31.12.05

THANK YOU. The "Acknowledgements" section at Fruits and Votes includes this.
I want to identify specifically two that provided me with much inspiration (in addition to PoliBlog): Stephen Karlson's Cold Spring Shops and Tom Grant's Arms and Influence. These are true model blogs.
That's very kind. The other sources do a much better job of concentrating on topics of substance than I do. Or perhaps by "model blog" he's referring to what's immediately below???

Happy New Year to all.
SOME MODEL BUILDING PROGRESS. This is the chassis for the Locomotive Workshop Alco-General Electric-Ingersoll Rand 300 hp boxcab diesel kit. I've been chasing most of the short circuits and other glitches, and it is beginning to run reliably well on straight track with the right additional weight added to the frame. (You'd think a thick slab of brass like that frame would be plenty of weight, but this is O scale, and I am working on some additional power pickups. At present two drivers on each truck are the entire power supply for it.) Some purists might bridle at the idea of each truck powered by a vertical can motor, but one does what one can with what one has.


The prototype looks like this, although mine will be somewhat less colorful. Ingersoll-Rand prettied this one up for the Nation's Bicentennial, and I think to draw attention to what they were part of. (As built they were generally engine black. I think Chicago and North Western painted one yellow and green later.)


Look closely at those radiator assemblies at each end of the roof. I have two brass bars and four brass half-rounds drilled with lots of holes, and lots of two lengths of pre-bent brass rod to go into those holes. I'm wondering if there's some way to apply a little bit of solder paste to each length, insert all the little rods into all the little holes, get the whole works in some kind of a jig, then hit it with the blow-torch and it's all done at once! Otherwise it's the soldering paste and the resistance soldering unit one rod at a time. Sounds tedious. On the other hand, there will soon be a stack of qualifying exams to grade. (I get paid to do that.)
EVER THE BOOKWORM. In grade school, one of my teachers let us keep track of our reading by adding segments to our bookworm. In those days, that meant cutting circles out of construction paper and filling in the title of the book we had finished. But we had to turn in our book reports first. Perhaps it was an early warning signal of geekiness that I took some pride in filling in more circles than anybody else. Some teachers still offer their charges opportunities to fill in the circles, although the circles are now available formatted for a color printer. (There's also, apparently, an interactive game called "Bookworm" these days.)

In lieu of the filled-in circles, here is a list of the fifty books I turned in book reports for before claiming them in the Fifty Book Challenge, as well as links to the book reports themselves.
  1. Mona Charen, Do-Gooders, 11 January 2005.
  2. Michael Crichton, State of Fear, 13 January 2005.
  3. Max Hastings, Armageddon, 21 January 2005.
  4. Mary Eberstadt, Home-Alone America, 24 January 2005.
  5. Jim Nelson Black, Freefall of the American University, 24 January 2005.
  6. Joseph Vranich, End of the Line, 24 January 2005.
  7. Thomas McInerny and Paul Vallely, Endgame: The Blueprint for Victory in the War on Terror, 6 February 2005.
  8. Richard J. Evans, The Coming of the Third Reich, 19 February 2005.
  9. Jim Dwyer and Kevin Flynn, 102 Minutes, 6 March 2005.
  10. Philip Roth, The Plot against America, 6 March 2005.
  11. Marc Frattasio, The New Haven Railroad in the McGinnis Era, 16 April 2005.
  12. Brian C. Anderson, South Park Conservatives, 18 April 2005.
  13. Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner, Freakonomics, 17 May 2005.
  14. Dan Rockmore, Stalking the Riemann Hypothesis, 5 June 2005.
  15. Eli Maor, e: The Story of a Number, 8 June 2005.
  16. Christina Hoff Sommers and Sally Satel, One Nation Under Therapy, 15 June 2005.
  17. Stan Abbot and Alan Whitehouse, The Line that Refused to Die, 16 June 2005, book appears to be out of print.
  18. Craig Symonds, Decision at Sea: Five Naval Battles that Shaped American History, 17 July 2005.
  19. Eric Schlosser, Reefer Madness, 17 July 2005
  20. James DeKay, Monitor, and
  21. James Nelson, Reign of Iron, 25 July 2005 a battle of the books.
  22. David Laskin, The Children's Blizzard, 26 July 2005.
  23. Laurence Kotlikoff and Scott Burns, The Coming Generational Storm, 27 July 2005.
  24. John Earl Haynes and Harvey Klehr, In Denial: Historians, Communists, and Espionage, 29 July 2005.
  25. Patrick Allitt, I'm the Teacher, You're the Student, 30 July 2005.
  26. R. A. Scotti, Sudden Sea: The Great Hurricane of 1938, 31 July 2005.
  27. Hugh Bicheno, Midway, 3 August 2005.
  28. Jack Greene, The Midway Campaign, 7 August 2005.
  29. Thomas Friedman, The World is Flat, 8 August 2005.
  30. Thomas Cutler, The Battle of Leyte Gulf, 9 August 2005.
  31. Gary Nabhan, Why Some Like It Hot, 14 August 2005.
  32. Andrew Roberts, editor, What Might Have Been, 17 August 2005.
  33. Robin Neillands, The Battle of Normandy 1944, 19 August 2005.
  34. Bernard Goldberg, 100 People who are Screwing Up America, 21 August 2005.
  35. Judith S. Wallerstein, Julia M. Lewis, and Sandra Blakeslee, The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce, 21 August 2005.
  36. J. Martin Rochester, Class Warfare, 22 August 2005.
  37. Lisa Duggan, The Twilight of Equality?, 30 August 2005.
  38. Kevin John Robertson, Blue Pullman, 15 September 2005.
  39. Dennis Showalter, Patton and Rommel: Men of War in the Twentieth Century, 20 September 2005.
  40. Kenneth Sewell and Clint Richmond, Red Star Rogue, 1 October 2005.
  41. Laura Penny, Your Call is Important to Us, 3 October 2005.
  42. Julie Morgenstern, Never Check E-Mail in the Morning, 3 December 2005.
  43. Steven E. Woodworth, Nothing but Victory: The Army of the Tennessee, 1861-1865, 10 December 2005.
  44. Lynne Truss, Talk to the Hand, 11 December 2005.
  45. Charles S. Roberts, West End, 12 December 2005.
  46. John Pina Craven, The Silent War, 19 December 2005.
  47. Roy Adkins, Nelson's Trafalgar, 20 December 2005.
  48. Jared Diamond, Collapse, 23 December 2005.
  49. Leslie Savan, Slam Dunks and No-Brainers: Language in Your Life, the Media, Business, Politics, and, Like, Whatever, 29 December 2005.
  50. John R. Stilgoe, Shallow Water Dictionary, 31 December 2005.


The timing of the reviews gives some insight into the rhythms of academic life. Note in particular the absence of reviews for most of October and all of November. The fall semester is an unrelieved slog once the homework problems and examinations fall due. The spring semester is also a slog, but the spring break, like the westbound flat spot on Seventeen Mile Grade, offers an opportunity to catch one's breath.

