29.8.13

THIRTEENTH GRADE.

Book Review No. 25 takes us to Midwest University, where sociologists Elizabeth Armstrong and Laura Hamilton did fieldwork among the Ashleys in a party dormitory.  They began their work investigating a number of more conventional feminist themes, then discovered that they had enough material for an investigation of the political economy of higher education.  That research yields Paying for the Party: How College Maintains Inequality.

JOAN ROBINSON, REDUX

On numerous occasions, she said, without necessarily endorsing capitalism, "The only thing worse than being exploited by a capitalist is not being exploited by one."

Ed Rogers at Post Partisan, in noting the limits to interventionist macroeconomics, makes a similar observation. "[T]he only thing worse than trickle-down economics is no trickle-down economics."

I'm working through some analysis that suggests the reason quantitative easing isn't triggering a hyperinflation is the small scale of the easing compared to the volume of quasi-money that used to be circulating.

MOTES AND BEAMS.

Katrina Vanden Heuvel prays that activists Leave Russia Alone.
Unless we take the time to understand the reasons behind the ascendance of hyper-conservative traditionalist values in Russia and then develop a more strategic response, we may instead strengthen the already powerful nationalist forces in the country.
The same way Nation mockery of such forces in the United States simply gives their advocates more material?

27.8.13

THE DECLINE OF DECLINISM.

Aaron "Captain Capitalism" Carey's recent Enjoy the Decline: Accepting and Living with the Death of the United States goes beyond lamenting the loss of The America That Worked(TM) to offering suggestions to readers about how to make the most of the disaster that is to come.

Book Review No. 24 suggests that even declinist writing isn't what it used to be.  As I was reading Decline, I recalled that Robert Ringer's How You Can Find Happiness During the Collapse of Western Civilization was somewhere in the Cold Spring Shops library.

THE VICTIM WITHDRAWS HIS SANCTION.

Merrimack College sociologist Michael DeCesare pronounces the word.
More and more is being demanded of professors. We are told that we must standardize our syllabi and textbook selections; that we must satisfy those aspects of teaching on which the institution was “dinged” by the accrediting body; that we must earn approval from the local institutional review board for any and all research projects, even those that do not involve human subjects; that we must assess virtually everything that we and our students do; and that we must [insert your favorite personal example here]. In short, we must do whatever administrators want us to do.

All of these administrative “musts” come on top of the traditional, truly important job requirements in the areas of instruction, scholarship, and service; namely, teach effectively, present and publish important research, and serve our institution, discipline, and profession. The list of additional “musts,” which seems to be generated annually by administrators, cuts deeply across all three of the traditional areas of faculty responsibility. What eludes most faculty members is that administrators’ requests are often only that—requests. They are rarely “musts.”

“Just say no,” therefore, seems an apt motto for every local, faculty-led revolt against administrative/corporate thought and behavior.

Admittedly, refusing a request from a dean, a provost, or a president is difficult for some tenured professors and seldom advisable for probationary and contingent faculty. Other means of less visible and less vocal resistance are, however, available to everyone. In some ways, in fact, contingent faculty, more than probationary faculty, can effectively gum up the increasingly complex administrative works.

But it is tenured faculty members with whom I am concerned here. Put simply, we need to refuse to submit to ridiculous, arbitrary, and just plain wrong-headed administrative demands much more often than we currently do. We must realize that just saying “no” is an important action, both symbolically and practically. On a symbolic level, it conveys the crucial message to less outspoken faculty, as well as to probationary and contingent faculty, that while administrators are free to ask us to do this, that, or the other thing, we are just as free to balk, hesitate, and object. That realization alone is an important message for our faculty colleagues to internalize. In practical terms, simply saying “no” more often should stunt the rapid growth of the list of administrative demands placed upon faculty; ultimately, refusing to comply might even shorten that list, and reduce the time and energy we devote to nonsensical “work.” Saying “no,” in other words, is a simple and direct tactic of opposition in what increasingly resembles a war with administrators.
Professor Rees revises and extends.
More bureaucratic costs, of course, mean less resources for actual education.

Since professors are the ones on the front lines of education, we’ll be the ones held to account for our universities’ bureaucratic failures despite our opposition to their creation in the first place. Since we’re in a lose/lose situation anyways, we might as well get used to resisting now.
Do you want to know who is John Galt?  "The man who retires from public life, to think, but not to share his thoughts-the man who chooses to spend his years in the obscurity of menial employment, keeping to himself the fire of his mind, never giving it form, expression or reality, refusing to bring it into a world he despises-the man who is defeated by revulsion, the man who renounces before he has started, the man who gives up rather than give in, the man who functions at a fraction of his capacity, disarmed by his longing for an ideal he has not found-they are on strike, on strike against unreason, on strike against your world and your values."

Withdraw your sanction.  Withdraw your support.

UNIVERSITIES ARE FAILING AT THEIR MISSION.

The exit examination: coming soon to a university near you.
"For too long, colleges and universities have said to the American public, to students and their parents, 'Trust us, we're professional. If we say that you're learning and we give you a diploma it means you're prepared,' " said Michael Poliakoff, vice president of policy for the American Council of Trustees and Alumni. "But that's not true."

The new voluntary test, which the nonprofit behind it calls CLA +, represents the latest threat to the fraying monopoly that traditional four-year colleges have enjoyed in defining what it means to be well educated.

Even as students spend more on tuition—and take on increasing debt to pay for it—they are earning diplomas whose value is harder to calculate. Studies show that grade-point averages, or GPAs, have been rising steadily for decades, but employers feel many new graduates aren't prepared for the workforce.

Meanwhile, more students are taking inexpensive classes such as Massive Open Online Courses, or MOOCs, but have no way to earn a meaningful academic credential from them.

HNTB Corp., a national architectural firm with 3,600 employees, see value in new tools such as the CLA +, said Michael Sweeney, a senior vice president. Even students with top grades from good schools may not "be able to write well or make an argument," he said. "I think at some point everybody has been fooled by good grades or a good resume."

The new test "has the potential to be a very powerful tool for employers," said Ronald Gidwitz, a board member of the Council for Aid to Education, the group behind the test, and a retired chief executive of Helene Curtis, a Chicago-based hair-care company that was bought by Unilever in 1996.

Only one in four employers think that two- and four-year colleges are doing a good job preparing students for the global economy, according to a 2010 survey conducted for the Association of American Colleges and Universities.
Betsy Newmark suggests that the test be available to anyone of working age.
I just wonder if employers would be willing to look at the grade an applicant could score on the CLA even if the applicant had never attended college. If the test really tells the employer something, perhaps it could be a way for those seeking jobs to bypass college and still demonstrate their readiness for employment.
I suspect Griggs v. Duke Power gets in the way of such testing, although the evolution of credentialing as a legal screening device that deteriorates into an aptitude test because of the failure of the credentialing institutions to do their work properly is funny.

Professor Mead suggests that such a test might be a way of breaking the false signal a prestige degree confers.
And with a strong performance on this test, gifted students from a small state school could better compete with students from Harvard and Yale when they enter the job market. As always, much of the success will come down to the details of this particular test, but it’s a promising beginning.
Yes, provided the small state schools recognize that they are in the same business as Harvard and Yale.  The difficult work, though, is in fixing the model in which "access" means Distressed Material accepted at the loading dock, "assessment" is the denial of market tests (the exit examination strongly suggesting that even the name institutions are failing), "remediation" lowers the bar for everybody, and "retention" is about conferring degrees, whether or not there is anything to the degrees.

Against that background, teaching to the test is probably going to look like less work to the legions of deanlets and deanlings that will have to implement it.

DEFLECTING THE DECLINE.

