23.6.13

MARKING OFF.

It used to be that you could trig a railroad car with a piece of wood.  Its location and purpose now comes with a special-purpose tool and a warning label.


East Troy, Wisconsin, 22 June 2013.

Thanks for looking in.  Everything is set and centered, time for a few days away from it.

OUR NATIONAL E-T-T-S MOMENT

In a cartoon, at Voluntary Xchange.

In Buzz Feed, 23 Pictures That Prove Society Is Doomed.

"What is the world coming to?"

"What it deserves."

BETTER, WORSE?

One article on Brazil's protests offers an instructive insight.
"Economically, things got better. We can buy a car on credit. But the hospitals and schools are terrible. A rich country is not one where everybody has a car but rather one in which a rich man takes the bus," said one young female protester in Brasilia who did not want to give her name.
I don't know how many rich people ride the commuter trains in the USA (the Acela Expresses, yes). Chicago's Metra knows where the rich people live.  It is no accident that the Milwaukee Division, er, UP North Line still has a subscription parlor car, and that some rush-hour trains to the Land of the Burlingtons are first stop Highlands.

THE VALUE OF INDEPENDENT SCHOLARSHIP.

Universities like the idea of external funding, although external funding can come with strings attached.
You should support independent scientists that study what you’re concerned about instead of trying to tie every one (usually in some ludicrous way) to biased funding. And if those scientists weigh in with well-designed studies that don’t agree with your initial concerns, you should feel relieved, not betrayed. If scientists are in consensus on a topic, it’s because the evidence is strong. It’s because they’ve investigated and rigorously tested the possible hypotheses using different methods, and the same conclusions keep stubbornly arising. Scientists don’t come to consensus easily, so when they do, you should listen to them.
Unbiased, though, gets difficult, when private foundations and non-governmental organizations, and think tanks with preconceptions, also underwrite research, some of which can find its way into publication.

SECOND CHANCES

Silver Star recipient Richard Bennett is a candidate for Major League Baseball and People's "Tribute for Heroes" award.  His story also illustrates the value of second chances in higher education.
Bennett, who is pursuing a bachelor’s degree at Northern Illinois University, wants to work with the Wounded Warrior Project after graduation, according to his profile on the voting website. He is also vice president of NIU’s Veterans Club.

This is his second stint at NIU. He attended the university in 2001 shortly after graduating high school in St. Charles. At that time, partying was more important, and he dropped out.

He became a bartender, and later worked as a restaurant manager at several places. He decided to enlist in 2009 at the age of 28 after watching the continuous news coverage of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

“I felt really empty watching these wars drag on,” Bennett said. “I didn’t feel like I was giving my full potential. So I joined the Army. I said if I can stand behind these guys, I sure ... can stand with them.”
Each baseball team has three individuals in the running, each meritorious.  Voting closes June 30.  Chicago rules may apply.

GOVERNMENT FAILURE.

In China, the heirs of Leon Trotsky accuse the heirs of Mao of deviationist bubble-inflating.
To boost profits, international finance capital is demanding that Beijing carry out a major restructuring of industry, involving speedups, layoffs, the shut down of plants and the consolidation of industrial sectors. To that end, the central bank has been tightening money supply since February.

The new Chinese leadership appears to have made finance sector “reform” a priority in its drive to accelerate pro-market restructuring and open up the remaining sectors of the economy to private investors.
It's difficult to offer international finance capital even more speed-ups than company towns and prison labor already provide.

In Brazil, a left government confronts a superstitious opposition.
Not many would object to a 20 centavos [bus fare] increase if the buses were more frequent and not hideously overcrowded, or if the roads were less riddled with potholes, or if the traffic was less apocalyptic. Similarly, nobody would mind paying hefty taxes if it meant decent public schools, hospitals, and social care. Probably (this one may be a stretch) nobody would even mind the politicians receiving their exorbitant salaries, if they just spent less time filching, skiving, and scheming, and devoted a little more time to helping their country get better.

In truth, the protests are an amalgam of a dozen reasons why the patience of the Brazilian people has finally run out. The shoddy state of so many public institutions. The grubby capering of pantomime villains such as Marco Feliciano (the president of the Human Rights Commission of the House of Representatives, currently promoting a “gay cure”, and who believes that the problems of Africa are a result of a biblical curse) and Renan Calheiros (the president of the Senate, who positively drips with past and current corruption charges). Then there is PEC 37, a proposed constitutional amendment that will limit the investigative powers of Brazil’s public prosecution department. And in the middle of this, the £8 billion and counting cost of the World Cup, which may just have been the final drop of water (the local version of the camel and his straw) and perhaps lit the spark under this huge pile of indignant tinder.
And no Kingston Trio to sing, "Now you citizens of Rio don't you think it's a scandal, How the People have to Pay and Pay."

THE DESTRUCTIVENESS OF A POSITIONAL ARMS RACE.

The latest member of the Conference of Sixteen Still Known as the Big Ten, Rutgers, encounters some faculty push-back from its administration's behavior, common these days, of starving the academic departments for resources while seeking visibility in sport.  At ESPN (!?), Ian O'Connor welcomes the dissent.
The teachers are doing the schooling at Rutgers, and that is the way it is supposed to be. Dozens rightfully called for the firing of athletic director Tim Pernetti, who resigned Friday, proving there is an actual heartbeat among faculty members often bulldozed by the sports machine raging about America's campuses.
It matters, notes William Dowling of the English and American Literature program, that the faculty take seriously their responsibility as stewards of the university.
"We created a culture of opposition at Rutgers, and there's been a very strong carryover and it's wonderful to see," Dowling said by phone. "There's a dynamic at work in academia where faculty members find out their universities are really pro football or basketball franchises in disguise, and you never hear from them. They become an invisible, defeated people."

The Rutgers faculty has refused to let its leaders throw Rice to the angry masses and then hide out until football season starts. "To me and others," Dowling said, "the cover-up matters. This is a minor league version of Penn State."
There are a number of ways in which the faculty can push back. Where the sports program is an assault on academic integrity, that's important. Making comparisons of coaching salaries with faculty salaries, less so.
"These salaries just look out of sync when it comes to the educational mission of our colleges and universities," says Anne D. Neal, president of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni. "Trustees and presidents have to ask themselves what justifies these obscenely rising salaries in a time of limited resources."
It is in the nature of positional arms races that extremely productive resources, whether they are Ohio class submarines or Schembechler class coaches, command premia.  Perhaps the faculty might spare some of their outrage for the failure of their university to make efforts to attract and retain academic stars, including but not limited to higher salaries and summer cottages.
John Thelin, professor of educational policy studies at Kentucky, says by e-mail that he sees "little indication of complaint" among his peers on campus. "UK faculty tend, I think, to understand the priorities of the university and are silent and perhaps accepting of the practices."
At a minimum, the next star researcher Kentucky or Louisville seek to hire ought to ask for paddock passes at Churchill Downs.  It might be the case that differences in risks go a long way toward making sense of the difference between salaries for successful coaches and salaries for competent tenured professors.  The failure of the most ambitious or the most successful researchers to ask for better pay and benefits packets, though, reduces the payments to all faculty.  Those dumb coaches get incentives, why not the faculty?
Spending at the top appears to spur schools with lesser resources to spend more, too. NCAA tournament-caliber schools outside the elite conferences are increasing their men's basketball head coaches' pay and potential bonuses at a greater rate than those in elite conferences, according to an article published last month in the online Journal of Issues in Intercollegiate Athletics. The authors used documents obtained from USA TODAY Sports and found average total pay for coaches in the tournament from the six power conferences was up 20% from 2009-10 to 2011-12 — and up nearly 44% for schools from other conferences.
It's called arbitrage. In college sports, a successful coach can work up from high school to an assistantship, to a head coaching appointment at a mid-major, and ultimately to a power conference. The academic pecking order is for the most part too rigid to permit such a career ladder.

