Saturday, December 31, 2005

A NARN blog is born 

In less than two minutes after we suggested the creation of a blog called the Persistent Burrito, it appears, and has comments.

Thanks to Ed, we cross a number 

Captain Ed threw us a nice reference to push the meter on this blog (established almost from the outset three years ago) over 500,000 hits. Many thanks to him and to all our readers for the new year.

Friday, December 30, 2005

Preparing to kick 2005 down the road 

Random thoughts as we prepare for the new year:

We're violating the usual quiet New Year's Eve celebration tomorrow thanks to a colleague who couldn't use tickets to a benefit for the St. Cloud Symphony. Mrs. S and I will dress up and go out on a New Year's Eve for the first time in about ten years. I intend to sneak back home in time to set off some fireworks with Littlest at midnight, a tradition we started last year.

Captain Ed's first mate is having some medical problems. Give up a prayer for her tonight and into the New Year. If you haven't given out all your gifts for the year, there was a neat editorial featuring WorldVision and the Heifer Project in the STrib. Give thanks.

I enjoy reading other people make predictions for the new year, since it's something I do much more regularly (though not as much as Bob, who's the go-to guy for St. Cloud weather.) I think in terms of probabilities and not inclined to say "X will happen in 2006". But I will say this much: While the national economy is unlikely to enter a recession in 2006 (I'll set the probability at 5%), there is a substantial probability that the housing industry will suffer some stress in several parts of the country, including St. Cloud. I make it a 20% probability that house prices nationwide fall by more than 5%.

We'll do resolutions and other year-end activities tomorrow on the Northern Alliance, which we'll do live 12-3pm. Barring more heavy snow, I'll be there. I'll be off the air the following two weekends for travel to conferences and back on the show on 1/21. With all that driving, I may not be back here until Monday, and so HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Details in litle Mao hoax emerge 

The Boston Globe reports that some faculty want punishments handed down in the false story on the government seeking out a UMass-Dartmouth student who asked to read Mao's Little Red Book. There are some details in the story that are news to me, in particular the behavior of the two faculty members who went public with the story, Professors Robert Glyn Williams and Robert Pontbriand:
It was Williams who first told the Standard-Times about his former student's claim after the reporter called him for comment about President Bush's approval of a controversial domestic spying program.

After expressing his concerns about government surveillance, Williams told the reporter as an afterthought about the purported visit by Homeland Security agents, and that became the thrust of the story, Williams said.

When the story created a media storm, Williams said, he resolved to check its veracity. Last Friday, he said, his former student confessed it was a fabrication.

...Pontbriand, a lecturer in the history department, said he never initiated any calls to reporters and merely confirmed that the student in his seminar on totalitarianism had asserted that he had been visited by federal agents.

''I have never used the classroom or the public forum to promote any personal political ideology, and I certainly have not done so in this case," he said.
Assuming Pontbriand's story is accurate, what appears is a student who told a story to two faculty who chose to believe the fabrication. When others pointed out the rather obvious holes in the story, Williams went to check it out, found the story fake, and alerted the reporter of the fabrication. I think it's fair to surmise that Prof. Williams was predisposed to believe the story, and likely as well to have retold it to the reporter to bolster his "concerns about government surveillance". I don't think that's grounds for a reprimand as others at the campus call for, but some commenters on this board think we should be harsher. I think we'll just have to disagree on that.


The 2002-05 expansion: Less difference than meets the eye 

I always repay debts, and since I once used the signal for a KAR fisking of some student's silly screediness I stand ready to help out my brethren. (Note: KAR fiskings tend to the PG-13 side of things, if you get my drift. And please don't ask them about chaps.) And they have signaled for a close shave on this STrib editorial. As it turns out, this one I'd do for free.

I don't do the line-for-line thing much in this, because the problems with this thing are threefold, and you can pull many quotes to the one or more of the three. The first part is the usual sort of thing: Republican Congress and President have given us tax cuts, four of them in fact, and they're planning a fifth. (The scoundrels! Giving taxpayers their money back! We must stop them!) And all of it going to the rich. You can't swing a dead cat around the blogosphere without hitting two or three posts in this meme.

Actually, the STrib doesn't say the "all going to the rich" part. That comes from their claimed source, a report by the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities. Don't worry that it's a liberal think tank, says the STrib -- the Economic Report of the President says the same thing.

The first error that it makes is in comparing this recession to nine others while skipping over the fact that this recovery looks quite a bit like the last one on a majority of scores. The STrib offers a single sentence that draws a comparison:
...on key measures such as job creation, wage growth and business investment, the current expansion even lags behind the expansion of the 1990s -- when Congress and President Bill Clinton were raising taxes to reduce deficits.
Clinton raised taxes in the 1990s? Let me remind you. There was a tax hike in 1993. There was a tax cut in 1997. Guess which half of the Clinton years GDP grew faster in?

And what that clip does is cherry-pick the only three elements of that expansion that are different from the current one. By folding the 1991-99 expansion into the prior eight, the STrib ignores the following.
A comparison of the current period with the economic cycle of the early 1990s yields a more mixed picture, whether measured since the trough of the downturn or relative to the last economic peak. (Again, see Table 1.)
� GDP and personal consumption expenditure growth differed little during the two periods.
� Net worth has grown modestly faster during this period than in the early 1990s.
� Corporate profits have increased roughly twice as fast during the current period as in the earlier period.
� But labor market indicators have been significantly weaker during this period. For instance, during this economic recovery, job growth has occurred at just one-third of the pace that it did during the comparable part of the economic recovery of the early 1990s.
� Fixed non-residential investment also has grown significantly more slowly during this economic cycle. During this recovery, it has grown at a 3.7 percent annual rate, well below the 5.7 percent annual rate at which it grew over the comparable portion of the early 1990s recovery.
That, by the way, isn't from the Bush administration's ERP but from the CBPP report itself (p. 5). (Here's the full version.) If the STrib had actually bothered to read the ERP, it might know as well that consumption spending was never an issue in this recession.
In the prior recessions, on average, consumption growth moderated starting six quarters before the recession�s eventual trough, did not actually fall until two quarters before the trough, and began to rise in the quarter before the trough. In the 1990-1991 recession, consumption rose rapidly until two quarters before the trough, dropped sharply until the trough, and mostly grew thereafter. The most recent recession stands out as different in that consumption continued to grow throughout. This likely reflects the important role of fiscal and monetary stimulus in supporting demand and the unusual extent to which the recession resulted from a collapse in investment following the bubble of the late 1990s. (pp. 51-52, emphasis added.)
Here then is a second important point. The weird behavior of consumption and investment result from those tax cuts. The reason consumption doesn't rise rapidly in this expansion is because it never slowed down in the recession. You may wish to argue that the tax cuts had little to do with keeping consumption strong; I don't see how you avoid the conclusion that the recovery would have been much slower without the cuts.

That leaves two areas of concern over the current expansion. First, the slowness in investment is real, though if you look at the 2005 data and most projections for 2006, we see a turnaround in the making. It is absurd, in my view, to think that investment would rise as fast as other elements of GDP in this recovery when the recession was set off by a collapse in investment following the tech bubble of the 1990s. (See, for instance, this 2003 letter by San Francisco Fed researcher Kevin Lansing, esp. Figure 3.) If there was excess capacity generated by the late 1990s bubble, it would be expected to take time to unwind the excess investment. It would be hard to blame the Bush administration for that bubble bursting; it's also hard to imagine that any tax cut or spending program would fix it.

That leaves us with the dilemma macroeconomists have wondered for years now, which is where are the jobs while we're experiencing this expansion? For that we can look to Atlanta Fed researcher Julie Hotchkiss' paper on labor force participation and the level of job creation needed to keep unemployment falling. What we don't know is why fewer people are participating in the labor force.

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Thursday, December 29, 2005

Productivity and policy 

Students in principles macro learn -- or at least they should -- that per capita GDP rises either by increasing the amount of capital invested in each worker or by increasing the productivity of each worker with the capital they have. When we look at productivity data, we don't necessarily know which of those has happened. Paul Mirengoff agrees with Arnold Kling that we cannot tell whose policies increase or decrease capital.

But we can point to a couple of items. First, the 'capital' I'm using should be described as broadly as possible -- it includes human and physical capital. For example those policies that make education more efficient, insofar as they increase human capital for the same years in school, increase our living standards. would help, for example.

Second, agreeing with Kling, productivity changes take time but we know what matters most are institutions and incentives. Consider Mahalanobis' dismay over how Austrians view their own future. Austria and the US are rich countries, have been for quite some time and are likely to continue to be so. But look at his graph and see Argentina, a country that at the end of World War II had per capita GDP (adjusted for purchasing power parity) at European standards. How did the European productivity gains elude them, so that their per capita GDP is now less than 40% of the USA? They aren't any less smart, and they have access to the same technology.

It is a matter of policy. It's just that it takes a damn long time for the differences to become as stark as modern day Argentina. A good read that my students get is Mauricio Rojas' The Sorrows of Carmencita (available as a pdf from this link, though I hope you'll thank Timbro and buy a copy.)


Would that be a user fee or a tax, sir? 

Courtesy of Anoka Flash, we find that the People's Republic of St. Paul is looking at a fee on college students.
St. Paul's colleges and universities may feel the jolt of a tax revolt if an idea being floated by City Council Member Jay Benanav becomes a reality.
Benanav, whose ward includes the University of St. Thomas and Hamline University, is researching whether the city should charge institutions of higher education a per-student fee of $25 to pay for police and fire services. State law exempts schools and other nonprofit organizations from paying property taxes.

"Not that colleges don't add to the quality of life," Benanav said. "But we provide all sorts of public safety services that they don't pay for and that get paid for by property owners and businesses."
There are six private schools in St. Paul and five public ones. The move could net $800,000 per year. The schools of course will complain, but given the size of tuition increases recently, exactly how big a hit would they take? Benanav's move looks to me like the old Colbert adage of plucking the goose with minimum squawking and hissing.


You're not unemployed, you're a free agent 

University Diaries makes a very good point discussing a tenure case at Yale that didn't turn out well. Anyone taking the time to think about the academic job market -- as most new PhDs must, as they enter it -- knows that different schools have different probabilities of achieving tenure. And anyone taking time to research the question knows that the probabilities of achieving tenure from a tenure-track position at an Ivy League school is quite low. Think of it like the Yankees -- if you are a young player in their system you might wear the pinstripes, but since they can pay so much and their history gives them cachet with every free agent, the chances of being a Yankee regular are small for a Yankee farmhand. On the other hand, if you are a minor league player for the Royals, there's a good chance you'll be a starter if you're good. Ivy League schools have that opportunity to purchase talent -- lots of it -- that's already established. The SCSUs of the world can't.

So I agree with Margaret Soltan that it's hard to feel much sympathy for David Graeber and his story in today's New York Times. He has six years of exposure to colleagues, students and resources that most of us would dream of, and as she says, should have taken advantage of to find a good job elsewhere. It's so well known, you wonder why this is a story. She explains,
...this vague story remains compelling to newspapers because it seems to fit a perennially attractive conflictual scenario -- the one between bold revolutionary spirits and conventional repressive institutions. At the end of its article, the NYTimes trots out Stanley Aronowitz to announce that "places like Yale are not for people like David Graeber. He's a public intellectual. He speaks out. He participates. He's not someone who simply does good scholarship; he's an activist and a controversial person." But there are plenty of such people at Yale.


Grading self-preservation 

I got a lovely note thanking me for a C last night. So much better than the "I have a question about my grade and was wondering when and where I could meet with you to discuss it" emails I normally get. And now I have more to worry about. From CNN:
A college student upset about a failing grade followed his professor to her Cambridge home and allegedly stabbed her in the neck, police said.

Nikhil Dhar, 22, of Lowell, pleaded not guilty Friday to charges of armed assault with intent to murder and assault and battery with a dangerous weapon. He was held without bail pending a hearing Wednesday.

Mary Elizabeth Hooker, an assistant professor of clinical lab sciences at the University of Massachusetts-Lowell, was hospitalized with a stab wound to her neck.

Hooker told police Dhar approached her at her home and wanted to talk about "not obtaining a passing grade in her class," Cambridge police officer Edward Frammartino wrote in his report.

The 54-year-old assistant professor of clinical lab sciences offered to meet him at a coffee shop, but Dhar "became very irate and abusive towards her," Frammartino wrote.

Dhar dragged her out of the house, hit her and slashed her neck, according to the police report.

Neighbors called police after they heard screaming and saw Hooker struggling with a man in her front yard. A neighbor chased Dhar and cornered him until police arrived. They found a knife at the scene.

Dhar's attorney, Stephen Hrones, described it as a "complicated situation."

"There's two sides to every story," he said.
Well, I cannot wait to hear the student's side of this. It's worth noting that Lowell is about 20 miles from Cambridge, so this wasn't just a spur of the moment thing.

I also am glad SCSU lets me send in grades after Christmas. Story via Cranky Professor, who gets similar types of email to mine.


Wednesday, December 28, 2005

One of my favorite things 

is baseball. And one of the things I enjoy most is listening to baseball playes talk. They have a language all their own, as the year in quotes shows. Here are a few examples with local flavor:
"If I'm going to get chased around the shower, it's going to be by my wife."
--Twins manager Ron Gardenhire, on how he won't shower in the clubhouse with Johan Santana and Carlos Silva around (Minneapolis Star-Tribune) [we need the backstory here people! I smell a Brokeback Mountain scoop! --kb]

"Yes, he offended everyone in the Bay Area."
--Giants manager Felipe Alou, when reminded that A.J. Pierzynski is a more offensive catcher than the defensive-minded Mike Matheny (Sacramento Bee)

"Everybody knows I'm an everyday player. I know I'm not a bench player."
--Washington Nationals shortstop Cristian Guzman, who was hitting .187/.228/.277 at the time (Washington Times)

"I would appreciate it if you identify us as Loyola Marymount University Los Angeles By The Sea Near Marina del Rey."
--Frank Cruz, Loyola Marymount University baseball coach, commenting on the Anaheim Angel's name change (L.A. Daily Breeze)

--Dodgers pitching coach Jim Colburn, when asked what pitches Kaz Ishii has the most trouble throwing (Bergen Record)

OK, those last two aren't local, but they got the biggest laughs from me. And if you aren't a Baseball Prospectus regular reader and subscriber, well, you should be.

Can't a brother get any love? 

Let's see here. We are:
Forget "selectively outraged". I think I will be "indiscriminately outraged" from now on. That way I'll seem fair.

But still won't get any love.***

UPDATE: You think I'm having a bad day? Yes, I am. Want to know why? Because he'll never come to St. Cloud now. I'm stuck in a city that can't even support a KK, let alone the mighty double-D. Three Caribous within a mile of each other on Division, yes. Honey-dip and a regulah cahfee? Twenty years I've waited in vain. And now he's gone.

*-- This morning my pastor tells me he was at a meeting for a non-profit organization and met another SCSU professor. Asked him if he knew me. Pastor says, "I've learned that it isn't always the best thing to ask people at your school if they know you." Forget the rest of the snubs -- my own pastor is slamming me!
**--there are two links, Ed, and only the first one is right. The blogspot site has been unmanned since 9/04.
***--but if you'd like to make that little sitemeter turn to 500k by the end of 2005, we'll adjust the meds.

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A lot of gas? 

It's probably not too cold in Ukraine and Russia right now, because there's a lot of heated air being exchanged between the countries. Ukrainian prime minister Yury Yenukharov is refusing to pay the price for Russian gas, and this has broader implications for Russian defense programs. President Yuschenko has at least agreed not to threaten the Crimea naval base Russia leases for access to the Black Sea.

The Russians are even having problems with meat going through the country, while accusing Ukraine of planning to steal gas. Yesterday an important member of the Russian cabinet quit after angering Putin with comments like this,
He said that Dutch disease was replaced in Russia by Venezuelan disease and since then by Saudi disease. The economy has become rent-oriented, the development model is corporate and the regime undemocratic. ... Illarionov also for the first time made direct reference to the business interests of Putin's closest associates, saying that the heads of state-owned companies do not act in the interests of the state.

The Ukrainians, meanwhile, are starting to increase energy prices.

