27.9.12

WEIGH THE COSTS AND BENEFITS.

A recent Pew survey of student loan debt reaches a sobering conclusion.
Richard Fry, a Pew senior economist and author of the report, says he hopes the report will provide perspective for families as they consider educational options.

"Given the fact that the job market has been especially weak for young adults, I think there's a conversation going on in a lot of American families with high school students about, 'Is college worth it?' " he says. "Student loan debt is sort of the lightning rod issue for this conversation."
Perhaps I'm more jaded than normal, after observing a big end-cap display of red plastic cups and five-packs of table-tennis balls on sale at a local supermarket.  As far as I know, there has not been an upsurge of interest in building analogue chain-reaction simulators.  I'll moderate my jadedness enough to note a student request, just for fun, to see the integral describing the evolution of a futures price with continuous storage costs, as part of today's classes.  I did emphasize that the story behind it was examinable, although the math was not.

But then I read about the amenities race going beyond the climbing walls and the nap pods, and out to the bars.
In an effort to appeal to increasingly demanding students, bars are cleaning up their sticky-as-caramel floors, installing midcentury modern furniture, and offering more hard liquor. This while struggling to keep prices low. “Students want to get drunker faster and cheaper,” said Jason Sidle, general manager of Rulloff’s Restaurant and Bar in [Ithaca, New York's] Collegetown. In its last decade, the Royal Palm Tavern sold about twice as much hard liquor as it had in the previous one, [retired Ithaca tavernkeeper Lenny] Leonardo said.

Mike McLaughlin, 21, a senior at Cornell, said, “I drink liquor because it takes too long to drink beer.” On the drinks menu at Rulloff’s, “Bitch Fuel” (vodka, gin, rum, peach schnapps and lemon-lime soda) is a popular recent addition, but Mr. Sidle has also required all his bartenders to download mixologist apps to their phones. “We get all these requests for weird drinks we’ve never heard of because they’ve seen someone drinking it on Facebook,” he said.
Put half that effort into evaluating integrals and you, too, dear student, can make option contracts and design Mars rockets.  Meanwhile, as the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee enrolls more Wisconsin residents than the Madison campus, its attempts (or not) to raise its academic profile look increasingly like basketball and baby-sitting, as the beer-'n-circus model of the student life takes hold.
For decades, longtime residents and the commuter school got along well. But as the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee grows into a robust residential campus, more students are spilling into nearby neighborhoods, especially at night.

Some of the neighbors aren't happy about that.

Students cut through residential streets and yards on the way to house parties and North Ave. bars. Some stumble home after a night of drinking and raise a ruckus while neighbors are trying to sleep.

It's the noisy, disrespectful drunks who give all students a bad name.

Just how many students fit that description is a subject of debate. Twenty-five of the university's 29,000 students were arrested Sept. 8, the first weekend after fall classes started, and 26 were arrested a week ago during police crackdowns on misbehavior.

Campus neighborhoods have changed a lot, and not for the better, says Capt. Stephen Basting, a Milwaukee Police Department captain who went to school at UWM and now serves in the police district that patrols the area.
At one time, Wisconsin-Milwaukee was where students took notes, took tests, and took off.  Taking off takes on a different meaning these days.


Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel photograph by Michael Sears.

There's another university in Milwaukee, with perhaps a stronger athletic tradition.  (Hint: who is the Milwaukee Normal analogue of George Andrie?)  That university also maintains a modicum of community standards.
[Milwaukee alderman Nik] Kovac and many neighbors also would like to see a strengthened law allowing UWM to kick out students who continuously misbehave.

"If you screw up at Marquette, they kick you out," Kovac said. "At UWM, they say they are a public university and it takes heaven and earth not just to kick them out, but to discipline. That answer is getting old with the neighbors."

UWM Chancellor Michael Lovell said the law doesn't need to be stiffer. Chronic offenders already can be dealt with through existing measures, he said.

"I don't want to harm someone's life for one mistake," Lovell said. "The majority of students are good citizens. If they do get into trouble, we've invested a lot of resources to teach them.

"You treat people who are chronic offenders differently."

Wisconsin has a drinking culture that exposes young people to alcohol long before they go to college, and that's part of the problem, Lovell said.

"To me, the solution is not to show force," he said. "I want to educate students - show them what it takes to be a good citizen and a good neighbor."
It's not just the Wisconsin drinking culture. Somewhere between the government-guaranteed loans and the open enrollments, there's a misallocation of resources.

ZEBRAS WORK HARD, BUT WE DON'T GIVE THEM WHISTLES.

National Football League commissioner Roger Goodell apologizes, sort of.
"The folks on the field during the last three weeks were under unprecedented scrutiny," Goodell said. "Everything they did, every call was magnified. They kept the game going. They worked and they trained hard. They were incredibly focused and dedicated."
That's the kind of thing one hears from the student disgruntled with his grade, rarely from the professor.

In the scheme of things, the league's failed experiment with unqualified replacement officials is more accurately described as a bump in the road, compared to some of the idiocies coming out of Washington, D.C.

If the national attention being paid to the league's errors includes a generalization of "I really worked hard" as an inadequate defense of failure to problems of greater import, some good will be done.

26.9.12

THE FOLLY OF AVERAGING.

Don't vote Republican without analyzing the details.  Red states' income growing faster than blue states'.  It is true that in many of the states that gave Our President electoral votes, a truthful answer to "are you better off than you were four years ago?" is "On average, no."  But in the states that did not give Our President electoral votes, there is a wide variation in income growth rates.  Thus,
North Dakota, a red state, tops the nation in income growth thanks to an oil boom. Other major energy states — Alaska, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas — are solidly Republican, polls show. Poor, southern red states depend heavily on government transfers for income and benefited from increases in Medicaid and other federal programs.
But for the national government: do you say thanks for the transfer payments, or do you note that but for the constraints implied by "shovel ready" do you say energy development has been hampered?

BEST. PICTURE. EVER.

Got it from the USA Today gallery!


THE SUPPLY CURVE IS INELASTIC.

This is what indisputable evidence of a split decision looks like.


Why official 84 concurred with the official to the right without a conference is now a moot point.  The best comment I've seen on the ruling is that if the offensive player comes down with the defensive player who is holding the ball, it is a catch.

There is an economics lesson in professional football's lowering of standards to hire replacement officials, one made by former basketball referee Barry Mano.
"In fairness, I look at the replacements as a group of well-paid volunteers in a failing experiment," Mano said. "What is missing here is the extraordinary value that the regular officials bring to the game from the standpoint of their presence, their management skills and their ability to control the flow of the game. This is all on top of knowing a very complex rule book and knowing all the enforcements.

"A whole bunch of decisions had to be made to set the table as it has been set," Mano said. "You put these replacements in very deep water. I mean very deep water. I was a basketball referee for 25 years. I was used think, heck I could go out and work an NBA game. We all sort of think that way. But you know what? It turns out that when you decide to have a cup of coffee in the NFL, that decision can have very serious consequences. I think the replacements are finding that out."

