30.12.16

KARNEVAL.

In Germany, Karneval (as they have it in Köln) or Fasching (as it is rendered in Bavaria and in most of the States) begins 11 November.

Ordinarily, Cold Spring Shops commences its Fasching observance with the beginning of carnival season North American style (at Epiphany, as introduced to these shores in Mobile, Alabama.)

This has been a trying year, and perhaps we'd best have some Karneval festivities, at least at weekends.

Thus shall we close out 2016.  Thanks for looking in.  Happy New Year.


Hoppeditz aus Düsseldorf.

Figures that they'd get mustard into the act in Düsseldorf.

Our traditional Fasching posts shall resume on Twelfth Night.

Prosit!

BETTER TO RULE IN HELL THAN SERVE IN HEAVEN.

We'll conclude the quest for fifty book reports in 2016 at Book Review No. 34, which is Michael Walsh's The Devil's Pleasure Palace: The Cult of Critical Theory and the Subversion of the West.  Yes, it's another in the theme of Higher Education Has Gone Nuts, but there's some provocative stuff dealing with Original Sin and Faustian Bargains and other religious themes.

Let's start by contemplating the circus.  Do you see the religious symbolism on this wagon?

GETTING AND SPENDING, WE LAY WASTE OUR POWERS?

It's been a theme of mine for years that there's probably room for new work arrangements, perhaps something other than "you'll be well paid, but you're tied to your devices all the time."  Those arrangements might be emergent, whether or not the so-called Affordable Care Act imposes constraints that favor twenty-nine hour work weeks.

Earlier this year, Ryan Avent of The Economist wrote some long pieces grappling with why do we work?

I'm quoting the whole thing because who knows when these items will go behind the pay wall?

Follow the jump for excerpts from a followup there.

DEGENERATING INTO A CULT?

Mr Obama might be more of a cult-like object, but that's more a matter of degree (and veneration as if a holy object by the secular chattering class.)  More seriously, pinning too many hopes on a president (and Mr Trump is already claiming credit for rising stock indices and consumer confidence) is contrary to self-government.
As American society grows less literate and the state of its moral education declines, the American people grow less able to engage their government as intellectually and morally prepared citizens. We are in the process — late in the process, I’m afraid — of reverting from citizens to subjects.
Yes, and what's with the recent practice of using courtesy titles on the public affairs shows? Mr Gingrich is "Mr Speaker." Mrs Clinton is "Madame Secretary."  Mr Trump is "President-elect."  Oh well, it would be easy enough to change one of the verses to America.  The British have provided suitable words.  Or you could translate from the German.  Or check out alternative verse 13 in the Wikipedia entry.  "Trump of glad jubilee," indeed.

I have maintained, and will continue to maintain, that the Cult of the Presidency is killing the republic.  Now, if Mr Trump spends more time on the links than Dwight Eisenhower, perhaps I will sound the trump of glad jubilee.

But Betsy Newmark, reacting to the same National Review essay, doesn't see in a reality-show regular any hope of smashing the icons.  "I don't think that a president whose business history revolved around marketing the slapping of his name on products and real estate holdings is not the man to reverse this trend." I think there's an extra "not" toward the end. Let's say I share her skepticism about Mr Trump governing modestly.

SHOULD COLLEGE BE MANDATORY?

Here's an essay from the archives that considers the possibility.  In the United States, there well might be a skills gap.
But the qualifications required for a successful career in today’s information economy are rocketing upward much faster than graduation rates, with the education gap getting wider, not narrower. At the same time, growing income inequality has focused more attention on the importance of a college degree in helping people get ahead. The unemployment rate is just 3.4% for college grads, while it’s 6.4% for high-school grads with no college and 9.8% for high school dropouts.
That might be an opportunity for strivers, and perhaps driving four Bimmers off the cliff to get an area studies degrees takes a few of the trustafarians off the board.  But the bulk of the higher education action goes on at the community colleges, the regional comprehensives, and the mid-majors, and those aren't necessarily engines of opportunity.
Since college is expensive and demanding, it favors students who come from families with the money and other resources to see their kids through all four years. Less expensive state schools and community colleges are supposed to help students who can’t afford a name-brand private university. But budget cuts have left those schools considerably more expensive as well. Some students hesitate to take out loans to help pay their way, given the iffy job market for new grads. Many students who start out at less expensive schools drop out, barely better off for their efforts and expenditures.

As the skills required to prosper in a high-tech global economy get increasingly sophisticated, meanwhile, advanced education is actually helping elite families become more entrenched, not less, as scholar Charles Murray argues in the recent book Coming Apart. Elites with a premier education are also grabbing a larger share of income in most developed countries, one reason inequality is worsening.
I've read Coming Apart but not yet posted a full review.  Perhaps next year.  And the least-common-denominator, access-assessment-remediation-retention, or sub-prime party school mindset of more than a few of the institutions lost in the weeds of the U.S. News sonar might be hurting those possible students as much as stingy state legislators or dangerous government schools.

29.12.16

DON'T SAY YOU WEREN'T WARNED.

Andrea Tantaros might have used up her fifteen minutes of fame before Donald Trump secured the Republican nomination, but before that happened, she wrote Tied Up in Knots: How Getting What We Wanted Made Women Miserable.  Book Review No. 33 will note that the troubles she laments were foreseeable, perhaps before she was born.  In Pajamas Media, Suzanne Venker concurs.  At Acculturated, Mark Judge, not explicitly reviewing Tantaros, concurs with her thesis.  "As today’s generation of self-styled feminist women suggests, limitless freedom has not brought the happiness they assumed it would, and as they confront life’s realities, anger is replacing hope."  And American Thinker's Sally Zelikovsky goes radical on the radicals? "Free love destroyed marriage and gave us gender confusion instead."

But all of what Ms Tantaros writes about was anticipated by Badger Herald editorialist Michael Shane in "A Feminist Parable for the Modern Age," first published 5 February 1987.  Mr Shane is contemplating the life of the female collegians of the era.  I've substituted "Andrea" where he returns to his hypothetical collegians.
Several years pass, and she faces the distinct prospect of being unmarried and thirty.  A few more of her friends are married, and some are genuinely happy -- a few even have kids.  Yet not even they have managed to mix motherhood and careers, and if they work at all it's strictly part-time and very dull.  Some of her friends are now divorced, or even re-married.  And the only decent guys she meets already have wives.

Now she faces a painful dilemma.  Her proverbial biological clock is ticking merrily away and she realizes that most of the men she's ever dated liked her mainly for carnal reasons.  The excitement of the working world has settled into a mind-numbing routine of business trips and breakfast meetings.  And she feels a vague need to have a child.

If [Andrea] has a little candor and a lot of courage she'll admit that she's been had.  Her once-glamorous career is a bore.  She has sold her deepest intimacies to a fair number of lovers for a box full of old valentines and movie ticket stubs.
That's Andrea's story. All that has changed in thirty years is that swiping images on Tinder (or its predecessor, Grindr) strike her as less edifying than sprucing up to check out the action in the bars.

(Cross-posted to 50 Book Challenge.)

THE HAMBURG MOSCOW ASTANA AND PACIFIC.

Two weeks transit time, all rail, six thousand miles, forty thousand containers in 2016.  If those are forty-foot international containers, that's ten North American stack trains, but perhaps what's astonishing, given the international tensions and the break of gauge at the Russian border, is that it's done at all.  Perhaps some automobiles are moving as well.



The Vision 2020 for the line is 100,000 containers.  I'll repeat a question from last year.  "Where is the Brunel, where is the Hill, to spike together an electrified main line with clearances adequate for double-stacks, and will Sheridan and Earp require successors?"

SHAKING OUT THE EXCESS CAPACITY.

In the course of reading the fallout to a Drexel University professor tweeting something silly about a "white genocide," I learned something encouraging.  "Drexel University will withhold merit raises from faculty and staff this fiscal year as the school continues to adjust to less revenue as a result of an admissions strategy designed to attract fewer, but more serious and better qualified, applicants."  There has to be an optimal level of overbooking (and students sending out multiple applications, and, if they're sufficiently confident, stratifying some as safety schools) and perhaps Drexel are seeking to reduce that sort of gaming.  At the same time, "fewer, but more serious and better qualified" strikes me as a winning strategy.  The excess capacity is among the sub-prime party schools.