(Also posted at the European Tribune and at the Fifty Book Challenge, where I made a bookworm for them!)
WHERE THE LASERS DARE NOT SAIL. Harvard's John R. Stilgoe, the Robert and Lois Orchard Professor in the History of Landscape in the Department of Visual and Environmental Studies has written Metropolitan Corridor as well as the preface to the second volume of When the Railroad Leaves Town (this volume includes Carpentersville, Lake Geneva, and Sturgeon Bay.) He's an O Scaler with more patience than I have at adapting a natural stone basement to a decent layout. You could look that up. But it's his penchant for messing about in boats that gives me Book Review No. 50, Shallow Water Dictionary. It's an exploration of the terminology of the coastal regions of southern Massachusetts, with a close reading of vintage dictionaries (some older than his basement.) The work on oars and rowing is instructive. One suspects that John would like to refer to canoes and kayaks as affectations of a certain kind of snobbery, but he doesn't quite do that. The discussion of flats and spits is Required Reading for any landlubber with a four wheel drive yuppiemobile who would like to drive out to that high spot for a picnic. (Better to row over, and mind the currents and the tides. Don't get bored.)

Some of the regionalisms are interesting. The Massachusetts dictionaries refer to a "creek" as the saltwater inlet of a small stream. In Massachusetts, the freshwater part is a "brook." That's a bit jarring to someone who grew up near the Honey Creek Parkway and learned early on about the Duck Crick River (to use the local pronunciation), both of which drain into Lake Michigan, still, despite the zebra mussels, lampreys, and gobys, freshwater. The nature of "skiff" is instructive as well. My maternal grandfather built what he called a skiff once. It was a low-freeboard, double-ended rowboat. Scale down a Monitor-style hull with whaleback decks at each end (there is no bow and stern as we usually understand it) and place oarlocks midships. At one time, the Melges Boat Works offered something they called a duck skiff which was more like what the New Englanders call a duckboat, or perhaps a punt.

There are a number of other surprises that will trap the unwary hiker who ventures too close to the ocean, if the coast is anything other than beach or sea-wall. Many of them have their own special words, and their special hazards. Read and prepare.
EVERYTHING WE LIKE GOES AWAY. Chris at Signifying Nothing notes that Chicago's Berghoff restaurant on Adams Street will close at the end of February. Perhaps I'd best check that Elephant and Castle on the next block lest it go away too. The fate of the Berghoff brand of Huber beer remains to be determined.
I HAVE PROJECTS TOO. The Russians may have some Lend-Lease Decapods that could use some work. So do I, if on a smaller scale. I offer a Locomotive Workshop kit of the 1915 version that still requires a great deal of tweaking of the transmission before I apply connecting rods and valve gear, let alone the superstructure. That crosshead guide requires a rear anchor, although the plans I've consulted are somewhat mysterious about its placement.


But (story of my life?) shortly after I purchased a couple of these kits at a clearance sale (typical frugal Yankee) Sunset came out with a built-up model of the Erie version that was comparably cheap.


The Sunset version has a different style crosshead guide. Must look at my collection of detail shots of the Frisco 1630, which appears to have the same style.

30.12.05

LAWS OF CONSERVATION. Laura at 11-D has a modest proposal.
One income should support one family.
She's reacting to a New York Times article suggesting that houses are really cheaper than they were 20 years ago and a reaction by Elizabeth Warren, one author of The Two Income Trap (did I really read that two years ago???), who has a condensed version of her argument at a bankruptcy symposium.
In other words, it now takes two earners to pay a mortgage rather than one. A generation ago, a typical wage-earner could buy a typical house; today, it takes two incomes to buy an average home in fully 75 percent of America's cities. And that means housing is just as affordable as it used to be?
Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you the Say Aggregation Principle (hey, that's not a bad item to be ranked #1 in Google searches!) Economics is about tradeoffs. The economic emancipation of women is a good thing, as some people see it. Additional buying power from two-income families is a good thing, as many people see it. No-fault or unilateral divorce may be a good thing, but that's why we have Culture Wars. Culture Wars or no, it is policy. Ah, but then we get the Gary Becker question, "what is the effect of no-fault divorce on the labor force participation rates of married women?" If either partner is able at any time to end the marriage, attachment to the labor force may be cheaper insurance than salting away some of the allowance money. But with more labor force participation, our old friend Value of Output = Wages + Interest + Rent + Profit kicks in.

And alas, that is going to be as true in the heartland, where house prices are somewhat lower than they are in the hot coastal locations that Tapped's Garance Franke-Rutta and Ezra Klein seem to think are more desirable. (A hint to all you coastal denizens: there is something called interregional arbitrage. Places that rate higher according to school test scores or quality of life surveys or anything else will command a premium. Value of Output and all that again.)

As far as the houses being cheaper, it's difficult to compare. I don't recall many houses being built years ago with 3 car garages, 2 1/2 baths, and a spa in the master bedroom. Some of the upper-bracket ranch houses on offer around here have all of those. Interest rates were a lot higher in those days, as well.
WE GET PREDICTIONS. At Tapped, Matthew Yglesias and Ezra Klein have theirs. Guys, the New Year no longer begins on April 1!
A DISTINGUISHED ALUMNI AWARD IN THE MAKING? Newmark's Door picks up a Washington Monthly profile of Markos Moulitsas Zuniga, proprietor of the Daily Kos. The profile mentions that Mr Moulitsas graduated from Northern Illinois University. Mr Moulitsas corrects the profile to note that he was rather busy running "the school paper." A quick search of the Northern Star's alumni profiles confirms that Mr Moulitsas was at Northern Illinois, although it's not clear whether he graduated in 1995 or 1996. This excerpt from a faculty discussion list in late 1995 suggests he's been a controversialist in training for some time.

29.12.05

THE EVOLUTION OF COMMUNICATION. In November, Extension 720 offered a one hour chat with Leslie Savan, author of Slam Dunks and No-Brainers: Language in Your Life, the Media, Business, Politics, and, Like, Whatever. I had some book-club bonus points and ordered it. Here is Book Review No. 49. At the risk of sounding like one of the pop-phrases Ms Savan skewers, Stay. On. Message. Ms Savan at times attempts to bring Edwin Newman up to date, bemoaning jarring neologism that robs language of content. At other times, she's a disciple of George Lakoff (who makes a cameo appearance, although not as a repackager of Democratic talking points) eager to pin abuses of language on a Republican establishment repackaging misguided policies as good medicine through proper choice of words. Ultimately, her book fails either as curmudgeonry or as polemic. (On the stack of things to get to is Sandra Stotsky's Losing Our Language, which appears to be a somewhat more scholarly polemic.)

Pop phrases are at once content-free and precise, enabling a speaker to end a conversation in such a way as to preclude any possible refutation. That's the message of the longest chapter. (Yeah, right.) Ms Savan explores several origins of pop phrases. Many have African roots. That goes beyond the hip-hop inspired "Z" and "X" and "2" constructions; apparently "24/7" is a rap number phrase. (The linked page sheds no further light on the expression's origin.) But it strikes as a bit of a stretch to trace "bad" as "excellent" to a Mandinka phrase translating as "it is good badly," as she contends on p. 53; "I want it badly" might work as a source as well. Some phrases are -- possibly manufactured -- attempts to be the opposite of a snob. That is not to say to be nyekulturniy, an expression for which "boor" is an inadequate substitute. Some emerged from the academy or from high politics. These words and phrases are a different sort of conversation-ender, but Ms Savan treats them as words that "lend a halo effect." Examples: appropriate, agenda, celebrate, issues, offended. Many of these words function as vague space-fillers. Then come the expressions that originated with computer experts or capacity-constrained message systems. (Come to think of it, SOS and 10-4 have those properties. The technological constraints are the same. Have these phrases lost their punch, or did Ms Savan fail to research them?)

