31.12.12

FIELD TRIP.

Northern Illinois University lays on a bus trip for students and supporters.
[Lead trip adviser Dain] Gotto said NIU reached out to other universities to see how they planned for similar trips. To his surprise, other universities do not organize trips as large as what NIU has planned, he said.

"No other institution does something like this for their students," said Gotto, adding that other schools allow students to travel with their alumni association. "That's not what NIU is about, and I think that's what makes this university special."
That the trip gives the alumni association a chance to do some schmoozing and recruiting before graduation ceremony probably helps. The Chicago Tribune sent a reporter to observe the loadout.
On Sunday, the Convocation Center took on the air of an airport, with baggage checks, snaking lines around temporary dividers and boarding announcements. The students flooded through glass doors to check in, then waited with their luggage for their bus assignment to be called. Suitcases were crammed with clothes and snacks to sustain them on the 26-hour ride.

Shelby Adams, 25, a graduate student from Glenview, said she loaded up on trail mix and Cheez-Its and had stayed up late the previous night so she could spend plenty of the trip sleeping. She didn't buy her package at the same time as her friends, so she would be rooming with strangers, an arrangement she shrugged off. She and fellow NIU students were all there for the same reason, she said.
Other photographs from load-out suggested that the university, or some generous supporter, provided beverages and bag lunches for passengers to draw. But ah, for the days of the Illinois Central Railroad and Central of Georgia providing chartered trains, a more logical way of getting 1500 people cross-country in one sleep.

There are citizens of Huskie Nation in Florida, including one familiar name who will be serving the public on game day.
Justin McCareins, an NIU wide receiver from 1997-2000 who spent eight years in the NFL with the Tennessee Titans and New York Jets, didn’t have to drive too far to get to the reception, although he won’t be able to attend the game.

McCareins is a police officer in the Fort Lauderdale area. For at least this week, McCareins isn’t the only Huskies fan in south Florida.

“It’s crazy. I work with a lot of Florida State guys. It’s just been great,” said McCareins, who has an auditorium in the Yordon Center named after him. “To see the university get the attention and the recognition they’ve been getting, It’s been a long time coming. It’s been really good.”
Former coach Jerry Kill, whose Minnesota team suffered some rough handling at the hands of Texas Tech, came over for the festivities.
He’ll attend the Orange Bowl on Tuesday, and it will be a different experience, considering he never gets to attend games as a fan.

“Not since I’ve been coaching. It’s been 30 years,” he said. “I always used to tell the kids I’d look forward to tailgating and watching somebody else worry. So, I’ll still tailgate, but I’ll worry too because I want the Huskies to win.”
Looks like good weather for the spectators in Miami. Promises to be a typical winter day here, but lots of football on offer.

DICKENS, MARX, MACY.

The latest version of "getting and spending, we lay waste our powers?"
One of the downsides of Fordist or blue model industrial society is the combination of alienating work (like manufacturing jobs) with empty mass consumption that it both enables and drives. In the vicious cycle of a Fordist society, people try to make up for meaning-poor work with frivolous consumption patterns that fail to substantially enrich their lives. Dad never sees the kids so he gives them shiny gifts, and because the reality of adult work is so grim, childhood gets idealized as a world of pure consumption and play.

Christmas in a Fordist society bears a lot of weight; the grim world of work and production is banished into the background and for a few days families are (supposedly) united and consumption is the order of the day. In agricultural societies, Christmas was a time of feasting, but families worked and celebrated together all the time. Children, parents and grandparents worked side by side in the house and in the fields. Extended families saw each other all year round, rather than on a few special occasions. Our holiday celebrations are so intense in part because we are trying to cram so much into them that in former times was spread throughout the year.

In any case, few in 1900 would recognize or really approve of the commercial false-paradise into which the holiday had evolved by the year 2000. There are many more presents under the tree now, but the families gathered to open them are much weaker.
Lots of material for further research here. First, there's nothing sacred about the eighty, or sixty, or forty-hour work week; perhaps the ancient cycle of feast days had something to recommend itself, and something similar, in the form of additional three-day weekends, will emerge.  The flip side, though, is that the division of labor of the industrial or informational economy makes possible a lot of things those agrarian extended families didn't have, including the opportunity to avoid those annoying relatives who provide fodder for situation comedies and Festive Season commercials.  Second, there's no reason that work, just because it's a four-letter word, has to be unpleasant (although even in my gig, everybody understands that I get paid to say no and uphold standards, and fill in the activity reports, not to put on an improv three times a week).  On the other hand, as long as the money-code has supplanted the landed estate or the harem as a way of keeping score, that conspicuous consumption has to go into something other than serfs or concubines.  Third, those idealized family settings of the turn of the nineteenth century might be just that, idealized.

BE APART OF THE SOLUTION

The University of Maryland spend $15K it may not have on a mind-your-manners (or what passes for manners these days) campaign, evidently skimping on proofreaders.

The problem with inclusive language campaigns, whether endorsed by university administrators or operated unofficially by perpetually aggrieved faculty, is one of selective indignation.
“It is important to be civil with one another but this goes too far in taking language that most people would not find offensive and making us feel guilty for using it,” Ross Marchand, who is the president of Students for Liberty, a libertarian student group at UMD, told Campus Reform.

Marchand said he worries that such rules will hamper student’s constitutional right to free speech on campus.

“An environment conducive to freedom of speech [on campus]...requires the ability to say things without guilt,” said Marchand.
It is probably no accident that the Maryland campaign is a project of Residential Life, that its focus is more on "identity", whatever that means, rather than the substance of making an argument, and the recommended substitutions include sub-literacies such as "wack", the soon-to-be-contested "weird", and the oh-so-administrative "inappropriate" and "improper".

NO ELEPHANTS, NO CIRCUS.

But elephants will remain with The Greatest Show on Earth, for the time being, free of to nuisance lawsuits.
[Ringling Barnum impresario Kenneth] Feld says the $9.3 million payment from the ASPCA represents less than half of what his company has had to spend defending itself against the "manufactured litigation" from the activists. But he seems likely to recover more. His company is continuing its litigation against the Humane Society of the United States, the Fund for Animals, the Animal Welfare Institute, the Animal Protection Institute United with Born Free USA, the former employee and the lawyers who prosecuted the bogus case.

"This goes way beyond economics," says Mr. Feld. He adds that the "level of harassment" that his elephant trainers undergo from activists is almost "unbearable" and that "the activists are trying to bring down an American institution." The longtime Ringling boss argues that he is the trustee of a tradition "older than baseball" that offers a vanishing commodity for American families: affordable G-rated entertainment.
Well, not all circuses offer G-rated entertainment, and the enticing ticket price at the front door often conceals expensive popcorn and novelties on the midway. The elephant controversy is not likely to go away, and the Big Apple Circus and the Gamma Phi Circus manage to put on good shows without pachyderms (although the Big Apple could use a rubber mule to put up its Big Top).

That said, we enter 2013 with the performing pachyderms still on Big Bertha, and the elephant car for the Karlson Brothers Circus likely to make its show debut this summer.

1-2, 0-2, 0-2

Regime change comes to Halas Hall.
On the day he was hired, [just-discharged Bear coach Lovie] Smith said: "The No. 1 goal is to beat Green Bay. One of the first things [then-Chairman] Michael McCaskey said to me, he gave me the history behind the Green Bay-Chicago rivalry and the number of times he wanted us to beat them. I understand that. I feel the pain."

Smith repeated his No. 1 goal many times during his tenure, but he was not able to achieve it often enough. After winning seven of his first 10 games against the Packers, Smith lost eight of his next nine, including the NFC championship game in January 2011 at Soldier Field. The Packers went on to win the Super Bowl.

Smith's teams won the NFC North three times in nine years, but over the same period the Packers won the division six times. Smith was named NFL coach of the year in 2005, when he led the Bears to an NFC North title in his second year.