UPSCALE URBAN LIBERALS ARE OBLIVIOUS.

The Mahablog concludes, "So reflect on that over your chai lattes, ambient feminists."  That's most emphatically not part of the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy posting.  Go, read and understand.

LIVING AT THE EXPENSE OF OTHERS.

Madison's Capital Times investigates the consequences of setting up toll booths on Wisconsin's interstate highways, assuming the Wise Experts in a Remote Distant Capital give their Assent.
Tolling Wisconsin’s U.S. interstates could raise billions for the state’s most-traveled thoroughfares, but the cost would be borne by motorists, big upfront investments would be needed and it’s unclear if the state could get the federal approval it would require, a new state Department of Transportation study finds.

The study also finds Gov. Scott Walker’s road-funding plan for the next two years, which holds the line on taxes and fees, puts Wisconsin roads on course to worsen “severely” over the next decade.
Who do these geniuses think pay for the roads now? If not through the federal excise taxes (on motor fuel and tires) and the state sales taxes (directly on vehicle repairs resulting from the wear and tear, indirectly on anything else that's taxed) are these roads coming from the Easter Bunny?  From Donald Trump's casino losses?  And how should a toll booth be a different sort of upfront investment from additional lanes on the existing roads?  One way, the road authorities spend money to use prices to allocate capacity: the other way, they spend money to provide capacity that users will allocate by waiting time.  Which is the Pareto-preferable outcome?

The state's problem is that there are some roads where the waiting time is growing untenable, as is the wear and tear from all those delayed vehicles, and there might be some roads that could better revert to local maintenance, or to dirt, or back to the land.
Wisconsin’s transportation-funding woes stem from rising construction costs and stagnant revenues in the state transportation fund, which come almost entirely from gas taxes and vehicle registration fees. As the state’s road-funding picture has worsened in recent years, lawmakers increasingly have resorted to greater borrowing and delaying major highway projects, such as the Verona Road expansion in Dane County.
Sometimes, it might be in the public interest to let some of the roads crumble. I looked at that in detail last year.

THE PURPOSE OF HIGHER EDUCATION.

Richard Fernandez's Witchcraft contemplates what happens when nostalgia for seventh-century modes of living destroy contemporary modes of inquiry.
When the last cellphone in the Caliphate is destroyed or worn out no one will know how to make another. Their 8th century is capable of producing fanaticism but probably couldn't make a ball point pen. Objects in the ISIS universe are "magical" -- put there by Allah in the possession of the infidel for holy warriors to plunder and enjoy until the power which inheres in them gradually fades away.

Surprisingly much of the modern world is not very different. Many people treat technology like magic even in the West. How does a cell phone work? Dunno. Where does it come from? The store.  Civilization depends on the knowledge of a small fraction of the world's 7.5 billion population. The know-how to make pharmaceuticals, complex devices, aircraft, computers, industrial chemicals from scratch is probably confined to a few million people concentrated in North America, Europe, Russia and North Asia.  The rest of us are end users.
Yeah, that sounds like counterterrorism, or perhaps counsel to leave the barbarians to choke on their own primitivism, but there's more at work.
If a global catastrophe destroyed all of civilization's works yet spared these few million they could re-create every object in the world again. By contrast if only these few millions perished the remaining billions though untouched could continue only until things broke down.  It is knowledge which sustains civilization. Of course knowledge is also stored in libraries against catastrophe. Or is it?  If universities began seeing science as old "white man" sorcery they might start purging it like ISIS does wizardry.
The first two sentences are the rationale for suffering through such things as the quadratic formula, subject-verb agreement, and Ohm's law in general education courses: different bits of those key ideas stick in different minds, and come the zombie apocalypse or the solar flare, emergent distributed networks of people can put something approximating their civilization back together again.

But the threat to the stored wisdom does not come from trendy multiculturalists; rather it comes from a misplaced confidence in information technologies.  The essay refers to an anguished column by a mathematician at California - Santa Cruz.  The paper journals go away, replaced by content on a server, such as J-STOR.  The paper books go away, to make space for bigger coffee rooms.  But which ones go away?  The ones researchers consult without checking out.  Seriously.
My friend Gildas, a biblical scholar, went to the Science library last week to consult an important book on ancient technologies. He had consulted the book several times before. Oops! De-duplicated.

Like me and many users of libraries, Gildas marks the place from which he takes a book and carefully reshelves it when he is done, saving the library staff reshelving work. The algorithm missed his book and now it is shredded or moldering in a distant storage facility.

A copy of Gildas’s book does survive. At UCSF. Its survival now depends, like that of our entire de-duplicated collection, on the kindness of distant librarians.

No chance was given to students or faculty to buy the books. Millions of dollars of public property was destroyed. A long-standing and painstakingly collected archive was removed to solve a temporary space problem.

The library “lost” the list of the books which it de-duplicated, so we don’t know which among them were rare or important. We are still waiting for the library staff to recover their list.

In the meantime: don’t reshelve your books.
Or reserve a carrel, and sequester the works you're consulting there.  Thus does this comb-out of the shelves punish researchers for being polite.  If it's locked up in the carrel, nobody can get at it.  If it's on the shelf, someone else has the opportunity to get at it.

Sorry, I can't resist tossing the following at the Trendy Leftists at Banana Slug U.

The book vanished into de-duplication, a nameless number on a list that was later misplaced.  That happened often in those days.

That would be particularly amusing if Pasternak's works are among the de-duplicated.

Do that too often, and here's what you get.
Basic knowledge is still relevant because "magic", even technological magic, cannot completely cope with the complexity of the world.  When tools fail, a man with knowledge makes another.  If that too fails, he makes still another.  A man without knowledge is confined to what he can buy in the store.  But there will always remain issues which must be regarded from first principles.
Lest we wind up like the protagonists in Atlas Shrugged, contemplating the ruins of an advanced motor that nobody in the starveling town understands, or like Galician herders in the Viking Age, going thirsty yet contemplating stone structures whose hydraulic principles they cannot grasp.

NO THANK YOU, I DON'T WANT A HEADACHE.

In Slate, Adrienne So asserts, "Hops enthusiasts are ruining craft beer for the rest of us."  I sympathize, since the headache invariably accompanies a close encounter with an India Pale Ale (and what's with the enthusiasm for a beer brewed to survive a sea voyage around Good Hope, given that we have refrigeration?)  Read on, though, and discover that there's more to craft beer than loading up on the hops (which might have made economic sense a few years ago.)
Not all craft beer is hoppy. There are many craft breweries that seek to create balanced, drinkable beers that aren’t very bitter at all, like Patrick Rue’s the Bruery in Placentia, Calif., and the Commons Brewery in Portland, Ore. Among the non-hoppy yet complex and delicious American craft beers available are Widmer’s hefeweizen, New Glarus’ cherry and raspberry beers, and Full Sail Brewing’s Session Lager (a beer specifically developed to serve as a refreshing counterpoint to overhopped beers). America’s independent breweries make beers to suit every palate, not just the ones that revel in bitterness.
That noted, the author suffers from limited horizons, not simply by reference to those boutique drinks.  "Hops’ strong flavors present a stark contrast to watered-down horse piss, which is how I believe one refers to Bud Light in the common parlance. Maximizing hops is a good way for craft brewers to distinguish their creations from mass-market brands."  Or, as I would have it, colored water in blue cans sold to dumb guys.  But in far too many taverns, the list of what's on tap sounds something like "Coors light, Bud light, Miller Lite, and some kind of IPA."  Unless you're in Cub country, and then there are a couple varieties of Old Style on offer.

We can do better, dear reader.


If not a Dunkel, it's coming up on Bock season, and perhaps you can find a Kölsch.  Save the pale ales for when you're sentenced to transportation to the antipodes.

28.12.16

PROFSCAM REDUX.

Milwaukee's Charlie Sykes might have emerged on the national pundit scene (or perhaps declared his split with Conventional Liberalism) over a quarter-century ago with Profscam, which, while it makes good points about intellectual monocultures and minimal publishable units, loses credibility by simultaneously denouncing graduate assistants whose English is rudimentary taking over from professors avoiding teaching in order to rack up those publishable units.  (It has occurred to you, dear reader, that if college professors were as overpaid and underworked as these polemics suggest, the graduate programs would be swamped with lazy careerist local kids.  Have I just described MBA programs at lesser-known institutions?  Sorry.)

