30.4.07

COME FOR THE PICTURES, STAY FOR THE COMMENTARY. The traffic spike that began in late February reflects frequent visits from Google Images.


By all means, look at the pictures, but read Cold Spring Shops for the articles!

Seriously, thanks for your continued interest and support.

OVERPRICED CORPORATE WELFARE? The editors at the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel are not yet ready to close the St. Lawrence Seaway.
But those pushing to close the seaway - the conservation group Great Lakes United called for an overseas-freighter ban in late March - forget that the seaway provides economic benefits.
So did the North Shore Line, but when the railroad was no longer able to meet its payroll, it closed.
While oceangoing traffic accounts for only about 7% of all Great Lakes shipping, that percentage is higher for some ports and carries an economic impact beyond the small number. Port of Milwaukee Director Eric Reinelt said the annual percentage for Milwaukee is usually around 11% and has been as high as about 20%. In 2006, the port handled more than 710,000 metric tons of imports and exports through the seaway, up 99% from 2005.
Yes, and a recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts grant can be depended on to say something about the "intrinsic worth" of his creations. That tonnage works out to about 7100 railroad cars, or about 20 car movements (some of which involve a car arriving with one cargo and leaving with another) per day. That's fewer freight cars than the North Shore Line handled in a day.
In addition, he says, oceangoing ships provide the best and cheapest way to deliver such freight as steel and wind turbines used in power generation, as well as to move grain from farmers in southeastern Wisconsin to foreign ports.
With a side order of round gobies, zebra mussels, and fish viruses. The Seaway has a positive marginal product. Whether that marginal product makes its continued operation worthwhile is another matter, and the Port Director is unlikely to say, yes, turf me out. It's up to the editorialists to give that case consideration.
SO CUT COSTS BY TOUGHENING STANDARDS. A weblogger posting as Adjuncts in Hell contemplates rising college sticker prices as a ruling-class plot to preserve social stratification.
So much social phenomena is coming to a head here. First, consider the revenge of the ruling class once threatened by a surging middle-class in the wake of GI Bill. By launching tuition rates at top-tier schools in the ionosphere, they can keep ambitious proles out and hold those pesky student-aid wannabes in check when they graduate in debt. Forget that current enrollment rates at colleges and universities hover around 45%, higher tuition (even at State U) guarantees that any middle class kid who dares to advance up the social ranks will be hamstrung by student loans. That's a twofer in places like Newton, Mass; it keeps them out of your neighborhood and their brats out of your child's private school.
That presupposes a conspiracy to restrict output and raise prices. Given the wide availability of information about the return on investment in human capital, the simpler explanation is a rightward shift in the derived demand for degrees.

It's relatively simple for socially-conscious curriculum committees and admissions offices to undo such a conspiracy, if in fact there were such a conspiracy. Hence the title of my post. The conspiracy theory has it part right and part wrong.
Second, by filling the ranks of lower tier colleges with overworked adjuncts, more and more students are deprived of the full and proper attention of dedicated professors who can focus on two or three classes. Instead, for $50,000 - $75,000 (before 7.5% interest over 20 years), they get harassed and overstressed freeway fliers who bolt in and out of eight classrooms on four campuses and consider "office hours" to be a dashed-off response to e-mail at four in the morning because they're up correcting a self-perpetuating mound of student papers. It may seem that "everyone" goes to college, but not everyone is receiving the same education. Can a students gain a first-class education at In-State Tuition U? Without question. But do they have the requisite curiosity and academic skills going in? That leads to the next issue . .
It has occurred to the poster that information about safety schools practicing the access-assessment-remediation-retention model is also widely available, and those high sticker prices (although, as at Gimbel's, nobody pays list price) at the seventy-five or so "top forty" universities simply reflect a flight to quality that could easily be accommodated by more of the seventy-five or so "next forty" universities emulating their "most selective" counterparts.
Our entertainment-addled culture is the modern equivalent of the drain-circling Roman Empire's "Bread and Circus." Business students see a bankruptcy-court-hopscotching charlatan like Donald Trump as a role model. Students spoon fed a watery pablum of pilfered Shakespeare plots turbo-charged with sex and celebrity on the WB and Fox openly disdain genuine literature and are openly hostile to books. Once they graduate, they at last discover they will not be able to afford that Hummer H-2, the trip to Cancun, a wardrobe of wage-slave-rendered Abercrombie and Fitch rags, or even a one-way ticket out of mom-and-dad's basement. When that reckoning comes, they're on the wrong side of the college walls with only a handful of dimes from selling back their Norton Shakespeare, a fuzzy idea of how punctuation works, and a nasty drinking problem. Ever really wonder why those 25-year-old second-chancers at the community college are as serious as a heart attack in the classroom? Consider them the lucky ones.
So cut costs by toughening standards.
ANTICIPATING DEREGULATION. Just before the Staggers Act took effect, Ann Friedlaender and Richard Spady published Freight Transport Regulation: Equity, Efficiency, and Competition in the Rail and Trucking Industries. I recently read through it for insights into modeling competition between two modes, one subsidized, one for profit, offering multiple products. There are a few ideas to develop further. As the 50 Book Challenge rules do not confine readers to reviewing new books (there's always somebody going to claim Ulysses or War and Peace after all) this Book Review No. 9 will focus on a few of the book's findings retrospectively. The research suggested that even under regulation, the bulk commodities were bearing a disproportionate share of the railroads' common and joint costs, despite the Interstate Commerce Commission's use of value of service pricing under which high valued finished goods were supposed to pay a higher markup over marginal cost. It's no surprise given those findings that the remaining major railroads all have substantial business in the coal fields. The rate structure in the final years of regulation was also one in which rates were below marginal costs in what railroaders call the Official Territory and what journalists call the Rust Belt. The authors conclude with a welfare-economics appeal to introduce deregulation in such a way as to cushion its adverse effects: perhaps that would have entailed a slower decline of the heavy industry of the Official Territory and a slower deregulation of trucking. (In that alternative history, would Wal-Mart have become the retail power we now know even more rapidly by integrating backward into trucking and manufacturing to take advantage of the private-carrier exemptions.)

The book completely missed -- as did all the Great Experts of the day -- the combination of intermodal cooperation and international trade under which the railroads reclaimed much of the time-sensitive high-value traffic by running van trains under contract to specific shippers. That's a cautionary tale that adaptations to rule changes cannot always be anticipated.

29.4.07

MAYBE SUMMER WILL COME AFTER ALL. Not a bad afternoon for a softball game.


Although an Akron player has just made a base hit, (click for a larger image and note the ball going through the box) the home team got the win.

Northern Illinois University has its own Gertie the Duck. This mallard hen decided ashtray sand was a good place to lay some eggs.


When I left the office, the hen had gone away to gather some food.


The zoom feature on a digital camera is useful for obtaining pictures at a non-threatening distance from the nest.
MAKING THE GRADE. Well done, kids.

Northern Illinois is one of only 33 Division I women's basketball programs recognized nationwide and is the only Mid-American Conference team in the Top 10 percent of [NCAA Academic Performance Rate, an index of how many athletes on a team remain students and complete their degrees] for women's basketball.

The Huskie women's golf team, which checked in with a perfect score of 1000 for the APR multiyear rate, was recognized along with 51 other teams, including MAC comrades Kent State and Bowling Green State.