Smith won 81 games in his Bears career, placing him third in franchise history behind George Halas and Mike Ditka. He finished his tenure 18 games above .500.
Yes, but Halas and Ditka have titles to show for it, and at the Chicago Sun Times, for some time campaigning for regime change, Rick Morrissey explains that winning meaningless games against hapless Detroit doesn't cut it.
Detroit had three 80-yard touchdown drives. You couldn’t help but wonder why the Bears can’t move the ball like that. You couldn’t help but wonder how a franchise can be so consistently underwhelming. There’s a reason the 1985 Bears are still so popular: Nothing much has happened in Chicago since they Super Bowl Shuffled.

It’s time for a change.
So mote it be, and there will probably be a few bottles of Old Style hoisted this evening. Meanwhile, the Vikings and the Packers represent the Black and Blue in the quest for the title.

(And to think that as late as 1967, the National Football League title was already settled by year's end.)

23.12.12

MARKING OFF.

Orange candlelight in the windows, the Cold Spring Shops contribution to painting the town orange.


The picture is from December 2009, when there was a bit more snow on the ground.  If the freeze holds, there will be a white Christmas by courtesy here, if not with the requisite inch of snow cover.

The train display is more ambitious this year.  Lots of barrels being rolled out on the freight train, and extra coaches added to the passenger trains for those Lionel-sized travellers.


Thank you for looking in. There may be more content between Christmas and New Year's.

For now, Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.

A GRIM FESTIVE SEASON.

Pearl Harbor had just been bombed, and Adolf Hitler had declared war on the United States.  It was a grim time in the United States, and only Winston Churchill and the future Dr. Seuss knew that the Axis had just lost their war.

Thus we have Stanley Weintraub's Pearl Harbor Christmas: A World at War, December 1941, which covers the public events from 22 December 1941 to 1 January 1942, fleshed out, though, with details of the Prime Minister's secret trip to the United States and Canada (well, not completely secret, as the famous Karsh portrait dates to the Canadian portion of the trip) and some of the political maneuvering in Washington and Ottawa.

Book Review No. 31 recommends Pearl Harbor Christmas as a brief, to-the-point description of pivotal events of those ten days, with some photographs and a few editorial cartoons.


The above, from page 110, credits the 26 December issue of the Portsmouth, N.H. Herald.  The cartoonist went on to draw more famous, if less ominous, animals and people.

It's worth keeping in mind, as troubled as our times are, that conditions have been a lot worse, and, for all of Hitler's and Tojo's overreach, the task confronting the Anglo-American Alliance, and the Soviet Union, was much more difficult.

(Cross-posted to 50 Book Challenge.)

CREATING A NEW TRADITION.

Northern Illinois University, proof of concept for the West Coast offense.
“We were on the cutting edge because we threw the ball all over the place and that kind of thing was unheard of at the time,” [1963 quarterback George] Bork said. “We were a really exciting team to watch.”

[Coach Howard] Fletcher was a bit of a cavalier, putting his players in full pads only once a week to avoid injuries. The rest of the week was spent on perfecting an offense just starting to be used by the San Francisco 49ers. It was Fletcher's own schematic recipe that took bits and pieces of spread offense philosophy being developed by other coaches.

“Nobody knew how to defense it,” [halfback Jack] Dean said. “We’d have five receivers out there and people couldn’t defend us with a zone because (Bork) would just pick it apart and they couldn’t defend us with man (defense) because they couldn’t keep up."
Just something to think about the next time the Packers line up with an empty backfield.

Something else that team of 50 years ago has in common with today's team: the right coalescence of determined people.
Bork occasionally thinks back to 1963 – long before NIU was a post-season regular – and sees a common thread between now and then. He looks over players who weren't known nationally before that season, but found a way to become something special.

“We had a lot of talented people," Bork said. "We weren’t going out there and getting a lot of big-name recruits, but we were just fortunate that we all landed at Northern at the same time.”
Never mind that the national nay-sayers are turning the Northern Illinois Orange Bowl bid into college football's E-T-T-S moment.
I want the Orange Bowl back.

Remember when it was always the best college football game of the year? Played in primetime on New Year’s night, it was the culmination of college football’s signature, most festive day. It always seemed to decide the national championship. And even when it didn’t, it always matched big brand, top ten-type teams. Nebraska, Oklahoma, Miami in their heydays…super intense and everything on the line. The perfect ending to the season.
Yes, but the sports pundits thought there was too much arguing about who the real national champion was, particularly if Ohio State or the University of Spoiled Children put on a good show in the Rose Bowl. Thus we have the Bowl Championship Series, with the New Year's Day games being the undercard for the main event, later in the week.
Now, the Orange Bowl is gone, finished, kaput. And with it, anything that could be called a big day for college football, one that’s responsible for the drama, memories and debate that carried the college gridiron to the national forefront, a true rival to the pros.
Yes, and once upon a time the National Football League title game was on the last Sunday of December, leaving New Year's Day, whatever day it was, unless it was a Sunday, to the collegians.  But now ...
Florida State will welcome Northern Illinois, a school that’s giving away tickets to students that are actually willing to go.
And several bus-loads will be going, and more than a few improvised intersession trips with the kids going six to a hotel room.
The game’s tie-in to the non-powerhouse ACC, just formally extended for 12 more years, has been akin to downsizing the Super Bowl to a consolation game between the last two NFL clubs to be eliminated from the playoffs. Not to entirely blame the conference or the Orange Bowl organizers – it’s ESPN that decided to offer up $55 million a year for the broadcast rights. The question is why, considering what a Mickey Mouse event he game has become.
Author Tom Van Riper looks too young to remember the Playoff Bowl, the game between East Division and West Division runners-up that Vince Lombardi famously characterized as hinky-dinky.  Be careful what you ask for.
Remember, a lot of the Orange Bowl excitement on New Year’s night came from the outcome of the other major bowls earlier in the day – those results sometimes determined whether both Orange Bowl teams, rather than just one, had a chance to win the national title (the ’84 Miami team may have gotten pumped up enough to beat Nebraska after watching two other New Years Day contenders, Texas and Illinois, lose in the Cotton Bowl and Rose Bowl, respectively). Now, with most of the eggs in the No. 1 vs. No. 2 basket, it’s hard to care about the others. Of the biggest traditional games, only the Rose Bowl consistently maintains double digits in the ratings department.

Just as it did in 2006, the BCS looks to have struck it lucky this year with Notre Dame reaching the title game against Alabama. But the expected strong ratings are the exception. Most of the time, the game is an anti-climactic bore. I want the Orange Bowl back.
Maybe the old system, without any attempts to establish a true national champion, was better. Or maybe the conference realignments will lead to four major conferences of sixteen teams divided into two divisions of eight, then a tournament either of the conference division winners, or start the seeding for the playoffs right there, with the standout teams from the mid-major conferences exiled to the Mineral Water Bowl ever after.

THE PRICE OF AMBITION.

Veteran track coach Brooks Johnson offers a trenchant observation on Suzy Favor Hamilton's troubles, or on the struggles and triumphs of any overachiever.
I have tried to make the case numerous time,, here and elsewhere, that people who perform at the extremes in any area of endeavor have commensurate extreme needs. No one makes the Olympic finals, the Super Bowl, World Series, Carnegie Hall, the U.S. Congress, or the Louvre that does not suffer from some form of clinical neurosis and/or psychosis. The only difference is the form taken, and how it is manifested. There are no boy scouts or girl scouts on the podium and pedestal of extreme excellence. Some people are able to hide and disguise their extreme need(s), or express them in a manner we find attractive or acceptable,…. but none-the-less, the basic need is still there.
He concludes by noting that the way in which people handle screw-ups matters. "Compare [Ms Hamilton's candor] to the exculpatory excuses we hear all too often when the Lone Ranger falls off his white horse."

22.12.12

PINCHED IN HISTORY'S HINGE.

In the scheme of things, the 1905 departure of a mother with seven children in tow and five dollars in her pocket from Volhynia to join her husband and eldest son the United States doesn't appear to be that big a deal.  From my perspective, where that mother is my great-grandmother Charlotte and one of the children is my grandmother Minnie, it's a much bigger deal, and it becomes bigger still when one contemplates that a part of the world in which people moved relatively freely and peaceably among countries became the site of mass death in the Russian Civil War, Stalin's collectivization of agriculture, Hitler's invasion of the Soviet Union, his subsequent annihilation of Jews, Stalin's drive to the west, and the redrawing of national boundaries after World War II.

