27.5.15

TAIL TRACK.

Barring signal troubles, links to any posts of substance ought to work.

WHO WILL RID US OF THIS TROUBLESOME COMMANDER?

General George S. Patton died of injuries sustained in a car crash near Mannheim, the day before he was supposed to ship out for home.  Bill O'Reilly's Killing Patton: The Strange Death of World War II's Most Audacious General, today's Book Review No. 9, suggests that the inquest into the accident might be instructively reopened.  I won't provide any spoilers.  If you've seen the George C. Scott movie, a lot of the stories will seem familiar.  That the general had no love for the Soviets is no secret.  That the Soviets might have wanted him dead would not come as a surprise.  Powerful interests within the capitalist allies?  Read the book, and wonder.

(Cross-posted to 50 Book Challenge.)

THE WORST-CASE SCENARIO.

It's relatively easy to think of administrative bloat in the universities in the abstract, and what good might be done by turfing a few deanlets out.  Hence an American Interest bon mot. "Few things would help students so much, or harm the core functions of education so little, as a 50% across the board cut in higher ed bureaucracy costs." If you want the red meat, read Glenn "Insta Pundit" Reynolds in USA Today.

But let's get down to cases. What happens as the ratio of administrators to students expands? In the limit, you get Chicago State University.
To emphasize the excessive administrative presence on the Chicago State campus, I compared our administrative complement with three other schools: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, University of Illinois Chicago and Northern Illinois. These three schools all enrolled more than 20,000 students in fall 2014. These three schools all employed at least 296 administrators in fiscal 2014. Chicago State’s fall 2014 enrollment was 25.3 percent of Northern Illinois’s, 18.6 percent of University of Illinois Chicago’s, and 11.5 percent of University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s. Chicago State’s fiscal 2014 administrative component was 125 percent of Northern Illinois’s, 80.6 percent of University of Illinois Chicago’s, and 75.5 percent of University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s.
Chicago State is unique among the state's public universities, as an expense-preference playground for diversity hustlers, and as a cautionary tale for an all-administrative university with no students.
Although Chicago State has the lowest enrollment of any of the 12 schools, its 370 administrators ranks it third in the state, behind only [Urbana’s] 490 and [Illinois-Chicago’s] 459. As far as student-administrator ratios, Chicago State is far and away the highest, with 14 students for every administrator, with Governors State and its 53 to 1 student/administrator ratio a distant second. For those who are wondering, between 2011 and 2014, Chicago State has cut its unit “A” faculty ranks by 13.7 percent.
By contrast, Northern Illinois checked in with 67 students per administrator. We'll see how "program prioritization" plays out.

OUTLINING THE SECULAR CRISIS?

Vermont senator Bernie Sanders, now seeking the Democrat nomination as an honest socialist, envisions a resolution of the latest intramural dispute among Moslems that does not involve the United States.


Wouldn't it be nice if that "engage and defeat" took the form of a Vermont town meeting, or perhaps we'd see learned imams respecting the best traditions of scholastic inquiry.  The reality is likely to be messier.  Michael Kennedy of Chicago Boyz is less optimistic. "We are on the verge of a massive human catastrophe, one that the world has not seen since the fall of the Soviet Union or, in terms of percentage, since the fall of Rome." He's referring either to massive migrations of people, or to the "s*** hits the fan" scenario as all civil authority breaks down.  Also at Chicago Boys, Sgt Mom warns that the Islam-distorters, as the senator would so delicately have it, intend to implement their vision on the Christian and secular world, once they've restored the seventh century across North Africa and the Levant.  But that implementation, as Richard (Belmont Club) Fernandez observes, is not going to be a town meeting in Dummerston or a concord in Damascus.
To a cynic, what follows next is quite simple:  to be the winner stand back and watch while the Arabian peninsula, Levant and North Africa destroys itself. Take every opportunity to make it worse. Clearly a humanitarian catastrophe of unprecedented scale will result. Hundreds of thousands are already dead and millions of displaced persons are on the road. That will only grow in scale and number to millions of dead and tens of millions of refugees.  Therefore steps like preparing to sink the people smuggling boats, as the EU is doing, are in order.

If you can stomach it, it can work like a charm.
But to not stomach it, and to Do Something about it, is suicidal.
Our intellectual milieu is so “progressive” that we are progressing straight toward civilizational extinction. The spectacle of a Europe undergoing its own species of social, political and economic “convulsions,” its inability to assimilate the millions of Muslims who are transforming Europe into what Oriana Fallaci in The Rage and the Pride regarded as an abattoir-in-the-making, its impotence before the spiralling Muslim crime rate and appalling rape statistics, its evident helplessness in the face of Sharia enforcement and ongoing terrorist atrocities, and its presiding over the depletion of its welfare budgets exploited by a parasitical Islamic presence — all this counts for little to the liberal/left constituency. Europe’s moral duty, apparently, is to mutate out of all recognition, to betray the legitimate rights and normative expectations of its own native citizens, and ultimately to abolish itself.
But the end of a half-century of the south Mediterranean tribes being contained by warlords or by distant emperors is one part of a larger secular challenge in the United States.
Our country’s policies overseas are falling apart, while at home our society stagnates and turns tribal — with a growing and embittered underclass, a shrinking and angry middle class, and a plutocratic and apartheid elite who, as absolution for their privilege, are desperate to praise in the abstract what they so studiously avoid in the concrete.
Is it too soon for the pitchforks and torches?

PAPERS, PLEASE.

Last fall, I noted an encounter with plainclothes officers conducting some sort of investigation on the Texas Eagle in Illinois.  Their stated rationale was to check for false identification and counterfeit tickets.

Other Amtrak passengers are reporting more difficult encounters, often involving drug enforcement and civil forfeiture (a cynic would say, the government reverting to its primeval warlord form, follow the link for additional commentary) and wee-hours search tactics that rise to the level of unreasonable searches and seizures.

