Wednesday, May 31, 2006

To the museum! 

According to two researchers, if you want your kid to go to an elite school, grab their hands and take them to an art museum.
Of activities that take place out of school, the researchers found that participation in music or dance classes made it more likely that a student would enroll in a four-year college program, but had no correlation to whether students would end up at elite colleges. The only out-of-school activity that increased the likelihood of a student ending up enrolled at an elite college was parental visits to art museums.

Art classes and visits to public libraries (by parents or children) had no correlation to students matriculating either to colleges generally or to elite institutions.

Several activities that take place in school increased the likelihood that students would enroll at a four-year college, although not an elite college. These activities included school music groups, interscholastic team sports, and student government. Two types of participation made it more likely students would end up at elite colleges: yearbook or school newspapers and �hobby clubs.� (The authors regretted that there was no breakdown on the impact of various hobbies, so it is unclear if photography clubs do better or worse than chess or other topics.)

Numerous activities had no apparent impact on whether or not students will end up in college � elite or otherwise. School plays, interscholastic individual sports, intramurals, cheerleading, academic honor societies, public service clubs � no impact is clear from any of them.
Of course, and as the authors of the study point out, the connection is the cultural capital of the parents. Elite schools become elite by setting up screens to find other members of the elite. the extent that parents who visit art museums (even without their children) are likely to talk about high art and culture, their children (if they pay even a little attention) will pick up cultural knowledge that their peers lack. And if those parents teach their children to name drop, there could be an impact, especially if it allows students to shine in interviews.

�A chance mention of the new Bertolucci film or the Ruscha show at the Whitney may tip an applicant from one pile to another,� the authors write.
I'd call it signaling of a social network. Contra George Leef, it may be a waste to send junior to a dorm room for most classes, but getting the stamp of membership to the elite is not even if junior learns nothing.

Fencing with readers on immigration 

I've had some nice discussion of immigration with some readers through comments. Gary Gross at Let Freedom Ring has posted a couple of complimentary posts, which are of course very nice. But I like the tug of good debate, and Nathan Bissonette of St. Paul, who has joined the upper echelons of MOB readership and commentship (?) has been giving good comments on the viability of fences. We had a debate in comments here and then went to email to hash some things out. The question is whether there are comparable fences we can look at to see whether fences are efficacious. (I know, I know, "It's obvious that ..." There's something in that sentence opener that raises my antennae. Call me pedantic if you wish.) Thus I argued against using the Israeli security barrier as a comparable to the fence that would be erected by the Senate or House bills. Here's the end of the exchange between us, which I think states well the point I'm trying to make about these bills (Nathan in italics):

But the San Diego fence doesn't share the Israeli fence's problems. It's designed to keep out Mexicans. It's enforced American style - no shooting. It's worked to cut border crossing in San Diego because illegals simply walk around the end of the fence. So it works where it's built. So why not extend the fence all the way to Texas?

Why isn't the experience of the San Diego fence instructive as to the effectiveness of an Arizona fence?

I have two issues. First, I am unsure how much effect it had on national statistics. How many people went around the fence and how many were sufficiently discouraged not to try at all? I don't think the numbers in the LAT piece said anything about that, just the SD immigrant flow? How would we know? I'm sure it had some effect, but we're looking quantitatively for its marginal effect. And we don't know that yet.

Second, we can't easily extrapolate from a 13 mile fence to a 1300 mile fence. Are there economies of scale or diseconomies? Again, it's not to say it absolutely will not work. I don't know that. Neither do its supporters. I'm just cautioning people not to oversell the fence and to be sure they understand the need for employer sanctions as a necessary bulwark for the fence. THAT was why we needed the House bill to get to conference, to get those sanctions put in. I still think some way to get illegals into the system by offering to use monetary punishments rather than incarceration for violations of immigration laws only (any other law they break, they pay the full price including potentially jail) will bring more out of the shadows and allow for better enforcement, but just like in the case of the fence we don't know that yet. I think it would, but if a bill came out of conference that had real employer sanctions and either length of fence and nothing else, it would be much, much better than either house's bill in itself.

I agree with Gary's report of Matthew Dowd's commentary, and say let's chill out and make the two bills come together into something that deals with employers who hire illegals. I haven't any idea if the biometric card proposed works or not; that's an engineering problem that others will solve. But there has to be priority given to solving it somehow, now, or else this thing goes the same way as Simpson-Mazzoli did, which also had plenty of support. It just didn't have enforcement.

Methodists against SCSU? 

The Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church has for years used SCSU as the site of its convention, including many rooms in my building. (I once had to assert my right to finish lecturing my summer class before they took possession of my classroom.) I think we've been pretty good hosts. But some of the conferees have decided to bite the hand that hosts them by offering a vote on resolution item #513:
Action: The Minnesota Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church be in conversation with St. Cloud State University about the actions it is taking to combat racism, anti-Semitism and other hate crimes on the campus.
If the Sessions Action Team members are not satisfied with their findings, they will consider other options including finding another location for the future gatherings of the Minnesota annual conference of The United Methodist Church.
If you people would only read our Insights, you'd see we've done so much. [/sarc>

If anyone wants to know how I went from being Methodist to Lutheran, you could start with this. Here are people who don't even stop to realize the fact that they are renting space from the epicenter of political correctness, and they believe their rent gives them the right to demand a conversation with the landlord about its actions to combat social ills. I'd suggest that the Administration simply mail them a letter with their "strategic plan", "accomplishments", which they are so willing to trumpet any place else, and include a 50% rent increase for 2007. We could use the money much more than another bunch of busybodies.

(h/t: reader Richard Vatsaas)

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Just a thought 

Snow vs. Thomas, UFC-style.

I'd watch C-SPAN again.

If you had the over, pick up your check 

John Snow seemed to hang on as Treasury Secretary about as long as Generalissimo Francisco Franco stayed dead. But he's done now, replaced by Hank Paulson, CEO of Goldman Sachs. The hold-up over replacing Snow, it says in the article, was that nobody would take the job. Think anyone will give Bush and Josh Bolten -- another Goldman hand now Bush's chief of staff in charge of reinvigorating the executive branch -- any credit for boating a big bass? Don't hold your breath. I cannot wait for the "he's no Bob Rubin" chorus that accompanied Snow's appointment.

So who will set the tone for economic policy in DC now? Ed Lazear currently heads the Council of Economic Advisors, and he's well known among economists but probably not on Wall Street. The other two members? Well, if you knew both their names before exploring that CEA link, you're a bigger wonk than me, and that takes a little doing.

In Rubin's day, he would travel to visit Greenspan fairly regularly. It would be wise for Paulson to get to know Ben Bernanke more regularly, since Bernanke is the guy who Lazear replaced. At any rate, it seems likely that Paulson will get to be more than just a voicebox for the Bush White House. He has experiences nobody around there has, particularly with Bolten off from OMB to the White House staff.

Grade inflation at the U 

Well well. It must be that the U has many really bright students, becauseforty percent of them are getting As.
"The concern is that if we have a lot of classes where there is no competition for a grade, that dilutes the evaluation of students overall, which is not good for our jobs and unfair for our students," said neuroscience professor Dale Branton.

U officials say there is no widespread problem, but they don't know exactly why some classes have so many A's.

The U last year asked deans and faculty to look at classes with high numbers of A's.

"The question was what, if anything, we could do about it," said Branton, "and I think that's where the discussion got a little more lively than usual."
Nobody ever comes into your office to complain about an A (though increasingly we see some arguing for it over even an A- or B+, something I would never have dreamed of doing short of some error in grade calculation.)

Interestingly, the list of courses that give out many A's included most introductory courses (Introduction to Sociology was called "a joke" by "most students", as was art history.) Also, "Cultural studies focused on race and gender also showed up regularly on the A list." No surprise there. Our HURL department's A+, A, and A- as a share of all grades last fall was 64.2%. (Go ahead and research for yourself here.) My department had 18.2% in the same area.

At SCSU, where the average GPA was 2.82 last fall (spring grades not yet posted), there was once a list of what they called "high difficulty" courses (failure rates three times the university average.) These were available to anyone. Now the list is protect to only administrators. Most faculty view these lists as being of poor data quality, perhaps choosing to keep their heads in the sand. Students would have loved that list so as to avoid those courses.

Monday, May 29, 2006

We may need to check their Alliance membership 

PowerLine is running a poll for greatest American novels, and had this to say about Atlas Shrugged.
I want to say this gently, because I know I'm addressing some of our staunchest allies and most loyal readers. And I'm sure that the dozen or more emails we've already gotten are only the tip of the Ayn Rand-sized iceberg. But, to put it gently--Atlas Shrugged may or may not be great political philosophy, but it isn't great literature. It just isn't. Sorry!
This is a bad decision for the same reason removing Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath is a bad decision. Politics are only part of this. The decision of what went on John's list seems to be "no message novels", but in their own ways Huckleberry Finn and Invisible Man are message novels. I go back and forth on whether Atlas Shrugged or The Fountainhead is my favorite, but that means nothing in terms of the rankings. It's hard to figure which Rabbit you include, or which Bellow (I'd've chosen Herzog or Mr. Sammler's Planet instead, but I can live with Augie March.) All of which argues more for including Rand on the list. The case for Atlas Shrugged is quite simple -- name another novel that has launched as much discussion about things as fundamental as how the world works. I don't know how Joshua thinks it's not literature -- by what definition? Because English professors don't assign it? Why do you suppose that is?

Mrs. S expresses shock and dismay that Main Street would not make this list. I would have said the same for Slaughterhouse Five. They are fine books, but something has to be 22 and 23, and I suspect they go there.

But frankly even Rand isn't the most egregious of all. How does Red Badge of Courage miss this list? I think most of Crane's work was great, and in describing America the Bowery needs some mention too, but the greatest novel set in the Civil War is missed? And while I'm not as big a fan of the book as many, The Scarlet Letter should at least be explained for why it is not chosen. (Corrected: It wasn't on the RSS feed I read, but it was the first listed on the article. Sorry about that, and thanks to Bob Arthur for the correction. Damned pain pills!)

If Ward was a scientist (shudder) 

This must be some rightwing drivel, eh?
Were Professor Churchill a scientist, rather than a researcher engaged in social science research in ethnic studies, the equivalent would be (1) the misstatement of some underlying data�and (2) the total fabrication of other data to support his hypothesis.

If only. It's actually in the Investigating Committee's report to CU on Churchill. And, as Charles Mitchell points out, only one of five members of the committee thought this behavior warranted firing Churchill (I like Diana Hsieh's wording of the other four's behavior: "although they formed the proper moral judgment, they failed to act upon that knowledge.") Mitchell has a list of other references to Churchill's work in the report that are equally damning.

Petard hoisting failure 

The left has a natural antipathy to free market economics and its practitioners, so even when they find common ground the leftist cannot resist a cheap smack. So Matthew Yglesias challenges those who signed the economists' letter on immigration to ask for no limits to H1-B visas for economics professors and open those spots up to competition (particularly set off by this follow up editorial by Alex Tabarrok). Ilya Somin, and Jonathan Adler accept Yglesias' offer. Those folks work at more competitive institutions than SCSU, but the result is the same. Our department has hired seven faculty in five years, and none were excluded due to visas. We hire them first and then, because there's about a 4-6 month gap between the agreement to hire and the first day of work, we can work out the visa then. So I have no problem arguing to remove the H1-B visa limit, but I'm not sacrificing anything by doing so.

So this is what getting old feels like 

My emergency mentioned on NARN, for those interested, is a 3 mm kidney stone, an attack of pain from which put me in the emergency room Saturday morning for some fairly strong painkillers. They say this is the male equivalent of childbirth. I've apologized to Mrs. S profusely. I'm hopeful this will all clear up by Thursday's convention coverage.

Friday, May 26, 2006

A note for Governor Pawlenty 

Dear Sir, I got last night in the mail your letter that was sent to delegates and alternates seeking the endorsement. A full page of the two-pager is devoted to your accomplishments. Fine, sir, but it's not like I've been asleep the last four years. I know what you've done, and I know you've done some things I like, some things I really like, and some things I really don't like. And I'm willing to accept that you haven't had the political backing to do all the things you promised to do, that Dean Johnson and Larry Pogemiller and their sycophantic supporters at the STrib have kept you from moving the ball as far down the field as we would have liked. Maybe things could have been done better, maybe you could have gotten more in the compromises of the last two years. But heck, what do I know? You're the governor, I just run some academic department out here in airport tour-land.

What I want to know is what you'll do in the next four years. What will you stand for. Here's what you told me in your letter:
If the Minnesota we all believe is possible is to ever become a reality, we must persist.

We have to put a stop to taxpayer-funded abortions and pass a constitutional amendment to protect marriage.

We must continue to reform education by paying teachers for performance, not just seniority and by making sure the hard-earned money we send to schools actually makes its way to classrooms.

We need to get serious about dealing with illegal immigration and facilitate the legal immigration our economy needs.

We have to continue to address the evolving challenges of methamphetamines and sex offenders. They're threats to our communities and our families and we need to deal with them head on.
Excuse me, Governor, but I was looking for something more. Not that any of those items on your list are unimportant. But what unifies this? What are your core beliefs? What is the one principle you will not sacrifice no matter what? (I hate to ask that, sir, but after the last two years the question crosses my mind more than once.)

Not only was I looking for more, I thought I'd see something about the crushing burden of government. As Doug Williams pointed out a few days ago, the recent Economic Freedom Index from the Pacific Research Institute -- some fine conservative and libertarians work there; I have published with them myself -- ranks Minnesota 44th of the fifty states in economic freedom, down one from 2003. Yet nary a word about that in your goals except to declare you are "holding government accountable to the taxpayers of Minnesota." Someone who provides me an itemized bill for $120 for dinner for two without a second bottle of wine has been "accountable". He's also asking me to pay a helluva lot for a meal.

Do you have any plans to address this?

I got this second letter in the very same mail, from some woman who says if she was elected governor she would "Remove MN from the list of the top ten highest taxed states in the nation." She also supports TABOR. Now you can try to convince me that TABOR isn't the best way to go on this, but it makes a statement. I know what that woman stands for. What I am reading from you is a passel of things you want to do, a task list.

I don't want a task list. I want a vision. If you finish the task list by 2008, what will be the vision that guides the rest of your term as governor? That's important. Without it people can get talked into all kinds of stuff.

Like stadiums.

I'm very much looking forward to hearing your vision, sir. See you next weekend.

King Banaian, SD 15 (alternate)

P.S. If you need help on getting that vision down to sound bite size, you could just buy Hugh's shirt. And remember, state officeholders don't have primary responsibility for three of those five. Focus on the other two.

Research help on immigration request 

As mentioned, I'm working on a paper on Congressional voting for immigration reform, and I'm in the middle of data collection. I thought while I was at it I would code the votes from the Senate debate over the last two weeks. I know where to get the data, but I want opinions from my readers: Which votes on the amendments to S. 2611 do you think were critical or important votes? There were 24 such roll call votes, and coding them all looks wasteful to me. Your suggestions in the comments will be greatly appreciated.

Quote of the day -- guess the author answer 

The answer is Ronald Reagan, Second Presidential Debate, 1984. One more point to make about Gary's post is his correct analysis of the role of the biometric ID card. One of the items watered down in the Simpson-Mazzoli bill -- which was long on employer sanctions in its intent at least -- was that the I-9 form employers had to file permitted a broad variety of possible identification (see page 3 of the form). It is correct for critics of the Bush proposal to insist on a very narrow definition of the documentation needed to establish residency. If you snuck in and don't have it, I'm inclined to say 'tough luck'. For the same reason, we can't continue to allow fuzzy documentation of I-9s.

