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Information Overload

There is no doubt in my mind that Universities are doing themselves and their students a disservice with the amount of information that they slam them with to start their college careers. Many schools. ours included, have nearly an entire week of new student Orientation that is packed from morning to evening with activities and information sessions. Amidst this they are sent survey after survey after survey and asked to take small training after training after training such as an alcohol awareness program and more. It’s not that this stuff is not useful, for the most part it is, but in an age particularly when young people are accustomed to obtaining information in fast and bite-sized chunks, I am convinced nearly all of the orientation effort is going to be completely unnoticed even as students are immersed in it for a week.

Just think of how you scroll through quickly on some of my longer posts. Just think of how little you absorb from very long e-mails. Maybe you bookmark or save these things for later. Similarly, while knowing where the language lab is, or whether the library is, or what hours the counseling center is open, or what happens on homecoming weekend and such are important, it seems to me that this is all stuff that can be learned on the students’ own. In fact, it is pretty shocking that for college, which used to be  rite of passage into independence, responsibility and real adulthood, that universities treat new students like enfeebled, incapable, waffling children. Their hands are held through almost everything, including the “intimidating” open curriculum we have (more on that under a different pen name somewhere else … ha ha). What I found from getting to know many of these students is that they don’t NEED their hands held, even for those who have been spoonfed for most of their young lives. They are all quite enterprising, energetic and resourceful people – that’s what makes them really fun (and sometimes frustrating) to be around.

I know full well why we do all of this – some of it legal and some of it doctrinal – so I am not even suggesting that any of this could change. However, what needs to be recognized is that universities get one chance to make a first impression on young people., and this seems to be a shockingly enfeebling, boring, and anti-academic impression to be making. Maybe I am wrong – maybe by showing students where the bathrooms are and making them play duck-duck-goose with their fellow hallmates, they get REALLY jazzed up for the schooling that is to begin next week? But man oh man, precious little time is spent on academics during this introduction, precious little effort is spent getting kids excited for their intellectual journeys outside of a few platitudinous speeches, and we let an entire week of students being together on campus go by where they cannot actually discover the culture of the university for themselves – they are carted from meeting to speech to contrived social gathering to a “mandatory” service day and so on. Again, I am not sure I know exactly what to do with 1,300 new students, but if I were running my own university I know it would be different.

I get my new freshmen tomorrow – each gets to meet with me for 15 minutes. Then they have jam packed schedules right until and through registration on Friday. Classes start a week from today.In a world of information overload, Id go simple. I’d spend the entire first week on one or two academic and cultural aspects of the college life and that’s it. I’d leave some websites, brochures and resource packets for each student in their dorms, and I’d make sure all of the upperclassmen were around to provide mentorship and guidance. I’d have academic programming planned to the hilt, with serious and big time lectures and seminars and some other creative exercises planned, but that’s it. The kids are resourceful. They’d figure out what they need and where to go and when things open and close. After all, many of them have and will travel to foreign countries on their own, taken road trips on their own or with friends, and so on, and they managed not only to get by, but to make the experiences awesome. They’re bright adults, let them be that way when they get to college. Yes, yes, yes, I understand all of the legal implications and all of the CYA reasons for the stuff, but I bet that could be trickled to kids slowly throughout their first term, and also legally could be covered through other means. So, just as people are extremely enamored and frustrated that people in the world can starve while people less than 100 miles away are not only well-fed but over-fed, I too am enamored by the fact that we have this awesome chance to set an awesome intellectual and academic tone for our new students, and we fritter it away on Tea and Scones and the Silly Olympics. This is not to say that all of the events are not good, or fun, or put together by really bright and well-meaning people, not at all. In fact I quite love the week of programming. But rather I’m making a meta-point, and many such meta-points could be made.

