29.10.09

WORKING ON THE RAILROAD. I've modified one of the newer templates to take advantage of improvements in Blogger while retaining the look of Classic Cold Spring Shops. Commenting through Blogger is now available. Post rating remains temporarily unavailable now uses Blogger's scripts. Haloscan commenting will be turned back on the same time post rating will be restored, although Haloscan commenting will not be turned back on, and the Haloscan comment archive at left will be turned off again effective January 1, 2010 effective December 1, 2009. The blogroll and other features will be are now in operation in a few days. Thanks for your patience.
OVERTAKEN BY EVENTS? I recently picked up Keeping the Millennials: Why Companies are Losing Billions in Turnover to This Generation and What To Do About It at a secondhand bookstore. The previous owner, who left an airport coffee rewards slip in the book, made a few marginal notes in the first few chapters but left the remaining pages unmarked (and unread?) I got all the way through it and will write Book Review No. 43 before putting it in the box for the next trip to the secondhand bookstore. Imagine a breathless book-length infomercial for Key Group, complete with the usual business-guru format, including the obligatory "maximize your human resources" (otherwise known as "disguise your innumeracy by displaying it promiscuously.")

The book suggests that employers are hurting their businesses by not adapting their workplaces to the Millennial propensities (stereotypes?) of lots of positive feedback, lots of ability to work in teams, and lots of information technology. The generation most-medicated for attention-deficit disorder also has the most instant distraction. Discuss. Business gurus are apparently hyping the next management fad: a cursory search turns up Not Everyone Gets A Trophy: How to Manage Generation Y, which sounds like more of the same, but I suspect I'll not be tempted next time I'm detained at an airport.

On one hand, I welcome serious efforts (as opposed to airport-book infomercials) by employers to offer a variety of job descriptions rather than the one-size-fits-all we'll pay you a lot of money but you don't get to have a life that seems to be the working professional's reality: it matters not whether you call it Millennial-adapted or family-friendly or responding to the backward bending supply curve. On the other hand, when a book notes Millennial participation in the election of President Obama, but says nothing about the recession, there's a possible omission from the formulation. Two anecdotes: during the summer, I spoke with a former captain of a sports team here, now employed with a Fortune 100 company, who griped about the entitled attitude of many of the company's younger hires. Twenty-something going on curmudgeon ... Then comes "I don't have these graduates in Europe and Asia telling us they want to live with mom and dad or they don't want to relocate to Asia," via Newmark's Door. Key would tell the latter manager to change his ways: the reserve army of the unemployed (particularly among younger workers) provides a different incentive.

The generational analyses in these managing Millennials books also strikes me as odd. Perhaps for expository purposes, it suffices to group everyone born before 1945 (or per The Fourth Turning, before 1942) into one Mature (or in other examples of the genre, Traditional) cohort. That's not strictly accurate. Most of the GI era senior managers (born 1901- abt. 1925) are retired. The Silent Generation senior managers (born abt. 1925 - 1942) are retiring, although their last act may be to destroy all of health care over the same focus on government-as-manager that turned civil rights into a spoils system, diluted higher education, and impeded any serious reform of Medicare and Social Security. The Millennials will have to pick up those pieces, and somehow workplaces that allow text-messaging in place of written memoranda and provide flextime strike me as irrelevant to those challenges.

(Cross-posted to 50 Book Challenge.)
OF POSITION AND EXCESS CAPACITY. I've long maintained that the positional arms race in higher education enrollments (until the recession brought austerity to the more affluent quarters) has been a flight to perceived quality in the presence of excess capacity in access-assessment-remediation-retention.
Think about it this way: would diners be better served if only 20 restaurants earned a five-star rating, or if (with no dilution of standards) they had a choice among 50, 100, 200 five-star restaurants?
Now comes Caroline M. Hoxby, currently with Stanford, with a related perspective that does not cause me to change my mind.
This paper shows that although the top ten percent of colleges are substantially more selective now than they were 5 decades ago, most colleges are not more selective. Moreover, at least 50 percent of colleges are substantially less selective now than they were then. This paper demonstrates that competition for space--the number of students who wish to attend college growing faster than the number of spaces available--does not explain changing selectivity. The explanation is, instead, that the elasticity of a student's preference for a college with respect to its proximity to his home has fallen substantially over time and there has been a corresponding increase in the elasticity of his preference for a college with respect to its resources and peers. In other words, students used to attend a local college regardless of their abilities and its characteristics. Now, their choices are driven far less by distance and far more by a college's resources and student body. It is the consequent re-sorting of students among colleges that has, at once, caused selectivity to rise in a small number of colleges while simultaneously causing it to fall in other colleges.
I'll be able to obtain the full working paper at the office, time permitting. An Inside Higher Ed column comments.

The number of high school graduates in the United States, from 1955 to today, increased by 131 percent, she notes, but the number of freshman seats in the U.S. rose by 297 percent. "This suggests that the absolute standard of achievement required of a freshman who successfully competed for a seat was falling," Hoxby writes.

She adds that the standard of academic preparation to gain admission could still have gone up over the years if the academic standards of all high school students showed gains. But using data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, and matching those results with college-going patterns, she finds the opposite. The number of college seats available to students who -- judging by NAEP scores and college admission records -- are only moderately or minimally prepared has gone up.

"[S]ince 1975, there has been more than one seat per minimally prepared student. In short, the achievement standard for obtaining a freshman seat in the U.S. is minimal and is falling," she writes.

The working paper, which I will have to read, provocatively excludes research expenditures, including those at the medical colleges, and still finds that the most selective universities have thrown more resources at students.

While there may be different policy responses to her findings, Hoxby concludes by stressing the need to shift discussion away from a framework that assumes most colleges are impossible to get into.

"Over the past few decades, the average college has not become more selective: the reverse is true, though not dramatically," she writes. "The reason that initially selective colleges are much more selective today is not that they have failed to expand to absorb greater numbers of extremely high aptitude students. In fact, they have expanded modestly, keeping up with the modest growth in the population of such students."

That reckoning of resources probably understates the effect on undergraduate learning: it's possible that Gary Becker's graduate assistant might do more to stretch introductory economics students' minds at Chicago than I do for mine.

At Minding the Campus, KC Johnson pursues one of the possible policy implications.
The clear policy ramifications from Hoxby's study: institutions that currently can't afford to spend the amount of money of students that we see from Ivy League schools ($92,000 per student, according to Hoxby) need to be more selective in both their admissions criteria and in their academic visions.
It's encouraging to read that. Motivated placebound students, and motivated students from modest circumstances, deserve better than to have their aspirations dragged down by unmotivated classmates.

According to the report, the willingness to attend schools far from home produced a "resorting" effect. High-aptitude students increasingly have clustered at the top schools. Decades ago, they were sprinkled more throughout the second-tier schools, but the increasing desire for Harvard-Yale-Princeton-etc. has driven them up the university ladder, resulting precisely in the lower selectivity of the remaining 90 percent.

The report doesn't pursue the implications of this stratification, but it does note that because of the application patterns of high-aptitude students, low-aptitude students increasingly encounter low-aptitude students in their classes. In other words, the resulting student bodies reinforce the division of selective from non-selective institutions. Low-performing students sit in class with other low-performers. They don't have the superior student who didn't want to travel far from home sitting next to them in English 101, raising the quality of class discussion and pushing expectations higher. We sometimes forget that much of the intellectual level of the campus depends not on the faculty but upon the undergraduates. Students often take their cue not from the syllabi but from their roommates.

In that post, author Mark Bauerlein, perhaps in a Swiftian way, proposes that students and professors periodically change places. I bet it's more productive for the land-grants and mid-majors and on down the status hierarchy to work on lifting their efforts. (As a side note, I think the author meant re-sorting, rather than some revealed preference for climbing walls and health clubs.)

