25.6.10

MARKING OFF. Tired. Time away from the weblog. Thanks for looking in. Posting suspended for a while.

23.6.10

NO WINNER IN COLD WAR? So the policy intellectuals tell us.

DeKalb Airport, 6 June 2010.

Those policy intellectuals haven't told me when the Pentagon held a hangar sale to raise rubles.
PULLING THE PIN. Metra conductor Art Anderson reflects on everything he's seen on the railroad.
"It gets in your blood," Anderson said. "You feel a sense of accomplishment at the end of the day. You've taken 3,000 people safely to their destinations."
And sometimes it runs in the family, even when the family runs from the railroad.
Their son Frank "didn't want any part" of railroad work. But a funny thing happened. Frank met and married Janet, a woman from Mexico whose father was a conductor.
The story gets better.

22.6.10

COME OFF IT. Destination: Freedom rides the rails to Glasgow, Montana.

It’s about as far “off the main line” as you can get. The place was once called “Siding 45” because it was the location of the 45th siding west of Minot, North Dakota on the Great Northern Railway. Today it is known as Glasgow, Montana. Legend has it that somebody, maybe railroad founder James J. Hill (the “Empire Builder” for whom the train is named), touched a globe and his finger pointed to Glasgow, Scotland, and that is how the town got its name.

Glasgow is a community of about 2500 in northeastern Montana. It has as much rail service as cities like Columbia, South Carolina, Omaha, Nebraska and Reno, Nevada; and more than Cincinnati. Every afternoon at 12:26, the “Builder” is scheduled to stop on its way to Seattle and Portland. At 3:47, it is scheduled to stop on its way to Chicago. So a visit to Glasgow can last for approximately 201 minutes, plus any multiple of 24 hours.

There is no scheduled transit in Glasgow, but the “locals” still have some mobility. That is because of Valley County Transit, a provider which has no scheduled service. Instead, the county provides demand-response service in the local area to anyone who needs it. Local service is provided within Valley County, and the fare within Glasgow is $1.50 (75 cents for seniors and persons with disabilities). Out-of-county trips can be arranged, if a van and a driver are available.

The real public transit secret, dear reader, is that the Empire Builder exists in part to provide a day train across the northern counties of North Dakota and Montana, through old railroad towns, many of which tell you stories about Yim's globe, that are as far from the interstate highway system as you can get in the contiguous 48 (a northeatern Montana milepost may show mileage to someplace like Harlowton to the south and Lethbridge to the north) and with the shakeout among air carriers, possibly one puddle-jumper plane a day connecting at Spokane or Billings (Billings?) or Denver to the jet operators. I suspect that residents of the Bay Area or Portland or Chicago or some neighborhoods of Cleveland might find the Destination: Freedom assessment of transit options limited.
The people of Glasgow, Scotland have plenty of intercity trains and local transit. The people of Glasgow, Montana have limited airline service to Billings and Denver; as well as a train to Chicago, or to Portland or Seattle, every day. They also have local transportation whenever they want it. Not many Americans outside of New York City have that level of mobility without an automobile.
East coast readers: the western trains get good reviews. Give one a try. (And bear in mind, in the West "local transportation" might mean Glasgow to Minot or Shelby to Rugby).
West of Chicago, it's a bigger and better Amtrak world. At Union Station, my wife, Laurel (she made the balance of the trip with me), and I walked along an impressive string of tall, gleaming Superliners, searching for our sleeper, No. 731, the New Hampshire. (Naming sleeping cars is a long-standing railroad tradition.)
Just hope that the dining car is adequately stocked and that the toilets work.
THE ROADS PAY THEIR OWN WAY? Wisconsin loggers would like you to think so.

From the North Woods to the croplands and dairy farms of central Wisconsin, transportation is becoming a battleground as cash-starved local governments say they can no longer afford road maintenance costs, and businesses buckling under the weight of recession say they need a dependable transportation system now more than ever.

"I've never, ever seen it to this point where it's one township right after another. All of a sudden now, they just don't have the money to do the road work," said Henry Schienebeck, a third-generation logger and executive director of the Great Lakes Timber Professionals Association in Rhinelander. He's operated logging trucks for 26 years.

Lately, Schienebeck has been hopscotching the North Woods to attend town board meetings with loggers who are pleading with local elected leaders to allow them to haul the heavy loads they say they need to turn a profit at a time when that is tougher than it's ever been.

Communities have taken to posting their roads with weight restrictions or requiring loggers to put up insurance bonds that would cover the cost of any road damage that may occur, logging interests and local elected leaders say.

"I'm a fourth-generation logger and I fight this all the time, and it's getting ridiculous," said Max Ericson, who owns a logging and trucking company in Minong and is president of the timber professionals association. "I'm getting sick of it. All I want to be able to do is do my job.

"We don't want to go around tearing up town roads, but we don't want to be out of business either," he said.

On one hand, Wisconsin officials have been diverting money from the various state transportation taxes to other uses. Money is, after all, fungible.

Since 2003, $1.2 billion has been transferred from the transportation fund. The state has borrowed about $800 million to make up for the loss, but the transportation fund faced a net drop of $434 million, according to the Legislative Fiscal Bureau.

"We feel like we're paying a lot of money into that transportation fund. We don't think the transportation fund ought to be raided every year," Schienebeck said. "That money needs to go back into the infrastructure."

Raising local property taxes to pay for roads isn't much of an option, [Town of Hull chairman Shane] Graffunder said. Many residents couldn't afford to pay them anyway.

At the margin, higher property taxes will induce out-migration. The very use of property taxes for road maintenance, however, suggests that user fees are not sufficient to provide for the road network.

On the other hand, the loggers and farmers are apparently relying on taxpayers to make private productivity gains from larger trucks possible.

Meanwhile, the equipment keeps get bigger as farmers and loggers try to achieve the economies of scale they need to turn a profit.

Logging trucks used to haul 5 or 6 cords of wood, [Town of] Boulder Junction's [chairman Jeff] Long said. Now, they're hauling 12 or 14.

Investors in railroads, which have been putting money into strengthening tracks to support heavier payloads, have cause to complain about corporate welfare for their competition, if farmers and loggers have been purchasing bigger trucks and expecting the counties to strengthen the roads.
SEND POOR RICHARD TO BUSINESS SCHOOL. Or perhaps it's ancient English idioms, but clearly senior management at BP never learned.

In the design of the well, the company apparently chose a riskier option among two possibilities to provide a barrier to the flow of gas in space surrounding steel tubes in the well, documents and internal e-mails show. The decision saved BP $7 million to $10 million; the original cost estimate for the well was about $96 million.

In an e-mail, BP engineer Brian Morel told a fellow employee that the company is likely to make last-minute changes in the well.

"We could be running it in 2-3 days, so need a relative quick response. Sorry for the late notice, this has been nightmare well which has everyone all over the place," Morel wrote.



Heck, you could put that on a slide.
BP also apparently rejected advice of a subcontractor, Halliburton Inc., in preparing for a cementing job to close up the well. BP rejected Halliburton's recommendation to use 21 "centralizers" to make sure the casing ran down the center of the well bore. Instead, BP used six centralizers.
Let me be provocative. Suppose Dick Cheney were still Vice-President. Might somebody at Halliburton have used a back channel to get a suggestion from Washington that BP or the subcontractor stop work?
In an e-mail on April 16, a BP official involved in the decision explained: "It will take 10 hours to install them. I do not like this." Later that day, another official recognized the risks of proceeding with insufficient centralizers but commented: "Who cares, it's done, end of story, will probably be fine."

Or, the Poor Richard version:

Neglect mending a small fault, and ’twill soon be a great one.

Put those on the same slide, say, as part of the productivity seminar.

The lawmakers also said BP also decided against a nine- to 12-hour procedure known as a "cement bond log" that would have tested the integrity of the cement. A team from Schlumberger, an oil services firm, was on board the rig, but BP sent the team home on a regularly scheduled helicopter flight the morning of April 20.

Less than 12 hours later, the rig exploded.


