31.12.07

NEW YEAR RESOLUTIONS FOR FERROEQUINOLOGISTS. The November 2007 issue of Railways Illustrated offers fifty "must-do" things for the British train enthusiast. I'll feature a few.
  1. Visit the South Devon Railway. The magazine commends a "20 on a rake of Mk Is." Every so often the Illinois Railway Museum breaks out the world's first Fairbanks Morse yard switcher, if that's the experience you want. The South Devon is great for Ducks and Olivers on vintage compartment stock, and a visitor really ought visit the restored Buckfast Abbey and pick up some foodstuffs at the Abbey craft store.
  2. Undertake a night photo shoot at a station. The magazine recommends Carlisle, Stafford, and Doncaster. Bristol is also good. (Register with the station master first.) Does Sturtevant for the Holiday Train count?
  3. Travel First Class. It might sound like pomposity, but you can't beat the feeling of going First Class once in a while. Yes, it's a very pleasant way from Exeter to Paddington at the end of a holiday. On British metals, are any of those latter-day Mark II sets (with the wood paneling and facing pairs of seats with tables) still running? Almost as much legroom as First Class. In the States, you can simulate this on the cheap IF Amtrak has strengthened a formation with an Amcafe or dinette, and you get on smartly.
  4. Take a 'sleeper'. Easier to do on these shores.
  5. Visit the Head of Steam at Huddersfield. Huddersfield is worth a look anyway, for an impressive station far out of proportion to the city it serves, and frequent service on the Trans-Pennine line. Sit on the east side of the train for the best views across the valleys.
  6. Volunteer at a preserved railway. Well worth the effort. I helped out at a trolley museum in Wisconsin years ago, and perhaps will someday have time to help out at a nearby effort.
  7. Spend an hour trainspotting at Clapham Junction. The article advises enthusiasts to register with the station master and observe and photograph from platform ends. The closest thing to the experience in the States is Jamaica on the Long Island, where the spectacle of passengers changing trains must be seen to be believed. The sunlight is more favorable at Clapham Junction.
  8. Dine on a train. The editor distinguishes this from buying a chili wrap (British for "burrito") from the counter attendant. Again, it's more easily done on these shores. (On Amtrak, the sleeping car ticket includes dining car meals.)
  9. Travel the Cornish main line ... and its branches. As I was going to St. Ives...
  10. Take a foreign railtour. And go for a swim in Lake Baikal!
  11. Do an inter-rail. Sometimes by accident. I was returning from a conference on the Semmering Pass that involved a change of trains at Wiener Neustadt. I later learned that the connecting train, which originated at Budapest Keleti, was operated by a unique private trans-border railroad that was neither incorporated into the Austrian state system west of the border nor communized in Hungary.
  12. Ride the Central Wales line. Highly recommended. On one of my visits to England, the day's planned activities got disrupted by a points failure outside Manchester and I struck up a conversation with an English couple who were out for the Heart of Wales. Revised itinerary worked out well.
  13. Travel on the classic Eurostar route. At the time, it was the ONLY Eurostar route.
  14. Try a new country.
  15. Get that perfect picture. Or keep working on improving imperfect pictures.
  16. Donate to a heritage railway.
  17. Walk a closed line. Many of the trackbeds in the State Line are now bike or hiking trails.
  18. Walk along the Dawlish sea wall. Preferably at low tide. There is a sidewalk atop the bluff in case it's high tide.
  19. Use the train to find a new pub. I regret to inform readers that the new operator of the Reading pub no longer serves Great Western Railway Stout. I discovered a decent pub on the premises at Crewe. So why not take a train to a random station and go for a wander? That sounds like a possible use of a Metra weekend pass. Alas, the Hiawatha Tap in Sturtevant is quite a long walk from the new station.
  20. Do an all line rover ... This sounds like a plea for the train operating companies to sell rail passes to the residents of the home country.
MAKING MONEY IN A DOWN MARKET. This year's compilation of Book Reviews ends with No. 38, a brief recommendation of David W. Hunter's Never Out of Season, a readable and logical self-help book for personal finance and investing. No tricks, no promises, much of the work left to the reader as an exercise, but useful. I found a little example of asset allocation to be instructive. (It's in chapter 12, if you wish to read along.) Suppose an investor intends to keep 25% of a portfolio in fixed-income assets, and 75% in stocks. Assume an initial portfolio of $100,000. Disregard interest and dividends. Now suppose your stocks lose value, in his example, they fall to $37,500. (Yes, you just lost half your wealth in that category.) The winning move is to be true to your objectives. Take $9,000 from fixed-incomes and buy stocks. Why? Because they fluctuate up as well as down. So the next time you review your portfolio, the stocks are worth $93,000 to go with the $16,000 in fixed-income assets. Time to sell some stocks. Mr Hunter notes that "conviction is most necessary at the extremes of market movements" (because one is buying stocks as their prices fall, and selling stocks as their prices rise). But that's how you make your money. Well worth reading, even -- maybe especially -- for people who consider themselves savvy investors.

30.12.07

IT'S PRETTY, BUT YOU DON'T WANT TO DRIVE IN IT. The sun doesn't burn off frozen fog that collects on the trees.

WE DON'T WANT HER, YOU CAN KEEP HER. (Apologies to Ross MacLean and Arthur Richardson). New Zealand denies residence permits to applicants with too large a body mass index. A critic of the policy notes New Zealand's invocation of a welfare-economics-paradigm-like argument, "So the main argument was that fat people cost the health care system more, in a country that has nationalized health care." There's a longer exegesis of the argument at Free Exchange.
Why exactly is obesity a public health issue? Well, when, by force of law, you externalise responsibility for providing a good, such as health care, then the effects of all individual choices that affect the cost of providing that good for the individual are thereby transformed from internal to external effects. If you, like Mr Dubois, are in the grip of the blithe assumption that reducing negative externalities by raising the cost of the behaviour that causes them is simply what government does, then obviously my gluttony and sloth are public problems. Because public policy made them public problems! So, obviously, it's up to the government to fiddle with prices to manipulate our behavior in order to minimise its impact on the tax-financed national budget.
Or, by extension, to prohibit entry to people whose presence is likely to consume additional public-health resources.

But is the external effects argument really correct? Insurance companies experience-rate policyholders for risks, and private clubs can decide whom to extend, or not to extend, membership benefits. The decision of a country to admit an immigrant appears to have more in common with the decision of a private club to welcome a member.

There's also something troubling about the country, whether by due process or by administrative fiat, effectively becoming a monopoly provider of insurance, and that therefore introduces an externality. Perhaps more on that next year.
13-3. The Packers scored the first three times they had the ball, then let the reserves tack on another 13 points. Some Detroit players are confused.
"Whatever decision they make, that's what they're going to do," Lions center Dominic Raiola said. "We've got to somehow move on. I'm really getting tired of changing coaches around here. Since I've been here, we've been changing coaches and there comes a point in time where it's not the coaches anymore, you know what I'm saying? That's really frustrating."
Instead of changing the coaches, what other personnel moves does management make?
THERE'S A PROTOTYPE FOR EVERYTHING. The owner of the Fox Valley O Scalers assures me that on occasion the Milwaukee did put a hot stock car on the rear of a passenger train.


The crew is not complaining. The time slip for "handling freight equipment" has been filled in while the switcher is pulling the stock off.

There's a new coaling dock in Marquette, although the granger-railroad Geeps from Atlas have caught on with the members.


Corresponding to many prototypes, there is a model. Here is a newly built south shed of Chicago Union Station, on a different layout. (It's not all snow-shoveling and Christmas duties here.)


The panel looks deceptively simple. It's not. There are a couple of moves available on the panel that aren't available on the prototype.


With practice, it is possible to make five or six moves simultaneously, if platform tracks are available in the right place, and Illinoisans figure out that mustard is brown and has horseradish in it.
SARAJEVO, CALIFORNIA. Complete with ethnic cleansing.
In a murderous quest aimed at "cleansing" their turf of snitches and rival gangsters, members of one of Los Angeles County's most vicious Latino gangs sometimes killed people just because of their race, an investigation found.

There were even instances in which Florencia 13 leaders ordered killings of black gangsters and then, when the intended victim couldn't be located, said "Well, shoot any black you see," Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca said.

