17.4.14

TAIL TRACK.

Barring signal troubles, links to any posts of substance ought to work.

WORKING ON THE RAILROAD.

Hand-spiked switches take a while to install.  But I progress.


Here's the state of things last week Friday.  There's not a lot more to show this week.  But once the ladder track is finished, the next stages of construction will go very quickly.

HIGHER EDUCATION LOWERS ITSELF.

Western Washington University president Bruce Shepard has become a figure of fun for equating whiteness of the student body with mediocrity.  The story even got some play on Fox News Channel's Red Eye.

The president's logic is more troubling than his choice of words.
It is our internal capacity to change at the rate required that I find myself most thinking about during those 3:00 a.m. staring-at-the-ceiling times.

It begins with our culture.  Lately, I have been hearing the occasional comment that gives me pause; for example, expressing a concern about the Admissions Office letting standards slip.  (Facts are, mean entering high school GPA's have remained relatively constant over the last six years, but dispersion—standard deviation—has increased as we take more students at both the higher and lower end.)

But I want to shout, "get those heads out of the sand."  Unless you want us to choose the path of the much smaller, elite-serving university I earlier rejected, our incoming students are more and more going to be coming from families where parents have not gone to college and where academic preparation will likely not have been as high a priority.

These future students have all the smarts, all the potential, the invaluable active minds driven to change lives.  But they will be testing our ability to perform in new ways.  Part of the cultural change will be to go from bragging about (or worrying about) what we start with to bragging about the levels to which we take our students.
Glass half full: higher education ought to be higher, and students at Western Washington deserve the same intellectual challenges that students in the Ivies get.  Glass half empty: the common schools are still getting away with producing Distressed Material or enabling dysfunctional behavior and excusing it as cultural differences.

Might it not be more effective for Western Washington, or anyplace else, it's attracting students from diverse backgrounds by stopping the patronizing talk and simply challenging the students who enroll?

But Mr Shephard, if a previous statement is still operative, may have drunk too much identity politics Kool-Aid to even consider that option.
We have learned that the campus climate experiences reported by women, by racial and ethnic minorities, and by gays, lesbians, transsexuals, and bisexuals are different from the campus climate reported by majority counterparts.  Different in unacceptable ways.
Rather than suggest that the Perpetually Aggrieved get busy and study some economics or lab science or higher mathematics, he Blames. America. First.
There is nothing to be embarrassed about in the data per se, in finding that we are a part of a society with resilient sexist, racist, homophobic, and heterocentric forces. The only thing to be embarrassed about when a challenge is documented is to do nothing about it. Just as the hiring data reflect what has to be a campus wide commitment and campus wide action, so too must be efforts to address the campus climate issues. We need the help of everyone on campus in figuring out how to improve and in improving this situation.
Keep placating the Perpetually Aggrieved and the freakazoids, Mr Shepard.  The United States will lose the competition for the "developed talent essential to replace the retiring baby boomers" by default. But the United States will have the most culturally competent underemployed graduates in the world.

13.4.14

OUTRAGED. BLINDSIDED.

Genoa officialdom is not pleased that Amtrak to Rockford will go by way of Belvidere.
“The whole way this was handled was disgraceful,” Genoa Mayor Mark Vicary said. “We just found out about this [Thursday] night. It's a travesty, and it was taken away from us in the darkness of the night.”
Did anybody in Genoa work with people at CNR to encourage the railroad to work more cooperatively with the Illinois Department of Transportation?  With CNR attempting to assimilate Illinois Central and Elgin Joliet and Eastern, in part to move more agricultural products, ethanol, and possibly Alberta oil around Chicago, not through it, a little willingness to help provide additional trackage and some passenger platforms might have gone a long way.
The Genoa Area Chamber of Commerce was sending letters to members last week encouraging them to reach out to Quinn to voice their support for the city stop.

“We had no idea this was something that was going to happen,” said Cortney Strohacker, the chamber's executive director. “We were looking forward to the economic development opportunities it would bring, and were looking forward to not only having Amtrak available for us, but for others who wanted to come to Genoa.”