Experience keeps a dear school, but fools will learn in no other, and scarce in that.

Indeed.

21.6.10

IF IT'S IN THE DATA, WRITE THE PAPER. Thus begins Clifford Asness's research project with the advice of Eugene Fama, adherent of the efficient market hypothesis and presumptive skeptic of momentum in security prices. It's one of many tales from the trading floor, the seminar room, and the card table that make up Scott Patterson's The Quants: How a New Breed of Math Whizzes Conquered Wall Street and Nearly Destroyed It. Book Review No. 13 recommends The Quants as a readable, careful, intuitive explanation of some of the strategies, machinations, and personality quirks that led to multiple financial bubbles. A casual reader might infer that Wall Street is indeed a casino, as some of the quants (jargon for mathematically sophisticated arbitrage-seekers) developed some of their skills understanding games of chance, including roulette, blackjack and poker. Along the way they killed all the fun in a trading-house game called Liars Poker, in which traders attempt to estimate the frequency a digit occurs on yuppie food stamps held by the players, to the discomfiture of the frat-boy jerks who thought they understood asset trading. It is important, however, for the reader to understand the difference between a casino that manufactures risk, and an asset market that values it. Casino games are subject to the laws of large numbers in ways that asset prices are not. Nassim Taleb and Benoit Mandelbrot make cameo appearances, and the explanations of their insights in Quants is instructive. The quants, however, were slow learners. The book suggests that portfolio insurance, one mathematical breakthrough, preceded and might have precipitated the October 1987 price crash; value at risk analysis, another breakthrough, led to the failure of Long Term Capital Management in 1998, and Mr Patterson suggests new quantitative tricks led to errors in the valuation of mortgage-backed securities. He concludes with a warning that the quants are still at work on more exotic financial products, although whether they have revised their reliance on the law of large numbers remains to be seen.
(Cross-posted to 50 Book Challenge.)
THE EXCESS DEMAND IS NOT FOR EASY CREDENTIALS. Enrollment has been falling at financially troubled Southern Illinois University. Some time ago I speculated that lowering standards to keep bodies in the seats wasn't the right approach.
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.
A professor at Carbondale (via Phi Beta Cons) sees the light.

Yet 60% of our entering freshmen will never graduate (IPEDs six-year graduation data).

How is this compassionate? If lowering standards was the key to increased enrollment, our classrooms would be packed. Those interviewed concede that enrollment has declined for ten years while it has increased at other schools. Yet they remain committed to cheating the ill-prepared of their money and the well-prepared of a rigorous education.

It is an open secret -- and Interim Provost Don Rice alludes to it -- that a SIU degree is losing its value. We are getting a "reputation" for accepting everyone. Every incoming chancellor wraps this sad fact in maintaining our "historic mission."

Seriously.

Don Rice said the university will continue its mission to cater to first-generation students instead of raising admission standards, despite years of declining enrollment.

Rice, interim provost of SIUC, said he sees admission standards and enrollment rates as a balancing act.

“If the university were to raise its standards, some people would feel the university has more rigor and the value of the degree would be greater,” he said. “The opposite side of the coin is that you raise admission standards you lose part of the population we’re dedicated too.”

I've never understood the implicit smear of first-generation collegians, non-traditional students, people working at the roundhouse to earn tuition money inherent in that opposition of standards to access. The effect on faculty morale is obvious enough.
Those of us in the trenches are trying to teach a mix of students: half who need a lot of "remediation." The other half are deprived of a solid education. It is demoralizing.
Southern Illinois, "that most benighted of American university campuses," might be a special case, with a special category at University Diaries. Although it has joined Northern Illinois in the speech code hall of shame, it is Southern rather than Northern that has been losing enrollments. I suspect, however, that the failure of access-assessment-remediation-retention to keep the classes filled generalizes to institutions less corrupted and less captured by politically correct careerists.

19.6.10

SHORTER MARXIST BUSINESS CYCLE. The General Law of Capitalist Accumulation, as spelled out in volume I of Capital, culminates thus:
Along with the constantly diminishing number of the magnates of capital, who usurp and monopolize all advantages of this process of transformation, grows the mass of misery, oppression, slavery, degradation, exploitation; but with this too grows the revolt of the working-class, a class always increasing in numbers, and disciplined, united, organized by the very mechanism of the process of capitalist production itself, The monopoly of capital becomes a fetter upon the mode of production. Centralization of the means of production and socialization of labor at last reach a point where they become incompatible with their capitalist integument. This integument is burst asunder. The knell of capitalist private property sounds. The expropriators are expropriated.
It takes 21 chapters to get there, and a lot of heavy reading, whether in German, Russian, or in the English translation.

Read through Howard Sherman's The Roller Coaster Economy: Financial Crisis, Great Recession, and the Public Option, and you get the same analysis, albeit in fewer pages and with a different policy conclusion. Thus Book Review No. 12 recommends the book as an accessible explanation of the Marxian business cycle. The serious scholar will still read and understand all three volumes of Capital: the casually interested reader will find the main points spelled out in chapter 1, Boom, Bust, and Misery; and in Chapter 2, History of the Roller Coaster. Keep reading, and note the labor theory of value, the accumulation of surplus value, and underconsumption.

The public policy chapter that concludes the book, however, does not call for goatees, granny glasses, and a sealed train arriving at the Finland Station. The public option part of the subtitle does refer to health care, in which insurance companies extract surplus value in ways Professor Sherman suggests a government agency would not. He also proposes democratic management of large corporations (presumably not by hippie cooperatives or soviets of workers deputies, althoug the details are missing) as a way of taming some of the instabilities of market-directed resource allocation. That gives me a chance to go radical on radical economists. Complex adaptive systems, such as market-based allocation of resources, do what they damn well please, and they can produce disruptive fluctuations. But democratically managed economies subject to majority rule, Wise Experts acting in The Public Interest or no, are also complex adaptive systems.

(Cross-posted to 50 Book Challenge.)
ON A LIST THAT WAS LATER MISPLACED. Communist inefficiency has unintended consequences. The latest issue of The Railway Magazine to reach Cold Spring Shops includes pictures of the locomotives for Jugoslavia's Blue Train, a definitely non-proletarian conveyance for Marshal Tito, covered with graffiti somewhere in Serbia, and a relatively recent photograph of a British experimental diesel, Kestrel, that the Sovs purchased for conversion to a turbine locomotive, derelict but not scrapped. Is it too much to ask ...

17.6.10

THE DOWNSIDE OF PRIMARY ELECTIONS? John Avlon's Wingnuts: How the Lunatic Fringe is Hijacking America is clearly a polemic, and its principal focus is on more vocal circles of opposition to Our President. Chapters with titles such as Obama Derangement Syndrome, The Birth of White Minority Politics, Sarah Palin and the Limbaugh Brigades, and The Hatriots: Armed and Dangerous identify what Mr Avlon sees as the scariest parts of the various strands of conservatism, libertarianism, and on occasion white supremacy. [His presentation is not as hysterical as Chris Matthew's recent "The Rise of the New Right," smacked down by Hot Air.] Other chapters, however, make it clear that True Believers have all manner of beliefs, noted in Polarizing for Profit, Hunting for Heretics, and The Big Lie: Birthers and Truthers. The opening parts, A Wingnut Glossary and Introducing the Wingnuts, introduce all manner of True Believers, and the author chooses to use the word wingnut to describe any True Believer whose Beliefs are too remote from the Vital Center. The distinction between wingnuts (the left's pejorative) and moonbats (the right's pejorative) adds notation without clarity.
Book Review No. 11 notes Wingnuts's unusual endnotes, in which almost all the references are to web sites ... your library at home, forsooth, although some Ronald Reagan speeches have not yet been encoded. Substantively, the author notes that in his view, most people hold enough beliefs in the Vital Center so as to be able to resist the arguments from the extremes (this is the median voter argument, with voter preferences that do not invalidate minimum differentiation). He suggests that Congress change the apportionment formula to produce districts with more viewpoint diversity rather than creating safe districts for both parties. Although such a change has the potential both to favor candidates that cater to the median voter and to upset the conditions favorable to maximum differentiation in the primaries, where the True Believers are more likely to vote, it presupposes more racial comity than may currently exist. Those safe districts are the bipartisan implementation of the Voting Rights Act in such a way as to create majority-minority districts by clustering primarily poor Americans with African roots together to elect Democrats, and at the same time creating Republican districts, often by clustering primarily poor Americans with European roots together. Tradeoffs again: does a Congress that approximates the ethnic mix of the country matter more, or does a Congress that approximates the viewpoint mix?

