30.1.08

PV = nrT. The expression has nontrivial implications for a Discovery Channel "Smash Lab" where the protagonists attempt to design an air-bag car-catcher to reduce the damage to automobiles in a train-car collision. At this stage of development, the project is unlikely to change the minds of any advocates of complete separation of rail and road traffic. It did clear up one thing, though: the protagonists discovered that a suitably durable material would be embrittled if it was rapidly filled by high-pressure carbon dioxide (as it expands and the pressure drops, the temperature falls.) This does not happen with quick-deploying airplane escape slides, because that design uses valves that exploit the laws of physics in such a way as to introduce air at ambient temperatures, thus further speeding up the inflation of the slide, while keeping the material warm enough to remain supple.
SIFTING AND WINNOWING. Cato's Brink Lindsey has now expanded his meditation on political alignments that have outlived their usefulness into a book, The Age of Abundance. It has both a super-title, Why the Culture Wars Made Us More Libertarian, which may or may not be accurate, and a sub-title, How Prosperity Transformed America's Politics and Culture. This Book Review No. 8 reminds readers that not everybody views that transformation the same way (consider Robert Reich or Patrick Buchanan or Robert Kuttner.) In places, the argument strikes me as strained: he repeats the same formula about the Aquarians taking advantage of plentitude while questioning the market economy that makes it possible while the Evangelicals saw sin in the plentitude while defending the market economy (perhaps because it was not communistic?) The development of his argument identifies some of the same strains in the New Deal - Pax Americana establishment that Strauss and Howe's Fourth Turning identify, and many of the elaborations are the same. What's different is that Mr Lindsey envisions a permanent synthesis of libertarian notions (greater tolerance for differences in ethnicity and belief systems and greater reliance on emergent systems such as markets) while Strauss and Howe see libertarian attitudes as popular during a time of decay of the old social order, but put aside once the new social order establishes itself, which requires a severe secular crisis, often a war or a rebellion, to remind people of their fundamental reasons for cooperating with others.

We have not yet seen such a secular crisis, despite the best efforts of seekers of political power to pin that label on Islamofascism or environmental decay or for the n-th time, the fatal collapse of capitalism. That noted, it is difficult not to like a book that includes, at page 289, this.
Nevertheless, the fact that many Americans have been unable to take proper advantage of the new economy's immense possibilities. That fact must be considered a major disappointment -- and one that is not easily remedied. For while economic incentives matter, sometimes culture matters more. And many Americans have been raised in a working-class culture that does not sufficiently encourage education or long-term planning. As a result, they lack the skills that are now so highly rewarded -- and what is worse, they lack the capacity to develop those skills. Until relatively recently, working-class culture was consistent with upward mobility. But things have changed, and low-skill, high-paying jobs are increasingly a thing of the past. Consequently, the anti-intellectual mentality that remains deeply engrained in large segments of the American populace has become a socioeconomic dead end.
So let it be with the Rust Belt.

Elsewhere, Mr Lindsey extends his argument to the underclass, noting a connection between the absence of "middle-class skills" in that population and its prolonged misery. That squares with a contention of mine, that misplaced emphasis on eliminating hegemonic biases and other mushy-headed substitutes for real learning keep the poor poor.

(Cross-posted at the Fifty Book Challenge).
KEEPING 'EM ROLLING. Photon Courier notes that Erie, Pennsylvania, is running a current-account surplus.
Of the 900 locomotives to be produced this year at the GE plant there, 200 are destined for China. Other substantial export orders this years are for Brazil and Kazakhstan.
A cited article suggests the arsenal of democracy is not yet dead.
"We are now capable of building a locomotive in 22 days, when in 2005 it took 31 days, and we want to bring this down further to no more than 10 days in a few years' time," says Mr Wyman.
The world's highest-altitude diesels are from GE, and there's a stable of rebuilt Dash-Sevens on Estonian metals.

If memory serves, the Jack Welch strategic plan was to hive off any division in which GE could not lead or be No. 2.
During late 1990s, though, it must have been awfully tempting to GE top management to ditch this business, which appeared old-hat in an era when everyone was obsessing about "high technology."
Old-hat it might have been, but that's precisely the era when GE passed Electro-Motive in the North American business, although Electro-Motive rules Britannia's rails.
TONIGHT'S RAILROAD READING. A ride into Grand Central Terminal.

28.1.08

LOOKING FOR A SIMPLER EXPLANATION. If the subject is God, Richard Dawkins can address what he characterizes as delusions and be done with it in 420 pages. If the subject is President Kennedy's assassination, it takes Vincent Bugliosi 1600 pages in Reclaiming History, along with a CD to provide material he didn't deem worthy of an in-print footnote, to address less profound delusions. This Book Review No. 7 will recommend the book only to serious students of the evidence. Our friendly connection, Professor McAdams at Marquette Warrior, maintains a comprehensive Kennedy assassination site that will help readers draw their own conclusions. I maintain that Lee Oswald acted alone, the position that Mr Bugliosi supports to the exclusion of any other explanation (a bit of prosecutorese that). OK, that's a spoiler. I won't spoil what happens to the conspiracy explanations. Read the debunkings yourself.

How, then, make sense of a 1600 page book with a library's worth of references on a CD? Break it down into synopses of the two parts of the book. The first part summarizes what happened. The opening chapter is called "Four Days in November." There is a book by that name, as well as a video, and much of that chronology is from that book and from William Manchester's The Death of a President. Mr Bugliosi follows much more closely the movements of Lee Oswald and Jack Ruby, and he places an armed Jack Ruby in proximity to Lee Oswald on Friday evening. You'd think a mob hitman would have seized the opportunity then. But Mr Bugliosi finds a member of the Outfit who tells the FBI "No matter how much you investigate, you'll never learn nothing, because he had nothing to do with nothing." (Page 1108. That's the same Chicagoese as the Machine's "We don't want nobody nobody sent.") If there is a mystery in the chronology, it is what happened to the President's brain. It may have been reburied in 1967 (when Arlington Cemetery completed the permanent gravesite) on Attorney General Robert Kennedy's orders, meaning, as Mr Bugliosi (p. 434) describes it, he's taking "someone else's secret" to his grave. Apart from that, it's as the Warren Report put it, and it's a series of small decisions that look like a conspiracy, but with the unlikeliest of conspirators.

The second part of the book is dealing with most of the popular conspiracies. It's impossible to debunk all possible conspiracy hypotheses, because a sufficiently fertile (fevered??) imagination can permute and combine people who were or were not in Dallas ad infinitum. Any conspiracy explanation must, however, distort some pretty simple logic. All forensic evidence points to a twenty-buck mail order rifle as the murder weapon. All evidence points to Lee Oswald as the purchaser of that rifle and as in possession of that rifle on November 22, 1963. Thus, no second shooter. All the evidence of Lee Oswald's life and character precludes his employment by U.S. or Soviet intelligence or by anti-Castro Cubans, or by the Outfit. Much of that part of the book is heavy going, and Mr Bugliosi understandably has announced his retirement from further research and writing about the Kennedy assassination.

The second part devotes what might be excessively much space to debunking the phoney hypotheses of Oliver Stone's movie, JFK. That part, however, might be an act of public service to the young, one of whom Mr Bugliosi quotes as accepting the conspiracy argument because "somebody made a movie about it." Roger Rabbit. (And over the weekend, I had the second and third Godfathers running as background for housecleaning. In the second, a button man shoots a mobster who crossed Don Michael during an impromptu press conference in an airport. The arrangement of cops, press, mobster, and hit man mirror those in the Dallas jail on November 24. In the third, a cardinal in the pay of Don Michael serves the Pope a cup of poisoned tea and is shortly thereafter shot at a distance by a hit man. Perhaps people who get their public affairs from movies could benefit from a debunking.)