Mano does not see the quality of the officiating improving as the season unfolds with replacements.
The league had to dip well into the pool of extramarginal providers, as the major college conferences advised their officials that job-hopping would not be looked upon favorably.  Thus, the replacement officials include individuals discharged by the Lingerie Football League, a business that wants to signal that its product is Serious Entertainment.

Packer quarterback Aaron Rodgers offered fans the apology the league would not make.
"Some stuff just needs to be said," Rodgers, who was more diplomatic during his postgame press conference, told [his WAUK Radio] host, Jason Wilde. "First of all, I've got to do something that the NFL is not going to do: I have to apologize to the fans. Our sport is a multi-billion dollar machine, generated by people who pay good money to come watch us play. The product on the field is not being complemented by an appropriate set of officials. The games are getting out of control."

He continued: "My thing is I just feel bad for the fans. They pay good money to watch this. The game is being tarnished by an NFL that obviously cares more about saving some money than having the integrity of the game diminished a little bit."
Integrity "diminished a little bit" is an accurate understatement, contrasted with Our President's characterization of the deaths of four U.S. citizens as a "bump in the road".  That's clearly a greater manifestation of incompetence, and I'm sure there's some lesson to be learned in the attention a blown call in a football game is getting.  But some casinos are refunding bets on the Touchception game.

And all for the want of officials who have the sense to confer before making a ruling on the field.

FAMOUS MISSING PERSONS.

This past summer, there was another quest for Amelia Earhart's plane.

This fall, there's another quest for Jimmy Hoffa.

TOTAL RECALL ON THE RACETRACK.

Last weekend featured excellent conditions for photography of the Nebraska Zephyr excursion.

Rusty Traque was at Western Springs on Saturday, in just the right place to see the Zephyr, which left Chicago at 9 am, overtake the regular commuter train out of Union Station at 8.30.


Joe Balynas was down the line at Highlands, with a great shot from the soon-to-be-replaced classic Burlington wooden bridge.  This picture is from Sunday, when the commuter train schedule is different.


I'm still looking for video of the Zephyr rolling through Macomb at 79 mph.  There's a signboard for engineers reading Macomb: 14 crossings, meaning a lot of horn accompaniment.




23.9.12

WHAT A FAST TRAIN LOOKS LIKE.

Amtrak, the BNSF Railway, and the Illinois Railway Museum collaborated to return Silver Pilot and The Nebraska Zephyr to its historic racetrack for two weekend trips Chicago Union Station to West Quincy and return.  I did not promise to file a trip report at the time of the trip's announcement, as I had tentative plans for other activities that weekend.  Tentative plans sometimes change, and seats on the train were still available a week ago Sunday.

I promptly purchased a Galesburg to Quincy and return coach ticket for September 22, and Amtrak coach seats Mendota to Galesburg and return.


Here's my conveyance from Mendota, lined to diverge onto the Quincy line.  Because the current rules of railroading make no provision for the order ENG 35 DISPLAY SIGNALS AND RUN AS FIRST 381, there are no green flags on the locomotive, no matter the visual appeal or play value such might offer.

There is a small railroad museum trackside at Galesburg, complete with a boxcar that clarifies what we are looking at.


The Mendota Subdivision (Aurora to Galesburg) of BNSF is being equipped with Positive Train Control.  An Amtrak test train is present, just to be positive.  The Quad Cities trains will be on the Mendota Sub as far as Wyanet, where a connecting track to the Iowa Interstate's ex-Rock Island line will be built.  Thus Princeton, Mendota, and points east will gain additional train frequencies on The Way of the Zephyrs, and perhaps the Positive Train Control will be another step in the Cold Spring Shops "Free Rein to 110" campaign.



It's all very encouraging, and new locomotives and cars are planned.  I doubt, though, if there will be a diesel named Silver Pilot, even if the new one is geared for 125 mph rather than 117.5, or coaches named Venus, Vesta, and Minerva, or a dining food service car named Ceres, or any kind of observation car, let alone a parlor-observation car named Juno.

Venus contains the train's heating and air-conditioning equipment.  At one time the passenger space was a tavern-lounge, those early streamliners offering all sorts of amenities to the carriage trade.  The seven-car version of the train included a dinette-coach and a second parlor car with a day drawing room.  To contemplate Amtrak's business class ...


In museum service, Venus generally serves as a rest area for the volunteer train crews.  It's being used as the museum store, with various mugs, shirts, posters, and reading material on sale.  On the bulkhead is a Global Positioning System estimate of our speed.  It's not as accurate as the Barco speedometer on the diesel, which is pegged at the track speed of 79 mph.  Global Positioning speed estimates do not allow Δs to go to zero.

Vesta and Minerva are two sixty-seat coaches, configured as mirror images of each other.  The entrance to Vesta is forward, and the entrance to Minerva is aft.  Thus, the train crew can load the coach passengers through Vesta at the same time that detraining passengers are unloading through Minerva, expediting station stops, as well as giving boarding passengers the opportunity to fill the seats as they become available.


I'm standing at the rear of Vesta, looking at the baggage shelves, the connection between the two cars, and the full seating section of Minerva.  Perhaps a Burlington fan can enlighten me about the use of hull number 4627 for Minerva.

All passengers were served a meal in the dining car: breakfast out of Chicago, lunch for Chicago passengers near Galesburg and for Galesburg passengers west of Macomb, and supper for Chicago passengers out of Galesburg.  My seating came during a delay at Quincy.  Apparently BNSF headquarters had to first establish that no, our train had not set brush fires along the tracks in its westward dash.  Parlor car passengers may have been offered first seating at each meal, and the second parlor car, which went for scrap years ago, would likely have also sold out on this trip.

Because of our delays at Quincy, we returned to Galesburg just after five p.m., and headquarters in its wisdom decided to hold us near the freight yard until the scheduled Southwest Chief completed its station work at 5.31.  As I type this, it appears that today's train is being held out of Galesburg until the scheduled California Zephyr completes its station work.  The timing made for some photos of the train, well-illuminated by the setting equinoctal sun.


The same rules that preclude the display of green flags also preclude the display of white flags and the issuance of the order ENG CBQ 9911 RUN PSGR EXTRA CHICAGO TO WEST QUINCY AND RETURN.  This movie of the train leaving Galesburg suggests the engineer would like to have the consist rolling at 110 the way Ralph Budd and Charles Kettering intended.


On a sunny Sunday morning, I took advantage of the conditions to get one more movie, at Mendota.


Some people I spoke with at trackside were disappointed yesterday's train returned after sunset. Today's train is still waiting to get into the Galesburg station.  I hope they won't be disappointed again. The museum would also like to get its train back to Union late tonight.

20.9.12

THE STRONGEST STUDENTS ARE FORGOTTEN.

