30.6.12

A CUSHY BILLET, BEHIND ENEMY LINES.

Some years ago, literary type Harry Stein was mugged by reality sufficiently many times to pen How I Accidentally Joined the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy, which made it into the Cold Spring Shops library before the Fifty Book Challenge began.  More recently, he wrote I Can't Believe I'm Sitting Next To a Republican, in which he relates some of his experiences as the sole, or perhaps most vocal, dissenting voice from the Blue State Smug.  There's enough substance in it to evade the proscription of polemical material and offer a very brief Book Review No. 22.  The simplest way to understand the book is to consider the possibility that a Pauline Kael could be surprised with a Richard Nixon victory because either Pauline Kael's social world is as circumscribed as Mr Stein suggests it is, or because Pauline Kael's friends have marginalized by their scorn those people who might agree with the intellectual Right, or have persuaded those people who suggest those righties have a point to keep still.  That point, expressed most succinctly, might have been made by Madison radio talker Vicki McKenna, who gets props from Mr Stein for expressing dissenting views from within one of the citadels of Political Correctness.  Turn to page 126.
We start a brand new class in the public schools, running from kindergarten all the way through high school.  It's called "Middle Class Values."  And Mom's got to take the class, too -- because she fails to understand what deferred gratification is.
Once upon a time, the common schools implicitly did that -- that is, until the cultural studies types decided that "privileging" the mode of behavior of successful people had more negative than positive effects.  By their fruits shall ye know them.

(Cross-posted to 50 Book Challenge.)

FIRST AND SECOND 98.

Sounds like a pair of redball freight trains, but it's a reference to the kind of wind velocities Friday's pair of derechos achieved while making the kind of time across country an express train could make if it didn't have to stop for crew changes or 500 mile inspections.

The first one got organized in eastern Iowa and it produced some interesting looking clouds in northern Illinois.


That colorful clutter in the lower middle of the picture is a bounce-house.  Look closely and you'll see somebody hustling to mow the grass before the rain hits.  The bounce-house was well enough secured to serve at a birthday party this afternoon.  Lots of tots running around enjoying themselves.

The second one came through just after sunset.  A train's schedule is valid for twelve hours, and this second one was about ten hours behind the first.



Cold Spring Shops headquarters are somewhere under that little blue blob just west of Chicago.  Lots of lightning announcing itself, but most of that went north or south.  There was enough rain to fill the rain barrel.  The second section never got to be as big or as destructive as the first section, which, in this picture, is causing havoc at the University Diaries main base.

AROUND THE ROCKIES, NOT THROUGH THEM.

Amtrak's California Zephyr reverts to its historic California Service routing.
The [Pine Ridge] fire is burning in six-mile long Debeque Canyon, 60 miles west of Glenwood Springs, Colo. on the Zephyr’s former Denver & Rio Grande Western route. The trains will be routed over the Union Pacific’s Overland Route through Green River, Wyo., and Ogden, Utah.
Note: that fire is on the other side of the Continental Divide from the more widely-covered Estes Park and Colorado Springs fires.

29.6.12

THE POVERTY OF CULTURAL STUDIES.

Cornell historian Jefferson Cowie attempts, in Stayin' Alive: The 1970s and the Last Days of the Working Class, to come to terms with the end of the World War II New Industrial State and the propensity of blue collars to cause red necks.  I exaggerate, but only slightly.  The book is a different perspective on blue-collar politics from those proposed by Thomas Frank or by Richard Longworth.  Although Professor Cowie takes pains to assure readers that working-class is not equivalent to organized labor, the book we read switches among Presidential politics, Big Union politics, and perusal of songs and movies by Big Entertainment, particularly those directed by Big Entertainers who might have been red-diaper babies.  Book Review No. 21 will consider, at length, the ways in which Stayin' Alive tells readers more about the intellectual failures of the last forty years of post-everything in cultural studies, and perhaps in the academy generally, than it does about the difficulties confronting blue-collar workers.

A RAIL CITY, WITHOUT RAILROADS.

Midwestern ferroequinologists know the significance of Butler Yard to the Chicago and North Western.  Butler Yard, however, is not in the corporate limits of Butler.  That doesn't stop Union Pacific from recognizing Butler as Wisconsin's first Train Town, USA, part of the carrier's sesquicentennial festivities.

TWO SYSTEMS OF BELIEF.

Very similar inferences, all the same.  Michael Moore:
John Roberts, not only joined with the liberal justices to completely uphold almost every single part of the Obama health care law, he wrote the majority opinion himself! In fact, he went even further. When he realized that the government had poorly made its constitutional case to the court, he went searching for a clause in their argument and the constitution that would give him the justification he needed to back the administration and to insure that his decision would hold up legally. In other words, even though he is on the opposite side of the political fence, he wrote the Dems' paper for them. Stunning.
Rush Limbaugh:
Other than the four liberals, they all knew the whole thing was unconstitutional and Justice Roberts decided to rewrite it. He rewrote the legislation in a way that Congress never intended it. It would be like a judge making up for an incompetent lawyer in court and finding somebody who's guilty totally innocent just because the judge wanted to appear magnanimous. Or vice versa. It makes going without insurance just another thing the government taxes, like buying gasoline or earning income.
Read further into the columns, however, and you'll see very different proposals for what has to be done now that the Chief Justice has done the legislature's homework for them.

MARGINAL OR INFRAMARGINAL, PECUNIARY OR NONPECUNIARY?

George Leef questions the spillover benefits of higher education subsidies. Knowledge and skills are not public goods even though some people in society benefit from them.  The focus of his discussion is on how much of the spillover can be captured as a private benefit to the investor in human capital.
What especially raised [the Century Foundation's Richard] Kahlenberg’s hackles was that [Chicago finance professor Luigi] Zingales “conceptualizes higher education as an almost purely private good.” Bad idea, Kahlenberg says, because “we are all ‘beneficiaries’ to some extent when other members of society are better educated.”

Kahlenberg’s idea is one of those progressive shibboleths that sound so nice that they usually go unchallenged. We need to challenge it. Is it true that we all benefit when people become “better educated” and if so, does it follow that government ought to fund higher education in whole or in part?

Let’s start by drawing a distinction between training and education.  People spend time and money to develop competencies in producing goods and services, in return for which they expect to be paid. People learn how to do surgery, how to install drywall, how to fix computers, how to sell insurance, how to write novels, how to teach English, and countless other kinds of work. Some of their training may be done in formal education settings, but much of it occurs on the job.

Because they intend to use their skills to make a living, individuals have a very strong incentive to find the optimal degree of training. The government does not need to intervene to tell a lawyer, for example, that she ought to become better trained. She will figure out the point at which the cost of additional study and training exceeds the benefit from it.

The same is true for all other professions and occupations. People will invest in the “human capital” needed to succeed in a field, weighing costs and benefits to find the optimal point. There is no need to subsidize their investments.
The gravamen of Mr Leef's argument is that a classroom and an on-the job environment are equivalent in developing human capital.  In the case of lawyering, that may not be the case, depending on the propensity of the apprentice's mentor to instill an understanding of professional ethics as limits to be pushed, or as constraints, the respect of which makes the services of the lawyer more valuable.  To grant that possibility, however, does not imply a public benefit to be captured through public subsidies to the law colleges.
In short, there is no need for government subsidies for training. Think back to the time before any such subsidies. In colonial America, the people had access to highly skilled workers, craftsmen, and professionals. The government’s role: none at all.

So, what about education?  Let’s say that education comprises all the non-training aspects of college: learning to write a good essay, learning about history, about our culture, about science and scientific method, about mathematics, about literature, and so on. Isn’t society better off if more people absorb more of all that?

Again, the individuals who absorb that learning may be better off. A student, Pete, who takes a good college course on, say, British literature, may very well benefit. Perhaps he uses his knowledge to impress a girlfriend; perhaps to get a question right on Jeopardy; perhaps to enlighten others and recommend fine books.  Pete benefits from his education and some others probably do, too. It’s a prodigious stretch, however, to say that society benefits. Good for Pete that he chose to spend his time and money learning about literature, but there is no reason why the citizens at large should be taxed to help him pay for it.
Yes and no. On the one hand, in the colonial era the craftsmen began their career as apprentices, in an institutional arrangement inherited from the guilds -- themselves state-sanctioned monopolies -- and perhaps the financial aid for the apprentice was in the form of an indenture -- an outcome Mr Kahlenberg fears, although one that his essay draws unsupported analogies to.  On the other hand, perhaps the spillover benefits are a product of elementary school, and sociopathic aspiring lawyers and hedge fund managers received inadequate development of their consciences from an early age.

