28.9.04

MARKING OFF. Another conference, more overnight trains to report on. Thanks for looking in, expect a compare-and-contrast in the near future.
EXPERIENCING FRAGMENTATION. Transport Blog and Cold Spring Shops have traded tales over the years about the pros and cons of railway fragmentation, defined as multiple operating companies using the same tracks. In the UK, the experiment has not been without its troubles. See this. In the United States, multiple passenger operators have an uneasy coexistence with the freight railroad that owns the tracks, but after a fashion it works. In Germany, one company offers different kinds of passenger services. Elsewhere on the Continent, there is talk of a British-style restructuring: one Swiss participant at the railway history conference complained that train operators tend to think of the rail network as a steel highway, and they want free access for their trains at any time. Alas, that doesn't work out so well.

Let's start with the German service, all of which is integrated under the Die Bahn label. Train-specific timetables are available on the major intercity trains, listing connections (research those here or auf Englisch) to other intercity trains, local trains, and suburban services, with assigned departure tracks listed in the timetable. The timing is not quite as tight as it is in Switzerland (George Drury's The Reluctant Railfan's Introduction to Europe notes, "a difference in time of two minutes is a valid connection unless otherwise noted") but six- or seven-minute connections are common.

In the UK, multiple train service operators coexist on the same routes. A holder of a rail pass has the option of taking the next service out, no matter whose it is, but if you're at Doncaster headed for York on a Virgin ticket and the next down train is one of those Great North Eastern expresses, you just have to wait. (Let's see, a bad parody of the New Haven Comet or an electric high-speed train with a real dining car??) I noted several places where I had the choice of different operating companies, perhaps with different running times and more or fewer stops, depending on the franchise.

Less known to many readers is that there is a similar coexistence in the United States. On the east coast, the Amtrak Northeast Corridor is also home to the Virginia Railway Express south from Washington, D.C., and the Maryland Rail Commuter to the northwest and north, reaching as far as Perryville, Maryland. Further north, the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority shares Amtrak tracks in the Philadelphia area, south to Wilmington, Delaware, north to Trenton, New Jersey, and west as far as Paoli. New Jersey Transit operates Trenton to New York's Penn Station, with numerous connections available at Newark and at Penn Station. Although New York's Metro-North operates out of Grand Central Terminal, its trains share tracks with Amtrak's Empire Corridor line (125 mph speeds being promised) to Poughkeepsie. The Metro-North service extends to New Haven, Connecticut, in cooperation with the Connecticut Department of Transportation, and Connecticut operates a Shore Line East service as far as New London. (Thus, if one wanted to do a bit of exploring one could travel from Fredericksburg to Perryville or from Wilmington to New London without buying an Amtrak ticket.) There are additional connections in Connecticut. The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority operates a service from Providence to Boston, and other service in Boston out of both the North and South Stations.

In the Midwest, Chicago's Metra Rail shares tracks with Amtrak, although, owing to Chicago-area restrictions on picking up and setting down passengers, the use of Amtrak as a faster alternative to Metra is not available.

The California service is turning into an example of cooperation among the operating companies. Amtrak runs one intercity train from Los Angeles to Oakland, and northern and southern corridor operations. There is a commuter service out of San Francisco. The southern corridor is also home to the Los Angeles Metrolink, sharing the Pacific Surfliner route between Oxnard and Oceanside, with additional branches. There are additional connections at Los Angeles. South of Oceanside, the Coaster service runs to San Diego, with a trolley connection to the Mexican border. Oceanside now has what it bills as a transportation center serving all three routes. And Amtrak California offers one truly promising development:
Beginning April 1, 2004. COASTER Monthly Pass holders became able to ride COASTER Commuter trains AND any AMTRAK train between Oceanside and San Diego (within the limits of their monthly pass). Conversely, Amtrak ticket holders became able to ride on any COASTER train within those same limits on their Amtrak ticket.

The program began over a year ago on Metrolink, and has resulted in much more convenience for both Metrolink and Amtrak riders AND significant ridership increases for both train services.

COASTER monthly pass holders will be able to ride AMTRAK on SUNDAY, when COASTER has no service, and Amtrak passengers will be able to ride the Coaster's new late night return from Petco Park weekdays.
The absence of any single pass good on all trains occurred to me several times during my recent trip. It appears as though the Californians are taking steps in that direction. (There is talk of providing run-through tracks in Los Angeles as well, no more Frankfurt-style reversal of direction.)

On both coasts, there appears to be reason to issue German-style connection leaflets. Currently, a traveler must use his wits to get from Paoli to Attleboro (change from SEPTA to Amtrak in Philadelphia, change from Amtrak to MBTA either at Providence or Boston Back Bay) or from Pasa Robles to Mission Valley (left as an exercise).

So, do we have trains in the United States like they have in Europe? Definitely, where road congestion and population density warrant it. Could we borrow some ideas from the Europeans? Yes. Seamless ticketing and shared connection information would help. Do we want to borrow more ideas from the Europeans? Perhaps, but it won't come cheaply. Consider providing something analogous to the Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive in the Midwest. One could offer an hourly dmu service from Milwaukee to Kenosha, connecting there with the Metra service to Chicago, as a supplement to the every-two-hour fast trains on the Hiawatha line. But would the taxpayers of Wisconsin really want to dig down for something like that, and would the Union Pacific countenance such puddle-jumpers getting in the way of the Oak Creek coal trains? Perhaps not, if this Ross Clarke essay on the behavior of passenger transport executives generalizes:
Berney Arms is one of numerous "ghost" stations in remote corners of the countryside where once or twice a day is played out the bizarre ritual of a train service with no passengers. It might seem to make sense to close the station and the eight-mile stretch of track which serves it exclusively, but that would require a considerable amount of bureaucracy, and private operators are not prepared to go to the trouble. Far easier and cheaper, they have realised, to avoid the issue by keeping a skeleton service.

NO LIBERTARIAN REPUBLICANS. Perhaps because states that went Republican in the 2000 presidential election have been net recipients of Federal tax money, according to the Tax Prof. Perhaps that's why you don't hear Republican candidates describing, per Bastiat, the State as an enormous fiction. But why are the Democrats letting their states get hosed?
NO BAD IDEA EVER GOES AWAY, YET AGAIN. First the British Labour Party stirs up passions with a ... ban on foxhunting?? Now, the party conference votes to ... re-nationalize the railways?? Party leaders note that the party would prefer to spend the money on other projects first. Window dressing, in the manner of the balanced-budget amendment on the Republican platform?
IT SOUNDS GOOD, SO WHY DOESN'T IT WORK? Joanne Jacobs exposes the dirty little secret behind education fads.
"Education is often degraded by the use of pseudoscience or weak science or anecdote in lieu of better methods," writes Grover J. (Russ) Whitehurst, research director for the U.S. Education Department, in a Chronicle of Higher Education story.

Academics in the American Education Research Association typically do "qualitative" and "ethnographic" research, notes the Chronicle. Like anthropologists, they describe what goes on in a classroom or at a school, but don't provide any data that makes it possible to figure out whether one approach works better than another.

"Fewer than 10 percent of AERA members are knowledgeable about randomized trials," Robert F. Boruch, a Penn education and statistics professor, tells the Chronicle. "And even fewer have actually worked on a randomized trial."

As a result, education professors have been frozen out of major new studies, often in favor of private research firms like Mathematica, which is evaluating software that claims to boost reading and math skills, and MDRC, which has specialized in job training and welfare reform. Labor economists, statisticians and psychologists have the skills to do controlled studies. For the most part, the education professors do not.

Of course, some are converting to rigorous research. It's where the money is. And plenty of academics really do want to know what works.
Perhaps if we knew what we were going to assess, we might get beyond the assessment of the obvious I so frequently grouse about on these pages. And perhaps the students that enroll at community colleges (hat tip: Milt's File) might actually be ready for community college. And perhaps more of our graduates would have the technical and scientific skills that would enable them to earn a middle-class living.
SPEEDING THINGS UP. A wheeled vehicle can go around curves at speeds that subject human bodies to great stress, which is why curves on relatively slow roller coasters have extreme banking and railroads continue to experiment with tilt-body trains. The latest entrant in the tilting-train speed derby is Virgin Trains's Pendolinos (yet another third generation Electroliner) one of which set a London to Manchester speed record last week. (I read about it on the Eurostar. Brag, brag.) The service is not without its teething troubles.
Alas, on my return journey, it was a different story. The carriages due to form the 1527 to London Euston were already at the opposite platform at Manchester Piccadilly when the record-breaking special pulled in shortly after 1330.

