30.11.11

YOU FIND THE FUN, AND SNAP! THE JOB'S A GAME.

The next task you undertake may not become a piece of cake, but it might not be all dull dry formulas or presentation software.
At some point, engineering professor Brianno Coller realized he didn't like slogging through dry math problems as an instructor any more than he had as a student. So he thought about what could liven things up — animation! interactivity! — and it hit him: video games.

He designed one, and now his third-year students at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb build virtual race cars, complete with roaring engines and screeching tires, that must maneuver an increasingly challenging course. Along the way, they're exposed to computational math, a basic building block of engineering.

"I use games to, in some sense, throw away the textbook," says Coller, 42, who played Lunar Lander and other video games as a kid. "My philosophy is that learning can be a burdensome chore or it can be an interesting journey."

Around the country, pockets of faculty have been adding games to their courses as a way to stimulate learning.
The jury is still out on the general effectiveness of video games as active learning tool.
Coller's research, supported by the National Science Foundation, found that students using his video games spent roughly twice as much time doing homework and demonstrated deeper learning compared with students who learned through traditional lectures and textbook. "I got kind of addicted to it, like I would other games," engineering major Alex Raz, 25, says of a game created by Coller called Spumone. "It's like really learning, not like just going through the motions on paper."

University of Southern California education professor Richard Clark remains skeptical. "There is no compelling evidence that serious games lead to greater motivation to learn than other instructional programs," he says. Better, he says, to teach the concept, then let students practice in a game-like environment.

[Mercyhurst's Kristan] Wheaton, too, cautions against overselling the value of games. "There's a lot of promise there," he says. "But right now the hype meter is pretty high."
There are differing schools of thought about whether to do the simulation or the concept first. I sometimes use a deck of playing cards to illustrate price discovery in a competitive market, before a supply-and-demand graph ever goes up.

STOP ENABLING CRUDITY, YOU'LL GET LESS OF IT.

Daniel Craig, who will attempt to be the next successor to Sean Connery, gets the Trenchant Observation of the Day.
"Look at the Kardashians, they’re worth millions. I don’t think they were that badly off to begin with but now look at them,” says Craig.

He continues, “You see that and you think, ‘What, you mean all I have to do is behave like a f***ing idiot on television and then you’ll pay me millions. I’m not judging it – well, I am obviously."
The sisters are not that badly off, which means we get to see a lot more of their life-management skills before they're too boring or too old.

It's when the crudity trickles down to the lower orders that people who are pretty close to being badly off become badly off.
Call me a child of another era – one where tattoos meant that someone had been in the military (good) or prison (not good), but I think America is going to wake up someday from its fixation with tattoos the same way people woke up from hair styles they tried back in the seventies – except they won’t be able to get a hair cut and burn a bunch of photos to eliminate the evidence.
That post was motivated by what might be an apocryphal story, but the story confirms enough priors about generalized crudity, whether among the lower orders or Hollywood, to resonate.

MUTUAL ASSURED DESTRUCTION COMES TO COLLEGE FOOTBALL.

I remember nuclear disarmament advocates of the Cold War era, who noted that the big powers had enough megatonnage to "blow up the world eight times," and George McGovern's campaign suggested that the U.S.S.R. might have been looking to get out from under the burden of maintaining the arms race, and the current balance sheet of the U.S. government has at least one commentator suggesting that the current Nuclear Posture Review be occasion to reduce that blow up factor below five, or fifty.  But the dominant strategy in an arms race is to continue to build the stockpile.
"People assume [President Obama is] a novice," says Michael L. Baron, who taught Obama in a Columbia seminar on international politics and American policy. "He's been thinking about these issues for a long time." In fact, in a paper for Baron's class, Obama considered how a President might negotiate nuclear-arms reductions with the Russians. (He got an A.)

Twenty-six years later, as President, Obama has a chance to translate that vision into policy. And the President says his agenda is actually the best way forward in today's turbulent world.

"It's na•ve for us to think," he says, "that we can grow our nuclear stockpiles, the Russians continue to grow their nuclear stockpiles, and our allies grow their nuclear stockpiles, and that in that environment we're going to be able to pressure countries like Iran and North Korea not to pursue nuclear weapons themselves."

But critics say the United States will only weaken itself if it pursues a path to a nuclear-weapons-free world. "If the implications were not so serious, the discrepancy between Mr. Obama's plans and real-world conditions would be hilarious," says Frank Gaffney, who worked on defense issues for President Ronald Reagan. "There is only one country on earth that Team Obama can absolutely, positively de-nuclearize: ours."
Compared to nuclear proliferation, a discussion of college football might strike the reader as preposterous. But economic models are neutral as to the situation they are used to describe, and instead of the replacement of perfectly serviceable submarines and bomber aircraft with the next improvement, we have the firing of football coaches before their first recruiting classes finish their redshirt year (think of those second-year freshmen as the reserve being called up).
Three coaches fired after last weekend's games had been on the job two years, a development that leaves some observers wondering about fairness and finances.

Kansas' Turner Gill was dropped after going 5-19. Memphis' Larry Porter is out after a 3-21 record, and Rob Ianello's 2-22 mark at Akron led to an early termination.
The essence of an arms race, or any prisoners' dilemma, is that individual rationality leads to coordination failure.  A team that is making slow progress is still losing ground.  Never mind that speeding up the coaching carroussel incurs higher costs now for even higher costs later.  Coaching contracts now come with early-termination provisions, in which the university pays the coach to step out of line and disappear, while a successful coach pays the analogue of an exit tax to take a better offer before his contract expires.
According to their contracts, Gill is owed about $6 million, Porter $2.25 million and Ianello $900,000. Assistants under contract could also have to be dealt with unless they are retained or find other jobs.

Todd Turner, a former athletics director who is president of Collegiate Sports Associates, a consulting and search firm, is amazed that athletics directors and presidents are willing to take on the financial burden of paying off one contract and then hop right back into a super-heated marketplace to hire a new staff.

"It takes courage and patience to do the right thing and stick by a person according to the contract you drafted," he says.

Early firings and tearing up contracts are "a slippery slope," he added.
If Mr Turner understood his game theory better, he'd note that early terminations give the next coach hired an incentive to negotiate for more favorable early-termination terms, which an athletic director bent on improving the team's relative position will be disposed to accept.  Without a collegiate version of an arms-control treaty, the market for coaching staff inevitably gets hotter.

There's a sidenote to this story.  There's no good time to give a coach the bad news, but Mr Ianello was on the way to his mother's funeral when he got the word.

SISU.

Finland's students used to place poorly on those international comparisons.  That has changed, for a number of reasons.
In 2009, Finland's students scored third in reading, sixth in math and second in science out of 65 countries that participated in the exam.

American students scored 17th in reading, 23rd in science and 31st in math.

But looking at the Finnish system comes with caveats - some characteristics of the country head in the opposite direction from the way things are moving in American education.

For example, Finnish education and government leaders downplay standardized testing. They place more value on developing creativity and independent thought, and don't believe in judging schools by test scores. The country's internal testing of students is so light that the PISA scores came as a surprise for most; many teachers say they knew their students were doing well, just not that well.

