31.7.05

WHO IS HAVING FUN? Discovery is either encountering unprecedented problems or being subjected to unprecedented in-flight inspections. The latest anomaly to turn up is some drooping strips of high-tech oakum, something that has manifested itself before, and which may be within the usual tolerances.
One piece is sticking out 1.1 inches between the thermal tiles, the other protrudes at an angle from six-tenths to nine-tenths of an inch. For those areas, far forward near the nose, the general wisdom and flight history indicate that the limit should be a quarter-inch, said flight director Paul Hill.

Hill noted, however, that the quarter-inch measurement was taken following previous re-entries and the intense heat could have burned some of the material off. Discovery's flaws were spotted in orbit - a first - because of all the photography and laser imaging being aimed at normally hard-to-see spots, an outcome of the 2003 Columbia disaster.

On a flight by Columbia in 1995, the shuttle returned with a gap filler that protruded 0.6 inches, but the material was rolled up and located farther back on the belly, in an area less likely to overheat, said Steve Poulos, manager of the orbiter project office. When unrolled, it was 1.4 inches long. The only overheating effect was to nearby damaged tiles.

"Tonight they're working overtime trying to compress, I believe the phrase was, a decade's worth of study into two days," Hale told reporters.
Fortunately for NASA administrator Michael Griffin, who appeared on Meet the Press this morning, following a taped interview with Discovery crew (transcript, .pdf,) this problem came to light after the interview, which quickly enough turned from gee-whiz good wishes to inside-the-Beltway ankle biting. Unfortunately, Mr Griffin could do no better in defense of the shuttle program than to note that "the average American spends less than 15 cents per day on the space program, less than $60 per year on the space program." That's the same special-pleading-by-de minimus defenders of Amtrak or the National Endowment for the Arts or the sugar subsidy make: look how little you are spending on this useful effort. But it's such a canard. Why can't I argue, with equal force, that my entire federal tax bill for last year, which runs into five figures, was all spent on maintaining the shuttles to service the space station, or for that matter, on mining water on the high plains to grow sugar beet?

No Oil for Pacifists and American Mind suggest it is time to retire the shuttles. There might be room to park one at the Experimental Aircraft Association's museum in Oshkosh, where, this week, rail magnate Richard Branson and canard wizard Burt Rutan brought White Knight and Space Ship One as well as the Virgin Global Flyer to Air Venture. They also announced the formation of a new business to develop spacecraft for Virgin Galactic, offering a new dimension in space travel, at a price less than the Russians are charging for a trip to the Space Station.

Wittman Field, alas, is not big enough to handle the landing roll of Space Ship One; otherwise there might have been a real spectacular during the afternoon air show.

And herewith, in a few sentences, the difference between Rutan-Branson and NASA. Reason's Ted Balaker interviews Burt Rutan.
TB: And I think the concept of fun you mentioned is hugely important and at NASA it’s very different—they can’t justify something on the basis of fun.

BR: No, and they don’t understand the concept of taking risks in order to find breakthroughs. I hate to say that because we send billions to them for what we think is research but they don’t do research, they only do development. They won’t reach out and look for new concepts.

The same thing is happening with this Bush initiative, the Crew Exploration Vehicle. NASA’s going to award multi-billion dollar contracts in September for the primes, and the primes are going to go out and they’re going to fight to make sure that they win the next phase after spending billions, and because of that, they’re not going to try new, innovative stuff. They’re just going to just build some new capsules, and they’re going to get launched by expendable boosters, and they won’t go out and solve the safety problems that are preventing us from having resort hotels in orbit.

Innovation, safety, have fun doing it. They probably aren't having much fun in Houston, Huntsville, and the Cape these days.

Now, the economics puzzle: how much of my 15 cents a day is a subsidy to Burt Rutan? I'm only being slightly facetious. Presumably the public record of shuttle design and accident investigation has provided useful information both in the form of what works and what fails. Any participant in the X-Prize would be able to make use of that information.
THAT JUST DOESN'T LOOK RIGHT. Book Review No. 26 is R. A. Scotti's Sudden Sea: The Great Hurricane of 1938, which accelerated from the Florida coast over open ocean until it charged into Long Island, moving too fast to be appreciably weakened over the land, and then smacked into eastern Connecticut and Rhode Island. If not for the hurricane, the biggest news on the shore might have been actress Katherine Hepburn's first hole-in-one.

As was true in Children's Blizzard, the Weather Bureau, now independent of the Signal Corps, was caught out, although hurricanes are sufficiently quirky that to this day it is difficult to anticipate their formation or their course and strength. A junior meteorologist, Charles Pierce, noted a more northerly position for the Bermuda High that governs steering currents, another high over the Alleghenies, unseasonably humid conditions along the eastern seaboard, and a warm ocean, all providing an invitation for a storm off Florida to steer a northerly course. The establishment saw only a routine Cape Verde storm that would blow itself out over the sea lanes.
NOSTALGIA, PRESERVATION, PROGRESS? Triticale is not going along with the nostalgia surrounding the National Liquor Bar's last drink, characterizing the place as a "dive." True, but there is a place for dives. The public policy question is, do they have their place in a city.

"Oftentimes, you see people blaming buildings for problematic conditions in a neighborhood and believe that the easiest solution is to take those buildings down. Unfortunately, what you're doing is taking down a piece of our history," said 3rd District Ald. Michael D'Amato, who opposed the Walgreens plan.

Former Mayor John O. Norquist, who lived much of his life within walking distance of the tavern and used to buy takeout cases of Pabst there, said his office tried at a late hour to come up with an alternative to razing the site but to no avail.

"Just tearing the city down and turning it into suburbia are what devalues the city," he said in a recent interview.

That's unclear. Several of the major industrial cities of the Steel Age, including Detroit and Milwaukee, had rather high rates of detached home ownership when compared with major commercial cities such as New York and Chicago. Urban suburbanization, anyone? Such industrial cities have also suffered relative to their commercial counterparts. Are blasted neighborhoods of abandoned two-flats and obsolete factories really preferable to brownfield redevelopments with houses on large lots and retail districts? (And that's despite the shock to the equilibrium of viewing soccer fields, a casino, and a baseball stadium where there once were stock yards and the backshops of a transcontinental railroad.)
ON THE LIGHTER SIDE. Politburo Diktat finds World War II as a real time chat room game. Herewith the denouement.
*Roosevelt has left the game.*
Hitler[AoE]: wtf?
Eisenhower: sh1t now we need some1 to join
*tru_m4n has joined the game.*
tru_m4n: hi all
T0J0: hey
Stalin: sup
Churchill: hi
tru_m4n: OMG OMG OMG i got all his stuff!
tru_m4n: NUKES! HOLY **** I GOT NUKES
[cut]
T0J0: wtf is nukes?

It helps to be conversant with instant messenger shortcuts to work through the whole thing. Strategy Page also recommended the site.

30.7.05

JUST IN TIME FOR THE NEW SEMESTER. Halfway through the Fifty Book Challenge! I offer Patrick Allitt's I'm the Teacher, You're the Student, which is essentially a diary of Professor Allitt's Reconstruction to Today survey of U.S. History, with a few vignettes from a non-credit course he offers to retirees, and an occasional reference to advising. As one of the Amazon.com reviewers noted, "it does not provide much insight regarding the struggles of balancing multiple classes, teaching, and service requirements."

There is, however, much to like in the book. An appendix provides the course outline and regulations, while managing not to balloon into the Syllabum Omnium (from the little Latin I know, that translates as "Unabridged Abstract," but I digress.) No eating, turn off cell phones and pagers, remove hats.
The baseball caps have always been an affliction. It was bad enough when they were worn with the bill facing forward. Students had an artful way of slumping down in their chairs so that their eyes gradually disappeared from view. Were the eyes open? I would suddenly ask someone a difficult question, singling him out by name. Usually this had the effect of causing a sudden flurry of alarm and a great deal of muttering. Sometimes the student requested that I repeat the question; occasionally his silence confirmed that sleep had descended. Then came the trend, starting around 1994, to wear the hats backward, with the bill sticking out behind and the adjustable plastic tabs defining a semicircle of forehead. The reversed student hat makes a statement about its wearer, something like, "I am dull."
Priceless. Just read the book. One sidenote. Paul Fussell noted the backward prole cap (his language, not mine) in Class, in the early 1980s, with a particularly lurid passage about showing off the at-the-time pathbreaking "adjusto-strap," which Fussell characterized as "One Size Fits All [Proles]." Chronology notwithstanding, Professor Allitt pronounces anathema on the use of "like" as a filler. "Resist it. It's the verbal equivalent of the reversed baseball cap." Amen. Apparently Emory undergraduates, keeping pace with the rest of the country, are not terribly polished speakers or writers, nor are they assiduous researchers. Ah well, we persevere.

