23.3.17

TAIL TRACK.

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

SURF AND TURF ON THE RAILS.

Longtime Passenger Rail advocate and Trains columnist Kevin Keefe remembers the King's Dinner on Illinois Central's Panama Limited.
The fixed-course dinner included a cocktail, fresh shrimp cocktail or crab fingers, a fish course, and a broiled steak, all accompanied by a 13-ounce bottle of Bertolli Vinrosa wine, still a fairly well-regarded brand. For dessert, there was apple wedges with cheese and a choice of liqueur. It must have been quite a meal.

As if you hadn’t already experienced the dedication of the dining-car crew, IC President Wayne Johnston underscored the railroad’s commitment to the train by offering devout thoughts of the day on mealtime cards.
The chicken and rice on Amtrak's contemporary City of New Orleans?  "Pretty good."

Once again, the bean-counters of Washington want to do away with the long-distance trains, and the food service is likely to be called out as a boondoggle.

THE CASE FOR VIEWPOINT DIVERSITY.

Northern Star columnist Ian Tancun welcomes the return of a College Republicans chapter at Northern Illinois University.
Stereotyping people is a dangerous and destructive practice. Instead of writing people off simply for having an opposing viewpoint, we should be engaging each other in discussions. Even peaceful protests accomplish more than shaming or stereotyping.

“I do appreciate people who have healthy protests. I think it’s very important for people’s voices to be heard, regardless of my own political background,” said Kelly Strauf, vice chair of NIU College Republicans. “Like the women’s march, I thought that was a beautiful thing for women to do. It’s extremely important for their voices to be heard as much as a man’s.”

I support peaceful protests. I support healthy debates. Both are helpful in allowing people to express their opinions and discuss their differences. I wholeheartedly condemn all the negative stereotypes being hurled at Republicans.

As a Democrat, I would not expect to be judged based on the actions or words of Hillary Clinton, even though I voted for her. This misguided belief that all Republicans should be judged for the actions or words of Trump is unacceptable.

The most useful way to combat stereotypes or misinformation is through education. I encourage students to start having open dialogues with people who have opposing viewpoints and discuss the differences. It is through this process that these unjustified stereotypes can be discarded and progress can be achieved.
Indeed.

THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS THE GENERAL WILL.

That doesn't stop people, whether their banner is Regulation in the Public Interest, or National Greatness, from looking for one.  Whatever the motive, it does not end well.  Daniel Larison owns the Trenchant Observation for Today.
Insisting on having a grand national purpose is what leads to destructive and abusive policies carried out in the name of realizing that end. It is not something that people in a free country need to have, nor is it something that we should want.
Life. Liberty. The Pursuit of Happiness.  The failing of Pax Americana is that in beating back the misguided Grand National Purposes marching under various totalitarian banners, too many leaders fell in love with the Grand National Purpose of A World Safe for Democracy.  Or something.  And maintaining that purpose becomes costly.

A GOOD PLACE TO BE FROM?

The Chicago Area Lost More Residents Than Any Other U.S. County Last Year.  There are many reasons people are leaving.
More than any other city, Chicago has depended on Mexican immigrants to balance the sluggish growth of its native-born population. During the 1990s, immigration accounted for most of Chicago's population growth.

After 2007, when Mexican-born populations began to fall across all the nation's major metropolitan areas, most cities managed to make up for the loss with the growth of their native populations. Chicago couldn't.

Now, native Chicagoans are heading for the Sun Belt states — those with the country's warmest climates, like Texas, Arizona and Florida. During the years after the economic recession of the mid-2000s, migration to those states paused but started up again because warmer states in the South and West have affordable housing and better job opportunities.

While Chicago suffered the largest population loss of any metropolitan area, the greatest metropolitan population gains were in Texas and Arizona. The Dallas-Fort Worth- Arlington, Texas, metropolitan area gained more than 143,000 residents in 2016, and the Houston region gained about 125,000. The Phoenix area gained about 94,000 residents and the Atlanta region gained about 91,000 people.
Meanwhile, the conventional wisdom in Chicago is that residents and businesses don't pay enough in taxes for the privilege of living, working, and profiting in Illinois.

We have much to look forward to.

20.3.17

THEY'LL GET TO HANG A BANNER.

Northern Illinois's women's basketball team stayed close to South Dakota State, a team that some of the sports pundits had as a bubble team in the Big Dance.  Ultimately, the home floor advantage was with South Dakota.  The young people who played in that tournament game put in a lot of work from the end of their 2015-2016 season, one that did not end as well.
Just 374 days ago, March 7, 2016, the NIU women's basketball ended its season at Western Michigan in the First Round of the Mid-American Conference.

With just nine healthy players suited - one of whom started the game after breaking her toe in the hotel pool the night before doing rehab - the Huskies fell to the Broncos, 94-52, and closed Head Coach Lisa Carlsen's first season with an 11-19 record.

Losing only one starter from that team and returning three seniors to be, the group committed in the offseason, pushing each other in a grueling boot camp competition and organizing team workouts. Little did the 10 returning players from that team realize that it laid the cornerstones for the 2016-17 season through its losses and offseason conditioning, working to #RestoreTheGlory, the team's adopted mantra for Coach Carlsen's second season.

Fast forward to March 16, 2017 and NIU secured its first 20-win campaign in two decades, its first winning season in the last 10 years and its first conference championship game and postseason tournament appearance since 1995.

