30.1.12

UNLOCK THE HABITUS.

Yale University and Southern Connecticut State University are separated by two miles as the seagull flies, and something exceeding the legendary six degrees on the academic pecking order.  Their proximity allows sociologist Ann L. Mullen to interview fifty students at each university in order to structure Degrees of Inequality:  Culture, Class, and Gender in American Higher Education.  Book Review No. 4 suggests that the received race-class-gender framework of analysis is too mechanical and too divorced from reality to be useful in organizing serious analysis, although when Professor Mullen deviates from that framework, she sometimes identifies ideas that might be of use at Yale, at Southern Conn, and everywhere between, whether on the U.S. News pecking order, or under the flight of a drunken crow.

The problem with the received framework appears at page 13.
My work is informed by a body of critical educational theory, originating with the French sociologist Pierre Bordieu.  Bordieu's work illustrates how the French educational system manages to help reproduce class relations, all the while maintaining a guise of meritocracy.  Privileged families stay ahead by passing on educational credentials to their children; their ability to do so is facilitated by a symbolic system that inevitably runs in their favor.  The language, knowledge, and cultural styles of the upper classes arbitrarily become more highly valued and can thus be used as a form of capital.  Children with these resources succeed in school and are perceived as being more intelligent because of the ways in which schools legitimize these resources.
The subsequent literature Professor Mullen alludes to concentrates on whether the students are "passive dupes" or "autonomous individuals with the capacity to resist."  She continues at page 35, "[T]he cultural standards of any group are fundamentally arbitrary and do not reflect intrinsically higher forms of knowledge or values."  Perhaps if we are speaking of easily imitated markers such as body language or dressing for success.  On the other hand, behaviors such as deferring gratification, planning ahead, and exchanging your best efforts for the best efforts of others might be evolutionarily stable.  That's a testable implication: if standards are as arbitrary as Bourdieu-channelled-by-Mullen claims, one might see other sets of norms also producing life expectancies in excess of forty years, and diseases eradicated, and highly-regarded institutions of higher education emerging.  There well might be room for game theorists and evolutionary biologists to colonize sociology and anthropology.  Until then, we're likely to see continued research purporting to identify and deconstruct the successful reproduction through education of class positions (page 105).

And that's the shame, because there is much in Degrees of Inequality that suggests it matters what goes on at the universities that are not among the fifty institutions claiming to be among the top ten or twenty, and some of the conversations, particularly with Yale students whose life wasn't the one parodied in a recent car commercial (you will attend one of these schools, earn one of these degrees, drive one of these cars, yawn) who might otherwise have attended Kansas or Kansas State or Michigan or Northwestern.  Regular readers recognize the Spielberg Effect spiel: that Yalie can expect to do as well out of one of those state universities or Northwestern as he would have out of Yale, and those institutions owe their applicants the same academic challenge.  At Southern Conn, she notes the effect of involved professors on the involvement and success of students, and suggests that the high schools those students attended often did not provide sufficient challenges.  Thus the first semester at a regional university comes as a shock, sometimes salutary, too frequently not.  Here, fundamentals, developed from elementary school onward, help.  Degrees of Inequality on occasion notes the inadequate primary and secondary schools, yet says little about the importance of the common schools fulfilling their missions properly.

The conversations with students are instructive.  Although the author suggests that Yale students tend to use more complex sentences and engage in more introspection, the transcripts, no matter where from, are full of those collegiate tics: definitely, pretty much, I mean, and, of course, like, y'know.  Sometimes the author's priors get in the way of analysis.  Yale women are the students most likely to pursue the liberal arts for their own sake, although they anticipate "earning only 83% of the salaries of their male peers, probably an accurate guess, given the continuing gender wage gap" (p. 110).  That many of those women anticipated stopping out of the labor force to have a baby, a choice that affects job tenure and thus earnings, doesn't enter Professor Mullen's calculation.  Apparently the MRS Degree hasn't been completely overtaken by events.

The anecdote the author uses to illustrate the great distance between the two universities may tell us more than any of the more systematically organized material.  Begin at the beginning, well, at page 16.
The obliviousness of the Yale community to its nearest academic neighbor turned almost comical when the Women's Studies Program at Southern held a conference on global justice featuring a keynote speech by Nobel Prize winner Rigoberta Menchu Tum.  Yale learned of this event only a few days before it occurred and, surprised that such an eminent speaker was visiting Southern and not Yale, immediately tried to incorporate part of the event at Yale.  Unfortunately for them, Menchu's schedule had already been filled and they were left only with the option of attending the talk at Southern.  Faculty and administrators alike, however, had not visited Southern and, although it was just two miles away, did not know where it was located or how to get there.  Southern finally had to fax them a map.
Something about this story smacks of urban legend.  It's true that Yale lacks a geography department, or urban planning, or regional science, but in an era of multiple Yellow Pages and Google Maps, it's enough to make George "pointy-headed professors who can't park a bicycle" Wallace chortle, and perhaps some academics ought be careful griping about students who can't locate Iraq on a map.  The real crime, however, is Southern Conn's, or Yale's, continued interest in the celebration of made-up stories about Communist rebellion and fascist repression in Central America, rather than more real injustices, such as the failure of the high schools to equip all students with the intellectual and cultural capital to make a go of it, should they desire, in a challenging college.

A reader might consider the generalization of Degrees of Inequality to his or her own institution.  Change, for example, the founding date of a normal school to a different year in the 1890s, change the compass direction, change the state, and change the year it becomes a university, and you have Northern Illinois University.  Here we have students who begin at community college and transfer here, aided by articulation agreements apparently not in place in Connecticut.  Students begin here and transfer to Urbana or seek letters of reference for Northwestern for graduate programs, something that doesn't take place at Southern Conn, at least within the author's sample, although there might be Yalies that will do a graduate degree at Northwestern.  But listening to the Yalies talk about the curricular offerings, one might suspect that Horatio Parker is still standing in the way of creativity in music (no world music, one jazz class, p. 197).  Go here and pick the music calendar, and understand why my Wednesday postings might be skimpy or annulled for the next month.

(Cross-posted to 50 Book Challenge.)

WORK IS WHAT WE DO BETWEEN MEETINGS.

The dean at Anonymous Community catches on.  Contrary to what dispiritingly many administrators and far too many unthinking critics of higher education believe, the work does not stop simply because classes are not currently in session.
Moments like these strike me as both necessary and difficult to encourage.  They happen when people have time, but are still physically around.  They require a level of personal comfort, and a willingness to put in a chunk of time without any specific agenda or hope of payoff.  They require enough slack in the system for people to be human.

As budgets tighten and accountability measures proliferate, I hope we’re able to keep enough  slack in the system to allow smart people to have actual conversations without “action items” or “strategic goals” or “measurable outcomes.”  Sometimes, the most productive moments happen in the gaps, by accident, precisely because nobody’s trying.
It's those off-hand conversations, when there's no task force or committee meeting or troublesome student determining the direction, that often serves to turn an idea from "minimal publishable unit" to something more like a genuine contribution.  A commenter gets it.
Most higher ed work (particularly more theoretical research) is "thought work", meaning that the work one does is literally thinking about things. Yes, grants have to be proposed, presentations organized and what-not, but sometimes the work is just sitting in an office and thinking (possibly including scribbling on whiteboards or paper). Simply thinking can be important work sometimes.
Indeed, and sometimes four or five hours of uninterrupted thinking time, preferably not when the thinker is overstressed and overtired, is the most important input. Assessment weenies and publication-counting promotion boards are both complicit in destroying that environment.

