31.8.05

COMPARE AND CONTRAST. The Valve is working on an interactive critical reading of Philip Roth's The Plot Against America. The first presentation is from Amardeep Singh; discussion has been closed. Sean McCann's workshop is still in progress. The call for papers suggests there will be additional presentations to come. Earlier this year Plot was Book Review No. 10 in my contribution to the 50 Book Challenge, should anyone wish to revisit one layman's perspective.
SOME LIGHTS STILL APPEAR TO BE ON. A few minutes ago I downloaded from Earth View a satellite view of the Gulf of Mexico taken at 0317 Zulu on September 1.


I welcome recommendations of other sites with satellite views showing the lights, or lack thereof, on the Gulf Coast.

The weather update for Northern Illinois University provided links to before and after views of the Gulf Coast. Lake Pontchartrain is much more full of water after the storm than before the storm; as news reports are indicating the water levels are equal on the lake side and on the city side, the challenge to closing the levees will be in dealing with the general return of the lake level to mean sea level. To the east, there is a temporary Firth of Tombigbee that will also drain, but not before revealing a mess between the riverbank and the high water mark.

A nearby talk radio host was this morning soliciting comments about the wisdom of rebuilding New Orleans in place, some feet below sea level in a swamp. After the cleanup, the recriminations promise to be nasty.

30.8.05

RESISTANCE IS FUTILE. French respect for international institutions does not extend to international conventions on railroad interchange.
France, long one of Europe’s holdouts in using only state-run trains, reports long-time railroad writer Don Phillips, has finally allowed a private train to operate between Germany and France – but the impact of that single daily train may pale compared with the big plans of the English, Welsh & Scottish Ry., which has been operating freight trains in Britain since the British Ry. privatization of 1995-96.
Names are about to be taken, and butts kicked.
The Canadian [chief of English Welsh] has let it be known that he is training locomotive engineers to operate on six routes of the French railroads. On May 31, he filed the proper safety documents with the French railroads. Next comes permission to operate huge Class 66 freight diesel locomotives in France, locomotives that are already certified to operate in almost every country in Europe – except France.
"Huge," here, is a relative term. Put a Class 66 alongside an SD90MAC or a Dash-9 and it looks like a toy. But the Class 66 might accomplish in peacetime what the S-160 G.I. Consolidation did in wartime, namely be positioned to move freight from the Atlantic (as a British "Yankee") to the Pacific (as a Soviet "Shch.") In the Superintendent's opinion, the Polish came up with the best designation for the G.I.s, classifying them "Tr" for "Truman."
A PROPER ANCHOR FOR A CORRIDOR? Amtrak's downtown Milwaukee passenger station is the last big-city train station to be built prior to Amtrak but it anticipates the cheap design of Amtrak's first new stations in Cincinnati, the Twin Cities, and St. Louis. Despite Amtrak's travails, the policy makers are considering improvements to the station to enable intercity buses to use it as well.

Here's what anchored the corridor before 1965. (Two photos by John Karlson.)

This is the east throat of the station in the fall of 1952. The railroad discovered some weaknesses in the clock tower and is removing the top. The clocks will be moved to the decorative arches lower in the tower. The diesels are a pair of Erie-Builts (available in O Scale from Atlas) and the pair of DL-109s, 14A and 14B.


And here is the west throat in the fall of 1940. Immediately behind the F-7 Baltic are several coaches, suggesting this is a corridor train, not a Hiawatha which would have a baggage car or one of the tap cars immediately behind the tender. This station was condemned for expansion of Milwaukee's freeways, but only the land behind the photographer was taken for a new roadway. The station site itself is now occupied by Wisconsin Electric's general offices, and the east throat remains vacant land.
THE SHIN KANSAN? National Corridors reports on plans for a high speed rail line running Cheyenne-Denver-Pueblo-Albuquerque. The proposal is to convert existing freight lines for passenger service and build new freight lines. One wonders if it wouldn't be easier to build a new high-speed passenger line (to hit Boulder on the way south and make an easier mountain crossing than Raton Pass) rather than attempt to rebuild the old Santa Fe - Colorado and Southern - Rio Grande Joint Line.
THANK YOU FOR YOUR INTEREST. The proprietor of Radio Economics was kind enough to interview me about my work and the Cold Spring Shops. To get the podcast, highlight the title and click. Computers that double as stereo systems. I can get used to that.
YOU CAN BE IMMATURE FOREVER. A public policy course requires a professor to have some familiarity with differing policy perspectives. Some are easier than others. The Welfare Economics Paradigm and the Alchian-Coase-Demsetz transaction costs approaches are straightforward enough. My work with the National Council on Economic Education keeps me conversant with what Corporate America thinks of as economic literacy. I can quote Scripture like the descendant of Puritan elders. But I quest, so far in vain, for a presentation of radical political economy that gets much beyond "See that small house. See that big house. Aren't the contrasts awful?"

Lisa Duggan's The Twilight of Equality? is less satisfying than most efforts on that score. The publisher let me buy it for five bucks, which I'll sometimes drop on a flavored ice coffee, and I get Book Review No. 37 out of it.

Professor Duggan finished high school about the same time I did, and her autobiographical opening promises much.
Richard Nixon was president, the U.S. was embroiled in an unjust imperialist war in Vietnam, the limitations of 1960s civil rights legislation appeared in the form of persistent, entrenched racial inequality, the worlds of work and home were sharply segmented by gender hierarchies. But in 1972, I nonetheless had reason to be optimistic. Active and expanding social movements seemed capable of ameliorating conditions of injustice and inequality, poverty, war, and imperialism. In fact, social movements were producing innovative critiques of a widening variety of constraints on human possibility -- the women's liberation movement, gay liberation, lesbian feminism, black feminism, and other thriving or emerging formations joined radical labor activism, civil rights and black nationalist insurgencies, antiracist and anti-imperialist mobilizations.
Optimistic might be an understatement. These were precisely the years of affirmative action, environmental protection, no-fault divorce, and legal abortion becoming national policy. The U.S. wound up its work in Vietnam in such a way as to ensure Vietcong and Khmer Rouge victories. First Vice President Agnew, and then President Nixon, self-destructed. The Equal Rights Amendment appeared on its way to ratification. But what impressed me in those days was how unhappy the Movement (always pronounced Mewve-ment) people remained despite all that. So, too, Professor Duggan.
I had no idea I was not perched at a great beginning, but rather at a denouement, as the possibilities for progressive social change encountered daunting historical setbacks beginning in 1972. From the perspective of more than three decades later, it is apparent that a great sea change begun in the early 1970s led us all in directions we simply could not have imagined then. From the early 1970s, global competition and falling profit rates stirred U.S. corporate interests to mount a counter-movement.
We will be spared an expose of the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy in the pages that follow. We will also be spared rationalizations for the boat people, the killing fields, herpes and AIDS, or Thirteenth Generation crudeness (and for all the noble talk of rapeincestlifeofthemother that generation correctly understood abortion to be the backstop technology when the latex or the pill failed and reacted to the next-elders and to their parents accordingly.) For all the talk of inequality, the failings of the common schools are absent from the discussion.

What, then, went wrong? According to Professor Dugger, there has been a failure at the cutting edge of feminist and queer theory. I cannot make up stuff like this. Read the book. (Get it on interlibrary loan; it's remaindered at about ten bucks too much.) The Right's circumscription of public opinion is epitomized by -- a kerfuffle over a sex-toy session in a broader conference at SUNY New Paltz. Multiculturalism and diversity have been coopted by -- the horror -- corporations -- with Andrew Sullivan getting a very public platform for advocating a relatively tame form of same-sex marriage. (No doubt Professor Dugger would get the vapors contemplating Virginia Postrel's suggestion that as stuff can be produced more cheaply its aesthetics can be improved, buying off the Queer Eye.) But she's not done reading the false progressives out of area studies; the concluding chapter has all of The Communist Manifesto's consideration of false ideologies but without the passion.
REPEAT, EXPECTING DIFFERENT RESULTS? Atlantic Blog works through a David Broder meditation on improvements to the common schools.
A GOOD MAN DOWN. Veteran English Professor Gustaaf van Cramphout suffered a brain hemorrhage and a fall over the weekend. The English department is posting updates on his condition as they become available. Professor van Cramphout is one of the more cheerful people around these parts. I wish him a speedy and complete recovery.
TAKING SENSITIVITY TO THE OTHER TOO SERIOUSLY? Photon Courier discovers a contemporary slaveowner that delivers the correct riposte to a critic.
THE CALM THAT TRUMPS THE STORM. Hurricane Katrina left a real mess in the Mississippi Delta and Gulf Coast points east. Cold Spring Shops will be monitoring blogospheric fundraising projects for relief and recommending some for your consideration.

