31.8.07

THE TROUBLE WITH BUBBLES. The unwinding of positions in the subprime-mortgage market prompts a refresher in market dynamics. A recent Mark Thoma post contemplates a bubble in the pizza business as a way of motivating the lending on houses.

1. Start at equilibrium with zero economic profit. As pizza demand goes up due to, say, the opening of a new university in the area, price rises leading to profits in the short-run (this is the points labeled sr in the diagram).

2. It is widely reported on local financial pages that the industry is booming. In response to these reports, and buttressed by their own analysis, firms enter. In fact, and there's nothing in theory that says this won't happen, it's possible that too many firms enter. That is, the demand for pizza goes up and twenty firms enter, but there's only room for fourteen to survive in the long-run. Extra firms, i.e. firms that won't survive in the long-run can also enter if the increase in prices is higher than justified by the underlying economic conditions (i.e. there is a bubble in the technical sense due to over exuberance or other reasons) and false signals are delivered to the market.

Already, there's the potential for an outcome other than excess capacity followed by a crash. A perfectly informed trader would know the minimum efficient scale of a pizzeria as well as the long-run supply elasticity of pizzerias, and that trader would be able to exploit the error others are making. A less than perfectly informed trader, or, for that matter, a loan officer at a bank, might remember enough about fitting u-shaped cost curves under the demand curve to look very carefully at business proposals for new pizzerias. The economics of exuberance is something a bit too challenging for introductory economics, although "Rational Expectations and the Dynamics of Hyperinflation" (International Economic Review 14, 2, June 1973: 328-350) will reward careful study. The pizza bubble is more likely to persist if people expect tomorrow's demand for pizza to exceed today's demand at the same price, ad infinitum. That's a rational expectations tulipmania, and there's a lot of very technical work on ruling out such behavior both in theory and in practice.

In the simplest model of perfect information, excess capacity won't happen. In a relatively simple model with learning, excess capacity will be transitory.
3. Makers of products such as pizza ovens, pizza boxes, and pizza trucks are getting the word out to all who will listen. They're building a new university and it's now open! There's a boom in the pizza industry! Get in now while profits are high, before it's too late. Pizza's never been better! After all, the suppliers stand to profit from every firm that enters and they have an incentive to encourage as many firms as they can to join in the boom. While not actually telling falsehoods, at least in most cases, they make the opportunities in the industry sound as rosy as possible to all who will listen, offer enticing good credit terms to entering firms, and so on.
If it sounds too good to be true, it is ...

The post goes on to note that subprime mortgages are subtly different.
My point is that the housing bubble is an enlarged, very exaggerated version of a process we see regularly when a market opportunities open up. In the case of housing markets, for example, financial innovation allowed a segment of the market to be served that had not been well served in the past, and it also allowed existing markets to expand creating highly profitable opportunities. The result was just what you would expect when there are profits to be made, a rush of resources into the industry. Real estate agents, loan companies, builders, etc. all entered, in fact too many entered and now we are seeing the clean out that is the equivalent of the failure of the six excess pizza firms (we shouldn't forget that this is the excess that is being cleaned out, at least in the example above, the industry itself has grown and now serves more people than before).
The problem might be as simple as no loan officer stopping to ask how many firms could fit under the new demand curve. It strikes me as a bit of a stretch to suggest, as Marginal Utility's Ken Houghton does, that efficient markets are definitionally suboptimal. Not quite. The simplest model of markets assumes away, a priori, the kind of mistakes that Professor Thoma invokes to create his pizza bubble. Those mistakes can be corrected if, under costly information conditions, some traders are sufficiently alert to the arbitrage opportunities the mistakes make possible. That same alertness renders the cattle-cycle model a commenter invokes inoperative.
We teach the cob-web function in one lecture in intro-economics and then forget it. But the cob-web does a better job of explaining the system than the mainstream theory that academics teach.
Not really. The cattle cycle might be a first approximation of price cycles under costly information. Then, however, traders are operating in a regime of randomly occurring surprises of unknown magnitude and duration. There are counters to changes of known magnitude or duration, summarized in the efficient market maxim, "if we know the price is going to go up tomorrow, it will go up today." In like manner, if you know that today's price is near the top end of the cattle cycle, you have incentives to exploit it today (or to go short for the future) in such a way as to damp, eliminate, or reverse the fluctuations. The underlying arguments haven't yet been distilled into a principles-friendly form.
DRINK LOCALLY. "G. Heileman Brewing, Milwaukee." (Yellow mustard and thin beer. The railroadin' is great in Illinois, but the cuisine needs work.)

Now comes news of a business locator service that enables consumers to find locally-owned sources of coffee, or books, or hamburgers, and cock a snook at the national chains. Maybe.
But to say local businesses possess some kind of moral magic simply by virtue of being family-owned and homey is preposterous. Such shops may be more ethically run in some ways, partially through close personal ties to the community and to fellow owners and employees. But this bespeaks the virtue of the management, not of the abstract institution of the local business itself (just as it indicates the poor character of the management of a corporate business, and not all of corporate business itself, when one falls into unethical dealings). Also, independent stores are often smaller, so they may provide fewer jobs to people in the community and supply fewer products to their customers. Neither of these are inherently good qualities for businesses to have.
LEARNING TO WIN. Young players, no matter the sport, may lack experience with protecting a winning position. Milwaukee Brewers who played in the 1982 World Series offered their observations a few weeks ago. Surviving members of the 1957 Milwaukee Braves have also weighed in.

Like the Brewers of this season, things didn't always go smoothly for the Braves that season. In June, the Braves, after a quick start, had dropped to fourth place in the eight-team National League. [Note: no divisional format. One pennant. No playoffs. Go to the World Series or go fishing.] On June 15, the Braves picked up [Red]Schoendienst, a veteran second baseman.

And the turnaround began.

"When he joined us as our second baseman, it absolutely changed our club," [Dell] Crandall said.

Crandall, the team's catcher, said he remembered Schoendienst would often run from his spot at second base to talk to the pitcher and then run back to his position. Curious, Crandall eventually asked [Lew] Burdette what Schoendienst was telling him.

"He says, 'Make 'em hit the ball to me,' " Burdette told Crandall.

"That was the kind of commitment that he brought to our ballclub," Crandall said.

On Sept. 23 of that year, [Henry] Aaron's homer in the 11th inning lifted the Braves over the St. Louis Cardinals and clinched the National League pennant.

With years of experience behind them, the old-timers also had words of advice for the Brewers. Aaron said the Brewers were a young club, and needed experience.

"They will be all right," he said. "They will do just fine. They may just be a year away."

Schoendienst, who still works for the Cardinals, said he was impressed by the Brewers this season. But Schoendienst, a veteran of 10 different World Series, said September was the hardest month of the season. There is a lot of pressure, and players are hurt or don't feel well, he said.

"They're not out of it," he said. "It will be a lot of fun until the last week."

All the same, the sheepshead games being played in the clubhouse better have a lot of leaster hands.
WHY THEY CALL IT PRACTICING MEDICINE. There's far more than a rage over a lost groschen in Beethoven's death.