They're also prone to rely on rote memorization and regurgitation, despite twelve years give or take of exposure to schooling from teachers full of the latest wisdom from the Colleges of Deaducation about the ineffectiveness of rote learning ...

What else is there to commend? For one, Professor Allitt is a train enthusiast. Quick quiz: which year is the most important year in American history?

a. 1492
b. 1620
c. 1776
d. 1861
e. 1869
f. 1929
g. 1945
h. 2001

If you know why the answer is "e. 1869" congratulations.

There's also evidence to give pause to those who contend that university tuitions are too high.
Now let me escort you to the student parking area, where we encounter a magnificent fleet of the best vehicles currently on sale anywhere in the world: haughty Mercedes Benzes by the dozen, stately Lexuses, fleet little BMWs, zesty sports cars from Italy and Japan, and monstrous SUVs with zip codes of their own. I always found the experience of seeing slim American college women driving these giants something half-erotic, half spiritual.
By all means read the whole thing, and consider Professor Allitt's approach to classroom presentation, which is itself distinctive (no textbooks and a lot of audience participation, for openers) as well as his advocacy of greater social distance between students and faculty.
PUBLIC CHOICE. The line item veto is a rather versatile tool. Wisconsin's Governor Jim Doyle changed a few numbers in the state budget to cope with a hold-up from Illinois.
Doyle said he will use his veto power to add the increased aid when he signs Wisconsin's fiscal 2006 budget on Monday. He said the additional aid was needed because the state of Illinois recently passed its budget with a cap on its funding for the Hiawatha route.
These cross-border squabbles will be the undoing of any national plan to devolve Amtrak to the states.
President George W. Bush has proposed eliminating federal operating support for Amtrak. The Bush administration wants states, not the federal government, to pay to operate interstate passenger trains.
Wisconsin recently paid for a station at Mitchell Field on the south side of Milwaukee; residents of the northern suburbs of Chicago have discovered that this particular train to the planes can be a bit less painful than heading to the closer "If you've got time to spare, fly O'Hare." That is the kind of asset-specific transaction that lends itself to a hold-up, in this case by an Illinois governor who is discovering that raising business taxes is not always effective at raising revenue.

Sometimes the funding for the trains comes with an additional handling charge.
In a huge boost to the effort to extend Chicago's Metra commuter trains from Kenosha to Racine and Milwaukee, the bill provides $80 million for the proposed 33-mile line, more than half of the expected $152 million price tag. That's the second major step for the project this month, after the 2005-'07 [Wisconsin] state budget set up a Regional Transit Authority to oversee the line and levy a $2 rental car tax.
That's not all.

The federal government will chip in another $3.76 million to rebuild Milwaukee's downtown Amtrak station into a combined train and intercity bus depot. That will nearly double the $4 million in state, federal and private money already pledged, and Mayor Tom Barrett is calling for another $4 million or $5 million in tax-incremental financing.

Also earmarked are an unspecified amount for preliminary engineering on expanding Kenosha's streetcar system and $750,000 for environmental studies on commuter rail or streetcar lines in Madison. The Kenosha project would add 3.4 miles to what is now a 1-mile line, while the Madison project has been mired in disagreements between commuter rail and light rail backers.

I'm sure that last development will not please some observers.

What's the handling charge?
In addition to the highway and transit formula money, the bill sends more than $480 million to Wisconsin for specific projects. By contrast, a single congressional district in Illinois - the northwest suburban Chicago area represented by Republican House Speaker Dennis Hastert - captured some $200 million.
And thus the title of the post.

Despite the uncertainty about Amtrak's future, an upgrade of the Empire Builder will roll out on August 22.


"No, my name is not Hiawatha, and this is not a Super Dome."


The redecoration is intriguing.
Inside the cars, the walls and surfaces have been updated with a frosty white and navy blue color scheme, accented by cherry wood grain laminate and cushions, carpets and drapes in matching shades of blue.
Wood grain panelling ... very Milwaukee Road. But Minnesota cheeses? [cough]
First-class passengers will be treated to service enhancements including an onboard wine and cheese tasting event in the lounge car featuring Minnesota cheeses and Washington state wines.
And a little history of that "upstairs snack bar" to be available during peak travel times. Note the pelt on the shelf in the lower left of the picture. That shelf is the location of the "upstairs snack bar," an as-built feature of the Sightseer Lounges that lost its attendant as one of the periodic economy measures.

29.7.05

PICKING AT OLD SCABS? Book Review No. 24 is John Earl Haynes and Harvey Klehr's In Denial: Historians, Communism, and Espionage. The book has a sobering roll call of American communist sympathizers, many originally from Finland, who were subjected to extreme measures by the NKVD. That's in the context of arguing, once again, that the academy is full of communist sympathizers who continue to refuse to read and understand and accept the conclusions of the authors' prior investigations of Soviet archives. (I think one of their previous books is in the stack of candidates for this year's 50 ...)

Alas, to a great extent, the book is yet another recitation of the controversies that roiled the coming of age of a cohort of intellectuals too young to be called to Korea and too old to be called to Vietnam (but just the right age to come up for tenure just as the older cohorts of the Baby Boom were entering college -- talk about being born on third base! -- and to make common cause with the noisiest of those Baby Boomers who were subject to the draft to perpetuate what Alan Charles Kors has correctly characterized as a "generational swindle"): Whittaker Chambers, Alger Hiss, Joseph McCarthy, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, Richard Nixon. In some ways the book is a Doppelganger to the efforts of many intellectuals who came of age in that era to overplay -- particularly as they age and reminisce -- their support for the Rosenbergs and opposition to McCarthy as somehow of a piece with resisting the Vietnam war or with compelling real fascists to surrender, the coming-of-age challenges of respectively the younger and older cohorts. My. Eyes. Glaze. Over. Perhaps in 100 years the maturing of the red diaper babies will provide a middling dissertation topic to a middling graduate student at a middling doctoral program, if such things still exist. Anybody else who looks at the history content standards the red diaper babies had a hand in writing who sees more emphasis on McCarthy than on Moon shots will wonder what the fuss was about.

There's a subtheme in the book of somewhat greater relevance, namely the fury of some of those academicians of that certain age who Messrs. Haynes and Klehr suggested were not paying sufficient attention to the evidence of communist oppression available in the Moscow archives after the Soviet Union posted its discontinuance notice. It transpired that the authors, as well as a few other researchers making use of declassified Soviet era archives, received financial assistance from openly anti-communist foundations such as Olin and Bradley. (Disclaimer: several Karlsons have provided surplus value appropriated by the Bradley Foundation. We called it "working our way through college." Or "supporting a family.") Some of their critics have called their previous work into question precisely because it was funded by foundations with an ideological bias, something that continues to trouble some academicians today.

Case in point: this essay in Inside Higher Ed by Donald Lazere, who attempts to compare and contrast the motives of Olin, Scaife, Bradley, et. al. (I believe those are the financiers of the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy) with those of the foundations that are more likely to support the academic establishment.
The same cannot be said for more liberally inclined foundations like Ford, Rockefeller, Carnegie, and MacArthur, in relation either to corporate sponsors or the Democratic Party. The very fact that these foundations fund projects that are often antithetical to their corporate patrons’ class interests is evidence that their motives are philanthropic, not propagandistic; they fund precisely the kind of projects least likely to attract corporate sponsorship.
Oh, come. Stack the review panel with reviewers sympathetic to leftist causes and then defend the outcome as "objective." Don't universities have affirmative action offices to second-guess the actions of hiring committees that, sight unseen, put together a short list comprising entirely white males based on their review of portfolios?

University Diaries has some related thoughts on Professor Lazere's column.

As far as In Denial is concerned, it is the scrap over whether there are ways of funding research that can promote quality scholarly objectivity that are more important than whether or not a few (aging?) academicians accepted Soviet propaganda at face value.

