31.1.06

QUOTE OF THE DAY.
I hate that phrase, "sorry I'm late." I have to go to so many meetings. And I can tell you in advance who is going to be late.
Read the rest.
BACKWARD BENDS THE SUPPLY CURVE? Bill at Atlantic Blog quotes the abstract of a recent Boston Fed working paper, "Measuring Trends in Leisure: The Allocation of Time over Five Decades." Key point:
We document that a dramatic increase in leisure time lies behind the relatively stable number of market hours worked (per working-age adult) between 1965 and 2003. Specifically, we document that leisure for men increased by 6-8 hours per week (driven by a decline in market work hours) and for women by 4-8 hours per week (driven by a decline in home production work hours). This increase in leisure corresponds to roughly an additional 5 to 10 weeks of vacation per year, assuming a 40-hour work week. We also find that leisure increased during the last 40 years for a number of sub-samples of the population, with less-educated adults experiencing the largest increases.
There's something perplexing about the last sentence, in that the income effect leading to the backward-bending supply curve takes effect at higher incomes. The .pdf is a bit slow to load at the moment. Perhaps more next week.

SECOND SECTION. Got the paper to open. The authors note the same perplexity early on. Paper runs 61 pages. Definitely for next week.
THE IDEAL SECTION. The spirit of Samuel Insull and Charles Coffin lives on at the South Shore Line. Live from the Third Rail picks up a Chicago Tribune story about a test installation of wireless communication the transit district will make available in April.
The service will be tested for 60 days, from April through June, on a seven-mile stretch from Dune Park to Ogden Dunes.
But how will this service alert users WIRELESS ENDS 300 FEET?

30.1.06

PUBLIC CHOICE SCHOLARS WILL NEVER LACK FOR WORK. Michael Barone:
The late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan used to argue that pork barrel spending was politically benign because it was one way for an administration or for the congressional leadership to hold together a majority that could act decisively on other, more important issues.
If memory serves, that's the first lesson chief of staff Arnie van Damm gives recently-promoted President John Patrick Ryan in Executive Orders.

InstaPundit demurs.
Such unwritten-constitution arrangements, however, require self-discipline to function properly. That seems to be in exceptionally short supply among our political class today.
Dissertation topics on "The Welfare Losses of the Transportation Bill" will therefore be in long supply.
SPECIAL PLEADING? Scott Jaschik at Inside Higher Education interviews two Kates from Wisconsin, retired president Katharine C. Lyall and senior lecturer Kathleen R. Sell, who are shopping their new book, The True Genius of America at Risk: Are We Losing Our Public Universities to De Facto Privatization? (Maybe for the summer reading. There's a little problem in optimal intermodal competition I want to solve first. Stay tuned.)

Read the interview and make your own judgements.

One wishes, however, that university administrators would choose their analogies carefully. Here's a defense of the corporate-style salaries and golden parachutes senior administrators receive.
This means we need to recalibrate both faculty and administrative compensation against the markets in which they must compete for talent. We cannot expect public institutions to succeed in a competitive environment while continuing to treat them like wholly owned state agencies. States that cling to this outmoded state-agency model, will soon find their world-class public universities becoming as distinctive as their state departments of transportation.
Is this comparing Colorado's Betsy Hoffman to Amtrak's David Gunn?

On the other hand, Wisconsin's department of transportation provides money for the Hiawatha. Last time I checked, you can expect to complete your trip in 89 minutes or less about 90% of the time. Are there any degree programs in the Wisconsin system as reliable?
PRACTICAL HOUSEHOLD TIP. Keep the vodka in the freezer. Mmmmm, pertsovka. Works for the akavit also.
I BELIEVE THAT'S WHAT KINDERGARTEN IS FOR. University Diaries attends the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics conference, so you don't have to. Onetime Carter Administration courtier Hodding Carter gets off the silliest line so far.
We don't have enough dialogues...all universities should have mandatory life skills courses for all students, not just athletes... these guys need to learn what it means to be a man...
It strikes me that after 12 years give or take in elementary and secondary schools that on one hand might be more interested in feminizing the boys and on the other hand bend the rules to keep the boys with the best shot at leading the team to State eligible, the life skills the athletes are being reinforced in are called "sliding by and hoping for the fixer," talents easily imitated by others.

Professor Soltan also mentions the Bad Jocks site, another enterprise of radio's Karlson and McKenzie. The first mentioned host is not related, at least within four generations.

29.1.06

PUBLIC INTELLECTUALS. Richard at Unlocked Wordhoard will be providing the public affairs people at Troy University an interview about professors with weblogs.

He gives good reasons for not using his site to dish about his university, or to hype it.

My purposes are somewhat different. I take faculty governance seriously. Sometimes, this site has to carry the minority reports.

28.1.06

MORE PRODUCTIVITY FOLLIES. Playing School, Irreverently, begins a fisking of yet another proposal, this time from within the university, to turn the undergraduate degree into something else. (I'm using the Academic Universe feature from the Northern Illinois University library to get the article.) Profgrrrrl objects, first, to the assertion that it's faculty salaries that are somehow responsible for the university's difficulties.
Let's see. So the university is in the business of educating, we're the ones who do the educating, we're paid far less than we would be in the private sector (for those of us who have that as an option), we work all kinds of crazy hours, we pay for a lot of things on our own that private sector employees never do (how much did you out of pocket for books, travel, home office supplies last year?) ... but our salaries and support, meager as they are (at least at public institutions) are too much for the system to bear?
She's also got some thoughts about the outsourcing the proposal introduces. Here are the specifics from the proposal.
Outsource some courses and programs. Many training firms sell their services to businesses, government agencies, and nonprofit organizations. Why not make those services available to college students? Although some of the training is technical and highly specific, much of it is not. Colleges could save money, offer a more diverse education, and increase quality by hiring some of those vendors. Students could also save money if colleges were willing to award academic credit for some of those programs.For example, Dale Carnegie Training, founded in 1912, operates in over 65 countries and has about six million graduates. Each of its programs is carefully developed, frequently evaluated and updated, and survives because of its commercial success. Relatively few colleges waive students' tuition or give academic credit for its courses. Yet I recently completed the introductory course, which presents Carnegie's theories of human relations, and saw a remarkable transformation in those who attended. People who mumbled during their first speech won speaking awards by the end.
And our forensics departments can't do this? Oh, and maybe stimulate some higher-order thinking skills about rhetorical devices at the same time. The business interest in winning friends and influencing people is in selling the product. Perhaps the higher-order skills include "seeing through the spin," something that affects commercial success with a time lag. (Are you listening, General Motors?) Profgrrrrl sees where this proposal is going.
This is all an argument for being a technical institute rather than offering a liberal arts education. Coplin's other suggestions follow suit: offer credit for life experience; let students teach themselves via school activities and service projects (and use their free/cheap labor, too!); give certificates rather than degrees.
Not to mention that the service learning can easily be captured by the Welfare State to get some cheap labor for public programs that would otherwise have negative benefit-cost ratios.

Back to the proposal.
Similarly, student-affairs divisions often provide "training" usually in the form of one-day conferences or half-day seminars to members of Greek and other student groups. If those programs were organized around a list of curriculum standards, academic credit could be offered. Athletics programs also present an opportunity for students to learn the skills that employers seek, like working with and influencing people, using statistics, and solving problems. Why not develop an applied-statistics course in which students analyze the data on their own and their team's performance? Or why not create a business course in which students study management theories as they apply to their coaches?
Because you'd have to hire somebody who understood small-sample properties and selection biases? Or does the proposal envision the students doing peer-review of the journals?

