19.12.14

TAIL TRACK.

Barring signal troubles, links to any posts of substance ought to work.

MARQUETTE'S ADMINISTRATION BECLOWNS ITSELF

Although Marquette's John McAdams is still serving his non-suspension suspension (better not to be drinking coffee and reading the administrative circumlocutions) he's not silent.  Perhaps the reason the REMFs refuse to call his situation a suspension is that a suspension has procedural obligations.
In all cases of nonrenewal, suspension, or termination for absolute or discretionary cause, except Section 307.02(1) and (3), death, and permanent, total disability, the appropriate appointing authority of the University shall notify the faculty member in writing of the University's action.
Of what follows: nothing.
In fact, all of Section 1 was violated by the letter of suspension we got, which did not specify the statute allegedly violated, the date of the alleged violation, the location of the alleged violation, and any of the supposed facts of the violation.

Since this was about a blog post, there were plenty of witnesses, but none of them were named.

We were also told that the “university is continuing to review your conduct” but were not told the nature of any “contemplated action.”

Did university officials rattle off the letter without consulting counsel?

Did they think they could blow off their published rules? In any legal action, Marquette’s failure to follow its own rules will have negative consequences.
Readers of a certain age will understand that there don't have to be published rules for Double Secret Probation.  "Under review, with pay" might come under that rubric.

There's more at Inside Higher Ed.
Brian Dorrington, a university spokesman, said via email that he could reveal some information about McAdams’s case, given that he “has shared his personnel information on his public blog.”

Dorrington said that Marquette has been reviewing since last month “both a concern raised by a student and a concern raised by a graduate student teaching assistant. While this review continues, [McAdams] has been relieved of his teaching duties and other faculty duties. His salary and benefits will continue during the course of the review.”

The spokesman also pointed to a Nov. 22 memo – sent days after the story broke -- from President Michael R. Lovell to faculty, staff and students affirming the university’s commitment to “respect, professionalism and academic freedom.”

“I believe all these values must be present if we as a community are able to have productive discussions, even in the midst of disagreements,” Lovell said in his letter. “This is a matter of official policy, but it’s also a matter of our values. Respect is at the heart of our commitment to the Jesuit tradition and Catholic social teaching.”

Lovell added: “We are dedicated to uphold academic freedom and to maintain an environment in which the dignity and worth of each member of our community is respected, especially students. We deplore hatred and abuse directed at a member of our community in any format.”
That might play well among the administrators, but as an academic principle, it's weak.
Universities, it seems to me, shouldn’t just take the most liability-avoiding, speech-restrictive position in such situations — if they want to continue being taken seriously as places where people are free to investigate, debate and challenge orthodox views. A professor at Marquette (not Prof. McAdams) tells me: “[T]he new harassment training, which McAdams mentions on his blog and which we as faculty all had to go through this fall, has a chilling quality to it, … then basically urging people, when in doubt, to refrain from expression.” A sad thing to see at a university.
Particularly because "when in doubt" and "teach the controversies" have non-empty intersections.

WHY IT MATTERS.

An instructive column from the Indianapolis Recorder. "Let’s be honest, it’s not every day you come across a guy named Abdul-Hakim Shabazz with a conservative-libertarian political bent." It's in your frame of reference.
In the late 1980s’, my dad’s government obligations had us relocated to Europe. We lived in West Germany and I attended college in Munich. Most revealing for me was a trip to Prague in what used to be Czechoslovakia. We were taking a tour of the city when I saw hundreds of people in line outside of a store. I asked the tour guide what they were in line for? I thought they were there for concert tickets, but it wasn’t, it was shoes. He told me people stand in line for hours for shoes and are lucky to find two of the same size.
That's before he started university, which gave him a perspective his classmates lacked.
That image was fresh in my mind when I came back to the United States to finish my education. I was attending Northern Illinois University. I had discovered talk radio and was listening to WVON-AM, the local urban talk station, on which I heard a steady stream of people complaining about the misery of their lives and how white folks wouldn’t give them anything. After seeing real poverty abroad, I couldn’t believe how people whined that they weren’t getting enough food stamps and government assistance. I found it annoying but that’s not what pushed me over the edge.

What sealed the deal for me was my attempt to join a “Black” campus organization. My Dad had encouraged me to join one of those groups, so I decided to follow his advice and re-establish my “roots.” Here I am in a room full of young students, who for most were the first generation of their family to go to college, so they are under tremendous pressure. Instead of messages of encouragement and support, they gave the “You know these white people don’t want you here. They just want your money and then they will kick you out. The only people that really care about you are us. Any questions?”
Plenty.
That is when I politely stood up and said, “You negroes cannot be serious!” And left. I could not believe the idiocy I was hearing. Instead of encouragement and support, these guys perpetuated the victim mentality. These kids needed hope and reassurance, not fear mongering.

I had already switched my major from engineering and computer science to broadcasting, so now I get the added benefit of bringing a message of self-empowerment and assurance to folks who truly needed it. The same thing was true for graduate school, law school and most of my professional commentator life. I have been preaching the message of self-reliance, individual liberty and personal responsibility.

Yes, I get a lot of grief for my opinions, but I came by them honestly and I don’t apologize for them.

THERE'S STILL MAGIC IN MACROECONOMICS.

Here's Robert A. Samuelson, in April of 2013.  The End of Macroeconomics' Magic?  It's in the Washington Post, that makes it valid, right?  Perhaps, in the large, the policy nostrums (nostra?) worked.
Perhaps the anti-economist backlash has gone too far, as George Akerlof, a Nobel Prize-winning economist, argued. The world, he said, avoided a second Great Depression. “We economists have not done a good job explaining that our macro policies worked,” he said.
And yet, nearly six years into Hope and Change, there's precious little hope, and change not necessarily for the good.
Still, the subsequent record is disheartening. The economic models that didn’t predict the crisis have also repeatedly overstated the recovery. The tendency is to blame errors on one-time events — say, in 2011, the Japanese tsunami, the Greek bailout and the divisive congressional debate over the debt ceiling. But the larger cause seems to be the models themselves, which reflect spending patterns and behavior by households and businesses since World War II.
That, as regular readers know, means an opportunity for further research.
“We really don’t understand what’s happening in advanced economies,” Lorenzo Bini Smaghi, a former member of the [European Central Bank’s] executive board, told the conference. “Monetary policy [policies affecting interest rates and credit conditions] has not been as effective as we thought.” Poor economic forecasts confirm this. In April 2012, the [International Monetary Fund predicted that the euro zone (the 17 countries using the euro) would expand by 0.9 percent in 2013; the latest IMF forecast, issued last week, has the euro zone shrinking by 0.3 percent in 2013. For the global economy, the growth forecast for 2013 dropped from 4.1 percent to 3.3 percent over the same period.

