23.10.11

ZEPHYR ENVY.

A recent Instavision program, "Harvard Envy: How the Quest for University Prestige is Feeding the Education Bubble," is really only peripherally about Harvard Envy.  The general themes of the piece include competition for students in the form of amenities such as food courts, climbing walls, and boutique majors and competition for professors in the form of research opportunities and higher salaries.  The competition for students is not equivalent to a competition for prestige, as those amenities might be a way of boosting enrollment at subprime party schools (if such a category exists).  The competition for professors keeps some of us from a life of poverty (chastity and obedience also optional) and it might -- at Cold Spring Shops, the maintained hypothesis is it does -- provide opportunities for students not fortunate enough or favored enough to enroll at the Ivies.  The dean at Anonymous Community also questions the Harvard envy, albeit for different reasons.
The great value of [The Innovative University, by Clayton Christensen and Henry Eyring] is in showing how mindless emulation of the Harvard model -- a model that even Harvard has often struggled to maintain -- is a fool’s errand. It’s certainly true that different institutions have different strengths and missions, and that it’s better to do what you do well than to try to be someone else. Compass Direction State University will never be able to replicate Harvard in all that it does, and it would be foolish to try. Instead, it should figure out what it can do really well, and focus on that. Similarly, I’ve been arguing on this blog for years that the “comprehensive community college” model is ripe for rethinking. Nobody can be good at everything. Better to have as much diversity among institutions as within them.
On the other hand, Compass Direction State is in the same business as Harvard, and it might do better by emulating the more famous institutions, if for no other reason than some of the students enrolled are good enough, if neither fortunate enough nor favored enough, to be enrolled there.  A post a few days later shudders at the prospect of a tradeoff, but on the other hand, it recognizes the presence of a tradeoff.
Parents care more about their own kids’ schools than about other schools, so if we can enlist politically and economically influential parents, we can get some of that sweet, sweet funding.
True enough, and Tiebout competition among districts suggests some clustering of influence.  But ambition is present in quarters where influence is missing.
I’ll say, too, that I’m a fan of Honors courses and curricula at community colleges. That’s not a universally popular sentiment. But I like them because they acknowledge that the higher-achieving, more ambitious students are also part of the community, and because they acknowledge that income is not a perfect indicator of academic ability or drive. The intelligent, driven student from a single-parent family deserves the same shot as everybody else. 
It follows, however, that intelligent and driven students ought to get a fair go, rather than to be held back in order to pretend that everyone else also gets a fair go.  Here's Jay Mathews on what happens when a Maryland school district pretends that everyone is getting an Advanced Placement course.
Karen Colburn, who has a seventh-grader at Central Middle School in Edgewater, said her advanced-track son found himself in mixed math and English classes slowed to a crawl so non-honors students could catch up. “Kids are repeating things they learned in elementary school,” Colburn said. “Also, supports are not in place for special education children and some standard-level children.”
The same thing happens when a university lowers its admission standards, and mixes less-prepared students in with more-prepared students. Everybody gets dragged down.

And it is a strategic error to decide that, since Harvard got there first, and Compass Direction State can't hope to replicate Harvard, there's no point in doing something similar.  Imagine if The Milwaukee Road had decided that Burlington's Zephyrs got to the Twin Cities first, and The Milwaukee Road couldn't hope to replicate the Zephyrs, there'd be no point in doing something similar.


Nothing faster in the world. In some ways, it was a technological step backwards from the Zephyr.  In other ways, it was a step forward.  The generalization to higher education is left to the reader as an exercise.

GREEN SHOOTS.

The macroeconomic news is still distressing, and the European welfare states still haven't grasped all the implications of the government budget constraint.  Life goes on, on the rails and off them.
Intermodal numbers are somewhat better. Compared with a year ago, containers and trailers handled are up 4.4 percent for the latest week, 2.3 percent for September, and 5.4 percent for the first nine months. At 96 percent of 2006 levels, intermodal is close to setting all-time records.

Now let’s peel back the onion a little bit. What’s hot? In number of cars loaded during September, it’s coal (up 6,400 cars), primary metal products (up 5,300 cars), and motor vehicles and parts (up 4,400 cars). In percentage terms, the biggest September gainer was petroleum and byproducts, up 16 percent. In other words, stuff related to energy and heavy industries.

What’s not doing well? Grain carloads were down 16,800 carloads, or 18 percent, in September, continuing a slide that began three months ago. Shipments of primary forest products continue to decline, as are those of waste and nonferrous scrap, which is partly a byproduct of construction.

Put this together and you have an economy that continues to move forward, with no help at all from the once-vital construction sector. Or as [Association of American Railroads'] John Gray, the senior vice president, puts it: “Rail traffic is consistent with an economy that is probably still growing, but far more slowly than any of us would want.”

I’ll take good news any way I can get it, and this is good. Meanwhile, railroads added almost 1,200 jobs last month, to 160,100, and another 11,100 freight cars came out of storage. Alas, 17 percent of the North American fleet remains in limboland.

The last time we had a financial panic of the sort we saw in 2008 was 1929, and you know what came next. We’re clearly not headed there now. But financial recessions, as opposed to general business recessions, are notoriously slow to unwind and resistant to political fixes. To keep your eye on the economy in the months ahead, watch those rail carloadings closely.
Closer to home, the fall job fair is doing better.
The biannual Northern Illinois University Full-Time Job Fair still is less busy than it was in 2008.

But for the first time since the economic recession, job seekers such as NIU alumnus Geoff Maxfield said the job fair showed more hope and signs of life.

Maxfield said the past few fairs he attended at the NIU Convocation Center seemed to offer more to people with computer science or business degrees, which his experience in communications didn’t fit.

“It’s finally opened up a little more,” he said. “Finally being able to talk with people is really helpful. It lets them know there’s more to me than just a piece of paper.”

More than 150 businesses registered this year, an almost 30 percent jump from a year ago, said Mary Myers, NIU Career Services associate director.

“We ran out of room on the arena floor, so we had to move some of them to the south lobby,” she said.

The fair still has a ways to go before attracting the nearly 250 employers that registered in 2008, but Myers said the growth is a sign of the economy’s eventual recovery.

She said it’s difficult to determine how many hires actually come from the job fair because that information is gathered on a self-reporting basis.

But some of the businesses – banks especially, Myers said – have come back to the fair. She said the loyalty employers have shown is encouraging for her and job seekers.

“A lot of companies have chosen to be here. They’ve cut out other schools, but they still consider us a major recruiting point,” she said.
I hope that the strategic planners are carefully evaluating the reasons employers give for continuing to recruit at Northern Illinois rather than elsewhere.

OH, THE RAILROAD RUNS THROUGH THE MIDDLE OF THE HOUSE.