He recently followed up with Fail U.: The False Promises of Higher Education, today's Book Review No. 31.  His gripe is that the help he thought was on the way for conscientious professors back in the day never materialized, and much of what he saw as wrong then is no better, and often worse, now.  But perhaps what has gone wrong has gone wrong because higher education, in attempting to be more like a business, has doubled down on consumer satisfaction, whether the consumers are students (thus, gut courses and safe spaces), alumni and sports bettors (thus, cheating scandals in athletics), or corporations (thus, sponsored research produces lucrative contracts for some, but the originality of the research, even if under governmental auspices, isn't that spectacular.)  And yet, his focus on the expense of attending the U. S. News top institutions, while it produces the colorful metaphor of buying a new Bimmer each year and driving it off the cliff, doesn't really focus on the ways the institutions serving the great mass of collegians (community colleges, regional comprehensives and mid-majors, land grants) might be doing things differently; indeed, doing things that Mr Sykes would like to see in order for real reform to take place.

(Cross-posted to 50 Book Challenge.)

POLITICAL AGGLOMERATION ECONOMIES?

Thickly settled areas tend to vote Democrat in presidential elections, while the Republican voters are dispersed.  That phenomenon is nothing new: the last time a Republican won the presidency, I raised the possibility that the blue cities were obsolete, and there was a version of the "urban archipelago" item that appeared at the time, although with Mr Bush winning the electoral vote and more total votes than Mr Kerry, there wasn't the defensiveness that I fear gets into similar maps showing how little of the country's geography Mrs Clinton carried.  On the other hand, Mrs Clinton's rhetoric about "deplorables" is just preaching to the converted.  (The essay that I fisked at the time has since gone down the memory hole.)  I had some reservations about the urban archipelago, particularly the linking of Democratic pluralities to high-crime areas, and at the same time I noted that an urban-hipster-changing-demographic strategy might not be one to bet the election on, particularly if the outmigration we see in Illinois is also present in the other states home to big cities.

But the post-mortems continue to focus on some sort of urban-exurban split among voters.  Consider "How A Train Ticket Could Have Saved The Clinton Campaign."
It’s just intriguing that the easiest way that one can witness the demise of the Rust Belt sits less than a half-mile away from [Mrs] Clinton’s former Senate office. The Capitol Limited is a 780-mile Amtrak route from the nation’s capital to Chicago. It traces several hundred miles of flyover country, a slow burn through the Rust Belt and the remnants of a 20th-century economic boom. Politicians en route to Chicago clearly prefer the two-hour flight to an 18-hour train ride. But if Clinton or any other Democratic leader had simply boarded the train, they might have seen first hand what this stretch of land has become over the last 40 years.

Braddock, Penn., not far from Pittsburgh, was once a cornerstone of the nation’s industrial era. Today it’s a tragic stretch of abandoned homes, crippled storefronts and dilapidated industrial buildings. The city has lost 90% of its peak population over the decades. The same problems can be found along the towns surrounding Harper’s Ferry, West Va.; Garfield, Ohio; Sandusky, Ohio; and Waterloo, Ind., all the way to Chicago.

This is where Americans used to make things, the backbone of a rich and great economy. In these towns there are no “up-and-coming” neighborhoods, no HGTV fixer uppers, no grand plans to push capital back into desperate communities. From the train window, all one sees are the skeletons of something once great, something gutted in favor of cheap Chinese imports and trade deals that underestimated the economic impact on middle America.
The view from the large windows of the Acela are similar, but get off the train and head to the office and you see the fruits of the rent-seeking and hear the stories about the fixer-uppers.  What's different is that once off the Corridor, the surroundings aren't so nice until you get to downtown Chicago, and even then you'd best not stray too far from the Loop.Nut Economist's View's Tim Duy, who we also noted contemplating the effects of globalization here, had already suggested that the people making trade deals were prepared to write off the residents along the Capitol's tracks.  That's not a good way to win elections.
The tsunami of globalization washed over them with nary a concern on the part of the political class. To be sure, in many ways it was inevitable, just as was the march of technology that had been eating away at manufacturing jobs for decades. But the damage was intensified by trade deals that lacked sufficient redistributive policies. And to add insult to injury, the speed of decline was hastened further by the refusal of the US Treasury to express concern about currency manipulation twenty years ago. Then came the housing crash and the ensuing humiliation of the foreclosure crisis.

The subsequent impact on the white working class – the poverty, the opioid epidemic, the rising death rates – are well documented. An environment that serves as fertile breeding ground for resentment, hatred and racism, a desire to strike back at someone, anyone, simply to feel some control, to be recognized. Hence Trump.

Is there a way forward for Democrats? One strategy is to do nothing and hope that the fast growing Sunbelt shifts the electoral map in their favor. Not entirely unreasonable. Maybe even the white working class turns on Trump when it becomes evident that he has no better plan for the white working class than anyone else (then again maybe he skates by with a few small but high profile wins). But who do they turn to next?

And how long will a "hold the course" strategy take? One more election cycle? Or ten? How much damage to our institutions will occur as a result? Can the Democrats afford the time? Or should they find a new standard bearer that can win the Sunbelt states and bridge the divide with the white working class? I tend to think the latter strategy has the higher likelihood of success. But to pursue such a strategy, the liberal elite might find it necessary to learn some humility. Lecturing the white working class on their own self-interest hasn’t worked in the past, and I don’t see how it will work in the future.
Yes, a strategy that builds communities, rather than railing against sin or shaming supposed deplorables, is likely to have some purchase.

But there's something more at work.  The same sort of urban-rural (or perhaps Clerisy-Yeomanry) dynamic appears at work in Europe.
In Germany, the urban establishment underestimated the backlash the recent influx of refugees would provoke in less densely populated areas.

In northern Europe's biggest countries, the rural-urban divide appears to have shaped Europe in 2016. There is no reason to assume that 2017 will be any different. The divide could affect northern Europe to a much greater extent than southern Europe, however, where cities rather than rural areas are increasingly the source of frustration.

Rural northern Europe has been in crisis for years, as younger and educated men and women have moved to cities to find employment.
That's the story of the rural United States, and, more recently, of the smaller central places of the Steam Era, and it's been in progress for about a century (just read your Sinclair Lewis.)  But there are both agglomerative and deglomerative forces at work.
To those who have stayed in rural areas, a feeling of being left behind has replaced the pride of having grown up outside big cities and away from all the problems that are associated with them.

That sense of abandonment — the same sentiment that won over Midwest voters to support Donald Trump — overwhelmed the advice of most of Britain's economic experts and nearly all of the country's leading politicians during this year's European Union referendum.
The agglomeration economies are evident. A Brookings article noted that Mrs Clinton racked up her pluralities in 472 of 3056 counties that account for 64% of gross domestic product.  Agglomeration or rent-seeking?  Here's how Jim Tankersley in Washington's Post describes the numbers.
U.S. economic activity has grown increasingly concentrated in large, “superstar” metro areas, such as Silicon Valley and New York.

But it's not the case that the counties Clinton won have grown richer at the expense of the rest of the country — they represent about the same share of the economy today as they did in 2000. Instead, it appears that, compared to Gore, Clinton was much more successful in winning over the most successful counties in a geographically unbalanced economy.
Those counties also tend to be more thickly settled, and the simple logic of rent gradients suggests housing might be more costly there, and with more people, the raw crime numbers (which is why crime rates make more sense rendered as per thousand inhabitants) will be larger.  But a major party that devotes more of its attention to poverty and inequality might be in a hard place, as the Brookings essay puts it.  "In the end, our data makes plain that while cultural resentments played a huge role in this month’s election, so too did a massive economic divide between relatively prosperous high-output counties and struggling lower-out rural ones. Hashing out a serviceable politics and policy mix to serve that bifurcated reality is going to be a huge challenge."  That gives Joel Kotkin, writing for The Daily Beast, food for thought.
In most urban areas, particularly outside New York and a few other cities, the much ballyhooed “back to the city” movement — mindlessly overblown by the national media — impacts basically the downtown cores, which account for roughly 1.3 percent of the national population, a percentage they have held since 2000. Some inner-ring communities — often right next to the urban core — have lost population in those 16 years. Overall, the outer suburbs and exurbs, home to more than 40 percent of the metropolitan population, have added population at more than five times the rate of urban cores.

