29.2.08

GENEROSITY.

February has been so good to us it gave us another day this year. With more snow.


Later in the day, the skies did clear and the sun is much stronger than it was either of the past two Fridays.


The snow has not turned dirty. As I've noted previously, the old normal school grounds concede nothing, aesthetically, to a New England private college.
SKEPTICISM. There's little public sentiment for quickly demolishing and replacing Cole Hall. Here's the Rockford Register-Star.

Some NIU students say they can never enter Cole Hall again. We understand, but tearing down the building will not erase the awful memories. Imagine if we tore down every building that something bad happened in.

As much as NIU needs a new building, the proposed Memorial Hall would be as tainted as a still-standing Cole Hall. Students would walk by the building and know it exists only because people died.

A proper memorial should be established, but more thought should be given to what that may be. Creating a scholarship fund in the name of the slain students seems appropriate.

There’s no telling what the five slain students would have achieved if they had finished their education and moved on to the work world. Other students could realize their potential with a little help, creating a living tribute to those whose lives were cut short.

Parents and loved ones of the slain students were not approached before Wednesday’s announcement. They should have been consulted first to ask them what they thought the appropriate course should be. It’s not too late. They should [be] involved in any decision about a memorial or about Cole Hall.

We can’t blame [Northern Illinois president John] Peters for being open to the governor’s proposal. NIU has been neglected for years, along with all the other universities in the state. The statewide deferred maintenance backlog is about $2 billion.

It may be crass, but as a practical matter, this may be NIU’s only chance at getting anything of substance from the state.

A Register-Star employee and graduate of Northern Illinois pulls no punches.

About five years ago, the school was begging [the governor] for money to improve our buildings. We couldn’t walk down hallways without kicking up floor tiles or dodging falling ceiling tiles. Leaks were as common as assigned readings. So we sat there, in our classrooms that fell apart by the day, wondering if and when we would ever get a couple bucks for some insulation so we could make it through those harsh Illinois winters.

Hey Rod, we were in such a budget crunch that paper had to be rationed. Certain professors could not call their students from their office phones. Some of us wouldn’t get in elevators because we didn’t know how safe they were.

And here you are, throwing money in the face of a national tragedy. Throwing money at friends and families who lost loved one, boyfriends, girlfriends or just someone they sat next to in class.

Those elevators are in no better shape today. The only campus safety announcement I made in class this morning was to avoid the north elevator in Zulauf.

Our friends at Western Illinois also recognize that 40 thousand bills ought not be allocated lightly.

The [Western Courier] agrees with Northern Star Editor in Chief John Puterbaugh, who said in a recent column: "I'd hate to think our unspeakable tragedy of Feb. 14 could be viewed and taken advantage of as nothing more than an opportunity for the governor to improve his image in the public's eye."

The State of Illinois' budget further complicates the situation. Since allocation of funds is still in limbo, and there doesn't appear to be $40 million in a back-room change jar, it not only places Blagojevich in the difficult position to pay up but also pressures legislators to rethink their priorities.

It seems unfair to introduce the project as emergency state legislation because it forces legislators to reassess a budget that's already been reworked too many times. Not to mention the numerous other projects that await funding could be pushed even further back.

Puterbaugh said in his column that Cole Hall is only 40 years old, and there are other buildings on the Northern campus more in need of funds. He also noted that the campus' newest academic building only cost $20 million. Other public state universities have been waiting for funds as well. Western's Performing Arts Center received $4 million two years ago to jump start planning, but the project is stalled until the state budget for FY08 is completed.

What a monetary mess. Peters may say "an act of violence does not define" Northern, but we don't think it's appropriate or fair to let an act of violence finance them, either.

Together, forward, yes, but, to repeat, let's have a serious conversation about what constitutes together or forward.
BOOSTING THAT OFFENSIVE EFFICIENCY RATING. I last had to think about that in high school. In basketball, it's the ratio of points to possessions, and one way to boost it is to commit fewer turnovers. The Wisconsin Badgers limited their turnovers to one, in the first half of their win over Michigan State. The opponent's offensive efficiency rating is the team's defensive efficiency rating (there's a relative-prices flavor to that) and the aforementioned Badgers limited sharpshooter Drew Neitzel to all of one trilighter, which had only a slight effect on State's points per possession.
SULKING BECAUSE THEY DON'T GET EARMARK OPPORTUNITIES? I have no knowledge of Representative Melissa Bean or Senator Richard Durbin, both Democrats, ever sponsoring legislation to remove the Federal Railroad Administration's arbitrary 79 mph speed limits on ordinary signalled track, or to expedite the construction of the cross-Chicago freight corridors. But let CNR spend its own money to move more traffic around Chicago and they have occasion to posture.

Senator Dick Durbin and Representative Melissa Bean are warning the diversion would have a negative impact on many communities and could jeopardize Amtrak and expanded Metra service.

The lawmakers called on Canadian National officials to meet with them and answer questions about the railroad's proposed $300 million purchase of the lightly used Elgin, Joliet & Eastern Railway. The line arcs around the Chicago area from Waukegan to Joliet to Gary.

So why not work with CNR to provide two-and-three track capacity for the circumferential scoots? The trackage will become more expensive later.

Jeopardize Amtrak? CNR is unlikely to want to short-haul itself handing traffic to The Milwaukee Road, er, Canadian Pacific (former owner of CN's Soo Line tracks) at Rondout or to Union Pacific at Barrington or to the other Milwaukee line at Spaulding, and it flies over the Burlington at Eola.

Perhaps the right honorable Members are responding to the relatively well-off residents of Barrington who fear the effect of a few more freight trains on their property values. Democrats protecting the rich, imagine that. More than a little of the public opposition to the circumferential scoots also comes from Barrington, despite the enhanced property values that expanded passenger service bring in train.
IMPLEMENTING PEAK LOAD PRICING. The regional planners for Chicago contemplate it on the Northwest Tollway, otherwise known as the Jane Addams Tollway. One commenter notes that the price will divert traffic to the untolled arterial streets, maltimed traffic lights notwithstanding.

28.2.08

SOMETIMES BETTER TO SAY NOTHING. A losing Western Michigan coach demonstrates.
“We didn’t handle it well,” WMU head coach Ron Stewart said. “It was kind of an unusual game. They’ve been practicing since last Wednesday and we’ve been playing games.”
Your lack of composure is your team's biggest problem, coach.
HASTE MAKES WASTE. A columnist in the Northern Star counsels caution on quickly replacing Cole Hall.

While Gov. Blagojevich is talking big about a $40 million state-of-the-art learning facility funded by Illinois taxpayers’ money, it is impossible to overlook the financial reality that is Springfield politics.

NIU has an immediate need in determining the future of Cole Hall, but NIU also has needs that have existed and seemingly been ignored in Springfield for years.

The Stevens Building has needed money for renovation for nearly 10 years now, as President Peters attested to in a Northern Star story nearly one year ago.

Last March, the Northern Star editorial board wrote an open letter to Gov. Blagojevich elaborating on the condition of the Stevens Building and illustrating how badly money was needed to make proper renovations and repairs.