ASKING THE WRONG QUESTION?

Gulliver of The Economist finds a Freakonomics panel discussion on Amtrak.  He suggests that analysts place too much emphasis on farebox recovery.
Here are some better questions: what's the right balance of public- and private-sector involvement in these sorts of enterprises? How much, if anything, should governments continue to invest in air, rail and road infrastructure? If the government is going to invest in infrastructure (rather than simply let the market decide), what is the right balance of spending between those different modes of travel? And how much should the environmental consequences of various modes of travel be taken into account when making these decisions?

Freakonomics's panellists, to their credit, explored some of these questions in their answers. But framing the discussion around a weird notion of "profitability" isn't particularly helpful. Here's a good rule of thumb: if a government entity's profitability is the main thing you're worried about, it probably shouldn't be a government entity. Nobody worries about the military or the courts being "profitable". It's probably not the right question about Amtrak, either.
True enough. As long as we're considering dimensions other than farebox recovery, shall we discuss the extent to which highway construction, including urban renewal for freeways, serves either as a regressive transfer or as corporate welfare?

29.1.12

MODELING CAPTURES THE ESSENTIAL ELEMENTS OF REALITY.

Since the days of Thomas Malthus, if not earlier, political philosophers have grappled with the possibility of exhausting the carrying capacity of Earth, and attempted to square those limits with the real improvement in living standards since the Industrial Revolution, or to evaluate the limits on improvements implied by that carrying capacity.  Brian Czech's Shoveling Fuel for a Runaway Train:  Errant Economists, Shameful Spenders, and a Plan to Stop Them All is in that tradition, although Book Review No. 3 will argue that the author has too frequently erred on the side of the polemic.

In his first part, he views economic growth for its own sake as a runaway train.  (In so doing, he's questioning the manifestos of both major political parties of the United States, as both see economic growth and Job Creation as Good Things.)  Where his work goes off the rails (hey, I'm second to nobody at railroad metaphors) is in coupling political policy to neoclassical economics.  Yes, the received paradigm in development economics and macroeconomics is one of growth models, while advocates of a steady-state or sustainable or less-ostentatious mode of analysis or of living are on the margins.  In part, that is because actually existing reality is one of rising living standards in market-based economies and as of yet a model that convincingly shows the source, and the possible timing, of an end to that rise has not been developed.  In that reality, one of the symptoms of resource constraints binding, a predictably rising price for exhaustible resources, exists in theory but not in practice.  The material intensity of goods has been declining, with consumer electronics and automobiles accomplishing more with less in a productive way (a phenomenon not necessarily true when it comes to downsized work-forces, but that's for another day) and some goods formerly priced as if exhaustion approached once again becoming available at popular prices.  And the political economy of environmental protection is one for which the best policy response is itself contested territory.

Taken together, the actually existing conditions of political economy are conditions within which the existing research agendas of economists are probably reasonable.  Mr Czech makes much of the Kuhnian paradigm shift in his call for a different approach in economics.  But there can be no paradigm shift without anomalies.  At the moment, the anomalies are in the inaccuracy of exhaustible resource models and the market failure approach to public intervention.

The second part contemplates stopping that runaway train.  The author offers the advocate suggestions for dealing with three types of individual.  First come members of the "liquidating class."  The terminology is deliberately provocative.  There are substantial overlaps between this class and Thorsten Veblen's conspicuously-consuming leisure class, although anyone who rents a storage bunker or buys a ticket to a motor-sports event (on land, sea, or air) might be a liquidator, less politely thought of as a wastrel.  Next come members of the "steady state class."  There are here overlaps between this class and members of the middle class and poor, particularly those living in modest houses and riding buses to work.  Walking or biking to work, but building a model railroad in one's basement is, however, suspect.  Where the overlaps are too hard to parse, you have a member of the "amorphic class," who might not be susceptible to persuasion or re-education, just yet.

Taken together, the policy part drips with that particular East Bay smug, and it will no doubt be referred to favorably in wealthy environmentalist circles, and among back-country hikers.  As a call for public action, the plan is unlikely to stop that runaway train.  The book appeared in print a few years too early to ride the wave of disaffection against corporate welfare manifested by the Tea Party and Occupy movements alike.  That wave can help accomplish some of the environmental goals, if only in slowing the channelling of resources to liquidators supported by the public purse.

(Cross-posted to 50 Book Challenge.)

THE THIRD PARTY PROBLEM.

Our President is now threatening to take higher education's last subsidy away.
President Barack Obama fired a warning at the nation’s colleges and universities Friday, threatening to strip their federal aid if they “jack up tuition” every year and to give the money instead to schools showing restraint and value.

Obama can’t proceed without the OK from Congress, where the reaction of Republican lawmakers ranged from muted to skeptical. Higher education leaders worried about the details and the threat of government overreach, and one dismissed it as mere election-year “political theater.”
As if anybody pays list price, and as if posted tuitions and financial aid offers don't adjust to reflect the availability of federal aid. (One notorious illustration: each student on financial aid receives a book allowance that can only be handled by the university's book store.  Shopping for books on Amazon or an online auction is on your own dime.  Evaluate the incentives for publishers.)
Rising tuition costs have been attributed to a variety of factors, among them a decline in state dollars and competition for the best facilities and professors. Washington’s leverage to take on the rising cost of college is limited because American higher education is decentralized, with most student aid following the student. And that’s not counting the legislative gridlock.

“If you were a betting person, you would not bet on it getting done simply because the political atmosphere in Washington is so poisonous,” said Terry Hartle, senior vice president at the American Council on Education, an organization that represents colleges in Washington.
Not to mention that university administrators and state legislators will continue their battle over breaches of the social compact or failures to offer higher education.  Regular readers know there are limits to expecting more from less.  The physical and mental health of the faculty suffers, and having ski resorts nearby is insufficient compensation.
I think the real problem lies with the public university presidents who haven’t educated politicians or the public at all about the “effeciencies on campus” they’ve enacted over the past twenty years.  Everyone who reads this blog knows that those “efficiencies” are human beings called adjunct instructors, temporary faculty, or “special” faculty who on many campuses (including mine) comprise now the MAJORITY of faculty, and certainly produce the largest number of student credit hours.  They teach 4-4 loads (or more), and have zero responsibility for research or service to the university.  In my department, they don’t advise students and they can’t sit on graduate student committees.  They are on contracts that expect them only to teach, and they don’t enjoy the protections of tenure.  This is how universities have kept tuition as low as it is. 
The low price, however, is a signal of something other than a productivity gain.  The post I'm quoting accepts the legislature-breaking-social-compact argument, although the consequences of the cost cutting surely look like failures to offer higher education.
But university presidents have held their tongues and played along, and they’ve therefore encouraged citizens and taxpayers to believe that it’s really possible to get something for nothing, to squeeze blood from a stone, and to do more with less.  They have also unforgiveably encouraged the notion that somehow offering free farm clubs to the NBA and the NFL are somehow better “investments” in the quality of education than hiring new tenure-track faculty, purchasing books and journal subscriptions, and improving the quality of their classrooms.  Because they have been happy to exploit the “efficiencies” of casual labor, public university presidents and administrators haven’t told the general public that (for example) the people doing the majority of teaching don’t enjoy the protections of tenure and don’t get credit for anything but their teaching.  They haven’t told the public that there’s no guarantee from year to year that these folks will be around to continue to teach required courses so that students can finish their majors, nor have they explained that these folks might not be available to write leters of recommendation to further their students’ careers.  They also haven’t even begun to attempt an explanation that universities are not just places that pass on knowledge, they’re places that produce new knowledge, new knowledge that’s really important to the quality of teaching that a college or university can offer.  And this is a failure I place squarely at the feet of the current generation of university and college presidents who earn C.E.O.-type salaries while gutting the instructional budget and lecturing the tenure-track faculty about the sacrifices we “all” have to make. 
Against that background, any posturing by the federal government, in which lower federal grants mean lower (average) posted tuitions accompany smaller (average) financial aid packages and a smaller outlay by the federal government with no net effect on individual out-of-pocket costs for students or their parents has no effect on university revenues, or on expense-preference behavior by administrators, whether that manifests itself as Diversity Boondoggles or Beer 'n Circus.