Unfortunately they were still there at 1537. And at 1547.

Although this too was one of the new Pendolinos, the brakes had refused to unlock and the windscreen wiper was not working. Nor was the air conditioning in some of the carriages.

We left more than 20 minutes late and were warned of a further possible delay at Macclesfield, where a fitter was waiting to fix some of the problems.
Patrick at Transport Blog is less than impressed, recommending an op-ed piece by a former rolling stock engineer with British Railways who has a "here we go again" piece. (No bad idea ever goes completely away.) A sampling:
Virgin's Pendolino trains look a little familiar to me because in the mid 1980s I worked briefly as an engineer in British Rail's research department at a time when the original tilting train - the Advanced Passenger Train - was sitting in a siding waiting to be scrapped.

It was already obvious that the concept of a train which leans into corners was too clever by half. The theory behind it is that it allows you to run a high-speed rail service along an old piece of curving track instead of building a new, straighter line. The only problem is that if a train company can't afford to build a new line, it can't afford to build and operate tilting trains, either.

Besides the £11 million price of each new Virgin Pendolino train, it has cost £7.6 billion and taken 10 years to upgrade the signalling and track on the London to Glasgow line to a suitable standard to enable its maximum speed to be lifted from 110 mph to 125 mph. By contrast, the French railway, SNCF, spent £2.5 billion and took two years building a new high-speed line from Lyons to Marseilles which allows trains to run at 215 mph; and that price includes blasting eight miles of tunnels through the mountains.

Like British Rail, SNCF undertook a feasibility study into tilting trains in the late 1960s but rapidly came to the conclusion that the mechanism was over-complex and would prove too unreliable and costly to maintain.

Using generous quantities of our money, British Rail then spent 15 years proving in three dimensions what the French engineers had worked out on paper. Does it need to be proven all over again? Given that Virgin has been unable to keep the loos working on its new trains - which have already been running in non-tilting mode for several months - it doesn't bode well for its ability to keep the trains leaning at the right angle.
The French finding something too complex (too many nuances, if you will???) The tilt mechanisms are compelling the dining-car staff to develop new train legs, according to the BBC:
The ride was smooth, by the standards of most intercity trains, although the waiters in first class struggled to pour out cups of tea and coffee without spilling them.

The tilt is undetectable to passengers. Only when you happen to look out of the window, and see an unexpected expanse of sky, a bit like a plane banking, do you realise the tilt has been engaged.
Walking from place to place might take riders a bit of getting used to. My legs are quite well-suited to a Metroliner or Acela Express making time, let alone a bouncy ride on the old B&O, but I have to adjust to the British spirals on curves, and the Germans are different still.

26.9.04

GRINDING IT OUT. It has been a splendid weekend for college football in the State Line area. The difficulty with having a team that isn't very highly rated is that you often don't know until late in the week what time the game will be. Friday night's game in DeKalb, with Bowling Green facing Northern Illinois University, caught me a bit by surprise, but the reason for the strange timing was to get the game onto ESPN-2, which is how I was able to eat dinner and watch it at the same time. Although Northern Illinois has lost to two of the more visible teams -- Maryland, where time ran out on them, and Iowa State, who staged a major rally -- it defeated last year, it has reversed one of the losses that counted, to Bowling Green, a resident of the Midwestern Axis of Evil, otherwise known as U.S. Highway 23. The way in which Northern Illinois put the game away -- a drive of 91 yards consuming nearly nine minutes to open the fourth quarter and featuring fourteen carries by reserve running back Garrett Wolfe -- was impressive. Fine cool dry weather for the game as well. Saturday evening in Madison featured more of the same, with solid defense and a big fullback converted to tailback keeping Penn State from having much effect. (Let us wish Coach Paterno's son-in-law a full recovery from the biking accident he suffered Saturday afternoon.) Professor Althouse has some game-day pictures. She notes that even the stop signs are red and white. Yes, and they'll tackle you for a loss.
CLIMBING THOSE MOUNTAINS. The first International Railway Historical Association conference, focusing on railway investments, was in Semmering, Austria, and coincided with the 150th anniversary of the opening of the Semmering Pass railroad line, which the locals hail as the world's first mountain railroad. I'm not sure what the basis for this "world's first" is, as the Pennsylvania Railroad's Horseshoe Curve also observed its 150th anniversary this summer, and Charles S. Roberts's excellent Triumph I reports an all-rail service from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia as early as 1851, although The Pennsylvania Railroad's own line was not in full operation until December of that year. By contrast, the Baltimore and Ohio's Sand Patch grade, intended to ease the West End crossing that the chief engineer of the Semmering line, Karl Graf von Ghega, researched in his proposal to build the Semmering Pass, was not in full operation until much later.

The Semmering line anticipates the much later Milwaukee crossing of St. Paul Pass in its use of tributary stream valleys to gain elevation and with its many viaducts -- in those days built with multiple levels of stone arches for additional strength -- and tunnels, including one rather interesting tunnel open on one side. The Pennsylvania, by contrast, relied on cuts and fills on the east slope, with tunnels where required on the west slope, as well as multiple crossings of the Conemaugh River. The Pennsylvania's crossing is much lower, starting with Altoona at 1200 ft (366 meters) above sea level, and the highest summit at Portage Tunnel 2200 ft (671 m.) The Mürzzuschlag end of the grade is also at 671 m (that's where you'll find both the railway historical museum for the Semmering line and a Brahms museum, as Mr Brahms wrote the Fourth Symphony in Mürzzuschlag, something I didn't learn until after I'd left, although that is as good a reason as any to hold a Brahms-Dvorak festival the weekend of the conference, which I also missed!) The top of the grade at Semmering is 895 m (that works out to 2936 ft, no wonder I got a bit winded walking any distance there) and the foot of the grade at Gloggnitz is 437 m or 1434 ft, about the same elevation as the base of the Horseshoe Curve.

Yes, there was some intellectual work at the conference. Details on that later.

SECOND SECTION: Look at all these convergences, from the announcement of the Brahms-Dvorak festival:

Brahms and Dvorak during the years of their aquaintance (1874 to 1897). In the anniversary of the Semmering railway we can meet Dvo?ák as an enthusiastic friend of the railway.

Beside the music program you will have the possibility to visit the new exhibition about the Semmering-Railway „Südbahn-Kulturbahnhof“, to take a literary and musical journey on the Semmering-Railway, to listen to a concert in the romantic spa hotel „Thalhof“ in Reichenau and to look to the unveiling of the Brahms portait-head by Josef Pillhofer.

CHANGING TRAINS. The express train picks its way out of the city station on rapid-transit tracks. Once out of downtown, it leaves the rapid-transit line, the motorman shuts off at the end of third rail, and power collectors reach for the overhead wire. But this express train is not an Electroliner at Crawford Avenue winding it up for Milwaukee, rather, it is a Eurostar leaving the Southern Electric for the Channel Tunnel Rail Link, and the first of a sampling of Europe's high-speed trains, which, fittingly enough, are third-generation Electroliners. (The first Japanese bullet trains are the second-generation Electroliners. Japanese engineers closely inspected the North Shore Line in the fall of 1962, just before the railroad quit. Why don't we have high-speed trains like the Europeans in the States? One explanation is that we gave them up 40 to 50 years ago. Another explanation is that, where they are useful, we have them. More on those points another day. This post focuses on the technology.) Passengers on the Eurostar get announcements in English and French. The usual order of announcements in my experience is the host country language first. Once onto the Franco-Belgian high-speed line, the train really moves. The technology, however, is not flawless: we were detained at Lille account a fire in the signalling center somewhere in Belgium. The train crew first advised us that we faced a delay of unknown duration; then that we would detour over the ordinary-speed lines once a pilot qualified for that line could be found; then that we would use the high-speed line most of the way but were still awaiting a pilot for a short section of ordinary railroad; finally, that we would be able to proceed on the normal route (and apparently the engineer's Hours of Service would not be exceeded.) The relief in the train chief's voice when she made the last announcement was evident in both French and English. That last development allowed passengers with tight connections in Brussels (including passengers destined for Warsaw and Moscow as well as a few people headed for Vienna) to make their connections.

