30.9.11

SEX, DRUGS, AND INSURANCE FRAUD.

In the middle 1970s, as part of the pushing of various envelopes that avatars of the Consciousness Revolution would have us believe were necessary freedom from hang-ups, a massage parlor industry emerged in Madison, Wisconsin.  These businesses managed to stay just on the legal side of the vice ordinances, although their purposes were something other than loosening tight muscles.

The business came apart in the aftermath of a trial of one of the higher-achieving masseuses on two counts of murder, both involving clients who sought companions in their loneliness in something other than chess, both somewhat older than the masseuse, both mysteriously dead, until an investigation of shipping records discovered orders for cyanide, and a second look at tissues held in the crime lab uncovered concentrations of cyanide.

And thus we have Winter of Frozen Dreams, a book of more than passing interest in the family, as my sister lived near the murder suspect's apartment, and the protagonists occasionally frequented a bar downstairs from my apartment.  Book Review No. 29 will suggest that what is omitted from the story might be more instructive than what is present.  The author, working from police records, conversations with those witnesses as are willing to talk, and his imagination, provides readers with much by way of titillation, and little in the way of hard analysis.

Perhaps behavioral science has learned something in the intervening years.  The masseuse, who was convicted of one murder and acquitted of the other, has made only one statement to the press since her conviction.  "I did not commit the crime of which I was accused and of which I was convicted."  That leaves the other murder, Watson.  Her history is intriguing ... she earned excellent marks in science in high school and university, yet found her way into the low end of the sex industry.   There have been a few developments in understanding high-functioning Aspies and savants and distinguishing them, or not, from geniuses, since 1981.  That's the unanswered question over the winters of frozen dreams that have followed.

(Cross-posted to 50 Book Challenge.)

SKEWING THE HISTORY.

At Phi Beta Cons, Carol Iannone observes a small moment in "Mad Men" that might reassure the Anointed that it was right to destroy The America That Worked(TM).
This may seem like a trivial point, but it is important to expose the intense propaganda of today’s television shows, designed to make us present-day people feel superior to those in the past, so we will be more content with the chaos of the postmodern, post-countercultural world we now inhabit. And it should also alert us to more serious fabrications and veritable snow-jobs, such as those concerning the condition of women.
Something similar might have been at work in The Help.  I enjoyed the movie, and the blending of historic events with the development of the story worked well.  But the junior league sorority b*****s whose meanness toward the servants who in many cases were the b*****s childhood nannies were cartoonishly artless.  Imagine the In Crowd at Faber College, without any hint of a prep-school upbringing.

Perhaps the fabrications and the snow-jobs are the last act projects of the Silent Generation, who have good reason to affirm their work expanding the blessings of liberty and equally good reason to hide the destructive way in which they destroyed the institutions in order to save them.

THE WAY WE WERE.

Nebraska last played in Madison in 1974.
Little Bucky, for so long the laughingstock of college football, shocked No. 4-ranked Nebraska and a disbelieving regional television audience with a come-from-behind, 21-20 victory.
Yes, I still remember some of this. Goal line stand in front of Section O, Nebraska kicks a field goal for a six point lead, on the next possession, a Nebraska defensive back tries for an interception and misses and Jeff Mack has a long run to the Fieldhouse end.
The Badgers went on to finish 7-4 that season. Some mediocre years followed in the '70s, and the late '80s were a dark time, but a program had turned a corner and then blossomed after Barry Alvarez's arrival in 1990.
That's an odd characterization of turning a corner.  Wisconsin lost Rose Bowls in 1961 and 1963 and finally won a Rose Bowl on the first day of 1994.

In those days, you'd often see spectators at the football games wearing buttons reading Hurry Up November.  That's when Phil Mendel would say "Good evening, hockey fans" and another weekend of sieve-chanting would get going.

LOSING THAT EDGE.

Our President suggests that there's something wrong with his constituents, and Roger Kimball disagrees.
Who told you that America had lost its competitive edge “over the last couple of decades”? Whoever it was, you should sack him. He doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

Like Koko in the Mikado, I have a little list, and I offer it to you, Barack, free and for nothing, without tax or levy:

Google. Yahoo. Facebook. Microsoft. Intel. Apple. Cisco. Adobe. Oracle. Wikipedia. YouTube. Twitter. Sun. Amazon. eBay.
What do these world-bestriding colossi have in common? One thing is, they’re American companies. What other country can field a tenth as many innovative tech companies? None.

No, there is nothing flaccid about American business. There’s plenty of keenness on its “competitive edge.” It’s far and away the most productive and innovative economic machine in the world.

What’s “gone soft” and lost its “competitive edge” is American government, which can’t see a pile of money it doesn’t wish to expropriate in order to feed its “spread-the-wealth-around” socialist appetite and which sees government as the adversary rather than the enabler of business. That’s the rotten softness we have to worry about.
When it comes to world-bestriding colossi, why stop with the tech companies?

There's General Electric, most recently providing serious diesel freight locomotives to the Continent.

There's Nucor Steel, which at my most recent pass through the directory of steel plants, now melts more raw steel than the successors to U. S. Steel and Bethlehem.

There are the BNSF, Union Pacific, and CN Railroads, which have put capital into infrastructure improvements at a rate that the Highway Commissioner can't emulate, even with the various transportation and stimulus bills.  (To some extent, the freight railroads resist the plans to speed up passenger trains on lines already crowded with freight traffic.   Routes the new economy has bypassed, such as Chicago-Detroit, can be sold for conversion to passenger lines, and such lines might even have potential, unless the college bubble pops.)

INSTEAD OF HURRICANE SEASON.

The past week has not been good for the spirits, with  a big low pressure system parked over Rockford since sometime last Friday or Saturday.

The system did offer some play value for weather enthusiasts.


Waterspouts off Milwaukee, courtesy HamWeather.

On such days, one is grateful for a retractable roof at Miller Park.

I'm told that we were subject to the tender mercies of two different low pressure systems.



That system is pretty well-defined.  I failed to capture a screen shot of what it looked like earlier in the week, when the south tail tapped into a flow of moisture from the Gulf.  Get some wood, build it eighty cubits by thirty cubits ...

But, this being the upper Midwest in the fall, there's at least one more run of glorious sun and cool evenings in store.

INSUFFICIENT TIME IN TRAINING CAMP?

The Packers beat the Bears last Sunday, in a game with too many false starts.
At the same time [quarterback Aaron] Rodgers was drawing the Bears offside, he was also causing his own offensive linemen to false start. The Packers had five false-start penalties, and at least three came on plays in which Rodgers used a hard count.
Jerry Kramer confessed in Instant Replay to "jumping offside" a few times in the pre-season, when he heard the footsteps of the man-in-motion, a tactic Vince Lombardi installed for Donny Anderson and Jim Grabowski. Undoubtedly a few mornings of looking at the film (it really was film in those days, and probably black-and-white) repeatedly as the coach wore out the reverse feature on the projector got the jitters out of his system.
"In practice all week we didn't have one false-start penalty," [left guard T. J.] Lang said. "We get in a game and they come out left and right. We just have to do a better job individually."

It's understandable to most that an offensive lineman would be susceptible to Rodgers' sudden rapid-fire snap count but not to offensive line coach James Campen, who hates penalties almost as much as he does missing a practice.

"It really burns my tail that those happen," he said. "That cannot happen and it's upsetting to them, too. To have that many in one game is totally unacceptable. Line up right, make sure you're in a legal formation, and know what the snap count is and get off the ball."

