30.6.03

BAD SENTENCE STRUCTURE IS ARTISTIC. Tightly Wound and Common Sense and Wonder observe the missing clothing on the emperors of contemporary poetry. I think the epidemic of writing badly and passing it off as art began with Edwin Estlin Cummings and his unwillingness to use the shift key. The art has only gotten worse since.
MISSION CHANGE FOR THE MID-MAJORS? Forget about losing your integrity to get into the final four, or emulating the prestige colleges. This Edward C. Smith essay (via Atlantic Blog) notes the corrosive effects of the consumer mentality at a prestige university. Is it me, or do the students at mid-majors have better work habits or less of a sense of entitlement? (It is hard to run a controlled experiment. Perhaps there is something about twisting the screen pull-string into a noose on the first day of class ...)
BASKETBALL IS SO SEPTEMBER 10? Kitchen Cabinet considers the latest phenom. Perhaps one of these days cities and states will take a close look at the losses they're incurring subsidizing sports teams, or sweetening their offers to steal someone else's subsidized sports team, and perhaps fans will stop cutting thuggish athletes so much slack. Or perhaps I will tolerate a GWR Hall painted red and named for a Castle.
IT'S POP. Jay Solo finds a Velociblog post on regionalisms that revisits the less-preferred names for pop. Anybody ever ask for a Faygo Red "Coke?" I doubt it.
BREEDING UNEMPLOYED HUMANITIES PH.D.S? Once all the postulants aspired to be the next star of Madonna studies, now it's Harry Potter criticism. (Via Betsy's Page.) The Superintendent reserves judgement, for now, on the propriety of painting a GWR Hall red and aiming it in the general direction of Denmark, but promises to recommend better power for the Hogwarts Express before long.
RULES WRITTEN IN BLOOD. Tenement houses have long had back porches, which originally provided landings for fire exits, a place to reeve a clothesline (somebody had to shinny up a nearby power pole to provide the outer block), and sometimes space for a chair or two and maybe some potted plants. Many tenement houses have provided fodder for gentrification, which involves rearranging the insides to provide bigger rooms and track lighting, and redoing the back porches to imitate the decks popular with free-standing houses. Set up as such, the decks provide space for social gathering on a scale not imagined by the original builders of tenements. In theory, there is a maximum live load for such a deck, although most people leave that calculation undone. Consequence: porches collapse. (The Rockford news broadcast reported a balcony failure with injuries on Sunday, details are eluding me.) Whether insurers or building inspectors will insist on more rigorous inspection of porches or the posting of load limits remains to be seen. Northern Illinois University and the University of Chicago Law School (still no mention of the accident at Crescat Sententia) have lost students, and many people have lost friends. The Chicago Tribune has extensive coverage including a report from the fire house and a reader's forum in which the second-guessing has already begun.

29.6.03

PLUS CA CHANGE? Boots and Sabers reports that Milwaukee's Summerfest has gone away from booking acts popular with the younger set, because the younger set uses the time away from adult supervision to misbehave. Instead, the festival is booking acts popular with older people. Might these be the same acts that appealed to slightly-younger editions of those older people some 30 years ago, when Summerfest had problems with young music fans misbehaving?
THE EVOLUTION OF COOPERATION? Highered Intelligence comments on the windshield murder case. His main point: "Without some sense of morality, laws are just mechanical procedures." Perhaps, and perhaps to an economist, everything involves an incentive, but if Mr. Lopez's hypothesis that the driver was willing to risk greater consequences in order to evade lesser consequences, does it not follow that morality itself is a mechanical procedure? Specifically, if you mess up, isn't it usually better to 'fess up and face the music, rather than have to evade and face more serious consequences later?
AND LEAD US NOT INTO PENN STATION, BUT DELIVER US FROM GRAND CENTRAL. Doxagora, with a new template, further examines postmodern relativism's pernicious effect on the Anglican Communion. Thanks to the Establishment Clause, dissidents no longer have to migrate to Leyden, let alone to Virginia (yes, Virginia, Plymouth Rock is a navigational error) to find suitable doctrine.
THINKING 100 YEARS HENCE. General Electric has been running a commercial during some of the Sunday shows in which the Wright Flyer sports the latest turbofan mounted on the top wing. It's part cartoon, part tribute. But it raises a question: what will businesses be able to do to exploit the centenary of space exploration? Aviation has been open to commercial exploitation from the beginning. The value of airplanes for war and other State projects came later. Space exploration, on the other hand, has been a government preserve. Does that status hamper innovation?
SERIOUS CHEDDAR ISN'T YELLOW. Dean Esmay discovers Pinconning Super Sharp, one of the prize exports of Lower Michigan. There are some pretty good aged cheddars from Wisconsin. If they age long enough, they turn white and somewhat crumbly when you cut them, certainly nobody mistakes them for American let alone Velveeta.
RULE 17. The reference here is to Strunk and White, "Omit needless words." From Newmark's Door comes this confirmation that the more baroque the communication, the less truthful the communication. Note in particular this: "I think, John, some of it probably goes back to business school where we are kind of taught that talking smart makes you seem smart. It just obscures what is really happening." Quite. The second-most-frequent comment I make on bluebooks (the first is "Amplify" or words to that effect) is "Don't use big words you can't spell." Turns out there may be a market test for companies that attempt to baffle to appear with it.