The service from Brussels to Frankfurt-am-Main was offered by a German ICE-3 train, a worthy grandson of the Electroliner, right down to the railfan seats in the smoking section. The motorman left his compartment door open during much of the journey. I hope he didn't mind the secondhand smoke. There were several Japanese businessmen enjoying the view and the smoke much of the way. From Brussels to Köln the train uses the old Belgian and German lines, which are rather curvy. Its performance on this stretch does not come up to that of Amtrak's Acela Express on Metro-North. The best speed I noted was some short stretches at 110 km/h or about 70 mph. Once across the Hohenzollern Bridge and onto the new German high-speed line, however, it's off to the races, with speeds hovering near 300 km/h, definitely world-class. What's that old song about "passing cars like they were standing still?" The high-speed line follows an Autobahn route and there are many opportunities to leave the motorists behind.

There is a Wurst kiosk in the circulation area of the Franfurt Hauptbahnhof that serves a proper bratwurst well into the night. Mein Herr, haben Sie Sauerkraut mit? (He had the right sort of mustard on offer, not that weak yellow Flatlander excuse for a mustard.) The Frankfurt to Vienna leg was on a sleeper train; impressions of that in a post yet to come.

The return trip offered a sampling of three basic high-speed technologies. The Wien West-Frankfurt Flughafen leg featured the ICE-1 large train formation (those 801, 802, 803, and 804 series are apt numbers, don't you agree.) These are large-capacity trains with proper dining cars serving meals on real china with real flatware (are you listening, Amtrak?) although on the Wien-Linz-Nurnberg-Frankfurt route they never really got up to great speeds. We were running faster than the usual 79 mph (about 130 km/h) mandated for signalled track in the United States. I have come to the conclusion, however, that fixed seating with half the seats facing aft, although expedient, is a paradigm of rapid transit barbarism that doesn't belong on an intercity train. In defense of the Europeans, many trains reverse directions at stub-end stations: imagine passing through the old St. Louis or Boston stations as routine.

The really fast running (apart from the tower operator's error on the Hohenzollern Bridge) was on a double ICE-3 set from Frankfurt Flughafen to Köln. Travelers must be alert to the proper coach to board as there is no way to pass between the two sets, which divide somewhere in the Rhineland to go to two destinations.

From Köln to Brussels, both my intended and my actual transportation was on the Benelux railroads' Thalys, a cousin of the French TGV. One traveller recommends that riders choose options other than Thalys (not easily done if that's the operator of the last train west.)

Thalys is the brand name for the fast trains from Paris to Brussels, Amsterdam, and northern Germany. These trains charge railpass holders excessive reservation fees, and even at that, severely limit the number of seats available to you. Plus, they are decorated in a garish "bordello red" that will leave you nervous and high-strung.

From Paris, traveling on normal trains via Lille (in northern France) and Gent (in Belgium) adds an hour to your trip but saves $20. Or take a regular TGV (not the Thalys) from Paris's Charles de Gaulle airport to Brussels, and connect there. Your pass is also good on the Paris commuter train out to the airport. Overnight trains also avoid the usurious fees.

For travel within Belgium, Holland, and Germany, other trains run on "Thalys" routes just as fast as the Thalys and using more comfortable equipment.

Basically, with the introduction of Thalys, the European railways have succeeded at something they have been trying to achieve for years: They have made taking a train as complicated and stupidly irritating as taking a plane.

The trains offer meals-at-your-seats from a service cart in first class, and don't provide the German-style dining car. The ride itself is pleasant, subject again to the usual half the seats facing backwards.

The high-speed trains of Europe have much to offer, although they serve a different sort of market than the United States. I gathered some impressions of the coexistence of local and intercity service that might generalize to North America, but will post on those another day.
MAKING THE TEXTBOOKS CHEAPER? Tyler at Marginal Revolution has some thoughts on the missing incentives for professors to seek out cheaper textbooks for their students. His proposal that professors share in the savings to students has some merit. Question: doesn't the marginal buyer play a greater role in determining the price of the book? Aren't the students on financial aid inframarginal buyers and the students working their way through college the marginal buyers? Does it therefore follow that textbooks are not overpriced?
COMFORTABLE WITH THEIR PREJUDICES? Laura at 11-D argues that there is no conspiracy in the mainstream press to get President Bush.
First, there are no conspiracies. Nobody was in the grassy knoll. The CIA wasn't responsible for AIDs and the crack epidemic. Why do I know this? It's human nature. People can't keep secrets and people can't agree. It would be impossible for all the members of the mainstream news sources and top political leaders to pull off a plan to dethrown Bush without somebody leaking information.
Perhaps not. The simpler explanation is that the contents of the phony documents were sufficiently consistent with the prejudices of everyone at CBS who vetted it that the story went out without much vetting.

None of which will prevent defensive lefties from arguing that they are in the minority, in the newsroom and in the country.
ENDING THOSE POSITIONAL ARMS RACES? Both Joanne Jacobs and Number 2 Pencil have had some fun with a recent Newsweek article on collective action undertaken by parents to tame the materialistic interests of their kids. Here's Ms. Jacobs:
The parents need a support group? What wimps!

When my daughter said, "I want" too much, her father would sing, "You can't always get what you want" till she begged him to stop. I just made it clear that nagging, whining and sulking never would be effective strategies. Keep asking and what you get is a mean, crabby mother.
Dr. Swygert's reaction is similar:
One of the best child-rearing skills is the ability to act crabbier, crazier, and more annoying than a whiny kid. The image of Joanne's daughter being driven mad by a father warbling old Rolling Stones tunes is just hysterical - not to mention effective.
The article made for some interesting reading on the return flight from London. The problem contemporary parents face, the article points out, arises from a combination of their current prosperity and their memories of less-affluent parents with their own recollections of depression and world war. My parents would react to any claim by me or my siblings that "everybody did X (or had X)" with the challenge: name three. In those days, we generally couldn't name three. These days, it's apparently easy to name three.
In the heat of this buying blitz, even parents who desperately need to say no find themselves reaching for their credit cards. Kechia Williams is a 32-year-old single mother of five who works as a custodian at Emory University in Atlanta. She rises at 4 a.m. to get to work at 6 in order to make $9 an hour. She has to work overtime to pay for basics like new school clothes and supplies. And yet, her children do demand and often get costly gifts. The oldest boys, Darryl, 15, and Kwentavius, 12, have a PlayStation 2 and several games that cost $60 apiece that they play on a big-screen TV. "They're always begging for brand names—FUBU, Polo, Tommy, Gucci, Nike—especially the ones the rappers are talking about," says Williams. "I constantly have to remind them my paycheck will go only so far," she says. "But that doesn't stop them from wanting it. The stuff is all over the TV, and the videos, then some of the other kids have it." Williams knows how they feel; she had very little growing up. "I can see it in their eyes sometimes, how bad they want something, and I want to get it for them."
It helps to be able to set limits and live within one's means.
Jenn Andrlick, a 23-year-old editorial assistant in New York, describes herself as a recovering "spoiled brat." As a child in Omaha, she says, she regularly manipulated her hardworking parents into fulfilling her every whim—special toys, dance lessons, fashionable clothes and a car. "I told them if they loved me, they'd get it for me," she recalls. Now, as a young adult perched precariously on the first rung of her career ladder, she's finding it impossible to live within her means and still relies on handouts from Mom and Dad. Once she was the envy of all her friends because "I always had more than anyone." But these days, she says, she envies her roommates who know how to stick to a budget. And her mother, Debbie Love, keeps asking herself if it might finally be time to "cut her off."
The talk of the extra pressures kids face today sometimes defies parody.
Families like the Villaverdes are in the minority. Few parents ask kids to do anything around the house because they think their kids are already overwhelmed by social and academic pressures; adding lawn mowing or laundry almost seems cruel. And who wants to nag a 12-year-old (for the fifth time) about taking out the garbage? "When parents have so little time with their kids," says Irene Goldenberg, a family therapist and professor emeritus at UCLA, "they don't want it to be filled with conflict." But kids who have no responsibilities never learn one of life's most basic lessons: that every individual can be of service to others and that life has meaning beyond one's own immediate happiness.
Why the parents have so little time the story doesn't tell us. Sometime's its broken families and the playing off of parent against parent ... a topic for another day? Sometimes it's work pressures ... but is the point of working to bring in more money to buy more toys? And when you put it all together, you do have a positional arms race in which parents literally don't know how to say "no" or how to compare notes with their neighbors.
But change doesn't come easily. The senior parking lot at Boulder's Fairview High School remains overrun with luxury cars, and many members of the most recent graduating class spent their spring break in Puerto Vallarta. Parents still feel they have a lot to learn about how to work with their neighbors to enforce the same values. At one network meeting, a woman raised her hand and requested that the speakers role-play what she should say if she called another parent to check on her kids. "I thought it was a joke," says Fran Raudenbush, a school administrator and a founder of the group. "But it wasn't. Parents are starving for information."
Cultural norms evolve, but that doesn't preclude people agreeing to give one set of norms -- perhaps less pressure on the kids and less indulgence -- precedence over another.
THE OLD ORDER IS RAPIDLY FADING. The upcoming election has potential to be a referendum on the technocratic vision, to the dismay of some people who consider their vision suitably clear to properly be the technocrats. Professor Newmark picks up a column in the Charleston Daily Mail that reacts to the latest discovery by the vanguard of false consciousness in the masses, this being Thomas Frank's What's the Matter with Kansas?: How Conservatives Won the Heart of America (details or compare prices.)