The Packers would never stop using the hard count because what Rodgers did to the Bears is way too valuable.
Perhaps Fuzzy Thurston has offered to help, or perhaps the offensive line coach is mastering the reverse feature on the video machine.

27.9.11

RESURRECTING THE CHICAGO MERCURY.

The old New York Central line from Niles, Michigan to Detroit is of little use for moving automobile parts and automobiles any more, and current freight operator Norfolk Southern isn't interested in putting the money into the line to move the passenger trains.

The State of Michigan, financial troubles notwithstanding, is appropriating money to purchase the tracks between Kalamazoo and Detroit, with a future upgrade of the line to permit 110 mph trains.

I filed a report on this line three summers ago, and additional information on the Mercury trains (does anybody else remember where automobile names like Mercury and Lincoln Zephyr and Buick Century and Special came from?) provide some context for Michigan rail administrator Tim Hoeffner's reluctance to call the upgrade high-speed rail.
"People hear 'high-speed rail' and they think of 200-mph trains, and that's really not what we're talking about," he said. "We're talking about accelerated rail, faster trains up to 110 mph, better and new trains, on-time performance, reliable service, and ultimately additional frequency."
If this service is to continue through Detroit to Birmingham and Pontiac, faster running on the old Grand Trunk Western is a must.  It's probably too much to ask for successors to those Henry Dreyfuss observation-lounges for the business class traveller.

RECOGNIZING WHAT WAS LOST.

Some reviews of "Pan Am" notice that the Consciousness Revolution and what came after wasn't all for the better.

Start at After Ellen.
Pan Am is making a very different point about the mid-1960s: this show openly celebrates that era's sense of optimism and promise, and the supremacy of the United States of America. That sense of optimism permeates the show, from the smiles of the flight attendants and their spotless white gloves, to the show's bright lighting and bouncy music.

Obviously, not every American felt such optimism and promise in the 1960s, but it's hard to deny that the country as a whole didn't feel it. After all, this was a nation that was literally shooting for the moon. And this series definitely shows the sense that massive social changes are afoot in society, mostly for the better.

In other words, Pan Am revels in just how different the world of this show is from our current Age of Complete and Total Pessimism, when it feels like everything is getting worse or coming apart. The amount of legroom on the planes is the least of it. Indeed, what you see on Pan Am is far more shocking than anything you'll see on the supposedly more prurient The Playboy Club.
Your perception of that "mostly for the better" might vary. The New York Worlds Fair, just a few years later, just about when the rot began to set in, offered the promise of picture-phones. And the jets got bigger, and faster at first, but more fuel-efficient later. And yet, for all that plentitude, Complete and Total Pessimism sounds about right.

A Los Angeles Times reviewer concurs.
The glamour in "Pan Am" may indeed be manufactured — doubly manufactured, given the re-created places and planes — but it's not empty: The show says, yes, this is as good as it looks, and it looks very good — though anyone who has flown anywhere in the last, oh, 30 years, may find it difficult to believe, or to remember, that air travel ever was this gracious, customer-friendly or fun. (We are assured, by network communiques, and a little extra research, that it was.)
Sure, a cartelized industry (in which the transatlantic carriers once had to call an emergency meeting to define what constituted a sandwich served in coach, lest the Scandinavian carriers grab market share with Dagwood sandwiches) is going be one in which competition on the merits of the service rather than on price, thus precluding the operation of crowded flying tenements.  But the evolution of an air passenger personality more suited to the tenement than to the executive suite cannot be laid off entirely on price deregulation.

The real pessimism is in the New York Times.
“Pan Am” doesn’t say much of anything about the current state of the nation except that our best days are behind us.
Doesn't have to be.  But one has to recognize that something has gone wrong in order to work at correcting it.

26.9.11

THE MONUMENTS WE'VE DESTROYED.

Columnist Clarence Page ruminates on the recent run of television shows, including Mad Men and Pan Am, set in the days just before the Kennedy assassination and the Consciousness Revolution.
The new retro TV dramas offer us sexism and other problems in a comfortably safe form for today's audiences. They offer a past that was much worse than today, but also one that offers directions to a better future.
That's the view of history from the perspective of the winners of the first round.  The final verdict might be different.
Pennsylvania Station came down and first President Kennedy, then Senator Kennedy, were murdered, and The America that Worked(TM) had to be deconstructed for its sins, rather than have its redeeming features extended, which was the original civil rights vision.
The background to the intrigues and hypocrisy merits further study.  Those properly-suited, fedora-wearing account executives were able to support a family (or a mistress and alimony) on one paycheck.  There were no security checks at Idlewild Airport, apparently no protracted "boarding process".  Pan American with its brand new 707s probably set the standard for transoceanic travel.  And construction season meant the provision of new roads, not perpetual resurfacing of existing roads.

A Victor Hanson essay hopes for the spread of the Consciousness Revolution to the emerging countries.
My expectation is that soon that the affluent of suddenly rich China and India will come down with the Western disease that we see endemically in Europe and among our own, even as America snaps out of it, and recommits itself to self-reliance and wealth creation.
Suppose, though, that these countries avoid a culture war, and keep those trappings of The America that Worked(TM) that preclude the worst features of "do your own thing" amid their new-found prosperity.

CROWDING OUT.

At Addicting Info, the sun still shines bright on Stephen Foster's New Deal Home.
Without taxes, our lifestyles would be totally different and much harder. America would be a third world country. The less we pay, the less we get in return. Americans pay less taxes today since 1958 and is ranked 32nd out of 34 of the top tax paying countries. Chile and Mexico are 33rd and 34th. The Republicans are lying when they say that we pay the highest taxes in the world and are only attacking taxes to reward corporations and the wealthy and to weaken our infrastructure and way of life. 
Such spectacular reasoning, coming after a list of 102 government programs he would urge anyone who "[doesn't] like taxes or government" to refrain from using.

The simple rebuttal: opposing the expansion of government or the raising of tax rates does not imply anarchist leanings.

The more nuanced rebuttal:  many of the programs on the list, beginning with "Social" "Security" and Medicare and continuing through libraries, museums, and schools, are activities that might be more effectively provided by for-profit enterprises in competitive markets.

Some things idiotic lazy dogs ought not be doing.

DUDE, WHERE'S MY RECESSION?

Arnold Kling, en route to a high school class reunion, attempts to answer that question.
There are multiple escalators in the economy. At any one point in time, some people are on up escalators, and some people are on down escalators. From 1970 to 2000, I think that cohort data would tell you that many more families rode escalators up than rode them down. From 2000 to today, my guess is that the proportion riding up escalators has not been as high.

Maybe that is what a recession is. Not a macroeconomic accident in which all of us suddenly decided to spend less and consequently have been unemployed more. But a period in which the up escalators are less crowded and the down escalators have more people than usual.
And some Baltimore Ravens fans are still able to fly to away games. Mr Kling's status radar is apparently well-enough calibrated to determine that those fans were "not from the top ten percent of the income distribution."

PERCEPTION AND REALITY.

The Chicago Tribune suggests it is time to end agriculture subsidies.

The Popular Perspective on farm subsidies, often colored by a reading of The Grapes of Wrath or a "Ma and Pa Kettle" marathon, is that they exist to reassure us that somewhere, solid salt-of-the-earth types, or perhaps Norwegian bachelor farmers, are diligently bringing in the sheaves.


Image courtesy The Art Institute of Chicago.

