18.9.14

TAIL TRACK.

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

COME OFF IT.

My first full day back in country, last Friday, and here's Democrat shill Chris Matthews ending his show with a warning about political dynasties.


"Dynasties make no sense whatever."

That, at the conclusion of a show that included a friendly interview with Ken Burns about his latest PBS collage, The Roosevelts.  Yes, the show presents the family warts-and-all; it is, however, a paean to The Cult of the Presidency.  Nowhere in that segment does the evasion of the Constitution by Theodore or Franklin ever come up.  Bully.

"Why do we speak of dynasties with such affection?  Why?"

This from a man who is doing everything he can throw at his (smallish) audience to drag Hillary!'s pantsuited cankles into the Oval Office.

This from a man who regularly brings long-time Kennedy-worshippers on as guests (three aging Boomers, each agreeing with each other.)

Mr Matthews would make a real contribution by finishing with "Why do we look to Washington for everything?  Why?"

17.9.14

DEUTSCHE BAHN IS, AFTER ALL, A RAILROAD.

It is the nature of the Railroad for things to go wrong: weather, or wire breaks, or a cow on the tracks, or mechanical failures.  And although the railroads of Western Europe make a point of running on time, sometimes Reality gets in the way.

Case in point: Intercity train 90, which I rode from Nürnberg to Hamburg on the afternoon of August 31.  It was running on time.  The notice boards on the platform alerted that part of the formation was not in the order shown on the trackside posters (fixed-formation trains do make the creation of such posters easier), and the arriving rake was another of the two Electroliner successor trains coupled.  (I'm not sure if one of the sets was dropped somewhere for a different destination.)  Again, a seat reservation is useful, although a passenger boarding at Nürnberg had to move along when I showed up with a valid claim to a window seat.  Riders appear to take this in stride.  Leave Nürnberg 1732; Würzburg 1823 - 1833 (station dwell times are sometimes long), meet a longish train of covered hopper cars (unlike much of the UK, freight trains do get out on the main lines by day); excuse myself and head forward to the diner.  Grab a window seat at a 2+2 table, a few minutes later a couple from a forward car join me.  (No steward assigning seats, but everybody gets sharing.)  It transpires that they had once made a motor journey across Canada, and they had useful suggestions for a visitor to Hamburg.  During dinner, Fulda 1907 - 1909 and Kassel 1942 - 1944, 4 minutes down.

Dining car stock-outs aren't limited to Amtrak.  Despite a menu listing all sorts of German cuisine prepared under the tutelage of a highly regarded chef, all that remains are the Nürnberger bratwursts with a different kind of German potato salad.  And one of my table-mates had requested a starter, which the server never brought.  The dining car also appears to function as a kind of lounge, on the 1+1 table side of the car were  a few people nursing a drink and reading or working on their computers.  There was never enough traffic in the diner for the steward to rush people out, as can happen on Amtrak.  On the plus side, I didn't observe the train crew commandeering a 2+2 to use as their mobile office.

Thanks and good nights offered, and back to my coach.  Unexplained cross-over to the other main somewhere south of Hannover, no evidence of track-work or a train out my window.  Conductor makes an announcement setting our expected times back owing to delays; Hanover 2042 - 2044, Hamburg - Harburg (think Route 128 or Naperville) 2151 - 2153, arrive Hamburg Hauptbahnhof 2202, nine minutes down.  All credit to the good people at Royal Travel for setting up the hotels: the one at Nürnberg was an easy walk to the station (particularly once I figured out the pedestrian subways) and the one at Hamburg across the street from the main station entrance.

Some of this ride was on the central German high-speed line, with a lot of running in tunnels.  And I had the option of earlier, or later, departures from Nürnberg, something that's hard to come by in most of the Amtrak network.

FIRST, FIND SOMETHING TO BELIEVE IN.

Perhaps the secular crisis is catalyzing, to use an expression from The Fourth Turning.  In the New York Times, one Roger Cohen writes of The Great Unraveling.  (News flash: there's been unraveling for the past forty years or so, conditions are pretty much unraveled.)
Nobody connected the dots or read Kipling on life’s few certainties: “The Dog returns to his Vomit and the Sow returns to her Mire / And the burnt Fool’s bandaged finger goes wabbling back to the Fire.”

Until it was too late and people could see the Great Unraveling for what it was and what it had wrought.
No, the rot has been setting in for a long time. There's strong disagreement, though, about what people ought coalesce around to fix it.  The same day, and apparently unrelated to the Cohen column, came Immanuel Wallerstein in Common Dreams, seeing The United States Heading for a Crash.
The United States is in serious decline. Everything is going wrong. And in the panic, they are like a driver of a powerful automobile who has lost control of it, and doesn't know how to slow it down. So instead it is speeding it up and heading towards a major crash. The car is turning in all directions and skidding. It is self-destructive for the driver but the crash can bring disaster to the rest of the world as well.
That "they" refers to the governing classes.  I fear, though, that forty years of enabling incompetence and celebrating crudity contribute to the unraveling.  It's no longer just about jihadis seeing weak horses and strong horses.  It's also something that Mr Wallerstein naively hopes can be fixed with another dose of process.
There are ways of tamping down this catastrophic scenario. They involve however a decision to shift from warfare to political deals between all sorts of groups who don't like each other and don't trust each other. Such political deals are not unknown, but they are very difficult to arrange, and fragile when first made, until they solidify. One major element in such deals coming to fruition in the Middle East is less involvement of the United States, not more. Nobody trusts the United States, even when they momentarily call for U.S. assistance in doing this or that.
That may be a way out of the morass in Asia Minor, simply to contain the Sillies by advising aid workers, journalists, curiosity seekers and assorted conscience-cowboys that the United States, or the United Nations, or the Civilized Powers, cannot guarantee their safety, and thereafter letting the conflicts burn themselves out.

