25.2.15

AFTER EVERYTHING ELSE HAS FAILED.

Has it been ten years since I proposed that higher education go out of the remediation business, and nine years since I suggested that colleges and universities identify the sources of Distressed Material and send them a bill for the remedial work?
Perhaps the most salutary reform the public universities could obtain would be to announce something like "Effective 15 April 2007, admission to Enormous State University (flagship, land-grant, compass-direction alike) is contingent on passing the mathematics and writing placement tests. Enormous will no longer offer no-credit remedial mathematics, writing, and speaking courses for high school graduates who have not really received a high school education. Furthermore, Enormous State's Office of Institutional Research will report placement test passage rates by school district." My sometimes sparring partner at Anonymous Community would no doubt be a bit unhappy to receive additional remedial students at the same time that his state is griping about having to pay for the same courses twice. Fine. As part of the reform, bill the school districts for those remedial courses and reimburse the community colleges. Principals now have a choice: offer token academic courses and suffer a budget cut, or spend money to improve their academic content. Some school districts might choose to outsource those classes directly to the community colleges. Fine. Outsourcing is a way of exploiting comparative advantages. Economics again.
That post elicited a response from Dean Dad, and a follow-up by me.  At the time, he was of the mind that putting the onus on the high schools would create some screwy incentives, and I concurred in part and dissented in part. "That changes may appear 'pretty screwy' is not necessarily reason to stop thinking along those lines, particularly when the status quo is not working." (In my view, it's going on forty years of failure by the special-educationing of higher education.)

Now, courtesy Dean Dad, who I now refer to as at "Pioneer Valley Community" (technically inaccurate, geographically precise enough), has reacted to an actual legislative proposal to ... "require Tennessee public school districts to reimburse the costs of recent high school graduates who have had to take a remedial course."  It's not law, yet, and the reactions of government school administrators and members of the legislature suggest the proposal might be more symbolic than substantive.

But after forty years of failure ...

Here's part of Dean Dad's reaction.
Rather than punishing poverty, I’d prefer to see resources directed to ways to prevent the need for remediation in the first place.  Start by requiring four years of math in high school; I maintain that any state that fails to do that has no standing to criticize community colleges.  If the students are in high school anyway, why not teach them math?  It may make sense to use the senior year to solidify and review the basics for some students, but that’s a fair sight better than nothing.  If it sets the students up to succeed in college, it’s worth it.
Let's stipulate for the sake of discussion that poverty correlates with weak school districts.  But if you're going to require math (to precalculus? into calculus?) through the senior year of high school, implicitly you're insisting on stronger academic discipline beginning in kindergarten.  Let the conversation over whether the common schools ought be encouraging the work habits of the upper-middle class begin.
Ultimately, the solution to remediation will have to involve conceiving of K-12 and higher ed as part of a larger ecosystem.  Whether that means the Common Core or not, it’s counterproductive for the two systems to continue to talk past each other.  I’d prefer to start with voice, rather than invoice, but I’ll give credit for sparking discussion.
It is an ecosystem, whether legislatures grasp it or not.  And well-off parents perceive it as such, which is why good school districts come bundled with granite countertops, and why U.S. News guides sell so well.  All the same, it might be fun to implement the invoicing and see how much of the Distressed Material turning up at regional comprehensives is middling students from well-off districts being shipped off to extended summer camp, or to finishing school.

THE EVOLUTION OF CONCENTRATION.

Slate authors discover a power rule at work, call it the academy's dirty secret.
At first glance, this hiring system may be seem like good news for college students at least. Whether you go to a prestigious or less prestigious school, you’ll be learning from the best of the best. But the situation isn’t so rosy for the students who dream of making ground-breaking discoveries as faculty members themselves. The elite schools are producing so many job-seekers on the faculty market that they can’t hire them all themselves, so the vast majority end up at less elite schools. That means that even if you manage to be admitted to a Ph.D. program at a prestigious university, the chances are slim that you’ll stay at that university, or even a similar university, when it’s time to get a faculty job. In fact, after graduating with Ph.D.s, only about 10 percent of faculty move “up” the academic prestige hierarchy as defined by the Science Advances study (with “prestige” being determined by the university’s ability to place faculty at the widest variety of other institutions). Most faculty instead slide 25 percent down the scale.
That becomes a problem when the universities down the scale emphasize something other than admitting the best possible students, and challenging them accordingly. We are all in the same business as Harvard, but the safe course might be to neglect that.

Oh, and the quality distribution of recent Ph.D.s might be more skewed than you'd think.  And the experiences of a Ph.D. who happened to move up the prestige hierarchy square with the experiences of tenured professors who you'd think were born on third base.
We then contacted a few of these standouts to find out what it took for them to move up the academic ladder.

For starters, it took a heck of a lot of work. “I killed myself,” says one female business professor who worked her way up from a midlevel undergraduate university to a top-level faculty job. To get there, she labored so hard she alienated her fellow students, annoyed her academic adviser, and even sacrificed her health. (“Looking back, I must have been insufferable,” she says.) She requested that we not use her name or credentials, because she says some of her former colleagues are “weirdly conflicted” about her success—and her success in her field is so unique that even just revealing the universities she’s been associated with would give her away to her associates.
There's always room for creative people, and in my experience the job candidates from perceived high-end departments were more likely to crash their chances by offering the safe but pedestrian extension of the current trendy thing.

Irrespective, though, of program, topic, or hire: the road to tenure is a darned hard slog, and it may be a process that screens for the fanatical and the insufferable.  Whether that's best for higher education or not is left for further discussion.

