28.6.05

TAPS. Market Power notes the passing of historian Shelby Foote. Perhaps I ought to post reviews of his campaign series books. I have the ones on Grant's eastern campaign on the night stand.
FORGOTTEN NOTHING, LEARNED NOTHING? NASA Chief Optimistic About Shuttle Launch.

NASA administrator Michael Griffin offered an optimistic assessment of the agency's preparations for the launch of shuttle Discovery as early as July 13. It would be the first mission since Columbia broke apart during re-entry on Feb. 1, 2003, killing all seven astronauts aboard.

"We look like we're in pretty good shape," Griffin told the House Science Committee. "Based on what I know now, we're ready to go."

Be very afraid.

Griffin sounded undeterred by the findings issued by a task force that said some of the most important long-term safety goals for shuttle flights have not been adopted.

After meeting Monday night, the task force concluded that the space agency still does not fully comply with three of the toughest recommendations from accident investigators in 2003.

The task force determined that NASA has put off long-term improvements to the shuttle's thermal shielding, thus failing to improve its ability to make emergency repairs in space. The group also acknowledged that delaying a summer launch a few months would not significantly reduce the risks of such space flight.

Congress, however, wants to keep something flying.

Griffin, the agency's 11th administrator, was greeted warmly by lawmakers who warned him that NASA faces tough decisions ahead on how to balance its long-term plans of retiring the space shuttles, conducting further work on the international space station, creating a new manned space mission vehicle and beginning the work on a mission to Mars.

Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert, R-N.Y., said the agency was "pretty much flying blind right now."

"NASA can barely give a definitive answer to a single question about its programs. That is not, believe it or not, a criticism," said Boehlert.

Be very, very afraid.
THE MEDIA TEMPLATE? Here's the headline: Bush: Bloodshed in Iraq Is 'Worth It.' And here is the time stamp: Jun 28, 5:46 PM EDT.

So what will AP reporter Jennifer Loven be doing at 8 PM eastern, when the President delivers his speech? She has already filed the story.

FORT BRAGG, N.C. (AP) -- President Bush on Tuesday appealed for the nation's patience for "difficult and dangerous" work ahead in Iraq, hoping a backdrop of U.S. troops and a reminder of Iraq's revived sovereignty would help him reclaim control of an issue that has eroded his popularity.

In an evening address at an Army base that has 9,300 troops in Iraq, Bush was acknowledging the toll of the 27-month-old war. At the same time, he aimed to persuade skeptical Americans that his strategy for victory needed only time - not any changes - to be successful.

The interpretation is also filed.
It was a tricky balancing act, believed necessary by White House advisers who have seen persistent insurgent attacks eat into Americans' support for the war - and for the president - and increase discomfort among even Republicans on Capitol Hill.
More specifics:
Bush's repeated acknowledgment of death and difficulty came less than a month after Vice President Dick Cheney proclaimed the Iraq insurgency "in the last throes." Still, the president's overriding message was one of optimism.
And coverage of the opposition.
The liberal group MoveOn.org also unveiled television advertisements that call the Iraq war "a quagmire." "We got in the wrong way. Let's get out the right way," say the ads running in several contested congressional districts.
I will have opportunity to watch some of this evening's speech. About now I'm wishing for a "Deviating from his pre-released text ..." story about 9 pm (Eastern) tonight.

SECOND SECTION. Or did Ms Loven go to Aruba instead? Michelle Malkin posted the story at 3.44 PM (Central, or 4.44 Eastern -- a reader gave her the heads-up.) Lots of trackbacks. Captain Ed had it by 4.08 PM. Spirited bull session there: a few commenters noted that there is such a thing as a pre-released text. John at Power Line had it by 4.11, just in time to board the Peninsula 400.
RESERVE CALLUP. Intel Dump's Phillip Carter has been assigned to the 101st Airborne and will ship out to Iraq. He intends to set up a group weblog from theater. Stay safe.
MORE KELO-BYTES. Lynne at Knowledge Problem has been watching the commentary.
COLLEGE FOLLIES. First a brief update on the Zulauf space grab, then onto the more serious stuff. The powers that be were in such a hurry to get going on their space grab that one colleague was advised he had to have everything out of his office by the last Friday of exam week, May 13. Here it is the end of June and that office is in approximately the same condition that he left it in May. Herrn. Schneider u. Schwarz have concurred that associate dean W. William Minor be named the king of spades. They also have some observations about the state of the university, which currently has three colleges with acting deans. But that will have to wait for another day when there is less weighty news to address.

26.6.05

BREAKING THE SOCIAL CONTRACT? "Declining by Degrees" aired this afternoon on the Greater DeKalb PBS affiliate. (Check your local listings.) The producer's concluding message suggested that much was wrong. First, the producer interpreted a public policy shift that gives greater primacy to the private benefits of a university degree as the breaking of a social contract that emerged after World War II, with the G. I. Bill, Pell Grants, guaranteed loans, and research and development programs opening the university to all who wished to attend. Second, he suggested that there were difficulties with the teaching and learning that went on in college. Whether the two phenomena might have been related ... regular readers know my penchant for equating access with admitting the unprepared ... did not come out in the program.

Much of the content is a video version of this New York Times article, still available to readers, which I commented on in April, and now that I've seen the in-class transponders and what the learned astronomer did with them, I do want to get some. The Times writers spent more time at Arizona than at the other three colleges featured, Western Kentucky, Amherst (and the video folks correctly pronounced the silent "h," forsooth!) and Community College of Denver, and some of the vignettes from the other colleges (a documentary is at best a collection of anecdotes, there is nothing systematic here) prove instructive.

The president of Western Kentucky, who has the look of a televangelist about him, was very open about his responsibility. An interviewer asked him about retention, and he was honest enough to note that absent students enrolling and continuing, legislative support would not be continuing. But that puts the faculty in a difficult position; an assistant professor has a principles of macroeconomics class in which a few students are capable of 96 points on a 100 point quiz, but the class mean is about 55, which he treats as a C. Such grading policies might run counter to another Western Kentucky initiative that received some attention, the recruitment of merit scholars. Why take a full ride at a mid-major if your grades are inflated and the content might be dumbed down made more accessible? Other professors confront other difficulties: at Arizona the star-teacher astronomer is not on the tenure track; a tenured professor of political science complains that she's a political scientist, not a composition teacher (presumably she wrote some stuff in proper English to win tenure and promotion) and a freeway flyer in Denver is earning the same nominal salary teaching feminist theory at three or four Denver area colleges (whether his marginal value product has been accurately evaluated is left to the reader as an exercise; he was not happy about the prospects of never being able to draw a pension.)

Arizona's administration (motto: lots of lottery players but we let an Economics Nobel get away) is already doing damage control.

