30.11.06

SPEAKING OF SPECIAL PLEADING. Airport boosters do it. The St. Lawrence Seaway managers do it. Higher ed does it, too.

States have significant control over higher education - and a real economic interest in its success. Wisconsin spends roughly $1 billion on its university system, which generates $10 billion annually to the state's economy, according to a University of Wisconsin report.

Across the country, higher education boosts tax revenues, cuts dependence on welfare, and boosts community service among other social benefits, according to the Institute for Higher Education Policy in Washington.

(Via Joanne Jacobs.)
BEFORE YOU CONTINUE YOUR EDUCATION. Take at least two deep breaths. Follow the links. (Via Newmark's Door.)
I'VE HAD DAYS LIKE THIS. 34 ... Qe3?????.


Via Marginal Revolution.
PANHANDLE HOOKER. Tonight and tomorrow morning could be interesting.


GOING BOWLING? Getting there might be a challenge.

Fans can choose two main methods of reaching San Diego - airplanes or automobiles.

NIU has officially chosen Anthony Travel to put together packages for Huskie fans. Charter flights through the travel agency are not yet available, but should be within the next 48 hours, according to the travel agency's Web site.

The Student Association is also working with the athletic department with the hope to have reduced student fares.

"We're hoping to have everything finalized by Thursday or Friday at the latest," Garzarelli said.

Non-charter flights are a possibility, but airfare is more expensive than normal due to the Poinsettia Bowl being close to Christmas.

For example, a non-stop round trip fare from American Airlines leaving from O'Hare on Dec. 18 and returning on Dec. 20 costs $411.

Fans can also choose to make the 2,020-mile drive from DeKalb to San Diego. Mapquest.com estimates the drive to take more than 29 hours.

Driving may not be much cheaper than flying. According to gasbuddy.com the national average for gas is $2.26. If a car gets 25 miles per gallon, it would take about 81 gallons of gasoline for a one-way trip. That adds up to about $183 dollars in gas for one way, or $366 for a round trip.

Or you could go on the taxpayers' dime (or reduce Amtrak's operating deficit, if Amtrak's planners did not anticipate Northern Illinois playing in the Poinsettia Bowl). As of this morning, coach seats are available out of Mendota, Illinois on the Southwest Chief to Los Angeles at $140. (The site offers a number of other intriguing possibilities including Mendota-Chicago-Portland-Los Angeles at $292, into San Diego just before kickoff; and Mendota-Chicago-Sacramento-Bakersfield-Los Angeles at $180, for spectators that would like to go on walkabout before the game.) If seats are still available out of Mendota, they might be available out of Naperville as well.

Economists note: the estimation of driving costs is incomplete, neglecting incremental wear and tear on the car, damage inflicted by roads rendered rough by excess weight trucks, or travel times shortened by politically necessary but socially unnecessary road improvements.

27.11.06

DOGS EAT FROGS. It appears as if Northern Illinois will play Texas Christian in the second Poinsettia Bowl. The Northern Star speculates about bowl possibilities, including a Western Michigan-Central Michigan rematch in the Motor City Bowl. (And observers suggest the Bowl Championship Series is a bodge.) A student advised me today that bowl selection committees are supposed to pay attention to total victories. Thus Northern Illinois at 7-5 should be preferred to 6-6 teams including Miami of Florida and Florida State. Jim Hu's Blogs for Industry has a roundup of New Years bowl speculation.

26.11.06

REOPENING WASHINGTON STREET INTERLOCKING? The latest iteration of commuter rail service from Kenosha to Milwaukee envisions a separate set of trains north of Kenosha.

In its latest form, the Kenosha-Racine-Milwaukee commuter rail line, or KRM Commuter Link, would offer more frequent service and more stops - but at a higher cost - than the version that emerged from a previous study in 2003. Passengers would have to change trains to continue into Illinois.

The project's steering committee is recommending KRM trains run 14 round trips each weekday, and seven on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays. With the aid of connecting buses and shuttles, workers could ride trains to and from their jobs, while others could use trains to reach colleges, shops, entertainment and festivals.

Trains would stop at downtown Milwaukee's Amtrak station; new stations on the south side (probably Bay View), Cudahy, South Milwaukee, Oak Creek, Caledonia and the Town of Somers; Racine's renovated train station; and Kenosha's Metra commuter train station. Some trains could continue to Waukegan, Ill.

Years ago, the Chicago and North Western offered at least seven trips each way calling at Waukegan, Kenosha, Racine, and Milwaukee in addition to the commuter service that ran trains as far as Kenosha with most trips turning at Waukegan or points south. But in those days, there was a third track as far north as Wilmette, and a second track north of Kenosha.

For years, the proposed rail line has been described as a Metra extension. But the new version would be a separate system connecting with Metra at Kenosha or Waukegan.

Metra, an Illinois governmental agency, has said it could not provide service to another state. The Union Pacific railroad pays for service between the state line and Kenosha because that is less expensive than building a new facility for trains to turn around at the border. And the South Shore line, from Chicago to South Bend, Ind., is largely funded by Indiana taxpayers and run as a separate system, in coordination with Metra.

The problem, however, is in finding the tax money to pay for this project.
Operating costs would run $14.7 million a year, with fares covering $3.8 million. The Virchow Krause & Co. consulting firm is studying nearly 20 options to pick up the remaining $10.9 million, ranging from sales, gas and property taxes to tax-incremental financing districts that would use tax growth from rising property values near stations.
Frederic Bastiat, call the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Transit Authority.
NOT THE FRONT PORCH. Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel columnist Michael Hunt is not taken in by talk about the primacy of a football program in a university's visibility.

Donna Shalala gets it. As chancellor at Wisconsin or now as president at Miami, she understands the tremendous ancillary value of a successful sports program at a major university.

She twisted Pat Richter's arm to come back to UW and dig what was then a backwater athletic department out of deep debt. With Richter, she hired Barry Alvarez as football coach, and he won three Rose Bowls. That's why they called her the Sporting Chancellor in Madison.

And now Shalala is taking heat in Coral Gables because a once-dominant football program began to deteriorate on her watch. That is why she fired Larry Coker, and that is why the perception exists that she will again go after Alvarez in an attempt to resurrect the Hurricanes.

He goes on to suggest that Mr Alvarez ought decline the honor.
Alvarez is almost 60, not necessarily old for a coach, but he is in a position where he doesn't have to work terribly hard for his $500,000 plus perks as athletic director and TV guy. And the pressure is so immense at Miami that Shalala got rid of a coach who won one national championship and came within an overtime of winning another.
But couldn't keep his recruits off the police blotter.
GETTING INTO TRAINING. Michael Munger finds it pleasant to be riding on the rail.

Took the Palmetto south, from Wilson, NC to Charleston, SC for the [Liberty Fund] conference. Took it back north, four days later.

Business class was $62 each way. Four hours, and it was 15 minutes late. I got to the station ten minutes before departure, and just got on the train, like I was a citizen of a nation with protections for personal liberties, instead of a focus on body searches.

Train lets you off near the downtown, and there's a taxi about 30 yards away from train steps. Three minutes off the train, and you are on your way to the hotel.

No cattle car treatment, no indignities from jack-booted thugs ripping shampoo out of luggage. No $420 for being shuttled around some irrational set of hubs and spokes. (Yes, that would have been the airfare for the same trip).