Although some subsidy money still goes to family farms, corporate farms, which are a small proportion of all farming enterprises, collect a somewhat larger share of total government spending on agriculture.
The problem goes beyond the indefensible direct payments—$4.7 billion a year in government checks sent to farmers no matter how much money they make. The problem extends to biofuel subsidies that promote corn-brewed ethanol at a cost of billions, conservation programs that pay lavishly to idle environmentally sensitive land and crop insurance benefits that farmers want greatly expanded.
Toss in those ethanol subsidies and other manifestations of corporate welfare, and Federal programs become a means to spreading the wealth around ... in an upward direction.
Since 1995, just 10 percent of the largest and wealthiest producers have taken home 74 percent of the subsidies, an Environmental Working Group database shows.
Do your own research ... the Farm (Subsidy) Belt includes Central Park West and North Lake Shore Drive and Telegraph Hill.

FIX THE HEADS.

The Northern Star has been commenting on the latest change of plans from Northern Illinois University, which has in the past ten years gone from an era of downsizing to an era of enrollment expansion and Boise State envy.  Just don't answer nature's call ...
Improvements need to be made to buildings campus-wide, not just in those that house our most prestigious programs (or faculty and staff). The university can't expect to attract prestigious English, political science or communications faculty (or students) if they have to work and teach (and relieve themselves) in a building like Reavis.

We're not asking that every building on campus be as nice as the Engineering Building; that would be entirely unrealistic. But asking that bathrooms be made sanitary or ensuring professors don't need to worry if their books and papers will be ruined by a leaky ceiling, as in Zulauf, is not too much to ask.

NIU has more majors than merely business, engineering or law - many more, in fact. But the learning environment for the varied academic pursuits at this university are not always equal.
Perhaps that's the real reason behind the push for online enrollments ... in addition to supplying our own dry erase markers and computers, faculty and students will be supplying their own sanitary pots.

OUCH.

It's party time at ZooMass, and University Diaries says Enough.

"How long do you keep pretending you’re a university, when what you are, mainly, is a strain on police resources?"

Massachusetts have been in negotiations to affiliate with the Mid-American conference for football.

25.9.11

NOT QUITE LIKE THE GAME PLAN.

Last week, the Wisconsin fans celebrated their win over Northern Illinois by taunting the Chicago Bears on their way out.  Fortunately, there were still enough visiting team points left on the lakefront for the Packers to lead the entire game and remain unbeaten in league play.

Special team coverage requires work, and I can hear Vince Lombardi screaming about those false starts.

GOVERNMENT FAILURE.

Elizabeth Warren, a Harvard professor with aspirations to elected office, has reiterated a challenge to anarchy without rules that, in the minds of aspiring philosopher kings, is a defense of government action.

The court intellectuals for the technocrats will credit much of the opportunity that people enjoy, and the rewards some people secure, to Good Government.
Every person’s success is a product, in part, of investments that Americans made, collectively, going back generations. As she says, it was the taxpayers who paid for the schools, the roads, the scientific research, the first-responders, and all sorts of other public goods on which every business – and, indeed, every American – depends. Those who benefit the most from these investments don’t merely have the ability to pay more for them. They have an obligation.

And this argument isn’t simply about taxation. It’s also an argument for making more of these investments going forward. It’s worth spending government money on infrastructure, schools, and other public goods – even if it means paying for them, eventually, with higher taxes – because we all stand to benefit from them.
The case for the negative is in some ways simple, and in other ways subtle.

Here's the simple case.
If the factory is important to the owner then he would protect it himself if the local government did not provide a police force.  Does she not know this?  Plus, she's making a point that is really very frustrating.  If I don't agree with her now, then is she going to tell the police to NOT come to my assistance when bands of marauders come to the factory and steal things?

What does she mean that the "rest of us educated!?"  I can't hire students who studied at a private school?  Compare students who went to a private school and students who went to the public school...which one is more prepared!?
The simple becomes subtle with a few observations, such as the temptation for elected officials to shake down factory owners with taxes, something incorruptible professional police forces were created to prevent when the local godfather offered to provide protection, or the very real cost to corporations providing a refresher course in high school composition or college engineering because the common schools and the state universities didn't bother.

Professor Munger has the short form of the subtle riposte.
If a group of us need security, we might sign a contract and get a really big, strong dog. Let's call it...I don't know... GOVERNMENT. It's big, stupid, poops in places it shouldn't and wastes a lot of time sleeping and licking its "Representative Wiener", because it can.

But, suppose that big smelly dog also does a reasonably good job protecting my house, and yours. We build factories, we create wealth, we do a lot of useful things.

And it's true that we needed the dog, for security, so we could concentrate on things that idiotic, lazy dogs can't do.
Makes policy analysis somewhat more challenging than market-failure-warrants-government-intervention, no matter how pretty the optimal policy response looks rendered into four-color diagrams or sigma-algebras.

FOURTH TURNING REVERSAL.

Via Instapundit, an observation of particular relevance to the current crisis of the social order.
It doesn't seem crazy to me to point to the New Deal as a moment when the US took a big step down the wrong road.
And yet, because the United States came out of World War II in better shape than the other bellicose powers, a post hoc inference about the effectiveness of New Deal policies has worked well as a rhetorical trump.

Never mind that, unlike the secular crisis culminating in Independence, and the secular crisis culminating in Abolition, both representing advances for the freedom of action of the individual as opposed to the ruler, the adoration of the New Deal and the United Nations Charter obscures the very real advance for the freedom of action of the individual a military defeat of fascism, followed by a logical defeat of communism, signifies.

24.9.11

TIME TO BE CHEERFUL.

Magic(MIL) = 13 11 10 9 8 4 3 0.


It's unusual for the Brewers to be in the playoffs, and particularly unusual to get in with games remaining in the season.

In 1982, before weblogs or electronic mail that anybody could use, the countdown went to zero on the last day of the season, with Milwaukee taking a game from Baltimore to avoid a one-game playoff.

In 2008, a Ryan Braun home run to beat the Cubs combined with a Marlin victory over the Mets got Milwaukee into the playoffs as the wild card.

In 2011, a Ryan Braun home run to beat the Marlins got the magic number down to one.


Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel photo by Tom Lynn.

The magic number was at two because the Mets salvaged one game of their series at St. Louis with a late rally, and the Cubs took the first game of their series at St. Louis with a late rally, to the delight of Brewer players and some 42,000 temporary Cub fans in Milwaukee.

A NEW CHESSBOARD FOR MARCH MADNESS.

The future of Big Time College Football, otherwise known as pro football's Saturday developmental league, is likely to be four conferences of sixteen teams with a playoff system.  That's got college basketball prognosticator Billy Packer worried.
Billy Packer, who had a 34-year run calling the tournament on TV before leaving CBS in 2008, thinks so.

Ongoing conference realignment seems largely focused on football. But Packer figures after the dust settles leaving, say, four 16-team mega-conferences, those conferences could leave the NCAA and create their own national basketball championship tournament — whose revenues needn't be shared with outsiders.

That'd be bad news for the NCAA, which gets about 90% of its budget from the NCAA tournament TV money, which helps stage 86 other NCAA championships. And so much for NCAA Cinderellas — like George Mason, Butler and Richmond — from outside conferences having a title shot.

In the new scenario, Packer figures such schools could have a few good seasons with players already recruited. But eventually schools in the mega-conference tournament would monopolize the elite recruits, "and everybody else would be in the intramural business."

As a bonus for leaving the NCAA, college powerhouses wouldn't have to worry about NCAA rules — they could write their own new rules.
As if Mr Packer -- long, notoriously, a shill for the so-called power conferences, is really worried about those Cinderellas.