The program clearly reflects the mind-set of the producers that the spillover benefits of higher education are something worth buying, a perspective that clearly comes out in this comment producer John Merrow makes to interviewer Tavis Smiley. (Hat tip: University Diaries.)
The other thing that's happening is that, well, back at the time of the G.I. Bill, this country said education is a significant investment, a public investment, a worthwhile public investment. It's a good thing for Tavis to get educated, for John, and so on, because the whole country benefits. And we kept on doing that up until about the time Ronald Reagan became president, when people realized, hey, wait a minute. If this guy goes to college, he makes a lot more money, let him pay for it. And so for the last 25 years, we've been withdrawing the public investment so that now, as some wag put it, a rich white kid, dumb white kid, has as good a chance of getting into a top college as a poor smart nonwhite kid. So we're limiting access. So two things are happening. One is the standards aren't as high as they need to be, and the second is that your economic status is becoming your educational destiny. That's a bad thing
for America.
Perhaps it is no accident that the documentary followed a macroeconomist. A microeconomist might make one of the following points. First, to the extent that that university graduates make more money, the "social contract" is a net transfer to the middle and upper income brackets ... I think that's called "regressive" in the slightly normative world of public finance. Second, to the extent that university graduates are more culturally competent, they might have learned that in kindergarten ... the marginal social benefits are nonexistent. Third, to the extent that graduation rates are lower for "Juanita and Carlos and Tavis," might that be a consequence of universities pursuing their vision of diversity by lowering admission standards for some people, setting them up to fail? Fourth, to the extent that the returns to education are specific to ability rather than to institution (a point the documentary makes when it notes that "prestige" is not the same thing as "performance") mightn't the merit aid Mr Merrow criticizes simply be a continuation of the social contract by new means, particularly if less prestigious but better performing universities attract sufficiently many strong students that some combination of student pressure and faculty toughness leads to improvements in the teaching and learning? The documentary notes both the non-aggression pact between party animals and researchers and the enthusiasm those same researchers have for working with the inspired students. Finally, who says that the return to a university degree will always and ever be there to exploit. Whether the high return is a speculative bubble or not, the existence of a premium for one type of worker provides an incentive to substitute. Long ago, the Luddites objected to textile machinery that could be serviced by less-skilled operatives, something that may have peaked with Fordism and time-and-motion studies, a development that lowered the premium to skill and which permits Thirteenth Generation sub-literates to earn tattoo money selling those fries you want with that sandwich simply by touching the picture on the screen. The premium to skill might be on a twenty-year rise but, again, to quote from the documentary, "past performance is no guarantee of future results."

Yes, higher education has a performance problem and an image problem. But there might be more than one way to address those problems.

Other commentary on the documentary available at Phantom Professor, King at SCSU Scholars, Ian at Truck and Barter, and Panopticon.
REMIND ME AGAIN, THIS IS A CUSHY JOB. The New York Times's Alan Finder investigates difficulties U.S. university students have understanding their foreign-born teaching assistants.

With a steep rise in the number of foreign graduate students in the last two decades, undergraduates at large research universities often find themselves in classes and laboratories run by graduate teaching assistants whose mastery of English is less than complete.

The issue is particularly acute in subjects like engineering, where 50 percent of graduate students are foreign born, and math and the physical sciences, where 41 percent of graduate students are, according to a survey by the Council of Graduate Schools, an association of 450 schools.

Those are the same two decades over which the conventional wisdom has been university professors are underworked and overpaid. Why haven't U.S. students, who are quite good at discovering everything else easy, swarming into the graduate programs? (Whether social justice math and other deducationist fads are confounding effects will be left to the reader as an exercise.)

The article focuses on the steps being taken by universities, sometimes with the coaxing of trustees, or of legislators, to ensure that graduate assistants are sufficiently proficient in spoken English to be able to take questions and improvise, skills that native speakers often would do well to refine. Meep Meep .... has further thoughts along those lines.

There is, however, no investigation of the following situation, which I have encountered more than once. The student finds it easier to complain about difficulties understanding "take rrimit, goes to jhero" in quiz section than to make the effort to comprehend what "if abs(x-c) < ?(delta), then abs(f(x)-L) < ?(epsilon)" means in the first place, which might mean sitting down with pencil, paper, and book open for a while. (What would Kronecker make of my efforts to get a delta and an epsilon into the post here?)
INNUMERACY IN THE NAME OF SOCIAL JUSTICE UPDATE. Joanne Jacobs reports that Diane Ravitch's essay on ethnomathematics (exp(i pi) + 1 = 0, thus the world is unjust?) is now available in full at Opinion Journal.

25.6.05

A SURVIVAL OF MORE INNOCENT DAYS? Owen at Boots and Sabers discovers that many senior administrators in the University of Wisconsin system have "backup jobs."

Traditionally, deans, provosts, and chancellors (using the Wisconsin terminology) are senior members of the faculty given additional responsibilities that they might hold by virtue of their long experience and wisdom (although that tradition might have died with Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, who faced some campus unrest in his time) who might hold such positions for a few years before returning to faculty. (There is at least one former president and one former dean of Arts and Sciences who returned to faculty at Northern Illinois rather than retire as a flag officer or jump to another university; they both may have been happier for it.)

Methinks Owen doth protest too much:
Only in the warped world of government work would anything like this be considered acceptable. Do you know what happens in the private sector when employees “don’t measure up or if they do things to embarrass their institution?” They get fired.
Rene Lachmann.

More precisely, road foremen return to engine service, or, more generally, supervisors return to bargaining unit jobs all the time. On the other hand, mid-level university administrators (holding positions other than department chairman, dean, provost, chancellor) sometimes are failed scholars, frequently from disciplines with large reserve armies of the underemployed, and sometimes hired for purposes that may or may not be central to the university's mission. Whether those mid-levels ought to be accorded the same protections as accomplished faculty (who sometimes deserve it; there is a reason one traditionally greets the newly seated chairman or dean with condolences) is another matter.
KELO-BYTES. Paul at Electric Commentary, who gave me the idea for this post title as well as a link here (danke sehr!) has links to additional commentary on the case. Voluntary Xchange and Lynne at Knowledge Problem do some linking and thinking. Nathan Newman has a differing perspective in defense of the ruling.
THINKING ABOUT THE CLASS OF 2012. En route to Galesburg's Railroad Days (there will be more refrigerator cars on the yard lead tonight) I stopped for coffee in Princeton, which has a train station on the main line of the Burlington Route, and a tiger for a mascot (the local high school team. No creativity there. Galesburg's teams are the Silver Streaks, and I've always admired Kirkland Hiawatha nearby. That's class.) The local paper is rather pretentious about making its online content available; you may struggle with its registration script if you wish to check this report. Anyway, the headline story for the Saturday paper is the principal of the John F. Kennedy Elementary School in Spring Valley taking issue with a statement by a member of the Hall High School board who had the effrontery to say "We're stepping backward to educate the freshmen who should have been educated in eighth grade." The principal's riposte: "The effort and pride in which [c.q.] our teachers put into their job is undeserving of negative comments made in a public forum." Apparently some students are finishing high school with the equivalent of ninth grade language arts as their final English course.

I'm surprised this grade school superintendent, also quoted in the story, hasn't been selected for corrective labor sensitivity training. "No matter how hard we try as educators, there are some people who just can't be reached. Some of these children fall in that 'bell curve' area, where they will always have to work twice as hard as their peers to stay at grade level."

Well, perhaps those teachers aren't making the proper motivational effort. The right-side sub-story reports on the trial of former Hall High biology teacher Gina Purvis, who "was indicted Dec. 15, 2004, by a Bureau County grand jury on one Class 2 felony of aggravated criminal sexual abuse with a 15-year-old male student. She was indicted Feb. 9 on four more Class 1 felonies of committing acts of sexual conduct with the same student.

Puts this Phantom Professor tale about the design of an entry examination for majors in perspective, these stories do.
INDUCEMENTS TO SPRAWL? DeKalb County ranks 73rd in Progressive Farmer's ranking of the best rural counties in the United States, many of which are attracting tract houses and all the other impedimentia of what the environmentalists call "sprawl" and the real estate hustlers call "development." The Chronicle writers must have been in a bit of a hurry; our westerly neighbor Ogle County ranks a little higher on this list, contrary to what they assert.
THE SUPERINTENDENT KNOWS HIS EMUS. Suppose you do a Google search on "virgin pendolino compared to thalys." Gets you here fast as a Hiawatha!

