Gas prices in the heart and head (5×8 – 3/1/12)

Is gas costing you as much as you think, is it cold in here or is that just Google, embracing winter, blowing the lid off the ‘Three Little Pigs,’ and the science of paralysis.


1) FINANCIAL HARDSHIP AND THE PRICE OF GAS EXPLORED

Let’s agree right off the bat that nobody likes paying for gasoline. But are the recent increases in gasoline prices really causing “financial hardship” for most Americans? Or do most of them saying so just not like paying higher gas prices?

Have-Gas-Prices-Caused-Financial-Hardship-in-Your-Household_244.GIFA CBS News poll released last night said…


Sixty-seven percent of Americans say high gas prices have caused a financial hardship in their households; of those, 38 percent say that hardship is serious. Thirty-two percent of Americans say they had not suffered financial hardship to do the rising costs of gas.

Americans with lower household incomes are especially likely to feel pain at the pump. Forty-nine percent of those earning less than $50,000 say hikes in gas prices have caused them serious financial hardship; among those earning between $50,000 and $100,000, only 29 percent say the same thing. That number falls even further to 22 percent among those with incomes of $100,000 and higher.

At 37 percent, Republicans were more likely to say that they had experienced serious hardship due to the rising prices than were Democrats (28 percent), although 32 percent of people in both parties said the price hikes had caused them difficulties of some nature.

The numbers are skewed a little bit regionally. The Midwest is nowhere near as bad as, say, the West, where prices are usually much higher.

Is this the heart or the head talking? The average price of a gallon of gas nationally has gone up about 34 cents a gallon since January, when prices started heading upward. If you drive a 15-gallon vehicle, you’re probably pumping 12-13 gallons of fuel if you fill up when the “fuel light” comes on. At most, you’re filling up once a week on average. That’s $4.42 a week.

Nobody likes spending an additional $5 a week, but what are the chances $5 a week is really causing financial hardship for people making $50,000 – $100,000 a year?

If a driver can coax another 2 mpg out of their vehicle (not that difficult by driving 55 mph and accelerating and braking more slowly and generally being more mindful), that would save the driver above about a gallon a week, or $3.70, making the total increase $1.30. Serious hardship over $1.30? Not likely for most people. That’s about half the cost of a Powerball ticket.

There is a point at which the price of a gallon of gasoline changes driver behavior but most experts — and the anecdotal evidence — says we haven’t reached that yet.

I drove in to work the other day at 55 mph. More than two-thirds of those on the road were passing me easily, using more gasoline than I was. Chances are that among them were people claiming a financial hardship because of the price of gasoline.

Let’s do a survey: How much extra is gasoline taking out of your wallet per week and what are you doing to compensate?

Related: Tensions with Iran raise the possibility of $5 a gallon gasoline. That would clearly provide financial hardship.

More: What’s going up that actually is causing a financial hardship and that few people are talking about? Food.

2) IS IT COLD IN HERE OR IS THAT JUST GOOGLE?


It’s March 1 and the breeze you feel may be your online privacy going out the window. Starting today, Google’s new privacy policy allows it to dig deeper into personal lives than most people realize. Google spent the last few weeks alerting users to it, and ignoring demands from some governments who insist it may be illegal, the Daily Mail says.

Google argues that combining the data into one profile makes search results more relevant and allows a user to cross-navigate between different services more easily. It says the main purpose of the new policy is to combine the more than 70 different rules for Google’s wide-ranging services into one that is simpler and more readable.

The policy change has horrified privacy advocates and bloggers – tech site ZDNet said that Google would ‘know more about you than your wife does’ and said the policy was ‘Big Brother-ish’.

You can’t stop Google from gathering all of your data — especially if you use an Android phone — but you can limit it somewhat.

Google is participating in a question-and-answer session this morning here. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has a guide to changing how Google uses your information here.

3) EMBRACING WINTER

The big winter storm is over and all that’s left is the second-guessing. Weather people concentrate on the painful effects of winter. This morning, for example, I’m watching a TV anchor tease storm coverage with, “we’ll tell you how many crashes there were.” Did you really get up this morning longing to know how many crashes there were? “It was a very unpleasant day in Duluth,” he said. Was it? Really?

What if weather forecasters used terms that mirror how many people see winter storms?

We’d hear terms like “partly to mostly funny in Duluth” …

“With a 90 percent chance of beautiful in Minneapolis”…

And “an ‘interesting’ — in a Minnesota way — warning has been posted for the region.”…

4) BLOWING THE LID OFF THE ‘THREE LITTLE PIGS’ STORY

In the age of online journalism, social networks, and citizen reporters, how might the Three Little Pigs have been covered. UK’s The Guardian just released an ad answering the question:

The ad is meant to promote what the Guardian is calling an “open” approach to journalism. Its editor explains:


A city trader in New York realises he’s captured on film the moment the police struck a news seller in the middle of a crowd. A woman leaving a theatre is moved to write about her response to the play she’s just seen. A dozen scientific bloggers group together to reach a much larger audience. A nurse wants to share her perspective of the NHS changes.

Sounds a bit like MPR’s Public Insight Network. With pigs.

5) THE SCIENCE OF PARALYSIS

Jack Jablonski, the high school hockey player paralyzed by a from-behind check in January, is providing us with the opportunity to learn some fascinating things about science. In a WCCO report last night, for example, we learned how doctors are using electrical stimulation “to bypass the spine.”

Related: The magic of the “halo.” (h/t: John Millea)

More science: A British ethics group has launched a debate on the ethical dilemmas posed by new technologies that tap into the brain and could bring super-human strength, highly enhanced concentration or thought-controlled weaponry. (Reuters)

Bonus I: Starting at 8 this morning, you can make reservations for Minnesota state parks for the coming summer. This one will be shutdown free. (h/t: Julia Schrenkler)

Bonus II: Nothing sells air conditioners like flabby dads in underpants (h/t: AdFreak)

BGH – Dads in briefs from Picklehouse on Vimeo.

TODAY’S QUESTION

Cities around the country have been staging homecoming parades for returning veterans. Today’s Question: What’s the best way to honor returning veterans?

WHAT WE’RE DOING

I’ll be doing an interview in Prescott, Wi., this afternoon. So posting might be a little light after 2 p.m. Keep reading old posts, though, because a guy’s got to eat.

Daily Circuit (9-12 p.m.) – First hour: Kerri Miller looks at what companies are doing to make themselves truly sustainable, and the role played by investors.

Second hour: Journalist Katherine Boo follows three people as they live their lives striving towards the middle-class in Mumbai.

Third hour: Are there future cognitive consequences for hyperconnected Millennials? The Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project just released a new study and experts seem to think young people will see benefits and negative consequences from always being “on.”

MPR News Presents (12-1 pm): Jane Kirtley of the University of Minnesota on the history of our free press. She gave her address at the Minnesota History Center.

Talk of the Nation (1-3 p.m.) – First hour: What companies know about you and does it matter?

Second hour: Why we speak out. In eastern Poland, 1942, a dozen Nazi soldiers put down their guns, and refused to kill. So often we hear stories of people who committed almost inhuman atrocities. A new book looks at the other side: the people who don’t just stand by, they speak up.

All Things Considered (3-6:30 p.m.) - MPR’s Tim Nelson will report on today’s announcement on a deal to build a new palace for the Minnesota Vikings.

NPR will present Monty Alexander on combining jazz and his Jamaican roots.