I'll wrap up the 2015 Fifty Book Challenge well short of the goal.  Book Review No. 18 is Philip K. Dick's The Man in the High Castle, which I picked up as a consequence of the hoopla accompanying the recent release of a television version of the story.

It's a different twist on alternative histories in which the Axis wins, or at least draws, World War II.  Robert Harris's Fatherland envisions a different sort of Cold War, in which German ingenuity knocks England and the western Soviet Union out before the New World mobilizes, and Star Trek's "The City on the Edge of Forever" turns on the death of an American pacifist who Captain Kirk takes a shine to.  The critical death in High Castle is ... not Anton Cermak.  (The link contains a spoiler.)

But after the war, residents of the Japanese-occupied Western United States take to an ancient Chinese oracle, and there's a resident of the neutral mountain states whose subversive book, about the war turning out more like it really did, makes for the plot and character development.  Or does it?

(Cross-posted to 50 Book Challenge.)


I'll end the academic posting for the year by offering a rare recommendation to a Nation article by Michelle Chen.  It's about contingent faculty unionizing in the Chicago area, and specifically at Loyola University, where the administration's business model appears to be in conflict with Catholic social teachings.  But it's the etiolated education that results from turning faculty into some kind of on-demand contractors that I wish to address.
English and gender studies professor Alyson Paige Warren has slipped into a kind of professorial purgatory, bouncing between teaching gigs at two local campuses and a non-profit. She constantly asks herself, “where do I need to cut from my own time? [Or] time that I should and could be using to research or publish or contribute to the community, or give more to some of my nontraditional students, instead [I spend] just flying from university to university.” Due to what Warren calls “second-class citizenship” imposed on Loyola adjuncts, she is excluded from benefits afforded to full [meaning tenure-line -- ed.] professors, such as regular office hours or just a day-to-day presence on campus. So she ends up messaging students on the run and “grading papers on the train,” leaving even less time for actual teaching duties, like developing courses and programming.
And faculty wonder why upperclassmen write so poorly? Or why feminist arguments sound incoherent?  But no doubt, somewhere, there's a line item on the spreadsheet that makes the dollars-per-student-credit-hour in the English department look good.  (Yes, and the Chicago Great Western Railway had impressive gross-ton-miles-per-train-hour for all the good that did.)

Long-term, antagonizing your students is not going to turn out well.
At small private colleges like Loyola, known for fostering intimate student-teacher discourse, faculty advocates say the marketization of the university is corroding the quality of their pedagogy, and hampering their long-term career prospects through chronic economic instability.

In terms of professional priorities, the majority of Faculty Forward survey respondents stated that they still “had sufficient time to advise students,” but only 36 percent said they still had adequate time left for “professional development and growth.” Just over a quarter stated they had sufficient time for conducting research—suggesting that, whether informed by Jesuit values or not, advancing their own career tended to take a back seat to pushing their students forward.
Management gets more of what it measures. If it's measuring student credit hours but not scholarly advancement, that's what it's going to get. But one of the responsibilities of a professor is to stay current in his field, and another is to contribute to the conversation (read: research) in his field. Loyola students (and this is true of many other students at many other universities) are being shortchanged.  And a demoralized work force is a less productive work force, and a work force with one foot out the door.
Beyond the economic strains of teaching, respondents complained about social isolation from their colleagues and institutions. One respondent reflected that they “can’t establish a meaningful relationship with students, colleagues and the institution in general. I feel devalued, exploited and destabilized.”
That's particularly bad for an institution of higher education, in which stewardship of the curriculum, and thus of the teaching, scholarship, and service responsibilities, is in the hands of the faculty.
The controversy around unionizing contingent faculty is less about third-party “interference” than about an internal clash over defining a university’s values. A union vote will present an object lesson in reconciling communal ethics with institutional priorities, and when professors cast their ballots, they’ll show their faith in a moral educational tradition that stands above market forces.
The concluding sentence is an understandable error coming from a Nation writer.  Businesses cut costs and antagonize customers all the time.  A union vote might change the administration's mind at Loyola.  (Or not: such unions are present elsewhere.)  But a boycott by employers of Loyola's job fairs might go a long way toward concentrating administrative minds, and perhaps someone will recognize that turning out graduates on the cheap isn't meaningful productivity.


John Warner, sometime teacher of first year composition, takes to Inside Higher Ed to explain why faculty in other disciplines shouldn't time-slip the English department.
One of the biggest reasons students have a hard time writing analysis and argument is because they often don’t have sufficient subject and domain expertise about what is being argued. They can describe what someone else says, but don’t yet have the knowledge to build upon that information. I see this time and again in the analytical research papers I assign as students struggle to insert their ideas into debates they’re not yet prepared to join. If your (history, philosophy, sociology, economics, political science, whatever) course is the first time they’ve encountered your field, they will struggle.
Indeed.  Imagine the Lombardi era Packers only practicing Thirty-Six and Forty-Nine once a week.
In the current business model of higher education, the student-as-customer sees freshman composition as a hurdle to be gotten out of the way, and the department-as-profit-center sees writing intensive courses as too expensive to offer, or a forlorn hope in the presence of budgets that encourage reliance on freeway fliers and other false economies. Thus students get no additional practice at "realizing their thoughts in clear, coherent language" (just read any railroad's Book of Rules to see what that looks like), although they might play at making up presentation slides.
Precisely.  Mr Warner notes that those false economies extend, in that majors get insufficient practice with the discourse practices of their disciplines (wherein allusion and elegant variation and foreshadowing and all the other devices of the novelist don't move an argument forward.)
When faculty in other disciplines complain that students “can’t even write a decent sentence,” (likely true when looking at the actual assignments), the problem is not that students don’t know grammar and syntax, but because they are struggling badly with making meaning, and because they have no idea what they’re trying to say, why they’re trying to say it, or to whom, flailing commences.

I don’t mean this list as an excuse for unprepared or underperforming students. No one wants student writing to be better than the first-year writing instructor, but my time in the trenches tells me that we could be doing more to help students achieve success.
In these days of "doing more with less," though, is anyone surprised that "assessment" reduces to fill-in-the-bubbles scantrons and online quizzes, where the machinery invites students to use the discourse practices of text messaging?


A self-despising capon by the name of Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry suggests that parents not perpetuate Santa Claus.  He goes astray early on, making no attempt to engage the storyline beginning with Bishop Nicolaus of Myra.

Today's trenchant observation goes to Mitch "Shot in the Dark" Berg, also unimpressed, in a more visceral way.
I think not having Santa in their lives is a moral wrong.  Yes, eventually they, like most kids, figure out that their parents have been pulling a fast one on them.  The smart kids figure out “my parents spent all those years getting up in the wee hours to put this little hint of magic in my life, because they wanted to see me be happy.  That’s odd – but the odd bit of happiness was sure cool!”   The not-so-smart ones get neurotic about Christmas and become NPR listeners – but then, if “Santa” doesn’t do it, something will.  And the real dumb ones never quite lose the idea that some beneficent supernatural being brings them stuff for nothing, and go on to support Bernie Sanders.
Then he brings the smack.

Go.  Read.  Understand.  Enjoy.


Margaret Soltan of University Diaries has fun with Clemson's expense-preference behavior creating a football team that can play in the new playoffs.
South Carolina’s second-largest public university feels the need — indeed, thinks nothing of — spending $55 million to provide players with a miniature golf course, sand volleyball courts, bowling lanes, a barbershop and other amenities pretty much sums up everything that is wrong with college athletics today.

It is not just the obscene waste of money. Or that Clemson’s priorities should be more in keeping with the mission of an institution of higher learning. Or that the effort at this school is not unique but part of an unseemly competition of colleges trying to outdo one another. It is also that walling off college athletes in these expensive playgrounds further undermines the reason they should be at school — to learn, to interact, to be part of a larger community.
I quibble only with the Washington Post's editorial writers in describing the phenomenon as a "virtual arms race." This is what a positional arms race looks like. I'm sure there are writers at the Post who envy the granite counter tops at the mansions of their colleagues in television and government.