SUPPLANTING THE NIELSEN RATINGS?

The local newspaper is looking for ways to enhance sponsorships.
When readers first visit HuskieWire.com, they will see our home page as usual. But when clicking on the first headline, readers will be asked a question such as, “Do you drink pop?” Readers also may be asked to “Like” the story on Facebook.

By performing either of these quick actions, the full story will appear. The survey is part of our continued exploration into how we can work with internet companies such as Google.

The survey question will be displayed only on the first story the reader views. Readers will be asked to answer only one simple survey every 24 hours. All surveys will be completely anonymous, and Google will not use any data collected for their own ad targeting.
Not yet.

I suppose it's less intrusive than having to register or buy a subscription for online content.

28.6.12

THE VALUE OF DE-ACCESSIONING ITEMS.

One of the occupational hazards of reading things for a living is that books and papers accumulate.  One of the realities of doing the work of several people in an era of downsizing is that time to clear out the excess is hard come by or put to other uses, such as maintaining a web journal.  Thus comes Robin Zasio, the staff psychologist for A&E's Hoarders, and her The Hoarder in You: How to Live a Happier, Healthier, Uncluttered Life.  Book Review No. 20: sneak up on the task, clear it out a little at a time.  If you're considering the book as a nudge to a friend or family member whose housekeeping skills you find deficient, read it first.  Will it earn a place on the shelf and contribute to the hoard library?  Probably not.

(Cross-posted to 50 Book Challenge.)

NOT PHOTOSHOPPED

The Germans are working on a new kind of trackless trolley.



The article notes there's nothing new in an electrically-powered road vehicle, although those current collectors are a bit much.
So-called “trackless trolleys” – passenger buses operated electrically with double overhead lines to supply the power – are in operation in many cities including Seattle, San Francisco, the Ruhr region in northwestern Germany, Switzerland, and dozens of other locations around the world for many decades. But Siemens idea is to electrify one lane of a limited access highway for powering trucks. The trucks are equipped with a double pantograph current collector, somewhat similar to modern trains except there are two of them side-by-side. The trucks themselves are dual-mode, they can interchangeably drive from electric power or the usual diesel engine. The goal is to eliminate diesel exhaust emissions from trucks on major highways in urban areas. Los Angeles and several other cities are reportedly looking seriously at Siemens proposal.
Regular readers know there are trackless trolleys -- in Milwaukee locution, trolley buses -- in the Cold Spring Shops.


Destination: Freedom goes on with a suggestion.
The added costs of electric / diesel trucks is anyone’s guess, perhaps $20,000 per vehicle, maybe less, or possibly far more. It all begs the question, if you want to move freight through urban environments using electric power, maybe an invention that dates backs over 100 years and today is in widespread use on five or six continents is perhaps the way to go. What is this century-old invention that efficiently eliminates engine exhaust emissions caused by moving many tons of freight through heavily populated areas? The electrified railroad.
The proper locution is "raises the question," not "begs the question". Nitpicking aside, this is what an electrified intermodal train looks like.


Mantua, Pennsylvania, May 1958.

You'd have to raise that catenary a few feet to clear stack trains, although The Pennsylvania Railroad and Penn Central did handle autoracks on the Northeast Corridor.

WHEN THE INCOME EFFECT SWAMPS THE SUBSTITUTION EFFECT.

Cold Spring Shops has long maintained that emergent worker behavior will lead to shorter working hours and getting off the 24/7 treadmill. "Whether your model of behavior is "Going Galt" or "Take This Job and Shove It", the resistance grows." Here's a report from the front lines of Manhattan, likely to be the last refuge of the frenetic striver.
Perhaps people are looking around at the intensity of how we work and are constantly connected and are taking a step back wanting to simplify and enjoy their life through something that they are truly passionate about.  I am not so sure we are slowing down but we are shifting.  We are moving into the next generation post-2008 when the world imploded.  We might be slowly coming out of that time but the economy, the Internet, the world is a very different place.  The changes are subtle now but in a few years we will see them more intensely as the generation graduating from college now makes their mark on the world and the ones jumping off their career paths.
And you have to love the graphic that accompanies the post.





Her post elaborates on the discovery by the bosses' newspaper of tired people pushing back, right under their noses.
Single professionals report going to extremes to manage non-work duties—buying extra socks and sheets to avoid doing laundry, cooking and freezing 20 meals at once to save time or jamming two or three workouts into the weekend to try to stay in shape.

A 37-year-old New Jersey project consultant with an active social life says she faces piles of dirty dishes, laundry and unanswered mail when she gets home each evening, and she can't get started on important financial planning.
Note: singles. This isn't your standard Two-Income Trap or lack of family friendly policies stuff, this is burning out your human capital, plain and simple. And the human capital is beginning to decide that, recession jobless recovery or no, it's not worth it, despite emergent attempts of employers to let workers have a life.
As pressure to increase sales kept mounting, "I was really becoming more irritable," avoiding social activities, [onetime ad-sales representative Craig Ellwanger] says. Battling insomnia, he stopped seeing friends and stayed home alone on weekends, watching football on TV and putting off laundry, grocery shopping and paying bills. Although he normally relishes cooking, he reverted to dining on ramen noodles.

Finally in January, he quit, telling himself, "I've got to do this before I go crazy."
A microeconomist's take on the economic recovery: watch the separations statistics. It's likely that a lot of workers are putting up with being on call all the time out of the fear that the only thing worse than being overworked is being out of work. But as those green shoots develop and hiring picks up, watch for people using their exit option.

It's also encouraging that employers are recognizing the folly of protecting their workers who are parents because they expect the single people to cover for them.
Many employers have added "work-life benefits," such as flexible scheduling and personal time off, in an effort to keep all kinds of employees happy, with and without kids and spouses.

But the benefits only go so far. Heavy workloads keep many employees from using them. And for men and women alike, some managers still assume singles don't have anything to do but work and pile on extra duties and projects, according to research by Wendy Casper, an associate professor of management at the University of Texas at Arlington.
It might be the case that some of those single people work as a way of separating themselves from the pack. On the other hand, observers of workplace dynamics might want to look for pushback from single employees asked to cover so that a colleague can get to a soccer match, or, more deliciously, divorce court.

SCHOOL FAILURE IS NOT FOR A LACK OF MONEY.

Former union representative and playwright David Macaray thinks he's arguing against teacher-bashing and standardized tests. Read carefully, though, and he's identifying the real problem with students not getting all they could out of school.
Nearly everyone regretted the exact same thing.  They regretted they hadn’t been better students—and not just in high school, but all the way back to elementary school.  These good people regretted that they hadn’t been more mature, that they hadn’t applied themselves more diligently, that they hadn’t paid attention in class, and that they hadn’t buckled down and done their assigned homework.  They more or less regretted their entire attitude toward education.

And while I’m not suggesting that this informal survey was in any way “conclusive,” the difference in responses between men and women was nonetheless surprising.  Virtually every man I spoke to blamed himself for his deficiency.  He readily acknowledged that in elementary school all he did was watch TV and goof off, and that by the time he reached high school he was more interested in girls and cars and sports than school work.
Gosh, did those young men arrive at school without the habits of the middle class, and did the schools do nothing to suggest that acquiring those habits might matter? Notice: although the essay disaggregates responses by sex, the responses of the females do not differ in ways that might support a war-on-boys interpretation of the troubles the males had.
But while the women also regretted that they, too, hadn’t applied themselves, their assessment differed a bit from the men’s.  Women were more willing to fault their parents (particularly their mothers) for not having dogged them enough.  They were critical of their mothers for not having sufficiently “pushed” them to be good students, and for not having “had higher [academic] expectations” for them.