What's less laudable is Mr Bugliosi's willingness to cut Oliver Stone some slack because the two men share some of the same views on the great issues of the day. This is an error that Richard Dawkins correctly characterizes as "undeserved respect." Save the mutual admiration on matters other than bad movies for some other book. So, too, let it be, with the lamentations over Camelot. Mr Bugliosi quotes (p. 1507) Washington journalist Helen Thomas, "You never had the sense again that we were moving forward, that we could do things." There's that fatal conceit again about Presidential Power, the same hubris that impels Senator Clinton to aspire to "run" the government and "manage" the economy (the Constitution checks the first impulse, complexity (in the mathematical sense) precludes the second) and the naivete in Caroline Kennedy's endorsement of Senator Barack Obama.
"Over the years, I've been deeply moved by the people who've told me they wish they could feel inspired and hopeful about America the way people did when my father was president," Caroline Kennedy told a cheering throng of students at American University. "This longing is even more profound today. Fortunately, there is one candidate who offers that same sense of hope and inspiration, and I am proud to endorse Senator Barack Obama for president."
The article from which I took that quote presents a somewhat more balanced view of her father's presidency. Suppose, as Mr Bugliosi speculates, Lee Oswald had reconciled with his wife Marina on November 21 and left the rifle at the Paines'? Suppose also that President Kennedy hadn't escalated the Vietnam War, and upon re-election, ended it. He'd still be dealing with a civil rights community, possibly angrier at the slower pace of civil rights legislation compared to the commemorative spirit with which his successor got it passed, and had he been re-elected it would be he, not Lyndon Johnson, facing the challenges to the legitimacy of "the system" that were forming in the academy and among other oppressed populations seeking to draw parallels between their experience and the black experience, and "tune in, turn on, drop out" would have happened on his watch.

Now take that "hope and inspiration." Some of the very people who sought that in an activist President dismissed it in President Reagan as "cheerleading." Senator Obama has now characterized President Reagan as "transformative". President Reagan had some simple goals. Cut taxes. Deregulate. Call an evil empire evil. Which of these ideas, Senator Obama, is a bad idea? The conspiracy that will outlast silly stories about alliances between the KGB and the Outfit or the CIA and Cuban exiles is the conspiracy to preserve the legend of Camelot.

Cross-posted at the Fifty Book Challenge.
INCENTIVES MATTER. There's an organized hitchhikers' market in greater Washington, D.C.
Slugging is an informal carpool system that sprung up in Northern Virginia in response to the construction of High Occupancy Vehicle lanes, which may only be used by cars containing multiple passengers. At various points along the highway, folks heading into the city line up each morning and wait for drivers going into the city to swing by. Swing by they do, and once loaded up with an appropriate number of people, the cars jet into the HOV lanes and bypass the heavy traffic going downtown. In the evenings, similar lines form downtown for the ride home. It’s a nice little system, and all the more interesting because it has evolved on its own.
Emergence, forsooth! Now comes a new system of property rights that makes hitchhikers into cash crops.
Northern Virginia is preparing to widen and extend the HOV lanes and turn them into High Occupancy Toll lanes. These lanes will still be free to multiple passenger vehicles, but individual drivers will also be able to use them by paying a variable toll, the size of which will change with traffic in order to maintain a steady flow. Studies analyzing the proposed system have speculated that the toll for an average rush hour trip will be about $6, but the system’s mandate to keep traffic flowing freely at all times means that one-way costs could potentially much higher.
Which puts the driver in the interesting position of hiring hitch-hikers?
You see, the prevailing toll rate will be flashed on signs along the highway, constantly updated, so slugs will know the exact financial value of their presence in a carpooling automobile. Drive alone, pay $10. Pick up slugs, go free. I suspect that the display of a tangible value for slugs may alter the dynamics of the system.
And if so, the value of owning a toll-road concession?
Right? Am I missing something? Because if that’s the case, why would companies pay $800 million for the rights to build and collect tolls on these lanes?
Could be a paper in this.
SEEKING BETTER RAIL ADVOCATES. Destination: Freedom continues to stir up a scandal in the National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission report. It might help to have commentators who rely on logic on content.
This is the story of what may turn out to be another chapter in the nearly 90-year-long crusade by the Highway Lobby to stifle dissent on the part of anyone who dares to challenge its right to the mindless paving over of America. What is at stake: America grinding to a virtual halt, as our enemies use oil to blackmail us to our knees.
That genuflection is voluntary, as long as there is no development of oil resources in Alaska, the Gulf of Mexico, the Great Lakes, and a moratorium on further construction of nuclear power plants.
Behind its closed doors, however, the commission has been plagued by bitter controversy. On the one side has been what amounts to an all-highways all the time faction led by Transportation Secretary Mary Peters. The other faction believes that with overcrowded airport runways, delayed flights, and increasingly unacceptable congestion on city streets and inter-city highways, it is well past time America put more emphasis on the third leg of the transportation stool — the nations’ railroads — freight and passenger.
That third leg is doing quite well, thank you, without Washington's help. A day's drive from here I can find a three-and-four-track railroad that never sees a passenger train. (Hmm, road trip?) Last Friday, I went to a retrospective on the abandonment of the North Shore Line that reminded me the Skokie rapid transit line took a year to build, and only another year to reach North Chicago to connect with existing trackage to Milwaukee. And we'll see the CTA at Old Orchard when?

Perhaps that, too, is the consequence of a massive conspiracy.

Regardless of who or what factors led to the deletion of Weyrich’s section of the report, one can understand why some highway interests would view it as too hot to handle.

The General Motors legend Alfred P. Sloan back in the twenties hatched a plot to destroy America’s electric rail systems in cities all across America (for which his company was ultimately convicted in 1949 and given what amounted to a slap on the wrist). Highway interests meanwhile have moved heaven and earth to see that Americans were denied development choices that were hospitable to anything other than auto transport. You want to pick up a prescription or a quart of milk? Chances are you have no choice other than to haul up to a couple of tons of steel and rubber to do it. In pre-World War II America, most Americans could conveniently walk to accomplish small errands. Walkable neighborhoods are transit-friendly, especially when that transit mode is rail. You may be old enough to remember when there was an electric “trolley” line (called “light rail” in its present incarnation) in your town that was destroyed.

Please. Whatever n was in this post, it is now n+k. And it discredits Mr Weyrich's redacted minority report to tie it, even tangentially, to that Roger Rabbit story.
FIGURES LIE, BUT LIARS FIGURE. Or they attempt to locate a recession where there might not be one.
GETTING THE INCENTIVES RIGHT. The unwinding of the speculative bubble in housing prices, where many of the houses were financed with adjustable-rate, sub-prime mortages (no money down, interest only, years to pay) includes some borrowers who are better off defaulting on their mortgages rather than paying more interest against negative equity. At Tech Central Station, Rex DuPont and Andrew Hamilton note that there is money on the table.
The problem is further complicated in some areas because the mortgages in question may be clumped into groups that could cause a serious decline in local housing prices. Then the owners who can meet the existing payments in those areas may come to doubt the benefits of meeting the payments on a mortgage that is now larger than the current market value of their homes.
Where there is money on the table, somebody ought to pick it up.
The current oversupply of housing on the market provides a unique opportunity to expand the supply of affordable houses nationwide.
That somebody might be a government.

Our approach would be for the federal government to finance the acquisition of defaulted mortgages. The properties so acquired could be used to provide affordable housing where needed, or resold, with proceeds to be used for low and moderate income housing programs. The federal government could create a Fund for Affordable Real Estate through an entity analogous to the RTC. It would make funds available to those regions most affected by non-performing mortgages and foreclosures. These funds would be used by the states involved, or by the appropriate non-profit entities, to purchase distressed properties with a view towards recycling them as "affordable" housing, which is in short supply in many of the same regions.

A simple example of the need for affordable housing is a town that has applied its resources to provide a superior public educational system. Affluent parents will bid up the real estate in that town to gain access to the schools system. However, this will price the teachers in those schools out of the local market, forcing them to live away from their work.

Perhaps such a policy is more effective than a residence requirement for city employees, which can induce city employees to fort up in neighborhoods they subsequently defend against The Other.

There's a bit more to this subprime-foreclosure phenomenon than I am able to comprehend. What's the point of the initial lender (with all the repackaging of mortgages, maybe of a subsequent holder of a portfolio) repossessing houses that may not sell for any price at all? Is that really more profitable than carrying those mortgages at the initial rate and getting something of the capital back?
NO INDOCTRINATION. Nailed to Newmark's Door, by way of Marginal Revolution, a list of favored books among a self-selected subset of collegians.
The books that correlate most with high SAT scores: Lolita, 100 Years of
Solitude, Crime and Punishment, Freakonomics, Catch-22
, and Atlas Shrugged.