Battling through adversity and coming together as a team throughout the 2016-17 season, the Huskies closed the year in the First Round of the Women's National Invitational Tournament at South Dakota State, 94-84.
They've surely summoned the echoes, and what I saw of team morale and unit cohesion suggests they'll be hard at work over the summer.
In the postgame radio show, The Voice of the Huskies Bill Baker, who has now called all 10 of the Huskies postseason games since 1990, said in reference to the program's first playoff appearance in over two decades to Carlsen "someone has to take that first step and to that first tournament and that was you in just your second year. Good things will happen when you play the game right and when you win, there's a chance for postseason and championships."

Carlsen's response was profound, simple and straight to the point.

"When (players) get a taste of all the hard work paying off, I think that's where you build your program into a perennial contender. We want the ability to compete for championships year after year like they have here at South Dakota State. Once you give the kids a taste of that and they understand what that feels like, if you can continue to build that culture, you have the opportunity to continue that year after year.

"I feel like our young kids do understand that and we can continue to develop them with the understanding of 'this is the expectation.' No longer is the expectation to hope and pray to play postseason basketball; (we) work hard enough to deserve that. Hopefully this is a stepping stone that's pushing us in the right direction and is something that we can build on," she said.

The Huskies goal entering the season was to hang a banner from the rafters at the NIU Convocation Center. Through hard work, determination and belief as a group, the 2016-17 NIU women's basketball #RestoredTheGlory, writing a new chapter for the program's success that will live on in the Huskies annals for years to come.
They have summoned the echoes. And Chicago area television have been paying attention.  Here's a WGN feature on departing team captain, soon to be Lieutenant Ally Lehman.

Fair winds and following seas.

NONE OF US IS AS DUMB AS CONSENSUS.

Doggone it, I really wanted to lay off of the Wise Experts for a day or two, but this one is too juicy to pass up.

During the college basketball tournament, the business types get their knickers in a twist over how much time is lost at setting up office bracket pools (or perhaps the fillip to morale the office pools provide) and I was guilty of teasing students, this time of year, "You know, if you devoted half the time you put in on your brackets to indifference at the margin conditions ..."

And if you aspire to bigger things, there's the ESPN Tournament Challenge.  As of this morning, out of over eighteen million entries, all of eighteen have the round of sixteen correct.  It is likely that substantially more than eighteen will have the round of four correct, and a non-trivial subset of those will name the team that cuts down the nets.  (But that will be neither last year's winner Villanova nor Duke from the year before that, and Connecticut's men have been cheering their women classmates for some time already.)

But the failure of more contestants to identify the round of sixteen is a signal of a system failure.  The Wise Experts are up front about rigging the competition, something that promoters of wrestling have long been accused of.  As ESPN's Eamonn Brennan has it, "It's about doing what the bracketing principles and procedures are supposed to do, especially with top seeds, teams that have spent months earning their spots. It's about rewarding those who deserve to be rewarded."  That is, the teams the Wise Experts would like to see meeting each other either in the regional finals or in the round of four get to go through the weakest opponents first, while the middling-strength teams get to test their mettle against each other in a game or two before they get to take on the deserving rich.  And sometimes there's a Cinderella story, although the folks who rig the system are getting better at Cinderella-proofing (or is it George Mason-proofing?) their show.  In 2007, for instance, the round of sixteen comprised no worse than a five-seed.

This year, the Wise Experts whose job is to rig the system started releasing their rankings about ten games into conference play, signalling their likely top sixteen teams. We had, for instance, Purdue somewhere in the initial top sixteen, Wisconsin outside that list, and Michigan seems like a dream to me now.  Those are the three Big Ten teams still playing.  Wisconsin entered the tournament as an eight seed.  Former players, who had the current starters developing as reserves, were skeptical of that seeding before a tip-off occurred.  "Minnesota, one of six other Big Ten teams in the tournament, received a No. 5 seed. The Golden Gophers finished one game behind Wisconsin during the regular season, lost both meetings to the Badgers and were eliminated in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten tournament."  That five can often be a kiss-off, as the twelve beating the five is frequently a good bet; then the expected outcome is the four gets through to the round of sixteen.  Minnesota was the first five out.  "Wisconsin plays Virginia Tech in the first round on Thursday. If it wins, it’ll likely face defending national champion and top overall seed Villanova on Saturday."  Villanova performed as expected against Mount Saint Mary's.  Then they had to play Wisconsin.  Oops.
In Buffalo, unlike in Salt Lake, the No. 8 seed in question was not [Northwestern] making its lovable first NCAA tournament foray but a roster whose seniors have been to two Final Fours and three Sweet 16s and played in 15 NCAA tournament games in the past four seasons -- the most tourney-tested group of players in the sport. In Buffalo, unlike in Salt Lake, the No. 1 seed's path to the second weekend went through one of the most underseeded teams in the 2017 NCAA tournament field.

Yes, Wisconsin was underseeded. Throw out the Badgers' past accomplishments (the selection committee certainly does), and there remains no actual basketball explanation for why Greg Gard's team was seeded where it was. The Badgers entered Selection Sunday 25-9 with a 12-6 record in the Big Ten -- same as Maryland, a No. 6 seed, and one win better than Minnesota, a No. 5 seed that Wisconsin beat twice.
That's Mr Brennan again, and it's the data-driven obsession of sports pundits that deprived East Coasters of the expected Villanova - Duke showdown in the attic of Penn Station.
Why did this happen? Because even as every coaching staff tracks its per-possession performance and Las Vegas builds books based on advanced analytic projections, the people responsible for deciding how the sport's most important competition is structured can't be bothered with all that much more than the RPI [a performance index -- ed].