The same pattern applies to jobs. Though some cores have gained some employment, that’s been offset by big losses in the surrounding urban neighborhoods for an overall decline in the number of jobs in and around most city centers.

Bottom line: The suburbs and exurbs disdained by most urbanists and Democratic politicians continue to add residents and jobs as inner cities continue to languish.
Meanwhile, as the article notes, Chicago looks increasingly like "one-third San Francisco and two-thirds Detroit."  (The squatter encampments in San Francisco don't yet have analogues in the Loop, but that echoes my "fifteen square miles of privilege surrounded by the Third World.")  And holding that coalition together might not be so easy.

On the other hand, Via Media suggests that where rent gradients are steep, lowering transportation costs to the exurbs might be sound public policy.
There’s a confluence of trends that make this possible. In the first place, the Millennials, like the Boomers, are a large generation that needs both jobs and affordable homes. Second, the shale revolution means that energy in the United States will likely be relatively abundant and cheap for the foreseeable future. Third, both financial markets and the real economy have recovered from the shock of the financial crisis, and, whatever hiccups and upsets may come their way, are now ready for sustained expansion. Fourth, revolutions in technology (self-driving cars and the internet) make it possible for people to build a third ring of suburbs even farther out from the central cities, where land prices are still low and houses can be affordably built.

For national politicians, this is a huge opportunity. Creating the infrastructure for the third suburban wave—new highways, ring roads and the rest of it for another suburban expansion—will create enormous numbers of jobs. The opportunity for cheap housing in leafy places will allow millions of young people to get a piece of the American Dream. Funding the construction of this infrastructure and these homes gives Wall Street an opportunity to make a lot of money in ways that don’t drive the rest of the country crazy.
Perhaps so, although such a building binge, like the one that accompanied the Levittowns, the Interstates, and urban renewal, might turn out to be yet another suburban growth ponzi scheme.

27.12.16

THE FIFTH ANGEL SOUNDED.

I sometimes wonder if the notorious Money Pit of Oak Island, not far from Halifax, isn't a more elaborate version of Al Capone's vault.  The History Channel's extended coverage of ongoing efforts to find what, if anything, is down there, don't do much to disabuse me of that suspicion.  (Hint:  too many breathless allusions to ancient legend, and too many trips to the conference room.)

But the legend of the pit inspired Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child to imagine something similar off the coast of Maine, and in Riptide, tonight's Book Review No. 30, they spin a yarn in which a sufficiently funded expedition gets to the treasure.  Then all washes away.  Sorry, you'll have to read the book to find out more.  I bet the opening of the real Money Pit won't be anywhere near as exciting.  I finished the reading of an evening.  I'm rather proud of myself for solving two of the puzzles before the principals twigged to it, but those puzzles disappoint.  Again, I won't give much away, apart from there being a reason "Wheel of Fortune" give the solver R S T L N E to get started, and that exponential decay is real.  It's the festive season.  Kick back, enjoy.

(Cross-posted to 50 Book Challenge.)

THOSE TOKENS DON'T GET YOU ON THE GRAVY TRAIN.

The heirs to Leon Trotsky aren't happy with identity politics.  The primary target of their wrath is MSNBC regular M. E. Dyson, who also has a court intellectual gig with New York's Times.  But their objection to actually existing affirmative action is instructive.
For more than 40 years, the US ruling class has embraced the mantra of diversity and programs such as affirmative action. Far from liberal elites avoiding this approach, it has been a key element of the social counterrevolution over the past four decades: attacking the jobs and living standards of the working class while elevating a privileged layer of blacks, Latinos, women and gays into the ranks of corporate management, political office, academia, the labor bureaucracy and the media.
Reality is more complicated, with some of who we used to understand as middle-class migrating into the ranks of the upper-middle class.  But to suggest that moving protected-status individuals (to use the current diversity office locution) into the professional class is tokenism?  The sun did rise in the east this morning, didn't it?  And there's not a dime's worth of difference between the two major parties:  "The two parties worked out an unspoken and filthy division of labor, in which the Democrats were allowed to posture as defenders of the black, Hispanic and immigrant population, while white workers were increasingly labeled as 'privileged' and ceded to the Republicans."  Yes, and then Mr Trump gets to make political hay out of the privilege shaming.  But apparently there are some writers in the Marxist tradition who are having none of the perceptions of cultural Marxism that turn up in more mainstream forums.

26.12.16

FRITZ BAYERLEIN'S DALLIANCE.

With the Christmas season come the recollections of the Battle of the Bulge, which began on Beethoven's birthday in 1944, and continued through the Festive Season and into some time in January.  There were some among the Western Allies who were hoping to have the European war done by Christmas, and there were a few people in the German command, most notably one named Adolf, who expected that a setback in the west would fracture the alliance and lead to a separate piece.

I've made reference to this battle before, including a recollection of Sgt. Karlson about going into action with the 87th Infantry Division earlier in December, in the Saar.  But then came the Ardennes offensive, and his unit, relatively new in theater, was attached to Third Army to hustle north toward a place called Bastogne.

Book Review No. 29 commends Peter Caddick-Adams's Snow & Steel: The Battle of the Bulge, 1944-1945.  Mr Caddick-Adams has combat experience in Iraq and Afghanistan and has made the time to walk and read the battlefields.  He also works a fair number of stories into the history of what might be better understood as a campaign (it covered more ground than, for example, McClellan's abortive Peninsula Campaign of 1862).  We learn, for instance, that a journalist came up with the name for the event, eschewing the traditional "salient."

The offensive failed, for a number of reasons.  One of them, the author argues, is the relatively inexperienced U.S. units holding the front line in the Ardennes, which the conventional wisdom held was not of strategic importance, gave a good account of themselves; in addition, the infantry had enough tanks on hand to give the Germans the impression they were confronting forces of greater strength than their intelligence had estimated.  Another is the failure of German logistics: it is difficult for an army dependent on motor fuel to travel a greater distance from its base than the fuel trucks can go without consuming the fuel, and moreso off paved roads, or cross-country, or detouring around those towns that appeared to be more strongly held ...  And the horse-drawn artillery (imagine modern looking field pieces, but hitched to a caisson and six horses in a fashion that Marshal Ney or Colonel Hunt would recognize) was slower and more prone to bogging down.  Thus all the commanders got behind schedule.  Panzer Lehr's Bayerlein, for example?  Read the book.

(Cross-posted to 50 Book Challenge.)

A REAL REALIGNMENT?

Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo sees something unusual happening.
As much as anything there is a revolt against the increasingly urban and non-white America symbolized by the 'Obama coalition', one that combines racial backlash, economic decline and cultural marginalization. There is something there that goes far beyond anything that can be addressed by a more class based politics alone.
What it is isn't exactly clear.  Charles C. W. Cooke of National Review has one explanation.  There may not be a revolt against the "Obama coalition," although there may be a revolt against the excesses of the Democrat-Media-Entertainment-Academic Complex.  "This brave new world came into being a long while ago. Only a fool shows up at the changing of the guard and complains about the soldiers’ new uniforms."

Matt Steinglass, affiliated with The Economist, sees a similar revolt in Europe, where he suggests that the Old Center can no longer hold.
Europe’s mainstream parties have tried to freeze out the populists, forming centrist left-right coalitions and creating a cordon sanitaire to keep them from power. These tactics no longer work. In some countries, the radicals are entering government. In others, they are forcing centrists to adopt their policies. That will mean a Europe where immigrants and Muslims are increasingly unwelcome, free trade is unpopular, and the euro and the European Union itself are fragile.
Years ago, it was the Marxists who chanted "No More Business As Usual."  Be careful what you wish for, you might get it, if not in exactly the form you had in mind.

WILL THE LAST PERSON TO LEAVE ILLINOIS TURN OUT THE LIGHTS?