27.1.08

PROTECTING THE VILLAGE. There's unfair competition.
We are suffering from the ruinous competition of a rival who apparently works under conditions so far superior to our own for the production of light that he is flooding the domestic market with it at an incredibly low price; for the moment he appears, our sales cease, all the consumers turn to him, and a branch of French industry whose ramifications are innumerable is all at once reduced to complete stagnation.
And there's protection.

[M]any of the policies [Senator Hillary] Clinton believes promote economic fairness strike others as decidedly unfair. In 2006, for example, she endorsed a successful Commerce Department petition by Syracuse candle makers to impose a tariff of more than 100 percent on candles imported from China.

"Our manufacturers deserve a level playing field," Clinton explained, "and we owe it to them to make sure that others do not unfairly circumvent our fair trade practices." In Clinton's view, then, fairness demands that all Americans pay more for candles to subsidize manufacturers in her state.

Or else she'll holler at you.
LOOKING FOR A SIMPLER EXPLANATION. In The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins attempts to offer a simpler explanation than "God's Will," which he argues involves complexity of a form that could not be concealed from observers. This Book Review No. 6 will not attempt to address all the controversies Professor Dawkins participates in (some of which led him to lead off my paperback edition with a collection of rebuttals to common complaints about his claims.) His work is more persuasive the closer it hews to his work on cosmology and biology, where he is able to lay out the logic. On cosmology, he argues that the relative rarity of habitable planets, while inspiring the conceit of special creation, can also be understood to imply the existence of other habitable planets, only at distances beyond our capability to observe. On biology, he is able to demolish the false analogies of randomness that some innumerates apply to evolution: the accumulation of small advantages with repetition suffices to explain complex structures such as people, or their eyes. Thus, quoting Carl Sagan (pp. 40-41) "if by 'God' one means the set of physical laws that govern the universe, then clearly there is such a God." That God might ultimately be understood with a sufficiently powerful mathematics, and Professor Dawkins is accordingly scathing with most agnostic positions on the existence of a God.

Professor Dawkins continues with a challenge to the various socio-cultural arguments for a God (or for religious belief, more generally), and finds them wanting. Here he's on less solid ground than he is on the origins of the universe and of sapient life on one planet per billion suns, although his work might be instructive for combatants in other cultural struggles. (It's rare that Ayn Rand can be accused of putting things more succinctly than another thinker, but her denunciation of the doctrine of Original Sin, by which people become capable of reason, morality, creativeness, and joy, is more pithy than Professor Dawkins. See "the speech" in Atlas Shrugged.) On the other hand, one might want to apply Professor Dawkins's formulation "child of Catholic parents" rather than "Catholic child" to other labels: "child of Communist parents" to "red-diaper baby" as a possibility. And think through carefully the parallels: if infant baptism and upbringing in religious traditions border on child abuse, do the common schools get a free pass, where pledges of allegiance or instruction on multiculturalism or the choice of basal readers are concerned?

Or dig into some of the professions of faith he lists at pp. 231-232, including "heretics, blasphemers, and apostates should be killed (or otherwise punished, for example by ostracism)," or "faith (belief without evidence) is a virtue," or "everybody, even those who do not hold religious beliefs, must respect them with a higher level of automatic and unquestioned respect." That Professor Dawkins elsewhere gets in a dig at "francophonys" suggests he wouldn't mind having some of the post-modern, post-structural, post-intellectual rot given the same respect as an idol of a control tower in the South Pacific.

There's one place where Professor Dawkins's unfamiliarity with Midwestern culture introduces a humorous moment. He inquires about the "semiotic iconography of cheese" when it is immediately clear that an angry letter characterizing Madison's Freedom from Religion Foundation as "cheese-eating scumbags" is as unfamiliar with Wisconsin culture as it is with reasoned discourse. The foundation is more of those Overly Earnest People who would not be at all comfortable at a football game, let alone wearing a cheese-wedge hat, which is where the reference comes from.

Cross-posted at the Fifty Book Challenge.
WE CHARGE HIGH TUITION BECAUSE WE CAN GET IT. Thus does one commenter react to some navel-gazing at Inside Higher Ed.

[P]oliticians and reporters like to hear coherent and compelling narratives that are easy to understand and easy to retell to their constituents and readers. Higher education has often failed to grasp this. And it shows in the explanations higher education gives about the rising cost issue: They are all too often defensive or obfuscating — leaving the public scratching its head in perplexity.

The stories being told in Washington about higher education, as everyone working at a college or university knows, are not flattering. The dominant stories coming from the mouths of politicians and the pens of reporters portray America’s colleges and universities in an arms race to out-compete each other on rankings, wealth, prestige, student diversity, scholarships and financial aid, faculty compensation, teaching loads, and non-academic facilities. College professors are depicted as disinterested in students and eager to have decreased teaching responsibilities. College administrators are pilloried as overpaid, unnecessary bureaucrats — although, ironically, government intervention nearly always requires colleges to hire more administrators to comply with the reporting requirements imposed by legislators. And who hasn’t read or heard stories of dormitories overbuilt in the image of four-star luxury hotels or of million dollar-climbing walls? Tales of the latter have become the stuff of urban legend.

The dominant meme describes American colleges and universities as institutions driven by their own self-interest rather than by the interests of students or of society. Lost in the debate is any sense of the public’s interest in anything other than the politics of resentment, which builds its persuasive case through portrayals of colleges and universities as bloated, elitist, inefficient, unworthy of tax payer support, and lacking the ethical high ground.

If that, indeed, is the image. The recent Senatorial obsession with endowment incomes at the elite universities, and the tuition discounts (read: financial aid) in response for families with incomes up into the 150K range misses one thing: taken together, those discounts will affect very few of the millions of matriculants to higher education, most of whom will start in community college or the mid-majors or the land-grants. The navel-gazing misses that completely.

Even the colleges themselves have encouraged this kind of thinking to justify why students and parents should be willing to pay the rising cost of college—as institutions often cite studies showing a $1 million lifetime earnings advantage for college graduates over non-college graduates.

On the issue of rising tuitions, colleges and universities, as they have exuberantly embraced marketplace paradigms, have let themselves get defined as money-driven, price-gouging wealth-accumulating firms rather than as cathedrals of learning. This has happened because colleges and universities have not been bold in telling their collective story. Instead, colleges and universities have let themselves end up in the defensive position of rebutting the unflattering stories and simplistic caricatures about why college costs so much. Those stories and caricatures, when left unchecked, undermine the public’s trust in higher education.

There are potential opportunities for colleges and universities to begin shaping the story from within higher education rather than simply reacting to stories from without. But the first step is to craft accurate, uncomplicated, and believable narratives.

One such "narrative" (economists prefer to say "model") appears at College Affordability.
The probability of becoming famous or recognized in life is vastly higher for Harvard, Yale Princeton and a few Willherst (Amherst/Williams) type schools than at Six Pack U. Indeed, winning entry into these schools suggests a student is 10-20 times more likely to achieve fame later in life (based on analysis we are doing at CCAP you will be hearing a lot more about). Pay $45,000 and go to Harvard or Willherst --or $45,000 and go to a second tier private school (e.g., George Washington U.) --and your chances for success are far,far, greater at Willherst and Harvard. Hence the frenzy to get into Harvard. It is rational, in a sort of irrational way.
The work sounds promising (it looks at a complementary proposition to the Spielberg Effect) although prior empirical efforts from Professor Vedder's shop have been weak. At heart, though, it's consistent with one of my priors, namely that there is excess demand for degrees from the institutions that are perceived to be selective.

And thus, the responsibility of the land-grants and the mid-majors is to become more like the selective institutions. I have not yet seen a state legislature ask its universities what sorts of savings might be possible for getting out of the safety school business and trimming or eliminating access-assessment-remediation-retention, and not apologizing for attempting to be more like a selective institution. Perhaps that will come, if for lack of any other option that works. Take Florida State.
At bottom, the funding of our universities is a class issue, straight up. The question is what kind of education do middle class and even poor kids have a right to? Remember when a decent education wasn't just the privilege of the rich? Hang on tightly to that memory because it's now become the stuff of myth in Florida.
Cheap though the degree may appear to be, anyone with the cash to study someplace else does. (There's nothing new there, either. James Michener's Kent State referred to New Jersey as a "cuckoo state" as parents would send their children to educational nests elsewhere, including Kent State) and a number of Midwestern legislatures boosted their out-of-state tuitions to recover all the instructional costs from cuckoo fledglings (oft-perceived as importing radical ideas) although such an exercise sounds a lot more precise than it is.