The service was originally planned to run on Canadian National Railway tracks, but after years of failed negotiations with the Montreal-based company, officials were able to finalize an agreement to switch to a new route that used tracks owned by Metra and the Union Pacific Railroad.

Guy Tridgell, spokesman for the Illinois Department of Transportation, said because negotiations with Canadian National were unsuccessful, officials went with their second option.

"Our preferred choice all along was to go to Genoa using Canadian National Railway [tracks], but we were unable to reach an agreement on that,” Tridgell said. “Negotiations were not as fruitful as we had hoped, and in order to get this important service to Rockford, we decided on another option.”
That passage doesn't say "no local communication with CNR." Neither does it give unambiguous evidence of local communication with CNR.

A FALSE ECONOMY.

Tenured Radical identifies three critical losses of productivity that follow from institutions of higher education relying more heavily on cheap and contingent labor with less stake in a specific institution's reputation.  First, finishing seniors and graduates contemplating a career move have fewer mentors to provide proper letters of recommendation.  Second, students receive a more standardized, more rushed, advising that "isn't about getting real advice."  Third, the faculty are working with far too many students, often at more than one employer, sometimes without proper office space, to provide proper guidance on assignments or after-action reviews of examinations.  Each "threatens the educational outcomes for a student."  And yet, somewhere in the institutional boiler-plate, no doubt, there is an assertion of student-centered-ness.

UNINTENTIONALLY CHIC.

Friday's dead tree version of the Chicago Tribune included an article, still behind the paywall, about new developments in producing that perfect cup of coffee. An accompanying photo gallery has an unrestricted link.



Elsewhere in the gallery is a pour over rack in use "to maximize extraction of oils."

I must have been twenty years ahead of my time, again.


Fire up the kettle, put a scoop or two of grounds in a cone filter, wait patiently.  Comes in handy on days when I don't anticipate consuming the contents of a full pot.

A FITZGERALD FAMILY BEQUEST.

Northwestern Mutual Insurance employees gave chairman Edmund Fitzgerald a four-foot long model of the Great Lakes ore carrier that bore his name.  The model became property of his son, Edmund B Fitzgerald, whose estate has donated the model to the Zeidler Humanities Room at the Milwaukee Central Library.  That room is the latest incarnation of the Local History and Marine Room, home to several other ship models, and at one time, the repository of all things local railroading that were too precious to circulate.
It is fitting that the intricately detailed model would end up in the collection, because Edmund Fitzgerald was the Wisconsin Marine Historical Society's first president. The society's archives include thousands of photos of Great Lakes ships, nautical charts, an online database, paintings, memorabilia and ship models.

"A lot of people don't think of the man, they think of the ship," said Peter Hirthe, president of the Wisconsin Marine Historical Society. "This unveiling is to spotlight the man."

Fitzgerald's family tree is loaded with Great Lakes ship captains, including many of his uncles and great-uncles. In 1912, when he was a senior at East High School, now Riverside, he published a paper about Great Lakes shipping in the yearbook.

"Within five decades, he had a Great Lakes ship named after him," Hirthe said. "The layers of this family's involvement in the Great Lakes is incredible. He was just carrying on the tradition."
The Humanities Room have a brief guide to the maritime collection.

11.4.14

TO ROCKFORD, ON THE GALENA AND CHICAGO UNION.

Union Pacific use Metra money to get a third track from the west side of Geneva to Elburn, and federal infrastructure money to turn the Alton Route into an expressway for trailers faster than Route 66.

Now the state calls in the favors in order to expedite restoration of Passenger Rail to Rockford.
The still unnamed, Amtrak-operated service will use a combination of Metra’s Milwaukee District West commuter line and UP’s Belvedere Subdivision. A connection will be built between the two near Metra’s Big Timber station west of Elgin. The move comes after several years of protracted negotiations with Canadian National, whose tracks had been designated as the preferred route for proposed Chicago-Rockford-Dubuque, Iowa, service.

