29.1.09

MARKING OFF. It's Fasching. If I don't see my shadow, there will be an early return to posting.
SOME NEW SOURCES OF COMPANY MAIL? The operator of Metro Rider LA posted a comment on a Private Sector Investment post contemplating the proper way of investing in railroad passenger train capacity. I may have extended comments on those sources here next month. The comment suggested using the "ferroequinology" category for the passenger rail material. Blogger's category function has been squirrely of late. I've assembled a collection of the Midwestern High Speed Rail The Sensible Way at this link. Scroll down, there are some travelogues with interspersed policy commentary.
FURLOUGH. Instapundit links are often thin on content. The details of Arizona's latest retrenchment in public universities suggest acquiescence in decline.
Higher-education officials said the compromise proposal could save the universities from shuttering entire campuses, enacting more severe layoffs and losing key research faculty who attract grants and graduate students and improve the universities' reputation. Instead, the proposal would require employees, including tenured professors, to take time off as unpaid leave.
The way Arizona State proposes to implement the furloughs suggests that research-active professors will be more likely to leave.
Faculty members will take furloughs on days they don’t teach class, and supervisors of staff members will be staggering furloughs so that the university remains fully operational.
One of the dirty secrets of academic life is the excess of committees, and the surfeit of failed scholars who live for committee meetings. One of the nasty byproducts of committee meetings is reaching agreement on a date for the meeting. Professors who are active in research will sometimes protect their research time. Commuting professors are even worse, pleading a preference to not make a trip simply for a committee meeting. (As if my shorter trip is somehow not made more unpleasant when I have to put myself out for the commuter.)

Furloughed professors have no reason to attend a committee meeting on a furlough day. The Arizona State plan suggests that furloughed professors may be eligible for unemployment compensation. The unemployment office asks if the beneficiary is looking for work. Writing research papers and grant proposals and circulating updated vitae sounds like looking for work. More research, more job-hopping, fewer committees, q.e.d.

The news article explains the acquiescence in decline claim I make.

The cuts would permanently change the universities, making classes larger, reducing the number of courses and forcing students and parents to pay more for university education.

Lobbyist Jaime Molera said he is confident a compromise can be reached this year between the universities and lawmakers. He also said a federal stimulus package could help the state close a $3 billion shortfall next fiscal year.

"That's the wild card," he said.

Without help from federal money, the universities could be asked to make additional cuts of up to $383 million, he said. That would reduce the universities to state colleges, serving mostly undergraduates with a limited number of degree programs, the university presidents said during a Board of Regents meeting last week.

That's precisely the part of higher education where there's excess capacity.
59-0. Private citizen Blagojevich.

Senators voted 59-0 to dump Blagojevich, who was arrested Dec. 9 on federal corruption charges. And, on a second vote minutes later, senators voted 59-0 to bar Blagojevich from ever holding elected office in Illinois again.

During a news conference tonight outside his Northwest Side home, Blagojevich said, “I predicted it. The fix was in from the very beginning.”

The art of politics is pretending that a self-serving act is an act in the public interest. Such was the tone of the governor's final speech. Such, too, was the tone of his judges.

This afternoon, it was clear senators felt little sympathy for Blagojevich, who is accused, among other things, of trying sell President Obama’s former U.S. Senate seat, which he had the sole power to appoint.

“I say we have this thing: impeachment. It’s bleepin’ golden, and we’ve used it the right way,” said Sen. James Meeks (D-Chicago), reworking a line from Blagojevich’s criminal complaint.

But, in a news conference after the vote, Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) said “we find no pleasure” in the unanimous votes.

“We did not do this for political expediency. We’re not settling old scores,” Cullerton added. “We acted in the best interest of the people of this state.”

The private citizen's parting words, however, do not refute those claims.

As he emerged from that building, Blagojevich was asked by the Chicago Sun-Times why he didn’t tell Illinoisans he was sorry for subjecting the state’s 13 million residents to his choking legal and political problems, which have virtually shut down state government.

Blagojevich answered in three words before getting into his vehicle and heading back to Chicago on a state plane:

“Sorry for what?”

We will see what the government does, now that it can get back to the task of governing.

28.1.09

SUBOPTIMIZATION. Economics is optimization subject to constraints. Apparently the geniuses at the Securities and Exchange Commission never learned that.
The Banking Committee chairman, Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., demanded of SEC Enforcement Director Linda Thomsen and the other regulators, "What's happened here?"

"... If we had more resources, we could clearly do more," Thomsen testified.
Possibly, if you deployed them effectively. (Why do I form images of a party animal begging for an extension on a paper assignment?)

It's trivially true, however, that more resources, or relaxed constraints, mean expanded feasible sets. I make my modest living, however, exploring the intricacies of actually-existing feasible sets. So let's take the story seriously. Somebody at the Commission learns that the Madoff hedge fund is dirty.
"Madoff's fraud was so immense and obvious, and took place over such a long eriod of time, it is simply inexplicable how the SEC missed it," said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y. "It's as if there was a giant elephant standing next to the SEC in a rather small room for 25 years, and the SEC never noticed the elephant or even the smell of peanuts on its breath."
Cute quip, Senator, but let's ask the regulators what they were investigating with the resources they had, OK? Perhaps the resources went to identify a nest of cockroaches or a pack of rats, productive to be sure, but suboptimal.
OPEN ROAD SHAME. Should the governor be removed from office, the bragging on one of his more dubious achievements will join Leon Trotsky down the memory hole.

Should the Senate vote to remove Gov. Rod Blagojevich from office, Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn said Tuesday that he would immediately begin erasing some of the imprints his former running mate made on the state.

One target would be the signs displaying Blagojevich's name over state tollways, which Quinn called a symbol of "pompous government.""The signs will go down, and we'll probably have a ceremony to do it," Quinn told the Tribune. "I might even ask some toll payers to help us out."

Speaking in his Chicago office with the Senate impeachment trial blaring in the background, Quinn said he would end a period of "imperial governorship" that began under Republican Gov. George Ryan and was continued by Democrat Blagojevich.

I would be pleased if any governor would reactivate the automatic coin lanes at the major toll plazas. Typical tollway practice is to have one or two of the four attended stations open, with the automatic lanes closed. (Did the governor get a campaign contribution from the toll-takers' union?)

27.1.09

SCHMALTZ AIRLINES. Literally.
Chickens can't fly very far. But chickens — or the fatty parts left after processing —could be powering jet flights across the country and around the world in the next few years.
I couldn't come up with a snappy title involving flying pond scum, another possible biofuel source.

Wheels up! Every morning. Go you chicken fat, go!
GETTING THE MESSAGE OUT. The History Channel has a new (to me) series called "Extreme Trains." In tonight's show, host Matt Bown, himself a working railroader, presented a hot BNSF doublestacker on the Long Beach to Fort Worth run. Sure, the show had some cheesy steam-era video, and the purpose appears to be to showcase stereotyped guy stuff such as lift bridges, Imperial Walkers, grease guns, turbochargers, and moon buggies for inspecting trains at desert division points. The background, however, is a serious freight train moving serious tonnage on world-class infrastructure. Not a passenger train in sight, and no apologies for their lack. I like that.
A USEFUL SUGGESTION. In the middle of an 11-D post on symbolism trumping substance in grade school, a professor's request.
College students shouldn't text message their professors when they really need a big favor. The message should contain capitals, punctuation, and the word "you" should be fully written out.
I'd amend that to read
College students shouldn't text message their professors when they really need a big favor. The message should contain capitals, punctuation, and the word "you" should be fully written out.
Electronic mail is another medium for professional communication, and, at least for the present, professional communication still requires the signals of the upper middle class.

