27.6.07

MARKING OFF. Work on this.


Last year at about this time, I promised some details on a Sudoko-generating algorithm. This puzzle is the third application of the algorithm. The fourth estate has discovered mathematicians applying some serious number theory to the Sudoko, including others working on algorithms.

Many have written their own Sudoku puzzle generators and solvers. Jonathan Kane, a professor of mathematics and computer science at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, wrote a program to generate and solve puzzles of one of six degrees of difficulty. His program uses logic rules and guessing to create a puzzle and then rates the puzzle based on the difficulty of the logic rules needed to solve it and on the number of guesses required.

Laura Taalman, associate professor of mathematics at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Va., has written a computer program with her husband, Phil Riley, to generate Sudoku puzzles. Their puzzles often incorporate some variation in the grid as well as symmetry of the clues. To rate a puzzle, the computer plays the puzzle a thousand times in different ways, and then a difficulty rating is assigned based on the average time it takes the computer to solve the puzzle.

My own puzzle-generating algorithm is much simpler. In working on it, however, I've begun to wonder whether there aren't puzzles out there that are simply mappings of other puzzles. That is, given a pattern of clues and a pattern of numbers, aren't there other puzzles with the same pattern of clues that simply change the values of the numbers.

I'm also intrigued by this.

They still aren't sure, though, about the minimum number of clues needed to guarantee a puzzle will have only one solution. More than 40,000 mathematically distinct Sudoku puzzles with 17 initial clues have been found, but not a single one with 16 or fewer clues is known to exist.

Gordon Royle, associate professor of computer science at the University of Western Australia, has been collecting these 17-clue puzzles since 2005. Royle and other Sudoku enthusiasts have written computer programs to generate Sudoku puzzles in search of the elusive 16-clue puzzle that has just one solution.

Just for fun, I'm tempted to create a 16-clue puzzle and invite readers to find "cooks" (chess-problem language for more than one solution) to it.
PLAYING FOR LOWER STAKES. In a mystery, sometimes the plot involves an investigator discovering an event in common that identifies an individual or conspiracy bent on concealing an evil. Robert Harris's Fatherland involves one such conspiracy (a Third Reich that obtains a truce in World War II intends not to have detente with the United States ruined) and there are any number of quasi-factual books on the Kennedy assassinations purporting to make such identifications. Martin Cruz Smith's Stalin's Ghost, the latest in a series featuring a Moscow gumshoe who has been through the stagnation, perestroika, Chernobyl, and the oligarchiks now put out to pasture to investigate supposed crazies who see Stalin haunting the Metro station near his wartime bunker. (Dictators and tunnels.) Some political consultants from the States are on hand to help a coalition of disaffected Chechen war veterans and Communist hangers-on develop a political movement. And yes, the gumshoe's investigation becomes a quest for serial killers. It seems churlish to put spoilers into a review of a mystery. I'll note for Book Review No. 1920 that some of the plot development borders on the implausible, and the evil being concealed does not rise to the level of a President murdered or of a genocide, which the political consultants, who end up playing a relatively minor role, would no doubt spin as "ethnic cleansing," particularly if it involves Polish counterrevolutionaries.
SHRIMP WILL LEARN TO WHISTLE BEETHOVEN. Milwaukee musicologist Tom Strini does not see an ETTS(*) moment in WFMR's change of format.

As this newspaper's classical music critic, that's my cue to lament the passing of a noble art and rage against crass commercialism, abdication of public responsibility and the dumbing-down of American and Milwaukee culture. So I hereby send out a clarion call to all who would uphold the lofty standards that are everywhere under siege. Rise up! Demand that. . . .

Oh, never mind. The truth is, I can't work up much enthusiasm for the task.

I have a confession to make. Like most people in greater Milwaukee, I almost never listened to WFMR. Why would I? Over-the-air radio is the fifth-best way to get at the music, after live performance, the personal CD collection, online musical archives, Internet and satellite radio and download services (iTunes and the like). Broadcast classical radio is dying for some very good reasons, and in markets much larger than ours. It's a miracle it hung on as long as it did in Milwaukee.

The only conceivable use for it has to do with discovery. I can imagine classical music radio with charismatic, knowledgeable on-air personalities who are fun to be around (as opposed to industry-standard soporific and mellifluous). I can imagine classical radio that seeks out the most articulate composers and performers and gets their voices on the air. I can imagine classical radio focused primarily on music being made here and now, with an emphasis on the excitement of live performance. Of course, this would be labor-intensive, talent-intensive and expensive to the point of requiring subsidy. Which is why WFMR didn't do it.

He writes, of course, of the lugubrious format of National Public Radio, and I'm not referring to their news and opinion pieces. Those were imitated to disadvantage by Air America.

"Articulate composers and performers?" Sure, a few are around, but have you heard what often passes for compositions to win tenure or to qualify for a National Endowment welfare check grant? It's about what you'd expect. Beethoven drunk or Shostakovich in Comrade Stalin's dacha are better. The old 96.5 WFMR was also better. Their morning drive-time show was lively and fun, and it signed on with Carl Orff's Gassenhauer (my sister characterized it as playing music on turtle shells, which is not far off). If, in its final incarnation, the morning show resembled Morning Edition, Milwaukee listeners wouldn't have to hit the snooze button.
A CYNIC'S GRAVITY LAW. "The likelihood of a marriage failing increases in proportion to the gaudiness of the wedding." Via Newmark's Door, an investigation of the wedding-consulting industry (or is it a sector of the household services industry?) offers anecdotal confirmation, not drawn from the outlier set of celebrities and royalty.
Who got the better of my friend's deal I do not know, as it seemed impolite to ask, but he hinted that even his daughter's relatively modest wedding cost more than the $30,000 buyout he'd offered her. Inasmuch as the marriage didn't last much longer than the wedding itself, it certainly seems to have been money down the drain. But it was very much an American wedding of our day, replete with that once-in-a-lifetime bridal dress, bridesmaids fetchingly fitted out, gifts for attendants of both sexes, an elegant luncheon and, of course, champagne -- and, at the end, a nice fat pack of bills for dear old Dad.
There's a more serious point when the positional arms race comes up.
"If a bride has been told, repeatedly, that it costs nearly $28,000 to have a wedding, then she starts to think that spending nearly $28,000 on a wedding is just one of those things a person has to do, like writing a rent check every month or paying health insurance premiums. (Or she prides herself on being a budget bride and spending a mere $15,000 on the event.) She is less likely to reflect upon the fact that $28,000 would have more than covered a 10 percent down payment on the median purchase price of a house in 2005 and would cover the average cost to a family of a health insurance policy, at 2005 rates, for a decade. The bride who has been persuaded that $28,000 is a reasonable amount of money to spend on her wedding day is less likely to measure that total against the nation's median household income -- $42,389 in 2004 -- and reflect upon whether it is, in fact, reasonable for her or for anyone to spend the equivalent of seven and a half months of the average American's salary on one day's celebration."
It's not as if spending $28K on a wedding is the same kind of insurance as dropping $200K on college to reduce the risk of exposure to Rate Your Students fodder on the seven year access-assessment-remediation-retention track.
QUOTE OF THE DAY.
"I think he was trying to throw a high fastball and get me to chase," [Milwaukee Brewer catcher Johnny] Estrada said. "With two strikes, I just tried to shorten up my stroke and put the ball in play. I don't hit homers when I try to hit homers. It's always by accident."
This accident occurred with three on.
BEST OF FIVE. Alinghi had the slightly better start and protected herself all the way around the course. New Zealand did offer battle upwind and downwind. The racing this weekend promises great drama. Cup ownership might not be settled until Sunday.

Valencia Sailing has posted a gallery of yesterday's race, including details of New Zealand's spinnaker snarl.

26.6.07

YOU CAN PAY TO TAKE A RE-RIDE. The Astroland Cyclone at Coney Island, endorsed by Charles Lindbergh and by me, has thrilled riders for 80 years. It's relatively easy to ride no-hands in the front seat. The rear seat is another matter.
COMPLICIT IN UNDOING OTHERS. I have to keep on posting on the way poor life management skills screw up peoples' lives because I keep running into instructive case studies, such as background on accused double-murderer Bobby Cutts. We're way beyond the plot complications that usually get cleaned up on daytime television, or even the there-but-for-the-grace disputes that enlighten Jerry Springer's audience.