The column's author does not appear to be interested in finding common ground.

Left-wing America has reached a conclusion about the half of the country that refuses to put them in charge: Regular people are too stupid and brainwashed to vote in their own self-interest. What was once a quietly held belief among well-educated liberals is now getting some mainstream attention in books, columns and talk shows.

The left has always been certain that it knows what's best for poor and middle-class folks. These self-styled intellectuals can explain the failure of the masses to embrace their message only in terms of a mass defect in the audience.

Socialists are realizing that if Americans can't be drawn to the big government message, they may have to be pushed.

It's a more benign version of Lenin's corollary to Marx. If the members of the proletariat won't rise up and topple their oppressors, they may need a little nudge in the right direction by their intellectual betters.

Like the avant-garde composer who creates a symphony so advanced and innovative that it sounds like a raccoon being tossed down the stairs in a steel garbage can, liberals know the problem is with the audience, not their work.


His conclusion:
It's possible that enough "two Americas" rhetoric could tamp down those impulses for a short time. But if the new idea for the left is to be even more condescending to voters, I don't suppose conservatives have too much to worry about.

Victor Davis Hanson's latest National Review offering sees the end of the old establishment consensus as long in coming, and welcome. The purloined-document flap at CBS, he argues, is just one more crack in the old journalistic edifice.

Commentators have envisioned Rather's fall as symbolic of a "paradigm shift" and the "end of the era" — an event that has crystallized the much larger and ongoing demise of the old establishment media. Allegories from the French Revolution and the emperor without any clothes to the curtain scene in The
Wizard of Oz
have been evoked to illustrate Rather's dilemma and the hypocrisy of all that went before. We have come a long way since the 1960s: The once-revolutionary pigs taking over the manor are now bloated and strutting on two legs as they feast on silver inside the farmhouse.

First CBS went into denial; then it tried to smear its critics; next it emulated the Nixonian two-step; and finally it stonewalled altogether, hoping that the 24-hour news buzz would fade before it ultimately did. Meanwhile, more and more Americans yawn and have already switched the channel to cable news. We keep waiting for Mike Wallace on Sunday's 60 Minutes to stare down Dan Rather on the set of Tuesday's 60 Minutes, sticking his mike in Dan's face, springing on him a long list of his previously unknown sins, capped off with the zoom shot on a fidgety, sweating Rather, as the tick, tick, tick fades into a primetime commercial.

The Big Three may deride the newsreaders at Fox as blond bimbos, but millions of Americans learned long ago that there are probably more liberals on Fox than conservatives on PBS, NPR, CBS, ABC, and NBC combined — and the former are honest about politics in a way the latter are not.

Professor Hanson suggests that this establishment has become too comfortable with its own prejudices.


Hypocrisy and aristocratic smugness are drawing the ancient regime to its death. Rather's now-ossified generation came of age in the heady Vietnam era, on the apparent premise that Main Street, USA, and the Kiwanis had given us Vietnam,
Watergate, racism, and the other isms and phobias — and that only hip, swashbuckling 60s-types could tell the American people the "truth" about what the "establishment" was up to.
The old academic establishment, and the old international order, are not immune either:

But the regime is crumbling on campuses as well. Too many university professors in the humanities dropped long ago their allegiance to the disinterested search for truth, or to teaching students facts and methods. How could one be so constrained and parochial when a war was raging on, and millions of youth needed to be prepared as ideological warriors in the struggle to remake our culture? Meanwhile, teaching loads decreased, annual tuition soared higher than the rate of inflation, and the baccalaureate no longer reflected much erudition. Surely,
progressive academics, of all people, would not stand by while their curriculum was politicized, free speech suppressed, their part-time lecturers systematically exploited, their working-class students priced out of the market, and their research tainted with bias?

The U.N. also seems to be going the way of CBS. Only a little over a quarter of our citizenry feels that the organization reflects American values. Kofi Annan was blind to the greatest financial scandal of our time, one that contributed to the deaths of thousands in Iraq and enriched cronies, including perhaps his own son. He survives only because a biased media has judged that his progressivism warrants shielding him from the type of scrutiny afforded Halliburton.
And thus comes The Reckoning:
If we wonder why CBS is in trouble, why no one trusts the universities or the U.N., or why the Democrats may soon lose the Senate, the House, the presidency, and the Supreme Court, the answer has a lot to do with arrogant hypocrisy — the idea that how one lives need have nothing to do with what one professes, that idealistic rhetoric can provide psychological cover for privilege and preference, and that rules need not apply for those self-proclaimed as smarter and nicer than the rest of us. But none of us — none — get a pass simply because we claim that we are more moral, educated, or sophisticated than most.
But that reckoning ought come as no surprise. The proper question to put to anybody who poses to know What Ought To Be Done is the American Question: If you're so smart, why aren't you rich? Yes, I'm yet again channeling Deirdre McCloskey's The Vices of Economists - The Virtues of the Bourgeoisie (details or compare prices), this time quoting from p. 115.
The other problem is that social engineering [the technocratic vision -- Sup't.] is hostile to freedom. I realize that saying so will make a lot of my economist colleagues angry, since they have no such end in view when they advise the government of Holland or of America. But I can't see how to get out of the dilemma. Either you respect people as free adults and leave them alone. [Yes, even when they drive Harleys.] Or you don't, and want to engineer them. Social engineering is not about some personless abstraction called "Society" or "The Economy." It is about actual people, Trees Kettering or Deirdre McCloskey or Joel Mokyr. It's not really "social engineering." It's "people engineering."
The technocratic vision ... is it indeed passing from the scene, or will there be new generations of politicians and academicians to restore it? And yes, there is a generational dimension to it. Grover Norquist may have made Andrew Sullivan angry by calling the current crop of elders "anti-American" and made too obvious a reference to the maxim, "where there is death, there is hope." Mr. Norquist erred, however, in pinning the blame on the G.I. era cohort. The real Destructive Generation comprises those individuals who remembered World War II and Korea, but who were too young to be called up for those wars, and too old for Vietnam, and who decided on the basis of the New Deal and the World War that Something Had To Be Done. And yes, that Destructive Generation has for too long called the shots in the universities, the international institutions, and the mainstream press.

23.9.04

HOUNDING THE RIDINGS? Last week, the British House of Commons was invaded by protestors objecting to ... a ban on fox hunting? In the course of the railway conference, I was chatting with a participant who described her use of the animation features in Power Point to reenact an earlier protest in Parliament involving votes for women, including the rather tender issue of well-to-do women obtaining the franchise although some men without property did not have the vote. So I suggested that there might be some teachable moments contrasting the hunt protest with the suffrage protest. Her reaction: I didn't know England. Likely not: some of my family was tossed out as early as 1608. I did, however, conduct some research on the politics and symbolism of riding to hounds, or as Oscar Wilde put it, the unspeakable in pursuit of the inedible (a Google search string that well might lead to much more than one cares to know about the issues.)

