31.1.05

A STUDENT ATTITUDE SURVEY. I am once again teaching a junior level course on the economics of public policy and as was the case in the fall 2002 and fall 2003 semester I borrowed two survey questions from the National Association of Scholars. I again modified a couple of the questions from the poll. First, I offered the statement, "Here are several examples of business practices that are generally regarded as good. Which one of these business practices would probably rank as the most important?" This year, 16% (7 of 44 responses) chose "recruiting a diverse workforce in which women and minorities are advanced and promoted." Not much change from the 5 of 35 in 2003 or the 3 of 30 in 2002.

The modal choice was "providing clear and accurate business statements to stockholders and creditors," with seventeen, or 39%, compared with thirteen, or 37.1 percent, in 2003, and half the class a year ago. Enron and World Com fade. Six people chose "minimizing environmental pollution by adopting the latest anti-pollution technology and complying with government regulations," up from three in 2003 but down from the quarter of the class that selected it in 2002.

I wonder if we have an indicator of local conditions. In 2002, one respondent chose "avoiding layoffs by not exporting jobs or moving plants from one area to another." The figure rose to eleven in 2003 and fell to nine, a smaller share of the class this time. Five were not sure.

I also offered the assertion, "The only real difference between executives at Enron and those at most other big companies, is that those at Enron got caught."

Three respondents strongly agreed, 22 (half the class) agreed somewhat, nine disagreed somewhat, five strongly disagreed, and five were not sure. That's not much change from the previous surveys.
THE QUOTE OF THE DAY. Thinking you're hot stuff isn't the promised cure-all.
High self- esteem in schoolchildren does not produce better grades. (Actually, kids with high self-esteem do have slightly better grades in most studies, but that's because getting good grades leads to higher self-esteem, not the other way around.) In fact, according to a study by Donald Forsyth at Virginia Commonwealth University, college students with mediocre grades who got regular self-esteem strokes from their professors ended up doing worse on final exams than students who were told to suck it up and try harder.
Here I stand, I can do no other. (Via Milt's File.)
THEY ARE BEGINNING TO CATCH ON. The use of local funds to finance school districts has long violated principles of horizontal and vertical equity. A Constrained Vision has linked to an interesting lawsuit brought by the Alliance for School Choice (as .pdf).

The legal basis of their case is the fundamental right of parents to control the education of their children, the equal protection guarantee of the 14th Amendment, and Chief Justice Earl Warren's declaration in Brown that "[The opportunity of an education], where the state has undertaken to provide it, is a right which must be made available to all on equal terms."They point out that the system of funding schools with property taxes results in fewer resources for students in poorer districts, creating a system of unequal education.

Furthermore, residence-based school assignment allows wealthier families to move into better school districts, but the assignment rules restrict other families from attending those schools. Tax subsidies for buying a new house exacerbate the problem. They add that the state's restrictions on charter schools, including funding them at a lower level than other public schools, also inhibits the freedom of parents to control their children's education.

Libertarians making common cause with egalitarians, forsooth!
NETWORK EXTERNALITIES. Villainous Company has been following a recently released study of sexual dynamics in a high school. There is still a lot of self-disclosed "going steady," a good bit of serial monogamy, and something resembling the plot of Peyton Place, all carefully diagrammed.
I'LL NEVER LACK FOR WORK. John Fund at Opinion Journal comments on a Rush Limbaugh speech on immigration policy.
I spoke with Mr. Limbaugh backstage before he discussed immigration at a private meeting of 400 leading conservatives here. He told me his comments had been prompted in part by a wire story he had read that morning quoting Mexico's Foreign Secretary Luis Ernesto Derbez as saying his country might turn to international courts to block an Arizona law, passed by voters in November and taking effect this week, that bars illegal aliens from welfare benefits and requires proof of citizenship and a photo ID to vote.
There is a reason nations retain their sovereignty. Does Mexico really want to further discredit the "international institutions" in the eyes of many U.S. citizens? But let's think carefully about where President Bush might be going.
Rush has 20 million listeners a week, so if he decides to attack President Bush's plan to regularize immigration flows through a guest-worker program, he could help kill the idea. The president told reporters last week that he plans to make a guest worker plan a "priority," so last Friday he was peppered with questions about it at a private retreat for GOP congressmen at the Greenbrier resort in West Virginia. "Family values do not end at the Rio Grande river," Mr. Bush told the lawmakers, while assuring them his plan was not a backdoor amnesty program.
There is no conflict between such a plan, whether viewed as amnesty or not, the intended Arizona policy, and the legitimate national security concerns of Members of Congress.
Last month, Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin, the House Judiciary Committee chairman, held up passage of the bill revamping the nation's intelligence services until he got a promise that his colleagues would fast-track a bill that would make it harder for a foreigner to claim political asylum in the United States, impose strict national standards for driver licenses and strengthen border enforcement this year.
So far, no conflict. The point of work permits for hog butchers, lawn mowers, and floor scrubbers is to make their entry through legal channels easier. Stronger border enforcement does not preclude more careful inspection of those work permits, as well as more careful screening of applicants for driving licenses.
Immigration is certainly more complex than many border-control advocates would have you believe. But supporters of rational reform that would regularize the flow of immigrant labor should recognize that it must be accompanied by measures to address the legitimate concerns of Americans who worry the federal government has completely lost control of the borders. Many voters don't trust any plan coming out of Washington, whether it's by Mr. Bush or anyone else. It's that concern that is driving Rush Limbaugh and other supporters of the president to send up political warning flares.
Presumably legal channels of entry for the hog-butchers and the like would go through customs stations rather than across Arizona ranches or trackless wastes. The presumption would then be that illegal crossers making the use of smugglers or hiding in grain hoppers would be up to something other than seeking work. This problem is very close to theoretical work I am completing with a March 23 deadline in mind.
MORE COACHING CLICHES. Fatigue catches up to women’s hoops in 2nd overtime.
"I’m not blaming anything on the officiating, but it’s tough when one team shoots 27 [free throws] and one shoots eight," NIU coach Carol Hammerle said. "That’s just part of playing on the road."
Um, it's not as if the team consists of jaded freshmen contending with the hassles of a required course. Didn't the coach recruit players and teach them how to implement the defense without committing fouls?
CARNIVAL CALL. This week's Carnival of the Capitalists calls at Ashish's Niti. Looks like lots of linkable stuff there.
KARLSON GETS RESULTS. Gable [c.q.] Hall pool to reopen after lengthy closure.
Repairs cost school less than $5,000 after pool sprung a leak.
Kudos to the physical plant people, and I revise this snarkiness accordingly.

30.1.05

FOURTH TURNING ALERT. Anti-war generation watches its children go to war. The concluding paragraph clarifies.

Pat Phillips, 48, says he trusts his daughter and respects her right to make choices as an adult.

"My only concern is that she is making the choice for the right reason, because she wants to go, not because I went and her brothers."

Pat Phillips, who returned from Afghanistan last year at this time, says it has been fascinating to see soldiers his children's ages and compare them with the men and women he served with at the beginning of his military career in 1974.

"We went in for something to do," he said. "These kids today, they are on a mission. I think they're more like their grandparents than their parents. They remind me of soldiers who went in right after Pearl Harbor. They are very directed, very clear in their focus and what their obligation is to their country. We had peace and love and all of that. These kids have Sept. 11. It did something to them."


HERE'S A FINGER IN YOUR EYE. Day By Day:



Let's start the post roundup with The Mesopotamian.
I bow in respect and awe to the men and women of our people who, armed only with faith and hope are going to the polls under the very real threats of being blown to pieces. These are the real braves; not the miserable creatures of hate who are attacking one of the noblest things that has ever happened to us. Have you ever seen anything like this? Iraq will be O.K. with so many brave people, it will certainly O.K.; I can say no more just now; I am just filled with pride and moved beyond words. People are turning up not only under the present threat to polling stations but also under future threats to themselves and their families; yet they are coming, and keep coming. Behold the Iraqi people; now you know their true metal. We shall never forget the meanness of these bas…s. After this is over there will be no let up, they must be wiped out. It is our duty and the duty of every decent human to make sure this vermin is no more and that no more innocent decent people are victimized.