(Cross-posted to 50 Book Challenge.)
TALKING DOWN TO US? Obama Oil Spill Speech Echoes Elite, Aloof Ethos.

President Obama’s Oil Spill speech echoed his elite ethos, with a broad plan for an alternative-energy future and few specifics. The only specifics of the address were the continuation of the off-shore drilling ban, effectively putting tens of thousands of Gulf Coast jobs in jeopardy. The President’s first Oval Office address came in at a surprising high tenth-grade reading level, with some 13% passive constructions, the highest level measured in any major presidential address in this century. In political speaking, the passive voice is generally used to either deflect responsibility, or to have no particular ‘doer’ of an action.

A previous analysis using GLM’s NarrativeTracker™, found the president’s primary narrative arc to be that of ‘Obama as an Oil Spill Enabler’. Nothing in the address would appear to change that narrative, though formal analysis will be forthcoming in the next week.

The post recommends an AlterNet translation, complete with some digs at the little people.
GOING THE LASER CUTTER ONE BETTER. It's too powerful to be a laser pointer and too cumbersome to use as the cutting head in a precision tool. Yoda or Obi-Wan might have a use for it.
THE ESSENCE OF TRADEOFF. Spotted near campus: a Greenpeace "Spill Baby Spill" bumper sticker, and not on a hybrid or electric car either. For some perspective on the usefulness of primary energy, including oil, read and understand David Foster at Chicago Boyz.
Before we were addicted to oil, we were addicted to coal. This fuel was used to heat homes, to drive locomotives and steamships, to power steam engines in factories, and for many other things in addition to its present-day uses in power generation and iron/steel production. While coal has many positive qualities as a fuel, the age of coal had its drawbacks. Coal mining was dangerous and often injurious to health. Stoking of furnaces involved backbreaking labor…although automatic stokers were developed for locomotives and power plants, the firing of steamship boilers still required the round-the-clock effort of large numbers of human beings.
Our ancestors didn't have to buy gym memberships, because they sold their muscle power to dig coal or shovel it out of gondola cars or stoke it into furnaces. There is something jarring about people spending money on lawn tractors at the same time they're buying gym memberships and driving there in passenger trucks, but on balance they are healthier. Go read the rest of the article.
SOMEBODY TRYING TO TELL ME SOMETHING? Sitemeter reports a visit from Transportationist: Is Bicycling Bad for Your Bones? The article is about bone density in distance racers, not about taking a bad spill, where the answer is definitely yes.

16.6.10

OF GLAZIERS AND TAILORS. King Banaian catches a Wall Street Journal columnist seeing the good in a broken window.
The six-month moratorium on deep-water drilling may cut U.S. oil production by around 3% in 2011 and cost more than 3,000 jobs, according to J.P. Morgan’s energy analysts.

Commercial fishing in the Gulf is also likely to suffer, but that’s only about 0.005% of U.S. GDP. The impact on tourism is the hardest to measure, although it’s fair to expect that many hotel workers who lose their jobs will find it hard to get new ones.

Still, cleaning up the spill will likely be enough to slightly offset the negative impact of all this on GDP, J.P. Morgan said. The bank cites estimates of 4,000 unemployed people hired for the cleanup efforts, which some reports have said could be worth between $3 and $6 billion.

“If realized, this would likely mean a near- to medium-term boost to activity that might offset the drags,” Feroli said.
Not quite, says Professor Banaian.
We'll probably spend more time on greening GDP than we will on economic education that keeps analysts at investment houses from being quoted saying dumb things.
A news report Tuesday noted spot shortages of workers with hazardous material training, and companies specializing in picking up train derailments might face delays in shipments of protective clothing.
STAYING IN THE TOURNAMENT IS HARD. The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel evaluates Wisconsin-Milwaukee's sports fortunes since 2005, when the men's basketball team earned a tournament bid and coach Bruce Pearl earned tenure on Rocky Top.

For once, the mid-major school best known for churning out teachers didn't have to take a back seat to anyone - not even the private institution with the storied basketball program a few miles down the road.

Those were heady times, indeed, for UWM.

Five years later, the momentum and goodwill generated by that Sweet 16 appearance have all but disappeared.

The school's athletic department is faced with the double whammy of a growing budget deficit and a drop in fund raising. Pearl now is the head coach at the University of Tennessee, and UWM's basketball program, under coach Rob Jeter, has receded from the national spotlight.

Earlier this month, athletic director George Koonce resigned after a rocky year at the head of the program. The department is expected to begin a search for a replacement soon.

Koonce had been placed on administrative leave in April for what the school called a personnel matter.

So where does UWM go from here?

How will the athletic department - without the revenue generated by a football team and with a basketball team that doesn't come close to selling out its arena - move forward in the face of enormous financial challenges?

Bud Haidet, who retired as athletic director after 21 years in July 2009, said the key to the future was the men's basketball program.

"It's a no-brainer that the men's basketball team needs to succeed in order for a Division 1 program to move forward," he said in a phone interview from his home near Fort Myers, Fla. "My whole plan was to build a total program, very strong at the Division 1 level, and devote as many resources as I could into men's basketball to move it forward.

"Without football, you have to rely on basketball and success there for ticket sales, fund raising, fan and student interest."

Through a spokesman, UWM Chancellor Carlos Santiago turned down several requests to talk about the UWM athletic department.

A successful Milwaukee basketball program is still a successful Horizon League program, Butler's runnerup status to the contrary, and making a capital investment in a near-campus arena to lose less money is going to be difficult for an economist, which Professor Santiago is, to explain. At least nobody is chasing the chimera of football revenues, which would require an even larger subsidy for sports.
HOST THE WORLD CUP IN THE METRODOME. Dennis Coates of The Sports Economist asks readers to weigh the costs and benefits, including the possible use of public money, of successfully bidding for the World Cup of men's soccer. (The women's tournament has taken place in the U.S., to the delight of suburban eight year old girls countrywide).
Yet before deciding to allocate scarce public resources to the event we need to take a step back from the excitement of the South African games – which have run into many problems of their own.– and carefully consider the justifications for hosting the event and whether doing so is the right decision for the country.
The proposing cities apparently are more interested in the prestige than in the costs.
So, we have economic impact projections of dubious value and no information on costs. Nothing necessary to make a rational, informed decision is available. Before cities across the country and the nation commit irreversibly to the World Cup bid, decision-makers need all the necessary information.
Is it relevant that Minnesota Viking fans have their own version of the vuvuzela?