CIRCLES OF OPPRESSION HAVE EMPTY INTERSECTION.

The Academy Awards are an occasion for people to demonstrate the value of division of labor by saying inane things about public policy.  Usually, it's some partisan remark by an award-winning performer, and at first blush it appeared as though Patricia Arquette offered the usual cliches with the usual reaction.  (There are video clips around the web, if you're interested.  She has more work to do on her Hillary screech.)  This time, though, it started to form.
The American political Right has come to expect that Hollywood’s annual excess of self-congratulation will, as a matter of course, feature intermittent exhibitions of tired left-wing politics. Glamorous multimillionaires who win top honors in the most glamorous profession in America then transform stage into soapbox to complain about [insert faddish societal injustice]. So it was little surprise when Patricia Arquette took the occasion of her Best Supporting Actress victory Sunday evening to tout the need for wage equality: “To every woman who gave birth to every taxpayer and citizen of this nation, we have fought for everybody else’s rights. It’s time to have wage equality once and for all, and equal rights for women in the United States of America.” Backstage, she expanded: “It’s time for women in America and all the men, all the gay men, the people of color, to fight for us now.”
This time, though, the inanities came later, and from people who you'd think would be supporters of the causes of the women of the fevered brow.
Set aside its historical illiteracy and generally sanctimonious air: Arquette’s comment was not much to get riled up about, and conservatives merely rolled their eyes.

But the remarks earned a fierce response from various quarters on the left, which knocked Arquette for what was evidently a basic ideological failure: “Patricia’s comments show the danger in not being hip to this whole intersectionality thing,” tweeted Tracy Clayton, a staff writer at Buzzfeed. “Women of color get erased.” Who is hip to “intersectionality”? A not insignificant number of Twitter users, apparently, who made sure to pile on.
And it quickly degenerates.  Here's fifteen minutes of fame for one Andrea Grimes.
There are four groups of people who exist in this speech. There are “women,” and there are “men that love women,” and there are “the gay people,” and “people of color.”

That’s pretty bad in and of itself. Arquette thoroughly erases gay women and women of color and all intersecting iterations of those identities by creating these independent identity groups as if they do not overlap—as if, ahem, “all the women are white, all the blacks are men.”

But Arquette goes on to do even worse, which is to demand that “gay people” and “people of color” fight for “us,” a group that Arquette has specifically identified as non-gay and not of color—as very specifically straight and white and “woman.”
Must be some kind of culture-studies dog whistle.  Once upon a time, the Perpetually Aggrieved used to speak of the "multiple oppressions of race, class, and gender."  This "intersecting iterations" jargon might mean the same thing, or there might be some new subtleties.  There has to be a research opportunity for a regression-happy social scientist looking at income and wage inequalities: to the usual kitchen-sink of regressors add dummy variables for "identifies as lesbian" and the like; to get at the intersectionality interact the regressors, and if you're worried about closeted lesbians, well, we have latent variable techniques for that.  Thus, a proper research project might capture within a margin of error the income penalty membership in some set of the oppressed identities bears.

That's not something Tara Culp Ressler could follow up on.
Arquette probably intended to communicate that everyone should help each other progress, which is a nice enough sentiment. But, regardless of her intentions, her comments communicated that women have been left behind while progressives were too busy successfully advancing issues of LGBT equality and racial equality. And that form of “oppression olympics” rings especially hollow for women of color, since the very feminist issue that Arquette is talking about has clear racial implications.
Or not, once attachment to the labor force, school completion, the rest of the Becker-Mincer kitchen sink enters the discussion.  But hey, while the Perpetually Aggrieved are turning on each other, they're not making life more difficult for normal Americans.  Heck, there's so much in this proto-Hillary speech that a man (gasp!) feels compelled to weigh in.  First he issues a disclaimer.
Part of me is very hesitant to attack an actor I deeply respect for having the courage to say anything about the important issue of equal pay for women, and to judge her views on the basis of what surely must have been an adrenaline-spiked high backstage at an awards show. I’m also hesitant as a man to say something when a woman—or anyone—actually has the courage to even raise these issues on such a profoundly elevated public space. But something really does need to be said about this.
But we apparently have an Oppression Olympics with non-overlapping rings.
What is so aggravating is that Ms. Arquette’s comments could best be described as “anti-intersectional.” When you speak of equal pay for women and call upon “all the gay people and all the people of color that we’ve fought for, to fight for us now” it states pretty clearly that you see your struggle as one of straight, white, native-born women for equal pay, as if there aren’t masses of people who live beneath the weight of multiple labels that would benefit from such reforms. It would have been so easy for Ms. Arquette to say something like, “If we had laws in this country ensuring equal pay for women, it would mean equal pay for all women of color and all of our LGBT sisters.” But she chose instead a “we fought for you now you fight for us” approach to fighting oppression.

Unfortunately this is not only cringe-inducing, but it’s also historically negligent. Saying “we fought for you, now you fight for us” implies that battles against racism, anti-LGBT bigotry and other forms of oppression owe a massive debt to the heroism of straight white, middle- and upper-class women.
We're a long way from the days of "an injury to one is an injury to all" and of the United Front.
It also blatantly ignores—instead of owning—the ways in which white-led middle-class feminist movements have in many instances historically ignored or even opposed the movements of workers, people of color and other oppressed groups. There are so many scholars and activists trying to actually own this history and change the ways in which people interact and organize in the future. It was difficult not to feel the pain of every person carefully trying to build those fragile alliances, only to have Ms. Arquette remind many precisely why those alliances need to be constructed in the first place.