26.6.03

LOSING THE RACE? Joanne Jacobs observes, in light of the Michigan affirmative action rulings, that the real educational inequalities begin in kindergarten. She has a weblog entry and a column on racial differences in attitudes toward achievement. (This linked article is useful reading.) I'm old enough to remember when civil rights meant getting the segregationist agent of government out of the schoolhouse door, and something about denigrating academic effort as "white" suggests that some elements of the civil rights community have left me behind.
WINNING THE PEACE. Is there such a thing as the best-case scenario not being best? Thomas Friedman (registration required) looks at the unintended consequences of too quick and too overwhelming a regime change in Iraq. (Via Milt's File, June 25 entries.) On a related topic, Power Line speculates about strategic disclosure of discoveries in Iraq.
SEEKING WILLIAM BREWSTER? Midwest Conservative Journal is all over the latest crack-up of the Episcopal Church. I liked this: "The Episcopal Church is like the UN. It has committees for every single topic or problem in the entire world. It probably even has a Standing Committee To Identify Topics or Problems That Don't Have Their Own Standing Committees Yet(SCITPTDHTOSCY)." University senates have the same obsession. Then there's this on the self-marginalization of the Episcopal Church: "[i]f the conservatives walk, the liberal remnant becomes the United Church of Christ and nobody cares what those guys think about things." And if the conservatives view their mission as purifying, all sorts of things are possible. The Nigerian bishop gets it.
TASTELESS? American Mind is not amused by Lithuania's Stalin World. Sounds like the kinder, gentler version, if the proposed simulated exile train uses cattle wagons, not the Stolypins.
IVY BIASES SHOWING? The vacationing Virginia Postrel comments on the capture of Gen. Abid Hamid Mahmud al-Tikriti, number 4 on the Iraqi most wanted list behind Saddam et fils. She asks whether he shouldn't be the ace of clubs, not diamonds. Depends on the card game you're playing. In sheepshead, the ace of diamonds is an interesting card to have. It's worth eleven points in a trick, but it's a weak trump, losing to any queen or jack. If you pick up the blind, do you salt the blind with that ace, or hold it to trump a lead to a fail suit you're void in? (If you're picking, do you have any business giving up the lead?) A game in which there's vertical integration of two hands looks simple in comparison.
NON SEQUITURS. Common Sense and Wonder fisks Bob Herbert, who is blaming federal tax cuts for local tuition increases.
THE COMMITTEE OF COMMITTEES. Professor DeLong gets his callup notice. His list of objectives is admirable. Will he post updates. His characterization of his committee as "second-guessing departments" is about right.
SEEMS TO BE WORKING. New screen format, new way of adjusting settings. Betsy's Page is still reporting difficulties with the new Blogger front end. (Or is it working if I'm reading it?)

25.6.03

FACTOR PRICE EQUALIZATION? Glenn Reynolds looks at the political economy of outsourcing, in this case the immigration of high-tech workers, or the subcontracting of technical work to sellers in other countries. At the root of U.S. discontent with these actions are two things: the very real disruption in the lives of people who have discovered that others will do their work for less, and the very real confusion of decreases in the nominal incomes of those who continue to do that work, with the increases in their real incomes as the mix of products expands, improves, and gets cheaper.
DISCRIMINATING FOR EQUALITY? Tyler Cowen summarizes four hypotheses about affirmative action. The weak link between admission and merit in particular bears further investigation. Elsewhere on Volokh Conspiracy, Erik Jaffe and Tyler Cowen chew over the possibility that affirmative action has little effect other than to reallocate some students among the top colleges (has anyone ever rejected by Michigan enrolled at the University of Phoenix instead?) Atlantic Blog also weighs in on the costs of reassignment borne by students who but for (can one really capture that?) affirmative action would have enrolled at Harvard (rather than Yale? rather than U Conn?) His post is a reaction to a Semi-Daily Journal essay that appears to have miscalculated the incidence of collective guilt on specific individuals. Truck and Barter proposes that "diversity" be evaluated as a scarce good, with a careful evaluation of the supply and demand.
CARNIVAL OF THE VANITIES goes back-roadin'.
LINE RELOCATIONS. Instapundit has found a new location for a classification yard. Service is being maintained at the old yard and the new yard for the time being. Jay Solo's Verbosity has also moved. His blogroll reads like an almanac. There is method to his planetary classification system.