WIDEN THE BOTTLENECK. Expect traffic jams well after your toddlers graduate ... from college.
After Marquette Interchange reconstruction is completed, the I-94 job will be the next in a series of regional freeway rebuilding projects that could last 25 or 30 years. It will stretch from Milwaukee's south side to the Illinois state line. Preliminary work is to start in 2009, with major construction running from 2011 through 2016.
And when that work is done, it will be time for a mid-life resurfacing of the roads currently being rebuilt. But even if the rebuilding gives us a more durable road, it's unlikely that the added lanes will really alleviate congestion. Milwaukeeans and transients may be grateful that the congestion-prolonging construction (which includes some potential safety upgrades) will take relatively few houses.

As transportation engineers refined the plans, they heard from neighbors and public officials pressing to keep the freeway within its current right of way as much as possible. Responding to those concerns, department officials said last year they had cut the number of homes to be razed in Milwaukee County to no more than 18.

That figure has now dropped to four to six, project manager Bill Mohr said. Three of those homes are near the Plainfield curve; a fourth is near the ramps linking the freeway to the Airport Spur, he said. The other two homes would be razed only if the state decides to add new on- and off-ramps at Drexel Ave. in Oak Creek, Mohr said.

Note: additional interchanges mean additional eddies in the traffic.
STAYING IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD. Garrett Wolfe, Chicago Bear.

28.4.07

WATCH THIS SPACE.

THE RIGHT KIND OF MARKET TEST. Tibor Machan (via Phi Beta Cons) takes issue with those who take issue with market incentives in higher education.
Indeed, in the exchange it is clear that no one likes markets in higher education. Henry Wasser, who is a former academic dean and vice president at the City University of New York, complains that a previous piece in the magazine “ignores the growing and transforming inequalities” that supposedly afflict American higher education. Among these are, of course, “the dominant commercialization of universities in function and psychology,” and “the pervasiveness of the ‘market’ model,” whatever that is supposed to mean in a profession that is dominated by government administration and funding. In response to this the original author of “Scandals,” Andrew Delbanco, replies that he has elsewhere “discussed most of the themes [Wasser] mentions,” among them commercialization and “the rise of ‘market’ values.”
On one hand, what Professor Machan is noting might be the long-standing argument that when market tests make some people rich and other people poor, that isn't automatically a desirable outcome. It's not always clear that the business fad of the moment is efficiency-enhancing. Consider a comment Russell Roberts makes about the information content of a downsizing.
Pundits everywhere decried the Circuit City layoffs as a greedy corporation trying to inflate the company's profits to ever higher levels while ignoring the human costs. In fact, they were a desperation attempt to keep a company afloat. That revelation of desperation is what caused the stock price to fall. We'll see if Circuit City can survive. The stock market suggests that the odds of survival have fallen.
He's reacting to a James Surowiecki column that notes the fad element in the business model of the moment.
On top of all this, a C.E.O. is likely to look to layoffs as a solution because that’s what almost everyone else does, too. The word “downsizing” wasn’t even invented until the mid-seventies. The waves of layoffs that began at the end of that decade and peaked after the recession of 1990-91 were largely a response to crisis on the part of manufacturing companies swamped by foreign competitors and stuck with excess capacity. More recently, however, downsizing has become less a response to disaster than a default business strategy, part of an inexorable drive to cut costs.
Never mind the loss in efficiency and institutional memory. Therein lies some of the academic discontent with business models and all the trappings of "market-driven" policies. There are more than a few trustees and legislators who labor under the misapprehension that "superior performance" equates to lopping off the poorest-performing 10% of the business after each annual review. (In investments, this policy is a misapplication of the regression fallacy: a trader with a quite satisfactory lifetime record can be awarded a large bonus for a lucky year or fired for an unlucky one. In higher education, such thinking can lead to the folly of abolishing majors in philosophy or mathematics, although a few philosophy or mathematics faculty are allowed to stay around to "service" the majors in those bits of the university that have managed not to be "right-sized" out of existence.)
MAKING GEORGIA HOWL. The History Channel has been offering a two-hour documentary including reenactment of Sherman's March. The details are as noted in previously reviewed books. The documentary gives visual learners an opportunity to contemplate Genl Sherman's ambivalence toward the contrabands who joined up with the march, as well as his responses to rebel tactics that were contrary to the established rules of war. The show includes the episodes where rebel prisoners are pressed into service as mine sweepers, with one paroled to send a message to the commander of the local insurgents, and where rebel prisoners are made to draw lots, with one man executed, which stopped summary killings of foragers. Worth watching your listings for the re-runs.
WHY IT MATTERS. A sequential group photo at a reception recognizing Jim Giles of the Department of English at his retirement.


T. S. Eliot, Wilkie Collins, Marvin and Lemuel, and a moment to honor Gustaaf van Cramphout, another always cheerful colleague, he denied the opportunity of a retirement reception.

26.4.07

SAIL THE LIFTED TACK. The Louis Vuitton Cup competition, otherwise known as the America's Cup challenger series, is under way.

RIDDLES AND MYSTERIES AND ENIGMAS. The funeral of Boris Nikolayevich Yeltsin offers a capsule history of the twists and turns of Russian and U. S. history. The religious service (itself a recent development) occured in the rebuilt Cathedral of Christ the Redeemer. Josef Vissarionovich Stalin had the original removed to make way for a temple more suitable to Bolshevik traditions.
"The whole dramatic history of the 20th century was reflected in the fate of Boris Nikolayevich," Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexy II said in a letter read aloud at the Cathedral of Christ the Savior, using Yeltsin's patronymic. "Being a strong individual, he took upon himself responsibility for the fate of the country at a difficult and dangerous time of radical change."
The rebuilt cathedral was finished in the late 1990s. Among the music played at the consecration of the original cathedral was a work better known in the United States as music to launch fireworks by. Andrew Druckenbrod of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette gives the history of the 1812 Overture.
The "1812 Overture" premiered in 1882 at the consecration of a church in Moscow commemorating Napoleon's retreat from Russia. Telling the story of the end of the French invasion of Russia in musical themes, "La Marseillaise" is eventually beaten back by a rousing Russian anthem and cannon fire and church bells. When performed with full-scale replica artillery (with blanks) today, the "1812 Overture" usually requires musicians to wear earplugs.
We're happy to have the Overture as part of our own tradition, although I disagree with musicologist Leon Botstein.
"With the exception of 'America the Beautiful,' the U.S. is short of patriotic hymns," says Botstein. "'The Star-Spangled Banner' is a tongue-twister; then you have 'America,' which is really the British national anthem. Being an immigrant nation, we are not offended by using another country's national anthem."
The Overture is not the Russian national anthem, although it quotes a few bars of God Save the Tsar toward the end. (As far as U. S. patriotic hymns, I offer Stars and Stripes Forever, Columbia the Gem of the Ocean, Semper Fidelis, and Washington Post.) Mr Yeltsin did not restore God Save the Tsar, although he replaced the Stalin-era Soyuz nerushimi with a Glinka hymn. The Russians have since, in proper Khrushchev fashion, rehabilitated the Soyuz nerushimi but with new words.

In death, Mr Yeltsin rests near Mr Khrushchev.

The choice of Novodevichy Cemetery was a fitting site for the grave of the country's first post-Soviet, post-czarist leader. An avowed foe of communism who sought to outlaw the party after he came to power, it would not seem appropriate to bury him behind Lenin's tomb, alongside the honored Soviet-era leaders at the Kremlin wall.