A former Category 5 hurricane, however, is no match for the Lake Michigan high. There has been a high near Chicago most of the summer that has made for fine weather (unless you're a farmer hoping for some rain) and lousy sailing conditions, and that high has shouldered tropical depression Katrina, now just another continental low, off toward Buffalo and the Maritimes .

26.8.05

STRATEGIC PLANNING IN AN ERA OF DOWNSIZING. The anonymous community college dean has to permanently downsize some departments, by treating any currently vacant but not filled tenure-track lines as no longer available for future departmental expansion. He's pleading poverty. Perhaps that's true: other posts at his site describe a community college in a prosperous northeastern county confronting shrinking state support and dwindling enrollment, and much of the enrollment he sees lacks life-management skills. This community college also employs administrators who do not hold tenure in academic departments. The caution he issues to department chairmen, however, does not generalize.
I think the issue, really, is that faculty often see the output of administrative decisions, but not the inputs. They see the shrinkage of a department, or an unpleasant new policy on office hours or copier use, but they don’t see the budget numbers that lead to those decisions.
I know not what changes have taken place in the size of the counseling office at Anonymous Junior at the same time that the faculty has been shrinking, with adjunct substitution accompanying tenure-track attrition. I do know that at the midwestern flagships and mid-majors, we can see the corporate-style perks for senior administrators who continue to hold academic-style protection against changes in management philosophy (the backup jobs) and the prettying up of spaces occupied by presidents, provosts, and deans while the faculty members are moved to smaller quarters and asked to teach more, larger classes. University Diaries has been following the suspension of American University president Benjamin Ladner, who has been indulging himself like a medieval archbishop. Such developments make department chairmen and search committees skeptical of pleas of poverty from the college or university offices.
A CORRECTION. The class that follows mine is not another section of economics, it is an anatomy class for speech pathologists. Perhaps that explains why there are nine girls for each boy, although comparable-worth researchers still face the onus of determining whether speech pathologists have an easier time scheduling flexible working hours or working from home offices than investment bankers or bond traders.

24.8.05

BEER AND CIRCUSES. Three of the five dining halls in the Northern Illinois dorm system will not be serving dinner this evening.
Instead, students are encouraged to take a Huskie Line bus to the Campus Cinemas parking lot, 1015 Blackhawk Drive, for a barbecue-style dinner, carnival games, live music and information on NIU’s Greek chapters.
The transaction is Pareto-improving to some parties.

"The university gets to give a great gift to all the Greeks for their hard work and cooperation.

The Greek system in general gets publicized to the university and the community, which has not happened in the past.

The individual chapters themselves get to go out and wear their letters. And students get to see that the Greek system is actually very different from the movie ‘Animal House.’

"The aim of the carnival is to let new students find out for themselves what the Greek system is all about, said Craig Marcus, program assistant for Greek Affairs.

That explains the proliferation of red-and-black t-shirts with assorted Greek letters on campus today. Not everybody is impressed.
[One dorm resident suggests]that while closing the Grant dining hall would be understandable, closing down three dining halls puts unfair pressure on freshmen to attend, even if they are not interested in going Greek.
Looks like I get to continue this theme all semester.
CARNIVAL CALL. Carnival of Education No. 35(8) returns to Education Wonks. If you've come here from there, thanks; these other posts on the committee and Class Warfare might be of interest, or wander around the shops for a while but expect a train of thought from any direction on any track at any time.
FINDING THOSE MISSING MEN. My Principles of Microeconomics class meets at 10 am. The mix of pre-business and other majors, ethnicities, and men and women is about what one might expect from randomly sampling the population of Northern's students confronting an economics requirement. The 11 am section, which uses the same room, looks to have a critical mass of female students many of whom are eager to be in their seats as soon as I dismiss the 10 am section ... and only a few male students filter in by the time the class starts. Harbinger or outlier?

23.8.05

A NEW ROUTINE FOR THE FIFTH QUARTER? Dane 101 proposes the Wisconsin Marching Band add the Badger Song to the football entertainment. There is also a Badger Footie version of the song, complete with badgers wearing red.
THE BEER THAT MADE MILT FAMY WALK US. Milt's File picks up an essay suggesting that (real gusto in a great light beer) Schlitz destroyed the meaning of "gusto." The essayist's preferred connotations for the word appeal to a company only slightly less refined than those who know how to use "if and only if" correctly. That strikes me as a somewhat more plausible explanation than a 40 year ago marketing campaign destroyed by the company's misguided effort to achieve greater "productivity" by adding accelerants to the wort.
Soon after, the brewery adopted something called ABF, accelerated batch fermentation, which allowed them to brew more beer more quickly and which soon enough would be adopted by all other giant breweries. But it turned out that the Schlitz faithful didn't like the change in taste ...
And a friend of the family with a Ph.D. in biochemistry was instrumental in fostering [groan] this technological blind alley.

One hopes the essayist knows more about art than he does about business.
Worse, Schlitz appeared to be compromising quality in order to increase profits.
The market grades on a somewhat more stringent curve than I do. Schlitz sold out to Stroh in the middle 1980s, one of the few corporate expansions in Detroit in the past quarter century.
THE GARDEN OF EARTHLY DELIGHTS. The editorial board at the Northern Star is not happy about going to the fights to see move-in weekend break out.

What is it about the last two days of summer that makes people lose their minds?

One of the most disturbing aspects of these surreal two days is the majority of the absurd actions occurred away from the residence halls.

(Northern Illinois requires most frosh to live in the dorms, er, residence halls.) Their take:
Instead it was a sad group of NIU’s student body that did nothing but further a crippling stereotype of college students.
Good point.

Some of the responsibility rests with the miscreants. I do not hold the upper administration harmless in this behavior. University publicity has made much of the football team's recent success, including raising money for a new weight room and study center to keep the athletes eligibile, and the space-grabbing deans asked faculty participating in their pointless "Meet the Professor" gathering on the Friday of move-in weekend to wear red and black, if possible. Sell the university as if it is a party school, don't be surprised if some people buy the pitch.

22.8.05

MUGGED BY REALITY. J. Martin Rochester's Class Warfare proved to be a relatively quick Book Review No. 36. It's mainly the memoir of a parent conducting an often lonely rearguard action against school boards bent on diluting the curriculum and calling it "inclusion," often at the expense of the most able students who in the new dispensation become unpaid teacher aides doing the "cooperative learning" for their less diligent classmates. The book squares with a few gripes of mine, including the increased burdens on the university to do "remediation" (were Ambrose Bierce alive, he'd have an entry to the effect of teaching middle-school grammar to college students or something equally devastating) and the increased influence of trendy College of Deaducation fads on the way the university conducts classes. Professor Rochester's focus on one dimension of "pack pedagogy," the teacher as facilitator or as coach (these pack pedagogues evidently never heard of St. Vincent of the Pack) who, in the twee phrases so popular with deaducationists, becomes the "guide at the side" rather than the "sage on the stage," suggests yet one more reason for the loss of respect teachers have suffered. And perhaps this is more significant than the trades-union mentality that manifests itself in September teacher strikes, or the shedding of coats and ties, because if the teacher simply enables the student to bring out what he or she already has inside (why does this remind me of bringing up infants in complete silence with the expectation that they will grow up speaking Hebrew?) there is little point in ensuring that such a teacher deserves the respect, let alone the remuneration, of a highly qualified professional. The new approach to K-12 also inverts the responsibility of lower and higher education, with individual exploration and self-discovery of ideas in the lower grades to the exclusion of reading, writing, and figuring, and remediation to develop these skills in college, with perhaps a few acolytes discovering a vocation for being able to explore and discover at the frontier. But the early returns are not promising: to my knowledge, no middle-schooler with an elementary understanding of "invented math" has proven that any even number greater than 4 can be expressed as the sum of two primes, or found a shorter proof of Fermat's famous theorem.
COMPARE AND CONTRAST? Insta Pundit suggests that Paul Sheehan's column that I trashed as too accepting of nature might be a harbinger of "shifts in thinking."
CARNIVAL CALL. This week's Carnival of the Capitalists lifts a presidential banner line at Strange Brand.
GOOD NEWS, BAD NEWS. Paul Brewer's promotion and tenure are in hand and he's been led away from research to direct his department's graduate program.
NINE LIVES. A commenter to this post asks about the dual-mode FL9 diesel-electric-electrics. A stringer for National Corridors found one, leading what the trade calls an F10, on a train at Danbury, Connecticut. Photo taken August 7, 2005.