Wisconsin's RPI was 36. Its nonconference strength of schedule -- which is based on RPI -- ranked in the low 300s. Its "best" wins -- which is to say "best" according to the RPI -- included only two against the top 25.

If you live in the selection committee's world, it isn't hard to understand how a team with Wisconsin's résumé could end up playing the top overall seed on the first weekend of the tournament. If you live in the real world, it's impossible to fathom.
On the other hand, if the Wise Experts got it right, you might give yourself a good chance of winning the Tournament Challenge simply by picking the picks of the Wise Experts and their algorithms.  And the winning team would pay Hillary Clinton a visit in the White House, but I digress.

But the Wizards of Smart are going to double down on Applying Expertise, perhaps with Better Index Numbers.
That's why the National Association of Basketball Coaches asked the committee to join the rest of the sport in the glories of modernity and why the genuinely smart, often forward-thinking folks at the NCAA responded by summiting with some of college basketball's best statistically inclined minds. It's why a new metric might soon replace the RPI -- maybe as early as next March.

Because the bracket could be better. Because it should be. Because days such as Saturday, when the top overall seed faces a team such as Wisconsin, shouldn't happen -- not this early, anyway.
Put another way, a committee with better information ought to have a better chance of rigging the system so as to dispose of the champions of obscure conferences and the upper middle finishers in the power conferences more effectively.  They're unlikely to consider other pairing approaches, such as the Swiss system used in chess tournaments (they could avoid a challenge the tournament director faces by allowing the higher-rated team to wear its home uniforms, there being no first-mover advantage to contemplate) or even partially random approaches.  Perhaps pick the top sixteen teams, then fill in the pairings for the rounds of 64 and 32 by drawing names.  That might be the end of those Tuesday "first four" games, two of which generally involve teams that earn the honor of crash-test dummy, but that wouldn't be all bad, either.

I suspect, though, the Wise Experts will set things up in such a way as to make the seedings better predictors of the outcomes in the early rounds, even if that annoys the people on Tobacco Road.
When the committee released its initial rankings in February, it regarded precisely zero Big Ten teams among the top 16 seeds. Ultimately, none received any seed better than Purdue’s four in the Midwest. Faced with skepticism all season, the Big Ten has mounted a powerful rebuke in the bracket.
The Atlantic Conference fans? In the same position as Lyndon Johnson's "best and brightest," all of Hillary Clinton's position papers, and the Atlanta Falcons. "Duke is a standard bearer and was viewed as a serious title threat. Ditto Louisville. In its worst visions, the ACC could not have imagined a Sweet 16 with both Mike Krzyzewski and Rick Pitino cast as observers." Yes, and the Smart People thought they had a matchup for the ages of Duke at Villanova in New York.

Wisconsin?  Recruit, develop, season the young players, and prepare for the next 40 minutes.  There's beer in the cooler, whatever the outcome.

THE DEFLATING TOURNAMENT BUBBLE?

Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel pundit Christian Schneider is less than impressed with the Big Ten's Drang noch Osten.
Video of the crowd from [9 March's] Northwestern-Rutgers game suggested America may have been in the throes of a months-long zombie attack.

Yet the move from the Midwest to Washington, D.C., is only the Big Ten Conference's most recent step on the path to becoming a national laughingstock. That trek will be complete next year when the conference, desperate to dip its straw in the East Coast's money milkshake, will be holding its tournament in New York's Madison Square Garden. The catch is, in order to make the schedule work, the Big Ten will have to move its conference tournament up a week to allow the Big East to run its tournament at the regular time.

That means the Big Ten Tournament will be running at the same time as the minor conferences and low mid-majors who typically only get one team into the NCAA Tournament. In order to push itself on an unwilling set of fans, one of the nation's great leagues is subjugating itself to all the other power conferences. No more distasteful exchange of money for services has taken place in New York since Eliot Spitzer resigned as the state's governor.
That comes with the addition of three teams from east of the Alleghenies (Penn State, solid in football, inadequate in basketball, some decent nonrevenue teams; Maryland, decayed in football, solid in basketball, some decent nonrevenue teams; Rutgers, let us draw the curtain of charity) to a conference redolent of factories and fields.  Mr Schneider's characterization: "The list of embarrassments endured by Big Ten fans in the name of expanding the league's money stream is a long one."

And moving the conference tournament from Indianapolis or Chicago (or the new barn in Milwaukee?) to the attic of Penn Station?  Sad.
But now, at least in terms of basketball prestige, the Big Ten has been eclipsed by smaller leagues such as the Big East, which is basically made up of Catholic basketball-only schools that fell out of the major conferences' pockets while they rummaged for spare change. The 10-member Big East is going to send seven of its teams to the NCAA Tournament, the same number as the 14-member Big Ten. There are few off-nights in the Big East. (And will be even fewer when traditional power Georgetown gets back on its feet.)

While traditional rivalries still exist in the Big Ten, the league has been watered down by its recent additions. And the move to New York could have negative effects for the conference as its teams move on to the NCAA Tournament. How are the league's teams going to fare in the Big Dance after sitting around for almost two weeks while the other major conferences are battling for tournament spots?

Everyone knows that college athletics is a business first and foremost, which is why so many conferences have realigned in recent years. But the Big Ten's current Dash for Cash is a shameful level of greed that even Gordon Gekko would consider excessive. Instead of showing up at Madison Square Garden next year with tournament tickets, fans may just as likely be brandishing restraining orders.
Those realignments, though? Put together a weak Lackawanna with a weaker Erie and you get a railroad the wags referred to as the Weary Lack-o-money.  Take the undersized steel plants of Republic and the undersized steel plants of Youngstown and call the larger collection of undersized steel plants LTV Steel (playing off the sixties conglomerates craze, anyone remember that?) and you have to account for more distressed properties in bankruptcy court.