Switching to the new route will ensure that service begins in 2015 and isn’t held up by continued delays, the state says. Preliminary improvement to the UP route will accommodate trains at 59 mph by the end of next year. Final improvements are planned to be completed in 2016, at which point speeds will increase to 79 mph and a second Chicago-Rockford round-trip will be added. The state will continue to work with CN to extend the corridor to Dubuque, with intermediate stops at Freeport and Galena.

The $223 million, funded primarily through Gov. Pat Quinn’s “Illinois Jobs Now!” capital program, will include expenditures of almost $14 million to build a temporary station on 7th Street in Rockford, as well as money to help Belvedere and Huntley build stations. The CN route would have by-passed populous Belvedere, home of a Chrysler assembly plant.

The fact that Illinois was able to strike a deal with Union Pacific for signal and track upgrades west of Elgin can be credited to the presence of the factory as well as the partnership the state and the railroad already have in increasing speeds on UP’s Chicago-St. Louis corridor. The decision to use Metra’s West line allows Rockford-bound trains to use the same tracks that Amtrak’s Milwaukee-bound trains travel out of Union Station through the Western Avenue interlocking as far as Pacific Junction, then utilize Metra’s existing station at Elgin.
Thus far, I have seen no reaction from residents of Genoa, or from Northern Illinois University or DeKalb-Sycamore interests, all of whom have expressed their preference for the former Illinois Central Land O'Corn routing through South Elgin and Genoa.  That one train a day, most likely timetabled for the benefit of business or recreational travellers to the Loop, is unlikely to be of much use to Northern Illinois students or faculty seeking an alternative to the Reagan Tollway east at weekends.  Better to work with Union Pacific to extend that third track to DeKalb.

OBERLIN LOSES THE NEW REPUBLIC.

A recent Oberlin College statement enshrining the prejudices of the freakazoids elicits a scornful reaction from Rod Dreher. "'Cissexism'? Honestly, I wish Putin would invade and occupy Oberlin."  Yes, except that Oberlin would either confer a Doctorate of Humane Letters on Tsar Vladimir, or appoint him a visiting professor of international relationships.

The statement, however, did not go through proper channels of faculty governance, and in the ensuing mockery, the faculty may be rediscovering its spine.
Marc Blecher, a political science professor at Oberlin, told me he had never heard of his college’s trigger warning guidelines until he read about them in The New Republic. The language came from a task force appointed in fall 2012 to review Oberlin’s sexual offense policy, but Blecher said the new policy had been mentioned only vaguely at faculty meetings. At the time, no one “realized that what was going to come out the other end was so central to our academic mission.”
Typical administrative power-grab. At least the REMFs appointed the task force during the academic year. The real chicken-s***s get their sycophants lined up during the summer, when real faculty are catching up on the research they can't do because of all the administrative scut-work that accumulates at the same time they're dealing with the course management software and all the record-keeping.
When he did realize, Blecher began talking to other colleagues, who also hadn’t heard of the trigger warning policy, and they quickly set up informal meetings with various deans and administration officials. These discussions culminated at a previously planned listening session where Blecher says around 30 to 35 faculty members showed up to voice their displeasure at the new rules.
I love it. "Listening sessions." It's the same word-noise as when the mealy-mouths call for dialogue, otherwise understood as "We'll hector you, and when you attempt to rebut us, we'll call you mean-spirited." Implicit in the above is the complete surrender by the faculty of its management prerogatives, more properly carried out through standing committees and college and university councils, where deans or provosts might preside, but the majority rules, and voting isn't on Leninist principles.
In the faculty’s eyes, trigger warnings threaten not just academic freedom but the intrinsic nature of the liberal arts educational model. “We need to … challenge students, to conduct open inquiry in classrooms, to make students feel uncomfortable,” explained Blecher. “Making students feel uncomfortable is at the core of liberal arts education.”
Too often, that "feel uncomfortable" is with "ideas on your right." There is no hope, dear reader, of obtaining meaningful viewpoint diversity on the faculty without faculty control of curriculum. Thus, even in the hothouse environment of Oberlin, a reassertion by faculty of its rights and responsibilities is encouraging.