This pas de deux is a usual feature of post-Soviet relations between the two countries. But Anders Aslund and Adrian Karatnycky in the WSJ put this episode at a new level, and say it is meddling by Russia in Ukrainian affairs.
The Russian government makes sure that Gazprom maintains low prices of $48 per mcm for Moscow-loyal Belarus while Georgia and Armenia -- two other ex-Soviet republics with a more independent, pro-Western policy -- are to pay $110 next year. Indeed, if, as President Putin now insists, all this is a matter of economics, why has Russia eschewed quiet and pragmatic negotiations and been so vocal in fanning disagreement? There are three political reasons.

First, Russia seeks to influence Ukraine's March 2006 parliamentary elections by suggesting to Ukrainian voters that the current government in Kiev is economically incompetent and its pro-Western tilt harmful to consumers.

Second, the Kremlin seeks to discredit Ukraine's "Orange" government among Russian citizens in order to inoculate its population from the contagion of democratic revolution.

Third, Russia seeks to drive a wedge between Europe and Ukraine by painting the Kiev government as reckless and unreliable.
If Russia is trying to influence the Ukrainian elections, who does it wish to see come to power? The losers of the last election, the Kuchma-Yanukovych crowd? I doubt that. They will have no credibility. So perhaps it will be deposed prime minister Yulya Tymoshenko.

See also Vladimir Socor for a detailed analysis from last week.

This is a linky post that is meant to ponder, not draw strong conclusions, because it's anyone's guess. I am only drawing attention to the fact that this may be more than the normal jousting between Russia and its neighbors. Or it may be a lot of hot air that leads to nothing at all.

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Textbooks with ads 

This will make for quite the discussion on campus when I post it on the discuss list, but it's too juicy to ignore. Here is Freeload Press, a company willing to give e-textbooks away in return for displaying advertising. They will also sell bound paper copies with or without ads, without ancilliaries. So far it appears they have four books available in accounting and finance. But students will find this, and they will use it. My principles course last semester had the option of an e-book for 2/3 the price of a print copy (or about the same $30 that Freeload is charging for print) and a little less than half chose that option.

So while my colleagues are debating why ads are allowed on classroom building bulletin boards while ads for their favored political candidates are not, they may find that their own students are agreeing to view ads in return for lower textbook prices. Says the company's FAQ:
The idea will be too much of a cultural leap for some, and they'll opt out. Others will make decisions strictly as they have done in the past, basing them on coverage, writing style, level, ancillaries, relationship with a sales rep, and the like. However, the issue of price is now so pervasive that many instructors will be drawn to our model because of the price/value consideration alone.
We shall see.

(h/t: Jim Mahar.)

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Dragged to Division I? 

The local paper last weekend carried an article on SCSU's exploration of going to Division I in athletics. It is portrayed as a decision forced upon SCSU by the defection of other programs to D-I from the North Central Conference in which SCSU plays.
North Dakota has assembled a task force that will study whether the school should move to Division I for all of its sports teams. The task force has been asked to do a survey on the issue and make a recommendation by the end of this academic school year.

If the Sioux decide to move up, one of St. Cloud State�s options would be to follow, having all of 21 of its teams compete at the Division I level. Currently, the men�s and women�s hockey teams are the St. Cloud State teams competing at that level.

�We love Division II, we love the North Central Conference � that has never changed,� Kurtz said. �We have seven very solid members in the conference, but scheduling is continuing to get more difficult. We have problems scheduling nonconference games.�
For example, we have a twenty-seven game basketball schedule. Playing each team in the conference twice means finding fifteen non-conference opponents. Because of this our schedule includes two games against independent Upper Iowa, which went D-II only two years ago, and Wayne State College. (There are several games against the Northern Sun conference or NSIC, long considered a lower level of competition to the North Central.)

I'm told that if UND should decide to jump to Division I, Nebraska-Omaha would also leave the NCC, leaving the choices as going to D-I ourselves or joining another D-II conference, most likely the NSIC. Jerry Henkemeyer, an SCSU Hall of Fame football and baseball player, says in the Times' article, that the costs are not just the $4.5 million additional we would need to pay.

�You have to have student support and the faculty has to play a bigger role in it.�

Henkemeyer said that that support is not only in terms of attending games.

�Student fees would have to go up and the faculty would have to have more understanding of athletics and that they want to work with the athletes in the programs,� he said. �There would be more scholarship players, so you�re going to have to have the faculty keep an eye on these students that they are doing their studies and keeping up their grades.�
I don't understand this comment at all. We have not had a problem with scholarship students in the past. Coaches have by and large recruited athletes who can meet our academic standards (we're not exactly Stanford here). You can bet that quote will show up in discussions on campus if the decision is made to move up.

The Sioux have the largest budget in the NCC and are fearful of proposals to cut the maximum number of football scholarships offered from 36 to 24. North Dakota also is hearing about not playing North Dakota State, which was its biggest rival before the Bison moved to Division I before the 2004-05 school year.
SCSU is at 28 scholarships, it says (I have heard from fans that it is less than this but cannot confirm that.) As I said before, while the D-I limit is 65, you can go for a non-scholarship program. But doing so would mean we would still not play the Dakota schools -- as they are going to up their scholarships. And those are the games the boosters of SCSU athletics, particularly football, want to see most. If you want to play, you have to pay.

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Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Blown away 

The two DFL candidates in District 15 have won. Not even close.

I just threw up in my mouth.

And then I read this, and this, I am off to wash the vomit down, before these people figure out how to tax my Scotch out of my hands.

Reardon's side 

Newsday reports that Jeff Reardon, who was arrested earlier in the day for allegedly robbing a jewelry store, was under the influence of depression medication.
Reardon has fallen on hard times in recent years, apparently beginning with the death of his 20-year-old son in February 2004 because of what Beers called a drug overdose.

Beers said Reardon, in addition to being on medication for depression, underwent a heart angioplasty last week.

"He asked me to apologize to his fans and friends," Beers said. "This bizarre incident is completely uncharacteristic of Jeff Reardon."
From the Palm Beach Post, he told this to the police rather quickly after arrest:

Reardon made off with $170 but was followed outside by the store manager, according to an arrest report. In the mall parking lot, a Palm Beach Gardens police officer stopped him and placed him under arrest.

Police say Reardon admitted, "I am taking medication and am sorry for what happened." He added: "I completely lost my mind and tried to rob (a) jewelry store. I flipped on my medications and didn't realize what I was doing," according to an arrest report.

One sixth of the public takes antidepressants and most of them are not knocking over jewelry stores. But I feel bad for the guy. I wonder if there's any way the meds for his depression and anything he'd take for angioplasty would mix to create this reaction?

Optimism is a function of leadership 

I was reading Hindrocket's post today on the Quinnipiac poll. I find this fascinating that we had Republicans much happier in 2005 than Democrats. I went back and dug up a Pew poll from 1997, which would be the same (fifth) year of the Clinton Administration, though it's in January. There the results are quite reversed: Optimism won out 52-21 with Clinton voters, but 30-41 towards pessimism with Dole voters, similarly with Perot voters, and about even for nonvoters and independents. Does optimism depend on who our leaders are?

I also thought these Quinnipiac results were interesting:

In 2006, do you think the world will be a more peaceful or less peaceful place?

More peaceful 42%
Less peaceful 45%

More peaceful 30%
Less peaceful 55%

So Republicans aren't necessarily more optimistic due to expectations of victory in the GWOT. And there's little difference in optimism for 2006 between the two groups. Could it be because both sides expect political victory next November?


Inversion: should we worry? 

The yield curve on Treasury securities inverted today, meaning you got a higher rate of return on a two-year note than a ten-year note. Ten-yeras are typically .9% higher. Should we be concerned? Opinions differ:

Bear Stearns Cos. expects any inversion to last ``several'' months, according to David Boberski, head of interest rate strategy at the New York-based firm.

``It will stay inverted until it's clear we're at the peak of the business cycle and rate hikes are done,'' Boberski said Dec. 20. ``Whether we're coming up to that peak in the next few quarters is unclear.''

An inversion would still likely be viewed as an ``ominous sign'' for the economy and be followed by an economic slowdown, or even a recession, said Tony Crescenzi, a bond strategist at Miller, Tabak & Co. in New York.

He wrote a book called ``The Strategic Bond Investor'' and taught classes on the bond market at Baruch College's executive MBA program.

Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan said in congressional testimony in July that there is ``a misconception'' of the importance of the yield curve. The curve's ``efficacy as a forecasting tool has diminished very dramatically.''

The Bloomberg article shows five inversion periods since 1980. A masters thesis I just supervised supports Greenspan's view -- the yield spread's predictive powers have diminished since the 1970s. James Hamilton thinks differently.

David Altig looks at Fed Funds futures markets and thinks the Fed may be done raising short-term rates. Are they moving to neutral too late to avoid a recession later this year? Our new Quarterly Business Report from SCSU shows local businesses are pretty optimistic that 2006 will start off strong. I don't think this inversion is a sign of an upcoming recession ... but it bears watching.


I should get out more 

Of the twenty most-blogged-about books according to the New York Times, I've read six this year and four others prior to 2005. Tipping Point is at the top of the pile right now (I enjoyed Blink greatly), and Kurzweil is down there somewhere. (h/t: Monsieur le Bumble.)

I finally watched (on Christmas Eve afternoon, no less), Fred Barnes' interview of Thomas Sowell. As much as I love Sowell's writing, I had the impression he would be rather arrogant. He's not. If you can watch it some time, do so. If you can make me a tape of it, I'd use it.

I had no idea Edward Castronova would become so famous for studying online universes. I should have played more games and blogged less. (Mrs. S would agree.)

The other Terminator 

The Twins and my Red Sox have had their share of players who played for both teams. One of them was Jeff Reardon, who was arrested in Florida Monday trying to hold up a jewelry store.
According to a news release from the Palm Beach Gardens Police Department, the 50-year-old former All Star entered a Hamilton Jewelers store in shopping mall and handed a clerk a note demanding money. The clerk, believing Reardon had a gun, filled a bag with an undisclosed amount of cash.

Reardon fled the store with the cash and was followed by the store manager. Police arrived and arrested Reardon without incident outside a P.F. Chang's restaurant. The money was recovered at the same time.
Reardon was born in Massachusetts and pitched for the Twins in the championship season in 1988 1987 and for the Red Sox in one bad post-season loss in 1990 to Oakland and part of the 1991 collapse (lost 11 of their last 14) after a 12-1 win over the Yankees put them within a half-game of the lead against Toronto. We never should have traded Lee Smith for Tom Brunansky (how's that for a Red Sox-Twins connection??)

He didn't have much of a chance to make the Hall of Fame, even though he had more saves in his career than Rollie Fingers, Bruce Sutter or Goose Gossage. Instead he robs a jewelry store and goes to a Chinese restaurant? At least he picked a good one.

UPDATE: "1987, you idiot!" Thanks a lot.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Too much school choice? 

Mark Steckbeck points out a new study showing a sharp drop in adult literacy rates among college graduates. And this isn't like reading Adam Smith:

The test measures how well adults comprehend basic instructions and tasks through reading -- such as computing costs per ounce of food items, comparing viewpoints on two editorials and reading prescription labels. Only 41 percent of graduate students tested in 2003 could be classified as "proficient" in prose -- reading and understanding information in short texts -- down 10 percentage points since 1992. Of college graduates, only 31 percent were classified as proficient -- compared with 40 percent in 1992. Schneider said the results do not separate recent graduates from those who have been out of school several years or more.

The results were based on a sample of more than 19,000 people 16 or older, who were interviewed in their homes. They were asked to read prose, do math and find facts in documents. The scores for "intermediate" reading abilities went up for college students, causing educators to question whether most college instruction is offered at the intermediate level because students face reading challenges.

Steckbeck looks at alternatives to education, and says school choice isn't the panacea others would make it out to be (though in the end he decides to say "opt for the voucher program and hope for the best").
Fully privatizing education such that every child (up to a certain age) receives a voucher to be used at a private school is the most appealing from a market perspective. Kids are segregated based on talent and demands, but also based on ideology. As Coulson from Cato argues, a voucher allows me to send my kid(s) to a school promoting creationism if I'm a creationist or one promoting evolution if I believe in evolution. But it also allows me to send my kid(s) to an Islamic school that might promote anti-Americanism and encourage terrorism, or a white supremacist school that promotes violence against blacks or hispanics or jews. Who knows? Some schools might emerge to serve the demand for drug abusing or alcoholic parents.

My libertarian instincts are to say "so what? It's your money, so you should do what you want." But Steckbeck stipulates to public financing and with that comes some oversight. So the question becomes: Do we overstep our Constitutional limits in agreeing to public financing of education? There's no necessary reason why a good that has public goods qualities should be paid for with public funds. Are we supporting public financing of education to censor pernicious education?

Fishsticks needs to come home soon, so he can read about this.


It's an incentive problem 

The local paper headlined this AP story wherein a deposition of the head of AIDS research for the National Institute for Health says private firms are underinvested in R&D in combatting the disease:

"We had to spend some time and energy paying attention to those aspects of development because the private side isn't picking it up," Dr. Edmund Tramont testified in a deposition in a recent employment lawsuit obtained by The Associated Press.
"If we look at the vaccine, HIV vaccine, we're going to have an HIV vaccine. It's not going to be made by a company," Tramont said. "They're dropping out like flies because there's no real incentive for them to do it. We have to do it."

"They will eventually � if it works, they won't have to make that big investment. And they can make it and sell it and make a profit," he said.

The pharmaceutical industry is in denial. But it makes sense to me that there would be a lack of investment when the intellectual property rights to an AIDS vaccine are under threat constantly by international policymakers.

Interested readers are invited to read this short paper by Webber and Kremer on orphan drugs, and Chapter 7 of the 2005 Economic Report of the President for policies designed to address these issues.


Light pollution 

I got a note this morning from a brother-in-law, regarding lighting around my house.

I was in St. Cloud Saturday evening driving around trying to find your house. [he's only been here a half-dozen times or so. --kb] I think I was very close but every house looked the same because of all the Christmas lights. So I gave up and went back to my brother's ...

Littlest will have to have her gift mailed instead.

And to those who wonder why I didn't post a "Merry Christmas" message, well, I was trying to actually enjoy a Merry Christmas while having a back spasm. Two muscle relaxants and several glasses of wine later, I'm doing OK.

Project UScan 

John Palmer, Phil Miller and Don Boudreaux all wonder about the popularity of self-service checkout stands in retail stores. I've used one regularly at a local grocery for about a year. In an attempt to answer some questions, here's what I've observed.
  1. Don notes that one big user of the scanners are foreign speakers. The one at the grocery store and at our Home Depot are both bilingual Spanish/English. It would make sense, over time, to introduce other languages. The discomfort or uncertainty in dealing with a language problem at checkout is removed. I know I would have loved one in grocery stores in, say, Macedonia or Ukraine.
  2. Most of these machines handle the theft problem by sensing when something moves into the bagging area without first being scanned. And it's not unusual for a store employee to stand watching three or four self-service lanes. As Phil notes, this also cuts down one source of employee theft.
  3. Self-service means also self-bagging. More savings.
  4. It entertains the kids. Littlest Scholar insists on using the scanner and bagging. I just sit there and wait to run my debit card through the machine.

PA legislative hearings on ABOR make a nice flashlight 

One of my colleagues sent me a link to the NY Times article yesterday that discusses the Pennsylvania legislature's discussion of the academic bill of rights. These hearings were mandated by a bill that passed the Pennsylvania earlier in 2005. As you would expect, these hearings are meeting great resistance from academia, as the Times article notes:

"Mechanisms exist to address these glitches and to fix them," said Joan Wallach Scott, a professor at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, N.J., and former chairwoman of the professors association committee on academic freedom, in testimony at the Pennsylvania Legislature's first hearing. "There is no need for interference from outside legislative or judicial agencies."

In a debate with Mr. Horowitz last summer, Russell Jacoby, a history professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, portrayed Mr. Horowitz's approach as heavy-handed. "It calls for committees or prosecutors to monitor the lectures and assignments of teachers," he said. "This is a sure-fire way to kill free inquiry and whatever abuses come with it."

The American Association of University Professors is attempting to kill the debate on ABoR. The Pennsylvania bill, however, does exactly what conservative critics of academia want -- get hearings before official committees that can hear of abuses of power. So AAUP says no specific examples have been brought to the hearings, and therefore there's no fire to put out here.

