25.11.08

MARKING OFF. Happy Thanksgiving. (If the Wall Street Journal runs the same piece the Wednesday in advance of each Thanksgiving, why not I?)

I give thanks for your readership and your comments.

Spare a few moments thanks for the young people in harm's way around the world, for the people in emergency services who deserve to sit down to the turkey without the alarm ringing, for the people in transportation, tourism, and entertainment passing on their family gatherings to enhance yours.
LIBERTY, WITHOUT THE NORTH SHORE LINE. The North Shore Line provided transportation from Great Lakes Naval Training Center to the watering spots of Chicago and Milwaukee. There's no longer a North Shore Line, but there's still liberty. A large contingent of boots attended this evening's football game. The Corps of Cadets was also present, here waving their hats in anticipation of a kickoff.


There were several opportunities for the Corps to wave their hats, as Navy did all the scoring. The weather was not too bad for this time of year, and civilian attendance was pretty good (with substantial representation by former Navy in the crowd). No bowl for the Huskies this year, probably no BCS invitation for Ball State, and Navy in an early winter bowl in Washington, D.C.
DUMB. Some fraternity clods thought it would make great sport to take target practice on some stop signs while there was a bus with passengers nearby. The editors at the Northern Star name names and suggest the appropriate anatomy be kicked.

24.11.08

THE JOYS OF FERROEQUINOLOGY. Years ago, this would be a capital offense.


We're watching a Soviet P36 Northern being paced at track speed somewhere in Estonia. The camera operator did not have the opportunity to record a meet, which well might have featured General Electric diesels in Wisconsin Central colors pulling Russian freight cars.
THE BRAIN TRUST. President-elect Obama's economics team includes Timothy Geithner at Treasury, Lawrence Summers at the National Economic Council, and Christina Romer, to Greg Mankiw's approval, as chairwoman of the Council of Economic Advisors.
A FALSE ECONOMY. Inside Higher Ed reports on working conditions in Tennessee, where composition faculty are putting together multiple jobs that work out to five courses per semester, at multiple institutions, for annual earnings of around $15,000 and no benefits. (Motlow State Community College, in Lynchburg, pop. 381, where they can bottle Jack Daniels but not serve it, is one of the employers named.) News of this report came from 11-D.
One of the first blogs that I read was the Invisible Adjunct. She retired from blogland several years ago. Too bad. We could use some of her bile today.
There's a longer analysis at Household Opera.
There are no worthy, interesting, or rewarding careers outside of academia. You either have a faculty job, or you have to become a corporate drone (or else consign yourself to a life of flipping burgers).
Thinking like a humanities scholar is something I have never done well. I claim some ability to think like an economist. Hence the false economy of the freeway flyers teaching composition.
Half of college seniors have never written a long paper (20 pages or more) while in college. Several of my senior students tell me they have NEVER written a blue book (essay) examination in college (they do with me!!).
That's Richard Vedder, not me, although I too set blue book examinations, and I participate in the department's capstone course. There aren't many large universities that attempt to require a senior paper of all majors, but my department does just that. It's clear that for many of our seniors, a research paper is an unfamiliar and daunting prospect (although many manage and more than a few excel). There have been more than a few occasions on which I've wished for the ability to time-slip the English department. I'm doing the work of editorial conferences and reviewing drafts and the like necessary for senior theses, often after doing the work of style and attribution and related elements of paper construction that I understood to be the work of the composition class and that I did in high school. In the absence of the shop steward, perhaps there's a Pigouvian tax that Economics could impose on English that reflects the true cost of their false economies in personnel.
REDEFINING POVERTY. A Northern Illinois University statement identifies discontinuities in financial aid that work to the disadvantage of people with middle-class incomes.

Under state and federal financial aid formulas, families at the lowest end of the income scale qualify for grants that cover most or all of their student’s college costs. Just above the poverty level, however, are thousands of families making just enough money to get by – but too much to qualify for the amount of aid needed to affordably send their children to public universities.

NIU officials illustrated the problem with a real-life example from last fall’s financial aid counseling sessions: A student whose parents both work entered their combined $52,000 income on his financial aid application. With a state MAP grant of $3,300 and a federal Pell grant of just $890, the student’s unmet tuition need totaled $1,960 – an amount he could not impose on his cash-strapped family, and for which he could not obtain an affordable loan.

The statement includes supporting charts and calculation. It's not clear from the information whether this student's "estimated family contribution" includes paid work, something that many of our students undertake, financial exigencies or not.

I don't know whether the financial aid formulas still penalize students from prudent families, which was the case years ago, when "estimated family contribution" was higher for families that had paid off their mortgages.
NO BAILOUT FOR RUTGERS. The New York Times suggests regime change in New Brunswick.
Rutgers, the biggest and most important public university in New Jersey, has spent millions of dollars furthering its ambition to become a major football power that might otherwise have been devoted to academics. It has done so during a period of rising tuition and budgetary cutbacks in academic departments, and, worse, without any real oversight from the university’s president, Richard McCormick, and its Board of Governors.
Let me summarize those football ambitions: Northern Illinois - Toledo - Michigan - Wisconsin - Fresno State - Rutgers.

We've made a few raids on the Rutgers economics program over the years.

University Diaries is enjoying herself.
MORE PREFERENCES REVEALED. The new football coach invites students to postpone their Thanksgiving getaways.
I am writing to ask the entire Northern Illinois University community – students, faculty and staff – to show up and support your team.

A win over Navy will give us seven victories this season. With a 7-5 record, we will have a chance to play in a bowl game and will put ourselves in a great position for the postseason. This game really is a battle for a bowl.

Navy is a great opponent, and I have a great deal of respect for their team and the young men in that program. With the tradition they have built over the last several years and with what their team represents for our country, Navy is one of the top teams to come to DeKalb in several years. They will be bringing several thousand fans and some of the pomp and pageantry that surround their games to Huskie Stadium. More importantly, Navy is a very good football team and defeating them will be difficult.

There has been a change in the television arrangements.
The game, originally scheduled to be shown on ESPN2, will now be televised on ESPN Classic, which is available in more than 60 million homes, and on ESPN360.com. Eric Collins will call the play-by-play, while Shaun King will serve as the color analyst. ESPN2 will now air the Ball State-Western Michigan game, as the No. 14 (AP) Cardinals attempt to complete an undefeated regular season.
It is, of course, amateur sport, and the change in television coverage has nothing to do with money.

23.11.08

NO ENEMIES TO THE LEFT? Some of the more vocal critics of the Bush administration have gone after the incoming Obama administration, before a single bill has been signed into law. The headline to Jeremy Scahill's essay summarizes what is to come. This is Change? 20 Hawks, Clintonites and Neocons to Watch for in Obama's White House. Paranoia strikes deep. Likewise, Heather Wokusch offers You're Scaring Me, Obama: Let the Bush Years Die. I'm not surprised to see such reactions.
The new president's early appointments are many of the usual suspects. The carping from the left of his party, and the independents to the left of that, is likely to soon be louder than the expected carping from the right.
The carping has started a bit sooner than I expected. Perhaps, as in the later days of the Johnson administration and in most of the Carter administration, the opposition to the right can make a winning argument by default.
TELL US WHAT YOU REALLY THINK. Retired political scientist Robert Weissberg talks smack.

Appearances are deceiving, I say, and even in the social sciences and the humanities, the left's stronghold, the batty left's domination is incomplete---the tip of the contaminated iceberg image is wrong. Unfortunately, the conversation usually stops here; perhaps the upbeat news is not quite believed. It is also a complicated topic, far too involved for lunch-time table talk among university outsiders. But, the seeming contradiction between outward professors-gone-wild appearances and a happier reality is important and deserves a fuller explanation. This is not to say that all goes well within the academy---the oft-discovered abuses are real enough---but it would be a strategic mistake to equate a few loud mouth, often subversive and attention-getting radicals with widespread idiocy. Those wanting to re-capture the academy need to be precise in their surgery.