It's useful to understand the incentives, rather than to engage in polemics.

21.6.13

FIFTY YEARS AGO.

Martin Luther King, jr. offered a preview of his "I Have A Dream" speech to the Detroit March for Freedom.
Fifty years on, some parts of King’s dream are closer to reality than others, but none seems more deferred than his vision of Detroit, now a shell-shocked city on the brink of bankruptcy with long, lonesome stretches of abandoned buildings, foreclosed homes and a population devastated by joblessness. Detroit has become so synonymous with urban deterioration that it can seem too familiar, a cliche of hopelessness — a prevalent sensibility that robs people struggling to survive in Detroit, and to revive Detroit, of the respect they deserve.

Detroit has been decomposing, in a sense. All organic things decompose sooner or later, from human beings to cities, and then something new arises in their place. But they also leave important markers behind that shape the present and future. Detroit has left as many markers as any city in America. Cars, music, labor, civil rights — much of the mythical American dream was defined by this Detroit quartet. And all of them were in their fullness on that early summer day 50 years ago.
A lot has gone wrong since then.  Charlie LeDuff's Detroit: An American Autopsy provided material for a book review earlier this year.  Michael Barone used to live in the area, and his review (via Via Media) of the book highlights the political failures of the late civil rights era that pushed him to the Right.
Liberal city government is expensive— [mayor Jerome] Cavanagh instituted a city income tax raised later to 2.5%—and increasingly ineffective. The Detroit News reported that 47% of property owners didn't pay their 2011 property tax. The public employee unions, just starting up in the Cavanagh years, have long been pushing for salaries, benefits, and pensions that are increasingly unaffordable. So the city has let its physical facilities go to ruin, as LeDuff notes again and again. Dave Bing, the former basketball player and auto parts business owner who was elected mayor in 2009, threatened to close 77 of the city's parks. Detroit under its 1922 charter is a civil service city, with nonpartisan elections and nine council members elected at large. So, as LeDuff notes, council members and judges are often elected because they have familiar names. They don't have neighborhood responsibilities like Chicago's 50 aldermen and 50 Democratic ward committeemen. When I worked for Mayor Cavanagh, I was impressed by the competence and civic responsibility of Detroit's top civil servants. But since then the culture of civil servants and political appointees seems to have become one of entitlement and, as LeDuff observes, iron indifference to the plight of city residents.
What may prevent Chicago from going the way of Detroit is the obligation of ward-heelers to give more than lip-service to the wishes of their constituents.

That's encouraging.

CASES CLOSED.

A new State's Attorney has wrapped up the coffee fund investigation with a plea bargain.
[New State's Attorney Richard] Schmack said money was improperly diverted to the coffee fund, but was maintained by state employees and used for government functions, not personal gain.

“Some may disagree with the wisdom or prudence of governments using public funds for employee retirement luncheons, but until the state Legislature says otherwise, I do not think it is a crime,” Schmack said in the news release. “It is also not criminally wrong for an NIU department to maintain its own bank account, although it’s certainly not a good accounting practice.”

His office pursued the plea agreement for supervisors and dropped the charges against their subordinates, Schmack said.

“I do believe that the lack of any intent to steal is made clear by the precise and detailed records which were maintained by all those involved, regardless of who actually controlled the account,” Schmack said in the news release.
Three senior administrators agreed to court supervision, with an associate vice president resigning.

SUCK ON THIS, INTERNATIONAL OLYMPIC COMMITTEE.

The City of Chicago, having received the Fewest Votes, will not be considered in subsequent rounds of voting, culminating in awarding the 2016 Summer Games to Rio de Janeiro.  In a country that is coming apart.
Brazil's president, Dilma Rousseff, and key ministers are to hold an emergency meeting on Friday following a night of protests that saw Rio de Janeiro and dozens of other cities echo with percussion grenades and swirl with teargas as riot police scattered the biggest demonstrations in more than two decades.

The protests were sparked last week by opposition to rising bus fares, but they have spread rapidly to encompass a range of grievances, as was evident from the placards. "Stop corruption. Change Brazil"; "Halt evictions"; "Come to the street. It's the only place we don't pay taxes"; "Government failure to understand education will lead to revolution".

Rousseff's office said she had cancelled a trip to Japan next week.

A former student radical herself, Rousseff has tried to mollify the protesters by praising their peaceful and democratic spirit. Partly at her prompting, Rio, São Paulo and other cities have reversed the increase in public transport fares, but this has failed to quell the unrest.

A vast crowd – estimated by the authorities at 300,000 and more than a million by participants – filled Rio's streets, one of a wave of huge nationwide marches against corruption, police brutality, poor public services and excessive spending on the World Cup.
The protesters use the style of the Occupy movement of the United States. Some of them might benefit from studying the Tea Party.
"There are no politicians who speak for us," said Jamaime Schmitt, an engineer. "This is not just about bus fares any more. We pay high taxes and we are a rich country, but we can't see this in our schools, hospitals and roads."
Is Frederic Bastiat available in a Portugese translation?

THEN THE GODS OF THE MARKET TUMBLED.

The Cult of the Presidency is a metaphor more popular on the right than on the left, in part because Progressive Governance is Wise Expertise Shepherded by Presidential Power.  From time to time, there is skepticism from the left.  There's more evidence of smooth-tongued wizards withdrawing their support from Our President.  Start with a Mahablog rejoinder to David Brooks and the last of the National Greatness Conservatives, questioning the leader principle.  The most successful military commander of the 19th Century gets a humble statue.  Then read David Sirota, noting that Presidential Power is, adjective or not, Power.
Accept a president claiming unprecedented despotic authority in exchange for that president promising to comport himself as an enlightened despot — one who seeks to limit the scope of America's ongoing violence.

Many of the president's partisan supporters would never have agreed to such a bargain if the executive in question were a Republican. They would have expressed outrage at news that, according to the Times, the president was "count(ing) all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants" even when those males happen to be innocent civilians. But because it was a Democratic commander in chief, most liberals tacitly agreed to the deal, reassuring themselves that this was a president who would only use violence in the most narrow ways.
All is not Gold that Glitters, and Two and Two make Four.

UNIVERSITIES ARE FAILING AT THEIR MISSION

I'm way behind on the Fifty Book Challenge for this year, and not sure whether to think of my upcoming retirement as a simple cost-benefit calculation, or as a strategically timed I Quit.  There's still a lot of thinking about the role of the university to do, and more stuff to read.  Andrew Delbanco's College: What it Is, Was, and Should Be may be a candidate for future purchase, if this Joseph Epstein review in The Weekly Standard is any indication.  Mr Epstein's thesis is that the faculty have primary responsibility for the etiolation of higher education, and the liberal arts faculty are particularly complicit.
For the ancient Greeks, the liberal arts were the subjects thought necessary for a free man to study. If he is to remain free, in this view, he must acquire knowledge of the best thought of the past, which will cultivate in him the intellectual depth and critical spirit required to live in an informed and reasonable way in the present.