Both locomotives involve major rebuilds from their as-delivered condition. The F10 is a re-engining and electrical system upgrade of a chicken-wire F3 off the Gulf Mobile and Ohio, and the FL9s that remain in revenue service have new engines and electrical systems. But it is difficult to imagine a prettier package for the innards, even with those art-school paint jobs.

In other rail news, Ponchatoula, Louisiana is closing some level crossings to reduce train-vehicle fatalities. The Louisiana Patrol have been staking out level crossings and ticketing drivers who run around the gates. A recent stakeout nabbed several school buses. Perhaps Louisiana has a higher rate of train-vehicle fatalities than several more populated and more rail-served states because the young are being socialized into taking the wrong kind of risks.


21.8.05

MILLER TIME, TILLER TIME. Earlier this summer, my brother, sister, brother-in-law, and I made our farewells to the National Liquor Bar.

The summer drought was a consequence of a high pressure cell that prevented any kind of wind from blowing in these parts. Today, however, was different. Cool northwests in the 10-20 range made for a bit of Laser practice. Always good to start the school year (shed no tears for our early start: one of my classes will be finished by November's end, with exams finished very early in November [make that December, let's not do the Time Warp]) with a screaming reach in recent memory!
THE PLURAL OF ANECDOTE IS ... Book Review No. 35 is The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce, which is the topic of conversation at this 11-D post. On one hand, a collection of case notes from the Bay Area of northern California is hardly analysis of a nationally representative sample, as several of the commenters noted; and the reader must take on trust the authors' assertions that the individuals whose stories are highlighted provide a reference set of stylized facts for the effect of divorce on the children. The book is written for a general audience without the crosstabs and correlation analyses of basic social science that might lend some support to the authors' principal findings. On the other hand, this is a collection of case notes from the Bay Area of northern California. Consider Ann Coulter's characterization of California as a "perfect petri dish" of Left-Democratic policies. In that petri dish, the Bay Area would have to be one of the bluest colonies of enthusiasm for such policies. It would be difficult to find a region more likely to be a priori supportive of experimentation in family policy, more likely to find social workers and family therapists ready to abet the new dispensation, or more likely to have schools with teachers and support staff attuned to any coping problems that arise in the kids. That region is also one of the more prosperous parts of the nation. And yet. And yet. The anecdotal evidence strongly suggests that kids from a part of the nation most likely to be successful at implementing the new dispensation are troubled, well into adulthood.

The book's treatment of children from comparable intact families is interesting. The authors suggest such children have an easier time making the transition to adulthood and to establishing families of their own. Whether that is because those children had an easier time completing college (child support ends at 18) or because those children saw just enough tension in their parents' marriages as to be alert to the possibility that there are some truly messed up people on the mating market the authors don't tell us. The policy suggestions are a bit anticlimactic. After a thrill ride through substance abuse, infidelity, and business failure, we get ... a suggestion that public policy provide support for a parent to stay home with the young children ...??? The authors provide no elaboration on how to implement such policies without fostering resentment in the childless who might be called upon to pick up the slack, or who might voluntarily pick up the slack so as to get a leg up on the promotion ladder. Neither do they think throught the implications of the Say Aggregation Principle on the effect of higher female labor force participation on the price of goods used in households.
LIFE EXPIRED. This is not a great picture. It's backlit, it's a going shot, and the platform roof gets in the way. But there is a message in it anyway.
Princeton, Illinois, 15 July 2005.

At the rear of this train is what the British would call a "driving van trailer" and what we call a "cabbage" car (because it provides a cab for the train crew and space for checked baggage.) Its number is 90218. It began its service to Amtrak as one of the first head-end power equipped F40PH diesels, No. 218, designed to work with the new Amfleet coaches. The first of these diesels, including No. 218, went into service in 1976, about when the first Space Shuttles were being erected in California. Unlike the Space Shuttle, No. 218 was taken out of service in the middle 1990s, its engine and generator removed to make space for baggage.
HE'S GOT A LITTLE LIST. Bernard Goldberg's 100 People who are Screwing Up America provides Book Review No. 34. It's a polemic, and it's easy to come up with a list organized around a different conception of screwing up. In some places Mr Goldberg's list is a bit strained; there's a lot of Big Media and coastal insider stuff, and the illustrations he comes up with from sport (Latrell Sprewell and John Green, the fan who provoked the basketball brawl in Detroit) are only symptoms of a bigger problem; curiously Mr Goldberg does not pay more attention to the follies of the sports "journalists" in his field. ("Tough day, Coach.") Some of the more visible suspects from the academy surface (Sheldon Hackney, Ward Churchill, Paul Krugman) but, again, these individuals attract more notoriety for their non-academic work. The last complete list of people who are screwing up the academy is here; I must collect all the updates since then in one place.

Mr Goldberg's main gripe is with the consequences of judging "judgmental" a gaffe greater than hollering some obscenity at a sports event, or televising the unraveling of a love triangle among the less fortunate as entertainment for the groundlings, or otherwise carrying on in ways that might be hurtful to others. (Those who would go out of their way to prevent anything that might be hurtful to selected others also merit mention.) These are serious points, worthy of consideration, and his assessment that the common culture was once upon a time better because it marginalized the coarse rather than reveling in it is one that I share.
OUR NEIGHBORS AT WAR. Marine Lt. Steven M. Clifton, a political science graduate of Northern Illinois University, is recipient of the annual Aviators' Post Valor Award; past recipents include Major Chuck Yeager and General Henry "Hap" Arnold.

20.8.05

LIVING AT THE EXPENSE OF OTHERS. One of the more profitable investments Northern Illinois University made was the honorary degree it awarded to Speaker of the House Hastert, who earned a legitimate Master's degree in history here some years ago.

The $286.5 billion transportation bill signed into law by President Bush last week in Aurora includes $8.32 million to plan, design and build new roads on the west side of campus.

“We are very grateful to Speaker of the House Denny Hastert, and his staff, for their assistance in securing this funding,” NIU President John Peters said. “At a time when there is little or no money available from the state to help us plan and build for the needs of the future, this is most welcome.”

The money will be used specifically to design and build a road network and the accompanying infrastructure improvements – water lines and sewers, for example – that will allow the university to begin development of about 230 acres at the western edge of campus.

That land was purchased by the NIU Board of Trustees in 1997. Plans are to develop it for a variety of uses including expanded research capabilities and student life improvements. No specific plans have yet been made, and no construction is imminent.

What was that about contemplating changes to student housing?

