31.10.07

PRIVATIZE THE AIRPORTS. Irwin Stelzer notes a restriction of output in order to be able to raise prices.
In the United States, airlines are making money despite delays and horrible service. US Air, United, Delta, American Airlines, and Jet Blue have all reported hefty increases in profits. The reason: after a wave of chastening bankruptcies, they have cut capacity, bringing the number of available seats more into line with demand, and reducing the scramble to peddle empty seats at any price above the almost zero cost of carrying an additional passenger. This past summer, carriers operated at around 86 percent load factors (percent of seats filled), which is good for the carriers, but not so good for travelers wedged into middle seats or hoping to cadge a seat on some frequent-flyer program. Still, there are bargains available for anyone willing to take to the air on the slow travel days during the holiday season, a gift to the traveling ublic from Alfred Kahn, the Cornell economist who pushed through deregulation when chairing the now-defunct regulatory agency, and this month was toasted by his former students and colleagues at a 90th birthday celebration. Travelers might also hoist a glass.
But getting airborne is not fun, because the incentives are wrong.

Which brings us to Washington's Dulles, London's Heathrow, and other airports around the world. If lines lengthen at security check points no one has an incentive to add staff, open more lanes, or do anything to relieve the passenger's plight. By contrast, such a situation at Whole Foods, Giant, or any respectable supermarket results in the opening of more check-out lines to relieve congestion. Store managers have an incentive to prevent customers from taking their business elsewhere; airport managers don't, or think they don't. Indeed, they have every incentive to keep costs down and profits up, even if that means providing a miserable service. Imagine what life would be like in an airport in which security personnel, or at least the managers, had their pay cut every time lines lengthened beyond some target limit, and the power to correct the situation.

Now consider the world's airlines' roles in all of this. They have by and large acted as if their customers' experience in airports is none of their concern. Yes, some have set up fast-track security lanes for their best customers, but most have left their passengers at the mercy of a security system in which the operators have little reason to worry about passenger convenience. And most airlines view with equanimity the long lines of passengers waiting to check luggage and get boarding passes. All will be well when the passenger tunes into some great in-flight entertainment system. Unless, of course, he or she is sitting on the tarmac for a few hours, in which case the airlines are guessing that their customers are not completely up-to-date on the carriers' reluctance to fund a new air-traffic control system that might eliminate such annoyances.

That provokes a wicked thought on this 44th anniversary of the shameful act of vandalism called "redeveloping Pennsylvania Station." The corporate puffery of the day promised a train station that would compare favorably with an airport. In that, they succeeded.

But why should the carriers fund the traffic-control system if it can be fobbed off on aviation hobbyists or corporate jet fleets, or on the general run of taxpayers?
NO REEDUCATION HERE. More on the Delaware "life education" programs here and here, with a rejoinder by the University and a press release.
SAY WHAT? Consider yourself overworked?

[T]here is a lot of detail regarding the challenges of a working-class upbringing, the pitfalls of making the choices one’s parents made, the hard work and sacrifices one’s immigrant parents made, the responsibility to make choices that honor those sacrifices, the classism or racism that can accompany trying to pull oneself up by one’s bootstraps to have more “choices,” more options. Some people realize after a very long journey that the “choice” idea is based on a very old fiction, one that had its heyday during a period of inhuman exploitation of the working class and the colonies (and that continues to enjoy immense popularity). Buying into this narrative and believing that you are working yourself out of your situation isn’t just selling out to the man in a trendy counterculture sort of way. Buying into the narrative perpetuates the violence of the narrative.

But too often, folks who are marginalized (and thus, often the most sold on the “choice” narrative) do not want to critique existing structures of power. “It’s already too hard,” they might say. “I’m already exploited. I already have too many things to do. I need to just get the job done.” Certainly, I have heard this often when there are truly concerns that require that one perform his or her duties so that he or she can return home and spend time with the kids, or simply manage the job such that they are not spending an insane amount of time on it. And even so, even with all of the legitimacy we can allow to reasons for not mounting the necessary critique of existing systems of power and oppression, when we do this, we are the ideal candidates for institutions which need people like us to continue to exploit people. Thus excerpting race, class, or what have you out of our agenda of critique can be severely damaging, particularly in institutions where students might not often think about those things (say, predominantly middle/upper class, or predominantly white institutions). And what I have found is that it really is easier, short term, to say you’re not going to take it on. Someone else will take care of it down the line. Not this time around.

The problem with this is that even as rational “choice” becomes more and more meaningless as the impetus for one’s life decisions–”I need to jump through X, Y, and Z hoops so I can have ‘choices’”–it becomes simultaneously reproduced as a useful or valuable concept when one avoids its critique. That is dangerous and damaging, I argue. And I also argue that it’s harder, in the long run, for those who avoid the critique because it seems easier to do so in the short term.

That ought to clear things up.
CREATING DROPOUT FACTORIES. The tussle over school vouchers continues.
Actually, this makes me think that a lot of the opposition to vouchers is about that affluent suburbanite's need to maintain the delusion that they care about inner city public schools. Memo to suburban voucher opponents who "support public education": you're already sending your kid to private school. You're just confused because your tuition fees came bundled with granite countertops and hardwood floors.
That reminds me of McCormick, Shughart, and Tollison's 1984 "The Disinterest in Deregulation," wherein the rents are concentrated and the welfare gains small and costly to collect. And yes, genuine competition among school districts is likely to bring in its train some capital losses to current homeowners whose mortgages include that test-score premium in the house price. But it doesn't have to be those upscale accessories. Take Milwaukee Hamilton, onetime flagship of the public system, now borderline dropout factory. More than a few parents, including my own. purchased new houses in that area in anticipation of having a new high school when their kids came of age. More than a few of those kids, based on the (admittedly unscientific) observations I've been able to make, have purchased houses in nearby suburbs that, while pleasant, aren't in the granite countertop class. But yes, we do have school choice in the United States. It comes under the rubric of residential location, with the attendant self-selection tradeoffs.

There's a differing perspective on the voucher argument, with more than spirited bull sessions in progress.
JUNIOR FACULTY SHOULD BE ON THE MARKET ALL THE TIME. Thus did one of my colleagues at my first job explain professional survival in research economics. Not all practitioners in all disciplines have yet received that advice, to judge by what the moderators at Rate Your Students (must be the downtime between six-and twelve-week exams) have been dealing with. Read and understand.
The reality of this profession is that salary, resources, and achievement can depend on putting oneself on the market, particularly when one is in one's probationary period.
Indeed, although the ensuing bull session goes beyond spirited. See also this and this.

30.10.07

A DROPOUT FACTORY. Milwaukee Hamilton barely makes the cut. Joanne Jacobs links to ABC News coverage that includes an instructive observation.

Loretta Singletary, 17, enrolled in a GED program after dropping out of a Washington, D.C., high school that she describes as huge, chaotic and violent. "Girls got jumped, boys got jumped, teachers (were) fighting and hitting students," she said.

She said teachers had low expectations for students, which led to dull classes. "They were teaching me stuff I already knew ... basic nouns, simple adjectives."

Singletary said she loved science but wasn't offered it and her complaints to administrators went unanswered. "I was interested in experiments," she said. "I didn't have science in 9th or 10th grade."

A GED classmate of Singletary's is 23-year-old Dontike Miller, who attended and left two D.C. high schools on the dropout factory list. Miller was brought up by a single mother who used drugs, and he said teachers and counselors seemed oblivious to what was going on in his life.

He would have liked for someone to sit him down and say: "You really need to go to class. We're going to work with you. We're going to help you," Miller said. Instead, "I had nobody."

So much for lowered expectations augmenting self-esteem.
INSUFFICIENT ALTERNATIVES. It appears as though all of the Illinois Tollway is going to be a work zone, providing additional lanes that will all too soon be just as crowded as the current lanes are.