The stupid policy in question was just another Abuse of Power by deanlets, deanlings, and the weenies in student affairs.
Aside from one professor who is also the associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, the Sexual Offense Policy Task Force is made up completely of students and administrators. “Anybody who was seriously engaged with it on the faculty would have seen what was going on and would have started to make the arguments we made in reaction to it.”
Let us hope so. Otherwise, the only recourse available to the civilized world is to contine to laugh the freakazoids to scorn.

THE GODS OF THE COPYBOOK HEADINGS RETURN.

The women would have no more children.
More and more US women are forgoing motherhood and getting their maternal kicks by owning handbag-size canines.

Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that a big drop in the number of babies born to women ages 15 to 29 corresponds with a huge increase in the number of tiny pooches owned by young US women, reports the business-news site Quartz.

Dog-crazy New York ladies told The Post that they aren’t surprised by the findings — and that they happily gave up diaper changes, temper tantrums and college funds for the easy affection of their doggy “child.”
And the men lost reason and faith.

9.4.14

STILL A DEGREE WORTH PURSUING.

This past winter has given the impression of the University of Wisconsin as sports factory, with women's volleyball making the national title game, football playing again on January 1 (going to the moon appeared easier from the perspective circa 1974 than playing in a Rose Bowl), both hockey teams appearing in the national tournament (from that 1974 perspective, any outcome other than a national title is a disaster) and men's basketball being an empty possession away from the title game (the coach in 1974, John Powless, having gone on to a spectacular third act as a tennis player).

Now comes the Project on Fair Representation, seeking to bring a class-action lawsuit against Wisconsin, Harvard, and North Carolina for unconstitutional discrimination in the name of affirmative action.  Yes, there are any number of universities that could be named in such a suit.  In order for such a suit to have any effect on admission practices, though, the university so named must be depriving applicants of a service not easily obtained elsewhere.

IT'S NOT NECESSARILY HOW FAST THE TRAINS GO.

Progressive Railroading reports on Louisiana Department of Transportation efforts to develop Passenger Rail service between Baton Rouge and New Orleans. The last such service expired before Amtrak: just over two hours to go 80 miles inclusive of four intermediate stops, on the Kansas City Southern.

The Louisiana approach draws lessons from the Hiawatha service.
In 2010, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT) turned away federal high-speed dollars for a Madison-Milwaukee-Chicago high-speed link at the insistence of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. Today, WisDOT instead is focusing on upgrading the Milwaukee-Chicago portion of the corridor, over which Amtrak Hiawatha trains operate. A study is being conducted to determine options for adding three additional round trips, for a total of 10, between the two cities, says [transportation consultant Alan] Tobias.

“Because the corridor is only 90 miles long, there aren’t a whole lot of opportunities to save a lot of time, so the focus is on increasing frequencies so people have more options,” he says.
Just as I have been suggesting for years.

On a relatively short corridor, there are still opportunities to run the trains fast.
Many states still are interested in high-speed rail — HNTB [a transportation planning firm] is involved in “quite a few studies across the country” that prove it, says Tobias — but in many regions, an incremental approach might make more sense.

“We tend to get hung up on that high-speed number, and it is appealing,” says Tobias. “But the best way to go faster is to not go slow. You can make incremental improvements to conventional services that help to improve travel time, increase frequencies and improve reliability, and sometimes that’s just as important, if not more.”
Exactly. On the Hiawatha service, four three-car rakes on 92 minute timings with two intermediate stops have bloomed to seven six-car rakes on 89 minute timings (often 84 minutes in practice) with a third intermediate stop, and that with a few stretches of track now good for 79 mph rather than 70.  In steam days, The Milwaukee Road was contemplating a 60 minute nonstop timing for Hiawathas.

