16.9.14

TAIL TRACK.

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

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.


Wan'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.

26.8.14

THE VAPIDITY OF CULTURAL STUDIES.

Book Review No. 8 is Little White Houses: How the Postwar Home Constructed Race in America.  Author Dianne Harris demonstrates that one need not test any hypotheses, let alone carefully frame any hypotheses, if the book's message reinforces the gatekeepers at the University of Minnesota Press in their prejudices.

I've done some reading on housing and suburbanization.  Cheap oil probably had something to do with it.  Standardized building, abetted or not by zoning codes, ditto.  Birds of a feather, perhaps.  That's what Ms Harris might be getting at, although she never learned how to formulate hypotheses.  Here's an excerpt -- not the most egregious -- from page 109.
When they looked to the popular magazines while they were shopping for the small houses they might one day afford, postwar Americans saw plans that fulfilled dreams.  But as they read the housing features, with their enticing drawings, they equally looked to the house to confirm identities, images of the self, and, perhaps more subtly, racial and class assignment (albeit undoubtedly troubling for some) of the dominance of heterosexual nuclear families.  The man pausing by his car in one image, or working in the garden as a leisure or a hobby activity in another, or an efficient and contented mother serving beverages from a tray, or the family swimming in the backyard pool -- all were part of this system of representing a classed, raced, and heteronormative world.
Silly me, to think that those images were simply the reality that came after the morale-building propaganda during the world war.  And that the efforts during the war produced The America That Worked(TM).  And that the point of Civil Rights was to give all Americans a shot at good houses (the fair housing ordinances) and good education (desegregation -- getting James Meredith into Ole Miss was about the institution's academic standing, before it became just another football factory).

But coherence is a Sin in the Culture Studies world.  (Apparently some architects are pushing back, as I noted last week.)  Thus can Ms Harris at one passage write of gardening as leisure or hobby, whilst devoting an entire chapter to landscaping, structured by such gems as "[L]andscapes and gardens are powerful conveyors of ideological content if we consider ideology according to conventional ways of understanding its operations."  (Page 265.  Whatever.)  Thus, keeping one's lawn tidy is either a way of distinguishing one's property from the disorderly dwellings of the Lower Orders, or a Major Time Suck.  But testing such an hypothesis is beyond Ms Harris's capabilities.

Likewise, she offers readers two kinds of Little White Houses.  A number of them are aspirational and Californian: open center courts, car-ports, swimming pools, vanity walls to hide the clothes-tree (installed washing and drying machines come later, deconstruct that).  Others are tract-house starter: Levittown, two-bedroom grown up cottages, Cape Cods.  All, though, presented in drawings that make them look roomy (compared to the places Jacob Riis documented, they were) and in uncluttered settings.

And here there may be more hypotheses left untested.  Crude form: would you, dear reader, rather live in Beach Boys California (that of the aspirational ads) or in the stratified, gated, potential flash point of today?  And those small starter houses: now that the aspirations are gone, do they look better in their current incarnation, with those postage-stamp yards filled with small wading pools, the basic day-fishing boat, perhaps a truck on blocks, and a Confederate Battle Flag to set the proper transgressive mood?

Be careful what you deconstruct, what comes after may not be better.

(Cross-posted to 50 Book Challenge.)

NAGASAKI SYNDROME, NOT VIETNAM SYNDROME.

I'm formulating the hypothesis that U.S. military actions since 1945 have been inconclusive because the victory in 1945 turned out to be one that Deep Thinkers couldn't live with.  (Hamburg, Dresden, Hiroshima, Nagasaki.)

It may be the case, though, that making the bad guys howl might be the way to produce future victories.  Victor Davis Hanson, who has forgotten more about geopolitics than I ever learned, elaborates.
Sherman envisioned his wave of unapologetic ruin as dividing the populace and sowing dissension, and thus encouraging tax delinquency, desertion at the front, and loss of confidence among the elite. In all of these aims, he was largely successful.

The brutal Sherman way of war did not spare civilians from the general misery. Yet another purpose was to remind the southern populace that because they had largely followed their privileged leaders into a hopeless war against a far larger, more industrial, and wealthier Union, they too could not escape the collateral damage that followed from the targeting of plantations and Confederate property.