My condolences to the Great American people for the tragic recent losses of soldiers. The blood of Iraqis and Americans is being shed on the soil of Mesopotamia; a baptism with blood. A baptism of a lasting friendship and alliance, for many years to come, through thick and thin, we shall never forget the brave soldiers fallen while defending our freedom and future.
Hammorabi has observations
One woman was crying because she can not reach the requested polling station to vote!

In many parts the police helped citizens to take them with their cars to the polling stations!

As we expected the enemies of God and freedom send their mentally retarded cockroaches in some suicidal attacks.

On the top of our privileged today are those who were killed in their way for voting. Their names should be perpetuated for ever! Their names should be written in Gold in Al-Fordos Square in Baghdad!
as well as a comment on totalitarian "elections"
No more 99.99 % in Iraq!

This is the figure of the Arabs' dictators except Saddam!

He used to get 100%!

Surprisingly those who voted for the master of the mass graves are abstaining now!
There's an encouraging anecdote at Iraq The Model (hat tip: Winds of Change).

The first thing we saw this morning on our way to the voting center was a convoy of the Iraqi army vehicles patrolling the street, the soldiers were cheering the people marching towards their voting centers then one of the soldiers chanted "vote for Allawi" less than a hundred meters, the convoy stopped and the captain in charge yelled at the soldier who did that and said:

"You're a member of the military institution and you have absolutely no right to support any political entity or interfere with the people's choice. This is Iraq's army, not Allawi's".

This was a good sign indeed and the young officer's statement was met by applause from the people on the street.

The streets were completely empty except for the Iraqi and the coalition forces ' patrols, and of course kids seizing the chance to play soccer! We had all kinds of feelings in our minds while we were on our way to the ballot box except one feeling that never came to us, that was fear.

We could smell pride in the atmosphere this morning; everyone we saw was holding up his blue tipped finger with broad smiles on the faces while walking out of the center.

There are too many roundups for me to catalog all of them. Andrew Sullivan, Instapundit, and PoliBlog, natch. Dan Drezner has a relatively recently opened thread. No Oil for Pacifists has been busy. A Constrained Vision suggests several sources.

Villainous Company presents an organization chart for the three branches of the new Iraqi government. Keep in mind, this election is to set up a constitutional convention, to further refine that organization chart. The coalition and the interim government are attempting to collapse into two or three years a number of structural changes that took the thirteen colonies six years to work out after Independence, and another 75 years to further refine.

There are, of course, naysayers. Mitch at Shot in the Dark has identified some of them, as well as offering a proper response to the worst among those.
News flash, Ollie; this is the right thing. The Iraqis are getting a fairer election, it seems, than the people of Milwaukee, and value the opportunity, turning out in amazing numbers, more than most Americans
Tapped have apparently gone skiing in Vermont for the weekend.

29.1.05

IF YOU CAN'T SAY ANYTHING NICE? The priest-in-residence at the Chicago Sun-Times, Rev. Andrew Greeley, offers a backhanded compliment to the election in Iraq.

Those of us who bitterly oppose the war in Iraq must hope and pray that the Iraq election is a success and that a strong and credible government will emerge from it. Even if we believe that the president's goal of establishing democracy in Iraq is madcap fantasy, we must still hope and pray that it can be done. Only if there is a semblance of an effective government will American troops begin to withdraw. The president must be able to spin the illusion of victory before he can announce the end of American occupation ...
One wonders what the good father would have written had he been observing the American War of Independence.

Though it is unlikely, it is still legitimate to hope that democracy can be imposed on Iraq. Of 20 Arab countries, none are democratic according to the standards established by Freedom House. There seems to be a contradiction between Arab culture and democratic governance -- any kind of democracy, much less American- style democracy. In Iraq the problem is compounded by the conflicts among the various tribal and religious groups in the country. Especially unpromising is the majority Shiite determination to wrestle power away from the Sunnis who have dominated Iraq for most of its existence.
Let's rephrase that. Try "there seems to be a contradiction between commoner behavior and self governance. Especially unpromising is the freeholder determination to wrestle power away from the planters who have dominated the colonies for much of their existence." Yes, that wrestling match was deferred for a few years, and costly when it came.

The constitutional convention to assemble in Iraq over the summer will have the opportunity to avoid some of our mistakes. The Shia parties seem to have some notion of an Establishment Clause, and the lunacy on the other shore of the Shatt-al-arab is something Iraqis of all faiths can observe and avoid. But perhaps the good father has never preached a sermon on Matthew 9.

God Helps Thofe Who Help Themfelves.


It might serve him well to review Matthew 6:1 as well.
A democratic Iraq is the last remaining justification for war, now that the administration has been deprived of weapons of mass destruction and Iraqi complicity in the World Trade Center attack. Democracy in Iraq would not justify the war but it would at least mean that all the deaths were not completely in vain.
What difference is there between a priest who gives the talking points of the ancien regime and a priest who reads the San Francisco Democrats' talking points? This commentator has long deplored the grim calculus by which some of our young people die overseas in order that we may be safer in our own homes. This commentator has long maintained that he would prefer not explain to his nephew why he must pray with his butt in the air and his nose pointed in the general direction of Cudahy, Wisconsin because a few purists insisted on beyond-courtroom-grade evidence. (If he converts of his own that gives no cause for objection. Pay attention to the compulsion.) Mike at Cold Fury (via InstaPundit) does a better job of identifying the multiple causes of war than I can. Do go there, and then do consider Rev. Greeley's cravenness.
A WITCH HUNT IN DEKALB? Two members of Congress are asking Northern Illinois University to review its connection with an adjunct faculty member who has a history of criticizing a "Holocaust industry," most likely with respect to the investigation of Ukrainian nationals for collaboration with Nazis.

The adjunct faculty member, Myron Kuropas, is retired from the DeKalb public schools. His area is Foundations of Education, a field with a suitably murky description. There is no evidence that Mr Kuropas has used his status as an adjunct academician to make an unscientific or unpopular appeal, or that he is using his course as a forum for Holocaust revision.

Who else would the right honorable gentlemen like the University to review?

Additional developments will be reported as warranted.

RUNNING EXTRA. A publicist for Northern Illinois University, and the dean of Education, both note that Mr Kuropas's views on Jewish-Christian dynamics in Ukraine and the former Soviet Union do not intrude on his work as an historian of education.

At NIU, where Kuropas is teaching two undergraduate classes and one graduate class this semester, officials drew a distinction between what he teaches and what his political views are.

"It would appear that his views are his personal views," said university spokeswoman Melanie Magara, and "not related to his employment at NIU."

Education Department Dean Christine Sorensen said there was no indication that Kuropas brought his politics into the classroom.

"He's always had good evaluations from students," she added.

Magara said there had been no complaints from students that Kuropas had made ethnically insensitive remarks.

Sorensen said that after news reports were published about his allegedly anti Semitic past statements, Kuropas apologized to her for "the uproar" and said he was not anti-Semitic.

She said his direct supervisor, Wilma Miranda, had a more extended conversation with him about the publicity. Miranda did not return phone calls for comment Thursday.Asked if Kuropas' political views made any difference in his employment status at NIU, Sorensen said, "at this point, probably not."

The President of the university also, correctly, notes that Mr Kuropas has not been exploiting his stature as an academician to make an unscientific or unpopular appeal.
On Friday, NIU released a letter from [President John] Peters to the congressmen that said the university "does not condone anti-Semitism or discrimination in any form" but pointed out that Kuropas was not hired to teach "any courses related to Ukrainian history or that would require him to express any viewpoint related to Ukrainian history."
That is the position of the office of public affairs as well.
The university could do a thorough review of statements and writings by Kuropas in the past, [Ms Magara] said, but there is not enough of a connection between Kuropas' private affairs and his teaching at NIU to warrant that.
A letter to the editor of the local paper suggests Mr Kuropas has been identified as a foil for the disappointed opposition.