It gets better.
If existing staff members taught such courses, the instruction costs would already be included in the budget; if more staff members were needed, they would be less expensive than traditional faculty members. At the same time, enriching student activities to make them worthy of academic credit could teach students some of the skills they most need but don't normally learn in traditional courses.
The opportunity costs are nonexistent???

Now, think about this.

Meanwhile the traditional four-year degree has lost its academic focus at most colleges. A program of 120 hours cannot be coherent, given the fragmented and overspecialized nature of higher education. Such programs are burdened by marginally relevant requirements courses that students neither want nor need, despite protestations by some faculty members that the 120-hour, broad-based approach is important in developing students' critical-thinking skills. If institutions unbundled their programs, students would pay less and get more.

To illustrate the wasteful cost of ignoring certificates in favor of degrees, consider the homeland-security programs that some colleges now offer. Because the field is so new, a large body of knowledge surrounding it has not yet emerged. Consequently students interested in specific course work directly related to homeland security will be spending countless hours in meeting basic liberal-arts or general-education requirements and dealing with scholarly ruminations in whatever major they take. Why not let those students focus on relevant courses and award them a certificate instead of a degree?

Consider a number of counter-arguments. First, this proposal is making a point I have been making for years: that the core curriculum is coreless. The author would prefer to abolish the core requirements. I advocate a core grounded in the trivium and quadrivium. The current cafeteria approach to distribution requirements is incoherent. The higher order skills a core curriculum, or some linking of Big Ideas among disciplines, develops enable graduates to make connections they otherwise might not. Second, the homeland security courses are meaningless without practitioners having some of that grounding. Northern Illinois recently got some money (it doesn't hurt to be in the Speaker's district?) to offer homeland security courses. Specifically,
“When looking at homeland security, it's looking at being aware,” said Mary Pritchard, health and human services associate dean. “We'll focus on awareness, prevention, protection, response to disasters and recovery. We'll study both natural disasters and human-made disasters.”It will be the first class students take for a five-course certificate. The following courses will be more specific to students' areas of study, such as how health services or communications organizations should deal with disasters.
Note that "should." Consider those "scholarly ruminations." There might be a reason "emergency powers" are limited in scope and duration. There might be reasons to be skeptical of warrantless monitoring of mobile 'phone conversations, or of implied consent for your library records to be in the public domain, or of contact tracing of anyone with an exotic disease. Perhaps the line employee with the wand at the airport (coming soon to a train station near you?) doesn't have to know that. The manager does. A high school that does its job properly will have the wand-wielder ready. A liberal arts core with a homeland security major or emphasis will better serve the manager.

The proposal saves its greatest silliness for the end.

While bringing resources, managing the educational environment, and evaluating performance are already roles that are identified for faculty members, most professors approach them in the traditional ways: lecturing, discussing ideas, and grading tests and assignments. They need to recognize that "teaching is not telling" and to accept the reality that costs must be contained and quality increased.

Some faculty members bristle at the idea that they are "workers" who have a responsibility to serve their clients even as they lobby for higher wages, more freedom, and fewer demands. But, as Nancy E. Cantor, chancellor and president of Syracuse, has said, the university is a "public good." Developing programs that cut costs will improve access for low-income students and can also improve the quality of education for all students. If that is not in the public good, what is?

First, to provide teaching that is something other than simply "telling" and then scoring scan sheets is to accept smaller classes with more rigorous grading. To provide it on line is to require student and professor alike to spend a lot more time on task than the take-notes-take-tests-take-Friday-off contemporary experience. To leave much of the work to the students themselves is to sanction a bull session in lieu of learning.

Second, the public good argument is specious. The proposal seeks to cut out the "scholarly ruminations" in favor of greater practical training. Do taxpayers have an obligation to subsidize the future higher earnings of their neighbors? And certainly the author is aware that nobody pays list price at Syracuse. (That makes identifying tuition inflation nigh impossible, but I want to return to that another day.) Universities have plenty of opportunity to practice first-degree price discrimination, and practice it they do. The traditional system of "need-based" financial aid lowers the price low-income students pay, without necessarily lowering the quality of instruction. (The recent rediscovery of merit scholarships suggests that a different kind of role model, namely someone with good study and life management skills, has some value to the university. But that, too, is for another time.)

Yes, higher education requires some repairs. But that is not the same thing as viewing any change in the way things are done as a repair.
COMPARE AND CONTRAST. Charles at The Torch discovers what might be some inconsistent thinking at Wisconsin-Eau Claire. On the one hand, the university stands by its policy of prohibiting resident assistants (we used to call 'em housefellows) from conducting Bible study groups out of their rooms. On the other hand the university is encouraging faculty to participate in or nominate students for recognition in the upcoming Vagina Monologues season. (In New Orleans February is for Mardi Gras, high water be d***ed. On campus, February is for Eve Ensler. Bleah.)
If you recall, that ban came about because an administrator feared students might feel “judged” if they knew their RAs were Christians (or Muslims). But if students are really so delicate that they cannot deal with knowing that a minor authority figure like an RA calls himself a follower of Jesus or Mohammed, how can they be expected to bear knowing a professor (certainly someone with much more power over their lives than a mere RA) fancies himself a “Vagina Warrior?”
Quite so. Power systems are only supposed to be questioned if they give the wrong sort of people power. Read all about "liberating tolerance" here. (Begin at the beginning. Road rage isn't something from the 1990s.)
A ROUGH WINTER IN MITTELEUROPA. Heavy snow loads cause the collapse of an exhibition hall roof in Katowice, Poland, with at least twelve fatalities. A skating rink roof collapsed in Bad Reichenhall earlier in the month, also with fatalities. Engineering, unfortunately, includes a reckoning of worst-case scenarios. (I think there's a book review under development here ...)
REVEALED PREFERENCES. We're turning students away from classes because the Fire Marshal would object to any further crowding of the rooms. At the same time, there are some state-of-the-art computer stations frequently unused.

The orange and white warning signs on the door state the computer lab is not open to the general student public."It's not a general access lab," said Charles Schumann, manager of lab operations. "It was never intended to be one." Instead, the lab is used for events such as faculty development, one-day seminars and academic programs, according to Elizabeth Leake, associate director of ITS customer support services."

Altgeld 100 is the largest classroom lab on campus. It features 48 computers and was designed to facilitate large groups as a classroom lab," Leake said. "ITS maintains this facility, on behalf of our provost, by reservation for large groups."

The article goes on to note that the maintainers would like to see it used more frequently. I have seen it in use a few times, sometimes for training with the general accounting software and sometimes for Blackboard. (With the accumulating evidence of the power of active learning techniques, the reliance on passive technologies such as Blackboard and Powerpoint troubles me. Spending more and more and producing less?)
TWENTY YEARS AGO. Despite weather-related delays that prompted some observers to mock the effort, Space Shuttle launches were so routine by January 1986 as to be all but ignored by the broadcast networks. The Detroit-area classical radio station I ordinarily listened to made one of its rare broadcast interruptions for a bulletin that Challenger had exploded.

William Polley offers the recollections of a somewhat younger space enthusiast.

Challenger, Columbia, and Apollo family members gathered at the Kennedy Space Center to remember.
THE MELTING POT IN MICROCOSM. Thirty-some years ago, Milwaukee Hamilton was a conference power in football, baseball, and basketball. Today, is it time for "One-nil, one nil, who in the heck needs East?"

There's a little chatter among the players on this crisp autumn afternoon. Over there, a Laotian player speaks Hmong to an attentive teammate, then turns and says the same thing in English to a white teammate. Across the circle, a Hispanic kid says something in Spanish and two teammates nod their heads. Only one is also Hispanic.

Then a kid talks in Serbian, loud enough for everyone to hear, and they all laugh, all of them together, including head coach Dave Shadlen and his assistant, Kelly Cannon.