Once upon a time, warehouses and factories would locate hard by the tracks, the better to be served by the herds of switch engines that would fuss about gathering and distributing cars.

Contemporary industrial facilities prefer to locate on larger plots of land, preferably with lots of acreage for truck loading docks, and the rail access often by way of an intermodal terminal.  Those old warehouses and factories, if they're not Superfund sites, are frequently close enough to tony downtown tavern districts and office buildings to warrant conversion to lofts.

But the trains still run, and safety is of the first importance.
Charles Engberg was aware that a railroad runs past a former warehouse, converted into condominiums, when he and his wife bought their unit there four years ago.

And, yes, Engberg likes trains. But he's less enamored with the loud horn blasts the trains make in his Walker's Point neighborhood several times a day - especially when there could be lower-volume alternatives.

So Engberg is leading a campaign to get train engineers to use a quieter method for warning motorists and railway workers of their approach. So far, Engberg's efforts have rumbled through City Hall and are now making the rounds into the federal bureaucracy.

Others who live and work south of downtown Milwaukee, in the Historic Third Ward and parts of Walker's Point, are on board.
I suppose it's scant consolation that the Amtrak Hiawathas have Genesis diesels rather than steamers of Classes A, F-5, F-6, F-7, and S-2 digging in on the climb up from Menomonee Draw to Florida Street and getting soot on the hanging plants.

INSTABILITY OF THE SPORTS BUBBLE.

The owner of the Schaumburg Flyers, Richard Ehrenreich, thought he could make more money by obtaining more favorable stadium financing from Zion, Illinois.  Alas, sometimes you get the Field of Nightmares.
A Chicago Sun-Times investigation uncovered a tale of lust, greed and clout that undermined bush league baseball in Zion, a lakefront town halfway between Chicago and Milwaukee.

The cast of characters includes a connected French Canadian developer, a Bible-quoting economic development director, an uninformed mayor, a demonized team owner, and Costner, well, at least for that one summer night.

Like the best of dreams, the Fielders stadium deal had a whimsical beginning several years ago. And it happened by chance.

Delaine Rogers, then Zion’s economic development director, was inspired to bring a professional baseball team to her hometown.

She went to Schaumburg to meet with Richard Ehrenreich, principal owner of the Schaumburg Flyers. She pitched the Zion ballpark idea.

Ehrenreich, who would later fold the minor league team in Schaumburg and be ordered by a Cook County judge to pay its host town more than $500,000 in unpaid stadium rent, already owned rights to start a Northern League team in Lake County. Through mutual friends, Ehrenreich also had met [actor Kevin] Costner, who had agreed to be a minority partner in a future team.

Zion didn’t have much cash, but the city had the rights to purchase land where a stadium could be built — a parcel on 9th Street near a new industrial park, Rogers said she told Ehrenreich.

All Ehrenreich needed was a place for a team to play.

If Zion built it, well, they’d work out the details in writing later.
One of the details -- the story identifies several -- not worked out at the time the team began playing in Zion, was a home stadium.
Ehrenreich said the Fielders’ troubles spiraled out of control because of the stalled stadium deal, which caused a revolt by season ticket holders who demanded refunds. Paychecks bounced when credit card companies withdrew season ticket payments from the team bank accounts without notice, Ehrenreich said.

“With no stadium, it created a cash flow crisis. It created a morale problem with the players who were all told they were coming home to a stadium and when they showed up their lockers were trailers with showers that worked sometimes. . . . It wasn’t fair to our organization to put us through that,” Ehrenreich said. “It looks like we’re running a circus. But we could see it unfolding for months when the city wasn’t building the stadium and it was killing us financially. . . . We warned the city for months.”
That comment is a slight on the circus, which can put up a tent, put on a show, tear down the tent, move the show, and do it all again tomorrow and the next day.  There's nobody in this Zion fiasco that could carry water for the elephants, let alone perform in a collegiate circus.

SEVEN UP.

The last time the Packers won seven straight to open a season, the Cuban Missile Crisis was heating up.

There is no longer an Evil Empire, but the University of Wisconsin hockey program is still capable of shaking up the established powers, most recently North Dakota.  (The article refers to the "Fighting Sioux." That appellation may be anachronistic.)

17.10.11

OWN IT.

Two Northern Star columnists get the idea.

One suggests that staying engaged in class might be good workforce preparation.
Even if you are an employee and the person you encounter isn't your boss, word gets around about how you present yourself. If you're one of those people who thinks that defiance comes without consequence, think again. The way you act in public affects the way people view you.

Both your work life and social interaction rely on how you respect authority. College is preparation for how you handle life in the real world.
The columnist, consistent with my observations, recognizes that at worst a handful of students push the professor's buttons, or the limits. A second, while correctly objecting to the misuse of prepared slides projected in a dark room, notes that higher education is higher.
Oftentimes students think they understand the material for a test better than they actually do. This can be referred to as the illusion of knowing.

"Deep comprehension of material requires a lot of work," said psychology professor Keith Millis. Millis explained that to have a deep understanding of something, you can't simply read the text once, but rather several times engagingly.

Some suggestions are to generate questions while reading, put things into your own words by paraphrasing the material, try to explain the major concepts to yourself or even just read the text aloud.

In order to retain information, students must first realize that most of the time they don't know the information as well as they think they do.
And thus the importance, on the part of professors, of not attempting to cram too much material into too short a time, and on the part of students, of seeking clarification.   I lose track of how many times, in private, I have reassured a student who fears slowing the class down with a question, that there are others in the class with the same question, but even deeper fears.

SEPARATING EQUILIBRIUM.

President Clinton visits Chicago, to bewail the absence of viewpoint diversity on your block.
“We’re not nearly as gender-biased as we used to be, We’re not nearly as racist as we used to be. We’re not as anti-gay as we used to be. The only bigotry we’ve got left is: we don’t want to be around anybody who disagrees with us.

As people burst into laughter, he threw out some statistics: In the 1976 presidential election, the vote margin between Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford exceeded 20 percentage points in only 20 percent of counties in the U.S.

“That means people were having arguments in barber shops and beauty salons and coffee shops,” Clinton said.

But in 2004, more than 48 percent of counties were at least that far apart.

“Part of the problem with political paralysis in Washington is we just want to be around people” that have similar views, Clinton said. People say, “‘I’ve got enough problems in life — why do I have to deal with somebody that’s going to argue with me?’ Somehow we’ve got to get comfortable being with people we disagree with. This is a time for thinking. All this hyperventilating and name-calling, it’s highly destructive.”
That's the same thirty-some years during which the general-purpose coffee shop might have lost some of its New Luxury clientele to a Starbucks, and some of the haircutters differentiated their offerings, and during which parents with the means to protect their children from the worst depredations of so-called progressive education bid up the prices of houses in school districts with excellent test scores and probably like-minded neighbors.