Higher re-education 

What do the Chinese treatment of dissenters to the Communist regime and diversity training have in common? David Beito says 'plenty'. He carries a story of Glenn Singleton (previously mentioned on this blog here) using numbers from a scoring system in a training exercise to hang around the necks of the participants. The numbers represent one's ranking in support of affirmative action and racial awareness. Singleton then has them stand by rank.
The worst part of it, however, is the groveling readiness of so many faculty to subject themselves to public degradation under the abusive eyes of Singleton's associates. Meanwhile, the same government schools and colleges which are wasting funds and time on this nonsense continue to dumb down standards and preside over the tyranny of low expectations for all students, black and white.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Joe Hanson, non-pareil 

Along with Mitch, Captain Ed, PowerLine and the Fraters, we extend our condolences to the family of Smokin' Joe Hanson, first producer of NARN, who passed away earlier this week at the age of 50. A unique voice -- I loved calling in when I was traveling to hear his take on how the show was going, and as I was usually first to the station before we went to the four-hour two-volume format, I had many chances to sit with Joe in the control booth. It looked so easy and he could carry on a full conversation with you, the caller, and work the board while still listening to the show. As Mitch points out, he belonged to another time in radio. Now he belongs to the One who is fully God, and Joe will need nothing more.

Quote of the day -- guess the author edition 

I was Googling around for something after reading Gary's description of the interview of Tony Snow on Rush Limbaugh's show today, and I found this.
But it is true our borders are out of control, it is also true that this has been a situation on our borders back through a number of Administrations. And I supported this bill, I believe in the idea of amnesty for those who have put down roots and who have lived here, even though some time back they may have entered illegally. With regard to the employer sanctions, we must have that - not only to ensure that we can identify the illegal aliens but also, while some keep protesting about what it would do to employers, there is another employer that we shouldn't be so concerned about, and these are employers down through the years who have encouraged the illegal entry into this country because they then hire these individuals and hire them at starvation wages and with none of the benefits that we think are normal and natural for workers in our country. And the individuals can't complain because of their illegal status.
I'm not going to give you the link until tomorrow. Guess who said it?!

Century College prof gets her time on air 

Karen Murdock informs me you can hear her side of the Century College/Mohammed cartoons story twice this coming weekend.
On Sunday night I will be on the program "Belahdan" ("With open arms") on Channel 17 at 10:30 pm. This is a 10-minute interview, which I taped last month out in Eden Prairie. Belahdan is a program aimed at Arab viewers.

On Monday (Memorial Day), KFAI ("Fresh air radio") will run a debate of approximately 45 minutes on the Danish cartoons. Participants are me, Farheen Hakeem (a Green party activist and would-be elected official who has called for a Muslim boycott of Century College), and Nick Sikon of the Minnesota ACLU. This debate will air at 6 pm on KFAI.
You will recall Ms. Hakeem from this post, to which Murdock responded. I absolutely want to hear that show Monday; KFAI streams if you do not live close enough to the stations.

Not all economists befuddled 

Sean at The American Mind is a fellow reader of economics though it's not his profession. He sent me a link to a story that wonders why Milwaukee's employment falls while the rest of the state rises? It turns out true for us in St. Cloud as well -- the labor force is lower now than in 2004. Did they all move to the suburbs and out of the market area? I think that's partly true -- one of those little details in the local data is that St. Cloud's Metropolitan Statistical Area or MSA, for which we typically report labor statistics, does not include Sherburne County. (St. Cloud sits at the crux of three counties -- Benton, Sherburne and Stearns.) Sherburne is part of Minneapolis/St. Paul's MSA. Could our decline be due to more people leaving St. Cloud's other two counties to live in Sherburne, which has ready access from Highway 10 to the northern suburbs of Minneapolis? I'm planning a study of that in the near future.

It should come as no surprise that Milwaukee is seeing flight from the central city to its suburbs. The map I just linked shows the MSA. If there are that many people moving to the edges of the MSA by 2000, it stands to reason that more people are moving (just) outside the MSA now. People are willing to make longer trips now (between the 1990 and 2000 Censuses, average commute times rose 3.1 minutes to 25.5 minutes each way.) I suspect Milwaukee is just seeing people move out. But along with that follows services like retail. If the population is moving out of the metro Milwaukee area, so too do the service jobs. It's worth noting that goods-sector employment has risen by almost 1000 over the last 12 months there.

It's also worth remembering in this story that the unemployment data reported at the end of the article come from a different survey than the payroll data from employers that most of the story reports. The end of this story is making the rest of the story more confusing (if I was his editor, I'd've deleted it; it adds nothing to the story.)

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Investigating committees investigate 

PirateBallerina points out the poor reporting of Ward Churchill's response to the findings of the University of Colorado investigation committee.
Note to the AP: allegations were what the committee was investigating. The committee's report is of its findings. Don't they have dictionaries over at the Associated Press?
Hey Jim? There are these guys at PowerLine? They feel your pain.

Jim has a detailed set of notes linking what Churchill writes to what the committee said. Cf. Campus Magazine.

University mission statements: Blather 

So says Vincent Cannato, in a review of Harry Lewis' new book on higher education, "Excellence Without a Soul":
So how does Harvard define an educated person? A Harvard education, the university states, "must provide a broad introduction to the knowledge needed in an increasingly global and connected, yet simultaneously diverse and fragmented world." Mr. Lewis, rightfully dismissive, notes that the school never actually says what kind of knowledge is "needed." The words are meaningless blather, he says, proving that "Harvard no longer knows what a good education is."
Boy does THAT sound familiar? Let's have a look at
SCSU's mission statement:St. Cloud State University is committed to excellence in teaching, learning, and service, fostering scholarship and enhancing collaborative relationships in a global community.
So what will be taught and learned? What is the value of "enhancing collaborative relationships"? And notice the presence of the word "global". Global is the word used by the diversity worshippers when they know the word "diversity" might put off the paying customers. As Lewis points out about Harvard is also true of SCSU: Most American universities do not think of themselves as American. The Sorbonne and Oxford do not suffer from these deficiencies.

The vision statement isn't much more help in deciding what it is they want our students to know:
St. Cloud State University will be a leader in scholarship and education for excellence and opportunity in a global community.
Scholarship for excellence? What is that? Cannato exposes the missing mundane things a university needs to create a real vision of what a good education includes:
There is too little accountability at most schools, Mr. Lewis observes. Trustees often abdicate their responsibilities, while college presidents have become glorified fund-raisers. Most professors are "narrowly educated experts" with little experience outside academia. They are "poorly equipped to help college students sort out" their lives. Meanwhile, professors teach what they want to teach based on their own interests, not on the needs of their students. At too many schools, Mr. Lewis argues, students pursue an "� la carte" course schedule that lacks coherence and can leave large gaps in knowledge.
And without a meaningful mission, nobody can tell what's missing.

Arrested for a ski mask 

Maybe I just live in places where they're more common, but I'm pretty confused by this:
Police weren't laughing Monday over a supposed "senior prank" by a Peoria High School student they accused of showing up on campus wearing a ski mask.

Police were called and the school, 11200 N. 83rd Ave., was placed in lockdown for nearly 2 � hours as more than two dozen officers searched for intruder, fearing that the masked man possibly was armed.

The student, Zubair Hussaini, 18, was arrested in a nearby neighborhood after the masked man fled from the campus, said Mike Tellef, a Peoria police spokesman.
There's nothing to indicate he did more than a) wear a ski mask and b) was Arab. I don't think either of those things is a crime. Did he say something? Did someone else say they saw him with a gun? If they did and he didn't have one and didn't ask someone to say so to create the prank, they've arrested the wrong guy.) Or was he arrested for wearing a ski mask while Arab? I have to guess there's something to this story not reported.

(Link via Edspresso, those people who buy the ad to your right, which I would greatly appreciate you visiting. It's a great site, and not just because they pay for ads here!)

I like this campaign a whole lot better 

Jeb Bush for NFL commissioner!

Confusing rights with correct 

Bob Kerrey's take on the New School commencment can be summed up with two points: 1) "hey, it could have been worse"; and 2) "the students were within their rights." To which I say 1) that's not much of a defense -- this is akin to my son scratching the family sedan on a lightpost and saying at least he didn't knock it down onto the hood; and 2) it's not about their rights. Nobody wants students arrested or even have their degrees confiscated. We are concerned about boorishness, though ... as are those students' future employers, if they find any.

Craig Westover channels Mancur Olson 

When the governing elite want something, it might be delayed by unified opposition, but grass-roots movements are always burdened by divided energies. Opposing the resources of the Minnesota Twins, Hennepin County commissioners and state legislators with legacies on the line are individuals who also have day jobs and nightly worries other than turf versus sod.

The stadium war was not won on the battlefield of ideas and policy; it was a successful siege. Government always wins in a war of attrition. It is inevitable.

Craig has now officially joined the dismal scientists. The late Mancur Olson would have nodded his head at this application of the logic of collective action. Simple application: Just because you have more voices and more votes doesn't mean you get your preferred outcome.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

MOBospheric note of sadness 

Please stop by Coldheartedtruth and offer condolences to Scott, whose father has lost his battle with cancer.

Mao ipse loquitur 

Chinese students at New Zealand�s Massey University staged a heated protest last week after the campus�s student newspaper used an image of Mao Zedong�s head�set atop the body of a curvaceous woman wearing a decidedly bourgeois d�colletage�to satirize Cosmopolitan magazine. The lampooned title: Commupolitan. ...[T]he Chinese students said the satire in Chaff, the student paper, was as offensive to them as cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad were to Muslims worldwide earlier this year. The protesters said making fun of Mao, the founder of China�s Communist state, was akin to lampooning Jesus, George Washington, or President Bush. They also said they deserved better treatment as foreign students who pay full fees at the university.
Source: The Chronicle: Daily News Blog. I had not realized Mao had ascended into deity. Could be worse. They could have stuck that cartoon on a bulletin board.

(Source for photo.)

And the Gophers and Twins, and even Eveleth, thank you 

Both new stadia have spurred increased ticket sales:
The Gophers reported selling 102 football season tickets for next season on Monday as fans began to position themselves for seats in the on-campus stadium set to open in 2009. Athletic director Joel Maturi called it the first sign that things are going to be different when it comes to attending a Gophers football game.

"The reality is we're going from a 64,000 seat stadium to a 50,000 seat stadium," Maturi said. "There is some excitement being generated. So it could come to the point that come 2009, and you're not a season-ticket holder, you might not be getting in."

...The Twins reported significant activity in their ticket office, as well. Ticket manager Scott O'Connell said approximately 20 season tickets for the remainder of this season were sold before noon, with more expected before the end of the business day.

"People are trying to establish a priority at the new ballpark," O'Connell said. "We'll have some kind of program down the road that will be a deposit situation, where people can establish a pecking order for the new ballpark. People who already have season tickets or are buying them now will walk into a priority situation."
By the way, did you hear about this little bit of pork tossed into the Gopher bill?
A provision in the University of Minnesota's stadium bill that passed in the waning hours of the Legislative session commits about $80,000 in taconite taxes annually to keep the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame in Eveleth, Minn.

Citing sagging attendance, hall officials earlier this month said they wanted to close the museum's doors and look for a new home. St. Paul officials, including City Council Member Dan Bostrom, suggested the capital city would welcome a new Hall of Fame, particularly on the East Side.
I reported the HHOF closing at The Sports Economist earlier this month. Rep. Tom Rukavina (DFL-Virginia) got the bribe annual contribution into the bill. He's hoping to get matching funds from private donors.

News that somehow misses the papers 

Regional retail gasoline prices, down to the lowest level in a month. Last week's This Week In Petroleum points out that for a 500-mile trip, a 75 cent-per-gallon difference in the price of gas if you drive a car getting 20 mpg is $18.75. So, how many people do you think are changing their minds on where to go on vacation?

And which way might oil prices go next? James Hamilton thinks natural gas prices might give us a hint.

Things I wish I said, volume 1244 

And unsurprisingly, it's again from Russ Roberts:

Jeff Jacoby at the Boston Globe has a lot of interesting things to say about immigration. And as always, he says them very well. The most interesting point and unfortunately he doesn't have room to explore it fully, is that assimilation and the melting pot aren't what they used to be. He's right. Legislation of various kinds has made it easier to stay unassimilated and encourages people to identify either culturally or politically with their own ethnic groups.

I think there's another point to be made as well about assimilation. Some argue that we need public schools so that all of us can have a common vision for America and to aid the process of assimilation. But the public schools common vision for America is that there is no common vision. Everything is sacrificed to the god of tolerance. The common education children receive in public schools is that there should be no common vision of America. Everyone is entitled to a unique vision and no one's vision is better or worse than anyone else's.

I have noted the possibility that the contributions of current immigrants -- legal and illegal -- to society are less than in the past because of the lack of a common culture or language. See George Borjas on this point. But this point is vital: The inability of schools to push English as the sole language of instruction out of concerns for "cultural imperialism" is harming this very same group.

Commencement capades closer to home 

Haven't you ever wanted to tell your kid she or he is selfish? Haven't you always hoped for the day when your teen would grow up and start to show concern for others? If you do, you better hope they don't wake up to it during their valedictory speech.

Ben Kessler was chosen Tommie of the Year at the University of St. Thomas, and he decided to give .something other than milquetoast congratulations.
Ben Kessler, an academic All-America football player who plans to become a priest, chastised students for using birth control, criticized them for a recent food fight and upheld the St. Paul university's controversial policy against allowing unmarried faculty and staff members in romantic relationships to room together on school trips that involve students.

"Then he got into other failures of society, and one of my classmates next to me stood up and left," said Daphne Ho, a graduating senior whose family traveled from Hong Kong for the celebration.

..."He started out pretty well and then, out of nowhere, comes these bombshells about things he'd seen that irritated him," said Chris Kearney, a graduating senior from Hibbing, Minn.

"The heart of the speech was about making selfish decisions, so when I went up to get my diploma afterwards, I told him he made some good points about being selfish -- and he's the man that was selfish enough to ruin hundreds of people's graduations," Kearney said.

Several students were seen crying, while others hollered to get Kessler off the stage. Brandon Mileski, a 2002 St. Thomas graduate, was in the crowd to watch his girlfriend receive her diploma.

"Dozens of students literally started walking out when he brought up birth control issues and, at one point, I thought a riot would break out," Mileski said. "I give him credit because he kept on going when everyone started booing and heckling.

"At one point he was talking about the meaning of true happiness and someone stood up and screamed: 'I'll be happy when your speech in done!' "
Well, I've wanted to say that last line at a lot of graduations!

I'll give Chris Kearney credit for taking his message privately to Kessler, though I may disagree with Kessler. But to the booing of him -- like those boos at Boston College or the New School -- I say it is as much if not more disgraceful to disrupt graduation as anything Kessler said. He is voted an award for his four years of schooling, but only if he says the right things on stage.

Unsurprisingly, St. Thomas president Rev. Dennis Dease took time off from his unwavering Castrophilia to call Kessler's remarks "not appropriate" and to accept an apology from Kessler.

At the same time, the president said, it was also important "to treat one another with respect as we speak and as we listen, regardless of how controversial an issue may be."

You had four years to get your school to teach that, Reverend. You might want to review the curriculum.