Give the Hiawathas free rein to 110, or 125, and post those 60 minute schedules (Airport at 0:10, Sturtevant at 0:18, Glenview at 0:42, Chicago at 1:00).  Is it too much to ask for a bar car?

In Louisiana, start with two or three trips on times more suited for business than for the beginning or the end of the business day (and for Louisiana State games, where the bar car will do a brisk business) on timings faster than those posted by the old Flying Crow, and develop from there.

LEVEL ONE PLAYING FIELD, TILT ANOTHER.

Title Nine of the 1971 Civil Rights Act requires universities to spend money on athletics in proportion to their enrollment of male and female students*. Administrators have to optimize along several margins, one of which is fielding a competitive enough football program for men to preserve the illusion of financial fitness for the sports enterprise. Thus, the number of basketball scholarships is twelve for men's teams, and fifteen for women's teams. Cue the Law of Unintended Consequences.
[Big Sky conference commissioner Don] Fullerton said one factor that has the potential to "ruin" the NCAA tournament as we know it is squad size. Men's basketball teams in Division I can have 13 scholarship players; women's teams have 15. Because the top women's teams can stockpile more of the game's top talent, there is less parity. That's evident year after year in the first round of the women's NCAA tournament; this year the average margin of victory was 19.2 points.

"All you have to do is look at the women's tournament," Fullerton said. "I could pick who's going to be eliminated and who's going to make the round of 32 and round of 16. You can already see, quite frankly, a declining interest in the women's basketball tournament because of that. We have a petri dish to look at – what just two or three scholarships will do to you."
The validity of Mr Fullerton's statement depends on the supply elasticity of basketball players. Yes, the teams that get to the elite eight have enough reserves on scholarship to complete yet another team, but those players also have to calculate their chances of getting any playing time on the elite teams, and the coaches of the other teams use the promise of starting minutes as a recruiting incentive. But additional scholarships call forth more effort, and also-ran teams can benefit from a larger pool of high-performing players.
Fullerton said squad size warranted "a very pointed discussion. That's one of the bright lines." Gavitt, the man tasked with running the NCAA tournament, agreed that if it were ever increased, it would [further] affect the tournament's parity.

"Where the line gets much more difficult is if we ever get to a point where squad sizes and scholarship limits change," he said. "If that were to ever come to pass. Now, (for example), that the major schools can have a 20-player team, those extra eight kids who would otherwise be at mid-major, low-major programs, are now kind of pining away on the bench at a major program. That would have the potential to upset the competitive balance."
Again, though, that presupposes the inducement of additional scholarships to be a reserve at Connecticut dominates the opportunity to get playing minutes at Duke or Stanford.

Perhaps, though, it is the propensity of women's teams to develop senior leadership that perpetuates Them that Has, Gets.
This was the fourth straight Final Four appearance for Notre Dame, the seventh straight for Connecticut.

It would not be a surprise to find both teams back in the Final Four next year, even if both lose two key players:  [Kayla] McBride and Natalie Achonwa of the Irish, [Stefanie] Dolson and Bria Hartley of the Huskies.  In the past five years, both have had a stockpile of talent.

“You know which teams are going to win pretty much all the time,” Auriemma said.  “There’s a reason for that.  All our players stay pretty much four years.”
That, dear reader, is a gibe by Mr Auriemma at the d-league model that has taken over the men's tournament.

*Yeah, we can call out the Defenders of Civil Rights for their cis-sexism, but one windmill at a time.

8.4.14

BUILDINGS ARE ONLY AS GOOD AS THE FACULTY.

The editorial board at the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel notes, correctly, that, basketball tournament appearance or not, the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee cannot raise its research profile, enroll more Wisconsin residents than Madison does, and serve as port of entry to the middle class for first-generation and nontraditional students on the cheap.
[Geographer Mark] Schwartz and [former Milwaukee chancellor, now Marquette president Michael] Lovell point to an outdated funding formula at the UW System level that doesn't recognize UWM's expanded mission. They contend that UWM is structurally underfunded — with revenue more appropriate for a school of 16,000 students instead of the 28,000 now crammed onto the school's campuses. A committee of the UW chancellors and university officials is reviewing the formula and is expected to report back this spring.

