Posts Tagged ‘wsj’

Who Are You Calling Old? (WSJ)

Tuesday, August 26th, 2008

[Editor's note: Fabulous charting of notable past presidents and their age entering office, age at death, and time in office. Includes Teddy Roosevelt, Kennedy, Clinton, Buchanan, Harrison, Reagan, and potential Obama and McCain. Reprinted from the Wall Street Journal. View full resolution version.]

 

Labels Change as Americans Live Longer, But Age Still Plays a Role in Election

By JUNE KRONHOLZ
August 26, 2008; Page A15

In 1996, Bob Dole, the Republican Party’s presidential nominee, battled criticism that, at 73 years old, he was too old to be president. Now 85, Mr. Dole is working “pretty much every day” at a Washington law firm, says the firm’s spokesman.

Age is certain to be an issue in this election, too. Republican Sen. John McCain, who turns 72 this week, would be the oldest man elected president should he win. Democratic Sen. Barack Obama, at 47, would be the fourth-youngest.

But in a country that is rapidly aging while staying healthy longer, what does old age mean, and how much should it matter?

The average U.S. life expectancy is now age 78, up 30 years since 1900 and up 10 years since 1950, according to the Census Bureau. Geriatricians now talk of those younger than 80 as the “young old,” and of those younger than 65 as the “near old.

U.S. businesses still seem wary of older people. The Corporate Library, a business-research firm, says that seven of the largest 500 public companies, including News Corp. — owner of Dow Jones & Co., publisher of The Wall Street Journal — have chief executives who are 72 or older. Some corporate recruiters warn about the memories, energy levels and technological savvy of older executives.

By that standard, businessman Warren Buffet, one-quarter of U.S. senators and four Supreme Court justices are over the over-72 hill.

In corporate America, “there’s a code word — how much ‘runway’ does a guy have” left in his career, said Hal Reiter, chairman of Herbert Mines Associates, which recruits executives for the retail industry. An executive in his 60s probably has five to seven years left on his runway, Mr. Reiter said.

Some who study aging say such fears are misplaced. A 45-year-old and a 75-year-old “absolutely” have the same mental capacity, and energy is a function of health rather than aging, said Neil Resnick, chief of geriatric medicine at the University of Pittsburgh.

“Aging has such a small impact on how we function that it is of minimal importance” compared with experience, personality and the advisers a president or chief executive surrounds himself with, Dr. Resnick added.

Geriatricians say most people begin losing organ function — which means they start aging — somewhere between 18 and 30. After that, the heart, kidneys and other organs lose about 1% of their function each year. The world record for a 75-year-old marathon runner is about 50% longer than the world record for a runner who is 50 years younger.

But organs have from four to six times more capacity than most people need. That excess capacity is why we can run marathons or endure other extraordinary mental or physical challenges.

Brain function declines at the same rate as other organs, and especially affects how fast older people can retrieve information — the explanation for that maddening “senior moment.”

Our genes influence how much and how fast we decline: They account for about 30% of longevity and perhaps half of age-related changes in the brain, said John Rowe, a physician and former Aetna Inc. chairman who now heads a MacArthur Foundation research program on aging.

But life experience and accumulated wisdom can help offset normal brain decline and compensate for slowed retrieval time. “The great benefit of aging is ‘been there, done that and learned from it,’ ” said David Reuben, head of geriatric medicine at the University of California at Los Angeles. Mathematicians do their best work in their 20s; orchestra conductors and diplomats peak in their 60s or 70s, he added.

Continue reading at Wall Street Journal . . .

Shaky Economy Challenges Ambitious Obama Agenda (WSJ)

Tuesday, August 26th, 2008

 

[Editor's note: Glorified timeline with head shots and key issues and economic conditions facing the past three democratic presidents near the beginning of their terms, and the conditions Sen. Obama would face if elected. Republished from the Wall Street Journal. View full size graphic.]

Stocks and Housing Falter as Democrats’ Convention Opens

By BOB DAVIS and T.W. FARNAM
August 26, 2008; Page A1

Democrats convened in Denver on Monday with the economy’s woes muscling to the top of political concerns, as reflected in further drops in stocks and housing prices.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average tumbled 241.81 points, or 2.1%, to 11386.25, amid continuing worry over the economic and credit problems. Inventories of unsold homes rose to a record, while prices continued to slip, threatening to delay the housing market’s recovery.