Finland has a relatively homogenous population; the country is predominantly white and Lutheran. The U.S. has a diverse population of people from different cultures, with different values and priorities, especially when it comes to education.

Strong believers in equality, the Finns have long supported a system where wealth is distributed more evenly, making it nearly impossible to live in abject poverty. The income ladder ranges more greatly in the U.S., with intense wealth at the top and intense poverty at the bottom.

Some schools in Finland do serve a predominantly low-income population, and the pace of instruction at those schools is indeed slower than at the schools in middle-income areas. But the low-income schools are supported in other ways to try to give all students the tools needed to reach a basic level of education by the end of ninth grade.
Apparently, when one treats teachers like professionals, and requires advanced degrees as evidence of intensive preparation rather than as a credential for a pay raise, one gets results.
[Taneli] Nordberg got his master's degree in English. His thesis focused on the way English core modals (can, must, may, etc.) are portrayed in Finnish upper secondary school textbooks. He also had to do a thesis for his bachelor's degree. And another specifically for teacher training.

"It was agony," he recalls of his master's thesis. "But I did it."

Like other applicants to teacher-studies programs, Nordberg had to have high academic marks, pass an entrance exam and pass an in-person interview before he was accepted to the program.

Once in the profession, teachers have a lot of autonomy over their classroom. A national curriculum set by the local government - with input from the national teachers union - explains what should be learned but not how to teach it.

Teachers have control over that part.

"In Finland it's very common for us to write our own textbooks or choose the methods and curriculum or textbooks we want to buy," said Sepoo Nyyssönen, a philosophy teacher at Sibelius High School, an arts-based school in Helsinki.

"I think that's why I feel that teaching is good - you are like the king or queen of your own classroom," Nyyssönen said.
The curriculum offers students options, without replicating existing social stratification.
Finland sought to eliminate a tracking system that divided students after fourth grade, at age 10. Children who seemed college-bound were offered a more rigorous curriculum, while others were ushered to less academic classes. The Finns instead implemented a comprehensive nine-year system of schooling that goes from age 7 to 16. At that point, students can decide for themselves if they want to go to the college-prep lukio to complete upper secondary school, or if they want to spend the next three years in the vocational high schools, where they can start to learn a trade.

Students can switch between the high school options, however, and choosing the vocational track does not preclude a student from getting into a university.

Recently, there's been more discussion in Wisconsin of breathing new life into vocational training options for high school students, and acknowledging that not all students need or want to pursue an expensive four-year bachelor's degree.

A bill batted around in Madison this legislative session called for more flexibility in substituting vocational classes for certain academic high school credits.

Local advocates of vocational education, such as Tim Sullivan, the former CEO of Bucyrus International Inc., have said that Wisconsin manufacturers have jobs to fill, but can't find qualified local graduates.
Apparently in Finland you don't shunt the burnouts and troublemakers into shop class, the way too many U.S. districts do (if they even have a shop class any more), and restoring the blue-collar aristocracy means discovering the youngsters with the aptitude and the enthusiasm to do impromptu engineering and proper tolerance-setting.

The article suggests Finlanders still see room for improvement, and it raises the possibility that the high-achievers might be neglected, but No Child Gets Ahead does the same thing, while focusing too heavily on high-stakes tests, and it crowds out recess.
Being outside is also important - many schools in Finland are flanked by vast playgrounds and forests that allow children to spread out and play before, during and after school.

"If children don't have a good home background, we think they need sports and arts and other activities to help them feel good about themselves," said Irmeli Halinen, head of curriculum development of general education for the Finnish National Board of Education.
The article notes that Finland has a more comprehensive welfare state, and a top marginal tax rate of at least 51 percent. It's up to the reader to evaluate the article, and the supporting evidence, and decide whether that's a course worth emulating.

UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES.

The last commercial horse-slaughtering operation in the United States was in DeKalb.  An Illinois law (that had the support of horse fancier Bo Derek) ended that operation, and the rest of the country followed suit.

Congress obtained that result by not appropriating money for inspecting horse meat (a variation on the method that Congress obtained the 55 mph speed limit and the 21 year old drinking age).  The ban on that appropriation ended in a rider to a continuing resolution (aren't political maneuvers wonderful?)
The last U.S. slaughterhouse that butchered horses was Cavel International, which operated in DeKalb. It closed in 2007. Illinois has since banned the slaughter of horses for human consumption. California also has a ban, and more than a dozen states tightly regulate the sale of horse meat.

Congress lifted the ban in a spending bill President Obama signed into law Nov. 18 to keep the government afloat until mid-December.

The lifting of the ban did not, however, allocate any new money to pay for horse meat inspections, which opponents claim could cost taxpayers $3 million to $5 million a year. The U.S. Department of Agriculture would have to find the money in its existing budget, which is expected to see more cuts this year as Congress and the White House aim to trim federal spending.
The horse fanciers and other advocates for animal welfare are not going to let the export of horse steaks to France and the Low Countries to resume without objection.  The problem, as Voluntary Xchange notes, with the ban is that owners of horses that are no longer in condition to ride or pull or perform now must put them out to pasture, and in these cash-tight times the disposable income for oats isn't there.  Some horse-owners could hire a factor who would deliver the horse to Canada or Mexico, for little net gain, and some horse-owners might have an unofficial town dump nearby.  What was seen was the closure of Cavel International in DeKalb.  What was unseen was the slow starvation of horses.

29.11.11

RESTORATION.

A roadside diner on Highway 34 in Sandwich originally was a Pullman Palace Car.  For years, it was concealed behind stainless-steel cladding to give it the aspect of a Burlington Zephyr, but new owners have restored it to something closer to its original appearance.  Because the car once ran in Theodore Roosevelt's campaign train, the owners are doing business as the Bull Moose Bar and Grille, and their prime rib sandwich is getting good word of mouth, so to speak.

THE MAKING OF A TRAIN ENTHUSIAST.

Kalamazoo College's Olga Bonifiglio is rocking to the gentle beat.
I need time and space to allow ideas to flow more easily through me. Staring out the window of a train that rocks back and forth as it moves forward provides both the rhythm and the environment for solitude. The low-toned rumble of metal on metal is more soothing than the high-pitched muscle of jet engines or the droning of an auto motor. I can scribble down notes for an article I'm working on, read, reflect on my encounters with fellow passengers or just be alone in my thoughts. I can also be inspired by the passing landscape, small towns, big cities and the diversity of people that trains seem to attract like the 90-year-old woman traveling alone to see her sister; the legions of Amish who picked up the train at different stops to attend a family funeral; the young man with no legs who ordered lunch in the snack car; the cowboy with his hat, jeans and boots who sat by himself all the way from Montana to Milwaukee; and the big, hulking Native American who kissed his wife for 30 to 40 minutes before he boarded.

In truth, trains are one of the last public spaces left in our society and they also demand a different kind of behavior than we are accustomed in today's fast-paced, impersonal, high-security, privatized society. You can interact with other passengers you don't know, feel safe with them and be with people who are largely respectful toward their fellow travelers. On a long haul train people seem to want -- and conductors seem to care about -- an environment that is quiet and absent the omnipresent cacophony of electronic devices, boisterous talking and rowdiness. Of course, the Lounge Car is available for those who prefer more spirited interaction.

