15.2.17

FASCHING.



Prosit!

A FLOCK OF BLACK SWANS.

That's the story line of George Packer's The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America, our Book Review No 2.  The thesis of the book advances the logic of saecular decline and fall, although that idea does not explicitly appear anywhere in its pages.
If you were born around 1960 or afterward, you have spent your adult life in the vertigo of that unwinding.  You watched structures that had been in place before your birth collapse like pillars of salt across the vast visible landscape -- the farms of the Carolina Piedmont, the factories of the Mahoning Valley, Florida subdivisions, California schools.  And other things, harder to see but no less vital in supporting the order of everyday life, changed beyond recognition -- ways and means in Washington caucus rooms, taboos on New York trading desks, manners and morals everywhere.  When the norms that made the old institutions normal began to unwind, and the leaders abandoned their posts, the Roosevelt Republic that had reigned for almost half a century came undone.  The void was filled by the default force in American life, organized money.
Unwinding follows a number of people from 1978 through to about 2012.  Some of these people are famous, some of them obscure, a number of them actually living in the Carolina Piedmont or trying to hold body and soul together in the Mahoning Valley or going from rich on paper to underwater on their mortgages in Florida, while in Silicon Valley, the new technology masters of the universe, not exactly organized money, prosper alongside expanding pockets of poverty just the other side of the expressway.  And in Washington, the expanded opportunities for women to participate in the labor force enhance the opportunities for family rent-seeking, with one half of the power couple in government service and the other half lobbying or working for the press corps or in a university.

Perhaps the strength of the work is that it simply relates the stories, and leaves the policy implications, the quest for stylized facts, the formulation of testable hypotheses to others.  Likewise, the deconstruction of The America That Worked(TM) is simply the background against which these people, for better or for worse -- and for many, it is unrelentingly worse -- make do.  The identification of causes and the identification of consequences are also left to others.

(Cross-posted to 50 Book Challenge.)

A NEW BIG BLOW FOR WESTERN SIBERIA.

The Russian Railways are testing a new, liquefied natural gas fueled, gas turbine electric locomotive.


Sinara Group photograph retrieved from European Railway Review.

The turbine locomotive is Russia's latest attempt to move American style freight trains across greater than American style distances, starting with the Egorshino–Alapayevsk–Serov-Sortirovochny line. I doubt that there are any roads like the old Lincoln Highway across Nebraska for pacing the trains. "The locomotive has been designed to drive trains with increased weight and length. In May 2016, during a test run, the GTh1-002 drove a train weighing 9,000 tons on the 700km Surgut–Voinovka route without the need to refuel en route."

That's the same rationale that drove the Soviet railroad system to contemplate the 4-14-4, and Union Pacific to roll out a fleet of gas turbines.

But Union Pacific never put a control cab on the tender of its 8500 horsepower (later upgraded to 10,000 horsepower) turbine sets.


The turbine set, and the Centennial series diesels that replaced them, are in preservation at the Illinois Railway Museum.  These days, if you want the oomph to move a Powder River coal train, a pair of 4400 hp diesels with alternating current drive can get the job done.  They might be too big and too heavy to fit Ivan's rails.

Union Pacific did operate one double-ended turbine locomotive of 4500 hp, at the time that was the same power as a three unit set of Electro-Motive or Alco freight diesels.


The problem with any turbine locomotive is that the power plant is only efficient at full power and cruising speed.  Trains cannot be brought to cruising speed as rapidly as jet aircraft are.  We'll see how well this Russian experiment, cleaner-burning fuel or not, works out.

FINDING THOSE MISSING MARKETS.

Now that Republicans have working majorities in the House and Senate and a president who ran on the Republican ticket, they can no longer pass symbolic repeals of the two lies for the price of one Patient Protection and Affordable Care act without having something substantive to take its place.  Here, from W. R. Mead, is the challenge.
The core problem with American health care is that our delivery system is antiquated, horribly regulated, and overpopulated by vested interests who have built sweetheart deals for themselves into the structure of the system. As a result, we pay much more for health care than we should or can. The result is a system that has all kinds of urgent, fix-me-now problems: access for the poor, affordability for the middle class, quality of care, and so on. But these cannot be fixed in the short term. The party that owns the status quo owns a wretched mess that it cannot actually fix no matter what it does.

What we need is the presence of mind to prioritize the long term, unglamorous work of installing incentives and reforms that reduce costs even as we take short term palliative methods to relieve distress. Obamacare was by and large though not totally a failure in this respect; we will see if the Republicans can do better.
For "incentives and reforms that reduce costs," think market-tested betterments.

Here's one approach, from the Independent Institute.  Getting from bureaucratic muddle to market tests is not going to be easy. "[T]he market in many states is dysfunctional — in part because we have so completely suppressed and distorted normal economic incentives. That means competitive outcomes in many states can’t serve as a reliable guide to public policy decisions."  Ultimately, breaking the bundle of job and insurance coverage facilitates market-tested betterments in labor markets and insurance markets alike.  "That would leave us with a system in which employers would have complete freedom of choice between the individual and group markets and complete freedom of choice of how their employees will receive tax relief."

John "Grumpy Economist" Cochrane also has thoughts.
It’s wiser to start with a vision of the destination. In an ideal America, health insurance is individual, portable, and guaranteed renewable — it includes the right to continue coverage, with no increase in cost. It even includes the right to transfer to a comparable plan at any other insurer. Insurance companies pay each other for these transfers, and then compete for sick as well as healthy patients. The right to continue coverage is separate from the coverage itself. You can get the right to buy gold coverage with a silver plan.

Most Americans sign up as they graduate from high school, get a drivers’ license, register to vote, or start a first job. Young healthy people might choose bare-bones catastrophic coverage, but the right to step up to a more generous plan later. Nobody’s premiums subsidize others, so such insurance is cheap.


People keep their individual plans as they go to school, get and change jobs or move around.  Employers may contribute to these individual plans. If employers offer group coverage, people keep the right to individual plans later.

Health insurance then follows people from job to job, state to state, in and out of marriage, just like car, home and life insurance, and 401(k) savings.

But health insurance is not a payment plan for small expenses, as home insurance does not “pay for” lightbulbs. Insurance protects your wallet against large, unexpected expenses. People pay for most regular care the same way they pay for cars, homes, and TVs — though likewise helped to do so with health savings and health credit accounts to smooth large expenses over time. Doctors don’t spend half their time filling out forms, and there are no longer two and a half claims processors for every doctor.
That is, insurance looks more like catastrophic coverage, which is what people carry on their houses and motor vehicles.  Market-tested betterments might be the way to go.
Big cost control comes from the only reliable source — rigorous supply competition. The minute someone tries to charge too much, new doctors, clinics, hospitals, and models of care spring up competing for the customer’s dollar. “Access” to health care comes like anything else, from your checkbook and intensely competitive businesses jockeying for it.

What about those who can’t afford even this much? Nobody dies in the street. There is also a robust system of government and charity care for the poor, indigent, those who have fallen between the cracks, and victims of rare expensive diseases. For most, this simply means a voucher or tax credit to buy private insurance.

But — a central principle — the government no longer massively screws up the health insurance and health care arrangements of the majority of Americans, who can afford houses, cars, and smartphones, and therefore health care, in order to help the unfortunate. We help people forthrightly, with taxes and on-budget spending.

Why do we not have this world? Because it was regulated out of existence, and now is simply illegal. 
The original sin of American health insurance is the tax deduction for employer-provided group plans — but not, to this day, for employer contributions to portable individual insurance. “Insurance” then became a payment plan, to maximize the tax deduction, and then horrendously inefficient as people were no longer spending their own money.
The best thing for the government to do might be to go away, or, as the Independent Institute post suggests, back away slowly.
Worse, nobody who hopes to get a job with benefits then buys long-term individual insurance. This provision alone pretty much created the preexisting conditions problem.