Sen. Barack Obama, whom the party will nominate for president this week, addressed one of the key issues, the parlous state of the government-sponsored buyers of mortgages. “I don’t think we can allow Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to collapse,” he said at a town-hall meeting in Davenport, Iowa, adding that their shareholders “shouldn’t be protected.”

Against this backdrop, Sen. Obama is proposing to use the government to remake economic policies in a way that hasn’t been seen in Washington in decades.

The last two Democratic presidents, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, were hamstrung by rising deficits, feuds with Democrats in Congress and antigovernment sentiment in Washington. Sen. Obama’s advisers argue that he would be largely free from those constraints, easing the way for him to put in place big government programs, tax increases on the wealthy and trade restraints.

An Obama victory would be nearly certain to usher in a larger Democratic majority, which could give his proposals smoother sailing through Congress. If the economy is faltering if and when he takes office — as most economists and policy experts predict it will be — Mr. Obama would push for a stimulus plan with a price tag of $115 billion, his aides say. The plan would include $1,000 rebates for moderate-income and middle-class families, aid to state and local governments and heavy spending on roads, ports and levees and other infrastructure to create jobs.

Sen. Obama, in campaign appearances and discussions with staff, has said that he would start his term in office with three big economic priorities, apart from a possible stimulus plan. One would be a government health-care plan to cover millions without insurance. Another would be a system of tradable pollution permits to reduce emissions and bankroll alternative-energy projects. He’d also push the first increases in income-tax rates since 1993 and in capital-gains taxes since 1986.

In total, his top priorities would cost hundreds of billions of dollars a year, and some of them might require a stiff increase in regulation.

Rice University presidential historian Douglas Brinkley compares Sen. Obama’s approach on economic issues to the last Democrat to occupy the White House before Mr. Carter: Lyndon Johnson. But, he says, “it would be a Great Society with a small ‘g’ and a small ‘s’” because Sen. Obama isn’t planning anything as sweeping as the creation of Medicare, Medicaid and antipoverty agencies.

No matter what he plans, he might confront circumstances that divert him from his agenda, whether foreign threats from Iraq, Iran or Russia or a recession. Any such contingencies could consume his attention and divert many billions of dollars he would rather use otherwise.

Still, many presidents have pushed through their priorities despite major setbacks. President George W. Bush drove through two rounds of tax cuts while pursuing an unanticipated global war on terror. Ronald Reagan won tax cuts and deregulation despite years of Soviet challenges.

Continued at the Wall Street Journal . . .

For Massachusetts Fishermen, A Weighty Debate About Fair Play (WSJ)

Sunday, August 24th, 2008

[Editor's note: Neat explanation graphic reprinted from the Wall Street Journal about cheating in fishing competitions.]

‘Yo-Yoing’ Is Irresistible to Striped Bass,  But Technique Can Fill Them Full of Lead
By STEVE STECKLOW
August 22, 2008; Page A1

EDGARTOWN, Mass. — When Lev Wlodyka reeled in a massive 57-pound striped bass one evening last fall, it looked like he’d caught the biggest fish in the annual Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass & Bluefish Derby. Then judges cut it open.

Inside the striper’s stomach they found 10 bullet-shaped lead weights weighing nearly two pounds — surefire evidence of “yo-yoing,” a baiting technique banned from the high-profile event, which will be held again next month. Mr. Wlodyka was disqualified. “I was extremely happy and then extremely perturbed, disturbed, sick,” he says. The judges exonerated Mr. Wlodyka several days later, after deciding the weights had been lodged in the striper’s stomach for some time. After the weights were subtracted, his fish finished second.

But the incident stirred a fierce debate here about yo-yoing, a technically challenging but potent technique that involves stuffing a bait fish with lead weight so it will sink to the ocean’s bottom where big stripers lie. Popular in this corner of southeastern Massachusetts, yo-yoing is reviled by many sports anglers as unsportsmanlike and a potential source of toxic lead contamination to the fish — and the people who eat them.

Unlike metal or plastic artificial lures, which are rarely swallowed by fish, critics say yo-yoing’s bait too often leads to lead-filled stomachs. “There’s just a cleaner way to catch striped bass…something that doesn’t pollute the environment, that doesn’t contaminate fish and doesn’t represent a health hazard to the consumer of this fish,” says Ronald Domurat, a beach ranger and derby committee member.

