Thursday, November 30, 2006

Hasta la vista, NCC! 

With the departure of the University of South Dakota yesterday to Division I, the North Central Conference is no more.

"You can't have a conference unless you have teams," Commissioner Roger Thomas said. "Teams were very content to stay in the region they are at, and we couldn't convince any schools to join our league. We'll do everything we can to help our remaining schools as they search for what's best for them."

Thomas said the league likely will play its final games after the 2007-08 school year.

The NCAA Division II conference, once a national power, has been losing members since North Dakota State University left for Division I and Morningside moved to the NAIA in 2004.

The University of North Dakota announced in June that it will move to Division I in all sports and Augustana (S.D.) announced this month that it is looking at the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference.

St. Cloud State has played in the NCC since the 1970s, formerly part of the Northern Sun. All three of the Minnesota schools currently in the NCC -- SCSU, MSU-Mankato and Minnesota-Duluth -- have asked about joining NSIC. Its commissioner, Butch Raymond, came to SCSU the same year I did and coached 13 seasons here, retiring as its winningest basketball coach and joining the school's Hall of Fame last year. I hear from some people that he and athletic director Morris Kurtz did not end on a high note when Raymond left the university, but I also note the same people are those who are clamoring for us to jump to Division I with USD, UND, NDSU and Northern Colorado. Most of them fear that the quality of football played here will deteriorate.

It may, but the cost of taking that program to Division I, especially when we chose to build a 4,200 seat stadium only a few years ago, may just be too high. The Dakota schools have stadia much, much larger. We have never had the same number of scholarships those schools have had, and the move to D-I would increase the number required, at least in the long run (you can have transition rules in a new conference, and some would like to reform the NCC as a D-I conference.) Winona State, last year's D-II basketball champion (and slayer of the Univ. of Minnesota in an exhibition game earlier this month) plays in the NSIC, and we already play many of those teams in basketball now.

It is nevertheless difficult for a program to go backwards, and that is how a return to the Northern Sun will seem to longtime Huskies fans.

Your cash ain't nuthin but trash 

The news that some judge decided we needed more colorful, differently-sized money to help the blind has gotten a number of people riled up. Captain Ed, whose First Mate is legally blind (and she fooled me the first two times I met her!) says the blind have coping mechanisms already learned to deal with paper currency. Learned Foot takes time off from his zaniness to make the sober point that the Constitutional questions, though dubious, were botched by government attorneys. I'll guess someone gets chewed out for bad representation at the Treasury.

Two points I'd raise. First, a friend said to me last night he cannot understand why we still have one-dollar bills. (His family is Canadian, and he thinks loonies and two-nies are great.) He said the only reason we don't have dollar coins is because the ink-and-paper industry will not let the US retire the dollar note. It's worth remembering that the Sacajawea coin was in part a sop to the copper industry. The ol' Susan B. Anthony's biggest problem was that it was hard to distinguish by feel to the quarter, particularly to the blind, so on came the 'sackie' with the smooth edge. Does the court intend to review coin design? Moreover, new dollar coins with rotating presidential heads on them -- imitators of the 50-state quarters -- are scheduled to come out next year. If people wanted to hold the coin dollars, wouldn't sackies have been more popular? "But it would save us $500 million a year!" you say. That's true only if the demand for currency -- which provides the US with seigniorage -- stays at current levels.

Which begins my second point: Much of the U.S.'s seigniorage revenue comes from demand for US currency held overseas, which is about 2/3 of the currency the US creates. Not all of that is for Colombian drug lords, either. Most currency holdings are just developing country households who use the dollar as a saving instrument because stable banking systems don't exist there. When the US changed the style of its currency in the 1990s, older US currency became less desirable. (It was common when traveling to the xUSSR right after the fall of communism to go to a bank and be sure your bills were the newest printing, or else face a 5% discount in Russia, Ukraine, etc. The discount in Ukraine when the new $100 bills came out in March 1996 were reported at even 7% some places in Kyiv.) The value of these dollar holdings by farmers living away from the central cities of African countries, for example, would fall as a result. You wonder if this judge realizes that as his ruling spreads out in news around the world, he may have just caused a substantial drop in the wealth of the world's poor. Such losses could cause the dollar to be sold in favor of euros or yen as those families shift their wealth into more stable currencies. (US coins, by the way, are highly unlikely to be found in circulation elsewhere except Canada and Mexico.)

Not that I dislike money with colors and shapes. But fiat money isn't money by government fiat, it's money because others accept it in return for real things. What causes that acceptance is quite subjective. I still use old Ukrainian 100 karbovanets notes for bookmarks at home; one worth about $2, when they stopped circulating in Sept. 1996 they were worth about $.00056.

It ain't pie, at any price 

Via Chad, I read a post at First Things' On the Square blog critiquing Pope Benedict's view of poverty. The pope is quoted as saying there is a need to "eliminate the structural causes linked to the system of government of the world economy." The writer focuses on the mistake of looking at the distribution of goods and services rather than the production of them. The conversation reminds me first of John Stuart Mill's Principles of Political Economy, in which Mill says distribution is a matter of human choice (production being more governed by laws of nature). Still, Mill does find that changes in the rules of distribution affect the production of goods and services. In short, how you decide to slice the pie changes the size of the pie. Thus the pie metaphor really fails to appreciate the workings of an economy. Miller (and Chad) are correct to point this out.

But I'm more reminded of what the Invisible Hand means: There is no "system of government of the world economy." The 'economy' does not exist: What exists are millions of individual transactions, which as a by-product give us a set of prices that provide every individual with incentives to truck, barter and exchange in certain patterns depending on their gifts. Nobody calls out the prices either as a Walrasian auctioneer, a benevolent dictator, or a Marxist governmental form. Prices are not intentional. Making them intentional tries to stand between the market and the state as the organizer of economic activity. Friedrich Hayek writes in The Road to Serfdom:
But the fact that we have to resort to direct regulation by authority where the conditions for the proper working of competition cannot be created does not prove that we should suppress competition where it can be made to function. To create conditions in which competition will be as effective as possible, to prevent fraud and deception, to break up monopolies� these tasks provide a wide and unquestioned field for state activity. This does not mean that it is possible to find some "middle way" between competition and central direction, though nothing seems at first more plausible, or is more likely to appeal to reasonable people. Mere common sense proves a treacherous guide in this field. Although competition can bear some admixture of regulation, it cannot be combined with planning to any extent we like without ceasing to operate as an effective guide to production. Both competition and central direction become poor and inefficient tools if they are incomplete, and a mixture of the two - means that neither will work.
Yet what most religious writers about economics espouse is some way to put God in the middle. It sounds reasonable, but man "putting God in the market" is an act of man trying to be God, and that is the original sin.

Many of us have only one arm 

A new study by Robert Whaples of Wake Forest University of the opinions of economists on policy questions show more agreement than disagreement on many issues. The study finds that economists are broadly agreed on the undesirability of tariffs, agricultural subsidies, restricting outsourcing, and subsidizing sports stadia. There's a lot less agreement on environmental issues. While there's general agreement that something needs to be done on Social Security, there isn't much agreement on what to do.

Comparing this to the Klein and Stern results, I see broad similarities. Market interventions appear to be something economists agree on, but they don't. Both studies find a lack of consensus on the minimum wage, which I simply find shocking. The latter paper splits its respondents into self-identified Republicans and Democrats, and while there are significant differences on all issues regarding economic intervention, even Republican economists don't seem to agree on policy questions regarding economic intervention. The one source of agreement in the Klein/Stern study is government ownership of enterprises -- neither Democrat nor Republican economists support it.

Arnold Kling's reaction is that the Whaples study provides evidence that a government run by the elite of the American Economic Association would be desirable. Having looked also at the Klein and Stern results -- and perhaps being more libertarian than Republican -- I disagree.

The effect of the churn 

Tyler Cowen reviews a new book on the effects of what they see to be increased job turnover.
Three in five jobs for 22- to 55-year-old workers last three years or less. In a typical quarter of the year, about one in 13 jobs ends. For certain obvious reasons, labor-market turbulence has a reputation as a wrecker of lives, families and pocketbooks.

But is it really? Economists Clair Brown, John Haltiwanger and Julia Lane have their doubts. On closer inspection, they note, job turnover and firm disappearance have positive effects, in the aggregate. A clerk's job at a retail warehouse is replaced by a computer, but the warehouse firm can use the savings to hire a better and better-paid office manager. As workers lose jobs in one niche or sector, they gain in another, moving on to better jobs and higher pay. In the software sector, new businesses are more productive, over a five-year period, than the firms they replace. This new-business productivity gain, the authors show, is true generally across sectors--generating efficiency, products and, most important, jobs. And new businesses tend to pay more.

In short, America is not becoming a nation of part-time Wal-Mart cashiers or burger flippers. In four of the five sectors studied by the authors--semiconductors, software, financial services, retail food and trucking--the growth rate for full-time jobs exceeds the growth rate for jobs in general. (Retail food is the exception.)

So while volatility of job experiences -- increased turnover in the aggregate, if not at the individual level -- causes problems for particular families, it is in the aggregate desirable. This is more evidence of "the churn", a term popularized by researchers at the Dallas Federal Reserve:
"The paradox that innovation is both central to economic progress and, at the same time, the cause of many economic difficulties..." It's also happening in China.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Elite Skills Required by Restaurant Servers 

For a variety of social, cultural and intellectual reasons, many elites look down on occupations they deem to be menial or lacking in intellectual challenges.

The ability to make excellent, stand-up presentations before an audience is one talent US elites value highly.

I was recently blown away by the universally high level of presentations given by my students who work or have worked in restaurants as servers.

I teach MIS at the college level. Each student in my class must write a "real world" paper that analyzes a recently installed computer application. Each student must interview other employees, write the paper, and give a presentation to the rest of the class on the application, their findings, etc. The majority of my students are older - average age, 27. This semester, I had a significant number of students who work or worked as restaurant servers. What hit me was the overwhelming excellence of each server's individual presentation. In the past I had had students with similar backgrounds but there was no critical mass. Until this class, it did not register with me that there is a universal talent for making presentations that shows up for people successful in this field.


To be successful, servers must: make eye contact and verbally communicate with customers; succinctly provide information about daily specials; listen acutely; get orders right, the first time; know the importance of smiling and promptly fixing something that goes wrong. These traits, learned on the job, develop a presence and confidence many people simply don't have. I'd hire any of them in a minute.

These servers demonstrated a very high ability to perform the same function that many elites use to justify their own superior self-image.

(not so) Well put 

If you're thinking that revision to GDP today is a sign that the economy is stronger than we thought, I'd say think about what it means to have real final sales flat at 2.1% growth versus last quarter. As I said last month, that's the number I pay attention to most, and a goodly part of the upward revision was just firms being shown to increase inventories rather than decrease them. Most of the rest of the increase was a revision downward in the number for imports -- the international data are often sources of these revisions. Altogether, a blah report.

The Beige Book report from the Fed for the 9th District (Minneapolis) reported a tight labor market. The housing sector is as bad elsewhere in the state as we've said about St. Cloud and indeed the rest of the nation.
Commercial construction was up. Recent commercial construction activity was robust in the Bismarck, N.D., area, according to a representative of a commercial real estate firm there. The value of October commercial building permits in Sioux Falls, S.D., was about even with last year's record levels, and office construction was up slightly. A Minneapolis developer hired a design firm to begin plans for a large new office tower in its central business district. Plans were announced for the redevelopment of a historic skyscraper into a luxury hotel in downtown Minneapolis. However, residential construction continued to slow. October residential construction permits for Rochester, Minn., were down 42 percent in value from a year earlier.

Shut that laptop! 

I have noticed, more in my introductory classes than with my majors, a surprising number of students with laptops. Some faculty have wondered aloud whether it would be better if all our students had them. But according to a study by faculty at Carnegie-Mellon University, it ain't necessarily so. The following observerations come from a Chronicle of Higher Education article I read first (subscriber link):

In fact, a report on the study says, students with laptops tend to spend "significantly more time" working on assignments than other students do. But that extra time is not reflected in their finished products: Students with laptops get roughly the same grades as those who trek to computer labs. Instead of saving time, the report argues, laptop users are often killing it -- firing off e-mail messages, sending instant messages, and surfing the Web.

What's more, students with laptops may grow overly reliant on them, as instructors in one typography course at a Midwestern university found out. "Students reported spending long periods of time searching the Web for pictures rather than sketching and then scanning what they needed," says the report. "Instructors had to sometimes tell students to use paper rather than their computers to store ideas."

A student today, on the other hand, talks to me about his assignment and shows it to me on his laptop. But it won't save to his hard disk so he can mail it. He logs into our campus wireless internet, copies and pastes it in an email to me, while I watch, and then see it pop into my mailbox at the instructor's station. Is this a good use of the resource? I don't know; that's the best one I had seen in some time though, and it ain't much.

A rare catblog 

For those of you who wait patiently for dogblogging of the darling Buttercup of the Banaian clan, your wait will end soon. Littlest has taken to picturing the Boston Terrorist in many poses, and has uploaded some pictures for you all. We'll share them on Fridays throughout December.

To make penance for our failure to put up pets before now, we offer a midweek look at the other pet of the house. This is Pepper, who adopted us through our porch door three years ago. He just sat there waiting for us to break down, a good judge of character.

Buttercup doesn't let Peru (short for Pepperoo, as he is more often called here) up on the main floor often, so this is a special scene for him to be posed near the front door. The basement doesn't make for good pictures, so you won't see much of the P-boy. He is probably half domestic short-hair and half Burmese, given his temperament and odd voice. He's more a lapdog than Buttercup, and interfered with my writing up this post last night by jumping onto me while this picture uploaded.

Littlest doesn't play with dolls; she dresses up the animals.

More now than ever 

Courtesy of reader Peter Lorenzi, a table of information on universities now versus forty years ago.
1966 Characteristic 2006| Change
2,329 Number of colleges and universities 4,216 81%
6,390,000 Total college enrollment 17,648,000 176%
40 Percent of college students that are 58 45%


9.8 Percent of people over 25 with four or 27.6 182%

more years of college

20,617 Doctoral degrees awarded 50,500 145%
157,726 Masters degrees awarded 603,000 282%
17,795 MBAs awarded 101,000 468%
558,534 Bachelor's degrees awarded 1,488,000 166%
139,183 Associate degrees awarded 686,000 393%
31,695 Professional degrees awarded 87,400 176%

$1,456 Private four-year annual tuition and fees $22,218 1426%
$360 Public four-year annual tuition and fees $5,836 1521%

17 Percent first-year students who smoke frequently 5.8 -66%
64.2 Percent first-year males drink beer frequent/occasional 49.1 -24%

$12.50 Annual expenditures by colleges (billions) $315.40 2423%
$0.71 Federal budget outlays for college (billions) $39.80 5537%
$3.50 State appropriations higher ed operating expenses (bil) $66.60 1803%
Gifts to colleges and universities (billions) $25.60 1630%
$0.18 Net income, NCAA basketball tournament (millions) $470.00 261011%
$0.97 Harvard endowment (billions) $29.20 2895%
$14,402 Average salary, full professor $94,738 558%
$10,829 Average salary, associate professor $67,187 520%
$8,941 Average salary, assistant professor $56,298 530%
Median salary, college president $192,155 909%

$1,956 College expenditures per student $17,872 814%

Source: Chronicle of Higher Ed. Peter was struck by the rise in income from the NCAA basketball tournament. What interests me even more is that college expenditures per student -- I'm not sure what that includes or excludes, has risen less than expenditures by colleges and universities, which has risen less than federal budget outlays to colleges. Is the federal government handing out middle class entitlements by taking on an increasing cost of college education? And are colleges and universities increasing their expenditures because of third-party payers like the federal government?