19.6.03

CHANGING TRAINS. Fairly full load on the 8.30 pm Aurora all-stopper. Conductor lifts tickets, notes location of passengers who are paying cash, returns to collect cash fares, automatic station annunciator announces the Harlem Avenue stop. Passenger in front of me asks, "This train is going to Orland Park, right?" Nope, Aurora. (Both trains leave at 8.30, you have to look at the destination list with burned out letters at Union Station.) Instant panic ... there is no later departure to Orland Park. A nearby passenger lends the panicked passenger a cell phone, she calls Mom, gets through, lets Mom know she's getting off at LaGrange Road, which is also the stop for the helpful passenger. Can happen to anyone ... there was this InterCity train standing at the up-side platform face in Swindon, and the destination sign in the window includes "Reading" so guess who got on and wound up in Kemble? (Less serious a problem there, as a puddle-jumper headed up from Herefordshire shows up shortly, and Kemble offered some railway archaeology during the lay-over.)
CARNIVAL OF THE VANITIES is at Real Women Online
CHARTER SCHOOLS CATERED FROM GREEN BAY? Read this and decide for yourself.
NO HILTON, NO PAN AM. The DeKalb Municipal Band offers a weekly concert in the park. Tuesday's program included Johann Strauss's Blue Danube. It is difficult to listen to that without envisioning that Pan Am shuttle docking with that orbiting wheel with Hilton accommodation, which we were supposed to have by now, if life imitated art. Or, if there had been more commercial freedom for space exploration starting, say, in 1967.
RECOMMENDED RAILROAD READING. Latest edition of The Railway Magazine (no online content, dead trees have been good enough since 1897) shows a test train in English stagecoach yellow that needs just a touch of green to look right, shows an old idea from New England reborn in Russia, reports that railfans are now being treated as security risks at some stations, and covers a new diesel train that offers "the ambience of a traditional hauled coach within an underfloor-engined [set]." Are you listening, Amtrak? A reversible, fast, 200-passenger diesel train might be just the thing for Midwestern corridors. Hourly service, 62 minutes Chicago to Milwaukee, anyone?
PRODUCTIVITY GAINS. Repeat after me: an expensive service that was formerly unavailable at any price is now cheaper. Then read and understand this.
HOW HOOSIERS VIEW FLATLANDERS. It's old news, but as long as I'm ripping Illinois traffic engineers, here's a boot to the head of Illinois litigators.
FORMER GOP OFFICIAL ADVOCATES DEATHS OF CHILDREN. Yes, I'm spinning, but now that I have your attention ... The Chicago Council on Foreign Relations has been holding a series of presentations on how the rest of the world views the United States. Wednesday's speaker was former trade negotiator Clyde Prestowitz, now of the Economic Strategy Institute, working off of his new book, Rogue Nation. I will have some substantive things to say about the book, and the others I've purchased during this series of presentations, once I've finished it (there was too much excitement on tonight's train to get very far) but I did get through his chapter on energy dependence, which is much too snarky about sport utility vehicles and the "Bubbas" who drive them, and far too willing to buy the argument that U.S. driving habits are funding the House of Saud (that, when he noted in the summation of his talk that the Europeans import a lot more oil from Araby, is a bit much) and he repeats the National City Lines canard as part of the usual "why can't we have Euro-style mass transit" riff. As there does appear to be some stuff of substance in the book, you might not want to judge all of it by its transportation and energy errors.

Mr. Prestowitz made a statement that I've heard from a few others: the United States is now turning its back on institutions it created to serve its own interests (referring to the United Nations, the North Atlantic alliance, and, the European Union, begotten of the Marshall Plan.) That argument falls a bit flat. This weblog has been updated intermittently, as I have been working on a railroad in the basement. I built some trackbed and laid some tracks, only to discover that cars came uncoupled on a vertical curve. I immediately tore up that trackbed and reprofiled it. Perhaps international treaties ought not be abandoned for small flaws, but they ought not be held onto past any usefulness.

18.6.03

BLOWIN' THOSE REDS. Setting the pace for red light running in the United States are Chicago drivers (So what else is new, ask any Badger about flatlander drivers.) The article raises the possibility that new traffic cameras are contributing to rear-end collisions, as risk-averse drivers apply brakes when they see a yellow with tailgaters expecting the usual flatlander response being taken by surprise. The article also exonerates the traffic engineers with the claim that a three-second yellow is a proper interval for 30-35 mph traffic. In doing so, it misses an important point. Traffic lights seem to have been installed without any thought to coordinating their workings, particularly along commercial roads with controlled entries to shopping centers. In many locations, your experience is to stop at a red light, wait nearly two minutes for the cross traffic, wait for the left-turning traffic that gets its arrow first, then you get your green, and just as you get your green, the light a quarter mile away at the entry to the shopping center or the next crossing drops to yellow, so you get to repeat the experience.