23.6.05

WHO WILL RID US OF THOSE ANNOYING ECONOMISTS? Via Newmark's Door, an essay by Ohio's Richard Vedder.
Colleges have devoted relatively little new funding over the past generation to the core mission of instruction (spending only 21 cents of each new inflation-adjusted dollar per student on it), preferring instead to assist research, hire more nonacademic staff, give generous pay increases, support athletics and build luxurious facilities. And while in the private sector companies have learned to get more work out of fewer employees, the opposite appears to have happened in higher education. In 1976 American education employed three nonfaculty professional workers (administrators, counselors, librarians, computer experts) for every 100 students; by 2001 that number had doubled.
I haven't seen much evidence of choices 1 or 3 in my department. On the other hand, the class lists get longer year by year.
College is still a decent individual investment, certifying that the graduate meets minimum standards (often missing in high school) for competence, intelligence, maturity and literacy. But we should rethink the nature and magnitude of public support for universities. State governments, facing rising Medicaid bills and demands for primary and secondary education funding, are already slashing their support. I hope and expect this trend to continue. Big changes are coming to higher education. They are overdue.
What's funny is that Professor Vedder is author of a book called Going Broke by Degree: Why College Costs Too Much. Does that refer to the out-of-pocket costs positional arms-racing parents face, or the opportunity costs of the 40% defect rate he refers to elsewhere in his article, something that might be ameliorated by changing the financial calculus facing marginal students?
CORPORATE WELFARE IN THE PUBLIC INTEREST? Lots of reaction to the Supreme Court's ruling in favor of New London, Connecticut using its eminent domain powers to redevelop its waterfront. Paul at The Electric Commentary, who does not like the ruling, provides numerous links to other objections. The Insta Pundit (who is a law professor) has a quick reaction here with links to the first set of reactions, additional links here, and an extended commentary at his MSNBC site. Key observation:

It used to be that tax revenues were to be spent promoting the public good. Now, apparently, they're a public good in and of themselves.

To be fair, today's decision isn't a huge departure from previous law, which has been creeping in this direction for nearly a century.

That appears to be Nathan Newman's point as well.
The Supreme Court once again did its job by doing nothing, upholding a local eminent domain action in New London, CT. As the five Justices in the majority noted, "It is not for the courts to oversee the choice of the boundary line nor to sit in review on the size of a particular project area."
An elaboration from an earlier post brings in one dimension of the welfare economics of eminent domain.
But we don't want a legal standard that poor people can lose their homes to eminent domain (as happened without legal protest during the age of "urban renewal"), but middle class people have a key to the courthouse to overturn local planning decisions. You can bet that if the Supreme Court jumps into this game, planning decisions to create jobs for poor people will be struck down in the future.
On the other hand, Professor Bainbridge identifies another dimension: although takings under eminent domain must be compensated at market value, those takings, by definition, are displacing extramarginal sellers.
First, it fails to take into account the subjective valuations placed on the property by people whose families have lived on the land, in at least one case, for a 100 years. In other words, if the Supreme Court rules for the city, the government will be able to seize land at a price considerably below the reservation price of the owners. Second, unlike the prototypical eminent domain case, in which the land is seized to build, say, a school or road, in this case the city is using eminent domain to seize property that will then be turned over to a private developer. If this new development increases the value of the property, all of that value will be captured by the new owner, rather than the forced sellers. As a result, the city will have made itself richer (through higher taxes), and the developer richer, while leaving the forced sellers poorer in both subjective and objective senses.
There is one additional dimension to the use of eminent domain, something economists refer to as the hold-up. Put simply, if somebody holds assets that are instrumental in making a project successful, that holder can extract all the rents of the project by holding out for a price in excess of the equilibrium price. That is a behavior one would also expect of the extramarginal seller. How, then, to distinguish a genuine extramarginal seller from a hold-up artist? Does eminent domain exist to eliminate that information cost? But ... should it be used to augment the tax increments a city government seeks, or to move people around in accordance with the aesthetic preferences of that government, as was the case with much of the urban renewal Mr Newman alludes to?
WE HAVE MORE IMPORTANT ISSUES TO DEBATE. A Constitutional amendment to criminalize flag desecration? Right Wing Nut House isn't impressed.
The people who desecrate the flag by burning it are not worth defending. But what the flag stands for is. That’s why I sincerely hope that cooler heads prevail in the Senate and this amendment is consigned to the trash bin where it belongs.
Mitch at Shot in the Dark suggests a corollary to answering speech with more speech.
Better idea: Calling "Extinguishing Burning Flags" a form of "Performance Art", and making sure dozens of "artists" attend all moonbat rallies, bearing fire extinguishers.
With illustrations.
WELCOME WISCONSIN VISITORS. Greetings, visitors from Public Brewery and The Electric Commentary.
GET UP, GET UP, GET OUT OF HERE ... multiple times, and the Brewers send the flatlanders home one run short. What's it going to be tonight, the Black Bavarian or the Triple Bock?
QUOTE OF THE DAY comes from University Diaries.
Powerpoint, UD has always felt, is ideally designed for autistics.
There's more.
Powerpoint caters not only to the autistic but - much like television - to the retarded. It is slow, redundant, and has pictures.
An article by Patrick Allitt (the author of I'm the Teacher, You're the Student) on the free side of the Chronicle of Higher Education includes the Superintendent's pet peeve about any presentation that uses "slides" (which are supposed to be projected from 80-count trays to railfans, but I digress) whether of the Power Point variety or the overhead version.
At a medical-history conference last year, I was the only history professor in a group of doctors. Many of them were good amateur historians, but all of them were cursed with a dependency on PowerPoint, which seems to exercise an even stronger appeal among physicians and scientists than among professors of the humanities and social sciences. Every word the doctors spoke was duplicated on a screen above their heads. It was numbingly repetitive.
Not to mention rendering the presenters redundant -- they could have hired a reader and stayed home to do more research. There's also an anecdote about the usual joys of booting up a so-called smart classroom, and the learning opportunities lost.

How much better the class would have been with no more than a blackboard and a few sheets of paper! Note taking would have been silent; students would have talked to the teacher and each other, would have concentrated on the substance rather than the technology, and would have had more time -- not less -- to devote to their work. Best of all, a warm atmosphere of collective endeavor would have displaced the anonymity and chill that the machines created.

I talked with the professor afterward, and he acknowledged that technology could be a distraction as well as an aid. He added that, although his was a writing-intensive class, the students didn't like to write, and that they wrote badly. Every college teacher knows it. The current generation of students has devoted thousands of hours to mastering computers but hasn't learned how to maintain verb-tense consistency in a sentence, hasn't learned not to follow a singular subject with a plural verb, knows almost none of the more-advanced rules of grammar, and uses apostrophes with chaotic caprice.

Don't we know that?

There are a number of other observations about so-called "productivity" enhancements, but Professor Allitt's closing suggestion is a tad optimistic.
Experiment with a no-Web, no-e-mail semester. You'll love it, and your dean will love you, as she realizes that some of the money previously allocated to buying unnecessary new devices can now be devoted to scholarships and salary increases instead.
That is, if your department has sufficient budget for paper handouts. And it is naive to expect that anybody who actually does the work will benefit by the savings. Watch those go for directors of diversity who can go on leave for seven months, or for additional purveyors of crying towels to those students whose fragile egos have been shattered by those mean professors.

22.6.05

AN OVALTINE SHAKE TONIGHT. Brewers 9, Cubs 4. The Sprecher is in the cooler for week's end; there's work to be done.
THE WATER WAR SPREADS. Thickly settled parts of Illinois and Wisconsin are close enough to Lake Michigan to benefit by the cooling easterly breezes, but when it comes to using the lake water, many of those places might as well be in the Mojave Desert. The Xoff (Christoff, for newbies, not cutoff) Files have discovered a particularly nasty spat bubbling in the yuppified southwest suburbs of Milwaukee. By international treaty, water may be piped from the Great Lakes only to locations in the Great Lakes watershed. The subcontinental divide, west of which water goes to the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico, runs very close to Lake Michigan (the Des Plaines River connects to the Mississippi, and in the Milwaukee area the subcontinental divide is a pronounced ridge just west of Sunny Slope Road offering good views of downtown. Some Milwaukee suburbs (this is probably true of some of the Chicago suburbs) straddle the divide, and here is where the treaty revision fun begins.
Under the proposed agreement, all of the City of New Berlin, because the Great Lakes basin boundary literally runs across that city, will be considered in the basin as a so-called 'straddling' community. This is new language added by the agreement's drafters.If adopted by all the governing bodies, New Berlin would be able to obtain Lake Michigan water without a formal diversion procedure, and would only require the approval of the state of Wisconsin for such a withdrawal.The City of Milwaukee currently sells Lake Michigan water to the City of New Berlin for use in its eastern, in-basin portion.
If you're prepared to grant the idea of a straddling community, why not a straddling county?
The drafters have created another new category -- straddling COUNTIES -- whose municipalities are eligible to apply for exceptions from the no-diversion-outside-the-basin rule because some of their county is in the basin, and some of the county is outside. Eastern Waukesha County makes the entire county a straddling county under this definition, so municipalities in Waukesha County can apply for diversions even if, like the City of Waukesha, the applicant municipality lies outside the basin.
The post goes on to note a number of stipulations about conservation and return of water to the basin from which it was drawn in proportion to use, although, curiously, the role of prices as incentives to conserve never comes up. Not surprisingly, the policy positions of local newspapers, which may or may not be representative of local preferences, is literally divided. The Waukesha Freeman, located west of the divide in what has at times been the fastest-growing suburban county in the U.S., wants to dip its straw.
When cooler heads are allowed to analyze this concept, it will certainly come to the surface that allowing the hookup to Lake Michigan is preferable to continuing to drain down the underlying water supplies in the shallow and deep aquifers through continued well digging.
Well, yes, and many people will tell you that a plastic pig is preferable to a Miata, but again oughtn't we talk about the prices at which people act on their preferences?