"In certain cases some murders were just purely motivated on killing a black person," Baca said.

Authorities say there were 20 murders among more than 80 shootings documented during the gang's rampage in the hardscrabble Florence-Firestone neighborhood, exceptional even in an area where gang violence has been commonplace for decades. They don't specify the time frame or how many of the killings were racial.

The report suggests warlords directing operations from prison. Lovely.

22.12.07

MARKING OFF. Have a holly-jolly Christmas.


I don't know if there'll be snow, but pass a cup of cheer.
DIZZY WITH EXCESS. Although Tom Brokaw grew up in South Dakota, in the late 1950s and early 1960s the meritocracy was still open enough that a news anchor in Los Angeles did not have to hold a degree from one of the usual suspects on the coast. There was enough of a consensus that a midwestern graduate of a state university and a graduate of one of the Ivies could hold the same positions. In Boom, however, Mr Brokaw repeatedly (is it unwittingly?) suggests that shared consensus was one of an out-of-touch elite. A passage on page 430 captures it perfectly.
In the course of writing this book, I was startled by the number of people I encountered who said, "I didn't know anyone who went to Vietnam." Or they would say, "I think a kid in my high school class went; I don't know if he came back." It is one more manifestation of the generation gap that appeared in America in the Sixties. The parents of the baby boom generation had experienced World War II as a unifying experience. Everyone, in and out of uniform, had a role. But Vietnam was a the war that deeply divided a generation. Moreover, the nature of the resistance to Vietnam -- which included burning the American flag, cheering on North Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh, welcoming an enemy victory, and disparaging military service -- was taken (and in most cases meant) as an insult to the patriotism of the World War II generation.
Had Mr Brokaw focused more carefully on the divisions within the generation, rather than the divisions between the noisy subset that became the coastal elite and the larger and less noisy subset that didn't protest (or didn't know how to) or came of age a little after the excitement had died down. There are many passages in Boom that suggest Mr Brokaw is having cognitive dissonance over how all the Righteous Causes (peace, civil rights, feminism, rock 'n roll) mutated into Republican presidents for 28 of the next 40 years after 1968 with intellectual lightweights in the war room. Turn to page 32.

It is now largely unchallenged political dogma that the chaos on the left delivered the country to the right in 1968. Says Pat Buchanan, the commentator, sometime presidential candidate, and longtime keeper of the conservative flame, who was a speechwriter for Richard Nixon from the mid-Sixties on, "Nineteen sixty-eight was two sides of the same coin. Everything came apart for the Democrats and together for the Republicans. We went on to create a new majority built on the ruination of the Great Society [President Johnson's ambitious attempt to expand on the New Deal policies of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt]."

Tom Hayden, a founder of the SDS -- Students for a Democratic Society -- and a proponent of a radical remaking of America, thinks that it's wrong to castigate the left for the results of the Sixties, and he dismisses those claims of self-destruction on the left. ...

Hayden says, "There's a big 'what if' over the Sixties that should keep people from casting blame or causality, and that is the assassinations. ... Who knows what would have happened if [Martin Luther] King and [Robert] Kennedy were alive? It could have launched a liberal period of governance."

Or not. This Book Review No. 37 notes that Boom, for all its length, reads easily, and Mr Brokaw interviews a variety of figures, not limited to the usual Coastal Establishment suspects and their hippie counterparts in entertainment, and the interviews bring up a number of subtleties, including the regret of some draft resisters who discovered that it was the young men from elite precincts who knew what buttons to push to be disqualified for service (try coaching a high school kid from a rough neighborhood to fake homosexuality), and a number of observations about Robert Kennedy, a Catholic father of eleven children, who might not have been the advocate of easy access to abortion that characterized the feminist true believers, and who was on record as "hating" the welfare system and the common schools of poor neighborhoods. Had he lived, would he have been mau-maued as a sellout? Taken together, it's not a bad oral history of the major events of 1968, with a little bit of historical context beginning with the murder of President Kennedy and ending with the resignation of President Nixon.
RETHINKING THE UNIVERSITY. Academe's version of Eddie Sand suggests a different career ladder for professors.
Let’s say the same college decides instead to hire a 55-year-old with tons of experience and publications, and that person agrees to come in at an associate professor’s salary. If we factor in annual raises of about 4 percent (generous these days) and assume that the individual with be made a full professor in five or six years, the college will invest roughly $800,000 in salary on said individual before he or she reaches retirement age. It would take 13 years for the 30-year-old to reach the same level of investment, but remember: They’re still aboard for quite awhile and you’ve got to keep compounding bumps for raises and promotions. For less money than the costs of a full career for a new Ph.D., an institution could hire two experienced associate profs sequentially, plus have money left over for several adjuncts.
A reader has reservations.

This is getting long, but I should spend at least a moment on the "cost" argument. Weir argues that not only does hiring older faculty make educational sense, but it makes financial sense, as well-- "an institution could hire two experienced associate profs sequentially, plus have money left over for several adjuncts."

Of course, like any specious claim, this requires both some terrible modelling assumptions and some rhetorical sleight-of-hand. The terrible assumption is that you can "hire a 55-year-old with tons of experience and publications, and that person agrees to come in at an associate professor's salary." An associate professor's salary, on average, is something like $58,000 in his estimation. This whole scheme depends on somebody who is thirty years past college graduation happily accepting the same salary as a current academic in their 30's. The mind boggles.

The objection -- and it is a serious one -- noted: the Inside Higher Ed poster does identify a problem with business as usual in the academy.

Over time academics worth their salt accumulate knowledge, have become experts in their fields — and have the vitae to prove it — and know how to teach. The latter point cannot be overemphasized. According to the Department of Education, 60 percent of students graduate from a different college or university than the one in which they first enrolled. Surprisingly, cost and homesickness are not cited as reasons for transferring as often as bad teaching, lousy advising, and desire for a more prestigious education. It does not take a mathematical genius to figure out that a failed assistant professor hire can cost his or her institution tens of thousands of dollars in lost tuition fees; at elite colleges that number quickly leaps into six figures, not to mention future losses related to alumni giving.

With due respect to the many wonderful and talented novice assistant professors, one is more likely to encounter shaky teaching among rookies. Higher education, unlike nearly all other levels of education, usually requires no formal training or practice teaching as a prerequisite for instructing undergraduates. The vast majority of newly minted Ph.D.’s have little classroom experience beyond serving as a teaching assistant and in some fields — most notably the hard sciences — many graduate students working on research grants have had no direct student contact at all.

There has to be some waste in having the least experienced teachers, or the teachers with the smallest stake in the enterprise, facing the least experienced students. That is, however, exactly what happens when graduate assistants and armies of adjuncts and tenure-trackers who haven't figured out the system yet draw introductory algebra and freshman composition and principles of economics. Inexperienced teachers are less likely to be able to distinguish a clueless question from an insightful but ill-posed question. That comes with experience, and one is still developing that experience at retirement age.

That anybody with a brain is likely to be able to test out of taking algebra or composition makes the burden on the new faculty member even greater. I repeat: there is a reason the military subjects recruits to the tender mercies of career noncommissioned officers.

(One aside: I was one of those Ph.D. students who assisted on several research grants and had little teaching experience in graduate school. So I had to improvise as I went along, at Wayne State, which has a very different intellectual culture than Wisconsin. But because I spoke English like a Midwesterner I got pretty good teaching evaluations despite my inexperience. Draw your own inferences.)

The incentive structure in higher education, particularly where the department and the college take "original research" seriously, prevents the graduate assistants and the assistant professors from spending too much time on class development, and the freeway flyers often work valiantly to establish a research profile and secure a tenure track post somewhere.
Another reason why young professors are often so-so teachers is simple: They’re too busy producing the research necessary to secure tenure. Since they’re bright people they pick up — often by trial and error — the tricks of the teaching trade, but if they’re at a university or elite college, they’d better crank out papers, articles, and books or teaching evaluations are moot. And they’d better be on a handful of time-consuming campus committees to boot.
But here's where the train of thought derails.
Like too many things in higher education, we’ve structured things backwards. Young folks can sharpen their attack knives for the next remark, but if the academy ran according to logic, nearly all new hires would begin their careers at colleges that place more emphasis on teaching than research. Freed from publish-or-perish pressures, they’d be able to craft their teaching skills more quickly and in the company of seasoned mentors.
But it's precisely when a new Ph.D. has just defended a dissertation that the new Ph.D. is best equipped to publish that dissertation and work on extensions of the dissertation, as well as exploring new lines of research. Better to turn the new Ph.D.s loose with the seniors and graduate students, and expose them to the freshmen after they've mellowed a bit.