And a USA Today analysis captures the basis for the form of the competition for recruits.  "Unable to pay them salaries, universities have hit upon lavish buildings, with both athletic and recreational amenities, as a way to attract the most promising recruits out of high school."  That's why airline food was better in the cartel era.

But that "part of a larger community" doesn't ring true.  Not too long ago, a Coalition of Clemson Snowflakes issued a semiliterate and incoherent list of non-negotiable demands that a number of Clemson faculty promptly bought an advertisement showing their solidarity.  Or their willingness to give in to grade-grubbing.

Three colleagues were made of sterner stuff.
[Political scientist C. Bradley] Thompson agrees that the letter got people really thinking about the consequences of the student demands to punish certain kinds of protected speech. He said that “several faculty members that had signed the larger, faculty petition were subsequently embarrassed that they had signed” because they had not read it closely and didn’t realize they were advocating punishment of protected speech.

That’s something Thompson predicts would signal disaster, not just at Clemson, but for the everywhere.

“If you believe as I do that ideas have consequences, what happens on American college campuses will eventually percolate its way down and through the culture as a whole. And if we lose free speech on college campuses, we will eventually lose free speech in the country.”
Perhaps that's another reason to put money into athletics dorms.  Keep the students distracted with beer-'n-circus, and they might not notice their education being educated.  Or recognize the parallel punishments of protected speech being bandied about in the national election.



Here's Chris Matthews, signing off for the year with what might be more of an indictment of The Cult of the Presidency than he intended.

Catch that recitation of nowhere men making all their nowhere plans for nobody?

And the denunciation of the usual suspects "reciting in chorus just what they're supposed to say?"  Um, Chris, that pretty much describes Meet the Press most weekends, surely when Mrs Greenspan stage-managed all the Usual Democrats on Sunday, that's what it was.

The idea of politicians as people holding "positions of very little influence" who get by as "dull creatures of survival" in fact appeals, particularly after years of the Wise Experts breaking everything.

And "not going to take it any more" might mean the end of the conceit that Governing equates to More Expertise Intruded in Our Lives.  Bring it, I say.


It has been an average year for higher education, in the way comrades behind the Iron Curtain used to describe it (worse than 2014, but surely 2015 will be better than 2016 will become).  And many of its troubles are self-inflicted.  Start with George Will in the Washington Post, suggesting that the Perpetually Aggrieved are revealing themselves as clueless poseurs.
Higher education is increasingly a house divided. In the sciences and even the humanities, actual scholars maintain the high standards of their noble calling. But in the humanities, especially, and elsewhere, faux scholars representing specious disciplines exploit academia as a jobs program for otherwise unemployable propagandists hostile to freedom of expression.
It's not that simple.  For years, the chemists or mathematicians or most notoriously the physicists (a manifestation of Nagasaki Syndrome?) have demonstrated their liberalitas by supporting a faux studies department that will enroll the unprepared students and keep them out of the labs.  Or the experimental and mathematical sciences will participate in interdisciplinary or "studies" efforts themselves.

Then comes the endless internal politicking of the university, which, in these days of excellence without money, looks like rent-seeking without any rents to dissipate.  Not that Ohio State's Harvey J. Graff is deterred.  Here, he's griping about emphasizing the practical arts at the expense of the liberal arts, which doesn't work out well for his home departments, or for higher education qua higher education, rather than as some sort of vocational and technical school.
A university cannot construct its student body by blindly pursuing percentage increases in applications to the neglect of the undergraduate population over all or the impact on its academic components. A university is not determined by a popularity contest. In fact, its reason to exist is just the opposite.
We are completely in accord. But forty years of bringing the trendy and the popular into the curriculum expeditiously, rather than judiciously, and forty years of creating "studies" departments and faddish interdisciplinarity makes reclaiming the academy more difficult.
Apart from overloading disproportionately some parts of the university and underserving (and underfunding) others, such actions ignore, for example, that the College of Engineering reportedly graduates a lower proportion of its entering students than other colleges (and is also marked by a gender imbalance).
Without irony? What did you expect, dear Professor Graff, when "access" becomes diplomatic cover for admitting unprepared students?
Without a larger discussion and declared institutionwide policies about the present and future of higher education, such actions cripple the contemporary university’s core, compromise its declared mission and move from a balanced university to a vocational and technical institute. Indeed, such actions answer crucial and challenging questions about the future and the value of the liberal arts and sciences withoutever asking them.
Inasmuch as it is in the humanities and in the studies departments, with or without the connivance of the mathematicians and laboratory scientists, that the simulacrum of higher education is most evident, those disciplines properly have the most to answer for.  Obscurantism and word-noise will not be enough.
The supply of super-lefty people who are able to parse artificially dense text is limited, but not so limited that it's hard to find people who are willing to do it for $70,000 a year. Meanwhile, student demand for humanities, anthropology, urban studies, and sociology majors is probably pretty inelastic, so university demand for professors in these areas is probably inelastic. Hence, for departments and journals in these fields to make "critical theory" a soft requirement for professors is probably an effective way of keeping their salaries (and job perks) as high as they are.

It seems pretty obvious that humanities departments have been almost entirely consumed by this sort of thing. Any semblance of objectivity (whatever that would even mean in the humanities!) is gone, replaced by pervasive quasi-Marxist doofiness. And humanities scholars' research work now appears to largely consist of parsing and writing artificially dense text. As for the social sciences, anthro seems to have taken some big steps in this direction, and sociology more modest steps.
The author also complains about obscurantism in economics ("pressure on empirical economists") that might better be understood as at least recognizing that arbitrage or substitution might be at work, even if the latest data-torturing technique is what the paper is really presenting.

But if the point of higher education is now to provide a play-pen for obscurantists whilst credentialing the snowflakes, maybe it doesn't matter.  Except, as Glenn Reynolds points out, it does.  It's only in The Wizard of Oz that conferring a diploma gives the holder wisdom.  (Or sentiment.  Or courage.)
The government decides to try to increase the middle class by subsidizing things that middle class people have.  If middle-class people go to college and own homes, then surely if more people go to college and own homes, we’ll have more middle-class people.

But homeownership and college aren’t causes of middle-class status, they’re evidence of the kinds of traits — self-discipline, the ability to defer gratification, etc. — that let you enter, and stay in, the middle class. Subsidizing the markers doesn’t produce the traits; if anything, it undermines them.
Inculcate the habits of the middle class, forsooth!  But failure to inculcate, suggests Philo of Alexandria, might be the way to keep generating the rents.
Progressivism can’t deliver on its central promise. In fact, it’s guaranteed to make things worse in exactly that respect. It’s not that it sacrifices some degree of one good (liberty or prosperity, say) to achieve a greater degree of another (equality). That suggests that the choice between conservatism and progressivism is a matter of tradeoffs, balances, and maybe even taste. Reynolds’ Law implies that progressivism sacrifices some (actually considerable) degrees of liberty and prosperity to move us away from equality by undermining the characters and thus behavior patterns of those they promise to help.

Not coincidentally, progressives accumulate power for themselves, not only by seizing it as a necessary means to their goals but by aggravating the very social problems they promise to address, thus creating an ever more powerful argument that something has to be done.
That works, until you run out of more powerful arguments.


This time, it's the old Vital Progressive Center's turn.  Here's Ross Douthat.
Through the dot-com bust, 9/11, the Iraq war, and the financial crisis, it was striking how consensus held, how elites kept circulating, how quickly populist movements collapsed or were co-opted, how Washington and Brussels consolidated power even when their projects failed. No new ideological movement, whether radical or reactionary, emerged to offer the alternative to liberalism that fascism and Marxism and throne-and-altar traditionalism once supplied. And no external adversary, whether Putinist or Islamist or Chinese, seemed to offer a better way than ours.