For years he was involved in Ukrainian-Jewish community dialogue, often a trying chore.

I must ask if you made any attempt to investigate who sparked off these allegations against Dr. Kuropas and why? Did these unfounded allegations not, in point of fact, originate from a few disgruntled Ukrainian-American supporters of the Democratic Party, intent on discrediting the Republicans by picking on Dr. Kuropas, who is widely known to be a life long Republican?

Perhaps it is no accident that Representatives Emanuel and Waxman have been extreme loyalists to the Clinton Administration as well as noisy critics of the Bush Administration.

NOW YOU ARE BEGINNING TO CATCH ON. Illini or Huskie discovers the secret of doing economics.
CURIOUSER AND CURIOSER. Professor Tufte from Southern Utah has provided a correction to Thursday's post on the parallel experience political scientist Stephen Roberds has had at North Alabama and Southern Utah. King at SCSU Scholars has more linkage.
RULES AMENDED IN BLOOD. Last October, I reminded readers of the consequences of a failure to expect a train coming on a track obscured by the train that is passing closest to you. Apparently there have been enough accidents involving people ducking behind one train only to have too close an encounter with another that on Chicago's Metra, the crews are sounding the horn as they approach the far end of a train on an adjacent track as additional warning to line-crossers waiting for that train to pass them.
MORE ON SUBSIDIZING SLACKING. Paul at Electric Commentary suggests that the ingratitude of subsidized students toward their subsidies is not unexpected.
However, all of these contributions and subsidies to the college experience probably have something to do with students skipping classes. After all, what is their incentive, other than altruism, to not waste other people's money. This outcome is expected in a situation where students have largely been relegated to the role of free-riders (or at least cheap-riders).
Quite so, and a logical corollary to the proposition that textbooks command higher prices and receive more frequent revisions because somebody else is often picking up part of the tab.

Among the comments to King's original post (thanks for the props in the update) is one from a lawyer that has some relevance to the faculty's problem.
I require my clients to take an active part in their defense/prosecution of claims. If a prospective client blows off an appointment, as just happened, I won't allow him to retain me. Can't take a client who is casual about his time or mine. I bet you wish you could do the same with students who don't take you seriously.
I'd like to have more such power. The Northern Kentucky policy is a step in the right direction. For too long, professors have given too much and asked too little, sometimes out of genuine concern for our charges, sometimes with a little prompting from administrations concerned about retention. (The notion that retention is a function of preparation which can be evaluated before admission has not yet registered in some administrative circles.)
COUNTERBATTERYING. About noon my time the news broadcasts were reporting an attack on the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, with fatalities. The news broadcasts are now reporting that the troops had sufficient assets to identify the launch site and chase the perps in real time to a nearby house where they were captured. That's a long way from crouching in a hole in front of the line looking for the 88s.

RUNNING EXTRA. PoliBlog followed the story carefully, and his post has a number of trackbacks to other followers.
-.. . . ..- -... _ -. --. .... . .. . -..-. In December, Joanne Jacobs noted the deleterious effect of pager notation on memoranda and other formal correspondence. A student was recently impertinent enough to send a message in that form to me.

how nice u r!!

using the shift key is my choice.

not urs.

My response: any further emails not expressed in standard English would be acknowledged, or not, at my discretion.

The pager notation is a modern version of a shorthand used by railroad telegraphers, years ago. The title of this post reflects my true reaction to such use in emails and memos. Decoding is left to the reader as an exercise.
SIXTY YEARS AGO. Soviet troops overran an abandoned prison and factory complex near Krakow that the world would later know as the Auschwitz-Birkenau. IsraPundit (via Photon Courier) has a collection of remembrances.

Sgt. Karlson's unit has been chasing the Germans out of Luxembourg and Belgium.

27.1.05

IT'S BEEN A HARD DAY'S NIGHT. Sorry for the sporadic free ice cream. We've had four job talks in the past eight days, with two more to come, and thus far all the presenters have been promising scholars. There's a stack of homework problems to evaluate and some derivations to keep working away on. But the prelims are done and the hammer has been dropped where required.
SUBSIDIZING SLACKING. The powers that be at St. Cloud State decided to begin the spring term on a Thursday (!?) You know the incentive that sets up.
Most students simply stayed out through the weekend and wandered up earlier this week.
Northern Kentucky University has adopted a policy, which has the Superintendent's endorsement, under which students who do not show up for the first week of classes may be removed from the course rolls. That prompts one miscreant to object.
I have never been a fan of the attendance policy. This isn't because I have bad attendance myself, but because I have never agreed with the university having the right to dictate to the students how many times they may miss class without consequence.
Stick around. You are about to witness a Group Fisking(TM). Jonathan at Cliopatria, of the Northern Kentucky faculty, starts it in the university paper.

First, let me respectfully point out to Mr. Dressman that every student who attends NKU is subsidized to the tune of about 50 percent of costs. These funds come from state funding, the campus endowment, grants, donations and the like. Think of this as an automatic scholarship provided by the fine people of the Commonwealth of Kentucky, along with people from a host of organizations, corporations and alumni groups who have seen fit to invest in NKU students. They do so because they believe that a liberal arts education is good for both the individual and the wider community. Students are not simply customers; they are also the product.

Further, Mr. Dressman needs to be aware that he is attending an institution that was built with money other than his own. Current tuition only helps maintain the facilities and services that others generously helped to establish. When you cut class - missing class for a good reason is another matter - you throw away not only your own money but that of the generous people who helped to build this campus. That is a rather ungrateful thing to do.

Professor Reynolds is being rather kind. The miscreant's ingratitude includes ingratitude to others less well off, or perhaps less capable, who nonetheless pay taxes to make those partial scholarships possible. I have the advantage of also being able to point out to such gripers that under the Principle of Derived Demand, the consumers are really the graduate schools and the employers. A griper stupid enough to use the "I'm buying a grade argument" on an economist is generally unprepared to answer that. But there's more. Professor Reynolds also notes,
Hiring a teacher isn't just hiring somebody to help you learn, it is also a process of hiring someone to make you learn. Think of us as very demanding personal "brain trainers." We are here to get your flabby cerebral cortex off the couch and whip it into a lean, mean, critical-thinking machine.
He was kind enough not to lay some additional smack on the miscreant, who is genuinely asking for it. (What's that Texas line? He needed Fiskin'.)
To me this university has one job: provide the means to get an education and help people grow and learn. The teachers have one job: to teach and give students a good education. They should not be allowed to dictate our attendance. We pay to be here. You don't. This should be kept in mind.
Not. Wednesday night, Milt Rosenberg hosted Emory historian Patrick Allitt, shopping his recent I'm The Professor, You're The Student (it's late, I'm just grabbing Professor Rosenberg's link.) Emory is one of those places where some students believe they're buying a prestige credential: during the interview Professor Allitt observed that the most students could be said to be buying was the "opportunity" to obtain such a credential, but the onus was on the students to earn that credential. And part of the growth the miscreant is seeking is having sufficient life management skills to show up for your appointments. The worst the professor can do is give the student an empty transcript or some failing grades.

The Donald says, "you're fired."
IT'S MORE FUN TO OBSERVE THE THROWBACKS. George Will has weighed in on one prominent academician's reaction to Harvard President Larry Summers suggesting that there might be sex differences in learning skills.
Is this the fruit of feminism? A woman at the peak of the academic pyramid becomes theatrically flurried by an unwelcome idea and, like a Victorian maiden exposed to male coarseness, suffers the vapors and collapses on the drawing room carpet in a heap of crinolines until revived by smelling salts and the offending brute's contrition.
OK, are we any closer to working the problem? Everybody feel better?