More to the point, if the spring college basketball tournament simply becomes another showplace for another professional sport's developmental league, without the hypocrisy of the "student-athlete", perhaps that would be a positive development.  More resources for intramural sports and general exercise for the students, probably also a good thing.

BLUTO'S HARRIDANS.

At Minding The Campus, Charlotte Allen suggests that college fraternities play a useful role in the campus culture wars.
I argue that it's as plain as the nose on your face (unless you're a feminist wearing your rape-culture blinders) that the brothers of Zeta Psi and Delta Kappa Epsilon were perfectly aware not only that they were protesting, but exactly "what they were they were protesting against" and why. They chose their targets carefully, and they fired with maximum impact. The jokes they made were certainly gross, but they were not mindless. The brothers of DKE and Zeta Psi were legitimate free-speech heroes not only because the First Amendment protects boorish as well as polite speech but also because they, almost alone on their campus in New Haven (I can't think of a Yale equivalent to Harvey Mansfield), dared to mock the reigning orthodoxy—unsupported by any facts, as Heather Mac Donald pointed out—that college campuses in general, much less fraternity houses, are hotbeds of Class I  felonies involving female students routinely and brutally victimized by their male classmates. Fraternity houses are among the few places on campus where truth can be spoken, if not to power (that gets you into trouble), at least to likeminded souls, your sworn brothers, who can see very well the silliness and implausibility of the officially promoted rape myth.

The real problem—and here I think [Pope Center essayist Duke] Cheston would agree with me—is that colleges, including and perhaps especially the omnipresent Women's Centers, vigorously promote casual sexual encounters among their undergraduates, all in the name of  liberation and gender equality, and then are shocked, shocked that universal happiness does not ensue, especially among the female participants. Yale's biennial "Sex Week" featuring professional strippers, porn stars, and sex-toy consumer reps peddling their wares to 20-year-olds is just one of similar events on campuses all over the country. where the ins and outs, so to speak, of condom-fitting and leather-fetishism are just another part of  the college experience. I am not the first person to observe that the Sexual Revolution of the 1960s was largely a revolution of women, who were suddenly as free to be as promiscuous and vulgar as men. Not surprisingly, men have been all too happy to take advantage of the newly granted female sexual license—and on campuses no group has been so happy as extroverted, athletic, better-than-average-looking fraternity men at the peak of their testosterone production helped along by the fact that downing tequila shots with the best of them is now also a marker of gender equality at colleges.

In short, there's not a rape-culture problem on campuses but a hookup-and-booze culture problem that has degraded both sexes. And it's unfair to single out fraternities and their members for punishment in an unfortunate situation for which college administrators, faculty feminists, and yes, the female students who behave as grossly as their male counterparts but who refuse to take responsibility for their actions are equally to blame. And that's why I continue to give one or two cheers for college fraternities, even in their current decadent state.
Greek-letter organizations as guerrilla theater.  There has to be a better way.

FAREWELL, MYSTERY MEAT.

The University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee, which now serves more in-state students than the Madison campus, changes its food service for a more residential, and fussier, clientele.
Not long ago, many students would have packed their bags after the last class and gone home for the weekend. But the longtime commuter university gradually is enticing more students to stick around campus by offering a better quality of life. That includes appetizing café menus in residence halls, such as Sandburg, and at the Union Station café in the student union.

This generation of college students expects to eat as well on campus as off-campus, and as well as they ate at home before leaving for college, said Scott Hoffland, director of UWM restaurant operations, including dormitory dining. "They're very sophisticated consumers."

The same is true at other Wisconsin universities, which compete with off-campus restaurants for student food dollars. Universities offer food courts in dorm cafes and more dining choices in student unions. They post nutritional information for health-conscious diners. Employees in chef's coats whip up stir-fries and pasta dishes, made fresh to order, while students watch.
In Madison, the pay-as-you-eat meal tickets have probably given way to something more akin to a debit card, but the Housing Division is looking for improvements on the notorious Gordon Commons.
To accommodate all students who want to live on campus, UW-Madison is adding residence halls and dining facilities, set to open next fall and the year after. The Gordon Commons dining facility across from the Kohl Center will be replaced with a new 97,000-square-foot building.

Some of the six buildings on campus that offer dining still have traditional serving lines. But they gradually are being replaced with a marketplace concept, like a food court, [Madison dining services director Joie] Schoonover said.

Multiple choices are important, Schoonover said, "because we have to serve food that's as high quality as State Street restaurants. They're our competition."
That State Street competition is different, too. Many of the eateries now offer outside tables, and the atmosphere and the menus suggest an effort to cater to the well-off parents of upscale yet budget-conscious out-of-staters who prefer Madison's full fare to an Ivy's net price.

SHARING THE MISERY.

Froma Harrop looks on the bright side of bubbles popping.
What we really have is a return to certain realities obscured by the housing bubble. Ten years ago, soaring house prices created a "wealth effect." This was an illusion of newfound prosperity, which prompted homeowners to borrow heavily off their rising equity and spend the money, much of it at the mall. They didn't save much for retirement, figuring that they could live off the proceeds from selling their home. Shabby lending practices exploded, snaring many Americans who could not afford what they were buying into paycheck-to-paycheck existences or foreclosure.

When the music stopped, the wealth effect geared into reverse. Families pulled back on spending. They began to "de-leverage" their finances — that is, start paying off their debt. Construction workers, landscapers, salespeople and others living off the bubble lost their jobs.
De-leveraging is painful, but not as painful as re-training, something she misses as she develops her argument.
The resulting unemployment is troublesome, but won't the American economy become stronger when families start carefully investing for their future, rather than relying on the magic-mushroom "high" of ever-rising home prices? Isn't it better for the environment that prospective homebuyers now value smaller houses that use less energy, take up less space and are often located closer to work, schools and shopping?

And isn't it good for American towns and cities where these smaller and older houses are located? Once rejected by status-conscious house hunters as "starter homes," bungalows and capes are becoming the permanent and beloved family residences that they were a couple of generations ago. Neighborhoods populated mainly by older folks and unmarried hipsters now draw families with children, bringing new life to formerly struggling commercial centers.

Speaking of which, the so-called lost decade for homeowners has become a "found decade" for homebuyers. Young people can easily find far more affordable housing, although getting a mortgage has become tougher. They don't have start off their working lives drowning in debt.
That is, if young people are STARTING their working lives, something that's proving to be more challenging these days than it used to be.  There are more Millennials coming of working age now than there are Boomers retiring, a demographic development that has probably only begun to crash into the realities of productivity gains and globalization fostering substitutions away from workers.

MILWAUKEE IRON.

The Atlantic publishes a photo essay of Vladimir Putin living large.

In Novorossiisk, he and a few buddies illustrate the virtues of loud pipes.



There are two encouraging features of this photo.

First, I see no obvious Khrushchev-era claims to have invented the motorcycle first.

Second, there's nobody in the picture in a riceburner crouch.

21.9.11

ELECTRICITY KEEPING ITS OWN BOOKS.

In the pursuit of cross-references, I came across a story from last fall about Amtrak's order for new electric locomotives.  OK, the HHP series of locomotives that were supposed to succeed the AEM-7 Toasters underachieved, and the Toasters, although good motors, had about half of the service life of the GG-1, and the GG-1 was also capable of 10,000 hp (as a short term rating) and it looked better than any of the stylized boxes currently moving Northeasterners.


Rahway, New Jersey, late June, 1981.

