30.11.10

IT'S A HARD-KNOCK LIFE.

Sons will converse with their fathers about life and work, and sometimes that makes its way into a family reunion booklet or genealogical research for the county historical society. If your name is Robert H. Gollmar, and your father is Fred C. Gollmar, you can claim My Father Owned a Circus, and supplement your income selling a few books, and the impresario of the 1:48 actual size Karlson Brothers Circus will ultimately write Book Review No. 30 about it.

The Gollmar brothers, cousins to the more famous Ringling Brothers, founded a wagon show in 1891, converted to a railroad show in 1903, sold the business in 1916, and subsequently leased the name to the American Circus Corporation, operator of the Hagenbeck-Wallace railroad show.



The book combines recollections of storms, train wrecks, accidents, corrupt public officials, and rumbles with hostile townies, referred to in circus lore as "Hey Rubes". There are some rosters of personnel, travel schedules, and playbills. It may not be the best book to recommend to somebody newly interested in the traditional railroad circus, as it's insider conversation, and Gollmar pere's recollections are supplemented with those of other circus personnel, who sometimes repeat stories told elsewhere. Tom Mix, Buck Jones, and Mamie Ward make appearances.

Somebody looking for additional background on what the railroad circus did and how it did it might also profitably read Joe McKennon's Logistics of the American Circus, which explains each department of the circus and the pecking order within the company. Keep in mind that the public zoological garden is a relatively new institution, and for many years the circus provided education in the form of exotic animals, with a menagerie tent set up between the main entrance and the side show, and lions or tigers along didn't necessarily mean a big cat act. But without the thundering herd of pachyderms, it's not a circus.

The Amazon listing for My Father Owned a Circus offers a few copies at collector prices. I'd best treat my copy, which came from a library de-accessioning sale a few years ago, as an asset.

(Cross-posted to 50 Book Challenge.)
BETTER PAY AND BETTER WORKING CONDITIONS. The Milwaukee Public Schools are trying to steer strong teachers to weak schools. Joanne Jacobs isn't optimistic.
Milwaukee Public Schools hope to develop incentives to improve teaching in low-performing schools, but the focus is on rewarding all teachers in a school instead of singling out exceptional teachers.
That sounds like the variant of the prisoners' dilemma labor economists call the 1/n problem, and it's an inducement for people to shirk. It's almost certainly the wrong approach in the most difficult schools.
There isn’t enough money in the world — certainly not in school district budgets — to get talented people to bang their heads against a brick wall every day.
There is, however, another concept in labor economics called the compensating differential. Owen Robinson of Boots and Sabers got it, four years ago.
The schools dominated by poverty are also generally the crappiest schools to work in. They are generally in bad neighborhoods where crime is an every day issue. Also, the kids generally have less support for education outside of school, so the kids are less enthusiastic about learning and are more likely to have behavioral issues. Did I put that gently enough? To sum it up, it sucks to work in most of these schools.
Not surprisingly, teachers who discover better pay and better working conditions elsewhere, go elsewhere. But neither the Journal-Sentinel reporter, nor the Milwaukee Public Schools, get it.
Most business leaders put the most capable employees in the most demanding situations.
True, up to a point. I call it punishing people for being cooperative, and I sometimes suspect that it's a thinly disguised theft of personal time by less responsible employees that's enabled by management. But in the private sector, there's also a labor market, and a worker who details all the extra time and then has a raise request rebuffed, or is passed over for a promotion, is a worker soon to be circulating a resume.

The same dynamic is at work in the schools, but reporters and school administrators continue to be surprised by it.
But it's also a very tough request, because, in general, that isn't the way it works in education, where quality flows uphill, away from the lowest-performing schools and students. As teachers build up experience, seniority and, experts generally say, competence, they head for higher-performing kids, higher-performing schools and, frequently, the suburbs.
It is not from the benevolence of the teacher that we expect the three Rs, but from their regard to their own interest, right, Adam Smith?
IN MEMORIAM. Northern Illinois library cataloguer and music historian William Studwell crossed the final summit in August. Before his death, he provided the 25th entry in the annual Christmas Carol of the Year. We Wish You a Merry Christmas has been in the repertoire for about 425 years.
“It is a natural last piece for focus, since it is frequently the final piece in carol performances sessions,” he said of the song, which was created 400 to 425 years ago, most likely in the West Country of England.
Is the recipe for figgy pudding that old?

The complete list includes Adeste Fideles and Stille Nacht, as well as a few favorites of a less religious nature.

27.11.10

AWAITING THE ELVIS SIGHTINGS. The rebuilt Zippin' Pippin is taking shape on the shores of Green Bay.


26 November 2010.

The Green Bay Press-Gazette reports a cost overrun.

City officials say the construction project now is expected to cost $3.5 million, up from the original $3 million estimate.

[Green Bay mayor Jim] Schmitt said $300,000 in city reserves have been tapped, and he believes private donations will cover the rest of the deficit.

"We're still confident that we're going to have more revenues from other sources," he said.

The Zippin Pippin, under construction at Bay Beach Amusement Park, originally was planned to be covered by $2.4 million in city borrowing and $600,000 in expected donations.

On Tuesday, Schmitt said the original $3 million project budget was based on an early estimate that the foundation would cost about $200,000. That estimate was later discarded in favor of a more realistic $600,000 estimate, but it remained part of the project budget, resulting in the $300,000 in cost overruns.

Trains going around in circles, and a cost overrun. The incoming governor of Wisconsin must be informed of this boondoggle immediately.
NOT SO EASY TO DISMISS CRITICISM FROM WITHIN. Richard Vedder surveys recent literature.

Books criticizing higher education are not new, but recently both the number of them and the intensity of criticism has been increasing, and a large portion of them are “inside jobs,” written by people who are intimately involved on a regular basis with the academy and the world of ideas.

Consider Jackson Toby’s The Lowering of Higher Education in America, or Andrew Hacker and Claudia Dreifus’s Higher Education: How Colleges are Wasting our Money and Failing Our Kids, Mark Bauerlein’s The Dumbest Generation, or Craig Brandon’s The Five Year Party: How Colleges Have Given Up on Educating Your Child and What You Can Do About It. All have been written in the last year or so, and this list is not exhaustive.

More are coming: I cannot wait to read Naomi Riley’s The Faculty Lounges…And Other Reasons That You Won’t Get the College Education You Pay For, forthcoming from Rowman and Littlefield. Moreover, other books are scathing about specific areas of the academy, notably intercollegiate athletics, with Kenneth Armstrong and Nick Perry’s Scoreboard, Baby: A Story of College Football, Crime and Complicity, or Mark Yost’s Varsity Green: A Behind the Scenes Look at Culture and Corruption in College Athletics, being but two good examples (I am indebted to the extraordinary Frank Splitt for bringing some of these works to my attention).

All of these books have come out, roughly, within a year. Two have provocative words like “crime” or corruption” in their titles, yet the authors are by and large a group of rather respected persons, one a distinguished English scholar at a major research university, for example; at least two of the books were published by university presses, including Stanford.

I don’t know if writings like this are a leading indicator of a forthcoming firestorm of public protest about higher education, but it is not a good sign. Economists like myself think at the margin. In this context, the storm of protest will manifest itself in real action only when the marginal benefits of complaining become so great that they exceed the marginal costs of engaging in protests.

Perhaps, when sufficiently many people realize the costs of losing the good of the intellect.

23.11.10

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

I give thanks for your readership and your comments.

Spare a few moments thanks for the young people in harm's way around the world, for the people in emergency services who deserve to sit down to the turkey without the alarm ringing, for the people in transportation, tourism, and entertainment passing on their family gatherings to enhance yours.

Yes, that includes the people with the blue gloves at the security checkpoints, if you're headed someplace a train isn't going.
PUSH POLLING. A majority of Wisconsin residents surveyed by the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute opposed spending money on extending the Hiawatha to Madison and making it faster. The question given to respondents asked them to react to incomplete information.

“Please tell me which of the following arguments comes closest to your point of view.

“Supporters of the passenger rail project say that it is an important addition to the transportation system in Wisconsin and is being paid for by 800 million dollars in federal money. They also say that the project will create jobs and that if Wisconsin does not go forward with the project, the money will be redirected to other states.

“Opponents of the project say that what we need is better roads and that the federal money for the train will not cover the inevitable cost over runs. They also say that the project will only create a handful of permanent jobs and that the train would not have enough ridership to pay for its annual operating costs.”

