31.7.12

YOU GET EXCELLENCE WHERE YOU EXPECT EXCELLENCE.

The people who wash out of Navy SEAL training are by no means slouches.
The seven or eight out of ten men who fail or quit SEAL Training in the Navy are not just average guys walking the streets today, their the best the Navy has.

These are guys who have worked their asses off to get to BUD/S. The best runners, the best swimmers, above average intelligence, superior eyesight and physical strength.

These are the guys who quit or fail training and not some regular clown that thinks it looks cool.

Why do they fail? Simple... They are completely unprepared to be thrown in the Arena at BUD/S. They have no idea how hard it is, they have no idea what kind of guys become SEALs, they have no idea of the commitment, and they have no idea of the life style.

In short, they think they know, but what the really know is next to nothing about being a SEAL and they quit. Fast...
As I type this, the Games of the XXX Olympiad are in progress, and it's a good bet that many a young man with dreams of the Dream Team will not put enough effort into making free throws to make the junior high junior varsity.  Football training camps are open, and more than a few linemen will be cut for not getting started on the snap-count.

Put it together: there's no question about doing whatever it takes to get the best Special Forces, where the stakes are very high, or the best athletic teams, never mind the stakes.

But getting the best quantitative thinkers?  Retired political scientist Andrew Hacker views the attrition from middle school algebra with dismay.
A TYPICAL American school day finds some six million high school students and two million college freshmen struggling with algebra. In both high school and college, all too many students are expected to fail. Why do we subject American students to this ordeal? I’ve found myself moving toward the strong view that we shouldn’t.
Let's focus on the substance of his argument, rather than the tangential possibility that many of those students, particularly in middle school, don't bother with algebra because the school culture has teachers looking the other way, particularly where promising athletes are concerned.
Making mathematics mandatory prevents us from discovering and developing young talent. In the interest of maintaining rigor, we’re actually depleting our pool of brainpower. I say this as a writer and social scientist whose work relies heavily on the use of numbers. My aim is not to spare students from a difficult subject, but to call attention to the real problems we are causing by misdirecting precious resources.
The misdirection is probably someplace else. Is the military depleting its pool by making Special Forces training so hard?
Mathematics, both pure and applied, is integral to our civilization, whether the realm is aesthetic or electronic. But for most adults, it is more feared or revered than understood. It’s clear that requiring algebra for everyone has not increased our appreciation of a calling someone once called “the poetry of the universe.” (How many college graduates remember what Fermat’s dilemma was all about?)

Instead of investing so much of our academic energy in a subject that blocks further attainment for much of our population, I propose that we start thinking about alternatives. Thus mathematics teachers at every level could create exciting courses in what I call “citizen statistics.” This would not be a backdoor version of algebra, as in the Advanced Placement syllabus. Nor would it focus on equations used by scholars when they write for one another. Instead, it would familiarize students with the kinds of numbers that describe and delineate our personal and public lives.
Perhaps so. On the other hand, Jason Fertig suggests a rebuttal, based on efforts elsewhere in the liberal arts to make the material more accessible.
Why not cut history and literature while we’re at it? How vocational are those subjects? Also, many students get away with subpar writing in non-quantitative classes; if that writing were assessed with more rigor, we would see failing numbers akin to what we see in calculus classes.
Quite possibly true.  Daniel Willingham (via Marginal Revolution) offers a more scholarly rebuttal.
The inability to cope with math is not the main reason that students drop out of high school. Yes, a low grade in math predicts dropping out, but no more so than a low grade in English. Furthermore, behavioral factors like motivation, self-regulation, social control (Casillas, Robbins, Allen & Kuo, 2012), as well as a feeling of connectedness and engagement at school (Archambault et al, 2009) are as important as GPA to dropout. So it's misleading to depict math as the chief villain in America's high dropout rate.
That's tangential to tonight's argument, although it's consistent with the Cold Spring Shops theme that inculcating middle-class habits might be the most important thing the common schools can do.
But the explicit teaching of abstractions is not enough. You also need practice in putting the abstractions into concrete situations.

Hacker overlooks the need for practice, even for the everyday math he wants students to know. One of the important side benefits of higher math is that it makes you proficient at the other math that you had learned earlier, because those topics are embedded in the new stuff.
We take it for granted that Special Forces take target practice every day, and the basketball Olympians spend an hour a day shooting free throws. It somehow becomes abusive for U. S. schools to expect similar perseverance, never mind that Professor Hacker attributes Finnish and Canadian math performance to perseverance?
Who will learn higher math in Hacker's ideal world? He's not clear on this point. He says he's against tracking, but notes that MIT and Cal Tech clearly need their students to be proficient in math. Does this mean thateveryone gets the same vocational-type math education, and some of those going on to college will get access to higher math?

If that were actually implemented, how long before private vendors offer after school courses in formal mathematics, to give kids an edge for entrance to MIT? Private courses that cost, and to which the poor will not have access.
Indeed.  But perhaps it requires parents, teachers, school administrators, and students to insist that children get the kinds of opportunities to develop their intellectual capital, and the grooming of talent, that everyone appears to take for granted when it comes to the sports program.  With sufficient thrust, pigs fly just fine.

SITUATIONALLY UNAWARE.

Eyes on the sidewalk, people.
On city streets, in suburban parking lots and in shopping centers, there is usually someone strolling while talking on a phone, texting with his head down, listening to music, or playing a video game. The problem isn’t as widely discussed as distracted driving, but the danger is real.

Reports of injuries to distracted walkers treated at hospital emergency rooms have more than quadrupled in the past seven years and are almost certainly underreported. There has been a spike in pedestrians killed and injured in traffic accidents, but there is no reliable data on how many were distracted by electronics.
There has to be an update of this old trademark of the Long Island Rail Road, showing contemporary device-thumbing commuters crashing into each other, or, worse, walking into the path of a train.


We used to say of a klutz that he couldn't walk and chew gum at the same time. Walking and texting is more difficult.
A study by researchers at Stony Brook University in New York compared the performance of people asked to walk across a room to a target — a piece of paper taped to the floor — without distractions and then again next day while talking on a cellphone or texting. The group that talked on the cellphone walked slightly slower and veered off course a bit more than previously, but the texting group walked slower, veered off course 61 percent more and overshot the target 13 percent more.

“People really need to be aware that they are impacting their safety by texting or talking on the cellphone” while walking, Eric Lamberg, an associate physical therapy professor who conducted the study, said. “I think the risk is there.”
The world we live in, however, is a world in which using public resources to protect people from themselves becomes the default policy option.
State and local officials are struggling to figure out how to respond, and in some cases asking how far government should go in trying to protect people from themselves.

In Delaware, highway safety officials opted for a public education campaign, placing decals on crosswalks and sidewalks at busy intersections urging pedestrians to “Look up. Drivers aren’t always looking out for you.”

Philadelphia officials are drafting a safety campaign that will be aimed in part at pedestrians who are looking at their devices instead of where they’re going. “One of the messages will certainly be ‘pick your head up’ – I want to say ‘nitwit,’ but I probably shouldn’t call them names,” said Rina Cutler, deputy mayor for transportation and public utilities.
Hey, it's Philadelphia, where Eagle fans boo Santa Claus. "Nitwit" is polite.  For those decals to work, people have to notice them, which they aren't doing if they're playing Angry Birds.  London's "Look Left" or "Look Right" curb markings work, in part, though, because pedestrians visiting from much of the rest of the world grasp that British street use is a survival of the days of mounted swordsmen.

30.7.12

A NOISY SIGNAL OF SOCIABILITY?