28.10.09

PARIS IS TAKEN. Two years ago, I recommended Antony Beevor's The Fall of Berlin 1945. I'll parallel that review in this year's Book Review No. 42 by recommending his D-Day: The Battle for Normandy. In the Cold Spring Shops library, it's an excellent supplement to Cornelius Ryan's The Longest Day and to Stephen Ambrose's D-Day: June 6, 1944 -- The Climactic Battle of WWII. If you don't have either of those books, buy this one. There's less individual detail than Ryan's or Ambrose's, but more overview of coordination, or not, among the allies, as well as an overview of the breakout from Normandy, the second invasion through the south of France, and the liberation of Paris. Mr Beevor suggests that the most difficult part of the invasion, Omaha Beach, still featured the fortunes of war, with some units landing almost unopposed and beginning to work their way up the bluffs within the hour, and with the Germans unable to oppose the landings their as vigorously as they might like, thanks to the success of the British and Canadian units to their right. And perhaps those optimists, including me, who gave some credence to the notion that Iraqis would welcome American liberators, will gain perspective from the stories of unrest and score-settling among the French as their liberation occurred. There was the potential for a civil war loosely along communist and republican lines: possibly an area for future research? And Mr Beevor has no brief for his countryman General Montgomery. Perhaps he will follow up with an investigation of Market-Garden -- after all of General Montgomery's lapses in the dash from the beaches to Paris, it's hard not to sympathize with General Patton griping about General Eisenhower holding Monty's hand and starving Third Army of supplies.

(Cross-posted to 50 Book Challenge.)
CONFIRMING THE EXCESS DEMAND HYPOTHESIS. I've made use of Richard Vedder's argument that the top colleges price their services in such a way as to generate excess demand. I only insist that people apply the argument consistently.
That last sentence, however, suggests that tuitions at the top schools are inefficiently low, not "jacked up."
Now comes Mark Schneider of the American Enterprise Institute offering what might be confirmation.

His purpose is to deconstruct the argument that a university degree is worth a million dollars to its holder, on average.

After subtracting tuition and discounting at 4.8 percent, the earnings increase, stratified by university type, looks like this.




The returns to the land-grants and mid-majors ("public most selective" and "public very selective") are comparable. The returns to "nonprofit most selective" are substantially higher than the returns to "nonprofit very selective", suggesting that the "nonprofit most selective" are leaving some rents unextracted. That the returns to "nonprofit very selective" are on average less than the returns to attending a land-grant or a mid-major clearly call for further research.
OBSERVATION OF THE DAY. The dean at Anonymous Community reacts to a story of Californian college administrators indulging themselves like tsarist princes.
From high office, pettiness is amplified. That can be frustrating, since leaders have all the same human failings as everybody else, but less license to indulge them. That's the price of leadership. There's a real and generally unacknowledged unfairness to that, but there it is. If the best response to generally fair criticism you can come up with is to kick the critics off campus, you're probably in over your head. (I say 'generally fair' to distinguish this from, say, slander. Slander is not protected by academic freedom, and those who commit it are fair game.) Worse, playing the heavy in such an obvious way simply galvanizes the other side. One of the easiest ways to get a disparate group to cohere is to unite against a common enemy. Making yourself that enemy simply plays into their hands. It's an amateur's mistake.
There is a generalization, elaborated further.
Yet while this is all hilarious, it is also scary when you think it through. Great power entails great responsibility. There is little to suggest that Obama and his aides appreciate their responsibility, and much, including their incessant complaining that the previous president did a lousy job, to suggest an attitude of total irresponsibility.
Amplified pettiness, forsooth.
MORE CASH FLOW GAMES. A local social service agency is awaiting federal money due it. The money goes through the state, which has not yet released it.

The fiscal drawbacks are due not to mismanagement or the economy, but the state government, which is holding funds allocated to Safe Passage by the federal government, Interim Director Jerry Lane said.

“We’re hoping the state starts paying its bills,” Lane said. “The state is holding federal money and not releasing it.”

The problem is made worse by the fact that 80 percent of funding received goes toward personnel costs.

“When we can’t make payroll, it’s a very serious problem,” Lane said.

I've been informed that the state has not yet released the funds it appropriated for Northern Illinois University, including the one-time injection of federal stimulus money that could imply a permanent reduction in subsequent state appropriations. We're currently running on tuition revenues. Meanwhile Springfield is kiting checks and lapping receivables.

26.10.09

EXPORTING HUMAN CAPITAL. In an earlier cash crunch in Illinois, the state's Board of Higher Education proposed to eliminate a number of degree programs. Some made the hit list for admitting what the planners perceived as disproportionately many overseas students, that despite many such students hiring out at LaSalle Street trading houses or at local colleges.

Now comes another Illinois cash crunch. There's a different set of planners, but they might raise the same objections, particularly if they fear human capital leaving the United States.

We surveyed 1,224 foreign students from dozens of nations who are currently studying at U.S. universities or who graduated in 2008. The majority told us that they didn’t think that the U.S. was the best place for their professional careers and they planned to return home. Only 6 percent of Indian, 10 percent of Chinese, and 15 percent of European students planned to settle in the U.S.

Many students wanted to stay for a few years after graduation if given a choice—58% of Indians, 54% of Chinese, and 40% of Europeans. But they see the future being brighter back home. Only 7% of Chinese students, 9% of European students, and 25% of Indian students believe that the best days of the U.S. economy lie ahead. Conversely, 74% of Chinese students and 86% of Indian students believe that the best days for their home country’s economy lie ahead. National Science Foundation studies have shown that the “5 year stay rates” for Chinese and Indians science and engineering PhD’s have historically been around 92 % and 85% respectively (NSF tracks these 5 years at a time, and the vast majority stay permanently). So something has clearly changed.

Never mind that higher education runs a balance of payments surplus, something one would expect of a country with a comparative advantage in advanced-technology, skill-intensive products.


Cold Spring Shops headquarters, mid-October.

As Insta Pundit notes, "Talent goes where it's rewarded."
OWING YOUR CADEUCEUS TO THE COMPANY STORE. Professor Mankiw points to several columns in the New York Times on the merits of government-managed health care. His own column raises a salient point.

A dominant government insurer, however, could potentially keep costs down by squeezing the suppliers of health care. This cost control works not by fostering honest competition but by thwarting it.

Recall a basic lesson of economics: A market participant with a dominant position can influence prices in a way that a small, competitive player cannot. A monopoly — a seller without competitors — can profitably raise the price of its product above the competitive level by reducing the quantity it supplies to the market. Similarly, a monopsony — a buyer without competitors — can reduce the price it pays below the competitive level by reducing the quantity it demands.