That propensity for like to associate with like might have been encouraged by quests for productive efficiency in building houses and easing the transfer of executive families around the country.
Alpharetta, Georgia becomes Fishers, Indiana, becomes Woodbury, Minnesota, becomes Plano, Texas. The soccer fields and tennis clubs and swimming pool in the subdivision, which might be a gated community, are also there. The striving middle managers get sent to the $250 K to $500 K tract, and the soon-to-be vice presidents get sent to the $1 million to $5 million tract.
Although President Clinton is almost surely correct that the old forms of bigotry can no longer be revealed in polite company -- there's no open and notorious sundown suburb announcing its preferences at the city limits -- he's missing one important point in his treatment of a neighbor with a different point of view as an additional problem.  When neighbors are in general agreement on what the problems are, and what the acceptable responses to them are, the conversation at the coffee-house can be good-natured.

But when consensus breaks down, the stakes become higher.  Here's a meditation on gated communities from five years ago.
I just flipped open my road atlas to New Hampshire. Near Dartmouth, I find Canaan, Canaan Street, Canaan Center, and West Canaan. Not far away I find Grafton, Grafton Center, and East Grafton. To the northeast, Rumney, West Rumney, and Rumney Depot. Each of those clusters represents a town meeting gone bad somewhere in the Colonial period. In those days, one could get away from annoying neighbors (or the cliques that sometimes dominate traditional common councils) by clearing some trees nearby. It's more difficult to do that today. To claim that gated developments are a modern rejection of a civic tradition is to mislead readers.
We're not yet to Independence, or Secession, but that's not to say those developments are beyond contemplation.

TAKING STOCK.

The wild-card St. Louis Cardinals advance to the World Series.  Brewers out in six.  The Curse of the North Shore Line is still in effect.

In Milwaukee, the second-guessing begins.
This was a total team breakdown, the 12-6 Game 6 stinker and the entire series for that matter, pretty much out of any manager's control.

Seven errors in 18 innings when you're this close to the first World Series in Milwaukee - with, doubly ouchie, home-field advantage -- in nearly 30 years? Fielder, Ryan Braun and Rickie Weeks, a combined 2 of 24 in the last two games, two of the worst for the Brewers collectively all season, the ones they saved for the absolutely wrong occasion?
More concretely, the series revealed several dimensions of the team in which improvement in the fundamentals might be desirable.

In St. Louis, the second-guessers, here those who questioned a massive trade for pitchers late in July, are getting called out.
Jeff PassanYahoo! Sports: “This trade makes sense only if [general manager John] Mozeliak believes Pujols is leaving via free agency and he wants to ramp up for one last run with the man who for years has been the best player in baseball. Even if that is the case, Rasmus is the last player he should want to trade – the very sort who, if he couldn’t replace Pujols, surely could grow into a player around whom the Cardinals build. Instead, they get two months of (EdwinJackson and the draft picks that will come when he hits free agency. And two months of (OctavioDotel, plus another pick. (Marc "Bluto") Rzepczynski should be a serviceable left-handed reliever for the next few years. (CoreyPatterson is cannon fodder. The final equation: two months of solid pitching, three draft choices and a left-handed reliever for three years of a five-tool center fielder.”
Any exchange is value for value, and most exchanges outside the most abstract 2x2x2 economy involve some uncertainty about the performance of the services exchanged for.  Here's how the same columnist describes that trade now.
But the real NLCS MVP was former Cardinals outfielder Colby Rasmus, who sacrificed himself so the team could restock its pitching staff.

The Cards didn’t want to trade their Five-Tool Player, of course, but the selfless Rasmus insisted. He wanted out last season but the Cards didn't trade him.

This summer his combination of poor hitting (hovering around the Mendoza Line for June and July), indifferent defense and morose clubhouse demeanor inspired John Mozeliak to finally deal him.

Without the three pitchers acquired in his trade to Toronto – Edwin JacksonOctavio Dotel and Marc Rzepczynski – the Cards could not have advanced to the World Series. That trade gave manager Tony La Russa the best pitching depth he has ever enjoyed in St. Louis.
Former American league pitchers all, undoubtedly with the beginnings of a briefing book on the Texas Rangers. Luck is the residue of design.  And a St. Louis columnist uses language suggestive of a curse.
The Brewers may have run away from the Cardinals with 96 wins during the regular season but they couldn't escape their own degraded starting rotation and inept defense when the games counted most.
How do you scout hitting and fielding?

INCLUSION TO THE EXCLUSION OF EDUCATION.

University Diaries summarizes in one sentence what happens next.
Lack of academic and administrative freedom, plus non-meritocratic admissions, guarantee substandard schools.
It's a reaction to a comparison of the state universities of Malaysia and Singapore.  The generalization is left to the reader as an exercise.

16.10.11

ONE LAST WALLOW.

Just before the liberation of Iraq began, business gurus Michael J. Silverstein and Neil Fiske published Trading Up: The New American Luxury, and the publisher chose to feature yuppie cheerleader David (On Paradise Drive) Brooks on the dust jacket, praising the work as "smart and illuminating ... packed with insights on how shoppers think and behave."  On to Book Review No. 31.

I picked it up on the cheap at Half Price Books.  Perhaps a lot of the disposable income Messrs Silverstein and Fiske noticed accumulating in the hands of New Luxury Spenders (and the rate of accumulation was faster in the upper bars of the histograms) was in the form of dot.com securities, hedge fund investments, and home equity.  Thus the value of the book to marketers and managers might be diminished, as the interest in boutique wines, error-correcting golf clubs, restaurant-grade kitchen appliances, and German-styled automobiles might not be what it used to be.

But what really amused was the hype.  It's not enough to suggest to owners, managers, or product planners that there might be potential in product improvement.  Oh, no, we have to have a new way of thinking about product placement.


I scanned the above image from page nine.  The caption reads, "Kendall-Jackson wines are off the price-volume demand curve, selling at higher prices and in higher volumes than conventional wines and than competitive premium labels."

Any reasonably competent economics student ought to understand that at higher incomes for the buyers in this market, the whole demand curve would lie to the right of the original demand curve. But that's not illuminating enough for David Brooks, I suppose.  (There's also a way of analyzing the wine market using hedonic pricing methods, but you'll never sell copies in volume at the airport with that sort of content.)

What amuses about Trading Up is the authors' struggle to distinguish their New Luxury shoppers from garden variety status seekers.  (Thus, for instance, the BMW is the anti-Cadillac, and some shoppers shun credit cards or place a value on environmentally friendly food and clothing.)  At best, though, it offers seriously dated advice to producers of consumer goods.

(Cross-posted to 50 Book Challenge.)


THE REAL BUBBLE.