21.12.07

GOING RETRO. Solid-state replica of a hand-crank Victrola, complete with cassette and compact disc players (see slots at right) and an AM-FM radio.


The record is a high-fidelity long-playing original Andre Kostalanentz directing the Robin Hood Dell Orchestra of Philadelphia in excerpts from the Nutcracker.
NOT QUITE FIFTIES NOSTALGIA. Robert Reich's Supercapitalism has a simple cover with an Ayn Randian sign of the dollar that upon closer inspection includes a serpent's tongue. That pretty well sets the tone for what is to follow. This Book Review No. 36 notes that Secretary Reich makes an effort to be evenhanded, although sometimes he stops a bit short of reaching the conclusion he is leading up to. Consider the passage that opens the first chapter.

Roughly between 1945 and 1975, America struck a remarkable accommodation between capitalism and democracy. It combined a hugely productive economic system with a broadly responsive and widely admired political system. America in those years achieved its highest degree of income equality (since measurements have been available). It generated a larger proportion of good-paying jobs than before or since, and more economic security than ever for more of its people. Perhaps not coincidentally, in those years Americans also expressed high confidence in democracy and trust in government, both of which sharply declined in subsequent years. That singular success and that powerful promise extended the moral authority of the American system throughout the world. In contrast to Soviet communism, America became an exemplar of both political freedom and suburban middle-class affluence.

The economy was based on mass production. Mass production was profitable because a large middle class had enough money to purchase what could be mass-produced. The middle class had the money because the profits from mass production were divided up between the giant corporations and their suppliers, retailers, and employees. The bargaining power of these latter groups was enhanced and enforced by government action. Almost a third of the workforce belonged to a labor union. Economic benefits were also spread across the nation -- to farmers, veterans, smaller towns, and small business -- through regulation (of railroads, telephones, utilities, and energy supplies) and subsidy (price supports, highways, federal loans). Thus did democracy offset the economic power of large-scale production and widely disperse its benefits.

But it was not quite a golden age. Women and minorities still struggled for political equality and economic opportunity. Much of the nation's poverty was hidden away in rural hollows or black ghettos. Foreign policy, ostensibly shaped by the perceived threat of Soviet communism, all too frequently pandered to the needs of large American firms for cheap resources abroad, such as bananas, tin, and oil. Civil liberties were imperiled during Senator Joe McCarthy's anti-communist witch hunt. Much of American life was monotonous, conformist, and deadly dull. And yet for all its shortcomings, democratic capitalism seemed to be working remarkably well, and on the way to working even better.

No, it wasn't undone by the hippies or the feminists or the civil rights movement, all of whom addressed the rigidities alluded to in that last paragraph. The rigidities implicit in the first two paragraphs offered incentives for enterprising people, both in the United States and in a world rebuilt after World War II, to compete away the inefficiencies that followed from those managed oligopolies. Secretary Reich understands that (p. 48).

Efficiencies were sacrificed, to be sure. Consumers did not receive the lowest possible price or best quality. They abided cars that became obsolete a few years after purchase and telephone repairmen who showed up two days late. Investors were similarly docile. Economist John Kenneth Galbraith described the typical stockholder as a "passive and functionless figure." Average daily volume of traded shares was only 3 million by the early 1960s; it did not rise above 10 million until 1970, and only thereafter took off -- as did share prices. Across the economy, many assets failed to be put to their most productive uses. Innovation lagged. As we have seen, few major new companies were founded during this period.

But most people enjoyed more security and stability, and a larger share of the nation's income, than they ever had before or ever would again. The average real wages of hourly worker continued to rise until the early 1970s. Social tranquility was preserved and protected. Something approximating the common good was achieved.

Tranquility? Common good? That's really material for a different book review. The focus of Supercapitalism is supercapitalism. Enter deregulation (to address the inefficiencies). Enter the corporate raider (to address the inefficiencies). Enter exports from the Pacific Rim (to address the inefficiencies). Secretary Reich's thesis is that deregulation has made businesses more responsive to shareholders (or else some raider will find underemployed assets to redeploy) and to consumers (a Wal-Mart, or internet shopping, make searching for the lowest price easier). That competition has not, however, worked out to the advantage of workers, particularly workers in mature-technology, low-skill-compatible industries. (The aftermath of World War II masked the traditional comparative advantage of the United States in high-technology, skill-intensive goods and services. An increase in the price of such goods -- which most emphatically do not include automobiles, primary metals, or food products -- can lead to a proportionately greater increase in the real return to the skill that is intensively used in the production of that good. Accordingly, there is no necessary vast conspiracy of the plutocracy raising the incomes of software developers, hedge-fund managers, real-estate hustlers, and producers of racy movies and lowering the incomes of automobile assemblers, farmers, and retail clerks. Secretary Reich gets this (p. 89). "As consumers and investors we want the great deals. As citizens we don't like many of the social consequences that flow from them." Thus -- new public policies. Here, however, he's on less firm ground. He dismisses (p. 140) a public-choice argument offered by former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich by noting that in absolute terms, government's outlays as a share of national output peaked in 1983, after growing from 1947 to 1973. He then goes on to suggest that, in fact, the public policy we get is a public policy influenced by corporate lobbying. Perhaps property rights and liabilities are more difficult to define today than was the case when Adam Smith penned
To widen the market and to narrow the competition is always the interest of the dealers … The proposal of any new law or regulation of commerce which comes from this order, ought always to be listened to with great precaution, and ought never to be adopted, till after having been long and carefully examined, not only with the most scrupulous, but with the most suspicious attention. It comes from an order of men, whose interest is never exactly the same with that of the public, who have generally an interest to deceive and even to oppress the public, and who accordingly have, upon many occasions, both deceived and oppressed it.
The outcome is still the same, and the stakes may be higher. Secretary Reich is on record in Supercapitalism in favor of higher taxes, and government provision of additional social services, particularly health care, which he argues helps make labor markets a bit more fluid. That same fluidity has the potential to address the absence of competitive forces to protect workers. The difficulty many employers report finding and retaining qualified workers might be another source of protection, although it's likely to appear at the top end of the pay scale first. The Secretary also proposes additional funding for the common schools. Fine, but can we mandate that they teach the Habits of Highly Effective People?
LEARNING TO WIN. Every so often, there is a home basketball game. (It seems as if all the games have been somewhere else, whether that's Cancun or Iowa City or Green Bay or Chicago.) The Sycamore high school choir sang the first stanza of the Star Spangled Banner.


(I know, everybody calls it the National Anthem, but the National Anthem includes that verse about "their blood has wash'd out their foul footsteps' pollution.")

At halftime, some rather enthusiastic first graders from the YMCA conducted a sort of a scrimmage. Nobody paid much attention to the rules called "traveling" or "discontinued dribble."


Am I too cynical to suggest that there's a pizza giveaway in the second half because the concession doesn't want to be caught short at halftime? The cheerleaders award the pizza to the zaniest fans. These Sycamore players give it their best.



With success.


The expression "feeding frenzy" comes to mind.


There was a basketball game. Northern Iowa were even more banged up than Northern Illinois.


And so into Christmas they go.
WHY ADMINISTRATORS DISLIKE ECONOMISTS.

It's not because they can hire three senior professors of English or ten adjuncts for freshman composition for the salary of a beginning assistant professor.

It's not because our A.B.D.s can land better paying (if not necessarily as interesting) private sector jobs at salaries that exceed those entry level salaries.

It's not because our discipline is, or is not, really cognate to business administration.