You don't have to be an author of a best-selling textbook to get this. The author of a mid-major course pack concurs.
The exercise of buying power by the canonical coal mine, or the chain store, is a bad thing, but somehow it gets transmuted into something good in the canonical state liquor store, or the state health service.
Health service workers, however, are not as placebound as the canonical Appalachian coal miners, or as tied to a vendor as Vlasic Pickles might have been. Back to Professor Mankiw.
To be sure, squeezing suppliers would have unpleasant side effects. Over time, society would end up with fewer doctors and other health care workers. The reduced quantity of services would somehow need to be rationed among competing demands. Such rationing is unlikely to work well.
His argument, however, relies on there being robust labor markets for other uses of human capital. Further inferences are left to the reader.
FULL TRAINS. This fall, the Make A Difference Day Express, which began with a young man collecting aluminum cans to charter a train for sick kids, again filled several trains.
We had a great time with lots of candy and fun!!!!! For all those that had to cancel due to health reasons, we hope you get better soon and you guys can come for next years train ride. We would also would like to thank mother nature for holding back the rain until we were on the way home from our last trip.
Perhaps there will not be an early-season flu next October.
STEALTH FURLOUGHS. We received a missive from headquarters today.
President Peters, following consultation with the Operating Staff Council, Supportive Professional Staff Council, the divisional Vice Presidents, and other area representatives, has approved an extension of the 2009-10 university winter holiday closure schedule to include Monday, December 21, Tuesday, December 22, and Wednesday, December 23 as Scheduled Closure Days. This will allow for an additional three-day extension of the winter closure period resulting in a total closure period of 16 days, extending from the close of business on Friday, December 18, 2009 until operations resume on Monday, January 4, 2010. This measure is consistent with the continuing efforts of President Peters and the university community to identify operational and utility cost savings.
Scheduled Closure differs from Floating Holiday, in that employees paid on a timecard basis will not receive pay. Thus the Operating Staff Council and the Supportive Professional Staff Council have committed to small pay reductions, perhaps offset as involuntary vacation days.
December 21, 22, and 23, 2009 will be designated Scheduled Closure Days and will not be considered designated holidays for pay purposes. Accrued vacation benefits or compensatory time off (if available) will be utilized for non-instructional employees normally scheduled to work on December 21, 22, and 23; otherwise, the days may be taken without pay. Non-exempt (hourly Civil Service) employees will be required to mark their timesheets as either vacation or “deduct.” Exempt employees (salaried Civil Service, SPS, and Faculty on 12-month appointments) wishing to take the day without pay must contact Contracts, Records and Reports no later than December 11 regarding necessary paperwork. Otherwise, their benefit usage forms should be marked as vacation usage. Vacation usage recorded on time sheets and benefit usage forms will be deducted from available accruals to the extent that such accruals are sufficient to cover the three-day Scheduled Closure period. Human Resource Services will coordinate accrual deductions on a case-by-case basis if accruals are not sufficient to cover the Scheduled Closure Day period. Employees retiring January 1 will be contacted to coordinate benefit usage procedures. This policy pertains to non-negotiated employees. Any employee required or authorized to work on December 21, 22, and 23 will receive straight-time compensation.
The missive has been circulated by electronic mail. Paper copies, at some additional expense, will be forthcoming.

Headquarters has not yet designated these days as furlough days for salaried employees.

24.10.09

GETTING THE MISSION RIGHT. State universities quote state residents a lower rate, reflecting some recognition of taxes paid or taxes anticipated. Nonresident students pay a higher rate, notionally reflecting fully allocated costs. Although the taxpayer-benefit and allocated-cost arguments are long-established, they are survivals of efforts by state legislatures to reduce the influx of out-of-state protestors (nobody being so crass as to say "East Coast Jews") to midwestern campuses during the Vietnam era. The mathematics of fully-allocated cost include a healthy dose of leverage: make your nut at a standard volume, but if you can enlarge the proportion of out-of-state students while holding enrollment constant, you can bring in additional revenue, or perhaps replace appropriations a stingy legislature has taken away. The dean at Anonymous Community suggests the dynamics of revenue replacement are unstable.

In discussions I've had with state legislators, the issues that prick up their ears are the number of students who live in their district, the number of employees who live in their district, and the relationships we have with employers in their district. Out-of-state students don't count. And I don't want to have the conversation in which I try to explain why our scarce marketing dollars are being spent out-of-state.

Even leaving the politics aside, there's a basic irrationality to the entire idea. If we simply traded a third of our student body with a counterpart school across the state line, what, exactly, would we have achieved? As near as I can tell, we'd simply shift more of the cost of instruction onto students, thereby effectively licensing our home state to make even more cuts. If the students keep paying, why not? And it's not like those students vote here anyway.

No. It's not what cc's are for, and the long-term cost would dwarf any short-term gains. I get the 'premium tuition' argument -- this week, more than ever -- but some premiums just aren't worth it.

Mild disagreement on the voting: students are free to register with college town city clerks -- how else the majority for George McGovern in Madison? -- but the economics of leverage are remorseless in the trading of students. (On the other hand, Minnesota and Wisconsin have maintained, despite recent difficulties, a reciprocity agreement in which residents of either state pay the in-state rate in either state. Swapping leftish Lutherans across the Mississippi is a different proposition from bringing in those East Coast radicals.)

The Anonymous Community post is a reaction to an Inside Higher Ed column on the phenomenon of recruiting out-of-state students that focuses primarily on the horizontal equity of such policies.
A concern for the universities seeking more out-of-state students, [University of Vermont president Daniel] Fogel said, is a shift away from public mission. "There is the risk of subtly and not so subtly undermining the public mission," he said. "Then you are like a private university that isn't at the top of the pecking order, looking for the sweet spot of the kids who are qualified to come and can pay all or most of the cost, and that's a pretty market-driven agenda."
In this instance, it's a market-driven agenda that does the right thing. See "Addressing the Excess Demand for Prestige Degrees."
I have maintained for some time now that the wise strategy for the flagship universities and the mid-majors has been to cater to that excess demand rather than give into the mob's demand for universal access, standards be d**ned, and that such a strategy is not likely to be fostered by urging faculty to forever be testing the job market. It doesn't have to be Princeton or Harvard offering that "very high quality" of education as the efforts of Illinois and Wisconsin to go after Coasties as a way of increasing the revenue yield.
Why not aspire to making Vermont a public Ivy, President Fogel?

At Inside Higher Ed, however, we see the Diversity Boondoggle's contortions.
Others share that concern. Patrick M. Callan, president of the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, said he worried about any state -- like California -- that moves to recruit more out-of-state students at a time when there are qualified residents losing slots, and those being recruited are likely to be less diverse than the residents of the state. He noted that most University of California campuses have more ethnic and racial diversity than much of American higher education. "So now that the majority of kids in the state will be more Latino, you are going to recruit more out-of-state students" who are likely to be white? he asked.
I can only interpret "less diverse" to mean "too white." Is the goal of the Californian system to have a student body that looks like Mesoamerica, which will put aspiring California fast-trackers at an even greater disadvantage in Reloville, or might diversity mean bringing in cultural diversity from the Great Plains?
While Berkeley officials and UC faculty members have said that they believe any lost slots in California will build political pressure to support higher education, Callan said he was "very skeptical." He said he doesn't see signs that the public would respond in that way. "There's a danger here that you cut off your long-term support," he said.
Or you might change the direction of citizen activism. See "Can One Really Discipline Commuter Students?"
Milwaukee has been primarily a commuter campus for residents of Southeastern Wisconsin. With Madison solving some of its budget problems by expanding enrollment of Coasties, there are more Wisconsin residents enrolled at Milwaukee than at Madison. That some would attempt to introduce the residential college experience into their neighborhood does not come as a surprise.
That's been a perennial theme here. Wisconsin or Illinois are reasonable substitutes for Harvard or Stanford (perhaps not for long, considering recent developments) that attracts more applications from the coasts. Do the administrators at Milwaukee or Northern Illinois simply tell frustrated Badgers or Runs-from-Huskies that their institutions are good enough, or do they make the efforts to provide comparable intellectual challenges?

Inside Higher Ed prefers to elaborate the equity issues.

At the same time, Callan acknowledged that in California and elsewhere, state officials considering these options face terrible budgets. "It's the dysfunctional nature of state government that makes these things possible."

David L. Kirp, a professor of public policy at Berkeley and the author of Shakespeare, Einstein and the Bottom Line: The Marketing of Higher Education, said he viewed the out-of-state trend as "one of those lamentable necessities." He said that the University of California campuses and some other flagships have been "an equal opportunity gateway" for so many low-income students. Ultimately, he said that these plans work financially only by going after well-off students, and thus can encourage universities in that direction. You can easily end up, he said, with public universities "with a private school profile."

