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July 18, 2006, 10:40 PM CT

Views On Mexican Elections

Views On Mexican Elections
Six years ago J. Chappell Lawson, an MIT professor of political science, traveled to the small Mexican village of Santiago Tlacotepec as an international observer of the 2000 Mexican presidential elections. He watched as Mexican voters ousted the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) from the presidency -- after more than 70 years of one-party rule -- and elected Vicente Fox of the opposition National Action Party (PAN), a significant victory for democracy.

He remembers how a little girl cried out that she wanted to go home when her father, a PAN supporter, scuffled with a PRI supporter. The mother admonished the sobbing child, saying, "You're not allowed to go home. This is the time to be brave and fight for your rights." The 6-year-old dried her tears and marched up to the PRI man to say the family wouldn't go home, "no matter how mean he was." That was, Lawson said, "a crystallizing moment in the development of Mexican civic culture."

Lawson returned to that same village this month to observe the July 2 presidential election, in which PAN candidate Felipe Calderon has claimed a razor-thin victory -- by a margin of 244,000 voters or less than 1 percent -- over Party of the Democratic Revolution (PDR) candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador. The outcome of the race remains somewhat in doubt as Lopez Obrador has demanded a national recount, claiming evidence of fraud.........

Posted by: Edwin      Permalink         Source


July 18, 2006, 9:29 PM CT

Suspending Federal Gas Tax Is Bad Idea

Suspending Federal Gas Tax Is Bad Idea
With voters clamoring for relief from skyrocketing prices at the gas pump, politicians are floating a wide range of quick-fix solutions, a number of of which could cause more problems than they solve, suggests Paul Rothstein, a specialist in the economics of public spending at Washington University in St. Louis.

"It makes absolutely no sense to suspend the federal gasoline tax, even if you think that the reduction will be passed along to the consumer," says Rothstein, an associate professor of economics in Arts & Sciences.

"The federal gas tax money goes mostly to repair and expand the highway system. The highway system, begun in the 1950s, is crumbling and the nation is going to need billions over the next decade to repair it. Even people who don't want the highway system expanded want the roads we have to be safe. Now is not the time to reduce this revenue."

It's questionable if reduced gas tax translates to consumer saving.

Eventhough the proposed federal gas tax "holiday" has been touted as a means of off-setting the rising price of gasoline, Rothstein cautions that there's no way of knowing whether this reduction in fuel costs will be passed along to consumers.

"People think that an increase in the tax rate gets passed along to consumers, but they do not think that a tax cut would also be passed along. Under perfect competition, the first situation implies the second situation must be true. But since most people don't follow that logic, they must really think that producers manipulate the market," he says. "This certainly happened in the California energy crisis, but the manipulation would be harder to organize at the national level. That said, it could be happening."........

Posted by: Edwin      Permalink         Source


July 18, 2006, 9:24 PM CT

Baby boomers' retirement

Baby boomers' retirement
The impact of the baby-boomer generation's aging and retirement is already raising concerns when it comes to health-care costs, employment and social security. Add another reason to worry about the aging boomers: their impact on the stock market. As per research at the Olin School of Business at Washington University in St. Louis, retirees don't invest as much as younger workers, which could mean a blow to Wall Street when boomers pull out of the workforce.

"When you have a voluntary retirement age, as we do in the United States, people tend to invest more from an earlier age," says Hong Liu, associate professor of finance at the Olin School of Business. "People are willing to take on more risk when they are younger, when they know that if their investments don't pan out, they can always work to make up for it."

When the baby boomers do it, the whole country will feel the effect.

After retirement, the option of hedging against a financial market downturn by working is no longer an attractive option, Liu says. This explains why most people shift their assets to less-dicey investments at the time they retire. That strategy is logical, Liu says. However, when millions of baby boomers follow that pattern in a concentrated period of time, the impact on the stock market could be formidable. Fewer people investing in the market means the market will weaken. It's a problem the U.S. should be aware of, but which European markets probably won't see.........