Truthdig's Chris Hedges doesn't like beer-'n-circus.
Fraternities, sororities and football, along with other outsized athletic programs, have decimated most major American universities. Scholarship, inquiry, self-criticism, moral autonomy and a search for artistic and esoteric forms of expression—in short, the world of ethics, creativity and ideas—are shouted down by the drunken chants of fans in huge stadiums, the pathetic demands of rich alumni for national championships, and the elitism, racism and rigid definition of gender roles of Greek organizations. These hypermasculine systems perpetuate a culture of conformity and intolerance.  They have inverted the traditional values of scholarship to turn four years of college into a mindless quest for collective euphoria and athletic dominance.
Makes for a good polemic, and against the background of football practice beginning and probation officers returning from summer vacation, it might be timely. But the article fails to test any hypotheses.
The corporate world sees football players, fraternity brothers and sorority sisters as prime recruits. They have been conditioned to join the team, to surrender moral autonomy, to accept and carry out acts of personal humiliation, to treat with contempt those who oppose them or who are different, to define their life by an infantile narcissism centered on greed and self-promotion and to remain silent about crimes they witness or take part in. It is the very ethic of corporations.

The ruling elite sees in Greek organizations and football programs the training ground for the amoral class of speculators, bankers and corporatists who pillage the country.
Perhaps a small sample drawn from Dartmouth College will convince some readers. But more formal investigations are possible.
The fraternity and students value wages and fraternity socializing values. We provide sufficient conditions under which, in equilibrium, most members have intermediate abilities: weak students apply, but are rejected unless they have high socializing values, while most able students do not apply to avoid taint from association with weaker members.
In the Bayesian equilibrium, fraternity membership is at best a noisy signal of ability, valuable to sociable but low-ability students, but therefore poison to high-ability students, the more sociable of whom would be offered membership in the fraternity, if they bothered to rush.  In a full-information world, there is a separating equilibrium in which only high-sociability individuals apply and only mediocre or high academic individuals pledge.   Perhaps that cohort is "amoral": there's always another research question to ask.

The working-paper version of the article offers additional evidence on fraternity membership patterns at the University of Illinois.  The probability that a student is a fraternity member, conditional on grade point average, increases for grade-point averages below 3.5, decreasing thereafter.

That evidence is not in the published article, but the supporting data are available at the American Economic Association website.

RECLAIMING THE CULTURE?

In a nation of moochers, epater les bourgeois is out of fashion, according to Glenn Reynolds.
In today’s culture of immediate reward, a work ethic centering on self-discipline and the ability to defer gratification is almost, to use a favorite term of the avant-garde, transgressive. Hmm: With so much of our economy and politics now based on the absence of those characteristics, maybe it really is a bit transgressive.

But those mores just may be making a comeback in these tough times. The fact is, self-discipline and the ability to defer gratification really do help you get ahead, avoid debt and feel more in control of your life.

In boom times, even slackers can do well enough (or borrow enough to seem to) to make those rules seem old-fashioned and unnecessary. But when the bust comes, reality reasserts itself and those trite sayings (“waste not, want not,” “neither a borrower nor a lender be,” etc. — Kipling’s “Gods of the Copybook Headings”) turn out to be not so much trite, as true.

At any rate, we can hope that saving money, avoiding debt and treating friends and family with consideration are now edgy enough to become trendy.
Perhaps so, although those strivers might be the remnant in a country increasingly occupied by Romulans.  In Victor Davis Hanson's neighborhood, trendy California is no longer the California of the Beach Boys.
The internet, video games, and modern pop culture translated into a generation of youth that did not know the value of hard work or a weekend hike in the Sierra. They didn’t learn  how to open a good history book or poem, much less acquire even basic skills such as mowing the lawn or hammering a nail. But California’s Generation X did know that they were “somebody” whom teachers and officials dared not reprimand, punish, prosecute, or otherwise pass judgment on for their anti-social behavior. Add all that up with a whiny, pampered, influential elite on the coast that was more worried about wind power, gay marriage, ending plastic bags in the grocery stores — and, well, you get the present-day Road Warrior culture of California.
And nobody is clever enough to maintain the roads.
If one were to drive on the 99, the main interior north-south “highway” from the Grapevine to Sacramento, one would find places, like south of Kingsburg, where two poorly paved, potholed, and crowded lanes ensure lots of weekly accidents. Can a state that has not improved its ancestors’ highway in 50 years be entrusted to build high-speed mass transit? Can a state presently $16 billion in arrears be expected to finance a $100 billion new project? Can a state that ranks 48th in math field the necessary personnel to build and operate such a postmodern link?
More to the point, would a latter-day Charles Crocker, E. H. Harriman, or Fred Gurley approve the investment in such a project? Or would those investors view most of California as a revenue desert?
One of the strangest things about Road Warrior was the ubiquity of tattooed, skin-pierced tribal people with shaved heads and strange clothes. At least the cast and sets seemed shocking some thirty years ago. If I now sound like a reactionary then so be it: but when I go to the store, I expect to see not just the clientele, but often some of the workers, with “sleeves” — a sort of throwback to red-figure Athenian vase painting where the ink provides the background and the few patches of natural skin denote the silhouetted image. And stranger still is the aging Road Warrior: these are folks in their forties who years ago got pierced and tattooed and aged with their sagging tribal insignia, some of them now denoting defunct gangs and obsolete popular icons.
One expects such a description of Thirteenth Generation crude from a Tory. To read something similar in Common Dreams suggests there might be something more afoot.
Every tattoo I’ve ever seen manages to detract from the person’s appearance. In truth, seeing that crap plastered on people’s bodies makes me think of graffiti spray-painted on an overpass.
Expectedly, the author there frets about the potential for Romulans to sell advertising space on their bodies, and, expectedly, the there's-no-such-thing-as-deviancy-to-define-down crowd doesn't like his essay.  Whatever.  It will be difficult to reverse the polarization and social stratification of the U.S., or any other large industrial country, without equipping young people from difficult backgrounds with the tools to interact with people who inherited, or saw the wisdom of acquiring the intellectual and commercial skills that characterize a productive person.

CONCENTRATING THE BETA CAROTENE.

Milk is white, and many cow's-milk cheeses are yellowish.
After a cow chews the cud, beta-carotene dissolves into the animal’s fat stores and ends up in fat globules in its milk. However, protein clusters and the membranes that surround fat globules in milk conceal the pigment’s color, reflecting light in a way that makes milk appear white and opaque. But during the cheesemaking process, the pigment is released: After bacterial culture and rennet have been added to milk and the coagulated mixture is cooked, the fat membranes dissolve and the protein clusters loosen so they can’t reflect light anymore. The beta carotene is made visible, and it also becomes more concentrated, since the the lean liquid component of the milk, called whey, is drained off. It follows that the fattiest cheeses, and those from cows grazed on open pasture, tend to have the deepest natural color.

More acidic cheeses, like cottage cheese and feta, retain their dense protein structures and so continue to appear white.
Orange cheese has other artificial colors in it, which might be an attempt to pass it off as something better, or to maintain product consistency.
Today, many supermarket cheddars are still colored to satisfy consumer’s expectations of what cheese should look like. (Research has shown that color preferences influence how people shop for cheddar.) But inconsistent cheese color isn’t much of a problem anymore, since large-scale confinement farms have come to dominate dairy production over the last 30 years. Cows kept in confinement and fed a carefully formulated mix of grains, protein supplements, and dried grasses tend to turn out milk with virtually no irregularities. Milk from confined cows also contains considerably less beta carotene than milk from pastured cows—hence the need for dye.
Good aged Wisconsin cheddars are beige shading to white. But the Slate columnist asked an expert at the University of Wisconsin's Center for Diary Research, your reference source for all things social.  Proofreaders must have gone to sleep again.