The Independent provided a summary of the issues of the hunting ban, which I quote in full below. (Buy it yourself if you want)


A way of life wrongly attacked or the end of a centuries-old cruel blood sport?


16 September 2004

(First issue) The welfare of foxes

(Position of) Anti-hunting lobby: The League Against Cruel Sports says there is "no evidence" that foxes are genuine pests. To deal with "rogue" foxes, copper fencing around chicken coops and bringing sheep indoors to give birth are more effective ways of reducing attacks on animals than hunting.

(Position of) Pro-hunting lobby: The Countryside Alliance says that most farmers believe foxes are pests and their numbers need to be controlled. A ban will not save the life of a single fox because "pest control" would continue to be legitimate. There is a danger that the number of foxes would rise to unmanageable proportions in some areas and "shot to extinction" in others.

(Parliament's findings) The verdict: The Burns report, published in 2000, concluded that "farmers, landowners and gamekeepers consider it is necessary to manage fox populations in view of the damage foxes can cause to farming and game management interests". The 200 registered packs of hounds kill 21,000 to 25,000 foxes a year.


Impact on horses and hounds

Anti-hunting lobby: Horse riding is one of the biggest growth areas of leisure pursuits and a ban on hunting would have a negligible impact on the equestrian world. Hounds would be used in drag-hunting and other alternatives to fox hunts, so there would be no need for any animals to be put down.

Pro-hunting lobby: There are 20,000 fox hounds and 200,000 other dogs indirectly used in hunting whose futures could be put at risk by a ban. A further 60,000 horses are also primarily used for hunting and would face a similarly uncertain prospect if their owners could not hunt.

The verdict: Horses and hounds could be deployed to different uses, but this would mean convincing their owners that switching could work. The ban in Scotland has had no impact on horses and hounds, which now are simply used in humane hunts.


Impact on rural and hunting communities

Anti-hunting lobby: The economic impact would be small as such a tiny number of people - only 700 to 800 in the whole of England and Wales - are directly employed by hunting. Those who are indirectly unemployed, such as blacksmiths, would not lose income because other types of horse sports and rural pursuits are flourishing.

Pro-hunting lobby: More than 12,000 jobs - or 8,000 full-time equivalent posts - would be lost by a ban on hunting. The economic impact could amount to hundreds of millions of pounds, and the social cohesion among rural communities created by hunting would be destroyed.

The verdict: The Burns report estimated between 6,000 to 8,000 full-time jobs would be lost by a ban and that outlawing hunting would be "keenly felt" in some rural communities. But the report also said that within 10 years, most communities would have adjusted. There were 10 hunts in Scotland before the ban was enacted there - and not a single one has been lost.


Hunting is intrinsically barbaric

Anti-hunting lobby: Fox hunting is cruel. Hounds are bred to run slowly, thereby prolonging the chase and increasing the distress to the fox. Foxes are run to the point of exhaustion. While the actual kill may be quick, the chase to the death is slow and tortuous.

Pro-hunting lobby: No method of control is going to be entirely without pain or distress, but hunting is necessary and no more cruel than other means. The death is quick.

The verdict: Lord Burns concluded that there was a lack of clear scientific evidence about the effect of the chase on a fox, but said he was satisfied that "this experience seriously compromises the welfare of the fox". Most foxes do not die quickly from a single bite to the neck, but from massive injuries to the chest and vital organs.


A ban will criminalise innocent people

Anti-hunting lobby: Britain is a parliamentary democracy and people cannot pick and choose which laws they want to obey. The Commons has passed the Act and it is now no different from any other.

Pro-hunting lobby: Any ban will be unenforceable - people in rural communities will simply ignore the law and police forces will have to devote huge numbers of officers and time to bringing cases to court. The prospect of spy cameras in trees and village bobbies arresting renegade hunters will lead to a dangerous breakdown in trust between rural police and communities.

The verdict: Burns said that legislation could present "enforcement difficulties" but that would be up to Parliament to solve. The report accepted that some people might simply ignore the ban and rural police forces could be reluctant to give the law priority if they did not feel they had public support.


Is there popular demand for a ban?

Anti-hunting lobby: Polls by the Countryside Alliance that show huge opposition to a ban have been criticised by the Advertising Standards Authority and the Market Research Foundation. The most recent Mori poll, from November 2003, found that 76 per cent supported a ban on hunting.

Pro-hunting lobby: The Mori poll question was unfair and included people's views on badger baiting rather than simply whether fox hunting should be banned. A recent poll for the CA found only 2 per cent of people believed a ban should be a Government priority, while more than 500,000 turned out for the protest march in London in 2002.

The verdict: Even the pro-hunt lobby privately accepts that the majority of the British public are either in favour of a ban or at the least, are not fervently supportive of their cause.


Is a ban the only option?

Anti-hunting lobby: Yes. It was included in the 1997 Labour election manifesto, has a groundswell of public support and is the only straightforward and effective way to end a barbaric sport that serves no useful purpose.

Pro-hunting lobby: No. Most people favour regulation of hunting but not an outright ban, which will only lead to chaos, confusion and the destruction of a centuries-old way of life.

The verdict: Having come this far, any climbdown would be humiliating for Labour and infuriate anti-hunt campaigners. The pro-hunt lobby refuses to even accept that a ban will ever happen, and seems committed to a period of civil disobedience if - or when - it is enacted.

There is something a bit ham-handed about a government provoking such a protest over a matter seemingly so small -- is this really the hill you want to die on? What I have been led to understand is that the hunting ban captures in microcosm a tussle between metropolitan England ... that of coffee bars and commuter trains ... and country England, where rising gasoline prices and suburban sprawl crowd out old ways of life. The letters pages in The Independent suggest how angry some people are. There is a tamer introduction to the customs of the hunt and the issues at All Info About. The opponents of the hunt are sometimes more colorful. Stopping cruelty to foxes motivates some people. The levelling instinct motivates others.
At home, I used to join the local boys in “running down” the hunt. This is the only traditionally working class component of foxhunting: the fit young men of the village work out where the horses are going and, taking short cuts, try to get there before them. This way you could enjoy the thrill of the chase without the expense of owning a horse. The hunters tolerated us, but that was all. At the meet they would remain in the saddle, drinking from their stirrup-cups, talking only to each other. If we asked one of them a question, he would ignore us, or address us as if a worm had spoken, or walk his horse straight through us, so that we had to step out of the way. The Norman lords’ superiority, Shoard writes, was established by two features of feudal society: the castle and their “association … with the horse, which enabled them literally to look down on the serfs, who walked”.

As an animal welfare issue, fox hunting comes in at about number 155. It probably ranks below the last of the great working class bloodsports, coarse fishing. It’s insignificant beside intensive pig farming, chicken keeping or even the rearing of pheasants for driven shoots. But as a class issue, it ranks behind private schooling at number two. This isn’t about animal welfare. It’s about human welfare. By taking on the hunt, our MPs are taking on those who ran the country for 800 years, and still run the countryside today. This class war began with the Norman conquest. It still needs to be fought.
Or, one might take the occasion to comment on other once-legal blood sports, which, because they were not favored by the Norman lords, were banned long ago.

On the other hand, fox hunting has been banned in Scotland, where the hounds chase people, and fox -- or coyote -- hunting as practiced in the States (yes, it exists, with an association for the hound-masters, example hunt clubs in Virginia and in the Missouri Valley) involves the quarry being driven to ground rather than torn to bits by the pack. (And there are rules and a dress code. The hunt must be aesthetically pleasing. "With respect for the overall visual picture, the less correctly turned out riders should remain in the rear of the field." Priceless.)

One wonders, however, about the effectiveness of the fox hunt as herd management. Note that annual bag of some 25,000 foxes per year in the shires. By contrast, the annual bag in the Wisconsin deer hunt is close to 500,000 deer, of which close to 100,000 are taken by archers. Now, there's a Norman tradition for you...


