Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Yahoo and Microsoft

The Washington Post is running an article entitled, "Congress Concerned About Microsoft, Yahoo Deal." The article states, "The companies have been talking for months about a partnership after a failed attempt by Microsoft to acquire Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Yahoo last year. In the deal, Microsoft's search engine, Bing, would be the exclusive search tool for Yahoo's sites. The companies would also combine their advertising sales forces. Together they would have about 30 percent of the search advertising market, compared with Google's grasp of 60 percent of online search advertisements."

The article concludes, "Google won't say whether it will protest the partnership to regulators, saying only in a statement: 'There has traditionally been a lot of competition online, and our experience is that competition brings about great things for users. We're interested to learn more about the deal.'"

1. What questions would you ask in order to become more informed about possible anti-trust violations associated with the potential Yahoo - Microsoft partnership? How would you find the answers to these questions?

2. What do you think that Yahoo and Microsoft would have to do to overtake Google in search? Is it possible for this partnership to overtake Google? Why or why not? Do you think that the partnership wants to overtake Google? Explain!

3. Ten years ago very few people had heard of Google. What type of web application do you think might have the same impact as Google has had, ten years from now.

4. Which of the following companies would you most like to own: Microsoft; Yahoo; or, Google? Why?

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Swim Suits?

The New York Times is running an article entitled, "Biedermann Stuns Phelps Amid Debate Over Suits." The article states, "Biedermann shattered Phelps’s world record with a clocking of 1 minute 42.00 seconds. Phelps, who owns four of the five all-time fastest swims in the event, finished in 1:43.22. Phelps had set the world record that Biedermann broke, a 1:42.96 that he recorded on his way to Olympic gold last summer in Beijing."

The article adds, "After the 400 freestyle, Biedermann acknowledged that his Arena X-Glide suit was an advantage. He said it makes him 'really fast; honestly, about two seconds in the race.' He added, 'I think the suits are destroying a little bit the sport. It’s just, put on a suit, and you’re really, really fast.'”

1. Why do you think that some suits are faster than others? Speculate!!

2. Do you think that swimmers should be allowed to wear bathing suits that enable them to swim faster? Why or why not? In what ways could such bathing suits help the sport of swimming? In what ways could they detract from the sport of swimming?

3. Do you think it is fair to compare certain bathing suits that enable swimmers to swim faster to steroids that enable athletes to perform better? What are the similarities? What are the differences?

4. Does it ever make sense to discuss/think about non-significant current events, such as this one, when other far more significant current events are occurring around us? Why or why not?

Friday, July 24, 2009

Traders Profit with Computers

The New York Times is running an article entitled, "Stock Traders Find Speed Pays, in Milliseconds." The article states, "Powerful computers, some housed right next to the machines that drive marketplaces like the New York Stock Exchange, enable high-frequency traders to transmit millions of orders at lightning speed and, their detractors contend, reap billions at everyone else’s expense."

The article addds, "The rise of high-frequency trading helps explain why activity on the nation’s stock exchanges has exploded. Average daily volume has soared by 164 percent since 2005, according to data from NYSE. Although precise figures are elusive, stock exchanges say that a handful of high-frequency traders now account for a more than half of all trades. To understand this high-speed world, consider what happened when slow-moving traders went up against high-frequency robots earlier this month, and ended up handing spoils to lightning-fast computers."

1. If the old adage is true that it takes money to make money is it fair that those who can afford faster computers can make more money on the stock market? Why or why not?

2. Could an argument be made that individuals who hire traders to trade for them stand a better chance of earning profits than those who trade for themselves, therefore people should not be allowed to hire traders to work for them. Why or why not?

3. Is it important for all individuals who want to trade stocks to have complete equality with one another? (What does complete equality even mean?) If it is impossible to attain complete equality, in what kinds of inequality would be acceptable?

4. Today people have an advantage if they use faster computers to trade. Think one hundred years into the future. What kind of technology will give people an advantage over others in the marketplace?

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Obama Weighs in on Gates

The New York Times is running an article entitled, "Obama Wades into a Volatile Race Issue." The article states, "In response to a question at his prime-time news conference about the arrest of Henry Louis Gates Jr., the black Harvard professor, in his own home over the weekend, Mr. Obama declared that the Cambridge, Mass., police had 'acted stupidly.'”