Continue reading at WSJ . . .

Companies Try to Extend Researchers’ Productivity (WSJ)

Monday, August 18th, 2008

 

Teams of Various Ages, Newer Hires Combat Short Spans of Inventing
By GEORGE ANDERS.
Republished from the Wall Street Journal on Monday Aug. 18, 2008.

Some of the world’s best-known innovators, such as Google Inc. founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, did their landmark work before age 30. But it’s more common for inventors to start slowly and fade fast — a problem that is driving many high-tech companies to seek ways to stretch out the productive careers of their top researchers.

Researchers’ longevity faces pressure from two directions. It takes time to train young investigators so they can tackle the right problems effectively. Meanwhile, there’s a belief in some circles that older researchers are akin to aging athletes — full of knowledge but no longer nimble enough to be superstars.

A particularly stark view of age-related constraints on researchers’ work comes from Benjamin Jones, an associate professor at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. He examined biographical data over the past century for more than 700 Nobel laureates and renowned inventors.

His conclusion: “Innovators are productive over a narrowing span of their life cycle.” In the early 20th century, he found, researchers at the times of their greatest contributions averaged slightly more than 36 years old. In recent decades, innovation before the age of 30 became increasing rare, with the peak age of contribution rising toward age 40. Meanwhile, the frequency of key contributions has consistently diminished by researchers in their early or mid-50s.

Occasionally, Mr. Jones says, booming new fields “permit easier access to the frontier, allowing people to make contributions at younger ages.” That could account for the relative youth of Internet innovators, such as Netscape Communications Corp. founder Marc Andreessen and Messrs. Page and Brin. But “when the revolution is over,” Mr. Jones finds, “ages rise.”

Continue reading at Wall Street Journal . . .

Expansion of Pipeline Stirs Concerns Over Safety (WSJ)

Monday, August 4th, 2008

wsj pipeline map

[Editor's note: Map of existing and planned natural gas routes with neat magnitude treatment of largest connectors being built with the topology linkage emphasized. Red and green problematic for color impaired viewers but the online (color) version is easier to read than the black-and-white newsprint version, ever the bane of the newspaper cartographer.]

Natural-Gas Grid Increasingly Reaches Into Sensitive Areas

By BEN CASSELMAN
Reprinted from Wall Street Journal
August 4, 2008; Page A4

America’s natural-gas boom is driving the construction of thousands of miles of new pipelines, many of them crisscrossing heavily populated or environmentally sensitive areas.

About 4,400 miles of new pipeline will be built this year, according to government projections. That is more than 2.5 times last year’s figure and the biggest annual addition in the 10 years data have been collected. The new pipe will carry 47 billion cubic feet per day of natural gas, triple the amount carried by new pipeline in 2007, itself a record year.

The construction of highly pressurized lines snaking under farms and past residential areas is raising fears about safety and environmental impacts in communities along the new pipeline routes. Companies building the pipelines face lawsuits, eminent-domain battles and jurisdictional fights among the local, state and federal authorities that oversee the projects. Two New England projects have been held up or canceled in recent months because of local opposition. Even energy-friendly Texas has seen growing opposition to some projects in Fort Worth.

“The greatest need is in the most densely populated areas, which in turn are the most challenging places to site infrastructure,” said Robert Cupina, principal deputy director of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission office that oversees pipeline construction.

The pipeline boom is being driven by the need to distribute growing natural-gas production to markets across the nation. The U.S. is increasingly relying on natural gas as a fuel that is cleaner than coal, much cheaper than oil — albeit not as cheap as in past years — and, unlike most renewable alternatives, readily available. Natural gas generated 20% of U.S. electricity in 2006, up from 13% a decade earlier. Demand for natural gas could grow even faster if Congress passes new limits on carbon emissions, or if it becomes more popular as an alternative to gasoline, as Texas oilman T. Boone Pickens has recently proposed.

Natural-gas production “could be completely transformative to our country,” said Aubrey McClendon, chief executive of natural-gas giant Chesapeake Energy Corp. “The plumbing is being built right now.”

Continue reading at Wall Street Journal . . .