When the catalog is done, however, we have ... whatever. No call to address the consequences -- and Ms Savan identifies some -- of a less-precise, more cliched language. No suggestion that people whose vocabulary is limited to pop phrases are boring dinner companions. No rigorous investigation of the adverse consequences of either/or, select an option from the choices offered on the screen or on voice mail thinking. Neither scholarly study nor curmudgeonly complaint, Slam Dunks and No-Brainers may make some people comfortable with their prejudices, but it will not change many minds.
NO GUTS, NO GLORY? Cato Institute president Ed Crane concluded his final report of 2004 with this:
I was pleasantly surprised at how well the elections went in Afghanistan, but I fear that won't be the case in Iraq. I certainly hope I'm wrong. I hope I am right, however, about my prediction for 2005: we are going to capture Bin Laden and privatize Social Security.
That's why I won't make predictions.

The Anchoress has. So have several writers at National Review. I'm sure there are others. Time for a Carnival of the Predictions?
TONIGHT'S RAILROAD READING. There's nothing quite as refreshing as a midsummer swim in Lake Baikal. The best way to get there is a ride on the Circumbaikal Railway, a piece of which continues to operate as a tourist railroad. (The Main Line of the Trans-Siberian had to be relocated to permit construction of the Irkutsk Dam along the Angara River. The Railroad once followed the Angara valley from Port Baikal to Irkutsk.)



This picture suggests the yard at Port Baikal has become a bit of a railroad museum (note the pantograph beneath a catenaryless Siberian sky.) These kids are climbing on yet another Lend-Lease Decapod from the 1940s.




At midsummer, we're not above using the neither lent nor leased Decapods for patriotic displays.


July 3, 2004.
UNIVERSITIES ARE FAILING AT THEIR MISSION. The word is getting out. University Diaries points to a Christian Science Monitor editorial calling on the legislative bodies that funnel tax money to higher education to ask for more accountability.

The US system of higher education is the best in the world, and regulating it should not be done lightly, especially because the causes for these literacy declines may be quite fixable: Many public universities have lowered their standards in accepting students, and a huge influx of Latino immigrants in the 1990s led to many more nonnative English speakers in schools.

The ranking of colleges, such as those done yearly by US News and World Report, has already put a spotlight on weaknesses in higher education. (US News may now want to add literacy rates to its criteria.) But federal and state taxpayers, too, should be entitled to know which colleges efficiently and effectively use government aid to achieve the best results.

I submit that the U.S. News and similar league tables do not so much put a spotlight on weaknesses as they identify the best places for well-to-do families to buy prestige, content be hanged. I submit further that, although higher education still runs a trade surplus, that surplus is driven by graduate programs less affected by the access, assessment, and retention follies plaguing the undergraduate enterprise.

Milt's File recommends Inside Higher Education's reaction to The National Assessment of Adult Literacy. Money paragraph:
“This seems like another piece of hard evidence, a fairly clear indication, that the ‘value added’ that higher education gave to students didn’t improve, and maybe declined, over this period,” said Charles Miller, the former University of Texas regent who is heading the U.S. education secretary’s Commission on the Future of Higher Education. “You have the possibility of people going through schools, getting a piece of paper for sitting in class a certain amount, and we don’t know whether they’re getting what they need. This is a fair sign that there are some problems here.”
I'll work on a tactful way of communicating this information should anyone with a stronger command of entitlement than of economics stop by to negotiate a grade increase.

There's a good bull session on this survey, and related topics, at Joanne Jacobs's place.
THE OLD FAMILIAR CAROLS. Enroute to points north, I discovered a radio station that was playing nothing but Christmas carols (with the secular seasonals such as Sleigh Ride and Jingle Bells thrown in, which got me thinking about the physics of horse-drawn sleighs, but I'm still puzzling out what sort of snow would be conducive to "dashing through.") I claim no particular expertise in Christmas carols (that's William Studwell's job) but note some evolutions in the form, not all positive. The station had a limited playlist, sometimes offering more than one arrangement of a piece. O Holy Night received multiple playings, and the line "And in His Name all oppression shall cease" got me wondering how much of his Church's history Placide Clappeau knew. That he's French and the work is from the late Romantic era suggests something. The station also played something new in the mega-church style (modern harmonies, some brass, some singing kids, some contemporary phrasing) but as the entire program was pre-packaged without introductions I don't know what I heard.

I am hereby lodging a humbug against some pop arrangements of the standards. The absence of introductions hampers informed commentary. But if a fashionable young female singer is going to do Silent Night, it detracts to edit out all the difficult words and end each verse with "sleep in heavenly peace," no matter how sweet the sentiments.

Enroute south, I played the River City Ragtime Band's Christmas in Dixieland. The band's promotional material correctly notes,
Applying the Dixieland style to Christmas music is not sacrilegious. In fact, when the music was played to a minister, he suggested that the River City Ragtime Band was fulfilling the Biblical edict: "Make a Joyful Noise Until the Lord, All Ye Lands." The River City Ragtime Band interprets the word "Lands" to include "Bands."
True enough. That said, Go Tell it on the Mountain adapts to jazz combo better than, say, Good King Wenceslas.

23.12.05

MARKING OFF. He's making a list, checking it twice ...


Back next week. Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukah.
E-T-T-S, MADE RIGOROUS? Book Review No. 48 is Jared Diamond's Collapse, which I finished before I did the Christmas shopping. It's a longish book, attempting to unravel the reasons for the failure of societies ancient (Viking settlements in Iceland and points West, Easter Island and elsewhere in the Pacific) and contemporary (Rwanda, the former mining regions of Montana.)

First, a stylistic observation. What is the convention in archaeological writing about using the words of the civilization under study? We learn that the Easter Islanders called their statues moai and the platforms they stood on ahu. Is it really necessary to make further references to moai and ahu rather than write "statue" or "platform" or often, "it?" Elsewhere in the book, things that one might refer to by the indigenous word get referred to by the English word. (On the other hand, it might be amusing to read the Icelandic for "lutefisk," to round out what Professor Diamond did glean about how Vikings subsisted in Iceland and Greenland, places less hospitable to the raising of cattle and hogs, and on the latter, having competition over the fisheries and rookeries from Inuit that had a head start learning how to harvest them.)

Second, a possibly irreverent compare-and-contrast. Im many of the vanished societies, the raising of statues, temples, and other monuments to the rulers reached a peak as the society began to run into trouble. (I want to distinguish this observation from a somewhat more disturbing tic in Professor Diamond's work, that of the society "peaking" before it collapses. Elementary calculus. Can't happen any other way.) Professor Diamond interprets the arms race in ever greater monuments as last-ditch attempts by the rulers to hang onto their power and reverse the decline. (Gods displeased. Must erect more grandiose statue. Years ago, David Hapgood's The Screwing of the Average Man raised a similar gripe with elite calls for "sacrifice." Finish Pyramid before Pharaoh dies was his metaphor.) But that provokes a rather grim game. What, in 100 or 200 or 500 years, will historians view as the Easter Island statues of our time. Will it be higher education? Yes, our graduates are less and less able to handle entry-level jobs, but one more diversity program will fix that. Will it be national politics? Yes, we are borrowing more and more money, but one more tax rate cut will bring in a surplus. Will it be the cities? Yes, we've been becoming less and less livable, but one more light-rail system will reverse sprawl. Have I left out your favorite? The suggestion box is open. Or will the great failure be something we've completely overlooked.