Drivers have discovered that if they speed, and take their chances at yellow lights, they will be able to continue their trip with fewer of these lengthy stops. As the police have other tasks to do, many drivers have also discovered that they can get away with it. Illinois does not seem to grasp that timing the lights, so that drivers who travel at the speed limit will be able to proceed from green to green, does much to reduce speeding and red-light running. Illinois might also consider changing the sequencing of movement through the crossings, so that the left turn arrow comes after the green light for traffic proceeding without turning, as New York state does.
BAD ORDER? Professor Drezner is reporting difficulties with the new version of Blogger. I'm not sure all my posts are getting out, although they're all showing up on my posts screen.

UPDATE: Scroll down, all the 17 June stuff IS now out.

17.6.03

PEOPLE RESPOND TO INCENTIVES. Andrew Sullivan reports on a new right of reply entitlement within the European Union. Looks like it has all kinds of potential to destroy controversial web sites, particularly if sufficiently many people post comments, criticisms, corrections, or just plain nonsense, and exercise their right to be linked.
BUSY DAY AT INSTAPUNDIT. John Hawkins, superintendent of Right Wing News, survives a spin-out. Vodka Pundit returns, with thoughts on Iranian self-determination. Professor Reynolds has plenty of Iran coverage. AndrewSullivan proposes extensive coverage of matters Iranian leading up to 9 July, date of a proposed general strike there.
SERIOUS MOUNTAIN RAILROADING. Where Worlds Collide has returned from Switzerland, with train pictures (worthy successors to the Crocs, I say) and information on the whereabouts of the Iraqi Information Minister.
HOW OTHERS SEE US. Both Newmark's Door and SCSU Scholars enjoy James Lileks's rough handling of a conspiracy-buff professor in Duluth. Money quote: "When I was growing up, the term 'professor' connoted respect and accomplishment. It was a name society gave to its wisest citizens." Compromise away your integrity and all that ...

Incidentally, Cold Spring Shops had the Wellstone crash correctly diagnosed long ago, with an aviator's endorsement. See also this.
TENURE, CARTELIZATION, CERTIFICATION. Lots of coverage of the academic job market. Newmark's Door found an Education Guardian story that characterizes the current production rate of Ph.D.s as "unconscionable." Invisible Adjunct, who is taking a vacation, took a look at the academic job market and raised the possibility that tenure exists as a way to create a cartel in academic labor (one easily cheated upon.) The SCSU Scholars weighed in here and here. Something went missing in Invisible Adjunct's line relocation: somebody made the point in the comments to one of her posts that the administration and the faculty were in agreement on some things. Affirmative action came up. I wish I could find that post so as to react to it accurately, as there is something wrong with giving the administration a free hand just because it's doing something that a (current) majority of (voting) faculty agrees with, which provides precedents for the administration doing something that the faculty would not agree with, such as calling committee meetings during the summer research and vacation period, or attempting to steal a paid holiday by going to a four-day summer schedule with Independence Day coming on a Friday. Although I couldn't quickly locate the comments I was seeking (and I think the SCSU Scholars had something about time theft), I did find this set of hits that suggest the use of adjunct and temporary faculty is also a way around the usual affirmative action rigamarole. Interesting.
BLOCKING COALITIONS. Professor DeLong looks at the hundredfold increase in the number of shareholders required to control half the shares of Standard Oil of New Jersey. Interesting discussion in the comments section about whether diffused ownership leads to further entrenchment of the management.
MONETARY ECONOMICS, DEFANGED. From Newmark's Door comes word of a weblog to keep track of developments in Thomas Sargent's graduate income theory class.
BENEFITS AND COSTS. Philip K. Chapman takes a critical look at the government space program, which looks like Keynes's money buried in bottles. "We would not need the shuttle missions if we did not have the station, and we would not need the station if we did not need something for the shuttles to do." He continues with a look at NASA management priorities and presents some proposals for reform. If information technology had remained a government monopoly after World War II, would Vice President Gore have been touting the virtues of teletype machines connected to vacuum-tube logic units?
FALLEN STAR. Professional wrestler Fred Blassie, from the days of pile-drivers and figure-four leg-locks, has died. Wrestling was more fun on the other side of that cultural fault-line, particularly on a black-and-white television tuned to a UHF station.
GIVE IT A REST? Professor Drezner approves of OxBlog's take on the Clinton Wars. Got news for you kids out there, there's a fault line between people who came of age in the middle to late 1960s that will never correct itself. The policy record of the Clinton administration was not something a French socialist would take pride in, and in those days the magazines of the Left pined for a Democratic wing of the Democratic Party. The Clintons themselves are unlikely Pied Pipers of Pepperland, but the real Pied Pipers have either died or been mugged by reality. Doesn't stop people from asking about those days that opened the fault line, as David Weigel discovers.
BLAH BLAH BLAH. Do people write badly because they see only bad writing? Joanne Jacobs reports on spreading pretentious pox.
LINE RELOCATIONS. Number 2 Pencil and Tightly Wound have moved to new sites.
FOURTH TURNING ALERT. Dean's World on the clash of worldviews to come.
REASON AHEAD, WORK BACK. Cal Pundit is doing his family tree work correctly, and he's found a new (to me) genealogy legend. I was aware that there's a Charlemagne line that someone had worked out back to Adam (just work through the "begats" in the Old Testament) but descendants of Jesus???
SHIPPING THE GOOD JOBS OUT? Econ Log posts a comment about the gains from trade. Viking Pundit links to a story about the adjustment costs that sometimes accompany those gains.
SMARTEST MAN BAILED OUT WITH MY BACKPACK. Joel Engel is unimpressed with the intellectual bullying and conformism among the usual official chattering classes. (Via Political Theory.)
AT WAR. Dynamist recommends the Fallen Patriot Fund for families of killed and wounded Armed Services members.
LIFE EXPIRED. It's old news now, but this article makes the point that the safe life of a component depends on how many days the component has been in place, as well as in the use the component gets. It reinforces this argument I made some time ago that Space Shuttle parts might have been worn out by age, even though the orbiters hadn't flown their hundred missions.
THE MAGAZINE OF RAILROADING. Years ago, that's how Trains described itself. The Chicago Tribune's recent list of 50 best magazines credits Trains with "Part geek bible, part passionate advocate for better passenger service and part dreamy evocator of rail's golden years, Trains is ideal reading for those sitting on Amtrak, waiting for the train to actually start moving again." Something tells me that the extensive coverage of Chicago in the most recent issue influenced the panel. Some rail enthusiasts have characterized Trains as channeling Railway Age more recently.