Garmin Risks Getting Lost (WSJ)

Sunday, August 3rd, 2008

 garmin phone

Reprinted from Wall Street Journal.

Garmin Ltd.’s dream, a satellite-navigation device in everybody’s hand, is getting closer by the day. Unfortunately a lot of those gadgets are cellphones, not the dedicated devices Garmin makes. That is one reason its shares are down about 70% from a high in October. And as the history of technology group Palm Inc. shows, Garmin’s shares may have further to fall. [Editor's note: Planned phone is different than smartphone / blackberry offerings by Garmin already in the marketplace.]

Palm’s personal-digital assistants were ubiquitous in the late 1990s. Its challenge came when cellphone markets boomed, and cellphone makers turned their phones into PDAs. Since people didn’t want to carry two devices, they chose their phone.

Continue reading at Wall Street Journal . . . 

Cycling Back Around: Bike Safety Hits Close to Home (WaPo, WSJ)

Sunday, August 3rd, 2008

[Editor's note: My mother was hit by a driver while riding her bike today and broke 2 fingers. Share the road and look for bikes! Cars and bikes both need to obey normal traffic laws! And let's get some more bike lanes striped.]

Continuing “Geography Matters” series . . .

Risking Life and Limb, Riding a Bike to Work in L.A.
(Most emailed article of the day on Friday)
Cyclists, Banned on Freeways and Reviled By Drivers, Save a Buck and Make a Point

By RHONDA L. RUNDLE
Wall Street Journal
August 1, 2008; Page A1
LOS ANGELES — Paula Rodriguez, who lives in the San Fernando Valley, got so disgusted with soaring fuel prices last spring that she stopped driving, sold her SUV and bought a bike.

But pedaling the 15 miles home from her job, the 30-year-old Ms. Rodriquez has encountered something more frightening than $4.50-a-gallon gasoline: the mean streets of L.A., home of the nation’s most entrenched car culture.

“Drivers scream at me to get off the road,” says the medical-billing clerk. The main commuting route near her home is so terrifying, she says, that she usually takes an alternative route that adds four miles to her trip.

Even then, it’s not an easy ride. On one stretch, splintered glass in the street could puncture her tires, she says. On Wednesdays, she has to dodge garbage cans blocking the bike lane. On Friday evenings, as the sun sets, she feels menaced by drunk drivers. Such threats compel her to sometimes swing onto the sidewalk, even though that could get her a ticket. “I go slow, ring my little bell and stop sometimes to say ‘hi’ to pedestrians,” she says.

Commuters across the U.S. are responding to high gasoline prices by finding alternatives to driving. But in Los Angeles, it takes a special kind of road warrior to hop on a bike in the name of saving the planet and a little money.

Continue reading at the Wall Street Journal . . .

bike dc girlCycling Back Around
Four Wheels Good, Two Wheels Better. In the City, an Old-Fashioned Conveyance Returns

By David Montgomery
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, August 2, 2008; Page C01

This is the summer you realize you need it again.

This is the summer of women on bicycles riding around town free as anything, wearing long dresses or skirts, sandals or even high heels, hair flowing helmet-free, pedaling not-too-hard and sitting upright on their old-school bikes, the kind with front baskets where they put their laptops, and handlebars that curve gently back in a bow shaped like the upper line of someone’s perfectly drawn red lipstick.

… The machine of the moment is the 1969 Schwinn Deluxe Racer, picked up on Craigslist for $75, with lightly rusted metal fenders and a three-speed Sturmey-Archer shifter on the upright handlebars. Or it’s a new Jamis Commuter, or a Breezer Villager, this year’s models that aren’t ashamed of the primitive, durable genius of an old Schwinn.

“Somewhere along the line, we made biking a hobby and a sport instead of a way to get around,” says Alexandra Dickson, an architect who commutes from Southwest Washington to her downtown office on a blue Breezer Villager that she calls Babe, after Babe the Blue Ox. “I’d like to see it get back to being a way of getting around.”

… What’s happening is, the American conception of the bicycle-as-toy and the bicycle-as-sports-equipment is being infiltrated by the European notion of the bicycle-as-transportation and the Asian notion of the bicycle-as-cargo-hauler.