Sherman accepted southern hatred, but he assumed that after he left the Deep South, civilians would start to see a logic to his devastation: The homes and property of the middle classes and poor were largely spared, the infrastructure of the wealthy and of the state were not. That ruthless selectivity would spawn endless arguments among southerners over who was to blame for such destruction — well beyond Sherman himself. Certainly, for all the popular hatred, Georgians and Carolinians were far more likely to be alive after Sherman left than Virginians were after Grant was finished.
So mote it be with Hamas.
The Israeli army was eerily Shermanesque when it went into Gaza. The IDF targeted the homes of the wealthy Hamas elite, the private sanctuaries of the tunnels, and the rocketry and other infrastructure of the Hamas terrorist state. The homes of civilians who did not have rockets in the backyard or tunnels in the basement were usually not hit, and that sent a telling Shermanesque lesson. Long after the international media’s cameras have left, Gazans will argue over why one man’s house was leveled and another’s was not, leading to the conclusion more often than not that one was being used by Hamas, either with or without its owner’s consent, while the other was not. But all Gazans suffered amid the selective targeting — as did all Georgians and Carolinians for their allegiance to a plantationist class whose own interests were not always the same as those of the non-slave-owning white poor. Fairly or not, the IDF was reminding the people of Gaza that while it tried to focus exclusively on Hamas, such selectivity was often impossible when Gazans followed such reckless leaders who deliberately shielded themselves among civilians.

The IDF taught the supposedly fearsome Islamic warriors of Hamas, who adopted the loud bells and whistles of primordial killers and who supposedly love death more than life, that nondescript Israeli conscripts, through hard training and with the help of sophisticated technology, were in fact far deadlier than a man in a suicide vest or an RPG-wielding masked bandit. The IDF, then, like Sherman, sought to dispel the romantic notion that a uniformed conscript army cannot fight a warrior culture, or that it becomes so baffled by insurgencies and asymmetrical warfare as to be rendered helpless. The IDF went into the heart of Gaza City and came out largely intact after defeating all those it encountered.
Southerners, apparently, shared with jihadis a propensity for bellicose rhetoric easily refuted by the Wisconsin Volunteers.
Sherman was obsessed with separating bellicose enemy rhetoric from facts on the ground. He believed that unless humiliation was a part of defeat, a tribal society of ranked hierarchies would always concoct myths to explain away failure. southern newspapers boasted that Sherman was a Napoleon trapped deep in a Russia-like Georgia and about to be cut apart by Confederate Cossacks. Yet when his Army of the West sliced through the center of the state, Sherman smiled that some southerners had suggested that he go instead over to South Carolina and attack those who “started” the war.
Yes, and Genl Grant, pursuing victory by more conventional means, quipped, "Who will provide the snow for this Moscow retreat?"
Again, once the IDF is out of Gaza, civilians will ask their leaders what the tunnels and rockets, the child tunnel-diggers, the use of human shields, and all the braggadocio were supposed to achieve. What will Hamas tell its donors, when it requests money for more cement and rebar? That it wishes to build schools and hotels and not more instruments of collective suicide?

Sherman welcomed the hatred he earned from the South. He understood well the dictum of Machiavelli that men hate far more those who destroy their patrimonies than those who kill their fathers. He accepted that humiliating the South was a far graver sin than destroying its manhood, as Grant had done from May to September 1864 in northern Virginia. Lee at least could say that brave southerners had killed thousands of Grant’s troops in defense of their homeland; Sherman’s opponents, like Generals Hardee, Hood, and Johnson, could not brag that very few northerners died marching through Georgia or the Carolinas.

Sherman’s rhetoric was bellicose, indeed uncouth — even as he avoided killing as many southerners as he could. He left civilians as mad at their own leaders as at him. For all that and more, he remains a “terrorist,” while the bloodbaths at Cold Harbor and the Crater are not considered barbaric — and just as the world hates what the IDF did in Gaza far more than the abject butchery of the Islamic State, which at the same time was spreading savagery throughout Syria and Iraq, or than the Russians’ indiscriminate killing in Ukraine, or than what passes for an average day in the Congo.

Sherman got under our skin, and so does the IDF. Today we call not losing very many soldiers “disproportionate” warfare, and leaving an enemy’s territory a mess and yet without thousands of casualties “terrorism.” The lectures from the IDF about the cynical culpability of Hamas make the world as livid as did Sherman’s sermonizing about the cowardly pretensions of the plantationist class.