Cold Spring Shops, two years ago.
Did anybody seriously believe that the recovery of other nations after World War II, combined with the applicability of Ford-Taylor-Gilbreth methods of production management, wouldn't offer other countries opportunities to produce the outputs of mature manufacturing industries as well, and perhaps more cheaply, than the unionized factories of the Northeast and Midwest?
Now comes Mark Steyn, warning the Occupy Wall Street crowd that the worst is yet to come.
Whenever the economy goes south, experts talk of the housing "bubble," the tech "bubble," the credit "bubble." But the real bubble is the 1950 "American moment," and our failure to understand that moments are not permanent. The United States emerged from the Second World War as the only industrial power with its factories intact and its cities not reduced to rubble, and assumed that that unprecedented pre-eminence would last forever: We would always be so far ahead and so flush with cash that we could do anything and spend anything, and we would still be No. 1. That was the thinking of Detroit's automakers when they figured they could afford to buy off the unions. The industrial powerhouse of 1950 is now a crime-ridden wasteland with a functioning literacy rate equivalent to West African basket-cases. And yes, Detroit is an outlier, but look at the assumptions its rulers made, and then wonder whether it will seem quite such an outlier in the future.
Or, more recently, that our activist young, in the same way that their parents or grandparents did, could major in cultural studies and insist on pro bono opportunities as a condition of employment with top-notch law firms and have meaningful work, no matter how modest their achievements.  Then the party ends, and somebody is miserable.

A writer in the cultural studies tradition meditates on the popularity of "Pan Am" and, after the meander through all the identity politics themes, hits on what changed.
I left United Airlines because of the austerity measures that took the pleasure out of working the skies. As they slashed our layover times and swapped downtown stays for quick rests in dingy motels at the end of the runway, what I loved about being a flight attendant fell away. Gone were my morning walks in Boston Common. Gone were my visits to the Guggenheim before heading to Kennedy for the night flight to LAX. And gone was reading at the spectacular Seattle public library after working in from O’Hare.

As we watch “Pan Am”, we do not think about the things I lost, or about that airline’s final days. We do not learn how the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978 faced Pan Am with impossible competition from low-cost discount carriers that offered employees no benefits, no living wage, and no union representation. We do not learn how the 1980s Wall Street boom allowed “corporate raiders” to ransack and deunionize Pan Am’s competitors like Continental, Eastern, and TWA.
We do not reflect on the deadweight losses incurred when expense-account travelers in quasi-monopolistic industries (the flip side of the new industrial state) pay quasi-monopolistic air fares to be served a not-too-appetizing sandwich by a cabin attendant whose share of the rents so generated is in the form of those long layovers with time to walk in Boston Common, or, perhaps to shag a chief check pilot older than your father.  Nor do we reflect on the deadweight losses incurred when those travelers go home in their air-conditioned, mauve and cerise, quasi-monopolistically priced automobile produced by a worker in Southeast Michigan whose long summer vacations are his share of the rents.

Those bubbles have been deflating for years, and the definitive study of the effect of economic recovery elsewhere on living standards in the United States has yet to be written.

COMPARE AND CONTRAST.

Steven Horwitz asks readers to consider the fundamental contradiction of countervailing power.
Like Progressives, libertarians worry about corporations having too much power.  However, we believe that comes mostly from their ability to access State power.  Given the private sector’s drive to make profit, if the option to use the State is available, corporations will always find ways around the regulations. Given that all political officials gain from providing benefits to the private sector, hoping different politicians and bureaucrats will do better is just rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

Again, these problems are not  “bugs” in the political process;  they’re features.  Redistributing wealth toward the powerful is exactly what governments will always do, no matter who is in office.  It’s the powerful who have the resources to access the State and use it to distribute wealth in their own favor.   And history clearly teaches that this is what the State has always been about.  The sooner that Progressives apply their skepticism about government intervention in the bedroom or foreign countries to intervention in the market, and see that it structurally serves the interests of the firms it purports to control, the sooner a Progressive-libertarian alliance will come to fruition.
The point to enumerating, limiting, and dividing the powers of government is to make it harder for people who would like to use those powers for their own benefit to do so.  Go read and understand.

GOING FURTHER UPSCALE.

An assignment to a University of Wisconsin dorm no longer means quarters only marginally better than barracks or the housing projects.
Any baby boomer who went to college would envy the amenities of the Lakeshore Hall now under construction and the new $37.5 million Smith Hall (425 beds) and $35.9 million Ogg Hall (600 beds).

In the new dorms, a handful of rooms - not an entire floor - share a bathroom. Rooms have central air conditioning, mini refrigerators and spacious closets. Lakeshore Hall rooms offer a respectable 21-by-13-foot living space, not including closets.

The five-story Lakeshore Hall also offers scenic views of Lake Mendota and will feature restaurant-quality food in a dining area designed to resemble a food court.

Students living in Lakeshore will feed cravings for home-style comfort food at a diner; catch up with friends over Starbucks coffee and Babcock Dairy ice cream at a coffeehouse and ice cream shop, and grab fresh-baked pastries at a bakery on the way to class. Additional venues will each offer a specialty, from Italian pasta dishes to breakfast omelets, ethnic entrées, freshly prepared greens and made-to-order noodle bowls.
At one time, the Elm Drive complex across the street from the new Lakeshore Hall was where the university sequestered scholarship athletes.  I wonder if that is still the case.  According to the story, Adams and Tripp Halls, from 1926, remain in use as dorms.    Those two, which the state architect modeled on the Oxford enclosed-quadrangle college, probably don't have the electrical system contemporary students expect, but they have a lot more character than today's palaces offer.  Inside, the way the various houses (Botkin, Gregory, Frankenburger, and the rest) were laid out, nine rooms shared a restroom with two sinks, three toilets, and one shower.   We learned to share.

SIX IN HAND.

Throwback blue and yellow jerseys for the Packers, and six straight wins to open the season.

SECOND SECTION:  'Niners hold off the Lions.

MAKE THE HIGH SCHOOLS DO THEIR JOB.

Regular readers know the argument.  Critical Mass suggests a connection between the college bubble and the failures of K-12.
We need to re-think the “college for everyone” model. All that’s doing is turning college into the place under-educated high school graduates go for the remediation they should have gotten long before. Re-valuing the high school diploma, so that it really means something and really readies people for both the blue-collar and white-collar workplace is a vital piece of the puzzle here.
More precisely, some colleges turn into dropout factories, while at others, the ambitious students leave the time-servers behind.  Excellence is lost.

LOOKING FOR A DISSERTATION TOPIC?

