30.6.04

CARNIVAL OF THE VANITIES NO. 93 is on Capitol Hill at Quasi in Rem.
THERE OUGHTA BE A LAW. Never fails. Some people want to sleep in on weekends or go to bed early. Others find that to be a good time to fire up the lawnmower, weed whacker, or leaf blower. Noise ordinances exist, and some will be amended.
QUIS CUSTODIET CUSTODIES?
Top legislative leaders and the governor rallied Tuesday around a proposal to fire all nine members of the state agency that oversees hospital expansion and construction amid an investigation into projects it is weighing.

The proposal, introduced by House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago), was made as the Illinois Health Facilities Planning Board undergoes scrutiny by state and federal officials looking into pending decisions on whether new hospitals can be built in the southwest and northwest suburbs.

Isn't that the basic behavior of regulatory commissions, to generate rents and dissipate them, and isn't that going to tempt the crooks?
Several influential lobbyists with close ties to powerful Democrats have been hired in recent months by Edward Hospital and other health-care firms with interests in expansion projects, even though state law prohibits lobbying of the health-care board. Some lobbyists said they worked only until applications were filed with the board. Rules governing the board prohibit communication with individuals on the board once a formal application is filed.

Is the public interest really served by a hospital cartel?
STEAMBOAT ROUND THE BEND.
And so the day wore on. We watched for eagles on the bluff, blew the boat's horn in the traditional one long, two short bursts to greet large crowds in Cassville, and in Guttenberg, Iowa, and points in between, and admired the steam engine Milwaukee 261 when it clattered noisily by on the Iowa side carrying land-based excursionists.

When the Anson Northrup unexpectedly ran out of water - oddly enough a crisis even when surrounded by it - we made an emergency pit stop in Clayton, Iowa, where the volunteer firemen brought a tanker to save our bacon. The boys at Bill's Landing Bar & Grill will be talking about that one for a while.

Steam trains rule. More here.
KEEP 'EM ROLLING. Amtrak's budget request goes to Congress.
While Amtrak carried a record 24 million passengers in fiscal 2003, it still operates money-losing routes, most of them in the nation's heartland.

Supporters of enhancing long-distance rail service point to growing congestion in the skies and on the nation's roads, where more than 40,000 people die in accidents each year.

The federal government spends more than $35 billion on highways and more than $15 billion on civil aviation each year.

The Bush administration, eager to reduce Amtrak's federal funding to about $900 million a year, has proposed cutting up Amtrak into smaller pieces and allowing private investors to operate profitable routes.

David Gunn, Amtrak's chief executive, said, "We have been able to control operating expenses for the first time in a while."

About 3,400 jobs have been eliminated, reducing Amtrak's workforce to about 20,000 positions. Over the last two years the railroad's infrastructure also has been upgraded and its rolling stock modernized.

Amtrak's 2005-09 strategic plan counts on federal assistance averaging $1.65 billion a year.

"We desperately need an appropriation that is near $1.7 billion," Gunn said. "If you don't get it, the ability to restore the system to a good state of repair is jeopardized. We are approaching the moment of truth for Amtrak."

That's consistent with what Mr Gunn reported last week.

The corridor development is also as he reported, with these additional developments.
Illinois, Wisconsin and Michigan have already acted to fund additional service and infrastructure improvements for higher-speed rail service in the future. Illinois spent $83 million to upgrade the Union Pacific Railroad's Chicago-St. Louis line where Amtrak operates, according to IDOT.

Wisconsin broke ground on Monday for a train station that will offer service later this year on Amtrak's Hiawatha line to Milwaukee's Mitchell International Airport.

The Hiawatha line operates seven round trips a day between Chicago and Milwaukee. A federal matching grant would enable extension of service to Madison.

The Mitchell Airport station represents a new station for Amtrak, not a reuse of a steam-era stop. It also puts some Chicagoans closer to Milwaukee's Mitchell Field timewise than it does to O'Hare, and it will bring to five the Chicago area airports served by rail. But to use Amtrak for Milwaukee-area commuting? That's a bit of a stretch. On the other hand, in the early days of Mitchell Field, which were in the last days of the North Shore Line, only the two Wisconsin Division local cars in each direction called at Grange Avenue. The new service would be more frequent. On this map, the North Shore Line ran along the east side of Sixth Street.

SPOT ON
http://coldspringshops.blogspot.com may explode without warning
M
EXPLOSIVE

Username:


(Hat tip: Joanne Jacobs.)

29.6.04

WHY I'M NO FAN OF CONSENSUS. Cass Sunstein:
Return here to NASA, whose failures have been partly a product of a culture that disfavors dissent. In fact, group polarization is a pervasive problem in government circles, where like-minded officials often end up holding a more extreme version of the view with which they began. Surowiecki offers the example of the Bay of Pigs disaster, in which President Kennedy's advisers squelched their private doubts and developed unjustified enthusiasm for a ludicrous invasion plan predicated on the absurd thought that twelve hundred people could unseat Castro and take over Cuba. Is it too speculative to suggest that the current problems in Iraq are partly a product of group polarization within the executive branch--and that those problems could have been anticipated if the White House had had a better process for aggregating privately held information?

That's part of a much longer -- and worth reading in its entirety -- essay (hat tip: Milt Rosenberg, who has more time to do online research with the Choke-cago Cubs blowing leads on Extension 720's time) on circumstances under which the wisdom of crowds beats the wisdom of experts.

Professor Sunstein spends a lot of time on markets, which ought not come as a surprise. Markets exist to resolve disagreements. We have markets for goods such as desktop computers, where sellers can disagree on their vision of what a desktop computer ought to do, buyers can disagree over the use to which the computer ought to be put, and the price is a sufficient statistic that rations the right to sell to those who are willing to accept that price -- or less, and rations the right to buy to those who are willing to pay that price -- or more. Where there is less room for disagreement on the end use, as might be the case with some sub-assemblies of the disk drive and is certainly the case with a pin-length piece of brass wire, the market will not be as effective at resolving disagreements.

Fads -- which in econ-speak go by the less normative sounding name of "information cascades," are one possible consequence of decision making with too much deference to experts. Back to Professor Sunstein:
The problem with information cascades is that group members are likely to do far worse than they would if everyone disclosed his or her private information. By pointing to the dangers of bad cascades, Surowiecki signals the importance of starting with a "wide array of options and information" and of having at least a few people who are willing "to put their own judgment ahead of the group's, even when it's not sensible to do so." Much of the time, Surowiecki writes, groups do best if their members pay little "attention to what everyone else is saying."

Gee, there's an idea ... the Therapeutic University as information cascade. Well, I'm on sabbatical, and that might be more sexy than the basic oxygen furnace as an information cascade. Developing ...
THE VILLAGE IT TAKES. Abigail Thernstrom:
In the last five years, in searching for superb inner-city education, I made a discovery: Almost all excellent schools teaching highly disadvantaged kids look very much alike - and quite different from most regular public schools.

These schools combat what Harvard sociologist Orlando Patterson has called "the greatest problem now facing African Americans." And that is "their isolation from the tacit norms of the dominant culture." His statement is really the academic version of Bill Cosby's recent remarks in which he talked about black parents who are not parenting and about kids who can't speak standard English and who will be shut out of the world of economic success.

This is how the best inner-city schools I know address that "isolation from the tacit norms of the dominant culture." In addition to an academically superb program, they demand that their students learn how to speak standard English. They also insist that kids show up on time, properly dressed; that they sit up straight at their desks, chairs pulled in, workbooks organized; that they never waste a minute in which they could be learning and always finish their homework; that they look at people to whom they are talking, listen to teachers with respect, treat classmates with equal civility, and shake hands with visitors to the school.

These are skills as essential as basic math. Without them, disadvantaged children cannot climb the ladder of economic opportunity.

But such schools cannot be created within the normal structure of public education. It is no accident that those I came to admire were all charter schools; their principals needed the authority and autonomy to shape a distinctive education. And such schools cannot function unless teachers and families have chosen to be there - with the understanding that they will be asked to leave if they choose to reject the discipline and dedication that the principals demand.

I suppose one could spend some public money on reform schools, rather than on school reform.

There is a spirited discussion of the Thernstrom essay going on at Joanne Jacobs's place, where I found the article.

Meanwhile, the Silent Generation hand wringers at Northern Illinois University continue to look at the wrong end of the pipeline.
DeKalb’s community presents a difficulty in changing the university’s ethnic trend, said Ivan Legg, executive vice president and provost.