Patch, patch. To address preexisting conditions, the government mandated that insurers must sell insurance to everyone at the same price. Insurance companies will then try to avoid sick people, so coverage must be highly regulated. Healthy people won’t buy it, so it must be nearly impossible for people to just pay out of pocket. Obamacare added the individual mandate.

Cross-subsidies are a second original sin. Our government doesn’t like taxing and spending on budget where we can see it. So it forces others to pay: It forces employers to provide health insurance. It forces hospitals to provide free care. It low-balls Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement.

The big problem: These patches and cross-subsidies cannot stand competition. Yet without supply competition, costs increase, the number of people needing subsidized care rises, and around we go.

The Republican plans now circulating make progress. Rep. Tom Price’s plan ties protection from preexisting conditions to continuous coverage. His and Speaker Paul Ryan’s “Better Way” plan move toward premium support for private insurance, and greater portability.

So far, though, the announced plans do not really overturn the original sins. But those plans were crafted in a different political landscape. We can now go big, and really fix the government-induced health care mess in a durable way.
We'll also know when the insurance markets are working. When we stop seeing statements from the insurer that read like a cargo manifest, and when invented discounts from invented prices go away.
I visited my dermatologist last month. I spent 20 minutes with a resident, and 5 minutes with the dermatologist. The bill was $1335. An “insurance adjustment” knocked off $779. Insurance paid $438. I paid $118. The game goes on. We start with a fake sticker price to negotiate with the uninsured and to declare uncompensated care. But you cannot just walk in and pay as you can for anything else. Even $438 includes a huge cross-subsidy.

We’ll know we’ve fixed health care when we don’t get bills like this.
Sometimes, we can walk in.  Perhaps, though, we get hit with the $1335.  Or perhaps a counselor gives us a financial proctology, and we pay $438 or $125 or whatever a computer random number generator kicks out.

Medical savings accounts, catastrophic coverage, interstate sales of insurance, portability of insurance, greater commercial freedom for purveyors of pills and procedures.  Stat!

THE POWER OF URBAN AGGLOMERATION ECONOMIES.

The 2016 presidential vote stratified in a number of ways, including a preponderance of the Democratic vote originating in counties that generated a lot of national income, or perhaps it was a preponderance of national income originating in counties that generated a lot of Democratic votes.

Apparently, despite the loss of the blue collar aristocrats and the Marshallian entrepreneurial nexus for heavy industry, Milwaukee is again generating income.  Perhaps the shift from being a net recipient of state spending to a net contributor to state revenues reflects Wisconsin fiscal policies that have changed from 2009 to the present, or perhaps there's new life in new commercial ventures.  And perhaps there are new agglomeration economies for future researchers to investigate.

THE CUPCAKES HAD TO TAKE A NAP.

Marquette University's Young Americans for Freedom invited Ben Shapiro to speak, and, mirabile dictu, he was able to speak.  "Shapiro, the editor-in-chief of DailyWire.com and the host of 'The Ben Shapiro Show,' spoke for about twenty minutes and then answered questions from a line of liberals and conservatives that stretched the length of the lecture hall."  That's not to say the no-platformers slunk away.
Chrissy Nelson, a program assistant with Marquette University’s Center for Gender and Sexualities Studies, encouraged people in a Facebook post to register for the free tickets and then not show up, a tactic meant to deny students the chance to see Shapiro speak.

During his talk, Shapiro addressed the controversy, calling Nelson “a professional useless person.”

“She said she got that suggestion from one of the directors of diversity on campus as noted before,” Shapiro said. “A little ironic that the director of diversity wants to ensure that people can’t hear diverse points of view.”

The Facebook post has since been deleted, and Angelique Harris, the director of the center where Nelson is employed, said in an interview that Nelson is being reprimanded.
Marquette have a history of suppressing intellectual inquiry.  Let us be grateful that Ms Nelson is being reprimanded, rather than facing firing, or an appearance before the Holy Inquisition.

NO MAN CAN KINDLE THE EKPYROSIS.

Apparently, Donald Trump's advisor Stephen Bannon, after dipping into The Fourth Turning, thinks he can.  Historian David Kaiser sort of shares that view, and he expounds on that in Time.
The power of Strauss and Howe’s theory of crises comes from its lack of a specific ideology. My own interpretation of it is that the death of an old political, economic and social order creates an opportunity for any determined movement or leader to put a new vision in place. To use the most striking example, both the United States and Germany were in the midst of a terrible economic and political crisis in 1933. The United States turned to Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal; Germany turned to Adolf Hitler and National Socialism.

In 2009, when Bannon and I met, I hoped that Barack Obama and the Democratic Congress would use the economic crisis of our own age to revive the values of the New Deal. Bannon obviously had other ideas about where the crisis would lead.
Yes, in The Fourth Turning, the saecular Crisis exposes enough flaws with the old values regime that a new values regime emerges.  Ekpyrosis is Greek for "now the new phoenix arises from the ashes."  But the new values regime is a response to the contradictions inherent in the old values regime, and in the Strauss and Howe approach, there is no remorseless Hegelian dialectic under which all the contradictions can be ground out for once and for all, and no Vanguard to Lead the People to The Glorious Future.  (In Strauss and Howe, that's actually desirable, as the Inexorable March of Progress inevitably sacrifices all generations before the Glorious Future becomes the Glorious Present on the Altar of Progress.  Never mind that the Romans had the saeculum but they didn't have steam locomotives or smart 'phones.)

Mr Bannon, however, gives Mr Kaiser the impression that he's going to be the spiritual guide to Mr Trump's Gray Champion.
Trump, Bannon and the rest of the Trump campaign have already managed to destroy the old political order. Trump wiped out a slate of traditional Republican candidates and has won the White House, despite losing the popular vote. Meanwhile, a ceaseless Republican political offensive at various levels of government has given Trump an entrenched majority in the House of Representatives and a small majority in the Senate. Soon the conservatives will have a majority on the Supreme Court.

What will they do? Their rhetoric and personalities, viewed in the context of Strauss and Howe’s theory of crisis, suggest that they will not be bound by existing precedents and that they will rely on their own view of the heroes and villains of our time.

Generation Zero [a movie Mr Bannon produced -- ed.] slanted the story of the economic crisis rather cleverly. On the one hand, plenty of contributors pointed out that greed and shoddy banking practices had brought about the economic collapse, but the ultimate blame is placed on liberals, bureaucrats and established politicians. And just as Republican politicians and commentators have done for the last seven years, many of the contributors—speaking at the dawn of the Obama administration—pictured a horrible fate under Barack Obama, featuring economic catastrophe and attempts to impose socialism.

This, however, is one of the terrible things about crisis periods: many people will believe almost anything. The United States faces a terrible crisis right now even though our economy is much improved from eight years ago and we are not involved in a large war. And the Republican Party and Donald Trump are poised to take advantage of it. In my opinion, Trump, Bannon, Gingrich, Ryan and the rest will use their opportunity during the next year or two to undo as much of the Democratic legacy as they can—not only the Obama legacy, but that of FDR and LBJ as well.
Let's keep in mind that Social Security and Medicare are large unfunded liabilities, and Medicaid and the Interstate Highways and the Great Society more generally are life-expired, and Venezuela is there as a cautionary tale.

But it is beyond the powers of Mr Trump, with or without Republican majorities in both chambers of Congress, with or without a lot of bellicose guys named Stephen smacking the palace guard media around and otherwise fostering disruption, to channel an emergent phenomenon.