Betsy's Page, who recommended the article (scroll to the 13 June posts, time to do some engineering work on your archives, ma'am), complained that "the Chicago Tribune doesn't enjoy the more conservative offerings" she reads. Perhaps not, although a listing of magazines that includes Martha Stewart Living (prettying up those jail cells?) and Toy Fare (used Stadium Checkers, anyone??) might not be driven entirely by politics. One aesthetic quibble: Reason rated a compliment because its "redesign actually made it better." Perhaps to the judges. The practice of continuing articles from page to page, one column at a time, alongside a two-column article or collection of quotes, distracts.

9.6.03

TAKE IT THROUGH CHANNELS. Campus Nonsense relays a report from the University of California at Irvine, where a member of the student government introduced a resolution in student government calling for viewpoint diversity in classes. The resolution passed. A dean then sent around a memorandum that Campus Nonsense interprets as an attempt at blacklisting. The dean did suggest that the student talk with the department chairmen first, which is only good manners. It's much more effective to take the requests through channels first, then pass the resolution. Quite likely the faculty members will deny that there's any problem, or stonewall in some ways. (For the past 13 years or so the student government at Northern Illinois University has sought, without any success, public disclosure of course evaluations. On those occasions when they visited the faculty senate when I was a delegate, I always suggested they simply collect their own. I have yet to see any such effort.)
HYPERCUBE. Computer graphics make possible a four-dimensional Rubik's Cube. (Via Common Sense and Wonder.)
YOU DON'T OWE A FOLLOWER ANYTHING. James Lileks is recovering from a bumper-bender. The clueless yuppette who didn't see him also lives to die another day, but with a serious repair bill.

8.6.03

MEDIA CONCENTRATION? Armchair Analyst is skeptical.
COLLEGES OF DEADUCATION: "Only one in five professors of education said it is 'absolutely essential' to produce teachers who stress correct spelling, grammar, and punctuation," notes this study (via Number 2 Pencil, who has been covering exit testing intensively, and contemplating a line relocation.) No wonder the seniors struggle so with their capstone papers. They've not run into anything resembling an editor, which I played at in college years ago.

Gratuitous comment on "teaching to the test." There's no conflict between content and teaching to the test, if the standards and the test are set properly. Nobody criticizes the sergeant for "teaching to the battle." Nobody criticizes the coach for "teaching to the mark-rounding." Nobody criticizes the road foreman for "teaching to the Mountain." Got that? Good.