“I came from Memphis, and we had no trouble recruiting African-American faculty because Memphis is almost 50 percent black,” Legg said. “When I came to DeKalb for an interview, I was overwhelmed by how white this area is.”

After arriving in DeKalb three years ago, Legg said, he set his sights on diversifying NIU’s faculty.

“Understanding each others’ backgrounds and cultures is very important to having a successful community experience. Having a diverse faculty adds to that educational mission,” he said.

“One of the most important issues that has an impact on diversifying the faculty is creating an environment in which a diverse faculty feels comfortable,” Legg said.

Creating such an environment requires stronger recruitment of minority faculty, sociology professor George Kourvetaris said.

“Association bulletins should be published and distributed more widely among graduate students across the country,” Kourvetaris said.

Kourvetaris said he agrees that the problem in the past has been that there was little community for black people in DeKalb.

Legg said it would help to try to recruit more professors from farther away.

“The recruiting process has to be proactive,” he said.

Of the new hires among ranked faculty in 2003, 26.4 percent were minorities, and 9.4 percent were black.

Legg emphasized the importance of keeping diversity in mind beyond simply new hiring.

“There are two things you have to deal with: recruitment and retention. One of the most important issues is making sure that once they’re here, they stay,” he said.

While 26.4 percent of the newly hired faculty are minorities, 17.4 percent of all ranked faculty are minorities.

“If they come to NIU, they don’t want to stay,” Kourvetaris said.

“If you create an environment in which a diverse faculty feels comfortable, they’re more likely to stay with you. That has an impact on your recruiting because the word gets around, and it becomes a welcome place of work to a diverse faculty,” Legg said.

Let's walk this cat backwards. Perhaps the deferred maintenance and the crowded classrooms, not to mention the niggardly merit raises, might have some bearing on these figurers. There are other universities still being run by Silent Generation relics that are engaging in similar expense-preference behavior, and some of them might have more money for maintenance, smaller classes, and merit raises. Furthermore, to the extent that the private sector is embarking on similar cosmetic initiatives, it is competing in that same pool of degreed professionals. But that pool has to be stocked with young people. To the extent that the young people who have the ascriptive characteristics the Silent Generation relics wish to hire are young people who place no value on book-learning, the pool will be less well stocked. The solution, long term, is to bring up the young people in the right way, say, starting at econ camp -- the sports camps are also possibilities -- get them thinking about university -- and get some of those to think well of the place as undergraduates AND to interest them in solid doctoral programs AND to entice them to jump on the tenure track here once they've finished their Ph.D.s
SPECIAL ASSESSMENT. It's deja vu all over again, notes King at SCSU Scholars, picking up coverage of Senator Clinton's visit to San Francisco.
"Many of you are well enough off that ... the tax cuts may have helped you," Sen. Clinton said. "We're saying that for America to get back on track, we're probably going to cut that short and not give it to you. We're going to take things away from you on behalf of the common good."

It is not unknown for the directors of a private club to have a special assessment on the membership to pay for some permanent improvement, and that might be a less unpleasant way for Senator Clinton to phrase her intentions. But the onus is on her to demonstrate that the money -- her husband referred to it as "contributions" -- her slate of directors raised was in fact spent wisely.
MEME OF THE DAY:
I have been working for a neat company - but one where the management acts like ferrets on crystal meth.

That's Mitch at Shot in the Dark, who is having a bad day at the office.
CARNIVAL OF THE CAPITALISTS calls at Egoist.
USEFUL IDIOTS HAVE HIT THE ROAD. Public Affairs finds this visit on June 28 to be newsworthy:
The Pastors for Peace 15th Caravan to Cuba will roll into DeKalb at 7:30 p.m. today. The DeKalb Interfaith Network for Peace and Justice invites the public to First Congregational Church to meet the Caravanistas and hear how Pastors for Peace successfully challenges U.S. restrictions on travel and aid to Cuba.

No word on whether a Venceremos Brigade recruited volunteers to cut sugar cane.

28.6.04

THAT GRAND FICTION. Kerry volunteer subscribes to one system of belief about taxation. James Lileks subscribes to another. King at SCSU Scholars has that story, and yet another, about what is seen and what is unseen.
FREE RIDE. Does it come as any surprise that if you offer to build exclusive rights-of-way for trucks and then charge the trucks for their use, the truckers might be leery of toll-lanes idea? Duh.

On the other hand, such a proposal just might raise the rate of return on rail investment sufficiently to make investment in additional freight train capacity worthwhile.
PERFECT PRICE DISCRIMINATION. USA Today has been investigating the truth behind rising college tuitions. The truth is, nobody knows. One university president, not in the running for the deck of cards, tells tales out of school:
King Alexander, president of Murray State University in Kentucky, wants the world to know how many universities set tuition prices. It works like this:

1. The university raises its official tuition price.

2. The higher tuition qualifies many students for bigger federal and state grants, which are passed on to the school.

3. The university writes a "scholarship" to cover the rest of the tuition hike, so many students don't actually pay more.

"It is a shell game, pure and simple," Alexander says. "A lot of schools set tuition prices to maximize grant money and then use institutional (financial) aid -- which isn't real money -- to set the real tuition."

Alexander estimates that 28% of the 10,000 students at his public university in Murray, Ky., would get more aid if it raised its official tuition price and then gave scholarships as discounts.

Surprise. What the government subsidizes, it gets more of. If it subsidizes "not charging list price," Nobody. Pays. List. Price.

Cui bono?
For most students, it's a lot cheaper to go to a four-year public university today than it was just six years ago.

Congress and state legislatures have flooded middle-class families with tax breaks and grants that pushed financial aid -- excluding loans -- to a record $49 billion in 2003. That's $22 billion more than in 1998. Result: The actual amount paid in tuition and fees at four-year public universities fell 32% from 1998 through 2003. At private colleges, aid limited tuition increases to about 1% a year during the period.

The misconception that college is becoming less affordable starts with a misunderstood number: tuition price.

The published cost is like the most expensive seat on an airline: Few people pay full price. Still, the sticker price is crucial to the complex, secretive pricing strategies in higher education.

Federal Pell grants, the nation's biggest financial aid program for college students, distribute $12 billion annually based on a formula that increases grants when tuition is higher. Many state grant programs also do this.

There are encouraging signs, however:
But that's not the only reason advertised tuition prices are on the rise.

High tuition carries prestige, especially at top schools, and huge scholarships are a powerful tool to attract students. Private schools have used this strategy for years.

"The private-school model is based on 'perceived value,' and high tuition makes people think a school has a lot to offer," says James Garland, president of Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.

Miami University, a well-regarded public school, will move to the private-school tuition model this fall: a high list price and big scholarships. The university raised in-state tuition to match out-of-state tuition, $19,718. It then will give students from Ohio automatic scholarships of $5,000 to $6,200 to make up the difference.

Why not just charge less for tuition? Garland says the high price makes students realize the value of their education. Despite the tuition hike -- or perhaps because of it -- the university received a record 15,000 applications for 3,500 spots in the next freshman class.

I'm not sure about this "perceived value" argument, especially in light of accumulating evidence that the premium to a university degree is not that sensitive to the status of the school, particularly over longer time intervals, say 20 to 25 years. And is there any difference between charging out-of-state applicants $19,718, in-state applicants $14,718, and offering some applicants grants or work-study opportunities of up to $1200? I'm skeptical about too many people staying too stupid for too long. Either way, you're engaging in something approximating perfect price discrimination.
Garland says the private-school model lets colleges charge wealthier students more and use the money for extra aid to low-income students.

The nation's most selective schools always have been aggressive about raising published prices to maximize what they receive from wealthy students.

The concluding paragraph of the article discovers something that has been around for a while.
Mark Yudof, chancellor of the University of Texas system, says legislators now prefer that higher-education subsidies go to students and families rather than directly to universities. He says government support for higher education is being refashioned into a national voucher system: Students have generous government education benefits that can be spent at any school.

"We're subsidizing college education today through the tax system and grants, rather than through aid to universities," Yudof says. "Higher education has been converted into an entitlement program for the middle class."

An accompanying article raises the equity question that follows such a policy.
Merit aid is unpopular among some academics who study tuition costs. They say rewarding the best students, who tend to be affluent, diverts aid from the needy.