Any talk of the funding formula inevitably scares up concerns around the UW System that whatever additional money UWM receives would have to come from the budgets of other UW institutions.

But is this necessarily the case? Couldn't out-of-state enrollment be boosted? What about increasing the amount charged to out-of-state students?
It has been the Cold Spring Shops position that budgetary stringencies are the perfect cover for limiting enrollments and raising admission standards.  That's one way to raise an institution's selectivity rankings in U.S. News and the like, and greater selectivity might bring in out-of-state students.  Madison, however, has already been going after the out-of-state, full-fare students, and it has more of the social scene and the big time sports to attract applicants more interested in the signal than in the human capital development.

Should the legislature attempt to raise Milwaukee's profile in a revenue-neutral way, that's going to involve greater stringencies at other campuses.  The Illinois proposal to create a second Big Ten-caliber public university in Illinois would bite in the same way.  The point of the legislative initiative is, not surprisingly, to keep more Illinoisans south of the Cheddar Curtain, as well as to go after more out-of-state, full-fare students.

The small solace I can draw is that, as my academic career winds down, university administrators and legislators are seriously considering spending money to compete for students.  Sometimes one has to make investments to generate traffic.

MONEY SMART WEEK.

The Center for Economic Education helps teachers prepare their students to not be fleeced.
“I want children to be prepared to make really good financial decisions as they get older,” said Mary Beth Henning, co-director of Center for Economic Education.
There are a lot of economics concepts in children's books, if you know where to look, or whom to ask.

THE STATE OF HIGHER EDUCATION.

Beer-'n-circus at ZooConn, and Dave Zirin counts the cost.
So let us recap: we have a team of majority African-American basketball players not getting an education and not getting paid, but generating millions of dollars for their coach and billions of dollars for the NCAA, CBS and the assorted sponsors. We have a state college suffering budget cuts and tuition hikes, that has been trashed by students thrilled that their team of unpaid mercenaries has brought them a measure of reflected glory.
In the men's tournament, Connecticut comes off a one-year excommunication for low graduation rates, while graduation rates are moot at Kentucky, serving as a developmental league for the pros.  Provokes a wicked thought: suppose that in lieu of athletic scholarships, players in the so-called revenue sports qualify for loans along the income-contingent lines proposed long ago by Milton Friedman.  In the women's tournament, it's Connecticut and Notre Dame and Tennessee and Stanford all the time.  Yawn.

6.4.14

THIN SKINNED FREAKAZOIDS.

In The Road to Wigan Pier, George Orwell got off a description of communists and socialists that maps, almost perfectly, to the godi of Political Correctness. “One sometimes gets the impression that the mere words ‘Socialism’ and ‘Communism’ draw towards them with magnetic force every fruit-juice drinker, nudist, sandal-wearer, sex-maniac, Quaker, ‘Nature Cure’ quack, pacifist, and feminist in England.” Yes, and without a Vanguard to guide them, they turn on each other.
In a revolution-eats-its-own irony, some online feminists have even deemed the word “vagina” problematic. In January, the actress and activist Martha Plimpton tweeted about a benefit for Texas abortion funds called “A Night of a Thousand Vaginas,” sponsored by A Is For, a reproductive rights organization she’s involved with. Plimpton was surprised when some offended Internet feminists urged people to stay away, arguing that emphasizing “vaginas” hurts trans men who don’t want their reproductive organs coded as female. “Given the constant genital policing, you can’t expect trans folks to feel included by an event title focused on a policed, binary genital,” tweeted @DrJaneChi, an abortion and transgender health provider. (She mentioned “internal genitals” as an alternative.) When Plimpton insisted that she would continue to say “vagina,” her feed filled up with indignation. “So you’re really committed to doubling down on using a term that you’ve been told many times is exclusionary & harmful?” asked one self-described intersectional feminist blogger.
"Intersectionality" is not some new topological property, not what happens in the state basketball tournament, not even a new concept in the description of Marshallian crosses.  Rather, it is a shorter way of expressing "multiple oppressions" including, apparently, as part of this month's study of the sexual underground, the additional burden of being fat.  I can't wait until the latest performance by Eve Ensler's talkative cooch becomes a micro-aggression, or until "trans-fat" comes with a trigger warning.
Last week, student leaders at the University of California, Santa Barbara, passed a resolution urging officials to institute mandatory trigger warnings on class syllabi. Professors who present "content that may trigger the onset of symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder" would be required to issue advance alerts and allow students to skip those classes.
This weekend there was a riot in Santa Barbara, unrelated to any wins or losses in the basketball tournament, that some locals blame on outsiders crashing a party, perhaps outsiders not enlightened by trigger warnings at their campuses.