They laugh the laugh of a united team. A united championship team. A team made up of kids who came to the South side from all over the world. Kids with last names of Yang, Bangura, Pacheco and Milosavljevic, of Baker, Espinoza, Malusic and Terzic, of Perez, Vujanic, Patrowsky and Malusic, and of Jovicic, Vukovic, Villegas and Baric.

The Wildcats (12-5-1 overall) won their first City Conference championship on Monday, beating Milwaukee Riverside, 3-2, on a late, tie-breaking goal. It came in the closing minutes when a Laotian sent a long ball to a Hispanic teammate, who hit a crossing pass to a Serbian teammate on the right side for the goal.

Sometimes it pays to honor small beginnings.

The cross-cultural teamwork and friendships cultivated through soccer at Hamilton could serve as an example in schools, neighborhoods and workplaces everywhere.

"I can get along with anybody, because when I came over here (from Serbia), I was accepted by the people here. So I know how important that is," said senior Goran Milosavljevic. "Whether I'm talking to Latino people or Asian people, it's not a problem at all. A lot of them even know Serbian words and a lot of us know some of their language. We can even use that to our advantage on the field sometimes."

"On the soccer field, we're all one team," said senior Chue-Yee Yang, who has a near-perfect grade-point average and has applied to five Ivy League colleges. "I knew that working together as a team was going to be all right."

It also pays to encourage membership in the common culture.

To bring the team together, Shadlen orders his players to speak English to coaches and each other during play, so no one is left out or wondering about a comment. And he has worked to take the best parts of each ethnic group's style of play and cross-pollinate it with everyone on the team.

"Each ethnicity has its own style, whether it's a faster attack or more short, quick passes or working it down a side of the field or up the middle," Shadlen said. "The thing we focus on from the start of the season is how to meld it all together."

"We all have our different ways of playing, but on the field we're just one team," senior Alejandro Pacheco said. "So we don't have a Serbian style or Hispanic style or Asian style, just a Hamilton style.

At the same time, it pays the native-born players to pick up a few Serbian phrases.
"The language barrier my freshman year was really strong. Everybody was speaking Serbian or Hmong or Spanish, and all I know is English. So I would only talk to the other guys who spoke English," junior Tom Patrowsky said. "But as the season progressed, we got to know each other and learned about each other. Now our team is so closely knit, we have no language barrier at all."
Glory, glory, Ham United!
NO CONTEST. Perhaps it's as futile as "boxers or briefs?" or "Ginger or Mary Ann?" USA Today brings us another round of "Chicago or New York?" Herewith some omitted variables. I stopped at a northwest side hobby shop to exchange some merchandise and then rode the Northwest Line downtown rather than grapple with the downtown traffic. The train I rode flips at North Western Station to become a North Line turn to Winnetka. The screen that shows the next 2o or so departures could only show the departures between 5.01 and 5.40 pm. At Union Station, there was a bit of turmoil on the Burlington side. Union Station shows its limitations when passengers clog the departure gates awaiting the departure track for delayed incoming equipment to be posted. Normally, people rush down the escalators and head straight to their trains. In New York, the departure platform lottery is a regular event. And once those trains leave, they don't have to be threaded amongst transcontinental passenger flyers, time-sensitive intermodal trains, and coal loads as does the Burlington's Dinky Parade on the triple track one authority called the world's most impressive stretch of railroad. (There is nothing in Moscow, let alone London or Tokyo or Berlin to come close.)

But I didn't go to Union Station for a night of trainspotting. There's a Robinson's Ribs in the food court. Admittedly, there's nothing in any of the Chicago termini with the cachet of the Oyster Bar in Grand Central Terminal. On the other hand, there's nothing that says you only have to eat ribs in months that have an "r" in their names. Biological appetite satisfied, it's time to satisfy the intellectual appetite at the Central Electric Railfans' Association with a presentation on the electric boat trains of Western Michigan. (These did surprisingly well until the roads were paved with service from Grand Rapids to Michigan's west coast run, and connections to the lake steamers to Chicago and Wisconsin locations.)

At the CIVIC OPERA HOVSE, sometimes referred to as "Insull's Armchair," although that controversial power company baron was not so crass as today's noveau riche in insisting on naming rights, the gentlemen in black-tie and the ladies with ankle-length furs were arriving at the Lyric for Rigoletto. No displacing several blocks Uptown for a meaningless-mod Lincoln Center here. My path did not take me past Orchestra Hall, but I recall that the Chicago Symphony under Georg Solti well might have set the standard for the world in those days.

On the lighter side, where else can you get a salad on your hot dog?

No contest.

27.1.06

WE'RE WASTING MONEY, BUT GIVE US MORE OF IT. That's the kind of tone-deafness that gives the academy a bad reputation. The Newsalert Weblog recommends a Detroit Free Press story about the performance (look for "Universities and Colleges) of Michigan's public universities. Ouch. To wit:
At three other schools, administrators did not address students' repeated complaints about professors' poor language or teaching skills.
I suppose one could tell the state that it's getting what it's paying for. On the other hand, shared governance implies some responsibility for who is getting hired, whether on the tenure-track or not. (Wayne State's economics department would sometimes not rehire an adjunct.)
At Michigan Technological University, for example, some professors were granted new sabbaticals without documenting how they spent past ones, a violation of university policy.
Cranky observers view sabbaticals as paid vacations. That might not be all bad, but if the point is to have additional thinking time, that thinking ought be committed to paper.
In spot checks at six universities, auditors found more than 3,800 instances of students taking the same course three or more times. More than 1,500 Wayne State University students did so, mainly to replace poor or incomplete grades, a practice auditors suggested was an inefficient use of taxpayer money.
I don't know what the situation is today. Twenty years ago Wayne State allowed students to drop classes to nearly the end of the semester, with the professor's permission. I put in a drop deadline about midway through the semester and the whining I got from people who didn't wise up after the first exam ...

But the tone-deafness!

The biggest problem on campus is not inefficiency, said a lobbyist for Michigan's university system, but dramatic cuts in state funding.

"These are times of shrinking public responsibility to higher education," said Michael Boulus, executive director of the Presidents Council, State Universities of Michigan. "Overall, these institutions are well-run."

There's a flaming non-sequitur. I'm generally sympathetic to the idea that the benefits of higher education are private benefits, easily appropriated by the students. But well-run?

On the other hand, the Ann Arbor campus hasn't been audited since 1984 ... because the state thinks that's too costly a project???
THE FIRST GLOBAL SUPERPOWER? Not the United States. In The Wealth and Poverty of Nations, David Landes writes about China's large fourteenth-century sailing ships, and speculates.
Suppose the Chinese had not given up on trade and exploration, suppose the Portuguese had arrived in the Indian Ocean to find those huge Chinese ships ruling the seas? Or even more, suppose the Chinese had not stopped somewhere around the Mozambique channel but had gone around the Cape [of Good Hope] into the Atlantic, thereby opening maritime links to West Africa and Europe?
The thesis of Gavin Menzies's 1421: The Year China Discovered America is that the Chinese rounded Good Hope and Horn, accurately mapped the coasts of the Americas, Australia, and Antarctica, and left settlements behind from which the descendants later intermarried with native peoples. I have previously promised a review of this book, and here it is, as this year's Book Review No. 5. Mr Menzies has a site that summarizes many of his hypotheses. There is also a debunking site.