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, which serves readers on both sides of the subcontinental divide, considers the possibility that prices provide information.

This is not a question of preventing people from living where they want to live. Want to live on a mountaintop or on the side of cliff? Go ahead. Just don't expect the rest of us to pay for trucking your building materials to the top of the mountain or to rebuild the place when it slides off the cliff.

Communities in Waukesha County have seen an explosion of growth because the county is a great place to live. Good schools, low crime, lovely lakes and streams, lots of open space.

But as that space fills up, there is more pressure on the landscape, including the water table, which apparently is being drained faster than the rains can replenish it. Which means that residents are going to have to start paying the real costs of all that development.

This is not to say that water diversions should be barred out of hand. Keeping the communities of Waukesha County thriving is essential to the economic success of the entire region. A deal involving diversion is certainly possible - Waukesha County Executive Dan Finley has already raised some intriguing possibilities - as long as the result doesn't adversely affect the Great Lakes or the people on its shores.

Adversely affect? Getting up early adversely affects me. But I'm well paid for doing so. (And don't get me started on federal disaster relief, this post is long enough already.)

The water war, however, is causing remoter precincts to take sides. Here's the Green Bay Press-Gazette take.

Forget it.

It all sounds too much like a slippery slope to faraway states with water shortages potentially exploiting the lakes.

Until now, only communities in the basin — the area where water naturally drains to the lakes — were allowed to tap them for their water supply. Green Bay gets its water from Lake Michigan, and the suburban Central Brown County Water Authority plans to do the same next year when its pipeline is completed to Manitowoc.

The draft agreement among governors of the Great Lakes states and Canadian provinces would bend the existing rules to let communities straddling the basin tap in as well.

Fast growing Waukesha County west of Milwaukee is one of them. Parts of it are inside the basin, but the city of Waukesha is not. Its water flows to the Mississippi River.

Apparently oblivious to the fact that the available groundwater supply had its limits, the city allowed growth to exceed the water supply and now finds itself in a bind. So, it's making its case for lake water — and fretting about the cost of infrastructure if it has to return it to the lake.

Waukesha is in the same spot that some Central Brown County Water Authority communities found themselves — with limited or poor-quality groundwater and the need to find a new supply. But, here, they have the good fortune of being solidly in the basin.

Here we have the assertion that growth exceeds supply, without any discussion of pricing. These writers, at least, are honest enough to admit that their situation is different; in fact, the Great Lakes basin extends to at least the Wolf River, well west of Green Bay. Again, one has to ask about the pricing: there is plenty of hardscrabble farmland west of Green Bay and east of the Wolf that might have potential for subdivisions.
IT'S AIRSHOW SEASON and Country Pundit finds a source of aircraft cheesecake (the airplanes themselves, not the nose art!) that recommends the aesthetics of the Messerschmidt ME-262 Schwalbe. Preservationists are building an entirely new series of these jets.

Apparently the weakness of these things was in lining 'em up for landing and getting 'em flying.
GIVE ME CHOPIN, FRANKIE YANKOVIC, AND DA CRUSHER. French trades unionists apparently raised the spectre of outsourcing plumbing to migrant Poles (merde!) as one reason to reject the European Union constitution. Tom Palmer (via Electric Commentary) has discovered a marvelous counter-campaign by the Polish National Tourism Office.

21.6.05

A MATHEMATICIAN IS AN ORGANISM FOR CONVERTING COFFEE INTO THEOREMS. Look out, this train of thought is an attempt to clean out the yard, at the sacrifice of some order, although there is a rough logic to what follows.

Start with a rather silly story in the Washington Post about the effect of a daily Starbucks on the debt burden of law students. Jeff at Quid nomen illius? points to a thorough rebuttal by David at OxBlog. (The Superintendent would only object that the sight of a stressed-out law student nursing a Starbucks might elicit something other than his choice of hope or the Post writer's choice of pity.) University Diaries offers a convex combination of Whitman and Reader's Digest by way of comment.

Professor Althouse draws a contrast between a one-time splurge and a daily investment in something useful.
By contrast, it seems extremely sensible to buy years of a daily pleasure, which gives you some nutrition and focuses your mind and which gets you out of your little room or the library and puts you in a bustling, social environment, where you have your own little table and can get some good studying done.
That is, if you're capable of good studying. Here we switch from poring over Smyth v. Ames or Jarndyce v. Jarndyce to converting that coffee into theorems. I should think that the production of theorems would require knowledge of the following things: factors, factoring, fallacies, finite decimal, finite set, formulas, fractions, and functions. But where the younglings ought be first encountering these things, in some curricula what they are instead encountering are families (in poverty data), fast food nutrition data, fat in fast food, feasibility study, feeding tours, ferris wheel, fish, fishing, flags, flight, floor plan, flower beds, food, football, Ford Mustang, franchises, and fund-raising carnival. That's from a Diane Ravitch article in the Wall Street Journal (King at SCSU Scholars has a link to an excerpt; I may (or not!) have a working link to the whole thing on my office computer.) Professor Plum went into the fever swamps of education "theory" (move along, no theorems here) to find a course outline for a graduate course in "Teaching Mathematics for Social Justice" offered at Northeastern University, in which the readings are representative of recent educationist fads and require no prior understanding of Smith's Theory of Moral Sentiments or Rawls's Theory of Justice, let alone Durkheim or Weber or Adorno, and apparently Euclid or Euler or Goldbach don't figure in the pedagogy.

This introductory course explores principles of social justice in education as a lens in rethinking school mathematics. The course will provide participants with

a) an opportunity to expand their knowledge and awareness of issues of social justice in the context of mathematics education;

b) an opportunity to develop a pedagogical model for teaching for social change;

c) a process to critically examine the content of school mathematics curriculum and instructional practices from the perspective of social justice;

d) an opportunity to contemplate on the role of the teacher as an agent of change and “transformative intellectual”.

Throughout the course we will emphasize the relationship between theory and practice in an attempt to understand some of the complexities and challenges in addressing issues of social justice in mathematics teaching and learning.

Have you had your Pepto today?

The trackbacks at Professor Plum are worth a look; via Instructivist I find a Sapient Educator post that sums it up, so to speak.
If progressive educators and multiculturalist continue to get their way, the unintended effect will result in many poor and impoverished American students not receiving the type of education needed to break the cycle of poverty. In addition, the United States will continue to rank near the bottom when compared with other industrialized nations in academic achievement.
One wonders if that hypothesis qualifies as an issue of social justice.

RUNNING EXTRA: Sorry, that link I thought I had to the full article isn't available.
REVEALED (EXPENSE) PREFERENCES. Charlie Sykes links to two stories that lead him to question pleas of poverty by the University of Wisconsin system.