The idea has dawned that, guess what, contrary to biker dogma of the 1970s and 1980s, you don’t have to break your back with drop-down handlebars and obsess over ever-lighter space-age frames. The totemic two-wheeler is no longer the Specialized Roubaix Elite Triple with the carbon frame and the 30-speed Shimano drivetrain for $1,949.99, last seen tearing down Beach Drive on weekends, bearing lawyers and lobbyists in full spandex peloton plumage. And good riddance to the 1980s’ and 1990s’ craze for tank-treaded, double-suspension mountain bikes. The only time you ever found yourself “off-road,” dude, was on the C&O Canal towpath.

Hybrids came along, of course, a compromise between road bikes and mountain bikes. Now hybrids have been refined and gussied into “commuter bikes,” made by such companies as Jamis, Breezer and others, costing a few hundred bucks up to $1,000.

The handlebars are set higher than the seats, so you sit upright and comfortable. What a concept. The reign of the purists is over, and all the accessories they forbade are permitted again. There are baskets in front and racks in back. There are chain guards so you don’t get grease on your slacks, and skirt guards so you don’t catch your dress. Kickstands are no longer a heresy punishable by sneering. Fenders are back, along with mudflaps, so you don’t get a splatter trail up your back on rainy days. On some of the models, front and rear lights come installed.

Continue reading at Washington Post . . .

bike safetyAs More Cyclists Take to The Streets, Dangers Persist

By Moira E. McLaughlin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 29, 2008; Page HE01

I am waiting for my husband to ask me quietly whether I might reconsider biking to work, something I have been doing for about three years. After the July 8 death of a 22-year-old cyclist in our Dupont Circle neighborhood, I wonder when his “Be careful getting to work this morning” will turn into “Think you should find another way to get to work this morning?”

I don’t mind public transportation, but I like the flexibility afforded by a bike. Walking is all right, too, but I’d take my eight-minute morning bike ride over a 20-minute trek.

And I am clearly not alone. On one recent morning, I counted 10 bikers waiting for the light at 14th Street and Rhode Island Avenue NW. The Whole Foods Market on P Street in that area has two big bike racks, yet finding a space on them can be almost as hard as finding a space to park your car.

Continue reading at Washington Post . . .

The End of White Flight (Wall Street Journal)

Sunday, July 20th, 2008

[Editor's note: Rates per location expressed as bar charts, no need for choropleth map. Before and after photos. Reprinted from Wall Street Journal. Original article here.] 

For the First Time in Decades, Cities’ Black Populations Lose Ground, Stirring Clashes Over Class, Culture and Even Ice Cream

By CONOR DOUGHERTYJuly 19, 2008; Page A1

 Decades of white flight transformed America’s cities. That era is drawing to a close.

In Washington, a historically black church is trying to attract white members to survive. Atlanta’s next mayoral race is expected to feature the first competitive white candidate since the 1980s. San Francisco has lost so many African-Americans that Mayor Gavin Newsom created an “African-American Out-Migration Task Force and Advisory Committee” to help retain black residents.

“The city is experiencing growth, yet we’re losing African-American families disproportionately,” Mr. Newsom says. When that happens, “we lose part of our soul.”

[Bens Chili Bowl]
From the Collection of the Ali family
Ben’s Chili Bowl in Washington has become a melting pot as the area’s racial mix changes.

For much of the 20th century, the proportion of whites shrank in most U.S. cities. In recent years the decline has slowed considerably — and in some significant cases has reversed. Between 2000 and 2006, eight of the 50 largest cities, including Boston, Seattle and San Francisco, saw the proportion of whites increase, according to Census figures. The previous decade, only three cities saw increases.

The changing racial mix is stirring up quarrels over class and culture. Beloved institutions in traditionally black communities — minority-owned restaurants, book stores — are losing the customers who supported them for decades. As neighborhoods grow more multicultural, conflicts over home prices, taxes and education are opening a new chapter in American race relations.

Part of the demographic shift is simple math: So many whites had abandoned cities over the past half-century, there weren’t as many left to lose. Whites make up 66% of the general U.S. population, but only about 40% of large cities. Sooner or later, the pendulum was bound to swing back, and that appears to be starting.

[Bens Chili Bowl]
From the Collection of the Ali family
Ben’s exterior in 1958

The Census data “suggests that white flight from large cities may have bottomed out in the 1990s,” says William Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank.