It's because we have principled reasons for objecting to their pet projects.
A liberal education offers subjects including art, history and chemistry to promote the individual’s understanding of human nature and therefore his ability to cooperate with others in society. In the early days of my subject, economics, Adam Smith explained that no conflict exists between self-interest and a love of society. Indeed, an educated individual’s respect for society arises from the realization of the benefits to himself that social cooperation (including trade) makes possible. In a society of free individuals, each makes himself better off by making others better off, with the strengthening of social bonds and mutual respect among people an unintended but inevitable consequence.
So much, then, for diversity training.
The education that promotes civility has nothing to do with “good works,” the kind of charity [Towson State president Robert L.] Caret applauds. If students are thought to “lack civility or a traditional work ethic” and to be “too self-absorbed,” a decent liberal-arts education would remedy that. All that’s needed is an emphasis on the advantages to one’s self of understanding and respecting others’ nature as human beings and of engaging them in trade. The modern student, tragically, too often is not being taught these lessons, as well-publicized examples of disrespectful behavior and a distrust of human freedom — especially free markets — demonstrate. The remedy is not a makeshift substitute — “service learning” — that diverts attention and resources from the liberal education and reinforces anti-liberal attitudes, but a recommitment to a true liberal education.
Then take service learning. It is neither service nor learning.

Service learning weakens respect for society by implying that other people, less fortunate in some way, are owed one’s time and effort. Teaching that others are morally entitled to a part of one’s life — people one does not know, may not like and whose misfortune one had no role in creating — is the surest way to engender a sense of resentment and disdain, not benevolence, toward one’s fellow human beings.

Civility, a liberal education would teach, requires one to treat strangers respectfully (because one understands their nature as fellow human beings), but it does not require giving each of them five bucks. True individualism and self-interest, this liberal education would teach, requires that one’s actions respect other individuals’ rights. Far from losing “sight of the greater good,” it teaches that one’s civil and self-interested action best furthers it. Students who really seek the “greater good” should hightail it back to the library, lab or classroom, and hone valuable skills that suit their interests and abilities.

A university’s purpose is to train the mind, not to reinforce emotions. A knowledgeable professor can convey, in a few minutes at most, the intellectual (“learning”) content of most service-learning assignments; the “service” part of, say, a student’s hours in a soup kitchen is simply charitable contribution and emotional experience. But her feelings provide no clue to the amelioration of poverty. Would a higher minimum wage help ... or hurt? How about tax laws that permit the expensing of capital investments? Or reform of business licensing regulations? In the hours the real student is not tied up in the soup kitchen, she can analyze these policy changes. That’s what education is for.

Via Phi Beta Cons.

I fear, however, that administrators will continue to act in a way that comports with their prejudices to the exclusion of education until the failures of their fads become even more painfully clear.

20.12.07

FIFTIES NOSTALGIA TO THE RIGHT OF ME. I suspect that Robert Kuttner might have had Patrick Buchanan's Day of Reckoning in mind in his anticipation of the "know-nothings" gaining influence as globalization imposes adjustment costs on low-skill workers in a country with a comparative advantage in skill-intensive industries. (There's method in my madness, putting Mr Kuttner at Book Review No. 34 to set up Mr Buchanan for Book Review No. 35. ) I'll leave the trashing of the know-nothingisms to Ben Johnson, writing for Front Page, on the premise that the true believers can do a better job of policing their ranks. The Puritan in me finds amusement in the proudly Catholic, brawlingly Irish Mr Buchanan grumbling about the unassimilable habits of today's immigrants; the Volhynian draft resister in me cringes at his proposals to deny entry to today's equivalent of the mom with seven children in tow and five bucks in her pocket shipping out in steerage. (Clearly Mr Buchanan hasn't taken the time to read and understand my work, in collaboration with Eli Katz, on the optimality of immigration amnesties. Another paper in press! Yessss!!)

That noted, Mr Buchanan presents some of the same elements of nostalgia for the administered oligopolies of the 1950s and 1960s that Mr Kuttner misses, such as unionized blue-collar jobs, monopoly rents divided among shareholders, union members, and the tax collector, and no annoying hedge-fund managers who couldn't make a clean hole with a bit-and-brace looking for undervalued assets to strip, and no former peasants in exotic countries willing to do a better job bolting a car together for less money. And he persists in claiming that infant-industry protectionism made industrial development possible. Brink Lindsey illuminates the post-hoc nature of that argument.

Some of Mr Buchanan's arguments about imperial overstretch are more persuasive. He's never been a fan of intervention in the internal affairs of Moslem countries, and one of his earlier works is A Republic, Not an Empire. He also suggests that U.S., and by extension, the Atlantic Alliance's policy toward Russia has been unnecessarily harsh. What if, he asks, Mikhail Gorbachev had offered at the 1986 Reykjavik summit, to disarm, terminate the Warsaw Pact, and devolve the Soviet Union into fifteen countries in exchange for a promise that the Atlantic Alliance not be expanded to include Poland or the Captive Nations? I'm not qualified to evaluate the offer. Yes, the United States has done relatively little for the Russians, who got rid of Communism on their own initiative. On the other hand, Poland and the Baltic States have permanent interests that transcend Communism: before Stalin there was Alexander I, before Alexander I there was Peter the Great, before Peter the Great ... (where's the Russian history collection when I need it?) Day of Reckoning's observations on international affairs might merit further discussion. The industrial and immigration policy parts are unlikely to change many minds.
KEEPING THE POOR POOR. I maintain that the Habits of Effective People matter. Not everyone agrees.

[Priya] Parmar’s controversial course at Brooklyn College, “Language Literacy in Secondary Education,” typifies the professor’s preference for politicized pedagogy. Required of all students who intend to become secondary-school teachers, the course trains students to draft lesson plans that teach literacy. Parmar’s syllabus informs students that the principal focus of these lesson plans must be “social justice.”

Another theme animating Parmar’s course is her aversion to the proper usage of English. To insist on grammatical English, Parmar believes, is to exhibit an intolerable form of cultural chauvinism—a point reinforced by a preface to the requirements for her course, which adduces the following quotation from the South African writer, Jamul Ndebele: “The need to maintain control over English by its native speakers has given birth to a policy of manipulative open-mindedness in which it is held that English belongs to all who use it provided that it is used correctly. This is the art of giving away the bride while insisting that she still belongs to you.”

Let's take Mr Ndebele's thesis seriously. "The need to maintain control over piloting by experienced pilots has given birth to a policy of manipulative open-mindedness in which it is held that piloting belongs to all who fly provided that it is used correctly. This is the art of giving away the bride while insisting that she still belongs to you."

No, this is the art of saving your life. Or, to return to the use of proper written and spoken forms, saving your earning capacity.
IT IS DIFFICULT TO AGREE WITH THIS. I have sometimes suggested that the quality of life was better in the days when robber barons would conspire in smoke-filled rooms and divide markets to earn monopoly rents that would endow museums and libraries. Those robber barons were at least up front about their philanthropy. Duke University. Carnegie Hall. The Decatur Staleys. Rockefeller Center. The Field Museum. Wrigley Field. Several Kellogg Schools. Heck, Ball State University. (Somebody has to monopolize canning jars.) No more.

The Wisconsin School of Business at the University of Wisconsin-Madison has received an unprecedented gift totaling $85 million from a small group of alumni who have formed the “Wisconsin Naming Partnership” to support the school’s mission.

This innovative partnership provides a naming gift that will preserve the Wisconsin name for at least 20 years. During that time, the school will not be named for a single donor or entity. This unprecedented naming partnership will uphold tradition and greatly enhance the value of the school to students, the campus and the state.

The Wisconsin naming gift is the first of its kind received by a U.S. business school. Conventional business school naming gifts adopt the name of a single donor in perpetuity. By preserving the Wisconsin name for 20 years, this gift leaves open the option of future naming gifts.

UW-Madison Chancellor John D. Wiley calls the gift “a creative act of philanthropy and a major milestone for our university.”

Mr Wiley, who will soon be taking his pension, did not identify the road along which that major milestone lies. That tradition of perpetuity, for the record, is negotiable. Ask the next Dyche family member you meet.
HE WOULDN'T CARRY WISCONSIN. Tom Tancredo has ended his presidential bid, and dissed polka. "I took accordion lessons. It was horrible. I never practiced. I hated it. It's child abuse." (Via InstaPundit. Hey, Tennessee, when you say WIS-CON-SIN, you've said it all!)