29.7.12

UNIVERSITIES ARE FAILING AT THEIR MISSION.

It has been 25 years since the publication of The Closing of the American Mind.  There's a long recollection by Andrew Ferguson at The Weekly Standard.
The crisis was​—​is​—​a crisis of confidence in the principle that serves as the premise of liberal education: that reason, informed by learning and experience, can arrive at truth, and that one truth may be truer than another. This loss of faith had consequences and causes far beyond higher ed. Bloom was a believer in intellectual trickle-down theory, and it is the comprehensiveness of his thesis that may have attracted readers to him and his book. The coarsening of public manners, the decline in academic achievement, the general dumbing down of America​—​even Jerry Springer​—​had a long pedigree that Bloom was at pains to describe for a general reader.

“The crisis of liberal education,” he wrote, “is a reflection of a crisis at the peaks of learning, an incoherence and incompatibility among the first principles with which we interpret the world, an intellectual crisis of the greatest magnitude, which constitutes the crisis of our civilization.”
Professor Bloom did not write his book as a political manifesto, and yet Jennifer Rubin suggests it might have diagnosed a failing in political thinking.
In sum, the left systematically has dumbed its side down, to the point where supposedly well-educated elites are untrained and unaware of our country’s history and constitutional traditions. The left thinks words have no fixed meaning (health care and health insurance, are close enough, so they insist we can define the latter to be the former.) The liberal elites have a poor grounding in market economics so they swallow the idea that health-care insurance is “unique” because others’ purchases affect your cost of goods. (Surprise: all markets operate this way.)
Although Mr Ferguson embellishes the cultural-decay hypothesis at length, an observation elsewhere in his article, suggesting that the United States of today is in many ways richer than the country of 1987, raises the possibility that people don't have to work as hard at thinking about Big Ideas now as they did then, as the cost of not thinking is no longer as great.  That is, if the country is, in fact, richer.

MARKET TESTS?

What good is universal health care without practitioners?  The New York Times discovers that in economically stressed areas, and in specialties that the technocrats would like to keep affordable, there are doctor shortages.
“We have a shortage of every kind of doctor, except for plastic surgeons and dermatologists,” said Dr. G. Richard Olds, the dean of the new medical school at the University of California, Riverside, founded in part to address the region’s doctor shortage. “We’ll have a 5,000-physician shortage in 10 years, no matter what anybody does.”
Food for thought there. On one hand, perhaps that's the evil rich outbidding everyone else to make it remunerative to become a high-end cosmetologist. On the other hand, perhaps that's evidence of regulatory and insurance complications trying the idealism of otherwise public-spirited medical students. Or, as the article continues, because difficult patients in rough neighborhoods can be as morale-sapping to health care practitioners as they are to teachers.
But the growth in the number of physicians has lagged, in no small part because the area has trouble attracting doctors, who might make more money and prefer living in nearby Orange County or Los Angeles.
And prices still function to allocate demand.
Physician compensation is also an issue. The proportion of medical students choosing to enter primary care has declined in the past 15 years, as average earnings for primary care doctors and specialists, like orthopedic surgeons and radiologists, have diverged. A study by the Medical Group Management Association found that in 2010, primary care doctors made about $200,000 a year. Specialists often made twice as much.
Should be interesting work for health economists, evaluating the national government's ability to bend the cost curve and realign the incentives so as to produce more primary care physicians and fewer specialists.

NOTES ON A NEW TIMETABLE.

I recently picked up and leafed through the most recent Amtrak national timetable, or, in the case of the eastbound Empire Builder, a reference point for a worst-case scenario.

In the Northeast, the southern end of the Corridor is now somewhere in Virginia, with a comprehensive schedule of day trains running between Richmond and New York City or Boston, and two regional trains between Springfield, Massachusetts and Lynchburg, Virginia.  Passengers may have the option of changing from regional trains to Acela Expresses to expedite their journey, as a number of the northbound regional trains leave Philadelphia a few minutes before an Acela that overtakes the regional train somewhere around Trenton.   To the south, there is something resembling a corridor into North Carolina.  On the West Coast, a corridor is beginning to emerge, although a traveller hoping to go from Sacramento to San Diego or make an international excursion into Vancouver, B.C. has to look at the background shadings carefully to determine how much of the trip is by train and how much involves a connecting bus.

There are a lot of connecting buses in the timetable, including a service that runs Quad Cities - Galesburg - Peoria - Bloomington - Champaign - Danville - Indianapolis timed to connect with a number of the trains radiating from Chicago, and an echo of a Soo Line day train connecting Milwaukee to Wausau by way of Appleton and Stevens Point, nowhere as fast as the old North Woods Hiawatha service through New Lisbon.  Unaccountably, the schedule does not mention a bus to Green Bay that leaves Milwaukee a few minutes after the noon arrival of a Hiawatha Service train from Chicago.

The timetable no longer includes a table of arrivals and departures at Chicago, probably because such a table would frustrate riders identifying all the non-connections among the corridor trains.  The arrival times for long-distance trains are guesses most days, anyway.  A quick look through the midwestern schedules shows the first departures of the day for Pontiac, Mich.; St. Louis; and Quincy leaving before any inbound trains arrive.  The first arrival (except Sunday) from Milwaukee offers a feasible connection to the first departure for Carbondale, and the second arrival (first Sunday) arrives nine minutes after the second departure for St. Louis.  I could go on.  The last arrivals from Pontiac, St. Louis and Quincy are after the last departures of the evening.

Amtrak might realize savings from servicing as many train sets as it can in its Chicago yards, and those first-morning-outward, last-evening-return services are a round trip of a single set from Chicago.  Unknown, though, is the revenue lost to the carrier because each corridor exists unto itself, without regard to the lost Sturtevant to Springfield or Kalamazoo to Macomb or Urbana to Ann Arbor or Indianapolis to anywhere ridership the current schedule implies.

There's another reminder of how things have changed on the cover of the timetable.  Look closely at that red nose illuminated by the bumping post in Washington.  Two tracks over is a Pennsylvania Railroad E unit, in tuscan red with the later single gold stripe.  That paint job might have been a symbol of decline, and yet, it brings memories of through sleeping cars from Boston to Pittsburgh, and train service from Chicago to Florida by way of Louisville.

A VICTORY AGAINST POVERTY, A DEFEAT FOR DEMOCRATS?

In City Journal, Fred Siegel suggests how that happens.
The Obama administration’s pursuit of electoral victory in 2012 seems to be based on abandoning private-sector middle-class and white working-class voters. As Thomas Edsall rightly argued recently in the New York Times, the Democrats have become a top-bottom coalition comprising, at one end, highly educated professionals—many of whom work for government or are beneficiaries of government subsidies—and, at the other end, low-income recipients of government welfare benefits. But this isn’t a new model. New Yorkers who remember John Lindsay’s mayoralty from 1966 to 1973 will recall the devastating impact that a similar top-bottom strategy had on the city.
You'd think rent control would have done something to keep affordable housing in New York, but that's not what happened.
Only those at the top and the bottom could fully recognize, albeit for different reasons, the sins of American middle-class society. Liberalism had become a matter of style, and the rich were becoming part of the liberal coalition. The middle class was the problem—and soon enough, the middle class had a problem with New York liberals. The city, which hemorrhaged 600,000 jobs in the wake of Lindsay’s second term, suffered a massive emigration of middle-class residents during the 1970s. New York careened into the fiscal crisis of 1975 and near-bankruptcy. The city recovered from those calamities eventually, but the Left’s top-bottom approach in New York has never really changed since.