Upon receiving the board’s letter, Gov. Blagojevich triumphantly announced in planning for fiscal year 2008 that he had included $19 million for Stevens Building work. It was exciting to feel like our governor was indeed listening to us and taking initiative in supporting our education as college students.

The problem: Our $19 million for the Stevens Building never made it to NIU. Like so much else having to do with funding in Illinois, it seems to have disappeared somewhere in Springfield.

To date, the Stevens Building remains at No. 10 on the priority list for higher education capital improvements in the Fiscal Year 2009 Budget Recommendations for Higher Education.

The Chicago Tribune concurs.

After last spring's tragedy at Virginia Tech, the university formed a task force to decide the fate of Norris Hall, the site of the shootings. Late last year, the university's president announced that the three-story building would be used for a new Center for Peace Studies and Violence Prevention.

Many embraced that prospect. One alum spoke of transforming the scene of carnage into "an area where good things can happen." A Virginia Tech student told the Daily Press of Newport News, Va., "It's still weird to walk by Norris sometimes. It's still creepy and scary, but it's part of our campus now. I think it's better to use it for the better than to keep it as a deep, dark secret."

So, let's think about the decision on Cole Hall.

"Together forward" requires thought about what direction "forward" is. Although the Tribune offer a positive spin on Virginia Tech's decision, that university has conferred gravitas on a faddish and ideologically-tainted not-quite-a-discipline. Northern Illinois can do better.
IS THERE NOT A MISSING "NOT"? There's a new Virginia School of economics (the old being associated with Ronald Coase.) This is George Mason's Robin Hanson, in the Virginia School article.
“Economics as a discipline is really the only social science where normative claims, about what should happen, are part of the standard literature. Most other social sciences, you can read between the lines and see their agenda.”
The article goes on to caricature competing normative claims.
Adjunct professor Arnold Kling offered a terser prĂ©cis of the GMU way. “My simple way of describing it is that at Chicago they say, ‘Markets work; let’s use markets.’ At Harvard and MIT they say, ‘Markets fail; let’s use government.’ And at George Mason, we say, ‘Markets fail; let’s use markets.’” This seeming paradox means, that GMU sees plenty of deviations from the “perfect neoclassical paradigm,” which requires “perfect information, perfect competition,” but that unlike Harvard or MIT, they do not automatically “ring a bell and say, ‘We need more government.’ Markets come up with solutions to problems of information.”
"Caricature is not a pejorative here: there is enough truth in the generalization that it doesn't mislead, but there are a lot of subtleties in doing economics. Another economist, Peter Leeson, explains.

Milton Friedman’s observation that “in the end there’s just good economics and bad economics.” But Leeson wasn’t ready to give up entirely on “interesting” economics: “If my mom finds a paper interesting, that’s an indicator to me that I’m on the right path, that people outside of the small group of academics actually see some value in what we might be doing.”

But can economics be too interesting? “Results that are quirky make it difficult to persuade people that your conclusions are true. So there’s a sort of optimal amount of weirdness that you want to have. You don’t want to be so far off the deep end that nobody will listen to you, that you’ll be dismissed out of hand. But you want to be novel enough that you’re doing something interesting.”

I wonder if Leeson thinks “interesting economics” biases the scholar towards the counterintuitive. “It depends on the audience we’re talking about,” he said, “It needs to be counterintuitive to somebody, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be counterintuitive to the profession, although it probably helps if it is.” He cited a paper by a friend on moral hazard in NASCAR, specifically how safer cars led to more crashes. That, he said, is counterintuitive to the layman but not to the economist.

(The paper extends arguments of some thirty years' seniority on the Peltzman Effect.) The Peltzman Effect, however, does not bring with it a normative claim, either in favor or in opposition to tighter crashworthiness standards for cars.
THE VAST RIGHT WING CONSPIRACY STARTED IN MADISON. The late William F. Buckley inspired it.

In 1969, as a University of Wisconsin-Madison student, [Nick] Loniello and five others launched The Badger Herald to offer conservative views to counter the student-run Daily Cardinal. Two years later, the paper was nearly bankrupt.

Buckley wrote an article about The Badger Herald, and soon donations of $5 to $100 flowed into the struggling paper. Loniello, now a Madison attorney, said Buckley's article came out of the blue.

"Bill Buckley found us," he said Wednesday. "We didn't find him."

Buckley spoke at a 1971 fund-raiser for the paper after volunteering to appear if the paper paid for his hotel and airfare.

One Badger Herald tribute expands.

“One might as well undertake to found a Republican paper in the basement of Buckingham Palace as a conservative paper in Madison, Wisconsin,” Mr. Buckley said that night. Erudite as ever, he predicted the Herald’s move to a daily format, “a shot that will be heard ’round the world, which will challenge the hegemony of the poor radicals who run the Cardinal.”

The Herald has grown and evolved a considerable deal in the years since, of course. For Mr. Buckley, the decades that followed brought fruition to the movement he helped launch in the 1950s, as Mr. Reagan ushered in a new era of conservatism with his election in 1980.

Another notes,

The Badger Herald is no longer a conservative publication, yet its roots remain static. What is now the largest independent student newspaper in America, providing daily service to the University of Wisconsin community, was once little more than an opposition rag. And while there may be a tendency to relegate such activism to the historical tense, chaos theory need not be stretched too far to see the void which would today engulf this campus but for Mr. Buckley’s philanthropic vote of confidence decades ago.

The architect of the modern conservative movement passed away yesterday, but even in this famously liberal town, his legacy lives on today.

The Cardinal makes no mention of Mr Buckley's passing, and its archives do not go back to the early 1970s, when it filled its tendentious pages with allegations of a web of plutocrats funneling money to the Badger Herald. Tendentious it was, but also proto-paranoia, anticipating today's self-styled progressives' pursuit of the Brady and Bradley and Koch and Scaife and the now-closed Olin foundations.

27.2.08

GOOD FOR THE MORALE. The Convocation Center was the site of a job fair this morning. We'll be back here later in the day.


First, though, preparations for a press conference.


The governor proposes to replace Cole Hall. To re-equip it with the latest in high technology could be expensive.

Preliminary plans include a building with "smart class-rooms," a computer lab, and three auditoriums seating 250 students each, NIU President John Peters said.

"We're going to have a really good functional building for teaching and learning," Peters said.

Fay-Cooper Cole Hall, named after an early 19th-century anthropologist, is outdated and the university had already planned to replace it, Peters said.

"It's much more efficient to raze it … and build something we need," Peters said.

NIU officials already anticipate a spring 2009 groundbreaking and a December 2010 completion.

The university's plans to renovate the adjacent Stevens Building will also proceed apace. Public sentiment -- that is, among taxpayers -- is not as favorable to immediately replacing Cole as sentiment at headquarters is. (I'm withholding judgement: headquarters claims an act of murder will not define us, yet the alma mater has a new ending and the site of the murders must be erased. Wash the stone, wash the bone.)

