MORE ON GRADE INFLATION. Number 2 Pencil doesn't fool around. "In the last Statistics class that I taught, I set a grading scale that was tougher than the one conventionally used at the university, and I told the class on Day 1 that I was not afraid to flunk people. There were several C's, D's, and F's in the class, despite the fact that I gave a great deal of extra credit work. The students who received these low grades were undoubtedly unhappy with me (although one had the grace and presence of mind to apologize for his poor performance and assure me that he would work harder when he took the course a second time). However, the students who did earn A's did a tremendous amount of work for it and were very proud of their results. I know, because they put this on their evaluations." Why can't the hotshots at the famous universities show this kind of backbone? (No. 2 Pencil likely has also identified the folly of extra credit. Who among the professoriate hasn't had the experience of the weak student asking for extra credit, which, if it isn't offered on a consistent basis to all students, is grounds for a grade appeal, but I digress? As if not doing the regular work but asking to do something special as a substitute for that work will save you. Yeah, right. "Superintendent? I broke the feedwater heater pump again. If I drain the water from the air brake system, you won't fire me, right?)

The post also provides a link to a Bruce Bartlett column that has picked up the original story. Here's the money graf: "Unfortunately, grade inflation is not costless. One consequence is that students are discouraged from taking science courses, where the nature of the subject matter has held down grade inflation, in favor of those in the humanities, where it is rampant. Over time, this has caused universities to drain resources from science programs. Eventually, this will harm economic growth by reducing technological innovation and advancement." Perhaps. Bartlett also has this: "Reinforcing the inflationary trend in grading was the growth of student evaluations in promotion and tenure decisions for professors. Obviously, students tend to give good reviews to those who are easy graders. And as graduate school became the norm for increasing numbers of college students, there was more of a premium on good grades. In this sense, credential inflation -- requiring more and more education to do the same job -- has contributed to grade inflation." The phenomenon he notes is not so obvious. It takes latent variable analysis to tease it out. (Via Newmark's Door.) And Bartlett misses the real crime: colleges are now providing much of the basic training the sixth grade used to do.
RAPID GOOGLE RESPONSE. A quick hit on vintage ge waffle iron (alluded to here, there is a cottage industry in such antiques.)


FINGERFEHLER? On the CBS radio news at 6 pm Lima, President Bush is responding to a proposal that Saddam Hussein go into exile, and he endorses exile for Saddam and several of his henchmen who have tortured the "Iranian ... er, Iraqi people."
CONVEX COMBINATIONS. Problem for the graduate students: give a credible example of consumer preferences that would not be convex. After class, some students wondered what I was getting at. I asked if they'd clean house with a convex combination of ammonia and bleach. They weren't sure what I was talking about. I warned them not to attempt it.
THERE GO THE SHORTCUTS. A Chicago television station will present the results of some research it has done on alternate routes to get around predictable expressway congestion. The effect of that broadcast (10 pm this evening on the CBS affiliate, which I believe is channel 2) will simply be to make those routes no faster than the slower routes, or the expressways, which clog at predictable times and locations each day.
A CLASS WEBLOG PROJECT. Looks like a startup. Will report on developments.
FISKING THE STATE OF THE UNION. Stephen Zunes has a lengthy response to the foreign-policy parts of the State of the Union Address. I'm sure there will be fiskings of his efforts. One point that bothers me in much of the criticism of the war effort: why does assistance, whether to Saddam Hussein in the 1980s, or to the Iranian resistance, or to the Shah, sometime in the past, vitiate a critical perspective today? I'm not old enough to remember: when George Kennan proposed containment of the Soviet Union, or Winston Churchill noted the Iron Curtain, was there tut-tutting about how Lend-Lease and the Murmansk convoys kept Stalin fighting?
PUT THE ARMS TRADERS OUT OF BUSINESS. Thus the Green Party proposes to bring peace to the world. I suppose that means model railroaders must give up their utility knives. I also note a potential schism in the Left: is corporate power bringing unemployment to the Third World, as this columnist notes, or is it exporting good American jobs to sweatshops in the Third World?
LOWERING THE BAR. "If this earnest young man had been held to higher standards, he'd have a decent chance of accomplishing his goals," observes Joanne Jacobs. Quite so.
THE EXTENT OF IGNORANCE. There's more to the emergence of an industry standard (VHS, QWERTY, Britney Spears) than many believe. Jack Schofield's debut Guardian column provides the details. (Via Newmark's Door.)

FOOTNOTE: The Spears reference is more than a troll: in today's antitrust economics class I posed the following problem: from a large pool of teenage girls who can lip-synch, why do relatively few (I named two, the students provided a few more) earn most of the income from doing so? It's not that easy, as the class is figuring out.
CHOICES AMONG INSTITUTIONS. Arnold Kling borrows some useful anthropology to make the case for sound economics in public policy. (Via InstaPundit.)
MIXED STRATEGIES. Useful classroom simulations and tricks, from Atlantic Blog.
PERHAPS THEY DO NOT PROTEST ENOUGH. Atlantic Blog has responded to my take on grade inflation with a story of administrative grade-tampering. And, indeed, I have not had the experience of having all my grades adjusted upward by the administration. (The administration here does not have that power. And if it offered me such a warning, my response would be that it wouldn't happen again, because my resignation would be on the chairman's desk. I would rather dispatch trains -- or sling hash -- than be party to a lie.)

Sometimes I wonder if this evil isn't triumphing because good men and women are doing nothing. I reread Professor Rojstaczer's essay, and I see, "Parents and students want high grades. Given that students are consumers of an educational product for which they pay dearly, I am expected to cater to their desires not just to be educated well but to receive a positive reward for their enrollment." Note the Divine Passive. From whom comes that expectation? What power does that person wield? Is the prestige of a tenured post at an elite institution worth such a sacrifice of one's integrity?
EVERYTHING IS PROFANE to those for whom nothing is sacred, notes Gene Veith. Amen. (Via Ed Driscoll.)


WHAT IS IT, LADIES? Northern Star editor Barbara Bystryk complains about college men who are "Gen-Y scum [actually Thirteenth Generation relics] who’ve embraced a degenerated form of chivalry. They’ll pitch a can of Miller High Life at a woman, adjust their package and stare at her breasts when they talk to her. Then they wonder why the woman is frowning and eager to go home to wash her hair or feed her cat," and lays down her ultimatum: "A lot of women would agree that it’s nice to be taken out by gentlemen who are well-mannered. But, we can usually tell if their socially acceptable actions are insincere, desperate attempts to 'get some.' They’ll get some all right — at home, alone."

On the other hand, columnist Courtney Cavanaugh defends Christina Aguilera: "It was hip to envision an attractive female teen prancing around in a school- girl skirt. It was cool to use this image to add excitement when the wife wasn’t doing it for you anymore. It was acceptable for a minor to serve as the male fantasy to most men who will never attempt (very rightfully) to fulfill their secret fantasies about the girl next door." Christina, in fact, is being authentic. "Her need to be raw and even raunchy has always been lurking under the surface of this brave, determined and sexually secure woman." That's just the kind of authenticity that leads the Thirteenth Generation holdovers to behave like cads.
GRADE INFLATION. Atlantic Blog and Highered Intelligence both link to a Washington Post editorial by a Duke professor lamenting yet again the phenomenon of inflated grades (or marks, if you will.)

Methinks my colleagues do protest too much. There is something to be said for grading in a traditional manner, word gets out, and the high-achievers register. There is also something to be said for taking a tough-minded approach: Think of yourself as being in a room full of aces. You might be an ace yourself. But if you don't perform, you won't make ace.
MUST AMERICANS BE STUPID? Northern Star commentator Jessica King doesn't think so, but she's not sure what to do. Tightly Wound suggests that condescending attitudes by those responsible for the learning might play a role.