UPDATE: Dease's statement is here, and the PioneerPress report includes this lovely sentiment.

Aus and other students were upset that St. Thomas officials didn't stop the speech.

"If someone were to start talking about their beliefs on gay rights, I guarantee you someone from the administration would have put an end to it right away," Aus said.

After Kessler's speech, Thomas Rochon, the university's chief academic officer, told the crowd it takes courage to express one's convictions. Aus and others saw it as Rochon validating the remarks.

I know Tom Rochon -- we have common Claremont Graduate University roots -- and I suspect what he meant was to protect academic free speech. Who knew it didn't carry from the classroom to the graduation stand?

Monday, May 22, 2006

Commencement capades continues 

No wonder Paul Krugman still has a column, when his boss is Arthur Sulzberger. Pretending that his entire generation had committed to preventing , he now says he's sorry:

...."It wasn't supposed to be this way," Sulzberger said. "You weren't supposed to be graduating in an America fighting a misbegotten war in a foreign land. You weren't supposed to be graduating into a world where we are still fighting for fundamental human rights, be it the rights of immigrants to start a new life, the right of gays to marry or the rights of women to choose."

Sulzberger added the graduates weren't supposed to be let into a world "where oil still drives policy and environmentalists have to relentlessly fight for every gain.

"You weren't. But you are and I am sorry for that," Sulzberger said.

No problem except that your job is to report out the facts, something which the Times hasn't done well of late. These students would have been better off doing what Sulzberger did instead of attending his graduation at Tufts -- ride a bike.

Remediation and integrated math 

Scholar's Notebook reports on the results of surveys of graduates of Wayzata High School, which uses integrated math exclusively (except for AP and an off-campus UMTYMP program). Of the 54% of the students who went to college and took a math placement test, 24% had to take remedial math. 20% got to take an advcanded math class. Is that success?

(Meanwhile, Littlest won her school division of a national year-long mathematics meet.)

Now we know how she'd vote 

I'll have a longer note on the Twins deal when the smoke clears later today, but I did want to make note of Eva's point on Sen. Tarryl "Blue Dress" Clark's vote on the stadium and removing the ability of Hennepin County voters to decide if they wanted to pay for it. I had a chance private conversation with her on this in February, and at that time she said she did not see herself voting to deny the vote to Hennepinians. I heard Marty and Tony say on their show Sunday that when they inquired of her vote, her office said she would not decide until it was time to vote. Well, now we know.

Now she ends up on the side of the DFL contribution to a bipartisan deal to pass the deal and stick Hennepin with the bill. It is interesting that it is newer representatives and senators (like Clark, Larry Haws, Larry Hosch, and Dan Severson) who have been sent to vote for the bill.

Friday, May 19, 2006


We interrupt the newly-reinstituted dogblogging this week to commemorate our cat Gladys, who died on Tuesday. It took us a few days to find any pictures of her from her younger years. Partly this is because she aged over a long time (she was a stray, and our best guess is that she was 18 this year, but perhaps older), and partly because I tend to be the cat guy, Mrs. S and Littlest prefer dogs and they control the cameras. I'll have this post up top for the weekend in memory.

It's also odd that I took this so much better. Sunday she came upstairs to the kitchen and groaned as she laid down, and there she stayed for her last 36 hours. You knew it was the end. Breathing was slow, she couldn't eat, and we knew there was nothing to be done. Sure, take her to the vet and put her on kitty-IV, I guess, but that cure would only last awhile.We didn't want to see last days that were as bad as our dog Betty's were, so if it was possible for her to spend her last days at home, we figured, so be it.

This was a cat that played all the time, but liked to observe only from a distance. She was not a snuggly cat. The little black spot on the edge of her nose -- a little crooked and offset from center -- gave her a whimsical look. Her favorite games when younger were with a ball like Betty did, but later she learned to stick her head between the stairwell posts leading down to the basement. This she would do when your head was at the level of the upstairs floor, and if you walked along that side of the stairs she would butt her head against yours. Then she'd duck back from between those two posts and step down to another slot and do it again. Like I say, whimsical.

As I say, I'm the cat person of the house. When I write in my home office there almost always is a cat or two. We still have Pepper, an all-black stray that adopted our porch three years ago and wormed his way in. Pep is a much more clingy, affectionate cat than Gladys, hopping into my lap when attention is needed. Gladys was never that way. She would sit in a box near you like the picture at the top, or on this bed in my office -- when I am in writing tunnels I prefer not to disturb the family and fall asleep down here. She would never jump in bed like the dogs or Pepper do, unless food was needed.

It took us almost two days to drop her for disposal at the vet this week. She was never the same after Betty died and if cats and dogs go to Heaven, they're fighting over a ball just about now.

See you, girl.

UPDATE: Margaret recites a very nice poem.

Getting ready to teach sports econ 

That's how I spent most of the day, and now I don't have much more to add to the blog. Just updated If you're interested in sports econ, you can look at the syllabus, and be sure to read at The Sports Economist. I may be more active over there the next few weeks. I'm amazed how many more blogs and resources for sports economics there are out there. I'm also amazed how good Darren Rovell is, but a blog just about GatorAde?

Still think I'm all wet on immigration? Be sure to call in tomorrow at NARN. I doubt we'll talk about too much else.

Notes on immigration 

I decided to try to read more of what the "state of the profession" was on illegal immigration from Mexico after this post Tuesday provoked some negative reaction. I have done research on remittances but not Mexican remittances from the US, so while I know the general literature on immigration and think Alex Tabarrok's letter is in general correct, I have to agree with the commenters who note that the letter did not sufficiently distinguish between legal and illegal immigration. And as I said, the literature on immigration generally is divided on the effect of immigrants on U.S. wages.

One expert in the field, Prof. Gordon Hanson of UC San Diego has an upcoming article in the Journal of Economic Literature. (For non-economists: the JEL is published by the American Economics Association, the national professional organization. Its most frequent use is as an index of scholarlship in the profession, but it also runs articles that often are considered to be statements of where the literature is in a certain field, or to run in depth book reviews of important works. So a publication there carries somewhat of an imprimatur of "received wisdom" and has undergone substantial peer review.) It took me the better part of an evening to read, and all I've done here is pull out some interesting paragraphs, followed with interpretation and commentary from me. If you want to cut to the chase, there are three summary points at the bottom.

On the nature of illegal immigrants:

Immigrants from Mexico, whether legal or illegal, are drawn disproportionately from the middle of the country�s schooling distribution. Over time, illegal migrants appear to have become more likely to be female, to work outside of agriculture, and to settle in the United States on a long-term basis. Largely absent in the literature is analysis of the life-cycle behavior of migrants. Many individuals from Mexico first enter the United States as illegal immigrants and over time gain a legal permanent residence visa through sponsorship by a U.S. family member. One would expect that how a prospective migrant responds to changes in U.S. or Mexico economic conditions, or the extent to which a migrant already in the United States assimilates into U.S. society, would depend on whether the individual expects to obtain a U.S. green card in the future. Family sponsorship in the granting of entry visas may thus create a direct link between receiving-country policies on legal immigration and the incentive for illegal immigration.
Thus the ability of an illegal immigrant to woo a US family into sponsorship is a lure for Mexicans to come to the US. The fellow you hired off a street corner to move your furniture becomes your friend, and asks one day ... You have to wonder then why we have policies that allow a single family's offer of sponsorship to be determinative of whether an immigrant should be granted admission to the US.

On what motivates them to come to the States.
...Attempted illegal immigration appears to be particularly responsive to shocks to the Mexican economy, with surges in apprehensions at the U.S.-Mexico border coming shortly after downturns in Mexico. Yet, given the large magnitude of U.S.-Mexico wage differences and the small apparent cost of crossing the border illegally, the volume of migration flows from Mexico to the United States is surprisingly low. Also, given the high relative return to education in Mexico, it is puzzling that Mexican immigrants exhibit intermediate selection in terms of their observable skills. One would expect less-skilled Mexican immigrants to have the strongest incentive to migrate abroad....
This may be the most surprising part of the study for me, that it is somewhat better educated (not college graduates, but with a fair amount of HS) females that come to the US and work in rather than poorly educated males to work in the fields. There is now data from Mexican sources that give us a better indication of who is coming, though, and it appears that the demographics of illegal immigrants is indeed changing. This makes sense to me, though: If the return to education in America is rising, then those drawn to the US from abroad will increasingly have more education. Though, it should be pointed out, the ratio of earnings of poorly-educated native workers to immigrant workers is higher for lower education levels.

Thoughts on the amnesty/normalization process.
Over the last two decades, the United States has greatly increased the resources it devotes to controlling illegal immigration. The government has, in particular, beefed up enforcement at specific U.S. border cities. While the United States has criminalized the hiring of illegal immigrants, the government devotes few resources to monitoring U.S. worksites for the employment of unauthorized workers. The net effect of changes in enforcement policy (coupled with changes in U.S. and Mexico economic conditions) has been increasing levels of illegal immigration. There is no formal political economy theory of immigration control that would explain why the United States chooses border over interior enforcement. The United States appears to be on the verge of granting an amnesty to at least some of the illegal immigrants residing in the country, which would come two decades after an earlier legalization under the Immigration Reform and Control Act [a/k/a Simpson-Mazzoli --kb]. There is also no formal theory that would explain why a country would choose to enact imperfect and costly enforcement against illegal immigration today and later grant an amnesty to those that entered illegally.
In other words, we have created a system that in essence rewards those who can evade relatively expensive border security measures. Between 1994 and 2001 we increased the number of hours of Border Patrol officers on the line watching for illegal immigrants by a factor of four. Have we reached the point of diminishing returns on border enforcement? Maybe...
The price a migrant pays to a smuggler is higher in years when border enforcement is higher. But the elasticity of coyote prices with respect to enforcement is small, in the range of 0.2 to 0.5. During the sample period, a one-standard-deviation increase in enforcement would have lead to an increase in coyote prices of less than $40; in the mid 1990s average coyote prices were $410. The estimated demand for smuggler services and the individual probability of choosing to migrate to the United States are both quite responsive to changes in coyote prices. However, given the small enforcement elasticity of coyote prices, the observed increase in border enforcement over 1986 to 1998 appeared to reduce the average migration probability among MMP (survey of Mexicans in the border area) respondents by only 10%.
That's a little too economics-ese for some readers, so let me explain by analogy. If you try to stop drug smuggling into the US and pinch a large shipment of, say, cocaine, the price of cocaine should rise. But the size of the rise in cocaine prices depends on the quantity of the other shipments and on the responsiveness of cocaine users to increased prices. If border security was greatly increasing over the period after Simpson-Mazzoli and all we got was a 10% decrease in the flow of illegal immigrants (which would be a reduction of about 20-30k per year), then how much more will the fence do for us? The way to see that is to see whether the price of coyotes rises dramatically after the fences are built. So far, there's not much evidence that other enforcement measures have had much effect. And again, we haven't spent nearly so much on internal enforcement, probably because politically it's unpalatable. Gordon explains further,
The United States has undertaken a massive increase in the resources that it devotes to border enforcement. Yet, the apparent impact of this increase has been modest. While expanded border enforcement has reduced attempted illegal entry at what used to be major crossing points in California and Texas border cities, it appears to have had a small effect on deterring illegal immigration overall (measured either in terms of changes in smuggler prices or the average probability a Mexican national migrates to the United States). One possibility is that there are important non-convexities in enforcement such that it only becomes an effective deterrent to illegal entry at high levels of resource commitment. This is perhaps the implicit argument of those calling for further expansion of U.S. enforcement efforts. Another possibility is that U.S. enforcement strategies are ineffective by design, due to the political economy of immigration control.

For instance, in 2005 the Western Growers Association, a business lobby representing farmers in the western United States, issued a statement complaining that excessive enforcement was preventing farmers in Arizona from hiring sufficient immigrant labor to harvest their winter lettuce crop. In 1998, INS raids of onion fields at harvest time in the state of Georgia prompted the U.S. Attorney General, both Georgia U.S. senators, and three Georgia congressional representatives to criticize the INS for injuring Georgia farmers.
Links infra are mine. One of the reasons the House has an easier time passing immigration control laws is that the areas most affected are either border districts or districts with a high concentration of industries that use immigrant labor (like textiles or farming.) Senators, however, can be lobbied by those groups to the detriment of the rest of their states, since there is the Olsonian problem of having intense benefits to lax internal enforcement and diffuse costs. (Two colleagues and I are presenting a study on this at the Western Economics Association meetings in July in San Diego that gets at some of these questions.) This is one explanation for why the Senate is generating a softer-line immigration bill than the House.

What should we learn from all this? I'd make three points
  1. Contrary to some analyses, we have spent a great deal on increasing border security in the last few years; it has had at best modest effects on inflows of illegal immigrants. This would argue that the increase of personnel through the call-up of National Guard probably will have little effect. And how can we be so sure that a fence will have greater effects? We don't know.
  2. The character of the illegal immigrant has changed over the last forty years to be better educated and more female. These illegal immigrants are able to use the existing program of sponsorship to convert their status from illegal to legal already.
  3. We continue to see little done to deal with internal enforcement, and we therefore may end up with an increasingly disproportionate share of our immigration control resources at the border. This mixture is probably suboptimal. Indeed, there appears to be a case to use the fence as a substitute for border patrol personnel and use it to free those officers up to raid firms and industries that make use of illegal immigrant labor. A combination of business pressure and the diversity/racial warfare crowd prevents this from happening, and there's no sign of a change in thought in Congress on this issue.

Thursday, May 18, 2006


I've been fairly silent on the stadium bills over the last month as the usual legislative shenanigans have caused the three stadium proposals to merge and diverge more than once. It now looks like the Vikes get kicked to the curb for a year, while the original Twins proposal is heading for approval.
The Vikings, who two days earlier said they would not request state aid or a retractable roof for their proposed stadium in Blaine, ran a reverse Wednesday night, saying they needed $115 million from the state in the form of tax exemptions and proceeds from the sale of the Metrodome to pay for the roof. But the revised plan, which was greeted less than enthusiastically by a House-Senate conference committee, raised new concerns.
The Vikes have sucked the air out of discussions almost all week so far. I could rant for weeks about this thing -- I have a sports econ course the next three weeks in which I am going to bring out my artillery -- but let me call your attention to one particularly egregious piece of crap that Minnesota Momentum, the movement to build the Vikes stadium that has been sticking ads in and on anything that moves, has been saying. This is from their print ad insert in the StarTribune from May 10:
No existing state general fund money will be used to fund this project. Only new state tax revenue that wouldn't exist "but for" this project will pay for the state's portion.
What dollars would exist with Northern Lights that didn't exist before? This is the same multiplier scam that other teams have tried in other cities. As my friends Dennis Coats and Brad Humphreys point out, this methodology is flawed because the money spent at the stadium is being diverted from other sources in the same region. The net effect is much smaller than the investment projects in the other 14 Minnesota communities using the sales tax to fund economic development.

The Gopher stadium, I predict, will finish the session passed in about this current form. Taxing sports memorabilia to fund the stadium might not, but the rest of it most likely will.

I never thought I'd find myself agreeing with Greens on anything, but I'd hold one of these signs in front of Steve Kelley's place too.

Meanwhile, Larry Schumacher is following the Legislature and is unpleased with what he sees. Because the Mayor has asked a moratorium, I will not refer to the meat of tubular shape for the making of metaphors. My take is that this is like watching those dot races on the scoreboard at the Metrodome between innings.