"For the next three years, we'll be under construction everywhere," said Joelle McGinnis, a spokeswoman for the Illinois State Toll Highway Authority.

And some people in Wisconsin will feel the crunch. There's only so much business that can be transacted via phones and computers. Sometimes, a worker has to get in a car for a face-to-face meeting with a client in Chicago or a firm needs to send trucks to move tons of supplies via the interstates. And there is plenty of cross-border commuting.

"There are a lot more people from Wisconsin coming down to Illinois for jobs," said Mary Tyrrell, a clinical researcher who for 17 years has made the 90-mile roundtrip commute from her home in Milwaukee to her job at Abbott in Chicago's northern suburbs. Tyrrell shares a van with five other Abbott employees - she's out the door before 6 a.m. and at her desk by 7 a.m.

Not difficult, as Abbott Park is just south of Great America, and the congestion isn't as bad on the north end of the Tri-State, yet.

But why not build a Gurnee stop for the Hiawatha as part of an upgrade to 110 mph operation?
ARTICLE 58. Our friends at The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education have a new visual aid.

And apparently, new stories of informants.

In order to promote a diverse and respectful campus community, the College considers acts of hate and bias unacceptable and contrary to our commitment to a welcoming and inclusive community. The College's diversity statement reads "the College of William and Mary strives to be a place where people of all backgrounds feel at home, where diversity is actively embraced, and where each individual takes responsibility for upholding the dignity of all members of the community."

The Bias Reporting System was established to assist members of the William and Mary community who have been affected by incidents involving bias related to race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, or other protected conditions. The system provides multiple modes of reporting to include personal contact, online form, or faxed form. Confidentiality will be honored unless reporting individual provides contact information.

As well as new legions of interrogators.

According to the program’s materials, the goal of the residence life education program is for students in the university’s residence halls to achieve certain “competencies” that the university has decreed its students must develop in order to achieve the overall educational goal of “citizenship.” These competencies include: “Students will recognize that systemic oppression exists in our society,” “Students will recognize the benefits of dismantling systems of oppression,” and “Students will be able to utilize their knowledge of sustainability to change their daily habits and consumer mentality.”

At various points in the program, students are also pressured or even required to take actions that outwardly indicate their agreement with the university’s ideology, regardless of their personal beliefs. Such actions include displaying specific door decorations, committing to reduce their ecological footprint by at least 20%, taking action by advocating for an “oppressed” social group, and taking action by advocating for a “sustainable world.”

In the Office of Residence Life’s internal materials, these programs are described using the harrowing language of ideological reeducation. In documents relating to the assessment of student learning, for example, the residence hall lesson plans are referred to as “treatments.”

Obviously. If you reject that which is good for you, you must be sick.
SUDDEN VICTORY. Poor Denver. First their latest excuse for a yuppie outing comes a cropper in the World Series. Then their earlier excuse for a yuppie outing works and works and works and secures an early lead on the Packers, only to have Brett Favre and James Jones tie it up on one play. The excuse then works and works to force overtime on the last play of regulation, only to have Brett Favre and Greg Jennings untie it on the first play of overtime. And Mr Favre has grayer hair than mine ...

To think that the original Elitch Gardens had to be sacrificed to make these outings possible.
THOUGHT OF THE DAY. Courtesy Candace de Russy at Phi Beta Cons.

Some law students at Stanford are meting out “diversity report cards” to top law firms, ranking them by how many female, minority and gay lawyers they have hired.

Roger Clegg, the president of the Center for Equal Opportunity, a research group that supports colorblind policies, is of course right in calling this grading exercise harmful. “Diversity is all too frequently a code word,” he said, “for preferential treatment on the basis of race, ethnicity or sex, or lower standards, or being opposed to assimilation.”

Is the job market for new associates so buoyant that law students can engage in such behavior? In the 1960s, the criterion many newly minted lawyers used for accepting employment was whether or not the firm offered pro bono opportunities, defined in those days as being able to use company time to obtain draft deferments for high schoolers or expanded welfare benefits for chronically unemployable people.

Picking up Mr Clegg's observation: just once I'd like the diversity advocates to spell out precisely their trade-off between quality and inclusiveness. (If there is no such trade-off, there ought be no controversy over hiring for diversity.)
LEARNING EXPERIENCE. In tournament play, sometimes them that has gets.

The Hilltoppers controlled the ball during most of its WIAA Division 1 sectional final against Milwaukee Hamilton, using their size advantage to score a goal along the way. And they won the match, 3-0, to advance to next weekend's WIAA state soccer tournament.

Marquette so thoroughly controlled the ball that Hamilton, champion of the City Conference, never mounted a serious offensive threat and was limited to a few ineffective long-range shots.

The perspective of the Hamilton coach is instructive.

"We were here to play with the big boys and I think we gave them a serious first half," Hamilton coach Dave Shadlen said. "We fell behind and we had to push a little more. But we didn't want to make that hole any deeper. At the end of the half, I thought we still had the confidence to play with them."

That confidence, though, dwindled with every Marquette pass and possession. Even having a brisk wind at their backs couldn't help the Wildcats (18-2-1), who didn't have a shot on goal in the second half.

AVOID THE STRAIN, TAKE THE TRAIN. A recent fatal truck accident that blocked a Los Angeles expressway diverted at least some traffic to the train.
"I thought it was an opportunity for me to try the train because even without accidents, the freeway is always packed," first-time Metrolink rider Jose Garcia, 48, said.
Perhaps Mr Garcia will become a repeat rider.

26.10.07

NOT PHOTOSHOPPED. What are we seeing?


Turn to page 33 of the Third Quarter 2007 Milwaukee Railroader.
IN VINO VERITAS, IN BIER IST AUCH ETWAS. But the incentive to grow corn for vehicle fuel is great.

The craft brewing industry experienced a 12 percent increase by volume in 2006, with 6.7 million barrels of beer. Sales among microbreweries, which produce less than 15,000 barrels per year, grew 16 percent in 2006.

Now the bright spot in the brewing industry is facing mounting costs on nearly every front. Fuel, aluminum and glass prices have been going up quickly over a period of several years. Barley and wheat prices have skyrocketed as more farmers plant corn to meet increasing demand for ethanol, while others plant feed crops to replace acres lost to corn.

A decade-long oversupply of hops that had forced farmers to abandon the crop is finally gone and harvests were down this year. In the United States, where one-fourth of the world's hopes [c.q.] are grown, acreage fell 30 percent between 1995 and 2006.

Australia endured its worst drought on record. Hail storms across Europe damaged crops. Extreme heat in the western United States hurt both yields and quality.

The wording of the story suggests the famous "cobweb model" doesn't quite apply to hop production. Note it takes a decade of depressed prices to induce farmers to grow something else.
AVOCADOS BURN SLOWLY. Professor Shugart has been keeping readers posted on the San Diego wildfires.
Avocado trees will burn, of course, but they burn rather slowly, because they have thick leathery leaves and healthy avo trees are full of water (as I am reminded every time the monthly water bill comes in). The Santa Ana winds–those fierce, drying winds that come mainly the northeast and mainly in fall and winter–blow less strongly here than most of the canyon areas of southern California, because the canyon we are in is one of the few in the area that drains from the southeast and then runs due west. Winds can be so strong up near highway 76 (which runs in the San Luis Rey river canyon, which in turn drains from northeast to southwest) that you can barely stand up, while here they will be much weaker.
Go to the top of his site for additional reports.
ONE-NIL. Late goal advances Milwaukee Hamilton.