Novodevichy holds the graves of an array of Russia's artistic elite, including Dmitry Shostakovich, Sergei Prokofiev and Anton Chekhov. Only one Soviet leader is buried there - Nikita Khrushchev, who was ousted from power in 1964 and whose grave is about 200 yards from Yeltsin's.

As the coverage notes,
The day's events were mixed with political symbolism - the burial at Novodevichy, religious services for a nominally pious man in a cathedral restored during his presidency; the playing of the national anthem whose music is the same as the Stalinist Soviet anthem.
Do svidanya, Boris Nikolayevich. Condolences and good wishes to the Russian people.
IT'S CALLED ELASTICITY OF DEMAND. A look at zone pricing in the early days of railroading.
[Hungarian Transport Minister Baross Gábor] argued that the loss from price cuts will be more than made up by the extra income from boosted traffic numbers. This revolutionary idea was a mirror image of one argument for tax cuts used by neolibs today, that economic growth will raise tax revenues back to the old level: instead of counting on the sustained success and goodwill of the richest, it was counting on the poorest to go trying their luck on now affordable trains.
It's also a test of the idea called price elasticity of demand. (Skip past all the calculations, they're a waste of your time, and focus on the intuition.)
A good economist is not just interested in calculating numbers. The number is a means to an end; in the case of price elasticity of demand it is used to see how sensitive the demand for a good is to a price change. The higher the price elasticity, the more sensitive consumers are to price changes. A very high price elasticity suggests that when the price of a good goes up, consumers will buy a great deal less of it and when the price of that good goes down, consumers will buy a great deal more. A very low price elasticity implies just the opposite, that changes in price have little influence on demand.
A high price elasticity implies, more precisely, that at the lower price, buying expands more than proportionately to the lower price, and total revenues increase. Small price decreases demonstrably bring in many more buyers to long-distance telephone companies, economy air carriers, discount superstores, and evidently the Hungarian suburban lines.

The supply-side tax cut relies on a somewhat more subtle argument in which the substitution effect of the tax cut more than offsets the income effect, such that net sellers of labor offer to work more hours.
FALSE POSITIVES. Why I insist that policy makers spell out their loss function.

Told to express emotion for a creative-writing class, high school senior Allen Lee penned an essay so disturbing to his teacher, school administrators and police that he was charged with disorderly conduct, officials said Wednesday.

Lee, 18, a straight-A student at Cary-Grove High School, was arrested Tuesday near his home and charged with the misdemeanor for an essay police described as violently disturbing but not directed toward any specific person or location.

Any per se rule has an element of arbitrariness. Sometimes an essay can be indicative of deep-seated grievances. "Sometimes" is not the same thing as "always."
Simmie Baer, an attorney with the Children and Family Justice Center at Northwestern University School of Law, said the school's action was an example of zero-tolerance policies gone awry.
The student's father is keeping his perspective.

During a short interview at his family's two-story home in a Cary subdivision near the high school, [Albert]Lee said he felt administrators did the right thing.

He added, however, that he does not think his son is a threat to anyone.

"I definitely think that there is some misunderstanding," he said. "That's my only interpretation of this."

Lee said he was confident his son will graduate as scheduled this year with his class."With Virginia Tech, everyone is more sensitive to these kinds of issues," Lee said. "I'm sure if he wrote something last year, nothing would alarm anybody. It's just the timing."

IF YOU'RE GOING TO BELIEVE, BELIEVE. Rev. Christopher Johnson has sharp words for those who would make the Creation and the Resurrection more inclusive.

Leaving aside the staggeringly arrogant conceit that someone named Susan Anderson-Smith knows "who Jesus understood himself to be," I've got two problems with this idea. One is that, well, God kind of, well, you know, does have a "hierarchical power over things." If You're a being that can create entire universes, I've got no problem at all with calling You "Lord." I don't know about you but I certainly can't create entire universes.

Same thing with Jesus. If You die an agonizing death on the Cross to keep me out of hell, then when I see You, "Lord" is going to be the first word out of my mouth. But if Jesus was just a great teacher and God little more than a divine district manager you play golf with sometimes, I can see where the word might grate on your ears.

Rev. Johnson often refers to the "National Council of Churches Nobody Goes To Anymore." There's logic to his criticism: what's the point of having a separate organization that acknowledges only that the congregants are flukes of the universe? One can wrestle with that conclusion alone, or perhaps with others at a saloon or a coffeehouse, with little use for sermons or liturgical dances.
UNDERSTATEMENT OF THE DAY. Don't we know it?
But in terms of the time we devote to day-to-day e-mail expertise -- crafting it, managing it, we might as well be communicating in Old West Norse.
The article refers readers to some advice.

Although it has a June publication date, you can get [Bit Literacy] through Amazon now or read the first chapter free at the "Bit Literacy" site (bitliteracy.com), where you can also find the glowing blurbs he's collected from the likes of Craig Newmark (craigslist.org) and info-age author Douglas Rushkoff. And his article on "Managing Incoming E-mail," a group of bits that coalesce as a .pdf file and the basis for the e-mail chapter, is available at [Bit Literacy author Mark] Hurst's Good Experience site (goodexperience.com).

"'Bit Literacy' says bits are heavy, actually, and an infinite number of them has infinite weight, and it crushes people, their productivity, their morale," Hurst says.

I'm partial to not checking e-mail in the morning, in fact I'm partial to the general principle of never scheduling meetings in the morning, period.
QUOTE OF THE DAY. Photon Courier.
A significant segment of American academia has put itself in a state which is truly beyond parody.
Read and understand.
ONE CAN LOCK DOWN A HIGH SCHOOL. Apparently, it's not even newsworthy. What depresses, however, is the reason for the lockdown.

Hamilton High School in Milwaukee was placed on lockdown Wednesday afternoon following a series of fights involving students and adults.

No one was injured in the disturbances, which began around 1 p.m. when an irate parent showed up at the school demanding to see a specific student to "settle the score," said Roseann St. Aubin, Milwaukee Public Schools' spokeswoman.

Parental meddling in school affairs is nothing new. At one time, however, it was limited to keeping a good face on things at Hamilton High. "Our kids selling narcotics? Isn't happening. Not-so-secret keg parties deep in the Root River Parkway? Must be those spoiled rich kids from Greendale."

25.4.07

HOW OTHERS SEE US. Anthony Paletta at Phi Beta Cons suggests the quest for hidden meanings can go too far.
The influence of Postmodern studies is often to be rued, but it seems a very intemperate swipe to associate [the Virginia Tech shooter’s] actions with academic currents to which there is no real evidence he had any connection. If we’re going to opine from glances at the Virgina Tech catalog we might just as well assert that Titus Andronicus tipped [him] over the edge. Or Verloc, or… the Grand Inquisitor? This could be endless.
Indeed so.
NOTHING SECRET ABOUT PROBATION. The Northern Star characterizes some proper disciplinary measures as a "lockdown."

Larry Bolles, director of NIU's Judicial Office, said if the downward trend continues, a campus without Greek organizations could be a realistic future. Bolles did say, however, that he has seen vast improvements this semester.

"Everybody did what they wanted to do," Bolles said of years past. "People don't change easy. It's like trying to change a culture, and that's what you have on Greek Row - drinking, partying; they're doing what Greeks do. It's like a battleship: Battleships don't turn like a little boat. A battleship is a big thing that turns slow."

Eight fraternities were placed on suspension last fall for violations of NIU policy ranging from physical and sexual assault to more minor alcohol-related offenses.