Here in the dying days of 2015, though, something seems to have shifted. For the first time in a generation, the theme of this year was the liberal order’s vulnerability, not its resilience. 2015 was a memento mori moment for our institutions — a year of cracks in the system, of crumbling firewalls, of reminders that all orders pass away.
Emergence is like that.

On the one hand, in political debate, it helps to have something substantive to replace something actually existing.

On the other, when the actually existing is broken, "we've always done it this way" ought elicit an immediate "look what that's brought you."  Thus, Christopher Chantrill.  "Get a clue, liberals. We are in the current mess because of you. Let me count the ways."  And Marian Tupy at Reason elaborates, with charts.  "The presidencies of George W. Bush and Barack H. Obama, it turns out, have been bad not only for our national fiscus, but also for such indicators of good government as control of corruption, government effectiveness and regulatory quality."


More in a throwback mode ... here's Reason's Matt Welch on the curious political economy of passenger trains.  "Pro-rail policy is often the explicit foe of individual liberty."

No.  Passenger trains are Good Things, worthy of conservation.  And consider, dear reader, how Mr Welch continues his case against using public moneys to improve passenger trains.  "A transportation approach that respected people's preferences more than trying to change their behavior would be much, much more oriented toward buses and road/highway construction/upkeep." As if there's no rent-seeking by the highway lobby?  As if Amtrak's trains aren't sold out all year?  As if Metra's scoots and dinkies aren't full even at weekends?

And where is the tax-funded airport, let alone a bus terminal (good luck finding one) with the grandeur of the main waiting room at Chicago's Union Station?

That room might be the Last Testament to the Glory and Power of The Pennsylvania Railroad.


In these posts, I've frequently griped about having to time-slip the English Department, particularly in those semesters that I served as professor of record in the senior capstone paper class.  I haven't heard anything from colleagues still in the trenches that suggests student writing has gotten any better since I got out.

It's true, as Joanne Jacobs protested, five years ago, that trendy ideas suitable for making metrofexuals, self-styled progressives, and sixties leftovers comfortable with their prejudices have displaced reading real writing, which is the writer's analogue to studying blueprints and trackside photographs before you commit to building a model railroad.
Researchers write up their theories; adjuncts do the teaching.

Since theorists believe reading and writing are different skills, literature has been banished from composition classes.

Theorists believe grammar and usage conventions are unimportant, unteachable and “may even be damaging to minorities.” They tell adjuncts not to mark errors on student papers:  Students “best learn to write from one another by breaking up into little groups in class and ‘peer-reviewing’ their work, since it is their own generational cohort for whom they should be writing.”
That works well for getting a feel-good degree with lousy future employment prospects, but read the lament of a victim studies graduate who Ms Jacobs linked to.
I could have benefited from more politics, history and literature classes — to learn more about the world in general, rather than one tiny little sliver of the world. There’s a difference between what I thought was “cool” to learn about at the time and what has actually proved useful in life. The lowbrow-yet-stylish topics we discussed — whether or not Eminem is sexist and racist, for example — will be out of date 10 years from now. I probably could have learned a lot about sex work and labor abuse by reading magazine and newspaper articles on the subjects. But learning more about colonialism? Globalization? The World Wars? Important books? Religion? Supreme Court decisions? That knowledge would have provided such a better foundation for me as a writer than what I think I received from gender studies classes.

Maybe this is just a case of the grass being greener elsewhere. In any case, I can’t very well go back to 2001 and change how I spent my money and my time. Today I just find myself playing catch-up, reading the great books and researching great moments in history that I should have learned in school.
Economics is arbitrage, indifference, and exchange. Football is blocking and tackling. Essays are made up of paragraphs composed of sentences using words.  And aspiring writers aren't getting enough practice using words to compose sentences that form coherent paragraphs and argue a point.

In the trenches, North Carolina State's R.V. Young doesn't see that happening.
Over the almost four decades that I’ve been a college English professor, I have seen many changes, some good and many bad. One of the worst changes is the transformation of the freshman composition course.

After World War II, when a surge in prosperity brought an increasing proportion of high school graduates into institutions of higher education, it became evident that many of them were incapable of reading and writing their native language adequately for academic work.  They were not illiterate; they knew their letters and could read documents that conveyed information or instructions of on a simple, one-dimensional level. They could write out their thoughts in a rudimentary, colloquial fashion.

What they could not usually manage was to grasp the nuances of a sophisticated work of literature or follow the logic of a complex argument. They were even more perplexed at the prospect of constructing a consistent, focused argument of their own expressing such understanding as they had attained of the subtleties of literary and intellectual discourse. Their high school English hadn’t taken them far enough.

English departments in colleges and universities were, therefore, assigned the task of raising students to a level of reading and writing adequate for serious academic work. They tried to accomplish that by means of an essentially remedial course, freshman composition.

The emphasis of the course, as the title indicates, was on writing; but reading was also a crucial feature, because of an implicit assumption that learning to read challenging works of literature would enhance a student’s writing skills.  Freshman composition thus became the foundation for liberal education of a broad swath of American students who were often encountering for the first time the liberating effect of intellectual cultivation – the mental excitement of mastering intellectually difficult books, handling ideas with discernment, and realizing their thoughts in clear, coherent language.
To Professor Young, the E-T-T-S moment is the introduction of composition "theory" into composition courses (but with the theorists rarely working with the apprentices, as Ms Jacobs has remarked).  But that "encountering for the first time" signals the root cause of the problem.
I no longer teach freshman composition; in many quarters, literature professors are considered unqualified for that task since they have no training in “composition theory.”

How well is this new approach working? An increasingly common complaint among employers is that college graduates can’t even write a short memo that’s clear. The melancholy results of the now prevalent approach to composition are plain to see in the pitiable level of reading and writing skills possessed by most college graduates.
In the current business model of higher education, the student-as-customer sees freshman composition as a hurdle to be gotten out of the way, and the department-as-profit-center sees writing intensive courses as too expensive to offer, or a forlorn hope in the presence of budgets that encourage reliance on freeway fliers and other false economies.  Thus students get no additional practice at "realizing their thoughts in clear, coherent language" (just read any railroad's Book of Rules to see what that looks like), although they might play at making up presentation slides.

How good do you think Vince Lombardi's Green Bay Packers would have been if they only practiced Thirty-Six and Forty-Nine once a week, rather than fifty times a day?  The generalization to understanding arbitrage and exchange, or clear writing, is straightforward.



The College Fix takes on sagging teacher morale in poor districts, in this example the government schools in Washington, D.C.
If groups like the [American Civil Liberties Union] and the [U.S. Department of Education] want the situation to get better in these schools, getting rid of chronically disruptive kids so that students like Mya Alford, the student subject of the [Washington Post] article, can do what they’re supposed to in school — learn — is what needs to happen.

This doesn’t mean depriving such students of an education, of course. It means putting them in an alternative setting — very small classes led by teachers educated and trained in behavior/social issues.
I suppose that's more enlightened than shipping the hellions off to reform school.   But there's nothing new about the better districts being able to pay more, and have better working conditions, and thus have less teacher turnover and less teacher burnout than the districts full of chronically disruptive kids who have not been properly socialized.  And without proper socialization (into the ways of the middle class) why bother?  Here's where I stood, three school years ago.
Cleaning up the working conditions requires a cleaning up of the popular culture, particularly in the poorer quarters of the country, but a reversal of the status hierarchy is going to drive people out of teaching and into middle management, or anywhere else where there's a Dilbert moment every day, but the pay is better and the backtalk less vulgar.
Not much has changed.  It's still the case that feel-good policies are more important than fostering achievement.  Take St. Paul, another government school district where officials enable dysfunction and excuse it as authenticity.  (And the dependably Democrat-voting teachers' union may be leaving the plantation.)
While St. Paul officials boast about lowering the suspension statistics (mainly due to hardly suspending anyone, despite it being warranted), chaos reigns in the classrooms. It’s gotten so bad that the local teachers union is threatening to strike if the situation doesn’t improve.