JMPP has done some more useful work, unearthing research linking sub-anemic iron deficiencies to diminished brain function. Perhaps there ought to be some new Popeye cartoons in which Olive Oyl eats the spinach and then dashes off a proof of the Fermat theorem that fits the margin of the page.
PSEUDOSCIENCE. Good news on the radio tonight: the trustees at Florida State voted not to set up a college of chiropractic. The newscast specifically mentioned professors using the "P" word to describe the practice. University Diaries has a bit of coverage; FSUblius has yet to weigh in (is he hoisting multiple Sprechers? Or is Coach Sue's team playing tonight?)

The Superintendent awaits similar plain-speaking about environmental studies programs that use worst-case (high-sigma, low p, long t) global warming scenarios as consensus forecasts, and the embrace of astrology in Womens' Studies gatherings.

Amusingly, FSUblius's most recent post (as of 2200 CST) reeks of the behavior of cartels. Existing chiropractic colleges are among the opponents of the program. We know this litany: the existing service is adequate; the applicant is not competent to provide additional service; if additional service is required, the existing providers can do better.
CHALLENGE ME. Joanne Jacobs reports that the less-masculine readings on offer in today's inclusive common school are, well, less than interesting to boys. The column she bases her post on is by two researchers who might have axes of their own to grind; nonetheless their report suggests some disturbing things.
At the middle school level, the kind of quality literature that might appeal to boys has been replaced by Young Adult Literature, that is, easy-to-read, short novels about teenagers and problems such as drug addiction, teenage pregnancy, alcoholism, domestic violence, divorced parents and bullying.
We have rap and pop for that. Perhaps somebody was attempting to connect by being relevant. Didn't work. Perhaps students perceived a lame attempt to channel their after-school entertainment, which is a suboptimal teaching strategy. Kids know when they're being patronized. The old literature was not patronizing, but it's gone missing.
Older literary fare has also been replaced by something called "culturally relevant" literature -- texts that appeal to students' ethnic group identification on the assumption that sharing the leading character's ethnicity will motivate them to read.
That is about as effective as throwing a few Moeshas and Juans into an economics textbook to set up an Edgeworth Box. Apparently the editors of the textbooks see that as making the texts multicultural. But could the students get through Radford's "Economic Organisation of a P.O.W. Camp?" (I know noothink! I say noothink! noothink!)

Kimberley at No. 2 Pencil opens up a can on those who would suggest that such inclusiveness at least makes for more female readers.

When will educators get the picture? You'd think even the gynocentric ones would notice that the overall reading rates for young adult women have also slipped, which suggests that the overbearing focus on sob story books aren't doing much for the girls, either.

I think if I had been forced in middle school to read "short novels about teenagers and problems such as drug addiction, teenage pregnancy, alcoholism, domestic violence, divorced parents and bullying," as opposed to the classic novels, biographies, and sci-fi that I devoured, I too would have lost my taste for reading.

Quite. Or she'd be frequently in trouble, as was I, for clandestine reading of stuff I wanted to read rather than stuff we were supposed to read. Bring on Crusoe, or Twenty-One Balloons, or Old Man and the Sea. Heck, we got some Plutarch (in translation) and had to perform Schubert and Dvorak in orchestra.
SOMEBODY MUST HAVE BEEN TELLING LIES ABOUT JAMES R., for one fine morning he was relieved of his deanship. (Via University Diaries. Developing.)

Remember, this is Virginia, where two years ago there was a massive diversity hue-and-cry based on a manufactured mugging of a student government candidate. The disaffected dean offers the following observation.

However, larger issues of process and procedure are at stake that could impact many others. At Mr. Jefferson's University, of all places, there can be no toleration for innuendo, rumor, hearsay, and anonymous threats of any nature to torpedo a career or to challenge the presumption of integrity that the Honor pledge implies. Such behavior strikes at the very core of the community of trust that binds us as an institution and in my opinion the precedent it establishes can only be described as chilling. Due process, accountability, and basic fairness are principles upon which I have attempted to live my life and about which I lecture in my classroom. To depart from them now and furtively slink away from the University under cover of official secrecy and suspicion would go against the very core of my being. As a dear friend recently told me, sunshine is the best disinfectant.

But perhaps it is too late: who else, less exalted than a dean, at Virginia has been offered the opportunity to take the knife and plunge it into his own heart?
A COACHING CLICHE. Northern Illinois's womens' basketball team lost at home to Eastern Michigan Wednesday night. Forward Mary Basic is channeling her coach.
"Our team is scrappy, but we were out-hustled tonight," Basic said. "It was a lack of communication on all parts really."
Usually, it is the coach who gripes about being out-hustled or not working as a team. Now she's asking the players to issue her usual gripes?

One would think that a coach who has had six years to enter into mutually beneficial agreements (athletic scholarships, if you will) with players who she recruits would by now have the sophomores and juniors communicating. I have no power to recruit or to offer my own economics scholarships. All the same, only a few graduate students have repeated my theory course more than once, and the recidivism rate for undergraduates is also small, and tempered by people who encounter unforeseen circumstances.
THE DISINTEREST IN DEREGULATION. A Constrained Vision notes the connection between school district performance and house prices in the school district. That bundling of school district with house purchase is one of the midwives of sprawl, as well as a reason for egalitarians and school choice advocates to make common cause. There is, however, a kicker. To the extent that charter schools are not tied to tracts or districts, there is a potential for capital losses to householders in the current good districts. Perhaps there is a thesis topic: does that capital loss turn a householder who has no strong position on school choice into an opponent?
MUST BE THOSE RIGHT TURNS. Chris at Signifying Nothing reports that the city fathers of Jackson, Mississippi are attempting to edify the locals on the proper use of a rotary. Y'all would think that in Nascar country, those left turns once one is in the rotary as well as the lane changing, would come naturally. But the exits from the rotary are not where the pit stops would be.
CURIOUSER AND CURIOUSER. Voluntary Xchange reports that controversial Southern Utah political scientist Stephen Roberds was denied tenure at the University of North Alabama at about the same level of review (beyond the department) and, as has been the case at Southern Utah, students organized to protest the decision once it became public.

In both cases, students alleged that a left-wing professor has been wronged at a university deep in a conservative county (sorry, I have trouble using "red" as a metaphor for conservative.)

Professor Tufte notes that Professor Roberds has incentives to make his own files public, which he has not. That, however, is not dispositive: silence is not admission of guilt.

The case, however, suggests that the alleged Left monopoly of the academy is not as strong as some pundits suggest. I forget where I read the observation that a truly effective Left would buy off the best Right scholars with positions at academic backwaters, rather than foreclose academic opportunities to them completely and drive those people to Heritage or Cato. (As if there would be much use for literary critics at such places. Cato and Heritage compete with Chicago, Rochester, and assorted other not-backwater universities for people who know how to do policy analysis.) As a tactic, sending active leftists to academic backwaters where they get into trouble unrelated to their scholarship seems a bit weak.

26.1.05

COPYCAT CRIME? Ten people are reported dead in a triple-train collision in Glendale, California, on Union Pacific tracks. One commuter train derailed, sideswiping another, and crashing into a Union Pacific freight train. A man has been arrested for abandoning a motor vehicle on a level crossing.
Police said they had taken a man into custody and he was expected to be charged with homicide in connection with the chain reaction of crashes that left train cars mangled and seared in Glendale near the Los Angeles border.
Last November, a suicidal Briton departed this life with a bit of assistance from a First Great Western train. Six passengers and the engineer, or driver if you will, also died.

The Superintendent sends condolences to the families of the dead and injured.

24.1.05

IS THIS THE WAY TO CAMDEN STATION? Destination: Freedom reports on the railways of Hungary (and yes, I am considering another trip to Hapsburg territory as it was frustrating to be so close to so many exotic destinations and not go there.) But look at this Romanian train in the Budapest East station.



