31.12.09

A GOOD SEA STORY RUINED BY A BAD TELLING. In keeping with a down year ending a down decade, a down Book Review No. 50. Submarine operations in the Pacific Theater provide material for more than a few good stories. All it takes is a straightforward telling and a sense of organization. Jonathan J. McCullough's telling, in A Tale of Two Subs: An Untold Story of World War II, Two Sister Ships, and Extraordinary Heroism, offers neither.

The untold stories are told better elsewhere. They go better if told in order.

Start with the sister ships, U.S. Navy submarines Squalus and Sculpin. On a test in 1939, Squalus sank when he submerged with an air induction vent still open. Some of the crew were rescued, and the submarine was subsequently raised, rebuilt, and renamed Sailfish.

The retired submariner at the Wisconsin Maritime Museum is standing near an emergency lever that was subsequently fitted to U.S. submarines, to give the crew a fighting chance at being able to close the induction vent without standing directly under it.



USS Cobia, 20 May 1999.

Sculpin and Sailfish put to sea after Pearl Harbor, aided by the successful code-breaking of Naval Intelligence, hampered by unreliable torpedoes, and mindful of the risks of a relatively quick death by drowning or a somewhat slower death in a Japanese prison camp. Some of Sculpin's crew, bound for just such a camp after the Japanese forced him to surrender, were lost when Sailfish sank their transportation, carrier Chuyo. The reader will pick up a few nuggets of useful information on each of these things, that is, if he hasn't abandoned his reading after one too many jumps from the conn to the codebreakers to the homefront, without continuity. There are better tellings of each of the sub-plots elsewhere.

(Cross-posted to 50 Book Challenge. MISSION ACCOMPLISHED.)
THE END TO A DOWN YEAR THAT ENDS A DOWN DECADE. As only Dave Barry can do it.
In short, it was a year that we will be happy to put behind us. But before we do, let's swallow our anti-nausea medication and take one last look back, starting with. . . .
Go. Read. Enjoy.

30.12.09

THE LONG TWILIGHT STRUGGLE. President Kennedy took the short view, according to Harvard's Niall Ferguson. The thesis of his The War of the World: Twentieth-Century Conflict and the Descent of the West is that the beginning of World War II is difficult to establish, although the September 1939 German invasion of Poland is probably too late, and that the spring and summer 1945 surrenders did not end many of the other conflicts spawned by the same forces that led to the main event itself. Thus Book Review No. 49, which will recommend the book for the author's provocative and often contrarian assertions about the tensions in the European colonial system that led to both World Wars and that contribute to the ongoing clash of civilizations, if that is, indeed, a proper description of the current state of world affairs.

Before I turn to the substance, I have to vent. Far too many of the books I have reviewed, this year and previously, have the annoying habit of providing references to some supporting material in endnotes numbered consecutively, chapter to chapter, while offering other supporting material in footnotes identified with asterisks and other typesetter's symbols more properly displayed in railroad timetables. My preference is for all references to be provided in consecutively numbered footnotes. If the printer must collect them as endnotes, I would prefer that all such references be done that way. Enough with the hermaphrodite reference systems.

Let me offer a few provocative claims for your consideration. Try this, at page 104, on the assassination of Archduke Francis Ferdinand. "From a modern standpoint, the only European power to side with the victims of terrorism against the sponsors of terrorism was Germany." Or identify the speaker (see page 223).
We must move as a trained and loyal army willing to sacrifice for the good of a common discipline, because without such discipline no progress is made, no leadership becomes effective. We are, I know, ready and willing to submit our lives and property to such discipline, because it makes possible a leadership which aims at a larger good. This I propose to offer, pledging that the larger purposes will bind upon us all as a sacred obligation with a unity of duty hitherto evoked only in time of armed strife. With this pledge taken, I assume unhesitatingly the leadership of this great army of our people dedicated to a disciplined attack upon our common problems.
He goes on to contrast the responses of the United States, where political institutions retained much of their traditional form in depression and war, with those of Germany, where the Nazi state emerged. "To attempt to explain why is to address perhaps the hardest question of twentieth-century history." (p. 225) I suggest the American Civil War: the first republic to hold elections during a rebellion, the first republic to reconstitute itself upon the surrenders of the main rebel armies, the first republic to suffer more loss of life in civil war than it has ever suffered in international conflict, is a republic that will tear its principal institutions apart only very reluctantly. That ought give pause to advocates for, and critics of, today's tea-party movements. You'll find the uncertain start date of World War II on page 312.

So where does the long twilight struggle, in which the developing nations of the rest of the world have inherited their borders and many of their resource endowments from the European colonial dispositions (that's the same point Christopher Hitchens has made in the popular press) leave us now? Professor Ferguson suggests that it hasn't ended, and that the tensions between the West (secular or Christian) and the developing (particularly Islamic) world continue much as they did at the beginning of the 20th century, albeit with the divisions in every major European city, rather than at the gates of Vienna or somewhere in the Balkans. (For a crabbier version of the hypothesis, see Mark Steyn.)

That's a possibility, but it need not be the only possibility. One of the comments on Mr Pants-on-Fire's failure to destroy that jet over Detroit is that al-Qaeda has a victory, in that air transportation will become more inconvenient, and Moslems in the United States and in other secular or Christian Western nations will be treated less well by their neighbors. That's a possibility, but it need not be the only possibility. Consider the history of religious persecution of Catholics and Jews in the United States. On the one hand, yes, nativist organizations have used those traditions as their hobby horses. On the other hand, Reform Judaism got rid of the black coats, broad-brimmed hats, and beards. John Kennedy became President, and the Roman Church permitted congregations to conduct masses in the local language. That transformed a belief system associated with teeming immigrant slums (Slavic, Mediterranean, Hispanic, Irish) and incomprehensible rituals (Credo in unum Deo, et expecto ...) into just another prelude to the afternoon Packer game. It's called assimilation, and I'd be surprised if there aren't already Moslem congregations on these shores considering holding services in English.

(Cross-posted to 50 Book Challenge.)
A FAUSTIAN BARGAIN. In the Champs Sports Bowl, Wisconsin made Miami (a correspondent suggests issuing them orange uniforms) look over-rated. Miami had to resort to some trick plays to get their points, and to depend on some Wisconsin errors to keep things close. For the most part, though, Wisconsin dominated the game.

They were very physical, aggressive, punishing, relentless and dominant, which is to say they were once again 100% Wisconsin. They were all over the Miami quarterback. And even when they did something silly - a turnover here, a personal foul there or a surrendered onside kick - they quickly made things whole in a most redemptive end to 2009.

"I can't explain why it didn't go our way," Miami coach Randy Shannon said.

I can. The Badgers kicked your behind all the way back to Coral Gables.

Or back to reform school.

The back story to this game, however, is the presence of Donna "Queen of Clubs" Shalala, the high priestess of political correctness who brought in the personnel to strengthen the athletic department while the academic programs declined, as president of Miami, where the academic programs have yet to reach a height where decline would be regrettable.

"I say to people, 'If you go to Wisconsin and you walk into a bar and you mention my name, they'll buy you a drink,'" Shalala said by phone the other day. "I'm remembered more for what I did with the athletic program, and I think we had a very good academic strategy while I was there, too."