24.10.07

WITHOUT COMMENT. Phoenix’s New Market: Training College Leaders.
Phoenix is now eying the administrators of colleges (and that means traditional colleges of all types, not for-profit campuses) as students. This week, the university announced that it has received permission from its accreditor to offer its first two Ph.D. programs and one of them is in higher education administration. While some academics at elite college look down on doctorates in higher education administration (or other fields outside traditional disciplines), such programs are popular for mid-level administrators who want to advance to senior levels and plenty of prominent universities offer the programs ...
OBSERVATION OF THE DAY. Asymmetrical Information.
Right now [David Nicholson is] only guilty of the lesser sin of viewing real estate purchases as the natural vehicle through which one should excercise educational choice. Perhaps he favors vouchers to help the kids he's left behind. But if he does, I sure wish he'd mentioned it.
FREE SPEECH ZONE, OR SCARCE RESOURCE. A homework problem in the Alchian and Allen University Economics series invokes a student protester who claims the university's denial of a room reservation is an infringement on free speech. The problem asks the student, "Explain how the argument confuses free resources with free speech."


Perhaps the problem arises with the designation of free speech zones. Each fall, the traveling preachers come to Northern Illinois to remind the students that they are fallen and bound for hell (this is before semester grades come out, mind you) and for each fall, there exists at least one counter-demonstration.

The demonstrators were forced by University Police to leave the Commons at 2 p.m., as they did not have a permit to demonstrate at that particular time and place. InterVarsity Christian Fellowship had the Commons reserved from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m., but was unable to begin its planned event with the demonstration taking place, said Casey Beckley, campus staff worker for InterVarsity.

InterVarsity contacted Student Leadership and Development, which then contacted the UP, said junior special education major and InterVarsity member Shannon Pugh.

The demonstrators relocated to another area and spoke in front of a smaller crowd for the next several hours.

Reservations for the MLK Commons are made through the Student Involvement and Leadership department. Jan Smith, reservationist for student organizations, said the group did not have the area reserved, stating that she had “no clue who they are.”

The university rule that restricts free speech to a zone smaller than the football field manufacturers the scarcity in such a way that the University Police have to enforce the property rights to it, at a time when the visitor center has repeatedly opted to conceal bad news that involves the police in, well, clearing crimes.

21.10.07

TO REMEMBER. William "Max" McGee, 1932-2007.

McGee was inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame in 1975, alongside former teammates and close friends - some of whom were known to enjoy a good time together away from the field - Paul Hornung, Jerry Kramer and Fred "Fuzzy" Thurston.

Also inducted that year was Hall of Fame coach Vince Lombardi, who got a quick introduction to the always colorful McGee early in Lombardi's tenure.

Upset over a loss, Lombardi decided to start with the fundamentals - by introducing a football.

From the back of the room, McGee replied, "Uh, Coach, could you slow down a little. You're going too fast for us."

Even an angry Lombardi was forced to laugh. And McGee might have been the only player who could have gotten away with that.

He did understand "act like you've done this before."

"I'm glad I got to play when I did," McGee said. "I don't even like football anymore because every time a guy gets a hand in on a tackle, he's doing a back-flip or pounding his chest.

"I played at a great time with some great guys. And even though the money wasn't close to what it's like today, we had a great time."

McGee had a second career in the NFL for two decades. In 1979, with Bart Starr as head coach, McGee teamed up with Jim Irvin as the radio play-by-play team for the Packer Radio Network.

Today, a Milwaukee radio station is rebroadcasting Brett Favre's first game, with Max McGee and Jim Irwin on tape.

A FURTHER RETROSPECTIVE. That game also marked Mike Holmgren's first victory as a head coach, as well as the debut of a much-touted draft choice who prolonged the negotiations into the regular season. That rookie's play was a harbinger of what was to come, which ended with him being the punchline of a rather macabre joke involving pedo-cannibal Jeffrey Dahmer. Of such stuff are stories made.
PICKING ON TEAMS THAT HAVE WORSE TROUBLES. Thus does Jim Hu characterize Wisconsin's rather ugly win over Northern Illinois today.

Northern Illinois, losers of four straight, suffered its worst defeat since a 73-7 setback at Kansas State in 1998 and didn't get a first down until just over a minute to play in the first half.
No doubt the retirement watch will stress that piece of history. These remarks won't placate them.
"I went into the locker room at halftime and three things I said," Northern Illinois coach Joe Novak said. "I said: 'We're not coaching good enough. We're not blocking good enough. We're not tackling good enough.'"
It was a gorgeous day for a football game.

The Wisconsin band made a creditable effort at performing the Huskie Fight Song, with an inventive symmetric nIu formation.


The game itself was over fairly early, with Northern Illinois still looking for the successor to Michael Turner or Garrett Wolfe.
Northern Illinois had minus-13 yards rushing. The last time UW held an opponent to negative rushing yardage was against Temple on Sept. 10, 2005. It was the second-best defensive performance against the run in school history. The record is minus-18 yards against Iowa in 1951.
A sports pundit for the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel had time to deal with some e-mails asking why this game was even on the schedule.
Now if this was NIU last year, would I be getting the same e-mail? ;) :) Don't forget that because there are 11 Big Ten teams, one has to be vs. a non-conference each week. I'm not sure that would work with a nine-game schedule and no bye week. Also, teams like those non-conference games. They feel they get beat up enough in the Big Ten as is.
Apparently this pundit also remembers Michael Turner and Garrett Wolfe.

It was a good day for a football game, with Wisconsin traditions old and new.





Jump Around.

19.10.07

INDUCING COLLECTIVE COORDINATION PROBLEMS. Turn something that is private property into common property, then correct the ensuing tragedy of the commons.

If we collectivize costs, by having a social safety net, suddenly most of my choices have externalities associated with them. My big fat ass is likely to cost you higher medical bills, because I rely on you, the working guy, to pay my health insurance.

But then of course you are going to want my big fat ass to get thinner.

In twenty five years: It's six a.m. An alarm goes off, in Norman, OK. Sleepy, but extremely fit, people climb down the stairs of their high density apartment blocks. They move to the middle of the streets, which have been blocked off to traffic. (The traffic is only buses nowadays, running on solar cells. The EPA has outlawed fuel cell cars, because some people got wet from second hand water vapor exhaust).

The folks in the street get into the ready position. THe ubergruppenhealthfuhrer blows her whistle and says, "250 pushups, all of you! You must be healthy, for the common good! DOWN! UP! DOWN! UP!"

Maybe those Japanese corporate loyalty songs and workouts so beloved of a few business gurus of the mid-1980s were a way to lower deductibles.
MAYBE IT'S BUTT-COVERING. Alexander Dolgun's Story includes an explanation of why a Soviet "corrective labor camp" where the dead would have their skulls split with an axe before the corpses were dumped in a mass grave would also have a state-of-the art medical clinic (although good luck being able to call in sick.) Camp commandants maintained all the facilities called for by some policy posted somewhere in Moscow (or is it stitched into a briefing book?) in order to avoid being turned from Citizen Colonel into prisoner on denunciation of professionally jealous functionary.

The principle generalizes. At Phi Beta Cons, George Leef suggests that mandatory harassment training is an Information Age form of leaf-raking.
The main goal of all the many university "equity" offices is to look busy. They have to squash any idea that they're just nicely-paid sinecures that do nothing but enable presidents to crow about them as evidence of their commitment to diversity.
That's a possible explanation, but perhaps they exist so as to prevent the president from being sued.

As the post on diversity training explains well, the point of diversity training isn't to sensitize employees to diversity. Anybody with any teaching experience at all can tell you that herding a hundred people into an auditorium for mandatory consciousness-raising for ninety minutes won't work. It's terrible pedagogy, and virtually designed to fail; it's also insulting. If the point of the workshops were to change attitudes and/or behavior, those would be valid objections. But that's not the point of the workshops. The point of the workshops is to be able to answer a legal complaint alleging bias with “we take these issues seriously. See, we run mandatory workshops on them for all employees!” It's about defusing potential liability.