As with any public space, trains beckon you to explore them in a number of ways. You can walk around to stretch your legs or use the restroom. You can go to the Lounge Car to play cards, read, observe the scenery or get a snack. You can also go to the Dining Car for a delicious meal at a table complete with a tablecloth, cloth napkins, real silverware and friendly servers. Because space is limited, the maitre d'uses every seat, so if you are traveling alone or in a group with less than four, you will sit with other travelers.
That's well known to the cognoscenti. We welcome the circulation of the message to Huffington Post readers.

UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES.

In San Francisco, the public interest in preventing badonkadonk butts requires restrictions on the sale of meals that include a toy premium.  Turns out that the law prohibits eateries from simply selling toys.
Today and tomorrow mark the last days that put-upon parents can satiate their youngsters by simply throwing down $2.18 for a Happy Meal toy. But, thanks to the new law taking effect on Dec. 1, this is no longer permitted. Now, in order to have the privilege of making a 10-cent charitable donation in exchange for the toy, you must buy the Happy Meal. Hilariously, it appears [county supervisor Eric] Mar et al., in their desire to keep McDonald's from selling grease and fat to kids with the lure of a toy have now actually incentivized the purchase of that grease and fat -- when, beforehand, a put-upon parent could get out cheaper and healthier with just the damn toy. 
The policy might not affect that many children, as The City's social policies have created a small peninsula of unreality safe for the homeless, practitioners of alternative lifestyles, and people who can cover a seven-figure mortgage.

28.11.11

SANTA CLAUS IS COMING TO TOWN.

The Holiday Light Train commences its eighteenth season in Waterman.  Santa arrives at 6 pm this Friday (hint: the Huskies have been good)
The Holiday Light Train is open Dec. 2-4, 9-11, 16-18, and 22-23. Friday hours are 5-9 p.m., Saturday hours are 4:30-9 p.m. and Sunday hours are 4:30-8 p.m.
Ho! Ho! Ho! Who wouldn't go?

THE CASE FOR BLUE COLLAR ARISTOCRATS.

By Instapundit's standards, it's The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (abridged edition).  It's a collection of observations from his readers about the value of a skilled trade.

Welcome to the party.
Per corollary, labor markets have ways of allocating resources. Where there are relatively few electricians, carpenters, or welders, there will be wage premiums. To some extent, labor markets are already recognizing the shortages.
And keep in mind, a disengaged or burnt-out student is going to be a threat to himself and everyone else on the shop floor.

SUPPLEMENTING YOUR INCOME.

In Germany, supposedly the economically soundest country in the Eurozone, entrepreneurs are supplementing their income by stealing the rails and the catenary.
As commodity prices have surged in recent years, metal thieves have become more brazen, causing Deutsche Bahn a loss of EUR 10 million (US $14 million) in 2010 alone. Other European countries have also experienced a dramatic increase in theft of rails and copper cable and wires from railroad property. The problem was as recently five years ago limited mostly to several countries in Eastern Europe, but has now expanded to Germany, Italy, France and Great Britain.
These efforts have to be pretty organized. You don't remove these things with Craftsman hand tools.

DIVERSITY BOONDOGGLES ARE THE REAL SCANDAL.

There's a Heather McDonald essay nailed, without further comment, to Newmark's Door.

SEPARATING EQUILIBRIUM.

Via Media writes in praise of the new Airline First Class.
Emirates Airlines, for instance, offers showers at 36,000 feet. It seems like just yesterday when first class simply meant a few extra inches of legroom. The changes in coach, Via Meadia is told by reliable informants, have mostly been in the other direction, where microwaved food nourishes the masses as they get intimate with their neighbor in a war over the armrest.
Some things, though, are as old as the attempt by a transportation provider to segment the markets.
The growing disparity between coach and first class may set off a predictable alas and alackaday session of breastbeating by the equality police, but on planes as on the ground, the rich do at least a little something for the poor.  Because first class makes 40-50% of an airline’s revenue yet only accounts for about 5% of all seats on “long-haul” routes, coach fares are substantially cheaper than they would be without the rich folks up front.

This isn’t much comfort to thirty and forty year old road warriors still stuck in the back of the plane, but it is great news for the young.  Today’s kids are much better traveled than past generations of Americans, and despite high fuel prices and taxes, fares remain a great bargain by historical standards.
That passage reminded me of something a nineteenth century economist wrote about making the third class carriages sufficiently miserable that the well-off patrons would pay the premium fare and ride first class.  Here might be the real Walter Bagehot on that topic.
The proper change would have been to have let fares alone, but to have given the present first-class accommodation for the present second-class fare, and then introduced an improved first-class carriage for those whose desiderata are quiet and comfort.  The companies err by not giving enough quiet and comfort for the additional prices which they now charge to first-class passengers as compared with second and third-class.
I'm not sure if the essay is responding to measures in Parliament that required improvements, for passenger safety and health, in the condition of third-class passenger accommodations, which on the early British railways, were often nasty and brutish.

The Via Media essay might be written in contemplation of latter-day egalitarians imposing sumptuary taxes on first class.  Francis Y. Edgeworth analyzed something similar, again involving railroad tariffs, in which he cannot rule out the sumptuary taxes lowering first-class fares.  What intrigues, though, is that the railroads got away from three classes of passenger accommodation (for a long time, the British had first and third, the latter now becoming "standard" and ticket agents understand what a Yank means by "coach", with second abolished) while airlines went from F/Y (first and coach) to first, business, and sardine.  And what kind of first class is it that you get to board first, only to have all the business and sardine class passengers walk through your section, beverage service notwithstanding.  Humph.  To this day, Amtrak still marshals the business class section (it's not quite first class with individual rotating seats) at one end of the train, and if the conductor knows his or her business, the food service attendant is minding the door.

ECHOES OF THE COLD WAR.

Lana Peters, born in the Kremlin as Svetlana Alliluyeva Stalin, died November 22 in Richland County, Wisconsin.

27.11.11

THE BEGINNING OF THE RAINBOW ERA.

The Amtrak timetable that took effect November 14, 1971, was the first effort by the carrier to put its own image into place.  There were two earlier timetables, a very rare May 1, 1971 edition, and a somewhat more readily obtained July 15 version.  Both were produced by the National Railway Publishing Company, producer of The Official Guide of the Railways, and they had that Official Guide look to them.  Many of the contracting railroads published timetables for their services.  In the case of Seaboard Coast Line, only a disclaimer "Operated for the National Railroad Passenger Corporation" recognized that there was a new operator of the trains.

That November 14 timetable began with the "Northeast Quick Reference Schedules" in a read-across format typical of airline schedules of the era.  Then came the "National Quick Reference Schedules" in the airline format, with the city where a change of train took place.  At the time, the carrier only listed same-day connections, thus Pittsburgh to Seattle or Los Angeles to Miami were not options.  (Only later did Amtrak make a virtue out of necessity and suggest that cross-country travelers take a day to explore Chicago or Kansas City or New Orleans.) The standard read down - read up timetables were still present, relegated to the rear of the timetable.