13.6.10

DESPERATELY SEEKING ACADEMIC CONTENT. I received a paper memorandum from headquarters soliciting applications for a coordinator for engaged learning.
The Vice Provost is seeking applications for the position of Coordinator for Engaged Learning. The focus of this position will be to facilitate the development and maintenance of high impact learning opportunities for undergraduate students, while building commonalities and connections essential for retention within the colleges and the university.
It's simplistic, you see, to create a few more sections of calculus or literature or economics and hire professors, including a few senior noncoms. If the job description is also an ordering of tasks, here's what headquarters thinks is more important.
Catalogue existing high impact engaged learning opportunities at NIU through personal meetings, thorough inventory of the website, and communication with key programs and all colleges. Develop a web portal to coordinate and link students to available engaged learning opportunities. Facilitate the establishment and coordinate the logistics of themed learning communities for new freshmen. Develop an implementation plan for additional learning communities once targeted groups are identified. Facilitate communication among learning community instructors and students about engaged learning opportunities. Work with the campus community to integrate the identified engaged learning opportunities into existing program and services and communication with students, faculty and staff. Identify courses and faculty that are a good match to develop service-learning opportunities.
I've also discovered that advising is apparently obsolete. That's too important a job to be left to a professor to say "hit the books and come to office hours with questions" or to a dean of students to suggest "fat dumb and drunk is no way to go through life." The times require a student success specialist.
The specialist provides leadership for the development, implementation, and assessment of student success and persistence initiatives for the College of Business (COB). The specialist is responsible for improving student retention, academic success, professional performance, and graduation rates through programming and services. The specialist will assess the effectiveness of the initiatives and provide feedback for review of policies and practices.Work with personnel from Office of Student Academic Success (OSAS) and the college to develop policies and procedures to administer a college-wide student success and retention program based on measurable outcomes. Work with programs, campus offices, and data sources to identify and assist students who show signs that they may have difficulty succeeding in professional/degree programs within the college.
No more "here is a quarter, go and tell your mother there is serious doubt about your becoming a lawyer."
Coordinate retention initiatives with OSAS and college advisers. Facilitate early alert programs, encumbrance exploration, transcript requests, progress tracking, and other intervention programs. Contact students to identify: Why academically eligible students do not return; Ways that financial difficulties might be resolved; Why students have requested a transcript to be sent to another institution; Why students are stopping out; Why student opted to not attend NIU after being admitted or confirmed; and other questions as deemed appropriate by the college.
The paragraphs to follow strongly suggests that "I'm leaving because not enough classes challenge me" is not the main cause for concern.

Implement and disseminate information to the college regarding student success/retention best practices. Work with the advisers to provide additional support to students to problem solve, offer solutions, and arrive at an appropriate and timely resolution. Develop and maintain appropriate publications and information sources for Student Success Services (web, print, etc.) in collaboration with existing efforts.

Maintain records and/or databases and data reports on student retention (migration data and/or predictive modeling and/or retention milestones and/or GPA's below a particular college requirement); at-risk students, and student stop-outs for use by the college and departmental contacts. Analyze variables associated with student success to provide direction and feedback for student success efforts.

Here's your direction: read ahead of the course outline, ask questions in class, take advantage of office hours. And here's your feedback: sell the car, rent in DeKalb, don't sign up for any credit cards, do without a cell phone, study on Tuesdays rather than hitting the bars.

No university administrator can resist coming up with goofy acronyms. There's an opportunity for a Director, BELIEF Intiative. This has nothing to do with comparative religion.
The College of Business at Northern Illinois University is searching for a BELIEF Director with primary responsibility for internal and external activities related to ethical leadership in business. The rapidly growing BELIEF program (Building Ethical Leaders Using an Integrated Ethical Framework) involves students, faculty, staff and corporate sponsors. This staff position carries additional responsibilities for teaching two classes per year.
Those two classes are probably not symbolic logic, moral philosophy, or stochastic calculus.

In the middle of a recession, with the state budget situation still unresolved, the current job opportunities include six faculty slots (three visiting, one tenure-track) and thirteen coordinators, including a success specialist for each of five colleges, two assistant directors in recreation, and a call center coordinator. Most of the academic searches take place in the fall, to set up interview meetings at the major association conferences, meaning this sample of job listings might be a skewed revelation of administrative preferences.
HEAVY PASSENGER LOADINGS. On Friday, some Metra trains ran late, and some trains already full with celebrating Blackhawks fans passed scheduled stops without stopping.

Throughout the morning, Metra trains were crowded, and boarding was going slow as fans from the suburbs packed into the cars.

“Squeeze in. Squeeze in. Make room,” one conductor implored.

Some of the trains were so packed, no one could get on at stops.

It's not quite a "The public be damned" moment, as the carrier anticipated large loads and provided additional capacity, although some of that capacity was delayed.

For inbound traffic this morning from the western suburbs, the travel problems were made worse when a train designated as an extra train to accommodate the crush struck a vehicle near Main Street in Glen Ellyn. That Union Pacific line train was headed for West Chicago with the intention of turning around to pick up riders headed for Chicago.

As a result, three Union Pacific trains--Nos. 32, 36 and 38--heading toward Chicago were delayed up to an hour, but were on the move as of 9:25 a.m. according to Metra's Web site. Information about injuries resulting from the crash wasn't immediately unavailable.

Meanwhile, Metra trains in other parts of the Chicago area quickly became filled to capacity, forcing Metra to add extra equipment.

Train No. 636, scheduled to arrive in Chicago at 8:23 a.m., along the Union Pacific Northwest Line ran express this morning between the northwest suburban Barrington and Chicago's Clybourn Avenue stations, Metra said on its Web site. An extra train was made available for riders between the northwest suburban Palatine and Chicago's Jefferson Park stations.

In the south suburbs along Metra's Rock Island District line, train No. 416, originally scheduled to make stops between Tinley Park's Oak Park Avenue and Blue Island stations and the 103rd- Washington Heights station in Chicago bypassed those stations after reaching capacity. An extra train had to follow that one to stop at all No. 416's missed stations.

On the Milwaukee District North Line, train No. 2126 that was scheduled to arrive in Chicago at 9:21 a.m. and No. 2128, scheduled to arrive at 10:22 a.m., were running about 20 to 25 minutes late due to heavy passenger loading, Metra's Web site stated.

Milwaukee District train No. 2228 was running 15 minutes late due to heavy passenger loading, as well. Also because of heavy ridership, an extra train on the BNSF Railway line was unable to stop for passengers at stations between Hinsdale and Chicago. Train No. 1262 scheduled to arrive in Chicago at 10:42 a.m. would pick up those riders, Metra said.

A radio news report had an inbound train on the Waukegan line skipping all stops inward of Wilmette, where commuters have the option of using the Evanston and Howard branch of the Rapid Transit. I have turned up no reports of fans angry with Metra for completely missing the rally, although some riders might have found themselves further from the parade route or the stage than they had intended.

Metra has a weekend prohibition on cans and bottles on trains when passenger loadings are large. Sports fans can imbibe at the rally or if they took in a baseball game afterwards, but they're limited to sleeping it off on the train, probably a better outcome than if they drove in and attempted to drive home.
GETTING THE MODEL RIGHT. The dean at Anonymous Community presents a useful taxonomy of higher education.

At a really basic level, I'd divide degree-granting colleges into four groups: high-cost high-prestige, high-cost low-prestige, low-cost high-prestige, and low-cost low-prestige. The high-cost high-prestige places -- think Harvard and Yale -- will be fine. They have more money than God, and they sell exclusivity.

Low-cost high-prestige places -- the public Ivies, say -- will be fine if they can keep up their perceived quality. There's always a market for a good deal.

Yes, and there's excess demand for degrees of perceived quality (prestige, in the Superintendent's impression, correlating somewhat positively with the ambition and intellect of the entering classes). The challenge for the state institutions in keeping up their perceived quality is two-fold. Administrators would like to put the failures to keep up on stingy legislatures, ignoring their own complicity whenever beer-'n-circus or access-assessment-remediation-retention crowds out calculus and statistics and economics and chemistry.
Low-cost low-prestige places -- community colleges leap to mind -- will be fine if they can shift the ground of conversation from prestige to outcomes. A community college that does a good job at the first two years of a degree (or a two-year occupational degree) is a great deal; students who graduate from locally-respected programs in Nursing or criminal justice can find good jobs (in normal times) at minimal cost. And if the cc does general education well, it can become the first half of a low-cost high-prestige program. For a kid who's basically talented but still unfocused, doing the first two years at a cc before transferring to someplace good can make a world of sense, and can greatly reduce student loan burdens. (Conversely, a community college that does a lousy job at the first two years has no compelling reason to exist.)
"A community college that does a lousy job at the first two years" is probably devoting a lot of resources to doing what the high schools should have done. Discuss. And, extending an earlier paragraph, the Superintendent conjectures that much of the excess demand for perceived prestige is really excess demand for outcomes. Parents, and, more often than the cynics would have readers believe, students, would prefer to interact with strivers rather than party animals or high-school repeaters.