An Amtrak official responded to my inquiry about the Texas Eagle encounter.  The salient paragraphs follow.
Generally, Amtrak does support outside law enforcement agency efforts when they are on Amtrak property as long as they are engaged in bona fide and legal law enforcement operations.  Amtrak operates a railroad route system that is about twenty thousand miles (20,000) and the Amtrak Police Department needs assistance from such agencies to help keep Amtrak passengers, employees and property safe and secure.

Here I would agree with you that a passenger does not have to consent to talk to a law enforcement official and engage in a voluntary encounter if the passenger does not choose to do so.  If a passenger does elect to continue to speak with law enforcement officials and answer questions, however, then that officer can continue the communication with any passenger or citizen.

Amtrak does utilize various police and security practices, including random ticket verifications.  However, they are performed by Amtrak employees.  At this time, I am attempting to verify the agency that conducted this activity and the reason for it.
Note in the middle paragraph the hedged "does not have to consent to talk ... and engage in a voluntary encounter."  That's easier to insist on and adhere to in the middle of the day than it would be in the wee hours, which appear to be the preferred time for the drug enforcement chekisti and their sniffer dogs to do their work.  As Reason's Brian Doherty notes, "gendarmes bothering innocent travelers on trains is a storytelling cultural sign of a malign, sinister European/banana republic tyranny in the world I grew up in."

Time to turn "if you see something, say something" around.  Conor Friedersdorf asks readers to report searches they've seen to him, and the train enthusiast discussion boards do some keeping track.  A government cannot hassle and intimidate a population that will not be hassled and intimidated.

SOMETIMES IT'S SIMPLE.

There's no reason not to treat water like a commodity.  That concept is too charged for Californians, though, which allows Voluntary Xchange to get off the Trenchant Observation of the Day. "One of the third rails in California politics these days is pricing water reasonably. They’ll try just about everything but that." Apparently, including hiring lawn-painters, just like a previous generation of Communists.

26.5.15

TOUGHEN UP, BUTTERCUP.

I'm not particularly enthusiastic about mixed martial arts, or about women in prizefighting.  All the same, give prizefighter Ronda Rousey the Trenchant Observation of the Day.
People love the idea of winning an Olympic medal or a world title. But what few people realize is that pretty much every second leading up to the actual win is uncomfortable, painful, and impossibly daunting—physically and mentally. Most people focus on the wrong thing: They focus on the result, not the process. The process is the sacrifice; it is all the hard parts—the sweat, the pain, the tears, the losses. You make the sacrifices anyway. You learn to enjoy them, or at least embrace them. In the end, it is the sacrifices that must fulfill you.
It's a little longer than "Fatigue makes cowards of us all" and yet it's the same message.  Talent plus discipline wins.  John Hawkins elaborates.
College kids don’t need “safe spaces;” they need to test themselves. Poor Americans need to learn to depend on themselves, not the government. Our society doesn’t need to become “more sensitive;” it needs to get tougher. Everybody doesn’t have to fight for a living, but we all have to struggle. Teaching more Americans to embrace that battle instead of shielding them from it will make us into a better nation.
Yes, and the test is likely to have a steep grading curve. More on that shortly.

SEPARATE, AND AGAIN UNEQUAL.

Ryerson journalism student Aeman Ansari attempts a case for voluntary self-segregation.  Seriously.  "Ethnic Minorities Deserve Safe Spaces Without White People."
It's not just important, but it's essential, for marginalized groups to have safe spaces on campus to engage with people who understand what they go through. Though this group is funded by Ryerson's student union, it works to serve a particular group and a particular purpose. Many students at Ryerson have encountered racism in their life that is impossible to forget and many are exposed to discrimination on a daily basis. This group and these sort of events allow people of colour to lay bare their experiences and to collectively combat this societal ailment. These spaces are rare places in the world not controlled by individuals who have power, who have privilege.

These spaces, which are forums where minority groups are protected from mainstream stereotypes and marginalization, are crucial to resistance of oppression and we, as a school and as a society, need to respect them.
The separate waiting rooms at rail stations and separate seating sections in theaters were created by the people who have the power, which makes all the difference.
Segregation was imposed on people of colour by people of privilege, not the other way around. The very fact that individuals organizing to help each other get through social barriers and injustices are being attacked and questioned for their peaceful assembly is proof that they were right to exclude those students.
One of these days, a social scientist of great courage will look at the emergence of self-segregation, or of the more contested "othering" as a logical outgrowth of allocating resources and status on the basis of kinship ties.  Ms Ansari has stuff in her privilege knapsack to draw on in part because her world is one in which there are multiple ways of allocating resources and status, and evolutionary stable strategies for humans to interact are emergent.
Racialized people experience systemic discrimination on a daily basis, on many levels, and in ways that white people may never encounter. The whole point of these safe spaces is to remove that power dynamic. That's partly what makes them spaces for healing.

The presence of any kind of privilege puts unnecessary pressure on the people of colour to defend any anger or frustrations they have, to fear the outcome of sharing their stories. The attendees are trying to move forward by supporting each other and they should not have to defend themselves, they should not fear the consequences of raising their voices.

Instead of focusing on why those students were asked to leave, we should be thinking about the history of oppression that makes these kinds of groups and these kinds of places so very important. We should be focusing on how to be aware and respectful of the rights of both the press and marginalized groups. We have to find a way to coexist peacefully.

The West has a history of oppressing people of colour: from Africans who were enslaved and brought to the New World, to native people whose land was stolen by Europeans. This kind of oppression is still witnessed today, in the way the black community is treated in the United States, in the state of African nations trying to recover from the collapse of the previous colonial rule, and in the continuing struggles of indigenous peoples.
Hint: what Ms Ansari interprets as oppression might be a collision of emergent social systems following different evolutionary stable strategies.  But when practitioners of one strategy interact with practitioners of another, the strategy that confers advantages on adopters might look like oppression to defenders of the losing strategy.  Thus, structural, but not a consequence of animus on the part of its practitioners.

WHY ECONOMISTS SPEAK OF PRICE SCISSORS.