It didn’t seem that any of these women (most of whom were late thirties or older) were especially bitter, or were playing the martyr card, or were using their moms as scapegoats.  What they were doing was simply looking back on their lives and candidly recalling that a lack of parental-imposed motivation and discipline had hindered them academically.

In any event, here’s the kicker.  Not one of them blamed their teachers.
Perhaps not, but when the mothers didn't develop the cultural capital of their girls, why not?  Did the mothers' schooling neglect the development of cultural capital, because doing so was oppressive?

FOURTH TURNING ALERT?

In The New Criterion, James Piereson suggests that the breakdown of The Vital Progressive Center, otherwise known as the social order that emerged out of the victory in World War II, with more than a little structure inherited from the New Deal, can no longer be sustained by piecemeal reform or by compromise.
The deeper causes lie in the exhaustion of the post-war system of political economy that took shape in the 1930s and 1940s. One pillar of that system emerged out of the New Deal with its emphasis upon national regulation of the economy, social insurance, expanding personal consumption, and public debt; the second emerged out of World War II with the U.S. dollar as the world’s reserve currency and the U.S. military as the protector of the international trading system. The post-war system created the basis for unprecedented prosperity in the United States and the Western world. That system is now unwinding for several reasons, not least because the American economy can no longer underwrite the debt and public promises that have piled up over the decades. The urgent need to cancel or renegotiate these debts and public promises on short notice will ignite the upheaval referred to here as “the fourth revolution.” There will follow an extended period of conflict in the United States between the two political parties as they compete for support either to maintain the post-war system or to identify a successor to it.
It's a long article, and unrelievedly pessimistic, yet worth careful study.

HUMANS AS HAMSTERS.

The Nation's Ari Melber makes an instructive observation about today's Supreme Court ruling on the health care reform law.
While this ruling is huge political news, validating the largest domestic achievement of President Obama's presidency, it does not significantly alter Supreme Court precedent or the powers reserved for the Congress.  For all the political attacks on the Affordable Health Care Act, a year ago, few legal scholars took the [constitutional] challenge seriously. Today's opinion, joined by Chief Justice John Roberts, essentially endorses the current status quo, which enables Congress to use its taxing power to shape national policy and to incentivize certain behavior.
No less an expert on Pigouvian taxation than Greg Mankiw described the tax penalty for failure to buy insurance in such terms, back in December 2007.  Choose not to buy health insurance, lose a tax deduction.

Whether mandate-as-tax convinces people or polarizes people I leave for others to debate.  The Court's ruling, however, opens the field to critics of state action who object to tax incentives, whether optimized for second-best effects or not, on philosophical grounds.  Putting that objection simply: a tax code with targeted tax cuts, deductions, and penalties to encourage or discourage various behaviors reduces taxpayers to the status of laboratory animals, learning to press levers and receive pellets.

24.6.12

SETTLING INTELLECTUAL SCORES.

Paul Krugman made his reputation as a research economist applying ideas from regional science to international trade.  Of late, he's taken an interest in macroeconomic policy, with mixed results.  On one hand, he's made the case for better national income accounting.  On the other hand, sometimes he sounds like just another hack for the left wing of the Democratic Party.  A few years ago, he made the case for intellectual diversity in macroeconomics in The Return of Depression Economics and the Crisis of 2008, reviewed here.  The intellectual diversity he's referring to is received Keynesian macroeconomics, the mainstream intellectual tradition from the late 1950s into the 1960s, but one obscured or marginalized or ignored since the emergence of rational expectations and real business cycles and micro-foundations since then.  In End This Depression Now! one of the lines of argument he raises is that academic economists committed an intellectual error by so doing.  Because the book is written for the educated layman, not the macroeconomics workshop, it has more by way of polemic and less by way of recognition of stagflation and the rest of the real-world events of the 1970s that gave the New Classical and other lines of research the anomalies calling for a new paradigm.  Book Review No. 19 suggests that if readers take End This Depression in the spirit in which it is offered, and filter out the polemics and the academic score-settling, there might be a little bit of instructive stuff, such as the fundamental problem with the Euro being the absence of any sort of central bank with credible borrowing and lending ability (that problem also being an argument against allowing each state of the U.S. to have its own currency), and the possibility that when an economy appears to be in a liquidity trap, some aggressive fiscal policy might be in order.  At the Chicago Tribune, Steve Chapman writes something that reads a lot like Krugman.
By now, it should be obvious that the problem is not that the Fed has injected too much money into the economy but too little. The price of gold — which jumps at the slightest whiff of inflation — has plunged from more than $1,900 an ounce last year to less than $1,630.

The commodity price index is down 7 percent from a year ago. Home sales have been tepid despite mortgage rates lower than anyone could ever have dreamed.

When lenders anticipate debasement of the currency, they demand higher interest rates to compensate for the risk. But currently, five-year Treasury bills are paying 0.71 percent, and 20-year bonds offer only 2.33 percent. In the mid-90s, a period of low inflation, those rates ranged well north of 5 percent.
That, stated simply, is the basis of the Krugman recommendation for ending the depression: take those cheap borrowings, use them to employ people, and make use of the accounting identity that my purchase is your income.  Whether Professor Krugman has correctly analyzed the Obama administration as being too cautious in its fiscal policy, or whether subsequent research will understand the administration as attempting too many things with its stimulus (most notably, shovel-ready is a nod to environmental interest) will await the production of a few doctoral dissertations.  That is, if there are any academic departments left to produce dissertations.

(Cross-posted to 50 Book Challenge.)

CURTAILING DOUBLE DIPPING.

It's not uncommon for professors to take their pensions and return to the classroom on a part-time basis.   Probably Pareto-improving, too: the former faculty members do not have to serve on committees, and the university does not have to pay as much in salary in benefits.  Those professors continue to draw pensions, and one legislator wants to curtail the universities shifting payroll costs to the inadequately funded retirement system.
“It is possible under the current law under the current pension code for an employee of the university system … to effectively offload a substantial portion of their compensation from the university to the pension system by kind of artificially retiring and returning to work,” [Evanston state representative Daniel] Biss said. “It [HB 4996] attempts to curb some of the more inexcusable instances of this practice.”
Under the proposed legislation, a faculty member teaching one course per academic year, or one conducting sponsored research, is not engaging in an inexcusable instance.

LET THE KIDS BE KIDS.

Chicago Tribune columnist John Keilman suggests that positional arms races in youth sports are for the benefit of the parents, not their kids.
I'm thinking of a recent day when my son went to a friend's house to play street hockey. At first it was just the two of them, but then other boys started pouring from their houses, and before you knew it, a dozen of them were running, laughing and blasting the lightweight puck at each other.

I'll bet he remembers that forever. It was a wonderful afternoon — mostlyno doubt,because adults had nothing to do with it.
Indeed. Go, read, and understand.

POSITIVE NEGATIVE FEEDBACK.

Abraham Miller, for Pajamas Media, asks readers to reconsider a pop-social science commonplace in light of street crime intruding into supposedly safe tourist areas of Chicago.
We all know how to avoid those, unless our economic circumstances regrettably compel us to live in such neighborhoods. Last week, 53 people were shot in Chicago. Most of us will dismiss this as an irrelevant statistic.  After all, we know without reading the papers where those people live: in the south and west sides. There, the population is largely black or  Latino,  gangs fight turf wars over the drug trade, and getting a gun is not only a rite of passage but also is more common than getting a high school diploma.

We don’t ask if our laws and social system have gone astray in tolerating such violence.  After all, we delude ourselves into believing that people like us are immune to being violated in our own safe neighborhoods. Basically, we know where to go or not go in our cities and don’t question if it’s acceptable for some of our fellow citizens to live under persistently threatening conditions.

We assume that because people who look like the victims are also the perpetrators, it’s not our problem. Our continually reinforced ethnic tribalism really comes down to: we don’t give a damn about black-on-black violence or what happens in the deteriorating parts of our city. We can be smug about gun control because none of our neighbors are shooting each other. We can be self-righteous about microscopic adherence to due process because none of us will have to testify in open court against people who belong to vengeful criminal organizations.

