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.

THE PUMPKIN BECOMES A COACH.

Henrietta will become another "Al Capone" coach after the Thomas festivities.  Hicks Car Works posted pictures of the first weekend, including several of Thomas, Henrietta, a steam allegory to the Cold War, and the Island of Sodor 400.

16.8.14

DESIGN INFLUENCES BEHAVIOR.

The farther we get from The America that Worked(TM), that era from the victorious conclusion of World War II to the introduction of the Great Society and the Counterculture, the more do critics of the established order recognize that What Came After is not Better.  Thus is the message of Suburban Nation: The Rise of Sprawl and the Decline of The American Dream.  For Book Review No. 7, I suggest that readers get beyond the Usual Pieties and the Obligatory Sneering Tone and contemplate the message the authors, by profession architects, art historians, and town planners, have about the value of the good of the intellect.  (For the regional policy stuff, the book covers much of the same ground as topics raised here (in 2004) or here (also 2004) or here (2006) or here (2011) or here (2013) or here (2013).  I often wish that practitioners of the planning arts would give more thought to unanticipated and unintended consequences of planning in practice, including land-use plans and zoning codes.  But when the authors note that bad ideas have consequences, specifically, on page 213 noting,
In response to their growing sense of insignificance, some architects have tried to regain a sense of power through what can best be described as mysticism.  By importing arcane ideas from unrelated disciplines -- such as contemporary French literary theory (now outdated) -- by developing illegible techniques of representation, and by shrouding their work in inscrutable jargon, designers are creating increasingly smaller realms of communication, in order that they might inhabit a domain in which they possess some degree of control.  Nowhere is this crisis more evident than in the most prestigious architecture schools.
When I post about the idiocy of culture-studies and other academic fads, it's cathartic.  When practitioners bemoan the self-marginalization of their discipline, it's encouraging.  Even if suburbanization might be emergent in a way not easily tamed by zoning codes or taxes or high-end seminars.

(Cross-posted to 50 Book Challenge.)

A NAMED COACH FOR THOMAS.

This year's version of Day Out With Thomas at the Illinois Railway Museum features Henrietta.


Illinois Railway Museum webcam capture.

The coach is lettered Cedar Rapids and Iowa City.  Under the exotic paint, it is a Rock Island "Capone" coach 2612 that has received a lot of work.

APPLY THE BENEFIT PRINCIPLE.

While I was on my road trip, Congress and the President came up with a temporary fix for the Highway Trust Fund.  Or, more precisely, the "Highway" "Trust" "Fund".  I have to set off each word with its own irony quotes as some of the "highway" money goes for purposes other than roads, which bothers some people who may or may not be in the pay of the highway lobby, but a proper trust conserves assets, which might require some of the money being spent on purposes other than roads, and a fund has money in it.

In The Atlantic, Norm Ornstein suggests that a permanent fix ought to be within our purview.
There should be nothing ideological about finding rational ways to pay for surface-transportation infrastructure, and clearly those who use it more should pay more. But our tribal wars have gotten in the way of rationality on this as in so many other issues—including of course broader infrastructure needs such as rebuilding and strengthening the electrical grid while protecting against cyberthreats; moving to greener and more efficient fuels; expanding high-speed Internet connections to all Americans; rebuilding aging sewers, water lines, and subways; and many more needs that must be addressed to enable the country to compete in the 21st-century global economy.
Sorry, Mr Ornstein, but the assertion that "those who use it more should pay more" is an ideological statement, and where Government provides resources for some components of that infrastructure, and picks winners to provide others, there will be rent-seekers, tribal wars or not.  And the current system of funding the "Highway" "Trust" "Fund" is infected with rent seekers.

Some impressions from my recent road trip.  It's summer, and the orange barrels and brake lights are present.  For the most part, though, I was able to make good time.  Some impressions from the work zones.  First, much of the Interstate System is life-expired, and in Pennsylvania, several stretches of Interstates 80 and 81 were removed down to the sub-roadbed to be replaced.  And Ohio has gotten better at only taking out of service those parts of the Turnpike that are actually under repair.  But where the road is worn out, look at the evidence.  The right-most lane of Interstate 81 in northeastern Pennsylvania has two strips of patch where something heavy has worn through the top of the paving.  In Ohio, the right-most two lanes are similarly more battered than the inside lane, which on the Turnpike is forbidden to trucks.  And it's hard to go more than five miles without seeing tread shreds either in the lanes or at roadside.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I think we have found our rent-seekers.
The Federal Excise Tax on tires has been around since the 1930s. Normally, excise taxes are referred to as "luxury" taxes, though how truck tires can be considered a "luxury" to a fleet, we don't know.