On Sunday, American Flyer and Chicago Cub enthusiast George Will describes an also-ran that's less-than-lovable.
You have a city, 139 square miles, you can graze cattle in vast portions of it, dangerous herds of feral dogs roam in there. 3 percent of fourth graders reading at the national math standards, 47 percent of Detroit residents are functionally illiterate, 79 percent of Detroit children are born to unmarried mothers. They don't have a fiscal problem, Steve, they have a cultural collapse.
Katrina Vanden Heuvel offered a different interpretation.
I find that really insulting to the people of Detroit. I think there is a serious discussion about the future of cities in a time of deindustrialization. But in many ways, Detroit has been a victim of market forces.
Richard Longworth was not on the panel. That victimization was with the complicity of the commercial and political establishments of the Rust Belt.
Mr Longworth argues that both leaders and the Midwestern work force took the persistence of broadly shared prosperity based on manufacturing and farming for granted. Because those lines of business were subject to business cycles, sometimes of great amplitude, many interpreted the turmoil in autos and steel that began in the late 1970s as simply one more nasty recession (to some extent it was) that would pass (but some things changed permanently). Those lines of business enjoyed protection from the rest of the world: with the full power of the government in the case of farming, by default in the case of autos and steel, with that era of broadly shared prosperity the prosperity of a temporarily closed market extracting rents from others. (But if you say that too loudly, people will squawk.)
The next day, Ed Schultz returned to daytime television with a segment devoted to "What an Evil Person George Will Is."  Among the ripostes, the ever-prissy Joan Walsh noted that bastardy rates among whites have reached the level the Moynihan Report viewed with alarm among blacks, early in the Great Society.  Yes.  "One could as easily argue that a crass and degraded popular culture, again, long before Jerry Springer and Jersey Shore, meant more guardrails removed from people who might not have been properly socialized to the guardrails by parents or schools."  In such a crass and degraded popular culture, there's more to poverty and inequality than the machinations of hedge-fund managers.

WORK IS WHAT WE DO BETWEEN MEETINGS.

Bardiac explains.
It's the other people at these meetings that I learn from.

I learn from their questions that their departments are a whole lot of dysfunctional messiness compared to mine.

I learn that some people are much more focused on preparing for really rare problems than I am.

I learned that I can like and enjoy a colleague away from work, but would be driven nuts by that person if I had to be in department meetings with them.
That focus on preparation for rare problems has to be a form of status display, something like a taxation specialist asking about the role of taxes at every workshop, and straining at gnats appears to be learned behavior for academicians and administrators alike.

DUMB.

Never mind Miley Cyrus. Subaru are apparently selling a lot of cars with oddball advertising. There's a particularly strange one, "Redressing Room", that Funny Commercials World likes.
The spot is part of the latest amusing campaign, which promotes Suabru Forester 2014. The video features mom and her adorable little mischievous son. He throws his clothes out the window on the way to the kindergarten. On the daily basis! Fortunately, the spacious car enables her to be prepared for anything. A nice song “There’s Nothing Nothing Nothing” by Caroline Williams plays in the background.
Ad Week's Adfreak characterizes the campaign as sweetness overload.

Never mind that the commercial highlights the lack of a driver-controlled window override in the Subaru product from which the young hellion pitches his shirt.  Never mind that there's no evidence of the young hellion's father in the commercial.  Never mind that by showcasing the car as having sufficient capacity to carry a stockpile of identical bundles of replacement clothes, the company is portraying the mother as an enabler.

Before I composed this post, I did some research.  No evidence that the young hellion is exhibiting symptoms of some new "developmental disorder" (or whatever language the enablers are using these days).

And yet the advertising campaign seems to be working for Subaru.

What is the world coming to?  What it deserves.

25.8.13

THE ELITE CLOWN CAR.

David Gelernter's America-Lite: How Imperial Academia Dismantled Our Culture (and Ushered In the Obamacrats) had the potential to offer a distinguished Yale professor of long standing a chance to critically reflect on the mutation of higher education, particularly at the top of the U.S. News pecking order,  from a finishing school for scions of the Great Four Hundred who you might not want to entrust with a steel company or a bank, to a certification agency for a meritocracy that really isn't.  That's serious work, and, given  what I understand about Professor Gelernter, a task that might have offered a differing perspective from that recently offered by the much younger Christopher Hayes in Twilight of the Elites.

Book Review No. 23 suggests that the intellectual potential of America-Lite is diminished by a polemical style suggestive either of score-settling with colleagues, or with editing to appeal to higher education's detractors.

THE INFORMATION CONTENT OF PRICES.

A higher posted toll on a High Occupancy Toll lane induces more Minnesota drivers to pay the toll and use the lane.
Since the HOT lanes in Minnesota (and elsewhere) only show drivers the toll charge, as opposed to how much traffic is ahead, drivers may have come to see the toll as "a signal of downstream congestion."

That's a pretty creative solution to the problem of limited information.
The article doesn't mention whether Minnesota expressways have those "Current Time To ..." signs popular around Chicago and Milwaukee. The underlying problem, though, is getting to work on time without having to shave faster or gulp the coffee.
HOT lane drivers may simply place a higher value on their time than the population at large. An even more tempting reason is that they place a very high premium on the reliability of their commute.

In that sense, the basic question faced by HOT lane drivers every day — to pay or not to pay — may in fact be replacing a far more difficult one: when do I have to leave the house to be on time for work?
Put another way, the presence of a HOT lane gives a commuter the option of leaving at the same time each day and still reaching work. On days the price is low, the commuter interprets the price as a noisy signal of an unvexed commute in the subsidized lanes.  The option is out of the money.  When the price is high, the option is in the money.

TRAFFIC TAMING.

On the East Side of Milwaukee, eateries are obtaining additional space for outside dining by converting parking spaces to parklets.  In view of the immoderate weather during winter, which used to be defined as {Year}\{July, August}, the table space is on removable wooden decks, and the heavy planters that offer a modicum of protection to inattentive or Illinois drivers can be removed when leaf-sweeping and plowing season approach.

HOME TOWN CALLS.

Last year's replacement referees might simply have been less subtle at it.


Nailed to Newmark's Door, quasi-scholarly analysis.
Players aren’t put off by the barracking of the home fans, but the umpires are. It makes sense when you think about it – if tens of thousands of semi-hysterical people were scrutinising your performance, you’d want to try to please them if you could, if only subconsciously. The away players have nothing to gain from the home fans – if they do well they’ll get abuse, if they do badly they’ll get mockery. But the officials can make the home crowd happy and then surreptitiously bask in the warm glow. Away players can’t alleviate the pressure of being in a hostile environment. Referees can.
When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth. "[The authors of the study] used the numbers to make it look like it was happening" is a call for more careful analysis of the numbers, which the reviewer may or may not have done.

DROWNING YOUR SORROWS.

Solace in the bottom of a bottle is no longer an option at the University of Idaho.
University of Idaho freshmen will face immediate expulsion if their grade-point average is below 1.0 at the end of fall semester -- and whether or not alcohol is to blame, it's part of an effort to curb underage drinking.
Whether the bottle is the cause, or symptom of some other malady, remains for further research.
“While they were physically here on campus, they were not engaging in the academic process, and conversely, they were often involved with conduct issues,” often stemming from alcohol and substance abuse, [dean of students Bruce] Pitman said. “So we connected the dots with our other concerns about campus safety and thought that we ought to try to have a different strategy related to our academic regulations.”

In the past three or four years, the university has seen “a rising tide of issues and incidents,” including hospitalizations, traffic accidents and a few students falling from roofs. In that time, about 115 students have fallen into the 0.0-1.0 GPA range each year.