Shalala is now president at the University of Miami, which plays her old school next week in the Champs Sports Bowl. That puts her in a very different place these days, a private school that leads with a dominant football program.

She's done some work to clean up the football program, although there have been problems, and skepticism of her efforts, and good reason for Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez to not go there.

Meanwhile, celebrating diversity takes on a new meaning in Madison. We've been following the social stratification in which rich Coasties confront Wisconsin residents for some time, and that confrontation has taken on a harsher tone of late.
THE SHAPE OF THINGS TO COME. Professor Munger considers the possibilities.

In 1964, the right wing seized control of the Republican National Convention in the "Cow Palace" in San Francisco. They nominated Barry Goldwater, a "true" conservative who represented fundamental values of the right, and had no prospect whatsoever of winning the Presidency. Well, it might just be happening again. Remember, Ron Paul and the "Liberty Republicans" of 2007 and 2008 were not primarily running against Democrats. They were trying to take over the Republican Party, from the inside.

Losing sight of that fact seems to have blinded many in the chattering classes to the real significance of the grassroots Tea Party rebellion. But there are clear echoes, in opposition to Republican Gov. Charlie Crist in Florida, and governor candidate (and long-time Republican Senator) Kay Bailey Hutchinson in Texas. Their toughest challenges will come from fierce primary challenges by populist, "Tea Party" conservatives, not general elections against Democrats.

So, are we heading toward 1994, when a public repulsed by what many saw as the liberal excesses of the Clinton administration and a Democratic Congress turned en masse to the right, creating an immediate Congressional Republican majority? Or toward 1964, when a sharp turn toward the right led the Republicans briefly to an electoral wipeout, but laid the foundation for the majorities that put Republicans in the White House all but 12 of the 40 years starting in 1968?

On the one hand, it takes something to beat a bad policy. Much of the electorate has learned that Not-Bush is not enough to produce improvements in public policy. On the other hand, it will be harder for the Democratic Establishment to mischaracterize principled opposition to overweening government as racist or mean-spirited in the same way they were able to trash Senator Goldwater for voting against the 1964 Civil Rights Act. (In retrospect, a national policy that limited the power of state governments to enforce segregation along libertarian lines -- No state shall prohibit freedom of association -- might have served racial minorities more effectively than the policies put into place has.)
THE MOST USEFUL CHART FOR THE UPCOMING YEAR. Professor Mankiw has been posting a number of instructive charts. This one, illustrating the declining proportion of spending on medical services paid for directly by consumers, illustrates one reason for rising expenditures on health care.

I refuse to use the expression "rising health care costs" because many services that were previously not available at any price are now available at some price. But when those services qualify for coverage by insurance, including coverage at the national government's monopsony Medicare rates, the incentives for consumers to shop around and the providers to find improvements are attenuated.


A BAD PENNY COMES BACK. The Denver to Winter Park ski train is ceasing operation for this season.

Iowa Pacific Holdings LLC on Monday said it won't be able to operate the ski train this season after failing to resolve differences with Amtrak. The company was negotiating to use Amtrak crews.

The Chicago-based Iowa Pacific claims last-minute demands by Amtrak for insurance coverage derailed the effort. A federal judge last week rejected the company's request for a temporary restraining order against Amtrak that would have allowed it to start running the train last weekend.

Iowa Pacific President Ed Ellis said the railroad had to cancel what would have been the train's 70th season because it relies on advance reservations and they were halted last week. He said the company has refunded most of the 13,000 reservations that were sold.

I would strongly urge any passengers who have not yet received their refund to pursue them aggressively. Years ago, Mr Ellis was president of something called Golden Arrow Railtours in the midwest. His company scheduled an excursion train, using vintage coaches and diesels, that would run from Milwaukee to Green Bay and return on the Lake Shore Division, now torn up, of the Chicago & North Western. I sent the company a check and received a ticket. The company subsequently cancelled the trip, but never sent me a refund. I see Mr Ellis is still up to his old tricks, running vapor train trips.

Here's more on the history of the ski train, a Denver institution of long standing that once ran with classic coaches handed down from Northern Pacific that also starred in a very bad made-for-TV movie called Runaway.

29.12.09

PLAY-DOH AND ERECTOR SETS. It all seems so obvious now. Railroading, North American style, is long strings of coal or grain or ethanol or automobile cars staying out of the way of the time-sensitive stack trains. Recently, I observed some children watching trains from the Chesapeake Bagel store, and they're attuned enough to contemporary practice to wait for the end of the train before they finish counting the engines.


Rochelle, Illinois, 9 July 2006.

Marc Levinson's The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger, the subject of Book Review No. 48, suggests that it wasn't at all obvious, and that (as in the emergence of any industry standard) what we see today is not necessarily what any of the pioneers intended.

The book touches on a number of themes that frequently provide material at Cold Spring Shops. Start with the cartelized industrial economy of the United States immediately after World War II, the one that the self-styled progressives have retrospectively decided wasn't so bad after all (see here or here or here or here) in which public policy rigorously separated transportation companies by type (a trucking company could not own a railroad or a ship) and ratemaking equalized opportunities by equalizing rates (such that a good offloaded at any Pacific port would pay the same freight charge to Chicago, and a good manufactured at a midwestern city would pay the same freight charge to any Atlantic port) and unions and political bosses would keep everyone poorer in order that their members would be relatively less poor. The container is an idea of a trucking executive, Malcom McLean, who, worried that cheap government-surplus Liberty and Victory ships would take business from him, conceived of the if-you-can't-beat-em gambit of designing something that could be loaded at a factory, trucked to dockside, shipped to another dockside, and trucked to the consignee. To do so, however, breaches the wall of separation between over-the-road trucking and shipping companies (the book alludes to, but probably wisely does not get too deeply into, the complications of trailer- and container-on-flat-car ratemaking in those days) and it threatens the ability of the longshoremen to take a slice of the gains from trade through their special ability to stow cargo into the odd spaces inside a tramp steamer's hull in such a way that it doesn't shift and capsize the ship, while stacking it in such a way that the entire ship doesn't have to be unloaded to get at the consignment for the next port of call, and while helping themselves to some of the whiskey going into the hold. (I vaguely remember an advertisement from the early days of container shipping comparing the fate of a cask of olives in a container to what happened on the traditional waterfront. At each stop, a few olives got crushed and a few got eaten.) The container is clearly a Marshallian improvement, (the benefits to its adoption outweigh the losses from its adoption) although the agreement the ports and the longshoremens' unions came to is not the same thing as a full Kaldor or Scitovsky compensation. Dockers received job-protection or buyout compensation, and at some ports retraining to operate container-handling equipment. But other ports were bypassed as the technology diffused, and Mr Levinson notes that the substantially larger minimum efficient scales of container ships and container ports has effectively isolated much of the developing world.