This is a moment when the need for people to come together, fight with and for each other and most critically listen to one another, has never been more vital. No one is going to come together if they feel that they are not being heard. We should hear Patricia Arquette’s righteous and urgent call for fair pay. We should hope Patricia Arquette hears why that message will need a rewrite if she wants the support such a movement will demand.
There's something of the Big-Endians and Little-Endians, or perhaps of the Upper Judea Liberation Front, in that sort of sectarianism. So I put it to you again: why are the social scientists letting Hollywood and the left media and the culture-studies types hijack the discussion?

It's all too much for Oliver Willis.
Along that way, it seems so often as if the left is not happy because while they got 70-80% of the cake, they didn’t get that 20% so nobody should have cake forever — until the mythical day we can get 100% cake (which is never coming and has never happened, ever in history).
It's also too much for Brooke Sopelsa.
I'm being sarcastic. But on a serious note, this lesbian has been pushed to her breaking point by factions of our community launching attacks on well-meaning straight people. We are making many of our allies and potential future allies feel as though they have to walk on eggshells because they don't know the latest LGBTQIA lingo (full disclosure: neither do I), aren't properly addressing their "privilege" when doing something positive for the queer community or -- here comes the most egregious insult -- are asking gay people "When did you know?"
I thought the latest aggregation was BLTGQUINOA but apparently even that has been overtaken by events.

Whatever.  It's apparently easier to compare the perceived weight of vectors of oppression and throw around accusations of insensitivity or privilege, than it is to quantify them, or demonstrate the existence of intersections, or to characterize equations of motion and basins of attraction.

INFRASTRUCTURE SPENDING.

It's almost March.  Time to think of construction season in Wisconsin.  That involves orange barrels for motorists, and Form B working limits for train crews.
BNSF Railway is detailing its $120 million 2015 capital program for its operations in Wisconsin. Capacity improvement projects include constructing 4 miles of double track through La Crosse and the installation of Centralized Traffic Control in several locations on the Aurora Subdivision along the Mississippi River.
That should keep the intermodal trains hustling where Nature smiles for 300 miles, as well as providing fewer opportunities for the bad guys to pounce on the Bakken crude trains.  And there will continue to be lots of Bakken crude trains, with Our President still blocking construction of Keystone XL.

Faster intermodal trains mean fewer trucks on Interstates 90 and 94 through Wisconsin.  Less road congestion, with no change in government expenditure.

COMPARE AND CONTRAST.

In Tom Clancy's Command Authority, the Russians get into the Baltic republics before the cavalry, in the form of tank-busting U.S. helicopters, stops the tsar's land grab.

In reality, the streets of Narva, Estonia, recently hosted some U.S. armored vehicles, let us hope, to keep and protect the tsar, far away from the former Captive Nations.


Estonian Defense Forces photograph courtesy Washington Post.

It's part of a scheduled patriotic parade.  There is a NATO rapid reaction force deployed just outside the tsar's window to the west.  So far, at least, nobody is proposing to make Kaliningrad Koenigsberg again.

On the other hand, let some Ohio arsonists torch some military property and academic administrators get the vapors.
The ROTC buildings on both Kent State and Youngstown State University are on lockdown due to a heightened security risk and all ROTC students at both Kent State and Youngstown State University are being told not to wear their uniforms until further notice, as a safety precaution.
You'd think the cadets were being deployed into hostile territory.  Oh, wait ...

22.2.15

THE VALUE OF A NAP.

A University of Michigan student gets it.  Sleep as a Strategic Resource.
I believe that the corporate world can and should shed this toxic notion that “sleep is for the weak” for the benefit of individuals, organizations and the economy as a whole. A better, healthier approach to sleep will ensure that organizations are getting the best performance out of its human capital.  However elementary, proper sleep is the best measure to prevent a fatigued or stressed out work force.
Yes, and the transportation companies in particular are catching on that sleep-deprived railroaders or truck drivers are a hazard to themselves and everyone else.  And if businesses can turn off the telepressure, that's probably a good thing.
Checking work related emails late into the night has been cited as a cause for sleep deprivation by some.  Set limits on how late emails can be sent or at least set limits on how late people should be expected to respond to emails.
I had the will-power to go cold turkey on electronic mail from 5 pm until the next noon, and the luxury while in work of being able to inform people that that was my schedule, and to get away with it.  I understand that not everyone has that freedom, but a little assertiveness toward protecting your own time isn't all bad.

THE QUINTESSENCE OF GENERAL GLUTS?

Two related posts on the role of improved technologies on the production of goods, and the connection between producing and consuming.  First up, Vivek Wadhwa. "Within two decades, we will have almost unlimited energy, food, and clean water; advances in medicine will allow us to live longer and healthier lives; robots will drive our cars, manufacture our goods, and do our chores." The world we live in, though, is one in which consumers acquire income by working, often in the creation of the goods and services they and their neighbors buy.  It's also one structured by the laws of thermodynamics, implying limits to that energy and food.  And the circular flow in an economy brings its own laws of conservation.
Robots are already replacing manufacturing workers. Industrial robots have advanced to the point at which they can do the same physical work as human beings. The operating cost of some robots is now less than the salary of an average Chinese worker. And, unlike human beings, robots don’t complain, join labor unions, or get distracted. They readily work 24 hours a day and require minimal maintenance. Robots will also take the jobs of farmers, pharmacists, and grocery clerks.
Shortly after World War II, United Auto Workers president Walter Reuther riposted, upon being shown a bank of cylinder-boring machines going into some car plant, that the machines wouldn't buy any cars.  No income from labor, no disposable income: what next?
How are policy makers going to grapple with entire industries’ disruptions in periods that are shorter than election cycles? The industrial age lasted a century, and its consequent changes have happened over generations. Now we have startups in Silicon Valley shaking up bedrock industries such as cable and broadcasting, hotels, and transportation.