To kill a mockingstudent 

You're a law student, and you take a course in negotiations. Negotiations being something adversarial, you might think you'd hear some people use rough language; language matters in negotiation. The DesMoines Register reports that at the University of Iowa's law school, students of color are complaining that a professor's readings which included a racial slur were creating a hostile environment.
The university's Black Law Students Association, a group of 27 students, said in a letter to law faculty, U of I administration and the Iowa Board of Regents executive director that a March 29 incident was "indicative of a much larger problem at the College of Law."
The readings were read aloud in class.
The readings, one from Robert Caro's Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of former President Lyndon Johnson and another a 1964 speech by a black sharecropper named Fannie Lou Hamer, were in context with the course, Jones said, but students may not have been sufficiently prepared to hear the racial slurs.

[Professor Gerald] Wetlaufer apologized to students for not adequately warning them about the readings but said he believes they were relevant to the course, which focuses on the power of language.

"These were not words I used to oppress anyone in the class or promote anyone else's agenda," he said. "This word appears 49 times in 'To Kill a Mockingbird.' I don't think I have crossed some line here."

...Tori Bobryk, a third-year law student who is white, walked out of the class because she was offended by Wetlaufer reading the slur without warning, she said.

"I wish there had been a preface or a disclaimer or a discussion afterward," she said.
The readings are linked to the article. I also find this paragraph in the article.
In another case, a student brought up the idea of reinstating slavery, and the professor, whom Nelson would not name, did not contradict the notion, he said.
If it was my classroom, I would not have said anything and tried to get other students to fill the silence. Remember, this is not a classroom with 18-year-olds from Ottumwa. These are future law practitioners. If you can't stand up in a classroom to someone who suggests something as stupid as reinstating slavery, how do you expect to defend me from criminal prosecution?

Me too 

A few days ago I said I was in the 5.25% Fed funds rate camp.
As I said last week, I'm still inclined to think we are going to 5.25%. David Altig reads the futures market as saying no, but I'm going out on a limb to say they'll reverse that judgment very soon.
Barry Ritholz commented he was too. Well Barry's crowing now with the new inflation data and everyone seemingly rushing to our bandwagon. Nattering Naybob deserves honorable mention too. Altig reviews the reviews and says wait for the PCE report next Friday.

I won't crow quite so much, because my read on the economy isn't so much a galloping inflation as a galloping real economy. But nevertheless, look for that rate move in June, and then great GDP numbers at the end of July. Let's see if I ever link to this post again.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Does Border Enforcement Protect U.S. Workers From Illegal Immigration? 

From an NBER study of data on border patrol hours invested and sectoral wages in border areas:
...for the United States, only the lumber industry in California and Texas is affected positively, and only slightly, by border enforcement. When enforcement is high, wages rise slightly. For all other industries they examine, there is no impact on the wages of poorly educated males in U.S. border regions.

In Mexican border regions, though, wages fall for poorly educated males in Tijuana when U.S. border enforcement is high. Tijuana is where a large number of immigrants attempted to enter the United States illegally over the authors' sample period.

Using monthly and quarterly data on wages, person-hours logged by the U.S. Border Patrol, and the number of apprehensions made, the authors conclude that stricter enforcement does deter illegal immigration. But illegal immigration has only a minimal effect on labor markets in U.S. border regions, probably for two reasons. First, given continuing illegal immigration, U.S. natives may leave border regions or be deterred from moving to those regions. Second, the economies of border regions may gradually shift to industries that make intensive use of immigrants' skills. The authors thus conclude that the perceived impact of illegal immigration on wages has been exaggerated.
The paper has been published (84 RevEconStat 73-92 (2002)).

Economists for immigration 

There's a letter at Marginal Revolution, sponsored by the Independent Institute, that makes the economic case for immigration. Alex Tabarrok, pushing the letter, says
The goal of the letter is not to cover all the issues but rather to say, 'here is the hard-won consensus that economists have come to on these major issues. By all means let us have a debate but let it be an informed debate.'
That's important because if you just read the letter itself, I'm not sure you'd come away thinking anything more than "they want open borders", with arguments that immigrants "do not take American jobs" and "[o]verall, immigration has been a net gain for existing American citizens." As I was scrambling for yesterday's interview I kept flipping around the internet to a variety of articles on economic effects of immigration, and the conclusion I came to and expressed to Lee and Jeff was that it's not clear-cut. Tyler Cowen and Daniel Rothschild do a fair job summarizing the competing evidence, though they would come down on the same side as Tabarrok. Reading summaries of the work of George Borjas and David Card, as Cowen and Rothschild do, would greatly benefit people who are currently entrenched on one side or the other of the issue. An open debate of the Borjasistas and the Cardians would highlight some very bad thinking on both sides of the debate that I've heard thus far.

Maybe politically, "build the damn fence now" is a winning strategy (though I find this note from Deacon at PowerLine quite interesting in arguing the converse). Maybe. But many bad policies are the product of hasty, politically-motivated stategery. I am more convinced, the more I read, that the Bush speech is good policy, even if it doesn't end up painting the map red.

A definition only Churchill could love 

From the Mises mail list, a definition on the Seattle Public Schools website.
Cultural Racism:
Those aspects of society that overtly and covertly attribute value and normality to white people and Whiteness, and devalue, stereotype, and label people of color as �other�, different, less than, or render them invisible. Examples of these norms include defining white skin tones as nude or flesh colored, having a future time orientation, emphasizing individualism as opposed to a more collective ideology, defining one form of English as standard, and identifying only Whites as great writers or composers.
If you ever wondered why I say political correctness is just socialism dressed up with minorities substituted for the proliterian class, you need look no further. Thrift and individualism are now defined as racist.

Ah, so THAT's what you call fraud! 

It's just "alternative historical perspective."
I have received the report of the Investigative Committee of the University of Colorado and consider it a travesty. This "investigation" has all along been a pretext to punish me for engaging constitutionally-protected speech and, more generally, to discredit the sorts of alternative historical perspective I represent.
Eugene Volokh dispenses with this nonsense even before Churchill's raving.
This isn't a criminal prosecution, but the university's decision whether to keep someone on its faculty; it need not keep a dishonest scholar on board, even if the complaints about the scholar were motivated partly by the complainers' hostility to the scholar's viewpoints. And as best I can tell, there's little reason to think that the University wouldn't have investigated Churchill had he been accused of the same misconduct but had expressed diferrent views. These are serious charges, and my guess is that most universities would indeed look into alleged multiple falsification of evidence and plagiarism by their faculty members.
David French agrees. It was noted in the report (as reported in Inside Higher Ed) that the report's authors thought the timing might have been motivated by Churchill's statements after 9/11. Still, that hardly matters. A single mistake of plagiarism is bad enough; this report found several. The only way Churchill can win his threatened lawsuit at this point would be to expose several other cases of plagiarism on campus that the University knowingly ignored. Good luck with that.

For those of you with a fascination about this guy, Pirate Ballerina -- whose blog has been steadily about "The Imam of Indigenism" -- has a link to video of Churchill discussing the report. I admit to spilling a little coffee this morning laughing at it.

It is worth pointing out that the report includes some not-so-oblique criticism of the university for hiring the guy and bringing this thing on themselves, and directs attention at the media (and I suppose bloggers -- perhaps I give us too much credit) for shining light on this whole affair. Some selective quoting:
Thus the decision to hire, and especially to confer continuous tenure on, a faculty member is a deeply consequential one for the University, for by making this decision the University commits itself to the defense of the individual�s work, so long as he or she lives up to the University�s expectations. We believe that the University of Colorado may have made the extraordinary decision to hire Professor Churchill, a charismatic public intellectual with no doctorate and no history of regular faculty membership at a university, to a tenured position without any probationary period in part because at that moment in the institution�s history, it desired the favorable attention his notoriety and following were expected to bring. This notoriety was achieved to some extent by the publication of some of the very essays that have now come under scrutiny because of their scholarly shortcomings. The hiring was, in short, largely the consequence of Professor Churchill�s effectiveness as a polemicist.

In light of the explicit requirements of the Regents� Laws requiring the university to resist outside interference and pressures, it is at least ironic that the Interim Chancellor of the University has now become the formal complainant in this much-publicized proceeding. The University has perhaps gotten more than it bargained for when it made its high-risk decisions about Professor Churchill in the early 1990s, but there is very little about the present situation that is not foreshadowed by developments across the last fifteen years. For us, the indignation now exhibited by some University actors about Professor Churchill�s work appears disingenuous, as they and their predecessors are the ones who decided to hire him.

...The role of the public and press in attacking Professor Churchill is part of a more general opening up of the academic world to wider participation over the past 20 years. Debates that would previously have been conducted within the academic world itself by scholars who worked in a given field are now matters of public knowledge and sometimes of considerable public interest. Everyone is able to express opinions about academic issues by contacting the media, posting ideas on the web or internet, or sending e-mails directly to the scholars involved. While this expansion of discussion has many positive features, it contains some worrying characteristics too. Members of the press have acquired considerable power to advance or harm scholarly reputations, especially for people who frequently appear in public venues and who advocate controversial positions about contemporary issues. Circulation figures rise if news media prepare accounts that grab public attention, sometimes irrespective of complete accuracy. Short news segments do not lend themselves to balanced reports of complex arguments. The ease of posting or sending anonymous statements on the web or e-mail has weakened previous expectations for accuracy and civility in debate over public issues. ...

These changes in communication can have particular impact when an accusation of academic wrongdoing becomes a matter of public interest. People without formal training in a particular field of scholarship are able to assert just as forcefully as specialists that someone has falsified or misused evidence or has offered unwarranted interpretations. In this case, both the University administration and Professor Churchill relied at times on assertions made by �researchers� with no formal qualifications, background, or training about the topics under consideration. ...If any evidence of misconduct is found, scholars who critique accepted views are far more likely to be fired from their jobs�not just reprimanded�than are academics who support familiar interpretations.

The considerations we mention have been very much on our minds as we have considered a recommendation concerning the appropriate sanction for Professor Churchill�s misconduct.
One is left to wonder whether this can explain the lenient recommendations for sactioncs from some of the committee members.

Similar thoughts and more context at ACTA Online.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Media advisory 

In a first for me, I'll be on KKMS Live with Jeff & Lee around 3:30p CT. It sounds like a half hour version of News in Review. I'd better go study.

UPDATE: The Churchill Report has been released 

All 125 pages of it are here. Unfortunately, while all five members found serious research misconduct, only one member of the committee thought it met the requirements for Churchill's dismissal from the university. Two others thought "Professor Churchill�s research misconduct is so serious that it satisfies the criteria for revocation of tenure and dismissal specified in section 5.C.1 of the Laws of the Regents, and hence that revocation of tenure and dismissal, after completion of all normal procedures, is not an improper sanction," but they thought it wasn't the most appropriate sanction, deciding to split the difference and suspend him for five years. The remaining two thought a two-year suspension would be sufficient. I'll have to read the rest later, as I'm getting ready to do an interview shortly.

Thanks to Linda Seebach for posting a comment with a heads-up.

What little I'll say about the immigration speech 

I think Joshua Sharf said it in a nice, simple way:
We can only hope that it's a shrewd strategy to rescue Congressional Republicans by giving them room to run to the President's right.
Well, has the Congress given him any reason to believe they'd do anything else? I am in agreement with Stanley Kurtz, optimistic that Bush has emboldened the Senate to get a bill to the conference committee and made it possible for him to sign a bill with or without a path to citizenship.
In strictly political terms, which alternative would be better for the election prospects of the Republicans: no bill, or a substantially more conservative bill than what the president has asked for? I don't know the answer to this. But I'm guessing that the potential for a successful compromise (in a more conservative direction) is better than it may seem right now.
I fundamentally disagree with the concept of doing an enforcement-only bill. Yes, you can do that, but it doesn't mean you should. If you want some (or many or most) illegals to leave, you need to incentivize that. If you want every illegal to leave, you haven't learned cost-benefit analysis. Charging a very high price for normalizing one's status, while offering free and safe conduct over the border to anyone not wishing to pay it -- along with an application to return, to be treated like anyone else applying on the day of their repatriation -- requires an enforcement mechanism for people who try to evade the choice. Enforcement and normalization go hand in hand -- and if you never allow normalization you drive more people underground and make them harder to find. A country already wary of the Patriot Act will look askance at even more invasion into people's identities to determine citizenship.

A wall that seals everyone else out also seals 11 million inside. Are we prepared to deal with that? Give them a reason to want to leave, which is going to involve giving citizenship to a few. Make it few, make it for economic reasons.

(Dons asbestos suit, awaits angry calls.)

Prior censorship of bulletin boards 

Century College has not learned from its run-in with freedom of inquiry. After becoming embroiled in controversy over the Mohammed cartoons in February and March, it could have chosen to make a statement about free speech, but instead has responded with a ten-point policy governing what goes on a bulletin board on its campus. Herewith the more egregious four:

This policy is akin to the policy that would govern student organizations here at SCSU. It is an egregious violation of a faculty member's rights to require prior permission of an administrator to advertise an event, and to require a super-majority of departmental faculty to override the administrator's veto of a display. The administrator's cowardice is duly noted in this interview a few years ago with Alan Charles Kors:
That universities govern by self-censorship is absolutely true, but no one is going to take anyone away in the middle of the night. We are not in Eastern Europe in the 1960s and 1970s. This is a classic case in which people through their cowardice and their failure to bear witness to their real beliefs, their failure to defend their own liberties and dignity are half of the equation of the catastrophe of political correctness. The oppressors have oppressed, but people should have fought back passionately and not rolled over and played dead� Liberty is going to die in the hearts of a generation of college students and that bodes very ill for the future of this society.

U of M prof photo pilfered by Churchill? 

That's the report this morning in the Rocky Mountain News.
The photograph of a child's grave in University of Colorado ethnic studies professor Ward Churchill's 2004 book about Indian boarding schools jumped out at Brenda Child.

That's because Child, a member of the Red Lake Ojibwa tribe, took the picture and published it in 1998 in her own award-winning book on the same subject.

"I was surprised that was there because he's never sought my permission to use it and it appeared without my knowing that it would be in his book," said Child, a University of Minnesota faculty member in American studies.

Worse, from Child's standpoint, is the caption Churchill appended to the photograph. It said that half the children at the nation's Indian boarding schools suffered the same fate as the child whose grave is pictured in the photograph.

That figure is a "tremendous exaggeration," Child said. "That is just beyond belief."

No historian has an accurate estimate on the true number of deaths, she said.

This is part of the investigation made by the university into Churchill's academic misconduct, which at this moment has been written into a report that the administration holds. At last check (about 10 minutes ago) the report has not been released but is due any day.

Hat tip Pirate Ballerina, who also reports on a rather weird dual-tenure relationship that Churchill's wife had. She has now resigned her Colorado post. Most universities will require that someone may keep a tenured position while in a tenurable post at another institution, but once the second institution grants tenure you must resign the original post. At some places, you can't even hold the first position that long. If readers know of other examples of dual tenure arrangements, please note them in comments.

(UPDATE: Jim Paine reports that the press conference releasing the findings of the investigation will be at 2:30p MDT. Written copy due at this site in about an hour from now. Off to get lunch and then read.)

