Explaining Southern California's economy

Why do some critics despise 'Downton Abbey?'

Photograph Nick Briggs. +44(0)20.

The Season 2 finale of Downton Abbey aired on PBS Masterpiece Classics this Sunday, Feb. 19.

At my house, we just wrapped up Season 2 of the breakout British T.V. hit, "Downton Abbey." Matthew Crawley, heir to the estate and future Earl of Grantham, finally proposed (again) to the luminous Lady Crawley, as 1919 turned into 1920 and gigantic glowing snowflakes blanketed the English countryside. "Downton," which mashes up "Upstairs, Downstairs" with "Atonement" and "Brideshead Revisited," is a finest piece of televise soap you can currently consume in the West. It's addictive, in the way that that these heavy breathing, highly acted British costume dramas are. Americans can't get enough of it.

Not so the English intelligentsia. First Simon Schama, an influential Columbia University historian who once hosted an entire series about the British, laid into "Downton" at the Daily Beast. For Schama, it's personal:

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High California gas prices are actually a good thing

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Corey Bridwell/KPCC

Gas prices at a Chevron station in Pasadena, CA.

Time to panic about rising gas prices in the Golden State? Most definitely, if you accept the L.A. Times' analysis:

The [gas] price surge has been particularly steep in California, in part because of maintenance at some refineries that make the state's cleaner-burning gasoline. Statewide, average pump prices for regular gasoline crossed the $4 mark over the weekend and reached an average of $4.031 a gallon Monday, up 5% in just the last week and nearly 9% higher than a month ago.

The price of oil is also moving up, due largely to two factors: worries about unrest in the Middle East over Iran's nuclear program; and commodities speculation. That second one is significant. Hedge funds could be playing the price run-up two ways, by betting on higher prices in the future, or by "shorting" the market and wagering that the price will come down.

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Taylor Hackford versus the Internet pirates

64th Annual Directors Guild Of America Awards - Show

Kevin Winter/Getty Images for DGA

DGA President Taylor Hackford and host Kelsey Grammer speak onstage during the 64th Annual Directors Guild Of America Awards held at the Grand Ballroom at Hollywood & Highland on January 28, 2012 in Hollywood, California.

Directors Guild of America President Taylor Hackford went on "The Patt Morrison Show" on Wednesday to offer withering opposition to the opponents of SOPA and PIPA, the two pieces of federal legislation that are intended to halt the scourge of online copyright piracy and, if you believe Hackford, to preserve the gainful employment of many thousands of entertainment industry workers who make far less money than he does ($50,000 a year, on average).

You certainly can't begrudge Hackford his defense of the "artists" against the Internet ruffians. He's made some fine films, including "An Officer and a Gentleman" and "Ray" (we'll forgive him "Against All Odds" and the improbable ballet-tap Cold War mashup "White Nights"). He's on his second go-round as the DGA prez. That said, he could have done a better job of dealing with Patt's question during the segment about the Hollywood business model.

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How the Ivy League brought us the financial crisis

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Robert Spencer/Getty Images

Graduating Harvard University students attend commencement ceremonies in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Elite colleges like Harvard have steadily increased their efforts to admit low-income students in recent years.

Ezra Klein has an interesting but also exasperating piece at Bloomberg View about how the Ivy League continues to send graduates into high finance, law, and consulting because an Ivy League education doesn't prepare those students to actually do anything with their lives.

I'm not kidding. 

Let's allow Klein to present the case in his own words:

Wall Street -- like a few other professions, including law, management consulting and Teach for America -- is taking advantage of the weakness of liberal arts education.

For many kids, college represents an end goal. Once you get into a good college, you’ve made it, and everyone stops worrying about you. You’re encouraged to take classes in subjects like English literature and history and political science, all of which are fine and interesting, but none of which leave you with marketable skills [emphasis mine]. After a few years of study, you suddenly find it’s late in your junior year, or early in your senior year, and you have no skills pointing to the obvious next step.

What Wall Street figured out is that colleges are producing a large number of very smart, completely confused graduates. Kids who have ample mental horsepower, incredible work ethics and no idea what to do next. So the finance industry takes advantage of that confusion, attracting students who never intended to work in finance but don’t have any better ideas about where to go.

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The DeBord Report on 'America Now with Andy Dean'

I did my weekly Economy Report on "American Now with Andy Dean" a day early this week — Thursday rather than Friday. Andy very kindly informed me that the first step to leaving the liberal matrix is admitting that you have a problem, but I think I need to know what the other eleven steps are before I'm fully prepared to go down that road. In any case, we ran through the business news of the week, which included President Obama's budget; General Motors' record 2012 profit and Mitt Romney's view of the bailouts; the thorny question of whether "carried interest" income earned by folks in the financial sector should be taxed as regular income; and the whole dustup over Starbucks policy toward gun owners.

Listen in! It was a snappy discussion, as usual. I come in about halfway though.

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