Supporters also note that improvements to the roads will require more state money and provide no reduction in trip times.

Opponents fail to tell you that the state will have to pay for plowing, salting, and patching the roads.
WHY DETENTE BEST DESCRIBES THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THE ECONOMICS DEPARTMENT AND THE ADMINISTRATORS. Cal State Northridge's Shirley Svorney (via Minding the Campus) mentions the emperor's nakedness.
[L]ow fees attract some students to higher education who simply aren't suited to the academic rigors of a university. Ultimately, the presence of these lower-achieving students hurts those who are more academically inclined, as they end up in watered-down courses in which professors have to focus on bringing the low achievers along.
Who said professors have to focus on bringing the low achievers along? Perhaps there's the opportunity to develop an export industry.
As Philadelphia Federal Reserve economist Tim Schiller has documented, the number of degrees awarded in a state doesn't even ensure a highly educated workforce. As he wrote, "Merely producing college graduates in a state does not guarantee that they will remain there." Businesses and labor are mobile. Unless more jobs are created in the state, some of the students California has paid to educate will probably move out of state to find jobs.
So put together the kind of intellectual experience ambitious students from other states will pay for, and charge them full fare. But, as Professor Svorney notes, that's different from enabling slacker behavior.
SUMMARIZE IN ONE SENTENCE. George Will.
The average American has regular contact with the federal government at three points — the IRS, the post office and the TSA. Start with that fact if you are formulating a unified field theory to explain the public’s current political mood.
It is no accident, comrades, that "Don't Touch My Junk" goes so well with the Gadsden Militia flag.
WORK THIS INTO THE BRANDING INITIATIVE. Three of the top five Anti-Party Schools (via Newmark's Door) are in our back yard. None of them have a bowl-bound football team. One of them has a very highly regarded economics department.

22.11.10

A MODEST WINNING STREAK. The Northern Illinois women's basketball team followed up its win over George Washington in Minneapolis with a win at Western Illinois, where they managed to maintain a ten-to-twelve point lead most of the second half, and a trip to Carbondale where a five point lead dwindled to four to three to two to tied to Southern ahead by two with 1.8 seconds to play.


The kids were so excited when that shot went in that I was almost able to hear them screaming without benefit of the radio.

KEEPING UP IN KNUTE ROCKNE'S BACKYARD.

College football might have been invented by the Ivies, but it was perfected in the Great Lakes, with Notre Dame developing enough of a following to be able to call the National Collegiate Athletic Association a conspiracy in restraint of trade, and going its own way with television contracts; and with Sid Luckman and Amos Alonzo Stagg making the University of Chicago so dominant that beating them inspired one Big Ten fight song (the oh-so-trite "Hail to the Victors") and provided an objective in another ("Run the ball around Chicago", which later became "Run the ball 'round Minnesota", and subsequently morphed into the Wisconsin game plan, "Run the ball on down the field"); that is until Robert Maynard Hutchins decided that building bombs below the grandstands was a better use of resources than throwing bombs in view of the grandstand.

The quintessence of college football is the Big Ten, with each program holding a rich tradition.

Then there's the Big Ten's hardscrabble neighbor, the Mid-American Conference. The big Midwestern industrial states once had the resources, population base, and committment to provide lots of capacity for higher education, and a number of directional teachers colleges became directional universities, with several such universities in Ohio and Michigan particularly becoming the Mid-American.

Unlike the Big Ten, the Mid-American is a major money suck for member institutions.
[I]n the Big 10 only 0.16% of university budgets go to subsidize athletics. Yet, in the poorer Mid American Conference (MAC), subsidies make up over 5% of the schools' overall budgets (see this [College Affordability] study for more on the regressive athletics tax). At some schools this percentage is even larger. For example 10.5% of total core expenditures at SUNY Buffalo go to subsidize athletics. At another MAC school, Eastern Michigan, the figure is 7.9%.
Among the Mid-American universities, students pick up some of the tab, in exchange for prepaid admission to games, a benefit few avail themselves of.
However, even many FBS schools charge high student fees to subsidize sports. Here are a few examples:
Ohio University $765
University of Virginia $657
Bowling Green State University $650
SUNY Buffalo $474
University of Northern Illinois [c.q.] $453
Over the course of their 4+ years in college, students at many schools will have paid thousands of dollars to prop-up unprofitable athletics programs, regardless of their personal interest in sports.
Virginia is not a Mid-American program; Ohio will play Northern Illinois in the Mid-American title game, which will be played December 3 in Detroit. (First prize, a weekend in Detroit. Second prize, a week in Detroit).

And Akron recently borrowed for a new stadium that doesn't do much to draw audiences for a rebuilding football team.
UA Athletic Director Tom Wistrcill said he is disappointed InfoCision Stadium hasn't drawn as expected. But it's easy for fans to become dispirited when the team loses soundly and often.
''You only have 12 [game] days,'' he said. ''You work 365 days a year for 12 days. That's six home games. It's a cruel sport that way.''
Let's see if I understand this: the football coach draws a larger salary for working five hours on 12 days, and the professors, who draw a smaller salary for teaching four classes, are taking the stick.

And, as much as I'm enjoying the current Northern Illinois football season, and, having experienced a BCS run and a campus shooting, I much prefer the BCS run, apparently the football visibility is not the enrollment bonanza some observers would expect. I've learned more about the rationale for the branding initiative: apparently we're losing students to other institutions that don't offer Division I football.
THE SHAPE OF THE WORLD TO COME. Paul Krugman is fretful.

Former Senator Alan Simpson is a Very Serious Person. He must be - after all, President Obama appointed him as co-chairman of a special commission on deficit reduction.

So here's what the very serious Mr. Simpson said on Friday: "I can't wait for the blood bath in April. ... When debt limit time comes, they're going to look around and say, ‘What in the hell do we do now? We've got guys who will not approve the debt limit extension unless we give 'em a piece of meat, real meat,' " meaning spending cuts. "And boy, the blood bath will be extraordinary," he continued.

Think of Mr. Simpson's blood lust as one more piece of evidence that our nation is in much worse shape, much closer to a political breakdown, than most people realize.

In his mind, it's a disastrous transformation in the making.
The fact is that one of our two great political parties has made it clear that it has no interest in making America governable, unless it's doing the governing. And that party now controls one house of Congress, which means that the country will not, in fact, be governable without that party's cooperation - cooperation that won't be forthcoming.
A post from a military wife at Stop Shouting, one that has received a lot of play on the right side of the blogosphere, sees the lack of cooperation as long overdue.

Your side knows you can not prevail on the battlefield of open and honest ideas, so you retreat behind the fortification of expanded regulation, unelected czars who rule by decree and diktat, and a boy-king who is being urged by the janissaries to complete the transformation to a totalarian state by executive orders.

Except, that to emplace your policies and “vision” requires the consent of the people. You can not hire enough guards, build enough prisons, operate enough courts to entrap and control the whole population of these (for-now) united states. It only takes a small percentage of dissenters, non-conformists and cascading acts of strategic civil disobedience to bring your entire command-and-control crashing all around you.

National Opt-Out Day is a potential recruitment bonanza for opposition to the technocrats.
Everyday work folk, alarmed at the rising tide of tyranny and the rhetoric of hate, weary of the false accusations and the lies, joined the libertarian and conservatives and forged an underground resistance. The town halls in that raucous summer were not an aberration – they are the new norm. Get used to it.
And prepare for the long haul.
Yes, we will burn down the house of Progressive Democrats and lay waste to the entire construct of the welfare state. It will be a long, decades-long battle, but we will prevail because we learned the consequences of not teaching our young ourselves. We delegated that to you, and that was our first mistake. We assumed you were honest brokers, but now we know better.
The post concludes: Fix bayonets. Professor Krugman may not have the last word, but he might have uttered the deep word.
It's hard to see how this situation is resolved without a major crisis of some kind. Mr. Simpson may or may not get the blood bath he craves this April, but there will be blood sooner or later. And we can only hope that the nation that emerges from that blood bath is still one we recognize.
It is, unfortunately, the nature of fourth turnings that an unsustainable social order dies, and a new one is born, sometimes messily.
THE CURRENT STANDARD OF UNDERACHIEVEMENT. In the National Football League, it's losing to the Packers.

