The Step-Down Phenomenon: Community Colleges

By all accounts, community colleges are having a banner year. This article reports on 30 percent increases in applications to some community colleges and notes that community colleges are far more affordable than four-year public universities or private schools. It is obvious that, in these recessionary times, many would-be students simply can’t afford to go away to a traditional four-year college and pay the significantly higher tuition costs for that kind of school. But, they still value and need a college education, so they have “stepped down” to community colleges.

A building on the Columbus State campus

A building on the Columbus State campus

In Columbus, the primary beneficiary of this trend is Columbus State Community College, which has more than 24,000 students and is the largest community college in Ohio. The school recently announced an 18 percent increase in its summer quarter enrollment, which follows significant increases in its spring, winter, and fall quarter enrollments. To all appearances, Columbus State offers a quality education for a reasonable price, and the growth of that institution has been good for the city. Columbus State is located in downtown Columbus and it has helped to make the Discovery District of downtown a much more interesting place.

I think the willingness of people to look at community colleges as a viable alternative to four-year public and private colleges may be a good thing for other reasons, too. It would be wonderful if the elite colleges and universities in America realized that there is not endless elasticity of demand for degrees from those schools, and that the American educational consumer will take cost into account in deciding where to attend college. For years, our colleges and universities imposed rote 5% annual tuition increases and still managed to set application records, but perhaps this recession will make them hesitate before they implement the next tuition hike. A little price competition and attention to the law of supply and demand in the higher education realm would be a very good thing.

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Who To Believe?

It appears that the Senate Ethics Committee is investigating the “sweetheart” mortgage deals that Countrywide Financial Corp. gave to Senators Chris Dodd and Kent Conrad.  According to this article, the Committee recently received secret testimony from a former Countrywide employee who testified that the Senators knew that they were getting special treatment and went ahead with the deals anyway.  The Senators deny knowing that they were receiving special deals.  So, who to believe — the Senators who chair the Senate Banking Committee and Budget Committee and accepted the deals without raising questions, or the dubious corporate flunky who made sure the deals got done?

Mike “Mad Dog” Adams

I made my second trip up to Put in Bay in the past couple of months and got a chance to be part of the “Gangl Gang” (my good friend Keli’s parents, their friends and some of her family). Each year the “gang” goes to see comedian/singer Mike “Mad Dog” Adams (see picture below) at the Roundhouse Bar (known for serving draft beer in buckets similar to a bar called Papa Joe’s on High Street year’s ago).

I really like Put in Bay because it reminds me of my Florida Spring Break days when I was younger, but for adults. You have those of all ages having a few adult beverages and letting their hair down including some celebrities (Elvis, Santa and the Grinch where in attendance when we were there). Most of the people in the “Gangl Gang” were over age fifty while Keli, her sister and both their husbands are in there mid to late twenties.

Mad Dog’s motto is “everyday above ground is a good day” and when he mentions his motto the audience is to respond by repeating it. Mad Dog has been making patrons laugh at the Roundhouse Bar and elsewhere since the early 80’s and he reminds me alot of a modern day Don Rickles. His routine consists of heckling the crowd while playing the guitar and singing a few songs.

Just a few pointers before you go see Mad Dog. Get a seat at the Roundhouse or wherever you are watching him before he starts playing because once he starts he keeps an eye on the door and all those who enter whether male or female will be subject to the question he poses to the crowd, “gay” or “straight” ? Of course, the crowd always answered “gay” to each and every individual who enters.

When patrons are leaving the bar he will often say “Hey wait, don’t leave I can play folk songs” and will break into the chorus of Danny’s Song (even though we ain’t got money) with the audience joining in. When Mad Dog gets a shot of alcohol while singing his songs his response is always “Looks like its time for a toast” to which all reply “Ziggy Zaggy, Ziggy Zaggy, Hoi, Hoi, Hoi” !

Mad Dog is totally hilarious and a very good time was had by all. I highly recommend seeing Mad Dog at least once in your lifetime if your not easily offended. Many thanks to Roberta and Kirk for inviting me !

Fear Of August

A lot of politicians on both sides of the health care reform debate are holding their breath as Congress prepares to take its August recess. They are terribly afraid what members of Congress will encounter when they leave their enclave on the banks of the Potomac and return to their states and districts, there to be exposed to their constituents in uncontrolled settings. O, foul horror! To be required to interact with the grimy, unshod voters, without talking points and instant polls to guide every interaction and aides to serve as a buffer! To be subject to unscripted moments, without caucuses and whips to instruct you on what to do when the people you represent ask you about what is actually on their minds!

It is pretty pathetic when both parties express such concern about what might happen when legislators take a month to spend some time with their constituents. I frankly think we would be much better off if our Senators and Congressmen spent much less time in the Washington, D.C. fantasy world and much more time in the real world, discussing the real issues of the day and the honest concerns of those who elected them. In any case, I am perfectly comfortable with whatever takeaway members of Congress get from their constituents over the August recess. Whatever it may be, it is bound to be more sensible and thoughtful than a lot of what our elected representatives are hearing from the pundits and fellow politicos in D.C.

Leisure Suits, Disco, And The Ford Granada

Lee Iacocca and the 1975 Ford Granada

Lee Iacocca and the 1975 Ford Granada

I’ve been amazed by the steady show of interest on my prior post on crummy Ford cars of the 1970s. Interestingly, all of the attention has been to one particular car — the Ford Granada. We get data on what searches have been used to find our blog, and every week there are multiple searches specifically for the Ford Granada.