That locomotive channels the British electric blue livery, but those first two coaches are pure Baltimore and Ohio.
FASCISTS COULDN'T MAKE THE TRAINS RUN ON TIME, EITHER. But a proper Duce would not be a prisoner to public choice. Amtrak, alas, is not so lucky, argues Joseph Vranich in End of the Line (details or compare prices), the subject of Book Review No. 6. Mr Vranich is a former Amtrak advocate mugged once too many times by reality. He makes the case that Amtrak is an underfunded political creature incapable of being both a provider of high-speed service (in those parts of the country sufficiently populated to benefit from such investment: regular readers are well aware that what is projected for high-speed often falls short of what railroads used to do with steam locomotives running on jointed rail protected by semaphore signals) and of long-distance service (where Amtrak has not provided a consistent vision in any event, sometimes aspiring to run a deluxe cruise service and sometimes resurrecting the mail and express train with a rider coach or two) in the sparsely-settled parts of the country that nonetheless have a Member of Congress and two Senators each of whom vote on Amtrak's funding.

The funding, Mr Vranich argues, is inadequate for some important components of the permanent way, particularly along the Northeast Corridor, which -- when all is working well -- is the most impressive high-speed line in the world. In an infelicitously timed counterpoint to the snow emergency that closed airports throughout New England, the Thames River draw at New London, Connecticut, picked this weekend to act up.

Amtrak also serves as an impediment to local rail service as it owns key facilities such as the North and East River tunnels in New York as well as the basement of Madison Square Garden, otherwise known as Penn Station; in Boston Amtrak operates the commuter rail service, but not very well (although Boston suffered for years with the New Haven on the south and the Boston and Maine on the north, both ravaged by the same Patrick B. McGinnis); and in Chicago several Metra lines terminate at Union Station, an Amtrak property. Mr Vranich argues that the suburban train operators provide a basis for intercity train service operated by agencies other than Amtrak.
In a related development, Metra may be granted authority to operate commuter train service between Chicago and Milwaukee through Kenosha, Wisconsin, on a route that closely parallels Amtrak's. Should the extension occur, a policy and operational framework would permit phasing out Amtrak and substituting Metra as the operator.
That suggestion conceals a few complications. First, the parallel service, an extension of the Metra North Shore service through Waukegan and Kenosha, would be a slower local service, not competing directly with the Hiawatha service that now takes you to the planes (although providing only one platform at the airport station is penny-wise and pound foolish). Second, the Milwaukee-Racine-Kenosha line is property of Union Pacific, succeeding Chicago and North Western, which paid to join Amtrak to be relieved of passenger service; some legalities might get in the way. Third, the operational framework is not free of other public choice follies, such as a downtown Milwaukee alderman who would like a bigger station (and the beautified access to the Avenue we were promised 40 years ago.) On the other hand, at Thanksgiving the Hiawatha service is often provided by Metra's locomotives and coaches, freeing up some of Amtrak's skimpy fleet of coaches for other lines.
ON NE PASSE PAS. Or so the Packer brain trust anticipates, naming Miami Dolphin defensive coordinator Jim Bates, who was not named head coach of the Dolphins, as the third defensive coordinator in three seasons.
PRODUCTIVITY GAINS. Today's Quote of the Day comes from Douglas Kern at Tech Central Station (via Electric Commentary).

But my pessimistic conservative friends overlook the extraordinary American capacity to compensate for massive stupidity. Dummies at the fast food joints? No problem -- we'll put up pictures of the meals for the illiterate, and install clever cash registers to make change for the mathematically-addled. Knuckleheads controlling the public schools? We'll devise standardized tests to identify and promote the genuinely gifted. Nincompoops at the voting booth? Behold the butterfly ballot -- an instant IQ test to weed out the votes of the extraordinarily dull-witted. Is it any wonder that a best-selling line of books in America is titled "________ for Dummies?" In America, stupidity is no bar to the pursuit and achievement of excellence.

We have moron-proofed our society. We have sanded off the rough edges of most sharp corners in American existence. From welfare to mandatory helmets to childproof caps, we've trapped stupidity in a tight little cage. Why can't we do the same for Social Security?

It's entirely possible to contrive a private investment fund guaranteed to turn a reasonable profit for as long as Western Civilization does us the favor of not collapsing.

The context for the post is the creation of private retirement accounts that would genuinely be secure, and it draws a distinction between uninformed decision-making and wilfully wishful decision making. But the article illustrates a more important point: human progress is the story of protecting us from our own ignorance: how many of us could dig our own wells and distinguish the poisonous from the safe mushrooms, let alone cast our own frying pans?
ANOTHER POLEMIC ON THE FAILURES OF THE ACADEMY. Book Review No. 5 is Jim Nelson Black's Freefall of the American University (details or compare prices), first alluded to here. (The details page suggests the book's polemical nature: purchasers frequently purchase related polemics.)

Much of the book revisits the same set of horror stories and PC atrocities some of them dating back to Profscam and Poisoned Ivy in the late 1980s. The author offers one recollection from his own college days (p. 317.)
I still remember the words of one of my major professors when I first started classes 1in 1962. He said, "This is not a vocational school. This university exists to form your mind and help you to become a fully literate and informed person. If you've come here for any other reason, then pick up your bags and leave now."
University Diaries suggests that perspective has been lost, albeit for causes other than the triumph of the hippies. (The following is an extended excerpt from Easily Distracted.)

What really matters is this: how different are your students when they graduate from what they would have been had they not attended your institution, and how clearly can you attribute that difference to the things that you actively do in your classrooms and your institution as a whole? What, in short, did you teach them that they would not have otherwise known? How did you change them as people in a way that has some positive connection to their later lives?

That can be about income. It can be about happiness or satisfaction. It can be about civic or political contribution to their communities. It can be about competence. It can be about imagination. Not all these things can be quantified, but all of them can or ought to be made as concrete as possible.

Many colleges and universities, public and private, have gotten lazy about this essential task. They’ve relied on evidence of the income gap, and on hazy assumptions about the interior impact of a college education on character, personality, and ability. We fall back on profiles of our accomplished alumni and so implicitly claim credit for their being what they now are—but our collective ability to account clearly for such particular results in terms of particular things we do is often far weaker than we let on. Truthfully, alumni for most colleges and universities do that job for their alma mater better than the alma mater can do for itself.

Those things get lost in the fallout from vocationalism (to get a job get a good education) and an obsession with productivity measured by things that can be measured (American Economic Review page equivalents for each professor comparable to output per worker hour: neither reveals much about the quality of other inputs.)

The interaction of student with student is a major part of the university's performance. University Diaries notes,
Hanging around with a bunch of smart peers and smart teachers in a materially bountiful environment might help most people to form and sharpen their intellects and skills, but I’m not entirely sure that most colleges and universities are entitled to strongly claim that the good results of that process systematically derive from the careful design of their four-year programs. Reading Walter Kirn’s “Lost in the Meritocracy” in this month’s Atlantic Monthly [for UD's take on this article, see UD, January 21, below], describing how in his years at Princeton he and his friends shammed their way through classes and began to have the terrible suspicion that the professors and administrators were shamming right along with them, my doubts redoubled.
That interaction also provides a more effective counter to the freefall than many of the more organized efforts Mr Black hails yet again in his book. But when an insider -- Professor Burke is in the middle of the academic establishment -- begins to question the effectiveness of the enterprise,

I sometimes think the nightmare scenario for American higher education would be if both parents and employers simultaneously came to the conclusion that the expense of a college education does not justify the return. If that gap not only stopped widening but started to close, the colleges and universities that passively have come to rely on the inevitability of young people seeking a bachelor’s degree would find themselves hard-pressed.

Having just been at the American Historical Association’s meetings, I couldn’t help but recall once again my worst interview experience, over ten years ago. I went to an interview with a tertiary public institution from a Midwestern state. Most of their students, by their own description, were local people and most of them were looking for a narrowly vocational degree of some kind. The historians interviewing me had joined in a sort of pact with several other departments in the humanities at their university to force a core curriculum requirement of several humanities courses on all the students. In the case of the historians, it was a Western Civ course. Had I been hired there, I would have taught a 4/4 load of Western Civ with class sizes around 200. No T.A.s. I must have looked pale as the chair leaned over and said, “Oh, don’t worry, all our tests are Scan-Tron”. You want a profscam? That’s a profscam. 200 person lecture courses on Western Civ with multiple choice questions foisted on people looking for some very particular professional or career training. Otherwise known as, “How to make people hate the liberal arts and see them as an obstacle”. You could do a better job wheeling in a television tuned to the History Channel.