22.9.04

PLAYBILL. The Carnival of the Vanities calls at Eleven Day Empire, and the Carnival of the Capitalists is at Voluntary Xchange.
NOTICE OF LINE RELOCATION. The SCSU Scholars have moved to a new domain.
NIGHT AND MORNING IN VIENNA. No opportunity to spend an afternoon, but that's a different tune in any event (and look here, another orchestra in the State Line.) I attended a conference on international railway investments in Semmering, Austria, and after the conference adjourned the weather in the mountains was so fine we hung out there until early evening. That left me only time to check into the hotel and stroll around the Stephansplatz area a bit before bedtime. There is, however, something to be said for closing many central streets to vehicular traffic (instead of sidewalk cafes, there are full outdoor dining areas, with, as one might expect, live musicians) to allow strolling and windowshopping (very pricey!) The bratwursts from the outdoor Wurst stand are pretty good, too.

Then, there's the walk of stars along one of the streets. I noted Felix Mendelssohn, Carl Czerny, Franz Liszt, the Schumanns, and a few others. To be sure, some -- but not all -- of the composers led rather dissolute lives, but will anybody know -- or care about -- the names of the current crop of additions to the Hollywood walk in another 200 years?
HURRAH! ICH BIN WIEDER DA. There have been no posts for the past two weeks as I have been on travel to London, Carlisle (where I made the emergency maintenance), Telford, Doncaster, Semmering, Vienna, back to London (with an unplanned stopover in Brussels), and back home. What time is it???

There will be more details of this trip as it includes observations on economics, the academy, and things that run on rails. Here is one teaser: the vaunted European passenger trains are not always as fast or punctual as many people believe (more details to come.) The unplanned stopover in Brussels arose owing to a gaffe worthy of Amtrak on the Deutsche Bahn's Inter City service. I was booked on the 8.45 Vienna to Frankfurt Flughafen, where the train sets down at 15.58 with a transfer to a 16.09 Inter City to Koln, arriving 17.06 with a transfer to the 17.12 Thalys train to Brussels, permitting a connection to the last Eurostar of the evening to London.

The 16.09 was listed as 10 minutes late at Frankfurt. During the ticket check, I inquired with the conductress about the tight connection in Koln. She noted, "Kein Problemm. Wir sagen Thalys." Alas, nobody saw fit to sagen der Bahnhoffuehrer in Koln, as our train was held twice on the approaches to the Hohenzollern Bridge, when we could have rolled in a minute late with a clear track, and the Thalys train rolled as advertised at 17.12.

The station staff at Koln and at Brussels were helpful, rebooking me on the 18.12 Koln-Brussels-Paris (which was held until 18.21 for passengers to make connections) and on the 8.13 Brussels-London nonstopper. The Eurostar agent was not pleased with travel agents relying on the Bundesbahn's six minute connection at Koln, because if the train is not placed on the normal track (which is shown in a print brochure, the Reiseplan, that each German train has), passengers will miss the connection even with the train on time.

More on the railroads of the UK and Mitteleuropa in the days to come.

9.9.04

EMERGENCY ENGINEERING POSSESSION. Blogger was acting squirrelly on Tuesday night and Wednesday morning, so I'm doing a little emergency maintenance. I am off on a long drag tomorrow so you will have to settle for this post until regular posting resumes. Thanks again for looking in.

7.9.04

MARKING OFF. There are some hints if you know where to look. Thanks for looking in. If all goes well, back eventually.
QUESTION OF THE DAY. Best of the Web offers a variation on "what have you done for me lately?"
Suppose you're an employer and you hear that one of your employees, who's been working for you for about four years, once had a drinking problem and in fact pleaded guilty nearly 30 years ago to a misdemeanor charge of driving under the influence. You actually heard about all this when you initially hired him, and it did give you second thoughts, but in the end you decided to give him a chance. In the four years he's been working for you, you've seen no sign that he's fallen off the wagon. Is there any cause here to fire him? Even if the revelation about his past were new, wouldn't it have to be pretty severe to constitute grounds for termination?

Now say someone comes to you looking for a job. Right off the bat, you notice something strange about his résumé: It goes on for page after page about a job he held for four months, more than 35 years ago, but makes only the barest mention of anything he's done since. You have him in for an interview, and he can't give you a straight answer to any question about what he plans to do in the job if you hire him. Instead (to borrow a description from Joe Conason), he sounds like a bar-stool bore, with a bad habit of repeating the same lame boasts about that long-ago four-month stint again and again.
On the ground, there is evidence that the people who ultimately make the decision are noticing. Here is a report from a Cold Spring Shops source at the Sheboygan County Fair, in still-a-battleground Wisconsin.
Here's the better news ... the booth for the Right Political Party was way busier than the other guys. In fact, the Right Party ran out of Bush/Cheney stickers and Bush/Cheney buttons (including the kind you pay for) sometime before today! However, I must've asked right, because one of the booth workers gave me a button from his private supply that proclaims Badger State for BUSH. He also suggested there were volunteer opportunities available with the local Republican Party if I was so inclined.
One base is energized. I don't know about the other.
RUN UNIVERSITIES MORE LIKE OTHER BUSINESSES. Or something like that. Douglas Kern has some questions for back-to-campus time.
Why should hapless high school seniors have to apply to colleges? Why shouldn't colleges apply to them?

College is a massive investment of time, energy, and money. Ordinarily, endeavors that require massive investment try to make themselves appealing to the consumer, and not vice versa.

Forget those stupid brochures and meaningless entries in college guide books. It's time for America's colleges to load a fresh sheet of paper in the typewriter and get to work.
Let's leave aside the quibble that incoming freshmen are "consumers." (Employers and fellow citizens are the consumers.) And let's leave aside real estate hustlers, banks, hospitals, and automobile dealers and the customer appeal they exhibit. Rather, let's take a look at Mr Kern's quiz. There are some pretty good questions in here, but then there are some real howlers. And I only have to answer three!!
1) If you are a private school: as the price difference between a private university and a comparable state university is often $10,000 per year, students who choose to attend private universities may well spend $40,000 more for their educations than students who attend state schools. Over the course of a twenty-year college loan, a $40,000 education may actually cost $120,000. Demonstrate how a degree from your university will produce benefits for your students in excess of $120,000 over the next twenty years. Give special attention to liberal arts majors, particularly those who do not go on to graduate school. Graphs and charts may be appended.
Real liberal arts majors know what "present value" is. Next question.
2) If you are a state school: what percentage of your student body hails from out of state? How do you justify taxing working-class people from State A in order to subsidize the college education of students from State B?
The better question is, "How do you justify taxing working-class people from State A in order to subsidize the future upper-middle-class of State A and of other States?" Most state-located (no longer state-supported) universities charge nonresidents a price that covers their full avoidable cost.
6) What specific job skills must all students possess prior to receiving their diplomas? What steps does your school take to ensure that students are making adequate progress in acquiring those skills? What actions do you take in regard to students who fail to acquire those skills? If the answer to these questions is "none," please provide the page in your catalog wherein you express to prospective students your indifference to their future careers.
Liberal arts graduates are more capable of making connections among ideas than are graduates with vocational degrees. Those who fail to demonstrate that ability fail to graduate.
12) What percentage of tuition funds is allocated to the non-instructional research and writing of faculty members? Why is that number higher than zero?
Non-instructional research? To borrow Steven Landsburg's simile, would you rather be at a party watching others have an involved conversation, or would you rather be contributing to the conversation? A better question to ask would be "To what extent does your staffing policy give the impression that there are two classes of faculty, those that only teach and those that have to produce research? Doesn't the existence of a large staff of often contingent teachers belie the Every Teacher A Scholar ideal your publicity promulgates?" And yes, if I headed a department, I would be reluctant to hire contingent workers to do the bulk of the teaching, and I would resist pushing my tenure-trackers away from research. If my department closes a lot of classes, let me hire more tenure-trackers.