Cutts' stepmother, Barbara Cutts, on Monday called her stepson a generous man who was good with kids and coached youth soccer, basketball and football. She said she and Cutts' father last saw him Saturday at his house in Plain Township outside North Canton, where he appeared drained and exhausted.

"It's very hard to accept," said Barbara Cutts, 46, a nurse's aide. "A lot of people are looking at him like a bad person, but he's not, he really isn't."

Perhaps Ms Cutts can be allowed her opinion, as the practice of serial enabling is ruining the lives of people with much more visibility than a Canton cop.

Because no one close to [St. Louis relief pitcher] Josh [Hancock] took advantage of any of the warning signs of alcohol abuse. Not only did he nearly miss a game at the beginning of the season after failing to answer nearly a dozen calls from the St. Louis Cardinals which Josh Hancock blamed on “oversleeping,” but according to the St. Louis Dispatch, the reason that Josh was driving the rental the night he died is because he had wrecked his GMC Denali earlier that week in another likely drunken accident.

Why didn’t the enablers around him take action and why have they now sought to place blame for this tragedy on a host of bystanders – i.e. the restaurant, towing company and the owner of the stalled car. Josh Hancock’s tragic death is only compounded by affixing blame on everyone but Josh and his family.

We may never know exactly why Kathy Hilton prefers to blame the system as unfair “after all the money we spent” on Paris Hilton’s drunk driving case or why Michael Lohan would prefer to urge his ex-wife to seek drug counseling in the wake of their daughter Lindsay Lohan’s recent arrest instead of taking responsibility directly . But it is increasingly clear that too many of the glitterati and their hangers on refuse to be accountable for their actions. And it’s also true that too many members of the legal community gladly aid them.

Isn’t it time we told the glitterati to grow up?

Particularly as irresponsible behavior trickles down much more dependably than jobs or investments do. Consider the enablers of the accused murderer.

Cutts has had several children with several different women.

His oldest daughter, Taylor, was born out of wedlock to a girlfriend in 1997.

That girlfriend made an appearance on Hannity and Colmes Monday night, predictably just before the Paris Hilton segment.

COLMES: How did you, I mean, how long were you in the relationship?

GIAVASIS: Four months.

COLMES: And you decided to end the relationship. Was it because of this kind of behavior?

GIAVASIS: Yes, he was very jealous and possessive and controlling. And he was also a womanizer back then. I found out he was cheating on me with a girl that was in high school.

Mr Hannity continues the interview in a similar vein. The segment does justice to a gripe by Chicago Sun-Times columnist Mary Mitchell.
But [Jessie] Davis' disappearance was national news, and there wasn't a peep out of the loud-mouthed conservatives who usually get worked up over single motherhood.
Indeed not. Good gracious, what was Ms. Giavasis thinking? She dumps the guy after four months, by which time she has already made a baby with him, and she's still embroiled in a custody dispute with him. Sure, Mr Cutts appears to be a piece of work. But we're not doing a series on parthenogenesis here.

A younger daughter, Breonna, was born to another woman in 2001, shortly before Cutts married her.

His son, 2-year-old Blake, was born to Davis while Cutts was separated from his wife. Relatives say Cutts and Davis were due to have another daughter, Chloe, early next month.

Last night's broadcast also reported that Ms. Davis's mother Patricia Porter stood and stared down the two people accused of killing her daughter. But again, did she have to take that very difficult stand because she opted not to take a less difficult stand when her daughter said she was pregnant. "Does the father intend to marry you?"

"He has to divorce his wife first."

Accidents are accidental, and they can be prevented. To speak, though, of growing inequality of condition in the United States without considering growing inequality of self-discipline is to speak incompletely.
YOU HAVE TO GET THE BOAT BACK UP. Will there be a Wildcat Sailing Team?

Now, just a few days shy of his 16th birthday, [Brian] Guilbert has learned enough about the science of sailing to be entrusted with passing on his nautical knowledge to other youths who otherwise might never have the chance to literally set sail.

Satisfaction comes from seeing his students enjoy themselves and apply what they've learned.

"I like to see when kids smile when we're sailing," said Guilbert, who will be a junior in the fall at Hamilton High School. "I know that they're learning and having fun."

The other day, Guilbert led a crew of three youths who used words such as awesome and exciting to describe their experience while operating a light-blue and white Ensign sailboat called the Liberty.

He's doing his part to make the case that sailing isn't just about standing in a cold shower tearing up $100 bills, the perception many have about the sport.

Cliff Vogl, a Milwaukee teacher who also works as an instructor at the sailing center, says Guilbert's experience - and the experience of the kids he is teaching to sail - is about creating opportunities that will likely translate into other life successes.

"If they can master something like this, what's next?" Vogl asked. "They learn that they can do something outside of their realm."

Guilbert has learned that many lessons from sailing apply to other areas of life. There are lessons of overcoming fear, the importance of mastery and of staying or getting back on course. There are lessons to be learned even when a boat capsizes.

"It's just a part of sailing," Guilbert says. "You have to get the boat back up."

Or, at the highest level, unjam the spinnaker and sail the best race you can.
WHERE THE CLASSICS NO LONGER ARE. Milwaukee's WFMR, 106.9 FM, plays its final cadence.

It's part of a chain reaction that started with WKTI-FM (94.5) dumping its morning show to target younger listeners, which led WJZI-FM (93.3) to drop smooth jazz to target disenfranchised WKTI listeners.

Now it's WFMR's turn. General manager Tom Joerres explains that the switch came because of the "opportunity" presented by WJZI's format flip.

"We gave it a 10-year run," says Joerres of the classical music format, a rarity for commercial stations. "The average audience on 'FMR is 60-plus."

Some ETTS(*) moments are longer in coming than others. Radio programmers have long coveted WFMR's frequency for use in something other than orchestral music. I remember attempts when I was at university in the mid-1970s, at which time the goal was to create yet another rock station, and another one shortly before I left Wisconsin for Wayne State. At that time the station was on 96.5, and sometime in the mid-1980s that station ceased operating, with a new WFMR moving to the 106.9

Although Milwaukee listeners no longer have classical radio, closer to the Cheddar Curtain classical programming is available on WNIU. The 90.5 can be picked up from about Zenda west to about Monroe.
HURRY UP AND WAIT. I don't intend to live-blog the non-American America's Cup coverage. (Last attempt here, when the race ended very quickly.) I am taking this opportunity, however, to offer a few perspectives on the postponement race 3 is currently enduring. I have dealt with postponements both as a racer and as a race officer. They are frustrating for everybody. But -- as with rain delays in baseball and thunderstorm delays in space shots -- they are a necessary evil. Come summertime, the doldrums seem to metastasize to cover the entire northern hemisphere, and they have an evil propensity to show up just as regatta season is upon us. The race committee has to ensure a fair race, which is a bit difficult to do when the only wind is thermals. As I prepare to hit the "publish" button I'm hearing the principal race officer announce a start sequence at literally the last minute -- if the start is postponed more than 90 minutes, there is no racing for the day. The wind is still flukey. Expect course changes at each mark, and prepare for the race to time out if neither boat makes the top mark in 40 minutes.

SECOND SECTION: That would have been a painful race to live-blog. New Zealand demonstrated that one can compensate for a bad start by sailing toward the next shift and it opened up a large lead on Switzerland upwind. I've been way behind like that, and on occasion I've lucked into a favorable shift. The first time it happened I didn't recognize what was going on ... got better after that. New Zealand then gave most of it away at the gate, electing to make two gybes inside the two boatlength circle (no right of way rules applied) and ending up with the spinnaker entangled in the drum. That hasn't happened to me, because neither the M scow nor the Laser have a spinnaker. But it can be rather painful. The Swiss were able to catch up going upwind whilst New Zealand were dealing with the hardware problems, but New Zealand had one more trick in hand to capture the lead downwind and go up 2-1 with another race Wednesday. Valencia Sailing has yet to post today's gallery.