For instance, while most of the 50 largest cities continue to see declines in the share of whites, it is at much-reduced rates. In Los Angeles the share of the white population declined only about a half a percentage point between 2000 and 2006, compared to a 7.5-point decline the previous decade. Cities including New York, Fort Worth and Chicago show a similar pattern.

‘Natural Decrease’

Demographic readjustments can take decades to play out. But if current trends continue, Washington and Atlanta (both with black majorities) will in the next decade see African-Americans fall below 50% for the first time in about a half-century.

Meantime, in San Francisco, African-American deaths now outnumber births. Once a “natural decrease” such as this begins, it’s tough for the population to bounce back, since there are fewer residents left to produce the next generation. “The cycle tends to be self-perpetuating,” says Kenneth M. Johnson, senior demographer at the Carsey Institute at the University of New Hampshire.

There are myriad factors driving the change. In recent years, minority middle-class families, particularly African-Americans, have been moving to the suburbs in greater numbers. At the same time, Hispanic immigrants (who poured into cities from the 1970s through the 1990s) are now increasingly bypassing cities for suburbs and rural areas, seeking jobs on farms and in meat-packing plants.

Cities have spent a decade tidying up parks and converting decaying factories into retail and living space. That has attracted young professionals and empty-nesters, many of them white.

The shift has put the future at odds with the past. New York City’s borough of Brooklyn has seen its proportion of whites grow to 36.1% in 2006 from 35.9% in 2000 — the first increase in white share in about a century.

Hoarding Computers

While the root of neighborhood conflicts is often money or class differences between white-collar and blue-collar workers, it often unfolds along racial lines. About two years ago Public School 84, in a largely Hispanic section of Brooklyn, meetings of the Parent Teacher Association started drawing a more professional, wealthier and whiter group of parents.

Soon, disagreements spilled into the open. Arguments concerned everything from how PTA money was spent, to accusations that some white parents were hoarding computers for their kids.

Even ice cream became a point of contention: In the past year, a group of mostly white parents took issue with a school tradition of selling ice cream to raise money. They felt the school shouldn’t be serving sugary foods to kids, but the break with tradition angered many minority parents who felt the sales were an important source of money and that ice cream is a harmless treat.

“It was a gigantic fight,” says Brooke Parker, who is white and whose daughter attended the school last year. “If the school is saying ‘It’s OK to give out ice cream’ while at the same time they’re holding workshops on how to deal with your kid’s Type 2 diabetes, maybe we should rethink the message we’re sending.”

Relations got testy enough that about 20 kids, most of whom were white, transferred to private schools or other public schools. “I don’t think the battleground against gentrification should take place in the schools,” says Ms. Parker, who withdrew her own daughter from P.S. 84 as tensions built. “It seemed nothing could get accomplished,” she said.

Cries of ‘Segregation’

[Reverend John Blanchard]
Patrice Gilbert for The Wall Street Journal
The Rev. John Blanchard (right) at his Washington church, which plans to woo whites.

A few months later, a small group of families, most of them white, proposed establishing a new public school, to be located inside the existing P.S. 84. Hundreds of minority parents reacted by putting out a press release calling it de facto segregation. The proposal is “clearly discriminatory,” the release said. “Children will suffer the effects of negative stigma as a result of this segregation which will send our City back 120 years!”

“I honestly felt like they didn’t want to mix our children with their children,” says Virginia Reyes, vice president of the PTA at P.S. 84 who has two foster children at the school. “It upset me a lot.”

A spokeswoman for the New York City Department of Education says, “We obviously would not and could not open segregated schools.” The department says the new school didn’t get the go-ahead because it didn’t have broad enough community support.

Backers of the new school couldn’t be reached.

[Charts]

Elsewhere in Brooklyn, in a majority African-American section of the borough, Councilwoman Letitia James says a handful of predominantly white parents last year asked her if some of their local tax money could be steered to schools in a nearby neighborhood. The parents wanted their kids in schools with a more diverse racial mix, Ms. James says, rather than the majority-black schools in her district.

The parents felt “tax dollars should follow the children, and not the school,” Ms. James says. She denied their request.