I used to be able to incorporate at least one newspaper howler into each principles of economics exam.  I'm out of that business now, but it's still easy to find such material.  Case in point: a recent analysis of rising house prices supposedly crushing a recovery in housing. "Sales of existing U.S. homes slipped in April due to relatively few listings and rising prices, a trend that could weigh on the recovering housing market." That's potentially good news: the foreclosures and short sales might be mostly done, and solvent sellers will only accept offers with a reasonable return on their investment.  Or it's bad news, as fewer people are relocating.

The article illustrates why economics is about impounding things in ceteris paribus.
The National Association of Realtors said Thursday that sales of existing homes fell 3.3 percent last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.04 million. April marked the second straight month of the sales rate topping 5 million homes. Purchases have recovered from a disappointing 2014 because strong job growth and low mortgage rates have generated more would-be buyers.

But greater demand in recent months has failed to convince more people to list their properties for sale. Only 5.3 months' supply of homes are on the market, versus an average of six months in a healthy market. The number of listings actually tumbled 0.9 percent in April compared to a year ago.
Strictly speaking, we're modeling an increase in demand (a rightward shift, using my locution) that produces a ceteris paribus increase in price and in consumption. But we're also seeing a revision of long-run supply behavior of some kind.
The tight supplies have caused properties to fly off the market and prices to rocket upward. The median home sold in just 39 days last month, versus 52 days in March and 62 days in February.

Median home prices climbed 8.9 percent over the past 12 months to $219,400. That's more than four times faster than average hourly wage growth. Home values are now just $2,500 shy of the 2006 peak.

Unless more homes come onto the market, there is a cap on how much sales can rise as more buyers face bidding wars and are priced out of the market.
If you stop there, you're done. Short run supply relatively inelastic; demand increases at all prices, price increases, but some buyers are rationed.

Push further, current homeowners now face an option value in holding their houses in expectation of higher prices. (That's a hard one to teach to introductory students, although the intuition is "wait for improved information."
The shortage shows the long reach of the 2008 financial crisis and the housing bust, which continues to haunt the housing sector even as the economic recovery approaches its seventh year. Millions of homeowners still owe more on their mortgages than their homes are worth — and they're unwilling to sell at a steep loss, depriving the market of inventory.

Nearly 17 percent of mortgage holders were underwater at the end of 2014, according to the real estate firm Zillow.
So far, so good, but now the author commits an elementary error.
The lack of supply should help prices rise to a level that fixes this problem. But too swift an increase also poses a destabilizing risk for the market. If home values rise too quickly, economists warn that more buyers will be priced out of the market and demand will fall.
No, we've already accounted for that. The existing houses move relatively quickly. Additional houses coming onto the market would help some of those buyers, but there are scant incentives to put nearly underwater houses on the market, let alone to build new ones.
One way to address the shortage would be to build more homes. The government reported this week that homebuilders upped the pace of construction in April to the fastest level since November 2007. But developers say that the process of planning new developments that could provide a greater inventory of homes can take at least a year.
Yes, and the creation of new developments is a long-run response, with irreversibilities.  Higher house prices might call forth new construction, but it might also induce some of those near-underwater buyers to wind up their positions.

25.5.15

RISE TO THE INTELLECTUAL CHALLENGE.

Senior capstone projects at the Milwaukee School of Engineering well might have commercial value.  Sometimes, sustainability is substance, rather than slogan.
One of the teams, with students Andrew Almquist, Andrew Elliott, Jason Havron and Peter Sternkopf, designed a garden irrigation system that's powered by a small solar panel.

The system has soil sensors that can be adjusted to determine when plants get water. The system also can turn itself off if in extreme temperatures, ensuring that plants aren't watered at the wrong times.

Residential irrigation systems now on the market aren't as environmentally friendly as this one, according to the students, or they don't have sensors that monitor weather conditions to determine when plants need water.

The system, named Sprigs, has a battery that's charged by the solar panel. It also has a digital control panel, and a water-level sensor is used as a power-saving device, turning the system off if the water container runs low on water.

Sprigs is well suited for a backyard garden, Almquist said, and it can use stored rainwater rather than water from the tap.
I'll have to look at the prospectus for this system, it might well go on the fence posts at the just-planted Victor E. Garden.


STOP ENABLING THE DYSFUNCTION.

Writing for The Progressive, Peter Greene complains that charter schools and children left behind go together.
The charter doesn't have better teachers. In many cases the charter doesn't have a single pedagogical technique or instructional program that is a bit different from its public school counterparts. What it has is a concentration of students who are supported, committed, and capable.

Those students are able to rise because the school, like the pilot of a hot air balloon, has shed the ballast, the extra weight that is holding them down. It's left behind, abandoned. There's no plan to go back for it, rescue it somehow. Just cut it loose. Let it go. Out of sight, out of mind. We dump those students in a public school, but we take the supplies, the resources, the money, and send it on with the students we've decided are Worth Saving.

This may be why the charter model so often involves starting over in another school—because the alternative would be to stay in the same school and tell Those Students, the ones without motivation or support or unhindered learning tools, to get out. As those students were sent away so that strivers could succeed, it would just be too obvious that we are achieving success for some students by discarding others.
Once upon a time, schools, even in rough neighborhoods, made an attempt to instill the life-management skills of the middle class, and the incorrigibles were properly so identified and packed off to the reformatory.  And yes -- I have more reading on this subject to report upon -- you'd still find more than a few middle-class people in the rough neighborhoods.  Are the people in the rough neighborhoods better off now that the prosperous people have started over in another school that comes bundled with a posh subdivision and that the neighborhood is mostly full of the Distressed Material that Mr Greene is referring to as "ballast?"

TSAR VLADIMIR'S STOLYPIN CAR.

It has long been custom in Tsarist Russia, the Soviet Union, and today's Russia, for prisoners to be transported in railway cars.  In order to conceal the volume of prisoners being exiled, the cars would frequently be disguised as baggage or postal cars.  These days, they can pass for ordinary passenger stock.



A release tweeted by Railway Gazette notes that the new coach "incorporates feedback from human rights bodies."  That noted, the car offers seating for ten "attendants" and 75 prisoners, with optional refrigerator and microwave oven available, amenities not available to guards in Stalin era.  Presumably that 75 prisoner capacity does not involve thirty zeks to a compartment.