Timothy Snyder's Bloodlands is the author's attempt to tell the story of the people whose lives ended, by famine, or shooting, or gas, or as what the military theorists call collateral damage.  Book Review No. 30 refers both to the work and to a public presentation Professor Snyder gave at Northern Illinois last fall.  In both settings, he makes clear that the consequences a policy-maker seeks do not justify the slaughter that came before.  The most common version of that explanation is Stalin-collectivizes-agriculture-to-build-up-to-win-the-war.  Had the Germans prevailed in the east, there'd be some other version of breaking-eggs-for-omelet offered as a justification.  The Stalin-collectivization-industrialization story is just plain wrong.



Other ideological or theoretical explanations are similarly unsatisfactory.  The closing paragraph of Bloodlands sets a task at once simple and difficult.
The Nazi and Soviet regimes turned people into numbers, some of which we can only estimate, some of which we can reconstruct with fair precision.  It is for us as scholars to seek these numbers and to put them into perspective.  It is for us as humanists to turn the numbers back into people.  If we cannot do that, then Hitler and Stalin have shaped not only our world, but our humanity.
(Cross-posted to 50 Book Challenge.)

THE QUEST FOR TESTABLE HYPOTHESES.

There's been a countercultural strand in play for at least the past fifty years in which the conventional is oppressive, and to call something bourgeois is to condemn it.  Thus was monogamy smashed, the nuclear family nuked, and if-it-feels-good-do-it enshrined as a moral principle.  Higher education has been complicit in establishing the counterculture, with transgressiveness celebrated as a general principle, and subverting the dominant paradigm becoming the paradigm.

That strand is not without its critics, most recently a note by Carol Iannone.
Then too, the obscene, sadistic, hyperviolent popular culture surrounding us has to be a factor as well, especially under the reigning dispensation  of moral relativism, non-judgmentalism, and who’s-to-say-what-is-right-and-wrong. American freedoms are suited only to a people that understands morality and exercises self-discipline, but everything in our society invites us to live by our own lights and realize our own desires.
In the academy, though, the fault lies with others. California-Berkeley linguist Geoffrey Nunberg and California-Irvine philosopher Aaron James have been theorizing the asshole.
Among the more intriguing issues taken up by James is the relationship between capitalism and asshole production. Simply put, does capitalism encourage assholes? James quotes Samuel Bowles, a professor emeritus of economics at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, who argues that market thinking "may set in motion a spiral of market-induced erosion of other-regarding and ethical values, which in turn prompts greater reliance on markets, which in turn further erodes values, and so on."

A society caught in that spiral, James argues, is a society in distress. The institutions that sustain capitalism—public education, religion, family, law—begin to fray, resulting in a profusion of assholes. Such a society is in the grip of what James calls "asshole capitalism." "Society becomes awash with people who are defensively unwilling to accept the burdens of cooperative life, out of a righteous sense that they deserve ever more."
That's an unusual twist on capitalism sowing the seeds of its own destruction.  Might the efforts of business to co-opt countercultural themes into product design and marketing have started the spiral?

SUZY'S FAVORS.

The agony of the long-distance runner.
Suzy Favor Hamilton, a three-time Olympian who capitalized on her wholesome image as an elite runner, mother and wife to land lucrative endorsement deals and motivational speaking engagements, has admitted to leading a double life for the last year as a high-priced call girl.

In a stunning confessional via her Twitter account following a story published on thesmokinggun.com, Favor Hamilton wrote that she was drawn to escorting "in large part because it provided many coping mechanisms for me when I was going through a very challenging time with my marriage and my life."

The 44-year-old Favor Hamilton, a Stevens Point native and former University of Wisconsin-Madison track star, admitted in The Smoking Gun's story to working as "Kelly Lundy" with Haley Heston's Private Collection, one of Las Vegas' premier escort services.

"I do not expect people to understand," she wrote on her Twitter account. "But the reasons for doing this made sense to me at the time and were very much related to depression.

"I have been seeking the help of a psychologist for the past few weeks and will continue to do so after I have put things together."
As public confessions go, hers is straightforward and without the deflection and excuse-mongering that so often accompanies events of this sort.  Her days as an unofficial Disney ambassador are done.

20.12.12

GETTING THE MODEL RIGHT

The current Northern Illinois University strategic plan (which might be as ephemeral as a Hollywood marriage, with a presidential search under way) envisions a substantial increase in enrollments, both among high-ranking recent graduates of high schools, and among online students of all types.  Those plans are getting a boost from the Orange Bowl invitation.
NIU’s Office of Admissions saw a 19.3 percent increase over last year in applications submitted between Dec. 3 and Dec. 5, the days immediately after the Dec. 2 announcement that the Huskies football team is headed to Miami for the Orange Bowl on Jan. 1.

Director of Admissions Kimberley Buster-Williams said the bump was noticeable because there was more activity than they usually see at that time. They have been conducting tours on Saturdays and have extended some hours until the holiday break.
Participants in those tours have shifted their focus recently.
[Student ambassador Peetee] Guerrero gives tours to prospective students. She said some of them are not really interested in the football team, “but towards the end of the semester, all they wanted to talk about was our football team.”
There's historical evidence that interest in a university follows football prominence with a lag. Our admissions managers note a pattern that emerged at Boston College nearly thirty years ago.
The Flutie Effect, named for Doug Flutie of Boston College and his game-winning touchdown pass in 1984, is a phenomenon in which a college receives more applications after their football team’s success.

Buster-Williams said the Flutie Effect will likely impact the university in academic year 2014-15. History shows that colleges see a slight bump the year after bowl bids, but it is the year after when it will have a bigger impact, she said.
Boston College is a relatively small Catholic university in Boston, also able to attract applicants with home town honeys enrolled at Harvard or on occasion MIT, and able to hire place-bound Harvard or MIT graduates or trailing spouses of Harvard or MIT faculty or benefit by trailing spouses hiring out at the branch University of Massachusetts campuses or Tufts or Brandeis or Simmons.

Northern Illinois University is a largish ethnically Catholic, state-supported (the more jaded will say state-tolerated or state-hampered) university outside the metropolitan Chicago area, without benefit of commuter trains.  Football-inspired enrollment in quest of beer-'n-circus may not be best for our campus.

It matters, though, that we get it right.  There are a lot more students enrolled in upwardly mobile Compass Point State universities than there are in the Ivies, or the Catholic institutions with or without basketball or football, or in the state flagships.  Notionally, the policy within each state is to ensure a place somewhere in the state university system to graduates in good standing of the high schools in the states, and the upwardly mobile and converted teachers' colleges ought not be viewed as consolation prizes for high school seniors who didn't make the cut at their state's flagship institution.  The athletic department might view football as the front porch to the university.  What goes on in the kitchen and the rumpus room and the study also matters.

BRANDON MARSHALL GETS IT.

If you're a Packer, your world should fall apart if your team doesn't beat the Bears.

It's only sporting for a Bear to view things the same way.
You don’t lose to your archrivals six consecutive times and stand still. You don’t play as poorly as the Bears did Sunday and have people hold on to their jobs.

Receiver Brandon Marshall, bless him, seems to understand that right down to his soul. On the verge of tears after the Packers’ 21-13 victory, he cut short a postgame news conference and walked away from the lectern. That he’s in his first season with the Bears should shame the people who have been around here a long time. He grasps the emotion of the rivalry. He gets what’s at stake here. I’m not sure some others do.
Two years ago it was the Packers securing a trip to the Super Bowl at Chicago, this time it's clinching a division title at Chicago.
Coach Lovie Smith is the one who put a premium on the rivalry against the Packers. He’s the one who said beating the Packers was the most important thing for the franchise each season. So now he has lost eight of the last nine to the Packers, dropping his career record against them to 8-11.