There’s a century’s worth of history behind the ebb and flow of whites and minorities in urban America. Rural blacks began flocking to cities more than a century ago, lured by factory jobs. After World War II, whites headed for the suburbs as the great postwar building boom got rolling, while African-American families stayed in the cities, partly because they were often denied access to home loans that whites could get. In the 1970s Hispanic immigrants surged into cities, chasing service jobs and further diluting the share of whites. By the 1980s, as cities hemorrhaged manufacturing jobs, blacks and whites both left — but whites at a higher rate.

Cities Get a Makeover

Today, cities are refashioning themselves as trendy centers devoid of suburban ills like strip malls and long commutes. In Atlanta, which has among the longest commute times of any U.S. city, the white population rose by 26,000 between 2000 and 2006, while the black population decreased by 8,900. Overall the white proportion has increased to 35% in 2006 from 31% in 2000.

In other cities, whites are still leaving, but more blacks are moving out. Boston lost about 6,000 black residents between 2000 and 2006, but only about 3,000 whites. In 2006, whites accounted for 50.2% of the city’s population, up from 49.5% in 2000. That’s the first increase in roughly a century.

Tracking population shifts is an inexact science. Changes in how Census data are tallied makes for imprecise comparisons across decades. Hispanics, for instance, were mostly lumped in with whites until 1980, potentially overstating the white population in earlier decades. Also, losses of African-Americans from cities are often disproportionate to other minorities because unlike, say, Hispanics or Asians, the inflow of black immigrants into the U.S. isn’t big enough to offset the loss of African-Americans to the suburbs.

Washington — where African-Americans have been in the majority for a half-century — has lost about 80,000 black residents between 1990 and 2006. Whites had been leaving, too, but recently they’ve started coming back. Between 2000 and 2006, Washington gained 24,000 whites and lost 21,000 blacks. Whites are now 32% of the population, up from 28% in 2000.

Churches Take a Hit

This is a problem for Washington’s African-American churches. The past few years, numerous black churches have relocated to suburban Prince George’s County, Md., to follow their parishioners. Later this year, Metropolitan Baptist Church (founded by freed slaves during the Lincoln administration) plans to leave town as well.

Some of the remaining black churches are now courting white members. On a recent Sunday, the Rev. John Blanchard, the 64-year-old pastor at Ebenezer United Methodist Church, preached to a thin crowd; several pews were empty. About half his parishioners now live in the suburbs and drive into the city for services. High gasoline prices aren’t helping attendance.

So Mr. Blanchard says he’s planning to add a white intern to preach with him, in hopes of filling more pews. “You’ve got to love the one you’re with,” he says, “but you also need to adjust to the environment you’re in.”

While his church flounders, the predominantly white Capitol Hill United Methodist Church just down the street is flourishing. There the average attendance on Sundays has doubled to about 120 people the past five years. “Demographics are in our favor. We’re attracting the folks that are moving in,” says the Rev. Ginger Gaines-Cirelli, 38, who headed the church for five years before recently leaving for a position elsewhere.

In San Francisco, the African-American population has fallen by a third, or about 30,000 people, since 1990, largely due to surging housing costs and redevelopment that destroyed some public housing. Mayor Newsom’s African-American Out-Migration Task Force, set up last year, has a two-pronged strategy: keep African-Americans from leaving, and promote affordable housing and cultural institutions like a jazz center to try to lure blacks back. “The greatness of our city and region is in its diversity,” Mayor Newsom says.

So far, his efforts have focused on residents of public housing, about half of whom are black. The city is trying to prevent evictions by building new community centers where residents can get job training and help with the rent. The city is also giving residents displaced by redevelopment, many of whom are black, an inside track on affordable-housing units.

From Poor to Poorer

As middle-class African-Americans have left San Francisco, the remaining black population has gone from poor to poorer. In 1990, half of the city’s African-American population was very low-income; by 2005, that number swelled to about two-thirds. The number of black-owned businesses fell 25% between 1997 and 2002.

As blacks migrated to San Francisco’s suburbs, so too have many social activities centered on the community. The San Francisco Chapter of the National Black MBA Association has started hosting many of its events across the bay in Oakland.

The Western Addition, a historically black neighborhood in San Francisco once home to many jazz clubs, has lost much of that character. Powell’s Place, an iconic soul-food restaurant that had been located in or around the neighborhood since the 1970s, has moved to Bayview-Hunters Point. Charles Spencer, who owns a barbershop catering to black men, says he has lost many of his customers and is trying to diversify. His Web site has a picture of a white client to go with three black faces.