Three weeks ago, the Packers wiped their feet on Dallas, 45-7. Despite weekly assurances that owner Jerry Jones wasn't the kind of person to can a coaches midseason, that's exactly what he did. Less than 24 hours after the Cowboys staggered off Lambeau Field, coach [Wade] Phillips was fired.

Then the Packers had a bye and jobs were safe for a week.

On Sunday, Green Bay marched into the unfriendly Metrodome in Minneapolis and manhandled the Minnesota Vikings, 31-3.

Less than 24 hours later ...

Three years removed from the Packers but just 10 months after the NFC Championship Game, quarterback Brett Favre looked mentally spent. Yet his dejected look paled in comparison to [coach Brad] Childress' ashen face as the crowd chanted, "Fire Childress!" before it deserted the stadium.

Again, despite reports just a week ago that Childress' job was safe, the Vikings (3-7) announced Monday that Childress was fired.

Boo-Hoooooo!

21.11.10

BOO-HOOOOO! Ryan Longwell might have scored the first points; thereafter it was all Packers. Vikings mathematically eliminated ... put that in your vuvuzela and toot it. Boo-hooooo! Radio reporting the combined score for the past three Packer wins is 85-10. (Indiana put up 20 against Wisconsin in one game, and held Wisconsin to 83.)
PROFSCAM AFTER TWENTY YEARS. Charlie Sykes's denunciation of coreless curricula, pointless research, and excess access was among the opening shots in the twenty years war on, and in, higher education. At the time, Mr Sykes was in recovery from an early liberalism, and Higher Education could shrug off some of his observations, much as the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers could shrug off the Association of American Railroads lobbying for repeal of the full crew laws.

Now comes Andrew Hacker, a professor at Queens College of CUNY, public intellectual, regular reviewer in The New York Review of Books; and Claudia Dreifus, with Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs, "Science Times" columnist for The New York Times, collaborating on Higher Education? How Colleges are Wasting Our Money and Failing Our Kids -- And What We Can Do About It. Short form of Book Review No. 29: the Academic Establishment will have a harder time shrugging off a criticism from within, even if, as Peter Sacks (who also reviewed The Five-Year Party) notes,
[T]oo many chapters that regurgitate the many well-worn complaints about higher education: Students are subjected to uncaring and unsupportive professors -- if they are taught by full-time faculty members at all, since most college instructors are part-timers, adjuncts and graduate students; professors themselves are overpaid, underworked, and preoccupied with the "virus" of research that is consuming colleges of all stripes; and colleges have become simply too expensive relative to the diminishing value that institutions actually provide students.
Perhaps so.

On the other hand, a book that notes (p. 108) "We've met former business majors, now nearing middle age, who say they regret not having studied philosophy while at college. We have yet to meet a philosophy major who felt he or she should have chosen business" appeals to the right sympathies. And I like a book that at page 88 makes Three Simple Suggestions (Monitor Laptops, Stop PowerPointing, Preventing Plagiarism) and on page 89 serves up a gem.
But instead of attacking the liberal arts as a bourgeois diversion, as a previous generation did, an easier route was to retain that label but decant the contents. Out went Aristotle and in his stead came Althusser, while Dickens was replaced by Derrida and Locke by Lacan. Many sincerely believed that subjecting text to deconstruction would undermine the foundations of corporate capitalism. But for teaching undergraduates, the quest for theory is not only misdirected, it warps the whole ambience of education.
The foundations of the humanities were self-undermined, whilst corporate capitalism farmed out the entry-level training to what the authors call vocational degrees.

The authors attempt to distinguish a genuine liberal education from something else. Turn to pages 98-99.
So let's pay a visit to New Mexico State University, a thriving public institution in Las Cruces, some forty miles from El Paso. In Breland Hall, you'll find students majoring in philosophy, immersed in classes in Epistemology, Formal Logic, and Philosophy of Mind. To our thinking, this is the heart of higher education, and it can be pursued in Las Cruces, New Mexico, as well as Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Yes, and with a passage at page 66 quoting Esther Dyson: "Dad, we're not [at Harvard] for those classes. We're here to meet each other," perhaps the value added is greater at Las Cruces. The point of higher education is precisely to fine-tune your jive detector. The authors fear some students are being shortchanged.

Over in Thomas Hall on the same campus, you'll meet undergraduates who have chosen hotel, motel, and resort management. Their classes include Quantity Food Production, Gaming Operations, and Beverage Management, for which they will receive a bachelor's degree. If epistemology ranks as higher education, our view is beverage management does not.

It isn't education. It is training. At best, it should be a sequence in a community college or in a professional program at the post-graduate level. Nor is beverage management an exotic example. Most campuses now devote more resources to vocational concentrations, since their majors now outnumber those in liberal arts fields. In 2008, the most recent figures as we write, degrees in the "hospitality" sphere surpassed those awarded in philosophy.

That's not necessarily a bad thing, if hospitality majors experience a proper core curriculum in their first two years, something that most four-year institutions honor in the watered-down form of gen eds. (And before I go on, note the distinction between a four year college and a community college or vocational school. The Five-Year Party also cautions readers not to conflate a subprime party school with a community college: open access does not equate to open kegs.)
In fact, vocational training has long been entrenched in America's colleges. Even now, more students at MIT major in engineering than in the sciences. [The school's sports teams are the Engineers and you're surprised?] The Ivy League's University of Pennsylvania welcomes undergraduates to its business school, and it is their most popular choice (and we'll be saying more about it). The federal government sponsors four vocational academies to serve as grooming grounds for future officers.
The service academies might expose cadets to the finer points of calculus and political philosophy more effectively than New Mexico State or Harvard do, and I challenge the authors to explain why we should all pray with our butts in the air because West Point and Annapolis put in a multiculturally sensitive curriculum in place of Clausewitz and Longstreet. Agriculture and engineering, as the authors note elsewhere, came to campus as part of the 1862 Morrill Act: pork-barrelling is nothing new, but during the Southern Rebelllion we got what became the Big Ten universities and the Pacific Railroad.
So there wasn't a Golden Age when everyone chose fields like history and literature, or for that matter, astronomy and physics. On the contrary, for many years, preparing schoolteachers topped the list. [Reading, writing, arithmetic: the trivium?] Still, until the mid-1960s, there was essentially an even balance between vocational training and the liberal arts. Even if some students would go on to law and medicine, they weren't preoccupied with those professions from their freshman year.
Nor should they be now: but with the core curriculum offering matriculants an opportunity to discover their strengths and weaknesses before declaring a major giving way to distribution requirements that look like impedimenta to get out of the way, combined with fifty years of "to get a good job, get a good education", and the inclusive rot affecting the high schools, does it come as any surprise that students pursue what appears to be the safe course. Turn to page 101.
Since 1960, the proportion of young Americans attending college has essentially doubled. This expansion has meant that more students would be the first in their families to enroll. It's not surprising that many of them would pick vocational majors. After all, the stay-in-school message they've heard is that a degree brings higher earnings and status.
That those degrees might simply reinforce social stratification makes Peter Sacks angry.
At the same time, the least selective institutions -- the "party schools" that Brandon denigrates -- are turning into educational reservations for the poor and working-class -- people who are being trained to serve the leadership class. Indeed, the higher education system over the past generation has become more deeply stratified between colleges that primarily serve low-income and minority students and selective institutions that serve affluent students.
We're all in the same business, and as Hacker and Dreifus note in their coda, The Purpose of Higher Education is Education.

Indeed.

(Cross-posted to 50 Book Challenge.)
ABANDON HOPE, ALL YE WHO ENTER HERE. Via Joanne Jacobs, The Nine Circles of High School Hell.

Losing the good of the intellect comes early.
TIME TO ROLL BACK THE STATE. A Wisconsin Policy Research Institute survey finds a narrow majority of Wisconsin residents opposing the extension of Hiawatha service to Madison.
Service would start at a top speed of 79 mph in 2013, rising to 110 mph by 2015, and eventually could be extended to the Twin Cities, as part of a larger Midwestern network of fast, frequent trains.
The project wasn't sold well to Wisconsin residents, and there are cheaper ways to obtain 110 mph trains, most of which involve repeal of excessively restrictive safety standards.

Perhaps there's an opportunity for Passenger Rail advocates and the highway lobby to make common cause in restoring the transportation policies of the Eisenhower era.