The basketball teams have returned to what remains of their schedule. Inside the Convocation Center is a display of memorabilia including this poster. Look closely and observe how much has changed in college sports in 45 years.


Before this evening's game, the Huskies and the Broncos joined in a prayer circle.


These therapy dogs paid a visit to both basketball games. (They're also willing to chase squirrels. The rabbits are still underground.)


At Tuesday's men's game, also featuring Western Michigan, our student section sent thanks to people who are likely to be twinned with us.


Associated Press photo by Brian Kersey.

Both games were closely contested to the final seconds. The Western Michigan men went home with a victory. The Western Michigan women did not.

26.2.08

THE SUN WILL COME OUT. The last injured student has been released from hospital.

We received another three or four inches of wet snow, followed by another blue norther.


Frontal passage are not always so well defined. Those clouds are the trailing edge of the storm.

More information is coming out about what happened that Thursday. We now know why there were early reports of injured students at DuSable Hall, a large classroom building a short distance from Cole.

The unexpected sound caused the curious [Tim] Mayerbock to run towards the doors of Cole Hall.

As a door opened, Troy Chamberlain, a pre-sociology major from Sycamore, fell into his arms. Chamberlain, unable to walk after being shot in both legs, was scooped up by Mayerbock.

After picking up Chamberlain, Mayerbock peered into Cole Hall, and saw a figure “walking with a slow demeanor.”

He had seen enough.Mayerbock, listed at 6-foot-4 and 312 pounds, is used to blocking on the football field. But on Feb. 14 he became a running back.

Mayerbock started running with Chamberlain in tow and screamed at everyone in the courtyard.

As classes and athletic events resume on campus, students, athletes, and the NIU community will begin to settle into their daily routines.

Some will be able to do so because of the actions of Mayerbock after he heard gun fire.

“I was afraid he'd come out and start shooting people in the courtyard,” Mayerbock said. “As I look over, there were about 30 people at the bus stop and other people walking to class. So I start screaming at the top of my lungs for people to get back on the bus.”

Mayerbock carried Chamberlain to DuSable Hall, where he checked out the wounds and called 911.

“It didn't seem like that much at the time,” Mayerbock said. “Your adrenaline is running. I probably ran faster carrying him than I would have without him.”

Mayerbock put his NIU-letterman jacket on Chamberlain, which is what junior wide receiver Britt Davis saw as he left his communications class in DuSable. Davis saw it wasn't an NIU athlete and, despite being on a quest to make sure the people he knew were safe, stopped to help.

A trained EMT and a nursing student helped Mayerbock and Davis check the wounds. EMS had to wait until the scene was deemed safe before they were allowed in. It was up to the first responders to keep Chamberlain from going into shock.

“I wanted to do as much as I could,” Davis who has 1st Aide and CPR training. “We tried to keep him calm, checked his extremities and kept him warm. We all were on the same page, the training you have in a spur-of-the-moment situation really goes out the window, but I'd say everyone there did an incredible job.”

Mr Mayerbock tells the press, "Most people would have done what I did. I know anyone on this football team would have."

In today's Northern Star, veterans' advocate Ilona Meagher has recovery advice.

This is all heavy stuff for anyone, but even more for bright, young, vibrant students on the verge of beginning productive lives. As a non-traditional older student on campus, I was really proud of the way you handled and extended yourselves to each other that day. Please keep it up.

Be kind. Be generous. Be active.

And "get creative." Expect some valve-gear pictures.
A HIDDEN DEPRESSION. In 1997, I visited Siberia. Our guide in Yaroslavl, which is close to Moscow, noted a local unemployment rate of 30 percent. Further to the east, the rate was higher, and it has not improved since.

Today's eastern Russia hobbles because of decisions made decades ago, by Soviet planners who built cities in places where no one would choose to live. Siberia's winters are the world's harshest. More than 2,600 miles from Moscow, Irkutsk's population of 593,000 shivers through Januaries that average 11 degrees below zero at night.

Remoteness also made Siberia a poor choice for city-building. Everything in Russia—power, money, commerce—loops back to Moscow. But Khabarovsk is an eight-hour flight from Moscow, or an eight-day train ride on the Trans-Siberian Railway. A flight from Moscow to Vladivostok, Russia's largest Pacific port, takes nine hours.

But neither climate nor distance weighed heavily in Josef Stalin's vision. Tapping Siberia's bonanza of gold, oil, nickel and timber required cities, Stalin's planners believed, and so Soviet leaders forcibly settled workers there.

Although Stalin's decisions -- nay, the planning conceit -- have left Siberia with an illogical cluster of company towns, the path-dependence has a longer history.

The Soviet collapse ravaged all of Russia, but the toll was especially harsh on what Russians call grado-obrazuyushy, cities built around a single factory.

In Biryusinsk in east Siberia, a solvents manufacturer buoyed the lives of 12,000 Russians during the Soviet era. The plant in turn was tethered to a cluster of sawmills that processed larch and pine and supplied the plant with sawdust, its primary raw material. "We could buy fur coats back then," says Olga Loginova, 47, a fermentation room worker.

In the post-Soviet chaos of the 1990s, hundreds of sawmills went bankrupt, including the Biryusinsk plant's suppliers. The factory had to pay more for sawdust from mills farther away. By 2005, at a time when Moscow wealth was pushing up downtown real estate prices to nearly $1,000 per square foot, Biryusinsk plant workers were jamming into the factory's grocery to receive management's substitute for a paycheck: loaves of bread.

Beer in Milwaukee, automobiles in Detroit, tires in Akron, flour in Minneapolis, Hog Butcher for the World, yes, we know that, and what has happened, but we had both market tests and entrepreneurial people, and that helps some of those cities adapt. Elsewhere, the technocratic impulse persists.

In Irkutsk, bureaucrats have convinced themselves that building a "super city" will turn the tide. They believe that the provincial capital and two smaller satellite cities, Angarsk and Shelekhov, can be linked to form a megalopolis with a million people and a magnet for jobs, people and investors.

Sergei Voronov, Irkutsk's deputy provincial governor, lays out the blueprints: two new highways, 24 hotels, three ski resorts, a new airport and the timeworn cure-all of urban planners around the world, a monorail.

Da, and Lake Baikal has all sorts of recreational potential. Irkutsk, however, is the home away from Moscow of the Decembrists. Despite being nobility, these renegade aristocrats were honored by the Soviet government as socially progressive elements. Their mansions remain sources of civic pride.

The house which the Volkonskys built in Irkutsk in 1844 still stands. Close-by, in a hush part of the city, is the Trubetskoy house. The residence is simple but handsome from the outside, while inside, the Volkonsky’s furniture and many of their possessions are still here, the elegant rooms papered with the bright colours and friezes of the nineteenth century. Maria had a great love of the arts, the theatre and opera particularly. Since she was prohibited from attending the city theatre, she created her own in one of her parlours. The grand piano she had sent from the capital still dominates the room, and amateur dramatists perform here in the winter months.