26.1.09

THE NEAR-DEPRESSION. Voluntary Xchange recommends David Leonhardt's Economic Scene column.

The recession of the early 1980s doesn’t have a catchy name, and almost half of Americans are too young to have any real memory of it. But it was terrible — qualitatively different from the mild recessions of 1990-91 and 2001.

The first big blow to the economy was the 1979 revolution in Iran, which sent oil prices skyrocketing. The bigger blow was a series of sharp interest-rate increases by the Federal Reserve, meant to snap inflation. Home sales plummeted. At their worst, they were 30 percent lower than they are even now (again, adjusted for population size). The industrial Midwest was hardest hit, and the term “Rust Belt” became ubiquitous. Many families fled south and west, helping to create the modern Sun Belt.

What the column doesn't tell you is that the car companies pled poverty, promised to change their ways, and returned to business as usual at the first opportunity. It also doesn't tell you that home mortgages were available on terms constrained only by state usury laws, and that a great deal of self-finance (in the form of land-contract sales) went on to make the home sales that did happen happen.

Nationwide, the unemployment rate rose above 10 percent in 1982, compared with 7.2 percent last month. But that rate has a couple of basic flaws, as I’ve discussed in previous columns. ...Including discouraged workers, the measure shows that the unemployment rate was 7.6 percent last month. Another 5.2 percent of the labor force was involuntarily working part time. These two groups bring the combined rate to 12.8 percent.

Even this is an understatement, because the Labor Department’s definition of discouraged workers is a little narrow. To be counted, somebody must have looked for a job in the last year. And there appear to be several hundred thousand people — mostly men — who stopped looking for work more than a year ago but would gladly take a good-paying job if one came along. They would lift the rate above 13 percent.

As bad as the number is, it is still not that close to its 1982 peak of 16.3 percent (or anywhere near its Depression levels, which were probably above 30 percent). The early ’80s really were that bad.

Mr Leonhardt suggests it could still get that bad. I'll keep following the news.
WHY IT MATTERS. The University of Illinois receives a large pile of applications. It's possible that more applications will be coming to Northern Illinois University, with a lower sticker price than Urbana and more people nearby. Southern Illinois University, despite its remote location and corrupt administration, might reverse its 20 year slide in applications.

Administrators at all three campuses perceive some tie between enrollments and legislative support. As. If.

There probably are administrators who will ignore the reality that "we're not as good as Chicago or Northwestern and thus we won't challenge our students" won't retain students who would like the intellectual challenges and the networking opportunities of Chicago or Northwestern at a better price.
OBSERVATION OF THE NIGHT. A professor deconstructs student bloopers.
The answer is that written language, including orthography, makes little or no impression on a large percentage of students because these students are, in fact, operating with oral mental habits rather than literate ones. Many students no longer bother even so much as to press the Spell-check button before printing off a paper. This points, once again, to a failure of the K-12 phase of education to inculcate basic intellectual habits or even basic bourgeois attentiveness in these students. Many a critic has complained that the supervisors of K-12 nationwide have long since deemphasized rigorous literacy training in favor of unstructured oral “expression” and mediated visual demonstration. Not spelling a word correctly when the word is before one’s very eyes is, I would argue, a non-trivial error suggestive of a profound alteration of the mental state away from literacy.
And the solution is to open the doors to anyone who has finished K-12?

Sometimes, though, unintended consequences have potential to work favorably.
[President] Obama himself told the 2004 Democratic National Convention that America must “eradicate the slander that says a black youth with a book is acting white.”
Bourgeois attentiveness, forsooth.
NO ICE AGE YET. We've gone the month of January with temperatures below freezing, but I've survived longer cold streaks.

As of Monday, the temperature in Milwaukee has remained below freezing for 20 days, a streak long enough to make it just the 28th longest period with such low temperatures.

Milwaukee's record cold streak is more than twice that length. The record cold streak of 46 days below freezing ended Feb. 9, 1977. That record was tied by a streak that ended Feb. 24, 1978. If you count days at 32 degrees or below that, the record is 52 days, set the winter of 1978-'79.

On December 31, 1976, a Soviet hockey team played the Badgers in Madison. They were wondering if Madison was where the U.S. exiled its dissidents. The hard part was explaining that the dissidents went there voluntarily.
MORE MIDDLE CLASS MYTHOLOGIES. I'm skeptical of union jobs in monopoly industries as a formula for permanent prosperity and have on occasion suggested the post-World War II mortgage and education benefits offered to returning G.I.s receive too much credit for the prosperity of The America That Worked(TM).

Perhaps I'm repeating myself. On the other hand, the head henchman of academic mediocrity, Arthur Levine (formerly of Columbia Teachers) has an Inside Higher Ed post trotting out the ancient beliefs.
The original G.I. Bill, and its reauthorizations, built the modern American middle class. A new civilian G.I. Bill would preserve that middle class, providing a wise investment in the most precious resource America has — its human capital. It is difficult to imagine a better or more greatly needed economic stimulus.
If, that is, the policy really builds human capital. What he's proposing, however, is a bailout for the high schools, which will still be absolved of any responsibility for building human capital.
But another equally important goal would be to prepare the more educated labor force the nation needs for economic development and global competitiveness at a time when a dwindling number of jobs are available to individuals without a college education and its associated skills.
Boilerplate. High technology can augment the productivity of a person with few skills. The income inequality that reflects higher rewards to perceived skills is an inducement to develop such technology.
The stimulus G.I. Bill would seek to assure both college access and affordability. It would focus on two populations — low-income Americans who attend college at dramatically lower rates than their fellow citizens and middle- and upper-middle-class populations for whom the cost of college is growing far faster than their paychecks. Support would be means-tested — graduated based upon need. Higher education would be free for families with incomes below $100,000.
No mention of ability testing. More work for the access-assessment-remediation-retention complex. But it's not really free.

The new G.I. Bill would be extended to all Americans who have earned a high school diploma or G.E.D. The scholarship would cover the costs of tuition, fees, books and living expenses for up to four years of full-time college attendance, as a last-dollar scholarship. That is, a student would have to apply for and use all other forms of financial aid available to them first — family, government, private, institutional and personal — and the scholarship would provide the last dollars needed to fill any gaps.

College tuition and expenses would be set at the local cost of attending a public community college for the first two years and a public four-year college for the final two years. Living stipends would be set at the equivalent of a full-time minimum wage job, adjusted to local costs of living and a student’s number of dependents.

One simply defines "personal" as "sixty hours a week at Wal-Mart" and the scholarship approaches zero. It's closer to indentured servitude than it is to a scholarship.

Much like programs that bail out corporations, the scholarship would give the government an equity stake in the student’s future. In exchange for government support, recipients would provide the government a tax supplement, perhaps an additional one or two percent of their yearly income, annually for life.

The government would receive short-term savings in unemployment benefits and the cost of other social programs — prisons, welfare, health care — which typically rise during hard times. In the longer run, government would benefit from the higher salaries and taxes that college-educated people pay, as well as the additional equity share in taxes that recipients of this funding would be required to pay.

The proposal is likely to receive support from the well-off, for much the same reason that the well-off didn't object to the pre-Nixon Administration Selective Service: somebody else is subject to callup.