Economic Principals offers a roundup of intellectual challenges for economists.
They are among 252 papers by experts in various disciplines who responded to an invitation by the National Science Foundation’s Directorate for the Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences  to describe “grand challenge questions” that transcend near-term funding cycles, questions which therefore might benefit from investment in infrastructure.
A commenter posts a predictable gripe.
When asked by a government funding agency which lines of research will be important in the near future, economists suggested their own.
That complaint isn't necessarily identifying a failing of the research enterprise.  The people who achieve recognition by their disciplines might have found a more clever way of thinking about problems others have also been grappling with, and successful work is often successful in finding more unanswered questions to answer.

THERE'S NOBODY HERE. IT'S SO DEPRESSING.

It's downtown Detroit.  What's the point of occupying it, when there's not even a World Series in the works?

HOW DO YOU SCOUT BLOCKING AND TACKLING?

The Northern Illinois homecoming game had a closely-played first half.  Sometimes the best half-time adjustment is to simplify.
"I was pretty caught up in the moment," Northern Illinois coach Dave Doeren said.

But sometime before NIU left its locker room Saturday for the second half against Western Michigan – and mixed between a few expletives, Doeren admitted – the Huskies' first-year coach made an adjustment. Confused by the option-read on the first half's final drive, the Broncos' defense split up the middle. Quarterback Chandler Harnish ran 29 yards through open field, setting up a field goal and two-point deficit.

"I told the offense at halftime, 'I want you to run it until they stop it. I don't want to see another play call, just change the formations,' " Doeren said.

The Broncos never even slowed it down. NIU rushed for 494 yards and didn't stop until it got a season-saving, 51-22 victory in front of a homecoming crowd of 20,227 at Huskie Stadium.
When you have the people who can do the job, just ask them to do the job.

15.10.11

A MEMOIR?

Kathryn Stockett mentions in the postlude to The Help that she was brought up, in Mississippi, with the assistance of a maid with African ancestors, and she protests that her work is not autobiographical. (Is the provision of conversations with authors at the end of a work of fiction a response to consumer demand from book clubs for a basis for intelligent conversation, along the lines that junior high or high school analysis of symbolism and other hidden devices used to require, itself a recognition that the cultural infrastructure has been lost and requires repair?)  Book Review No. 30 will be short.

The story is compelling.  In places keeping track of the characters is difficult, but perhaps those blends of plantation-aristocrat and swampland-hardscrabble names unique to the south contribute.  A reader with a good sense of 1960s product introductions will recognize a few anachronisms, some that the author acknowledges in the postlude.  She also begs forbearance for the use of dialect by some of her characters.  It's not cartoonish to draw readers' attention to the effect of separate but equal education on language.  And ... for those who have seen the movie ... a few acts of civil disobedience didn't make that cut.  Excellent pacing and timing of those events.

(Cross-posted to 50 Book Challenge.)

UNDOING THE CONSCIOUSNESS REVOLUTION.

In the generational morphology hypothesis, complete resolution of social tensions among classes or generations is difficult, because each set of tensions involves a different cohort of young people seeking changes in the way the current cohort of middle-aged and older people do things.  So, too, appears to be the dynamics of Occupy Wall Street and its regional manifestations.

Lehigh political scientist Ted Morgan sees an echo of the Sixties (a counter - counter - counter - culture, if you will.)
What is perfectly clear here is that the institutions of the global economy, and the world they are producing, are catastrophically out of line with the needs, values, and aspirations of most of humanity, and the people are rising up to resist this world.  Occupy Wall Street is the latest manifestation of this uprising, in this case addressing the way that Wall Street and its minions have been manipulating and ignoring the needs and values of the American people for far too long.

Notwithstanding media hype about something they like to call “the Sixties,” there are two important connections between today’s protests and those of the 60s era.  One is simply that the forces being confronted by today’s protests are the same forces that sponsored a backlash against the uprisings of the 1960s.  Beginning in the 1970s, corporate and rightist interests combined to (erroneously) blame the 60s upheavals on the idea that government should be used to produce public goods and meet the needs of the people.  Meanwhile advertisers, television producers, film-makers, and commercial media used the same “Sixties” stereotypes –hippies, young rebels, militants— to divert public attention to the world of privatized leisure and consumption.  Together these forces turned politics over to capital and produced the world we live in.
The crisis of the institutions, in Professor Morgan's view, might have been suppressed under "morning in America" sloganeering and bought off with big-screen televisions and cheap fuel, but the contradictions never went away.

Chicago Boy Lexington Green went to a gathering of the Chicago occupiers, and saw over-indulged Baby Boomers of the 1960s continuing their over-indulged ways into the present.
I was surprised that it was not more Left boilerplate. It seems to reflect an accurate understanding of the seriousness of crony capitalism as the heart of the problem we face.

These conversations I found enjoyable, though I was as usual saddened by the combination of earnestness and ignorance of this rising generation.

My hatred of the Boomers, who have brainwashed and wasted these kids is boundless. There is nothing wrong with them. They have just never been taught anything but bullshit. They have been betrayed by their parents and their teachers. It is very depressing. The country has been shamefully dumbed down.
He discovers some of those baby boomers, still true to their Days of Rage fantasies.
My overall impression is of a large and incoherent community of people with no clear agenda, no actionable plan, but with a few particular and genuine grievances.

It appears to be composed of at least two major groups. There is an older group of experienced activists, who have experience at organizing and leading protests. These people are orthodox leftists. There is a certain hard quality to their eyes which you can see right away. These people are generally engaged in the same kind of protest they and their predecessors have been doing for 50 years. It is the same old thing and they could do it in their sleep.

The other group seems to be a large, young and energetic but poorly educated group of kids who have spent their lives on a path to “college” on borrowed money, then a “job.” Now they are facing the derailment of the entire vague program they have always lived by, and they know they owe a lot of money and don’t know what to do now or do next.

This group of kids seem to be educable, and to have some good instincts. But, they have for now fallen into malicious hands.
Both commenters suggest that an organizing theme is going to have to emerge in order for the occupations to have any permanent effect, and that there is sufficient discontent for the protests to go on for some time.

THE CASE FOR SOCIAL DISTANCE.

Some Milwaukee-area school districts have requested business casual for teachers (ties recommended but not required: ties are required of male teachers and students at at least one selective private school).  One commenter on the policy sees the value of social distance.
Teachers do and should occupy an arena of esteem and authority. This can be diminished if a teacher shows up in class wearing clothes so informal as to send a message to students that, hey, we're all buddies and I want to be your friend.
I don't care if they like me, I do care if they're willing to work with me rather than work on me.  Another commenter suggests the requirement is just more style over substance.

EVERYTHING I LIKE GOES AWAY.