FUTURE VICARS OF VACILLATION?

In conventional generational analyses of cycles of history, there are four eras per cycle, a secular crisis, a post-crisis high,  an awakening, and a post-awakening fraying of institutions leading into the next secular crisis; and four generational archetypes, the prophets born into the high, the dispossessed born into the awakening, the heroes born into the fraying, and the adaptives born into the crisis.

Under that reckoning, the only living prophet generation, for better or for worse, are the Baby Boomers.  Thirteeners, or "generation x," play the dispossessed role previously played by the Lost generation sent off to fight the War to End All Wars and rewarded with women's suffrage and prohibition on their return.  In some reckonings, the Millennials, or "generation y" will play the hero role so well modelled by the GIs -- if they ever see the world beyond their devices?  With the secular crisis apparently under way, the adaptive personality, most recently attributed to the sometimes-destructive Silent Generation, passes with them and emerges with the new generation.  Now comes Kathleen Parker, responding to trigger warnings and all the other sheltering institutions being provided to "generation z," which she would name (properly in my view) the Swaddled Generation.  Her column focuses on the protection against conflicting points of view students at elite colleges are getting, and as such may not be prefigurative of policy preferences thirty or forty years hence.  Ed Driscoll hopes not.
[Culture commentator Tom (Hooking Up)] Wolfe believed that a leitmotif of the 21st century would feature mankind recovering the rules about art, aesthetics, and human relations that various degrees of socialism stripped away in the 19th and 20th centuries in the rush to “Start From Zero” by discarding vast quantities of man’s accumulated knowledge and wisdom.

But for that happen, first the “Swaddled Generation” needs to replace their diapers with the big boy pants and begin growing up.
Or, for the middle-age persona of a generation to be something other than it's youthful, coastal-elite form.   Relatively few baby boomers were hippies or war protestors, and there's less overlap of hippies with yuppies than the establishment press of three decades ago would have you believe.

21.5.15

PRECISION STEAM.

Norfolk and Western's J-class Northerns were not the biggest or the fastest, but they were well-designed and powerful.  One survived into preservation, operated in excursion service well into the late 20th century, and it has been brought back into steam by current owner Norfolk Southern.

In honor of its return, some impressions of an excursion powered by this locomotive, from the Detroit area to Fort Wayne and return.


On the run to Ft. Wayne, the excursion stopped for a photo run-by.  This is not a disaster about to happen, as the locomotive is reversing and the kids are placing pennies on the rails.



For the runby itself, people waited well back from the tracks, in order for photographers to get clear pictures.


Midwesterners used to refer to N&W as "Nickel Plate and Wabash" and those components got into the act on the excursion, which used Wabash metals most of the way to Fort Wayne, then going into the Nickel Plate depot in Fort Wayne, which served the Wabash Cannonball up to Amtrak day.  The station was still in pretty good shape 14 years into the Amtrak era.


Here's the wye move, using Wabash tracks.  That's The Pennsylvania Railroad, er, Conrail, in the foreground.


Norfolk and Western (and Southern) preferred high-short-end diesels ... that is a high short end GP30 at rear.  South Shore diesel in the middle, in those days the 800-class electrics were still running.


On the Pennsy now to return to the Nickel Plate station.


Returning to Michigan.  Train included cars from the Norfolk and Western steam excursion train and from the Bluewater Michigan Chapter car collection.

THE VALUE OF FREQUENCY AND CONNECTIVITY.

The gods of the high iron are, to quote David P. Morgan, "a sardonic lot," and sometimes they give us a train wreck for Infrastructure Week.  (On a smaller scale, I've been doing my part.)  But the derailment of Amtrak 188 has provoked a number of policy discussions, including the value of upgrading the Passenger Rail network, the usefulness of a national Passenger Rail system, and the possibility of privatizing part of Amtrak.  We open with a Michael Tomasky observation about service on the Northeast Corridor being no faster today than it was fifty years ago.
[The Beatles] did Ed Sullivan’s show and then took a train from New York to Washington DC, where they performed their first live U.S. concert (with a young Al Gore in attendance, fwiw).

I was reading along learning nothing new because I know all there is to know about all that until I came across a line that just staggered me. It wasn’t anything about the group; rather, it was a reference to their “two hour and 15 minute train trip.” Their what?! That trip today, as you know, is at best two hours and 40 minutes, but that is only for the “high-speed” Acela, and in truth that’s only theoretical. It’s usually more like two hours and 55 minutes. That is, if it gets there, as we might add after Tuesday night’s tragedy.

It seemed totally beyond belief that the train ride from New York to Washington could have been faster in 1964 than it was the year I was reading this article. But it was true: I was so floored by this that I called Amtrak and some rail experts I know to check, and it checked out. The reason: aging sections of track that trains have to slow down for.
Perhaps The Pennsylvania Railroad took better care of those sections than Amtrak has. And perhaps The Pennsylvania Railroad laid on a special train for the Beatles. But the best running time in timetables of the era is just over three hours.  (That noted, Baltimore to Boston on an Acela involves performance that the Afternoon Zephyr could achieve with good old Electro-Motive diesels, Budd dome coaches, and cab signalled single track.)  At the time, I remarked, "[F]aster trains, in much of the country, are possible at much lower outlays than those feared."  That is unlikely to be the course of human events.  It might help, though, if observers of the national scene would get out of the Official Region and think about Passenger Rail service as a network, involving Amtrak or whatever long distance and regional operators emerge, and the big-city commuter rail operations, as a system.  But last Sunday's Fox News Sunday discussion of the derailment and the policy implications reached bipartisan consensus on the possibility of privatizing the Northeast Corridor and liquidating the rest of Amtrak.  The panelists appeared to accept the argument that the Northeast Corridor is "profitable".  (Yes, on an above-the-wheels basis, something that airlines have trouble doing these days.  But not according to generally accepted accounting principles calling for recovery of the capital investments, i.e. infrastructure.)  Here's Jim Loomis of Trains and Travel, with the corrective.
If you believe the Amtrak accountants (and a lot of people don’t) revenues from the NEC exceed operating costs. But there are a couple of other very relevant factors to consider.