The primacy of politics among vocal loopy left professors versus and rest of the faculty is fundamental. We are talking about the folk who favor "War in Not the Answer" bumper stickers, plaster office walls with Bush-is-worse-than-Hitler propaganda and consider goofy political buttons and vulgar tee shirts treasured fashion accessories. They are proud of their race/sex/class obsessed lectures and reading assignments. While most professors loath administrative tasks but dutifully shoulder them, radical academics relish this sort of stuff. In a nutshell, they live for in-your-face politics; it vitalizes them and provides meaning to otherwise dreary existences. Attitude towards research is the great divide---serious researchers just lack the time or inclination to save the gay whales. By contrast, among those who find research burdensome, joining the faculty Senate to condemn racism or the Iraqi war is a coveted responsibility. Here they can scheme with ideological fellow-travelers and fill endless hours "helping humanity" while neglecting more scholarly duties.

University rules help fuel this radical clatter. Particularly at research-oriented institutions where a full teaching load is two courses per semester (about six hours or less of actual classroom time), and the same courses are regularly repeated, the activist-minded professor might enjoy 50 hours per week (plus ample vacation time) to agitate. To be sure, his or her non-radical colleague who has likewise abandoned research enjoys comparable leisure, but lack of ideological urgency typically means more time for family, hobbies or just lolling about. As is true for certain evangelical religions, save-the-world radicalism must be expressed energetically; liberals might send checks off to the ACLU or Common Cause but this is weak tea for those frantically rescuing humanity.

It gets angrier from there. It's a case of we might believe you if you didn't shout so much, and probably more useful for shoring up wavering true believers than in producing a university in which the faculty and administrators are worthy of their best students.
TAKE IT TO THE LIMIT. Neo-Neocon comments on a Vanity Fair investigation of the asset-valuation models that assured hedge fund managers of the optimality of option valuation, tranched mortgage securities, and other potentially useful yet dangerous investment strategies. Neo's summary: alchemy. The reality is more troubling.
The quants’ Value at Risk models had implied that the loss the firm suffered in August 1998 was so unlikely that it ought never to have happened in the entire life of the universe. But that was because the models were working with just five years of data. If they had gone back even 11 years, they would have captured the 1987 stock-market crash. If they had gone back 80 years they would have captured the last great Russian default, after the 1917 revolution. [Salomon Brothers arbitrage manager John] Meriwether himself, born in 1947, ruefully observed, “If I had lived through the Depression, I would have been in a better position to understand events.” To put it bluntly, the Nobel Prize winners knew plenty of mathematics but not enough history.
Although they didn't fully grasp the mathematics. Look at the option pricing formula: one key variable goes to zero as time goes to infinity. Such convergence is useful in several areas of statistical inference, often under the label asymptotic distribution theory. (I picked a relatively straightforward result. It can get much messier.)

The problem, in practice, is that the small-sample properties of these estimators can be very different from the limiting properties. And small samples can be very large. It was either John Allen Paulos or Martin Gardner who reported a conversation with a mathematically sophisticated nephew who explained, roughly, that a million is a very large number, but a long way from infinity, and a trillion (as in the government budget at the time) is much larger, but no closer to infinity, and a google a long way from a trillion, but still no closer to infinity. That said, a model with a bit of memory of the Russian default at the beginning of Communism might be better equipped to handle a Russian default at its end.
A PIECE OF THE ACTION. Priceless.
You know that the problem of sea piracy has blown completely out of control when even your mortal enemies are helping you out. According to this report from Somalia, pirates are now being fought by Islamist insurgents who are acting like vigilante privateers.
In the modern world, the protection racket takes on new forms.
Maybe the world’s shipping companies should start registering their vessels with Saudi Arabia, or another Muslim state.
REVEALED PREFERENCES. This message, stripped for posting of additional internal contact information , hit my inbox late Friday afternoon.


Dear Colleagues,

I hope you'll consider attending this last game of the regular season.

Yours,
Chris

Christopher K. McCord
Dean, College of Liberal Arts & Sciences

>>> Raymond Alden 11/21/2008 8:57 AM >>>
All -
FYI - distribute this information to your colleagues, as appropriate. Since this coming holiday week may have reduced participation by fans, we hope to make a good showing at this important game.

Ray

>>> C Jeffrey Compher 11/20/2008 5:36 PM >>>

Ray:
Hopefully this e-mail finds you doing well as our fall semester winds down and looking forward to a little time to relax next week over Thanksgiving.

It has certainly been an exciting football season for us and I want to express how much your attendance and support means to us. As you know, we play Navy next Tuesday at 6 p.m. in Huskie Stadium. This is a MAJOR opportunity for our university and football program to put its best foot forward on a national stage.

Additionally, the way things could develop with a Huskie victory, we could very realistically find ourselves in a post-season bowl opportunity.

I would ask you to consider some correspondence to your colleagues within your division and other areas of campus to attend this game, both to them personally and within their respective offices, if possible. Among our promotional efforts for that evening are $1 tickets for any age student (of course, NIU students are free).

Please let me know your thoughts about this request at your earliest convenience. Again, thanks for all you do for NIU and your athletics program.

All my best-
Go Huskies!
Jeff



Despite my reservations about football on a school night, it's likely I will be going, although my attire might include something blue and vaguely military looking. The game will be nationally televised.


Consider, though, the timing of the message and the circumstances leading to its circulation.


Late Friday afternoon email? Those faculty who are checking e-mail then are probably corresponding with co-authors, dealing with editors (as referee or as writer) or otherwise working on their research. That's a population not particularly likely to be impressed with a bowl opportunity (which is likely to cost the university money once the travel and entertainment expenses for senior administrators and boosters is figured in) as the outcome of a game on a school night.

"Reduced participation by fans?" You mean people with day jobs might not be eager to attend a midweek football game, particularly with an early winter chill in the weather forecast? And parents of young children who might be happy to have a Saturday afternoon family outing don't want tired kids getting up for school on Wednesday? These things come as a surprise?

"Northern Illinois students free?" The game is the Tuesday before Thanksgiving break. When I started here, classes ended at noon on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, in deference to the large number of students with trains to catch downstate and planes to catch to the coast. This led students in Wednesday morning classes to ask whether my class would meet, as they'd experience class cancellations. Teachable moment: behavior adapts to rules. The simplest adaptation to the adaptation: end class with the Tuesday night session. The resulting backward induction, as well as the generalization to the workweek (remember those half-day Saturdays) are left to the reader. Some professors have protested by scheduling quizzes for Thanksgiving week or on football weeknights. The university having willed the means, has willed the end: a relatively empty student section across the field from the press box and the main camera bank.

21.11.08

COSTSWOLDS RAIN DANCE.



Because sometimes we just have to have fun.
GOING BEYOND THE WIRES. In a response to a comment, I mentioned dual mode trolleybuses in Newark, or possibly Seattle. It turns out I was correct on both counts. Newark had what its transit company called "all service vehicles" in use from the mid-1930s. The earlier ones had a gasoline engine to spin a generator, and later ones had a diesel engine. Here are several, some in gas mode and some in trolley mode, along with a classic deck-roof streetcar.



Newark Trolleybus Photos, photographer unknown

This picture, it looks like at the Pennsylvania Railroad station, shows the radiator grilles for the under-seat engine in rear.


There are many more photos of these buses in service.

In the 1990s, Seattle did operate latter-day dual-mode buses. I have not yet located any pictures.

In the research for this post, I discovered a comment by Matt Yglesias.

