Americas / Global
Bullet-proof training in Colombia, the US's Project Laundry List and plans for new high-speed rail.
Back to school — 01
New lesson plan
Locke High School, in Los Angeles, is a portrait of what’s wrong with state schools in the US. Just four out of every 100 pupils enter college.
In July, Green Dot Public Schools, a charter school organisation (privately run, publicly funded), took over and instituted a policy of smaller classes, a strict curriculum for preparing for college entry, uniforms and encouraging parent participation.
Steve Barr, Green Dot’s founder, told Monocle: “If we can create change at Locke, we can create it anywhere.”
During summer school (with only 400 pupils present), things seemed to be going smoothly but it remains to be seen if Green Dot’s tough love approach can succeed when the autumn term begins, and thousands of pupils arrive back.
At his nondescript clothes shop in Bogotá, Miguel Caballero has shot most of his employees. One manager remembers the time Caballero got out a .32 calibre pistol and fired at his chest. “My boss stood about 400m away from me, counted down from three and then ‘bang!’. It’s all part of the induction process,” he says.
He was wearing a jacket from Caballero’s bullet-proof clothing collection that includes everything from tweed jackets to tropical shirts. It’s a range that has made Caballero one of the world’s most sought-after tailors among the rich and famous in the firing line.
Sales are booming. Last year he delivered €5m of clothes in Latin America. He sees Africa and central and eastern Europe as growth areas, and a couture range recently arrived at Harrods in London. “Miguel Caballero is the only manufacturer of fashion protective clothing, the quality of production, fabrics, and design execution is first class,” says a Harrods spokesperson.
Known as the “Armani of bullet- proof casualwear”, Caballero has dressed Hollywood A-listers, regional heads of state and US rappers. The bestseller is a black leather jacket that sells for up to €7,000, weighs 1.2kg and takes four weeks to make. The lighter the garment, the more expensive it is (Caballero is working on producing a bullet-proof jacket that weights just 400g).
Since he started up the business 16 years ago with $10, Caballero has been developing his secret-formula anti-ballistic fabrics, which include multiple layers of aramid nylons and synthetic fibres.
“In countries where AK-47s are more popular than handguns, we have to adapt the formula accordingly because the speed and shape of a bullet affects the materials we use,” says Caballero.
Tracking the super snatchers
Figures vary, but an estimated 48 per cent of kidnappings worldwide take place in Latin America. The following apply to 2007.
1. Mexico: 547 — One in seven of those kidnapped in Mexico in 2005 was killed, compared to one in 26 in Colombia 2. Colombia: 521 — Down from 3,500 in 2000 3. Venezuela — Official figures vary between 305 and 382
Fresh campaigns will begin this autumn for Americans’ right to dry their clothes outside. The campaign group Project Laundry List is urging authorities to challenge the widely held idea that hanging out laundry can ruin the view.
The group says if the average household stopped using a tumble-dryer it would save up to 25 per cent on bills. Florida has a law against banning washing lines. New Hampshire, Connecticut and Vermont may follow suit.
Back on track
Until now, the US has shunned train travel in favour of open roads and frequent-flyer miles. But with oil price hikes leading major US airlines to cut domestic routes, rail is finally getting another look. California is designing the country’s first major high-speed rail system, a 1,290km network that will link up large cities at a speed of up to 350km/h.
The system, which will cost around €25bn, is set to begin construction in 2011 at the earliest and be completed by 2020. And with an eventual annual capacity of 117 million passengers, it could save 12.7m barrels of oil and 5.4bn kg of carbon dioxide each year – while also reducing the state’s legendary traffic and pollution woes.
“We always think about San Francisco and Los Angeles, but there’s a lot of stuff in between,” says Carrie Pourvahidi, deputy director of the California High-Speed Rail Authority, the state agency in charge of the project. “There’s got to be some other alternative for people and goods to move around the state,” she adds.
The federal government is watching closely: it has designated another 10 potential high-speed corridors around the country.
The US only has 4 per cent of the world’s five to 25-year-old population but its expenditure on public education is 28 per cent of the worldwide total. Sub-Saharan Africa has 15 per cent of the world’s school-age population but only spends 2.4 per cent of the global total.