Cheapening the degree cannot be purchased at the expense of faculty and staff.
And most faculty won't have to look too hard for better jobs - other universities across the nation are already flocking to us, prepared to do some serious shopping. As the head of a hiring committee at North Carolina State said to me recently, "We're ready to pick the cherries off Florida State's tree." Once the faculty exodus is done, all our public universities will be left with is the lightning-blasted stump. At this moment, 75 percent of the classes in my department are already being taught by graduate assistants and adjunct instructors. Soon it'll be easier to spot a Himalayan snow leopard in Florida than that endangered species otherwise known as an actual professor.
So much for the persistence of the graduate assistants (who know better than U.S. News where the good doctoral programs are) or of the adjuncts (whose propensity to temp at Florida State, or any other well-known property, varies directly with the standing of the institution, which faculty members watch even more closely. Racing to become Mississippi, indeed.

The columnist has a proposal that won't work.
I'll make a deal with Gov. Crist and the rest of the crew at the Capitol. If we can put another initiative on the ballot - one requiring every Florida politician, lobbyist, member of a Realtor's group and wealthy Florida landowner to guarantee that their kids, grandkids, nieces and nephews will all spend four years in our state university schools - then they can have my vote. Something tells me a lot of our educational budget horrors would be solved and very quickly if state higher education were an issue that truly affected these people's families and the opportunities for their children's future. I have no idea where I would find the desks for those kids, but I promise to try.
The proposal is subject to the same flaws as Wisconsin's indentured servitude proposal (the problem in Wisconsin is a brain drain of its brightest students) in that it attempts to solve by compulsion a problem where people are responding to incentives to flee Florida's higher education for opportunities elsewhere. Perhaps there is a compromise between the moneyed interests and middle-class parents in which Florida picks up most of the cost for any student who finishes in the top 30% or top half of his or her high school class and provides capacity to serve those students ... but not weaker students ... and without the support services that go with remediation and retention.
MAKING GENEALOGY MORE DIFFICULT. Twins separated at birth marry each other.

The harrowing story of twins who were separated at birth and married each other without realising they were brother and sister was revealed today.

When the unnamed couple realised the shocking truth about their relationship, they had their marriage annulled at a secret High Court hearing. A judge ruled the union was legally invalid.

Not an easy time for the couple, but not unexpected.

The couple's plight was revealed by the former Liberal Democrat MP Lord Alton, who is fighting for children to have greater rights to know the identity of their biological parents.

The peer, who raised the twins' story during a House of Lords debate on the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill, said: "I learned of this heartbreaking story from the High Court judge who dealt with the case.

"We were having a casual conversation about the potential problems for donor-conceived children accidentally marrying each other and he said this could also happen in naturally conceived children."

Policymakers have several problems to grapple with.

Lord Alton and his supporters want the genetic history of a child recorded on its birth certificate.

The matter will be debated next week at the next reading of the controversial bill.

He said: "One of its provisions is to deny the child's right to know about its biological identity.

"This means the state is colluding in a deception. The Government has drawn up legislation that will deny you this knowledge until you are 18. But you could be married by then, or have fallen in love with someone.

"This will lead to these heartbreaking situations.

"If you start trying to conceal someone's identity, sooner or later the truth will out.

"And if you don't know you are biologically related to someone, you may become attracted to them and tragedies like this may occur."

In preventing consanguinity, however, the policy is making more likely that people will learn unpleasant truths about their natural parents. To make the disclosure age less than 18 is to expose younger people to some of those unpleasant truths easier.
SOME HOT ELECTRIC RAILROADING. By way of relief from the wintry conditions, a look at the Casa Blanca - Matanzas interurban with a train ride (and some Cuban tunes) to Hershey and return, and a retrospective of the Brills along with their Barcelona successors at the car station.

24.1.08

GET THE PROPERTY RIGHTS RIGHT. A James Fallows essay on airport delays links to the perspective from the controller's office.

Any runway has a finite capacity. The key to understanding this is in understanding time. Only one aircraft is allowed to use the runway at any time. It takes a certain amount of time for a departing aircraft to taxi onto a runway, accelerate to flying speed and lift off. Likewise, it takes a certain amount of time for an arriving aircraft to touch down, slow down and taxi off the runway. The time it takes the typical airliner to do either one -- land or takeoff -- is roughly one minute.

The math is as simple as it is inescapable. Roughly 60 airliners can use a runway in one hour if conditions are absolutely perfect. It is physically impossible to improve that number. However, it can get a lot worse.

In railroading, this is called "pathing" the trains. An essay on the Allegheny crossing of the Pennsylvania Railroad noted, fifty years ago, that a one-minute delay to a train in the overnight passenger fleet would stab the sixth train behind by eight minutes.

It helps in understanding all this if you’ll focus on the simple, physical acts required in aviation instead of dwelling on the confusing complexities. Imagine it is foggy at the airport. An aircraft landing on the runway has to find a taxiway to get off the runway just as you must find the entrance to the parking lot when you’re driving down a foggy street. In good visibility, you can see the entrance from a distance and slow down at the last second. In poor visibility (rain, fog, snow) you must slow down to ensure you have enough time to spot the entrance and then make the turn. Every extra second an aircraft spends on the runway -- searching for the taxiway -- decreases the capacity of the runway. There is another aircraft flying towards the same runway and air traffic controllers cannot allow it to land until the first aircraft is clear of the runway.

That's loosely how that delay to the sixth train happens. But the train engineer often has two things going for him (three, if the controller's post is also saying something about route knowledge) that the pilot doesn't. Perhaps the train has cab signals, which many engineers have described as a great help in order to be able to maintain track speed in rain or fog. And the switch to a different track does not come as a surprise in signalled territory, as there are two or three signal aspects before the train has to change direction. Pilots apparently don't get an "approach limited" followed by a "diverging clear" aspect in advance of the taxiway the ground controller would like the plane to use. (Could that be solved relatively cheaply by putting some additional lights in the center of the runway?) The route knowledge works like this: an experienced engineer has learned that a ten-pound reduction going past the "approach limited" followed by a release as the train goes over the Six Mile Road crossing means the train will negotiate the crossover at the diverging clear at precisely the required speed. (And yes, he or she had better sound the 14-L for that Six Mile Road crossing in time to alert a driver who isn't expecting a railroad crossing just ahead in that rain or fog.) I would think that an experienced pilot would have similar familiarity with the airport: runway 27, five taxiway exits to port, cross runway 21, five more taxiway exits to port, nominal approach under dry conditions means check at the first taxiway past the crossing to turn into the second one.

That, however, is not the main point the controller wishes to make. Rather, he's got to maintain safe following distances (and if the planes are queuing to land, at speeds close to stalling speeds, sometimes over great distances.)
What the accident investigations, the cockpit voice recorders and the air traffic control tapes don’t reveal to you is the enormous pressure the people in aviation work under. Pilots, air traffic controllers and even airline CEOs are under constant pressure to make the airplanes fly and to make sure they fly on time. The pressure to fly in poor weather, to tighten up the spacing between aircraft and to wring every last drop of efficiency out of the system is incredible.
In railroading, there's a practice called "riding the yellows" that everybody learns about, we hope not the hard way. A following train might lose less time by treating each approach signal as though the next one will also display approach, and the trick works until the next one is displaying stop, and the marker of the preceding train is just past that stop signal. Tightening the spacing leads to broken equipment and dead people, just as dead as if they fell from the sky.

That gets to the heart of the controller's complaint.
First and foremost, as I hope I have shown you, there is an absolute limit to the number of airplanes any runway can handle, per hour, even in perfect weather. At an absolute minimum that limit should be enforced -- by rule and regulation -- for every commercial airport in the country. Currently it is not and -- unbelievably -- airlines are allowed to schedule more flights than the runways can handle in even perfect weather. It is madness.
No, it's not madness. And it's not greed.
The reason is as old as it is simple -- greed. Airlines can make more money selling 70 airplanes worth of tickets per hour than they could if they limited themselves to the 60 airplanes per hour that the runway can handle. In fairness to the airlines, it’s not in their interest to limit themselves. It is easier to sell the tickets and blame the delays on the weather or the “antiquated” air traffic control system. Especially if the flying public doesn’t understand runway capacity limits and therefore fails to notice that the “antiquated” air traffic control system is delivering more airplanes to the runways than the runways can handle.
It's really the absence of properly-defined property rights, as the controller next shows.