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Bernanke's comments on the economy 

I was writing up the latest QBR last weekend and had to say something about the end of the rises in the Fed funds rate that came this fall. Looking at the latest Fed funds probabilities made me think it pretty easy to say the Fed is done with tightening.

So Fed Chair Ben Bernanke's comments on the short-term outlook for the economy this morning showed up first on the Wall Street Journal with the headline "Bernanke Warns of Inflation Risks, Suggesting No Rate Cut Coming Soon." His remarks are characterized as "hawkish". This is what raised the alarm:

Looking forward, core inflation seems likely to moderate gradually over the next year or so. Some of the factors that pushed up core inflation in the recent past--in particular, energy prices and shelter costs--appear likely to be more neutral in the coming year, and inflation expectations remain contained. Moreover, if, as seems most probable, the economy grows at a rate modestly below its potential for a time, pressures on resource utilization should ease a bit.

However, as with the outlook for economic activity, there are substantial uncertainties about the inflation forecast. In the case of inflation, the risks to the forecast seem primarily to the upside. Given the current level of inflation, a failure of inflation to moderate as expected would be especially troublesome.

One factor that we are watching carefully is labor costs, which depend on both the compensation received by workers and labor productivity. Although the available indicators give somewhat different signals, it seems clear that labor costs--which account for roughly two-thirds of firm's total costs--have been rising more quickly of late. Some part of this acceleration no doubt reflects the current tightness in labor markets. For example, anecdotal reports suggest that businesses have been finding it difficult to recruit well-qualified workers in certain occupations.

We've always run a question in the survey we do locally asking difficulty in recruiting. When we get more people saying it's getting more difficult than saying less difficult (what most economists would call a 'diffusion index'), that's a bullish sign for the economy. And so far our data has that number positive (including the one to be released soon for fall.)

The Washington Post finds no such alarms. Stefan Geens sees Bernanke being in an unenviable position -- tighter money to combat inflation, looser money to prop up the housing market (where there's a lot of inventory even while sales are up, so prices are down.)

Interestingly, other Fed presidents appear to have been more hawkish after Bernanke's speech. Take in particular this from Philadelphia Fed president Charles Plosser:
Now, over the past two years, the FOMC has moved the federal funds rate up considerably from its historically low levels, so it is possible that inflation could return to acceptable levels without further policy actions. On the other hand, the fed funds rate adjusted for inflation remains relatively low. Thus, to my mind, there remains some risk that policy is not yet firm enough to ensure a return to price stability over a reasonable time horizon.
He notes earlier in the speech that the trend growth rate of the real GDP has shifted down to 3% from 3.5%, so that growth in excess of 3% might be unsustainable (and job growth therefore is probably below the 150-175,000 monthly number we've come to use from memory the last five years.) He blames this shift on both a data revision in July and demographics:
In fact, over the next decade or so we might expect to see trend growth decline further as the growth rate of the labor force slows. Although we frequently note the role of productivity in determining trend growth, the contribution of labor force growth is often overlooked. As the baby-boomers retire, demographic analysis suggests that the growth in the overall labor force will slow. Moreover, we are no longer getting the boost in the labor force from a growing number of women entering the work force, and we also have somewhat lower fertility rates. For all these reasons, labor force growth will slow in the coming years unless it is offset by increased immigration. Barring a boom in immigrants, even if productivity remains strong, the trend growth rate of the economy is likely to moderate.

Who gets to buy Saigo one of these puppies? 


(h/t: John Miller.)

I was talking to some athletics boosters today; I asked them if they thought one reason we could not keep the NCC together might be because UND is unhappy with SCSU's persistence on this issue. The booster could only roll his eyes.

Giving hope to those who try 

The St. Cloud Times leads with a letter from Abbas Mehdi, a sociology professor here and an Iraqi, who is currently working in Baghdad for a contractor for the US government helping to rebuild his home country. I know Abbas, and am happy that he sent me a copy of the letter. The article is accurate in its reflection of the letter's contents. Abbas has said to friends that the place is much worse than he imagined. Here's the bulk of it:
There is no government, there are no institutions, no security, no jobs, no water, and no electricity.

Even worse than that, I don't see any solution in the near future. Of the many possible options I hear about, none seems to me to provide the answer, not even the Baker report, which I know is attracting a lot of attention right now in the US.

The reality for both the US and Iraq is very grim. If the US leaves, it will make the situation here worse very quickly; but if the US stays, it will become worse very slowly. In the meantime, ethnic killing has started to spread widely among different communities in Baghdad.

If you ask me what I think the answer is, I have to say I simply don't know, and I don�t know if anyone else really knows, either.

Iraq�s future is in serious doubt and it's moving toward one of the darkest chapters in its history. Iraq has been destroyed as a result of stupidity and policies that were rushed through too fast, and it may be a very long time until the damage can be repaired.
You might expect me to disagree with the letter, but I cannot. No plan currently put forward sounds reasonably like something that would work; I agree that the plan initiated by Paul Bremer immediately after taking Baghdad was a complete disaster and made matters worse not better. What I would disagree with is the reflection on the letter by another faculty member here.
As he read Mehdi's letter, Philion was reminded of a newspaper article he had read recently about a Marine commander who had been sent to Iraq to train Iraqi police units to do the most basic policing. That commander told a reporter that the mission now was just to make sure the soldiers in their unit made it home alive.
The first job of any commander is to keep his or her own troops alive (I'm reminded of the scene in the beginning of Patton, where George C Scott says nobody helps his country by dying for it, he helps by making the other poor bastard die for his.) But as Captain Ed noted last week, perhaps the goal is about more than just making the other poor bastards die.
The reason why the US insisted on engaging in the Wilsonian task of nation-building after toppling Saddam was twofold. Democracy should allow more rational outlets for political aspirations instead of allowing them to fester in tyranny, thus eventually reducing the impulse towards terrorism. The second follows from the first, and that was to seed Southwest Asia and North Africa with democracy, with its roots in Iraq.
If the goal is Wilsonian nation-building, it had to be said from the start that 1) it's not worked well in many other places, 2) we don't know why it worked in the places it did, and 3) those who supported the idea are not doing a good job explaining why it's not working. The last is why good men like Abbas are now despairing.

The faculty member's comment is part of the argument that everyone wants to cut and run phased redeploy in Iraq, just that some people want to shoot the natives on the way out and others just want to bug out. Abbas closes his letter saying "I so much wish I could be writing to you with hope and optimism and a sense of better things to come." It is up to those who still support the effort in Iraq to provide that sense.

UPDATE (10pm): Of course, Dale is correct in comments that it's not the military leader's job to keep every last soldier alive if it means the mission is not accomplished. But if I have figured out what the faculty member was referring to, it was a story on Iraqi police training and keeping those trainees alive. I of course could be wrong and he was talking of a different article. I don't know, but this is the only one I could find with Google and two weeks worth of news. If that is the article, I'm not convinced that the imperatives of a military commander and a police commander are identical.

Learning from the worst 

A writer in the Hibbing Daily Tribune picks up the story on St. Cloud as the worst place to live. He also finds some object lessons for the Range.
I�ve been to St. Cloud twice. To be fair, I�d describe the ratio of fat people to non-fat people as �normal.� My main impression was that, for a mid-sized regional center, it was very easy to get lost in St. Cloud. I know it�s a river town but it�s more confusing than St. Paul � which is hard to imagine. I�ve also noticed that, anecdotally, many of the people I knew who attended college in St. Cloud (home of St. Cloud State, St. Ben�s, St. Joe�s and others) end up drinking a lot of alcohol after going there. Heck, my first beer � consumed at age 18 � was in St. Cloud. Maybe that�s not the town�s fault, but it�s an awfully big coincidence.
I've noticed as well that we have confusing roads. It's both a river town and a rail depot. It's the railroad that's confusing -- it cuts diagonally through the western part of town and can only be crossed in a few places that don't conflict with the station or other loading areas. I remember being in my car my first year here, looking across 9th Ave N at the downtown post office, unable to get there unless I drove over the tracks, and unable to figure out how to get the heck out of where I was.

As to drinking, well, it's a Stearns County thing. Or at least that's the lore of the place.
...I do recall that the town had an extended suburban feel to it. A number of St. Cloud residents work in or near the Twin Cities now, and as such the town has begun to show a homogenized �just off the Interstate� look.
True enough, as I mentioned once here, the town looks increasingly like Maple Grove, and I don't mean that in a good way.
I hope this serves as a lesson for our local towns. I�ve noticed how excited people have been getting about the retail development in Hibbing, Virginia and Grand Rapids. It�s nice to have chain restaurants and home improvement stores. They provide jobs and economic growth. But suburban-style retail sprawl at the edge of your town doesn�t necessarily make it a good place to live. You�ve got to have a spark of originality and culture � something I think we�ve got here on the Iron Range. Don�t throw that all away so you can get a TJ Maxx. Trust me. TJ Maxx isn�t that great.
On the other hand, what's so great about a mom-and-pop store that has styles from the 1970s? Here's the issue as I've seen it here: About 3000 workers leave the City of St. Cloud every day for jobs in the Cities. Add on the suburbs and it might be 5000, out of an area workforce of around 100,000. They are typically somewhat affluent since the jobs they commute to have to pay enough to warrant the transportation costs. (Economists will recognize that story as the old Alchian and Allen 'shipping the good apples out' story. It's one reason wages are lower in St. Cloud.) What are they looking for when they are in St. Cloud on the weekend? They are looking for something that reminds them of where they spend fifty waking hours out of a week's 168 total hours. Why wouldn't they look for a version of their Cities experience in St. Cloud? The chain stores and chain restaurants know this, and so they go. Commuting workers are not going to invest time to learn about local businesses with local names.

There was a story in the newspaper last Friday, the busiest shopping day of the year, about people who shop on the internet. Of course they shop there -- it's what they know. One business owner told me later he was miffed at the paper. "We advertise in the local paper, and they write a story about how to avoid shopping in our stores?" Sorry, but the stores they shop in already aren't yours, any more.

Monday, November 27, 2006

I'm here, I'm a sphere, fetch me a beer 

I should start by outing myself: I'm fat. Not heavy-set or big-boned. I've got a pretty good-sized gut on me. Got it in grad school, lost it while running and converting to vegetarianism, and then got it back when vegetarianism was found compatible with beer, popcorn and a mushroom-and-green-olive pizza and the knees gave out. (For those of you who say "swim!" I say, I hate swimming. Same 50 yards, over and over, and can't listen to Doves to kill the boredom. And I'd rather have a breathing tube than share a shower with strangers.)

So it turns out people are studying me. I'm delighted. Except it appears that the studies are mostly about women who are, um, horizontally challenged, and don't like being told that additional pounds will reduce longevity. Big Arm Woman speaks for me by observing:
I have reached critical ennui with the whole "omgwtfbbq women should/shouldn't work/have kids/write vagina monologues/vote a certain way" debate, because it dawns on me that the debate isn't really about women anymore so much as it's about the fact that we all think happiness is a fundamental right, and one that we shouldn't have to work or sacrifice for.
We live in a world that is tragic, that makes us choose between eating food that tastes good and a 34 waist (at least in my case, the only diet that works is simply stated as "if it tastes good, spit it out." Or as my uncle used to say, "what you need is a few less push ups and a few more push aways.) These are the choices faced since God sent Man packing from Eden.

And to think people say apples are health food.

Thanks to Candace de Russy for the link.

Leprechaun due process 

This story is a little weird. A student at an art institute gets into a conversation during a class with another student; the class is wrapping up and students are killing time until the rest of the class is done and they are dismissed. One is said to have stated her belief in energy layers and astral beings. The second, who says he is atheist, asks if the first student believes in leprechauns too. She does. The second student, in his own words, says he tried "to convince her not to insist that [her views] were scientifically proven." She files a complaint to the teacher.

That evening, the second student is called before two deans and an associate dean and suspended until there is a hearing. The student then finds an eyewitness and tries to bring the witness to the associate dean, but that is found to be rude and belligerent behavior, according to the suspended student. Subsequently, the dean of students expels this young man; the student feels the dean focused more on his attempt to bring forward an eyewitness than the original case, and starts to seek legal advice on whether he can claim he's been discriminated against because he's an atheist. He says the dean told him atheists were not a protected class.

When I read stories like this, my temptation is to go to the university's catalog and figure out the policy and the process for complaints. Here's theirs. Start at page 79. On the next page we find:
Verbal abuse, insulting comments and gestures, and other harassing conduct are also forbidden under this policy when directed at an individual because of his or her race, color, sex, sexual orientation, familial status, age, religion, ethnic origin, or disability. It is the responsibility of each employee and each student to conduct himself or herself in a professional manner at all times and to refrain from such harassment.
So is belief in astral planes and leprechauns protected under this policy? Or did the student violate something else? Or, as the article indicated, was this a problem student who they were seeking a way to get rid of? Given they have registered this project, should this be permitted at a private educational institution?

I bet he doesn't butt into conversations again any time soon.

Genuflecting towards the Dakotas 

Joe Malchow and Scott Johnson have been covering a twist in the UND Fighting Sioux story. Dartmouth College, of which the Powerguys are alums (and I believe Joe is still a student there) has apologized for scheduling UND to a hockey tournament. The scheduling was done two years ago, and only now does it dawn on the college to check out the team's mascot. In a Manchester Union Leader piece about the school's apology is an observation by a UND official:
Don Kojich, executive associate vice president for university relations at North Dakota, referred all questions to the state's attorney general, but did say that he has never heard of another school publicly apologizing for playing the Fighting Sioux.
Hello? I assume the meager readership of this blog does not include the upper administration of UND, but I'd hope someone was aware of the coverage we've given this issue. This school not only has apologized for playing the Sioux -- if in no other way than helping with the organization of the protestors when UND comes here for hockey and football (though the latter will not be a problem when North Dakota goes to D-1 for all sports while we play the Little Sisters of the Poor) -- it has been home of the university president singly responsible for the mascot issue becoming part of the national debate. Indeed, Dartmouth's president has adopted our president's own words.

Scott's co-blogger Paul Mirengoff thinks there are behaviors that are demeaning to Native Americans in the usual rivalry-stoked insults hurled between contesting universities. Paul thinks it's backlash to the PC-induced censorship Saigo's policies have helped create. Perhaps -- if it's OK to go to a Penn party dressed as a suicide bomber but not have a cowboy-and-Indian fundraiser, you have a case there. But the desire to regulate mascots wasn't present unless and until the mascot becomes a representation of a victim group.

Speaking of which, the Irish sure played like famine victims last weekend.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Hypocrisy of the Left 

While attending a conference in Boston last weekend, we strolled through an old section of town, a quaint neighborhood of magnificent row houses, brick sidewalks, cobblestone driveways, gas lights. For those unfamiliar with this area, it is called Beacon Hill, the bastian of Boston Brahmans, home of the blue, groupthink rich. Then we noticed something else � a preponderance of non-American cars. These owners are the same people who outwardly scream against Wal-Mart, claim they�re against moving manufacturing jobs to Mexico, espouse support for labor unions, etc. Our conclusion? Their practice of �I tell you what to think; I�ll do what I want to do�, is, classic �limousine liberal leftist logic�. (or illogic?)

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Thankful for a busy life 

I have been very busy with real life lately, and I haven't posted some of the things I've wanted to. But I am thankful that I am busy. I work with the greatest economics department one could have, even for the one guy who thinks I'm a jerk. I'm thankful for the wonderful students who came by for advising and deciding that economics was what they wanted to study for their degrees. That's a gift and an awesome responsibility -- I'm glad to have 19 colleagues who share that with me.