(Admittedly, this implies a shockingly low opinion of the judicial system. But that's another post altogether.)

If deposed, a manager can say “we provide x number of hours of training.” As with credit hours, what gets measured is seat time. Changed behavior and/or attitudes are devilishly hard to quantify, but seat time is remarkably easy. If somebody alleges, say, racism, and can prove some kind of different treatment at something (which is sort of like proving that the sun rose in the East), the burden shifts to the college to show that it isn't racist. (The presumption of innocence is remarkably weak in this area of the law.) You can't prove a negative, so the college has to use proxy measures. (Quick – prove you're not thinking about a polar bear!) Seat time in diversity seminars counts as a proxy measure. If the discrimination laws were more intelligently written and enforced – say, dispense with the requirement to prove a negative -- we could dispense with these Potemkin rituals. But they aren't, so we can't. If we did, we'd lose every case, whether it had any merit or not.

A similar cynicism sometimes accompanies ISO 9001 certification and its bad parodies in the academy. The company can produce the same shoddy products it always has, but if the line worker can tell the auditor the circumstances under which he or she can stop the line for a do-over, the company's quality management plan passes.
A CHEAPER STATUS SIGNAL THAN A ROLEX? Laura chats with a babysitter on the front porch of 11-D, then comes up with the Question of the Day.

The guy who sold me my computer at the Apple store is a history adjunct at a local college. He has a terminal Masters from a very mediocre local college. I can't imagine that he's prepared to teach college-level history.

More students are in college than ever before. But how many of them are getting degrees that mean something? Why aren't they ticked off that they are spending thousands on empty degrees? Why are the colleges not enforcing some rigor?

Friendly connection Chris at Signifying Nothing offers a partial answer.
I’m sure Prof. Karlson would attribute many of these problems to the “access-accommodation-remediation-retention” model being followed at the lower and middle tiers of contemporary academe, but I’m not sure the fault isn’t in ourselves and the incentive to overindulge our students. My observation, which I posted at 11D, follows:
I think to many kids, college education these days is all about getting the credential, even at good schools (several different departments I interviewed with last year had the same observation, including at some very good schools). The fact that they don’t have to work very hard, or the expectations are low, is a feature, not a bug. Coupled with the over-reliance on student evaluations in decisions on faculty retention, tenure, and promotion, the incentive structure for faculty to teach rigorous courses just isn’t there.
I’m sure there’s more to the story than the demand side of the equation—certainly there exist departments and colleges where there is no institutional commitment to maintaining a high quality of instruction, and the AARR model isn’t blameless either—but students who don’t demand good classes probably won’t get them.
There's some material in my pile of potential posts that I'd like to develop further before I expand on Chris's and Laura's observations. There has to be a better explanation for a cheap degree from a not-very-challenging college than a cheap signal. The point of a signalling equilibrium is to obtain an efficient separation by ability.
PRINCE POTEMKIN, CALL YOUR OFFICE. There's a passage in Arthur Hailey's Airport describing the preparation of a plane for receiving passengers, including the provision of newspapers, unless there's a plane crash on the front page, in which case passengers make do with Sports Illustrated. A similar principle apparently applies at the Visitor Center. If I'm driving, I can usually find parking near there with a brisk walk to the office, and I'll pick up a Northern Star at the reception desk.

Not this morning. The receptionist was spruced up and in position to open the door for some major event there, or for the odd professor passing through, but there were no newspapers to be had at the reception desk. I had a wicked thought. Yup.

It is difficult to agree with the policy, if indeed it is a policy to keep the bad news off the reception desk, as campus visitors often have the opportunity to explore other buildings, where the newspaper is in its usual distribution rack.

16.10.07

HOW QUICKLY FORTUNE TURNS.Four years ago, the Northern Illinois football team rated some recognition in the Bowl Championship Series rankings. Now it's the Bottom Ten.
"Remember": The Huskies went to bowl games in 2004 and 2006. After Saturday's loss to Temple, that must feel like a long time ago in DeKalb.
That was last week's rankings. The editorial board at the Northern Star apparently has short memories.
With the Huskies settling comfortably into the MAC cellar with a 1-6 record following Saturday’s loss to Western Michigan, it seems hard to fathom that NIU played in a bowl game against a nationally respected Texas Christian team just 10 months ago. Thankfully for the Huskies, in this day and age of “everybody-gets-a-trophy” sports philosophy, they may still get an invite to “Bill’s Barber Shop Bowl.”
There appears to be some illogic, however, when the editors lay out their case.

Of the six games NIU has lost this season, the Huskies led at halftime in three of them – not to mention the 31-14 third quarter advantage the Huskies squandered in the home opener against SIU, a team that literally isn’t even in NIU’s league. And in their only win of the season, a 42-35 “triumph” over perpetual laughing stock Idaho, the Huskies still nearly managed to blow a three-touchdown lead.

On top of that, coaches are jumping ship from NIU like there’s an iceberg on the horizon. Repeated instances of young coaches leaving Novak’s staff for supposedly greener pastures seem to suggest that they knew tomorrow was not looking up for NIU. And now that they’re gone, there is no tomorrow.

That final sentence illustrates the reality of life in the mid-majors. Coaches who demonstrate some sort of potential for building programs in power conferences get hired away. Tenure does not lock promising professors into positions either. The illness the editors are diagnosing might be mental (we're never going to be Illinois so why bother?) or fiscal (we do on the cheap what any highly regarded university throws many more resources at.) People who get better offers (whether the dimension is money or working conditions or visibility) take them.
FOUNDATIONAL RESEARCH. Via SCSU Scholars, a James Lileks impression of Leonid Hurwicz's early work.
It’s an eye-glazer, but it perks up nicely at the end when it introduces “The Disturbance,” which sounds like one of those pale psychological thrillers staring Nicole Kidman. He also wrote “Reduction of Constrained Maxima to Saddle-Point Problems,” which sounds like those bizarre pr0n-spam subject lines I have to edit out every day, and “On the Stability of Competitive Equilibrium.” That was so popular he followed it up a year later with “On the Stability of Competitive Equilibrium II,” with Jayne Mansfield playing the part of the Dominant Diagonal, and Tom Ewell as the Aggregate Excess Demand Function.
I just got done teaching some of that stuff. With a good plotting program, it's possible to generate an illustration of hill-climbing in 3-space in which the solution is quite evidently a maximum with respect to the decision variables and a minimum with respect to the shadow prices.

Stability of dynamic systems continues to be an area that rewards careful study. In a two-person, two-commodity exchange economy, it suffices that the excess demand for the numeraire good be negative when the price of the other good is zero and positive when the price of the other good approaches infinity, and that the excess demand function be continuous and strictly increasing. The generalization to large economies is not always straightforward, and there is a lot of work including a few special cases where the Dominant Diagonal has to put the leathers away.

There is more on the incentive compatibility work that merited the Nobel at Marginal Revolution (just keep scrolling) as well as a shorter explanation at Knowledge Problem.

Basic mechanism design models (such as, for example, a contract between a principal and an agent who will exert some effort on behalf of the principal) start from the idea that each individual will maximize his/her value function (utility, profit, whatever), subject to two important constraints -- individual rationality (or participation) and incentive compatibility. The form those constraints take will depend on the specific nature of the relationship being modeled. Given that basis, is there a way to arrange the relationship such that both parties are made better off, and neither party has an incentive to choose a different action? See also Alex's mechanism design post from yesterday.

Put another way, mechanism design is in a lot of ways about institutions. Can we devise an institution in which both parties do things that create the most net benefit? In that sense institutional design is a lot about figuring out what those individual rationality and incentive compatibility constraints are, and what institutions will satisfy them and lead to optimal net benefit.