“Given the corollary connection between academic performance and high-risk drinking behaviors,” [Bently assistant director for wellness Jessica] Greher-Traue said, “one might hypothesize that asking students who are struggling academically to take time off may also eliminate some of the highest-risk drinkers within a given population.”
It might be wise to encourage students who are struggling academically to take some time off, or to consider a different career, even in those circumstances where something else -- the Therapeutic Industry's Canon of Excuses -- might be the primary cause of the student's disengagement.  Raising the stakes for weak students is a desirable outcome, particularly when beer-'n-circus becomes hazardous to your health.  The Chicago Tribune's editorial board reminds the party animals that there are legal consequences.
Let a fellow student or friend go without medical treatment after he or she reaches what the Bogenberger lawsuit calls "insensate intoxication" and you may be accused of failing to intervene when you could have. The fact that you didn't plan the evening, buy the liquor or give the orders may not save you: Much as criminal law treats the getaway driver as harshly as it treats the robbers who were inside the bank, joint actions create joint liabilities that can play out harshly for defendants in civil suits.

Those of us who have college students or other young people in our lives cannot urge them too often to make good choices — the hundreds, maybe thousands, of good choices that will allow them and their friends to survive into productive adulthoods.

Nor can we tell them too often that bad choices leave some people dead — and many others with lifelong consequences.
Some activities are subject to a steeper grading curve than anything in college. People do judge you by the company you keep.  There is a permanent record, and negative entries are harder to expunge.

Welcome back to college.

19.8.13

ADVANTAGE, COLD SPRING SHOPS.

It's easy being a prophet when one pays careful attention to the fundamentals.  Wisconsin's Department of Transportation continues to work on upgrades to its existing Amtrak routes.
Trains from Milwaukee to Chicago and St. Paul, Minn., may be faster and more frequent in the near future, as Amtrak and transportation departments in Wisconsin and neighboring states study the possibility of expanding service on regional routes.

Encouraged by ridership that has doubled over the past decade and standing-room-only conditions on some trains, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation has plans to add three express trains to the Hiawatha route, boosting the number of trips a day from seven to 10.

The express trains would skip local stops, serving only Union Station in Chicago, Mitchell International Airport and downtown Milwaukee, and reach a maximum speed of 90 miles per hour, compared with 79 mph now, decreasing travel times by 11 minutes.

"The department really feels that people are becoming aware of the Hiawatha service and its convenience, and are looking for alternative modes of transportation," said DOT spokesman Brock Bergey.
That's converting 89 minute trains to 78 minute trains. The Cold Spring Shops Free Rein to 110 campaign involves spending additional money on signalling and crossing protection, compared to boosting train speeds to 90 (yes, yes, the Hiawatha used to Reduce to 90 for Rondout and the State Line curve).  "The Cold Spring Shops position, however, is that incremental improvements -- where incremental can mean getting rid of those post-war Interstate Commerce Commission regulations that ended 110 mph running on block-signalled railroads with jointed rail -- will build ridership in such a way that subsequent upgrades to bullet trains make more sense."
In a 2011 survey by the Texas Transportation Institute, more than half of Hiawatha passengers on weekdays were commuting or making a business trip, while about three in four weekend passengers were visiting family or taking a trip for fun. A significant number of passengers, 14%, said that if the train weren't available, they would not have made a trip. Avoiding highway congestion was the primary reason people took the train.

A recently completed project has paved the way for added trains by making it easier for passenger and freight trains to bypass one another on the tracks and stay on time, Bergey said. New crossovers, which allow trains to switch tracks, and other infrastructure went into operation in January, according to Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd., a publicly traded freight company that owns the tracks.
Let's hope that the added schedules permit shifting one of the 89 minute trains ... 85 minute trains? to late evening, for those Summerfest or Lyric Opera or just out for dinner on the Mag Mile or in East Towne to go on a date and return the same evening.

But wait, there's more ...
Ridership growth is also driving plans for a second daily train on the Empire Builder route, which grew by 16% from 2011 to 2012, that links Chicago, Milwaukee, the Twin Cities and stops to the west, including Seattle, Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said. Amtrak is conducting the study.

"A second round-trip is a significant improvement for passengers by providing more same-day trips without overnight stays and by making it more likely our scheduled arrivals and departure times meet their travel needs," Magliari said.

A draft of a feasibility study should be available in December, and would focus on adding a second train at current speeds, 79 mph. It would terminate in St. Cloud, Minn., instead of continuing on to Seattle as the existing route does.
A Minnesota planner refers to the St. Cloud train as a "baby step" toward increased service.  Or toward restoring what used to be. "Consider a network consisting of Chicago - Madison - Portage - LaCrosse - Rochester, Chicago - Milwaukee - Portage - LaCrosse - St. Paul, possibly continuing to St. Cloud, Fargo, and Grand Forks." Leave the Chicago - Madison - Portage for another day.  I give you the April 10, 1974 Amtrak system timetable.  Westbound, the North Coast Hiawatha operated daily Chicago - Minneapolis, and tri-weekly west of there, leaving Chicago at 10.30, Minneapolis (the now-demolished station) 7.00, calling at St. Cloud 8.15 and arriving Fargo at 11.20.  The Empire Builder operated via Willmar in those days, leaving Chicago at 2.30, Minneapolis at 10.45, and arriving Fargo 3.25 and Minot at 9.00.  Eastbound the Builder left Minot at 7.55, Fargo 1.25, overnight to Minneapolis with a 7.00 departure, and arriving Chicago 2.50.  The triweekly Hiawatha left Fargo at 6.40, St. Cloud 10.15, made a 45 minute stop at Minneapolis (on the days it operated, it switched in additional coaches there), leaving at 12.30 with an 8.20 arrival in Chicago.  Make use of some of that faster track on the Old Milwaukee Road and these schedules can be tightened.
Several groups in favor of expanding the Hiawatha and Empire Builder routes say both lines have had proven success and would be a boon for the economy.

The added trips on the Hiawatha, in particular, would be positive for economic development, strengthening a vision of southeastern Wisconsin, Chicago and northwestern Indiana as one mega-metro area, said Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce spokeswoman Julie Granger.

"The stronger connections we have to what is a huge thriving city can only benefit the region," Granger said.
Frequency, connectivity, convenient times, reliable schedules.  Build it and the riders come.

PLUS CA CHANGE.

The quip about higher education's monoculture used to be "Academics claim to be receptive to differing points of view until they discover there is one."  Still true.
While they claim to place a high value on diversity and multiculturalism, they are often unprepared or even unwilling to accept the diversity of thought that naturally flows from those things. If universities truly wish their student bodies, faculty, and staff to represent a variety of people from different backgrounds and different parts of the world, they must also accept the differing worldviews that follow.
Or cease to become institutions of higher learning.
Disqualifying people from speaking or serving at a university because they hold views outside the American university mainstream turns what is supposed to be a marketplace of ideas into an echo chamber where no one actually has their views challenged. Academia may be able to hobble along like this for a while, but let’s not fool ourselves into believing it’s not a serious problem. If universities want to remain actual centers of education in the long term, they must stop being afraid of genuine debate and disagreement.
What I neglected to tell you, until now, is that these recent PC atrocities were committed against people of color.

THE LIMITS OF VANGUARDISM.