It's only after the ekpyrosis that the emergence of a new consensus happens.  Sorry, David Brooks.
Now and after Trump, the great project is rebinding: rebinding the social fabric, rebinding the government to its people, and most of all, rebinding the heaping piles of wreckage that Trump will leave in his wake in Washington. Somebody will have to restore the party structures, rebuild Congress, revive a demoralized Civil Service.

These tasks aren’t magic. They are for experienced professionals. The baby boomer establishment polarized politics, lost touch with the voters and paved the way for Trump. We need a new establishment, one that works again.
Yeah, I'd like to live long enough to see a new America that Works(TM).  The party structures, the governing class, all the rest?  Perhaps one of the lessons we've learned after fifty years of social change and the accretion of power by Wise Experts is that the Wise Experts don't control as much as they think they control.  It's not so much a new establishment, as a chastened and less hubristic one.

Peter Lawler comes closer to getting the social dynamics right.  "I will stop here by keeping hope alive that [Mr Trump] will find the mean between nationalism and cosmopolitanism that keeps 'Americanism' from degenerating into tribalism. And if he does not find that mean, then let us hope the country as a whole finds it for itself in time."  That's his concluding argument, read it all first.  Keep in mind that an emergent mean, reflecting the distributed strategies of multiple people, is likely to be more robust than anything pushed by a president.  That's something Mr Kaiser noted about Mr Obama.  "Presidents could not, in fact, remake American society, and that that was a good thing."  Nor can business interests, although a writer for Breitbart Unmasked hopes that under some circumstances they do take the reins.

There's a long Business Insider essay by Linette Lopez that also takes on the Bannon-manages-Fourth-Turning idea.  She deals with a number of topics.  I limit my remarks to these.
Strauss and Howe fail to recognize that difference in their description of the Fourth Turning to come. They forget that no two Turnings are alike; instead, they get trapped thinking that the last catalyst — the Great Depression, a financial crisis — was the next one as well, and Bannon does too.

This is why he believes that the Great Financial Crisis of 2008 was the catalyst of our crisis, just as the Great Depression was the catalyst in the previous saeculum.
There's something ad hoc about the identification of the onset of any saecular Crisis.  I recall some discussion boards debating whether or not the hanging chads of Florida were the catalyst.  Or the September 11 terrorist attacks.  Or the failure of the levees in New Orleans.  Or the popping of the financial bubble.  There's been a lot going wrong.  There's also a lack of anything resembling consensus as to a response, which sounds a lot like 1860.  But in the Strauss and Howe taxonomy, the secession crisis and Civil War are an anomaly.  Go figure.  In the absence of a coherent set of testable implications, perhaps Ms Lopez is correct, and the Fourth Turning has not yet arrived.  "So perhaps there is a Fourth Turning to come, but Bannon is not an architect of its initiation."

DON'T GET PUNISHED FOR BEING COOPERATIVE.

With this academic year's tenure decisions, to the extent that anybody is taking tenure decisions these days, proceeding past the college and university level and on to the trustees, there might be a few academicians getting the good news.  Inside Higher Ed's Kerry Ann Rockquemore outlines the three biggest mistakes newly tenured professors commonly make.
Mistake #1: You act as if nothing has changed when everything has changed. The primary mistake that newly tenured faculty make is that they continue working as if they are still racing against a ticking tenure clock. The fear of not winning tenure led them to work long hours and to neglect their health, relationships and leisure. And then when they win tenure, they keep working as if nothing has changed.
There's truth to that, particularly with academicians neglecting all else to pursue their research.  On the other hand, a tenure evaluation is also a way, particularly in departments with ambitions, to distinguish the careerists racking up minimally publishable units from the genuinely intellectually curious.  It's not so much that the latter are racing only the tenure clock, rather, the game is afoot, and they want to snare it.  And, dear reader, if you're only now asking the questions about work life that Ms Rockquemore suggests, perhaps you're being toasted with a poisoned chalice.  Figure out the fit with your department and your university starting from day one.
Mistake #2: You don’t know who you are or what you want. Before you earned tenure, you had to work hard to meet externally imposed expectations for your research, teaching and service. The greatest gift (and challenge) of winning tenure is that now you get to choose your posttenure pathway. What will your direction be for the next five to seven years? Do you want to be a public intellectual, a master teacher, an institutional change agent, a disciplinary superstar, an administrator or something else entirely?

Clearly, there are both differential consequences and rewards for whichever path you choose, but the key is that it’s your responsibility to identify what you want and then move in that direction. The mistake I see newly tenured people repeatedly make is that they have spent so long pleasing others that they no longer know who they are, much less what they want.
Here's where the cooperative get punished.  A department that is interested in developing its incoming faculty -- and this is true more often than not once you get away from the fifty institutions aspiring to the top ten, where failure to earn tenure is de rigueur -- is going to protect probationary faculty from most of the administrative scutwork and the fever swamps of the process worshippers.  But those committees have to be filled, and the next installation of dues-paying for the rising academic features a heavy dose of committee chores.  Choose wisely: that's one way in which a case of professor burnout can come on quickly.  In that earlier post, I urged a strategy of saying No, or Hell, no, to many of those requests.  Perhaps there's more.  The tenured faculty are stewards of their university.  Perhaps it ought be part of their calling to ask whether this committee, this initiative, that deanlet, that administrative office, is necessary.

That leads directly to the third error.
Mistake #3: Your ambivalence leaves you a player in other people’s games. When newly tenured faculty members show up in the fall with no agenda of their own, they have no filter for assessing incoming requests, and they’re left reacting to request upon request without any sense for when to say yes or no. They’re so used to pleasing others that they feel flattered to be asked to do invisible, labor-intensive and unrewarded work that doesn’t move them in any particular direction (but often advances other people’s agendas). They quickly find themselves spreading their energy in so many different directions that they end up working longer and harder than they did during their pretenure years. Then one day they wake up and several years have slipped by, and despite all of their hard work, they can’t point to any one area of notable individual accomplishment. Instead, they’ve helped a whole bunch of other people realize their goals. This is how and why many tenured professors become bitter, angry and resentful.

When you have a clear posttenure pathway, you are prepared to approach these requests very differently. You create opportunities instead of reactively accepting responsibilities. You pass every request through a simple filter, asking yourself: Will this move me in the direction of my five-year goals? If yes, the answer is yes, and if not, the answer is no. And instead of relying on your pretenure mentoring networks, you actively construct a new mentoring network that will support your five-year goals and help you to develop the specific skills and experience you need to get there.
There might now be enough experienced faculty members with experience only in the downsizing, business-faddish, special education-enabling, virtue-signalling institutions of higher learning for such mentors to emerge.  Judging by the comments to the essay, though, faculty morale is pretty low, and perhaps the most effective mentoring oughta be offered to aspiring Ph.Ds before they sit the GREs.  That is, Don't sit the GRE and take a nap until the urge goes away.

13.2.17

FEASIBLY FASTER TRAINS.

Trains and Travel meditates on Chicago.
Chicago is still the heart of passenger rail in America. It’s “home port” for most of Amtrak’s long-distance trains—nine of them originate in Chicago. It would be nice if there were more, of course, but those nine trains fan out from Chicago and cover a good deal of the country. There are regional trains with Chicago as a terminus, too—trains extending into Michigan and to parts of southern Illinois. The track between Chicago and St. Louis is being upgraded and those trains will soon be running at 110 miles an hour. And trains are already running at 110 along stretches of routes linking Chicago with cities in Michigan.

High speed rail is wonderful, as anyone who has traveled by train almost everywhere else in the world will attest. But the next logical step for the Amtrak network outside of the Northeast Corridor is to increase speeds on existing short-haul routes from a maximum of 79 mph up to 110. Shorter running times always attracts more riders.
Just as Cold Spring Shops have been urging for years.  But let's aim higher.  The E units of the early Diesel Era were good for 117 mph; for nearly forty years British Rail and successors have been running their fixed-formation Inter City 125 diesel trains at 125 mph, and those trains are good for 140.  There's little reason for all the extra spending on electrification and trackage to get another 60 to 100 mph out of the trains.  At the margin, it's spending a lot of money to shave off a few seconds.