For many years, the liberal arts were my second religion. I worshipped their content, I believed in their significance, I fought for them against the philistines of our age as Samson fought against the Philistines of his—though in my case, I kept my hair and brought down no pillars. As currently practiced, however, it is becoming more and more difficult to defend the liberal arts. Their content has been drastically changed, their significance is in doubt, and defending them in the condition in which they linger on scarcely seems worth the struggle.
The deeper problem, though, is that higher education has lowered itself unevenly, in ways that make social stratification worse.
Some 18 million people in the United States are now enrolled in one or another kind of undergraduate institution of higher learning—but fewer than 100,000 are enrolled in liberal arts colleges.

At the same time, for that small number of elite liberal arts colleges—Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Stanford, Duke, the University of Chicago, and a few others—applications continue to rise, despite higher and higher tuition fees. The ardor to get into these schools—for economic, social, and snobbish reasons—has brought about an examination culture, at least among the children of the well-to-do, who from preschool on are relentlessly trained to take the examinations that will get them into the better grade schools, high schools, colleges, and, finally, professional schools. Professor Delbanco is opposed to the economic unfairness behind these arrangements, believing, rightly, that as a result, “the obstacles [to getting into the elite colleges] that bright low-income students face today are more insidious than the frank exclusionary practices that once prevailed.”

Whether students today, despite all their special tutoring and testing, are any better than those of earlier generations is far from clear. Trained almost from the cradle to smash the SATs and any other examination that stands in their way, the privileged among them may take examinations better, but it is doubtful if their learning and intellectual understanding are any greater. Usually propelled by the desires of their parents, they form a meritocracy that, in Delbanco’s view, as in that of the English sociologist Michael Young whom he quotes, comprises a dystopia of sorts, peopled by young men and women driven by high, but empty, ambition. “Are these really the people we want running the world?” Delbanco asks. Unfortunately, they already are. I am not the only one, surely, to have noticed that some of the worst people in this country—names on request—are graduates of the Harvard and Yale law schools.
Yes, the system is the risk. But the land-grants and the mid-majors aren't exploiting the opportunity the self-referential and self-reinforcing elite creates.
In undergraduate education, we may even have retreated a step or two through the phenomenon known as grade inflation and through the politicization of curricula.

The division between vocational and liberal arts education, which began during the 19th century with the advent of the land-grant state universities in the United States, is today tilting further and further in favor of the vocational. Even within the liberal arts, more and more students are, in Delbanco’s words, “fleeing from ‘useless’ subjects to ‘marketable’ subjects such as economics,” in the hope that this will lend them the practical credentials and cachets that might impress prospective employers.

Delbanco reminds us of Max Weber’s distinction between “soul-saving” and “skill-acquiring” education. The liberal arts, in their task to develop a certain roundedness in those who study them and their function, in Delbanco’s phrase, “as a hedge against utilitarian values,” are (or at least were meant to be) soul-saving. Whether, in the majority of students who undertook to study the liberal arts, they truly were or not may be open to question, but what isn’t open to question is that today, the liberal arts have lost interest in their primary mission.
There's much more in the essay. Go, read, understand, and consider whether Mr Epstein has penned the obituary for our era.
The loss of liberal arts education can only result in replacing authoritative judgment with rivaling expert opinions, the vaunting of the second- and third-rate in politics and art, the supremacy of the faddish and the fashionable in all of life. Without that glimpse of the best that liberal arts education conveys, a nation might wake up living in the worst, and never notice.
Indeed.

THE LOGIC OF POSITIONAL ARMS RACES.

More clearing out of the archives, this time following a Betsy's Page link from last year.  Power couples that want their power incomes, and also to get their issue into Harvard cannot leave their spawn in the care of just any day care center.  To get high productivity caregivers -- put another way, careful or more individual attention -- subscribers have to pay more.
The main reason for the high cost of care, advocates say, is the salary expense for day care centers. But child care workers are some of the lowest paid professionals in the American workforce. You can’t reduce costs, and you can’t charge more.

At the same time, many of the same advocates who decry the impact child care expenses have on families are pushing for an increase in the quality of care. This usually means better licensing, regulations and oversight, as well as requirements for a better educated workforce. But these changes would clearly make child care costs go up even further.
The article invokes all the usual difficulties people face, including the lack of mandatory paid family leave (doesn't matter if the high achievers are also going to want to return to work quickly) or the catch-all "affordability" that runs afoul of a law of conservation in economics, which is that the seller of a service cannot hope to extract more than a buyer wants to pay.  Thus day care operates under the same constraint as manufacturing, where a customer can have any two of good, fast, or cheap.

To introduce either employer-paid day care or family leave, or to make its provision a government enterprise, though, is to introduce the third-party problem into price discovery.  There's a P. J. O'Rourke quip, "If you think health care is expensive now, wait until you see what it costs when it’s free," that generalizes to state-supported day care or anything else.  (Just keep following Insta Pundit and Pajamas Media generally for the accumulating evidence on what Obama "Care" is costing people.)

Not only that, the strivers and the positional arms racers will still have incentives to opt out of the  public system, entitlement or not.  Or, as is the case with education, the good day care will come bundled with a McMansion.

18.6.13

THE SYSTEM IS THE RISK.

Christopher Hayes's Twilight of the Elites: America After Meritocracy opens with a Fourth Turning-like "America Feels Broken."  Book Review No. 12 will suggest that Mr Hayes may be taking the first steps toward a break with the Eastern Liberal Establishment.

CREATIVE DESTRUCTION.

Summertime is for cleaning out the files, and in the archive of unpublished posts was a work in progress from four years ago, on the failure of the U.S. legacy car companies.  The Economist characterized General Motors as Detroitosaurus.
The divisional structure [Alfred Sloan] created in the 1920s, with professional managers reporting to a head office through strict financial monitoring, was adopted by other titans of American business, such as GE, Dupont and IBM before the model spread across the rich world.
I recall from college references to GM's use of linear programming to allocate resources, and one radical teaching assistant who noted that the USSR's attempts to use the same sorts of algorithm simply established the capitalist nature of the Soviet Union. I think the more telling flaw with business in those days was conglomeration, the conceit that professional managers could manage everything. General Electric seems to have learned that lesson, confining its diversification only to products in which it has the hopes of being the leading or second producer. At General Motors, not so much.
Although this model was brilliantly designed for domination, when the environment changed it proved disastrously inflexible. The problem in the 1970s was not really the arrival of better, smaller, lighter Japanese cars; it was GM's failure to respond in kind. Rather than hitting back with superior products, the company hid behind politicians who appeared to help it in the short term. Rules on fuel economy distorted the market because they had a loophole for pickups and other light trucks—a sop to farmers and tool-toting artisans. The American carmakers exploited that by producing squadrons of SUVs, while the government restricted the import of small, efficient Japanese cars. If Detroit had spent less time lobbying for government protection and more on improving its products it might have fared better. Sensible fuel taxes would have hurt for a while, but unlike market-distorting fuel-efficiency rules, they would have forced GM to evolve.

As for the health and pension costs which have helped sink GM, the company and the government bear joint responsibility for those too. After the war GM rejected a mutual scheme that the unions wanted because it smacked of socialism; and around the same time, the company agreed to give retired workers full pensions and health care for life. But if successive administrations had dealt with America's expensive and inadequate health care—a problem with which Barack Obama is now wrestling (see article)—the cost of those union demands would have been far lower. None of GM's competitors has had to shoulder costs per worker anything like as heavy: until an agreement in 2007 with the union, each car in Detroit carried about $1,400 in extra pension and health-care costs compared with the foreign-owned competitors in America.