"Pan Am" might be a disguised lament for the destroyed, best parts of the victorious United States.  But it could be suffering from bad scheduling.
After starting reasonably well, Pan Am ratings fell 16% in its second episode, and then fell 27% in its third episode and was ABC's second lowest rated scripted show last week (ahead of only Charlie's Angels). 
"Charlie's Angels" has already been cancelled.  (No loss, catering to feminist, thirteener, and millennial sensibilities destroys the eye candy.)  "Pan Am" is in the 10 pm (Eastern) Sunday time slot, opposite some pretty good Sunday night football matches, and the cliffhangers that the baseball playoffs have been.  And networks can't simply put a program into a holding pattern and bring it into households when there's less conflicting traffic.

THE RIVER LEVEL VIEW.

A Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel article recommends the Chicago architecture boat tour.  Some guides even provide the explanation for Cub fans drinking Old Style.
In 1900, the Sanitary District of Chicago reversed the flow of the river using a series of canal locks, sending water (and sewage) south down the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal to the Des Plaines River and ultimately, St. Louis.

Residents of that city objected mightily, Bartholomew said, and got their revenge by using the river water to make beer and ship it back to Chicago.
Regional rivalries aside, the tour is highly recommended.

During the summer, it is possible to get a preview of some of the buildings as part of the trip.  Ride the Hiawatha to Union Station, go out the Adams Street food court exit, walk north along the west bank of the river to the shuttle boat dock at Madison Street, ride the shuttle boat to Navy Pier or to the dock opposite the Wrigley Building for the architecture tours.

A PASSENGER TRAIN SHOULD LOOK LIKE ONE.

General Motors's Electro-Motive Division built the locomotive that signified diesel passenger train.



Electro-Motive is under new management, but je me souviens.
The builder, now part of Caterpillar’s Progress Rail Services, says the design will boast “streamlined” styling, including a prominent, roof-level headlight for a “classic American” look. It will be capable of 125-mph operation. The company hasn’t made a final decision on a prime mover, but says it will come from Caterpillar’s designs. So don’t expect the 710 or 265H Electro-Motive designs in use on freight models.

EMD’s last passenger design was its F59PHI, a sleek 3,200-hp locomotive that serves on Amtrak corridor routes in the West, plus several commuter lines.
The Fifty-Nine is not bad looking, although it's too tall for a Talgo, Horizon, or Amfleet consist, and a little short for a Superliner or California Car rake.


Now look closely at that Burlington unit in the upper picture.  Those shadowlines on either side of the upper headlight are to suggest air intakes, and the black stripes the windows of a Zephyr power car.

Roof-level headlight, 125 mph operation, streamlining, is it too much to ask for a profile that matches the coaches that follow?  Everything old is new again ...

RUNNING TO WIN.

It's been a busy week, with the usual stresses that come with examinations.  Add to that a few days of good weather for getting the harvest in, and posting has been light.

For some reason, athletics departments and alumni relations officers like to schedule homecomings in the middle of all those distractions (despite the strongly held view of at least a few of the faculty that the sports and the social events are the distractions.)  Thus there were homecoming events of various kinds in Madison and in DeKalb.  Here, the post-game festivities include a concert with Kansas backing the NIU Philharmonic.

On the fields, the Badgers took care of business with Indiana.  A good team is one that makes adjustments at halftime with a 28-7 lead.  (Those seven points annoyed the defense particularly.)  That mismatch was assigned to the 11 am television slot.  Presumably ranked teams have to have television coverage, but if the outcome is unlikely to be for the squeamish, it can be televised while the hung-over and the Vegas punters haven't rolled out of the rack yet.

Then came Western Michigan at Northern Illinois.  Western have been successful at scoring points, and Northern's defense has been suspect, or gone missing.  No matter this day, as Northern's second half adjustments led to 38 unanswered points and a one-sided win.  There were sufficient rounds for the requisite howitzer salute after each touchdown.

9.10.11

TACKING ON.

Lots of opportunities to play outside during the second half of the summer, and then comes football, and some unexpected developments in the pennant races, and the Fifty Book Challenge gets crowded out.  In this shortish third quarter report, the links go to the review at the Challenge.  Some books are particularly good (+), others particularly bad (-).
  1. Railroaded: The Transcontinentals and the Making of Modern America10 July 2011 (+).
  2. Burma-Shave: The Rhymes, the Signs, the Times, 16 July 2011.
  3. The Secret Knowledge: On the Dismantling of American Culture, 24 July 2011 (-).
  4. When in the Course of Human Events: Arguing the Case for Southern Secession, 25 July 2011 (-).
  5. Manning Up: How the Rise of Women Has Turned Men into Boys, 29 July 2011 (-).
  6. Gettysburg, 30 July 2011 (+).
  7. High and Mighty: SUVs: The World's Most Dangerous Vehicles and How They Got That Way, 5 August 2011.
  8. We All Fall Down, 17 August 2011.
  9. The Final Storm, 3 September 2011.
  10. Reckles$ Endangerment: How Outsized Ambition, Greed, and Corruption Led to Economic Armageddon, 5 September 2011.
  11. Winter of Frozen Dreams, 30 September 2011.
The second quarter report is available here, or at the Fifty Book Challenge, or on the European Tribune.

The first quarter report is available here, or at the Fifty Book Challenge, or on the European Tribune.

There are more books stacked for review, and the bookworm will grow some more segments by year's end.

Oooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo


(Cross-posted to European Tribune and 50 Book Challenge.)

PROCESS, NUANCE, FAILURE.

Trinity University's Michael Fischer wrings his hands about the difficulties involved in running a university like a Quaker Meeting.
At times, many of us in academe take pride in our commitment to consensus-based decision making, aligning it with such positive values as involving people in the decisions that affect them and favoring persuasion over coercion. At other times, however, even the most forceful advocates of consensus-based decision-making, among whom I count myself, get impatient. Our frustration leads to familiar complaints about herding cats, never getting another accomplished, and enduring interminable meetings that only complicate problems instead of resolving them.
That's always been the case: each of those New England town clusters (East Millpond, Millpond Centre, Millpond Hall, Millpond Heights) represents an irreconcilable breakdown of consensus among relatively like-minded people.  (I'm looking straight at you, administrative toadies on university committees.)
Our commitment to consensus waxes and wanes for many reasons but primarily because we are ambivalent about compromise. Compromise is almost always essential to achieving consensus in higher education. A proposed major change in a university – for example, a revision in the academic calendar or curriculum – typically attracts a core of supporters and an equally vocal group of naysayers. Between these extremes lies a not yet committed, more or less curious group, sometimes a majority of faculty members, who need to be brought along if the proposal is going to succeed. I say "succeed" rather than "pass" because without sufficient support, even a proposal approved by the majority can still be sabotaged or at least stalled. Tenured faculty opponents of the change can continue their dissent with impunity. Lukewarm faculty members can maintain their disengagement, refusing to staff key committees that may be necessary to implementing the change. Although unanimity is neither essential nor realistic, sufficient consensus, not just a majority vote, is crucial.
That's where an absence of viewpoint diversity comes in handy: it's easier to achieve consensus when the issue being contested is relatively minor (do we lower admission standards to a combined 850 or a combined 800 on the college boards?)  But everybody gets along to go along until the tension between consensus and, oh, producing meaningful intellectual development, becomes too much for compromise.
Measuring "sufficient consensus" is a judgment call administrative and faculty leaders must make before moving on. Familiar marketplace metaphors often guide our reasoning. The "buy-in" of the uncommitted results from "selling" them something. It can be something tangibly in their self-interest – e.g., the curricular change might lower teaching loads – but often in colleges and universities, carrots are as hard to come by as sticks, especially now, when budgetary pressures are increasing class size, freezing salaries, and whittling away travel support. Rewarding cooperation becomes as problematic as punishing intransigence. Buy-in accordingly comes from allowing the initially disaffected to leave their mark on the proposal that results: offering amendments, rewriting sections, raising objections to be dealt with later, all with the ultimate goal of achieving broad "ownership."
Precisely. As long as there's general agreement on what it is the administration is selling, the endless wordsmithing achieves nothing substantively different yet leaves everyone believing they've said their piece.