25.1.09

KAY YOW. Women's Hoops has this tribute, and several others below the fold.
BLAGOING. The Governor's latest attempt to take his case to the people (on the national media, no less) earns a characterization of "unadulterated poppycock" from long-time news anchor Carol Marin and "cuckoo" from Chicago mayor Richard Daley.

The impeachment trial begins Monday in the Illinois Senate.
RISING UP ANGRY. I've resurrected a title from my college years (it's also the name of a more recent band) to present David Sirota's The Uprising: An Unauthorized Tour of the Populist Revolt Scaring Wall Street and Washington. Book Review No. 5 will characterize the work as oddly incomplete and despite its 2008 publication date, overtaken by events. Mr Sirota is a former aide to Vermont's Bernie Sanders, and much of his focus is on his onetime boss's attempts to build common ground with other disaffected people who might not be able to stay one contradiction ahead of Leon Trotsky or his latter-day wannabees at the elite campuses. (The goatees, granny glasses, and Greek fisherman's caps have never gone completely out of fashion). In that focus, his work is very much in the original Rising Up Angry tradition.
“The initial target audience was ‘greasers,’ white working class youth with their Ban-lon shirts or A-1 Stay-Pressed pants,” says [founder and Rogers Park cafe owner Michael] James, and “the key was a thing called Stone Grease Grapevine, vignettes on what was happening in individual parks, schools, clubs, gangs or neighborhoods. In the early issues there was also a lot of stuff about cars, a movie review of Bullitt, talk about the GI rebellions. People liked the content.
There's also an extended case study of shareholder activism, focusing on religious interests that work to change corporate culture by drawing popular attention to corporate follies.

That's standard community-organizer fare. The book falls down, however, in a number of ways. First, Mr Sirota's ideology interferes with his ability to understand the right-populist elements of the uprising that he sometimes engages. (The short form of what he misses includes at least these: the common schools have been dumbed down, monjudgementalism enables self-destructive behaviors, and government experts can get things wrong.) Second, his work is already overtaken by events. Shareholder discontent can focus on the loss of shareholder value or the failure of managements to manage, things of more immediate interest than the green technologies and affirmative action hiring the churches find so important. The government itself is under a new management with a confidence in its experts that is likely to be undone by the failure of its efforts. Tellingly, Mr Sirota makes only three mentions of one Barack Obama, none of them favorable, none of them with any reference to his usefulness to the uprising or to his possible role in preserving the inside-the-beltway consensus.

(Cross-posted to 50 Book Challenge.)
CAN THE TECHNOLOGY BE SCALED DOWN? A model railroader these days has a wide range of choices for power and train control, including conventional hardwired direct current with a power pack (requires lots of power blocks if the pike is to have more than one train running at a time) or several versions of digital command control (requires a fiddly module to be retrofitted to older locomotives and a large supply of sheep in the appropriate scale when the system gets fiddly) or a battery version of digital command control (which adds battery life to the technical problems, although trackside wiring is less challenging).

Now comes a variation of the inductive power transfer technology contemporary electric toothbrushes use (I now understand why there are neither metal power points on my charger nor a step-down transformer) for electric streetcars. The Transport Politic explains the advantages.
When passing overhead, streetcars convert the field to electricity used to power the train; in other words, the trains receive their power without contact through inductive power. This is major achievement. The charge is only activated when the circuit is completed covered by the vehicle, which ensures that pedestrians can never come into contact with electricity.
Unlike my electric toothbrush, the system is capable of regenerative braking, returning power inductively to the grid. Now if those tramcars would have some of the grace of a Niles interurban or a bipolar ...

I've wondered about powering the model trains with something out of Nikola Tesla. This technology appears to do that at full scale, without the high-frequency transients the Tesla wireless power systems had.

(Via The Overhead Wire: The Overhead Wire is Done).
HISTORY QUIZ. Marginal Revolution turns on the Wayback Machine.
The slump is the longest, if not the deepest, since the Great Depression. Traumatized by layoffs that have cost more than 1.2 million jobs during the slump, U.S. consumers have fallen into their deepest funk in years. "Never in my adult life have I heard more deep- seated feelings of concern," says Howard Allen, retired chairman of Southern California Edison. "Many, many business leaders share this lack of confidence and recognize that we are in real economic trouble." Says University of Michigan economist Paul McCracken: "This is more than just a recession in the conventional sense. What has happened has put the fear of God into people."
It's from a Time cover story. Work out the year for yourself, then check your work.
TELL US HOW YOU REALLY FEEL. Gateway Pundit doesn't buy the "objective media" meme.
Despite Air-Raiding Villages, Closing Gitmo, Pi$$ing Off the Vatican & Berating GOP Leaders... AP Claims Obama Avoided Divisive Stands His First Week.
That's the post title. The details are in the post itself.

22.1.09

OBSERVATION OF THE DAY. Budget problems ought not trump infringements of free expression.

No doubt the university is more focused on budget issues than speech codes right now, but following court decisions should not be optional for universities. The letter will serve as notice that free speech advocates will be on the lookout for violations, including at [St. Cloud State], which still has a "red light" for its speech code from FIRE.
The Foundation has been alerting universities by certified mail that their speech and harassment policies are actionable.
By sending out our warning letter via certified mail, FIRE has now made it all but impossible for policymakers at public colleges and universities to argue that they were either (a) ignorant of their obligations to uphold the First Amendment on campus or (b) ignorant of the fact that their present policies encroach upon First Amendment freedoms.
Northern Illinois University, which also has a "red light" speech code rating, is among the recipients of these letters.


The Speech Code Widget originated here, and I will be pleased to publish Northern Illinois University's response, particularly if it is to rescind the free speech zone policy, should somebody in Altgeld see fit to send it to me.
TIME ON THE PLANK. An Austrian Economists writer offers a longer essay on the incentives pirates face.

But the number of confirmed, Somali pirate killings is surprisingly small—especially for a band of Kalashnikov-toting criminals. This hardly comports with our image of pirates as fiendish, blood-lusting curs. What gives? Are Somali pirates pacifists?

Hardly. But they are profit seekers. And just like their 18th-century predecessors, Somali sea dogs have discovered that it’s good business to treat their hostages decently—or at least to avoid killing them. Of course, not all pirates have been cordial with their captives. But according to several hostages, such as the Kenyan sailors one Somali pirate crew attacked in early 2007, their captors kept them well fed and even let them to send text messages to loved ones.

Pirates also respond to incentives.

In 1776 Scottish moral philosopher Adam Smith published The Wealth of Nations. In it, he described the famed “invisible hand.” According to Smith, individuals pursuing their self-interests are led, “as if by an invisible hand,” to promote others’ interests as well.

Your grocer, for example, wants to serve his own interest—he wants to make money. But to do so he must serve your interest as well. He must provide you with the highest quality groceries at the lowest possible price or you’ll patronize a competitor that does instead. The grocer doesn’t care about you, of course; he doesn’t even know you. He cares about himself, but in serving himself he serves you too.

Among Somali pirates we can observe a bastardized version of Smith’s “invisible hand,” or rather, an “invisible hook.” Pirate greed also has some laudable consequences. Pirates’ victims are of course worse off as a result of being accosted by sea bandits. And unlike legitimate businessmen’s self-interest seeking, which creates wealth, pirates’ self-interest seeking does no such thing. But conditional on victims’ capture, pirate greed saves innocents’ lives.

Pirates, like grocers, are profit-motivated. And, like grocers, to make money pirates must serve someone else’s interests too. Somali pirates’ most valuable assets are the ship, cargo, and crewmembers they take. These assets are only valuable to their owners, however, if they remain intact. Dead prisoners won’t fetch much in ransom. To maximize ransoms, then, pirates must minimize brutality toward captives.