For one thing, Amtrak’s long-distance network feeds passengers into Northeast Corridor trains, and if the long-distance network goes away, the Northeast Corridor will lose some share of that business.

Then there’s the matter of Amtrak’s equipment, much of which is old and needs replacing.

But the real issue—the big bull elephant in the room—is the issue of the Northeast Corridor’s infrastructure. By that, I mean the repair, maintenance and upkeep of the 450-or-so miles of tracks and catenary, tunnels and bridges between Boston and Washington. Amtrak estimates that more than fifty billion dollars is needed just to bring everything up to a state of good repair.

So what do you think? Will a prospective buyer take on all that?
Keeping in mind that at the height of its prosperity, The Pennsylvania Railroad's Philadelphia Improvements did not include a re-profiling of Frankford Junction. (And the New Haven Railroad looked at the return on investment to building a straighter line through Connecticut and sold the real estate it had acquired for that purpose to the Connecticut Turnpike Commission.)

And our east coast savants misperceive the Amtrak network beyond the Official Region.  Case in point: this New York Times investigation of the difficulties the railroads experience installing and cutting in Positive Train Control.  First, a reality check.
Rail safety experts have noted that far less costly upgrades, including an older braking system found on tracks opposite the site of last week’s crash in Philadelphia, would have prevented high-speed derailments like this one. And they say that even with positive train control, not all accidents can be avoided.
They refer to intermittent Automatic Train Control, which has been protecting commuters on the Galena Division for nearly 100 years, and to Automatic Train Stop, which is in use elsewhere in the Metra network.

They recognize that the General Notice and the Special Instructions have a purpose.
Despite the current focus on new technology, accident rates for both freight and passenger trains have been dropping in recent years. The overall rate of accidents per million train miles fell to 2.3 in 2014, from 4.1 in 2005, a 44 percent drop, according to statistics compiled by the Federal Railroad Administration.

The safety of passenger railroads, including all 22 commuter rail systems and Amtrak, shows a similar improvement, with overall accident rates falling to 1.3 per million train miles in 2014 from 2.3 per million train miles in 2005. In fact, there were no passenger fatalities involving these railroads in three of the past four years, according to federal data.
And yet, the article offers this. "Chicago’s commuter rails are not likely to have the safety system for years while comparatively sleepy train service on Amtrak’s Michigan line already has it."  That supposedly sleepy Michigan service is the first installment of the Cold Spring Shops "Free Rein to 110" campaign, which envisions incremental upgrades to track, running times, and frequency in preference to electrified bullet trains.  In Michigan, there's insufficient frequency, running times east of Dearborn are painfully slow, and Detroit or Pontiac aren't the traffic generators they could be.  Moreover, the regional routes out of Chicago are not timetabled in such a way as to connect with other regional routes, or with Metra. (I'm not familiar enough with the expanding California services to commend or carp about connectivity there.)

I wonder, though, whether any proposal to privatize the Northeast Corridor and liquidate the rest of Amtrak would pass Congress, Republican enabling of rent-seeking road-builders notwithstanding.  The national network permits connections, inconvenient though they often are, between the overnight trains and the corridor trains.  The overnight trains are in some places the only option other than a private automobile for intercity travel.  And the pundit class in the Official Region might be able to learn something about the mind-set of people in "fly-over country" by riding a train through it.

BREAKING THE SOCIAL CONTRACT.

Continual and fearless sifting and winnowing requires few limitations that trammel inquiry.
Must I emphasize the obvious?
Robert Frost once observed that, “Education is the ability to listen to almost anything without losing your temper.” If so, then the number of temper tantrums erupting on campuses nationwide indicates that few are being truly educated there.

The back-and-forth, point-counterpoint that is at the heart of the intellectual dialectic is foundational to the development of the reasoning capacity in a sound-thinking person’s mind. It’s how we sharpen our wits and come to understand the flaws of our own arguments. Students certainly don’t hone their debating skills cowering in a “safe zone” with their hands over their ears.
Those safe-zones, and the latest iterations of self-despising multiculturalism, are continued developments in higher education's breach of faith with the culture that sustains it. The Robert Frost observation is the general. Specific illustrations of cowardice appear regularly. Here, a story out of Minnesota (motto: Ten Thousand Ways to surrender the Axe.)
American public universities might be the last place one would expect to find religious fanaticism triumphing over Enlightenment liberal values. Indeed, I can't imagine the university bending over backwards to accommodate the views of students who subscribe to other religions. What if the flyers had depicted two men kissing, and were instead being used to advertise an LGBTQ meetup, and it was fundamentalist Christian students lodging the complaints? Administrators would probably tell those students not to trample their peers' free speech rights. (At least, I hope they would.) Liberals would cheer. Why then do universities cater to the silly protestations of a different fundamentalist sect?
Because to do otherwise would be to otherize?  Unfortunately, the fear of otherizing and marginalizing has polluted the common schools.  Thus the Distressed material matriculating into thirteenth grade might not even know it's being coddled.
So it’s essential to talk about ways to try to spark a meaningful cultural transformation that will push back against the tide of illiberal behavior on campus. In order to truly promote the right to free speech and dissent on campus, we must act on more than a case-by-case basis and look for systematic solutions.

First, K-12 civics education fails to provide students the foundation in the First Amendment and the overall principles of a free society that they need to understand their rights once they get to college. While students know that America protects freedom of speech, and they care about that, most can’t articulate the underlying principles or explain why freedom of speech, dissent, thought experimentation, and devil’s advocacy are important. And colleges are hardly helping students learn these valuable lessons.
The rot might have begun in the humanities, thence spreading into victim-studies.
Do we still need the humanities? Yes, now more than ever. But the current academicization, politicization, and jargon mean that college may be the worst place to look for them. That's where you go for Queerness, libidinal data, and negotiated flesh.