Will the last person out have to file an environmental impact statement?  The Illinois Policy Institute reports that there are more people employed in government service than in manufacturing.
Of the five largest manufacturing states in the Midwest, Illinois is the only one with significantly more government workers than manufacturing workers. In Indiana, there are 125,000 more manufacturing jobs than government jobs; in Wisconsin, there are 92,000 more manufacturing jobs than government jobs; in Michigan there are 55,000 more manufacturing jobs than government jobs; and in Ohio, government jobs slightly outnumber manufacturing jobs by 17,000.
There has to be a research opportunity, identifying total factor productivity by sector.  Despite the slow economic recovery, the article notes that Indiana added ninety thousand manufacturing jobs (thus government employed fewer workers at the trough); Wisconsin added fifty thousand (ditto; also this is before the election of Scott Walker, the labor protests, and the recall); Michigan, 171,300 added (you'd think with the automotive relief bill Mrs Clinton could have closed the deal in that state); then Ohio plays catch-up, with about 76,000 manufacturing jobs added.

Chicago Magazine notes that Greater Chicago, and counties with a university presence, are holding their own, but other counties are losing out.  The greatest population loss is in Winnebago County, where Rockford is.  Might be a research project involving central place theory, with the smaller municipalities, including Rockford and Peoria, losing population while Chicagoland gains.

TEACH THE CONTROVERSIES.

That "Problem of Whiteness" course at the University of Wisconsin, which is drawing fire from state legislators, serves as a useful case study in the way intellectual inquiry ought to be done, and the ways the inquiry is being done wrong.  Start with Wisconsin attorney Rick Esenberg, who notes, "Silly course, but curtailing academic freedom isn’t the answer."  The course title might be silly, or it might be a bit of marketing, using a title more provocative than "Contemporary Social Hierarchies," or it might be a fallacy of presumption at work.  That appears to be Mr Esenberg's thesis.
Race has mattered in our country and it is reasonable to think that our interactions with each other continue to be affected by it. The historically disadvantaged social position of African-Americans is unlikely to be wholly irrelevant to where we are today. We may not always be aware of how race affects attitudes and actions.

But as with so much on the academic left, these commonplace observations are often turned into an elaborate and vapid political contrivance in which highly problematic propositions about economics and race are treated as unassailable gospel.

In Sajnani’s class, students are to “learn” how white people “consciously and unconsciously perpetuate institutional racism and how this not only devastates communities of color but also perpetuates the oppression of most white folks along the lines of class and gender.” Students are to “consider” the notion that “treason to whiteness is loyalty to humanity.”

Of course, it just may be that, in the 21st century, race plays out in a more complicated and less cartoonish manner. Perhaps the way out of our racial past is not to double down on race consciousness and polarization. But neither the course description nor reading list hints that such views will be explored or tolerated. It seems that indoctrination and not investigation is what is on offer. We must march, my darlings.
It might be more precise, and less provocative, to suggest that intersectionality theory produces testable hypotheses (do white people unconsciously perpetuate oppression?) whilst the course treats these as maintained hypotheses.  (An alternative, if you're curious:  there are survivals of kinship ties that offer ways for insiders to identify or to communicate trust with other insiders, to the exclusion of outsiders.)  To Mr Esenberg, the course description comes off as dismissive of those other interpretations, which he suggests are unavailable thanks to higher education's epistemic closure.

In The Federalist, David Marcus has an essay about the pedagogical errors of urging students to confess to their privilege rather than thinking more carefully about the possible downsides of conventions that favor insiders.
The recurring, tired refrain that we should have a white history month if there is a black history month, or white student unions on campuses, is unintentionally being given new life by the Left. Celebrations or organizations of whiteness do not exist because we don’t need them. White people do not face the same kinds of systemic discrimination that people of color do. But progressives are doing a very good job of convincing white people that they do.
Or, put more simply, every month is Insider Month. Noting the accomplishments of various sorts of Outsiders might make Insiders more receptive to bringing Outsiders Inside.  But privilege-shaming the Insiders well might backfire.
One can teach against white supremacy by encouraging students to treat everyone as equal, or at least as individuals not defined in important ways by their race. Privilege theory does not allow for this approach. It demands that differences be front and center and that we always consider a person’s race in considering him. This focus on “valuing differences” over “the colorblind model” unlocked the door to the white supremacist revival that today’s anti-white rhetoric has kicked open.
Mr Marcus's focus is on social developments well outside the classroom, but his argument that compelling Insiders to confess guilt for their privileges can lead to unpleasant things is also a suggestion that perhaps, instead of "interrogating" Whiteness (yeah, I'm going to mock the use of that term whenever it doesn't involve darkened rooms, knuckle-dusters, and polished jackboots), which often deteriorates into affirming the consequent, social scientists ought let students confront the controversies.

That appears to be what Christina Berchini of Wisconsin-Eau Claire is doing.
My students (all 34 of them) and I examined race and racism in text (novels, music, and other forms), institutions (schools, prisons, and others), and our own experiences.

What does this mean?

It means that we examined our assumptions about race, and the foundation upon which our experiences with race rest. It means we examined racialized privilege and identity development. Which, by design, means we examined whiteness. I warn my predominantly white students in advance that the content we cover is provocative; it is rhetorically powerful. I clue them into the reality that painful emotions might emerge while engaging the kinds of concepts and ideas about race and whiteness that we cover during our 15 weeks together. I remind them that anger, resentment and hopelessness are perfectly normal responses to topics in a course that centers on the experience of race in the United States.
It's a short column in a newspaper, not the best place to do deep inquiry.  I'm not sure, for instance, what "examining assumptions" means: do we start with premises and see what testable implications follow, or are the students being asked to consider what evidence would lead them to revise their prior beliefs, or something else.  Thus I'm not assured that the readings over the fifteen weeks aren't full of consequent-affirming.  But I'd rather students raise questions such as "What other explanations might there be for this author's stance?" with the expectation of a serious answer, rather than a privilege check, or a guilt trip.  Alas, that's missing from the article's comments.  (Article comments are never for the faint of heart.)

23.12.16

MERRY CHRISTMAS TO ALL, AND TO ALL A GOOD NIGHT.

Something different under the tree this Festive Season.



Back after the festivities.

A MINIMAL PUBLISHABLE UNIT?

The latest from the school of Tom Clancy is Duty and Honor, by Grant Blackwood.  I'll keep Book Review No. 28 short.  Jack Ryan, jr. is currently on leave from his investment firm-cum-SPECTRE for the good guys, but he's still not safe.  Let's say that the scrape he gets into doesn't rise to the level of world-historical import we used to get from Mr Clancy and the apprentices.

(Cross-posted to 50 Book Challenge.)

IT'S THE RENT-SEEKING, OLD CHAP.

Charles Moore, of Britain's Spectator, wonders why he, a Tory of the old school, finds himself cheering for the populist right.  "It may sound Marxist to say this, but I do think the elites have constructed a world order which serves their interests, not those of their subject populations."  Yes, I'm sure there are some Deep Thoughts one could conjure up, about class struggle or alienation, but it's as old as hierarchy itself: ordering the constituents about is fun, intellectual coherence or not.

A true Marxist might have some aversion to blaming the victim, but that's not the current Ruling Class (perhaps we could call the North American version the Chautauqua Class, a felicitous term Angelo Codevilla came up with some years ago) view.  "The response of elites to their failures is too often to stigmatise the people who complain. Those who protest at immigration levels ten times higher than 30 years ago are treated as racists. Even the ballot box itself is seen as ‘populist’. Remainers argue that the referendum issues were ‘too complicated’ for voters."  And a truly radical social scientist might take to heart the lessons of social psychology about "internalization."  Not the appletini set.  "Grievance politics is extremely unattractive, but if western societies no longer deliver rising general prosperity and disrespect the people whom they are failing to serve, what do you expect?"

Via Rod Dreher, who finds himself in violent agreement.

22.12.16

ON TO RICHMOND!

Relax, it's faster trains through Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania, not Grant's army and Sheridan's cavalry.  And some wisdom on the part of Fredericksburghers.
Still, if it happens, the plan here calls for spending nearly $500 million for a third rail line, a new bridge over the Rappahannock River and improvements to the confusing station platform in the city, replacement of deteriorating rail bridges over four nearby streets, and more parking along the CSX-owned right of way.

The Fredericksburg station has a less-than-stellar reputation because Amtrak riders never know which set of tracks the train will arrive on and they often have to race underneath the platform and up the other side to climb aboard passenger cars.

Virginia Railway Express commuters could also benefit from an extended platform that would allow more riders to board longer trains.

The Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation this month put its preliminary blessing on the additional tracks running through Fredericksburg, saying they fit into the city’s comprehensive plan.
One of the advantages of passenger trains is their ability to pick up and set down near the stores and offices.  And providing the capacity to handle trains in a predictable way, including calling at the inward or outward platform, makes the job of the dispatcher easier.

We'll see, though, if trains are part of the infrastructure plans Mr Trump keeps talking about.

THAT TRASHED PUBLIC SQUARE.

Rod Dreher's "Blindly Staggering To The Precipice" extends the argument I raised earlier this week.  The key: "Donald Trump and his European counterparts are not the cause of the problem, but the result of the persistent failures of elites of both the left-wing and the right-wing parties."  The essay has links to essays by observers of the left, and of the right, and the consensus appears to be that the gentry will not be able to fortify in gated communities and ride the troubles out unscathed.  There's the occasional zinger, e.g. "Do you mean that the working class is not satisfied that the Left is preoccupied with genderqueering their kids?"  But there's much more.  Go, and follow the links, and draw your own conclusions.

WISCONSIN'S REGENTS HAVE ALREADY RESPONDED TO THE LEGISLATURE.

Years ago, pioneer economist Richard T. Ely engaged in some scholarship the legislators didn't like.  The regents responded, in a statement that has long been cast in bronze on Bascom Hall.
WHATEVER MAY BE THE LIMITATIONS WHICH TRAMMEL INQUIRY ELSEWHERE, WE BELIEVE THAT THE GREAT STATE UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN SHOULD EVER ENCOURAGE THAT CONTINUAL AND FEARLESS SIFTING AND WINNOWING BY WHICH ALONE THE TRUTH CAN BE FOUND.
Now comes a course, "The Problem of Whiteness," that one or two current legislators have a problem with.  Perhaps the course description suggests a line of scholarly inquiry less foundational than that of Ely or Commons, all those years ago.  "Critical Whiteness Studies aims to understand how whiteness is socially constructed and experienced in order to help dismantle white supremacy." On the other hand, those heroes of what sails under the rubric of "progressive" thought might have benefitted from hearing some of the arguments the course might raise.  And perhaps the students would be interested in learning that what today's culture-studies mavens understand as "whiteness" itself emerged out of an earlier era's version of diversity.


That is, the use of mediating institutions, including those that define membership in a civilization, is an evolutionary stable strategy.  As such, though the institutions are emergent, and worthy of academic inquiry.

Wisconsin seems doomed, however, to a replay of l'affaire Ely.
Regardless of whether the course is a helpful exploration of race relations, academic freedom and the quality of education provided to students suffers immensely when faculty are not free to decide their own content. If politicians can exercise veto power over course content they don’t like, we will increasingly see conservative faculty silenced in particularly progressive states and progressive faculty censored in conservative parts of the country.
Conor Friedersdorf gets off the right kind of zinger: A Wisconsin Legislator Models Political Correctness for Students.  I am in the same position I was in when Missouri's governing board caved to the legislature there.  "I still maintain that academic freedom too often serves as cover for trendy grievance scholarship, and that the diversity boondoggle is creating an academic environment devoid of intellectual diversity, none of which is consistent with the public interest, I must also object to Missouri's board of curators conceding powers to a legislature that will almost certainly be used in a situation where curricular integrity, rather than excessively zealous protesting, is at stake."

I'd nominate the two legislators modelling political correctness for a "Deep Tunnel" award, but radio host Charlie "Prof Scam" Sykes has taken his pension.

21.12.16

THE ACCUSED HAVE NO RIGHTS.

The overweening Student Affairs types and their kangaroo courts weren't quite up to railroading the Minnesota football team, because bowl bid, or something.

But the outcry of Student Affairs types and their willing accomplices in the administration and the grievance studies departments is capable of doing a great deal of damage.  K. C. Johnson, who has investigated such damage before, most notably with the Duke lacrosse squad, has looked at the procedural tools the Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, er, Student Affairs wield.
Minnesota has trained its sexual assault investigators by having them attend an event organized by the Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault; sessions from the National Association of Colleges and Universities; participating in the “Minnesota Campus Sexual Violence Summit”; joining an AAU Survey of Sexual Assault and Sexual Misconduct Webinar; and completing a course organized by the ATIXA Institute, an organization associated with the anti-due process NCHERM. Adjudicators receive briefings from the Minnesota Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action Office, the Student Sexual Misconduct Subcommittees, the university Office of the General Counsel, a local police chief, a university lecturer expert in addressing questions of credibility, the Director of Gender and Sexuality Center for Queer and Trans Life at the University of Minnesota, and the legal advocacy coordinator of the Aurora Center, a university organization that “provides a safe and confidential space for students . . . who are victims/survivors/concerned people of sexual assault.”

Adjudicators receive briefings from the Minnesota Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action Office, the Student Sexual Misconduct Subcommittees, the university Office of the General Counsel, a local police chief, a university lecturer expert in addressing questions of credibility, the Director of Gender and Sexuality Center for Queer and Trans Life at the University of Minnesota, and the legal advocacy coordinator of the Aurora Center, a university organization that “provides a safe and confidential space for students . . . who are victims/survivors/concerned people of sexual assault.”

The list of training, therefore, contains no defense lawyers.
Of course not. It's not about the quality of the evidence, it's about the seriousness of the charge. Plus it's hard enough for people who had a bad encounter with the football team to speak up in the first place ...  But it gets interesting when it's football players of color ... now we get into false accusations and planted evidence and the legacy of Jim Crow and the rest who are on the receiving end of the Holy Inquisition.  The question Professor Johnson asks might generalize to other parts of the one-party state Student Affairs hopes to run.  " Is there any other context in which a left-of-center editorial page would advance such a claim about students advocating for other students’ civil liberties?"  Study your history, dear reader.  When a Stalinist terror gets going, nobody is safe.

LET'S GET THE INSTITUTIONS RIGHT.

Rush Limbaugh, predictably, had some fun with the Meeting of the Electors, with Hillary Clinton suffering more defections than Donald Trump.

But in the course of his fun, opening Tuesday's show, he conflates a show with a Founding Document.
What is meant here by Hamilton's electors fail?  I'll explain this very, very enjoyably, my friends.  What is the hottest Broadway production at the moment?  "Hamilton."  As we have known, the cast of "Hamilton" doesn't even know who he is, other than the way he's portrayed in the lines they recite and the songs they sing in the musical.  They really don't know who he is.  If they actually knew who Alexander Hamilton was, they would realize that Donald Trump is not that far from Alexander Hamilton on something as key as illegal immigration.
Sorry, no.  The "Hamilton electors" reference is to Federalist 68.  The forlorn hope of the Stop Trump people was that contemporary electors would behave more like the philosopher-kings envisioned in that Paper.(Or not: check out the language on cabal, intrigue, and corruption.)  But since the Twelfth Amendment, the emergence of political parties, and the codification of Pledged Electors, there's not much opportunity for philosopher-kings any more, although attention hogs can still turn up.

THE SMALL PLATOONS AT WORK.

DeKalb journalist Eric Olson helps out at the Toys for Tots gift-giving.
Kathi Hogshead Davis and many volunteer helpers, including several retired Marines, work hard each year to make the Marine Corps Reserve’s annual toy drive and distribution a success. The generosity of families and companies in the area also is essential, and this year there was plenty of support.

It’s a good thing, too, because there clearly is a need in our community.

I helped five people through The Salvation Army building at 830 Grove St. in DeKalb in almost two hours, and each time I saw one person out the door, there was another waiting at the head of the line. There were people with as many as five children and people with as few as one. They were white, black and Latina.

All of them were moms, and if there’s one thing you can talk to a mom about, it’s her kids. Some talked about how advanced their child was, others about how big they’d grown or how much they’d changed since becoming teenagers.

All of them carefully scanned the toys, books, puzzles and clothing that covered folding tables, while I took their selections and put them into a bag. All of the people who I helped said they wanted to apply the personal touch of wrapping their own gifts, even though gift wrappers were available.
In Chicago, Commuter Rail operator Metra did its own version of the Holiday Train, setting up collection stations at the downtown termini on Friday past.

20.12.16

THE LAND THE VANGUARD DESTROYED.