Now, under President Obama, the top-bottom alliance has gone national. Though the president may, like Lindsay before him, find a way to get reelected, the Democrats will pay a steep price for alienating the middle class.
Manhattan might be home to wealthy people, including more than a few recipients of farm subsidies. But many of the finance and trading house jobs are now in Jersey City, as are the homes of many of the workers.

You might expect City Journal to identify cultural rot as a consequence of radical chic.  A daughter of a prominent Democratic politician, however?
[Alexandra] Pelosi then noted that the doorman’s family used to vote Democratic. Now Joe is a Republican, as is her chauffeur Demitri.

According to Pelosi, the welfare society is causing Democrats to lose votes.

“We have to address the fact that this is why Democrats are losing ground. And this is a problem in America. The entitlement culture has gotten so big that we are losing our own people,” she said.
Charlie Sykes elaborates.
In the alchemy of the new entitlement culture, freedom and the pursuit of happiness are transformed into a demand for free stuff that makes her happy. You could argue with her that freedom means something other than free stuff and that the pursuit of happiness was never intended to imply a guarantee of taxpayer-financed bliss. But she knows what she wants, and she wants it for free. Romney, to his credit, told the woman that if she wanted free stuff, she should “vote for the other guy.”

Romney continued, “Politicians get up and promise you all kinds of free stuff, more and more stuff that you won’t have to pay for, and you know what? We get elected that way, in many cases, politicians do. That’s not something I subscribe to.”

But the Romney heckler illustrated the way in which wants have been transformed into “rights” in America and ultimately into obligations and entitlements. The process can be illustrated this way: “I want you to buy me lunch. Therefore, I need lunch. And if I need something, I have a right to it – and you, therefore, have an obligation to pay for it.”
That's part of it. Another part might be the possibility that prominent Democratic Members of Congress rely on the votes of angry and frustrated constituents to hold their offices.
Rep. Rush represents a district on the South Side of Chicago that's primarily black, incredibly violent and desperately in need of positive leadership, on the home front. On a nearly daily basis, young black men are murdered where they stand -- the casualties of a block-by-city-block drug war that left SEVEN people fatally dead in one weekend. Three people lost their lives in a triple homicide just last night. Channeling their gallow's humor, the Chicago PD have taken to calling it "March Madness."

Since 2008, 80 percent of the 530 young people under the age of 21 who have been killed in Chicago lived in the city's South, Southwest and West sides. Englewood, a neighborhood represented by Rep. Rush, was perhaps the worst -- it boasts a murder rate five times that of the rest of the city.

So where is their congressional representative to be found? Certainly not beating the drum for an end to violence in his home district. No he's too busy hamming it up for Congress, because that's where the cameras are, and the black-on-black crime that's bleeding his district doesn't fan the flames of racial friction like a media-manufactured lynching.
There are more than a few Members of Congresses who reliably provide Our President with support for his legislative agenda, whose districts could be described as similarly crime-challenged, and one has to wonder how long those Members would remain in office with a change in the economic and cultural conditions of their districts.

27.7.12

PAGING NIKOLA TESLA

Among the goodies at this year's Oshkosh Air Show, battery-electric airplanes.
A two-day electric flight symposium continues on Friday with speakers from NASA's Langley Research Center, Argonne National Labs and electric aircraft designers.

[Chip] Yates, the entrepreneur behind the world's fastest electric motorcycle, made the 16-minute maiden flight of his electric aircraft July 18 in California. A few days later, he brought to Oshkosh his vision and his plane - a Long-EZ homebuilt aircraft - outfitted with a 258 horsepower liquid-cooled, brushless electric motor and 453 volt, 600 amp battery pack.

"We're sort of tired of hearing electric flight is not feasible, and we're tired of people blaming battery manufacturers," Yates said Thursday.

Before he can fly Lindbergh's 3,500-mile nonstop route, though, he and his team must figure out how to recharge the batteries - in air.

Yates will need to recharge the battery pack five times while recreating Lindbergh's route, which he hopes to do in 2014. He's talking to the Navy about using aerial drones to recharge or possibly a probe from an aircraft, similar to the military's air refueling planes, or even docking with another aircraft in midair, said Mike Beadle, mechanical engineer on Yates' Flight of the Century project.
Now, if only J. P. Morgan hadn't withdrawn funding from Tesla's Wardenclyffe Tower project because effective ways of monitoring and metering consumption didn't yet exist ...  But at MIT (where, according to a physics student, the Tesla notebooks are in an archive) a team has illuminated a lightbulb at a distance, using Tesla-style induction coils.  Lightbulb, battery charger, beam me up!

THE EVOLUTION OF COOPERATION.

Keith Hennessey reacts to Our President's "You Didn't Build That" theme.  He highlights a line from the speech that provides the context Our President claims his critics are overlooking. "The point is, is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together." In his column, the phrase is a dog-whistle expression.
“You didn’t build that,” and “You didn’t get there on your own,” and “blessed” and “fortunate” have one thing in common.  They deemphasize the idea that success is earned.  This makes it easier for President Obama to justify taking more from those who have succeeded.
Perhaps, but the Opposition could as easily take on the President on the proper institutional arrangements to secure cooperation among individuals. There's a famous Adam Smith quote from which the last two sentences often get used out of context.
But man has almost constant occasion for the help of his brethren, and it is in vain for him to expect it from their benevolence only. He will be more likely to prevail if he can interest their self-love in his favour, and show them that it is for their own advantage to do for him what he requires of them. Whoever offers to another a bargain of any kind, proposes to do this. Give me that which I want, and you shall have this which you want, is the meaning of every such offer; and it is in this manner that we obtain from one another the far greater part of those good offices which we stand in need of. It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities but of their advantages.
Advantage can imply, but need not equate, to using the police power of the state to take from some to provide to others.

NOT YET THE WEEKEND.

Instapundit suggests that there is little political hay to be made over the absence of gun laws in Chicago, because there are already strict gun laws in Chicago.  Legal Insurrection notes that there are parts of Chicago probably more dangerous than a movie theater, and as Friday dawns, there's already been more death than one bad day at Cole Hall brought.

STUCK IN TRAFFIC?

Years ago the Bonhomie and Hattiesburg Southern Railway urged shippers to Save Time and Money by Missing Bedlam and Confusion.  I think Bedlam and Confusion are left-side slip-ramps on the Dan Ryan and Eisenhower Expressways, and commuters are saving their time and money by taking the commuter trains instead.
The 2011 Urban Mobility Report makes clear that without public transportation services, travelers would have suffered an additional 796 million hours of delay and consumed 303 million more gallons of fuel. Had there been no public transportation service available in the 439 urban areas studied, congestion costs for 2010 would have risen by nearly $17 billion from $101 to $118 billion.

“This report clearly shows as our economy rebounds, expanding public transportation use is key to reducing traffic congestion,” said American Public Transportation Association (APTA) President William Millar. “Even if you don’t ride public transportation, there are clear benefits in supporting expansion of public transit options. Better public transportation in your community means less congestion on the roads.”
That's a lot of New York minutes, according to the tabular data, and the report confirms a suspicion of mine, that Metra's weekend fares probably induce a lot of substitution away from the roads for families headed to the Chicago museums.



Indeed.  Never mind that ad executives of the Mad Men era had little reason to like George Alpert.


THE FUNDAMENTALS.