Bolles described many fraternities as "train wrecks" that could have ended in derailed chapters, but the university began implementing rigorous policies and judicial action in attempts to prevent it from happening.

It's called putting the adults back in charge.

Since Bolles took over [from University Programming and Activities]last spring, nine Greek-letter organizations have had sanctions placed against them.

"They felt like they were being bombarded, and they went everywhere complaining to everyone about what was happening," Bolles said of the Greek organizations under judicial sanctions. "Finally, somebody came to me and said, 'Dr. Bolles, why are you doing this?'"

"I said, 'I'm treating you like everyone else. For the first time in your life, you all are starting to feel like the average student feels on this campus: You smoke dope, you fight, you beat up somebody, you sexually assault somebody - you're starting to feel exactly what [any other offender] felt.' They assume that their chapter is here for life just because they have a house and they pay rent."

It's also called maintaining standards.

National organizations worried about the future of their NIU chapters petitioned Bolles to find what they could do to turn things around. Bolles said he wanted to have alumni members in their 50s and 60s serve as in-house advisers.

Bolles chose the age range because, in the past, national organizations sent advisers who had graduated five to 10 years ago that still had a degree of camaraderie with fraternity members. What Bolles wanted were successful individuals who could instill discipline.

"I said, 'I want your time,'" Bolles said. "'You're a member of this chapter, and you were made in DeKalb. What I want you to do - I'm going to show you all the dirt - I want you to go there, and within the next 90 days, I want you to show me some significant differences in that chapter, because if you can't make a difference - I tried, it hasn't worked.'"

With their NIU chapters in jeopardy of Bolles "putting a lock on the door," all 11 organizations with deferred suspensions sent individuals to frequently keep tabs on their fraternities.

These individuals, who ranged from lawyers to successful businessmen, pushed their fraternities to do more community service than was required. However, in filtering out so-called "troublemakers" from the fraternities, the advisers often slashed fraternity enrollments by more than half, Bolles said.

"They walked people out of the houses and met with people and said, 'That's not what we want,'" Bolles said. "If they didn't change, they were out."

Mr Bolles reports progress, but he's had a busy time. (Keep following the links to find out how busy.)
LiNaSiB3O7(OH). Renaming Jadar as Krypton, alas, appears not to be an option. The noble gas Krypton predates the comic book planet Krypton. (Not the last time popular art imitated life: anybody else remember Prince Amex of Nasdaq?)
GET UP, GET UP, GET OUTTA HERE. We're pleased to report that Chicago Cub second baseman and radio analyst Ron Santo has been released from hospital. Mr Santo plans to return to the press box on May 4. That rates a Sprecher.

24.4.07

A NECESSARY CONDITION FOR THE FEDERATION. Have astronomers located a Class M planet?

Until now, all 220 planets astronomers have found outside our solar system have had the "Goldilocks problem." They've been too hot, too cold or just plain too big and gaseous, like uninhabitable Jupiter.

The new planet seems just right - or at least that's what scientists think.

"This could be very important," said NASA astrobiology expert Chris McKay, who was not part of the discovery team. "It doesn't mean there is life, but it means it's an Earth-like planet in terms of potential habitability."

Eventually astronomers will rack up discoveries of dozens, maybe even hundreds of planets considered habitable, the astronomers said. But this one - simply called "c" by its discoverers when they talk among themselves - will go down in cosmic history as No. 1.

This one isn't hot enough to be Vulcan.
POSITIVE NONPECUNIARY EXTERNALITIES. Economics suggests prudes should want to have fun.

The "More Sex" thesis: If prudes occasionally slept with strangers, it would slow the spread of STDs.

Here's how it works. One such prude walks into a bar, and he's uninfected. If he takes home an uninfected woman, great -- he distracted her from a potential disease carrier. If he gets herpes, that's also great, because he's sexually conservative and won't pass the infection along very often. Better him than someone with less self control.

Either way, society benefits when the chaste open up slightly. "Slightly" is key, because too much "openness" spreads more disease than it diverts. After studying AIDS in England, Harvard's Michael Kremer put the cutoff at 2.25 partners per year.

From here Mr. Landsburg introduces the concept that ties virtually all these essays together -- people should feel their actions' effects. A sexual conservative considers the harm to himself, but not the benefits to others, of catching a disease. One could call it a behavior-consequence gap.

The illustration, (via Andrew Sullivan) from Steven Landsburg's new More Sex is Safer Sex: The Unconventional Wisdom of Economics, doesn't really come as a surprise. There's a paper, I believe it's Buchanan and Stubblebine's "Externality," that illustrates the optimality of some people not receiving immunization shots, from which the basic argument follows. Another observation has the possibility for greater controversy.
[Professor Landsburg] also discusses the jury system at length. He's right that juries should hear all the available evidence, including past convictions: The government already trusts juries to sort out pertinent from irrelevant facts, so more information can't hurt. If juries can't put a defendant's (or even accuser's) history in perspective, we shouldn't have juries.
The problem, dear reader, as mathematician John Allen Paulos has argued, is that juries have difficulty with conditional statements. (Test yourself: which of the two following statements is more likely to be true? (A) Judy is a bank teller. (B) Judy is a bank teller and a feminist.) In trials, the mishandling of conditional statements matter. Consider (A) The defendant battered his wife. (B) Most spouse batterers do not murder their wives. Will the jury be more likely to come to the correct conclusion if they are also told (C) Most murdered wives have been battered?

I will read the book sometime in the future and have a review ready.
GENERATION PORTER. That's a special 20th anniversary Sprecher product. The program notes (for the beer) suggest my bottle came from the early batch. It has a bold fruity taste and a beery aroma and it's just the thing for Tuesday's Sprecher on Tuesday. The Crew came within one out of eighteen consecutive shutout innings pitched.
OVER? I must take issue with my friendly connection Milton Rosenberg.
Almost...says Norman Lebrecht, who mourns the passing of the record store and the rapid decline in serious recording companies. If you need an extra goad toward despair this may be just the thing!
Perhaps the end of the classical record store in favor of the CD department at Borders is reason to be troubled.

On the deadliest of nights, I'd persuade the guy behind the counter at wood-paneled Rizzoli to switch the mid-romantic mush on the store speakers for early-instrument asperities. Rarely did I leave without a chat. A record store was where you went to get enlivened, inspired and painlessly lightened of a few bucks.

If you got really lucky, you'd wind up in a bar with strangers arguing Klemperer versus Furtwaengler in Haydn's 88th. Buffs and saddos? Maybe, but record mavens cared about music.

Many people I met in record stores never set foot in Carnegie Hall or the Met. Their cultural life was lived out on disc. Few went on, like me, to make a living out of criticism. For most, the bonus of living in a city was that it admitted them to a cultural community that congregated in record stores.

On the other hand, the creation of new symphonies that might, some day, find themselves converted into parcels for downloading, goes on. Composer Kevin Puts paid Northern Illinois a visit that featured the Illinois premiere of his Symphony No. 2, "Island of Innocence." The concert, which was current director Brett Mitchell's final appearance with the Philharmonic, also included Brahms's Symphony No. 2, certainly the kind of work to argue the merits of various recordings, perhaps over a Sprecher. There will be more works by Mr Puts this Wednesday. If time permits, I may attend and file a report. If not, despair not. Symphonic music isn't over simply because a few pundits suggest it's over.
SPONTANEOUS KINDNESS. Huskies stand with Hokies.