Toll roads also have been a controversial transportation issue, although they played a much smaller role in the gubernatorial campaign.

Supporters of charging tolls voice concerns that the gas tax and vehicle fee revenue will be inadequate to pay the growing costs of rebuilding and repairing the state's aging highways. But toll road proposals have rarely survived long, beaten back by voters who despise the idea of paying to drive and who particularly dislike the Illinois tollways.

The alternative being mooted is worse.
Federal law prohibits charging tolls on existing interstate highway lanes but allows tolls on newly added lanes. Regional planners have recommended expanding most Milwaukee-area freeways from six to eight lanes when they are rebuilt.
That was not President Eisenhower's original intent. The first proposals for the Interstates envisioned turnpikes beginning outside city limits. Freeways pushed through the middle of cities came later. High-occupancy toll lanes have some redeeming features, but they're administratively more costly than open road tolling.

Perhaps there is an opportunity for the highway backers to make some of their projects self-financing, by working with the railroad backers to restore the train speeds of the late 1940s.
THE VERY MODEL OF THE ONLINE SUBPRIME PARTY SCHOOL? According to University Diaries, that's the University of Central Florida.
A zillion students attend UCF – lots of them take online courses, where the cheating (and dropout) rates are sky-high; lots of them take massively over-populated classroom courses, complete with PowerPoint, clickers, laptops, dimmed lights, high absenteeism, security cameras, and total pointlessness. When you experience university as a series of variously degrading, intrusive, and stupid experiences, you don’t respect your school, and you don’t feel inclined to act toward it with much integrity, since it doesn’t seem to be acting all that well in regard to you.
A New York Times report on methods to maintain academic integrity concludes with an anecdote that might suggest "degrading, intrusive, and stupid" cuts two ways.
As for Central Florida’s testing center, one of its most recent cheating cases had nothing to do with the Internet, cellphones or anything tech. A heavily tattooed student was found with notes written on his arm. He had blended them into his body art.
Here you sit with your transcript full of As and your body covered with ink, and here I sit in my power suit. Tell me what's stronger.

The University Diaries recommendation is unlikely to please Central Florida's management.
UCF is a failed enterprise. It has too many students, and professors can’t handle it. Pretty much everything it does reflects badly on the American university. It should shut its physical campus and enter fully into online oblivion.
That way, there would be no physical classes to cancel in the event of a weekday football game.

It's more likely, however, that Central Florida is a harbinger of things to come. The editors at the Northern Star endorsed class cancellations for Tuesday Night Football. Headquarters is either made of sterner stuff or preoccupied: classes met as usual all day, and some of the parking lots that are sometimes cleared for football were left to their usually assigned purposes.

I wonder if they'd be as quick to endorse Central Florida's staffing decisions. Their total enrollment is twice Northern Illinois's. Their economics department offers degrees up to the Ph.D. Their economics faculty have a few more people than we do but note: no assistant professors there. Good luck grooming department chairmen or possible deans or directors of graduate studies in 15 years.

20.11.10

THE CASE FOR CONNECTIVITY. The Transportationist contributes to a Popular Science article on the difficulty of providing high-speed rail service in the United States.

Unlike Europe and Asia, where the dividing line between urban and rural is far more defined, the northeast corridor is the definition of urban sprawl, with populated cities separated by endless suburbs and smaller burgs that all want access to the train. To bullet trains, sprawl is anathema.

“The very high speeds that China is achieving can be obtained only if you space the stations far apart because it takes time to accelerate and decelerate the trains,” says Ken Orski, a career urban transit expert who served in the Nixon and Ford administrations and is now publisher of Innovation NewsBriefs, a widely read transportation policy newsletter. “If you space those stations very closely you lose the technological advantage of high speed.”

Basic physics and human physiology dictate the limits to how fast a train can gather speed or slow down. The intercity distances – from Washington to Baltimore, Baltimore to Wilmington, Wilmington to Philadelphia, Philadelphia Newark and on to NYC and so on – are all short hauls, too abbreviated to take advantage of bullet trains’ top speeds. That’s not even taking into account all the street crossings, which hinder both automobile and train traffic along the route. Take all that into consideration, and 150 miles per hour is probably about as fast as northeast corridor trains can hope for.

Therein lies the aforementioned quandary: In the northeast corridor, there is enough demand to support an investment in next-gen high-speed rail, but bullet trains simply aren’t practical there. And, as Dr. David Levinson, associate professor of transportation engineering at the University of Minnesota, points out, in more wide-open places like the Midwest where true, 200-plus miles per hour high-speed trains have room to run, populations often aren’t dense enough to justify the trains. “The cost side of this is very high,” Levinson says. “And outside of the northeast corridor and a few other places, the benefits are relatively low, so there are limited places where you have enough demand to support passenger service.”

Of course, if Amtrak really wants to roll out China-magnitude trains in the northeast it could simply eliminate stops between major cities. But where trains go and where trains stop is a political issue, and nothing is so effective a destroyer of a potential public good as politics. High-speed rail tends to enjoy hot-button-issue status in the places where it’s an issue at all. In other places, it’s not even on the political radar.

I suggest that the problem is with interconnections between passenger train operators in the United States. In England, one ticket is good for a ride that might involve multiple passenger train operators, and a change of trains from a Voyager or Pendolino or if you're lucky, a pair of 43s with a High Speed Train, to a puddle-jumper, possibly a nodding donkey bouncing over those opposed joints. For instance, you board the fast from London Euston to Liverpool, making two or three intermediate stops, and ride the nodding donkey onward to Blackpool or Wigan Pier. Or you board the fast from London Paddington to Exeter and change to a diesel railcar for Dawlish Warren.

On the Northeast Corridor, the Acela Expresses already pass through Trenton without stopping. Some commuter trains from Philadelphia or New York make limited stops enroute to Trenton. But a passenger boarding New Jersey Transit has to buy a different ticket for the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transit Authority or for Amtrak, and the trains are not necessarily scheduled to connect.

While the value of a train is that it makes intermediate stops, and the Acela Expresses might exist as upscale hideaways, there are cheaper ways to provide travellers with the benefits of convenient, reliable trains that beat flying and driving times without busting the budget on electrification or new infrastructure that provides only marginal improvements on what we used to do routinely with steam locomotives on jointed rail or diesel locomotives geared for 117 mph.
LOSING THE GOOD OF THE INTELLECT. The late Richard Mitchell used that line, from Inferno, to great effect in an Underground Grammarian essay, "The Curriculum from Hell".

"For we have reached the place of which I spoke,where you will see the miserable people, those who have lost the good of intellect."

Here sighs and lamentations and loud cries were echoing across the starless air,so that, as soon as I set out, I wept.

Strange utterances, horrible pronouncements, accents of anger, words of suffering, and voices shrill and faint, and beating hands,

all went to make a tumult that will whirlforever through that turbid, timeless air, like sand that eddies when a whirlwind swirls.

Professor Mitchell's essay is an early reaction to the introduction of the inclusive curriculum. He suggests that, like other fads, it will pass.
There is quite enough contention, and ambition, in the University to provide a testing and weighing of them all. Some will flare for a space and sputter out, and some will get the Mene, mene right away. Some will fall, only to rise again in another age.
But when the [State] University of [New York at] Albany gives some of its humanities departments the mene, mene, all of a sudden the Received Tradition becomes important. For instance, David Foster at Chicago Boyz finds my link to Gregory Petsko's criticism of Albany's decision, and an instructive bull session ensues.

That's not the only place to find reaction to the humor in the humanities establishment's response. Carol Iannone notes on Phi Beta Cons,
I was surprised that the lament over the shrinkage of support for the humanities and for literature was carried on without reference to the deleterious academic fads that for decades have been undermining them — Marxism, feminism, deconstruction, postcolonialism, postmodernism, all of which denied the possibility of truth and objective knowledge, denigrated the classics as foils for the deployment of power by the privileged white male elite, worked to dismantle the great tradition as racist, sexist, classist, and exclusionary, and promoted inferior works that supposedly represented the formerly excluded victims. The [Association of Literary Scholars, Critics, and Writers], formerly the [Association of Literary Scholars and Critics], was founded precisely because the Modern Language Association failed to defend the literary heritage but instead enthusiastically championed these trends. You go out of your way to announce that great literature is not really great and perhaps no greater than your average television show, and not surprisingly interest will decline.
That's longer, and more nuanced than, "Deny incoherent beliefs of any kind: enjoy incoherence" but the sentiments are the same.