Oberlin College, of course, doubles down on coddling the freakazoids.
Oberlin College has published an official document on triggers, advising faculty members to "be aware of racism, classism, sexism, heterosexism, cissexism, ableism, and other issues of privilege and oppression," to remove triggering material when it doesn't "directly" contribute to learning goals and "strongly consider" developing a policy to make "triggering material" optional. Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart, it states, is a novel that may "trigger readers who have experienced racism, colonialism, religious persecution, violence, suicide and more."
Interesting. Novels with revolutionary themes used to exist to get people angry. Charles Dickens made a career of it.  Note, in the preceding sentence, the vague "other issues of privilege and oppression", which presumably has a Huge Exception for the reality of being a student at Oberlin, and the attempts to pronounce anathema on the concept of normal in the statistical sense, e.g. "heterosexism" or "cissexism" or "ableism" as attempts to evade the reality of evolved and emergent behavior in which men mate with women, men and women use the anatomy they were born with and interact in evolutionarily stable ways, and kids who get good grades and test well go to Oberlin.

The New Republic essay notes where the sensitivity to trigger warnings takes us.
The trigger warning signals not only the growing precautionary approach to words and ideas in the university, but a wider cultural hypersensitivity to harm and a paranoia about giving offense. And yet, for all the debate about the warnings on campuses and on the Internet, few are grappling with the ramifications for society as a whole.
It's simple. Part of maturity is comporting yourself in such a way that other people don't have to walk on eggs around you, and recognizing that, although some of your buttons are always pushed partway in, other people aren't intentionally pushing your buttons to set you off.  In higher education, understanding that someone's criticism of your first-order conditions is business, not personal, and that someone's different way of doing things might have something to emulate, is something to be encouraged, not chilled.  That the essay focuses on the usual high-end hot-houses is doubly scary: first, it's the carefully groomed spawn of the well-to-do who are being deprived of the rough-and-tumble of messy ideas; second, those dumb ideas tend to trickle down to the land-grants and mid-majors and comprehensives.
Trigger warnings are presented as a gesture of empathy, but the irony is they lead only to more solipsism, an over-preoccupation with one’s own feelings—much to the detriment of society as a whole. Structuring public life around the most fragile personal sensitivities will only restrict all of our horizons. Engaging with ideas involves risk, and slapping warnings on them only undermines the principle of intellectual exploration. We cannot anticipate every potential trigger—the world, like the Internet, is too large and unwieldy. But even if we could, why would we want to? Bending the world to accommodate our personal frailties does not help us overcome them.
Quite.

There's a Historiann post, responding to a gripe by Steven Hayward in Power Line about the micro-aggressions of the sexual underground during faculty diversity training, that will reward careful study.  Put simply, although Big Ideas sometimes involve Big Controversies, there are productive and counterproductive ways of grappling therewith.  For example, opening somebody's mind to the possibility that what appears at first blush to be "human nature" is actually an emergent, evolutionarily stable set of rules.  That undermines a traditionalist, we've-always-done-it-this-way view of human interaction, yet suggests limits on what the sexual underground can realistically accomplish by way of deconstructing norms.  Thus I have in one sentence pushed all sorts of buttons.