I'd add: more frequent trains, and better connectivity among the corridors at Chicago.

WHEN WILL THEY LEARN?

In St. Paul, Minnesota Nice school administrators fretted about school suspensions having a disparate impact on completion rates and imprisonments.  But easing up on troublemakers enables troublemakers.  City Journal's Katherine Kersten recently followed up on St. Paul, and her article's title, No Thug Left Behind (via Power Line) offers scant consolation.
[Former fourth grade teacher Aaron] Benner—a leader among teachers critical of the racial-equity policies—spoke forthrightly to the St. Paul school board. “I believe we are crippling our black children by not holding them to the same expectations as other students,” he told its members. St. Paul students, Benner wrote the following year, “are being used in some sort of social experiment where they are not being held accountable for their behavior.” Safety, not teaching, had become his “number one concern,” he said.
Mr Benner is an American of African extraction, for all the respect it got him from the inadequately socialized hellions of color, and from the administration.  "Benner says that district leaders pushed him out of his school and fired his aide. He now works at a private school."

Make no mistake, it is inadequate socialization, and the administrators and their Ever Concerned Facilitators on Consulting Contracts are enabling it. Here's the social science.
[St. Paul's school] discipline policies rooted in racial-equity ideology lead to disaster. This shouldn’t be surprising, considering that the ideology’s two major premises are seriously flawed. The first premise holds that disparities in school-discipline rates are a product of teachers’ racial bias; the second maintains that teachers’ unjustified and discriminatory targeting of black students gives rise to the school-to-prison pipeline.

In 2014, a groundbreaking study in the Journal of Criminal Justice by J. P. Wright and others discredited both these claims. [Likely this paper - ed.]The study utilized the largest sample of school-aged children in the nation. Unlike almost all previous studies, it controlled for individual differences in student behavior over time. Using this rigorous methodology [c.q.], the authors concluded that teacher bias plays no role in the racial-equity suspension gap, which, they determined, is “completely accounted for by a measure of the prior problem behavior of the student.” Racial differentials in suspension rates, they found, appeared to be “a function of differences in problem behaviors that emerge early in life, that remain relatively stable ove time, and that materialize in the classroom.”

Why do black and white students, as groups, behave differently at school? Black students, on average, “are less academically prepared for school entrance” and bring with them deficits in many social and emotional skills, the study found, over which their parents do not exert control. The authors point out that, while a number of earlier studies have suggested pervasive teacher bias as a factor in the racial-equity discipline gap, “some scholars and activists” show “clear motivations” to present the discipline gap as a civil rights issue, “with all the corresponding threats of litigation by the federal government.”

As for the school-to-prison pipeline, the authors appear to view the concept largely as an effort to link “racial differences in suspensions to racial discrimination.” Under these circumstances, they emphasize, “where careers are advanced, where reputations are earned, and where the ‘working ideology’ of scholars is confirmed, the usual critical and cautionary sway of scholarly investigation, critique, and insight becomes marginalized or usurped.” Schools should make efforts to correct the problem behaviors of young students, the authors say. If they fail to do so, early patterns of “disruptive and unregulated behavior” can become entrenched, and lead eventually to school failure, dropping out, and potentially to encounters with the justice system. In the St. Paul schools, however, equity ideology makes such constructive correction impossible.

The deepest source of the racial-equity discipline gap is profound differences in family structure. Young people who grow up without fathers are far more likely than their peers to engage in antisocial behavior, according to voluminous social-science research. Disordered family life often promotes the lack of impulse control and socialization that can lead to school misconduct. The City of St. Paul does not make out-of-wedlock birth data public. However, Intellectual Takeout, a Minnesota-based public-policy institution, has determined through a FOIA request to the Minnesota Department of Health that 87 percent of births to black, U.S.-born mothers in St. Paul occur out of wedlock, compared with 30 percent of white births. Tragically, the problem we confront is not so much a school-to-prison pipeline as a home-to-prison pipeline.

Who pays the greatest price for misguided racial-equity discipline policies? The many poor and minority students who show up at school ready to learn. The breakdown of order that such policies promote is destined to make these children’s already-uphill struggle for a decent education even more daunting.
What are we now, almost fifty years since the Moynihan Report, and still the folks who make public policy haven't figured out that if the village has few redeeming features, the babies being born there face a grim future?

THE WATER CANNOT OVERTOP THE LEVEE.

The troubles Californians are having with the rain-swollen Lake Oroville, held back by a monstrous earthen dam, remind me of lessons I thought hydraulic engineers had learned years ago.   You'd think a clogged spillway and water overtopping the South Fork Dam and ripping the dam apart, with great loss of life in Johnstown, would be sufficient caution for owners of contemporary water projects to maintain the proper state of good repair.

Apparently not.
More than a decade ago, federal and state officials and some of California’s largest water agencies rejected concerns that the massive earthen spillway at Oroville Dam — at risk of collapse Sunday night and prompting the evacuation of 185,000 people — could erode during heavy winter rains and cause a catastrophe.

Three environmental groups — the Friends of the River, the Sierra Club and the South Yuba Citizens League — filed a motion with the federal government on Oct. 17, 2005, as part of Oroville Dam’s relicensing process, urging federal officials to require that the dam’s emergency spillway be armored with concrete, rather than remain as an earthen hillside.

The groups filed the motion with FERC, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. They said that the dam, built and owned by the state of California, and finished in 1968, did not meet modern safety standards because in the event of extreme rain and flooding, fast-rising water would overwhelm the main concrete spillway, then flow down the emergency spillway, and that could cause heavy erosion that would create flooding for communities downstream, but also could cause a failure, known as “loss of crest control.”
There's an animated display at the Johnstown Flood Museum that demonstrates, without the loss of life, what loss of crest control looks like.

The regulators said no to the upgrades.
Federal officials at the time said that the emergency spillway was designed to handle 350,000 cubic feet per second and the concerns were overblown.

“It is important to recognize that during a rare event with the emergency spillway flowing at its design capacity, spillway operations would not affect reservoir control or endanger the dam,” wrote John Onderdonk, a senior civil engineer with FERC, in the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s San Francisco Office, in a July 27, 2006, memo to his managers.

“The emergency spillway meets FERC’s engineering guidelines for an emergency spillway,” he added. “The guidelines specify that during a rare flood event, it is acceptable for the emergency spillway to sustain significant damage.”
Oops.
This weekend, as Lake Oroville’s level rose to the top and water couldn’t be drained fast enough down the main concrete spillway because it had partially collapsed on Tuesday, millions of gallons of water began flowing over the dam’s emergency spillway for the first time in its 50-year history.

On Sunday, with flows of only 6,000 to 12,000 cubic feet per second — water only a foot or two deep and less than 5 percent of the rate that FERC said was safe — erosion at the emergency spillway became so severe that officials from the State Department of Water Resources ordered the evacuation of more than 185,000 people. The fear was that the erosion could undercut the 1,730-foot-long concrete lip along the top of the emergency spillway, allowing billions of gallons of water to pour down the hillside toward Oroville and other towns downstream.

Such an uncontrolled release from California’s second-largest reservoir while it was completely full could become one of the worst dam disasters in U.S. history.
Let's hope that the inevitable investigations don't take place against the backdrop of a West Coast Johnstown.
“When I think about the fact that the (auxiliary) spillway at Oroville did not even have concrete lining on it, I’m just really surprised,” said Rep. Doris Matsui, a Democrat from Sacramento. “I would think that would be the first thing you could do.”