Such delusions are part of what makes us not only smug but also hypocrites. We invoke the notion that poverty causes crime.  If only we’d have greater redistribution of income and wealth, all this would go away. We take comfort in the idea that there is a solution to the problem. Why not? It’s ingrained in our psyches, pontificated as one of the few real “laws” of social science, and comes to us as strongly from the classrooms as it does from the bar stools. We can, thus, avoid the thought of 53 white people being gunned down on our streets over a few days.

But as the late James Q. Wilson so artfully pointed out decades ago, it might be that poverty causing crime is just another logical fallacy. Wilson challenged us to think that maybe it’s the other way around: crime causes poverty.
Good research is hard, because phenomena might have multi-directional causality.  Thus, the absence of opportunities to pursue accepted lines of endeavour might lead people to live by a different line of endeavour.  At the same time, though, the emergence of those criminal endeavours might drive the productive people out, which is Professor Miller's point.

In Chicago, though, the rising frequency of flash-mob and gang-territorial incursions into tourist areas has at least one alderman fearing Chicago is becoming Detroit.  That's not wholly inaccurate: the Murder City description of Motown preceded the first Chrysler bailout and the shake-out of auto assembly plants within the city limits.  Second City Cop suggests Chicago is "most of the way" to becoming Detroit already.

A BICENTENNIAL.

Napoleon, deciding that invading England by sea would be too difficult, turned east.  Quite possibly the best statistical graphic, and the best church-consecration music to celebrate American Independence by resulted.

Six score and nine years later another former corporal repeated the error.

TIME FOR A NEW METAPHOR?

A human-interest story about an excursion train says it will "chug" through town.
The train of nine historical passenger cars from the 1940s and ’50s is being operated as part of the organization’s annual convention, the first to be held in Iowa, according to a news release from the society.

The train went on the route Sunday and is set to travel the route again Monday. These trains will operate along the historical Chicago & North Western line, once the route of the famous Union Pacific Streamliners.

The train will pass through Illinois towns including DeKalb, Dixon, Rochelle and Sterling. The train should go through the DeKalb area between noon and 1 p.m. Monday.

The National Railway Historical Society invites everyone to view the train as it passes, but it request they stay off railroad property and tracks.
General Electric's diesels might be said to chug when they're turning over at low speeds, but steam-era images are not necessarily the best publicity for today's railroads, whether of the industrial-strength raw material and intermodal variety or of the gliding-fast passenger variety.

Recommended watching location: the Rochelle Railroad Park.  The Moudy Park gazebo in downtown DeKalb might also work.

20.6.12

OPPORTUNITY COSTS.

Securing the state football title games doesn't come for free.
Northern Illinois University administrators: Please skip the next paragraph because I love my NIU job and want to keep it.

NIU showers excessive attention and resources on athletics for questionable return and at the expense of many other worthwhile pursuits. Walk through downtrodden Reavis Hall, read the salaries of coaches, and teach student-athletes who often are unprepared for (and uncaring about) college-level academic work, and you might feel similarly.

To be fair, NIU is not alone. Many universities put way too much stock in their teams.
The reference the author makes to Reavis Hall could apply to any of the buildings in the Watson-Reavis-DuSable complex, particularly their bathrooms.

Those additional football weekends in DeKalb might bring in tourists with disposable income, but, note, only for one weekend.
John Crompton, a highly respected researcher who studies marketing and financing of public leisure and tourism at Texas A&M University (an institution no stranger to athletic boosterism), notes: “Economic impact analyses have an obvious political mission. They invariably are commissioned by tourism entities and usually are driven by a desire to demonstrate their sponsors’ positive contribution to the economic prosperity of the jurisdiction that subsidizes their programs or projects. The intent of a study is to position tourism in the minds of elected officials and taxpayers as being a key element in the community’s economy.”

Some ways in which economic analyses are flawed include erroneous aggregation, abuse of multipliers, ignoring community-incurred costs, and exaggerating the number of visitors, according to Crompton.
Come fall, our senior economics majors will be picking capstone paper topics, and more than a few might involve stadium subsidies.  Consider the above as a head start on a literature review.

READY FOR FALLING SKIES?

The next advance in miniaturization: mechanical mosquitoes.



London's Daily Mail covers the story, including an intriguing possibility.
The insect manoeuvrability which allows flies the ability to land precisely and fly off again at speed may one day prove a crucial tactical advantage in wars and could even save lives in disasters.

The military would like to develop tiny robots that can fly inside caves and barricaded rooms to send back real-time intelligence about the people and weapons inside.

[Oxford zoologist Richard] Bomphrey said: 'Scary spider robots were featured in Michael Crichton's 1980s film Runaway - but our robots will be much more scaled down and look more like the quidditch ball in the Harry Potter films, because of its ability to hover and flutter.

'The problem for scientists at the moment is that aircrafts can't hover and helicopters can't go fast. And it is impossible to make them very small.
And here I thought Falling Skies was ripping off The Wrath of Khan's slug-in-the-ear trick. Now if some of our micro-drones turn up to battle the invaders' micro drones, or if praying mantises develop an appetite for mechanical drones ...

EINS, ZWEI, G'SUFFE!

The Milwaukee County Park Commission brings back an obvious revenue-enhancer: ein Biergarten.  The first one is in a park adjacent to several tony North Shore suburbs.  We await announcement of one in Koscziuszko Park, so that miscreants can be assigned their community service gathering empty piva cans.

18.6.12

AN INCONSISTENT FORM OF FLATTERY.

Laurie King and Leslie Klinger invite a number of writers to compose a Sherlock Holmes story.  The results, which include some attempts at lost Holmes adventures, and some stories using Holmesian techniques, make up A Study in Sherlock: Stories Inspired by the Holmes Canon.  Short Book Review No. 18 follows.  The volume will probably stay in the library.  The content is uneven.  That might be because the editors invited individuals not necessarily known for their work in mysteries, or Victoriana, or medical thrillers, to participate in the project.

(Cross-posted to 50 Book Challenge.)

LAW SCHOOL WILL STILL BE THERE IN A YEAR.

A dozen recent college graduates hire out to drive the six Wienermobiles.
More than 1,000 college seniors from across the country apply for 12 spots each year, according to Ed Roland, a marketing manager with Kraft Foods, the parent company of Madison-based Oscar Mayer. He wouldn't own up to the salary but said it's a competitive starting wage.
One successful applicant passed up a slot in law school to be an Oscar Mayer Wiener.  College bubble, indeed?

ESCALATE THE POSITIONAL ARMS RACE.

Northern Illinois University gets to host the state high school football title games in odd-numbered years. That becomes occasion for the retired sports information director to argue that the existing press facilities and skyboxes are inadequate.
What we all hope, even with the current dire economic times, is that the IHSA football state finals provide the impetus for the next wave of Huskie Stadium renovations. The next capital campaign maybe? Even with the generous Bud and Joyce Nangle press box gift (estimated between high six figures and low seven figures in 2008), the project needs more external support. With Illinois State planning a $25 million renovation for its Hancock Stadium and rumored to be contemplating going from FCS to FBS in the near future, the football competition in-state at every level will only get more difficult. Get my drift?
We noted, a year or so ago, Illinois State's ambitions to become the next Northern Illinois in football.  It will take a bit of research to discover whether Illinois State have string quartet envy or steel band envy, or if there is circus envy somewhere in Northern Illinois.

MORE HELP ON THE WEATHER RAIL.

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel sends a reporter to cover scow racing on Okauchee Lake (sail letter E, for those of you not versed in Inland Lake Yachting Association racing.)  Because it's a windy day, the reporter gets on board "Doc" Henschel's C Scow.

14.6.12

DIAGNOSING THE COLLEGE BUBBLE.

Berry College's Peter Lawler channels Cold Spring Shops.
To defend some administrative expansion for a moment:  Fund raising, admissions, and "retention" have become much more complicated.  Colleges seem stuck with treating students much more like consumers, and so with indulging student whims and whines.  That's led, for example, to a kind of amenities arms race--resort-style health facilities, gourmet food, and so forth.