That is not a way out of the crisis of confidence in the existing institutions.  Elizabeth "Anchoress" Scalia summarizes the situation precisely.
The long sleep induced by prosperity and power must now be broken. The choice to remain unengaged, fully tricked out with technology, is coming to an end, as is the easy habit of playing partisan games at the expense of human lives.

We cannot simply listen to the “strategic class” and trust that they know what they are talking about. If they ever did, those days have passed. Our “meritocracy” and “public service” have proved a recipe to rule for them, and ruin for us. We cannot return to office people who need turning out. We cannot keep operating as obedient automatons who need only the right buttons pressed to do the social and political bidding of living, breathing appetites of ambition.
There's more to that passage than a commentary on foreign policy in a fragmenting international order.  For years I've been griping about Process, Nuance, Failure.  Perhaps people are beginning to listen.

A number of recent Pajamas Media posts have provided the outline of a resolution.  Start with Robert Spencer.  He offers thoughts as advice on defeating the jihad, but there is much to rely upon in rebuilding the institutions.  Self-despising multiculturalism (to use my phrase) must go.
The U.S. today faces an even stronger enemy than the Islamic jihadists – and stronger than Russia and China as well. That enemy is the entrenched culture of self-hatred that denigrates anything and everything American, and exalts the most inveterate America-haters as heroic underdogs struggling valiantly against a brutal and blind behemoth. That entrenched culture is the foremost obstacle to our defense against jihad terror and Islamic supremacism, in a never-ending tale of obfuscation of a genuine threat and slander of those who call attention to it.

In the aftermath of 9/11, George W. Bush should have called upon the education establishment to reject the revisionism and self-hatred that dominates the textbook view of American history and Western civilization today, and to recognize that Western culture and civilization are seriously threatened today and are worth defending.
Two long twilight struggles. Recall, though, that defeating the Evil Empire required patriots to fight Communism with one hand, and well-meaning domestic dupes with the other.

Then comes Dave Swindle, suggesting that in a war, there can be no victory without preparation for victory.
We need to develop the moral clarity to give our enemies the deaths they seek. Or this 9/11 will be just like the ones to come. We’ll always just sit here anticipating that we’re going to be hit again. I think we need to give September 11 a new meaning. Here’s my dream for today, who’s with me? Someday, maybe decades from now, the last territory under Shariah law and the final land living under a secular despot’s fist will be liberated. Someday 9/11 will not be a day of fear but of celebration as not just the United States sits under the protection of the First Amendment, but the entire planet.

Is there some more important long-term objective that I’m missing? I don’t see how anyone on earth can ever truly be safe from becoming a slave himself as long as slave empires are permitted to masquerade around as though they, too, were liberal democracies worthy of respect.
That's calling for two things: an end to Nagasaki syndrome, and a willingness to mock the Sillies.  (And more than a few Overly Earnest People in the west.)  Where is the modern Spike Jones?

Otherwise, Jon Bishop suggests, civilizations die.

HASTE IS WHAT CREATED THE BAD POLICY IN THE FIRST PLACE.

The editorial board of The Northern Star request a revision of the university's unconstitutional internet acceptable use policy, pronto.
The Acceptable Use Policy is now facing revision, but there aren’t any dates on when those revisions will be finished.

The Computing Facilities Advisory Committee needs to provide students with deadlines and clear messages regarding updates to the Acceptable Use Policy.
There used to be a document entitled "Committees of the University" that listed the meeting times. It may still exist, online someplace. (I'm retired. Go do your own research.)

Because the policy took effect in the middle of summer, when the standing institutions of faculty governance are in recess, there's likely to be some walking back on the part of the deanlets and deanlings.

The students are correct, however, about the consequences of the policy.
Because the university’s reputation was damaged by rumors the Acceptable Use Policy was censoring students, committee members need to make these revisions a top priority. Without clear deadlines, it appears committee members are neglecting this priority.
Perhaps so, although rushing something through simply to have Done Something isn't necessarily going to help retrieve that reputation.

16.9.14

AMERIKANISCHE SIEG.

These days, the Marktplatz in Nürnberg is a gathering place for tourists, and there are farmers' produce-stalls, eateries that serve triple brats (by law, a Nürnberg bratwurst must be able to fit through a keyhole, they're about the size of a breakfast sausage in the State Line), and taverns that brew their own beer.


In the foreground, the Schönbrunn fountain, behind, the spire of the Frauenkirche.

The Frauenkirche clock puts on quite the show at noon.