‘‘You don’t want to lose to your rival year in, year out,’’ [quarterback Jay] Cutler said. ‘‘Then it’s not a rivalry anymore. It’s a domination.’’

Time for change. I can hear it approaching. It sounds a lot like the Packers’ fight song.
Bring that bacon home to Old Green Bay, and hear the chorus of pundits at the Chicago Sun-Times angling for regime change.
In the most pivotal of regular season games, against the rival Green Bay Packers, the Bears many maladies in recent years under Lovie Smith were on full display.

The unforced errors, like Jay Cutler’s interception near midfield with 96 seconds remaining in the first half of a 7-7 game. The repeated failure to convert short-yardage runs. And the inability to prevent Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers from making the clutch plays to extend drives and toss touchdowns.
Plenty for Chicago fans to discuss over Old Style and those ridiculous little squares they inflict on their pizza.

19.12.12

A DIFFICULT WEEK.

Posting has been light in view of the deadlines implied by "final examinations" and "grade posting."

We note, with sadness, the Clackamas Town Center and Sandy Hook Elementary murders.

Regular readers might recall the Clackamas Town Center as an example of contemporary transit-friendly development.



The mall is out of the picture, behind the parking deck, which serves as both a park and ride for rapid transit passengers and parking spaces for shoppers.

The thought that comfort dogs will be a help to little kids who will never see a classmate or a brother or a sister again really gets to me.


The dogs were present on campus as part of our recovery.  To the little kids in the day-care and child-development labs, they were an additional object of interest on their daily walk-abouts, and you'd see them reaching or pointing for the dogs in that endearing way of toddlers.

There's reason for more serious thinking about troubled people taking out their troubles on others.  Perhaps another day, but not now, not yet.  Condolences.

THE DOWNSIDE OF BEER-'N-CIRCUS.

Football.  Fraternities.  Fun.  Until it isn't.
The Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity, 1020 W. Hillcrest Drive, along with 31 student members, also are facing academic charges that could affect the fraternity’s permanent status as a registered student organization, Northern Illinois University officials said Monday in a news release. The students face academic sanctions, with penalties possibly rising to expulsion from the university.

Five of the fraternity members face felony hazing charges, which carry a maximum penalty of three years in prison. The other 17 members face misdemeanor charges.

The criminal and academic charges stem from an unsanctioned “parents night” party that the fraternity, known as the Pikes, allegedly hosted Nov. 1 for freshman Bogenberger and 18 other fraternity pledges. The event was not registered with the national fraternity organization or with NIU officials.
[Freshman David] Bogenberger’s family called on university and fraternity leaders to stop alcohol-based hazing and initiation rituals.

“No other family should have to endure what we are going through,” the family said in a prepared statement. “Yet, we are losing these talented, beautiful and hopeful young people because of illegal drinking unrestrained by maturity and exacerbated by social pressure.”

On Nov. 1, Bogenberger and the other pledges drank vodka and other liquor from plastic cups for about two hours while playing a game in which they were asked a series of questions after being assigned “moms” and “dads,” according to a joint news release from DeKalb police and the DeKalb County State’s Attorney’s Office.
Our coverage at the time the story broke noted Mr Bogenberger's death as part of a perfect storm of troubles in the administration.  The fraternity officers, and I use the term loosely, charged with misdemeanors or felonies have for the most part turned themselves in to police.

The editorial board of the DeKalb Daily Chronicle refers to the death, and the party, as "senseless."  Yet the opening sentences of their editorial say more about the state of collegiate culture than perhaps the editors guessed.
David Bogenberger was just doing what many young people think they’re supposed to do at college.

Bogenberger, a 19-year-old NIU freshman from Palatine, was pledging a fraternity. On the evening of Nov. 1, he showed up at the Pi Kappa Alpha house at 1020 W. Hillcrest Drive for “parents night,” a party that police say was actually an alcohol-soaked hazing ritual.

Police say many of the pledges at the “Pikes” house that night reported getting sick or passing out from all the booze they drank at the urging of fraternity members; Bogenberger drank so much that his brain couldn’t tell his heart to keep beating. He was found dead at the fraternity house the following morning. Toxicology test results released Monday showed he had a 0.351 percent blood-alcohol content when he died.
It's incumbent on the faculty and that part of the administration that supports the academic function of the university to dispel the notion, and disabuse students of the preconception, that it's all about the drinking games and the parties.  Here's the editorial board's recommendation.
This incident has ended one man’s life and affected many others. It is a tragedy that NIU’s Greek organizations and the university itself must examine and work to prevent a recurrence.
That's easily enough done, although less easily done in a way that aligns with headquarters's desire to be mentioned in the football power rankings the way Boise State is.

12.12.12

REDEPLOYMENT.

As final exams wind down, some students speak of Orange Bowl trips, and others speak of reserve call-ups.  Yes, the military presence in Iraq and Afghanistan is smaller, but various specialists are still receiving deployment orders.

Northern Illinois University has earned recognition from Military Times and Victory Media for providing a supportive environment for service members, veterans, and their families.  That means more than offering a picnic and a Veterans' Day ceremony, and both agencies recognize the work our people do.

TAXES HAVE EXCESS BURDEN.

Even Democratic senators can figure this out.
Sixteen Democratic senators who voted for the Affordable Care Act are asking that one of its fundraising mechanisms, a 2.3 percent tax on medical devices scheduled to take effect January 1, be delayed.  Echoing arguments made by Republicans against Obamacare, the Democratic senators say the levy will cost jobs — in a statement Monday, Sen. Al Franken called it a “job-killing tax” — and also impair American competitiveness in the medical device field.

The senators, who made the request in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, are Franken, Richard Durbin, Charles Schumer, Patty Murray, John Kerry, Kirsten Gillibrand, Amy Klobuchar, Joseph Lieberman, Ben Nelson, Robert Casey, Debbie Stabenow, Barbara Mikulski, Kay Hagan, Herb Kohl, Jeanne Shaheen, and Richard Blumenthal.  All voted for Obamacare.

Two other Democrats, senators-elect Joe Donnelly and Elizabeth Warren, also signed the letter.  Donnelly voted for Obamacare as a member of the House.  Warren was not in Congress at the time.

“The medical technology industry directly employs over 400,000 people in the United States and is responsible for a total of two million skilled manufacturing jobs,” the senators wrote in a December 4 letter to Reid.  “We must do all we can to ensure that our country maintains its global leadership position in the medical technology industry and keeps good jobs here at home.”

Beyond that, the senators say, the medical device industry “has received little guidance about how to comply with the tax” — a reference to the apparently confused and halting nature of the Obama administration’s implementation of Obamacare.

Several of the senators, many of whom have medical device manufacturers in their states, have opposed the tax for a long time.
It's rather late in the day to develop some insight, but better late than not at all.

Perhaps elected officials will be more careful the next time a complicated piece of legislation gets brought up on reconciliation, with comprehension of its consequences at the level of "pass it to find out what's in it."

11.12.12

PAINTING THE TOWN ORANGE.

Any large vertical surface in DeKalb is a candidate to have an orange spotlight aimed at it.


Altgeld Hall, earlier this evening.


The Holmes Student Center, viewed from the bus turnaround west of the liberal arts complex.

Red And Black Attack have posted roundups of press coverage from Monday and Tuesday.

USA Today have the primer on the past fifteen years, in which four coaches worked with multiple cohorts of young men to turn a winless team into one with a winning tradition.
In [now retired coach Joe] Novak's fourth season, Northern Illinois won five games for the first time since 1992. The Huskies posted seven winning seasons in a row under Novak from 2000 to 2006, including a 10-win 2003 season that included victories against Maryland, Iowa State and Alabama.

"I remember him always saying he had a plan, and he achieved the plan," [then athletic director Cary] Groth said. "He planned the work, and worked the plan."

The foundation Novak built for Northern Illinois football lives on, through his replacement, current Minnesota coach Jerry Kill, and Kill's replacement, current North Carolina State coach Dave Doeren. Last Sunday, Northern Illinois named offensive line coach Rod Carey as Doeren's successor.