Free New York Times, free coffee and juice, a 120 v plug for my laptop, and room to stretch out for a nice little nappie. On the way back, I reread nearly all of v. III of Churchill's history of WWII, "The Grand Alliance." How civilized. Had a nice red wine from the dining car, which I strolled back to get without having some harried harpy snap at me to get my butt back in the seat, because the captain is afraid of liability. You can stand up for miles, just like you were a grown-up.

The schedule shows 252 miles in 272 minutes southbound and a little faster northbound, not quite Hiawatha timings, but not bad for a railroad that is facing a federal lawsuit for excessive delay of Amtrak trains.
EVOLUTIONARILY STABLE STRATEGIES? Transgress the norms at your own risk, argues Arnold Kling.

Suppose that in prehistoric times, men were polygamous. Men became highly competitive, and their instincts with respect to one another became envious and hostile. However, groups that adopted monogamy were able to dampen the male fear of not having a mate, and this resulted in societies with sufficiently high trust levels to develop institutions that supported economic progress. If you set a monogamous society and a polygamous society side by side, ultimately the monogamous society would achieve larger scale and greater economic development.

Now, what I am suggesting is that if we were to legalize polygamy, eventually the process could run in reverse. The ability of males to trust one another could decline, and men might revert to a set of beliefs that make it impossible for markets and other co-operative institutions to persist.

By the same token, destroy existing modes of oppression at your own risk.

Iraq was held back by Iraqis' beliefs that trust only extends to a narrow tribe, tribes compete for power on the basis of guns and violence, and government employment is a means to steal from the public rather than serve the public.

The first position (that the United States messed up the occupatoin) would be based on the view that institutional changes could have tipped Iraqis' beliefs. Had we established order quickly, for example, we could have caused Iraqis to expect that peaceful economic competition would supplant violent tribal competition. I can see this in theory, but I remain highly skeptical in practice. I think it's a far-fetched hope to try to build a pyramid from the middle.

More at Free Exchange.
If one believes that a liberal economy (very broadly defined) and a liberal democratic political system are superior to the alternatives—as does this newspaper, and most of the well-meaning people trying to fight poverty and oppression around the world—then it is very hard to find language to talk about the role of culture in impeding political and economic development.
It is also very hard to cast off the old strictures and hope for rules that emerged out of centuries of trial and error to win widespread acceptance. "Fatal conceit" does not apply solely to Ivy League braintrusters.
NO PROFIT IN SELLING WINS TO OTHERS. Via University Diaries, first evidence of excess capacity in college football.

[Nevada state universities chancellor Jim] Rogers said Tuesday he was frustrated with [Nevada - Las Vegas]'s losing football season. The team is 1-10 and has been ranked near the bottom of all Division I-A football teams.

"Why the hell would you have a football team when nobody goes to the games?" Rogers told the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

[Nevada-Reno]'s football and basketball teams have fared better than UNLV's in recent years. The university's football team has an 8-3 record this season.

Although regents have not typically managed athletic programs, Rogers said he wanted the board to monitor the programs and determine ways to make the programs self-sufficient.

Since it last appeared in the NCAA Final Four in 1991, the UNLV men's basketball team has "become stuck far below mediocrity," Rogers said in the memo.

Was that Final Four run during or after Jerry Tarkanian's tenure at the Reform School Rebels? Faustian bargain, indeed.

The article goes on to note some not-so-hidden subsidies to the athletic program.

Gerry Bomotti, UNLV vice president for finance, said the school's entire athletic program earned $1.2 million last year, excluding revenue and expenses from the Thomas & Mack Center.

But the program last year received from taxpayers $4.8 million toward operating expenses and tuition and fee waivers.

That $4.8 million figure might be a lower bound on the cost of the program. The opportunity cost of a tuition waiver is a bit difficult to reckon. One that is used to recruit football players to help Boise State look good cannot be used to recruit a doctoral student or a future math teacher.
TRAINSPOTTER'S LUCK. A few weekends ago, I was held up in downtown DeKalb by a freight train pulled by Union Pacific's Chicago and North Western themed heritage unit, leading two of the few remaining Chicago and North Western Dash Nines still in full yellow and green. After dark, of course. (The train was long enough to do credit to the Chicago Great Western, although, and unlike the Chicago Great Western, it was not the only eastbound train for the next three days.)

Yesterday, while I was stuck in traffic on the Kennedy Expressway, the Chicago Transit Authority's Christmas train, complete with Santa and his reindeer on a flatcar in best Milwaukee Electric fashion, rolled by enroute to O'Hare. After dark, and too much traffic to risk hauling out the camera for a grab shot.

24.11.06

IT'S POP, YOU BET.


What American accent do you have?
Your Result: The Inland North

You may think you speak "Standard English straight out of the dictionary" but when you step away from the Great Lakes you get asked annoying questions like "Are you from Wisconsin?" or "Are you from Chicago?" Chances are you call carbonated drinks "pop."

The Midland
North Central
The South
The Northeast
The West
Philadelphia
Boston
What American accent do you have?
Take More Quizzes

The quiz isn't tuned quite enough to distinguish Green Bay from Milwaukee. (There are differences.)
SEX, DEATH, AND WHY THE LINES ARE LONGEST AT THE ROLLERCOASTER. John Palmer is thinking along similar lines. Why does it not surprise that one administrator asks for promotional material about economics, and another chickens out?
QUESTION OF THE DAY. Who is the lamest college president? In the New York Post, Abby Wisse Schachter finds presidents at a number of leading institutions wanting.
University presidents are supposed to uphold the highest standards of reason, discipline, leadership and moral clarity. But this bunch is too weak to lead. The biggest losers are the students, who are getting exactly the wrong kind of education.
WHO ARE YOU TRYING TO CONVINCE? I had an opportunity to read American Evita, the efforts of a tabloid journalist to find the real Hillary Clinton. Book Review No. 41 suggests the work is unlikely to change many minds. If one believes the American Spectator's reporting about President Clinton's appetite, the book embellishes the record without providing any additional understanding. If one believes the Senator is abrasive and hungry for power, the book tells us nothing new. If one believes that the work of the Children's Defense Fund, or the use of the government to ameliorate the rough edges of society, is more important than the personalities of senior administrators, the book does little to persuade such advocates that a less shrill tone might help the message get across.

It didn't help that author Christopher Andersen asserted something called the Journal of Economics and Statistics placed some outrageously low estimate on the probability of then Rose Law Firm partner Hillary Rodham's cattle futures trade being as profitable as it was. Perhaps my unfamiliarity with such a journal (not to be confused with Review of Economics and Statistics and probably not the Swiss Journal of Economics and Statistics, which only recently adopted a "submissions only in English" policy) is a consequence of my research focusing on applied price theory rather than financial assets. But would it hurt to provide a footnote with a proper citation.

The resale price this work commands is probably a generous signal of its information content.
JUST SUCK IT UP. I admit to a guilty pleasure reading Rate Your Students, although a recent submission from a high school teacher provoked me.

Like a previous poster who railed against fellow instructors who stymied him/her by lowering expectations, I find myself furious with faculty who continue to give "art projects" rather than essays, or shoe box dioramas instead of actual critical thinking. I know the fine arts are taking a hit in public schools, but hey, this is an ENGLISH class--you don't get an A because your poster has glitter on it. I'm also tired of faculty who bend rules, give extra credit, and give test questions to students in advance.

On the other hand, however, I find some of the charges posted on RYS to be out of turn. Why is it that when students are in your classes and don't learn that's their fault but when they're in my class, I'm to blame? I read RYS because my students, despite the age difference, mirror your students in the ridiculous behavior/attitude department.