Because hair grows at a measurable rate, it traces a time line. And because lead and other toxins migrate from the bloodstream to the hair and remain there, forensic researchers study hair for clues about sickness and sociopathic behavior. Beethoven suffered from depression, deafness, digestive troubles and other ailments, making him an ideal subject.

Charting the composer's final four months through the hairs, Reiter established day-by-day correlations between Beethoven's bedside medical treatments at the hands of Wawruch and lead concentrations in the composer's body: A dramatic spike in the concentrations follows each of the doctor's five treatments between Dec. 5, 1826 and Feb. 27, 1827, according to Reiter.

(Via Best of the Web)
ANOTHER SOURCE OF TRAFFIC. Laura Milligan at Currency Trading lists this service among 100 recommended sources of economics information. The list classifies those sources into several categories, by all means go browse.
ENJOY THE LONG WEEKEND. September 1 will be NIU Huskie Day in Chicago.

The football game that figures in the City Council's proclamation is sold out, although a poor substitute is available.

The hand of leaster that the National Central pennant race has become also continues in Chicago.

28.8.07

FOR YE HAVE THE HIPPIES WITH YOU ALWAYS. About the same time I picked up The Da Vinci Code and Cracking the Da Vinci Code, I purchased Secrets of the Code and finally finished it, which might tell you more than a lengthy Book Review No. 29. The subtitle is The Unauthorized Guide to the Mysteries Behind the Da Vinci Code. A more truthful subtitle might be The Empty Set. My post title summarizes one thread in the material editor Dan Burstein put together. The first collection of essays flies under the heading "The Drama of Herstory, History, and Heresy." The Gnostics play the part of the hippies, and, yes, there are several essays by trendy academicians trying to find justification for their contemporary experiments against reality in ancient texts, whether reliable or not. There are dissenting views as well, allowing a reader to weigh some of the conflicting arguments and draw a conclusion. A shorter collection, "The Da Vinci Code Revealed," is more useful for a reader curious about the veracity of the novel itself.

I did find one observation by Mr Burstein instructive. (Turn to page 428)
In attacking The Da Vinci Code and calling for Catholic bookstores to stop selling it, [Tarcisio Cardinal] Bertone [the Archbishop of Genoa] seemed to be suggesting a return to a time when church leaders believed they could win intellectual and philosophical debates by simply banning or suppressing certain ideas.
Why not? Dress it up as progressive intolerance and rename the Committee for the Defense of the Faith as the Diversity Office and you've perfectly described contemporary attitudes.
INTELLECTUAL DIVISION OF LABOR. The design of a condiment bar is probably a nontrivial problem in ergonomics. When humanities types start thinking about condiment bars, the resulting discussion can be anything but brief. Whether it rises to the level of nontrivial is up to the reader as an exercise. Consider Stanley Fish contemplating ordering a coffee.
It used to be that when you wanted a cup of coffee you went into a nondescript place fitted out largely in linoleum, Formica and neon, sat down at a counter, and, in response to a brisk "What'll you have, dear?" said, "Coffee and a cheese Danish." Twenty seconds later, tops, they arrived, just as you were settling into the sports page.
On one hand, Mahler's Prodigal Son reports on the column as if it's another ETTS moment.
This op-ed piece from the NY Times [only available on subscription on line] shows how things aren't as simple and straight-forward as they used to be - even in just wanting and getting a cup of coffee.
[Superintendent's note: there are ways around the Grey Lady's "select" wall. Professionals study logistics.] That interpretation is not cast in doubt by what follows shortly.
It turns out to be hard. First you have to get in line, and you may have one or two people in front of you who are ordering a drink with more parts than an internal combustion engine, something about "double shot," "skinny," "breve," "grande," "au lait" and a lot of other words that never pass my lips. If you are patient and stay in line (no bathroom breaks), you get to put in your order, but then you have to find a place to stand while you wait for it. There is no such place. So you shift your body, first here and then there, trying not to get in the way of those you can't help get in the way of.
Finally, the coffee arrives.
It's possible that Mr Fish never had to purchase coffee at a beanery just before shift-changing time and perhaps the one harried counter lady could spare a second for a "Wuts yawz?" after a few minutes.

Here, however, is the first ergonomic challenge: how best to configure an order-here, pick up there service in a small space. McDonald's, for all its expertise, had to retire its "Speedee Service System" slogan from its Arches. Although there are formal proofs that the "wait for the next available agent" queue is faster than the "take your chance on the shortest line" rule at grocery stores and McDonald's, the persistence of that second approach (which at coffee bars often means threading the queue through the sitting room) suggests that the theoretical advantage is to the right of the third decimal place in the income statement.

My speculation about Mr Fish is just the kind of thing, however, for Slate's Ron Rosenbaum to get in a few licks.
Fish's column showcases what happens when certain academics descend from the ivory tower to offer us their special insights on popular culture.
Not that Fish would cop to living in a tower. The professor took great pains to demonstrate that he is not one of those academics who mingle among the commoners for a mere 20 minutes or so before pronouncing on their baffling customs.
It seems that professor Fish is a real man of the people who has been getting his coffee served to him amidst the regular folk for years...
Or not. See above. But such licking gives the Scathing Online Schoolmarm to stick up for Stanley Fish, or call out his writing style, or something.

I'll return to Professor Fish's column for a further ergonomics problem.
But then your real problems begin when you turn, holding your prize, and make your way to where the accessories - things you put in, on and around your coffee - are to be found. There is a staggering array of them, and the order of their placement seems random in relation to the order of your needs. There is no "right" place to start, so you lunge after one thing and then after another with awkward reaches.
Unfortunately, two or three other people are doing the same thing, and each is doing it in a different sequence. So there is an endless round of "excuse me," "no, excuse me," as if you were in an old Steve Martin routine.
But no amount of politeness and care is enough. After all, there are so many items to reach for - lids, cup jackets, straws, napkins, stirrers, milk, half and half, water, sugar, Splenda, the wastepaper basket, spoons. You and your companions may strive for a ballet of courtesy, but what you end up performing is more like bumper cars.
At least, at the cafe counter, you might have to ask your neighbor to pass the creamer or the sugar. That's still the drill at the Waffle House. That an ergonomically sensible condiment bar hasn't yet emerged -- yes, I've encountered the same phenomenon, not necessarily in coffee bars as hoity-toity as Starbucks, and I've thought about it, but from the perspective of an economist son of an engineer -- suggests that there is no evolutionarily stable coffee supplementing strategy, or perhaps no condiment bar configuration that induces emergence.