HOTHOUSE WOMEN: Critical Mass nails the Seven Sisters: "They exclude men even as they tout their commitment to non-discrimination; they promote themselves as places where sheltered young white women can have transformative encounters with people from different ethnic and racial backgrounds even as they promise nonwhite applicants respect, community, and identity; they engineer a safe and nonthreatening McDiversity of skin color for students that does more to shelter them from difference than to educate them about it." Discriminations has more. Peter Wood, my favorite former university administrator, has a new book in press that is creating the buzz.
ECONOMICS IS WHAT ECONOMISTS DO. Newmark's Door links to the latest public eruption of the ongoing debate in economics about what is important. The article, from Chronicle of Higher Education, reports on a possible division of the Notre Dame economics department into two departments. The doctoral program would be in an economics department that focuses on mainstream approaches. The current department chairman, Richard Jensen (an excellent game theorist whose early work provided a basis for some of my empirical work), observes, "'industry standards' dictate that publication in leading journals is the key to promotion and tenure." Put another way, prestige within the discipline means doing MIT- or Northwestern-style exemplifying theory. Meanwhile, the Marxists, institutionalists, Austrians, and the like "would be consigned to a department focusing on economic thought, social justice, and public policy. But with no graduate program, that would amount to exile and slow death, say the Marxist, labor, and development economists and historians of economic thought who make up a large minority of the 21-member department," reports the Chronicle. Newmark notes that the article "and misleadingly conflates the thoughtful criticisms of Deirdre McCloskey and Ed Leamer" with what he characterizes as less-well-thought-out objections. Professors McCloskey and Leamer, as well as Nobel Laureate Kenneth Arrow, have appeared at at least one American Economic Association session on new directions in economics: the one I attended at Chicago in 1998 drew a large and vocal audience. People disagreed about some things but got on well, there's something about having to work with other academics on a daily basis that brings out the worst. (As an aside, the department at Notre Dame, a relatively small university, has a faculty of 24. Contrast that with the 13 at Northern Illinois University, a largish state university.)

India West, a weblog maintained by an economics graduate student in London (with a history background!) has a long and thoughtful post about the Chronicle article, and he recommends this essay on the relevance of the problems to which the mathematics is applied.

For my part, I see good points being raised by all. Today, in antitrust economics, I had to deal with the political economy of antitrust (perhaps it's the lifestyles of the rich and famous, not the deadweight losses, that give us the antitrust laws: certainly President Roosevelt did not call John D. Rockefeller a "malefactor of misallocation.") On the other hand, without the models of strategic competition (some rooted in game theory) we can't evaluate the claims that the trusts were efficient.
INCENTIVES MATTER, even perverse ones.
FOURTH TURNING ALERT. Is your profession coming apart, or do the sunlit uplands beckon? InstaPundit channels J.P. Morgan: it will fluctuate.
IT'S THE CULTURE, STUPID. Columnist Bill O'Reilly wrote, "Eminem may be the 'people's choice,' but he is as harmful to America as any al Qaeda fanatic," for which Andrew Sullivan nominated him for the Derbyshire Award and Vast Right Winged proposed an O'Reilly Award for "absurd hyperbole." Indeed so, as O'Reilly made a fairly sensible point earlier on in his column: "We are living in a hypercompetitive society where those who become educated and disciplined in their work and personal habits have a major advantage in the workplace. Just providing the basics for a small family requires a fairly high skill level in something. Earning a living also requires an understanding of how society operates and an acceptance of the 'rules.'" Indeed so, and the coarser parts of the popular culture are a morality play for those who would take the time to observe, and to understand.
CAMPUS LIFE VICE PRESIDENT APOLOGIZES. Campus Nonsense has the details.
BERKELEY ENVY? The DeKalb City Council does not support unilateral pre-emptive military action against Iraq. The Mayor might veto the resolution.
UFF DA! From the wrath of the Northmen, O Allah protect us.
MORE ON THE SUV WARS noted on Newmark's Door.
DURABLE GOODS. Newmark's Door links to an article that dissents from his colleagues dissent from the QWERTY... keyboard as a canonical example (others: VHS rather than Beta, small English coal wagons, MS-DOS, Lionel three-rail track) of the lock-in of a demonstrably inferior technology. The article makes the point that some typewriters are easier to convert than others, and offers the following discussion of durable typewriters: "By the time Dvorak patented his simplified keyboard in 1932, the typewriter market was saturated with machines so durable that some dealers bought up and destroyed used machines in the hope of selling more new ones (Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing Owner's Manual Version 2.0, 1991)."

I believe that's called a trade-in. But typewriters are much more durable than automobiles or locomotives. The Chicago Tribune did a human interest story (the story is now only available for a fee) on a typewriter repairman who is making a good living reconditioning typewriters for sale in countries not so far down the information superhighway. The repairman has a website (the link to the collectors webring might be of interest, anybody want a 1951 GE waffle iron?) and he'll sell you a vintage typewriter if this screen stuff doesn't appeal.
FOURTH TURNING ALERT. President Bush's State of the Union Address was relatively short on new programs, although his hydrogen fuel-cell car initiative will surprise some people. The concluding part was a rather somber call to war. What was most telling was, no recognition of people in the galleries, a Third Turning touch introduced by President Reagan and continued by President Clinton.
BUG OR FEATURE? US Could Destroy UN with War.
DATELINE END OF TRACKS. Tonight's PBS "American Experience" described some of the high and low spots in the building of the transcontinental railroad. In the Chicago area, Union Pacific provided sponsorship for a warts-and-all history of what is now their property (and there is a lot of corruption great and small, petty crime, construction camp following, Indian wars, and just plain error) in the construction of the railroad.

I have yet to look at the supporting information online in detail, but note the following: the producer of the program is historian David Haward Bain, author of Empire Express. Stephen Ambrose has also written a popular history of the transcontinental railroad, Nothing Like It in the World. The centennial history of Union Pacific by Maury Klein, now out of print, but it turns up at railroadiana shows, is worth a look, several rail enthusiasts have noted that it is better-researched in some ways than the books previously named.

UPDATE: The links to the books didn't go in last night account congestion at Amazon's site. I want to add a couple of other observations about the program. Unlike many railroad documentaries that wallow in nostalgia and give the impression that the railroad is only slightly less obsolete than the Conestoga wagon, the concluding few minutes of the program showed modern freight trains slugging it out on Donner Pass, Sherman Hill, and the Great Plains. That was particularly effective, as the contemporary footage in the main body of the program showed the geographical barriers without revealing the railroad. And the great shelf around Cape Horn, high above Colfax, California, will again see trains, as Union Pacific have discovered that one track through the Feather River Canyon and one track over Donner Pass are not enough capacity.

Next week's "American Experience" also promises to be of interest: the real story of John Nash. Academicians don't get many movies made about them, let alone documentaries.
RETURN OF THE UNABLOGGER. With pictures. (Via InstaPundit.)
BATTLE OF IRAQ. Read it and understand it.
CROSS-CULTURAL STRATEGIES. James Lileks finds the fatal flaw in the diversity boondoggle.
METER-BAND SUV FILTER. Vodka Pundit wants one.


WORST-CASE SCENARIO? Opinion Journal's vision of what's destabilizing.
NO MORE RESEARCH FOR JOSEPH STIGLITZ: Senator Daschle proposes to ban uncertainty.
YOUR RIGHT TO SAY IT. The SCSU Scholars have an update on the attempted mugging of a student by a professor over the display of an Israeli flag and some provocative art. The legalities are still in progress. The art is provocative. So is some of the other art posted by the Scholars. The Superintendent agrees with the sentiments in the post: make whatever statement you want, but don't expect me to help pay for it.