One deals with the Fine Arts Quartet, who are artists-in-residence at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee with an arrangement comparable to that enjoyed by the Vermeer Quartet at Northern Illinois. That arrangement has been the subject of some acrimony in the music department as well as some scorn from Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel art critics Cary Spivak and Dan Bice.
The musicians carry the title of professor, but it's been years since any of them stood at the front of a UWM lecture hall. They're too important to deal with the riff-raff, a.k.a. undergrads. On rare occasions, before a concert, some members do actually mingle with a handful of the star students in the Department of Music in a sit-down called a master class.
No surprise that Mr Sykes would pick up such a column; a frequent theme in his Profscam (details or compare prices) is the professor missing from the classroom, or present only as a lecturer who hives off all the student contact to underpaid graduate assistants and subcontracts the scoring of the scan-trons to the assessment office. The theme returns as counterpoint to an observation in a consulting report Messrs. Spivak & Bice discover.
So, when UWM recently hired a couple of consultants to analyze the music department, it wasn't surprising that the pair cast the spotlight on the Fine Arts Quartet. Their report noted that the quartet is humming along while the rest of the department is suffering from funding shortfalls and a faculty shortage.
(A situation not unique to the music program, by the way; word has reached the Superintendent's office of a dearth of intermediate accounting offerings at Milwaukee.)

The consultants' specific recommendation:
"Terminate as soon as possible the commitment to the Fine Arts Quartet. In the current environment of diminishing funding from the state, to have faculty lines consumed by non-teaching roles seems wasteful and detracts from more important uses of resources."
Possibly. Mr Sykes, who found it amusing that winners of teaching awards frequently receive a reassignment to work on teaching methods rather than teaching courses, and who was not pleased with reduced teaching responsibilities for accomplished researchers, would no doubt concur. But the existence of artists-in-residence and endowed chairs for researchers (translation: teaching duties limited to graduate seminars and supervision of dissertations) says something about an underappreciated function of higher education, namely, the cultivation of the most talented future performers, experimenters, analysts, and practitioners, as well as about the real preferences of many in the academy. So much for all that talk about "access." The inducement to become truly outstanding in one's field evidently includes an assurance that none but the best students will have access to you, whether you hold a distinguished chair at Harvard, Milwaukee, Marquette, or Barely Normal. There is nothing wrong with distinguished chairs per se, although the consultants correctly note that such positions have opportunity costs.

Their existence can be a source of rancor, as Messrs. Spivak & Bice report.

Back in the day, quartet members actually taught classes, but that changed about five years ago. Other music teachers whined about the sweetheart deal that the quartet members enjoyed by being paid more while being able to cherry-pick which classes they taught.

Robert Greenstreet, then the acting dean for fine arts, came up with the compromise of officially relieving the performers of their teaching duties but throwing the department a bone by letting it hire two professors. Greenstreet, who was out of town Friday, opted to not call us back to provide his review of how the deal has worked out.

Well, if you can't make time with the Hiawatha, best bid on a yard engine somewhere. At least management provided some additional yard crews. The dean's compromise sheds some light on how difficult it is to come up with a notion of social justice that the entire university can accept. On the one hand, a faculty with all the status hierarchies of a feudal court offends the sense of justice of the serfs and mendicant monks; on the other hand, to not develop great talent to its fullest potential is an injustice. Although senior administrators at Fine Arts or in Bolton Hall would no doubt quail at being compared to cultivators of the American Beauty rose, their behavior (which is representative of university administrators everywhere) suggests that indeed some pruning of the early buds to make possible the great talents has some value.

Then there's the Diversity Boondoggle, which diverts more resources for less return than a string quartet. Hell, more for less than a wind trio. Case in point: Wisconsin-Madison's former vice-chancellor for student affairs, now a special assistant to the chancellor, who recently took a seven-month leave occasioned by a student affair that went bad, as often happens when one goes fishing off the company pier. University officials noted that, as this student affair was consensual, involving a student who was a university employee in a different division, not reporting to the vice-chancellor, and thus not actionable, despite the following language in the university's harassment policy: "Power differentials between the parties in a consensual romantic and/or sexual relationship may cause serious consequences." Don't you just love the possibility that fishing off the company pier can be sexual without being romantic: the rabbit culture forsooth! And the student in this tryst has a power card of her own to play. "I'm boinking the Director of Diversity. Give me the grade I deserve at your peril."

So the Director of Diversity took a seven month leave and nobody noticed? Calculation of the return on that investment is left to the reader as an exercise.

But evidently that's more important than, oh, making sure that sufficient sections of Intermediate Accounting or Economics or Music Appreciation are on offer.

RUNNING EXTRA: A commenter recommends the latest from Messrs. Spivak and Bice.

"The outside reviewers comment on the wisdom of continuing support for the Fine Arts Quartet," said the UWM review of the school's music department. "The problem is that, as far as we can determine, no mechanism exists for a reassessment of whether this support still represents as valuable a resource as it did years ago when established.

"The program needs to consider whether the resources consumed in any effort represent the best use of the resources given the overall programmatic needs."

Opportunity costs are everywhere. In the music department, other faculty members (the column does not disaggregate by tenure-trackers and freeway flyers) face what the internal review characterizes as "teaching loads that are very high" and uses the term "swamped," presumably to mean that the Fire Marshal determines how many students shall be permitted in a class.

Remind me again why raising tuitions, tightening admission standards, and abolishing the face-saving tenth-week drop are bad ideas.
IN THE EVENING CAN THE DAY BE PRAISED. The summer solstice coincides with a full moon ... lots of potential for moonbattery, but it was another gorgeous day in Paradise. I've been working away at the research projects I committed to, but if there's a choice between spending more time at a computer or more time at the pool, guess what wins? Thanks for looking in.

16.6.05

A REFRESHER COURSE IN THE PRINCIPLE OF DERIVED DEMAND. In matters of textbook selection, is the professor principal or agent? In the Chronicle of Higher Education, John B. Thompson (via Public Brewery) looks at the economics of the vanity university press. Start with the research monograph.
The main explanation almost certainly lies elsewhere. Research libraries constitute a principal market for scholarly monographs, and in the course of the 1980s and 1990s they were subjected to intense pressures of their own: the steep rise in the prices of scientific journals and the increasing costs of information technology. Library budgets were limited, and something had to give. In the period from 1986 to 1998-99, the number of monographs purchased annually by research libraries in the United States declined by more than 25 percent. Since academic publishers were also producing more monographs each year, that meant that an ever-increasing range of available titles was competing for a dwindling pool of resources.
Anybody ever look at the tariffs the academic press use? There was an institutional price for libraries, and an individual price. The institutional price anticipated university libraries being able to draw on indirect cost returns from sponsored returns; the individual price treated the sharable inputs as a free good. The most grasping vice-president of traffic at The Octopus would blush at the value-of-service pricing that resulted. Was it the avarice of the publishing houses or the end of lavish indirect cost returns that changed the calculus?
At the same time, many American university presses were coming under pressure from another source: their host institutions. In the 1970s and 1980s, some began to find themselves faced with growing pressure to reduce their dependence on direct or indirect subsidies and become more autonomous financially -- "self-supporting" was the term often used. Universities faced their own fiscal constraints, and university presses, with their somewhat ambiguous status (were they academic units or business units?), were obvious targets for financial scrutiny.
Reading between the lines, I see those indirect cost returns going away. And it took a while for the Principle of Derived Demand to bite on the textbook producers.

The professors are the gatekeepers in the marketing chain. But the person who recommends the textbook is not the person who buys it. Hence the considerations that weigh uppermost in the minds of the gatekeepers are not necessarily the considerations that matter most to the students ultimately required to buy the book. The adoption system thus creates a form of non-price competition -- that is, competition among publishers on grounds other than price -- that has shaped the evolution of the textbook-publishing business.