The problem Mr Fischer avoids mentioning is that there can be no compromise between faculty members who see greater access, or more accommodation, or more climbing walls, or a pursuit of athletic excellence and more commuter students, as desirable, and faculty members who see such things as distracting from, or destructive of, the higher earning.  The lion lies down with the lamb only in your prayers.

That makes his transition to a gripe about the absence of compromise in national politics silly.
At this level, suspicion of compromise has given way to hostility, with President Obama the target, contributing to the national legislative gridlock. It is striking how criticisms of Obama from the left and the right consistently disparage compromise. From the point of view of Frank Rich, Paul Krugman and other liberal columnists, Obama is a disappointing centrist who caves in too readily to his adversaries. From the point of view of Tea Party Republicans, however, he is a steamrolling socialist who must be resisted at every turn, not appeased in any way.

Either way, compromise gets stigmatized: as something the president engages in too readily or as a trap his right-wing adversaries must avoid. The only resolution of their differences that these ideological opponents can imagine is somehow tilting the balance of power in their favor: a game-changing election that will finally allow their side to get something definitive done. The game being changed or ended is the process of debate and negotiation across differences, which few are confident will lead to a better outcome than their own initial position. We are left with paralysis, short-term fixes, posturing for one’s allies, and endless searches for opportunities to weaken the other party.
No. We have two major parties beholden to electoral bases with very different interests.  That reality is itself a result of a compromise (Republican support for the so-called voting rights act enabled state legislatures to craft majority-minority districts safe for Democrats in such a way as to create other districts safe for Republicans).  That makes splitting the difference in a conference committee more difficult.

Whether we're looking at national affairs, or at academic politics, the absence of a consensus supportable by relatively small compromises

HOW TO SPEAK CURMUDGEON.

Apple products.



Technology.



Playlist.



Apologies to Fosters Beer.

7.10.11

TONIGHT'S RAILROAD READING.

Historiann recommends a Gary Gerstle review, in Dissent, of Railroaded (reviewed here).
This review of Railroaded is a model of how to write a review for an audience of intelligent general interest readers.  Gerstle tells readers of Dissentwhy they should read this book in the first paragraph, and then Gerstle explains White and his career as a historian before giving an able overview of the book and an explanation for its importance.  Nicely done.
That's the teachable moment. The details of the review are instructive.  A too-cozy relationship between business and government looks very similar to public-choice libertarians and dissenters somewhere on the left.
That these corporations repeatedly secured government assistance only deepens White’s anger. The bailouts, White alleges, succeeded principally in allowing the CEOs of these railroad corporations to become fabulously wealthy, to set up universities (Stanford) and humanities centers (the Huntington Library) to cleanse their family names, and to escape the economic penalty and social censure that should have come their way. The transcontinental railroads were not, in the final analysis, a mechanism for economic growth and transformation; rather they were merely “corporate containers for financial manipulation and corporate networking.” America would have been better off, White argues, had these railroads not been built when they were and with the financial chicanery and corruption that their establishment and sustenance required. 
And thus does the Occupy Wall Street coalition (something whose non-appearance puzzled Professor Gerstle during the summer) have more than a few things in common with the Tea Party coalition.  The mind is tempted to substitute "McMansion" for "railroad" in the preceding passage and see if it generalizes to either movement.
When the first trains began to run, settlement, commerce, agriculture, mining, and manufacturing in the trans-Mississippi West had not developed to the point at which they could support one transcontinental line, let alone the six that were being built. The hope was that these roads would rapidly stimulate the economic activity that had been missing, and thus bring the railroads, within five to ten years of existence, the volume of traffic necessary for them regularly to turn a profit. But men of money knew that this scenario was utopian, which is why none of them attempted to build one of these railroads out of their own reserves or with funds raised exclusively through financial markets. The government, for whom building a continent-spanning railroad had become an imperative, decided that its only recourse was to lavish extravagant incentives and subsidies on the Central Pacific Associates and their ilk.

White is brilliant in documenting and reconstructing the precise ways in which the Associates and others feasted on the opening the government gave them. He demonstrates how small groups of private moneymen got access to the government, formed alliances with “friends” in Congress, and conspired in the notorious Willard Hotel in Washington and elsewhere to gain favors, buy votes, and steer legislative debates to desired outcomes. White’s portrait of an American government overwhelmed by corruption is breathtaking to behold and devastating to ponder. It alone is reason to read this book.
That first paragraph is economic historian Art Woolf's argument, also.  And it's interesting how the Willard Hotel morphs from the place where Julia Ward Howe composed "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" and "U. S. Grant and son, Galena, Illinois" humbled the desk clerk to a place where favors are traded.

What remains to be seen, however, is whether limiting the powers of government (including the power to award corporate welfare) or expanding the powers of government (including the power to revoke corporate charters or seize corporate property in the public interest) will work better at uprooting the thickets of corruption.

A FISKING.

In the run-up to the topplings of the Taliban and Saddam Hussein, the line-by-line refutation, or perhaps negation of an article in the online press or a rival weblog, earned the title of a Fisking, after a particularly silly column an eponymous reporter wrote from the Stans, expressing his understanding of the motives of the locals who beat him up.  Vodkapundit might have earned his spot in the Pajamas Media lineup through his mastery of the form (or his willingness to post comments on various Events of National Import while keeping the glass full), and he's still at it, here turning E.J. Dionne inside out.

At University Diaries, the Scathing Online Schoolmarm series sometimes turns into a fisking, although that form is more about ways in which a writer makes a weak argument even weaker.