At the same time, the container gave shippers opportunities to negotiate with transportation companies, and transportation companies temptations to deviate from the very strictly defined rates of the day (does anybody else remember class, commodity, and exception rates?) producing pressures to deregulate surface freight transportation (relatively straightforward for trucking, somewhat more challenging in railroading, where relationship-specific assets are common, and potentially a research topic for shipping, where the relatively small-scale tramp steamer operators had sufficient irreversibilities to make Marshallian competition difficult, something probably exacerbated by the larger scale of the container ships.)

The container ship gave ship operators new opportunities to deal with uneven trade flows. Although the money value of trade flows tends to be equal among trading partners over time, the volume, which is what matters for providing transportation capacity, can be unequal. (A New England that imports staple foodstuffs and exports textiles, shoes, and machine tools has a better chance of supporting ports and railroads than a New England that imports staple foodstuffs and exports live lobsters and computer software; the latter New England is richer than the former. Marshallian improvements again.) The notorious triangular trade of the European colonial period is an attempt to equalize volumes. Some container shipping lines offered round-the-world sailings, primarily eastward, in an attempt to keep the ships more or less continuously filled. Those attempts require reliable timekeeping, however, and come a cropper whenever fuel prices rise.

Mr McLean, I discover, was slightly ahead of his time. As early as 1966, his company envisioned "an audacious proposal to build railroad yards in Chicago and St. Louis, at its own expense. Freight forwarders owned by McLean Industries would collect freight from shippers, consolidate it into McLean-owned containers, and load the containers aboard McLean-owned railcars, specially designed by the Pullman Company to carry containers stacked two high. The Pennsylvania Railroad would pull McLean's all-container train straight to a rail yard Sea-Land would build by the docks at Elizabeth, arriving in time to meet a Europe-bound ship." Page 169. John Kneiling's visionary Integral Train Systems of 1969 anticipates intermodal trains for anything that isn't a single cargo of a bulk commodity, but his container trains are single level flats. Conrail and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania got around to enlarging the Gallitzin tunnels on the old Pennsylvania Railroad for double-stacks in 1995.

There is plenty of additional material for the student of transportation economics. My colleague and shipping conference expert William Sjostrom has a more formal review along those lines.

The Play-Doh? An engineer stuffed some into the space between the stacks of containers and the walls of the hold, to measure deflection in heavy seas. The Erector sets? To work out, on a small scale, the practicality of a shipboard crane that could move a container from hold to dockside without capsizing the ship. The Imperial Walkers the railroads use pose fewer challenges.

(Cross-posted to 50 Book Challenge.)
BIN LADEN'S LOST DECADE. Despite the navel-gazing and introspection prompted by the failed suicide bombing of an airplane arriving Detroit, a Frank Rich column in the New York Times strikes me as accurate.
We’ve rarely questioned our assumption that 9/11, “the day that changed everything,” was the decade’s defining event. But in retrospect it may not have been. A con like Tiger’s may be more typical of our time than a one-off domestic terrorist attack, however devastating.
And while we played, the best al-Qaeda could do was Mr Pants on Fire.
We keep being fooled by leaders in all sectors of American life, over and over. A decade that began with the “reality” television craze exemplified by “American Idol” and “Survivor” — both blissfully devoid of any reality whatsoever — spiraled into a wholesale flight from truth.
We win.


Via 11-D, with this summation: "We should be able to lower our expectations and fine tune our BS barometers to know when we're being sold lies and when we're presented with the real thing." To which I note, yes, if we're willing to work at it.

I also note, pace Mr Rich, that his hope for the people to identify leaders who can lead the country out of the sand trap it's in, to use his metaphor, is a false hope. It's the belief in leaders that gives us the cult of the CEO and the cult of the Presidency and the cult of the sports hero and celebrity culture in general -- and the resulting fascination with the shortcomings of those supposedly special people. Complex adaptive systems will do what they please ...
IT'S BEEN GOING ON FOR YEARS. Via Insta Pundit, a Washington Post article on the difficulties matriculants encounter in obtaining college loans.

The upheaval in financial markets did not just eliminate generous lending for home buyers; it also ended an era of easy credit for students and their families facing the soaring cost of a college degree.

To pay for higher education, most Americans had come to rely on a range of financial products born of the Wall Street boom. Nearly all of these shrank or disappeared in the storm that engulfed the stock and debt markets.

Chicken, Egg. Egg, Chicken? But it's not the direction of causation (easy credit, student loans, higher sticker prices) that I wish to address.

Some educators worry that college programs will sacrifice quality to contain costs or become limited to those who can afford it.

"The big macro question is: Will we have to sacrifice the quality of education, or the access, based on talent rather than the ability to pay?" said [Anthony] Marx, the Amherst president. "Either of those make America less competitive for the next generation."

Cost containment is nothing new, particularly at the community colleges and regional comprehensives where most credit hour production takes place. I will not generalize from my own experience, although I note that Northern Illinois has been in retrenchment mode for going on twenty years now. The recession that accompanied the Kuwait crisis? Cut back. The dot.com bubble economy? Cut back. The recession that bracketed September 11? Cut back. The real estate bubble economy? Cut back. Our course offerings are all too frequently an artifact of who didn't retire or take grants elsewhere or who could be replaced rather than any coherent vision of a dean or a curriculum committee. Now that the shoe is pinching at some of the Public Ivies, the establishment press notices.

28.12.09

AN INCOMPLETE CASE. We continue our survey of writing on the financial crisis of 2008-09 with Thomas E. Woods's Meltdown: A Free-Market Look at Why the Stock Market Collapsed, the Economy Tanked, and Government Bailouts Will Make Things Worse. Book Review No. 47 will be relatively short, as the subtitle takes away any possibility of a review including spoilers. Mr Woods covers some of the same history as columnist Michael Lewis did in Panic (reviewed here) and he offers a different policy perspective from Paul Krugman in The Return of Depression Economics and the Crisis of 2008 (reviewed here). Where Professor Krugman sees merit in Keynesian countercyclical fiscal policies and changes in government regulation of financial markets, Mr Woods sees none. In his view, the government's mortgage agencies and the Federal Reserve created and enabled serial bubbles, and those agencies cannot be depended upon to undo the effects of the unwinding of the bubbles. He'd rather offer (this being a Regnery book, it's more likely to appeal to the converted than to change minds) a potted Austrian business cycle explanation for the bubbles and a return to money backed by precious metals. His use of the Austrian business cycle models would probably not satisfy a serious historian of economic thought, and, although I remember only enough of income theory and monetary economics to be dangerous, I would have liked first, a more careful explanation of why exhaustible resources (which is what gold and silver are) that have uses in industrial processes and in ornamentation as well as in stores of value are necessarily superior to other mediums of exchange -- that's not as easy as it looks; second, an explanation why a central bank with a common reserve requirement is necessarily inferior to competing banks with different reserve positions -- anyone who claims that all cash transactions were once upon a time backed by precious metals has not thought through the origins of fractional reserve banking in the receipts issued by goldsmiths; and third, a more careful analysis of the ability of a central bank to monopolize the creation of money -- researchers having identified M1 through M5 or M6 when I was in graduate school, and I'd be startled if there weren't more definitions including ever more creative instruments of credit.