On the other hand, encouraging students to "work their butts off," as another person quoted in the story puts it, is worth doing.

This article is rather breathless about the findings, noting
"College still takes a big chunk out of most families' income. But the average student is much better off today than headlines would have you believe," says Sandy Baum, an economist who co-authors an annual report on college costs for the College Board, which oversees college entrance exams.

USA TODAY analyzed what students paid for tuition and fees after grants, discounts, tax credits and deductions. Other studies focus on the listed price of tuition. But listed college tuition is like the sticker price on a new car: Few people actually pay it. In 2003, students paid an average of just 27% of the official tuition price at four-year public universities when grants and tax breaks are counted. Students at private universities paid an average of 57%.

We have known for some years that government financial aid for college has been an upper-middle-class subsidy. No surprise here, notwithstanding this.
The most affluent taxpayers -- 1.5% of returns are for incomes above $200,000 -- do not qualify for tax breaks, but many benefited from big increases in grants that reward academic performance. Schools have increased merit aid to recruit the best students, who tend to be affluent. And since 1993, 14 states have started merit-based scholarships to reward students who achieve good grades in high school.

The poor have benefited from increases in federal Pell grants from $6 billion to $12 billion since 1998.

But the biggest beneficiaries have been middle-class families earning $40,000 to $100,000 a year. They get the most tax benefits and often qualify for financial aid based on both need and merit.


SECOND SECTION: Read this.

RUNNING EXTRA: The Sports Economist observes,
What is missing from Stephen's otherwise excellent commentary is the positive incentive effect that this has on university administrators. They're being taken off the dole, and are now forced to compete. More than before, at any rate.

True, up to a point. There still is an element of third-party payment moral hazard at work. To the extent that vouchers make potential students or their parents less price-sensitive, the administrators are free to exercise more market power. We also have to know what preferences the students are acting on. These vouchers might be subsidizing Jacuzzi U and other creature comforts -- not a new problem -- rather than additional computer connections, journals, or smaller classes.

For an even more skeptical take than mine, go Over the Rainbough.
I suspect all this other new government aid will have the same impact on universities nation wide. The government has demonstrated that when the price of tuition goes up the they will give out more money, and the average financial burden on individual students will go down. Why not take this to it's logical end. First we will have every student needing and/or using some financial aid to pay for college tuition. Next the average student will only pay for half of their college tuition. Soon after this will become the case for all students. Eventually the average student will pay nothing for college, and will rely entirely on financial aid, and finally this will expand to every student. A college education will be "free" to every student in America. Meanwhile the quality will not have increased a bit and the cost per student of college tuition will be many times what it is today.

By redistributing the cost onto those not attending they create the perception that the cost of tuition hasn't really changed at all. Consequently no one notices when we do not get an increase in quality in return for the rising expense of tuition. I can tell you one thing; if the quality of education in Georgia has gone up since the inception of the HOPE scholarship it is in spite of it, not because of it. HOPE has created a perverse incentive structure, where students are encouraged to take easier classes, and professors are encouraged to make their classes too difficult to pass (students drop the classes they have already paid for rather than risk lowering their grades and losing HOPE, then have to take another class instead).

So yes college tuition is "soaring out of control," but most students are being paid not to notice. Soon mediocrity will be free for everyone courtesy of Uncle Sam.
WHAT'S SHAKING? The Sandwich Fault Zone. Sorry, your Superintendent slept right through it.
CLANG, CLANG, CLANG GOES THE TROLLEY. The Hiawatha Corridor streetcar, erm, light rail line opens in the Twin Cities. Live from the Third Rail illustrates.

27.6.04

COMPENSATING DIFFERENTIALS? Good school superintendents are hard to find.
Local school officials say there simply aren't that many people willing to take a job requiring such extensive certification, education, hours and aggravation.

"People look at the demands of the job and say 'I don't want to do it,'" said Sycamore Superintendent Bob Hammon, who has been the highest paid superintendent in DeKalb County for the last six years. "You might be a little crazy to get into this business in the first place."

Hammon said he regularly works 10-11 hour days, not including evening meetings and school events that can be happening as many as five or six nights a week.

There are a lot of regular rank teachers who have similar demands on their time, who don't get paid that kind of money.
Beilfuss also contended that superintendents are now expected to spend more time involved with the community and that the job itself has become far more "political."

The Illinois Association of School Boards Director of Governmental Relations, Deanna Sullivan, points to an "aging superintendent population" as one reason behind the shortage of qualified superintendents.

In addition, requirements of the No Child Left Behind federal legislation, as well as state certification requirements, mean superintendents have to meet certain professional guidelines proscribed [c.q.] by government.

OK, EARN those large salaries. Step up and take some risks. Point out the fantasies of No Child Left Behind. Push for repeal of the civil rights and disabilities legislation that has become a refuge for disruptive students. Fire the diversity boondogglers, hand-holders, and assessors of the obvious. Tell the Colleges of Deaducation that their untested theories are not welcome in your district until there is solid evidence that they will work. Let the parents know that their children will be shipped to reform school if they don't shape up, held back if they don't measure up, and ready for university or trade school if they do both, and back that up.

Spare me the wishful thinking.
Joe Wiegand, a DeKalb County Board member and head of an organization critical of high education spending, said those government requirements inject an artificial pressure into the job market for superintendents.

"The market is compromised by barriers to entry," said Wiegand, who works for the Family Taxpayers Network and is a former Republican candidate for the state legislature.

He advocates privatization of public education as one way to let market forces operate more purely and thus bring the costs of education down.

OK, ask the Legislature to repeal some of those mandates. That will be easier to bring about than the privatization. And privatization will be no panacea if the privatized schools are subject to the same niggling by the same Coalition of the Weenies that has taken the backbone out of the government schools.
Since the late 1990s, there has been a state-mandated 5 percent cap on increases for school administration costs generally, according to Luke Glowiak, assistant superintendent for business affairs for the Sycamore School District. Included under that rubric would be superintendent's compensation.

There is also a bill pending in the General Assembly that is intended to limit superintendents' pay increases in the final years of their contracts by making districts responsible for a portion of their pension costs related to such big pay increases.

The bill was introduced after media reports of large salary increases for some superintendents that were designed to pad their state pensions, which are based on salaries during final years of service.

Oh, and do some research. Perhaps buying out the worst performers early is a good investment. I discovered that a fund-raiser for the University of Wisconsin had little trouble raising the money to buy out an underachieving -- I'm being kind -- football coach. (You could look it up: details -- the price comparison site appears to be hiding.)
TRADITION. The Rose Bowl and the other games ought to stand as is, but the College World Series has to be changed. The Sports Economist has the story, as well as a challenge. This is amateur sport, nicht wahr? It has nothing to do with winning, or with money.
QUOTE OF THE DAY.
Ted Koppel was determined to read the names of 700 American servicemen who have died in Iraq to remind us how serious was their loss. Michael Moore has dedicated his film Farenheit 9/11 to the Americans who died in Afghanistan. And they did a land office business. But at least they didn't get to show Sadr's miliamen dancing around a battered Humvee. The men of the First Armored paid the price to stop that screening and those concerned can keep the change.

Belmont Club has more, as well as a Compare and Contrast with the liberation of Grozny. Or was it the liberation of Berlin, Grozny is still not liberated? It was not about the liberation of Vicksburg, I can be sure of that much.
TRADE-OFFS?
Make the best case that you can that raising the minimum wage to $7 and hour will have a high benefit/cost ratio but that raising the minimum wage to $17 an hour will not.

That's at Econ Log, inspired by Donald at Cafe Hayek, who has drawn criticism from someone who remembers the marginal factor cost curve above the supply curve.

There will be a quiz on this later.
SPARE SOME BOOKS? Particularly in the experimental sciences and maths? The Baghdad University library might appreciate them. (Hat tip: Insta Pundit.)
WE MIGHT LIKE TO READ IT. Bill Howard has some suggestions for preparing presentations that are well presented. (Hat tip: Newmark's Door.)