What do we have? On the one hand, there do appear to be Chinese maps that antedate the Iberian expeditions of the late fifteenth century, and, as Mr Menzies notes, a terrestrial attribution to those maps is more parsimonious than an attribution to ancient astronauts. He makes reference to what might be Chinese survey benchmarks in eastern Massachusetts, structures in Rock Lake, Wisconsin, the lake in Lake Mills, that might be connected to the Aztlan site just east of there (curiously, the Mexican revanchists who covet California and other Sun Belt locations have not pursued claims to Wisconsin or the Copper Country) and to obscure logs of conquistadores that suggest Chinese influence on the cities that may or may not have been the lost Seven Cities of Cibola. Lake Mills is not far from here, and I have a trip to eastern Massachusetts laid on for the summer. I'll observe and decide, then report.

On the other hand, if all of Mr Menzies's allegations of Chinese chicken DNA in North American chickens are as reliable as his assertion that the Rhode Island Red is a Chinese chicken, there's a problem. It's not too hard to cross-breed a Chinese chicken brought back in a Yankee Clipper with an American chicken, circa 1840, which is apparently what one Captain Richard Wheatland did. Then there's his invocation of the Ming clans (Ming-ho, Wyo Ming, and Lyco Ming, scroll down to point 5) that migrated to the Americas. That passage didn't ring true to me. Model railroaders are notorious for inventing corny place names, and those names sounded very much like they'd be on an obscure branch of John Armstrong's Canandaigua Southern that went via Gasmeterszag across the Alleghanies at Aikenbach thence by way of Llan Mawr and a connection with the Pennsy at Mingo Junction, ultimately fading into the sunset as it serves the coal mine at the Sino-Cornish hamlet of Glo Ming. I submit my Google search.

26.1.06

TWO SYSTEMS OF BELIEF? John at EclectEcon is pleased that it might be easier to have an article accepted by American Economic Review than to land a job in a Chicago-area Wal-Mart. Paul at Electric Commentary has Schadenfreude at Chicago residents heading just across city limits to seek jobs at a store the Chicago City Council essentially banned from the city.
Sure they lost a bunch of tax revenue, and jobs within the city limits, and the store opened just a few blocks away anyway, but it was worth it to stick it to that evil corporation.
But consider the implications of this.

Of 25,000 job applicants, all but 500 listed Chicago addresses, said John Bisio, regional manager of public affairs for Wal-Mart.

"In our typical hiring process, you're pretty successful if you have 3,000 applicants," he said. "They were really crowing about 11,000 in Oakland, Calif., last year. So to get 25,000-plus applications and counting, I think is astonishing."

Magdoff and Magdoff would not be astonished.
However, the presence of a large pool of workers living a precarious existence is nothing new. It is one of the basic characteristics of capitalism, referred to by Marx as the reserve army of labor. More than an underlying attribute of capitalism, the reserve army helps to keep costs down—permitting the market system to function profitably—and serves as a constant and effective weapon against workers.
More on the industrial reserve army here. And go here for a hypothesis.
Ford’s suppliers will no doubt be forced to follow through with their own job cuts and cost reductions. It is estimated that a single job at an auto factory supports seven jobs in the wider economy, which will produce a devastating impact on those areas where plants are shut down. These are working class communities that have already suffered from the general stagnation and decline of wages over the past several years and the attack on social programs and benefits.
Oakland, Chicago, both historically sites of heavy industry. Is it the capitalist quest for surplus value or the politicos quest for the right kind of development, or something else that leads to the large pool of applicants at that Evergreen Park Wal-Mart?
AN OPPORTUNITY TO GRIPE. The campus newspaper discovers Rate My Professors.
As some students go on a hunt for that certain professor dishing out the poor grades, others look for revenge online and turn the tables.
We do have a proper system of course evaluation.
"I don't take the information from these Web sites seriously compared to the evaluations completed by students in the class at the end of the semester," said sociology professor Fred Markowitz. "The most important thing to realize about the Web sites is that they are not a representative sample of the opinions of students. The opinions expressed at those sites are only a small portion of who are inclined to spend time going to these sites."
Concurring Opinions concurs in part and dissents in part.
AREA 51. I usually count the Carnivals of Education in base eight, but this was too much to resist. Don't resist the temptation to check out this week's bannerline at Education Wonks.
K. 250. January 27, 1756 is the best estimate of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's birthday. Tyler at Marginal Revolution offers some recommended listening, and the readers nominate a few of their favorites. I'll put in a few words for the clarinet concerto. My dad had the opportunity to do the solo in his high school orchestra, and he liked the Benny Goodman version.
ON MY WORKBENCH. Slow and fiddly progress on the Andreyev. Although there's no cab turret on the published diagrams, photos show a late-steam type enclosed turret ahead of the spectacle plate. The first picture shows five turret valves installed in the spectacle plate.


Next up, the cab roof. There are side overhangs above each door, as the plan indicates. A rear view photograph suggests these were later additions.


The cab has many external features in common with the P36, which makes the modeling somewhat simpler as numerous semi-legal Soviet era and completely-legal contemporary era photos of those exist. (Some of the real things are in preservation, but it's a long way to Minsk or Piter let alone Ulanbataar.)

24.1.06

MEASURING INPUTS IS HARD. Measuring outputs is harder. Signs of Chaos links to a disturbing essay by two St. Louis Fed economists looking for simple-minded ways to improve the academy's productivity. The economists recognize this is not as easy as it looks.
While the economist’s general definition of productivity, namely outputs relative to inputs, is straightforward, the definition is too simple to guide management strategies aimed at increasing productivity. A more thorough definition of productivity recognizes that productivity can be divided into two parts: efficiency and effectiveness. Efficiency refers to the level and quality of service that can be obtained given an organization’s fixed resources. Thus, an organization is considered more efficient if it can increase the level or quality of service without increasing the amount of inputs used. Effectiveness, on the other hand, refers to how well an organization meets the demands of its customers. The customers in higher education are students, parents, employers and state legislatures. Customer demands may include such outcomes as a specialization of knowledge in a specific area, career assistance and job placement and, probably most important, the graduation of well-educated and productive students.
Let's begin at the beginning. The composition of outputs and inputs is harder to measure than the report suggests. Here is a productivity primer. This is Recommended Reading. I am still working on that promised longer post on academic productivity and the defect rate. It's job-talk week. Business before pleasure. For now, understand this.
The traditional measure of total factor productivity growth is defined by the path-independent Divisia index.
Read on. (It will appear again in that longer post.) Keep in mind that everything else in the paper follows from the premise of a single output Y. (That is true of primitive measures such as student credit hours per faculty member.) But even in the single-output case, the true measure of productivity growth compares quality-adjusted output to quality-adjusted inputs. The primitive measure misstates both parts of the comparison. A university, moreover, might be producing multiple outputs, such as quantitative knowledge, aesthetic sensibility, awareness of the oppression of others, or not running with scissors. Productivity growth is more difficult to measure under such circumstances. None of which stops the primitives.

Signs of Chaos sees the signs, and they are not encouraging.
First, note that this discussion apparently assumes the faculty has no interest in, or control over, what programs an institution offers, what courses their departments offer—or, perhaps more accurately, that the faculty ought to have no such interest. Faculty are to be treated purely as an input, not as anything more central to the academic process.
Although faculty governance appears to be a survival of the Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain age, in an era of administrations dominated by failed scholars, political zealots, and wannabe captains of industry with sails full of MBA wind but neither feel for the tiller nor understanding of the compass its value ought to be greater. That, however, will require faculty to rethink the comparative advantage argument by which strong researchers avoid the university committees.

