30.4.03

PERVERSE INCENTIVES PROLIFERATE. Some time ago, I noted a colleague whose research plans concentrated on work for which external funding was available. Critical Mass reports on a more troubling phenomenon. In the social sciences, much of the research support comes from government agencies, particularly for human resource economics problems. In the laboratory sciences, there is much more money coming in from corporations. Problem: how best to balance market testing of research, which is desirable, against preserving Mr. Chips's objectivity, which is also desirable.
A HACK? InstaPundit complains that he wouldn't be part of a sheepshead deck. He links to this discovery pointing here from whence I was able to go here, where I read, "After a protracted and detailed review of current trade policy and its effects on developing countries, the World Trade Organization has decided to effect a cessation of all operations, to be accomplished over a period of several months. The WTO will eventually reintegrate as a new trade body whose charter will be to ensure that trade benefits the poor." Clearly not the official site of the World Trade Organization or the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade.
THE OFFICIAL GUIDE? At one time, the schedules of all passenger trains operating in North America were available in a volume called "The Official Guide of the Railways." One such reprint is available here. There is something developing for scholar-webloggers, although not quite to the level of the Official Guide. Farrell Blogger offer links classified by discipline (Official Guide heads knew to look for the eastern railroads up front and the Southern railroads in the middle), Political Theory have a few, and Rhetorica is developing such a list (to port??)
INTERCHANGE PRIVILEGES. Independents Day identifies Economics Weblogs Worth Checking on a Regular Basis and earns interchange privileges accordingly.

29.4.03

CORNFIELD TRIBAGONIANS. The Northern Illinois University Steel Band celebrated thirty years with a fantastic concert last Sunday. The things you learn. At one time, the only music program with an area of concentration in steel pan was Northern Illinois University. Sunday's concert showed off what the instrument is capable of doing. (Consider the slow movement of Beethoven's First Symphony arranged for steel drums. Imagine the world's largest music box. Pretty cool, actually. And if you don't have an oboe player and you want to do part of Respighi's Pines of Rome, find a clarinet player -- the arranger wanted to keep that wind solo that unifies the middle part, before the Roman Legions trample all over everything.) The concert gave the university the opportunity to thank Lester Trilla, president of the Trilla Steel Drum firm, for yeoman support over the years. (Economics aside: steel tariffs might play well with steel workers, and steel manufacturers, but not so well with people who use steel, say, to make drums for music or for solvents.)




Flags courtesy of ITA's Flags of All Countries used with permission.

As an extra treat, David Rudder, honored by the Caribbean Hall of Fame, sang with a little help from the University, including singers. Great way to spend an afternoon.
TAKING OFFENSE. Radio station puts up billboard showing a great deal of a great-looking young lady, bluenoses at the nearby university organize a protest. Will they never learn? Just turn the radio off, and make a public noise about it. Oh, that's right. A boycott is censorship, and we can't have any of that. (Via SCSU Scholars.)
UNBUNDLING. The relatively quick first phase of the Iraq campaign of the war on International Terror has inspired a great deal of commentary about lessons learned, errors of experts, and the making of new agreements and the unmaking of old agreements. Andrew Sullivan's essay on Republicans on both sides of the cultural divide is as good a place as any to start. Sullivan notes splits between the cut-spending and the cut-taxes positions on fiscal policy, and the leave-us-alone and the it-takes-a-village positions on social policy. But aren't those symptoms of a bigger problem: the bundling of political positions into political parties, with the obligation of each voter to somehow pick one? Sullivan is correct to note that Republicans run the risk of becoming dizzy with success. The bundling problem, however, is endemic to all political parties. This Samizdata post takes issue with a Daily Kos proposal to bring libertarians into the Democratic Party. Your mileage may vary, but under current political alignments, if you want choice in abortions, you've probably forfeited school choice. Bundling, again. Read this (via InstaPundit) and decide whether your representative, or your party, has a manifesto in which your perspective gets across-the-board support. Then read (or reread Eject! Eject!'s latest switchlist posting. Key point: to make a division-of-labor society work "requires mutual trust. And it requires hard work." And simple rules appear to work better than more cumbersome ones. I repeat: the real conflict has not yet begun, although the lines are being drawn, and one of the lines will determine what bundling, if any, of rights and obligations becomes the model for governing our interactions.
DESIGNING A QUIZ: There has to be a way to design one of those quizzes around the theme "if your weblog were a railroad, which one would it be?" I have a couple of data points already. Cold Spring Shops has to be the Boston and Maine. (why?) Because I'm the Superintendent and I say so. Eject! Eject! Eject! has to be the Chicago Great Western. (why?) The Chicago Great Western had the habit of letting the yard fill, arranging the cars into something resembling station order in one huge train, sending it out to work all stations, and letting the yard fill before the next train was ordered. (There is a new CGW train style post over there that I do wish to address.)
RECLAIMING THE ACADEMY: Tightly Wound proposes a recertification course for those "who spent their college careers railing against the status quo created by those over thirty, only to find themselves both over thirty and in the position of defending their own status quo." Number 2 Pencil is not that impressed with the status quo; sees much of the professoriate recognizing that it's been mugged by reality. The real test of success will not necessarily be viewpoint diversity. It will not be the liberation of People's Park in Berkeley. Rather, it will be when the professoriate instills a sense of purpose in students such that all will be ashamed to give this impression.
THOSE CURIOUS METRICS. Atlantic Blog has returned from holiday with praise for York Minster. There are other reasons to commend York, where the streets are gates, the gates are bars, and the bars are pubs, and the main British historical railway collection is not far from the cathedral. The best time to visit a cathedral is for Sunday worship, as cathedrals are best observed in operation, although what surprised me most was how closely the order of worship followed that in use at the Underwood Memorial Baptist Church. (I began describing myself as raised in the Anglican Baptist tradition and substantially backslid from there.)

It is, however, the metric system I wish to address. A common theme I heard from schoolteachers was how "logical" the French system was, all those powers of ten, and how messy all those conversions (meters to yards, liters to pints) were. The logic only makes sense if you work with it a lot. Screw up your tablespoons and have the cake fall, then you understand why getting the measure, not converting it, is what matters. What I suspect really killed the French system in the U.S. was baseball's brief fling with it. Suppose it's 402 feet to straightaway center. Paint a somewhat smaller 122.5 next to it and watch the reaction: decimals, bleah.
BROWN RIGHT MOTION 36 ON TWO BREAK. The secret of American foreign affairs? (via Betsy's Page.)
BOWDLERIZING Joanne Jacobs and Highered Intelligence are having fun with the latest attempts to make reading materials accessible and inclusive. Highered Intelligence is not pleased with the scrubbing out of references that might be unfamiliar, such as "farm silo" to urban students (not to mention those y***** competing (or is that also proscribed) in r*******.) Nothing new with that development. Some years ago, a colleague who shall remain nameless wrote an Act of Contrition in the now-discontinued Faculty Bulletin. What was his sin? Upon attending a Multicultural Transformation training session, he discovered that a problem asking engineering students to design a taco production line put students new to these shores at a disadvantage. Hallelujah! If we only teach those things that students are already familiar with, all will have won, and all will be given prizes. The money quote goes to Joanne Jacobs, quoting the New York Times: "Mentions of cakes, candy, doughnuts, french fries and coffee should be dropped in favor of references to more healthful foods like cooked beans, yogurt and enriched whole-grain breads." Erm, isn't that offensive, celebrating hippie food?
CARD PARODY. Tapped links to a collection of Bush Regime Playing Cards its superintendent finds funny. Is there anything significant in the fact that you get a sheepshead deck by setting aside pundits? (For the most part ... if you're holding Peggy Noonan, Richard Perle, and Dennis Hastert, do you pick up the blind?)

Extra credit: in what card games is the Ann Coulter card particularly valuable?