We tend to hate most deeply in war those who despoil us of our romance, especially when they humiliate rather than kill us — and teach us the lesson that the louder and more bellicose often prove the more craven and weak.
Perhaps so, although that Nagasaki syndrome makes leaders squeamish about victory by any means.

And I'm sure our generals and admirals have thought these things through, and have good reason not to do what I propose.  But the idea of a fleet of drone carriers capable of launching large squadrons of drones that sound like B-25s and B-26s appeals to me.  The stories my dad told of watching the Army Air Force filling the skies from horizon to horizon stick with me, and that had to concentrate the minds of the Fritzes, hearing them coming for up to an hour and recognizing that der Fuhrer and Fatso Hermann could do gar-nichts to stop them.  So let it be with ISIS or Hamas.

A JOB IMPLIES AN EXCHANGE OF EFFORT FOR MONEY.

A few days ago, Chris Matthews delivered a rant about the necessity of Public Spending to provide Work for the Disaffected Residents of Ferguson, Missouri.  By extension, there are plenty of other economic backwaters to which his argument might apply.


Give us that old-time religion.

One wonders, though, how effective a jobs program will be in neighborhoods with residents rendered unemployable by Common Core, the minimum wage, bargains available at the dollar store, and state-sponsored lotteries, perhaps the most regressive transfer any government ever conceived.

ANTICIPATED, THEN INADEQUATELY FOLLOWED UP ON.

I've been cleaning out some of the files from 35 years of professoring, and came across an interview Princeton historian Eric F. Goldman gave to U. S. News.  It's in the August 16, 1982 issue on page 57 as ""Upper Americans' -- Protesters Of the 1960s Take Over."
The protest movement of the 1960s has died out on the surface, but it has not died in any fundamental sense. It is breaking forth in the creation of what might be called the "upper American," who is quite different from anything we have seen before. This upper American is largely an outgrowth of the '60s protest against a middle-class, middle-American society.

Upper Americans, are not defined by income; although few are poor, they range through all the middle and wealthier classes. They are people with certain attitudes, with a strong sense of being distinct from the "middle American." They deplore food that smacks of meat and potatoes, brush aside beer and bourbon for vodka and wine. They shudder at movie heroes, advice columnists and TV evangelists, unabashed patriotism, fussy clothes, the woman who thinks a family is everything and the man who is a straight arrow.

They are basically college graduates in their 20s, 30s, and early 40s, especially people who have gone to school on the two coasts. The top schools have become vast homogenizers, and they turn out upper Americans. You take the rich kid, the poor kid and the middle-class kid, put him in these schools, and they come out pretty much the same.
These days, the top schools on the coasts don't take in too many middle-class or poor kids (that's a recent William Deresiewicz lament). All the same, the statement anticipates Hillary Clinton not staying home baking cookies, or Barack Obama developing a taste for arugula.  And the cognitive elite.

Unanticipated, though: what happens when a president of the Coastal Elite loses the support of the Coastal Elite.
The type of politician who appeals to them is John Kennedy-the John Kennedy before he was demeaned by later revelations and developments.

Since the 1960s, Presidents who have lost the allegiance of upper Americans have gotten into terrible trouble because these people influence the fields that shape opinion. They are strong, for example, in journalism, in the universities'. No President is going to have an easy time with the American public if he doesn't have at least a degree of rapport with this group.
That's the same John Kennedy who was protected by the prior Eastern Establishment, and had the veil of martyrdom for some time after ... didn't Bill Clinton once gripe about that?

The prescience, though, is in matters cultural and economic.
There is a fundamental difference in values between upper Americans and most of the rest of society. The boom in religion that many people speak of certainly doesn't exist in upper America today. Religion has little hold on students in the elite colleges: They believe that they are going to make money and advance in social position, but they have few or no verities, few or no truths. They don't even believe in their own disillusionment! By contrast, people down below still possess certain beliefs that help hold them together.
I wonder if "Occupy" fizzled in part because it's still too much of a leap for the Ivy graduate with a victim-studies degree to revise his priors about disillusionment. And it might be easier to have snarking sessions in The Nation or on MSNBC than to engage with Christian beliefs.  (Rationalizing the excesses among Moslems is straightforward.)
In part because of the emergence of the upper Americans, class lines in the United States are growing sharper than ever. The reason is very simple: As long as you could.make a living without a high degree of training, the social classes could live more or less in harmony. But, more and more, the man with no training is way down, while the man with training is way up.