At Minding the Campus, John M. Ellis elaborates.

Freshman core courses that gave an overview of the achievements of Western culture were soon abolished almost everywhere, mandatory courses in this nation's history and institutions went too, and literature departments even stopped requiring that Shakespeare be an essential part of the English literature major. Even when formerly mandatory courses are still offered as options, they are often presented through the lens of a jaundiced view of our cultural past that tends to discourage further study.

Predictably, enrollments in departments that substituted adolescent politics for the humanities dropped sharply. My own institution tried something that turned out rather like a controlled experiment to test student response. The radical faculty set up a major in World Literature--one heavily invested in the third world and in victimology--as an alternative to the literature department's conventional majors in English, French, German, etc. They waited expectantly for what they thought would be a rush out of the old and into the new. Alas, enrollments in the new courses were so low (mainly single digits while Shakespeare and Dickens were still drawing hundreds) that the Dean was soon forced to intervene to end this embarrassing fiasco.

There was a time when "save the humanities" would have been an appropriate cry, but that was years ago, when they were being dismantled in one department after another and replaced with the intellectual triviality and sheer boredom of endlessly repetitive Marxist identity politics, as cowardly administrators looked on and did nothing. The poverty of intellectual content was masked by an elaborate jargon, but that only made things worse: the remade programs became the laughing stock of their campuses. But now the day of reckoning has arrived. Enrollments have collapsed, to the point where the smaller departments face extinction. Those enrollments are sinking not because students don't value the humanities, but because they do.

It is important to grasp the fact that the cry we are now hearing ("save the humanities") is not about saving the humanities. It is rather about saving the faculty, who long since destroyed them, from the devastating consequences of their own foolish actions. It asks for a bailout, so that those same people can continue enjoying the fiefdoms they created to replace what once were departments of the humanities. And to respond favorably to that appeal would be folly.

Yet the crisis does need a response--but not the one that is asked for. Now that this day of reckoning has arrived, the appropriate cry should be: "restore the humanities." That rather different slogan would suggest that we should take hold of these failed departments where enrollment has collapsed following abolition of the humanities, and bring them back to health.

All the same, the beat goes on, according to Peter Wood.

Another way is exemplified by the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee’s Center for 21st Century Studies. To be sure, C21, as it styles itself, is not in the prediction business. It was founded in the heady days of 1968 as the Center for 20th Century Studies, and aimed at fostering “cross-disciplinary research in the humanities.” It evolved; or perhaps that term is too teleological. It moved along; it encountered trendy new ideas; it coagulated around them. Its Web site explains:

“The Center has long been a leader in the study of modern and contemporary culture, including film, performance, the visual arts, and everyday life, as well as in critical reflection in such areas as feminism, media theory, multiculturalism, postcolonialism, cultural and social theory, and lesbian and gay studies. We do not, however, limit our inquiries to the contemporary world, recognizing that the exploration of the historical, political, and social dimensions of contemporary problems, including race, class, gender, sexuality, and conflict, can only enhance our understanding of them.”

He concludes with the Trenchant Observation of the Day.

"We don’t really need a whole lot more evidence that our current system of higher education has a wobbly future."

Stop being reductive, perhaps you'll learn something.

19.11.10

LARGE IRISH COFFEE, THREE SHOTS OF BUSHMILLS. Phi Beta Cons have posted several observations of the possible ban of alcoholic energy drinks such as Four Loko, an Illinois export perhaps more toxic than Governor Blagojevich, Our President, or "Go Cubs Go". Herewith a product review.
However, to mourn the end of the drink when the ban was announced, I stopped by a neighborhood convenience store and bought one of every flavor they had (just three, and no, I didn’t drink them all at once). That night, with a heavy heart, I drank a can of the lemon flavor and played Call of Duty Classic. That flavor is disgusting, and the smell makes it even worse — it sort of wafts around the room when you open the can, a pungent mix of lemon, energy drink, and alcohol.
Reason's Jacob Sullum is also underwhelmed.
At a poker game last night, I cracked open a couple of Four Loko cans and distributed samples. We all agreed it was one of the vilest drinks we had ever consumed. It was not as syrupy as I expected and in fact had a bitter edge that is characteristic of energy drinks containing caffeine and taurine. The one in the purple can tasted like a grape soda with crushed aspirin mixed into it. Even a test subject who has a fondness for Mike's Hard Lemonade could not abide it (or the cranberry-lemonade variety, which had the same unpleasant aftertaste). In terms of psychoactive effects, it was indistinguishable from wine; I did not notice any extra kick from the caffeine. (One can has about as much caffeine as a cup of coffee.) I suspect that the reformulated version of Four Loko, which will not have caffeine, guarana, or taurine, will taste better and will therefore be, if anything, more appealing both to underage drinkers and to the "young adults" that the FDA is so worried about.
Thus, ideas of a product ban will not go away.

Fear not, though. Angus at Kids Prefer Cheese proffers DIY Four Loko.

Or you could simply ask your bartender to make up the order given in the title.
A FEW MORE MINUTES OF FAME. Kishwaukee Hospital gets a percentage of the proceeds a gold recycler earns from a table at a benefit event. That gets the Daily Chronicle curious about the economics of rising gold prices.

The price of gold is driven by the fact that it is an exhaustible resource and by currency fears in the global recession, said Stephen Karlson, an associate professor of economics at Northern Illinois University.

“Because a lot of central banks are effectively printing more money, there are people who are scared their paper money might lose value,” Karlson said. “Gold is an inflation hedge, and a lot of it is driven by fear.”

For people selling their gold, there is little downside to taking advantage of the high prices, Karlson said. But he cautioned there is a chance buyers might be investing in what economists call a speculative bubble.

“All of the money that used to be sloshing around in hedge funds or dot-com stocks or McMansions may be a lot of the money now bidding up the price of gold,” Karlson said. “No economist, no business guru, no fortuneteller knows the day or the hour at which a bubble will pop. But when it ends, a lot of people might end up holding the bag.”

Cold Spring Shops does not endorse investments. Do your own research before investing in gold, or in McMansions.
FASTER THAN A GALLOPING HORSE. Charles Krauthammer pens a column in which "Don't Touch My Junk" takes the place of an eighteenth-century revolutionary motto.

Shannon Love of Chicago Boyz is inspired to stitch the motto onto the Gadsden flag.



Gadsden Flag, Don't Touch My Junk Version
Copyright © 2010 by Shannon Love and hereby placed in the public domain.

There are other efforts on offer. I had a few free moments after class this morning and turned up another version, in a form suitable for my Facebook profile picture. There is also a line of Cafe Press products featuring the flag and the contemporary motto.

Cold Spring Shops wishes to remind readers of another motto, with the Thanksgiving travel rush and National Opt-Out Day approaching.

Avoid the strain, take the train.

17.11.10

IF A TRIP TO MARS, YOU'D EARN, REMEMBER, FRIEND, THERE'S NO RETURN. Burma Shave once posted a string of signs reading FREE, FREE, A TRIP TO MARS, FOR 900, EMPTY JARS. Burma Shave had a taker. Red Owl supermarket manager Arliss French, in Appleton, Wisconsin, took the company up on its offer, and the company's president wired back with the caution that is the title line.

It's a case of the advertising art anticipating life.

In 1952, Wernher von Braun worked out a Mars mission of 963 days that provided sufficient lift capacity to land men on the planet and return them safely to earth. The flotilla he envisioned for the flight to Mars was only slightly smaller than the thousand-plane raids the Army Air Force was staging a few years previously.

Space colonization, however, does not require a round trip.
Establishing a human colony on Mars could go a lot faster if space travelers adopted the same mindset as early American settlers and expected never to return home, two scientists believe.
That's a suggestion. Remember, friend, there's no return is being considered by NASA, but it's not yet policy.
WHY IT MATTERS. College Misery links to An open letter to George M Philip, President of the State University of New York At Albany by Brandeis biologist Gregory A. Petsko. Go. Read. Understand. I'll provide a few highlights.