25.6.07

ELECTRICITY KEEPING ITS OWN BOOKS. Years ago, electrified railroads used regenerative braking both to keep trains in control downhill and to reduce their power bill. The technology was state-of the art before the bi-polars hailed by a Milwaukee Road publicist with the phrase I employed in the title. Early electric locomotives had simple motors that could easily be turned into generators. Contemporary electric locomotive practice makes use of a number of solid-state tricks that would no doubt have fascinated Nikola Tesla to achieve the same effect. Word has reached Cold Spring Shops of the application of regenerative braking to diesels.
Bearing road number 2010, the 4,400 horsepower Evolution® Hybrid diesel-electric prototype will feature a series of innovative batteries that will capture and store energy dissipated during dynamic braking. The energy stored in the batteries will reduce fuel consumption and emissions by as much as 10 percent compared to most of the freight locomotives in use today. (In addition to reduced emissions, a hybrid will operate more efficiently in higher altitudes and up steep inclines.)
(Are the batteries being used to augment the power available from the diesel-alternator powerplant uphill?)

I enjoy the adaptation of ideas from the early days of railroading to more clever technology. Years ago, and also motivated by environmental awareness, freight railroads purchased tri-Power locomotives that could run on batteries, overhead catenary or third rail, and use a diesel-generator power plant to haul cars or to recharge the batteries. Those were probably used in too slow a service for anyone to consider using regenerative braking to recharge the batteries, although that was feasible with the control circuitry of the day. (Submarines had that capability. We have U-505 in Chicago today because the Navy team that captured it used the freewheeling propellors to spin the motors and recharge the batteries while it was in tow.)

Destination:Freedom notes the introduction of the hybrid dual-power diesel as well as an upcoming test of the same technology on a British InterCity 125 rake. They also engage in some wishful thinking.

[National Corridors] welcomes GE’s latest contribution to reducing fuel consumption of diesel locomotives, however [it] believes a better long-term approach for recapturing braking energy in various rail vehicles in order to reduce energy consumption and exhaust emissions might be to introduce railroad electrification on a broad scale.

Electrification of main rail corridors would utilize existing off-the-shelf railway electrification technology and hardware, instead of relying on development certainly expensive and possibly hazardous high energy battery storage systems for the nation’s many thousands of diesel locomotives.

Railway electrification provides for nearly unlimited regenerative braking in modern electric powered locomotives and EMU railcars with the same or superior ability to recapture braking energy as diesel-hybrid locomotives. Electrification also enables railroads to power their fleets with other energy sources instead of just green house gas producing diesel fuel typically made from expensive foreign oil.

So we burn neutrons and Powder River coal instead, and somebody has to pony up for the catenary. Diesel fuel prices are not yet high enough for anyone to seriously look at that prospect, although the idea of some musical thyristor-controlled motors with the authority of a Great Northern W-1 topping the Cascades and keeping electricity's books downhill with 125 stack cars on appeals.
IF WE CAN LAND A MAN ON THE MOON. Once upon a time, those words prefaced all manner of Utopian Wonkery(TM), usually predicated on a hope that some "fundamental reordering of priorities" (yes, people did use expressions like that) might produce a better world. The person using that preface was often guilty of conflating what is, after all, a straightforward optimal control problem with something a bit more difficult. How things change in forty years. Charlie Sykes found a Mark Steyn column with this observation.
The illegal immigration question is an interesting test of government in action, at least when it comes to core responsibilities like defense of the nation. When critics of this "comprehensive" immigration bill demand enforcement of the borders, the administration says: Boy, you're right there! We're with you on that! We want enforcement, too. But we can't get it as long as you're holding up this "comprehensive reform."
Why not? There are immigration laws on the books right now, aren't there? Why not try enforcing them? The same people who say that government is a mighty power for good that can extinguish every cigarette butt and detoxify every cheeseburger and even change the very climate of the planet back to some Edenic state so that the water that falleth from heaven will land as ice and snow, and polar bears on distant continents will frolic as they did in days of yore, the very same people say: Building a border fence? Enforcing deportation orders? Can't be done, old boy. Pie-in-the-sky.
I'm not as quick to question the immigration reform bill as Mr Steyn appears to be, but I note that the border fence, at least, could be repackaged as "If we can land a man on the moon, we can build a border fence." That one works. Both are engineering problems, and the latter requires no optimal control theory. The full column is a meditation on the difficulties of using the power of government as a corrective to what the Welfare Economics Paradigm refers to as market failures. Taken in that spirit, however, the concluding paragraph rings a bit hollow.
Poor children are the children of poor grown-ups. If the state assumes responsibility for those children from their parents, what kind of adults are you likely to end up with? And if you can't trust free-born citizens to reach their own judgments on cheeseburgers, what can you trust them with?
Perhaps socializing the young into the Habits of Highly Effective People is a bit harder than setting up a moon shot, or building a fence.
ON SOCIALIZATION. The latest round of "education-as-human-capital" battling "education-as-signal" at Econ Log refers to a marvelous quote by Marginal Revolution's Tyler Cowen.

Men are born beasts. But education gives you a peer group, a self-image, and some skills as well. Getting an education is like becoming a Marine. Men need to be made into Marines. By choosing many years of education, you are telling yourself that you stand on one side of the social divide. The education itself drums that truth into you.

Similarly, if you become a Mormon or a Protestant in Central America, your life prospects go up. It is not that Mormons have learned so much more, but rather they have a different sense of self. They have a positive self-image about their destiny in life and choose a different set of peers. They also choose not to drink.

The beasts model differs from classic signaling theory. If education is pure signaling, just give everyone a standardized test in seventh grade and then close up the schools. But the process of self-image formation, at least for most people, is far from complete at that point.

That being said, education will look like what the signaling model predicts. It will be about subtle brainwashing, image, and learning markers of status. What the signaling model misses is how important those features are for your subsequent productivity.

To some extent, the debate verges on rivet-counting. In order for a signal to produce an efficient separating equilibrium, it has to be costly enough to acquire to induce self-selection. Somewhere, doesn't that cost cross the line into a capital cost? The Habits of Highly Effective People take time to acquire. Correct display of their use is sending a signal. What's the disagreement about?

RUNNING EXTRA. Professor Munger puts it more succinctly.
Education is the lubricant for social intercourse.
Quite.
TAKING PUBLIC HEALTH SERIOUSLY. Michael Yon reports on the latest student affairs policy at Antioch College strict construction of Shari'a law.

Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) had tarnished its name here by publicly attacking and murdering children, videotaping beheadings, all while imposing harsh punishments on Iraqi civilians found guilty of violating morality laws prohibiting activities like smoking. The AQI installed Sharia court had sanctioned the amputation of the two “smoking fingers” for those who violated anti-smoking laws. In part because local sentiment was shifting against it, AQI synthesized with other groups and undertook an image makeover, christening itself “The Islamic State of Iraq.” But the new name was just lipstick on a pig here.

On the evening of the 24th I spoke with a local Iraqi official, Colonel Faik, who said the Muftis would order the severance of the two fingers used to hold a cigarette for any Iraqis caught smoking. Other reports, from here in Diyala and also in Anbar, allege that smokers are murdered by AQI. Most Iraqis smoke and this particular prohibition appeared to have earned the ire of many locals. After an American unit cleared an apartment complex on the 23rd, LTC Smiley, the battalion commander, reported that residents didn’t ask for food and water, but cigarettes. In other parts of Baqubah, people have been celebrating the routing of AQI by lighting up and smoking cigarettes.

Other AQI edicts included beatings for men who refused to grow beards, and corporal punishments for obscene sexual suggestiveness, defined by such “loose” behavior as carrying tomatoes and cucumbers in the same bag. These fatwas were not eagerly embraced by most Iraqis, and the taint traveled back to the Muftis who sat in supreme
judgment.