That post points to the real problem with Rate Your Students: it's an opportunity for people to commiserate without actually doing anything about the problem. Herewith two suggestions. Say "no" and name names.

When a student asks to take the exam early or take it late because there's a really good travel opportunity, say no.

When a student offers a really weak excuse for a poor performance and asks for an opportunity to do the work over or do something for "extra" credit or something else NOT specifically provided for in the course outline, say no.

When a student asks for a transcript of the class notes or copies of text material or anything else that was his or her responsibility to get in the first place, say no.

When a dean or provost or president apologizes for becoming "too selective," draw attention to it and name names.

When anyone suggests that insisting on basic standards of punctuality and accuracy, including but not limited to spelling, grammar, or calculation is somehow excessively demanding, let alone "elitist," (not to mention "racist" or "classist"), call b.s. on it and name names.

When any adminstrator suggests that a 10% failure rate in a class (particularly a large introductory class subject to the law of large numbers) is having a deleterious effect on "retention," call b.s. on it and name names.

When the brain coaches are ghost-writing term papers or other assignments to keep star athletes eligible, name names. Likewise if your colleagues are being pressured for the same purpose, name names.

Be resolute, fear no struggle, and keep battling. Vent if you have to, but remember: say no and name names.
THE ANGER LEVEL IS RISING. I held off on linking to some of these until after Thanksgiving. Start with Confederate Yankee:
Whether or not the President acknowledges it, a state of war exists between the United States and the governments of Iran and Syria. The question before us now is whether or not we chose to acknowledge this state of war that our adversaries have instigated, and if we will take the steps needed end this state of conflict with a minimal loss of life on all sides.
In Opinion Journal, Daniel Henninger expresses a different kind of frustration.

Like the Europeans, we may talk ourselves into a weariness with the world and its various, unremitting violences. No genocide will occur on American soil, but the same information tide that bathes us in Baghdad's horrors ensure that Darfur's genocide will come too near not to notice. Too bad for them, or any aspiring democrats under the thumb of Russia, China, Nigeria, Venezuela or Islam's highly mobile anti-democrats. We've got ours. Let them get theirs.

Does this overstate the buildup of anti-Bush, anti-Iraq sentiment? Will U.S. policy, in the hands of ideologically frictionless bureaucracies, slide forward? Maybe. But even the realists and cynics might concede there has been some benefit, perhaps going back as far as Plymouth Rock, in having one nation standing for the conceit, or even the ideal, that men elsewhere with democratic aspirations could at least count on us for active support. This is the core idea in the Bush Doctrine. If its critics don't start making some distinctions, they may discover that profligacy of opinion in our time carries a very steep price.

Victor Hanson suggests the price might be steep to others.

And we all know, for all our self-doubt and self-loathing, that the West really is strong, at least strong enough to smash jihadists and their patrons.

So apparently we are in another Phony War circa October 1939 to May 1940, awaiting the provocation—another 9/11? A nuclear strike on Israel? A full-fledged brazen Syrian invasion of Lebanon? A terrorist killing of the Pope or mass murder in Paris or Berlin?— that sets us off.

And we know that like a Nazi Germany that invaded Russia and declared war on the United States, or a Japan that bombed Pearl Harbor and hoped for our instant surrender, that these jihadists have not a clue about the danger they are courting, apparently thinking that most Americans care only about Mark Foley’s email or Britni Spears’ divorce.

But tragically time will tell for these naïve and self-destructive killers. Their clock is ticking…

Jules Crittenden puts it even more bluntly.

If we are going to sit down and talk to the Iranians as the Iraq Study Group is expected to recommend, then this is the message that needs to be signalled loud and clear.

It's a policy I call Assured Destruction, because unlike the Cold War, there doesn't have to be anything mutual about it.

At any point along this path, if it turns out that they were just kidding, and it was all a big mistake, that will be too bad. For them.

Brace yourselves, the next few years could be exciting, not necessarily in a good way.
FRIDAY MORNING FOOTBALL. At Ypsilanti, Huskies 27, Northern Michigan 0. Garrett Wolfe remains the country's rushing leader. A few potential representatives from the more visible conferences are not yet bowl-eligible.
WHAT MANY OF YOU ARE THINKING.

21.11.06

MARKING OFF. Happy Thanksgiving. (If the Wall Street Journal runs the same piece the Wednesday in advance of each Thanksgiving, why not I?)

I give thanks for your readership and your comments.

Spare a few moments thanks for the young people in harm's way around the world, for the people in emergency services who deserve to sit down to the turkey without the alarm ringing, for the people in transportation, tourism, and entertainment passing on their family gatherings to enhance yours.
YOU HAVE TO STEER, BUT YOU GET THERE FASTER. The Thanksgiving rush is in progress, just in time to note the fiftieth anniversary of the Interstate Highway System.

Give thanks because the Interstate is going to make your holiday trip, this week, and at Christmas, immeasurably faster and easier than it used to be. Only those who drove or rode as children in automobiles in the '30s, '40s and '50s can fully appreciate how much faster and how much easier.

Long distance auto trips back then meant stop and go driving through a maze of dangerous intersections with and without traffic lights; through railroad crossings, perilous curves and steep grades on which motorists too often found themselves crawling along behind heavy trucks. Most main routes led directly through cities and towns and there were few by-passes. For every charming little roadside restaurant now remembered through the haze of nostalgia, there were scores of dirty joints of decidedly uneven quality. If you were lucky you might find a good motel, but often you were left with a grim, run-down tourist cabin.

It's even good for the people who prefer the blue highways.

Well, the reason they enjoy their trip is because all the truck traffic and a lot of the regular traffic is rolling on the Interstate, leaving those side roads less crowded and more serene. I've heard all their stories about how great it was to travel back in the old days before all those bland chain restaurants and motels "made everything the same."

These people get a little catch in their throats about some great stuffed pork chops they had somewhere outside Dayton back in the "old days" and they forget what it was like to follow a heavily loaded 18-wheeler up a two-lane highway in the not-so-Great Smokey Mountains, or to run afoul of some fat-assed tax collector in a police uniform in a little town on the way to Florida.

And with the passing of the Little Ice Age, even if "the horse knows the way", there is precious little "white and drifted snow" a month in advance of the solstice. And two cheers for that! (Over the River and Through the Woods dates to 1844, and it is a Thanksgiving song.)
Over the river and thru the wood,
To have a first-rate play;
Oh, hear the bell ring,
"Ting-a-ling-ling!"
Hurrah for Thanksgiving Day-ay!
Over the river and thru the wood,
Trot fast my dapple gray!
Spring over the ground,
Like a hunting hound!
For this is Thanksgiving Day.
The current version is abridged from a longer poem by Lydia Maria Child.
TO REMEMBER. Blackfive recommends They Have Names, a tribute to fallen troops.

So bookmark or blogroll "They Have Names."

Noted, and done.
THE COMING OF CONAIR, as seen by ScrappleFace.

U.S. Airways yesterday announced it would offer Delta’s creditors $8 billion in stock, cereal boxtops and S&H Green Stamps and would name the merged firm Delta Airlines, which the source called, “one of the most recognizable brand names in the non-profit airline industry.”

“The synergies are incredible,” said an unnamed spokesman for U.S. Airways, “There’s a lot of overlap in areas of incompetence, customer dissatisfaction, mismanagement and hubris. Thanks to economies of scale, together we can achieve new levels of mediocrity.”