On to the substance ... Professor Diamond has discovered some fundamentals of economics. Much of his work identifies collapses that came when the Easter Islander cut down the last tree, or the Viking butchered the last pig, or the miner cleared the last vein. He correctly invokes the tragedy as the commons as the model behind the resource depletion, and correctly identifies the establishment of property rights and rules of contract as methods to internalize the costs of depleting the resources, a development that also makes it more difficult for elites to take actions and impose costs on others.

There are other passages in the book where Professor Diamond's command of economics (he is a geographer, there is division of labor) is a bit shaky. This passage at p. 164 is particularly grating.
Socially stratified societies, including modern American and European society, consist of farmers who produce food, plus non-farmers such as bureaucrats and soldiers who do not produce food but merely consume the food grown by the farmers and are in effect parasites on the farmers. ... In the United States today, with its highly efficient agriculture, farmers make up only 2% of our population, and each farmer can feed on average 125 other people.
Let's try a substitution here.
Socially stratified societies consist of health care professionals who produce longevity, plus non-health-care-professionals who do not produce health care but merely consume the health care produced and are in effect parasites ...
The substitution works. With primitive life expectancies of 30-40 years, on average each of us who has attained middle age or greater is parasitic on the health care industry. It's called division of labor. It's structured by mutually beneficial trades. And if resources are properly priced (something that doesn't hold up in some of Professor Diamond's tragedy of the commons situations) it leaves all concerned, farmer and non-farmer, doctor and patient, poet and politician, better off.

It's a long read, instructive in places, provocative in places.

There's a good chance I'll make the fifty. The next two will be somewhat lighter fare.

20.12.05

COMPARE AND CONTRAST. I have located a marvelous collection of Russian train photographs. On this page, a Lend-Lease Yem 4232 at Petrovsky Zavod, near Chita, in June 2004, and in need of some attention.


Not far from home, a similar locomotive built for Russia during the First World War sometimes pulls passenger -- or historic freight -- trains at the Illinois Railway Museum.

COMMERCIAL FRUITS OF VICTORY. The Admiralty have a Trafalgar 200 commemorative site, complete with commemorative and souvenir items thoughtfully grouped as household gifts, or suitable for Christmas. The household items do not include a square wooden plate, just the thing for serving those square meals.

The British railway historical magazine Backtrack has been offering a Trafalgar retrospective of a different sort. A number of the London Midland and Scottish "Jubilee" class 4-6-0s were named for Admiralty figures and ships. Herewith a quick look. This site offers many more roster and action photographs of Jubilees.





Bellerophon, the shed looks like the Germans had at it.


LAYING YOUR SHIP ALONGSIDE THAT OF THE ENEMY. England observed the bicentennial of the Battle of Trafalgar in October. At that time, I was working through Nelson's Trafalgar, and offer a few observations as Book Review No. 47. The battle itself was fought under conditions racing sailors would describe as a "drifter," with the British to windward and blanketing, and the French and Spanish making every effort to shoot away the British ships' rigging, the better to make their escape and lift the blockade. A few days after the battle, a storm observers describe as a "hurricane" (Is that correct? The just-ended hurricane season was noteworthy for one such storm making landfall in Portugal ...) sank many of the French and Spanish ships that had surrendered to the British. It took a few days, as well, for news of the victory to reach England or the defeat to reach Napoleon. The Franco-Spanish alliance of the day was a bit shaky anyway.

The information the book provides about ordinary life on the ships (squalid) brings a few surprises. Consider "slush fund." It didn't originate with Chicago aldermen receiving kickbacks on street-salt contracts; rather, it's money the ship's cook earned by selling the fat-scum off the stew-pot to supplement his own income. Half of that scum was requisitioned by the ship to waterproof the rigging ... picture yourself going aloft in a blow gripping shrouds reeking of rancid cow fat. In order to pack space in the few cupboards in the mess, plates were square with raised edges, giving rise to the expression "a good square meal" (the author suggests this terminology is ironic; it has always been the sailor's one prerogative to gripe) as well as "on the fiddle," referring to the sailor that filled his plate to the raised edges, called "fiddles."

19.12.05

EXTRAPOLATION? This week's installation of DoDo's Monday Train Blogging focuses on failures that seemed logical at the time.
For example: if the steam engine could be made into a locomotive, why not put a coal-fired power plant on the rails?
Result: the Chesapeake and Ohio and Norfolk and Western turbo-electric locomotives (and a later Union Pacific attempt to use pulverized coal as the turbine fuel -- NOT as boiler fuel the way stationary power companies do.)


The post also contemplates what happens if one attempts to go beyond double-expansion compounding to triple-expansion (not pretty; the dodge works better at sea where engines are worked at a constant speed for a long time) or generalizing the idea of five coupled axes to six or seven.

But if those are failures as a consequence of unanticipated difficulties with what appears to be a straightforward extrapolation, there are other kinds of failures to contemplate. Consider this French attempt to put a coal-fired power plant on rails.


Inline steam engine turning an alternator wired to motors on the bogies. All that's missing is Hermann Lemp's control system and a Winton 201A ...
RULES WRITTEN IN BLOOD. Two school friends plan a train trip to do some shopping. Things go terribly wrong.

At the rail station in Elsenham, Essex, where the girls were to catch the train, they probably rushed over the level crossing to buy their tickets on the far platform. Like many village stations, Elsenham has only one ticket machine and no footbridge.

Then, when they could see passengers boarding the Cambridge train, the girls probably hurried back over the crossing where the pedestrian gates remained unlocked. But by now there was a red light and a klaxon bell warning of an express train from Birmingham to Stansted.

Did the girls imagine that these warning signals were related to the Cambridge train already in the station? Possibly. They either ignored — or failed to see — the express train, which was travelling at 80mph.

The British are far more rigorous in separating automotive and pedestrian traffic from railroad rights of way, and yet there is more the public would like the authorities to do.
VENTING. An Inside Higher Education columnist discovers "Oy, vey!" students, and suggests same consider how others see their requests.

Translation Guide for Students

When a student says: Will that be on the test?
The professor hears: I could care less about learning. Grades are my sole concern.

When a student says: I missed the exam because I had to go to my grandmother’s funeral.
The professor hears: I was too busy partying to study, so at the last minute I panicked and skipped the test.

When the student says: I have to miss class next week. What will be covered?
The professor hears: It’s easier to ask teachers for special treatment than to read the syllabus.

When a student says: May I have an extension?
The professor hears: That ridiculous class rule that late papers get reduced grades shouldn’t apply to me. After all,I’m the center of the solar system.

When the student says: I was sick last week. Did we cover anything important?
The professor hears: When I skipped class last week, did you cover anything I need to know for the final? It’s too much trouble to ask my nerdy classmates, and my friends don’t pay attention.

When the student says: Can I still get a B?
The professor hears: I just realized that not doing any work all semester and getting a C minus on the mid-term paper might mean a low grade.