‘An Act of Faith’

The city has celebrated its traditional black culture by designating a stretch of Fillmore Street the “Fillmore Jazz Preservation District,” yet the businesses that defined the era are now gone or dying. Raye Richardson, owner of Marcus Book Stores — its motto is “Books by and about black people everywhere” — has been in the Fillmore district since 1946. She remembers the clubs, the black tailor shops and the many black residents who supported her shop. Today, Ms. Richardson says her store is losing money; much of her business comes from mail-order traffic.

“San Francisco has so few blacks now, that it’s just an act of faith to stay open,” says Ms. Richardson, 88.

Sherri Young, executive director at the African-American Shakespeare Company in San Francisco, is one of the few blacks at her theater company who still lives in San Francisco. “I’m a single woman in my late 30s,” Ms. Young says. “Culturally, it’s difficult.”

Recently, she says, her production of “The Comedy of Errors” drew a mostly white audience. It’s the first time that’s happened since she founded the company 14 years ago.

Write to Conor Dougherty at conor.dougherty@wsj.com 

Oil: Key players and movements (Financial Times)

Thursday, July 10th, 2008

[Editor's note: curious interactive map from the Financial Times. I like the "top 10" listings in tables but wish there was more going on with the maps themselves (choropleth coloring, direct interactivity). The technique of using background images (oil derek and oil tanker) seems to be making a comeback at the FT, WSJ, and elsewhere of late. I think it is more effective when masked by an area chart.]

Updated with 2007 data, [this Financial Times] interactive map examines the world’s largest oil producers, consumers, and how oil flows around the world. Updated: June 18 2008.

Screenshots below. Interactive version here.

ft oil gas map 1

ft oil gas map 2

Act First, Think Later (Wall Street Journal)

Tuesday, July 8th, 2008

Get Out of Your Own Way: Studies Show the Value of Not Overthinking a Decision
By ROBERT LEE HOTZ. June 27, 2008; Page A9. Wall Street Journal. View original.

wsj act first, think later

Reprinted from The Wall Street Journal:

Fishing in the stream of consciousness, researchers now can detect our intentions and predict our choices before we are aware of them ourselves. The brain, they have found, appears to make up its mind 10 seconds before we become conscious of a decision — an eternity at the speed of thought.

Their findings challenge conventional notions of choice.

“We think our decisions are conscious,” said neuroscientist John-Dylan Haynes at the Bernstein Center for Computational Neuroscience in Berlin, who is pioneering this research. “But these data show that consciousness is just the tip of the iceberg. This doesn’t rule out free will, but it does make it implausible.”

Through a series of intriguing experiments, scientists in Germany, Norway and the U.S. have analyzed the distinctive cerebral activity that foreshadows our choices. They have tracked telltale waves of change through the cells that orchestrate our memory, language, reason and self-awareness.

In ways we are only beginning to understand, the synapses and neurons in the human nervous system work in concert to perceive the world around them, to learn from their perceptions, to remember important experiences, to plan ahead, and to decide and act on incomplete information. In a rudimentary way, they predetermine our choices.

To probe what happens in the brain during the moments before people sense they’ve reached a decision, Dr. Haynes and his colleagues devised a deceptively simple experiment, reported in April in Nature Neuroscience. They monitored the swift neural currents coursing through the brains of student volunteers as they decided, at their own pace and at random, whether to push a button with their left or right hands.

In all, they tested seven men and seven women from 21 to 30 years old. They recorded neural changes associated with thoughts using a functional magnetic resonance imaging machine and analyzed the results with an experimental pattern-recognition computer program.

While inside the brain scanner, the students watched random letters stream across a screen. Whenever they felt the urge, they pressed a button with their right hand or a button with their left hand. Then they marked down the letter that had been on the screen in the instant they had decided to press the button.

Studying the brain behavior leading up to the moment of conscious decision, the researchers identified signals that let them know when the students had decided to move 10 seconds or so before the students knew it themselves. About 70% of the time, the researchers could also predict which button the students would push.

“It’s quite eerie,” said Dr. Haynes.

Continue reading at Wall Street Journal.com . . .