Good satire has some truth to it, and I have seen more sober evaluations of air transportation that envision something similar, without the boxtops.
HOW OTHERS SEE US. Cluelessness in higher education.
It seems that the higher educators are surprised that government tax credits often lead to universities raising tuition by the amount of the tax credit. Welcome to the real world of business and filthy lucre, professors! A guy selling towels at a street fair could have told them as much.
Or an economist.

Pedant's note: there are these things called elasticities of demand and supply that generally lead to an increase smaller than the amount of the credit.
IT'S NOT NATIVE OR EVEN AMERICAN. The signature tune for the Tom-Tom personal navigation system (which I just heard in a television commercial) is Albert Ketèlbey's In A Persian Market. Maestro Ketèlbey is British, from about the same era as Edward Elgar and Gustav Holst. Will personal navigation systems render the use of map and compass a lost art?
WHY RAKE LEAVES? This gadget combines reel-mower and street-sweeper technology, and I didn't pay this vendor's price for it.


The city vacuums the streets about once a week, but the leaves go on the Victor E. Garden.


After fifteen years' work, there's close onto a foot of humus under the leaves.
LOOKING FOR A THANKSGIVING WEEK SEMINAR? Daniel Drezner has a call for papers.

Milton Friedman's significance to the world has been revealed in the bevy of obits that we've all read in the past week. Much of the effort has been focused on those aspects of Friedman's ouvre that have become accepted wisdom -- the importance of monetary policy, the negative income tax Earned Income Tax Credit, etc.

Here's an open invitation to readers -- which of Friedman's policy proposals that have not become accepted wisdom would you like to see implemented?

WHAT'S IN YOUR NEW YEAR? For just-honored Big Ten Coach of the Year Brett "Offside Kick" Bielema and the Wisconsin Badgers, a trip to the Capital One Bowl in Tampa, which is establishing a pattern for Wisconsin versus a Southeastern team, apparently not this year to be Auburn or Georgia.

The bowl commitment has possibilities for a case study in game theory. In accepting this contract, Wisconsin kills its option to defer and hope for the convolutions of the Bowl Championship Series to de-rate Michigan relative to Wisconsin. (With both Wisconsin and Michigan done, that strikes me as a pretty forlorn hope. Can you say "absorbing barrier?") The bowl selection committee presumably had a credible threat to sign some other team that Wisconsin had to contemplate.

20.11.06

SAVORING THE SPRECHER.


The visitors brought in a taller, faster team, with a more experienced coach.


Well done, kids.
LICENSE THIS. Or worship it. It's a relic of the Chicago Great Western assigned to work train service and parked at DeKalb.


In New England terms, it's a center-monitor buggy.
THERE'S EXCESS DEMAND FOR THE RESEARCH UNIVERSITIES? Richard Vedder's latest on college affordability takes on the salaries of college presidents.
Also, why is it that teaching institutions are treated with far less opulence than research ones? Why do CEOs of big budget teaching institutions make less than CEOs of similarly sized research ones?
Because the big budget teaching institutions are wasting the money they get on access-assessment-remediation-retention or on beer and circus? The excess demand is for the selective institutions.

19.11.06

THE ONES THAT GOT AWAY. Among the tributes to the late Glenn "Bo" Schembechler, a recollection that he was short-listed for the Wisconsin job.

At the time, the Badgers were looking to replace Milt Bruhn. [John] Coatta was Bruhn's assistant. Schembechler was head coach at Miami (Ohio).

"I went up there to be interviewed," Schembechler said in the book, referring to Madison. "I really got miffed when I got there."

Schembechler said UW had already decided it wanted Coatta for the job and was just going through the motions of talking to him and Notre Dame assistant Johnny Ray.

Milt Bruhn's teams lost twice at the Rose Bowl. Mr Bruhn died just before the 1993 Rose Bowl season. John Coatta, who was a successful quarterback at Wisconsin set records for futility as coach. (He subsequently found work at one of the Minnesota State teams.)

If memory serves, the Wisconsin athletic department treated an Army assistant coach called Bob Knight rather shabbily because they had already anointed John Powless as basketball coach.
THEY'VE IMPROVED SINCE SEPTEMBER. Saturday's Buffalo at Wisconsin matchup started with the home team striking even faster than Northern Illinois did in September. Buffalo, however, wasn't ready to go home, and some Wisconsin miscues left Buffalo with a chance to take the lead in the second quarter. The Badgers pulled themselves together after a defensive stand on that chance and prevailed 35-3. The weekend roundup summarizes the game thus.
For 27½ minutes in the opening half Saturday, UW did not resemble the team that won 10 of its first 11 games. For the other 2½ minutes, including the final 90 seconds, UW played to its potential and overwhelmed Buffalo. That was enough to turn a surprisingly tight game into the easy victory that was expected.
That roundup also has some projections for the national championship game.

UW's 35-3 victory, coupled with the first loss suffered by Rutgers, left the Badgers at No. 8 in the BCS, No. 9 in the USA Today poll and No. 10 in the AP poll on Sunday.

With Ohio State (12-0) and Michigan (11-1) retaining the top two spots in the latest BCS standings to set up a possible rematch for the BCS title Jan. 8 in Arizona, the Badgers (11-1) are all but assured a berth in the Capital One Bowl on Jan. 1 in Orlando, Fla.

Officials from Florida Citrus Sports, who attended the game against Buffalo, likely will extend UW an invitation as soon as the Badgers are "released" from BCS consideration. That could happen today. The Badgers would face a Southeastern Conference foe. The possible SEC opponents include: Florida (10-1), Arkansas (10-1) and LSU (9-2).

Thus the folly of Big Ten scheduling and the so-called Championship Series. Wisconsin didn't play Ohio State. That game, whether you call it the National Championship or something else, offers more play value than a rematch of Michigan-Ohio State. (On the other hand, the absence of such a game means that the off-season debates the National Championship was supposed to resolve can go on with the usual vigor.) Jim Hu has some thoughts, including (I like this) Ohio State playing Southern California in the Rose Bowl.
DISCOVERING THAT EXCESS DEMAND. The University of Florida is discovering that attempting to pass off Yugo U. as Fairlane U. isn't going to work terribly well. A Howard Goodman column (via University Diaries) in South Florida's Sun-Sentinel spells it out.

There's no question the money is needed. Florida's universities are perennial top-10 schools in the national football rankings, but when it comes to academics, this state is unimpressive. We boast only one university in the top 50, according to the U.S. News & World Report. That's the University of Florida, Proud No. 47.

That same magazine does rank UF as the 13th-best public university in the country. It's getting increasingly competitive to get in.

But without an influx of dough, the Gators will never crack the echelon inhabited by great public universities like the University of Michigan, Cal-Berkeley or the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

No question, UF's a bargain. Tuition and fees are about as cheap as it gets: $3,206 this year. UF's tuition is the lowest of 75 public universities surveyed by USA Today. It's the lowest of any of the 60 U.S. institutions in the Association of American Universities.

The University of Michigan, to take one example, costs three times as much.

We're getting what we pay for. The student-faculty ratio at UF is 21-1, compared with 15-1 at Michigan and 14-1 at North Carolina. UF is an especially good bargain for in-state students. Almost 95 percent of them get Bright Futures scholarships, funded by the state lottery. The program covers either 75 percent or 100 percent of tuition and most fees.