WELCOME DOXAGORA READERS. And thanks to The Watchful Babbler, operator, for the honor. The principal emphases here are on economics (the Superintendent's field) and the follies of the academy (mostly for failing to live up to its potential, often for faddish behavior). The engineering is here (well, en passant here too.) The weblog has been quiet the past couple of weeks because of additional engineering work going on in the basement (that involved a bit of shopping.)
DISQUIETING. Yale Law professor Amy Chua visited the Chicago area for a public presentation and an Extension 720 appearance featuring her new World on Fire, which argues that the introduction of open markets and open access to voting in developing countries, particularly those with what she calls "market-dominant minorities" (people who have prospered through some combination of business acumen and connections with dictatorial governments whilst being different from the ethnic majority) under some circumstances fosters an explosive mix of repression, or genocide, or nationalizations. Worth reading. Also worth reading carefully. For example, she suggests that viewing nationalizations through the lens of Cold War politics is misleading. "These nationalizations and confiscations have been anti-market, but only in a limited sense. They target not the institution of private property itself, but rather the wealth of a hated ethnic minority. (p. 135)" There is a name for such behavior: national socialism. Chua recognizes this: "Like the ethnonationalist movements of the developing world, National Socialism was never truly socialist. (p. 205)" It is left to the reader, however, to connect the dots.
LIFE AFTER COLLEGE IS THE REVENGE OF THE NERDS. Life during college is something rather different. (Via Milt's File.)
I AM NOT MAKING THIS UP. Dave Barry has an upside-down weblog. At least for the present. He is moving house to Blogger. (Via Transterrestrial Musings, also noted by Joanne Jacobs.)
LAUGHTER IS THE BEST MEDICINE. Critical Mass discovers a George Will proposal to introduce intellectual diversity at the University of Michigan. Critical Mass notes, "The crippling humorlessness that characterizes PC campus culture today is a sign not of its intellectual seriousness or even of its moral integrity, but of its shallow preference for conformity over debate and its callow reliance on emotional and intellectual blackmail to achieve its ends. It deserves to be laughed at, and it deserves to be challenged to learn to laugh. In public as in private life, laughter may indeed be the best medicine." Indeed so. Ronald Reagan might have done more to end the cold war by referring to the Soviet Union as a cartoonish system, at the same time that more serious observers were contrasting the promises of "scientific socialism" with reality. In like manner, the diversity boondoggle produces higher dropout rates among the very people whose presence it wishes to encourage, self-segregation among the people who are supposed to get along, and retention programs that attempt to achieve in University what the high schools have failed to do.
REMEMBERING RICHARD MITCHELL. From Virginia Postrel comes news of the passing of Underground Grammarian, Richard Mitchell. Alas. Here was a man who, years ago, noted, and wrote well about, the institutional rot, much of it self-inflicted, in the University. Many years ago, before "diversity" became the latest management fad, Mitchell argued that University was the opposite of diversity, particularly if University hoped to be anything other than an indoctrination center or some kind of training ground. I'm paraphrasing. Mitchell put it much better. My copy of his essay will no doubt turn up in my study immediately after I log off.

UPDATE: It's online, in a 1988 essay called "The Curriculum from Hell," bringing in inter alia Dante, and the sentence reads, "And that’s what a university is, if it is a university, and not a jumped-up trade school, or a conditioning station for docile citizens, or a pulpit of ideology. It is a place devoted to the study and preservation and nurture of whatever human wisdom can be found that pertains to everybody who lives, or has lived, or ever will live, on Earth."
FOR FURTHER RESEARCH. Looser immigration laws, tighter enforcement. Does that mean more border guards, or more workplace raids, or a longer wait for government services such as driving licenses or income maintenance?
PATERNALISM. Cheap food makes you sick, and it encourages concentration and monopolization. India West has analysis, as does Newmark's Door.
ELEGANT LITTLE MONSTER. Peter Kaminski has information about the internet web-worm that wrought so much havoc Friday and Saturday. (Because of the relatively warm temperatures, I cut some plywood in the garage rather than post. The next cold wave rolled in last night.)
PEOPLE RESPOND TO INCENTIVES. Sex, death, pubs, and why the lines are longer in the emergency room.
REDEFINING HIGHER EDUCATION. In order to be accredited as universities, said universities must take on the tasks high schools are failing to do. (I am not making this up. Via SCSU Scholars.)

UPDATE: Joanne Jacobs links approvingly to a disapproving post by No. 2 Pencil.



MELTING POT. Birth announcement in the local paper. One set of grandparents in Mexico. The other set in Kosovo. Is this a great country, or what?
FOURTH TURNING ALERT: "Now that Republicans control both houses of Congress and the other two branches of government, Democrats have to fear not only losing elections. They have to fear that George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Don Rumsfeld, Colin Powell, Condi Rice, Paul Wolfowitz and, yes, Karl Rove could conceivably consolidate a new Establishment, dominating the next half-century as FDR's progeny dominated the last one," notes Robert Bartley. More importantly, where are the thirtysomethings? An Establishment cannot stay Established without an infusion of novices and postulants. The Silent Generation, passing from the scene, neglected its children. Hee hee.
WINNERS, WHINERS, AND LOSERS. Packers rule. Details. (Via Hit and Run.)
PIKERS Tim Blair and David Brooks have described their perfect transgressive SUVs. Clearly they understand nothing about raw power. A V-24 engine is simply a bent crankshaft waiting to happen, there are other ways to get the displacement you want, and it's tacky to embed smaller vehicles in the grille (or on the pilot, my preference.) The right way to keep score is the military way: stencils under the engineer's window.


FISCAL POLICY, AND PIGOUVIAN TAXES. Examination material here (for the SUV thread) and here (for fiscal policy.) (Via Asymmetrical Information.)
MORE SHARP THINKING: "Our society is extremely uncomfortable with the natural facts of distinction and difference. Nonetheless, such is the stuff of human nature. Some people are not equipped to do practical works with their hands. Others are not equipped to do advanced critical thinking. We need both kinds of people -- and both are very valuable. That means for some that education stops at an early age, for others that it will never do so. But today, there are certainly too many people in higher education. With average intelligence by definition constant, this has lead to a dumbing down of universities, and a lack of well-trained plumbers taking pride in their work," notes the Oxford correspondent of Giants and Dwarfs. There is much truth to what he says. Do not, however, confuse it with a recommendation that more students be tracked into trade schools. I have seen far too many weak university students who couldn't carry water for a patternmaker.
PLUGGERS. Otherwise known as the Spielberg Effect (via Education Weak.) Doesn't surprise me. I'd put Northern Illinois University's best students up against the best at any other university you can think of, and I predict that the students who don't take their gilt-edged opportunities seriously wouldn't last long here either.
OPENING OF THE METROPOLITAN LINE. The story is now available online. (Via Transport Blog.)
CUI BONO? Reason's Tim Cavanaugh poses today's tough question: "Everybody is expected to pay for state universities. But only a happy few, for reasons of either race or artificially devised standards of competence, are allowed to use the facilities. That's a standard we wouldn't accept in any other public service, and it raises the question of whether the state can ever make distinctions among applicants without perpetuating the unfairness it's supposed to address." The point, as I understand it, is to provide more opportunities to attend college than would exist absent the state-supported universities (that calls for a close reading of the history of the land grant colleges and of the normal schools.) Unfair or not, it provides me with a bit of intellectual ammunition for recalcitrant students: "People who are not as well-off as you or as smart as you think you are, are paying to make your time here possible."
PLUS CA CHANGE? A very prescient John Quincy Adams, in this case. Let's see, didn't his opponents claim he stole an election?
ACCOUNTABILITY, but not for Head Start administrators. No big surprise, the last thing administrators at any level of education want is for someone outside, especially someone writing the checks, to know what's going on.
HOW DO YOU SAY CONQUISTADOR IN ARABIC? Cut on the Bias presents some food for thought...
SLIP COACHES? New application of an old idea ...
HELLO, SLOWPOKE. InstaPundit got some angry email from a reader in Milwaukee. Cold Spring Shops readers had the story, with links to the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee researchers, and other references, here, immediately after the story broke.