I reserve an hour in the morning, after Littlest is dropped at school, for time with some friends over coffee. A restauranteur -- a Connector in the Gladwellian sense if there ever was one -- introduced me one day at his shop and the next thing you know, I have eight new friends. The group has mostly kept together even after the bagel place closed (it's still a vacant storefront, last time I looked) and the biggest loss is the Connector, who is always there in spirit.

While my church closed I have managed to keep in contact with most of my fellow worshippers, and I'm out singing with them two Sundays next month. That also keeps me nearer Mrs. S, the pianist, for whom no thanks is ever enough.

I'm thankful for this blog and the friends, the NARN, the MOB, a chance to relive radio memories, to have co-authors like Janet (and from the past Jack and Dave and Kevin and Jim and Marie and I'm sure I've forgotten someone), Scholars all.

I'm thankful that I learned to keep busy from my parents. They called me last Sunday afternoon with the sound of the surf in the background. Walking on the beach towards a hotel that had pie. My dad's had a six-pack of heart attacks in the last twenty years, so every day is good as long as he draws a breath. But he knows busy means, in Satchel Paige's phrasing, nothing is gaining on him. Rust never sleeps.

Thankfully, I'm keeping one step ahead of the rust.

Have a fine weekend, thanks for reading. I'll be back Monday.


The United States is the only nation on the planet that sets aside a day to give thanks. The first Thanksgiving was a "thank you" to God. Today, though, much of the political climate does not want to admit this but we are a nation founded on basic Judeo-Christian ideals. (Note, ideals, not necessarily practices all the time.) Regardless, we still continue to celebrate our unique holiday.

Lest we forget, if our ideals disappear, the planet will revert to a far more savage place. Many of you won't want to hear this because you have been taught for the last 40 plus years that we are the "bad guys" and that we cause all the problems in the world. This belief is simply wrong. True, there are wars going on in many places but the percentage of people, across all races, creeds, etc. who have the opportunity to improve their standard of living, their education, has never been greater. In the past 60 years, more have experienced prosperity than have ever experienced it in the history of the human race.

Why is this so? A main reason is because the United States, a gigantic power, has chosen to use its influence to help stabalize the world, not rule it. If our economic system dominates, that is because it is the best designed so far that successfully benefits the most people.

So, this Thanksgiving Day, I wish all of you, your family and friends laughter, fun, good health, a delicious meal. I also hope with all my heart that you will take the time to thank our Creator (or whatever name you choose to use) for the privilege of living in a nation with standards that are desired by so many in the rest of the world. We are the shining light.

We have reason to be grateful, we really do.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

PA Academic Freedom report, now with even more water! 

The Chronicle News blog says the Pennsylvania legislative report ended up not finding any issues with student academic freedom. David Horowitz points out, however, that two universities -- Temple and Penn State --
have now adopted "student-specific" bills of rights (the words "student-specific" were excised from the report by commissar Lynn Herman in a cya operation for the Penn State administration. This is a major victory.and no amount of lying by the AFT and its journalistic shills is going to change that. The two reforms which we achieved at Temple and Penn State made up the original Appendix C of the report. The fact that Lynn Herman deleted them in the report does not change the fact they now exist in the regulations of Temple and Penn.
The Temple policy is here, and this is one page explaining Penn State's. Both indeed were enacted this past summer, after the Penn legislative hearings.

They probably didn't mourn Friedman either 

Two members of ISAIAH, a left-wing religious group in the Twin Cities (that works with a local group in St. Cloud as well) have launched a tirade against Ford's use of the land on which its closing plant in St. Paul sit. Ford would move it from a use for which it wastes resources -- the value of the cars built on the property were insufficient to pay for the resources used to build the cars -- to a use that will make someone money. It might be worth more when public infrastructure is built up to provide better roads around the property. By accepting the delay in receiving monies from the sale of land, the Ford owners keep the land available for possibly more productive use later. That will not do, say the ISAIAH writers, who wish to expropriate the land. Their fundamental misunderstanding of economics comes in a steady buildup to this concluding paragraph:
The value of land is created not by individuals, but by the growth in population and wealth of the surrounding community and by the community's investments in public services and infrastructure. Land value taxation recaptures community-created value for the needs of the community while providing an incentive to put sites to their highest and best use. With the right incentives in place, we won't have to worry so much about how long it will take for the site of the next closed manufacturing plant to come back to life.
Dave Downing (who brought this article to my attention) refers to these people as American Taliban Communist but the Taliban or American parts aren't needed. Marx' letter to Engels in 1851 argued that
Every payment of rent for the use of a piece of real estate will make the farmer part-proprietor of it and will count as a mortgage payment by him. When the property has been entirely paid for it will be immediately taken over by the commune, which will take the place of the former owner and will share with the farmer the ownership and the net product.
Is there any difference between that and ISAIAH's call for "land value taxation"?

Hostility to speculators is a common Marxist theme -- and their close cousins.

Forecast downshift 

I'm glad I don't have to explain government forecasts (had a small bit of this in Ukraine a decade ago), because I don't think I could have made this statement with the Administration's latest economic forecast.

�The combination of lower energy prices, a tight labor market, and strong underlying fundamentals is producing a solid economy for America�s workers,� said Edward P. Lazear, Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers. In the past year, hourly wages have increased 2.8 percent after adjusting for inflation, which is well above the historical average and amounts to about $960 for a full-time production worker. We expect real wage growth to continue.�

The Administration releases an economic forecast twice a year. The new economic forecast � which will be used for the President�s Fiscal Year 2008 budget � is similar to the consensus of professional economic forecasters and the Administration�s past forecasts.

"The economic forecast clearly reflects the fact that the U.S. economy is moderating to more sustainable growth levels, firmer labor markets and steady inflation rates. As we continue working toward pro-growth polices in the areas of retirement and energy security as well as worker competitiveness, we will achieve long-term U.S. economic strength, which will improve the standards of living for future generations of Americans," said Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson.

...The forecast shows a strong labor market with both the unemployment rate and monthly payroll job growth slightly lower than previously projected. Last month the unemployment rate dropped to the lowest rate in over five years, and it currently stands at 4.4 percent. The lower-than-expected unemployment rate has reduced the projected annual average to just 4.6 percent in 2006 and 2007. The new forecast projects payroll growth to average 129,000 jobs per month next year.

The previous averages were 175k in 2004, 165k in 2005, and 164k for the last twelve months to October 2006. 129k is a pretty significant downshift, and it requires something a little more deep than what is in that report.

I think we should take Edward Hugh's comments very seriously about the demographics: If labor growth in America is due to growth in the number of Hispanic workers, their birth rates declining would be a troubling sign. I looked up the data for the last three years of civilian labor force by race.

White 0.7% per year
Black 1.3%
Hispanic and Latino 3.2%

White workers are about 75% of the population, with blacks and Hispanic/Latino about even for the rest. Hispanic and Latino workers are disproportionately in the building trades, so the recent housing slump likely has harmed them more than other ethnic groups.

So what's a guy gotta do to visit Hugh? 

I guess you have to take your wife. Wish Mrs. would fly. I'm probably in LA twice a year, never got a sniff.

Still not enough to get me to root for USC.

UPDATE: 6:15 -- I get love, after Ed mentions I am the only academic blog needed (responding to this disturbing development.)

Signal to noise 

As university admissions offices continue to reduce their reliance on standardized tests out of concern for racial balance, the availability of alternative mechanisms for allocating scarce seats at selective colleges and universities is declining. One of four applicants to Harvard with a 2400 SAT score are turned down. High school grades are growing less useful.

Extra credit for AP courses, parental lobbying and genuine hard work by the most competitive students have combined to shatter any semblance of a Bell curve, one in which 'A's are reserved only for the very best. For example, of the 47,317 applications the University of California, Los Angeles, received for this fall's freshman class, nearly 21,000 had GPAs of 4.0 or above.

That's also making it harder for the most selective colleges -- who often call grades the single most important factor in admissions -- to join in a growing movement to lessen the influence of standardized tests.

"We're seeing 30, 40 valedictorians at a high school because they don't want to create these distinctions between students," said Jess Lord, dean of admission and financial aid at Haverford College in Pennsylvania. "If we don't have enough information, there's a chance we'll become more heavily reliant on test scores, and that's a real negative to me."

As a result, colleges are relying more on aptitude tests than ever.
"It's the only thing we have to evaluate students that will help us" tell how they compare to each other, said Lee Stetson, dean of admissions at the University of Pennsylvania. ...

The average high school GPA increased from 2.68 to 2.94 between 1990 and 2000, according to a federal study. Almost 23 percent of college freshmen in 2005 reported their average grade in high school was an A or better, according to a national survey by UCLA's Higher Education Research Institute. In 1975, the percentage was about half that.

GPAs reported by students on surveys when they take the SAT and ACT exams have also risen -- and faster than their scores on those tests. That suggests their classroom grades aren't rising just because students are getting smarter. Not surprisingly, the test-owners say grade inflation shows why testing should be kept: It gives all students an equal chance to shine.

In Georgia, where the HOPE scholarship program provides public tuition subsidies to students who graduate achieve a 3.0 GPA, high school grades have risen. Not so, it appears, at Edina High in Minnesota, where the average student's SAT score is 1170. (Worth noting, however, is that only those students planning on applying nationwide will take the SAT, as the ACT is more prevalent at Midwest schools. Not the best of statistics there.) Class ranks are given, but these too are subject to manipulation by taking the courses with bonus GPA points. Besides, there are 36,000 HS graduates ranked #1 in their schools. They can't all go to Ivy League schools; Penn and Duke turned down 60% of valedictorians who applied.

If it all comes down to the admissions essay, who can afford the coaches and counselors who help write the best ones? Doesn't it seem like the dog is still chasing its own tail?

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Fair use and internet posting 

As students and legislators continue to press for a reduction in textbook costs, some faculty are resorting to using free resources on the internet. I do this for my intro course, using online copies of classics rather than asking students to buy them. Where I have choices, a free internet resource is preferred to a hardcover book for $35. Textbooks are a different matter to me at least, but I guess not to others. And publishers are pretty darned mad.

Book publishers say professors who post long excerpts of protected texts on the Internet without permission cost the industry at least $20 million a year. Cornell University, the Ivy League college in Ithaca, N.Y., agreed in September to regulate work its faculty puts on the Web, in response to a threatened lawsuit from the Association of American Publishers.

Professors are making material available free rather than requiring students to buy $100 textbooks. While faculty members from Harvard University to the University of Pennsylvania complain of a restricted flow of ideas, publishers say they must protect $3.35 billion in annual U.S. college textbook sales.

"We can't compete with free," says Allan Adler, vice president for legal and governmental affairs with the Washington-based publishers group, whose members include McGraw-Hill Cos. and Pearson Plc.

I would bet there will be a day soon where someone defines for universities more clearly than present what constitutes "fair use".

Fantasy university island 

Loyal reader JW sent along an article last week on the use of the virtual world 'Second Life' in teaching. Along with businesses, Harvard University has a class taught online there, and one online campus has been built into it. Here's a discussion held by teachers about how they use online environments. The use of Second Life for campus learning has been around for awhile. (The original press release.)

I was visiting with some people this morning during my usual breakfast and talked about this. We wonder whether experimental economics is using these controlled virtual worlds to test economic theory. Indeed they have. The economy is even being measured.

Worth thinking about: Building an economics course -- with a lab -- in a virtual world.

Monday, November 20, 2006

You had me up to there 

I started reading a humorousstudent newspaper opinion piece about a gym that had called the police on a weightlifter who grunted while lifting. I got to about here...
And this is where I look and think at how incredibly lame and pathetic our country is becoming. I mean, I'm no meat head and I really don't take kindly to your run of the mill, beefy, brainless, cell-tech inhaling, weight lifting swine, but I do have the simple understanding that sometimes, when you're doing something strenuous-like lifting 500 lbs. on your shoulders up and down by bending only your knees, your body will often times let out some heavy breathing and sometimes (God forbid), a grunt.
...and I think heck, this kid isn't all that bad. A little overwrought, but his liberty-loving tendencies are appealing.

But then...
In reality, this rule is in place to take away every last freedom we have. What's next, no sweating in basketball? The police get called if a baby cries in public? I can see this extending to just about anything that will strip us of any basic right.
And I think "whoops! Looks like Andy has just stepped on the slippery slope argument." And then,
If grunting in a gym is so wrong, then why isn't lying to a nation about going to war?
It would be, except that nobody did that.

More than worrying about an anti-grunting rule, I'd worry about a student who thought his job as a columnist was to wonder how he could take any offbeat news story and turn it into a discredited leftist trope.

Bike racks and football tix 

? Mitch's note on Captain Ed "surprising" the First Mate by renting a convertible on their trip to LA (this will be helpful to dry the tears after his Irish get waxed by USC Saturday) reminds me of a friend's tale. He had dated and eventually moved in with a woman, one of those stately females who exude class from every pore. He definitely was "dating up". He, a fellow grad student, did not own a car and rode a bike everywhere. He also is a classic endomorph, so seeing him on a bike was always a bit humorous anyway. So what does he get her for Christmas?

A bike rack for her car.

She did not own a bike.

She moved out before Valentine's Day.

I'm not sayin', Ed, I'm just sayin'.

Diversity forever 

John Fund notes how the pro-affirimative action activists in Michigan are railing against Proposition 2's passage there.
Mary Sue Coleman is president of the University of Michigan, which has already spent millions of taxpayers' dollars defending its racial preferences in courts. She addressed what Tom Bray of the Detroit News called "a howling mob of hundreds of student and faculty protestors" last week. "Diversity matters at Michigan," she declared. "It matters today, and it will matter tomorrow." Echoes of George Wallace, who in 1963 declared from the steps of Alabama's Capitol: "I say segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever."

Ms. Coleman isn't the only Michigan official to employ Wallace-style rhetoric against MCRI. Detroit's Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick told a fundraiser last April that the measure would usher in an era of racial prejudice. "Bring it on!" he bellowed. "We will affirm to the world that affirmative action will be here today, it will be here tomorrow, and there will be affirmative action in the state forever."
Later in the artile we read of attempts to intimidate voters and canvassers who had to certify placing the initiative on the ballot.

John Rosenberg highlights an article by Scott Gerber discussing the use of initiative and referendum as "popular constitutionalism". Gerber writes,
I became interested in learning how proponents of popular constitutionalism felt about Prop 2 after a colleague posted on ConLawProf, a professional internet discussion list to which I subscribe (geared to constitutional law professors, as its name suggests), that a lawsuit had been filed by a pro-affirmative action group called �By Any Means Necessary,� or �BAMN� for short, requesting that a court invalidate the November 7 decision by the people of Michigan. On the one hand, Prop 2 is precisely what popular constitutionalists had envisioned: the people of Michigan had defined what the state�s constitution means. On the other hand, most popular constitutionalists are on the political Left and are very strong supporters of affirmative action.
While the Left may like popular constitutionalism in many places, it fights very hard for maintaining judicial review as a means of keeping power in the hands of the state. It battles ceaselessly and 'by any means necessary' to keep amendments in check, to use the courts to invalidate electoral results, etc. It did so with Proposition 187 in California 12 years ago, and has followed that method ever since.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

6 x 7, round four 

My previous three posts on this topic can be accessed at 6 x 7 = ?, 6 x 7, round two, and 6 x 7, round three. This final post addresses the attitudes of teachers and parents - one that, in my experience, does not bode well for our children.