Since late 2007, the Fed has pumped more than $2 trillion into the U.S. economy by buying bonds. Economist Allan Meltzer asked: “Why is there such a weak response to such an enormous amount of stimulus, especially monetary stimulus?” The answer, he said, is that the obstacles to faster economic growth are not mainly monetary. Instead, they lie mostly with business decisions to invest and hire; these, he argued, are discouraged by the Obama administration’s policies to raise taxes or, through Obamacare’s mandate to buy health insurance for workers, to increase the cost of hiring.

There were said to be other “structural” barriers to recovery: the pressure on banks and households to reduce high debt; rigid European labor markets; the need to restore global competitiveness for countries with large trade deficits. But these adjustments and the accompanying policies are often slow-acting and politically controversial.
Economics graduate students, however (and via Newmark's Door), have discovered and acted upon some of the research opportunities, with a fifth of current Ph.D. dissertations in the highly-regarded departments concentrating on macroeconomics.  There appears to be a power rule in the choice of other dissertation topics, and I'm grateful not to have to assist with a macroeconomics search this year: on prior such searches I often desired a fifth of something strong after reading the packets.

Policy makers, however, are of a different mind-set.
With hindsight, excessive faith in macroeconomic policy stoked the financial crisis. Deft shifts in interest rates by central banks seemed to neutralize major economic threats (from the 1987 stock crash to the burst “tech bubble” of 2000). Prolonged prosperity promoted a false sense of security. People — bankers, households, regulators — tolerated more risk and more debt, believing they were insulated from deep slumps.

But now a cycle of overconfidence has given way to a cycle of under-confidence. The trust in macroeconomic magic has shattered. This saps optimism and promotes spending restraint. Scholarly disagreements multiply. Last week, a feud erupted over a paper on government debt by economists Kenneth Rogoff and Carmen Reinhart. The larger lesson is: We have moved into an era of less economic understanding and control.
Perhaps the beginning of understanding is to understand the limits to the span of control, either by model builders or by policy makers.

THE CASE FOR RECLAIMING BOURGEOIS VERITIES.

National Review's John O'Sullivan, a year ago.
When courtesy is abandoned, we invent speech codes, which are blunter in their impact and repress legitimate disagreement along with insults. When female sexual modesty and male sexual restraint are discredited as puritanical, we draw up contractual arrangements to ensure that any sexual contact is voluntary on both sides. This means that sexual relationships (and their consequences) may occur more often but that they do so in an atmosphere of mutual suspicion and legal wariness that poisons relations between men and women over the long run. Above all, when we no longer protect and strengthen the family on the grounds that it is a patriarchal institution harmful to the life chances of women, we encourage the family breakdown that leaves women worse off financially, pushes men into an irresponsible life, and damages their children socially and psychologically.
I've seen nothing in "Yes Means Yes" or "Black Lives Matter" that refutes a word of the above.

18.12.14

ELEVEN SECONDS TO SHOOT.

The most famous gap in Presidential history of the past fifty years may not be the eighteen minute gap in a Watergate-related tape.  It might be a six-second pause in the Zapruder film.
In 1963, Abraham Zapruder was the 58-year-old co-owner of a Dallas dress manufacturing company, Jennifer Juniors, and an avid amateur filmmaker. Yet he didn’t bring his top-of-the-line home movie camera to work on November 22 even though the president’s motorcade was scheduled to pass right by his office sometime after noon. Only after his secretary suggested he would regret not capturing JFK on film—after all, how often is a president less than a block away?—did Zapruder dash home to fetch his Bell & Howell Zoomatic.

An important fact to realize is that the film he shot that day consists of two parts. The first segment, 132 frames (seven seconds long), shows police motorcyclists riding by. Zapruder stopped recording the advance escort because he did not want to run out of film. He restarted his camera only after he clearly saw Kennedy acknowledging the crowd from a gleaming blue stretch limousine. Thus, the 19 seconds of Zapruder film everyone is familiar with begin at frame 133—well after the Lincoln Continental had already negotiated the sharp turn onto Elm Street, putting it about 71 feet into the plaza.
By which time, this Newsweek report suggests, Lee Oswald had already fired the first shot, the one that missed.  The Warren Commission had an opportunity to suggest that possibility, but didn't make the case.
On May 24, 1964, when the commission restaged the assassination in Dealey Plaza, the main thrust was to show that the “single-bullet” hypothesis was correct. The theory has since been endorsed by every reputable investigation, to the point where it should be called the “single-bullet conclusion.” Yet its corollary—if one shot had hit two men, then one of the three shots missed—was mostly ignored. That unaccounted-for bullet was a pesky problem but one the commission could not explain. No matter how many times it ran the Zapruder film through the projector, the missing shot could not be pinpointed in time.