The dean at Anonymous Community confirms that under the rubric of No Child Left Behind, No Child Gets Ahead.
The folks who teach in the Honors and [learning community] programs here have favorite stories of students who didn’t know how smart they actually were until they were seriously challenged.  Take away those serious challenges -- sacrificed to yet another year of flat budgets -- and we won’t see as many of those breakthroughs.  We might not even notice, focused as we are on raising the floor.
Indeed. The comments also note that it is precisely in the allegedly less selective, and realistically, less recognised, colleges and universities that produce most of the degrees, that giving students the opportunity to face and manage challenges has the greatest effect. The self-selected hotshots at the more famous institutions can learn from each other. Too much talent is being wasted under the patronising rubric of first-generation, non-traditional, disadvantaged, what have you is equivalent to being not up to developing a first-rate mind.

IF IT FEELS GOOD, DO IT.

The consequences come later.  Ask Monica Lewinsky.
'Monica has tried to move forward, but the nightmare of her affair with Bill still haunts her,' a friend told the [National] Enquirer. 'She’s facing 40 without a man in her life, and seething about the way her reputation was destroyed as the whole world watched.'
It all seemed so much easier in that Barbara Walters interview, where they could share a giggle about how she was telling the president he had competition.
As well as the heartbreak she suffered after her relationship with Clinton, Lewinsky also plans to detail the pain of ending a pregnancy at the height of her liaison with the president, the source said.

She was carrying a child fathered by a Pentagon employee called 'Thomas', she revealed in an earlier biography written by Andrew Morton. 'That void has never been filled,' said the friend.

She decided to develop the memoir after her sullied reputation meant she struggled to find work but realised she would get a generous offer for the book.
The article notes that Ms Lewinsky did earn a master's degree in the UK and had a stint as a news reporter there. It also notes that protesters in the Middle East have other ways of taunting the current administration. "[I]n July, during a visit to Egypt as U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton was taunted by her husband's affair by protesters as they chanted 'Monica, Monica!'"  It's a hard way to learn that getting a reputation, in the high school locker room sense of the word, still has enduring consequences.

19.9.12

MISSING THE REAL PROBLEM.

A Ruth Conniff essay on the Chicago teacher strike fails to ask the right question.
A funny thing happened by the end of Brill's book, though. The young teachers he so admired, deeming them "the best and the brightest," burned out and quit. By the last chapter he was admitting that unions--along with the decent pay and benefits they bargain for--might be essential after all.
There's more wrong with Chicago's public schools than union scale salaries.  Until the schools help those parents who aspire to develop responsible habits in their children, rather than enabling dysfunction and calling it inclusiveness, it doesn't matter who -- socially conscious Ivy Leaguers or union activists or Sister Mary Elephant -- is in front of the classroom.

LOWERING OUR SIGHTS.

Maybe it's time to take a blogging sabbatical, at lease where higher education is concerned. I can't add anything to this.
The happiness and social duties of a rising generation encompass a far broader ideal than the job security of the state’s degree-holders.

The university’s founders aimed to create free citizens, to share civilization’s best knowledge with those who would build a new and vibrant commonwealth. Our current leaders seem content to optimize a work force. This kind of thinking is both uninspired and ineffective, and it leads to poor public policy.
The point of the higher learning is to be able to reconstruct, if required, the civilization that made the higher learning available.  That's not in the job description for the optimized work force.

HUMOR AMONG THE ECON.

Ally Bank has a commercial in which Thomas Sargent demonstrates the limitations of rational expectations.


The Grumpy Economist has some workshop questions, or perhaps these are pitcher-of-beer questions.
I might ask, "Tom, the Ally Bank CD allows you the option of raising your CD rate once over its two-year life. Can you explain when to optimally exercise that option?'' Or (second beer), "Tom, to what portfolio optimization question is the answer, combine a two-year CD with an American option to raise the rate once? You must have some great robust-control result here about parameter uncertainty in dynamic interest-rate models."
The calculus is in the comments.

18.9.12

WITHOUT IRONY.

With all the ills the university is subject to, a local professor of English sounds the alarm about ... The Gideons.
In other words, neither women nor the unemployed are eligible to join this Christian group. As one of the men giving out Bibles was quick to point out, the organization has a women’s auxiliary, but it remains segregated from the main association.

For some students and employees, the annual visit by the Gideons creates a cordon of privilege and discrimination around a university that strives to be egalitarian.
I suppose an Older Men's Christian Association might appear discriminatory. But on the same day this letter appeared in the university newspaper, headquarters bragged on Northern Illinois University movin' on up in the U.S. News rankings, which, to university administrators, don't matter except when they do.
Northern Illinois University offers 63 undergraduate, 78 graduate and 20 Ph.D. programs in seven colleges. NIU’s academic experience is enriched by opportunities for research, themed learning communities, internships and on-campus programs and activities that include Greek life and the University Honors Program.
Greek life ... Honors Program ... the parking stickers promote the football program ... no cordons to see here.

PARTIAL AND GENERAL EQUILIBRIUM.

A recent report from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation estimates the medical cost savings from reductions in obesity rates.  Here's how a Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel article identifies the benefits to Wisconsin.
Every little bit counts, whether it's increasing physical activity in schools and workplaces, making fresh fruits and vegetables more affordable, or losing 10 pounds through exercise and better eating.

The ultimate payoff for Wisconsin could add up to $11.96 billion in health care savings if the average resident trimmed just 5% from his or her body mass index by 2030
Healthier eating is probably a Good Thing. It probably doesn't prolong life, although those last years will be less miserable. But a full analysis of the consequences of cheaper food ought consider the benefits, either private or public, of people no longer dying of starvation or malnutrition.

On a more micro level, there's probably room for further analysis of the allocation of space in convenience store refrigerators.
The Lindsay Heights [in Milwaukee] Healthy Corner Store Initiative is working with three neighborhood corner stores. The effort is in its early stages and the amount of available produce in the three stores currently is limited.

Refrigeration space is an issue, as corner stores typically stock snack foods and grocery staples, and don't have much refrigerated shelf space.
The refrigerated space that is there often chills pop and beer. Discuss.

AT ANY TIME, ON ANY TRACK, IN EITHER DIRECTION.

The General Rules of any railroad company expects employees to understand that trains run on those tracks.

Cell-phone yakking trespassers sometimes learn that the hard way.
According to the train conductor, the southbound train was traveling at about 40 mph around 5:15 p.m. as it approached the Amtrak station near the Ventura County Fairgrounds on Harbor Boulevard, when the victim was seen walking on the tracks.

The conductor began sounding the warning horn, but the victim appeared to be looking down at a cellphone and did not make any attempts to get off of the tracks, police said. The conductor said he tried to make an emergency stop, but could not get the train to stop in time.