So yes, we're in the middle of March Madness and all looks well.  Behind the scenes (and on the ledgers?) the ominous signs materialize.

19.3.17

WORKING ON THE RAILROAD.

The Chicago Area March Meet is an occasion to get enough construction done to run trains.


Freight and passenger trains, and a circus train, something you'll soon only be able to see in model form.  Enjoy.

14.3.17

FREQUENCY, CONNECTIVITY, AND AESTHETICS.

Travel and Trains considers the case for Regional Rail, outside the Amtrak and 403(b) state-supported nexus.
In order to have a fighting chance at profitability, passenger trains need passengers. Lots of them. Enough ridership to generate enough revenue to make the enterprise work. As a practical matter, that means any new for-profit passenger service has to operate along high-density corridors or, at the very least, provide a connection between two major markets.

It’s encouraging to note that there are a surprising number of corridors that might be able to support profitable passenger trains: Los Angeles-San Francisco; Cleveland-Columbus-Cincinnati; Dallas-Houston; Chicago-St. Louis; Chicago-Minneapolis; Denver-Salt Lake City; Tampa-Orlando; Miami-Orlando; and a few more.
Unfortunately, locals aren't crazy about additional passenger trains, because of property values, or something.
Brightline [commencing service in Southeastern Florida] has run into passionate opposition from some of the residents along the route which already exists for the parent company’s freight operation. The residents claim that Brightline passenger trains running at speeds of 100 miles per hour on existing track will mean the end of there [c.q.] world as they know it.
Yes, there are good blue-state liberals in Connecticut who are on board with spending public money on infrastructure, as long as it's not straightening out the New Haven because that might make it harder to get to the yacht club or the tennis courts, and we will continue to follow the opposition of people in Chicago's northern suburbs to improving the Hiawatha service.

Perhaps, once the additional trains are running, we can think about making them look better.

Here's a Brightline set, apparently on rebuilt Florida East Coast tracks.



Provide a common profile to the coaches and the power car and you get the Mark Twain Zephyr (which will still win the creature comfort contest with that parlor-cafe-observation.)


Unattributed photograph retrieved from Railway Classics.

Or you could mimic the profile of an Electroliner.


In those days, two flag hoists took care of the pennant races in baseball.

More important than the aesthetics, though, might be interline ticketing.  These new train services will have their own fares and ticketing, and on lines where they share tracks with Amtrak, there's the potential for ill will as a new passenger gets on a train with the wrong ticket.

At least we're talking about adding trains to the Passenger Rail network.  First get the trains running, then give them free rein to 110 or 124, then tweak the schedules for connectivity, then work on interline ticketing.

FILLING IN BRACKETS ON PI DAY.

The circular constant figures in the Gaussian normal curve, yes, but be careful about how you apply the law of large numbers in a small tournament pool.
Perhaps [Wisconsin industrial engineering professor Laura] Albert McLay’s most important advice came at the end of her blog post: “It’s random.”

Doing your research might help you win in a smaller pool, but the more people get involved, the more likely it is “that someone will accidentally make a good bracket with a bad process,” she wrote.

This is the frustration amateur bracketologists know all too well: You can spend hours making well-researched predictions, but it feels like the office pool’s winner will always be someone who barely put any thought into his or her picks.

“A good process yields better outcomes on average but your mileage may vary any given year,” Albert McLay wrote.
Yes, and in the large national competitions, perfect brackets are rare, even with a goodly number of entrants correctly forecasting the final four and the champion.

That observation in the second paragraph is an example of a blind squirrel finding a nut.  With as many tournament pools as there are, there will be a lot of nuts and a lot of lucky blind squirrels.

HIGHER EDUCATION'S SELF-DESTRUCTION.

You know it's gotten bad when Middlebury, a New England finishing school with little by way of big-time sports, has a professor on the concussion protocol.

How bad?  J. Michel Metz envisions The Coming of the Second Dark Ages.  Here's the money quote.  "In the last 20 years academia has raced headlong towards their emotional masturbatory techniques, not away from it. When these 'academics' started to realize that their Very Important Research™ was being ignored, they decided to change the vocabulary to sound more scientific."  He then shows readers a number of Real Peer Review's Greatest Hits, to summarize, "We are entering into an era of academic irrelevancy. At this juncture, it is virtually impossible for a layman to understand the difference between scientific rigor and multi-syllabic emotional excrement. The academic has no clothes, and to point that out results in beheading by collective fiat."  Or getting called a lot of names.  Sometimes the only intellectual riposte is "Stuff it."

Rod Dreher's "Out Of Academia’s Ashes" suggests that there might be a regeneracy in place, but you won't find it at Middlebury, or at most of the hothouses that still cling to their U.S. News standing (and sometimes they show up in the bowls and March Madness).  But I digress.
N. [a friend attempting, against the odds, to do a humanities Ph. D.] told us that he was assisting a professor in an upper-level undergraduate class in his discipline and was shocked to see that none of the students could write a coherent argument across several paragraphs, Most of them couldn’t even lay out a basic argument in a single paragraph.