The Decembrists had a huge impact on the life of Irkutsk. Along with a group of Polish officers exiled in the 1850s, they offset the Wild West feel of the city with their balls, concerts, plays and recitals. Many set up schools, at a time when the crime rate was such that its inhabitants would regularly shoot a warning salvo from their windows before retiring for the night. They influenced the nouveaux-riches merchants — who’d made their fortunes from sable furs and later gold — lending the town a sophistication and municipal munificence unknown in the rest of Siberia.

Their legacy can still be felt today in the squares, hospitals, universities and churches which monopolise the city’s centre. The art museum is the largest in Siberia, its rooms groaning with rows of nineteenth century canvasses, and the regional museum ranks among the best in the country. The merchants’ mansions, rebuilt in stone following a devastating fire in 1879, dominate the wide arteries of the city’s heart with their ornately-framed windows, imposing columns and handsome pediments. It might not be Paris, but it still comes as a shock after the badlands of Siberia.

The public squares are pretty, and the hospitality at the museums is genuine. But catch the tone of that passage. The salon culture of Paris or old Warsaw or old Moscow had been transplanted to Irkutsk, and it "civilised" those Wild West merchants. In North America, we'd know those merchants as Astors and Carnegies and Hills and Rockefellers and Edisons who were entrepreneurs first and patrons of the arts later. And I've deliberately named several people who later donated large sums of money to universities. On my trip, I rode a bus through Akademgorodok, which the Soviets conceived of as Chicago (more of a college town than Boston!) and Madison and the Bay Area in one place. The reason I say "rode a bus through" is that we didn't stop. There didn't appear to be much going on. Yes, Stalin and his successors distorted Russian economic development, but communism might have grown more easily in a soil where an entrepreneurial tradition had not taken root first.
STILL ERECTING MALLET COMPOUNDS. They worked for Norfolk and Western almost to the end of the Steam Era, and their electronic counterpart has its own kind of tractive effort.

IBM Corp. rolls out a new mainframe computer Tuesday boasting a 50 percent performance boost and dramatically lower energy costs than its predecessor.

The new System z10, with a starting price at about $1 million, comes as IBM focuses on lowering the price tag for running its storied line of data-crunching workhorses.

The Armonk, N.Y.-based company said it designed the new machine to help companies and government agencies that rely on mainframes - usually for critical data processing such as bank transactions or census statistics crunching - save money on energy bills and better handle a flood of Internet information.

The size of IBM's investment - the company spent five years and $1.5 billion developing the new mainframe - also underscores its commitment to the long-term viability of the mainframe and efforts continue adapting the decades-old product line to the Internet age.

The principle of one unit doing the work of many applies as well.
The z10's capacity is equivalent to 1,500 servers based on the popular x86 design, IBM says, though it has 85 percent lower energy costs and takes up 85 percent less space than the batch of x86 servers.
Does that mean another generation of students has to learn Job Control Language? I grew up in a Univac environment and those // and /* commands look clunky. Or does the Z10 have Heuristic Algorithmic capabilities?
THE PERSONAL DOES NOT IMPLY THE POLITICAL. City Journal's Heather McDonald contemplates balancing liberation against procedure.
The guys who push themselves on women at keggers are after one thing only, and it’s not a reinstatement of the patriarchy. Each would be perfectly content if his partner for the evening becomes president of the United States one day, so long as she lets him take off her panties tonight.
Elsewhere, she notes, "So much for seduction and romance; bring in the MBAs and lawyers."

25.2.08

BACK TO WORK. This sums it up.
In many classes, students used silence to turn down teachers' offers to talk about the shooting, relieved to talk computer science or economics. Students instead expressed determination to get on with their lives.
TENURE IS CHEAPER. University Diaries claims the latest Indiana University athletics buyout is "too scripted for words."

[Kelvin] Sampson, IU's men's basketball coach until Friday night, is only the latest person to stop working for the school but is still collecting money.

Former Athletic Director Michael McNeely received the most: $839,000. Former men's basketball coach Mike Davis got $800,000.

Some others: former football coach Gerry DiNardo ($616,000), former football coach Cam Cameron ($498,000) and former men's basketball coach Bob Knight ($283,000).

The buyout phenomenon is not limited to the fieldhouse, as this Game Theory post, reprinted from The Economist, observes.
So-called “golden parachutes”, large pay-offs even when top executives fail, have become a main focus this year in the debate over executive pay. The Corporate Library, a shareholder watchdog in America, reckons that the average departing CEO in that country receives a severance package worth $16.5m. In May this year, shareholders at the annual general meeting of GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), the world's largest pharmaceuticals company, revolted against the severance pay promised to its boss, Jean-Pierre Garnier, if he were forced to leave the company prematurely. Since one of the more likely reasons for such a departure would be poor performance, shareholders deemed the $35.7m farewell gift to be excessive.
There is neither a shareholder nor a merger promoter in a position to call Indiana on its replacement of one underperforming football coach with another. That matters, as this research paper argues. From the abstract:
The incidence of golden parachutes in a sample of S&P 500 firms is consistent with this conjecture: golden parachutes are more likely in firms with concentrated ownership. Interpreted in this light, golden parachutes enhance efficiency by increasing the credibility with which owners can commit against opportunism.
Opportunism, here, refers to the manager committing resources to self-aggrandizement rather than to creating market position and shareholder value.
BENEFITS AND COSTS. Clean water: good thing. Safe streets: good thing. Both?
Road salt provides unquestioned safety - and officials say the public increasingly expects to drive on bare pavement during and immediately after storms.

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation estimated that a record 700,000 tons of salt will be used on state highways this year, compared with 405,000 tons last winter.

County highway departments handle salting for the DOT, and officials at county and state levels try to control overuse and have employed an array of techniques to make salt work better, such as adding water to make a brine that speeds melting.

"Who wants saltwater to contaminate our streams or groundwater?" said Michael Sproul, the DOT's winter operations engineer.

But he said road departments are under pressure from motorists who demand that highways be free of snow and ice.

"Over time, our level of service has probably crept up," Sproul said.

This winter has proved to be especially troublesome because cold weather requires more salt.

I'm typing this with two more inches of snow on the ground, and more falling.

24.2.08

WE ALL LOST A PIECE OF OUR YOUTH.


Associated Press photo linked from Northern Star

The memorial service has ended and we return to classes Monday.

It happened here.
Communiversity means something more today, and it must continue. The community must continue to reach out to the university, and the university must embrace all the community has to offer. The price paid for this coming together was much too steep, but an ongoing partnership, an enduring friendship between community and university, is the least we can do to honor our neighbors who have become victims.
It happened here.
Dennis Barsema, a member of the NIU Foundation Board, flew in from Mexico to attend the memorial service and, earlier, two students' funerals. Barsema, certainly, is no ordinary alumnus; his philanthropy placed his name on the school's new Business building. But he undoubtedly spoke for many when he said: "Somebody came into our family and killed five of our children. It was important for my wife and I to be here to honor not only the students who were slain, but all the students who were wounded as well. And to show our support to the university - just to be a part of the Huskie family."
It happened here.
On Tuesday, a pair of enormous boxes arrived in the Office of Public Affairs, filled with 120 spools of red and black ribbon. The sender: Berwick Offray, the world’s largest manufacturer and distributor of decorative ribbons and bows.