The first disturbing quote in the NYT article on math scores was made by a sixth grade teacher who said, "We don't teach long division; it stifles creativity." Give me a break. If students get through sixth grade without learning addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, fractions, decimals, basic word problems and basic algebraic expressions, they are in a pile of hurt. It is the teacher's job to teach these functions.

This reminded me of a co-worker's story from a few years ago. She hated anything to do with math. When I asked her how strong her fifth grade teacher was in math, her response was that the teacher didn't like math and didn't teach them. No wonder she had a math phobia.

Elsewhere in the article a parent says, "Honey, don't worry, I never could do math either". Hello. As the article states, math is a family occupation in Asian communities.

Teachers who use the excuse of "stifling creativity" are copping out on their responsibilities. Either they don't know the math or are too lazy to teach it. They give students As, parents think everything is ok, the student gets a false sense of what is required. Knowing math facts increases self-confidence. Teachers who don't or won't teach it are being unfair to students, parents, taxpayers, etc.

Perhaps we've had it too good for too long and have become too lazy. Learning math facts is not just training one's brain, it is also a key to success in a global environment. We are cheating our children and future by making excuses for students not learning math.

Friday, November 17, 2006

6 x 7, round three 

As discusssed in my two previous posts 6 x 7 = ? and 6 x 7, round two, I used timed tests to improve standardized test scores. In addition, students began to transfer their increased confidence in math to success in other areas.

Individual students experienced significant changes - I'll share three. The first student, Peter, had gone through elementary school half-asleep. He had zero energy. His parents had him tested and "nothing was wrong". He was a nice kid, but lethargic was the only way to describe his mannerisms. He was slow doing everything, rarely finished any assignment on time, and took much work home. Then we started the timed tests. I don't recall how long it took him to complete the 50 facts in the three minute time limit but I do remember the megawatt grin on his face when he finally did. He literally started walking taller. The rest of his work got completed more quickly. By spring, his parents came to conference and asked, "What happened?" It was as though his brain had broken through a barrier of some sort and he could now perform like the other students.

A very, very bright student also experienced a shift. Jim was bored with school but because he was smart, he had few academic problems, though he had not learned his facts, either. He did ok in math but carelessness affected his results. He was tested for the gifted program; his score was borderline so he was denied participation. What the psychologist refused to consider was that Jim had made a disproportionate number of factual mistakes on the test, errors that were easily fixable. Nevertheless, she refused him access. He started the timed tests, and yes, his factual knowledge improved significantly. Though he did not get reconsidered for gifted classes at that time, his overall attitude towards school became more positive.

Tina, another student in the class had an attitude towards math that fit all the stereotypes. She was incredibly creative in writing, art, poetry, etc. but she "hated" math and often suffered an anxiety attack when taking math tests. After a few weeks taking timed tests, her fear of math started to subside. In the spring, when she took the standardized test, she became aware that her answers were out of synch with the questions. Instead of panicking, she stopped, took a deep breath, methodically retraced her answers and questions, found the problem where she had erred and still completed the entire section.

These three students along with the others had learned to exercise their brain. Just as a dancer or athlete or musician must exercise and practice, we must also teach students that they need to practice and exercise the mental muscle, the brain - learning basic math facts is simply a way to train one's brain.

Correct one, but not the other 

Most of my friends know I'm nuts about baseball and about sabermetrics. My morning internet tour almost always includes Baseball Prospectus. But when I read Joe Sheehan talking about the Red Sox pursuit of Daisuke Matsuzaka, I was a little disappointed.

Next paragraph is background for those unfamiliar, you can skip if you know the story:
Matsuzaka is a pitcher with the Seibu Lions in the Japan League. He currently makes about $3 million a year as arguably the best pitcher in the JL. He is still bound by contract to Seibu for the next two seasons, but Japanese teams can offer their players to the US major leagues by posting them to Major League Baseball. Each team makes a sealed bid; the highest bid grants the team the exclusive right to negotiate for thirty days with the player on a contract. If the team and player fail to negotiate a contract, the player returns to Japan.

The Red Sox -- my team -- won the bidding on Matsuzaka for the princely sum of $51.1 million, and are now negotiating. Sheehan is trying to figure out how much the contract between Boston and Matsuzaka will be:
Matsuzaka is exactly what the Sox need, a top-of-the-rotation starter. If the $51 million is treated as a sunk cost, which it should be, the Sox should evaluate Matsuzaka as roughly equivalent to Roy Oswalt, who signed with the Astros for five years and $73 million. (Note: Many, many people have pointed out that this is wrong, because the money has not yet been paid, and will not be paid in the event the Sox do not sign Matsuzaka. I was trying to make the point that the posting fee is disconnected, from Matsuzaka's standpoint, from his negotiations. "Sunk cost" was the wrong term to use. My apologies, and my thanks for the feedback.--JSS)
I hate to tell you this, Joe, but you still missed the point. What the Red Sox bought is the right to be part of a bilateral monopoly. Matsuzaka has an opportunity cost of $3 million, the amount he could make in Japan ... plus the opportunity to come out again next year for posting, or wait two years and be an unrestricted free agent (in which case he has everyone bidding, and can get closer to a monopoly price.) That defines his reservation price, the wage below which he will decline the offer and return to Japan. The Red Sox will pay no more than the value of his marginal product in creating revenues for the team by helping them win another World Series. ("Another" -- that still feels good, man!) What Sheehan continues to offer in terms of comparable wages are close to monopoly wages, by focusing on the salaries given to free agents. Matsuzaka is not getting that wage from the Red Sox because he cannot get any other MLB teams to bid on his services.

Sheehan is right that the presence of an agent for Matsuzaka makes it more likely that the player and team will come to an agreement. But perversely, that is to the benefit of the team, not the player; it is analogous to the real estate agent story that Levitt and Dubner tell in Freakonomics (here's a version of it from Wired last year.) Understanding those incentives may be one reason why the Red Sox paid such a high price just to sit and visit with a 26-year-old pitcher.

Stretching them 

It's been a day for me to look at statistics in the colleges. Most of them would be boring, but I found this one via Phi Beta Cons,

Of students who entered [California] community colleges in 1997, half left after a year, said Ria Sengupta, the report's co-author. About a quarter of students who enter with the intention of transferring to a four-year school actually did that, and only one in 10 who took classes needed for transferring earned a two-year associate's degree.

``We were surprised the most by the high turnover rate,'' Sengupta said. ``The majority of students leave without transferring.''

Educators long have struggled to serve the variety of students who have turned California community colleges into the nation's largest higher-education system. While the schools traditionally are associated with recent high-school graduates who use them as stepping stones to four-year colleges, fewer than half the first-year students in 2003 took primarily transfer-oriented courses.

Other students took vocational classes such as dental assisting or electrical technology, while some focused on non-credit courses such as cooking or traffic school. About 14 percent took mostly remedial classes or English courses for non-native speakers.

It does make you wonder, as Joanne Jacobs does, why donors might fund these colleges more than in the past. Doesn't there need to be some focus to this?

During the last elections the gubernatorial candidates sparred over the cost of college education. But the cost of college is a function of the preparation one receives in K-12 education; if less than half of students stay in the community college system more than a year, how much of the cost of college education should be charged to area school systems? I agree with Richard Vedder that we are perhaps oversubsidizing students who spend probably no more than 30 hours per week as students, but like a pitcher suddenly put on a four-day rotation, more studying and class time may be something they are not prepared for.

Job production and destruction 

This is still one of my favorite government reports. I know, what an exciting life!
From December 2005 to March 2006, the number of job gains from opening and expanding private sector establishments was 7.6 million, and the number of job losses from closing and contracting establishments was 6.8 million, according to data released today by the Bureau of Labor Statistics of the U.S. Department of Labor. Gross job gains exceeded gross job losses in all sectors, except manufacturing, information, and utilities. Firms with 20 to 49 employees accounted for 18.9 percent of the net gains in employment, representing the largest contribution to employment growth among all firm size classes.
It is worth noting that manufacturing continues to shrink, with a net job loss of 4000 that quarter. The information sector had a net loss of 3000. Almost a quarter of the net gain of 616,000 in service-providing jobs were in the leisure and hospitality sector.

But I like Arby's! 

The front page of this morning's paper tells us we have made some list that calls St. Cloud one of the absolutely worst places to live in America.
The St. Cloud area is nationally known for its granite, higher education institutions and, more recently, for its "buffet grazers." ...according to author Dave Gilmartin.

His tongue-in-cheek book, released last month, pokes fun at St. Cloud as being ideal habitat for "dazed and ill-prepared college students," "mall rats" and "obese buffet grazers."

"If its endless below-zero winter doesn't kill you, its soul-killing culture of sheer hopelessness surely will," Gilmartin writes in "The Absolutely Worst Places to Live in America."

It also has "quite possibly the most number of Arby's per capita." The St. Cloud area has three Arby's restaurants.
So where does Mr. Gilmartin live?

New Jersey.

Pot(belly), meet kettle.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Thank you, Ms Gaulke 

The Queen of the Lakes for the Aquatennial gets called up to active duty to the National Guard to go to Iraq, and becomes a role model.
Gaulke will present her resignation today to the annual meeting of the Aquatennial Ambassador Organization. Though she said being Queen of the Lakes is "a huge honor," she said she is simply honoring the agreement she made when she committed to the Guard before her senior year at Robbinsdale Cooper High School.

"It really wasn't a decision that was mine to be made," said Gaulke, a former Miss Robbinsdale. "My unit's going. I've accepted it. It's part of the whole scope of why I joined; I'll be there for all of us over here."
Her beauty is on the inside as well as the outside.

Competing for basketball and football players 

In its written response to a Congressional inquiry over its tax-exempt status, the NCAA reveals that it spends more than twice as much per male basketball student-athlete in Division I ($158,000) than it does for a football student-athlete ($75,000). Is it possible that the larger size of football teams accounts for all of this, or is something else going on?

Certainly scale economies play a role. Separate locker rooms and training facilities exist, but costs are spread over more players in football, even though more space is needed for the latter. Average cost of transportation probably also declines with team size.

But the size of this difference is large enough to wonder if we could see something else. In particular, consider the difference in competition for an 18-year-old basketball player versus a football player. The NFL has strict limits on age and class of student-athletes who can be eligible for the draft (see this from the Maurice Clarett decision, for example), while until very recently high school athletes could enter the NBA. The NBA age limit now at 20 helps colleges, which should lead to a reduction in expenditures on basketball. In short, you don't have to wow each athlete away from the NBA (or Europe) with all the latest in training and dormitory facilities, or promise them the Maui Classic each fall, etc.

But it's never been there for the college football athlete, who now plays an extra game without any additional compensation. NCAA president Myles Brand writes,
Athletics, like every other department on campus, cannot operate without sufficient revenues to meet expectations. Increasing revenue, however, is not the only reason. Some but not all teams were already playing 12 games in football. Permitting a 12th game for all teams was more fair. The stabilization of games in basketball eliminated similar unfair practices in that sport.
In both cases, the season was expanded by a week, which reduces the time devoted to academics. This is justified to get "sufficient revenues"; if I told my faculty that we needed to teach ten additional students each to stabilize our faculty-student ratio, they might wonder what they get in return. Not so the student-athlete.

"Oh, but they earn more after college!" Um, not exactly. Some do, some don't. "Oh, but it is a help to minority students." Not exactly, either. Most athletes are white, but they do little to displace minority students. So when Brand says in its letter that �Athletics contests are the laboratory for lessons taught in practice in the same way theatrical or musical performances provide practical application of the lessons taught in rehearsals,� it's hard to say whether there is a high return on that investment, or why it warrants tax-exempt status.

(Cross-posted at The Sports Economist.)

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Milton Friedman has passed away. I am lucky enough to have spent a little time talking to him in my life, though not at all in the last ten years. If you thought he looked really pleasant on TV, I can tell you that he was even more pleasant, more fatherly in person. My first meeting with him was a conference at Hoover when I was still a graduate student -- Craig Stubblebine had taken me along as an assistant helping with a book on Reaganomics. Here, in 1981 and in the first flush of the Reagan administration's attempt to end the stagflation of the 1970s, were all stripes of economists who think about fiscal policy and public finance. A group of students, including me, are sitting at the edge of the group for lunch in an open plaza in the middle of the building where Hoover is. "May I join you?" we hear, and there stands Friedman with his tray of food. I could barely get words out of my mouth. The next twenty minutes were surreal, with questions of where we were from, what we were planning for dissertations, etc. I don't think we ever got to asking him a question.

I'll be listening again tonight to EconTalk's conversations with Friedman.

6 x 7, round two 

This is post #2 of four related to math basics. As stated in my previous post, my frustration with standardized test results for math drove me to create a way for the students to learn the facts without the existing standard drills.

Students' reaction to these "non-graded" timed tests was different than I had expected. My students actually wanted more of them. For some reason, they decided that these timed tests meant they weren't doing any "real" school work. I went along with this mind set.

Once it became obvious that their knowldege of multiplication facts had improved, I added timed tests for subtraction facts. This broke the habit of counting on their fingers. Next I added division facts and finally developed a timed test comprised of addition, subtraction, multiplication and division facts.

The previous post documented the 25 point improvement in the class average math score over six to seven months. There were other benefits.

Overall, every student gained confidence in their ability to do math. They learned to enjoy it. They made fewer mistakes, therefore, their frustration level declined substantially. And, when they made a mistake, I marked it as "fact" or "process". If it was a "factual" error, they had to correct it because no one can learn a fact for someone else. If it was a "process" error, we reviewed the process together.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006


I disagree with David Horowitz that the Pennsylvania hearings on academic freedom have given us anything useful. The recommendations are very mild.
  1. Public colleges and universities should review existing academic-freedom policies to ensure that students understand their rights and grievance procedures.
  2. Schools should provide information about academic-freedom policies and grievance procedures to students during orientation and make the information available in the "student" section of their Web sites.
  3. Schools should allow students to file complaints with a university official outside the student's degree program, preferably by using an existing office that handles student diversity issues.
  4. Schools should include questions related to academic freedom on anonymous course-evaluation forms.
  5. Schools should maintain records of academic-freedom complaints.
  6. Schools shall submit reports on actions taken in response to recommendations to leaders of the House Subcommittee on Higher Education no later than Nov. 1, 2008.
The irony of using a diversity office to handle academic freedom questions for students should not be lost on readers of this blog; do we really think the affirmative action officer of a campus will be up-to-date and sensitive to issues of academic freedom for students? The state universities believe they've already met most of these requirements. Interestingly, Students for Academic Freedom believes a seventh recommendation exists, namely an "Office of Academic Standards and Intellectual Diversity" to set standards and advance academic freedom. I don't see that in other news reports -- correct me please if I'm wrong -- and at any rate the recommendations have not been reported out of committee; the next meeting is scheduled for November 21. If that office is actually required on campuses, I will take back the title of this post -- I'm not sure I like the idea, but creation of those offices would be a strong statement that student academic freedom is being taken seriously.

The opportunity cost of affirmative action admission 

Something jumped out at me while reading Jonah Goldberg's piece this afternoon on the use of racial preferences in admissions:
Jian Li, a freshman at Yale, filed a civil-rights complaint against Princeton University for rejecting him. Li had nigh-upon perfect test scores and grades, yet Princeton turned him down. He�ll probably get nowhere with his complaint � he did get into Yale after all � but it shines a light on an uncomfortable reality.