LEARNING TO WIN. Wisconsin Lady Badgers 69, Illinois 59. Quite a turnaround from a week ago, when the Illini made a big run at the end of the first half and overwhelmed the Badgers during the second half. First distribution of Victory Balls in 2003.
NO FISHING OFF THE COMPANY PIER if this policy takes effect at UCLA (motto: On! Wisconsin!)
HOW THE OTHER HALF LIVES? Professor Ian Roberts is the latest to claim the United States has an oil addiction. Who is to blame? Why, those dastardly town planners. "Within the cities, buses replaced trams, and then cars replaced buses. In 1932, General Motors bought up America's tramways and then closed them down. But it was the urban planners who really got America hooked. Car ownership offered the possibility of escape from dirty, crowded cities to leafy garden suburbs and the urban planners provided the escape routes." Indeed so, for reasons that President Franklin Roosevelt and reformer Jacob Riis identified. The canard about General Motors is, well, a canard. A quick look through the history of the trolleys and interurbans will reveal that streetcars operated by companies other than National City Lines (the partner of General Motors and Firestone in the antitrust case alluded to) will reveal as rapid a conversion of trolleys to buses there. And here's how the professor links his opposition to war to the suburbs: "Those who oppose war in Iraq must work together to prevent the conflicts that will follow if we fail to tackle car dependency. We must reclaim the streets, promote walking and cycling, strengthen public transport, oppose new road construction and pay the full social cost of car use. We must argue for land-use policies that reduce the need for car travel. We need "urban villages" clustered around public transport nodes, not sprawling car-dependent conurbations." Apparently he hasn't been here recently. There hasn't been much road construction here. And what there is hasn't been well thought through. Governments could do much to reduce pollution, congestion, and road rage by timing traffic lights. In my experience, there is a lot of speeding because people have discovered that if you drive at the speed limit, you will get nailed by each red light. Go 5 mph faster, and you beat all the yellows. And the typical practice on roads with entries to shopping centers is just disgraceful.
CORPORATE TAXATION? How else to describe this sale of naming opportunities?
FISH FRY. Chicago Tribune covers the lifestyles of the rich and famous, in this instance University of Illinois trustees and administrators. Here's a seminar on literary theory we can all aspire to: "Stanley Fish enjoyed a $419 dinner at Spiaggia with his wife and three visiting professors." A flak-catcher for the university acknowledged that the dinner was "excessive" as it didn't involve recruiting. At least it didn't involve use of a chartered aircraft.
SIMPLE PLEASURES. The Pepsi Can went around the 40" curves both ways, not a hitch. The 2-8-0 found some rough spots to work on.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY. Few postings yesterday, as I was out of town at my nephew's sixth birthday party. Most of the kids from his kindergarten class were there. The party was at a gymnastics academy, and the kids got to run around and climb on things and eat pizza, and they brought some very fine presents. But the biggest thrill the birthday boy, and some of the kids, got, was from a Sorry! game his uncle delivered. Simple pleasures and all that.
ACCIDENTAL DIVERSITY? Senator Daschle appeared on two of the Sunday morning shows to deliver the latest Donk soundbite: "The only diversity the Bush Administration favors is diversity that happens by accident." Perhaps one of these days we'll have a consistent intellectual basis for thinking about diversity. For many years one of the first arguments proponents of affirmative action have offered is that "X" (referring to whatever population deserves the action) hold a disproportionately low proportion of "Y" (corporate high office, college degrees, political positions), where "disproportionately" refers to X's proportion of Y compared with X's proportion of the general population. Implicitly, therefore, the purpose of affirmative action is to achieve, by fiat, what you would expect to happen by accident.


I HAVE NOT YET BEGUN TO FIGHT. What would Admiral Jones (USN, Russia) make of this Bon Homme Richard? (Via InstaPundit.)
LOWERING THE BAR. More on why discriminating for equality gives you an imbalance in retention rates.
GOOD ON YA MATE. Professor Drezner is bound for the South Island. By all means, pack shorts, but don't forget something warm. Sounds like the Professor is going to take a pass on the America's Cup action, which reminds me, it's time to find out if there is any action outside the protest room. Before he left, he posted literature surveys on the Bush administration's affirmative action brief and the names more likely to deep-six your job application.
INCURRING THOSE OPPORTUNITY COSTS. The Weaver Boston and Maine 2-8-0 models are in, and I found an Amtrak Pepsi can at a nearby hobby shop. These things are going to keep me away from the computer.


FOURTH TURNING ALERT. Have the SCSU Scholars discovered the three world views that must come to a once-and-for-all showdown? Will it play out as previously, with two allying against the third, and clashing thereafter? May we live long enough to see it.
UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES. Posted, this time, on Newmark's Door, with a link to a lengthy Gregg Easterbrook review of Keith Bradsher's High and Mighty, a criticism of sport utility vehicles that has also drawn fire from Brock Yates and Nick Gillespie.

I'll limit my observations to a couple of things in Easterbrook's article. (Disclaimer: I'm addicted to Volkswagen Rabbits and their Golf progeny). But look at this: "Can it be a coincidence that road rage started to become a national concern in the mid-1990s, just as these pharaonic contraptions began flooding the roads? Can it be a coincidence that road rage gets worse annually, pretty much in sync with the annual rise in the percentage of vehicles that are SUVs or pickups? These machines are designed to bring out the worst in their owners while simultaneously making them feel that they are invincible. And they simply take up space, shrinking the road and parking acreage and increasing all forms of congestion. Traffic studies show that the typical SUV occupies as much road and parking space as 1.4 regular cars."

Gregg, it is a coincidence. You even provided the explanation, later in the article, after more pop-sociology: "The nation's self-sabotaging unofficial moratorium on road-building further contributes to this culture of anger. In the last thirty years, vehicle-miles driven on U.S. roads have increased by 143 percent, while road miles have risen by a mere five percent. The number of miles we drive is a link to our greater prosperity: there are now nearly as many cars in the United States as there are licensed drivers, and almost everyone wants to drive alone, which we all find unreasonable on the part of the other guy but divinely convenient for ourselves." Non-pecuniary externalities work that way, don't they? And don't you suppose that, with a great jump in the labor force participation rates of women, a culture of equality that encourages working moms (with the inevitable, Say-aggregation-principle consequence that prices rise accordingly), a no-fault-divorce system that turns marriage into notarized dating, that there are going to be more people on the same roads trying to go to the same places, such as the school, or the mall, or to work alone. But nobody wants to have to move to build the next generation of superhighways, nicht wahr? (And there's yet another rant about how the new "family-friendly" workplace places more pressure on those not married or without kids ...) Blaming the SUV for the road congestion and the impatience is akin to blaming the sniffle for the cold.

There is, however, a point in Easterbrook's article that I commend to a reader who teased me about illegal station wagons: "People who once bought station wagons switched to SUVs as manufacturers phased out the wagon, which had no import protection, in favor of the 'sport-ute.'"

I will not comment on the crashworthiness, (there's a short piece here) or the psychological shortcomings of SUV owners, as I'm not an expert on such things. But if you are thinking about crashworthiness, a sport-ute loses to this (so does a bulldozer), and in my eyes, the ultimate transgressive vehicle would look like this. For the record, you'd have to run 166 of the Hummer-class SUVs into one of these babies, simultaneously, to have a million pound force on the collision posts.
HEGEMONIC BIASES. "Reading The New Yorker was like hanging out with the same tiresome group of upper-crust snobs every night--eventually, all talk turned to how fabulous the club members were, and how idiotic, deluded and beneath contempt the rest of the world was." By golly, I think she's nailed it.
MAKING THE TRAINS RELIABLE. Where Worlds Collide publishes his business plan, were he ever a passenger service operator. Mostly sound ideas. I disagree, however, with "I will paint my trains in a livery that cries 'train', rather than try to pretend that my trains are buses or aircraft. I will also make every effort to keep them clean both inside and out." The successes of the Flying Yankee, the Burlington Zephyrs, the New Haven's Comet, and the Electroliner owed much to their NOT looking like trains. You don't want a train to look like a bus. The 140 and 141 series nodding donkeys and the General Motors Aerotrain bear that out.