EVERYTHING WE LIKE GOES AWAY. Milwaukee's National Liquor Bar will close Saturday. We organized an impromptu family gathering in June for our farewells, which included pictures but no burgers. Today, one of the Milwaukee talk shows devoted an hour to the loss of the bar, and other nostalgic Milwaukee that has gone. Nobody got quite back to the North Shore Line or the streetcars or the parking lot monitors in control towers behind the Mitchell Street Sears and the Third Street Schuster's.




I suppose that's the world we live in today, and I've had a half century of observing what some of my rail enthusiast friends refer to as "Everything Turns To S***." All the same, I'll know we're in real trouble if Rockwell Automation is reduced to selling naming rights to the clock tower or the thermometer.

27.7.05

ANTICIPATING A GREAT DEVALUATION. Some economics in Book Review No. 23, Laurence Kotlikoff and Scott Burns's The Coming Generational Storm. It's everything you didn't want to know about the global extent of unfunded liabilities and the tendency of politicians and their court intellectuals to ignore or defer them. The authors offer a disclaimer.

Before you read on, we recommend you get into a comfortable chair, loosen your collar, and take your antidepressants.
Economists who are aware of the laws of conservation in economics and the existence of tradeoffs will not be as startled by what they read, nor by the fact that the authors' suggestions for coping with future liabilities are unlikely to satisfy anybody, particularly individuals most committed to any specific ideology.

Consider first their proposed Personal Security System (PSS in what follows) which would replace Social Security as we know it. (Please advise me if at about 2 pm Eastern today there was a mild earthquake in Hyde Park, New York.)


  1. The accrual of additional Social Security retirement benefits is eliminated.
  2. Current retirees and current workers receive their accrued Social Security benefits.
  3. Social Security's Old Age Insurance (OAI) payroll tax is eliminated and replaced with equivalent compulsory contributions to PSS accounts.
  4. A new federal retail sales tax is used to pay off the accrued retirement benefits owed under the old system. [This tax would be reduced as those liabilities expire.]
  5. Workers' PSS contributions are shared fifty-fifty with their spouses.
  6. The government contributes to PSS accounts on behalf of disabled and unemployed.
  7. The government matches PSS contributions on a progressive basis.
  8. All PSS balances are invested in a single market-weighted global index fund of stocks, bonds, and real estate.
  9. The government guarantees the real principal that workers contribute to their PSS accounts.
  10. Between ages 57 and 67, workers' PSS balances are gradually sold off and transformed into inflation-protected pensions.
  11. If a worker dies prior to age 67, any remaining PSS balances would be transferred to PSS accounts of the worker's heirs.
It's a start. The authors are fairly careful to explain each of these changes as well as to spell out some of the trade-offs involved. They've also proposed chopping up the Medicare elephant.
  1. The traditional fee-for-service Medicare system is discontinued.
  2. Medicare participants receive vouchers to purchase health insurance coverage.
  3. Voucher amounts are participant specific and depend on the participant's health status.
  4. New vouchers are issued annually, and participants can change plans annually.
  5. Insurers/HMOs cannot deny coverage or basic service.
  6. Insurers/HMOs must provide basic coverage, including prescription drug benefits.
  7. Insurers/HMOs are free to market additional coverage at additional premiums.
  8. Government sets voucher amounts to limit per capita MSS growth to that of real wages.
I suppose an observer could object that neither of these plans addresses technical changes or their effects on economic growth or spending on new therapies previously unavailable at any price. But these suggestions are a well-thought-through starting point, and there's a chapter on investment strategies that will reduce the pain should the politicians and their court intellectuals choose to do nothing until the bills come due.
THESIS, ANTITHESIS. Cox and Forkum are inspired by Mark Steyn columns questioning excessive non-judgementalism and revisiting a government employee attempting to demonstrate cultural competence ... to terrorist ringleader Mohammed Atta.


With the new academic year about to begin, and freshman indoctrination introduction to the New Dispensation already in full swing, it's time for some serious thinking about the use, and abuse, of nonjudgemental and relativist stances in dealing with people who do things differently.

Such stances, which are eminently sensible for the observer who is relying on the hospitality of strangers and wishes to stay alive long enough to return to familiar turf to publish those observations, are less convincing when applied to the behavior of new arrivals, particularly new arrivals with less pacific intentions, in your neighborhood. And when those stances introduce a vulgar form of anthropology into the academy via what used to be called the English department, as well as the nexus of faux-anthropology University Diaries felicitously refers to as "Studies Agglomerations" the academy loses credibility and the common culture becomes coarser.

There are, however, more interesting developments afoot. Start with some serious anthropologists; in this case a group venture called Savage Minds, which has been evaluating the recent taxpayer-assisted television version of Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel, which I read well before the Fifty Book Challenge came out. (Here is a link to some comments at Catallarchy.) Mr Diamond attempts to explain the prosperity of Eurasia without appeal to biology or unspecified cultural choices, an attempt that Savage Mind member Ozma finds wanting.

This is a punchline about race and history that many white people want desperately to hear. Those dying black kids at the end of the special – we know, because We Are Not Racist, that they don’t deserve what they are getting. They are not inferior. In fact, there but for the grace of god… thus affirming that no one but god has any historical responsibility, and that the world as we know it is a regrettable inevitability. Diamond’s account loudly insists that alea jacta wast (pardon the pig latin conjugation) before we even got going. And it poisonously whispers: mope about colonialism, slavery, capitalism, racism, and predatory neo-imperialism all you want, but these were/are nobody’s fault. This is a wicked cop-out. Worse still, it is a profound insult to all non-Western cultures/societies. It basically says they’re sorta pathetic, but that bless their hearts, they couldn’t/can’t hep it. Such an assertion tramples upon all that anthropology holds dear, and is a sham sort of anti-racism.

My objection to Mr Diamond is that he paid insufficient attention to the rules of trading. A temperate climate with easy technology transfer along parallels is useful, but somebody still has to think about patenting the lever or double-entry bookkeeping or an insurance contract. It is to the topic of neo-imperialism that I wish to turn; readers who would like to follow the anthropological debate will find a collection of links from Kerim of Savage Minds. Professor DeLong offers some observations from the perspective of an economic historian. Henry at Crooked Timber attempts to moderate the debate; there's a spirited bull session in progress.

But the preceding is a deviation from the post I originally set out to write this morning, which was provoked by a couple of columns addressing the motives of jihad bombers. Arnold Kling, writing some weeks ago, draws parallels between today's encroaching globalization and the homesteading of Indian Territory.

As the Napikwans (white men) begin to encroach on the Pikuni lands, some of the Pikunis express their frustration and resentment by scalping and horse-stealing. However, instead of leading to a tit-for-tat response, as in the traditional intra-tribal feuds, these gestures provoke a massacre in which native Americans are annihilated by the whites.

A recent column by William Pfaff makes a similar point.

The liberals and the conservatives of modern Western society firmly believe that. It is inconceivable to them that the traditional world, in which everyone except themselves lives, remains a valid choice for those who live in it.

The modern world is the aggressor, determined - without even seriously thinking about it - to destroy the backward civilizations of everyone else, which it sees as discredited remnants of the past. To destroy them is progress. Progress leads - where?

Here ...

However, deregulation and the globalization of the world economy casually destroyed what already was there: self-sufficient economies functioning within traditional trading patterns, artisanal manufacturing for local or neighboring markets, subsistence agriculture - and the cultural assumptions that went along with all of this.

No Westerner gave much thought to the damage being done. The West was bringing progress. Progress was membership in the world trading system and participation in a global consumer market with cheap goods and mass-produced food promoted by globalized communications.

The downside - destruction of self-sufficient societies and the uprooting and proletarianization of their people - simply seemed inevitable, bringing these people into the modern world and putting them on the road of progress.

With what consequences?

More to the point, when there are young men whose fate has been to be born between modern and traditional worlds - in ghettos in or around London, Madrid, Paris - without any possibility of living fully inside either of those worlds, who should be surprised when they attack what they see as the source of their distress?

Islam now includes tens of millions of young people either born in Western ghettos or sent out of traditional societies to study hyper-modern subjects in what their own civilizations would regard as godless societies.

There is a crucial factor in this that few in the West understand. Modern Western civilization is the product of Western history and culture. The West is what it is because of its past. Nobody imposed foreign ideas on the West. Hence the West is at home in the modern world. The modern world was created by, and belongs to, the West.

But the West is trying to impose not only foreign ideas on everyone else, but ideas that contradict and would destroy the fundamental values and assumptions of non-Western societies.

It says: This is progress. Our progress is your destabilization, the destruction of your cultures, the creation of millions of culturally alienated, deracinated, displaced persons, ripped from their own past to become integrated into a radically materialistic ethic.