The government has abdicated its responsibility in this area. The economic portion of the aviation industry was deregulated in 1978. The safety portion -- supposedly -- was not. The Federal Aviation Administration has the legal authority to limit the number of flights into Kennedy, Newark, LaGuardia, Chicago O’Hare and Washington (D.C.) National airports. The FAA should be given the same authority for all commercial airports. And Congress should compel them to use that authority. Currently they do not. The FAA was forced into lifting the slots restrictions at JFK and the result was predictable -- massive delays. The FAA reimposed slot restrictions at Chicago O’Hare (after the last public outcry about delays) and delays went down. They are currently being pressured to relax or lift those restrictions at O’Hare. If they do, you can be assured that increased delays at O’Hare will return.

Congress should pass legislation mandating that each commercial airport’s maximum hourly capacity be established and published. Furthermore, the FAA should impose limitations on the number of flights that can be scheduled at each commercial airport. That number should be less than the maximum capacity, taking into account such factors as typical weather patterns for the airport, routine maintenance and any other factor that typically limits capacity. It is time to recognize the inherent limits imposed upon the National Airspace System by runway capacity.

That second solution strikes me as practicable whether or not Congress acts. Britain's Network Rail has to assign paths to competing train operators in such a way that the trains run to time, or close to time, and it gets so precise that steam tour operators can only run steam from London Kings Cross before six in the morning as the only spare paths later in the morning were for faster trains. A diesel-down steam-up option satisfied those constraints. The fact that several carriers are negotiating for the paths precludes one inventive strategy: no airline is able to contract for exclusive use of arrival, departure, and airspace slots by committing to run fewer planes. In a dire emergency, as the controller notes, that 8.37 Northwest to Fargo may push back at 8.37 but it won't be wheels-up at 8.57.
RECLAIMING THE CULTURE. The phenomenon of collegians sprucing up to get beer-goggled after being scruffy in class is not new. Now comes a saloon that will make sprucing up mandatory. A Northern Star columnist considers the logical generalization.
For those of you not quite ready to ditch your laidback threads, feel free to grab a beer at Fatty’s in your football jersey. No harm, no foul. Just keep in mind: The days of discussing business statistics in your flannel pajama pants are numbered.
A few students making fun of the practice are worth a terabyte of anonymous whinges at Rate Your Students.
LET THE RECRIMINATIONS BEGIN. Perhaps there's little new information about last December's exam week alert because the investigation has turned up little new information. That doesn't stop campus politicians.

Many members praised how the university handled security concerns but felt the university could have done more after the closing.

Diana Swanson, associate professor of women’s studies and English, said she was pleased with how NIU handled the first 12 to 24 hours, but she felt there was not enough communication afterward concerning the threat. The campus population still hasn’t heard anything else, she said.

HOW OTHERS SEE US. Theo Caldwell of Canada's National Post.

Alongside Hillary Clinton, add Barack Obama's kindergarten essays to an already confused conversation about Dennis Kucinich's UFO sightings, dueling celebrity endorsements and who can be quickest to retreat from America's global conflict and raise taxes on the American people, and it becomes clear that these are profoundly unserious individuals.

To be sure, there has been a fair amount of rubbish and rhubarb on the Republican side (Ron Paul, call your office), but even a cursory review of the legislative and professional records of the leading contenders from each party reveals a disparity akin to adults competing with children.

(Via Janet at SCSU Scholars).
COMPASSION FASCISM. Every so often Instapundit takes a circa-1968 formulation born in hysteria about Barry Goldwater's campaign and sets it in the present: "They told me that if George W. Bush were re-elected, academic freedom would be threatened by the whims of unaccountable bureaucrats. And they were right!"

The threats have become public knowledge, and Inside Higher Ed's University Diaries has a lot of fun with them. Perhaps the best thing to do with these overly earnest functionaries is to make mock of them.
OFFICE TOWER, NO REDEVELOPMENT POTENTIAL. A relatively recent slideshow of the abandoned Michigan Central station and office tower in Detroit.

21.1.08

A GIANT STAGE SET. New York's Pennsylvania Stations comprises three stories although I'll treat it as a single Book Review No. 5. The first story, about the construction and "redevelopment" of the 1910 station, surveys much of the same material as Conquering Gotham, reviewed here, albeit from the perspective of an art historian. Thus there's less of the political machinations or lifestyles of the rich and famous than in Conquering Gotham, and more on the architectural influences (Roman ruins, Frankfurt (M), the colonnade at St. Peter's in Rome, the Gare d'Orsay.) The reader who wants train pictures and track plans will find none: those are in Manhattan Gateway and the sources referenced therein. The first chapter will help someone not conversant with architectural forms or engineering understand some of the odd features of the station. From the outside, the trainshed looked a bit clunky, but that was required in order to make the arches imitate Roman vaulting when viewed from the inside. The simpler solution would have been additional horizontal bracing inside. The floor plan had in my view a lot of wasted space (some of which lasted into the modern era where New Jersey Transit was able to add a new set of gates east of the diminished waiting room and south of the old entrance arcade) that principal architect Charles McKim envisioned to provide the well-to-do with a suitably grand passage to a de luxe train that did not involve descending fifty feet all in one go. Mr McKim would probably be disappointed that the bulk of the station's clientele has always been middle-class commuters (Westchester and western Connecticut are the east coast version of Lake Forest and Winnetka, reached from Grand Central) and the de luxe trade quickly decamped to the airliners. He might have been more favorably disposed to the Acela Express, which offers only "businessclass" and "first." That wasted space was for baggage rooms.

The chapter gets into some of the difficulties of adapting classical forms to a railroad station. Thus passengers get a waiting room with more interior space than the nave of a major cathedral and fewer pews than a Russian Orthodox village church, and carriage drives that one might expect the Prussian Guard to goose-step under. But, as David P. Morgan (of Trains) once noted, Philadelphia's Thirtieth Street Station (a Pennsylvania design) was newer than Cincinnati's Union Station (a New York Central design) but it looked older and it aged better. The attempts to make New York's Pennsylvania Station look newer only made the public less interested in preserving it. And so the upper works went. Perhaps the absence of an office tower in the upper works made it more likely to go, although the pattern of big-city station redevelopments strikes me as a barometer of Rust Belt economics. Call the roll: New York Penn: office tower and (now obsolete) sports center above. New York Grand Central: Pan Am (or whatever it now is) above, great room saved with the intervention of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and other worthies. (The World Trade Center replaced an earlier office tower over the Tube terminal near Battery Park.) Philadelphia Broad: replaced with office tower and suburban station. Philadelphia 30th: too far from city center to redevelop. Pittsburgh Pennsylvania and P&LE: both with office towers, office towers now put to other uses. Buffalo Central: despite having an office tower, empty? Detroit Michigan Central: despite having an office tower, empty. Cleveland: office tower above rapid-transit station, the one or two passenger trains call at a lakefront station. Cincinnati: a profligate waste of space with little alternate use. Chicago: existing office block above the Roman bath waiting room at Union Station being coveted for other use; concourse building replaced by office towers, as is also the case at North Western, LaSalle Street, Central, and Randolph Street. (The Dearborn headhouse is listed, and the Grand Central site is cut off from the Loop by Congress Street, which is effectively an expressway almost to State Street.)

The middle chapter is a photo essay on the removal of the upper works. It makes a useful companion to The Destruction of Penn Station. The middle chapter of Stations describes what we're seeing, but not the dates the pictures are taken. Destruction has dates, but not descriptions of what we're seeing. Taken together, a reader can piece together the civil-engineering puzzle that taking down a building while it is still in use is. That's also why we have pictures: when the demolition crews marked off at evenings or weekends, the station remained open to traffic, and several photographers explored the notionally closed parts of the station, sometimes at risks that no contractor's insurer would want trespassers to take these days. The chapter also suggests that some of the offices in the wings that surrounded the public areas of the station remained in use in early stages of demolition. The photographic record revealed something that surprised many people: that Roman Bath waiting room was plaster castings on a steel frame: apart from some column bases, there was no marble or granite or load-bearing stone at all. (I wonder if that's true in Chicago?)