Oh goodygoodygoodygoodygoody 

Trader Joe's is here!!! One of the advantages of doing NARN in the Cities is that I get a once-a-week foodie opportunity. I often hit the Central Ave Asian and Arab markets for everything from natto for Ms. S (disgusting stuff that she insists will give her long life) to my lebneh and caraway-seed cheeses. But we'll gladly give all those up for 'fire nuts'. I haven't seen them lately on my trips, but they still make the Thai ones that are quite good. You KNOW I'll make a trip there Saturday after visiting some friends post-show.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Importing tutors 

It was almost 3 a.m., Alex Del Monte recalled, and he was cramming like crazy. He gulped can after can of Red Bull to stay awake, but the George Washington University sophomore knew he would flunk his Statistics 52 exam later that day if he didn't call his tutor for help.

But so late at night? Not a problem if your tutor works 8,500 miles away and 9 1/2 hours ahead in Bangalore, India.
Importing tutors appears to be a good deal at $18/hour, but lo and behold the teacher unions are unhappy.
"We don't believe that education should become a business of outsourcing," said Rob Weil, deputy director of educational issues at the American Federation of Teachers. "When you start talking about overseas people teaching children, it just doesn't seem right to me."
Given the number of international students that come here, this seems a little unseemly. After all, many universities are now offering webcasted lectures, which could be used to sell higher education into countries such as India. Alex Tabarrok finds the AFT's objection to using NCLB funds to pay after-school international tutors "unintentionally funny." But the tutor for one student is herself a teacher, and she makes twice as much as an online tutor as she does in an Indian classroom. Markets are wonderful for moving resources from lower-valued to higher-valued use, and allowing the higher-valued resources to receive part of the reward for the reallocation.

The boy can't help it 

David Beito continues the saga of Glenn Singleton, the "diversity expert" called in to help impose mandatory diversity training at Bellevue CC in Washington. Vincent Carroll of the Rocky Mountain News runs a two part story (Part I, Part II) in which he reports that Denver suburb Cherry Creek paid "a six-figure fee" to implement "equity teams" and "courageous conversations" in its district schools. Intended to be a program to encourage high expectations of minority students, Carroll describes what Singleton's program also does:

The program also promotes a worldview in which American society is relentlessly oppressive; in which individuals, even today, remain at the mercy of their racial origins; in which "white talk" is "verbal, impersonal, intellectual" and "task-oriented," while "color commentary" is "nonverbal, personal, emotional" and "process-oriented."

The "courageous conversations" of the book's title are supposed to engage teachers in frank interracial dialogue. But as envisioned by Singleton and Linton, these conversations are successful mainly to the extent they follow a structured format in which participants examine and embrace specific premises, such as the ubiquity of white privilege and racism, and thus raise the consciousness of whites.

Participants must "come to recognize that race impacts every aspect of your life 100 percent of the time." Meanwhile, "anger, guilt and shame are just a few of the emotions" whites should expect to experience "as they move toward greater understanding of Whiteness."

Enlightened whites, in the authors' description, speak in the chastened, cringing language of someone who has emerged from a re-education camp. Singleton and Linton praise the example of a white male teacher in North Carolina who has this to say about his new perspective: "Although I often try to seek counsel of colleagues of color, it is inevitable that times arise where it's only after the fact that one of them points out some flaw in my reasoning. The flaws are often the result of my ingrained Whiteness and my own blindness to its perpetual presence."

Those are the success stories. SCSU, of course, had its experience with these re-education programs as the result of work done by Nichols and Associates, a gang well-exposed by Penn and Teller's show Bullsh*t, but matters are only getting worse.
Winning a big employment lawsuit these days often requires a bit of magic. After all, companies are awash in diversity training, equal opportunity policies, and 800 numbers aimed at rooting out bias. Managers have been well trained to keep their discriminatory thoughts to themselves, edit all hints of racism and sexism out of e-mail, and couch pay and promotion decisions in legally defensible language. So how do plaintiffs' lawyers prove their cases?

Enter the magician. Sociologist William T. Bielby is the leading courtroom proponent of a simple but powerful theory: "unconscious bias." He contends that white men will inevitably slight women and minorities because they just can't help themselves. So he tries to convince judges that no evidence of overt discrimination -- no smoking gun memo, for instance -- is needed to prove a case. As Allen G. King, an employment defense attorney at the Dallas office of Littler Mendelson, puts it: "I just have to leave you to your own devices, and because you are a white male," you will discriminate.

Which makes one wonder how we got over "unconscious bias" with Asians? Vincent Carroll again:
Asians were not always perceived as a "model minority" - think of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and later measures aimed at restricting Asian immigrants. Think too of the nasty stereotypes of Chinese and Japanese that were common for many decades. It is simply demeaning to suggest Asians now owe their rise to white indulgence as opposed to their own hard work.

Moreover, Asian students haven't merely replicated white academic success; they've outstripped it. Their enrollment at nearly every prestigious university is several times - and sometimes many times - greater than their percentage of the overall population.
It is in part a cultural distinction; Asian culture values education. But why? Is it genetic or is it geography and history?

Economy! Er! Ah! Who is it good for? 

It seems SCTimes local writer Laura Stanley is :channelling the Temptations:
What is the measure of a good economy, and who is it good for?

The January 2006 St. Cloud Area Quarterly Business Report stated, "The new year is expected to begin with strong growth of the area economy, according to the most recent predictions of the St. Cloud Index of Leading Economic Indicators and the St. Cloud Area Business Outlook Survey," and the April edition confirmed steady economic growth.

National economic measures for the past year reflected that report; the U.S. economy grew at a 3.6 percent annual rate in 2005. According to a Federal Reserve report covering up to the first half of April, "The U.S. economy has continued to expand."

Area businesses are doing well, and measures indicate the nation's corporations are booming.

But what are good economic indicators for the average person?
Since the first report she cites is something I write, I guess I should respond.

If the question is "what are good economic indicators for the average person", I thought one place to look might be how much people get to spend on goods and service. I prefer to look at how much stuff people get to consume versus how much they earn. People after natural disasters have very high incomes but don't feel better off -- that's the nature of the broken window fallacy.

The annual Consumer Expenditures survey from BLS does a nice job of that and it says consumer expenditures rose 6.3% in 2004. Given a 2.7% CPI that year, people on average did better.

I find these measures much better than the ones Stanley employs. If you are worried about long-run inequalities and their changes over time, what you are in essence asking is the differences in the consumption possibilities of different families. When looked at in this way, comparisons of the US to the rest of the world appear much better. Income per capita might be higher some places, but we are able to consume a far greater share of the fruits of our labor than most other countries.

Moreover, it isn't apparent that the US cares as much about inequality.

Using a total of 128,106 answers to a survey question about �happiness�, we find that there is a large, negative and significant effect of inequality on happiness in Europe but not in the US. There are two potential explanations. First, Europeans prefer more equal societies (inequality belongs in the utility function for Europeans but not for Americans). Second, social mobility is (or is perceived to be) higher in the US so being poor is not seen as affecting future income. We test these hypotheses by partitioning the sample across income and ideological lines. There is evidence of �inequality generated� unhappiness in the US only for a sub-group of rich leftists. In Europe inequality makes the poor unhappy, as well as the leftists. This favors the hypothesis that inequality affects European happiness because of their lower social mobility (since no preference for equality exists amongst the rich or the right).

I'm not a huge fan of happiness research, and you can get different stories from different studies using happiness surveys, but that story fits my view.

For further reading: Art Carden.

Whole lotta Churchills going on 

ACTA has a new report on the state of the politicized classrooms, and makes a great statement about the nature of academic freedom:
Academic freedom is not insulation from oversight or accountability. It does not license professors to ignore their duties to teach and research responsibly, and it does not license institutions to fail to ensure that they do so. Nor does academic freedom exempt institutions or individuals from criticism.

Too often, however, members of the academy equate academic freedom�the right to teach, research, and speak publicly�with the right to institutional autonomy. Too often, they expect that, in the name of academic freedom, they should be immune from scrutiny and that they should not have to answer to the public. But academic freedom only grants faculties intellectual and pedagogical independence on the condition that they honor their reciprocal obligation to respect students� academic freedom to learn.

Academic freedom is essentially a public trust founded on the condition that universities foster a robust exchange of ideas that acknowledges the existence of multiple perspectives and enables students to decide for themselves what they think and believe. Academic freedom ends where violations of that trust begin.
The result of administrators' cowardice in enforcing that contract between the public and the university will be things like post-tenure review and perhaps government-mandated reviews of hiring and promotion practices. A test case will be how Colorado University deals with the Ward Churchill case, with the report on the investigative committee's findings due out tomorrow. (But don't be surprised if they delay.)

You never get to take off your Senator hat 

A note for St. Cloud state Senator Tarryl Clark (who tells me she reads this blog) --

Dear Tarryl,
I am sure by now you know that your remark on Michele Bachmann being "the devil in the blue dress" has become a target for the blogs and the newspapers.

"Michele is the devil in a blue dress, and Patty's a saint," said Sen. Tarryl Clark, DFL-St. Cloud, who, along with husband Doug, was a Wetterling delegate.
I know this was in a seconding speech for Wetterling and it was meant to be red meat for the delegates to cheer. Goodness knows this kind of thing happens at every convention.

But it's nevertheless a mistake, not because of the words but because of who you are. You are no longer a lobbyist nor a functionary of the DFL. You are my representative to the State Senate. If there is a bill now before the Senate that could help our district -- oh, I don't know, maybe an expansion of the National Hockey Center? -- and you need her vote or those who support her, are you going to do business with "the devil"? How effective do you think your appeal will be?

As our representative, you have an obligation not to piss off people you may need to work with in that capacity. You let the politics of the particular moment get ahead of those obligations Saturday. My readers who live in the district and I will not forget this in November. An apology to your district and to Sen. Bachmann would seem to be in order.

Friday, May 12, 2006

And now, by popular demand 

Buttercup says, listen to NARN, 11-3 Saturday, on AM1280 the Patriot. No guests, just talk. Listen here, or else you will never see me again.

It's all in the name and the definition 

The Senate passes the The Tax Increase Prevention and Reconciliation Act. The WaPo's report includes this analysis:
But with interest rates rising, the dollar falling and the budget deficit stuck at around $300 billion, tax experts warn that the tax code Bush has transformed may not survive to its Dec. 31, 2010, expiration date and that Congress may have to step in again because tax revenue will not meet all of the government's needs.
Fight that word "needs". There are no needs. There are wants and preferences available at alternative prices. Otherwise demand curves are vertical, and we know that's not true.

Number bogosity depends on how you add 

Steve Verdon is accusing Powerline's Paul Mirengoff of using bogus employment numbers. Mirengoff says the "jobless recovery" has produced roughly 200,000 new jobs. Verdon says that's "anemic" compared to previous recoveries, and moreover
I�m not sure where Mirengoff is getting that 200,000 number. Taking the last 18 months of data I get about 165,000 jobs/month (this is for Nov. 2004 through April 2006�and taking Oct 2004 through March 2006 gives us 176,000). That is quite a rounding error.
Verdon uses a monthly employment change chart, and as I often say you need to smooth out those changes. The trailing 12-month change I use in that link shows about 2 million jobs per year consistently since late 2004. That does in fact come out to about the 165k/mo rate that Verdon shows.

What explains this difference? Part of it is a data revision in February that pulled down data from March 2005 by 158,000 jobs. That would account for about a third of the difference. (I know this one well, because for the QBR I had to re-write all my datafiles with the revision, as I do every spring issue. I know I pulled the St. Cloud numbers down this time.)

Part of it is Katrina, no doubt. In each of the Employment Situation reports from BLS since August 2005 you find an extra table or two explaining the effects of Katrina. The latest has a table for April 2006 looking at the 911,000 evacuees of the hurricane, of which about over half have returned to their homes. Suppose the rest were able to return, and they participated in the labor force and were employed at the same rate as those who have returned according to BLS. If so, there would be 282 thousand employed. Actually, though, there are 189 thousand employed. That 93,000 might be an overstatement -- maybe those who can't get back home have systematically different job experiences than those that can -- but then those workers put out by Katrina may also have a multiplier effect on those firms who survived Katrina. Ask your local bar owner in New Orleans about that.

If you add that on to the data revision you would get an average of 180,000 jobs per month over the eighteen months, and over 190k if you go back to October 2004. Had Verdon checked out the link he includes from his quote of Mirengoff, he'd also see that Paul was referring to the 2005 data through November, pulling out the Katrina months of Sept. and Oct. (You can play with graphs of the data at Economagic.) In short, different guys are adding data in different ways to get different results. There's much more going on underneath the averages being batted about.

We still don't know why employment growth has been slower in this recovery than the last (which itself was slower than the previous post-WW2 recoveries.) If it was a function of cheap money and heavy investment we'd not see increases in multifactor productivity like we have in this recovery. It's a puzzle.

Look in the mirror, prof 

We cultivate students' unmerited pride with high praise for mediocre work. And we tolerate all of the other sins by abdicating responsibility for the culture of our classrooms. Again and again, I have heard students say their classes are so easy that almost no effort is required, even for top grades. Residential student life, at many institutions, is mostly free time to explore and indulge one's vices. And we professors -- too busy chasing our ambitions -- avoid maintaining standards because they are time-consuming and costly to our teaching evaluations.
From Thomas Benton. He reviews the seven sins of faculty who cultivate same students. I had a note from one today who worries for his grade. We put many of the homeworks online -- I stare at a screen to grade essays they submit by form email -- and one feature of the software is that we can see when they are on. The class is taught at night, and never was the young man on the site except the day of the class. Do you reward that behavior?

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Today's gassiness 

Late late night the Elder went to his TV in search of visual Sominex.
After a week of listening to many Republicans demonstrate embarrassingly low levels of economic literacy in a futile attempt to score a few political points on high gas prices, I tuned in to C-SPAN last night and was reminded once again that, when it comes to ill-informed economic demagoguery, nobody does it better than the Democrats.

You haven't seen half of it, Chad. Get a load of S.F. No. 3799, a bill to punish "grossly excessive prices" for gasoline. Who gets to decide what "grossly exceeds"? The Commissioner of Commerce, but s/he is required to look at the price at which gasoline is sold currently by others and "the average price at which motor vehicle fuel was sold in this state in the 21-day period immediately preceding a sale of the gasoline." This is introduced by Steve Murphy, the Senate majority whip and head of the transportation committee. (h/t for this one goes to Larry Schumacher.)

What fresh hell is this? We already have rules that do not permit prices to fall very fast when market conditions change, so as not to infuriate the gods of minimum prices. Now we are going to cap the maximum price too? Do you people like lines at the gas pumps?

Of course Senate candidate Mark Kennedy is still deciding that sops to corn growers aren't the thing holding up gas prices, though Ben Muse offers one reason why reducing tariffs on Brazilian ethanol might not help increase supply as fast as we'd like. Mark Thoma asks the right question: Why is the market price suboptimal? Not why it is high -- high is good if oil is relatively scarce -- but why the price is wrong.

Commencement capades -- it's getting sillier 

At Portland State University, students are also upset about their commencement speak, Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) His sin? He voted for a house bill that would make illegal immigrants felons.
Jessica Torres, a senior, said DeFazio's yes vote in December for House Resolution 4437, often called the Sensenbrenner bill, makes him an inappropriate graduation speaker for a school that celebrates diversity. Graduates who are immigrants or their family members may feel alienated by DeFazio's presence, she said. Torres' father, who immigrated from Mexico and is a U.S. citizen, is among a dozen of her relatives planning to attend the June 17 ceremony.
Emphasis mine. I wonder if she's talked to her dad, who went through the time and trouble to become a citizen, about making it easier for people who break the law. I suspect he'd like DeFazio's explanation of the vote.
In an interview Tuesday, DeFazio, a populist who is sometimes at odds with his party, said he supported the bill because it would require employers to do more to verify that job applicants are eligible for legal employment and crack down on those who exploit illegal immigrants. He said he doesn't support the provision that would make illegal immigration a felony and will vote against the bill if that is part of the final legislation.