Perhaps so. But see "The Issue is Insufficient Selectivity"
The argument presupposes that tuition increases, particularly at state-subsidized colleges, are unreasonable per se. The ratings-driven excess-demand-generating below-equilibrium tuitions at the private universities shift some applicants to state universities, implying a ceteris paribus increase in the selectivity rankings there and perhaps an incentive for administrators to resist raising their tuitions and fees so as to further enhance their selectivity rankings.
Genl Grant had to fight it out on his line for one year. I've been at it somewhat longer, but I've not been persuaded that the course Inside Higher Ed's interviewees recommend, which is the status quo inside higher ed, will work.
ALLOCATING SCARCE RESOURCES. Albert Camus's The Plague considers the way a community can be overwhelmed when almost everybody gets sick. That's not a classroom situation for philosophers only, as Florida officials are discovering.

Florida health officials are drawing up guidelines that recommend barring patients with incurable cancer, end-stage multiple sclerosis and other conditions from being admitted to hospitals if the state is overwhelmed by flu cases.

The plan, which would guide Florida hospitals on how to ration scarce medical care during a severe flu outbreak, also calls for doctors to remove patients with poor prognoses from ventilators to treat those who have better chances of surviving. That decision would be made by the hospital.

The story prompts Charlie Sykes to quip, "Whatever you do, don't call these 'death panels'." The arguments over whether "death panel" is Inappropriate Language, or misleading, or wrong miss the point. Where resources are scarce and have competing uses, somebody has to make do with less or with none. And where incentives to convert resources from some other use to the use in question are missing, making do is more constrained than otherwise.

Here's Patrick McIlheran on that point.

"The problem is that there are enough people running the show who have said some human life is worth more than others," said Cynthia Jones-Nosacek, a Milwaukee family doctor who's spoken out on ethics. The cure is to say all human lives have value.

Even ones likely to end soon. Jones-Nosacek is particularly troubled by the idea of pushing patients toward their end, as in Oregon, which offers suicide pills but not necessarily chemo, or as in Britain, where patients deemed terminal now can be sedated and starved.

She's got patients with terminal diseases, and with the advent of hospice care, if "their needs are being cared for, they don't ask for death." She's had patients go on breathing tubes to overcome pneumonia and then live for happy, bonus months. The dying need to be adequately helped, not rushed.

"Adequate," however, does not make the underlying problem of allocating resources subject to constraints go away. Britain's National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence faces that reality head-on.
The Government's rationing body said lapatinib is too expensive even though its makers will provide the first three months' treatment free of charge.
I'm not sure that mau-mauing the institute as a death panel changes the underlying reality of allocating resources under constraint, although the strategy has been used previously.

NICE will issue guidance shortly that in effect bans the drug, which is used in 18 other European countries.

It comes despite a pledge by NICE to be more flexible in giving life-extending drugs to terminally ill cancer patients after a public outcry last year over 'death sentence' decisions.

NICE was forced to apply this end-of-life criteria to lapatinib by its own appeals panel.

The acronym is infelicitous, especially given the difference in the British use of "nice" from the North American. The flexibility the institute applies, however, must mean that some other treatments, perhaps less obviously life-extending, are reduced to release resources for cancer patients.
DIFFERENT KINDS OF TRENCHES. Forreston graduate Jake Coffman, Marine reservist, Northern Illinois defensive end.

Coffman says facing a tough test in the classroom followed by a long, hard afternoon on the practice field is nothing compared to what he experienced in Iraq and what many of his friends and colleagues are still going through. His old unit was recently redeployed to Afghanistan.

"I still have friends there I think about all the time. I stay in contact with a lot of them, and they're on my mind every day," he says.

And so are friends and acquaintances who have made the ultimate sacrifice. Coffman has dedicated his career to them and writes, "For the fallen," on his wristbands before games. He then leads the Huskies onto the field while carrying the U.S. flag. "That's really a rush," he says. "To really know what it stands for means a lot."

When Navy played in DeKalb last season, the Midshipmen invited Mr Coffman to join the singing of Navy's alma mater after the game. Today, Northern Illinois did a lot of scoring early, then hung on to win after a wild final two minutes.

22.10.09

THE MARKET FOR CUPCAKES. Phil Miller of The Sports Economist picks up our coverage of Delaware State losing twice in a day.
Why is it good to be the cupcake? Because they get paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to come to your place for a shellacking. Moreover, according to press reports, because of the added 12th game in D-1 football (or FBS, or whatever you want to call that rose), the demand for cupcakes has risen, giveing rise to bigger payouts to the cupcakes.
But selling wins can be hazardous to your players.



The comic strip exaggerates, only slightly. (I've had numerous occasions to review the casualty list after a Huskie visit to Iowa City or Columbus or Gainesville.)
AN INSTRUCTIVE STORY. The taxpayers of St. Cloud, Minnesota offer inducements to airlines that fly away. The story prompts King Banaian to gripe.
In a related story, Rep. Jim Oberstar promises stimulus dollars to extend the Lake Wobegon bike trail to Eagan. /sarc
I once read that the Great Northern Railway paid about as much in property taxes on one station, at one of the major cities in Montana or North Dakota, as the local airport authority lost in a year. Apparently nothing has changed in forty years: puddle-jumper air service to small towns requires subsidy.

Perhaps the citizens of St. Cloud might give some thought to the near-corridor service they once enjoyed on the Great Northern and Northern Pacific to the Cities in the east and to Fargo and Grand Forks on the west. See If You Build It, Will They Come? and Frequency Matters for suggestions.
THE NOTION OF INSTITUTIONAL PURPOSE. In Inside Higher Ed, Penn's Marybeth Gasman reacts to Morehouse's dress code.

One of the most controversial aspects of the dress code is the banning of women’s clothing and garb. Even though the Morehouse administration consulted the college’s gay students group and the majority of these students voted in favor of the rules, including the ban on women’s garb, this rule may give some pause. I am not an expert on this topic, but I do wonder what will happen if a Morehouse man wants to become a Morehouse woman? What happens to the transgender Morehouse man? Does he go to another college or stay at Morehouse? I don’t have the answer, but I think the Morehouse dress code raises some important questions about race, sexuality, and masculinity that we in higher education should tackle head on and hesitate to avoid. As my friend said, Morehouse College is a standard setter and has the opportunity to be out in front on discussing these
issues.

By raising issues about cross-dressing and dress and appearance generally, Morehouse is forcing discussions and more thought about the way society views black men. And Morehouse is making sure that its black men – who already defy stereotypes with their ambition and intelligence – will do so with their attire as well.

I'm not sure higher education has avoided the issue of social norms: rather, it has yielded the field to the social-constructivist interpretation and taken side with the transgressive and the authentic. (And thus, the unisex toilets and the stories about coeducational showers ...)

The first comment is instructive.

Professor Gasman does a good job in problematizing the initiation of a dress code at Morehouse.

If we contextualize this further to the special traditions and ethos of women's college and evangelical Christian colleges, we find that their traditions are equally questioned and when they make decisions based on the exclusive nature of their institutions, the same reaction that people read from the Morehouse decision repeats itself.

The real dilemma for all three types of institutions is their survival in this Century: women's colleges are down to 54, HBCU's and evangelical institutions hover just over the 100 mark. Plagued by low endowments, poor demographics (only two percent of all evangelical and women's colelge alumni send their children to such colleges), rural environments, the distinctive nature of these institutions look increasing anachronistic. If so, they probably will not survive into the next Century. The issue is: Are they important enough to matter?

Two paragraphs of pomo word noise followed by the possibility that outlier institutions of any kind are failing a market test.