26.6.04

PRAXEOLOGY, CATALLACTICS, METHODOLOGY. Deinonychus antirrhopus suggests that Austrian-styled economists, fond of referring to market processes, study evolutionary game theory. With references.
INTO THE AIR, JUNIOR BIRDSMEN. Insta Pundit has been following commentary on Space Ship One.
LET'S SEE, IS THAT 2.2 KILOS PER POUND OR .... Joanne Jacobs provides some context.
THE ENRON OF THE PUBLIC SECTOR. Thus did Amtrak's CEO, David Gunn, characterize Amtrak's accounting methods prior to his arrival. This remark came toward the beginning of his presentation to the Central Electric Railfan's Association in Chicago Friday evening. Mr Gunn assures us that Amtrak now accounts according to Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (tm), and in better news, recognizes that Amtrak is a railroad, and as such ought to have a Mechanical Department, a Transportation Department, and an Engineering Department, and it once again has these, rather than a lot of fancy-sounding titles that give no clue what responsibility -- if any -- the holder has. And there was a lot of irresponsibility. When he arrived, there were people who could tell him how much money the railroad spent on ties or on rail, but not HOW MANY ties or HOW MANY MILES of rail were installed -- if in fact they were installed, and some new ties apparently were dumped trackside but never installed on the Harrisburg line. Oh, and the Acela Express was designed by a committee -- something for East Coast readers to keep in mind the next time one of them breaks down. Future high speed trains will be designed with the ability to vary the consists so as to be able to run 10 car rakes at peak times. The possibility of a control trailer coach replacing one of the two locomotives remains open.

Mr Gunn made an observation that business gurus would do well to keep in mind: when the management makes sense, the employees are happy to cooperate.

This was a presentation to an audience of railfans, and the talk turned to developments on the operating side of things. Amtrak is apparently more aware than any one of the major railroads how serious the capacity crunch is on the railroads ... heck, if you visit the Northern Illinois weather cam there is a good chance you will see a stopped Union Pacific freight train ... and that will affect Amtrak as the railroads, despite their best efforts to run more trains, are still not earning sufficient return to finance track improvements, and accordingly seeking to concentrate more traffic on fewer tracks. The capacity situation is not much better on the competing modes, which, despite some government funding, are also at capacity with the trust funds still held hostage to the deficits. (Tell me about it. One can get from Mendota to the Woodfield Mall at Schaumburg, a distance of some 75 miles, almost as fast as it takes to go the six miles from Woodfield Mall to Des Plaines Hobbies.) Amtrak might have half of the paying passengers on the Washington-New York run, but the airlines, railroads, and buses are still hauling only a small fraction of the total traffic, the bulk of which continues to fume and be fumed on I-95.

With state support, some new corridors are emerging, including Philadelphia-Harrisburg, soon to be improved, Charlotte-Raleigh, which might surprise some readers but North Carolina's taxpayers are putting money into upgrading the tracks and improving the stations, Chicago-Milwaukee-Madison, for which I will be publishing a benchmark standard in the near future, Chicago-Springfield, which has received a bit of Illinois money but there is more to be done, San Diego-San Luis Obispo and San Jose-Sacramento via Oakland and Berkeley, and Seattle-Portland.

Presidential politics enters Amtrak's funding, although in strange ways. Mr Gunn noted that the Clinton administration "felt our pain" but didn't spend any money; the Bush administration would like Amtrak to go away, but has so far funded their requests.

Oh, and that idea to put additional station facilities in the Farley Building across Eight Avenue from the basement of Madison Square Garden? Fuhgeddaboudit.
THE WEATHER WAS BETTER TODAY. Northern Illinois University has been operating on a four day workweek during the summer session, so as to spend less on air conditioning. Thanks to the lingering polar jet aloft (no, this is not a plug for The Day After Tomorrow, panned here), they don't have to spend as much on air conditioning during the other four days either. The Friday closure means, if there are Kodachrome skies, there is no reason not to witness the passage of super 4-8-4 Milwaukee 261 through Mendota, Illinois as part of the Grand Excursion commemorating a century of steam navigation on the Mississippi River -- and the legal conflict of the river boaters with the railroads over bridging rights, something that involved a lawyer called Abraham Lincoln.

Big steam still has the ability to bring the kids to trackside, including the bigger kids.

24.6.04

SEX FOR THE STUDENTS, PARKING FOR THE FACULTY, AND FOOTBALL FOR THE ALUMNI. The Northern Illinois University Parking Office has managed a two-fer, using a football theme on the latest faculty parking permits, and converting some of the metered parking spots close to central campus to faculty parking, a change that draws scorn from someone who was resourceful enough to find the flaw in the old schedule of tariffs and fines.
HAPPY ENDING. Ineffective teacher quits. Substitute comes in. Hard case kids scheme to make the newcomer's life miserable. Newcomer warns hard case kids that there will be consequences; follows through. Newcomer becomes department chairman, with a pay raise. Number 2 Pencil, who reports this story, comments only, Yay! *does cartwheel*
IVY TECH: Newmark's Door notes that universities "reluctantly try to prepare liberal arts majors for actual jobs." He links to a New York Times article that tells the story. Or does it? Read the paper. Try not to choke on your coffee.
N.Y.U. is one of a growing handful of colleges and universities taking this approach; still others are talking about it. After years of sending students out for internships to give them a taste of a possible career, college officials are beginning to look for ways to turn their faculty and classes to bolstering the career prospects of their liberal arts students.

The phenomenon takes many forms. Some universities, like the University of Southern California and Columbia, are letting students take career-oriented classes in their professional schools - classes on finance or public health, for example - and giving them academic credit. N.Y.U., which already allowed liberal arts students to take courses in its professional schools, is now also letting students take classes at its School of Continuing and Professional Education to provide even more specialized vocational classes. Colgate will be offering introductory career courses during vacations. And the University of Virginia, which had offered a postgraduation immersion program in business in the summer, began offering similar courses during the school year last fall. (Students pay extra.) But while some see these courses as a sensible extra that will ultimately help protect the liberal arts degree, some liberal arts educators vehemently oppose the idea of trying squeeze professional training into students' schedules.

Anthony Marx, the president of Amherst College, said that if students had more time they should "go deeper into the liberal arts, because that is the seed corn of an intellectual life and informed citizenship."

"To dilute the power of the liberal arts with premature professionalism will deprive our society of the thoughtful leadership it needs," Mr. Marx added.

President Marx is correct, but perhaps he is complicit in the dissolution of general education that has brought about the current state of affairs. Go here to judge for yourself whether
a solid core curriculum in higher education has gone the way of the dodo. At a time when most colleges endorse the importance of a general education—a set of courses required of all students—in fact, colleges have virtually abandoned a solid core curriculum in favor of a loose set of distribution requirements. As a consequence, college students are graduating without the basic knowledge that was once considered the hallmark of a liberal education.

Rather than attempt to expand the college course to five years, why not agree on some core ideas and get everybody involved in it?

My question is not simply political posturing. There has been some research on teaching effectiveness that suggests the "cafeteria" approach to something called "distribution requirements" does not really enable students to make connections among different disciplinary approaches to problems. Related research suggests that students more capable of making connections do better when it comes time to earning promotions. That business degree might get you in the door, but you might not move up as far.

So what is the state of affairs? A few years ago I participated in a program at Northern Illinois University to enable professors teaching general education courses to work with colleagues in other departments in order to set up a few such connections. There is a bit about that initiative still available on line. Go here, click "Highlights," and open "Plan One."

Here's where we were as of the summer of 2000:
Faculty members in different disciplines worked in three- or four-member teams to identify and effectively link their respective general education courses with the particular themes. The summer program also featured presentations by invited scholars, which included in-depth discussions of issues, strategies, and resources for general education transformation through thematic linkages. Subsequent workshops have drawn more and more faculty and are now a continuing part of college planning.

As of 2000, this initiative was continuing, but it appears to have been Overtaken By Other Events since then. Perhaps that contributes to my skepticism about new initiatives from the university administration. Things get started with a great deal of enthusiasm, people put in a lot of hours they could be spending on their research or other work or taking some downtime, and things then ... vanish.
LEADING INDICATOR? Shot in the Dark wants tres tacos, por favor.
The local Taco Bell has a huge "Help Wanted" sign in the window, offering $8 an hour to start.

Inside the Taco Bell, I could find nary a single native speaker of English behind the counter, save for a very harried-looking assistant manager.

Those are the sorts of wages Taco Bell was paying before the Clinton Recession started.