It's not surprising that a longtime libertarian would see encouraging signs in the current political environment.
Libertarianism is on the march. From the rapid rise to prominence of first-term Senator Rand Paul to the state-level movements to legalize gay marriage and marijuana, the philosophy of fiscal conservatism, social liberalism, and restrained foreign policy seems to be gaining currency in American politics. But it's nothing new, of course.
Indeed. Try freedom.
Skepticism about power and about government, individualism, the idea that we're all equal under the law, free enterprise, getting ahead in the world through your own hard work -- all of those ideas are very fundamentally American. Obviously, from a libertarian point of view, America nonetheless has done a whole lot of things, from slavery to Obamacare, that offend some number of those libertarian values, but the core libertarian attitude is still there. And a lot of times when the government suddenly surges in size, scope, or power, those libertarian attitudes come back to the fore.

I think that's what you're seeing. I think you're seeing a growth of self-conscious libertarianism. The end of the Bush years and the beginning of the Obama years really lit a fire under the always-simmering small-government attitudes in America.
The Cold Spring Shops position is that collective might is an illusion.  Today's readings, though, suggest that the illusion isn't limited to libertarians.

Start with Martin Gurri, theorizing about why the self-styled progressives are out of ideas.
A progressive today might be defined as someone raging against the status quo while rejecting the possibility of positive change.

This dilemma is rooted in a historical event of cataclysmic magnitude, which naturally passed unnoticed by our thinking classes. I refer to the collapse of the dream of revolution.

A generation ago, to be progressive meant to have faith in revolution. All of the left’s programs and policies aimed a single transcendent purpose: to make the world anew. The debate was whether revolution should be achieved violently, in what the French lustily called un grand soir — “one great night”—or, as the more inhibited Anglo-Saxons preferred, by means of incremental reforms. But the direction was the same, the orientation of change unproblematic. Between 1789 and 1989, faith in revolution inspired some of the finest minds and most atrocious acts in history.

That faith is now gone. I can’t think of a single progressive activist or intellectual with any following who believes that revolution is possible or even desirable. The world can’t be made anew.
That's about guillotines and gulags. Those of us with long memories remember how "got a problem, get a program" came undone in the Carter years. It's a lesson the hope and change crowd has to learn the hard way, apparently.

But even the true believers in vanguardism are having second thoughts.  I give you climate alarmist Bill McKibben.
It’s true, too, in the battle where I’ve spent most of my life: the fight to slow climate change and hence give the planet some margin for survival. We actually had a charismatic leader in Al Gore, but he was almost the exception that proved the rule. For one thing, a politician makes a problematic leader for a grassroots movement because boldness is hard when you still envision higher office; for another, even as he won the Nobel Prize for his remarkable work in spreading climate science, the other side used every trick and every dollar at their disposal to bring him down. He remains a vital figure in the rest of the world (partly because there he is perceived less as a politician than as a prophet), but at home his power to shape the fight has been diminished.

That doesn’t mean, however, that the movement is diminished.  In fact, it’s never been stronger. In the last few years, it has blocked the construction of dozens of coal-fired power plants, fought the oil industry to a draw on the Keystone pipeline, convinced a wide swath of American institutions to divest themselves of their fossil fuel stocks, and challenged practices like mountaintop-removal coal mining and fracking for natural gas. It may not be winning the way gay marriage has won, but the movement itself continues to grow quickly, and it’s starting to claim some victories.

That’s not despite its lack of clearly identifiable leaders, I think. It’s because of it.
Same-sex marriage is an expansion of freedom of contract, while much environmental policy-making is an infringement of freedom of contract. Try freedom. (And keep in mind that Al Gore is so charismatic his Secret Service code name is Al Gore.)  On the other hand, there's a lot an environmentally-minded consumer or entrepreneur can do while The Best And The Brightest dither and cavil and collect their consulting fees.
I’ve come to like the idea of capital L leaders less and less.  It seems to me to miss the particular promise of this moment: that we could conceive of, and pursue, movements in new ways.

For environmentalists, we have a useful analogy close at hand. We’re struggling to replace a brittle, top-heavy energy system, where a few huge power plants provide our electricity, with a dispersed and lightweight grid, where 10 million solar arrays on 10 million rooftops are linked together. The engineers call this “distributed generation,” and it comes with a myriad of benefits. It’s not as prone to catastrophic failure, for one. And it can make use of dispersed energy, instead of relying on a few pools of concentrated fuel. The same principle, it seems to me, applies to movements.
The essay goes on for some length, culminating in recognition of the principle of self-organization.
That won’t happen thanks to a paramount leader, or even dozens of them.  It can only happen with a spread-out and yet thoroughly interconnected movement, a new kind of engaged citizenry. Rooftop by rooftop, we’re aiming for a different world, one that runs on the renewable power that people produce themselves in their communities in small but significant batches. The movement that will get us to such a new world must run on that kind of power too.
Historiann finds a reason to be skeptical of technocrats imposing online courses on all students except those at the Ivies in a Michael Lind denunciation of Consensus Crisis.
I am not a populist by temperament. I respect academic training as well as expertise based on personal experience. I think that institutions are, or should be, less likely to make mistakes than individuals. I detest people who pose as “contrarians” for the sake of controversy. I would happily be an establishmentarian, if there were a U.S. establishment worth belonging to.

But the track record of what passes for the bipartisan elite in the U.S. in the last generation has been pretty poor. Instead of sober, dispassionate analysis of long-run trends, considered from the perspective of the nonpartisan national interest, the conventional wisdom among America’s movers and shakers has consisted of one hysterical fad after another.

The earliest I remember is the “energy crisis.” In the aftermath of the 1973 Arab oil embargo, it was the conventional wisdom that fossil fuel supplies were about to run out and that we faced a future of energy starvation. Then oil prices dropped in the 1980s, because of new energy finds and efficiency.

Around the same time, back in the 1970s, the consensus exaggerated Soviet power. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan — a desperate, defensive attempt to stem a wave of Islamist revolutions in Soviet central Asian republics — was portrayed by the right’s alarmists as part of a grand pincer movement around Africa or the Indian Ocean or whatever that could lead to Soviet world domination. A group called “Team B” — including many of the neoconservative foreign policy apparatchiks who would later work for George W. Bush — claimed that the CIA was underestimating Soviet power. After the Soviet Union disintegrated, it turned out that the CIA had actually underestimated the strain imposed on the Soviet economy by Soviet military spending.

Then a few years after the Berlin Wall fell, many of the same neoconservatives who claimed that the U.S. was on the verge of defeat by the Soviet Union proclaimed a “unipolar world” in which the U.S. was a “hyperpower.”
Got a problem? Get a program? Assemble the talking heads, fret about the latest "crisis" (an overused word, if ever there was one), speculate about its implications for process or the presidential race, bring in the experts, who are often the same experts that created the previous mess to clean up the current mess.  Mr Lind fears that some new crisis will lead to the same thing.
At the moment, fortunately, we are between ill-conceived elite fads in the U.S. But fashion abhors a vacuum. If experience is any guide, some new Big Idea that is at once fresh, seductive and wrong will soon emerge to excite the political class and the commentariat and become what every serious, respectable person believes — at least until it goes horribly wrong.

When it comes to the hype market, you will seldom err by betting against it.
On the other hand, now might be the time for emergent, decentralized thinking to fill in the voids left by the Fossilized Policy Wonks. (Hillary Clinton running against another Bush brother? Death duel of the dinosaurs, anyone?)

Try freedom.

18.8.13

RECRUITING THE NEXT GENERATION.

It's the middle of August, and Thomas the Tank Engine returns to the Illinois Railway Museum.


Captured from Spaulding Tower webcam.

GETTING THE MISSION STRAIGHT.

Book Review No. 22 is Matthew (Dean Dad) Reed's Confessions of a Community College Administrator.  The author is kind enough to acknowledge my influence.  Incentives matter.  I liked the book.