Someone at our table on staff at a classical Christian school chimed in to say that the military service academies told their headmaster that they prize graduates of these schools because unlike so many of the graduates of mainstream high schools, the classically educated kids know how to reason.
There's a lesson for the land-grants, mid-majors, and regional comprehensives, if they'd but take it to heart.

Both of the linked posts are mini-dissertations that will reward careful study.

13.3.17

WIN ENOUGH TO KEEP PLAYING.

The University of Toledo women's basketball team will be representing the Mid-American Conference in the NCAA Tournament.

Along the way, they spoiled Senior Night at Northern Illinois University.


But the youngsters got a sack race out of the event.


And Northern Illinois will be the host institution for the collegiate golf tournament to take place just off the Way of the Zephyrs in the latter half of May.  Thus a spectator gets a chance to sink a looooong putt on a slick surface to get a pass to the event.


The target is a standard miniature golf hole, with a model of the collegiate golf trophy above it.  I'd rather take my chances with a tatty piece of all-weather carpet and a windmill than with attempting this shot.

Then Toledo won a play-in game at home, and three games in Cleveland against higher-seeded teams, including a final game that Northern Illinois led after thirty minutes, to get into the Big Dance.

The Smart Types had Toledo in as a thirteen seed or so.  They will play as a ten seed to Creighton's seven.  Something about the body of work outside the conference plus that tournament run must have looked good.

Northern Illinois accomplished enough during the season and conference tournament to get an invitation to the National Invitational Tournament.  They open at Brookings, South Dakota, in South Dakota State's arena.  Four other Mid-American teams, season leader Central Michigan, runners-up Ohio and Ball State, and Kent State will also play.

IN PLACE OF A PAIR OF E8 UNITS.

The Cascade Corridor will be the first Passenger Rail route to get Siemens SC-44 Charger diesels.
Top speed of the Siemens SC-44 is 124 mph from 4,400 hp generated by a Cummins QSK-95 prime-mover built to Tier 4 emissions standards.

Firm orders and options total 66 units by the states of California, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Missouri and Washington. Brightline of Florida has ordered Charger-powered integrated trainsets from Siemens.
Dare I modify the Cold Spring Shops "Free Rein to 110" campaign to start agitating for 124?  The Cascade Corridor is a curvy coastal route along the shelf where the Cascade Range encounters Puget Sound, not exactly terrain for fast running.  The diesels might have to deputise for electrics in Maryland.  But it's on the lines out of Chicago, whether formerly used by the Chicago Mercury or the Hiawathas or the City of New Orleans or the Nebraska Zephyr, where these diesels have a legacy to live up to.  Heck, there's an earlier Silver Charger in preservation in St. Louis.


Siemens photograph retrieved from Railway Age.

Now, if industrial designers could make passenger locomotives that didn't look like someone was attempting to cut a pat of butter off a cold stick!  Sure, powering four axles with a single prime mover is an advance over powering eight axles (plus four idlers) with four prime movers the way a pair of E8s did it.

But the original Silver Charger cut a more attractive profile on a short train.


Unattributed photograph retrieved from Railway Classics.

Note, the short General Pershing Zephyr had a cafe-parlor car at the rear that puts today's Amclub cars to shame.  Yes, that's a baggage compartment in the power car, this is not a diesel locomotive for a long train.

Before the E8 came the E5, with four thousand horsepower in the four prime mover, eight powered axle configuration.  Silver Speed would be another good name for a passenger diesel.


Unattributed photograph retrieved from Railway Classics.

These diesels were good for 117 mph on level track, and on occasion, they'd do every bit of it.

Perhaps part of Making America Great Again is Making Passenger Trains Fast and Attractive Again.

THE PUNCHLINE IS "STIRRUPS."

But there's nothing too weird for Student Affairs types these days. Campus-Wide E-mail Tells White Girls to Stop Wearing Hoop Earrings Because It’s Cultural Appropriation.  Seriously?
“If you didn’t create the culture as a coping mechanism for marginalization, take off those hoops, if your feminism isn’t intersectional take off those hoops, if you try to wear mi cultura when the creators can no longer afford it, take off those hoops, if you are incapable of using a search engine and expect other people to educate you, take off those hoops, if you can’t pronounce my name or spell it … take off those hoops / I use ‘those’ instead of ‘your’ because hoops were never ‘yours’ to begin with,” Jacquelyn Aguilera wrote.

Now, I do understand that these students are upset, but here’s the thing: Deciding to personally bombard an entire student body with your feelings about hoop earrings is absolutely bananas. I mean, it would have been one thing had Martinez just gone the typical SJW-student route and written an op-ed about why people need to be more earring-woke, but she actually, seriously thought that this issue was important enough to warrant alerting the entire school — and there are not enough desks in the world for me to bang my head on when I think about how insane that is.

Now, I can admit that I did not invent hoop earrings. Hell, I can even admit that I’ve never done any research on the history of hoop earrings.
I'm old enough to have lived some of the history of hoop earrings.

A less gaudy version was part of the understated, early Eighties Preppy Handbook style.

The later, larger version figured in a blonde joke.

7.3.17

SO MANY THINGS TO RAGE AGAINST.

The social justice warriors are now after Amtrak to get rid of the Angus Cheeseburger in the dining car. "Amtrak’s Angus burger is so good that it’s worth lurching your way to the Café Car as the train (even the popular 'Fast Pig' Acela Express) is engaging in excessive lateral motion through no. 20 turnouts that need some serious attention."  The food gets more attention than the tracks, but not in a good way, thanks to something called the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.  (I think that acronyms as NKVD, but I digress.)  And here's how they phrase it.  "Amtrak: Protect Passengers’ Cabooses from Processed Meats, Says Legal Petition."  That leads Railway Age editor W. C. Vantuono to engage in some rivet-counting, particularly over the use of the term "caboose" (it's colloquial for "tush") and over the risks to a rail passenger.