The third chapter is an anticipation of the new New York station, to be built in areas of the Post Office that aren't well suited to current postal operations. I hold off on reviewing that chapter too closely as there's some doubt about that project being completed. (It's probably too much to ask that when the current Madison Square Garden goes, the surviving structural members of the Roman Bath and the trainshed be used to put back a Roman Bath with benches and a proper trainshed). Some of the details of the project are incomplete: there already is a Long Island concourse west of Eighth Avenue, and the current Amtrak loading gates are the 1910 infrastructure, and there are those New Jersey Transit gates in the site of the old southeast baggage court and it's not clear if those will be retained or not.

(Cross-posted at Fifty Book Challenge.)
DOWN THE MEMORY HOLE. Destination: Freedom reports on the disappearance of some text from the National Surface Transportation Commission report, including the following indictment of politically correct socialism.
Most of those cities once had electric railways. They lost them, not to the fair market, but to massive government intervention in favor of highways and cars. As early as 1921, government was pouring $1.4 billion into highways. In contrast, the vast majority of electric railways were privately owned, received no government assistance and had to pay taxes. Further, their fares were often controlled by local governments, which did not allow them to rise despite inflation. As a result, by 1919 one-third of the country’s streetcar companies were bankrupt.
The principal author of that section was not a ringer from Portland or an apostate from the Reason Foundation.

National Corridors Initiative has learned that an important pro-light-rail section of the report, written by Commission member Paul Weyrich and adopted by a 9-3 majority vote of the commission, has disappeared from the Commission’s final report.

If true, these actions could lead to Contempt of Congress charges against the Bush Administration employees found responsible for falsely editing --- in effect, lying about --- the content of the final report of the commission.

Weyrich, who founded the Heritage Foundation and also founded and is chairman of the Free Congress Foundation, has been a leader of the American conservative movement since the days of the Reagan Administration. He is also one of the most knowledgeable and sought after supporters of public transportation especially light rail, in America.

Mr Weyrich's early efforts in political activism focused on saving the North Shore Line.

Also in this week's newsletter, an unanticipated version of digital command control. Years ago, an uncle told me about Californian garage doors opening when Vandenberg tested a missile, and speculating about whether a Californian going on a joyride ever fired a missile.

20.1.08

FORTY-FIVE YEARS AGO. January 20 was also a Sunday. That was the last full day of operation by the North Shore Line. The last clean-up train delivered empty cars to interchanges and tied up on Friday, January 25. This weekend's weather, while chilly, was not that chilly. Earlier that year, the Badgers lost a Rose Bowl, but the Packers had defeated the Giants at the end of 1962 on the strength of several Jerry Kramer (!) field goals (not Paul Hornung, who was on maneuvers, and not Don Chandler, who signed later) after going 12-1-1 during the regular season.

That extra leap year in 2000 is going to throw calendar calculations off for a while. Although there are only 28 calendars inclusive of all the leap year variations, the normal pattern is for a non-leap year to recur after eleven years.
SENSITIVITY GULAGS. The Perpetually Aggrieved don't like that expression, but how else characterize this?
On one evaluation, a student made derogatory comments about a professor’s sexual orientation. The university hired a handwriting expert to confirm the identity of the culprit so punishment could be administered. The university claims the student broke the code of conduct, but if anonymity was promised, is this investigation ethical?
University Diaries notes,
In this instance, seemingly anonymous forms are handwriting-analyzed by campus speech squads. The identity of the thought-criminal revealed, Orwellian punishments ensue...
Not Orwellian. Stalinist. There's an anecdote in Alexander Dolgun's Story about a conversation between the author and an elderly prisoner in Dzezhkagzan, who is serving effectively a life sentence for writing letters to Stalin. The comrade had trouble squaring Stalin's speeches about the Workers' Paradise with his lived existence in Moscow's tenements (these in the days before the khrushchobas, which were an improvement over the pre-revolutionary housing stock.) Because this comrade suspected that his letters might fall into the hands of corrupt underlings among the nomenklatura, he kept his letters anonymous, and to avoid notice by corrupt secret police in the pay of those underlings, he posted from several different drop boxes. But because he was a pensioner, and somewhat feeble, his radius of operation was small and the Organs were able to, after review of the postmarks, match his handwriting with that on more legitimate correspondence he also posted. His interrogator actually boasted of the effort the Organs went to to identify him. Mr Dolgun noted that the comrade took it as routine that so many investigative resources would be devoted to identifying the man who dared write the truth to Stalin.
SHORTER LONGWORTH. This Chicago Tribune column identifies several of the principal manifestations of decline that he addresses at greater length in Caught in the Middle. The outline of the problems, and his policy proposals, are relatively straightforward to identify and lay out. Implementation is another matter, and his summation is internally inconsistent.

No real future exists except the one that the Midwest creates for itself. Washington will not come to the rescue of a region with falling population and falling congressional representation.

The Midwest is the traditional spearpoint of the American economy. It was the frontier when the first pioneers moved west. Its mills and factories powered America's Industrial Revolution. Here, commerce boomed and labor wars first raged. The Great Depression began on Midwestern farms; when the nation recovered, the Midwest recovered first. Two decades later, the Midwest felt the first ravages of the Rust Belt and the first sting of Japanese competition. What happens to America happens first to the Midwest.

The argument he makes in the book raises the possibility of the coastal parts of the country going their own way without the Rust Belt. Before it was "flyover country" it was the territory the transcontinental de luxe trains crossed with their headlights on. The observation he makes about "congressional representation" suggests it's politically rational for Washington to do so (although a lot of the flattened world goes on whether the Sunday talking heads can reach consensus or not.)
LOSING TEAMS FIRE THE MANAGER. A similar principle appears to be emerging in print journalism.

The Los Angeles Times fired its top editor after he rejected a management order to cut $4 million from the newsroom budget, 14 months after his predecessor was also ousted in a budget dispute, the newspaper said Sunday.

James O'Shea was fired following a confrontation with Publisher David D. Hiller, the Times reported on its Web site. The story didn't say when the confrontation took place.

Times spokeswoman Nancy Sullivan said the newspaper would have no comment.

O'Shea's departure comes just a month after the Times' parent, Chicago-based Tribune Co., was taken private in an $8.2 billion buyout by real estate magnate Sam Zell.

The departure also follows that of his predecessor, Dean Baquet, who was forced to resign after he opposed further cuts to the newsroom budget in 2006.

O'Shea, then the Chicago Tribune's managing editor, was brought in to replace him.

Nobody ever said adaptation to the proper scale of an enterprise was easy, which goes a long way toward explaining public resistance to creative destruction at work, whether it be in print journalism, steelmaking, or higher education.

Hiller had joined the Times in 2006 after former Publisher Jeffrey M. Johnson was ousted for refusing to carry out budget cuts ordered by corporate headquarters in Chicago.

A month later, Hiller dismissed Baquet and brought in O'Shea to replace him.

There are competing methods of delivering the news, which the print journalists are contending with, and that distinguishes print journalism from higher education (where the University of Phoenix is not as much of a threat to the regional comprehensives and mid-majors as access-assessment-remediation-retention is) as well as from steel, where the response of one old-line leading company (now bankrupt and purchased by some overseas bottom-feeder that put together a portfolio of companies that would make President Taft apoplectic) to a new technology was to commission the engineering staff to write a long report explaining why the method wouldn't work. The competing company, as we say, never got the memo.
THE WINNER MAKES THE NEXT-TO-LAST MISTAKE. So it often is in chess, so it was with the Packers.
Lawrence Tynes made up for his other misses with a 47-yarder to send the Giants to the NFC championship.
Great effort by the Giants, a team much improved from the rather sloppy bunch that began the season, and now on a long road winning streak and a stretch drive that probably inspired them to play for one more shot at the Patriots, which they'll have in El Alamein Arizona after prevailing at Stalingrad Green Bay.

19.1.08

SIBERIAN CONDITIONS, SIBERIAN MOOD. Time to set up a temporary workbench.


PATH DEPENDENCE.