LEAVE EARLIER, OR WALK IN. "If you show up at 10, 10:30 [a.m.], it’s always a problem... You’ll have to park in the boonies, or spend a half-hour driving around looking for a spot." Context here. If I see any whingeing about rising tuitions, I'm going to point at all these articles about how the students "need" more parking spaces.
DISCRIMINATING FOR EQUALITY. Northern Star coverage of the University of Michigan case. Note especially this comment by LaVerne Gyant, director of the Center for Black Studies. "People of color have been denied their rights for so long, and affirmative action came about in the civil rights movement,” she said. “If people have the grades and test scores, they should just be let in." Actually, affirmative action as national policy came about in the Nixon administration, and the current case isn't about people who have the grades and the test scores. Rather, it is about using different admission standards for different people to the detriment of people who have higher grades and scores but not protected status (the gravamen of the case) and incidentally about setting the protected status students up to fail. Extending Discriminations, "If the University of Michigan were forced to abandon its race-based preferences and the minority students who would have been admitted under the abandoned program instead attended Michigan State Univ. or Eastern Michigan Univ. or Wayne State Univ. or Northern Michigan Univ., they would receive all the diversity-specific benefits they would have received in Ann Arbor. It is only the non-minority students at Michigan who would have experienced any loss," it is likely the case that some of the students at Ann Arbor received fewer diversity-specific benefits; precisely those students who flunked out or dropped out of Ann Arbor who might have done well at one of the other universities named -- where they would have provided those interaction benefits to other students that the University of Michigan is claiming are so important.
I BEG YOUR PARDON. Volokh Conspiracy argues that retiring Illinois Governor Ryan's pardon of a number of condemned principles, while wrong on point, is procedurally right. I'm not qualified to go there. The commentary on the Governor's actions has been interesting. Radio host and Democratic strategist (wannabe??) Nancy Skinner reflected that, if it's a Republican doing the pardoning, perhaps she ought not always to be so partisan. Charlie Sykes suggested it was an attempt by the Governor to go out with some praise, a point that a Northern Star commentator echoed. (Perhaps by the time they graduate, the writer and the editors will learn that it is "guilty conscience.")

The comment that got me thinking was Skinner's contention that supporting capital punishment was the easy choice. That's a claim that other commentators, from other points of view, have also made. I'm not persuaded that there is a well-defined easy choice to any issue. In the case of the pardons, I'm also not persuaded that they were a mistake. Several pro-death-penalty commentators have pointed out the vicious nature of some of the murders that got those people into those small cells. Am I missing some subtlety about the deterrence effect of capital punishment? And now, all of those folks who are pardoned will suffer the same fate, only at a time not of the state's choosing.
NO RIGHT TO BE A MALL RAT. Milwaukee talk radio host Charlie Sykes has some observations about the Mayfair Mall losing its good reputation. Sykes is somewhat closer to the facts on the ground than am I.
BULLS*** DETECTION COURSE. Read more, at No. 2 Pencil. One of these centuries, we will apply the same rigorous standards of design and evaluation to teaching that we do to diesel engines.
OPPORTUNITY COSTS. The Cold Spring Shops are likely to remain with Blogger for now. A paid site with a professional design and relocation of archives trades as a small brass steam locomotive or a very good dolly for a Laser.
LOOKS LIKE A CHINESE PAINTING. Welcome, visitors from Atlantic Blog who checked out the new look there, and wandered over here. Today, there's a fine photograph from the Sligo area that gives the impression of a Chinese painting. On a trip to Taiwan, I figured it out: island, humid, lots of clouds. True also of Ireland, apparently. Less so of New Zealand, particularly the South Island, where midsummer snowfalls at 500 meters are not out of the question. (Imagine it snowing on Rib Mountain outside Wausau, Wisconsin, on the 4th of July.)
VICTORY CONDITIONS. "How would you know when you had enough diversity?," ask the SCSU Scholars. Perhaps it's like the sound of a saxophone, you can distinguish it from a Hiawatha in full cry ... Anyway, the diversity boondoggle at Northern Illinois University (perhaps the university got a deal on yellow paper, a lot of the REMF stuff is printed on yellow these days) assembled a multi-page program list (there goes another faculty appointment) with this upcoming (time yet to be announced, look for another onslaught of yellow paper) panel discussion. "Affirmative Action and Diversity Resources will host a panel discussion entitled Best Practices in Diversity. Please plan to attend this interactive discussion regarding how to attract and retain a diverse population of professionals and the benefits of achieving a diverse workforce." Bet nothing about letting professionals be professionals, and treating them accordingly, will come up. But if there are best practices, perhaps there is a victory condition.
ADMINISTRATIVE BLOAT. Just-inaugurated Governor Blagojevich of Illinois has already sacked some political appointees and frozen hiring. Until the dust settles, our recruiting efforts are on hold (for the second year.) There is, however, money to duplicate and distribute an announcement from Weight Watchers Corporate Solutions to all employees, under the auspices of the Employee Wellness and Assistance Program. Let's see, my wellness would be enhanced by smaller classes and by additional active colleagues. Are you listening, John Peters?


NEW APPROACH TO MEASURING RESIDENTIAL SEGREGATION. Despite jokes about bridges between Africa and Poland, the received wisdom (Link from InstaPundit, the story might be moved to a new location), there is new research offering differing measures of residential segregation. (The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel has been covering the new research extensively, with this criticism of the conventional view of northern cities as "hypersegregated," this report on possible sample-selection biases in existing research, and more to come.) The research is from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee's Employment and Training Institute (website includes the paper and some supporting maps) -- there's a profile of the principal investigators, who have published some stuff in good journals and worked with some good economists.

That's not to say there isn't some segregation, possibly including self-segregation, in Northern big cities (which appear segregated compared to some Southern big cities, but are less-segregated than some Western big cities, including Salt Lake City with too few people with African ancestors to count.) Milwaukee's Mayor Norquist was a guest of talk show host Charlie Sykes on Monday morning, and he acknowledged the presence of some extremely white suburbs that have proven to be extremely resistant to integration measures such as scattered-site public housing. The mayor was good enough to note that some inner city homeowners also were not enthusiastic about having such housing nearby. The hypothesis that suburban sprawl is in part driven by white flight remains alive, and this Brookings book is a good place to begin your reading. In Milwaukee, several formerly upscale shopping centers close to "the inner city" have fallen on hard times, starting with Capitol Court (demolished), Northridge (at one time the largest enclosed mall in the Milwaukee area, now mostly empty), and Mayfair (getting a reputation as a dangerous place). The topic of residential segregation remains one for extensive research and reflection. The new research suggests there's more than one way to measure it.
COMPENSATING DIFFERENTIALS. "As a result of high turnover, the toughest schools are staffed by a large number of inexperienced teachers, a handful of dedicated survivors and burn-outs. Paying more money won't help, as the study showed. Making it possible for teachers to be effective is the only way to retain decent teachers," notes Joanne Jacobs. Indeed so. Illinois (funds permitting) is looking at ways of forgiving some fraction of, or paying some fraction of, the student loans of teachers who will go to the toughest districts. Perhaps the incentive will work. But giving teachers the ability to keep disruptive students in line is likely to be more effective.
THE EVOLUTION OF GOOD MANNERS. Nick Gillespie trashes a proposed law making riding transit with strong B.O. a crime. Perhaps it's a bad law, and about as enforceable as sodomy laws, or laws against butchering hogs on Sunday. But the law is indicative of a greater problem. If good manners, which include washing up from time to time so as to not stink up public places, are an arbitrary social construction, to be ignored if that's convenient, such that people stink up the buses, what substitute is there for the police power of the state?
MUGGLE V. BOARD OF WIZARDRY. Stephen W. Carson is a bit behind the curve. Hermione, who is Harry's puppy-love interest, was referred to as a "Mugblood" by one of the louts in Slytherin. Kieran Healy has some thoughts on the possibility of such a suit, a long time ago (before Hogwarts bought a train from God's Wonderful Railway and dared to paint it red?)
HAVE YOUR TICKETS READY. Transport Blog proposes that all stations be staffed, as a way of improving passenger perceptions of safety, and that all tickets be checked. Where Worlds Collide suggests that having all stations staffed is asking a bit much, although he reports an interesting adaptive reuse of stations that encourages their continued upkeep. Checking tickets on each train strikes him as doable. Indeed so, we call them conductors over here. (The concept is, I admit, alien to the British. I was on a late-evening scoot from Reading to Paddington one pleasant March evening -- spring break trips don't have to be to the tropics -- and instinctively displayed my ticket when the trainman walked through. He was a bit surprised but I think my accent put him somewhat at ease.) And some of those buses on rails could easily be set up for ticket checking by the operator, much as our streetcars and some interurbans were.
INSTITUTIONS EVOLVE TO REDUCE TRANSACTION COSTS: "If people know they can break the rules and get away with it, then you'll get a lot of that. On the other hand, if people know that they'll only be treated well if they themselves treat others well, then there's an incentive to do so. By my unwillingness to be magnanimous to jerks, I encourage them to act ethically and cease being jerks. Being magnanimous to jerks isn't moral; it's just being a sucker. It lets them take advantage of you, to your detriment and the detriment of nearly everyone else. If you're nice to jerks, you get more jerks." And much more, from USS Clueless. (Posted on Newmark's Door.)
BEAM ME UP, SCOTTY. Clayton Cramer has a picture.
SPONTANEOUS ORDER. A republic, not an empire, because it's efficient, argue the Chicago Boyz.
SKEPTICAL ENVIRONMENTALIST. Extensive coverage of allegations against Bjorn Lomborg provided by Atlantic Blog and the SCSU Scholars