IT USED TO BE ROYALTY.

At one time, the Cold Spring Shops research library maintained a subscription to Back Track, a history of the evolution of railways in the British Isles from the beginning to the end of the steam era.  On occasion, an article would mention a cosmetic cutting, or tunnel, or a curve not dictated by the terrain, so as to keep the steam cars out of the sight or hearing of some local noble.

Now commoners want the trains hidden.
Fellow Conservatives have expressed worries about zippy trains slicing up pretty countryside, particularly the Chilterns, home to many Tory voters.
It's not necessarily Tories, thinking far enough back in time. William Wordsworth there and Henry David Thoreau in Massachusetts were not necessarily fans of the rich, but they, too objected to the steam cars. We're no longer speaking of steam cars.
To preserve such beauty spots, more than half the 140-mile track to Birmingham will now run underground. But the proposed tunnels will not bury all criticism. More than 60 miles will still be open; cross residents of several constituencies are already gearing up for legal challenges to the government’s plan. There are no assurances that the northern part of the route, which will not be finalised until 2014, will see equivalent lengths of tunnelling. Tunnels are not just costly to build but also more expensive to maintain than open track, which will increase running costs, says Steven Hayter of the Institution of Civil Engineers.
Concealing the high-speed lines in tunnels is common, even without spiritual heirs of the Earl of Reaction griping about the noise (I wonder if any of the older Tories in the Chilterns remember Castles and Kings in full cry protecting two hour Snow Hill to Paddington timings).  Much of Japan's bullet train trackage is in tunnels, as you'd expect on volcanic islands, as is a good deal of the German line from Köln to Frankfurt.  As far as I know, that is neither to avoid disturbing the sleep of Barbarossa nor to provide a station in Nibelheim.

BEYOND THE FOURTH TURNING.

We've previously noted Via Media's use of the saeculum.  A recent essay calling for a fifth understanding of liberalism recognizes the long cycle, intentionally or not.
The core institutions, ideas and expectations that shaped American life for the sixty years after the New Deal don’t work anymore. The gaps between the social system we inhabit and the one we now need are becoming so wide that we can no longer paper over them. But even as the failures of the old system become more inescapable and more damaging, our national discourse remains stuck in a bygone age. The end is here, but we can’t quite take it in.
It's not yet clear which dimension of the secular crisis will provoke the response that will shape the social order that is to come, let alone the unresolved tensions that it will bring.  At Via Media, the tensions of the existing order are past resolution.
Liberal Democrats in states like Rhode Island and cities like Chicago are cutting pensions and benefits and laying off workers out of financial necessity rather than ideological zeal. The blue model can no longer pay its bills, and not even its friends can keep it alive.
Thus the stresses. The essay also notes the impossibility of restoring a High (known in these pages as The America that Worked(TM)) or an Awakening.
We can’t get back to the 1890s or 1920s any more than we can go back to the 1950s and 1960s. We may not yet be able to imagine what a post-blue future looks like, but that is what we will have to build. Until we remove the scales from our eyes and launch our discourse toward the future, our politics will remain sterile, and our economy will fail to provide the growth and higher living standards Americans continue to seek. That neither we nor the world can afford.
It's a lengthy exegesis on the nature of the internal contradictions of the order after World War II, and the discussion of the evolution of the word "liberal" is worth your time.

28.1.12

WHO IS JOHN GALT?

Sometimes it is the people who most likely treat unfamiliarity with Atlas Shrugged as a marker of political sophistication who, with no sense of irony, make the work come alive.
The Gas Price Spike Act, H.R. 3784, would apply a windfall tax on the sale of oil and gas that ranges from 50 percent to 100 percent on all surplus earnings exceeding "a reasonable profit." It would set up a Reasonable Profits Board made up of three presidential nominees that will serve three-year terms. Unlike other bills setting up advisory boards, the Reasonable Profits Board would not be made up of any nominees from Congress.
Chris Campion of Vermont Tiger is skeptical.
If prices are too high, people buy less, and producers reduce profit and costs if they want to continue to move produce. It's that simple. It also requires absolutely no government involvement whatsoever, despite what our patriarchy seems to deeply wish to be true.
Higher energy prices also spur development of the alternative energy sources or "alternative transportation programs", without the lags inherent in collecting the taxes and identifying which of the programs will be funded.  That approach, however, offers populist politicians scant opportunity to impress their constituents by cocking a snook at the Moneyed Interests.

THE DIFFICULT WE DO RIGHT AWAY.

Ships sink.  Refloating them is work, but it can be done.  Costa Concordia is in a difficult place, but she's not likely to be dashed to pieces over the next century.
[I]f it's determined that the Costa Concordia can be saved, engineers could try to refloat the ship and tug it back to dry dock for refurbishing. The job will likely require 'a combination of barges equipped with winches and cranes' to pull the cruise liner off its side then once the Concordia is off the rocks, 'they are going to have to fight to keep it afloat, just like you would a battle-damaged ship.'
Precisely. Oklahoma capsized after being torpedoed at Pearl Harbor.


Righting Oklahoma, 1943.  U. S. Navy photograph.

The holes have to be patched, then the hull has to be pumped out.


Refloating Oklahoma.  Image from World Battleships List.

By the time Oklahoma was seaworthy, the war was well enough in hand that the hulk had only scrap value.  She foundered while in tow from Pearl to the West Coast.

Sometimes, the salvage job is more challenging because of the cargo.  Here, lake freighter E. M. Ford was not properly secured to a wharf in the Port of Milwaukee, and in the Christmas, 1979 storm, suffered hull damage from repeated collisions with the pier.  Her cargo: a load of dry cement.


Milwaukee Journal photograph from Milwaukee Waterways collection.

The lake can get rough, even inside the breakwater, and salvage on Lake Michigan in the winter involves cold conditions that don't prevail on the Mediterranean.


Milwaukee Journal photograph from Milwaukee Waterways collection.

Ford was refloated, continued to haul cement for another 25 years, then went for scrap despite being the oldest active Lakes freighter at her retirement.

ACCUMULATING SMALL ADVANTAGES.

On a Passenger Rail corridor, frequency and capacity matter, more than dramatic increases in speed.
Amtrak’s Chicago-Milwaukee Hiawatha Service set a ridership record in 2011, carrying 823,163 passengers. According to the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, that is a nearly 4 percent increase from 2010 when ridership totaled 792,848.

Amtrak’s Hiawatha Service includes seven Chicago-Milwaukee round trips Monday through Saturday and six round trips on Sunday. A one-way 86-mile trip from Chicago to Milwaukee takes about 90 minutes.