A passage in the story about new motors, however, called for an excursion deeper into history.
The new trains, which are being built by Siemens AG based on a design it already sells in Europe, will cost a total of $466 million and have a variety of refinements. One important one is a feature called regenerative braking, which is common in cars like the Prius but not universal in electric locomotives.

Here is how it works: When a car or a train uses an electric motor to accelerate, the motor turns electric current into physical movement; when regenerative braking is used, the motor reverses its role. It acts as a brake and turns into a generator, converting movement back into electric current.

This works better in a train than in a car. In the car, the current goes back into the battery, which has limited capacity and can only accept it relatively slowly. On the train, the energy goes back into the overhead power lines and the electric grid, which can accept all of the energy quickly.

Jürgen Wilder, vice president and general manager of rolling stock at Siemens, explained that this allowed trains to exchange energy. “Maybe another locomotive at the same time can be accelerated with the power that locomotive is going to give back,” he said.
There are no mountains on the Northeast Corridor, but you don't have to have German bullet train technology to have the train going down the mountain help power the train going up.


It's not as fast as the new Amtrakers, and you wouldn't want all that unsprung weight on drivers these days.  But when the first ones rolled out of the factory, they had a much more spectacular debut than anything Amtrak will be able to come up with for the fourth set of successors to the GG-1s in the last forty years.


It's a pushing contest, as no drawbar then or now, can handle the starting tractive force of a big electric locomotive.

Reminds me, I have to do a post about those Milwaukee Road motors late in their careers ...

A CONTEMPORARY TAILFIN.

There's some ancient paper in macroeconomics that was famous for its pioneering use of multivariate regression, including a dummy variable for the presence of tailfins on automobiles that "explained" one upturn in the business cycle.   Kids Prefer Cheese offers a modern example.  "When I was playing shortstop," he said, serving as his era's tragic spokesman, "we were in first place. I know that. It is what it is." Yes, and when he was playing shortstop, Milwaukee took three straight in Milwaukee and two of three in St. Louis. The Brewers keep hanging on, but Atlanta's control of the wildcard looks tenuous, particularly with St. Louis finishing at home.

NO CHILD GETS AHEAD.

The dean at Anonymous Community goes to parents' night.
There was too much to get through.

His teacher repeatedly mentioned the statewide standardized test to which she has to teach. It’s our state’s manifestation of No Child Left Behind, and it leaves relatively little time to linger over misunderstandings. Let me make one change, and this would be it. (Air conditioning would be a close second.) As an old professor of mine used to say, there’s a choice to be made in teaching: you can cover, or you can uncover. Uncovering takes time, and requires patience, but it can lead to actual understanding. Getting through the topics on the exam requires covering. Do too much of that, though, and the kids get bored and tune out.

It looks like the burden to fill in the gaps will fall largely on the parents. We’ll do what we can with TB -- luckily for us, he’s a smart kid -- but I worry about the kids whose parents aren’t as focused on education. If school is all they get, and school is designed around a multiple-choice test, they really aren’t getting much at all.
That's a variation on getting passengers on the train, rather than keeping the train on schedule.  Teaching to the test isn't unreasonable per se, but if the test concepts have little permanent value ...

High stakes testing, rejiggered to the performance norms of the community, might be a Republican plot to keep the poor poor, or it might be a poison pill that gives the education establishment exactly what it wants. Here's Herbert London.
Is the U.S. preoccupation with closing achievement gaps and “leaving no child behind” coming at the expense of our “talented tenth”?

Although this study was done at the elementary school level, it has a direct bearing on higher education. So focused are academics on an egalitarian ethos that distinctions, once critical in the Academy, have virtually disappeared. With grade inflation endemic, the honor roll is little more than a roster of enrolled students. Even Phi Beta Kappa status has been vitiated by undifferentiated grading.

To suggest that there is a talented tenth that deserves special treatment would be regarded as a form of “elitism”, a pejorative widely used on campus.

It is hardly surprising that the U.S. does so poorly on international tests. What we have encouraged at every stage of formal education is compression at the mean. That translates in a modest improvement at the bottom quartile and neglect at the upper quartile. Excellence is simply seen as less important than access.

That this condition may have an influence on national competitiveness is one of those factors better left unstated. This is an America where everyone is believed to be above average, even though the net result of our education systems is mediocrity.
All have won, and all must be given prizes. That all prizes turn out to be booby prizes ...

20.9.11

TOO LATE TO THE POSITIONAL ARMS RACE?

The new indoor practice facility at Northern Illinois University is necessary because ... everybody else has one.
"Many of the schools in the [Mid-American Conference] have an indoor facility," [athletics director Jeff] Compher said. "Eastern Michigan, Central Michigan and Toledo have one, and Buffalo is in talks to have one put in. We understand the need to have it for our conference and ourselves for recruiting and to do the things we need to do to prepare ourselves for a championship."

Compher added the facility will be constructed behind the Jeffery and Kimberly Yordon Center, which will allow NIU to take advantage of all the facilities that are already in place.
A columnist at the Northern Star questions the preferences revealed by the plan.
If you're going to spend an ample amount of bucks on a new training facility, you should also probably have the crop of talent to be using those facilities. 
The NIU football team had a terrific season last year, but losing as many starters on defense as it did, and the offensive power it will lose soon, where are the heirs to lay claim to the starting positions? 
A nice training facility can definitely improve a team, but a team is only going to be as talented as the players. 
You can't buy a win against teams like Wisconsin. You need to steadily and consistently recruit talent. 
NIU had its share of quality players make it into pro-sports, most notably Michael Turner in the NFL. 
However, NIU is not at the top of the list for prospective student-athletes. There are a plethora of options that would be higher on a wish-list. 
NIU President John Peters also recently announced his plan to increase enrollment to 30,000 by 2020. 
Along with this proclamation, he also highlighted attaining more high caliber academic students. 
Many of the players who spend their careers in NIU are not destined for greatness at a professional level. Many of them will complete a degree, earn a nice job, and live life as a "normal" person. 
I'm all for bettering the campus in any way possible, but when the graduation rate itself has been under 60 percent since 2004 and trending down the last few years (according to Collegemeasures.org), perhaps there should be a greater focal point on improving academic life on campus rather than improving the success of athletics. 
For as much work as [donor Kenneth] Chessick has done for academia at NIU in the past as well as his scholarships, there still seems to be a disconnect in terms of the success of students. 
Maybe there is a way to get the great minds at our university together and concentrate on what makes a college great and prepares those of us not gifted with athletic talent for the rest of our lives; success in academics and programs that prepare us for our futures.
At the university, that push for additional enrollment includes a push for online and commuter students, perhaps not the clientele most likely to be impressed by big time football.  On the other hand, that same strategic plan envisions new posh student housing and improved climbing walls, perhaps to attract more football fans.

The more troubling development is the emerging concentration of college football.
For example, what is the optimum size of an NCAA Division I-A conference?  For many years, the answer appeared to be ten.  Changes in NCAA regulations and the potential to hold a conference championship football game apparently raised the number to twelve a few years ago, but it now appears to be somewhere north of there.  ACC commissioner John Swafford and SEC commissioner Michael Slive clearly believe that the answer is “at least 14.”  Note that the answer from a profit maximizing perspective may differ significantly from the answer from a welfare maximization perspective.
There's not much left of the old Southwest Conference, er, Big 12, any more, with Nebraska going north and one of the Texas teams, along with Florida State, negotiating with the Southeastern, and either the Atlantic Coast or the Big East likely to be absorbed into the other.   The mathematically appealing formula is four major conferences, each with two divisions of eight teams, a regular season schedule of twelve games (seven divisional games, four cross-divisional games, and one interconference game), a conference title game to determine the participants in a final four, and a national champion crowned a week or two after New Years Day.