(Cross-posted to 50 Book Challenge.)
A TRENCHANT OBSERVATION FOR THE DAY. I made a trip to Titletown, where the Seattle Seahawks, who had surrendered 56 points in their previous two outings, allowed the Packers to score 48 and secure a spot in the playoffs (although their opponent is yet to be determined) with a little help from the [North] Carolina Panthers. Hidden among the copious football coverage in the Green Bay Press-Gazette (more coverage than the Seattle secondary offered) is an instructive column by jobs guru Andrea Kay.

It's up to you to explain the kind of work you do or want, skills you've honed and how that helps someone.

The notion that getting it done is good enough: I was talking to a college junior about how the paper she was writing for a particular class had gone. When I last saw her, it was due the next day. "I got it done. That was good enough," she told me.

Is this what Robert Capps of Wired magazine meant when he talked about "The Good Enough Revolution" in which for a new generation of consumers, things don't have to be of the highest quality, but just good enough?

Competition for good jobs is steep. Just sending out e-mails and asking for a job isn't good enough. If you're trying to hold on to your job, just getting through your daily to-do list won't cut it.

Your competition is going to cream you. Their philosophy: I'm going to go beyond your wildest dreams. Anticipate problems and take the initiative to fix them and make you see you can't live without me.

Since employers can be choosy, kiss goodbye the notion that getting it done is good enough. It's not. It's also a terribly unrewarding way to run a career.

Per corollary, since professors can also be choosy, kiss goodbye the notion that getting it done is good enough. It's not. And I don't give grades, I just report the news.

23.12.09

MARKING OFF. Thanks for looking in. Enjoy the Festive Season in Greater DeKalb.


The Waterman Illuminations.


The Waterman and Western Railroad gives people, primarily youngsters, a close look at the illuminations. Use your imagination to supply the cheerful little voices.


The Christmas tree is in the Reavis lobby, with English, Journalism, and Womens' Studies nearby.

The Northern Illinois University holiday greeting.
TEMPERING PRINCIPLE WITH PRACTICALITY. Cyclical models of history often draw a cpnnection between the remoteness of an event in the living memory of the current population and the greater likelihood of something like that event recurring. Something like that appears to be at work in Paul Krugman's The Return of Depression Economics and the Crisis of 2008, material for Book Review No 46. Professor Krugman begins with a summary of macroeconomic hubris ("between John Maynard Keynes and Milton Friedman, we thought we knew enough to keep [stagnation and deflation] from happening again," p. 4; "The Central Problem Has Been Solved," chap. 1) and the collapse of Communism, taking the principal intellectual challenge to market-system economics in theory and practice with it. He then notes that early in the 1990s, ominous signs, not unlike those present in the 1920s and oh-so-visible with hindsight, appeared in the economies of developing countries and diffused to more developed countries and particularly their financial sectors. Professor Krugman does not make his case in detail, although he covers some of the same ground Michael Lewis's Panic, reviewed here, and Liaquat Ahamed's Lords of Finance: The Bankers who Broke the World, reviewed here, is a useful companion piece on events leading to the Great Depression. And thus we are contemplating the end of the Oh-Ohs, and Professor Krugman's concluding observation invokes that cycle.

Depression economics, however, is the study of situations where there is a free lunch, if we can only figure out how to get our hands on it, because there are unemployed resources that could be put to work. The true scarcity in Keynes's world -- and ours -- was therefore not of of resources, or even of virtue, but of understanding.

We will not achieve the understanding we need, however, unless we are willing to think clearly about our problems and to follow hose thoughts wherever they lead. Some people say that our economic problems are structural, with no quick cure available; but I believe that the only important structural obstacles to world prosperity are the obsolete doctrines that clutter the minds of men.

What makes this year's collection of Book Reviews intellectually intriguing is that other books contemplating The Latest Bubble to Pop, or Depression 2.0 would treat the Keynesian doctrines as obsolete.

(Cross-posted to 50 Book Challenge.)
PREPARE TEACHERS TO TEACH. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education reports that the University of Minnesota "backs away from ideological screening."
The plans from its College of Education and Human Development (CEHD) involved redesigning admissions and the curriculum to enforce an ideology centered on a narrow view of "cultural competence." Those with the "wrong" views were to receive remedial re-education, be weeded out, or be denied admission altogether. In a letter to FIRE, however, the university's top lawyer has now promised that the university will never "mandate any particular beliefs, or screen out people with ‘wrong beliefs' from the University."
I suspect this story is not yet over, as the Diversity Boondoggle, at Minnesota and elsewhere, has a lot invested in enabling the destructive habits of ineffective people, while guilt-tripping people who have internalized productive habits.
The proposal, initiated by the college's Race, Culture, Class, and Gender Task Group, sought to require each future teacher to accept theories of "white privilege, hegemonic masculinity, heteronormativity, and internalized oppression"; "develop a positive sense of racial/cultural identity"; and "recognize that schools are socially constructed systems that are susceptible to racism ... but are also critical sites for social and cultural transformation." They were to be judged by their scores on the Intercultural Development Inventory, a test of "Intercultural Sensitivity." In one assignment, they were to reveal a "pervasive stereotype" they personally held and then demonstrate how their experiences had "challenged" it. They also were to be assessed regarding "the extent to which they find intrinsic satisfaction" in being in "culturally diverse situations."
Presumably, being a Viking fan at a Packer game doesn't satisfy that last assessment. I also doubt that the social and cultural transformation the task group envisions includes reading, or spelling, or calculating accurately, or showing up on time. On the other hand, cutting the person with poor life management skills some slack might be a simple, if not necessarily extraordinary, demonstration of intercultural sensitivity.
WHAT IS SEEN, WHAT IS UNSEEN. Emory's Mark Bauerlein contemplates higher education's supposed boy problem.
Colleges want to keep the ratio as even as possible, however, for a variety of reasons. One is that when one sex significantly outnumbers the other, sexual rivalries and competitions set in. When we head toward a two-thirds majority (remember the Jan and Dean line, "Two girls for every boooooyyyyyyyyyyy"), the sexual gamesmanshiip of social life goes up. Added to that, admissions people worry that strong female students won't want to go to school where the number of men is low.
Advantage, Cold Spring Shops.
Gonna go to college, gonna have some fun. (Apologies to Jan and Dean.) The economist in me always wondered about the stability of that equilibrium. University administrators do too, if in a different way.
Professor Bauerlein's comments, and the Inside Higher Ed column he reacts to, focus on the usual identity politics, diversity, affirmative action cluster. I wonder, though, if that isn't missing the point. Suppose beer 'n circus isn't an aberration, it's the mission? Here's a comment to the Inside Higher Ed column.

The big time football playing universities have a interest in the pending court case. Title IX requires the university to award athletic aid in proportion to the gender proportion of the student body.

In theory, if the gender balance is 60 percent female, then approximately 60 percent of athletic aid should be distributed to females. In all probability this means adding female sports.

The old boy network would claim that male sports, in particular the fottball [c.q.] team, would suffer because the male sports would receive less athletic aid based on the gender enrollment.

Certainly testable, although there might be constituencies within the administration for whom an exogenous reason to dial football back is more persuasive than mere budget constraints. And here's a comment to a tangentially related post offering anecdotal support.