"When you have a foundation that's solid," Groth said, "and if you hire someone that fits philosophically with that foundation and what has been done in the past. … I don't want to say easy, because it's never easy to be a football coach, but it's a lot easier when you have a foundation that's been built on solid ground on good principles."

Slowly but surely, over the span of nearly a generation, Northern Illinois rose from the hinterlands of college football to the Orange Bowl against No. 12 Florida State. So why has the Huskies' run to the BCS been greeted with such negativity?

"Northern didn't do anything but play their season," Novak said. "The rules put them in the game. To downgrade and denigrate … if you don't like how the setup is, then change it. But good God, don't do that to those people.
The Chicago Sun-Times decides now is a good time to investigate all those empty seats in the stadium.
Even on the university’s 756-acre campus, there were few outward signs of enthusiasm for a team that had won 20 of its last 21 games, had earned its highest national ranking since 2003 and had a Heisman Trophy candidate in quarterback Jordan Lynch. It illustrated what some describe as a disconnect between the team, the community and the student body, the causes of which are difficult to identify.

The team has done its part, winning the most games in the MAC in the last decade. Its 83 percent graduation rate ranks 16th in the nation.

“It’s hard to understand,” said former quarterback Tim Tyrrell, a conference MVP. “How do you not go out to watch that team? Maybe there’s more to do or people are watching it on TV. I don’t know what to blame it on. Northern is doing a great job of trying to maintain everything that would grow sports in college. They have winning programs. They’re trying to bring back alumni. They don’t just call when they need money. They have really attempted sincerely to get you involved with the school. I don’t know. I don’t understand. The facilities are ridiculous [compared to] when I was there. They’re getting the athletes. They’re just not getting the kids out there. I don’t know why.”

There’s no easy answer for why attendance has declined, even though NIU has 165,000 alumni in the Chicago area, according to Joe Matty, executive director and CEO of the NIU Alumni Association. A myriad of factors might or might not help explain the empty seats at Huskie Stadium when Toledo visited Nov. 14.

The game was played on a chilly Wednesday night to accommodate ESPN2. MAC teams often swap Saturday afternoon dates for weeknight slots. It brings national TV exposure, which brings revenue and aids recruiting.
Leave that myriad of factors aside, and focus on that Wednesday.  It's really very simple.  Tuesday night is for working on group projects and going over class notes.  Wednesday night is for preparing presentations and rushing to complete assignments that are due Thursday.  Saturday afternoon, or early Saturday evening, is for football.  And yes, more than a few Northern Illinois students are working, often weekend-intensive shifts in retail or warehousing.  But it's easier for Chicago area alumni to get away for a Saturday event than for a Wednesday night game.

Repeat with me:  Saturday is for college football.

And here's an interesting discovery of Northern Illinois by Time.
Northwestern University, the 20th-ranked college football team in the nation, won’t win a national title on the field this year. But the Wildcats are first in the classroom, according to the “Academic BCS,” the New America Foundation’s annual academic performance rankings of the top-25 college football teams.

Northwestern’s top finish is not surprising. But the New America Foundation’s second-best academic team, Northern Illinois — which finished ahead of schools like Notre Dame, which will play for the national championship on Jan. 7 against Alabama, and Stanford — is a more curious case. The Huskies, who earned a bid to the Jan. 1 Orange Bowl, are a surprise both on and off the field.
The foundation's analysis rewards universities at which the graduation rates of football players exceed the graduation rates of the general campus population, which produces strange results in a world where Notre Dame's football graduation rate of 83% exceeds the 66% at Northern Illinois.
Northern Illinois scores major points because football players graduate at a higher rate (66%) than the Northern Illinois student body at large (51%). At Northern Illinois, 72% of white players graduate, while 63% of black football players graduate: that’s a nine-point difference. In the general population, 56% of white male students at Northern Illinois graduate, compared to 30% of black male students. That’s a 26-point difference for the student body, compared to a nine-point difference for the football team: again, New America credits Northern Illinois football for outperforming the rest of the school. Also, while 63% of Northern Illinois’ black football players graduate, just 30% of black male students graduate overall. That 33-point difference propels the Huskies to the top of the standings.
There's a lot to parse in that paragraph: best left for another day.

PRICES ALLOCATE RESOURCES.

Los Angeles now sells the use of the carpool lanes to driver-only vehicles, and the results surprise anyone who is not an economist.
We can't add much more roadway, but as the population grows, we'd be wise to find ways to more efficiently use what we've got while adding transit options and encouraging more carpooling. And that's the whole point of toll lanes.

In theory, everyone benefits. The driver who chooses to pay a premium goes faster, but the driver who doesn't pay goes a little faster, too, for no extra charge. That's because as single-occupant vehicles and carpoolers are lured out of regular lanes and into the toll lanes, the volume is lowered in the regular lanes.
If the price-recalculating algorithm works as effectively as sports betting books are supposed to, travel times will be equal. The person paying the toll, though, avoids the risk of traffic congealing in advance.   Correct long-run incremental cost pricing will produce enough revenues to replace or expand capacity.
And money generated from the toll lanes will be plowed into transit improvements along the two highway corridors. Already, 59 new buses have been purchased for those corridors with money from a $210-million federal grant, which will also pay for a new El Monte bus station and transit center improvements.

The federal gas tax, set at 18.4 cents per gallon, hasn't been increased since 1993, said Martin Wachs, a transportation expert at Rand, and cars manufactured since then get much better mileage. That has meant less revenue for highway construction and maintenance. Tolls are a way to generate new funds for transportation improvements while at the same time creating more options for travelers.

As for the Lexus lane charge, UCLA transportation guru Brian Taylor argued that toll lanes aren't a bad deal for low-income people. When sales tax increases are used to pay for transportation projects — as with Measure R in Los Angeles County — everybody pays and the burden is greatest on the poor, because they lose a bigger percentage of their income. But if tolls are used to finance a project, such as the 91 Freeway toll lanes, it's the Lexus drivers who carry the load.
No escaping the fundamentals: in taxation there is the benefit principle, and the ability-to-pay principle, and working out the tax incidence isn't easy.

NORFOLK TO BRUNSWICK BY RAIL.

The southern end of one-seat train riding out of Boston is now Norfolk.
In recent years, Virginia’s Amtrak service has blossomed, as an extension of the Northeast Corridor. In addition to long-distance trains to Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, and Louisiana, Virginia hosts five NEC trains each way to Richmond (two of which extend east to Newport News, across the Hampton Roads waterway from Norfolk) and one to Lynchburg in southern Virginia.

Amazingly, the state-supported trains to Norfolk and Lynchburg were created in record time, just six months for the Lynchburg run and 24 months for Norfolk. At today’s ceremony in Ashland, [Amtrak president Joe] Boardman said, “Virginia is a state we can work with to deliver passenger service. These people get it, that we need a balanced transportation system.”

Added [Norfolk Southern CEO Wick] Moorman at the ribbon-cutting in Richmond, “This is a great day for the long-suffering citizens of Hampton Roads. By the time we drive to Richmond we’re exhausted.”

The Norfolk service is an extension of existing New York-Richmond and Richmond-Boston trains. The weekday morning northbound train from Norfolk to Boston, No. 174, previously originated in Richmond, just as No. 125 on weekdays previously terminated there from New York. Weekend service will operate on different schedules.
The way Mr Moorman describes the peninsular roads, you'd think Robert E. Lee and George McClellan were still contesting the river crossings.

And thus residents of the Official Region have direct service from Boston to Lynchburg (could you name the northbound The Puritan and the southbound The Evangelical?)  Getting through Boston is a challenge, but service north of Portland is also now available.

Meanwhile, the corridor service out of Chicago to Dubuque and Moline slowly gets out of the planning phase, and the last passenger service north of Milwaukee to Green Bay ran on 30 April 1971.

10.12.12

WE ARE NIU

Eight members of the football team are Kinesiology and Physical Education majors.  (I don't know if that's typical or atypical of college football teams).