There's an illustration of the incentive compatibility constraint in action as pro football comes to grips with fan loutishness.

This hasn't gone unnoticed by the NFL, which regularly gathers and shares best practices in crowd control. Among the findings is that there's a direct correlation between season-ticket subscription rates and fan behavior. "If a team has a 10-year waiting list for tickets, most fans don't want to risk losing their season tickets," said Scott Berchtold, a Bills spokesman who used to work for the Green Bay Packers.

Teams have also found that making season-ticket holders accountable for any bad behavior that occurs in their seats--even if it happens when someone else is sitting in them--works. "If we get a bad report, we call the ticket holder and tell them that if there's another problem, regardless of who's sitting in the seats, their tickets will be revoked," said Houston Texans President Jamey Rootes. The team has never had to make a second call. The Bills have started to do the same thing.

The individual rationality constraint, sometimes called the self-selection constraint, also matters.
Personal seat licenses and premium seating tend to price out some of the thugs. Philadelphia's Veterans Stadium was long considered the worst in the league for fan behavior. Cops used to walk through the stands in visiting team jerseys to bait thugs who preyed on visiting fans. Things were so bad that there was a courtroom right in the stadium to arraign the worst offenders. Things have gotten better since the Eagles moved in 2003 to Lincoln Financial Field, which has new luxury suites and nearly 11,000 Club seats that cost $800 or more a game. "The more expensive the experience, the less inclined fans are to ruin it," said Houston's Mr. Rootes.
No doubt some of the Perpetually Aggrieved will seize upon such anecdotes as more evidence that economics is all about rationalizing class oppression. But where institutions evolve (the expression "mechanism design" being a bit infelicitous) to curb excessive behaviors, the possibility remains that what some see as "class oppression" is in fact "efficient living with others."

14.10.07

13.10.07

HAIL MARY, FULL OF GRACE. Notre Dame are put in their place.

SIEVE!
SATURDAY IS FOR COLLEGE FOOTBALL. Note the large crowds. There are additional tailgating grounds behind me, as well as on the other side of the stadium.


Unfortunately, the Huskies are still learning how not to give away a halftime lead.
IN THE SUPERINTENDENT'S MAILBOX. The good people at Currency Trading recommend Cold Spring Shops as academic reading for the professional investor. Thanks for the traffic.
IN THE SUPERINTENDENT'S OFFICE. The working end of Cold Spring Shops, now with broadband service.


That is a 1984 Radio Shack Model 100 permanently tied to a disk drive and old television serving as a monitor. I still use it for a few things, and it appears there is still an active Model 100 programmers site.

12.10.07

INSPIRING THE FIRE WIDGET. Thanks. Welcome, visitors. Look around. There are some posts dealing with higher education, academic culture, and the paucity of Non-Quiche-Eating Real Guys in the professoriate. If you enjoy things that run on rails, State Line (of Wisconsin and Illinois) history and culture, and sports oddities, look in again some time.
IS IT REALLY A "PEACE" PRIZE?

No.

It's a lifetime achievement award.

It's a lifetime underachievement award.
IN THE SUPERINTENDENT'S MAILBOX. A reader recommends a collection of railroad safety messages, some of which used the slogan "Cross Crossings Cautiously." I own an interurban version on the same theme which is packed away somewhere at the moment, but it's available online. Some of the vintage messages have been made available on the Operation Lifesaver site, the railroad business's current attempt to enlighten motorists not to take on trains.

TRAIN APPROACHING
WHISTLE SQUEALING
PAUSE!
AVOID THAT
RUNDOWN FEELING!
BURMA SHAVE.
IT'S CALLED PRODUCTIVITY. It looks like a cattle auction, without the hand signals or the gavel.
This semester, I’ve sat in my core math course and wondered how anyone can learn anything in such an extensively large classroom. My core math course is so large that it feels like I’m sitting in Huskie Stadium, attending another boisterous NIU football game.
Ah, but think of the student credit-hours per faculty member.

11.10.07

CLANG, CLANG, CLANG, GOES THE TROLLEY. Crunch, crunch, crunch goes the van. (Via the confessed traction-phobes at Newmark's Door, with a "probably very unfair" disclaimer.)

The Milwaukee Electric Railway and Light Company had to deal with flivvers making left turns in front of their streetcars, and in the waning days of the North Shore Line a somewhat confused lady sued the railroad, claiming that a train had cut her off at the south end of the Sixth Street viaduct in Milwaukee. Situational awareness, people.

10.10.07

IN LIEU OF HIGH-SPEED RAIL. Southern Illinois's Aviation Department charters an MD-82 (is that a DC-9 derivative?) for a student open house.

Ken Johnson, a 1991 SIUC graduate and Miami-based American Airlines pilot, said he came back to Illinois for the event because "I owe a deal of gratitude to SIU.

"When he started at SIUC in 1987, Johnson was on academic probation and wasn't sure where he was headed. With the help of David NewMyer, his adviser at the time and now the chair of the aviation management and flight department at SIUC, Johnson ended up with a Navy scholarship and a place on the university's dean's list.

Johnson remembers taking the Amtrak from Chicago to Carbondale the first time he visited SIUC. The trip took eight and half hours, compared to the 45 minute flight Saturday. Having the American Airlines charter flight to take students to Southern Illinois allows more students to visit campus and learn about the program, he said.

Nominal running time for the current train is about five hours, and the old Main Line of Mid-America was capable of running it faster. The article doesn't mention whether the chartered plane was paid for by Aviation or by Student Affairs. I'd guess the tariff would be rather steep.

Mr. Johnson's experience illustrates yet another spin on progression requirements. Perhaps his academic probation was a consequence of his taking a course of study he either wasn't ready for, or was pushed into. He did better once he found intellectual challenges more to his liking.
THERE IS NOTHING SO PERMANENT AS A TEMPORARY TARIFF. Someday, somebody will tell Big Steel "pick up thy blanket and walk." But not just yet.

In a decision that is likely to cheer domestic steel producers -- but disappoint steel purchasers in the U.S. manufacturing sector -- the U.S. International Trade Commission voted today to continue anti-dumping duties on hot-rolled steel imported from China and five other countries.

The ITC's ruling on the controversial issue is "unfortunate," said the Precision Metalforming Association, a trade group that represents U.S. companies that purchase steel to create products.

The ITC has "missed the fact" that the once-troubled U.S. steel industry has regained its footing, and that "American steel consumers need access to steel products at globally competitive prices," the group said.

Big Steel has been requesting protection against dumped steel and other allegedly injurious trade practices for lo these past thirty years. The usual suspects continue to be on probation.

Import duties, which protect domestic makers but raise costs for consumers of whatever good is being restricted, are normally established for a specified number of years, and expire unless the ITC specifically votes to continue them.

Late this morning, the government agency said it has determined it will end duties on imports from Argentina, Kazakhstan, Romania and South Africa.

But it left the duties in place for imports from leading import producer China, as well as India, Indonesia, Taiwan, Thailand and Ukraine.