I want to rivet-count the statistical inference provoking the petition.  "The authors highlighted a meta-analysis that found an 18% increased cancer risk per 50 grams of processed meat consumed daily. Researchers also observed associations between red and processed meat products and stomach, pancreatic, and prostate cancers."  Phrased that way, it sounds scary.  But suppose the baseline is 100 cases of cancer in 250 million people?  A slightly larger serving each day correlates with 118 cases; double the serving, now you're at 136, and with a sample that big, the outcome probably has a publishable p-value.  But can any one person affect his or her chance of cancer by skipping the Angus burger on a train trip in any meaningful way?  Doubtful.  And perhaps the associations between red and processed meats and those cancers has less to do with the meat consumption per se and more to do with the fact that people well off enough to eat meat are not dying of malnutrition or pellagra or dysentery, and thus living long enough for cancers to develop?

AMERICA'S WEALTHIEST GATED COMMUNITY.

Thus does Margaret "University Diaries" Soltan characterize Middlebury College.  "The greatest privilege of all is being able to shut out offensive ideas."  Yes, with all the zeal one would expect of religious fanatics, as William Deresiewicz notes.
Selective private colleges have become religious schools. The religion in question is not Methodism or Catholicism but an extreme version of the belief system of the liberal elite: the liberal professional, managerial, and creative classes, which provide a large majority of students enrolled at such places and an even larger majority of faculty and administrators who work at them. To attend those institutions is to be socialized, and not infrequently, indoctrinated into that religion.
It has not yet come to the ritual burning of a heretic, but the True Believers are not making many converts.  Rod Dreher elaborates.
The tragedy of Trump is that [the Academic-Entertainment-Government Complex] really does need to be blown up, or if not blown up, then dismantled and rebuilt. But his fatally flawed character is probably going to make that harder to do than it ought to be.

Still, why, exactly, would a smart, self-respecting aspiring scholar want to go into a world of people who think and behave that way? If most people are sick of it, but it still goes on, what are we to conclude?
Inside Higher Ed documents the soul-searching.  I'll give Mr Murray, who was the latest recipient of snowflake Stalinism, the final word.  "Academia is already largely sequestered in an ideological bubble, but at least it’s translucent. That bubble will become opaque.

"Worse yet, the intellectual thugs will take over many campuses."

Perhaps, though, graduates of the land-grants and mid-majors will be able to compete for, and to hold, positions of authority in commerce and government that the snowflakes will not fill, as the elite college degree becomes a signal of something other than merit and probity.

2.3.17

ANOTHER REASON TO DISLIKE WEEKNIGHT FOOTBALL.

Yeah, I've been beating this deflated pigskin for a long time, and it's still with us, unsustainable or not.  But help is on the way.  The latest Mid-American schedules, complete with lots of opportunities to shiver in a vast, nearly empty stadium in November, are out, and they're too much for Huskie Wire sports pundit Jesse Severson.  "MAC schedule shows top priority is money, not athletes."  Yes, as G. B. Shaw would have it, your salary as a college sports pundit depends on not understanding some things.  But Mr Severson is having none of the new schedule, despite the fact that playing on Saturday and then on Thursday isn't as onerous as playing on Sunday and then on Thursday, as is the case in paid football that is explicit about being paid football.
The Huskies will travel to Bowling Green on Oct. 21 in the final Saturday game of the regular season. The following Thursday, they will host Eastern Michigan.

Since NIU started playing midweek games in 2004, the Huskies traditionally have been given a nice buffer between the last Saturday game and the first weeknight contest. In 2009, they played Akron (27-10 win) on a Saturday and Eastern Michigan (50-6 win) on the following Thursday, but both games were in the friendly confines of Huskie Stadium.

This coming season, the Huskies will travel to Bowling Green on that last Saturday before packing up and traveling home on either a bus or a plane, and then turn around with minimum rest for an important contest against suddenly competent Eastern Michigan – the first MAC West game of the year for NIU.

Before thinking NIU has it bad, Ball State has to run the brutal two-games-in-five-days gauntlet twice this season – Oct. 21 against Central Michigan and Oct. 26 against Toledo, along with Nov. 16 against Buffalo and Nov. 21 against Miami (Ohio). The only saving grace for those poor Cardinals players is that all four games are at home.

Other conferences have done that Saturday-to-Thursday turnaround – the Mountain West, for example – and you see it in the NFL with its truly hard-to-watch Thursday Night Football games, but at least those guys are getting a payday for their backbreaking work.

All of it, at the end of the day, is about money.

The networks want live football to put on the air during weeknights. The conferences are more than happy to get in bed with the networks because it brings them giant bags with dollar signs printed on them and brand it with words such as "exposure" and hashtags such as "#MACtion."

Sure, there is something to be said about the exposure that being on ESPN's networks brings. However, we've seen what it's done to stadium attendance. All that is worrisome, but it's much less sinister than putting in harm's way the athletes that earn those TV contracts.

There is more and more information coming out about the dangers of concussions, so that we can no longer simply stick our head in the sand. Playing two games in five days is dangerous.
Precisely.  Go, read the rest.

Let's restore football to a State of Good Repair.

Friday night is for high schools.

Saturday is for colleges and universities.