28.4.03

EXPERTISE. Political Theory links to a Robert Samuelson column looking at the role of the academy in the production of journalists. Samuelson is unimpressed with Columbia President Lee Bollinger's desire to have journalists credentialed in the manner of lawyers and physicians. Bollinger's motivation comes in part, according to Samuelson, from a fear of concentration of media ownership. As if additional credentialing ever served to break down entry barriers. It's also rather funny to hear anyone in the Ivies complaining about concentration: usually they benefit by it, as in accounting for their share of the grant money, their page production in leading journals, their graduates placed at research universities.
THE LEGAL STATUS OF THE DECALOGUE. Volokh Extra notes that only three of the Ten Commandments have the force of law. There are some public profanity statutes. Does "drunk and disorderly" count as enforcement? Adultery, not per se illegal, but still grounds for divorce (or for tweaking the settlement?) Sunday closing laws? Perhaps better explained as a restraint of trade. Coveting things? "can you imagine a law prohibiting coveting?," Professor Volokh asks. Put it more simply: can you have a tax code with rising marginal tax rates, without making coveting a part of the law. (That last, by the way, is put much better by P. J. O'Rourke.)

UPDATE: More at Volokh Conspiracy and Matt Yglesias.
DEFIES PARODY. Smith College, at one time For Women Only, wants to remove all references to "her" or to "she," in deference to the sensibilities of trans-gendered people, reports Tongue Tied.
THE BAKE SALE MIGRATES. Tongue Tied reports that an affirmative-action bake sale has taken place at Illinois State University (my archives are under renovation right now, otherwise I'd link to stories of previous sightings in California and New Mexico.) Illinois State University officials took a dim view of the bake sale. The Office for Diversity and Affirmative Action is investigating. Oh, goody, let's watch the Dictatorship of Virtue self-destruct. As was the case in California and New Mexico, the bake sale was the work of the Illinois State College Republicans, who have an economist as an advisor. Developing ...
TIME CRUNCH. Highered Intelligence suggests that there is just as much time to correct writing assignments today as there used to be. Perhaps. There are, however, new on-the-job time dissipators including but not limited to coaching (try scheduling any kind of teacher training workshop during football or basketball season), keeping your certification current (cartel problems notwithstanding), filling in forms, and incorporating all the other fluff that has gone into the curriculum to the exclusion of the basics.
A LITTLE COMIC RELIEF. Andrew Sullivan may have found this first. Enjoy!
CLEAR ON THE CONCEPT. One of the tasks for which I draw a salary is directing the Office of Economic Education at Northern Illinois University, something that sort of came into the Karlson Empire by default. (Cold Spring Shops is by design, but I don't get paid for being Superintendent, unless somebody takes my fulminations against university administrations seriously, and pays me to kick some butt.)

One of the more pleasant parts of the Office of Economic Education's mission, getting sound economics into the elementary and secondary schools, is the annual Economics Concept Poster Contest. The kids sometimes come up with stuff that demonstrates great clarity on the concept. I have used some of the winning posters to shame, or to inspire, university economics classes. The winning and honorable mention entries in the Northern Illinois University regional poster contest are available here. I will provide a link to the state winners, should those be made available publicly.
WELCOME VISITORS FROM PROFESSOR DREZNER. The pop-culture professor post is here, if the archives are working correctly. Or scroll down to the 10.16 pm post. (The other academic weblogs that have weighed in are worth a look 'round while you're there.)

26.4.03

OPTIMIZATION UNDER CONSTRAINTS. Constant coverage on the news radio stations today about the NFL draft. Curious things happen. Minnesota lets its draft opportunity expire, lets a couple of other teams make their picks, then Minnesota picks somebody the experts say Minnesota would have taken at that turn anyway. Other teams making trades to swap the order of their draft picks, presumably with the expectation that the players they want will be available irrespective of order. Why all this foolery? One commentator observed that, under the draft system, lower-numbered picks are more valuable, and under the salary cap, less feasible. Presumably the reason the players have agents is to negotiate for a more favorable division of the gains from trade, and presumably those agents can seize upon those pick-swaps as evidence of the value of those players to those teams, fifth pick or twelfth pick in a round notwithstanding.
WORKIN' ON THE RAILROAD. Limited posting the next few days, as there's another reason to finish the tracks.



(The streamlining and lining on this locomotive is more English than the English efforts at streamlining. Something about those Gresley wedges fails to impress. The Stanier Pacifics look better in their conventional form. Let's charitably say little about those Great Western 4-6-0s with falsies.)

The model does go around a 48" radius curve. The wiring is backwards, but that's easily enough put right. Prototype particulars here.
SEPARATING EQUILIBRIUM. Mark Kleiman raises a question that Bill Sjostrom and I once had a conversation about: did steerage fares trade at a discount that reflected a somewhat higher probability of drowning in a shipwreck account the first- and second-class passengers had first crack at the lifeboats? (Anybody remember the camp song with the stanza that ends "So they sent them down below/where they were the first to go/It was sad when the great ship went down?" I am collecting variants of the chorus. So far I have "husbands and wives, little children lost their lives," "uncles and aunts, little babies wet their pants," and "fishies and turtles, little ladies lost their girdles." Other contributions welcome.)

The cost-benefit and discount argument is aptly parsed by Agoraphilia. Alas, a direct test of the hypothesis is going to be difficult. Shortly after lifeboats-for-all became policy, World War I, the postwar immigration laws, and the Depression put an end to the huddled masses disembarked at Ellis Island, which makes a comparison of fares, or of space devoted to the various classes using generally accepted econometric techniques difficult at best (noted indirectly by Amptoons.)

The Amptoons post notes that there were other failings that night. Indeed, Titanic commentators have noted the mindset of those years, which is that the sea lanes were going to be so busy that any ship in trouble would have help within easy steaming distance, that radio would permit quick transmittal of distress calls, and that ships would be so constructed as to sink slowly, if at all. Under those circumstances, the ship's own boats would be supplemented by boats from neighboring ships, and those boats would have the opportunity to make multiple trips. Those premises were mugged by reality on that April night. However, those were only the final indignities. Naval architects knew relatively little about the handling characteristics of extremely large ships. Titanic's center screw, which provided water flow over the rudder, only operated in the forward direction. Her rudder was small. An A Scow has more rudder relative to hull than Titanic did. Titanic's officer of the watch, William Murdoch, ordered a hard left turn and reversed all engines, in violation of all rules of reasonable piloting.

There is another dimension to the economics of providing lifeboats for all: will the crew be able to board all the passengers? Lusitania, torpedoed and sank in eighteen minutes. Empress of Ireland, holed in a collision in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, sank in fourteen minutes, took on a list that precluded use of the port lifeboats. In both cases, the sea claimed many dead despite the provision of lifeboats for all.