A few comments later somebody gets to the heart of the matter.
The “real world” that I live in ignores people who wear clothing with lewd comments, pajamas in public, or pants hanging around your ankles regardless of the color of their skin. I think that they want a Morehouse man to be a person of influence. Why dilute that influence with dress unbecoming of a professional?
Ayup. Institutions evolve to conserve on transaction costs, a point the more nihilistic constructivists fail to grasp.
THIS COULD BE FUN. Discriminations reports on a lawsuit with great potential to generalize.
Now, according to an article in the Chicago Tribune today (pointed to by Inside Higher Ed), a rejected applicant to the University of Illinois has filed what he and his lawyer hope will be a class action suit “on behalf of all ‘non-clout’ applicants who had been denied admission from 1999 to 2009. The suit seeks more than $5 million in damages.”
The potential generalization will keep the legal hair-splitters busy.
Because the University of Illinois also has affirmative action admissions, some “subpar” students were admitted because of their race or ethnicity, something that has somehow escaped the notice of the Chicago Tribune and all those legislators and others scandalized by this one rather narrow category of preferential treatment.
There is the little matter of the civil rights laws ...

21.10.09

I'M NOT A NEWS ORGANIZATION EITHER.


ALL THAT REMAINS MUST BE THE TRUTH. I'm mixing a Sherlock Holmes line with Gordon Lightfoot to introduce Book Review No. 41, The Night the Fitz Went Down. (See The Gales of November, Remembered for previous Fitzgerald Book Reviews and additional background.) The book is a biography of Captain Dudley Paquette, who retired from Inland Steel's fleet in 1980, with particular emphasis on his trip, loaded, from the Twin Ports to Indiana Harbor in November of 1975 at the helm of Wilfred Sykes.

The biographical material includes the experiences of a man who worked his way up from deckhand to pilothouse. Although the Great Lakes fleets probably have more professional mobility within the ranks than the Edwardian merchant marine, and the primary responsibility of the captain is to deliver raw materials dependably, while keeping cohesion among men confined with each other for long stretches at a time, under conditions still not much different from going to jail with a prospect of drowning, the insights into life in crews' quarters and pilothouse fill gaps I complained of in my recent review of The Other Side of the Night. Captain's Table on a lake freighter could easily be a trickier situation than the more prestigious event on an ocean liner: making small talk with stage actors or lesser nobility is not as consequential as hosting the owner of the steel company or a major shareholder, the displeasure of which might culminate in demotion or discharge.

It's the events of November, 1975, however, which give author Hugh Bishop reason to write this book. Captain Paquette learned, early on, the utility of radar and of frequent and careful updating of the weather, no matter how pleasant the sailing conditions might be. Thus, while Fitzgerald and Arthur Anderson were making knots on the most direct course to the Soo and not updating their own weather observations, the crew of Sykes was busy filling in the isobars and the captain was making his own forecast. Sykes left the Twin Ports behind Fitzgerald and kept to the Canadian side of Lake Superior, in order to anchor in Thunder Bay when the nor'easter built up, and in order to have following seas when the wind backed as the low moved north and east.

Edmund Fitzgerald and Arthur Anderson deviated from the direct route, but to seek shelter from the Canadian shore exposed them to the nor'easter, and to steer toward Whitefish Bay exposed them to quartering seas after the wind backed. Wind and waves alone were not enough to sink Fitzgerald. Subsequent investigations found no evidence of shoaling on the rudder or propellor of Fitzgerald or of grounding on Six Fathom Shoal. The hatch covers of Great Lakes ore carriers are watertight even with clamps loosely set. On the other hand, an ore carrier with 7,000 shaft horsepower (many of the lakers of the era ran with 1,000 or 2,000 horsepower, sometimes using diesel engines cascaded from railroad locomotives) driving it might have a hull subject to additional stresses, and if something akin to delamination (a phenomenon in fiberglass racing sailboats that have been driven hard for a long time) happens where the keel is welded to the ribs, bad things happen.

It suffices to note that an observation Mark Twain made about Cunard captains (see Other Side of the Night at 29) is not always true on the Lakes. "It takes [Cunard] about ten or fifteen years to manufacture a captain; but when they have him manufactured to suit at last they have full confidence in him. The only order they give a captain is this, brief and to the point: 'Your ship is loaded, take her; speed is nothing; follow your own road, deliver her safe, bring her back safe -- safety is all that is required.'" On November 9, Captain Paquette noted Fitzgerald's crew still securing hatch clamps as the bridge was ringing ahead full to put those 7,000 hp to work leaving the Twin Ports. On the other hand, Captain Paquette once used his weather knowledge once to deliver 36,000 tons to dockside at Indiana Harbor: there was a norther blowing the length of Lake Michigan, piling water up at the Indiana end, allowing him to get within self-unloader reach of quayside, thence to warp alongside as a lighter boat rode higher, and get bonuses for speedy delivery of additional tonnage. Perhaps on the Lakes, where shore is almost never more than three hours' steaming away, there's more margin for error. On the other hand, that margin can become complacency, and then the bell tolls 29 times.

(Cross-posted to 50 Book Challenge.)
SELLING WINS. The expanded college football schedule, with additional games between Division I and Division II, or whatever alphabet soup of B, C, F, and S those go as these days, produces strange incentives.

You see, the Michigan Wolverines dangled $550,000 in front of the Hornets to play this Saturday. The only catch: Delaware State already had a conference game set against North Carolina A&T for that date.

So what did the Hornets do? Well what every Football Championship Series team would do: forfeit the conference game, take the money and, oh yeah, lose to Michigan 63-6.

It's amateur sports. It's all for the experience. Heck, Delaware State played Michigan just for practice. But don't say it has anything to do with money.
MILWAUKEE'S TAJ MAHAL. Shepherd Express runs a short feature on the Tripoli Shrine Center.


Shepherd Express photo by Kevin Gardner.

As far as I know, there have been no Dan Brown conspiracy plots hatched here. On the other hand, if you want to participate in a scooter raffle ...

19.10.09

THE EFFECTS OF AFFLUENCE. Morehouse College attempts to develop the whole man.
Since he was named as president of Morehouse College in 2007, Robert M. Franklin has stressed the importance of defining education broadly, well beyond courses. He has been talking about the social and ethical obligations of those who are studying at the elite historically black college. Of late he has been calling for students to have "five wells" -- to be "well read, well spoken, well traveled, well dressed and well balanced.”
Those are objectives worthy of any institution of higher education, whether Historically Black, Ivy League, land grant or mid-major, or otherwise identified.

The push-back from Morehouse students is instructive.
Last week, the idea of being "well dressed" became much more specific, with the start of an "appropriate attire policy," under which Morehouse is joining a small group of colleges that have in recent years adopted dress codes. Morehouse's policy is generally being well received by students -- and college officials stress that 90-plus percent of students are already in compliance. But the policy is getting some criticism from gay students over the idea of regulating dress, and specifically for banning the wearing of women's attire.
Twenty years ago, the identity-politics formulation was "multiple oppressions of race, class, and gender." There's no pushback on prison chic or do-rags or slaunchwise ball caps, which the identity politics crowd might defend as expressions of underclass authenticity. Perhaps Morehouse students grasp that authentic unemployment accompanies those symbols. It's the tunics and handbags and makeup -- upscale crossover accessories all -- that provoke the most criticism.

There's more at Outside the Beltway.

[Student Kevin] Webb is right, of course. One can be intelligent and dress like a slob — or someone of the opposite gender. Conversely, one can dress like an executive and still be a fool.

But Franklin is carrying on a longstanding tradition at places like Morehouse. Because it was harder for a black man to be considered intelligent or worthy of respect, a culture developed where black men of a certain station tended to dress much better and pay more attention to his manner of speaking than white men of similar status. It’s not as true as it was even twenty years ago — it’s been half a century since Brown and a generation since the Civil Rights Act of 1965 — but vestiges of that tradition remain. Most black professionals in their 50s or older still tend to pay more attention to their clothing and public image than their white counterparts.

Franklin, [comedian Bill] Cosby, and [President Barack] Obama clearly want to keep this culture alive. They realize that young black men running around with their underdrawers showing not only hinder their own chances for advancement but reinforce negative stereotypes.