The article further adds, "Mr. Obama’s response was his most animated performance of the hourlong news conference, and represented an extraordinary plunge by a president into a local law-enforcement dispute."

1.Why do you think that racism exists in the first place?

2. Do you think that there is still a problem of racism in the United States? Do you have evidence to back up your opinion? Is the fact that Barack Obama is President enough evidence? Explain!

3. Do you think that the President should have said anything about the Cambridge Police Department's handling of the Henry L. Gates situation? Why or why not?

4. Why do you think that President Obama mentions Latinos every time he mentions the problems that have plagued African Americans? In what ways is the U.S. experience of Latinos similar to the U.S. experience of African Americans? In what ways is the experience different?

5. If you could say one thing to the world in an effort to eliminate all forms of racism what would you say? Why do you think this would have a chance of eliminating racism?

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Health Care Heats Up

The political debate over healthcare has heated up. The Washington Post is running an article entitled, "GOP Focuses Effort to Kill Health Bills." The article begins, "Emboldened by divided Democrats and polls that show rising public anxiety about President Obama's handling of health care and the economy, Republicans on Monday launched an aggressive effort to link the two, comparing the health-care bills moving through Congress to what they labeled as a failed economic stimulus bill."

1. Do you think that health care should be considered a natural human right? Why or why not? Is there a difference between denying somebody health care because they cannot afford to pay for it and intentionally hurting somebody? Why or why not?

2. Imagine that two people make the same amount of money but one person spends all of his money on trivial things and the other saves her money? If the first person gets sick and cannot afford to pay for health care should the second be required to help support the first? Why or why not? Should the second choose to help support the first? Explain!

3. Does it make political sense for President Obama to campaign against fellow Democrats who don't happen to support his health care initiatives? Why or why not? What is the real power of the Presidency?

4. Do you think that a government supported health care system would be as effective as a privately funded health care system? Why or why not? Is there anything that a government does better than an individual, or a private firm? Is there anything that a private firm does better than the government? Is there anything that they do equally well?

Monday, July 20, 2009

Loan Fixing

The New York Times is running an article entitled, "Subprime Brokers Resurface as Dubious Loan Fixers." Though Jack Soussana amassed a fortune selling a huge number of mortgages to homeowners during the real estate boom, his clients did not fare as well.

The article states, "He specialized in the exotic mortgages that have proved most prone to sliding into foreclosure, leaving many now scrambling to save their homes...Yet the dangers assailing Mr. Soussana’s clients have yielded fresh business for him: Late last year, he and his team — ensconced in the same office where they used to broker mortgages — began working for a loan modification company. For fees reaching $3,495, with most of the money collected upfront, they promised to negotiate with lenders to lower payments on the now-delinquent mortgages they and their counterparts had sprinkled liberally across Southern California."

1. What does it mean to be an educated consumer? What kinds of questions should you ask before paying money for a good or a service?

2. Why do so many people willingly purchase a good or a service without asking questions? Would you call it lazy, trusting, or something else?

3. What can we learn about the individuals who shifted their business orientation from selling mortgages to selling loan negotiation services? Is it acceptable to try and earn a fortune? Why or why not?

4. How would you describe the difference between a legitimate business opportunity and a scam? Does the difference at all depend on one's position vis-a-vis the business? Explain!!

Friday, July 17, 2009

Big Banks Report Profits

The Washington Post is running an article entitled, "Bank of America, Citigroup Report Large Second Quarter Profits." The article states, "The largest banks are profiting from the success of some lines of business, such as trading in financial products and helping companies raise money. But the basic business of banking, lending money to borrowers, remains deeply troubled."

The article adds, "Both companies continue to rely on a range of federal rescue programs to raise money from investors, a key factor in their strong results. They also remain subject to close scrutiny by federal regulators, who have taken an active hand in management decisions."

1. Do you think that the government was right to help failing banks by backing them financially? Why or why not? Should the government continue to help banks if banks are reporting profits? What damage could occur if government withdraws it's financial support?

2. Do you think you know enough about the government bailout of large financial institutions? Why or why not? What question would you ask in order to learn more about these bailouts?