Yet, he said, "everybody knew from Day 1 that was a dead letter and, in fact, the Republicans have announced it's coming out of the bill."
Well, that's not exactly right. The House Republicans have been trying to pull the felony provision out of the bill, but the Democrats, trying to kill the whole bill, voted to keep it in because, in their view, having being an illegal immigrant shouldn't be illegal. The vote here shows the Democrats trying to force no changes on the bill (as Sensenbrenner wanted), and DeFazio voted for no change.

Who knows which vote is the more problematic for these students, but it has reached a silly point for them to be protesting a commencement speaker on a university campus for something this small.

Mitch Berg: Your life is calling 

The Chronicle:Today�s Wall Street Journal has a feature (subscription required) on what it says is the �only student majoring in bagpipes at any American university or college.� He�s Nick Hudson, a freshman at Carnegie Mellon University, and he receives a $7,000-a-year music scholarship, gets subsidized kilts, shifts easily from Highland jigs to heavy metal, and draws complaints from fellow music students who say �his playing drowned out their own rehearsals.� But he does enjoy a one-to-one faculty-to-student ratio in the bagpipe program.
At last we can get him out of the broadcast booth!

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

How exciting is this? 

I just noticed that I have made an appearance on the Nihilist top 11 blogs. I'm very proud. Heck, even detractors are finding something to like here.

The best news? Almost done grading. A lot of students are doing worse than Ben Bernanke. When this is done, I have to start preparing my economics of sports intersession (kind of a J-term) class, and this blog will have lots to say about the stadium. I first need to get past a presentation tomorrow.

Dogblogging will commence shortly.

Does Scandinavia understand diminishing returns? 

Quantity isn't always quality.
The Durex Global Sex Survey for 2003, released this week, compares sexuality for people in 34 nations and shows Norwegians leading the world in casual sex.

Seven out of 10 Norwegians have had a random sex partner and the nation is among the top of the list for one-night stands, Afternposten reported.

Norwegians are also among the least sexually satisfied in the world. Only 62 percent said they were content with their sex life, placing them as low as 29th on the list.

Other findings in the study: 11 percent of Norwegians have paid for sex, 42 percent have had telephone or Internet sex, 10 percent have faked orgasms and 12 percent have had homosexual sex.

Danes were unhappier than Norwegians, ranking 30th in contentment. Swedes were only slightly more content, but with a low average for sexual intercourse at 102 times a year.
The average worldwide is 127; Hungarians are about 50% more than Singaporeans "the only nation to dip(?) below the magic (???) 100 mark". Magic?

Yeah, I had to look it up. Thanks to Newmark's Door for wasting the last fifteen minutes of my life. Cannot wait to see what this does for my Google search hits.

Fed funds rate to 5%, more yet possible 

The market is diving off the news that the Fed has not only raised the Fed funds rate to 5%, but might do more.
The Committee judges that some further policy firming may yet be needed to address inflation risks but emphasizes that the extent and timing of any such firming will depend importantly on the evolution of the economic outlook as implied by incoming information. In any event, the Committee will respond to changes in economic prospects as needed to support the attainment of its objectives.
The previous paragraph has a lot of toing and froing of "inflation is under control/inflation might still need to be controlled". Compare this statement to the previous FOMC statement when we went to 4.75%, and you have a good deal of uncertainty about language.
The Committee judges that some further policy firming may be needed to keep the risks to the attainment of both sustainable economic growth and price stability roughly in balance. In any event, the Committee will respond to changes in economic prospects as needed to foster these objectives.
In one case they've said the inflation risks are not there, but in the same sentence they've omitted any statement about sustainable economic growth. The current statement says:
Economic growth has been quite strong so far this year. The Committee sees growth as likely to moderate to a more sustainable pace, partly reflecting a gradual cooling of the housing market and the lagged effects of increases in interest rates and energy prices.
As I said last week, I'm still inclined to think we are going to 5.25%. David Altig reads the futures market as saying no, but I'm going out on a limb to say they'll reverse that judgment very soon.

Another brain freeze on the gas tax? 

The state legislature is getting into the act now, with Rep Paul Kohls, R-Victoria, proposing a six-month suspension of the 20-cent state gas tax. Let us review our principles of economics, since apparently last week's post didn't reach Rep. Kohls.
  1. The burden of a tax on any good is shared between the buyer and the seller. So removing a tax does not pass all of the price to the buyer. It's shared between them. Economic literacy would require you to distinguish between the legal burden -- who is responsible for sending the check to government -- and the economic incidence of a selective excise tax.
  2. The share given to buyers and sellers depends on the responsiveness of buyers and sellers to changes in price. Whichever side bears the legal burden will shift the tax to the others by their behavior -- people respond to incentives.
  3. Cutting the gas tax temporarily does the opposite of what you'd want. What you want at this time is for prices to signal the relative scarcity of gasoline. The excise tax gets in the way of that to some extent, but has for years. To remove it now though, to counteract the natural activity of markets, is perverse.
Additional tutorial reading here.

Now, in reading about this I went to the econometric evidence, and you find something interesting here. (Unless you really like numbers, duct-tape your head before clicking.) I'm amazed how little research is out there on this specific point. The results of the linked paper are that more of the state tax is passed through to consumers than the federal. Remember, my argument on the federal was that much of it is passed through to consumers. But what little evidence there is suggests the pass-through is half. So lowering or temporarily suspending the gas tax would probably only reduce the gas price by half (Mark Kennedy's suspension at best would reduce the price of gas by nine cents a gallon; the profits of the wholesalers would rise by about ten. That's the sort of thing that gets press coverage and DFLers running to mics about gouging.) But, and this is interesting, nearly all of a state excise tax is borne by the consumer. Holding all other things equal -- especially the taxes charged in other states -- it is fairly easy to shift gas distribution between the states, so supply elasticities for states are higher.

So in some sense it makes MORE sense to cut STATE taxes on gas than federal, if the goal is to get a price cut at the pumps. I still object to temporary cuts on efficiency grounds, as I don't like governments interfering with the price system. But at least this tax proposal, unlike Kennedy's, would have some bang for the buck.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

All the rest is vanity 

Give a guy a dataset and SPSS, and he'll regress anything:

James Felton, a professor of finance and law at Central Michigan University, and colleagues looked at ratings for nearly 7,000 faculty members from 370 institutions in the United States and Canada, and his verdict is: the hotter and easier professors are, the more likely they�ll get rated as a good teacher.

As far as students � or whoever is rating professors on the open Rate My Professor site � are concerned, nothing predicts a quality instructor like hotness.

Felton found a positive correlation of 0.64 (0.00 means there is no correlaton whatsoever, and 1.0 describes a perfectly linear relationship) between the �hotness� and �quality� � quality is a composite of �helpfulness� and �clarity� � ratings on the site.

...The 102 professors ranked as least attractive in the sample had an average quality rating of 2.14, and an average easiness rating of 2.20. Meanwhile the 99 �hottest� profs had an average quality score of 4.43, and an easiness rating of 3.5.

There also appears to be a bias in how students rank various deparments: Faculty in engineering and sciences were both not hot and low quality; the top departments for quality were languages, sociology and political science, and they were all in the top six for hotness.

Two observations: First, there's reverse causality -- if the professor grades easily, they may be seen as more attractive and offering a high-quality class. ("Oh, of course it's a great class. I learned so much, as you can see from my 'A'".) Second, easy is subject to diminishing returns and is relative. When you see it even in the engineering schools, it might be time to surrender -- then nobody will get the benefit over anyone else.

I find the most interesting statistic in the article to be the relatively low correlation between hotness and easiness. Could it be that older faculty are substituting the activity they control for the appearance they cannot, in order to maintain contact and likability?

Talking to Russia and Central Asia 

The New York Times is accusing Dick Cheney of improper scolding of Vladimir Putin.
Straight from Lithuania, Mr. Cheney traveled to oil-rich Kazakhstan to make nice to President Nursultan Nazarbayev, a leader with an awful human-rights record whose recent re-election was fraudulent. President George Bush recently received a similar autocrat, President Ilham Aliyev of oil-rich Azerbaijan, in the White House. Given the global scramble for energy, there's an obvious self-interest for Washington in courting these secular leaders of Muslim nations. But spearing Russia while flirting with its even more undemocratic neighbors confuses the message, especially when done by a vice president identified with oil interests.

The Times misunderstands the drastic demise of democracy in Russia. Its Freedom House score for freedom is identical to both Kazakhstan's and Azerbaijan's. And while the US has little hope of influencing in the short run the course of democracy in Russia -- what with all the oil money they're awash with -- there's still time for the other two places, where civic life may have expanded during recent elections enough to provide an entry point into making reforms real.

Moreover, the point of the trips to these two countries has to do with oil in a different way -- defusing Russia's monopoly on shipping from Central Asia. And both countries sit front and center in the growing hostilities between Washington and Tehran, and they have reasons for concern. Talking with them makes more sense than throwing stones, and unlike Russia, they may not have oil rushing through their ears making them deaf.

Monday, May 08, 2006

It pays to have friends in high places 

The NCAA's push to eliminate Native American mascots has caught the attention of the one group you don't want attention from. Five Congressmen are sponsoring a bill to limit the NCAA's power against places like the the University of North Dakota or the University of Illinois.
The Act, HR 5289, is called the Protection of University Governance Act of 2006. Original cosponsors, besides Reps. [Denny] Hastert [R-Ind., the Speaker] and [Timothy] Johnson [R-Ill.], are Allen Boyd, D-Fla.; Dan Boren, D-Okla.; and Jerry Costello, D-Ill.

The bill limits the NCAA�s ability to impose sanctions on member institutions by reason of a team name, symbol, emblem or mascot. The bill would allow any college or university that is penalized for those reasons to sue the NCAA and seek a court order to stop the decision. The institution could also seek damages, including reasonable attorneys� fees, for the revenue lost from not being allowed to host an athletic championship.

�Local economies across the country would be impacted if the NCAA�s recent decisions are allowed to prevail unchecked. As indicated by the sponsors who have signed on and who will continue to sign on, this is not a Republican grievance or a Democratic grievance,� Rep. Johnson said. �The NCAA�s presumed authority is a grievance against us all.�
Earl Pomeroy, Democratic congressman from North Dakota, doesn't think the plan "belongs in the political grist mill." Johnson's rationale is that the NCAA brought it on itself.
The NCAA was established as a sports management association. The organization has since assumed the mantle of social arbiters. They need to go back to scheduling ballgames and leave the social engineering to others.
I do not necessarily see it as social engineering, but as a way to get a leg up on the competition. SCSU, who's president has spearheaded the mascot ban, stands to gain from barring UND from hosting NCAA D-1 hockey events.

You don't judge a man's character by his victories 

But by the grace displayed in his defeats.

Forecast calls for moderate growth 

The latest National Association of Business Economists came out this morning, forecasting a relatively tame economic environment through 2007:
�The NABE panel sees the economy heading for a period of slightly below-trend
growth with moderate inflation for the rest of this year and next,� said Stuart
Hoffman, NABE president and chief economist at PNC Financial Services Group.
�The NABE forecasters expect the economy to withstand the hits of higher oil and
gasoline prices and interest rate increases. The panel projects real GDP growth
to average 3.1% for the next seven quarters along with core CPI inflation
stabilizing near 2.3%. Only one more Fed funds rate increase to 5.0% is expected
this year. The NABE panel repeated that high and rising energy costs remain the
biggest downside risk to economic growth and upside risk to inflation.�

The second quarter forecast at 3.5% strikes me as a little high, and as said before I think we're good for two increases in the Fed funds rate (to 5.25%). Five forecasters in the survey (I'm reading the subscriber link) had Fed funds at 5.5% or more by end 2006 and 5.75% by end 2007. It's relatively clear that forecasters are not projecting a recession in 2007 just yet.

Barry Ritholz notes how weird this expansion has been so far.
...weak dollar, strong corporate profits at the top of the historical range, a compressing P/E far more than previous periods, and a white hot rally in gold...

and the forecast calls for 2.1 million jobs created this year, keeping up that pace from 2004-05. I'm glad I only forecast the local economy; the national one is a real puzzle to me right now. You have to wonder if the Fed ever looks at gold, or whether it's focused on housing?

Have you now or did you ever speak at Liberty? 

The early May commencement capades continue with complaints at the New School that John McCain will be their commencement speaker. Students don't seem to mind McCain's positions themselves so much as the fact that three days prior to his commencement speech he will be speaking at Liberty University, the school founded by Rev. Jerry Falwell. Students at Columbia are also protesting his appearance the day before. The summary statement of how students felt was a leader of the Columbia protest:
She said that she isn�t trying to trample on free speech, but that having McCain for graduation is like inviting someone you don�t like to your party.
Jim Lindgren notes correctly that students now think listening to people with differing views is a bad thing. He separately reviews some history of commencement speakers.

McCain is most certainly a candidate for the GOP nomination for president in 2008, and certainly people in this position seek opportunities to give commencement addresses. I grew up and went to college in New Hampshire, and we got our share. Mine was Alexander Haig; I remember joking with someone that "our school isn't that good if all we can get for our presidential candidate commencement speaker is this never-wuzzer". McCain is certainly an A-list speaker, captured by the New School in part by his relationship with former senator Bob Kerrey, now president of the college. Kerrey should now think about what kind of education occurs where students leave thinking that hearing opposing views is a bad thing.

CD 6 post-mortem: Bachmann ain't beanbag 

A few post-mortems and analysis of the CD-6 race, sitting here late Sunday after a gorgeous weekend day.

Let me begin with the conclusion: Elections are about winning. You may know this by the famous quote of Finley Peter Dunne, "Politics ain't beanbag." But what it means is that it's not meant for the soft at heart; it's damn hard work and it requires one to ignore competing goals at times. I'm an academic and an economic forecaster by training and an ideologue by avocation (and temperment, to be honest with myself) -- trading my free market principles for winning an endorsement would be very hard; I would have to adopt a different identity. Knowing that about myself is part of why I don't run for political office, though the temptation has been there. I'm not willing to shed my skin for what it takes to do that job.

This is my take, after the dust settles, of the Friday night procedural maneuvers and the speculation of delegate-parking by the Bachmann campaign. It seems most likely to me that the procedural fight was a test of strength of the pro-B and anti-B camps. It would not surprise me to learn after the fact that with all those red and green cards flashing -- something we did not see at all on Saturday -- that the Bachmann people wanted that vote to lose. They most certainly did not want a primary challenge, and the chances of this would have been much higher with a Friday night endorsement with only fifteen minutes for nominations. Likewise, the delegate-parking on Saturday, if true, is certainly a legal activity. I don't really think she needed to do this, as it appears in retrospect that she had strength enough to win this without playing that game. But you don't win elections by thinking "I've got enough". You go for the jugular and you leave nothing to chance. Sleight of hand? Sure, and why not?

Politics ain't beanbag.