However, there's been pressure to change FET for some time. A couple of times in recent years, there have been moves to add FET to retreaded tires, but those changes never took place.

The big fear was that such a change would price retreads out of the market, drive retreaders out of business and add huge burdens to the manufacturers of new tires to fill the gap. After all, more than half the tires sold in the U.S. every year are retreads, so new tire manufacturers would have to double their capacity if retreads went away.
There has to be a research paper in here: what are the environmental consequences to producing more new tires and fewer retreads, taking into account the propensity of those things to come apart and delay shipments and damage other vehicles?  And how might a transportation policy take into account the true costs those heavy vehicles impose on others?

(Quick riposte to fleet operators: it's a luxury if it's traveling in a 53 foot trailer, if a trailer or container of any length is traveling on the road more than 500 miles where rail haul is an option for part of the trip, if the driver is overtired.)

And according to Illinois governor Pat Quinn, a man with whom I here have occasion to agree with, it's a luxury to endanger other people with your rigs.
The governor on Monday cited recent semitrailer truck crashes that have led to deaths in exercising his veto power over a measure that would have raised the interstate speed limit from 55 to 60 mph in Cook, DuPage, Kane, Lake, McHenry and Will counties.
The bill is the brain-child of state senator and Republican U. S. Senate hopeful Jim Oberweis, who disagrees.  The governor raises a valid point.
Quinn maintained “no amount of fines, penalties or jail time can ever replace the lives of those whom we have lost to fatal accidents on our interstate highways,” Quinn said.

Citing the recent traffic deaths tied to big trucks traveling at high speeds, Quinn said, “The convenience of increased speeds for truckers on roadways does not outweigh the safety risks to children, families and our dedicated public servants.”

Quinn cited a July 21 crash on Interstate 55 near Arsenal Road in the southwest suburbs. An Indiana trucker, Francisco Espinal Quiroz, 51, of Leesburg, Ind., allegedly was speeding in a work zone when his truck slammed into three vehicles, killing five people. He has been charged with falsifying duty logbooks used to verify that a driver is not spending too many hours on the road without rest.
It's a luxury if the driver is overtired, and a hazard to other people. Period.

Thus, if the Highway Trust Fund is worth saving, it ought to be set up in such a way as to hold the highways in trust.  Thus:  Special movement permits for any trailer exceeding 40 feet.  Permit fee to be substantially higher if the movement can be by rail over part or all of the trip.  Federal excise tax on retreaded tires.  And some money devoted to improving railroad tracks for faster trains, with the stipulation that the owning railroads be allowed to path intermodal trains at speeds of 90 or 100 mph on those tracks.

Alternatively, perhaps, the Interstate Highways become toll roads.
Tolls should replace gas taxes on Interstates, be limited to what's needed for the capital and operating costs of the rebuilt Interstates, and be implemented only after an Interstate has been rebuilt and modernized. All tolling would be done via state-of-the-art all-electronic tolling, with no toll booths needed.
I note only that the Illinois Tollways began collecting tolls after the roads opened; initially those were to be collected only until the bonds were amortized, but they never went away, and the electronic tolling is a way of extracting interest-free loans from I-Pass or EZ-Pass purchasers, while extracting extra cash from residents of states west of the Mississippi, where there is likely to be resistance to putting tolls on the Interstates.
Many conservatives are leery of this concept, especially given President Obama's endorsement, but they should support it for several reasons. First, it would be a large (and do-able) first step toward devolving the overextended federal transportation program to the states. Second, it would begin replacing a wasteful gas tax system with a true user fee, under which you pay only for the highways you drive on. Third, it would mobilize private capital for major projects that would otherwise be put off for decades, while the Interstates further deteriorate and become more congested. And, finally, it would allow using congestion pricing on urban Interstates, which would bring relief to long-suffering commuters and express buses.

The Interstate highway system is one of our most important 20th century accomplishments. It handles 25 percent of all vehicle miles of travel despite making up just 2.5 percent of physical highway lane miles. But unless we figure out a way to rebuild and modernize it soon, travel, trade, and the economy will be seriously constrained in coming decades.
Base congestion pricing on weight, and watch the truckers make common cause with the railroads to get those intermodal corridors, or build their own toll roads. In areas with commuter trains, the use of congestion pricing might lead to some interesting substitutions.