19.12.07

THE ISSUE IS STANDARDS. An Economic Policy Institute snapshot interprets new Bureau of Labor Statistics projections as making no strong case for expanded college enrollment.
The occupational structure of 2006 required that 27.7% of employees have an education at the college degree or higher level. The projected occupational structure in 2016 dictates that 28.7% of employees have a college degree or more at that time, a rise of just 1 percentage point over the next 10 years (see Chart). The share of workers needing 'some college' is projected to not grow at all. Given that 30% of the workforce already has a college degree or more and that education levels will continue to increase, it does not seem that there is any gross inadequacy of workforce education, to say the least, relative to the jobs being created.
Put another way, there may be inefficiently many people in college, although the snapshot suggests a different interpretation of inefficiently few people not in college.
On the other hand, there are clear issues of a lack of opportunity of lower- and middle-income students having access to and completing a college education.
That statement, however, sheds a different light on the notion of merit scholarships in state-supported universities.
In Tennessee, that debate is hot for another reason: The state, which has been faulted for spending most of its aid money without regard to need, is considering plans that would significantly increase spending on low-income students.
I don't see why that has to be an either-or. Perhaps Tennessee could simultaneously reduce capacity and lower the sticker price. At one time, that was the state-university system model. In Wisconsin, the policy provided that there would be a space somewhere in the state systems for any student who finished in the top half of his or her high school class. Admittedly, there was a pecking order, with aptitude tests screening for Madison or Milwaukee, and there was self-selection, with the social set choosing among the converted normal schools on the basis of the anticipated parties. On the other hand, the pecking order wasn't as stratified as it now is: faculties at all the universities viewed themselves as in the same business and there was less of the grooming of future lawyers at some campuses and the cooling out of marks at others. Taxpayers picked up more of the tab, too. Without financial aid, one could work 40 hours a week during the summer and 20 hours a week during the academic year and meet the bills, and much of the financial aid included work-study. There has to be a better way than relying on the lottery.
The aid issue is particularly prickly in states such as Tennessee, Florida and Georgia, where lottery proceeds fund merit awards and where need-based spending lags well behind. According to a 2005-6 report from the National Association of State Student Grant and Aid Programs, Florida spends nearly $3 on aid with a merit component for every $1 on aid that factors students’ financial needs — and the ratio is far more lopsided in Georgia. While states still typically spend more on need-based aid, the trend is moving in the opposite direction.
Does that Florida ratio treat football scholarships as having a merit component?
Merit scholarships have undoubtedly helped institutions gain a competitive edge and keep students who would otherwise go out of state for college, but critics liken the programs to giveaways, seeing that they don’t include an income ceiling for recipients. Some also loathe the idea of working class lottery participants funding college for the more affluent.
As opposed to working-class income- or sales-tax payers, including young adults who went from high school to full-time labor force participation? Whether you call it a merit scholarship, or whether you call it low tuitions with tough admission standards, you can also call it a regressive transfer. But perhaps it's a regressive transfer that makes broadly shared prosperity possible.

Students are eligible for the HOPE scholarship, which provides up to $4,000 per year, if they have a 21 composite ACT score or a cumulative 3.0 grade point average. Those who qualify financially can get an additional $1,500 through the need-based program. Students are eligible for the TSSA award if their expected family contribution is $2,100 or less. In 2006-7, 90 percent of students receiving the award had family income under $30,000, and nearly half were first-generation college students.

Claude Pressnell, president of the independent colleges association, said the HOPE scholarship program serves a different population than does the need-based aid program. Of those who currently receive the assistance award, about one-fourth also receive funding from the lottery award.

Nobody pays list price. It sounds, however, like there are meritorious and poor students. Are they better off under the existing regime than they'd be the way things once were? Perhaps I should run a few numbers and do a follow-up post.
“[Lawmakers] should realize that the lottery scholarship program isn’t the end-all solution to providing financial aid and isn’t the ultimate solution to responding to workforce needs,” he said.
No, the ultimate solution to responding to workforce needs might be to put some of that responsibility back on the high schools, say, by looking very carefully at the transcripts and test scores of any applicant who graduated in the bottom half of their high school class.

Something else occurs to me. Perhaps students and guidance counselors from some districts will argue that a student in the 30th percentile is better than students in the 70th percentile elsewhere. Perhaps that argument comes from the richer districts. I can think of no better time to take a stand: that 30th percentile student will do just fine at Brown.

Pressnell said the proposal has the support of the Tennessee Student Assistance Corporation, which administers the state’s education scholarships and grants. He’s also confident that the state’s General Assembly will look favorably at the plan. It’s likely to come up when legislators return in January, he said, because the lawmakers want to tackle the issue before election preparation gets into full swing.

“We’re already seeing a redirection of attention to these needy, qualified students,” he said.

Needy and qualified: not mutually exclusive. Good.
Within the last month, Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen also expressed an interest in allowing low-income students to still receive some aid money if their grades slip. As it stands, students who receive both HOPE scholarship and TSSA funds lose both awards if their college grades far below a certain threshold (Renewal requirements are at least a 2.75 at end of freshman year and at least 3.0 each year thereafter.)
Again: consider the old state university model. Keep it cheap and kick out anybody who doesn't maintain a 2.0 on a four-point grade averaging scale at the end of a year.
Pressnell said some view that requirement as biased against students from lower socioeconomic groups who might need more academic help. One idea is to consider allowing the financially needy students to keep the supplement regardless of grades. Another is to allow the students to receive a portion of the full need-based scholarship based on a sliding scale — with students performing better in the classroom receiving slightly more than their counterparts.
On one hand, don't kick out somebody in good standing for lack of money. On the other hand, don't give the high schools bailouts for their own failures to inculcate proper habits of mind and comportment. That way lies full employment for the pushers of crying towels and the assessment of the obvious and all the other drags on the real mission of higher education. Where there excess capacity in safety schools, excess demand for prestige degrees, and inefficiently many students in college coexist, there must be improvements on business as usual.
THE RATIONALE FOR THE RULE. The Rules Examiner's recommendation against wheedled extra credit has been construed by the dean at Anonymous Community.

But this is the time of year when the kid who has been slacking or failing shows up, filled with sudden enthusiasm, begging for extra credit to make up for the work he either didn't do or did badly earlier.

From an administrator's perspective, this is a lawsuit waiting to happen. Don't do it!

Precisely. He goes on to make an observation that transcends politics: there is nothing "conservative" or "progressive" about maintaining academic discipline.
I worry, too, about the cumulative effect of students encountering multiple extra-credit bailouts over the years. If students start to expect end-of-semester freebies to bail out three months of slacking, what, exactly, are we teaching them? Sometimes I think "suck it up" is one of the most valuable lessons we can teach. It's certainly an important life skill, and one that comes in handy at entry-level jobs. A kid who hasn't learned to suck it up is in for a rude shock when he gets to his first real job.
That's why we get paid. I've been tempted to respond to a long whine with a long response. I could grant your request, and you graduate and you get an entry-level job, and you get a bad performance review or two, and you're fired in six months and your employer hires no further graduates of our program. Ultimately my pay gets cut. Or I deny your request, and you complain to your [thinking equally dim] friends and they stay away from the program and we look more selective to U.S. News. Ultimately my pay increases.
Even-handedness can sometimes seem cold, and it can require saying 'no' when it would be easier not to. But the costs of ad hoc special favors are just too high to sustain. Fight the temptation!
Indeed. Turf 'em out.
NO PUSSYFOOTING AROUND. If an essay misses an important point, say so.

I was once again struck by a rhetorical habit in a lot of undergraduate papers, including some otherwise very strong, well-written ones. Namely, criticizing an author by saying that the author has “failed to consider” some important issue. Occasionally, this is a perfectly reasonable criticism, in which the student is observing that there is some concrete kind of information or knowledge on a particular topic which the text in question should evaluate, could evaluate, is already predisposed to evaluate, but for some reason does not. Sometimes there really are odd, notable absences, gaps, or lacunae.

Much of time, however, what the student really means is, “This text argues against the value of a particular kind of knowledge and I disagree”. I think students avoid saying so because this is a much bolder kind of claim. “Fails to consider” is a rhetorical device that resembles passive-voice constructions: it’s polite, it hedges some bets, and it doesn’t require the student to claim to know anything more than “there are other texts in this class which the text we read doesn’t consider”. I’d rather a student say, “I disagree with the author” than “he forgot to discuss an important issue” even if the student feels tentative about that disagreement. In fact, a well-reasoned description of an uneasy, tentative disagreement can be the basis for a great analytic essay. There are ways in which “failed to consider” is even more arrogant a judgement than “wrong”.