Now focus on that "little or no money from the state." Illinois residents pay taxes to the Treasury in Washington, D.C., and to the State Treasurer in Springfield. Is it really free money if it's coming in a federal transportation bill, or is it Illinoisans' money with additional handling charges, such as Congressional directives about speed limits (but no Bad Idea ever goes away) or drinking ages or intoxication thresholds or the content of curriculum?
WINNERS, WHINERS, AND LOSERS. Margaret at University Diaries offers some thoughts about the simultaneous happiness of what she refers to as a "blue plutocracy" and the sadness of those same elites' narcissistic neuroses. It's an interesting compare-and-contrast, but not a complete explanation of establishment Democrats' malaise. Although the famous university towns and the ghettos of the entertainment industry famously tend Democratic, the most reliably Democratic precincts tend to be a bit thin on latte shops and pshrinks. Dane 101 has the evidence.
A new study has been released ranking the top liberal cities in the country. Where do you think Madison falls? In the top 10? Nope. Top 20? No. Top 30? Nada. The city that local liberals like to pretend is as left as Berkeley doesn't even clock in until number 34.
The study perhaps conflates "voting Democratic" with "tending liberal" (in the sense of Franklin Roosevelt to Lyndon Johnson?) There is, however, the possibility that high-status voters and middling-status white voters are less prone to vote against their own interests than the remaining residents of Detroit and Gary, coming in at 1 and 2 in the study, rendered unemployable by the minimum wage and weak schools, which Republican strategists have rightly or not pinned on the Democrats, and isolated by zoning codes. Some Madisonians are coming to grips with that possibility, as well as with their excessive comfort with their own prejudices, in this forum.
NO SPARROW FALLS THAT ESCAPES GOD'S ATTENTION. Danny at Electric Commentary recommends an Onion piece on "Intelligent Falling." There is a somewhat more serious essay in science fiction and cultural anthropology called Newton and the Quasi-Apple that deals precisely with a population that takes the omniscience and omnicompetence of its deity seriously.
PACK PEDAGOGY? Here's an excerpt from a memorandum requesting information about the diversity component of each teacher preparation program's "clinical," which I believe is the Blob's (thanks, Joanne) new name for "student teaching" (and when I was in elementary school, the term of art was "practice teacher." As if experienced teachers are no longer practicing!)
  1. A definition/description of what your program will consider to be an “extensive and substantive” experience applying learning about diversity (ethnicity, socio-economic status, limited English proficiency, and disability).
Example of acceptable definition: Our program will count as a diversity experience any clinical or student teaching placement in which at least one of the following criteria is met:
  1. the candidate delivers a lesson to a group of students at least 20% of whom are members of ethnic minority groups, are from low socio-economic status households, have limited English proficiency, or have a disability.
  2. the candidate delivers a lesson appropriately modified in content or methodology in order to address ethnicity, low socio-economic status, limited English proficiency or disability.
  3. the candidate interacts one-on-one in a tutoring relationship or other educational setting with a student who is a member of an ethnic group or socio-economic status different from their own or with a student who has limited English proficiency or a disability.
Example of unacceptable definition: Our program will count as a diversity experience any clinical or student teaching placement in which there is more than one P-12 student who meets any one of the following criteria:
  1. is a member of a minority ethnic group
  2. is from a low socio-economic status household
  3. has limited English proficiency
  4. has a disability.
Nice to know the specifics. Does all my work with overseas graduate students satisfy the preferred property 3? For that matter do my efforts to explain the American idiom to some of my colleagues qualify?

Now to the carping. Today I focus on "appropriately modified in content or methodology." I think that last word refers to the method of teaching ... the methodolgy goes on in a rigorous study of teaching practice, if there is in fact any of that in the curriculum. The "content" part has potential for all sorts of abuse. To some extent the language sounds patronizing, and there is at least a hint of dumbing down. Am I being excessively pessimistic? Perhaps not. On the stack of books to review is J. Martin Rochester's Class Warfare, the recollections of a parent frustrated by the efforts of his St. Louis area common schools to deprive his kides of the education he and his wife wanted them to have. His frustration begins as he sees the missives from school referring less and less to "rigor," "homework," "standards," or "merit" whilst adding "equity," "diversity," "inclusion," and "multicuturalism." King at SCSU Scholars has elected to keep his daughter in the Lutheran schools to avoid the St. Cloud middle schools, which might be bringing off the Lake Wobegon effect by taking out the content. (And where is the equity in compelling a decent academician to take on the additional responsibilities of department chairman in order to pay the Lutheran school tuition as well as the property tax for inadequate common schools? Or for that matter compelling anyone with a young family to pick up and move house to a more expensive neighborhood to find a common school that works, as Professor Rochester did?) Professor Banian also recommends The War Against Excellence, which I may have to purchase and add to the review stack.

Perhaps that will be my misssion on that committee. It does no good to have "appropriate modifications " that leave the audience unprepared for success in the United States. Yes, at one time, the common schools used tracking and ability grouping to deprive some people of a shot at living up to their potential (please, let us not hear any talk of "maximizing" potential; think of your gym teacher asking you to do as many chin-ups as you could plus one.) At the same time, those schools, with dress and discipline codes and coat-and-tie teachers, attempted to socialize the young into the middle class.

19.8.05

TAKING CONSTRUCTIVISM TOO FAR? John Ray recommends a Paul Sheehan column in the Sydney Morning Herald that weighs in on parental leave. The opening paragraphs, however, are the most interesting part.
It's time someone praised and defended reckless teenage girls and young women who behave badly, dress provocatively, engage in risky sex, and get pregnant. They are the normal ones. The rest of us are the deviants. They are behaving in the most natural way. The rest of us are mutants.

There is nothing wrong with pelvic display, push-up bras, Gosford miniskirts, spray-on jeans, low-cut tops, bare legs, bare arms, bare ankles, G-strings or even buttock cleavage, providing the displayer is young enough to get away with it. A woman's body is at its fertility peak between the ages of 17 and 23. So when young women advertise or flaunt their sexuality they are being driven by a force far stronger than the Judeo-Christian ethic. They are driven by the power of peak fertility and a million years of evolutionary biology. Nature has programmed them for pregnancy, genetic diversity and keeping the species going. A big job.

Sexually active teenage girls, and sexually promiscuous women of any age, carry the greatest social burden of judgements, punishments, restrictions and risks because we haven't got the child-care equation right. These women are just doing their job. They are real, while the rest of the equation is artificial. Society is the collective weight of traditions, conventions, laws, habits, fears, tribes, taboos and technologies, permeated by a Judeo-Christian ethic dominated by men and designed to curb female sexual power. Our norms are also dominated by the ideology of materialism that is moving women further and further towards unnatural behaviour, pressuring them to have babies later rather than sooner.

This is society's real problem. Teenage pregnancy is trivial by comparison to suppressed pregnancy.
Really? Where did that "nature" get us? There's a reason schools teach Romeo and Juliet to eighth and ninth graders. The protagonists are about the same age as the readers. Why a teenage romance with such weighty content? Because that same nature Mr Sheehan celebrates endowed us with high infant mortality rates, as well as high rates of women dying in childbirth. (There might have been reason for men and women alike to restrict their lovemaking if the consequence of the act was death in nine months for one participant.) So fast-forward 700 years and consider West Side Story. Although the setting of the story is now the poorer quarters of New York, the protagonists now enjoy a standard of living that is opulent by 13th century Veronese standards, although shabby by Central Park West standards. And what is the lot of the residents of the poorer quarters where the women are defying the "collective weight of traditions?" Yup. Higher rates of infant mortality and social disease.

Granted, my biases as economist and curmudgeon are showing. But I must protest in the strongest possible terms Mr Sheehan's characterization of a "tension between fertility and materialism." It is the materialism that makes freer expressions of sexuality possible, by obtaining the means to prevent or terminate pregnancies or to understand and cope with the complications of childbirth. Nature, on the other hand, responds to the successes of materialism by accelerating puberty. And that's totally logical. A living thing that has an easier time maintaining itself develops more quickly the ability to reproduce itself. Any gardener worth his Miracle-Gro is exploiting that tendency. But harvesting a tomato early is a very different proposition from preparing a nine year old -- or a nineteen year old -- to raise a baby, precisely because mastering materialism takes a lot of thought and preparation. As well as making it possible for thirty- and forty-somethings to have babies.
BY THE BRIGHT SHINING LIGHT, BY THE LIGHT OF THE MOON. If you want to read the first Carnival of the Badgers, just come along with The World According to Nick, with a link from Sean at The American Mind.
A WIN IS A WIN. Book Review No. 33 is Robin Neillands's The Battle of Normandy 1944, a much better expenditure -- an autographed copy no less! -- at Blackwell's last year. This might make a good read for someone who wants an overview of the campaign from the beaches to the left bank of the Seine. Mr Neillands's purpose is to tackle a myth (among armchair observers, not, he emphasizes, among veterans of the campaign) that the U.S. forces did the aggressive work whilst the British and Canadians in particular were cautious and prone to stop to brew tea. He confines his research to the unit histories, letting U.S. sources describe U.S. progress and likewise for the British, Canadians, and other alliance members. His conclusion: one cannot call any alliance partner too slow against a timetable with only two objectives, which were to capture Caen on D-Day and reach the left bank at D+90. The first unit to cross the Seine did so on D+75 with all units across no later than D+85. This against the German Army Mr Neillands characterizes as the "best army in the field."
CLASSICAL ALLUSIONS MATTER. Photon Courier analyzes two lines of a popular song.
1)You need to know that, in mythology, Cupid symbolizes love
2)And that Cupid's chosen instrument is the bow and arrow
3)Also that there was a singer/songwriter named Sam Cooke
4)And that he had a song called which included the lines "Cupid, draw back your bow."
His point:
"Progressive" educators, loudly and in large numbers, insist that students should be taught "thinking skills" as opposed to memorization. But consider: If it's not possible to understand a couple of lines from a popular song without knowing by heart the references to which it alludes--without memorizing them--what chance is there for understanding medieval history, or modern physics, without having a ready grasp of the topics which these disciplines reference?
Quite so. My limited reading of the important regulatory and antitrust decisions turns up a rich harvest of classical allusions. Quick quiz: who wrote, "neither the wit of man nor the wealth of Midas can restore a natural gas field?" What was the context?
SON OF CONCUBINE GAINS A VICTORY? Mitch at Shot in the Dark suggests that Al Qaeda's third team is on the field.