The service academies and Notre Dame are on the outside looking in, perhaps.  Notre Dame already plays enough games with Michigan, Michigan State, Northwestern, and Purdue to be assigned to the East Division of the Big Ten.  West Point and Massachusetts have been negotiating with the Mid-American.  But the Mid American is a fifth conference, in Knute Rockne's back yard (or perhaps Bo Schembechler's and Woody Hayes's outlots?), with sports programs heavily reliant on student fees, and enrollments often not that interested in big time sports, or with some loyalty to their state's flagship university's athletic teams, if not to their academic programs.

Thinking ahead, that indoor practice facility has some potential for an aerospace engineering program, or for building the ultimate campus model railroad club.

CONTEMPLATING MACROECONOMICS.

Lynne Kiesling has a useful summary of the macroeconomics of stimulus failure, with numerous links.  The Say's Law she invokes is the same accounting identity I refer to as the Say Aggregation Principle, which E. J. Mishan demonstrated in 1963 is the same identity students of general equilibrium learn as Walras's Law (the aggregate value of excess demands is zero, in and out of equilbrium; that trailing prepositional phrase is not always fully appreciated by novice economists).

18.9.11

CHECK YOUR PREMISES.

Yesterday, Northern Illinois University hosted Wisconsin's football team at Soldier Field.  The game was the result of an agreement between the two universities' athletics departments to enhance revenue.  At the time of the agreement, Wisconsin's football program was disappointing some of its fans (anybody who gripes about a .500 season in Madison has no sense of history) and the beneficiary wasn't obvious. "Wisconsin will get a million for playing at Soldier Field. The way things are going there, it's not obvious which team is buying wins or boosting its attendance figures."

The turf at Soldier Field isn't as well maintained as that at Huskie Stadium.


Natural grass, more than a little bit torn apart by cleats, and the various graphics would be well-worn by game's end.


The artillery piece from DeKalb was present to salute any Northern Illinois scores.  Chicago Black Hawk singer Jim Cornelison sang the National Anthem, to the roars of the crowd (apart from visiting cheeseheads who didn't get the tradition, but the largest Wisconsin alumni club in the country is the one in Chicago, so a lot of the visitors' fans did.)

Saturday was NIU Day in Chicago, and the university used the event to announce a large donation toward the construction of the Kenneth and Ellen Chessick Practice Facility.  The indoor practice facility, part of the positional arms race to become the next Boise State out of the mid-majors, will go behind the current locker room and study center that has the most expensive end-zone seats in the Mid-American.


The practice facility will further obstruct the view into the stadium from the upper floors of the residence halls immediately north of Huskie Stadium.  The point, however, is to get the students to watch the games from their activity-fee-paid seats in the east stands, rather than from their rooms.

Here, dear reader, comes the quandary.

Wisconsin won the game, 49-7.
Wisconsin is a legitimate national title contender with [transfer baseball hopeful returned to quarterback Russell] Wilson. But for a team that wants to be the next Boise State or TCU, the past two weeks show how far NIU is away from that goal.

The Huskies reminded everyone that all of their goals are still in front of them after this game. Losing to an excellent Wisconsin team doesn't disqualify you from winning the Mid-American Conference.

They won't see anyone close to the likes of Wilson again, and NIU will play much better games, but Western Michigan star quarterback Alex Carder will watch film from this game. He will like what he sees. Same with Toledo's offensive threats.

If their jerseys is as clean as Wilson's after they play the Huskies, NIU's goals won't be possible.
That's a realistic assessment from a local sports journalist. To get an idea how different sports journalism is from the Washington Press Corps, I give you these kind remarks from the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.
Wilson threw for 347 yards and three touchdowns against Northern. He averaged 7.4 yards a carry. OK, so he finally threw his first interception with Wisconsin, but that was only because Bielema elected to keep his starters on the field long enough to experience a fourth quarter.

You could say it was just against Northern Illinois, and to an extent you would be correct, but the Huskies are quite representative of that half-octave step down from the very best in college football. They've beaten Wisconsin once before, and that was at Camp Randall. They have a quality quarterback and were averaging almost 46 points a game.

"They have a fantastic offense," UW middle linebacker Chris Borland said. "We showed some maturity and handled that situation well."

Borland was talking about the whole thing, the dominating performance and doing it in an odd setting. The Huskies threw everything they could think of at Wisconsin, even an onside kick that caught the Badgers leaning, and it still didn't matter.
I'll leave that half-octave stuff for the various coaching staffs to work through. Northern Illinois beat West Point, West Point just beat Northwestern, Northwestern always gives Wisconsin fits at Evanston, you get the picture.

The quest to become the next Boise State requires scrutiny more like that of the Washington Press Corps.  The academic ambitions for the next decade include an expansion of enrollments, with a large tranche of that increase in the form of nontraditional students, with an emphasis on providing courses on-line.  And an observation by the dean at Anonymous Community summarizes a related challenge.
Physically, Rockford is maybe an hour and a half from Chicago, but culturally they’re on different planets; in many ways, Chicago is closer to New York than to Rockford.
DeKalb is about midway between each, with a lot of focus on Chicago and its suburbs, and the university perceives a calling to reach out to Rockford, an economically troubled place.  Put the pieces together: will sufficiently many students and alumni of an expanded Northern Illinois student body become football enthusiasts.  (We already know the response of those big Wisconsin and Iowa alumni chapters in Chicago.)

FORTY YEARS AGO.

In the early days of Amtrak, the agency simply wrote checks to support passenger train operation, but otherwise it was still very much business as usual.  These images, from 120-size slides, show the carrier in Chicago in late July or early August of 1971.

One clue that somebody new was running the trains is this Santa Fe rake, still known as the Super Chief, departing the south side of Union Station.  The Pennsylvania Railroad freight house, which came down in 1973 or 1974, obscures the construction of the Sears Tower just across the river.


The commingling of equipment that subsequent train enthusiasts would refer to as the "rainbow era" is yet to come. Santa Fe cars stayed on Santa Fe rails, Milwaukee Road cars still provided the corridor service to Milwaukee, Illinois Central trains still arrived and departed from Central Station on the lakefront, and Penn Central passengers still had to deal with the aftermath of the merger.


Trains operated by Burlington Northern, which mixed cars of Burlington, Great Northern, and Northern Pacific provenance, and the California service, operated by Southern Pacific, Union Pacific, and Burlington Northern anticipated what was to come.  That's one of the two Burlington homemade dome cars, which after mid-November of 1971 would be frequent visitors to Milwaukee and St. Louis.

(Cross-posted to European Tribune.)

THE SYMBOL FADES AFTER THREE YEARS OF THE WRONG SUBSTANCE.

Ouch.
Every person who runs for president, it’s fair to say, has a healthy ego. But Obama was different; the self-assurance, the arrogance, the sense that he viewed himself as a world-historical figure was almost palpable. “I have become a symbol of the possibility of America returning to our best traditions,” Obama told congressional Democrats during the 2008 campaign. A convention speech wasn’t enough; Greek columns needed to be added. “Generations from now we will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment,” Obama said – a moment when, among other achievements, “the rise of the oceans began to slow.” And during the campaign, while still a one-term senator, Obama decided he wanted to give a speech in Germany– and he wanted to deliver it at the Brandenburg Gate.