The idea is that you take a bus (albeit in Geneva a long articulated bus) and power it by electricity rather than gas or diesel. The electricity is supplied not via an awesome new engine/battery technology, but rather by an overhead wire à la a streetcar. This combination gives you the low emissions of a streetcar, the low operating costs of a streetcar, and much of the air of permanence of a streetcar but with fewer of the fixed startup costs of a streetcar. In other words, it’s some pretty useful technology that would probably be worth considering in many cities for the most popular bus routes.

He's discovered the dynamic by which the trolley bus displaced the streetcar only in turn to be displaced by diesel buses. The Milwaukee Electric Railway and Light's case is representative. Street repairs and rail renewal costs make the trolley bus look attractive. Rails and streetcars go for scrap to pay for the trolley buses. Extension of the overhead wire is costly and the dual-mode buses aren't as all-service as the promoters thought. Wires and trolley buses go for scrap to pay for new diesel buses. When the new diesel buses begin to wear out, the capital has been consumed, and the taxpayers buy The Transport Company and look for federal funds to buy replacement buses. The story generalizes to other cities.

If he thought the Geneva articulateds intriguing, he ought check out the St. Petersburg doubles.



I wonder if the Russian design could be turned into a dual-mode, with the diesel up front and the electric in rear.

The St. Petersburg Tram Collection 1:43 model of the ZIU-9M Trolley Train (select St. Petersburg Collection link and follow to Trolleybus) is now out of production.

20.11.08

A SPRECHER FOR THE INDIAN NAVY. Professionals best amateurs.

When it demanded the vessel stop for investigation, the pirate ship responded by threatening to "blow up the naval warship if it closed on her", the statement said.

Pirates then fired on the Tabar, and the Indians say they retaliated and that there was an explosion on the pirate vessel, which sank.

That's the downside of financing a government by other than the normal methods of development. Shipping companies have some work-arounds, including rounding Good Hope. The Trans-Iranian railroad does not appear to be an option at this time.
THE MONOPOLY ON VIOLENCE. That's the realistic view of government. In parts of Somalia, it's the purview of the pirates.

Somalia's increasingly brazen pirates are building sprawling stone houses, cruising in luxury cars, marrying beautiful women — even hiring caterers to prepare Western-style food for their hostages.

And in an impoverished country where every public institution has crumbled, they have become heroes in the steamy coastal dens they operate from because they are the only real business in town.

"The pirates depend on us, and we benefit from them," said Sahra Sheik Dahir, a shop owner in Haradhere, the nearest village to where a hijacked Saudi Arabian supertanker carrying $100 million in crude was anchored Wednesday.

Pirate government only requires the citizens to do the jobs they're hired to do without asking too many questions about where the payroll is coming from.

Elsewhere in the country, government is less competent and more intrusive.

These boomtowns are all the more shocking in light of Somalia's violence and poverty: Radical Islamists control most of the country's south, meting out lashings and stonings for accused criminals. There has been no effective central government in nearly 20 years, plunging this arid African country into chaos.

Life expectancy is just 46 years; a quarter of children die before they reach 5.

Where politics and process fail, trade unites.

But in northern coastal towns like Haradhere, Eyl and Bossaso, the pirate economy is thriving thanks to the money pouring in from pirate ransoms that have reached $30 million this year alone.

In Haradhere, residents came out in droves to celebrate as the looming oil ship came into focus this week off the country's lawless coast. Businessmen started gathering cigarettes, food and cold glass bottles of orange soda, setting up small kiosks for the pirates who come to shore to re-supply almost daily.

Dahir said she is so confident in the pirates, she instituted a layaway plan just for them.

"They always take things without paying and we put them into the book of debts," she told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. "Later, when they get the ransom money, they pay us a lot."

Perhaps the way to disrupt the pirate economy is to introduce futures contracts and default swaps on ship ransoms, or the mafia to ensure payment.

For Somalis, the simple fact that pirates offer jobs is enough to gain their esteem, even as hostages languish on ships for months. The population makes sure the pirates are well-stocked in qat, a popular narcotic leaf, and offer support from the ground even as the international community tries to quash them.

"Regardless of how the money is coming in, legally or illegally, I can say it has started a life in our town," said Shamso Moalim, a 36-year-old mother of five in Haradhere.

"Our children are not worrying about food now, and they go to Islamic schools in the morning and play soccer in the afternoon. They are happy."

The public officials are apparently willing to privatize government functions.

The pirates operate mostly from the semiautonomous Puntland region, where local lawmakers have been accused of helping the pirates and taking a cut of the ransoms.

For the most part, however, the regional officials say they have no power to stop piracy.

Meanwhile, towns that once were eroded by years of poverty and chaos are now bustling with restaurants, Land Cruisers and Internet cafes. Residents also use their gains to buy generators — allowing full days of electricity, once an unimaginable luxury in Somalia.

Also, and unlike the true believers to the south, the pirates recognize the commercial value of their captives.

The attackers generally treat their hostages well in anticipation of a big payday, hiring caterers on shore to cook spaghetti, grilled fish and roasted meat that will appeal to a Western palate. They also keep a steady supply of cigarettes and drinks from the shops on shore.

And when the payday comes, the money sometimes literally falls from the sky.

Pirates say the ransom arrives in burlap sacks, sometimes dropped from buzzing helicopters, or in waterproof suitcases loaded onto tiny skiffs in the roiling, shark-infested sea.

It's a cash economy because the credit institutions have broken down.

The pirates use money-counting machines — the same technology seen at foreign exchange bureaus worldwide — to ensure the cash is real. All payments are done in cash because Somalia, a failed state, has no functioning banking system.

"Getting this equipment is easy for us, we have business connections with people in Dubai, Nairobi, Djibouti and other areas," Yusuf said. "So we send them money and they send us what we want."

It's an unusual way to develop a consumer economy, but that's what we're seeing.
LIFE IMITATES ART. Hitler HAD only got one ball.

Hitler’s genitals have long caused controversy. Some historians dismissed the “one ball” song as propaganda. But an alleged Soviet autopsy on Hitler backed it up.

Records show Hitler did suffer a groin injury in the Somme.

It is the first time an interview with anyone who treated Hitler during WWI has come to light.

I'm surprised James Taranto didn't use "Josef Goebbels could not be reached for comment" in linking to the story.

19.11.08

RAIL PROFESSIONALS, RATHER THAN RAIL ENTHUSIASTS. The Overhead Wire issues a transfer to a transit nerd quiz.

You know you are a mass transit geek if…

10. You get almost giddy at the idea of a compressed-natural-gas-hyrbrid-electric-powered city bus.

No, but a dual-mode trolleybus with an auxiliary diesel appeals.

9. The number of transit maps you own exceeds the number of cities you’ve actually visited.
No, although I know somebody for whom this might be true.

8. When visiting a new city, you make a point to ride its light rail, subway, bus, or ferry system. Even if–especially if–you have no where to go, because, well, duh.
Guilty as charged.

7. You know that intra-city buses are not much better than cars in terms of per-passenger-mile fuel efficiency, but still love them anyway.
Bleah.

6. You used subway tiling in your latest home renovation project. In the living room.
No. The hall is a gallery for South Shore Line posters.

5. You keep a running list of the transit systems you’ve ridden. With pictures.
Guilty as charged.

4. You know what a PCC car is, and where you can still ride one.
Here's a better description of the car, and with one running 25 miles from here, another occasionally running at East Troy, and a fleet in Kenosha, you bet I have ridden more than one.

3. You’ve had the yes, but the highway system was subsidized, too argument more times than you can count.
Afraid so, but if somebody wants to buy me a Sprecher, or a peppermint mocha twist, and then entice me into that conversation, I promise not to get nasty.