Sunday is for the professionals, preferably in a stadium in the shadow of a steel works or a paper mill.

College bowls finished on New Year's Day unless that's a Sunday.

RETHINKING THE CONVENTIONAL WISDOM.

Wisconsin governor Scott Walker discovers that there's not enough money in the till to widen Interstates 90-94-39 between Madison and the Wisconsin Dells.
The memo comes at a time when Walker is standing against raising the gas tax and some of his fellow Republicans who control the Legislature are calling for finding another $300 million for highways over the next two years.

Wisconsin might not need to build as many lanes of highways as it has in the past because of changing technology and work habits, Walker said. He noted driverless cars could be on roads in the near future and young people are increasingly choosing not to buy cars and relying on services like Uber and Lyft to get around.

"I think part of it is going to be looking ahead and determining whether or not there are better ways we can do those projects in the future," Walker told reporters. "I’ve asked (Transportation Secretary David) Ross to look at...whether or not those bidding on those projects are able to deliver at the price that fits the needs of the taxpayers. So we want to make sure that we’re using every dollar wisely."
Democrats, Republicans, the state is that grand fiction by which everyone attempts to live at the expense of everyone else.  And if motor fuel tax revenues aren't sufficient to pay for the road repairs, and motorists balk at paying more fuel taxes, what does that do to the argument that the road network pays for itself?  But I digress.

Meanwhile, the existing highway is, as the locution has it, crumbling infrastructure, with the Wisconsin River bridges, in particular, being in rough shape.
The Wisconsin Department of Transportation has stopped studying a potential expansion of interstate highways from Madison to Wisconsin Dells, a sign the department may be downsizing its road-building ambitions in the face of mounting budget pressure.

The move appears to foreclose any near-term efforts to expand a corridor that carries growing volumes of traffic, much of it tourism-based, from southern Wisconsin and Illinois to Wisconsin Dells and other points north and west.

In February the department said the corridor would experience “significant problems” from traffic congestion if it is not expanded.
But expanding the corridor by building more lanes simply means congestion from construction delays followed by congestion with induced traffic.  On the other hand, failure to maintain the Wisconsin River bridges in a state of good repair means congestion from lane closures (to rebuild under traffic) or congestion from detours.  But achieving a state of good repair to maintain the existing state of congestion might make more sense than attempting to alleviate congestion by facilitating new congestion.  Oh, and look at the rent-seekers!
Zach Brandon, president of the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce, said expanding the interstate is “an economic necessity in part due to the increasing number of logistics companies in the Greater Madison region.”

“Without a comprehensive long-term vision from the state for funding transportation in a sustainable way, it is not surprising that projects like these are being delayed,” Brandon said.
Any business project will look better if somebody else is picking up the tab. Why should the logistics companies be any different from any other recipient of corporate welfare? (Hint: the railroads are investor-owned. There's existing right-of-way where a second track might come in handy. And there used to be several fast trains a day calling at the Dells.)

A GREAT POPULIST SPASM.

That's the thesis of Sarah Hoyt's Upside Down, a nice bit of Fourth Turning imagery in the title of a meditation on the Loss of Control by Wise Experts.  " Leaders work, if they’re carefully trained to lead (one of the reasons Heinlein advocated breeding and raising rulers, or at least jokingly advocated it) and in our complex technocratic society, more so, but what if what they’re learning actually renders them more unfit to lead, because they can’t see conditions as they are right now?" I can channel my Inner Cromwell, and tell those who have sat there for too long to Go!  But the folks who are just sitting there might resist being turfed out.
Eight years ago people were sensing something was wrong.  Hiring Obama was part of this.  He was the dream-boat of the Marxists and everyone had been educated to believe Marxism (even when they weren’t told the name) was the way of the future.  I mean, it’s right there on the tin “progressive.”  It must be progress.  He had the education, he didn’t have experience in government but the media burned its last shreds of credibility to convince everyone he was a deep thinker.

Only, like managers being hired now on impeccable credentials, he was trained to administer the government of the thirties, at most.  Not the chaotic economy and intricate specializations of the oughts.
Perhaps the best thing for the experts to do is to stop their salvage efforts. But that's unlikely.  To Victor Hanson, though, that would be a desirable outcome.
The Western world is having a breakdown. The symptoms are the recent rise of socialist Bernie Sanders, Trump's election, the Brexit vote and the spread of anti-European Union parties across Europe.

But these are desperate folk remedies, not the cause of the disease itself.

The malady instead stems from our false notion of elitism.

The public no longer believes that privilege and influence should be predicated on titles, brands and buzz, rather than on demonstrable knowledge and proven character. The idea that brilliance can be manifested in trade skills or retail sales, or courage expressed by dealing with the hardship of factory work, or character found on an Indiana farm, is foreign to the Washington Beltway, Hollywood and Silicon Valley.
Perhaps, although, emergence being messy, the spasm is likely to go on, as are the death struggles of the old Establishment.

THE PRODUCTIVITY PUZZLE.

One of the Reuther brothers, of United Auto Workers fame, once remarked to an automobile company executive that the precise engine-boring machines didn't buy cars.  The tension between precision manufacturing and providing gainful employment for potential customers goes on, most recently with the introduction of ordering kiosks at Wendy's hamburger stands.
Wendy's has figured out how to eliminate 31 hours of labor per week from its restaurants and is now working to use technology, such as kiosks, to increase efficiency.

Kiosks could ease lines and boost kitchen output during peak lunch and dinner times, Tristano said.