A second point addresses the tradeoffs of tenure. The third point addresses scholarship.
Third, this proposal assumes that the only activity in which the university engages (ought to engage?) is teaching—the transmission of knowledge. For land-grant colleges, Congress explicitly identified a mission that includes generation of knowledge as well as transmission. And, at most research-oriented institutions, outside research funding generally more than covers research costs and can be an important contributor to the institution’s budget.
I like Steven Landsburg's metaphor for the research university. Would you rather be a fly on the wall at an animated conversation or a participant in it? Put another way, the University of Phoenix (motto: talk shop with competitors for three credits) must rely on the experimentation of others to put its learning modules together. Continuing the quote,
Fourth, this proposal would almost certainly lead to increased turnover in academic programs, which would, over time, almost certainly lead in instability and to a failure to develop substantive expertise.
Academic tenure exists as a safeguard against the excesses of legislators, trustees, and administrators. Would curricula be less faddish in its absence?
Fifth, this proposal assumes that the best arbiters of what academic programs ought to include are the students. Now, I’m broadly sympathetic with the notion that student concerns ought to be incorporated into the decision-making. But at my institution, taken to its limit, this would mean that business majors (for example) would know no statistics.
I'm skeptical about "take to limit" arguments in the absence of an epsilon and a delta. There are market tests. Presumably the university currently trades off some drop-outs against some hiring at the job fair in deciding to retain calculus in the business curriculum. (The essay being criticized proposes "well-educated and productive" students as two dimensions of output. That leaves room for "Statistics is tough. Deal with it.")
STOP ME BEFORE I SPEND MORE MONEY. That's Brad at the Sports Economist's impression of a comment by Myles Brand, the president of the National Collegiate Athletic Association, rallying the troops.
Actually, the fact that intercollegiate athletics on almost every campus is losing money is not the real problem! Intercollegiate athletics adds value to the educational experience of those who participate. College is about lectures, textbooks and tests, but it is also about learning how to pursue excellence, to persist in the face of adversity, and to work in teams. College sports teaches these life skills as well as any other university activity, and probably better than the large majority. Even students who are not athletes gain from an athletics program. We know, from long-term research, that success in college is highly dependent on the identification of the student with his or her environment – that feeling part of something larger, not feeling alienated– increases persistence and graduation. A university should financially support those activities, including athletics, that have these types of education value.
Murray Sperber has considered a corollary proposition, that efforts to identify the university with unsuccessful athletics might well backfire, to the expense of the academic programs. He suggested that the erstwhile State University of New York at Buffalo might have hurt itself by becoming the doormat entrant of the Mid-American. And in DeKalb, the faculty was no less committed to doing well in the journals and in the classroom when the football team was going 0-for-the-nineties than it is with post-season play sometimes an option.

Mr. Brand's money quote:
Intercollegiate athletics does not have a sustainable business model.
Ford Motor just had to deal with that. Kresge, now K-Mart has had to deal with that. Baldwin Locomotive dealt with that.
I GET FAN MAIL. The fall semester course evaluation comments are in. It's not often I manage to pull this off, a comment on a Principles of Microeconomics.
Best professor I have ever had. You were able to be strict enough to force a quiet and non-distracting classroom setting, but you were still lighthearted and very informative. Your sense of humor brightens the classroom. Thank you!
Thank you. Sometimes it all comes together. Sometimes I fall short. Sometimes I struggle. This comment is from the public policy class that has a principles prerequisite.
Prof. Karlson is a smart, intelligent teacher. Sometimes I think to smart for this class. Though he challenges us to use our own minds he made the material confusing. However he was always helpful if help was asked of him.
I struggle. The policy class crosses, repeatedly, the line from positive to normative economics, and I expose students to more than one norm. One secret is to be smart without seeming smart. I wasn't that smart. I'm still looking for more effective ways of suggesting that sometimes it's OK to be a bit confused...
COLLECTING THAT FIRST-DAY MILEAGE. I stuck close to my desk. Others rode the first train out of Elburn.




The Northern Star also dispatched a photographer, looks like during college hours.
HELICOPTER PARENTS GO TO WORK. Interceding on behalf of their newly-employed children.
Last year, when a 24-year-old salesman at a car dealership didn't get his yearly bonus because of poor performance, both of his parents showed up at the company's regional headquarters and sat outside the CEO's office, refusing to leave until they got a meeting.
Via Photon Courier. I can't make up stuff like this.

22.1.06

LITTLE DRAMA. Pittsburgh with a convincing win at Denver. Seattle with a solid half-time lead.
DISPARATE IMPACT, QUANTIFIED? Professor Bainbridge has two posts addressing a Chicago Tribune West forum on the propriety, or not, of some dissident UCLA (motto: On! Wisconsin!) alumni providing beer money for evidence of leftist proselytizing masquerading as teaching. This quote, from the earlier post, shows a danger in statistical inference.
I'd say that makes out a prima facie case that university hiring practices are having a disparate impact. The burden of proof is therefore on the university to show why this disparity exists.
Three problems. First, without greater knowledge of the sample sizes and a number of other characteristics, we don't know whether the change from a 39% left-liberal, 34% right-conservative split in the 1984 survey to a 72%-15% split in the 1999 survey is the result of chance. Second, there are changes in the information faculty who responded to the survey acted upon. In 1984, President Reagan's tax cuts, Paul Volcker's monetary policy, and Yuri Andropov's crudity were on peoples' minds. In 1999, the religious wing of the Republican Congress impeached but failed to convict President Clinton. Third, there are changes in the faculty itself. A more vibrant private sector coupled with retrenchments and recisions in the universities might have done more to divert potential conservative scholars to the think tanks or away from the research life completely than the PC atrocities that had been coming to light. The residual effect of self-selection among Marxist historians or nihilist literary critics or socialist physicists might be small.
GWOZDECKY BESTS EAVES. At one time, that might happen in a Wisconsin hockey scrimmage. The stakes are somewhat different today, with Coach Gwozdecky's Denver Pioneers taking two from Coach Eaves's Badgers, in Madison, no less.
TROUBLED YOUNG LADIES. The Milwaukee County medical examiner rules that two Oak Creek High School students committed suicide by walking in front of a train last November. Family members dispute the ruling. The article reports both girls had lives troubled in part by circumstances not of their making. The article also reports that the train's engineer did not return calls. Nor should he be expected to. Locomotive crews generally get to walk away from grade crossing accidents and collisions with pedestrians, whether those are on the tracks by mistake or by design. The crews don't get to walk away from the nightmares.
I'M A SALT-SEA PIRATE A-LOOKIN' FOR MY FEE. The U. S. Navy continues to keep the sea lanes open.
Piracy is rampant off the coast of Somalia, which is torn by renewed clashes between militias fighting over control of the troubled African country. Many shipping companies resort to paying ransoms, saying they have few alternatives.
Aegis destroyer Winston S. Churchill had to put shots across one pirate's bow.
The U.S. Navy boarded an apparent pirate ship in the Indian Ocean and detained 26 men for questioning, the Navy said Sunday.
Further into the article, some reading between the lines suggests cruise lines might have discovered a new use for heavy-metal tapes. That's still a kinder fate than the one the song quoted in the title reserves for pirates.

For quarter, for quarter those pirates then did cry...
But the answer that we gave them, we sunk them in their sea...

Sailin' down along the coast/Of troubled Somalee.
A NOD TO TRADITION. I neglected to mention in yesterday's trip report that construction of the new Sturtevant for Racine (would that Amtrak use that Great Western locution) station at the Wisconsin 20 overpass has been framed in enough to reveal that the new station building will have a witch's hat, as well as a pedestrian overbridge that would do the Northeast Corridor proud.


Whether the existing station will be preserved remains to be seen.