The mechanism dates to the early sixteenth century. The seven Electors of the Holy Roman Empire thrice circle King Karl IV, turning to render their respects.

Put another way, though, you are looking at Regional Leaders of the First Reich paying homage to their Emperor.  Accordingly, the Marktplatz taking on the name Adolf Hitler Platz during the Nazi period has deeper significance.  At least until Nuremberg came under new management on Hitler's 56th birthday.


U. S. Army photograph courtesy Third Reich in Ruins.

Effective with the flag-raising, locals would refer to Eiserner-Michael-Platz, after Genl John "Iron Mike" O'Daniel, commanding 3rd Infantry.

Outside the city walls are what remain of the Nazi Party Rally Grounds.  The never completed Congress Hall echoed the style of Rome's Colosseum, only on a larger scale.


Had I gone further around the building to the right as in the photograph, I would have gone onto the grounds of the Nürnberg Folk Festival.  Had the weather been better, that's what I might have done, thus adding impressions of a German county fair to those I have posted for Illinois or Wisconsin.  But the jet lag and a train reservation that would get me to Hamburg at a decent hour triumphed.

The interior of the building, and the overall roof, were never completed.  The few renderings I have seen suggest it would have made a great set for the Borg.  A historical museum is at the end of one wing, and a recital hall for the Nürnberg Symphoniker at the other.


The hall is on the banks of a retention pond called Dutzendteich.  The weather militated against the paddle-boat rental stand opening, or any rowers or sailors practicing.  Note, though, at least one Laser in the boatyard.


That's the Congress Hall behind.

Keep walking along the nature trail, and you get to Zeppelin Field.  (There are helpful guideposts and interpretive signs, in German and English.)


The grandstands on the opposite side of the street are in rough shape.  The towers have a military look about them, but existed to shelter toilets, and the electrical apparatus for the spotlights that illuminated the night skies during rally days.

Dignitaries had a more substantial reviewing stand, which is I think on the east side of the complex.


At one time, there were colonnades the length of the stand, which were removed as unsafe in 1967.  During Occupation, the complex was called Soldiers Field (perhaps because a G.I. from Chicago noted a resemblance to a facility on the lakefront subsequently ruined by the insertion of a giant commode between the columns?)

I was in Nürnberg for the 75th anniversary of the invasion of Poland, which would also be the 75th anniversary of the cancellation of the Peace Rally scheduled for early September on these grounds.  The next military review to take place on these grounds would be in April of 1945.

Ninth Army raised the Stars and Stripes, did a march-past, then blew up the swastika that once adorned the reviewing stand.


(These events occur at about 1:10 of the video.)

The reviewing stand is open for exploration, at your own risk.


That's not the original speaker's platform.  A few seats in the stadium are usable; most are overgrown.  Behind the walls, the current soccer stadium, a sports complex; additional soccer fields where the Labor Service volunteers would do close-order drill with picks and shovels.

Nürnberg's government have a challenge in conserving these grounds.  To restore might send the wrong message.  To allow them to deteriorate to an unsafe condition might offer temptations to trespassers sympathetic to Hitlerism to claim the grounds as their own.

The night before was warm for late August, with fine weather.  At least one visitor (or party) had a rally of a different kind.


Wasn't me!  I had a pleasant encounter with some Austrians, also on holiday, at one of the eateries in the Old Town, that Sonnabend.  (And let me make the case for doing your overseas travel on your own or with companions of your choice ... make an effort to speak the language, mingle with the people, get a sense of what they enjoy doing.  The people on the package tours never quite get out of their bubble, and there's more to visiting a country than the pre-arranged meals, the art gallery, the up-scale shopping.  But that's material for a subsequent post.)

Elsewhere on the Party Grounds is the Luitpold Arena.  Here, the massed storm troopers would pledge their fealty.  An Army propaganda film that was ordered destroyed by Genl Eisenhower ended with one of the more dramatic transitions in propaganda movies.



A cut of Hitler and two cronies marching through the ranks; three GIs (the movie suggest they had walked from Normandy) on the empty field, then the swastika blown off the reviewing stand.

In contemporary language, that's spiking the football!

THE CASE FOR MORE ECONOMIC EDUCATION.

A recent installment of Insta Pundit's K-12 Implosion series leads to an Education Action Group Foundation discovery of what appears to be another PC atrocity, in this case the culturally unresponsive teaching of mathematics.  But one of the examples the foundation picks from the Culturally Responsive Teaching manifesto really calls for a better understanding of economics, not some new cultural competence.
Marilyn Frankenstein, in Teaching Mathematics for Social Justice: Conversations with Educators, tells a story she attributes to Marcia and Robert Ascher, in which a European explorer (presumably Francis Galton, the man who invented eugenics) agrees to trade an African shepherd two sticks of tobacco in exchange for one sheep. When he offers four sticks of tobacco in exchange for two sheep, however, the shepherd declines; the explorer later tells this story as evidence of the shepherd's inability to comprehend simple mathematical reasoning and as “proof” of intellectual inferiority on the African subcontinent. But, if sheep are not standardized units, as there is no reason to believe them to be, then doesn't it make sense that the second sheep might be worth far more than the first? And then doesn't our premise of 2 + 2 = 4 look awfully naive?
No. Numbers are dimensionless, whilst sheep and tobacco are from an n-dimensional consumption set in a real space. Once bargaining becomes involved, it's no longer simple arithmetic.  And even if the two sheep are otherwise identical, the underlying preference ordering might be one in which the exchange of two sticks for a sheep is Pareto-preferable to both traders, and the proposed exchange of four sticks for two sheep Pareto-preferable to Galton but not to the shepherd.