Further, to extract loot from their victims with as little ado as possible, pirates must avoid abusing them indiscriminately. If pirate victims know they’ll be abused, or even killed, whether they comply with their attackers or not, they have no incentive to do what their attackers want.

On the other hand, if pirates reserve punishment for captives who don’t comply with their commands, resisting them becomes costly, providing a strong incentive for captives to comply, serving pirates’ ends.

These logical implications of Somali pirates’ profit-making motive explain the rarity of their recourse to murder or abuse. And they explain why 18th-century pirates often treated their compliant captives civilly as well. It was simply good business.

An important part of 18th-century sea dogs’ “pirate code,” for instance, was to show mercy to compliant prisoners. As an 18th-century pirate explained to one of his crew’s prisoners, they “observe strictly that Maxim established amongst them not to permit any ill usage to their Prisoners after Quarter given.”

Some Somali pirates have also taken to enshrining this profit-preserving policy in writing. For example, French authorities found a “pirate manual” amidst the crew they captured earlier this year, which the pirates used to regulate prisoner treatment. Like their forefathers, Somali pirates also recognize that it’s in their self-interest to respect their captives’ lives. They can make more money by restraining violence toward victims than unleashing it on them.

I may have to pick up The Invisible Hook (it goes on sale in May). The findings will probably be less controversial than those of Time on the Cross.
LOST OPPORTUNITIES. Photon Courier recommends a Jewish World Review story of The Gaza Riviera.

I saw this fabulous strip of hotels and casinos right by a sparkling ocean. I imagined thousands of proud Palestinians working with smiles on their faces to serve the thousands of tourists from around the world who were coming to their little strip of ocean paradise.

Behind this paradise, I saw a bustling economy, where the highest quality produce was grown and exported; where entrepreneurs built software companies, banks and advertising agencies; where a university attracted students from around the world; where local culture and the arts thrived; and where you could take the Orient Express train to Beirut, Cairo and, yes, even Tel Aviv.

Read. Understand. Consider.

Consider also this: I recall when the best Mediterranean beaches were in Beirut. (This is after the Nazis stopped using the south of France for liberty.)
OUR NEIGHBORS ON THE RUNWAY. DeKalb native gets Oscar nomination.

Richard Jenkins has been nominated for his work in "The Visitor," in which he stars as a college professor who gets a new lease on life after learning that a pair of illegal aliens are living in his New York apartment.

"The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" leads the Academy Awards with 13 nominations, including best picture.

Move over, Brent Musberger, Cindy Crawford, Joan Allen, and Homer Simpson.
SUMMONING THE ECHOES. From time to time, I check on basketball at Milwaukee Hamilton. Last summer, the school appointed a new coach and a number of students transferred. At the time, I made this observation.

The school board's investigation turns up no impropriety in those transfers to Hamilton. The eight players obviously wanted to enroll at a high school that has a planetarium.

It was much simpler years ago, when the independent (read: religious) high schools might have been stronger in sports thanks in part to Catholic Youth Organization junior basketball programs and selective philanthropy that somehow made it possible for tall, coordinated, and poor kids to attend Marquette University High or Racine St. Catherines or, on occasion Stevens Point Pacelli or Manitowoc Roncalli (if you wish to study the papacy, start with the names of the Wisconsin Catholic high schools.) Sports boosters in the City Conference would lament the lack of interscholastic competition in junior high and residency requirements.

How things change.

Milwaukee Hamilton's Tom Diener, who won more than 300 games and five state titles with Milwaukee Vincent, faced off against longtime St. Catherine's coach Bob Letsch, who has led the Angels to more than 500 victories and three WIAA state championships.

In the end, hot-handed Hamilton missed only one shot in the third quarter, made 9 three-pointers on the night and rolled to a 62-52 nonconference victory over the Angels, ranked No. 1 among Division 3 teams in the Associated Press state poll.

"There was a lot of wins out there on the floor," said Letsch, who is in his 30th season with St. Catherine's. "Two guys who love the profession and love working with the kids."

On Tuesday night, Diener's kids - he started four sophomores - didn't do much wrong. They played tenacious man-to-man defense, chose their shots carefully and took care of the ball. The Wildcats (8-1) turned over the ball only twice in the first half and seven times in all.

"I've seen NFL games where there were more turnovers," said Diener, who is in his first season with Hamilton. "We had a superb decision-making game and played solid defense from start to finish.

That "four sophomores" brings back memories.

A musical interlude is in order.

We're rarin' to go
Ready to show
Hamilton is the greatest school we know
So come on kids, and make the scene,
Get out there and fight that team!
We'll yell a little, shout a little, jump a little, cheer a little,
Hamilton High, let's get out and win!

21.1.09

CONSIDER THE MARKET TESTS. A University of Minnesota (motto: Lake Wobegon's children are in Madison) professor goes public with her frustration over a cancelled search.
I invite the University community to consider how the administration’s cancellation of faculty searches comports with the University’s core mission and stated goals, the larger financial picture and the annual tuition hikes. Note that we are not talking about increasing the numbers of faculty through incremental hires, but simply about preserving what we had up through last spring.
The essay goes on to detail the work wasted in conducting the search. Yes, there is waste. That's also true of the product development for the Baldwin Centipede. (Keep scrolling). At least Baldwin got a locomotive (after a fashion) out of it. We could be talking about the wasted effort of Bethlehem Steel in identifying all the reasons a thin slab caster wouldn't work. Oops. (Again, keep scrolling). In a world of costly information, dry wells, misbegotten locomotives, incorrect understanding of technological possibilities, and failed searches happen. I don't like it that my department's was also cancelled, but I can deal with it.

I have more trouble dealing with the standard academic complaints, which tend to be arguments from envy.

The time and effort put forth by faculty, students and staff to conduct the search had been wasted.

For what? To save the cost of hiring a starting assistant professor, whose salary would be in the range of $55,000 per year, plus benefits. Compare that to the salaries of top administrators and athletics coaches. It’s nice that the University’s top brass froze executive compensation upon imposing the hiring pause. But it doesn’t hurt to have your salary frozen at several hundred thousand dollars per year.

See that big house? See those hovels? Isn't that awful? (Yes. Find the profit in making better houses for sale to hovel-dwellers.)

University Diaries picks up the Minnesota story, offering an argument from an opportunity cost as commentary.
No ancient religion, of course, can hope to compete on her campus with the Glory of the Gridiron.
Some glory. The Axe remains in Madison. Yes, resources that subsidize football are resources not available to Classics, or to Minnesota's well-regarded economics department. But where there is an opportunity cost, perhaps there is a business case.

Amidst all the talk about running universities like businesses, it would sometimes be nice if people actually ran universities like businesses. Take, say, accounting for faculty hours. How much does an hour of faculty time cost the university, and how many hours did Professor von Dassow and her colleagues spend on a search that has now been cancelled? That’s a cost, and it would be nice if it were occasionally considered as such.

To take another example, if a university spends, say, $1,000,000 on a start-up package for a natural scientist, who then leaves because the university can’t pony up $45,000 a year for a spousal lectureship, then that seems like an unbusinesslike and inefficient use of resources.

Yes, some so-called productivity measures drive productive faculty out, or make them less willing to accept offers from universities obsessed with raising contact hours and class sizes. But by the same token, there is lost enrollment when students who can't complete their schedules drop out, or enroll elsewhere.