So what's the problem, you wonder? If UF needs another $35 million a year to hire more professors and reduce class sizes and thus improve its national ranking, why not just go ahead and do it?

Why not, indeed? As the article notes,

Prestige universities do not lack for top students when they raise their prices. Just the opposite, in fact.

The Legislature ought to do the forthright thing, and simply raise the flagship school's tuition.

That's not accurate. Prestige universities keep their prices below the profit-maximizing level so as to appear more "selective" while making use of those intrusive financial aid forms to extract something approximating each potential student's reservation price. The Florida Legislature, however, wants to preserve the fiction that each can live at the expense of the other.

The problem is -- guess what? -- the Legislature. The politicians control tuition. And the pols don't want tuition to go much higher because that would weaken Bright Futures. There isn't enough lottery money to cover the needed increases, and the pols don't want to appear to be reneging on the program's promise to parents.

The university, faced with this impasse, has come up with the very clever idea of adding $500-a-semester fees for an "Academic Enhancement Program."

Tuition, in other words; raising tuition in all but the name. Geez, is it too much to expect intellectual honesty out of a university?

These guys could teach Amtrak (where the long-distance trains have a recovery margin that enables trains arriving at Chicago to make up 30 minutes just by running at track speed, and where "on time" is elastic as to route length) some lessons.

Florida is also discovering, the hard way, that requiring faculty to obtain outside offers as a way to obtain a pay raise is a good way to lose faculty. No surprise that.
ACCIDENTAL GARDENING TIP. Here I thought the scent of the neighbors' dogs and cats was keeping the bunnies out of the Victor E. Garden. It might really have been the Milorganite that goes on the grass in the spring and the fall.
A few scoops of musky-smelling Milorganite might keep hungry deer away from residential flower beds and pricey ornamental shrubs, a surprising attribute the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District hopes will lead to new customers for the well-known Brew City fertilizer.
The article goes on to discuss the changing composition of what's being flushed in Brew City.

Milorganite - whose name comes from combining the words Milwaukee, organic and nitrogen - is approved only as a fertilizer for use on lawns, trees, shrubs, flowers and vegetable gardens.

Its odor, which [Milorganite marketing manager Mike] Archer describes as earthy and musky, is the likely reason that deer won't come near, he said. That scent comes from the microscopic animals, mostly protozoa, and bacteria that digest nutrients in wastewater. As the microbes die, they form a sludge that is squeezed and heat dried.

Though the sewerage district in recent years had considered seeking federal approval for selling the sludge to repel deer, finding a non-fertilizer use for the product became a higher priority with the closing last December of the Red Star Yeast plant in the Menomonee Valley.

With the loss of those 80 or so jobs also came the loss of a major source of nitrogen in wastewater being treated at the district's Jones Island plant on Milwaukee's Lake Michigan harbor, said Jeff Spence, Milorganite sales and marketing director.

A steady flush of nitrogen into the plant is needed to ensure that Milorganite meets its guarantee of providing landscapers and gardeners with a fertilizer that contains at least 6% of that nutrient. Earlier closings of breweries and other large water users in Milwaukee County deprived the sewerage district of other nitrogen sources.

Meeting the fertilizer's nitrogen guarantee printed on its bags has become a challenge since the yeast plant shut down. A limited amount of dried sludge has been tested at just 5.5% nitrogen in recent months, Spence said.

I'm going to have to look at the data sheet for this stuff again. Years ago there was a warning against using it on vegetable gardens account the cadmium content (and there had to be a lot of other interesting stuff running off from Harnishfeger, A. O. Smith, Rexnord, Falk, Maynard Steel, and Allen-Bradley.)

The bunnies?

When that is done, [master gardener Doris] Fons, of Hales Corners, wants the sewerage district to get federal permission to shoo away a different four-legged pest.

The sewage sludge fertilizer is most effective in keeping ravenous rabbits away from her flowers.

Said Fons: "I spread it around my tulips when they come up in spring, and the rabbits don't come around anymore."

With that slightly lower nitrogen yield, the recommended feeding times of Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, and Thanksgiving might better serve the grass.
BEFORE YOU GO FOR THE PH.D. I'm still catching up on some posts I flagged for further reference. This Reassigned Time post appeared early in September, but with the GRE scores and letters of recommendation going in the mail, it's useful for the latest crop of novices and postulants to understand the nature of the work.

In part, we have to isolate ourselves in order to do our jobs. Grading is not social. Research is not social. Service commitments infringe on our weekends and evenings. In choosing this profession, we choose a lifestyle. But whereas making this choice may not seem very dangerous to us in graduate school, when we have a cohort of people to hang out with and who understand our experiences, or when we begin to think about joining this profession, when we probably still live in or near our hometowns, and have strong networks of family and/or friends who are geographically convenient to us, the reality is that most of us don't get jobs in our hometowns or in our grad school cities. We get jobs in places where we probably won't know more than one or two people if we're lucky, and we need to start from scratch. (And even if you did get a job in your grad school city, you're still weirdly isolated because your friends leave, or those who stay are still in a different life place from the one you're in, or whatever.)

The problem is, the vast majority of grown-up people don't start from scratch with making friends. They just don't. At a certain point, as Oso Raro noted in the comments over at New Kid's, friendships happen more organically. It's not like being 14 on the first day of school and having an expectation of making new friends. For grown-ups, the expectation is that you've got the friends you've got, and while you may meet new people, you most likely will not become "best friends forever" with most of them. But as an academic, uprooted from the social networks one builds over a lifetime when people ARE making their best friends forever - from ages 0-25 or so - what is a person supposed to do? Because when you move to a place, you NEED to make BFFs, whether you're married or single or somewhere in between. Because people need friends.

I add some qualifications. First, people outside the academy have time pressures of their own, which are different from the time pressures on people inside. (That's a frequent topic at 11-D.) Second, it's not unknown for college graduates who hire out with the private sector to uproot themselves (also true of MBAs and lawyers.) It is true, however, that a lot of the work of the academy, particularly the stuff for which one earns one's pay, such as grading or re-checking calculations, is best done in quiet with the door closed.
THE RAILROADS ARE CLOGGED. But the eastern Great Lakes are lousy with fish pathogens.

Viral hemorrhagic septicemia, known as VHS, was discovered in the Great Lakes basin just last year, and already it has been blamed for the deaths of thousands of fish in the eastern Great Lakes.

The virus, which bleeds its victims to death, doesn't pose a danger to humans. But the potential for it to spread into the nation's other waterways so spooked the federal Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, or APHIS, that it ordered some fast and drastic steps to contain it.

Michigan is seeking an emergency order prohibiting boats bound for Lake Huron or further west from taking on ballast in Lake Erie.

Specifically, the Michigan Natural Resources Commission wants the federal government to order an emergency ban on freighters filling their ballast water tanks in the virus-infected waters of Lakes Erie, Ontario and St. Clair, as well as the St. Lawrence River. The idea is to protect the virus-free Lakes Michigan, Huron and Superior.

Ballast water is necessary for freighters because it stabilizes and maintains the structural integrity of a less-than-full cargo vessel, so a prohibition against it could devastate the shipping industry.

Although I have noted the downside of the St. Lawrence Seaway before, this emergency order would disrupt the movement of ore to the remaining Ohio Valley steel mills as well as limestone and cement to the Northeast, which comprise the bulk of Lakes shipments.