“Some hard questions have to be answered about why this facility was apparently neglected in a way that left it vulnerable to these problems,” said Rep. Jared Huffman of San Rafael, the top Democrat on the House subcommittee with oversight over dams. “Clearly there were warning signs, there were people saying, ‘we need to fix this.’ ”
The concrete channel of the primary spillway broke account a sinkhole;  that will give geologists some research opportunities, perhaps involving the dynamics of a heavy mass of water behind the dam or seismic activity in the area.  Unlike the South Fork Dam, which was an abandoned component of Pennsylvania's Main Line of Public Works, later purchased by a club of wealthy Pittsburghers and not cared for, the Oroville Dam is a major component of California's water and hydroelectric power networks.

Neglect the maintenance of a state of good repair at your peril.

YES. NEXT QUESTION.

Right Wisconsin: Did Smug Liberals Help Win Wisconsin For Trump?  Politico sends Michael Kruse to Pepin County, where emigrants from the Cities put on airs, alienated people, and failed to make friends.
Pepin County is one of those rural areas, and the resentment isn’t just directed at the coasts. It’s local. Here, the urban elite isn’t a faceless, distant other: It’s the enclave of liberal, mostly Twin Cities newcomers who have moved here over the past few decades—not just an abstract political imposition, but an actual physical presence. It has spawned anger and bitterness, a simmering undercurrent of alienation among many people locally born and raised. It has made “Democrat” mean something it didn’t mean a generation ago. And it was made manifest on November 8.

Pepin County represents not only the most compelling reasons Trump won but also the reasons so many liberals were so surprised. If more people from more places had been talking to the people of Pepin County—and if the people of Pepin County had been talking more to one another—the notion of a Trump victory wouldn’t have seemed farfetched in the least. But my interviews, with Democrats and Republicans alike, started to feel to me like listening to disconnected halves of conversations that had never occurred. And still weren’t.

“We have found a whole community here,” said Pat Carlson, Wally Zick’s wife, “of very like-minded—it’s going to sound elite—but bookish, artsy, I’d say compassionate … organic foodies, the whole nine yards. It’s all transplants. It’s mostly liberals.” As for this election, and the locals, she continued, “I think they thought the liberal elite was looking down on them, and I guess, in some ways, we were. Because we couldn’t believe anybody would vote for Trump.”

Zick described a fault line here between the old and the new, the people who have lived in the county forever and the move-ins from over the Minnesota border, clustered primarily on the southwestern end of the county. “They don’t come here,” Zick said. “We don’t go there.”
The future of Pepin County, however, appears to be bucolic real estate for well-off seniors from the Cities. The young people are headed to the Cities, and Chicago, and where the opportunities are.
[M]any of the smartest, most enterprising youth from Pepin County—as in so many counties like it—have been leaving for college and never coming back. School enrollments are down, and districts have consolidated, leaving behind in smaller communities hurt feelings and ripped-away sources of pride. “The farm families have declined, and so have the school populations,” said [local historian Terry] Mesch, who keeps an office in the cold, old, wood-framed courthouse in Durand, the county seat. “They feel like they’re losing their identity.”
But as Durand declines, the real estate prices decline, and that brings in the fashionable elders, primarily from the Cities.
The withering of old Pepin County has coincided with the influx of the move-ins. Minneapolis and St. Paul are an hour-and-a-half drive and a world away, and the people who have come from “the Cities,” as the people here call them, are typically retirees or close to it, and often well-off enough to restore old houses or build big new ones. The economy around them, geared more toward their wallets and tastes as well as those of tourists, relies on wineries, galleries, bed and breakfasts, seasonal art festivals—and a pie shop run by the husband-and-husband team of Steve Grams and Alan Nugent.

If there is a de facto capital of Pepin County’s politically progressive newcomers, it is the village of Stockholm, winter population 66. And its social hub, just down the hill from the renovated farmhouse where Zick and Carlson live, is the Stockholm Pie & General Store, which sells artisanal cheese, craft beer and pricey slices of a double lemon pie.
But a bit of Wisconsin somewhat off the Interstates isn't likely to become a business incubator, the tensions between traditionalists and aging hippies or not.
“Where’s the richest place to live?” said Gerald Bauer, 74, born and raised on a local dairy farm, who now is the vice chairperson of the county board of supervisors. “The area around Washington, D.C.—that’s wrong.”

And here these city people have come, with their money and their politics, right to Pepin County, which now has its very own liberal left coast. “The ones that move in try to change everything,” said Gary Samuelson, 72, “and the people who’ve been here a long time don’t care too much for change.”

“They don’t share our views on anything,” Vic Komisar, 41, the president of the ATV club, said of the people from Minnesota. “They got this picture that we’re all country bumpkins, the locals are, that we’re not educated. The people who move in talk down to the natives. I don’t know how you want to word that, but that’s the persona given off.”
Yeah, I can see how these Lake Wobegon types might give an ATV rider the stink-eye.  That disdain -- it's one of the oppressions of class, but the gentry left don't worry about it much, is common all over the country.  Thus Victor Hanson, also in City Journal.
Poorer, less cosmopolitan, rural people can also experience a sense of inferiority when they venture into the city, unlike smug urbanites visiting red-state America. The rural folk expect to be seen as deplorables, irredeemables, and clingers by city folk. My countryside neighbors do not wish to hear anything about Stanford University, where I work—except if by chance I note that Stanford people tend to be condescending and pompous, confirming my neighbors’ suspicions about city dwellers. And just as the urban poor have always had their tribunes, so, too, have rural residents flocked to an Andrew Jackson or a William Jennings Bryan, politicians who enjoyed getting back at the urban classes for perceived slights. The more Trump drew the hatred of PBS, NPR, ABC, NBC, CBS, the elite press, the universities, the foundations, and Hollywood, the more he triumphed in red-state America.

Indeed, one irony of the 2016 election is that identity politics became a lethal boomerang for progressives. After years of seeing America reduced to a binary universe, with culpable white Christian males encircled by ascendant noble minorities, gays, feminists, and atheists—usually led by courageous white-male progressive crusaders—red-state America decided that two could play the identity-politics game. In 2016, rural folk did silently in the voting booth what urban America had done to them so publicly in countless sitcoms, movies, and political campaigns.
The tensions may be less evident in the Imperial Valley than in the Black River Valley.  But even in the Black River Valley, trade unites where politics divides.  The gentry shepherdess wants to engage in intercourse with a hay farmer she thinks voted for Mr Trump.  Why?  "It’s beautiful hay,” she said. “It’s dry, and it’s grassy, and it’s got just a little bit of clover in it. It’s beautiful, and it’s perfect."

Did you really think I was using that word to mean rolling in the hay?

OUCH.

We've long noted that Chicago State University is a dropout factory.

It's no surprise that Glenn "Insta Pundit" Reynolds suggests Chicago State "richly deserves dismantling."

But Chicago State still put basketball teams on the court, and that's the last straw for Margaret "University Diaries" Soltan.  "Almost no one attends, or graduates, from CSU. This scandalous drop-out factory continues to cost the taxpayers of Illinois serious money, most of which goes to on-campus fraudsters and off-campus lawyers."  How scandalous?  "A little corner of North Korea in America" scandalous.  Wow.

12.2.17

HAVE YOU EVER HEARD OF THE YAZIDIS?

We'll return to the School of Tom Clancy for Book Review No. 1 in 2017.  This time it's Mark Greaney's True Faith and Allegiance, and it's much more compelling than Grant Blackwood's Duty and Honor, which merited a perfunctory, disappointed review toward the end of 2016.  I'm not the only Clancy enthusiast to note differences in performance among the matriculants of his school, and a number of even more unhappy readers of Duty were looking forward to True Faith.