I suspect the notion of a business case for a department's tenure-track positions is beyond the comprehension of administrators. There must be a logical explanation why the game of departments-close-the-sections-students-referred-to-the-dean-who-blames-the-legislature (or the endowment manager) persists. I just don't know what it is.

I'll conclude with one more observation: Union Pacific isn't running 844 and 3985 for the play value.
PRICES ARE SIGNALS. Twenty years of starvation rations and incompetent administration take their toll on Southern Illinois University.

In an effort to combat low enrollment, Southern Illinois University-Carbondale announced on Jan. 12, it will let students from Missouri, Indiana and Kentucky pay the same tuition rates as in-state students.

Vice Provost Earl Seaver said he wasn’t sure if NIU would adopt a similar program. Seaver, however, said any university that offers a program like this must be careful.

“As universities try to attract out-of-state students, you don’t want to take out-of-state students and not have enough room for in-state students,” Seaver said. “Sometimes those universities have been criticized because in-state students can’t get a seat.”

The Associated Press reported Jan. 12 that SIU’s enrollment numbers have been declining for 20 years, with a top administrator being fired for that reason in 2006, and that the discount is the latest “in a bidding war” over prospective students.

The Allen-Bradley Company used to defend its prices with the slogan "An 'extra discount' is an indication of a product's worth." (OK, so their management included convicted "phases of the moon" price fixers, but the slogan is accurate under textbook competitive conditions).

With smaller cohorts of high school graduates on the way, the recession is likely to reinforce the temptation some university administrations will have to loosen admission standards so as to keep the seats full. That strategy is probably a mistake. It does no good to admit people to degree programs that they will not complete. The excess demand is still for the perceived prestige credentials, pokazhuka though they might be.

I do wish our vice-provost would name names, rather than using the "those universities have been criticized formulation." Criticized by whom? By legislators who don't pony up the money? Wouldn't that be precisely the opportunity to throw the legislators' phony assertions about overpaid and underworked faculty back in their faces, rather than continue the game in which the departments close sections and recommend that the students complain to the deans, and the deans (more frequently, their assistant-tos) hear the complaints and recommend that the students and their parents complain to the legislators.

I also wish he'd show some understanding of economics.

There are drawbacks however. Universities like SIU-Carbondale will not get state support for the out-of-state students. Seaver said that in-state students get lower tuition rates because their parents are paying taxes which fund higher education.

“Someone from another state pays more tuition to make up for that subsidy,” Seaver said. The university would have to make up the difference the state would have covered.

With the legislature attempting to micromanage 100% of the university budgets while providing a diminishing fraction of those budgets, isn't this a good time to say no?

Furthermore, because universities are accountant's nightmares of common and joint costs, additional students paying whatever higher out-of-state rate Southern or Northern quote are probably more than making up that difference. It's the additional-passenger-on-the-train-that's running argument, with DuSable Hall deputizing for the Amcoach.
THE CASE FOR THE CAPITAL 400. I hinted at it. James Rowen asks for it.

Passenger rail used to run from Madison through Milwaukee to Chicago, but was killed off, like so much train service in the US.

Telling media, Olympic visitors and competitors to come to the games in Chicago, then take the train to Milwaukee before switching to a bus or rental car to get to Madison will make Wisconsin look bush league.

A commenter proposes the more direct course.

At least they should be able to get a 2 hr 15 Madison to Chicago train into place in 7 years. The Chicago and Northwestern [c.q.] Railroad 400 trains made this haul in that time frame 60+ years ago.

If we can't run trains at least as well as in the 1940s, it will prove we are unworthy of hosting the Olympics.

A few years ago, Amtrak got as close as the south side of Janesville, on a schedule designed for the convenience of the Chevrolet factory. The Milwaukee Road had a three hour timing, with eight intermediate stops, up to April 30, 1971. The North Western had a two hour thirty minute timing in the summer of 1954, with stops in Beloit and Janesville. Although the midwestern high-speed rail wish list includes Chicago-Milwaukee-Madison-Twin Cities, running the Olympic service, if any, by way of Milwaukee is going the great way around. The Milwaukee Road gave up on that routing well before Highway 30 became Interstate 94.
NO OVERTIME TONIGHT. Take that, David Letterman.


The team has reason to celebrate, after securing a tie for first place in the division.


The presence of little kids is a pretty good indicator of the team's success. Perhaps with better weather, the bouncy pound will be even busier on the next home stand.

RIVET COUNTERS. In model railroading, that's a strong pejorative describing an individual who, unable to say anything nice about a piece of work, says everything at all about what's missing from it. I suspect in politics we could speak the same way of process-worshippers.

After the flub heard around the world, President Barack Obama has taken the oath of office. Again. Chief Justice John Roberts delivered the oath to Obama on Wednesday night at the White House - a rare do-over. The surprise moment came in response to Tuesday's much-noticed stumble, when Roberts got the words of the oath a little off, which prompted Obama to do so, too.

Don't worry, the White House says: Obama has still been president since noon on Inauguration Day.

Nevertheless, Obama and Roberts went through the drill again out of what White House counsel Greg Craig called "an abundance of caution."

With some people determined to repay Bush Derangement Syndrome in kind, perhaps it's necessary.
The Constitution is clear about the exact wording of the oath and as a result, some constitutional experts have said that a do-over probably wasn't necessary but also couldn't hurt. Two other previous presidents have repeated the oath because of similar issues, Calvin Coolidge and Chester A. Arthur.
Those two were sworn in upon the deaths of Warren G. Harding and James A. Garfield. The famous picture of Calvin Coolidge taking the oath influenced Lyndon Johnson's staff in Dallas. Make what you will of the fact that the nuclear codes were on Air Force One, but not a copy of the Constitution.

The rivet counters, I suppose, we will always have with us.

19.1.09

OPPORTUNITY COSTS. The Washington Monthly's Phillip Longman evaluates the U. S. rail network.
On routes where they still have adequate infrastructure, railroads have won back fantastic amounts of business from trucks, especially on long hauls such as Los Angeles to New York, where railroads now have a 72 percent market share in container traffic and could have more. Railroads have gone from having too much track to having not enough. Today, the nation’s rail network is just 94,942 miles, less than half of what it was in 1970, yet it is hauling 137 percent more freight, making for extreme congestion and longer shipping times.
Very little of the abandoned track represents capacity that could relieve congestion at the current choke points, which are often mountain passes and sometimes the gateway cities.
The half-conscious decision by Washington, Wall Street, and the last generation of rail management to abandon much of the rail system thus prevents railroads from getting more trucks off the road. For example, UPS desperately wants to use fast trains like the ones Erie Lackawanna once had to reduce the cost of moving parcels coast to coast in less than four days, a feat currently requiring a tag team of truck drivers at enormous cost in fuel and labor. For a brief time in 2004, UPS did persuade two railroads to run a train fast enough to handle this business. But due to insufficient track to allow slower trains to get out of its way, the UPS bullet train caused massive congestion, freezing up the Union Pacific system for months until the railroad at last canceled the service. Big trucking companies like J. B. Hunt, meanwhile, have become the railroad’s biggest intermodal customers, sending as many of their containers as they can by rail.
To some extent, Union Pacific operating practices contribute to the end of that train. At one time, the Overland Route managed to mix loose-car freight traffic with multiple City of streamliners offering the fastest service from Chicago to San Francisco and Portland. Our tax dollars bought them a third track from Geneva to Elburn, which their dispatchers promptly clogged with more freight trains.