The train was delayed at the scene for about two hours while the investigation was conducted.
The reporter has apparently confused the engineer, who applies the brakes and sounds the horn, with the conductor, who has the responsibility for filing the accident report. There has to be a better way of conducting investigations than to lay out the entire train for two hours, although in the Chicago area, the delay is often three hours.

This sad news brought to our attention by The Right Coast and we remind all neighbors of the railroads of Operation Lifesaver's safety tips.

16.9.12

A GREAT SENSE OF IRONY.

University of Pennsylvania professor of religious studies Anthea Butler suggests that the producer of a video that supposedly inspired al-Qaeda facilitated attacks on several embassies deserves to be arrested. The gravamen of her argument is the usual defense of speech codes and progressive intolerance.
Clearly, the military considers the film a serious threat to national security. If the military takes it seriously, there should be consequences for putting American lives at risk.

While the First Amendment right to free expression is important, it is also important to remember that other countries and cultures do not have to understand or respect our right.
That observation comes a few sentences after "If there is anyone who values free speech, it is a tenured professor!"  Time for a history lesson.  In the Sheldon Hackney days, the University of Pennsylvania was anything but an institution that valued free speech, particularly for students.  The good news is that Penn currently has a green speech code rating.  Robert Shibley, at College Insurrection, argues that Professor Butler has likely endorsed the heckler's veto.  Follow the links there to some deeper legal arguments.  Ken at Popehat, however, gets to the heart of the matter. "American universities are at the forefront of stupid, stupid forms of censorship, as we frequently discuss here."  Yes, and if the boutique multiculturalists can make common cause with the national security obsessives, and the faculty goes along with it, it won't matter how much the high schools place lacrosse and hockey ahead of academics.

BETTER WORKING CONDITIONS AND BETTER PAY

Chicago teachers remain on strike as a new school week begins.  Via Media offered a roundup of news and commentary from last week, with the suggestion that the strike means a fracture in the blue social model that Democrats pin their election hopes on.  It's true, as this Reason commentary suggests, that the troubles of the Chicago Public Schools, and struggling big-city schools generally, will not be cured by a new labor contract, or more testing, or a visit from a unicorn jumping over a rainbow, until the schools have an easier time inculcating middle-class habits in their students because the parents reinforce the code of the schools, rather than the code of the street.

In economics, there is a concept called "compensating differential," in which, ceteris paribus, more onerous jobs carry higher pay, in order to equalize returns for risk.  The canonical sweatshop or Orwellian coal mine or Dickensian factory is able to expose workers to greater risk for lower pay because of a lack of resource mobility.  That mobility is present in the common schools, and, unsurprisingly, districts with more resources that offer better working conditions get better teachers.  (D'oh!)  Two negotiating seasons ago, I noted the consequences to Milwaukee of neglecting that effect.

In the intervening years, however, people have begun to lose sight of the importance of ceteris paribus conditions.  One important consideration in compensating differential analysis is that the jobs offer different risk profiles to workers of equal quality.  Schoolteachers, thus, are offering their human capital for use to school districts or to other employers of that capital.  Think knowledge workers or symbolic analysts, or possibly middle managers.  At one time, teachers might have enjoyed greater social status relative to middle managers: that, plus flexible hours during the summer, might have explained lower teacher salaries.  But now, Digby argues, the status differential has reversed.
We are at a point at which teachers are clearly seen as the biggest assholes in the world who should be happy to work in terrible conditions and be willing to be fired when kids don't thrive in that environment. I could never have imagined that when I was a kid. Seriously, teachers used to be considered the backbone of our culture and one of the foundations of the middle class. Now they are "retrograde and ridiculous" according to the privileged chattering classes who can't even be bothered to inform themselves of the real issues.
Cleaning up the working conditions requires a cleaning up of the popular culture, particularly in the poorer quarters of the country, but a reversal of the status hierarchy is going to drive people out of teaching and into middle management, or anywhere else where there's a Dilbert moment every day, but the pay is better and the backtalk less vulgar.  Michael Paarlberg makes a similar point.
There was a time when teachers were lauded as local heroes: overworked, underpaid pillars of the community who could – with their credentials – earn more elsewhere, but chose to pursue a career sharing the joys of learning with kids. Politically, they were untouchable, up there with cops and firefighters. Endorsements by their unions were prized by politicians hoping to run as "the education candidate".

Then, at a certain point, teachers' unions woke up to find their favorability rating hovering somewhere between al-Qaida's and herpes. This didn't happen overnight, but a confluence of state budget crises, urban blight and suburban flight, a well-funded school reform movement and private charter school industry created the need for a scapegoat,
There's more to it: the schools have also been de facto laboratories of untested theories dreamed up in the Colleges of Deaducation, and the teachers' unions have introduced the rigidities of seniority and job descriptions that worked so well in Big Steel and the legacy auto companies, which diminish the respect the public may have for what was once a respected calling.  And perhaps Chicago's mayor is driving a harder bargain in order to prevent Illinois from being in play in the Electoral College.  That's right: gasoline at $4 a gallon plus no appreciation in house prices plus rising tuitions plus the twentysomethings back with mother and dad plus the kind of settlement that wins the union's approval just might turn downstate swing voters to the Republican side of the ticket.

And somewhere, we have to consider the proper universe of comparison.  You don't compare the equilibrium teacher with the most successful football coach, or the most visible talking heads.  Angus at Kids Prefer Cheese has the explanation.
Freddie rails about people who want the best and brightest to go into teaching but then think teachers get paid too much.

But here's the thing. It doesn't make sense for society to have the best and brightest go into teaching. We don't need geniuses teaching in elementary school! The opportunity cost is just too high (and yes I know the studies showing a good kindergarten teacher affects lifetime earnings).

Nor does it make sense to (as Freddie does) compare Ezra Klein's salary with the average Chicago teacher salary. Ezra is a blogger. A very good blogger. He has risen up to his current position based on his skill at entertaining and informing people. Certainly the average (or at least the median) salary of a blogger is quite a bit below the average (or at least the median) salary for a Chicago school teacher.

But Ezra is a super-star and is compensated accordingly. Would Freddie and the teachers unions accept this kind of pay-scheme? Big money for superstar teachers, peanuts for the crappy ones.

In higher education, salaries generally differ according to field and accomplishments. Assistant professors of economics generally make more than assistant professors in philosophy even inside the same institution. Holding field constant, better published and better cited professors generally make more than lesser published and cited professors.

Would the teachers unions allow science teachers to be paid more than english teachers?
The "Freddie" he refers to is a Balloon Juice poster who observes, correctly, "If you think that people should be willing to teach for less, than shut your mouth and go apply to teach in Chicago yourself." And here we get to the heart of the But apparently, the latest argument about teacher compensation comes from people who never heard of Adam Smith or Charles Dickens and simply believe Teacher. Pay. Is. Too. Darn. High.
Every year there’d be a fight in the town over the school budget, and every year a vocal contingent would scream that the town was wasting money (and raising needless taxes) on its schools. Especially on the teachers (I never heard anyone criticize the sports teams). People hate paying taxes for any number of reasons—though financial hardship, in this case, was hardly one of them—but there was a special pique reserved for what the taxes were mostly going to: the teachers.