The dean focuses on a possible shakeout in the for-profit diploma mills, but his money quote is also a caution to administrators still too committed to access-assessment-remediation-retention.
I expect to see increasing liberties taken in the name of economic survival. Standards will be lowered, financial aid guidelines will be stretched, faculties will be adjuncted-out, students will be overtly catered to and covertly fleeced. All of which is terrible for the students, of course, but which will also exert downward pressure on competing institutions. It won't last forever -- death spirals don't -- but the process won't be pretty.
One can change each occurrence of "will be" to "are being" and find illustrations of the dynamic already in process. That dynamic, however, does nothing to meet the actually existing excess demand for higher education.
INTRODUCTORY COURSES ARE TOO IMPORTANT TO BE LEFT TO BEGINNERS. That has long been the Cold Spring Shops position. Perhaps, with Professor Mankiw finding an academic study reaching that conclusion, deans and provosts will begin to listen.
Academic rank, teaching experience, and terminal degree status of professors are negatively correlated with contemporaneous value‐added but positively correlated with follow on course value‐added. Hence, students of less experienced instructors who do not possess a doctorate perform significantly better in the contemporaneous course but perform worse in the follow‐on related curriculum.
The primary purpose of the article is to evaluate the effectiveness of course evaluations, another distraction from the higher learning that deans and provosts might do well to dispense with.

(The sentence beginning with "hence" is a translation of the statistical inference stated in the preceding sentence.)
FIRST PRIZE, LONG RIDE ON A SLOW TRAIN. Second prize, shorter ride on a faster train. Midwest High Speed Rail notes the winners of an Amtrak video contest for Illinois collegians. DePaul's Paul Hennessey and Northern Illinois's Tyler Hicks were honored, and their videos might still be available online.

10.6.10

WITHOUT ANY KIND OF MUSHROOM. Book Review No. 10 simply suggests that Shutter Island will feed your head. The movie is pretty true to the book, and in either setting what is real and what is imagined will depend on your state of mind. I might re-read the novel to see if there are additional clues as to which is which.

(Cross-posted to 50 Book Challenge.)
STILL A TOUGH QUESTION. Knowledge Problem's Michael Giberson questions the necessity of state action to end racial segregation.
Should we give government power credit for ending Jim Crow, when Jim Crow attitudes were turned by state and local governments into laws that used government power to force segregation? How long did it take the Times‘ lauded (federal) government power to overcome the use of (state and local) government power imposing segregation requirements? In what vision of a “purely free market” can the government tell a business that it must segregate its customers by race?
He's reacting to reactions to Kentucky senate hopeful Rand Paul's ham-handed responses to a question Rachel Maddow put to him shortly after the Kentucky primary. I have to wonder if civil rights policy wouldn't have been less controversial if the Supreme Court had ruled that laws requiring businesses to deny service to people based on ascriptive characteristics were contrary to the Constitution in such a way that did not hold businesses that chose to continue to refuse service also in violation. Civil rights laws or no, there is still self-selection by customers and businesses. A gentleman who would like to have a quiet conversation with a cultivated lady is not likely to go to a biker bar. And there are plenty of barbecue joints with bars on the windows and old cars in the parking lots that upscale gourmands will continue to miss.
SPEND MONEY TO LOSE LESS MONEY? Wisconsin-Milwaukee's regents raised tuition, then added a $25 per semester fee to finance a basketball arena.
The UWM men's team currently has a lease with the Wisconsin Center District to use the U.S. Cellular Arena. University administrators have argued that a new on-campus arena could boost support for the men's and women's teams.
The university, not so obviously a commuter university, now has more students in residence, and its administrators claim to enroll more Wisconsin residents than Madison. The lease for the Arena (site of the Milwaukee Bucks' only championship series) is apparently expensive, and attendance falls well short of its capacity. On the other hand, the university will be building a smaller arena closer to campus ... for Horizon League games.
THE ROOT CAUSE OF REGULATORY FAILURE. Go read today's theses nailed to Newmark's Door. Money quote, from Chicago's John Cochrane:
The case for free markets never was that markets are perfect. The case for free markets is that government control of markets, especially asset markets, has always been much worse.
Be sure to observe, and participate in, the bull session.
THE BUNT AND RUN? I've seen the hit and run, and the stolen base, and the sacrifice bunt. The Milwaukee Brewers sent the beer-swilling widebodies beyond the Cheddar Curtain with a play they've been working on.

The winning run scored on a throwing error by Cubs first baseman Xavier Nady, but it was forced by Gomez's speed. He was running from first on Craig Counsell's bunt attempt, and when he peeked in and saw the bunt going toward third base, he never slowed and went for third. Catcher Koyie Hill had to race Gomez to the base and by the time he got there, Nady had airmailed the throw and Gomez scored easily.

Running on a sacrifice bunt and taking third is a play Gomez and Alexi Casilla practiced with the Minnesota Twins and a play the Brewers practiced on the back fields during spring training, hoping to surprise
a defense one day.

"That's our Willie Mays Hayes play," Counsell said, referring to the movie "Major League." "I play Tom Berenger and he plays Wesley Snipes."

It's an unusual way to manufacture a run, and I may have to open up something other than a Sprecher when the opportunity arises.

8.6.10

THE JAGGED APPROXIMATED BY THE SMOOTH. I had to finish Paul J. Nahin's An Imaginary Tale: The Story of i, reviewed here, to set up a review of his Dr. Euler's Fabulous Formula: Cures Many Mathematical Ills, a much delayed Book Review No. 9. Fabulous Formula is more technical than Imaginary Tale, and it might benefit by looking more like a textbook, with a few equation numbers so as to enable the reader to follow the frequent changes of variables Professor Nahin makes, generally with the end result being an equation of the form e = cos(θ) + i sin(θ), which can then be conveniently integrated, or split, or differentiated, depending on the result he's trying to derive. The formula turns up in a number of places, including Fourier series and Fourier integrals, and these transformations enable a practitioner to model phenomena such as pulses (the simple ones are a finite force over an interval of time, but more challenging ones including an instantaneous infinite force also lend themselves to modeling) and vibrating strings in a tractable way. The book is heavy going in places (keep a pencil with an eraser handy and take a lot of notes if you really wish to learn the methods) and more likely to appeal to the rocket scientist or electrical engineer than to the armchair mathematician or historian of mathematical thought (the biography of Euler in the final chapter notwithstanding). There are some results involving complex time that might repay careful study, if you're contemplating velocities that exceed the speed of light. If it's the history of mathematics you're after, Imaginary Tale is probably the better book for you.

(Cross-posted to 50 Book Challenge.)
SPRECHER TIME. Casey McGehee!
DISCOVER YOUR COMPARATIVE ADVANTAGES. The dean at Anonymous Community asks readers to suggest advising terminology more inspiring than "get your gen eds out of the way". The conversation turns to a more general exchange on the purpose of higher education, the failures of the high schools to do their work, and the tendency of students to focus on majors too soon. The Cold Spring Shops position holds that the purpose of what the barbarians call general education, but what used to be called the core curriculum, was to enable students to discover their intellectual strengths. You can choose any course of study you want, but first you run an intellectual septathlon in which excelling at some events but not others is expected and ultimately reinforced.

There is a second purpose, which emerges in a survey post at University Diaries. The money quote comes from David Brooks (there's an InstaPundit comment on Mr Brooks that concurs in part and dissents in part).
Studying the humanities will give you a wealth of analogies. People think by comparison — Iraq is either like Vietnam or Bosnia; your boss is like Narcissus or Solon. People who have a wealth of analogies in their minds can think more precisely than those with few analogies. If you go through college without reading Thucydides, Herodotus and Gibbon, you’ll have been cheated out of a great repertoire of comparisons.
I'm not sure if contemporary law students read the older Supreme Court rulings any more, in which classical allusions proliferate. On a more mundane level, it is difficult to appreciate those Capitol One Huns without some understanding of medieval castle-sacking techniques, although I doubt that real Huns spoke English with a London accent. Those commercials must have been conceived of by somebody who knew some history.

