that Gingrich still blames the 1960s for everything. The 1960s were half a century ago. In the year 2012, blaming the 1960s makes about as much sense as someone during the 1960s blaming events on the 1910 appearance of Halley’s Comet.

Since Gingrich put the 1960s into play, note that during that decade the mainstream media advocated what was then called “free love,” and looked down with scorn upon those who backed traditional views of marriage and lovemaking. Yet today when people engage in free love, graying Boomers who run the MSM get all squeamish.

Here, The New York Times treats as shocking that an unmarried yoga instructor had “a penchant for women” and liked “partying and fun.” Man likes women — arrest him! The unmarried instructor faces “accusations of sexual impropriety,” which means “yoga’s enlightened façade” is tainted by “scandal.” And the scandal is what? That unmarried adults are having consensual sex. This “penchant” must be stopped — it can lead to fun.

Worse, yoga can “promote sexual arousal” by causing “emotional closeness” that leads to “increased blood flow” which makes “pelvic regions more sensitive,” resulting in “debauchery.” Who wrote this, Queen Victoria?

All news organizations, including ESPN, sometimes publish ill-thought-through articles. What’s compelling about this one is the sociological change reflected. When they were young, the Baby Boomers who now run big news organizations extolled free love and mocked the older generation’s conventional expectations about sexuality. Now that the Boomers have aged and are not getting any themselves, they evince shock that younger people are fooling around.

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These Kids Today No. 3: There was front-page MSM hand-wringing last week about the continuing slight decline in SAT scores. As Toby Harshaw notes at Bloomberg View, the numbers actually are positive, because they reflect ever-rising participation in college board testing by minorities, immigrants and ESL kids. Once the SATs were taken only by whites from affluent backgrounds; then by whites from all backgrounds; increasingly they are taken by everybody.

That’s good news, even taking into account the SATs were “recentered” in 1995 to inflate outcomes. Having almost everyone in high school aspire to college is much more important to society than small score declines, which don’t translate to much anyway.

 

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