My family and I attended a swanky golf tournament yesterday (the Barclays, played at the austere Ridgewood Country Club). Needless to say, the place is populated with a slice of folks from the very top of the income distribution with a sprinkling of “regular Joes” tossed in. Two small obsvervations:

  1. I have rarely encountered more rude, self-centered and obnoxious people in any other setting I’ve been in. Crowding around professional athletes like they were the Pope. Budging little children so that swankily clad elites could get a better glimpse at Phil Mickleson, budging through lines of patiently waiting people, peeing off in the trees when there are hundreds of portapotties around the course, and more.
  2. Related, here is what I encountered in the first port-a-potty I entered:

image

 

I have been running around with my camera taking pictures of the routine flotsam one encounters, even in the swankiest and richest of places. But folks, if at a swanky golf tournament we can’t get people to behave with a modicum of decency, throwing plastic bottles into the port-a-potty toilets, then you are not going to get anything serious done. I don’t care how good and thoughtful policy is – there needs to be pretty darn dramatic cultural and ethical changes to go along with any economic and political change. Saldy, there is little understanding of how, actually, to get these changes to take place. But at a swanky country club, I see rich dudes pushing kids around and throwing Coke Bottles into toilet bowls … in other words, we’re doomed.

Directive 9-286

Venezuela

Come on, given ‘em just a little more time, then milk and honey will flow.

Flotsam

Wonkblog: It’s going to take a lot more money to fill the NIH funding gap.

  • Wintercow: hold your breath, but if government is going to be spending money, the NIH is probably a pretty good place to do it. And yes, some of the grant approval process is messed up and the agency is as subject to public choice issues as any … but
  • Wintercow: even doubling the budget means a total of a mere $60 billion. And our government, at all levels, spends $6 trillion. Without a tirade today, let’s just remind folks that if they want windmills subsidized, if they want expanded health insurance payments for the middle class, if they want universities to be subsidized, if they want all of their zillions of little pet ideas funded that “people have a right to” then this is what you get.
  • Wintercow: I no longer take seriously any idea, argument or article about government that does not recognize the above, and also that doesn’t propose what to spend less on to get what is deemed to be so important.

Noticed: without naming names, at a University I am familiar with, you would be simply astounded at the man-hours and money that are chugged away at things that provide not only no educational value, but no ancillary value. And these are all hard-working, sincere people.

Question: when we examine federal and state and local government employment and spending, has anyone seen a reliable estimate of how much is spent and employed “privately” for compliance and in related operations? For example, at our private university we have a Title IX coordinator and a staff of people that do all kinds of compliance work with other rules.

Alex Tabarrok: Ferguson and the Debtor’s prison, a MUST read. Given time, he could extend that idea to more than just the criminal justice system.

TNR: Ivy League schools are over-rated.

  • Wintercow: while there is certainly something to that point, I think the generalization ends up weakening the argument.
  • Wintercow: I’ve both attended and taught at a particular Ivy League school, and without saying much about the admissions process, if you had a motivated kid, there is nothing that is not available to them at these schools – including a great ability to think critically. The points made above, I think, are endemic of a larger problem and not unique to Ivy League schools
  • Wintercow: heresy, I know, but at this moment and the landscape I see, I would NOT pay for my kids (much more than I am already paying for their grammar schooling) to attend either Ivy League schools or the types that I currently teach at. I am not sure I would want them to attend any college at all – right now the plan is to give them whatever money we have stashed away for college and have them do with it what they please when they become college age.

Here is a view of Basin Mountain, from Pyramid Peak:

IMG_6443

That cone behind is Mount Marcy, off to the right (North) you can see the nice side of Saddleback (the other side is quite cliffy). I won’t bore you with the rest.

 

Obama and Ferguson

I don’t agree with Ezra Klein’s take on the President’s lack of action (public) on the ongoings in Ferguson.

It’s not surprising that I disagree of course, but here is the main reason why. He assumes that only the “left” wants a rousing speech and show of leadership. Man if that sentiment is not representative of the toxicity of popular media today then I don’t know what is. I sure as heck am not a modern liberal and I am EAGERLY hoping for the President to seize this moment and get us moving in the right direction. I am sure millions of non-leftists agree with me here. But EVERYTHING has to be a political calculation. Really?

Furthermore, if you take the typical media impression of the President and his polarizing nature seriously, then I find it extremely difficult to accept Klein’s argument that the President is being timid because he doesn’t want to create even more polarization. Seriously? Since when does it seem like that has been a motivating factor? And since when is that the interpretation for the President’s actions?

I’ve said it before here at TUW that while I may not be a fan of the President’s politics and economic imagination, I had extremely optimistic expectations for his potential to improve race relations and especially to do great things particularly for the black community and inner city America.

As far as what happened and is happening in Ferguson? It’s sad on so many levels but again I really am not competent to say much about it.