21.1.06

EXTRA 4141 WEST. Blogs for Industry reports on the railroad exhibit at the George H. W. Bush Presidential Library at Texas A&M. Union Pacific have repainted their SD70ACe diesel 4141 (for overseas readers, that's the industrial strength version of the British Class 66) to recognize the exhibit. Overland Models will sell you one in O Scale.
IT WAS COLDER 43 YEARS AGO. The North Shore Line quit early in the morning of January 21, 1963. The day was appropriately clear and very cold, with snow on the ground. This snow arrived overnight, to the surprise of the local weather forecasters. The roads between DeKalb and Elburn and Geneva had received their first plowing but no salting when I left this morning. (Hereafter the train trips start only 15 miles from home. The new Saturday schedule offers a better connection to the Hiawatha, or to the South Shore.) Twenty-five miles of that beats a somewhat longer drive all the way to Milwaukee. And two book reviews are in the works.


Train 333 on the last lap into Milwaukee.

My return to Chicago was not as snappy as the one I reported on last month. There were some speed restrictions for malfunctioning crossing protection.

Amtrak Hiawatha 338, Milwaukee Airport to Chicago, 21 January 2006: 90200 - 54518 - 54067 -54539 - 54581 - 133. The 90200 is a cabbage car (depowered F40 locomotive turned into a driving van trailer, for my overseas readers, see the picture above) the 54-series are short-distance Horizon coaches, 133 is a Genesis series diesel. Temperature in the middle 30s, clear skies and dry rail. Moderate passenger load (empty forward-facing seats available). Start 3.12. Sturtevant 3.28 (elapsed time to stop 15:04, leave 16:02), check for grade crossing at mile 54, pass Rondout 3.54 Glenview 4.07 (elapsed time to stop 54:04, leave 55:22) pass Mayfair 4:15 pass A-5 4:18 arrive Chicago 4.29 (total elapsed time from start at Milwaukee Airport to stop 1:16:48.) That's an on-time arrival, making up 2 minutes from Milwaukee Airport.

At Chicago, the waiting room was closed off for a formal party (Amtrak will let people hire this hallfor a fee.)


I didn't ask what it was about. The photo looks southwest. At the north end of the hall there was the Mother of All Flat Screen TVs with somebody (no, it wasn't Big Brother) describing the activities of the organization that had hired the hall. I didn't want to peek through the curtains too long.
WHAT'S HE UP TO NOW? Atlas O recently bought the tooling for the P&D Hobby Shop line of F units. The hobby shop has a clearance on the F unit kits. Here are four F9 body kits with pilots. No running gear.


What's he up to now? Any guesses?
IT'S CALLED DIVISION OF LABOR. There's more commentary on the recent study suggesting that college graduates struggle with the simple. Former schoolteacher and editorial writer Joanne Jacobs notes,
Half of students who start college never complete a degree. The survey looked at the successful half who were about to graduate. Without learning how to read an editorial -- I wrote editorials for nearly 20 years -- or figure out whether they had enough gas left to make it to the service station.
I will have more to say about that defect rate, possibly tomorrow. (It's going to be a long post even by my standards.)

Current Advanced Placement teacher Betsy Newmark might be suggesting a more honest way of producing that defect rate.
These kids aren't getting these skills in the younger grades and then they're marching off to college to study who knows what. If these kids can't analyze news stories and understand documents, how are they going to master the readings that they do in college? The possible answers are dismaying. Either they're not understanding what they read but are somehow managing to pass anyway. Or the professors don't give them material that they need to understand for the class and just spoonfeed them all the material in class. We certainly don't see 50% of the students flunking out of college, so the standards somewhere are being lowered to such a degree that kids who can't understand a newspaper story can still manage to pass history or science classes.
Question: is that large defect rate a proxy for what an honest appraisal of some students would yield?

Economics professor Kng Banaian reminds readers that taking universities to task for deficiencies that were someone else's responsibility might not be the best strategy. On the other hand,
Three of the four tasks on that list are quantitative; it doesn't surprise me much at all in a world where math is de-emphasized in universities' general education program. ... The study makes clear that no more than 30% have even basic quantitative literacy, like being able to look at a menu and figure out the cost of a sandwich and a salad sold separately. An older NAS study shows that only 10% of schools surveyed had a math or quantitative general education requirement that had no exemptions by 1993 -- over half had none whatsoever. And the courses taken now as the math requirements are set even below finite math ... The same is true with the natural sciences. Most problematic is that students who are not in the sciences or in business often are given options for math-lite.
That, and given the freedom to let the calculator or the laptop do the arithmetic, with no sense of the magnitudes being produced.

20.1.06

NEW TRAIN SERVICE. Metra announces the beginning of service to La Fox and Elburn (15 miles from DeKalb) on January 23, with additional frequencies on the North Central and Southwest Corridor lines commencing January 30.

Most Geneva service trains have been extended to Elburn. I wonder if Union Pacific will get to convert some of the West Chicago coach yard tracks for freight service.
FOCUS. The latest from Jay Mathews (via Joanne Jacobs) cites research suggesting that self-discipline and a willingness to defer gratification might better predict academic success than test scores. What was that line about plenty of geniuses on Skid Row?

Indirect confirmation comes from a recent communication to the operator of Rate Your Students, a service that generally provides the sick fascination that might draw a spectator to the race track in hopes of seeing a pileup. The communication comes from an academic administrator with extensive private sector experience.
I can give you plainly the view of a typical employer regarding new college grads: If you ask me stupid questions at work, questions whose answers are covered in the written material I gave you during orientation/training, I will assume you are a moron and not waste any further time with you. Your name will go to the top of the "budget cut" list, and you will get crap assignments until you can be unloaded. Welcome to life. There are no second chances. Have a lovely time.
Or, as the Grumpy Trainmaster might put it, "Let's discuss a different career." A quibble, however. At one time, the term "moron" referred to an individual who could carry out tasks that were well-defined and sequenced. As my first computer science professor taught me, a computer could be thought of as an electric moron. PROGRAM, MORON. The behavior the disgruntled employer is seeking might better be described by one of two World War II terms. Perhaps the new hire is a "rock" (See also "dumber than the average rock.") If the new hire combines excessive griping or malingering with being a rock, the term "sad sack" applies.
JANUARY MADE ME SHIVER. The Russian winter is no blessing to Muscovites.
Moscow shivered through its fourth day of a cold snap, with temperatures dropping to minus 24 degrees overnight — the lowest recorded temperature on Jan. 19 since 1927, said Tatyana Pozdnyakova, a Moscow weather official.
The article does not specify whether that is in Fahrenheit, in which case we're talking about the night the North Shore Line died in 1963, or in Celsius, in which case it reminds me of a January 1977 trip across the Dakotas on a late-running Empire Builder. The Weather Channel is reporting seventy degrees of frost in Oymyakon, northeastern Siberia.

The cold snap coincided with Thursday's Russian Orthodox holiday of the Epiphany, and many defied warnings from doctors and priests by jumping into holes cut into thick ice on rivers and ponds to cleanse themselves.

The ritual imitates the baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan. Many took the plunge around midnight Wednesday, with temperatures near their overnight lows.

Jumping into the water in such temperatures "is the most intense feeling," one man in the Ural Mountains city of Yekaterinburg told state-run Channel One television after taking a dip, his eyebrows rimed with frost.

Are our "Polar Bear" parties on New Years Day an adaptation of this custom?

19.1.06

IT'S NOT THE POLICE BLOTTER. Coach Mom sent "The Day in Sports" from the 10 January Green Bay Press-Gazette. The first three headlines: Stanley charged with sexual assault. Vick arrested on gun charges. Bradley, N. Dakota to keep nicknames.
AND WE'RE WORRYING ABOUT INDOCTRINATION? The Labor Theory of Value is more challenging than a grocery store label.
Nearing a diploma, most college students cannot handle many complex but common tasks, from understanding credit card offers to comparing the cost per ounce of food.
It gets better.