In addition to the calendar year record, monthly records for the service were set in every month but August of last year. According to Amtrak’s 2011 fiscal year data, the Hiawatha is the busiest Amtrak corridor in the Midwest and the sixth busiest in the country.  

Hiawatha Service began in 1989. It is jointly funded by the states of Wisconsin and Illinois. The service was to be extended from Milwaukee to Madison, Wis., but last year Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker refused the federal money that would have paid for the extension.
That 1989 reference is to the state support from Wisconsin and Illinois for operating additional trains, boosting the frequency from three round trips a day to the current six daily and a seventh except Sunday.  At Amtrak's inception, there were two round trips daily and a third except Sunday, a few of which offered lunch-lounge service in Tip Top Taps once in use on the Afternoon and Olympian Hiawathas.  Today's trains are six-car formations, with beverage service from a cart on selected trains.

The California corridors have received new cars in the last few years, the Northeast Corridor has the Acela Expresses, and there are stretches of the Empire Corridor capable of 110 mph speeds.  The Hiawatha and Downeaster services make do with Amfleet or Horizon coaches and top out at 79 mph, yet the riders keep coming.

Another Midwestern corridor that is doing well is the Chicago-St. Louis by way of Normal and Springfield. I understand that Northern Illinois University faces stiff competition for students from Illinois State, one reason given for the marketing and branding initiatives.  Perhaps the prospect of fast frequent trains to Normal matter more.  Whether the absence of a train connecting the northern suburbs of Chicago to Madison affects Wisconsin's recruiting efforts is a topic worthy of further investigation.

26.1.12

RESPONDING TO INCENTIVES.

Daniel Luzer looks at universities contracting out the operation of housing, and sees tradeoffs, some of which trouble him.
While the private dorms may not always be in the students’ best interests, it’s a relatively easy way for the colleges to get new buildings on the cheap.

The University of Kentucky, [New York Times reporter Ronda] Kaysen reports, is considering farming out all of its student housing Education Realty Trust, which would demolish most campus dormitories and replace them in a $500 million construction binge.

The treasurer of the institution, Angela Martin, said UK is considering moving forward because housing isn’t the university’s job. “They can build it cheaper,” Martin told Kaysen. “They can build it faster and they can operate it leaner than we can. This is not the university’s core business.”

Martin has a point; until recently most colleges didn’t have dormitories at all. Students either lived in fraternities and sororities or rented space in boarding houses in town.

But then, in the aftermath of World War II, colleges began to build residence halls. They did this because the vast increase in the student population during that period required the colleges to build affordable housing for them, or the students wouldn’t enroll.

So no, it’s not the university’s core business, but it is one of the things it currently does. It did this, originally, in order to keep costs down, for students. Kentucky can’t say the same thing about the development corporations.
There's a big difference between providing improved accommodation for returning G.I.s, many of whom made do with temporary quarters in Quonset huts at the land-grant colleges that were an improvement on tents on the field, or improving the accommodation to the standard of barracks or high-rise housing projects for the G.I.s children (the Baby Boom era dorms, which by today's standards are austere), or the recent housing, being built with the G.I.s grandchildren or great-grandchildren in mind.  There's such a project under way at Northern Illinois, built with the hope that additional students will come.  As must always be the case with new projects around here, there's a focus group that either rationalizes or makes the case for what is to come.  The list of preferred features doesn't include "keep it cheap", whether that's omitted by design, or whether it doesn't matter, I don't know.

IT TAKES MORE THAN ANGER.

Former Speaker of the House Gingrich is saying a number of the right things to angry people, according to Rush Limbaugh.
We're sick and tired of being called racists and bigots and sexists, when all we want is the best for everybody.  We are sick and tired of this categorization, when, in fact, it is the people leveling the charge who are the racists; who look at these people and see no possibility; who see no potential; who see them only as voters; who want to dumb them down; who want to keep them poor; who want to keep them dependent.  It's not us that want to perpetuate the misery of people who vote Democrat, continue to exist in their lives.

If you look at the entire Democrat constituency, except for Hollywood and Wall Street, it is a never-ending sea of human misery.  And we hate that, and we despise it, and we want it to end because we want a great country, and we know that a great country is made up of great individuals.  Another reason the standing O occurred there, the reason for it, was that a media member got smacked down without being directly spoken to.  In fact, when they went to the after-debate analysis, of course everybody knew that Juan would have his take on it, and he did, and he admitted to being shocked. 
Accept that stance, or not, but recognize that it does resonate with a large part of the Republican base.

Andrew Sullivan, however, finds a cross-section of right-thinking Establishment opinion critical of the Speaker, some of it calling out his tendency to say what's on his mind, diplomatically or not.
You've got Mr Tory, Mr Neocon, Mr Hamiltonian, Mr Tightwad, Mr Theocon, and Miss Thing in rare agreement. But Fox News viewers and many many others in the base want none of it, at least so far. And so we have a fantastically interesting crisis in which the Republican establishment is trying to persuade the base to drop the candidate who now has commanding leads in four of the five first votes.
Sometimes one can fire a sitting president, although there are enough voters with long memories to suggest that the firing is more effective when the replacement has the proper temperament.

THE KEYSTONE CONTROVERSY ISN'T THE ONLY IMPEDIMENT.

It takes a long time to build a pipeline, and there apparently are constraints on their carrying capacity (as well as suffering from fixed endpoints).  In the short run, the railroads will benefit.  The short run, however, lasts a long time.
By 2013, [North Dakota] officials expect to drillers to pump 750,000 barrels per day from the stubbornly hard rock formations and to surpass 1 million by 2015. “Pipelines are by far the safest and most economically efficient way to transport oil, but we are left with a limited number of options if pipelines are off the table,” Tony Clark, chairman of the North Dakota Public Service Commission, told the AP. “Once the oil is flowing, it has to go somewhere.”

Actually, if not by pipeline, producers have but one option: a train. A modern railroad tank car holds 700 or more barrels of crude oil. So a 100-car train can take 70,000 or so barrels of oil wherever the customer wants it to go. Presently, railroads estimate they are loading about 25 percent of North Dakota’s crude oil, the rest going by existing pipelines. But pipeline capacity cannot ramp up quickly. Therefore, for the next couple of years, as production increases at roughly the rate of 10,000 barrels or more per month, you either get the oil out of the state by rail or shut down your pump jacks, and that second option is really not in the cards.

Just do the math. One-fourth of 500,000 barrels a day, the current production, comes to almost two unit trains a day, which is about what BNSF Railway and Canadian Pacific Railway are carrying. By the end of this year, make that three or four trains per day, and in 2013, five or six or seven. At the moment, BNSF has six loading facilities for crude oil in North Dakota, CP two (but CP is also active in Saskatchewan). By 2013, BNSF’s loading capacity will expand to nine facilities in the state, and CP’s to three. So what I thought was overbuilding of these loading docks and associated trackage turns out not to be the case at all.
Perhaps the Midland Continental Railroad, projected to connect Winnipeg to Galveston, but never getting  out of North Dakota, was a hundred years too early.  On the other hand, modern train operating practices favor the concentration of traffic on heavy trains on densely-trafficked lines.  And the upside potential is great.
By the time the XL is built, presuming that it is, it will have room for just one-tenth of North Dakota’s oil output. Other pipelines will be proposed and built into the state, but the pipeline network is aimed primarily at Oklahoma and Texas, whereas prices are higher on the east and west coasts and places in between.