The preceding two cases come from George Hilton's Eastland: Legacy of the Titanic. (One of the greatest maritime disasters in U.S. history occurred in downtown Chicago as Western Electric employees and friends were boarding enroute to an employee picnic. (visit unofficial Eastland disaster site.)) Professor Hilton writes his book in recognition of an important fallacy of inference: reevaluation of prior probability on the basis of a single observation (are our homeland security folks paying attention?) His research turns up some thought-provoking material. Eastland had a very low metacentric height (very messy: if the idea of increasing profit by cutting prices seems counterintuitive, try worsening a list by counterflooding, i.e. filling the ballast tank on the opposite side to a list. I'm still working on it. Lasers have a metacentric height that you can adjust by hiking hard. Flat is fast.) A boat (we're on the Great Lakes now, people) with a low metacentric height is tender. Now, take a tender boat, install air-conditioning topside, renovate some floors with concrete, and pile a bunch of rafts on the boat deck. Board a large load of passengers through the starboard gangway, and counterflood to keep her stable, if you can.
THE RIGHT TOOL FOR THE JOB. You'd think that with modern documents and data-bases, there'd be something better than Soundex (which is a very useful tool if you have ninteenth-century arrival records for family members who give their family name variously as Kalbes, Kolbaszer, Kelbasa, Kielbasa, and Kabassa) for distinguishing the security risks from the frequent flyers, but Chicago Boyz note otherwise.
B.A., MICHIGAN, 1999 (*). Inconvenient perceptions suppressed by the Michigan administration? (Via Power Line, see also some commentary and reader discussion at Joanne Jacobs.)
GETTING SOME? That's the Popular Perspective on the love life of the male professor, notes Professor Drezner. The Popular Perspective is wrong. (Pedant's note: how can you call the roll of movies and not name Animal House? The Milton professor was getting some from Boon's fiance.)
PREVIEW OF COMING ATTRACTIONS. A hit from a Yahoo search string: Should athletic programs be cut and money relocated to academics? Yes. I haven't provided the details yet, but I will.
PRODUCTIVITY PUZZLES. Interesting question at Econ Log. Does a smaller class size imply lower teacher productivity? What is the marginal product of additional dollars spent on addtional teachers, evaluated as improved student performance? By what standard "improved?" Perhaps there is a simpler approach. If there is a teacher "shortage," there is some combination of improved compensation and improved working conditions (a complex proposition: does that mean smaller classes, less mainstreaming of difficult students, more backbone in dealing with difficult students and the parents who enable them) at which the shortage disappears.
PARANOIA. You can't turn the lights back on without a schematic. The schematic for Baghdad, apparently, was so top a state secret that nobody dared draw one. Or so this Photon Courier post suggests. (The big challenge a power grid operator faces is balancing load with supply, instantaneously. Too much load relative to supply and safety breakers open up. Too much supply relative to load, and where does it go? And if you turn a generator on, and you don't know where the power is going, all sorts of grim things can happen.)
WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT RESEARCHED: Professor Newmark did some digging into the National City Lines case and the conspiracy (if there was one) to replace streetcars with buses. Very well researched. He commends this paper, which does a good job debunking the technological-lock-in-by-deep-pockets-sponsor argument (which likely would make such a paper popular at North Carolina State.) I have a couple of nits to pick with the paper. First, I believe it was Walt Kelly (of Pogo, how do I make this thing display in Old English Hymnal Type) who most famously paraphrased Commodore Perry. More significantly, the paper neglects one symptom of the decline of the streetcar that was forestalled by the transit cartel. If, as the paper correctly notes, streetcar companies are regulated utilities granted an exclusive franchise in exchange for supervision of its fares, that social compact means the police power gets used to arrest unauthorized competition, such as Model T owners helping meet the payments on their cars by offering a lift in exchange for a nickel. (That practice got the name "jitney" and most municipalities outlawed them, restricting cars-for-hire to franchised taxicab companies, although the jitney offered faster-than-streetcar service, particularly off-peak, for less-than-streetcar fares.)

Reader Patrick Sullivan, who has contributed to the Roger Rabbit discussion, requested a bit more information about the effect of the Public Utility Holding Company Act on transit properties. The Public Utility Holding Company Act arose in reaction to the fallout from downward-leverage which was particularly lurid in power companies during the Great Depression. Lots of leverage coupled with lots of irreversibilities turns into lots of losses, particularly to owners of the topmost holding company stock. During the run-up of stock prices in the 1920s, those companies were particularly attractive investments for buyers of odd-lots or small numbers of lots, because the leverage in the upward direction can be particularly rewarding. (So, some people thought, was paying $3000 for a warehouse with $10 of earnings and a website. Plus ca change ...)

The Public Utility Holding Company Act is one of these obscure pieces of legislation, I recommend locating the first edition of Clair Wilcox's Public Policies Toward Business, which provides as a hypothetical a particularly lurid collapse of a holding company, as well as presenting the corporate structure of the Insull holding companies at the time of their bankruptcy in 1932. What effect did the Holding Company Act have on streetcars? According to Hilton and Due, The Electric Interurban Railways in America (I'm quoting from the original at p. 179, that's in the government regulation chapter if you're using the 2000 paperback), "In 1935 Congress enacted the Public Utility Holding Company Act; the Securities and Exchange Commission interpreted the provisions concerning the elimination of holding-company systems to require that the power companies divest themselves of their electric railway affiliates and dissolve the pyramided holding company structures. As a consequence, the interurbans that were elements in the holding company systems were separated, usually by public sale of the stock. This was the fate of Illinois Terminal, originally owned by Illinois Power Company, the West Penn, the Ohio Public Service, the Portland Traction lines, the MIlwaukee system, the Monongahela West Penn, and others. Most interurbans had been abandoned before the act became effective." What connection, then, to National City Lines? The conspiracy began in 1937, meaning at about the same time that divestitures of the remaining transit properties began. (In 1938, for example, "Milwaukee Electric Lines" became the short form of The Milwaukee Electric Railway and Transit Corporation, the "Transit" referring to trackless trolleys and motor buses, no more Light, no more Tom Moore Likes Rats and Eats Cooked Onions.) Significantly, the properties named by Hilton and Due, and many of the properties not named (most notably the Chicago interurbans, L system, and surface lines) were among the better interurbans, and some of their home cities are spending large sums of money to replace parts of them today. Perhaps in the absence of the divestitures, the transit divisions of power companies in larger cities could have continued. There may not, however, be sufficient information to determine whether the post-1937 bus conversions were any faster in National City Lines cities than in other cities, or any slower in former holding-company cities than in cities with independent streetcar companies.

24.4.03

KICK ASS AND TAKE NAMES. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education has opened up a giant-economy can of legal whup-ass on Shippensburg State University in anticipation of the launching of a new site, http://www.speechcodes.org. Shippensburg's response needs only Baghdad Bob to deliver it.
MALTHUS, WITH LIGHTS AND A COMPUTER. Silent Running takes the footprint quiz, is unimpressed with the results. (I bet the footprint quiz makes a number of assumptions about constant input proportions and relative prices that would not hold up under broader global trade and development.)
COLD SPRING SHOPS HELD HOSTAGE. The Superintendent is still awaiting a response from the Iranian UN Mission to his inquiry about Sina Motallebi. The Iranian people (via InstaPundit) may be giving the current government food for thought. In the name of Solomon Hopkins, Jeremiah Hopkins, and Enoch Crosby, persevere!
SHUFFLING DECK CHAIRS? My sympathies to the folks at St. Cloud State, who are dealing with reorganization, strategic planning, and pay equity. It's Russian Easter. The sardines, black bread, mineral water, and pertzovka are on hand, and I'll slug one down for the cause this weekend.
FOURTH TURNING ALERT turns up in the comments section of this Joanne Jacobs post with further thoughts about The War on Bad Philosophy.
POSSIBLE SOURCE OF COMPANY MAIL? Invisible Adjunct with some observations on Adam Smith and "regime change." This post on grading captures reality, this time of year.

23.4.03

INFELICITOUS, FELICITOUS NAMES. The local news radio station runs frequent adverts for a motor vehicle, the Audi A-4. Something about that always strikes me as wrong, although a British marque A-4 (preferably a sports car) would be completely logical. See here. On the other hand, the Oldsmobile 4-4-2 (yes, an Oldsmobile muscle car!) got it about right.
TOURNAMENT ECONOMICS. Betsy's Page links to Walter Williams, usefully trashing the notion of "income distribution," but being somewhat less convincing about the reward Michael Jordan earns. Square it with the following arbitrage position: Basketball players cannot expect to do any better than pipefitters. (Hint: visit any playground, or pay attention to the academic scandals in college basketball.)
WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT? Newmark's Door discovers yet another claim that the National City Lines case is evidence of a vast conspiracy by oil refiners, and tire and bus manufacturers to bundle their product and make a lot of money by buying streetcar companies and substituting buses. The comments are interesting as well. (And yes, the Superintendent is still considering a suggestion box.)