Beyond that, Morehouse sees itself as something unique. Being a “Morehouse Man” is more akin to being a graduate of the Citadel or VMI than of, say, one of the Ivies. It’s a brand, not just an institution of higher education. And they want Morehouse men to project an image of success and professionalism. And, it would seem, manliness.

Somewhere, the notion of diversity in an institution comes into conflict with the notion of institutional purpose, wherein a different understanding of diversity might mean institutions with differing institutional purposes.
CHANNELLING COLD SPRING SHOPS. The latest Destination: Freedom cautions Passenger Rail advocates to beware the recent enthusiast.

The “incremental upgrade” approach that most applicants for FRA grants (as well as the FRA, apparently) are taking, seems to make sense. A train that can go from Chicago to St. Louis in four hours would be a vast improvement over the current schedule of five hours and twenty minutes, or more. A true high-speed train could make the trip in two hours, but a four-hour schedule is far easier and cheaper to attain, capital-investment-wise, than a two-hour schedule for that 284-mile trip.

California has an ambitious plan, and others will also insist on true Euro-style high-speed rail, but until America develops a funding mechanism to build such systems, “incremental upgrades” are the key to improving our rail system. Trains should be faster and more frequent than they are now. There should be more of them, going to more places. As more people ride trains, more people will support rail expansion with their patronage and with their votes. Eventually, true high-speed rail will form part of America’s transportation scene, but beware the arriviste High Speed Rail advocates, because the perfect is the enemy of the possible – and the opponents of rail of any kind are well aware of that fact, and will exploit it to the hilt. They will be funding new “High Speed Rail” advocacy groups you never heard of until yesterday ---- prepare for that ---- and will decry incrementalism. Unfortunately, politicians are fair game for that sort of lobbying, because they [usually] lack the technical skills to analyze those proposals.

While many Americans may view high-speed rail as science fiction, today’s science fiction often becomes tomorrow’s reality. Jules Verne wrote in the 19th Century about “20,000 league” submarines, rockets to the moon, and going “Around the World in Eighty Days.” Those notions, and many others of that time, were science fiction then, but many became reality. In the case of high-speed rail, the nation should build, mostly, “higher-speed” rail systems that work NOW at four hours between city pairs, rather than wait [forever] for a two-hour schedule that, if forced to front to the exclusion of what may actually be done today, may never arrive.

On the other hand, if the highway lobby's fifth columnists move the debate in the direction of restoring the timings of the late 1930s (which is what "work NOW at four hours": make that 65 minutes for Chicago - Milwaukee) with incremental improvements in the track structure and signalling, perhaps encouraging the freight railroads to work with the passenger train authorities on implementation of positive train control and on dispatching that keeps the passenger trains moving, the resulting passenger train projects might be running sooner and with lower setup costs.

Some of those routes to additional places might work well as limited-stop commuter trains on memory pattern schedules. An extended Metra service into Wisconsin, for example, with one route offering limiteds calling at Evanston, Waukegan, Kenosha, and Racine and terminating at Milwaukee, and another offering limiteds making Park Ridge, Barrington, Crystal Lake, Woodstock, Harvard, Beloit, and Janesville, and possibly on to Madison, is likely to have a higher benefit-cost ratio than a full-on intercity service with Talgo trains and the other trappings of 110 mph running.
INDIAN SUMMER. A warm-up after the first frost may or may not be Indian Summer.
All in all, even with the variety of opinions on this weather (or seasonal) phenomenon, the most popular belief of Indian Summer is as follows...It is an abnormally warm and dry weather period, varying in length, that comes in the autumn time of the year, usually in October or November, and only after the first killing frost/freeze. There may be several occurrences of Indian Summer in a fall season or none at all.
In some versions of the tradition, Indian Summer requires a spell of sunny days in the 70s (lower twenties in Canada).

Perhaps the temperature criterion misleads. Indian Summer begins when the orange ladybugs break the hibernation they began at the first frost.

17.10.09

THE CODE OF THE SEA. The Cold Spring Shops reference library contains a number of works on Titanic, and Titanic's Last Secrets provided material for a book review earlier this year. For Book Review No. 40, I offer The Other Side of the Night: The Carpathia, the Californian, and the Night the Titanic Was Lost. Perhaps because I was familiar with the story, I was less than impressed. Somebody who is beginning a Titanic library might disagree: Other Side includes vignettes of life as a merchant seaman (but unanswered questions: did trimmers and stokers ever work their way up to engineer, the way cabin boys could work their way up to captain, and how many captains might have viewed dinner table with the Rich and Famous as just one more duty?) and the early history of Marconi wireless (the telegrams the well-off were sending to Cape Race when Californian radio operator Cyril Evans attempted to alert Titanic to the ice field have all the information content of a tweet) and modern insights into Californian master Stanley Lord's psychology.

That noted, despite author Daniel Allen Butler's friendship with maritime historian Walter Lord, and despite Mr Lord's passing the mantle to Mr Butler, and despite Mr Butler's efforts to reconcile the logs of Californian and Titanic so as to establish that the steamer several of Californian's crew observed firing rockets could only be Titanic (an effort reminiscent of Mr Lord working out from Japanese and U. S. reports which SBD squadrons sank which carriers at Midway) there's not much by way of original content. The Night Lives On has much of the same content. The U.S. and British inquiries established Captain Lord's dereliction of duty for all time in 1912, and Captain Lord went on to an uneventful career hauling nitrates in the southern oceans. There's not much reason for another refutation of the books suggesting Californian saw a ship other than Titanic sending up rockets: to paraphrase a passage I saw in some other book about the sinking, it matters not whether a Gloucester fisherman or Flying Dutchman or The British Home Fleet lay between Californian and Titanic and sent up rockets. Several of Californian's crew reported rockets to the captain, and the captain did nothing.

On the other hand, perhaps there is yet another layer of Titanica for marine historians to investigate. Britannic, laid down as Gigantic, hit a mine in the Mediterranean. Olympic rammed and sank a U-boat. Californian and Carpathia were torpedoed. Author Clive (Raise the Titanic) Cussler sponsored an expedition that found Carpathia. I want to know more about the U-boats involved.

(Cross-posted to 50 Book Challenge.)
NAIVETE. Our President's radio address for today took the insurance companies to task in advance, anticipating that they would unleash advertisements and lobbyists as "desperate and deceptive last-ditch efforts of the health insurance companies to derail it." As if a proposal to restructure one-sixth of the economy that might worsen conditions for as much as 85 percent of the population deserves no opposition.
THE PIG-SLICE. That's a Sniglet for the last piece of pizza that has been delivered to a dorm room. The definition suggests a stigma to taking it. So, sometimes, mote it be with common-property resources.

You read more about Dr. Ostrom’s work in these posts from David Bollier at Forbes.com, J.P. Freire at the Washington Examiner, Daniel and my colleague Catherine Rampell.

As Catherine notes, the comedian Larry David explains one way to avoid the tragedy of the commons in an episode of “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” Mr. David discusses the tradition requiring guests at a party to refrain from eating too many hors d’oeuvres at once. After your first helping, he says, you have to wait 20 minutes and make sure that the food isn’t disappearing too quickly before you go back for seconds. Does that qualify as polycentric governance?

On the other hand, we all cracked up in Madison when Claudia Goldin described the community pizza that got inhaled rather quickly. (And Maine lobstermen have been known to enforce taking privileges in their harbors by cutting traplines ...)

Via Insta Pundit, who correctly observes, "Sometimes I think the desire for coercion comes first, then the theory to justify it. . . ."
CALLING THE TURN. The Northern Star asked if the recession had ended.

“Even when a recession is over, unemployment continues to rise,” [current economics chairman Carl] Campbell said. “The labor market is usually the last to recover.”

After other recessions, unemployment rates continued to rise for a significant period of time, Campbell said.

Stephen Karlson, associate professor of economics, said those who say the recession is over are only making conversation.

“We really don’t know it’s over until well after,” Karlson said.