Although my environment is that of the research-ambitious, sports-ambitious, possibly trying to do all things, land grants and mid-majors, there is much about the struggles of a community college to balance the conflicting goals of politicians, students, employers, and employees that generalizes to other institutions.

NO MORE AGING HIPPIES REGISTERING.

Politically correct education doesn't appeal to Vietnamese students.
Market forces are working against college degrees in Marx, Lenin and Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam, where the Communist government has resorted to offering free tuition to attract students.

Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung signed a decree last month giving free tuition to students agreeing to take four-year courses on Marxism-Leninism and the thoughts of Ho Chi Minh, the country's revolutionary hero, at state-run universities.

Students have been shunning such degrees because employers are not interested in it, said Pham Tan Ha, head of admission and training at Ho Chi Minh City Social and Human Sciences University. Degrees in subjects like communications, tourism, international relations and English are more popular because students believe "they will have better chances of employment and better pay when they graduate," he said.

Students who study certain medical specialties such as tuberculosis and leprosy also will get a free ride under the decree. Ordinarily they would have to pay the equivalent of about $200 a year for tuition.

Currently, all Vietnamese students must take at least three classes in Marxist-Leninism and Ho Chi Minh studies, but few go beyond that minimum requirement.

Vietnam is run by a Communist regime but embraced free-market reforms in the 1980s. These days, the country's past is mostly apparent in its large and inefficient state-owned sector, a repressive state apparatus, the occasional Soviet-era statue or building and lingering alliances with other leftist countries.

Getting a good job - rather than the nuances of a discredited political and economic ideology that runs counter to the capitalism coursing through the country's towns and cities - is the primary concern of most young Vietnamese and their families.
Paolo Freire could not be reached for comment.

MORE SOVIET GIANTISM.

Insta Pundit links to a story about a monster Soviet flying boat that molders at dockside somewhere in Dagestan.

It was intended for use as a fast motor-torpedo boat, able to fly under ship radars, and, thanks to a hull configured to exploit the ground-effect, deliver a big dose of supersonic anti-ship missiles.

I suspect the idea of airborne radars (AWACS and the Orion) would have occurred to Pentagon thinkers sooner or later.  Wouldn't such a plane have a huge signature on a look-down radar?

But then, the Soviets had this thing for building stuff big.


THE POST-COLLEGE BUBBLER.

A Milwaukee plumber installs a public drinking fountain in his front yard.
It has come to be known as the Booth Street Bubbler: A public use drinking fountain outside his house. [Micah] MacArthur salvaged the bubbler's basin and mount from a box factory in the Third Ward seven years ago, and they had been sitting, collecting dust in his house since then.
He's done all the necessary permitting, and his bubbler is connected to city water. It's removable for the winter.

The path by which he became a tradesman is instructive.
MacArthur grew up in Milwaukee and graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in 2000 with a history degree.

He said he realized quickly his degree was not going to make him a lot of money. Dabbling in a lot of jobs, he decided to go to welding school in 2004.

"Contrary to popular belief, (history) is not a very lucrative degree," he joked. "It took me a little while to find my way."

He dropped out of welding school after six months when he got a job welding at a factory, but that only lasted a few months before he received the call to become an apprentice in the plumbers union.

"It is one of those funny things," he said. "The union gives you a call, tomorrow you get a drug test, and you are working the next day."

He's been a licensed plumber ever since.

In 2010 MacArthur built himself a dining room table out of rough two-by-fours and pipes left over from the Whole Foods supermarket project after it was built on North Ave. in 2006.

Three years ago, he also installed his own solar panels to heat water — a sort of pre-heating system for his water heater. He also has a 1960s vintage refrigerator and a 1920s vintage stove he got as a trade for some work he did — both are installed and fully operational.

He says he has full intentions of piping his water heater through his vintage refrigerator, using the waste heat to supply hot water to his home.
Mr MacArthur describes his bubbler as "an act of defiance to those in power."  Perhaps, though, his initiative illustrates the limitations of "the people who run things".

SCIENCE IS A PROCESS, NOT A RECIPE.

Don Surber returns to his web-log, for the time being posting a daily roundup of things that interest him.  His August 13 roundup recommends von Storch, et. al., "Can climate change models explain the recent stagnation in global warming?"  The abstract is lengthy, and informative.  Out-of-sample prediction is difficult in models, no matter how careful the researchers are to calibrate the equations of motion (which are themselves abstractions of reality) to observed reality.
However, for the 15-year trend interval corresponding to the latest observation period 1998-2012 , only 2% of the 62 CMIP5 and less than 1% of the 189 CMIP3 trend computations are as low as or lower than the observed trend. Applying the standard 5% statistical critical value(8), we conclude that the model projections are inconsistent with the recent observed global warming over the period 1998- 2012. (note, however, that the standard statistical-test terminology, although widely used, is not strictly appropriate in this case; see supplementary material(9). The inconsistency increases rapidly with increasing trend length. A continuation of the current observed global warming rate for a period of twenty years or longer would lie outside the ensemble of all model-simulated trends.

What do these inconsistencies imply for the utility of climate projections of anthropogenic climate change? Three possible explanations of the inconsistencies can be suggested: 1) the models underestimate the internal natural climate variability; 2) the climate models fail to include important external forcing processes in addition to anthropogenic forcing, or 3) the climate model sensitivities to external anthropogenic forcing is too high.

The first explanation is simple and plausible. Natural climate variability is an inevitable consequence of a slow system (climate) interacting with a fast system (weather)(10)
Serendipity.

Note, though, that the quest for recalibrated (feasible) or more accurate out-of-sample (the greater challenge) climate models can go on completely independently of the quest for carbon taxes or emission markets or hydraulic fracking.

COMPETING IN A SMART WORLD.

Children who can't meet high expectations are allowed to fail.

Go, read, and understand.

17.8.13

IS THIS HOW CONSENSUS EMERGES?

Let's start with research by Dennis Epple, et. al.
We develop a new general equilibrium model of the market for higher education that captures the coexistence of public and private universities, the large degree of quality differentiation among them, and the tuition and admission policies that emerge from their competition for students. We use the model to examine the consequences of federal and state aid policies. We show that private colleges game the federal financial aid system, strategically increasing tuition to increase student aid, and using the proceeds to spend more on educational resources and to compete for high-ability students. Increases in federal aid have modest effects in increasing college attendance, with nearly half of the increased federal aid offset by reduced institutional aid and increased university educational expenditures. A reduction in state subsidies coupled with increases in tuition at public schools substantially reduces attendance at those universities, with mainly poor students exiting, and with only moderate switching into private colleges.
The paper is among the stack of projects to take on during the semester.  It's already being hailed at Phi Beta Cons as support for an assertion William Bennett made three decades ago.  Third party payments make price discovery noisy (what was that P. J. O'Rourke wisecrack about healthcare being even more expensive when it's free?), and it's a proposition usually well-understood by economists.  Hence Richard Vedder, in a guest appearance at The Washington Monthly.
The increased demand for higher education in recent decades partly results from the explosive growth of [government grants and loans]. They were originally intended to help poor people gain access to college, yet they have probably had the opposite effect, pushing up the sticker prices of colleges substantially. The easy money has helped fuel an academic arms race that provides amenities such as climbing walls and luxury student centers that entice kids from higher-income families but scare poor students away. The proportion of recent college graduates from low-income backgrounds has fallen since the federal student-assistance programs became large.
Yes, and a lot of that loan money might have gone into stereos and other amenities, that is, if it didn't get creamed off for debt service on climbing walls and five-star residence halls.

There's probably a research project to be written (perhaps it already exists) on how expanded federal loans and grants might have crowded out state operating subsidies for universities.  That adds yet another dimension to the broken-social-contract view recently retired Northern Illinois president John Peters took, when alerting faculty, staff, and students to the continued cutbacks and recissions from Springfield.