The package included neither a letter of explanation – though none was needed, of course – nor a bill.
Ribbons, crosses, cookies, concerts, no doubt other acts of kindness that haven't come to my attention.

And people in a much more dangerous place could be with us in spirit.
Camp Victory in Baghdad plans to broadcast the campus memorial service in DeKalb.

"One of our alumni said he'd be happy to organize something in Baghdad for people wanting to show support," said Joseph Matty, executive director of the NIU Alumni Association. "We have a good number of our alumni overseas, and they wanted to still be a part of what's going on."

Alumni nationwide have undertaken similar efforts to bring the NIU family together.

Groups will gather today in Chicago, central Illinois, Arizona, California, Georgia, Texas and Virginia to view the memorial service held at the NIU Convocation Center.
The article reports Virginia Tech and George Mason friends cooperating on a viewing in Arlington, Virginia. The university has made video available, although the photo gallery is not available as I post and turn in. Spare a few moments' thought for the Media Services people who, despite having to deal with the shock and the sadness, have been making it possible for the working press to cover the story.

Hail to thee our Alma Mater,
Ever shall we praise your name.
Here we proudly lift our voices,
Thousands strong we sing your fame.
Free, steadfast, devoted, true.
We will always stand by you.
Let our tears fall one by one and heal NIU.




IS HOMER HICKAM JUDGING? The next generation of Rocket Boys and Rocket Girls must come up with a reusable rocket.
Their challenge: Design and build a reusable rocket capable of carrying a science payload to one mile above the surface and returning safely to the ground.

The team, all members of the county's 4-H rocketry club, is one of only 18 groups in the United States invited to display their skills this year as part of NASA's Student Launch Initiative. Their rocket will be launched in late April at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala.

"It cannot be wrecked," said Katlin Wagner, 15, a freshman at Slinger High School and the defending rocketry champ among 4-H youth in the county. "We must be able to put it back together and use it again."

To do that, Wagner and her teammates are crafting a multisection fiberglass rocket body.

After the rocket reaches its maximum altitude, the sections will separate to deploy parachutes, but they will remain tethered together by a long Kevlar strap, said Ben Pedrick, 14, also a freshman at Slinger High School. The sections can be put together again after each flight.
Regular readers recall my enthusiasm for 4-H projects, which can involve some unusual countdown holds.
[Cameron ]Schulz could not complete his altimeter assembly Saturday, however. He had to leave for another obligation: helping milk cows on a grandfather's nearby dairy farm.

"I do not want to milk cows today," said Schulz, a sophomore at Kettle Moraine Lutheran High School in the Town of Jackson. He is more interested in a future career in mechanical engineering.

That is NASA's goal: to inspire young people participating in the Student Launch Initiative to seek careers in engineering, math, science and technology, said Tammy Rowan, assistant manager of the Marshall Center's academic affairs office.
The space program is cooperating in other ways. No zincoshine fuel, for one.
AN OBSERVATION FOR THE ELECTION SEASON. Blogs for Industry, on a closing question about a defining crisis for Senator Clinton or Senator Obama.
I was struck by how the vapid both answers would seem if McCain was on the same stage with either of them.
Profoundly unserious people, indeed.
QUOTE OF THE DAY. Northern Illinois police chief Donald Grady.
Grady's mood was perhaps best reflected when a reporter asked about the most frustrating part of his investigation.

"Dealing with the media," he said.
MAKING SOME NOISE IN THE TOURNAMENT. Milwaukee Hamilton eliminates third-seed Racine Park (what happened to the traditional opener against Milwaukee Pulaski?), but were not able to surprise Racine Case.
SERVE IT UP COLD. From Columbus, Ohio, Badgers 58, The One Year Wonders 53. I distinctly heard some booing, probably motivated by the home team's clock management in the final minute.

23.2.08

REGROUPING.


We've been back to our offices, and talked, and taken stock, and learned who among us will be facing empty seats or the memories of students from classes past. Several among the economics faculty were passing between buildings at the time of the shootings, or in class and locked down. (My insistence on breaking general education classes into smaller chunks is what turned Thursday afternoon into a research day where little progress occurred.) This first-person account from a colleague in the theater department is representative of what I've heard from others.

It was less than a year ago that our students stood in support of their contemporaries in Blacksburg.


Northern Star photo by Ben Woloszyn,

On Monday evening, the people of Virginia Tech stood for Northern Illinois.



My first image reveals the theme for our resumption of the semester. FORWARD, TOGETHER FORWARD (from the Huskie Fight Song) is on the message boards of businesses everywhere in Greater DeKalb and Sycamore, and on street banners, including the new ones on the recently-boulevarded Annie Glidden Road south of the tracks. The image is available in a variety of formats, including displays for technologies that I'm learning about for the first time. The Chicago White Sox will wear black Northern Illinois caps for their first Cactus League game. The caps will be auctioned to raise money for our memorial fund.

Many of my colleagues have mentioned e-mails and phone calls from people long gone other ways, or from total strangers wishing to be helpful. Your efforts have been a great help. I also appreciate the calls and e-mails, and welcome the visitors to this site, and the links that have brought people here.

22.2.08

PROGRESS OF TWO GENERATIONS. Forty years ago, Alabama's governor George Corley Wallace carried several southern states as an independent candidate for president. He frequently fulminated against the eastern establishment, which he colorfully described as "pointy-headed pseudo-intellectuals" who scorn the ordinary man or woman. The governor didn't quite campaign as a segregationist, although many of his constituents were waiting for him to do so. Later in life, he apologized for some of his positions and made peace with many civil rights advocates. I wonder how the governor would react to a Peggy Noonan column that describes the Obamas as, well, read and judge for yourself.

Are the Obamas, at bottom, snobs? Do they understand America? Are they of it? Did anyone at their Ivy League universities school them in why one should love America? Do they confuse patriotism with nationalism, or nativism? Are they more inspired by abstractions like "international justice" than by old visions of America as the city on a hill, which is how John Winthrop saw it, and Ronald Reagan and JFK spoke of it?

Have they been, throughout their adulthood, so pampered and praised--so raised in the liberal cocoon--that they are essentially unaware of what and how normal Americans think? And are they, in this, like those cosseted yuppies, the Clintons?

TONIGHT'S RAILROAD READING. Here's an interesting Ryan Kertis photo scanned from Issue 234 of Passenger Train Journal.


Story here.

21.2.08

THE CHURCH BELLS CHIMED.


A week after Cruel February began, we paused for a tribute, during which bells both metal and electronic of DeKalb and Sycamore tolled for five minutes.


Our neighbors in Chicago were here, with video.
NASHE LUSHCHE. The Chinese buy diesel locomotives from the U.S. The Russians ought to join the Kazakhs and Estonians and do likewise. Perhaps these onetime Communist powers have other high-tech deficiencies.