The question I raise in the title is one that President Jack Ryan raises as part of a truly refreshing b****slap of some CNN reporter.  I hope that there are people on Team Trump studying the fictional President Ryan, both for the national security nuggets and the tools of the trade for dealing with the Democrat operatives with bylines in the Briefing Room.

The book itself?  I've been following CBS's Hunted, which does not feature the Hounds of Zaroff on Ship-Trap Island, but it has a number of comfortable people attempting to hide themselves, for four weeks, from a team of intelligence officers who have full use of open-source intelligence such as Facebook profiles, plus use of traffic cameras, plus the impossible cluelessness of many of the contestants and their friends.  You know you're playing a reality show and you'll get an hour notice to vamoose, and you don't have a rudimentary bug-out bag with you at all times?  Your friends and social media accomplices know you're playing a reality show, and when the intelligence officers come to their house and use all their interrogator tricks and they haven't been briefed to say only, ONLY "You're not real cops.  You don't have a warrant.  You don't need to know?"  (Extra points if the friend threatens to call the real cops, something a nosy neighbor might have had cause to in at least one hunt.)  Sad.  And you've never worked out enough knowledge of the back roads to find ways to get to where you want to go without passing the traffic cameras?

That's not to mention that neighbors who have not been briefed in on the game have shown a disturbing tendency to be too cooperative with these performers.  Back to the book.

Suppose you have a security clearance, and you know all the personal security techniques, But a miscreant has obtained the background check form you filled in to be vetted before you got that Delta Force or CIA posting.  How safe are you, dear reader, when that miscreant cross-references your close friends and family with their current social media activity, and you don't know that bad people with automatic weapons are hunting you?

There are a few more plot twists, plus, possibly, the introduction of additional cast members, but I've disclosed more than enough for today.  Happy reading.

(Cross-posted to 50 Book Challenge.)

IMPROVING THE SUPER INTERURBAN.

Project managers at the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District have even bigger plans for the South Shore Line.  We update our previous report on the proposed double tracking, Gary to Michigan City, with more ambitious plans onward to South Bend.
The railroad’s operator, the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District, wants to make improvements it says would shave up to an hour off the South Bend-to-Chicago trip, taking it from 2½ hours to 90 minutes.

The project, called “Double Tracking NWI,” for northwest Indiana, would include building a second parallel track for a 17-mile stretch between Michigan City and Gary, removing the tracks from streets in Michigan City and eliminating a stop there, and elevating the boarding platform in Michigan City.

With a second parallel track between Michigan City and Gary, the passenger train would no longer need to stop and wait for oncoming freight trains to pass through. Currently, opposing trains must meet at scheduled times to pass one another, and any alterations to these “meets,” whether because of mechanical problems, maintenance or other issues, affects all following trains, said John Parsons, vice president of planning and marketing for the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District, which owns and operates the South Shore.
It's the meets of the passenger trains that pose the greatest challenge to timekeeping, as the schedules have historically anticipated both trains reaching the siding nearly simultaneously, otherwise one train has a longer overall running time.  Here's how it works, when all is going properly.


Sheridan siding, Michigan City, Indiana, 13 August 1966.

As I noted in a prior post, "The approaching train is leaving the single track that runs through the middle of Michigan City streets. There are two levels of protection at work here, the red signal and a line in the employee timetable establishing a meet here. Recent South Shore schedules have moved many of the scheduled meets elsewhere, because of heavy passenger loadings affecting the timekeeping, particularly of rush-hour trains."  With two tracks, and direction of traffic running, a late train might delay a follower, but opposing trains proceed on the other track.  Moving the trains out of the streets of Michigan City has been a goal of the South Shore at least since the 1930s.

That 90 minute running time to South Bend also intrigues.  The best scheduled timings are currently the 1 hour 55 minute Sunrise Express, South Bend to Chicago.  The Morning Hot Shot made the same run in 1 hour 52 minutes into the 1950s, making more stops, and adding cars on the head end at Gary to offer local passengers west of Michigan City a faster one-seat ride into Chicago.  Contemporary rules governing inspection of brakes after an add or a cut rule out such schedule cleverness.

The challenge is in the raising of the money, and it appears that local officials have called in enough favors to Make The Interurban Super Again.
It’s been talked about for years but this is the first time the $290 million project seems to have potential support for federal, state and local funding sources. Gov. Eric Holcomb mentioned the project in his recent State of the State speech, and Statehouse Republicans have voiced support for including funding in this year’s biennial budget bill.

Of the $290 million, half would come from the federal government and the other half would be split evenly between the state and equal contributions by the four counties. U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Merrillville, has been stockpiling the federal authorizations for the project for years, and has finally amassed enough to make state and local matches feasible.

“We’re kind of at the point where we’ve got this perfect storm,” said Mark Catanzarite, St. Joseph County Council member and a member of the 11-member NICTD board of directors since 2003. “Gov. Holcomb and the state legislature are strongly behind us on this.”

Each county would have to pay about $18.2 million for its share of the construction costs. Lake and Porter counties would draw their money from a Regional Development Authority they created 10 years ago, but which St. Joseph County opted not to join.

LaPorte County is looking to obtain its share from property taxes — Michigan City would use tax incremental financing district money, and LaPorte County is considering tapping its major bridge fund, Parsons said.
South Bend is in St. Joseph County, and some of the major improvements there include bringing the electric cars into the airport station by a more direct route. That would mean the end of the funky side-of-the-road running on the current alignment, a former South Shore spur to a gravel pit.  Such connectivity might be of interest to air travelers headed to Greater Chicago who can spend ninety minutes just getting into or out of O'Hare.  The South Bend airport is small but appears to be passenger-friendly.

DENY COHERENT BELIEFS, GET PRESIDENT TRUMP.

David Marcus of The Federalist makes the case for respecting norms and conventions.  "The Left let its freak flag fly. We all saw it. No normal is the new normal and there is no clear way back from that."  Yes, that has been my contention when it comes to deconstructing civilization for a long time.  Here's how Mr Marcus continues the argument. "Cultural norms are self-imposed limitations on speech and actions, meant to preserve peace and order in a society. It is like a stream with banks that allow our public discourse to flow responsibly. When that stream is broadened and deepened, dangerous ideas flow in from both sides."

Truly, truly, I say unto you, institutions are civilization.  They've been deconstructed, and to what end?

Victor Hanson extends the argument, suggesting that the Noble Lie, one tactic of the Forever Concerned, isn't so noble, its French intellectual pedigree notwithstanding.
Fake news can become a means to advance supposedly noble ends of racial, gender, class, or environmental justice—such as the need for new sexual assault protocols on campuses. Those larger aims supersede bothersome and inconvenient factual details. The larger “truth” of fake news lives on even after its facts have been utterly debunked.

And indeed, the fake news mindset ultimately can be traced back to the campus. Academic postmodernism derides facts and absolutes, and insists that there are only narratives and interpretations that gain credence, depending on the power of the story-teller. In other words, white male establishment reactionaries have set up fictive rules of “absolute” truth and “unimpeachable” facts, and they have further consolidated their privilege by forcing the Other to buy into their biased and capricious notions of discriminating against one narrative over another.

The work of French postmodernists—such as Michael Foucault and Jacques Derrida that mesmerized academics in the 1980s with rehashed Nietzschean banalities about the absence of facts and the primacy of interpretation—has now been filtered by the media to a nationwide audience. If the mythical exclamation “hands up, don’t shoot” was useful in advancing a narrative of inordinate police attacks against African Americans, who cares whether he actually said it? And indeed, why privilege a particular set of elite investigatory methodologies to ascertain its veracity?