It should hardly be surprising that the reaction to this is nihilistic violence.

But was it really true that no Westerner thought about these things? As I read Mr Pfaff's column, the following passages came to mind.

The bourgeoisie, wherever it has got the upper hand, has put an end to all feudal, patriarchal, idyllic relations. It has pitilessly torn asunder the motley feudal ties that bound man to his "natural superiors," and has left no other nexus between man and man than naked self-interest, than callous "cash payment." It has drowned the most heavenly ecstasies of religious fervor, of chivalrous enthusiasm, of Philistine sentimentalism, in the icy water of egotistical calculation. It has resolved personal worth into exchange value, and in place of the numberless indefeasible chartered freedoms, has set up that single, unconscionable freedom -- Free Trade....

The bourgeoisie has stripped of its halo every occupation hitherto honored and looked up to with reverent awe. It has converted the physician, the lawyer, the priest, the poet, the man of science, into its paid wage laborers.

***

The bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionizing the instruments of production, and thereby the relations of production, and with them the whole relations of society. ... All fixed, fast frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into the air, all that is holy is profaned ...

The bourgeoisie has through its exploitation of the world-market given a cosmopolitan character to production and consumption in every country. ... National onesidedness and narrowmindedness become more and more impossible, and from the numerous national and local literatures there arises a world-literature.

The bourgeoisie ... draws all, even the most barbarian nations into civilization. The cheap prices of its commodities are the heavy artillery with which it batters down all Chinese walls, with which it forces the barbarians' intensely obstinate hatred of foreigners to capitulate. It compels all nations, on pain of extinction, to adopt the bourgeois mode of production; it compels them to introduce what it calls civilization ... it creates a world after its own image.

The bourgeoisie has subjected the country to the rule of the towns. It has created enormous cities, has greatly increased the urban population as compared with the rural, and has thus rescued a considerable part of the population from the idiocy of rural life.

The source of that extended passage? A now obscure work called The Communist Manifesto. And how would Messrs. Marx and Engels view the McDonalding of the developing world? No doubt as a necessary evil in order to accelerate the global tension between bourgeois and proletarian. And their view of the resistance to the destruction of traditional societies. Look at those last two paragraphs. Strange times we live in, where a writer (and Mr Pfaff is probably not the only example) of the post-Communist left recognizes the dynamic but not the underlying dialectic at work.

Strange times we live in, indeed.

POLITICAL CORRECTNESS IS OPPRESSIVE NO MATTER THE POLITICS. Micha at Catallarchy discovers the disciplinary code for Liberty University. Catallarchy is a libertarian-leaning site and several commenters have raised the freedom of association argument. All the same, mandatory community service and protest permits are obnoxious.
BLOW, YOU OLD BLUE NORTHER. Several hours of soaking rain Tuesday afternoon, followed by a cool polar high overhead; a good evening to do some painting is in store. In parts of the Plains, temperatures have fallen some 40 degrees (Fahrenheit); that's the kind of contrast that kills the unaware in the winter. The contrast can bring severe summer weather as well. Thoughtful Conservative has coverage from Ohio.

26.7.05

ALBERTA CLIPPERS, DAKOTA DRIFTERS, AND PANHANDLE HOOKERS. Thus the three major tracks of winter storms east of the Rockies, something recognized by Lieutenant Thomas Mayhew Woodruff, Signal Corps weather forecaster in St. Paul in January 1888. But in those days which track any particular storm would take, and how quickly, was not known. Thus, when a particularly deep low brings in train a particularly cold high with great speed, The Children's Blizzard, which is Book Review No. 22, has several tragic stories of death by exposure, made worse because many people who began their day dressed for the warm sector ahead of what we now understand to be the cold front were taken completely by surprise by the storm.

There are four or five strands to the story. The storm itself is relatively unimportant; it's the optimism of emigrant farmers anticipating the consequences of Scandinavian land-tenure laws and Russification policies (Alexander II's mistreatment of German Protestants in Volhynia figures in the Superintendent's family history) and seeking opportunities to become landed gentry in a new country; the eagerness of the railroads to develop traffic in the empty spaces between the midwestern gateways and the Pacific Ports that led many of those migrants to believe the Northern Plains had a lot of upside potential; the public choice dynamic at work by which St. Paul received a weather station to provide, at taxpayer expense, information of great commercial value to elevators and packers; and, ultimately, the recriminations over the Signal Corps's failure to anticipate this blizzard, and a slightly more deadly late spring blizzard in New York City and New England two months later, that structure this story.

Perhaps author David Laskin would have a better story without some of the editorializing. His criticism, at p. 86, of Lt. Woodruff, who was ceremonially sacked in the recriminations, for "lacking imagination" suffers when he twins "A common failing in a person trained and drilled all his adult life in military discipline. A common failing in an age hell-bent on material progress and territorial expansion." In a foxhole, your imagination can get you killed. In business, or in migration, it is your lack of imagination that will be your undoing. Come off it. Likewise, his p. 269 explanation for the storm being called the "Children's Blizzard" because many of the dead were youngsters caught out at school is a bit over the top.
[I]n a way the entire pioneer period was a kind of children's disaster. Children were the unpaid workforce of the prairie, the hands that did the work no one else had time for or stomach for. The outpouring of grief after scores of children were found frozen to death ... was at least in part an expression of remorse for what children were subjected to every day -- remorse for the fact that most children had no childhood. This was a society that could not afford to sentimentalize its living and working children. ... A safe and carefree childhood was a luxury the pioneer prairie could not afford.
Nor could any other hardscrabble society, whether in Europe where many of the stories began, or any of the poorer parts of today's world. Might it be more accurate to argue that the entire history of preindustrial civilization has been a children's disaster, in which offspring are necessary liabilities to provide any hope of support for the few adults to survive to an age at which they're no longer able to work?
SOCIALIZATION? Regular readers have long known what that means, and whether or not it's useful. Time, anyway, for a refresher course. Joanne Jacobs has picked up a defense of the common schools that has drawn fire from homeschoolers clear on the concept. Here's Woody's Roundup.
Quite frankly, the way so many parents are raising their kids today, I really don't want mine socializing with most of them.
No doubt some education theorist would gripe about the hegemonic biases in that post. Imagine suggesting that the common schools ought be teaching the lower orders how to behave. The horror! Natalie's Nexus quotes a letter to the defender that gets socialization.
And socialization -- don't even get me started! No matter how many play dates and group classes or field trips a homeschooler participates in, there are so many lessons that a child can only learn on a public-school playground! This is where kids learn to stick up for themselves, where they discover their place in society, and where they find out who their real friends are.
The good news is that playground society is not necessarily prefigurative of adult society. Life after college ... sorry to keep repeating myself, but apparently the academic establishment is full of slow learners ... is the revenge of the nerds.
WHAT HAS BEEN GOING ON ON YOUR WATCH? Inside Higher Ed's Kati Haycock has disturbing news.
Over the past decade, the United States has slipped to 17th in the developed world in high school graduation rates, and seventh in college-entry rates. And we are no longer first in the proportion of young people completing a college degree.
What is to be done?
This is not acceptable. If our nation is to continue as a world leader, institutions of higher education must assume responsibility for helping every student they admit succeed. Right now, student success is not part of the way institutions of higher education — or the people who run them — are evaluated.
Under what standards are those students being admitted? And is it really true that success is not part of the evaluation? Ms Haycock directs something called the Education Trust ... is she that innocent of the legislative proctology that has been going on the past 15 or 20 years? Her prime concern appears to be class and race stratification, but read this:
While these disturbing patterns — low overall graduation rates and big gaps between groups — have remained stubbornly consistent, the consequences of not graduating have changed drastically. People with a four-year degree or higher now earn much more relative to high school graduates than they did 30 years ago, and the gap increases with the level of the degree.
Yes, and that's precisely the years over which the universities have been devoting more resources to access, diversity, and retention. Perhaps it's time for some new thinking about these tired nostrums.
Congress should first support state efforts to align the standards for exiting high school with those for beginning postsecondary study. With a relatively small investment, lawmakers could help states make sure that students don’t fall between the cracks separating high school from college, including linking their K-12 and higher education data systems.
Got a problem, pass a law. Where is the admissions office that will credibly commit itself to the following: No admission if you're not ready for college? No remedial courses, whether for credit, or not.
Second, Congress should provide more money to students by committing to a five-year trajectory to recoup the buying power of Pell Grants. The financial burden of paying for college is a huge barrier for many young people. Low-income young people are particularly hard hit, because the relative value of Pell Grants has diminished by 50 percent since the late 1970s. Whereas Pell Grants used to cover 84 percent of the average fixed cost at a public, four-year institution, in 2001-02 they covered only about 40 percent of these costs.
These grants are also a massive inducement for administrators to raise tuitions, for publishers to churn marginal revisions of textbooks at inflated prices, and for grant recipients to study less.