At trackside, a few changes were also visible.  November 26 was a Friday, and forty years ago it wasn't as big a deal for Christmas shopping, not that I had a lot of money for shopping in those days anyway.  Bus fare to the Milwaukee Union Station (still known in that way in 1971, although the last North Western train called on April 30 of that year, about the same time the Bucks won their only basketball title) and some Kodachrome I did have.

Union Pacific coaches did make appearances in Milwaukee before Amtrak, part of the mileage equalization agreement among the operators of the City trains.  Southern Pacific cars, because of the City of San Francisco, would occasionally turn up.  A coach yard full of Union Pacific was uncommon.


The first train north from Chicago is un-named 321 (the systemwide renumbering of trains also began on November 14), off Chicago at 9.15 and arriving Milwaukee at 10.45, making intermediate stops at Glenview and Sturtevant.   Sturtevant became an Amtrak stop in the summer, to provide Racine passengers who used to use the North Western with a rail option.  Chicago travelers today have two earlier departures, at 6 am except Sunday and 8.25 am daily, and an 89 minute timing inclusive of four stops.  (Regular readers know that 89 minute timing is often 84 minutes in practice.)  Those trains have no food service, although the 10.20 departure has "at-seat cart service" of bag snacks and canned pop.  The airline-style service code for 321 is Y * meaning "Snack or light meal and beverage service" and "First-class service available."  Behind the diesels is today's first-class service: a Burlington dome-parlor built for the Kansas City Zephyr.  Today's business class: a pale shadow of what first class day accommodation used to be.


Note at left that the Pritzlaff warehouse, which had those nifty orange water towers with smiley faces, is still receiving rail shipments.

The next scheduled train is Eight, the Empire Builder, off Minneapolis at 6.30 and stopping only at La Crosse for a crew change and a 9.05 departure, and due Milwaukee at 12.15.  I didn't keep real careful notes in those days, and can't tell you whether this train was on time, but do recall that it was close to time.  (Minnesota high speed rail advocates note: two hours thirty minutes Minneapolis to LaCrosse on a seventy mph railroad, which is what it was on those days, and what much of it still is account the curves along the river.)


It's a raw day, with rain sometimes wanting to come down as snow, and the prow of that Great Northern F unit tells of wintry conditions to the northwest.  The Builder still looked very much like a Burlington Northern train, although a California Zephyr dome-lounge that included a shower-equipped master room provided a surprise ending.  It is behind a Union Pacific sleeper.


Next in, the Hiawatha, on an 89 minute timing because a proper noon train departs at 12.01.  It's running about an hour ahead of the old Afternoon Hiawatha schedule, while making most of the Morning Hiawatha's stops.  It connects with the bus to Madison at Columbus, but there is no stop at New Lisbon to connect for Wausau.


Milwaukee Road power, Northern Pacific coaches, Great Northern dome.  Gulf Mobile and Ohio parlor Bloomington on the rear?


That's a Burlington Northern diner between the coaches and first class.  In the timetable the service code is X *, where the X means "Food service (sit-down) and beverage service."  Amtrak exists in part because of Interstate Commerce Commission standards for on-train service.  Had the railroads managed to get rid of all the dining cars, some rail pundits of the era suggested there would be no Amtrak.  To a passenger purchasing a parlor car seat, it's probably more important that the seat be there than that it be in a rebuilt heavyweight ark of a car.

The next eastbound is a tribute to the clout of Montana Senator Mike Mansfield.  It's Friday, and the tri-weekly North Coast Hiawatha (the Hiawatha operates on days the North Coast doesn't) has come from Seattle along the old Northern Pacific route through the southern (more thickly settled) counties of Montana and North Dakota.  It's also close to time, scheduled out of Minneapolis at 8 am, due into Milwaukee at 2.10 pm after doing the local work along the Mississippi and across Wisconsin.  The concentration of all service onto one route undid the comprehensive all-day service between Chicago and the Cities that the Burlington, North Western, and Milwaukee once offered. It proved easier for Amtrak and The Milwaukee Road to use the time slots of the Hiawathas so as to reduce disruption of the freight service.  Westbound, the Empire Builder starts three hours behind the Hiawatha and gets to Minneapolis two hours thirty minutes later.  It reaches Milwaukee after dark this time of year.


Milwaukee Road diesels, again, that evidence of snow to the northwest, looks like Burlington Northern coaches.  The tail car is another California Zephyr dome-lounge-observation.


Those Nystrom 1948 Hiawatha coaches at right hung around on the Milwaukee corridor for a long time, first as leased extra capacity, later as additional purchases by Amtrak.  During the summer, Amtrak would take two sets of four coaches and a buffeteria and run a ten car relief to the Builder between Chicago and the Cities on busy days.  Put a Super Dome and a Skytop Lounge on and you'd have a proper train.

The last trains before the light went away were the two Abraham Lincoln trains.

The train to St. Louis left first, at 3.15.  Milwaukee Road power, still clean, and the consist that came in on 321 in the morning had the parlor-observation properly placed for the run to St. Louis.


The train from St. Louis was a few minutes late, but beat the twilight.


I was out of position for the engines, but got the tail end, including what looks like a Southern Pacific diner and another Kansas City Zephyr dome-parlor, thus the carrier made good on the X * service promised in the timetable.

(Cross-posted to European Tribune.)

26.11.11

ECONOMIES OF VOLUME?

In the early days of airline deregulation, and particularly in the wake of the breakdown of OPEC's price agreements, the hub-and-spoke network and smaller jets and turboprops (with the Boeing 737 the largest such plane, and smaller planes with as few as 28 seats) looked like a way to extend the benefits of air travel to the smallest communities.  When fuel prices rise, the laws of physics change the economics of those planes.
Airlines are getting rid of these planes – their least-efficient – in response to the high cost of fuel. Delta, United Continental, and other big airlines are expected to park, scrap or sell hundreds of jets with 50 seats or fewer in coming years. Small propeller planes are meeting the same fate.

The loss of those planes is leaving some little cities with fewer flights or no flights at all.

The Airports Council International says 27 small airports in the continental U.S., including St. Cloud, Minn., and Oxnard, Calif., have lost service from well-known commercial airlines over the last two years. More shutdowns are planned.

Travelers in cities that have lost service now must drive or take buses to larger airports. That adds time and stress to travel. St. Cloud lost air service at the end of 2009 after Delta eliminated flights on 34-seat turboprops. Now, passengers from the city of 66,000 have a 90-minute drive to the Minneapolis airport 65 miles to the southeast.
The intercity bus network is almost nonexistent, and the Amtrak service to St. Cloud and to Oxnard is skimpy, and the trains don't necessarily stop near the hub airports.  On the other hand, the idea of a 34-seat plane with a crew of at least three calls up memories of the interurban railways, which had a hard time meeting expenses with a 40-seat car and a crew of two, later reduced to one.  There's a reason for the expression "mass transportation."

YOU SAW IT HERE FIRST.

Cold Spring Shops is for the heat.  The hottest garden-variety peppers (well, not my garden, the jolokias and Charleston hots haven't taken yet, although when I plant the bushes close together, I get an interesting cross I call the jalanero) are not anywhere near as pain-inducing as police-grade pepper spray (so called for its use of capsaicain compounds, not for its possible alternate use in your soup).