If there is a villain in the piece, it is most likely to be the relative inflexibility of electric traction, be it a trolley of any kind =={interurban, streetcar, light rail, heavy rail}, to move with the populations. The second most likely villain is the Public Utility Holding Company Act. In order to prevent the abuse of leverage inherent in holding companies holding holding companies holding holding companies, this Act limited the laddering of holding companies to one or two layers. The typical corporate structure of a power company had the transit division (and now you begin to grasp what The Milwaukee Electric Railway and Light Company implies, nicht wahr?) embedded several layers distinct from the power division. Thus, to comply with the act, the transit division had to stand on its own, and often had to make lease payments to the power company for rights-of-way (many interurbans being built to provide transportation incidental to the corridor for the power lines; many amusement parks were built to provide opportunities to use cars otherwise idle on weekends, but that's a different divestiture), effectively ending the subsidy provided by the power division to the rail division (everywhere except, for some strange reason, New Orleans. I am not joking. Locate the 1971 edition of the National Electric Rate Book and see for yourself.)

The conversion of rails to buses began long before the National City Lines bundling conspiracy did. There may be a research project in this: was the rate of conversion in National City Lines cities any faster than the rate of conversion in comparable cities with independent transit operators? My suspicion is that the answer is no.
SOCIAL PROMOTION. It's not just for grade school any more.
AAAAUUUUUGGGGGGHHHHH!!!!. A commentator in Filibuster links this coverage of London's congestion charges, then makes this observation: "It has been pointed out to me that this fee on cars means that now only the rich are allowed to drive into London." So much to do, so little time to do it. Isn't the acquisition price of a car, amortized over the life of the car, much higher than the $1600 or so a year that a London commuter would pay for the opportunity to drive into the pay-zone? (For that matter, aren't London parking charges much higher than five quid a day?) Wouldn't it therefore be the case that the non-rich have already been excluded from driving into London by virtue of being rationed by price from buying a car in the first place?

There is a deeper insight that the anonymous observer has also missed: prices provide opportunities for poorer people to outbid richer people. That's why New England snobs have to use zoning ordinances to keep Wal-Marts out of their communities: Wal-Mart are able to put together enough buying power, one jumbo box of detergent at a time, to outbid the snobs for the uneconomic farms on the edge of town.
THOSE AMERICAN BAGDADS. With the liberation of Baghdad, Iraq, comes the local-interest stories about the Bagdads in the United States, all of them spelled without the "h." That might have been part of a simplified spelling craze, as Richard Halliburton visits Bagdad, Iraq in his airplane named Flying Carpet. The Bagdad spelling is in my 1938 edition of The Book of Marvels; there is a 1984 reissue that turns up from time to time. (Sometime in our history there was a movement to simplify the spelling of town names. Most "burghs" became burgs. Pittsburgh is a notable exception to the rule.

There is a Bagdad in the desert, the Mojave desert to be precise. It's on the Santa Fe line east out of Barstow: you roll through Daggett where the Union Pacific to Las Vegas and Salt Lake diverges, then through empty country to Pisgah, where you descend into Ludlow, crest Ash Hill, and then pass through Klondike and Siberia (somebody had a perverse sense of humor) to Bagdad. East of Bagdad come stations that look like they came from a dispatcher's training manual: Amboy, Bolo, Cadiz, Danby, Essex, Fenner, Goffs, Homer, a Bannock intrudes, then Ibis, Java, and you've reached the state line at Needles.
THE WAR ON BAD PHILOSOPHY is Porphyrogenitus's description of the central problem I've been following under the Fourth Turning Alert rubric, most recently focusing on the sloppy thinking in much of the academy. This Counter Revolutionary post makes an important suggestion: Good Intentions are irrelevant. An argument that begins with the assertion that the policy being advocated is being advocated to solve a problem is a non-argument. Den Beste has weighed in on the accumulating divergence of reality from hopes in some parts of the academy, although Mean Mr. Mustard, at the south end of the druid belt, sees the weight of the evidence moving the balance only slightly, if at all. Power Line also sees plenty of hysteresis in the academy.
LOWERING THE BAR. Ruben Navarrette reveals the dirty little secret of preferential policies, "Now racial preferences that intend to let more blacks and Latinos into college -- even if it means lowering standards -- do much the same thing. And yet, where's the outrage? For all their talk about compassion, liberals -- affirmative action's most vocal defenders -- aren't bothered that students admitted under these lower standards often struggle and drop out," and notices that the real flaw might be with the lousy K-12 education a lot of those kids get, to the approval of Betsy's Page, Doxagora, and Power Line. Meanwhile, Thomas Sowell notes that a Silent Generation relic who got into the academy at a time when tenure was easily obtained and budgets were growing has not drawn a good parallel to contemporary affirmative action. Turf 'em out, I say.
CURIOUS FACULTY SENATES. Volokh Conspiracy links to a "Not In Our Name" penned by three colleagues miffed that some professors exploited the bylaws of the UCLA (motto: On! Wisconsin!) faculty senate to convene a rump session and passed an anti-war resolution. (This after Saddam statues assumed their scrap value, no less.) The authors correctly observe that "The academic senate has made clear that it no longer represents the entire UCLA faculty. It therefore has no standing to participate in the system of shared governance. So either shared governance must be terminated or a new organization must be created that can represent the entire faculty." Meanwhile, at St. Cloud State, selective quorum strategies appear to be in the wind.

These faculty senates both appear to be committees of the whole faculty. Strikes me as cumbersome. The Northern Illinois University faculty senate is apportioned on a departmental basis, with each department electing at least one delegate (some larger departments get to elect two) and members of the University Council, the faculty body that gets to make decisions, being ex officio senators. Many meetings might be best described as bearded daycares for Silent Generation relics.
DEVOID OF TESTABLE IMPLICATIONS. Tightly Wound spills the beans on so-called literary "theory."

UPDATE: Jonah Goldberg indulges in Schadenfreude, notes that some realities are beyond social construction. (Via Betsy's Page.)

22.4.03

QUOTE OF THE DAY. "Most unversities seem to be big bearded daycares for grown-ups..." (Context here, via InstaPundit.)
FINDING THE RIGHT BUSINESS MODEL. Highered Intelligence looks at grade inflation, suggests that the problem is the self-esteem of the faculty and administrators. Perhaps, although not all of us were recognized as Great Thinkers and had our way made easier in the way he suggests. I've also got to question the students-as-customers mindset, yet again. There are parallels between issuing inflated grades and issuing devalued currency. Degrees are very easily gotten, you don't even have to ride a tornado to Oz to get one. But degrees have different information content, either about the human capital embedded in the holder or about the signal of ability to jump through the right hoops. Degrees too easily obtained for too long a time lead to frustrated alumni over the long term, and dwindling enrollments.
SLOW LEARNERS? Daniel Drezner recommends a Spiegel interview with Germany's Foreign Minister (English translation in Neu Yorkscher Zeit.) This quote is particularly interesting: "The Americans had no Verdun on their continent. In the US there is nothing comparable to Auschwitz or Stalingrad or any of the other terrible symbolic places in our history." Indeed not. After Shiloh, and Fredericksburg, and Gettysburg, and the spring of 1864, U.S. military doctrine paid careful attention to the thinking of Rebel General James Longstreet on the follies of set-piece battles. If memory serves, the French requested that the Allied Expeditionary Force be used as replacements in Verdun. General Pershing had other ideas.

21.4.03

SPONTANEOUS ORDER. Econ Log asks, "How could government policy affect the distribution of job opportunities between "creative" and "non-creative" work? Would this necessarily be a good thing for government to do?" India West answers: "To echo Karlson's comments, I am not sure that government policy can do much about this. Industrial policy--the steel plant and the proposed aluminum smelter, to name two--is a proven money loser and possibly a politcal non-starter." (Those comments all refer to this post; thanks for doing me the honor of commenting on it.)