In sum, fake news is journalism’s popular version of the nihilism of campus postmodernism. To progressive journalists, advancing a leftwing political agenda is important enough to justify the creation of misleading narratives and outright falsehoods to deceive the public—to justify, in other words, the creation of fake but otherwise useful news.
Yes, and anyone can dissemble.  Or, as David Ernst has it in The Federalist, "Trump Turns Postmodernism On Itself."  It came to this, dear reader, the first time somebody who should have known better started putting truth in airquotes.
Trump grasps our postmodern culture intuitively, and put it to use with devastating effect.

If our opponents are going to accuse us of being evil-minded bigots, regardless of what we say or think, then what’s the point in bothering to convince them otherwise? Let’s play by their own rules of relativism and subjectivity, dismiss their baseless accusations, and hammer them mercilessly where it hurts them the most: their hypocrisy. After all, if there is no virtue greater than authenticity, and no vice worse than phoniness, then the purveyors of contrived PC outrage are distinctively vulnerable.
That's not necessarily going to end well, but that's where we are.  And thus does President Trump carry enough states to win.
Democrats gleefully welcomed Trump’s victory in the Republican primaries with the expectation that they’d bury him in a pile of condescension for being a buffoon and scorn for being the next Hitler. Better yet, they figured that his astounding rise confirmed everything they had long assumed about half the country and were now free to say out loud: they are indeed a basket of irredeemable racist, sexist, homophobic deplorables. Mainstream Republicans would surely hop on board the progressive train rather than be associated with these creeps.

None of this happened, of course. But why? Because what Trump’s enemies failed to grasp was that he wasn’t winning because of the crazy things he was saying, but because of the phony outrage and affected condescension it provoked. Many people empathized with Trump for enduring the contempt that he deliberately brought against himself. Trump kept playing the role of the antihero, and Clinton kept playing the role of the pearl-clutching fraud.

So I’m a scoundrel because I don’t pay income taxes? Maybe so, but it also makes me smart, just like all the other billionaires who are backing your campaign. So I’m a sexist because you found a video of me bragging about how my superstar status enables me to grab women by the p—y? Maybe it does, but allow me to publically introduce four of the women who have accused your husband of everything from indecent exposure to rape. So I’m a greedy businessman who stiffs my contractors? Fine. You’re a corrupt politician who sells out our national interest to line your own pockets.

Maybe everything they say about me is true, but at least I’m authentic, at least I’m real: you on the other hand, are a bloody, disgusting hypocrite.
Yes, and after the election, a lot of the nastiness on Facebook continues to be outrage and condescension and cliches and censoriousness, and it mostly gives normals stuff to mock.

All the same, Mr Marcus is worried about where the deconstruction of norms and normalcy might lead.
What many on all sides are feeling these days is that we are locked in an ugly struggle with no way out. Those who believe in biology and not a sliding scale of gender are tired of being called bigots. Those who oppose abortion are tired of being called sexists. Those who do not accept their privilege and guilt are tired of being called racists.

On the Left, a terrible fear is emerging, that the outsized and ugly rhetoric that has been their calling card is about to be used against them; and that their concerns about fairness and equality are going to be set back by Trump and his band of deplorables.

It is difficult not to despair of the current state of our political discourse. The President-elect has taken up the “us vs. them” attitude used for so long by the Left. He has embraced their abandonment of cultural norms and thrown it back in their face. On both sides people are digging in. It seems likely that our near political future will consist of snipes on Twitter between the President and Hollywood celebrities.
Sometimes a kind answer might help change a person's mind, or at least induce an Aha! moment.  Sometimes, though, the right and proper response, say, to the instinctive claim of an -ism or a -phobia might be, Yeah, and?

I leave to the reader to work out whether setting back the left on fairness and equality might actually lead to more fairness and more equality.

REDISCOVERING THE VERITIES.

In The New Republic, Mene Ukueberuwa contemplates the wreckage wrought by the administrative culture in higher education.  Much of the article revisits ground we've explored.
This crisis of confidence at colleges—driven by conflict-shy administrators and self-effacing professors—has come to a head in the culture of protest that has developed on American campuses. Once again, political polarization is only one part of the story. Today’s college students are certainly more liberal and more ideologically uniform than their counterparts of the mid-twentieth century. But the focus on the little things that we see in campus protests—as in the movement to suppress insensitive Halloween costumes at Yale in 2015—shows the extent to which the political fervor is being driven by the absence of bigger, richer ideas to seize students’ attention.
What might those bigger richer ideas be? We could do worse than the Canon and the Curriculum.
For colleges to re-adopt intellectual openness would require them to take on a great degree of risk, and they could never succeed without the hard-won cooperation of individual professors and administrators. But with more and more research emerging about the value of a challenging curriculum—and with a hunger for thought-provoking substance still growing on America’s campuses—the incentives may soon begin to align for a renaissance of heterodoxy.
Better to allow students to play with ideas, crazy, conventional, or misleading in university with the hope that they graduate less certain of where they stand but better equipped to handle surprises, rather than be socially promoted out, completely certain of where they stand but vulnerable to a mugging by reality.

TEN YEARS AGO.

What has 100 legs and eats cabbage?

Remember the good old days, when Venezuelan sugar hoarders still had sugar to hoard?

THE ATHLETIC ARMS RACE GETS OUT OF HAND.

Years ago, I attended Milwaukee Hamilton, and from time to time they'd put a basketball team for boys on the court that would get to the state finals.  More recently, with open enrollment in Milwaukee, they've had recruiting scandals.  Seriously.  And now, dear reader, they're regularly participating in out of state tournaments.  Just before Christmas, they won one.  In California.  "For the second straight year, the Wildcats handled themselves well on a trip to California by repeating as champion of the Mel Good Holiday Classic in Yuba City. The three victories improved the team to 6-2 in its final game of the calendar year."  Catch that "repeating as champion?"  I'm not sure whether to indulge in a little Wildcat Pride, or whether to be dismayed with the professionalization of high school basketball.  The out-of-state trip has been a thing for some time, as this story from 2010 about a Myrtle Beach trip illustrates.

Milwaukee was never a wealthy district, who are the angels providing the travel budget for a traveling team?

10.2.17

LET'S AT LEAST UNDERSTAND THE RAILROAD NETWORK.

At the Asia Times, Railways pose biggest challenge in Trump’s infrastructure plan.

The article starts with a misleading picture of passenger railroading.


Arcade Station, Los Angeles, 1891, retrieved from Asia Times.

The slide-valve American Standard is already obsolete, and robust Pacifics, Northerns, and seven-foot-drivered Hudsons are thirty years away.  But to the casual observer, deficiencies in Passenger Rail translate into deficiencies with the railroads.
US railroad infrastructure went into a long decay after World War II as highways overtook trains as the most convenient and cost-effective mode of public and commercial transport.  Many diesel/electric locomotives on US tracks today suffer from parts shortages and maintenance issues.
Really?

Yes, the freight carriers have downsized, but they've also rebuilt.


Passengers waiting at Lewistown, Pennsylvania.  The priority stacks are moving.
Lindsay Lazarski photograph retrieved from Keystone Crossroads.

The empty space in the foreground is where the westbound passenger main was removed.  Double-stacking?  That's been going on for thirty years.

Where there are regional rail operators, the plant and the rolling stock, as at Downers Grove, can be phenomenally productive.


And here's a spectacular new rail bridge in Iowa.  Intermodal trains can fly across the Des Moines River at 70 mph.  The old bridge at right was good for one train at a time, at 30 mph.


Trains weblog photograph.

Perhaps it has been better for the investor-owned railroads that their capital spending plans are approved by boards of directors, rather than appropriated by fractious Congresses.

CONTEMPLATING LIFE AFTER FOOTBALL.