When the student says: What are your office hours?
The professor hears: I haven’t even bothered to read your syllabus but I still want you to spoon feed me private tips that will get me a higher grade.

When a student says: There are personal reasons I haven’t been doing well in your class this semester.
The professor hears: Maybe if I concoct a dramatic sob story for this dupe, I’ll get special treatment.

When a student says: Can I do something for extra credit?
The professor hears: Even though I haven’t cracked a book all semester I still deserve special dispensation and extra effort from my professors.

When a student says: I can’t take the final exam when it is scheduled. Could I take it in January?
The professor hears: I talked my parents into leaving early for our ski trip to Aspen, and if I postpone the test until after the break, my friends will tell me what to study.

When a student says: Plagiarism? But I promise that I hadn’t even seen the Web site when I wrote my paper. It’s a totally random coincidence. I promise.
The professor hears: Busted! And I can’t believe that this dinosaur knows how to do a Google search.

When a student says: Cheat? Me? But I swear I didn’t do it. You’re not going to give me a zero are you?
The professor hears: Even when I’m busted, normal punishments should be rescinded because I’m the center of the universe. Better try to lie my way out of this one.

Despite the cynicism, the columnist concludes with a bit of solid advice.

I believe that we serve our students well when we respectfully remind them of — or teach them — manners: especially through our own actions and interactions. It is ideal, I believe, if we impart these lessons in etiquette with grace, kindness and good humor. It is not always easy to maintain composure and respond with generosity when faced with bad-mannered students — but we can try.

As authority figures, we automatically are role models — and models not just of intellectual prowess, but also of attitudes and habits. We are — like it or not — in positions of authority vis a vis our students. Given that, the stance of a benevolent dictator is a reasonable posture to assume. An “eye for an eye” is an inappropriate strategy for those who wield power.

Part of our mission, I believe, is to demonstrate maturity, respect and empathy. Hopefully, students will internalize and assume a similar mien over time. Politeness rules. Despite my sardonic translation sheet, I do believe that we teach most effectively when we are consistently considerate of our students I believe that we can profess most powerfully when we keep in mind that students may be learning far more from us than the scholarly content of our class lessons..

When we start to lose our tempers and respond snidely to Oy-vey students, perhaps this quote by Albert Schweitzer is apt: “Only those who respect others can be of real use to them.”

Let me add only this: each of the special requests deconstructed infra is a request that the professor be inconsiderate of those students who did play by the rules. There are tactful ways to remind the special pleaders that equal treatment under the rules presupposes equal performance subject to the rules.
CARNIVAL CALL. Carnival of the Capitalists offers a return engagement at Coyote Blog, and once again a word from the right sponsor.
SOMETIMES YOU CAN GO HOME AGAIN. Sean at The American Mind brings news of the return of Suburpia. I have not been able to locate any sub shop, independent or chain, with exactly that mix of flavor and texture in the lettuce ... Mine must have been a minority preference as most of my friends and acquaintances preferred Cousins.
HIER STEHE ICH, ICH KANN NICHT ANDERS. Degree not always guarantee of skills. (Via University Diaries.)
Many state universities, [U.S. Commissioner of Education Statistics Mark Schneider] said, now have open admissions policies that accept almost all high school graduates, including those who might not be as well prepared as their peers were decades earlier. In addition, colleges and universities are taking in a more diverse population that might have language or cultural challenges. Or, he said, colleges "may not be doing the job as effectively as they could be."
You think?

At Betsy's Page, a proposal to subject Higher Ed to the same sort of scrutiny some of the common schools have faced.
It's time to apply the same "get tough" approach to outcomes in education that we've begun to apply to secondary schools to colleges. Perhaps, if these colleges knew that future employers would know that they are graduating large numbers of students who are not proficient readers, those schools might decide to toughen up their standards. I suspect that these large numbers failing the test come from a certain tier of colleges and prospective students might like to know that information. How many of these colleges are public colleges? Are taxpayers supporting institutions that are failing to make sure that their graduates can read complex material?
What was I writing about market tests?

RUNNING EXTRA: More from University Diaries here and here. First check this symposium at Australia's The Age. Then read Harvard's Derek Bok.
Changing demands in the economy are forcing employers to pay increasing sums to remedy deficiencies in the writing and computational skills of the college graduates they hire. In addition, more and more work normally performed by college graduates is now being outsourced to other countries.
University Diaries suggests sloppiness elsewhere in the curriculum might be crowding out the learning that used to go on in college.
Yet some professors teach primitive relativism; and even if they don’t, it’s encoded in the DNA of the cultural competence and diversity training fundamental to the environment of most American universities that even elementary acts of judgment and reasoned preference are abominations. Add to these influences the gelatinous mass that makes up the curriculum of many of our colleges, and you see why the reigning moral philosophy of some of our 21-year-olds is playdoh relativism.
To go, all too often, with playdoh spelling and figuring.
CARNIVAL CALL. The fourth (collegiate) Teaching Carnival is with the New Kid on the Hallway. As one might imagine for this time of year, there is a lot of introspection and more than a few gripes about the students who don't measure up ...
"HUMANITY MAY HAVE DIFFICULTY SURVIVING ITS GENIUSES." That's one of many asides in John Pina Craven's The Silent War, which is Book Review No. 46. The book is those recollections of a scientist with extensive submarine service experience, and a security clearance that limits what he can reveal. Filter what you read accordingly. It is, that caveat aside, instructive to learn how close the Navy came to losing Nautilus, and to scrubbing the submarine-launched ballistic missile programs. I read this book to obtain more information about the rogue Soviet submarine mentioned in Red Star Rogue. Mr Craven's work confirms in part and questions in part the information Red Star Rogue offers. The confirmation is intriguing and troubling, in that both works suggest the Soviet Politburo was not in complete control of its military (Mr Craven casts himself as occasionally holding back Pentagon and Defense hotheads pending the day when renegade elements in the Soviet Union self-destruct the place by attempting a coup) and U.S. negotiators were able to exploit that.

There are lesser bits of new knowledge I gleaned as well, such as "the wedge containing the bow waves invariably makes a perfect 19 degree 28 minute angle with the path of the ship. Similarly the bow waves diverge tangent to a line that is always 35 degrees 16 minutes with the path of the ship." That holds for rowboats and aircraft carriers alike. Might be useful information for painting backdrops.

18.12.05

THE ALL WEATHER MODE MAKES HEAVY WEATHER. This painting greets passengers disembarking from or boarding the Hiawatha at Milwaukee's downtown station.


Last month's mental health excursions got me thinking about doing some more train riding, this time with work less time-sensitive than a stack of homework assignments. In browsing the Hiawatha schedules, it all of a sudden occurred to me ... this is an 89 minute timing end to end. In steam days, the Milwaukee bragged on its 85 Minute Train service that made one stop at Glenview. A plan forms. Board the 10.20 am off Chicago. Ride to Milwaukee. Stuff self with Real Chili. Browse some bookshops. Board the 3.00 pm return, get home at a decent hour.