2. Your entire knowledge of the Spanish language consists of: No se apoye contra la puerta (Do not lean against the doors.)
Quiero comprar un burrito con salsa caliente, por favor.
1. You are convinced that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone, but wholeheartedly believe in the National City Lines conspiracy.
I will brook no argument to the contrary about Oswald's guilt, Sprecher or mocha or other inducements notwithstanding.

Roger Rabbit is a cartoon. The conspiracy is a canard. (Scroll and scroll.)

The last sustainable trolley companies were collateral damage in the New Deal. As I noted,
I've commented frequently on the Public Utility Holding Company Act (keep scrolling) and welcome recognition of its side consequences, particularly when it comes from sources that would ordinarily object to iconoclasm where Saint Franklin Delano Roosevelt, whose obsession with Samuel Insull led to the passage of the Act, is concerned.
Offers of Sprecher or coffee, or, with Christmas coming, Peppermint Patty or Tom and Jerry to debate that are welcome.
RECRUITMENT, ELIGIBILITY, REMEDIATION, AND REDSHIRTING. That's intercollegiate athletics' version of access-assessment-remediation-retention, with predictable consequences.

Some athletes say they have pursued — or have been steered to — degree programs that helped keep them eligible for sports but didn't prepare them for post-sports careers.

"A major in eligibility, with a minor in beating the system," says C. Keith Harrison, an associate professor at the University of Central Florida, where he is associate director of the Institute of Diversity and Ethics in Sports.

At least one victim of the system is suggesting that future recruits focus on the main prize.

The whole time I was at Kansas State, I felt stuck — stuck in football, stuck in my major. … It was a stupid effort on my part. I wouldn't advise any other athlete to do that. I'd tell them to choose a career — a real career for their life after football and work toward it. Don't let anybody or anything take you off that path. Don't fool yourselves into thinking (you're) going to play (sports) professionally.

"Now I look back and say, 'Well, what did I really go to college for? Crap classes you won't use the rest of your life?' Social science is really nothing specific. … I was majoring in football."

There's at least one provost whose use of language ought disqualify him for the job.

Kansas State provost M. Duane Nellis says the university tries "to be supportive of athletes to be able to pursue what they dream to have as their degree path.

"We've had starting athletes in basketball who went on to … get into veterinary medicine. Any student can get out of sequence if they're in a prescribed curriculum … and if they get out of sequence, it leads them down a different path. They also have to realize, when they decide to pursue athletics, there are time commitments and parameters around that."

It prompts University Diaries to note
What’s a university got to do with words and numbers and shit?
Which evidently rules out being able to distinguish a given from a boundary.
BANK NOTES DOWN A COAL MINE CAN BE RETRIEVED. Bank notes provided to failing companies can not.

For the past 30 years the U.S. auto industry has been like your alcoholic Uncle Bob: his self-destructive habits seem beneficial to him, despite the harm they cause him and the pain they inflict on his family and friends. You want to help him, but don't know the best way to do so, and you know that if you confront him he will deny it and become angry and violent. You know deep down that Uncle Bob is a drunk bully, but the thought of a confrontation is so painful that you stay quiet and follow a strategy of conflict avoidance. Plus you know that the only way his health will improve is if he is the one who realizes that his habits are self-destructive and that he wants to change. At some point, the issue comes to a head, and the question becomes whether or not you have the courage to tell him what he needs to hear, for his own good and for the good of those who love him.

The issue coming to a head right now is that the U.S. auto industry has been unhealthy for decades. Chrysler's 1979 bailout did not change that. The Big Three cannot compete with Asian and European manufacturers, particularly in the production of high-quality, reasonably-priced, fuel-efficient cars, because their labor costs eat all of the possible margins (GM and Ford manufacture such cars for sale in Europe, so it's not a design problem). We have known this for three decades, and have followed a strategy of conflict avoidance.

In the case of the legacy car companies, it's for the good of the relatively well-off that the government say no.
A rapid and decisive GM collapse would allow us to continue to hope that President-elect Obama represents genuine change: leading politicians of the Democratic party will no longer tax the average American to bail out the rich, regardless of whether those rich do business in Detroit or in New York City.
(Via EclectEcon.)
JOHN MAYNARD KEYNES ANTICIPATES THE ONION. The General Theory includes a partially facetious proposal for dealing with the Depression.
If the Treasury were to fill old bottles with banknotes, bury them at suitable depths in disused coalmines which are then filled up to the surface with town rubbish, and leave it to private enterprise on well-tried principles of laissez-faire to dig the notes up again (the right to do so being obtained, of course, by tendering for leases of the note-bearing territory), there need be no more unemployment and, with the help of the repercussions, the real income of the community, and its capital wealth also, would probably become a good deal greater than it actually is. It would, indeed, be more sensible to build houses and the like; but if there are political and practical difficulties in the way of this, the above would be better than nothing.
Better still is an Onion News Network panel discussion.



Via The Beacon, with additional skepticism.

18.11.08

LAKE EFFECT. Another Tuesday night, another college football game. Northern Illinois University is now bowl-eligible, after winning an Ice Bowl in Kent, Ohio, a long way from the south shore of Lake Erie.



Northern Illinois beat Toledo who beat Michigan who beat Wisconsin, also a bowl-eligible team. Wisconsin beat Minnesota who beat Northern Illinois.

I won't be satisfied unless Badgers and Huskies both get bids.
ELECTRICITY KEEPING ITS OWN BOOKS. I've used that phrase before, generally in reference to electrically operated railroads. (Keep scrolling)
The Milwaukee's publicists were somewhat more colorful (40 Trains 46, July 1970, print edition.)
The restored current automatically sets back the power company's meters and credits the Railway with the amount. Electricity keeping its own books, forsooth!
In practice, it looks like this.



That's Armed Liberal, showing off the new solar power plant.

The video resolves a question that I asked in the same post.
Ah, but at what rate does the Power Company credit the consumer? Michael at Knowledge Problem has discovered an Iowa regulatory case in which "setting back the meter" isn't good enough for the Power Company, who would like to buy at wholesale and sell at retail.
Under net metering, a retail energy consumer with a small generator is only billed by the electric utility for the net power consumption over the billing period. In the Iowa case, the cooperative wanted to charge the retail consumer the retail price for power the consumer took from the system, and pay the retail consumer a lower “avoided cost” rate for any power the consumer put back into the system. The plaintiffs wanted to to be paid at the higher retail rate for power put back into the system.
We're observing a standard household meter running in reverse, which suggests Armed Liberal accumulates credits at the retail rate for power returned to the grid. I suspect the additional cost of replacing the meters to keep track of power delivered from the power company separately from the power returned to the power company, and training the meter readers, exceeds the gain to the power company from selling at retail and buying at wholesale, particularly if the wholesale price itself varies. (Under the laws of physics, load must match production second-by-second. Enron's play in California was to contract for the output of small independent power producers in order to hold-up the grid operator at peak times. It's not too hard to conceive of situations in which the output of a few household solar cells and wind turbines becomes the critical block of power that keeps the grid stable.)
DEFINING QUALIFIED. The California State University system will limit enrollment.
"The bottom line is there will be 10,000 qualified California graduating students from the largest high school senior class ever in California's history who will not get into the CSU system because of budget cuts and the probability that next year's budget will be even worse," said Lt. Gov. John Garamendi, who serves as a University of California regent and a California State University trustee.
Joanne Jacobs, who picked up the story, notes,
Half of CSU’s first-year students take remedial English and math classes. Raising standards would eliminate the crowding easily. But it’s not going to happen.
No doubt, the hustlers who make their living pushing access-assessment-remediation-retention ask for a bailout in the event the system adopted some standards.