We don't have to get into planes and convexity to instill in students the notion that supply curves slope upward, thus the shepherd's reservation price for selling the second sheep might be higher, and demand curves slope downward, and the shepherd's refusal might lead, if Mr Galton is careless, into a new proposal from the shepherd, of three sticks for the first sheep.

STATE-INDUCED INNOVATION.

While I was out of the country, one of my favorite ghetto politicians got arrested participating in another raise-the-minimum-wage protest.
[Representative] Moore later said in a statement she took “great pride in supporting Milwaukee workers as they risk arrest in pursuit of a brighter tomorrow for their families.” The congresswoman’s district includes Milwaukee.

Obama and congressional Democrats have made raising the minimum wage a centerpiece of the midterm election campaign.
That says volumes about what Milwaukee Public Schools and the Great Society have done for the jobs prospects of Milwaukee's poor.  A higher minimum wage would have a salutary effect on the fortunes of burger-flipping robot manufacturers (and there's a smart-phone app for your mocha latte already), and at one time Milwaukee produced the sort of blue-collar aristocrat necessary to properly manufacture such a machine.

And Representative Moore could still show her activist bona fides.  Management and labor at Otis Elevator could do well by appearing to do good, when elevator operators were minimum wage workers.

AND A NEW PLACE TO WATCH TRAINS.

Let's hope that Culver's have more success in a Lincoln Highway location that has not been kind to previous restaurants.
The DeKalb Culver’s has a drive-thru and extended hours of 10 a.m. to midnight daily in hopes of enticing NIU students. The restaurant’s 85 employees are also considering staying open later during weekends when sports games are being held on campus, said owner Jeff Newkirk.
That's encouraging for October, when there are three Saturday afternoon football games. November, when class project deadlines loom and football goes to school nights, may be another matter.

One of the patrons interviewed noted that the new restaurant is within walking distance.  It's within walking distance of Cold Spring Shops headquarters, and hard by the Overland Route.

GLAD TO HAVE IT BEHIND ME.

Nailed to Newmark's Door, a darkly humorous look at semi-literate student electronic mails.

Suggested responses:

"Treat electronic mail as professional correspondence, with proper attention to capitalisation, spelling, and punctuation."

"'Hey' is an improper form of address for a request."

"Get the information you seek from a classmate."

"No.  Grow up."

"Lack of planning on your part is not an emergency on my part."

Yes, you might get some push-back from the little darlings, but your job is to say No and uphold standards.

That is all.

THE UNIVERSITY COUNCIL GETS INVOLVED.

Northern Illinois University's unconstitutional acceptable internet use policy will change, but the Northern Star reports, not with any sense of urgency.
Changes to the university’s Acceptable Use Policy have no set date, but they will be made by the Computing Facilities Advisory Committee and Brett Coryell, vice president and chief information officer, in the coming months.
I'm encouraged to see that standing institutions of faculty governance are in the loop, but less so to see coverage focusing on technology rather than on principles of open inquiry, or of faculty responsibilities properly carried out.

14.9.14

AS IT FITFULLY BLOWS, HALF CONCEALS, HALF DISCLOSES.

Two hundred years of The Star-Spangled Banner.

What other world power would use as a national anthem a song with an opening stanza that begins and ends with questions?

Or have so many nay-sayers seeking to deconstruct, if not ditch, the song?

Oh thus be it ever, where freemen shall stand.

OPPORTUNITY COSTS.

Word reached Cold Spring Shops, early in the summer, about the planned closing of Hoffman's Playland in Colonie, New York.  I accordingly worked it into the list of stops to make enroute Rockland for the Lobster Festival.


These trains with trucks that look out of place under anything other than an F unit are becoming fewer and further between.


It's about 7 pm on a Thursday evening (July 31) and there are respectable crowds on the midway.  The junior roller coaster in the background apparently provided coaster enthusiasts with sufficient grounds to visit the park.


With the closing of the country's Kiddielands, the summer birthday party traffic, alas, is more likely to be diverted to the likes of Chuck-E-Cheese.  Jeeze.


And there's a good stock of vintage Jacksonville Iron to be sold.  Here's a Little Eli, there is also a Big Eli and a Scrambler on the grounds.

The reason for the park's closing is familiar: the owners want to retire, and the land is more valuable in a year-round use.
The Hoffmans, who met at the playland, said last year that they wanted to retire and planned to close the amusement park that has been part of many area residents' childhoods and parenting memories. Petitions and a Facebook page called for saving the playland, which first opened in 1952. Efforts were made to find a buyer, but the Hoffmans wanted someone to move the equipment elsewhere so they could develop the valuable land on Route 9 where the playland sits.