Six years ago, Al Quada parked a boatful of explosives next to the USS Cole, killing 17 sailors. The suicide boat, like the suicide car and the bomb vest and the Kamikaze plane, is a pinpoint-accurate but supremely wasteful weapon.

The Katyusha rocket, on the other hand, is about as accurate as a Jeff Fecke election prediction; they're built to be ripple-fired by the thousands to inundate an area with explosives.

Three of them. Lobbed from way inland. At a target the size of a Navy amphibious assault ship...

His interpretation:

They're not trying to win a war anymore. They're playing to the headlines.

Which only matters as seriously as we take the headlines.

Let's not succumb to victory disease here. The title of my post excerpts from a quip making the rounds in the Japanese First Carrier Striking Force preparing for Midway after the Second Carrier Striking Force reported that it had sunk Lexington, Yorktown, and some support ships in exchange for Shoho in the Coral Sea. We know how that ended. It is probably not the case that the mainstream press is playing along with some too-clever-by-half Karl Rove rope-a-dope to lull the bad guys into thinking that they are winning.

And there will be no defeatism around these parts. Don't even think of offering the hypothesis that if a bad guy gets a shot off at a U.S. warship in a previously peaceful port that is somehow a strategic defeat for our armed forces.
THE MASTER MECHANIC'S REPORT. Paul at Public Brewery refers discontinued weblogs to the Blog Boneyard. That inspired me to start cleaning up the link list. At a railroad's main shops, the equipment that's beyond economical repair is switched out to the Scrap Line.
HE LOOKS OLD ENOUGH TO REMEMBER LOMBARDI. Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel media maven Tim Cuprisin wonders if Toyota endorses drunken sailing.
What's a car got to do with a drunken sailor, car got to do with a drunken sailor, car got to do with a drunken sailor - on a Toyota commercial?
I have heard the commercial in question, and the background music. The voice-over is something about breaking through or running downfield or some FOOTBALL metaphor. Mr Cuprisin's sparring partner Charlie Sykes is old enough to remember.
WHY AM I HERE? Apparently, so I won't lack for material. A committee that coordinates teacher certification efforts among the various colleges of Northern Illinois chose to include a member from each department that offers a certificate, and I am now serving. The organizational meeting was this morning, and there will be plenty more good stuff as the semester unfolds. For today, a few paragraphs from the "conceptual framework" (which includes a logo that looks like a hazardous material warning, but that's got to wait until I find a web-friendly version of it.)
All certification programs at Northern Illinois University are based on the shared vision and goals of a community of learners. Our unique governance structure provides for responsive and reflective change in educator preparation programs by incorporating diverse perspectives and respect for the expertise of a variety of individuals, while maintaining a focus on the preparation of exemplary educators who demonstrate the necessary knowledge, practice, reflection and dispositions. Each of these areas draws upon the strength of essential aspects of a community of learners in which educational practice and reflection are based upon a broad general education and a sound disciplinary base of knowledge. The community of learners is enriched and strengthened by the interaction of its core elements: knowledge, practice and reflection.

The goal of individual programs is to develop exemplary educators who have a broad general education, relevant disciplinary knowledge, and experience in and knowledge of contemporary best practices. The continuing professional effectiveness of our graduates is rooted in their life-long learning and reflective practice. This cornerstone of NIU's conceptual framework prepares students to deal with the diverse interests of the communities in which they will serve based on the understanding that as a professional educator, he/she is part of that community of learners. NIU is committed to lifelong learning and to the effective use of creative and critical thinking skills in diverse and collaborative settings.
The point of expanding the committee is to "obtain the perspectives" of each department. What effect that will have on "shared vision" remains to be seen.
SAYING NO TO THE RABBIT CULTURE. In USA Today, Elizabeth Sandoval offers a neo-feminist manifesto.
What I am is a neo-feminist. Definition: “One who respects her body so much that she won't allow it to be used as someone's playground.”
Go, and read the rest.
PROFESSIONALS STUDY LOGISTICS. If there is any consolation to the Great Zulauf Space Grab, it is that the advisors and deans who secured emoluments for themselves by chasing political science off the third floor and putting economics in the broom closet are themselves in temporary quarters. Here it is the Friday before classes begin on Monday, and the masons and electricians are removing some bricks and a few conduits and installing some steel stud walls that will at least be a little easier to remove the next time somebody has ideas of making further rearrangements to the space. The heavy demolition and construction did not begin until this week. This despite the deans' insistence that the north end of the fourth floor be vacated DURING exam week. [/expletive]

And no, calling a large office that will accommodate two instructors the "Instructor Suite" does not make the outcome any less obnoxious.
REMIND ME AGAIN ... TUITIONS ARE TOO HIGH? Yesterday was moving-in day at Northern Illinois, and it's apparently done despite the thunderstorms that arrived a bit earlier than anticipated. Senior administrators turn out to help drive golf carts and otherwise help people get settled, and they solicit assistance from staff and from faculty (the call goes out in particular to campus politicians on the various shared governance bodies.)

This gesture is symbolically wrong in two ways. First, it sends the message that participants have nothing better to do than help move boxes at this time of the year (although administrators occupied moving boxes are not up to more damaging stuff) and second it sends the wrong message about the proper social distance between students and faculty.

But it is not to that aspect that I wish to speak. Rather, I want to focus on what is being moved in. Michael Lopez, covering for Joanne Jacobs, reflects on computer-shopping.
I'm not saying that we should go back to the days when going to college meant packing a briefcase and a suitcase full of clothes... but frankly even my low-budget college assembly of STUFF was obscene... and it was dwarfed -- DWARFED -- by every single other person on my hall. Refrigerators, full stereo systems, top of the line computers, more clothes than Jesus (actually, Jesus probably didn't have a lot of clothes but it's an expression), cases of CD's (now obviated by digital media), televisions, VCR's (back in the days of VHS), dishes, knick knacks, stuffed animals, tanning lights, heaters, portable air
conditioners....
Enough stuff to make a senior administrator's cardiologist cringe?

Don at Cafe Hayek finds a Christian Science Monitor article that quotes one of our own housing managers contemplating future changes to student housing. And if some of our charges are dropping $2-3K on dorm furnishings and bringing a new car, I have to agree with the Cafe Hayek assessment that there is an element of special pleading in gripes about rising tuitions.

It also transpires that all this stuff has to be moved again at the end of the school year, or perhaps at the end of summer sublet. In Madison, that gives rise to Hippie Christmas, and there's a LOT of stuff available for the taking.

What was that about a research paper on the contents of college-town dumpsters?

SECOND SECTION: Arnold at Econ Log has additional thoughts on the student cargo cult.
ONE HUNDRED THEOREMS THAT ARE SCREWING UP STUDENTS' MINDS. Nailed to Newmark's Door is a link to this list.
I'LL NOT LACK FOR WORK. Some newspaper editorials address gasoline prices.

Here's the Visalia (California) Times-Delta.