This is a specious argument, since the leftist bias on campus is pervasive and systemic. What AAUP is criticizing is that there isn't specific victim of a specific attack. has some examples from Penn State, however (SCSU readers will remember this fellow as one of our diversity trainers). They could look at Shippensburg State's suppression of student speech rights. Or look at Bucks County CC's loyalty oath to diversity as a job requirement. If AAUP wants to maintain its credibility in criticizing ABoR -- a bill I am not a fan of myself -- it should at least try to get its facts straight. The point Steve Balch and David French have made at the hearings is that there is a culture that suppresses. Were we brought only a few isolated cases, of course AAUP and the legislature would argue that schools should be allowed to their own devices to deal with these 'aberrations'.

More specious still are arguments that conservative students are just the new PC activists who are whining that they can't take hostility from faculty. Most of us have argued the opposite -- Ann Coulter, for example, argues that it is leftist students who are unable to articulate their opposition to conservative views and who resort instead to pie-throwing. The argument for ABoR comes not from a single class where someone, say, draws Venn diagrams suggesting how to show Republicans are stupid, incompetent yes-men, but from a pervasive culture that embraces a leftist political agenda and makes it part of their job description and creates whole departments towards forwarding that view. (Quick, name me a conservative professor of social work!)

If the Pennsylvania hearings are getting play in the NYT, that's all to the good. Even if they are misrepresented by many (and here I'm not criticizing the Times itself, whose reporter does a fair job), the exposure of what happens on campuses will be worthwhile.

(cf. new conservative student networks and their critics -- h/t reader jw.)


Saturday, December 24, 2005

Not every story is true 

Via Balloon Juice:
The UMass Dartmouth student who claimed to have been visited by Homeland Security agents over his request for "The Little Red Book" by Mao Zedong has admitted to making up the entire story.

The 22-year-old student tearfully admitted he made the story up to his history professor, Dr. Brian Glyn Williams, and his parents, after being confronted with the inconsistencies in his account.

Had the student stuck to his original story, it might never have been proved false.

But on Thursday, when the student told his tale in the office of UMass Dartmouth professor Dr. Robert Pontbriand to Dr. Williams, Dr. Pontbriand, university spokesman John Hoey and The Standard-Times, the student added new details.

The agents had returned, the student said, just last night. The two agents, the student, his parents and the student's uncle all signed confidentiality agreements, he claimed, to put an end to the matter.

But when Dr. Williams went to the student's home yesterday and relayed that part of the story to his parents, it was the first time they had heard it. The story began to unravel, and the student, faced with the truth, broke down and cried.
The original story had run around our campus on a day we were to debate an academic freedom statement in Faculty Senate and it caused a small uproar. Its timing during the debate over the Patriot Act certainly looked suspicious. But Professor Williams deserves credit for bringing the truth of this story forward. I didn't post before because I wanted to see if it was true or not. The American Mind was an early skeptic.

Ed has a great sense of humor 

Captain Ed may or may not be kidding with this post -- I think he is. But the thought of someone calculating the quantity of methane gas emissions from reindeer hurtling around the world on Christmas Eve is funnier still. I hope that was good Scotch, and here's another toast.

Price discrimination on Christmas Eve 

JB Doubtless is one of those procrastinators, waiting until the very end to do his Christmas shopping. He wonders about supply and demand:
If the stores were smart, they would suspend all sales during these last few shopping days. Men are so desperate for something, anything at this point that we are willing to pay top dollar just to get it over with. 58 bucks for this scarfey thing? What the hell? $134 for a sweater with a wolf on it? Sounds good. $452 for this Danish Maple jewelry box? Ring it up!

We're bad shoppers. We admit it. We don't care. I'm just surprised someone isn't taking advantage of us.
Since businesses are not in the habit of leaving $20 bills on sidewalks, why don't firms do this and jack up prices as Christmas day nears? There can be three explanations:
  1. They would jack them up for men, who are idiots, but the law prevents them. It would be easy to price discriminate -- sell the same good to different people at different prices -- if we could just tell who the idiots are. I propose Yankee caps.
  2. The stock of gifts to buy is finite, so demand is actually dropping as Christmas day approaches. A variant of this is that the goods remaining in stores of Christmas Eve are probably just the crappy gifts the previous shoppers turned down, so it makes sense to lower prices. And given the price drops after Christmas so much, some will be tempted to provide late gifts if there's too big a drop in price on 12/26.
  3. Demand drops as Christmas Day approaches, as more shoppers are buying for after Christmas, and other shoppers have already left for the holidays on planes, trains, and automobiles buses. A variant on this theme is that the gift bought in 12/24 is for the marginal recipient -- your Aunt Thelma for who you might not have bought anything save for that "scarfey thing" that's on sale for $5.
It's fun to think of these things, and part of what makes economics such a pleasure.


Friday, December 23, 2005

Funny, I was just thinking the very same thing 

David Friedman who wrote one of the most interesting books on anarcho-capitalism and some fascinating economics, has a blog now. He wonders:
Low volume toilets are supposed to save water. They also, at least in my experience, tend to get stopped up more than ordinary toilets. Someone should do a statistical study relating the fraction of low volume toilets in an area to both water usage and expenditures on plumbers. Assuming water is saved--the process of getting a toilet unstopped can require multiple flushes--it might turn out to be very expensive water.

And yes, this was written after yet another session applying a plumber's snake to a low flow toilet.
Ditto, a few hours ago.


Islamic banks and the Bedford Falls Savings and Loan 

Kurt Peters at Writing History writes me.
Just watched an interesting round table about the future of Iraq on Cspan. One of the panelists talked about the effort to establish an Islamic economy. I know very little about economics other than I never seem to have enough money. I do know that economic practices set down by the Koran differ from Western style economies. Do you know what they are and could they work in a globalized world?
That question has interested me for a long time, as I went to graduate school during a period when many schools were loaded with students from the Middle East, sent by oil-rich governments looking to build a generation of technocrats. I had many discussions with them about usury. Kurt's email got me to looking around for the state of play in Islamic finance, and luckily a new article in Finance and Development covers just that.
Islamic financial products are aimed at investors who want to comply with the Islamic laws (Sharia) that govern a Muslim's daily life. These laws forbid giving or receiving interest (because earning profit from an exchange of money for money is considered immoral); mandate that all financial transactions be based on real economic activity; and prohibit investment in sectors such as tobacco, alcohol, gambling, and armaments. Islamic financial institutions are providing an increasingly broad range of many financial services, such as fund mobilization, asset allocation, payment and exchange settlement services, and risk transformation and mitigation. But these specialized financial intermediaries perform transactions using financial instruments compliant with Sharia principles.
There is an obvious parallel, to those familiar with financial history, to the prohibition against usury in the Church of medieval times. The drive for development led to the use of Jewish families as bankers. In the Ottoman empire of the 19th Century, the rulers relied on Jews and Armenians as proxies to negotiate loans from Europe (such loans were further helped by the lenders' recourse to secular courts based on Napoleonic rather than Islamic jurisprudence.)

Modern Islamic banks use a variety of instuments as described in the article to allocate risk of a project where the time money is put in and the time revenues are paid out differ. Islamic finance has a rather keen understanding of the nature of investment and creates instruments that allow participation at several different levels. But it has two problems that strike me as difficult to overcome. First, banks develop means of managing liquidity -- the ability to meet deposit outflows like the bank run you probably watch this weekend at the Bedford Falls S&L in It's a Wonderful Life. It does so by storing some of its deposits in debt instruments. In It's a Wonderful Life, the liquidity instrument is the money for the honeymoon that Donna Reed pulls out of her coat. These instruments don't exist well within Islamic finance, unless you think of oil revenues as being the money in Donna's coat. This prevents banks from growing very large; even when they do, they have to hold so much cash in the vault 'just in case' that they are rather unprofitable.

Second -- and on this point I invite comments because I am very interested in it and I am just barely past the point of pure speculation -- there seems to be a strong antipathy in Islam towards profit. It runs similar, in my basic understanding, to the Church's debate over just price and just wages -- how much should that doggy in the window cost? Over time the less free interpretations of the just price gave way to our modern understanding, culminating in Adam Smith. It does not appear that Islamic thought has made this advance yet. That the history of economic development of the world between 500 and 1500 AD was more Islamocentric than Eurocentric, and that it was at the end of that period that period that the just price debate began to be resolved, may be a coincidence, or it may be much more.

So what is holding Islamic economies back has existed for centuries in this view, and while some steps are being made, there is nothing less than a paradigm shift needed for those countries to gain the same level of economic and financial development.


Efficient holiday lighting 

John Palmer has moved to EclectEcon. He offers some advice on Christmas light management.
With the invention of the little LED Christmas lights that use very little electricity, it probably makes no sense to buy a $30 outdoor timer that will turn the lights off during the day. I haven't done the calculations, but I can readily imagine that leaving even 120 of these lights on for an extra 16 hours a day for a month adds no more than a few dollars to the electricity bill. So why bother with a timer? In fact, if the prices represent the opportunity costs of using the scarce resources in various ways, it would downright anti-social and inefficient to buy a timer for these lights.
Around the Scholar manse, we have neighbors who so decorate their homes that buses pass through our street. I have noted the use of timers at a few (as some go off every day just as I take Littlest to school.) As to the cost of lights, Mrs. has decided that it is festive to have lights throughout the year, so we have five (by my count) different sets of lights to run throughout the year (Christmas, Easter, lighthouses for summer, leaves for fall, Halloween). As it is only 36 lights, the marginal electricity cost is only $1 extra. This has required us to turn off the ground lighting we put in a few years ago (at a cost of several hundred dollars) because they diminished the glow of the festive lamps, but John will tell you that cost is sunk ... and leads to fewer arguments with Mrs.

If this strikes you as fun, see Cheesy Lights. Suggestions for additional sets in comments please; Mrs. may get some more of these for her birthday next month.

UPDATE: Inefficient lighting. (h/t: Club for Growth)


Cut the crap 

Minnesota Democrats Exposed has a flyer going around St. Cloud saying that Kay Ek cannot run for the House seat here in St. Cloud in the special election next Tuesday. The truth is she could not have her name printed on the ballot -- of course you can vote for her by writing in her name.

The DFL has dumped a great deal of money on postcards in this last week. Yesterday we got a disgusting one pretending to be a Christmas card from Dan Ochsner, the Republican senate candidate, which when opened screams that Ox has called St. Cloudites "morons" and SCSU "a disgrace". (Frankly, I've had occasion to agree with those comments from time to time, particularly the latter. So too have several of our faculty. If I had a morning talk show five days a week, I might have uttered those words on-air.) It's utterly meanspirited. When I mentioned this at breakfast, the DFLers at the table replied "oh, you should have heard the push-poll someone called me with last night." Um, that's fairly different, and I've had three DFL push-pollers call me this month too.

In the same mailbox comes a nice picture of DFL candidate Tarryl Clark with her family. You can pretend to have family values, Ms. Clark, but we can judge you by the company you keep as associate party chair.

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Thursday, December 22, 2005

Grading done 

Now comes a little recovery. Hasta manana!

Paying the piper and the pipee 

On the other side of the planet, Russia is up to its old tricks of threatening neighboring countries who don't play nice with them with higher gas prices. Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova, three countries that have moved towards the West, are now facing double and triple prices for natural gas.

Scott Clark in Kyiv is saying it's blackmail, though in the long run he and I agree that if Russia wants to move to full price for its gas it is better to do so in graduated steps (and with the fees it pays to Ukraine, Georgia and other countries for trans-shipment royalties also raised slowly.) But, Dan McMinn notes, the timing of this, as close as it is to the parliamentary elections in Ukraine in March, give it the appearance of meddling.

What's to be said about the feetax? 

Much of what is to be said, David already did. Particularly on what is seen and what is not seen (Bastiat should be on that reading list.)
First of all, it was the smokers who got reamed, and they won�t see a dime of this money. I assume it will be rebated back to the distributors, who will pocket it, as is their right.

Secondly, as far as I can tell, while this ruling strikes down the HIF on cigarettes, the so-called "other tobacco products" (OTP) will still be subject to the increased fee. So cigars and snuff, for instance, still have to suffer under a 100% increase in their taxes, while cigarettes will go back down to prior levels. Of course, cigarettes are by far the most dangerous of these products, although studies show that smokers already more than pay their fair share in taxes.

David goes on through the expected political analysis -- Gov. Pawlenty made a bad mistake; don't compound it with the threat to administratively shift the fee onto retailers; best to make lemonade out of these lemons by letting the fee die; we don't need the money with the surplus.

Fine. Cigarettes will be cheaper, but you still won't have any place to smoke them.

Here's what it won't do, though. It won't change the level of government spending. Indeed, it shouldn't be long now before we hear the lament from education officials that the governor's legere-de-main with the feetax means "the loan" the state took from education will not be paid back. (You probably haven't heard that these schools are desparately short of money.)

(Ooops, too late.)

If you ever promise that money might be available for a spending increase, any threat to that increase is a cut. Even promising them an increase that ends up not coming to fruition gives the proponents of bigger government more ammo.

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A good summary 

Speaking of FIRE, Wendy McElroy summarizes its new book, Guide to First-Year Orientation and Thought Reform on Campus. If you have a child going to college next year, add it to the books I offered you before.


Orwell would love DePaul 

Back in October I wrote about the attempt to gag the DePaul University College Republicans' flyers protesting a visit to the campus by Ward Churchill to speak to student groups. The CRs were banned from a workshop Churchill held for other student groups, and told they could not post "propaganda". FIRE is now involved in protecting the CRs.
On November 23, FIRE wrote to DePaul President Dennis Holtschneider to protest the university�s actions, urging the Catholic institution to reject �policies that place students� individual rights and personal integrity at the mercy of university officials who are free to censor students at will.� Holtschneider replied on December 12, incorrectly claiming that the word �propaganda� is not part of any policy at DePaul. Nevertheless, he defended DePaul�s policy, insisting that it �is enforced equally for all topics and positions. Advertisements of speakers are posted. Denunciations of speakers are not posted.� Yet FIRE�s research shows that the policy was amended to reflect this only after the College Republicans� flyers were denied approval.

�It is immoral for DePaul to expect its students to abide by a policy that is selectively enforced, constantly shifting, and disavowed even by the university�s president,� said [FIRE director Greg] Lukianoff. �DePaul�s Orwellian attempts to rewrite history by changing its policies without notice�and then using the changes to retroactively justify repression�are also extremely disturbing.�
Enforced equally? Well, perhaps: There was a set of posters for student government in 2003 that included statements about kicking Coca-Cola off campus for its international labor practices, and these were reportedly taken down (source). But given the rest of DePaul's politics, it's hard to believe that DePaul wasn't taking a small peek at viewpoint when deciding who got to see Churchill.

As for Churchill? Must have been a fine time had by all.


Colleges being who they are 

Another story of university restructuring, but this time not forced by a hurricane. According to Inside Higher Ed, Post University is eliminating its liberal arts majors to focus on vocational education.
Post, in Waterbury, Conn., was founded as a private university in 1890, and has always had a strong vocational orientation. The university has seen some radical changes in governance. In 1990, Post became one of several American colleges that affiliated with the Teikyo Group, from Japan. Post became Teikyo Post University. Last year, when Teikyo pulled out, private investors purchased Post and it traded in its nonprofit status to become a for-profit (and profitable) entity.

Now the university � with about 1,400 students � plans to stop offering liberal arts degrees and to focus on academic programs directly linked to careers. No full-time faculty members will lose their jobs. But there will be shifts in priorities for adjunct hiring � and part-time faculty members teach a major proportion of classes at Post.

Jon Jay De Temple, president of Post for the last five years, said that he believes the institution needs focus. �We�re not big enough to do everything for everybody,� he said.

What a surprise -- become a for-profit university and you "need focus". Why? Is it perhaps that a university that has no profit motive can indulge in its preferences for arts programs? Or is it that the full-time faculty there would not have taken their positions in lib arts fields if they didn't have their own majors? I recall economics faculty at Harvey Mudd College, which is the engineering school of the Claremont Colleges and a very high-ranking institution in its fields. Many of its students will take humanities courses at other Claremont colleges because HMC isn't "big enough to do everything for everybody.� By contracting out, in other words, HMC can devote more resources to what it does best.


Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Economics book list 

Courtesy Newmark's Door, we find Alan Reynolds with a list of books on economics that he recommends. The list is awfully long, but it's hard to pick among them. Newmark does, and I can't disagree with the list. But, I suggest the following in general:
  1. You can't do much without an understanding of economic history. How the West Grew Rich by Nathan Rosenberg and L. E. Birdsell is the one I suggest. You could also benefit from Against the Tide by Douglas Irwin, describing the free trade fight over the ages, or The Wealth and Poverty of Nations by David Landes. My students in development economics read the last one first.
  2. If you're more into web sites than books, explore the Library of Economics and Liberty. Besides the cool blog EconLog, you also get online books, articles, study guides, etc.
  3. I've often called Hayek's Use of Knowledge in Society the best journal article ever written in economics. I prefer it to Road to Serfdom for its integration of the insights of that book to a basic understanding of why humans are attracted to markets.
  4. Lists seldom have a good book on financial crises. Charles Kindleberger's Manias, Panics and Crashes is the tops of that list, but I have re-read Walther Bagehot's Lombard Street as often as I've re-read any book.


Read polls more carefully 

I am not a pollster -- my forecasting gets done with observable data, not surveys* -- but I tend to believe people can't read poll data any better than they read, say, GDP data. And I have to now address my friends at Kennedy vs. the Machine for slamming the SCSU survey. In short, they aren't reading it carefully enough and letting the STrib's spin represent what the poll actually says. Let me explain.

Their evidence is a new Survey USA poll that shows a job approval rating for Governor Pawlenty of 59% (35% disapprove). The 39% that KvM cites from the SCSU survey (here are the results slides) is for his re-election. What was not reported in the STrib was the survey's own question on Pawlenty's job performance and the fact that it was better than the results for "your own state representative" and for own senator.

Excellent 7.7%
Pretty Good 37.4%
Only Fair 29.9%

46.1% saying excellent or pretty good isn't too shabby. And you're comparing this to a Survey USA question that asks to approve or disapprove of Pawlenty's work. It is quite possible those two polls are measuring the same thing and the four-branch choice the SCSU survey gives sorts the answers of "approval" that would have been given to the Survey USA callers into some of the first three branches.

Andy thinks the Survey USA poll is a little off, too, citing 50% of pro-choice voters approving of Pawlenty (and 32% of self-described liberals). But I don't think that means very much either. As a personal example, if someone had called me and asked if I approved of the job my former representative Joe Opatz -- the DFL guy leaving the seat that has been the object of l'Affaire Ek -- I'd've said yes, I approve. Would I vote for him? I don't vote purely on party ID, but it's a pretty fair bet I voted against him a few times. (Sorry Joe!) Voting isn't just about one's job performance but also about the alternative candidates placed before you.

Likewise, using the "feelings thermometer" that the SCSU survey developed as a predictor is hazardous. I'm not particularly pleased with several GOP leaders right now, both nationally and locally, but my preferences don't lie on a single scale and I don't draw challengers from a jar at random. Or, as my old public finance prof used to put it, "a thing is neither good nor bad save the alternatives make it so." So too with politicians.

*--not that I can't do surveys: I just had a paper published on remittances that includes survey data. But I don't predict things using them.

Disclosure: One of the faculty directors of the student-based SCSU survey reads here. I have not run this by him. For all I know, he will disagree with it.

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I'll blog when I get the bile out of my mouth 

I will post later today. I'm in the middle of grading, and when I don't feel like grading I find myself wondering whether I can build an extra rung lower in Hell for Larry Lucchino. You didn't come here to hear me rant about the travails of Red Sox Nation.

But I will tell you what I wrote Liz this morning: Losing Jacque Jones to the Cubs isn't that big a deal because the Twins fan doesn't see him as part of their history. He was not respected up here (me included, because I have always hated his swing -- but he plays hard.) Johnny Damon could have remained a Red Sox for life, played two years longer than he should have, and never bought a meal in New England again.

Instead, he's a Yankee.

I'll be back in a while; I need to find some flame accelerator.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

A school choice even the STrib loves 

This would be the post-secondary education option or PSEO, which allows high school students to take courses at a university to complete their high school requirements and simultaneously have college credits to transfer. We see many such students at SCSU. Speed Gibson notes an editorial today in the StarTribune that gives muted praise for the program started by DFL Governor Rudy Perpich. SG thinks HS students are missing time on their own campuses that is needed to learn social skills, and that they are unprepared for the life of a college campus. I don't notice much difference in the social skills between the PSEO and regular students here, so I'm not sure I agree. He also thinks students are missing out on drama club and other activities; again, I see no evidence of this. A student in my class this fall who was PSEO also had extracurricular activities and active in track. My problem with most students, PSEO or not, is that they do too many things. I wish they'd make choices like SG suggests! They try to do it all.

One notable point though is his fourth:
...this is really the wrong approach - it goes the wrong way. If anything, the colleges should consider coming to the high schools. It's logistically much easier and far less disruptive to send a professor to the high school. Make that AP History class a Senior elective; don't hold it on campus. I know of one case where this is being partially done, and it's been very successful.
We do this; one faculty member goes out to four or five high schools each term and lectures once every other week or so to supplement the teacher on campus. (SCSU readers will know this as "senior-to-sophomore".) We assess that course, and it turns out those students are gaining knowledge in basic economics at or above the level our on-campus students gain. That's gain -- those students are normally good students, and they score higher on the pre-test of economic literacy than most students will. We're measuring the difference between tests administered before and after the course.

I agree that the model works really well. But you have to find teachers at the sites who can teach the AP-level course. That's hard, particularly outside the metro area. For those students, PSEO may be the only reasonable option.

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Gouging costs money 

Steven Horwitz has a story of a gas station in St. Lawrence county, New York, that is among 15 gas stations charged by AG Eliot Spitzer for price gouging during and after the Katrina price spike. The fellow orders gas from his wholesaler at one price, but the wholesaler delivered a day late to help the retailer by giving him gas at a price $.29/gal. lower. The retailer, not knowing he was getting the lower price, continued to charge customers based on the higher wholesale price. This tripped the price-fixing law in NY.

Markets work by letting people know when their prices do not match those offered by competitiors in the market, as Horwitz describes:
The owner of the store also reports that over the weekend when his price was at $3.80, his sales dropped significantly. He sold 1358 gallons on 9/2, 738 gallons on 9/3, and 429 gallons on 9/4. This was also Labor Day weekend, when lots of car travel happens. His sales didn't reach 1000 gallons again until 9/9. So the result of his supposed "price gouging?" A drop in sales! Gasp!! Demand curves slope downward after all! As the owner says in his defense "why would I purposely gouge somebody and watch my sales drop?"
The AG's office replies that consumers "had to pay the retail price" without explaining where the consumer bought the gallons they weren't buying from this retailer. Horwitz responds that "the AG's office treats consumers as passive victims, even though the evidence clearly shows they made active choices in the face of high prices."

Gouging laws, in short, are unable to comprehend the workings of markets.


Just wonderin' 

...why a guy who has run for the state House is showing up writing crude comments on the Sue Ek story at other blogs? He wrote one here too, but since I found it didn't apply to the post at all and was written under Ek's name rather than his own, I treated it as spam and it was removed. So too with some others, but the rest I guess think this is fun to have on their blogs. Sorry to disappoint you, Tony, but some people consider such things declasse.

I'd run a Minnesota Reform Party Exposed blog, but who cares?

Mom in for daughter 

Psycmeistr reports that Kay Ek, mother of former GOP nominee Sue Ek, has announced her candidacy for the House District 15B seat that her daughter was running for until yesterday.
Kay Ek has held a number of leadership positions in the Pro-Life movement, and is currently a member of the advisory committee on the U.S. Council of Bishops.

In other words, she has the same credibility as her daughter, but a better address.

UPDATE: It's confirmed.

The mother of a disqualified state House candidate will run in a special election in the St. Cloud area, a state Republican Party official said Tuesday.

Kay Ek will step in for daughter Sue a day after the state Supreme Court ordered her removed from the ballot after determining she hadn't established official residency in the district.

GOP spokesman Mark Drake said party chairman Ron Carey planned a morning news conference to discuss Kay Ek's decision to run. She first disclosed the decision on St. Cloud Radio station KNSI-AM.

Andy has the press release from the state GOP.

UPDATE 2: She'll be a write-in, as the law isn't going to permit her to be placed on the ballot. I love the imagery of this article from the Times this afternoon.
Kay Ek said Republican delegates picked her Monday night. Campaign supporters came to her door at 10:30 p.m. Monday, woke her up and asked her to run.
Picture a bunch of people outside your house late night, coming to the door in your bathrobe and being asked if you'll run for the legislature. Did they stand around outside and hold signs and flashlights? Seems like I saw this in movies of 19th century politicians.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Runaround Sue run out 

The Minnesota Supreme Court has ruled that Sue Ek be removed from the House 15B ballot for failing to meet the residency requirement. The court's order does not say whether she can be replaced. More details if/when I find them.

UPDATE 1: StarTribune runs an AP writer with some information on replacement.

There's some precedent in Minnesota for replacing candidates shortly before an election.

In 2002, after U.S. Sen. Paul Wellstone was killed in a plane crash 11 days before the election, former vice president Walter Mondale's name replaced Wellstone's on the DFL side of the ballot. In 1990, Arne Carlson got onto the ballot a week before the gubernatorial election, after endorsed Republican candidate Jon Grunseth withdrew. (The head of Carlson's campaign committee was Paul Anderson, one of the Supreme Court justices who decided the Ek case.)

A state law gives major political parties the authority to replace candidates on the ballot, but says such a nomination must happen at least two weeks before the election. The timeframe is compressed down to as late as four days before the election if the candidate dies or suffers a major catastrophe.

Absentee ballots are a major sticking point, since a number of voters already could have cast votes for the removed candidate.

The court ordered county election officials to remove Ek's name from absentee ballots until replacement ballots are ready, and to give out new absentee ballots to voters who ask for them.

I have not heard anything about whether a replacement has been lined up.

UPDATE 2: The decision. Andy says it's "terrible news for the GOP, and great for the DFL." It's a sign that some folks didn't do their due diligence. The commenters on the St. Cloud Times chat board seem gleeful and don't think Republicans should get to replace Ek. I would be happiest if I could cast a ballot for "none of the above", but I felt that way weeks ago.

UPDATE 3: Gary Miller hopes the state GOP doesn't pursue a legal remedy. If he means don't appeal, well, they can't. But if a legal remedy means putting up a substitute candidate, the decision is crystal clear that it expresses no opinion on the question. In short, if the GOP can get a candidate on the ballot, it appears it may. That none has been offered seems to be a concession that this is "a colossal political CF".

Skip and back 

Reformk12 is back in action after a few months away, and posts today on Kimberly Swygert's question whether to advance kids from kindergarten to second grade. Reformk12 says it's highly unusual to see public schools suggest skipping first grade. I agree. We had the same issue with Littlest Scholar, and we made the decision to skip only after we found a private school that suggested it; we were sure she would be bored by first grade at a public school. I wrote a little about it here.

But it was not a good choice for LS. While she certainly could handle advanced work and was physically taller and more mature than other kids her age, she was not emotionally ready to deal with kids who were often two years older. We made the decision a couple of years ago to pull her back a grade by shifting her to a small school that teaches blended classes. She may wear the sixth grade 'label' but she does seventh and eighth grade work in math and science, and reads well beyond that level (though as I said on radio Saturday she had an absolute riot reading Mommy Knows Worst.) The social skills question, which was the main reason we made the move, was deftly handled by presenting a range of ages to her and letting her choose who she befriended. It turns out to be almost entirely boys of her age; LS is a classic tomboy*. She does composition with that group. Given the curriculum is challenging at the school, we've been very satisfied.

If you have a blended classroom opportunity with a moderately-gifted child, I recommend looking into it. What Mrs. and I learned is that it isn't a contest to see who graduates from high school first, but who graduates best.


*though, for the moment, I still get a goodnight kiss.

Next time, come away! 

Steve Gigl noted to me after the MOB Blogger Bash that we needed smaller gatherings to meet everyone. There had to be over 80 people at this event Saturday night (see Ben for details.) Indeed, there were too many people for me to see, and given my long drive home too little beer for me to drink (even at a zero price, thank you Mr. Keegan!)

Well, that's why we do the Road Show! Last year's event was a very manageable 27, and several people who came to that were not able to make it to the Cities (though Psycmeistr would not be denied.) Cathy and I talked about this, and we need to do another one this spring. Duluth and Mankato are in the hunt. Are you in Rochester blogging? Moorhead? Marshall? Let us know, and let's see if we can put you in the hunt for the next road gig.

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UPDATE: Who knew he was a lawyer? I will tell you what -- he may not look good in chaps, but he has the nose of an Armenian. We hereinafter will refer to him as Learned Footyan.

delicious foo 

Apparently the feed is having troubles right now. That might explain why I'm having trouble updating categories in the right-hand column. Please stand by.


Vetting papers takes time 

There was something vaguely familiar about this news release from UCLA that everyone is talking about. Yup, I had read this before. (See also this.)

And the reaction at that time was quite negative from some people. For example, consider this exchange between Geoff Nunberg and the authors Milyo and Groseclose on the study. It is easy for people to make mistakes on what the study does because it contains not one but two estimates of media bias, and the second one is quite complex -- the authors point out in their response to Nunberg that it "describes a maximum-likelihood estimation technique and it notes a set of random variables that follow a Weibull distribution." People want to skip that part of the analysis because it requires some real education in statistics, and instead focus on criticism of the press from the paper's first, admittedly "back-of-the-envelope" calculation. This reminds me of the discussion of criticisms of Keynesianism -- the critiques are better directed at Keynesians than at Keynes, since the former often do a bad job at explaining him.

Thus it's worth us understanding that the paper now has been reviewed by peers and is being published in a top-30 professional economics journal. It has taken a year to vet the results and be sure they meet standards. I do not know if QJE requires the authors to provide data for replication of their results, but one can certainly ask the authors.

This looks like the latest version of the paper, coming from Milyo's homepage. I read one that was an earlier draft, and I don't have time to do the comparisons yet.

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We be hot 

Who knew economics could become the sexiest trade alive?
...economics is the hottest undergrad degree at Harvard and New York University; the number of econ majors is up some 40 percent over the past five years. Still not convinced? Two words: Angelina Jolie. Last fall she teamed with leading economist Jeffrey Sachs in an MTV documentary about Kenya's economy. That's hot.
Newsweek credits Freakonomics and Confessions of an Economic Hit Man. I can take or leave Freakonomics -- it's a fun read, but to think that's what economics is all about is at least misleading. It's a bit like deciding to be a county coroner because you saw a cool episode of Quincy. (The allusion to forensic medicine is intentional; see Gary Galles.) Confessions has been around over a year; it's a look at international economic consulting in conjunction with large international projects to write reports that encourage irresponsible lending by banks and international financial institutions. Folks like the late Jude Wanniski seemed to like the book; I thumbed it at a BN and thought it looked interesting but not exciting. But if it got me to sit next to Angelina Jolie, hell yes I'd read it! But there's not much new in there that we didn't know from other, more scholarly critical books of the World Bank or the IMF (sit down, Mr. Stiglitz, we're not talking about you). And it's interesting that what Newsweek thinks makes economics hot is an attack on international financial institutions and "an MTV documentary about Kenya's economy." Don't ask me why, but this makes me crabby.


h/t: reader jw

Friday, December 16, 2005

If it's in the bag, why are you still shopping? 

Early enough into this Sue Ek story, I heard from people that the damage was done and that she was toast. If so, why did the state DFL send out a hit mailing on Sue to my house today? Full page, glossy. And why do I get nightly phone bankers calling urging me to vote for their candidates?

If you think she's toast, you should save your money for the next election in a year. Your candidate has kept his mouth shut, perhaps to keep people guessing on his positions. The last thing I can find on him is "borderless government".
Haws says he�ll work to improve health-care, transportation and education funding, meanwhile, Ek says lowering taxes is a top concern. However, there are other issues in Central Minnesota that both candidates want to address. Haws wants to work on borderless government and Ek want to move ahead with transporation. The two disagreed on government involvement in building new hospitals. Haws believes government needs to be involved in the process; Ek disagrees and feels it should be private.
I.e., Larry wants more of your money and governmental structures that can change when it's time to spend even more of it. I cannot wait for him to be debated more often. Maybe this is why I get a mail drop and nightly calls.

UPDATE: Larry used to have a blog. A big one. It's gone now. Developing?