Hess Corp., one of the biggest producers in North Dakota, has begun to run unit oil trains from its loadout in Tioga, N.D., to an idle Sunoco refinery near Camden, N.J. via BNSF and Norfolk Southern. The facility has oil storage and pipeline access, presumably to Hess's U.S. refinery in Woodbridge, N.J. It’s business like this that railroads need to nurture, through pricing that is as competitive to pipelines as possible and with service that is as dependable as a ticking clock.
The German Navy spurred development of the oil pipeline network of the United States in the 1940s, although the war was over before many of those lines were completed.  The railroads picked up the slack then, and they'll pick them up now.

Cheaper domestically produced gasoline, however, works against inducing people to switch to riding passenger trains, even augmented to 90 or 110 mph.  More tank trains, whether containing prairie crude or ethanol, are more reason for the freight railroads to negotiate more aggressively with Amtrak and with regional Passenger Rail authorities over track space.

25.1.12

IT TAKES A LOT TO STEAL A TRAIN.

I recently picked up a copy of Today's Railways Europe for November 2011.  It's instructive to read about plans for a freight railroad network that don't include double-stacks, bathtub gondolas, or 100 tank loads of ethanol.  But a story about a number of Greek narrow-gauge center cab diesels of class 9400 that had been moved from dead storage in Patras to the end of a derelict branch line, subsequently to be stolen for scrap, along with some freight cars, track material, and the very track the equipment was stored on, intrigues.  The article (which I have not been able to find at any online source) notes the scrappers made off with about 500 metric tons of material, without anybody noticing or alerting the authorities.  The same article also notes the arrest of gypsies stealing batteries from the control boxes for crossing gates.  When civil order collapses ...

THE GOOD IS OFT INTERRED WITH THEIR BONES.

So let it be with Joe Paterno, according to The RosenBlog.
The only good thing that might come out of this is that money-grubbing college presidents might regain control of their universities’ moral compasses instead of willingly being dictated to by the largely ethically challenged guys in charge of phys. ed.
I wish the critics of big-time sports would keep the table of organization straight. Sometimes coaches teach a class in physical education, although it is rare that they hold a tenured professorship. The players might major in physical education, although kinesiology has some demanding prerequisites. That's where general studies becomes useful.

Teddy Greenstein suggests a more balanced view.
He donated at least $4 million to Penn State. He was fiercely loyal to the school. He didn't use the NFL as leverage and didn't have a "Les Miles clause" stipulating he would make $1,000 more than any coach in his conference if he won a national championship.

He coached because it was his life. By insisting his players go to class and graduate — decades before the NCAA instituted requirements — he helped hundreds of them. That's a true benefit to society.
A Cold Spring Shops source at Penn State confirms that the faculty is having trouble coming to terms with the child abuse, precisely because Mr Paterno had been outwardly supportive of the academic function of the university.

19.1.12

IF YOU ARE LEADER, YOU HAVE RESPONSIBILITY.

Captain Francesco Schettino, master of Costa Concordia, gets unsparing peer review.  "Matter of honor."  "Shameful."  "Abject cowardice."  Just go read it.

MAKING ECONOMICS HARDER THAN IT HAS TO BE.

Bryan Caplan has a useful discussion of the ways students go wrong by generalizing from their own experiences.
Faced with a genuinely difficult question, they answer a different, easier question, then conflate the answer to their question.
Go read, understand, and use it in class next Monday.

THE APPLICATION PROVIDES NO NEW INFORMATION.

Microsoft is working on a new application for smart phones and Global Positioning System receivers to overlay crime data on maps.  That has provoked the president of the Dallas chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People to preemptively denounce the "Avoid the Ghetto App."
“I’m going to be up in arms about it if it happens,” said Dallas NAACP President Juanita Wallace.

Wallace spent her afternoon at a rally on Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. and said she felt safe there, but fears the app may project otherwise.

“Can you imagine me not being able to go to MLK Blvd. because my GPS says that’s a dangerous crime area? I can’t even imagine that,” she said.
That's the kind of reaction that provokes former House Speaker Gingrich to make his offer to work with the Association on getting constituents off of food stamps, rather than continuing to elect Democrats whose electoral chances would likely be diminished as those neighborhoods became less impoverished.

The problem, dear reader, rests in the street name, not whether the street name shows up on a screen, with or without a crime-incidence overlay.  The perception of the neighborhood MLK Boulevard runs through is often erroneous, but it is there.
All across Black America, there are Martin Luther King streets, avenues, drives and boulevards and each has one major thing in common with this MLK bridge: they all lead to the most crime-ridden parts of town. What is also shocking are the number of schools named after Dr. King that have metal-detectors, cops, birth control centers and gang containment programs--not to mention tragically low test scores.

How on earth did Dr. Martin Luther King Jr's. name become so attached to the absolute worst in our communities? Well, back in the late 70's and into the early 80's, urban mayors and city councils across this land decided to throw a bone to the Black community by naming something in town after the late Reverend. Sadly, blacks were so impressed by this symbolic gesture that no one stopped to question why Martin Luther King's name seemed to be slapped only on problem areas.
There, also, are the heavily Democratic precincts that have been so badly served by the Democratic politicians repeatedly returned to office from there.  But the Republicans don't have an app for that.

IN DEFENSE OF MILKING THE CASH COW.

I'm skeptical of business fads, including the restructuring that often took away capital for upgrading existing plant and fired the institutional memory.  Daniel Henninger (via Betsy's Page) offers the other side of the story.
Airlines, ground transportation, cable and broadcasting, oil and gas, banking and financial services all experienced regulatory rollback. Meanwhile, a competitive, globalized marketplace was rising. Management at some of America's biggest companies, confused by these rapid changes, found themselves sitting on huge piles of unused or poorly deployed cash and assets.

Thousands of Mitt Romneys allied with huge pension funds representing colleges, unions and the like, plus a rising cadre of institutional money managers, to force corporate America to reboot. In the 1980s almost half of major U.S. corporations got takeover offers.

Singling out this or that Bain case study amid the jostling and bumping is pointless. This was a historic and necessary cleansing of the Augean stables of the American economy. It caused a positive revolution in U.S. management, financial analysis, incentives, governance and market-based discipline. It led directly to the 1990s boom years. And it gave the U.S. two decades of breathing room while Europe, with some exceptions, choked.
Post hoc, nec ergo propter hoc.  "Positive revolution" or twenty years of fads that made merger promoters and a few CEOs rich?  You decide.  And take the time to read and understand Mergers, Sell-Offs, and Economic Efficiency.  Half of the mergers of the late conglomerate, early leveraged buyout eras were sales of divisions of the acquired company to other companies participating in the same or a related market.  The management of an airline conferred no special skill in running hotels or renting cars, and expertise at making steel did not translate well into selling groceries.  Did the efficiency gains from redeploying the cash exceed the management and promotion fees pocketed by the institutional money managers?  Or did those institutional money managers, dizzy with success, become vampire squids?

HOW DO YOU SCOUT BLOCKING AND TACKLING?

Thus did a coach preparing to face Vince Lombardi's Packers (possibly the 1962 team that allowed only four touchdowns and swept almost all before it) describe his difficulties.

The good news is that current coach Mike McCarthy has drawn the correct lessons from last Sunday's debacle.
“The tackling was just not there all year. We did not tackle well enough as a football team. It’s not acceptable,” McCarthy told reporters.
The article notes that the current contract limits tackling drills in practice, which, to my mind, sounds like practicing calculus without doing any proofs.

Coach McCarthy plans to work the problem during the off-season.