Yet now we see the Obama presidency coming apart, piece by piece, day by day. Democratic lawmakers are attacking the president on the record. The unhappiness in Obama’s own party toward the president might soon evolve into an open revolt. Those who supported Hillary Clinton in 2008 are saying, with some degree of self-satisfaction, “I told you so.” And the words of Solomon will be proven right again. “Pride goes before destruction,” he wrote in Proverbs, “a haughty spirit before a fall.”
That's Peter Wehner in Commentary, not exactly the place to go for Obama mania.  Victor Davis Hanson notes that Our President is a more compelling advocate for Democratic causes, and yet the fruits of his advocacy don't go down well.
Obama is a far better megaphone for left-wing policies than was the lackluster Jimmy Carter, the pompous Al Gore, or the condescending John Kerry. He easily outshines the wooden Harry Reid and the polarizing Nancy Pelosi. Compared with Obama and his smoothness, an often gaffe-prone Vice President Joe Biden can seem a liability. Obama is as charismatic as “I feel your pain” Bill Clinton — as we saw in 2008, when Obama destroyed the primary challenge of Hillary Clinton.

So the Left cannot really complain that Obama either betrayed the cause or proved particularly inept in advancing it. Instead, what Obama’s supporters are mad about is that the public is boiling over chronic 9 percent unemployment, a comatose housing market, escalating food and fuel prices, near-nonexistent economic growth, a gyrating stock market, record deficits, $16 trillion in aggregate debt, and a historic credit downgrading. And voters are not just mad, but are blaming these hard times on the liberal Obama agenda of more regulations, more federal spending, more borrowing, more talk of taxes, and more “stimulus” programs.

A mostly moderate-to-conservative public has concluded that it does not like the new liberal agenda. After three years, it believes that the big government/big borrowing medicine made the inherited illness far worse. Voters may or may not like Obama, but they surely do not like what he is still trying to do.
Sometimes the most effective way to demonstrate the folly of a policy is to allow it to be enacted. The risk one takes by that approach, however, is that the policy will be so destructive as to make correcting its effects difficult.  The Republicans do not have much by way of coherent and principled alternatives, but they are able to point to the first two years of the current administration, with Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress.

GENERAL SECRETARY LAMBEAU AND COMRADES LOMBARDI AND MCCARTHY.

The Green Bay Packers, a socialist organization?  No.
We posed the question to Jason Wied, the Packers’ vice president of administration/general counsel. He said that, although the team is community owned in the sense that it is owned by shareholders, the shareholders cannot benefit financially in any manner from the team.

"In some way, I suppose we are a blend of the best of the various economic systems/theories -- our structure and system results in a self-sufficient, community-focused enterprise that can’t be bought, sold, or otherwise leveraged for personal gain," Wied said in an email. "Instead, this is an organization whose only business is staying in business.  Any profits are reinvested in the organization or given to charity."

So, Wied emphasized that while the Packers are community owned, Packers shareholders cannot benefit tangibly from the team.

That’s different from a socialist enterprise, in which owners or members would expect to receive a share of what that enterprise produces. Beyond the joy of Super Bowl victories and the agony ofnear-misses, Packers shareholders get little more than the opportunity to buy "exclusive shareholder merchandise" and tours of team facilities as part of the annual shareholder meeting.
Political theorizing aside, today we note a Packer near win that might have identified some weaknesses in the defense (although it's the second blue-chip quarterback on the other side of the ball in as many weeks.)

THE CUSTODIANS ARE IRRESPONSIBLE.

Last week Tuesday, the ever-more agitated Chris Matthews and guest Ron Reagan agreed on what they perceived to be a compelling argument for "Social" "Security".
MATTHEWS: OK. 
Let me -- Ron, you have been through this, your family. We have all been through this debate at the dinner table. I have argued it as a kid saying, why do we have to have Social Security? My dad would say, you have to have it because people are irresponsible or poor and they don`t prepare for their futures. And somebody will end up having to pay for it with welfare anyway. So why don`t we make people provide for their futures basically through forced savings, Social Security?

That argument has always been able to sell with the majority.

REAGAN: Yes, and it will continue to be able to sell with the majority.

You know, a Ponzi scheme is a crime. Governor Perry is on record as calling Social Security a crime. And he can`t really run away from that effectively and I don`t think he did a good job of it last night. But the people who he`s appealing to, the Tea Party types he`s appealing to, they also think it`s a Ponzi scheme. They don`t care if it sounds a little stupid.
The Ponzi-ness of "Social" "Security" is up to the reader to determine.

The reality of local, state, and national governments using the assets in public pension funds to cover expenditures is another reason voters might want to have the option of putting their savings into investments that provide a genuine rate of return on new capital formation, something "Social" "Security" crowds out.

It doesn't do much good to suggest to voters that other voters -- or perhaps the voters themselves -- are irresponsible when the defenders of the public pensions have also been irresponsible.

FORM 1040-QF.

Chortle.  It's been in the math journals for four years.

14.9.11

NEITHER LIBERTY NOR SECURITY.

Lynne Kiesling, with the most important observation of the day, perhaps of the season.  Those airplanes shadowed by fighter planes on September 11, 2011?  Fear-based.
It.must.stop.now. And it will only stop if we, individually, choose consciously to object to authoritarian policies grounded in fear-based cowardice, make our objections loud and unavoidable to our peers and our elected so-called representatives, and refuse to be terrorized by our own government.

As long as this state of affairs persists, these issues are far, far more important and life-threatening (and way-of-life threatening) than electricity regulation, regulatory and competition policy, and technological change. That’s why I am writing about Shoshana Hebshi today rather than those topics. It.must.stop.now.
Read the post, then follow the links.

TO YOUR OWN SELF BE TRUE.

More useful advice for incoming students, this time from Mark Edmundson.
The quest at the center of a liberal-arts education is not a luxury quest; it’s a necessity quest. If you do not undertake it, you risk leading a life of desperation—maybe quiet, maybe, in time, very loud—and I am not exaggerating. For you risk trying to be someone other than who you are, which, in the long run, is killing.
Via Coordination Problem. Read and understand.

DON'T COMPLAIN, CRACK DOWN.

Sure, it might be cathartic to post anonymous whinges at College Misery, or to vent about the hacks in administration.  Ultimately, though, professors get paid to say no and uphold standards.
You want your students to work harder? Assign them more *and then hold them accountable.* Give pop quizzes on the reading–and make it clear that if you aren’t in class to take the quizz, you automatically fail. Call on students in class–and if they aren’t there to answer your question, they lose points. If they are there but can’t answer your question–or can’t make a good effort at it–they also lose points. Assign papers–and *really* grade them, as in, comment extensively on everything from grammar to argument to documentation, and give the crummy ones crummy grades. Give in-class tests that are actually challenging.
Indeed. And if headquarters pushes back, well, we speak of academic work because there is a certain fatigue one must undergo.

SENIORITY AND MAJORITY.

Walter Russell Mead rediscovers union concessions as "I got mine" for older brothers, and crap sandwiches for members with new cards.
The reality is that American auto workers are not productive enough (and Detroit’s management is not creative enough) to justify their high wages.  (Don’t get me started on the outrageous salaries that management gets for running their companies into the ground.)  That’s sad but it’s a fact of life.  But when it comes to adjustments, the union movement and the older generation at large makes sure that the pain falls on the young rather than spreading it around.