Posted by: Edwin      Permalink         Source


July 18, 2006, 9:19 PM CT

Coffee, Black, Decaf And A Little Llama

Coffee, Black, Decaf And A Little Llama Assab and Massawa, the two camels used for the caffeine study
Three llamas and two camels have provided a way to tell whether your waiter swapped regular coffee for decaf in your after-dinner cup. Using the heat-resistant antibodies these camels and llamas make, scientists at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis are in the process of developing a quick test for caffeine that works even with hot beverages.

The scientists plan to adapt their technology to a simple test ("dipstick") that can be used to check for caffeine in a variety of drinks. Their research will appear in the June 1 issue of the American Chemical Society's journal Analytical Chemistry.

Caffeine can cause restlessness, irritability, dehydration or heart arrythmias, and those who are highly sensitive to caffeine can feel its stimulant effects for as long as 20 hours. In addition, some medicines adversely interact with caffeine.

"We believe our test would be the first consumer test for caffeine and would be beneficial for anyone wishing to avoid caffeine for health or personal reasons," says senior author Jack H. Ladenson, Ph.D., the Oree M. Carroll and Lillian B. Ladenson Professor of Clinical Chemistry and director of the Division of Laboratory Medicine.

Interestingly, the key to the caffeine test comes from llamas and camels - pack animals that have transported caffeinated commodities such as coffee, tea and cocoa for centuries. These camelids happen to be among the few creatures whose immune systems can produce antibodies that aren't destroyed at the high temperatures common to brewed beverages.........

Posted by: Edwin      Permalink         Source


July 18, 2006, 5:47 AM CT

Do Not to Use Wire Transfers for Online Purchases

Do Not to Use Wire Transfers for Online Purchases
The Federal Trade Commission is warning consumers that paying for an online purchase with a wire transfer is risky. When making purchases from Internet auctions, the FTC says credit cards and online payment services are safer. The FTC's new alert, "Going, Going, Gone: Using Wire Transfers for Internet Auction Purchases Can Be Risky" provides information about making purchases safely.

While wire transfers can be useful for sending funds to someone a consumer knows and trusts, they are not a good method of transferring money to strangers. When a consumer wires money to buy an item from a Internet auction site, either through a money transmitter or directly to someone's bank account, and something goes wrong, the consumer is likely to lose their payment and have no recourse. While credit cards and online payment services are the safest, other payment options include debit cards, personal checks, cashier's checks, money orders, or escrow services.

Consumers who suspect an online auction transaction is fraudulent should report it to the FTC and to the auction company. The FTC's new alert is available online at http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/pubs/consumer/alerts/alt169.pdf. More information about avoiding online auction fraud is available from OnGuard Online, a multimedia, interactive consumer education campaign launched by the FTC and a partnership of other federal agencies and the technology industry. The OnGuard Online Web site has tips, articles, videos, and interactive activities. There is no copyright on the quizzes or other information on OnGuardOnline.gov; the information can be downloaded by companies and other organizations to use in their own computer security programs.........

Posted by: Edwin      Permalink         Source


July 17, 2006, 9:21 PM CT

Decisions Are Easier When Everything Is Priced The Same

Decisions Are Easier When Everything Is Priced The Same
You're ordering dessert and know exactly what you want -- the lavender crème brulee that was evaluated in your favorite food column. Even if it's the most expensive item on the dessert menu, you'll probably order it. But what about those times when you don't come armed with advance recommendations? A study in recent issue of the Journal of Consumer Research finds that when a person is unsure what to choose, pricing all items the same - known as "parity pricing" - can help ease the decision-making process. In other words, parity pricing may increase the likelihood that the diner will order dessert at all.

"Most previous research has examined the impact of assortment on choice irrespective of price or by explicitly assuming parity pricing," writes Alexander Chernev (Northwestern University). "In contrast, this research documents that price differentiation can have a significant impact on choice and links this impact to preference uncertainty and the consistency between individuals' consumption and resource-allocation preferences".

Chernev compares parity pricing with differential pricing (pricing all items differently based on factors such as the cost of ingredients). He finds that differential pricing can both help and hinder the decision-making process since it makes cost a crucial factor and introduces the idea of splurging or saving.........