On the bright side, it may be that the liberal arts and humanities will flourish once they escape the airless vaults of academia.
Or when enough students and parents push back against a diversity establishment more interested in palling around with terrorists than in stretching students minds.  As Reason's Robby Soave puts it,
The reality is that students who claim to be oppressed—or triggered, or microaggressed, or offended, or invalidated—are among the least oppressed people on the planet. They have found shelter at just about the only institution in existence that will break its own promises (and the law) to protect their feelings: higher education.  And keep in mind that—broadly speaking—university faculty and administrators share these students' views: they, too, are politically and socially liberal, and yet risk-averse and reluctant to permit actual dissent. This deadly combination of biases makes them much more sympathetic to, say, a Muslim student group, than to the Young Republicans.
And, unfortunately for those self-despising multiculturalists, the strong horse in American politics is an elephant. "College professors and administrators backed the wrong side (at least for now). They didn't play it down the middle. They put all their eggs in one political basket and now, hey, payback's a bitch."

NIMBRODS.

If there is money to be made creating a rail corridor suitable for bullet trains and faster intermodal and autorack trains, and the project brings real estate development in its train, the invisible hand ought to 0-5-0 that project into place.
Starting in 2021, Texas Central hopes to have its high-speed rail up and running, with trains traversing East Texas 62 times a day. The company says its tracks will be no wider than 100 feet at any point, requiring a total of 3,000 acres along its 240-mile route between Dallas and Houston.
An intrepid train rider can get from Dallas to Houston, or return, with a layover in San Antonio. The train service is about as different from that offered in rural areas of Germany and France as one can get without returning to steam days.  But there are locals apparently afraid of iron horse showering sparks and spooking horses.
“The vast majority of the folks between Dallas and Houston are against it,” said Kyle Workman, president of the recently formed Texans Against High-Speed Rail. “They don’t want their land to be taken. They don’t want a train going through their quiet country landscape.”
It's a gripe that goes back to the Stephenson brothers or I. K. Brunel tussling with the squires in the shires.  Those railway pioneers might have fought the canal lobbies; today it might be the road-builders and Southwest Airlines.
The company said in a statement that it plans to "design large, frequent and conveniently located underpasses or overpasses to allow for the free movement of farm equipment, livestock, wildlife and vehicle traffic." The electric-powered trains will be quieter than an 18-wheeler, the company says.

Workman is helping lead a coalition of high-speed rail critics backing several bills this session that could kill, or at least hobble, Texas Central’s ambitious project. Their partners include the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association and county officials in all nine rural counties along the train's proposed routes.
It's a different kind of landed gentry, but the objections haven't changed in 200 years.  Let the rent-seeking begin.

TEMPERING PRINCIPLE WITH PRACTICALITY.

When a tornado destroys an older community, such as Fairdale, Illinois, owners confront contemporary building code and zoning restrictions that preclude an in-kind replacement.  DeKalb County officials will be dealing with the situation.
The county has announced a schedule to supply information to Fairdale residents who plan to rebuild, but rezoning issues must be addressed first because before the April 9 tornado, many of the buildings and land did not conform to the some of the current zoning regulations.

The County Board is in the process of rezoning the entire community of about 150 people to a mixed use development, which will allow the County Board to tailor zoning regulations to allow residents to rebuild without compromising public health, safety and welfare, according to a news release.

A public hearing for rezoning will be held at 7 p.m. June 18 in the multipurpose room of the DeKalb County Health Department, 2574 N. Annie Glidden Road.

Environmental health practitioners also are evaluating wells and septic systems, the news release states.

On July 1, the county Planning and Zoning Committee will meet to consider the rezoning. The meeting will be at 6:30 p.m. at the county Legislative Center in Sycamore, 200 N. Main St. A special meeting of the DeKalb County Board to take action of the rezoning by ordinance will follow.If the County Board approves the rezoning, residents could immediately begin submitting applications for building permits under the new regulations, according to the news release.
Rebuildings might not be precisely in-kind, but neither will people be compelled to replicate yet another outer suburb.

20.5.15

WHEN PRODUCTIVITY BECOMES A FALSE ECONOMY?

In the aftermath of the Amtrak 188 derailment, investigators will be looking into crew distraction and crew tiredness.  We've reported on such investigations previously.  On the freight side, train crews may know they will be called on their rest, and they may know where they will be sent, but a few consecutive days of being called on their rest and the sleep deficits accumulate.  Or they don't know the hour when the chain-gang begins.  Passenger service, particularly in the Northeast Corridor, is more predictable.  "On the other hand, a relatively routine job, which a scheduled passenger train is, does not present the day-to-day different challenges that keep the adrenaline flowing, and make crew exhaustion a problem during the busy season." Yes, although habit will get you killed on the railroad.  Apparently Amtrak's safety team took for granted a greater margin for error taking the Frankford Junction curve northbound than they did southbound.  Thus an operator could wind out to 80 mph prior to that curve, and still make it whilst checking toward 55.  But wind out to 80, hear a radio report of a commuter train just ahead being rocked, lose situational awareness.  Or perhaps it's a disrupted routine.
On March 23, engineers on the Northeast corridor got new schedules that left them either with very short turnarounds between runs, or with very long breaks that extended the periods of time they spent away from home, according to the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen. The changes, which the union says Amtrak told them were necessary to achieve cost savings, also created more variability and unpredictability. That can be hard on an engineer's internal clock.

"We feel 100 percent confident that the issue of the new schedule, the reduced rest period and layover period for this young man, was an immediate and direct contribution to this incident," Fritz Edler, chair of the local committee of adjustment for the BLET's Division 482, said in an interview Friday. "Fatigue is a cumulative problem. So if you have a bad day yesterday, it’s going to be that much harder to do your job today. And that’s the kind of situation [engineer Brandon Bostian] was up against."
Although further investigation has ruled out any evidence of a bullet strike on the windshield of motor 601, or of Mr Bostian reporting a rocking of his train, he was completing a turn out of New York that had already been stressful.
Mr. Bostian had been on this route only for several weeks, investigators said, working five days a week. The derailment culminated what had already been a difficult day for him.