Great. Antagonize two large nuclear powers as well as the largest Moslem country, two tropical tiger countries, and a former captive nation.
THE HIDDEN COSTS OF GRADE INFLATION. Monetary inflation can serve as a way of transferring resources. Suppose, for example, that policymakers perceive creditors as rich and debtors as poor. Rolling the presses, or having the central bank monetize the incremental debt, redistributes from rich to poor without the pain of having to impose taxes. In the university, grade inflation also serves to transfer resources, but in such a way as to deprive students in good standing of an opportunity to enroll in the major of their choice, through the use of progression requirements that provoke a mea culpa.
I know this because I wrote my department’s progression requirement, which prohibits students from declaring a history major before obtaining grades of at least C+ in a series of courses. Some departments require even higher grades to begin the major, and a few go as far at to require a certain cumulative GPA for continued good academic standing in the department. Why did I write our department’s progression requirements, and why did I push for their adoption? Because the professors in anthropology created their own first, and I did not want their “rejects” to scurry over into our major; so much for the love of teaching and a devotion to the success of all students.
Suppose for the sake of discussion that a C student is genuinely a C student. In that case, there's no reason to describe anthropology's "rejects" in those terms. The problem, as any faculty that has ever contemplated a policy of restricting enrollments understands, is that those notionally students in good standing are really D or borderline F students under any honest assessment of their performance.

Note, however, that administrators at Instapundit U. furrow their brows over departmental admission requirements for precisely the wrong reasons.
As part of our effort to improve student retention and graduation rates the provost asked me to meet with deans, department heads and professors to review departmental progression requirements. In these meetings I have heard many rationales, but mostly these defenses rely on narrow definitions of what constitutes success in a given field, and are exactly the kinds of explanations I employed to defend my department’s requirements. “Our students can’t be successful accountants without at least a 3.0,” or “our students tend not to pass the nutrition licensing examination on the first try if they have below a 3.0,” are typical responses. Both may be true, but who is to say that the students in question have to be accountants or licensed nutritionists? Could they not proceed to have happy and productive careers in fields outside of their major? Also, if there is a pattern where people with grades below a certain level tend to fail licensure exams, could we not simply publicize this so that students can make informed choices?
Again, Bastiat's "what is unseen" (for any humanities types, think "absent referent") strikes. It's apparently more important that students matriculated become students graduated, and preferably in their preferred course of study, than that students matriculated be college material. (I simply can't follow the logic about occupational licensing. Why do an accounting or nutrition degree if not to be able to sit for the certification. Aren't there progression requirements for the law school?)
Progression requirements are also appealing as a fast and easy way to demonstrate the rigor, high standards, and importance of an academic department (all of which I thought I was doing). As such they allow professors to ignore, diminish or at least supplement the real markers of a department’s reputation, which at a research university are publications and the quality of the graduate program, both of which require much more effort and excellence than the creation of progression requirements.
Apparently the writer never heard of opportunity cost, either. A small number of untalented but argumentative students can be much more of a time sink than the t-crossing and i-dotting inherent in polishing an article for publication, or sitting on the admissions committee and making the case for something resembling proper expectations of matriculants.

Neither has the concept of resource allocation occurred to him.
Of course there are good reasons for progression requirements, such as when they are employed to limit admission into a popular major which simply does not have sufficient personnel to teach well the growing number of majors. Yet even here there are problems, for departments can create scarcity by capping enrollment, by requiring a series of small enrollment seminars, or, and this is my favorite, by pointing to the standards of their accreditation agency. Such agencies can function as a protection racket by saying: “do it this way- — or else; teach no more than X students per class — or else.” Administrators are left to figure out how the agency derived the magic X number, and in the meantime many students admitted into the university have one less major available to them.
That headquarters might be denying resources to enrollment-impacted departments is yet another unseen thing. That departments might react to pressures to teach more sections per faculty member by requesting smaller classrooms sounds like optimization under constraint. That accreditation agencies might function as protection rackets does not surprise: that, after all, is the dirty little secret behind some pressures state institutions place on legislatures (cough up the resources to lower the student/faculty ratio lest North Central put us on probation) as well as the dispositions controversy whereby left politics becomes the content standard in teacher certification or social work. (I'm surprised, however, that the writer didn't call out the rigidities of tenure as a motive force behind restricted enrollments in temporarily overcrowded fields.)
Progression requirements produce what a colleague calls “academic boat people,” because these students drift from major to major even though they meet, and often exceed, the university’s general 2.0 GPA standard for continued enrollment. What are we to do with these students? What are we to tell parents when they complain that their child has a 2.4 GPA and yet cannot gain admittance into any of three preferred majors? Who should teach these students, and help them graduate? At my university such students become “undeclared majors,” and are transferred automatically into the College of Arts and Sciences. Do deans of the other colleges send flowers and chocolates in thanks of such generosity?
More to the point, does the provost release sufficient resources to Liberal Arts to offer sufficient sections for the additional students?

I'll risk an impertinence. Tell the parents "Your child's 2.4 would be a 1.8 under an honest grading system. We put the people with the least job security in the entry level courses and make their continued employment contingent on being evaluated favorably by their students. Under those circumstances, they may be tempted to purchase more favorable evaluations with more generous grading. In order to appear more productive, the classes are large and the grading is based on machine-read examinations assembled at random from publisher-supplied test banks of dubious validity."

Now, about those academic "boat people." Perhaps many of those students wind up in general studies under the rubric of Liberal Arts, or perhaps they drift to one of the Departments of Cooling Out the Mark. It's good for the retention rates, but it does little good either for the students or for the academy's standing with the general public.

The columnist, however, appears to believe in the Big Rock Candy Mountain.
And herein lies the problem: progression requirements are exclusionary. They keep people from pursuing their particular academic goals. They prevent students from specializing in a field of particular interest to them. Yes, budget constraints mean that universities sometimes cannot meet the demand for programs. But often such issues are absent, and yet progression requirements remain. Take it from a former progression requirement pusher: Such exclusion, as well meaning as it may be, prevents universities from fulfilling the call to educate our citizens. As such they should be eliminated when possible, reduced when feasible, and abandoned as a means of determining in advance who will and will not be successful in life.
Resources are scarce. They have competing uses. A fortiori, some potential users will be excluded. Perhaps it is intellectually more honest to advise some applicants that there is no place for them at the university, rather than to string them along with easy admission, inflated general education grades, and a cooling-out-the mark diploma in a field with little intellectual or professional content.

8.10.07

THE EVIL EMPIRE RONALD REAGAN COULD NOT TERMINATE. I refer to the Department of Education, whose persistence is now poisoning higher education.
On a warm Tuesday at the very end of summer, my college held its twice-yearly faculty “in-service education” day. The theme: “improving student learning outcomes” as part of the transition from a “teaching institution” to a “learning community.”
Bleah. I'll offer a case of Sprecher that neither admission standards nor rigorous content came up at this "in-service" day, itself something borrowed from the K-12 world.
For the last decade, the administration has been eager to impress upon the faculty that we are not merely teachers but “learning facilitators.” Learning, we are told, is a collaborative process, more rich and democratic than the top-down method of traditional teaching. Few of us unblessed by graduate degrees from Schools of Education have any real idea what that means, and so the powers-that-be decree that we have these regular indoctrination sessions. The untenured faculty among us are advised to attend and feign earnestness, while the tenured folk hang around to see what sort of a free lunch will be put on. Rarely are either the workshops or the meals memorable.
Yes, but is the students learning? Perhaps the author of the column ought to ask for evidence that the so-called "progressive" pedagogies have led to improved academic performance in the common schools. (There's a reason I bundle access with assessment with remediation with retention.) As the columnist does note, the so-called progressives appear to be inventing a problem to solve.
As Inside Higher Ed has reported, the Department of Education last week gave a $2.4 million dollar grant to three different college associations to help them figure out how colleges could measure “student outcomes.” The goal is seemingly noble; all of us in higher ed are, one presumes confidently, concerned with student learning. The problem, of course, is that for a very long time the vast majority of us have been doing an outstanding job of assessing student outcomes: We call it testing and grading, and for most of us, it’s worked splendidly. But of course, we who teach students haven’t always had the benefit of an education in Education. (Those who can’t do, teach; those who can’t teach get education degrees and become administrators — it’s an old and not unfair maxim.) And in order to demonstrate “reform” and “improvement”, the educrats must first convince the faculty that our time-tested methods of evaluating our own instruction and our students’ work have been entirely inadequate.
As. If. The. "Progressive". Method. Is. Adequate.
As part of teaching the teachers that they don’t really know how to teach, last Tuesday at our “faculty education day” I was handed a little yellow binder stuffed with handouts of articles from various education journals. I got a free pencil (alas, already sharpened) which had “PCC Flex Day 2007: The Passion for Learning” emblazoned upon it. In my folder was a little self-survey, so that I could discover my own unique learning style, and then share it with my colleagues during the stimulating “breakout sessions” that were sure to follow. After all, the educrats opine, we can’t really be effective “learning facilitators” until we become aware of our own learning styles — and how our own “ways of learning” may be obstacles to understanding the needs of students (sorry, “fellow learners") who have different styles.
There is no evidence for 'learning styles.' Read. Understand. If you get press-ganged into attending one of these "development" sessions, you might have some intellectual ammunition.