In my childhood world, grown ups basically saw teachers as failures and f***-ups. “Those who can’t do, teach” goes the old saw. But where that traditionally bespoke a suspicion of fancy ideas that didn’t produce anything concrete, in my fancy suburb, it meant something else. Teachers had opted out of the capitalist game; they weren’t in this world for money. There could be only one reason for that: they were losers. They were dimwitted, unambitious, complacent, unimaginative, and risk-averse. They were middle class.
And thus, we have some of the commentariat in the Via Media roundup suggesting that the Chicago teachers are being greedy, because they make more money than the average Chicagoan.  But to get the kind of teaching that could raise the incomes of average Chicagoans, the average Chicago Public Schools student will have to be a lot better behaved.  And there's a lot more at stake than understanding that mustard is not yellow and pizza is not cut in pathetic little squares.

Unfortunately, though, the same economic ignorance is being manifested in Lake Forest, where another teacher strike is in progress.
Some parents appeared displeased by the picketers, but a few students turned out in support.

"You make three times more than the average citizen in Chicagoland," a woman yelled. "What is the lesson for all the students today?"
Negotiators demonstrate better understanding.
New teachers would make less money over time than teachers under the current structure, officials said.

“We are fearful if we, as a faculty, accept a contract that says new teachers will earn less over the course of their career, our district will no longer be able to compete,” said teachers spokesman Chuck Gress. “A teacher could work here two or three years … and then look elsewhere.”
Better pay, better working conditions. D'oh!  One suspects that the parents are upset because the play value is diminished.
A field hockey game Wednesday against North Shore rival New Trier High School was canceled, and Friday night's football game against Lake Zurich is among coming events in question.
I believe that's called crying with your mouth full.  The reality check, however, for people who disrespect the life of the mind and valorize the jock culture, might come only slowly and painfully.

14.9.12

WHAT IT TAKES TO WIN.

Northern Illinois University is close enough to the Cheddar Curtain that you'll see a fair number of Packer jerseys on game day, even if it's Bears Week.  Packer Nation Huskies didn't have a Thursday night Mid-American game competing for their attention, and it's early enough in the semester that the mad panic to finish research papers and group projects hasn't begun.

The weather in DeKalb and Chicago was dreadful at game time, but the game was on the north side of the front, at the not-yet-frozen tundra.

The outcome of the game was one to please Packer loyalists.  The Packer offense sputtered, but the special teams managed to exorcise the demons of fourth-and-26 in Philadelphia with a little fourth-and-26 trickery of their own.  More that a few casual observers might have been wondering about that touchdown pass from Tim Masthay.  He went into the locker room with a passer rating of 158.3.  Bear quarterback Jay Cutler was at 8.6 at the time.  Despite being sacked seven times, he finished the game with a 28.2 passer rating.  But his sideline deportment is again being called out by Chicago fans.

Donald Driver got to do some boot-scooting before his Lambeau Leap.  Life is good.

Time to find a bottle of Sprecher and savor the weekend.

THE POINT OF TRAFFIC TAMING IS TO LESSEN COMPLEXITY.

The temptation of traffic engineers, however, is to provide complexity and call it intelligent design.

Consider a relatively simple concept, the rotary.  In Britain, it can be designated by a dot in the centre of the intersection, and a British observer of what Midwestern traffic engineers do by way of excessive signage is less than impressed.  In the Land of Lincoln, though, drivers do not like rotaries, apparently preferring the existing systems of traffic control, in which the cycle of left arrows and straight greens lasts longer than the Gettysburg Address.  The post last cited suggested that the new rotaries, or, as they call them in America's Dairyland, roundabouts, incorporated the worst features of traffic control, with multiple lanes into the circle, and gantries with lane designators over those lanes.  Not surprisingly, some southeastern Wisconsin politicians are on record against construction of new ones, and an existing one has become an obstacle to navigation.
The roundabout at the intersection of state Highways 59 and 83 in Genesee, southwest of Waukesha, was first completed last fall. When the roundabout was designed years earlier, neither of the roads was designated high traffic. But while the work was wrapping up, Highway 59 became designated for overweight, oversize trucks, said Michael Pyritz, a spokesman for the Wisconsin Department of Transportation.

He said engineers assumed at the time, based on two-dimensional models, that trucks would be able to swing and navigate the roundabout just fine. However, he said, engineers did not have three-dimensional modeling, which would have allowed them to check for potential problems with the height of the 6-inch curb.

"The way the roundabout was built, they did not foresee, because the modeling did not exist at the time, that there'd be a problem," Pyritz said.

Soon after the roundabout opened on Oct. 7, 2011, law enforcement started getting calls about lowboy trailers getting stuck on the curb of the roundabout, which blocked the road. Lowboys are semi trucks with extremely low decks that are used to haul tall and heavy equipment, such as bulldozers and other industrial items.
The state highways so named are, in that part of the Kettle Moraine, laid out on the rights-of-way of ancient Indian trails.  The Great Spirit never envisioned 53 foot low-boys, let alone double-bottoms, on those roads.  But apparently, rather than pushing back at the abuse of truck-drivers, not to mention nearby passenger vehicles, that the presence of those elephants represents, the roads, and eventually the commercial districts of towns along the way, must be rebuilt to accommodate the elephants.

CHILDREN USED TO BE RESILIENT.

Reason's A. Barton Hinkle suggests that's because parents used to let children toughen up.
A gaggle of parents swirled around elementary-school children, taking photos to forever immortalize the First Day of School. When the bus came, the tots dutifully hauled themselves aboard and sorted themselves into the seats. The parents, meanwhile, began to wave wildly. You would have thought they were bidding bon voyage to an ocean liner, not saying sayonara to someone they would be seeing again in seven hours.
School buses apparently have sailings, now.
Going to the bus stop used to be a stoic ordeal, not a festive occasion. Your folks might march you to the proper spot, if it was your first time, but after that you were on your own. Nobody took pictures. Nobody was waiting at the bus stop when you came back, either. Now parents not only wait – they bring the car in case of inclement weather.
Once the kids get to school, the hazards have been taken out of recess, that is, if the kids even GET a recess.
The equipment on today’s playground, you might have noticed, is sheathed in rubber (fewer bruises) with few if any moving parts (no pinched fingers). To increase safety further, some schools have banned games such as dodgeball, touch football, soccer, and even tag. The playground itself might be surfaced with shredded tires. Shredded tires are not only environmentally correct, they also guarantee that any child unlucky enough to fall will bounce.

When those of us of a certain age were growing up, playgrounds were surfaced with gravel. Sometimes even scrap metal and broken glass. It hurt like heck, but it made a man out of you.
Recess is less important than high-stakes testing, at least in the mind of school administrators.

