Still a Bad Idea

Two weeks ago I was critical of Senator John McCain’s proposal for a national “gas tax holiday.”

Now Senator Hillary Clinton is backing a similar idea.  Though she has added a twist to the proposal with a windfall-profits tax on oil companies, the idea of a gas tax holiday is still a bad one, regardless of political party.  This is even one of the few times I find myself in agreement with the Bush Administration (which is also finding itself in unfamiliar territory by essentially agreeing with Senator Barack Obama’s position on the issue).  Says Dana Perino, White House spokeswoman, gasoline prices were “entirely too high, but I think it would be disingenuous and unfortunate for American consumers for them to be led to believe that there is a short-term fix.  There is not going to be one.”

A windfall-profits tax is worth considering.  Oil company profits are up largely because of external market factors on a commodity essential to the functioning of the economy.  The demand for and use of petroleum, largely in the form of fuel, is not easily or readily subject to change (price inelasticity of demand, at least in the short term).  I can’t instantly make my family hauler a high-mileage commuter or hybrid, or afford to pay several thousand dollars for solar panels or geothermal heat for my house, for example.  But we can take advantage of the situation, begin changing our behavior, and harness the costs already in the economy to prepare for a future beyond the “Oil Age.”


In Praise of GPS

So, on our recent tour of colleges in the BaltimoreVirginiaWashington, DCNew YorkNew Jersey areas we rented a car from Budget.  One of the options was the Where2 GPS for another $48 for the week.

What a bargain.

On our trip, rather than struggling with paper maps, we used the Garmin StreetPilot C550-based Where2 GPS.  An absolute God-send.  Did I say this was a great deal?  Okay, it didn’t do well with areas where there was a lot of new construction around highway (freeway, and parkway) construction, but who would?

It was easy to use, easily re-routed us if we missed a turn, and always got us where we wanted to be.  Other than some (what I would consider) odd routing, I can’t say enough about it.  Good deal.

College Tour 2008: The Journey Home

No college visits today.  It’s time to go home.  Our companion (well, one of our companions, but more about that later) was a 2008 Ford Fusion SEL like the one pictured above.  Acquired temporarily through Budget Rent-A-Car, the Ford Fusion was a worthy mount for our tour of schools in the Washington, DC-Baltimore-Virginia and New York-New Jersey areas (coming from Maine, as we were).

Other than commercials, I had no pre-conceived notions about the Fusion.  It was an easy car to drive for the 1,400 miles we put on it over the week (it had 1,600 miles on it when I picked it up).  At 6’4″, I had the driver’s seat all the way back, so I’m not sure how it would have been for back seat passengers but, hey, it was just me and our oldest daugher on a college tour, right?  So, how much room did I need?

The Fusion is a car I would buy (or lease) without much (or any) hesitation.  There was no feature I was without, no flaw that got in the way.  The GPS plugged in where the cigarette lighter would have gone, and the iPod in the binnacle under the armrest.  If I were to buy (or lease) one, I would probably opt for the AWD version (and a slightly lower fuel economy rating as a result) for my wife’s benefit (since I still have my ’99 Suburban), and put up with the glossy black plastic that will show too much dust and too many fingerprints,  the stiff plastic on the console that is hard on the right knee after several hundred miles, and the instrument display is a little more basic than I would like.  Other than that, as our oldest daugher would say, “I’m a fan.”

College Tour 2008: Day Six

The final day of the college tour with our oldest daughter.  It’s been a long week, but a worthwhile and interesting experience.  Our last visit was to Columbia University, located on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.  Our trip in from New Jersey was uneventful, but we arrived just barely in time.  Columbia seemed in touch with its tradition, but it didn’t seem as oppressively present as it did at Princeton, much more like the other schools we’ve visited in that respect.

Columbia has more of a physical campus than you might think, being located in the city, but it was not unlike Georgetown or Seton Hall in that respect.  Columbia students all have to take a specific Core curriculum – different for engineering students and Columbia College (arts and sciences) students.  It is highly selective and offers need-based but no merit-based (or athletic, but that’s not really an issue for us) scholarships.

Our visit to Columbia was followed by an afternoon in the city, with an obligatory visit to H&M on Fifth Avenue, a walk by Rockefeller Center, a stroll through Central Park and some of the galleries of the Metropolitan Museum of Art before calling it a day.