Just 30 days ago, on October 1st, you announced that the departments of French, Italian, Classics, Russian and Theater Arts were being eliminated. You gave several reasons for your decision, including that 'there are comparatively fewer students enrolled in these degree programs.' Of course, your decision was also, perhaps chiefly, a cost-cutting measure - in fact, you stated that this decision might not have been necessary had the state legislature passed a bill that would have allowed your university to set its own tuition rates. Finally, you asserted that the humanities were a drain on the institution financially, as opposed to the sciences, which bring in money in the form of grants and contracts.

Let's examine these and your other reasons in detail, because I think if one does, it becomes clear that the facts on which they are based have some important aspects that are not covered in your statement. First, the matter of enrollment. I'm sure that relatively few students take classes in these subjects nowadays, just as you say. There wouldn't have been many in my day, either, if universities hadn't required students to take a distribution of courses in many different parts of the academy: humanities, social sciences, the fine arts, the physical and natural sciences, and to attain minimal proficiency in at least one foreign language. You see, the reason that humanities classes have low enrollment is not because students these days are clamoring for more relevant courses; it's because administrators like you, and spineless faculty, have stopped setting distribution requirements and started allowing students to choose their own academic programs - something I feel is a complete abrogation of the duty of university faculty as teachers and mentors. You could fix the enrollment problem tomorrow by instituting a mandatory core curriculum that included a wide range of courses.

Once upon a time, universities equipped their students with the ability to rebuild their civilization from scratch, should circumstances require it. That's what the first two years were about, with the additional opportunity for students to discover their comparative advantages. General education as something to get out of the way? Corrosive.

He's right to point to faculty complicity. There's more to come here on the death of the humanities, as time permits. And sometimes theater arts and music can be a recruiting point. (Is it fair that Northern Illinois can claim Joan Allen and Dan Castellanato and an orchestra that many more famous universities would covet and a steel band?)
Young people haven't, for the most part, yet attained the wisdom to have that kind of freedom without making poor decisions. In fact, without wisdom, it's hard for most people. That idea is thrashed out better than anywhere else, I think, in Dostoyevsky's parable of the Grand Inquisitor, which is told in Chapter Five of his great novel, The Brothers Karamazov.
I've got to continue my education and buy this book, based on the plot summary.
That single chapter in a much longer book is one of the great works of modern literature. You would find a lot in it to think about. I'm sure your Russian faculty would love to talk with you about it - if only you had a Russian department, which now, of course, you don't.
Professor Petsko has only begun to talk smack. Just go read it.

It seems to me that the way you went about it couldn't have been more likely to alienate just about everybody on campus. In your position, I would have done everything possible to avoid that. I wouldn't want to end up in the 9th Bolgia (ditch of stone) of the 8th Circle of the Inferno, where the great 14th century Italian poet Dante Alighieri put the sowers of discord. There, as they struggle in that pit for all eternity, a demon continually hacks their limbs apart, just as in life they divided others.

The Inferno is the first book of Dante's Divine Comedy, one of the great works of the human imagination. There's so much to learn from it about human weakness and folly. The faculty in your Italian department would be delighted to introduce you to its many wonders - if only you had an Italian department, which now, of course, you don't.

Macaroni Vermicelli is going to be ringing the changes on Dante again in these pages. But go read the letter.
As for the argument that the humanities don't pay their own way, well, I guess that's true, but it seems to me that there's a fallacy in assuming that a university should be run like a business. I'm not saying it shouldn't be managed prudently, but the notion that every part of it needs to be self-supporting is simply at variance with what a university is all about. You seem to value entrepreneurial programs and practical subjects that might generate intellectual property more than you do 'old-fashioned' courses of study. But universities aren't just about discovering and capitalizing on new knowledge; they are also about preserving knowledge from being lost over time, and that requires a financial investment.
Rebuild from scratch, forsooth. And push the economists or the engineers or the business faculty or some of the nano-scientists too far, or hamstring them with too much process, and they'll set up their own companies.
The best way for people to be prepared for the inevitable shock of change is to be as broadly educated as possible, because today's backwater is often tomorrow's hot field. And interdisciplinary research, which is all the rage these days, is only possible if people aren't too narrowly trained. If none of that convinces you, then I'm willing to let you turn your institution into a place that focuses on the practical, but only if you stop calling it a university and yourself the President of one. You see, the word 'university' derives from the Latin 'universitas', meaning 'the whole'. You can't be a university without having a thriving humanities program. You will need to call SUNY Albany a trade school, or perhaps a vocational college, but not a university. Not anymore.
Please don't call it a trade school unless there are people on the faculty who I could trust with my vertical milling machine.

Just go read it.
ATTEMPTING TO UNDERSTAND THE PERPLEXING. Milwaukee television station WISN goes to the land of train riders.

Hopping on and off a train in Illinois is a very common thing. People at the Glenview, Ill., depot can't understand why Wisconsin isn't on board with high-speed rail.

"Why shouldn't you be taking advantage of the funding that should go to your state," train passenger Susan Jacobs asked.

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn is pushing to grab those unwanted funds and the train manufacturer.

With Gov.-elect Scott Walker standing by his promise to stop the construction of high-speed rail, Illinois residents feel sympathy and confusion toward their neighboring state to the north.

"It's a bad idea. It's jobs for Wisconsin people, It's a bad idea," train passenger Greg Leeb said.

The City of the Big Shoulders is still a serious Player with Railroads and the Nation's Freight Handler. And our Commuter Rail efforts are the envy of the world.
THE PROPER SENTIMENT FOR OUR TIMES. Donald Trump fires an apprentice who violated a fundamental rule.

"I've just been given some very disturbing news that [contestant] Anand [Vasudev] has been text messaging people telling them to bring in money, Anand is that true?" Trump asked.

"That is not true sir. I haven't been texting anyone regarding money, absolutely not," Anand replied.

"Well you know if you did, it's a clear violation of the rules... you're saying you didn't do it?" Trump questioned.

"I have not done that," Anand insisted.

Big mistake.

"You want me to read you a text message?" Trump fired back.

"Go right ahead, Mr. Trump," Anand said.

"Come to Trump Tower from 10AM-1PM. Bring at least $50. Pretend like you don't know me. Need you to buy a pedicab from me or one of my teammates. I'm project manager so my ass is on the line. I'm getting close to the top -- I won't have my phone with me, so just come by and pretend like we don't know each other," Trump read aloud to the seven remaining contestants.

"Pretty bad right?"

"That was bad, Mr. Trump," Anand replied.

Why did you deny it? You lied to me," Trump noted.

"I want to be at the top, I want to win, and nobody came... it was wrong and it was inappropriate but being a project manager, you want to win," Anand told Trump.

It's more than his ass on the line now.

After Anand and Trump both agreed on the fact that Anand crossed the line, Trump declared Anand fired.

"This is why the country's gotten into such trouble. This is the kind of thinking that we've been witnessing on Wall Street for the last five years -- Anand, you're fired," Trump said.

I'm informed that there was no taxi waiting for him at the door, as is usually the case with the fired contestants.

16.11.10

A BUSY DAY FOR AMTRAK, AND FOR THE PIZZERIA. Amtrak's busiest day is the Sunday after Thanksgiving (a lot of its traffic is collegians, and they start melting away the previous Thursday, but they all want to return on Sunday).

Thanksgiving Eve is the busiest day for the pizzeria, as a lot of families, contemplating the work involved in getting the traditional turkey together, go for the traditional comfort food, and let somebody else clean the kitchen.

It's also a busy day for Amtrak, so if you want to avoid the airport congestion, which will be aggravated by National Opt Out Day, get your reservations in.



More commentary, and the source.
MAKING POLITICAL HAY. Wisconsin governor-elect Scott Walker's decision to cancel the extension of Hiawatha service to Madison (or not) gives the opposition a chance to exploit the cross-Cheddar Curtain rivalry.


Or perhaps the governor-elect wants the money for road projects in anticipation of the national government's latest hero project.

15.11.10

OVERREACH. Victor Davis Hanson writes finis to Our President's ambitions, and to the delusions of his enablers on the left.

It all started in January 2009, when a giddy Barack Obama failed to appreciate how he got elected. He concluded that his victory was proof of a radical shift to the left on the part of the American electorate. In fact, it was a combination of the novelty of the first serious African-American presidential candidate, a so-so McCain effort, the traumatic financial meltdown of Sept. 15, 2008, unhappiness with the Bush administration’s Iraq war, fawning media, an orphaned presidential election with no incumbent running, and Obama’s centrist campaigning that explained the near impossible election of a northern liberal, when kindred sorts such as Dukakis, Kerry, McGovern, and Mondale had all failed. The country clearly wanted a corrective to the big spending and borrowing of the Bush administration — and soon discovered that, instead, it was going to get a far larger second serving of it.