The writing is clearly on the wall about what lies ahead. Yet even the most brilliant economists—and futurists—don’t know what to do about it.

In his debate with me, [Ray "Singularity'] Kurzweil said: “Automation always eliminates more jobs than it creates if you only look at the circumstances narrowly surrounding the automation. That’s what the Luddites saw in the early 19th century in the textile industry in England. The new jobs came from increased prosperity and new industries that were not seen.” Kurzweil’s key argument was that just as we could not predict that types of jobs that were created, we can’t predict what is to come.

Kurzweil is right, but the problem is that no matter what the jobs of the future are, they will surely require greater skill and education—robots can do all the grunt work. Manufacturers who want to bring production back already complain that they can’t find enough skilled workers in the U.S. for their automated factories. Technology companies that write the software also complain about shortages of workers with the skills that they need. We won’t be able to retrain the majority of the workforce fast enough to take the new jobs in emerging industries. During the industrial revolution, it was the younger generations who were trained—not the older workers.

The only solution that I see is a shrinking work week. We may perhaps be working for 10 to 20 hours a week instead of the 40 for which we do today. And with the prices of necessities and of what we today consider luxury goods dropping exponentially, we may not need the entire population to be working. There is surely a possibility for social unrest because of this; but we could also create the utopian future we have long dreamed of, with a large part of humanity focused on creativity and enlightenment.

Regardless, at best we have another 10 to 15 years in which there is a role for humans. The number of available jobs will actually increase in the U.S. and Europe before it decreases. China is out of time because it has a manufacturing-based economy, and those jobs are already disappearing.
Yes, if people can earn enough in ten hours to support consumption over the remaining 158, that's one possibility.  On the other hand, might we be looking at the scenario anticipated in Marx's Capital, in which modern industry is capable of producing more stuff than the proletarians and the bourgeois are able to purchase at prevailing prices, and under prevailing conventions governing the ownership of the returns to capital.  And there's yet a third possibility: recall that the Luddites were skilled operatives rendered redundant by the development of factory machinery that could be operated by anyone.  Yes, the big rewards currently go to the software writers with highly specific skills: the arbitrage profit is in breaking those tasks into manageable pieces that can be done by anyone, exactly as the Fordist-Taylorist time and motion tradition of industrial management would have had it.

But there's a further pressure on manufacturing: institutions evolve to conserve on transaction costs.  And car-sharing services, currently becoming more convenient with wider participation in social networks, are responding to an ancient radical complaint, namely the enforced idleness of a lot of private property (individual automobiles!  lawn-mowers! washing machines!  backyard swimming pools!  Heck, for all I know, martini mixers!)  To the extent, though, that people can voluntarily share in large capital investments such as those automobiles, there's less work for existing manufacturers to do.

WHY THE RAMSEY RULE MATTERS.

Berkeley, California's new soda tax can't both curb obesity and raise significant tax revenue.  No.  Curbing obesity suggests a relatively elastic demand.  Raising significant tax revenue suggests a relatively inelastic demand.  Ramsey-optimality means raising that revenue with the least excess burden (deadweight loss, for the traditionalist.)  The authors of a U. S. News commentary miss this point.
The biggest problem is that advocates treat the tax as a twofer. They argue that the tax would both decrease soda consumption and raise revenue, which could then be used for health programs. However, if the tax raises substantial revenues, it would in fact be a failure. The measure’s ultimate goal should be to ensure that no one actually pays the soda tax but switches to healthier non-taxed options instead.
Depends on what the goal is. Perhaps the demand for pop is relatively inelastic, and the tax pays for the additional health programs the city expects to provide for the widebodies.  Perhaps that's a private-public bundle.  But if the tax induces all sorts of substitutions, there are neither revenues for the health programs, nor the widebodies making use of the health programs.

It gets less coherent from there.
Note that the city imposed the tax on soda distributors since Berkeley does not have the authority to pass a sales tax directly. But the measure’s advocates hoped that the distributors would pass the tax on to consumers, making it effectively a sales tax.
A little understanding of elasticity can cure a lot of wishful thinking.  How much of an increase in the price of a case of pop induces shoppers to buy it in Martinez or Pleasanton instead?  Answer that, and now you have the incidence of the tax.

That, however, brings a different challenge in train.
This is particularly relevant since sales taxes are the most regressive type of taxation – falling disproportionately on the lowest income individuals, since the poor spend the highest share of their income on foods. If Berkeley’s stated goal is to raise revenues through tax to support its health initiatives, the city expects its poorest citizens to bear an uneven share of financing its programs. Raising revenues by taxing the poorest individuals is hardly a successful policy. In fact it would be difficult to imagine another policy that burdens the poor with such targeted precision.
Well, the United States is the only country in the world in which obesity and poverty go together.  The people who receive the benefit of the health programs bear the burdens?  Discuss.
The problem with the way the soda tax is implemented, however, is that the city treats the policy as a settled issue rather than an experiment. It does not account for the possibility that the policy may fail. In fact the city’s decision-makers do not even bother to outline what they would consider a success for the soda tax in terms of reduced obesity. They have not announced any plans to track the tax’s impact on obesity rates. Thus, even if the policy fails to reduce obesity, the tax will likely continue. It may sound great for the municipal government looking for greater tax revenues but it would hardly serve the needs of its citizens.
Let alone, set out any revenue expectations that have been calculated on a sensible basis. Governing well is hard, even in a community full of Smart People.
Berkeley’s experience could offer health professionals and policymakers valuable information on the effectiveness of taxes in reducing calorie consumption and improving the American diet. However, in order to make the policy successful, Berkeley must set out clear criteria for success and plan to rescind or modify the tax if it does not succeed. The criteria should be two-fold: The tax must reduce obesity but at the same time ensure that the share of income the poor spend on food does not increase. Ultimately, the policymakers must keep in mind that anti-obesity policies should help people make better choices, not punish them for making mistakes.
These two criteria, however, are at odds. Economics is often like that, the policy-maker has to make trade-offs.  It might be more productive to say "We will find this much reduction in obesity accompanied with that much additional expenditure by our poor on food a successful policy.  The same reduction in obesity with more than that expenditure will not be in the public interest."