The phenomenon of people who should be logical constituents for socialists but vote and otherwise behave differently keeps a cottage industry in punditry, including academic punditry, perpetually busy.  Thomas Frank may be one of the better known pundits, starting with his What's the Matter With Kansas? His more recent Listen, Liberal suggested that the appletini set marinating in the smug on Martha's Vineyard and in the Hamptons were asking for trouble.  Hillary "basket of deplorables" Clinton never got the memo, and now, now, Talking Points Memo founder Josh Marshall twigs to how bad the trouble is.  "As much as anything there is a revolt against the increasingly urban and non-white America symbolized by the 'Obama coalition', one that combines racial backlash, economic decline and cultural marginalization. There is something there that goes far beyond anything that can be addressed by a more class based politics alone."  Put the appletini away, this may call for three fingers of Jack.

Perhaps the Deep Thinkers will be looking through Berkeley sociologist A. R. Hochschild's Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right, a think-piece sort of Book Review No. 27.  Yes, the title has a whiff of patronizing condescension to it, but the author did take the time to go to a part of Conservative America, the Chemical Coast of southwestern Louisiana, where you'd think between dangerous work, hurricanes, and environmental laxity, there'd be a fair number of logical constituents for socialists, and yet the Tea Party and the Church and the Maverick traditions are reasons for people to have world-views in which Government is Not the Solution to our Problems, Government. Is. The. Problem.  (That despite Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal cutting public expenditures in order to offer tax inducements for businesses that often cut corners to get the oil or the salt or the sulphur out of the ground.  Oh, and Mr Jindal is not of Old Plantation Stock, but there are only so many anomalies a sociologist can tackle.)

So yes, I did enjoy reading the book.  Amazing what academicians can do when they write straightforward declarative sentences and eschew the elephantine prose that informs, or misinforms, what masquerades as scholarly writing.  It is solid social science, with lots of end-notes, and technical appendices that might be helpful, although since one of them perpetuates the 79 cents on the dollar canard, you must trust, then verify, dear reader.

But in Professor Hochschild's "deep stories," the vision of the way the world works that apparently the bayou and delta libertarians, evangelicals, traditionalists, and mavericks share in common, perhaps what she didn't pick up on is more important than what she did pick up on, once her conversations with people turned to serious matters of state.

The deep story she uses to get into the minds of her hosts and hostesses begins something like this.  The full version starts at page 136: I have tweaked it slightly so as to establish a story I think she missed.  "You are patiently standing in a long line leading up a hill.  There appears to be a shining city atop the hill.  It represents the American Dream, the goal of everyone waiting in line.  The sun is hot.  And there are people cutting the line, pushed there by the national government.  Blacks.  Women.  Immigrants.  Refugees.  Brown Pelicans.  (Had Professor Hochschild gotten to know people living an hour southeast of Berkeley, or taken V. D. Hanson to lunch, it might have been delta smelt.)

It makes sense that she would frame the story that way: doesn't every populist politician whip up resentment, whether against Elites or Those People, by making his cause the cause of People Who Played By The Rules and were Hard Done By?

But after I finished the book, I then reflected on a sketch by Alexandr Solzhenitsyn, "Along the Oka," which you can find in full in English on pages 3-4 of Michael Bourdeaux, Gorbachev, Glasnost, & The Gospel.  In Solzhenitsyn, it's repurposed churches, but I've adapted his story to that city atop the hill.

"But when you get there, you find that not the living but the dead greeted you from afar.  The marquees and signage has been knocked off the roof or twisted out of place long ago.  The spires have been stripped, and there are gaping holes in the rusty steelwork.  Weeds grow on the roofs and in the cracks in the walls.  The landscaping has not been kept up, and the flowerbeds are trampled.  The broken windows may have been boarded over, with obscene inscriptions scrawled over them."

If that sounds a little bit like what has happened in Democratic-controlled cities such as Detroit and to a lesser extent elsewhere around the Great Lakes and east of the Alleghenies, you begin to understand the secret of the Trumpening.

Later in the book, she offers the deep story of the appletini set.  This starts at page 235, and again, it involves a city.  "In it, people stand around a large public square inside of which are creative science museums for kids, public art and theater programs, libraries, schools -- a state-of-the-art public infrastructure available for use by all."  Then come the privatizers and limited-government types, dismantling the public square to build McMansions.  It's not quite as compelling as the shining city story, and yet, Solzhenitsyn has an accurate description of the trashed public square without the deus ex machina of John Galt.

"In the theater there is the shudder of percussion and profane voices being raised.  The art may be tendentious or strange.  Some of the schools are locked and silent.  In others, there are slogans.  'Our Strength is Our Diversity.'  See Spot Run.  'A Poem about Piece' is on the bulletin board.  A truck, guarded by police, has backed to the school loading dock to unload tablets.

"At one time those museums, those libraries, those schools, ennobled people, and prevented them from sinking on all fours.  But now sinking on all fours is a form of authenticity ...

"Buck up and stop feeling sorry for yourself.  Happy Hour is at six and the cage-match starts at eight."

Yes, there is more to the sense of decay than class-based politics alone.

(Cross-posted to 50 Book Challenge.)

RESTORING THE UNION.

Not a Civil War reference this time: rather, it's a day train of The Pennsylvania Railroad linking Chicago with Cleveland and Columbus, via Richmond, Indiana; and Piqua, Ohio.  At one time the service included parlor and dining car services for and from Columbus.  The Cincinnati service continued under Penn Central auspices until Amtrak Day (perhaps as what a magazine of the era described as a "grubby one-coach and a Flexi-Van") and Columbus passengers could change at Richmond for or from a St. Louis train that offered food service.

All that service evaporated with the coming of Amtrak, and Penn Central had done such a good job of discouraging passengers that almost all the regional service west of Pittsburgh and Buffalo failed to qualify for operation under Amtrak auspices.

Later, the New York - Kansas City National Limited came off, followed by The Broadway Limited first being rerouted onto the Baltimore and Ohio west of Pittsburgh, then it became the Three Rivers, and that, too, came off.

But public officials in places like Fort Wayne are still interested in having train service, and those ambitions extend southeast to Columbus.  "That vision, in the works for about two decades, may be a step closer to reality with an announcement Monday that federal rail and state transportation officials have given the go-ahead to a process that could restore passenger rail service to Fort Wayne."  I'm not sure what they're looking at for railroad routes.  The old Pennsylvania Railroad racetrack survives as regional carrier Chicago Fort Wayne & Eastern, and that line isn't exactly a streak of rust -- early in November I was heading west on the old Lincoln Highway, after dark, and I'm pretty sure that I saw a stack train with Union Pacific motors in charge being beckoned through the Latta interlocking by a position-light signal.  But in Fort Wayne there is hope of making the Fort Wayne Division, or perhaps some other railroad, great again.  "[Fort Wayne city councilman Geoff] Paddock is hopeful because the need to change existing tracks has been minimized by lowering the projected speed of trains from 110 to between 75 and 80 miles per hour. Also, he said, new interest in infrastructure improvements has been expressed by President-elect Donald Trump, who has promised an infrastructure bill in his first 100 days in office."  Now Mr Paddock is a Democrat, but it's worth noting that former Indiana governor Mike Pence will be hearing ruffles, flourishes, and Hail Columbia.

The optimists in Fort Wayne, Van Wert, and Lima (that's an interurban reference, if you're following along) are hoping for an All Aboard! sometime in 2020.  They also have ambitions of additional regional service to the likes of Detroit and St. Louis.

UNDOING THE EPISTEMIC CLOSURE.

Rice University sociologist E. H. Ecklund decides that emulating Pauline Kael is not healthy for higher education.  "I am a professor of sociology who did not vote for Donald Trump, and I do not know of a single academic colleague who did. (And if they did, they are certainly not disclosing this in academic circles.)"  To her credit, though, she's calling on her colleagues to re-evaluate their priors.
Most of us would be hard-pressed to give a well-reasoned, conservative argument in response to any social issue. And more than one academic colleague has told me that if their neighbor had a Republican sign on his lawn, they probably would not make any effort to get to know the neighbor.