UPDATE: Croooow reports that Lomborg's publisher stands by the work.
CURIOUS GOOGLE HITS: clinton+funeral+home+cold+spring (There is such a business, in Cold Spring, New York.) Atlantic Blog shows up on the search string, too, but with a more coherent reason.
PROVERBS FOR THE NEW SEMESTER. A commentator on this SCSU Scholars post commends Proverbs 26:11 as an accurate description of professional committee members. Indeed so. King Solomon was wise in the ways of the academy, see also Prov. 26:13, 16-17.
CLEVER. Coca-Cola's new refrigerator-friendly 12 pack. I'm probably a late adopter, but I'm impressed. Will watch for diffusion of this packaging. (If you're even less connected to reality than I, this packaging mimics the function of those gravity-feed can holders many people use in their refrigerators.) At the margin, the packaging might be environmentally friendly, depending on the elasticity of demand for plastics. The cardboard and ink usage is a wash for enclosing 12 cans of pop, but the demand for those plastic can holders is diminished. I, for one, see no reason given this packaging, to buy such a thing.


UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES. The U.S. Corporate Average Fuel Efficiency standards require that the mix of cars sold by automobile manufacturers meet a miles per gallon standard. Automakers respond to the standards by producing relatively more high-gas-mileage cars or relatively fewer low-gas-mileage cars. Why do you suppose station wagons are so hard to find? It's less about esthetics than it is about complying with the law. So why the oversized shopping cart called an SUV? Those are trucks, subject to the truck fleet fuel efficiency standards, and an unintended consequence of different rules for pickup trucks, intended at the time of the law to exempt farmers from hardships that others would be subject to.

The SUV has become a symbol in some circles of the wrong kind of conspicuous consumption, most recently in an Ariana Huffington anathema on them, now made public in something called the Detroit Project. A Small Victory is not impressed with the campaign. She makes the point that SUVs make carpooling a bit simpler. So would station wagons, but they're illegal. Result: people who want to transport larger families, or shopping cart loads of goods, end up buying SUVs instead, and consuming more gasoline for a trip of given length, and exposing themselves to a slightly greater risk of a rollover crash, while exposing others to a slightly greater risk in a collision. This last is not a trivial point. Several economists, most notably Brookings's Robert Crandall, have published research establishing a higher death rate as a consequence of the fuel efficiency standards. Meanwhile, people do not see the kind of price signal (more expensive fuel) that would encourage them to buy smaller cars, or to invent larger hybrid cars, although that work is in progress. That is not to say that more expensive petroleum products is desirable: that makes consumers poorer, and it encourages substitution toward coal or wood, whose combustion contributes to the Asian Brown Cloud. The life of an economist is challenging at times, but one never lacks for things to investigate.
TAX INCIDENCE. Cal Pundit provides a visual showing the share of income, broken down by quintiles, that people pay as various STATE taxes. The combined effect of state and federal taxes on income does not appear to be taken into account by the researchers, whose full report is available here. (The list of foundations that supported the research might be instructive if you're into motive-questioning.) Cal Pundit's observation, that poorer people pay a greater proportion of their income as taxes of various kinds (which likely continues to hold true once income and payroll taxes, which likely make up a large and risky proportion of poorer peoples' pensions) are added, does not contradict the Administration's position that richer people pay more taxes. Both assertions are true, they are different perspectives on the same data.

Why neither the Democrats nor the Republicans have looked at expanding the Social Security tax base escapes me. The Democrats could argue that raising the upper bound on income subject to Social Security tax -- or subjecting capital income -- NEVER call it "unearned" here -- to self-employment tax would provide additional resources for the trust fund, and the Republicans could offer to cut the rates for "working people" -- much like the 1986 tax code rewrite eliminated a number of exclusions, exemptions, and deductions and lowered marginal rates. The danger to either party, particularly the Democrats, is that expanding the Social Security tax base gets more people interested in learning what a bad investment Social Security is. Readers saw that dimension here first.
CONSCIENTIOUS OBJECTORS. A Scottish train crew (based at Motherwell depot) refused to move a train of munitions. Wouldn't it be simple enough to allow the crew to mark off and then call another crew, possibly including a road foreman of engines or someone else with route knowledge?
LOWERING THE BAR AT INDIANA LAW. An "impressive and depressing" confession.
NEW DEVELOPMENTS in the Brooklyn College denial of tenure for lack of collegiality case. Lots of link fodder.
DEVALUING THE CURRENCY, in this case the currency of "relationships." [Ed: that last word deserves to be in scare quotes. I like Miss Manners's definition of the term: "commit and switch."


GET RICH SLOWLY. What to do in order to be in a position to build equity.
MORE MATH, LESS RELIGION. That's in Yemen's schools. Perhaps it's something for U.S. school administrators to consider. Substitute pop-psychology or relativist multiculturalism for religion and do as before.
REVEALED PREFERENCE. "Both America and Israel were founded by peoples who were refugees from prejudice in Europe." The exposition leading to that conclusion is here. (Via One Hand Clapping.)
AFFIRMATIVE ACTION, INACTION? Perhaps, reports Discriminations. Developing ...
POLICY WONK? Here's Capitol.net's recommended reading. (Via Tim Blair, from down under.)
TERROR ON A TRAIN. InstaPundit has a link to a report of a plastic-knife-wielding man who had a bit much to drink and threatened some passengers on Amtrak's westbound Sunset Limited, somewhere west of Jacksonville. (InstaPundit puts the train at Big Sandy, Texas, unlikely given that the arrest happened around 8 pm on a Sunday evening, with the Jacksonville, Florida paper picking up the story.) Weblog commentary draws parallels between the United Flight 93 passengers and the passenger reaction on the train. Perhaps. But those cross-country trains draw a pretty no-nonsense crowd. Somebody who got liquored up and disruptive likely would have been subdued by other passengers before September 11.
LUCID TREATMENT OF ECONOMICS, endorsed by Professor Drezner.


THE MORE THINGS CHANGE. "America's hopes of being the world leader in wheelless, high-speed magnetic-levitation trains appear to have been dashed by the Chinese, who took officials on a ride last Tuesday between the city of Shanghai and its airport on the world's first operating maglev railway," goes the story. Some thirty years ago, an observer in Trains made the observation that, had the U.S. defeated the Soviets in World War II with the assistance of the Japanese, only to get into a cold war later, the bullet train, not space satellites, would have provoked a crash government program. Airport shuttles ... maglev, monorail, whatever ... is it practical if not all air travelers are headed to the financial district, or if driving speeds exceed 19 mph airport-to-city-center?
FALLING MEDICAL COSTS. Here's an Asymmetrical Information post on the reasons for expensive health care. Note in particular the first three.