The area is booming with retail and residential development including the $50 million Village of New Loudon next door that includes a mix of residences and retail outlets. That land is where David Hoffman's uncles once ran businesses including a driving range, a miniature golf course and a snack stand.
The golf facilities are long gone, and the stores and eateries appeared to be doing a good business the evening I was there.  The article suggests a buyer for the attractions in toto might be in negotiations; the planned auction of the equipment piecemeal has been postponed.

Today is the last day of operation at Hoffman's, and it is going to be going out busy, the same way the Melrose Park Kiddieland did five years ago.

Although northwestern Pennsylvania isn't experiencing the same kind of commercial activity as the Capital Region, Conneaut Lake Park also face the problem of being unable to cover their opportunity costs.
Mark Turner, the [Economic Progress Alliance of Crawford County] executive director, did not respond to several requests for comment. He has said park trustees will consider filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy to stop the sheriff’s sale and freeze the park’s assets, according to The Associated Press. The redevelopment agency could then proceed with plans to renovate the park, transforming it from a summer amusement park and lakeside resort to a cultural destination that can earn revenue year-round.

“We have to convert the park from a 10-week business model to a 12-month business model, or we will not achieve self-sufficiency,” Mr. Turner said in June.

Developers would like to build a new lakeside performing arts center and outdoor amphitheater, and possibly condominiums, and would improve the hotel and amusement park already in place.
Condominiums and roller coasters don't mix ... let us call the roll of Nantasket Beach or Crystal Beach or Muskego Beach.  But the roller coaster at risk is a classic.


The Blue Streak celebrated its 75th birthday last year.

Immediately next to it is an even older, classic, carroussel (I'm using the spelling the park used to use.)


On this rainy Monday, August 11, there are few riders on the grounds.  The kiddieland section is in operation, as much of the crowd is the pre-school set.


That's a Junior Tumble Bug, and a number of the other junior rides are similarly classic.


The Little Dipper was available as training, for patrons not yet tall enough to ride the Blue Streak.

But many of the adult rides are property of concessionaires who, concerned about the prospect of a sheriff's sale, have been removing their rides, or stripping them for parts.
The other old rides still operating are the 1925 Tumble Bug, 1937 Blue Streak wooden out-and-back roller coaster and 1949 Tilt-A-Whirl. The coaster was not operating the day I visited, and I learned it often is shut down. There hasn't been a Ferris wheel on the grounds for several years.

The Tumble Bug is one of only two full-sized versions still operating in the U.S.; the other is at Kennywood near Pittsburgh. Chippewa Lake Park also had a Tumble Bug, and in my archives is a photo of Vaca sitting in one of its cars when we explored that park.
The Tumble Bug underwent a test before the park opened.


Properly, that's a Traver Tumble Bug as in the Traver Engineering that gave the world the Crystal Beach Cyclone and the Revere Beach Lightning.  But the water-park behind looks derelict.  This article provided the status of several resort attractions beyond the midway.


Next to the Tumble Bug, the Musik Express is partially dismantled (or never fully assembled?)


The base of the Round-Up, and the rusty water tower behind, lend a post-apocalyptic air not moderated by the overcast and a threat of rain.


And the train, similar to the one at Hoffman's, hasn't turned a wheel in some time.  The locomotive might have surrendered its driving wheel to keep some other amusement park train running.

Despite local boosters hope for a reprieve, the sheriff's sale is set for November.

HUMILITY, A CHARACTERISTIC MISSING FROM TECHNOCRATS?

It has long been a watch-word at Cold Spring Shops that Complex Adaptive Systems Do Pretty Much What They Darn Well Please.

Here's Charles Marohn of Strong Towns, suggesting that Experts in Their Disciplines respect the watch-word.  Expertise in your domain, he argues, does not grant special powers.
Domain dependence is the phenomenon that prompts people to adopt a different approach or worldview depending on the domain.

For example, cities are complex adaptive systems. When I point that out, there is general agreement. When I take the next step and explain how the natural inclination of planners to try and control these systems – to calculate growth rates, predict absorption rates, zone property based on their projections for market demand, etc… -- is folly, that it actually demonstrates their severe lack of understanding, readers here cheer. We need more humility in the face of this complexity, an understanding that would prompt us to think and act more incrementally.

When I say that traffic is a complex adaptive system, again, the feedback here is a general consensus. When engineers try to project traffic and model how real people will respond to their schemes, they are demonstrating their severe lack of understanding of complexity. I point that out and you applaud. Engineers need more humility in the face of complexity. They need to understand the limits of their knowledge and adopt a more modest, more incremental, mindset.
He extends the argument, to deal with the problems that arise when Politicians feel compelled to Do Something, and constituents sometimes want Something Favorable To Be Done For Them.
When we switch domains to the economy – the ultimate complex, adaptive system – the consensus vanishes. All of a sudden, our ability to project in the face of overwhelming complexity is considered sound, despite the horrific track record. Our confidence amid massive intervention away from anything resembling a market economy is supreme. There is no need for modest, no need for humility. We got this one under control, Chuck, and you sound like an idiot when you question it. (By the way, let’s not talk about 2008 – that was someone else’s mistake.)