Their classmates have set up a message board.



Too often, these boards go up when something bad has happened.  I'm pleased to see a cheerful one, the woofing about sports pundits notwithstanding.

RUN TO WIN.

The Northern Illinois University Orange Bowl bid has provided a welcome opportunity to procrastinate distraction from exam week work.  That's not the only football story that matters to Cold Spring Shops.  It's encouraging to see other teams succeeding by returning to the fundamentals.  Hand off.  Block.  Run.  Cloud of dust.  Repeat.  Wisconsin, either the best 7-5 team or the least likely 12-0 team in the B1G 14, makes a third straight return to the Rose Bowl, and former Detroit Lion quarterback turned sports analyst explains the formula.
"The job that Barry (Alvarez) and now Bret (Bielema) at Wisconsin have done is something many people thought could not be done," Danielson said. "It was thought you will never beat Ohio State or Michigan at their game. You have to go more like Northwestern and Purdue and finesse them. Barry went the opposite way. He said no, we will beat them at what they do. That was brilliant. Nobody believed that, by the way. Lou Holtz did not believe that. I think that is what Arkansas is buying into."
Yes, Wisconsin is also riding the coaching carroussel, but because the winner of the B1G 14 title game automatically qualifies for the Rose Bowl, the coaching search came after the selection show.

But for years there was no secret to the Wisconsin victory formula (see above).  I attended that first Rose Bowl in forever with a UCLA graduate who wondered who "Moss" was carrying the ball on every play.  I explained (inside joke) it was the football version of "get a good start and sail on the lifted tack."  But others understood it as well.  In the season that followed, Wisconsin starting quarterback Darrell Bevell was injured prior to the Northwestern game.  A Chicago sports broadcaster noted that a replacement quarterback was not any big deal, as all he had to do was "hand off to Moss and Fletcher."  That was at the beginning of Northwestern trying to be not-Northwestern, and the formula worked to perfection.  (It got harder later, but more recently Wisconsin coaches have figured out how to deal with the finesse.)  Jumbo packages and Zebra formations and Barges are simply ways to conceal where the Blocks go in front of the Run.

Despite some early-season setbacks, the Packers have returned to first place in the Black and Blue Division, in a way that must please Vince Lombardi.
It was early in the fourth quarter of a game that was tied, 17-17. The Packers took possession of the ball at their 41-yard line following a missed field goal attempt by the Lions’ Jason Hanson. Seven plays later, the Packers had the lead.

They were more than just seven plays. They were seven running plays. Yeah, the Packers, the poster child for finesse football, shoved it down the Lions’ throat with a three-headed running game.
The blocking in front of the runners looked pretty good.  Will the Zebra and the Barge be next?

The Lions?  Was Gary Danielson the last Lion quarterback to win a game in Wisconsin?

9.12.12

HAULING PAPER TO WAUSAU.

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel begins an analysis of Wisconsin's paper industry.  Electronic mail and virtual books have meant there is less demand for newsprint and archival book paper and "While You Were Out"  message pads and Form 31 train orders.  Thus, the companies that are thriving offer products for more, er, necessary uses.
The industry was clearly fading. As a stand-alone mill, Park Falls did not have the global scale of the Kimberly-Clark Corp., which long ago had sold its publishing-grade mills and shifted to consumer paper products such as tissue and disposable diapers - a sector immune, so far, from Apple. Even schools in the Fox River Valley, home to some of the nation's largest printers of textbooks, were making the shift to digital ones.
The remaining publishing-grade papers, for now, face competition from a not so surprising source.
Sue Seib first noticed the new threat when she worked at Wisconsin Paper, a wholesale distributor. The firm had begun buying paper on behalf of cost-conscious printers from an unlikely source: China.

"What amazed us," she said, "was that you could buy paper from a Chinese manufacturer, pay the shipping from China and all the way across the U.S. to Wisconsin, and it was less expensive than buying paper from a Wisconsin manufacturer."

From small engines to kitchen appliances, Wisconsin had grown accustomed to low-cost competition from China. But this one made little sense at all.

By all accounts, China has a severe shortage of trees.
Optimal replanting rates are just a capitalist construct.  Better to buy a generation of labor peace and rising living standards for the masses now, and let the next generation deal with the environmental decay?

BRAIN-DEAD POLITICKING.

The American Prospect offers a mea culpa from a one-time Goldwater conservative.
Since the liberalism of the time was as smug as the conservatism of the future would be sanctimonious, I was secretly pleased when a history teacher in high school called my opinions “dangerous.” What teenager doesn’t want to be dangerous, especially when he’s so undangerous in so many other ways? The conservatism I embraced was a whole greater than the sum of the parts, the emphasis on individual freedom trumping stuff that I considered to be fine print. While I never liked the sound of a welfare state, I was enough of a softy to have balked at denying help to people who needed it; to the extent that I understood it, the idea that arose from the Great Crash of 1929—that there should be a division between commercial banks and investment banks, without which the great crash of 2008 later became possible—sounded perfectly sensible and, if anything, like a conservative idea. I didn’t really know what the Tennessee Valley Authority was or what it meant that Goldwater mused openly about selling it off. Goldwater mused openly about a lot of things that I took with a nuclear silo worth of salt.
As if contemporary liberals and self-styled progressives aren't still smug and sanctimonious. The only thing that tempers the contemporary enthusiasm is that there are fewer people alive for whom the expression "New Deal" or "Pettis Bridge" functions as a Piece of the True Cross.

The author's complaint with what took over the Republican Party, however, was that he didn't see his conservatism in use.
Most striking, three impulses distinguished the new right. The first was how the right’s enmity toward centralized state power was matched by an adoration of centralized corporate power. This constituted an abandonment of the principle of a truly free marketplace —- with entrepreneurship and the flourishing of small business becoming more constrained and difficult —- and the overarching principle of decentralization. The second impulse was the displacement of liberty as conservatism’s core priority by a new priority, “values,” by which the right invariably meant sexual behavior, predominantly the sexual behavior of women and homosexuals. The third new impulse was most profound. This was a reconceptualization of the republic as one in which citizens are bound not by a Constitution in which God isn’t once mentioned, euphemized, or alluded to but by an unwritten Christian covenant that implicitly subjects free will to an organizing ethos that’s unmistakably theocratic. What was a freedom movement became an authority/wealth/religious movement. The new conservatism now spoke of the Bill of Rights with thinly veiled contempt. Conservatism continued to pay lip service to freedom in the abstract even as the only freedoms in the specific that it defended with urgency were the right to make a profit and to own a gun. If the language of conservatism, as given voice by President Reagan, hadn’t changed, its very essence had transformed, within two decades of Goldwater’s defeated run for the presidency.
Put another way, theological conservatism, or pro-business conservatism, or national-greatness conservatism, are all at odds with libertarian conservatism.  These four mind-sets could make common cause against Soviet Communism, and there are ways for those mind-sets to make common cause against whatever the Democrats are currently up to.  But, as in 2004, there is no major political party dedicated to the proposition that "conceived in liberty" matters as much as "created equal".

BRAIN-DEAD THEORIZING.

The World Socialist Web Site attempts to understand the U.S. media (beyond the tabloid) fascination with the British Royal Family.
The announcement that Kate Middleton, wife of Britain’s Prince William and Duchess of Cambridge, is expecting a baby has produced unseemly squeals of delight from the American media and establishment generally.

Why this stupidity? Or is it something more than mere stupidity?

Since we are speaking, first of all, of the American media, of course there is the element of imbecility—along with the inevitable effort to divert public attention from social disaster and unending wars and threats of wars.
A proper Marxist analysis, of course, contemplates the necessary antithesis of bourgeois government to monarchy, particularly a monarchy in-bred from centuries of arranged marriages among the crowned heads of Europe.
White House press secretary Jay Carney told a media briefing December 3 “that on behalf of everyone here in the White House, beginning with the President and the First Lady, we extend our congratulations to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge on the welcome news this morning out of London that they are expecting their first child.”