N. B.: That's my longest answer, still well under 250 words.
13) What grade percentage must a student achieve in order to pass your math, science, and engineering classes? If the number is below 50%, is it troubling that your students are collecting diplomas while learning less than half of what they are being taught?
There is no partial credit in engineering. The bridge stands, or it falls down.
PEOPLE RESPOND TO INCENTIVES. Some high-sounding initiatives don't work so well in practice. Consider the "community bicycle," which is yellow in St. Cloud, white in Madison, and red in Rome, Georgia.
The bright red bicycles, each with an identifying plate reading “Berry Bike,” were available to all students on a “first-come, first-served” basis, making them a common property resource. In spite of the relatively favorable environment for common-property bicycles at Berry, it took less than two months for many of the bikes to be lost, stolen, or abused. This story illustrates the importance of private property rights and the folly of common property.
On the other hand, a deposit against a major credit card seems to solve the common-property problem.
Vienna, Austria has a new twist on the plan. Instead of renting cars by the hour, they let you rent bikes from automated bike rental machines (like the one below). This is the second iteration of the program. Apparently, you could originally rent the bikes by inserting a two-euro coin to release them, but too many weren't being returned. Now, you use your credit card to release the bikes (I'm unsure if there are any fees involved, as I speak no German), and you can use the bikes to run all the same types of errands that you don't want to have to walk or take transit to. Quite an innovative idea and one that gets the Third Rail seal of approval.
The project is unlikely to get the Aging Hippies seal of approval, as only holders of credit cards get to use bicycles. Expect a report on the Wiener Rad from the Superintendent in the near future. My conjecture: the credit card establishes liability in case a bike is stolen, or returned damaged. Rental-car businesses traffic only in credit cards for the same reason.

6.9.04

AND NOW FOR SOMETHING TOTALLY FRIVOLOUS. Years ago, there was this joke making the rounds that ended with a penguin popping through a hole in the ice and saying "radio." Please email skarlson at niu dot edu if you remember this joke and can refresh my memory how the rest of it goes.

RUNNING EXTRA: There is apparently a lame flatlander version of this non-joke joke. I have memories of a bit more involved story involving the penguin and the hole in the ice ...

GOING LIVE FROM THE THIRD RAIL.

The Chicago Transit Authority is converting the Skokie Swift to operate entirely as a traditional rapid-transit line, with a third rail providing the electricity to the cars.
The 23,000 feet of contact rail going in along the Skokie Swift is a new aluminum composite used in Europe but just making its way into the United States transit industry. The composite material is easier to handle, install and replace than the heavier contact rails currently used elsewhere on the system. The new rail weighs approximately 450 lbs. per section compared to the older aluminum clad and solid steel rails, which weigh from 1,400 to 1,900 pounds. CTA has all three types of contact rail on its system.
Thus endeth the tradition of changing power collection, on the fly, from third rail to overhead wire. The Metro-North New Haven lines still perform this stunt, going from the old New York Central to the old New Haven routes.

Appropriately, the last call for this tradition involved the use of trolley poles (it is a bit of a challenge to pay out a rope to guide a pole onto a wire, rather than to push a button and raise a pantograph)


on the Chicago Transit Authority's historic train, which the Central Electric Railfans' Association chartered for a farewell to the overhead wire. The historic train crew handled the changeover as proficiently as the North Shore Line once did.

Speaking of the North Shore Line, check out this tribute, which includes some information about rails-to-trails in Greater DeKalb.
THE SAY AGGREGATION PRINCIPLE AT WORK. Labor Day is no longer much of a holiday, with the summer clearance sales in progress. The rest of the year is not that much better, suggests this Chicago Tribune article.

But as America transforms itself from a manufacturing to a service-based economy, more employers require around-the-clock hours.

That makes it easier for, say, working mothers to buy groceries and shop for their children's back-to-school outfits.

But it also can strain families who must cope with competing schedules, said the University of Maryland's Presser. She found that the divorce rate is three to six times higher for American couples who have children and work the night shift than for comparable couples who work during the day.

Retailers say extended hours also are good for business."Customers want to be able to bank when they want to bank, not when bankers want to provide the opportunity for them to bank," said Alan B. Levan, CEO of BankAtlantic, a Florida bank that says it has increased new accounts from 17,000 a year to 175,000 since it opened its doors seven days a week and extended evening hours in 2002. The bank will be open on Labor Day.

Whether people are more overworked, or less, remains open to debate.

A 2003 report by the International Labor Organization found that Americans worked longer hours than Europeans, with the average American putting in 1,815 hours a year on the job compared with 1,300 to 1,800 in industrialized European economies.

And another study, this one by the Families and Work Institute, found that more than one third of employees sometimes use a computer at home for job-related work. The New York-based think tank also reported that 28 percent of employees feel overworked. ...

"We live in a work-centric culture," said Ellen Galinsky, president of the institute. "The boundaries between when people are working for their jobs and when they're not are much blurrier than they used to be."

But not all economists agree that Americans work more than they used to.

Thanks to technologies like the microwave and home washing machines, a 1993 study by the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas found that Americans enjoy more leisure time than ever.

That's not a view shared by Benjamin Hunnicutt, a University of Iowa professor who's so devoted to the idea of Americans taking more time off that he teaches leisure studies."

Labor Day is just one of many forms of free time that has been eroded," he said. "We regard work as the center of life."

On the other hand, the traditional breadwinner-division-of-labor arrangement did not satisfy everyone, either.
QUOTE OF THE DAY:
Over-reaching academics drive me crazy. There are way too many people who comment on things they know nothing about. One of my earliest posts took Toni Morrison to task for ignorant comments about Beowulf. And Rose is right that being an expert in one field does not make one and expert in another. I think this is particularly true when someone is attempting to comment in areas that are politically contentious: it's very, very easy to think that because you are smart (and all academic think they are smart) and because you possess some analytical tools, you are going to be correct about anything you turn your attention to. This is mistake.
That's Wormtalk and Slugspeak, engaging in some give-and-take about the misuse of academic expertise, with No Credentials, who observes,
The excuse that over-reaching professors really just have society's best interests at heart doesn't cut any ice with me. And that's because--this is humiliating to say on a public blog--I'm really just a disillusioned teenager inside. I expected better of academics. I expected them to care about facts, to care about truth with both a big and a little "t," to not wave the white flag of intellectual surrender, the one that says "reality is ideology." I expected them to analyze their own ideologies, and to place objectivity above ideological allegiances, and to go for long hard archaeological expeditions beyond their social and political comfort zones.
There's much more, and the exchange appears to have taken on a life of its own. (What was it Adam Smith wrote about not trusting the person who affected to act for the public good?)

Tightly Wound, who found the exchange, suggests establishing a "Bonehead Patrol" for the academy.
CHICAGO BEACH PARTY. The Olympians won again.
Equal parts athleticism, entertainment and sex appeal, the shoes-and-shirt-optional exhibition was a winner with beach volleyball purists and casual oglers alike.
Sorry, no pictures. I had other plans.
EVERYTHING WE LIKE GOES AWAY. Labor Day weekend is often the end of those grand summer attractions of years ago. Will at Vodka Pundit reports that the end has come for the Miracle Strip Amusement Park at Panama City Florida, one of a dwindling number of old-style beachfront amusement parks. (Sandusky's Cedar Point and Santa Cruz's Beach Boardwalk have perhaps best made the transition to the theme park era.)

In Nebraska, the State Fair ( a farm state losing a state fair??) is also closing, unless a referendum to earmark (you have to have pigs or cows at a state fair to get the reference) lottery money for the fair passes.

There were still many traditional attractions at the fair, though in diminished quantities. Farm kids still displayed livestock they'd raised; quilters competed for blue ribbons, and display cases were filled with prize-winning cookies, cakes, preserves and pickled tomatoes. A 403-pound pumpkin was a popular draw--and the cattle-herding competition featured wholesome farm-family values: One competitor was disqualified for uttering a swear word."

Watch your language," a judge warned. "There are children here."

But such mainstay farm animals as cattle, pigs and horses were shown on only a handful of days, rather than throughout the fair's 10-day run. And all the exhibits and attractions were hobbled by the dilapidated facilities that housed them. Leaking roofs, broken windows and an absence of air conditioning plague nearly all the fairgrounds' 72 buildings, the newest of which was built in the 1970s. There's no money to repair the buildings so they could be rented throughout the year to generate additional revenue.

There is one piece of good news, however ... a drive-in theater reopening in Wisconsin. The drive-in theater is a canonical example of the opportunity cost principle at work: although the theater may report a decent bottom line to the tax man, the owner has to consider what the land could fetch if sold for tract housing.
IS IT THE WATER? Senator Kerry takes a lot of stick for his windsurfing, and Kate Zernicke at the New York Times wonders why.
The stereotypes of the sport are unfair - there are lots of plumbers and construction workers windsurfing off Cape Cod and in the lakes of Iowa. (Better put: Who among us doesn't like windsurfing?) "I would have expected it to go over well, the stodgy, overserious guy trying to do something hipper," said Robert J. Thompson, a professor of media and popular culture at Syracuse University. "It's not like he was going out having a row with the Harvard crew team."
If the Senator got into a row with the Harvard humanities faculty, that would be newsworthy, but I digress. And "crew team" is a redundancy, any Badger could tell you that, but again, I digress.