Tuesday afternoon, before the accident, Mr. Bostian was driving an Acela Express train from New York to Washington when the electronic signals malfunctioned, forcing him to carry out a long series of safety procedures, including slowing the train, said Karl Edler, the chairman of the Washington branch of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen and a longtime operator on the Northeast Corridor. Mr. Sumwalt confirmed the problem on that trip.

Mr. Bostian was able to pull safely into Washington using the signals he could see on the trackside, but he was 30 minutes behind schedule.

Because of the delay, Mr. Bostian only had an hour of rest, most of which was probably taken up by switching trains, filling out paperwork and doing equipment checks, Mr. Edler said.
Because the Hours of Service Act applies to time elapsed since call time, train crews on short railroads or fast railroads often complete a round trip (or more) in a working day.  It appears as though some of the duties are of the turn-on-a-wheel variety, and others are what I learned as a split, or two-piece run, and the two-piece runs can affect concentration more than the turn-on-a-wheel.  Somewhere, though, the business fad of the day, doing more with less, is going to run afoul of the reason economists speak of the factor-minimal production frontier.

19.5.15

WATCH THIS SPACE.

Yes, I'm still paying attention to the investigation of Amtrak 188's crash.

There's infrastructure work of a more cheerful kind to report.


Cold Spring Shops headquarters is a train room concealed under a ranch house.  There's an all-season sunroom with a western exposure and a crawl space underneath.  That space is not suited to running trains, but it's now insulated against the frozen ground that seems to be plaguing us from November into April.

With that done, work continues installing the drop ceiling and preparing to install tracks into the southwest corner of the house.


Work on the railroad began with the uppermost track at right; with the ceiling in place and bracing installed in front of the crawl space, those tracks will continue into that corner.

On the northeast corner, I'm working on a believable representation of Cockwood Harbour, just down the Exe River from Starcross.


But do I model the harbour with the tide out and the boats careened?


Or is it more eye-catching with the tide in?


Suggestions?

STEP OUT OF LINE AND DISAPPEAR.

Embattled Marquette University political scientist John McAdams, who previously called out the so-mockworthy Marquette administration long before the Perpetually Aggrieved decided that Eve Ensler was a trans-phobic cis-sexist, recently reported a mural decorating the Gender and Sexuality Resource Center that valorized a cop-killer still on the lam in Cuba.  Evidently, palling around with exiled terrorists is too much even for Marquette's administration, which today tossed the center's director.  The story has gone national, and there is a student petition drive to reinstate the director,  Susannah Bartlow, whose very existence has been scrubbed from the center website.  It's possible that she joined Marquette from Dickinson College in Carlisle, Penn., without tenure.

RUNNING EXTRA.  Professor McAdams was posting on the exile of Ms Bartlow about the same time I was working on this post last night.  (I confess to being distracted by a hockey game.  Go Hawks.)
Back in the old days of the USSR, there was something known as the “vertical stroke.” If a lower level bureaucrat (an Army officer, perhaps) screwed up, not only was he fired or demoted, his immediate superior got the same treatment. And so did his superior’s superior, right on up. In the army, this could be up to the corps or army level. This had some negative consequences: it created a huge incentive to conceal problems. But it did embody a sound principle: higher level people are responsible for their subordinates. The top people put the lower level people in charge, had the power to fire them, and had the responsibility to properly supervise them.

It’s a shame the “vertical stroke” won’t happen here.  Bartlow screwed up badly.  But the ultimate responsibility lies with top Marquette administrators, who created a large “diversity” and “inclusion” and “gender” and “sexuality” bureaucracy, hired the kinds of bureaucrats drawn to those offices, and now find themselves embarrassed when the predictable things happen.
Per corollary, a department head, a dean, a provost, and a president also sign off on continuing tenure.

SAILING ALL AROUND THE WORLD.

Inland Lakes sailor Sally Barkow, whose ambitions and accomplishments we have previously endorsed,  has left Newport, R.I. on the final ocean crossing enroute to the Volvo Ocean Race finish in Sweden.  Team SCA are one of the few all-female teams to participate in this race.

WHEN EUROPEAN TRAINS COLLIDE.

Last week Wednesday, two Swiss freight trains collided in Erstfeld.  The article reports that beer and cosmetics deliveries were delayed, and service on the Gotthard Pass line was disrupted.


Unattributed 20minuten photograph.

Even at low speeds, a derailing train can wreak havoc on the tracks.


Unattributed 20minuten photograph.

Yes, that's a container train at right.  They don't have the mass of our double-stacks, or the 53 foot containers, but the dispatchers will roll them at speeds worthy of passenger trains.

On Saturday, sadder news.  A train operated by a German regional operator collided with a farm wagon near Ibbenb├╝ren.  The wagon stalled on the tracks.  (We have this problem with semis in the States too.)  The farmer jumped clear.  Two passengers died on the train, a lightweight multiple-unit car.  If one of our suburban light-rail cars hits a farm wagon, the results might be similarly sad.

15.5.15

LUCK IS THE RESIDUE OF DESIGN.

A Philadelphia Inquirer story features passengers on Amtrak 188 counting their blessings.
It was, according to survivors of the deadliest Northeast Corridor rail crash in a generation, a scene of such sudden destruction they could hardly believe they had witnessed it - let alone walked away.

All seven cars being tugged by a New York-bound locomotive flipped onto their sides or snapped to a severe tilt near I-95 as the train, roaring at twice the posted speed, blew a curve at Frankford Junction at 9:21 p.m. Tuesday.
Here's another view of the train.


To the best of my knowledge, the train was on the inner right-hand track in the direction of travel; when it left the rails, the shredded lead car, a business class car, may have hit one of the catenary poles, a part of which is stuck in the roof of the inverted second car; the third and fourth cars are on their sides, and cars five through seven are derailed but upright.  I do not know in which cars passengers were killed, although several of those people were noted as being business class passengers.  That passengers walked away from the upright coaches, though, is by design.
U.S. crashworthiness standards currently include reliance on heavier rail equipment compared with European or Asian counterparts, which lower top speed potential and energy efficiency. The U.S. approach is weighted toward crash survivability, as opposed to simply crash avoidance, as in other locales.