Lest one wonder if Wintercow has truly disconnected I’ll just remind folks that I’m not permitted to comment on the goings on in Ferguson or Iraq or Palestine or just about anywhere for that matter. I’m a resident member and practicing oppressor, paid by corporations and clandestine organizations to subtly promote and continue this oppression and am so wholly disconnected from the ongoings in such places as to not have a right to speak about it. The same is true for economics where I just make stuff up to suit my prejudices.

So, we’re either going dark here at TUW or just plain vanilla – which means it won’t be worth reading much anyway. I’ve been posting elsewhere and under a different name in the hope that readers who are not already attracted to the ideas might find something useful, where the tone is calm, where the view of all opponents is taken more charitably and where hopefully it is easier to take on some more controversial topics than over here – and here being a physical place as well.

For now, all I’ve got to say is that the world would be a heck of a lot better if … well, maybe you can fill in the blank. I prefer, “everyone ate more Poutine.” YMMV.

On My Summer Travels

This is not a travel blog, but sometimes when traveling something comes up which is TUW-worthy. I’ve been out a bit this summer away from Rochester, and as expected I ran into quite a few “Buy Local” signs on stores, cars and road signs as I moved about. How am I supposed to take these? Are these explicitly telling me that, since I am not local, that I ought not shop there? If I adhere to Buying Local, I would have to keep my purchases confined to Perinton, right?

I also can’t tell you how many people I see walking their dogs both with no leash and with no plastic bags. I’ve seen dozens of people just let their dogs run wild and poop without the slightest bit of embarrassment or intention of doing anything about it. What is an appropriate response? If I approach folks who do this, no matter how I do it, I become the a-hole. Isn’t that right? But I gotta tell you, until I see people regularly taking care of little things like this, I am not under any delusion that more difficult challenges are going to get solved. And don’t think this is isolated to just the poor parts of Appalachia I visited, or the inner city – I see MORE of this behavior in the ritzy-ditzy places I’ve found myself in, in particular in the public parks over in Pittsford.

Have a lovely evening.

Should you find yourself needing some entertaining night-time reading, I highly recommend poring through some old Presidential Addresses to the American Economic Association or perhaps even the Southern Economic Association. Here is a particularly striking one, delivered by Frank Knight in 1950 to the AEA. A particularly striking piece:

The serious fact is that the bulk of the really important things that economics has to teach are things that people would see for themselves if they were willing to see.  And it is hard to believe in the utility of trying to teach what men refuse to learn or even seriously listen to.  What point is there in propagating sound economic principles if the electorate is set to have the country run on the principle that the objective in trade is to get rid of as much as possible and get as little as possible in return, if they will not see that imports are either paid for by exports, as a method of purchasing the imported goods more efficiently, or else are received for nothing, or if they hold that economy consists in having as many workers as possible assigned to a given task instead of the fewest who are able to perform it?  Of late I have a new and depressing example of popular economic thinking, in the policy of arbitrary price-fixing.  Can there be any use in explaining, if it is needful to explain, that fixing a price below the free-market level will create a shortage and one above it a surplus?  But the public oh’s and ah’s and yips and yaps at the shortage of residential housing and surpluses of eggs and potatoes as if these things presented problems any more than getting one’s footgear soiled by deliberately walking in the mud.  And let me observe that rent freezing, for example, occurs not at all merely because tenants have more votes than landlords.  It reflects a state of mind, a mode of reasoning, even more discouraging than blindness through self-interest.

It’s not just economics, it’s most things. I’m not sure it was ever better in some glorious golden age of the past, I certainly don’t recall it being much better when I was in college. It’s just depressing, not much more to say now.

… fill in the blank with just about whatever you want, and you, too, can claim the status of really serious wonk.

This time on Ebola.

So we can’t be surprised about the current Ebola outbreak. We can’t lament the fact that there’s no cure or that it’s an unstoppable and violent virus when remedies could be expedited; we just don’t prioritize them over other, more potentially profitable health problems.

As long as we perpetuate this global system of R&D funding, outbreaks of neglected diseases like Ebola will keep happening. Sadly, it’s a cause shared by many more diseases of the poor, some of which affect multiple times more people than the one that’s currently making headlines.

OK intro Econ students, please comment. UPDATE: here are the beginnings of a serious response. My expectations for a typical response to that? “Medicine … is … just … different.”

On to the Great Range …

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