More than 50% of students at four-year schools and more than 75% at two-year colleges lacked the skills to perform complex literacy tasks.

That means they could not interpret a table about exercise and blood pressure, understand the arguments of newspaper editorials, compare credit card offers with different interest rates and annual fees or summarize results of a survey about parental involvement in school.

Some responsibility for these shortcomings rests with an education establishment willing to let basic skills slide in favor of therapeutic interventions or mixing students of varying abilities. On the other hand, it suggests that the alleged Marxoid indoctrination at UCLA (motto: On! Wisconsin!) might go in one ear, onto the notebook, into the blue book, and out the other ear.

Overall, the average literacy of college students is significantly higher than that of adults across the nation. Study leaders said that was encouraging but not surprising, given that the spectrum of adults includes those with much less education.

Also, compared with all adults with similar levels of education, college students had superior skills in searching and using information from texts and documents.

"But do they do well enough for a highly educated population? For a knowledge-based economy? The answer is no," said Joni Finney, vice president of the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, an independent and non-partisan group.

[I'm working with USA Today here and have not checked out that "independent and non-partisan assertion. Public Citizen and the Center for Science in the Public Interest also make those claims.]

What is to be done?
The survey showed a strong relationship between analytic coursework and literacy. Students in two-year and four-year schools scored higher when they took classes that challenged them to apply theories to practical problems or weigh competing arguments.
Study economics. Develop your jive-detector.
QUOTE OF THE DAY. Michelle at La Profesora Abstraida:
A colleague here at Tech emailed me this CNN story. That story took me to this link. From that page, I went to this one. At which point, I took a look to see if any political science professors made the list. Apparently, your support is tax deductible and will be used to give students beer money pay spies students to fabricate gather additional data.
Phantom Prof describes this scheme as "scary." King at SCSU Scholars notes that other, less overtly partisan organizations exist to address politics crowding out learning. There's more by Kieran at Crooked Timber, Professor Althouse, and Professor Bainbridge, who is on the law faculty at UCLA (motto: On! Wisconsin!) where this information-buying plan is in effect.
EVERYTHING WE LIKE GOES AWAY. In addition to Marshall Field becoming Macy's and the Berghoff becoming a catering operation only, now it's Chicago's water tanks (and a number of other traditional features elsewhere in the city) going away.

18.1.06

MANIC AND MALIGNANT SOUNDING MUSIC. So go the program notes to tonight's Vermeer Quartet concert, featuring the Mozart "Hoffmeister" K. 499 (has P.D.Q. Bach recast the earlier "Hunt" quartet as the "Jagermeister?"), the Shostakovich Op. 110 in A-flat (which gets the title characterization) and the Tchaikovsky Op. 30 in e-flat, for which the annotator characterizes the key as "one of the darkest because of its six flats," later describing a B major section as "brighter" because of the five sharps. I'm going to display my ignorance here. (The annotator is on faculty. I may send these questions his way.) As the five black keys can be assigned as flats or as sharps at the composer's discretion, what is the point of assigning light to sound? The quartet had stylistic touches that called up the Fourth Symphony and the Serenade for Strings (to my ears) but those allusions were to the more cheerful bits. Here's another ignorant question. In a work for strings, what's the point of the composer picking one key rather than another, and what's the point of an annotator assigning a mood to that key? I can hear the difference for brass and wind writing, with instruments tooled for a specific key. The open air column makes a difference. But apart from the four open strings, any other note is a matter (I was tempted to write "simply" until memories of my squeaky violin playing came to mind) of getting the fingers in the right place.

The school paper had a feature on the Vermeer's latest Grammy nomination, for their Bartok cycle. The article concludes with this announcement.

However amazing the Grammy party is, it does not compare to the party the Quartet has had for the past 36 years, when it was started by Shmuel Ashkenasi in 1969.

The Quartet is retiring in 2007.

Great job, gentlemen.
COUNTING COUP? Pakistani intelligence may or may not be releasing the identities of "foreign terrorists." I strongly suspect that the fate of Ayman al-Zawahiri, like Osama bin Laden, will never be learned.
RED ALERT. Northern Star columnist Genevieve Diesing suggests that the Northern Illinois University free speech zone has a chilling effect on free speech.

17.1.06

GOOD EVENING, HOCKEY FANS. The Badger men swept Colorado College 3-2 and 9-1. The Badger women swept North Dakota, 2-1 and 4-0. The Zamboni swept the ice. For this week, the men and the women rank No. 1 in the hockey polls. SIEVE!
SCRATCH SOME BAD GUYS? This service normally leaves war coverage to others. Do note this Hit and Run post (via American Thinker) on the one-time newspaper of record publishing a photograph offering a shell fragment as a piece of a missile. Note also that Pakistani provincial officials are now reporting the deaths of four or five "foreign terrorists" in that controversial air strike on some houses near the Afghan-Pakistan border. (Power Line linked to a New York Post story earlier today. To the best of my knowledge the Associated Press and the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel are not members of the Vast Right Wing Chickenhawk Conspiracy.)
ADMIRAL ZHENG'S LOBSTER? Best of the Web makes fun of this story, but perhaps there's something to follow up on.

Columbus reputedly discovered the New World in 1492 but Admiral Zheng He may have got there 70 years earlier.

A copy of his map of the world, dated 1418, is about to be unveiled to the public in Beijing and at Greenwich's National Maritime Museum.

That map is mentioned in the opening sentences of 1421: The Year China Discovered America, which is on my stack of books to review. (Perhaps soon. Nephew has birthday pizza party not far from the Mitchell International station. Train trip less stressful than driving ...)

I have glanced at the book which offers some speculation about the Chinese origins of the Newport Tower, which has been offered as evidence of all sorts of settlements, although so far nobody has commented on similarities between its base and the base of New Haven Railroad interlocking towers. Perhaps some fieldwork for this summer?

And now for some speculation ... (why should this night be different from any other night?) The North America chapters of 1421 suggest Chinese intercourse with and Chinese influence on the Native peoples of Rhode Island and southeastern Massachusetts. Was memory of the civilized interaction between Chinese and North Americans one cause of the initial good relations between Puritans and North Americans two centuries later. Must read more and report.
PLOTS WITHIN PLOTS. Rick at Right Wing Nut House resumes his spring service of "24" plot summaries. These summaries are useful to casual watchers of the series as they include reference to past seasons. The current day's action features a promoted Vice President (whether the President who was shot down on Air Force 1 eighteen virtual months ago is still alive but incapacitated has not been clarified) with Nixonian mannerisms and a Clintonian obsession with a legacy and a First Lady who appears to be based on Martha Mitchell of Watergate plot notoriety who must take time out from a summit to deal with a hostage situation. Or something. There is a double agent on the President's detail who is communicating with some shadowy figure who is communicating with the hostage-holding terrorist leader who may or may not be running cover for some other plot involving poison gas.

Got all that? The September 11 operation was sparse but effective. Somehow the script writers at Fox have to put the equivalent of three centuries of Byzantine intrigue into three months.

16.1.06

SLOUCHING INTO THE NEW SEMESTER. Some institutions of higher learning have a policy in which students who do not show up for the first week of classes are removed from the class rolls. Playing School, Irreverently, discovers that some such individuals give new richness to the notion of chutzpah.
Well, apparently (or so I've just learned) students expect us to email them if we see them on the roster and they don't show up. For a moment I thought "Yeah, I know, I'm such a slacker though ..." and then I thought the better of that. This is insane. Pre-email, or actually more recently (pre-university system that assigned email to students that they may or may not use) I'd have had no way of contacting a no-show. Sorry kids, I really don't think this one is my responsibility. What, am I supposed to email you to remind you that you registered for my course? To tell you that your evil twin registered you? To find out where to send the engraved invitation for you to come to class? To tell you I actually do abide by the university rules?
Hear! Hear!