The U.S. Navy successfully fired a ship-based SM-3 missile at a decaying satellite that was falling to Earth. The missile's make, the general location of the launch vehicle and the target are all known -- because the U.S. government has publicly stated these facts. Still, the Chinese and Russian governments are raising a fuss.

Contrast this operation with what happened a year ago January, when Beijing surprised the world by shooting down one of its weather satellites in a test of its antisatellite capabilities. Not only was the test unannounced, but it took China days to concede that it had happened. Because the satellite was destroyed at an altitude of approximately 850 kilometers, it left countless hazardous particles drifting in orbit that could harm future space flights.

The Chinese and Russian complaints are tied to broader political gamesmanship over the "militarization of space" and efforts to get Washington to sign an international treaty restricting space defenses. China appears to have an antisatellite missile program of its own, while Moscow opposes U.S. efforts to place missile-defense sites in Eastern Europe.

I liked Charlie Sykes's reference, this morning, to sphincters tightening in the Kremlin and the Forbidden City and in assorted pestholes in Asia Minor.
QUOTE OF THE DAY. Patrick Deneen, in Minding the Campus.
In a similar manner, our radicals in the Humanities reject not only the books they once taught, but the very idea of humanity. They consider all natural features of human beings to be mere constructions, social constructs that effectively cease to exist when they have been "deconstructed." Sex becomes gender, family becomes "living arrangement," community becomes "the social." They seek to do through deconstruction what our scientists attempt in the test tube: the transformation of humanity into something wholly different.
WE USED TO HAVE A CORE CURRICULUM. A professor at a nearby institution sees in its absence a reason for assessment.

Whereas the Best-Student Fetish asks who the great students are before we see them, outcomes assessment changes the question to what students can do as a result of seeing us.

Furthermore, once we start asking whether our students are learning what we want them to learn, we realize pretty quickly that making this happen is necessarily a team effort, requiring us to think about our teaching not in isolation but in relation to that of our colleagues.

My colleague's invocation of the Best-Student Fetish is a thinly veiled rationalization for admitting unprepared people and calling it "access." That's for another day. At one time we taught a common core of ideas that each educated person ought have. The resulting enterprise was so successful that many people assessed the outcome as "Let's make it available to more." The resulting expansion of enrollments provided incentives for the departments, or programs, to scrap for more slop from the trough. Or got screwed: the accounting practices by which academic departments get compensated, or not, for the remaining quasi-required general education courses would embarrass the Interstate Commerce Commission.

Turning back to the columnist, consider his assessment of the situation.
For all its obvious value, excellent teaching in itself doesn’t guarantee good education. The courses taken in a semester by a high school or college student may all be wonderfully well taught by whatever criterion we want to use, but if the content of the courses is unrelated or contradictory, the educational effect can be incoherence and confusion. As students in today’s intellectually diverse university go from course to course, they are inevitably exposed to starkly mixed messages. Though this exposure is often energizing for the high achievers who possess some already developed skill at synthesizing clashing ideas and turning them into coherent conversations, the struggling majority typically resort to giving successive instructors whatever they seem to want even if it is contradictory. Giving instructors what they want (assuming students can figure out what that is) replaces internalizing the norms of the intellectual community — that is, education.
I'm surprised he doesn't peddle another bottle of deaducationist snake oil, namely the enunciation of clear objectives. (Wasn't that a management fad of the early 1970s?) Grammar. Rhetoric. Logic. The absence of one or more of those frequently is the root of a Rate Your Students whinge. But perhaps he sees his lack of salesmanship skills. There's no real case for outcome assessment here.
The freedom that is granted us in higher education (at least at high-end and middle-rank institutions) to teach our courses as we please should have always carried an obligation to correlate and align our courses to prevent students from being bombarded with confusing disjunctions and mixed messages. Outcomes assessment holds us to that obligation by making us operate not as classroom divas and prima donnas but as team players who collaborate with our colleagues to produce a genuine program. We all use the P-word glibly, as in “our writing program” or “our literature program,” but we have not earned the right to the word if it denotes only a collection of isolated courses, however individually excellent each may be.
That's exactly what a core curriculum did.
By bringing us out from behind the walls of our classrooms, outcomes assessment deprivatizes teaching, making it not only less of a solo performance but more of a public activity. To be sure, with such increased public visibility may come greater vulnerability: Though it is students whose learning is evaluated in outcomes assessment, it is ultimately the faculty whose performance is put in the spotlight. If we have nothing to hide, however, then less secrecy and greater transparency in our classroom practices should work in our favor. At a time when attracting greater financial support for higher education increasingly depends on our ability to demonstrate the value of our work to wider publics, anything that makes teaching more visible and less of a black box figures to be in our interest.
If you say so. I'm not persuaded that greater financial support to expand the universe of meaningless degrees is in the interest of the students conned into sitting for them, the professors who must swallow hard and confer them, or of the donors or taxpayers.
SAYING GOODBYE.



MARKET TESTS HAVE STEEP GRADING CURVES. The dean at Anonymous Community reflects on a restructuring at a proprietary technical institute flying the college flag.
During the late 90's boom, and even for a little while after, the rhetoric at [a competing proprietary] was a capitalist version of Khruschev's “we will bury you.” Rapid expansion, and rapid rises in the parent company's stock price, contrasted strongly with continued struggles among the public colleges. The narrowness of curricular focus – if it won't get you a job, we won't teach it – was touted as a breakthrough. (Those of us in the evergreen disciplines were always a little uncomfortable with that, but it came with the gig.) Nobody ever asked of PU's grads, “what are you going to do with that?” The tuition was considerably higher than at the nearby publics, but the job-market payoff for students was obvious, and that carried the day.
As, at one time, corporate downsizing, which followed corporate raiding, which followed corporate conglomeration did.
A couple of years into the crash, [the proprietary's] signature programs clearly weren't hot anymore, it wasn't so obvious anymore what the next hot thing would be. That made it hard for [it] to decide what to teach, and made it hard to justify the premium tuition to prospective students. The unapologetically utilitarian bent of a [proprietary] education meant that, when the market winds shifted, the cost was suddenly a lot harder to justify. So the cost-cutting began, and the employee-blaming, and the layoffs. From what I've seen and heard, [it] still hasn't figured out what the next hot thing is going to be.
Perhaps in two or three thousand years of elaborating on the trivium and quadrivium, we've gotten a few things right.

20.2.08

TONIGHT'S ECLIPSE.


Good night.
O-BLA-DI, O-BLA-DA, LIFE GOES ON.






TAKING CARE OF BUSINESS. Wisconsin 71, Not-the-Hus-kies 57.
OUR NEIGHBORS AT WAR. Ilona Meagher of Rockford, author of Moving a Nation to Care, is a veteran and journalism major at Northern Illinois. Her website focuses on combat-related post-traumatic stress disorder, with observations on the Northern Illinois shootings. She was taking a break at a student organization bake sale at the time. She has also provided a photoset from campus on Saturday.
FIRE ON THE UPROLL, MR HORNBLOWER. Naval gunners still face that challenge.