No one realized that the commission, despite its crucial revision of the FBI’s analysis, had also been Zaprudered. Squeezing the shooting sequence so that it fit inside the film made Oswald’s feat of marksmanship appear to be much more difficult than it actually was. The commission’s scenario, the one that reduced the shooting down to not just six but as little as 4.8 seconds, was all but impossible for expert marksmen to replicate. The commission’s riposte was that the report didn’t claim it happened that way—just that it could have. Since this legalistic answer verged on the absurd, the net effect was to cast doubt on the commission’s probity.
Simplest explanation: Mr Zapruder's camera starts again after the first shot.  As Newsweek notes, it's a record of a shooting in progress.  But there is additional evidence the Commission made less than full use of.
Dallas Deputy Sheriff Luke Mooney discovered the three spent rifle cartridges on the depository’s sixth floor. The hulls had fallen in a distinctive pattern: two were close together, just below the window sill, and the third was several feet away. When Mooney testified, he tried to offer his opinion about what this signified, but assistant counsel Joe Ball was not interested. Six days later, though, assistant counsel Melvin Eisenberg exhibited considerable interest in the matter while questioning FBI agent Robert Frazier. That’s because cartridge ejection patterns are predictable and routinely used to determine shooting positions. The pattern found on the sixth floor suggested that one shot was fired with the rifle aimed more or less perpendicular to the face of the building, with the ejected cartridge bouncing away unimpeded, while the other two shots were fired with the rifle pointed in a direction nearly parallel to the building’s face, with the spent hulls bouncing back to the sill after hitting the book cartons Oswald had stacked behind him in order to stay hidden. Unfortunately Frazier did not have Mooney’s insight.
The pattern of the shots as fired, and the presence of street-side obstacles, suggests Lee Oswald had to reload, and then re-acquire his target.
Oswald, in keeping with his Marine training, had fired at the first good opportunity; that is, just after a good portion of the president’s upper torso came into Oswald’s sights at Position A. [image] The only reason this first shot missed was because it hit the only obstacle (apart from the tree) blocking Oswald’s line of sight during the entire procession: the traffic mast arm. He could not get off another shot before the limousine became obscured by the oak tree, so he fired his second shot at the first good opportunity: the instant the president’s main body mass appeared out from under the oak tree. This bullet pierced Kennedy’s upper back and was quickly followed by an utterly devastating third shot.
In the image, you see that in position A, Oswald is aiming directly out the window, he must then traverse to the right to reacquire on the other side of the tree.  Thus,
Instead of presenting three possible scenarios, the Warren Report would have described a shooting sequence that took slightly more than 11 seconds, with intervals of approximately 6.3 seconds and 4.9 seconds between the three shots. The misleading but sibilant meme first put forward in Life — six seconds in Dallas—would have been debunked, an accomplishment nearly as important as proving that one of the three shots hit both Kennedy and Connally. Because the shot by Oswald that missed was his first one, when it occurred defines the time span of the assassination. It also shows that Oswald’s allegedly remarkable feat of marksmanship was no feat at all, especially for an ex-Marine who once qualified as a sharpshooter.
And the evidence was all there, if only the experts had seen it.

CHICAGO'S B1G TEAM.

Let's call the roll of who they're not.

The Bears: another year, another quarterback controversy.  As a Facebook friend quipped, money spent to benefit the Green Bay Packers without affecting the salary cap.

Northwestern: they have aspirations, but went 0-for-Illinois this fall.

Illinois: somehow drew Louisiana Tech in the Heart of Dallas Bowl.  (Do they play on a grassy knoll?)  All the Group of Five fans are Techsters for that evening.

That leaves us with Northern Illinois.
I have a team for Chicagoans to root and cheer for that deserves to be rooted and cheered for. A team that knows how to win and has proven it year in and year out. A team that does things the right way, some would say the hard way. A team that receives little Chicago media coverage despite its university having 200,000 alums living in yhe Chicagoland area, but it doesn’t care because it’s too busy making it to five consecutive MAC Championship games under three head coaches. If you guessed the NIU Huskies you’ve guessed right.

In what was supposed to be a rebuilding season – losing the likes of Heisman finalist quarterback Jordan Lynch, first-round safety Jimmie Ward and the entire defensive line – the Huskies put together an 11-2 season, won their third MAC Championship in four seasons and will play the Conference-USA champion Marshall Thundering Herd in the inaugural Boca Raton Bowl 5 p.m. Dec. 23 in Boca Raton, Fla.
Seems like a good way to start the Christmas festivities. Name the other two bowl games featuring conference champions.

RUNNING COSTS ARE AVOIDABLE, SUNK COSTS ARE SUNK, SOMETIMES WAITING HAS VALUE.

We began the week with a look at the effect of oil price movements on the marginal suppliers of crude oil, and of bio-fuel substitutes.  These don't all go away when the price of crude falls.  Here's John Palmer with the economics primer.  "But for the short run, very little if any of the existing wells will be shut down."  There's the traditional shutdown analysis, which causes introductory students no end of trouble, and which midwived the discipline of "managerial accounting" so as to end the fetish of fully allocated costs and the recovery thereof.  Sometimes you have to do something to lose less money.
So long as the oil companies are receiving enough to cover these marginal costs, they will keep pumping the oil. And that will occur so long as the spot price of oil exceeds about $40/bbl.  Pumping oil at those prices will cover the variable costs of pumping and make some contribution toward covering some of the overhead/fixed/sunk costs.
Then comes a harder proposition, one that a lot of novice students understand on a gut level, but which the discipline couldn't handle without Ito calculus, value-matching, and smooth pasting.
There is an exception not addressed in the article, however. If the costs of stopping and starting the pumping process are low, some oil companies may choose to stop pumping if they expect oil prices to rise in the future.

In this case, the marginal cost of pumping oil now is not just the extraction, transportation, and marketing cost; it is also the present value of lost higher revenues in the future, which of course depend on the expectations people in each oil company have about future prices for oil. If they expect prices to rebound in the near future, they may want to curtail some pumping; if they expect prices to remain low for the foreseeable future, they may decide to keep pumping.

Note, though, that this decision depends only on their expectations about future prices of oil and has very little to do with the marginal costs of pumping. Or, to put it differently, the marginal opportunity costs of selling oil for cheap now are the possible foregone revenues from waiting.
Or, to get wonkier, when you sell a barrel of oil today, you have killed the option of holding the oil and selling it for a higher price tomorrow. I have to go back to my notes on absorbing barriers to work out whether that option value is greater when the current price of oil is lower, or if that current low price drives that value of holding the option to zero.  Then all that matters is covering the running costs.