Imagine if potential students not only recognized how pointless that kind of education is in terms of aiding with their life objectives but found that the society at large also recognized the same, and found other ways to train people and differentially search for good employees. It already happens here and there, in the software industry, for example.

Even at highly selective institutions, I don’t know that many faculty and administrators think very well or very systematically about whether the implicit guarantees about skills embedded in the degrees they confer are very well realized in the students that they graduate,

perhaps the polemicists have a point.
KEEPING 'EM ROLLING. Amtrak's weekend service notices reported the regular weekend schedule between New York and Washington, with reduced service north of New York on both the Shore Line and the Empire Corridor. The bulletins alerted passengers that travel between their stations and their destinations was likely to be hazardous or prohibited. Apparently the cleanup continues to hamper travelers once away from the trains, as the Monday service is somewhat curtailed.

Due to the snow storm on the East Coast, commercial power outages and the state of emergency declared in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, Amtrak will operate on a reduced service schedule for Monday, January 24 between New York and Boston.

Also for Monday, service between Washington, D.C. and New York as well as Niagara Falls, Albany and New York will operate on a reduced schedule.


THE VILLAGE IT TAKES. Book Review No. 4 is Mary Eberstadt's Home-Alone America (details or compare prices.) This review will be less comprehensive than the roundup offered at A Constrained Vision: go there and visit the links for more extensive coverage.

The focus of the book is the deleterious effects of greater adult freedom on kids. The Constrained Vision post links to an extended excerpt in Policy Review from Chapter 6 on the reflection of those effects in the angry popular music. Other themes are familiar, including the use of treats to assuage guilt (fat children, fit parents), the use of drugs as a substitute for attention, and the -- not well established -- squeaky wheel phenomenon in which bad behavior becomes the most effective way for neglected kids to get attention.

One development new to me that the book highlights is the specialty boarding school, a contemporary refinement of the old military school (which the well-to-do used for their delinquent spawn: the miscreants from less favored backgrounds had the reformatory) without the uniforms. Ms Eberstadt suggests these "detention archipelagos" are the logical extension of parental absence. The discussion at 11-D suggests that such conclusions are hasty.

Perhaps there is trickle-down economics at work: more people are now well off enough to farm out the raising of their kids, something once reserved for the British Royals, industrialists, and famous entertainers (and note what shining examples of humanity many of those heirs are.) Home-Alone America is not definitive: there remain opportunities for serious research.

23.1.05

WORKING YOUR WAY THROUGH COLLEGE. Northern Illinois University illustration art major Jeny Caisman wrestles as Supa-J.

21.1.05

THE FRUIT OF UTOPIANISM IS REACTION. Instapundit points to John Powers, engaging in more soul-searching on the Left:

In contrast, the left has become — there’s no other word for it — reactionary.

Still unable to accept that the right has dominated our national life for the last quarter-century, the left hasn’t done the hard, slow work of thinking through what it means to be progressive during an era of ultraglobalized capitalism in which the only successful Democratic president in the last 35 years, Bill Clinton, followed policies that even he compared to Dwight Eisenhower’s.

Perhaps that's not a failing. The years from 1946 to 1965 were the last years in which civil, commercial, and political society in the United States functioned reasonably well. Milt's File links to an Economist editorial reporting this interesting development.
First-term tax cuts have already helped to reduce America's tax revenue, as a percentage of GDP, to its lowest level since the 1950s (see chart 1). If Mr Bush's new-found fiscal prudence is genuine (he promises to halve the budget deficit), he has no business making America's fiscal problems worse.
Their focus is on tax-code reform. But I see nothing in either the editorial or Mr Powers's column suggesting that the President bring spending in line with revenues, say, by ending the national government's spending on goods and services not considered in 1954. Rather than engage in hair-splitting over what is a "left" ideology or a "right" ideology, why not a conversation over what works and what institutional arrangements -- not necessarily new faces in Washington or new agencies -- most efficiently deliver?

Andrew Sullivan has noted that President Bush is not a conservative.
Bush killed off small government conservatism years ago. Bush is a Wilsonian liberal abroad and a Bismarckian at home.
That sounds about right, although his willingness to trade medical savings accounts for federally-funded prescriptions for seniors is a baby step in a new direction, and his intention to put private retirement accounts on the table is encouraging.

The old divisions lose their usefulness. Mr Powers sees it but doesn't recognize it.
The left now needs a position on how best to battle a Muslim ideology that, at bottom, despises all the freedoms we should be defending. America should be actively promoting the freedom of everyone on the planet, and the key question is, how would the left do it differently from the Bush administration?
One useless division? Here's another.
Rather than coming off as anti-consumerist puritans in a consumerist culture, the left should be fighting on the side of freedom and pleasure — for instance, arguing that ordinary people should have more time off from the endless hours of work that increasingly devour our souls. This is the kind of idea we should own — and force the right to argue against.
Huh? I'll never lack for work explaining the backward-bending labor supply curve. The Left and the Right have been trading shots for years over whether it's unions or economic growth that contributed to rising wages, and whether the shorter workweek antedated the Fair Labor Standards Act.

And then there's this.
The right controls the machinery of government and isn’t shy about using it to change the world to make it fit the twin religions that drive it — Christianity and untrammeled free-market economics. To fight such a radical, all-encompassing vision, we need an equally big countervision of our own. I’m not talking about some mad fantasy of heaven on earth (those usually lead to death camps), but a dream bigger than hopes that the Democratic Party will come back into power four years from now. To create the world we want, we have to regain the hopeful belief that we are trying to create a world thrillingly better than the one we now live in.
Is it time to revisit the fallacy of insufficient alternatives? The premise ... whether it be motivated by the Protestant Ethic or the Social Gospel ... that there is a better world and a path to it ... is the same, it's simply a struggle over who shall be the trail guide.