�Theoretically, affirmative action is supposed to take spots away from white applicants and redistribute them to underrepresented minorities,� Li told the Daily Princetonian. �What�s happening is one segment of the minority population is losing places to another segment of minorities, namely Asians to underrepresented minorities.�

Li points to a study conducted by two Princeton academics last year which concluded that if you got rid of racial preferences in higher education, the number of whites admitted to schools would remain fairly constant. However, without racial preferences, Asians would take roughly 80 percent of the positions now allotted to Hispanic and black students.

In other words, there is a quota � though none dare call it that � keeping Asians out of elite schools in numbers disproportionate to their merit. This is the same sort of quota once used to keep Jews out of the Ivy League � not because of their lack of qualifications, but because having too many Jews would change the �feel� of, say, Harvard or Yale. Today, it�s the same thing, only we�ve given that feeling a name: diversity.
OK, I thought, what study is this? Took only a few minutes to discover a study by Espenshade and Chung published in Social Science Quarterly last summer. The results are worth quoting, and the whole paper is quite interesting:
Data for the 1997 entering class indicate that eliminating affirmative action would reduce acceptance rates for African-American and Hispanic applicants by as much as one-half to two-thirds and have an equivalent impact on the proportion of underrepresented minority students in the admitted class. White applicants would benefit very little by removing racial and ethnic preferences; the white acceptance rate would increase by roughly 0.5 percentage points. Asian applicants would gain the most. They would occupy four out of every five seats created by accepting fewer African-American and Hispanic students. The acceptance rate for Asian applicants would rise by one-third from nearly 18 percent to more than 23 percent. We also show that, even though athlete and legacy applicants are disproportionately white and despite the fact that athlete and alumni children admission bonuses are substantial, preferences for athletes and legacies do little to displace minority applicants, largely because athletes and legacies make up a small share of all applicants to highly selective universities.
As Gene Expression noted when the article first came out, it offends one's sensibilities for "
Asian students to pay the price of racial good-will." I find it equally interesting that legacy admissions has such a small effect on the sorting of students in the admissions process.

Peter Kirsanow asks whether or not the University of Michigan is aware of the opportunity cost and who pays. You might want to hope that this will turn the tide against affirmative action in admissions, but before you do say hello to Carol Iannone and some real cold water.

Online, real time 

Loyal reader JW, perhaps responding to my note the other day on podcasting, sends a link to an article on the use of "Second Life", a virtual world where student interaction can occur, and is being encouraged by faculty.

The three-dimensional virtual world makes it possible for students taking a distance course to develop a real sense of community, said Rebecca Nesson, who leads a class jointly offered by Harvard Law School and Harvard Extension School in the world of "Second Life."

"Students interact with each other and there's a regular sense of classroom interaction. It feels like a college campus," she said.

She holds class discussions in "Second Life" as well as office hours for extension students. Some class-related events are also open to the public -- or basically anyone with a broadband connection.

...San Francisco, California-based Linden Lab develops the infrastructure for the online society, but it's up to its virtual residents to develop the content in the community.

That's one of the reasons some are skeptical about how much of an impact "Second Life" will have on the educational landscape.

"'Second Life' on its own doesn't force anyone to do anything," said Marc Prensky, a leading expert on education and learning. "It's a blank slate, and whether it develops into a useful tool depends on what sort of structures are created within it."

Just as in a classroom, you have to create structures to get someone to do something, of course. I have found that the best online experiences are very structured. In one application of experiments within Aplia, for example, students sat around town and even at home in another state but participated in a demonstration of how markets find equilibrium and how a trade provides information (the selling price) to all others. I've tried unorganized chats, and that doesn't work for me. Students still prefer the private email (I get 5-12 a day) to something on a bulletin board or a synchronous chat.

Making the class stay out of the classroom and go online to experience something can work. Providing experiences in that environment, though, is hard.

The right of regents 

The regents of the University of Minnesota are concerned about a Dario Fo play to be presented next March on the Twin Cities campus that "features a paranoid, drug-addled pope, a witch in a nun's habit and a chaotic comedy of errors". (Here's a 2000 NYT description of the play.)
Some Catholics have criticized the play as hate speech. [Regent John] Frobenius said that he wasn't trying to stop the show but that he wanted legal advice on the ability of regents to comment on the March production by the Department of Theatre Arts.

...Frank Berman of Edina agreed that there's a difference between an institutional response and speaking as individuals. He said that he'd like to see the play and read the script, but that he's concerned that it "puts a religion in an unfair light."

University of Minnesota President Robert Bruininks said he had read most of the play and many reviews, and urged regents not to characterize it on the basis of what they're told. He reiterated the value that he said academic freedom represents at the university and his discussions of the issue with clergy members, including Archbishop Harry Flynn.

"We are not a university that countenances disrespect of any point of view," Bruininks said. But he added, "When people try to suppress expression, they start with the university and start with the arts."

Actually, President Bruininks, they start with things like bulletin boards and free speech zones. Art usually comes later. But the regents board raises an interesting point: To what extent may they speak as individuals about events on campus of concern to them? In particular, when discussing a public university, how does the public make its wishes known?

6 x 7 = ? 

"As Math Scores Lag, a New Push for the Basics" in the New York Times confirms my experience that memorizing basic math facts is a critical part of the elementary education every person needs.

One year, I was teaching math to all sixth graders in our school. They took a standardized test in the fall. The class average for math was the 50th percentile. Since this result was the norm for the school, everyone was satisifed, that is, everyone but me. I'd taught fifth grade the previous year and was ticked that the math score was this "low". A cursory review of the students' answers showed a high percentage of factual errors versus process (how to do) errors. I began my campaign to change the results.

I pushed basics starting with the creation of multiplication timed test of 50 facts. Students were given three minutes to complete it. If they made three or fewer errors, they got to drop to two and a half minutes. Again, if they made three or fewer errors they dropped to two minutes, and so on. There were no grades - just my positive feedback and continuing encouragement.

Because the environment was safe, the driving force became a personal challenge for each student to do better. They saw small successes and pushed themselves. Soon, they were asking, "Can we take another timed test?"

The results were close to sensational. In the spring, seven months later, our students took the same national test. Computational errors plummeted. The average math score for the sixth graders rose from the 50th percentile to the 75th percentile!

During the remaining years of my teaching career, I used timed tests. If we don't learn that 6 x 7 = 42, we can't do multiplication, division, fractions, decimals, algebra, geometry, etc. We make dumb mistakes, get frustrated and quit.

Learning math facts is like learning to read - if we don't know how to put together symbols to make words, we can't read. If we don't know how numbers work together, we can't do math. Not knowing either affects our lives whether we admit it or not.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Curving the salute 

John Palmer reports that a lecturer at his school who died received a four-hour half staff salute of the flag, because he was there for four years. Doc, who has been at the same university since dinosaurs roamed the earth, has long complained about this process and wants instead a urinal named in his honor. (I noted to some friends at a local wine bar-cum-theater the other night that that establishment already had a urinal called "the King", so I am already honored. And Doc will be jealous that I have acted in that theater!)

But I do find this tenure-adjusted flag saluting quite interesting. Can we also choose which flag we can display? My choice would be the Gadsden flag, but perhaps with a slight change.

Maybe a little too far? 

Two pieces of economic news worth noting early this week. First, the Survey of Professional Forecasters from the Philadelphia Federal Reserve out yesterday shows revisions downward for real GDP, interest rates and inflation. And this morning we find out producer price inflation was sharply negative. So the stories of the US economy doing really well going into the midterm elections strike me as contrary to where forecasters and the current data are. Not that I think it mattered much.

All should come to the same conclusion the current implied probabilities for the Fed funds rate going forward: Flat for the foreseeable future. The Fed has gone far enough, and maybe one step beyond. CPI numbers come out Thursday, so stay tuned.

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More on the UND case 

Brad Humphreys notes that the brief that the North Dakota attorney general used to win the temporary injunction last week to continue using the UND logo and mascot is available online. Skip Oliva points out that the North Dakota judge did not think the state had "presented sufficient evidence to establish that enforcement of the [NCAA�s] policy will result in a reduction of competition of the market in general.� So the case to be made is one of breach of contract and breach of good faith rather than an antitrust violation. From the injunction:
The NCAA is correct in its assertion that North Dakota courts generally defer to association rules and decisions, ... The North Dakota Supreme Court has clearly stated that �it is the duty of the courts, regardless of personal views or individual philosophies, to uphold regulations adopted by administrative authorities unless those regulations are clearly arbitrary and unreasonable.� It is for that very reason that this court did not rule immediately after the November 9, 2006 hearing, as suggested by the State. Instead, before ruling on the motion, the court conducted a very deliberate and comprehensive review of all argument and materials presented by both parties. The court notes, however, that the State is challenging the policy as arbitrary and unreasonable. Although the court will not second-guess the wisdom of an association�s rule or policy, it may determine whether that rule or policy comports with the law.
Note that the injunction names our president as the reason for the mascot policy:
On August 4, 2005, the NCAA Executive Committee �adopted a new policy to prohibit NCAA colleges and universities from displaying hostile and abusive racial/ethnic/national origin mascots, nicknames or imagery at any of the Association�s national or regional championship competitions.� The NCAA identified UND as a member institution subject to and affected by the new policy. The policy became effective February 1, 2006, except for the institutions seeking an exemption from its application. The policy had emanated from a request by St. Cloud State University President Roy Saigo that the NCAA consider a resolution stating that the NCAA does not condone the use of Native American logos and nicknames.
And what was "arbitrary and unreasonable"? It's worth noting from footnote 23 of that document that there were originally two avenues of appeal: you could appeal that your particular mascot or image created a hostile or abusive environment or you could appeal the policy decision through a "modified process." Yet the finding of fact in the injunction does not indicate any point at which the modified process is defined or initiated. Instead, after a staff review UND was told only that the review of the facts of the UND logo's creation of a hostile environment could go to the NCAA's Executive Board.

In short, UND argues it has not received due process under the operating rules of the NCAA. It appears there was sufficient merit to the argument, along with substantial damage to UND, to issue the preliminary injunction.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Podcasting classes 

I noted this in a post by Joanne Jacobs:
I think higher education for working adults -- for example, teacher training for people working as teaching aides or novice teachers -- will go mostly or totally online in the next 10 years. It just makes sense. For 18- to 22-year-olds, e-learning will be a supplement. But nobody's going to show up in person to a large lecture class when they can download the lecture to their computer or iPod.
Allow me to question this: If you think there's no difference between being in a large lecture hall experiencing a lecture and hearing it on the radio while roller-blading, you would think the above is true. That would mean the same as there being no difference between listening to a Beethoven symphony in person or on your headphones.

Sorry, 't'ain't so. I have particular things I believe will podcast -- and I'm working on them -- but not a whole lecture on IS-LM analysis. (Yes, I still teach that stuff.)

Scale diseconomies 

After reading an article on how much is spent tutoring athletes, Stephen Karlson wonders what we could do for student-non-athletes. Here's the line that impresses me most from the article:
Mr. McFoy [a student-athlete at USC] said his academic career had not been without incident. Once or twice, he said, he was fined $10, which was taken from his athletic stipend, for missing an appointment with a tutor.
I KNOW I can get Littlest to study if I charged her a buck for each missing of the books. (Probably even less, but she's never been a problem that way.) But take $10 in beer money out of your average SCSU student for missing reading their assignments? They'd all have 3.7 GPAs.

But the bigger issue, as Stephen points out, is that yo u can't duplicate this on a larger scale. SCSU tries now by building a first-year experience program, which keeps students in smaller classes tracking together and has outside-class experiences planned. That's great for some students, but scale it up to 2000 entering freshmen? And what to do about the increasing number of students who transfer from a two-year school?

Graphic of the day 

Seen this bad boy yet? It's from J. Edward Carter's article on the incredible shrinking federal budget surplus. Most interesting of all is that non-defense discretionary spending on this chart is shown to have risen $700 billion between 2002 and 2011 (projected.) I would think that's something the Republicans would not be proud of. And yet,

Subsequent tax cuts further reduced projected federal revenue, bringing total tax relief under President Bush to $1.8 trillion over ten years. This accounts for one-fifth of the $8.5 trillion swing.

Yet even this orchestrated tax relief pales in comparison to the impact the recession, technical adjustments, and other developments had on the budget projections. These factors trimmed nearly $2 trillion from projected revenue while boosting projected outlays $519 billion. This accounts for 29.4 percent of the swing.

Still, all of this explains barely half the swing. The remaining half is a result of the spending Congress enacted over the past six years to bolster national defense, fight the war on terror, provide seniors with Medicare prescription-drug benefits, confer disaster relief, and fund a myriad of other programs.

Carter's point is that there never was a surplus, and to the extent that you are trying to forecast the behavior of a Congress awash in extraordinary revenues from the tech bubble of the late 1990's, he's right. But the Medicare prescription-drug benefits were not a necessary expenditure, and disaster relief has been pork-laden. Thus Carter -- a former Bush Treasury official -- opines
So, what do the clues reveal about the missing $5.6 trillion surplus? 1) It never existed. 2) It never would have existed. 3) Policymakers never intended for it to exist.
True, and 3) is the problem and one reason why the Democrats now hold Congress.

Sioux to play 

The University of North Dakota has successfully obtained a preliminary injunction against the NCAA's ban on its hosting of a postseason game. UND is likely to host a Division II football playoff game a week from Saturday, and the judge ruled that the school would be irreparably harmed if the ban was in place while the court case was being decided.

The NCAA, which designed its policy to avoid a confrontation in court, issued a written statement saying it still expected to prevail.

"We are disappointed in the preliminary ruling but will continue to defend the NCAA's right and responsibility to enact guidelines in the best interest of our member schools, our student-athletes and our fans," the statement said.

Trial is expected in April, meaning that if the injunction holds UND's hockey team will be able to host a WCHA and NCAA playoff game, as well as the other winter sports. This decision may have implications for the University of Illinois as well.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Did you just justify that remark? 

Randy Krebs, editorial page editor at the St. Cloud Times, points out that Forum Communications, which owns the Duluth News Tribune as well as several other Minnesota papers, had identical endorsements. That story has fluttered about the lefty blogs for awhile, and I can understand the point. But I think Randy -- whom I know, and from whom I would not have expected such a comment -- says this:
Few things shocked me more this election season than when my hometown newspaper, the Duluth News Tribune, endorsed Tim Pawlenty for governor.

Why? For starters, Duluth is as solid DFL ground as St. Cloud is Republican turf. And that doesn't even begin to count the decidedly "blue" Iron Range. And generally, the paper's Our Views have reflected that.

Plus, Hatch is a hometown boy. Given those factors, Hatch getting the News Tribune Editorial Board's endorsement seemed as certain as the aerial lift bridge coming down after it goes up.

...In Duluth's case, this fully explains for me why my peers at the News Tribune endorsed Pawlenty. Not to mention it gives me a good hunch as to why Hatch, in the closing days of the campaign, insulted a reporter who works for a newspaper owned by the same corporation that now owns the News Tribune.
Does Krebs justify Hatch's reference to a Forum Communications' owned newspaper reporter as a "Republican whore"? That's an unacceptable comment for a candidate for higher office no matter what the circumstances (as I recall, the Times endorsed Pawlenty, citing Hatch's temperament as one of its reasons.) And Krebs even acknowledges that the Forum reporters are not directed to write certain stories.
Initially, I was glad Forum purchased the News Tribune. I'd read some good journalism in several Forum papers. Heck, the Times even hired some of its talent.