Colleges used to worry about the character and moral fiber of their students, and so they had a lot of in loco parentis social regulations and demerits and so forth.  Now they worry that students aren't happy or too stressed or lonely or short on self-esteem.  Colleges are paranoid about retention--that if the consumers aren't happy they'll just choose another brand of college. They also spent a significant amount of time and resources being concerned with the health of students, as if the main variable associated with being healthy isn't being young.

Let's say there's something to each of these charges of self-indulgence, although in each case the charge is exaggerated. (And I presented each charge with plenty of irony.)
Exaggerated, perhaps, but worth putting in front of Big Think readers all the same.  As is his diagnosis of what's gone wrong.
The administrators themselves, full of models of excellence derived from business (encouraged by government when the Republicans are in power), schools of teacher education (which should be abolished or keep to themselves), and political correctness (encouraged by government when the Democrats are in power), demand quantitative, measurable, assessable solutions to tricky and often "goes with the territory" problems.   A problem with techno-democracy is that it tends to harness everything to the imperatives of technology or "the measurable."  There's more than some irony in addressing techno-democratic excesses with techno-democratic methods.
That's why there are market tests.

PRIVATE RETIREMENT ACCOUNTS WIN BY DEFAULT?

That appears to be the argument of an advocate for ending public pensions for new state employees.
Second, when you utilize a 401K matching program, there is no such thing as “under-funding”.  The retirement money is actually paid out immediately, with each paycheck.  This allows the government to pay its bills now, rather than pass them along to future generations.  Third, a 401K match has many benefits to the employee that pensions do not offer.

For example, in a 401K, the money is 100% yours.  If you decide to leave your job after 10 years, you don’t forfeit any of the government’s contribution.  You can take it with you to the private sector or to another public agency.  Under traditional public retirement programs, employees are trapped.  If they are unhappy after 10 years with an agency, they are forced to grind it out for another 10, 15, or 20 years in order to be able to collect their pension. Conversely, in a 401K program you can resign at any time without leaving any cash on the table.

Another benefit is that the retirement money does not stop paying out when you and your spouse pass away.  Whatever is left is part of your estate and can be willed to loved ones.  Furthermore, 401K funds can be self-lent in cases of need, and are paid back with interest.
In light of the propensity of corporate pension plan managers, and state legislators, and Congress, to use plan assets -- yes, including Social Security -- as a piggy bank, the alternative looks pretty good. The danger, though, is that private acount holders also can use the assets as a piggy bank, which is what self-lending refers to.

CORPORATE WELFARE FOR ROADHOGS.

That's a Cold Spring Shops category intended to bring readers' attention to the use of public money to allow truckers to endanger motorists whilst stealing business from investor-owned railroads.  It's also a valid description of a lot of infrastructure spending.
The Interstate Highway System is justly lauded as one of the greatest engineering and political achievements of the 20th century. President Obama regularly invokes the nearly three-decade initiative when talking about public works projects that could get the economy back on track. Unfortunately, the simplified story about the Highway System misses the fact that billions of dollars were likely wasted because we built a system too large to serve its core purposes, and we failed to ensure the investments were in the right place at the right time.

As it is, the Interstate Highway System was wildly over budget. The U.S. Department of Transportation reports that initial estimates put total construction costs at about $27 billion. By the time the system was completed in the 1980s, the federal government had spent more than $114 billion and the total cost accumulated to $129 billion.
On balance, the spending might have been worth it, but aggregation overlooks uneconomic allocations of resources at the margin.
No incentives existed to prevent overbuilding. This overbuilding may have resulted in tens of billions of dollars in excess federal and state government spending even though many economists suggest that the economic benefits of the system outweighed the costs of its construction. After all, the result of the project was a 46,876 mile long system that knitted together all major U.S. metropolitan areas, and economists have shown that the interstate system was a boon to business as intercity trucking became more efficient and less costly and urban congestion fell dramatically.
The cities became less congested because the interstate highways, which originally were not to be run into cities, made migration outward, and congestion there, more likely.
Nevertheless, billions of dollars were likely wasted because the users - commercial truckers as well as passenger cars - were never required to directly consider the costs and benefits of using these roads with a true user fee such as a toll. In the 1950s, Congress decided to eschew tolls altogether, opting instead for the politically expedient and administratively efficient (at the time) gas tax. The end result was a system where many roads were built to nowhere, or at the wrong time, and transportation subsidies became endemic. A price sensitive private sector, in contrast, might have otherwise built roads elsewhere and for even more productive purposes.

It is this reality of overbuilding that should sober ideas about infrastructure spending "paying for itself" or "filling a need," particularly in an advanced and mature economy such as the one within th United States. Certain parts of the Highway System certainly showed positive economic gains, but many other segments were unnecessary - or at least not necessary at the time the government built them. While spending federal dollars on road development is not the only arrow in the quiver of the pro-stimulus argument, a more sophisticated look at our experience with the Interstate Highway System at least suggests that Washington should be careful about simply dropping billions more dollars on the economy without considering the potential inefficiencies they create.
Perhaps so, although an advocate of Keynesian stimulus in an era of cheap capital is likely to tell the authors, "Look, I don't want to have to explain to my grandchildren that the socialist revolution came while The Best and The Brightest quibbled over allocating the stimulus money in a first-best-efficient way."

PRICE DISCOVERY?

The value of a steer depends on what consumers are willing to pay for a steak.  There's probably a research project waiting to be written on the effects of backward integration by meat-packers.
Retail giants like Walmart grab an increasing share of any profits. The price a rancher gets for beef, adjusted for inflation, dropped from $1.97 to 93 cents per pound between 1980 and 2009.

Today, though, the ranchers are focused on a different villain, and one after another, they pull me aside to tell different versions of the same tale. They talk about the meatpackers’ power — how it’s become nearly impossible to make a living as a small operator, because the meatpackers no longer buy much from small operators. It’s harder and harder to get a fair price for cattle, they say, and the meatpackers that slaughter and process the beef conspire to make it so.

Bill Bullard, president of the Montana-based Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund (R-CALF), mounts the podium like a preacher and rallies the crowd. “Our cattle industry is shrinking,” Bullard booms. “Folks, these are signs of an unhealthy industry. An industry in severe crisis.” He’s one of many who raise the specter of the nation’s chicken and hog industries, in which once-independent farmers are now treated more like meatpackers’ employees.
Derived demand is derived demand, whether you call yourself an independent vendor or a sub-contractor. There's a long history in meat-packing of the packing-houses behaving like an oligopsony. Thus model-building is going to be challenging.
The rise of the meatpackers began in the 1880s — an era, in the words of the Federal Trade Commission, “when the modern American meat industry was in its infancy.” Back then, John Rockefeller was building the Standard Oil empire as other powerful men became railroad and steel barons. The “Big Five” meatpacking companies controlled 45 percent of the domestic cattle market by the early 1890s. Every Tuesday at 2 p.m., their representatives met in downtown Chicago to decide how many cattle each would bring to the marketplace. This illegal act of collusion — which kept meat prices high by limiting supply — was known as the Veeder Pool, because the meatpackers’ attorney, Henry Veeder, kept records for the meetings and later testified about them in Congress. The Veeder Pool and similar dodgy arrangements put the squeeze on ranchers, whose cattle decreased in quality and value as the packers held them back from the market.
Doesn't such a strategy have to depress the value of the cut meat to restarateurs and home-makers?  The U.S. Department of Agriculture and Urbana's Richard Arnould have looked more systematically at changing concentration in meat-packing.
While there have been fluctuations — meatpacker concentration hit a low point in 1977 — mergers in the ’80s began a tidal wave of consolidation that leaves meatpackers with nearly double the power they wielded 120 years ago. Four giant companies — Tyson, Cargill, Brazil-based JBS, and National Beef — now control about 80 percent of the U.S. beef market.
And the oligopsony is back to squeezing suppliers. (There's probably another paper on the effects of Wal-Mart squeezing the meat-packers ... again, all ability to squeeze or to raise margins depends on the willingness of that shopper to purchase a steak.)
With fewer buyers to sell to, more and more feedlot owners are accepting packer-offered advance marketing agreements, which guarantee they can sell their cattle. It seems much safer than waiting for a buyer to come around — or not — and watching cattle get overfat and decrease in value.