The Pentagon counted down Wednesday toward an unprecedented effort to shoot down a dying and potentially deadly U.S. spy satellite, using a souped-up missile fired from a ship in the Pacific.

The timing was tricky. For the best chance to succeed, the military awaited a combination of favorable factors: steady seas around the Navy cruiser that would fire the missile, optimum positioning of the satellite as it passed in polar orbit and the readiness of an array of space- and ground-based sensors to help cue the missile and track the results.

That's more challenging than calling the layline from ten miles out in an offshore race. The Navy claim a hit, although there is not conclusive visual evidence that the fuel tank is broken.

19.2.08

OUR NEIGHBORS STAND WITH US.



The support we have received from the people of DeKalb and Sycamore and Malta and Cortland has been outstanding.

BAYESIAN UPDATING. Otherwise known as a mugging by reality.
Two years ago, I wrote an essay expressing skepticism about arming school personnel. But that was before the mass murders at Virginia Tech, Louisiana Technical College and Northern Illinois University, among others.

My perspective has changed because the country is changing cataclysmically. The rash of cold-blooded serial killings on campuses is now less an anomaly than a wave of terror. It demands new initiatives to safeguard the lives of people seeking a college education.

I remain adamantly opposed to permitting students to carry concealed weapons. The prospect of thousands of teenage and 20-something students carrying guns on college campuses is only asking for trouble.

But training and equipping seasoned adults, who also happen to be select and exhaustively screened college professors, is a hopeful solution.

I am not suggesting arming all teachers. I have had many brilliant colleagues, who are my betters when it comes to teaching, who, nonetheless, do not inspire trust when they use the office paper cutter, let alone a 9 mm Glock.My suggestion, rather, is for the institution of a voluntary program for willing, able and properly trained school personnel to carry weapons.
I'm not without sympathy to this suggestion (and I love the echoes of my "couldn't carry water for a patternmaker" meme), although the skill of getting into a bad guy's O-O-D-A loop requires a different cast of mind from that developed through the patient sifting of evidence and winnowing of argument. Perhaps, though, it's a less bad solution than forting up. There's at least one weblogger who would close campuses in the manner of a maximum security prison. That's ironic. We had the Disney organization offering training on guest relations last summer; perhaps they could come back and consult on security for our theme park. Commerceland over here, Laboratory Land over there, and Readers' Row in the middle?

Another weblogger is proposing that universities be held liable for shootings that occur in gun-free zones, which yet another characterizes as "hunting preserves for psychos."
The burgeoning argument in the Blogosphere is that these groups of people are forfeiting the individual right to “keep and bear arms” in return for the collective’s protection. If I give up my right to self-protection via my firearm, and set foot in the gun-free zone, then there is an expected level of protection afforded me by the college. The institution assumes the duties of protecting me and my family that I would have otherwise been able to provide.
Perhaps a campus security corps of armed professors, or University Diaries' suggestion of hall marshals (the fourth-grade spelling champ strikes!) is the more practical solution. Bellicose women working with men who are not cave-chested, quiche-eating milquetoasts, forsooth. I like it. Let's talk about it first. Keep in mind that two police officers are among the dead in Kirkwood, Missouri, where a disgruntled constituent took his frustrations out on the town council.

Or perhaps, the more effective approach is to deal differently with the psychos.

I've already been hearing from those who would use the NIU incident as a jumping-off point to either place more restrictions on gun ownership or to allow gun owners to carry their weapons in public.

I'm anti-gun, so the conceal-and-carry crowd can save its breath for some other columnist. More guns is not the answer. I don't care what your study says.

But I've also learned that gun owners have two things going for them -- plenty of political support and the U.S. Constitution. Even in the face of another bullet-ridden classroom, it will be difficult to achieve anything more than puttering around the edges of the current gun laws.

Personally, I would prefer some kind of initiative in the mental health arena, maybe a commitment to give Illinois' college campuses the best community-based mental health programs in the country.

Mental illness still carries an unnecessary stigma, and the college-age population is the perfect place to attack the problem -- through both treatment and education.

While such a program may not have saved us ... it could save a lot of other young people from a lifetime of problems stemming from the delicate age when they leave home for the first time and start facing the difficult situations that can leave emotional scars.

If someone in the mental health field could help me focus the idea, I'd appreciate it.

I like this suggestion, and I'd amplify it by observing that after each of these events, for that matter beginning 40 years ago with the King and Kennedy murders, denunciation of the gun culture and tighter restrictions on the purchase of weapons has not prevented further shootings, often with the shooter violating the tightened restrictions. It's easier to again denounce the gun culture and impose further restrictions? Perhaps a change of course is due. Professors trained in fire discipline is one such change; better treatment for neuroses and psychoses is another. And, as I've noted, equipping people to function as productive members of society, rather than institutionalizing them, generates productivity gains. Antidepressant drugs, such as Prozac, might on balance generate such gains.

I suspect that better guardrails will help.
In our time, the United States suffers every day of the week because there are now so many marginalized people among us who don't understand the rules, who don't think that rules of personal or civil conduct apply to them, who have no notion of self-control. We are the country that has a TV commercial on all the time that says: "Just do it."
Here's one of Governor Huckabee's court entertainers reacting to the Northern Illinois shootings.
A decade ago, GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee wrote the book "Kids Who Kill," which examines and seeks remedies for school shootings. In it he points to modern day factors that contribute to a culture of killing. Among them are a devaluing and disregard for human life; a greater parental disconnection from and immoral license with their children; a fascination with antiheroes or gangsters that breeds cynicism and selfishness; a false sense of self-worth or a perceived incapability of obtaining status, notoriety or contentment; a thirst for adrenaline and extremes to acquire attention, as well as pushing the envelope of rebellion, chaos and brutality; the impersonalizing of society through such devices as the Internet and frequent transient shifts in employment, living localities and friendships; the legislation of subversive morality; an abandonment of a fellowship and moral center of community like a church; and a complete disregard for moral absolutes.
Lots of work to do, and lots of potential approaches. He continues,
We teach our children they are nothing more than glorified apes, yet we don't expect them to act like monkeys. We place our value in things, yet expect our children to value people. We disrespect one another, but expect our children to respect others. We terminate children in the womb, but are surprised when children outside the womb terminate other children. We push God to the side, but expect our children to be godly. We've abandoned moral absolutes, yet expect our children to obey the universal commandment: "Thou shall not murder."
Bill Sjostrom of Atlantic Blog notes,
The controversy over teaching evolution is not going to be resolved by fossil
evidence. It is going to be resolved by addressing the moral implications.
Perhaps, first, one ought to understand the arguments. Evolution does not imply humans are "glorified apes." Voluntary exchange implies that people obtain things they value by valuing the commercial relationships with people. Respect follows. Mutual respect has no need of divine intervention. Yes, we have a lot of work ending the misguided nonjudgementalism, let alone the celebration of transgressiveness, that allows madness to be "celebrated" as yet another "difference." Let's get the logic right.