Ms Haycock would just as soon punt on the main problem.
Of course it would certainly help if more young people entered college well prepared and if they didn’t have to struggle to cover college costs, but preparation and ability to pay only tell part of the story.
Don't you just love that "of course" serving to rule the real solutions out of bounds? Wisconsin's tourism industry is importing summer help. The high schools are passing their academic deficiencies along to two-year and four-year colleges. There's a lot more to be done in the areas of preparation and obtaining resources that doesn't involve more of the same failed therapeutic regime.
GODSPEED DISCOVERY. On-time launch, nominal lift-off. The live shots from the new fuel tank camera are rather impressive. At separation these include a view of the lower leading edge of the wings for mission controllers to evaluate.

One of the Fox News commentators stated the obvious, observing that after Challenger's last flight, Discovery's 1989 liftoff would be watched particularly carefully; this time both liftoff and re-entry will be watched particularly carefully. That's a D'Oh! moment. The most dangerous moments of any flight are the takeoff and the landing; I think flyers have known that since 1903.

As of this moment the newsies are speculating about potty breaks for the crew ...

25.7.05

DUELING HISTORIES. Book Reviews 20 and 21 are James DeKay's Monitor and James Nelson's Reign of Iron, both covering the Battle of Hampton Roads and the subsequent fates of the ships and the leading men who fought them. The Superintendent is a bit of a Civil War junkie. For most readers, one of the two books will suffice, and Monitor, although a bit smaller and a bit more expensive, is the better buy. It offers more information about the effects of the fog of war on people's judgement, including the panic of the superintendent of the Gosport Navy Yard who had Merrimack patched up and ready to steam and then fired her along with the shiphouses, while an assistant failed to demolish the drydock, and the repeated errors in judgement by old-salts who knew that oakum, and only oakum, would keep the sea from opening up a seam. (A heavy harder metal object on a softer metal surface is less likely to work open.) You'd think Monitor's handlers would have learned from that error on the tow from New York to Chesapeake Bay. (Reign describes Monitor's sinking off Cape Hatteras, but the harrowing tow from New York gets short shrift.)

Monitor also reveals that designer John Ericsson originally conceived of his "sub-aquatic battery" as capable of firing steam-propelled "hydrostatic javelins." Flood Tube 1.

Reign offers less by way of the human follies and leaves out some important parts of the story, although -- for serious Civil War buffs -- it reveals that the drydock where Merrimack became Virginia still serves the U.S. Navy, and it puts to rest an old yarn about Monitor's cat.

Which ironclad won the battle? Monitor correctly, in the Superintendent's view, gives it to Monitor. Virginia's purpose was to destroy the Hampton Roads blockading squadron and permit foreign commerce to land goods and load cotton at the Virginia ports. Hampton Roads remained blockaded. Two years after the battle of the ironclads, General Grant was able to cross the James River and close land and sea access to Richmond.
CARNIVAL CALL. Political Calculations uses dynamic tables (electronic sorting on the fly, forsooth!) to present this week's Carnival of The Capitalists. It's a lot easier than rearranging the cage wagons in the menagerie. (And this is on Blogspot.com! Must. Study. This.)
AND YET ANOTHER ENDLESS, MINDLESS SUMMER ARGUMENT. The proprietor of Newmark's Door has done a great deal of work compiling four different league tables for economics weblogs. In three rankings that read like the coaches' poll these services have an outside shot at a BCS bid, and we're Force 6 (or is it Force 9?) on a compilation set up like the Beaufort scale. (If I can convince a few academic administrators to reef tops'ls it's a good day!)

There's a bull session over there on the merits of the rankings. Thanks for looking in.
SUPPLY AND DEMAND. Indepundit links to Michael Yon's embedded coverage of a raid on a weapons cache in Mosul, Iraq. Scary stuff. But note this:
There are tons of explosives and munitions here in Mosul, with more streaming in every day, though mounting evidence strongly suggests this flow is abating. For example, the street price of 60mm "mortar bombs" was about $3/shot 9 month ago. Now it’s up nearly seven-fold to over $20. Car bomb incidents in Mosul, while still causing major damage to both military and civilians, have been declining. Whether this is a temporary dip or steady trend remains to be seen. Even if the ongoing flow were completely cut off, there is still a deep well of materiel on hand.
Fewer incidents and a higher price for the ordnance. For the sake of our guys, and for the civilians in Mosul, let this be a leftward shift of the supply curve for ordnance.
POSSIBLE SOURCE OF COMPANY MAIL? Marginal Utility is the weblog of an economist located in Madison, Wisconsin, who found time for family trips on the Wisconsin and Southern's anniversary train (blocker-defeating pop-ups) and to the Oshkosh air show.

Flying Fortresses still impress.
A GRIPE I CAN EMPATHIZE WITH. The anonymous northeastern community college dean deals with some faculty pooh-bahs as the enrollment counts come in and some courses don't make.
Inevitably, that entails changing some faculty teaching schedules. Oh, the hue and cry! How could you possibly have me come in on Tuesdays? I never come in on Tuesdays! (Unspoken, but desired, answer: yeah, full-time jobs are like that.) You’re taking my course away from me! (what do you mean, your course?) Given how many of our classes are staffed by adjuncts, sometimes we have to base decisions on when the better adjuncts are likely to be available (and their schedules can get pretty idiosyncratic). That creates the odd dynamic of moving a full professor’s schedule around to make room for an adjunct. I can justify it on the grounds that it’s best for the students (and, for what we pay the adjuncts, we’re lucky if they show up at all), but the tenured types have long memories. I get accused of autocratic tendencies, since I didn’t run the decision by a committee first.
Setting up committees for special projects brings its own set of joys as well. Consider your rural normal school that has morphed into an exurban mid-major with lots of dual-career couples and one career in the metropolitan area. (I put in the special projects stipulation for a reason: the "Committees of the University" listing is thicker than the Amtrak timetable as well as more likely to be observed. People can use the schedule to mark up or mark off on those committees.) To be sure, one of the reasons universities don't pay as much as LaSalle Street is that a faculty member does not have to get on the 7 am semi-fast Monday through Friday; all the same, when a commuting colleague gives "doesn't want to drive here" as primary reason for preferring one day rather than another ... The 15 minute bicycle riders maintain home offices for a reason; longer commutes -- or daycare schedules -- ought not be trump cards for scheduling meetings.
AN ENDLESS, MINDLESS, SUMMER ARGUMENT. Enroute home yesterday, I tuned into one of those sports call-in shows that rival a humanities seminar for learned disquisition on absolutely nothing, albeit without the pretentiousness. Topic du jour: does Lance Armstrong's seven straight Tour de France wins count as among the greatest accomplishment in sport?

Irrelevant radio argument number 1: Bicycle racing. Who cares? The dudes scarfing hot wings at the big screen tavern are only interested in accomplishments in basketball, baseball, football, and hockey (and likely in that order, as individuals are more likely to be able to do more for the team in roughly that order, and hockey comes close to being tinted with the same Continental brush that colors the local view of soccer and bike racing.)

Irrelevant radio argument number 2: OK, so the competitors have to do a lot of preparation. What do we know about how good the competition is? That's irrelevant because the best at any endeavor must prepare to be better than anybody else, and, as Buddy Melges concluded his book, skimping on preparation will mean somebody else crossing that finish ahead of you. It's safe to assume that the best in any competition will have invested whatever it takes in conditioning and practice to stay best.

So how, then, to identify a great accomplishment? Why not use a survival test? Mr Armstrong's seven straight wins are noteworthy because there are previous competitors with four or five or six wins, well within my lifetime. And that the radio guys would gripe that no wing-chomping dude could come up with Eddy Merckx or Bernard Hinault or Miguel Indurain and they might recognize Greg LeMond as the previous American hope is irrelevant. But note that over the past 30 years a racer that manages to sustain focus for repeated Tour wins is the norm.