The big meatpackers already have a lot of cattle locked up through these advance contracts; the cash market now makes up less than 40 percent of the total market. And the meatpackers are paying less than they used to for cows on the cash market, because they don’t need those cattle as much anymore, [Auburn agricultural economist Robert] Taylor says. Because the price of the contracted cattle, or “captive supply,” is based on the price of the cash market, the packers benefit twice. “If they depress the price on the cash market, not only do they get those cattle cheaper, but they also get all of the captive supply cheaper,” Taylor says. “So that means there is a multiplier incentive for them to manipulate the market.”
But a paper by Professor Taylor shows a secular decline in the real price of food products.  Working hypotheses: there are efficiency gains in vertical integration, or perhaps the meat-packers had been restricting output to an unprofitably small volume prior to the writing of contracts.
Rich Sexton, an agricultural economist at the University of California-Davis, says the meatpackers’ marketing contracts increase efficiency by minimizing the transaction costs embedded in the old system, in which many cattle buyers roamed across rural landscapes bidding on small lots of cattle. Contracts also guarantee meatpackers a steady supply so their large processing facilities can operate at maximum efficiency, allowing for greater quality control than the cash market does.
But where farmers make relationship-specific investments to work with meat-packers, there is a potential for a hold-up.  And no lack of work for legislators and regulators.

13.6.12

A CLARIFICATION FROM THE VATICAN.

Britain's Railway is the longest-published ferroequinology magazine in the world.  They've recently released a number of single-theme short books (bookazine is the latest barbarism perpetuated as a neologism) on a number of subjects, including a Flying Scotsman Travelogue.  That work made reference to s previous offering, World's Fastest Steam Railway:  London King's Cross to Edinburgh Waverley.

Yes, a number of fast steam locomotive trials took place on the East Coast Main Line, but turn to page 79 for an intriguing passage from the Defenders of the Faith.
On July 20, 1934, Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad 4-6-4 No. 6402 was tested in order to show that a high-speed service was feasible.  Heading a regular service train from Chicago, to Milwaukee, it hauled the 380-ton train over the 85 minutes [c.q. -- 85.5 miles from Union Station to the Everett Street Depot] in 67 minutes and 37 seconds.  A maximum speed of 103mph was reached.

It also averaged 89.92mph for a 68.9 mile length.  British author Bryan Benn believes it is the first claim of more than 100 mph (in which the surviving documentation strongly indicates its accuracy), and therefore it may be deemed by some to have beaten Flying Scotsman by a few months.  The success of the test run led to the railroad launching its 'Hiawatha' express in 1935.
Count Cold Spring Shops among the "some".  For partisans of British steam performance, however, the next paragraphs are instructive.
At the time, the 'Hiawatha' was the fastest scheduled express train in the world.

A recorded run with a dynamometer car behind locomotive No. 2 on May 15, 1935, from Milwaukee and Wisconsin [Milwaukee to New Lisbon, actually -- there is still a wye to turn a steam train at New Lisbon] saw 112.5mph recorded over a 14 mile stretch [this figure out of deference to the claimed speed record of New York Central 999, which Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry still unaccountably credits with that speed].  As such, it would have been the first steam locomotive to  officially exceed 110 mph.

They were followed in service by the six F7 streamlined 4-6-4s which were introduced in 1939 and ran at speeds in excess of 100mph on a daily basis.  One was recorded at 125mph on a run between Chicago and Milwaukee after managing an average of 120mph for 4 1/2 miles, a whisker short of Mallard's record.  The F7s were also recorded as running to the fastest scheduled speed between stations; the 'Twin Cities Hiawatha' [Morning Hiawatha] had to cover the 78 miles from Portage to Sparta [other way] in 58 minutes at an average of 81mph.
All as we have informed readers for years.  We await the opportunity to declare a new North American steam speed record.

That noted, the Flying Scotsman Travelogue clearly describes a more colourful railroad than the Route of the Hiawathas.  Dauntless dive-bombers flying out of Glenview or off lake steamers converted to practice aircraft carriers and on occasion crashing in Lake Michigan aren't quite as exotic as Zeppelins brought down by rifle fire, and Abraham Lincoln's stolen horse in Portage not as wild a political story as Cromwell or Mary Queen of Scots.  It's also hard to conceive of a camp train headed for a college of wizardry and witchcraft loading from any odd-numbered track in Chicago's Union Station.

GOING FOR THE SPORTS TOURISTS.

Huskie Stadium will be the location of the state high school football title games, in odd-numbered years.  That will be one good weekend for the hospitality industry.  There are 103 additional weekends, though, for which any hoped-for investments in new hotels and eateries must find sources of revenue.  And the propensity -- nay, avarice -- of the Mid-American Conference to schedule home games on weekdays (despite objections from knowledgeable people) further depresses the animal spirits.

12.6.12

HUMORLESS HARPIES.

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker attempts to build bipartisan cooperation by inviting legislators from both parties to a Brat Summit.  The heirs to the campaign for equal voting rights complained.
Woman’s Christian Temperance Union president Rita Wert said Tuesday that serving beer at the so-called brat summit sets a bad example. She says the problems facing Wisconsin are serious and the judgments of policy makers should not be clouded by alcohol.
The current president is named Wert and a predecessor was named Tooze. There are still 5,000 members in the organization, which was at one time powerful enough to have gotten Prohibition enacted, according to the article.

TAKE BACK YOUR SUMMER.

Cold Spring Shops has long been skeptical of the proposition that longer hours equate to greater productivity.  Validation of a more systematic nature comes from Psychology Today (via InstaPundit).
The problem is, the little time we now allot ourselves for vacations can't do what vacations are supposed to do. "You need more time to fix burnout," explains Joe Robinson, author of Work To Live: The Guide to Getting a Life. You have to be cut off from a stressor for a sufficient amount of time to give your mind and body a break. And you have to allow two weeks for your body to rebound.

But trying to get more than one week at a time is difficult, especially in today's climate. People have to beg their employers for any time in the first place. The upshot is they wind up feeling guilty for taking time off. And vacations feel illegitimate.

Robinson points out that Americans are going through a cycle of overwork that began with the recession of the early '80s then shifted into high gear in the late '80s with a series of technological advances—fax machines, desktop computers, cell phones. We have lots of tools that bestow on us a false sense of urgency.

Add to that the fact that labor has been cut to the bone. Everyone left is doing multiple jobs and working extra hours. We're living in "a world of no boundaries" between work and life, says Robinson.
The good news is that the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority have a commercial making fun of the work obsession.


Sometimes the first stirrings of a social change are commercials making fun of that which is previously sacred.

BURSTING BUBBLES?

What lesson might the operators of name universities in the United States learn from a Benet Academy graduate discovering that Cambridge is cheaper.
In vetting colleges where she had been accepted, [Nicoletta] Knoble noticed it cost more than $50,000 a year to attend the University of California, Berkeley, and about $62,000 to attend the University of Chicago. She said generous scholarships from New York University almost tipped the balance. Syracuse University and Washington University also were among the domestic schools that accepted her.

The cost to attend Cambridge University totals £26,000 a year, which Knoble expects will translate to about $40,000 a year. Another reason it costs less to attend the University of Cambridge is the three-year undergraduate degree program, as opposed to the traditional four-year degree programs at universities in the United States.

Cost and location ultimately steered her decision to study archaeology and anthropology overseas.

“That’s partially why I started looking abroad,” Knoble said.

Not only is college in Europe cheaper for U.S. students to attend, it’s only a couple hundred dollars – as opposed to thousands of dollars – for Europeans to attend them.
Without generous financial assistance to graduate students, the article notes, Northern Illinois University might not be running a current-account surplus with the rest of the world.

FRAMING, AGAIN?

George Lakoff uses his stature as a highly-decorated professor at a well-regarded university to collaborate with a political strategist to offer self-styled progressives false choices.
Progressive morality fits a nurturant family: parents are equal, the values are empathy, responsibility for oneself and others, and cooperation. That is taught to children. Parents protect and empower their children, and listen to them. Authority comes through an ethic of excellence and living by what you say, rather than by enforcing rules.
He's been beating this drum for probably longer than I've been posting.  It's intriguing how much flak the essay has been taking, from the self-styled progressives on one of their main bulletin boards.  (Scroll through the comments and instruct yourself.)