DO YOU BELIEVE IN MIRACLES?

Has it been 35 years since the NCAA All-Stars USA Olympic Hockey Team defeated the Dzherzhinski Square Bullies to set up a gold-medal game with Finland two days later?

I can remember what I was doing when I heard the news ... listening to Detroit's classical radio station, WQRS-FM, which would be the least likely place to hear about the results before the tape delay came on broadcast television.  That's how we did things in those days ... no cable channels, no internet, no streaming video.  But WQRS would announce news of great import between selections.  After the final resolution to the tonic, mind you, none of this playing a movement here and there.  The outcome of the hockey game was news of sufficient import that they mentioned it.  (I watched anyway.)

The only other WQRS news flash I recall was on 28 January, 1986, when Challenger exploded.  Again, no live coverage, only people who had subscriptions to something called Cable News Network got to see that in real time.

It is of the aftermath of the hockey game, though, that I wish to speak.  I recently watched an ESPN 30 for 30 episode, "Of Miracles and Men," telling the story of the creation of Soviet hockey (give pioneer coach Anatoli Tarasov props for borrowing training and play ideas from the ballet and chess) and the program's evolution to Olympic and "amateur" hockey powerhouse (apart from that hiccup in 1980.)

One of the Soviet players, still living in Russia, suggested that U.S. hockey fans made too much of that one win; he used a comparison to a schoolboy who once "kissed Sophia Loren."  That is, Team Soviet went on to all manner of other conquests ... U.S. Olympic teams, not so much.

Yes, but ...  one of the leading figures in "Miracles and Men" is Slava Fetisov, an emerging star in 1980 who subsequently attracted the attention of the New Jersey Devils.  And Team Soviet -- more precisely, the Central Army Sports Club -- was the one part of the Evil Empire's military that worked as designed, although any insufficiently grateful player faced the balance of his military commitment counting trees, something that no less than the Minister of Defense threatened Lieutenant Fetisov with in response to his request to sign with the Devils.

We do know, though, how history went.  First the Miracle, then the election of Ronald Reagan, then the Evil Empire speech, and glasnost and perestroika.  And representatives of the National Hockey League strode into the Kremlin and obtained terms of surrender from the Ministry of Defense.

Give Mr Fetisov props, though: after his Detroit Red Wings won a Stanley Cup, with several Russian expatriates, he and the league arranged to bring the Cup to Moscow.

Meanwhile, now that the Olympics allow professional hockey players on teams, the gold medal has been Canadian.

19.2.15

THE SIMPLER, THE HARDER.

The life of an economics student is easier if he keeps in mind such things as substitution, arbitrage, opportunity cost, and indifference at the margin.  But the dissertation does not write itself.  And one cannot pretend that spacing the interior linemen further apart and pulling the guards will enable a football team to run the Lombardi Sweep.

In like manner, there is more to writing a symphony than intervals, chords, sequences, modulation, and augmentation or diminution.  That's the message of Jan Swafford's Beethoven: Anguish and Triumph, a Book Review No. 5 for a cold day.  I finished my reading about the same time that National Review's Jason Lee Steorts published his review.  Many of my impressions square with his, although I find Professor Swafford's weaving of the musical and the world-historical more useful.

Start with the world-historical.  Beethoven, the author argues, is a child of the German Enlightenment (Aufklärung), a different strain of intellectual thought than the Scottish version more familiar in the United States and in political economy.  It's useful to understand both traditions, as the Wise Expert approach to governance characteristic of the self-styled progressives might have the German reliance on benevolent despots (perhaps including the early Napoleon) in its intellectual pedigree.  And thus when Napoleon becomes just another despot, Beethoven does not have the intellectual ammunition to respond in a more Jeffersonian fashion.  What comes after is not fun: the long peace established by the Congress of Vienna, in Professor Swafford's interpretation, is a century of repression, with enforcers against any deviationism that would be the envy of a Stalin.  That's an unexplored piece of historical reading for me, perhaps for another day, the underlying question being how it took a century for that peace to fracture.

The main focus ought to be the music.  Beethoven, before his hearing went, was well gifted at improvising, and remembering what he improvised well enough to jot it down later.  (One way he had of dealing with annoying rivals was to turn a sheet of their music upside down, select some notes, and create.)  There's enough discussion of the structure, particularly of the piano sonatas and string quartets, that it might be useful to have recordings handy to play along whilst reading, or the sheet music for the adept.  And the symphonies are often made up of what looks like the simplest of material, think of the Eroica as 45 minutes of elaboration on an E-flat major chord.  Yes, I'm simplifying, but Professor Swafford points out common structural elements (sometimes these might be forced?) among the movements.  He offers a similar demonstration for the Choral Symphony, and several of the other major works.  And he's got probably the best explanation for composers choosing the keys for their work.  It's part technological, as there are more opportunities to use open strings or the full column of air in some keys than in others, and it's part mathematics, as there is no such thing as fully equal temperament, something that Beethoven learned through intensive study of an obscure (at the time) work titled Das Wohltempierete Klavier.