What comes as a bit of a surprise is that Rolling Stone's Matt Taibbi, someone whose name usually doesn't come up in the same sentence, or the same essay, as National Review or William Bennett or Richard Vedder, is fingering the dam-bankers but bringing in the federal programs and the university empire builders, forsooth!
For this story, I interviewed people who developed crippling mental and physical conditions, who considered suicide, who had to give up hope of having children, who were forced to leave the country, or who even entered a life of crime because of their student debts.

They all take responsibility for their own mistakes. They know they didn't arrive at gorgeous campuses for four golden years of boozing, balling and bong hits by way of anybody's cattle car. But they're angry, too, and they should be. Because the underlying cause of all that later-life distress and heartache – the reason they carry such crushing, life-alteringly huge college debt – is that our university-tuition system really is exploitative and unfair, designed primarily to benefit two major actors.

First in line are the colleges and universities, and the contractors who build their extravagant athletic complexes, hotel-like dormitories and God knows what other campus embellishments. For these little regional economic empires, the federal student-loan system is essentially a massive and ongoing government subsidy, once funded mostly by emotionally vulnerable parents, but now increasingly paid for in the form of federally backed loans to a political constituency – low- and middle-income students – that has virtually no lobby in Washington.

Next up is the government itself. While it's not commonly discussed on the Hill, the government actually stands to make an enormous profit on the president's new federal student-loan system, an estimated $184 billion over 10 years, a boondoggle paid for by hyperinflated tuition costs and fueled by a government-sponsored predatory-lending program that makes even the most ruthless private credit-card company seem like a "Save the Panda" charity. Why is this happening? The answer lies in a sociopathic marriage of private-sector greed and government force that will make you shake your head in wonder at the way modern America sucks blood out of its young.
It's another lengthy article on the stack of things to read (the weather right now is too good to be at this keyboard for much longer). Daniel Luzer, who edits the Washington Monthly college weblog, connects the dots.
During the middle of the last century, public university tuition cost about four percent of an average American family’s annual income. In 2010 it was 11 percent.

All of this is true, but he glosses over an important point, which is declining state support for public colleges, which about 80 percent of American students attend.

He’s very critical of colleges, as rightly he should be, but colleges are simply economically rational actors. It appears what happened was that colleges got less money from their states to operate (and as the costs of operations increased for normal reasons, since infrastructure costs money) and they figured if students were taking out loans for college, well, why not have them take out more loans? Then the colleges could charge even more and use the extra money to buy stuff.

For a time this strategy didn’t even look so irresponsible. College debt was gooddebt. Before the economy collapsed we just didn’t see student loans as a problem. Sure having college debt was annoying, but no one really seemed to have trouble paying it off. It just meant they had a little less money.
That doesn't completely settle whether the state legislatures broke the social contract by shifting costs to the federal government, or whether the universities broke the social contract by gutting core curricula and lowered standards in the name of access, or the universities engaged in expense-preference behavior.  The consensus, though, is that third-party payments matter.

NO SUPER DOME, NO SKYTOP LOUNGE, NO PROBLEM.

The Amtrak Hiawatha keeps drawing passengers.
Nearly 80,000 people rode Amtrak's Hiawatha route between Milwaukee and Chicago last month — more than any month in the route's history.

The record number was a 5% increase over last July, said Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari, who attributed the gains to increased reliability, as well as riders' interest in avoiding traffic congestion on highways during the summer construction and travel season.

"Transit that's on-time, with crew members that passengers find likable, with costs that are affordable, tends to make our service grow," Magliari said.
Yes, and this summer's construction hassles on I-94, which will not offer any faster drive times once the work is done, contribute to the train's advantage. Now to add some late-evening trips for theater-goers returning from Chicago or ethnic festival enthusiasts returning from Milwaukee.

James Rowen at The Political Environment is not happy that the benefits of the train don't extend to the rest of the state. "Scott Walker's weakness before right-wing talk radio and his robotic obeisance to the highway lobby cost southern Wisconsin a Madison connection to the now-record-setting Hiawatha Amtrak line." It's more complicated than that: Passenger Rail advocates in the state never came up with the proper case for frequency and connectivity, letting the radio talkers' yuppie lawyer train smear go uncontested.

There's also reason to consider the past history of the corridor, before lamenting what might have been."Now imagine an updated rail system carrying people from the Twin Cities to downtown Chicago in less than six hours - even faster than driving and on a par with a complicated airline connection." Six hours trims only fifteen minutes from the best Chicago - St. Paul timings of the late 1930s.
Those 75 minute trains of years ago were pulled by steam locomotives -- not necessarily built especially for speed -- on jointed rail past semaphore signals that were not repeated in the cab. One does not require space-age electronics and global positioning systems to run fast trains.
Is it too much to ask for 75 minute, or 70 minute, timings, Milwaukee Airport to Union Station, as a next step?

THIS DEFIES PARODY.

Self-styled progressives discover that liberating tolerance is not tolerance.
Participants in the gathering don’t necessarily agree on every policy issue, but they do agree on one thing: that their right to assemble and express political views is protected by the U.S. and Wisconsin Constitutions and should not require that the government against which they are dissenting should regulate their speech and assembly by an administrative permitting process.
It's priceless. A coalition of people who object to the policy direction Wisconsin's duly elected (and re-elected upon recall) Republican governor and legislators set for the state have been singing, regularly, loudly, and off-key inside the state capitol.  There's now a singing permit, which some supporters of the governor duly obtained, to sing their own loud and off-key songs.

What amuses is that free-speech zones are in place in places such as Canada, California, and most state universities, despite their obvious mockability.

Apparently limiting dissent from the orthodoxy is more important than constitutional principle, whether in DeKalb or in Madison.

THE BURDEN OF PROOF.

Failing to reject an hypothesis is a different intellectual exercise than demonstrating that elliptic curves are modular, from which it follows that Diophantine equations of order greater than two have no solutions in integers.

The Heartland Institute's Rich Trzupek hasn't yet grasped that point.  He starts with an assertion by Penn State climatologist Michael Mann that ought not to be controversial.
“Proof is for mathematical theorems and alcoholic beverages. It’s not for science,” Mann says. “Science works in evidence through best explanations, most credible theories, and so in a sense we’re at a disadvantage because we have to play by the rules, the other side doesn’t… They’re not offering up credible alternatives or explanations. In most cases they’re trying to pick holes. Not real holes, just things that the public will think are holes, in the science. We are at a disadvantage.”

Bound by honesty, the scientific consensus is going to struggle to overcome this problem, appearing unable to actually back up its results with tangible events, offering, Cassandra-like, warnings of a future that will go unheeded until it is too late.
Mr Trzupek is either suggesting that the case for consensus isn't strong enough, or is demonstrating the failure of his chemistry professors to explain methodology.  (That may be a common failing: q.v.)
Now it seems pretty obvious that Mann’s attempt to separate proof from science stems from increasing public awareness that the warming predicted by the high-sensitivity models that Mann and others have championed just hasn’t occurred over the last fifteen years. No matter. You don’t need “proof” when you have “credible theories.”