UPDATE 2: This looks bad for Ek.

Sue Ek�s candidacy for state representative took a major hit Friday when a Ramsey County judge ruled that she hasn�t lived in St. Cloud long enough to qualify for a Dec. 27 special election.

The order from Judge George T. Stephenson, made public at about 7:15 p.m., said no credible evidence had been received at a Friday hearing to show that Ek lived anywhere other than St. Paul on June 27.

That was just the trial of fact. The ruling on her candidacy comes Monday. If she is tossed, the DFL spent its money for nothing. They obviously thought enough of the possibility that she wins to do the direct mail.

A vexing question 

Talking with a few people going to graduate hooding later tonight, we wondered the following:
What would be worse to display at a campus graduation ceremony, a cigarette or a cross?
I'd make an experiment about this, but instead I'm off to watch Mrs. S perform tonight.

Of course, you know, this means war 

It only stood to reason, after Hewitt's show last night, that the Fraters would fight back. Governor Pawlenty is in the sin bin.

Definitely, the Bumble.

Learner outcomes 

One of the things we are doing at SCSU this year is getting ready for a re-accreditation year, and that means assessment efforts for our campus are being updated. To assess our courses correctly we need to know what we want our students to achieve in our courses and programs. These "learner outcomes" are written with the idea that they should be assessable.

I mention this not to write you a treatise on assessment -- which would be both dull and underinformed, since it's not my area of expertise -- but as prelude to this debate going on between the 'Right Brothers' of the PioneerPress and Education Minne$ota. It began when Mark Yost wrote last week about education officials' claim of underfunding and the data in Jay Greene's Education Myths. (Chad the Elder, Mitch and I interviewed Greene's co-author Marcus Winters last month on NARN.)

Quickly tell me: how much is school funding for pupil in K-12? Answer at bottom.

On an inflation adjusted basis, Yost points out, per pupil spending has risen fourfold while test scores have remained stagnant. Oh, but test scores don't measure success, you say! Well, how about we ask the National Association of Manufacturers, the people who give jobs to those graduates. What do they say? They say students need more math, science and basic employability skills � "the need for attendance, timeliness, and work ethic. " When asked whether K-12 schools are "doing a good job preparing students for the workplace", five out of six say no now, above the level in 1997. It's this, more than math and science or reading and writing, that they say students are lacking.

In answering a Westover column on Q-Comp's ineffectiveness in changing teacher incentives, letter writers blame the victim -- the students, and their parents.
I left teaching exactly because it wasn�t enough that my own behavior and performance were exemplary, which they were, may I add; I was evaluated on the performance of people whose behavior and performance I had little to no control over, namely, my students. I�m not talking about being evaluated for my pay (I was on the much-maligned seniority system, of course), I�m talking about being evaluated as a professional. I had no credibility in the public�s eye based on my own merits� all anybody seemed interested in was how my students did. I do not know of any other position in the Minnesota workplace where an individual is evaluated on the performance of *somebody else*! ... Business managers may be evaluated on the performance of their subordinates, but they have the power to hire and fire. Teachers don�t hire and fire their students.
They have the power to hire and fire, but their profit margins depend on having good, productive workers, and churning your labor force is seldom a recipe for success. Your training and search costs are too high. The NAM survey shows that what employers need to do with their employees is to change the culture of the workplace.
So how can U.S. manufacturers build high-performance cultures within their companies? Moving beyond traditional ways of motivating employees by implementing some of the engagement approaches discussed above is a start. But, culture is pervasive and often slow to change. Change can happen based on leadership�s ability to guide people toward new behaviors and actions, reinforce and reward those new behaviors until they are embedded in the culture, and measure progress toward those goals � both individually and as an organization. "What gets measured, gets done" and so it is for culture and behavior as well.
Craig's other letterwriter doesn't seem to have gotten that memo.
There is no respect, no fear and no retribution for the shit today that we label as students. Their motto (and their parents) "Give me instant gratification even though I have done nothing to earn it." A perfect example was today in my Concert Band dress rehearsal. After the second number....... I looked at them and asked "Are you proud of that?" Thank God it snowed and the concert was cancelled and we spared the public of another flogging of the ears.

Here's what I'd like to ask this music teacher -- what are you hoping to produce in your students? What are your learner outcomes? Businesses report that workers don't have a "work ethic", that they don't have pride. Asking them if they're proud of something is not an educational act. It is an attempt to shame when you haven't given them a reason to take pride. I don't care what the music sounds like if I don't teach appreciation. What we teach in basic economics is an appreciation of mundane things around you -- markets that work well are virtually invisible. Civilization should be proud of creating such markets, but asking someone if they're proud when they've not learned to "listen to markets", as it were, is pointless. This is the crime of failing to teach western civilization: an inability to appreciate how far at least one society has come, and how other societies have learned from it and shared in its discovery.

And in some sense I agree with teachers on one point: the folks who can best instill pride in students are their parents. Teachers have trouble working with kids who don't have these "employability skills" of attendance, timeliness and work ethic. They will take personal pride in their childrearing (maybe for those who don't we could reduce Social Security payments enough so that they might do so out of a need for self-preservation in old age.)

So why don't we give parents the tools to find those schools and those teachers who will help them build those skills in their children and students?

Why don't we give them a voucher?


Oh yeah, forgot the question: about $9000. Most people say $5000. From such misperceptions does Education Minne$ota make its raids on the public purse.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Now back to St. Cloud politics 

Sorry to have posted on other things first, but I had a backlog of stuff in the queue that would have gone to waste that was on-point to this blog. I am not a politics blog by design, but being a right-libertarian on a college campus gets you involved in politics sometimes whether you like it or not. So over time I've been interested in the local political scene, and the stuff happening here with the special elections, residency requirements, etc., has piqued my curiosity. Given the number of hits on the blog this week, I must have many local readers, perhaps thanks to the Times.

I'm also not an active Republican in the sense of running literature drops, door knocking or phone banking. I did that stuff in college, but when I got to grad school time available to that went to zero (I wanted to continue doing radio instead.) I tried the caucuses up here for awhile, but felt alienated when my number one concern, the economy, was given back-seat status in platform committees and my picks for president -- I'm a Forbes and Kemp guy -- were scoffed at because they didn't have positions on the issue.

So when the latest attack on a Republican broke out -- the badly Photoshopped picture in senate candidate Dan Ochsner's brochure -- I was certainly wondering what was going on here locally. Thankfully, so was Andy Aplikowski, who first posted questions that matched several of my own, then got answers. Psycmeistr, who gave us the blow-by-blow of the Ochsner endorsement last month, comments that Andy's too hard on Ox and not to write him off. I wouldn't write Ox off either, but that doesn't deny the fact that this was a mistake, and a pretty bad one.

Andy goes on to say this, which I think is correct:
Having 3 or 4 major elections in less than 3 months has got to be nearly impossible to deal with. In St. Cloud, they just had a Mayor�s race and now a State House special election as well as a State Senate special election. The later come with only about a month from start to election day. No small feat for even the best BPOUs. But that is no excuse for poor endorsing and vetting. (If the worst scenarios do play out from this.)

Ignorant me, I didn't even know what BPOU stood for a year ago. And to find out that there are three loci of power in a state party organization -- the House and Senate caucuses appear to operate independent of the party organization, and the former is said to have brought Sue Ek forward -- means a real lack of coherence. I did ask Andy how we train people to not make mistakes like Ox has made; the two caucuses run workshops, but not very often and in this case there was no "rapid response workshop" to bring these people up to speed. Fair enough.

What is really needed is "advanced vetting" -- the presence of a bench from which you can draw candidates. In rural districts this would be very hard, but St. Cloud is larger and has more people with time and resources enough to consider a political side to their lives. I would argue that even if there was only a month to go, somebody had to consider the possibility that Dave Kleis would win, and that the seat would be vacant, and that someone with state party and lobbying experience as well as two previous attempts at the seat would seize the opportunity. A rookie against a seasoned veteran is always a tough matchup, but you need to go to the plate with a plan, lest you strike out looking.

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Applied psychology to racism 

Former Scholar Kevin McGrew (now running his own excellent blog, IQ Corner) notes to me the debate over defining racism as a mental disorder. Mind Hacks -- I want to read this book some day soon -- has blogged on it.
It may seem a little ridiculous to medicalise what are essentially extreme opinions, but the move is interesting for what it says about psychiatric diagnosis in general. In particular, it cuts to the very idea of what defines a mental disorder.

They define schizophrenia and apply the definition to racism, and it seems to work. I find that bothersome; it reminds me of Thomas Szasz, who found the whole definition of schizophrenia no more than semantic construction used to create classifications of certain behavior that allow one to imprison someone whose behavior we consider odd. Is this attempt to define racism as a mental disorder a step towards creating compulsory treatments and using the health community as jailers of those who we think are extreme? Jeffery Schaler says the same in a forum discussing the ideas of Dr. Allan Pouissant on a PBS documentary in 2000:

Racism is a moral and ethical question. But if some have their way and they succeed in classifying or categorizing racism as an illness, don't you see, as a necessary result, you're exculpating people for the evil acts that they commit?...

It seems to me that we all abhor racism, and we're differing in terms of what we might do about it. I think your position, implementing formal social control, psychiatry, institutional psychiatry, makes sense in that you're angry at people who are racists, and that's a weighty weapon to use against racists. However, I think you are unbelievably naive in terms of the slippery slope that using institutional psychiatry can bring about. Because once people have this power to make decisions as to mental illnesses based on moral judgments, there's no end to what people will diagnose as a mental illness...

Advising student newspapers is dangerous 

Because any time students do something controversial, it's the advisor that takes it in the shorts. At Ocean County College, an advisor who's been there for 35 years was not only removed from advising the campus paper but shifted to the English from the journalism program. From a Chronicle of HIgher Ed article (subscriber's link)
She said that she had started getting pressure to retire last year, after a number of articles in the Viking News criticized, among other things, the cost of the president's inauguration and his decision to change a college logo.

The friction came to a head last spring, when student editors met with the president about an article that criticized him for not consulting people on the campus about a controversial class-scheduling decision. [College President Larson denied that he had avoided consultation on the matter and demanded that the article be retracted. The editors, who did print a correction, came out of the meeting saying that they felt the president was trying to intimidate them, and they wrote an editorial saying so.
The fit hit the shan, so to speak, just about then. English professors signed a letter of protest, including an untenured faculty member and a tenured woman who's son was an untenured math professor. Both untenured people have been non-renewed for next year.

It's not at all uncommon -- take the case of Ronald Johnson at Kansas State, who was driven from his advisor position for failing to cover a conference on black student government, for example -- so you wonder whatever will happen to the advisors to the Minnesota Daily for letting this diatribe against conservative appear in their paper? (h/t: Duane Oyen.) I could Fisk this I suppose, but it's finals week and we in the MOB play in the league with the designated fisker rule. We use this beam to signal for the DF.


Thinking about the next class of students 

It's that time as well when students are thinking about colleges they will go to. I just sent my niece, a high school junior interested in biomed and acting, a copy of Choosing the Right College. (It won't be her Christmas present, just a gift from a busybody uncle.) I also mailed to her a little while ago an article suggesting strategies for choosing colleges. I say this as someone who tried to send a kid to college when it didn't work out, both because he didn't want to be there and I didn't listen to what might have turned him on to college. Here's what the article suggests:
  1. Rank based on your own criteria. There's a homework assignment I used to give in principles of macroeconomics that would get each student to create his or her own price index. The point of the exercise is to show how things like CPI or GDP deflators are summary measures that don't necessarily tell us how inflation affects people differently situated. Likewise, rankings from US News and World Report or ISI or whatever aren't going to make up your mind. To me, the best use of those rankings is to see what people are counting. Do these matter to you? The niece wants a big city and both a biomed and theater department. Common rankings won't do that, so don't use those. The value of the ranking system is systematic evaluation.
  2. First year programs. These are becoming more common now, including ours at SCSU. When this was started here I thought it would be a money pit and not work at all. It will be hugely expensive, but from the evidence so far it works, and the university is committing to put this on for every new entering freshman at SCSU. This means as well checking retention and persistence rates for first year students -- how many of them go on to the second year? My son's university had a first-year program available to him, but it looked like (and was sold as) a place for at-risk students. That's a bad way to approach it; I believe it would have helped my son because it turned out he was at-risk ex post, but not known to be so ex ante. Creating cohorts of students who study and work together can lead to skillbuilding across the cohort.
  3. Steps up and helping hands. The CSM article recommends looking at "Nessie", the National Study of Student Engagement. This will give you a measure of how much faculty-student and student-student interaction is going on. I suggest looking at student-faculty joint research efforts, generally how much time faculty and students spend in office hours or other outside-the-classroom activities. What's the speakers programs like on campus? How many, and how intellectually diverse are they? I would check with Students for Academic Freedom or No Indoctrination for the last point.
  4. Probe preferred majors. Obviously, my niece has a good idea what she wants to do as of this time. So she can look at rankings of theater and biomed departments. CSM suggests looking for program accreditation if it's available, but in many cases that isn't. What we do in the department is find any student who remotely has interest in economics, and get them literature, a phone call (if they aren't decided whether to come here), etc. If you indicated to a university you are interested in their theater program, see if someone from that program tries to contact you. The ones who are inquiring about you are not necessarily desperate -- they may have a better commitment to their majors. And if you change programs, chances are the other programs have the same level of commitment.
If you had your child in AP or IB programs, you also need to ask about this. What can transfer and what can't? If you're in Minnesota and your child is a junior, have you plugged into the post-secondary education option (PSEO) program available around your school. (Though be sure to read this article from Jay Matthews before you do so. Not every kid really is ready for PSEO or AP. And your high school may not be putting the resources into making less-prepared students successful in those programs.)

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I hate being busy when I'm mad 

Finals week is here, and I get many students who sign up for their economics major programs at this time as well as writing and grading, etc. Expect no more posts from me until late afternoon.

But if you want to read something, Andy at Residual Forces has taken on the whole question of St. Cloud area special election and the operation of the state Republican organization (can't use 'party' as it implies one of three loci of power.) And he gets fan mail! Read all that -- I'll speak to it later. The 'fan' will do well to revisit here.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Submitted to a campus 

Another faculty member yesterday sent on the announcement list that she and her students had built a website on the politics of food as the culmination of her students' work
...examining how the production, distribution, preparation, consumption, and/or representation of a particular food or consumed item creates reinforces, or challenges structures of power among specific groups of people. ... In an effort to make the information gathered both available and useful to those outside of the class, they have synthesized their research into "fact and action" sheets...
Since the students want you to look and see, please visit the site. And consider the academic value of this activity in providing "information about a variety of ordinary items we consume and the actions that we can all take regarding the politics of food in our everyday lives."

Activism for credit. Publically financed.


Blogging to save your program 

In light of Tulane's decision to close many departments to get through the university's financial crisis after Hurricane Katrina, engineering students have created a blog to call attention to their loss and to attract pledges of alumni donations in return for restoration of the engineering programs. Ingenious! I wonder how the administration will respond?

The blog calls our attention to this new article on the rebuilding of Tulane.
Within 24 hours of the trustees' vote, the students had set up a nonprofit organization with a Web site,, in hopes of persuading Cowen to reconsider. With all the revelations about engineering problems with New Orleans levees that led to the flooding of much of the city, this fledgling group contends that New Orleans needs all the engineers it can get.

"Many of the engineering companies in New Orleans have relied heavily on Tulane graduates," said Will Clarkson, a junior computer-engineering major who has spent this semester at Boston University.

"If you eliminate the program from which they get their future employees, what commitment do they have to stay in New Orleans, which has already been ravaged?" he said. "In the next decade, engineering should be the mainstay of New Orleans, not the bastard stepchild."
Unfortunately, all the enginerring programs together have less than two hundred students, says the administration, and they are costly programs.

I find this interesting in light of some conversations I've had at SCSU about our College of Science and Engineering. There, engineering programs and nursing have prospered, but their cost is so high that those in the traditional sciences like biology, physics and chemistry worry about their programs' future. Maybe there should be another SCSU blog from that school.

Chronicle covers dispositions 

The Chronicle of Higher Education has a longish piece (temp, or here if you're a subscriber) on the use of "dispositions theory" in teacher education. Here are the opening paragraphs; you are encouraged to read the whole thing.