Governments exist to secure the rights of Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. That last is an archaic way of saying "find satisfying work." Securing the rights is something very different from assigning people to those pursuits, and identifying standards by which people will discover those pursuits is beyond our capabilities.
DECONSTRUCTING DIVERSITY. Peter Wood is unimpressed with counsel's argument on behalf of the University of Michigan. Hobbesian choice, indeed. Our education is so inclusive these days that the current generation of lawyers will be unable to make sense of the classical allusions in the landmark Supreme Court decisions. (Via Betsy's Page.)
HERITABILITY. Brad DeLong on whether or not wealth today produces a rentier class. Thought question: what cohort is more inbred, academic Rising Stars born 1960-1975, or Mayflower descendants born 1680-1695?
THE ACADEMIC ECHO CHAMBER. Two Blowhards, watching the literary set deconstruct before their eyes, and enjoying every moment of it. (Maybe one of these days we will be able to reclaim the term Theory to refer to the production of theorems, and the development of testable implications.)
DEFINE COSTS. U. S. tax burdens appear to be higher: have benefits increased commensurately? Two Blowhards are dubious; Cal Pundit (this is at the old site) notes that most of the growth in spending is for Social Security and medical payments; Econ Log raises, then questions, the Baumol services effect in government expenditure. I don't propose to address all of their comments tonight, but something does occur to me: isn't the use of the term "cost" misleading, particularly with respect to medicine? Transfer and insurance payments now provide for services such as organ transplants and reconstructive surgery once inconceivable, and for much more effective medicines. On the expenditure side, these consume money that formerly wasn't being spent. But on the cost side, these things are all cheaper. Anything inconceivable or infeasible might as well have an infinite opportunity cost ... now they're available at a high, but finite opportunity cost. Might make sense to look at ways to introduce competition into the provision of medical procedures (to discover lower opportunity costs) and to use the resources diverted into Social Security to support inventive investments. Isn't the most effective lockbox on Social Security investor-managed accounts, with substantial penalties for early withdrawal?
DUES PAYING. Posted on Newmark's Door is a thesis skeptical of using games as educational tools. "Most ideas that are worthwhile knowing require a certain amount of work to learn. Always have, always will." Quite so.
PRODUCTIVITY PUZZLES. Businesses taking a dim view of surfing at work (requires registration.) That's a serious point, it's possible to lose all sorts of time online, and some people face clearer boundaries between work and play than do I. But note this premise from a representative of the American Civil Liberties Union: "We're all operating on a 24/7 schedule now, and people who engage in some personal business on the job do it because their personal time is increasingly limited." Lots of food for thought here. First, are average working hours longer or shorter today than they were five, or ten, let alone 50 years ago? (Consider in particular the phenomenon of Friday rush hours starting around 1 pm during the summertime, as is frequently noted by the Chicago traffic reporters. Is it different in your town?) Second, think about the common lament of employers: a dearth of skilled workers. To be sure, I use statements such as that as a way of inspiring students to be complete on assignments, prepare for exams, and check their term papers carefully. But something else has occurred to me, which my labor-economics colleagues tell me is terra incognita Karlsonensis (I'm known for occasionally talking in riddles.) Mightn't this dearth of skilled workers be evidence of a breakdown in a pooling equilibrium? Think about the typical terms of employment offered a high achiever: we will pay you a lot, and you bear a high risk of being let go, and some of your compensation will be contingent on stock values, and we basically own you. Such a proposition might be efficient, if your goal is to obtain the highest ability people for the corporate level (see the Lazear and Rosen tournament model of compensation.) But must everybody play in the same tournament? Are there no gains from trade in identifying people who would be able to do a proper job with fewer burdens (in some ways I'm echoing the "mommy track" argument here, but aren't there other reasons to want to be subject to less stress?) What would such a separating equilibrium look like? How, most efficiently, to identify solid performers without either subjecting all of them to the tournament treadmill or stigmatizing some of them as failures?
THE TYRANNY OF SMALL DECISIONS. With people traveling less, worrying about the economy and terrorism, and focusing their charitable efforts on the war effort, formerly popular destinations such as the Circus World Museum (located in Baraboo, Wisconsin, it is the home of the wagons used in Milwaukee's circus parade. The museum plans to offer its summer schedule nonetheless. Worth a look, if you're in the neighborhood.
ET VITAM VENTURI SAECULI. The Chicago Tribune editors (registration required) take stock, see gains and losses. Stanley Kurtz suggests the heavy lifting is ahead, as does R. James Woolsey. (These observations at Cal Pundit bear careful reading.) Perhaps history has not yet ended, is the subtext of this Francis Fukuyama essay. There is soul-searching in Araby, and perhaps recognition of certain myths on these shores, in the academic echo chamber.
NOT THE BEST OR THE BRIGHTEST. Yale Professor Jim Sleeper is not happy that people have noticed that he starts by denouncing the argumentam ad hominem in the abstract only to employ it in the concrete. (When you're in a hole, unless it's your plan to find gold, STOP DIGGING!) The SCSU Scholars discover that Professor Sleeper is making arguments that don't hold water, go here and here to watch him look for clams.

UPDATE: Must be that lull between ten-week exams and semester's end at Yale, the pissing contest continues here and here.
WHEN IN THE COURSE OF HUMAN EVENTS. Separate nation status for the San Francisco Bay Area?

UPDATE: Cold Fury is torn between seeing bugs where the proposer sees features, and seeing off the druid belt.
NOT IN MY BACK YARD. Highered Intelligence is dismayed with a mom who doesn't want students from less-successful schools transfered into her daughter's class in a successful school. The mom might be disguising her real fears with her appeal to class sizes, but she does have a point, as Highered Intelligence notes: the act of sending a few kids from less-successful schools into successful schools might provide the proper example of success for those kids, on the other hand it introduces the bad habits the less-successful schools have instilled (or reinforced?) in the kids transferring. [Highered Intelligence's closing aside is interesting. Eerie it might be, but how else might one expose kids who have otherwise seen only dysfunctional habits to the habits of effective people?]
PEOPLE RESPOND TO INCENTIVES. Donald Luskin, author of The Conspiracy to Keep You Poor and Stupid, discovers a New York Times article that poses the question, "[Is New York City at] "a tipping point at which taxes become so onerous that the individuals and businesses who pay the government's bills leave?" What goes around and all that ... New York City has to rediscover this every thirty years or so.
IRANIAN WEBLOGGER ARRESTED



Image courtesy of Jeff Jarvis, who has more information and the email address of the Iranian mission to the United Nations, iran@un.int.
GIVE THAT MAN A BLUE RIBBON. New business model: offer an unpretentious product and make no special effort to promote it to the demographic that likes it. Seems to work for Pabst Blue Ribbon and Old Milwaukee (??!??), goes this Bret Schulte (whose yuppie baggage is showing) report (via Volokh.) Funnily, Pabst, along with Schlitz, Old Milwaukee, Old Style, Stroh's, and in a fine twist, Pabst, are all produced using excess capacity at Miller Brewing. Ah, how things change. ("Seniors, seniors, what's your cry?" "PBR, the best by far!" That one, from the class of '70, made it past the administration. My class of '71 got censored.) At one time, Schlitz was the national #2 everywhere except in Milwaukee, where Pabst was the top seller. Old Milwaukee was Schlitz's excess capacity (same chemically enhanced swill, different label, different price.) Blatz remained an independent after the Justice Department found Pabst's acquisition of Blatz to be contrary to the Clayton Act. In those pre-Hart-Scott-Rodino days, that meant what was left of Blatz (a label, some beer trucks, and a marching band) had to be sold to some other company, in this case Heileman. Stroh? An auslander product from some dirty river town with a good baseball team.
THE ACADEMIC FEVER SWAMP. Wasn't it only last week that I noted some serious discussion about the fuzziness of "gender". Not everybody has heard the word yet. The SCSU Scholars find this gem, as part of their Honors offerings, no less: "I found a flyer for the Guy Things course that leads with the question "Are you a REAL man? Do you know a REAL man? What does that even mean??!!" (Italics in original.) The course is a Women's Studies elective. (Is it a real Women's Studies elective?)"