Given this development, it's possible that we could be moving toward a repeat of the class conflict that existed in the 1880s and 1890s, when there was a tremendous difference between groups-and a danger of class violence. Then along came Theodore Roosevelt and then Franklin Roosevelt-so free of the middle-class stamp-who used the government to mollify class differences. Some such leadership will probably be very much needed in the future.
Plenitude, and technical progress, might have postponed the reckoning.  Unfortunately, we're still in the world of a coalition of high-status lawyers and people rendered unemployable by the minimum wage marching under the banner of Four of Five Experts Agree facing off against a coalition of middle-status lawyers and downwardly mobile tradesmen With the Cross of Jesus Going On Before.

Conditions might have to get worse, before such leadership emerges.

WALKING IT BACK, BADLY.

The party line at Northern Illinois University is that the new, unconstitutional acceptable use policy is a work in progress.
The Acceptable Use Policy will be altered, with two policies — one for employees, one for students — created to assure students their Internet use isn’t threatened. Chief Information Officer Brett Coryell said the changes NIU has made to work with students makes it harder for NIU to provide information when law enforcement asks about user activities, and NIU will need to have a campuswide conversation about the network and how it is used.
Whenever I hear Soemone In Authority speak of a "conversation" I cringe. It usually means an explanation of why moose-turd pie is healthy.  "Law enforcement asks about user activities."  Hands behind your back, interrogatee!
The Acceptable Use Policy hasn’t been changed since it was created in 2007 and it “needs to be reexamined for the modern generation,” Coryell said. A committee composed of employees, students and an alumna who expressed concern over the policy will give feedback on changes to it, Coryell said.

“... The primary change that needs to happen is to be able to distinguish what types of activities are allowable for employees versus what types of activities are allowable for students,” Coryell said.
The missing elephant: no mention of faculty governance, no attempt to square with the institutional objective of becoming the premier student-centered, research-focused public university in the Midwest.
The policy does not “differentiate well” between what students and staff can do, said Information Security Director Jim Fatz.

“The policy was a blended policy that included restrictions on employees and staff that are legal restrictions ...,” Fatz said. “They’re not supposed to be surfing social media, they’re not supposed to be using their work time for personal use, they’re not supposed to be doing political activities while they’re working, and that’s a state law. The Acceptable Use Policy really was primarily designed to cover that.

“But, along with the Acceptable Use Policy we also included students because no matter who you are, you also can’t use the network for illegal activities. ...

“The most obvious example that we’re struggling with is pornography. So, for example, any employee of the university sitting at their desk at work, they’re not suppose to surf porn, but it’s fine for students to surf porn. Nobody’s denying that.”
The policy came to Jezebel's attention after a student got the warning whilst researching the Westboro Church. And these days, students might be investigating p0rn sites for work opportunities, financial aid being what it is.
The changes have hurt NIU’s ability to comply with law enforcement requests for information about Internet users, Coryell said. He said NIU will not be able to offer as much information about what users did during Internet sessions if law enforcement reports a threat being made from someone using the NIU network.

“If the Secret Services shows up on campus and wants to know who was sending a threatening email to the president or if the Secret Service shows up on campus and they want to know who was accessing a website about making bombs or something like that, there’s a little bit we can do to try to satisfy their request for information, but I think ultimately ... we aren’t going to be able to provide the information about illegal activity that we might have,” Coryell said.
Spell out your loss function. Is it worth becoming an institution mocked worldwide for a ham-handed response to a low-probability event?

Here's more from Samantha Kruth of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.
The text of the policy emphatically does not support the claim that the policy addresses employees and not students. It states that “all individuals, including, but not limited to, employees, students, customers, volunteers, and third parties, unconditionally accept the terms of this policy.” (Emphasis added.) The policy does not indicate that certain provisions apply only to employees. If parts of the policy concern only employees, they should be clearly labeled as such. They aren’t. If NIU wants to regulate staff use of the Internet, it should write a separate staff policy—making sure that it applies only to non-academic staff, of course, since professors also shouldn’t have to receive warnings when trying to visit Wikipedia!
That's apparently now being worked on, although an ad hoc task force outside the ambit of faculty governance is an administrative usurpation.  So much for being either student-centered or research focused.
FIRE often warns that as long as poorly-written written policies exist, the possibility that they will be enforced exists—and here, we’re seeing what happens when they are. If NIU truly does not intend to apply the policy to students, then it should take it down from the university website and stop threatening to punish students when they try to access Wikipedia or any other websites containing clearly protected content.