Now consider my candidate, the consecutive game hitting streak in baseball. The supremum is 56 games in 1941; there is a 44 game streak as recently as 1978 and a 39 game streak in 1987. The most recent streak is 35 games in 2002.

Seven straight Tour wins? Good on ya, Lance. And props for keeping focus maneuvering in a crowded fleet for the better part of a month, for the seventh straight year. Definitely noteworthy. Let's watch the Tour for another sixty years and then put that streak in perspective.

This is an endless, mindless summer argument post. Your candidate events are welcome. Keep it civil.
WORKING THEIR WAY THROUGH COLLEGE -- IN BULGARIA. The weekend's roller coaster destination was Wisconsin Dells, now home to five wooden roller coasters and numerous other gravity rides. The Big Chief go-kart track is now the Mount Olympus water and amusement park, which is home to four of the wooden coasters, including the recently opened Hades. Fast smooth ride. Make sure you buy the unlimited rides pass so as to sample everything else on the grounds and take repeat rides as your endurance can stand.

Closer to downtown is Timber Falls, home to Avalanche, a coaster with a lot of action.

Here's a transportation secret I learned over the weekend. Amtrak's Empire Builder (.pdf schedule) makes a valiant effort to emulate the Hiawatha between La Crosse and the Dells, and it is timed in such a way as to allow residents of La Crosse and Tomah to take day trips to the Dells. Years ago, the Milwaukee Road would run extra sections of the Hiawatha for Chicago to the Dells traffic; nice to know that residents of western Wisconsin ... and some Minnesotans who don't mind getting up early ... can do a day trip to the Dells on a train.

The title of this post ... a number of the ride operators at the two amusement parks, as well as employees of other attractions at the Dells, were residents of Former Soviet Bloc countries. How things change. Years ago, when the Superintendent was in college, chances were pretty good that if you got to talking with a kid from the sand county, he or she had a summer job in the Dells or in the cranberry bogs. In fact, I knew one kid who had a football scholarship that also drove a Duck. Perhaps the academy can get away with tuition hikes and hard to complete schedules to the extent it can because registration and records no longer has to deal with disappointed Duck drivers or cranberry cultivators who might have more of their own sweat, rather than Daddy's plastic, invested in getting finished. Empirical test time ... how quickly do the Bulgarians finish college? And all of this despite a Wisconsin law ... at the instigation of the tourism business, that requires school to open after Labor Day, with this rationale.
It also would allow students to work through August at their summer jobs, learn valuable life skills and earn more money to pay for advanced education.
Yup. Apparently the valuable life skills are being learned by youngsters from the Former Soviet Bloc.

21.7.05

MARKING OFF. Thanks for looking in. Time for a roller coaster fix. Some book reviews and other intellectual content next week.
ON MY WORKBENCH. Work progresses on laying out the valve gear and designing hangers and crosshead guide supports for this monster.

WOULD THEY WEAR NICER SHOES TO A HOOK-UP? The national champion womens' lacrosse team, from Northwestern (logical, I suppose) has generated some negative buzz because a few of the players purchased new sundresses and such and accessorized with ... flip-flops.
Aly Josephs' mother had the same reaction after seeing her daughter in the front row of the photo - the fifth person away from the president - wearing brown suede flip-flops with a skirt, sleeveless top and matching beaded jewelry. "Don't even ask me about the flip-flops," her mother said when a reporter questioned her about the picture. "As somebody who is 52 years old, it mortified me. I don't go out of the house without pantyhose on."
The team members used the old "compare-with-the-worst" strategy.
The teammates, and their athletic director, commented several times that it was actually the University of Michigan's national-champion softball team - in khaki shorts, polo shirts and sneakers - that was way underdressed.
Well, that's Michigan. Probably blue polo shirts.
Joe Guidry, a salesman at the upscale Stuart Weitzman store on Michigan Avenue, said he wouldn't advise women to wear the company's $150 flip-flops to the White House. "Meeting the president? I personally wouldn't wear them," he said.
$150 flip-flops??? $150??? I must not get out enough.

James at Arma Virumque weighs in.

Even with the collapse of civilized style, can't we still agree on six little words:

No shoes. No shirt. No service.

This admonition just happens to appear on the door of the old five-and-dime store on the island of our destination.

Yes, but let's keep our perspective here. Generally the kind of establishment that posts such advice offers little service to those wearing their shoes and shirt.
UNDOING VANDALISM. James Lileks notes that New York City has committed to rebuilding the Farley Post Office Building as a new Pennsylvania Station.
The sin of the demolition of the old Penn Station was never erased, and the wretched piss-soaked warren they put in its place was a constant reminder of the Original Sin of post-war urbanists. That unholy combo of bottom-liners and utopians took away one of the most magnificent spaces in urban American and replaced it with something that seemed lifted en masse from a claustrophobic dream. To modern eyes it makes no sense: the era where social divisions were keenly felt gave us a space so vast that all distinctions dissolved in its great stone heaven; the egalitarians, by contrast, gave us a space whose equalizing impulse was best expressed as the desire to oppress everyone’s spirit. I usually cooled my heels in the Amtrak First Class club, which was a parody of a sham of a travesty of First Class, at least in the 90s. You got a scratchy seat and a battered magazine and translucent coffee. If I didn’t have a first class ticket I went to the bar on the north side of the room, where you could smoke. It stank. Aside from rush hour, it was empty, and had a sad battered quality that made you feel like a rude sack of meat slumped over a ration of intoxicants. And I never knew which track I should take. It never seemed clear. Even though they had signs and names it always seemed as though they were leaving out some key detail. Like your destination. No, I hate Penn Station.
The tribute to the old station includes one of my favorite quotes, this from the editorial board of the New York Times.
We want and deserve tin-can architecture in a tinhorn culture. And we will probably be judged not by the monuments we build but by those we have destroyed.
That pretty well applies to many of the other monuments of the America of that era, the America that worked, including the universities.

But enough of that. Consider Mr Lileks's tribute to train travel.
Penn Station had one thing going for it. Trains. Nothing compares to arriving by train; you’re not dropped off in a climate-controlled center on the edge of town, but dropped in the humid middle, surrounded by machinery and steam and shouts and clangs. You don’t slide up the jetway – you schlep yourself along the platform to the stairs, you jostle and maneuver and find your place in the throng; you thread through the station, head outside – and oh, my, GOD, there it is, loud and wide and high and alive, the city.
Yes, and throughout the rebuildings of the visible spaces of Penn Station, the one constant has been the trains and the tracks. Apart from the connections to a west side coach yard and a New York Central freight line to bring all Amtrak trains into Penn, the track is as The Pennsylvania Railroad conceived it in 1910.
When you leave you leave with the nudge. Planes waddle to the runway then throw themselves in the air with theatrical fury. Trains nudge you out. You’re sitting in your seat; you’re still. The strange orange subterranean light fills the car; again the shouts, the clangs, the whistles, the whirr of electric carts. The doors huff shut. Conductors walk around listening to crackly voices on the walkie-talkie. You wait. Then the nudge. The train lurches forward, the wheels clank, the rhythm begins, and you’re on your way. In a few minutes you’ll clear the tunnels and see the city from below, indifferent to your departure. Clank clank clank clank clank clank clank clank. On the plane you seem to approach New York like a nest of hornets – you’re wary, circling, then you bore in. When you leave by train you simply move along, move down, move out. Old tunnels, old concrete, rusted remains, barrels, trash, then light.
And speed.
DISCOVERING THE RAILFAN SEAT. Annie at Going Underground finds one on the Docklands Light Railway.
One of the good things about travelling on the DLR (Docklands Light Railway) - in fact it's probably the only good thing about travelling on the DLR - is that you can sit in the front of the train and pretend to be a driver.
Yes, the Superintendent concurs.

The subway is another matter.
Imagine looking at tunnels like this every day. No wonder [the motormen] look so bored.
The novel version of Taking of Pelham 1-2-3 (not on my movie list; patience) has the motorman estimating the weight of his passengers as a way of passing time. Remember the story problem that begins "You are a motorman ...?"
TENURE VIA THE BACK DOOR. Sean at The American Mind has been following the death-duel between the University of Wisconsin and the Legislature over the practice of granting high-ranking administrators tenure in academic departments, which has lately become known as "backup jobs" for administrators that don't work out. As I noted here, at one time presidents and deans were citizen professors who did that work for a few years before returning to faculty. That's somewhat less common these days. Watch for the Legislature to gain some traction here. With the continued division of labor in the academy, the ranks of administrators including presidents and provosts is being expanded by scholars whose research credentials are often modest.