He goes on to note that al-Qaeda like to play with power tools.
Locals also directed Townsend’s men to a torture house. Peering through a window, American soldiers saw knives, swords, bindings and drills. AQI is well-known for its macabre eagerness to drill into kneecaps, elbows, ribs, skulls, and other parts of victims.
Perhaps it's a good thing the identity-politics crazies on most campuses can't carry water for a patternmaker. No "sexual suggestiveness," no smoking, zero-tolerance, humorlessness. The conclusion is left to the reader as an exercise.
WHY NOT PLANT SOME TREES? At University Diaries, another ETTS(*) moment sighted at the New York Times.
UD has already noted on this blog occasional lapses of news-sense on the part of her beloved newspaper, moments when this impressively international publication loses the bigger picture and betrays a certain parochialism. Here's an example.
She goes on to lament the occasional obsession of the Times (it's nothing new: do they ever feature Astoria weddings in the style section?) with the things that make being rich difficult, such as more frequent collisions of golf balls with course-side house windows.
Look what people right here in this country are going through! And this woman did everything right -- she feng shuied for Chrissake! And the havoc! Dented cars!
There is, however, a teachable law and economics moment in the article, which Skip Sauer of The Sports Economist picks up.
First, for houses that have been "moved closer" to the tee box by technical advances in equipment, the assumption of liability seems a bit harsh. Let the golfers there play with "real" woods and steel shafts! Second, from a transactions cost perspective, I can't see how the golfers themselves could be held responsible. It's up to the golf course owner and the homeowners to come to some agreement on tee box location, equipment, etc., that minimizes the damage to property while maintaining the value of the course as a commercial enterprise.
Perhaps, as I suggested in the title, by strategically placing some trees on the hooking or slicing angles. A course will have a hard time enforcing prohibitions on high-tech golf equipment. Are there sufficient unemployed airport baggage screeners to spot those not-allowed-on-the-pro-tour but permissible for social play clubs? For that matter, is the technology the sole problem? Presumably, some social players have studied Tiger Woods's exercise regimen and they can hit the ball further even with conventional equipment.

(An aside on the high-tech: a recent invitation to a golf outing noted that the entry fee included use of a GPS-equipped golf cart. What's up with that? Is there also a hand-held triangulation device that suggests the optimal club for the distance from where the cart is to the hole?)
WE'D PREFER TO CHOOSE THE MIDDLEMAN. A buoyant stock market can provide resources for charitable giving, and much of the middle class participates.

Giving historically tracks the health of the overall economy, with the rise amounting to about one-third the rise in the stock market, according to Giving USA. Last year was right on target, with a 3.2 percent rise as stocks rose more than 10 percent on an inflation-adjusted basis.

"What people find especially interesting about this, and it's true year after year, that such a high percentage comes from individual donors," Giving USA Chairman Richard Jolly said.

Individuals gave a combined 75.6 percent of the total. With bequests, that rises to 83.4 percent.

The biggest chunk of the donations, $96.82 billion or 32.8 percent, went to religious organizations. The second largest slice, $40.98 billion or 13.9 percent, went to education, including gifts to colleges, universities and libraries.

About 65 percent of households with incomes less than $100,000 give to charity, the report showed.

The article suggests "it takes a village" does not equate to "let the village elders supervise the giving."

"It tells you something about American culture that is unlike any other country," said Claire Gaudiani, a professor at NYU's Heyman Center for Philanthropy and author of "The Greater Good: How Philanthropy Drives the American Economy and Can Save Capitalism." Gaudiani said the willingness of Americans to give cuts across income levels, and their investments go to developing ideas, inventions and people to the benefit of the overall economy.

Gaudiani said Americans give twice as much as the next most charitable country, according to a November 2006 comparison done by the Charities Aid Foundation. In philanthropic giving as a percentage of gross domestic product, the U.S. ranked first at 1.7 percent. No. 2 Britain gave 0.73 percent, while France, with a 0.14 percent rate, trailed such countries as South Africa, Singapore, Turkey and Germany.

How much church tax or university tax do the French pay?
THE TRAILING SPOUSE SCAM HURTS THE ACADEMY. An editorial in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel commends elected officials in Burlington, Wisconsin, for strengthening a nepotism policy.

City Administrator David Torgler defended his hiring of [Mayor Claud Lois's daughter] Bridget Lois, saying she has been doing a good job and that the mayor had no influence in the decision. Others aren't so sure: A union representative for city workers said many employees feel Bridget Lois is unqualified and was hired because her father is mayor.

That's the problem with hiring relatives. No matter how qualified the person is, there will always be a suspicion that he or she got the job because of the family relationship. Ald. Katie Simenson wants to create a nepotism rule that would apply to close relatives, including parents, children, siblings, first cousins, aunts and uncles of city officials. We're not sure that we'd include all those folks - and the bottom line should always be to hire the most qualified person - but it's to Simenson's credit that Burlington is talking about this.

The quotation from the union representative is priceless: how many sons of construction workers or railroaders hired out on construction or the railroad precisely because Dad was in good with the committeeman? Moreover, as the (vacationing this week) dean at Anonymous Community notes,
The Snooty Liberal Arts College I attended, which was located about two miles west of nowhere, had a de facto policy of hiring couples, since it was the only way to get good young faculty to stay out there in the sticks. But that's the exception. In most of academia, and especially in the evergreen disciplines, there's such a labor surplus that any sort of favoritism invites litigation.
He goes on to note that the pro-nepotism policy is fraught with a number of pitfalls, most of which involve some combination of the couple calling it quits and the hiring department going into civil disorder.

24.6.07

SAIL TOWARD THE EXPECTED SHIFT. This morning, my perusal of the on-TV program guide alerted me to something called Versus TV which was covering, of all things, the America's Cup racing. The defender is supposedly a Swiss team, racing in Spanish waters, with an English-speaking afterguard. The challenger is a New Zealand team sponsored by a Gulf States air carrier. Some things, however, big money and racing-rules fiddles cannot change. Case in point: the leading boat still must cover properly, and it must handle the elements correctly. The Swiss boat was leading the race the second time down, although it gave the New Zealand boat an opportunity to split tacks at the leeward gate. The New Zealanders identified stronger winds to the left, sailed toward it, then tacked on the knock. The Swiss, still leading, opted to tack under New Zealand in order to lee-bow them and force some time-losing additional tacks. There's a relatively simple counter to this, which is for the port tack boat to lay off and foot. Once the starboard tacker commits to the lee-bow, port hardens up, thereby overcoming the lee-bow effect, and holding the inside of the shift as well. It's rare for the leading boat to allow such a pass to take place in competition at that level.

There's a well-illustrated weblog covering the races, although it doesn't appear to be live-blogging. (Is such technology available offshore? Years ago, I took a small laptop to sea for the final race of the 1992 defense, and made notes as the race progressed, but these had to be uploaded to a discussion list later on.)

Races 3 and 4, television coverage begins at 7.30 am Central on Tuesday and Wednesday.
LET THE KIDS BE KIDS. A veteran Laser sailor discovers a waterborne plague of helicopter parents, sometimes paid surrogates.

It seems to me that at every major Laser regatta these days the race course is infested with Mommy Boats. Little and big motor boats buzzing in and out of the fleet of Lasers between every race, swarming around the course area during the race.

To be fair it's more often Daddy than Mommy driving the Mommy Boat. Daddy likes to drive the Mommy Boat, especially if it has twin 60hp engines. And even more common it's not Daddy or Mommy driving the Mommy boat, it's a guy (or gal) who goes by the name of Coach who is paid by Mommy and Daddy to drive the Mommy Boat. He gets paid even more if he has a New Zealand accent.

He offers a modest proposal.
I say ban the Mommy Boats. Let's get back to the good old days when the only motor boats on the course were race committee and safety boats. I'm going to start a movement. Dads Against Mommy Boats. DAMB. Sign up here.

22.6.07

MEMORY LANE. It's Kenner. It's fun. And girder and panel construction sets are back.
WE LOSE MORE FREIGHT THAN THEY HAUL. That title is inspired by a snark a Pennsylvania Railroad crewman had about the Baltimore and Ohio. It seems like a logical way to expand on a David Foster post of a few months ago that lays some smack on a questionable comparison.