INTERACTING FOR MUTUAL BENEFIT.

Earlier this month, I noted overreach by a distinguished anthropologist, just the latest True Believer using his stature as an academician to create and then burn a straw-man of radical individualism.  Sheldon Richman correctly dings that academician for treacherous fabrication.
What people like Terrell don't realize — or perhaps realize too well — is that the fundamental point in dispute is not whether the individual is a social animal or a creature best suited for an atomistic existence. No libertarian I know of subscribes to the latter notion. The point in dispute is whether proper social life should be founded on peaceful consensual cooperation or on compulsion.
That comes after a brief survey of serious classical thinking about the citizen and the state.  Repeat, as repeat I must. "That's not too bad a case for limiting the power of communities or societies to dictate the behavior of members, while at the same time recognizing that the power to exclude disruptive or non-cooperative individuals has value."  So mote it be.

17.12.14

THE CYCLONE INFERNO.

Years ago, the American Coaster Enthusiasts' Roller Coaster ran a short story involving several young coaster enthusiasts, lost on the back roads somewhere near the Ohio - Pennsylvania border, who heard the sound of a distant roller coaster that, upon investigation, had an amazing first drop and some subsequent features to deliver sinful souls to Satan.  It wasn't their time, which is why their story was able to be told.

Now comes the Euthanasia Coaster.
Here’s how the world’s oddest suicide method would work: First the rider would face a long, slow climb up to more than 500 meters, giving him or her a few minutes to think back on life and contemplate the decision. At the top, there would be time to say a prayer or blow a kiss to relatives (or bail) before pressing the “Fall” button and plummeting into the long steep plunge followed by the first 360-degree loop. That’s where most riders would die. According to [inventor Julijonas] Urbonas, traveling at 100 meters per second, the person would experience a G-force-induced loss of consciousness due to cerebral hypoxia (lack of oxygen reaching the brain), which often causes a sense of euphoria. Just in case that first one didn’t do it, six more consecutive loops would finish the job.
The concept, not surprisingly, does not appeal to more mainstream death-with-dignity advocates.
No surprise the idea’s attracted no commercial interest, though perhaps it will end up being featured in some futuristic, scary movie. The debate around the right to die is already contentious enough without trying to turn it into a show.
Just modify the plot slightly, move the loops underground, and the screenplay has already been written.

JOHN MCADAMS BANISHED.

A few weeks ago, Marquette University reprimanded philosophy department head Nancy Snow for berating political scientist and weblogger John McAdams in the cafeteria.

The other shoe has dropped.  Professor McAdams is suspended with pay.

Here's the letter from his dean.
The university is continuing to review your conduct and during this period--and until further notice--you are relieved of all teaching duties and all other faculty activities, including, but not limited to, advising, committee work, faculty meetings and any activity that would involve your interaction with Marquette students, faculty and staff. Should any academic appeals arise from Fall 2014 semester, however, you are expected to fulfill your obligations in that specific matter.

Your salary and benefits will continue at their current level during this time.

You are to remain off campus during this time, and should you need to come to campus, you are to contact me in writing beforehand to explain the purpose of your visit, to obtain my consent and to make appropriate arrangements for that visit. I am enclosing with this letter Marquette’s harassment policy, its guiding values statement, the University mission statement, and sections from the Faculty Handbook, which outline faculty rights and responsibilities; these documents will inform our review of your conduct.
In a radio interview this morning, Professor McAdams noted he has received permission to continue, on campus, work on a book under contract for February.

Marquette is on the naughty list at Minding the Campus, and here's John Leo.
Marquette University, the Jesuit school in Milwaukee, has shot itself in the foot again. Weeks ago in a “Theory of Ethics” class, philosophy instructor Cheryl Abbate listed several possible topics of discussion, but said one of them –gay marriage—could not be addressed because any opposition argument would offend homosexual students, and besides society has already agreed that gays can marry. This is a strong pattern for the campus left: topics they want to talk about (e.g., the Keystone pipeline, abolishing fraternities) are discussed endlessly, even in classes where the topics have little or no relevance. But topics they don’t want discussed are banned as “already settled” or as harassment.
Ms Abbate's story has nuances. "Perhaps Ms Abbate was working under time constraints, or perhaps a student posed a difficult question, or perhaps she was being censorious." I don't have enough information to disentangle or to deconstruct the narratives.  But Marquette's administration have fired up the activists at The College Fix and Turning Point USA are organizing protests.  During the winter break.

MORE ON HIGHER EDUCATION'S ANXIETY MACHINE.

Here's how it's playing out in Canada.
Changes to postsecondary education over the last few years, particularly larger class sizes, have increased demands, professors say. In a controversial report on faculty workloads issued last spring by the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario, the group suggested that universities hire more faculty who would be primarily devoted to teaching, possibly leading to smaller classes. Such positions are increasingly common across Canada.
Student credit hours per faculty member is a crappy performance metric. So is salary per student credit hour, the metric that has led to universities relying more heavily on cheap and contingent labor.  On the other hand, the Northwestern model that hires lecturers on a long-term basis, and treats them as professionals, including limiting the Distressed Material masquerading as students, might have some effectiveness.

In Canada, as is true everywhere else, the crappy performance metric leads, inevitably, to crappy performance.
In the meantime, many professors have made changes to the structure of courses to decrease assignments that require extensive written feedback.

“As an English prof, my pedagogical values tell me that if students are going to be learning they have to be writing, and they have to be writing a lot, and they need to get feedback on that writing,” said Kathleen Cawsey, an associate professor at Dalhousie University who recently received tenure.

Prof. Cawsey is spending part of the winter break deciding whether or not to include a final essay in one of the courses she is teaching next term. At the beginning of her career, she asked students to write multiple drafts of a paper and provided feedback on each one. With larger class sizes – one of her winter courses will have 90 – that has become impossible.
That has long been a tradeoff. It might have been a tolerable economy in first- and second-year courses that served as weeders, but eliminating writing assignments from upper division courses in the name of student credit hours per credit hour makes for a lousy education at Dalhousie.  And publish-or-perish is now get-funded-and-publish-or-perish.
Research funds are also difficult to access. New funding rules that emphasize commercial potential, particularly in the sciences, mean that professors have to deal with the prospect of their careers being cut short if they don’t win grants to run a lab.

