Hugo Chavez dies

Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez dies

So it is official, Hugo Chavez has died. While it is still not clear what exactly happened over the past couple of months, the strangeness of the government’s actions can now be partially explained by the fact Chavez was in his final days.

With Chavez’s death there is now a  feeling reminiscent of Louis XV supposed final words: “après moi le déluge” (after me the deluge). Chavez leaves behind him a polarized country with many major economic and social problems, an untested opposition, and a fractious pro-Chavista party that may not fall in line with Maduro (Chavez’s chosen succesor). Elections will certainly follow, how fair they are will be interesting to see. Nevertheless, whoever wins will have a full plate trying to pick up the pieces and clean up the mess.

Book Review: Fist Stick Knife Gun: A Personal History of Violence

Fist Stick Knife Gun: A Personal History of Violence, by Geoffrey Canada

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I think the book brings some interesting points to the table, especially on the impact of the proliferation of firearms, and the way they destroyed the previous order. He makes some good points about how firearms don’t really provide deterrence to violence, but instead increase chaos and instability, which breeds more violence. I do think Canada is a bit too nostalgic about the old days. While he readily accepts the brutality of the streets before the entry of firearms in mass, there is still a nostalgic sentiment of the supposed honor and controls that once existed in the pre-gun society. I think this book is a good companion to Evil: Inside Human Violence and Cruelty, which is a more in depth psychological look at the human roots of violence and cruelty.

Canada doesn’t go into great detail on the solutions to the challenges of poverty and violence and of breaking these vicious cycles. However, this is more due to the shortness of the book, and not due to a lack of practical knowledge of the policies that are being tried and are having some successes. He highlights some of the work that he has done in Boston and New York, but what you get from these positive stories is more an insight into Canada’s overall philosophy of community-centric investments focused on education and responsive services, than a concrete policy proposal. He seems happy to share his experiences as examples of ideas that might work, but is more interesting in trying to get the reader off the sidelines and involved in finding a solution to the problem.

Overall, this is a good look at issues surrounding violence in inner-cities in the U.S. Canada draws on a wealth of personal experiences having grown up in Brooklyn and having dedicated his life to trying to reclaim inner-city communities from endemic violence and poverty. It is interesting and easy to read.

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The American Airlines-US Airways Merger in an Evolving Airline Industry

The American Airlines-US Airways Merger in an Evolving Airline Industry

A Brookings blog post looking at the competitive effects of the consolidation of the US Airline industry. It is an interesting look at explaining why despite decreasing number of competitors in the US air travel market that prices haven’t increased as much as some worried. I don’t disagree with the overall point that Winston makes. However, I think he may have under estimated the increase of airfares by not taking into account the new pricing schemes that most airlines are using, where they charge additional fees for services that were once included in the ticket price (checked bags, food and beverage, etc.). There is also no mention about the increase in fuel costs, which is one of the major drivers of airline cost. So, while I think that it is true that airline mergers have led to operating efficiencies of which some of the cost savings have been passed along to consumers, without an analysis on a changing pricing mechanism, changing definition of services provided, and a look at fuel costs it is difficult to untangle what the real change in airfare is and how much of it may be attributable to the airline industry’s consolidation.