7.6.10

MORE FRETTING ABOUT SURF CITY COLLEGE. If two girls for every boy is unsustainable, perhaps there's a quiet preference for men in university admissions. But please don't call it affirmative action.
On one side of the current conflict are the opponents of affirmative action for any group, whether based on sex, ethnicity, or religion. Typically such opponents compare efforts to limit the number of women in a college population to the quotas for Jews that once prevailed in the Ivy League and the de facto quotas disfavoring high-achieving Asians that have typically arisen as a consequence of "diversity" measures favoring blacks and Hispanics. Squarely in the anti-affirmative-action camp is the instigator of the Civil Rights Commission's admissions probe, Gail Heriot, a law professor at the University of San Diego appointed to the commission by the Senate in 2007 and one of the backers of Proposition 209, the 1996 ballot measure that outlawed racial and other preferences by public institutions in California. "The exemption in Title IX was created to protect single-sex schools---to allow men's schools to remain men's schools and women's schools to remain women's schools," Heriot said in a telephone interview. "The admissions policies of coeducational schools weren't covered."

On the other side is a group that might be called "biological realists," a group that undoubtedly includes many admissions officers and alumni fundraisers. Their argument is simple: Call it sexist, or call it simply hormonal, but most young people want to attend a co-educational school where the number of students of each sex is roughly equal. There are almost no all-men's colleges left in the United States, and only around 50 all-women's colleges (two longtime holdouts, Hood in Maryland and Randolph-Macon in Virginia, went fully co-educational in 2003 and 2007 respectively, and even the most academically prestigious of the survivors, such as Bryn Mawr and Mt. Holyoke, draw a significant percentage of their student bodies from socially conservative populations in the Mideast and East Asia where single-sex education is the norm).
Perhaps administrators could do even more to eliminate the sexual gamesmanship and the rabbit culture by screening their applicants along 29 dimensions of compatibility, admitting in such a way that each matriculant has a reasonable chance of finding a special someone or three. What's interesting, though, is that Surf City College also loses prestige.

Furthermore, once any institution is perceived as predominantly female, whether a profession such as K-12 teaching or a college with a severe female-to-male gender imbalance, it loses prestige. Men shy away and eventually so do the most talented women, who want to be where the high-status men are. If high-school seniors won't apply to a college because they don't like the sex mix, the college drops both in perceived selectivity---the U.S. News rankings where the applications-to-acceptances ratio is paramount---and actual selectivity as it scrambles to fill seats with less able students. It's a rule of thumb that the less academic prestige a college has, the more likely it is to suffer from gender imbalance among both applicants and those who choose to attend (there's no gender imbalance at Harvard or the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, for example). At community colleges that take all comers, for example, 62 percent of students are female, and the for-profit open-admissions University of Phoenix boasts on its website that it has a 67 percent female student body. "The lower the pecking order, the more women," said Heriot.

It's a potential death spiral of which most college administrators and governing boards are well aware. In 2005 trustees at the University of North Carolina's flagship campus at Chapel Hill were distressed to discover that the entering freshman class was 58 percent female. Some trustees suggested that the university create some sort of affirmative action for men, an act that would have been violated the law.

That propensity of talented women to chase the high-status men has to perturb some equity feminists.
There's a third interest group in the mix, the hard-line feminists who insist either that males as historical oppressors should never qualify for admissions preferences, or that men's general lack of interest in institutions and activities that are "too female" is not a biological but a cultural phenomenon that can be reversed by role-modeling, mentoring, and sensitivity sessions. In a forum this spring for Education Next Susan McGee Bailey, executive director of the Wellesley Centers for Women and principal author of the American Association of University Women's 1992 report "How Schools Shortchange Girls," argued that male high school graduation rates and male college enrollments would increase if there were a national campaign to encourage fathers to read to their children and more boys in the K-12 system had access to "men who hold other than traditionally male jobs."
With the ambitious women still chasing after the high-status men, and using the language of empowerment while doing so? Good luck with that. Incentives Matter.
ONE THING AT A TIME. Seriously.

While many people say multitasking makes them more productive, research shows otherwise. Heavy multitaskers actually have more trouble focusing and shutting out irrelevant information, scientists say, and they experience more stress.

And scientists are discovering that even after the multitasking ends, fractured thinking and lack of focus persist. In other words, this is also your brain off computers.

Go read and understand it all. Note the image of contemporary domesticity that opens the article.


New York Times photo by Chang W. Lee.

A related article highlights the physiology of connectivity addiction.

Some experts suggest simply trying to curtail the amount of time you spend online. Set limits for how often you check e-mail or force yourself to leave your cellphone at home occasionally.

The problem is similar to an eating disorder, says Dr. Kimberly Young, a professor at St. Bonaventure University in New York who has led research on the addictive nature of online technology. Technology, like food, is an essential part of daily life, and those suffering from disordered online behavior cannot give it up entirely and instead have to learn moderation and controlled use. She suggests therapy to determine the underlying issues that set off a person’s need to use the Internet "as a way of escape."

I'm not convinced. Lawnmowers and washing machines are also technology, and I have no recollection of any washing machine or lawnmower disorders. And there are any number of methods by which society conspires against excessive gambling or drinking, or, for that matter, excessive trainspotting.

Will power is useful. I have explained to a few colleagues how to turn off the "you have mail" alert, and I'm slowly acclimating them to the idea that I don't deal with electronic mail before noon or after 10 pm.
BULLDOZERS AND BULLDOGS. Caterpillar will be the new owner of Electro-Motive, the company that dieselized the world's railroads.


Deutsche Bahn photo courtesy Destination: Freedom.

The diesel is still painted in Wisconsin Central colors. Look at all that wasted space above those containers.

Electro-Motive, with a little help from General Motors's Styling Section, produced the world's most beautiful diesel locomotives. (Look carefully the next time you see a highway sign giving the location of a train station. There's nothing like a bulldog nose to announce a train.)


Image courtesy Destination: Freedom.

It's probably too much to ask that Metra's dual-genset locomotives, should they ever be built, be contained in that shell.
SOMETIMES THE ONION MAKES A SERIOUS POINT. Children Of All Ages Delighted By Enslavement Of Topsy The Elephant. The first paragraphs of the article recite, precisely, the objections some people have raised to trained elephant acts.

Cheers, laughter, and applause filled the big top tent at the Ringling Bros. Circus Saturday as children of all ages were captivated by the savage enslavement of Topsy the elephant.

Whether young or just young at heart, thrilled audience members watched with glee as a circus trainer forced the frightened Topsy to perform tricks by brutally poking and prodding the traumatized 4-year-old pachyderm.

"He's such a funny happy elephant," said 8-year-old Madison Helms, referring to the abused creature that spends the majority of his time chained up in a cramped, feces-covered enclosure. "He loves being in the circus!"

The crowd reportedly let out loud gasps and vigorously clapped when Topsy stood up on his hind legs, an unnatural and excruciatingly painful movement that stresses and permanently damages the 8,000-pound elephant's joints.

Topsy also delighted the audience after the trainer repeatedly thrust a hooked rod into his skin, causing the miserable animal to lift one leg and his trunk to simulate waving.

"Aww…" said the assembled circus-goers, who were taken by the cuteness of the barbaric spectacle.

The concluding paragraph, however, is pure Onion.
Eyewitnesses who spotted the trainer patting the side of Topsy's body during the final trick were convinced the elephant and the man were best friends, though in fact the look of reverie on Topsy's face was the result of his daydreaming about stomping and crushing the cruel asshole's head like an overripe melon.
On the serious side, Ringling Barnum recently defeated a lawsuit alleging violations of the Endangered Species Act, although the legal grounds will likely be contested.
THOSE WEREN'T THE GOOD OLD DAYS. DeKalb's MidWeek has been printing a Looking Back column. (In the linked column, the player piano factory illustrated still stands, the railroad tracks in the foreground are gone.) The paper quickly moves older material off its servers, so I have taken the liberty of transcribing a few items from the April 28, 2010 edition.