“My school is 87 percent poverty and 90 percent diverse. I have many students in my class who are very respectful, work hard and care about doing well in school. That’s why I am so angry. The disruptive, violent children are ruining the education of these fantastic, deserving children,” a St. Paul teacher says.
Is anybody surprised that where the parents demonstrate dysfunction and the schools enable dysfunction, dysfunction is what you get?  And teachers quit?

Surprise me.  Crack down on the administrators who enable.


Because Chicago's airports are often difficult to get to, and regularly a pain to get through, residents of the northeastern counties of Illinois often use Milwaukee's Mitchell Field.
Mitchell's chief competitor remains Chicago's O'Hare International Airport on that city's north side. O'Hare is consistently one of the busiest and most congested airports in the nation. But it also offers a lot of flights at almost all hours of the day.

The Mitchell survey indicates that Milwaukee's airport is capturing the attention of a growing number of northern Illinois residents.

The survey company asked 400 consumers in the four northeastern Illinois counties bordering Wisconsin who flew two or more round trips in the past 12 months about their travel choices.
The article refers to the relatively easy drive (and ample long-term parking?) as working in Mitchell Field's favor.

Travellers have another option.

Perhaps, though, the absence of long-term parking at Glenview limits the number of passengers who choose the rail to air connection.


Joanne Jacobs: "Student aid leads to tuition hikes."  Yes, that's the logic of any third-party payment, and yet, even the brightest among you shall benefit by a modicum of repetition.  Alex Tabarrok works through the paper, which produces one possible surprise.
Remarkably, so much of the subsidy is translated into higher tuition that enrollment doesn’t increase! What does happen is that students take on more debt, which many of them can’t pay.
Mr Tabarrok suggests the conclusions ought be viewed as an upper bound, as a consequence of market power being exercised by the universities so subsidized.  In the original paper, authors Grey Gordon of Indiana and Aaron Hedlund of Missouri note as much.  But market power ought not come as a surprise: as long as the fifty claimants to be the top twenty universities keep their entering classes small and use financial aid offers to keep the perceived net price low, there will be the kind of excess demand that these institutions will exploit.  (And if the land-grants and mid-majors keep going after the athletics and the amenities and the access-assessment-remediation-retention, where else will the strivers apply?)


Cleaning out the archives, yet again.  Four years ago, Occupy Wall Street and its imitations across the country got a privilege check (to use an expression that had not yet caught on.)
Harmless, if obnoxious people, are getting the crap kicked out of them by cops at Occupy protests across the country. In Berkeley, one officer beat a young female student in the stomach completely unprovoked. In Seattle, police sprayed an inch-thick stream of pepper spray into a crowd, hitting an 86-year-old woman and an expectant mother, among others, square in their faces.  Journalists who have never covered protests before, much less spent time on a police beat, are getting clubbed, gassed, and cuffed alongside their unwashed and unruly story subjects.
The ominous signs were present, and yet public opinion did not make the connection.
The responses of police departments and Democrat-run municipalities is causing a much needed paradigm shift. The Occupy Wall Street movement is composed largely of people who have never before been cuffed to anything but a headboard, if that. Many of them are white, and some of them are probably urban gentrifiers, which means their previous attitudes toward police likely ranged from indifferent to fond. And now those same cops, who used to only screw with blacks and hispanics, are suddenly going after highly educated, well-bred, pale-faces, AKA "skinny intellectuals."
To the extent that Occupy's stosstruppen are the underemployed victim studies majors, yes. The Boomer and Silent Generation enablers of that rabble might see things differently.  And these days, the heirs to the Occupy mindset are calling for muscle to keep their own protests pure.  But the screwing with racial minorities is still with us.
This is not how police are supposed to work seems to be the prevailing sentiment. Also: Some crimes are worse than others, and blocking a street is not one of the bad ones. Which crimes are worse, and why, is a great question for OWS supporters to consider. If getting pepper-sprayed and batoned for the minor crime of blocking traffic is absolutely outrageous, how much crazier is it to knock down someone's door in the middle of the night, shoot his pets, point a gun at his wife, and call child services all because he had some pot in his house? Do OWS participants think they could see themselves protesting no-knock raids, now that they've been inconvenienced for an afternoon? (If not, that's OK. But it's something they should think about next time they want to tell a stranger that they're doing what they're doing for anybody other than themselves.)
In four years, Occupy has faded (or perhaps they're feeling the Bern?) and a new protest constituency has emerged, one for which the excesses of the police are the immediate cause.
Police militarization and the unchecked power of the state are not issues at the root of OWS. But the debate has shifted somewhat from what OWS should be able to take away from Wall Street, to what the State should not be able to take away from OWS. This is good, because negative rights are good, and also, they are crumbling.
Four more years of Hope and Change, and trigger warnings, and the freakazoids insisting on their rights not to be questioned, have not been healthy for negative rights. But columnist Mike Riggs is correct in his advice to Occupy, and it is as valid for Black Lives Matter today.
Which is why I'd encourage all of you in OWS (sorry, been doing a lot of that lately) to think about the politicians you elect, and all the ways you've helped increase the size and scope of the state because you couldn't imagine it shoving a boot up your white, well-behaved ass. Think about the public workers who you've supported carte blanche—firemen, teachers, police officers—and their unions, and the power those unions have to shield their members from accountability and reform. Because the political check you cut yesterday paid for the gut-check you received today.
The message to Black Lives Matter is different only in detail: it is those reliably Democratic voters who have provided the electoral majorities by which urban Democrat politicians can continue their policies of buying off the municipal employee unions while rendering the voters unemployable by feel-good living wage ordinances and underachieving schools.

Until, as appears to be the case in Chicago, the city no longer has the money to buy off the teachers' unions, and the voters have had enough of being collateral damage for law enforcement.



It's fitting for the Feast of Stephen that Reason's David Harsanyi reminds readers that "The government shall be upon his shoulder; and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor" is sacred, not profane.  Take Donald Trump and Barack Obama.
Trump's entire case, for instance, is propelled by the notion that a single (self-identified) competent, a strong-willed president, without any perceptible deference to the foundational ideals of the nation, will be able to smash any cultural or political obstacles standing in the way of Making America Great Again.

But this is certainly not the first time we've seen voters adopt a cultish reverence for a strong-willed presidential candidate without any perceptible deference to the foundational ideals of the country whose personal charisma was supposed to shatter obstacles standing in the way of making America great again. Many of the same people anxious about the authoritarian overtones of Trump's appeal were unconcerned about the intense adulation that adoring crowds showered on Barack Obama in 2008, though the spectacle featured similarly troubling signs—the iconography, the messianic messaging and the implausible promises of government-produced comfort and safety. Just as President Trump fans will judge every person on how nice or mean he or she is to Trump, so, too, those rooting against Obama were immediately branded unpatriotic or racist.

Obama's inevitable failure to live up to the hype has had many repercussions—and none of them healthy.
"Cultish reverence," forsooth.


Peter Morici has the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come bringing good tidings to Zion.
The real challenge—if we don’t manage to destroy ourselves through war, greed and denial of the imperative for environmental stewardship—finally will become equipping each human being with the means to engage in intellectually demanding and creative work and to share in the bounty.

Access to technology and energy are already remarkably cheap, and globalization is making their benefits ubiquitous—bold commercial innovations are emerging from even the poor countries of Africa. By this century’s end, continued progress could put much of economics—the study of scarcity—out of business.