Which was sometime after the summer of 2000. I stopped at a Taco Bell near a rehabilitation hospital in Milwaukee in late June of that year and I'd guess they'd hired a number of the staff from the patients, which is a welcome development. If you seriously kicked out all the illegal immigrants, what effect would that have on the service economy of the midwest?
THE EVALUATIONS PUZZLE. Eric Rasmusen has a lengthy post on the use of student evaluations as determinants of tenure and pay increases. Herewith the guts of his argument:
Why, then do we rely so heavily on student evaluations? It is hard to believe that professors and administrators do not realize how weakly they measure the amount a teacher has taught his students. Even if they did not, if good teaching was the objective, surely we would pay some attention to the syllabi and what kind of tests were given and use objective evaluators-- students or faculty observing single class sessions-- which we do not do in any serious way. Rather, I think that "good teaching" means "contented students" for the people who rely on student evaluations. Student evaluations are indeed a good way to measure this. And it is a reasonable objective. Administrators are trying to sell a product, and if you view the student as a customer rather than as someone to whom you have a moral obligation, you want to design a product that he wants. The student will likely want a course that has a low workload and gives him a pleasant feeling of accomplishment while being described as difficult course on an advanced topic. Professors have incentives similar to administrators-- it is more fun teaching contented students, and while it is quite difficult to know how to make students learn (I know that after 20 years I still don't know when I have succeeed and when I have failed, or even whether I, as opposed to the students' own efforts, make much difference), it is much easier to figure out how to make students pleased.
Where might it lead?
This question will have growing importance. Why, indeed, do we have people with PhD's, or people who have scholarly credentials, teaching at all? If student satisfaction is the key, universities should hire cheaper teachers who know more about presentation than they do about substance. And, indeed, maybe teacher quality is unimportant, and this would work out fine.

The comments section, however, can be useful, although the limitations of the medium come out. Consider a few suggestions from my most recently finished semester.

From a public utilities class offered to upperclassmen and Master's students:

No term paper for non-economics majors.

Sorry, Writing Across the Curriculum is one of the university initiatives I can endorse.

Don't understand how the paper can be worth so much of our grade without giving us any direction. I felt homework questions were open ended.

I felt homework answers were often superficial and scored them accordingly. As the evaluations are anonymous, I don't know whether this is from someone who was genuinely lost or someone looking for an easier ride. Likewise, as the paper was preceded by an outline and a first draft, I don't know whether this was from someone who wanted more direction or from someone who felt overworked. The comment might also be a statement about the lack of prior training in writing in college and in the common schools; for many of these students this was their first, last, and only paper.

Criticism on homework and paper was almost all negative need to employ some positive criticism for areas of improvement. Be more specific of [cq] what you want in final paper.

Again, the anonymity makes style changes a bit difficult ... if this is from someone who wasn't doing the work (we have a few of those) such a person is unlikely to earn many gold stars, on the other hand if this is someone still learning the ropes or of a more sensitive nature there might be some things I can do.

From a required microeconomic theory class for first-year graduate students:

However, I feel as though (whether this is real or imagined on my part) that you take some kind of personal satisfaction from intimidating those who are unsure of their abilities. If this observation seems terribly fallacious or hurtful in anyway, my apologies. An additional suggestion: work on your godfather impression ...

There is a Principle of Comparative Advantage. Marlon Brando does not teach economics. Completion of the argument is left to the reader as an exercise. This is graduate school. It's business, the Academic Ninja chops notwithstanding. Suck it up.

This class uses the wrong book. For expectations to be met for this, class material in [Jehle and Reny's text] does not provide the rigorous intuitive arguments that this professor demands. Homeworks are not only too difficult, grading can be completely discouraging.

The problem of finding a suitable textbook continues to vex me. I'm not sure there is anything intended for graduate students that is sufficiently demanding to equip students to be able to read Econometrica. I get paid to grade assignments, and it would be easy enough for me to design assignments that everyone could master, which would be much easier to score, but that is not what a graduate program does.

I understand we do not need to be "spoon fed" the material and should be able to learn some on our own. However, we are still learning the basics and do not know the tricks or see the connections as quickly as he would like. These skills come with experience and have not had time to be developed.

You'll learn 'em faster if there are consequences for not learning them.

I am still searching for that textbook, and the department is still learning how to incorporate writing throughout its major.

22.6.04

IT'S UGLY BUT IT GETS YOU THERE. Live from the Third Rail comments on the aesthetics of Space Ship One.

Volkswagen was clear on the concept in 1969.
LEVELING THE PLAYING FIELD? The Sports Economist links to journalism investigating school district wealth and sports championships. Money, apparently, can buy success. But perhaps there's more:
How does wealth produce championships in a public education system which mitigates differences in school expenditures? My sense is that a form of social capital is responsible for the correlation between wealth and success. Parents in the wealthier districts spend more time monitoring their kids participation, and donate more cash to the cause. Facilities are better as a result. Their kids are expected to participate in extra training at camps in the summer, so their skills and experience increase. In addition, two critical ingredients are mobile, and will tend to locate in wealthier districts, all else constant. Better coaches will seek complentary inputs (facilities, support, and talent), as will better athletes, rich or poor: "many top athletes are recognized at an early age and recruited to private schools and travel programs for kids as young as 8 and their expenses are taken care of."

There is more than money that separates prosperity from poverty, in the office or on the field.
BLURRING THE BOUNDARIES. President Bush himself is not sure whether to be Strong Father or Nurturant Father:
"[T]he role of government is to stand there and say, 'We're going to help you.' The job of the federal government is to fund the providers who are actually making a difference."
News source via Andrew Sullivan. Of course I'll respect you in the morning.
MORE ON THOSE BELIEF SYSTEMS. Doc Searls has additional thoughts, and additional links, on the polity as family metaphor.

21.6.04

STEALTH POLICE CRUISER. Northern Illinois University's police are using hybrid cruisers. (Does that put a new twist on "black and white?")
LEVELING THE PLAYING FIELD? Fewer resources for educating gifted students, who appear to be at elevated risk of dropping out account boredom.
WHY NOT REPEAL THE PUBLIC UTILITY HOLDING COMPANY ACT? The Milwaukee area transportation summit is June 22.
What's drawing the participants to the $75-a-person, all-day conference at the Hyatt Regency Milwaukee is a much larger issue: The multibillion-dollar gap between the costs of the roads and public transit services that officials and citizens say they want and the cash available to pay for those transportation improvements.

Toll roads in the Illinois style? Not an option. Hybrid vehicles, diesels, and gas-sippers? Less dough for the Highway Trust Fund. Property taxes? Burdensome already. Special tax districts? A possibility.

Once upon a time, the power companies built railroad tracks and transmission lines in the same corridor. The purpose of building the railroad was in some cases to secure the franchise to deliver the power, some of which was provided via trolley pole to the railroad cars. And to keep those trolleys busy on weekends, sometimes the power company would build an amusement park at lineside. Chicago's Ravinia and Pittsburgh's Kennywood come to mind; the Pewaukee Yacht Club occupies space near another such amusement park.
WE REPORT, YOU DECIDE? I submit for your consideration the lede of an Associated Press poll as picked up by the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel:
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Most Americans say Ronald Reagan, who died this month, will be remembered as a better president than Bill Clinton, who is trying to improve his image with a new autobiography, according to an Associated Press poll.

Erm, do we know that President Clinton is trying to improve his image? Might he simply be out for a buck? Might he simply be writing his memoirs because, well, some of the public expects that prominent personages write their memoirs?

As far as the substance of the poll, here are the details.
Some 83 percent of those questioned said they have a favorable view of Reagan as a person, according to the poll conducted for the AP by Ipsos-Public Affairs. The former president completed his two terms in office in January 1989.

A majority of 53 percent said they have an unfavorable view of Clinton while 41 percent rated him favorably. In January, people were about evenly divided in their view of Clinton as a person.

Asked whether Reagan or the current president, George W. Bush, will be remembered as a better president, 76 percent said Reagan and 12 percent said Bush. Three-fourths of Republicans said Reagan, about the same margin for Democrats and independents.

The editorial comment follows.
Although stocks soared and the deficit fell during Clinton's tenure, many Americans associate the Democrat with the marital infidelity that nearly toppled his presidency, impeachment by the House and the Senate vote that saved him. Women were slightly more likely than men to have an unfavorable view.

"People give Clinton credit for the economy, but what happened in the White House was so morally reprehensible that people hold his personal behavior against him," said Robert Shapiro, a political science professor at Columbia University. "When people make the comparison, they see a big difference between the two men."

Reagan often gets credit for the end of the Cold War, even though former President George H.W. Bush was in office when the Soviet Union collapsed. The military buildup during Reagan's eight years and pressure on the Soviets are cited as contributing factors in the demise of the superpower.