It has been evident for some time that the Knoblach and Krinkie strategies were to play for second and hope momentum would build for an anyone-but-Bachmann endorsement battle. In the end, Esmay benefited most from this because the two managed to sully themselves with the mud they threw. Neither gave a compelling reason for his candidacy over Bachmann other than "she can't win" ... while conceding she was leading the delegate count. That Knoblach said after the convention yesterday that
I think the biggest thing was that Esmay cut into my vote in St. Cloud more than I thought he would and that made it more difficult to establish myself as the alternative,
proves he didn't understand the need to create his own compelling story. SD15 had 27 delegates, of which I'm pretty sure he had between 18 and 20. If you need 195, won 60 or so and your main reason for losing is the 7-9 delegates that didn't go with you in SD15 -- a BPOU Esmay used to chair -- you are not focused on winning. You're focused on being a strong second without ever getting around to how you take out the lead dog. "Effective conservative who gets things done" is a Bob Dole line. The classic St. Cloud Republican is a fiscal conservative who nevertheless would get Northstar and a stadium done (but cheap!!), a social conservative who nevertheless would not take a strong stand on gay marriage. He's conservative in rhetoric, but like Dole he's more center than right in the trenches. Jim's a little more conservative than they are, but that's his base and that's not the base of the GOP in the Sixth as he found out.

Esmay was focused, but was simply outgunned. I'm not convinced he wants a future in politics, but you can be sure that if Bachmann loses this race in November there will be an immediate groundswell for bring him back for a second try at the endorsement. He may have been played by the delegate-parking trick a little bit; he certainly was happy with his first-round showing and thought he'd go up the next round. But in the end he was the second-happiest candidate on the stage when Bachmann was endorsed, and he did nothing to damage his character.

I was never seated as an alternate, and if I was I would have struggled with the choice between Esmay and Krinkie. I said last November after the SD51 debate that he was the first politician to remind me of Gingrich since Newt left the political stage (Tom Colburn is getting there), and I was always a big Gingrich fan. He looked yesterday afternoon like a man who needed a friend, and luckily it appears he found some. I will drive the bus for the Krinkie for Speaker campaign. But his case for representative lost the sharpness he had last fall. As Bachmann's delegate count piled up and the slinging from both Bachmann and Knoblach gained strength, he seemed more focused and making sure his fiscal conservative reputation was maintained than he was in fighting back for delegates. I wrote about his anger at the SD15 meeting and that I doubted it played well. I heard it happened elsewhere too. I hate to say this, but he needed to let Dr. No sit in a closet for a few months at the Legislature and just focus on the campaign rather than be involved in the stadium and bond bill debate if he wanted to win. It is damned admirable for him to take his job seriously like that, and that's one reason I really like him. But it wasn't gaining him delegates.

Esmay asked at one point in his nomination speech "The choice you need to make is, Which candidate represents what is best about the Republican Party?" That's a great sentiment and it focused people on the high road. Delegates loved his remarks. But for many observers the question is more basic: Which candidate can win? That she rounded up 198 delegates, many of whom came to do that one thing and then left, says she focuses only on winning. You may not like that ideologically, but in the end what you want isn't the nicest candidate or the politest candidate or even the candidate that gives the most inspiring speeches. You want the guy -- or in this case gal -- who will punch the other guy or gal in the neck and win.

Elections are about winning. You want to run a message campaign? Be a Green or a Libertarian. Republican and Democratic nominations are big-boy stuff; weakness is punished mercilessly.

In the end, the one who wanted it most and executed the most focused plan was Michele Bachmann. In that sense, the right person won yesterday. If the center of the party and the center of the district lies to her left, no candidate took that position and focused fire back at her effectively. No doubt the DFL and the disgruntled will now take that shot. No doubt some are going to make accusations about her rough-and-tumble behind the scenes or about expense forms, or her vantage point for some rally. And no doubt money from outside the district will come in on both sides. But if the DFL wants to take my advice, it would be to be prepared for war. Assuming your message is the center of the district political spectrum has been tried already here, and tonight there are three guys who can tell you that that alone is just beanbag. And Bachmann ain't beanbag.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

CD 6 GOP convention notes 

I forgot how to email a post and as noted Blogger is blocked at Monticello HS, so rather than a liveblog I am giving post-convention notes. As you may have heard me help announce on NARN a short while ago, Michele Bachmann won the GOP endorsement of the convention. After the third round result was announced all four candidates came to the stage, and the other three moved and seconded for a fourth ballot of unanimous endorsement of Bachmann. I didn't stay for the victory speech. Like Psycmeistr, I have mixed feelings. More on those in another post, but for now a recap of what I saw.

At the beginning of the day I talk to some people to find out more of what happened last night. Andy had posted some of the Friday frolics. I talked with Leo, and then others told me one of the things that helped stem the tide of the Bachmann attempt to move the agenda up to endorsement on Friday night was a speech Leo gave. Some may have thought it was a victory for the not-Bachmann forces, but at 130-127 I thought it might have been a test of delegate strength. It turns out I was right.

As I reported, Knoblach's people were getting out the word that this was going to happen, and therefore they wanted to get all their people there to stop it. Other campaigns had reason to get their people there too. I asked someone if perhaps the Bachmann people were doing a head fake to see what the reaction of the delegates would be and get a count. If all the other three campaigns could muster last night was 130 (which would be exactly 40% of the delegate count the next day), they had to think that was a good sign. I drove down thinking Bachmann would poll 50% on the first round. Now, I think, maybe closer to 55.

I then see an old and dear face: Cheri Yecke. The former candidate herself for this endorsement, she had endorsed Knoblach a few months ago, and now was back to second his nomination. We visit, and she asks me for more dogblogging. How's the job, I ask? One difference, she says, is that when she pulls up to work at the Florida Dept. of Education, all the cars in the parking lot have 'W' stickers. Safe to say that was not the case in MN.

The convention resumes; the chair of the convention is St. Cloud Mayor Dave Kleis (whose handling of the previous night's ruckus was questioned by more than a few delegates as making matters less orderly.) Guest speakers include Pat Anderson, Norm Coleman, and Tim Pawlenty. Coleman gives the loudest applause line: no money for the UN until Kofi Annan cleans up the joint. I think he really meant, until Annan quits. Pawlenty misstates that there are three great candidates. The crowd shouts back at him "Four!" �Well, yes there are four, and I�m sure they�re all good. I know three of them,� he replies. Not a good moment; there is obviously a desire to be respectful towards Esmay.

Andy, in his inimitable spelling-challenged way, runs down the speeches and does just about the same as me. I'm not as harsh with Bachmann's presentations, though I thought her choices of presenters -- Sen. Limmer and Michael Chapman -- show that her roots are still very much with the social conservatives, though she tries hard with her video to seem a fiscal conservative. Still, a very precise operation, much more so than the others. I'm taking bets on whether her son Lucas really did surprise her and her husband with the medical school admission.

Knoblach was unfortunately caught with a very dry throat, and the lights in the auditorium seemed to bother his eyes. Given how fast he reads his lines, he's nervous, perhaps about hitting the 30-minute time limit or just the enormity of the event. It marred what was otherwise a quite good speech. He does take a swipe at Bachmann at the end asking who could best beat Patty Wetterling, the presumed choice for the DFL. He's not long on specifics, but his broad themes are good.

I had to miss Krinkie with a call to make to NARN Volume I. I see Eric Black out there, and he's reading Esmay as having support. John Hinderaker tells me on the air he thinks it will be done early and that the opposition to Bachmann will melt away. It turns out he's right too, but the mood outside the hall is that it will be a many-ballot process with votes peeling off Bachmann after the first ballot. Interestingly to me, not many Bachmann people are standing around.

I go back in to watch most of Esmay's nomination. Leo and Tony are on stage and Leo gives a seconding speech. Second funniest line of the day comes from him, "I'm a Republican and I'm a school psychologist and I'm from Chicago, so I know what an underdog is." [UPDATE 10:15pm: My notes weren't so good, Psycmeistr says, but I got the gist of it.] Well, it was funny to me. Esmay has been peaking for awhile on the stump, and he hits his best notes today that I've heard. Played the Kline-and-Kennedy-were-nobodies-who-won card, plays his strength of defense (using a disabled veteran to nominate him), and displays grace and humor. His stump line: What candidate embodies the best of what our party stands for? He even gets off the bet lines about Wetterling, "We need to show Patty Wetterling says she�s a child advocate but she doesn�t protect the most vulnerable among them." He lucks out by going last; everyone applauds at the end. Ballots are handed out and retrieved, and we go to lunch.

I decided to sit on the floor in the entryway of a hall where the four campaign convention HQs are. That's a break. Esmay walks by and says "guess how many votes I got?" He gives me his count, which turns out to be right when I confirmed it later: Bachmann 183, Knoblach 58, Esmay 45, Krinkie 40. Bachamnn is 12 votes shy of endoresement. Down the hallway I see Krinkie, Bill Walsh, Keith Becker (formerly a St. John's CR now working on Krinkie's staff) and others huddled over a PDA. I see worry. Later I see Krinkie standing alone in the hall. He looks like he knows this isn't his day. Esmay is still pumped, Knoblach and Bachmann are gladhanding delegates.

I grab Andy and get him to give the results on air (he had just gotten off KTLK but not with the results, yes!) He tells me the funniest line of the day -- apparently one of Krinkie's nominators says something negative about Esmay. Andy's vice chair says to him, I can't believe he did that. You don't kick the puppy. That's hysterical, and turns out to be right.

At this point the party is using resolutions to occupy/entertain the delegates while they run additional ballots. One particular fellow from my district keeps getting up to the mic to speak for or against resolutions. Because I'm not a seated delegate, I'm in the guest section with Tony, Prof. Debbie Daniels of the U of M, and it turns out Peter Zeller of the Center for the American Experiment. Debbie and I sit on the MAS board, and she's both an avid reader of this blog and a NARN listener. She too wants more dogblogging. (You will get your wish.) I start milling around and talking to other reporters. A group of Knoblach supporters are huddled around with one woman crying. I think she's related to Jim, but I cannot be sure. Soon Bachmann people walk by and signal with four fingers -- they're four votes short. Sure enough, when the announcement comes, Bachmann 191, Knoblach 63, Krinkie 36, Esmay 35. Immediately the third ballots are handed out. I grab Tony to come on the air with me to give the results, and from what I can hear on my end of the phone Tony, Mitch and Ed are pretty involved in Tony's declamations of Bachmann.

One theory I heard from an experienced observer was that Bachmann had parked votes for the first ballot with Esmay. What is interesting in the second ballot is that, as opposed to the buzz that Esmay had momentum, he didn't gain votes in the second round. Moreover, I am still unsure what the crying and worried looks among the Knoblach camp were about. Larry Schumacher comes by about this time and we exchange notes, as I do earlier with Eric Black.

One more think hits me. We still see the three lesser candidates haning around the 130 mark, which was the number voting on the early endorsement question Friday night. The second round shuffles votes to Bachmann and Knoblach from the other two. If they can't get the three together into the 150s, no one of them has a shot at 195.

Nevertheless, it was apparent by this time that Bachmann would go over the top the next ballot. There was nothing else to be done. Resolutions, frankly, are boring. And lucky for us on the air, the third ballot came back quickly. Seeing the time on my watch as 2:47, I didn't wait for a vote count and ran out to call it in. Courtesy Larry (you'll have to scroll*), Bachmann 198, Knoblach 68, Krinkie 33 and Esmay 24 (26, says Tony -- that would add to 325, so it makes sense). Schumacher also reports:

Bachmann (and her delegates) left the convention shortly after her endorsement. The business of the convention continues, but without about 50 percent of the delegates.

She also answered questions from the press for only a few seconds before being shepherded away.

She declined to answer a question about what the fall campaign will be about.

Knoblach says he won't buck the endorsement, and I hear others won't either. Indeed, one person told me Krinkie still hasn't decided whether to seek re-election to his state House seat. Phil, if you're reading this, please run again. Every legislature needs a Dr. No.

Esmay? Men of character handle defeat well. All three had shown character, but none more than Jay, who needs to keep blogging. He closed his nominating speech with his answer to the question we asked him at Andy's district's forum last November: What's the one principle you won't compromise? "Sleep." I believe Jay will sleep well tonight.

*Note to SCTimes. On a blog, you absolutely need permalinks. Also, you've got to have the blog easier to find. Larry's got the hang of this thing, and you have a chance to be ahead of the curve in the blogosphere.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Pay attention local people! 

Psycmeistr tells that the CD6 convention is being visited by the very dirty tricks we discussed below. It appears to have been thwarted for now. Wish I could have been there but I emcee'd a retirement party for three dear colleagues. I will report from the convention tomorrow both by blog and live reports at 11:30, 1:30 and whenever something important occurs -- like an endorsement -- at AM1280 the Patriot (stream here.)

We're all in leaky boats 

Last night in my mailbox was the new FedGazette of the Minneapolis Federal Reserve, and on its cover was the headline "Pension deficit disorder." After yesterday's news, it seemed almost karmic. Inside are plenty of good data, including:
[T]he problem of underfunded local and state pensions is widespread. The Municipal Employees' Retirement System of Michigan, a plan paying retirement benefits to about 19,000 beneficiaries, was 77 percent funded at the end of 2004. Sounds mostly funded, right? Yes, technically, except that a 23 percent shortfall translates to $1.4 billion in unfunded liabilities�money that will have to be found somehow, somewhere ...

Michigan is hardly alone. Two of Montana's largest pension plans, which cover better than 90 percent of all local and state employees, have a combined $1.5 billion in unfunded liabilities. The North Dakota Teachers' Fund for Retirement has accrued unfunded liabilities of almost $500 million; the largest single fund in Minnesota, the Public Employees Retirement Association (PERA), stared at a pension shortfall in 2005 of $4 billion, more than double the level just three years earlier.

And then there's the Minneapolis Teachers' Retirement Fund: For every dollar of benefit it expects to pay out in the future, the fund has only 46 actuarial cents. A 2003 state commission report noted that a combination of factors would likely lead the fund to become more deficient over time�which has, in fact, happened�creating �a dim picture indeed for this fund. Without early and substantial corrective legislation, this fund may face the very real possibility of running out of assets.� The report remarked, literally in bold print: �legislative attention is urgently needed.�
The article links to spreadsheets and charts with data for your perusal, which if you are a public employee in the upper Midwest you should see. The problem we're seeing here locally is repeated in the other states.

CD-6 manana, or esta noche? 

I am planning to go tomorrow to the CD-6 Republican convention as an alternate (a deep-numbered one at that.) Andy is on his way. The Knoblach campaign sent a mailer to delegates and alternates that arrived this week urging them to show up for the Friday evening caucus because "one campaign" was planning to change the rules and force through an endorsement tonight. The tradition is for a Saturday endorsement contest; this rule changing behavior fits some other reports of convention shenanigans played by "one campaign". (I wonder if they've registered the domain name ""?)

Is Knoblach just paranoid? You decide. But if the stunt gets pulled tonight, I would say that no other candidate should feel obligated to abide by that endorsement.

I'm going to have to say it again 

Do not put too much into monthly employment data. It's possible to drill down the numbers and find reasons to discount the 138,000 gain in employment -- a weird reduction in retail employment despite same-store sales gains, a gain in manufacturing -- but the best reason to relax about the number is that the general trend is still up. The chart below is a 12-month net change chart for jobs since 2003. We have been adding 2 million jobs a year since third quarter 2004, and the squiggles and wiggles since then are simply not worth the bother to tease out further.