Measuring and boosting GDP will no longer be the logic of progress.
Put another way, political economy will return with a vengeance. Will that plenitude create a situation incompatible with its capitalist integument?


By Mid-American Conference standards, Northern Illinois University have a strong football program.  The current crop of seniors have played in 56 games over four seasons, meaning appearances in the conference championship game each year (2-2) and four straight bowl bids (although getting enough teams to fill the bowl schedule requires diluted standards.)

The aspiration around the athletic department has been to become the "next Boise State" (meaning a college football program not affiliated with the Southeastern or Pacific or Big Ten that is capable of giving teams from those conferences a competitive game, and winning more often than not).

Boise State was the opponent in the recently completed Poinsettia Bowl, and the original didn't have much respect for the next.
Boise State jumped out to a big lead in the first two quarters and cruised to a 55-7 win over Northern Illinois in the Poinsettia Bowl on Wednesday at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego for the Huskies' worst loss since 2007.

The Broncos (9-5 overall) led 31-7 at halftime and scored touchdowns on their first three possessions. Boise State, which now has 64 wins since 2010 compared to 65 by Northern Illinois, outgained the Huskies 654-33 and set a Poinsettia Bowl record for most points in a game.
Four bowl appearances, four losses (Florida State, Utah State, Marshall, Boise State).  Do you want to believe?
The catchphrase of the X-Files must resonate with Northern Illinois football fans after the team’s 55-7 loss to Boise State in the Poinsettia Bowl, capping an 8-6 season with a blowout bowl loss for the second straight year.

Right now, most fans are more than likely channelling their inner Scully, their inner skeptic. After all, there really wasn’t anything redeemable about this game.
Nowhere for the students to redeem the several hundred dollars they're shelling out in athletics activity fees, either.  Is the football visibility worth it? Jesse Severson of the DeKalb Daily Chronicle combines interview and analysis.
I asked Boise State coach Bryan Harsin if the buildup to the game – being billed a battle of Group of 5 powers – made the lopsided victory a little sweeter. Instead of taking the moment to bask in the glow of showing the world who the top dog is in the Group of 5, Harsin took the high road.

“I think the teams going into the game were comparable, if you were looking at statistically over the last four or five years,” he said. “And we obviously looked at those things, but I think tonight we were different. I thought our guys were different and it’s not about (being compared to NIU), it’s not about that. It’s about performing and doing our best and making sure that what we’ve prepared to do, we go out there and we get that done, because we spend a lot of time working on it for three and a half hours.”

There will be ramifications for this game for Northern Illinois and the questions will be asked – perhaps unfairly – of whether the coaching staff needs a shakeup. Would that be an overreaction – considering many of the Huskies’ major playmakers return next season and that Hare was out the second half of the season – or the proper reaction? Time will tell.
Inasmuch as headquarters continues to starve the academic departments of resources, whilst devoting resources to whatever it is that administrators do, while Boise State is a paradigm of Excellence Without Money, perhaps The Hard Way is making Too Hard A Way for the other functions of the university.  I wonder if there's a rubric for that in the program prioritization rigamarole.



Time for a long winter's nap.  Roll out the traditional trains.

Thank you for looking in.

Merry Christmas   Frohes Weihnachtfest   Feliz Navidad.



Just listen for the way Chris Matthews says "home-schoolers."  I've caught him at this, particularly in snarking at Senator Cruz and his strength in the Iowa polls, previously.

That, alone, dear reader, says enough about why the Democratic National Committee might have scheduled its debates for Saturday nights during football season.  Secular so-called progressives might welcome the opportunity for a gathering during the Festive Season that doesn't involve Christmas or football, and yet might involve a wine-tasting, or some other demonstration of what Enlightened People they all are.  And they might be able to, in an enlightened way of course, compare notes on the merits of Senator Clinton's or Senator Sanders's latest way to put one over on the ordinary folks, who have to stay dependent on Democrats, yet not clever enough to see what the Democrats are about.

Come January, a debate on Playoff Saturday gives the gentry an opportunity to throw an anti-Super Bowl party, which is another excuse for a wine tasting, albeit instead of having it on Super Bowl Sunday with the television conspicuously off, you have it on Debate Saturday, with the television conspicuously tuned to the debates.

And again, you conceal the fleecing of the base from the base, many of whom are watching the playoffs.


Years ago, I learned a military term of art, "limited war," which might have applied to Vietnam or Panama or Kosovo or any number of campaigns in the Middle East.  The problem with waging a limited war is that troops get killed to no good effect.  Hence David French's complaint about the way he had to command in Iraq.
Imagine if the United States had fought World War II with a mandate to avoid any attack when civilians were likely to be present. Imagine Patton’s charge through Western Europe constrained by granting the SS safe haven whenever it sheltered among civilians. If you can imagine this reality, then you can also imagine a world without a D-Day, a world where America’s greatest generals are war criminals, and where the mighty machinery of Hitler’s industrial base produces planes, tanks, and guns unmolested. In other words, you can imagine a world where our Army is a glorified police force and our commanders face prosecution for fighting a real war. That describes our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Contemporary rules of engagement, he argues, are not suited to contemporary wars, which often involve insurgents and irregulars.
Think of the battle of Waterloo in what is now Belgium or, here in the United States, the battles of Gettysburg and Chancellorsville. The United States hasn’t fought a conflict governed by the law of war in almost a century. Indeed, just as the law of war is part of America’s military heritage, so is the modern concept of “total war” — a nation mobilizes its full resources to destroy not just the military of an opposing country but also its very capacity to wage war. America’s enemies, moreover, have consistently and flagrantly disregarded the laws of war.
Significantly, he does not mention Sherman's campaign in Georgia and the Carolinas.

In the current campaigns, however, National Command Authority's understandable unwillingness to appear ruthless constrains the behavior of the troops, in ways that the opposition regularly exploits.
Fully aware of American restrictions, enemy fighters not only refuse to wear uniforms, they often do their best to blend in with the civilian population, eschewing distinctive dress, armbands, or any other insignia that brands them as members of a terrorist militia. Rather than congregate in isolated outposts, they cluster in mosques, around hospitals, and even in private homes. While such tactics are frequent in guerrilla warfare, they are neither legal nor moral, and our jihadist opponents have reached appalling lows even by the rough and brutal standards of insurgencies.
There might be more to his story, though: the current use of drones in noncombatant nations regularly comes under criticism from the libertarians at Reason and the pacifist left at Common Dreams.  Mr French suggests, however, that if National Command Authority commits troops, let troops be committed with the freedom of action to win, and with the recognition that war is cruelty, and no lawyerly rules of engagement can refine that.   Michael Walsh reinforces the message.

Fight, and end, wars, decisively and finally.


The symptoms of rot are familiar.
Everything that liberals built is broken. The economy is a mess; health care is a mess; the universities are broken; K-12 education is wrecked; welfare is out of control; the Middle East has been torched. And liberals did it.