And yet, can anyone explain how Beethoven could write the best musical expression of a fast train ripping through town, whilst dying well before any Atchison Topeka and Santa Fe, and never getting to England where there were primeval railroads during his lifetime.

On the other hand, Beethoven suggests that the theme of the final movement of the op. 92 Symphony in A is of Scots origin, not Irish, not Croatian, not Italian.  The evidence: to supplement his income, Beethoven wrote arrangements of vernacular tunes for English musical publishing houses.  Apparently parents of the early nineteenth century engaged in positional arms races to get their children recognized for their musical talent -- that's behind Beethoven's father Johann pushing his son to practice, practice -- and there was a market of sorts for training pieces, and it helped to have some easy enough for the less talented children of the aristocracy to learn on.  But Ludwig van Beethoven might have been the first recipient of a genius grant ... he invested a lot of effort in getting various of his patrons to provide him with a stipend in order that he could demonstrate greater creativity ... and did he have the greater certainty to be able to produce a Missa Solemnis and a Choral Symphony and the late quartets, or did the slower rate of publication signal that a sinecure is a narcotic?

The final message to take away from Beethoven is that human beings are pretty robust.  Imagine an era before the germ theory of disease, or any knowledge of anaesthetics, and a lot of infant mortality.  Beethoven was almost always ill, whether his deafness was collateral damage to some other affliction or to an excess of lead in the wine remains an open question, and yet he somehow persevered.  As did the controversy over the proper form of an Enlightenment.

(Cross-posted to 50 Book Challenge.)

UNSELFCONSCIOUS RIDICULOUSNESS.

Thomas "World is Flat" Friedman notes that there are still irregularities in the social surface.
If Western interventions help foster violent Islamic reactions, we should reduce them. To the extent that Muslim immigrants in European countries feel marginalized, they and their hosts should worker harder on absorption. But both efforts will only take you so far.

Something else is also at work, and it needs to be discussed. It is the struggle within Arab and Pakistani Sunni Islam over whether and how to embrace modernity, pluralism and women’s rights. That struggle drives, and is driven by, the dysfunctionality of so many Arab states and Pakistan. It has left these societies with too many young men who have never held a job or a girl’s hand, who then seek to overcome their humiliation at being left behind, and to find identity, by “purifying” their worlds of other Muslims who are not sufficiently pious and of Westerners whom they perceive to be putting Muslims down. But you don’t see this in the two giant Muslim communities in Indonesia or India.

Only Sunni Arabs and Pakistanis can get inside their narrative and remediate it. But reformers can only do that if they have a free, secure political space. If we’re not going to help create space for that internal dialogue, let’s just be quiet. Don’t say stupid stuff. And don’t hold airy fairy conferences that dodge the real issues, which many mainstream Muslims know and are actually starved to discuss, especially women.
The airy-fairy conference is Our President's not-quite summit (as no visiting heads of state were present) on countering violent extremism, the one that Andrea Mitchell characterized as a dog-and-pony show.  Don't you have to have experience on a real circus with trains and pachyderms before you can refer to a dog-and-pony show?

What intrigues, though, is that Mr Friedman ends his column with recognition that at least part of the world is flat.
And a remarkable piece in The Washington Post Sunday by Asra Q. Nomani, an American Muslim born in India, called out the “honor corps” — a loose, well-funded coalition of governments and private individuals “that tries to silence debate on extremist ideology in order to protect the image of Islam.” It “throws the label of ‘Islamophobe’ on pundits, journalists and others who dare to talk about extremist ideology in the religion. ... The official and unofficial channels work in tandem, harassing, threatening and battling introspective Muslims and non-Muslims everywhere. ... The bullying often works to silence critics of Islamic extremism. ... They cause governments, writers and experts to walk on eggshells.”
Yes. That's been the preferred tactic of the Perpetually Aggrieved in the academy, who would rather marginalize an opposing point of view as "...phobic" or "offensive" or do anything rather than engage the arguments.  Here's Ms Nomani on the tactic.
This is largely because of the rising power and influence of the “ghairat brigade,” an honor corps that tries to silence debate on extremist ideology in order to protect the image of Islam. It meets even sound critiques with hideous, disproportionate responses.
"Disproportionate response" as in bringing dismissal-for-cause proceedings against an inconvenient academic weblogger?  "Friedman, in other words, is not keen to blame all of Islam for terrorism, but neither is he unwilling to honestly voice the problem."

Nor, apparently, is Our President.
More broadly, groups like al Qaeda and ISIL exploit the anger that festers when people feel that injustice and corruption leave them with no chance of improving their lives. The world has to offer today's youth something better.
Perhaps if we had evidence of successful introduction of prosperity into ganglands in Chicago or Detroit or St. Louis, the conference might achieve something.
Governments that deny human rights play into the hands of extremists who claim that violence is the only way to achieve change. Efforts to counter violent extremism will only succeed if citizens can address legitimate grievances through the democratic process and express themselves through strong civil societies. Those efforts must be matched by economic, educational and entrepreneurial development so people have hope for a life of dignity.
Fifty years of Democratic governance in those cities, safe districts for members of Congress who pass the seat on to a relative ... perhaps we can hope for a change in the public policies that sustain those rotten boroughs.