The plan started to unravel at Union Station. The 8.00 Milwaukee, due in at 9.29 to turn as the 10.20, limped in at 9.59. Instead of the cleaners descending on the train to prepare it for the quick turnaround, carmen and mechanics got to work cutting out a bad-ordered coach. The station staff kept us informed of developments, but many of those weren't encouraging. "We've now broken the train apart." "We've brought the replacement coaches over." "We've put the train back together." "The lights aren't working yet." Some passengers left the boarding area, opting to drive instead. Around 11.40, the train is finally ready for boarding, with an 11.58 departure. With no further difficulties, a somewhat more rushed lunch and the original schedule is still possible. There were, however, reasons beyond troubles with the coaches delaying the inbound equipment. The signalling was not working north of the Wisconsin border, requiring the crew to make "know-nothing" stops at permissive signals, proceeding at restricted speed, as well as to dismount and inspect the points at interlockings. Plod, plod. Finally, into Milwaukee at 2 pm. The equipment on the delayed 10.20 is supposed to become the 1.00 pm return to Chicago. Amtrak annulled that train and used the equipment to protect the 3.00 pm trip. I looked at the departure board, noted that there was another departure at 5.45, and modified my plans somewhat. (After having to arrange overnight lodging in Brussels, on short notice, relying on schoolbook German, I'm not going to give up easily on an itinerary.) Walk to the chili parlor. Stuff self. Walk to the bookstore. Spend money. Window-shop the Grand Avenue. Have an E-T-T-S moment thinking about eight stories of Gimbel's where the riverside Borders now is, and eight stories of Boston Store where a much-reduced store occupies the first two floors, the upper stories are lofts, and the bargain basements are gone. I wonder if any of the owners of eighth-floor condos have memories of the toy departments that were once there ...

Back to the station. More troubling developments. The stock of the 1.00 train ordinarily turns as the 3.15 Chicago, arriving at 4.44 with an hour to turn it as the 5.45. Amtrak apparently decided to annul the 3.15, although there would be stock in Chicago for one, rather than contend with the signal troubles and more late running. Thus, the 5.45 return is also annulled, with the 7.30 train to be run, and the possibility of Chicago passengers being able to board a late-running Empire Builder expected around 6.40. I'm thinking about the 2 hour running time with the signal troubles, the prospect of equipment failure, and the risk of missing the 12.40 am scoot to Geneva if everything goes badly. Some people are pooling their money to hire a van and drive to Glenview and downtown...

The worst-case scenario doesn't materialize, fortunately. At about 6.40 there is some noise outside. Not the Builder. It's the 5.08 Chicago. Might the signal troubles be fixed? Station staff advises all passengers to plan to go on the 7.30 as the Builder is still somewhere beyond Columbus.

Board train. Horizon car with leg and foot rests??? Consider possibility of a good run. Recall lap-timer feature on watch. Recall how to start it.

Amtrak 342 Hiawatha Service, Milwaukee-Chicago: 200 - 54557 - 51503 - 54579 - 54563 - 54017 - 54525 - 39. Locomotives 200 and 39 are "Genesis" series diesels. 54-series Horizon coaches have corridor density seating, 51-series have long-distance density with leg and foot rests. 15 degrees Fahrenheit at Milwaukee, clear and dry. The service difficulties have scared away passengers at Mitchell International (four passengers on) and Sturtevant (nobody on or off). Mayfair in the 72nd minute, Pacific Junction in the 75th minute, Noble Street 80, Madison Street 85, stop 85:52.75. Give 'em free rein to 110 and let's do some serious corridor railroading.

The Builder? It pulled into Milwaukee while 342 was loading. We left on time. The Builder left a minute or two later, and passed 342 on Lake Hill as 342 was leaving Mitchell International. (Note to overseas readers: two main tracks lets you do things you can't on double track.) But the signal gremlins apparently were not exorcised by the full moon, as we passed the Builder at the new crossovers north of Caledonia (A-70?) and ran ahead of it the rest of the way into Chicago. The crossovers at Wadsworth worked properly, getting 342 out of the way of a freight train and the 8.05 Chicago. Our arrival at Union Station caused some consternation among the redcaps, who had brought all their electric baggage carts onto track 17 expecting to meet the Builder. The Builder ran through and unloaded on track 28 at 9.15.

Metra back to Geneva was routine. But that was not the end of the weekend.



Geneva, Illinois, 9 am, December 18, habitat of the American dung beetle. Metra's weekend pass makes for a great day rover. I used it to get to Kenosha for the trolleys, and I have used it to shop at bookstores in Printer's Row and Hyde Park, and if I were venturesome enough, those in Evanston as well. There's also a way to go to Blue Island on one line and return on another, and at one time there were some great Polish grocery stores in downtown Blue Island, are they still there?

But today, it's the interurban time machine.

As a matter of pride, I still aim to walk from the Burlington or Milwaukee or North Western to the South Shore in 20 minutes. Today's routing includes a stop at the Union Station bakery, after confirming an on-time departure of the 10.20 Hiawatha (but the chili parlor's Sunday hours are different ...) and a walk east on Adams Street, where, between LaSalle and Clark, I discover a pub called "Elephant and Castle," complete with the figure that later evolved into the bishop (yes, you'd think it's the rook, but the Russian notation for "bishop" begins with "C" as in "Slon," and that's Russian for "elephant," go figure) on the sign. Keep this in mind for future reference. On my first trip to London, I made a point to ride to "Elephant and Castle" because that struck me as such a fine name for a pub. Get there to find a small mall, decorated with a pink elephant, and no food court, and a rather tatty billiards club. There's no place like home, there's no place like home. There's also a rather funky old-style office tower with lots of domes on the northwest corner of Lake and Wabash. Looks like it's been there since I was riding the North Shore, but this is the first time it registered ... lighting didn't work with the cheap digital, but I had the Canon along. Picture of the building later.

The cheap digital did work well enough in "Millennium Station," the new name for the Illinois Central - South Shore Randolph St. Station in the basement of the Prudential Building.



This is looking past the passenger waiting area toward the South Shore ticket office and boarding concourse. There isn't a straight line in the place until one goes through the doors to the South Shore's platforms.

The old Gary, Indiana, New York Central and Baltimore and Ohio joint station is still standing, if somewhat trashed. The U.S. Steel Gary Works continues to smelt iron and cast steel.


But the signal gremlins were at it again ... the 11.59 am Chicago-South Bend was knocked for about 20 minutes owing to signal troubles along the East Chicago bypass and through Gary. I wasn't concerned about missing my return train from South Bend, as the outbound equipment returns as the inbound train, but the signal troubles and the prospect of heavy loads of Chicago Bear fans on the return had me wondering about cutting my connection back to the North Western a bit close.

Not to worry. Through the dunes, the signals were working. The South Shore dispensed with the traditional "cut" at Michigan City Shops, and with no passengers on or off at Hudson Lake, it's a fast ride to the South Bend airport.


In at 3.35, time to disembark and take a few pictures, passengers begin boarding.


It's still possible to work a streetcar turnaround. Departure for Chicago is at 3.42. At Grandview substation, the South Shore begins to parallel the old New York Central. There was a long freight train going west as we crept around the curve onto the original mainline alignment. Off the curve, wind up the controller, overtake that freight train within two miles and leave it behind.

The "genius department" at Michigan City Shops still has its work to do.


The oldest of the South Shore's current fleet of cars are about the same age at which the South Shore rebuilt its steel "arks" as the longer, air-conditioned cars that had to be babied along into the early 1980s. Time passes...

No "add" at Michigan City either, and relatively few Bear fans boarding. The train made an additional stop at 18th Street to set down the Bear fans close to Soldier Field, and I did make the connection with time to spare.