The false choice comes in equating progressive morality and social cooperation.
Correspondingly in politics, democracy begins with citizens caring about one another and acting responsibly both for oneself and others. The mechanism by which this is achieved is The Public, through which the government provides resources that make private life and private enterprise possible: roads, bridges and sewers, public education, a justice system, clean water and air, pure food, systems for information, energy and transportation, and protection both for and from the corporate world.  No one makes it on his or her own. Private life and private enterprise are not possible without The Public. Freedom does not exist without The Public.
Division of labor is also an emergent phenomenon. Sometimes The Public set up institutions that assist The Invisible Hand.  Sometimes those institutions arm-wrestle The Invisible Hand.  Keep that in mind, now work through the passage that follows.
In conservative politics, democracy is seen as providing the maximal liberty to seek one’s self-interest without being responsible for the interests of others. The best people are those who are disciplined enough to be successful. Lack of success implies lack of discipline and character, which means you deserve your poverty. From this perspective, The Public is immoral, taking away incentives for greater discipline and personal success, and even standing in the way of maximizing private success. The truth that The Private depends upon The Public is hidden from this perspective. The Public is to be minimized or eliminated. To conservatives, it’s a moral issue.
No, the self-discipline to be successful is the self-discipline to prosper by respecting the wishes of others.  The Public stands in the way of maximizing private success by agreeing to rules of ownership, contract, and fraud only for grifters and fraudsters.  The moral issue may be the attempt to sharply define boundaries between The Private and The Public, something that observers from diverse political perspectives might agree is not possible.

YOU DID THIS TO YOURSELF.

The fruits of access and retention.
College is about learning how to learn, how to approach and synthesize new information, and how to meet multiple expectations and deadlines. For students like you, Gregory, it is a four-year, dog and pony show. You party with your friends, come to my class reeking of booze, and never complete the most basic of tasks. You will get the College Diploma, because you managed to scrape the bottom of the barrel of your intellect to meet the bare minimum requirements.

You are not educated. You have a piece of paper. Congratulations.
It's at the anonymous faculty gripe site, but sometimes you can learn more from the people on the front lines than you can from the public relations types.

10.6.12

IN CASE YOU REQUIRE CHEERING UP.

The NIU Steelband performs In She Rainorama to conclude the spring steel band concert.

The University has requested that You Tube not share the embedding code.  Open the link in a new window and enjoy it all the same.

THE WESTERN CAMPAIGN GETS ITS DUE.

It has long been the position at Cold Spring Shops that the progress of Grant and Sherman from Kentucky into Tennessee and Mississippi, and thence to Atlanta and onward to the coast, secured the Union, and likely would have done so no matter how the contest between Lee and any commander of the Army of the Potomac prior to Grant coming east had turned out.  Jeff Shaara's A Blaze of Glory: A Novel of the Battle of Shiloh has a note to the reader beginning "This is the first of a trilogy that explores the mostly overlooked stories of the Civil War that take place west of the Appalachian Mountains."  If these works turn out as well as his European Theater trilogy did, Book Review No. 17 will be followed by additional favorable reviews of the promised works on the siege of Vicksburg and Sherman vs. Johnson in the Carolinas, a part of the war that is most obscure yet possibly more significant than the better-known culmination of Grant and Meade vs. Lee culminating at Appomattox.  Mr Shaara follows his usual practice of following the actions of individuals on both sides, both well-known (Forrest, Sherman) and less well-known, including one private in the Sixteenth Wisconsin Regt, a unit mustered at Camp Randall, thence with Sherman into the Carolinas.  Any further discussion of the Regts role in Blaze of Glory would risk spoiling the tale: let us note that Mr Shaara's research is evident.

(Cross-posted to 50 Book Challenge.)

SUPERFLUOUS SUPERVISORS.

Josh Barro, an economist, suggests that increased spending by universities does not equate to increased performance.
For example, over the last few decades, the typical public four-year college has seen a sharp expansion of its support and managerial staff — from 5.5 per 100 students in 1987 to 7.5 per 100 in 2007. Colleges have also been reducing student-to-faculty ratios, and increasing spending on fringe offerings like gyms and student centers. As a result, expenditures per student by public institutions of higher education rose 48 percent from 1985 to 2009, after adjusting for inflation. Can we really say that higher education has gotten anywhere close to 48 percent better over that period?
With apologies to Bill Clinton, that depends on what one means by better. Better amenities? Check. More support staff for unmotivated or unprepared students? You betcha.  Assistance for faculty who want to put more of their course material online?  Indeed.  Note here that I'm skeptical of Mr Barro's confidence in video and distance education, which you'll see endorsed in his column.

In California, where there used to be two girls for every boy at Surf City, there is now one administrator for each professor.  Details at Marginal Revolution.  Do we have any evidence that those increases in administrators, and their impositions on faculty, have produced any efficiencies?

THERE HAS TO BE A BETTER WAY.

When a pedestrian commits a fatal act of railway trespass, passengers are trespassed against.

Saturday morning, the radio traffic reports indicated that the last two Metra Geneva Sub trains never made it to Elburn late Friday or early Saturday.  A trespasser had a close encounter with a freight train near the Geneva Depot.  The article does not report on bus service in substitution.  The last runs from Chicago are sparsely ridden west of Wheaton and nearly empty west of Geneva.  Perhaps the taxi operators got some business.

Earlier that Friday, a Wauwatosa woman trespassed in front of a Hiawatha in Caledonia.
None of the 145 passengers and crew members aboard the train was injured and passengers were taken to their destinations on buses after a delay of almost three hours, [Amtrak source Vernae] Graham said.

Buses also were dispatched to pick up passengers booked on two subsequent trains from Milwaukee.
Three hours seems to be the norm for investigations by the police and the coroner in fatal occurrences of railway trespass.  I'm sure the authorities have good excuses reasons for delaying passengers and train crews to this extent, never mind the missed connections passengers might suffer because of officialdom's wishes.

7.6.12

OCCASION TO HOIST A SPRECHER.

Yes, the Harvey's Wallbangers began their World Series run thirty years ago this week.

Those Brewers were just above .500 and 5 1/2 games out.  This year's edition has more modest accomplishments and a lot of injuries.  All the same, beating the Cubs is beating the Cubs.  Maybe a sake chaser for the beer?

PLAYER WITH RAILROADS.

Visitors from New York and Boston offer photographic impressions of the 'L'.

Cold Spring Shops regulars know where those prize photo locations are.

SEPARATING EQUILIBRIUM?

Kay Hymowitz of City Journal considers what happens when people who ought to know better decide not to bother with the consequences of bad life-management skills.
At the top of the social order is a positive feedback loop, with kids raised in stable, high-investment, and relatively affluent homes going to college, finding similar mates, and raising their own children in stable, high-investment, and relatively affluent homes. At the bottom is a negative feedback loop, with kids raised by single mothers in unstable, low-investment homes finding themselves unable to adapt to today’s economy and going on to create more unstable, single-mother homes.

Not only do we have more poverty, inequality, and immobility; we have the makings of a caste society, with an inherited elite and an entrenched proletariat. That’s not an America that anyone finds very attractive.
That despite all the best efforts of the diversity establishment to celebrate differences, let alone to mau-mau anyone who points out those deficient life management skills as victim-blamers.

SHORTER COLD SPRING SHOPS.

According to Barbara Kay at Canada's National Post, Higher education needs a rethink.
An entire library could be filled with books lamenting the present state of higher education in the arts and humanities — the lack of intellectual diversity, the dumbing down of courses to accommodate the unmotivated lowest denominator who must not be failed on principle, and other well-publicized grievances. So while knowledgeable observers agree that a university degree is a sine qua non for the job market, they also agree that while it is serving more numerous clients, higher ed is delivering less than it did as an elite institution. Many undergrad degrees conferred today are largely pro forma, as universities are not producing a plethora of critical thinkers or even proficient writers.
Welcome to the fight.