At the first TT job I had, the football team accounted for about 20% of the male students. The recruiting folks counted it as a big help in keeping the gender ratio from being skewed. (For some reason they thought that educating women wasn't as important as educating men... hmmmm, IBTP.)

It's worth looking at football budgets in themselves, since they're often a big part of the Title IX dance.

A recent book by Rutgers sociologist Jackson Toby, which receives praise in part and criticism in part from Ben Wildavsky, might be another part of the same picture.

Early on, Mr. Toby concedes that education has become the country's "main economic escalator." But he is alarmed at how few students are prepared to meet even the minimal demands of a real college education. He faults lax college-admission standards that give high schools little incentive to push their students harder. Too many undergrads can't write with minimal competence or understand basic cultural references. Students often take silly, politicized courses. And they feel entitled to inflated grades: Mr. Toby reports that one of his students spewed obscenities at him for ending the young man's straight-A record.

Perhaps this kind of experience accounts for Mr. Toby's seeming bitterness toward unserious students, whom he calls "unprepared, half-asleep catatonics who drift in late and leave early." Most undergrads, Mr. Toby suggests, enjoy a steady diet of extracurricular hedonism while skating through their coursework (though it's unclear how this claim jibes with his complaints about low graduation rates).

Despite years of starvation rations at Northern Illinois, we have been able to entice some scholars away from Rutgers (I don't know the magnitude of the reverse flow) but their (relatively recent) high-visibility sports program has done well, particularly in football and womens' basketball. Perhaps the main culprit remains a higher education willing to do the high schools' work for them (as a way of obtaining larger budgets and demonstrating responsibility for larger institutions?) rather than a perceived market in beer 'n circus. That perceived market, however, strikes me as worthy of further research.
ON EUROSTAR'S CHRISTMAS LIST. Here's a backup electric locomotive already re-equipped to handle fine snows.


Rahway, New Jersey, 26 June 1981.

22.12.09

REVEALED PREFERENCES? Two articles recommended by Minding The Campus suggest that producing a new generation of thinkers who, if called upon to do so, could reconstruct their civilization from scratch, is no longer higher education's mission. First up, linked without commentary, is Mark Yost in The Wall Street Journal.
At the University of Oregon, academics has taken a backseat to athletics. Despite the generosity of Nike founder Phil Knight, who has given hundreds of millions of dollars to the school, Oregon has gone on such an athletics building spree that it has had to postpone a long-term project to renovate student housing. That's because the university has hit its debt limit of $200 million.

"We literally can't go out and ask for more bonding authority for the academic side of the campus," said Nathan Tublitz, an Oregon biology professor and the co-chair of the Coalition on Intercollegiate Athletics, a reform group that's often critical of the culture of college athletics. "The mission of the university is to educate students and perform cutting-edge research," said Prof. Tublitz. "To be spending so much money on an auxiliary enterprise is not only scandalous, it's criminal."

Maybe so, but Prof. Tublitz and other critics are mostly howling into the wind. According to [Tom] Gabbard, Virginia Tech's associate director of athletics, this trend toward ever more lavish sports facilities is expected to expand to so-called nonrevenue sports such as soccer, lacrosse and baseball. In fact, this year the University of South Carolina opened a new baseball stadium.
Next up, a lament by Babson College's Kara Miller in the Boston Globe.
Success is all about time management, and in a globalizing economy, Americans’ inability to stay focused and work hard could prove to be a serious problem.
John Leo revises and extends.
Why the lackadaisical approach to college? Many point to a sense of entitlement, the impact of the self-esteem movement and the generally inept curricula of the public schools, which increasingly stress diversity, equality and feelings rather than actual learning. Then too, many colleges are gearing courses to the declining level of student readiness and energy---not just all the courses that end in the words "studies," but also impossible-to-fail courses about American entertainment that seem like rainy-day activities at summer camp.
Yes, that's the rubric of access-assessment-remediation-retention, and perhaps that works in a business model that requires sufficiently many students paying fees to service the debt on the athletic facilities.
A common argument in defense of slackers is that they understand that college is a time for fun, drugs and sex, and the time to get going doesn't arrive until graduation. A sophisticated version of this explanation--that softness and indulgence peel away as Americans leave their school years behind, is found in Michael Barone's book, Hard America, Soft America.
Perhaps so, although the evidence of growing income polarization suggests something different is at work.
THE EUROPEAN QUESTION. Specifically, why can't we have freight railroads like the North Americans do? Destination: Freedom reports hard times at DB Schenker, the German freight operator.
Now with rail freight volumes down significantly and international cargo operations particularly hard hit, the company has moved to cut losses by reducing both capacity and personnel for the short to medium future. Rail freight division chief Karl-Friedrich Rausch stated that 2400 employees must be let go due to the decrease in freight volumes, and another 1500 jobs will be eliminated due to restructuring and cost savings measures. The division currently employs approximately 24,000 people.
I've had trouble locating employment figures by railroad company: the Association of American Railroads gives total employment in U.S. railroading at under 200,000 people.

Railroading is a wholesale business, and the restructuring plan is consistent with that reality.
In addition to the personnel reductions, the division plans to shut 72 freight depots out of a total of approximately 1600 freight depots and terminals in Germany. The announced actions point to a troubling picture for Germany and Europe as a whole, where the share of freight volume carried by rail continues to remain flat or even decline, and freight volumes hauled by highway trucks continues to increase, now approaching the 90% mark. Although a number of independent rail freight haulers have enjoyed success in Germany their capacity is dwarfed by DB Schenker Rail and much of their operations are dependent upon rail freight yards and container terminals operated by DB Schenker Rail.
But look at the wasted space in this freight yard!

Deutsche Bahn photo courtesy Destination: Freedom.

21.12.09

THE SUPERINTENDENT KNOWS JUICE JACKS. Hello, Voluntary Xchange readers. Let me impress you some more.

Eurostar commercial director Nick Mercer said three test trains sent through the Channel Tunnel on Sunday ran successfully, but that it became clear that the especially bad weather meant that snow was being sucked into the trains in a way that has never happened before.

"The engineers on board have recommended strongly that, in light of further snowfalls that are happening tonight, we make some modifications to the trains on snow shields to stop snow being ingested into the power car," he told the BBC.

George Gibbs, call your office. Do the filters use French linen?
The usually unstoppable GG1s were knocked from service when their electrical components were shorted out due to moisture. The story is told of a baffled technician, stepping away from the stream of cooling air, saw his outer jacket covered in ice. It developed that ice crystals formed adjacent to the tracks at the height of the cooling air intakes. The crystals were so fine that they went right through the air filters. Once they got into the warm electrical components, they melted, shorting out those components.
The Cold Spring Shops research office has that information. (Frederick Westing, GG1, Trains 24, 5, March 1964, 20-36 at 33-34.) The Pennsylvania Railroad ultimately changed the location of the filters on some motors, although they installed baffles as a temporary fix, and evaluated the performance of traction motor blowers.
THE INFORMATION CONTENT OF PRICES. Are Connecticut and Tennessee leaving money on the table, or violating the civil rights laws, in selling tickets to their powerhouse womens' teams at lower prices than those for their solid mens' teams?