Perhaps the column is, after all, an ETTS moment.
The coffee shop experience is just one instance of the growing practice of shifting the burden of labor to the consumer - gas stations, grocery and drug stores, bagel shops (why should I put on my own cream cheese?), airline check-ins, parking lots. It's insert this, swipe that, choose credit or debit, enter your PIN, push the red button, error, start again.
Mr Rosenbaum offers a counter-argument.
[Professor Fish] might have mentioned ATMs. Used to be you could walk into a bank and ask a teller to give you a couple hundred bucks, and they'd hand it over, "twenty seconds, tops." No troubling paperwork, remember? And what about credit card machines? Now, it's "insert this, swipe that, choose credit or debit, enter your PIN, push the red button, error, start again."
Let's unpackage this. Perhaps the pump jockeys and grocery baggers have discovered more rewarding opportunities, perhaps as symbolic analysts or as pundits. The working class doesn't have to vanish into the destitute. On the other hand, has Mr Rosenbaum forgotten that at one time that teller would ask, "Do you have an account with us?" Good luck cashing a check drawn on a different bank, let alone an out-of-town bank.
LOGE TRUMPS ZEUS. In the Entrance of the Gods into Valhalla, Loge offers an aside to the effect that he'd like to burn the lot out. That honor goes to Brunnhilde, after much incest and treachery, but perhaps Loge got his chance at Olympus instead. It's apparently a very serious fire.
According to the European Union, 454,447 acres of forest, orchards and scrubland were burned from Thursday through Sunday, raising Greece's fire toll for the year so far to 664,020 acres. The previous worst year was 2000, when 358,231 acres were blackened around Greece.
There have been fatalities, and Loge may have had some help from mere mortals.

The government's suggestions that the fires were the result of an organized plan of arson caused confusion and anger.

Public Order Minister Vyron Polydoras implied Sunday that a deliberate plan was in motion.

"We can say that this truly constitutes an asymmetric threat," he said without offering any specifics. He said the Secret Service and anti-terrorism squad had joined police in investigating the blazes.

[Prime Minister Costas] Karamanlis also implied arson was to blame, saying Saturday it could not be coincidence that so many fires broke out simultaneously in different areas.

The downside of extending the general welfare clause of the U.S. Constitution, or analogous principles, whether written down or not, to turn the national government into the crisis manager, no matter what the problem, is that any disaster, whether natural or abetted by criminals, can become an opportunity for political posturing. See, for instance, the New Orleans levees (which we've known about for years) or the Minneapolis bridge (where we've had warnings.) Thus far, the flooding in the State Line has not turned into a political issue. Much credit is due to first-responders, whether paid or volunteer, for helping out. Northern Illinois University officially recognized its Physical Plant staff for having everything ready for classes Monday.

27.8.07

RECOGNIZING THAT EXCESS DEMAND. Inside Higher Ed interviews Professor William C. Dowling, whose recent Confessions of a Spoilsport takes on the anti-intellectualism of College as Beer and Circus. Within the interview is an observation that is germane, whether one views intercollegiate athletics as inconsistent with the academic mission or as great entertainment. (Disclaimer: my loyalty to some of the non-revenue sports has been purchased by acts of kindness from assorted coaching staff.)
As for “imitating” the Ivy League, that’s the first accusation any Division I-A booster will throw at you when you suggest that a state university might be serving a worthier purpose. But think about it for a second. There was a time when all public institutions saw themselves as being in the same business as Harvard and Yale and the others — not as demanding intellectually, perhaps, and not quite as ambitious in their curricula, but basically as being devoted to shaping the minds of educated men and women who would then carry their values back into the larger society, providing a certain wisdom and perspective to those who hadn’t gone on to higher education.
Precisely. Whether one wishes to turf out the bowl hype and the bracket heads or not, "being in the same business" is not a bad objective, particularly in an environment where the U.S. News rankings and their competitors reflect excess demand for serious higher education, in which beer-and-circus is a possible source, but not the only source, of disaffection with the less-renowned universities.
A BRISK WALK FROM THE STATION. Frequent rail transportation is more useful if there are worthwhile destinations not far from the station. As part of our Farewell to Summer, we'll see a few such destinations in the next week or so. Tonight, a look around Milwaukee. (There's a previous look around Tourist Milwaukee that's also an easy walk from the station. For comparison with some of the other Illinois corridors, many of the Lincoln sites are within walking distance of the Springfield station, the Carbondale service offers easy access to Southern Illinois University and the University of Illinois, but the Quincy service sets passengers down at a suburban station that is only slightly less remote than Tiverton Parkway.) On my most recent trip, I headed west. It was portrait day for the Marquette soccer team, just more evidence of what eight year old girls can aspire to.


Behind the team is the St. Joan of Arc Chapel, which the university describes as
to our knowledge, the only medieval structure in the entire Western Hemisphere dedicated to its original purpose: Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam.
That "medieval structure" requires a bit of qualification as, although much of the building is eleventh or twelfth century, there are pieces of solid Lannon stone in the current chapel. It does remain in use for Sunday services during the academic year. There may be older devotional buildings standing in Wisconsin, but their native builders have long since abandoned them. More about those sometime in the future.

In France, these Roman urns held oil and water for the chapel.


Some parts of the tapestries in the sanctuary are fourteenth-century, although they're reinforced with more recent fabrics. It probably hasn't helped some of these objects to be downwind from Falk and other heavy industry.


The chapel includes medieval artifacts from other European churches. This altar presents a Celtic allegory to the Trinity -- note the tri-monad and the recurring shamrocks.


The crypt cover for
Chevalier de Sautereau, a former Chatelain of Chasse, who was "Compagnon d'Armes" of Bayard (1473-1524), the famous French knight "Sans peur et sans reproche" (without fear and without reproach)
came with the chapel from Chasse. The knight's descendants requested that his remains remain in France.


The most famous artifact in the chapel is the Joan of Arc Stone, which came from some other church in France.


Marquette engineering students apparently investigate a phenomenon the chapel guide notes.
They tell of how Joan of Arc (1412-31) prayed before a statue of Our Lady standing on this stone and at the end of her petition kissed the stone which ever since has been colder than the stones surrounding it.
Is it? Go and judge for yourself.

At the east end of campus, the transept spire of Gesu Church echoes that of its younger older neighbor.


The area once known as Commission Row, and now as the Historic Third Ward, is about a half mile east of Marquette University. At one time, Broadway was lined with these produce brokers' warehouses, where fruits and vegetables were on display under the awnings, and the streets were full of trucks loading produce for distribution to mom-and-pop grocers and restaurants. Just-in-time refrigerated container load delivery is probably safer and cheaper but not so colorful. These last two warehouses await some sort of yuppification or perhaps the wrecker.


On Milwaukee Street, where the Route 14 trolleys used to run, the gentrification is well under way. I believe "Landmark Building" is the original name. This part of Milwaukee Street also used to cater to the brokers and jobbers. Just to the east was the pink church in the Italian style that, along with the North Western Depot and some of Commission Row, had to go for the never-finished lakefront expressway.


The retail function of Commission Row has been replaced by this Milwaukee Public Market, which is on St. Paul Avenue, just east of the river, and close to the station.


Inside, fresh produce, lots of cheese and sausage (this is Wisconsin) and some lunch counters. Not a bad place to pause for lunch.


Close by is the Milwaukee Ale House, which also serves food. The dining area has a view of the confluence of the Milwaukee and Menominee Rivers, as well as the east approach to the station. The Sheepshead Stout at the bar is pretty good. Give yourselves twenty minutes to get back to the station and on the train.