The course description is even better: "This course will examine the many influences (e.g. parents, church, media, government, peers) that shape the gender identity of males as they grow from boyhood to manhood. We will analyze this process by utilizing readings, videos, and experiential approaches to excavate the messages both subtly and overtly given to boys and men which influence their development. Students taking this course will have the opportunity to connect theoretical and practical aspects of masculinity by engaging in a service and research project. Other assignments will involve media critiques and presentations, and reflecting personally on students' own socialization. Both men and women are encouraged to enroll and come ready to excavate assumptions about gender." I wonder, if somebody enrolled in this course offered to help me wire my model railroad, would he (or she, the girl worth her while can tell a 14-L from a Diverging Approach) satisfy the service and research requirement whilst connecting practical 14 gauge wires to the theoretical Boston and Albany interchange tracks? (By the way, with all this talk about the social "construction" of "gender" why are there so few model railroaders on university faculties? That is not in toto a complaint, it's a chance for me to shoot the bull with people in other walks of life, plus I get to be the house "liberal" at the model railroad club or at the yacht club at the same time that I enunciate "conservative" positions in committees.)

Economists please note: the text above makes clear the point that sex is a proxy for gender: when you call an explanatory variable "gender" rather than "sex" you have not removed an NC-17 rating from your paper.
BURT RUTAN DOES IT AGAIN. InstaPundit says "this is cool." (Sounds a lot like the original concept for the Space Shuttle, which Arthur C. Clarke takes all the way back to Leonardo DaVinci, with the Great Bird riding on the back of the Great Bird.) The company has some pictures (cross the Starship Enterprise with a Flying Boxcar, season with a Vari-Eze, does it kneel for boarding?) and they seem to have kept it more secret than the Stealth Fighter. Cool indeed. I may have to pay Oshkosh a visit this summer, if this thing is going to be there.
MOVING HOUSE. Cal Pundit has his own site now, and a new design. (Technology diffusion question: does it pay people to stay on the free side of Blogger as more of the heavy hitters, which I am not, move to their own sites? Or is the migration of people to their own sites a signal to Blogger to skimp on maintenance?)

Cal Pundit has also discovered Baghdad Bob's new day job. (That would have to be the quickest post-game interview in the history of sport. I shudder to think what would happen if the Chaldean party-store owners nearby noticed.)
THESE GUYS DON'T MISS A TRICK. Latest 419 solicitation to distract the Superintendent has this premise: "This is to solicit for your utmost trust and to make you less curious I got your contact from our chambers of commerce,I am Ibrahim Mayo one of the the key Men in Saddam Hussein's regime(IRAQ),Before the fall of Saddam's regine I have succeeded in absconing with $20 Million United states Dollars Saddam Hussein entrusted to me."

A little comic relief on a dull day, don't you agree? Speaking of missing a trick, is it significant that most of the cards of people who have been captured or surrendered thus far are cards that you could discard from the deck and still play sheepshead? (Link to the sheepshead post will be provided when the archives are working again.)

20.4.03

ALL THE LIVE-LONG EVENING. Once the comments on the term paper drafts are done, it will be time to get some more bench work built. Perhaps, once the semester ends, I will have time to post at the model site some new pictures of the railroad.
THE SELF ESTEEM TRAP. More evidence that false encouragement of poor performers gets you more poor performance. "What really seems to improve performance is self-efficacy -- that is, the belief that what you do makes a difference. Work, study, get ahead. Feel good, goof off, get nowhere," concludes Joanne Jacobs. Photon Courier has some comments, and Andrea Harris and readers get a chance to vent. Looks like my comments on the term paper drafts awaiting my attention do NOT have to be sugar-coated. Draw two more red pens from storage and to work!
BOOTING UP A POWER PLANT? It takes electricity to generate electricity.
BOYCOTTS NOT EQUIVALENT TO CENSORSHIP: Volokh Conspiracy spells out the extremely limited basis for the government to refuse to deal with a contractor for reasons of belief. The SCSU Scholars see a parallel (and a potential violation of the law?) at their university. Essay question: distinguish a consumer boycott from a government agency's refusal to deal (anybody else remember the lettuce boycotts of the early 1970s?). Assess Kathleen Parker's argument (via Betsy's Page.) Summarize in one sentence why Tim Robbins is wrong to inject the First Amendment into his dispute with the management of the Baseball Hall of Fame.
BUT WILL THE PROVOST EXHORT THEM TO CELEBRATE DIVERSITY? Joanne Jacobs (not kidnapped, not drafted) on the state of public indoctrination education, elementary, secondary, and tertiary, in Saddam's Iraq.
ET VITAM VENTURI SAECULI. The liberation of Iraq has its good news-bad news moments. (What's the good news? Saddam Hussein is overthrown. Allah be praised! What's the bad news? Some friends of Israel did it.) Intel Dump sees in a Shia protest a glass half-full. Mark Kleiman is less cheerful. This Independent coverage by Fergal Keane is worth a look. Am I asking too much to hope that someone at that constitutional convention understands the Establishment Clause? It would be a waste for Iraq's Shia, having been denied religious freedom for so long, to deny it to others.
FOURTH TURNING ALERT. Substance matters more than symbolism, and those who are less quick to discover that are likely to marginalize themselves. David Brooks argues that the substance that matters is what young adults, relatively free of the conventional wisdoms of the past, see. Joel Kotkin and Fred Siegel call the roll of failed conventional wisdoms, noting inter alia that viewpoint diversity on the campus must come. Power Line, making a case for Express Messenger status, recommended these articles (here) and caught a prominent academician in an inconsistency and made a case for pressuring moderate Republicans on tax policy.
WHAT'S ARABIC FOR "ESTABLISHMENT CLAUSE?" Ur is an excellent place for a constitutional convention, if Philadelphia isn't convenient. Details at Command Post.

19.4.03

EXPENSIVE, BUT A START. An internet cafe in Kandahar, Afghanistan (are you cleared for this?) It appears that the owner understands what "Internet privacy" is all about.
THE ACADEMIC FEVER SWAMP. Award for best war coverage goes to Al-Jazeera, argue Frances S. Hasso. About what you might expect from a professor in "gender and womens' studies." (If I ran the University ... stay your hand, that rant will be coming). Get this: "Rather than being an anti-Western propaganda tool, al-Jazeera is popular in the Arab world because it addresses issues that are already on the minds of people in the region: U.S. foreign policy and militarism, Israeli occupation, poverty, democratization, gender inequality, and the role of religion in public life." Yes, and there is a topology in which a bikini is isomorphic to a burqa, isn't there?

The reality is, all this talk about "gender" is just that, talk. This Eszter's Blog post covers all the bases in a recent gender identity quiz. (I found it via Farrellblogger. The exact post is here, and do check all the cross references. The Farrells have reorganized their link list and you might wish to start at the top.) Apparently being uncomfortable around power tools is NOT a social construction of the female "gender."
DO THE RESEARCH (Also via Betsy's Page.) Michael Skube discovers too much sound and fury and too little substance in the ongoing ideological struggle. Professor Skube visits the bookstore and what does he see: "A sampling: 'Useful Idiots: How Liberals Got It Wrong in the Cold War and Still Blame America First.' 'Slander: Liberal Lies About the American Right.' 'Let Freedom Ring: Winning the War of Liberty Over Liberalism'." What does he conclude? "It would serve conservatism better if some of these best-selling authors -- no one would call them writers -- trafficked more in ideas and less in impulses." Methinks he doth protest too much. He's confusing pundits and popularizers with serious thinkers (Richard Pipes, the Kagans father and son, Friedrich Hayek, Paul MacAvoy, Milton Friedman, Bruce Ames, Bjorn Lomborg after he got mau-maued for doing some research come to mind, and I beg your forgiveness if I missed one of your favorites or didn't name you) and it is those ideas -- not to mention the abject failures of Social Security, public assistance, affirmative action, U.N. sanctions, Amtrak, and the designated hitter rule -- that provide a ready market for the popularizers. Skube grasps some of this: "It required only liberalism's self-mutilation from the '60s through the '80s for a majority of Americans to realize what they were not. They might be Democrats or they might be Republicans, but they were not liberals." But his ending is totally unconvincing. "If some have traded civility for braying boorishness -- and they assuredly have -- they've effected an unflattering reverse image. The same contempt and hubris that did liberals grave harm now is reflected back at them. With the tables turned, conservatives of a certain stripe are proving themselves as capable of ignorance as anyone in the faculty lounge." Get some viewpoint diversity into that common room, and then, perhaps, it will be time for malice toward none, charity toward all.
D'OH. Broder Discovers Median Voter. (Hat tip: Betsy's Page.)
WORKIN' ON THE RAILROAD. Train service from Umm Qasr to Basra resumes (via Command Post.) Here is a capsule description of Iraq's railroad network (large map here, and the person who maintains the site has also done some work on Afghanistan's railroads.) My 1990-1991 Jane's All the World Railways indicates that the Ministry of Transport and Communications had a number of plans, including a planned direct line across the Turkish border, bypassing Syria. That plan was overtaken by the Kuwait crisis.