In the attempt to persuade professors to adopt their textbook rather than the textbook of a rival company, publishers have invested more and more resources in producing evermore elaborate and comprehensive textbooks and in developing a range of ancillaries, from instructors' manuals and test banks to packages of software and multimedia products -- the so-called "package wars." But while the struggle for adoptions ratchets up the scale of investment, the only way of generating a return on that investment is through the sale of printed textbooks to students. Most of the electronic and multimedia supplements are given away to professors with the aim of influencing their adoption decisions. Thus the only way to recoup escalating costs has been to concentrate on lower levels of the curriculum, where student numbers are large, and to increase the prices of textbooks. The big textbook publishers have done both. They have concentrated on the first and second years of the college curriculum, and they have commonly increased textbook prices by at least 6 to 8 percent per year. But the increase in prices has tended to fuel a second development, which has played a crucial role in the field of textbook publishing: the growth of the used-book market.

But bite, ultimately, it did. (The Superintendent's suspicion remains that grants, whether from the government, or from Mummy and Daddy, make many students less sensitive to textbook prices than they might be. Compare and contrast the price of a widely used paperback version of just about any introductory course textbook with that of any full-color hardback rail enthusiast book with a similar page count to see what I mean.)
Publishers listened carefully to the gatekeepers because they needed their adoptions to survive, but they didn't pay much attention to students because they assumed that students would buy what they were told to buy. Now the silent partner is demanding to be heard in the only voice that really matters in this game: They are refusing to buy. They regard prices as too high and are inventing all sorts of ways to avoid doing the one thing they are supposed to do, which is to buy the books. They are borrowing books, sharing books, going online to shop around for the cheapest books they can find, and so on. Enterprising jobbers are importing cheaper foreign editions and undercutting the sales of American editions. Textbook publishers are experiencing increasing returns of unsold books and declining levels of "sell-through," the percentage of students who purchase assigned texts.
Don't you love bypass and arbitrage? All that's missing is the representative of Harcourt Brace or South-Western or one of the other exploiters of students whinging about cream-skimming and unfair competition. At the same time, the behavior of the commercial publishers has provided an opportunity for the academic presses to profitably offer some works.
The growth in monograph output over the last couple of decades has been driven not by an overall growth in demand but by a combination of other factors (including the demand from academics for credentials that can be used in the tenure-and-review process and the short-term need of presses to meet their sales forecasts). Publishing fewer monographs and concentrating only on works of outstanding quality might result in some friction with local faculty members, and some temporary shortfalls in frontlist revenue, but if it is accompanied by an effective shift of editorial strategy to other kinds of commissioning, it would strengthen the position of the presses in the long run.
Yes, steps that would make published research more likely to be read research are steps in the right direction. And here's another opportunity.
The presses could strengthen their positions considerably by focusing their attention on publishing for the higher-education market -- especially for those levels of the curriculum, like upper-level undergraduate and graduate courses, that have been neglected by the big textbook publishers, who have been forced by the logic of their own field to concentrate on the lower levels of the curriculum. The commissioning of textbooks and supplemental texts would not compromise the commitment of the university presses to publish original works of scholarship, but would be complementary to it and entirely consistent with their overall educational mission.
Although a university administration that sees some common costs of the university press and the academic units is an administration in a position to engage in all sorts of creative cost allocations ... On the other hand, peer-reviewed textbooks, or research monographs written and edited with a view toward their utility as upper-division textbooks, cannot be all bad. We certainly hear a lot from our spokesmen about the value of the teacher-scholar.
SOME THOUGHTS ON IMMIGRATION. Victor Davis Hanson does not like official neglect of illegal immigration.
The politics are by now surreal. Those of the corporate right want cheap labor. So they join the self-interested multicultural left in politics, journalism and academia who don't mind seeing a growing presence of unassimilated and dependent constituents.
But how does one square that with a preceding paragraph in the essay?
Both sides agree that when newcomers arrive legally from Mexico in the thousands, rather than unchecked in the millions, these immigrants become among our best American citizens.
That hardly sounds like "unassimilated and dependent." Indeed, the point of the burdensome underground economy along with the difficulties in sneaking in is to discourage precisely those individuals who are least likely to assimilate and most likely to become dependent.

And what does one make of this?

For starters, take remittances. Billions of dollars are sent annually back to Mexico from its citizens who come to the United States--one of the largest sources of foreign exchange for the Mexican economy.

But that cash does not come out of thin air. If such transfers aid depressed parts of Mexico, they also drain capital from struggling immigrant communities in the United States. Workers without high school diplomas who send back much of their wages often cannot pay for their own proper health care, education or housing here.

In the American Southwest, entire towns are deprived of critical revenue that could be invested in infrastructure, alleviating the need for state and federal intervention to ensure some sort of parity with American citizens.

Let's break this down. Remittances include money sent to the old country to buy passage for the rest of the family, something that is in my own family tree. And what is the optimal investment in health care and housing for a prime-aged worker? That second paragraph echoes Jacob Riis a century ago, whose photos of the slums of New York inspired both zoning codes and immigration quotas. Is it really necessary for a prime-age male living away from his family to invest in health insurance that is unavailable to his wife and kids in the Third World, or to live in a split-level suburban house? Is the illegal immigration spawning flight by previous residents to more expensive quarters?
Second, when employers hire millions of young laborers from Mexico--often off the books and in cash--poorer American workers cannot organize and thus are left to watch their own static wages eaten up by rising costs.
Really?

Finally, there is something elitist in this new idea that American youth should no longer work summers and after-school hours in agriculture, hotels, restaurants and landscaping.

These hard jobs were once seen as ways to gain experience and understand the nobility of hard physical work. An entire generation of Americans is growing up that has never mowed a lawn, pruned a bush or washed a dish.

Which is it? Poorer American workers being raced to the bottom, or entry-level workers deprived of their rites of passage?
More frequently it is an uncaring elite--made up of both Democrats and Republicans--that advocates not enforcing immigration laws. And it is past time for them to explain why it is moral or liberal, rather than merely convenient, to import millions outside the law to do the jobs we supposedly cannot.
Why? Perhaps there is a rough efficiency -- not mere convenience -- in the use of the underground economy as an apprenticeship to obtain the most productive illegal immigrants as future citizens. The illegality serves as a fig-leaf for the apprenticeship; indentured servant contracts being illegal apart from at graduate school.

Robert Samuelson also has some gripes.
We could do a better job of stopping illegal immigration on our southern border and of policing employers who hire illegal immigrants. At the same time, we could provide legal status to illegal immigrants already here. We could also make more sensible decisions about legal immigrants—favoring the skilled over the unskilled. But the necessary steps are much tougher than most politicians have so far embraced, and their timidity reflects a lack of candor about the seriousness of the problem. The stakes are simple: will immigration continue to foster national pride and strength or will it cause more and more weakness and anger?
Yes, but resources have opportunity costs. More expensive fences? More careful vetting of applicants for work permits? More raids of workplaces? Mr Samuelson recognizes this, I think.
Over time, they move into the economic, political and social mainstream; over time, they become American rather than whatever they were—even though immigrants themselves constantly refashion the American identity. But no society has a boundless capacity to accept newcomers, especially when many are poor and unskilled. There are now an estimated 34 million immigrants in the United States, about a third of them illegal. About 35 percent lack health insurance and 26 percent receive some sort of federal benefit, reports Steven Camarota of the Center for Immigration Studies. To make immigration succeed, we need (paradoxically) to control immigration.
And perhaps that control includes the existence of a notionally illegal but officially winked at underground economy. And here we go again with that "lacking health insurance" stuff. Must healthy people be compelled to buy health insurance? "Receive federal benefits?" Sure. People who are here legally are eligible for government loans, to enlist in the armed services, to drive on the roads ... if there is an illegal-immigrant gravy train, please document it.