At the University of Connecticut, where the women's basketball team has won six NCAA championships and has a famously loyal fan base, single-game tickets are $22 for women's games. Single-game tickets for the men's team, which lost in the national semifinals this past spring, are $30.

"Tradition and history dictate the cost of the ticket," a spokesman for the Connecticut athletics department, Mike Enright, was quoted as saying in the report. "Historically, the women's tickets have always been a little less expensive than the men's tickets," he said.

"It's really a factor of … history and tradition—and not that the women's team doesn't have a great history and tradition—but the history of ticket pricing."

I remember learning something about supply and demand being more efficient explanations than tradition and history.
If demand for men's basketball is greater than women's basketball at equal prices, then market forces tend to increase the price for the service with higher demand. Since supply of seats is normally the same (since most NCAA schools play men's and women's games in the same venue), then the issue is on the demand side. Thus individuals attending NCAA basketball games have revealed that they have a greater preference for one gender's entertainment over another gender's entertainment. That is not the fault of the NCAA, but simply the reality that different people have different preferences.
Arguments from preference are not best, as they're not testable, although in principle, a researcher could estimate the demand curves for the teams and attribute a ceteris paribus difference in quantities at a common price to the underlying utility functions.

There's a further complication, Cold Spring Shops sources have informed the Superintendent. At many universities, the price at which that ceteris paribus demand curves predicts a full arena is also a price at which some of the consumers comprising that demand curve perceive the entertainment as not serious. That's an anomaly calling for more serious investigation. I hesitate to dismiss it out of hand, as it relies on the same thinking by which that $100 value for $19.95 on the overnight infomercial reveals itself as a fraud.
PERSEVERE. Northern Illinois graduate Nicole Jeray returns to the pro golf tour.

The 1998 Northern Illinois Hall of Fame inductee couldn’t move. She’d battled fatigue and sleepiness for years as a member of the NIU women’s golf team and later on the LPGA Tour.

But after the paralyzing moment in 1996, Jeray went to a doctor where she was diagnosed with narcolepsy, a chronic neurological disorder caused by the brain’s inability to regulate sleep-wake cycles normally. It led to cataplexy; a sudden loss of muscle tone.

Almost 13 years later, Jeray’s health, wellness and golf game are in peak condition as the 39-year-old earned full-field exemption status again on the 2010 LPGA Tour with a fifth-place finish at the 90-hole qualifying tournament at LPGA International Champions and Legends Course in Daytona Beach, Fla. on Dec. 7.

20.12.09

TRADE SCHOOL ISN'T FOR EVERYBODY. With the grades in, the interview schedule set, and the offices closed to conserve heat, there has been time for some restorative work in the Tender Shop. Under construction are, at left, a small tender for a Baldwin Russian Decapod, and at right, a larger stoker-equipped tender for a Lugansk cheternadzaht.


The underframe and floor components are behind the tender shells.

The finished underframe should be flush with the bottom of the floor and square in all aspects. The main frame elements are a sturdy center sill and two transverse bolsters, supported by the trucks. The bolsters are 1/8" thick brass bar. To obtain a solid structure with the requisite flushness requires a slot 1/16" deep in the bottom of the bolster, wide enough to fit the center sill, and a slot 1/16" deep in the top of the center sill, wide enough to fit the bolster.

With good steel files and sufficient patience, such slots can be crafted, one by one. It's easier, however, to set up the Unimat as a vertical milling machine.


But now, dear reader, consider whether you want to send people who are not quite college material to trade school. That disengaged and possibly hung-over texter in your back row? He's going to be a hazard to himself and everybody else on the shop floor. (Look closely at the picture. The machine is not yet set up for safe working. Discuss.) That casualty of No Child Left Behind, who got through the state assessments by memorizing enough passages of the textbook to pass, and who provides great amusement by quoting the wrong passages on homework assignments? She's going to use the instructions for the jigsaw module to set the machine up. Good luck.
IS GOLD-DIGGING EVOLUTIONARILY STABLE? Professor Munger gives meaning to the concept of credible commitment. (Check it out, I'll be here.) The context is a commentary on an odd article about wronged spouses of prominent men.
These ladies should be applauded for leaving their nightmare husbands — unorthodox acts in this post-feminist age, where powerful men, from the White House on down, seem to think that they can do whatever they please and get away with it. We're living in a culture saturated with mistresses and interns, sexting and sex addiction, and a parade of stony-faced wives somehow putting up with it all. A woman demanding a divorce these days is almost as radical as keeping your maiden name was in the fifties, but Jenny and Elin's activist moves offer a glimmer of hope.
I'm not sure what universe of discourse the columnist is drawing her inference of unorthodox from ... the divorce courts are not turning into homeless shelters ... but read on.

The fact is, many of these now-humiliated wives gave up their careers a long time ago to focus on being perfect partners to their high-powered husbands. Before her husband became a political player and she left the workforce, Silda Spitzer was a corporate lawyer at Skadden, Arps and Chase Manhattan Bank; Elizabeth Edwards, also a lawyer, worked for the North Carolina attorney general and the law firm Merriman, Nicholls, and Crampton until she opted to opt out. Had these women pulled off the miraculous act of nurturing their careers while nurturing their families, they very well might be pulling in seven-figure salaries at the peak of their profession. But they deferred to the dreams of their men, and so their humiliation took on an extra shade of horror: From the public perspective, their individual lives centered around their spouses' aspirations.

In reality, most of the wives in question are critical behind-the-scenes players in their famous husbands' careers: running their campaigns, dazzling their associates, and raising their children while the hubbies go off and conquer the world. With no financial compensation for any of it, they're technically reliant on the men to support them and their kids. But this isn't necessarily just about financial dependency. Elizabeth, Silda, and Letterman's wife, Regina Lasko, would likely remain wealthy, owing to hefty divorce settlements or family resources. These women almost suffer from a dependency of purpose: It may be difficult giving up a relationship that serves as a sort of career, even once it's damaged by toxic revelations.

I've seen this dynamic, not necessarily on the national stage, and it poses a question: is there some mix of gold-diggers (yes, as the column suggests, using second-wave feminism as a cloak for their real motives) and sugar daddies that is evolutionarily stable?
TORTURING THE DATA. Mathematical statisticians and theoretical econometricians have produced all sorts of methods to purge observed variables and estimated relationships therein of biases and errors. (There's something titillating to some practitioners in the expression "regress residuals".) A recent roundup of Climaquiddick that's nailed to Newmark's Door recommends an instructive Iowahawk clinic in statistical inference.

Since the Climategate email affair erupted a few weeks ago, it has generated a lot of chatter in the media and across the internet. In all the talk of "models" and "smoothing" and "science" and "hide the decline" it became apparent to me that very very few of the people chiming in on this have even the slightest idea what they are talking about. This goes for both the defenders and critics of the scientists.

Long story, but I do know a little bit about statistical data modeling -- the principal approach used by the main cast of characters in Climategate -- and have a decent understanding of their basic research paradigm.