A former Secretary of State offers some reasons for continued U.S. leadership. Beyond the expected meditations on diplomacy and military affairs, comes this.
Our talent has historically come from every part of American society, without regard to class and economic circumstance. But when a child’s zip code determines whether she will get a good education, we are losing generations to poverty and despair. The crisis in US education is the greatest single threat to our national strength and cohesion.
That crisis has multiple causes. Whether or not it has ever been the case that open admission to leadership positions existed, there is truth in the bundling of good schools with good neighborhoods.  Whether the schools can overcome the unraveling of institutions elsewhere remains to be seen.

POUND A PAN

Northern Illinois graduate Lincoln Douglas is the Minister of Arts and Multiculturalism for Trinidad and Tobago.
Douglas, most recently the minister of state in the Ministry of the People and Social Development, is among several new cabinet appointments Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar announced Friday, June 22.

“I sought to get the most out of the best fit possible,” Persad-Bissessar said during a live televised address to the nation about the reconfigured government.

Persad-Bissessar likened the changes to “the most iconic symbol of change there could be, an oil drum, hammered out into the only musical instrument in the world developed in the last century: the steelpan.”

“Over the next few years Trinidad and Tobago will undergo a similar transformation borne out of the same ingenuity, creativity and innovativeness which our people have become so famous for. It is time to reclaim that self-belief,” she said.
Look for additional Distinguished Visitors at the steel pan concerts.

26.7.12

WHEN YOU COME FROM TROUBLE.

Sometimes trouble follows you.  Northern Illinois linebacker Devon Butler, who was injured in a retaliatory shooting a year ago, recently was injured again in a fight, and has now been released from the football team.
Butler’s Twitter account, which has since been taken down, showed tweets about hosting a two-day party Friday and Saturday night on the 800 block of Regent Drive.

[Football coach Dave] Doeren made it clear that Butler’s release wasn’t just because of the weekend incident, saying it was “the tip of the iceberg.” Doeren later referenced having previous conversations with Butler regarding the linebacker’s conduct.
Summer practice has begun. We have much to look forward to.

25.7.12

THE LADY PROTESTS TOO MUCH.

Economics is about trade-offs, and one of the central trade-off of life is that between achieving at work and enjoying the life that achievement makes possible.  To some high achievers, there is no trade-off: the professional success is reward itself.  And an individual's willingness to take on additional tasks, including covering for colleagues who have a day-care pickup or a Little League game to attend, might be a signal of responsibility and perhaps of ambition.  To Elinor Burkett, however, that signal is a manifestation of workplace abuse.  Thus we have The Baby Boon: How Family-Friendly America Cheats the Childless.  Book Review No. 26 suggests we have a polemic, and a not-necessarily well-argued polemic at that.  Ms Burkett has a long history in feminist circles, and parts of her book read more like an attempt to settle scores therein, rather than mount a coherent public policy argument.  Yes, there might be unattached or child-free workers who receive more than their share of burdensome assignments in order that parents can get away on time, and some of those workers might resent it.  More likely, though, such workers are signalling their ambition, or perhaps putting away a reserve in anticipation of being able to support a family, or a retirement hobby, or fund a business in the future.  And yes, policies that protect family leaves in the workplace do little for the working poor or the long-term welfare recipient.  On the other hand, Baby Boon strongly suggests that the women who rise to high corporate rank are less likely to have children, and it notes that career men have long had to neglect their home life in order to rise.  And it ought come as no surprise to any reader with an academic career that a tenured post at a highly-regarded university might be destructive of one's home life.  But nowhere in this book, which is now a teenager, is there any anticipation of what has actually transpired since its publication.  Ambitious people, whether with children or not, are looking to scale back the demands of their work, and we note again that once President Obama ceases to do for the economic recovery what the Brewer long-relievers have been doing for the pennant chase, the separation statistics are not likely to favor the all-work-all-the-time employers.

(Cross-posted to 50 Book Challenge.)

YOU DIDN'T BUILD THAT.

Our President asks successful entrepreneurs to acknowledge the government's role in building the roads and bridges that bring customers and employees to those businesses.  That may be common practice today, but not always.  Not far from Cold Spring Shops headquarters is the first seedling mile of the Lincoln Highway, an attempt by early twentieth-century entrepreneurs to build a paved highway from coast to coast.  The effort was as much an attempt to lobby for federal funds as it was to improve the roads.  But that lobbying begets both a highway trust fund, and more lobbying, and there's no assurance that the public moneys will necessarily put the roads in the right place, or that customers and employees will be inconvenienced by traffic or by construction to the mutual disadvantage of the entrepreneur and his trading partners.  Go back into history: the internal improvement we know as the land-grant railroads might also have been a misallocation of money that gives critics of corporate welfare from left or right common ground to criticize the policy.

DESTRUCTIVE GENERATION.

It wasn't the hippies.  Their next-elders, too young for Korea, too old for Vietnam, and inheritors of the Pax America, had plenty of opportunity to make mischief without having to face the consequences.  Ed Driscoll has a link-rich indictment of that cohort, which we have, for almost as long as this weblog has been publishing, called to account for a variety of evils including non-judgementalism and enabling the hippies.

THE EMERGENT AND THE ORGANIZED.

In anticipation of the upcoming academic year, here is a Newmark's Door summary of contested territory  between state action and individual action in creating the conditions for individual prosperity.  Richard Posner's 1980 paper on the emergence of law in primitive society (academic readers, log on through your university account) might offer deeper background.  In economics, there's relatively little work on the emergence of government as a provider of goods and services.  We have endowments, and we have exchange economies, and we have production economies.  Presumably, in a two trader, two good world, trust is sufficient?

ADDRESS THE SYMPTOM, NOT THE CAUSE?

Via InstaPundit, a Clayton Cramer essay on the consequences of de-institutionalization.  Some years ago,  a Mike Royko column covered similar ground, suggesting a causal link from releasing people from mental institutions to the growing population of street beggars in Chicago.  Yes, those state hospitals were often unpleasant places, but was the public interest, let alone the interest of those beggars, served, by releasing people onto the streets.  Or leaving them alone to deal with their demons?  "The mainstream media, of course, are using this tragedy in Aurora as an argument for restrictive gun control. But the core problem — the deinstitutionalization of the mentally ill — is simply being ignored."

DROUGHT RESISTANT.

Wisconsin garlic farmers are bringing in a harvest.  The article describes a number of garlic varieties, offers recipes, and provides links to sources of exotic garlic.  Apparently the Cold Spring Shops patch includes a hardneck variety, and each year's patch uses seeds from the plant tops.  The buds can also be put in the ground for seed, but the point of the buds is to peel them and use them in cooking.

15.7.12

DON'T KNOW MUCH ABOUT HISTORY.

Charlie Schroeder, who makes a living covering sports for National Public Radio, discovers the world of military reenactments, and writes about it in Man of War: My Adventures in the World of Historical Reenactment.  He admits to drawing some inspiration for his efforts from Tony Horwitz's Confederates in the Attic, reviewed here.  What he learns about deficiencies in his own historical knowledge provide the material for a brief Book Review No. 25.  By the time he's done, he's found reenactors, some performing at public events such as medieval faires or encampments, others engaging in their hobby -- craft? -- out of public sight, on private grounds, sometimes with the use rights not as well established as the participants have been led to believe.  These people present -- subject to the limitations of the modern world -- conflict spanning the years from the Roman Empire in northern Europe to the Fall of Saigon.  The Vietnam era is too recent, though, to be as uncontroversial a public reenactment as Civil War reenactments have become.  The interests of reenactors of other eras also intrigue ... the most exotic possibly being the seventeenth century Polish Winged Hussars, whose warbonnets served to confuse horses acclimated to the idea of mounted humans, even humans wielding weapons, and whose lances were longer than those carried by other warriors of the day.  Mr Schroeder's education culminates when he works out that there was a Los Angeles before the Beach Boys and the freeway, and he plans his own re-enactment based on the peregrinations of the Spanish monks.