But now I'm not so sure about Forum. Don't get me wrong. There are some superb journalists at the News Tribune. And because I still see their bylines regularly, I have no reason to believe "corporate" is telling them what to cover and what not to cover.
I have no problem with criticism of Forum Communications' endorsement policy, and I think Krebs' point warrants attention. But he damages it with this gratuitous comment about Mike Hatch's behavior.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

The Big Burn 

Yellowstone National Park was devastated by fire in 1988. Visiting the park five years later, I saw phenomenal new growth. Turns out, certain species of pine trees needed fire to release seeds within their pine cones to create the next generation of trees. Returning again in 2006, we discovered the park's environment continues its evolutionary process.

What's this got to do with the recent election? The Republican Party got burned, big time. Why? Truth be told, it lost its direction, its nerve and its leadership. Constant slams by MSM and Democrats went unanswered. Their behavior became "Democrat lite". The base got frustrated, many stayed home.

As painful as the loss was, one expects a leader to emerge from the ashes. The base and others will become invigorated (especially after they experience the historic agenda of the Dems: across the board tax increases; delight in spending OPM (other people's money); appointment of more judges who always seem to find a way to negate the will of voters; milquetoast response to people who want all of us dead; etc.).

A fire can be a cleansing process - painful, but purifying. Most people recognize Republicans are not whining, moaning and complaining. They are discussing, assessing and strategizing. With a bit of good fortune, the phoenix of Republican leadership will rise from the ruin, stronger, focused, and again defining solutions (versus the guilt and defeatist mantras of Dems) for our great nation.

For all you shower singers 

Leave it there:

Via Spare Room, hat tip to my co-author Bryan.

Friday, November 10, 2006

It's like chess 

My NARN brother John Hinderaker wrote me tonight to discuss a new post he has on why the new Democrat majority seems to be the darlings of al Qaeda and the Iranian leadership. I've signed on to PowerLine's new forum, which has so far a pretty high quality of participation, at least until I posted in it.

Everyone who is opposed to the policies of George Bush -- and my God there seems to be a lot of you! -- seems to be rushing the cameras claiming what the elections tell Bush to do now to repent. But the audience of the statements John and Ed have highlighted is to me clearly the Democrats. And I'm not sure that simply pointing to the Democrats and saying "See? You have become the friends of our enemies" allows us to fully understand their motives.

Of course al Qaeda in Iraq would be happy for us to leave, but would it not make more sense to lay low, continue insurgency attacks and let the effort in Iraq crumble on its own? If Bush is willing to sack Rumsfeld within 24 hours of the polls closing, why bother to stick your neck out? Instead, let's suppose the Democrats come on the air Monday morning and announce they support a plan to double troop strength so as not to look weak to the US electorate. If done, al Qaeda would use this to show even more potential terrorists the implacability of the kufr, and recruit more terrorists.

Imagine that! The Democrats reacting rashly by increasing troop strength would encourage more terrorists to join al Qaeda. Now that would be ironic.

And, as I concluded a post on PowerLine Forum, if the Democrats can wrap their arms around that choice they will find themselves in a tough, tough spot -- you can either be a trophy or a rallying cry for your enemies. And the Democracts have only themselves to blame.

NOW they tell us! 

With SCBA blogger Larry Schumacher on vacation, the headline political story is written by someone else.
Emboldened Senate Democrats on Thursday chose Sen. Larry Pogemiller, an outspoken critic of Gov. Tim Pawlenty, as their commander, then rounded out the team with St. Cloud's Tarryl Clark.

Clark, a former lobbyist and DFL party associate chair,...
That's odd. I seem to recall that when this affiliation was pointed out by GOP opponents, they were called divisive and negative campaigning. But here they are relevant to a news article. Why is that?
"I'm honored. I'm very honored," she said Thursday night. "I think it's good for our area because it gives us some visibility."
No, it gives you some visibility with which you can buy some pork for your district. And tons of photo ops.

Mark me down now as declaring Clark a candidate for US House against "the devil in the blue dress".

It should be noted 

...that this time, the polls locally got it right. (The StarTribune seems to have a problem with missing the Hatch result, but I don't think that's a bad miss at all for the pollsters.) It shouldn't really come as a surprise to even those of us who are skeptics; you could just say a stopped clock is right twice a day (or the blind squirrel finds an occasional acorn, or...), or you could guess that if the model was bad last time, pollsters have some incentive to fix the model. I'm going to guess the second.

I have a general question about polls however, and I invite longish comments on this topic.

To what extent are polls predictive? I note that most pollsters only seem to compare their last poll to the outcome. I could do this too. I could give you a forecast of GDP or CPI or some other announced number (as opposed to a continuously observed number like interest rates) one minute before the announcement. I would have relatively complete information at that time. But few forecasters in economics do this: Our forecast horizons are almost always a matter of months, if not a year or two. Pollsters seem to give themselves a pass for a poll result three weeks before the race, or even the Friday before Election Day, by saying things like 'late breaking voters moved towards Republicans'. I could say "well, late breaking production of hula hoops, tanks, and everything in between caused my GDP forecast to be off 3.5%," and you'd rightly laugh at me. When the Wall Street Journal holds a forecaster poll and announces a "winner" of the poll, six months have elapsed, and you don't get to resample economic data to improve your forecast.

I think part of my issue is the understanding of what constitutes a likely voter. Is that someone who would be likely to vote if the election were today (when you survey), or someone who you forecast will most likely vote on Election Day? Is a "late decider" in the sample of likely voters on October 15?

In general, is a poll on October 15 supposed to be used in any way to say something about sentiment on Election Day, or is it only a statement of sentiment on October 15?

I still don't feel like commenting 

From The Chronicle News Blog:

Missouri State University has settled a lawsuit with a former social-work student who asserted that the institution had retaliated against her for not participating in a class project supporting homosexuals� adoption of children. The university announced it would pay Emily Brooker $9,000 as well as cover about $12,000 in fees for a master�s degree in social work. It will also pay for living expenses for two years of graduate school.

Ms. Brooker argued that Frank G. Kauffman, the assistant professor who directed her undergraduate social-work program, had accused her of violating the university�s Standards of Essential Functioning in Social Work Education after she refused to sign her name to a letter her entire class had written to the Missouri Legislature in support of homosexual adoption. She maintained that signing such a letter violated her Christian beliefs. Mr. Kauffman has voluntarily stepped down as head of the program, according to the university, although he remains on the faculty.

Excuse me? The class project was to sign a letter to a state legislature?

So, where's the whining? 

For the past three elections we have listened to the left whine, moan and complain: hanging chads, "confusing ballots" (which second graders were smart enought to use without help); minorities being disenfranchised (in cities controlled by Democrats); extended votings hours - the list goes on.

The Dems win, no whine. No, it's not because the voting system changed, it's simply that this time, they won. If the Dems ever manage to work with others, be gracious in defeat, we truly will have come together as a nation. Until then, their constant whining, moaning and blaming will continue to divide us.

Now, though, they are responsible for our security and our soldiers. They who have done everything they can to make our soldiers' lives difficult by refusing to free funds to keep our guys safe. They who, along with their MSM mouthpiece, aided and abetted our enemy. (Remember, we don't cut off people's heads.) Who's in charge now? What will happen?

We still have the world's best military. It not only is comprised of intelligent individuals (not that "blame, cut and run" Kerry would recognize this). It is comprised of men and women who understand the roles and responsibilities of being an American. They have learned what and who we are. Unfortunately, too many on the left do not know or comprehend the real America - why? 35 years of "bash America" education and a media with no courage to give facts that are against their pre-ordained agenda. Well, now they're responsible - perhaps they will grow up.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

No comment needed 

A student editorial in the school paper discusses watching the Bachmann-Wetterling results:
When the news was announced that Wetterling had lost, I gazed at the crowd for their reactions. Tears came instantly. And why shouldn't they have? The right person for the job lost, and a woman, who is confused with politics and religion, won.

People should be concerned about the results. Bachmann who refers to herself being told to run by God, and her husband, now represents us.

I know I slept uneasy last night knowing she won. I left the gathering knowing that Minnesota is in trouble.

So, my friends, be afraid, be very afraid. My fellow DFL-ers, at least we have control of the House. So, Bachmann your views will hopefully be lost in a crowd of real leaders.

I wouldn't be better off back home 

Fellow New Hampshire native Jay Tea has an observation about what happened to the Granite State on Tuesday:

The Democrats unseated both incumbent congressmen, kept the governorship, took 237 of the 400 House seats, 14 of 24 Senate seats, and 3 of the 5 Executive Councilors. Our two senators remain Republican, but I suspect a good chunk of the reason is that neither were up for re-election this time around.

Since I didn't see it happening, I'm not sure just how it happened, but I have a theory:

I blame the flatlanders.

To those unfamiliar with that term, a "flatlander" is our pet name for those people who flee to New Hampshire for our low cost of living, low-maintenance government, friendly business environment, healthy economy, and sense of independence and freedom. Unfortunately, they see only the good things and don't see the underlying elements needed to maintain them. There is a price to be paid for such things, and we have looked at them, seen how they work out elsewhere, and want nothing to do with them.

The newcomers don't make the connections, and immediately start working towards "improving" our state by bringing in the parts of their old home they miss the most. They don't see the underlying costs and needs of such things.

And the main ingredient for such things is money. Public money. Tax money. OUR money.

You could substitute "Minnesota's Scandinavian heritage" for "flatlanderism" and use it as a description of what is wrong here. (Flatlander, btw, is usually preceded by a mild oath in adjectival form such as "darn'd Flatlander". I'm guessing I won't ever hear this on Prairie Home Companion -- maybe this is why I hate the show.) Jay also understands how we Granite Staters have kept the legislature from imposing big government, both by the old NH Constitution and by making the legislators do something other than legislate:
New Hampshire has the distinction of being the only state with no general sales tax, nor any income taxes. We also pay our legislators less than a pittance -- $100 a year, plus expenses. We understand that in our three branches of government, the judiciary interprets the law, the executive carries out the law, but the legislature MAKES the law -- and we neither want nor need more laws. The idea is that if we don't pay the legislators a living wage, they might not feel inclined to make a living out of lawmaking and therefore won't make so many new laws. We see every day the consequences of a "full-time, professional" legislature, and we don't want anything to do with it.
I was asked once to run for the legislature here in Minnesota, and in the process was told that I would be able to get a stipend to pay for an apartment in the Twin Cities and a per diem (I think still is $66 per day). You work late in the day, I was told, and so you'll want a place to rest at night. I couldn't figure out why I thought this was wrong, but instinctively I recoiled at the idea. Thanks to you, Jay, I figured out now why.

Note to Taxpayers League: Here's your agenda item.

Anchors away 

Remember about ten days ago, when the New York Times ran an article on how the new Democrats on the verge of pushing the Democrats back into power were more conservative than the ones who left? Such news did not make the Left very happy.

So what kind of Democrats are these newbies? The WSJ over the weekend ran a front-page story (subscriber link) highlighting twelve races divided in four types:
  1. Military wing: Joe Sestak (PA-7), Chris Carney (PA-10) and Jim Webb. All three of these races went for the Democrats. Experienced military Democrats who could play up that potential did well, but not consistently, the Journal reports:
    Mr. Carney helped shape the Bush administration's controversial pre-war intelligence as a Pentagon adviser and still defends the invasion of Iraq over suspected links between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda. Mr. Sestak has staked out a position on Iraq that even party leaders consider too dangerously liberal -- a hard one-year deadline for troop withdrawal.

  2. Rural and social conservatives: Jon Tester, Bob Casey Jr., Mike Weaver (KY-02). Weaver lost, but you can point to others such as Heath Shuler who won. Laura Ingraham brought this up on her show Wednesday: How can the elections be a rejection of conservatism when a Shuler wins? Mitch and I argued this as well for Michele Bachmann during the election coverage on Saturday, who was never bashful about her conservative roots.

  3. The Pro-Business Candidates and Fiscal Conservatives Gabrielle Giffords (AZ-8), Tim Mahoney (FL-16) and Brad Ellsworth (IN-8). All winners, though in Mahoney's case it was for the Mark Foley seat, and in Ellsworth's case it was against anti-Iraq Republican incumbent John Hostettler. Oddly enough, you tend to think of those as Republicans like Gil Gutknecht -- more on that in a minute -- but that the tag could be applied to Democrats is a sign of what's gone wrong with Republicans. Nevertheless, I don't think this category went the way the Journal presented it.

  4. The Clean-Up Crew. Tim Walz (MN-1), Kirsten Gillibrand (NY-20) and Mary Jo Kilroy (OH-15). Kilroy lost and I don't know anything about Gillibrand. But consider this presentation of Walz' ethics credentials:
    Tim Walz ... backs a ban on privately funded congressional trips, which won't sit well with some long-serving lawmakers. He also proposes a strengthened House ethics committee. He and other would-be members of the Class of 2006 will have allies among activists who have lent their support online: the "crashing-the-gate" crowd, as he calls them. "They're expecting us to be a speak up for real reform," Walz says.
    My cohost Michael Brodkorb liked to say all fall that "the only thing conservative about Tim Walz is his haircut," but that message apparently resonated in the district, even if Gutknecht did nothing unethical to stand out as a target for Walz. His target was all of Congress, of which Gutknecht was simply a foil.
In that sense, what Hugh said here was right:
The criminal activities of Duke Cunningham, Bob Ney and Mark Foley were anchors around every Republican neck, and the damaged leadership could not figure out that the only way to slip that weight was by staying in town and working around the clock on issue after issue. The long recesses and the unwillingness to confront the issues head on --remember the House's inexplicable refusal to condemn the New York Times by name in a resolution over the SWIFT program leak?-- conveyed a smugness about the majority which was rooted in redistricting's false assurance of invulnerability. Only on rare occasions would the Republicans set up the sort of debate that sharpened the contrast between the parties. In wartime, the public expects much more from its leaders than they received from the GOP.
What will the Democrats use for an anchor around Republican necks next time? Because that ploy will work only when you're the party out of power.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Quote for those salving their wounds 

The sun will rise, the sun will set, and I will have lunch.
--Lou Gorman, ex-GM of the Boston Red Sox, at a press conference after he was fired

I had breakfast instead with Mitch, at his favorite St. Paul place. It was so good, I paid for his too.

I suggest you do so, too. I hear nachos are good.

Tell you where to put that banner 

Each noon or so when I walk across Atwood Mall to the student union, I see a giant cloth sign with the word "coexistence", with symbols for Christianity, Islam and Judaism inserted into the letters. This banner came here a couple of years ago, along with a lecture about how we must do more than tolerate.
"The word tolerance suggests that one is superior to another. It is saying, 'I am the boss and I will give you some, but not all rights.' Tolerance is the lowest level of acceptance."
I was reminded of this reading something in reading Bill Whittle's Seeing the Unseen (it was worth waiting to read):

Who can argue with this? Not me, certainly.

What I CAN argue with is the idea that if only enough stupid, warlike Americans would just get on the Coexist train, then the world would be a happy and peaceful garden. Who else are the people with these bumper stickers preaching to, if not their ill-informed, knuckle-dragging neocon fellow commuters?

Unfortunately, here�s where reality inserts its ugly head. There is no more multi-cultural society on earth than the United States. The United States owns the patent on Coexisting religions and ethnicities. Drive half a mile though any major US urban area and you will see more ancient ethnic enemies living cheek by jowl in harmony than any other spot on the planet. Thursday morning water cooler conversations about Dancing with the Stars wallpaper over more ancient ethnic and religious murders than history has been able to record, and this despite Hollywood and the news media�s deepest efforts to remind you on a daily basis that the black or Hispanic or Asian or white friend in the next cube is secretly seething with racial hatred just beneath that placid veneer.

