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The Almighty Buck

The Downside to Low Gas Prices 554

Posted by timothy
from the speak-for-yourself-hummer-buyers dept.
HughPickens.com writes Pat Garofalo writes in an op-ed in US News & World Report that with the recent drop in oil prices, there's something policymakers can do that will offset at least some of the negative effects of the currently low prices, while also removing a constant thorn in the side of American transportation and infrastructure policy: Raise the gas tax. The current 18.4 cent per gallon gas tax has not been raised since 1993, making it about 11 cents per gallon today, in constant dollars. Plus, as fuel efficiency has gotten better and Americans have started driving less, the tax has naturally raised less revenue anyway. And that's a problem because the tax fills the Highway Trust Fund, which is, not to put too fine a point on it, broke so that in recent years Congress has had to patch it time and time again to fill the gap. According to the Tax Policy Center's Howard Gleckman, if Congress doesn't make a move, "it will fumble one of those rare opportunities when the economic and policy stars align almost perfectly." The increase can be phased in slowly, a few cents per month, perhaps, so that the price of gas doesn't jump overnight. When prices eventually do creep back up thanks to economic factors, hopefully the tax will hardly be noticed.

Consumers are already starting to buy the sort of gas-guzzling vehicles, including Hummers, that had been going out of style as gas prices rose; that's bad for both the environment and consumers, because gas prices are inevitably going to increase again. According to data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, taxes last year, even before the current drop in prices, made up 12 percent of the cost of a gallon of gasoline, down from 28 percent in 2000. And compared to other developed countries, US gas taxes are pretty much a joke. While we're at it, an even better idea, as a recent report from the Urban Institute makes clear, would be indexing the gas tax to inflation, so this problem doesn't consistently arise. "The status quo simply isn't sustainable, from an infrastructure or environmental perspective," concludes Garofalo. "So raise the gas tax now; someday down the line, it will look like a brilliant move."
Transportation

Will Lyft and Uber's Shared-Ride Service Hurt Public Transit? 237

Posted by samzenpus
from the forget-the-bus dept.
An anonymous reader writes Lyft and Uber have already undercut the price of a taxi in most markets, but with this new service, both are now taking aim at public transit systems. By attempting to offer a viable alternative to the bus and metro, Lyft and Uber are offering new options to consumers in a space where few existed before. As Timothy Lee writes at Vox, "Until recently, there weren't many services in this 'in between' category. If you were going to the airport, you could get a shared-ride van. And some urban areas had dollar vans. But these were limited services in niche markets." If you're traveling with multiple people over short distances, Lyft Line and UberPool can be quite affordable, but it's still not cheap enough.
United States

The Military's Latest Enemy: Climate Change 163

Posted by samzenpus
from the it's-getting-hot-in-here dept.
Lasrick writes A surprising report from the Pentagon last month places climate change squarely among the seemingly endless concerns of the US military. Although a Wall Street Journal editorial misrepresented the report in an editorial (subtitled 'Hagel wants to retool the military to stop glaciers from melting'), the report itself is straightforward and addresses practical military issues such as land management of bases and training facilities. "So, this plan is not really about mobilizing against melting glaciers; it's more like making sure our ships have viable facilities from which to launch bombs against ISIS. And the report doesn't just focus on home, though. It casts a wider eye towards how a changing climate will affect defense missions in the future."
Science

When We Don't Like the Solution, We Deny the Problem 282

Posted by Soulskill
from the having-problems-is-not-a-problem dept.
Ichijo writes: A new study (abstract) from Duke University tested whether the desirability of a solution affects beliefs in the existence of the associated problem. Researchers found that 'yes, people will deny the problem when they don't like the solution. Quoting: "Participants in the experiment, including both self-identified Republicans and Democrats, read a statement asserting that global temperatures will rise 3.2 degrees in the 21st century. They were then asked to evaluate a proposed policy solution to address the warming. When the policy solution emphasized a tax on carbon emissions or some other form of government regulation, which is generally opposed by Republican ideology, only 22 percent of Republicans said they believed the temperatures would rise at least as much as indicated by the scientific statement they read.

But when the proposed policy solution emphasized the free market, such as with innovative green technology, 55 percent of Republicans agreed with the scientific statement. The researchers found liberal-leaning individuals exhibited a similar aversion to solutions they viewed as politically undesirable in an experiment involving violent home break-ins. When the proposed solution called for looser versus tighter gun-control laws, those with more liberal gun-control ideologies were more likely to downplay the frequency of violent home break-ins."