“My younger colleagues are having to survive in stressful situations that I never had to survive,” said Larry Moran, a professor of biochemistry at the University of Toronto. “Government policies have redirected research funds so that it’s hit and miss if you get grants. ... When you fail at this job, there aren’t a lot of other places to go,” he said.
That's Canada. I don't know if the funding expectations have become as nasty as they are in Britain.  There's always the possibility of becoming a free agent: if you're spending all your time preparing proposals and budgets, think in terms of business plans and loan applications.  Then there's no upper bound on how much income you produce.
As a result of these multiple sources of pressure, some graduate students are cautious about entering academia. Christin Moeller, who is studying toward a PhD in applied social psychology at the University of Windsor, is taking a program that gives her the option to work in industry or government. She was all too familiar with the lives of academics from researching faculty mental health and stress as part of her graduate work.
Yes, if the pipeline of aspiring professors dries up, the universities will have to treat their faculty better. But the professoring gig is one in which people are willing to knock themselves out, if in pursuit of the right goals.
“What makes academia unique is that everything is important and that faculty need to be excellent at everything,” Ms. Moeller said. “We feel really passionate about our work … but personally, I am not sure that those types of demands until I retire are what I’m looking for.”
No, everything is not important. Working with motivated students: important. Giving a lot of consideration to special pleadings from weak students: not important.  Getting the words right in a research report: important.  Getting the words right on a committee report: not important.

There's some perspective from the Superman-comics-inspired-named Xykademiqz that will reward careful study.  A sampling.
Everyone in the academic enterprise is smart, and most people are smart enough to be successful. There is a great degree of luck in success, but personality also plays a role in how things turn out. There are a few aspects of my personality that I think have been useful for me to have. I am not saying they are necessary or even anywhere near ideal in general, but I think they are strongly correlated with my professional and personal standing (I am happy with both) in the overall mishmash that is my personality.
Go and read the rest.

16.12.14

FÜR SOLCHE SCHWEINE SPIELE ICH NICHT!

Herzliches Geburtstag, Herr Beethoven.


The post title is from a Beethoven letter.  There's a collection of these letters, read by Konrad Beikircher.

Ten reasons to love Beethoven.

15.12.14

HIGHER EDUCATION'S ANXIETY MACHINE.

Kate Bowles's Music for Deckchairs contemplates the downside of higher education's productivity chase.  Her main message: it requires the sanction of the victim.
Put more simply: throw together a crowd of smart, driven individuals who’ve been rewarded throughout their entire lives for being ranked well, for being top of the class, and through a mixture of threat and reward you can coerce self-harming behaviour out of them to the extent that you can run a knowledge economy on the fumes of their freely given labour.

They will give you their health, their family time, the time they intended to spend on things that were ethically important to them, their creativity, their sleep. They will volunteer to give you all of this so that you can run your business on a shoestring, relative to what you intend to produce, so that you can be better than the business up the road. They will blame themselves if they can’t find enough of this borrowed time—other people’s borrowed time—to hand over to you.

Just wait while I send this email. Start without me. I’ll be along in a bit. Do you mind if I don’t come?

They will do this at all levels of the career, even if you pay them by the hour at a real rate that disintegrates to something approaching casual retail work once you factor in all the things they’ll have to do on their own time to get the job done well. They will do this especially if they’re also trying to run alongside the speeding train that might represent their future career hopes.
Academic research has always been for the obsessives and the ambitious. Some of the complaint is about the proliferation of administrivia that is crowding out the scholarship. But follow the links in the posts: Professor Stefan Grimm, toxicologist at Imperial College, faced firing for insufficient grantsmanship (despite having raised grant money, some REMF was of the view that the research would be "insufficiently impactful," whatever that means); took his own life.
This is not, I shouldn't have to say, how academia works. Peter Higgs, of Higgs Boson fame, said that there was 'no Eureka moment' to his work, and he only has 4 papers listed on Google Scholar: but what papers! Science rarely has a Eureka moment: it's rather a series of careful, thoughtful developments of work done by one's forebears and peers. A management which demands a Eureka a day is one which doesn't just not 'get' academia, it's a management which contradicts the academic method and it's one which has forgotten that it's meant to serve the needs of science, the arts, students and researchers, not the insatiable maw of attention seeking 'Leaders' (that's the word they use now) and the PR office. It's also a management that kills.

I am not Stefan Grimm and my university does not have the same reputation for bullying that Imperial has, but I've been a UCU caseworker for long enough to be able to recount (were it not for professional confidentiality) a long list of stories almost as awful as Stefan's. Thankfully none of my colleagues have killed themselves, but I've seen careers ended in bitterness and failure because individuals didn't fit into a corporate vision of efficiency and attention-grabbing Eureka moments. The twin demands of a marketised HE sector and the deforming and frankly dumb priorities of the REF conspire to distort educational and research processes, aided in many cases by management structures which hire those who've forgotten the basic notions of collegiality and progress through community. 'We' are just a workforce to be exploited and 'they' are the equivalent of commodities traders, ramping up the share price and being rewarded for short-termism.
Or not: when the research enterprise imitates The Glass Bead Game, or when the professors with some capability to achieve Eureka moments begin to insist on the kind of severance protection the football coaches routinely receive, the rotten structure will collapse.

THE HOUSING MARKET, STILL FLAT.

A sheriff's sale in an upscale subdivision on the north side of DeKalb is underwhelming.
A swath of undeveloped land along Bethany Road will stay that way after a lack of interest in a sheriff’s sale pushed it to the bank that held mortgages on the property.

The property is comprised of 85 undeveloped lots in DeKalb’s Bridges of Rivermist subdivision. Along with 20 lots scattered throughout the subdivision, they received no bids during a sheriff’s sale Dec. 4.