"Better, more costly technology."

That really means falling costs. If the ability to do a surgery wasn't available before, and now it is, that surgery is cheaper. Sure, it might set you back $100,000. But if it isn't available, you might as well price it at $100,000,000,000.

"Better, most costly medications."

Same argument, but this time with a kicker. Atlantic Blog noted late last year that the new medicines often get people back to their duties faster. Sure, a $3.98 six-pack of Pabst might be sufficient therapy, if you're willing to pass up a week's pay.

"Increased health care labor costs."

"Cutting the diamond, five bucks. Knowing where to cut it, $495."

And I haven't yet gotten to the missing incentives in the final couple of points. Those I leave to the reader as an exercise.
HATS OFF, GENTLEMEN, A REAL MAN. Thank you, One Hand Clapping.
PROGRESSIVE INTOLERANCE. Critical Mass notes the swamp the Rutgers administration has landed itself in by defunding the Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship, because the organization's by-laws require chapter officers to be ... Christian. I suspect I'm late to this story, surely someone has already raised the possibility that other identity-based organizations require chapter officers to ... The good news is the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education is all over Rutgers on this one.
MORE ABOUT THE SANDWICH WARS, incidental to a more general point about complex adaptive systems.
BUILDING EQUITY. James Glassman provides useful advice. Nothing fancy.
RECOMMENDED READING. Go Big Ed takes on the Blob (you have read and understood Joanne Jacobs, have you not?) in Nebraska.
BLAMING THE VICTIM. Achievement-resenting bully beats up two good kids and it's ... the good kids' fault! Some context. There's a bully who is beating up one of A Small Victory's kids. She's not happy. She's not getting much help from the school principal. (No big surprise there.) Joanne Jacobs offers two substantive suggestions, one relatively simple, one probably asking for the Moon. "I also think it's good for small, victimizable kids to learn karate or something similar that builds confidence and self-control."

Indeed. Nothing concentrates the mind of a bully like the possibility that the victim will hit back. Many of A Small Victory's readers recommend just that.

"And sometimes the only thing to do is to find a new school that's not run by mush-headed wimps."

Right. Find a principal who isn't a girly man, or a crayon-box diversity woman. You might as well look for cheese-wedge hats in the Woodfield Mall.

There is one lever Small Victory hasn't pushed. Bully's father, a widower, owns a pizza parlor. Sometimes an informational picket and a boycott are in order ...
SIMPLE RULES FOR A COMPLEX WORLD. Andrew Sullivan prefers his Presidents "uncomplicated and unconflicted." Indeed. Philosopher-kings are a thought experiment, and Hamlet is a fictional prince.
LONG MEMORIES? The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel calls for a closer look at commuter rail service for Milwaukee. Here's their response to potential critics: "Many rail cynics routinely argue that no matter what form it takes, rail will never work here. They need a remedial history course. It wasn't all that long ago when commuter rail played a big role in interurban transportation in southeastern Wisconsin."

Somebody's age is showing. The electric railway network began shrinking in 1938, when the St. Martin's - Burlington section quit. In 1939, the rest of the southwest passenger service ended with the abandonment of the Hales Corners - Mukwonago section. By the outbreak of World War II, the western service to Oconomowoc and Watertown was truncated at Waukesha, and the Port Washington - Sheboygan service ended. The slaughter continued after the war, with the Racine-Kenosha and Port Washington gone by the end of 1947, and the remaining Waukesha-Hales Corners abandoned in June of 1951. The last streetcars tied up in March 1958, and the North Shore Line quit in 1963, just after the Badgers lost the Rose Bowl for the last time in 40 years. There was some intercity service remaining on the Milwaukee and the North Western, but most of that ended in 1971 with the coming of Amtrak.

"But we also understand, as a recent poll by the National Association of Realtors confirmed, that in order to attract riders, modern commuter rail must be convenient, safe and accessible."

All of which was true of the pre-Public Utility Holding Company Act interurban service, for all the good it did.
WORKED ON THE RAILROAD. Installing cork subroadbed is a lot of work, particularly in tight spaces, but those tracks sure look nice once they're in place.
TAX CUTS. The South Knox Bubba poses some good questions: "Many of our current economic problems can be addressed or at least influenced positively through economic policy. Are more tax cuts the answer? Do businesses spend money to save money or do they spend money to make money? Existing tax benefits (and loopholes) seem quite generous and tax rates did not seem to deter investment during the previous decade. Lower interest rates, however, did seem to encourage investment.

Do businesses plan their operations around tax savings, or are taxes simply one other operating cost that must be dealt with and complained about? Are businesses more interested in the availability of low-cost capital, a trained and qualified workforce, stable prices for equipment and materials, and opening new markets for new products? Or are they more interested in tax savings? Will tax cuts result in higher deficits, which lead to higher interest rates and inflation? Should economic policies focus less on "stimulus" and more on long-term strategies that promote a stable economy and sustainable growth
?"Good questions, not easily answered. Alas, you won't learn much on television. Tonight, Bill O'Reilly was quite rude to Larry Mishel of the Economic Policy Institute (disclosure: classmate at Wisconsin.) Larry was making the argument that changes in marginal tax rates would have a long-run effect on investment, but with some fraction (he said one-fourth) of manufacturing capacity idle, providing some disposable income immediately would have a short-run effect on returning people to work. He went the Democrats a bit better on the tax rebate: $500 per single person, $1000 per married couple. He did not get the chance to discuss the implications of the permanent income hypothesis (go to Asymmetrical Information and look around) or the rational expectations hypothesis (if anybody remembers what that is) on the stimulus a one-time tax rebate provides, because Bill O'Reilly was more interested in accusing Larry, or the Institute, of being some kind of socialist front. Totally irrelevant to the topic at hand, which is really the last of the Bubba's questions ... when there's idle capacity, does it make sense to encourage its immediate use or its more rapid replacement by something else. There's room for debate either way, as there always is in recession. We're nowhere near the levels of idle capacity of 1980-1983, when there was a lot of interest in short-term stimulus that might have preserved some of the smokestack industries that instead closed and were replaced by startup companies. The raw material intensities of heavy industry are probably much lower today than they otherwise would be.
SEASONAL ADJUSTMENT. It's not for the faint of heart. But it's a phenomenon, and it's worth thinking about. Deionychus suggests there is a holiday lull in blog traffic. A correct seasonal adjustment is likely to be difficult as many writers as well as readers took a break. My own counts suggested fewer than 20 readers per day during the Christmas closure. I resumed more-or-less regular posting after January 2. On Monday the 6th I had 50 visits, many arriving via one or another of the academic weblogs. Some of those have gotten back to more or less regular schedules.
COST CUTTING. Viking Pundit endorses the idea of the airlines selling meals to those who wish to eat, and offers a wish list of extras. In reality, United Airlines has eliminated or scaled back meals in first class. There will be no first-class meal service on flights of less than three hours, if the trip is not during a meal time, and there will no longer be sandwich service to coach passengers on the five hour Pacific Coast-Hawaii trips. Talk about giving the advocates of re-regulation some material! In 1969, the Interstate Commerce Commission investigated the downgrading of passenger train service and decided that it did not have the authority to establish minimum service standards for long-distance trains absent an act of Congress (Trains, November 1969: 10.) The 1970 legislation establishing Amtrak gave the Secretary of Transportation power to set service standards, including food service to be provided on "all trains running two hours or more between 7 am and 8 pm" and "nonrevenue louhge space to be provided on all trains running more than six hours." (Edmonson, Journey to Amtrak (Milwaukee: Kalmbach 1972): 10)


FLIMSY EUROPEAN TRAINS. Apparently true at the N-scale level as well, according to Where Worlds Collide. Lest I sound too smug, there are problems with the plastic gears on the original Atlas diesels and on some versions of the Weaver diesels. I endorse Northwest Short Line gearboxes.
RAILWAY SAFETY. Where Worlds Collide has picked up the Los Angeles grade crossing accident story and observed the inconsistent press coverage of transportation accidents: "We're content to accept the equivalent of a 9/11 every year on the roads, but whenever there's a single fatality on the railway, all hell breaks loose, there are public enquiries, people recommend vastly expensive high-tech safety systems which will end up pushing up fares and forcing people to go by road instead." That analogue to 9/11 must refer to the UK, we come close to a 9/11 a month aggregating all the driving fatalities in the States. The simplest safety system is to keep the roads separate from the tracks. On that score the British do much better than the US, although all but two of the level crossings have been eliminated on the New Haven-Boston segment of the Northeast Corridor. More commonly, four-position gates are in use on sections of track cleared for 110 mph running, and an adaptation of aircraft carrier arresting gear to a barrier introduced by the North Shore Line some 70 years ago has been tested in Illinois.