Northern Star photo by Ben Woloszyn.
MONDAY'S SPRECHER ON TUESDAY. Last night ran a bit long with work, but there's quiet time tonight, and an extra-innings win in the Hiawatha Series to savor.
The Brewers overcame a 4-0 deficit, an injury to a key player and a bullpen running out of pitchers, yet prevailed.

23.4.07

22.4.07

REALITY CHECKS. Why I Turned Right, the subject of Book Review No. 8, is a collection of autobiographical musings by a variety of public intellectuals, some of whom were default secular-progressives and some of whome dabbled with more esoteric politics, who have more recently identified themselves as "conservative," broadly construed. For the most part, these are individuals better known as writers for opinion magazines rather than as government officials or as academicians. That said, it might behoove curious individuals within government and the academy to read the book, if for no other reason than to discover some of the tics, biases, and institutionalized smugness that recurs as explanation of selecting the starboard tack in several of the sketches.
CLOSE THE SEWER. A Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel article notes the growing popularity of ending one of the Eisenhower Administration's more foolish boondoggles.
[Conservationists in Great Lakes United argue] that the idea of slamming shut the Seaway to oceangoing "salties" has become an environmental and economic no-brainer, like padlocking a struggling little factory that is ruining life for everyone in town because it won't fix its oversize smokestack.
There's cost-benefit analysis involved.

Evidence suggests that the costs of the biological pollution gushing from the [transatlantic]ship-steadying ballast tanks far outweigh the benefits of maintaining the world's largest freshwater system as a nautical highway for saltwater traffic.

A draft study from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, meanwhile, indicates that recreational boats dwarf overseas freighters in terms of economic importance to the region, yet the recreation industry is entirely dependent on the very waters the salties continue to irreversibly pollute.

The infrastructure, which opened to great fanfare half a century ago, is due for renewal or retirement.
The original system of locks and channels, which are crumbling in places, cost $3 billion in today's dollars. Then there are the costs of dredging and maintaining channels and harbors in ports across the Great Lakes.
All to move a volume of export traffic in bulk cargoes such as grain or scrap metal that the railroads could easily transport to the existing saltwater ports. Let me refresh readers' memories: most of the traffic handled in the Great Lakes - St. Lawrence Seaway system is intra-Lake traffic for which ballast pumping simply transports marine life already in the Lakes to someplace else in the same Lakes.

The commercial fishery is at risk.

Nobody is precisely sure why so many fish have disappeared so quickly, but likely factors are high numbers of the planted predatory salmon, along with spiraling numbers of invasive species.

Invasive round gobies, a bug-eyed, prehistoric-looking fish known for gobbling eggs of native lake species, have been ballooning in number since they were discovered in the lake in 1993. But the pace of their expansion appears to be accelerating - the number of fish found in the survey jumped 16-fold from 2005 to 2006.

On balance, the gainers (sport fishermen, commercial fishermen, operators of waterworks, and railroads) appear to be well able to compensate a few overseas shippers for losses they might incur by closing the St. Lawrence Seaway.
TURF 'EM OUT. A Margaret Soltan dissection of special pleading by friends of Texas Southern University provides indirect support for my contention that there is excess capacity in academic bottom-feeding.
The effect is obvious. The Barbaras and Mickeys and Harolds would simply go to another university. But for the Cliffords, the Thomases and the Bettys, their opportunities for a college education may be irretrievably lost. [As it stands, Clifford, Thomas, and Betty are likely to get at TSU a simulacral education. It will end up costing them and other Americans a good deal of money.]
Put another way, Clifford, Thomas, and Betty ought learn how to ask "Want fries with that" in Chinese?
Texas Southern continues its proud tradition of welcoming students the Texas public schools have failed. And while these nontraditional students tend not to graduate within the traditional four or even six years, there is a strong indication they eventually do graduate, have increased earning capacity and contribute largely to the Texas economy. [Tend... strong indication... Here the writers must weasel their way around the profound fact of wretched graduation rates at TSU.] ...
And that the failure, dear readers, rests with the common schools. Why not allow Texas Southern to bill the common schools for all the remediation that must be inherent in the university's retention efforts, futile though they turn out to be?
DID WE DEMORALIZE HER? Long-time Illinois women's basketball coach Theresa Grentz, last featured here, has taken her pension. Fox Valley Daily Herald columnist Patricia Babcock McGraw is not displeased.

My first thought when I heard the news?

Check that. My first printable thought?

“Free at last. Free at last. Thank God, almighty, free at last.”

Finally, this program is free from Grentz’s tyrannical reign of bullying and bull-you-know-what.

This is a woman who, from my observations, systematically sucked the life out of not only the program, but its players.

Read on. I was under the impression that college sports was supposed to be for the play value, or perhaps for Title IX compliance, not about the money.

(Via Kathy at Women's Hoops, who also comes up with a column that says more than the author intends about the Faustian bargain that success at the highest level sometimes entails, leaving aside the complications of identity politics in a game that I follow for the play value. OK, a few bottles of Beck's Dark and the odd sweatshirt can buy a lot of loyalty.)
[Mary Jo] Kane, the sports sociologist at Minnesota, said she once heard a female coach say that the best coaching qualifications for a woman are to be divorced with no children. This ostensibly establishes her heterosexuality while leaving her free to hit the road on recruiting trips.
Thus the flip side of a competition in which the greatest rewards, whether as wins or as publications or as traffic generated, can be purchased by the performer's willingness to sacrifice other dimensions of her or his life.
I HAVE GOOD REASON TO BE TIRED. Last Friday, the retiring interim dean gave his State of the College presentation. The text is not yet available at the Liberal Arts homepage. In addition to the encouraging introduction of this year's Presidential Research and Teaching Professors and assorted other honorees, he presented some pie charts illustrating the share of the university's recent increased student credit hour production handled by Liberal Arts faculty. Hint: it exceeds 90%. His presentation illustrated the folly of misapplying business models, and the lesson generalizes to the private sector. In the early 1990s, the state's board of higher education decided to capitalize on the business fads of "downsizing" and "strategic planning" to trim the public universities. As a consequence, Northern Illinois was deemed "right-sized" with an undergraduate enrollment of about 16,500, a figure that reflected the tail end of the Thirteenth Generation cohort but that missed the bulging middle schools and the effect of immigration from the former Soviet Bloc and Latin America into Illinois. Many of the other colleges could invoke professional entry standards and tighten admission requirements as the entering classes grew (to a size comparable to our greatest extent in 1987-88, when the economics department had twice as many faculty members.) But each student's first two years are effectively in Liberal Arts.

I'm apparently not alone in feeling swamped.
I have a huge backlog of grading to do, a frightening amount, given that I’m teaching three courses with large (for Swarthmore) enrollments. Tremendous amount of reading that needs completion, and substantial preparations for courses each day, given how excellent and probing a lot of the discussions in each of my classes have been this semester. A whole new course syllabus needs to get out there for students to look at as they think about classes. (Almost done if you’re checking here looking for it.) A few straggler references for students need completion or sending. Many and sundry meetings of various kinds in the next week or two.
The problem we have is not limited to being overwhelmed with stuff to do. Often it is the nature of the stuff. Mike Munger's taxonomy of evaluating projects and obligations introduces two dimensions, which he classifies as "urgent" and "important." Admittedly, a 2x2 chart is easier to post on a web site. To do so, however, leaves out a third dimension that might be even more important. For the moment, classify tasks as "enervating" and "energizing." Thus, for instance, program and performance review items, which often have deadlines, qualify as "urgent, important, and enervating." Referee reports, which in economics increasingly have deadlines (and electronic mail makes the production of automated needling reminders cheaper), are increasingly "urgent," they're "important," if we're supposed to have decent scholarship, but in many cases they're "enervating" (and for all my crankiness I'm not going to put a skull-and-crossbones graphic in my response). Research tends to be important and energizing, but when grades are due, it's postponable.