The article notes that the virus is particularly deadly to one of the junk fish that previously made its way into the Lakes.
Indeed, one of the species that has been most susceptible to VHS die-offs in the eastern Great Lakes is the round goby, itself an invasive species from Europe that scientists believe was brought into the Great Lakes more than a decade ago by overseas freighters traveling up the St. Lawrence Seaway.
The virus, however, has the potential to wipe out the sport and commercial fisheries as well.
GOING RAILROADING? It's time to start thinking about the finishing touches under those Christmas trees. The Elgin Courier-News has a survey of area hobby shops. It also mentions the Fox Valley O Scalers that sometimes feature in these pages, as well as a few other model railroad clubs.

17.11.06

BOWL-ELIGIBLE. Friday night is supposed to be for high school football, but around the Mid-American it's an opportunity for teams to get a bit of exposure on ESPN-U. It has nothing to do with money. The traveling circus and ratings grab came to DeKalb this evening, for Mid-American West Division winner Central Michigan to officially oust last year's West Division champion. The Huskies, however, had the incentive to pick up a sixth win so as to become bowl-eligible. Yes, bowls are looking at also-rans in the mid-majors. It has nothing to do with money. The local favorites did win the game, 31-10, and yes, the radio announcers were speculating about Christmas week bowl possibilities.

The athletic department used the game as an opportunity to thank donors Jeffrey and Kimberly Yordon for $2.5 million to complete the computer lab atop the locker room, which will hereafter be known as the Jeffrey and Kimberly Yordon Academic and Athletic Performance Center. (Northern Illinois is therefore not in the position of holding a mortgage on an athletic facility that might turn into a New Haven Railroad bond, which is desirable in light of the overhang of deferred maintenance on the buildings it has mortgaged against state revenue bonds.)
NACHALSTVO. Senator John "Two Nations" America might publicly condemn Wal-Mart, but he knows where to go for bargains. Or, more precisely, where to send the hired help for bargains.
Edwards explains that an overzealous campaign staffer – is there ever any other kind? – took his family's longings for a Playstation 3 a little too seriously. A call was placed to Wal-Mart to see if the Edwards clan could somehow jump to the front of the line for season's hottest gotta' have gift. Aside from the staffer's positively insane decision to reach out to a Raleigh Wal-Mart given all of Edwards' repeated slams of the company, nothing too surprising here. Just garden variety American ruling class behavior.
To their credit, Wal-Mart management is capable of mau-mauing those who would mau-mau them.
That the Edwards request actually made its way to Bentonville, where a decision was made to respond, and to respond forcefully again sets Wal-Mart apart from most of corporate America. Try to imagine that happening with a Big 2.5 automaker, for example. News of the request would take a week to get past an iron guard of executive VPs. Wal-Mart acted in hours.
The real lesson, columnist Jeff Taylor suggests, is that the political class ought to stop campaigning out of Charles Dickens's playbook.

The alternative to a Democratic presidential campaign marked by a downward spiral of Pythonseque depravation one-upsmanship might actually address issues like the federal entitlement explosion or comprehensive income tax reform, two areas where Republicans have failed miserably to advance any coherent solution. Should Edwards or Hillary Clinton or someone find a way to talk about these things without class-warfare cant, they'll have a head start on the general election.

In any event, maybe the best thing for Wal-Mart to do is stop chortling and go ahead and give John Edwards a PS3 and a couple games. Throw in a flat-panel too. Maybe that way he'll reacquaint himself with American prosperity and abundance and be a better candidate for the experience.

And we'll all be better persons for it.
THE ECONOMIST OF THE CENTURY. Thus does Paul at Truck and Barter characterize the late Milton Friedman in a link-rich roundup of tributes. Be sure to visit Ideas, run by Professor Friedman's son David Friedman, also an economist. The son's remembrance of his father has become a virtual condolence book.
THE ARMY OF THE PESHTIGO. There are more armed men and women in the fields of Wisconsin than Genl McClellan assembled to move against Richmond.
QUOTE OF THE DAY. It's from Victor Davis Hanson, and yes, I'm still catching up on some items I flagged for less hectic times. He's a bit fed up with attempts to "understand" 1000 years of failure in the Middle East that serve to enable continued failure.
Your own sense of multiculturalism must serve as an apology for our own violent pathologies, that can only be seen as different from, never worse than, your own culture.
Yes, it's an angry post. Read and understand.

16.11.06

BEGGARING THYSELVES? Daniel Drezner has a depressing roundup of the kind of populist trade policy we're likely to see from the Democratic Congress. Follow the links in the update.
THE FOLLY OF IDENTIFYING HATE CRIMES. DeKalb is not yet as ungovernable as Milwaukee, Minneapolis, or Fallujah, but a recent string of weekend robberies is causing the jitters. University officials met with a few students to exchange views. Much of the exchange focused on basic situational awareness.
The entire panel suggested the community can make strides to increase safety, such as walking in groups or refraining from listening to headphones while walking around campus. Students were encouraged to watch each other's backs.
A comment by Vice President for Student Affairs Brian Hemphill is noteworthy.

When one student asked if race was a factor in the attacks, [he] called the attackers "individuals," who have "no respect for our community," regardless of race, agenda or religion.

"A crime against one person is a crime against everyone," he said.

That's the correct attitude for a mugging, apparently. Whether that would be the attitude if a fraternity had a thoughtless theme party remains to be seen. I'm not conversant enough with the entire history of the past few weeks to decide whether the Northern Star cherry-picked the mug shots.

In a longer interview, Mr Hemphill makes the same point.

How do you respond to claims that only one group of people is committing these crimes?

That's a very narrow view. Crimes are committed regardless of race, age or gender and in this case, these crimes are being committed by people who don't have a lot of respect for our community.

He then goes on to push the usual diversity line.

Do you think there is a problem with race relations on campus right now?

I wouldn't say so. It's important to move beyond tolerance to a level of understanding around our differences and similarities. It's also important to continue to increase the dialogue here of what it means to truly be an inclusive community.

It's amusing to watch these diversity hustlers attempt to stay on message. Dialogue. Inclusive. Blah-blah-blah. I was under the impression, however, that the theme of the year was Academic Excellence. Doesn't that imply the exclusion of behavior not consistent with academic excellence, including strong-arm robberies? Enough with the "dialogue." Instill the Habits of Highly Effective People.
THE FOLLY OF IDENTIFYING HATE SPEECH. King Banaian comments on some Minnesota regents who are worried about a provocative play scheduled at the University of Minnesota.
Actually, President Bruininks [of the Twin Cities campus], they start with things like bulletin boards and free speech zones. Art usually comes later. But the regents board raises an interesting point: To what extent may they speak as individuals about events on campus of concern to them? In particular, when discussing a public university, how does the public make its wishes known?
Correct.

I take this opportunity to identify a potential new dodge for suppressing speech. There are very few public bulletin boards at the new College of Business building at Northern Illinois University. These have been replaced with computer monitors that show College-approved content and the schedule of events for the day, in the best convention hotel fashion. (There's a television near the coffee bar that's often tuned to CNN Airport to add to the ambience.) There's even a posting policy.
No announcements may be taped, posted, or left lying in any public spaces in Barsema Hall. This also includes free-standing easels or large signs taped to glass surfaces. Any paper-based announcements are to be posted on classroom bulletin boards and must include the appropriate UP&A stamp (available at the Campus Life Building) on them as well as event date (or posting termination date). Bulletin boards will be regularly checked and information without dates (or with expired dates) on it will be removed. Organizations or individuals violating these policies will lose all privileges in the building.
The rationale for this policy is that Corporate America does not allow spontaneous leafletting or bill-posting on company property, and business college is as good a time as any to become socialized to that habit.