Nobody should be reassured by NIU’s mealy-mouthed responses. NIU must revise its policy and ditch its firewall to make sure that neither the policy nor the firewall is being used to censor certain viewpoints or to deter students from accessing constitutionally protected expression online.
We can take on the state surveillance another day?  Or the pathetic Ethics Act?

21.8.14

CIRCUS DAYS.

The Culpepper and Merriweather Circus plays Hinckley, Illinois.


The Karlson Brothers Circus have a stand scheduled.

See you on down the road.

WELL, GOVERNMENT CAN'T TIME TRAFFIC LIGHTS OR SCHEDULE ROAD WORK.

To borrow a Glenn Reynolds wisecrack, "Government is that name for things we do together."  Such as starting repairs on Fourth Street from Taylor to the south city limits just as students return from all over to Northern Illinois University, and Hinckley Middle School opens.

George Will sees something encouraging at work.  "Americans, inundated with evidence that government is becoming dumber and more presumptuous, think it cannot be trusted to decipher foreign problems and apply force intelligently."  And "Americans understand that their increasingly ludicrous government lacks adult supervision."  Yes, but what would happen to the Pundit Industry if the Chicago or Williston bureau had more action than Official Washington and all the sets with images of the Capitol dome?  Reason's Nick Gillespie expands on a consummation devoutly to be wished.
It's well past time that we start insisting on a limited, trustworthy government that is actually competent and restrained at the few things that it should be doing. That will not only reduce the desire for more government, it will free up even more time and resources for the free-range experiments in living that will actually make the world better, more interesting, and more prosperous.
Yes, although the transition might involve greater polarization or unintended consequences. More next week.

YOU KNEW THIS WAS GOING TO HAPPEN.

I use the example of a traffic light to illustrate a situation in which the transaction costs of organizing a market (texting inanities while driving, to use an example I didn't have back in the day, would be the quintessence of concentration contrasted with participating in a second-price auction) exceeded the efficiency losses of waiting for the light to change.  Then came over-rides on police and fire vehicles, and sensors, and flow networks, and it doesn't surprise that people would come up with hacks.  (And yes, the possibility of somebody stealing or cloning the over-rides, which did exist back in the day, came up.)
With permission from a local road agency, researchers in Michigan hacked into nearly 100 wirelessly networked traffic lights, highlighting security issues that they say are likely to pervade networked traffic infrastructure around the country. More than 40 states currently use such systems to keep traffic flowing as efficiently as possible, helping to reduce emissions and delays.
The article illustrates one of those primitive hung-from-a-cable in the middle of the crossing lights Michigan inherited from Ransom E. Olds, but on an early summer trip across the lake, I was pleased to see some lights that appeared to be timed (something only Rockford gets in Illinois) or featuring the flashing yellow for a left (which will happen in Illinois just after an honest Democrat becomes mayor of Chicago). But the software is vulnerable.
After gaining access to one of the controllers in their target network, the researchers were able to turn all lights red or alter the timing of neighboring intersections—for example, to make sure someone hit all green lights on a given route.
The simplest fix: change the passwords for the network. (There has to be a better way than passwords). Other research might be necessary, before a priority-traffic app shows up in the shadows of the Internet of Things.

GRANT ME THE SERENITY?

Not a good week for Northern Illinois University.  The Convocation Center is a money-suck, the basketball programs underachieve, and the recently redecorated basketball floor pegs the ugly-meter.