But today's smackdown of Washington Post groupie Sally Jenkins takes the form of a full-on Fisking.
If we would quit being half-ashamed of college sports and assign them some real value, we might just cure some of their corruptions. [Americans are fully-proud of college sports, and they assign them stupendous value. What is Jenkins talking about?] The NCAA should stop treating athletic departments as ticket offices attached to universities like tumors [Way strange simile, though it fits, I guess, with her use of the word "cure" in the preceding sentence. But does she really think the NCAA, of all places, considers college sports a cancer? For the NCAA, college sports is precisely a cure - a cure for poverty.] and instead treat them as legitimate academic branches. In fact, why shouldn’t we let kids major in sports? Aspiring athletes should be able to pursue their real interest, as a business and an art. [A college education, after all, is a four-year opportunity for students to pursue their real interests, be these dribbling balls, building meth labs, playing video games, or whatever. When it comes to constructing a curriculum, colleges should inquire of students what they would like to do. Then they should build buildings and hire people to help them to do those things.]
Ouch. The commenters get in on the act, with one suggesting a Department of Athletic Studies.

That, and the Brewer win, warrant another cold one.

PUNISHED FOR BEING RESPONSIBLE.

The Atlantic's David Indiviglio suggests that college financial aid policies might contribute to the low national savings rate.
Parents putting money away for their children's education is hard enough without being penalized for their responsible behavior. 
(Via Newmark's Door.)

ANTICIPATING THE NEW HIGH.

Walter Russell Mead sees, amid the ashes of the Postwar Consensus, the road to the sunny uplands.
Capitalism marginalizes those who do not understand the world and how it is changing, and gives opportunities to those who do. No one knows what our economy will look like in twenty years time, but those who can think about the world intelligently now, recognize new opportunities, and seize the initiative, can grow into global leaders down the road, fundamentally changing our politics, businesses, and way of life.

And on a more practical note, they will invent the jobs of the future and build the careers of the future.

The fundamental fact about the emerging new economic order is that it is going to be a much richer world than the old blue social model could ever offer.  The vastly enhanced efficiency of manufacturing, energy use and organization that the information revolution brings with it means that human beings will spend much less energy and time on fulfilling their basic biological needs, and much more time exploring and fulfilling more complex and personal goals.  As a species, we will spend less time in the coal mines and more time in the theater, less time chopping cotton and more time writing novels.

Reshaping our social institutions and our mental habits to capitalize on the vast and unprecedented opportunities of the information revolution is going to take a lot of time, energy and creativity.  The pain and drama of the shift will absorb our political system — and painful as it will be in the US, it is likely to be still more disruptive and difficult elsewhere.

But unless we get it profoundly wrong, these are birth pangs, not death agonies.  The millennial generation will build a new world, and it will be an extraordinary place.
That is, if we aren't all frazzled by the demands of the information economy that we be on all the time.

But as I read that passage, it twigged a memory about hunting in the morning, fishing in the afternoon, and posting after the Brewers win.
Division of labour and private property are, moreover, identical expressions: in the one the same thing is affirmed with reference to activity as is affirmed in the other with reference to the product of the activity.

Further, the division of labour implies the contradiction between the interest of the separate individual or the individual family and the communal interest of all individuals who have intercourse with one another. And indeed, this communal interest does not exist merely in the imagination, as the “general interest,” but first of all in reality, as the mutual interdependence of the individuals among whom the labour is divided. And finally, the division of labour offers us the first example of how, as long as man remains in natural society, that is, as long as a cleavage exists between the particular and the common interest, as long, therefore, as activity is not voluntarily, but naturally, divided, man’s own deed becomes an alien power opposed to him, which enslaves him instead of being controlled by him. For as soon as the distribution of labour comes into being, each man has a particular, exclusive sphere of activity, which is forced upon him and from which he cannot escape. He is a hunter, a fisherman, a herdsman, or a critical critic, and must remain so if he does not want to lose his means of livelihood; while in communist society, where nobody has one exclusive sphere of activity but each can become accomplished in any branch he wishes, society regulates the general production and thus makes it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticise after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, herdsman or critic. This fixation of social activity, this consolidation of what we ourselves produce into an objective power above us, growing out of our control, thwarting our expectations, bringing to naught our calculations, is one of the chief factors in historical development up till now.
That's Karl Marx, "The German Ideology," in 1845.  The information economy Professor Mead envisions is one in which, on the one hand, the variety of means of livelihood might become more diverse, and more individuated, but on the other hand might preclude any individual from becoming accomplished in more than one endeavour.

PASSENGERS WILL PLEASE REFRAIN.

Europe might offer some of the fastest passenger trains on rails, but a lot of passenger miles get racked up on austere puddle-jumpers.
The Dutch national railway has an unusual solution for passengers who need the bathroom on a train line designed without them: plastic bags.

The rail operator underlined that the bags, introduced Friday, are for use in emergencies only, when a train has stopped and passengers can't be evacuated. The idea has been met with incredulity by politicians and the general public already unhappy with the short-haul "Sprinter" trains' bathroomless design.
(Via Drudge.)

6.10.11

BEST QUIP OF THE SEASON.

A Rick Reilly column about the baseball playoffs characterizes the New York Yankees as a hedge fund.  Chortle.  The gods of baseball must be sardonic, as Dubya's old team is the only divisional winner that got it done in fewer than five games.

TONIGHT'S RAILROAD READING.

Apple is to Steve Jobs approximately as the Great Northern Railway is to James J. Hill.  Vermont Tiger's Art Woolf explains why the Great Northern might have been the more challenging project.
James Hill, the owner of the Great Northern, built the transcontinental line slowly by only building lines where he could make a profit.  He slowly expanded westward by building feeder lines from areas that were settled or had profitable opportunities for his railway and connecting them to his main line.  The other transcontinental railroads built ahead of demand and went bankrupt because even with their federal subsidies they could not earn a profit due to the lack of revenue opportunities between the eastern and western terminuses of the  railroads.
There's more on foolishly building railroads ahead of demand here.  (And there might be resentful fiftysomethings in Silicon Valley grumbling tonight that they had been working on similar things in their garage before Jobs and Wozniak first burned their fingers on a soldering iron, or perhaps cursing themselves for pursuing government grants for defense projects rather than working on consumer goods.)
Hill's Great Northern was the only transcontinental that was built without major subsidies and that did not go bankrupt.  It was profitable because it relied on building its own market by incrementally building westward and building feeder lines that could transport agricultural products, minerals, and other goods and people and could connect to the main line.

It did not prosper because it absorbed the existing infrastructure of the bankrupt rail lines.  Those lines were worthless to Mr. Hill.
The Great Northern, however, was of great value to those other lines, which is why the 1904 Northern Securities ruling simply postponed, until 1970, the combination known at the time as Burlington Northern (now the northern tier lines of BNSF Railway).