GM, Ford and Chrysler tried to improve: by 2006 they had almost caught up with Japanese standards of efficiency and even quality. But by then GM's share of the American market had fallen to below a quarter. Rounds of closures and job cuts were difficult to negotiate with unions, and were always too little too late. Gradually the cars got better, but Americans had moved on. The younger generation of carbuyers stayed faithful to their Toyotas, Hondas or Mercedes assembled in the new cheaper car factories below the Mason-Dixon line. GM and the other American firms were left with the older buyers who were, literally, dying out.
In a separate article, the magazine expressed scepticism about the company's future.
The question is whether the new, smaller GM can succeed on its own more modest terms. Without doubt, its structural costs will be much lower: $23.2 billion in 2010, against $30.8 billion in 2008. With fewer brands and dealers it will be able to focus marketing and advertising more effectively. GM also retains the design and engineering resources to develop competitive cars, although the good ones are still outnumbered by the dross. The new-model pipeline has enough in it to keep buyers interested. Its successful operations in China should continue to grow rapidly with the market there.

But several doubts remain. The first is that although Mr Wagoner has gone, there has been no cull of GM's leaders—who helped to get it into this mess. Mr Henderson is an experienced financial manager, but GM may need someone more inspiring to shake it out of its consensual, bureaucratic ways. Senior members of the auto task-force found Chrysler to be better run in some ways than GM.
And an automobile columnist identified "a rogue's gallery of unloved and unlovely" vehicles.

Fast-forward to today, and note what's selling, despite the high gasoline prices.
Models such as GM's Cadillac ATS sports sedan, Ford's Fusion family car and Chrysler's Jeep Grand Cherokee are turning heads and stoking sales.

On the strength of stylish new showroom offerings, GM, Ford and Chrysler all gained market share in the first quarter for the first time in 20 years. Meanwhile, Toyota Motor Corp.'s staid standard-bearer, the Camry, has endured three months of declining sales as the automaker ceded U.S. share this year.

Detroit's joy ride demonstrates that style now sells. Consumers, coming out of a deep recession, are driving cars that average 11 years old and they're looking for more than just a new set of wheels. They want a car that looks new.

"Safe is out," said Jeff Schuster, an analyst with researcher LMC Automotive in Troy, Mich. "Instead of your bread-and-butter car that just gets you from Point A to Point B, buyers are looking for something with more individual appeal."

Detroit is delivering in a way it hasn't since GM's original design chief Harley Earl put the first tailfins on a 1948 Cadillac and his successor Bill Mitchell carved gills into the side of the 1963 Corvette Stingray.

"The industry got away from design and what really sparked growth and passion and connection to vehicles in the '30s, '40s and '50s," Schuster said. "Detroit is trying to make that connection again and their designs are doing that."

It took nearly going out of business for GM, Ford and Chrysler to change their conservative ways and return to risk-taking, Schuster said.
Perhaps so. There's still room for improvement in the aesthetics. On my recent road trip to Wisconsin, I had trouble deciding whether to give the Rolling Mud Fence Award to the Cadillac crossover, or to the large Chrysler sedans.

REGAINING THE GOOD OF THE INTELLECT.

Leon Wieseltier's recent commencement address at Brandeis University charges the most recent graduates with resisting the instrumental view of their degrees.
In the digital universe, knowledge is reduced to the status of information. Who will any longer remember that knowledge is to information as art is to kitsch-–that information is the most inferior kind of knowledge, because it is the most external? A great Jewish thinker of the early Middle Ages wondered why God, if He wanted us to know the truth about everything, did not simply tell us the truth about everything. His wise answer was that if we were merely told what we need to know, we would not, strictly speaking, know it. Knowledge can be acquired only over time and only by method. And the devices that we carry like addicts in our hands are disfiguring our mental lives also in other ways: for example, they generate a hitherto unimaginable number of numbers, numbers about everything under the sun, and so they are transforming us into a culture of data, into a cult of data, in which no human activity and no human expression is immune to quantification, in which happiness is a fit subject for economists,  in which the ordeals of the human heart are inappropriately translated into mathematical expressions, leaving us with new illusions of clarity and new illusions of control.
Having the information at hand is useful. Knowing what to do with it, even more.
[T]here is no task more urgent in American intellectual life at this hour than to offer some resistance to the twin imperialisms of science and technology, and to recover the old distinction — once bitterly contested, then generally accepted, now almost completely forgotten – between the study of nature and the study of man. As Bernard Williams once remarked, “’humanity’ is a name not merely for a species but also for a quality."  You who have elected to devote yourselves to the study of literature and languages and art and music and philosophy and religion and history — you are the stewards of that quality. You are the resistance. You have had the effrontery to choose interpretation over calculation, and to recognize that calculation cannot provide an accurate picture, or a profound picture, or a whole picture, of self-interpreting beings such as ourselves; and I commend you for it.
Mr Wieseltier appears to be making a case to Brandeis's liberal arts graduates. What he's really doing is making the case for the higher learning providing all students with some basis for understanding why what they're doing is valuable, rather than simply picking up the tricks to be valuable.

In his valedictory address, Yale's Donald Kagan reminds his audience that, historically conceived, the liberal arts are vocational.
It was once common to think of the medieval university as very different, as a place that focused on learning for its own sake. But the medieval universities, whatever their commitment to learning for its own sake, were institutions that trained their students for professional careers. Graduates in the liberal arts were awarded a certificate that was a license to teach others what they had learned and to make a living that way. For some, the study of liberal arts was preliminary to professional study in medicine, theology, or law and was part of the road to important positions in church and state.
Many things have changed, over the years.  I suggest you read the full speech, in order better to grasp how Professor Kagan comes up with a conclusion that might startle the current generation of Yalies.
I submit that in America today the most important social distinction, one almost as significant as the old one between gentle and simple, is whether or not one has a college education. Within the favored group, finer distinctions place a liberal education, as opposed to a vocational or merely professional one, at the top of the social pyramid. Graduates of the better liberal arts colleges are most likely to marry the most desired partners and hold the best positions and appointments in business, their professions, and government. That this is true and widely understood is shown by the fact that each year there are great numbers of applicants for every place in the freshman classes of such colleges at a cost of perhaps $60,000 each year, a phenomenon otherwise inexplicable. Apart from any pre-professional training they may obtain, successful applicants gain about the same advantages as those sought by young Englishmen from their somewhat less formal eighteenth-century education. They sharpen useful skills in writing and speaking, they pick up enough of subjects thought interesting in their circle and the style of discussing them to permit agreeable and acceptable conversation. They learn the style and manner, political opinions and prejudices to make them comfortable in a similarly educated society. They have excellent opportunities to make friends who may be advantageous to them in later life. This education, of course, is purely secular. There is, moreover, no attempt to shape good character, for the better universities lead the country in the direction of a kind of relativism, even nihilism.
That might not be bad for the Yalies, who have their social circles and their family connections to fall back on. In less favored precincts, however, what remains of the liberal arts is neither liberal nor artistic.
To me, however, the greatest shortcoming of most attempts at liberal education today, with their individualized, unfocused, and scattered curricula, is their failure to enhance the students’ understanding of their role as free citizens of a free society and the responsibilities it entails. Every successful civilization must possess a means for passing on its basic values to each generation. When it no longer does so, its days are numbered. The danger is particularly great in a society such as our own, the freest the world has known, whose special character is to encourage doubt and questioning even of its own values and assumptions. Such questioning has always been and still remains a distinctive, admirable, and salutary part of our education and way of life. So long as there was a shared belief in the personal and social morality taught by the Judeo-Christian tradition and so long as there was a belief in the excellence of the tradition and institutions of Western Civilization and of this nation, so long as these values were communicated in the schools, such questioning was also safe. Our tradition of free critical inquiry counteracted the tendency for received moral and civic teachings from becoming ethnocentric complacency and intolerance and prevented a proper patriotism from degenerating into arrogant chauvinism. When students came to college they found their values and prejudices challenged by the books they read, by their fellow-students from other places and backgrounds, and by their teachers.
No more, though.
Earlier generations who came to college with traditional beliefs rooted in the past had them challenged by hard questioning and the requirement to consider alternatives and were thereby unnerved, and thereby liberated, by the need to make reasoned choices. The students of today and tomorrow deserve the same opportunity. They, too, must be freed from the tyranny that comes from the accident of being born at a particular time in a particular place, but that liberation can only come from a return to the belief that we may have something to learn from the past. The challenge to the relativism, nihilism, and privatism of the present can best be presented by a careful and respectful examination of earlier ideas, ideas that have not been rejected by the current generation but are simply unknown to them. When they have been allowed to consider the alternatives, they, too, can enjoy the freedom of making an informed and reasoned choice.