Why is this so? What is it about the Granada that continues to attract people like moths to a flame, more than 30 years after the first Granada was sold, lumbered clumsily down American roads, and immediately began to rust? It there something in the boxy shape that is intrinsically appealing to the American psyche? Are some American drivers just constitutionally opposed to aerodynamic qualities in their cars? Or, did drivers like the wide-eyed headlight design with the oversized grille that evidently served as the model for the Family Truckster that Clark Griswold was talked into buying in National Lampoon’s Vacation? Maybe it is the “Ghia” design package which — as on the shiny blue and chrome model that Lee Iacocca is posing with — consisted mainly of the cheap, pebble grain plastic cover on the roof of the car that immediately faded in the sunlight and cracked?

The interior of a Ford Granada

The interior of a Ford Granada

What about the interior of the Granada? Did its design elements satisfy the same high standards that Ford met with the body and exterior? My recollection is that the inside of the Granada could be summarized in one word: velour. The attached photo suggests, but cannot fully capture, the stunning amount of velour used on the seats and along the doors. For those of you who have never had the pleasure of driving a car with a velour interior on a hot summer day, you need only know that the velour interior of a Ford Granada captured and radiated heat with extraordinary efficiency and also managed to become both sticky and smelly when the outside temperature exceeded 70 degrees. The seventh circle of hell may involve driving a Ford Granada while wearing shorts on a muggy August day. The interior also featured lots of rubbery plastic, usually in “earth tones,” oversized dials outlined in plastic on the dashboard and, in my case, an 8-track tape player. Let the party begin!

Finally, there was the actual driving and handling of this awesome machine. My Granada was horribly underpowered, so there was no thought of impressing your date with a little rat racing when the stoplight changed. The Granada did not exactly hug the corners as you turned. Instead, it was likely a stately steamship trying to modify its course, leaving driver and passenger alike with a sick, “here we go” sense of drift until the massive front end cleared the corner and pulled the rest of the car after it. And, the Granada’s fundamental lack of aerodynamic design ensured that the billboard-sized grille would be plastered with the pulverized remains of every kind of bug native to the Midwest, and occasionally small birds as well.

So, why are people still interested in this dismal example of the American auto industry’s hubris during the 1970s? Perhaps for that very reason, or perhaps because the ’70s are in right now, and no car epitomizes the decade more aptly. It was a time of bright plaid leisure suits, bad haircuts and long sideburns, white loafers with gold buckles, disco music — and the Ford Granada.

The Step-Down Phenomenon: Foresaking Vanity

Some months ago I heard a report on NPR that described what I have come to call the “step-down phenomenon.” The phenomenon addresses what people do when times get tough, family budgets become leaner, and belts are tightened. In effect, people “step down” from more expensive items to less expensive items, rather than cutting out an item entirely. Since I’ve heard that report, I’ve noticed a number of examples of the phenomenon, which I’ll write about in the next few days.

A recent report on the sale of vanity license plates in Ohio is a good example. In Ohio, any special license plate costs an additional $35. In 2008, when the recession was just beginning to be felt, the number of “vanity” plates fell by 277, and my guess is that the numbers will fall even farther in 2009. Nobody “needs” a vanity plate, and it is easy to “step down” to a regular license plate and save that $35. Families make these kinds of judgments all the time, when they decide what is really important and might cut out some activities, or scrimp on others, in order to save up to pay for a child’s education or take a special trip. If only Congress had that same kind of decision-making ability!

The extra $35 is a painless way for Ohio to raise additional funds; last year vanity plate fees produced an extra $20 million in revenue.  Still, I wouldn’t mind seeing fewer of them on the road. Vanity is not an attractive quality, and vanity plates often seem to live up to their name by being annoyingly egotistical and narcissistic. Is it really necessary for the Prius driver to have a plate that says “GR8 MPG,” or the BMW driver to have one that reads “MY BEEMER”? And I’m sorry, but I doubt the plates that read “1 BUX FAN” or “TOP DOG” are accurate. This is an instance where the recession may be having some positive consequences by eliminating some of the irritations found on the morning drive.

Squirrel Superheroes

I was surprised to see this article about squirrels being horrible pests, because in our backyard the squirrels are a source of significant entertainment and, frankly, some pride.

My experience with our backyard squirrels began when I decided to try to keep our bird feeders stocked with bird seed this year. We have two curved iron poles on which we hang the bird feeders under one of our trees.
It quickly became apparent that the bird seed I was putting out was, in part, ending up as squirrel food instead, because we easily had the most well-fed squirrels in the neighborhood. One Saturday I decided to watch the feeders to determine, first hand, what was happening. Sure enough, within minutes after I filled the feeders and left the backyard a stout squirrel appeared. After sniffing around and carefully analyzing how to get to the seeds in the feeder, this animal Spiderman shinnied quickly up the four-foot wrought iron pole, clutched the pole with three paws, and batted the feeder with his free front paw, knocking seeds to the ground and alarming the birds nearby. Then he dropped quickly to the ground and vacuumed up the seeds that were of particular interest. In the meantime a portly fellow squirrel strolled out onto the branch about two feet above our other bird feeder, hurled himself deftly on top of it, knocked still more seeds to the ground, and then leaped back up to the branch and scampered down to the ground to claim his reward. My backyard squirrels, like the redoubtable Twiggy in the YouTube video above, clearly would be fully capable of waterskiing and, probably, leaping over a few barrels and through a flaming hoop of fire in the process.

My original idea this summer was to provide some seeds that would bring colorful songbirds to our backyard. That has happened, but I’ve also attracted my squirrel friends and encouraged their hard work in the process. I’ve been impressed and am not going to begrudge them a sunflower seed or two.