At one time, the Iraq railroad hosted the Taurus Express from Istanbul with service to Cairo or Basra provided by Wagons-Lits, beloved of Agatha Christie for real, and Bond, James Bond, on screen.

18.4.03

LONG WEEK. Now to find a cave, roll a stone in front of the entrance, take a nap, and expect the stone to be rolled away Sunday morning.
START A FLYING MUSEUM. Australian troops have taken custody of Iraq's air fleet.
IT'S THE SECOND WEEK OF DEER CAMP. Bag limit: one gazelle.
WITH MALICE TOWARD NONE, WITH CHARITY TOWARD ALL. Perhaps some day, but we still have not settled what sort of intellectual culture we are going to have just yet. James Lileks has little patience for another "discovery from the 9/10 fossil bed, another attempt to insist that nothing changed - the old paradigms, the old arguments, the old hyperboles hanging on the cars of the long postmodern circus train are more relevant now than ever." Noemie Emery sees the usual carping from the usual carpers, and despairs. Joshua Chafetz identifies yet more things not in your name, and earns an endorsement from Daniel Drezner. And so the beat goes on.
SELF-SELECTION. Number 2 Pencil has some thoughts on enrollment management strategies in Georgia, including raising admission standards. Now if we could do something about people conflating janitors and plumbers. One is a job, in fact it's an honorable way of working through college. The other is a skilled trade.
COPIED IN FULL. I'm lifting the following from Common Sense and Wonder, who lifted it from Curmudgeonly and Skeptical.

MEMO TO NANCY PELOSI:

A Failed Plan?

1. We took Iraq in less time than it took Janet Reno to take the Branch Davidian compound. That was a 51-day operation.

2. It took less time to find evidence of chemical weapons in Iraq than it took Hillary Clinton to find the Rose Law Firm billing records.

3. It took Teddy Kennedy longer to call the police after his Oldsmobile sunk at Chappaquiddick than it took the 3rd Infantry Division and the Marines to destroy the Medina Republican Guard.

4. We took Iraq in less time than it took to count the votes in Florida in the year 2000!

Nancy, you and other Democratic leaders sure have a strange concept of failure.
HORIZONTAL, VERTICAL, AND SITUATIONAL EQUITY. Pick any two, notes Virginia Postrel in examining the "marriage penalty" and other tax benefits.
BELLICOSE WOMEN. Charlie Sykes is impressed by Killer Chicks but not Augusta aspirants.
YA'ACOV, SON OF YOSEF, BROTHER OF YESHUA. Yes, that Yeshua. Tape Sunday at 8 pm and 11 pm (God's Time.) (Via Betsy's Page.)
BIASED GRADING? (Warning: mini-dissertation.) Kitchen Cabinet finds a post critical of the war effort headed The C-Student War. Kitchen Cabinet correctly recalls that the Vietnam War was a production of the self-described "Best and Brightest" (there is a great, albeit dark Doonesbury cartoon from the mid-1970s in which several guys attending a party as "the best and the brightest" lay some hubris on other guests, "We can win the war in Vietnam!" after which Mike Doonesbury remarks, "what has happened to us?) and that production didn't turn out very well for anybody. Captain Indignant, on the other hand, suggests there is a necessary role for the U.N. (enlighten me, please?) One wonders if the A grades and the C grades aren't being assigned on the basis of agreement with Generally Accepted Mushy Good Intentions rather than on any substance. The Paul Krugman column Captain Indignant links to goes on in a similar vein: the absence of any Grand Plans after the toppling of the Taliban and the Ba'ath Party cause the professor to furrow his brow. (I have to wonder, however, if these same people wouldn't be complaining about cultural insensitivity, or hegemonic biases, or some other Intolerance, if Defense and State had Grand Plans for the future Afghanistan and Iraq.)

Perhaps it is Captain Indignant (whose background I'm not familiar with) and Professor Krugman (who ought to know better, his recent professional writings on suburbanization show some awareness of emergent systems and spontaneous order) who deserve a C (or, as it's the holy season, the benefit of an Incomplete) for arguing from a weak model. As Command Post notes, the notion of showing up for work even if the Ba'ath Party is no longer around to tell you to do so is a new idea in Iraq, and the notion of starting your own business may take time to catch on. It strikes me as presumptuous in the extreme to argue that there's any kind of Grand Plan that anybody (United Nations, State Department, Northern Illinois University faculty senate) could design for Iraq or Afghanistan that would have any hope of working.

(Footnote: Paul Krugman's New York Times columns do not rise to the standard he has set in his professional writings. It is useful to visit Hoystory or stay alert to unrefereed comments such as this article (hat tip: Common Sense and Wonder.) Perhaps in the midst of all the selective interpretation of the spin is something resembling the truth, but getting at it is oft a lot of work.)

Perhaps the reason Mushy Good Intentions earn undeserved As is that Mushy Good Intentions oft go unchallenged for too long. Consider today's first academic atrocity, again from an Ivy League university. Students Eliana Johnson and James Kirchick filed a report on a teach-in with Front Page, a site that doesn't like the academic Left. Yale professor Jim Sleeper keyed an op-ed for the Yale Daily News making a case for civility. But even he is not immune from sloppy thinking. Start with his thesis: "But we do endure something more chronic and perfectly legal: the belligerence of some students who think themselves entitled to subject their peers and even professors to baiting, ridicule, and ad hominem attack." So far, so good. Logic and content are supposed to rule. But read on: "Unlike us in 1968, though, none of you has to risk your life, fortune, or sacred honor for your convictions. You haven't had to oppose this war by risking imprisonment and life as a felon. You haven't had to support it by serving in it -- and I note that none of the Fedayeen Uncle Sams who've intimidated people here has enlisted, as did many Yalies whose names and dreams outlasted their 20s only on those icy, marble walls." Hasn't the good professor crossed the line into baiting (you ingrates aren't old enough to have protested President Johnson's war with your graduate student deferment, let alone to be conscripted into and subsequently killed in President Roosevelt's war) and the ad hominem (never had to go to Canada, never had to meet a payroll, blah blah blah.)

Hugh Hewitt has pointed out some other problems with Professor Sleeper's logic, with the thanks of Power Line, and SCSU Scholars have located a rejoinder by the students, with a response from Professor Sleeper (just keep scrolling.) Clearly, the war at home, over what kind of culture we are going to have, and whether there is going to be viewpoint diversity at the universities, and whether there are going to be consistently applied standards of discourse, is a long way from over.