Time also had a bearing on opinions. Reagan had been out of office for 16 years, long enough for some to forget the low points of his presidency - the Iran-contra scandal, budget deficits and the visit to the German military cemetery at Bitburg, where Nazi SS troops were buried.

Apparently there is still work for economics professors, and the schoolteachers who do the college preparation. Presidents, ever since at least Herbert Hoover, have borne more blame and taken more credit for macroeconomic performance than they deserve.

The remark that follows is priceless.
Andrea Parron, of Harmony, R.I., a self-described "bleeding-heart Democrat," said given the choice of Clinton or Bush, "I'd take Clinton back in a heartbeat. But I would kick him in the groin so he could keep his mind on business."
TOUCHDOWN. The Scaled Composites space plane achieved its altitude target and landed safely in California. Sure looks like a ME-163, but if memory serves, the company that built this spacecraft has been developing a modern version of the ME-163 with a less dangerous fuel.

SECOND SECTION: The test flight was not without its tense moments. Scaled Composites' own release has more details.

As one might expect, Transterrestrial Musings has some, well, transterrestrial musings.

My reference to the ME-163 might not be completely accurate. Here is the X-COR replica, here an ME-163 omnibus site from Occupied Europe, and here an interview with Herr Goering's rocket test pilot.
SEEKING WHITEWATER DEVELOPMENT? Captain's Quarters has picked up Wall Steet Journal commentary on the Swedish policy study noted here. I had promised to do more research on this think-tank during the weekend, but with better weather than forecast, the research had to wait. Today is a rainy day. I will have more to say. For now, check out the roundup at Memeorandum. Researchers might wish to note the disclaimer at the Timbro:
Founded in 1978, Timbro is the think tank of Swedish enterprise. Our mission is to advance an agenda of reform based on our core values – individual liberty, economic freedom, and an open society.

Ya, py golly, ve call Cato Timbro.
WE HAVE SEPARATION. The lift plane has returned to base. The suborbital vehicle is expected back in a few minutes.
QUOTE OF THE DAY:
Modern education generally provides only the negative impulse, the impulse to distrust: an unfledged cynicism full of bluster but empty of real substance. This impulse is peculiarly treacherous, and cunning propaganda will readily conquer it; for the skepticism inculcated by modern education will rarely include a distrust of one's own emotions (the doctrine of original sin having been discarded) which comprise precisely the organ at which propaganda aims its contrivances. Moreover, to leave discontented the human hunger for belief in something, to provide no armor against the poison of despair, is simply to make vulnerable young minds. It is no accident that Nazism began as a student movement in an age of disillusionment; or that the ideologists of what Burke so memorably labeled "armed doctrines," together the greatest of modern scourges, bled the ground red with the blood of young skeptics and freethinkers.

Just the usual culture-war stuff? Not quite. Paul J. Cella continues,
It is fashionable in Conservative circles to vilify the universities; but as a fact this thing predates what passes today for Conservatism by a great many decades. In fact, most Conservatives today, for all their harangues against leftist academics, have largely bought into the philosophy from which this blunder I have just described descends. That philosophy goes by the name Utility; and they are with Locke and Bentham against men like John Henry Newman. Locke condemned the classical liberal education on the very familiar grounds that it failed the test of usefulness: "Can there be any thing more ridiculous than that a father should waste his money, and his son's time, in setting him to learn the Roman language?" Bentham enlarged the objection into an entire philosophy. And the modern critics of academe hardly offer a refutation. They denounce our schools on essentially utilitarian grounds; that is, they interrogate about practical results, but do not question ends. They charge the schools with failing to achieve their own ideals, and they expose many instances where professors replaced useful fact with useless cant. The universities are mistrusted because they are now failing to even lay a foundation of utilitarian information and method. This jeremiad, about the politicized university peddling ridiculous ideological gibberish, is all for the good as far as it goes; but it does not go to the heart of the matter. To the decline of the University, the critics of today answer that it does not pass the test of utility or practical usefulness. They do not answer as Newman did, resoundingly, that health of the intellect, like bodily health, is useful because it is good.

Read the rest.
TIME SERIES PROCESSING HAS BECOME CHEAP. Kieran at Crooked Timber has de-trended and de-seasonalized Crooked Timber's referral logs. The posts that generate the largest deviations above the mean path are identified, with annotations.

I don't miss the days of SMPL 1 100 $ and all the code that follows, although I could probably still keypunch such a program if I had to.
I'M SURE THEY'D NOT BE MISSED. Critical Mass has a little list of words she hates. Between her post, the comments, and linked discussions of the same topic, one ought to be able to compile a set of "Buzzword Bingo" (that's the nicer title) cards to add even more variety to a boring meeting.
STEP RIGHT UP. The Carnival of the Capitalists, with proper theming, calls at Blog Business World.
LIFT-OFF. At about 0648 Lima, the Burt Rutan space plane package took off. The carrier plane will take about an hour to reach launch altitude. I will be back with reports as they come in.

In the meantime, a challenge to policy wonks of a certain age who used to argue, "If we can put a man on the moon, we can (your pet project here.)" Within thirty years of the first powered flight, a famous football coach died in a plane crash. Within forty years, there was a presidential aircraft. Has the governmental monopoly on space exploration fostered or hampered development? Any readers remember when Pan American (remember them) was taking reservations for moon flights, which only happened in a Stanley Kubrick movie?

20.6.04

LIGHTEN UP? Anthropology and Economics discovers the Political Science of Father's Day. "Fixing things" is unflattering??
WHY TWO SYSTEMS OF BELIEF? David Brooks suggests that there are two aristocracies:
This year the Democrats will nominate the perfect embodiment of an educated-class professional. John Kerry graduated from law school and plays classical guitar. President Bush, however, went to business school and drives a pickup around his ranch. So we can watch the conflict between these two rival elites play itself out in almost crystalline form.
Soon to be homeowner Apartment 11-D suggests that the division by type is "too cynical." But the notion of two systems of belief -- for simplicity's sake? -- does not go away.

Some years ago, P. J. O'Rourke wrote,
I have only one firm belief about the American political system, and that is this: God is a Republican and Santa Claus is a Democrat.

God is an elderly or, at any rate, middle-aged male, a stern fellow, patriarchal rather than paternal and a great believer in rules and regulations. He holds men strictly accountable for their actions. He has little apparent concern for the material well-being of the disadvantaged. He is politically connected, socially powerful, and holds the mortgage on literally everything in the world. God is difficult. God is unsentimental. It is very hard to get into God's heavenly country club.

Santa Claus is another matter. He's cute. He's nonthreatening. And he loves animals. He may know who's been naughty and who's been nice, but he never does anything about it. He gives everyone everything they want without thought of a quid pro quo. He works hard for charities, and he's famously generous to the poor. Santa Claus is preferable to God in every way but one: There is no such thing as Santa Claus.

What does it say about the creativity of the human mind but that an academician can -- in all seriousness -- take Mr O'Rourke's satire and build models of political philosophy from a similar starting point? That is precisely what Berkeley linguist George Lakoff has done in Moral Politics: How Liberals and Conservatives Think (one of the six or seven books I've read through in the past week or two -- some people argue I parallel process these things with 3 or 4 books left open and upside down in a stack.)

Professor Lakoff models political belief systems with a family metaphor, expressed as

1. The Nation is a Family
2. The Government is a Parent.
3. The Citizens are the Children.

As a metaphor, this is likely to provoke argument from those who smell paternalism or The Best and the Brightest or sense a Fatal Conceit. But let's explore it with a similar caricature.

Professor Lakoff's metaphor for the conservative worldview is the Strict Father model of the family. In its extreme form, this is a man who insists on obedience from his wife and children, who lives by the maxim of "spare the rod," and who wants the kids out of the house and on their own as soon as that is practicable. His metaphor for the liberal worldview is the Nurturant Parent model. In its extreme form, the parent can be Mom or Mom and Dad, who encourage their kids to express themselves, even paying for the outrageous tattoo or body jewelry, and who don't mind if the kids come back after they're of working age.

I exaggerate, but only slightly.