In many cases, I wonder if such students are even aware they have a university account? Probably over half of my correspondence comes from hotmail or aol accounts with handles that tell me more than I really want to know about my correspondents.
ROLLING INTO THE NEW SEMESTER. The fifth (collegiate) Teaching Carnival is up at Ancarett's Abode.
CARNIVAL CALL. Wordlab provides the outlot for this week's Carnival of the Capitalists.
HEADED UPSCALE? A local coffeehouse that offers a good view of the Union Pacific action sells a sandwich it calls the "Anorak." Ham, brie, spicy mustard, apple, red onion, and spinach in a wrap. Doesn't sound like train-spotter fare to me.
I COULDN'T WAIT UNTIL APRIL 1. Last night I was doing some more research on the Andreyev and I came across the Berlinerwerke Apocrypha, evidently the work of someone with a bit more skill with a Dremel (scroll around and see what one can do with cheap HO plastic diesels) and Photoshop as well as a bit more imagination than I.

The author was laboring under the impression that the Septipede was a railroading urban legend when he reported the discovery of the 4-14-2 Pennsylvania V1 "Rocky."


In subsequent research, the author discovered that there was indeed a seven-coupled Soviet locomotive, comrades. His explanation is in the spirit if not quite up to the standard of proper socialist self-criticism.

Chesapeake and Ohio were also working on seven-coupled power.


The Pennsylvania, not to be outdone, took a different C&O design with dual cylinders and modified it.

(Some quibbles: C&O would have provided more sand delivery pipes, and that crosshead and valve motion configuration would have snapped under a heavy load. To have expected a single crosshead to handle the reciprocating mass of two pistons boggles the mind. Look carefully at the diagrams for the Andreyev, which include tandem crossheads, an extra connector between the eccentric and the reverse lever and articulated connecting rods. The forward crosshead guide hanger and valve stem guide are similar to those on the front engine of a Challenger or Big Boy. Whew, one less applied engineering problem.)

15.1.06

TROUBLED BY MOBILE PHONE USE IN CLASS. Local high schools prohibit their use with varying degrees of stringency. "That's so high school" is not a counter-argument to prohibiting their use during class at the university.
Students are always becoming more technologically savvy and could be using text messages to cheat on tests.
Indeed, and in coming up with methods of concealing same.
AFTER FURTHER REVIEW. The Bears do not go down by two touchdowns in the first quarter ...
NOBODY AMONG US KNOWS HOW TO POPULARIZE ECONOMICS. And yet people write such books, just as Paris gets fed and pencils get produced. The most recent entry in the derby is Tim Harford's The Undercover Economist, which is closer in style and topics to Steven Landsburg's Armchair Economist, which I use to complement a microeconomic principles text, than it is to Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner's Freakonomics, which I reviewed last year. On, then, to Book Review No. 4 for 2006.

Undercover Economist addresses fewer topics than Armchair Economist, with, however, less of the Chicago-tight-prior theorizing that reviewers of Armchair have interpreted varyingly as "arrogance" or right-wing preaching. Undercover sheds light on more difficult topics such as adverse selection, signalling, game theory, and externality. I can see using this as a complement to an intermediate price theory text, particularly if I had four credits to work with.

An academic economist must always keep in mind the intended audience of a book, particularly if the intended audience is a class confronting a required book. I have the disadvantage of having observed, as a graduate student, the development of the Rothschild-Stiglitz insurance market model and the Wilson extension of the lemons principle. It is helpful to a student who does not have a complete set of class and seminar notes to see the intuition, which has been further developed and codified over the years.
PUTTING THE QUESTION. The University of Toledo's women's basketball team paid Northern Illinois a visit yesterday. The home team prevailed.
"I was very impressed with our defense against a very good team and for only the second time this year, we had a positive assist to turnover ratio," first-year NIU head coach Carol Owens noted. "We continue to improve and that's the key. We established both an inside and an outside game which is always a key."
How encouraging the contrast with last year.
"Our team chemistry has really come along. We have bonded so well as a team on the court. Defensively, we are playing together so much better," Owens insisted. "Bishop and Zeller really hurt us in the first half scoring nine and 12, so defense was something we discussed at half. Mary Basic (Lemont / Chicago Heights Marian Catholic) has become our utility player. A lot of what she does doesn't always show up in the box score, but her contributions are always a key. Today it was rebounds and I was really pleased with her defense on Bishop, particularly in the second half."
Compare and contrast.
ST. VINCENT INTERVENES? No professional football team has yet won more than two consecutive Super Bowls, and the Packers remain the last professional football team to have won three consecutive National Football League titles. The Patriots' loss last night means the Packer string of five titles in seven years is also safe for now.
BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU ASK FOR. Via University Diaries, a parody site suggesting Oklahoma State University recognize a generous benefactor by renaming itself Boone State in recognition of a generous donation to the sports programs by alum and oilman T. Boone Pickens.

There are precedents. Ball State University is not paying tribute to its role as a training ground for the Big Ten. The five sons of canning jar magnate Lucius Styles Ball, including interurban promoter George A., purchased a private normal school that opened in 1899 and deeded it to the state of Indiana as a teachers' college in 1918. That normal school became a state university in 1965.

I know of a slightly older state teachers' college that became a state university in 1957. Telecommunications magnate John Barsema has been very generous to the building fund, as has banker John Castle. (Economics, by the way, suggests that the name "Castle Bank" might be more suggestive of permanence and stability than, say, "Fifth Third Bank," which sounds like music theory, or "Old Second Bank," redolent of a hymnal.) To my knowledge, there are no plans to sell the naming rights to the University.

14.1.06

FINDING THOSE MISSING MEN. Steel City Cowboy suggests a simpler explanation for young men's diminished share of the freshman class. It's pragmatism rather than a feminist plot at work.
A 2002 breakdown by the U.S. Census Bureau indicates that while 74 percent of males over age 16 were in the labor force, only 60 percent of females were in the same group. In addition to that, a significantly larger proportion of the employed women worked in traditionally female jobs such as clerical and administrative positions. Although the current number and married men and women are basically equal (duh!), the number of men who have never been married is almost thirty percent higher than the number of women who have never been married.
Therefore,

[I]f the value of college education is declining, it would be men who would begin to jump ship first. People who expect an economic buffer, or who will be competing in a market in which an advanced skill set is not required, can afford to be more frivolous in the educational decisions. College to them would be an affordable luxury. To men, though, the cold grip of economic reality is felt sooner, and more surely.

But how would young men know ahead of time that the value of a college diploma is falling? By talking to their older brothers, their neighbors and friends, who are ten years ahead of them on the employment curve. Ask those people "Did college prepare you for the working world?" and they will most likely laugh first, then reply "Not at all. I learned more in my first month on the job than I did in four years at college. I probably should have saved the $100,000 it cost and started a shoe store."

I have my doubts about the "affordable luxury" hypothesis. Per corollary to the learning-by-entrepreneuring, why spend all the money on tuitions and sorority functions rather than joining the Junior League right out of high school? I also have doubts about the job-preparation hypothesis. With the exception of some business or service-sector curricula, higher education is not training for an entry level job. (When the resources and institutional commitment are there, and the moon is in the seventh house, and the smelt are running, the College of Liberal Arts argues, based on survey data, that a liberal arts degree better equips its holder with the ability to connect seemingly unrelated ideas, and other higher-order skills, valued in the executive suite.)

Yes, higher education might have a problem if some men's cost-benefit calculations work out against enrolling, but one solution to that problem is to focus on the higher-order skills rather than the (quickly overtaken by technical change anyway) entry-level job preparation.