I leave to the reader as an exercise what happens when the in-basket is brimming with tasks that somebody else views as urgent, although their importance is not great, and they're enervating in the extreme.
LET'S HEAR IT FOR PAPER AND PENCIL. To file taxes electronically, one has to spend money on a package that is compatible with the government's servers. There's always the possibility of something going wrong. Furthermore, I might be using the same pencil next year, and if I have to replace it, it's still going to be cheaper than next year's tax-filing package.
NOT A GLORIFIED COMMUNITY COLLEGE AFTER ALL. The University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee goes forward with its research park.

For the cost of one engineer in the United States, a company can hire 11 in India, according to the National Academies, a U.S. government advisory body. And the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, a Paris-based multinational think tank, last year announced that China spends more on research and development as a share of its economy than Japan and became the world's second-highest investor in R&D after the United States.

[Milwaukee chancellor Carlos] Santiago points to a continued loss of jobs throughout southeastern Wisconsin. But he notes that Milwaukee still has an opportunity to retain its cluster of "advanced manufacturing" companies, which require a steady stream of technology workers, software engineers and research and development investment. UWM in January announced that Rockwell Automation Inc. will help UWM build a technology research program to support the region's advanced manufacturing sector.

If the region loses the advanced manufacturing sector, Santiago said, "then we lose the competitive advantage in manufacturing."

Two caveats. One, not noted by the newspaper, is that even the production function for Indian engineers is subject to the Law of Increasing Opportunity Cost. Another, incompletely noted, is that many of the benefits of a research-intensive university are appropriable private benefits.

Santiago, an economist, argues that no big metropolitan area has transitioned into the 21st century knowledge-driven economy without a research-based university at its core. He told the newspaper that he has spent weeks lobbying politicians and flying around the nation to meet with big-dollar donors from the private sector.

Past UWM construction projects have taken eight to 13 years, Santiago said, adding that he's unwilling to settle for anything longer than six to eight years for the entire engineering school expansion.

"His timetable is aggressive, but it's necessary for the metro economy to keep pace with the world marketplace," said Thomas Hefty, retired CEO of Blue Cross Blue Shield United of Wisconsin and an economic-development activist who co-chaired Gov. Jim Doyle's Economic Growth Council from 2003-'05.

But at this point, Santiago freely admits that he still doesn't have the money he needs, doesn't own the land, and has not yet begun expanding the 60 engineering-school faculty members to 100, as he plans.

One potential hitch that could derail the UWM project lies in the Madison statehouse, where some lawmakers for years have opposed increases to the state's higher-education spending.

Doyle, who endorses UWM's expansion, has earmarked an additional $10 million in the state's 2007-'09 budget for the project. If Doyle and the UW System fail to push their UW "growth" budget through the Legislature, then Santiago cannot hire new faculty, donors will go away, and the UWM project will lose momentum.

It's not simply a matter of a few anti-intellectual legislative types finding an opportunity to stiff the university system. There's still a balance between the potential spillover benefits, including keeping educated Wisconsin residents in Wisconsin without an indentured-servitude tuition provision, and the entirely appropriable private benefits, such as entry-level engineers for Rockwell who don't have to be taught on company time how to properly wire a starting circuit.

21.4.07

WATCH THIS SPACE.

THE WORK THAT REMAINS. In last week's tribute to Kurt Vonnegut (which might have been somewhat off point: Scott McLemee's "The Eternal Sophomore" might better capture the essence of his popularity) I noted,
In 1961, the idea of treating any possible source of difference in performance as an unfair advantage might have sounded positively dystopian: the propensity of some people to refer to "impairments" that must be "accommodated" lest the "temporarily abled" act "oppressively" renders the story somewhat more prophetic.
That propensity requires additional introspection and reconsideration in light of this week's events.

The problem with Virginia Tech's policing - and with most other college's approach to security - runs deeper than training or resources or dedication, says S. Daniel Carter of Security on Campus Inc., a nonprofit watchdog group. The problem is mindset, he says.

On a campus, everyone is a big family - the administrators, the students, the faculty and the university's security officers.

As a result, "the tendency is to overlook or downplay potential problems," Carter says. "They don't want to think that their campus community members - their students - could be that dangerous."

Carter believes that mind-set was almost certainly a factor in how Virginia Tech officers handled - or mishandled - previous complaints about Cho. And it was clearly a factor in many of the things that went wrong early on a flurry-filled morning last Monday when a campus just stirring from its weekend slumber was shaken by gunfire, he says.

But even a family has to have standards, and sometimes a parent must take a child's privileges away. That's not necessarily a police matter, as the article also notes.

Schools have to "balance the rights of students with the rights of the communities and with what parents want, and its not an easy thing to do," says Dr. Joanna Locke of the Jed Foundation, which works to prevent suicide and promote mental health among college students.

What about the mental health providers beyond campus who dealt directly with Cho? Couldn't they have done something?

Not unless Cho shared his morbid fantasies, and people like Cho almost never do, says Dr. Michael Welner, a forensic psychologist who has profiled mass murderers.