[Federal Railroad Administration] and some other safety experts have favored this approach in part because many Amtrak trains use freight railroad rights-of-way over all of much of their routes.
Meaning a passenger car might have a close encounter with a 130 ton grain hopper or a tank car loaded with Bakken crude or ethanol or something caustic or acidic.  Meaning an Amtrak train, whether a consist of Amfleet cars or an Acela Express rake, is heavier than its European counterparts, tougher to accelerate or to brake.
Vehicle structures are built from stainless steel and are designed to survive major impacts. Crash energy management techniques based on 3rd generation [French] TGV technology control the structural deformations in the event of an accident, to increase the safety of the passengers. Under floor equipment is specially reinforced to withstand the rigors of operating in urban areas, where shopping carts, tires and other debris frequently find their way onto the tracks. (The Northeast Corridor is only partially fenced in, as opposed to European high speed lines.) The Acela Express is the first train to comply with the Federal Railroad Administration's Tier II crashworthiness standards, touted to be the toughest in the world. The downside of the heavy emphasis on passive safety is the significantly higher weight of the trainset, compared to worldwide high speed rail practice. The Acela Express is built about 45% heavier than a typical TGV.
And thus, there's no reason to put seat belts on passenger trains.
The Daily News reached out to the National Transportation Safety Board yesterday and a spokesman referred seat-belt questions to the Federal Railroad Administration. An FRA spokesman said decades of research and oversight has meant passenger rail cars are "engineered with various passive restraint interior design features" that allows passengers to "ride-out an accident in a contained space."
Exactly. One of the selling points of train travel is the opportunity to head to the diner or bar car or lounge to mingle, and strapping passengers in attenuates that impulse.
Robert Paaswell, director of the University Transportation Research Center at the City College of New York, in a guest column in the New York Daily News yesterday, said seat belts "probably would not have saved the victims." He said they can't be compared to airplanes or cars.
No, if your carriage rolls over and breaks apart, a seat belt is unlikely to do much good.  The point is to prevent the breaking apart or the rolling over in the first place.  But it's up to the engineer to comply with the General Notice and the Special Instructions.
So for now, keeping trains under control remains the responsibility of railroad engineers. They are a proud bunch of men and women -- I've met thousands of them -- and do their jobs faithfully. Like it or not, in their attentiveness and judgment lies our safety.
That will be true whether, or if, Positive Train Control ever becomes operative.

That will be true whether, or if, Congress appropriates money or leans on the Federal Communications Commission to expedite the completion of the control system on the Northeast Corridor, or writes a realignment of Frankford Junction into an infrastructure bill.

When train crews disregard the General Notice and the Special Instructions, the result can be a broken train and dead people.  People who have names and stories.

INCULCATING THOSE BOURGEOIS HABITS.

Joanne Jacobs asks, "Is good parenting unfair?"  Seems like an odd question, although an Australian Broadcasting story has been played to suggest as much.  Put simply, parents who interact with their children provide those children with evolutionary advantages.  (See how much easier it is to think of "privilege" as an emergent phenomenon?)
So should parents snuggling up for one last story before lights out be even a little concerned about the advantage they might be conferring?

‘I don’t think parents reading their children bedtime stories should constantly have in their minds the way that they are unfairly disadvantaging other people’s children, but I think they should have that thought occasionally,’ quips [British philosopher Adam] Swift.

In the end Swift agrees that all activities will cause some sort of imbalance—from joining faith communities to playing Saturday cricket—and it’s for this reason that a theory of familial goods needs to be established if the family is to be defended against cries of unfairness.

‘We should accept that lots of stuff that goes on in healthy families—and that our theory defends—will confer unfair advantage,’ he says.
Why raise claims of unfairness against families?  Maybe that's an evolutionary stable strategy that has emerged over hundreds or thousands of years to develop more effective offspring.

Professor Swift collaborated with Crooked Timber's and the University of Wisconsin's Harry Brighouse, who responded to some of the perceptions of the Australian Broadcasting interview, and also got about as close as a cutting-edge academician can get to acknowledging evolutionary advantage without looking like an apologist for privilege.
We wrote a book, providing an elaborate philosophical defense of the family. Not, maybe, exactly, the traditional family – we are clear that same sex parents, adoptive parents, and single parents count as families—but something quite like it (indeed, one left wing blogger who had linked to one of the ultra-right websites ridiculing us criticized our views, in an email, as “highly moralized in a way typical of bourgeois moral philosophy”). One passage in the book – which I initially drafted, and with which we are both pretty pleased – explains in considerable detail why reading bedtime stories to your children is so valuable that it is something nobody should be prevented from doing, and should be (cautiously) encouraged to do –and, in fact, we argue that parents have a duty to their children to do intimate things like reading bedtime stories to their children. One commenter, indeed, said it was the most eloquent account of what was so good about bedtime story reading that he/she had ever read.
We will know that higher education has become serious about acknowledging differing points of view when "bourgeois" no longer automatically takes on a negative connotation in scholarly exchange.  And I've come across a new metaphor, "serve and return," describing the positive neurological effects of parents interacting with children, even before the children understand words, let alone can speak them or read them.  That's an evolutionary advantage in the Darwinian sense, and I await the academic conversation to that point.

KICKED UPSTAIRS.

Call it a college bubble update, or call it yet another reason for me to have walked away.  Welcome the associate vice president for process improvement and operational effectiveness.
The newly-created position, which reports to the vice president of Administration and Finance, will collaborate across campus to develop the strategy and implementation for process engineering efforts at NIU, working with senior leadership to assess gaps in current systems and prioritize enhancements in order to improve operational efficiency and effectiveness.
If that's not enough Dilbert-speak for the day, the announcement also includes a job description with the obligatory superflous colon and typography for dummies. Sample: "Provide leadership in identifying opportunities for continuous quality improvement and advocate for effective solutions that can be realized through process re-engineering."  Plenty more business-jargon cotton candy at the release, if you want.

Meanwhile, three positions have been vacated in the economics department.  Whether there will be even one search is not yet known.