Posted by: Edwin      Permalink         Source


July 17, 2006, 9:17 PM CT

Online Surveys Are Less Effective Than Phone Surveys

Online Surveys Are Less Effective Than Phone Surveys
Surveys are more than an annoyance. They are also a useful tool for market researchers, who rely on them to understand our attitudes towards products. However, a significant new study in the recent issue of the Journal of Consumer Research argues that the recent shift from phone surveys to online surveys may have unintended consequences. Scientists from the London Business School and Duke University find that people respond very differently to the same question when typing an answer as opposed to speaking an answer. Thus, online surveys may not be useful for discerning attitude changes over time.

"We find that speaking and typing recruit different cognitive and motor systems, and activate distinct perceptual mechanisms that result in the encoding of distinct memory traces," write Nader T. Tavassoli (London Business School) and Gavan Fitzsimons (Duke University). "In other words, speaking an attitude activates a different representation in the consumers mind than does typing an attitude, and as a function of this changes later expressed attitudes and behaviors".

The findings in this paper are the first to show that verbal production mechanisms affect attitude retrieval, a crucial difference when assessing attitude changes over time. Your response to a question depends on whether you've ever been asked that question before - constructing a belief is different than remembering a belief, and cognitive processes are bound up the motor processes by which we express thoughts, explain the authors.........

Posted by: Edwin      Permalink         Source


July 17, 2006, 8:34 PM CT

Perpetrators Of Abuse As Well As Victims

Perpetrators Of Abuse As Well As Victims
Women are more likely than men to stalk, attack and psychologically abuse their partners, according to a University of Florida study that finds college women have a new view of the dating scene.

"We're seeing women in relationships acting differently nowadays than we have in the past," said Angela Gover, a UF criminologist who led the research. "The nature of criminality has been changing for females, and this change is reflected in intimate relationships as well".

In a survey of 2,500 students at UF and the University of South Carolina between August and December 2005, more than a quarter (29 percent) reported physically assaulting their dates and 22 percent reported being the victims of attacks during the past year. Thirty-two percent of women reported being the perpetrators of this violence, compared with 24 percent of men. The students took selected liberal arts and sciences courses. Forty percent were men and 60 percent were women, reflecting the gender composition of these classes.

In a separate survey of 1,490 UF students, one quarter (25 percent) said they had been stalked during the past year and 7 percent reported engaging in stalking, of whom a majority (58 percent) were female.

Although women were the predominant abusers, they still made up the largest number of victims in both surveys, accounting for 70 percent of those being stalked, for example.........

Posted by: Edwin      Permalink         Source


July 17, 2006, 8:11 PM CT

Perception Into Robots

Perception Into Robots
The Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics is a partner in the Integrated Research Project BACS (Bayesian Approach to Cognitive Systems), which is being sponsored by the EU and will run until 2010. In this project, researchers are investigating the extent to which Bayes' theorem can be used in artificial systems capable of managing complex tasks in a real world environment. The Bayesian theorem is a model for rational judgment when only uncertain and incomplete information is available.

We are sitting in a soccer stadium and discover our neighbor sitting in the 10th row. We recognize him with no difficulty at all, even though he is wearing sunglasses and a cap in his club colors. Complex recognition processes like this work because the brain, sensory organs and nerve pathways are able to pick up stimuli and process them. The ability to classify things (categorization) appears to be a fundamental characteristic of human intelligence, and one that gives robots a real "headache". In situations in which a robot has no access to knowledge of a pre-defined environment, and pre-programmed control is therefore not possible, the robot will tend to fail miserably in its task. But it is precisely autonomous robots capable of acting in response to a given situation that could be of great use to humans.........

Posted by: John      Permalink         Source


July 17, 2006, 7:21 PM CT

Some Leeway For The Small Shoplifter

Some Leeway For The Small Shoplifter
Wal-Mart refuses to carry smutty magazines. It will not sell compact discs with obscene lyrics. And when it catches customers shoplifting - even a pair of socks or a pack of cigarettes - it prosecutes them.

But now, in a rare display of limited permissiveness, Wal-Mart is letting thieves off the hook - at least in cases involving $25 or less.

As per internal documents, the company, the nation's largest retailer and leading destination for shoplifting, will no longer prosecute first-time thieves unless they are between 18 and 65 and steal merchandise worth at least $25, putting the chain in line with the policies of a number of other retailers.........

Posted by: Edwin      Permalink         Source


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