Washington talks about energy all the time, and rarely does anything about it. This nation has been undergoing an energy crisis for almost 40 years, yet not a single president in that time has proposed the kind of energy program that, say, Kennedy declared for space, Johnson declared for racial equality or Reagan declared for defeating communism in Europe.

The energy bill President Bush signed last week increased subsidies for energy companies and fiddled with Daylight Savings Time. Not exactly a call to arms for a national war on energy dependence. Where were the visionary strategies like the hydrogen highway or photo-voltaic cells?

And here the Salem, Oregon Statesman Journal.

Everyone is fed up with the record prices -- that is, everyone except the oil companies raking in those profits. So it's puzzling that Congress would pass an energy bill that befriends those companies while doing little to encourage energy conservation.

Other than screaming out the window, which might provide momentary satisfaction, most of us can do little about our nation's misguided energy policies. There also may be little that some farms, airlines and other businesses can do to reduce their fuel consumption.

Next week I begin teaching a principles of microeconomics course and a sophomore-junior level public policy course. It will be very difficult for me to not make it all about the oiiiiillllll.
THE COMPANY YOU KEEP? Two illustrations of discredit-by-association for your consideration today. At Marquette Warrior, Gold Star mother Cindy Sheehan's history of working with the more extreme elements of the Angry Left receives some documentation. At Pandagon, the citizen's organization calling itself "Minutemen" that operates a form of Neighborhood Watch on the southern borders is called out for receiving support from the more extreme elements of the white supremacist Right. Exiled Kleagle David Duke endorses both causes.

With the new semester starting, it is time to review some fundamentals of policy making and argumentation. The extremists of any stripe (and I apologize for the excessive abstraction of "Left" and "Right;" nativists are not necessarily royalists or capitalists, and pacifists and war resisters not necessarily republicans or socialists) do not affect public policy unless they are able to move the marginal decision maker. And that marginal decision maker is somewhere in the middle. Why? Review the median voter theorem and the principle of minimum differentiation. (The closing paragraph of Harold Hotelling's "Stability in Competition" notes that Democrats and Republicans, or Methodists and Episcopalians, are quite similar.)

So, should prospective students be reading these pages, kindly be advised that discredit-by-appeal-to- argmin[Michael Moore, Rush Limbaugh] will not fly. Evaluate immigration policy, or war, or gasoline prices on the merits, and be particularly sensitive to those arguments attempted to move the median rather than to shore up the base.

17.8.05

OPPORTUNITY COSTS. Is the gasoline price increase permanent or transitory? Lynne at Knowledge Problem observes,

The persistently high oil prices reflect a large risk premium (security, change of regime in Saudi Arabia, etc.) interacting with the stubbornly high Chinese demand for oil due to their growing economy. Don't forget that in real terms, the price of a barrel of oil would have to be $90 today to be as high as it was at its highest in the 1970s; today oil is about $66/barrel.

The array of factors influencing gasoline prices is much more complex. First you've got constraints on refining capacity; the last refinery built in the US was in 1976, and refiners have been squeezing more blood out of the stone ever since, but it's increasingly difficult and we're operating very close to capacity. Then add in the demand for other petroleum products, like jet fuel and the build-up of home heating oil for the upcoming winter, and there are a lot of different things competing for the scarce refining capacity. Add to that the season: two weeks before Labor Day, and we're taking driving vacations.

Then there's the regional fuel market balkanization due to the wide range of fuel formulas to meet the federal fuel oxygenate requirement. While the recently-signed energy bill promises to streamline the formulae and reduce the fuel market balkanization, it hasn't kicked in yet, and won't until next spring.

King at SCSU Scholars links to news (link appears to have been retired) that Russia, a major exporter of oil, is taxing those exports heavily.

For some perspective on the usefulness of oil in transportation, Phil at Market Power has some reflections on the difficulties of developing steam automobiles (which might also be oil burners.) Sure, one can raise steam by burning a number of fuels, but that has the effect of producing carbon dioxide and a number of annoying combustion byproducts. Visualize eating lunch on a railroad dining car on a hot summer day in the Age of Steam. Do you really want to open the window for some ventilation?
RULES WRITTEN IN BLOOD. Remember Arthur Hailey's Runway Zero-Eight? A former military pilot is passenger on a plane with an incapacitated flight crew. He saves the day. Now reflect on that recent crash of a Cypriot airliner in Greece. The pilots were incapacitated. Pilots have a separate oxygen system from the main cabin. We don't know whether the oxygen masks dropped down in the cabin, or if passengers reacted promptly enough if they did. (In Airport, one of Hailey's characters reflects that the passenger briefing ought to go something like "If you see a mask in front of you, stick your nose in it and ask questions later.")

But under the new flight deck (the railroader in me wants to say "cab") security rules, a heroic passenger that managed to get on oxygen would not be able to get to the cockpit to assist an incapacitated pilot. Here's a challenging uncertainty problem. There is some positive probability that bad guys will get on the flight deck and fly the plane into a building. There is also some positive probability that the pilots will be incapacitated by an in-flight mechanical failure. What is the best balance of those two risks?
WHITTIER WAS RIGHT. Book Review No. 32 is What Might Have Been, which was the least wise expenditure of ten pounds at Blackwell's last fall. Don't be fooled by the cover, which suggests Wernher von Braun and his team landed a German astronaut on the Moon. No such story is between the covers.

The introduction proposes a serious purpose: to offer an alternative to Marxian and Whiggish approaches to doing history that view past events through a lens of class struggle or greater enlightenment. Their approach is the construction of counterfactuals to illustrate the path-dependency or state-contingency of pivotal events, primarily battles and elections. That is serious work but it requires serious and careful execution. Unfortunately, proposing that Napoleon's republic becomes an 1840s version of the 2003 European Union, Lenin is shot by a Balt called Lev Harveivic Osvalt who is himself murdered two days later by someone with mob ties, Stalin is betrayed by his bodyguard Tengiz Fiktionashvili, and following all that by asking President Bush's speechwriter David Frum to envision President Gore holding a September 11 crisis session with National Security Advisor Leon Fuerth and Secretary of Defense Wesley Clark, an exercise that plays on the fears many red-state voters have about the Democrats has its entertainment value at the expense of serious considerations of counterfactuals.
CHEESEHEAD LESSONS. The Johnsonville bratwurst is the "fastest growing protein" among outdoor chefs, according to USA Today. The article includes a pronunciation guide (that's brAHT) and a few grilling tips (don't puncture them, but a bit of drippage out the end flavors the smoke.) The report does not get into some regional variations such as condiments (brown mustard, please, not that annoying yellow flatlander stuff; ketchup is for boors; sauerkraut in Milwaukee but not in Sheboygan) or portion size (one on a sausage roll or two on a round hard roll derived from the Semmel?) There are regional variations in German-speaking countries as well; some brief notes here.

And yes, there really is a Johnsonville. And I remember when the only outlet for Johnsonville bratwursts was a butcher shop on the main drag of ... Schnapsville?? (That I like as a chaser.) Two taverns, a church, a bridge over a small stream, the meat market.
DO I HEAR AN ECHO? Armed Liberal has an impression of the new World War II monument in Washington, D.C.
The World War II memorial - a circle of pylons around a sterile central fountain - encouraged no such involvement. The garish wreaths, and the martial eagles holding the banners at the entrances, left me imagining how Leni Riefenstahl would have photographed them. I can't imagine another response to this kind of iconic imagery.
Yes, that occurred to me, also, when the memorial opened.

Albert Speer would feel right at home.
(To be polite, the monument does capture some of the Roosevelt Gothic of such buildings as the Milwaukee County Court House and the University of Michigan central campus, which might have been on the designer's mind.)
THE STATE OF MAINE EXPRESS, REDUX? If you build a corridor, passengers will come. (No, this is not another tribute to the Hiawatha service.) In this case, the corridor is the old Boston and Maine - Maine Central service from Boston to Portland and points Downeast. Under consideration: an extension of the Downeaster service (schedule is a .pdf) another 40 miles to Freeport (for your L. L. Bean yuppie wear) and Brunswick. Years ago, there were a few sleeping cars and at summers a day train from New York City to the Maine coast (it bypassed Boston.)