Americans are able to coexist because they have subjugated, if not abandoned, those ancient religious and ethnic hatreds to join a larger family, that larger family being America. And this is why, if you truly value the idea of coexistence, you should be dead set against multi-cultural grievance and identity politics, which do nothing but pit one ethnic group against the others and reinforce, rather than dilute, ancient resentments and grievances.

You have to wonder about a community that continues to obsess over something we already do better than anyplace else in the world. Diminishing returns and increasing costs set in at some point.

A couple rays of light 

It was, by any measure, a dark evening for conservatives last night, and no amount of grading on the curve of six-year-second -term-party-of -the-incumbent changes that fact. But not everything went poorly for those of us in higher education. And that's not just because the Democrats in charge are likely to throw more money at the middle class entitlement that is higher ed.

In Michigan, Proposal 2, the measure that bans the use of affirmative action programs to create preferential programs based on race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin -- including in admissions or in financial aid for higher education -- passed with 58% of the vote. The link goes to the all-but-official daily of the higher education establishment, which is of course pitching a fit over its passage.

Becky Timmons, a spokeswoman for the American Council on Education, called the measure's passage "a serious setback to the goal of equal educational opportunity."

"It will not level the playing field, as some who voted for it may believe," Ms. Timmons said. "Instead, it will effectively tie the hands of Michigan's public colleges in their attempts to encourage broader participation in higher education by women and minorities."

The paper goes on to call Michigan "one of the nation's most segregated states." The rest of the article is equal in its contempt for voters.

It turns around and rejoices, however, when voters in three states rejected spending limitations or voted for bonds that increased spending. (The one in Maine looked this morning to be too close to call.) The unmistakeable message is "we want your money, as much as possible, and no strings attached because you're not smart enough to tell us how to spend it, and besides, you're all bigots." There was a second proposal in Michigan that would have increased spending on public schools and colleges and required the amount paid to be indexed to inflation. It was turned down. That's a defeat for the Chronicle, but the paper considers it a victory in Rhode Island to use tobacco tax revenue for college scholarships.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

You know what to do 

Update on employment estimation 

I got two very insightful comments in this post on last Friday's employment report. Doug Sundseth asks:
The employment figures are revised from their initial estimates every month. Fair enough, initial estimates shouldn't be expected to be precise. Why are all (or nearly all) such revisions in the same direction?
I thought this too, so I went to look up the Handbook of Methods that BLS uses to instruct the statisticians. This is not for the narcoleptic. In short, they are estimating at each industry level based on some sample a value for the industry. It adds on a business birth/death model. The modelers know which businesses die, but not which are born. So they use the former to forecast the latter. Moreover, they assume:
While both the business birth and business death portions of total employment are generally significant, the net contribution is relatively small and stable. To account for this net birth/death portion of total employment, BLS has an estimation procedure with two components. The first component uses business deaths to impute employment for business births. The second component is an ARIMA time-series model designed to estimate the residual net birth/death employment not accounted for by the imputation.
Looking at the adjustment data for 2005 (post-benchmarking in March, so just the last nine months) indicates net business births were estimated to have created 817,000 jobs in those last three quarters of 2005. Hopefully this information also helps Calmo's observation.

To his observation on the size of the real wage change, I was using the information from the CES, average hourly earnings in 1992 dollars, 12 month percent changes. The information shows 2.4% rise in real wages that way.

Filed in:

What's at stake 

Josh is the husband of one of our alumna, Liz. He writes from Iraq, where he has served since April this year after re-enlisting last fall.
I�ve almost quit reading the news paper over here because I am sick and tired of politicians and the news media telling everyone how terrible it is over here, how the administration is on the brink of losing this war all the while you offer up no real solutions. You say you have them but you never tell us what they are. If the only plan you can muster is firing Mr. Rumsfeld come up with a new plan because President Bush isn�t going to. The only other plan I have heard is that if and when the Democrats take back control of Congress they are no longer going to fund the war. Hey that makes sense; punish the troops by not giving them the funding they need to fight the war. That sure will teach President Bush. Then more of those people who �didn�t study hard� that are �stuck in Iraq� will die. Is that really your plan?

...The thing some people fail to realize is that we are rebuilding a nation and that too takes time, money, and other resources. That is what we are doing right now, trying to help the Iraqis rebuild their nation from the ground up. We are assisting them in rebuilding their government, their army and police forces, their economy, their infrastructure, bridges, roads, schools, hospitals, the list goes on and on. No nation, including Iraq, or Babylon as it was known thousands of years ago, has ever been good at nation building. Most of the time a nation was conquered, its spoils carried off by the victor and its defeated people were either carried off into slavery or killed on the spot. Times have changed and we are in a tough spot right now. Right now we have about 140,000 troops here in Iraq. Do we need more troops? Maybe, but what we really need is a solid plan on how we are going to assist this nation rebuild its self and a willingness to let the soldiers finish the job we started.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Preparing for tomorrow night 

The first Monday of any month during the school year means the department meeting, and since I also have heavy teaching that day I usually am short a post or two. Today's little different, except of course that we're on the eve of the elections.

NARN will be on the air covering the elections for AM1280 the Patriot. Most of the gang will be either at the GOP Victory party in Bloomington, but Mitch and I and a couple of researchers will be hunkered down in the Pat bunker pouring through returns in a more quiet setting. I'm expecting a late night; I saw Governor Pawlenty on his tour of the state last night and told him my expectation that I wasn't sleeping much tomorrow night. Sixty people turned out at 1030 on a nice Sunday night -- it was great and surprising to see Matt Abe from North Star Liberty and Scholar's Notebook there touring with Pawlenty.

Polls have pulled that race back to a two-point lead for Hatch; as that's your friends at the Minnesota Poll, I think that one may be over early. But the mystery is that the pullback for Pawlenty -- against whom the state DFL runs ads tying him to Bush-Cheney, thinking that's their best bet to sell Hatch hasn't moved Kennedy's numbers at all. How not? I talked to someone well connected this morning who mused about Kennedy's first win in Congress, a 155-vote squeaker in 2000. "I dreamed it would 155 again." Do I think Kennedy will win? I don't know; I will bet, however, that we're still watching those Senate returns after Pawlenty retires for the evening.

Tony -- stop reading Tradesports for these races. The markets are so thinly traded that with $20 I could have moved Pawlenty just now from 43 to 59. It's too easy to paint the tape to make those markets reliable. I'm not even sold on the predictive power of the larger races, like the contracts on Democratic control of the House or Senate. But here's what you have to understand:

Suppose two of the races for seat flips have the challenger Dem with a 90% probability of winning. That's about the odds in PA and OH. That means that the probability of both those flipping is .9^2, or 81%. Suppose your next best chance for a flip is Montana, at 70%. You now have a joint probability of .7*.9^2, or 56%. That still gets you to a 52-48 Republican Senate, assuming no other changes. It doesn't take too much to see that if you start going to the leaners, you are heading towards a couple of races where the probability of a Dem pickup is under 60%, and that gets your joint probabilities to the 20-25% level -- and much worse if Cardin loses to Steele. So a 28% probability in the Senate control market for the Democrats seems to me even a little high, but not too much so.

(You'll want a look at this from Eric at, too. A 10-point lead in the polls gives a win to the leader 90% of the time. So don't count Santorum out just yet.)

In a much more combinatoric fashion you could do the same thing with the House. Yet tonight you have trouble finding many predictions north of a 25-seat pickup. If the central tendency is 18 net Democrat pickups (my eyeballing of it) the Tradesports price of 20 or so is quite low. The variation around that 18 is too much to warrant paying 80 cents to win a dollar betting the donkeys.

My guess is that it will come down to a few late races out west -- like the Washington 8th or some of the California races, where a strong Schwarzenegger lifts all boats -- and therefore it is ever more important that we keep leaked numbers to a minimum and everyone focused on getting voters to the polls. And those of us broadcasting results up late.

About as effective as a marijuana tax stamp 

So we now have a policy in MnSCUfor faculty to disclose if they are dating students. Ask yourself, how many faculty do you expect to disclose? Particularly since you banned it last summer, I'd guess very few will. What this does is give another mechanism to punish faculty who have relationships with students that go sour. You won't get in trouble for the relationship itself, but for the lack of disclosure.

My first dean communicated very clearly that this was a no-no. Mrs. S was a student when I first met her, but since she was graduating the following month and would never have a class from me (and never had), we didn't worry about this. Now one must wonder if, had the rule gone into effect, I would have had to disclose.

Professional ethics should take hold here: If you can't keep your professional and personal lives separate, a disclosure rule is unlikely to do much for you. This is more about CYA at MnSCU than anything else. In general, a romantic relationship borne out of the teacher-student relationship strikes me as troublesome, since the latter has some power and mentoring aspects that get in the way of romance. At least in my opinion, it's a bad idea.

A quota-million for quotas 

The Chronicle of Higher Education reports (subscriber link) that the Law School Admissions Council has given $250,000 to One United Michigan, a group formed to defeat the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative. The initiative would amend the state constitution to prohibit any state agency, including state colleges, from using preference policies based on race, color, ethnicity, national origin or gender. The initiative, promulgated by the Center for Individual Rights (led by Ward Connerly).
Philip D. Shelton, president of the Law School Admission Council, said his group had contributed $100,000 to One United in September and had then received "sort of an emergency request" for $150,000 to help cover the cost of a week of radio advertisements opposing Proposal 2.

"Maintaining diversity in American legal education is a mission of the Law School Admission Council -- it goes to the very core of the mission we have," Mr. Shelton said on Friday. "We clearly have made a decision that defeating this anti-affirmative-action measure in Michigan was critically important to advancing our goals."

...Despite the spending advantage enjoyed by its opponents, Proposal 2 appears to have a good chance of passing. Proposal 2 remained ahead in pre-election polls as of last week, with about 45 percent of Michiganders supporting it, 40 percent opposed, and the rest undecided, according to a Detroit News/WXYZ-TV survey of 600 likely voters conducted October 31 through November 2 by the Lansing-based polling firm EPIC-MRA.

The good news for opponents of the measure is that the survey had a 4-percentage-point margin of error, other recent surveys have found Proposal 2 to be trailing slightly, and past studies by political scientists have shown that people who are undecided about a referendum tend at the last minute to vote no.

The bad news for Proposal 2's opponents is that other studies have shown that people are reluctant to give honest answers when pollsters ask their opinions related to race, and similar measures on the ballot in California and Washington State in the 1990s passed with significantly more support than pre-election polls had anticipated.
The American Council on Education reported that it could not contribute money due to tax statues, but that it has "been in regular contact with the campus presidents in Michigan" about its views.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Those darn revisions 

The data on employment and unemployment come from two different surveys, as we've often said here, and every survey is revised as missing data at the time of the release -- employment data is always released the first Friday of a month. The revisions to payroll employment this month, though, are staggering. Here's a comparison of this month and the previous month's estimates of the change in employment, in thousands (the October 6 figures as reported then are in parentheses):

Aug 06 230 (123)
Sep 06 148 (51)
Oct 06 92 (---)

Contemplate that a second: We added 107,000 jobs to the August estimate and 97,000 to the September estimate, and created 92,000 more in October. Will anyone credit the economy (or, more to the point, the Bush Administration) with 296,000 new jobs? Not bloody likely.

If you don't think this is actually good news consider this:
Average hourly earnings of production or nonsupervisory workers on private nonfarm payrolls rose by 6 cents, or 0.4 percent, in October to $16.91, seasonally adjusted. Average weekly earnings rose by 0.7 percent in October to $573.25. Over the year, average hourly earnings increased by 3.9 percent and average weekly earnings increased by 4.2 percent.
For the 12 months to September, real wages are up 2.4%; this increase will likely push that number higher. Will this get covered? Again, quite unlikely. But I think any chance of a decrease in the Fed Funds rate any time soon has diminished quite a bit with this piece of news.
Filed in:

Willy, aka Grammar Teacher Extraordinaire 

Reading the Washington Post article "Clauses and Commas Make a Comeback" brought to mind my seventh grade English teacher, Willy (Mrs. Williams when she was within hearing range). She drove us nuts - making us diagram sentences and apply every verb tense correctly.

Unfortunately, much of what Willy taught us has been ignored for the past 40+ years. Yet knowledge of basic grammar, which facilitates oral and written communication, is a skill everyone needs. In today's environment, poor grammar can prevent workers from moving ahead in their careers. What is worse, they're not told that their sloppy grammar affects their ability to articulate ideas, thoughts, etc. and is the reason they are not getting promoted.

Far too many of my current students went through school in the 80's and 90's, the era when teaching the grammatical structure of the English language was ignored. In addition, learning a foreign language, the back door way to learn English grammar, has been removed from many school curriculums. A significant part of my first day lecture covers my course's writing requirements. They learn that I am a stickler for proper grammar, punctuation, etc. I use red ink, the better to see compliments on writing well done as well as corrections.

I also tell them about Willy. If they never had Willy some school year between fifth and ninth grade, they got short changed. I'm their "Willy" now. "Grammar is like learning multiplication tables - you simply need to know it."

KING ADDS: I had a very similar teacher. I asked the director SCSU's writing center if students can diagram sentences any more, and she could only sigh a 'no'. Diagramming sentence and learning Latin in high school may have been the two most important things I did before college.

Pat Kessler joins the pirates 

My radio producer, Matt Reynolds, is a sports radio addict. While listening last night, he heard something he wished to share.
On KFAN Thursday with Dan Barriero, a caller asked Pat Kessler about Keith Ellison and that race as he had not heard much about it. The went on to say that he had a hard with Ellison because he was Muslim and that Muslims were responsible for 9/11. This drew quick criticism from Dan "Only when I disagree, You Can't Paint Everyone with the Same Brush" Barriero. Then came the golden moment as Pat Kessler's response was one for the ages. There are many different things that can be "said about not voting for someone based on religion." Let's ponder for a moment. I believe on Saturday, just 5 short days ago, this fraud attacked Michele Bachmann(R) for belonging to a "church that believes that the Pope is the anti-christ." And then turning to her opponent, Patty Wetterling(D) and ASKING her,"Assuming that this is true, WHY SHOULD ANY CATHOLIC VOTE" FOR YOUR OPPONENT. Seems to me like someone conveniently forgot what he did was the same thing that the caller did on KFAN.
So let's review. Voting against Ellison for Hamas' views on the existence of Israel is bigotry. Voting against Bachmann for her Lutheran church's views on the pope is ... promoting the separation of church and state.

Right. Gotcha. No better than pirates.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

A mind so open, her brains fell out 

That's the only reaction I can come up with to the photos (noted by Hugh) of the student at Penn who came to a Halloween party as a splodeydope. (Yeah, yeah, I know it's not nice to call them that, but 'suicide bomber' is inaccurate because it ignores the killing of innocent lives -- it's not just a suicide.) President Amy Guttmann missed a teachable moment here in choosing to pose and yuk it up rather than instruct the student that some costumes are in such bad taste that they cost you social standing and maybe a job interview. This moreover is insulting to the people whom the dopes explode.

I agree with Hugh that the student should not be the object of scorn. Nor do I think there's a debate to be had here over academic freedom. Whether or not President Guttmann wants to argue that it's a matter of free speech, there is still a question of propiety. I disagree with Eugene Volokh who thinks Halloween parties are fine for dressing this way, to make fun of them. I find it interesting that right after that post comes one of a bathroom stall defaced with anti-Semitic slurs on the UCLA campus; that, he says, is a reminder "that this stuff is out there." Yes, and that's the point. We need to be reminded that evil walks the earth. But do you pose with it and celebrate it? What kind of values does a liberal education at Penn uphold, and what is Guttmann's commitment to them?