UPDATE: Vermont Reactionary reacts, from a student's perspective.
LEFT HANDED COMPLIMENT. Oops, discriminatory, never mind who is in the same company with Steve Carlton and Babe Ruth.
MELTING POT. Joanne Jacobs: "At least in California, young people don't see race and ethnicity the way us baby boomers do. They take for granted that they live in a mix-and-match world." Just further evolution. For many years I have challenged those people who say "Karlson ... that's Swedish" to consider in full the implications of Stephen Hopkins Karlson. A colleague once quipped, "Frederick the Great was less Prussian," which is also accurate.
SUBCONTRACTING. Guess who had embedded reporters, and with what unit, and what they did, and who spotted it! Encouraging stuff.
CATCH-85. Highered Intelligence offers observations on the difficulties college graduates are currently having on the job market. More to it than the recession and the extraction of more effort from existing workforces. (Shouldn't come as any surprise, though, that if a 4 year degree now has the information content a high school diploma used to -- within my lifetime -- have, then the job opportunities offered to college graduates might appear to be less satisfying. You've also got to spell out what "satisfying" is about. Writing research papers is usually satisfying, as are office-hour conferences. Committee meetings, even during contract time, are not.)
BLOCKING COALITIONS. What happens if you require ascriptive diversity as a proxy for viewpoint diversity on a committee, and one of the members so chosen doesn't show up, and you're holding meetings during prime research time? Everybody get "Not Pretty." Ayup.
TOPPLING MONUMENTS? Never mind the Saddam statues, Martha Stewart and Howell Raines went too. Oraculations suggests the latter developments are of great importance, Frederick Turner sees people in fashionable settings finding their voice, and Michael Barone anticipated it long ago.
MISS THE COLD WAR? Daniel Drezner points to an argument that, put crudely, it is not currently necessary for the existing constitutional republics to make nice to dictators, just because they're anti-communist.
LEARNING CURVE. Financial Aid Office spells out the private and external benefits of a university degree (likely source was Invisible Adjunct, who does not appear to be operating this afternoon.) $64 billion question: at the margin, how much of the benefit of a university degree is private, and therefore something the university's staff ought to capture?
MEASURING ECONOMIC PERFORMANCE. The relocated Common Sense and Wonder points to two classic Peter Drucker articles on the mismeasurement of business performance. Repeat after me: "Open markets are environments in which powerful and appraising evolutionary forces are at work," saith John McGee.
BIG FOUR NOT SO BIG AFTER ALL? Soundbitten looks at weblog traffic that exceeds traffic on some members of the Big Four. Reminds me of an old bit of one-upmanship in the crew room. The New York Central guy and the Pennsy guy were trading barbs about whose was the more significant railroad. The Pennsy guy ended the debate by observing, "we kill more passengers in a year than you guys carry."
PROTECTING COMPETITORS, NOT COMPETITION. Hit and Run picks up a story about a protest against a new Sam's Club (!) gas station that appears at first glance to be run-of-mine NIMBYism, but is organized by a trade association of local service station operators. Funny how these things evolve. Many years ago, the big threat to local service station operators was the merger of vertically-integrated oil companies. Now it's Wal-Mart or Meijer. The only common theme appears to be to support our right to pay higher prices to preserve independent service stations.
SCHOOLTEACHERS, UNDERPAID? Hit and Run picks up recent research that suggests not. Heated comments ensue.
INTELLECTUAL BALKANIZATION. Tongue Tied discovers that some area-studies program directors are reluctant to be housed in traditional academic departments. Puzzle: do area-studies majors equate to asterisks on transcripts?
MUGGED BY REALITY. Herewith Wunderkinder's 12 step program for recovering liberals.
SUPERIOR DIRECTION OF DIVERSITY? Jonah Goldberg notes the disinterest in integrating Morehouse, let alone making Mills coeducational. (Many of you might have followed others' links to the column already.)
COMIC RELIEF. Right Thinking took the time to read and understand Madonna's ex-husband's infomercial.
RETIREMENT PLAN? Truck and Barter is unimpressed with New York City's licensing of tour guides. (This post is the initial provocation.) Here's the short form of the argument: municipal licensing is a form of forced saving. You take out a business loan, pass the tests, get the medallion, do business, and then sell the medallion upon retirement for a large lump sum. Doesn't matter whether it's a taxi medallion (the canonical example) or any other occupational license, and the public interest is incidental.
BEER AND CIRCUSES. Former University of Wisconsin Chancellor Donna Shalala now wants to realign the eastern football powers.
NEW SOURCE OF COMPANY MAIL. Mises Economics Blog. Selbstverstaendlich.
BELLICOSE WOMEN. The Superintendent prefers not to pick on female commentators when other female commentators, in this instance Virginia Postrel, do such a good job of it.
LINE RELOCATION Common Sense and Wonder no longer have running powers on Blogspot.
SHAH' MAT. No longer proscribed in Afghanistan. With pictures. Thanks to the Netherlands embassy.

4.6.03

WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION. William Tell and Odysseus had 'em, notes Brickbats (May 22 entry.)
REALITY CHECK? "I'm from the government, and I'm here to help you," fails to impress youngsters, notes Hit and Run
WELCOME, ECONLOG READERS. There are a couple more goodies there, should you have arrived at this station from a different direction. There's a new post on measuring inequality that's worth a look. Cal Pundit has what he describes as his final post on inequality (for the present, I bet, he's got more tax incidence stuff up). It's some of the interventions I wish to speak to, however.