Betsy's Page, the source for this story, comments, "[The folks at the Times] just don't get it." Indeed not. The barking dog is right there in the middle of the story. But would Senator Kerry still get grief if he did his windsurfing at, say, Shabbona Lake, or his skiing at Alpine Valley (oh, hey, isn't there this town in Vermont that wants to join New Hampshire?)

4.9.04

HAS IT BEEN TWO YEARS? As of 1512 Central Daylight Time Sunday, yes it has. Unbeknownst to me, my colleague Bill Sjostrom started Atlantic Blog earlier that same day. Pay him a visit.
THE WEBLOG OF RAILROADING? No, I am not yet prepared to adapt the historic Trains slogan for Cold Spring Shops. Welcome, all the same, to readers referred here by Live from the Third Rail and Transport Blog.
PROSPERITY HAS A BAD AURA. What is worse, living in poverty in the Third World near the ruins of some long-lost civilization, or having a Wal-Mart built near the ruins? Yup.
From the top of the Pyramid of the Sun in the ancient ruined city of Teotihuacan, Emma Ortega blows a haunting ode on her conch shell and points out a half-built Wal-Mart supermarket in the valley below.

Her blood boils at the sight. "It is an attack on our heritage," fumes Ms Ortega, a colorful figure in a small but vocal protest movement against the construction of a Bodega Aurrera superstore, a Wal-Mart Mexico subsidiary, half a mile from the monuments. "It is an attack on our cosmic equilibrium."

A pyramid at Teotihuacanis shown in this Sept. 18, 2003, photo at the archeological site 18 miles from Mexico City. A Wal-Mart store is being built a half-mile from the ancient ruins of Teotihuacan and a small, embattled group opposed to seeing the store from atop the pyramids is fighting a lonely battle for what it calls Mexico's landscape and culture. The movement gives full rein to spiritualists, such as Ms Ortega, who believe Teotihuacan's pyramids and temples possess a special energy that Wal-Mart's presence threatens to throw off balance.
You can't make up stuff like this.
NEVER MIND THE EVIDENCE, WE'RE ABOVE AVERAGE. On reflection, perhaps the skepticism King notes about statistical inference is simply the quadrennial eruption of hubris. It's unseemly for a discussant, or a questioner from the floor to say "shut up." Better to bring up something like "omitted variables" or "specification bias" (there are other tricks of the trade, kiddies, if you know where to look.)

None of which prevents the usual scribblers from raising the usual silliness. Via Betsy's Page, another whine from Michael Kinsley. (If I had small children and wanted to illustrate the concept of "sanctimonious dweeb," I would just play an old Crossfire tape. I forget who suggested he would make a great Dickens character, Barnaby Sneerly, but that's on point too.) Get this:
Bush's obvious lack of interest in policy issues makes him more dogmatic, not less so. Intellectual laziness stiffens the backbone as much as ideological fervor does. Hand him his position on an issue, and he can cross it off his list. Bush's intellectual defenders compare him to Ronald Reagan, who was simpleminded (they say) in the best sense. Reagan whittled down the world's complexities into a few simple truths. But Reagan pondered those complexities on his way to simplicity. He stopped thinking only after a fair amount of thought. Bush's advisers deliver ideas to him like a pizza. His stove has never been lit. And four years have not illuminated the meaning of compassionate conservatism. It remains an insult to conservatives and a mystery to everybody else. On every big social issue that has arisen during his term (gay marriage, for example, and stem-cell research), Bush has been steadfast in taking the hard-conservative line.

The Wasp graciousness, the good-ole-boy affability, even the obviously sincere religious conviction run about a quarter-inch deep.
Contrast that with Steven at Vodka Pundit.
Forget the war. Forget policy. Forget everything but two men who want something from me. Kerry could never have joked about the way he walks – or made any other joke at his own expense. Bush can, and did. That's a guy comfortable in his own skin, and that's a guy I'd give something to, before the other guy. I'm pretty sure a lot of people recognize that, even if only instinctively. In other words, my gut tells me to vote for Bush.

My brain does, too.

I’m not much for faith-based initiatives, but I know for certain that unless we reform Social Security, this nation is in deep trouble. Tonight, Bush touched the “third rail” of American politics. Kerry seems content to keep on, keepin’ on. Strange position for a challenger to take against an incumbent, no?

I’m not much for Federal mandates on local schools, but I know for certain that America’s public schools need fixing, and soon. Bush is willing to take on the establishment. Kerry isn’t. Strange position for a challenger to take against an incumbent, no?

I’m not much for the expansion of Medicare. In fact, I think it was one of Bush’s biggest mistakes. On the other hand, I’m certain we would have gotten an even bigger, more ambitious, and even stupider and more expensive plan under a President Gore or Kerry. And yet Bush is still willing to propose expanding private Medical Savings Accounts. Kerry isn’t.
Or contrast that with Andrew Sullivan.
People like me who became conservatives because of the appeal of smaller government and more domestic freedom are now marginalized in a big-government party, bent on using the power of the state to direct people's lives, give them meaning and protect them from all dangers. Just remember all that Bush promised last night: an astonishingly expensive bid to spend much more money to help people in ways that conservatives once abjured. He pledged to provide record levels of education funding, colleges and healthcare centers in poor towns, more Pell grants, seven million more affordable homes, expensive new HSAs, and a phenomenally expensive bid to reform the social security system. I look forward to someone adding it all up, but it's easily in the trillions. And Bush's astonishing achievement is to make the case for all this new spending, at a time of chronic debt (created in large part by his profligate party), while pegging his opponent as the "tax-and-spend" candidate. The chutzpah is amazing. At this point, however, it isn't just chutzpah. It's deception. To propose all this knowing full well that we cannot even begin to afford it is irresponsible in the deepest degree. I've said it before and I'll say it again: the only difference between Republicans and Democrats now is that the Bush Republicans believe in Big Insolvent Government and the Kerry Democrats believe in Big Solvent Government. By any measure, that makes Kerry - especially as he has endorsed the critical pay-as-you-go rule on domestic spending - easily the choice for fiscal conservatives. It was also jaw-dropping to hear this president speak about tax reform. Bush? He has done more to lard up the tax code with special breaks and new loopholes than any recent president. On this issue - on which I couldn't agree more - I have to say I don't believe him. Tax reform goes against the grain of everything this president has done so far. Why would he change now?
It is possible to disagree, without portraying the President, or his supporters, as lightweights.

None of which stops Garrison Keillor, who, I suppose, has to continue to abase himself to his metrosexual friends for the sin of being born in Lake Wobegon.
The party of Lincoln and Liberty was transmogrified into the party of hairy-backed swamp developers and corporate shills, faith-based economists, fundamentalist bullies with Bibles, Christians of convenience, freelance racists, misanthropic frat boys, shrieking midgets of AM radio, tax cheats, nihilists in golf pants, brownshirts in pinstripes, sweatshop tycoons, hacks, fakirs, aggressive dorks, Lamborghini libertarians, people who believe Neil Armstrong’s moonwalk was filmed in Roswell, New Mexico, little honkers out to diminish the rest of us, Newt’s evil spawn and their Etch-A-Sketch president, a dull and rigid man suspicious of the free flow of information and of secular institutions, whose philosophy is a jumble of badly sutured body parts trying to walk. Republicans: The No.1 reason the rest of the world thinks we’re deaf, dumb and dangerous.
Mr Keillor, your own post says more about the company you keep than your projection of that fear onto others.
This year, as in the past, Republicans will portray us Democrats as embittered academics, desiccated Unitarians, whacked-out hippies and communards, people who talk to telephone poles, the party of the Deadheads.
It's worse than that. Too many Democratic sympathizers do not take the time to understand the thinking -- however jumbled, however incomplete, however different -- that underpins the belief systems of people they'd rather dismiss as yahoos.