16.8.05

PEOPLE RESPOND TO INCENTIVES. Today's message is at Marginal Utility.

In the bigger picture, what worries me is that we'll get policies that take the organization of suburban sprawl life as immutable consequences of primal human desires, rather than as an adaptation to cheap private transportation that may be abandoned as quickly as it was thrown up when market forces turn on it. (Policies that seek to promote low gas prices versus low fuel consumption may have this effect.) Human life has been successfully lived without big-box stores, even in my lifetime, if you can imagine that. This is not to say that I disagree at all with Prof. Hoch's conclusion that the transition will be hard, especially as it implies that the values of today's half-megabuck McMansionettes are no more privileged than those of the once-grand houses owned by the elites of small (and not-so-small) towns along, say, the route of the Erie Canal.

But I think an underappreciated feature of neoclassical microeconomics is that while consumers may in principle want everything, what they actually choose to have is regulated by relative and absolute prices. So when self-mobile freedom is sufficiently expensive, sooner or later other forms of consumption will be substituted for it. The question is whether the corporate welfare state will allow this to happen.

There's a harder question: to what extent will business interests (the automobile lobby, mall and tract housing developers primarily) make common cause with more populist interests (should real gasoline prices rise further; right now there is a summer peak approximately equal to early 1981 levels just before domestic price controls and international collusion came to an end) who face large capital losses as house prices adjust and job losses? There's also the possible reaction of urban interests. Will they continue to push their thickly-settled, rail-structured view of work and shopping, rather than, for instance, allowing local bus authorities or bus entrepreneurs greater freedom of action?

14.8.05

ACCUMULATION OF SMALL ADVANTAGES. Book Review No. 31, some good on-train reading, is Gary Nabhan's Why Some Like it Hot. In some places it reads like a young adult's diary; in some places the knowledge of blood chemistry and related topics is a bit beyond me. The central thesis is straightforward enough, "[W]e are what our ancestors ate, and also what they had to regurgitate," and in some ways the findings parallel some of the observations in Guns, Germs, and Steel about technology transfers. In this case the frontier between Eurasia and the rest of the world is in the South Pacific, where the plants of Java are familiar to those observed on Eurasia; go a few islands east and the plants are completely different. The cautions are also instructive: no magic genetic marker for difficulties eating some foods; both rapid and slow adaptations are observable in people and other species. (Note: differences in adaptation rates cannot be seized upon as refutations of evolution or as evidence of intelligent design. It takes an improved theory to beat a moderately successful theory.)

But think about how populations with similar genetic codes and different resource endowments might reward mutations differently. That's the main story of the book. Consider foragers. A mother nursing a child is less effective as a forager. An enzyme that turns off a baby's desire to suckle favors faster weaning, and greater fertility in the mother, something else that might be favored with lots of infant mortality and short life expectancies. Now consider herders. That enzyme will not be as favored in a population that has learned to make yogurt and cheese and later used the milk directly. On the other hand, herders might learn to develop substitutes for water, particularly water downstream from the pasture. Here another enzyme that aids the digestion of fermented liquids might be favorably selected. Over the years, a population with a longer history of foraging might be more lactose-intolerant and alcohol-intolerant than a population with a longer history of herding.

There are several other case studies in this vein that, taken together, suggest proposing a single dietary fix for all earthlings subject to obesity or heart disease or cancers is nearly impossible. But for a population with common traditions and less intermarriage outside the extended family, there are health gains to respecting the ancient traditions. Mr Nabhan has an intriguing way of summarizing it.
When the persistence of traditional foods is more widely recognized as a source of both cultural pride and as an aid to physical survival and well-being, I doubt that many Native American communities will abandon what many of them feel to be a true gift from their Creator.
I also discovered that my willingness to help out my younger siblings with their brussels sprouts and cauliflower and my later affinity for hot peppers are connected.

13.8.05

WELCOME VISITORS. Thursday turned into a rain day, and Friday into an end-of-summer-research Hiawatha excursion, although the hits kept on coming.

Laura at 11-D wrote a post on public and private virtue that linked here; that post mentioned The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce. The expansion on that subject attracted an Instalanche from designated poster Megan; some of those readers headed over here. The comments at 11-D provide several brief reviews of Unexpected Legacy for your perusal; I have moved that book up in the stack of 50 and hope to post a review before classes begin.

Scott at The Valve linked here to lead readers to a criticism of criticism on Opinion Journal. Perhaps my guests can help me make sense of this passage.
Why should that suppress internal criticism of theoretical within or across academic disciplines? Those who would so appropriate these arguments would have found grounds for criticism elsewhere because they actively seek them out. As I tell my students: If you go fishing in a novel you can almost always find the claims that you need to support the argument you were determined to make. The difference between a fisher and a scholar is that a scholar takes seriously what the novel takes seriously and analyses in accordance with its logic.
To my limited knowledge, that's thinking about the plot and the symbolism and the intent of the author, and it might add to the enjoyment of a novel or a poem. That, however, doesn't really bring the Journal columnist up short: what purpose does the notion of a sexed equation or a privileged velocity serve, in a close reading of a hypothesis about the way light propagates, and its implications for the rest, inertial, and relativistic masses of moving bodies? If anything, the misuse of techniques of reading fiction to obtain some sort of insight into the symbolism of theoretical or empirical investigation of physical phenomena and human action leads precisely to the pass Mr Kaufman reaches.
How has it continued to thrive in a political environs vastly different from the one in which it first evolved? From the perspective of those who would think Theory a bulwark against political conservativism, how are we to account to the vast rightward drift of the country when many of them would’ve taken their required English and/or Composition courses with instructors radicalized during the culture wars of the ‘80s and ‘90s?
I pose the Carrie explanation. They're all going to laugh at you. Experimental scientists have called out the junk science hidden in much application of critical techniques to their work much more effectively than I ever could. There's also a simple corrective for the introduction of primitive Marxian notions such as "exploitation" and "alienation" and "immiserisation." One simply has to pick up Marx's Economic Predictions and keep score of how many testable implications of Capital and other works have been falsified.
POSSIBLE SOURCE OF COMPANY MAIL. Live from the Third Rail bids farewell to a contributor who has moved to Greater DeKalb and set up Thrown for a Loop, with a title image offering an Electroliner's eye view of the Gold Coast.
THE MISERY OF LIVING UP TO OTHERS' EXPECTATIONS. At Phantom Prof, a bull session on the lost souls of the pre-meds.
The greatest thing I feel for the pre-meds is pity. Too soon it becomes all too apparent that these kids, for all their thoroughness and regaled smarts, have never thought of what they wanted to do with their lives for a second. They just "want money" and heard they were "good at science," so why not be a doctor? These are the kids who end up drinking in excessive amounts because they hate who they have become but lack the clarity to see a way out.
We've recognized that phenomenon here for some time; noted more generally.
There is nothing quite so miserable as the middle-aged partner in a law firm, ostensibly prosperous, who is there primarily because his (or her, parental programming is ubiquitous) parents aspired to have a lawyer in the family. There's a particularly nasty parody of the phenomenon, John Hersey's Child Buyer (details or compare prices,) that ought to be required reading for any parent that wants to program a kid in that way.
A QUOTE FOR THE DAY. Betsy's Page, reacting to news that high school students themselves would prefer to be challenged.
There is something seriously wrong with American high schools if [two-thirds] of the students don't think that their school set high academic expectations. Kids know when things are dumbed down for them. I have found that if you set high standards, all but a very few students will rise to the challenge. And they'll be grateful for it later And that small minority are the same ones who don't do the work when it's easy either. Schools and teachers should set those high standards and then make it clear that they're willing to work just as hard as they're asking students to work.
Karlson is ready; prepare the sophomores.
WATCH THAT FIRST DROP. Kimberly at Number 2 Pencil visits New Jersey's newest ultimate roller coaster. Six Flags' Kingda Ka is one of this summer's new arrivals. Closer to Cold Spring Shops is Mt. Olympus's new Hades, which the Roller Coaster Data Base describes as a "hybrid" coaster (wooden track, steel frame.)

Bear in mind that the Crystal Beach Cyclone and Comet are also hybrid coasters, with much of the Cyclone's steel, including the lift hill, serving the Comet at its new location in New York.