The liberal education needed for the students of today and tomorrow, I suggest, should include a common core of studies for all its students. That would have many advantages, for it would create an intellectual communion among students and teachers that does not now exist and would encourage the idea that learning and knowledge are good things in themselves. It would also affirm that some questions are of fundamental importance to everyone, regardless of his origins and personal plans, that we must all think about our values, responsibilities, and our relationships with one another and with the society in which we live.
In the previous excerpt, note that Professor Kagan refers to "other places and backgrounds, and by their teachers." That, too, is no longer the case. Homogeneous high achievers, never mind their ethnicity or country of origin, encounter homogeneous professors.
Ever less can students benefit from different opinions and approaches offered by their teachers, for faculty members with atypical views grow ever rarer on the campus. For some years now I have been asking students to name professors who seem not to share the views common among the faculty. There are some seven hundred members of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, but the largest number ever named in these inquiries was ten to fifteen. This year the highest number I heard came to three. This has no small significance for the chance at a liberal education, for the opportunity not only to put uncomfortable questions to the teacher, but also to challenge him on the authority of one of his peers is vital to that end. That is how things were early in my career. In the critical fields of history and government there were a few teachers who did not conform to the standard opinions, but they had a great effect, for the students regarded them so well as teachers that they filled their classes in great numbers and challenged other teachers with their ideas.
The extent to which such opportunities for students has been diminished, at Yale and its ilk by the tenure mill, elsewhere by downsizing and adjunctification, is left to the reader as an exercise. My focus today is on the value of core studies and the good of the intellect.

Not surprisingly, the statements from the aging lions have provoked some commentary motivated by the Culture Wars.  Notre Dame's Patrick Deneen has one such observation, at Minding the Campus.  His summation: "Those places are today controlled by those who did the dismantling, and who now raise their eyes to discover that they have no roof to protect them from the deluge."

Peter Berkowitz of the Hoover Institution provides additional political commentary for Real Clear Politics.  Do with that what you will.  Consider, carefully, though, the final sentence.
A properly liberal education, one devoted to preparing citizens for the responsibilities of freedom, would work against these tendencies. It would fortify students for public service by promoting respect for facts, evidence, and argument; teaching them there are at least two sides to the great moral and political issues of the day, thereby expanding students’ imaginations and fostering appreciation of opposing points of view and of those who hold them; and instilling respect for liberty of thought and discussion by organizing campus life in accordance with its imperatives.

Until liberal education in America is reformed, however, abuses of power of the sort we have witnessed by administration officials can be expected because such conduct faithfully expresses the most pervasive and basic lessons our universities teach future public servants.
Indeed. The line I use with students is "If we can't play around with ideas that might be crazy in college, when can we play with them?"

17.6.13

THE HOUSE OF HAVE, AND THE HOUSE OF WANT.

Chrystia Freeland's Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super-Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else has a provocative title that does not accurately summarize the analysis of the book.  In Book Review No. 11, I hope to highlight the research opportunities, and the contested territory in the political economy of globalization, that the book really points toward.

Thus, dear reader, if you're hoping that the main title is an appeal to your inner Marxist, and that the book ends with a call for torches, pitchforks, and a storming of the Winter Palace, you will be disappointed.

NOW RECLAIM THE TRADITION.

Destination: Freedom reports that Caterpillar's Electro-Motive Division plans to return to the passenger diesel locomotive business.
“We are delighted to be working with Metrolink, a visionary agency, and now a leader in the pursuit of new, cleaner-operating passenger locomotives,” said Billy Ainsworth, President and CEO of Progress Rail Services and Electro-Motive Diesel. “EMD is pleased to provide Metrolink with the first passenger locomotives designed to meet Tier 4 emissions standards, marking EMD’s re-entry into the passenger rail business. We are proud to say we are back, and excited to be on the forefront of passenger rail technology From EMD’s first record-setting Zephyr, topping 112 mph in 1934, to our latest F125 Spirit capable of speeds up to 125 mph, we will rely on the combined strengths of Caterpillar’s Rail Division including EMD and Progress Rail to mark a new era of progress in the passenger rail market.”
Those early trains looked like the Flying Yankee.


Portland, Maine, in 1937.

That radiator grille above the windows became the stylized striping Burlington painted on each side of the headlight, and the black stripes below the headlight a suggestion of the windows themselves.


Galesburg, Illinois, 22 September 2012.

Caterpillar's design concept offers more than a nod to its classic predecessors.



Let's hope that when the prototype hits the rails, someone will modify that stripe so that it curves and tapers to a point above the coupler.

NOT THE CRABBIEST ACADEMIC IN THE BLOGOSPHERE?

From Professor Munger's Monday Links.
Why a lot of "educated" folks won't get hired. Boiled down:  because expensive colleges offer a lot of fraudulent "Indignation Studies" majors that (1) serve faculty ideological hobbies, and (2) are essentially content-free, in terms of social value or analytical skills.
Note: the expensive colleges. How aggressively are the content-heavy departments seeking changes in the way headquarters allocates resources, and searches?

THE FLAW WITH FIXED FORMATIONS.

It's not a good idea with a passenger train.  The railroads, though, can, at great expense, add or remove cars (the Nebraska Zephyr began with six, expanded to seven, has been five for the past 40 years).  It's a much more difficult proposition to splice additional length into an airplane.  (Probably cheaper to design an entire new airframe from scratch.)  Thus, to enhance revenue, the latter-day Pullman section implies even more sardining in coach.
American announced plans last year to install 10 extra seats on its Boeing 777s to make room for lie-flat seats in business class. The airline said it will begin to add those seats next year.
It's all part of what I'm sure some MBA calls "productivity improvements".  As are thinner seat backs (down with the tare, plus a few millimeters off the seat pitch right there).  Crush loading doesn't come for free, though.  Safety regulations stipulate how many passengers per cabin attendant are in the public interest.
American may be required to add an extra flight attendant on each flight to meet a Federal Aviation Administration rule requiring one attendant for every 50 seats.
Note, though: nothing precludes assigning that attendant a different emergency station from a work station, thus making possible even more attentive service to the space hogs riding Pullman.

AN OPPORTUNITY FOR THE STATE UNIVERSITIES?

Bloomberg reports on a number of private universities not quite able to make a case for inclusion among the 100 claimants to the country's top 20 changing their financial aid policies in the hopes of raising their profiles.
To increase their standing on college rankings, more private colleges are giving “merit aid” to top students, who are often affluent, while charging unaffordable prices to the needy, according to the report. The percentage of students receiving merit aid jumped to 44 percent in 2007-2008 from 24 percent in 1995-1996, the report found. To a lesser extent, public universities are using some of the same practices, [New America Foundation researcher Stephen] Burd said.