FIFTIES NOSTALGIA TO THE LEFT OF ME. Not for saddle shoes or tail fins; rather, for broadly shared prosperity, which Robert Kuttner's The Squandering of America argues is the consequence of a coordination failure whereby the institutional restraints that at one time impeded the creation of wealth (unionized oligopolies, closed economies, and increasing marginal tax rates) were dismantled in such a way as to make the wealth creation easier and more readily appropriated by trading houses. That sentence doesn't quite stand by itself as Book Review No. 34. I note, however, that there are chapters titled "Wall Street Rules" (because a number of Depression-era laws were amended or repealed); "Financial Engineering and Systemic Risks" (where hedge funds are "a time bomb of risk"); "The Casino Continues" (referring to even more esoteric investment inventions); and "The Return of Speculative Global Finance." Mr. Kuttner may be right that trading markets have the potential to over- or under-correct, or to get caught up in rational expectations hyperinflations (more popularly known as "speculative bubbles"). It does not follow, however, that the Depression-era regulations will prevent such things. Complex adaptive systems do what they darn well please.

That noted, Mr Kuttner makes his case for that Fifties-style welfare state consensus. See pages 272-73:

You can put the entire Republican ideology on a bumper sticker: Markets Work, Governments Don't. This easy-to-grasp economic philosophy is complemented by a simple social philosophy: Poor People Reflect Poor Values. ...

This dual credo may have elements of truth when it comes to a small minority of dissolute poor, but it offers nothing to a broad, well-behaved working and middle class that finds itself working harder for less, in an era when markets often reduce security and living standards.

Let us praise Franklin, Lyndon, and the Croly Ghost.
Markets are useful engines of economic growth, but they are not reliable at providing employment security, much less decent wages, retirement, education, or health care. Nor can we trust markets to police the honesty of financial institutions, the cleanliness of air and water, the safety of workplaces, or the stability of the economy as a whole. So alongside markets, we need social investments financed with progressive taxation, as well as public regulation of the market's self-cannibalizing tendencies. A well-managed economy operated according to these principles can be at least as efficient as a laissez-faire one (which underinvests in people) -- and a lot fairer.
A now retired colleague would put the above in a bumper-sticker formulation: Liberals Protect People. The policy debate, however, must focus on the details. The deregulation and privatization of the 1970s and 1980s followed a painful coming to consciousness of the ability of a government to mismanage the economy -- thus stagflation and ever poorer performance of the common schools and ever-greater efficiency losses in the regulated industries. That "can be" is a claim; it is not a promise. Public policy, moreover, requires voters to consent to bundles of policies. As Mr Kuttner notes, Republicans bundle cultural populism with Friedmanian economics; Democrats bundle cultural idealism bundled unevenly with Pigouvian economics (the latter watered down in order to attract metrofexuals with trust funds.) He concludes with a warning.
[T]he failure to seriously engage with the downside of globalism has its own set of alarming political dynamics. As living standards fall for ordinary people, especially for socially conservative white male, blue-collar workers, the know-nothings gain more influence. We've already seen this in an anti-immigrant backlash. In the absence of a managed economy that offers balanced opportunity and security, vulnerable workers scapegoat foreigners and minorities. The elite, globalist Right is playing with social dynamite by not paying attention.
As, for some time, has been the elite, Europeanist Left. Mr Kuttner has just demonstrated the logic of Ronald Reagan's "I didn't leave the Democratic Party, the Party left me." We'll consider the influence of the "know-nothings" in a review yet to come.

The book has much to offer for policy wonks of all persuasions. It is extensively researched, although the absence of explicit footnotes annoys me.
OOPS. Sometimes it's a good idea not to release a book.

18.12.07

FAREWELL, TRITICALE. From time to time, a resident of the Cold Spring Park neighborhood of Milwaukee would leave a comment here, I had the opportunity to meet him at a Wisconsin weblogger meet-up (in what I will always know as the Burleigh St. Mama Mia's) on the night the Brewers were no-hit by the Tigers. He has left us, and far too young.
THE GIVING SEASON. Laura at 11-D asks, "What charity are you supporting this season?"

Shortly after I arrived in DeKalb, I received a solicitation from the American Red Cross of Greater Chicago. Strictly speaking, the chapter does not serve DeKalb County, although it does the major fundraising for the national Red Cross organization in northeastern Illinois.

In Detroit, Focus: Hope continues to operate several Centers of Opportunity including training programs for machinists, information technologists, and engineers. Observe these programs in action and re-evaluate your preconceptions about sending people who aren't college material to trade school.

The America's Cup has been out of country for over a dozen years now. Perhaps the team that will bring it back is in development at the Geneva Lake Sailing School.

And we can't have Christmas, American style, without steam trains, particularly if they involve named steam locomotives. Work continues to return Boston and Maine's Constitution 3713 to steam. Imagine: your tax dollars go to the Steamtown National Park in Scranton, Pennsylvania, and everything in steam there is Canadian.
PRIME TENDERLOIN. Grades are in and there's time for some intellectual development, including catching up on some reading. I'm doubtful of reaching the half-century this year, but, after a one-month layoff, I offer Jill Jonnes's Conquering Gotham as Book Review No. 33. There are several books focusing on the engineering aspects of Pennsylvania Station in New York, as well as a few art books making clear precisely what a "shameful act of vandalism" entails. Conquering Gotham is different. The machinations of The Pennsylvania Railroad and its rivals and the War Department (which had serious reservations about any bridge that would impede the passage of sailing ships upriver: a prudent military must anticipate another Burgoyne) and the Tammany machine (politicians used to be more up-front about perpetuating a mass of population dependent on government largesse) yield one plot line. The lifestyles of the rich and famous provide yet another plot line. The adventures of Evelyn Nesbit and Stanford White and Harry Thaw make much of Hollywood seem tame. The work of digging the tunnels (with loss of life and numerous engineering puzzles) provide a third. That the objective was to run through trains from Boston to Florida does crop up on occasion, but the trains are subordinate to the stories. The work suggests Pennsylvania Station might have been destined for adaptive reuse from the start. The land Pennsylvania's real estate agents acquired was not in the best neighborhood of Manhattan, and the concept of urban renewal hadn't yet surfaced. Design constraints precluded the construction of substantial office space above the station (additional support columns would have meant fewer tracks and platform faces) and, with the station above tracks, the use of a great room as the atrium for an office block (as later realized in Chicago's Union Station) was not possible. So when the railroad sold the property to meet the next year's legal bill, they forfeited neither commercial opportunities in the existing structure nor much good will from the neighbors. As Ms Jonnes represents it, New Yorkers viewed the station as something from Philadelphia that crawled in under the river. And so the station, or rather, so the great spaces had to go, but the tunnels with their improvised screw piles handle the commuter trains and the Acela Expresses and the Florida trains and what remains of The Great Steel Fleet, including the only serious New York to Chicago train.

17.12.07

THE MARKET IS TOO THIN FOR EQUIPMENT TRUSTS. In Vermont, the state transportation agency (passenger transport executive, if you will) would like to replace locomotive-hauled passenger trains with the North American version of an Adelante (or perhaps with a modern version of a Budd Highliner.) The plans, however, are on hold for lack of an out should the project fail.

The Vermont Legislature approved the purchase earlier this year on the condition that there was a guaranteed buyback.

The State Agency of Transportation (AOT) spokesman John Zicconi said all the parties agreed that a three-year buyback was a good idea. The problem, Zicconi said, was that neither Colorado Railcar nor Amtrak had the financial resources to make it happen. At best, all that they could offer was a verbal agreement.

“Colorado Railcar could not put a financial instrument together,” he said. “They could make verbal guarantees.”

The purchase would have included three self-propelled engines and two passenger cars. Each diesel-powered car and coach has a capacity of 60 passengers. The plan called for the new cars to begin service by January 2009.

These cars would operate a more frequent service (albeit not as frequent as the New Haven and Boston and Maine offered until the mid-1960s) from New Haven to White River Junction.