My sense is that Professor Lakoff recognizes this as well. In one interview, he observes,
Well, the progressive worldview is modeled on a nurturant parent family. Briefly, it assumes that the world is basically good and can be made better and that one must work toward that. Children are born good; parents can make them better. Nurturing involves empathy, and the responsibility to take care of oneself and others for whom we are responsible. On a larger scale, specific policies follow, such as governmental protection in form of a social safety net and government regulation, universal education (to ensure competence, fairness), civil liberties and equal treatment (fairness and freedom), accountability (derived from trust), public service (from responsibility), open government (from open communication), and the promotion of an economy that benefits all and functions to promote these values, which are traditional progressive values in American politics.

The conservative worldview, the strict father model, assumes that the world is dangerous and difficult and that children are born bad and must be made good. The strict father is the moral authority who supports and defends the family, tells his wife what to do, and teaches his kids right from wrong. The only way to do that is through painful discipline — physical punishment that by adulthood will become internal discipline. The good people are the disciplined people. Once grown, the self-reliant, disciplined children are on their own. Those children who remain dependent (who were spoiled, overly willful, or recalcitrant) should be forced to undergo further discipline or be cut free with no support to face the discipline of the outside world.

But in another interview, the caricature begins to break down:
You have to be able to take care of yourself to be able to care for someone else. Being responsible means being strong, being competent, being educated -- taking your role very, very seriously. If you want to turn your child into a nurturer, then you want to make that child responsible to others, strong, capable, educated, competent, and so on. Then there are other values that follow from empathy and responsibility. One of them is protection. If you’re responsible for a child, and you care about the child, you want to protect her or him.

Some of the things that liberals want to protect children from are things like pollution and smoking, and cars without seatbelts, and unscrupulous businessmen -- the same things they want the government to protect citizens from. But they also want to protect children from other things like terrorists and invasions and so on. In fact, protection in general -- protection of the environment, for example -- is a major part of the progressive worldview.

It ought to come as no surprise that once one gets away from the caricatures, the battle lines will no longer be so clearly drawn. (Professor Lakoff is up-front about drawing those lines and taking sides: the book preserves as if in amber much of the academic establishment's anticipation for the Clinton presidency, 2002 second edition notwithstanding, and much pre-September 11 thinking about the role of the state.)

The research on child development that Professor Lakoff relies on quite clearly suggests that neither of his base models squares well with parenting methods that promote effective socialization of children. He cites work by Catherine Lewis that he suggests favors Nurturant Parent childrearing methods, and, by extension, Mommy Party policies. However, the model that emerges from psychological research is something called the Authoritative Model, which Professor Lakoff characterizes as

1. Expectation for mature behavior from child and clear standard setting.
2. Firm enforcement of rules and standards using commands and sanctions when necessary.
3. Encouragement of the child's independence and individuality.
4. Open communication between parents and children, with parents listening to children's point of view, as well as expressing their own; encouragement of verbal give and take.
5. Recognition of rights of both parents and children.

If your only objective is to demolish some advice that isn't peer-reviewed about the merits of spanking, it suffices to note that "'Firm enforcement' and 'sanctions' do not include painful corporal punishment." Fine, if you're writing a polemic. But "mature behavior" does not preclude expecting children -- per corollary, citizens -- to at some point be capable of standing on their own feet, and "independence and individuality" sounds positively entrepreneurial.

Professor Lakoff also notes,
[Professor] Lewis also shows that, if the "firm enforcement" part of the model is simply omitted from the pattern of behaviors studied, the results are essentially the same. This indicates that "firm enforcement" does not add anything to the model.

Not quite. I know just enough about model building to be dangerous, and I picked up the 90 Psychological Bulletin 547 (1981) and read Professor Lewis's article, which is a survey of previous results, not quite a full literature review and not a meta-analysis. As such, there is no "showing" to be appealed to. Furthermore, as "expectation for mature behavior" and "firm enforcement of rules and standards" are not orthogonal, and not well-specified (by the standards of economic modeling, other disciplines have other conventions) the possibility remains that either "expectations" or "enforcement" might perform equally well alone as explanatory variables.

Perhaps we ought to have more than two systems of belief in play at any time. Perhaps having better-posed models of those belief systems would also help.

19.6.04

FLYING NORTHWEST? VIA DETROIT? As usual, it's all fouled up.
FORM B, LINE NO. 9. Expect to find maintenance of way men and equipment working on the links list.
NOTICE OF EMBARGO. Insults Unpunished is standing down, possibly for some time.
NOTICE OF LINE RELOCATION. Jacqueline Passey has set up a new weblog for economics content only. It features an annotated link list. Go have a look.

17.6.04

TRAINS DON'T WANDER ALL OVER THE MAP. Houston drivers are still learning, the hard way, not to make left turns in front of the streetcars light rail vehicles. Nothing new here. Detroit drivers had a bad habit of lining up to make left turns too close to the tracks, which usually led to a lot of dented fenders. One Milwaukee motorist went so far as to sue the motorman of a North Shore Line train for failure to yield. The North Shore used the Sixth Street viaduct to enter downtown Milwaukee. At the south end of the viaduct, the street narrowed. One southbound motorist was racing to get ahead of the train, following the same course as the curb, and this motorist accused the motorman of cutting her off. The story is in the Spring 2004 issue -- the North Shore's general counsel had to bring the Roadmaster to court to explain that it was not possible to steer a train out of its tracks.
POLITICS MAKES STRANGE BEDFELLOWS. Live from the Third Rail discovers that Paul Weyrich views the highway program as misplaced socialism. Yup. Paul Weyrich got involved in politics as a twelve-year old, attempting to save the North Shore Line.
MARKETS EXIST TO EVALUATE RISKS. Tyler at Marginal Revolution discovers that one can buy futures contracts on celebrity marriages and divorces. (Are there straddles for the likes of Britney Spears or Jennifer Lopez? The mind boggles with the possibilities of butterfly spreads...) The New York Times have discovered an economist at Nevada-Reno who follows these things. (And still people persist in asking me about interest rates and stocks. Please. Sex. Death. Why the Lines are Longest at the Rollercoaster.) A cable channel that sponsors movie leaders has more.

I suppose it is progress of a century. We no longer have to stage train wrecks for voyeuristic pleasure, although we no longer have Scott Joplin (scroll down) to memorialize them.
IN PRAISE OF DIESELS. Tightly Wound trains up her son in the right away. There is a learning curve.
Funny thing about coal burning steam engines that we in SUV-saturated middle America tend to forget: coal burning steam engines produce a lot of black smoke with cinders, and those cinders are drawn to the human eyeball like moths to a flame. Or maybe they're just drawn to my eyeballs. It's hard to appreciate a lovely train ride through the mountains when coal particles are trying to embed themselves in your skull. Although the sensation of cinder-in-the-eyeball is definitely up there in the "unforgettable" category, it wasn't what I had in mind when I expressed the hope that our trip would be "memorable."
Ayup. Those riders with bandannas over nose and mouth, and goggles, are not the cast of the staged "train robbery." Those are experienced steam fans who know what accompanies that "I-think-I-can." A hint to steam fans in the west: oil burners produce liquid cinders.
DRESS FOR SUCCESS MAKES SENSE. Years ago, high school students challenged their schools' dress codes on political grounds. If memory served, some students wanted to wear black arm bands to protest the Vietnam war -- there were also some students who wanted to wear African-derived shirts as a manifestation of ethnic pride -- the upshot of all of this protest was at least one Supreme Court ruling that effectively gutted any dress code that could be construed as restricting political speech. As a consequence, t-shirts with slogans on them became de riguer -- and not necessarily for students only.

What happens when somebody wears a t-shirt with a slogan that questions the school's official orthodoxy?

Be careful what you wish for, you just might get it.

Critical Mass has picked up a story of a student who was offended by the school's official orthodoxy, and did something about it.
Chase Harper, a sophomore in the Poway Unified School district, was offended when his school recently participated in the "Day of Silence," a national event sponsored by the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network. GLSEN describes Day of Silence as “an annual, national student-led effort in which participants take a vow of silence to peacefully protest the discrimination and harassment faced by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) youth in schools.” About 300,000 school kids participate in the event each year. According to Harper and his lawyers, the school sponsored the event and administrators worked with the Gay-Straight Alliance, a student group, to coordinate it.

To protest his school's promotion of a viewpoint he, as a Christian, finds immoral, Harper commemorated the Day of Silence by coming to school in a homemade t-shirt protesting homosexuality. The next day, he did so again, wearing a shirt bearing the words “Be Ashamed” and “Our School Embraced What God Has Condemned” on the front, and reading “Homosexuality is Shameful” and “Romans 1:27” on the back. That's when the trouble began.