And here the mindset matters. Does the framing of a person's condition as involving "impairments" that require "accommodation" contribute? Oakland University's Barbara Oakley (via Margaret Soltan) doesn't quite say so, but she suggests something is not right.
In other words, most of the broad social “lessons” we are being told we must learn from the Virginia Tech shootings have little to do with what allowed the horrors to occur. This is about evil, and about how our universities are able to deal with it as a literary subject but not as a fact of life. Can administrators and deans really continue to leave professors and other college personnel to deal with deeply disturbed students on their own, with only pencils in their defense?
Sometimes, alas, one has to temper principle with practicality, as Timothy Burke observes at 11-D in this comment.
It's all about trade-offs. You can resource psychological support even more heavily, but it's not going to change anything until or unless you want to grant institutions and legal systems more extensive forms of authority to coercively detain and treat people who are suspected of the capacity for violence. And doing that is not an obvious fix that comes without a social and philosophical price tag.
As a first step, let's have a conversation about the loss function. What are the consequences of excluding more mildly disturbed or eccentric people from higher education? Will the effect be to exclude more Seung-Hoi Chos or more John Nashes? On the other hand, what are the consequences of doing more to turn non-conformists into conformists?
CYNICAL POPULISM. Frederic Bastiat's characterization of the state as a fiction by which each attempts to live at the expense of others can take a particularly effective form if the state takes great lengths to distinguish its insiders from outsiders preparatory to plundering those outsiders. The effectiveness of such a plunder is documented in Hitler's Beneficiaries by Goetz Aly, this evening's rather sober Book Review No. 7. Professor Aly's work is well-documented, as one would expect of scholarly work, as well as carefully edited and translated, which merits mention. The thesis is succinctly put in the preface at p. 7.
Hitler shielded the average Aryan from [the costs of waging war] at the cost of depriving others of their basic substance. To ensure contentment among its own people, the German government destroyed a number of foreign currencies -- most notably the Greek drachma -- by forcing other countries to pay ever-increasing contributions and tributes to their occupiers. To maintain living standards, the Germans plundered millions of tons of food to keep German soldiers well fed, then shipped what was left over back to the fatherland. And while the Third Reich was gorging itself on food from the countries it occupied, the German army paid its operating costs in the devalued local currency.
Much of the economic content of the book focuses on the creation of special bank certificates that the Germans used to maintain the illusion of paying vendors in the occupied countries for "requisitioned" items as well as the monetary policy manipulations used to prevent what was essentially the printing of money from turning into a hyperinflation. The presentation of German efforts to facilitate the transportation of goods acquired at requisition prices back to the fatherland despite logistical strains are also instructive. Professor Aly's evaluation of the plunder-for-the-Herrenvolk could make some people angry, but the summation (p. 323) is one worth incorporating into an examination somewhere.
The Nazi movement represented the drive to couple social equality with national homogeneity, a concept that was popular not only in Germany.
Left unanswered is why support for the regime, which was predicated on the allocation of stolen goods, did not collapse when the logistics collapsed and the Allies destroyed German housing and manufacturing faster than the occupation authorities could steal replacements.
YOUR RIGHT TO SAY IT. The New York Times visits DeKalb to cover our weekly war-related demonstration and counter-demonstration. The origins of these war-related demonstrations are somewhat unclear although they have turned into a civil and public debate about the Iraq campaign. It's not that the Times doesn't have protests and counter-protests to follow closer to home. The article appears to be part of the paper's discovery of pensioners remaining active in public affairs.
As the number of older Americans grows, retirement for many of them means a chance to devote themselves to social and political causes. They have the time, and since they no longer need to worry about employers, they can speak out without fear of repercussions. Retirees represent a potent force in political movements of every stripe and are likely to become even more important as the number of older people increases.
That is, if their pensions remain as generous as current Social Security benefits relative to taxes paid are. (Via City Barbs)
QUOTE OF THE DAY. Marginal Utility's Tom Bozzo weighs in on James Kunstler v. Thomas Friedman.
Inevitability and immutability arguments should be recognized as having little economic content. The factoid that the supposedly immutable often will give way to adverse price changes is part of the secret to the Big Bucks (or at least some fish-in-a-barrel shooting) for the econ profession.
Deeper into the post, he notes the folly of throwing more money into road construction in the hopes that somehow ethanol-based import-substitution activities will keep the car culture humming. The Illinois Tollway Authority has yet to get the message. It's spring, and the signs apologizing for the inconvenience and promising less future congestion are sprouting, this season along the eastbound Reagan Tollway through Warrenville and Naperville. Dream on. Commuters have to put up with the construction congestion, they have to put up with the inevitable congestion at the end of the widened section, if the widening is ever finished, the improved road will attract drivers who are currently using the Northwest Tollway but will find the widened Reagan preferable, and the congestion will be further exacerbated when the tollway discovers that the Northwest requires widening. As far as the ethanol is concerned, it might displace some Middle Eastern oil, but the ethanol program has turned Mexico from a net importer of corn (for tortillas) into a net exporter of corn (to the ethanol plants.) This week a few of us hosted the chairman of the economics department at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, who alerted us to the policy challenges that presents within his country and between our countries.

20.4.07

HOKIE HOPE.


We dedicate this Friday's post to our colleagues and classmates at Virginia Tech.

19.4.07

EVERYBODY IS A HOKIE ON FRIDAY.


Via King Banaian.
Virginia Tech is asking people to support its students, faculty, administrators, staff, alumni and friends by wearing orange and maroon this Friday. Given the number of colleagues I've worked with over the years that are from that fine institution, count me in, as long as I can find something in those two colors.
Friends of the University of Illinois, the Chicago Bears, the South Shore Line, and the Milwaukee Road ought to be able to do so, easily.

18.4.07

755. 43o 1.821' N Lat., 87o 58.347' W. Long. "Who was Dick Drago, Alex?"
HIGH ACHIEVERS GO TO MORNING CLASSES. Stephen Spruiell at Phi Beta Cons reflects on the Virginia Tech death toll.
One of the saddest things about this event is that the victims all seemed to be among the most accomplished and promising people at Virginia Tech. My wife was particularly distraught when she read about Librescu, who we all know by now know survived the Holocaust and escaped from Communist Romania only to be gunned down in his own classroom. I told her that I guess Librescu had to survive those ordeals so that he could save 10 lives on Monday. What else can one say when confronted with something so seemingly senseless?
Early-morning classes tend to have a higher proportion of "accomplished and promising" students precisely because that's a good time for motivated morning people to complete their schedules. There's accumulating evidence that the shooter viewed his shortcomings as the result of the successes of others: what better time than the 9 am class to take out his frustrations?
QUESTION OF THE DAY. Daniel Drezner:
A few questions to faculty readers out there, however:
1) Have you ever encountered a student you suspected of being capable of violence on [Virginia Tech] scale?
2) What action did you take?
3) What, if anything, could or should universities do to improve security?
Hie thee hence and offer contributions.

16.4.07

VIRGINIA TECH.

We note with great sorrow today's tragedy in Blacksburg.

There will be no commentary on the events or on the commentary on the events until the story is clearer.

Margaret Soltan's University Diaries followed the events as the news broke.

The dean at Anonymous Community notes the vulnerability of campuses.
They're open, they're highly populated, they're lightly patrolled (if at all), and they're full of stressed-out people. In a way, they're almost naive, if it's possible for institutions to be naive. As I've mentioned before, they really aren't built for easy lockdown modes. Most were built before that term was even coined.
APRIL IS THE CRUELEST MONTH. April 16 is not too late in the season for a snowstorm.


April 16, 1961.
William Robertson photo in Eric Bronsky collection
Scanned from North Shore Line: Interurban Freight.

In another ten years, shoppers may be able to ride in this freight train's path as far as Harmswoods, although the stop will be called Old Orchard.

15.4.07

PLAY VALUE. Trains used to run a feature called "Would You Believe It?" where errors from the paint shop would sometimes turn up. Somebody at Weaver Models apparently set up a print pad with OHIO upside down. It's on both sides of the car.


In O Scale, the equipment is robust enough that one can sometimes use a now-illegal prototype practice to move cars and obtain a bit more clearance.


The uncoupling stick is a bit too long and too skinny to be a proper pole, but I suspect all of my switch engines will eventually be equipped with one that looks right, complete with the metal end-bands. Train crews will be advised to not use them too frequently.
PERFORMANCE RATINGS WITH INCOMPLETE COMPARISONS. A Wisconsin State Journal article on Wisconsin's run in the Women's National Invitational Tournament gets off an inaccurate dig at the field.
After all, the tournament determines the nation's 65th-best basketball team, the title can be bought by any school willing to ante up for home games and the crowds are generally limited to family, close friends and a few dedicated fans.
The observation about home-court advantages is accurate in part, with Wisconsin's two losses under the current format coming at Arkansas and at Wyoming. (Wisconsin fans turn out at the Kohl Center in numbers that suggest "few" approximates to "ten to fifteen thousand.") It's also inaccurate to refer to the cartel's tournament as comprising the sixty-four best teams: were that the case the expression "on the bubble" (which applies to teams at risk of being excluded when winners of the conference regular season make unanticipated exits from conference tournaments, requiring the pairing committee to do more work.)