16.12.05

ALLOCATING SCARCE RESOURCES AMONG COMPETING USES. The editors at the New York Times would prefer not to tell New Orleans: Drop dead.
Maybe America does not want to rebuild New Orleans. Maybe we have decided that the deficits are too large and the money too scarce, and that it is better just to look the other way until the city withers and disappears. If that is truly the case, then it is incumbent on President Bush and Congress to admit it, and organize a real plan to help the dislocated residents resettle into new homes. The communities that opened their hearts to the Katrina refugees need to know that their short-term act of charity has turned into a permanent commitment.
Their interpretation.
If the rest of the nation has decided it is too expensive to give the people of New Orleans a chance at renewal, we have to tell them so. We must tell them we spent our rainy-day fund on a costly stalemate in Iraq, that we gave it away in tax cuts for wealthy families and shareholders. We must tell them America is too broke and too weak to rebuild one of its great cities.
For another interpretation, read this.
Today, most central cities feature horrific educational deficiences, crumbling infrastructure, and stultifying regulations that drive commerce ever more into the suburban periphery. Yet most city leaders—not to mention productive citizens in the rest of the nation—avert their eyes from these problems until a trauma like Katrina forces the products of our urban maladministration into view. Rather than re-examine their bankrupt social and economic premises, urban elites prefer to channel money into sports stadia and convention centers, hip lofts and restaurants, hoping somehow this will suck talent and wealth into their cities. As if today’s urban underclass will just fade away, and leave the cool hipsters unbothered to enjoy their entertainment districts.

This collapse of responsibility and discipline goes against the entire grain of urban history. From republican Rome to the golden ages of Venice, Amsterdam, London, and New York, cities have flourished most when they have served as places of aspiration and upward mobility, of hard work and individual accountability. By becoming mass dispensers of welfare for the unskilled, playpens for the well-heeled and fashionable, easy marks for special interests, and bunglers at maintaining public safety and dispensing efficient services to residents and businesses, many cities have become useless to the middle class, and toxic for the disorganized poor. Today’s liberal urban leadership across America needs to see the New Orleans storm not as just a tragedy, but also as a dispeller of illusions, a revealer of awful truths, and a potential harbinger of things to come in their own backyards.
The common theme: corporate welfare, whether it be no-bid contracts in Iraq or entertainment-industry subsidies in the States? (At least nobody mentioned the streetcars?)
QUOTE OF THE DAY. A Constrained Vision, distinguishing economics from applied mathematics.

And just because you can take derivatives and integrals doesn't mean you understand economics. If you can't explain opportunity cost, consumer surplus, deadweight loss, elasticity, etc. in plain English--which is what this class is supposedly teaching you--then you're just doing math problems.

If this guy could do that before taking the intro micro class, then he may be right that the class was a waste of his time. But most people can't. In fact, since I was a TA for this class for four semesters, I can tell you that a lot people can't do that even after taking the class. To tell them to skip ahead to micro with calculus is a terrible idea that would hurt, not improve, economic education.

I would add only that, sometimes, knowledge of the calculus tricks does aid the understanding. But the math is the servant; it adds precision to stories that can be explained in other ways.
FINDING THOSE MARKET TESTS. The dean at Anonymous Community would like to be able to identify a good college. He's not sure whether market tests (majors go in and out of vogue) or reputational rankings really do the job.
Reputation is, at best, a trailing indicator.
Exactly. Put more precisely, a good reputation is the undepreciated accumulation of past market tests. Without more information about the source he uses to obtain a performance measure for a non-profit organization, some of what follows is speculative, but here goes.
The academic prestige hierarchy (a version of Collins’ ‘reputation’) is almost purely based on inputs, rather than outputs. Pour lots of research money and some high-SAT undergrads into a university, add a good football team, and voila! Selectivity of admissions correlates very strongly with academic prestige, regardless of what the teachers in the classrooms actually do. As a former professor of mine put it, “we don’t often turn a silk purse into a sow’s ear.” Give me a college full of valedictorians, and I’ll give you a great job placement record, even if the undergrads spend all four years majoring in beer.
That last sentence sounds almost exactly like life in the major Japanese universities, which at one time offered a four-year respite between competing to get in, and graduating to a stressed-out life sleeping in the tube-hotels as an entering salaryman. But we haven't heard much about Japanese methods in the past ten years, have we? To quote John S. McGee, "Open markets are institutions in which powerful and appraising evolutionary forces are at work." Japan, Inc. is not exempt. Neither are the name-brand universities. In previous posts, I have noted the phenomenon (Blogger tech support, please fix the new search feature or let us have the old one back, my memory is a bit overloaded at the moment) of employers, frustrated with the noisy signal a prestige university transcript laden with inflated grades sends, asking applicants to provide SAT scores. Freefall of the American University, a work I recall referring to once or twice, introduces similar anecdotes about employers giving up on the name universities and recruiting at what the dean refers to as "So-So State" instead.

There is, however, another appraising force at work. Perhaps the very obsession with "access," "diversity," "inclusion," and all the other feel-good projects university administrators unfamiliar with genuinely hard budget constraints have been peddling, to the exclusion of education, drives the valedictorians (their parents??) to pursue the prestige degrees. That appears to be the British experience; and I intend to read Killing Thinking, which appears to have discovered that the competition to enroll at Cambridge, Oxford and some of the other best-known universities has increased concurrently with the push for "access" blended with "career preparation" elsewhere, and report on what's in there, sometime in the near future. This rather whiny(*) article A Constrained Vision recommended suggests that some in the academy see things similarly.
Every professor seems to complain that most high-school graduates are not really prepared for college, either academically or emotionally. More and more, our energies are devoted to remedial teaching and therapeutic counseling. Most believe that something is wrong in public education, or the larger culture, that can only be dealt with, in part, by selective withdrawal.
That rethinking the therapeutic model might be constructive hasn't occurred?? That the therapeutic model is generating that inefficient self-segregation isn't open for discussion?

Why inefficient? Call up another theme that recurs here, often with the shorthand "Spielberg effect" header. The short form: economics research suggests students who were admitted to Prestige Ivy but enrolled at Enormous State do about as well in life as students with comparable credentials who were admitted and enrolled at Prestige Ivy. The Prestige Ivy credential, then, is an inefficient signal of ability. Apparently some savvy "Coastie" parents have figured that out. (I can give you this link because it's a relatively recent post.)

That research puts the burden on the So-So States of this world in a different way, as it suggests the (relatively recent) pecking order in which onetime finishing schools become German-style research universities and onetime normal schools become So-So States is less well-defined than U.S. News, or the folks who would like to lord it over those lower down the food chain, would have you believe. In that light, consider these observations from Kelly in Kansas.
The reputation of our particular program is well-received in the field although students toward the end of the program (as they enter more 'professional practice' related classes) complain that we are expecting way too much. Only later when they themselves graduate do they thank us for preparing them for the real world. And since those evaluations come after the university's official student measurement instrument, the numbers don't correlate with any of this.
Let me reinforce that with something I learned as part of a now-abandoned Liberal Arts initiative, set up to induce more students to take their first two years at Northern Illinois rather than at a community college, by offering an additional certificate for completing a thematic cluster in general education. That was the enrollment motive. The pedagogical motive: a liberal arts cluster that enables students to make connections develops higher-order thinking skills useful higher up the corporate (or non-profit, or government) ladder. We received several different empirical confirmations of that assertion. Is that something a university could assess, in some systematic way? Outside my pay grade. Is that a market test at work? Yup. Is it telling the So-So States and Enormous States to expect more of their charges? I suspect so.