That comes as something of a shock to me. When I was going to school to earn my degree in chemistry, we were taught that science was indeed all about absolute truths and proofs at the end of the day. “Credible theories” is how you got to those truths, not an alternative to them.
Where you have anomalies, you have to reexamine the premises of your models. Where the evidence is refractory, you have to be particularly sensitive to the possibility that complex adaptive systems do what they darn well please, as well as to the premises of your model.  Here's where the academic stance (no final say) conflicts with Political Principle.  Mr Trzupek responds to some of his critics.
Anyway, the point of my particular screed was not to reaffirm the difference between Chesterson’s (rather obvious) point that two plus two equals four because there can be no other result, and the scientific need for proof in our discipline’s eternal search for truth. It was to re-emphasize the fact that offering evidence that your particular hypothesis approaches reality is even more important in the scientific sphere. Such evidence is not to be despised, but rather to be embraced.
Well, 2 + 2 = 11(3). We generally don't work in base 3 in intellectual endeavours. But when intellectual endeavours take on political colouration, then the fun begins.
In my case, as a chemist, I see the intricacies of my discipline misrepresented by the “environmental movement” on a regular basis. And the reasons I use my skill as a communicator (however poor those skills may be) to push back against those misrepresentations are my love for science in general, and for chemistry in particular.
Those misrepresentations might be political. To make sense of the evidence, though, it takes a theory to beat a theory.
You can have an idea that seems right, and is supported by some observations, but may eventually be shown wrong (or incomplete) by better tests. Ideas are tentative. Provisional.

Of course, some ideas are better than others. It turns out some do an excellent job describing reality, and some not so much. And even the ones that are good can be better.
The problem isn't necessarily with the theories, or even with the evidence. It's more often with the policy implications.
From climate science we know the Earth is warming; the evidence for that is overwhelming. We know humans are at least partially if not mostly to blame for these increasing temperatures; the evidence for that is overwhelming. We know the ramifications are costly at best and catastrophic at worst; the evidence for that is overwhelming.
Yes, and what to do about the evidence, and how to choose to respond to that evidence and at the same time to all the other troubles confronting people, is outside the realm of settled science.  The best social scientists can do is often to teach the controversies.

14.8.13

A REGRESSIVE TRANSFER.

Politicians can make hay by questioning subsidies for Amtrak, but, inconsistently (?), not for the air carriers.
As just one example, the U.S. government subsidizes air service to two smallish cities served daily by Amtrak’s Southwest Chief – Dodge City and Garden City, both in Kansas. The combined Essential Air Service subsidy last year just for those two towns came to $4,607,624.  As the venerable Casey Stengel once famously said, “You could look it up!”

It’s amazing how many people don’t know that. But members of Congress do. So, I ask again, why do the Republicans object to Amtrak’s subsidy and not to the subsidy the airlines get? Anyone?
Perhaps because the Essential Air Service subsidy is part of the welfare payments to Rural America.  No Essential Air Service, Archer Daniels has to buy more corporate jets.  Let the Republicans be philosophically consistent about not spending tax money on transportation, and listen to the griping from Republican constituents.

Megan McArdle suggests environmentalists have a similar blind spot when it comes to air travel.
[F]lying rarely provokes the kind of environmental shame that driving a Hummer or running the washer and dryer with a single item might. It’s hard to say exactly why, but I have a theory -- it’s easy to act like an environmentalist when it means buying cool new stuff like reusable grocery bags, a high-efficiency washer, or a hybrid car. When doing the green thing requires actual sacrifice or a substantial change in lifestyle, well, that’s where most of us draw the line.
Scoff at those jet-skis or motorized quadricycles or leaf-blowers or pickup truck the size of aircraft carriers, yes.  Question your access to conferences or the Third World, no.
Giving up air travel and overnight delivery is much more personally costly for the public intellectuals who write about this stuff than giving up a big SUV. If you live in one of the five or six major cities that contain virtually everyone who writes about climate change, having a small car (or no car), is a pretty easy adjustment to imagine. On the other hand, try to imagine giving up far-flung vacations, conferences, etc. -- especially since travel to interesting locales is one of the hidden perks of not-very-well remunerated positions at universities, public policy groups, nongovernmental organizations, and yes, news organizations.

If we’re going to get serious about greenhouse gasses, we need to get serious about air travel. Going to a distant conference should attract the kind of scorn among the chattering classes that is currently reserved for buying a Hummer.
I'm tempted to try that, looking askance at the next NPR-listening, Prius-driving metrofexual looking forward to a trip to Italy for the wine or to somewhere in the Third World for the wildlife.

The more serious social science, though, is in identifying the distributional effect of the Essential Air Service subsidy, the use of general revenues to maintain airways and highways, and cheap overweight permits for heavy trucks.

COUNTRIES HAVE PERMANENT INTERESTS.

Via Media comments on Japanese diplomacy going along with Japanese naval developments.
Consider the recent launching of Japan’s huge new warship, an aircraft carrier in everything but name, the Izumo.  Izumo was also the name of a flagship cruiser that led the brutal invasion of China in the 1930s and that, a few years later, fired on the USS Wake and sunk the HMS Peterel in one of the first actions in the Pacific theater of World War II.
To western observers, that looks like a dumb decision.  Given the direction the Sino-Japanese rivalry has been going, that name might have been purposefully chosen. The World War II generation has passed. The conditions leading to that war remain.
Tomorrow, the anniversary of Japan’s surrender at the end of World War II, we’ll see just how many and which Japanese politicians choose to visit the Yasukuni shrine, where several convicted war criminals are interred; these visits will certainly be interpreted as another jab at Beijing and Seoul.
The Via Media article considers whether it's in the interest of the United States to disengage.
Considering Japan’s (and the region’s) ongoing militarization, and the Abe administration’s slightly unhinged nationalism, that might lessen the chances that the US gets dragged into a conflict, which is good, but it also might increase the enmity between the world’s second and third largest economies.
On the other hand, those permanent interests suggest that history rhymes.
The policies of the Abe government echo the response of the Japanese bourgeoisie to the 1929 Wall Street crash and the onset of the Great Depression in the 1930s. As Japanese exports collapsed and economic growth plummeted, the military, backed by the emperor, sought to overcome the crisis by rearming, invading Manchuria in 1931 and China as a whole in 1937—moves that collided with the interests of US imperialism and led to war in 1941.
This time around, it might be the Chinese exports collapsing and the Chinese military throwing its weight around, but a new Pacific War might drag the United States in, all the same.

THE RATING AGENCIES CATCH A COLLEGE BUBBLE?

Moody's Investor Services have downgraded the bond rating for seven Illinois public universities.
Friday's downgrades affect the University of Illinois, Eastern Illinois University, Governors State University, Illinois State University, Northeastern Illinois University, Southern Illinois University and Western Illinois University. Only Northern Illinois University was able to maintain its rating.
No statement from headquarters yet, elaborating on the why. We somehow continue to meet payrolls without (yet) laying off or furloughing people. The summer schedule might have reduced electricity bills, but that's proven to be unsustainable as an increasing number of events take place on Friday or at weekends.

13.8.13

WATCH THIS SPACE.

Progress on a year ago.


Same spot: north half of the drop ceiling in, upper display level around the corner, framing for main layout in place on both levels, some fancy carpentry to come to curve the middle level above the lower staging level that runs along the wall.

UNLEASH THE RENT SEEKERS.

Got an overweight truck in Michigan?  No problem.
In 2012, the Michigan Department of Transportation issued 6,992 special permits — an average of 19 each day — for trucks weighing more than 164,000 pounds, a Free Press investigation found. Some 2,820 of those permits were for trucks weighing 200,000 pounds or more.
Why $50? Nice round number.
[U]nlike states such as Ohio, Michigan officials say they have never studied just how much road damage these heavy trucks cause each year. So potentially damaging are these super loads that state officials must sometimes physically inspect parts of the route before approving the permits.