There's probably a Deep Implication in Man of War about deficiencies in the standard school curriculum.      Here the reader encounters people who didn't always do so well in school, and who often lack the author's establishmentarian credentials, yet who grasp deep currents of world history in ways the author had no prior awareness thereof.

(Cross-posted to 50 Book Challenge.)

AFTER THE OIL BOOM.

In my report on an Amtrak detour ride in May, I suggested that Longview, Texas, merited mention as a destination for a train traveller, should that traveller have a more serious purpose than choosing a logical place to make a round trip without too much fretting about late trains and missing the return.  Longview is in northeast Texas, the connection for Shreveport, Louisiana (ah, for a connection to the Flying Crow at Texarkana) and at one time it was the commercial center for a major Texas oilfield.


Yes, that's a large, empty office building called The Petroleum Building, and it's for lease.  Longview, however, is most assuredly not a ghost town, and a little walking around reveals some possibilities for the  visitor.  The train gets in before most of the businesses and museums open for the day.  There is, however, a sandwich shop and coffee house with some local art on the walls, aesthetically akin to our House Cafe, to provide sustenance and obtain some local knowledge.


Several of the downtown streets have been prettied up with brick Lone Stars and decorative crosswalks. These intersections are controlled by traffic lights or stop signs, but wouldn't that star be a logical place to establish a rotary?

A class of fifth-graders was waiting to enter the Gregg County Historical Museum, and the staff allowed me to shadow them.  There's a cautionary tale here for municipalities that seek to save money by holding back the pay of public officials.


There's also some background on the reason the Texas Railroad Commission might have had to emerge as what the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries hoped to be.


Nothing humble about this oil company.

Recruitment and student retention are not new problems for higher education, either, although the approach Kilgore Junior College took to expanding female enrollment and fostering male student engagement might have had unintended consequences.


The Rangerettes might have been the prototype for the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders, or more generally for the production values of southern college football, and the effect of those production values on tailgatin' and boozin' might have been to increase, rather than decrease, both.  Kilgore itself is a community near Longview, which during the oil boom featured oil derricks on house and commercial lots through town.

The museum also had Ice Age and Indian lore material, and a staffer expert on these topics, who confirmed something I had heard here in the North, about Mississippian pyramid builders establishing a trade route delivering copper from what is now Michigan's Upper Peninsula to Mexico.

There's also a Museum of Fine Arts, which during my visit featured Charlie Brown's all-stars.


That's the first time Snoopy emerged as a shortstop, and possibly the explanation Lucy moved to right field.


Look closely, that's a real Joe Shlabotnik bat.

The downtown is walkable, although the train station is a respectable hike from downtown, and a number of the eateries observe the old tradition of closing between breakfast and lunch or lunch and supper, so do your scouting and plan your sightseeing accordingly.

THIRTY YEARS AGO.

Major League Baseball still offered the odd day doubleheader (none of this day-night, everybody clear the stadium after the first game and come back on a new ticket barbarism) and the Milwaukee Brewers, then in the American League, took two at County Stadium from the White Sox to go a half game ahead of the Red Sox.

NO PRICE DISCOVERY?

"Aid-eligible institutions raise tuitions to maximize aid."  That ought not come as much of a surprise to anyone who has studied economics, although a recent NBER working paper by Stephanie Riegg Cellini and Claudia Goldin might add some institutional heft to the argument.
The authors only examined programs that award associate's degrees and nondegree certificates in fields including business, computer sciences and cosmetology. They didn't look at tuition charged for bachelor's degrees or at public and private nonprofit universities, which together educate roughly 90% of postsecondary students.
That's a topic for future research, as the non-profits are a more heterogeneous sample to evaluate. And it's heartening to see Professor Goldin, who made her Wisconsin teaching debut having to put up with me and a few friends in her class continuing to investigate topics of national import.

SCARCITY AND OPPORTUNITY COST.

Former High Washington Official Anne-Marie Slaughter gives up her High Washington Job to return to Princeton so as to get off the default high-power job treadmill.
For two years, I never left the office early enough to go to any stores other than those open 24 hours, which meant that everything from dry cleaning to hair appointments to Christmas shopping had to be done on weekends, amid children’s sporting events, music lessons, family meals, and conference calls. I was entitled to four hours of vacation per pay period, which came to one day of vacation a month. And I had it better than many of my peers in D.C.; Secretary Clinton deliberately came in around 8 a.m. and left around 7 p.m., to allow her close staff to have morning and evening time with their families (although of course she worked earlier and later, from home).

In short, the minute I found myself in a job that is typical for the vast majority of working women (and men), working long hours on someone else’s schedule, I could no longer be both the parent and the professional I wanted to be—at least not with a child experiencing a rocky adolescence. I realized what should have perhaps been obvious: having it all, at least for me, depended almost entirely on what type of job I had. The flip side is the harder truth: having it all was not possible in many types of jobs, including high government office—at least not for very long.

I am hardly alone in this realization. Michèle Flournoy stepped down after three years as undersecretary of defense for policy, the third-highest job in the department, to spend more time at home with her three children, two of whom are teenagers. Karen Hughes left her position as the counselor to President George W. Bush after a year and a half in Washington to go home to Texas for the sake of her family. Mary Matalin, who spent two years as an assistant to Bush and the counselor to Vice President Dick Cheney before stepping down to spend more time with her daughters, wrote: “Having control over your schedule is the only way that women who want to have a career and a family can make it work.”
"Control over your schedule" might be an emergent phenomenon, as people of ability walk away from supposedly high-prestige positions over the unreasonable expectations employers have.  Former Vermont governor Madeleine Kunin suggests that a little legislation might be helpful, particularly where individual employers might not perceive the same pressure to offer less onerous terms of work.
Women and men in top management positions often can negotiate flexibility, either in the number of hours worked, where they work, or how many days they work. Mid-level and low-level earners rarely have that opportunity because they have little power, and fear that by asking for flexibility they might be fired.

England and Australia have come up with a compromise that works for most employers and employees. It’s called the Right to Request Flexibility. An employee may ask her or his boss for flexibility without risking dismissal. The employer does not have to grant the request, but they are required to negotiate a compromise. If it is not achieved, the case goes to a tribunal. Employers have grown to like the law because it enables them to attract and retain talent, which saves them much more money in the long term than the cost of flexibility. James Wall, former vice president at Deloitte, calculates that it costs two to five times an annual salary to retrain a new employee, women and men alike.
To some extent, though, a request for flexibility resembles a signal of low ambition, the tragic and nasty reality Ross Douthat identifies in his reaction to Ms Slaughter's essay.
Did the male breadwinners of yore, with their wives and kids waiting at home after a long day at the factory or the office, “have it all” in anything like the sense that today’s wistful working mothers seem to mean by the phrase? No, they did not: Most of them worked longer hours and spent less time with their families than today’s ideals of fatherhood would permit; many of them no doubt retired and died wishing that it could have been otherwise.
Perhaps so, although those Organization Men might have been neglecting their children or their golf games so as to provide better for those children.
A more family-friendly workplace is a plausible and worthwhile goal, but the employee or public servant who is willing to sacrifice time at home in order “to work harder, stay later, pull more all-nighters, travel around the world and bill the extra hours that the international date line affords you” will always, always have a professional advantage over a peer who wants to leave at 5 PM to see their family or telecommute two days a week.
In the absence of ways to identify high performers without performance tests, that may always be the case.

13.7.12

SEE THAT BIG HOUSE, SEE THAT SMALL HOUSE?