Until two consecutive quarters of economic growth are recorded, economists can’t say for sure that the recession is over, Karlson said.

Campbell said he thinks the recession is probably over, but until data is released for the third quarter, which ended in September, we will not know indefinatly [c.q.].

King Banaian, who does business economics in Northern Pacific country, has a delightful elaboration.
Like Scott Beaulier, I have been asked whether the latest NABE survey that 80% of its respondents think the recession is over is true. And like Beaulier, my first answer is that "it's a survey" which is asking in effect the question "when the NBER business cycle dating committee dates the trough of the Great Recession, what date do you think they'll put on it." Since the survey was done in September, the respondents are saying "we think they'll set it sometime in July or August" (I doubt anyone would say it ended in the second quarter.) We looked at that data last week and you'll know I concluded that "we need a certain move in GDP AND in employment" before we should put a date on it. So I'm in the 20% on that one, but maybe I'm just a lagging indicator :) As I noted, the second derivative issue (or, if you will, the inflection point issue) is a real problem for any forecaster, as Beaulier acknowledges in his third point. We agree there.
Heck, if any of us could call the turns ahead of time, we wouldn't be teaching at regional comprehensives and giving interviews to local reporters, would we?
OUROBOROS. Wisconsin defeats Northern Illinois, who defeats Purdue, who defeats Ohio State, who defeated Wisconsin.

When Wisconsin plays Purdue in two weeks, do they both lose?

16.10.09

RISK MANAGEMENT. Milton Friedman objected to some arguments in favor of safety regulations by noting that people did not have "Property of the United States Government" stamped on their foreheads. I wonder what he would make of the details of the health insurance legislation.

Get in shape or pay a price.

That's a message more Americans could hear if the health care reform bills passed by the Senate Finance and Health committees become law.

By more than doubling the maximum rewards and penalties that companies can apply to employees who flunk medical evaluations, the bills could put workers under intense financial pressure to lose weight, stop smoking or even lower their cholesterol.

The opening paragraphs of the article do not make the naked taxpayers-bear-the-cost-thus-it's-a-public-interest argument, although that's probably in reserve somewhere.
Some employers offer lower premiums to people who complete personal health assessments; others offer only limited benefit packages to smokers.
I think that's called risk management. Individuals can perform their own risk management also. I think that includes choosing not to buy health insurance, but I digress.

President Obama and members of Congress have declared that they are trying to create a system in which no one can be denied coverage or charged higher premiums based on their health status. The health insurance lobby has said it shares that goal. However, so-called wellness incentives could introduce a colossal loophole. In effect, they would permit insurers and employers to make coverage less affordable for people exhibiting risk factors for problems like diabetes, heart disease and stroke.

"Everybody said that we're going to be ending discrimination based on preexisting conditions. But this is in effect discrimination again based on preexisting conditions," said Ann Kempski of the Service Employees International Union.

The word discrimination is overworked here. A national newspaper that hires only graduates of the most highly regarded journalism programs discriminates. The behavior is legal, and possibly rational. A local business owner who hires only people that looks like him discriminates. The behavior is illegal, and possibly irrational. An insurer that raises rates on the basis of risk discriminates. The behavior is rational: to declare it illegal, spell out your loss function.
The incentives could attack a national epidemic of obesity. They also cut to a philosophical core of the health care debate. Should health insurance be like auto insurance, in which good drivers earn discounts and reckless ones pay a price, thereby encouraging better habits? Or should it be a safety net in which the young and healthy support the old and sick with the understanding that youth and good health are transitory?
I suspect, given the general reluctance of politicians to confront tradeoffs, that Congress will attempt to enact both.
Under current regulation, incentives based on health factors can be no larger than 20 percent of the premium paid by employer and employee combined. The legislation passed by the Health and Finance committees would increase the limit to 30 percent, and it would give government officials the power to raise it to 50 percent.
Given that young people who view themselves as healthy do not currently have to buy any health insurance at all, even a 50 percent discount might be insufficient inducement, suggesting resistance to any mandatory purchase requirement.

However, state employees might already have that "Property Of" stamped on their foreheads.

North Carolina has angered some state employees by introducing a wellness program that would limit the most generous benefits package to those who meet body mass targets and don't smoke. The state would allow employees to satisfy the requirement by enrolling in weight management or smoking cessation programs.

When fully implemented, the program is projected to reduce the state health plan's medical expenses by 1.2 percent, spokeswoman Linda McCrudden said by e-mail.

That's a lot of induced demand for health clubs and patent medicine for a relatively small payoff. The article doesn't spell out other options the state considered.
ENABLING DYSFUNCTION. Yesterday, I caught snippets of the story of the runaway balloon in Colorado that, at the time it was flying around, attracted national news attention in fears that a small boy was in the passenger compartment. Local newscasters held out hopes that he had gone into hiding for fear of being disciplined, rather than being in, or having fallen off, the balloon.

When the balloon landed, with no passenger, and the boy later turned up in the garage attic, my first reaction was a short post on the nature of O Scale as an extreme hobby.

Developments this morning provoke a different reaction. A reality show called Wife Swap? As if Jackass isn't foolish enough? With higher education enabling the failures of K-12 by offering remediation and making self-congratulatory statements about it, and with K-12 enabling failure by offering mainstreaming and making self-congratulatory statements about it, don't I have enough by way of what-people-get-rewarded-for-they-do-more-of to gripe about already?
NOT GOING TO MAKE IT WITH ANYONE. Yesterday I caught snippets of Glenn Beck's program, which was an entire hour devoted to complaining about Maoists in the Obama administration. Reason's Nick Gillespie has perhaps the most trenchant observation about the program.
I admit it. I want my reality back. I don't know when it went missing. But I want it back.

Take heart. An affirmative-action presidency succeeds a legacy presidency that succeeded a frivolous presidency. The Republic is more resilient than that.
VOUCHERS SAVED. The Illinois Legislature has voted to appropriate $205 million to continue the Monetary Assistance Program for Illinois collegians. What will have to be cut or deferred remains to be determined. In the lobbying in Springfield, representatives from public and private Illinois universities put aside their differences over whether the state ought to be providing aid to private universities long enough to preserve the program.

15.10.09

THE LAST KODACHROME. One day, someone will estimate the environmental impact of digital photography displacing film photography that depends on photosensitive chemicals. The substitution of digital for film has induced retrenchments, including Kodak's phaseout of Kodachrome.

There was one reel left in the camera, and I had to finish it before the last processing lab closes. (Shutter priority, sufficient light for 1/500 sec., open to f5.6.)



Savanna, Illinois, below Mississippi Palisades State Park.
September 27, 2009.


I'm surprised that BNSF is running baretable trains in the middle of a recession. (With as much idle shipping capacity as there is, making a joke about negative stacks on this train seems a bit much.) Here is evidence that such trains are being run.

Kodachrome has long been the film of choice for ferroequinologists, although it was possible that visitors to Disney World went through more of the stuff in a day than all the trainspotters in Illinois went through in a summer of fan trips.

OBSERVATION OF THE DAY. Shannon Love of Chicago Boyz details higher education's failure.

The ideal of academic freedom rests on an implied contract between the general society and academia. According to this contract academia will use that freedom to explore and question every possible subject from every possible perspective. It’s the same contract we have with scientists. We let scientists poke around into uncomfortable areas as long as they use scientific methodology to do so. We expect academics in non-scientific areas to do the same. We expect that any academic should understand all perspectives on their area of study and that they should be able to make cogent arguments from of those perspectives.

Yet since the 1960s corrupt leftists have hijacked academia to serve their own political interest. They have abandoned their obligation to investigate every perspective and instead have used the power and status of academia to advance their own pet political causes. Indeed, many in academia seem to consider themselves political activists first and foremost and public intellectuals secondarily if at all. Even the very organizational structure of the modern liberal-arts department is built around the leftists’ obsession with race, sex, sexual orientation, imperialism, colonialism, etc. Modern academics actively suppress non-leftists’ perspectives.