It's been my karma to grow up in Milwaukee and work in Detroit and Greater DeKalb during an era of great economic change. There was probably no better seat to observe industrial decline than that of a tenure-tracker at Wayne State. Now comes former Chicago Tribune reporter and Chicago Council on Global Affairs senior fellow Richard Longworth with Caught in the Middle, one observer's perspective on those changes. Mr Longworth suggests that Thomas Friedman's world-flattening is manifesting itself in anything but a level manner in what he calls the Midwest but what might more accurately be called the North Central states (if I remember my Census regions correctly). This Book Review No. 4 will concur in part and dissent in part with Mr Longworth's findings, interpretations, and recommendations.

Mr Longworth argues that both leaders and the Midwestern work force took the persistence of broadly shared prosperity based on manufacturing and farming for granted. Because those lines of business were subject to business cycles, sometimes of great amplitude, many interpreted the turmoil in autos and steel that began in the late 1970s as simply one more nasty recession (to some extent it was) that would pass (but some things changed permanently). Those lines of business enjoyed protection from the rest of the world: with the full power of the government in the case of farming, by default in the case of autos and steel, with that era of broadly shared prosperity the prosperity of a temporarily closed market extracting rents from others. (But if you say that too loudly, people will squawk.) The technology and the absence of competition made it possible for a person with a strong back to earn a decent living and be able to purchase lakeside property and all manner of gasoline-powered toys that ran on the cheap gas of the era. At the same time, the North Central states had some of the strongest universities in the world (the Big Ten, Chicago, what Mr Longworth characterizes as a "rosary" of Catholic universities) and a social-democratic compact in which the muscle workers would pay taxes to support the educational aspirations of the mind workers.

All gone, now. Mr Longworth treats as inevitable the opening of world markets that disrupted the closed environment that was the midwestern economy. There are reasons, however, that the automotive and primary metals were among the first to go. The prosperity of those businesses and the unionized workers was sustained by numerous wedges between price and cost, as well as costs padded by perquisites. Where such a wedge exists, some entrepreneur will attempt to exploit the resulting profit opportunity. But it's more than oligopolistic smugness: the comparative advantage of the United States has involved knowledge-intensive, high-technology products. That's what steel and automobiles were, 100 years ago, and that's what biotechnology is today, and as Mr Longworth noted at his talk last Thursday, we've got plants and animals if that's what high-tech involves. But getting the money and the smart people?

Thus, another problem. As the traditional economic base crumbled, states shifted resources from their universities to supporting other social services, or to building prisons. If the most ambitious faculty and students pursued opportunities elsewhere, perhaps the best response was to withdraw resources. Mr Longworth argues that the history of high-paying yet intellectually undemanding work made skepticism about book-learning rational, while policymakers reacted to deindustrialization with more of the traditional jobs program. In consequence, there's a mismatch of skills to jobs, and the opportunity ambitious youngsters used to have of working their way through university at in-state tuition with a twenty hour a week job during the school term and a factory job as a summer replacement (those union vacations) are gone. (The president of the University of Michigan receives only seven percent of his operating budget from Lansing, although that probably doesn't stop Lansing from micromanaging 100% of Michigan's decisions.) The outcome is likely to be greater social stratification.

But as dismal as prospects are for much of the midwest's traditional economic base, what's left looks pretty good for people pushed into even deeper poverty in underdeveloped regions by the flattening of the world. Thus the most prosperous Midwestern communities either have work for symbolic analysts or lots of illegal immigrants. But where there are illegal immigrants, there is a curious kind of prosperity, and the potential of continued employment for people. That's not without tradeoffs of its own: the union factories close and reopen as sweatshops, and the employers look the other way at fake identity papers, or locate away from the rapid transit and bus lines but send buses into barrios (but never the 'hood.) Thus, the ethnic tensions in poor and changing neighborhoods are exacerbated by a form of redlining in which the projects and the 'hoods simply disappear from view.

Mr Longworth observes that political solutions to the region's troubles are difficult because of the fragmented governance structure, a survival of the Northwest Ordinance and the constraints inherent in making a day trip to the county seat on horseback. Thus political cooperation is difficult, with Wisconsin and Ohio vying for a factory when the overseas investor is thinking only "Great Lakes" or "Intracoastal Waterway." There's also what he views as a wasteful duplication of development offices, state universities, and other public capital. He proposes greater cooperation among states (making the somewhat provocative observation that the European Union is a recognition of the ineffectiveness of individual sovereign governments ... imagine telling Charles deGaulle or Konrad Adenauer that) and the possible creation of a region-wide reciprocity pact in which any resident of any Big Ten state would receive the resident tuition rate at any state university, including the mid-majors and the compass points. In his vision, that would accompany a division of function (the computer science goes to Illinois, the engineering to Wisconsin, the music to Minnesota) and potentially reduce college costs.

To some extent, Mr Longworth's findings echo and extend an observation from The Nine Nations of North America, which argues that the political divisions (whether we're referring to the North Central states, or to Mexico, the United States, and Canada) do not reflect economic and cultural realities. Perhaps not, but political boundaries are not easily redrawn short of war. Furthermore, the creation of a regional policy forum, as he suggests, brings to mind the very North American Free Trade Agreement that many of the people most adversely affected by the flattening world identify as the source of their troubles.

I concur in part and dissent in part with two of Mr Longworth's substantive proposals. He suggests an improved high-speed rail network would make conducting business within the region more convenient and he characterizes the Northeast Corridor as helping unite Boston with New York with Philadelphia with Washington (which, where the global economy is concerned, is pretty much a boring one-industry town in his view.) He also notes that civic leaders in Milwaukee push the airport and the fast train ride to Chicago as a strength of the city. Regular readers know my view about the proper way to speed up a corridor.

Then there's the universities. He envisions, as the most drastic change, turning the flagship land-grants into research-only universities, possibly admitting some juniors and seniors, with the converted teachers' colleges doing the bulk of the baccalaureate work, if that, and that's if the high school curriculum isn't transformed so that some people can be either in the work force or starting college after the tenth grade. There's a lot to consider there, although I suspect that segregating the future symbolic analysts from the boffins so completely is not sound.

Crossposted, pending moderation, at the Fifty Book Challenge.
PEAS IN TWO PODS. Via Phil Miller, another presidential compatibility calculator. Like the other one, it clusters the Pachs and the Donks, although this one allows users to weight their answers. See Charlie Sykes for the likely outcome.

18.1.08

THEY'LL EARN THEIR PAY SUNDAY.


The forecast does not call for temperatures as cold as the December 1967 Ice Bowl, let alone those of January 20, 1963 when the North Shore Line ended operations. It will be Wisconsin, and it will be cold.

Go Packers.
VOLUNTARY EXCHANGE, OPPORTUNITY COST, COOPERATION. The received way of teaching economics doesn't work terribly well, according to Cornell's Robert H. Frank. In The Economic Naturalist, he notes, (p. 8)
Most introductory economics courses (and my own was no exception in the early days) make little use of narrative. Instead, they inundate students with equations and graphs. Mathematical formalism has been an enormously important source of intellectual progress in economics, but it has not proved an effective vehicle for introducing newcomers to our subject. Except for engineering students and a handful of others with extensive prior training in math, most students who attempt to learn economics primarily through equations and graphs never really grasp that distinctive mind-set known as "thinking like an economist." Most of them spend so much effort trying to make sense of the mathematical details that the intuition behind economic ideas escapes them."
So true, so true. (I survived the first semester of graduate school because I knew the underlying stories well enough to be able to match up the marginal conditions to the stories.)

Professor Frank is not the first economist to recognize the problem, and the related problem of a principles syllabus that includes too much (is it really necessary to do shutdown analysis, monopolistic competition, prisoners' dilemmas, and corrective taxation?) and his known predilection for a more activist government helps rebut some economists' reasonable suspicion that the minimalist approach to introductory economics is a stalking horse for libertarianism (because Armen Alchian and William Allen and Paul Heyne were early advocates of the approach.) This Book Review No. 3 notes that Economic Naturalist makes for instructive reading. It collects a variety of student answers to an assignment Professor Frank includes in his survey of economics course at Cornell. (p. 2)
"Your space limit," I wrote, "is 500 words. Many excellent papers are significantly shorter than that. Please do not lard your essay with complex terminology. Imagine yourself talking to a relative who has never had a course in economics. The best papers are ones that would be clearly intelligible to such a person, and typically those papers do not use any algebra or graphs."
The sample essays reproduced -- and a professor would do well to have this book to hand should he or she make the economic naturalist paper part of a course so as to preempt academic misconduct -- include game theoretic and welfare economics problems for which the analytical framework might go beyond exchange, opportunity cost, comparative advantage, and competitive markets.