"Example: capitalist economies work their magic via competition, but classical economists have recognized for over a century that laissez faire capitalism frequently leads to monopolies, which in turn destroys laissez faire capitalism. The answer is antitrust legislation, which is designed not so much to rein in free markets as to allow them to flourish. Securities regulation, which is generally designed to promote transparency and a freer flow of information, is another example.
." But what happens to those monopolies, and do they last forever absent government storm shelters (consider Baldwin Locomotive, Sears, A&P, K-Mart, Ford, and United Airlines)? Consider further the interpretation of the antitrust laws by the courts: does it protect competition in the way Mr. Drum sees it, or does it protect less effective competitors (see, e.g. George Stigler's "The Origin of the Sherman Act" in Journal of Legal Studies some years ago.)

"Interventions designed to correct things that capitalism does poorly. Example: brutally exploitive child labor is a normal and predictable consequence of industrial capitalism. However, when it eventually became socially unacceptable it took government intervention to end it. A modern day example is minimum wage laws. A free market will inevitably price the least skilled labor at (more or less) subsistence levels, but today we have a social consensus that if you want to employ someone, there's a certain minimum amount you should be required to pay." Isn't child labor a normal and predictable consequence of poverty? Those pre-industrial kids weren't playing Pokemon. It's probably more accurate to say that child labor laws plus the establishment of common schools served either to indoctrinate immigrant children into American ways or to give all kids some sort of shot at a fair go, depending on whose interpretation you wish to believe. And as long as there is illegal migration, there will be ways around the minimum wage laws (Junius had an interesting post on illegal migration and induced innovation that is worth a look.)

UPDATE: Atlantic Blog has more on antitrust, including the trap identified in Incredible Bread Machine.
RAILS TO TRAILS. At one time, there was no location in the State of Iowa more than seven miles from a railroad, which made sense in a time when seven miles out and back was a full day's work for a team and wagon and there was a lot of grain to haul to the elevator for export East (and now you know why eastward trains are superior to westward trains of the same class, but I digress). Iowa also happened to be smack between Chicago, where the eastern trunk lines met the granger railroads (which were built first, the first equipment was brought in by boat) and the railhead for the Pacific Railroad, and a number of railroads set up to get a share of that traffic (and to bust the rate pools, but again I digress.) As a consequence, Iowa has a lot of linear corridors suitable for bike trails, which Cornfield Commentary sees as not a great economic engine for tourism.
POLITICAL BUSINESS CYCLES? News and a Bill Hobbs forecast.
MEASURE INPUTS, NOT OUTPUTS. Joanne Jacobs has some thoughts on the costs and benefits of charter schools compared with standard government-issue schools in Texas. Ceteris paribus, anyone?
C. C. C. & St. L.? Sorry, when somebody says Big Four, that's the first thing that comes to mind. Insta Pundit offers an "aw, shucks." (But if he runs the Grand Central *Terminal* of the blogosphere, doesn't he own the Big Four, along with the L. S. & M. S., the P. & L. E., the B. & A., and part of the I. H. B.?) There will be a quiz on this later.
PEOPLE RESPOND TO INCENTIVES. Robert Prather sees the salutary effect of toppling Saddam on the peace "process" in the neighborhood.
SITTING DOWN TO DINNER. G. Jefferson Price the younger sings the praises of leisurely dinners and afternoon naps. There's even a website dedicated to the concept of slow food.
ECLECTIC CARNIVAL OF THE VANITIES is at Drumwaster this week. Go and browse a while.