The railroads, however, compete in capital markets with other investments.
Why don’t the railroads just build the new tracks, tunnels, switchyards, and other infrastructure they need? America’s major railroad companies are publicly traded companies answerable to often mindless, or predatory, financial Goliaths. While Wall Street was pouring the world’s savings into underwriting credit cards and sub-prime mortgages on overvalued tract houses, America’s railroads were pleading for the financing they needed to increase their capacity. And for the most part, the answer that came back from Wall Street was no, or worse. CSX, one of the nation’s largest railroads, spent much of last year trying to fight off two hedge funds intent on gaining enough control of the company to cut its spending on new track and equipment in order to maximize short-term profits.
There's no easy resolution of that problem. On the one hand, there is social waste in investing only in high-expected return, high-risk projects. On the other, there is social waste in holding wealth in cash. Now, however, those 8% projects might look more attractive than the next condo complex in Las Vegas, that is, if any of that asset-relief-liquidity is actually being deployed into, well, lending on assets.
So the industry, though gaining in market share and profitability after decades of decline, is starved for capital. While its return on investment improved to a respectable 8 percent by the beginning of this decade, its cost of capital outpaced it at around 10 percent—and that was before the credit crunch arrived. This is no small problem, since railroads are capital intensive, spending about five times more just to maintain remaining rail lines and equipment than the average U.S. manufacturing industry does on plant and equipment. Increased investment in railroad infrastructure would produce many public goods, including fewer fatalities from truck crashes, which kill some 5,000 Americans a year. But public goods do not impress Wall Street. Nor does the long-term potential for increased earnings that improved rail infrastructure would bring, except in the eyes of Warren Buffett—who is bullish on railroads—and a few other smart, patient investors.
Mr Longman sees the public purse as a source of funds for infrastructure improvements.
The alternative is for the public to help pay for rail infrastructure. Actually, it’s not much of a choice. Unlike private investors, the government must either invest in shoring up the railroads’ overwhelmed infrastructure or pay in other ways. Failing to rebuild rail infrastructure will simply further move the burden of ever-increasing shipping demands onto the highways, the expansion and maintenance of which does not come free. The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (hardly a shill for the rail industry) estimates that without public investment in rail capacity 450 million tons of freight will shift to highways, costing shippers $162 billion and highway users $238 billion (in travel time, operating, and accident costs), and adding $10 billion to highway costs over the next twenty years. "Inclusion of costs for bridges, interchanges, etc., could double this estimate," their report adds.
Here, however, the policy makers might do better to see the freight railroads as partners, rather than as adversaries. (I realize this is difficult when Norfolk Southern and Union Pacific are both hostile to passenger trains.) Would it be too much to ask Union Pacific, for instance, to run three or four round-trips between Omaha and Chicago at Corn King or better timings in exchange for capital grants to upgrade the Chicago terminal or other choke points? Or to ask CSX to pay closer attention to timekeeping on the Empire Corridor in New York and the Northeast Corridor services south of Washington, D.C.?

Policy makers might also consider the potential of the diesel-electric locomotive on many of the high speed corridors, rather than burdening passenger rail projects with the additional challenges of electrification. We did have passenger diesels capable of 117 mph at one time. With modern control systems and our loading gauge, top-and-tailing successors to those on rakes of double-deck stock would give us the capacity of the European lines with fewer paths devoted to the trains.

Once kinks like these have been ironed out of the system, we can focus on the big picture—most importantly the electrification of America’s major rail lines. Today, most other industrial countries make extensive use of electric locomotives, and for good reason. They are two and a half to three times more efficient than diesels, more powerful, and cheaper to maintain. They also last longer, accelerate faster, and have much higher top speeds. Trains carrying containers at 100 miles per hour are more than possible. Powered by an overhead wire or third rail, electric locomotives don’t have to lug the weight of their own fuel around with them. Another remarkable feature is that when electric locomotives brake, they generate electricity, which is fed back into the grid and used to power other trains. An electric locomotive braking down one side of a mountain, for example, sends energy to trains struggling up the other side. With all these advantages, electric railroads are fully twenty times more fuel efficient than trucks.

Rail electrification also offers significant opportunities for zero-emission freight and passenger transportation. Heirs to the Milwaukee Road’s hydropowered line could traverse the Great Plains, powered by the region’s wind farms. In fact, there is probably no more practical use for wind than using it to power "wind trains" running across the heartland. Most wind farms are and will be concentrated near rail lines in any event, because the large size of windmills makes them difficult and expensive to move by truck. There is also no loss of energy in transmission when windmills power passing trains—a big problem in other applications. Some companies are already exploring the possibilities: BNSF Railway, which traverses many wind zones, is investigating a deal by which it would lease space for power lines along its rights-of-way to utilities in exchange for access to discounted wind power for its trains.

Everything old is new again: The Milwaukee Electric Railway and Light Company used the interurban as the gateway drug to get power lines to the smaller cities and sign up subscribers. It is no accident that the South Shore Line is adjacent to a high-tension line most of the way east of Hammond, and that the North Shore Line built its high-speed bypass along a power line. The choice of BNSF as example is ironic: that's the old Route of the (diesel) Zephyrs.

That Milwaukee electrification? Yes, it was a technical marvel in its day, but it was life-expired by the end of World War II and but for the availability of some freight motors originally ordered by the Soviet Union would have been taken down then. That some of the motors in service on the first day were on service on the last day of electric operation attests to their durability as well as to the relatively light demands on the line. Had regulatory policy handled the St. Paul gateway differently, Milwaukee might have had no reason to build to the Pacific Coast. The Nation Pays Again explains.

Sure, let's explore public-private partnerships to improve railroads, and let's consider joint ventures of railroads and power companies, but let's not let enthusiasm for state-of-the-art or improvements thereon get in the way of more cost-effective improvements.
IRON CURTAIN AMTRAK. Photography is Not a Crime discovers transit police exceeding their authority.

Armed with his Canon 5D and his new Lensbaby lens, photographer Duane Kerzic set out to win Amtrak’s annual photo contest this week, hoping to win $1,000 in travel vouchers and have his photo published in Amtrak’s annual calendar.

He ended up getting arrested by Amtrak police; handcuffed to a wall in a holding cell inside New York City’s Penn Station, accused of criminal
trespass.

Kerzic says he was hardly trespassing because he was taking photos from the train platform; the same one used by thousands of commuters everyday to step on and off the train.

“The only reason they arrested me was because I refused to delete my images,” Kerzic said in a phone interview with Photography is Not a Crime on Friday.

“They never asked me to leave, they never mentioned anything about trespassing until after I was handcuffed in the holding cell.”

In fact, he said, the only thing they told him before handcuffing him was that “it was illegal to take photos of the trains.”

Obviously, there is a lack of communication between Amtrak’s marketing department, which promotes the annual contest, called Picture Our Trains, and its police department, which has a history of harassing photographers for photographing these same trains.

It is not illegal to photograph trains. Perhaps rail security personnel ought not be entrusted with protecting the right of way until they've had their First Amendment training.

Via The Transportationist. Blogrunner still has links to several other reports of the same incident. In none of them does the carrier look competent.
SIGN OF THE TIMES. Repossessed boats sober up boat show visitors.

"I guess it's real simple --it's called the economy," said Kevin McGivern, owner of Rogers Park-based repossession business Equitable Services Incorporated. "A lot of people buy these things when times are good. As long as the cash is coming in, that's fine, but as you know it's come to a screeching halt."