26.8.07

BUSINESS PUFFERY NEVER CHANGES. The renovation of Milwaukee's railroad station, soon to be the Greyhound station as well (what about the Badger Bus?) will be done in time for Thanksgiving. Two weeks ago, the project looked like this.


The news report looks forward to completion.
The $15.8 million remodeling project enlarges Amtrak's 1965 bunker-like station by 7,500 square feet, adds a three-story glass atrium and rejiggers space.
Funny how things change. In 1965, the new station, in a style the designer referred to as "Modern Renaissance," was anticipated as a replacement for the Everett Street station. The only lasting improvement was the provision of pedestrian underpasses to tracks 2,3,4, and 5. At the 1996 station, passengers had to cross live tracks to get to trains waiting on 2, 3, 4, and 5.
"For the million people who come though this station every year, this is a real opportunity to provide a welcoming experience - a brand new front door to the city," [Milwaukee redevelopment spokesman Joel] Brennan said.

The prospect of a sunny, spacious transit center has sparked interest from local food and beverage retailers, the city official said, and some contracts are in the works.
Although the station is still cut off from Grand Avenue by an expressway viaduct, there are some retail and entertainment destinations just east of the station, and the Walker's Point tavern district and a cluster of Mexican restaurants are just the other side of the Sixth Street viaduct.

If you know where to look, there is still evidence of the old station.


I'm standing in about the same spot where my dad took this picture in 1940.
THE QUEST FOR LEASTER GOES ON. St. Louis defeated Atlanta, ordinarily good news around here, while the Brewers gave up another lead in San Francisco, to be swept by yet another last-place team, while Slytherin was better than Hufflepuff. So despite falling to .500 the Crew still have a chance to regain the lead at Quidditch Field.
THAT TWO-CYCLE DRUMMING. News reaches Cold Spring Shops that Fairbanks-Morse Engine of Beloit may have another contract to repower ships for the navy. The news comes as a bit of a surprise, as Fairbanks-Morse have not exactly been a company I follow closely. The reference to diesel engines that can run efficiently at reduced power intrigues. At one time, Fairbanks attempted to put a submarine power plant on rails.



Note the large radiators aft, which one diesel authority suggested would be better suited to a submarine where there's a lot of ocean to use as heat sink. Fairbanks have been out of the diesel locomotive business for close to fifty years, although many of the engines were reconditioned for use in stationary power plants. The opposed-piston design makes for a somewhat taller carbody, and the master mechanic doesn't like having to disassemble the entire block to service the lower crankshaft. (The photo appears to be of diesels on the Pennsy scrap line at Hollidaysburg, where they could have had their prime movers pulled.) But an extremely powerful engine with efficiencies at low speeds ... might somebody at the railroads notice?
EVER HEAR OF MORAL HAZARD? The new semester is coming, and with it, Teachable Moments in Public Policy, here your tax dollars at work rebuilding houses on sandbars.
Hurricane Katrina was the latest storm to punish [Dauphin Island, Alabama, a] 14-mile-long island of 1,400 residents. Yet nearly two years after Katrina wiped out 350 homes and dislodged 1.5 miles of land, new and bigger homes are rising. A 9-foot-high sand dune was built with about $3.4 million in federal funds to prevent flooding. But it's already been breached by the Gulf of Mexico's waters.
When the waters don't rise, it's apparently a great place to live.

So why are people rebuilding on such a vulnerable island? The answer lies in a maze of emotions and financial incentives that encourage them to rebuild again and again. Residents point to government-subsidized flood insurance, repairs made to roads and other aid that arrives after storms. They also cite the island's serenity and its sugary white sand.

It's "paradise," says Carol Clark, owner of a bed-and-breakfast that's been damaged six times in 17 years. "The Gulf, all the fresh fish — it's the kind of place you never want to leave."

The article isn't well laid out, with the main debate appearing somewhere in the middle.

Some coastal analysts argue that vulnerable areas such as Dauphin Island shouldn't be rebuilt at all, at least not with help from taxpayers.

"Here's where the government can help people prevent themselves from shooting themselves in the foot," says Orrin Pilkey, director emeritus of Duke University's Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines. "I would give no support to any beachfront development in any form whatsoever. We should take away that insurance money, that nourishment money."

But Harry Simmons, president of the American Shore and Beach Preservation Association, which lobbies for beach-nourishment funds for coastal communities, says that view is shortsighted because a growing number of people are populating America's coastlines.

Also, "Beaches are the No. 1 tourist destination in the U.S., and if you don't do something to maintain this economic resource, that will hurt people all over the U.S.," not just in one area, says Simmons, the mayor of Caswell Beach, N.C.

Catch the conjuring trick in the defense of the subsidies? Short answer: does it come as any surprise that what the government subsidizes, it will get more of? Elaboration: does it come as any surprise that the recipients will not take too kindly to having it withdrawn?

Examine the labels for this post carefully, dear reader. Where are there islands and beaches with swimmable waters not subject to hurricanes?

25.8.07

SKY OF BLUE, SEA OF GREEN. The polar high moved in a bit earlier than the weather forecasters had expected, and there was very little additional rain Friday or early Saturday. By mid-day Saturday, the Kishwaukee River had receded behind the levees, although the water trapped outside the levees can only drain as fast as the river goes down. The bike path runs from the University toward First Street.


There are now footpaths into Kishwaukee Hall and the nearby apartments, although the hall, once home to the radio station and at one time a candidate for conversion to the coffee house, might be a writeoff.


Despite everything, Saturday's Corn Fest events went off as scheduled. American English performed many of the early Beatle tunes.


As I noted earlier, the younger set knows some of the words, for example "We all live in a yellow submarine," but the median age of people who sing along with "my independence seems to vanish in the haze" is somewhat higher.

RUNNING EXTRA: DeKalb County Online has a flood page including links to several videos local residents have provided.
GENERATING EXCESS CAPACITY. University Diaries has a long post detailing assorted troubles with Florida A&M University's law school. Her conclusion:
The contemptible indifference that put a functional illiterate at the head of a law school's writing program is only one instance of a larger institutional indifference that takes money from struggling students and offers them in return cynicism and silence.
The articles she links to provide some context. First, some background, in the middle of St. Petersburg (Florida) Times coverage.

The state of affairs marks a dramatic reversal from the hopes expressed in 2000, when lawmakers voted to re-establish FAMU's law college.

Their decision was a politically charged attempt to right a past wrong against the state's only historically black public college, which lost its law school in 1968. Soon after, neighboring Florida State University opened its new college of law, heightening FAMU supporters' long-running fears about being shut down or folded into FSU.

After lawmakers voted to re-open the law school, then-Lt. Gov. Frank Brogan invoked the civil rights era: "It's a law school at least, it's a law school at last. Thank God Almighty, it's a law school at last."

Indeed, lawmakers hoped new law schools at FAMU and at primarily Hispanic Florida International University would produce more minority attorneys.