A large reason for this switch is that, unlike cities or traffic, economics is deeply intertwined with our national politics. Or more precisely, with the rhetoric of our national politics (since both parties have overwhelmingly embraced our current monetary policy, relegating real criticism of the Federal Reserve to the likes of Rand Paul and Elizabeth Warren). The undisciplined mind can apply a humble logic to complex adaptive systems in one domain and then, when overwhelmed by their political sentiment, find themselves ungrounded in another.

The same thinking applies to other complex, adaptive systems such as the human body and climate change. If you haven’t noticed, I’ve avoided talking about the latter for five years now because, if your (politics-inspired) reaction on the economy is consistently like this, you’re going to go berserk when I explain either our (a) complete inability to predict climate change with any degree of confidence or (b) what a humble approach looks like in the face of that. If you’d like some insight on that line of thinking, read this from Nassim Taleb.
Indeed.  And pay careful attention to changes in the initial conditions, and to the equations of motion.
Even scarier, with a complex, adaptive system, the same input in similar circumstances at a different time could yield wildly different results. Just because you were right once – or a thousand times – doesn’t mean you will be right the next time. And when you consider what we’re betting here on being right, well….you should be scared too.

What drives me insane about most economists is the lack of humility, the supreme confidence in their own ability to understand what they are doing. It is the same thing that drives me crazy about engineers, planners, economic development advisors and the whole range of professions that profess to use simple equations to explain infinite complexity. They don’t know what they think they know.
Yes. And after the mocking that Secretary Rumsfeld took about his "known unknowns" and "unknown unknowns," the folks who Make Policy for Our Good are going to err on the side of seeming certain, even if wrong.
I think history will someday look back at this entire period of time -- the “American Century” through to whenever the next economic order is established – as the age of hubris, a time where unprecedented affluence allowed society’s leaders to develop an Icarus complex, an unfounded belief in their own capacities, sowing the seeds of their own demise.
Perhaps, as Mr Marohn concludes, it is better to be asking the right questions rather than worrying about the right answers.

13.9.14

INTERMODAL CONNECTIONS CALL FOR PASSENGER CONVENIENCE.

Cold Spring Shops took a two week holiday inter alia to examine the Passenger Rail infrastructure of Germany and England.

Outbound, on a warm Friday evening just before Labor Day, the destination was Frankfurt.  Suggestion for transatlantic travelers: as of this writing, Lufthansa serve beer with dinner, and noch ein Bier, kostenlos, later.  There's also a transit lounge in Frankfurt, and a lot of travellers destined onward either in Europe or Asia Minor connect there, meaning a relatively quick passage through immigration if your purpose in flying to Frankfurt is to catch a train elsewhere into Germany.

From the sky, the Frankfurt Flughafen Fernbahnhof appears to be almost on the airport grounds.  That appearance can deceive, though, if you're an international traveller first compelled to make the trek from arrival gate to immigration and thence to baggage claim.  Out of baggage claim, however, it's a short schlep to the lobby of the rail station, which includes a service center and passages to the Fernbahnhof, which is a different set of tracks in a different location from the Regiobahnhof, for the dinkies to nearby stations.

A somewhat tired and jet-lagged sixtyish observer is not the most objective judge of the walking distance from lobby to trackside.  It's probably a shorter distance than from the lobby of Mitchell Field to Amtrak's airport station, which is walkable, albeit it's outdoors.  A foot passage from the rail station lobby to trackside includes some ramps, but it's all indoors.

The station itself includes retail, and possibly offices, nearby.


That atrium puts me in mind of the circulating area at New York's Pennsylvania Station, if somewhat tidier, and, as de novo construction, not triggering invidious comparisons with what came before.  I'll let the culture-studies semoticians deconstruct the message of a closed, linear, escalator descending into a round, open space.

The train shed respects the traditional forms.


Down the near stairs for Tracks 1 or 3, the stairs out of view to left go to 2 or 4.  Expect train movements in either direction on any track, and some trains reverse here.


Oval motif repeated to let some light down to the platforms.  We'll see the marshalling of fixed-formation trains with passage limited only to your formation elsewhere.  In many cases, one formation is cut to provide service to destinations on two different lines.  I took the precaution of spending the four euro fifty on seat reservations on all long-distance trips within Germany.  Be alert, though, that formations may not be marshalled in the order depicted on the trackside posters, and when die Zug ist umgedreht, your rights are protected in case you are sitting in the designated coach in the proper seat: the boarding passenger who boarded the expected door for a coach that is elsewhere in the formation has to make the schlep.

My destination this day (Samstag, 30 August) is Nurnberg, and my reservation is on the 0937 (allowing time for coffee and a pretzel before train-time: the German habit of cold-cuts and hard rolls at breakfast, coffee and sweet rolls around 3 pm is one I can adapt easily to).  My reservation is for a seat at a table: model railroaders of varying ages, a lady with the aesthete's eye enroute to Italy, and for part of the trip, two Packer fans.  I get some useful advice on the use of German, including that umgedreht, and the relative merits of analog and digital train control. Train is due Nurnberg at 1159.