A recent Reason-Rupe poll claims some public support for tolls in place of gas taxes.  It's interesting to look at what's missing: money for roads or airways, but not for freight railroads.  Perhaps because the private sector is already taking care of that, at least for 70 mph intermodals.

DO INCENTIVES MATTER?

John Cochrane is truly a grumpy economist, as he contemplates the recent state of macroeconomic analysis.
Quantitative, scientific discipline? Explicit statistical descriptions of economic behavior? Reliance of government officials on technical economic expertise?  The use of mathematical control theory to manage an economy? All that has vanished.

The sub-basements of central banks have big [dynamic stochastic general equilibrium] models, or combined models where you can turn Lucas and Sargent on and off. But I think it's fair to say nobody takes the results very seriously. Policy -- our stimulus, for example -- is based on back of the envelope multipliers and the authority and expertise, if you're charitable, or the unvarnished, verbal, opinions if you're not, of administration officials.

There are some large-scale empirical DSGE models left in academia too. But the vast bulk of policy analysis does not use them, as they did, say, the models of 1972. At conferences and in papers, academic work uses small scale toy models and a lot of words. Models do not seem to be cumulative. Each paper adds a little twist ignoring all the previous little twists.

A complete split occurred. "Equilibrium" models, in which I include new-Keynesian DSGE models, took over academia. The policy world stuck with simple ISLM logic -- not "models" in the quantitative scientific tradition Lucas and Sargent praised -- despite Lucas and Sargent's devastating criticism.
Yes, in the policy world what matters is coming up with a forecast that's reasonably close to accurate rapidly enough so as to be able to get re-elected, or perhaps to roll out the right mix of upscale and downscale products.  In the academic world what matters is creating a minimal-publishable-unit that is also a contribution before someone else does, and going on to create sufficient such units to earn tenure or promotion.  And everyone recognizes what the Hot Ideas are: there was one session of interviews I participated in, years ago, when my department was searching for a macroeconomist, and I heard a lot of "Lucas critique" and more than a few "unit roots" in those thesis summaries.  Empirical failures in the policy world might have been secondary.  Failure to acknowledge the state of the art, though, is a career-killer. "Rightly or wrongly, all subsequent models had to have these two elements present within them (RE and microfoundaions), or they would be dismissed."

HER WORDS DISQUALIFY HER.

Well in advance of the next presidential circus, here are excerpts of renegade Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, conceding the 2008 nomination to Barack Obama.
The way to continue our fight now, to accomplish the goals for which we stand is to take our energy, our passion, our strength, and do all we can to help elect Barack Obama, the next president of the United States.
So far, standard good-government stuff.  Democratic politicians believe this stuff, and Democrat voters, despite evidence to the contrary, keep voting for it.  As if it has ever worked.
I intended to win back the White House and make sure we have a president who puts our country back on the path to peace, prosperity and progress. And that's exactly what we're going to do, by ensuring that Barack Obama walks through the doors of the Oval Office on January 20, 2009.
An automobile maker who sells you a lemon has to replace it. Where do we get the last now 5 1/2 years back?
But on the day we live in an America where no child, no man, and no woman is without health insurance, we will live in a stronger America. That's why we need to help elect Barack Obama our president.
So that if you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor?
But on the day we live in an America whose middle class is thriving and growing again, where all Americans, no matter where they live or where their ancestors came from, can earn a decent living, we will live in a stronger America. And that is why we must help elect Barack Obama our president.
An "economic stimulus" with as many constraints imposed to placate special interests within the Democrat coalition isn't going to provide much stimulus.
We'll have to work hard to foster the innovation that will make us energy independent and lift the threat of global warming from our children's future. But on the day we live in an America fueled by renewable energy, we will live in a stronger America. And that is why we have to help elect Barack Obama our president.
Solyndra, anyone?
We'll have to work hard to bring our troops home from Iraq and get them the support they've earned by their service. But on the day we live in an America that's as loyal to our troops as they have been to us, we will live in a stronger America. And that is why we must help elect Barack Obama our president.
Yes, and administrators in the VA get bonuses while veterans die, nameless numbers on lists that are later misplaced.
This is now our time to do all that we can to make sure that, in this election, we add another Democratic president to that very small list of the last 40 years and that we take back our country and once again move with progress and commitment to the future.
Conveniently for 2008: the disaster that was Lyndon Johnson isn't part of the reckoning.  And "take back our country"?  Whom from, Mrs Clinton?