The problem, as is depressingly common with such efforts, is that nobody bothers to spell out precisely the trade-off between "diversity," using the usual ascriptive categories, and preparation. (There's also food for thought in that "folded into [Florida State]." Florida A&M is a legacy of Plessy-style "separate but equal": perhaps someone can explain to me why that legacy deserves to continue as an institution. By default, isn't the creation of an "African-American" law program at A&M and a "Hispanic" law program at International the essence of separate, and, as the story is unfolding, unequal?) The editors at the Times identify the consequences of failure to address the tradeoff.

Florida A&M University's College of Law is failing. When lawmakers re-established the school in 2000, they hoped it would help substantially increase the number of black lawyers in the state. They hoped it would be a place where nontraditional students would be nurtured and groomed to pass the bar examination.

Today, however, the school is in a crisis, and some powerful legislators are questioning whether the $40-million to build the Orlando campus has been a good investment after all.

Many students are failing their courses and the bar exam. Others are transferring because, among other reasons, the school is at risk of not being fully accredited by the American Bar Association, which would devalue the students' degrees.

The major causes of the crisis are well-documented: ineffective leadership, administrative incompetence, low morale among faculty, inadequate student counseling and questionable student recruitment.

Since its inception, the school has had one dean, who was fired for his role in a ghost-employee scandal, an interim dean, and a current nominee for dean who awaits board of trustees approval. This leadership vacuum has led to the resignations of several popular professors who will be hard to replace any time soon.

Yes, create a monument to access-assessment-remediation-retention and watch anybody who aspires to more get out. Put another way, don't be surprised if an obscure program dedicated to the latest academic fads attracts less competent faddists. (That's why Dilbert's Scott Adams never lacks for material.)

The editors fail, however, to address another dimension of the problem.

Students are the biggest losers as the problems worsen at FAMU. One student, Vilma Martinez, told the St. Petersburg Times that she was "heartbroken" to leave FAMU, but remaining there would be "like staying in dysfunctional family. At some point, you have to have tough love and cut your losses." She transferred to Stetson Law School in Gulfport. Another student, Torrie Orton, who left for the University of Missouri, told the Times: "I wanted to stay, but I felt like my degree was jeopardized because of the inner workings of Florida A&M."

This state of affairs is unfortunate because many otherwise deserving students, with subpar grade point averages and standardized test scores, would have been rejected by more elite schools. FAMU is their only chance for a career in law.

As. If. More. Subliterate. Lawyers. Are. Useful.

Had the editors made a case for Florida A&M serving students who earned high grades at obscure institutions not well known to the admissions committees at Florida State let alone Duke (hey, Richard Nixon got in) or Tulane, the problems confronting the law school might merit something other than a turf 'em out from me. Perhaps "standardized test" is not a misnomer after all.

There's a local angle to the story, as the Orlando Sentinel reports.
James Ammons, who took over as FAMU president in July, let the man whom he picked to be the law school's new dean do most of the talking."I can't promise every problem will be resolved immediately," LeRoy Pernell, currently dean of the law school at Northern Illinois University, told students. "But I can promise every problem will be reviewed."
Professor Pernell has been dean at Northern Illinois for ten years, after a long hitch at Ohio State, not exactly the track record of a professional job-hopper.

The Northern Illinois public affairs office puts a brave face on the dean's move.

As dean at FAMU College of Law, Pernell will continue efforts aimed at re-establishment and full accreditation of the law school, which reopened in 2002. In the troubled civil rights history of the United States, the loss of the previous Florida A&M College in Tallahassee (established in 1949) occurred in 1968. According to Pernell, the law school’s closing “represented a severe blow to legal education opportunity for African Americans in particular.”

The deanship at FAMU will offer Pernell a unique opportunity of national historic significance. Although he realizes the successful journey to full American Bar Association accreditation will not be easy, Pernell is convinced that he can provide positive leadership in an enterprise that is “emotionally close to my heart and symbolic of the very reason why I have dedicated my professional life to legal education.”

Pernell assumed the deanship of NIU Law in 1997. He came to NIU after serving as vice provost of the Office of Minority Affairs at The Ohio State University since 1994, where he also was a professor since 1975. As only one of two African-American deans at an Illinois law school and only one of a handful across the country, Pernell has long been recognized as a leader in diversity. It is at the core of his educational philosophy, and that focus is expressed throughout NIU Law.

Under Pernell’s leadership, NIU Law has been nationally recognized for its diversity efforts. The Princeton Review has ranked NIU Law among the Top 10 law schools in the nation as having the most diverse faculty for three straight years in 2005, 2006, and 2007. In its 2007 lists of America’s Best Graduate Schools, U.S. News and World Report ranked NIU Law among the top law schools for having a diverse student body. Furthermore, NIU Law has been honored to receive the Council on Legal Education Opportunity (CLEO) Diversity Award in 2002, 2003 and 2006 in recognition of the school’s continuing commitment to diversifying the legal profession.

That might have been the hopes of Florida A&M, as the Times article notes.

Last summer, Vilma Martinez walked into the Florida A&M University law school with hundreds of other first-year students and began to dream.

It was the first day of orientation, and Martinez was struck by the diversity of faces. Optimism coursed through the new, $30-million building on the edge of downtown Orlando.

She thought: This place will make America better.

"You feel that going in," said Martinez, a Tampa native with Cuban roots. "You become one of the faithful."

It takes more than the melange of faces, though, to make a law school, or a university.Closer to home, the problem of putting diversity ahead of, oh, legal training manifests itself in the college's "Serving the Needs of the Community" page.

A primary emphasis at NIU College of Law is to build upon our emerging reputation as a law school that embraces multu-cultural awareness as well as service in the public sector. At the College of Law we believe that today's complex and multi-cultural world offers greater opportunity for diversity in the legal profession. At the College of Law we celebrate our commitment to diversity, as reflected by the students, faculty, and alumni. We are dedicated to not only providing quality legal education for the benefit of all, but also to fostering a sense of life-long responsibility towards public service and awareness.

Although a majority of our graduates enter private practice, we also continue to rank near the top among law schools in placing students in public service and public interest jobs. We continue to facilitate such public service /public interest placement for interested students through specialized curricular offerings, focused externship opportunities and the development of a JD/MPA joint degree option. The College seeks to instill a commitment to public service in all students during law school, beginning a lifetime evolving commitment to use their legal education for public interest, no matter what the particular practice setting. Thus, all students are encouraged to engage regularly in pro bono activities, and the College of Law provides a number of "public interest stipends" each summer to support students in full-time public interest work.

Somehow, the central administration was able to stave off elimination of a number of graduate programs during the worst of the early-1990s downsizing fad by selling a number of Sixties-type missions, including an Economics Ph.D. limited to urban and regional, human resource, and public sector economics, and a law school concentrating on this community-activism stuff rather than divorces or mergers. The Economics Department has scrapped and scrapped for the past eight years or so to bring its course offerings into line with student demand and recent developments in the field. The College of Law bears watching, particularly if Dean Parnell's appointment in Florida goes through. (It sounds like he's genuinely interested in the task facing him there.)
COMPARE AND CONTRAST. Via Charlie Sykes, a lament from Victor Davis Hanson.