Richard Vedder concurs, with a useful bit of allowing for risk and uncertainty.
The “college-for-all” crowd, personified by President Obama and the Lumina Foundation, argues, correctly, that the average college graduate earns more than the average high-school one. But that calculation fails to use a more appropriate measure (more of a Bayesian approach to the statistical cognoscenti) to analyze the returns to college. Specifically, if 45 percent or so of students fail to graduate in six years, earnings comparisons unadjusted for the high risk of dropping out are totally inappropriate.
The human-capital and job-market-signalling folks can have all sorts of fun now.

6.6.12

PROFSCAM: THE SEQUEL.

From time to time, an author makes some money writing about Radical Occupation of the University, or Lazy Professors at the University, or Administrative Bloat at the University, or Sports Corrupts the University.  It's possible that a papyrus burned by Napoleon or by the Romans at Alexandria might have made similar complaints about Pharaoh's Intellectuals.

Charles Sykes's ProfScam might be the prototype for the current series of such books.  It happened to come out about the same time that Identity Politics captured some disciplines, and Quantity-Dominates-Quality became the model for research visibility among weaker departments, and Falling Test Scores became a public issue.  The country's sports mania did not yet have Michael Jordan or the 'Niners or a strong Wisconsin football team as further evidence of misplaced priorities, although a lady called Camilla Parker Bowles occasionally appeared in tabloids in association with the Prince of Wales.

Naomi Schafer Riley recently offered an entry in the series titled The Faculty Lounges.  The most telling observation I can make in Book Review No. 16 is that my copy has no marginal notes, and no page numbers noted on the flyleaf, both common Cold Spring Shops practices as the books pile up in advance of the reviews being posted.  (I learned some years ago that "where did I see that passage" was becoming an inefficient random-access algorithm.)  An observation at University Diaries is spot on with why that is the case.

There is one lesson Ms Riley might have learned subsequently about the value of academic tenure, one of the Abuses and Ufurpations of the Profefsoriate that she would like to end.  About a month ago, she said some unkind things about Area Studies on a Chronicle of Higher Education site, and the Chronicle of Higher Education ... let her go!

One learns, in the course of earning academic tenure, not to take criticisms of one's necessary and sufficient conditions as personal attacks, and how to couch criticisms of other peoples' necessary and sufficient conditions as Improvements in the State of The Art.  Then, upon earning tenure, one is able to be a bit more aggressive in the criticisms of other peoples' analyses.  The lesson is left to Ms Riley as an exercise.

(Cross-posted to 50 Book Challenge.)

LET US SPEAK FREELY

A self-described Obama Democrat explains why he is a board member of the National Association of Scholars despite the perception, in some circles, that the organization represents conservative voices.
In a word, because since I first heard about the NAS from the horse’s mouth some twenty years ago—Steve Balch’s son and my son were childhood playmates, I’ve long been an NAS member, and Steve and I have long been personal friends—I have believed passionately, and have told Steve (and more recently Peter Wood) often, that in my view he, they, and the NAS generally are doing vitally important work in seeking to preserve, and often (lamentably) to restore, the quality of higher education in America.

Moreover, because I believe equally strongly—as do Steve, Peter, and (I gather) NAS members generally—that unless higher education is rescued from the doctrinaire, ideologically skewed, politically correct mindset that has taken hold of academe since I was in graduate school in the early 1970s, not only the quality of higher education in America but, without exaggeration, the survival of Western civilization as we know it will be at grave risk.
Perhaps so, but perhaps the risk to higher education is in the circumlocutions with which he continues.
I believe there is no question that American society still has a long way to go before issues related to race, gender, and class cease to impose arbitrary and unfair limits on economic, social, and other opportunities and progress.
That "issues related to" or the similar "issues of" language looks less threatening than "American society still has a long way to go before endemic racismsexismhomophobia not to mention elitism and classism cease to impose arbitrary and unfair limits ..."  Never mind that institutions of higher learning achieve at least some of their status from determining who does or does not get in or who does or does not graduate or how well the football program fares in bowls.  All the same, that "issues ..." formulation is a dog-whistle for the more radical phrasing I proposed.   Test this hypothesis: suggest to your campus diversity enablers that primitive belief systems or erratic or non-existent life-management skills or just plain wishful thinking contribute to those arbitrary or unfair limits and see what reaction you get.

But there is hope.
I just don’t believe that shoehorning race, gender, class, social justice, sustainability, and/or any other social or political issue into every classroom discussion and aspect of college life is either the way to achieve meaningful progress on those issues or to fulfill the educational mission for which our colleges and universities were created.
Well, we economists have long understood that Marx is at best a minor post-Ricardian and that engaging in discriminations not based on productivity differences is unprofitable.  Perhaps, though, Professor Winnick has discovered, through his own efforts, that his discipline, too, is subject to market tests.
The lowering of academic standards and the dumbing-down of the curriculum—both while the cost of a college education continues to skyrocket—are equally disturbing long-term trends.

To insist that all that really matters in the study of literature are issues related to race, gender, and class is not to centralize, but to marginalize, literature as a subject worthy of serious thought and a source of meaningful knowledge about and understanding of the human experience—including but not limited to what it means to be black, female, gay, and/or poor.  It can only result, over time, in the abandonment of any study of literature at all.
The Theory meat-grinder makes the English electives less attractive, and with fewer students signing up for formulaic and tendentious literature courses, the Ph.D. in literature looks even less attractive, and there are fewer graduate students to supervise.
To make it optional for an English major to study Shakespeare, or for a history major to gain a broad knowledge and understanding of the major events and trends of human history, or for a humanities major to know something about science, or for a science major to know something about the humanities, or for anyone to know any foreign language, is to institutionalize ignorance, and to put at risk the breadth and depth of knowledge on which not just the value of higher education but the viability of our political system, society, and civilization depend.
Some of this sounds very much like an essay I wrote over twenty years ago, that opened thusly.
Universities are failing to carry out their mission. Contributing to this failure is a collection of ideas we call "politically correct." The intellectual foundation of these ideas is an extreme relativism that questions the possibility of objective knowledge and seeks to dispel "coherent beliefs of any kind." A university built on such a foundation cannot stand.
Welcome to the fight, Professor Winnick.
Releasing higher education, and educators, from the political and ideological bondage by which it and they have been confined in recent decades is something in which all of us, professional educators and “civilians” alike, have an enormous stake—and which all of us, regardless of what lever we pull in the voting booth, should be working together to achieve.

Whether we define ourselves as Democrats or Republicans, liberals or conservatives, independents or moderates, we should all be able to agree that colleges and universities have a duty to produce graduates who know how to think critically, evaluate complex evidence, ask difficult questions, and seek answers from books or other credible sources and not just blogs.

We should all be able to agree that every college graduate, regardless of major, should emerge from his or her undergraduate years not just with theoretical job skills and actual debt but with a greater understanding of and (we may hope) appreciation for our political system (both its genius and its imperfections), history (both proud and sometimes shameful), and cultural legacy (including the great books, music, and art our civilization has produced).

We should be able to agree that even in a stronger economy than prevails today, an education which fails to produce those results—be the student’s major English, History, Business Administration, or Physics—is not worth its cost.

We should be able to agree that the imposition of any political, social, economic, environmental, or other agenda on any student or faculty member as a condition of matriculation, academic success, employment, or tenure is unacceptable—and should be prohibited or purged from every institution of higher education worthy of the name.

Although there are no doubt many educators at every college and university who hold these truths to be self-evident, it must be recognized that in most such institutions they are badly outnumbered, under constant attack, or forced to keep their views and concerns on these issues to themselves.
The absence of an agenda is an agenda (sorry for the nit-pick), but the sentiments are proper.  It might be better to propose an agenda in which students learn that there are controversies, often with more than two sides, and that there might be compelling cases for each of the contending sides.  And the absence of that agenda might be holding back that stronger economy Professor Winnick hopes for.
Rising incomes may be rewards to people who learned careful reasoning, mathematics, and science, and who sold their skills to employers who valued them. That others are losing ground may be evidence of diminished skills of more recent graduates of high schools and universities. Economists are sorting out these hypotheses.
I'm closer to calling it a career now than I was in 2005, when that post went up, or in 1991, when I wrote the essay. It's taken more than one summer, but I continue to fight it out on this line.