McGivern said boat repossessions for his firm, one of the largest in the Midwest, are up about 300 percent from last year.

"What is amazing is a lot of the big boats we picked up this summer," he said at the McCormick Place show. "Some of these boats never even got in the water because people couldn't pay to get them out of storage."

In The America That Worked, the maxim was "nobody who has to ask how much it costs to keep a yacht has any business owning one." No more.

"That's the problem with America -- this recreational thing," he said. "I was taught it was real simple, if you can't afford to take a vacation, you don't finance it."

A former boat owner's loss can be the prospective boat owner's gain.

"We usually have a used boat display, but it's never been this elaborate," said Matt Munson, vice president and boat salesman at Lakemoor's Munson Ski & Marine, pointing to an enormous display at the boat show of $1.5 million in bank-repossessed boats he is selling.

"People have been all over this," he said.

Munson said his company was selling 28 new boats and as many as 80 used and repossessed boats at the boat show, which ended Sunday.

"We just starting doing it," he said. "We're good family friends with the bank, and the bank doesn't want to be in the boat business."

Imagine that. Bankers discovering that financial skill sets don't generalize to other lines of business. Perhaps the Cult of the MBA will discover the straightforward extension.
WORKING IN A COAL MINE, PEOPLE GOING DOWN, DOWN. At the end of the second trick, more than half the loaded cars in the lower yard had been sent on toward their destinations.


Things were quiet enough that I risked climbing on that C&O hopper car to obtain a different camera angle.

17.1.09

VINTAGE TRAINS. I wasn't aware that Amtrak operated commuter trains, although the gentleman who introduced the incoming Vice President at Wilmington described Mr Biden as Amtrak's No. 1 Commuter. Perhaps Mr Obama will help us get trains to DeKalb.

The trains that brought the presidential party from Philadelphia to Washington comprised Amcoaches and Amcafes, the first rolling stock produced new for Amtrak and put into service in 1976. (The bilevel 400 cars had a shorter service life.)



Associated Press photo from Chicago Sun-Times.

The power on the presidential train is Genesis diesels 44 (symbolic enough) and 120 (were the other engines selected from the Philadelphia pool on the basis of reliability?) On the markers end, former Georgia Railroad business car 300, converted from Pullman 10 section buffet lounge General Polk (Leonidas? James K.?) I was watching some of the CNN coverage of the trip, including Wolf Blitzer referring to the tail car as a "caboose" and later acknowledging an electronic mail from a California listener that the last car on a train is not always a caboose. For the record, cabooses pretty much vanished from freight trains by 1990, although it's no secret around here that the punditocracy's rail awareness could use work. The CNN team put together highlights of the trip.

An observer in Norwood, Pennsylvania, posted movies of all the extra movements.


The description includes the follies of trackside security. It's not quite "Iron Curtain Pennsylvania," but read on.
Amtrak ran a track and catenary inspection vehicle over Track 2 on Amtrak's Northeast Corridor and then a pilot train before sending The Obama Express south to Wilmington DE, followed by the protect/press train. First the police let us stand on the platform, then Secret Service told them to clear the platforms, moving the crowd back about 5 feet, then Homeland Security told them to move everyone from the inbound side to the outbound side, given another 10 minutes and another government agency, we could have wound up trying to see the train from New Jersey.

The television commentary included some speculation about the difficulty protecting the train. I'm sure law enforcement had some worries. Unlike the Abraham Lincoln train today's excursion was supposed to honor, the people of Baltimore were quite pleased to have Mr Obama stop and give a speech. A 1951 movie, The Tall Target, is a dramatized version of the true security troubles Mr Lincoln had getting through Baltimore, in those days a nest of Democrats of a different sort. Mr Lincoln did not have the benefit of The Pennsylvania Railroad's crosstown tunnels, and I believe he had to change trains in Baltimore.

At You Tube, the discussion of the Norwood video includes speculation on why all the trains had diesel power. The inauguration party boarded at Philadelphia's 30th Street, which is electrified. Perhaps the simplest explanation is correct: the electric train can be stopped if somebody breaks the power supply, which can be done at a distance from the tracks.

The pilot train was two diesels, one coach and an inspection car, and members of the press not favored with White House credentials had a train that followed the presidential train. (That train would probably have been left to cool on some siding had its diesels been required to rescue either Extra 44 West or Extra 54 West.)

THE WRONG KIND OF HIGHER EDUCATION. Market Power points to Captain Capitalism's story of work in a diploma mill.

The first sign of trouble came when I issued the first quiz, of which 85% of the students failed. It wasn't an issue of the quiz being difficult or hard. It wasn't an issue of me being a mean teacher. The quiz was of an average difficulty and any student paying attention would have passed it. However, upon grading the quizzes I realized just what a low caliber of students I was dealing with and made the egregious error of deciding not to LOWER the standards to them, but to have them RISE to my standards and thereby teach them something.

Complaints flooded into my boss about the test being too difficult, they didn't have enough time to study, "by god I have two children and can't study this much" etc. etc. And sure enough, at the age of 27, I was called into the office.

My boss explained to me that we are here to challenge the students, but not too much. That my test was unfair and I should consider tailoring it more to their skill level. Of course with hindsight I now see what the charlatan of a dean was telling me; "Dumb it down because we're fleecing these kids for their money for a worthless degree and if you rock the boat we'll lose some of them." But he couldn't come outright and say that, ergo why he was feeding me a line of bull.

The next quiz I dumbed down, and this time a whopping 30% of the students passed. Naturally there was the same cacophony of complaints which resulted me landing in the dean's office once again. This process continued until I had more or less realized that not only were the students dead set against learning or trying to feign some semblance of being a scholar as well as the complete lack of back up from management to hold some level of standards to these kids. And so, choosing the path of least resistance, I decided I would not only make the quizzes and tests insanely easier, but skew the grading curve so greatly it would put affirmative action to shame.

It's likely, should the recession worsen or enrollments trend downward, that administrators at real colleges and universities will view the proprietaries as competitive threats to be emulated. That's something for the faculty to resist. The excess demand is still for real degrees at perceived prestige institutions.

Sometimes that excess demand comes from the genuine students who discover themselves trapped in an unchallenging environment.

Of course the concept of "earning" A's was a joke. Only 2-3 students per class really "earned" an A. But the grading curve was so skewed (at the request of the dean to make sure everybody passed) that the math more or less bumped people who would have really earned a C into the A+ category.

This behooved on my part true pity for the few students I did have that did indeed earn A's. They would study hard and effectively waste their time because all they would have to do is the bare minimum to pass and still get an A.

However, insisting on some kind of level of integrity, if I had to bump some degenerate loser's 12% score to the 70% necessary to pass, then I would bump everybody's score up by 58%. Not to mention the never ending requests from students to do some kind of "extra credit" to pass, I would have to present the same opportunity to every student, of which of course the straight A students would avail themselves of and earn even more unnecessary points. This resulted in some very interesting final scores. Of the possible 100 points you could have earned in the class the top student had a final score of 170.

Chortle. I've never understood the mediocre-student logic under which either (a) a special opportunity to do additional work badly is a favor or (b) the better students won't take advantage of the opportunity.

The post also includes an amusing case study.

The students by this time knew enough about simple statistics that the concepts of the bell distribution curve and how standard deviation can estimate what percent of the population you rank in were within their ability to calculate. But, since I was a concerned teacher, the question was "what kind of calculation can we do or test to make this personal and interesting to my beloved students?" And then it hit me;

IQ.