Among the books in the departmental housecleaning stack (anyone with any experience around a university knows about departmental housecleaning stacks) was the seventh edition of Paula S. Rothenberg's Race, Class, and Gender in the United States, and once Book Review No. 24 is done, it goes back to the housecleaning stacks.  It's an anthology, and the only apparent organizing theme is that some people lead pretty miserable lives, and that misery is due in some part to circumstances beyond those people's control, which the compiler would like readers to believe can be summarized as the multiple oppressions of race, class and gender.  But if you'd like to find an antidote to the poverty of cultural studies, such as, oh, a coherent logical framework, keep looking.  You get the usual language about intersecting modes of oppression, but you also get essays in Comparative Victimization in which the tussles between gang-bangers of Latin American extraction and gang-bangers of African or Asian extraction suggest there is no one model of marginalization.  That is, once one rules out "deficient life-management skills", something that an extract from William Ryan's Blaming the Victim rules out.  Never mind that the toddler enters pre-school or kindergarten deficient in reading and calculating skills, and the pre-school corrects that.  Never mind that according to Allan Bloom, the freshman enters college uncivilized, and the opening of the American Mind corrects that.  And you get Holly Sklar's extended meditation on see that big house, see that small house, but no basis for doing anything other than commiserating.  (I found this post that suggests where to go from that information.)

The book is now available in an eighth edition, priced around $60.  Can you say third-party payments?  The customer reviews there say more about the book than I have.

(Cross-posted to 50 Book Challenge.)

A DIFFICULT DAY FOR THE CREW DISPATCHERS.

The Cold Spring Shops "Free Rein to 110" campaign is bearing some fruit, with test runs taking place in Illinois, and scheduled service now in place in Michigan.  With the coming of summer, and the four-day energy-conserving schedule in place at the office, there's no guilt in checking the Amtrak website for business class space on a Michigan train.  Sure enough, space available to and from Royal Oak, the destination on a pre-speedup trip four years ago.  Because of changes Norfolk Southern has made to its freight service, the current service is faster west of Kalamazoo, but slower east to Detroit and Pontiac.  The new Dearborn station will be adjacent to the Henry Ford Museum, if that is ever built, and the faster services Michigan is promising might make day-trips from Chicago to that museum possible.  Perhaps in another four years?

Amtrak Wolverine 350, Chicago to Pontiac, 6 July 2012: P32 diesel 27, Amcafe 48178, Horizon coaches 54559, 54541, 54519, P32 diesel 26.  I don't know whether the diesels are top-and-tailed, or if the trailing one in each direction is along for the ride.  Temperature is hot and sticky.  Business Class allowed to board around 7 am; attendant passes out Chicago Tribune.  Leave 7.30.19 (watch set to the National Bureau of Standards online time service a few days earlier, not synchronized with the public clocks in Union Station); hold for inward Rock Island scoot at Englewood 7.44; Hammond-Whiting 8.00.42 - 8.03.13, meet 29 at station; 110 mph running begins in earnest east of Michigan City, New Buffalo 9.46.55 - 9.48.00; Niles 10.06.49 - 10.10.11; Dowagiac 10.19.49 - 10.21.05; head in Decatur, meet 351 10.30, stop at east siding switch 10.30.40, go 10.31.43, head in Lawton, meet 363 10.43, no stop; arrive Kalamazoo 10.58.10.   Thus endeth the fast running.  But there is fast running, something that's missing from the Hiawatha service, as is food service, something this mural in the cafe emphasizes.


Leave Kalamazoo 11.02.31; Battle Creek 11.31.52 - 11.37.18; Jackson 12.27.31 - 12.28.31; meet 353 east of Chelsea 12.52, no stop; Ann Arbor 1.08.58 - 1.45.11, large crowd waiting; Dearborn 1.43.02 - 1.45.41; Detroit 2.05 - 2.08, arrive Royal Oak 2.28.  The old Grand Trunk line northwest from Milwaukee Junction is in somewhat better shape north of the Ferndale intermodal terminal, although it is still jointed rail.  I think that's a downgrade from the state it was in in the late 1980s.

The Detroit area also dealt with some extreme weather, and power was out at businesses on the west side of Washington Street, but on, perhaps in limited quantities, on the east side.  The air conditioning was out at a Caribou coffee shop that was nevertheless full of people studying.  Royal Oak is home to the first BD's Mongolian Grill, an establishment where you put together a mix of proteins and vegetables that the staff will grill while you wait.  Good lunch, cold pop, the Barnes and Noble was open, and the Caribou could whip up iced Mint Conditions.  Lots more time to explore when the trains are on time.  Now to get that Henry Ford Museum stop open.


A few people boarded at Royal Oak, and the crew made a request that passengers not put luggage on seats or nap on two seats.  Three coaches constitute a skimpy rake for a weekend Michigan train, even with the colleges on summer schedule.  Leave Royal Oak 5.55.30, conductor advises a delay with an intermodal train going into the Ferndale yard 5.59.36; stop, start, stop, start, stop, good to go 6.07.12; Detroit 6.28.28 - 6.31.06; Dearborn 6.49.25 - 6.52.13, meet 352 near Wayne Junction 6.54; Ann Arbor 7.23.25 - 7.26.30.


This diesel and coach, damaged sometime this spring, await shipment to Beech Grove or Wilmington from Jackson.  There's still a Conrail Shared Assets area in Michigan.  Jackson 8.01.09 - 8.03.00; conductor advises there is a brush fire ahead near the Jackson airport and we will be held.  Stop 8.12, moving 9.41 at restricted speed; conductor advises we have not been cleared past the fire, which is still not struck, stop 10.20, go 10.29, pass fire site 10.39, pass Albion 10.54.  Train will swap crews with 354: stop 11.03 to trade engineers, move 11.08, stop 11.09 to swap train crews, go 11.15; arrive Battle Creek 11.44.01, conductor advises passengers to hit the bricks to smoke, as there will be another crew exchange, this crew delayed a few hours on 364 account engine troubles in Chicago.  Go 11.56.25; Kalamazoo 12.26.20 - 12.31.06, train loading on track away from station platform; Dowagiac 12.55.46 - 12.56.31; Niles 1.05.49 - 1.07.16; all eastbound trains have arrived and left and temperatures are low enough to allow uninterrupted cruising at 110; New Buffalo 1.25.40 - 1.26.26; Michigan City 12.39.20 - 12.40.30 Central time, no chance of catching the last dinky to Aurora; Hammond 1.22.15 - 1.23.25; arrive Chicago 1.50.  The equipment for 8-28, with the Super Dome and Skytop Lounge Cedar Rapids, is leaving for the coach yard as we arrive.  Union Station now closes at 1 am or when the last Amtrak arrives, station staff advises there are all-night eateries in Greektown.  Yes, and some interesting people-watching -- the city that never sleeps is a different city after dark than by day.  First dinky of Saturday morning gets away at 6.30.  Hot shower and change of clothes welcome at 8.30.

DOUBLY LUCKY?

If one comes into the world on a Friday the Thirteenth, by the light of the full moon, one ought make the most of it. "For pagans, 13 is a lucky number. It corresponds with the number of full moons in a year."

PUSHED OUT?

Within Illinois, a combination of uncertainty over the future of the state pension plans, and a faculty getting older, thanks in part to years of downsizing, faculty are calling it a career.
The number of retirements at Northern Illinois University almost have doubled in the past four years. In calendar year 2009, 110 employees retired. In 2012, 204 employees are expected to retire, according to information received by SURS through a Freedom of Information Act request.

“It’s an unprecedented turnover,” said Steven Cunningham, vice president of Administration and Human Resources at NIU. “It’s about three times what it normally would be. It’s mostly caused by uncertainty caused by pension reform.”