Tomorrow we pack it all up and head home.

College Tour: Day Five

College tour fatigue is beginning to set in.  We got to Seton Hall University almost an hour before the information session was scheduled to start.  At this point, enrollment numbers, acceptance and admission rates, student-faculty ratios, mean SAT scores, campus housing, security, and activity information is beginning to all blur together.  We’ve both been taking notes and, hopefully, that will help us keep it reasonably straight when we get home.

Our first impression of SHU wasn’t very favorable, but we warmed to it as the information session wrapped up and we got out on our tour.  Seeing students around, seeing evidence of how students live on campus, visiting the student centers at the various schools have helped give us a feel for what they would be like.  As we have gone from one tour to another, the “feel” of a school has become more important than the raw facts and figures.  Not too much of a surprise, since we were told this would be the case, but there’s really no substitute for experiencing it yourself.

Time was tight getting to our next stop, Princeton University, and the traffic and construction on US Route 1 didn’t help matters any.  From the start we found Princeton less accessible than the other schools we had visited.  Signs.  Signs are good.  Not having signs, or not having enough of them, or not having them in the right places is, on the other hand, not so good.  Still, we got to the information session (at Nassau Hall, as depicted in the photo, above) only about ten minutes late.

From the moment we drove onto campus to setting foot in Nassau Hall and the information session we got a sense that this was a very different place than any of the schools we had visited so far.  Tradition seemed to blanket the place much more so than Georgetown, for example, which has roots as far back as 1634 but claims 1789 as its founding.  While we didn’t take the tour, we did walk around campus a bit and got a very different vibe than the other campuses we visited.  There is no question the students are among the best and brightest, and I have no doubt the education they receive will also be among the very best.  But, as it has become clearer to us, “feel” is important and being in a place that seems as intense and as steeped in tradition as Princeton isn’t what our daughter is looking for.  Worth the visit, though.

Tomorrow, we take Manhattan.

College Tour 2008: Days Three and Four

Foregoing the delights of the Waffle House we continued our tour Tuesday with a visit to the University of Mary Washington.  Like Johns Hopkins the day before, UMW has a lush green campus and is covered with brick colonnaded buildings (with a few examples of more modern institutional architecture thrown in, like other schools, often not to great effect).  Academic requirements seem more traditional, in that UMW requires core credits, major credits, and elective credits for a degree instead of the more open model used by some other schools.  The relative availability of internship opportunities and added distance will probably combine to rule UMW out of the search, but that’s one of the reasons we took this trip in the first place.

After Fredericksburg we were off to the nation’s capital for an afternoon session and tour at George Washington University.  We came into Washington along Washington Boulevard and the Arlington Memorial Bridge, going right by the Pentagon and Lincoln Memorial.  No doubt all the monuments and memorials get to be just part of the landscape after a while, but I think it would take me a long time not to notice or appreciate them.  This was the second time to Washington for both of us, and was just as exciting as the first time.  It got a little frustrating relearning what little DC navigation skill we had gained on our previous visit (did I say the GPS was a great idea?  Boy, was the GPS ever a great idea), but we were both glad to be there again.

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College Tour 2008: Days One and Two

Day One (yesterday)

Left about 40 minutes behind schedule this morning.  Not bad for us, actually.  Stopped at the supermarket to pick up a couple last minute items.  And we got to Baltimore only a little later than I expected, allowing for a couple of rest stops.

A few observations about the trip down:

  • People don’t seem to have gotten the message to slow down to save gas.  Holy smoke.
  • Thank God for GPS.  We ended up being routed through New York on the Cross Bronx Expressway.  It was fine, but no way I would ever, ever have figured it out on my own.  And it’s soooo much easier than dealing with a map.
  • Baltimore, what little we’ve seen of it so far, is nice.  We had dinner at Tamber’s, a Fifties style diner with American, Italian, and Indian dishes.  The palak paneer, salmon tandoori, and shrimp tikka masala were pretty good – fortunately, our oldest enjoys trying new flavors (though sometimes more in concept than in practice).

Tomorrow we actually visit the Johns Hopkins Homewood campus, only a block away from where we’re staying, before the drive to Fredericksburg, Virginia and the University of Mary Washington.

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