April 27, 1935

The calm of North Avenue's colored district, often spoken of as Sycamore's "Little Harlem," was shattered suddenly yesterday afternoon about 2 o'clock when Oscar Robinson, aged 15, stabbed Frank Winfrey, aged 13, in the climax of a fight between the two. Winfrey ran screaming to his home and was rushed to a surgeon ... His wound is not thought to be serious. Following that episode, Mrs Pearl Winfrey, mother of the victim of the stabbing, grabbed a double barreled shotgun from a corner of her home and started out in search of Mrs. Lee Robinson, mother of the boy who is said to have done the stabbing. However, she never reached the point where she might have done harm with the gun. She was carrying it in such a manner that the barrels pointed back of her as she hurried down the street. Suddenly, she cannot explain how, the gun fired and the explosion coming so unexpectedly nearly caused her to faint of fear.

April 28, 1910

Fine progress is being made at the present writing on the line of the Chicago, Aurora & DeKalb railroad which at present rate ought to be shooting cars across the country within a very few weeks.

[Superintendent's note: definitely a bubble economy property, which began operation in the summer of 1910 and filed for bankruptcy in 1913.]

Miss Anna S. Swanson will deliver a lecture next Sunday afternoon at 2:30 at Davy's Hall on "Socialism." Miss Swanson is a working girl and a lecturer and writer of wide experience. Everyone should hear her.

[The mind boggles at the possibilities in that "working girl" and "wide experience".]

April 26, 1890

Burglars are abroad in the city. Have your gun handy.

[I thought that was the Hollywood version of the wild west.]

"That Swede" at the Opera House April 29. Those who were pleased with "Ole Olson" will be more than pleased with "That Swede." It is the funniest dialect comedy on the boards.

[Py yumpin' yiminy I should be offended, ya sure.]

3.6.10

NO DIVINE RIGHT FOR PHILOSOPHER KINGS. Glenn Reynolds proposes a hypothesis.

The Tea Party movement is part of something bigger: America’s Third Great Awakening.

America’s prior Great Awakenings, in the 18th and 19th Centuries, were religious in nature. Unimpressed with self-serving, ossified, and often corrupt religious institutions, Americans responded with a bottom-up reassertion of faith, and independence.

This time, it’s different. It’s not America’s churches and seminaries that are in trouble: It’s America’s politicians and parties. They’ve grown corrupt, venal, and out-of-touch with the values, and the people, that they’re supposed to represent. So the people, once again, are reasserting themselves.

There is, indeed, plasticity in the social order. The timing, however, is not that of an Awakening, it is of a Fourth Turning. The two religious Awakenings Professor Reynolds refers to came during Second Turnings, a common time for questioning institutions, particularly churches. The Protestant Reformation, the Puritan Awakening, the eighteenth century Great Awakening, the nineteenth century Transcendental Awakening, the Chautaqua Awakening, and the Consciousness Revolution of the 1960s all fit those patterns.

The creation of new institutions, which might be what the Tea Party envisions, is a Fourth Turning phenomenon. Michael Barone captures the tension that will have to be resolved.
Over the past 14 months, our political debate has been transformed into an argument between the heirs of two fundamental schools of political thought, the Founders and the Progressives. The Founders stood for the expansion of liberty and the Progressives for the expansion of government.

It's an argument that has been going on for a century but was largely dormant over the quarter-century of low-inflation economic growth that followed the Reagan tax cuts. It's been raised again by the expand-government policies of the Obama administration and Democratic congressional leaders.

Those policies, thoroughly in line with the Progressive tradition, have been advanced by liberal elites in government, media, think tanks and academia. The opposition, roughly in line with the Founders tradition, has been led by the non-elites who spontaneously flocked to tea parties and town halls. Republican politicians have been scrambling to lead these protesters.
It is that, but behind that is the pressure for greater individual autonomy working against the social order established over the past 150 years or so, in which hereditary kings gave way to philosopher kings.
The Progressives have always assumed that people needed safety nets and would welcome dependence on government. The public's clear rejection of the Democratic health care bills has shown that this assumption was unwarranted. Americans today prefer independence to dependence on government, just as they did 200 years ago.

All this was supposed to have been consigned to the past long ago. The Progressives of the early 1900s -- Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, New Republic founder Herbert Croly -- argued that in an industrial era of mass production and giant businesses, ordinary people were helpless and needed government's guiding hand. It would be more efficient, they argued, for centralized, disinterested experts to administer national institutions than to let chaotic markets operate freely and to observe the Constitution's horse-and-buggy limits on government power. The Founders were out of date.

The Progressives had their way for much of the 20th century. But it became apparent that centralized experts weren't disinterested, but always sought to expand their power. And it became clear that central planners can never have the kind of information that is transmitted instantly, as Friedrich von Hayek observed, by price signals in free markets.

It turned out that centralized experts are not as wise and ordinary Americans are not as helpless as the Progressives thought. By passing the stimulus package and the health care bills the Democrats produced expansion of government. But voters seem to prefer expansion of liberty.
There might be, in those tea parties and in some manifestations of popular opinion, resentment by ordinary people of that Credentialed Elite. That's not the most important dynamic at work. (David Brooks's talk about an educated class is a sideshow. The simplest way to expand the population of people who can reason as well as the Cognitive Elite is for all common schools to prepare their students as if they were going to matriculate at Harvard, and for all non-elite and non-selective universities to teach and research as if their graduates were going to hold key positions.)

And never mind the motives of the Cognitive Elite.
[President Woodrow] Wilson, once a professor of political science, said that the Princeton he led as its president was dedicated to unbiased expertise, and he thought government could be "reduced to science." Progressives are forever longing to replace the governance of people by the administration of things. Because they are entirely public-spirited, progressives volunteer to be the administrators, and to be as disinterested as the dickens.
Let's grant all these things: there can be Disinterested, Honest, and Wise People (although Public Choice theory suggests not for long.) The fundamental problem is that Disinterested, Honest, and Wise People who propose to do what is for the best of everybody are denying freedom of action to others.
As contemporary as these developments may seem, it is equally important to recognize how traditional, indeed classical, is the question that lurks inside the problem of the new class: intellectuals and power, enlightenment and politics, conceptual thinking and lived life. From one point of view, the rise of the new class involves the priority of thinking—not any thinking, however, but a technocratically foreshortened, instrumentalist, and administrative thinking—over the lifeworld of everyday interactions, communities, and traditions, and the orders of human nature. It is the assertion of the primacy of logic against the complexity of living, and it runs the risk therefore of collapsing either into an irrelevant ineffectiveness, an idealism incapable of grasping the real, or a destructiveness, when it tries to refashion ways of life into its own invented programs. Human communities frequently show resilience and creativity, and they can survive more than one expects; but those existential resources are not infinite, and aggressive programs of social engineering can eventually destroy the patterns of living, the structures of meaning—the families, communities, faiths, nations, cultures, traditions—when they try to control them.
The article is courtesy Volokh's Kenneth Anderson, who notes,
Pop sociologists on the Left like David Brooks or Thomas Friedman — and many journalists on the Right, too — are instinctively and correctly drawn to these kinds of knowledge class categories. They have some terms but no theory; and theory is sometimes necessary to understanding, social theory, and not just surface theories of economic rationalism.
That theory might not be the generational morphology of Fourth Turning, and I might be off base suggesting that the Technocratic Vision is contrary to longer term tendencies. I suggest, however, that some organizing framework is superior to none.
CALCULATE BENEFITS AND COSTS AT THE MARGIN. A Transportationist post identifies troubles with China's new high-speed trains.

Li Jing needs to travel back home from Beijing to Tianjin every weekend to be with her family, but the ticket price for the high-speed railway between the two municipalities is too high for her.

"It is ok if you take it once a year, but too costly for frequent commuters like me and many others," said Li, an employee with a Beijing-based international trade company.