Then there is the wife of my 60ish friend who’s wondering about all that women’s liberation of which she’d heard tell back when she was young. Or the college women screaming for safe spaces, not from the so-called “rape culture” but really from the anti-woman squalor of the hook-up culture. Or the “mismatched” African American college students protesting on campus in a rage of disappointed hope.
On the right, the wreckage is the consequence of a political and cultural hegemony that ignores or marginalizes the voice of reason.
Instead, the liberal municipal template of generous government pensions, lavish subsidies and welfare, unionized workforces, identity politics, lots of regulations, and high taxes apparently has ensured permanent underclasses of Democratic voters in the inner city. And for some reason, they are now furious at Democratic city halls, the police, and city administrators.
There must be some way for some kind of opposition to pry the disaffected voters away from the Democrats. (It may be no accident, dear reader, that the Democratic debates are on football Saturdays. That's perfect for gentry liberals.)  Surely, the policy preferences of Our President and the gentry liberals, as Jim Geraghty notes, have done nothing for municipal workers, or anyone else who relies on a paycheck twice a month.
The progressive Left used to claim it was acting on behalf of working people, those blue-collar men. Now it is primarily a cultural party that evaluates those working-class men by the color of their skin or whether they’re members of a union. Under Obama, the Democratic party has become focused on the far-off threat of climate change, much more openly enthusiastic about an Australian-style national mandatory gun confiscation . . . it’s attuned to the concerns of activists angry at the police, college students angry that they have to pay back loans, angry at anybody who drives an SUV (except their own lawmakers) and anybody who has a private jet, except self-proclaimed environmentalist celebrities . . .
To Our President's left,  David Morris concurs.  "Given that under your watch your party lost the country, in retrospect what would you have done differently?" In Mr Morris's eyes, the missed opportunity is different.
Obama might well have stunted the emergence of a rightwing populist movement if he had pursued an aggressive populist strategy of his own, one that demonstrated government could effectively challenge giant corporations and unbridled private greed on behalf of small business and the average family.

Obama certainly had the opportunity. The economy was in free fall. Millions faced the prospect of losing their homes. Millions more were losing their jobs. After freeing itself of most government restrictions and oversight the financial sector had become dysfunctional. Even stalwart defenders of laissez faire capitalism were confessing the error of their deregulatory ways.
Thus, rather than whatever blend of protecting the gentry and giving lip service to disaffected minorities, Our President left the rent-seekers with plenty of maneuvering room.
The failure of Obama to either rhetorically or operationally adopt a truly populist strategy has, I firmly believe, given rise to the Bernie Sanders phenomenon. His message is resonating because he is clearly saying that will bring real change by restructuring the system and redistributing and democratizing power and resources.  It may be one reason he labels himself a socialist.
The elasticity of the term "populist," however, is evident in the current popularity of a rent-seeker using populist tropes in the Republican primaries.


There are dissident Moslems, and two women in that tradition take to the Washington Post to ask that sympathizers in the United States and other secular countries find a way of showing support other than a babushka.
As women who grew up in modern Muslim families with theologians, we are trying to reclaim our religion from the prongs of a strict interpretation. Like in our youth, we are witnessing attempts to make this strict ideology the one and only accepted face of Islam. We have seen what the resurgence of political Islam has done to our regions of origin and to our adoptive country.

As Americans, we believe in freedom of religion. But we need to clarify to those in universities, the media and discussion forums that in exploring the “hijab,” they are not exploring Islam, but rather the ideology of political Islam as practiced by the mullahs, or clerics, of Iran and Saudi Arabia, the Taliban in Afghanistan and the Islamic State.
Indeed. Boutique multiculturalists, first learn, then celebrate.
In the name of “interfaith,” these well-intentioned Americans are getting duped by the agenda of Muslims who argue that a woman’s honor lies in her “chastity” and unwittingly pushing a platform to put a hijab on every woman.

Please do this instead: Do not wear a headscarf in “solidarity” with the ideology that most silences us, equating our bodies with “honor.” Stand with us instead with moral courage against the ideology of Islamism that demands we cover our hair.
That ought to make it easier for a culture-studies type to stand with Moslem women and approve of Miley Cyrus.  Plus this.
To us, the “hijab” is a symbol of an interpretation of Islam we reject that believes that women are a sexual distraction to men, who are weak, and thus must not be tempted by the sight of our hair. We don’t buy it. This ideology promotes a social attitude that absolves men of sexually harassing women and puts the onus on the victim to protect herself by covering up.

The new Muslim Reform Movement, a global network of leaders, advocating for human rights, peace and secular governance, supports the right of Muslim women to wear – or not wear – the headscarf.
Major religions have fractured over less than the request in the second paragraph. But the first paragraph prompts Insta Pundit to quip, "I believe the technical term for that is 'rape culture.'"


Administrative nest-feathering continues to corrode morale at Northern Illinois University.

There was the coffee fund, a way of sustainably recycling scrap metal and misappropriating state property, until a few people got purged, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation showed up.

Earlier this year, a national search for a wholly unnecessary chief diversity officer made the university administration a national laughingstock.

Now, the university has retained counsel in re president Douglas Baker.
Northern Illinois University President Doug Baker has been under investigation by a state watchdog agency for months, and records show the university has paid tens of thousands of dollars to a Boston-based law firm to represent him.

According to documents obtained by the Daily Chronicle, law firm Mintz Levin Cohn Ferris Glovsky and Popeo PC billed the university for 142.4 hours of work and expenses totaling more than $85,000 from March through September as they have worked on a defense.

The amount includes a $3,500 retainer fee for Raymond Cotton, a Harvard-educated member of the firm who is based out of Washington, D.C., and specializes in representing higher education executives
The Inspector General's investigations can go on for years, and the existence of such an investigation need not be a signal of wrong-doing.
The executive inspector general’s office fields and, at its discretion, investigates complaints against employees of, and those doing business with, agencies under the governor’s purview, including state universities. Anyone can send a complaint to the office, but officials do not confirm or deny receipt of complaints or whether they lead to an investigation, a spokesman said.
The annual mandatory ethics training state university employees participate in generally reminds participants that there are whistle-blower protections, and that the inspector general's office is a resource.  Thus the lack of detail in the story ... that's the law.

At a time when President Baker has subjected the university to something called "program prioritization" (in the fashion of the Congressional Base Closing Commission, let outsiders, or an algorithm designed by outsiders, decide which programs to close) the continued expenditure on faction fights among the administrators cannot be fostering much confidence in the university's future.



I was never publicly as angry with higher education as is North Carolina at Wilmington criminologist Mike Adams.  But, as the bumper sticker puts it, if you're not outraged, you're not paying attention.  And the root cause of the outrage is the entitled snowflakes not paying attention.
Universities are supposed to prepare people to be productive citizens. They are failing miserably because they are failing to reward hard work and initiative. In fact, it is worse than that. They have actually started rewarding dependency in our government schools. At the beginning of every semester, I try to inform students that things will be very different in my class. This latest message, which I have written to my students and will send to them early next month when classes begin, is illustrative. If you are tired of our public schools and universities producing helpless, dependent children instead of productive citizens, please read this column. Consider forwarding it to every teacher you know. You may tell them they have permission to adapt it for their classes.
Once upon a time, the late (and yet resurrected) College Misery had regular features on snowflakes failing to Read.  The.  [Expletive Deleted]. [Conditions of Carriage].  (That last because what higher ed so pretentiously refers to as a syllabus is anything but.)

Professor Adams likely speaks for a lot of people who thought the academic vocation is the opportunity to interact with curious (in all the senses of that word) young people.  Reality is something else.
This is important to know because people who have a grammar school mindset irritate their professors. Personally, I didn’t get a PhD to teach kindergarten. I did it because I wanted to debate serious ideas with serious people. It hasn’t quite worked out that way.
With the modern version of journals, and endless committee meetings and interdisciplinary fads, there's likely more to his disappointment than clueless students sending clueless electronic mails. And yet the clueless students are the predictable outcome of developments elsewhere in the academy.  So too, will be the predictable appeals in case Professor Adams carries out this threat.
The first time I [respond to a clueless inquiry] there will be a “minus” attached to your final grade. The second time there will be a letter grade reduction. The third time you will fail the class. If you write to complain about failing the class, I will personally write the chancellor and ask him to expel you. I might even write the government and petition for your deportation.
But his reason for doing so is radical, properly understood as identifying the root cause of the problem.
Please understand that the reason I do this is to spare the larger society. For too long, teachers have been unleashing unprepared adolescents into the workplace. The public schools reward bad behavior, the universities fail to correct it, and it becomes the new norm in the larger society. I’ll have nothing to do with it. If you act like an adolescent in my class, I will do my part to see that you don’t carry those traits into the real world.
So mote it be.