The idea of attempting to construct a unique ranking among teams that sometimes have no opponents in common until they meet in a tournament poses a number of challenges. Subsequent to my griping about the cartel's tournament identifying a champion without requiring the champion to make the equivalent of a grandmaster norm I did some research on the algorithm by which the pairing committee ranks teams for selection to the tournament. There's something called the Ratings Percentage Index, which is pretty simple. The last such indices for 2006, prior to the announcement of tournament pairings, are still available online. For the men, eventual winner Florida ranked sixth, eventual runner-up Ohio State first, with UCLA, North Carolina, Wisconsin, and Pittsburgh between. Eventual Invitational winner West Virginia ranked 57, with Northern Illinois 302. For the women, eventual winner Tennessee ranked first, and eventual runner-up Rutgers ninth, with Duke, North Carolina, Purdue, Connecticut, Vanderbilt, Maryland and Oklahoma between. Invitational winner Wyoming ranked 64, with Wisconsin at 86 and Northern Illinois at 116. There are other ranking methods in use, including one based on the formula for rating chess players. (Do people get paid to run these numbers, or are these hobbyists at work?) The chess method, which is current to the end of the tournament, puts Tennessee 1, Rutgers 5, Bowling Green 15, Wyoming 38, Wisconsin 44, Northern Illinois 102.

In one of the "profound math ideas made practical books" I once read, somebody used a fixed point argument to analyze the relative rankings of sports teams. I don't recall the details of the argument. It appears, however, that relative position can be sensitive to the algorithm being used.
FAILING YOUR MARKET TESTS. The latest trade-union survey of average annual faculty salaries has been released, and Inside Higher Ed presents the salient tables along with a great deal of hand-wringing.
In a new emphasis, the AAUP is drawing attention to the growing gaps between professors in different disciplines. While the trend of paying business and law professors more than those who teach literature and philosophy is nothing new, data released by the association indicate a significant growth in the gaps over the last 20 years. And association leaders want to focus more attention.
Those are the same 20 years over which the rest of the world has noticed literature and philosophy losing sight of intellectual coherence.
The disciplinary gaps are most evident comparing average salaries for assistant professors. The following table uses English language and literature professors as the base and expresses other disciplines’ salaries in comparison. Only other arts and humanities professors earn less, and a few disciplines saw smaller gains — while business professors are now earning twice as much.
Put another way, not all disciplines have industrial reserve armies of underemployed Ph.D.s.

[Research director John W.]Curtis of the AAUP said that the aim in providing this data was not to set some kind of acceptable or unacceptable salary gap among disciplines, but to promote a more open and full discussion of the topic. “The nature of higher education is changing, and has changed — and it’s not the product of any one decision, but the outcome of trends that have been ongoing for decades and that are beginning to show some stark inequalities,” he said.

The large gaps between some fields “raise questions of whether you can speak of faculty members who have a common perspective and a common situation,” he said. Curtis said he worried that those on the high end may be “more concerned about their own careers than the profession.” And while AAUP doesn’t rule out salary differentials by discipline, Curtis said that the association believes that these policies should be set by the faculty — something he does not think is always happening.

Haven't the people on the high end of any salary spectrum, whether it be within a discipline, among disciplines, or among lines of business, always been those with the best outside offers? Is a difference of perspective necessarily a bad thing? Perhaps others who have applied themselves to the task of making their work marketable to others are doing a more effective job of challenging the lowering of standards in higher education by their exit than I have by my voice, and let me assure you, difference of perspective in a curriculum committee is not the road to great popularity.

The reaction of a prominent member of an organization that has contributed much to higher education's poor image amuses.
Rosemary G. Feal, executive director of the Modern Language Association, said she wasn’t surprised by the pay gap, but was worried by it. “I’m someone who thinks the value of a society — and the well-being of its citizenry — is reflected in the value we collectively place on arts and letters. Language and literature study offers students skills that they need to imagine and build a better world, and I think that’s something we should all care about and want to reward and support.” She noted that plenty of English majors end up in medicine or law or business, so those who think they can spend less on such departments may be having an impact on the professions they worry about.
The impact, dear reader, is often in the frustration of a professor in a senior-level course dealing with the poor writing of students, whether converted English majors or otherwise. Perhaps it's time for the Modern Language Association to rethink its oppositional stance.
“We ought to be rewarding those who help us learn the lessons of Shakespeare’s plays just as we reward those who can teach us the lessons of Enron,” [Feal] said.
That is, if there are people teaching Shakespeare. Si quaeris Ward Churchill, circumspice!
And salaries do send messages, Feal said. “The gap in pay worries me because it might discourage those who want to teach language and literature,” she said. “I see some evidence that those who love language and literature and aspire to be college professors are questioning the viability of their vocation. Narrowing the pay gap is a way for colleges and universities to say ‘we value the humanities.’ Market forces are one factor in determining pay, but the value we place on humanistic learning in institutions of higher education should never be subordinated to that factor.”
Restore the trivium and the Canon and then let's talk. But bear in mind that whatever the academy subsidizes, it gets more of. Is an expansion of the reserve army of culture-studies grievance-mongers efficient or fair?

14.4.07

SELF SELECTION. Some people describe the world.
The introduction of Murray Sperber's Beer and Circus: How Big-Time College Sports Has Crippled Undergraduate Education divides students into four basic groups, of which only one, the smallest, being scholarly/intellectual. This group has probably always been the smallest, but has always represented the majority of the professors, with a few exceptions like Party Girl. Professors are almost set up to feel a certain disdain for their students, as the other categories are not especially attractive, as they consist chiefly of social butterflies, vocational drudgers, and slackers.
College faculty are self-selected from a different subset of the population than the great mass of students. Big deal. That's true of accountants and engineers and model railroaders and golfers and patternmakers. (I hesitate to labor the obvious: why go into a line of work that requires you to interact with a variety of curious, in all the senses of the word, young people? Get to know them as people. They'll surprise you.)

Does it have to be the case that college faculty also self-select for pusillanimity? What is the point of enjoying all the protections of tenure if the best one can do is post anonymous whinges at Rate Your Students?

So why not get involved and change things?
As a result, the general intelligence of students probably is at least somewhat lower than it was, say, 50 years ago, but more importantly, the outstanding students are simply swamped by the masses.
Why? Have your faculty councils and department chairmen acquiesced in a dilution of admission standards that somebody has sugar coated as access? Clearly, the policy isn't working. Say so. Change it.
Numerically speaking, the outstanding students are still probably around, even if they don't seem as prevalent because there are so many of those "other" students professors don't much like—the ones not in Sperber's category of intellectuals.
Did that happen by accident? Who consented to offering retakes of high school, sometimes for college credit, and defended it as remediation? What incentives were your faculty councils, department chairmen, deans, and provosts, responding to when they proliferated content-free courses and majors and explained that such offerings boosted retention? Don't go along. Speak up.

Are you complicit by your silence in the fraud? When the proliferation of image consultants, failed scholars, schmoozers and hack politicians engages in an orgy of self-congratulation and praise and refers to it as a favorable assessment, where are you? Posting anonymous whinges? Call "nonsense" and name names.
YOU DON'T SAY. Iran may be helping Iraqis build bombs.
Commanders of a splinter group inside the Shiite Mahdi Army militia have told The Associated Press that there are as many as 4,000 members of their organization that were trained in Iran and that they have stockpiles of EFPs, a weapon that causes great uneasiness among U.S. forces here because they penetrate heavily armored vehicles.