Thus, off to a good start.  There are probably more people changing from planes to trains at Frankfurt than take advantage of the opportunity in Milwaukee.  And I would like to have the opportunity to compare walking times and distances from the perspective of a traveller with only carry-on baggage, not obligated to clear passport control first.  That would likely shorten the trek at Frankfurt.  Heathrow: not sure.  One feels like one has hiked halfway to Land's End going from the platform for Terminal 2 (The Queen's Terminal, for international departures) to check-in at Terminal 2.

The contender for shortest walk from plane to train: South Bend.  It's an easier walk than from anywhere in O'Hare or Midway to the Chicago Transit Authority, and the interurbans have luggage racks, something missing on the L.  On the other hand, there are no international arrivals at South Bend to complicate the traffic flow.

STILL DESERVING A SKEPTICAL EYE.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education notes that Northern Illinois University will "revise and clarify" its unconstitutional acceptable internet use policy.

Missing from the Foundation post: any mention of which responsible parties at the university will be performing those revisions and clarifications.

A quick check of the archives of the Northern Star or of NIU Today's news roundups turns up no evidence that the standing bodies of faculty governance have participated in that work.

If you want to live-stream this evening's football game, however, you'll quickly be guided to a source.

28.8.14

MARKING OFF.

If you haven't participated in the Ice Bucket Challenge, and you're watching this, you're tagged!


The proceeds from the challenge are giving ALS researchers a new constrained optimization problem.
The Chronicle of Philanthropy says the ALS Association has, in this short period of time, raised more than many of the charities included on its Philanthropy 400 list.

“Right now, we’re really focused on reaching out to and acknowledging and thanking the over 2 million donors that have come to the ALS Association,” said [Carrie] Munk, the association spokeswoman. “And also working to put a process in place to make the best decisions to spend these dollars.”
There are relatively few cases to study, and using some of the resources to understand how ALS affects patients strikes one researcher as particularly productive.
Dr. Richard Bedlack, who runs the ALS clinic at the Duke Institute for Brain Sciences in Durham, North Carolina, knows how he would allocate the money. While the temptation might be to plow it all into the search for a cure, he says the biggest strides have been made in patient care and quality of life, and that would be his No. 1 priority.

“The chances of one of these research studies really finding meaningful disease-modifying therapy is very small,” he said. “We’re shooting in the dark. So, of course we’ve got to keep trying. But the bottom line is we’ve got to understand this disease better before we’re going to be able to fix it in most people.”
The marginal product of the last dollar allocated to each activity is equal.

THE CULT CONFESSES.

Here are Joan Walsh and Jonathan Capehart commiserating with Chris Matthews on the reluctance of voters to engage in politics.



During the lamentations, Ms Walsh remarks that it's too easy for Democrat loyalists to get caught up in the latest Presidential Hope to take much interest in the House and sometimes the Senate elections.  What better metaphor is there for Democrat governance -- if it's not Elizabeth Warren, it is Barack Obama and before that Hillary Clinton, and we can follow the trail all the way back to George McGovern (where Ms Walsh first drank the Kool-Aid) or perhaps to Adlai Stevenson.  Ivy graduates rule: if you went to Wisconsin or Holy Cross it is your job to be a middle manager, and there's not much reason to get interested in the House elections as long as the likes of Bobby and Gwen and John and Maxine keep getting re-elected.  And until Republicans or Libertarians can come up with arguments that will convince people rendered helpless by years of Democrat governance (a veto-proof Senate, a Democrat House, broad popular support for a new president, and still no economic recovery, let's get the message out!) the MSNBC crowd can limit its interest in Congressional elections to cracking wise about alleged dog-whistles.  Refugees from areas ruined by Democrat policies require no dog whistles.  Nor are they likely to have the same faith in the Cult that coastal pundits continue, naively, to exhibit.

THE DOWN-SIDE OF ACCEPTANCE?

Leon Wolf, "A Society Without Standards."
I know a lot of parents are concerned about sex, drugs, and violent themes in music. There’s definitely something to that. Personally, I find that a lot of that is really just playing off the rebellion inherent in adolescence which tends to fade away as people grow up, get married, and have kids of their own. On the other hand, I find this ridiculous leveling attitude [non-judgementalism] to be infinitely more corrosive to a well-ordered society – this notion that there is no such thing as good or bad in terms of anything, whether it be appearance, behavior, personality, or achievement. There is only different and equally good. And while promiscuity, drugs, and violent culture are definitely dangerous and shouldn’t be encouraged especially in young people, they tend to be largely (albeit not entirely) transient dangers in the grand scheme of life. The effacement of the ideal of a successful and productive member of society is a much more permanent danger, because this ideal is what ultimately succeeds in pulling most people out of the wasteful rebellions of their youth, at least eventually. If that ideal dies, much of society’s ability to ensure order through the enforcement of social norms dies with it, and order must increasingly be enforced instead by an overbearing and increasingly well-armed state. The experience of Ferguson cries out against this as a viable solution.
Perhaps that's a jeremiad, perhaps there are six social science dissertation topics buried therein.
Marching to the beat of your own drummer, at least to a certain extent, is a uniquely American ideal, and one that largely gave birth to our nation and our national identity. However, there is a difference between channeling inventiveness and even eccentricity into productive living and the celebration, as in the song above, of total indifference towards personal improvement or meaningful contribution to society. Maybe instead of saying that we should hide the things we don’t like about ourselves, we could say that we can make at least an effort to change those things about ourselves? Loudly telling people to just be happy with the results of their bad personal choices and expecting society to find you equally likeable/attractive/charming no matter what your personal attributes are is no kind of answer at all.
There's yet another possibility. If there are no standards, can any kind of behavior truly be transgressive?