Linda Katehi, the chancellor at California-Davis, informs reporters that she did not authorize the use of biochemical weapons on campus protesters.
The [Sacramento] Bee writes that Katehi said "she still does not know who decided to use pepper spray and was stunned when she first saw video clips of it Friday night." She also said "she never would have approved the use of full-scale riot gear by officers sent in to remove the students and that Police Chief Annette Spicuzza was part of an emergency conference call before the incident."
Tenured Radical isn't buying it.
Our holiday season entertainment will be to see how many underlings Katehi is able to throw under the bus before she is persuaded to resign. And on a final, happier note go here to learn how to prepare Martha Stewart’s Turkey Katehi!
Neither is Ward Connerly.
The interesting thing about the Davis incident is the reaction of certain UC administrators, many of whom are spineless, politically correct individuals.  In characteristic fashion, several campus chancellors and individuals in the Office of the President have apologized and called for a system-wide study of police departments at the campuses. This is highly unfortunate, if the purpose is to scapegoat rather than to educate those departments.
Throw a few underlings under the bus, expand the Diversity Boondoggle.

THE CASE FOR STANDARDS.

Mitchell Anderson suggests a nontrivial intersection of the 99th percentile of income earners and the one percent of the population that is psychopathic.
Scientific research is revealing that 21st century financial institutions with a high rate of turnover and expanding global power have become highly attractive to psychopathic individuals to enrich themselves at the expense of others, and the companies they work for.

A peer-reviewed theoretical paper titled “The Corporate Psychopaths Theory of the Global Financial Crisis” details how highly placed psychopaths in the banking sector may have nearly brought down the world economy through their own inherent inability to care about the consequences of their actions.
The paper is not currently behind the Springer paywall, it is short, and, although the author calls it "theoretical" there is neither a formal model nor easily identifiable testable implications.

The focus of senior management on short term results might skew the selection of executives, but failures elsewhere in the culture matter.
The human ability to build social capital means that people can cooperate and trust each other. We can reliably predict the behavior of others even if we have never met them. Social capital is the glue that holds together our communities, complex societies, large institutions and the economy. The one and only superpower possessed by psychopaths is their ruthless ability to spend the social capital created by others.

Scientists believe about 1 per cent of the general population is psychopathic, meaning there are more than three million moral monsters among normal United States citizens. There is emerging evidence that this frequency increases within the upper management of modern corporations. This is not surprising since personal ruthlessness and fixation on personal power have become seen as strong assets to large publicly traded corporations (which some authors believe have also become psychopathic).

However, appearance and performance are two different things. While psychopaths are often outwardly charming and excellent self-promoters, they are also typically terrible managers, bullying co-workers and creating chaos to conceal their behavior.
I have in mind the conceptual error of viewing the cultural capital, which is emergent, as something that can be molded or transformed or deconstructed.   Perhaps it is easier for psychopaths to dissipate social capital in an environment where the social capital is undermined in the name of Diversity or Liberation.

25.11.11

CHAMPIONS OF THE WEST.

As a present for three weeks of Tuesday Night Football, Northern Illinois was awarded ... Tuesday off, to prepare for Friday Morning Football.  (I don't know who decided the game would only be on the web version of ESPN, and I don't know who Iowa-Nebraska and Pitt-West Virginia, possibly for the last time for a while, antagonized, to get games on The Busiest Shopping and Bargain Hunters Acting Badly Day.)

The opponent: a much-improved Eastern Michigan.
“The days of marking Eastern Michigan as a win on your schedule are over,” [linebacker Pat Schiller] said this week. “Just watching them on film the past few days, it just looks like a completely different team.”
Apparently coaching is an institution with long-lasting traditions. I'd be surprised if anybody is really looking at film, or wearing out the reversing switch on the projector the way Vince Lombardi did.

For late in November, the weather must have given a lot of people ideas to go to a morning football game.


It was Faculty and Staff Appreciation Day, and a number of local restaurants had promotions involving tickets.  On the other hand, I did see a lot of pre-teens, and a lot of the youngsters have Northern Illinois apparel, something encouraging these days.


That 1963 national championship, in the Mineral Water Bowl, was overshadowed by the assassination of President Kennedy.  Apparently, though, moving from the Collegiate Division to the Mid-American to independent status and back to the Mid-American  mattered more than staying in a division that still has an unambiguous champion determined each year.

The team takes the field for Senior Day.


Not bad for free seats.  This time of year, the Upper Midwest pays for warm temperatures with overnight humidity, and spectators had to wipe off the water, but the east stands are in the sun (and more spectators in the east seats show up on the ESPN cameras in the press box above the west stands.)


A shout-out to the Midwest Orthopaedic Institute, game sponsor, a year after they released me from rehab.  The game had the potential early to be another Mid-American track meet, with Northern Illinois getting a long play-action touchdown pass that would have passed muster with Bart Starr and Aaron Rodgers.  For the most part, the defenses did their work.


A close game at halftime.  Local youth football players and some students who were in town get to form the tunnel.  At upper right, a rather old Siberian husky ... a lot of us are somewhat the worse for wear, but, like the dog, we persist.


Just before the end of the third quarter, senior quarterback Chandler Harnish adds to the memories with a long touchdown run.


No dagger call here, only the howitzer shot.  Two touchdowns, one extra point kick, one timeout used for a trick two-point conversion that failed, one field goal, one safety = 18 points.


Victory formation.


That flag hoist will be longer next season.  Next up, trip to Detroit, this time the opponent is Ohio, last year the loser of the conference title game got a trip to Boise, the winner got a return trip to Detroit.


TEACH THE CONTROVERSIES.

Economics is about how people respond to incentives.  That study is more challenging because resources are scarce and they have competing uses.  A defense of Occupy Wall Street and its sympathy occupations elsewhere understands that idea in part, and misses the idea in part.
Economics is premised on the assumption that people will act solely in their best interest. Morality is one of the few remaining realms in which individuals are occasionally expected to act for another's benefit.
It's easier to tell stories about human behavior if you start with the premise that people act in what they perceive to be their best interest. The value of economics is in distinguishing situations in which the incentives bring that self-interest in line with the interest of others (we call that "mutually beneficial" and the business guru speaks of "win-win") from those where the benefits are not mutual.
The movement's decision to frame the debate in moral terms is also refreshingly honest. The core strength of Occupy lies in the implicit admission that perhaps the top 1% will never derive government benefits equal to the tax bill they are asked to foot. Nonetheless, the movement contends, the ultrarich have a moral responsibility to help rebuild the middle class, to help put people back to work, to help shore up the health of our economy.
There's material for any number of senior honors theses in that sentence, e.g. is government the most effective facilitator of rising living standards; are the ultrarich able to prosper only by trading among themselves?  (Hint:  there are limits to how many default swaps a hedge fund can write, and the Black Friday crowds are bigger at Wal-Mart than at Tiffany.)  There's also room for greater economic understanding, both among practitioners and critics.
In our judgement, Business Schools, MBAs, and top Economics programmes have failed in three distinct ways.

They have failed to adequately address questions of values, ethics, social customs, traditions, and spiritual dimensions and their role in under girding a healthy economic system.