17.1.12

FREQUENCY MATTERS.

In the early days of Amtrak, travelers in the Chicago - Twin Cities corridor had a choice of two trains a day each way.  That was a step backwards from the frequencies offered as late as 1968,  but plenitude compared to today's schedule, in which one additional coach east of the Cities riding on the Empire Builder is the only recognition of the corridor.  Despite the political turmoil in Illinois and Wisconsin and the tight budgets everywhere, improvements to the service might be forthcoming.
Wisconsin, Minnesota and Amtrak officials have started talks that could lead to expanding the current passenger train service between Chicago, Milwaukee and Minneapolis-St. Paul.

The two states are working with Amtrak to launch a feasibility study of adding a second daily round trip on the Chicago-to-Twin Cities leg of the national passenger railroad's long-distance Empire Builder line, officials say.

At the same time, a separate Minnesota-led study is advocating a more ambitious - and more controversial - long-range goal: upgrading the same segment to high-speed rail along the current route, bypassing Madison and Eau Claire, disappointing rail backers in both cities.
The current route remained profitable until Interstate 94 was finished in the late 1960s, while through service via Madison and Eau Claire ended in 1963, and the tracks have been removed on both sides of Madison.  Some things don't change.
After comparing more than two dozen possible routes, it concluded the current route - through Columbus, Portage, Tomah and La Crosse - was the best choice, based on cost, geography, projected travel time and population served, [Minnesota passenger rail planning director Praveena] Pidaparthi said.

With Congress balking at new high-speed rail appropriations, Minnesota officials thought it made more sense to improve the current route gradually instead of seeking a major investment in a new route, Pidaparthi said.

Just upgrading the current route would cost $2.4 billion, with track maintenance costs of $10.3 million a year, the study found. Those figures don't include the costs of buying and operating trains or of building or upgrading stations, issues that will be covered in a follow-up study, Pidaparthi said.

High-speed rail advocates disputed the findings.

"Major cities should be within three hours of each other," said Rick Harnish, executive director of the Midwest High-Speed Rail Association. On the selected route, it would take 4 hours 35 minutes to travel from Milwaukee to Minneapolis-St. Paul at 110 mph, and sharp curves on the Minnesota segment along the Mississippi River would prevent an eventual upgrade to 220-mph service, he said.
Regular readers know about the limitations of geography in the Mississippi River valley, and in the driftless area of Wisconsin, as well as the speed potential through the Sand Country and south of Milwaukee.

Faster running times are desirable.  Frequency, however, is more desirable, in order that people have some flexibility in making their trips, and more short-distance trips by rail make sense.  The article doesn't say anything about food service or proper first-class accommodation.  I have some ideas, in case anyone asks.

SEEKING A GEORGE ORWELL FOR CHINA.

In The Road to Wigan Pier, George Orwell describes the condition of Depression-era coal miners in Britain.  A recent documentary suggests working conditions in contemporary China are no better.
In [journalist Yuanchen] Liu's film, the miners venture underground without protective masks. China's mines suffer from inadequate ventilation systems, and Liu told me that dangerous coal dust sparkles like fireflies in the light from the miner's helmets. They use old fashioned pick axes instead of jackhammers, and crouch or lie down in three foot high side tunnels for hours at a stretch, hacking away at the rock faces.

The central government does not lack safety regulations on the books. In practice, however, these rules are often ignored in the rush to get more coal out of the ground.
Columnist Richard Schiffman describes the lot of the miners as "paying in blood for China's economic miracle."  It's possible that there is no Chinese economic miracle, only an increasingly unsustainable mirage, in which case the lot of the miners is the lot of working people in poor countries more generally.

THEY ARE BEGINNING TO CATCH ON.

Self-esteem is the consequence of accomplishment following effort.
A growing body of research over three decades shows that easy, unearned praise does not help students but instead interferes with significant learning opportunities. As schools ratchet up academic standards for all students, new buzzwords are “persistence,” “risk-taking” and “resilience” — each implying more sweat and strain than fuzzy, warm feelings.

“We used to think we could hand children self-esteem on a platter,” Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck said. “That has backfired.”

Dweck’s studies, embraced in Montgomery [county, Maryland] schools and elsewhere, have found that praising children for intelligence — “You’re so clever!” — also backfires. In study after study, children rewarded for being smart become more likely to shy away from hard assignments that might tarnish their star reputations.

But children praised for trying hard or taking risks tend to enjoy challenges and find greater success. Children also perform better in the long term when they believe that their intellect is not a birthright but something that grows and develops as they learn new things.
Nice to see some new neurons firing in the minds of educational psychologists. Also nice to learn that my resistance to the Zeitgeist is not misguided.

15.1.12

PROTOTYPE LEARNING SPACES?

Cole Hall will reopen for classes on Tuesday.
With the renovation came the new Jameson Auditorium, a “Collaboratory” classroom and new features for the NIU Anthropology Museum.

The Collaboratory classroom includes separate learning pods that seat eight students each. The pods also have 65-inch high definition digital touch screens. Professors can use a larger screen at the front of the classroom that allows them to project and alter images from each pod.

The Jameson Auditorium has 351 pivoting chairs that allow students to participate in large lectures or small groups. High-definition TV monitors are also available for students who sit in the furthest rows of the auditorium.

The Anthropology Museum includes moveable walls, low-iron glass display cases, a 10-foot glass display case in the museum’s exterior wall and humidity and temperature controls to help preserve the museum’s 12,000 artifacts.
The article does not mention whether the Anime Association will regain the use of the workroom they once maintained in the basement.

ASSET REALLOCATION IMPLIES ASSETS GET REALLOCATED.

David (Spengler) Goldman offers the case for corporate raiders.
Want to see what America would look like without private equity? Move to Detroit and contemplate the ruins of a city ruined by the placid conformity of auto industry executives. The  economic impact of the corporate takeover business can’t be measured by the outcome of takeovers as such. Private equity transformed the way American business thought about the world. If managers did a lousy job, outside investors could raise money (a lot of it from trade union pension funds as well as university endowments) and kick them out.
In much of the Rust Belt, the conservative, cash-rich legacy corporations provided a target for outside investors.  Automobile manufacturing might be a special case, but many of the most spectacular conglomerates (until the day they crashed and burned from excess diversification and too many reality checks) came into being as a way of transferring assets out of railroads or steel or textiles or tobacco companies.  There might have been some oligopoly inefficiencies and complacent management practices to wring out, but Mr Goldman's assertion that the resulting lean and efficient corporations are unequivocally for the good is excessive.  One fad gives way to another, while the large companies hive off the institutional memory that might have prevented some of their recent difficulties.

BLANK-OUT.

I've always understood that the Welfare State exists inter alia because private charities are insufficiently liquid or inclusive enough to do the job.  In Greece, however, as the Welfare State runs out of resources, the church is being asked to pick up the burden.
[Ark of the World youth] Centre founder Fr Antonios Papanikolaou told the Mirror: 'Over the last year we've had hundreds of parents who want to leave their children with us. They know us and trust us.

'They say they do not have any money or shelter or food for their kids, so they hope we might be able to provide them with what they need.'
The next paragraph, however, conflates two errors of economic policy.
Further evidence of Greeks feeling the pinch of austerity measures is the lack of aspirin and other medicines now available in the country.

Pharmacists are struggling to stock their shelves as the Greek government, which sets the prices for drugs, keeps them artificially low.

This means that firms are turning to sell the drugs outside of the country for a higher price - leading to stock depletion for Greeks.