18.2.15

THE BEGINNINGS OF THE PRESIDENTIAL CULT.

Michael Brendan Dougherty suggests Andrew Jackson was the prototype.  Perhaps he couldn't help it, he was reared that way.  "Jackson was the embodied zenith of Southern Scots-Irish honor culture." For a fuller understanding of what that means, and what it might have metastasized into, read and understand Thomas Sowell's Black Rednecks and White Liberals, as well as Colin Woodard's American Nations.  We focus today on how Old Hickory laid the foundation for the expectation that a president would deliver bright shiny things.
Jackson's authoritarian will, his eagerness with the veto pen, his unprincipled use of federal power against non-whites, and his ugly patronage schemes changed forever the character of the Republic. Jackson pushed America's fragile Republican institutions down in front of the march of mass democracy.  He put the executive branch on a tilt that eventually made it superior to Congress, and made the president himself into a kind of populist king and symbol of the people's will. The American nation has suffered from infantalized [c.q.] Congresses, cowardly judiciaries, and "great presidencies" ever since.
Perhaps, though, it requires the overreach of such an aspirational president for the voters to be receptive to a more modest approach to governing.

COULDN'T WAIT FOR HIS 72 VIRGINS?

All have sinned, and all have fallen short. Chicago Islamic school leader Mohammed Abdullah Saleem charged with sexual abuse.
The allegations against Saleem, who has been a respected Muslim leader in Chicago for decades, surfaced in December, when leading Muslim scholar referred to them in a blog. [Cross-reference to that post not provided in the article - ed.]

The case Saleem had created tensions in Chicago’s large Muslim community among those who believe such allegations are better handled by religious and community leaders and those who believe they should be reported immediately to police.
To his credit, Mr Saleem has returned to the States to face the charges.

But we will know we are winning when "respected Moslem scholar" takes on the same sort of odor that "Soviet ideologist" acquired in the 1980s, and that "postmodern intellectual" holds in circles more respectful of logic.

17.2.15

FASCHING IST.



For future reference, a paczki primer.  "If you don't eat at least one paczek, you will be unlucky all year long."  The story notes a lot of Milwaukee area fortune seekers.  Whether paczki bring good luck or not, they leave a better taste than a losing lottery ticket.

PRESERVING THAT EXPENSE PREFERENCE PLAYGROUND.

The latest development from Chicago State University is the anticipated retirement of president Wayne Watson.  To the dissidents of CSU Faculty Voice, it can come none too soon.
According to university public relations people, Watson’s achievements include “renewed accreditation, a reduction in the number of audit findings, an increase in academic standards and better relations with the South Side community.” Heady accomplishments in five years, and only one connected to the purported evaluation criteria. Interesting that the university fails to mention Watson’s singular achievement: his dramatic expansion of both the number of administrators and the salary expenditures for those persons. An article about another university president seems quite applicable to Chicago State: “a whole lot of it (money) goes directly into the pockets of a metastasizing cadre of university administrators, whose jobs, as nearly as I’ve been able to determine . . . consist of inventing justifications for their own existence while harassing faculty . . .”
Mr Watson at least brought continuity to Chicago State: it was a subprime dropout factory when his predecessor had to resign, and it remains a subprime dropout factory today.  The one bright spot might be that there are fewer students enrolling, which might cut into the number (if not necessarily the proportion) of dropouts.  And the student credit hours per vice president has fallen more rapidly than enrollments have.  For the usual reason.
Wayne Watson can create any number of Vice Presidents and Associate Vice Presidents for Chicago State. With the addition of this new Vice President’s position, we now have 12, compared to 6 in fiscal 2011.
But the academy's house organ for business as usual reported on the presidential shift at Chicago State in a way that didn't sit well with one of the president's retainers: a rebuttal to the retainer's claims reveals the true purpose of Chicago State.
There has not been enough outrage from the taxpayers of IL about what has gone on under Watson's "reforms" of CSU because they don't know about it--the agencies in place to monitor institutions in IL give CSU a wide berth--criticize and you are a racist. African American faculty and many in the community on the southside of Chicago have been conditioned not to air their dirty laundry in public and not to tear down a "successful" black man or woman no matter how outrageous his or her behavior--be it cronyism or plagiarism.
Thus does the soft bigotry of low expectations continue.

FASCHINGSDIENSTAG.

In Milwaukee, people pronounce "paczki" differently than their counterparts in Detroit or Chicago.  Perhaps you know them, as I do, as Berliner, or perhaps as a cream-filled Bismarck.


Looks like several more weeks of deep freeze coming, proper for fasting, penance, not following the news of Bruce Jenner or any Kardashians, and working on the railroad.

16.2.15

THE PEOPLE ARE INSUFFICIENTLY ANGRY.

Last October, I visited the National World War II Museum in New Orleans, where part of the Pacific Theater gallery includes a retrospective of propaganda posters.


The display includes the obligatory obeisance to contemporary sensibilities, otherwise understood as the reflection of people, upon having won a war, asking, "did we really do that?"

But there can be no hope of victory in a future war until people are willing to countenance official scorn for their enemies.  Thus far, that is not the case in the United States, and until it is the case, Roger Simon of Pajamas Media is unlikely to be persuasive.
The country will be with us.  The average American, smarter than the elites, realizes the danger of losing. They care about their country unambivalently.  But we have to keep up the flow of information to them. We have to inspire them. We cannot stop.  We cannot give up.  We have everything to lose.
Too many aspirants to national office, however, are still too afraid of being mau-maued by self-despising multiculturalists to refer to savages as savages.