All by way of announcing that one of the immigration papers is headed back to a journal.
SHARABLE INPUT FOLLIES. Book Review No. 17 is Stan Abbot and Alan Whitehouse's The Line that Refused to Die, which appears to be out of print. Its primary focus is the political economy of defining the public interest in such a way that the Settle to Carlisle portion of the Midland Railway could be retained as part of the British Rail network rather than as an expensive (and probably doomed) preservation railway. I rode the Settle and Carlisle last fall, although it was not a subject of an extensive report as the overnight trains and the Electroliner descendants provided much more material. That the Settle and Carlisle is a British anticipation of the Lackawanna Cutoff, itself the subject of a more costly campaign to restore the tracks and the passenger trains, which I was unaware of at the time, prompted me to pay more attention to the sesquicentennial-celebrating Semmering Pass.

The economics of the British Rail effort to close the Settle-Carlisle make for amusing reading. Some preliminaries: a railroad presents all sorts of problems of allocating common and joint costs. The starting point for such a problem is the existence of a sharable input. The track that supports a fixed-capacity Electroliner at 4.50 can support a 'Liner Follower of as many standard coaches as required at 5.00, a one car Kenosha Local at 5.10, and the ferry truck service at 5.30. The track can be used to provide different types of outputs at different times of the day, which makes it a sharable input, and we would say that there are economies of scope (this explanation has it part right; I resolved to finish some research papers this summer, thus no amendments headed to Wikipedia from me) in providing railway transportation if the cost C of providing the passenger and freight services together is lower than the cost of providing the same level of each output (non-economists just have to learn to think in ceteris paribus terms) with two kinds of railroads. Formally,
C(passenger, freight) < C(passenger, 0) + C(0, freight).
(The hostility of Union Pacific to Amtrak suggests the folks in UP's headquarters believe the inequality points the other way.) Because the volume of passenger service and the volume of freight service are under the control of the railroad, one can speak of the opportunity cost of displacing a freight train by running a passenger train (that's the way Union Pacific thinks) or the converse (one of our 115 car unit coal trains takes paths away from five or six express passenger trains is how the Europeans would see it) which makes the cost of the track a common cost. There is a complexity, however. If the passengers all want to travel to work between 6 am and 9 am and return between 4 pm and 7 pm, there are some large windows of time during which there is no point in running any passenger trains; you might looking at something like the trackage into Grand Central Terminal or the Gloucester Branch of the old Boston and Maine, where there's scant reason to run a freight train. The track transports passengers for six hours of the day and sailboat fuel the other eighteen. In this instance, the input takes on properties of a joint cost in which the outputs are produced in fixed proportions (think of a joint of meat: a steer produces two sides of beef and a hide that can be used as leather. One cannot produce more beef without producing more leather. The economics of bulls or cows, which must be combined although not necessarily in fixed proportions to produce steers, is more complicated. In transportation, once a coach has been built with five third-class and three first-class compartments, or a jet with a division of seats between commuter coach and sardine can, something similar arises.) Off-peak pricing of commuter trains, highways (same caveat on this explanation), standby air fares, and roller coasters works because successful entrepreneurs recognize that bygones are forever bygones and any revenue that exceeds the avoidable cost of moving the seat makes the enterprise more profitable. Accountants struggle with all sorts of methods of allocating common and joint costs (any machine that is idle for part of the day, say, because hiring people to work the night shift is too expensive, qualifies) and those methods lead to a number of follies, including the old joke about losing a nickel on each widget but making it up on volume (treat your standard volume as 75% of the estimated daily capability of the machinery, then sell 110% of that estimate) or the depressingly familiar criticism of rapid transit ("Amtrak loses $6 on each passenger. If more people ride, the taxpayers lose more.")

That brings us to two British Rail fiddles in their attempt to close the Settle-Carlisle. In 1982, the authors suggest (p. 62) that British Rail charged to the Settle and Carlisle the entire cost of two additional locomotives and 10 coaches account a re-routing of a Nottingham-Glasgow service over the Settle and Carlisle (absent the Settle-Carlisle, the train would run a different way; absent a train on the Settle and Carlisle, that stock would still have to be paid for.) At the end of 1987 (p. 155) British Rail did not credit the Settle and Carlisle with any division of the revenue from detouring trains or from passengers boarding or detraining beyond the line (the aforementioned Nottingham-Glasgow riders as well as Nottingham-Carlisle or Leeds-Glasgow riders.) Alas, there is no generally accepted economic principle for obtaining the opportunity cost of a sharable input; the best one can do is ask two questions. First, could an equally capable entrant operate a service offering only one of the multiple products more cheaply? That's a test for cross-subsidy; in light of the legal constraints on building railroads, not to mention the irreversibilities involved therein, it's not one easy to conduct, although if you ever hear management of a multiple-product business objecting to an entrant's cream-skimming, you're probably hearing a confession that there is some cross-subsidization going on. Second, would the entire enterprise be more profitable, or lose less money, absent one of the products, with the incremental cost of each product properly identified. That's a full employment provision for industrial economists, notwithstanding the easy formula involved.

Incremental Cost =
C(existing network) - C(network without Settle and Carlisle line)
.

Note that the costs of those diesels and coaches providing Nottingham-Glasgow must remain in both terms.
Incremental Revenue = Current Revenue - Revenue of smaller network.
Here one must work out whether the Nottingham-Carlisles, not to mention Nottingham-Glasgows, would ride the longer way 'round in the same volumes.

There's also an interesting comment at p. 186 on the use of buses as substitutes for trains.
The trains would be replaced by National Express coaches, but painted in BR colours. The coach services would call only at the places served by the train and would run to generally similar times. It would be like having a train, but one which used roads as a cheaper alternative to tracks. Again, there seems to have been little thought given to exploiting the flexibility of buses and coaches.
In British parlance, a bus offers urban transportation service, and a coach interurban service. In either instance, it is a rubber-tired vehicle with the ability to go, subject to weight and clearance restrictions, anywhere on the road network, something that a train cannot do. The train's advantage is in moving large volumes of people between locations that originate or receive large volumes of people, such as Naperville to downtown Chicago. To the extent that people migrate off the rail network, motor coaches (how's that for a compromise?) provide the transit authority with an ability to adapt to new traffic patterns until the emergent pattern of location offers sufficient volume for a fixed-guideway (generally rail) service.

15.6.05

SIXTY YEARS AGO. Sgt. Karlson's unit will soon finish its occupation duties in Saalfeld and return to Paris. The Pacific War is still in progress, with Iwo Jima serving as an air base, Okinawa still being contested, and the 87th among the European Theater divisions intended to stage to Okinawa in preparation for the invation of Japan.

By now, the men have managed to bring cameras into theater and here are a few pictures.

The Germans did fight hard.


Here two GIs take a break from recovering plane pieces. I don't know what we're looking at, but credit the pilot for keeping most of the crew accommodation intact in the crash landing.

Bernie and Willy

In the background is the house Sgt. Karlson's unit, the Headquarters Battery of the 912th Field Artillery appropriated (in Belgium they asked permission first, in Germany they simply evicted the occupants.)

Here's the observer and radio group for Headquarters Battery.

Saalfeld, June 1945
Back row: PFC Frank G. Roberts, radio operator, Swannoa, N.C.; T/5 Clarence C. Van Fleet, fire director, Middletown, N.Y.; PFC Robert Crook, bugler, Meridian, Miss.; T/4 Louis N. Fasula, radio operator, Rotterdam Junction, N.Y.; T/5 Henry E. Gemino, radio operator, Elmont, Long Island, N.Y.; T/5 John F. Reckus, radio operator, Wilkes-Barre, Penn.; T/4 Charles Yesline, radio operator, Pittsburgh, Penn.
Center: T/5 Lawrence J. Eckenberger, radio operator, Long Island, N.Y.
Front: T/5 Anthony J. Trapino, radio operator, Madison, Wis.; T/5 Tony Turner, driver, Virginia; Cpl. Douglas R. Cuthbert, radio operator, Coal City, W.V.; Cpl. Frank G. Lunsford, liaison, Ohio; T/5 Elvin A. Dittberner, radio operator, Lodi, Wis.; T/4 Bernard E. Wielechowski, radio operator, Ambridge, Penn.