That’s one factor that has led to a growing number of retirees, said Deborah Haliczer, director of employment relations with NIU’s Human Resources Department, which encompasses staff demographics.

A large percentage of NIU’s employees were hired in the 1970s and 1980s during a large period of growth, which means many of them are reaching retirement age.
That's the local news. At the state flagship, where they had a clout list but no rowing team, there's something similar in progress.
"Folks are very concerned with what's happening in Springfield with pensions," said Jack Dempsey, executive director of UI Facilities and Services. "Whether it's true or not, people believe if they retire they secure their benefits. Folks who are on the fence, they're making the choice to go now."

Figures provided by the State Universities Retirement System as of June 12 show the number of people planning to retire before July 2 at the UI's Urbana campus doubled this calendar year over the same period in 2011, from 223 to 491. The university's overall numbers showed a similar trend, with 1,008 employees planning to retire before July 2 this year compared with 507 during the first six months of 2011.

"The numbers are definitely up across our employee categories," said Barbara Wilson, UI vice provost for academic affairs at the Urbana campus.
Whether the same dynamic is at work elsewhere remains to be seen.  A professor at Georgia Southern sent a letter to his colleagues that Inside Higher Ed suggests might be a lament against the rise of the all-administrative university.
As people have forwarded it to colleagues elsewhere, frequently using the phrase "speaking truth to power," many are saying that [Georgia Southern literature and philosophy professor David] Dudley has captured many of the things that are wrong in higher education today, especially at the non-flagship, non-elite public institutions that most students attend.
The incentives may vary among universities.
Tenure is a property right and Stanford is trying to buy back that right from the age 70+ faculty.

Now there is a hidden information issue here. Each tenured faculty member has private information about what is the lowest payment he/she would need in order to induce him to retire early. Somebody who is sick or sick of his colleagues would need a smaller incentive then a guy who thinks that he is on the verge of coming up with his "General Theory of Economics" or doesn't like to hang out with his spouse.
Note, in the exalted climate of the fifty institutions that claim to be the international top ten, we're not talking about more downsizing from headquarters, intrusions by the Assessment Weenies, and parking permits advertising football.

TEMPERING PRINCIPLE WITH PRACTICALITY.

In the aftermath of the late June dual derechos, the commentariat begins to weigh in on the effects of bad weather.  To Stephen Moore of the Club for Growth, the power failure is cause for reflection on the ubiquity of cheap electricity and air conditioning.
So many Americans—spoon-fed by a "go green" education system and media—live under the delusion that things were better in the past than they are now. Sure the economy is bad, but all we had to do is live for 72 hours without AC, TV, a dishwasher, a hair dryer and Google to appreciate how much progress has been made in the past 20, 30, and 50 years. Today a larger percentage of poor people have access to air conditioning than the average middle-class family did in 1960.
To Daphne Wysham of the Institute for Policy Studies, it's cause to contemplate the connection between the power for those conveniences and the immoderate weather.
Solar and wind power may seem like pricey alternatives to you, versus energy derived from coal, nuclear reactors, oil, and gas. But they also don't enjoy the same hefty subsidies. People, governments, and companies are spending countless dollars adjusting to the costs of a crisis of our own making. It’s a big gamble. In the best-case scenario, we may just throw out a refrigerator’s worth of spoiled food or spend a night or two in a hotel. In the worst-case scenario, the Earth will become uninhabitable.

Is it really more expensive to switch to greener power sources and drive less? When you add up all the costs of doing otherwise — no way. By investing in cleaner energy sources now, we can save the lives of countless innocent victims — perhaps even those we love the most — from storms that should only appear in our nightmares.
One quibble. Years ago, I did some work with the Energy Department and the Environmental Protection Agency's Common Sense Initiative, and in those days, which coincided with the 1988 midwestern drought, we understood that nuclear-steam generating stations had a lot of potential for reducing greenhouse gases at the power plant.  By all means, continue the research on wind and solar and bio-coal, but don't rule out some of the legacy power sources.

12.7.12

WON THE WAR, LOST THE PEACE.

A recent issue of World War II included a list of recommended books from investment screamer Jim Cramer.  One title, Thunder in the East: The Nazi-Soviet War 1941-1945 got Mr Cramer's endorsement as "The best-researched book yet to come out about where the war was truly won."  It is well, and thoroughly, researched.  It is also well organised and relatively short, two features contributing to a favourable Book Review No. 23.  The Great Patriotic War, to use the Soviet term, or the Ostfront, as the Germans had it, involved millions of men and numerous skirmishes as part of or in preparation for or incidental to the major set-piece battles such as Stalingrad and Kursk that get much of the attention.  It's thus easy to produce excessively complicated histories with lots of maps and units and minutiae.  Author Evan Mawdsley resists that temptation: for example, the description of the opening phases of Operation Babarossa occupy 32 pages and it might be possible to read them in less time than the opening movement of the Shostakovich Leningrad Symphony requires.  The author also suggests that Stalingrad and Kursk are not necessarily the pivotal events of the 1942 and 1943 campaigns: the outcome might have actually been determined or avoided by command decisions earlier in the campaign seasons.  By the end of 1944, however, the Soviets had organized their forces in such a way that campaign season lasted all year.  What intrigues, though, is the possibility Professor Mawdsley suggests of the successful Soviet war effort confirming the Stalinist model of political organization as something to be continued after the war ended.  (The Germans, Italians, and Japanese had to develop new models.)  Stalinist rigidities, combined with Russian nationalism, ultimately undid the Soviet Union.  Whether the end of the Great Depression coming with the end of World War II for the United States similarly ossified the New Industrial State and the Vital Progressive Center remains as a topic for future research.

(Cross-posted to 50 Book Challenge.)

WISCONSIN WHERE THEY ROW.

The Official Preppy Handbook suggests that rowing is a proper Preppy sport, even though it is done well at Wisconsin.  So well, indeed, that Ohio State recognizes it, and the University sells a book so titled.

For years, coaches of the rowing teams recruited by hanging out at orientation or registration (when all payments were received at the Red Gym, that's where the men's coach would be).  That's still the case, as a rundown of Wisconsin Olympians reveals.
Grant James, 24, rowing: The native of DeKalb, Ill., had never rowed until he was recruited by UW coach Chris Clark during freshman orientation in 2005. Seven years later he's going to the Olympics as a member of the U.S. men's eight.

Ross James, 24, rowing: Grant's twin brother, Ross was the last rower to earn his spot in the boat for the U.S. men's eight. Ross rows on the port side of the boat, Grant the starboard side.
Several other Wisconsin rowers will participate.  The James brothers didn't play sports in high school.
DeKalb natives Grant and Ross James each have the 6-foot-6 body of a basketball player, the lungs and legs of an elite cross country runner, and the poise of a marksman, and the pair is set to compete in the 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London starting this month.


But you won’t remember reading about the twins’ athletic feats in high school, and most readers probably never knew about their athletic gifts when the pair walked the halls of what is now Huntley Middle School. [The high school recently moved to a new campus on the north side of town, with a larger athletic plant, but no planetarium.]


The duo never played football or basketball, although coaches pined for their services over the years, and only have a few years of baseball to their credit at DeKalb.
Sometimes, the choice of a university matters.
The pair were part of the eight-man boat that won the 2008 national championship for Wisconsin, and the 24-year-olds will start their Olympic quest July 28 in the preliminary round of the eight-man competition.


"There are rowers out there walking around that are as good as them that will never know how good they could have been,” Clark said.
Sure. Instead of going to Wisconsin, where they row, they matriculated at Illinois.