RUNNING EXTRA. John J. Miller takes names.
The Cal State system plans to shed about 10,000 students, due to budget woes. Of course, nobody is talking about cutting this, this, this, this, or this.
Now for a chancellor or president or provost ready to implement the other half of the formula.
FOOL ME TWICE, SHAME ON ME. Detroit Free Press columnist Susan Tompor deals with what she describes as the hate for the legacy car companies, and Michigan, and Detroit, that's coming from Productive America.

What's as disturbing, though, is that many outside Michigan -- and some even inside Michigan -- have reached some point where they just don't care.

Maybe they don't care because Detroit's image was so badly tarnished by all those bad cars years ago. Maybe when you lose somebody's trust, you never really regain it.

It's that, but it's more. We're in a replay of 1979, and the legacy companies have forgotten nothing and learned nothing. That's apparently the case for the columnist, too.

We have the worst financial crisis that most of us have ever seen. Automakers sell big-ticket items that generally require financing. Michigan has been in a recession for years -- not just a few months. We are on the edge. And somehow, still, no one here deserves any help.

Michigan's jobless rate was 8.7% in September -- one of the highest two states in the nation and down only slightly because more people were leaving the workforce.

Michigan lost another 7,000 factory jobs that month. Michigan now has lost more than 330,000 factory jobs since 1999 -- or more than one-third of the state's manufacturing jobs.

I've seen worse. That Michiganians have suffered through a recession for some time suggests an explanation other than the bad habits of hedge fund managers or the willingness of the noveau riche to overinvest in trophy houses, troubles that manifested themselves recently. There were signs of Michigan's troubles years ago.

We don't need to relive history.
In short, a bailout will not solve anything — just postpone things. If this goes through, Big Three executives will make decisions knowing that whatever happens, Uncle Sam will bail them out — just like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. In the meantime, capital that could have gone to successful companies and programs will be directed toward companies with a history of using it badly.
See, e.g. "Chrysler loan guarantee" and "Rams and minivans."

As Gary Becker notes, using language that even Free Press readers can understand(*),
I do not know for certain whether they have competent management- GM surely did not have top management for much of its recent history. I do believe, however, that when a coach of a team loses a few games, he might legitimately explain that by injuries, bad luck, or even bad officiating. These excuses become lame when he consistently loses many games, and the correct and common practice is then to fire the coach. The same considerations apply to top management. When a company consistently does badly while some of it competitors (like Toyota) are doing well, its time to fire the management team, and see if another team can do better.
Count Matthew Yglesias as a skeptic.
Generally the reason we try not to have the government running businesses is that promoting public goals and maximizing profits require you to do different things. We normally try to advance policy goals by establishing a framework of taxes and regulations so that firms pursuing their interests will be compatible with the public interest. But if GM is going to be a welfare agency, it’s hard to also expect it to be a viable company that will rapidly get off the federal teat.
I'll go one better: the legacy car companies owe us restitution for having destroyed half a trillion dollars of capital in the past ten years. I'll also note that Mr Obama is probably not Ronald Reagan when it comes to leaning on government-supported companies to pay up or to push for their liquidation or privatization.

(*)The morning Yuri Andropov died, possibly under suspicious circumstances, the headline in the Free Press was a contract agreement between the Detroit Lions and Billy Sims. The Andropov story was below the fold, on the right half of the page.

16.11.08

CAUSE TO BE CHEERFUL. The Axe remains in Madison. The Packers secure another tiebreaker in a tight division race.
WHAT'S CHINESE FOR "WE CAN HANDLE IT"? Recent issues of Railway have featured new North American diesel technology on offer overseas. A larger version of the Class 66 is under development for use on European lines with slightly more generous clearances than Britain's. Although Union Pacific and CSX decided that 6,000 horsepower in a single unit is a bit much, an export version of the SD-90 called the JT56ACe is in production in China.

Both models are products of Electro- Motive Diesel, once a division of General Motors that the company spun off, presumably to plow more capital into its truck and sport-ute divisions.
THERE WAS AN AUTOMOTIVE TSAR ONCE. Unlike his Romanov counterpart and the eponymous Hohenzollern, both of who abdicated, he failed the market test.
FINDING THE PUBLIC INTEREST. In a long post, I suggested it would be served by the bankruptcy of the legacy car companies (which ought not be confused with U.S. auto manufacturing). Michael Barone puts it bluntly: "But I will wonder if in preserving the past we are giving up the chance to get to a better future." Acre of Independence elaborates.

But what are the three automakers going to do in the next one hundred days that they have not done over the past decade? Can they restructure, innovate, and operate in a way that creates lasting economic effects worthy of the taxpayers’ investment? And should the American taxpayers risk billions of dollars on the Big Three in the hope that they can become profitable again?

My answers to these questions are “Not too much”, followed by a bunch of “no’s”.

Chrysler, General Motors, and Ford have failed to meet the primary social responsiblity of corporations in a capitalist system: they are unprofitable. It is not merely stagnant economic conditions that have led to their decline; their competitors, for the most part, produce superior automobiles, and have a more effective business model. Most of the rival automakers produce cars more economically due to lower labor inputs and a more streamlined production system.

That's despite the Chrysler loan guarantees and the Voluntary Export Restrictions late in the Reagan administration. Perhaps the best defense of those restrictions is that they scared some overseas car producers into building capacity in the United States. That provided the legacy companies one more reason for business as usual.

Blame decades of collective bargaining with unions, the whims of crude oil and, most of all, trucks. The truck is Detroit's salvation and its downfall. Pickups and sport utilities threw off so much profit in the days of cheap oil that the Big Three could lose money on dull, less-reliable cars and simply shrug.

Plus, the Midwestern-flavored designs of Big Three cars didn't exactly overwhelm status buyers on either coast; eventually even loyalists in the Heartland have given up on the Heartbeat of America's sedans and coupes. Do you see the teenage tuner crowd drooling about the prospect of buying aftermarket mods to soup up their Chevy Cobalts or Dodge Calibers?

Lacking any incentive to improve fuel efficiency and battle imports on style notes thanks to the cushy truck business, the Big Three doubled down on gas-guzzlers just before crude oil prices soared.

In the era of $4 unleaded, the Big 3 spit out fleets of guzzlers that required $100 fill-ups and tepid sedans that, while better than '90s era Detroit metal, still choke on Accord and Camrydust. As the economy slowed and consumers put off new car purchases, the trucks are still too expensive to drive and even deep discounts won't move the inventory. GM's sales were down by nearly half in October.

If there is one bright spot, it is that the fringe-benefit heavy pay packets are an incentive for the legacy companies to rely more heavily on overtime and expand workforces more slowly than their competitors. There are fewer people affected by cutbacks at the legacy companies than would be the case if the irreversibility inherent in those fringe benefits didn't limit hiring.

There is one additional point readers ought ponder. Yes, the reorganization or the closure of one or more legacy car companies will be disruptive. On the other hand, that will release resources that have been diverted from other uses into the preservation of the existing order.

GM has invested $310 billion in its business between 1998 and 2007. The total depreciation of GM's physical plant during this period was $128 billion, meaning that a net $182 billion of society's capital has been pumped into GM over the past decade -- a waste of about $1.5 billion per month of national savings. The story at Ford has not been as adverse but is still disheartening, as Ford has invested $155 billion and consumed $8 billion net of depreciation since 1998.

As a society, we have very little to show for this $465 billion. At the end of 1998, GM's market capitalization was $46 billion and Ford's was $71 billion. Today both firms have negligible value, with share prices in the low single digits. Both are facing imminent bankruptcy and delisting from the major stock exchanges. Along with management, the companies' unions and even their regulators in Washington may have their own culpability, a topic that merits its own separate discussion. Yet one can only imagine how the $465 billion could have been used better -- for instance, GM and Ford could have closed their own facilities and acquired all of the shares of Honda, Toyota, Nissan and Volkswagen.