Does it come as any surprise, then, that when the products of common schools purged of any challenge arrive at university, the idea of "it depends" as an answer comes as a shock to some?  And that people deprived of the chance to toss bean-bags as eight-year-olds turn bean-bag into a drinking game?

PAY ATTENTION IN ECONOMETRICS CLASS

Time-series analysis is applicable to greenhouse gas formation and climate change.
I have a great deal of familiarity with the techniques being used; the usual list of statistical mistakes common in environmental research doesn’t seem to be made here.

What they have done is construct a 3 variable VAR with non-stationary data, and bootstrapped the distributions of causality tests. In short, they’ve done relatively standard analysis that a macroeconomist would be comfortable with. I’ve only spent about 10 minutes with the paper, but I’m OK with what I see so far.

And they conclude that global temperatures decoupled from solar radiation over the last 50 years, but did not decouple from greenhouse gases.
The full article is in Environmental Research Letters.

11.9.12

GOING GALT?

As tough as things are, they can get worse. Historiann reflects on the follies of recruiting for a research faculty on 2s 6d.
Friends, this is what you get if you try to run a research university like it’s a community college or the University of Phoenix.  That’s right:  we’re officially a Carnegie-1 institution!  What a joke.  But at least we’re not misrepresenting ourselves to our job candidates by pretending that their lives as faculty at Baa Ram U. will be anything like working for a real research university.

Speaking of which:  maybe it’s time for a sit-down strike on the Tenure and Promotion Committee.  Why should we enforce tenure and promotion standards like an R-1 when we’re staffed and funded like a community college?
Do you want to know who is John Galt?
There have always been men of intelligence who went on strike, in protest and despair, but they did not know the meaning of their action. The man who retires from public life, to think, but not to share his thoughts-the man who chooses to spend his years in the obscurity of menial employment, keeping to himself the fire of his mind, never giving it form, expression or reality, refusing to bring it into a world he despises-the man who is defeated by revulsion, the man who renounces before he has started, the man who gives up rather than give in, the man who functions at a fraction of his capacity, disarmed by his longing for an ideal he has not found-they are on strike, on strike against unreason, on strike against your world and your values.
Withdraw your sanction. Withdraw your support.

UNIVERSITIES ARE FAILING AT THEIR MISSION.

Years ago, when I made that assertion in a university publication, it didn't make me popular. Compared, though, to James R. Otteson of the Pope Center, I'm the reasonable guy.
Ask even the serious ones what proportion of their classes they believe is actually worthwhile. Their answer: maybe 25 percent.  They are probably not far off. Many classes are a hodgepodge of quirky or arcane topics of interest to the professor, and they do not combine into any coherent or integrated whole. Almost nowhere today are there curricula in what professors judge to be the most important things all smart young people—the future guardians of civilization—should know.

What results from all this? For hundreds of thousands of students, billions of dollars and many of their most formative and some of their best productive years are spent on: sleeping in, not working on Fridays, and not dressing or speaking professionally; on learning that almost anything is good enough to get a “very good” (what a “B” is supposed to mean); on learning that there is really no such thing as a deadline, but an endless supply of second chances; on learning that “trying hard” and “being passionate” are just as good as actually accomplishing something; and on learning that attending classes on any subject is probably just as good as attending classes on anything else.

These, I am afraid, are not good moral and intellectual habits. And they are probably not what anyone—including parents, taxpayers, and employers—wants from college.

Many things have contributed to bringing us to this sorry educational state, but let me cite two factors. The first is the denial of the obvious truth that a good education is difficult. It requires long, hard work on the part of both the student and the teacher. As Aristotle rightly said, “the roots of education are bitter.” If what you are doing is easy, or involves a lot of sitting around doing nothing productive, then you are not becoming educated, regardless of what anybody tells you or what any piece of paper says.

The second factor is the denial of another hard truth: Not everyone is up to the task. Anything that is difficult—running a marathon, playing Beethoven’s Hammerklavier, mastering calculus, bench-pressing 300 pounds—will cleave the world into two groups: those few who can do it, and those many who cannot. And no one wants to hear that they do not have what it takes. This truth is especially hard to accept when the fanciful notion that “anyone can become anything they put their minds to” is so deeply engrained in our culture.

Much of higher education today founders because it denies these two truths. The reality is that good moral and intellectual habits of persistence, curiosity, judgment, discipline, and humility are often not fostered, and indeed are often discouraged.
College is hard. That's Charles Murray's premise from Real Education, and we've considered the responses to his perspective previously. Perhaps, though, business as usual in higher education ends when administrators and promoters recognise that falling enrollments are not simply demographics.

SECULAR STAGNATION.

Tom Blumer summarizes 43 Months of Depressing Misery.
President Obama’s failed stimulus program, brutally expensive and common law-shredding auto company bailouts, bankrupt “green energy” initiatives, and other exercises in “fundamentally transforming” the economy have extended a deep recession which predominantly traces its origins to decades of dangerous Democrat-driven housing policies, pervasive fraud against Wall Street and investors at Democrat crony-controlled Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and 2008 campaign promises by Obama and fellow Democrats which the nation’s entrepreneurs, businesspeople, and investors correctly saw as threats. The president’s and fellow party members’ bully-pulpit hostility directed at the productive (“You didn’t build that“), the regulatory regime’s unprecedented overreach, and the prospect of ObamaCare’s disruptive implementation have created an atmosphere of chilling uncertainty virtually guaranteeing that the nation’s economic malaise will continue as long as they control the levers of power.
The malaise might be longer than that, according to Mortimer Zuckerman.
The best single indicator of how confident workers are about their jobs is reflected in how they cling to them. The so-called quit rate has sagged to the lowest in years.

Older Americans can't afford to quit. Ironically, since the recession began, employment in the age group of 55 and older is up 3.9 million, even as total employment is down by five million. These citizens hope to retire with dignity, but they feel the need to bolster savings as a salve for the stomach-churning decline in their net worth, 75% of which has come from the fall in the value of their home equity.

The baby-boomer population postponing its exit from the workforce in a recession creates a huge bottleneck that blocks youth employment. Displaced young workers now face double-digit unemployment and more life at home with their parents.

Many young couples decide that they can't afford to start a family, and as a consequence the birthrate has just hit a 25-year low of 1.87%. Nor are young workers' prospects very good. Layoff announcements have risen from year-ago levels and hiring plans have dropped sharply. People are not going to swallow talk of recovery until hiring is occurring at a pace to bring at least 300,000 more hires per month than the economy has been averaging for the past two years.