Bryan Caplan calls it "Labor Econ Versus the World" but it's eight reasons why the Welfare Economics Paradigm is an incomplete diagnosis of social ills, and why political economy is about tradeoffs.

Read and understand.


The Cult of the Presidency might be the best place to start.  Here's Charlotte Hays, counting the ways Hope is false and Change is for the worse.
A country can stand only so much of this kind of hope and change.

One of the reasons that things are turning bad for the Obama presidency is that Obama was elected on a purely chimerical notion: that the U.S. overreacted to September 11. With a special president like Mr. Obama, whose Muslim roots would give him insights into the world of Islam, and indeed make him more popular around the world than the cowboy from Texas, this happily could be reversed. U.S. power, which, after all was the heart of problem, would be pulled back under Obama
Unfortunately, his third-world-ophilia and his Chicago ward-heeler instincts simply enabled all sorts of dysfunction.
President Obama has latched onto shootings, which upon investigation, likely as not turn out not to have had a racial element, and exploited them for political gain.

The level of racial animosity in this country is higher now that any time in my memory. This may well be the worst part of President Obama's legacy. ObamaCare is going to collapse, and, if voters are wise, we will elect a president who will deal more effectively with the threat of terrorism, but racial animosity will linger. It is especially tragic that the man who could have brought us together tried to turn us against each other.

President Obama's other big ticket legacy item is a disrespect for our system of government. He has frequently bypassed Congress with his pen and phone, though ironically that makes most of these assertions of executive power reversible by the next guy or gal with a pen and phone. But terrible damage to the American system may, like racial hatred, be long-lasting.

As I write this the president and his family are creating one heck of a carbon footprint en route to the Christmas holiday in Hawaii. By all means, enjoy your vacation Mr. President. The nation could use a break--a long one--from your reign too.
And the people from his party who would like to succeed him would prefer to do so by default.
Busy Saturday night? Probably, what with the NCAA bowl games, the Jets’ must-win battle in Dallas and opening weekend for “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” So you’ll skip the Democratic presidential debate — just as Hillary Clinton hoped.

Long, long ago, Clinton set out to ensure she wouldn’t be robbed of the nomination by some interloper, the way she lost to Barack Obama in 2008.

The party’s power-brokers played along, handing the Democratic National Committee to Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a co-chair of Clinton’s ’08 campaign. Fix, in.

And so the DNC did its best to see nobody would watch the debates, lest voters dare think for themselves. Tomorrow’s is the second in a row on a Saturday night — easily the worst evening for TV viewership.
Since when does the Governmental Habit require people to think for themselves?  If Four of Five Experts agree, the Wise Experts will make Good Stuff happen, and all the voter has to do is select the straight Democrat ticket and pay taxes.

And that, dear reader, is the root cause of government failure.


Trigger warnings and safe spaces enable people to get away with staying ignorant.  It matters not whether it's putting The Fatal Conceit or Huckleberry Finn on the reading list, or encouraging students to write out the most common of Arabic phrases.  But that latter activity set parents in some Virginia school district off.  Yes, there are secular Arabic phrases that might also serve as calligraphy lessons, and yet Rick Moran correctly urges these parents, and all the other enablers of snowflakes, to get a grip.
To be terrified of words is irrational and the notion that the teacher or the school district is trying to convert kids to Islam by using this homework assignment is silly. And overreacting to the point that violence is threatened is madness.

This is the flip side of what's happening on college campuses - ginned up outrage over nothing. For some of these parents, intent doesn't matter. Any mention of Islam - one of the world's biggest religions whether they like it or not - breeds hysteria. You can't close your child off from the rest of the world simply because you have a different notion of god or politics. That leads to kids who are half-educated and narrow minded - hardly a recipe for success in life.


Then the Green Bay Packers get two early touchdowns off turnovers.

Green Bay Packer photograph retrieved from Twitter.

The Packers secured a position in the playoffs before the game started, and with ten wins a first-round bye is possible, with a little help, and a home game is not yet assured.  And the players understand that the big prize takes work.
“We weren’t very effective. We had less than 300 yards and had a terrible first half,” [quarterback Aaron] Rodgers said when asked for his thoughts on his and his offense’s performance in the Packers’ 30-20 win over the Raiders.

Rodgers’ coach, Mike McCarthy, had just left the postgame interview room, where he had told reporters the Packers were “right where we need to be.” When informed of his coach’s remarks, Rodgers asked exactly what McCarthy said.

“I don’t want to speak for him. I think we have 10 wins and we’re in the playoffs,” Rodgers said, trying to find a middle ground between his thoughts and his coach’s remarks.

McCarthy spoke of wanting to avoid “all the negativity.” Rodgers’ remarks demanded more from himself and his offense.
Although these Packers have been in the playoffs seven straight seasons, the standard of greatness remains six trips to the title games in eight seasons, with five titles.  In the missing two years, the Packers played in the second-place game, which Vince Lombardi characterized as hinky-dinky and the league subsequently abolished.  And some of the testiness in Packer Nation might well be those footsteps of those giants ...


Incentives matter, even if you're selling a policy as providing patient protection and affordable care.
The provision that creates the incentive for businesses to hire people part-time instead of full-time is the employer mandate, which requires employers with 50 or more full-time employees to offer health insurance to full-time employees (those working 30 or more hours per week). To avoid having to provide health insurance, some employers have cut employees' hours so it is below that threshold.
Here's Senator Clinton, on changing the incentives.
You know, we got to change that because we have built in some unfortunate incentives that discourage full-time employment. A lot of employers believe if you don't work 40-hours a week you don't get benefits and that includes; you don't get health care benefits; that might include you're not eligible for the family medical leave; you're not eligible for paid sick days. So, there is a disincentive in our system that we need to deal with and I really worry about it because there is trend to try and move more and more people into part-time work; and how many of you are part-time workers? And sometimes you want to work part-time, it fits into your family, it fits into your life obligations but sometimes you want to work full-time but you can't get a full-time job. So, I want to look at all the employment rules.
In that passage are opportunities to introduce interstate competition in insurance, or medical savings accounts, or repeal and replace, if the Republican majority can grasp them.

And catch that "sometimes you want to work part-time, it fits into your family."  Just watch any modification of the medical leave provisions create additional reasons for businesses to stay small and make only part-time hires.



I had a social occasion to attend yesterday, and yet got home in time to catch the end of the Democratic debate, just in time to watch Senator Clinton attempt to lay a reality check on Senator Sanders.  Senator Clinton wants to pry populist voters away from Senator Sanders by suggesting (correctly) that European levels of social services require European levels of taxation on working people.
CLINTON: Yes, and it was the same one that President Obama made. Because I don't think we should be imposing new big programs that are going to raise middle class families' taxes.

We just heard that most families haven't had a wage increase since 2001. Since, you know, the end of the last Clinton administration when incomes did go up for everybody. And we've got to get back to where people can save money again, where they can invest in their families, and I don't think a middle-class tax should be part of anybody's plan right now.
Without irony. I joined the debate in medias res, and it's clear from the transcript that it's all about creating new big programs (single payer, free college) that will raise everybody's taxes and aggravate the Eurosclerosis that is the proper description of seven years of Hope and Change.

Senator Sanders's riposte is part non sequitur, part evidence of how the Democrats are a party of Old People peddling Old Ideas.
SANDERS: Number one, most important economic reality of today is that over the last 30 years, there has been a transfer of trillions of dollars from the middle class to the top one-tenth of one percent who are seeing a doubling of the percentage of wealth that they own.

Now, when Secretary Clinton says, "I'm not going raise taxes on the middle class," let me tell you what she is saying. She is disagreeing with FDR on Social Security, LBJ on Medicare and with the vast majority of progressive Democrats in the House and the Senate, who today are fighting to end the disgrace of the United States being the only major country on Earth that doesn't provide paid family and medical leave.