From the outset, European expansive government was the model for this administration. But a statist antidote to the financial crisis was a complete misreading of ongoing events at home and abroad. The Wall Street meltdown was a result of a two-decade-long state intervention in the mortgage industry. Big government had guaranteed lower-income Americans that they could buy homes they could not afford, while those who built, sold, or financed subsidized houses were aided and abetted by the con — assured of exorbitant government-backed profits with the ethical cover of helping the poor achieve home ownership.

In reaction, quite fabulously the Obama administration explained this government-backed Ponzi scheme in terms of popular distrust of private enterprise and a need for a radical expansion of government as a share of GDP — or, in the now-infamous quip of Rahm Emanuel, “Never let a serious crisis go to waste.” More ironic still, the implosion of much of southern Europe and the belt-tightening and cost-cutting of the European Union’s strongest economies offered ongoing proof that the redistributive state was unsustainable, at the precise moment we Johnny-come-lately Americans were rushing to embrace just that failed paradigm. The almost stealthy departure from the Obama administration of academics who so prominently guided our economic policy until recently — Peter Orszag, Christina Romer, Larry Summers — suggests that they wished to get out of fantasy town ahead of the reasoning posse that was bound to follow.

The same flight of logic explains the Obamians’ weird post-election political triumphalism about the first two years of unpopular legislation promoted or passed by the administration. The takeover of health care, passage in the House of cap-and-trade, bailouts, expansions of entitlements, and huge deficits should — given their low poll ratings — have been something to hide rather than parade. Yet Obama and his loyalists point to these very accomplishments as proof that a now unpopular administration should be proud of its unpopular record.

Of course, the American people did not see it that way, in the greatest outpouring of anger in any midterm election of the last 72 years. Apparently the voters liked very little of what Obama had envisioned for them — and felt that it didn’t take a political genius to increase government spending with borrowed money. Only a fabulist would keep bragging of a political legacy that led to political catastrophe. Two years of stasis and gridlock would have done better for the Democrats at the polls.

There also emerged an equally unhinged postmortem analysis that cited almost every cause of Democratic defeat — except the unpopular record of 2009–10 and the weak economy: The most visible and exposed president in American history had not “gotten the message out.” The inordinate loss of blue-dog Democrats in key swing congressional districts that are barometers of national opinion “proves” that the defeated Democratic incumbents there were not liberal enough. The referendum was supposedly a warning to both parties in general and Washington in particular — and therefore the loss of 60 or more Democratic seats in the House is analogous to the wave of public frustration that Obama rode into office in 2008. Again, the reasoning class clings to fantasy instead of the “facts and science and argument” that explain why all the House gains of 2006 and 2008 were wiped out at one stroke. Twenty-one months of Barack Obama’s vision proved more deleterious to Democrats than what six years of Iraq and the mortgage meltdown did to Republicans.

The list of mythologies could be expanded: A public furious over open borders and looming amnesty was supposedly frustrated about the lack of “comprehensive immigration reform,” the new euphemism for amnesty. The failure to act on unpopular promises like closing Guantanamo, trying KSM in a civilian court, and ending “Don’t ask, don’t tell,” apparently disappointed voters. Calling fellow Americans “enemies” and telling Republicans to sit in the back seat were symptomatic of Obama’s inability to rev up the base in partisan style.

Easier to blame the outcome of the election on too much business money buying campaign commercials.
THE CASE FOR LIMITING GOVERNMENT? Our President is out of his depth, which may or may not have prompted Newsweek to contemplate the implications of "The presidency has grown, and grown and grown, into the most powerful, most impossible job in the world." Does it really come as a surprise when, after years and years of Smart People telling us that Enacting The Right Policies and Putting Technocrats In The White House will Make Our Lives Better, and after years and years of Talking Heads describing every inconvenience as the next crisis, and framing the ending of the inconvenience as something requiring Action By The Government (I think it got out of hand about the time the Talking Heads all used the Capitol as part of their logo or their backscene) that eventually Reality would be waiting on a dark alley somewhere off of K street with a leaded sock?

Can any single person fully meet the demands of the 21st-century presidency? Obama has looked to many models of leadership, including FDR and Abraham Lincoln, two transformative presidents who governed during times of upheaval. But what’s lost in those historical comparisons is that both men ran slim bureaucracies rooted in relative simplicity. Neither had secretaries of education, transportation, health and human services, veterans’ affairs, energy, or homeland security, nor czars for pollution or drug abuse, nor televisions in the West Wing constantly tuned to yammering pundits. They had bigger issues to grapple with, but far less managing to do. “Lincoln had time to think,” says Allan Lichtman, a professor of history at American University. “That kind of downtime just doesn’t exist anymore.”

Among a handful of presidential historians NEWSWEEK contacted for this story, there was a general consensus that the modern presidency may have become too bloated. “The growth is exponential in these last 50 years, especially the number of things that are expected of the president,” says presidential biographer Doris Kearns Goodwin, who had dinner with Obama and a handful of other historians last summer. Obama aides speaking on background say that the president’s inner circle can become stretched by the constant number of things labeled “crises” that land on his desk—many of which, like the mistaken firing of Department of Agriculture employee Shirley Sherrod in Georgia or the intricacies of the oil cleanup in the gulf, could easily be handled by lower-level staff. “Some days around here, it can almost be hard to breathe,” says one White House official who didn’t want to go on the record portraying his boss as overwhelmed. Another senior adviser says that sometimes the only way to bring the president important news is to stake out his office and “walk and talk” through the hall.

The growth of the presidency has been a sort of Catch-22. Most presidents after Roosevelt, at least until the Vietnam era, got by with only a few dozen advisers. Ted Sorensen, the Kennedy speechwriter who died last month, was actually hired as a domestic-policy counselor, one of only a handful (he wrote speeches in his spare time). Today there are more than 35 staffers devoted to domestic policy, plus more who parachute in on particular issues, like health care or energy. Yet as the president’s responsibilities have grown, the instinct has been to hire more people to help manage the work, including the flow of information. “That’s wrong; the more people you have in the White House, the more problems are sucked into it,” says James Pfiffner, a George Mason University professor of public policy whose 2007 book, The Modern Presidency, examined the enormous growth of the office. Other historians point to the changing role of cabinet secretaries. While Obama has more department leaders than ever before—15, compared with Gerald Ford’s 11 and Lincoln’s 7—many of them have less power and influence, which has required minor decisions about trade, energy, and economic strategy to be handled by White House staffers.

Enumerated and limited powers, winning by default? Is the house organ of the Liberal Establishment not disagreeing with periodic attempts by Republicans and libertarians to abolish a few cabinet departments?
Political scientist Thomas Cronin once credited the period between World War II and Watergate as the “swelling of the presidency.” It was during the Eisenhower administration that historians first asked if the president simply had too many demands. But those were far less cluttered times. “We had a lot to do, and many people were asking questions, but we were never overwhelmed,” says Harry McPherson, who served as counsel, then special counsel, to Lyndon Johnson. Such memories sound quaint to current White House staffers. “There is never a day we come in and there are only a few things we need to do,” says Bill Burton, Obama’s deputy press secretary.
And John Kennedy ran for office pledging to get the country moving again, and there was a circle of enlightened opinion that maintained the Eisenhower presidency was a do-nothing presidency.

Be careful what you ask for, you might get it.
JUNK SOCIAL SCIENCE IS PERMISSIBLE IN SERVICE OF THE RIGHT CAUSES. Some students at Bucknell University parodied affirmative action with a bake sale in April 2009.
Bucknell shut it down because of a minor paperwork discrepancy, then forbade BUCC from ever holding such a bake sale in the future. (Click here for video and here for audio documentation of these points, despite Bucknell's lies to the contrary.)
Another list that was later misplaced. That happens often enough in these days. The story didn't die at Bucknell, or decay over four or five years as cohorts of students graduate, because John Stossel held his own bake sale, and made a television segment (online video at the FIRE post) and wrote a column about it.