3.If you had to pick the two top priorities for government funding, what would you select? Why? Can you think of anything that the government is currently supporting financially that would stop supporting if you could control the government? If so, what?

4. After banks remain profitable and no longer need government support, how much money do you think that they should have to pay back to the government? (Base this on either a percentage or a multiple of the government investment within the bank.)

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Take Off!!

CNN is running an article entitled, "From Doughnuts to Lift Off, Apollo 11 Launch was Blast." (Sometimes intriguing articles get silly titles. Jack King, Chief of Public Information at the Kennedy Center in 1969, stopped for donuts before heading to the launch and becoming known as "the voice of Appollo 11.") The article states, "Forty years after America's launch of Apollo 11, the U.S. space program is at a different crossroads, challenged in recent years to return to the moon and to recapture the ambition that launched the space race in 1961. Back then, a dazzled nation heard the big dreams of a youthful Ivy League-educated, senator-turned president."

1. What information do you think that you would need to know in order to intelligently decide if human-beings will ever reach Mars? Do you think that it makes sense for government to spend money towards this objective? Why or why not?

2. The Apollo 11 Mission represented something far larger than itself. Can you think of anything else that represents something far larger than itself? What does it even mean for something to represent something larger than itself?

3. Hundreds, if not thousands, of people were involved in the Apollo 11 Mission. What does it take to work together effectively? What is the hardest part of working collaborative work? What is the easiest part? Why?

4. Do you think that intelligent life forms exist elsewhere in the world? Why or why not? If so, do you think that human beings will ever make contact with these beings? What would you do if one day you looked into the sky and actually saw a UFO hovering above the ground? Why would you do this? What would you think?

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Sotomayor's Demeanor During the Hearings

The Washington Post is running an article entitled, "Warming the Room with a Confident Touch." The article states, "Senators hammered Sotomayor for that ('wise Latina') remark all day, but she took no umbrage at any of the questioning. When Jeff Sessions (Ala.), the ranking Republican on the panel, was grilling her for a decision and suggested she could have voted along with one of her fellow judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit, "himself of Puerto Rican ancestry," several of Sotomayor's friends and colleagues behind her grimaced in exasperation. The judge's face betrayed no change in her expression of active listening."

According to the article, Senator Diane Feinstein, one of two women on the committee said, "This nominee, I think, has been very straightforward...She has not used catchy phrases. She has answered the questions directly the best she could. And to me, that gets points. I must say that, if there's a test for judicial temperament, you pass it with an A-plus-plus. I want you to know that, because I wanted to respond, and my adrenaline was moving along. And you have just sat there, very quietly, and responded to questions that, in their very nature, are quite provocative. So I want to congratulate you about that."

1. Why do students think that people make certain kinds of faces when they feel specific ways? Do students think that people can always control the faces they make? Why or why not?

2. When it comes to physical demeanor, what is the best way to listen to somebody else? Do students feel that they are more respected when students look at them in certain ways? Why or why not?

3. Why do students think that people shake hands with one another? Is there a difference between shaking hands and hugging? Is there a difference between shaking hands and touching somebody on the shoulder? Are there certain times when certain actions are more appropriate than others?

4. Do students think that it's worthwhile to pay attention to the physical demeanor of Judge Sotomayor? Why or why not? What can we learn from other people by paying attention to their demeanor?

Monday, July 13, 2009

Senate Confirmation Hearings

The Washington Post is running an article entitled, "In Senate Confirmation Hearings, Sotomayor Pledges, 'Fidelity to the Law.'" The article begins, "Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor said yesterday that a simple 'fidelity to the law' is at the heart of her judicial philosophy, as her confirmation hearings began with Senate Republicans delivering a surprisingly strong critique of her fairness and President Obama's reliance on ephemeral qualities of life experience and 'empathy' in nominating her."

1. What do students think that the word "empathy" means? Can they think of any times in which they have been empathetic towards another? Can they think of any times in which somebody has been empathetic towards them?

2. Challenge students to identify the three most important characteristics of a judge. Is it more important for a judge to be caring or a judge to be impartial? Why?

3. Do students think that in some cases a woman judge may rule differently than a male judge? Why or why not?

4. If students could ask Judge Sotomayor one question before the Senate votes on her confirmation, what would they ask? Why? What if they could ask two questions? Why do they think that the first question is more important than the second question?