Mina Mavrou, who runs one of the country's 12,000 pharmacies, said she spent hours each day pleading with drug makers, wholesalers and colleagues to hunt down medicines for clients.

And she said that even when drugs were available, pharmacists often must foot the bill up front, or patients simply do without.
There's probably some Affordable Care Provision that limits the price a store can post for a bottle of aspirin, and it's an elementary supply-and-demand exercise to illustrate that when the price is below the equilibrium price, excess demand will follow, and suppliers will look for opportunities to obtain a higher price, even if that means evading export controls.  It has nothing to do with austerity.

WILL THE NEW HIRES RESPOND TO THE INCENTIVES?

The Washington Monthly College Guide follows the recruiting habits of the universities further down the food chain.
It looks like, in many ways, however, it’s a great time to be on the hiring committees at some lower-tier schools, who can now take advantage of the economy to attract some rather prestigious junior faculty.
In many cases, these hires are for contingent, non-tenure-track positions, which will preclude many of those hired from participating in departmental, college, and university policy-makings.  The article concludes with the suggestion that universities look, again, at whether their graduate programs are producing excessively many students.

It's also difficult to predict how the presence of Ph.D.s from higher up the food chain will affect policy at those universities, once a few of them make tenure.  Will they argue for raising the academic profile of their department (a good idea at the undergraduate level, possibly futile in some of the graduate disciplines)?  Or will they go along with the we're-not-as-good-as-Ann Arbor (substitute any other flagship) and-there's-no-reason-to-work harder?

TOO MANY MISTAKES.

Packers will begin their next season at the home of the yet-to-be-determined league champion.  Lose as many fumbles in one playoff game as in sixteen regular season games, and home field just gets you booed.

12.1.12

BARACK HUSSEIN OBAMA, NEOCONSERVATIVE.

The most vocal critics of Our President might not be the contenders for the Republican nomination.  Book Review No. 2 suggests that a different dissenting point of view is available in Chris Hedges's Death of the Liberal Class.   The reader must understand, however, that Liberal Class is not about Daniel Patrick Moynihan or Hillary Clinton or Rachel Maddow.  Oh, no, no, no.  Turn to page 122.  The New Left of the 1960s, and French poststructuralism are "political sterility" and a "charade of protest."  (On the right, calling these things a lot of wordnoise, or primeval nostalgia, is good enough.)  Just having a bad day, or perhaps an expensive cup of coffee during thinking time?  Not at all.  The message is one in which the policy impulses of the Social Gospel and the era of muckrakers is crowded out by bipartisanship and the corporate media, with a few "fascist" characterizations thrown in for good measure.  Go forward by going backwards, as this call to action at page 156 suggests.
The best opportunities for radical social change exist among the poor, the homeless, the working class, and the destitute.  As the numbers of disenfranchised dramatically increase, our only hope is to connect ourselves with the daily injustices visited upon the weak and the outcast.  Out of this contact we can resurrect, from the ground up, a social ethic, a new movement. We must hand out bowls of soup.  Coax the homeless into a shower.  Make sure those who are mentally ill, cruelly abandoned on city sidewalks, take their medication.  We must go back into America's segregated schools and prisons.  We must protest, learn to live simply and begin, in an age of material and imperial decline, to speak with a new humility.  It is in the tangible, mundane, and difficult work of forming groups and communities to care for others that we will kindle the outrage and the moral vision to fight back, that we will articulate an alternative.
Set the Wayback Machine to 1848 and start over.  The book was written before the Occupy protesters hit the street.  Plenty of outrage, but not much by way of humility there.  Other recommendations in a similar vein might be, with modifications only to the politics, useful for survivalists seeking to withdraw from a society in collapse because of too much preference for the weak and the outcast.

What about Our President?  That's page 199.
Obama had almost no experience besides two years in the Senate, where his voting record was a dismal capitulation to corporate power.  But, once again, the electronic hallucinations that assault us rendered most voters incapable of thought and response.  The superficial, the trivial, and the sensational mask our deep cultural, economic, political, and environmental disintegration as well as the newest political diversion approved by the corporate state.  We remain hypnotized by flickering images we mistake for reality.
The academic Left likes its false consciousness.  Rush Limbaugh likes to denounce slick marketing and packaging.  You're more likely to hear sniping from the Right about Senator Obama voting present.

Ultimately, though, Mr Hedges gives the impression that it's harder for Nation scribblers to get an audience than it used to be, that is, unless you're dorky-looking enough for MSNBC.  See page 209.
Journalists, once able to sell articles to publications overseas, now see their work flash around the globe without hope of compensation.  We are starving our professional critics and artists. We are turning culture and art over to part-time amateurs.
He continues, trying to have it both ways.  On one hand, he writes of "idiotic distractions that draw huge number of You Tube hits or public-relations created propaganda."  With no shame at all, he follows with, "And any work that cannot gain corporate sponsorship or attract advertising dollars will be ignored."  Next comes a gripe about the weakening of intellectual property rights and the destructive effects of what he calls "digital collectivism."

Perhaps boring institutions such as well-defined rules of ownership and contract, and division of labor, have more potential for improving the lives of people than all the voluntary communities of protest can ever do.

(Cross-posted to 50 Book Challenge.)

SPOT THE ENTITLEMENT.

An Inside Higher Ed post documents some recent Occupy Wall Street protests inside Wall Street job fairs at Ivy League universities.  That's fairly standard stuff.  What intrigues is the restricted sense in which the column uses the expression "entitled".
“There’s a sense among students who easily could feel entitled that they have a responsibility to society, as leaders, to improve that society, and that right now for many people that society doesn’t seem to be working,” [Harvard professor of leadership development Rakesh] Khurana said, adding that the number of students interested in solving the world’s problems – environmental, economic, social – is “amazing.”  “I think what we have to do as an institution is to make it easier for students to see the path by which they can do that. We haven’t created, in many ways, the clarity of the career paths in which you get to go do those things.”
There's one sense of entitlement, in which one gets good grades in high school in order to secure admission to Harvard, and gets good grades there in order to hire out with a trading house, or to secure admission to the right business or law program, in order to rack up the big bucks.

There's another sense of entitlement, in which one gets good grades in high school in order to secure admission to Harvard, and gets good grades there in order to go into "public service," perhaps after that stint in law school, in order to spend the taxpayers' money more sensibly than the taxpayers could on their own.

That a Harvard professor is noting a lack of clarity of the career paths might suggest that all of higher education's egalitarian posturing is for nought.

THE UNREPRESENTATIVE REPUBLIC.

The DeKalb Chronicle opens up a can on the Illinois Tollway Authority, going so far as to allude to taxation without representation.
The Tollway board now has three members from Chicago, whose city limits barely touch one toll road near O’Hare International Airport. They are chairwoman Paula Wolff, James Banks and James Sweeney.

Five members live in the suburbs: David Gonzalez of Chicago Heights, Jeffrey Redick of Elmhurst, Mark Peterson of Lincolnshire, Terrence D’Arcy of Shorewood and Tom Weisner of Aurora.

The only non-Chicago, nonsuburban board member is Carl Towns of Rockford.
The editorial calls for board members who live in counties adjacent to the toll roads.  Whether that would have led to the authority being closed down once the original tollway bonds were paid off, as the statutes creating the authority envisioned, or whether such a board would increase tolls in a different way to pay for a different set of pet projects the editorial does not say.

11.1.12

POLITICAL COMMENTARY DISGUISED AS AN ACTION THRILLER.