Comment: Jonathan Coulton Tweeted about getting one. (Score 4, Informative) 468

by Nova Express (#48284893) Attached to: Boo! The House Majority PAC Is Watching You

Which you can read about here. And his letter didn't come from a PAC, it came from the Democratic Party.

I've never gotten anything remotely like this letter from the Republican Party or a conservative PAC (and I probably get well over 200 begging direct-mail solicitations a year).

I don't see such intimidation tactics as paying off for them...

Comment: Stopped reading after two big errors (Score 3, Informative) 296

by Nova Express (#48218029) Attached to: How Sony, Intel, and Unix Made Apple's Mac a PC Competitor

1. "In 1991, Andrew Rapport declared Microsoft the winner in the PC contest because Microsoft and Intel had harnessed the Asian supply chain and dramatically undercut the cost of the eccentric Steve Jobs’s Apple Mac." No, by 1991, it was John Scully's Mac, as Jobs was ousted in 1985.
2. "When Apple’s first notebook, the Macintosh 100, wasn’t embraced by consumers because it was two big, too heavy, and too expensive" No, that would have been the original Mac Portable (1989), which was all of those things. The Powerbook (not Macintosh) 100 was actually a very light ultra-portable.

Since author Steven Max Patterson and his editors couldn't be bothered to perform basic fact-checking, I stopped reading at that point...

The Internet

Will Fiber-To-the-Home Create a New Digital Divide? 291

Posted by samzenpus
from the have-and-have-nots dept.
First time accepted submitter dkatana writes Having some type of fiber or high-speed cable connectivity is normal for many of us, but in most developing countries of the world and many areas of Europe, the US, and other developed countries, access to "super-fast" broadband networks is still a dream. This is creating another "digital divide." Not having the virtually unlimited bandwidth of all-fiber networks means that, for these populations, many activities are simply not possible. For example, broadband provided over all-fiber networks brings education, healthcare, and other social goods into the home through immersive, innovative applications and services that are impossible without it. Alternatives to fiber, such as cable (DOCSYS 3.0), are not enough, and they could be more expensive in the long run. The maximum speed a DOCSYS modem can achieve is 171/122 Mbit/s (using four channels), just a fraction the 273 Gbit/s (per channel) already reached on fiber.
Advertising

NPR: '80s Ads Are Responsible For the Lack of Women Coders 786

Posted by Soulskill
from the advertisers-driving-culture dept.
gollum123 writes: Back in the day, computer science was as legitimate a career path for women as medicine, law, or science. But in 1984, the number of women majoring in computing-related subjects began to fall, and the percentage of women is now significantly lower in CS than in those other fields. NPR's Planet Money sought to answer a simple question: Why? According to the show's experts, computers were advertised as a "boy's toy." This, combined with early '80s geek culture staples like the book Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution, as well as movies like War Games and Weird Science, conspired to instill the perception that computers were primarily for men.

Comment: Another Advantage for State Level Control (Score 1) 279

by Nova Express (#48137625) Attached to: Who's In Charge During the Ebola Crisis?

Without a top-down bureaucracy calling the shops, states can try 50 different methods to control the pandemic, and compare results to see who has the best one. They're not stuck mindlessly doing what Washington has dictated, even if it's wrong.

The CDC is swearing up and down Ebola can be transmitted by airborne infection, but what if they're wrong about this strain?

The federal government is much more likely than the states to continue a wrong course of action long after it's been proven a bad idea than the states. See also: Welfare, agribusiness subsidies, the food pyramid...

Privacy

Justice Sotomayor Warns Against Tech-Enabled "Orwellian" World 166

Posted by Soulskill
from the trading-privacy-for-convenience dept.
An anonymous reader writes: U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor spoke on Thursday to faculty and students at the University of Oklahoma City about the privacy perils brought on by modern technology. She warned that the march of technological progress comes with a need to enact privacy protections if we want to avoid living in an "Orwellian world" of constant surveillance. She said, "There are drones flying over the air randomly that are recording everything that's happening on what we consider our private property. That type of technology has to stimulate us to think about what is it that we cherish in privacy and how far we want to protect it and from whom. Because people think that it should be protected just against government intrusion, but I don't like the fact that someone I don't know can pick up, if they're a private citizen, one of these drones and fly it over my property."

An authority is a person who can tell you more about something than you really care to know.

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