Many of the most selective and wealthiest colleges, including the eight members of the Ivy League, Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts, and Cambridge-based Massachusetts Institute of Technology, award aid based only on financial need. Less selective nonprofit colleges often offer tuition reductions and merit aid to lure students to fill their seats.
In a perverse way, these institutions are recognizing that there is excess demand for a degree from an institution perceived to be excellent, a point we have long emphasized here.
Colleges use merit aid for talented middle- and upper-income students because it is less costly than pursuing similar prospects from poor families, said Catharine Hill, Vassar’s president. Enrolling low-income students costs schools money because they are giving up a spot for those who can pay full freight -- or close to it.

“Unfortunately this kind of choice further contributes to the income inequality that has increased significantly in the United States over the last three or four decades,” Hill said in an e-mail. “Our nation’s commitment to equal opportunity and social mobility is at risk.”
The commitment, if in fact there is such a thing as a national commitment, is at risk for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the continued failure of the common schools in low-income neighborhoods.  A related Bloomberg column by Michael Petrilli gets it.
A huge proportion of this $40 billion annual federal investment is flowing to people who simply aren’t prepared to do college-level work. And this is perverting higher education’s mission, suppressing completion rates and warping the country’s K-12 system.

About two-thirds of low-income community-college students -- and one-third of poor students at four-year colleges -- need remedial (aka “developmental”) education, according to Complete College America, a nonprofit group. But it’s not working: Less than 10 percent of students who start in remedial education graduate from community college within three years, and just 35 percent of remedial students earn a four-year degree within six years.
The policy is not working, and the responsibility for the policy not working rests with the supply chain.
To be considered successful, the high schools serving these young people would need to get their college-bound students to a college-ready level, not just get them to graduation. They might offer more college-prep courses, especially for those pupils with the most promise, and make sure the teachers are up to the task.

Likewise, state officials concerned about college completion would be prodded to ensure that their high schools produce college-ready graduates, maybe boosting graduation standards accordingly. Better yet, they might start to include college matriculation and graduation rates in their high-school accountability systems.

As for colleges, without a federal funding stream for remedial education, many would decide to become more selective, only admitting students who are ready for credit-bearing courses.

This would probably raise the academic tenor of the institution, for students and professors alike. And with fewer students using Pell aid, we could afford to make each grant more generous, removing financial barriers that force well-prepared low-income students to leave before graduation, or not to come at all.

In sum, disqualifying the use of Pell grants for remedial education would substantially reduce the gap between the number of students entering higher education and the number completing degrees.
'Tis a consummation devoutly to be wished.

Where the article falls short is in praying for pre-college job training, or on-the-job training for entry level workers. That is not an alternative to toughness at the college admissions office cascading to toughness at the high school and before.  It is a by-product.  It's likely the case that today's disengaged high school junior is a risk to himself and everybody else on the shop floor, in the warehouse, or at the deep-fryer.

14.6.13

FIFTY YEARS IN STEAM.

Cedar Point is home to some of the most intense roller coasters on earth.  It's also home to the Blue Streak, for a while the last of the classic wooden out-and-backers on the Great Lakes, and to a live steam railroad.
Today, the park owns five steam locomotives and is one of the few amusement parks in the world that still uses coal-fired steam locomotives. The park uses four engines, No. 22 Myron H., No. 44 Judy K., No. 4 George R., and No. 1, which remains unnamed. The fifth engine, No. 3 Albert, built in 1910, was retired in 1991 and is now on display in front of the main train entrance.

The engines now make their home in an old-fashioned engine house at Cedar Point where a full-time railroad superintendent oversees their operation. Last year, more than 1.8 million guests traveled the railroad and, since 1963, more than 116 million guests have ridden the railroad.
There will be a special event on Saturday, 22 June, recognizing the railroad's longevity.

HILARIOUS.

Johns Hopkins political scientist Benjamin Ginsberg, who I credit with the expression "deanlets and deanlings", and whose work on administrative bloat in higher education previously led me to summarize, "The remedy is part Ko-Ko and part John Galt: identify the twenty percent of the deanlets and deanlings who would not be missed, and fire them", goes himself one better.
Dr. Benjamin Ginsberg, author of The Fall of the Faculty, says that many colleges and universities face the same administrative issues every day. By having one experienced group of administrators make decisions for hundreds of campuses simultaneously, MOOA (massive open online administrations) would help address these problems expeditiously and economically. Since MOOA would allow colleges to dispense with most of their own administrators, it would generate substantial cost savings in higher education.

"Studies show that about 30 percent of the cost increases in higher education over the past twenty-five years have been the result of administrative growth," Ginsberg noted. He suggested that MOOA can reverse this spending growth.  "Currently, hundreds, even thousands, of vice provosts and assistant deans attend the same meetings and undertake the same activities on campuses around the U.S. every day," he said.  "Imagine the cost savings if one vice provost could make these decisions for hundreds of campuses."
There's a lot of unconscious, or possibly uninformed, imitation out there already.  Perhaps there's some spare space in the National Security Administration's cloud to park all of this stuff in one, easily searchable, place.
Asked if this "one size fits all" administrative concept was realistic given the diversity of problems faced by thousands of schools, Ginsberg noted that a "best practices" philosophy already leads administrators to blindly follow one another's leads in such realms as planning, staffing, personnel issues, campus diversity, branding and, curriculum planning. The MOOA, said Ginsberg, would take "best practices" a step further and utilize it to realize substantial cost savings.

Ginsberg pointed to the realm of strategic planning. He said that thanks to to the best practices concept, hundreds of schools currently use virtually identical strategic plans. Despite the similarities, however, these plans cost each school hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars to develop. The MOOA would formalize the already extant cooperation by developing one plan that could be used by all colleges. Ginsberg estimates that had the MOOA planning concept been in use over the past ten years, schools would have saved more than a half billion dollars.  "One way to look at it," he said, "Is that through their tuitions students paid about $500 million for strategic planning that might have been used for curricular development or other educational purposes."  The MOOA plan, he declared, would end such wasteful duplication.
There's a deeper lesson in the emergence of groupthink implicit in "best practice" that  I wish to explore, but I'm saving it for another day.  Too nice a day to spend it all ranting at a keyboard.  For the present, let me cite all the Vision 2020 strategic plans in place before Northern Illinois University got around to one.
According to Ginsberg, another place where the MOOA concept is immediately relevant is "branding."  Following contemporary business models, hundreds of schools pay consulting firms hundreds of thousands of dollars to help them improve their "brand" identities. The results of these expensive individual efforts often seem quite similar. For example, after a major and costly rebranding effort, the University of Chicago School of Medicine declared that its brand would be "University of Chicago Medicine." After working with consultants, the Johns Hopkins Medical School decided that its brand would be "Johns Hopkins Medicine." And, the University of Pennsylvania Medical School was helped by its consultants to coin the brand, "Penn Medicine." A MOOA might have identified a brand that all medical schools would be happy to use, such as "[School's Name] Medicine."
No kidding.  Three manifestations of the same tagline, and ZooConn spent a lot of money redesigning their dog to come up with an animal that looks a lot like one Northern Illinois University gave up in its redesign.
Ginsberg has named his MOOA "Administeria," and plans to begin operations in early 2014.  He admits that widespread use of MOOAs could result in substantial unemployment among college bureaucrats. However, he noted that their skill sets make them qualified for work in such burgeoning industries as retail sales, hospitality, food services, event planning, and horticultural design.
Note -- nothing involving power tools.