Harper's Christian friends warned him to lose the shirt, but he wouldn't. When school administrators found out about it, they attempted to "counsel" him into taking it off. A vice principal advised him that, in Harper's words, “When I come to school, I leave my faith in the car, and you should leave your faith in the car when it might offend others.” The principal initially told Harper that the problem was that he wore a homemade t-shirt to school, but he quickly came clean about what the real issue was: "It wouldn’t have mattered whether it was homemade or not," Harper reports him saying. "It’s your viewpoint that you’re expressing on your T-shirt that is offensive and inflammatory.” When Harper refused to remove the shirt, he was suspended.

Leave your faith in the car?? (Oh, that's a different rant. Sorry.) Does the school administration leave Mark 12:44 in the car? Matthew 19:24? Luke 6:37?

Apparently some kinds of offense are more offensive than others. As Ms. O'Connor notes,
It is not necessary to agree with Harper, or to like the way he chose to express his views, to see that what the school did was wrong. The irony of the case--that the school's attempt to promote mutual tolerance was really nothing of the kind, that its so-called promotion of tolerance was in fact an attempt to impose belief--is so rich that it hardly needs stating.

Is it time to seriously debate an Establishment Clause for schooling?

In related news, the Southern Baptist Convention have not pronounced anathema on government schools, as Joanne Jacobs reports.

Perhaps it is time to take the politics out of dress codes. The original intention of those was to socialize the young into dressing properly for work -- this was as true of blue collar workers as of white collar workers once the mines and factories began installing locker rooms and showers. Such rules also had the effect of damping the positional arms races -- Beatle boots (showing my age again), five dollar shirts with $20 alligators on them (thanks, Peter Benchley; I preferred penguins), basketball sneakers, bare midriffs, and body jewelry (don't do any experiments with Tesla coils, kiddies) -- that have detracted from the serious business of learning.
THE PLAYBILL. Carnival of the Vanities No. 91 pauses at Jessica's Well, and the latest Carnival of the Capitalists holds a homecoming at Accidental Verbosity.

15.6.04

DECORUM. Tim at Hit and Run suggests that queuing to view a deceased President ought to call for different standards of dress than say, queuing to ride Batman: The Ride.
TAKING INTEREST IN OTHER THAN BAD FOOTBALL. At Bucknell University, students and alumni are getting involved in alerting potential students and potential donors to selective morality on the part of Bucknell's administration, reports Critical Mass.
TOWN AND GOWN CONFLICT. Bob at Truck and Barter finds news of a City of Berkeley study concluding that the University of California is a net loss to the city's economy, although it provides spillover benefits to other communities. Further east, the Mackinac Center reports that the University of Michigan is a rather expensive way to subsidize the upper-middle class (long-time readers of Cold Spring Shops will recall this) and recommends that Michigan go private as a way of buying its freedom from legislative micromanagement relatively cheaply. (Hat tip: Newmark's Door.)
THE ULTIMATE IN PORTABLE MODEL RAILROADS? Tim at Where Worlds Collide discovers model railroaders who are not stodgy, including a lady who intends in best Goth style to put a layout in a coffin. But can you take it with you?
THE WAR AT HOME.
Until we eliminate the safe harbor and hard cash that people like Saddam Hussein provided terrorists like al-Zarqawi, we will be forced to the defensive and hoping that we can simply catch people we don't know going to places we're not sure to attack almost anything they can.

Captain Ed (via The American Mind) reflects on the capture of some bad guys intending mayhem in a shopping mall.

Will at Vodka Pundit reports on an intercept from the bad guys that includes,
If the militants fail to take over Iraq, ''we will have to leave for another land to uphold the (Islamic) banner, or until God chooses us as martyrs,'' the statement says.

He goes on to ask,
Why isn't this the lead story for every American network and newspaper this morning? Isn't it just a tad more important than Bill Clinton's book?
QUOTE OF THE DAY.
I believe the Liberal left continues to treat “we’re smarter than you” as their trump card. It is the fount of their scorn. It is proof of their political qualification. It is the argument that “proves” that they are right and “those bastards” are wrong. It was their charge against Reagan. It is their charge against Bush. This is one of the mightiest planks of their platform.

There are two problems here.

First, the charge of intellectual inadequacy absolves the Liberal Left from having to take the ideas of the Right seriously. It is indeed a way of arguing that the Right does not have ideas, that it is merely the mouth piece of vested interests. Ironically, the claim to intellectual superiority serves as warrant for an anti-intellectual act.

Second, there is a vicious circle at work here. When the Liberal left supposes that they are smarter, they underestimate the opponent. When they underestimate the opponent, they lose when they might have won. By insisting they are smarter, they give up a chance for victory.

The post is evidence that scholars who start on the left can in fact mature. It also exposes a "strategery" that both President Reagan and the current President Bush have used to good advantage, namely, letting their opponents "misunderestimate" them.

As far as that "we're smarter than you" trope goes, that and $5.00 will get you a Metra weekend pass. As Deirdre McCloskey puts it in The Vices of Economists - The Virtues of the Bourgeoisie (details or compare prices), "If You're So Smart, Why Aren't You Rich?" Her point is that if in fact there are great inefficiencies and other injustices in society that can be put right, there are plenty of incentives for individuals other than state actors to put it right. Social engineering, then, is a vice.

14.6.04

SOCIALIZATION. Former Chicago school superintendent Paul Vallas currently holds the equivalent position in Philadelphia. He likes the idea of observing a few of the traditional virtues. There are a few things he'd like to discourage.
Coming to school late. Not wearing the proper uniform. Bringing jewelry and cell phones and electronic gear into the schools. Using foul language, bullying and being disrespectful are all out. All those things. The bottom line is, we're not going to tolerate any of that stuff. But let's be clear, and let's communicate it to the students and parents up front. Let's be very specific about what we want, what we expect and what we don't want and what we don't expect.

He's rediscovered the merits of dressing for success.
Schools have become lax. You say, 'Great, you're wearing the school colors.' But the tops are like four sizes too small and the pants are four sizes too big. Or people are supposed to be in white shirts and black pants, so parents go out and buy their kids T-shirts that are five sizes too big - they go down below the knees. There needs to be more specificity. This is as much public education as it is enforcement. We think we'll get better behavior if we're more specific in what we want. If you raise the bar, children and parents will respond.

And he notes that contemporary fashion statements are, well, crude.
Shirts with collars. Pants worn correctly at the waist. Belts worn with trousers. Clothing that fits - not too tight, too big, too small, too short or too long. We just don't want to see your navel, and we definitely don't want to see your underwear.

Number 2 Pencil, who picked up the story upon returning from vacation, has some additional observations.

11.6.04

QUOTE OF THE DAY:
"Clinton had a lot of parties with celebrities, but [right after] his term, somebody flew two planes into the twin towers. What do you want -- somebody who keeps your children safe or somebody who throws nice tea parties?"
That's New Zealand's Rachel Hunter, who, despite living in Los Angeles, has not yet applied for citizenship. (Hat tip: The Corner.)
PROCESS, NUANCE, FAILURE. John Kass gets it.
We adopted Carter at our house. The consensus around the kitchen table was that Carter was a decent man. But we confused decency with strength.

The Soviets weren't confused. Carter was a hand-wringer.

Hand-wringers make fantastic equivocators and can rationalize bad behavior, explain subtle nuances, encourage other hand-wringers to increase the size of their bureaucracies. And hand-wringers can discuss all those shades of gray that the East Coast establishment keeps reminding us about in certain editorials.

But there's one problem. Hand-wringers know many things but don't believe in much. They're moral relativists. There is no right and wrong in them. Only those shades of gray.

And shades of gray can't lead human beings.

The Soviets figured Carter for a weakling and us for weaklings for electing him, and in a sense we were weaklings then. They moved in Central and South America, Asia and Africa and kept hold of Europe. And we didn't have the leadership to confront them or stop them.

But then came Reagan. He didn't care about satisfying the establishment by waxing on about shades of gray. He understood that there was good and evil in the world and that we weren't evil.

What he said.
This outraged the hand-wringers and the shades-of-gray crowd. It enrages them still, which is why they're so eager to diminish him, to peel him, even in death.

And what happened in the world?

They call it freedom. They call it the American Century. They don't call it the Soviet Century.

Thank you, President Reagan.

Here I stand, I can do no other.