Yet the permit fee — $50 — doesn’t come close to covering the costs of those inspections, let alone the road damage. And it is much less than what neighboring states Indiana, Wisconsin and Ohio charge.
And pro-business, pro-privatization, Tea Party favorite governor Rick Snyder isn't applying the benefit principle consistently.
Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder has been citing a “user pay” philosophy when touting his plan to hike fuel taxes and vehicle registration fees to raise about $1.2 billion more a year to fix the state’s crumbling roads and bridges, which often are rated subpar compared to the rest of the nation. A TRIP/USA Today analysis of 2012 Federal Highway Administration data, released last week, found that only 34% of Michigan roads were in good condition, below the national average of 38%.

But Snyder hasn’t talked about hiking fees for special permits for overweight trucks, which haven’t gone up in 16 years.
Nearby states base their fees on weight, although in no case does the fee reflect the incremental cost.
In 2009, Ohio conservatively estimated that overweight trucks with special permits do $144 million in annual damage to that state’s roads and bridges. Only about half of that cost is covered by various state and federal taxes and fees truckers pay — not counting fees for overweight permits — the report said.

“Increasing a single axle load by 20% ... doubles the damage,” the Ohio Department of Transportation report said. “This example illustrates the dramatic impact overweight permitted loads have on pavements.”

Michigan officials say they have not studied the damage, or costs resulting from the overweight permits they issue.

“It makes sense to say that when you run heavier loads down the highway, that puts more stress down on the road,” said Matthew DeLong, administrator of MDOT’s development services division. However, “I can’t quantify it for you.”

The $20.9 million Ohio raised from overweight permits in 2012 doesn’t come close to covering the estimated damage to that state’s roads. But it’s well ahead of the $2.7 million Michigan raised. Ohio’s permits on average cost twice as much as Michigan’s, and Ohio charges many times what Michigan does for its heaviest loads.
Fortunately, universities have economics departments.
Kenneth Boyer, an economics professor at Michigan State University who specializes in transportation funding, said it’s important to not only quantify, but to recover from the trucking industry and their customers the damage caused by overweight trucks with special permits.

Certain government subsidies to the industry can be justified, but “it’s not at all clear why you want to subsidize manufacturing through accelerating the depreciation of the capital investment in the roadways,” Boyer said.
Let alone making the workers' commutes slower, or more dangerous.  The article introduces other engineering and business considerations, and it will reward careful study.  The Detroit Free Press editorial board gets the idea.
Meanwhile, the roads keep crumbling, and residents pay more in car repairs and accidents than they ever would in higher registration fees.

It’s past time for Lansing to get more serious about enhanced funding, and better roads. If trucks are an entree to a wider discussion, all the better for everyone in the state.
Repeat with me:  "Fine, let's make sure the heavier trucks bear the full cost of the road-strengthening programs, as well as the increased congestion costs those elephants will impose on everyone behind them.  We don't want to become China, with days-long traffic jams."

TOSSED OUT.

The New York City Council limits Madison Square Garden's permit to ten years.  Whether there will be plans for a station better suited to handling increasing volumes of commuters and Acela riders alike, or another renewal of the permit for lack of new ideas, or the popping of the sports bubble, remains to be seen.

12.8.13

BEFORE MILLENNIUM PARK.

The Illinois Central produce yard gave way to parking spaces under the Bean, and the Pabst sign gave way to the Prudential Building.


Jack Delano photograph from Library of Congress by way of Denver Post.

Voluntary Xchange recommends the entire archive to take issue with people who argue living conditions have not improved in these United States.

It serves that purpose, and others.  Keep scrolling, and you'll discover something very eenteresting about Rosie the Riveter.

STILL NOT QUITE THE EAST WIND OR THE FLYING YANKEE.

It's progress of a fashion to have Passenger Rail from Boston to the resort and shopping destinations of Freeport, Brunswick, and Rockland, Maine.  A day trip Boston to Brunswick and return is feasible.  Destination: Freedom offered their thoughts about Brunswick last week.  Today, they review the Maine Eastern passenger service linking Brunswick and Rockland.
The schedule on the Maine Eastern is limited, and its regular season will run from August 21st until October 12th this year. The train will leave Brunswick at 10:00 in the morning and arrive at Rockland at noon, leaving at 3:00 for Brunswick and returning there at 5:00, in time to catch the 7:00 train for Boston. There were a few extra trips on the same schedule this summer before the regular service begins for the season, and this writer rode the first revenue train of the summer, on June 26th. The early-season trips were scheduled to accommodate large groups of tourists who were taking extended bus tours and using the railroad for one segment of their itineraries. The Maine Eastern promotes this use of their trains, and offers a number of packages that include bus or airline segments.
That's not unknown for vacation trips for which one longish train trip is enough, and the return longish train trip is too much.
Even with the new connection between the Maine Eastern and Downeaster trains at Brunswick, it is not easy to visit the towns along the Maine Eastern route without an automobile. The Maine Eastern’s operating season is short, and the railroad does not run a train every day. There are only two intercity buses each day on the highway paralleling the rail line, and buses are scheduled for local residents going to Portland or Boston, not for people coming to visit the region. Although the Maine Eastern trains now use the same station as the Downeaster trains in Brunswick, the schedule only allows a same-day connection from Rockland to Boston, and not the other way. The Maine Eastern train leaves Brunswick before the morning train from Boston arrives there. There is a 6:00 departure from Portland that arrives in Brunswick at 6:45 and allows three hours between trains in Brunswick in the morning. However, that requires an overnight stay in Portland and departure at an inconveniently-early hour. There is no bus from Boston that arrives in Brunswick in time to connect with the Maine Eastern train to Rockland, either.
Little by little, the through train from Boston or perhaps Washington, D.C. returns.
In the meantime, the Maine Eastern has extended our rail mobility map, even though it is only to a limited extent. Rockland is an interesting destination, and it appears that the intermediate stops of Bath and Wiscasset are, too. It is difficult to reach any of these places without an automobile, so every increase in nonautomotive transportation to these places helps. The route is scenic, and the train crew was pleasant and enthusiastic. Wayne Davis, Chair of TrainRiders/Northeast, described the Downeaster as “a happy train.” The Maine Eastern exhibited the same atmosphere, with the added attraction of comfortable vintage coaches.
Modern sensibilities would probably react badly to advertising for the 1940 East Wind as "a gay train, gay in color, gay in spirit."  (If you have the East Wind issue of the B&M Bulletin, or the Keystone issue with the East Wind article -- it did run on Pennsy before the war -- you can look it up.)  So do the words evolve, although happy trains in cheerful colors appeal.  We're not yet looking at a through car from Washington to Rockland (first season of the East Wind) or a through car from Boston to Rockland (up until when the postwar Flying Yankee became a pair of Budd Highliners), but the folks at Destination: Freedom are hopeful.
Maybe someday, the Maine Eastern’s line will be part of a comprehensive passenger rail system in the Pine Tree State. The citizen-advocates of Train Riders/Northeast and others fought for service from Boston to Portland and then to Brunswick. Regularly scheduled service to Bath, Wiscasset and Rockland would be the next logical step. Rockland historian Larry Goldman told this writer that there is talk of running a ferry between Rockland and Bar Harbor, further Downeast. If that happens, it would constitute an additional link in a public transportation network heading in the Downeasterly direction, which would improve prospects for expanding scheduled service to Rockland. Considering the fact that there were no trains between Boston and Portland for 36 years, and it is now possible to go from Boston to Rockland by rail for the first time in 53 years, there is reason to hope that further improvements will come someday.
Here, the plot thickens. Once upon a time, the Portland and Kennebec Railroad ran between Portland and Rockland, in competition with the Maine Central Railroad to Bangor and beyond. The Portland and Kennebec connected with the Eastern Steamship Company at Rockland for an early morning sailing on to Bar Harbor.