Furthermore, the jobs that are available are mostly not good ones. More than 40% of the new private-sector jobs are in low-paying categories such as health care, leisure activities, bars and restaurants.
Mr Zuckerman -- for reasons different than those deployed by Paul Krugman -- also characterizes the situation as a "modern day depression", one ameliorated by the social spending that wasn't present in the 1930s.
These dependent millions are the invisible counterparts of the soup kitchens and bread lines of the 1930s, invisible because they get their checks in the mail. But it doesn't take away from the fact that millions of people who had good private-sector jobs now have to rely on welfare for life support.
He concludes with a macroeconomic policy prescription blending supply-side incentives with demand-side infrastructure spending, intriguingly, though, suggesting that the roads and bridges so built be subject to tolls.

REDISCOVERING POVERTY.

It's present even with a Democrat in the White House.  Our President is hearing about it from his left.
[Professor Cornel] West and [commentator Tavis] Smiley aren’t without their detractors, and both expressed concern that personal attacks will get in the way of the work they hope to accomplish through this tour.

“Get the focus off of us, and put the limelight on our precious fellow citizens who don’t have access to a decent job, decent housing, and decent healthcare,” said West. “I think that’s a challenge for every journalist today, because the problem right now is we live in a country where conservative discourse has made it fashionable to be indifferent or have contempt toward poor people. If you focus on the messenger then you never have to confront the suffering and the misery of the poor people that we are highlighting with our work.”

Smiley also noted the negative reactions they have received for their critique of President Obama.

“I get sick and tired of people who believe that just because you’re pushing the president, that somehow you’re hating on him, or you’re aiding and abetting the other side,” said Smiley. “How do you push a president? You can’t push him by being silent. You can’t push him by not pressuring him on the things that really matter. We are not going to stop pushing, but it doesn’t mean that we hate Barack Obama.”

“What we hate is the contempt and indifference toward poor people that is found in both Republican and Democratic parties—less so in the Democrats, but both parties suffer from it,” West added. “So this issue of class, of poverty, of economic injustice is one that we will continue to highlight in a very serious way.”
The two intend to offer a view of poverty distinct from what they describe as "the prevailing public discourse" of, effectively blaming the victim.  Whether they will push Our President to move more in the direction of spreading the wealth around, or in the direction of providing conditions conducive to broadly shared prosperity, remains to be seen.

A report from Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, in noting the absence of reporting on poverty, proposes a perplexing hypothesis.
In the current election year, when neither the incumbent Democratic president nor any of his challengers in the GOP primary have been making poverty even a minor issue, such “rules” are relegating tens of millions of struggling citizens to virtual invisibility.
It's unlikely that Our President is going to mention poverty frequently, lest the Republicans' flacks resurrect the food-stamp president meme.  The Republican economic message has a different focus: it is the incoherent fiscal policies of the administration that keeps the poor poor, and puts more of the middle class at risk of poverty.

6.9.12

LIVING LIKE TSARIST PRINCES.

The Chicago Tribune is now following developments in the Northern Illinois University coffee fund investigation.
[The coffee fund story] comes a year after the Tribune revealed that an NIU administrator assigned students to paint her house as one of the projects during NIU Cares Day, a one-day event in which students volunteer at service organizations in the community.

"Our students deserve better. We have had way too many questions of lapses of ethical behavior here by university officials up and down the ladder," said NIU senior Austin Quick, speaker of the Student Association. "It is time for the university to wake up and start looking at their employees, especially ones in senior positions."
The director of student involvement and leadership development called her own number that time.



The current officials enlisted volunteers from among their staff, and offered them modest compensation. This being Illinois, though, one wonders if there wasn't an element of "Nice job you got.  Be a shame if anything happened to it."
One of the two employees who resigned in July was John Gordon, director of the university's 10,000-seat Convocation Center, which hosts about 200 events a year, including concerts, athletic events and meetings. Gordon allegedly had a Convocation Center custodian go at least four times in the past year to his home, where she cleaned the windows and floors, washed dishes and vacuumed, according to an interview and documents obtained by the Tribune.

The employee told the Tribune she was picked up in the morning at the loading dock outside the Convocation Center and driven to Gordon's home about two miles away. She said she was given a "tip" of $20 to $40 for the work.

Gordon, who had been the only director of the entertainment venue since it opened 10 years ago, was facing additional allegations related to using his position for personal gain when he resigned effective July 31, according to documents.

For example, he was accused of having NIU property at his house, including a snowblower and vacuum, according to the documents. NIU officials said the equipment is currently at the university.
The front page of today's Northern Star offers readers a dramatis personae.  A second story suggests that the university is conserving resources by asking the parties under investigation to step out of line and disappear.
Before resigning, Gordon’s annual salary was $132,973. He received about $33,000 and six months of health insurance as part of his resignation agreement. [Former vice president of finance and facilities Robert] Albanese’s salary was $198,553 and he was given a payout of $45,000 as part of his agreement.

Kathryn Buettner, vice president of university relations, said negotiating a payment with the employees as part of the resignation agreement gave a “quicker and likely less costly resolution” than putting them on paid leave pending further investigation and administrative hearings, according to the Tribune
There will be further developments.

PAY ATTENTION TO THE DETAILS.

In a Tuesday night interview with Greta van Susteren, former presidential economic advisor Austan Goolsbee reveals something about the slow economic recovery of the United States.
As much as we have struggled, if you look at Germany, the UK, Japan, throughout Europe, throughout the advanced world, we're getting no support from any other part of the world. So are the growth of our exports is just through the sweat of our brow. There is no obvious massive growth engine that's driving to help us.
Interesting. For the past forty years or so, the Democratic Wing of the Democratic Party has been comparing U.S. social policy unfavorably to the social policies of those other industrialized countries.  Now comes the Obama Administration, putting into place all of those European policies including greater government provision of health services, and industrial policy, and equal work for equal pay, and all the rest.

Whether slower economic growth comes as a consequence of those policies is left to the reader as an exercise.

4.9.12

TEN YEARS OF SPORADIC CONTENT.

The Cold Spring Shops opened on 5 September, 2002.  We're still on the same platform, with as much of the original stylesheet as possible, although posting frequency and content have changed over the years.

Craig Newmark got started about the same time.

LOOK FOR A SIMPLER EXPLANATION.

Historiann meditates on the sexual politics of the truck scrotum.

We've reflected on the use of these accessories before, including the legalities of displaying them, generally settling on something along the lines of "lout" or "date fail".

THE STUDENTS HAVE TAKEN UP THE CHALLENGE.

Last Friday, I anticipated the Northern Star continuing its investigation of the coffee fund.



They did not disappoint.
But the staff will continue to investigate, to look into allegations of employees selling scrap metal, to look into changes with recycling around campus, to follow our university’s sports teams and review musicians who played at the House Cafe, to take photos that showcase local life.
As the story unfolds, we'll follow it.

EXTRA-SHARP CHEDDAR.

A Wisconsin cheese dealer holds a going-out-of-business sale, and there's some unexpected gold in the inventory.
Edward Zahn, 73, was in Z's Cheese Shoppe's walk-in cooler last month, preparing to shut down his Oconto store. He pushed aside stacks of cheese to reveal several wooden boxes that had been overlooked for years.