In 2005, Americans spent about $10 billion on women’s intimate apparel. During the period 2001-2006, China spent $4 billion building the 710-mile rail line from Golmud to Lhasa.
Please.

There are four major U.S. railroads: CSX, Norfolk Southern, Burlington Northern, and Union Pacific. These are all public companies, and from the cash flow statements (last 4 quarters) a total capital expenditure of about $7 billion may be derived. This is for a single year, whereas the Tibetan railway capex extended over a period of 5 years. (The US numbers include locomotives and cars as well as track improvements; I’m not sure exactly what is encompassed in the Chinese number.) And there are indeed some substantial capital projects being undertaken by US rails–read here about main line double-tracking being carried out by both BNI and UNP.

There are certainly reasons to be concerned about the level of infrastructure investment in the U.S., including railroad infrastructure. I think substantial additional investments will be needed in order to cope with expanded rail traffic, which is being driven by many factors (one example here.) But the numbers suggest that rail investment in America is, at the present time, by no means insignificant.

The latest projected capital spending figures suggest the railroads could buy a lot of scanties.

"The nation's major freight railroads invested a record $8.6 billion in 2006 and will break that record in 2007 with a $9.4 billion investment," Edward R. Hamberger, president and CEO of the Association of American Railroads, said in a prepared statement submitted to the STB. Capital spending has risen almost 60 percent over just the last four years. "The massive investments railroads must make in their systems are a reflection of the extreme capital intensity of railroads," he added.

Over the past 10 years, railroads have spent an average of 17.2 percent of revenues on capital expenditures, compared with an average of 3.4 percent for manufacturing, putting railroads at or near the top among all U.S. industries in terms of capital intensity.

The problem the railroads face is attracting sufficient capital to provide the capacity the shippers would like to use.

I suspect that Burlington (to use the archaic locution) spent more on big GEs for its system than China Rail spent on big GEs to run at those high elevations. First, background on the new Chinese line to Lhasa.
The new portion of the 1,220-mile route from Beijing to the Tibetan capital of Lhasa is indeed the highest in the world. Riding the new 710-mile section. from Xining, capital of Qinghjai province, southwest toward Lhasa, takes one through 16,500-foot-elevation passes at speeds up to 60 mph.
It is quite an engineering accomplishment, although one wonders whether any critics of the occupation of Tibet are free in China to contemplate the imperialist significance of the project. Western readers labor under no such constraints.
Tibetans loyal to the exiled Dalai Lama and other critics say the $4.2 billion railway is part of a campaign by Beijing to crush Tibetan culture by encouraging an influx of Han Chinese, China's majority ethnic group. Plus, environmental groups worry about the railway's impact on the Tibetan highlands.
The project, in a small way, contributed to reducing the current account deficit the U.S. runs with China.
Diesel-electric locomotives built by General Electric - an order for 78 units designated C38AC-he and rated at 4,000 h.p. each - power the trains in multiple sets of three or four.
I suspect that refers only to the power assigned to the most mountainous part of the line. Unless it's very lightly trafficked, a 700 mile railroad will use more than 78 diesels.

Next, comparison. The Trains Top Railroad Story of 2006 is improvements on the BNSF Transcontinental.
Throughout the year, BNSF continued work on double-tracking its "franchise" Chicago-Los Angeles route, known as "the Transcon," the former Santa Fe main line. It's the shortest route between the busy southern California ports and Chicago. Not only is BNSF working to double-track the last few single-track bottlenecks, between Kansas and New Mexico, it is planning ahead and acquiring land to triple-track much of the line, and already is moving to add a third track over California's Cajon Pass. BNSF is one of the few railroads taking a long-term approach to being ready for more traffic when it comes.
That's considerably more than 710 miles of track being expanded. It's also not the only expansion of capacity in the Southwest.

Union Pacific says its multi-year project to double-track the busy 760-mile Sunset Route between West Colton, Calif., and El Paso, Texas, reached the halfway mark at the end of 2006. Predecessor Southern Pacific began the project, which UP continued after the 1996 merger. Early work extended from the Port of Long Beach to Garnett, Calif., and most of the line from Tucson to El Paso now is double track. The line sees an average of 50 trains per day.

Work has accelerated in the last two and a half years, with 136 miles of new concrete-tie track constructed adjacent to the existing main line between Strauss and Mondel, N.M. More than 15 new control points have been installed, and 22 setout tracks have been added.

Yesterday, word reached Cold Spring Shops of a major locomotive purchase by CNR.

CN announced today it will acquire 65 new locomotives in 2007 and 2008, in addition to 65 locomotives already on order for delivery this year. The latest orders are for 40 ES44DCs from General Electric and 25 SD70M-2s from Electro-Motive Diesel Inc. The GE units will be delivered between December 2007 and February 2008, with the EMDs arriving in August 2008.

CN previously ordered 50 SD70M-2s for delivery between August and October 2007, and 15 ES44DC units to come in November of this year. This latest order will permit CN to retire 145 older locomotives.

The 65 locomotives CN previously ordered for delivery this year will be largely used to accommodate growth in traffic from the new Port of Prince Rupert container terminal, scheduled to start operations this October. All 130 new locomotives will be equipped with distributed power capability.

I don't know if the diesels on the Lhasa route are set up for distributed power (it can be useful on the mountains, although a crew in the pusher is useful for safety at those altitudes.) I also doubt that all of that new container traffic is billed to Victoria's Secret.

20.6.07

WATCH THIS SPACE.

WORK IS SUPPOSED TO BE WHAT WE DO BETWEEN MEETINGS. Munger's First Law of Time Allocation is challenged by a small Inside Higher Ed committee. Some of this stuff defies parody.
In liberal arts colleges, advising, club sponsorships, determination of academic policy and the execution of that policy require deep commitments of time from faculty. Many tasks, such as organizing pre-law advising or guiding students through graduate applications — assignments many large universities fill with a staff member — are elements of service for faculty at smaller colleges. Organizational realities may encourage this on the one hand, but on the other, there may also be better student outcomes in having a teacher-scholar actively engaged in these roles.
Catch that "teacher-scholar?" What ever happened to the term "professor?" One cannot profess without understanding the academic conversation, and participating in it. "Teacher-scholar" sounds like the same kind of coverup "student-athlete" all too often is.
Many faculty feel pulled in multiple directions by trying to balance teaching and scholarship, but most recognize that both elements of the academic life offer unique rewards. Too often, the rewards for service are overlooked. In service roles a faculty member can utilize and continue to hone valuable skills such as organization, leadership, policy development, writing, critical thinking and analytical ability. Many, if not all, of these skills are used in the classroom and in research, but the results are often different when they are applied in service. An excellent writer who has labored through years of graduate school may well be appreciated by her students and by peers in her scholarly field, but her carefully crafted prose may also serve all her faculty colleagues, as well as current and future students, when she drafts important policies while serving on the Academic Planning Committee.
Come off it. All too often that drafting is an exercise in posturing in which assorted very smart people niggle over approximately nothing simply to impress others in the room. And all too often comparative advantages are revealed -- the campus politicians might not be the most active researchers. Among Real Guys, the posturing could be characterized as a pissing contest, but this is the academy, which is a hostile environment for Real Guys. (If I just trashed my G rating, so be it!)
How important is institutional service, and does service truly improve educational outcomes? It is possible to imagine a college where faculty have no service role. Issues such as college governance, curriculum development, determining degree requirements, participating in resource allocation decisions, playing a role in admissions, participating in tenure and promotion decisions could be left to professional academic administrators while the faculty role would simply be to teach and do research.
Thus, as with so much else, a trade-off. On one hand, the so-called "professional academic administrators" (depressingly many of whom are therapeutic thumb-suckers, failed scholars, and political hacks) can pre-empt the faculty functions completely. Or headquarters can declare an emergency and create a special faculty task force stocked with campus politicians of the wannabe kind to bypass a faculty governance system dominated by campus politicians and posturing nigglers. On the other hand, people who take their research and teaching seriously have to spend some time protecting the true function of the university from the barbarians and time-servers.
We believe, however, that active faculty participation in institutional governance is not only the historic right of the faculty, but also improves educational outcomes. Such faculty involvement is critical even when it’s painful.
On this, we agree. Faculty may be employees, but faculty are the management. The dean and provost and president exist to make the faculty look good.
STIPENDIUM PECCATI MORS EST. Ergo, ex cathedra, decaloguo automobilis.
READABLE, BUT PRINTABLE.
What's My Blog Rated? From Mingle2 - Online Dating

Mingle2 - Online Dating


Via Kerry.