I think it was E. E. Leamer who paraphrased Bismarck to the effect that you didn't want to watch sausage or econometric estimates being made. The point of smoothing and some of the more advanced techniques for error correction is to obtain an error structure for the model that approximates that of the classical regression model with independent, identically distributed errors. And within applied economics, there are two approaches to the problem of error correction. As a broad generalization, the North American method is to look at the residuals and correct the errors after the fact. The European method is to change the specification, preferably by including a variable that is generating the troublesome residuals. The climate change research is a melange of both.

Over the last 20 years or so, paleoclimatology saw the emergence of a new paradigm in climate reconstruction that utilized relatively sophisticated statistical modeling and computer simulation. Among others, practitioners of the emerging approach included the now -famous Michael Mann, Keith Briffa, and Philip Jones. For sake of brevity I'll call this group "Mann et al."

The approach of Mann et al. resulted in temperature reconstructions that looked markedly different from the one previously estimated, and first receive widespread notice in a 1998 Mann paper that appeared in Nature. The new reconstruction estimated a relatively flat historical temperature series until the past hundred years, at which point it began rising dramatically, and accelerating around 1990.

On the one hand, the researcher has to be able to understand something called principal component analysis, or at least to be able to invoke a command to a canned algorithm that will do the work for you. On the other hand, one gets into treacherous waters even before that.

Although observed temperature measurements prior to 1850 are unavailable, there are a number of natural phenomena that are potentially related to global temperatures, and can be observed retrospectively over 1000 years through various means. Let's call these "proxy variables" because they are theoretically related to temperature. Some proxies are "low frequency" or "low resolution" meaning they can only be measured in big, multi-year time chunks; for example atmospheric isotopes can be used to infer solar radiation going back more than 1000 years, but only in 5-20 year cycles. Other low frequency proxies include radiocarbon dating of animal or plant populations, and volcano eruptions.

By contrast, some proxy variable are "high frequency" or "high resolution," meaning they can be measured a long time back at an annual level. Width and density of tree rings are an obvious example, as well as the presence of o-18 isotope in annually striated glacial ice cores. In principle this type of proxy variable is more useful in historic temperature reconstruction because they can be measured more precisely, more frequently, and in different places around the planet.

A proxy variable follows the movement of the unobserved variable, in this illustration, temperature, but with an error. And thus the statistical magic. But ...

What you'll find is that contrary to Mann's assertion that the hockey stick is "robust," you'll find that the reconstructions tend to be sensitive to the data selection. M&M found, for example, that temperature reconstructions for the 1400s were higher or lower than today, depending on whether bristlecone pine tree rings were included in the proxies.

What the leaked emails reveal, among other things, is some of that bit of principal component sausage making. But more disturbing, they reveal that the actual data going into the reconstruction model -- the instrumental temperature data and the proxy variables themselves -- were rife for manipulation. In the laughable euphemism of Philip Jones, "value added homogenized data."

Where the confession the interrogators wished to obtain from Nature was one that would ... wait for it ... be funded and published.
Successful candidates will:

1) Demonstrate AGW.
2) Demonstrate the catastrophic consequences of AGW.
3) Explore policy implications stemming from 1 & 2.
That's from an Open Cogitations Climaquiddick roundup that will also reward careful study.

The exposure of confirmation biases in funding and publishing pose a problem for academic research more generally. It is difficult to defend scholarly inquiry as disinterested truth-seeking if grants and contracts involve experimental or statistical design that anticipates a conclusion and if publication treats some anomalies as more worthy of consideration than others.
THE NOT QUITE ALL-WEATHER MODE. Tunnels and caves hold their temperatures longer than the great outdoors, which has disrupted Eurostar operation through the Channel Tunnel.

The trains became stuck in the tunnel because the air inside was much warmer than the air outside the tunnel entrance in France, Eurostar spokeswoman Amelle Mouhaddib told CNN.

"It's a bit like taking a bottle of beer out of the fridge into a warm room -- within minutes it's covered in condensation," said Eurostar CEO Richard Brown.

He describes the event as "completely unprecedented." Not necessarily. An electric locomotive as dependable as the GG-1 was brought down by a particularly fine snow that got through the screens on its air intakes. Some of the motors were re-equipped with intakes higher up as a corrective.

18.12.09

FIFTIES NOSTALGIA IN UNUSUAL PLACES. The further the Fifties recede into memory, the better the decade looks to the class of people who at the time were consumed by tearing down everything they though it represented. I've noted this phenomenon before. Now comes a Shepherd Express review of Capitalism: A Love Story (if this movie played DeKalb, it was in and out before I had a chance to see it.)
Using home movies from his own childhood, Moore illustrates a vision of American capitalism in better days. Back then, households needed only one wage earner and salaries kept pace with inflation, pensions were guaranteed and health care was affordable. The triumph of trade unions after World War II resulted in the largest middle class America had ever known, Moore reminds us.
I have provided an economics lesson, with illustrations, that deconstructs the one wage earner argument. The economic emancipation of women, combined with assortative mating, shifts the production possibility frontier and upsets that equilibrium, if in fact it was one.

Not at Shepherd Express.

But with the ascendance of corporate mouthpiece Ronald Reagan, unions were diminished, taxes slashed for the rich and the economy deregulated and placed in the paws of cunning rats who saw the world as a giant Monopoly board, spread across oceans and continents.

The result, even before the economic catastrophe of 2008, was unfathomable wealth for a few and precarious times for the majority.

Did anybody seriously believe that the recovery of other nations after World War II, combined with the applicability of Ford-Taylor-Gilbreth methods of production management, wouldn't offer other countries opportunities to produce the outputs of mature manufacturing industries as well, and perhaps more cheaply, than the unionized factories of the Northeast and Midwest?
Moore’s message is that Americans will need to fight for their right to jobs and security before the entire nation resembles the boarded-up, abandoned districts of Flint and Detroit.
Perhaps so, but that fight will be more effective once it becomes advocacy for incorporating lessons on the life management skills of the upper middle class into the elementary curriculum, and advocacy for elementary, secondary, and university education to admit, and to teach, up to those levels rather than pretending that access-assessment-remediation-retention somehow develops human capital.

It doesn't hurt, however, to see Mr Moore concede to an audience at George Mason University that one failing of what he calls capitalism is really the public-choice dynamic of large firms building storm shelters with the cooperation of government.
TONIGHT'S RAILWAY READING. A puddle-jumper fit for a Queen.


London Daily Mail photograph.

The Exchequer got a bargain.

Only a toddler penetrated the tight security as he ran up the alleyway followed by his father and pressed his nose against the glass.

He was too small to reach the button to open the door. But he did win a cheery smile from the Queen.

Asked by a passenger, one security guard confirmed that the Queen – and all her attendants – had bought tickets for the journey.

A first class open return bought on the day costs £86, but the guard joked: ‘It was probably a super saver advance – and she does get a discount as an OAP, remember.’

An advance first class ticket, without the seniors’ discount, costs £44.40.

The train arrived Kings Lynn on time. The Queen cannot be late.
PASSING THE TORCH. Professor Mankiw offers the best Paul Samuelson tribute I have seen.