I join my colleagues in the fight against social inequality in all its insidious forms. But many academics like me have not spent much time trying to understand the groups of people who likely voted for Trump, nor have we spent much time trying to translate our academic work to these groups.
The arguments exist, and they're relatively straightforward.  In theory, social construction makes more sense if the constructions conserve evolutionary advantage.  In practice, the Law of Unintended Consequences undoes Good Intentions and trips up Wise Experts.  And there's no end of research questions.  Some of them might even produce Minimal Publishable Units.  But the faculty must be serious about encouraging the sifting and winnowing.
When colleagues say things that cut off dialogue or say that certain views are not welcome, I might feel freer to gently challenge. I might spend more time in my community translating my work, and I might take my students with me. I might try harder to bring that community to campus. In the best case, the election provides a chance for the academy to reflect on itself and achieve a new vision of service to the broader society.
Well, if you can't play around with ideas in a university, when are you going to play around with ideas?  Maybe the Academic part of the Democrat - Media - Academy - Entertainment Complex will take an education from a loss.

19.12.16

THE CONFEDERACY'S MANHATTAN PROJECT.

Richard Snow first took an interest in Monitor and Virginia as a kid, partly because both were much easier to draw than your ship of the line.  (Try it: where do you run the spanker topping-lift?)  That, and a few other things, prompted him to write Iron Dawn:  The Monitor, the Merrimack, and the Civil War Sea Battle that Changed History, this afternoon's Book Review No. 26.

It's the back-stories and the intrigues that got him interested, and that fill out the book.  We know the outcome of the battle:  the blockade remained in place at Hampton Roads, which, in my view, renders all the southern talk of a "drawn engagement" moot.  Perhaps Virginia enthusiasts have to stand up in defense of their extremely expensive lost cause.

That is, at the same time that the rebel quartermasters were procuring all the iron they could lay hands on to build a machine capable of lifting the blockade, shelling the Capitol, and perhaps laying waste to shipping in New York Harbor, a little-known brigadier named Grant, with some simpler ironclad barges, was preparing to open the Cumberland and Tennessee rivers into the cotton South, and isolate an imposing fort at Columbus, Kentucky.  Perhaps I should post pictures of that fort ...

But the success of Monitor changed a lot of minds in Washington.  Skeptics couldn't hurry fast enough to appropriate money to build more monitors.  Other countries wanted some, and the last floating hull once served the Austro-Hungarian Navy.  Then came the people with ideas for building iron ships with greater freeboard, and fitting them with more turrets.  Read about the arms race that ensued in Robert K. Massie's Dreadnought, which I read through before this Fifty Book Challenge stuff started.  Missile gaps?  Nothing new.  Prior to that, there was a dreadnought gap?  For all I know, there's a Roman papyrus somewhere about a trireme gap.  Rent-seekers gotta rent-seek.

I commend, though, the post-battle chapter, "Hawthorne Visits the Future."  Yes, as in Nathaniel of "Gray Champion" and such light reading as The House of the Seven Gables and Scarlet Letter.  Hawthorne, Mr Snow suggests, "saw forward to twentieth-century naval warfare," including (now Hawthorne's words) "the armament of which is to act entirely beneath the surface of the water, so that, with no other external symptoms than a great bubbling and foaming, and gush of smoke, and belch of thunder out of the yeasty waves ..."   Torpedo, Los!  And Hawthorne might even have gotten this prediction more right than wrong.  "Human strife is to be transformed from the heart and personality of man into cunning contrivances of machinery, which by-and-will fight out our wars with only the clank and smash of iron, strewing the field with broken engines, but damaging no one's little finger except by accident."  Not true of the dreadnaughts, not true of the submarines, not true of the aviators, not true of the people on the receiving end of cruise missile and drone strikes.  But even a Hawthorne could not anticipate the damage to the psyches of the people whose little fingers help steer the drones ...

(Cross-posted to 50 Book Challenge.)

THE CASE FOR RULES OF ARGUMENT.

Jonathan Gold's "Teaching in the Post-Truth Era" opens with the Trenchant Observation of the Day.  “Critical literacy is essential, but not if it leads to a kind of moral relativism that tolerates all views and dismisses none in fits of false equivalence and both-siderism.”

The relativism might be a consequence of the decline of the gate-keepers, although it's the gatekeepers of the Oxford Dictionaries who have named post-truth as the word of the year.
Oxford describes post-truth as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” While the neologism “post-truth” is relatively new, the term fits into a broader context of unease about the ways the modern world, especially its attendant over-reliance on social media, affects one’s ability to acquire knowledge and share concepts of truth and values.
But it's not as though the gate-keepers didn't abdicate some of their own responsibilities, particularly those who put sneer quotes around words such as truth, or who gave the impression that any emergent phenomenon, because it was emergent, was an arbitrary construction that could be deconstructed without consequence.  Oops.

Perhaps it is that abdication that brings Mr Gold to this.
A second concern is supported by two new unsurprising but arresting studies, one from Sam Wineburg at Stanford and another from Joseph Kahne of UC Riverside and Benjamin Bowyer of Santa Clara University. Wineburg’s research shows that today’s students are dismayingly unskilled at detecting bias, identifying fake news, and evaluating truth claims. Similarly, Kahne and Bowyer show that high school students are especially susceptible to “directional motivated reasoning,” which means they prefer “to seek out evidence that aligns with their preexisting views, to work to dismiss or find counter-arguments for perspectives that contradict their beliefs, and to evaluate arguments that align with their views as stronger and more accurate than opposing arguments.” Notably, the authors saw these patterns of thought in students from across the political spectrum; they seem to be exacerbated by social media news consumption.
Epistemic closure, confirmation bias. Perhaps that's because the youngsters have had their skulls turned to mush by mushy-skulled adults.
A matrix of approaches, often grouped under the heading critical literacy, has been used by many progressive [c.q.] educators to teach students how to think. Descended from Marxist critical pedagogy, a critical literacy approach encourages students to interrogate texts for bias, uncover connections to systems of power and privilege, and identify and question missing voices and narratives. It means resisting passive acceptance of facts and authority as a source of truth. And yet, given the picture I’ve painted of our students’ knowledge landscape, I think the current moment calls for a more mature form of critical thinking. Indeed, skepticism about the sources of knowledge does not mean there is no knowledge, no commonly held set of facts or assumptions; rather, it means we have to be rigorous and objective in our scrutiny of that knowledge. We have to model for students that facts exist and help them develop their own thinking based on facts, evidence, and logic.
Perhaps an intellectual framework more rigorous than cultural Marxism would help.  "More essential is the development of a mature critical literacy that allows students to understand and interrogate both their own views and those held by people they disagree with and decide what to think for themselves. Again, critical skepticism doesn’t mean operating as if there’s no truth."  The use of that "interrogate" bothers me, but I digress.  Let's keep it simple: deny coherent beliefs of any kind, which is where resisting authority can lead, what you get is incoherence.  Or treating Wikipedia or social media as a source as valid as the original documents and records.

This is true, by the way, even if you're skeptical of any claim of truth, or of fact, or of proof.  In Scientific American, Julia Shaw spells this out.
Well, let me tell you a secret about science; scientists don’t prove anything. What we do is collect evidence that supports or does not support our predictions. Sometimes we do things over and over again, in meaningfully different ways, and we get the same results, and then we call these findings facts. And, when we have lots and lots of replications and variations that all say the same thing, then we talk about theories or laws. Like evolution. Or gravity. But at no point have we proved anything.

Don’t get me wrong. The scientific method is totally awesome. It is unparalleled in its ability to get answers that can help us extend life, optimize output, and understand our own brains.

Scientists slowly break down the illusions created by our biased human perception, revealing what the universe actually looks like. In an incremental progress, each study adds a tiny bit of insight to our understanding.
Proof, properly viewed, is the demonstration of the consequences of a set of initial conditions by a rigorous argument.  For instance:  elliptic curves are modular, therefore Diophantine equations of order greater than two have no nondegenerate solutions in integers.  (There is not enough room in the margin for me to show you.)  But in experimental science, and in social science, the best you can do with empirical phenomena is come up with corroborations of working hypotheses, or anomalies thereto.  (And the fun is in the anomalies, whether we're talking about the speed of light or the periodic granting of amnesties.)  Here's how Ms Shaw puts it:  "But let’s make it our job as a society to encourage each other to find replicable and falsifiable evidence to support our views, and to logically argue our positions."  Note: logically argue.  Dressing it up in word-noise and pretending to be a sophisticate?  No.