19.6.07

CONTEMPLATING IMMIGRATION AMNESTY. There's more action in Congress on an immigration bill, perhaps with more border enforcement, and perhaps without any amnesty. A Time reporter visits Illinois and files a case for amnesty. He sensibly observes that the perceived unfairness of granting immediate amnesty to people who haven't been waiting a long time for legal entry might, just might, be evidence of flaws in the legal procedure.
If people are frustrated, as they should be, by the fact that some eligible immigrants have been waiting for citizenship for as many as 28 years, then by all means, fix that problem. Streamline the process for legal immigration. But don't blame that red-tape nightmare on the millions of low-wage illegals already here, who form a very different (and vastly more populous) group.
The two procedures cannot be tweaked in isolation. The more onerous the legal admission procedures are, the larger is the pool of potential illegal migrants, and under some circumstances that pool will be more skewed toward people with desirable skills. To some extent, that phenomenon appears present in Beardstown.

Economic anxiety animates much of the resistance to amnesty, particularly from the left. Real wages have been stagnant for nearly three decades throughout the U.S., and for a place like working-class Beardstown, having to deal with a huge new influx of Spanish-speaking workers seems like adding insult to economic injury. But if times are tough in rural America, are illegal immigrants to blame? It turns out that the truly good jobs left Beardstown long before the Mexicans came. In the mid-'80s, the Cargill plant was owned by Oscar Mayer. [Beardstown mayor Bob] Walters was the union representative at the plant back then, and he says it offered good jobs and good benefits, but globalization and other corporate pressures caught up with them. The company shuttered and sold the plant in 1987. Five months later, it reopened under a new owner, with lower wages and fewer benefits. "The starting wage went from $11 an hour to $7.50," says Walters. "The meatpacking industry ought to be ashamed of what they did to towns like ours."

The first Hispanics didn't come to work at Cargill en masse until years later. And as Cargill likes to point out, more white workers work at the factory than before. The plant has in fact grown, thanks in large part to hardworking migrants, not just from Mexico but from more than 20 other countries. The business seems robust for the time being. The workforce is unionized again. Salaries are creeping up. A new Wal-Mart Supercenter is on the way. Cargill's strength has turned Beardstown into, if not a boomtown, at least a place that investors are paying attention to. And the town is leading its pitch with the fact that it has a large Hispanic workforce, a bellwether for economic growth. "That's all I need to tell them," says Steve Twaddle, the county's director of economic development. "Businesses understand."

There is some work on the economics of de facto amnesty in Arye Hillman and Avi Weiss's A Theory of Permissible Illegal Immigration in European Journal of Political Economy. I'll quote the abstract at length.
In many countries laws are not enforced against visibly present illegal immigrants. The visibly present illegal immigrants also tend to be concentrated in particular sectors. We explain such permissible illegal immigration in an endogenous-policy model where selective sector-specific illegality transforms illegal immigrants from non-sectorally specialized to sector-specific factors of production. Under initial conditions where no immigrants are present, the median voter opposes immigration. When, however, a population of illegal immigrants has accumulated, ongoing illegal immigration becomes an endogenous equilibrium policy, at the same time that a majority of voters opposes legal immigration and opposes amnesty that would legalize the immigrants' presence. We also establish a basis for domestic voters preferring that illegal immigrants be employed in service rather than traded-goods sectors.
And perhaps the fear of deportation combined with occasional amnesty fine-tunes the mix of workers.
Cargill has long struggled to rid its rolls of illegal workers who are using false documentation. Most notably, a rumor that another raid was imminent swept through the night shift last month. Those workers who had false papers had to make a decision: stay and risk detention and deportation if the rumor were true, or leave and expose themselves as illegal workers. Cargill wouldn't comment on the incident, but locals say that dozens fled the plant that night and were fired or quit after having outed themselves by leaving.
The technical details of a potentially optimal policy that combines sanction with amnesty appear here. The article also raises the possibility that the availability of cheap immigrant labor biases technical change.
It is not easy to replace them. Meatpacking is a hard job at any salary. There's plenty of new technology in the meatpacking industry, but no machine has yet been invented to take over some of the toughest positions, like the role of gut snatcher, whose sole job is to tug the offal out of each freshly killed hog that comes down the line.
Perhaps because there's no incentive to do so? At one time, the job of laying railroad track was very hard, and a form of immigration amnesty made possible the crew of eight Irish rail haulers and several hundred Chinese laborers that still hold the record for track laid in a day. Today, there are machines that will replace the track underneath the repair train. Given the right set of input prices, there well might be a machine that starts with a freshly killed hog and turns out sausage casings, chitlins, and fertilizer. (On the other hand, some of the meatpacking machinery now in use has permitted the replacement of the boner, at one time a skilled trade, with special machine operators possessing fewer specific skills.)

The article also suggests that immigration amnesty is not "rewarding lawbreakers."

U.S. jurisprudence has in fact always been a series of hedged bets, weighing the potential harm of a violation against the costs of enforcement. That's why people get arrested for assault but not for jaywalking. It's time to think seriously about exactly where the act of illegal immigration lies in the spectrum of criminality. Consider the complicity of U.S. employers ranging from multinational corporations to suburbanites looking for gardeners. Factor in the mixed signals that lax law enforcement sent to would-be immigrants throughout the '80s and '90s, and the crime should rank as a misdemeanor, not a felony. Even if we step up border enforcement in the future--as we should--it is true that for a long time, crossing the Rio Grande was akin more to jaywalking than breaking and entering.

Sure, there is a very real national-security threat in having a porous border. But a large--if unquantifiable--percentage of the people crossing that line illegally are not newcomers but rather people who have already established lives in the U.S. and would qualify for amnesty. If they were legalized and free to circulate, we could concentrate on the serious criminals and terrorists crossing the border, not a worker going back to his family.

In Beardstown, amnesty would also help authorities tackle crime. Right now, they spend a lot of their energy sorting out who is who in the community because illegals present local police with a bewildering maze of identities. The illegals of Beardstown work under one name and go to church under another. Parents give their kindergartners fake names to use in school. "We are absolutely unable to identify our own people," says Walters. It sounds counterintuitive, but with immigration, forgiving a crime may be the best way to restore law and order.

There are two different approaches one can take to the use of amnesty. The one that the columnist callse "counterintuitive" is in fact the long-standing tradition of a theft amnesty. (Libraries sometimes recover long-missing items from their collections by declaring a fine amnesty. Many borrowers simply hold onto the book rather than incure an increasing fine, but their sin is one of omitting to pass by the library in time rather than of committing to expand their own library on the cheap.) The second, which Gil Epstein and Avi Weiss address in their "Theory of Immigration Amnesties," (you need calculus to understand it) releases law enforcement officers from disentangling phony papers among the current cohort of gut-snatchers so as better to capture the terrorists and drug-runners endeavoring to sneak in. Whether the 1986 immigration reform failed to commit those additional resources to securing the borders remains an open question.

A popular reading of recent history holds that the amnesty of 1986, which offered a path to citizenship for 3 million illegals, sparked the much larger wave of unlawful immigration that followed. According to that logic, the '86 amnesty showed would-be migrants from around the world that the U.S. was weak-willed and would eventually relent and give citizenship to its illegals. Duly encouraged, Mexicans and others stormed our borders with unprecedented vigor.