It's just a matter of time until somebody in a business college, not necessarily at Northern Illinois, notes that cubicles are not free-speech zones, and neither should professors' doors be.
ONE-NIL. Indiana ousts Northern Illinois.
QUOTE OF THE DAY. Joanne Jacobs, on the failure of "invented math" and related follies.
If reform math programs really taught students to understand math concepts, surely math professors would be delighted. The fact that they're leading the bring-back-math movement tells me something.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but what on earth is higher education doing introducing these failed college-of-education fads into college?
CARNIVAL CALL. The sixteenth (collegiate) Teaching Carnival arranges its midway at Ancarett's Abode. (Via Cliopatria)
A GIANT PASSES. Economist Milton Friedman dies at 94. Condolences to the family and the colleagues. The work continues.

14.11.06

THERE'S EXCESS DEMAND FOR PRESTIGE DEGREES? One of the Chicago Sun-Times's sources on the University of Illinois brain drain reacts to my post. It transpires that he has his own web journal and a few "I wish I had said" comments on the Sun-Times interview.
I kicked myself about ten minutes after talking with the reporter for not saying, if you can't beat 'em join 'em. Meaning maybe if private universities pay better and deliver a better product, we should be re-thinking this government college thing. But I didn't think of that aspect while opposing the trustees' call for more salary money. How is it private universities can afford higher salaries when they don't have access to everyone's pockets like government colleges do?
The (most famous) private universities tend to pay better (and their best people work their tails off) and they're perceived to offer a better product, so much so that they game the U.S. News ranking system by keeping tuitions lower than market-clearing so as to appear more selective. (Those tuitions can still be inflated via the third-party route: to get government research grants the universities have to comply with all affirmative action laws and participate in the federal financial aid system.)

In some states, the state university systems have more aggressively competed with the most famous private universities so as to raise revenues and replace the state subsidy money that has not been forthcoming. Is that reason to rethink the state university program? Possibly. One line of research suggests that state subsidies are a subsidy to current and future members of the upper middle class. Another line of research suggests that on net the transfers are neutral to redistributive. There is probably room for additional research on the effect of institutional quality: how much of the state higher education system is engaged in cooling out marks with McDegrees? I repeat last night's claim.
The onus on policy makers within the university, as well as within state government, to design the state university system as if their most influential constituents were going to use it.
REACTIONARY PROGRESSIVISM? John Starkey laments the passing of the Silent Generation's anthem.
On NPR, a Democratic winner from somewhere in the heartland tried to lead his supporters in “Happy Days Are Here Again,” the New Deal anthem. His audience didn’t know the tune or the lyrics beyond the five title words. Who knew the intra-party generation gap had widened itself out of existence?
His conclusion:
Still, for progressives the outlook is not unremittingly bleak. They can always hope that, once back in control of Congress, Democrats will recall the use of power that made “Happy Days Are Here Again” a reality.
Be careful what you wish for, cautions Michael Barone.
On ideology, 36 percent identified themselves as conservatives and 21 percent as liberals. This is in line with the long historical trend. The liberal label hasn't been an advantage since the early 1960s, when most voters had living memories of the Depression of the 1930s and the New Deal. Such voters are almost all gone today.
I wonder if the septuagenarians that are returning to House committee chairmanships know this?

13.11.06

INDISPOSED? At [Southwest] Missouri State, having the Correct Attitude does not trump individual conscience.

Two things stand out about this settlement. First, the university responded with admirable speed and seriousness to the claims in the complaint. In large state institutions, it is not surprising that problems exist (especially in ideologically-charged departments like social work), but it is surprising (and impressive) to see an institution take responsibility for those problems quickly and effectively. University president Michael T. Nietzel deserves an enormous amount of credit for facing the problems head-on and reaching a fair settlement with [the complainant]. I agree with the Springfield (Missouri) News-Leader: The president’s “earnest and open response to the controversy should be a model for public institutions facing negative publicity over errors made by an employee.”

Second, the case demonstrates that problems with social-work education are not merely theoretical but can dramatically impact real students’ lives.

Bill Sjostrom's Atlantic Blog calls for sterner measures.
For real deterrence, they need to add a zero or two. Add some accountability, too. The money comes from taxpayers and students, who are not the guilty parties. It ought to come out of the guilty professor's paycheck.
Social work provides an intriguing tension between professional standards and academic freedom. The complainant reported being called in front of an ethics committee with the task of enforcing the social workers' trade association code of ethics (if that sounds like a cartel at work, congratulations!) One of the commenters at the Springfield (Mo.) News-Leader forum noted precisely that there is a code of ethics that social workers are supposed to adhere to. True enough, although it was adopted in 1996 and amended in 1999, and there is at least as much content about having the correct worldview as there is about the more normal ethical content, such as not betraying confidences or not boinking the clients. I suspect that prior to 1996 social workers were able to do their work without reference to the commonplaces of late twentieth-century identity politics.
BUILD IT AS IF YOU WOULD USE IT. I've been catching up on some of my reading, including The American Enterprise's "Attack of the Snobs" issue. This passage, from Robert Bruegmann's "How Sprawl Got a Bad Name," provokes some thinking about topics of regular interest at Cold Spring Shops.
The power of self-interest can also be seen in individuals who press for mass transit yet are very unlikely to use it themselves. They assume someone else will ride, and free up highway space for themselves. Here again, members of the incumbents' club form alliances to protect their advantages, sometimes in unexpected and ephemeral ways.
The idea of providing public transit so that somebody else will use it is at least as old as the first energy crisis, and it lives on in public economics under the general rubric of "merit goods" (skeptical and favorable definitions.)

That got me thinking, first, about Metra. Why does Chicago have the best commuter rail service in the world? Why would there be semi-fasts out of Highland Park and Wilmette, the Barringtons, and Geneva, as well as the Naperville and Hinsdale Zephyrs? If the service exists for Somebody Else to use, what's the point of providing time-sensitive services for the most upscale clientele? Might that clientele actually be riding the trains? I suspect so: many a frustrated commuter fed up with multi-tasking, overstressed road rage cases that either ride your bumper or fail to react when the cars ahead start moving becomes a multi-tasking overstressed commuter providing material for the monthly "Metra Sez" gripers about cell-phone shouters, noisy laptop-pickers, and seat hogs.

And then consider the excess demand for prestige degrees, and the greater difficulty Illinois and Wisconsin residents are having getting into their flagship campuses. Perhaps when the best local students could be sure of a place at Madison or Urbana it didn't matter too much if an Oshkosh or a Whitewater or a Northern or a Southern existed for middle-class and middling-ability high schoolers to choose on the basis of the parties or the Greek system. No longer. The onus on policy makers within the university, as well as within state government, to design the state university system as if their most influential constituents were going to use it.
DON'T ANTAGONIZE THE FANS. Mount Hollywood reports that Union Pacific is discontinuing its (partial) trademark licensing policy.

It probably also dawned on Union Pacific (but clearly only after someone refused to cave over a lawsuit) that they were using high-priced attorneys to collect what must have been piddling amounts in license fees. I doubt if anyone did any serious analysis on how much blood they could squeeze out of the model train hobby turnip, while at the same time they were damaging their image among a group that should have been on their side.