Political correctness has certainly contributed to higher education's breach of the social contract. There are other causes, some of which come out in the comments to the Chicago Boyz post.
DEVELOPING THE HUMAN CAPITAL. Employers anticipate shortages of skilled workers who are not necessarily symbolic analysts.

A report being released Thursday by The Workforce Alliance and the Skills2Compete-Wisconsin campaign says 54% of Wisconsin's current jobs and 46% of the projected needs are in middle-skill occupations such as registered nurses, customer service representatives and truck drivers.

However, only 46% of Wisconsin's workers have middle-skill training. And while the recession has thrown a wrench in short-term hiring outlooks, expectations of worker shortages are raising concerns - even in the beleaguered manufacturing and construction industries.

Perhaps in time the labor markets will adjust (are adjusting already?) the returns to a university degree. In the meantime, some people risk being disappointed.
"The middle skills are really underappreciated," said Mike Fabishak, chief executive officer of the contractors association. "So many people, characteristically driven by their parents, have been sort of college-oriented without the appreciation that one out of two kids don't even graduate."
And many graduates qualify for an entry-level management position at the company they worked for to pay their way through. The article suggests that community colleges devote more resources to their technical programs. Presumably Milwaukee's Bradley Tech is too far deteriorated for the policymakers to contemplate producing blue collar aristocrats in high school plus one year.
YOUR TAX DOLLARS AT WORK. Vermont Tiger notes the internal inconsistencies in the stimulus package.
Well, then, what was the rush to get the bill passed? Wasn't this great infusion of government cash supposed to jump-start the economy? Weren't we all supposed to get economically well because the government was now going to front the money for all these "shovel ready" projects? At the very least, weren't we going to see a sudden run on shovels?
Your mileage may vary. Lincoln Highway through DeKalb has been a work zone all summer, and you can't cross the Rock River into the North West Frontier anywhere south of the Grant Highway without encountering a work zone.
Now they tell us that the money wasn't intended to be injected into the economy like a shot of adrenaline and that all along, the government plan was to take it slow. That a lot of the money is being spent to save jobs at the state level, to include those of teachers. To reward a core constituency of the party in power, in other words.
Or to defer the layoffs until later? The Illinois legislature did not reduce its appropriation to Northern Illinois this year, but $4.5 million is from the stimulus money. We don't know if that implies a permanent reduction in the state appropriation later. But for this academic year, the President is able to claim the entire Northern Illinois University workforce as jobs saved.
WILL A PRECIPITATE FORM? National Chemistry Week will include a demonstration on October 21 in Faraday 143.

A few weeks ago, the theater department presented Tomfoolery, including "The Elements."

14.10.09

WHY YUPPIE HELL HAPPENS.

To the west of Cold Spring Shops headquarters is this row of houses. From the rear, they give the aspect of a large Executive Box house (that's a term I learned in the late 1970s, which at that time referred to a standard two-story, four bedroom house that could be put up just about anywhere). From streetside, these have the gables and columns that have become more popular of late, and a perusal of the real estate listings (a number of these being on the market at distress prices) reveals that many have the atrium configuration that has also become more popular today. There are two or three floor plans among these houses. Decks are an extra-cost option and the ones you see went up at different times over the last two or three years (some of these houses being older than headquarters, where the deck was part of the plan from the beginning).


I was under the impression that contemporary builders of tract houses offered a limited variety of floorplans in order to amortize architectural costs and take advantage of learning curves (until a recession approaches: that's the time to talk about optimizing your basement for a train room) and that a subdivision would contain houses of comparable designs in a narrow price range as a consequence of those supply-side incentives.

From Next Stop, Reloville: Life Inside America's New Rootless Professional Class, the subject of Book Review No. 39, I've learned that there's a demand-side incentive as well. That rootless professional class comprises people who give up any sense of place in order to achieve promotions more rapidly. We've had such people with us for as long as improved transportation has made national and global corporations possible (The Organization Man being an early study of their lives, and the Executive Box reference coming in the context of relocation-for-promotion of about 30 years ago) and interchangeable houses help employer and employee arrange career moves, by simplifying the task of the specialists the employer retains to buy and sell houses for people it transfers, and by allowing the employee to move the same stuff into effectively the same house if at a different address. Alpharetta, Georgia becomes Fishers, Indiana, becomes Woodbury, Minnesota, becomes Plano, Texas. The soccer fields and tennis clubs and swimming pool in the subdivision, which might be a gated community, are also there. The striving middle managers get sent to the $250 K to $500 K tract, and the soon-to-be vice presidents get sent to the $1 million to $5 million tract. Author Peter Kilborn suggests that the value corporations place on willingness to relocate contributes to sprawl, because no soon-to-be-transferred-and-promoted homeowner (if holding an interest-only mortgage in the expectation of an equity gain at the next transfer qualifies as ownership) will do much by way of planting a garden or building a deck or performing maintenance, and the relocation assistance companies prefer to place clients in new houses. Thus some of the Executive Box tracts of the 1970s (the $85 K to $125 K equivalents of the $250 K tract of today) have fallen into disrepair or become home to the kind of owners (clotheslines! trucks parked outside overnight! fuchsia trim!) that were once proscribed by zoning codes or homeowner association rules.
The book focuses on the experiences of relatively few families, which make efforts by Mr Kilborn to generalize suspect. There are, all the same, possible areas of more systematic inquiry. Much of the reporting takes place in Alpharetta, a place where there are no commuter trains, and the traffic congestion is terrible. But perhaps the use of places such as Alpharetta as stopovers for families destined for Winnetka or Scarsdale enables sprawl. People do not stay in such communities long enough to become active in local politics and take an interest in the infrastructure. (Perhaps the builders of those oh-so-economically-segregated tracts also place the most expensive houses in such a way that the one exit from the subdivision, cul-de-sacs and curved roads being inimical to a grid, gives residents a right turn into the principal direction of travel on the arterial street or mile road, reducing the griping about traffic from potentially the most influential gripers.) The school districts, police, and fire protection, might rely on people who have to live at a distance from the Upgraded Executive Boxes and McMansions that change hands among the transferees. As long as the test scores are high, and the athletic teams competitive, Curriculum Wars are probably infrequent, and silly zero-tolerance policies unchallenged.
There's a related post at Congress for a New Urbanism, recommeded by The Political Environment. Again, what happens if there's a collection of fancy houses, but no bike trails or sidewalks, and nobody there long enough to notice?

Mr Kilborn also suggests that frequent relocations can be difficult for children, and for the trailing spouse, usually Mom, that is, if the marriage has survived the moves and the office politics. There's probably a lot of social science waiting to be done (or brought to my attention?) on the effects of a corporate culture that is still old-school in many ways in the presence of increased labor force participation by women and under the influence of second- and third-wave feminism.

Or not? He also suggests that most of the residents of Reloville have degrees from "public universities of the Great Plains and the Midwest" (see page 217), or, more accurately, from the land-grant football factories of the old Big Eight and Big Ten (but he doesn't specifically mention Michigan, Minnesota, or Wisconsin, which feed workers to Chicago and the Twin Cities in the same way the Ivies supply the Northeast Corridor, and his Illinois examples might be outliers) located in states without major cities or major corporate headquarters. And the principal interest of many of the Relos he interviews, male or female, appear to be running and playing tennis and watching football. Perhaps we're seeing a new form of Babbitts, no longer confined to Gopher Prairie, but with no reason to take an interest in the quality of life of whatever Upscale Prairie they are inhabiting for the next two years. Perhaps, also, those land-grants do not have to fret either about a comprehensive academic mission (entry-level job preparation is sufficient) or about a brain drain as long as the football programs are successful. That's clearly a topic for future research.

(Cross-posted to 50 Book Challenge.)