2.4.14

WHAT HAPPENS WHEN UNIONIZED COLLEGE FOOTBALL BECOMES A BUSINESS?

Northern Illinois athletics director Sean Frazier, Big Ten upgrade for an Illinois public or not, seeks to add amenities to Huskie Stadium.
In terms of Huskie Stadium, there are already some changes to the building and gameday atmosphere that will take place this upcoming season. There’s the new Coaches Club – which will be located inside the grandstand on the west side of Huskie Stadium where the old coaches offices were before the construction of the Yordon Center.

Fans will not have a view of the action, but the club will feature flat-screen TVs with a live feed of the contest, plus a cash bar and expanded food buffet are included. Season passes to the club will require a $650 donation to the Huskie Athletic Fund in addition to a season ticket.
Under the rubric of amateur athletics as a non-profit institution, that club membership is deductible in full as a charitable contribution, an immediate $650 off your Adjusted Gross Income.  Change football to Local 1895 of the United Steel Workers.  Does that club membership qualify as a business expense?  If so, it's not necessarily fully deductible, nor, in some cases, will the taxman even accept it.

SIMULATE, CALIBRATE, DEBATE.

A simple differential equation model of population and environmental decay got a lot of early play, perhaps because its normative conditions made the usual suspects comfortable with their prejudices.

The dissenting commentary is now coming to light, starting with College Insurrection.
Contrary to early reports, the research is neither funded nor endorsed by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.It is an independent study by the university researchers utilizing research tools developed for a separate NASA activity. As is the case with all independent research, the views and conclusions in the paper are those of the authors alone. NASA does not endorse the paper or its conclusions.
A Cornell statistician notes a fundamental flaw with the simple model.
It’s based on standard predator-prey models which work like this: a population of wolves eat the locally available deer, whose population necessarily declines, perhaps to the point where some wolves starve, decreasing their population; the concomitant reduced predation allows the deer to rebound, which gives the opportunity for more hot dinners for the wolves, which begins the cycle anew.

[The model] swaps the wolves for human beings and the deer for “Nature.” Just how people prey on Nature is not too clear, especially since people are part of Nature. This difficulty is ignored. [The model] introduces a twist which allows mankind to accumulate Nature for future use, a surplus which the model calls “wealth”. This would be like the wolves discovering how to make and store venison jerky.

About that wealth: “Empirically, however, this accumulated surplus is not evenly distributed throughout society, but rather has been controlled by an elite. The mass of the population, while producing the wealth, is only allocated a small portion of it by elites, usually at or just above subsistence levels.” Some wolves are more equal than other wolves.
First, you have to get the simple model working. Then you can go on to introducing a perhaps more realistic model of wealth accumulation, in which ideas to augment the productivity of Nature occur to individuals who share the gains from trade with others.  But something as simple as the dynamics by which an entrepreneur contracts with workers to perform one of eighteen tasks involved in making a common pin cannot easily be reduced to mathematics.  We know that finer divisions of labour emerge, and we know that living standards can rise above the subsistence level for more than the elite.  A proper simulation is not going to be easy.
Particularly absent is the idea that only in a society which admits Elites can there be technological progress (what else is a writer of scientific papers but an Elite?). Consider how much food production has swelled over the last century as the discoveries made by Elites are implemented to the benefit of Commoners. Nature, in this sense, is not static as the model assumes.
There are a couple of stochastic processes rattling around in my head that I may be able to commit to paper in the near future. (Now that there is NO pressure to publish any more, I can go back to thinking, once the end of semester administrative scut-work is done.)
Commoners become Elites and vice versa. There is no real-life strict dichotomy between an Elite and Commoner. And new forms of wealth and ways of increasing Nature’s bounty are often unanticipated.
The challenge for the researcher is to incorporate these forces in a way that can't automatically be hijacked to support one world-view or another.