If I'm ever invited to a Guttmann party, I'll come as the punchline of this joke, to despair of Penn's loss of morality.

Economists argue about religion 

An artice in this week's Chronicle of Higher Education (temp link, permalink for Chron subscribers only) highlights a new book by Robert Ekelund, Jr., Robert Hebert and Robert Tollison called The Marketplace of Christianity. Good neoclassical economists, their book largely argues that when you reduce the price of salvation, people want more of it (or more people want it.) In short, beginning with Luther, Christian churches have competed for congregants by increasing the range of products offered and lowering the price one must pay to gain eternity. people become more affluent and modern, they persistently demand lower-priced religions. The authors explain that churchgoers are "buying" a large variety of goods and services when they join a congregation � "social services, political cohesion, access to business contacts, reduced information costs (e.g., with respect to dating and marriage), and so on."

But at the heart of the religious "purchase," Mr. Ekelund says, are "assurances of eternal salvation. That seems to us to be the core product of religion."

And people in rich, stable, scientific societies, the authors believe, generally are not willing to pay very much for that core product. They want to go to church once a week (or less), not daily; they aren't willing to tithe 10 percent of their income; and they don't want church-enforced personal sacrifice, such as fasts.

Mr. Ekelund does not expect demand for religion to ever disappear � "There's an existential angst concerning human existence," he says, "and that existential angst is certainly not going to be quelled by any form of science" � but he does believe that modern Westerners will continue to demand forms of religion that are "cheaper" in terms of the time, money, and personal sacrifices religions require.

An interesting exchange in the article occurs between Ekelund and Laurence Iannaccone, who has written about the increasing popularity of stricter, more fundamental sects. (See this interview with Russell Roberts on EconTalk, for example.)
Within certain limits, Mr. Iannaccone says, conservative denominations are healthier and more stable than liberal ones. People often prefer more-demanding churches, he argues, because they want to be assured that their fellow churchgoers are not "free riding" and receiving the church's goods without making sacrifices.

"I would argue otherwise," Mr. Ekelund says. "Over the long run, I think it's clear that the changes in demand for religion are in the direction of less-demanding, more-philosophical religions."

But Mr. Tollison concedes that, as far as he is concerned, Mr. Iannaccone has identified a genuine enigma. "In normal economic theory, constraints on your behavior are not seen as an economic good," he says. And yet it seems clear, Mr. Tollison says, that some people do indeed seek out churches precisely because they enforce strict norms against, say, drinking and casual sex.

I'm not sure why that's such a mystery. We have a range of services offered in the market where the customer pays a service provider who gets the customer to do something that is eventually good for them but has short-run costs that the customer might not choose to do on his or her own. We have diet centers and personal trainers and, well, higher education to help us make credible commitments to increasing our human capital. Why not churches too?

College bowl 

I really could forgive Judi Dutcher for not knowing what E-85 is, but there's no need to besmirch the great College Bowl (actually Quiz Bowl) questions of the world. The form is all wrong. Here's an example question (imagine suspenseful music playing in the background):
It began in the party platform of winning prime minister Daniel Malan in 1948, and the Department of Home Affairs began classification of all citizens into one of three groups. It was strengthened by the 1951 Bantu Authorities Act, which established ethnically or tribally based homelands near population centers. It was weakened in the 1970s by the enactment of the Sullivan Rules, urging non-discriminatory hiring for American businesses, and in the 1980s by mass disinvestment by Western corporations. Repealed completely by 1991, FTP what was this policy of racial segregation in South Africa?
(Taken from the Stanford Quiz Bowl practice questions.)
Now by the end of the question it is obvious to most of the audience what it is; College Bowl questions have this crescendo to them that gives them their beauty. "What is E-85?" is about as poetic as a Howard Dean scream.

More local election stuff 

I notice that the Humphrey Institute has published today a list of competitive MN House and Senate races. It has two local races noted: The HD15A race is called "open" between Steve Gottwalt and Diana Murphy-Podawiltz. It does not call it competitive. My instinct is to say Gottwalt, a city council member and longtime Republican activist, is ahead in that. This is the seat from which Jim Knoblach is retiring.

The second race noted is SD15, and says the race between incumbent Tarryl Clark and Jeff Johnson is "very competitive". This will be good news for the Johnson campaign which has had a money disadvantage throughout the race due to heavy out-of-district and PAC contributions to the incumbent. Clark, though, only won the seat last year in a special election in which the Republican challenger had some issues running an effective campaign, and is running in the district where she lost twice to now-Mayor Dave Kleis. A Johnson win would be a mild upset.

(Full disclosure: Mrs. Scholar works on the Johnson campaign, and she's more optimistic in her outlook than me.)

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

One late thought on polls in MN 

I thought the Humphrey Institute poll was interesting, so I went back tonight to read its marginals. Unlike my earlier analysis of the SCSU Survey, the demographics here looked fine. They still have the party ID result that says 12% more DFL than Republican. I didn't see too much else to question except for this question. All of the voters in the sample are considered likely voters, meaning they indicated they "will vote" or will "probably vote". The next question is
Are you currently registered to vote in Minnesota? Yes......................................................................................................98.6% No..........................................................................................................0.6%
Plan to register (vol)...........................................................................0.7%
Don't Know...........................................................................................0.1% Refused.................................................................................................0.0%
Now this poll is run by Larry Jacobs, who co-authored in October a report on voter turnout in Minnesota. He noted in that report,
Same-day registration has contributed to Minnesota�s strong voter participation, accounting for 15 percent to nearly 21 percent of the state�s turnout. (Minnesota is one of just six states -- including Wisconsin -- that permits same-day registration. Most of these states lead the country in voter turnout.)
It was 15% in 1998 and 2002. Now, some of the people who are considered registered to vote in the Humphrey sample will be in the same-day registration because they've moved (if they reported themselves as registered but not registered in the right district), so they haven't missed 15% of the sample. But they've certainly missed some. Do we think that is random, or are they undersampling a specific demographic group? How about young professionals moving to the suburbs? If they recently moved, they might not be in the sample. Who are they? And do they vote more D or R?

How big a problem is this? I really don't know. I just haven't seen anyone talk about the effect of same-day registration on polling here before. Ideas? Please put them in comments.

You shall know your vote by who your opponents are 

One of the reasons for my ambivalence on the vehicle tax amendment is that it seems likely to produce great pressure on the Legislature next year to raise taxes to fill the hole. You can't see it any more clearly than in this web created by Education Minne$ota. If it passes, expect a great noise from teachers for some kind of mitigation of the loss of funding. 'Mitigation' is a code word for 'tax increase'. Our own faculty union is not taking an official position on this, yet its lobbyist sent EdMinn$ ad piece to us anyway.

That might have tilted my scale to vote for it. Watching that food fight next year in the Legislature would make for great radio and blogging.

UPDATE: You know, though, Tony makes a couple of great points in the comments. This one froze me:
From the PiPress editorial on the Amendment, "Outdoors interests and arts groups are gearing up for a similar budget-by-amendment offering. Some conservatives want to require a public vote every time the Legislature wants to raise taxes."

If you like some, you should be willing to accept all...or articulate the substantial difference, the "bright line", between the "good ones" and "bad ones".
He's right that I can't draw a bright line. So do I have to oppose this amendment? A discussion of this has broken out on our campus list, and one person says as well, "it says we value roads over health, education and public safety. Everything but hunting which has its own constitutional amendment."

My problem with voting no is that if you draw the line there -- and allowing that the hunting provision is an exception -- can you then support TABOR? What would you answer to the people who say TABOR hurts kids in schools, so we must vote against it? And yet we can be quite certain governments will expand spending as a share of income (see Wagner's Law) as they grow. Is this to be checked only by continual voting for legislators, or can we change constitutional rules to stop it?

So maybe that's the rule: We can tell government the total take it can have on our resources, but not where to spend it. That it gets to legislate.

A two week snapshot 

(UPDATED AND BUMPED to account for more numbers and new poll -- see bottom)

The SCSU Survey is out, and it has very large leads for both Mike Hatch and Amy Klobuchar. Since two of the three directors are current and past department chairpersons, I know them pretty well, and in fact knew them before we took up those miserable tasks. So I wrote to them with questions. Both are busy and have only responded to one. Rather than rehash that email, I'm posting what I sent them after they were kind enough to send me the results of the survey (the "you" in this is one of the directors) -- the italicized remarks are not what I sent them:

  1. The survey is taken over two five-day weeks (off Friday and Saturday nights). Most of the polls we see get their samples in shorter periods, most within one five-day window. Is this normal for you, and do you think it makes any difference? I notice your report says you were trying on the last few nights to go back and convert particular groups to increase representation in the survey from "respondents who often are younger, more affluent". How is this known? Does this repeated calling of a particular subgroup cause any concerns? (more on this in question 5)
  2. Related to that, part of the period you sample has the after-effects of Foleygate, yet you didn't ask that question at all. Why? I notice that Jacobs made note of its effect on party ID. Do you think Foley is driving your party ID results?
  3. Do you see any effect of asking your right track/wrong track questions, the Bush JA question, the most important issue questions, etc., before you ask the electoral preference question? Do the earlier questions affect the later ones? And how long does a completed interview take on average? Note: scroll down this for the survey instrument. It is lo-o-o-ong. Its purpose is more than just an electoral preference poll ... which makes it not completely comparable to other polls.
  4. Even with your repeated calling, the response rate (if I understand how to calculate these things) is 17.2%. Do you consider this a normal rate? (Jacobs' September poll was quite similar.) They answered this by noting that the random digit dial method they use gets a lot of non-operating numbers; a phone book gets better response rates but misses unlisted numbers. They argue that their cooperation rate of 77% is well within norms. As I noted yesterday, though, Mark Blumenthal pointed towards 22% as a norm.
  5. Looking at your demographics: Your sample has 28% of households with income over $100k. The American Community Survey of the U.S. Census has only 18% such households. So richer households are going to participate more in this election? Why or why not? Was this what lead to you repeating calls to get compliance from younger, affluent households" as we discussed in my first question? Likewise, according to the same survey in 2005, 71% of Minnesotans 18 and over are employed; your sample has 65%, and a 6% unemployment rate (the state rate is below 4%.) I actually misspoke there. Since the unemployment rate is unemployed/(unemployed + employed), their unemployment rate in the sample is 8.5%. That's much more than the state rate, though I could believe that the unemployed vote disproportionately to their number.
In general, polls are to be a snapshot in time; that's a phrase I've heard Steve Frank use repeatedly in our emails, and it's my understanding of the polling business. What I find most troubling is the two-week window, which appears to be a result of pushing people into cooperating with the poll. In particular, they pushed a group of richer voters into the poll and ended up with a sample that looks heavy on rich people (or rich with heavy people, who knows!) The resulting sample gives them a heavy leaning towards Democratic voters, a party ID pattern that if true is going to make all these predictions of GOP doom a reality on November 8th no matter how much we dice and slice surveys. As noted earlier, it's hard to find other instances of such large swings in party ID.

The line I often use is, "buy the premise, buy the bit" (it's a Johnny Carson quote discussing joke-telling.) Every reasonable forecast, be it political or economic or psychological or whatever, has a premise, a storyline out of which all the results flow. This is part of what I teach forecasting students, to look for that storyline, make it lay down with the data and be sure it fits. And, at the end of the day, they have to ask themselves "Does this make sense to you? Are you willing to tell that story line in a press conference, a board meeting, or a speech?"

In looking at survey data I find much instruction from the marginal analyses as to the premise of the poll. If you think there are currently 12% more Democrat voters in Minnesota than Republican -- regardless of the number you identify as independent -- you don't need a poll any more. Your premise is one word: tsunami. You believe that there has been a large wave that moved Minnesota from battleground state to a very blue state.

The premise for the people who say this is crap is that those waves don't usually happen all at once. They erect stories about gerrymandering and get out the vote and then use them to turn the survey data into something that doesn't predict a sweeping DFL victory. That's not wishful thinking or whistling past the graveyard. That's people who look at history and say this would be unprecedented for so many people to vote against a party not because they are fed up with their incumbents but because they switched parties. And yet, just because something's unprecedented doesn't mean it can't happen.

Each story has the air of plausibility, and to their supporters develop a ring of truth (perhaps due to a version Eric Black's "confirmation bias" theory.) On November 7th, we find out which one has just the veneer, and which one actually comes to pass.

UPDATE: I think Steve is mad at me, because he's decided he's "moving on" and tells me to post what I want. But before that he pointed to the Humphrey poll that shows similar margins for Klobuchar over Kennedy and Hatch over Pawlenty. Different survey instruments, he says, with similar results for party ID and the horseraces. And then he gives me what I think is his premise story:

It appears to me (in an instant thought while writing this email) this is a classic referendum election where a great many citizens are transferring their views toward the President and the Iraq war to state elections. This is compounded by property tax increases, fees, roads that need work and so on. Plus some candidates are good and some not so good.

I pay a lot of attention to our feeling thermometer. Many voters vote for the candidate they �like�. Minnesotans like Klobuchar and many just don�t like Kennedy.

When we interviewed Ken Mehlman in September on the radio show he said something to the effect of "voters will have to focus on the choice" rather than a referendum. The referendum story is the same as the wave story, the same as the tsunami story. And that's the point I'm making: If you believe the Democrats have managed to nationalize the election, the tsunami story makes sense. That is the 1974 story (Watergate), the 1958 story (labor strikes). Which is why from the very beginning the Republicans have blunted the referendum. And they do that in part by message but more by redistricting and turnout. Steve recognizes that's possible, but doesn't give it much credence. The other Steve wouldn't be interviewed in the paper saying "I think the respondents are tired of Republicans." That's their premise, and if you buy it, Kennedy's down 25. If you don't, he's not.

All your tax dollars belong to me 

The rest of what we talked about regarding Wetterling and Bachmann Saturday was about the inability of Wetterling to defend her ad calling Bachmann a tax raiser (I got yet another mailer making the claim yesterday, weeks after it has been discredited.) Here's the sound of that.

As I said on the show, this is part of the mantra that any cut in local government aid is a tax increase because property taxes have to rise to replace the lost LGA. What seems to be forgotten is that you could choose to not spend the money. But this is never an option to the Democrats. The money that is not sent down from St. Paul is like a drug suddenly removed from the addict. It cries unfairness and begins to steal from others. When its hands are caught in the act, it acts indignant.
Duke: The lights are growing dim Otto. I know a life of crime has led me to this sorry fate, and yet, I blame society. Society made me what I am.
Otto: That's bullshit. You're a white suburban punk just like me.
Duke: Yeah, but it still hurts.
(Repo Man)
Decades of addiction to LGA have led local governments to blame the state for trying to put responsibility for local spending where it should be. Some of those people are putting index cards in Patty Wetterling's hands.

Customer satisfaction, the long view 

A new report from the US Dept. of Education says most people who graduated from college in 1992-93 report they think it was a good deal. One in four had completed some kind of graduate degree, 87% were working (9% were not in the labor force), and most reported they liked what they got:
The graduates were also asked whether they considered their undergraduate education (as a whole) to be very important preparation for their work and career, further education, and financial security (table 7). Nearly four out of five graduates (78 percent) reported that their undergraduate education was very important in preparing them for their work and career; a majority also indicated that their college years prepared them for further education (56 percent) and achieving financial security (57 percent). Yet 8 percent did not feel that their undergraduate education was very important preparation for any of these areas.
I was surprised (and a bit disappointed) to see only 25% of business and management graduates thought their liberal arts course were important ten years later. But satisfaction in general didn't seem to vary much by major.

(h/t: Chronicle of Higher Ed news blog.)