Our present ambition to make every American youth college material -- in a way our forefathers would have thought ludicrous -- ensures that we will both fail in that utopian goal and lack enough literate Americans with critical vocational skills. ...

We should first scrap the popular therapeutic curriculum that in the scarce hours of the school day crams in sermons on race, class, gender, drugs, sex, self-esteem or environmentalism. These are well-intentioned efforts to make a kinder and gentler generation more sensitive to our nation's supposed past and present sins. But they only squeeze out far more important subjects.

The old approach to education saw things differently than we do. Education ("to lead out" or "to bring up") was not defined as being "sensitive" to, or "correct" on, particular issues. It was instead the rational ability to make sense of the chaotic present through the abstract wisdom of the past.

That doesn't appear to be the preference of at least one school administrator, who reacts badly to Mr Sykes's new 50 Rules Kids Won't Learn in School.

"It makes me angry," [Council Bluffs school superintendent Martha] Bruckner said. "We should not give people like (Sykes) credit. These rules are basically 50 one-liners that mostly put people down."

She said she cringed at rules like, "You are not a victim, so stop whining" and "You are not entitled ..." because they struck her as demeaning.

Others, such as "The real world won't care as much as your school does about your self-esteem," struck her as gratuitous slaps at students, as well as the teaching profession.

Bruckner replaced Jack Keegan July 1, and has been preparing for the new school year, which begins next Monday in the Council Bluffs school district. She said she wants to see graduation rates, student achievement and the expectation levels of the community rise.

We have much to look forward to. What happens, for instance, the first time higher expectations induce whining?

24.8.07

DESPITE THE RAIN. The rain-out date for the Illinois Railway Museum's rained-out "Day Out with Thomas" was not rained out, although the flooding and cleanup elsewhere in the State Line well may have limited attendance.


LOOKING PROFESSIONAL. To what extent is socialization into the ways of the upper-middle class part of the business curriculum? At Illinois State, some Recommended Practices in a small number of sales classes has turned into a college policy.
Administrators’ and faculty members’ arguments for the dress code are forceful. “They’re in a preprofessional environment; it’s not like a light switch gets flipped and you go from being students to a competent professional,” said Amy Humphreys, assistant to the college dean for constituent relations. “You can already just feel the difference [in attitude] between the kids who just come shuffling in with iPods and flip-flops, and then students who come in dressed for success.”
Not everyone agrees.
I know this whole issue may seem comical (and damn, it's funny to me), but it reflects the danger that universities are increasingly being turned into clones of corporate America, and the dress code is just one obvious step in that.
Those who do not remember ... "Clones of corporate America" is a reformulation for the early Oughts of "complicity in the military-industrial complex," which was still current in the early 1970s, before the Greek Revival, bringing with it both vocationalism and the party-school mentality, the correlation of forces which made the Illinois State policy possible.

The Illinois State rationale is instructive. It includes,
If your body is covered in piercings and your hair is spiked and dyed purple, business school may not be the place for you: “Do be aware that as you move into the corporate world, visible body piercing other than pierced ears and visible tattoos may not be considered appropriate by some of the firms you want to work for.”
No doubt the Perpetually Aggrieved will find Much to be Aggrieved By in this.

There's also food for thought here.
“Use common sense when wearing clothing that has words on it; people are easily offended or distracted by words,” the guidelines note, but it’s unclear how a student can wear a shirt that is both collared and bearing offensive language. However, “[c]lothing that has the Illinois State University logo is encouraged. Sports team, university, and fashion brand names on clothing are generally acceptable.”
Right. Break out that Packer polo during Bears Week. (Illinois State is not in Neutral Territory. Northern Illinois is close.) Watch what happens. Likewise, that Ford Quality Team shirt is going to go over real well at the General Motors golf outing.
WHY "JURY OF THEIR PEERS" MATTERS. Victim impact statements are for the sentencing phase.

Via Professor Bainbridge.
JUMPING SHIP? Near-record flooding in DeKalb, and (via University Diaries ) news of senior administrators shopping resumes.
Though Northern Illinois University has been around a lot longer than [Florida Gulf Coast University], [provost Ray] Alden has overseen several changes during his year as provost. The university recently reformed its general education structure to make it much more streamlined so students could get through it quicker, Alden said.
Senior administrators come, and senior administrators go, which makes it all the more important for faculty to hold the line on academic integrity and high standards of teaching and scholarship.

Florida Gulf Coast? Sounds like a railroad, possibly an extension of the Southern to get trains such as the Royal Palm and Seminole south of Jacksonville without using the rails of a competitor.
WHAT A LIGHTNING ROD DOES. Sears Tower Hit by Lightning Repeatedly.
AFTER I LOGGED OFF LAST NIGHT. The rains did come, and we got clobbered. The university declared a rain day and asked everyone to leave by 10 am. A rain day is more destructive than a snow day, as there's a lot more mess to clean up.

Not all of the southwest side River Heights golf course is on the heights. These water hazards are not part of the ground rules. The south side neighborhood off Taylor Street near the river suffered.


There's a bit of water across Castle Drive that's not shown on the campus map.


The new College Street bridge opened in time for move-in, but it had to be closed as the east approach is under water.


Kishwaukee Hall is waterlogged on all sides. I don't recall this much water in any of the previous floods.


We may have to replace the gym floors again.

West of the drainage ditch, that's not a reflecting pool. On good weather days, people will be studying here, or on occasion a class will meet on the steps, and after the middle schools dismiss, the skateboarders show up.


For a while, all the Kishwaukee River crossings in DeKalb were closed. The Lincoln Highway crossing, adjacent to the East Lagoon, is open, although the Lagoon has temporarily occupied the driving lanes. The police rearranged the lane shifts west of the work zone to allow traffic to use the crown lanes.


On the news, I heard that some SLOW NO WAKE buoys had been pressed into service somewhere in the Chicago area to reduce the erosion produced by bow waves stirred up by traffic. I have to wonder, however, whether the operators of Hummers, Escalades, and other DUKWannabes would pay any attention!

The Daily Chronicle has extensive photo coverage. Some neighborhoods were evacuated by boat.

RUNNING EXTRA. Very little rain overnight. River dropping. The Weather Channel sent a roving reporter to the fifth tee at River Heights.

23.8.07

THIS IS WHAT A MILWAUKEE WORLD SERIES LOOKS LIKE.

First and Fastest Autumn 2007 issue.
Kenneth Spengler photo, October 5, 1957, near County Stadium.
POWERING DOWN SHORTLY. Afternoon storms have made getting home an adventure for Metra riders.

METRA UNION PACIFIC NORTHWEST LINE TRAIN #651 SCHEDULED TO ARRIVE CRYSTAL LAKE AT 7:08P.M. IS CURRENTLY OPERATING APPROXIMATELY 100-105 MINUTES BEHIND SCHEDULE DUE TO SEVERE WEATHER CONDITIONS.