A home at 447 Rutland Road in the subdivision also was up for sale at the same time, and it received two bids.

Jenny Willis, an administrator at the DeKalb County Sheriff’s Office, said the winning bid came from DeKalb lawyer Russell Burns, who paid $181,000 for the home.

According to court records, the outstanding amount on a mortgage and various court fees for the home was $151,851.

No one bid on the empty lots, Willis said. In turn, American Midwest Bank now owns the property. Bank representatives and Burns did not respond to a request for comment.

American Midwest Bank in January filed two foreclosure lawsuits against Rivermist Unit 5 LLC, local developer John Pappas, Park Ridge businessman Peter Iatredes, the Bridges of Rivermist Homeowners Association and tenants of the property located near First Street and Bethany Road in DeKalb.

In total, Rivermist Unit 5 LLC owed $735,000 in two unpaid mortgages and various court fees, according to court documents. They also owe the Bridges of Rivermist Homeowners Association more than $130,000 in unpaid dues, court filings show.
Rivermist is a different subdivision, with different promoters, from the Crisis of Capitalism Acres adjacent to Cold Spring Shops headquarters.

I'M MINDING MY BUSINESS, JUST LEAVE ME ALONE.

David Boaz, writing for USA Today, draws parallels between the Arab Spring and the protest of the Staten Island grand jury finding of no official misconduct in the death of a seller of loosies.  The common theme: Mohamed Bouazizi of Tunisia hit legal obstacle after legal obstacle in attempting to set up a business, and Eric Garner of Staten Island similarly hit legal obstacle after legal obstacle in attempting to sell a product that cash-poor consumers wanted.  And public policies that tax consumption are public policies that encourage smuggling.  Hell, I knew Scout leaders and police officers in Milwaukee that would on occasion make a family jaunt to Illinois.  Not for a Cub game.  To buy oleo.  Thus, perhaps in the death of a Staten Island street vendor, there might be a broad coalition for the rollback of overweening government.
Let's hope this coming spring brings a wave of police reform in the United States, and also a reconsideration of the high taxes, prohibitions, and nanny-state regulations that are making so many Americans technically criminals and exacerbating police-citizen tensions.
That change will not come without arguments over the proper role of the state. Charles C. W. Cooke notes that friends of the administrative state reject the radical argument that regulating everything makes everyone a criminal. "As a rule, progressives believe that human nature can be changed over time, that abuses of power can be rooted out with better education and the selection of more angelic enforcers, and that by playing with societal variables in precisely the right way we will be able to turn the state into a benevolent and loving force."  Robby Soave is more forceful.
When a million things are highly regulated or outright illegal—from cigarettes to sodas of a certain size, unlicensed lemonade stands, raw milk, alcohol (for teens), marijuana, food trucks, taxicab alternatives, and even fishing supplies (in schools)—the unrestrained, often racist police force has a million reasons to pick on people. Punitive cigarette taxes, which disproportionately fall on the backs of the poorest of the poor, contribute to police brutality in the exact same way that the war on drugs does. Liberals readily admit the latter; why is the former any different?

If you want all these things to be illegal, you must want—by the very definition of the word illegal—the police to force people not to have them. Government is a gang of thugs who are paid to push us around. It's their job.

A well-meaning liberal who doesn't want people to smoke but also doesn't want the government to kill them for doing so has plenty of other options, by the way. There are countless organizations and products dedicated to helping people quit cigarettes voluntarily.

But anybody who wants it to be a matter of law must accept that resistance will be met with fines, prison, and death.
Or else, that there are unicorns.  In the absence of unicorns, "Decriminalize normal nonviolent daily activity, and the police will have a lot fewer excuses to harass people they don't like and who can't fight back."

PANAMAX PORTS EXPAND, WOMEN, MINORITIES HARDEST HIT.

I don't make this stuff up.  I just link to it.
Things are about to get a whole lot busier, thanks to a plan to widen the Panama Canal – a project that’s slated to be completed sometime in 2016, and that would result in additional traffic into and out of Newark’s port. But environmental groups and concerned citizens in New Jersey, the location of one of several ports around the country preparing for the expansion, are ringing the alarm bells, arguing it will result in additional and significant traffic and air pollution, negatively impacting surrounding communities in lower income and minority neighborhoods.
Nowhere in the article do we read the perspective of local residents who operate container cranes, or drive trucks, or might hold stop-signs for the road builders.  One of the protestors manages concessions at the Meadowlands Sports Complex, a venue that's probably lousy with exhaust fumes on game days.

14.12.14

CONDEMNED TO REPEAT THE PAST.

The Chicago Transit Authority are soliciting bids for a fleet of up to 846 new cars, to be numbered in the 7000 series.  (Henry Cordell would say "vot' the hell, you don't start counting with zero.")  No word on whether those cars will have transverse seating: the bowling alley cars recently delivered produce more passenger complaints per passenger mile.  And the method of car construction precludes rearrangement of the interiors.

A hundred years ago, the affiliated companies that became Chicago Rapid Transit purchased a fleet of steel cars.  In anticipation of crush loading on subways that were at the time only contemplated, these cars were delivered with three doors per side and bowling alley seating.  Their story is told in Shore Line Dispatch No. 5, The Chicago 'L's Great Steel Fleet - The Baldies.  The cars were so-nicknamed because their all-steel construction, including rolled-steel roof, precluded any ventilators, trolley poles, whistles, or other clutter on that roof.

As delivered, some of the cars had temporary benches that could be flipped down in front of those center doors, which were never placed into service.  Many of the cars were later rebuilt, either with transverse seating including at those doors, or with the center doors replaced by a side panel.

On a second delivery of cars, the Rapid Transit thought better of the bowling alley seating, and delivered the similar Plushies with walkover transverse seating, and no center doors.


The cars are referred to as Plushies for the seating fabric, although the absence of center doors, and the clutter, including trolley poles, on the roof, also serve as spotting features.

Go here for a virtual Plushie ride.

STUCK IN PLACE AND SMALL IN IDEAS.