Watch the critics outside the academy to become even more vocal, if this post (via Sykes Writes) is at all representative.
ACELA'S RETURN. Amtrak hopes to resume a full schedule of Acela Express service with a few Boston runs as early as this weekend.They are pretty trains but the recriminations over whether the trains came in heavier than the brake manufacturer was told or over corner cutting by that manufacturer will not be pretty.
IS SUBURBIA KIDDIELAND? Laura at 11-D sees opportunities for spontaneity.
Instant access to fresh air and buddies without dog poop on the sidewalk.
Lynne at Knowledge Problem concurs with a Marginal Revolution observation that "sprawl is a tax on spontaneity," although adult-supervised and coached play enters the equation.

I'm somewhat older than these observers and an emigre from early tract housing (in those days "upscale" was a three-bedroom ranch with a basement under everything and two sinks in the one bathroom.) In those days parents were somewhat more willing to let kids be kids, and it was standard procedure to find a few buddies and throw around a football or something rather than be ferried from practice to practice (what passed as "rich" differed in those days as well; if Dad's income made a new station wagon possible every three years one was doing well. Two incomes and two car garages, let alone those snout houses over a three car garage were a future not imagined in The Jetsons.)

Also unimagined in those days were "rails to trails" bike path conversion. But the grades of the interurban, gone under 15 years, and the North Shore Line, gone less than ten, were still in a rideable condition. In those days the outlying segments of the system, which are now configured as trails, were a bit outside my riding range. On the other hand, my less durable body and less rugged commuter bike will probably appreciate the improvements to those trails.
"IT'S THE SAME S*** YOU'D BUY FOR YOUR KID'S BEDROOM." So a carpenter describes the new desks being delivered as a palliative to the departments displaced by the Great Zulauf Space Grab. Heavy particle-board with a wood-grain like veneer that may or may not be wood. Plastic bags of drywall screws. Components predrilled in approximately the right places. Bring the drill and the Phillips screw bits.

The desk deliveries appear to be approximately on schedule. On the other hand, the former economics offices at the northeast end of the 4th floor, which were supposed to be vacated by the end of exam week (never mind deadlines such as proctoring the exams and turning in the grade sheets on time) are still in the empty condition the occupants left them in at that time. And some other departments might be in temporary quarters yet at the start of the semester.

Kudos to William "King of Spades" Minor for deciding that disrupting the operations of most of the social science division for the summer (and extracting a lot of unpaid labor from the faculty) was in the best interest of the college. (And this thirtysomething anonymous administrator wonders why I'm snarky.)

Remind me again, this space grab is supposed to improve conditions for students, isn't it?
HERE WE GO AGAIN. More explosions on the Tube. Tube Geek at Going Underground offers continuing coverage.
On Tuesday I was happily posting about Harry Potter sightings on the tube and now it's bombs again.
Also this hypothesis.
'Explosions' appear to be dummy detonators. No casualties reported. It's NOT a major incident, but windows WERE blown out on the No. 26 bus.

I'm guessing it's someone proving that detonators (with no explosives) still get past the sniffer dogs, and they're doing it to show that panic and disruption can still be caused.
Sounds like one of two from Mitch at Shot in the Dark.
  • The terrorists are down to using their "B" team. They built a batch of squib bombs; all bang, no bite. Luck is good.
  • The terrorists tossed off a squib attack to lull the west into complacency.
  • Something else to consider: some of the followup coverage of the larger attack two weeks ago suggested the bombers were not supposed to be on a martyrdom operation. Remember that bin Laden tape from November of 2001 where he and some buddies were chuckling over the muscle guys on the airplanes who were not aware the hijacking was not going to end with negotiations on a tarmac someplace? Incentives matter. Are the bin Ladenistas beginning to encounter the same problem the Japanese Navy began to encounter at Midway, with the best commanders choosing to share the fate of the ship, but without press-gangs to replenish the ranks?

    In related developments, this observation from two weeks ago
    Hmmm, did the assembly of U.S., Canadian, Commonwealth, Free French and Free Polish troops and materiel along the Channel coast provoke the buzz-bombs and flying gas mains?
    has become this Henry Payne cartoon.
    MESOSCALE VORTICITY CENTER. Apparently that's the meteorological description of this cyclone over Wisconsin, which I assure you is not Photoshopped.



    It did whirl enough rain our way to replenish the rain barrel and stimulate the weeds at the same time that it's helping the lettuce and okra.

    18.7.05

    CHICAGO TO FLORIDA BY TRAIN. Effective August 1; change at Washington D.C. headed east and south; change at New York Penn Station headed north and west.
    KEEPING CURRENT. I've begun to deal with the backlog of technical journals. The July issue of Iron and Steel Technology describes the direct casting of steel sheet by Nucor Steel at Crawfordsville, Indiana.

    Steel sheet is useful in a number of applications including wastebaskets, appliances, and automobiles. But only recently have engineers figured out how to continuously cast liquid steel between two rollers, enabling the production of a coil of sheet steel (Flash-intensive sales pitch, be wary) without all the work involved in reshaping a relatively easy to cast slab of steel into a coil.

    The Crawfordsville mill has been operating on a development basis until recently, and Nucor intend to build a second plant.

    17.7.05

    ARE MARKETS USEFUL, OR NOT? Book Review No. 19 is Eric Schlosser's Reefer Madness, a trip through those parts of the underground economy that provide marijuana, strawberries, and pornography (maybe there is something to get hung about?) On the one hand, Mr Schlosser (based on market evidence?) suggests the U.S. decriminalize marijuana for personal use and let secular, rather than sacred, considerations govern the production and consumption of pornography. On the other hand, the use of market incentives to entice illegal immigrants to pick strawberries (as well as numerous other agricultural tasks) is wrong.
    The market will drive wages down like water, until they reach the lowest possible level. Today that level is being set not in Washington or New York or Sacramento but in the fields of Baja California and the mountain villages of Oaxaca. That level is about five dollars a day. ... Left to its own devices, the free market always seeks a work force that is hungry, desperate, and cheap -- a work force that is anything but free.
    Page 108. The book sells for just over five bucks, used. Draw your own conclusions. That the level might be set by education policies that ensure a culturally competent but innumerate workforce does not enter the discussion; that cheap labor subsidies are available for some industries but not others affects induced innovation does. And the careful reader will learn an archaic meaning of inversion.
    COMPARE AND CONTRAST. The Washington Post's David Von Drehle invites Betsy Newmark and Barbara O'Brien for treats and a stroll around Washington. Here are their sites' announcements of this story.
    IS THIS MEETING NECESSARY? An anonymous dean at a community college somewhere in the northeast laments.
    The tricky part of summer work is trying to put meetings together. Since academia is allergic to the concept of a single manager doing anything on his own intiative (that would be running the college like a business! Horrors! What’s next – tying pay to performance?), everything requires consultation and collaboration. In practice, everything requires meetings.

    The logistics of assembling meetings are challenging enough during the academic year, when everyone’s calendar is full already. In the summer, simply finding days when everyone is in the state at the same time is tough.
    Oh, come. Summer shut-down has been a fact of life for what, 100 years? And in that time nobody has figured out how to deal with most of the routine business by May 15? Legislative recisions have been reality for, oh, the past 15 years? And nobody has figured out the most logical contingency plans for this year yet?

    Give. Me. A. Break.

    And why might everyone's calendar be full during the school year? Might there be a connection between down-sizing the faculty, asking the remaining faculty to teach more sections with more students, subjecting that faculty to more inquisitions from various advisory offices keeping track of the progress of special-admissions students as well as requiring attendance at mandatory harassment or diversity training sessions or seeking participants for focus groups? (A conjecture: watch the final version of the Oregon Five Year Plan for Cultural Competence include the re-education mandatory training during the school year: resistance to that training during the summer being more likely to get people angry than the insulting nature of the training's content.)