Then, the new acceptable use policy for the university computer network took effect.
Access to the information technology environment at Northern Illinois University is a privilege and must be treated as such by all users of these systems. Like any other campus facility, abuse of these privileges can be a matter of legal action or official campus disciplinary procedures, up to and including termination. Depending on the seriousness of an offense, violation of the policy can result in penalties ranging from reprimand, loss of access, or referral to university authorities for disciplinary or legal action. In a case where unacceptable use severely impacts performance or security, in order to sustain reasonable performance and security, Information Technology Services will immediately suspend an individual's access privileges.
The friendly warning that returning students have been receiving sure looks like a temporary suspension.
The University alerted students to the policy on July 25, which states that they are each subject to random Internet account “monitoring” that could lead to an investigation if the administration finds something they don't like. This is just a terrible idea, but hell, why not reinstate prohibition too. It worked out so well the first time!
We still have the War on Drugs, but I digress.

Drudge had the Jezebel story last night, and Reason has it this morning.
NIU cites "common sense, decency, ethical use, civility, and security," as its various rationales for the policy. Yes, a public institution of higher learning believes that it is just common sense—and ethical—to dissuade students from visiting websites deemed harmful by administrators.
"Laughable" is more like it, notes Susan Kruth at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.
Combined with the notice about “business purposes,” this restriction suggests that NIU is using a filter system intended for a large business corporation rather than for a public institution of higher education. While a corporation like Ford or General Electric might have valid reasons for limiting Internet access to some sites (for instance, to promote employee productivity), there’s a vast—and obvious—difference between private employees and public college students. The fact that the Reddit user who relayed his experience with the Internet filter was simply trying to access information about the Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) paints a disturbing picture about the breadth of NIU’s censorship efforts. It seems that NIU students who want to use the Internet to find out why the WBC is so controversial are simply out of luck.

NIU’s policy says that “[i]nformation technology resources are provided by the university to further the university’s mission of research, instruction, and public service.” But NIU is creating barriers not just to websites advocating “illegal” or “unethical” activities (the vast majority of which are likely protected under the 1969 Supreme Court decision of Brandenburg v. Ohio, anyway) but also to websites sharing information about people or groups whom the university apparently believes do “unethical” things. How could this possibly further the university’s mission of educating its students? History is filled with examples of people doing illegal or unethical things, and many of those examples could contribute to students’ education about various subjects.
Of course it's a business thing. Years ago, I expressed my discontent to various information technology and faculty development types with the university making it more difficult for faculty members to maintain their own web-sites -- the server on which mine defiantly remained for years was decommissioned two years ago -- and that Blackboard for course management was an inadequate substitute.  No matter.  I couldn't change it then, I'm not coming out of retirement to change it now.  But here's the explanation from headquarters.
“I want to assure students that — contrary to some Internet reports — they will have access to social media websites such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and others,” said NIU Vice President and Chief Information Officer Brett Coryell.  “NIU is wholly committed to allowing free and open access to information and only considers blocking network traffic that constitutes a well known threat as determined by the broader IT security community.”

As an educational and research institution, as well as a state funded agency, it is important to protect data and people from external threats.  Portions of NIU’s longstanding acceptable use policy are shown when users encounter a blocked site.  However, it is important to note that some aspects of the policy are addressing employees, such as the ethical issue of excessive use of state-owned equipment for browsing personal web sites.  Other aspects of policy, such as the restriction against using resources for political activities, are not enforced by technical means at all.
Gee, I wonder if activating a pledge script for WNIU or WNIJ activates the warning script? I have too much of a life, though, to file a Freedom of Information request to see how many people got dinged for going to Democrat news or fund-raising sites once the robots get working properly.  And we have Rod Blagojevich, Democrat, prisoner, to thank for that ethics law and the online training each fall.

Note, also, the timing of the policy.  Middle of July.  I confess to not paying much attention to recent Faculty Senate or University Council proceedings (too much affirmative action, too much special education, too much process and nuance) and I might have missed deliberations on the acceptable use policy in faculty governance.  But it's a standard dodge for the REMFs to take arbitrary steps while the faculty are otherwise occupied (hint: catching up with reading, or upgrading course outlines, or getting writing done are much more common than hanging out on the Coast of Maine) and the standing institutions of faculty governance aren't meeting.

Today is move-in day at the residence halls (and there are thunderstorms, and this is not the first temperate summer when a serious heat wave coincides with the first week of classes) and the Northern Star has the university already walking the policy back.  (Short form: policy intended for faculty and staff, not for students.  Did you hear about the rabbit who heard all camels were to be castrated?  Longer jokes, #3.)

And Weeknight Football, when the Witch of November comes slashing, will go on into the 2020s.