A recent diatribe from Chris Matthews hails what he sees as a "revolution" in the Democratic Party.


His "revolution": a different old lady on the Senate floor spouting the same populist froth we've been hearing from people for years.  "New Deal" and "Great Society" aren't even in the current history curricula.  And his lament about the Democrat establishment appealing to the same "basic constituencies."  Hah!  The welfare recipients and academicians within those constituencies haven't done much positive lately to persuade others to see things differently.  And thus Mr Matthews might be right in anticipating House and Senate majorities that aren't likely to be flipped in one election cycle.  Just another mockable week for self-styled progressives and their enablers.

FORMERLY UNAVAILABLE AT ANY PRICE.

Oil price movements, like any other price movements, produce positive and negative pecuniary externalities.  Sure, filling the land yacht at two bucks a gallon is as close as we're likely to get Happy Days are Here Again, but falling crude prices do turn inframarginal and substitute producers into inactive producers.
The concern is that crude prices could fall so low, demand for alternative energy sources would evaporate and the growth of the U.S. oil patch, which has helped lead the country back from one of its worst-ever economic downturns, might slow or even stop.

"This is clearly a mixed bag for the U.S. because a large percentage of U.S. job growth since the credit crisis has happened in the energy sector, and that growth could halt or reverse if oil prices stay low for long," said Ethan Bellamy, managing director and chief oil industry analyst at Milwaukee-based Robert W. Baird & Co.
On the other hand, that's new capacity, and it doesn't just go away when crude prices fall.  The same thing is true of the renewable substitutes that have appeared over the past quarter century.
Companies in the petroleum sector plan for volatility, said Lee Edwards, chief executive of Virent Inc. in Madison and a former executive at BP in Houston.

"It'll go up, it'll go down, and we're trying to build our business models so we are independent of that volatility," he said.

Renewable energy's feedstocks also can have volatile price swings, Edwards said, noting the price of corn, the primary ingredient in ethanol, has fallen from more than $8 in August 2012 to below $3.50 this fall.

"For us and many in the biorenewable space, we have to look at the volatility of crude oil relative to the volatility of the feedstocks we're converting," he said.

Virent is a spinout from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The company is attempting to commercialize the processes that produce a plant-based substitute for transportation fuels and chemicals that are now derived from oil.

The bioenergy firm uses "Virent is replacing crude oil" in its branding, but doing so is no easy task, especially when crude approaches $55 a barrel as it did on Friday.

The company shifted its emphasis in recent years to renewable chemicals from renewable fuels, although it's still pursuing both.

"It's a lot easier to get interest in this space when crude oil is over $100," Edwards said.

Virent said last week it has expanded its lineup of renewable chemicals used to make products sourced from petroleum — everything from foam in car seats to polyester in clothing to components of wall insulation.
I hope the reporter misquoted that "build our business models so we are independent of volatility," as any business using crude oil or a crude oil substitute is going to be affected by price movements in crude oil, and if your feedstock is corn, the principle of substitutes works in precisely the way that the story relates.  Thus a successful business model more likely makes good use of futures markets for feedstocks, and devotes resources to getting down the learning curve.
While sales of electric vehicles and hybrids are likely to be pressured by low oil prices, development of alternative energy sources will continue amid tougher greenhouse gas and pollution standards being adopted around the world.

"So even if the fuel prices stay low, the emissions regulations continue to get more and more stringent," said MaryAnn Wright, vice president of engineering and product development for the battery business of Johnson Controls in Glendale.

Johnson Controls is working on developing lithium next-generation car batteries to help automakers meet those standards, but its focus for now is helping the auto industry get better mileage out of cars with internal combustion engines.
The regulations are unlikely to go away, and there;s still a strong constituency for technology forcing regulations. There's also an opportunity. What happens if the substitutes are able to compete at $70 crude?  That's one possibility if the kleptocrats running OPEC decide to restrict output so as to be able to raise prices.  Their problem: some of those startups can cover running costs at such prices, and the substitutes have that learning curve working in their favor.

12.12.14

A POWER FIVE BOWL GAME.

Marshall University's reaction to being paired with Northern Illinois in the initial Boca Raton Bowl is favorable.
[Marshall coach Mike] Hamrick repeatedly pointed out that NIU, like Marshall, received votes in the two major polls, and the teams are a combined 23-3. The first known ranking of bowls by order of intriguing matchups, from Yahoo Sports, ranks the Boca game 10th of 38, and the Dallas game 37th.

“It’s no secret that the three schools considered for the ‘access bowl’ were Boise State, Marshall and Northern Illinois,” Hamrick said. “I know that for a fact. So we have an opportunity that I thought was important for us, to go make a statement that, ‘Hey, we feel like we’re one of those top schools.’

“Now, would we have a better chance at doing that against a champion from another conference, or would we have a better chance of doing that with a 6-6 team, from whatever conference?”
The 6-6 team the coach refers to is also from Illinois, playing another Conference USA representative, Louisiana Tech.  The article provides additional background on the proliferation of bowls (apparently, as long as teams get to six wins, the sentiment in college sports is that they get bowls, resource drains notwithstanding).  But Yardbarker likes the game, and the West Virginia Gazette refers to it as a "G-5 national championship."  And here's a trivia question.
There are three bowl games this year pitting conference champion against conference champion. One is the Sugar Bowl between Alabama and Ohio State, and one is the Rose Bowl between Oregon and Florida State.

What is the other one?
Promises to be a good one.

MUGGED BY REALITY

We noted some constructive self-criticism on the part of Thomas Edsall, last week.

He continues to show growth, this week.
Why don’t white working-class voters recognize where their economic interests lie? Somewhat self-righteously, Democrats keep asking themselves that question.

A better question would be: What has the Democratic Party done for these voters lately?

At work and at home, their lives are worse than they were a generation ago. Their real incomes have fallen, their employment opportunities have diminished, their families have crumbled and their ties to society are fraying.