    What is the sound of Atlas, shrugging? In the academy, is it a growing reluctance of faculty to volunteer to do extra, unpaid work, during the summer session as the administrators become more intrusive and arbitrary in their demands on faculty during the nine months they are under contract? Does the absence of any rewards for greater productivity (couple those enlarged teaching loads with higher enrollments and minimal merit raises) make the faculty more protective of their own time than they otherwise would be?
    THE DIFFICULT WE DO RIGHT AWAY. Book Review No. 18 is Craig Symonds's Decision at Sea: Five Naval Battles that Shaped American History. Of the five, the most significant might have been the Battle of Lake Erie, which most people learn of incidental to the wineries and Tri-Motors (if they're still flying?) on the Erie Islands and the roller coasters ashore. That victory, which secured for the United States control of Lake Erie, made possible the development of the coastal cities that later became Erie, Cleveland, Sandusky, Toledo, and Detroit. (Absent amicable relations between the U.S. and Canada, the Prairie Provinces might well have at some time become States. There is a stretch of road along the north bank of Lake Superior that is essentially the only improved road between east and west, and imagine how difficult a few monitors would have made hacking the Canadian Pacific out of that same bank.)

    The theme that sticks out in most of the five stories is individual initiative and excessively aggressive behavior, something still part of our military tradition. Commodore Perry built his fleet behind a sand bar at Erie, Pennsylvania; he was in the middle of floating his fleet over the bar, an evolution that required guns and tophamper to be removed in order to reduce the draft, when the British fleet hove into view. Perry's reaction: speed up the refitting of Niagara and prepare for action. The British, with the expectation of being able to deal with the fleet at their leisure once their ship Detroit was ready, left the preparations alone.

    The Battle of Hampton Roads contains a similar tale, with Captain Buchanan of Virginia deciding to turn his sea-trial into a raid. Had he waited even a day, Monitor would have been on station and his first day's success against the wooden ships well might not have happened. At Midway, the Japanese calculated that Yorktown would not be available to respond to their move; they thus decided to refit Shokaku and Zuikaku at leisure as four carriers against two are sufficient odds. Four against three and an airfield, on the other hand, is a good way to lose four.

    The book also has some thoughts about what goes on on land that will reward careful study. For example, Admiral Dewey requested a force to occupy the Phillipine archipelago after destroying the Spanish fleet, a request unanticipated in Washington, and one that might have contributed to a protracted guerrilla war with aftereffects to this day. That the U.S. Navy now has the task of inspecting any cargo ship anywhere and confiscating contraband cargoes ought give readers pause, even if captains do not have the authority to press-gang civilian crews into the Navy, as their Georgian counterparts did.
    IS THERE AN EFFICIENCY WAGE EFFECT? No beach that offers "two girls for every guy" can long remain in that state. (I'm sure that's been offered as an arbitrage argument somewhere, but my search string skills are a bit weak this afternoon.) There might be something related in a Liberty Belles post on the meatmarket.
    The finest of these beefcakes are much costlier to obtain than others, requiring you to spend more money diversifying your designer portfolio and more time working on your butt and hips. The entire value of the man derives from his relative unavailability and high cost vis à vis other men. An exclusive relationship with this man makes him entirely unavailable to others and drastically lowers supply of fine men on the meatmarket. Should the man violate his commitment to you by taking another Belle out to a romantic dinner, the supply of men will increase and his value to you will decrease.
    But the hottest women are also costlier to obtain.
    Let’s say a man is dating a stunning woman whom we will classify as a luxury good. In order to stay in this relationship, the man must have the wherewithal to meet her standards. This wherewithal, referred to as income in economic terms, includes the gamut of attributes that his lovely girlfriend finds attractive. Let’s say the man unexpectedly experiences a series of unfortunate events that hamper his ability to maintain her: he takes a pay cut, he has a stroke, he loses an arm, he gets fat, and his house is repossessed by the government for the public good. This miserable creature no longer has the wherewithal, or income, to pay for a luxury good such as his erstwhile girlfriend.
    There's a nasty efficiency-wage problem buried in herre somewhere. But if both parties are paying premia to each other so as to attenuate the incentive to stray, what is the equilibrium investment in self-maintenance? And is that a pooling equilibrium or a separating equilibrium? Consider this followup at Unshackling Isaac Newton:
    Women who are aloof find that there is a shortage of men who are willing to approach them. They are willing to spend very little opportunity dollars, and at this level there is a shortage of men.
    There ought be opportunities for the people who opt out of the conventional channels being analyzed in this series of posts to find each other through different channels.
    PROHIBITION'S END. In Rockport, Massachusetts, 72 years after it ended in most of the rest of the country. Vodka Pundit approves. Perhaps there will be fewer intoxicated drivers on the northeastern end of 128 returning from Gloucester, which, as a proper fishing town should, has taverns.
    WHO HAS LUFFING RIGHTS IN A PELOTON? Lynne at Knowledge Problem has been providing a racer's perspective on the Tour de France, with these sites recommended for race commentary. A cross-country bicycle race combines cooperation and competition, with the leading riders taking turns providing draft for each other, and with teams engaging in strategic maneuvering to prevent challengers from getting in front of them. Imagine a crowded mark-rounding that goes on for over 100 miles, up-hill and down, with competitors literally on your hip, no hulls to crunch together before the bodies crunch together, no water to absorb your fall, and velocities made good in excess of 20 knots. If somebody attempts to break out of the pack, what is the proper course of a racer in front that wants to stop the overtaking bike from passing? It's a wonder more riders don't get hurt.

    13.7.05

    SAFETY IS THE FIRST OBLIGATION. Discovery launch delayed account troubles with a fuel gauge.
    OPTING OUT OF THE SENSITIVITY GULAG? David French at the Torch discovers the New York Times covering proprietary institutions of higher learning. First Mr French's commentary.
    Already, these for-profit schools represent a viable alternative for many students who see the university primarily as a vehicle for career advancement. Since (truth be told) most students go to college not to learn the nuances of political theory or the joys of Chaucer but instead to improve their economic position, it is not difficult to imagine a day when for-profit colleges—which put job placement at the center of their mission—will present a major challenge to traditional government and nonprofit private schools. As colleges become increasingly politicized (some are so ideologically slanted that students are essentially joining revolutionary cells rather than academic departments), the for-profit schools may be seen as a haven from the culture wars.
    He notes there is a downside.
    There are, however, complaints regarding the quality of the for-profit educational experience.
    But as I read the particulars, I'm prompted to compare and contrast.

    Students at these schools study to prepare for careers in business, culinary arts and design, and to become medical technicians or paralegals.

    But questions exist about the quality of education at some of these institutions. Federal and state investigators have found that some used inappropriate enrollment practices, like registering students incapable of doing the work. Some critics also charge that the schools make rosy promises about jobs for their graduates that do not materialize.

    That's different from admitting unprepared students and calling it "access," or using the expected retirements of Silent Generation professors to induce hopefuls into graduate school, now known as the first mile of the adjunct track?

    In recent audits, the New York State comptroller's office found more problems with commercial schools than at other schools. In audits of four degree-granting schools in the past year, the comptroller found that irregularities in financial aid grants were more than eight times higher at the two commercial schools studied than at the public college and the private nonprofit college that it also reviewed.

    Representative Maxine Waters, Democrat of California, said in written testimony to a Congressional hearing in March that at one point she had accumulated a two-foot stack of complaints about the schools. She said that while not all schools were bad, enough were to warrant "even more protection from the false sales pitches of many of these for-profit trade schools."

    That the state-located and the non-profits are not as bad is insufficient reason to think all is well.
    Nonetheless, more and more college students are attracted by the career-oriented education these schools typically offer, as well as by their often relaxed admissions policies and their consumer-oriented focus.
    The Wal-Mart version of Jacuzzi U? What is it, maybe 200 traditional colleges and universities that turn away more applicants than they admit? And perhaps what this story tells us is how ineffective elementary and secondary education are at serving some people.

    What students get in return is harder to measure. Despite the growth and the public money flowing to the schools, they remain a poorly understood corner of higher education. What is clear is that they often focus on groups that many colleges do not, like working adults or students who have not graduated from high school. They place less emphasis on professors with doctorates and more on teachers with practical experience. They offer a narrower range of courses that are more career-oriented, and they schedule classes at times convenient to working students.

    But the quality of education can vary. Gail O. Mellow, president of La Guardia Community College in Queens, said that after the Drake Business School, a commercial institution that did not grant degrees, closed last year, La Guardia tried to see if it could help some of the students.

    "We found it impossible," she said. "Even though some of these students were at the end of their sophomore year, their level of preparation was so low that they were not passing our basic placement tests."

    With somewhere between 1/4 and 1/2 of entering freshmen requiring remediation, perhaps the for-profits are a symptom of troubles elsewhere in the education system, or perhaps in the broader society.