The implications of this story for Washington policy makers are obvious. Investing in the major auto companies today would be throwing good money after bad. Many are suggesting that $25 billion of public money be immediately injected into the auto business in order to buy time for an even larger bailout to be organized. We would do better to set this money on fire rather than using it to keep these dying firms on life support, setting them up for even more money-losing investments in the future.

Two main arguments are being raised to justify a government rescue of the auto industry. First, large numbers of jobs may be at stake, perhaps as many as three million if one counts all the other firms that supply the Big Three. This greatly overstates the situation. Americans are not going to stop driving cars, and if GM, Ford and Chrysler disappear, other companies will expand to soak up their market share, adding jobs in the process. Many suppliers will also stay in business to satisfy the residual demand for spare parts even if the Detroit manufacturers go under. If the government wants to spend $25 billion to protect auto workers, it would do better to transfer the money to them directly (perhaps by cutting each worker a check for $10,000) rather than by keeping their unproductive employer in business.

Via TigerHawk, who has additional observations on the legacy companies' corporate culture.

15.11.08

THIS WEEKEND'S RAILROAD READING. London Underground presents a gallery of vintage rail travel posters.
THE RIGHT TIME TO DO IT. Public higher education contemplates empty state coffers.

[California governor Arnold] Schwarzenegger’s proposal in California would cut $66.3 million from California State University, which already took a cut of $31.3 million earlier this year. The plan has prompted Chancellor Charlie Reed to propose increasing admissions standards across the 23-campus system in order to reduce enrollment by at least 10,000 students.

Currently, only six of California State’s campuses have competitive admissions standards beyond the minimum system-wide requirement that students have a 3.0 high school grade point average, according to officials. Reed’s proposal to change standards comes at a time when demand is peaking at California State, which has already seen a 20 percent spike in applications this year.

I suspect at least some of those applicants would like to receive something better than a sub-prime degree. Tighter standards and fewer resources in access-assessment-remediation-retention strike me as a Marshallian improvement.
THE COLLEGE OF DEADUCATION AT WORK. Math class sure is hard.
Too many elementary teachers didn’t like math when they were in school, took very little in college and don’t understand it well enough to explain concepts like place value to children.
It doesn't help when, as happened at Northern Illinois many years ago, the teacher preparation program reassigns the responsibility for the mathematics part of the teacher preparation program from the math department in Arts and Sciences to one of the departments in education.

As a consequence, elementary schools now have math coaches on retainer. Unintended consequences at work?
Slim math requirements for new teachers add to the challenge. A study this year from the National Council on Teacher Quality found that entrance exams for teacher preparation programs typically test elementary or middle-grade math and set low pass rates. Elementary candidates are expected to take zero to six math courses, depending on the program.
The article notes that algebra uses different skills from calculus, which includes elements of logic and analysis.

Mastery of calculus is not necessary to teach multiplication, but elementary teachers must understand enough algebra, geometry and probability to see how beginning skills link to more complex ones, educators say. To tackle abstract math in middle school -- a major goal for educators nationwide -- students should be comfortable with whole numbers and fractions. Many adults have trouble with the latter.

Deborah Loewenberg Ball, dean of the University of Michigan School of Education, said teachers need to understand math in a way it is rarely taught: going beyond rules and formulas and explaining why they work.

Heh. Generations of students have learned through bitter experience that teachers who don't understand why the rules work will penalize work that exploits the rules to produce the correct solution in fewer steps.
"People think that subtraction is simple," she said. But teaching it requires complex understanding. For example, students learn to "borrow" a 1 in some double-digit subtraction problems, but they might not know why or what the 1 represents. "A lot of kids are really confused," she said. "They think it's magic."
Consider 132-45. The received method is to "borrow a one" from the tens place, thus 12 - 5 = 7 in the ones column. You now have two which is less than four in the tens place, so you "borrow the one" from the hundreds place, thus 12 - 4 = 8 in the tens place, for an answer of 87.

But if you know the structure, you can restate the problem as (120 - 40) + (12 - 5) = 80 + 7 for the same answer, or if you want to be a smart aleck, you can restate the problem as (100 - 40) + (32 - 5) = 60 + 27 = 87, an algorithm that's guaranteed to give teacher fits.
COMMON-SENSE CHECK. Will Wilkinson.
But it appears that it is sometimes necessary to lecture good-government types on the fact that, in democracies, the diversity of opinion is a predictable side-effect of freedom of conscience and expression. As such, it is a constraint on policymaking, not something to rail against. If your program needs widespread buy-in to work, then you should do more to provide reasons for people to buy in. If other people come along and smack down your reasons, they aren’t the problem.
The true believers, however, don't understand this.
We’re going to get lectured a lot–probably by many of the same twenty-five year olds who have invested heavily in home decor featuring presidential power porn–on how the failure of this or that is due to a failure of all 300 million of us to come together like a bunch of Amish at a barn-raising. It will of course be the fault of the ideologues who think the Green Economy Five Year Plan is moronic, not a reflection of the diverse range of opinion in a free society, and certainly not that fact the Green Economy Five Year Plan will in fact be moronic.
The twentysomethings do not worry me as much as the middle-aged and older true believers who have been pushing the same utopian line since the McGovern campaign, or perhaps either Stevenson campaign. At least a few of the twentysomethings will be mugged by reality. For some reason, their elders in the cheering section seem immune to evidence.

12.11.08

CHANGE I CAN ENDORSE. Does it really require a presidential initiative to introduce congestion pricing on roads? But I see the vehicle-miles-traveled tax resurfacing, which strikes me as a difficult tax to collect since drivers must self-report. That's a change I am not able to endorse.
SOME ADVICE FOR THE MID-AMERICAN CONFERENCE. Candidate Obama endorsed a national championship game for college football, which provoked Richard Vedder to offer some suggestions. They're suggestions that administrators at a lower level than National Command Authority can implement, to wit.
Prohibit weekday football games and limit those contests in other sports to a minimum. Absolutely prohibit contests during final examination week.
The Mid-American Conference is the most visible provider of games on school nights, in order to get that national television exposure. And yes, viewers, you saw a good one tonight, despite the fog, with Central Michigan apparently cruising to a blowout of Northern Illinois by halftime, but after two successful onside kicks, a fake punt for a first down, and a lot of gritty play by the Huskies, Central Michigan had to steal the win in overtime.

Yes, it was a good game, but the preparations include closing some of the more convenient commuter student parking lots for football parking, and the prime-time schedule means additional traffic on campus at a busy time.

The national television exposure might be a good thing, but it ought not require a Presidential proclamation to make college football something for Saturday afternoons.

And some advice to the Mid-American Conference: that "new mark of excellence" slogan recalls "the mark of excellence" that General Motors affixed to its crappy land-yachts of the late 1960s.

11.11.08

TO REMEMBER. Eighty years ago, the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month brought an armistice to end the war to end all wars. We have the anniversary, and we have men and women at war. Several State Line National Guard units shipped out recently. Stay safe.
THE WORST ECONOMY SINCE THE GREAT DEPRESSION. Not yet. Not 2000, when the Clinton administration accused candidate Bush of "talking down" the economy. Not 1992, when the Clinton handlers used that assertion as a campaign talking point.


Seasonally adjusted unemployment rates, by month,1960 to October 2008,
from the Current Population Survey.


In Michigan, the current unemployment (seasonally adjusted) is 430,000 people. In November 1982, the figure was 719,000 people.
THEY OWE US RESTITUTION. I started my academic career in an era of rising gas prices, a shakeout of suboptimal capacity in steel manufacturing, and Chrysler asking for loan guarantees.