The Green Bay Packers released All-Pro cornerback Sam Shields, who spent most of the just-concluded season on the sideline in concussion protocol.
After spending almost the entire 2016 season in the NFL’s concussion protocol, Shields, 29, revealed Wednesday morning on Instagram that the Packers had released him. That later was confirmed by the league with a "failed physical" designation and the Packers through a news release. He had one year and $9 million left on his contract.
That's disappointing to Mr Shields, and it sounds harsh to say "failed physical."  But the man has taken a beating.  "Shields missed the final 15 regular-season games in 2016 and all of the postseason after sustaining his fifth documented concussion near the end of the Packers’ opener at the Jacksonville Jaguars in September."

The concussion protocol is relatively recent.  It wasn't around when WMAQ's Mike Adamle was winning the Big Ten Player of the Year award -- out of Northwestern, back in the Bo Schembechler, Woody Hayes era.  Mr Adamle has not been at the sports desk for a year, and the concussions he suffered as a Wildcat and later as a Chicago Bear might have caught up with him.

Would he go back and play football if he got a do-over?  "'I would do it again,' he said. 'I would tell you what, though, I would work harder in the offseason to find out about things that protect you when you play.'"

The concussion protocol, perhaps one such protection.  It's written in Mr Adamle's blood, and its implementation might give Mr Shields a better life years from now.

All the good wishes, and stay healthy, gentlemen.

THINK ABOUT THE TRADEOFFS.

Here is the title of an opinion piece that, as far as I can tell, is not a parody.  "California’s New Bar Exam Format in Conjunction with ABA’s Proposed Bar Pass Standard Will Adversely Impact Diversity, Women and Access to the Profession." Paul "Tax Prof" Caron posted the story, and Mitch "Shot in the Dark" Berg has regular correspondent Rocket J. Squirrel of Frostbite Falls drawing the obvious inference.
Implied message: women and minorities are not as smart as white men

When your best argument against raising standards is that dumb people won’t be able to become bad lawyers, you should sit down and shut up.
His diagnosis is probably not in any Approved Medical Manual. "I sometimes think that liberalism is a byproduct of damage to the brain’s logic center."

Just spell out your indifference curve: at what rate are you willing to substitute diversity for competence?

A DISSENTING VIEW ON THE TRUMP CABINET.

I'm in general agreement with Oregon columnist Dan Lucas.
I have been very pleased — and at times pleasantly surprised — by Trump’s Cabinet picks and key appointments so far; notably Judge Neil Gorsuch for the Supreme Court, Gen. Mattis for Secretary of Defense, Sen. Jeff Sessions for attorney general, Gov. Rick Perry for Secretary of Energy and Gov. Nikki Haley as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
Keep in mind the passage that follows before we turn to the dissent.
There was one aspect of Trump’s supporters that I completely missed. I was humbled and chagrined to see how we as a county had been letting down a large, unrepresented segment of our fellow Americans. The people living in the Rust Belt whose jobs had left, and all of the other Americans who were suffering silently with no spokesperson, no lobbyists and no one advocating on their behalf. A year ago Peggy Noonan called them “the unprotected.” They found an advocate in Donald Trump. For his supporters, Trump may be a flawed messenger, but at least he was carrying the message, and he was the only one who was.

I am cautiously optimistic. For me, the big victory was the Supreme Court nominees being selected by someone other than Clinton. The rest is gravy. I’m still concerned by some of the same things regarding Trump’s temperament and character, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised by many of his conservative appointments and actions so far.
The dissenting view, from Angry Bear Linda Beale, appears to honor the unprotected as well, if from the traditional New Deal, Great Society frame.
We Americans share many values. Among them has always been a view that those who are better off should help those who are less well off. We’ve done that in many ways, beginning with private charity (supported by our tax code) but going much beyond the soup kitchens and church support for a sick parishioner to include a progressive income tax, taxation of the estates of the wealthiest among us upon their deaths (since they were generally almost tax free in life), and the provision of many necessary services through public institutions.
We could stop with a "provided by whom?" Blank-out.  Among those things?
  1. A public right to decent health care.  Yeah, that worked out so well for Venezuela.
  2. Public education from kindergarten through college.  Yeah, that's working so well in Chicago.
  3. Protection of the environment.  Mitigating a flooded mine ought not pollute the Animas River.
  4. Regulation of hours and terms of labor service.  On paper, appealing, in practice, often protects established large employers.
  5. Regulation of financial enterprises.  Also appealing on paper, in practice, generates rents.
  6. Regulation of food and drug quality.  Consider the case for private warranties and performance bonds.
The gripe, though, might simplify to "Mr Trump is bringing the rent-seekers in directly." "Trump’s appointees for many of the important Cabinet positions seem to be primarily wealthy crony capitalists with radical ideologies that are in direct conflict with the agency missions."  And Ms Beale's preferred political economy might actually be one in which more market-tested betterments are useful.
I believe that every American wants our society to move towards a sustainable economy with decent livelihoods for all, good health care for everyone, education that provides opportunities and knowledge that bridges the gap between those born with wealth and the majority of us who are not.
Specifically, finding remunerative work opportunities for people of varying skills is the epitome of an entrepreneurial challenge, with fixes such as Whitney's interchangeable parts, Ford's assembly line, and contemporary smart cash registers and coffee machines augmenting the talents of people with modest skills.  In health care, do government policies that allow Lasik surgery and tummy tucks to go down in price, while insulin and orthotics must be shielded from price competition, make sense?  In education, how long and how frequently must I gripe about people rendered unemployable by government schools and the minimum wage?  In sum, the Canonical Ways of Doing Things is not turning out well for the unprotected.

It's going to be up to Mr Trump, with friendly majorities in the House and Senate, to clear the clutter of regulations in order that market-tested betterments get a fighting chance.

NO, YOU CAN'T ASSUME A UNICORN.

The Trenchant Observation for this week, from a new economist.
Good economists accept that we are limited in what we can achieve. We have to try and do the best we can, given all the constraints we face. We look at the goals of policymakers and others, and analyze if and how well particular actions achieve these goals. Unconstrained thinking, which dominates the political and social landscape, ignores that there are many things that, given the circumstances we face, are not possible, or will not work the way people wish they would. In many instances, the economist often plays the role of constant inquisitor, much to the chagrin of those in earshot.
(Via Cafe Hayek.)

KEEPING A CLEAN HOUSE OF LEARNING.

The building that houses the College of Business at Northern Illinois University is not a state facility, which means the College can implement its own terms of use.
On Jan. 14, the building began locking at 10 p.m. for non-business majors and 1 a.m. for business majors, said Patricia Myers, Barsema Hall Dean’s Office manager. Non-business majors will not have access after 10 p.m. The building was unlocked 24 hours a day before this semester.

Because Barsema Hall is not a state building, business students are able to remain in the building after 1 a.m., although re-entry is not permitted, said Luke Finnan, Barsema Hall facility manager. Rather than being built with state funding, Barsema Hall was presented as a gift to NIU by Trustee Dennis Barsema and his wife Stacey in 2002.
Apparently people passing through -- not necessarily people with concentrations other than business -- were treating the public spaces like they'd treat a dorm lounge, or any other common property.  There's something instructive in the reason the College started locking the doors.
Issues involving moved furniture and damaged property have become evident since the building opened, which led to the newly enforced hours, Finnan said.

These problems began to interfere with incoming company representatives who wished to interact with students in the College of Business, DeJean said.

“Tables, chairs and bench seating [were] being moved overnight into the hallways and walk areas on the atrium level, creating a safety concern,” DeJean said.
I suppose the advocates of sloppy transgressivity will complain about the continued corporatization and vocationalization (see, I can sling business jargon too) of the university in this insistence on having a tidy working space.  (And yes, the prohibition of cartoons and other items on faculty office doors is a bit much.)

But then, mannerly behavior eases commercial interaction, so perhaps I should not carp too much.