METRA UNION PACIFIC WEST LINE TRAIN #61 SCHEDULED TO ARRIVE ELBURN AT 7:33P.M. IS CURRENTLY STOPPED NEAR GLEN ELLYN WITH HIGH WATER LEVELS FLOODING AREAS NEAR THE RAILS. DURATION OF THE DELAY IS UNKNOWN AT THIS TIME AS WE WILL PROVIDE UPDATED INFORMATION AS IT IS KNOWN.

UPDATED 8:03P.M.METRA UNION PACIFIC WEST LINE TRAIN #61 SCHEDULED TO ARRIVE ELBURN AT 7:33P.M. IS NOW ON THE MOVE AND WILL DROP PASSENGERS AT THE GLEN ELLYN STATION AND WILL EXPRESS TO ELBURN. TRAIN #63 SCHEDULED TO ARRIVE ELBURN 8:06P.M. WILL PICK UP THOSE PASSENGERS FROM TRAIN #61 AT GLEN ELLYN AND WILL MAKE ALL SCHEDULED STOPS TO ELBURN. THIS TRAIN IS OPERATING 45-50 MINUTES BEHIND SCHEDULE.

METRA UNION PACIFIC TRAIN #66 SCHEDULED TO DEPART ELBURN AT 8:25 TO ARRIVE OGILVIE TRANSPORTATION CENTER AT 9:46P.M. IS EXPECTED TO BE DELAYED IN ITS DEPARTURE BY UP TO 15-20 MINUTES.

An afternoon tornado warning slowed move-in day at Northern Illinois, although from the looks of things on the west campus, almost everybody is in. There was no tornado, although I'm concerned about the river rising and blocking the open bridges in town. There are lightning flashes to my northwest and the thunder is getting louder ...

22.8.07

A RULE K REFRESHER.
Employes must expect the movement of trains, engines, cars or other movable equipment at any time, on any track, in either direction.
Pedestrians, too.

Metra trains between Chicago and Aurora were delayed for up to an hour Monday after train 43 on the Burlington Northern Santa Fe line struck and killed a man near the La Grange station at about 4:15 p.m., according to a story in the Chicago Tribune. The train had left Union Station at 3:58 p.m. There were some cancellations Monday, however, all trains were expected to be operating normally by Tuesday morning, said Patrick Waldron, a Metra spokesman.

The triple-track line was closed immediately after the incident, preventing trains from moving in either direction through the accident site, Waldron said. Two tracks were reopened by 5:30 p.m. and all tracks were in use by 7 p.m.

Some passengers may have been delayed for more than an hour, not for the first time on that line.
NO POPULAR DISCONTENT PERMITTED. The Chinese will tell you where to get off.

China is trying to stamp out protests over rail delays ahead of the Beijing Olympics in 2008, threatening passengers with legal action if they stay aboard their train once it has reached its destination, according to a report from the Reuters News Agency.

"Refusing to leave the train will be regarded as an illegal act endangering train safety," the China News said, citing a long list of unlawful measures proscribed by central authorities.

There have been several instances of Chinese passengers refusing to leave their trains after serious delays, demanding compensation and an apology from state-run railway operators.

According to the latest Railways Ministry order, passengers are prohibited from protesting or hindering the railway by crowding the aisles or refusing to leave the carriage.

"When there are train delays, passengers should take legal action to protect individual legal rights via normal channels," the semi-official news service said on its on-line Web site.

The Trains News Wire item does not note whether "legal action" includes the use of small pistols by the railway police.
POWERING DOWN SHORTLY. Nasty storms moving into the North West Frontier.


Radar image from NIU Weather.
DON'T TANGLE WITH A TRAIN. It doesn't take too kindly to driving its lane.

Basketball always came easily to Eddie Griffin. It was life off the court that he had trouble handling.

The former Minnesota Timberwolves forward died last week when his sport-utility vehicle collided with a freight train in a fiery crash, the Harris County medical examiner's office said Tuesday.

Investigators used dental records to identify Griffin, 25, who began his pro career with the Houston Rockets in 2001. He was waived by the Timberwolves in March.

Mr Griffin was troubled as a player, and unfortunately some life lessons are final.

Griffin missed practices and a team flight, and the Rockets suspended him, then waived him in December 2003.

"Basketball was never an issue with him. He needed more life lessons, and unfortunately he was never able to reach his potential," former Timberwolves coach Dwane Casey said.

New Jersey signed Griffin in January 2004. The Nets tried to take steps to curtail his behavior, hiring a personal assistant to make living arrangements for him and instituting a curfew.

Less than two months later, the Nets waived Griffin after he left the team so he could check into the Betty Ford Center to get six weeks of treatment for alcohol abuse.

The accident report is not yet complete.

Don't mess with trains.
GET THE BRIDGETENDER'S CAT. Experts tie pigeon dung, bridge collapse.

Inspectors began documenting the buildup of pigeon dung on the span near downtown Minneapolis two decades ago. Experts say the corrosive guano deposited all over the span's framework helped the steel beams rust faster.

Although investigators have yet to identify the cause of the bridge's Aug. 1 collapse, which killed at least 13 people and injured about 100, the pigeon problem is one of many factors that dogged the structure.

The forensic engineers have not yet finished their work. Pigeons, however, are not liked by the highway commissioner.

The Colorado Department of Transportation spent so much time cleaning pigeon manure off bridges that it is embarking on a two-year research project looking for ways to keep pigeons away from its spans.

"It can be damaging to our structures because it's slightly acidic and it has other compounds in it that can dissolve especially things like concrete," said Patricia Martinek, the agency's environmental research manager.

No word on whether the highway commissioner will appoint a Falconer.

21.8.07

SELLING THE FAMILY SILVERWARE? An editorial in USA Today objects to revenue-strapped governments selling infrastructure.
Water utilities have been among the most controversial items up for sale, but other public services are also on the block as state and local governments hope to balance budgets by auctioning off public bridges, highways and airports. Last year, Indiana's toll road was sold to a foreign consortium for $3.8 billion in the largest highway privatization deal in U.S. history. Other public properties under consideration for sale: Chicago's Midway International Airport, the New Jersey Turnpike and the Pennsylvania Turnpike.
The premises the authors state in a preceding paragraph seem like an odd basis for challenging a privatization.

Falling bridges, collapsing levees, bursting pipes, sewage spills, failing electrical grids — this short list of major infrastructure failures in just the past few years might lead one to think that there's a conspiracy, that terrorists are taking down our public services and tax-built assets.

But it turns out that we are doing it to ourselves, first by underinvesting in our water, transportation and energy systems, and then by trying to solve the problem by auctioning off these assets in a fire sale to the highest private bidder.