Sgt. Karlson took the pictures. Some of the other information comes from a notebook his mother maintained for the duration of his hitch. The notebook makes interesting reading in that it lists the contents of assorted care packages (to use a term not yet invented), the dates they were mailed from Milwaukee, and the dates and locations they were delivered. Many did arrive at the front lines before the Germans packed it in.

Stars and Stripes published this abstract of the 87th's work in Europe.
JUST COWBOY UP. Book Review No. 16 is One Nation Under Therapy, by Christina Hoff Sommers and Sally Satel. I did finish it despite this cautionary tale. The book suggests that aggressive therapeutic interventions -- the "grief mythologizers" chasing the ambulances -- immediately after something bad happens might not be optimal for all people. From pp. 189-190:
With so little faith in an individual's natural ability to tolerate emotional pain, the trauma industry is bound to undermine his confidence in his capacity to cope.
The conclusion is a bit more polemical. At p. 217:

Sigmund Freud himself once said, referring to the fate of all false ideas, "The voice of the intellect is a soft one but it does not rest until it has gained a hearing." Therapism falters under rational scrutiny; if Freud is right, its hold on the American mind cannot last. But a change in perspective will not come easily. Too many Americans have been convinced, for example, that self-expression is more important than self-control, that nonjudgementalism is the essence of kindness, that psychic pain is a pathology in need of a cure.

Therapism will begin to recede when parents demand knowledge-based instead of feelings-centered classrooms. Its entrenched hold on the country will loosen when conscientious psychologists correct, rather than promulgate, the myth that we are a nation of afflicted Hamlets and Ophelias. It will be weakened when journalists report on post-traumatic growth at least as often as they highlight post-traumatic stress.

What is missing from that call to arms is any mention of the role of careful peer-reviewed research to provide the evidence that knowledge-based classrooms are more effective (my sense is that they are, but that's not my area of expertise); that the population is not overwhelmingly Hamlets and Ophelias (contrary to the canard I recall from health class years ago that we're all neurotic in some way?); and that the efficacy of post-traumatic therapies that focus on sucking it up surpasses that of trauma counseling. The book holds forth little hope for such things; one is hard pressed to think of a notionally scientific document more subject to revision by argumetam ad popularum than the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.
YOUR CLASS BIASES ARE SHOWING. Newsweek interviews Danica Patrick.

Are you the Gloria Steinem of racing?

The what? I don't even know who that is. Is that bad?

No, no. She's a famous feminist.

I'm sure that to some people I'm something like that. I'm sure everybody has their opinion about what I am.

Bad analogy. That fish already has a bicycle. The interview continues in a similar vein; Ms. Patrick confirms everybody's perception of flatlander drivers, as well as exhibiting some unusual flatlander predilection for reacting to happy news.
AMBITIOUS? Blogs for Industry is putting together a list of tenure-track academicians who maintain weblogs, classified by department and by college. Economics is in Liberal Arts.
SAD INDEED. Matt at Hit and Run picks up some comments from retired Texas A&M economics professor Morgan Reynolds, who argues at Lew Rockwell that the Trade Center had been wired for an implosion. Mitch at Shot in the Dark links to a disclaimer by A&M president Robert M. Gates noting that Professor Reynolds is retired, and not speaking for the University. (Strictly speaking, that is true of any faculty member's work, including refereed publications and Nobel Prize Lectures.)

Professor Newmark provides a link to a useful rebuttal of this claim, which is not new, in Popular Mechanics. (Suggestion: go to the printable format and scroll.) There's a bit more in Henry Petroski's Pushing the Limits, soon to be a book review on these pages, with this simple explanation at p. 174.
The collapse of the lower floors of the towers under the falling weight of the upper floors occurred for the same reason that a stack of books supported on a coffee table can break that same table if dropped on it from a sufficient height.
Do not attempt this experiment with Grandma's keepsake table. Professor Petroski continues,
Within days of the collapse of the towers, failure analyses appeared on the Internet and in engineering classrooms. Perhaps the most widely circulated were the mechanics-based analysis of Zdenek Bazant of Northwestern University and the energy approach of Thomas Mackin at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Each of these estimated that the falling upper structure of a World Trade Center tower exerted on the lower structure a force some thirty times what it had once supported. [You'd thus need a pretty tall ladder to simulate that effect on a table with a stack of books.] Charles Clifton, a New Zealand structural engineer, argued that the fire was not the principal cause of the collapse. He believed that it was the damaged core rather than the exterior tube columns that succumbed first to the enormous load from above. Once the core support was lost on the impacted floors, there was no stopping the progressive collapse, which was largely channeled by the structural tube to occur in a vertical direction.
Much as a controlled implosion would do.

What makes this story particularly sad is that Professor Reynolds taught me price theory, using Alchian and Allen's Exchange and Production and Stigler's Theory of Price, works not usually associated with Wisconsin economics; it is in his class that I learned the "shipping the good apples out" and other classics rather than yet another variation on the Viner-Wong diagram. A commenter at Little Green Footballs (via J. C. A. Bambenek, who has a number of other useful links) notes,
I was hoping this would slide under the radar until Morgan came to his senses. The reason: the good professor is a relative. Age, stress, and a possible grudge against the government have combined to cloud his judgment and cause him to make a public spectacle of himself.
I hope his mind will clear. It would be a shame for the man who summed up the case against socialism during the debates over Hillary-care as "it's boring" to be best known for this.
BLOW, YOU OLD BLUE NORTHER. The heat and humidity (not quite up to Taiwan standards, but neither is the air-conditioning) have given way to cooler drier air on northwesterly breezes; might be time to do some practicing with the Laser.

14.6.05

THE NATURE OF PEER REVIEW. Bill at Atlantic Blog has read Freakonomics (which was Book Review No. 13 should you wish to compare notes) and offers some observations.
That I have grumbles is no surprise. Every academic is contractually obligated (really, you can look it up) to piss on another academic's new book, unless the writer is his good buddy, co-author, thesis supervisor, senior colleague (especially if the academic is untenured), upcoming paper discussant, or journal editor, in which case he sucks up.
The grumbles are instructive.
TO REITERATE: THE SUPERINTENDENT KNOWS HIS EMUS. A commenter to the first post in this series notes that the German and Italian railways were playing around with luxury streamlined electric and diesel trains during the era of the Flying Yankee and the Comet. True enough, although a flying sandwich and an allusion to a stick in one eye just fail to stir the blood. (Here is the Italian family described in English, scroll down for Mussolini's anticipation of the Electroliner.) But it wasn't until AFTER the Second World War that the Italians came up with a forward view to match this, and the Germans are Johann kommt sp├Ątlich at it.


Racine, Wisconsin, 28 September 1957.

And the story of the Electroliners is more compelling. No fascist megalomania here ... a bankrupt electric railroad orphaned by the Public Utility Holding Company Act inspired by the failure of the Insull power and electric railway holding company that provided the Depression-era Enron-style corporate scandal borrows money from its employees (which was never repaid) to buy two state-of-the-art electric trains just in time for World War II. The North Shore transported many boots to and from liberty at the on-line Great Lakes Naval Training Station, and the railroad managed to stay in operation until just after Wisconsin suffered its most recent loss in the Rose Bowl.
NOTICE OF EMBARGO FILED by Mungowitz End.
I will post here only those things that I am willing to stand behind, and believe, in my actual life as Mike Munger, Duke Professor. Since I don't think I have anything interesting to say, in a blog at least, in that voice I don't expect any further blogging on this URL.
PORTLAND HAS MASS TRANSIT, DOESN'T IT? Going Underground identifies a cultural competency that Oregon's administration ought to consider.
Managing Director of the London Underground has just told commuters to take a shower before they get on the tube as an attempt to be more considerate during these "sweltering" summer months.
The response from the undergroundlings?
Or why not provide some decent air conditioning instead?
Apparently Underground passengers have gripes that are common to transit riders everywhere: seat hogs, aisle blockers, cell-phone yakkers, loud and drunken sports fans.