Illegal immigration did soar, but that's not why. Studies show that the valleys and peaks in migration have depended far less on changes in policy or policing and far more on the basic economic conditions in the U.S. and Mexico. If you want to truly tamp down illegal immigration, you could induce a recession in the U.S. A better idea might be to help Mexico create more jobs that pay better. A recent Council on Foreign Relations study found that when Mexican wages drop 10% relative to U.S. wages, attempts to cross the border illegally rise 6%. As complex and corrupt as the Mexican economy is, we ignore it at our peril.

While Mexico patches itself up, at least the security options are better today than in 1986. There is both the political will and the technology to make enforcement a serious part of any amnesty plan. National ID cards, real employer verification, high-tech border controls can all aid in making sure that this would be the last amnesty of this size.

Perhaps so. But there's no reason to rule out all future amnesties, as the cheap-labor subsidy and the self-identification of future taxpayers in the underground economy does not go away. And a "national ID card" is not something to be lightly contemplated. Ihre Papieren, bitte.
THE NATURE OF HIGHER EDUCATION. A Northern Star columnist suggests some cost-cutting measures.
I constantly hear many of my peers say, "What does this class have to do with my major?" Getting rid of classes that we most likely will not use would help the university save money. (For example, I'm journalism major, yet I have to take classes such as French and calculus.) By cutting the fat, the university would save money simply because it would not have to hire as many faculty.
That comment pretty well sums up why press coverage of anything technical, such as air traffic control, the safety appliances on a train, or a steel mill leaves much to be desired. Perhaps the columnist would be better off apprenticing at a newspaper. Be ashamed to call yourself a college graduate if you're unable to explain why ex is its own derivative.

It might be wise to do some research, too.
As much as I love lifting weights at the Campus Recreational Center (that was a lie - I don't believe in lifting weights), the university would benefit from spending more money on the educational side of campus, as opposed to the recreational half. After all, we came to NIU for a degree, not to work out. NIU spends more money on recreation than most schools.
That's news to me. Our exercise facilities, such as they are, are pretty much clapped out. The swimming pools require constant patching. I'm not sure there is a climbing wall. It gets better.
Out-of-state students pay more for tuition than in-state students. To encourage students from neighboring states to attend, NIU would have to become better known at the national level, similar to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Hmm, so we're supposed to make do with fewer professors and a curriculum with no core or area requirements and become better known, but not as a great place to play.

18.6.07

DELAY IS THE DEADLIEST FORM OF DENIAL. There's a lot in print and on film about the efforts of the 101st Airborne Div. at Bastogne. My library has a few such books, which I finished before I got involved in counting book reviews here. For Book Review No. 1819 I'll note that John C. McManus's Alamo in the Ardennes: The Untold Story of the American Soldiers Who Made the Defense of Bastogne Possible delivers (at least to me) the content that rather unwieldy subtitle promises. Fall Wacht am Rhein was supposed to be a replay of the 1940 campaign, with the Hun in Antwerp before the Allies could react. A number of battered and scratch units, including some sent to what looked like a quiet part of the front to refit, cost the Hun sufficient tempi that by the time the Second Panzer Div. completed the encirclement of Bastogne, the unit was ordered to make haste for the Meuse. As author McManus notes, Bastogne "amounted to a veritable bone in their throats." These men, who sometimes come in for criticism in histories of the Ardennes battle, were indeed weary, and were indeed being sent west to regroup as the 101st took possession of the town. That, however, was the plan. Paratroopers train to hold ground despite being surrounded, and the logistical advantages (air power, once the clouds lifted, long-range artillery, and the Fourth Armored rushing north) favored the Allies. (Perhaps this story could not have been told at the time as it takes some of the drama out of General McAuliffe's "Nuts!") The plan did not come cheaply. The 28th Infantry Division, and particularly its 110th Infantry Regiment, took quite a beating buying the 101st Airborne time to position that bone at Bastogne.

Another part of the story that probably couldn't have been told at the time is that the footsoldiers east of Bastogne were quite aware the Germans were up to something. Many reports of activity, including motorized divisions being repositioned, were passed to headquarters and discounted. As the author notes, Allied headquarters would not have been able to stop the Hun from attacking, but the 28th would have been assisted in blunting the attack. He also suggests that such intelligence, properly acted on, would have cut short the fruitless efforts to push through the Hurtgen Forest.
INFRASTRUCTURE. Janet at SCSU Scholars comments on the environmental safeguards and technological marvels of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline.
IT'S STILL PAYING FOR HIGH SCHOOL TWICE. An Inside Higher Ed column discovers that community-college study-skills courses might have a positive marginal product. The comments are particularly illuminating. Follow closely the discussion of self-selection. The final comment (as of this posting) notes how much work remains undone.
Trust me, these kids need help with managing their time, their money, taking notes, even with going to class the next day. In my opinion, the biggest challenge they face is simply comprehending that they were lied to in high school about what level math or english they were passing and how much of it they were learning, not to mention whether passing the HS grad exam a year or three ago means they are ready for college algebra or english.
"Remediation" has to begin with a proper first grade.
CREATIVE FINANCING. Universities sell banks the right to offer convenient financial services. There are multiple catches.

The TitanCard, the letter said, could double as a debit and ATM card if the [Wisconsin-Oshkosh] student opened an account with U.S. Bank. Attached was a bank application.

What the university did not say was that U.S. Bank pays the university a cut of its revenue in exchange for the exclusive right to target students through campus IDs.

Or that Chancellor Richard Wells sits on U.S. Bank's local advisory board.

No conflict of interest here. Nothing to see. Move along.

UW-Oshkosh and U.S. Bank say the partnership offers students convenience.

"We don't want students having to use two cards," said Tom Sonnleitner, UW-Oshkosh's vice chancellor for administrative services.

But like all the other inconveniences businesses spin as "convenience," there's a sting in the tail.

The Journal Sentinel found that no other bank in the Oshkosh area charges students a higher overdraft fee for checking accounts than U.S. Bank. The credit card it markets through a university Web site has notably higher interest rates.

Critics say such a revenue-sharing arrangement, common at a growing number of universities across the country, poses conflicts of interest similar to one uncovered in the student loan industry.

In a practice recently banned by the UW System Board of Regents, lending institutions were found to have paid universities a cut of their loan volume in exchange for being placed on a list of preferred lenders.

Sell off some passenger train equipment for a kickback, go to jail. Sell "access" to your students, get honored for your "development" efforts? On one hand, my inner libertarian sees gains from trade being identified and acted upon.

Typically the university allows the bank to offer checking accounts through its student IDs and to set up ATMs on campus. It agrees to promote the bank to students and parents.

The bank, in turn, provides the partnering school with signing bonuses and ongoing revenue based on the number of checking accounts opened and debit transactions generated through the campus cards.

U.S. Bank, which has more partnerships than any other bank, paid UW-Oshkosh a one-time signing bonus of $30,000, according to the contract. Each year it pays the university $15,000 in "soft money" and royalty payments based on the number of students and faculty who open checking accounts. The most recent royalty payment was $15,000, but, in its proposal, U.S. Bank said the payment could be as much as $130,000.

Trent Spurgeon, U.S. Bank's senior vice president for consumer products, said the goal is to attract young customers before the competition does. He said it is cheaper to target students through campus cards than through mainstream advertising. For that reason, the bank agreed to share some of its profits with the universities.

"Either we compete for them now or we compete for them later," Spurgeon said. "There's an implicit benefit that we're able to share."

On the other hand, my jive detector suggests that some Wisconsin system senior administrators also have working jive detectors.

UW-Milwaukee and UW-Madison said they turned down offers mostly because their identification cards were not equipped to double as ATM/debit cards.

They also were suspicious.

"There were some concerns based on arrangements at other campuses," said Darrell Bazzell, UW-Madison's vice chancellor for administration. "Obviously banks want to improve their profit margin. That's not our intent."

Northern Illinois University has such an arrangement, with TCF Bank (also cultivating student accounts by purchasing naming rights at stadiums). At the time the deal was introduced, faculty bridled at having their identification card bundled with a bank card, and the administration and the bank agreed to allow faculty to opt out.