Advocates for the various government bailouts of excessively optimistic businesses note that Chrysler repaid its loans. That's true. But the loans simply postponed the reckoning. Chrysler did retool, introducing the Plymouth Voyager and Dodge Caravan. (What the site does not tell you is that the design exploited the "personal truck" loophole in the fuel economy standards. The loophole is big enough to drive a Hummer through.)

The site refers to the minivan as economical and family-friendly compared to the Dodge Ram full-sized van. That is a relative of the obnoxious family of hemi-engined pickup trucks that once contributed a lot of money to the company's bottom line. (The company evidently had no interest in fuel economy: its fuel-saving version was called the "Ram Miser" and it disappeared shortly after OPEC's prices collapsed in 1983. Did any of those high-priced product packagers again at risk of unemployment bother to ask whether buyers would want to drive something that conjures up Ebenezer Scrooge?)

Chrysler plowed some of their profits into acquiring American Motors, for the purpose of acquiring the Jeep line. There was no resurrection of the Metropolitan and the Gremlin and Pacer remained mercifully out of production.

In all this time, company researchers did little work on improving smaller cars and no work on electric drive. It's as if the false consciousness of the 1950s monopoly economy never encountered that reality check of the late 1970s.

Now comes Chrysler, again seeking succor, and this time bringing General Motors, an opponent of the 1979 loan guarantees until the Carter administration raised the possibility of an antitrust investigation, as co-supplicant. That's the General Motors that managed to ruin its dominant position in freight locomotives, finally selling the company, and that has done very little work on improving smaller cars or developing electric drive, preferring to concentrate on obnoxiously upscale projects such as the Cadillac Escalade. Toyota's Lexus division is well-positioned to cater to the insecure upscale market, with electric drive as an option.

Do these companies deserve succor?

Professor Bainbridge suggests not.
Letting GM avoid bankruptcy by giving it a federal bailout ought to be unthinkable, because of the very real risk that a federal bailout will come with conditions that preclude GM from fixing its core problems. It’s likely to preserve the gold plated union contracts, the excess payroll numbers, the excess plant capacity, and the excess number of dealers.
And the expectation that there will be another suspension of the Hotelling principle for pricing exhaustible resources long enough for the old way of doing business to batten off the existing order for another 20 or 30 years.

There's more at Betsy's Page, including additional useful links.

Perhaps the automakers, and their suppliers, and their employees, owe us restitution for having lived well at our expense for the past 20 years, although there is evidence of our rebellion.
US consumers have long been voting against US automakers. Now, they'll be asked to put their tax dollars at risk to preserve the very companies from which they don't want cars.
Where's the public interest in that?
THE ADULTS ARE HEARD FROM. I was looking for them last week.

The Obama presidency, with Democratic majorities in the House and Senate, has the potential to be Illinois on a grand scale at worst, or yet another crack at New Deal - New Frontier - Great Society nostrums at best. That those nostrums will work no better when legislated by a more diverse Congress might be the reality check people will deserve.

And there are people who deserve a reality check. The party coverage included more than a few shots of twentysomething women looking to the stage with dreamy expressions. It's understandable for people with the life experiences of college sophomores to believe the progressive bromides.

Now comes Instapundit.
If anything is certain, it is that disillusionment will not be blamed on the too-readily illusioned.
Doesn't matter, if the too-readily illusioned opt out. Here's Christopher Hitchens on one route to disillusionment.
In other words, there is something pain-free and self-congratulatory about the Obama surge. This has happened before, of course, with the high-sounding talk about the "New Frontier," the "Great Society," and "Morning in America." It's just that this time it's more than usually not affordable. There are many causes of the subprime and derivative horror show that has destroyed our trust in the idea of credit, but one way of defining it would be to say that everybody was promised everything, and almost everybody fell for the populist bait.
And here's Roger Kimball speculating on the twists in the road.
Obamania may be a harmless enthusiasm that will spend itself naturally in the coming weeks. Then again, its “spread-the-wealth-around,” egalitarian tendencies may presage something far graver. It’s just possible that Obama actually believes what he says about redistributing wealth and sitting down for cozy chats with dictators, etc. In that case, the country is in for a very rude awakening.
The new president's early appointments are many of the usual suspects. The carping from the left of his party, and the independents to the left of that, is likely to soon be louder than the expected carping from the right.
EXPECT SUCCESS. Northern Illinois University exceeds the national average for enrollment of first-generation students.
College graduates, on average, make more money than those who have never gone to college. NIU may be attractive to first-generation college students because of its relatively low tuition rates, proximity to Chicago and its large low-income population.
That "on average" conceals several problems, most of which would be aggravated by first-generation students being concentrated in higher education's subprime sectors.

A 2005 National Center for Education Statistics report said first-generation students are at a “distinct disadvantage in gaining access to postsecondary education,” and those who do make it into college “have difficulty remaining enrolled and attaining a degree.”

The study found that 68 percent of students whose parents graduated college received a bachelor’s degree or higher, while only 24 percent of first-generation students did.

To some extent, those percentages reflect path dependence. Using that "on average" again, the students whose parents are graduates have more income. They might also have learned life-management skills more conducive to surviving college. I don't know of any studies that track life-management skills from generation to generation. There might be a dissertation in it.

I suspect, though, that diluting academic rigor and calling it "accommodating" first-generations and non-traditionals does nobody any favors.

9.11.08

NEXT STOP, MILLER PARK. Among the traders at the Wheaton train show was a vendor of Milwaukee Electric photographs. This one, from The Milwaukee Electric Railway and Light Company's files, shows coach 1111 and trailer 1214, both recently rebuilt from deck-roof composite cars at Cold Spring Shops to look like standard railroad cars.



The date of the inspection trip is "Fall 1926" and the location is "Mitchell Boulevard." Look closely at the background. There are two tracks. These diverge to the right on the west side of Mitchell Boulevard and climb to Wells Street. (The curved retaining wall north of the expressway dates to this construction.) The inspection trip is on the recently-built eastbound track of the Rapid Transit Line. There is room for the westbound track, and both tracks will subsequently be extended to connect to two new tracks to the south of the streetcar tracks in the open space at left. The odd-shaped high-tension towers in this part of town were designed to support the overhead wire for four tracks. There are still a few New Havenish low towers supporting some of the low-tension lines that also date to this installation.

That "Fall 1926" date intrigues. The information I have gives the opening of the Rapid Transit Line from Soldiers Home to Park Hill Avenue as 4 June 1926. The section from 68th Street to Soldiers Home was completed on 20 June 1928. That section is clearly not yet begun.

I have my doubts, however, about that inspection trip date. It's unlikely that The Milwaukee Electric would be running its local Rapid Transit service on a long stretch of single track so close to the city limits.

The photographer is standing in what is now the berm between the expressway and one of the north overflow parking lots for Miller Park. A train like this, perhaps one with a parlor car and a cooler full of Miller or Pabst, would make the experience so much better.

TO REMEMBER. Instapundit reminds readers that today is the 19th anniversary of the Berlin Wall coming down, yes we can, and the 70th anniversary of Kristallnacht. It's also the the 90th anniversary of the abdication of the Kaiser.