The market for rail diesel cars is quite thin. We're not talking about being able to repaint a train for a new franchise the way the British do, and the only other operators I know of for rail diesel cars are commuter operations near San Diego and Dallas. Financially strapped freight railroads (and airlines) have an easier time financing equipment because it can be repossessed and leased to another carrier with relatively little loss to the equipment trust holders.
ALLIANCE COMPLICATIONS. Turkey is a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and when I heard that their air force had bombed some terrorist bases in Iraq, I suspected that their air force had access codes the Israelis were not given in Desert Storm. Yep.

U.S. military personnel have set up a center for sharing intelligence in Ankara, the Turkish capital, providing imagery and other immediate information gathered from U.S aircraft and unmanned drones flying over the separatists' mountain redoubts, the officials said. A senior administration official said the goal of the U.S. program is to identify the movements and activities of the Kurdish Workers' Party (PKK), which is fighting to create an autonomous enclave in Turkey.

The United States is "essentially handing them their targets," one U.S. military official said. The Turkish military then decides whether or not to act on the information, and notifies the United States, the official said.

Nothing is going to fly without our Air Force noticing. As the PKK are a holdover communist organization, there's probably little remorse over having an ally hammer them. But it's causing some troubles with another ally.

Sunday's airstrikes provoked outrage in Baghdad, particularly among Kurdish members of the country's leadership. Massoud Barzani, the president of the Kurdish regional government, which administers three northern Iraqi provinces, called the attack "a violation of Iraq's sovereignty." He blamed the U.S. military, which controls Iraqi airspace, for allowing Turkish warplanes to cross the border. The Iraqi parliament also condemned the attacks yesterday.

The American role in aiding Turkey, a NATO ally, could complicate U.S. diplomatic initiatives in Iraq, particularly efforts to push Iraqi political leaders to enact legislation aimed at promoting political reconciliation.

The cooperation with Turkey also places the United States in the position of aiding a country that refused to allow U.S. forces to use its territory to open a northern front against the government of Saddam Hussein in 2003. It also alienates Iraq's Kurdish minority, whose leaders strongly support the U.S. troop presence in Iraq.

First the good news ... the U.S. troops toppled Saddam Hussein. Now the bad news ... the U.S. has a treaty with Turkey.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates earlier stated that a dearth of "actionable intelligence" was preventing more aggressive actions against the separatists, and senior military officials acknowledged that the PKK, labeled a terrorist organization by the United States, had not been not a priority for the U.S. military in Iraq as it grappled with a persistent insurgency and sectarian fighting.

"We want to help the Turks with the PKK," Gates said in October. "If we were to come up with specific information, that we and the Iraqis would be prepared to do the appropriate thing and . . . provide that information," he said. Until now, however, officials had not provided details of the intelligence provided or how it was gathered. The officials, citing the sensitivity of the subject, spoke only on the condition of anonymity.

Deeper in the article, there's evidence that some government officials in the Kurdish Autonomous Region do not want the PKK muddling things. Busy times for the diplomats.

16.12.07

HAPPY BEETHOVEN'S BIRTHDAY.
FIND SOMETHING YOU ENJOY DOING. I had the opportunity to attend a graduation party for an honor student Saturday evening, and variants on that observation kept on coming up, as in choices of majors, as in choices of careers, as in when to change a career. That maxim about "never having to work a day" is for real, readers.


So is the snowstorm.
WORK RELEASE. I have another day of grading jail coming, but the task is sufficiently in hand to be able to work in the Packer game this afternoon. Despite the weather and the security scare, everybody showed up for the scheduled and rescheduled exams.

Two locutions continue to perplex: the use of the verb "dominate" where the adjective "dominant" is in order, and the misspelling of "definitely" as "defiantly." Or is that a reference to the origin of the expression. It came into common use among the younger set around 1998. I keep envisioning some sitcom. "Did you take out the trash?" "Oh, definitely."

13.12.07

WHILE I'M IN GRADING JAIL.

NerdTests.com says I'm a Cool Nerd King. What are you? Click here!
QUOTE OF THE DAY. The aforementioned Astroprof.
Just a note for my regular readers. I am still here. However, this is final exams week, and I am swamped. When I was a student, I used to think that the professors had it easy during finals week. After all, they didn’t have to teach classes, so they had nothing else to do, right? Sadly, some of the college’s administrators seem to have the same idea.
Read and understand the rest.
SENDING THE WRONG MESSAGE. The Random Walk tramples one illusion.

I have an idea. It is admittedly a very very strange idea. My idea is that your grade in my class should be based on your knowledge of the material we covered in that class, NOT your ability to write extra credit papers!!??!! Why is it that people who couldn't be bothered to hardly show up for class, much less take the time to study for the tests suddenly are SO VERY MOTIVATED. But they're not motivated to study for my final NOOO they want to write extra credit papers.

Astroprof said it well:How do they come to think that if the course work is too difficult for them that they can just do something else different from the rest of the class?

Yeah... that.

The Rules Examiner reminds readers that such requests for special treatment, in addition to being a waste of time for everyone involved (the student, for attempting a special project without proper knowledge of the course content, and the professor, for having to discover that the hard way) is probably in violation of your university's grade appeal policy. See the passage on "graded by a different standard."
NOW IT'S LETTER OF RECOMMENDATION SEASON. Dani Rodrik speaks the truth.
As I always tell students asking me for advice on this, the only good reason to want to do a Ph.D. is that you want to be an assistant professor at some academic institution. If you want to deepen your knowledge or enhance your credentials, go and work out there for four or five years (past a high-quality master's program), and you will be infinitely more ready to rise up in the world than if you had spent that time doing a Ph.D. And having done well in a master's program, or having enjoyed it, is no guarantee that you are suited to a Ph.D. program.
See also this.

12.12.07

A LAYMAN CONTEMPLATES REGRESSIVE TRANSFERS. Any resource allocation involves trade-offs.

When we look at Florida’s flagship schools, we find that most students come from middle-class or affluent families. According to an article in the St. Petersburg Times (Feb. 5, 2007) a “voluntary survey” in 2004 reported that the median family income of in-state freshmen at the University of Florida was between $95,000 and $100,000 – many families earned more than $150,000. Furthermore, said the Times, 95 percent of in-state freshmen have Bright Futures scholarships, which cover a large portion of their tuition, sometimes all of it. (Under the new law, however, Bright Futures scholarships will not cover the tuition increases, except for low-income students.)

The median family income in Florida was $45,625 in 2004. And, according to the U.S. Census, 25 per cent of the adults in Florida have college degrees.

Putting these facts together reveals that many taxpayers who never went to college – welders and retail clerks and construction workers -- are paying to send students to college, even students who come from families earning much more than they do.

Perhaps the proper role of the government is to make possible the conditions under which people might prosper, though it might smell of picking winners and it does involve subsidies to the middle class and the well-to-do.

On one hand, I understand the regressive transfer argument. On the other hand, I benefitted by the help of taxpayers, back when one could earn enough money on a full-time summer job and a half-time commissary job during the school year to make tuition, books, and the dorm bill. Beyond that, perhaps the state subsidies induce some people to substitute away from those fifty claimants to the best 20.

There's also a reason we consider the deadweight losses of prices that differ from marginal cost.

A $20,000 loan for a student who doesn’t finish college is another story, however, and that brings us to another reason why low tuition may not be good public policy. Many students in the Florida university system don’t finish college. Although the board of governors boasts that its 57 per cent overall rate is better than many state university systems, graduation rates at the 11 state university institutions vary dramatically. The six-year graduation rate for Florida International is 44.8 per cent; for University of South Florida, 46 percent; and for the University of Western Florida, 37.6 percent. (Rates vary slightly depending on which year one is using,)

Pulling up the average are the University of Florida’s 76.6 percent rate and Florida State’s 61.9 percent. Yet are even these rates all that impressive? Again, consider that the taxpayer is funding about two-thirds of the cost, maybe more, for each student who doesn’t graduate. Although some students may benefit from taking courses even though they don’t graduate, think about the buildings that are built and the teachers who are hired in order to educate students who never get a degree.

The passage is a jumble of points. Spare a moment or two to consider how demoralized some faculty might be that they are engaged in remedial studies, and that much of the work might devolve to freeway flyers because that looks more productive and cost-effective.

Perhaps the state gets what it pays for.