Perhaps she will be able to sell the same kind of utopianism to enough people to get the electoral votes.  Or perhaps sufficient voters will be resistant to this kind of overweening, "I'm from the government and I'm here to help you, or fight for you, or tax somebody else" this time.

13.8.14

OPUS POSTHUMOUS.

Marketing and packaging must matter.  Book Review No. 6 is Tom Clancy Support and Defend.  It's entirely the work of Clancy protege Mark Greaney, although, as it uses the cast of quasi-official Campus intelligence operatives, the marketing dodge isn't unreasonable.  I bought the book in Rockland and had it finished that evening.  Think of the story as a morality play: conscience-cowboys who leak classified material get Good People killed, and self-despising left-pacifist third-world-o-philia is a personality weakness too readily exploited by the bad guys. The action ... it's a strange world in which Russian special forces can get the jump on everyone else, and the Campus crew seems to have lost its mojo.  And with John Clark in retirement, there's nobody around to deal with the leakers properly.

(Cross-posted to 50 Book Challenge.)

FREQUENCY AND CONNECTIVITY BOTH MATTER.

A recent Destination: Freedom essay noted some discontent Down East after the Maine Eastern Railroad scheduled its daily Brunswick - Rockland turn to connect with an Amtrak Downeaster schedule.

A year ago, there was no such connection possible.  The train offered a three-hour stay in Rockland, timed to connect with tour buses that could offer early-morning or late-afternoon shopping in Freeport after the train excursion.  That worked well for Rockland businesses.  The current schedule does not.
The vintage 1950s-style train no longer will facilitate day trips to Rockland, which has business owners there concerned about a dropoff in business.

However, business leaders in other parts of the midcoast hope the link with Amtrak will lure more tourists there. The move is popular in Wiscasset, where a new train station was established this summer along the Sheepscot River behind Red's Eats, and in the twin villages of Newcastle and Damariscotta, which for the first time are hosting a train station.

In Rockland, the change has upset some merchants and restaurant owners because the city is no longer the centerpiece of the railroad's business model.
The new schedule does not encourage day trips. It might help Rockland develop overnight tourist business.
Since the service began July 4, downtown merchants haven't seen many customers from the train, said Kelly Woods, co-owner of the Trackside Station, a restaurant in Rockland.

"We haven't got the usual business of the train we should," she said.

It used to bring as many as 200 tourists to Rockland in the middle of the day, and that's no longer happening, said Gordon Page, who until a year ago worked as an executive of the railroad and now heads Rockland Main Street Inc., a nonprofit that promotes the downtown.

"The feedback I'm getting from downtown business groups is they are disappointed," Page said.

Without Rockland serving as a draw for tourists, the excursion train won't be successful, said Don Marson, who retired a year ago as vice president and general manager of the railroad. He said he doubts the connection with the Downeaster will make up for the excursion business lost because of the change of schedule.

"Who wants to take a train ride for two hours to Rockland and then turn around and come right back?" Marson said.

Still, the new schedule has an upside, some say. The connection with the Downeaster makes it easier for people to travel to the region without using their cars, said Frank Isganitis, a Rockland City Council member and owner of the LimeRock Inn, a Victorian bed-and-breakfast. The Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority, which operates the Downeaster, is promoting package deals that include accommodations at the LimeRock and some other local inns.

"Rather than have people come as a day excursion, they can spend a night or stay a week," Isganitis said. "The long-term impact is going to be more positive."

Staci Coomer, executive director of the Penobscot Bay Regional Chamber of Commerce, said potential customers she met at the Boston Globe Travel Show last February were excited to learn they could travel to the midcoast by train.

"It was a big selling point to say that was an option," she said.

While the new schedule presents a downside for Rockland, the region as a whole will benefit because of the connection with the Downeaster, said Misty Parker, the town planner in Wiscasset. She noted that there is a new trolley service that meets passengers at the train station shared by Newcastle and Damariscotta and brings them to Boothbay Harbor.
As late as 1955, the railroad focus was on weekend traffic. Commencing late in June and running until Labor Day, the Bar Harbor offered Friday sleeping cars leaving Philadelphia at 5 pm and Penn Station at 7.30 pm, due Brunswick at 6.07 am and Rockland at 8 am.  The Sunday only returns left Rockland at 6.20 pm and Brunswick at 8.15 pm, setting down at Penn Station at 6.30 am and Philadelphia at 8.36 am.  The East Wind still maintained a semblance of connecting train and bus services for day passengers from as far south as Grand Central Terminal, and an intrepid traveler destined farther south could probably make some kind of connection at New Haven.  Boston passengers had a choice of a daily except Sunday coach on the noon Flying Yankee or a Friday only coach on the late afternoon Pine Tree; the return daily except Sunday left Rockland at 7.25 am, attached to the inward Pine Tree.  The coach that arrived late on Friday probably went back toward Boston on a Sunday-only train that connected with nothing.