Closer to home, the Gales of November have been blowing. Go here for the full Edmund Fitzgerald tribute information.
SOBERING OBSERVATIONS. Richard Vedder.
In order to appear sensitive to the provision of educational opportunities for all (positive interpretation) or in an effort to snare as much tuition and state appropriation money as possible (negative interpretation), schools take many students whose prospect for success can be reliably predicted to be extremely low before matriculation on the basis on test results and high school performance.
Nearly twenty years ago, I didn't make many friends suggesting that universities were failing at their mission, but some of the problems I highlighted in that essay (it's not available online) have not gone away.
And, increasingly, universities are not particularly good at even achieving their vocational mission. First, of course, remember the one-third to one-half of students who drop-out but who typically incur large debts. They end up only marginally more employable than before, but with battered personal finances. Second, a growing number of college graduates are taking relatively unskilled blue collar jobs, a point brought home to me recently when two workers were cutting down a diseased tree on my land, one with a eighth grade education and the second an honors graduate of Ohio University. There are over 15,000 hairdressers in the U.S. with advanced or professional degrees, and 12 percent of our mail carriers have college degrees (compared with three percent in 1970). Is it worthwhile to spend tens of thousands of dollars training students unnecessarily (from a vocational perspective)? For what purpose?
Particularly when what passes for the liberal arts core is less substantive than what used to be sophomore English in high school. There's nothing wrong with seeking knowledge for its own sake, but asking the taxpayers to pay for it twice? Save that for the car companies. Oh, that's a rant for another day. I'll stay on point for today.
University presidents constantly complain that legislators are short-sighted, restricting state appropriations or federal research monies . State higher education appropriations are a declining proportion of most state budgets. Is this an irrational response, insufficiently investing in our nation's future? Or, given the evidence that the "failure factories" are often very real, is it a highly rational response, reflecting a healthy skepticism on the true return in investment in higher education?
As the economic conditions get worse, perhaps the parents who are looking to their state universities to provide the intellectual challenge of the Ivies at a subsidized price (which isn't difficult at all) will ask their legislators to distinguish the substantial from the sub-prime in their offerings.
RUNNING THE NUMBERS. Professor Shugart claims the Democrats and Barack Obama have earned a "mandate of historic proportions." That's not the same thing as a realignment. From that post, I found this one, with an intriguing diagram suggesting a shift in both cultural and economic policies from the Bush administration (with the 2000 House and Senate?) to the prospective Obama administration (with the 2000 House and Senate?) The population-adjusted, voting-proportion tinted maps for 2000 and 2008 suggest only slight shifts in the voting patterns. Slight shifts at the district level are magnified by the electoral votes, which is as the Framers intended.
LEADING ECONOMIC INDICATORS. Look at idle branch lines and remote sidings.
When centerbeam flatcars such as these are no longer seen stored along lonely desert sidings, the recovery will be underway!
Center beam flat cars haul lumber, which is used to build houses.

Another indicator is idle auto rack cars. Conrail used to stash these in sidings between Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti, during the crash of the car business in the early 1980s.

Sometimes Union Pacific uses the coaling track lead in DeKalb for idle freight cars. During the summer, that track is often used to stage maintenance of way equipment. As of last week, it was empty.

6.11.08

AUDITING THOSE CAMPAIGN PROMISES. If you wish to verify that the oceans are beginning to recede, you might wish to visit the Starcross Yacht Club's webcam, which is located on the tower of the Great Western Railway's pumphouse. It has an interactive feature that may give you control of the camera. Do not be fooled by the tide cycles. Even if the ocean is not beginning to recede, you might catch the successors to the Kings and the Warships on the passenger trains, or, on occasion, a real diesel on a freight train.

I'm not sure exactly what the planet beginning to heal itself looks like, but the Hirschenkogel has a Panoramacam that shows some pretty country. Depending on the local conditions, you might see the Schneekanonen at work, or the skiers, or the day hikers, or people kicking back at the outdoor bar.
PATH DEPENDENCE. Some time ago, I commented on an excessively earnest reaction by some schoolteachers to a spontaneous Lego project when the kids who set it up began to limit participation by other kids. It's a long post, contrasting emergent order with notions of domination and exclusion. I was frustrated by the zero-sum thinking of the teachers, something that I suspect cramps the minds of many people who labor under the conceit that they are building a better world. The point I wish to return to is this.
More seriously, the article is not clear on whether there were sufficient Legos still in the storage bins for an enterprising kid to scrounge a base and house parts and become a full participant. Perhaps, though, that is irrelevant: without additional Legos brought in from outside, whatever rules the children contrive will be rules for a constant-sum game. That will reduce its usefulness as a metaphor for an economy, capitalist or otherwise. But that's precisely what the teachers attempted to do.
I went on to suggest that after the teachers changed the rules to attempt to teach a lesson about exclusion and marginalization, they really illustrated the hazards of simulating institutions they didn't really understand. In the redesign, the teachers made the students draw Lego pieces from a common pool, and then announced the values of the pieces.
For one, the relative rarity of a natural resource is not determinative of its value. Diamonds are rare and hard to get at compared to bauxite or to sand, but I have yet to see an airplane made of diamonds. Next, if the value of both traders' endowments cannot be enhanced by trading, there is no point in trading. Finally, if you're completely self-sufficient, you might still do better by trading with others. Perhaps it's those design flaws in the lesson that frustrated the children.
I return to this old post in order to react to a recent post from somewhere west of Wyeville on the Omaha Road.

I've been attending some anti-racism workshops, and thinking lots about privilege and racism. One of the analogies that seems really powerful to me, especially thinking about poverty, was an analogy about the game Monopoly (trademarked, I'm sure).

The idea is that you take a game of Monopoly and you set some people playing. In the first couple rounds, they buy up as many properties as they can. But hold on, what if you go five or ten rounds, and then you add in some folks. They may start with the same amount of starting money, but all the property is pretty much bought up, so they have nowhere safe to land. And there's no way in the game to really "catch up." They don't have property, so they don't have rents, they don't have power, and you they out a lot to the people who got there first.

That seems like a pretty good analogy for how the cycle of poverty works, especially when people ask why African American's aren't doing as well now, almost 150 years after the end of slavery.

Yeah, it's not perfect, but if you add in special rules for the latecomers, about how they could only buy a few specific properties, and how the rules can be changed to disadvantage them, then maybe it would get even closer?

It's a more subtle version of the same mistake. I've done some reading about the history of the game, in the course of which I noted,
The book does not touch on the feature of the game that strikes me as most paradoxical: it often plays much like competitive capitalism, wherein there are sufficient budget and capacity constraints that no player is able to dominate the board.
We can push that point further. First, and most simply, changing the rules to further disadvantage newcomers simply projects the zero-sum thinking of the self-styled anti-racists onto the so-called establishment. An establishment that denies opportunities to upstarts simply impoverishes itself. I propose, for instance, that latecomers to the game get to pay half price for houses and two-thirds the price for hotels, because the initial buyers of houses had to develop, by trial-and-error, the methods for producing sounder houses. (The size of new houses in the U.S. has increased in the past sixty years, and the hours a person has to work to pay off the median-sized house has decreased in that interval, and the heating bill has fallen.) Or I could introduce maintenance, and set up informal labor markets in which the newcomers earn rent credits by performing it.

And, like Lego Town, Monopoly(TM) is an economic model of a fixed size, where houses and hotels just happen and the railroads and utilities collect rents, and where newcomers do not have the opportunity to imitate and improve on existing manufacturing capabilities, something that enables latecomers to surpass the supposedly advantaged first-movers.

Heck, the game board itself makes the point. Marven Gardens (that's the Atlantic City spelling) and Pennsylvania and North Carolina avenues and heck, the Boardwalk itself, are blighted neighborhoods these days, the Shore Fast Line is long abandoned, and bits of the Baltimore and Ohio and the Reading and The Pennsylvania Railroad are all property of something called CSX, a company that is in no position to quadruple the rent because it owns three railroads.

So we get back on the Omaha Road to read this.
We who are lucky enough to have had some advantages need to get off our high horses and work on making disadvantage matter less, and making actual merit matter way more.
On that point, I agree with the sentiment if not the tone, although I suggest that instilling the Habits of Effective People in individuals who have not had encouragement to develop them matter more than fulminating about path-dependence or getting giddy about a presidential election.