DYSFUNCTION, WITHOUT KINSHIP TIES.

Thus the story line for more than a few academic novels.  Its absence, as far as the lobbying organization for business as usual in the academy is concerned, may be grounds for collegiality policies.
Clearly, [Southern Connecticut State deanlet Richard] Riccardi said, collegiality matters -- an idea outside research supports. Belonging to a collegial department figured higher in faculty satisfaction than did work and family policies, clear tenure policies and compensation, according to one cited study.
Makes sense: outside of a few top departments, the antagonism of a colleague is unlikely to result in any kind of intellectual development for the other members of the department. It's funny, though, how a study offered by administrators only hints at the forces at work to erode the very thing that's getting in the way of the faculty getting along.
As an adjective, “ 'collegial' indicates the way a group of colleagues take collective responsibility for their work together with minimal supervision from above.” Civility indicates politeness and courtesy, demonstrated by collaboration, speaking in a professional and respectful manner toward others and “stepping up” when needed, among other similar traits.
The past 20 years or so of higher education have witnessed the intrusion and expansion of supervision from above, all too often tossing onto the professors' desks responsibilities that have nothing to do with the higher learning.
Non-collegial faculty consistently fail to demonstrate these traits, [retired Southern Connecticut recreation and leisure studies professor Robert] Cipriano said. “It’s not a bad day. It’s consistent behavior, over and over again, when that person is labeled a ‘jerk.’ ” Riccardi said uncivil behavior is on the rise, due to economic uncertainty, the “classic” mandate to do more with less, and less motivated and prepared students.
Catch the elision of administrative bloat in that last sentence. That "classic mandate" is a gross misunderstanding of what productivity is all about; there's no attempt to unpackage more involvement of senior professors in the core courses from more forms to fill in for the various hand-holders in student "services", and more blanket electronic mails with lengthy attachments from headquarters; and those "less motivated and prepared students" are present because somebody somewhere either failed to motivate or to prepare them, or failed to deny their admission and call out the schools that didn't serve them properly.
Developing definitions is only half the battle, however; they then have to be shared with faculty as expectations in faculty handbooks, collective bargaining agreements and contracts, Cirpriano said. Discussions of collegiality should be proactive, not just reactive or punitive.
Process, nuance, buzzwords, another layer of management. Expect failure.

13.6.13

SENIOR SIGNING DAY.

It's usually a media event for the few kids who sign with a sports team.  Milwaukee's Hope Christian High School does the event way better.  As Charlie Sykes puts it, "No rent-a-jock athletic decision media event can compare to this."  Enjoy.

THE CASE FOR SENIOR NONCOMS.

Michael Nelson, professor of political science at Rhodes College in Virginia, calls out his senior colleagues for failing to staff a three-semester sequence on values as understood by Western religions.
Classicists regularly step outside their training to lead colloquiums on the Hebrew scriptures.  Philosophers strain to teach the Inferno. Theologians herd their students though the Iliad and the Republic. Political scientists struggle to make sense of Calvin.

Regrettably, however, a disappointingly small proportion of the Search faculty consists of full professors: only six out of the 30 who are teaching in the program this fall have attained that rank.  All too often, department chairs and other tenured senior faculty shunt the responsibility off on junior colleagues at the very stage of their careers when they most need to establish themselves in their disciplines and can least afford the time to get up to speed on entirely new subjects.

It amazes me how enthusiastically my young colleagues dive into Search anyway and how much satisfaction they derive from doing so — even though every minute that, say, an American historian spends learning about Christine de Pizan is a minute away from finishing that book on sexual politics in the Jackson administration.  We senior faculty who have risen as high in rank and job security as we can ought not to force our untenured junior colleagues into that position.
He's right, saddling new scholars with this assignment is faculty abuse. He doesn't recognize just how abusive it is.
I’m one of the six exceptions and have been for as long as I’ve been a full professor.  I think I can say, without fear of contradiction, that at the outset no one was more of an amateur than I — certainly in the modern sense of the word and, I like to think, in the original one as well. Fear of embarrassment prevents me from revealing the full extent of my ignorance when I began teaching Search in 1991. Suffice it to say that 20 years of studying the American presidency and related subjects had seldom led me into the by­ways of the Deuteronomistic history or the musings of the Epicureans.
Perhaps not, but 20 years in the classroom are the way to develop the professorial instinct to distinguish the ill-formed from the completely confused student questions, and the research savvy to make some of the connections back to that early philosophy.  There's a reason professors generally have the Ph.D. rather than some other sort of doctorate.
My first year teaching Search was the sort of experience that, while you are having it, you hope you will laugh about someday. I prepared feverishly for each class, trying to keep Jeroboam and Rehoboam straight and thumbing futilely through the Iliad to find the parts about Achilles' heel and the Trojan horse. Professors joke about staying a chapter ahead of their students, but what do you do when despite your best efforts they seem to stay at least a page ahead of you?

What you do is manage as best you can and treasure the odd mo­ment when it seems that perhaps you belong at the head of the table after all. I vividly remember the joy I took when, as a political sci­entist, I was able to offer insights into Achilles, Odysseus, and Aeneas that might not have occurred to a classicist, and even resulted in articles in two political science journals.

You also revel in your status as a fellow searcher with your students. One of our goals in the course is to encourage students to take serious­ly their own searches for meaning, and one of the things we always tell them in furtherance of that goal is that the faculty are searching with them.  That’s especially true when we annually read and reread works that have endured through the centuries because they speak to people differently at different stages of life.
Precisely. And it's a task better entrusted to more experienced faculty, for the same reason the recruit's first encounter with the military is a senior noncom.  (Yeah, I'm repeating myself, but no matter how many times I explain this, some goldbrick figures out how to screw it up.)
The lesson for senior faculty in all disciplines, I think, is that any of us are capable of teaching in courses like Search and that those who choose not to do so are cheating themselves by not taking the plunge, as well as relying too much on our junior colleagues.  After all, the issues that engage students as they read these works are the issues that engage the amateur even more than the specialist.

As for the senior faculty who have used their secure status to burrow deeper into their specializations rather than stretch out — well, if my experience is any guide, they would be personally enriched beyond measure.  They’re missing a chance to learn from the works they teach, from their colleagues in other disciplines, and even from their students.

The lesson for the institution is to encourage senior faculty to participate, starting with a year of partial course relief in return for sitting in on colleagues’ versions of the course.  At my dream version of Rhodes, being invited to teach in Search would be regarded by senior faculty as something to aspire to, a crown to one’s career.  Retiring without having done so would be regarded as a mark of incompleteness, even inadequacy.
I like it. Puts to shame most of the silliness that comes from the offices of faculty development.

Let's get real radical: nobody gets to screen for dean, provost, or president, without first having taught in a meaningful core sequence like Search.

12.6.13

LONDON'S LAW

In a Minding the Campus essay, retired NYU professor Herbert London contemplates the bitter fruits of access in higher education, irrespective of motivation or content.
The net effect is that many unqualified students enroll and rigorous academic standards have suffered. Instruction gravitates to the level of visible ability, thereby lowering standards across the board. Hence, easy money yields less intelligence than would otherwise be the case.