Today's Boston passengers can connect from the 9.05 am departure, and return on the 5.50 pm departure.

For two weekends, those of the North Atlantic Blues Festival and the Maine Lobster Festival, Maine Eastern added a 9 am departure from Brunswick with an 8 pm departure from Rockland, returning to Brunswick at 10 pm.  Patrons intent on attending either of those events with an Amtrak connection could overnight at Brunswick or at Rockland.

Back in May, I made plans to attend the Maine Lobster Festival, in part because the Amtrak Exhibit Train has listed that destination as one of its stops.  Because of some other events going on in the Northeast, I opted to drive to Brunswick and catch a Maine Eastern train there.


I'd originally booked passage on the special event trains.  Here's former Union Pacific Geep with its Amtrak number 764, on a damp morning in Brunswick.


Now that the two-foot gauge railroad is history, a two-foot gauge boxcar can be part of the tourist facilities at Wiscasset.  Plenty of picnic tables to work on the lobster offered dockside.


The Knox and Lincoln Railroad's charter with Wiscasset gave it the exclusive right to operate trains in Wiscasset.  The two-foot gauge Wiscasset, Waterville and Farmington thus built all its facilities outside Wiscasset ... in the river.


The Exhibition Train cancelled its visit to Rockland.  (I'm not sure why.  Other cities on the May schedule are still on the schedule.)  But this is the Maine Lobster Festival, and the sun came out.  (Umbrella at hand just in case.)

With the inner man satisfied, the festival and downtown shopping opportunities taken, and no exhibition train, I rearranged my ticketing to return on the Downeaster connecting train.


The diesels are a pair of rebuilt FL-9s, both bearing their Amtrak numbers.  The regular service train includes a lounge car.


Nice relaxing ride back to Brunswick, sun is out, at Brunswick the Amtrak train is waiting to occupy the one floor-level platform once the Mid-Coast Limited discharges passengers and ties up.


Downtown Brunswick was still busy at train time, but not so crowded that I couldn't get dinner at Joshua's Tavern.

Now, about that roomette on the Rockland section of the Bar Harbor ...

A TRANSPORTATION SCHOLAR CROSSES THE FINAL SUMMIT.

George W. Hilton, 1925-2014.  Professor Hilton, co-author with John Due of The Electric Interurban Railways in America, was the first and so far only honorary Life Member of the Central Electric Railfans Association.  His academic work contributed to the revival of the freight railroads.  Trains notes, "He practically identified himself with competitive organization of the railroads and prided himself on his contribution to the abolition of the Interstate Commerce Commission."  Professor Hilton was less favorably disposed toward much of the Passenger Rail enterprise, that despite having great regard for underdog carriers such as Monon and Erie.  We shall miss his work.

Economics footnote: that's the same John Due who worked with Robert Clower on Microeconomics.

THE STATE IS THAT GRAND FICTION.

Straight talk from Michael Munger.
When I am discussing the state with my colleagues at Duke, it's not long before I realize that, for them, almost without exception, the State is a unicorn. I come from the Public Choice tradition, which tends to emphasize consequentialist arguments more than natural rights, and so the distinction is particularly important for me. My friends generally dislike politicians, find democracy messy and distasteful, and object to the brutality and coercive excesses of foreign wars, the war on drugs, and the spying of the NSA.

But their solution is, without exception, to expand the power of "the State." That seems literally insane to me—a non sequitur of such monstrous proportions that I had trouble taking it seriously.

Then I realized that they want a kind of unicorn, a State that has the properties, motivations, knowledge, and abilities that they can imagine for it. When I finally realized that we were talking past each other, I felt kind of dumb. Because essentially this very realization—that people who favor expansion of government imagine a State different from the one possible in the physical world—has been a core part of the argument made by classical liberals for at least three hundred years.
Yes, it's easier to envision Perfecting the Perfect Union on a whiteboard. There are plenty of economics papers, not all by Peter Diamond or Joseph Stiglitz, in which an omniscient planner can improve on what incompletely informed but otherwise rational agents achieve.