What the legislation is is $1.61 a week. Now, you can say that's a tax on the middle class. It will provide three months paid family and medical leave for the working families of this country. I think, Secretary Clinton, $1.61 a week is a pretty good invest.
Such rules might also make employers less willing to hire people, or more willing to hire people on temporary or short-time bases, so as to not have a work force to which the law applies.

As Reason's Nick Gillespie notes, this presidential cycle is all about the lesser evil.
It appears all but certain that Election 2016 will offer voters major-party choices between bad and worse. Partisans will slug it over whose candidate is bad and whose is worse while the rest of us play different angles, such as which president might work better as a hedge against single-party control of Congress. In this sense, it's good that we don't have to bother watching the Democratic debates, since it's going to take a lot of effort to figure out which candidate will do less damage from the Oval Office.
Meanwhile, the pundit class will babble on about "process" and "bipartisanship" and "consensus."

We have much to look forward to.


I got in the habit of telling students that I got paid to say No and uphold standards.  Did a lot to head off the whining about "I'm-paying-for-this-course-and-not-getting-what-I-want" that I kept hearing about (almost always at some remove from the story itself.)

That's not to say that the business of assigning grades is easy, no, no matter how many partitions your rules offer and how subtle the criteria for distinguishing excellent from solid from mediocre from failure are, you always get what I'll start referring to as the NPR Frequency Problem.  How do you reward the 89.5?

That's where the notion of curving comes in.  Strictly speaking, though, a "curve" is a monotone but nonlinear transformation of the Law of Large Numbers, thus my course outline for small classes always featured language to the effect of "in a class of thirty students (or fewer than 128) the population is too small to use an arbitrary curve."  You can get away with such things, particularly the 128 clause, with economics majors, after they've seen enough statistics to be fretful.  If a student raised a question about "curve" early in the class, I'd come back with "I don't want to tell three or four or seven students to expect to fail."  See where it helps to cultivate the Crusty Road Foreman of Engines persona?  My choice of a number was an integer close to ten percent of the enrollment that Registration and Records had on the roster.

In student-speak, however, "curving" inevitably refers to treating the top of the frequency count differently than the bottom of the frequency count, and one simple strategy to deal with that is to assure students that the top total score, whatever that is, sets the curve.

The way to demonstrate the folly of a rule is to comply with it.
Since he started teaching at Johns Hopkins University in 2005, Professor Peter Fröhlich has maintained a grading curve in which each class’s highest grade on the final counts as an A, with all other scores adjusted accordingly. So if a midterm is worth 40 points, and the highest actual score is 36 points, "that person gets 100 percent and everybody else gets a percentage relative to it,” said Fröhlich.

This approach, Fröhlich said, is the "most predictable and consistent way" of comparing students' work to their peers', and it worked well.
That's because there's a Prisoner's Dilemma present in the policy, which formed the basis for a problem I often assigned.  I'd describe such a policy and then ask, loosely, "Why aren't professors concerned about students cooperating to rig the curve?"  A clear on the concept answer would note that the dominant strategy is to defect.

Except when students don't defect.
As the semester ended in December, students in Fröhlich’s "Intermediate Programming", "Computer System Fundamentals," and "Introduction to Programming for Scientists and Engineers" classes decided to test the limits of the policy, and collectively planned to boycott the final. Because they all did, a zero was the highest score in each of the three classes, which, by the rules of Fröhlich’s curve, meant every student received an A.

“The students refused to come into the room and take the exam, so we sat there for a while: me on the inside, they on the outside,” Fröhlich said. “After about 20-30 minutes I would give up.... Then we all left.” The students waited outside the rooms to make sure that others honored the boycott, and were poised to go in if someone had. No one did, though.
I'm not sure how long a Hopkins exam is, but no self-respecting Crusty Road Foreman is going to acknowledge a strike in only twenty minutes. Or not suggest that someone reported sick and will be writing a makeup later. Or not suggest that someone had to catch a plane overseas, or had three exams within 24 hours and wrote the exam early.
Andrew Kelly, a student in Fröhlich’s Introduction to Programming class who was one of the boycott’s key organizers, explained the logic of the students' decision via e-mail: "Handing out 0's to your classmates will not improve your performance in this course," Kelly said.

"So if you can walk in with 100 percent confidence of answering every question correctly, then your payoff would be the same for either decision. Just consider the impact on your other exam performances if you studied for [the final] at the level required to guarantee yourself 100. Otherwise, it's best to work with your colleagues to ensure a 100 for all and a very pleasant start to the holidays."

Kelly said the boycott was made possible through a variety of technological and social media tools. Students used a spreadsheet on Google Drive to keep track of who had agreed to the boycott, for instance. And social networks were key to "get 100 percent confidence that you have 100 percent of the people on board" in a big class.
Gotta love that the students were using course management systems, which often make the class roster available to all students (that's not always desirable, I've heard stories from female students of males in their class hitting on them) in order to construct the set of conspirators who must be brought in. But still, policing the defector who requested some accommodation ahead of time is difficult.

And you'd think teaching a lesson about coordination failure ought to have some more desirable example in mind.
Fröhlich took a surprisingly philosophical view of his students' machinations, crediting their collaborative spirit. "The students learned that by coming together, they can achieve something that individually they could never have done," he said via e-mail. “At a school that is known (perhaps unjustly) for competitiveness I didn't expect that reaching such an agreement was possible.”
The Grumpy Old Road Foreman would note something more along the lines of "If you [snowflakes -- ed] spent half as much time studying as you're spending attempting to game the system, you wouldn't have to game the system.

But course outlines, like the Consolidated Code of Operating Rules, emerge as undesirable situations present themselves.
Although Fröhlich conceded that he did not include such a “loophole” in the policy “with the goal of students exploiting it,” he decided to honor it after the boycott.
The way to demonstrate the folly of a rule is to comply with it.

Then the Rules Examiner proposes a revision.
Despite awarding As to all the students who participated in the boycott, the experience has led Fröhlich to alter his long-held grading policy.

“I have changed my grading scheme to include ‘everybody has 0 points means that everybody gets 0 percent,’” Fröhlich said,  “and I also added a clause stating that I reserve the right to give everybody 0 percent if I get the impression that the students are trying to ‘game’ the system again.” Fröhlich added that going forward, he will give students a choice between a final exam and a final project, and that his class for the spring 2013 semester has voted for the latter.
The task of writing rules, however, is to write them in a way free of or thin on ambiguity, and that "reserve the right ... if I get the impression" opens the door for all manner of grade appeals.

Most institutions pretending to offer higher education, however, require some statement of assignments, weights, and likely outcomes as part of the conditions of carriage, er, Syllabum Omnium.  This statement does not have to be ultra-specific.  I always included a line to the effect that "improvement matters" and another in the form "Historically, students earning 92 or more points have done no worse than an A, 84 or more points no worse than a B ..."  That gave me an easy response to the NPR Frequency Problem: somebody showing continued improvement and finishing at 89.5 (or 91.5) is more likely to have done excellent work ... and the Crusty Road Foreman would add, don't put yourself in that position by [underachieving -- ed] early on.

There's a variation on the "top score sets the curve" approach that readers, assuming you've stayed with me this long, might consider.  In any multiple question assessment, there are no A students, only A answers.  Thus, suppose the exam has four parts, and the 36 point exam earns respectively 10, 9, 9, 8 on each part.  Now suppose there is another exam, where someone has earned correspondingly 7, 10, 8, 6, and another that has earned 9, 6, 7, 10.  Based on three observations, the frontier, or degree of difficulty, of the exam is 39, not 36.  And that, dear reader, is why I developed the habit of encouraging students who wanted to raise their marks to start with their own efforts, and figure out how to bring their answers up to the standard of their best answer.  And if their best answer was a 7, to then think about how to strengthen that.