The other benefit is higher order accuracy. And as Bob Welcher, president of Restaurant Consultants Inc., said of kiosks last year: "They always are courteous. They always show up for work on time."

Kiosks are just the first step in changes that customers will see in restaurants. [Wendy's chief information officer David] Trimm and [Technomic vice president Darren] Tristano said that mobile ordering and payment, via smartphones, eventually will overtake kiosks and cash registers. One reason: they provide data. Wendy's wants to know more about its customers to better tailor offers and understand trends.
I wonder what it says about young people today that they're more receptive to using information technologies to place food orders, given that young people are often the order-takers, implicitly being called out for inaccuracy, discourtesy, and lateness in the excerpt.  Or perhaps we're seeing this stratification of the population into the Informed Rich, as opposed to the Low Information Poor.  (But since when is a Wendy's a hangout for the rich?)

The excerpt also points out the ubiquity of the surveillance state.  Wendy's might want to know who is checking in at which stand and they can correlate the check-ins with the food purchases, and send along a survey that will "take only five minutes" to complete, and then annoy people further with a "can you explain why you rated your slider a five?"  (And that's where the leisure time goes, dear reader, participating in all those online surveys and promotions.)  But that's just a matter of course, and nobody is worried that such open-source intelligence is of value to play-hunters on reality television, let alone to terrorists.

CROSSING STATE LINES FOR THE HIGHER-PRICED SPREAD.

Once upon a time, the dairy lobby in Wisconsin's rent-seeking included a ban on the sales of margarine.  The law was later amended to allow the sale of uncolored margarine.  The shopper could buy a tub of the stuff and a packet of coloring and whip up something that looked a little more like ****** (in those days, advertising convention precluded the mention of a competitor's product, although "the high-priced spread" was a permissible locution).

Or, the shopper could bundle the kids into the car, take a Sunday drive to Interstate Park or the Upper Peninsula or the Museum of Science and Industry, and on the way back, stop at an oleo stand, load a case of contraband into the trunk, and have a substitute that looked just like ****** (rhymes with udder.)

Sometime in the 1960s, and perhaps motivated by the nutrition science of the day, in which dairy fat was somehow worse than vegetable oil fat, or perhaps by the suburbanization of the state, the state repealed the colored margarine ban, and the oleo stands couldn't quite repurpose themselves as dealers in motor fuel or fireworks or lottery tickets, although I suspect a sharp-eyed archaeologist could spot a surviving building here or there.

But now, the smuggling is ******!  What the ????
When Wisconsin resident Julie Rider shops for groceries, there's one item she can't legally buy at her local market — or at any stores in her state.

Because of a decades-old state law, Rider's favorite butter — Kerrygold, imported from Ireland — isn't allowed on Wisconsin store shelves.

The law, requiring butter sold in Wisconsin to be graded for taste, texture and color through a federal or state system, effectively bans butter produced outside the U.S., as well as many artisanal butters that also aren't rated.

This means some residents of the Dairy State have to drive across the border into Illinois just to buy their favorite butter.
You'd think the same creativity that leads to artisanal cheeses (why buy from France when you can go to Plymouth?) would lead to artisanal butters. I'll have to hit a county fair this summer and report back.  The Kerrygold phenomenon appears to be an upscale thing, note that Ms Rider isn't going butter shopping in Menominee, Michigan, where there used to be oleo stands.
Rider, who lives outside Green Bay, gets around the law by buying her Irish butter online, but has heard friends talk of taking road trips to the Chicago area to get their Kerrygold fix.

Though the rule has been on the books since the 1950s, it is churning new controversy at a time when butter consumption is on the rise in America as it's increasingly thought to be healthier than margarine. Butter made from grass-fed cows, such as Kerrygold, is a staple in some diets and for the "bulletproof coffee" movement, where such butter is mixed with coffee and MCT oil for purported — but debated — weight-loss benefits.
Catch that "is thought to be healthier than margarine."  Will the dairy lobby resurrect the margarine ban?  Dairy State artisanal butter producers, if any, already have trade protection.
The Wisconsin rule also affects artisanal butter makers like Adam Mueller.

The fifth-generation owner of Ohio-based Minerva Dairy, Mueller says his distributors have told him they will no longer sell products to Wisconsin grocers because of the law — even though his butter has been available in the state since the 1990s.

As a smaller, artisanal dairy, Mueller said he can't afford to fly in someone on a weekly basis to grade his product, just so it can be sold in Wisconsin stores. Even if he could, Mueller said artisanal products like his "exceed" federal grading systems, so he wouldn't want to affix his butter with that seal.

"We make butter the same way it's always been made since ... before there was a USDA standard," he said. "We're concerned about (the law) because … if I can only reach a portion of the distributor's customers, that reduces my ability to stay with the distributor."
A creamery in Ozaukee County or Sheboygan County, say a member of the old Lake to Lake Dairy Cooperative, might be able to get its Wisconsin-only product into Milwaukee and Green Bay easily enough.

HAPPY TRAILS.

Nevada basketball coach Jane Albright, who previously built teams at Wisconsin and Northern Illinois, announces her retirement at the end of the season.  "Albright is the winningest coach in program history at both Northern Illinois and Wisconsin. Overall in her career she has led her teams to nine NCAA Tournament appearances and won the WNIT in 2000 with Wisconsin."

We may have more to report from Northern Illinois, where the current team has exceeded Jane's best record as a Mid-American team (Northern playing as an independent for one or two seasons, then participating in two conferences that might have evolved into the Horizon League before returning to the Mid-American) in the next week.

Fair winds and following seas, Jane.