SOME CLEAR THINKING ABOUT TAX AVOIDANCE.

Professor Mankiw, in the New York Times.
If tax inversions are a problem, as arguably they are, the blame lies not with business leaders who are doing their best to do their jobs, but rather with the lawmakers who have failed to do the same. The writers of the tax code have given us a system that is deeply flawed in many ways, especially as it applies to businesses.
Go, read, understand.

BETTER NOT TO HAVE IMPLEMENTED IT AT ALL?

The editorial board at The Northern Star weighs in on Northern Illinois University's unconstitutional acceptable computer use policy.  "NIU should have used its social media accounts, email and other measures to notify students, faculty and staff of the implementation of the warnings and authentication pages well before people started to move back to DeKalb." A pardonable lapse for students.  From their perspective, university rules are university rules, and advising students and employees of rule changes makes sense.  But university rules sneaked into place during the summer, when the institutions of faculty governance are in recess, are not pardonable lapses by the administration.

27.8.14

A TRENCHANT OBSERVATION FOR THE ERA OF HOPE AND CHANGE.

Ed Driscoll. "It’s easy to tear down civilization; the American left have been at it off and on since the late 19th century."  Read and understand.

A PROFESSOR UPHOLDS STANDARDS.

Electronic mail, by lowering the cost of asking somebody else to do the thinking, induces a lot of irresponsibility.  At least one faculty member pushes back, twice as hard.
For years, student emails have been an assault on professors, sometimes with inappropriate informality, sometimes just simply not understanding that professors should not have to respond immediately. Most often, student emails are a waste of everyone’s time because the questions are so basic that the answers are truly ON THE SYLLABUS.
One of these days, professors will stop speaking of a "syllabus" when what they're really producing are the Conditions of Carriage.
In my effort to teach students appropriate use of emails, my syllabus policies ballooned to cover every conceivable scenario – when to email, when not to, how to write the subject line – and still I spent class time discussing the email policies and logged hours upon hours answering emails that defied the policies.

In a fit of self-preservation, I decided: no more. This is where I make my stand! In my senior-level gender and media course, I instituted a no-email policy and (here’s the hard part) stuck to it religiously.
Go read the article to see how that turned out.

Perhaps, though, there's another source of income inequalities: people whose duties involve handling electronic mail inquiries effectively get compensated more, and people whose first response to any situation is to send an inquiry, inappropriately informal or full of errors, get separated from the payroll.

WE USED TO CALL IT BLAXPLOITATION.

Beyonce putting a "Feminist" tag behind a squad of dancers groovin' doesn't change the perception.

WITH FRIENDS LIKE THESE.

Ari Cohn of The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education elaborates, further, on Northern Illinois University's unconstitutional, end-run-around-faculty-governance acceptable use policy.  He has a silly defense of the policy offered by some Chicago tech blogger to work with.  (Streetwise?  Isn't that the paper the bums hawk outside the railroad termini?)
Because NIU is a state institution, it also legally has an obligation to restrict access to sites that promote hatred. In the case of the blocked Wikipedia page that triggered the news firestorm, the reddit user was searching for 'Westboro Baptist Church.' It turns out that this particular wikipedia page linked back to the Church's site and this html "alerted" the new firewall.
Let's leave aside for the moment that state-sponsored education is censorship per se, and that some of higher education's radical stance might accordingly be a valuable corrective to the propaganda that used to make up the common schools' curricula.  And let's leave aside for the moment that a state university is subject to Constitutional provisions more directly than any private university.  (A Liberty University or a Jesuit institution might rule some areas of inquiry out of bounds, if at risk of losing enrollments.)  As I used to ask students, "if you can't play around with ideas, including bad ideas, in college, where can you?"

Here's Mr Cohn.
College students are overwhelmingly adults, entitled to the full protection of the First Amendment at a public institution like NIU. And not only is their access to the full marketplace of ideas legally required, but it is arguably even more essential, as students are expected to develop critical thinking skills and prepare themselves for imminent integration into broader society. An argument to the contrary would turn our system of higher education on its head.
Indeed, although the latest retention initiative from headquarters is offering the latest freshmen an opportunity to get a free t-shirt and help lead the football program onto the field Thursday night.  (Yes, week-night football starts early, although there are relatively few classes offered Friday and it's a get-away day for the long weekend, Corn Fest or not.)
[T]he problem runs deeper than NIU’s failure to clearly distinguish between students and employees in implementing its network policy. (To be clear, faculty employees at a university should not face Internet restrictions either.) The burden is on NIU—not its students—to ensure that its policies comply with the law. The university must revise both the network use policy and its implementing tools immediately in order to ensure that they clarify and respect the constitutional rights owed to NIU students.
Indeed. We'll see if the Faculty Senate or University Council take up the administrative usurpation.