There is a potential problem with such fire sales, if the highest bidder has too optimistic an expectation either of the future revenues from the property or of the expenditures required to put the property in shape, the premise being that governments are selling off deteriorated properties. (Chicago's Mayor Daley gets this point.) Such optimism might have figured in Stockton, California's recently reversed privatization of a water utility.
Citizen watchdog groups had also reported that the private company had adopted a "run-to-fail" approach to preventive maintenance. "Employees were feeling frustrated that they couldn't maintain the facilities the way they had previously," said Stockton City Council member Susan Eggman.
(That is, if one can speak with a straight face about any water works in the heavily-subsidized West being a private enterprise.) The substantive point might be nothing more than a very technical issue, the efficient level of maintenance. The private owner might have viewed the pre-existing maintenance activity as the equivalent of gold-plating. Alternatively, the owner might have been wasting the asset, raising the possibility that the privatization was not well done.

It's not clear, however, that public management of roads, airports, and waterworks has lived up to the authors' expectations.
Instead, what is required is a new commitment by citizens and government to rebuild our infrastructure so that our water and other essential services remain in the public domain to be managed for the benefit of all citizens, and not for the profit of a few.
The problem, dear reader, is that government has not managed public properties for the benefit of all citizens, which makes the privatizers' case a little easier. (Short form: the bidder claims to do no worse.)

There is, however, one deeper problem with these privatizations. The lease of the Indiana Toll Road, for example, appears to be a way for the state to meet some current expenses. Once there is no more silverware to sell ...
NO KIDDING. The Transportationist:
Apparently physics works in both communist and non-communist countries; but a free press only in non-communist ones.
The quote refers to a Chinese news blackout after a bridge collapse, but it could apply as well to rescue efforts in mines.

Neither a communist nor a non-communist country is sufficiently socialist. Herewith some commentary on the fatal mine collapse in Utah.
The grim spectacle that has unfolded in Utah is a testament to the inhumanity and irrationality a social and political system that subordinates all considerations to the enrichment of a small financial elite. Despite immense developments in science and technology—which are used to vastly increase the productivity of miners and the profit of coal mine owners—health and safety conditions for miners remain backward and primitive.
The same service, commenting on a flooded mine in China.
Rapid economic development in China has created a deep social divide, with an increasingly wealthy capitalist elite making its profits through the ruthless exploitation of the workforce. “Harmony” is only maintained through harsh discipline backed by the full force of the police and state apparatus.
Question: will the theorizing of Leon Trotsky or the unwillingness of consumers to buy defective Chinese goods be the better protection of miners?
HOW OTHERS SEE US. The editorial board at the Rocky Mountain News.

It is heartening in the sense that [Colorado] President Hank Brown recognizes that public confidence in higher education has waned and is contemplating [achievement testing for juniors] as a means of resurrecting that trust (and the funding that might go with it).
At the same time, it is an indictment of the preparation that too many students receive before they arrive on campus, as well as an admission that two years of university study do not necessarily correct these shortcomings.

Basic skills should be in place by the time students ever set foot on campus. Or, at the least, such weaknesses should have been ferreted out long before the junior year.

The Superintendent reminds regular readers, as well as the editorial board, that there will be constituencies at Colorado whose very livelihood depends on a continuing flow of unprepared students to keep their offices busy.

20.8.07

ONCE AN ENGINE AHEAD OF A TRAIN WAS AFRAID OF A FEW DROPS OF RAIN. Far from the hurricane zone, the State Line continues to receive rain, with the deluge likely to continue as the Atlantic hurricanes have a way of slowing the movement of weather systems further north. The Illinois Railway Museum closed today because of wet grounds, and this picture of a stud of diesels moved onto the main line suggests weather-related difficulties elsewhere on the grounds.


Sunday's "Day Out with Thomas" festivities were also rained out, no doubt to the disappointment of the thousands of toddlers and their parents that get their start in ferroequinology.

Friday, however, was a fine day for train excursions, and probably a bit less crowded.

SUMMER HOME FLOTSAM. A life ring stencilled Edmund Fitzgerald that washed up on the Keewenaw shore of Lake Superior is not original.

Cynthia Edwards, of Oakland County's West Bloomfield Township, says her father acquired the orange preserver more than 20 years ago and stenciled "Edmund Fitzgerald" on it.

The ring was kept at the family's cabin along Lake Superior and the Eagle River - not far from where it ultimately was found in the Upper Peninsula's Keweenaw Peninsula - until it was lost about two years ago.

Her father painted the ship's name on the ring as kind of a remembrance of the ship, Edwards told The Associated Press on Monday.

"It was never to trick anybody or make anybody think it was real," she said.

Edwards told a museum employee last week the truth behind the orange preserver.

At the time the ring surfaced, some people raised questions about the Edmund Fitzgerald Duluth stencils on the ring, which were legitimate as Fitzgerald was named for a Northwestern Mutual Insurance Company, of Milwaukee, senior executive, and her transom read

EDMUND FITZGERALD
MILWAUKEE.

19.8.07

ANOTHER INFRASTRUCTURE CRISIS. Insufficient soccer fields in the suburbs.
GETTING TO THE ROOT CAUSE. This site has maintained that one purpose of the common school is to socialize the young into the Habits of Highly Effective People. London Times commentator Harriet Sergeant suggests that schools are failing at that mission because some teachers are ashamed to be Highly Effective.
Then instead of authority and leadership, boys in state schools too often find themselves taught by teachers ashamed of their values. One young man teaching in a school in a deprived area in the northeast said his “main focus” was not to offend his pupils. “I don’t want to push my middle-class values on them,” he explained earnestly. When a pupil described his hopes for the future, stacking shelves in the local supermarket, “I pointed out the many positive aspects of the job — meeting people and so forth.” There was little attempt by the school, he admitted, to provide pastoral care or raise pupils’ expectations. He saw no link between this and his No 1 problem — pupil apathy.
It's possible that such "unwillingness" to appear to be an advocate is a behavior learned in teachers' college. (There might be other dynamics at work in Britain -- stacking grocery shelves is still a way of earning college money in the States.) Here's an observation from Janet at SCSU Scholars.
Too many of the so-called teacher colleges began emphasizing self-esteem, the whole person, etc. over content in the 1970's. These institutions were extremely influential. When these "can do no wrong" ideas began, the college population came from homes where books, magazines and papers are readily available. Most came from English speaking homes with trditional work ethics and those who did not understood an earned degree (vs one given to students) would open doors regardless of background. Unless spoiled, these students would succeed. Once the feeling mentality overtook the learning mentality, problems started. Though today's college population is more varied the skills to succeed are the same. Unfortunately too many students are not taught necessary academic or social skills and too many parents overprotect their kids while demanding too little respect for themselves and teachers. The result is: a less educated populace; entry level workers who do not understand that showing up on time and doing what needs to be done are necessary for success; businesses and agencies that hire workers discover these new comers often cannot think, cannot make decisions, and call home when the going gets uncomfortable (note, I did not say the 'going gets tough').
Her conclusion:
We have spent far too many years in the bubble of "I'm ok, you're ok." We are ok but we still need to learn. By default, American attracts the best, brightest and most energetic. We are lying to ourselves if we continue to adapt a system that handicaps everyone, native and foreign born.
True enough. But the Times and the Scholars are likely preaching to the converted. What mugging by reality does the rest of the school establishment require?