Partway through her teacher-training program, Karen K. Siegfried started pulling her red compact car to the far end of the campus parking lot. She didn't want her professors at the University of Alaska at Fairbanks to see her bumper stickers: One proclaims her opposition to abortion, and the other is emblazoned with the name of one of Alaska's Republican senators.

"It worried me what they could do based on my politics," says Ms. Siegfried, who had already clashed with education professors over her views on affirmative action and gun control. When Ms. Siegfried disagreed with one professor's contention that video games make children violent, she says, the professor told her: "We don't need that kind of attitude."

Although she earned a 3.75 grade-point average in the one-year program, Ms. Siegfried says her professors told her last spring that she lacked the "professional disposition" necessary to be a good teacher. She was inflexible, they said, and wasn't open to new ideas or responsive to other cultures. Ms. Siegfried left the teacher-training program, she says, before her professors could show her the door.

Although in teacher ed around here a 3.75 is barely above average, it might be a good bit higher at UAF. h/t: reader jw.

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What if they hired a get-out-the-vote bus and nobody came? 

In one of the emails sent yesterday to exhort the campus get out the vote effort to greater energy and greater success, the brilliant professor who offered balanced analysis of the voting issues also said this:
This morning, when I voted, the auditor's office was training temp staff to handle the crush from today's get-out-the-vote effort.

He's not a very good forecaster, according to the local paper:

An alternate Election Day on St. Cloud State University's campus Tuesday resulted in about 30 new voters registering and casting absentee ballots, a student government representative said.

At the Stearns County Auditor-Treasurer's office, however, officials said they only noticed one walk-in from the student drive.

About 30 people showed up to vote at Atwood Memorial Center from 10 a.m.-4:30 p.m., said Christyne Hesse, the student government's legislative affairs chairwoman. Of those, about 10 took a free shuttle to the Stearns County government center to cast their absentee ballots.

Another 20 or so turned in registration cards or absentee ballots that were delivered with the voters, she said.

Nobody noticed any shuttles delivering people at the Stearns County offices Tuesday, Auditor-Treasurer Randy Schreifels said.

One student walked in to pick up an absentee ballot, he said.

Commenters on the Times' story chat (including a school board member -- what is it with elected officials and Story Chat here in St. Cloud, anyway?) bemoan this as the decline of participation of the young in the political process. Moreover, our university has a course in "democratic citizenship" and we are supposed to help students understand responsible citizenship in society. Perhaps instead they simply don't feel that they are members of the St. Cloud community and therefore are not voting here. In that case, they show far more sense than the chatters, student government, or the faculty here at SCSU. Indeed, I might even call them responsible!

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

One more question on student voting 

I looked up the requirements for student voting, after one faculty member and the union (for at least the third time) sent three emails over lunch encouraging students to vote. Here's a brochure the state sends around for university students. It says as to where you can vote:

If you live on campus, you may vote either at your hometown polling place (as long as you still have a permanent residence there), or you may vote at the polling place in the neighborhood where your school is located (but not at both places�you must make a choice).

If you live off campus at school, you may vote either at your hometown polling place (as long as you still have a permanent residence there), or you may vote at the polling place in your school-year neighborhood (but, again, not at both places).

Now here's a really interesting question. Some students will transfer out of the dorms during semester break; some will leave school and others fail. The absentee ballot application says that "you must reside at the legal residence address you give on this application on election day." Students transferring out of dorms and not taking possession of another place until their return for the new school year will not be living in their dorms. Are they in fact residing at their St. Cloud address then?

If I work for the GOP, I am going to challenge those ballots to make these students prove they are back in their dorms and still students at SCSU in January.

Why GOP, you say? Well, the email of one faculty member included this hamhanded attempt at remaining neutral on a university announcement list.

This is an important election that may have poor turnout, given how many of us are away at professional conferences or other travel on Dec. 27. It's to fill vacant a seat in the Minnesota House and another in the Senate. The two Dems are both opposed to Gov. Pawlenty's anti-tax agenda; they claim that state and local services have been damaged, right down to road repair and law enforcement. Social services and education have taken big hits, from K-12 to higher ed. I agree with them.

In fairness, the Republican side of it is that liberals indulge in wasteful spending on projects that are not government's responsibility. (Ummm, like snowplowing?)

This is what they think is unbiased. You are trusting them with your kids, and they are taking your tax dollars. You can guess who they want to get on the bus.

I bet this went over well at the Women's Center 

Turns out a former co-ed was named America's Next Top Model. St. Cloud State University News carried it on the front page of the campus website over the weekend.

Stop that objectification!

Failing at intellectual diversity 

A new report from the American Council of Trustees and Alumni states that American universities are failing to meet their own stated goals of intellectual diversity.
In September 2005, the American Council of Trustees and Alumni sent a letter to all 30 signatories, heads of the major public universities in each state, as well as the presidents and chancellors of the top 25 National Universities and the top 25 Liberal Arts Colleges ranked by U.S. News & World Report, asking them to document statements made about the important ACE statement. ACTA also requested information about any steps taken to implement the principles of the ACE statement.

Not one of the more than 100 institutions who received ACTA�s letter reported specific concrete steps to implement the principles. Instead, most respondents cited existing policies as already satisfactory. The most proactive was the University of Oregon where President David Frohnmayer reports that his deans had a �work session� on the ACE principles. He did not report any upshot of the session. The president of one of the signatories, the American Association of Colleges and Universities, promises to issue a statement that will be �consistent� with the ACE statement, but does not promise any steps to implement it.
Why would anyone be surprised by this? The report calls for the elimination of speech codes on campuses, cracking down on hecklers and stopping the harassment of groups that invite speakers who don't agree with the dominant paradigm on our campuses. Instead the campuses continue to think of diversity more as stereotypes.


And keeps on ticking 

He may be 93, but Milton Friedman can still give observations of the world. In a recent interview with New Perspectives Quarterly, he displays several interesting thoughts:
Hat tip: Trevor Hall.


Scholars in the story 

The errant flyer from yesterday is in today's St. Cloud Times with reference to our story. Student government and College Democrats are both denying responsibility. However, there is a stamp filled in on the flyer (as CSOLD does with all flyers), indicating the flyer came from College Democrats.
This flyer is published by SCSU College Democrats, a recognized student organization. This flyer is not an official publication of St. Cloud State University and does not represent the views of the university or its employees. (Italicized parts were written in by hand.)
It's initialed by someone who appears to have also initialed the CSOLD approval stamp. It also has handwritten an address and phone number marked "stclouddfl" at a Yahoo address, and a phone number, both of which link to the St. Cloud DFL office. It also is the phone number given out by the Tarryl Clark campaign. If the College Democrats want to deny that they had anything to do with the postings, are they saying the Clark campaign did it themselves??

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Monday, December 12, 2005

The European Central Bank steals from the Ford playbook 

This is delightful! Mahalanobis reports that the ECB is going to create an eight-minute cartoon aimed at teens to explain why price stability is important. The leaflet for pupils is not at all bad; it does a nice job teaching about the costs of inflation and how it's calculated. (If any of my students are reading here -- this is good review for chapter 11.)

Best are the suggested future efforts at economic education by ECB offered by fellow blogger HedgeFundGuy:
NAIRU and acne: minimization is the only feasible goal.
Pre-commitment and inflation targets: don't rely on what feels good at the time.
Girls, and Central Banks, should never be easy.
Students, if you get the humor there, you're ready for the final.


Disposing of dispositions 

KC Johnson reports on Cliopatria on the use of dispositions theory in ed schools accredited by NCATE:
Second, reporter Robin Wilson revealed that last month, NCATE "sent a bulletin to the 614 programs it accredits, saying that education schools should not evaluate students' attitudes, but rather assess their dispositions based on 'observable behavior in the classroom.' It also said it does 'not expect or require institutions to attend to any particular political or social ideologies.'"

The question now: will NCATE enforce this new guideline?

Don't hold your breath.


Word, brother 

Sen. Lamar Alexander:
'How many conservative speakers are invited to deliver commencement addresses? How many colleges require courses in U.S. history? How many even teach Western Civilization? ... Those are politically unacceptable topics,' the Tennessee Republican testified.

Alexander, a former U.S. Secretary of Education and former president of the University of Tennessee, said colleges need to bring in more speakers and academics 'with a different point of view from the prevailing point of view.

'I know it's the single biggest criticism I hear of higher education, because I'm always the one saying 'Let's have more money for colleges and universities,' ' Alexander said. 'The biggest thing I get thrown back in my face is, 'They're politically one-sided. Why should I support them?' '

Alexander went on to say he did not support the Academic Bill of Rights, as he favors less federal regulation of higher ed, and for the relaxation of rules on student visas which require immediate return of foreign students to their countries when they graduate.


More putty-clay 

Southern University in New Orleans is closing departments like Tulane did last week. SUNO is a predominantly black university with a tradition of outreach to students from impoverished families. I mention this because the Chronicle of Higher Education report (subscribers link) says the school's mission is refocusing as well in dropping traditional departments.
Hurricane-ravaged Southern University at New Orleans will undergo a drastic restructuring under a new academic plan approved on Friday by the Board of
Supervisors of the Southern University System. The plan, which passed by a vote of 9 to 2, will eliminate programs in 19 academic disciplines, including mathematics, physics, and English, and instead emphasize community development and worker training, according to news reports.
The Chronicle has no quotes from administrators at SUNO, the trustees are mum, and I didn't find any clues from its website. But one dean was found, and he's none too pleased:

Joe Omojola, dean of the university's College of Science, said that Southern University's representatives "went to the Board of Regents to negotiate ... there was no one at the bargaining table" from the New Orleans campus. Louisiana's Board of Regents oversees the state's public colleges.

Mr. Omojola said that it was hard to imagine a modern university that did not award
degrees in such academic staples as math and English. "When you do not have those elements in a university," he said, "you really do not have a university."

He held out some hope that the plan might be renegotiated before it takes effect, in the fall of 2006. "We're going to go back to the table," he said. "I do believe when it's all said and done, there are going to be changes in the new program."

...Even worse, he said, will be the effect on the students the college has traditionally served. "The African-American community -- they all have the feeling that nobody wants them to come back to New Orleans," said [Mostafa A. Elaasar, chairman of the department of mathematics and physics, which is scheduled to be dropped]. "And you do this to their university? ... There is no school, no place to stay."

SUNO may have a new model for what a university that has a historical mission of teaching to blacks, but I suspect this is simply an attempt to cut departments that will have less support politically. If it's part of mission refocus, then as reader jw, who noted this piece to me, said, "sounds like stereotyping to me."


Sneaky college campaigning 

Here's another example of what is going on with the special election and the campus' reaction to it. This morning in a classroom building I find this flyer put up by College Democrats. The logo at the bottom of it reads "Endorsed by SCSU College Democrats. Event sponsored by Student Government." Does that make it seem like the candidates are being endorsed by student government? Certainly appears to from the stamp declaring this flyer "Approved by Center for Student Organizations and Leadership Development." The flyer contains a disclaimer stamped on it showing it comes from the CDs and not the official position of the university, but says nothing that disclaims it as official of the student government. Moreover, it is inappropriate in a state building (the student union is an exception to that rule.)

While it is not inappropriate to run a van to assist students who wish to vote by absentee, I think it's quite interesting that the effort coordinates with a partisan campus group, using student activity fees that are a tax on credit-taking behavior of all students.

Unsurprisingly, the union sent yet another message as well:
Certainly an important part of education is learning to be civically responsible. Many of your classes might focus on or include components that address this civic responsibility. But even in those that don't, it's not inappropriate to take a minute or two to provide information to students about voting and to encourage them to take the time to do this during this special election.
Perhaps it is time for the city of St. Cloud to hear of these attempts of students with no connection to the city to commandeer this election. And perhaps one could challenge some of these absentee ballots.

UPDATE (5 pm): Both the administration and student government have responded to my request this morning to take these flyers down, as they are in contravention of state law (see also DOER). The local newspaper has called about the issue as well, indicating they had read about this on the blog.

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Friday, December 09, 2005

Be sure to listen in tomorrow 

It's going to be one of the rare weekends where Mitch will not be under center for the NARN team. As someone pointed out to me today, everyone roots for the backup quarterback until he starts, then they find out why he's the backup. Come hear who the backup is and boo lustily at 651-289-4488. CD6 Republican nomination hopeful Jay Esmay is scheduled to visit with us.

I refer this jerk to you without hesitation 

To answer Russian Violets question of whether a poor student has ever asked for a reference from me, the answer is "sure, fairly regularly." Have I written them? Depends if I really disliked them. But what about the student who is just not a very bright student? I have said more than once, "please remind me what I gave you for a grade for my class?" This sometimes works. For others, they smilingly say "oh, I think it was a C-." "And you think I would write you a good reference?" "Sure!"

If you ask me when I'm busy, I typically will say "fine" and write it.

If you ask me when I'm not, I might explain it to you SLO-O-O-OWLY.

Students, if you are reading this, consider yourself warned.

(h/t: Cold Spring Shops)


Stuffing the absentee ballot box 

It's quite telling to me how our campus thinks about politics. While Sue Ek fights to keep her claim on being able to run for office in St. Cloud, the university community is committed to being sure its voters get to vote. Particularly students. In campus email today, a message from the student government:
The St. Cloud State Student Government is sponsoring a absentee registration and vote drive for the special election to be held on Dec. 27th. We are doing this because most students will not be around to vote in the district they live in on that date. This is a very important election because it is for both the state Senate and Minnesota House of Reprsentative seats that represent the SCSU and the community surrounding it. Without student votes in this election there can not be representation for student needs in a student district.

The Student Government is also sponsoring a van that will be running back and forth from Atwood to the Stearns County Court House on Dec. 13th. Students will be taken to the court house so that they may register to vote and cast their absentee ballot in person and with assistance if they need it. In order to register, voters must have proof of residence which is usually a utility bill in the voter's name.

Allow me to remind Student Government that House District 15B contains all of St. Cloud, Waite Park, Rockville, St. Augusta, and some outlying areas to the south. It had over 19000 voters in it in the general in 2004. The senate district is over 40,000. And you want to call it "a student district"???

The faculty union has made a similar call for absentee voting, asking faculty to tell students to vote.
You can also take a moment in class to remind students to vote and inform them of how they can absentee vote. After all, an important aspect of higher education is to encourage responsible citizenship.

So let me be sure I understand this: Someone who lives in a dorm can vote in November in her home district, get on a bus, register to vote and vote absentee here, and go home for semester break, and then change back her registration.

And her vote counts as much as someone who lived in St. Cloud all his life?

How does this "encourage responsible citizenship"?

Of course our student government has political goals that extend beyond education funding. Indeed, they do not know their boundaries. Who is teaching them "responsible citizenship"?


New frontiers in outsourcing 

Well, you wouldn't have to outsource Pong, I guess, but this might be the only way Hewitt ever gets through Halo 2.
One of China's newest factories operates here in the basement of an old warehouse. Posters of World of Warcraft and Magic Land hang above a corps of young people glued to their computer screens, pounding away at their keyboards in the latest hustle for money.

The people working at this clandestine locale are "gold farmers." Every day, in 12-hour shifts, they "play" computer games by killing onscreen monsters and winning battles, harvesting artificial gold coins and other virtual goods as rewards that, as it turns out, can be transformed into real cash.

That is because, from Seoul to San Francisco, affluent online gamers who lack the time and patience to work their way up to the higher levels of gamedom are willing to pay the young Chinese here to play the early rounds for them.
Hmmm, farmers? Is this subject to the Common Agricultural Policy rules of the EU? I'm just imagining the placards held up at the next anti-globalization protest. Your offerings, please, in the comments.

The last straw 

Turns out Sue Ek signed an affadavit July 9th in St. Paul, asserting the St. Paul residence is a home office. It's the headline story in this morning's paper, and this would appear to make her ineligible for office for the Minnesota House. Nice bit of digging around by Larry Schumacher at the Times, who undoubtedly got help from someone in the People's Republic of St. Paul politburo. For all intents and purposes, though, this election is over.

UPDATE: I listened on the radio this morning to the debate between Ek and Larry Haws (or Larry Haw-Haw as I call him, as he sounds like a Lake Woebegon character.) Ek took her opening statement to address the Times article. She failed spectacularly, in my opinion, to say anything that contradicted the evidence Schumacher presented. Unless I had something substantial to say, I would not have said anything; if there's nothing to say to combat the claim, I can't imagine why I would not withdraw my candidacy.