There was a web site, where if you had the time, you could take a rather thorough IQ test and get your IQ. It wasn't official or anything, but it would serve the purposes of my little statistics experiment. The students would go online, take their IQ test and then calculate what percent of the population they ranked in, in terms of their IQ.

The students were all excited about it. Of course they were the smartest students in the world and the world and meanies like me were just out to get them. They were almost supremely confident they would score high and no doubt some of them were tentatively planning on showing me their IQ to "show me."

So off they went to the computer lab, 45 minutes they came back with their score and I then showed them the method using a mean of 100 to find out what percent of the population they ranked in.

And as more and more of them looked up their percentile on the little percentile sheets their shoulders slouched. Their faces shocked. The travel and hospitality majors, you could tell, were double checking their math because they couldn't believe they were that stupid. Many faced the paradox of having to ask me to help them because on one hand they couldn't believe they scored that low, but they didn't want me to see their IQ (which I insisted be kept confidential). One girl started crying and another student who never shut up and found it a vital necessity to constantly talk in class, actually shut up. We found one student was "officially" retarded (though he wasn't, he just didn't try) while another was ecstatic to find out she was in the top 30%, until I pointed out she subtracted wrong when calculating her standard deviation and she was in fact in the bottom 30%. The class was somber, silent and depressed. Oh sure, there were the genuine straight A students who were happy and arguably finally vindicated that they were smart, arguably MENSA material, but the rest of them got a harsh delivering blow from the real world. There was their real grading curve.

A curve that even some of the hedge-fund hustlers and others more favored by circumstance are discovering.
RETRENCHING. The Economist visits the economics job meetings.

On the debit side, much attention focused on the fact that the AEA-run website, where potential employers of PhD economists advertise their positions, has added a new section called "Suspended or Cancelled Listings". Here it is noted that a "non-trivial economic downturn" has forced some employers to suspend or cancel job searches. As of December 28th, a week before the actual interviews, 84 previously advertised searches had been called off, representing 5% of the number of jobs available by the reckoning of the director of the AEA, John Siegfried.

Even before the cancellations, the 2,881 new job listings this year were lower than last year's 2,914. Still, as Mr Siegfried pointed out, this is many more than the roughly 1,000 new PhDs that emerge from American universities in an average year. So why the worries?

Several reasons, I think. First, academic jobs at universities with graduate programmes, the top choice of most new PhDs, are about a third of the total, at 1,034 (and this includes positions for experienced academics). Then there is the fact that quite a few of the nearly 3,000 jobs listed were posted prior to September, a large fraction of which are not suited for people fresh out of school. So the supply of jobs may not be as plentiful as the aggregate numbers collated by the AEA suggest.

But a bigger part of the answer may be that some suspect that more universities are going through the motions without the intention of actually hiring anyone. In that sense, the cancelled listings may represent the tip of a larger iceberg. I overheard a professor from a leading west-coast university saying that while his department was interviewing many candidates, someone hoping to actually get hired would have to "walk on water".

On the positive side, several people made the point that those doing the hiring are, after all, economists. Faced with the possibility of oversupply in the market, some see a golden opportunity to hire the kind of high-flier who would normally be out of their reach. Less prestigious institutions with a bit of cash to spare have in some cases increased the number of advertised positions after seeing the list of cancelled searches (specific instances I heard about included Montana State, as well as a lot of European universities looking to reverse recent brain drain). Some business schools see an opportunity to hire bright finance PhDs they would normally lose to Wall Street. So the adjustment, such as it is, is likely to be on the "quality" margin—people settling for smaller schools, or locations they might not initially have considered.

It's not as dismal as the Modern Language Association.
But over the next few weeks/months, it will be interesting to see how this all plays out. This site, which is a wiki run for and by job market candidates, is pretty informative, and it’ll be fascinating to see how many schools that have conducted interviews actually pull the trigger. If the pessimists have it right, there are going to be a lot fewer universities in this category than in normal years.
But it is depressing to have to let our candidates know that our search is now among the "suspended or cancelled" even though the Association hasn't picked this up yet.
FLATLAND, INDEED. The Chicago Olympic plan now includes the Tour de Madison and mountain biking near Mount Horeb.

Chicago 2016 announced plans to shift Olympic road cycling and mountain biking events to Madison, Wis.

The cycling event would begin on the campus of the University of Wisconsin, head east through downtown Madison and finish in Blue Mound State Park.

Mountain biking would take place in Tyrol Basin, a popular winter ski and snowboard destination sure to challenge Olympic athletes.

Madison is home to one of the nation's most extensive bike trail systems. Trek, a manufacturer of specialty bikes, is also headquartered in the area. Biking events were originally scheduled to be held in the Palos area.

"Chicago 2016 has consistently placed athletes at the center of our Games plan," Chicago 2016 Chairman Pat Ryan said. "Our constituents emphasized their desire for technical and challenging courses. We believe the natural terrain found in Madison will exceed their expectations and make for an ideal competitive environment."

No word yet on whether the Capital 400 will be back to provide hassle-free transportation.

I may have biked that road course, although probably not all in one go, and definitely not at world-class speeds.
ANOTHER OVERTIME. Another win.

Another key stat for the Huskies was turnovers. NIU won that battle, 18-20. After turning the ball over 12 times in the first half, Northern Illinois adapted to Eastern Michigan's trap defense and committed just four turnovers in the second half and two in overtime.

"This was a huge win against a team that presses, traps and tries to disrupt you offensively," [coach Carol] Owens said. "We only had 18 turnovers, when they usually force 20-25 a game. We talked about taking care of the ball, but [the trap] disrupts your offense. That's where Aileen [Roussow] came on, she presents a match up problem."

"I am extremely happy with this win," Owens said. "It's only fitting that it ended up in another overtime. This is a special day because we have people that contributed a lot to building this tradition, and that care a lot about this program here. We gave our alums a good game."

It's good value for the money, if a bit stressful to watch on occasion.

16.1.09

GARY BECKER BUSTED. Not the economist.
By the time [Racine] Mayor Gary Becker engaged in a 2 1/2 -hour online chat Monday night with "Hope_Ulikeme14," he already had participated in several salacious virtual conversations with girls and collected child pornography, according to a five-felony criminal complaint filed against him Thursday.

Even so, Becker, 51, a married father of two daughters, worried about meeting someone who he believed was a 14-year-old girl.

"We better chat more, this is too dangerous," Becker told an undercover agent on the phone Tuesday afternoon, the complaint says.

He even asked "Hope" if she was a "cop."

But about an hour later, Becker, seemingly well-positioned to continue his six-year tenure as mayor for years to come, arrived at the agreed-upon meeting place: the food court at Brookfield Square mall, the complaint says.
Oops.

15.1.09

SOMBER DUTIES. February 14 will be a Day of Reflection. The preliminary schedule includes major public events at 10.30, 3.00, and 6.00, with continuous events from 11.30 to 9.00 at the student center.
PLANES AND CONVEXITY. I'm substitute teaching a graduate level game theory class this semester, and I'm seeking clarification of a few subtleties. It appears to me that there are some fundamental theorems establishing equivalences among minimax solutions of various kinds, saddle points, and separating hyperplanes. I can manage that. Now comes the Borel algebras and the Borel probability measures. These appear to be tools to contemplate mixed strategies on continuous strategy spaces, i.e. in games where a player competes in quantities or in prices, and each quantity or price is a set of measure zero. I'm probably missing something in that interpretation: clarifications or sources of clarification are welcome.