(Yes, I'm repeating myself. Even the brightest among you will benefit from a modicum of reiteration.) Hence:
But there is no convincing improvement offered by polemicists of the Left, nor convincing refutation offered by polemicists of the Right.
And I commend, once again, Jesse at Hit and Run, who last November expressed disappointment with the dimensions of the soul-searching.
There is no party of tolerance in Washington -- just a party that wages its crusades in the name of Christ and a party that wages its crusades in the name of Four Out Of Five Experts Agree. I say fie on both.
Exactly. Nobody has come out and said that one collective vision ought not to be a quest for a collective vision.
THE STRESSES OF VICTORY. Book Review No. 3 is Max Hastings's Armageddon (details or compare prices) describing the squeezing of Germany by the Western Allies after Market-Garden and the Soviets from the Vistula River line. The book offers many grim reminders that even a just war is one disaster after another. A few passages from pp. 185-186, addressing the Hurtgen Forest battles, describe major policy and planning failures.
In the winter of 1944, Allied fighting strength was further eroded by the loss of thousands of men who simply quit. "There were increasing signs of plummeting morale," writes Carlo d'Este, "manifested by a rapidly rising desertion rate so serious that Eisenhower ... became the first [U.S. commander] since Lincoln in the Civil War to order an American soldier executed for desertion." No reliable figures are available for overall losses caused by desertion and absences without leave ...
The Hurtgen Forest campaign could with justification be called a quagmire. There was another quagmire behind the lines.
Unsurprisingly desertion, like combat fatigue, was overwhelmingly an issue in combat units. A sample of British offenders in north-west Europe revealed that more than 80 percent of deserters had absconded from infantry rifle companies. This represented a serious haemorrhage [c.q.] of fighting manpower. The figures suggest that Eisenhower's armies were deprived of the equivalent of several divisions, men who disappeared from their units to become scavengers, supporting themselves by lives of active or passive criminality. They became familiar flotsam in every urban area of western Europe. This teeming horde sustained a huge traffic in stolen military rations, fuel, equipment and even vehicles, feeding the black markets of impoverished France, Belgium -- and Britain. In Brussels in December 1944, an average of seventy jeeps a day were being reported lost. ... In the British Army, concern about organized looting, black-marketeering and theft of military equipment became so widespread that a restriction was imposed on the value of postal money orders soldiers were permitted to send home. Disciplinary problems of all kinds were a serious issue. Eisenhower was driven to suggest the public execution of men convicted of rape.
And yes, pre-invasion planning came in for criticism.
The U.S. Army suffered severely in north-west Europe for the grave policy error it had made earlier in the war, of according a low priority to manning infantry formations and providing replacements for their casualties. "We are about to invade the continent," General Marshall wrote to Stimson, the U.S. secretary of war, in May 1944, "and we have staked our success on our air superiority, on Soviet numerical preponderance, and on the high quality of our ground combat units. Marshall might have added: "and on the willingness of the Soviets to accept the overwhelming burden of ground casualties." It was also debatable whether the Chief of Staff had, indeed, given the emphasis he claimed to ensuring the quality of fighting manpower. The U. S. Army's belief that quality personnel were wasted in ground combat units is readily demonstrated by the manner in which it allocated recruits after educational testing. ... The educational standard of men shipped to combat arms ranked far below that of those posted to administrative branches. ... Many riflemen in the U.S. Army felt themselves abandoned by God and by their own country. Charles Felix's unit was outraged to read in Stars & Stripes that men sentenced to imprisonment for rear-area disciplinary offences were being offered a transfer to infantry as an alternative. "So that's what they really think of us!" -- shades here of Hollywood's The Dirty Dozen.
That belief persisted after the victory. The U.S. military draft is administered by the Selective Service System. I leave it to the reader to explain that "Selective."

Troops frequently took no chances with prisoners that might be dangerous. One famous incident receives brief mention at p. 436.
At Dachau, in an outburst of spontaneous rage the American liberators summarily executed twenty-one guards, including seventeen SS.
Life magazine later published photographs of this event. But it was not unique. Captured panzergrenadieren often did not make it to the prisoner cages in the rear, Mr Hastings writes, because their black tankers' uniforms were similar to those of the SS, whose fanaticism was frequently repaid in kind by the GIs.
AN URBAN LEGEND DEBUNKED. A Constrained Vision has an update on the origins of the impractical pastry known as a "croissant," which I noted here. Apparently this roll first appeared in French bakeries after 1850.

I suppose one clue lies in the very different Magyar words for the roll, "kifli," and the moon, "felhold" or "holdsarlo."

The notion, also circulating, that this roll was invented in Vienna to commemorate a later repulse of the Turks is less plausible as an urban legend. The roll is neither robust enough to handle a double-brat, which is what the Semmel does, nor is it as tasty as a torte, and the Austrians are unconscious at making those. Schmects gut.

20.1.05

ROGER RABBIT HOPS ON THE DEMOCRATIC UNDERGROUND. John at Right Wing News finds a Democratic Underground thread that rediscovers, for the n-th time, for n large, the long-discredited Snell Report making much of a finding, in the National City Lines case, that General Motors, Standard Oil of California, and Firestone conspired with the National City Lines company to replace electric streetcars with diesel buses, built by General Motors and riding on Firestone tires. If memory serves, the company paid nominal damages.

Professor Newmark has done yeoman work on this story, including a quote from one researcher that sheds light on the story's persistence.
The GM conspiracy myth, understood in this way, makes a great deal of sense. It becomes irrelevant that GM did or did not cause or even contribute to the decline of mass transit in the U.S. What becomes compelling, from a larger perspective, is the manner in which the GM story is used, the political and economic climates in which it is most likely to emerge, and the types of policy initiatives under consideration during the periods in which the story is being told.
The Democratic Underground poster that has touched off a lengthy thread has his own compulsion.
In a matter of a day, in some places, workers were forced to stop the use of trams, ultimately forcing the purchase of cars. They had no choice. It was forced capitulation and a segragation of those with the means and those without.
The assertion is historically inaccurate. The trams -- streetcars, if you will; sometimes trackless trolleys -- were replaced with buses. The toiling masses would have the opportunity to board a bus at the same corner where the car stopped, and the bus offered the transit company the opportunity to more cheaply extend the route as the city expanded. (To this day, the Milwaukee bus network, which despite my long tenure in DeKalb, is still the network I am most familiar with, still uses the route numbers and central-city routes of the predecessor streetcars, although -- as one example -- the Holton-Mitchell Route 14 that in streetcar and trackless trolley days turned back at 43rd Street and Oklahoma Avenue now runs beyond 92nd Street.)

My own assessment of the case and of streetcar to bus conversions is here, with some related observations on the pace of conversion in National City and other cities here, and a canard sighting from someone who should know better is here.
RECOMPENSE. Last fall, the International Railway History conference in Semmering coincided with a Brahms-Dvorak festival in M├╝rzzuschlag. I passed on the last concerts of the festival in order to hang out with some conference participants atop the Hirschenkogel. Wednesday night, the Vermeer Quartet made up for what I missed, performing Dvorak's Op. 80 in E (1876), a new work to my ears, which doesn't take on that Dvorak flavor until the fourth movement, which a Czech colleague who was at the concert tells me is based on a Czech folktune; and concluding with Brahms's Op. 51 no. 2 in a (1873), one that I might have heard before that's also quite good.

The performance also featured Joan Tower's Incandescent, a case study in the follies of writing music for academic tenure. As a piece of pure music it is just fine, not the usual assault on the ears one expects of a distinguished professor at Bard College. But the good professor had to provide program notes.
What I try to do in my music, and particularly in this piece, is to create a heat from within, so that what unfolds is not only motivated by the architecture of this piece (which I consider the most important goal), but also that each idea or phrase contains a strong "radiance" of texture and feeling about it. In other words, the complete "action" of rhythm, texture, dynamic, harmony, and register has a strong enough profile that it creates an identity with a "temperature," one felt rather than observed.
One observes a temperature on a thermometer. One feels it on one's face. All snarking aside, it's a fine work, which received its Chicago premiere in November of last year. Perhaps, to refer to an interview with the composer, composers don't get much respect because they're trying too hard to be arch. Never mind disclosing your intentions, just write.

Northern Illinois University readers new to this site might wonder, what's my message? Here's my message. A quartet that can perform Chicago premieres of good contemporary music, an accounting program that is widely recognized, and rising enrollment are all worth noting and hailing. When the administration, or constituencies within the university, perpetuate the counterproductive fads of the past thirty years, that hampers the university's ability to achieve up to its potential. My purpose is to call counterproductive fads counterproductive, something I've been doing for years.
INSECURE IN THEIR CONVICTIONS? In what way is a tree falling over in a deserted forest like a holiday observance when the campus is closed? At Northern Illinois University, a re-enactment of a 1960s style civil rights march just doesn't have that swing unless people leave class to participate.

Willard Draper, adviser for the NIU chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and director of resident life for Student Housing and Dining Services, organized the march.

“We want students to remember how it is to march,” Draper said. “It is important for students to get a sense of what it’s like to be involved in something that changed the nation.”

The Center for Black Studies plans to cancel its classes scheduled during the march so students enrolled in those classes can participate.

LaVerne Gyant, director of the Center for Black Studies, is lending her support by canceling her own classes.

“The teachers here at the Center for Black Studies usually go to the march and the
celebration,” Gyant said. “We always cancel classes during the march to encourage our students to go as well.”