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Thursday, December 08, 2005

Putty-clay universities 

Putty-clay is a model of investment we learned when I was in grad school that I don't see textbooks use anymore. In short, capital before it is built is putty and can be put anywhere. Once in place it hardens like clay; you may have capital you would never buy again if you could do it over, but because it's there in place you continue to use it to produce goods and services. It is sometimes also called investment irreversibility.

I thought of that when reader jw sent me the story of Tulane University announcing faculty layoffs.
Tulane University announced plans Thursday to lay off about 230 faculty members and shut down some programs to cope with the financial damage done by Hurricane Katrina.

In a set of budget cuts totaling about $100 million, the university will eliminate about 180 faculty positions at its medical school and about 50 in its undergraduate and graduate programs.

...The university said it will continue to participate in such NCAA Division 1 sports as football, baseball and men and women's basketball. But it eliminated men's track, men and women's tennis, men and women's golf, women's swimming, women's soccer and men's cross-country.

The university also said that it will concentrate on areas where it has attained, or has the potential to achieve, world-class excellence and "will suspend admission to those programs that do not meet these criteria." But the university did not immediately identify which programs that would mean.

"Essentially, they're going to reinvent Tulane," said Terry Hartle, senior vice president of the American Council on Education. "The kinds of changes they are likely to make would be the most significant restructuring of any American college or university in the last century."
If you wonder why it takes a disaster to get a university to "concentrate on areas where it has attained, or has the potential to achieve, world-class excellence," the answer is putty-clay. These places get large, investments made in programs that looked great in the 1960s don't ever die but continue to take resources away from new possibilities. When an engineering schools sets up a program in microcomputer engineering, does its computer science program go away? Art departments are expensive -- should every university have one, or should there be an attempt to contract out to someone else to provide art appreciation to students? Putty-clay.

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I may have to kiss Saint Paul on the mouth* 

for this. Now I know why my exams won't be graded until the last possible minute.

I wonder how much work is getting done in Woodbury?

*--cheap attempt to get quote on their website

Why don't you dissect a red herring? 

PZ Myers still doesn't get it. Quoting a Kansas state senator on the Mirecki blow up, who said "We have to set a standard that it�s not culturally acceptable to mock Christianity in America,", the good professor says,
Everyone who was so upset at Mirecki's rhetorical comment that teaching ID as mythology would be a slap in the face to the fundies�how many of you have put half as much energy into damning the threat to free speech and the palpable theocratic oppressiveness of that particular statement, hmmm? Do you think we'll see Brownlee hounded by the public, harrassed and shamed, abandoned by her colleagues, and resigning from her position sometime in the near future?

I encourage everyone to mock Christianity freely. You can mock atheism, too, if you want.
One's a politician, one's a professor. One is speaking to the public she represents, the other is speaking of how to use (read:abuse) his responsibilities with students with whom he is entrusted. Only in the mindset of the anointed are the responsibilities of those two professions equivalent.

Professor Mirecki is still a professor -- his resignation is from the chairmanship. Thus he still has responsibilities to his students in his classes. I hope this experience instructs him of those responsibilities. It might even instruct PZ, some day.

And data reveals information 

Survey reveals opinion
With apologies to BOTW.

And now, about that survey 

The SCSU survey is a center run here by three political scientists, and they are working on their fall results now. Some preliminary results are up, and you should scroll down that link to the PowerPoint slides to see the information in a readable format. (Hopefully the data will be reformatted on the page later.) The news article makes much of the feelings thermometer, but what caught my eye was the "most important issue" question.

1 Education 18%
2 Taxes 12%
3 Health 9%
4 Budget deficit %8
5 Politicians/politics/legislators 5%

What we're hearing from area business leaders is that health is far and away the #1 topic, with taxes and education well behind. And transportation is not on the radar (Northstar says hi!)

There's plenty more in that survey, so go dig around the slides and read.


Moral: Don't share cabs with economists 

Here's why. If you ever wondered about how economists use game theory, this is a great example.


See this here petard? 

Ian Maitland makes a very good point in discussing the Solomon Amendment case before the Supreme Court:
Justice Frankfurter once called control of the hiring of faculty members and admission of students two of the �essential principles of academic freedom.� That sounds almost quaint after decades during which university faculty members and administrators have meekly acquiesced in detailed federal supervision of their hiring and admissions practices.
In for a penny, in for a pound. SCOTUSblog says the amendment likely stands.


Where in the world is Sue? 

The worst-kept secret story in St. Cloud went public this morning with a St. Cloud Times article on the residency of Sue Ek, candidate for state House District 15B. Her family has lived here a very long time, and according to Larry Schumacher's story the family also owns houses in St. Paul from which they run a family planning organization of which Sue Ek is executive director. She has lived in the St. Paul residence for some time, and registered to vote there. Schumacher says he has records showing she registered and voted in St. Paul from 2001 to early this year. Ek says she voted here in the Sept. primary and November election for local candidates.

The DFL has been shopping this story for quite some time as I mentioned yesterday, and last night the story popped up on lots of local DFL-friendly blogs.

I'm trying to find out how one determines where one has voted, and I'm trying to find out what records Ek would need to show she had established residency in St. Cloud. Given her parents own both the homes she's lived in, the documents one might normally have, like a lease or utility bill, aren't available to her. I will update this if/when I get an answer to that question.

I notice she has an empty blog (if you click here, watch out for pink! This appears to be a theme color for her.)

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Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Fishsticks gets aggregation bias 

Craig Westover does a nice analysis of the PioneerPress story on the effect of Cities-area smoking bans on revenues for area bars and restaurants. As a statistical issue, the PP analysis uses a statement about means of a distribution of revenue effects to say something about individual observations within the distribution. To wit,
The Pioneer Press does an excellent job of data collection. I�m not about to argue with their findings per se; however, nowhere in the article do they explain the significance of working with aggregate data. The significance is, aggregate data hides the impact of the smoking ban on individuals most affected by the ban. That is a characteristic of aggregate data and why it is used to justify projects with unintended consequences.

[When talking about education, many of the same people supporting smoking bans and education writers are quick to point out (correctly) that aggregate data showing student improvement hides the fact that there is a significant gap between white students and students of color. Aggregate data works the same way in underreporting the impact of the ban on specific segments of the hospitality industry.]

I wrote to the authors of the PP study and have their data. It is indeed a set of totals for taxable sales of food and liquor by zip code, along with the number of establishments. As Captain Fishsticks points out, that tells us nothing about individual harm. And the article does tell us that some areas on average were harmed, as you'd guess.

The PP study ignores a study done by Hennepin County itself a couple of months ago. Unlike the reporters, the county researchers had individual-business-level data, and they found that there were declines particularly for smaller establishments.
By segmenting the 497 Hennepin County establishments by total revenue size, there is some evidence that smaller businesses were more likely to show a decline in liquor sales and less likely to recoup the decline through increased food sales.

It would appear that businesses where liquor sales exceed food sales were more likely to see reduced liquor sales with no offset from increased food sales.

On the other hand, there also is evidence that establishments where food sales exceed liquor sales were more likely to have some of the lower liquor sales offset by higher food sales.

This matches Craig's story of Acme Comedy, a place large enough and with enough demand that they could increase prices to take from remaining patrons enough extra to recoup the loss of sales from its bar business. Of the 270 Hennepin County establishments that had lost liquor sales, 106 were smaller places (less than $200k total taxable sales over 9 months; the average for the county is $570k.) More of this type of analysis will be needed to verify claims of harm, and to do it requres more disaggregated data.

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Academic freedom without responsibility has consequences 

I exchanged email last night at length with Eva about this Mirecki case. I think she misunderstood what I was trying to say, and if so perhaps others do as well. Let me see if I can clarify.

First, the point I was trying to make does not turn on whether or not you believe in intelligent design, creationism, evolution or the earth being a colony from Andromeda. Neither does it particularly matter to the point what subsequently has happened to Prof. Mirecki. I assume the beating he took was real (though as Mitch points out, you can't just take these things at face value any more), and until someone shows otherwise let's assume Prof. Mirecki is telling the truth about his attackers. If the attackers were indeed intentional in their attack on him for his views, they've sinned and they either repent or face damnation.

The point I was making Friday, however, was over the use of Prof. Mirecki's classroom towards a particular political end. His statements to this effect were public, though amplified by a comment on a private mailing list that folks found particularly objectional ("slapping fundies in their big fat faces.") My problem with this is that it is a threat to academic freedom. In the 1940 AAUP Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure, faculty are admonished that academic freedom comes with a price tag:
College and university teachers are citizens, members of a learned profession, and officers of an educational institution. When they speak or write as citizens, they should be free from institutional censorship or discipline, but their special position in the community imposes special obligations. As scholars and educational officers, they should remember that the public may judge their profession and their institution by their utterances. Hence they should at all times be accurate, should exercise appropriate restraint, should show respect for the opinions of others, and should make every effort to indicate that they are not speaking for the institution. (Emphasis added.)
You may argue that Mirecki has been accurate in the service of striking down malign creationists; I will venture that Mirecki did enough to indicate he did not speak for the University of Kansas. But he did not "show respect for the opinons of others" "at all times", and neither did he "exercise appropriate restraint". The AAUP's 1966 Statement on Professional Ethics makes the point even clearer.
As citizens engaged in a profession that depends upon freedom for its health and integrity, professors have a particular obligation to promote conditions of free inquiry and to further public understanding of academic freedom.
Even in public and not on his mailing list, Prof. Mirecki did not discharge his "particular obligation to promote conditions of free inquiry." The email quoted was merely a plainer view of the dark heart behind which a course was created to let people know "the KU faculty has had enough." Has had enough what? Academic freedom?

The University of Kansas failed to hold Professor Mirecki to these professional standards. It bears responsibility for the public furor that resulted, and while some folks want to shovel about responsibility for the attack on the professor on rednecks and fundies, someone should throw some of the dirt towards an academy that allows professors to think using their classrooms as bully pulpits is OK.


Noted locally 

A blog has formed to keep track of SD 15 DFL candidate Tarryl Clark. A phone bank for Clark already hit our house tonight, so she's moving off her loyal list already. She is running against Dan Ochsner, whose campaign website is still "coming soon". Um Ox? You have less than three weeks.

Clark has a good deal of experience, having run against now-Mayor Dave Kleis twice for the senate seat, losing both times. So you would think she would relish getting Ochsner in a debate to show off her advantages. But she's asked the Chamber of Commerce to reschedule the event. The problem? It was to be held at a time coinciding with Ochsner's show on KNSI, the local news station that was going to broadcast the event live. She's also unhappy that KNSI has not taken down their billboards that promote Ox's show.
�It looks like they�re promoting him as a candidate,� Clark said. �I�m just asking them to stop and do the right thing.�

The billboards have him with a mike talking to Kinsie, his Westie, with a slogan "Caution: We do animal testing." (That might not be exact -- I'm doing this from memory.) I think 'promoting him as a candidate' is a bit of a stretch. The radio show has a substitute host -- as required by law -- and they call it "Hot Talk Without the Ox" currently. As the station president John Sowada points out, the show is still their property and they have a right to promote it.

Noted as well: Republican House 15B candidate Sue Ek is running ads on local cable. Must have more than a few bucks, and she needs it: Most people I speak to in town have no idea who she is -- she is author of a book on natural family planning and teaches in that area -- but everyone knows her opponent, Larry Haws.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Once bitten, not shy 

FIRE has been helping a group of students at Hampton University in Virginia who posted anti-Bush flyers that called for a protest and a walk-out. The school's administration threatened the students with a maximum penalty of expulsion, but we learn today that five of the seven have been told their punishment will "only" be twenty hours of community service.

This is the second First Amendment story at Hampton in the last two years. Previously, a former president of the school confiscated the student paper run when her letter to the campus on health concerns in the student cafeteria were run on page three rather than the front page she had requested. This cost Hampton a $55,000 grant from the American Society of Newspaper Editors.

It's not often I agree with the Nation, but this is quite clearly a repulsive act by Hampton U., and they should require that the school's administration join the seven students for twenty hours of First Amendment training

Measure up, or else 

Division I-A football teams heading to college bowls have trouble making the grade academically. The report, published by the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at the University of Central Florida, shows that 23 of the 56 teams who are in a bowl game did not meet the new Academic Progress Rate standard that the NCAA will start using next year to determine how many scholarships football programs will be able to award. 14 of the 23 are in BCS conferences, including all five Pac-10 teams (and Ohio State, Hugh, so don't go ragging on USC.)

APR isn't perfect, and the UCF study does argue for correcting a flaw in the system that penalizes schools that have a high share of students transferring. The purpose of APR is to tell student athletes where they can go to get the best academic programs, but of course they won't tell you whether the better schools academically will attract better athletes. A recent paper by Lucas and Lovaglia though suggests a way to combine student and athlete performance measurement. After all, some student-athletes will go to school for the opportunity to make the next level, the NFL. Lucas and Lovaglia combine the APR and a measure of athletic success (combining college record, fan attendance, TV appearances, and NFL success of graduates, et al.) and conclude that the top school currently is Michigan, followed by Miami. Captain Ed will be disappointed to hear that, of the schools from the BCS conferences plus Notre Dame, the Golden Domers come in 19th, one behind USC. Ohio State was tied with Rutgers and Washington State for 34th, and Minnesota was 44th of the 64 ranked teams.

There was little correlation in the data between APR and their athletic success measure; it was found that schools with both bad athletics and bad academics tended to change coaches more frequently (bad news for Phil and #60 Mizzou.) The question is whether APR will work in increasing emphasis on academics in powerhouse athletic conferences. Everyone is speaking well of it now.
"Obviously we would like to see those statistics higher," said NCAA spokesman Bob Williams. "But this is a process that the NCAA member institutions are going through to change behavior and essentially ensure the student athletes, coaches and everyone involved in collegiate athletics understands that academic achievement and academic performance is just as important as athletic performance."

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I'd rather be Superfly 

I mean, some guys get great nicknames. Take Jim Paine, the proprietor of PirateBallerina. He's been covering the Ward Churchill story non-stop for months, and now the Denver Post features him. They get Churchill to call Paine "a self-appointed executioner" for his willingness to dig up material about the professor. They also get one of the professors Paine ran off the investigating committee to whine about journalism. Joshua Sharf points out that's funny, given it comes from a journalism prof.
If there was a record to be set straight, I'm pretty sure Johansen would have been given plenty of ink to do it. And you'd think that of all people, a professor of journalism would know how to get his side of the story into the papers. If he were really that upset, and really concerned with the integrity of the place, he could have made his case while still on the committee, or ridden it out.
But that doesn't fit academia, Joshua. Resolution requires allowing someone to decide if you're right or wrong. Since it's all about criticism and deconstruction, there's no interest in truth, since that means nothing to them. And, Sharf continues, the problem stems from tenure:
Most of us without tenure consider oursevles to be "on the outside" of academia. Only light distorted by the thick glass separating college and the real world could persuade Johansen that he was on the outside looking in. After all, much of academia grandfathered out its critical faculties long ago, preferring orthodox, uncritical ones.


Monday, December 05, 2005

Don't feed them 

Somebody has gone and beaten Paul Mirecki this morning, and there's no doubt the left will try to link this to his criticism of "fundies" needing to be "slapped in their big fat faces". Those doing the linkage would do well to remember the definition of "post hoc ergo propter hoc" and wait for more information. Whoever hit the guy needs to be tossed in jail, and then brought out and beaten by those of us who think it stupid to arm this radical-masquerading-as-academic with sympathy. (h/t: Eva.)

Bankruptcies up in 2006? Stacking the deck 

I'm not buying this.
But one often-overlooked source suggests dark times ahead for the U.S. economy. The source is Euler Hermes, a France-based company that ... is the Michelin Guide of business failure. Its researchers constantly scan the globe for the latest in bankruptcy and liquidation to compile the Global Failures Index. And lately Euler Hermes doesn't like what it's seeing in the United States. The firm predicts that in 2006, U.S. business failures will rise for the first time in the 21st century.

...Contrary to what one might expect, and despite scores of high-profile bankruptcies, the number of business failures�businesses filing for either Chapter 7 or Chapter 11�has fallen in each of the last four years. U.S. business failures fell from 39,885 in 2001 to 34,167 in 2004, according to Euler Hermes. And through the first half of 2005, when 16,799 businesses failed, corporate fiascoes were running at their lowest annual rate for 25 years.