(UPDATE: Further comment on the forums suggests that [Mike's Train House] turned the legal cost-benefit tables on Union Pacific. MTH's discovery requirements for Union Pacific documents were enormous -- for instance, they subpoenaed every company e-mail that mentioned "model railroads". Union Pacific, which presumably had begun to realize what small potatoes royalties on $10 or $100 model train items really were, must have come to see that there was no possible way they could make money on royalties if they had to pay lawyers to answer all those subpoenas! They chose the wrong patsy indeed.)

As of this evening, the Union Pacific licensing program page is unchanged from earlier this year, and it still lays claim to Alton and Southern and American Refrigerator Transit but not Chicago Great Western or Chicago St. Paul Minneapolis & Omaha, those CMO grain hoppers notwithstanding. That makes for amusing reading of the latest Atlas O offerings (.pdf). You could buy a Chicago Great Western SD-40 (not licensed) or a Clinchfield SD-40 (CSX licensed.)

Is it any accident that the two railroad companies currently facing lawsuits from Amtrak over delaying the passenger trains are also the ones with these licensing programs?

12.11.06

DEFINING THE MEDIAN VOTER. Just before the election, I ordered Ryan Sager's The Elephant in the Room. It arrived just after the election and proved to be a quick enough read to qualify as Book Review No. 40. The key point appears at page 87.
If the Republican Party cannot renew its core commitment to the cause of small government now, at the height of its power, then it can never do so. And if limited government is no longer at the center of conservatism, then conservatism — at least as it has been known since libertarianism and traditionalism fused in the pages of National Review in the 1950s and in the Goldwater campaign of 1964 — has ceased to exist.
This despite the Democrats being their own worst enemies. Mr Sager pulls no punches on page 97.
But if the Republicans have exploited 9/11 oftentimes, Democrats have found themselves chained to a cast of fringe-Left clowns so repugnant as to do more damage to the liberal cause than a million Swift Boat Veterans for Truth ads. While most of the dissent from the War on Terror on the Left is well within the bounds of rational discourse, the harsh gets lumped in with the bat-scat insane — and Democratic candidates pay the price.
The Democrats have just reinstalled all their Watergate era relics as committee chairmen in the new Congress, but they will be doing battle with what Mr Sager describes as a "Bushian big-government" perversion of conservatism. His sympathies lie with the "Leave Us Alone" coalition that is beset alike by Democrats full of Stiglitzian welfare economics and Republicans full of Outlaw the Sin to Save the Sinner.

At page 161 Mr Sager hints at a change that might have manifested itself in the just-concluded election.
The conventional wisdom that the Republican Party will continue to enjoy a never-ending free ride with libertarians, in other words, is dead wrong. The Democratic Party is not as stupid as it looks, nor is the Republican majority as sound as it looks (or at least as Karl Rove tells you it looks). In the short and long term, both parties — whether they like it or not — are going to find themselves forced to follow a simple dictum: look to the West.
Mr Sager wrote a New York Post column this week that's not quite "See I Told You So."

But Republicans also face a strange new political landscape. Instead of split-in-two, the country now finds itself drawn-and-quartered: the conservative South as solidly Republican as ever, the liberal Northeast more Democratic than ever, the populist Midwest having taken a major turn toward the Democrats and the libertarian West now up for grabs.

This last is perhaps the strangest of all for Republicans: The West used to be solid GOP territory. It's been wavering recently, and after Tuesday, it's a full-blown swing region...

He extends the theme in a weblog post.
But the basics are described by the term “fusionism.” Libertarians and social conservatives should both be able to agree that small-government is the goal. An expanding state is a threat not just to the wallet but to the family. You can’t force morality and virtue on people. You can only leave them free to live their lives. And to the extent that we must deal with divisive social issues in a political context — such as, say, gay marriage — local control is the best way to avoid vitriolic national culture wars.
Reason's Radley Balko concurs.

From there, Tuesday by most indications was a rejection of big government conservatism, not 1994-style limited government conservatism. The second issue most important to voters, for example, was corruption. The third was Iraq. Voters who cited each voted overwhelmingly for the Democrats. Nowhere in exit polling did voters say they were throwing the bums out because they spent too little, refused to raise the minimum wage, or because voters were clamoring for more regulation of business, or socialized health care.

Corruption is the result of a federal government too flush with money and too fat with influence. When billions of dollars are at stake — either in the form of handouts and corporate welfare, or from the effects of regulation — it only makes sense that corporations and special interests would spend millions to secure a spot at the trough, or to tweak regulations to their liking. The more influence wielded in Washington, the further corrupting forces will go to win a share of it.

Pelosi and company (along with most of the country's editorial boards) believe you can continue to grow government while reducing corruption — you just need lots of McCain-Feingold-ish laws, ethics panels, and blue-ribbon “good government” commissions to keep greed and graft in check. That flies in the face of common sense, human nature, and anyone who has paid a lick of attention to politics over the last 50 years. Money always finds way to by influence where influence is available. You reduce corruption by taking money and power off the table and putting it back in the private sector, where it's won through innovation and competition, not through golfing trips to Scotland and lunches at The Palm.

Mr Balko pulls no punches when it comes to Republicans, either. Read and understand.

One of those editorial boards, at the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, where one suspects there would be little displeasure with a Sewer Socialist becoming President, sees some of the same things at work, but from a different perspective.
Some of the Democrats' pickups in this Northern belt will be challenging to hold, because they occurred in GOP-leaning districts. But another half-dozen could represent permanent GOP losses, because they were in places that are Democratic and becoming more so. GOP problems in the Northeast mirror what Democrats have endured in the South, where the party's congressional losses occurred years after the region had already shifted to the GOP in presidential contests.

In his recent book, "Whistling Past Dixie," [political scientist Tom] Schaller makes an argument that is controversial among Democrats: that the party should forget about winning in the South and focus on putting together a majority coalition in the Northeast, Midwest and West, including areas where Democrats made inroads Tuesday, such as Colorado and Arizona.
Whether that Democratic Party would look like the coalition of technocrats and welfare recipients that generate the famous blue counties of 2000 and 2004 remains to be seen.
"For the first time in more than half a century, the minority party in the South is the majority party in both chambers of Congress, a truly stunning development," said Schaller, a professor at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

In the Senate, Democrats picked up six seats despite the fact that their opportunities were limited (only 15 of 33 Senate seats up this year were held by the GOP). Four of the six Democratic pickups came in "red" states. In 2008, the roster of races will, in one sense, be more favorable to Democrats, since Republicans will have to defend 21 of the 33 Senate seats that are up.

As for presidential politics, the electoral trends at both the state and federal level were positive for Democrats. Democrat Jim Webb's Senate victory in Virginia was more evidence of that state's trend in a Democratic direction, fueled by growth and change in the state's least "Southern" component: the Washington, D.C., suburbs. That could give Democrats another red state to compete for in 2008.

The red-state West also will offer opportunities. A growing Latino vote and migration from blue states such as California is loosening the GOP hold on parts of the West and Southwest. Democratic governors were re-elected in Arizona and New Mexico. The party picked up a governor in Colorado, a Senate seat in Montana and two House seats in Arizona. Some Republicans fear that the hard line on immigration taken by GOP lawmakers will do lasting damage to the party's Hispanic outreach.

"We do need to pay a lot of attention to the West for a lot of reasons," said GOP chairman Mehlman.
Both parties reconsidering what the median voter looks like. I love the sound of coalitions fracturing.