The column indirectly makes the point that there's intellectual ammunition in economics.
Seriously, of course, the real reason for all of this wallowing in self-congratulatory edu-speak is that the community colleges, like most public institutions, are worried about accountability. Accountability is the buzzword of the decade; the taxpayers (and their duly elected representatives) want to know that they’re getting something in return for their billions. That’s not unreasonable. But as anyone who has taught the humanities with passion for any length of time will attest, the most enduring outcome of our work as teachers emerges over the course of a student’s entire life. The educrats have decided that the best way to prove accountability is to create measurable, testable, “student learning outcomes” (SLOs). The problem is, they expect that outcome to be manifest by the end of the semester in which the student was enrolled and evident in the form of a test that can be given at many colleges to allow for comparison. Evidence of authentic learning almost invariably takes much longer to emerge and its value for the student is independent of whether the student down the road or across the country had a good learning outcome.
Accountability can also be evaluated in market tests. The gripe I keep hearing from employers is about college graduates who are incapable of locating the staff bathroom without a hand-held navigation device. But the columnist is correct: a sound liberal arts curriculum equips a person with the ability to make connections and look deeper into a problem. (Business and engineering degrees, by contrast, offer better preparation for entry-level jobs.) But again, where is the evidence that paying more attention to "learning styles" or retraining to be more the "guide to the side" (to invoke another College of Deaducation bromide) produces either better short-term learning outcomes or stronger long-term ability to make connections?

The columnist, however, illustrates yet another source of the decline and fall of higher education.
I always compare the job of a good teacher (I’m not a learning facilitator) to a gardener or a farmer. I know it sounds patriarchal, deeply Western, and unfashionably hierarchical, but there it is: I sow seeds in the soil of students’ hearts and minds. (Some of the time, my seed falls on rock, other times it ends up in the thistles, but some of it ends up in nice, loamy earth.) And here’s the thing: I don’t often get to see what blossoms and what doesn’t, because whatever flowers do bloom will generally do so months or years after the student has left my class.
Perhaps I cannot give up this weblog until my colleagues realize that they do not have to apologise for sounding like a Non-Quiche-Eating Real Guy.
RELIABILITY MORE IMPORTANT THAN RAPIDITY. The standards for high speed trains have been set higher.
“The global rail industry now defines ‘high speed’ as starting at 150 mph,” [Texas Rail Advocates' Paul Mangelsdorf] said. “The newest TGV line in France has a cruising speed of 198 mph. Britain is considered a laggard in the high-speed rail movement.”
That may be, but the British trains clip along at those laggardly speeds on infrastructure dating to Isambard Kingdom Brunel and George Hudson. Electroliner envy is fun, but is it necessary?

In Britain, Mangelsdorf noted, the national government owns and maintains the track and signal network, but train operation is conducted by private businesses that compete for long-term rights to use the track based on their service levels and the amount of their revenues they are willing to return to the government. Virgin Rail, owned by Virgin Group owner Richard Branson, holds the London-Coventry franchise along with several other routes.

“Many of Virgin’s trains bring passengers from the English Midlands or Scotland to Gatwick or Heathrow airports for easy transfer to international flights,” Mangelsdorf said. “Service is fast, frequent and increasingly popular. When service began the Virgin trains had a 30% share of the domestic market and air carriers had a 60% share. Now these percentages have flipped. The only steady number is 10% for automobiles.”

Mangelsdorf said that in Manchester the air carriers actually are “delighted that Virgin trains are taking business away.”

“The airlines urgently need more gates for international flights at Manchester Airport-- that’s where the profits are,” he said. “When domestic passengers switch to rail, that leaves more gate capacity for wide-body planes that make money.”

The same phenomenon has surfaced in the U.S., where Amtrak’s high-speed Northeast Corridor now carries the bulk of shuttle traffic between New York and Washington, Mangelsdorf said.

By all means, let's introduce public funding for corridor trains as an alternative to continued corporate welfare so that the operators of flying puddle-jumpers cannot so easily make common cause with large corporations and aviation hobbyists to raid the public purse. But let's not get too carried away with the Electroliner envy. The Metroliner began to divert passengers from The Wings of Man back in Penn Central days when the Electras and Constellations came out on busy days. That on Reconstruction Finance Corporation infrastructure good for maybe 110 mph in some stretches in New Jersey and Delaware. The Hiawatha has the potential to make Glenview a suburb of Milwaukee for State Line residents who'd like a chocolate chip on the way to Las Vegas. Sure, there's a time value in faster trains, but there's a lot of potential for making more expeditious use of the existing infrastructure. Take Texas. Please.

“And the same thing could be happening between Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston and Dallas-Fort Worth and San Antonio if we had the right tracks and signals,” [Mangelsdorf] said. “Texas isn’t the frontier anymore. It’s one of the nation’s most densely populated and busy collections of intercity corridors. The Texas economy would grow faster and in a healthier way if people weren’t forced to choose between flying and driving in the Texas Triangle.”

The most appealing thing about the Texas Triangle, Mangelsdorf says, is that it’s essentially compact and densely populated.

Its demographics, city pair locations, and topography are very similar that of France. The French TGV high speed trains have made travel very easy and pleasant.

“We could connect the seven biggest cities in the state with only seven hundred miles of track,” he says. “You could travel from the DFW Metroplex to Houston or Austin in two hours, talking on your cell phone or using other electronics the whole way with minimal security inconveniences. In addition to the big-city-end points, the trains would serve intermediate stops such as Waco and Bryan/College Station, something that planes can’t do. You could get to Oklahoma City in about an hour and ten minutes.”

That's seven hundred miles of new track? I submit that more cost-effective methods exist.

By contrast, Mangelsdorf says, current transportation infrastructure proposals such as the Trans Texas Corridor represent retrogression to 1950s thinking.

“The TTC backers are doing a great job of helping Texas get ready for the 20th century,” he says. “However, we should be more forward thinking as many Asian countries have done when it comes to transportation improvements.”

There are economies of scope in combining intermodal trains with passenger trains on the same track, and a good dispatcher ought to be able to keep a two- or three-track line fluid. A debate between the dedicated high-speed passenger line advocates and the advocates of less costly combined freight-passenger-toll truckway projects brings with it the risk that no rail improvements will be forthcoming. That leaves Texas with the impossibly slow Heartland Flyer and Eagle and the try-weakly Sunset Limited, all of which made better times with handfired Harriman Standard 4-6-2s and their counterparts.
NOT BAD FOR C STUDENTS. The Milwaukee Brewer player grades for the season just ended have been posted. I'm not sure what expectations the compiler had in mind at the beginning of the season. Mediocre battery and infield stays in pennant race until the final weekend of the season, with Slytherin pulling for the Cubs as a less dangerous opponent, and that's a C-average? The quick demise of Ursa Minor only adds to the frustration.
SUMMER'S END, DEFERRED. DeKalb has experienced several consecutive days of new high temperature records, which have been conducive to cookouts and other outdoor activities. Because we've not yet had a killing frost here, I can't refer to these days as Indian Summer. No matter how one refers to it, they've offered an opportunity to demonstrate the new deck.