Growth of the number of people employed was slow, not just for April but with some downward revisions to the February and March numbers. But if you are going to say that output is slowing down in the second quarter you would need to consider the aggregate number of hours worked:

Since it is hours that interacts with capital and productivity to give us output, I wouldn't back off the GDP forecasts just yet.

The increase in wages that some are pointing to as a cause for thinking the FED will act more decisively against inflation were to be anticipated by that productivity report. I'm still in a 5.25% frame of mind.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Commencement capades begin 

It's commencement time, and as usual we get two types of stories. One type is the political person who comes to speak who is disliked by some campus group that protests loudly, and the other are the commencement speakers who decide to use their fifteen minutes to espouse their political views. We haven't had commencement addresses for the latter just yet -- it's early -- but we have our first kvetching about a commencement speaker choice.

Boston College is inviting Condoleezza Rice to commencement this year, and two of BC's religion faculty are protesting her receiving an honorary degree. The Chronicle of Higher Education (subscriber link) has a copy of their email sent to the campus. While the Globe article says they have no problem with her speech, the letter says they "strongly disagree with the decision ... to invite her to address the 2006 commencement."
As a matter of moral principle, Rice maintains that U.S. foreign policy should be based on U.S. national interest and not on what she calls the interests of an "illusory international community." This stands in disturbing contrast with the Catholic and humanistic conviction that all people are linked together in a single human family and that all nations in our interdependent world have a duty to protect "the common good of the entire human family."
Other faculty on campus have recognized that she's the secretary of state and worthy of respect at any rate -- according to the Bostonist, the campus paper is bragging that BC got Rice and Harvard didn't. You have to wonder if any pro-choice commencement speakers have been invited to a BC graduation and if these two would complain.

No easy way out 

What is there to say about the report in this morning's StarTribune about underfunded pensions? Not much, though you have to watch the KARE11 video last night to get the fuller impact of the obligation faced. (The video from two nights ago is delicious for "fans" of Larry Pogemiller.) No matter how you slice this, an unfunded obligation can only be funded one of three ways: You either cut benefits, increase contributions (from state employees and/or taxpayers), or you find a way to increase the yield on the fund. But they apparently should do so using a more passive investment strategy, after learning two-thirds of the Minneapolis teachers' pension shortfall could have been made up with a simple 50/50 stock/bond index fund rule. See more from State Auditor Pat Anderson. The taxpayers' association report is here.

This dog is giving me gas 

Today's e-missive from the Kennedy campaign proclaims another vote to prevent gas gouging. Andy, who seems a little miffed (and I suspect I'm part of his miffiness), wants some education on what we think of this. I would bear in mind two points.

First, we have to remember that "price gouging" is a perjorative that has no operational meaning. To see this, consider a Reuters story offered in this brilliant post from Frank Stephenson.

The first dog on the auction block was a blond Pekingese male, 5 to 10 years old, hunky by Pekingese standards: mashed face, hair like a thatched hut. He sold for $100.

After that, prices soared as if dogs were gasoline and the auction was run by Exxon. The second breed on the block, a female Maltese � which the auctioneer announced "is obviously in need of a bath"� sold for $240.

That's the way it went Saturday morning at the dog auction in the parking lot of the Bartow County Animal Shelter near Cartersville.

More than 250 people showed up hoping to buy pedigree dogs � Chihauhaus, Maltese, Yorkshire terriers, Pomeranians, Pekingese and dachshunds � for rock-bottom prices. Instead, they got a dose of dog-price inflation, spurred by animal
rescue groups trying to save the canines from breeders.

The animal rescue groups vowed to buy the dogs, get them medical treatment, have them neutered and find them homes.

Guy Bilyeu, 46, executive director of Chattanooga-based Humane Educational Society, showed up with a group of supporters and $16,000. He bought more than 60 dogs.

Patricia Duncan, 27, was among the people lamenting the dog inflation. She said she used to work for Culberson's Hillview Kennels.

"It's ridiculous," she said. "These rescue people are outbidding everybody. They just bought a Maltese that has no teeth for $800."

By driving up the price, of course, the humane society has reduced the stock of breeding dogs, which of course will raise the price of purebred puppies. This is an outrage! These people are price gouging!! There should be hearings! Someone call Sen. Schumer!!

(Any similarities between the humane society and, say, China are purely coincidental.)

Of course not everything done by Rep. Kennedy here is foolish. Andy wonders about the supply response, and certainly anything that reduces the cost of adding refining capacity would make things better. But just not very quickly, and they're very expensive, and usually not profitable even without regulation.

If you want to see the rubber really hit the road, Congressman, how about voting to remove the $.54 tariff on Brazilian ethanol? Might cost you a few votes from corn farmers (and a few contributions from Archer-Daniels), but that stuff comes online a lot faster than expanding refining capacity.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Eric Black is a good egg 

Not so much think so for the quote I got in his piece on the CD-6 race, but for the fact that when he asked if I could be called a "conservative political activist" and I said "well, more libertarian than conservative", he decided to drop the adjective altogether. I think that's best.

And he's right -- there is no moderate in this race. To the 322 delegates, that'd be a good thing.

You can lead a student to the internet 

...but you can't make them pay attention to you in class.
Wireless Internet access at universities was once thought to be a clear-cut asset to education. But now a growing number of graduate schools - after investing a fortune in the technology - are blocking Web access to students in class because of complaints from professors.

Herzog first went on the offensive in his own law classes, banning laptops for a day as an experiment. The result, he says, was a "dream" discussion with students that led him to advocate more sweeping changes.

This school year, the University of Michigan Law School became the latest graduate school to block wireless Internet access to students in class, joining law schools at UCLA and the University of Virginia.
One of my colleagues, an occasional reader, has an TA sit in the back of his classroom in a class where 15 PCs are wired to the front of the room for instruction in statistical analysis. You'd think the TA would inspect the students' computer use. Alas, the TA is pecking away on his own laptop.

Nonetheless, most faculty would settle for "continuous partial attention", as the article describes the students' behavior. Someone reported one young man so overwhelmed this term that sits in the front of the class and entertains the rest by having his head snap back as he nods off. Even standing right in front of him seems not to help.

Buzzword bingo for academics? 

Does this exist for academic meetings? What phrases would appear on the cards? Your ideas in comments please, and then I'll see if someone can create a card generator like this. (h/t: Craig Newmark, who I bet is in some of those meetngs right now too.)

When I knew my sense of humor was different 

My dad first had me read the stock page to him when I was 7, teaching me to find the closing price and the change in order to learn fractions, just as he had taught me to play cribbage the year before to learn to count. I still do both, and indeed part of picking Mrs S. was that she liked these things too. A few years later I started watching the financial shows on PBS, which meant the Nightly Business Report (I still imitate Paul Kangas' metaphors for daily market activity like "investors went to the sidelines at mid-day") and on Friday nights Wall Street Week with Louis Rukeyser. Rukeyser, who died last night, quickly became a favorite activity of mine. Here was someone who told witty puns and able to dissect the economy, politics and turn it into ways to make money. Particularly fun was the way he turned the letters to the panel into a pun-filled reading of the address (Owing Mills, Maryland, I can still recall as if it was last night.) While many kids played outside into the evening, I went home at 8:30 for WSW.

I had professors at St. Anselm who eventually persuaded me to go into economics, but the seeds were planted by my dad and reading quotes for Chemway (Dad's first stock, long gone now), and first nurtured by shows like Wall Street Week. Perhaps I became an economist because I had that same sense of humor.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

You aren't reading my blog, Congressman 

If you had read this first, you would not have written this:
�There has been too much grandstanding with politicians holding press events at gas stations and pointing fingers, but not offering any real solutions to the high cost of gas prices,� said Mark Kennedy. �I�m proposing the Summer Relief for Motorist Act to move beyond the partisanship, beyond the politics and beyond the finger-pointing. I�ve proposed a real solution that would immediately lower prices at the pump 18.4 cents per gallon.�
It will not, and you really should know better. Markets respond to changes in incentives, and the gas market would respond to the loss of the gas excise tax. James Hamilton argues that under plausible scenarios the net effect on gas prices is nil ... but a big increase in oil company profits. As I suggested last week, Congressman Kennedy, that has entertainment value in watching Chuck Schumer spontaneously combust, but does little for the economy.

Moreover, as Hamilton also points out, if Kennedy has in fact found several billion dollars of unpaid taxes that need collecting -- which his accounting background makes him well-suited to find -- there's this little thing called the deficit...

UPDATE: Craig Westover and I are of the same mind on this, practically at the same time. This happens so often that it is actually getting scary.

No bang for your Super Bowl buck 

One of the selling points people use for football stadia is that they generate revenue around Super Bowl events. Indeed, the NFL will give out Super Bowl games to those who build new stadia, as it did this past year for Detroit. So how much did Detroit take in for its Super Bowl? Not much; sales tax receipts were up on 2% in February and March for the entire state. Skip Sauer has details.

News flash: College students drink alcohol 

A review of the Duke lacrosse program conducted by finds that many are "socially irresponsible consumers of alcohol."
They have repeatedly violated the law against underage drinking. They have drunk alcohol excessively. They have disturbed their neighbors with loud music and noise, both on-campus and off-campus. They have publicly urinated both on-campus and off. They have shown disrespect for property. Both the number of team members implicated in this behavior and the number of alcohol-related incidents involving them have been excessive compared to other Duke athletic teams. Nevertheless, their conduct has not been different in character than the conduct of the typical Duke student who abuses alcohol. Their reported conduct has not involved fighting, sexual assault or harassment, or racist behavior. Moreover, even the people who have complained about their alcohol-related misconduct often add that the students are respectful and appear genuinely remorseful when they are not drinking.
In other words, they're students. And according to the report, their behavior on campus and academically has been quite good. By comparison, a local hotel desk employee told me this past weekend the rugby team had its tournament. "We were caught by surprise. Normally, we bring in security for this or we just tell them we're full."

The report goes on to blame the administration for being aware that the lacrosse team had some drinking and partying issues but turned a blind eye to it. "Indeed, after advising Coach Pressler of his team's problematic disciplinary record, the Athletic Director extended the Coach's contract for an unprecedented three years."

JB Doubtless did not return phone calls asking if he has ever played lacrosse or had been offered the coaching position.

This is what hyperinflation looks like. 

How bad is inflation in Zimbabwe? Well, consider this: at a supermarket near the center of this tatterdemalion capital, toilet paper costs $417.

No, not per roll. Four hundred seventeen Zimbabwean dollars is the value of a single two-ply sheet. A roll costs $145,750 � in American currency, about 69 cents.
Source. The proximate cause? The government had to pay arrears on a loan to the IMF US$221 million, and it printed Z$21 trillion to get the money. Here's an article I linked last January when the inflation rate was lower, describing how people lived with hyperinflation. Take this mother, for example.
Because my income hasn't risen as much as the prices in the shops, we have had to adjust quite a bit.

The things that we buy - the groceries at home, the things we get for our two children - we have to buy immediately, as soon as we get the money.

We know that if we wait a bit, the prices are going to go up again. If we wait another week, we will not be able to afford anything.

People are taking the money out in suitcases or carrier bags.
This is what hyperinflation looks like:

You're STILL bad! 

The NCAA has decided to onmaintain its restrictions on three universities, including the University of North Dakota, for their use of Native American mascots.
In denying the University of Illinois, Champaign, the University of North Dakota, and Indiana University of Pennsylvania appeals, the Executive Committee concluded that Native American references used by each university create hostile or abusive environments inconsistent with the NCAA constitution and inconsistent with the NCAA commitment to diversity, respect and sportsmanship.

Today�s decision means the University of Illinois, Champaign, the University of North Dakota and Indiana University of Pennsylvania will only be invited to participate in NCAA championships if they elect to do so without Native American references on their uniforms and associated athletic program activities. It also means these institutions will not be allowed to host NCAA championship events.
Bradley University has been spared because they "removed all Native American imagery" and only kept a generic nickname of "Braves."

UND President Charles Kupchella released a statement.
We are not only disappointed by the NCAA�s action, we are baffled by it. We will continue to take issue with the fact that the policy is illegitimate and that it has been applied to UND inappropriately and in an arbitrary and capricious manner. Our next step will be to consider legal and other options with the State Board of Higher Education and the North Dakota Attorney General.
Its news page today cites yet another American Indian program richly funded by the university. It appears Kupchella needs to spread a little largesse on more members of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, where one leader's letter in favor of the name was countered with another leader against.

One writer suggests perhaps the university can use the water of the ice at Ralph Englestad Arena to create a new mascot.

Monday, May 01, 2006

63% of what? 

Some people can really make hash out of economic statistics. Take this editorial in the Kyiv Post in which an economist at a very fine school -- I gave a couple of lectures there about ten years ago -- says something really foolish.
To understand the point and comprehend how severe the fall was and how far Ukraine still has to go to reach its pre-transition level, consider Ukraine�s real GDP, real capital investments and real wages relative to the pre-collapse year of 1990.

Ukraine�s current GDP is only at about 63 percent of what it was 15 years ago! Simple calculations show that to reach the level of 1990 by 2010, Ukraine�s real GDP must grow at about 10 percent annually, which is fantastic growth, certainly amounting to an economic miracle. If growth is slower, say 5 percent annually, then the 1990 level can be reached only by 2015! Interestingly, these facts are often overlooked.
How do we measure GDP, dear students? "We add up prices times quantities, teacher!" Yes! And where do the Communists get the prices for their products, dear students? "Umm..."

You can't compare GDP from a market system with GDP strapped together from a socialist system, and only fools try.

Stadium sausage 

I haven't seen this story elsewhere:

During the Twins stadium debate Wednesday in the House of Representatives, the time came to vote on whether to follow state law and allow Hennepin County residents to have the final say on a sales tax increase to pay for it.

Each lawmaker pushes a button on his or her desk to cast a vote, and it shows up on two big boards as either green for "yes" or red for "no." The lights flashed green next to the names of Rep. Larry Haws, DFL-St. Cloud, and Rep. Dan Severson, R-Sauk Rapids, for at least a minute.

By the time the vote was finished, their lights had changed to red, and the amendment had failed by two votes.

Why did their � and other lawmakers' � votes change? Because both sides decided beforehand that there could be no referendum, or else the stadium deal would collapse. And nobody wants to be responsible for losing the Twins in an election year.

Vote counting is a common practice at the Capitol. The two party caucuses in each house decide how many votes their groups will give for or against a particular bill or amendment, based on deals worked out by the leadership on both sides. People in leadership positions who vote against their superiors' orders almost always do so because there are enough votes for them to register their protest without affecting the outcome.

The only surprise Wednesday was that people must not have been counting correctly, because the amendment had more than enough votes to pass, at first. So the voting "board" remained open, while it was decided who should change their votes to arrive at the pre-arranged conclusion.

Now why is that? Why would they be the guys that switched? I looked at the Journal, and I think Schumacher is referring to the vote at p. 7119. There's Knoblach voting for the referendum -- as is Krinkie, both of whom need to burnish their fiscal conservative credentials. And there is Speaker Sviggum, voting against the referendum. Did he keep the board open? Sure enough, in the celebratory piece,
Rep. Ann Lenczewski (DFL-Bloomington), who voted against the plan, unsuccessfully offered an amendment to let Hennepin County residents vote on the potential sales tax increase. It failed on a bipartisan 66-64 vote.

With the voting board open for more than three minutes, Bell admitted being a little nervous.
To hear the story told, Mr. Bell, the fix was in.

I hope our two local elected officials who voted to disenfranchise Hennepin County voters have an explanation for their changes of heart.