In the absence of such clarity, however, the best some opinion leaders can offer is wishful thinking.



"Are we going to let the ISIS horror show continue week after week without end?"  That draws criticism from Mr Matthews's left. "Worse than incinerating a nun, apparently, ISIS might kidnap a celebrity. Then we would have no choice but to send in a fictional character."  With a recommended alternative to making the rubble bounce.
A better path forward can only be forged by peoples’ movements on the ground in Iraq and Syria — movements that still exist, still matter, and continue to organize for workers’ rights, gender justice, war reparations, and people power, even amid the death and displacement that has swallowed up all the headlines.

Now is a critical time to seek to understand and build solidarity with Iraqi and Syrian civil societies. Heeding their call, we should strengthen awareness here at home of the tremendous political and ethical debt the United States owes all people harmed by the now-discredited war on Iraq and the crises it set in motion.
Somebody has been violating Islam's proscription of the use of intoxicants or narcotics.  Perhaps, though, the self-despising multiculturalists and the limited-intervention conservatives such as Pat Buchanan can find common ground.
But about whether ISIS is an "existential threat" to us, or if this war is really our war, there is no agreement.

North of Syria, along 500 miles of border, sits a Turkish army of half a million with 3,000 tanks that could cross over and annihilate ISIS in a month. Former Secretary of State James Baker suggests that the U.S. offer air, logistics and intelligence support, if the Turks will go in and snuff out ISIS.

But not only have the Turks not done so, for a time they looked the other way as jihadists crossed their border to join ISIS.

If the Islamic State, as Ankara's inaction testifies, is not viewed as a threat to Turkey's vital interests, how can it be a threat to ours?

There are reports that the Saudis and the Gulf Arabs would be more willing to participate in a war on ISIS if we would first effect the ouster of Bashar Assad.

Everyone in the Middle East, it appears, wants the United States to fight their wars for them. But as they look out for their interests first, it is time we started looking out for ours first.

Foremost among those interests would be to avoid another $1 trillion war, with thousands of U.S. dead and tens of thousands of wounded, and a situation, after a decade of fighting, as exists today in Afghanistan and Iraq, where those we leave behind in power cannot hold their own against the enemies we defeated for them.
Indeed, particularly because there is no regional power arguably worth preserving.
The Islamic State has plugged into the most powerful currents of the Middle East. It is anti-American, anti-Zionist, anti-West, Islamic and militantly Islamist. It promises to overthrow the old order of Sykes-Picot, to tear up the artificial borders the West imposed on the Arabs, and to produce a new unity, a new dispensation where the Quran is law and Allah rules and all Sunnis are united in one home whence all infidels -- Jews, Shia, Christians -- have been driven out. Hateful as it is, ISIS has a vision.

Hezbollah, Iran, Assad, the Houthi rebels, all Shiites, understand this.

They know they are in a fight to the death. And they fight.

But it is the Sunni Arabs, the royals on the Arabian Peninsula and the sheiks on the Gulf, to whom this should be a fire bell in the night.

For ISIS is out to dethrone these perceived royal puppets of a detested America and to reclaim rightful custody of Mecca and Medina.

The Shiites are already in the field. The Sunni are going to have to fight and win this war against ISIS, or lose it all.
Perhaps. Or perhaps the Sillies are the latest manifestation of the long-running proxy war between the Persians and the Bedouins. (Or is it between the Medes and the Hittites? Oceania and Eastasia?)  And thus, the proper foreign policy response might be to stay away.

DO LAACHSTE DECH KAPOTT.

Sometimes, all you can do is laugh yourself silly (Artikel 11, Kölsche Grundgesetz.)  The Rose Monday parades will go on in Cologne, although Braunschweig's Saturday events were cancelled owing to otherwise unspecified terrorist threats.

15.2.15

TIME TO THINK ABOUT SUMMER.

As more snow heads into northern New England, let us look at a summertime ritual from the days of The America That Worked(TM).



Well-heeled parents of the Official Region wanted to have as little to do with their children as they could get away with.  Thus, they'd ship them off to prep school, and, come summer, exile them to the camps.

Pullman's large fleet of heavyweight cars would be put to use as additional sections of the Bar Harbor or State of Maine, or run as passenger extras, which would look something like this.

The ritual continued into the early 1960s.

THE WORLD WE LIVE IN.

The wife of a Rachel Maddow fanboy argues he ought not be charged with a hate crime. "Attempting to throw a spanner into the humming rumor mill, the wife of the Chapel Hill killer told the media on Wednesday that her husband could not possibly be guilty of a hate crime because he was a committed progressive." So-called hate crimes are the postmodern version of mortal sins that call for additional acts of contrition or public penance.  Perhaps it is in applying such laws to the Rachel Maddow fanboy and the Ted Nugent enthusiast alike, that people will recognize their folly. "It will not do simply to presume that there is something intrinsic to progressivism that renders its adherents free from bigotry."

The governor of Oregon properly resigns after he is caught funneling state business to his wife's consultancy.  His successor is of the view that it's OK to cheat on her husband, as long as it is with another woman. "[Kate] Brown is married to husband Dan Little; she has publicly discussed her bisexuality in past campaigns."

And the office of freakazoid rights at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee seeks to guilt-trip normal people.
It is a privilege to not have to worry about which pronoun someone is going to use for you based on how they perceive your gender. If you have this privilege, yet fail to respect someone else’s gender identity, it is not only disrespectful and hurtful, but also oppressive.
Whatever. Oh brave new world that has such people in it.