Why are graduation rates so poor? Ironically, low tuition may be a contributing factor. With tuition costing around $3,400 per year, students can drift – take a few courses, stop and work awhile, then go back to school, puttering along. Students who really shouldn’t be in college because they lack either the motivation or the ability are seduced into going by relatively low tuition and the availability of aid that they don’t have to pay for until they leave school.

Indeed, experts are becoming concerned about the number of students attending college who don’t really want to learn. Peter Sacks, who returned to college as an adult and wrote about what he saw in Generation X Goes to College, found “a generation of students who had become increasingly disengaged from anything resembling an intellectual life.”

Thus my continued focus on the wrong kind of excess capacity. Interesting. The Florida system keeps turning up. The essayist, however, changes the subject.
Low tuition poses problems for students in another way. It changes the incentives of university administrators. Forced to seek most of their operating funds from the state legislature and the federal government, public universities do not make the needs of the student the highest priority.
To some extent, those closed class hassles are the Washington Monument Syndrome at work. I keep alerting Northern Illinois students that the administration is starving enrollment-impacted departments of resources in the hopes that students and their parents will put more pressure on the legislature to provide more money. The best the essayist can do, however, is disregard, completely, the regressive transfer argument with which the essay began.
There is evidence already that student instruction is declining in importance. Economist Richard Vedder, in his [slapdash] book Going Broke by Degree, uses federal statistics to point out that the proportion of public universities’ spending going to instruction has fallen over the past thirty years. During the 1976-77 academic year, about 40 per cent of public university spending was devoted to instruction. In 1999-2000, that figure had fallen to 34 per cent.
Wait a minute, isn't that in the interest of those welders and retail clerks? The essayist suggests that the increased spending is going to buildings and research centers (what, no mention of student affairs or weight rooms or climbing walls?) in a variation on the Navy's love for aircraft carriers and lots of flag officers to command them. The essay, however, returns to its main theme, suggesting recognition of the benefit principle in setting tuition would encourage favorable self-selection among students and greater effort in teaching by the faculty.
WHY IT MATTERS. Community college: the trustafarian version of a year in Siberia.
And it doesn't do much for office morale when students and their parents openly refer to enrolling at your college as a form of punishment. It's often followed by the always endearing “if you do well here, you can transfer to a real college.”
A commenter notes,
Teach at a CC and yes I see [rebound students] usually still wearing their fraternity or sorority t shirts. They seem to go through stages 1)Oh this is going to be high school all over again; 2)Oh sh** this really is college; then hopefully 3) This really is hard but that professor seems really interesting in teaching me.
There was a time when we were all in the same business. To some extent that's been distorted by the prestige hierarchy (research university, comprehensive university, teachers's college) and to some extent it's been distorted by popular perceptions. I wonder, though, whether the parents view their offspring's presence at the community college as a reflection on their own inadequacies, rather than on the inadequacies of their children.

Read the entire comment thread: there's a conversation on the value of bright and motivated students starting at the research universities anyway, particularly if they are able to identify the other strivers rather than succumb to the filthy lures of the rabbit culture or beer-'n-circus
HOW OTHERS SEE US. Megan McArdle recalls a college bull session.

When I was at Penn, a friend who actually qualified as a proletarian, and whose proletarian consciousness would have been rated "Exceeds expectations" by the Comintern Membership Committee, indignantly informed me that almost half our class was the product of private schools.

"So?" I asked innocently.

"So those schools are less than 2% of the total American school system," he said. As far as I can tell, that disparity has only grown in the intervening years; thanks to unfavorable demographics, getting into college now is much more competitive than it was in my day. As long as you're drawing half your student body from schools that charge tens of thousands of dollars a year in tuition, playing with your financial aid package is the poverty-fighting equivalent of sending a complementary fruit basket to the local orphanage at Christmas.

I'm not persuaded that "getting into college now is much more competitive." There is excess demand for the fifty or so institutions claiming to be "top twenty," and I maintain that the excess demand is augmented by institutions that cannot claim to be highly ranked choosing not to offer the challenges and opportunities that would entice ambitious local students who didn't go to prep school or play squash or lacrosse to choose such an institution rather than fret about the letter from Harvard or Northwestern or Michigan.

10.12.07

TOO LARGE TO PUT UNDER A TREE, TOO SMALL FOR THE C.P. The local news is not all bad weather and threats to students. The Waterman and Western Railroad is running its own Holiday Train, and, as is the case with the Canadian Pacific's Holiday Train, it's on a donation basis.

In the first year of the holiday train, he charged riders $2, the same rate as the rest of the year, [locomotive owner Pete] Robinson said. But when he saw a woman with only $4 negotiating with her four children over who would ride and who would watch, he decided to make the ride free. There is a donation jar for anyone who cares to give money, he said.

“No parent should be in that situation at Christmastime,” he said. “If you can make a donation, and you want to, that's great. If you can't, that's OK. Just come have fun.”

This weekend, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday evenings.

Next weekend, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday evenings.
WHY IT MATTERS. I'm not sure who first observed, "be careful what you ask for, you just might get it."At Inside Higher Ed, William Durden contemplates the consequences of changing the methods of higher education.

Nonprofit colleges and universities could adopt, for example, the business model of the rapidly proliferating for-profit universities. Colleges and universities could go totally online — no buildings or accompanying campuses. Athletics would be eliminated as would student life. Gone would be those pesky sources of purported extravagance in American higher education.

There would also be no expectation of original research by faculty or students — ironically the essential source of content for the for-profits to use in instruction. The course of study would be narrowed to include only those subjects that are more applied than those in a liberal arts curriculum and match more closely specific occupational needs — business, nursing, social work, health technology, information technology, and so on. The curriculum would eliminate those courses without immediate applicability to the workforce — English literature, poetry, art and art history, music, dance and theater. There would be no need to engage in “silly” research that deviates from what “someone” has determined a priori as essential topics of inquiry for a productive life. There would be no reason to invest in costly scientific equipment or the laboratories in which to house it.

He goes on to note that product variety can be efficient.

Numerous for-profit universities have taken these steps. This model is most appealing to busy adults who are both working and trying to advance themselves through education in the most convenient way possible. It fulfills an important “in-time” professional need. For-profits compete with other for-profits and non-profits solely on the competitive basis of tuition and still accomplish their mission fully. Their business model works because they forgo all the “extras” delineated above that non-profits must support through a combination of tuition, public support, private fundraising and cost efficiencies.

But can American higher education — indeed, can America as an enterprising, entrepreneurial nation — afford to have all its colleges and universities so defined? Is the for-profit business model more widely acceptable to the American public — especially for the undergraduate education of its 18-21 year olds? Wouldn’t some valuable defining elements of a distinctively American higher education — a global market asset — be lost in this brutal confrontation between cost and accountability?

He argues that some people are willing to pay a premium for a summer camp with a bit of education thrown in.
Would we as a nation accept no college sports? Would we accept the total absence of our effort, albeit sometimes frustrating (and understandably highly inefficient) to advance students in the practice of citizenship within a 24/7 residential community? Would we accept the total absence of student life — fraternities and sororities, club life and other extracurricular activities? Would our “consumer-students” accept residence halls, student centers and science complexes that were lacking in contemporary amenities and instrumentation?
He suggests that even the most careerist, or disengaged, of the consumer-students benefit from the exposure to Big Ideas.

Would we as a nation accept a curriculum that offered only those courses that translated directly to current workforce needs and neglected the arts and humanities — defiantly unaccountable courses of study? Would we accept a college or university that restricted its faculty from engaging in research, thereby keeping them one step removed from what they teach in the classroom?

I think not. To do so would completely undermine the global market distinction that has come to define American higher education. It is no coincidence that countries such as Germany and Britain are currently seeking ways to “Americanize” their universities. As central governments cut their considerable subsidies, they are finding it necessary to increase tuition — and along with it, the types of “amenities” that 21st century students demand. They are coming to rapidly understand that the American college experience in its totality creates an emotional identity among the student body, an identity that translates into a lifelong sense of ownership and a willingness to “give back” to their alma mater. This is an extremely powerful source of support for American higher education and it is necessary component of our business model.

There's also the possibility that the price premium such universities command reflects a flight to perceived quality: the last thing the land-grants and regional comprehensives and mid-majors ought be doing is emulating the online for-profits.