1.6.03

THE EVOLUTION OF EMPIRE. Thomas Friedman (via Betsy's Page) and Dominic Lieven (via Milt's File, May 28 entries) offer some thoughts on the role of the U.S. in the world, the wish of people elsewhere to have a say on what its government does, and whether or not it is an empire. Three observations: first, in order for North American pop culture to seep into other cultures, there have to be people in those cultures who like it (this is selling beer to Puritans redux); second, many people in those other cultures are voting ... to emigrate, legally or illegally to the United States and to some of the other Western powers; third, the United States has always been a different sort of a nation, one in which blood or religion is less important, but adherence to the rules is a precondition for membership. Somebody I read (this was years ago, when interactive online meant a two-way teletype) argued that the United States was the world's first ideological nation, a point Lieven notes, and he then notes a paradox, namely that the ideology, at the Founding opposed to the imperial monarchies, is itself an imperial idea. Much food for thought in both essays.
STIPENDIUM PECCATI? Elizabeth Austin discovers the value of saving it for someone you can trust. (Via Milt's File, May 30 entries.)
PEOPLE WHO THINK LIKE US. Best of the Web (scroll to the "Diversity Fog" entry) finds an essay that argues disgraced New York Times staffer Jayson Blair was hired as a suburbanite with dark skin, not as a black person. The author's point: "Diversity is not just about skin color and ethnicity. It's about gender, sexual orientation, religion or lack thereof, ideology and other things I could think of if my own thinking weren't limited in ways of which I myself am unaware." (Does that mean idiocy qualifies as a form of intellect deserving of protected status?) Fair enough, but then why do the Faculty Senate by-laws at my University call for at least one member of color and one female, but viewpoint diversity is limited to one delegate per department?
TRIVIUM AND QUADRIVIUM. "What is the purpose of a liberal arts undergraduate education?", asks Invisible Adjunct. To enable the graduates, should it become necessary, to restore their civilization. Furthermore, it is an error to argue, as Invisible Adjunct does, that "appeal to professionalism as a replacement for civics and morality does represent something fairly novel in the history of liberal arts education." There is no replacement. The professional is devoted to the abolition of errors, the professor to professing ideas, and the ideas of civics and morality with the most glaring errors abolished is not at all novel.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: "It was a new experience for me to be patronized by a Canadian university professor." That's Radek Sikorski on the evolving alliance between the United States and Poland. (It's been evolving for a long time, consider Tadeusz Koscziusko and Count Casimir Pulaski in the War of Independence, but it still hasn't evolved to the point where native English-speakers, even in Milwaukee, even today, can get their tongues around names such as Aloysius Szymanski.)
HETERODOX ECONOMICS. Thought-provoking Winter Speak post on the differences between conventional (read full-information) and behavioral (read limited-information) economics. I'm going to leave aside the markets-vs.-philosopher kings and focus on this: "Behavioral ec. shows that people don't think about things in the right way, and this leads them to make suboptimal decisions. Economic markets anticipate people making the optimal decisions, which leads to them producing the absolute best possible outcomes. People who dislike economics (and there are many) bring these two facts together and argue that this means markets hardly ever produce the best outcomes." My sense is that even this characterization is too strong, but I'm not yet comfortable enough with Liapunov's second method to prove it. There is probably enough compactness in the strategy sets of people acting with limited information (that they can update ONLY by trading) and enough rationality in the updating to produce meaningful decentralization results with optimality properties, which would annoy the abusers of behavioral economics greatly, not to mention the effect that such an approach would have on the Austrians.
ASSESSING THE OBVIOUS? Winter Speak is not impressed with Edward Tufte's smackdown of Power Point.
FORTY FEET BELOW. London's Post Office seeks new uses for its mail tunnel. Samizdata (via Transport Blog) and Going Underground weigh in. It has more potential if it's simply left idle for about 40 years first, so it can become the stuff of legend.
ADVICE FOR ASPIRING THEORISTS. Latest Economic Principals comments on William Thomson's A Guide for the Young Economist: Writing and Speaking Effectively about Economics, a recent addition to the corpus of Advice for the Aspiring Young Economist.
You are 34% geek
You are a geek liaison, which means you go both ways. You can hang out with normal people or you can hang out with geeks which means you often have geeks as friends and/or have a job where you have to mediate between geeks and normal people. This is an important role and one of which you should be proud. In fact, you can make a good deal of money as a translator.

Normal: Tell our geek we need him to work this weekend.


You [to Geek]: We need more than that, Scotty. You'll have to stay until you can squeeze more outta them engines!


Geek [to You]: I'm givin' her all she's got, Captain, but we need more dilithium crystals!


You [to Normal]: He wants to know if he gets overtime.

Take the Polygeek Quiz at Thudfactor.com

PRIME CUTS. Common Sense and Wonder takes up Cal Pundit's challenge to propose some federal budget cuts.
REMEMBER THE SABBATH DAY. Christopher D. Ringwald laments the passing of New York's prohibition of liquor sales on Sundays. Some history: "While the modern mind imagines coerced observance to be the only kind, many colonists found rest and renewal on Sunday. Eventually, New Englanders congratulated themselves for keeping the best Sabbath in all Christendom.

Drinking was a particular target, even in the less religious, and more profit-minded, Dutch colonies along the Hudson River. Kieft first prohibited immorality and immoderate drinking on all days and then restricted Sunday liquor sales, which provoked unrest and led to his recall. His successor, Peter Stuyvesant, further limited sales to between mid-afternoon and 9 p.m. But Dutch colonial authorities, and later English ones, found their zeal tempered by New Yorkers' resistance to moralizing. Religious ideals and popular appetites seesawed for centuries.
"

Now, for the rest of the story. Mayflower Compact signer Stephen Hopkins was probably the first resident of North America to be fined for selling beer in Plimoth on Sundays. But in order for Stephen Hopkins to sell beer on a Sunday, there has to be a backslid Puritan who wants to buy beer on a Sunday.