They have failed to inculcate in students a sufficient appreciation of market failure in the cases of a lack of competition, asymmetrical knowledge, public goods, and externalities.

Finally they have failed to adequately instil in students the understanding that even when markets are efficient, that they will likely lack social and ecological justice and that these extra-efficiency standards are worthy social goals.
On the one hand, in the political economy of public policy, efficiency is a goal, but not the only goal.  On the other hand, there is a potted version of the Welfare Economics Paradigm that equates market failure with a case for government intervention.  Short form: any failure of a market to allocate resources efficiently produces incentives to harvest the efficiency gains.  That requires adaptation, something that subsumes values and spiritual dimensions as special cases, not as rhetorical trumps.  It also requires more systematic thinking on the part of economists.
Overtaking a Keynesianism that many found inadequate to the task of tackling the stagflation of the 1970s, this vision fueled neoliberal and free-market conservative agendas of governments around the world.

THAT vision has in turn been undermined by the current crisis. It took extensive government action to prevent another Great Depression, while the enormous rewards received by bankers at the heart of the meltdown have led many to ask whether unfettered capitalism produced an equitable distribution of wealth. We clearly need a new, alternative vision of capitalism. But thanks to decades of academic training in the “dentistry” approach to economics, today’s Keynes or Friedman is nowhere to be found.
Perhaps that's a good thing: the way forward from the current crisis might be in the distributed tacit knowledge of a lot of economists, something made possible by the internets in ways not available to Keynes or Friedman.  And as a Harvard Political Review essayist notes,
One lesson from the first day of Ec 10 that will stick with me for the rest of my life is learning to separate positive questions from normative ones. Most of the economics that we read about in the news involves normative questions (eg. Should Congress raise the marginal tax rate on the highest income bracket?) whereas most of what economists actually study involves positive questions (eg. What would happen if the marginal tax rate on the highest income bracket were raised?). Ec 10 is an introduction to the academic discipline of economics, and the vast majority of the course focuses on teaching students how to answer positive economics questions.
In short, the controversies are often about how to get somewhere, not necessarily about where to go.  (There is, to my knowledge, no course in economics or political economy on how to get rich selling shoddy goods to the masses, or on how best to seek rents.)  Viewed from that perspective, a Robin Wells (Mrs Paul Krugman, to be Old School) essay about the supposed biases of economics is correct in part, and in error in part.
[P]erceptive instructors know that sometimes a stupid question is more than a stupid question.  And a really perceptive instructor will take a seemingly stupid question and turn it into the insightful question that the student should have asked.

Right now the general public views the economics profession with a large measure of distrust and in some cases outright contempt. Students are entering the worst job market in well over a generation, without much prospect of improvement.  Many of them have seen their parents’ lives turned upside down by financial troubles.  They face being members of the first generation in American history with a lower standard of living than their parents.  Income inequality has reached levels not seen since the Gilded Age.  There are over 4 million long-term unemployed.

In this environment, instructors who lecture on the superiority of free markets without acknowledging the dysfunction in the wider economy are at risk of appearing out of touch and exacerbating antipathy towards economics.

But how does an instructor do this in an introductory economics?
Go read the article. The message is TEACH THE CONTROVERSIES.  But first, understand the nine major ideas that structure all of economics, including the principles class.  And if you can find me either an economics professor who is either unabashedly a cheerleader for free markets in the way Ms Wells describes, or an expert in financial markets with a clear story about the effect of regulatory constraints on asset allocation (the wall between investment and commercial banking had to come down for a reason), why, leave me a note in the comments section.

OPPORTUNITY COSTS.

Put corn in the gas tank, that Angus Deluxe will command a de luxe price at the drive-through.
The amount of corn consumed by the ethanol industry combined with continued demand from overseas has cattle and hog farmers worried that if corn production drops because of drought or another natural disaster, the cost of feed could skyrocket, leaving them little choice but to reduce the size of their herds. A smaller supply could, in turn, mean higher meat prices and less selection at the grocery store.

The ethanol industry argues such scenarios are unlikely, but farmers have the backing of food manufacturers who also fear that a federal mandate to increase production of ethanol will protect that industry from any kind of rationing amid a corn shortage.

The subject of debate is the Renewable Fuel Standard, a 2005 law requiring the nation to produce 7.5 billion gallons of renewable fuel by 2012. The standard was changed in 2007 to gradually increase the requirement to 36 billion gallons by 2022.

While a $5-billion-a-year federal ethanol subsidy is scheduled to expire this year, the production requirement will remain.

That has other corn consumers worried that if production falls and rationing is needed, ethanol companies will be exempt. The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently reduced its estimate of this year’s corn crop because of flooding in the Midwest and drought in the southern plains, and corn reserves are expected to fall to a 20-day supply next year. A 30-day supply is considered healthy.
The talk about rationing (by something other than price) is at this time just talk, and three years ago there was similar talk.  Complete with, not surprisingly, bad economics.
Cattle feedlot operators are becoming less tolerant of record corn prices, and some feedlots are on the brink of putting themselves up for sale or going out of business, speakers said.

Gregg Doud, chief economist with the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, explained in economic terms this is the result of an “inelastic demand function” where there’s no replacement for a good or commodity.

For the livestock industry, that commodity is corn.

“The producer picks up the tab,” he said. “The feedlot folks right now – their red ink will flow at some point into the laps of the cow-calf producers.”

Corn futures continue a big rally on the Chicago Board of Trade at more than $6.50 a bushel, heightened by excessive rainfall in the U.S. Corn Belt. By comparison, corn was trading at just over $4 a bushel a year ago.

There’s even concern there could be rationing of corn supplies for livestock if prices continue to escalate, Doud said.

“Can you imagine what will happen to the livestock industry?” he said, noting it would be the death blow.
Inelastic demand for an input is derived from inelastic demand for the finished product. That ought to give the cow-calf producers (doesn't that phrase just summon the echoes of pink-cheeked kids working on their 4-H projects) some bargaining power as buyers bid up the price.  Or is Mr Doud worried about McDonald's taking advantage of the situation to extract some quasi-monopsonistic rents?

Those ethanol subsidies, however, are having the effect any intermediate price theory student would expect.
Even if there’s no rationing, ethanol manufacturers generally have been better able to cope with high corn prices than livestock farmers because their business has bigger profit margins, said Darrel Good, an agricultural economist at the University of Illinois.

Randy Spronk, who raises corn and hogs in Edgerton, Minn., said farmers don’t want to attack the ethanol industry but they want a plan in place if the corn supply should drop significantly.

“We really don’t want to attack ethanol but wise people make plans,” he said.

Matt Hartwig, chief of staff for the Renewable Fuels Association, called the effort to rewrite the fuel standard law “little more than a Trojan horse effort” to weaken or even eliminate it. He said the farmers’ complaints were overblown and most livestock producers and meatpacking companies were making good profits.

Also, the ethanol industry now produces about 1 billion gallons of ethanol more than is required and if corn supplies fall short, it could cut back, he said.

The Environmental Protection Agency, which administers the fuel standard, said in a statement that states can already ask for a waiver “under certain circumstances, including inadequate domestic supply or harm to the economy or environment of a state.”
I wonder what rent-seeker put that provision into the standards.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry did this in 2008, claiming rising corn prices were hurting ranchers in his state. The EPA said it denied the request because the quota for renewable fuel wasn’t causing severe economic harm to the state.