Friday, July 10, 2009

A New GM

The New York Times is running an article entitled, "With Sale of Its Good Assets, G.M. Tries for a Fresh Start." The article states, "'G.M.’s goal,' (G.M. CEO)Mr. Henderson said, 'is to design, build and sell the best vehicles in the world, something that the company had forgotten. He listed the company’s priorities, in order, as its customers, its cars and its culture.'"

1. Challenge students to consider the three most important characteristics of a high quality car. What separates a high quality car from a low quality car?

2. In the article Mr. Henderson describes G.M.'s top three priorities as customers, cars, and culture. What does it mean to take care of customers well? Do students think that it's easier for a small company to take care of customers or a small company? Why? Should a company agree to all of a customer's demands? Why or why not?

3. Challenge students to define the word "culture". What is the difference between a national culture and a corporate culture? Students could describe the school culture.

4. Do students think that a company should have responsibilities towards employees who lose their jobs after a restructuring? Why or why not?

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Economic Stabilization?

Newspapers around the world are reporting on the G8 meetings in Italy. The Wall Street Journal is running an article entitled, "Some Stabilization Signs but Risks Remain." One particular paragraph caught my attention.

Ahead of the meeting, the G8 were split on how to manage the exit from the current downturn, the steepest since World War II, with the U.S. concerned that reversing the stimulus too quickly may hurt the recovery, and Germany fearing that pumping too much public money into the economy may unleash a strong inflation. The leaders pledged to coordinate in repairing the financial system, helping banks to rid their balance sheets of bad assets, while making sure that global competition remains fair.

1. Challenge students to develop a graphic image explaining why reversing the stimulus too quickly may hurt the economy, while injecting too much money into the economy may unleash a strong inflation.

2. Can students think of any ways in which stimulus packages and their potential negative consequences can be compared to rain? What do you think about this comparison?

3. Do students think its important for the leaders of the world to meet together to discuss the economy? Why or why not? Would such conversations have been as important one hundred years ago as they are today? Why or why not?

4. Do students see any signs of economic stimulus in their own communities? If so, what signs?

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Michael Jackson's Death

The Washington Post, similar to newspapers around the world, is reporting on the Michael Jackson memorial at the Staple Center in Los Angeles. The article, entitled "Private Funeral Begins; Crowd Gathers at Staple Center," concludes, "...Jackson's Facebook page was clocking up to around 20 new fans per second and was hovering around the 7 million mark -- making it the most popular page on the social media outlet."

View Michael Jackson's Facebook page here.

Questions to Consider:
1. Ask students why they think that so many people are interested in Michael Jackson's death. What does this reveal about human nature? What role does music play in life? Does it play a different role in death?

2. Challenge students to define Facebook? What is a social network site? What can we learn about human nature from the popularity of social network sites? What kinds of skills does somebody need to use social networking skills effectively? In what ways can these skills benefit people in other areas of life?

3. Do students think that the Michael Jackson memorial deserves so much attention? Why or why not?

Monday, July 6, 2009

Pact Between Obama and Russian Leader

The New York Times is running an article entitled, "Obama and Russian Leader Announce Nuclear Deal." The article begins, "The United States and Russia, seeking to move forward on one of the most significant arms control treaties since the end of the cold war, announced Monday that they had reached a preliminary agreement on cutting each country’s stockpiles of strategic nuclear weapons by as much as one-third."

According to the article, “It’s our common, joint responsibility, and we should do our utmost to prevent any negative trends there, and we are ready to do that,” (Russian President) Mr. Medvedev said. “Our negotiations with President Obama have demonstrated that we share the same attitude towards this problem.

Read the Article Here!!

Challenge students to consider whether or not they think that the United States and/or the Soviet Union should keep any nuclear weapons. They should support their opinions thoughtfully.

What one principle do students think that negotiators should keep in mind when they are at the negotiating table? Why?

Do students think that we live in a safe world? Why or why not? What one change would most make this world a safer place? Challenge students to support their suggestions.

If students could say one thing that the entire world would hear in order to try and promote world peace, what would they say? Why?

Check out our unit on the Cuban Missile Crisis!!