In practice, though, it's wise to give no powers to Someone In Authority who shares your views that you would not want in the hands of Someone Else In Authority who despises your views.
When someone says, "The State should be in charge of hundreds of thousands of heavily armed troops, with the authority to use that coercive power," ask them to take out the unicorn ("The State") and replace it with George W. Bush. How do you like it now?

If someone says, "The State should be able to choose subsidies and taxes to change the incentives people face in deciding what energy sources to use," ask them to remove "The State" and replace it with "senators from states that rely on coal, oil, or corn ethanol for income." Still sound like a good idea?

How about, "The State should make rules for regulating sales of high performance electric cars." Now, the switch: "Representatives from Michigan and other states that produce parts for internal combustion engines should be in charge of regulating Tesla Motors."  Gosh, maybe not …

In my experience, we spend too much time fighting with our opponents about their unicorns. 
Yes, but Hope and Change and Better World are such appealing conceits.

29.7.14

MARKING OFF.

Perhaps later this summer, we'll see how the nature preserve turns out.


Updates before the new academic year starts.

REFLECT ON THIS.

Margaret Soltan recommends a speech her Rutgers colleague William Dowling delivered to the Peithessophian Society.  By all means go, read, understand, and think.

Consider first his summary of the false analogy between opening up a country club or the Eagles or Elks, and lower admission standards in the name of inclusion.
Americans, precisely because of our nation's long and tangled history of various kinds of baseless prejudice, tend to misunderstand selective college admissions as a form of social>discrimination.

We all know that there was a time, now properly hideous in our collective memory, that Jews couldn't be admitted to the country club, or African- Americans had to sit in a different section of the restaurant than white people, or women weren't allowed to join all-male organizations. So why isn't it exactly similar to say that keeping someone out of Columbia or the College of William and Mary on the mere basis of low reading comprehension or poor mathematical ability is just another form of discrimination on arbitrary grounds?

The answer is that the country club model is a wildly misleading analogy in relation to college admissions. Admitting a freshmen class at a real college or university is much more like auditioning potential members of an orchestra, or choosing players for a basketball team.

The crucial point is that no college or university can be better than its students, any more than an orchestra can be better than its musicians or a basketball team better than its players.

If you fill an orchestra with people who can't read a musical score or play an instrument, you can pretend that the screeches and honkings they produce are music, but you won't fool anyone who has ever heard a Haydn symphony.
In like manner, access-assessment-remediation-retention fails to educate anybody.
There's a more important point about selective admissions. It's that bright and intellectually engaged students educate each other. A group of social scientists at Williams College calls this the Theory of Peer Effects.

If you're in a class where every student present has spent hours on an intellectually demanding assignment, and where the professor is then able to bring out implications no student had so far seen, you're in college. Anything else is not college but an empty charade.
And thus, the strategy for a university that's losing enrollments might be to tighten standards. There's a long case study, which may or may not generalize, that is worth your study.  And in tightening standards, a university might become more student-centered.
Bright and intellectually engaged students want to go to school with other bright students, for the same reason that a talented musician wants to play in an orchestra with other talented musicians or a talented athlete wants to play on a team with other talented players. Students themselves determine the level of each other's education.
That's not, however, the Rutgers experience.
[A colleague],Murray Sperber, wrote a book entitled Beer and Circuses, where he argued that when a large public university loses all sense of its higher mission it becomes essentially the educational equivalent of the reality television show Jersey Shore.

One point he makes concerns commercialized college sports. If you've got a campus swarming with people who have no interest in reading or thinking or learning, who almost or never go to class and, when they do, spend the hour surfing the internet or checking their Facebook page or texting their friends, you've got to give them something to keep them occupied, just as you do with children stuck inside on a rainy day.
But that's not the proper way to be student-centered.
By tightening standards at the rate of 3% a year, the party animal influence at Rutgers could be eliminated in ten to twelve years. That would be an enormous improvement. Teachers would once again begin to enjoy walking into the classroom. Serious students would begin to sense that they were what the institution was all about. Rutgers would have embarked on the process of becoming Rutgers again.
Perhaps there is a strategy for ensuring legislative buy-in. Why should legislators appropriate money to help run a reality show, or even the most inclusive of country clubs?