But I digress. What's neat about Hades? It features the steepest drop of any wooden-tracked roller coaster in the States. But that comes later. Mt. Olympus is located in a valley. The roller coasters take advantage of the terrain, although riders sometimes have to climb a lot of steps and ramps to board the trains. (Pittsburgh's Kennywood does a better job of siting the stations such that riders can board from midway level, and then exploit the terrain, although, to be fair, Kennywood was conceived as an amusement park from the beginning, and the Monongahela River bluffs are pretty much perfect for gully roller coasters and not much else.)

Hades offers the rider a figure-eight experience that would be creditable on a small amusement park's junior coaster. But that's out of the station, into the gully, BEFORE it hits the lift hill. Off the lift hill, there are some extremely fast but smooth elements in a tunnel that ducks under the parking lot, more air time in the turnaround, back into the tunnel, and more air-time and another figure-eight experience before it hits the brake run.

And I might have just created a monster ... this evening I mentioned to my eight year old nephew that he was big enough for some of the coasters at the Dells...

10.8.05

GANDER. SAUCE. GOOSE. College sports programs shelter felons who demonstrate athleticism, notes Phil at Market Power. But the real crime is hostile and abusive mascots, which will be banned -- as, apparently, will be hostile and abusive team names -- from National Collegiate Athletic Association tournaments. Robert at The Torch hopes that some university administrators will take a lesson from the basting they are about to receive.
The irony of this situation from a FIRE perspective is hard to miss. The NCAA, whose Executive Committee is made up of university administrators (presidents and chancellors), is ordering other university administrators (at the eighteen blacklisted schools) to abide by a ill-defined speech code or face a severe penalty (being locked out of NCAA tournaments). Those who dissent from the decision are expected to sue. This is no different from hundreds of FIRE cases in which students who run afoul of administrative speech restrictions are threatened with severe punishment—and are given no recourse except an appeal to the public or a lawsuit. It’s a very uncomfortable position in which to find oneself. If nothing else comes of this controversy, we can at least hope that being subjected to a vaguely defined and therefore unreasonable speech code will give college administrators some sympathy for the students they regularly torment with similar policies.
Inside Higher Ed offers a history of the mascots most likely to be viewed as hostile or abusive (that sneer on Wisconsin's Bucky Badger is apparently safe for the moment) as well as news reporting that recognizes potential ambiguities in applying the policy. Marquette Warrior sees lawsuits on the horizon, and King at SCSU Scholars sees inconsistency in naming names. The Education Wonks toss a challenge toward the NCAA's inquisitors. Scrapple Face proposes the limiting case of mascot nomenclature. Or does he? Suppose a school receives 27 consecutive digits of e. Would that not suggest the school transcends others?
RETHINKING MULTICULTURALISM. Michael Barone offers the latest salvo in the mainstream culture wars.

Multiculturalism is based on the lie that all cultures are morally equal. In practice, that soon degenerates to: All cultures are morally equal, except ours, which is worse. But all cultures are not equal in respecting representative government, guaranteed liberties and the rule of law. And those things arose not simultaneously and in all cultures, but in certain specific times and places -- mostly in Britain and America, but also in various parts of Europe.

In America, as in Britain, multiculturalism has become the fashion in large swathes of our society. So the Founding Fathers are presented only as slaveholders, World War II is limited to the internment of Japanese-Americans and the bombing of Hiroshima. Slavery is identified with America, though it has existed in every society and the antislavery movement arose first among English-speaking evangelical Christians.

But most Americans know there is something special about our cultural heritage. While Harvard and Brown are replacing scholars of the founding period with those studying other things, book-buyers are snapping up first-rate histories of the Founders by David McCullough, Joseph Ellis and Ron Chernow.

Multiculturalist intellectuals do not think our kind of society is worth defending. But millions here and increasing numbers in Britain and other countries know better.

Trent at Winds of Change is hosting a lively bull session; organizing theme "The serious intellectual backlash against 'Multi-cult' has begun."

Lest readers propose that Mr Barone is a bit overwrought, withhold judgement until you've visited Coach Brown, who posted the questions put to him in a cultural competence audit, including these gems:

6. Does the curriculum foster appreciation of cultural diversity?

7. Are experiences and activities, other than those common to middle class/European American culture, included?

Note the use of "appreciation." There is a continuum of ways of dealing with people who do things differently, ranging from tolerance to acceptance to affirmation to celebration, and I've probably missed a few buzzwords. I'm not sure where "appreciation" goes on that continuum. Where to stop? Some food? A concert? Great literature? A ritual sacrifice?
MORAL HAZARDS? No Oil for Pacifists has a mini-dissertation on Third World debt forgiveness and related topics.
Though better-targeted aid and conditional debt forgiveness have a continued role in African relief, they're no panacea. The spread of commerce, trade and the rule of law sharply reduced poverty in the West and would do the same in Africa--if we allow it.
Just read it.
CARNIVAL CALL. This week's Carnival of Education, No. 33(8), is at The Education Wonks.

9.8.05

EMERGENCE, OR INTELLIGENT DESIGN? Laura at 11-D offers a different take on David Brooks's "Virtues of Virtue" column.

What David Brooks is really saying is that America is doing swimmingly for all sorts of reasons that have nothing to do with government. American youth are pulling themselves up by their bootstraps with the help of family and church groups. Our Republican government has sensibly not devoted one cent to these efforts. Just set a good example. (Eyes rolling.)

Brooks wisely sets up his essay by pointing to the drop in the levels of domestic violence, which takes the steam out of any liberal counterargument. Who wants to play down that important development? If it is true that fewer women are getting thumped, then great. But to attribute that change to an underfunded church group and an army of well scrubbed teenagers is bizarre.

Mr Brooks does point to a 1994 federal criminalization of violence against women as a potential contributing influence, a point that arises in the comments. There is likely to be a research article or four attempting to tease out such effects. There are also likely to be what the statisticians call "confounding factors," something that Mr Brooks noted in his column.
The decline in family violence is part of a whole web of positive, mutually reinforcing social trends.
For some of these, identifying the effect of government policies will be difficult. Tighter standards for drunken driving, more driving, fewer drunken driving fatalities. (Did I mention cheaper gas providing an incentive to buy more crashworthy cars, federally mandated airbags notwithstanding?) For others, well, maybe we're observing better behavior on average because better people are choosing to be parents. (That's one of the more frequently cited bits of Freakonomics, which I reviewed, focusing on the econometrics, to the exclusion of the selectivity effect of abortions, which everybody else goes directly to.)

And then, there are those people doing the relatively obscure work, such as a Chicago Tribune columnist who wants to say "Enough" to hip-hop-pimp.

Maybe I'm just sick and tired of the whole pimp lifestyle and rap music's glorification of it all. And "Hustle & Flow," albeit well-done, is just an extension of that.

Maybe I'm just frustrated by how rap fits into a broader culture that continues to objectify women, and the movie, which for an independent film is doing well at the box office, is just an extension of that too.

These days, when you have a young daughter, as I have, it's constant and steady work to dispel the negative images out there of women and navigate around rap music's influences.

Read the column and note the absence of a call for government action. Then read her follow-up column, culled from reader mail.
Suggestive lyrics go beyond rap music, says John J. of Chicago: I could go on about the garbage sold by a lot of the white bands. Ever listen to a country/western song? Drinking and sleeping around are still very prevalent there, too. I'm beginning to think that our music says a lot about us as a civilization and it ain't good."
I don't know if that writer read Black Rednecks and White Liberals, but that connection is in that book, and I will be offering a review of it as part of a late summer doubleheader.
Pier S. of Chicago writes: I am entering my senior year as a Comparative Women's Studies major at Spelman College. Rapper Nelly's foundation approached Spelman with putting together a bone marrow drive, and when a few students saw one of his recent videos with him swiping a credit card down the backside of a woman, we told him not to come to our school.
And such support encouraged the columnist, who will probably stay on this message as a consequence. It is by small steps such as these that the great leaders and the great speeches will emerge.

(As a sidelight to researching this post, Steve Levitt has a new economic analysis of crack addiction, which is still present but less deadly. He suggests that policy sometimes ought be changed when the conditions leading to the policy are no longer present, but policy makers are often reluctant to rethink their designs.)