UPDATE: Kitchen Cabinet with some local knowledge of the Yale squabbles.
WINNING THE PEACE: the importance of the Establishment Clause. Buzz Machine reports that on the first Friday after liberation, many Iraqi Moslems demonstrated for an Islamic government. He notes, "It is time for us infidel Westerners -- religious leaders and the leaders of the U.N., France, Germany, and all their fellow travelers -- to demand democracy for Iraq, to make it clear that we cannot trade a secular dictatorship for a religious dictatorship." Quite so. Balancing the tension between competing religious visions in the political sphere is challenge enough, but it beats having to submit to an established vision.
ONE IF BY LAND, TWO IF BY SEA. "Here the embattled farmers stood, and fired the shot heard round the world."
THE EVOLUTION OF COOPERATION. Further changes at The Command Post, with separate coverage of Iraq, North Korea, Global Terror, and Commentary.
SPEAKING TRUTH TO POWER. Unfortunately, the day this parody of a grading policy becomes a grading policy it's insensitive to parody may be approaching. (Via SCSU Scholars.)
TOUGH QUIZ I'm not enough of a map junkie to be able to complete this (via A Small Victory.)
GETTING THE INSTITUTIONS RIGHT. Glenn Reynolds and Michael Barone note that oil wealth does not have to hamper economic development (compare Saudi Arabia and South Korea from 1954 to the present.) Derrick Z. Jackson (requires registration) takes the dissenting view, noting, "Three of the top five nations the United States currently imports its oil from are Mexico, Venezuela and Nigeria. All have either major environmental problems from oil, political turmoil or both." (Jackson's main point appears to be to sneer at auto racing fans, but stay with me here.) Getting the institutions right matters: the Alaska trust fund is one possibility. What does the U.K. or Norway do with their North Sea oil revenues?
NOT IN YOUR NAME. Bitter Sanity is not happy with local war protesters.
GET THE CHEESE FROM WISCONSIN. French wine exports slumping, notes Midwest Conservative Journal.
QUI CUSTODE CUSTODIS? Glenn Reynolds looks at the downside of the continuing war on terror. Enumerated and limited powers for government matter. However, that doesn't stop the Senate from interfering with our right to a speedy trial, according to John Fund.
EVERY MAN A KING. Lengthy Richard Florida article available as a treat from The Washington Monthly. Its thesis: creative destruction is entering a new phase, in which having control over your work can be more important than pay or benefits. The article is somewhat pathbreaking by Washington Monthly standards, admitting of the possibility of spontaneous order, and invoking libertarian themes including entrepreneurship and creative destruction. It also raises the possibility that both major political parties are advocating outdated and ineffective economic policies. Alas, it falls a bit short on recommendations. Take schooling (please.) The author asserts, "Only a national strategy can repair the now broken connection between good local schools and regional prosperity," only to describe a number of adaptations that cannot be anticipated in a hearing room, let alone written into a universal national policy. Perhaps it is time to unbundle School from State. And catch the logical error here (the special pleading is obvious): "[P]erhaps the nonprofit sector can play an expanded role in our creative economy. Nonprofit organizations--like most basic-research labs, and like the magazine you're reading--give people chances to be creative, free from the market's pressure to maximize investor returns. Are there any creative ideas on how to instigate more of this sort of thing, and more broadly?" Isn't the whole point of investor returns to identify precisely those forms of creativity that are also useful? The author does not make much of a case for expanding, let alone using tax dollars to support, non-profits. Sounds too much like "picking winners" to me. Read the article anyway, there's some interesting analysis that stands on its own, independent of the advocacy.

17.4.03

THE FALLACY OF INSUFFICIENT OPTIONS. Tapped discovers Political Aims (guess Princeton hasn't found the permalinks yet), a weblog that commends an E. J. Dionne column "because it does a better job of exploring the role of the state in maintaining social order and making space for rights than many of the sometimes obtuse theory readings I've been slogging through this year. And's it a nice "take that" to all of the ridiculous anti-government folks who happily benefit from government investments in infrastructure and security each and every day." I'll grant that journalists have better incentives to write clearly than do academicians, particularly when it comes to writing for the university presses that provide graduate social science anthologies. Here's Dionne: "The lesson the looters teach is basic, and it is usually ignored: The alternative to tyranny is not the abolition of government. Absent a government committed to the protection of rights, there are no rights. Without government, individuals have no way to vindicate their rights to property, to basic personal liberty, to life itself." Exactly. "To fecure thefe Rights, Governments are created among Men, Deriving their Juft Powers from the Confent of the Governed." (Isn't there something about enumerating and limiting those powers? Yup, but not in Dionne's world.)

"What these groups never talk about, because it would wreck their story line, is the extent to which our personal and collective prosperity as a property-owning, enterprising people depends on strong and effective government. No government, no property. No government, no security from looting, theft or violence. No government, no national defense. No government, no social stability. No government, no securities law. No government, no food inspections, no consumer and environmental protection, no safeguards for workplace rights, no social insurance." No disagreement with inventory items 1, 2, and 3. (I have yet to find a strong libertarian, let alone a Randian, who denies 1 and 2; many will argue that efforts to provide 3 foster conflict.) Item 4 is dubious. To the extent that government becomes the arbiter of the content of schools, the nature of contractual relations among people, or the provider of resources for particular content or particular contracts, its activities become destabilizing, not stabilizing. (Think carefully about abortion, school choice, religious observation or not in schools, zoning codes, affirmative action, open housing, speed limits, or the drinking age, and ask whether or not less governmental supervision, federal, state, or local, would provide more stability.) On item 5, isn't "securities law" an amalgamation of basic fraud provisions with restrictions on ownership or using local knowledge? Item 6 is also an amalgamation of the simple with the messy, the effective with the ineffective, the productivity-enhancing with the productivity destroying. For another take on proposed government actions that are socially destabilizing, see Rep. Jackson's laundry list at Fraters Libertas. (But then, if you're limited to so many column inches, you might have to put a little straw in your tin man to meet the deadline, right, Mr. Dionne?)
CAN'T LIVE WITH THE SHAME? Unconfirmed reports that Baghdad Bob is at the end of his rope. (Via Mean Mr. Mustard.)

16.4.03

WORDS MEAN THINGS. Jonah Goldberg reminds that "decimate" means "remove the tenth part" and struggles with modern Internetese, which reads like a strange dialect of railroad telegraphese.
DON'T YOU HAVE TO DEFINE PROGRESS FIRST? Interesting thought question at Winds of Change: "Classical conservatives publicly despair of progress, but in their hearts they secretly believe in it. The Left seemingly talks of nothing else but progress, but will go to nearly any lengths rather than believe in it." One of the great conjuring tricks of the early 20th Century was the application of the term "progressive" to ideas that seemed appealing, or new, or might even make sense. In retrospect, many of these have been anything but progress.
THEFT AMNESTIES ARE SOMETIMES INCENTIVE COMPATIBLE: Via Winds of Change, some analysis of strategies that encourage the return, rather than the destruction, of artifacts. For more on the theory of theft amnesty, see E. Katz and J. Rosenberg, "Property Rights, Theft, Amnesty and Efficiency," European Journal of Law and Economics, in press.

UPDATE: Buy it back, suggests Mark Kleiman.
SHALL I COMPARE THEE TO A SUMMER'S DAY?



(From Mader Blog, with more details.)
POSITIONAL ARMS RACES. Jay Mathews on moving from the wait-list to the admitted list. (Via Newmark's Door.) Must be a whole different universe. I still recall overhearing conversations among the popular set in my high school over which of the below-mid-major state colleges were the best choice for social activities.
HOW TO LIE WITH STATISTICS, public health case study.
GOOD NEWS, BAD NEWS. Your job description just changed!
WHY IS THIS NIGHT DIFFERENT FROM OTHER NIGHTS? Ten contemporary plagues, plus seders in Baghdad and other suburbs of Babylon.

15.4.03

NEUTRAL AS TO TRANSFERS. Jonathan Foreman on the root causes of looting. How does one say "beriozka" in Arabic? I suppose it should be no surprise that a Socialist Party would have special stores and clinics for its nomenklatura. Steven Landsburg sees a deferred tax rebate. Ranting Screeds is less impressed. InstaPundit and Betsy's Page provide the sources.