It’s a shame, especially since the young workers will also be paying taxes into Medicare to fund health care for seniors today that the country won’t be able to afford when today’s twenty-somethings want to collect.
A commenter notes that something similar was the practice in the early 1980s, when The Atlantic noticed the phenomenon.
Union auto workers will never vote to share the pain. A 1983 Atlantic cover story, “Voting for Unemployment,” explained auto workers’ choice: keep wages high or layoffs low? They chose high wages.
The Washington Monthly noted the same dynamic somewhat earlier: because layoffs are by seniority, and entry level pay grades apply to the first three or six months, there are usually enough votes from the older heads to shift all the pain to people recently hired, or to people who might never be hired.

IT DIDN'T BEGIN WITH BLUTO.

A Pope Center essay contemplates the low estate of college fraternities, and their possible redeeming social value.
According to Ben Novak, alumnus, former trustee, and former professor at Penn State University, they once were.  In an interview with Inside Academia TV, Novak said that up through about 1960—what he calls the “golden age of fraternities”—fraternities were a civilizing institution.

“Young people went into a fraternity, and it polished them,” he said. Novak blames the cultural revolution of the 1960s and the 1978 movie Animal House for the apparently debauched state of Greek life today. “It could be said that there is no film that so effectively destroyed an institution than Animal House destroyed fraternities,” said Novak. The changing culture and the movie, Novak believes, lowered people’s expectations about Greek life and the reasons they joined. Fraternities’ civilizing function was mostly forgotten.

Whether or not Novak is right about frats in the past, the idea is widely held that something is wrong with them now. Even the North-American Interfraternity Conference, Greek organizations’ main lobbying group, concedes there is a problem. The Conference recently launched an initiative called Standards designed to “propel fraternities to be who we say we are.” Implicit in this call for reform is that they are not currently who they say they are, and the situation needs fixing.

Proponents of Greek life are quick to point out that the public perception of modern fraternities as institutions prone to all manner of debauchery and destruction is not the full picture. They’re right. University of Texas at Arlington economics professor Jeffrey DeSimone summarized some positive attributes found by social science research in a New York Times “Room for Debate” article. “While fraternity membership has been associated with cheating on exams and poor academic performance,” he noted, “other evidence suggests that fraternity members declare majors earlier, obtain higher-paying entry-level jobs and donate more to their alma maters.”
Working backwards: higher paying entry level jobs don't necessarily translate into higher lifetime earnings profiles.  (That, in one sentence, is the tussle for enrollments between Liberal Arts and Business or Allied Health at Northern Illinois, and probably a lot of other universities.)  Without a disaggregation of those donations into academic donations and athletic donations, the propensity to donate means nothing.

The rot was in place long before Animal House: an early 1960s Mad parody of college fraternities (rush advice: get a close look at the kitchen and the cook, because the party is catered; make an unannounced visit as the clods and creeps are locked up during Rushing Season, you get the picture); the fraternity files of old A papers have been known to faculty since at least the era of The Student Prince; two exposes of the seamy side of college sports from the late 1960s and early 1970s, one from Syracuse and the other from Texas, offered ample evidence of the Greek letter organizations being something other than incubators of the next Einstein or Wiles or Nash.

THAR SHE BLOWS!

Sometime during junior high, or high school, or early in college, the disquieting news that the blue whale might have been hunted to extinction came to my attention.

There might be some good news ... a pod of blues, including some juveniles, has been feeding off the California coast long enough for spotter boats to transport spectators.



The news refers to observations of courting behavior ... does that include reports from sonar operators of screw noises?

12.9.11

WHAT HEADQUARTERS MEASURES IT GETS MORE OF.

Texas philosopher Robert C. Koons sees the illogic of the latest push for so-called accountability in the Texas university system.
Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa”s “Framework for Advancing Excellence,” although approved unanimously by the Regents and praised even by some conservative activists, represents the same educational administrative mindset that has produced decades of spiraling costs and falling standards.

The Plan is packed with words like “action items”, “goals”, “metrics”, and “responsible parties”, all designed to give the casual reader the impression that UT is serious about producing real results. However, when we dig down to the details, we find that all that is being demanded of the System’s bureaucrats is that they go on doing bureaucratic things, like “completing action plans”, “approving tuition policies”, “hiring experts”, “identify strategies,” and so on. The Plan reads like something written, not only by a committee, but by an entire panoply of committees—which is actually the case.

Apart from the unsurprising idea of obtaining more money from donors, there is only one real goal in the entire Plan: a commitment to raise graduation rates.  Is this real accountability? Hardly. Raising graduation rates is precisely the metric that every administrator desires, since administrators, who award the degrees, can raise the graduation rates without improving the system in the slightest. They don’t have to make professors work harder or (more importantly) smarter at teaching. All they have to do is encourage them to drop academic standards still further. If every student earns an A or B in every course, it’s pretty easy to get to a 100% graduation rate, especially if the campuses bribe the students to stay the course with better food, bigger dorm rooms, and fancier swimming pools and recreational facilities. The fundamental problem in American higher education is not that we award too few B.A.s: it is that too few of these degrees correspond to any objective and verifiable standard of competency.
He continues with some suggestions that might actually work.
Here are two to consider, in place of the Plan’s seventy bullet points: First, each campus shall increase its seniors’ average scores on the Collegiate Learning Assessment by 2% each year for the next ten years (controlling for variations in the aptitudes of entering students). Second, for each year of the same period, each campus shall reduce the total instructional cost per student-hour by 3%. We should aim at the eventual elimination of in-state tuition.

The Collegiate Learning Assessment is an independent, disinterested assessment of student learning, developed and managed by a non-profit foundation (www.collegiatelearningassessment.org), which measures high level skills like reading comprehension, analytic writing, reasoning, and creative problem solving. The UT System, to its credit, has contracted with CLA for over a decade to evaluate the skills of seniors. Why not use this respected measure as a way of spurring the System’s administrators and teachers to get serious about improving the quality of teaching and raising academic standards?

But, should we put all of our eggs in the CLA basket? Don’t we need a wider set of measures? I agree. We can follow another proven model of success: the Honours Examinations of Oxford and Cambridge (followed by most British universities). How would these exams different from existing evaluations? The difference is simple, but crucial: at Oxford and Cambridge, all of the grading of exams is carried out in a “double blind” fashion. The graders don’t know the identities of the exam-takers, and the exam-takers don’t know those of the examiners.

If Texas were to adopt this model, the “Texbridge” examiners wouldn’t know which test-takers come from which campus. The examinations could yield cross-year comparisons by having examiners grade answers to the same or similar questions from different years. All students studying a given subject (like chemistry or economics) at any System campus would be tested simultaneously, soon before graduation, with the exam results included on diplomas and transcripts. The exams would be written and graded by UT System faculty, and they could take any form, including essays. Since we already have the facilities and the faculty, the marginal costs of the exams would be nil. To improve transparency, UT would publish (after the fact) the objectives, grading guidelines, and random samples of exam questions and graded answers.

Oxford publishes each year the “Norrington Table”, ranking the various constituent colleges by exam results in each subject. UT could do the same, revealing which campuses did best in physics, history, management, and so on. UT could also break  down the results by category of student: for example, which campus maximizes the success in biology of students from the second quintile of their high school class? We can then evaluate the quality of the curriculum and the faculty: which courses and which teachers contributed most to students’ success? A Norrington Table would stimulate salutary competition between departments and provide critical information to prospective students and employers. Only with such a reliable and disinterested measure can we possibly hold administrators and faculties accountable in a meaningful way.
Be useful, also, to identify the high schools that are the most notorious sources of Distressed Material in the incoming class.