18.2.08

BE PREPARED. Newsweek provides the stories of student Harold Ng, who was injured in the Cole Hall shooting, and Jeff Merkel, Northern Star reporter and Marine medic.

A cop was there and this is when I stepped out of the reporter's role obviously and said, "Look, I'm a Corpsman, maybe I can help. Give me some gloves." He gave me some gloves and I swiped his first-aid bag and I took off through the building. I've been working at the paper for two semesters, but I've got five years of real life programming. It definitely overrode anything in those two semesters.

There was a lot of tension. There wasn't a lot of screaming, it wasn't running around. The people that were there were more than willing to listen to [what] the police had to say. The first responders did a great job. All I had to do was put gauze on [victims' wounds] in place of T-shirts and paper towels.

A couple of other students, one who was an Eagle Scout and one who was a lifeguard, said they were willing to help. I said, "This is what we need to do. Get on line and talk to every single person you see. If they are not hurt, they go to this side. If they are hurt, my name is Jeff and they should come this way and call my name." They did a wonderful job. They made it as easy as possible.

He also notes,
I've been telling my wife the only thing that DeKalb has on the other places we have been is that no one has shot at me yet. I know that I wasn't shot at in this case, but this is too close to home.
Elsewhere, the university and law enforcement are putting together information on the shooter. He left a laptop behind, but removed the hard drive first. There's a sitemeter hit I received a week or two ago that I'm going to let the authorities know about.

The sociology department, out of which the shooter won a dean's award and subsequently coauthored a publication, is having a rough time.

Students and faculty at NIU's sociology department were coming to terms with the realization that the man they knew as a warm, charming and high achieving student carried secrets they may never unravel.

"He was gracious, he was generous with his time and he engaged the other students," department chairwoman Kay Forest said.

Kazmierczak confided in a few people at the department that he had spent time in a "halfway house" before college. No one pushed him for more information, and he didn't provide details.

"It's the kind of thing where later you look back and think, 'Why didn't I ask more about that,'" Forest said.

The department is receiving extra counseling, beyond the briefings being offered to each department later this week. I would advise outsiders, however, not to second-guess. Yes, perhaps a parasuicidal doing research on parasuicidal behavior is a warning signal. On the other hand, good social science work requires the researcher to suspend judgement in order better to elicit information from the population he is observing. (The press corps doesn't get this: questions that effectively accuse a person of a misdeed get the fighting spirit up. Or visualize the Church Lady investigating the coming of age of Samoans.) In addition, a university in the United States is a place of second chances. We work with former prisoners and GED recipients and Harvard dropouts for a reason.

That noted, the nonjudgemental stance of the observer is not a proper moral code for a society. There's a long Sigmund, Carl, and Alfred post on Northern Illinois and the parallels to Virginia Tech that includes the obligation to judge and set standards and marginalize.

What makes us human and distinguishes us from the animal kingdom is the singular truth that we can consciously choose to control our self centered desires and urges. We can make moral decisions and choose ethical behavior notwithstanding those urges and desires- a very unanimal-like condition. The healthy human being is one who is aware of these attributes and chooses to live ethically and morally.

No matter how much the media and ’science’ try to tell us otherwise, we are not simply ‘more evolved animals.’

Man is responsible for his behavior, no matter how hard media and pop culture desperately want it to be otherwise. We are all accountable, ‘root causes’ notwithstanding and we all charged with elevating ourselves.

Put another way, the burden on my colleagues upstairs -- nay, on higher education generally, will be lighter once the common culture recognizes that judging "judgemental" behavior harshly is not evolutionarily stable.

17.2.08

MUST WE FORT UP AGAIN? At one time, the residential college was a self-contained unit, in which living, dining, worshiping, teaching, and study facilities were contained in a compound that could be gated against intruders. Oxford University, for example, is a collection of thirty-some colleges, many of which have all of these facilities. I offer a look at Oxford's Christ Church College, where the dining hall is the prototype for the Hogwarts refectory.


Early college administrators recognized the possibility of forting up with an open space to allow more sunlight in. Hence the quadrangle, as pioneered at Oxford's Merton College.


Thus, the use of "Quad" to refer to the open space surrounded by free-standing buildings on the more open campuses (the martial connotations of that word played down) of today. The forted-up quadrangle design survives in some of the free-standing buildings, such as Adams and Tripp Halls among the Lakeshore Dorms of the University of Wisconsin. Note, however, that the university itself is open to visitors, whether driving or walking in from the south, or boating in from the north. That's consistent with the Wisconsin Idea that the boundaries of the university are the boundaries of the state (and there are more than a few expat Badgers carrying the idea to Siberia or DeKalb.)

Now come suggestions that universities install metal detectors, either in buildings or at the gates of campus. That is, if there are gates. (We have two sets of ceremonial gates at Northern Illinois, one establishing a formal setting on the old Normal School grounds, another attempting to class up the Lucinda Avenue entrance to the west side residential complex and the athletic fields. Both sets are for show.) I suppose one could reconfigure college campuses in the style of a theme park, with all the parking in one place and all the attractions in another. The mind boggles. Or put them in the buildings? There are five entrances to the Cole Hall concourse, as well as the rear entrance used by the shooter. At class changing time, all entrances are in use, with students coming and going, often in a hurry: our ten minutes between classes on Monday-Wednesday-Friday is insufficient to get from Cole to Barsema or Stevenson to Montgomery. They're toting cell phones and laptops and car keys and we're going to go TSA on them? Come off it.

For that matter, added security is going to have trouble identifying a threat. With the help of some Associated Press video (click the "NIU Shooting" link, be alert to some squirrely add-ons) and the interactive campus map, dear reader, imagine you are tasked with campus security. You observe a Goth-looking male removing a guitar case from a car parked in the visitor parking lot. He crosses the bridge leading toward the Watson-Zulauf-Cole-Stevens complex. The theater department is in Stevens. Do you keep observing him, or do you judge it as business as usual? Perhaps from your vantage point you're not able to observe whether he goes into Stevens or continues past Stevens to the fork in the footpath. If you continue to observe, does it matter whether he goes left or right? To the left is Watson, where a guitar player would not be out of place in the languages departments, or in forensics. But if you're wrong, and he's on his way to DuSable Hall, a maze of twisting passages, all different ... To the right is Cole. Business as usual? But also to the right is Reavis, home to the English department. Or perhaps he takes the more direct path, around the Stevens Annex and up the steps that lead directly to the back door of Cole. Threat alert, or perhaps he has a gig at the coffeehouse after class?

Now let's consider concealed carry by professors and students. The class of advocates for concealed carry includes many fans of this weblogger, who never uses ten words to describe something when a thousand will do. I'll keep it short. You Observe a stranger on stage. You Orient yourself to the presence of a shotgun in his hands. You Decide to shoot back. Did you Act fast enough? Too slow: you're down anyway. Too fast: he's down. Did you really see the gun? What if there's no gun? What weight does your loss function place on false positives?

There's more information to come. For now, think about the tradeoffs inherent in forting up.