Let's take Mr Draper's suggestion seriously. Classes generally don't meet on Memorial Day. Isn't it important for students to experience the nation-changing events it commemorates? Why not invite people to leave class sometime in May to purchase poppies for the disabled veterans and to carry the flag in a parade? And many of our overseas students are out of country in July. Why not invite them to leave class on a warm April evening to watch a fireworks display and listen to a reading of the Declaration of Independence and a two-hour stem-winder from a Congressman. (Our Member of Congress is the Speaker of the House, and he's pretty laconic for a speaker, so we might have to modify that part of the script.)

(These observances strike me as more sensible than, say, encouraging students to miss their Tuesday evening classes in order to fill the football stadium. The administration spent the swimming pool repair money taking advertisements out in the school paper with that message.)

And then let's consider Ms Gyant's priorities. It's these misplaced priorities that cause me to claim there's a Diversity Boondoggle. One of the purposes of those real demonstrations was to end the cruel fiction of "separate but equal." Wouldn't the more fitting tribute to the civil rights demonstrators be to use that access to address some of the ways the dream has been deferred. La Shawn Barber has some good discussion topics.

King rose from obscurity proposing a radical idea — a colorblind society. While he knew he’d never see it in his lifetime, he gave his life for equal justice. King would surely be disappointed by liberal elites and career politicians who exploit his vision for their own gain. He’d be alarmed that his so-called successors consistently fail to address urgent matters in the black community, such as the cycle of poverty associated with black illegitimacy and the high rate of black-on-black crime. King would be dismayed to know that:

70% of black children are born out of wedlock.

85% of black children living in poverty are raised in single parent households.

94% of all black homicide victims are slain by other blacks.

Low-income black children are condemned to failing government-run schools because black politicians are beholden to teachers’ unions.

And I would add: condemned by the cruel delusion that anti-intellectualism is somehow "authentic."

Character consists of doing the right thing when nobody is watching. One wonders for whose benefit this public parading of one's civil rights credentials is intended. If a high university official attends a memorial service or a rally on the holiday Monday and nobody at the university notices, has that act of respect not taken place?

19.1.05

TAKE ON THE SERIOUS CRITICS. Don at Left2Right is not happy with the latest polemic on the decline of the universities (of which more later, I will be unleashing a torrent of book reviews over the weekend,) this time being shopped on Rev. Pat Robertson's show. Sample objection:

Meanwhile, back on planet earth, the universities I know are still teaching freshman English and American history, math and science. (You can check out the University of Michigan's liberal arts offerings here.) And I don't think the baleful emanations of postmodernism and moral relativism have penetrated, oh, the courses on introductory astrophysics and boundary value problems for partial differential equations.

Even though I don't think CBN should be peddling arrant nonsense, I don't mean to suggest that everything going on in American universities is beyond reproach. There are plenty of problems, including some that the broader public has been less interested in: the recent report on plagiarism by academics is horrifying, and I'm much troubled by the increasing use of a two-tiered faculty, with lower-paid lecturers doing lots of teaching.

So far, so good. There is also a recognition that resources are scarce and have competing uses.

Then again, I bet my colleagues in economics spend lots of time touting free markets, and critics of mainstream neoclassical approaches -- Austrians, radical political economists, and so on -- are underrepresented in and out of the classroom. And I don't think economics classes should always start over from ground zero to consider fundamental alternatives.

May professors silence or sneer at some positions? I think so, though there's a reasonable case on the other side. I once had an undergraduate in American political thought who wanted to explain, at great and tiresome length, that there really are witches and we really should burn them. I decided one round of that was plenty. And I would probably shut down defenses of chattel slavery or the Holocaust. But I will, and have, let students defend a radically exclusive franchise, or socialist expropriation, or the night-watchman state, or anarchism. The raging controversies about political correctness, I think, aren't about whether anything is ever out of bounds; they are about whether the current bounds are too narrow, whether reasonable positions entitled to a hearing are being ruled out.

Quite so. All the same, it strikes me as dangerous to suggest, as Pharyngula appears to be doing, that these criticisms are misleading and irresponsible, and call for a vigorous response.
The barbarians are at the gate, and we respond by sitting down to a civil discourse on academic obligations? What the hell is wrong with us? We should be wrenching the rusty old claymore down off the mantlepiece and charging off to fight, not having a tea party.
Perhaps, but make sure you know what you're fighting.
Robertson and Black weren’t inviting a quiet round-table discussion, they were hauling out the shivs and motorcycle chains. We have to wake up and start responding appropriately!
Alas, it will not do to suggest that a bunch of alley fighters and demagogues are seeking to destroy something that might otherwise be working, as one response Professor Myers makes to a commenter does.
We have problems with less-qualified students having to struggle to keep up, and we’re often having to waste time with remedial coursework, but the root of that problem lies with the Republicans, and their ongoing attempts to destroy public education. Support our high schools, stop trying to cram your ideological nonsense like creationism into them, and we’ll have to offer fewer remedial courses.
The idea of an Establishment Clause for the schools is for another day. For now, let me remind readers that the proliferation of remedial courses at universities long antedates the Christian capture of some school boards, No Child Left Behind, and President Clinton's redefinition of oral sex as not sex. Universities have been struggling with remediation and retention for a long time (this National Association of Scholars report on general education notices the phenomenon as early as 1993 and these American Council of Trustees and Alumni reports do more than recite once again the "water buffalo" anecdote and other PC atrocities Rev. Robertson's guest relies on.)

And yet, and yet, no willingness to recognize error and deal honestly with the high defect rate. King at SCSU Scholars has found a service that provides six year graduation rates (to repeat, that sounds like an Amtrak definition of "on time".) At Northern Illinois University, about 53% of all students complete within six years: the performance of several protected status populations is well below that aggregate, and men do less well than women. Rather, it's time for yet another study of freshman attrition.

NIU needs better data to track student retention, said Vice Provost Earl Seaver.

In 2002 and 2003, freshmen were interviewed to gather data on why they were leaving. The results of these surveys are just now becoming available, he said.

No doubt the administration will find money somewhere for an improved survey. Meanwhile, there is a leaking swimming pool that will remain closed.
CARNIVAL CALL. This week's Carnival of the Capitalists calls at Small Business Trends. The Carnival of the Vanities is performing in eight rings at People's Republic of Seabrook.

Two new sideshows have come to the Superintendent's attention. Villainous Company has discovered Carnival of the Commies at Tigerhawk, which has already attracted a riposte in the form of Wingnut Butter blended by The Poor Man. There are lots of riffs on respectively "moonbat" and "wingnut," giving the exchange a certain charm that will appeal to fans of womens' roller derby.
DAIRYLAND POOL. The Badger Blog Alliance is set up running north of the Cheddar Curtain, with posting by several well-known cheeseheads and links to other Wisconsinites known to the alliance administration. Sean at The American Mind provided the information.
NASHE LUSHCHE. British and French leaders hail the rollout of the Airbus 380.
French President Jacques Chirac and other European leaders struck a triumphal note at the ceremony, hailing the A380 as a sign of Europe's capacity to generate world-beating industries.

"It's a symbol of economic strength, technological innovation, the dedication of the work force that built it and above all of a confidence that we can compete and win in the global market," British Prime Minister Tony Blair said.
Why does that flying ocean liner remind me of this?



The Economist suggests that a new vision of air transportation is emerging, in which more frequent direct flights with smaller planes have their place.
Boeing’s latest attempt to put things right, the 250-seat 7E7 “Dreamliner”, is born out of a belief that passengers will demand, and future deregulation allow, a big increase in “point-to-point” travel: direct flights between small and medium-sized cities, as opposed to the traditional hub-and-spoke model, in which international passengers fly between a few major airports and are then taken to more out of the way places on feeder flights. Boeing hopes the new plane will prove popular with the time-conscious business flyer. It says that the 7E7’s advanced engines will cut airlines’ fuel costs by 20%. So far it has received 56 firm orders.
Quite so. And the airlines have yet to master the art of loading through more than one door, something railroads have been doing for going on 180 years. Visualize the ruckus 800 self-important types all of whom have to be first off this post-modern Zeppelin will create.