This is how daily life feels, to many in the white working class. Unlike blacks and Hispanics, whites are not the beneficiaries of affirmative action programs designed to open doors to higher education and better jobs for underrepresented minorities; if anything, these programs serve only to limit their horizons.

Liberal victories in the sexual and women’s rights revolutions – victories that have made the lives of many upscale Democrats more productive and satisfying — appear, from the vantage point of the white working class, to have left many women to struggle as single parents, forced to cope with both male defection from paternal responsibility and the fragmentation of a family structure that was crucial to upward mobility in the postwar period.
There are cultural conservative themes of some fifty years in that passage, and more than a little George Wallace populism. But now the social science has caught up with the cultural conservatives:  "do your own thing" works if you have the means to act on your options.
Even as blacks experienced the benefits of the drive toward racial equality, which many whites saw as a form of reverse discrimination, the liberal cultural agenda began to champion “expressive individualist” and “rights oriented” values. Many working-class whites saw these values as destructive of familiar hierarchies in which they were accustomed to hold a privileged position.

In this way, multiple legal, economic and cultural developments began to overlap.

You can see this convergence in another trend [Johns Hopkins professor Andrew] Cherlin describes, the transition, beginning in the 1960s, of younger adults from what he calls a “utilitarian self” to an “expressive self.” The utilitarian self, according to Cherlin, accepts “conformity to external standards — which included doing what your supervisor at work told you to do.” This conformity was essential for industrial work, “which required self-discipline and the suppression of feelings such as alienation and anger.”

The expressive self, in contrast, “emphasizes one’s feelings and emotional satisfaction and the pursuit of a personally fulfilling life.” For the less educated, however, the kind of low-skill, low-wage jobs available to them offered little or no opportunity for self-expression.
The extension of the research to cultural-studies authenticity myths is left to the reader as an exercise.

The column refers to other research that fails to refute Dan Quayle on the importance of fathers.

But Mr Edsall has a few things yet to learn.
Over the last half-century, the Democratic Party has taken up the task of providing new life chances – an emancipation, really — for those whose situations were once seen as hopeless. Those initiatives, which expanded rights across many fronts, have had costs as well as benefits. Too often the party has failed to address tensions that grew out of the good that the party and the progressive movement in general have done.

The linked problems of eroding social cohesion, the intergenerational transmission of disadvantage, deteriorating communal ties and weakened social norms, appear to have led to a degree of chaos and disintegration that those accustomed to a secure – and, indeed, a fixed — social order bitterly resent. The central task that the center-left coalition and its political representative, the Democratic Party, now faces is how to make progress in resolving the conflicting needs and values of the vastly different types of people who populate the bottom ranks of the income distribution.
Recognizing tradeoffs: check.

Recognizing that the best thing the national government might do is go away: not yet.

LEON TROTSKY IS NOT AMUSED.

David Walsh of the World Socialist Web Site calls out the identity-politics-grievance-industry.
The unraveling of the Rolling Stone feature story about a rape on the campus of the University of Virginia (UVA) has shed new light on the right-wing character of identity politics and those social layers obsessed with gender and race. It also underscores the reactionary essence of the regulations on sexual harassment that have been implemented at Harvard and other universities and colleges.
"Social layers." Where does that put the freakazoids within the Perpetually Aggrieved?  What intrigues, though, is an allegation about creative writer Sabrina Erdely that has also gained traction among cultural conservatives.
Putting aside diplomatic language, Erdely hunted around until she found the accuser and the story that confirmed her perspective--that a rape epidemic was sweeping college campuses—and once she found it, she was not going to be deterred by such things as corroborating facts.

Erdely was the author, but the article came into being, in the wider sense, in response to the needs of the identity politics forces for definite political ends.

The political agenda at work here originates at the top of the American state and saturates wider layers of the affluent petty bourgeoisie. It is not accidental that Erdely, in her November 19 article, approvingly called attention to the Obama administration’s having “stepped up pressure on colleges [including UVA], announcing Title IX investigations of 86 schools suspected of denying students their equal right to education by inadequately handling sexual-violence complaints.”
But nobody does political correctness like a Trotskyite.  It's not another distraction from calculus or theoretical physics, or a power grab for deanlets, deanlings, and the phesbian leminists of cultural studies who carry water for that part of the administration.
The White House is attempting to strengthen its hold on these selfish layers of the population for whom gender and race questions are paramount. It is also seeking to divert attention from its crimes overseas and the economic devastation at home.

Rolling Stone, along with the Nation, Socialist Worker and other liberal and pseudo-left outlets, is more than happy to oblige, stoking up hysteria about a “rape culture.”

And even the discrediting of Erdely’s article has not deterred the profoundly subjective and self-absorbed promoters of gender-based politics. Jessica Valenti in the Guardian flaunts her contempt for democratic principles and even elementary fairness, writing, “I choose to believe Jackie. I lose nothing by doing so, even if I’m later proven wrong—but at least I will still be able to sleep at night for having stood by a young woman who may have been through an awful trauma.”

So what if it all turns out to be a slander? What if the fraternity had been set on fire and someone had died, would Valenti still be able to sleep at night? Rolling Stone editors—and this is the approach, championed by figures such as Valenti, that predominates in these circles—started from the premise that any allegation of sexual misconduct is to be treated as true on its face.
"Check your privilege": capitalist tool. If I were still in the academy, there are some people I could throw that at.
The willingness to equate sexual misconduct allegations with proven facts is an increasing fact of life in America, as we noted recently in regard to Harvard’s new sexual harassment policy. It is profoundly anti-democratic and has sinister implications for political and social life. Presumption of innocence and due process are being tossed out the window.

The spirit of the McCarthyite anti-communist purges, and, for that matter, the Salem witch trials of the late 17th century, is being resurrected by elements passing themselves off as “left.”
Interesting. But there has been a theoretically consistent argument leading to the same conclusion for about a quarter century.  Just read Profscam or Illiberal Education or Impostors in the Temple.  And understand, as The Fall of the Faculty argues, that the deanlets and deanlings carried off much of their usurpation with the complicity of faculty that are apparently insufficiently left for Leon Trotsky's disciples.