...[Euler Hermes chief economist Dan] North believes that both trends are working against American businesses large and small. First, interest rates have been rising. The Federal Reserve has increased the federal funds rate from 1 percent in 2004 to 4 percent today and shows no sign of stopping. Long-term rates on instruments like mortgages and government bonds have been rising, albeit at a slower rate. Just as lower interest rates can extend the life of a struggling business�refinancing helps companies, not just strapped homeowners�a climate of rising rates can cut them short. ...

Second, North believes the pace of GDP growth will slow, which will lead to business failures. When the economy has been growing at a steady clip, businesses tend to invest and build up their infrastructures to accommodate continued robust growth. When growth fails to materialize as expected, they can easily get caught short, with too much capacity, too many employees, and too much debt.
This is rubbish on many levels. First, as the Euler Hermes report itself makes clear, there is a third factor which Daniel Gross completely ignores -- the change in bankruptcy laws which has led a number of firms to move ahead filings before more stringent rules take effect. We already discussed these with the airline industry filings, but there will no doubt be others. So we may in fact see numbers go up without saying anything about the state of the underlying economy.

Second, there is no sign that higher interest rates are causing any problems with firms, as NABE reports capital spending remains strong and is expected to continue to do so. Any remaining rise in long-term interest rates is likely to be between 50 and 75 basis points, not causing any further pressure on firms, and GDP growth has been 10 quarters in a row in a sweet spot between 3-4.5% growth, unlikely to reignite demand-pull inflation. Hurricane Katrina might cause some problems -- and yes, you could get some more business failures in the Gulf area.

Of course, if you've got your mind made up that a recession is just around the corner, you can predict a rise in business failures, but you can't then reverse causality in another column. We can follow your trail, sir.


Too late 

Michael Shedlock, talking about Bush's delay of tax reform:
Has anyone in history used up political capital so quickly with nothing to show for it?
  • Social Security Reform - Dead On Arrival

  • Tax Reform - Never got out of the gate

  • Torture - Bush and Cheney split with McCain and openly support torture

  • Iraq - Bush plan to "stay the course" is failing

  • Immigration Reform - Republican infighting

  • Polls - Bush support at 35% or so
One year in his second term and Bush is already the lamest of lame ducks.
I'll leave the Iraq part of this out, but let's look at the economic policy points. As I was discussing on NARN with Captain Ed this past weekend, a problem the Bush Administration has had comes from lacking an economic policy spokesperson. The Clinton White House had Bob Rubin as Mr. Inside and a variety of Mr/Ms Outsides from Laura Tyson and Robert Reich to Larry Summers. Who does the Bush Administration have? John Snow, last seen fawning over Bono? Larry Lindsey, who's most notable achievement was to be the first economist ever fired for being too heavy? Greg Mankiw, who had to apologize for giving one of his principles lectures to the press? It's quite likely you haven't heard of these people, and that's the point. You might have ended up hearing about Ben Bernanke as head of the Council of Economic Advisors, but he has gone off to the Federal Reserve now and can't speak for the administration further.

And, as I said as well on Saturday, expecting Bush to speak on these issues is not going to happen. Bruce Bartlett pointed out fifteen months ago that this was a strategy bound to fail:
As the Republican National Convention approaches, pressure is building on President Bush to lay out a second-term agenda. With John Kerry running no worse than even in most polls, many Republicans believe that Bush needs a big idea to galvanize his supporters. I think they are probably going to be disappointed.

The fact is that very few presidents ever have a meaningful second-term agenda. First of all, they don�t need one to get reelected because they cannot run for a third term. Second, they don�t have the time or the political clout to get anything big through Congress because they are lame ducks.

Reagan managed to get one through by planning on it in his first term and having a consensus for tax reform in place before his re-election. Without an effective spokesperson and waiting to start the discussion until after re-election, Bush lost what leverage he had (even less than most second-termers, given his VP is not a candidate for the presidency in 2008.) And as long as Iraq and immigration are there occupying news hours and Congressional debate, there is not going to be time to get this done.

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Makes sense to me. 

One of the problems I have with the global warming debate is the seeming desire of many environmentalists to turn developing countries into time-travel museums. Development cannot be encouraged for fear of losing the rain forests, so we should stop trading with these people.

But one part of the Kyoto accords was to permit trading in pollution rights. So Papua New Guinea is asking whether it can sell its rain forests as a means of trading on its current position as a country with a low impact on the environment.
If Germany, for example, is reluctant to clean up a particularly lucrative, but dirty power plant, it can still earn credit toward its mandatory emissions cuts by investing in sustainable technology in another country � or, say, buying up a slice of forest in Papua New Guinea and not tearing down the trees.
It would be nice if the tax needed for the purchase of the PNG forest was voted on explicitly by Germans, but that seems quite unlikely. It is a move that makes a good deal of sense from a Coasian perspective, but as David Friedman points out, what Coase says is "Nothing works, Everything works, It all depends (on transactions costs)". And the costs of these transactions between two governments are probably much higher than would occur between the two individuals in most of the Coase examples.

(h/t: Reader jw) Categories:

St. Cloud Times gets blogs, sorta, kinda 

The St. Cloud Times, our local paper, ran an op-ed yesterday tooting its own horn forblogs. This is fine, except that they haven't really discovered what to do with them yet.

First, they seem to make them event specific. Sue Halena, with whom I've worked in the past with QBR, wrote a blog specifically for her trip to China. OK, but that's a travelogue, not a blog, and won't be if she doesn't update it soon. Sue has been the person with her finger on the pulse of area business for a few years now -- how about sharing a little more? Likewise, Kevin Allenspach is writing a hockey blog -- only if SCSU is playing hockey. Isn't there anything going on in the meantime? Can't you tell us about practices or conversations about hockey you're having? Closer to having the right idea is Frank Rajkowski, if you're into small college sports. His halftime post of the St. Johns -- Wisconsin-Whitewater game was exactly the kind of thing blogs can be good at, and his post-game post had the kinds of things you want from a reporter's blog: reflective, adding insights that didn't fit the story, speculative about upcoming games, etc. Frank didn't seem to know if he would continue the blog after this, again indicating the event-specific thinking about blogs in newspapers. Yet there are many good examples of blogs by news and sports people that take on a life of their own. For news, consider the links given out here by Jeff Jarvis, and for sports, Art Martone. (You knew I'd pick a Red Sox guy, right?)

Someone who seems to get it already is the youngest of the bunch, Liz Kohman, who writes a local entertainment blog. Take this entry, for example:
I was chatting with a St. Cloud-native who came home for the holidays this weekend, and he said he noticed that a local nightclub seemed to have racially divided rooms, with white people hanging out downstairs and black people hanging out upstairs.

Has anybody else noticed this? Why do you think it happens?
I'd like to have known which bar she's talking about (I think I know) and I'd like to see the comments she's getting if any. That's something you probably would not put in the paper, though a story could develop from feedback. It is not a well-designed blog, though that's largely because they insist on running it using the same software the newspaper website uses. She needs something cleaner and more comment-inviting. (The Times has no problems getting comments listed on its news stories.)

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Friday, December 02, 2005

Evolution and extinction 

The water apparently got too hot for Prof. Mirecki at U. Kansas, the religious studies scholar who when we last visited had proposed to teach a course on intelligent design. We now learn that he has pulled the plug on the course. The good professor heated up his own water by posting about the course on a Yahoo group where he refers to fundamentalists as "fundies". The AP story you may read about this makes that sound bad, but it leaves out the rest of the email, to wit:
The fundies want it all taught in a science class, but this will be a nice slap in their big fat face by teaching it as a religious studies class under the category �mythology.�
The fuller context of the email can be found here.

Are we to be surprised that faculty teach with the purpose of "slapping" people "in their big fat face"? No, certainly not. A few weeks ago NAS President Steve Balch gave testimony to a committee of Pennsylvania legislators on the political nature of what public universities do. He makes a very well-researched and well-argued point, that the nature of what happens at universities is to be critical of anything that is traditional, and to "celebrate" diversity -- not just tolerate, but to embrace in an uncritical way. The full testimony is longish but worth reading, and here's just a paragraph of questions that drives the point home:
Why, when looking at traditional cultural values and established institutional arrangements, is the attitude "critical", and, when looking at other cultures and lifestyles, is the attitude "celebratory"? Shouldn�t it be critical � not necessarily in the sense of adversarial, but in the sense of analytical � all the way round? And does not this strange dichotomy, critical on the one hand, celebratory on the other, suggest a political project within the university devoted to social change of a particular character, a project, that as I think I�ve shown, is now deeply and institutionally engrained? And if there is such a political project, what does it have to do with liberal education as properly conceived? And by what warrant do the public universities of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania pursue it?
The same applies to Mirecki: What does his political project of keeping ID creationism out of K-12 education "have to do with liberal education as properly conceived?" The emails simply bear out that his mission is indeed political, and that at the same time he wants to slap fundies in the face he also wants tax dollars confiscated from citizens to pursue his political ends.

In a previous time, Prof. Mirecki would not only be asked to withdraw the course but also asked to reflect on his unethical conduct. But no longer: he will be celebrated.


Best. Stock. Recommendation. Ever. 

Courtesy of winterspeak, I found a blog of stock "recommendations." This one is particularly insightful.
  • Pillows are most often used by consumers for sleep-assistance purposes although they can sometimes be used for back support and/or playful fights in sorority houses
  • The optimal Full Pillow Equivalent (FPE) to Human Head ratio is approximately 1.0x
  • Pillow pricing is directly proportional to the average number of frills per pillow as well as the number of fabric colors per pillow. Pricing is generally inversely correlated to the utility and comfort of a pillow.
  • Some of these conclusions are surprising given the current state of the pillow market. For instance, in the US, FPEs per Human Head are running at almost 3.4x vs. the 1.0x optimal level. Note that this estimate includes almost 6 decorative pillows per household (or 1.2 FPEs)

    Meanwhile, FPEs per Human Head are approximately 0.1x in developing economies such as Malaysia and Zimbabwe and around 0.6x in China, the world's most populous country.

    We feel strongly that these trends will converge in the long term with the US (and Europe, to a lesser extent) reducing their consumption of frilly, non-functional pillows and developing countries upgrading from rocks to pillows for head support. Our surveys of starving third world citizens find that pillows run fifth on desired items following only clean water, freedom, blond hair and Pampers for the kids. This presents an attractive investment opportunity.
    I predict this will show up with witty sidebar comments in "Investment Houses Know Worst" by Gnat Lileks in 2037. Elder statesman of radio Hugh Hewitt will flog it and get it to #37 on Googlezon, just below "The Curse of the Colavito" about the tragic loss two years in a row of the Indians to the Cubs in the World Series. Its cover will simply have a number on it: 89.

    Thursday, December 01, 2005

    Party down with the MOB 

    Here's your chance, MOB wannabes, to become full-fledged members of the organization. As you know, attendance at an event is required, and one is coming.

    WHERE: Where else? Keegan's Pub, Northeast Minneapolis. Mapquest.
    WHEN: December 17, 2005, 5pm until they toss us out
    WHO: Bloggers, local pols, celebs, and anyone willing to stand outside with Strom and me to fire up big cigars (minimum 50 ring, none of those little Lileks sticks.)

    RSVPs should be sent to party-at-northernallianceradio-dot-com, please, so we can get the publican Terry Keegan a headcount to expect, and to make sure that you're going to be counted among the few, the proud, the MOB.

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    What the Administration thinks the economy will do 

    I think the GDP figure for 2006 is a little low, and so are the interest rate estimates. Source.

    There was a boatload of economic statistics out today, and most of them are positive. Here were some examples:
    All in all, I think this data and the administration forecast puts us on course for a good, not great 2006. Definitely a B grade.


    Candid camera 

    It's the middle of the day, and you are walking past an apartment building. In plain sight is the backside of a man, naked, engaged in intercourse with a woman. You have your camera. You take a picture, and you post it on the web. You do not name the parties. If someone tries to stop you, may you claim First Amendment rights?

    OK, now let it be on a public university campus, and the student happening on the scene is a student. The room where the couple is coupling is in a dormitory. Do you still have First Amendment rights?

    Erin O'Connor adds coverage of Alan Kors' offer to defend the student taking and posting the photo. And Inside Higher Ed (which has a thumbnail of one of the offending pictures) has details of the punishment proposed by Penn:

    On Wednesday, Andrew Geier, a psychology graduate student who has served as the
    photographer�s adviser to the Office of Student Conduct, said that the student has received memos indicating his actions violated Penn�s code of student conduct, sexual harassment policy and policy on acceptable uses of electronic resources. In addition, the documents labeled one of the photographed students an �injured party� who felt �serious distress,� with the situation causing �an intimidating living environment for her.� The photographed students are not identifiable.

    The documents, signed by Michele A. Goldfarb, director of the office, indicated that as punishment, the student would face disciplinary probation until graduation and be forced to write essays on conduct and letters of apology to the students he photographed. Organizations conducting background checks on the student in the future would also be able to find out that he had been punished.

    In his two years of working with the Office of Student Conduct and helping to advise students in approximately 10 cases, Geier said he�s never seen �punishments that are so outlandish.� An assistant with the Office of Student Conduct said Wednesday that it is office policy not to comment on ongoing investigations.

    You can bet the student "seriously distressed" will remember the shades next time. While she is not identifiable in the pictures, I'm quite willing to believe the campus gossip mill has spread her name and she wants to punish someone for her embarrassment.


    I didn't ask for this war... 

    ...but, by God, if Hugh wants to bring it, war we'll have.

    You'd think a lawyer would understand property law. If Eyechart is holding up the Sox for the ball by asking an extreme amount, putting the possibility of legal fees in his face is how you get the ball back. I don't know what swift legal maneuvers Hugh uses to deal with a hold-up problem, but I believe filing suit is in the trick bag.

    Crappy PR move? Sure it is, but these are the people who sent away Theo Epstein because the others in the organization couldn't stand him getting all the positive press. These are the people who decide the best way to peddle off an exorbitant contract is to offer him to another team for their best player. (You like Manny, Hugh? You can have him back for Sabathia and Broussard.) The front office is a mess. A giant mess.

    But Hugh decides to smear the entire Red Sox Nation, including his own blood relatives, for the actions of the front office over the one thing where we have a greedy organization suing a greedy player? Take a look at the discussion of these fans and tell me why they should be painted with the same brush.

    Last time the Indians won the World Series was when, again? Didn't you guys used to have Bartolo Colon? Last I heard from Peeps, Bart was doing pretty well.

    Win a championship, Hugh, and then we'll talk, 'kay?

    Victory at UWEC 

    The University of Wisconsin at Eau Claire has suspended its ban on resident assistants holding Bible studies in their dorm rooms. FIRE had filed suit earlier in the day, and it's hard to say whether that caused UWEC to suspend the ban or the threat of legislative hearings on the policy.

    Early Wednesday, legislative furor over the UW System�s hesitance to condemn the policy reached a new high when Rep. Rob Kreibich, R-Eau Claire, announced his plans to hold a hearing on the matter and vowed to invite officials from both UW-Eau Claire and the UW System to testify.

    �I�d love to see the UW System lawyers defend the Madison policy,� he said. �It has battered the system�s image around the world, [and] we�re anticipating just an overwhelming media [presence].�

    Kreibich also invited UW-Eau Claire student Lance Steiger, the RA who launched the ordeal with his complaint to the Philadelphia-based Foundation for Individual Rights in Education this summer, as well as U.S. Rep. Mark Green, R-Wis.�I am pleased that Rep. Kreibich has taken this step, and I think it will be a good chance for the Legislature and really the taxpayers [to discuss the issue],� Green said. �These hearings are especially important in light of the attorney general�s unwillingness to issue an opinion. I think the UW System is opening itself up to a tremendous liability, certainly opening itself up to ridicule.�

    Following Kreibich�s announcement, UW System President Kevin Reilly announced the formation of an advisory committee to make recommendations for a system-wide policy on what privileges should be granted to resident assistants or, in the case of UW-Madison, house fellows.

    In other words, UW is beginning the process of delaying and covering their asses. FIRE promises to continue the lawsuit until the system-wide policy is changed. It should be noted that Madison is the only other campus that has this ban in place, so for example UW-Milwaukee does permit its RAs to lead Bible studies. Madison students -- time to bring pressure!