(*)Why do I call it whiny? Two examples:
They have negative memories of their own education. Although it takes some probing, nearly every professor with home-schooled children mentions traumatic childhood experiences in school. Professors, as a group, tend to have been sensitive, intelligent children who were picked on and ostracized. They foresee the same treatment for their own children, and they want to do everything they can to prevent the children from experiencing the traumas they experienced. Professors recognize how many of our most brilliant students have been emotionally or physically terrorized for a dozen years before they arrive at college. School sometimes teaches otherwise happy and intelligent children to become sullen and secretive and contemptuous of learning.
What's that line in Emerson about society everywhere at war against the individuality of its members? Professors aren't the only nails to be hammered down.

No doubt, my spouse and I have had to forgo some career options for our present way of life. Home schooling our children means we have to live on an assistant professor's salary. It also means living in a small town in the Midwest instead of an expensive city on one of the coasts. It means living in an old farmhouse that I am, more or less, renovating by myself. It means not eating out or going on vacations very often. It means driving older American cars instead of shiny new Volvos. But the big reward is the time we get to spend with our children.

I suppose, on some level, my spouse and I are rebelling against an academic culture that tells us we should both be working at demanding professional jobs while our children are raised by someone else. But we value this time with our children more than career advancement for its own sake. We don't regard ourselves as conservatives. We feel like we're swimming against the
mainstream of a culture that has sacrificed the family for economic productivity and personal ambition.

Give. Me. A. Break. (Laura, fire away!)
SWITCH OUT THE SCRAP LINE. Sometimes an officially retired steam locomotive would be pressed into service for the grain rush (United States) or to cover unexpectedly many diesel failures (Western Region of British Railways). Chris at Signifying Nothing observed a fitter checking over Mungowitz Ended.
MEASURE INPUTS, NOT OUTPUTS. Dr. Crazy must be getting the "I was expecting a higher grade ..." messages.

1. Tracy spends a lot of time on her schoolwork and works hard at her schoolwork.

2. Tracy has a 4.0 grade point average.

3. Tracy has a 4.0 grade point average because she spends a lot of time on her schoolwork and works hard at her schoolwork.

This is what is known as a logical fallacy.

Read it all.

There are advantages to teaching economics. I use a variant on the "you're measuring inputs" or on the "let's stipulate that everybody worked hard, you recall that working smart also enters the calculation?" all the time.
THE OBSERVATORY HEIGHTS CONDOS? The University of Chicago has put its Yerkes Observatory, in Williams Bay, Wisconsin, up for sale.

Historic, beautiful and obsolete, the observatory sits on 77 lakeside acres in Williams Bay, Wisconsin, and is a reminder of technology's inevitable replacement. Now more recreational site than center of science, the building is up for grabs in a deal that has some worried its historic importance may be compromised by the wrong buyer.

The former powerhouse of American astronomy, finished in 1897, has fallen out of the limelight since 1960 because of atmospheric pollution and new technological devlopments. A single full-time faculty member serves at Yerkes, doing mostly educational outreach.

The commenters on this post agree that the observatory is worthy of preservation, provided somebody else pays for it.
RENT SEEKING? An earlier post expressed skepticism about pinning your hopes of academic visibility on your athletic program, this time at [Southwest] Missouri State and Marquette. The University Diaries post that got me started includes a rather provocative comment.
Missouri State University was, until last year, Southwest Missouri State University at Springfield. Its name-change was part of a plan--hatched in close conjunction with Missouri's Republic [c.q.]political leadership, most of which is from Springfield--to "upgrade" the institution, start doctoral and professional programs, and seize tens of millions in state funds from the state's actual land grant institution, the University of Missouri. If Missouri State wants to do all this, and replace the University of MIssouri [c.q.] as the leading public institution of higher education in the state (conveniently located in a Republican stronghold, rather than the liberal college town of Columbia, where the University of Missouri is) it will need a Division I-A football team.
Public choice at work?

I'm not able to comment on that allegation. The public record suggests [Southwest] Missouri State's administration is embarking on the course Murray Sperber characterizes as "Upwardly Mobile." Here is the university's own explanation.
Today, the institution is a multipurpose, metropolitan university providing diverse instructional, research, and service programs. On August 28, 2005, the institution's name changed to Missouri State University.
The history is a bit eerie. We have a state teachers' college that evolves into a compass-point state college and then into a compass-point state university and, on its centennial, into Missouri State. At the 1995 centennial of Northern Illinois University, some senior administrators pushed to rename our former state teachers' college the University of Northern Illinois, as if transposing a few words takes away the stigma of the compass point. So far, that hasn't happened. Judge us by what we do, not by what we are allowed to call ourselves.

[Southwest] Missouri State's athletic department has made the tough decision to free up additional resources (to strengthen its football program?)
The current intercollegiate athletics budget is approximately $11.1 million, with about $5.1 million coming as the transfer from the university’s general fund. Included in the $11.1 total is approximately $3.9 million in athletic scholarships. Nietzel says the Missouri State athletics program should not be expected to be totally self-sufficient, but he also says it needs to come closer than it is now.
Again, some eerie similarities. (I'll leave aside the problems of self-sufficiency in a multiproduct enterprise. Too much heavy economics for a Friday afternoon.) Anybody remember Cut Five, Cap Two, the Wisconsin dodge to free up more resources and get some Rose Bowl wins for the Badgers?

Unfortunately, [Southwest] Missouri's up-and-coming Division I football team, should that be part of the master plan, is likely to be a desirable "bought win" for Kansas or Northern Illinois or Penn State (they could take over for Rutgers!) Something similar appears to trouble the football staff at St. Cloud State, where the administration would like to move to Division I in football and private communications inform me the coaches are less than pleased with the possibility. Despite Northern Illinois's recent successes on the field, I am still troubled by the away games at big stadiums (season openers at Ohio State and Tennessee the next two seasons) motivated in part by the requirement for average home and away attendance to meet Division I criteria. That the season is likely to be expanded to twelve games for everybody simply enhances the chances of young men being injured with little or no compensation for it. And the evidence of football programs building enrollment or academic reputation is generally anecdotal.

Then comes the other part of Upwardly Mobile, adding new graduate programs (this at a time when in many fields there are more novices than there are convents to house them) and converting Compass Point State into the equivalent of a land grant college. Consider economics. (You really want the administration to see that you could hold a faculty meeting on a landing?) Currently, [Southwest] Missouri State offer baccalaureate degrees in economics, and the college of business no doubt requires its students to be serviced. Now you want to throw in a masters' program? A Ph.D.? I did a quick scan of the faculty web pages. I found exactly one that provided a list of refereed publications. I found no evidence of any faculty publication in the discipline's eight leading journals. That poses a number of problems for the current economics faculty, none good. First, to add a Ph.D. the search committee might have to recruit people with research talents beyond their own. Challenging, not impossible. Then the existing committee of tenured faculty must consider standards for tenuring those new hires. Do they reject those who have not managed to publish any of their research in those leading journals, or do they find reason to reject those who have?