Nominally at least, the United States remains a republic. Why should the American president extend congratulations to the British royal family, a collection of wealthy parasites, mediocrities and dimwits, for anything?
Never mind that President Obama is Head of State, as is Queen Elizabeth.  To a Marxist looking for crumbling ruling classes, there's a pat answer.
America’s multimillionaires and billionaires, and their hangers-on, envy Britain’s “legitimate” royalty and dregs of a nobility, long for such rank themselves and despise the “common people” with as much fervor as the aristocrats of an earlier age.
There's a simpler explanation, due to H. L. Mencken.  Perhaps republicanism is so ingrained in the U.S. consciousness that the Royals are simply people famous for being famous, a category with substantial overlap in sports, entertainment, and politics.

The harder challenge is to uncover the extent and significance of hereditary aristocracies in these endeavours: Ken Griffey, jr. in baseball; the Manning brothers in football; Michael Douglas on screen; three generations of Kennedys in politics.  It can't be good genes and assortative mating: the Kardashian sisters suggest something else is at work.

CHAMPIONS IN THE CLASSROOM.

Yes, it's part of the official athletic sloganeering.  It's also data-driven.
A season of "firsts" for the Northern Illinois football program continued Thursday as for the first time in NIU history, three Huskie football players were named to the Capital One Academic All-America© Division I Football Team as selected by the College Sports Information Directors of America.

The selection of defensive end Alan Baxter to the first team, and noseguard Nabal Jefferson and tight end Jason Schepler to the second team gave Northern Illinois three selections to the first and second teams, the most of any NCAA Division I team.

"It's a year of firsts for NIU football with our first BCS Bowl Bid and first 12-win season, but even more prestigious is to have three Academic All-Americans in the same year when we've never even had two [in the same year] before," said NIU Head Coach Rod Carey. "I'm extremely proud of this institution and these three young men and how they have represented our program. Our entire university should be proud because this is an elite list and to have three players on it say a lot about our program and the type of student-athlete in our program."
Our advisers are brutally candid to incoming recruits about the long odds against signing a pro contract. That advice apparently registers.

8.12.12

EVALUATION.

Just before final examinations come the course evaluations, which figure in the calculation of merit raises, when there's money for merit raises.  Jason Akst suggests there's a meta-evaluation of higher education going on at the same time.
College students turn the tables and evaluate instructors this time of year, but the feedback could also be about facilities, equipment, expectations, whether desired outcomes were met, etc.

Their ability to do this is necessary, useful and cathartic. The private sector has a roughly equivalent process in 360-degree reviews.

Typically, course evaluations are anonymous; instructors don’t see results until after grades are posted, so whatever they say couldn’t jeopardize their grade. Unfortunately, evaluations also occur at the most stressful time of the semester, the week before finals.
Perhaps if an institution aspiring to be the most student-centered receives a lot of written comments about construction noise, missing dry erase markers, and broken ceilings, something will happen. Or not.
The New York Times and Newsweek have published major stories recently that ask whether college is worthwhile ... and growing numbers of current and would-be students think it’s not. Both pieces are well written and raise compelling, disturbing points.

Because of record-setting debt (student loan debt exceeds $1 trillion) and a stagnant economy, more students are “hacking” their post-secondary education with a patchwork of volunteerism, free online courses, traveling, and – as the stars in both stories are doing – developing apps that sell big, thus providing all the money they’ll ever need.
Something else to add to those journalism course evaluations: the plural of "anecdote" is not "data" and a few well-off drop-outs or stop-outs do not an evolutionarily stable strategy make.  But the revealed preferences of administrators might have a pattern.
We challenge students to live up to their potential – maybe even beyond their potential – and when they do, we blast them and bury them in debt, mostly because government is increasingly unwilling to support education, and because we pay administrators and coaches exorbitant salaries?

Something is very wrong with this picture.

In 1984, a funny, poignant movie titled “Teachers” starred Nick Nolte as a maverick but quality high school teacher and Judd Hirsch as his well meaning, burned out principal. The plot was about how schools fail students by allowing them to graduate when they still can’t read.
Thus does Kirk Herbstreit's ranting become the equivalent of sub-prime college loans, although the real wrong with the picture is in the last paragraph quoted.  (Doesn't journalism have the expression "burying the lede" anymore?)

By the time those kids get to high school, it doesn't matter what a maverick teacher or a well-meaning principal does.  The damage -- perhaps by devotees of those progressive education fads that don't work  -- begins in grade school.  Yes, regular readers know this argument by heart.  I'm hoping that a few followers of the Orange Bowl excitement might look at the academic side of the enterprise.

THE HARD WAY.

That's the football team's slogan.  It also describes the return of Nicole Jeray to the professional golf tour.
Jeray was diagnosed with narcolepsy in 1996, the year after she finished in the LPGA’s Top 30.

“I was actually relieved to find out it was that and not Lou Gehrig’s disease or something,” she said. “I didn’t know what I had. It could have been so much worse.”

Still, the early treatments weren’t promising for anyone, much less someone who makes their living playing golf eight hours a day.
There's been progress in medicine. There's still work to be done.
“I really think a cure is within reach,” Jeray said. “I was diagnosed as an adult, but when I see kids with it, it’s heartbreaking.

“I don’t want people to think, you can’t lead a normal life.”
More here.

6.12.12

THE WORLD TURNED UPSIDE DOWN.

The first college football game I ever attended was Northern Illinois at Wisconsin, September 1971, freshman year.  Wisconsin won, and the fans leaving Camp Randall were yelling "Rose Bowl!"  Just a little college sarcasm, as those football teams weren't good, and by early October, they'd be yelling "Hurry Up, November!", because the hockey team was that good.

Had anyone told me that 41 years later my employer would be Northern Illinois, and Wisconsin would be playing in the Rose Bowl as a prelude to Northern Illinois playing in the Orange Bowl, I'm not sure what my reaction would be.

Now that it has happened, I am pleased to enjoy the moment.


Northern Illinois University photograph.

The bowl selection didn't please everybody.  I'll refer readers to Red and Black Attack for doing the comprehensive linking to initial Orange Bowl coverage and subsequent commentary.  There's a lot.  I'll give USA Today's Mike LoPresti the Trenchant Observation for Today.
The Huskies' BCS-busting saga reminds us how tunes can change in college football, and not just when the band segues from the fight song to the alma mater.

Before: Critics threaten to go to court, to Congress, to the Vatican, to demand action against the closed-minded BCS, for not including outsiders such as Boise State and Utah. Unfair.

Now: How in the name of Bud Wilkinson did Northern Illinois get picked over Oklahoma? Unfair.
Of course, and even Der Führer is displeased.


Meanwhile, the academic life of the campus goes on.  The basketball team drew a larger-than-average crowd for the Orange Bowl pep rally, and I've overheard a number of conversations about winter break travel plans being hastily created or changed.  The basketball game was competing with the Avalon Quartet's culmination of the Beethoven cycle, in which they scheduled all three Rasumovsky Quartets for one night.  That's the chamber music equivalent of double overtime in the title game, and a splendid time was had by all, despite the regular audience becoming fewer in number and higher in median age.

THE FUNDAMENTALS MATTER.