16.12.09

KEITH OLBERMANN IS JOHN GALT? Mr Olbermann was not pleased with the Senate's latest attempt to develop a consensus health insurance bill, characterizing the provisions in so many words as a transfer to the insurance companies. He went on record as being prepared to defy the law. A commenter at Democratic Underground concurs. But a commenter (Nov 22, 0818) at American Thinker offered the same challenge last month.

Civil disobedience, gotta love it.
BEETHOVEN-GEBURTSTAG.

14.12.09

LET'S GET THE OBJECTIVES RIGHT. I start today's sermon with Berta Palitz Weiss's farewell talk to her students, when the Nazis resettled her.
If I am gone for some time, you are not to neglect your lessons. You will be better people for being educated, for knowing Shakespeare, and the Pythagorean theorem.
(Gerald Green, Holocaust, paperback edition, p. 322.)


I use that to recommend an observation by George Leef.

Slowly the realization is spreading: America has oversold higher education. This Time story quotes Marty Nemko, who says, "That piece of paper no longer means very much, and employers know that. Everybody's got it, so it's watered down."

My quibble is that the piece treats college education as a monolith. It isn't "the college degree" that has lost value. They're as valuable as ever for hard-working students who are focused on learning something. The trouble is that many college students these days simply coast along, accumulating the necessary credits in a jumble of courses that don't require much effort. We have a big oversupply of that sort of graduate.

I'll be more precise about it. The point of higher education is to develop a cohort of individuals who, if circumstances warranted it, could reconstruct their civilization from scratch. That point has been missed in the focus on inclusion (read: let the special ed students drag everybody else down) and on vocationalism, the latest fad. Here's an instructive error by Andrew Gillen at the misnamed Center for College Affordability and Productivity.
Students and legislatures need to know employment outcomes so they can properly evaluate the effectiveness of the billions of dollars we funnel to colleges.
Thus a degree program that is successful at obtaining entry-level placements is more effective than one that is successful at preparing graduates for leadership roles in industry, government, the law, and the academy, but only with a lag? We can do better.
LEASING A DEPRECIATING ASSET. Gerald Posner speculates on a renegotiated prenuptial agreement (I agree, the terminology is awkward, but there it is) between Tiger Woods and Elin Nordegren Woods.

Elin signed a prenuptial agreement reportedly worth $20 million after 10 years of marriage, not considered a large payout for someone who was already as successful as Tiger by then. (The tightlipped Woods camp, almost obsessive about releasing any personal information after Tiger’s blundering interviews with GQ in 1997, has never acknowledged the existence of the first prenup, although it’s been widely reported).

But in light of a string of women coming forward to say they had affairs with Tiger since his marriage, Elin has demanded that the prenup be rewritten, Chicago Sun-Times columnist Bill Zwecker reported Wednesday. “The links legend’s spouse is reportedly being paid a hefty seven-figure amount—immediately transferred [sic] into an account she alone controls—to stick with her husband,” Zwecker wrote. “At this point, the couple needed to remain married for 10 years in order for Woods’ wife to collect a splitsville settlement of $20 million. I’m being told that time frame has been shortened—and the dollar amount increased ‘substantially.’”

The lawyer familiar with the couple’s negotiations told The Daily Beast that Tiger also has agreed to shorten the original prenup to seven years from the date of marriage, meaning it will vest in another two. And the revised agreement provides for a staggered schedule of payments spread out over five years that could be worth upward of $75 million. So for Elin to collect $80 million, she’ll need to stay with Tiger another seven years, be a dutiful wife in showing up with him at social events and in public as if they were still the perfect couple, and sign a nondisclosure form that will prevent her from ever telling her story. Even if she lasts only two more years, she’ll still walk away with nearly twice what she was entitled to under the original prenup.

Paid to stick with her husband. That's almost enough to make people consider more favorably the radical feminist equivalence between marriage and prostitution.

There's a game-theoretic thesis nailed to Newmark's Door. He starts with an excerpt from a Eugene Robinson column in the Washington Post.
I was going to critique Woods's technique of adultery, or at least his apparent selection of playmates, as measured against a theory about philandering developed by my colleague Roxanne Roberts, who has spent years covering the capital's libidinous social scene for The Post. Roberts postulates that famous, powerful men who stray would be smart to choose women who have just as much to lose if the liaison were exposed. Some ultra-rich tycoon's young trophy wife, say, would fit that criterion. Cocktail waitresses and nightclub hostesses, not so much.
From which Professor Newmark draws a connection to Oliver Williamson.
Which sounds like a good example of a theory by Nobel Prize winner Oliver Williamson in "Credible Commitments: Using Hostages to Support Exchange," American Economic Review, Sept. 1983. (Very short summary here.)
Reason ahead, think back. Those tycoons very likely locked their arm candy into the kind of prenuptial agreement that Mr Woods signed off on, in which straying soon involves high costs, and in which the opportunity for a depreciated asset to stray is attenuated. That leaves Mr Woods with the groupies.
REMEMBERING PAUL SAMUELSON. The Wall Street Journal obtains remarks from an all-star cast of MIT graduates and faculty. James Poterba makes the Observation of the Day.
Economics is not just a (mental) game, it’s something you do because it really matters.
Amen. (Via Market Power.)

13.12.09

THE ROUTE OF THE HOLY FAITH. As long as there are locomotives with warbonnets and four portholes, life will be good.


Raimund Whynal photograph courtesy Trains Online.

The train is transiting Austria enroute from Germany to Kosovo with a special train. The power is Nohab V170 1125, currently owned by Eicholz of Germany, formerly a Danish State Railway unit.
REMEMBERING PAUL SAMUELSON. University Diaries picked up the New York Times obituary. Marginal Revolution hosts a retrospective, and recommends an article on asset prices (published in the at-the-time Bell Journal of Economics, which college juniors could obtain for free by writing a letter on university stationery.)

Paul Samuelson was fortunate enough to be able to see the applicability of a common set of results in convex analysis to a variety of economics problems. His Foundations of Economic Analysis is still useful reading for beginning graduate students.
THE SLOW LEARNERS DRAG EVERYONE DOWN. Insta Pundit: Harrison Bergeron, call your office. It's depressing.

As many as three-quarters of [British] state schools are failing to push their brightest pupils because teachers are reluctant to promote 'elitism', an Ofsted study says today.

Many teachers are not convinced of the importance of providing more challenging tasks for their gifted and talented pupils.

Bright youngsters told inspectors they were forced to ask for harder work. Others were resentful at being dragooned into 'mentoring' weaker pupils.

A commenter correctly identifies the outcome.

I'm worried about rising caste differences, but I think schools are only a small part of the problem. A diminishing number of families teach their children to dress and groom for a good first impression; speak and write coherently; show poise in formal settings; and so on.

Those who do these things, send their children on up the social scale. Those who don't, condemn their children to lives of clueless subservience. Whether they can factor polynomials or conjugate irregular verbs is pretty much beside the point.

Until the common schools, beginning in kindergarten, stress development of the habits of the upper middle class in all their students, the social stratification will only get worse.

12.12.09

SUN AND SNOW.

What is Soviet engine without winter?


The Steppes of DeKalb, 12 December 2009.

(I must work on airbrushing out those executive boxes in Crisis of Capitalism acres in background.)