Yes, almost every professor over 50 would agree with this proposition, but it cannot be said. Nor is it easy to claim college isn't for everyone. It isn't, but try telling that to grandma who wants to see a grandchild with parchment in hand. This condition alone explains in large part why a nation with a 7.5 percent unemployment rate will soon have 1.5 million well paid computer engineering jobs left unfilled. We don't produce students with the skills for these positions; we don't maintain rigorous standards and we spend too much for too little received in the way of performance outcomes.
Thus do universities fail at their mission.

THE CASE FOR MARKET TESTS.

Last fall, Sarah Kliff at The Washington Post produced charts alleging excess expenditures in the neighborhood of $750bn on unnecessary health care.
You can see there are a whole bunch of sources for unnecessary spending that range from inefficient services to excess services and administrative costs.
Let's look at this followup and then play "Find The Missing Argument".
Obamacare doesn’t seem to do much to solve any of these problems. Reforms like these would make more sense.
The reforms referred to are procedural and organizational reforms. There's some of that in Obamacare, although the possibility that Obamacare serves as a lame stalking horse for single payer continues to rattle around in my mind.  Nowhere, though, is anybody proposing that patients pay their providers more directly for services.  Thus there's less hope of markets discovering prices.

TWO IN THE TOP TEN.

A panel of ESPN sports pundits identifies the twenty greatest coaches in the NFL.

At number 1, Vince Lombardi, with titles in 1961, 1962, 1965, 1966, and 1967.  "I'm going to be on your ass because you need to be pushed."

At number 10, Curly Lambeau, with titles in 1929, 1930, 1931, 1936, 1939, and 1944.  One other coach also has six titles, George Halas at number 4.  Bear fans: throw six quarters in the hopper and I'll add the link.

I'm slowly modifying a Packer flag in the style of a Civil War regimental flag, with the title years expressed in iron-on numerals.  The only other years I have to add since 1967 are 1996 and 2010.

It's no wonder that when Packer fans change a lightbulb, they first have to talk about how much better the old lightbulb was.

OPTING OUT.

A higher income raises the opportunity cost of goofing off.  It also permits its earner to purchase the same bundle of goods and have more time to enjoy it.  Come summertime, it seems necessary to review these ideas.  Maybe it's not about economic theory, but in the dead of winter Via Media suggested that employers consider how incentives matter.
Not surprisingly, a large salary is at the top of every employee’s wish list, with 88 percent of respondents ranking it as a key factor in job satisfaction. But beating out “being able to make a difference” and “challenging work” was a flexible schedule, with 59 percent naming it a key perk.
Sometimes, it's in the aggregation of individual decisions that social change takes place, Juliet Schor's efforts to reiterate traditional arguments from the left.
The first benefit of hours reductions is a significant reduction in unemployment. Maintaining balance in the labour market has always been through reduction in hours of work. Without the advances of a shorter workweek, vacation time, earlier retirement and later labour force entrance, the economies of the OECD would never have attained the "golden age" of high employment that prevailed after the 1930s depression. Between 1870 and 1970, hours of work fell roughly in half. These countries have re-balanced the labour market by re-distributing work to make its allocation fairer. We need shorter hours because it is unrealistic to count on growth in GDP to absorb all this current and future "surplus" labour. Rich countries never grow that rapidly. So the austerity economics that says work longer and retire later has it exactly wrong.benefit of hours reductions is a significant reduction in unemployment. Maintaining balance in the labour market has always been through reduction in hours of work. Without the advances of a shorter workweek, vacation time, earlier retirement and later labour force entrance, the economies of the OECD would never have attained the "golden age" of high employment that prevailed after the 1930s depression. Between 1870 and 1970, hours of work fell roughly in half. These countries have re-balanced the labour market by re-distributing work to make its allocation fairer. We need shorter hours because it is unrealistic to count on growth in GDP to absorb all this current and future "surplus" labour. Rich countries never grow that rapidly. So the austerity economics that says work longer and retire later has it exactly wrong.
Note: a secular decline in working hours beginning in that nasty Gilded Age of capitalist expansion and the Long Depression.  I'm not so sure how reduced working hours necessarily reduce energy use, as all that increased employment will bring increased commuting in its train.  The third benefit she claims, though, is pure income effect.
The second benefit of shorter hours is the time itself. As a growing movement of "downshifters" attests, short hour lifestyles allow people to build stronger social connections, maintain their physical and mental health, and engage in activities that are creative and meaningful. Time is especially valuable in rich countries where material needs can be met for everyone, and deprivation is caused by mal-distribution of income and wealth.
I'm surprised a Guardian essay doesn't include a gripe gripe about how in those rich countries people with additional leisure time might be buying even more toys or otherwise engaging in socially unproductive activities. Maybe getting the incentives to align is more important.  Reclaiming Our Time illustrates one way in which that alignment is occurring.
For those of us working too many hours, one way to take back our time is to substitute future raises with equivalent increases in vacation hours. Many employers are willing to make this substitution because it costs them no more, and for a budget-constrained organization, giving raises in vacation hours may be easier to handle than monetary raises. Surveys indicate that 85 percent of people who have chosen to work fewer hours are very happy with the decision.
The key, though, is for employers and employees alike to treat vacation as vacation, none of this checking your smart-phone for work messages every half hour, into the night, ad infinitum.

The new consensus from the left appears to be the 21 hour workweek.
Twenty-one hours is close to the average that people of working age in Britain spend in paid work and just a little more than the average spent in unpaid work. Experiments with shorter working hours suggest that they can be popular where conditions are stable and pay is favourable, and that a new standard of 21 hours could be consistent with the dynamics of a decarbonised economy.

There is nothing natural or inevitable about what’s considered ‘normal’ today. Time, like work, has become commodified – a recent legacy of industrial capitalism. Yet the logic of industrial time is out of step with today’s conditions, where instant communications and mobile technologies bring new risks and pressures, as well as opportunities. The challenge is to break the power of the old industrial clock without adding new pressures, and to free up time to live sustainable lives.
Is that the same industrial clock under which the working day dwindled in length prior to widespread union organising and the Fair Labor Standards Act?

To steal borrow an Insta Pundit line, all is proceeding as I have foreseen.

11.6.13

BLACK IRISH.

It's not clear whether Joan Walsh's What's the Matter with White People? Why We Long for a Golden Age That Never Was is an attempt to shore up MSNBC watchers, get the last word in a family argument, or disguise an autobiography as journalistic sociology.  Book Review No. 10 will explain each of those assertions.

MASS PRODUCTION AT HOME.

At the recent Circus Modelers convention in Baraboo, one of the modelers was demonstrating a 3-D printer.


This 3-D printer uses a roll of plastic material that's laid down only in the project itself.  Some of the items it previously produced are available for sale.  There are wagons available in a variety of scales.


It takes a few hours for the figure of an air-calliope player to emerge.  The printer, however, sells for about $1600.  I don't know what design program the operator uses.


A finished air-calliope player (1/24 actual size) is for sale.  In the background is a 1/48 wagon and team with a rubber mule assisting.  Note at lower left a finished 1/87 air calliope wagon and team.

WHY IT MATTERS.

Something is wrong in higher education when a student who applies to unnamed highly regarded universities views acceptances by Penn State and Michigan as somehow failing, or being hard done by.  It's up to the student to make the best of the situation.
Rather than obsessing about our school’s rank, we should work to prove ourselves worthy of the education that we will receive. The point of getting a college education is to prepare oneself to be an engaged citizen. We have to make sure to do our part for society. Don’t dwell on rejection: make the most of where you end up.
It's also up to the universities to challenge their matriculants: with excess demand for slots in the hundred institutions claiming to be among the top 20, there's no deficiency in getting a Harvard, or an Urbana, reject.