Meyer said many farmers are skeptical about a process that leaves such decisions to the EPA administrator, who “many in agriculture believe won’t consider the best interest of livestock.”

Good, the University of Illinois farm economist, said meat supplies could tighten if competing demands force corn prices higher. He said it boils down to a simple choice: “We’re going to have to reduce our rate of increase in corn consumption or we’re going to have to produce more corn.”
So much for Governor Perry being consistent on limiting government's power. Pay close attention, though, dear reader to that "reduce our rate of increase in corn consumption." Doesn't the rightward shift of a demand curve (that's Professor Karlson-speak for what the principles texts call "increase in demand") provide an incentive for the production of additional corn?  Ultimately, it's not the best interest of livestock that matters, or the best interest of ethanol producers that matters.  It's the attempt of consumers to allocate their claims to goods among food and fuel that determines the use of the corn.  Whether the consumers can better achieve that allocation through political means or through their consumption decisions is left to the reader as an exercise.

ELEVEN PRIME.

Eleven men to a side.  Eleven days for three games.  Eleven straight wins for the Packers.



That's the last of the Sprecher Generation Porter in the fridge, commemorating the brewer's twentieth anniversary.  Seems fitting to commemorate something Vince Lombardi's 1962 squad couldn't do.
This was supposed to be different.

After seven straight double-digit Thanksgiving losses, the Lions were supposed to play some competitive holiday football for once.

Instead, it was worse. Uglier.
That's the Detroit Free Press, not the usual carping from Wisconsin about the Packer defense.

Yards? Please, that’s for stat boys.
“We’re 11-0. Once you get to 11 wins, 10 wins, you can see that division championship in sight. After that, it’s homefield advantage. After that, it’s Super Bowl. Let’s win the division and then we’ll concentrate on goal No. 2,” McCarthy said.

The goals will start coming quickly now, and now the Packers have a defense to help them achieve their goals.
Look closely at that glass. There is something Lambeau and Lombardi accomplished that subsequent head coaches have not yet done.

23.11.11

MARKING OFF.

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

I give thanks for your readership and your comments.

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

Yes, that includes the people with the blue gloves at the security checkpoints, if you're headed someplace a train isn't going.

ENOUGH.

Another end-of-the (short) week party goes wrong.
A 22-year-old student at Northern Illinois University has died after being shot in an off-campus incident.

Authorities were called at 2:10 a.m. to an apartment at 809 Edgebrook Drive in DeKalb for a report of shots fired, DeKalb Police Chief Bill Feithen said. An officer was on the scene by 2:11 a.m.

Steven R. Agee II, of Park Forest, was shot in the chest and was taken to Kishwaukee Community Hospital in DeKalb, according to a news release from DeKalb Police. He was pronounced dead at [Kishwaukee Hospital].

NIU spokesman Paul Palian said Agee was a senior at NIU, studying sociology with an emphasis in criminology. Agee was expected to graduate in the spring. Agee was "very involved" in student activities, Palian added, and was a student worker for the NIU Student Association.
University officials are suggesting that everyone remain calm, yet making counselors available should anyone wish to vent.
DeKalb Police Chief Bill Feithen has informed NIU officials that there is no imminent threat to the community. Police say the situation was an isolated incident that occurred as the result of an argument that escalated between two people at a party.
On the social media sites, the recriminations have begun. Not here, not yet. There's at least one family that has to make a change in its Thanksgiving plans, and in numerous households the rooting against the Packers (in some cases, against the Lions) will be subdued, and the table conversations will be about whether staying in DeKalb is sound.

MORE LIKE BUCHANAN THAN EITHER ROOSEVELT.

Betsy's Page is unsparing.
This is why we will continue to be a downgraded nation - we have a president who refuses to acknowledge the fiscal situation we're in and refuses to lead. He just buried us in a deeper hole with Obamacare. His only solution is massive increases in taxes - but we can't get all the money we need from taxes on the wealthy. There just isn't enough money there. So we'll all have to pay. And then you can say good-by to economic growth and decreases in unemployment. That is the Obama vision for our country. It is a catastrophe that we have this man as our president when what we need is a true leader who approaches our fiscal reality with a seriousness and a sincere desire to reach a decision.
The post is link-rich, although the links are the Usual Suspects. The sting is in the tail, though.
All the GOP need is someone who can make this argument. Obama has no answer besides finger-pointing even as he calls on Washington to have done with the games and finger-pointing. As always, he projects his own approach to politics onto his opponents. It might have worked when he was a blank slate on which people could write their own aspirations for Hope and Change. He's not a tabula rasa anymore.
Unfortunately, the GOP is as short on presidential aspirants who can make an argument in the same way the Milwaukee Brewers are short on middle infield defense.

THE CASE FOR LIMITING GOVERNMENT?

In a defense of Occupy Wall Street, Phil Rockstroh gets to the heart of the matter.
The OWS movement is not a distraction from—but serves as an alternative to—the disingenuous theatrics staged by the political hacks of this faux republic. Conversely, movement members have grasped that it is the hollow grandstanding--the modus operandi of the present U.S. political system itself--that serves as distraction from the realities of the day.

Those drawn to the OWS movement realize this: Vast sums of money are required to get the attention of and gain influence over the entrenched class of self-serving political insiders who hustle their wares in Washington, D.C.
Put another way: it takes two, baby.  Without broad powers to bestow rents, doesn't the rent-seeking diminish?

I sometimes include a quote from Adam Smith in my closing presentation in public policy courses.
The proposal of any new law or regulation of commerce which comes from [the commercial interests], ought always to be listened to with great precaution, and ought never to be adopted till after having been long and carefully examined, not only with the most scrupulous, but with the most suspicious attention. It comes from an order of men, whose interest is never exactly the same with that of the public, who have generally an interest to deceive and even oppress the public, and who accordingly have, upon many occasions, both deceived and oppressed it.
I don't name the author, I simply give the quote and ask students to identify the author. Modal first suggestion: Karl Marx. (Adam Smith is the modal second suggestion, although I have gotten a few John Stuart Mill sightings.)

22.11.11

IF I COULD TURN BACK TIME.

Stephen King admits to thinking about the Kennedy assassination for a long time, but his 11/22/63 had to wait until his emotions about the event had settled some, which gave him an opportunity to incorporate more recent assassination research into his time-travel mystery.

I'll limit Book Review No. 32 to some of the larger ideas, rather than spoil the story.

First, the plot might depend on parallel universes, as well as time travel.  I once heard a cosmologist use Flatland as a way of raising the possibility.  Imagine a compact-disc stack loader with arbitrarily many discs loaded into it.  Each disc represents a universe.  A Flatlander on any disc can go about his business (that's deliberate, the ladies are line around)  without any interaction or even awareness of the behavior of Flatlanders on any of the other discs, and with arbitrarily many discs, the existence of two universes with almost identical populations and histories is almost certain.