We're not as likely to have this objection, however: "No doubt there will be some clueless idiots who will blame the railway for operating a push-pull train with the locomotive at the back, just like they did at Selby, without placing the blame where it belongs - with the stupidly reckless road user." Unlikely in North America, as push-pull operation of trains is a matter of course. On off-peak trains the Californians tend to close the cab coach to passengers anyway, and one impediment to the use of overseas high-speed trains in the US is their relatively flimsy construction. We have learned a lot about the effects of overturning trains on passengers, including the effects of contact with the track structure on human bodies ejected through broken windows. Thus our coaches are sufficiently sturdy that they are difficult to break out of, which led to the fire deaths of ten passengers in Maryland a few years ago. The safest place to be in a train derailment is usually on board, notice that two coaches overturned and no passengers died. They are tough. Thirty years ago, I was flagging on an interurban car at a preservation railway when a station wagon drove in front of our car at a crossing. (Driver made a left turn, he must have been concentrating on the road and forgot about the tracks.) The car made a mess of the driver's side cargo area of the station wagon ... there was a white paint chip on the coupler knuckle. No injuries, fortunately. Don't mess with trains.
VICAR OF VACILLATION. St. Cloud State University Vice-President for Student Life and Development Nathan Church (the story neither confirms nor denies that his portfolio includes the encouragement of virtue and the prevention of vice) has apologized, sort of, to the campus College Republicans for his attempt to censor their display of an Israeli flag. The Scholars characterize Mullah Church's apology as "tortured English," it reads, "Upon reflection, I accept that I could have managed my concerns about your display in a fashion that would have left these matters clearly within your hands to consider and manage as you thought would be appropriate." Years ago, Professor Alfred Kahn, at the time saddled with the job of inflation tsar in the Carter administration after successfully beginning airline deregulation and introducing sanity into telephone pricing, gave a talk at the University of Wisconsin. For some reason one of the main points I recall was his trashing of the term "appropriate" as a weaselly placeholder that meant nothing. My sense is that "concern" is, similarly, a non-working word. And the Scholars are being kind to their Vice President. Mullah Church has invented the non-apology apology. A real man would have kept his "concerns" to himself. A man who slipped up and recognized it would have said, "I screwed up. I should have kept my concerns to myself." And I would have recommended that he be placed on the short-list for any administrative openings that came up at Northern Illinois University.

The little matter of the attempted mugging the same day at the same display remains unresolved.
WHO WOULD YOU RATHER HANG OUT WITH? Hit and Run discovers that firefighter chic is out among New York's yuppie chicks. Based on the story, it sounds like there are some predatory high-achiever women who deserve to spend their weekends with their cats.
WE ARE CHOPPED LIVER. Amitai Etzioni objects to a proposal that transplantable human organs are a commodity tradeable in a market: "I see a danger in paying for doing things we ought to do out of moral commitment. Furthermore, when we turn organs into a commodity, we lose the sense of closeness people have when they act as family or friends rather than as traders." Evidently Etzioni has been able to avoid faculty senate meetings. His alternative: "Let's start by formulating a strong statement that declares that we, as a community, hold that giving our organs to another after our passing is a moral act of the highest order. It is an act all human beings should engage in, and the community appreciates those who choose to do what is right." Fine, but how does the professor propose to enforce this? And, once his principle is enshrined by law, what assurance can he offer us that there will not be implied consent to donate, let alone implied consent giving way to coerced consent? Has Etzioni taken the first step toward Soylent Green?

Etzioni's argument has parallels in the recent emergence of proposals to resurrect the military draft, noted by InstaPundit, expanded upon by Occam's Toothbrush, with historical context provided by One Hand Clapping, who provides a link to Sgt. Stryker's objections to an earlier proposal.

Organ donations, and military service, have in common that they are useful but unpleasant to contemplate. The advocates of implied consent or of the draft raise the horizontal-equity argument that all ought to be equally subject to the risk of that unpleasantness. The advocates of markets for donor organs or the volunteer military raise the efficiency argument that participation by those who expect to derive some sort of gain from their participation is likely to be a more effective participation. I am hard pressed to evaluate moral arguments on any side of either of these policy debates, as all of them strike me as bad. Some of the posts I cited are instructive, as they suggest that military service is not the province of poorer people, particularly among the fliers and the special forces.
ADVANCING THE CAUSE. Some spot-on observations from Viking Pundit. Kindly be advised, however, that assertions to the effect that if I don't trade in my Volkswagen for an SUV, the terrorists win, will be cheerfully ignored.
WHEN IT'S A TIE AT THE GRADE CROSSING, YOU LOSE. A truck takes on a commuter train in Burbank, California. Developing ...

UPDATE: 1 pm news broadcast has an eyewitness who said the crossing protection was working, "looked like the truck drove into the train." One death confirmed.
ALTERNATIVE TO AMNESTY. David Frum's Diary has this: "Sen. Phil Gramm years ago suggested that Social Security could become a mechanism for enforcing the immigration laws. Under his plan, Mexicans would be admitted to work temporarily in the United States. They would pay taxes - including Social Security contributions. In return, they would receive a Social Security pension - payable only in Mexico. It's the germ of an idea that would give Americans the benefit of Mexican labor without law-breaking and without erasing either country's sovereignty." There might be yet another research paper...
HOUSE RULES. The generation gap, when the kids bring the latest shack-up honey to the parents' house.
TAX INCIDENCE. Cal Pundit notes that he pays income taxes, and then pays sales taxes out of after-tax income, thus there's double taxation. Indeed so. Those of us with longer memories recall that state sales taxes were at one time deductible from federal income, prior to the 1986 federal tax reform that broadened the tax base by eliminating a number of deductions and exemptions while lowering marginal tax rates. Tax incidence in general, as Musgrave and Musgrave's Public Finance in Theory and Practice notes, is a "fascinating but complex problem." In fact, Musgrave and Musgrave's presentation deals with the incidence of taxes in isolation. There's an attempt to look at tax incidence with multiple taxes by Fullerton and Metcalf available from NBER, in case readers have time and a high threshold of pain.
DURACHALSTVO. Instapundit is unable to come up with a Greek-derived word for this phenomenon noted by Brad DeLong: "Well, we do have a strong system of faculty committee governance. But that isn't a blessing: it's a curse. You see, rule by faculty committees translates into rule by those who come to meetings and stay a long time. And thus it becomes rule by those who have nothing better to do--rule by those who place a very low valuation on their time. In most cases, those who place a very low valuation on their time are correct in doing so. It's thus a form of rule by the incompetent." It's part of a DeLong report from the American Economic Association meetings, illustrating life among the economists. It's also a comparative advantage argument. In fact, it's a comparative argument that I've used in introductory economics classes for years. In my formulation, it's like this: "Why are there so few Presidential Research Professors on the University Council?" Those of you with some understanding of Russian will figure out the derivation of the word I offer describing the phenomenon.
PUT UP OR SHUT UP. Two challenges by Juan Non-Volokh to those in a position to do something about legacy admissions and viewpoint non-diversity.