More recently, a student group at Wesleyan University held the same kind of bake sale. The faculty response defies parody.
In the wake of an affirmative-action bake sale hosted by the campus conservative club, the Wesleyan University admissions office swore up and down that the school doesn’t have an affirmative-action policy — but now, a large number of the Wesleyan faculty have written in to Wesleyan’s campus paper, the Wesleyan Argus, to defend the practice of affirmative action.
Closer to home, a residence hall organization held a different kind of affirmative action casino.

Project RED (Residents Engaging in Diversity) hosted their fourth annual "Casino Night" in the Stevenson Towers Main Street Food Court, where students could play casino games without risking any actual money.

What made this casino different than most were the decorations. The walls were adorned with posters that read "For every $1 a white man earns, a white woman earns 74 cents."

Similarly, African American men earned 72 cents, black women earned 64 cents, Latino men earned 54 cents and Latina women earned 52 cents to the white man's $1, according to the posters.

There's a long tradition in higher education of alerting students to their privileged circumstances, and there are ways to get that point across while recognizing that race and sex differences in earnings disappear once job tenure, education, and experience are impounded in ceteris paribus.

That's too adult a problem for the reds.

Students' hands were marked with an X when they entered the casino floor, and they were given two $500 chips.

After students changed out their chips for smaller amount, they began to play games. With the "money" students earned, they had the opportunity to win prizes ranging from hooded sweatshirts, a blanket, T-shirts, hats, a basketball, and more items purchased from the University Bookstore.

When students were finished playing, they could cash out their chips in the form of raffle tickets and enter to win prizes.

Besides the educational posters that decorated the walls, there was another surprise in store for those in attendance.

When students lined up to cash in their chips, they were made aware that the Xs they had marked on their hand had a hidden meaning.

Each color X stood for a different race and sex, had been randomly assigned and would determine what kind of exchange rate they would get on their chips. For instance, people marked as white males would receive one raffle ticket per $50 in chips, whereas students marked as a Latina woman got one ticket per $100 in chips.

Not all students were happy after they heard about the unique caveat.

"I felt cheated," [sophomore Khaylin] Snead said.

Before the raffle drawing, [project coordinator Bianca] McGraw spoke about wage discrepancy to the crowd.

"This happens all the time," she said.

McGraw gave examples of coworkers receiving unequal pay for doing equal work, working equal hours and having equal experience. Students roundly agreed this was unfair.

An example is not a proof. A generalization from a small sample is not a trend. How difficult would it be to let the colors signify different levels of educational attainment?

14.11.10

PERSEVERE. The Northern Illinois women's basketball team had a coaching change during the off-season, and the new coach has a first win here, with the team rallying from nine down to beat George Washington by six.

13.11.10

CONCRETENESS OPTIONAL.

Craig Brandon spent some time teaching at New Hampshire's Keene State College and he had such a bad experience with yobbish students, craven administrators, and questionable academic practices that he chucked it all to work on The Five-Year Party: How Colleges Have Given Up on Educating Your Child and What You Can Do About It. I've made references to Margaret Soltan's and Peter Sacks's reactions to his thesis. and made time to read it and review it.

Book Review No. 28 suggests that Mr Brandon generalizes excessively from his own experiences, and his investigation thus paints with too broad a brush, sometimes unconvincingly.


The flagship universities of the northeastern states are weak to begin with (see inter alia ZooConn and ZooMass) and Keene State is probably a lot less selective than the somewhat less well known University of New Hampshire (which at least has train service) and it might well be the very model of a subprime party school (at least Mr Brandon is aware of one frame for the weaker providers of higher education).

The responsibility for the subprime sector, however, cannot be laid off entirely on the new crop of business-minded administrators that Mr Brandon fingers as the proximate cause of a fundamental shift in collegiate culture away from academics.

That's a shame.

I'd like to say good things about an author who titles his first chapter "How Retention Replaced Education at America's Colleges." That's part of it.
I use a four-word formulation to summarize what higher education is doing wrong. Access refers to lowered admission standards. Assessment does everything but perform market tests and enable professors to make mid-course adjustments to fine-tune student performance. Remediation is the consequence of access. Retention ensures that the unprepared receive something resembling a degree, all the same.
The faculty is complicit in the failure. Mr Brandon suggests that sub-prime party schools have fallen into what I call the Wayne State trap: the presence of non-traditional or first-generation or commuting students becomes an excuse to lower standards. (That attitude is a libel on non-traditional or first-generation or commuting students, but it persists.) And thus does the subprime party school emerge (see p. 49)
When I asked professors how they could justify this, many of them replied ... that given that these students are the first ones in their families to go to college, professors need to cut them some slack. But this argument only makes sense if you believe that going to college in and of itself carries some kind of benefit, even if you don't do any work, read any books, or pay attention in class. It seems to imply that knowledge can be absorbed by students from the college atmosphere.
What is actually taking place is a form of widespread fraud: certifying that students have learned something that they have not learned. If you probe deeper, professors who advocate this kind of grade inflation see it as a form of social engineering to increase the number of college graduates and hopefully increase their earning potential. Eventually, party schools grant diplomas to students who have not learned anything approaching what used to be required of them.
This widespread fraud allows party schools to collect the tuition money that keeps the wheels of Diplomas Inc. happily turning and avoids angry confrontations with its student customers. Everyone gets to go home happy by pretending that those high grades really mean the students learned something.
Well, no. Increasing numbers of graduates have racked up debts that they might not be able to repay before retirement because they are holding jobs that ... don't really require a degree. That might be the subprime party schools' doing, but the kind of data analysis that would permit a reader to agree or disagree with that conclusion is ... missing. Mr Brandon likes to use the phrase party school administrators, but its promiscuous use as a pejorative before any number of expense preference behaviors (food courts! climbing walls! deluxe dorms! sports arenas!) causes it to lose force. We find such things at universities with highly-regarded academic programs, and at universities that admit just about anybody who is breathing. It is presumably the latter that he wishes to address. The distinction matters: consider this assertion at page 88.
But the biggest obstacle to controlling binge drinking is that party school administrators understand that binge drinkers make up a majority of their customers and sending them packing or making them unhappy would be a very poor business decision. Binge drinkers and party schools exist in one of those symbiotic relationships that party schools find so convenient. As long as they pay their tuition, binge drinkers looking for the five-year party are welcome, but administrators have to play a careful balancing act when the actions of drunken students hit the front pages. Taking any kind of serious action against binge drinkers could change their reputation at student-run websites from party school to unfriendly to drinking and leave them with nearly empty classrooms and dormitory halls. The majority of students simply don't want to go to a college that won't let them drink themselves into unconsciousness, so a reputation for being unfriendly to drinking is a suicidal marketing position.
On the next page, we read of a case of fatal alcohol poisoning at The Massachusetts Institute of Technology: whether that supports the "majority of students" assertion or allows that some universities can take serious action against drinking to excess without losing enrollments is left unsaid.

Elsewhere, readers are cautioned that the deluxe dorm rooms shown on campus walking tours are generally for seniors, while the freshmen make do with quarters only slightly improved from army barracks, and in some cases a room designed for two is occupied by four in anticipation of high freshman year attrition rates: whether that factoid supports the "we-accept-people-for-the-student-loan-money" hypothesis or contradicts the "retention-is-the-prime-directive" hypothesis we don't see.

The book concludes with some suggestions for parents. Shorter form: if your kid doesn't seem like college material, don't push him or her into any place that will send a fat envelope, that could be a subprime party school.

I'll post the party school warning signs, starting at p. 195, as a public service.

  1. Student comments in college guides and rankings mention partying more than academics.
  2. The school admits students with combined SAT scores of less than 1000.
  3. More than 10 percent of the school's students require remedial programs.
  4. More than 10 percent of the school's students are involved in fraternities.
  5. The college's view books make no mention of learning or teaching.
  6. The college newspaper focuses on drinking and parties.
  7. The college covers up its real crime statistics.
  8. Students are making anti-intellectual comments on ratemyprofessors.com
  9. Dormitory rooms are trashed by students.
  10. Police officers, firefighters, and EMTs are busy dealing with out-of-control students.
  11. Students at sporting events are obviously intoxicated and obnoxious.
  12. Students at the library are playing, not doing research.
  13. Students tell you their school is a party school.
There is excess capacity in access-assessment-remediation-retention. The degrees produced from that capacity fail the market test. Perhaps consumer awareness of the nature of the excess capacity will speed the elimination of that capacity.

(Cross-posted to 50 Book Challenge.)