Second, in a higher-dimensional non-Euclidean space, the possibility of interference by one universe in the space-time-thought continuum of another might make more sense than the rubbing of two discs together when the stack loader wobbles.  And thus the operator of a downscale diner in a part of Maine that is no longer paper, potatoes, and textiles but not yet yuppie getaway country blunders into an overlap of universes.  First, he exploits the overlap to get some incredibly cheap aged beef for his diner.  When he notices that each trip takes him away from what he perceives as real time for two minutes, no matter how long he is away, he starts thinking about stopping Lee Oswald.

Third, instead of thinking about parallel universes and the space-time continuum, contemplate the existence of Norns, who "spin and weave and cut each thread on the web of life and the fate of every person and creature", who in the singing the executive summary of Rheingold and Walküre and Siegfried at the beginning of Götterdämmerung, break the thread, in order that the Gods be consumed by fire and the Rheintochter retrieve their gold four hours later:


Now put yourself in the position of Norns keeping track of all these threads, which have to be re-woven every time this diner operator turns up to buy another load of aged beef, and then he goes on to stop Oswald.

Fourth, consider the Liberal Pieties.  Had JFK lived, he would have backed off in Vietnam, rather than doubling down as LBJ did.  Butter, but fewer guns.  Imagine no social polarization.  Thus a Mainer who shares Stephen King's worldview and has access to what he sees as a time-portal is likely to want to implement those pieties.

To find out whether the Liberal Faith was rewarded, read the book.

(Cross-posted to 50 Book Challenge.)

THE CASE FOR MAKING HIGHER EDUCATION HIGHER.

A series of posts, looking at the state of higher education as the fall semester approaches examinations, appears to be converging on a definition of the problem.  The dean at Anonymous Community gets us started, deeming this morning's memorandum of sufficient import to go to Inside Higher Ed.  Community colleges have a more explicit career-preparation focus, and here's what he's hearing from local employers.
I’ve never heard an employer complain that graduates hadn’t read a particular book or engaged a particular theory.  That has never happened.  I’ve also never heard an employer ask to look at our outcomes assessment rubrics.

Their feedback, regardless of the program, has been that whatever else graduates bring with them, they should bring basic employee skills.  By that, they mean promptness, diligence, a positive or at least congenial demeanor, the ability to work with other people, and the ability to get the big picture.  (To be fair, they also sometimes mention writing skills, though the version of writing they have in mind is usually grammatical correctness and basic clarity.)

The version of gen ed we use internally is content-based.  The version employers seem to use is almost Calvinist.  You are the kind of person who makes a good employee, or you are not.  If you are, the specifics don’t matter that much; they can train you.  If you aren’t, the specifics don’t matter that much, since a well-read screwup is still a screwup.

The vision the employers are using is a variation on cultural capital.  It’s the idea that a college graduate is a particular kind of person, with a sense of how the world works and how to work within it.  Their consistent feedback is that some graduates manage to get through the programs, sometimes even with decent grades, without quite ‘getting it.’
Short form: a properly prepared college graduate has learned how to think.  That properly prepared graduate has acquired the cultural capital in kindergarten, and had it developed along with the college preparation in 1-12.  That's why elementary schools teach (taught?) writing and high schools have (had?) tardy slips.

But that may not be what K-12 is doing, and Victor Davis Hanson, who may be generalizing from his own experience (yes, I gripe about conditions at Northern Illinois when the conditions warrant griping, but I find things to enthuse about and draw wider implications from also.) asserts that the learning has been displaced by something else.
Somewhere around 1980, the university was no longer a place to learn, but a sort of surrogate parent, eagerly taking on the responsibility of ensuring that students were happy, fit, right thinking, and committed. That required everything from state-of-the-art gyms replete with climbing walls, to grief counselors, to lecture series and symposia on global warming and the West Bank. All that was costly.
Northern Illinois is late to the climbing wall party, and I don't recall any climbing walls at Wayne State, either in 1980 or in the works in 1986.
The present reckoning is brought on not by introspection, self-critique, or concern for our increasingly poorly educated students, but by money, or rather the lack of it. Higher education is desperately searching for students with cash, loaned or not. And it is, by needs, panicking and will ever so slowly start changing. For-profit tech schools, online instruction, and the two-year junior college deliver a cheaper “product,” one not necessarily any longer an inferior one, given the nature of the contemporary university curriculum and values of the faculty.

It used to be that one did not dare go to a DeVry or Phoenix for-profit school for computer certification or accounting, because one would miss out on the rich undergraduate experience, both social and intellectual — best exemplified by the core curriculum of some 50-60 units in liberal arts and sciences. But if the university is serially subsidizing panels about global warming, lauds Palestinian activists, and runs workshops on homophobia (all without balance and counter-opinion), and if its GE required courses, whether so titled or not, are too often little more than the melodramatic obsessions of over-specialized, ranting professors who otherwise would have small audiences, then why spend the money and go through the charade of classically liberal instruction, especially given that the trade school is cheaper and more honestly pragmatic?
Because Phoenix doesn't have a steel band, and, although the corporation bought the naming rights to a professional football stadium, it doesn't offer football on Saturdays or Tuesdays?  The market test, however, does have a stiff grading curve, and students, especially the more job-focused students, have good reason to prefer the no-frills options.  (Whether those options exacerbate social stratification is a topic for future research.)

Here's an outline for that research.
We need to fix public education, and the problem there is not really a lack of overall expenditures.

We need to not put so many young people in prison and the problem there is not a lack of expenditure.

We need stronger and more stable family lives for more children. I am not sure if greater expenditure would help here. Maybe.
What intrigues, though, is that a lament (via 11-D) from a tenured professor who wishes to call attention to a reality in which not all tenured professors have large net worths.
If you're a college professor, people assume that if you don't have a healthy bank account, you must be a closet gambler or have some other hidden addiction. But my financial predicament is a result of bootstrapping my way into academe, and the harsh reality of leaping from rural Arkansas to a professor's job in upstate New York with no financial support system along the way. Indeed, it was not a leap at all but a long, slow, humiliating slog.

I am a single parent, which explains some of the financial struggle. In the rural South, where I grew up, having children before 25 is the norm. So when I found myself pregnant and alone at 23, I decided to keep the baby, and returned to graduate school a few pounds heavier in the fall. I completed my master's program through sheer willpower, had my son, and immediately entered a Ph.D. program.

I am aware that, in that situation, most people would simply find a stable job close to home. I was unwilling to relinquish a dream I'd had since the age of 10. So I refused to listen to the voices—some of them quite real and very loud—telling me that in order to be a "good parent," I should understand my limitations and give up on academe. That is the first obstacle those of us wishing to overcome our lower-income background must face. Many people will tell us we simply cannot have what we want because of who we are, because of where we come from. And the humiliations that came with carrying an illegitimate baby in graduate school? I don't know where to begin.
The column continues with a testimony to the utility of the social safety net, but isn't that analysis superficial?  Can a reader not look at the norms of the rural south and ask whether the schools, and the supporting cultural capital from the churches, Legion posts, and local governments have not failed in encouraging the local youngsters to see a connection between the habits of the upper-middle class and the net worth of the upper-middle class?  And whether the relative paucity of people with upper-middle class habits and net worth induces those people to look elsewhere for opportunities to put their talents to work?