Another possible use of the book might be in motivating further discussion. The anomaly that Professor Frank presents first is the presence of Braille keypads on drive-up cash dispensers. Presumably any driver would be sighted. But it's cheaper to produce one set of keypads for all cash dispensers, whether they be drive-up or walk-up. A student demurs that the Americans with Disabilities Act requires Braille keypads on all cash dispensers, presumably to protect the taxi or limousine passenger who would otherwise have to ask a stranger to key in an identification code. Professor Frank invokes the useful cost-benefit principle to suggest that the law includes drive-up cash dispensers because compliance is relatively cheap. But a fundamental principle of much public policy is that other social goals often trump allocative efficiency, despite numerous peer-reviewed papers demonstrating the allocative inefficiency of social legislation, including automobile crashworthiness, workplace safety, and mandatory public accommodation.

There's also a lot of potential in one of the imponderables, which may be Professor Frank's own work: why do humanities professors write so unclearly? Sokal, Sokal. Buy it or borrow it, read it, sit down and think.
WHY IT MATTERS. More evidence of excess demand for prestige degrees.
Applications to selective colleges and universities are reaching new heights this year, promising another season of high rejection rates and dashed hopes for many more students.
Perhaps it is as simple as each applicant sending out more applications, and when the music stops, everybody matriculates at no worse than his or her third choice (So don't get excited, and don't get all pale/Instead of going to Harvard, they all went to Yale.)
The reasons for the swelling numbers — not all colleges have reported yet — go beyond the growth in the college age population and the preoccupation with name-brand schools. Recruiting by elite colleges among low- and middle-income students and in new regions are bringing in more applications.
On the other hand, perhaps the onus is on the less-well known institutions to think of themselves as alternate sources of the same experience and the same rigor, rather than as a less-demanding safety option. Or perhaps those economic and geographic diversity initiatives imply some upper-income and legacy students will have the land-grants and mid-majors as their choices. Either way, it makes sense for the land-grants and mid-majors to think of themselves as in the same business as Chicago or Northwestern or Wisconsin.

There is also accumulating evidence that the value of the collegiate credential is slipping.
The rising wage premium, however, is due largely to the sharply falling earnings of high-school graduates and dropouts rather than to higher earnings for college graduates, which means that there is a higher relative demand for college graduates. However, this is often taken to mean that the absolute demand for college graduates is rising, and thus that the economy needs a higher proportion of people to get a college degree. That people with college degrees earn more than people without them says a lot about what is good for individuals and whether education is a good private investment, but it says little about how many and what kind of college graduates the economy and the national job structure demand.
The reward to that high-school diploma perhaps reflects the content-free high school curriculum. Again, though, the market test for the land-grants and mid-majors will be that of producing graduates who can hold their own (which isn't that hard to do) with the holders of comparable degrees from the current crop of selectives. Such a repositioning is likely to do much for the morale of the students and faculty at the land-grants and mid-majors, as well as to lower the stress level for admissions counselors and the spinmeisters hired by overly ambitious parents.
STRANGE LOOP ALERT. A Front Page article chronicles the follies of a Free Speech and Expression Task Force (the existence of such a thing says much) at DePaul. The author, who participated in the project, discovers hegemonic bias.
Hegemonic phrases allegedly exclude the marginalized and oppressed. Among the highlighted phrases were: “free speech and expression,” “exercise of reason,” “competing arguments,” and “immeasurably enriched by exposure to differing points of view.”
It should be obvious to regular readers that the exclusion of "hegemonic phrases" marginalizes and oppresses. Logic is just another social construction. But the quest for hegemonic phrasing makes for interesting projects, to wit.
WHATEVER MAY BE THE LIMITATIONS WHICH TRAMMEL INQUIRY ELSEWHERE, WE BELIEVE THAT THE GREAT STATE UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN SHOULD EVER ENCOURAGE THAT CONTINUAL AND FEARLESS SIFTING AND WINNOWING BY WHICH ALONE THE TRUTH CAN BE FOUND.
Or something like that.
YOU'RE ON THE WRONG BLOCK. You won't find this here. Try there.

16.1.08

GRAFFITI AND SANITATION.

The presence of the first, and the absence of the second, are clear indicators of a blighted neighborhood, and that pattern influences migration patterns among the near-poor. Although the observation is staggeringly obvious, works such as There Goes The Neighborhood, the effort of William Julius Wilson and Richard P. Taub with able assistance by numerous University of Chicago graduate students are useful in understanding the dynamics at work by which some neighborhoods may have a change in ethnic composition with no change in quality of life, while others either change little or become blighted. The organizing framework for the research is Albert Hirschman's "exit" and "voice" options: in some neighborhoods, people simply leave, while in others they get organized. That organization can be a force for good (keeping up appearances) or ill (keeping out those who don't fit). The research focuses on four Chicago neighborhoods.

This Book Review No. 2 provides a bit of background for readers who aren't as familiar with Chicago as I. Many observers refer to Chicago as a "city of neighborhoods." That's probably true of all cities (one can go from a well-to-do neighborhood to a blighted one simply by crossing a street) although the Chicago locution includes references to "Pilsen" and various "Parks" and various "villages" and often the character of a neighborhood is an artifact of when the houses were built. The cover of the book provides some clues as to the identities of the neighborhoods studied (which the authors masked in order to allow the individuals they interviewed freedom to speak more freely). The commercial district illustrated in the upper-left corner is likely in "Archer Park", a formerly Bohemian neighborhood that now serves as a port of entry, if not necessarily a home, for people migrating from Latin America. The tract houses in upper right probably characterize "Beltway," which the book describes as isolated from most of the city by Midway Airport and popular with city workers of European extraction (Chicago, in common with many cities, conditions employment on residency) who are relatively successful at maintaining the existing economic and ethnic composition of their neighborhood. It's not as obvious that the brick triple-deckers at right center or the row of bungalows at bottom represent either of the remaining neighborhoods, all of which are on the southwest side (the direction "east" taking on meaning once one gets south of 63rd Street). "Groveland" is also a popular neighborhood for city workers, these of African extraction, and like their "Beltway" counterparts, keen to maintain or improve the economic condition. The fourth neighborhood, "Dover," has remained Catholic in religious outlook while evolving ethnically from Eastern European to Latin American, with the migrants keen to upgrade their economic condition.

The book notes multiple sources of ethnic tension, which cannot easily be fitted into the hierarchy of oppression framework popular with culture-studies types. One common theme in all neighborhoods, including the least-established "Archer Park," is Don't send our kids to a bad school. A bad school is one where the bad habits of the poor and ineffective aren't corrected. To a large extent, that correlates with "underclass blacks" and in some ways the upwardly mobile residents of "Groveland" are the most aggressive in keeping that element out. (It brings to mind a quip about Hyde Park - a real Chicago neighborhood, containing the University of Chicago and the Museum of Science and Industry - being the neighborhood where black and white stand shoulder to shoulder against the poor). Parents were able to put aside other differences or other fears in order to protect their children from being sent to the worst schools.

The book works better as analysis than as policy framework. The authors are of the view that urban poverty can be solved by throwing more federal money at it. More money, however, cannot inculcate the Habits of Highly Effective People, and it is the absence of those habits that the research suggests is behind much of the urban migration. What is more disturbing is that the allegedly better common schools are becoming less effective at inculcating those habits. I noted numerous complaints, particularly among adult residents of "Beltway" and "Groveland", about the bad behavior of the youngsters. Those are your own children, people. Yes, a more middle-class milieu in the schools will help, but the schools have to be reinforced at home. Many of the parents appear to be struggling with how best to do that. It's tougher in "Groveland," where ethnic "authenticity" has a lot of street baggage in it. An academic study has to contemplate directions for future research, perhaps that is one direction that research will take.

(Cross-posted, pending moderation, at the Fifty Book Challenge)