I've often characterized college professoring as acting: the real teaching goes on in middle school.  That noted, the actor must still love his craft.  In the absence of such acting, canned online college seems to have some advantages.
If most professors still think that teaching means standing before their classes and reading lectures from notes or PowerPoint, it only makes sense to post them online or let students read them for themselves instead of subjecting them to such tedium in a lecture hall. When they simply give students True/False, Multiple Choice, or Fill-In-The Blank exams, it's more efficient--and cost effective--to have students take their exams online (or someplace other than on a campus) and to have computers grade them.
I'm not sure where the author gets "most professors" from, although its funny to get the latest missives from faculty "development" types who are on one hand pushing active learning and getting away from chalk and talk and engaging in wordnoise about facilitating learning, and on the other hand offering Blackboard programming tips and secrets of successful online courses. Where the professor becomes an appendage of the machine, you look for cheaper places to locate the machine.
Writers like Thomas Friedman (The World Is Flat) and Daniel Pink (A Whole New Mind andDrive) have forcefully argued over the past decade that when work becomes routine it can be automated or outsourced. We've already seen this happening in such fields as accounting, law, and computer programming, where "workers essentially run the algorithm, figure out the correct answer, and deliver it instantaneously from their computer to someone six thousand miles away," writes Pink. Even the medical profession, he adds, "has become standardized" and "reduced to a set of repeatable formulas for diagnosing and treating various ailments." Some physicians call this "cookbook medicine."
You boost the productivity you measure, but patient care diminishes. Measure something other than patient visits per hour, the cost-cutting, quality-diminishing imperatives change. So let it be with higher education.
When professors resort to "cookbook teaching," there's no reason why their profession shouldn't be outsourced too.
Teaching has much in common with farming, in that the field conditions and the climate vary from year to year, and methods that work well with one class fall flat with another, impounding intellectual horsepower and engagement in ceteris paribus. Professors -- and middle school teachers doing the really heavy lifting -- get it.
They also work with students to help them become better thinkers, readers, and writers. How?

Through personal attention (such as tutorials) and classroom interaction (such as discussions and the guided close reading of texts). By constantly testing their students' minds against theirs, forcing them to ask the hard questions and to explain them with significant answers. And by giving them appropriate personalized feedback.
Exam week is coming, and I really shouldn't be procrastinating at Cold Spring Shops with some personalized feedback yet to deliver.  Fifty people, each deserving of the attention I'd like to be able to provide to one person on a full-time basis, and the Orange Bowl hoopla going on ...
The result of this kind of attention and interactivity is they get to know their students and can empathize with them--understanding their longings, their genuine abilities and interests, their true needs. These aren't merely ineffable qualities of teaching and learning; they are real, significant, and personally meaningful attributes to anyone who has ever experienced them from his or her teacher.
Indeed.  And the students will notice: on more than one occasion someone has gratefully noted my effort to learn everyone's names.  You'll make more of an impression on a student you had as freshman or sophomore if you say hello by name to that person as a junior or senior ... even if that student might not have been completely happy with your grading.

ADVANTAGE, COLD SPRING SHOPS.

Reason's Sheldon Richman calls out Rachel Maddow for conflating society and government.
Maddow's unspoken premise: An achievement isn't great if the government has nothing to do with it. Government does big things. We mere private individuals do only small things. The bias toward government—a curious thing when you consider that its essence is the legal power to use physical force against peaceful individuals—couldn't be more stark. Yet what grounds are there for believing this? When people are left free to innovate and produce, they routinely take risks to achieve things that are great in the sense that they make our lives better, healthier, and longer. Moreover, much of what makes life better is the cumulative effect of many "small" achievements, marginal improvements in products and services. Any one of them may be small, but the total effect on our lives is great. We'd be worse off without them.

Echoing President Obama and Senator-elect Elizabeth Warren, Maddow apparently believes that no private accomplishment is possible without government support through spending on infrastructure, education, and research. But that is wrong. All of those things can be and have been provided in the private market. Government has a way of crowding out private efforts and then asserting its own importance because of the lack of private alternatives. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy!
We'll leave the political economy of the closing paragraph or so to the reader. We'll also note the income accounting fundamentals missing from any discussion of public capital and the presence of recent, privately financed, infrastructure improvements that put Chinese railway improvements to shame.

4.12.12

MUGGED BY REALITY.

Gene Healy writes finis to "national greatness conservatism".
In a 1997 Weekly Standard cover-story "manifesto" entitled "A Return to National Greatness," [columnist David] Brooks decried limited-government conservatives "besotted with localism, local communities, and the devolution of power" and insisted that "energetic government is good for its own sake."

"Wishing to be left alone isn't a governing doctrine," he and co-author Bill Kristol (editor of The Weekly Standard, a sister publication of The Washington Examiner) argued later that year in The Wall Street Journal. Instead, Americans needed grand federal crusades to pull them away from private, parochial concerns and invest their lives with meaning.

Compulsory national service, a Mars mission and "a neo-Reaganite foreign policy of national strength and moral assertiveness abroad" were among the specific causes championed by NGCers. But "it almost doesn't matter what great task government sets for itself," Brooks wrote, so long as it's busy dragooning us into causes greater than ourselves.
That kind of talk is more typical of the self-styled progressives, without the conceit that The Best and the Brightest are championing Improvements For The Greater Good.  By their fruits, though, shall we know the National Greatness enthusiasts.
If you seek a monument to National Greatness Conservatism, look around you. After a decade-plus of bloody, fruitless wars and budget-busting "energetic government" for its own sake, there's not much to be cheerful about.
In fact, if both major parties are pushing Grand Constructions, it might make sense to vote for the party that promises you stuff.  Cell phones!  Fast trains!  Free health care!   Longer vacations!  The point of Conservatism is to present the tragic vision: these Grand Constructions often come with unanticipated and unintended consequences.

WORDNOISE.

A director of assessment attempts to convince people the extra work is worth it.
Traditionally, I think we’ve envisioned this relationship in reverse order – that skills and dispositions are merely the means for demonstrating content acquisition – with content acquisition becoming the primary focus of grading.  In this context, skills and dispositions become a sort of vaguely mysterious redheaded stepchild (with apologies to stepchildren, redheads, and the vaguely mysterious).  More importantly, if we are now focusing on skills and dispositions, this traditional context necessitates an additional process of assessing student learning.

However, if we reconceptualize our approach so that content becomes the raw material with which we develop skills and dispositions, we could directly apply our grading practices in the same way.  One would assign a proportion of the overall grade to the necessary content acquisition, and the rest of the overall grade (apportioned as the course might require) to the development of the various skills and dispositions intended for that course. In addition to articulating which skills and dispositions each course would develop and the progress thresholds expected of students in each course, this means that we would have to be much more explicit about the degree to which a given course is intended to foster improvement in students (such as a freshman-level writing course) as opposed to a course designed for students to demonstrate competence (such as a senior-level capstone in accounting procedures).  At an even more granular level, instructors might define individual assignments within a given course to be graded for improvement earlier in the term with other assignments graded for competence later in the term.
I think that's an endorsement of prerequisites and course sequences. Take away the theorrhea, though, and the assessment office becomes a cash suck.

It gets better.
When courses were about attaining a specific slice of content, every course was an island. Seventeenth-century British literature? Check. The sociology of crime? Check. Cell biology? Check.

In this environment, it’s entirely plausible that faculty grading practices would be as different as the topography of each island.  But if courses are expected to function collectively to develop a set of skills and/or dispositions (e.g., complex reasoning, oral and written communication, intercultural competence), then what happens in each course is irrevocably tied to what happens in previous and subsequent courses.  And it follows that the “what” and “how” of grading would be a critical element in creating a smooth transition for students between courses.

Now it would be naïve of me to suggest that making such a fundamental shift in the way that a faculty thinks about the relationship between courses, curriculums, learning and grading is somehow easy.  Agreeing to a single set of institutionwide student learning outcomes can be exceedingly difficult, and for many institutions, embedding the building blocks of a set of institutional outcomes into the design and deliver of individual courses may well seem a bridge too far.
Once upon a time there was a Canon, and a Curriculum, and the smooth transition happens as a matter of course.

Let me add an observation from tonight's meeting of the Investment Association.  A graduating senior, recounting a conversation about The Hunger Games with a younger student, griped that his description of the novel as incorporating elements of "The Lottery" and "The Most Dangerous Game" might as well have been in Attic Greek for its familiarity to the younger person.  Perhaps Shirley Jackson is getting the obscurity she deserves.  But apparently there's a "Simpsons" version of "Dangerous Game" for the twenty-somethings, to go along with the "Gilligan's Island" version for older folks.

A more multicultural community probably benefits more by common cultural referents, on occasion more elevated than "Kirk Herbstreit really stepped in it."  And higher education is likely to benefit more by the marginalization of the culture-studies zealots, and the educational "theorists" whose obsession with objectives and assessment and learning types and the like has yet to make anyone smarter.