The first entry in this year's Fifty Book Challenge will be Tom Clancy's Locked On.  I read it rather quickly, and it has a lot of the usual characters going after the usual suspects, with some of the usual antagonists.  Maybe I should call it a work "in the school of Tom Clancy," as one Mark Greaney is stealthily listed as a coauthor.  Maybe I'm getting jaded with the genre, or maybe the electoral tussle between Jack Ryan, seeking to be the first President since Grover Cleveland to serve non-concurrent terms, and a thinly disguised Edward Kennedy with the policy preferences of Barack Hussein Obama, right down to the Alinskyite allies who are more transparent in the book than in real life, is beginning to crowd out the plot and character development.

(Cross-posted to 50 Book Challenge.)

THE PROBLEM WITH CAPITALISM IS CAPITALISTS.

Ed Driscoll is assisting at Instapundit, and he points to an Irwin Stelzer essay in The Weekly Standard.  Shorter argument: pro-market policies are not the same thing as pro-business policies, and the Big Bankers are notoriously demonstrating their ignorance of that lesson.
Most surprising are the objections of leaders of the banking community to quite sensible reforms, their willingness to sacrifice long-term support for the market system to the desire for short-term profits. It is true, for example, that higher capital requirements for banks, requirements that “don’t go nearly far enough” according to John Cochrane, finance professor at the University of Chicago, will reduce their profits. That is so—but only because requiring banks to hold more capital reduces the risk of failure or the need for bailouts, risks that have until now been borne by taxpayers.

Also difficult to understand is their failure to comprehend that some practices, such as imposing retroactive increases in interest rates on bank credit cards, are deeply objectionable to consumers, even if technically justifiable. And their failure to realize that large bonuses at a time when 25 million Americans can’t find any or enough work are an excess they might want to forgo in the interests of maintaining support for the system that has been kind to them—including bailing them out when they hit the rocks. One investment bank warned its highflyers not to be seen in Porsche showrooms, so it’s not as if these bonus recipients are unaware that something potentially unpleasant is brewing out there in the world beyond their office towers.

Bankers are not alone in their failure to understand that something must be done to prevent the opposition to many features of the current system from creating an atmosphere that will support “reforms” so draconian that the resulting system will retain few of the virtues of the existing one. The corpocracy at times seems equally obtuse, as when its leaders call for repeal of the provisions of the Sarbanes-Oxley law that make it easier for shareholders to rid themselves of underperforming directors, and require that directors be truly independent, rather than chums of the CEO, especially when serving on compensation committees. The breaking of the link between performance and reward that results from friends-of-the-CEO boards of directors does as much to undermine capitalism’s claim to legitimacy as financiers’ obtuseness about their responsibility to act as if they are members of a society that extends beyond executive dining rooms and country clubs.
He offers an observation on the political economy of public policy.
I am not one who sees in the Occupiers the wave of the future. They are not the real worry to those of us who fear for the future of market capitalism in America. It is the failure of the major beneficiaries of the capitalist system to understand that openness to reform, combined with a bit of restraint when carving up the huge pie that capitalism is capable of producing, is the best way to head off those people who would alter market capitalism beyond recognition by imposing punitive taxes, onerous regulations, investment-distorting subsidies, along with a bloated government. Those folks are dangerous enough to America’s future prosperity without being handed the gift of obtuse opposition to needed change.
That is one approach. Be receptive, as well, to the possibility that business might go along with the regulatory state with a view toward capturing the agencies, particularly if those agencies suffer from cognitive hubris.

LET THE CARPING BEGIN.

"Others receiving votes" isn't enough for sportswriter Ryan Wood.
I was surprised NIU didn’t crack the top 25 when the final polls were released Tuesday. Of course, we know voters don’t watch many of the games, making results outside the nation’s top 15 teams flimsy – if they have any meaning at all. And the losses to Kansas and Central Michigan dampen the shine beaming from NIU’s accomplishments, notably the nation’s longest win streak and a title in a conference that was 4-1 this bowl season.

But No. 26 NIU was one of 16 teams in the country to win 11 games. None of the other 15 won their final nine games.

If this was a conversation about the nation’s top 20, NIU wouldn’t belong. But you can’t tell me BYU and Cincinnati – two teams that beat nobody, by the way – are better than NIU.
Whatever. Football offers great play value. Monday to Friday, come here to be an Excellent Student and stick around for the steel band or the Avalon Quartet.

10.1.12

HELLO, NEW READERS.

The Fifty Book Challenge, which started as a temporary community, has continued in operation and Live Journal highlighted it for 2011.  An encouraging cohort of new members has begun posting.

I've been playing along since 2005, and here is the final report for 2011.   I no longer feel any pressure to file fifty reports, so the roundup will stop at 36.  Lots of exciting football and some progress on the model railroad and the continued fruits of downsizing at work make for a tired weblogger some days.  The links for the final seven go to detailed reports at the Challenge.  Some books are particularly good (+), others particularly bad (-).
  1. The Help, 15 October 2011 (+).
  2. Trading Up: The New American Luxury, 16 October 2011 (-).
  3. 11/22/63, 22 November 2011.
  4. That Used to Be Us: How America Fell Behind in the World It Invented and How We Can Come Back, 12 December 2011 (-).
  5. American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America, 21 December 2011 (+).
  6. The Time of Our Lives: A Conversation About America, 26 December 2011 (-).
  7. America's Quarterback: Bart Starr and the Rise of the National Football League, 29 December 2011.
The third quarter report is available here, or at the Fifty Book Challenge, or on the European Tribune.

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.

The new segments of the bookworm highlight the football season as perceived from here.

Ooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo


There are more books stacked for review, and year eight of reports will commence shortly, although the fifty is more likely to be a nice-to-have than a must-do.  New members, don't be put off by my lethargy!

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

BEFORE THE GERM THEORY OF DISEASE.

Voluntary Xchange contemplates the health benefits of beer, or tea.  The transition from being drunk to being wired matters.
People drank all day at that time because the water wasn’t safe to drink. They didn’t understand the mechanism, but there were clear medicinal reasons for a lot of beer and wine (remember that spirits were in their infancy at this point).

Yet, people had the technology to boil their water. The thing is, they didn’t recognize the advantages of this. There’s an unusual research project there for a Ph.D. student: why exactly wasn’t this discovered. Because what’s interesting is that they did learn to boil water to make a mild drug: coffee or tea. So it clearly took a little extra marginal benefit to convince people to drink hot liquids, but not too much.
It's significant, I suppose, that the legend of James Watt and the steam engine begins with the lid on a tea kettle, rather than on a beer fermenter.

THE FUNDAMENTAL CONTRADICTIONS OF TECHNOCRACY.

David Brooks meditates on the tendency of rent-seekers to capture government.
You would think that liberals would have a special incentive to root out rent-seeking. Yet this has not been a major priority. There is no Steve Jobs figure in American liberalism insisting that the designers keep government simple, elegant and user-friendly. Sailors scrub their ships. Farmers clear weeds. Democrats have not spent a lot of time scraping barnacles off the state.
Am I being churlish, or just old, to point out that deregulation in transportation and the utilities began in the Carter administration, with the support of Ralph Nader and Edward Kennedy, and the biggest cuts to the Amtrak network took place under President Carter's watch.  I know I'm old when Mr Brooks's call to "choose a rent-seeker to hold up for ridicule and renunciation" reminds me of Senator Proxmire's Golden Fleece Awards.