Inside were blocks of unintentionally aged cheddar - 28, 34 and 40 years old - that, some experts say, might comprise the oldest collection of cheese ever assembled and sold to the public.

"It just got overlooked," Zahn told the Wisconsin State Journal of the 40-year-old cheese. "It looks just like the others except it's just a lot sharper. It's got character."

Ken McNulty, who owns the Wisconsin Cheese Mart in Milwaukee, bought about 20 pounds of the 40-year-old cheddar and 120 pounds of 34-year cheddar. He declined to reveal the price he paid.

Cheese is often sold by the pound, but McNulty plans to sell the oldest cheese by the ounce so more people can get a taste.
The Wisconsin Cheese Mart has already sold out the October 6 vintage cheese tasting.

DERECHO.

I may have to suspend posting in a few minutes.


WHAT IS THE SOUND OF ATLAS SHRUGGING?

The brains in Spain are jumping on the planes.
In July, Spaniards withdrew a record 75 billion euros, or $94 billion, from their banks — an amount equal to 7 percent of the country’s overall economic output — as doubts grew about the durability of Spain’s financial system.

The withdrawals accelerated a trend that began in the middle of last year, and came despite a European commitment to pump up to 100 billion euros into the Spanish banking system. Analysts will be watching to see whether the August data, when available, shows an even faster rate of capital flight.

More disturbing for Spain is that the flight is starting to include members of its educated and entrepreneurial elite who are fed up with the lack of job opportunities in a country where the unemployment rate touches 25 percent.

According to official statistics, 30,000 Spaniards registered to work in Britain in the last year, and analysts say that this figure would be many multiples higher if workers without documents were counted. That is a 25 percent increase from a year earlier.

“No doubt there is a little bit of panic,” said José García Montalvo, an economist at Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona. “The wealthy people have already taken their money out. Now it’s the professionals and midrange people who are moving their money to Germany and London. The mood is very, very bad.”
What the Spanish Armada could not do, an ill-conceived currency union can do. The most encouraging item in the article is that Spain is not Greece, not yet.

2.9.12

SOMEBODY'S COFFEE FUND.

City Barbs has continued to cover the investigation of the Northern Illinois University coffee fund.


It exists, and administrators have found it and claimed the funds. "University officials said the private, nonuniversity bank account, which contained about $2,100, has been closed, with the money deposited into the university’s general fund."

There's still work to do.
If the account was a private, non-university account, how is it that NIU was able to determine it was NIU money, and how did NIU close it? And if NIU knows the money from the account is NIU money, why are people being put on vacations instead of being charged with crimes?

And speaking of crimes, where is our able State’s Attorney and his much-ballyhooed (well, self-ballyhooed) anti-corruption unit?
The reference to vacations comes from a university statement.
Internal records indicate that the funds were not used for personal purpose or gain but were utilized for various departmental activities such as retirement celebrations, holiday events and similar activities. The university is examining whether the use of these funds in this manner is a violation of university policy and/or state law.

While this determination is being made, necessary administrative actions have been taken to assure the continuity of operations while the investigation is completed. These actions include placing four employees within the Materials Management Department on a maximum of 30 days paid administrative leave, staff reassignments and the empaneling of a policy review committee charged with reviewing and updating all procedures related to property control, cash receipts, recycling and the disposition of surplus materials.
It's Labor Day weekend. I expect the Northern Star to follow up its coverage when classes resume Tuesday.

WE WATCHED THE AMERICA THAT WORKED IN BLACK AND WHITE.

Our President had an instructive comment about the recent Republican convention.
"It was a rerun. We’d seen it before. You might as well have watched it on a black-and-white TV," Obama said, clearly enjoying himself. "If you didn’t DVR it, let me recap it for you. Everything is bad, it’s Obama’s fault, and Gov. Romney is the only one who knows the secret to creating jobs and growing the economy."
According to Our President's economic team, there is no secret. The Best and The Brightest expected doing nothing to do better than the results we've seen.  (Source.)


The populist part of the Republican base also senses, on some level, that the era of black-and-white television had features to recommend it.
Fishtown Republicans are first-hand witnesses to the decay in the roots of America.  They want a politician who speaks not only to what transpires at the economic surface of the country, but who understands and addresses what is taking place in the moral and cultural depths.  The residents of Fishtown understand deeply and implicitly — because they see it right in front of them — that America’s economic doldrums are not merely a matter of mismanagement at the top.  They’re a matter of long-term cultural decay at the bottom.  Or to use a different metaphor, Romney promises to be a better captain of a ship whose hull is decomposing — and the sailors who work below decks know that plotting a better course of navigation will not save the ship from its ultimate fate.

It’s largely the Fishtown Republicans that have proven so uncomfortable with Romney that they’ve lurched from one non-Rom to another, because Romney has given no vision that appeals to Fishtown Republicans.  A vision of managerial brilliance, of resplendent competence across a variety of organizational spheres, does not touch Fishtown residents where they are.  Romney needs to speak to the culture of Fishtown – to its decay, its present shambles, and to a hopeful future in which that culture is restrengthened and forms the basis of a renewed American economy.

Romney needs — and quickly — to develop a coherent, full-orbed vision of American renewal, one that begins at the roots of moral and cultural regeneration and extends through political and economic transformation.  He should explain that conservatism is compassionate because conservative economic policies best serve all Americans, including the poor — but he should also speak to renewing not only the policies and regulations but also the moral musculature and the cultural values that nurtured the most extraordinary economic expansion in human history.  That would be a vision and a basis for a movement.
"Fishtown" is a reference to a metaphor Charles Murray introduced to describe what we used to understand as a blue-collar ethnic neighborhood.  There's also reason for Republicans to emphasize the traditional virtues among what we used to understand as white-collar workers, or, today, as symbolic analysts.

GETTING THE MISSION RIGHT.

The local weekly advertising supplement runs retrospectives from newspaper archives.  With the beginning of the academic year on September 2, 1987 came this.
Arguing that NIU has long been chronically underfunded by the state, university president John La Tourette announced a long-range plan to downsize Northern’s on-campus enrollment to reduce staffing and space problems.
Enrollments at the time were a few hundred more students than current enrollment -- pending release of the end of week two head count.

The College of Engineering was still using buildings in Sycamore.  Branch campuses at Hoffman Estates, Naperville, and Rockford were not even in the discussion stage.

The Economics Department had a tenure-track faculty strength of 23.  It's currently fourteen.

ISAAC IN SPITTING DISTANCE.

The remnants of former hurricane Isaac left about a one-hundredth of an inch of rain here at Cold Spring Shops headquarters.


This screen grab, from the Northern Illinois University weather page, shows a well-defined low over the center of the state, with rain bands just the other side of Interstate 80.  There's still hot humid air coming out of the top, judging from the instruments around the house.

There's a blue norther, promised for Thursday or so, and its signature could be near Lake of the Woods.