A second-class ticket costs 58 yuan ($8.49) for the 120 kilometer trip, which takes 30 minutes. Ordinary trains between the two cities take around 90 minutes, but only cost about 20 yuan ($2.93).

The commuter's comment intrigues. I don't know much about Chinese pay scales, but she can spend 38 yuan (about US $5.56) to knock an hour off her commute. The use of hourly wages as a measure of the value of time saved by a faster train service is controversial, and it's complicated further where a commuter is making a choice between driving or leaving the driving to somebody else.
A related issue revolves around the productive use of travel time, since in some cases, due to technologies available en route, travel time may no longer be “lost” to productive business. The standard example on this front is the use of laptops on trains and planes, where work can be done almost as from the workplace. More investigation is needed into the effect of this phenomenon.
The comparison of the fast train and the ordinary train is also instructive.

The fast train runs at an average speed of 240 km/h (approximately 150 mph). That's above the maximum speed diesel trains have maintained: we're looking at electric trains with special catenary, and under North American safety regulations, special signalling, no road crossings, and no mixing with freight trains. Providing that kind of fast train gets expensive.

The ordinary train maintains an average speed of 80 km/h (approximately 50 mph, nominal for many Amtrak trains and attained by some of Metra's limited stop commuter trains.) There's nothing magic in running trains at such speeds, and under North American regulations, road crossings are an acceptable hazard and mixing with freight trains standard practice.

But in the Chinese example is the heart of my case for giving trains free rein to 110 under track and signalling conditions that prevailed prior to World War II. In the Chinese example, that would be a train averaging 180 km/h and completing this run in 40 minutes. (My calculation would be skewed by intermediate stops, or by average speeds short of the maximum permitted speed). Here, though, is the essence of my case: relaxing some of the existing regulations and using known diesel technology gets you a 240 km (75 mile) trip in 40 to 45 minutes. The additional expenditure on electrification and grade separation and banishing the freight trains reduces running times by ten to fifteen minutes. Perhaps a much higher fare, attracting only riders with a high opportunity cost of their time, is a feature, but I suspect that the benefit-cost ratio of a slightly slower service at a substantially lower cost priced at a lower fare is more favorable than that of the ultrafast train service.
REAL WRITERS DON'T COUNT THEIR PARAGRAPHS. Formulaic writing: good for assessment, bad for everything else.
Students throughout grade school, middle school, and high school are taught to write the "five-paragraph essay." It is the cornerstone of most developmental writing textbooks I have seen. This is the drill, the formula, the mind-numbing process: In your first paragraph, Tiffany, you must state a thesis, the main idea that you will develop throughout the rest of your essay, and this thesis should be the last sentence in the paragraph. In your second, third, and fourth paragraphs, you must support your thesis with three components of evidence, examples, or illustrations -- one component per paragraph. And in your final paragraph, the fifth, you must present your conclusion, which is a restatement of your thesis in different words along with a little extra tag to give your reader something to ponder further.

Can any bit of instruction be more stilted, unimaginative, and soul-crushing? Don't actually counsel Tiffany on how to think out and articulate a problem or a story; just give her a freakin' formula that can be chalked up on a blackboard in five minutes. When she copies it down in her little notebook, consider the job done. No. The "five-paragraph essay" is an abomination that should be eradicated from every curriculum in the country. Real writers don't count their paragraphs! The next question Tiffany asks is "How many sentences should I put in a paragraph?" As if there is a correct answer to that question as well. Hasn't she ever opened a book, any book? How do you get to be 20 years old and not know that there can be any number of sentences in a paragraph?
Assessment, however, is easier than working. If the common schools are going to persist in the five-paragraph essay could they at least amend the instructions so that the purpose sentence is also the topic sentence of the first paragraph. That was the hardest lesson I had to learn in writing research papers, was to put the topic sentence first in each paragraph, rather than lead readers to the conclusion (which, given how many papers there are competing for journal space, let alone readership, burdens the reader).

2.6.10

LET THE RULING CLASSES TREMBLE. Fourth Turnings are good times for socialist revolutionaries.

In recent days, a number of media commentaries have predicted a similar eruption of social unrest of revolutionary dimensions as a direct result of the worsening economic crisis. These warnings are accompanied by dire predictions that Europe will suffer the return of nationalist tensions, the emergence of fascist movements and even war.

Writing in the Financial Times May 24, for example, historian Simon Schama stated, “Far be it for me to make a dicey situation dicier but you can’t smell the sulphur in the air right now and not think we might be on the threshold of an age of rage.… in Europe and America there is a distinct possibility of a long hot summer of social umbrage.”

Schama notes that there is often a “time-lag between the onset of economic disaster and the accumulation of social fury,” but after an initial period of “fearful disorientation,” there comes the danger of the “organised mobilisation of outrage.”

This outrage will be directed against the super-rich and those seen to be responsible for the crisis, he writes, comparing “our own plutocrats” with the financiers so memorably targeted during the French Revolution of 1789 as “rich egoists.”

In the Observer of May 30, Will Hutton, its former editor and now an advisor to the British Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government on cutting public sector pay, declares, “The future of Europe is in the balance. The potential disintegration of the euro will be a first-order economic and political disaster. Economically, it will plunge Europe into competitive devaluations, debt defaults, bank bailouts, frozen credit flows, trade protection and prolonged stagnation. Politically, whatever resolve there is to hold our disparate continent together, where the old enmities and suspicions are never far from the surface, will evaporate.… What will emerge will be a Europe closer to the 1930s. Fearful, stagnant and prey to vicious racist and nationalist ideologies.”

By far, the most apocalyptic warning of what is to come was made by Deutsche Welle, Germany’s international broadcaster, on May 26. Its article begins by returning to the warnings made in 2008 of the impact of the global economic collapse by United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, IMF head Dominique Strauss-Kahn and Robert Zoellick, head of the World Bank. Strauss-Kahn had, for example, warned that “social unrest may happen in many countries—including advanced economies.”

Marxian dialectic and Fourth Turning morphologies have some things in common. Pay close attention to the role of the breakdown of the post-World War II political order, that is to say, the political order established in the resolution of the preceding Fourth Turning.

Deutsche Welle concludes with comments by Marie-Hélène Caillol, the president of the European Laboratory of Political Anticipation think-tank, and Gerald Celente, the financial and political trends forecaster and publisher of the Trends journal.

Celente explains, “What’s happening in Greece will spread worldwide as economies decline.… We will see social unrest growing in all nations which are facing sovereign debt crisis, the most obvious being Spain, Ireland, Portugal, Italy, Iceland, the Ukraine, Hungary, followed by the United Kingdom and the United States.”

Calliol states, “This crisis is directly connected to the end of the world order as we know it since 1945—and even earlier since the European colonisation process. Therefore, the whole global fabric centred on the US for 60 years is slowly collapsing, generating turmoil of all sorts.”

Asked where social unrest will end, she replies, “War. It’s as simple and as horrifying as that.”

Both Calliol and Celente reject claims that agitators are behind the wave of social unrest. “There are no organisations behind this response—it’s a public response,” said Celente, who also invokes Marx’s monumental work. “This is a 21st century rendition of the ‘workers of the world unite.’ The people are fully aware of the enormous bailout going to the ‘too big to fail’s’ that they are being forced to pay for. The higher the taxes go, the more jobs that are lost, the greater the levels of protest.”

Such statements demonstrate how seriously Europe’s rulers take the growing danger of social revolution on the continent. That is what their advisors are telling them is the inevitable product of the worsening economic crisis. But this is made all the more certain by their own efforts to place the entire burden on the backs of working people in the interests of the major banks and corporations—in the process setting out to destroy what remains of the welfare measures and working conditions previously won by workers.

The Tea Party will not be the vehicle of socialist transformation, however.
The advantage presently enjoyed by the ruling class is that the working class does not have the required socialist and revolutionary perspective and leadership to mount its own counter-offensive. Instead, those organisations falsely designated as representing the workers—above all the trade unions—act as a fifth column of big business.
What's missing, of course, is the revolutionary vanguard.