17.6.07

QUOTE OF THE DAY. I'll give the honors to editorial writers at the Chicago Tribune. For a long time, I have touted the exercise value of the open-reel lawnmower, and the current tools will be up to the job at the new quarters. Here's the insight from the Tribune.
Some die-hards suggest there's a stigma attached to the reel mower, a "wimp factor." But who is wimpier, the guy who buys the megabucks power riding mower with the cup holders and the tilt steering wheel (no DVD player yet!) and then roars around his lawn like an Abrams tank commander, his flabby midsection ajiggle, or the weekend warrior working up an honest sweat behind the push mower?
Any dinghy sailor will tell you that gasoline is neither a nutritional nor an intellectual supplement. Horsepower alone does not turn a landlubber into a seaman, not that the stink-boaters don't continue to delude themselves it does!
THE ETERNAL CAMPAIGN. I, too, am not yet ready to deal with the 2008 Presidential campaign, although the main press have been scheduling debates and booking hopefuls for the Sunday talk shows. I regret to inform you, dear readers, that the campaign season is likely to get even longer, if a new simulation, Vatican: The Board Game, provides any guidance. A retired colleague from History produced this game, which I read about in the print edition of Northern Now, to enhance history classes dealing with the papacy. It apparently has some value as a social game, and it's available in local stores. Chicago Sun-Times religion writer Cathleen Falsani played the game.

The Vatican game, released last week by the College of DuPage Press, is something of a hybrid of Monopoly, Risk and Clue -- with a bit of theological Chutes-and-Ladders thrown in for good measure.

Authored by Stephen Haliczer, a retired historian from Northern Illinois University who specializes in Catholic history (the Inquisition in particular), the game follows six cardinals through their early careers as they build their reputations, the death of a pope, and the conclave to elect his successor.

It's complicated, clever and a lot more fun than it sounds.

There are three phases of the game. In the first, the cardinals have to accumulate the administrative offices to become serious candidates for the papacy. Thus, one must adopt the ways of the REMF in order to command. But, as the Roman Catholic Church has existed with essentially the same organizational structure for, oh, 1600 years give or take, and, as Up the Organization author Robert Townsend notes, there are only four layers of management (priest, bishop, archbishop, Curia) between a parishioner and the Pope, the disturbing hypothesis that the ways of the REMF are the efficient ways must be taken seriously!

In this first phase, cardinals repeatedly circle the board. The Monopoly-like element arises at each corner, where the cardinal gets to apply for an office. Here a snakes-and-ladders-like die roll determines those offices, but cardinals can trade offices up. Once all players have achieved sufficient offices to be serious contenders for the papacy (the Holy Spirit may determine who the Pope will be, but God clearly helps Thofe who Seek Office in Rome) the old Pope dies, and only then do the players discover how old their cardinals are, and their state of health.

In the second phase, each cardinal must take a position on a variety of issues. The game suggests U.S. culture-war themes (female clergy, homosexual clergy, priestly celibacy) play a large role in the selection of a Pope, although candidates do have to take positions on matters involving other Christian denominations as well as non-Christian faiths, and global capitalism. And here, an amendment to the game inspired by Diplomacy suggests itself. Although cardinals bring a stock of votes to the conclave, in the third phase, the determination of the Pope is entirely in the cards.

After four ballots in the papal conclave -- the last phase of the Vatican game -- Nanko-Fernandez (a k a "Pope Carmen") pulled ahead of me with 99 points, just one shy of claiming the pontificate.

But then ... divine intervention brought the conclave proceedings and what had become a rather boisterous game, to an abrupt halt, when Nairn (who had been trailing with 63 votes) read his fifth conclave card:

"The Holy Spirit intervenes in your favor by appearing to certain cardinals who have been wavering in their support for you. +40 votes."

The Diplomacy variant (which has the potential to really extend the game, or to break up friendships) goes something like this: During the second phase, each cardinal has to take a position. Each other cardinal can rate that cardinal for being sympathetic to what he (or she, we're playing a game here) views as in the best interest of the church. Before each round of voting, each player can negotiate with each other player to assess the strength or weakness of that player's adherence to a position. Before the vote cards are dealt for each round, each cardinal can recommend that his supporters consider the merits of some other candidate. To simulate the vagaries of dealing with people, a die roll (perhaps adjusted by age, for example if a 75-year old cardinal speaks well of a younger candidate, a roll of 6 gives the endorsee half of the cardinal's pre-voting support, but if it's a 65-year old cardinal, that 6 flips only 1/3 of the votes.) That would add the spice the Diplomacy instructions promise. "Deciding whom to trust is part of the game."
TRAINING AMUSEMENT PARK ENTHUSIASTS. I had the opportunity to meet up with some kids at Six Flags in Gurnee. They very quickly figured out the art of rapidly reboarding an attraction with a short waiting line, here at a spinner called "Triple Play." They also used that tactic on two roller coasters!


It was a busy day at the park, which offers a waterpark as part of the admission price (unlike a number of other themers, where the waterslides are priced separately). Apparently the big-city sewage systems are not working properly, and the natural wave pool called Lake Michigan is not everywhere fit for play.

As close as Six Flags is to Northern Illinois University, they probably could set up a proper steel band if someone asked.


In its incarnation as Marriott's Great America, the park had a horsecar shuttle from one of the town squares to another. That service was discontinued by Six Flags, whether for health reasons or for poor productivity I don't know. The tracks are still occasionally used, here by the Looney Tunes Trolley.


Whether the reprise of the Schuster's Christmas Parade still uses the tracks near closing time I don't know.
THERE'S THIS CONCEPT CALLED "BYPASS." The Illinois Tollway Authority is considering time-of-day pricing for automobiles.

The tollway's expansion of the I-PASS system has put it in a position to look at floating toll rates and also makes it logistically likelier it could extend tolls to all or part of Chicago's expressways, [Peter] Skosey of the Metropolitan Planning Council said.

In the end, the most politically and logistically realistic result of the study could be higher toll rates during rush hours at certain tollway choke points, like the River Road Toll Plaza on the Northwest Tollway. The practice already is in effect for trucks throughout the system.

Adding tolls to lanes on Chicago's expressways clearly would be met with more opposition from drivers and politicians. It also would require a significant infrastructure investment and likely a change in state law.

But without that legislation, and possibly some toll stations on arterial roads, the time-sensitive tolls will not generate the revenue the tollway authority expects. People can easily avoid the tolls by using the arterial streets, which aren't that much slower than the tollways. The truckers have already figured that dodge out.
Now a truck traveling at rush hour on the tollway can expect to pay anywhere from 28 percent to 50 percent more than the regular toll rate. Rush hours are between 6 and 9 a.m. and 3:30 and 6:30 p.m. on weekdays. Tollway officials could not provide information yet on how the higher toll rates have affected congestion.
A few casual observations. First, the higher rates still don't compensate for the additional wear the trucks place on the toll roads. Those lanes that are not being renewed are already clapped out, particularly on the Tri-State north of Tuohy Avenue and on the Reagan. Second, the truckers have all the non-toll U.S. highways to use instead, and they're wrecking U.S. 20, U.S. 30, and U.S. 34 as well as Illinois 31, 38, 47, and 59. (And don't get me started on the effect those elephant herds are having on mobility. A stampede of actual elephants stampede gets moving faster after a traffic light changes than a lineup of semis does. That only accentuates the absence of synchronized signals.) How much longer must this corporate welfare continue?
DEALING AWAY BOBBY THOMSON. It happened fifty years ago. Twenty-five years ago, Harvey's Wallbangers broke through against Detroit.
I'LL NEVER LACK FOR WORK. Chicago Tribune automobile columnist Jim Mateja does some radio commentary on WBBM. This morning, he observed that higher gasoline prices (not surprisingly) were inducing people to buy less fuel-ostentatious cars, including the so-called "crossover" utility vehicles (because, just like we can't call a streetcar a streetcar, we can't call a station wagon a station wagon), a point he also made in a recent column. He went on to express some surprise that the sales of gas-electric hybrids were also responsive to changes in the price of gasoline, both upwards and downwards. His confusion illustrates the folly of making an argument from preferences. The Principle of Complements more than likely trumps any desire to appear greener, particularly when the price of gasoline is falling.