The inside is taking shape, too. In all the excitement, I've held off on posting much, in order to make time to grade and return bluebooks and problem sets. The semester doesn't stop for something as mundane as moving house.

3.10.07

SHORTER RESPONSE TO MAYOR DALEY. The dean at Anonymous Community notices Hizzoner da Younger's suggestion to shorten times to completion.
For example, twenty years ago, tuition/room/board at my alma mater was $20,000 a year. Now it's almost $50,000 a year. How do we explain this rapid increase? Clearly, the shift from “four years to graduate” to “four years to graduate” is to blame.
I think that's the price tab at Snooty Liberal Arts College, and there are a number of possible explanations, including a propensity to indulge in perfect price discrimination (does anybody really pay list price?), a reluctance for such institutions to draw down their endowments, or a flight to quality that the mayor's proposal will only intensify. Adjusted for real purchasing power, the price change is relatively small.

Silly us. We've been spending all this time and energy trying to explain variables by looking at things that vary – you know, like declining levels of public support for public colleges, or increased costs for health insurance and HVAC, or the need to keep up with current technology in the fields we teach. You've taken the opposite tack – explain drastic change by looking at things that haven't changed at all. It's almost Zen in its simplicity.

I'll tell you what. Why don't you drop by and explain to my faculty senate just exactly which courses are unnecessary? Surely, a man of your high office wouldn't pop off like that without knowing specifics. Just off the top of my head, take English. Most of our students are already fluent! Obviously, this is dreadful waste. Besides, who really needs communication skills? After all, it's not like we have a service economy or any such thing.

Syntax? The Mayor of Chicago has told the mangle-a-syl-abal joke on himself almost as often as the President of the United States has.
STRIKING THE COMMISSIONING PENNANT. Fair winds, Cassandra.
SOFT AMERICA, HARD AMERICA. Appeasement. Doesn't. Work.
I agree all children are special, refusing to teach them basic facts, dates, etc. results in an over valued ego that cannot think. This knowledge is needed to process new information and see it in perspective. Ignoring standards and giving students top grades out of a misplaced idea that "good grades result in self-esteem," or because the teacher wants the student to feel good, or the teacher is afraid of parents is defeating for the student. Eventually they will hit the real world which does not have "do-overs" or outsiders settling disputes. The real world demands performance.
Read and understand.
AUDIOPHILES DON'T SWEAT THE AESTHETICS. Years ago, I gave my dad grief for having a home-built stereo with vacuum tubes in the amplifier. (The treatment of the noun as a term not to be used in polite company was a bit of teasing, after all, he was an engineering manager in a company that sold millions of dollars of solid-state industrial control.) In those days, the vacuum tubes were reliable enough (anybody else remember the drug-store display case where you could compare the bases on replacements?) and their capability of producing higher fidelity exceeded that of solid-state, something which appears to be true well into the digital age.
A COMMON PROPERTY PROBLEM. Collective ownership of the air corridors and the airports means a tragedy of the commons, in which no stakeholder is able to claim sufficient ownership of the problem to be able to solve the problem.
The airline industry and the Federal Aviation Administration blame the delays on outdated air traffic control technology, bad weather and increasing passenger traffic. Analysts say commercial airlines' use of smaller planes is partly to blame for increased congestion in the skies and on runways, as is an increase in general aviation aircraft used by corporate travelers.
These problems exist because each stakeholder sees the solution as one somebody else ought to pay for.

[Transportation Secretary Mary] Peters asked airlines to form a plan to improve scheduling at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport, one of the nation's busiest. Without an industry solution, the department is prepared to issue a scheduling reduction order, she said.

The government also could force a so-called congestion pricing model upon the industry, Peters said, but airline executives last week told Congress that raising flying costs during peak periods would simply result in higher fares.

The final sentence does not have to follow from the antecedents. Consider the bilevel Commuter Streamliners in Chicago. These came into being because the Burlington wanted to add seats to its commuter trains without having to pay additional terminal charges, which at Chicago Union Station were by the car, let alone sponsor a lengthening of the platforms. Perhaps the airlines might offer fewer peak-hour flights with larger planes and no effect on individual fares.

The airlines and the FAA are pressing for a new, satellite-based air traffic control system that will cost about $15 billion and take nearly 20 years to complete. Airline traffic is projected to double by 2025.

The FAA in late August awarded ITT Corp. a contract worth up to $1.8 billion to build the first portion the system, known as NextGen. The agency on Tuesday said it wants all planes to be equipped to use the new navigation technology by 2020.

"NextGen is pie in the sky. What about Now-Gen?" Patrick Forrey, president of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, quipped Tuesday in a conference call with reporters.

The union says delays will worsen unless the government hires more members and pays them better. The FAA and the union have been locked in a contract dispute since the agency declared an impasse last year.

Why does it not come as a surprise that the manufacturers of navigation technology become adversaries of the air traffic controllers in vying for federal dollars? Might a different set of institutional arrangements turn technology vendors, controllers, and airlines into partners looking for more effective ways to serve passengers? The current institutional arrangements bring to mind that Bastiat quip about using the state to live at the expense of others.

Commercial airlines are battling corporate jets and small plane operators over what share of the cost they each should shoulder.

The commercial airline industry and the White House say a House-passed FAA funding bill does not fairly link fees to system use.

Put simply, the commercial carriers, the corporate carriers, and the hobbyists would each like somebody else to pick up the tab. Years ago, the Washington Monthly pointed out that none of these constituencies were exactly poor, although their editors didn't see fit to call for privatization of the air traffic control system at the time, something that strikes me as manageable. The use of public moneys to operate airports and air traffic control systems for the benefit of commercial airline passengers, corporate carriers, and hobbyists strikes me as taxing everyone to provide benefits for people who are relatively well off already.
QUOTE OF THE DAY. The American Thinker's James Lewis (through Newmark's Door) deconstructs "hope to die before I get old." (Who lyrics here.)
The greatest flaw of the Boomer Left is to see life through plainly false ideas. Start with a false premise, and you'll end up with false conclusions. Begin with the conviction that we can turn all human conflicts into peace and love just by willing it, and you end up convinced that those who don't agree with you must be evil, or must be forced to obey. Start with the false certainty that youth is eternal, and you end up undermining responsible parenting and kids. Assume that cultures are easy to change -- and not the treasured heritage of a hundred generations -- and you end up importing millions of dangerously indoctrinated militants into your peaceful land. Or take it on faith that brain-altering drugs are harmless, and you end up with vulnerable people hooked on smack and crack, killing each other to feed their habit. Or fall for the idea that women are better than men, and you ignite a war between the sexes, and lead children astray.

The biggest error we tend to make is to confuse the Boomer Left with the Boomer Generation as a whole. The Left has managed to peddle that illusion. As usual, liberals fool themselves into believing that they are The People; But the conservative revival in the United States shows it isn't true. It's good to keep in mind that General Petraeus is also a Boomer.
For the record, the Boomer Left was always a minority of the Baby Boomers, with the most visible and vocal long-haired, dope-smoking, peasant-clothed a particularly tiny minority. That became clear as early as the 1972 election, in which Richard Nixon outpolled George McGovern among voters aged 18-21. Those voters are the leading edge of the largish 1954-1960 cohort of Baby Boomers, whose numbers exceed that of the more visible 1945-1953 cohort. Their coming of age coincided with the reality check that their next-elders managed to avoid.