30.9.06

TOO MUCH OF THE WRONG KIND OF CAPACITY? The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel is going to follow some freshmen through Wisconsin-Milwaukee, which now enrolls more Wisconsin residents than Madison does. Their situation, the paper argues, is representative of much of higher education.

Only four out of 10 freshmen at UWM graduate within six years. Three out of 10 drop out after the first year.

Those retention and graduation rates are typical of the non-selective universities and community colleges that serve the vast majority of the nation's college students.

Last year, UWM launched a variety of initiatives designed to keep freshmen in class and on track. The programs, which include mentoring and revised remedial courses, are showing signs of success.

But the university's leaders concede there's only so much they can do.

Academic credentials have been proved to be the biggest indicator of success in college. [Emphasis added - SHK] Even when they're well-prepared, some students are crushed by the financial burden of tuition; they can't balance school with the work required to pay for college. Others party all the time once they're beyond their parents' watch.

"We don't have all that much control," UWM Chancellor Carlos Santiago said.

I will be following this series. There's a Journal-Sentinel weblog that also follows Milwaukee area education.
LIGHTNING STOPS HUSKIES, CARDINALS DON'T. At halftime of a game delayed nearly an hour by local lightning, host Ball State was in a 14-14 tie with Northern Illinois. The second half belonged to Garrett Wolfe, who set a school rushing record despite having two long touchdown runs nullified by penalties. Final score 40-28, with Ball State picking up two touchdowns late in the game. Northern Illinois is now promoting tailback Garrett Wolfe and offensive tackle Doug Free for national performance awards.

It was not a good day to be a football fan in Indiana. Wisconsin used a sneak air attack to score the first 52 points of their game at Bloomington and held off Indiana's 17 point run at the end.
THE LAST GREAT ACT OF DEFIANCE. The railroad track is not a safe shortcut home, particularly if you're not in a condition to expect trains at any time in either direction.

The victim's 18-year-old friend, who was with him at the time, told authorities that both men were drunk.

According to the Sheriff's Department, the two Silver Lake men were walking southbound on the tracks, taking a short cut home around 11:30 p.m., when a northbound train approached.

The friend said both men got off the tracks, but that [the deceased] got back on, "flipped off" the train" and was struck.

He died at the scene.

THE INCOMPETENCE TAX. The Thinking Mother pronounces anathema on cashiers that don't understand cash.

Sometimes I don’t realize what is wrong until I am back in the car. Nowadays they shove the money at you so fast, and they don’t count it out. Especially when I was a girl and a teenager, back when everyone either used cash or check, the cashiers would do a few things differently.

First, they could do their math. Second, they would tell you what you own. Third, they’d count back the change to you, counting up by giving you one coin at a time and then counting up with the paper money to get to the amount they tell you. Lastly they’d actually thank you for your purchase.

Now the cashiers don’t tell you what you owe, they just stare at you (or they look the other way or talk to their co-workers) and stick their hand out, then they don’t count back the money, they often don’t even make eye contact through this process, and lastly they don’t thank you. I have found myself thanking them but then I wonder why do I thank them when they should be thanking me for making a purchase at that business?

She offers some hypotheses about what's gone wrong.

29.9.06

SEPARATING EQUILIBRIUM. There's an instructive bull session in progress at 11-D on the merits, or lack thereof, of high-occupancy-toll lanes, inspired by a Dissent article suggesting that those lanes don't really solve the metropolitan transportation problem.
What to do about traffic is a political issue of growing importance. The cost of road-building is increasing, and a growing body of research shows that sprawl development stimulated by new highways quickly makes new roads just as congested as the old ones. Should congestion nevertheless be relieved by continuing to add more road capacity? Or should investment be shifted toward mass transit?
There's something called the Law of Peak Expressway Congestion that suggests road improvements divert traffic from other roads, until travel times are the same on the improved road as they are on the unimproved roads. (Indifference at the margin, anyone?) An elaboration of the law suggests that additional capacity shortens the duration of the peak subject to the same indifference condition, which makes sense as long as the total volume of trips stays the same, but a shorter crush hour serves as an inducement for more people to relocate.

The next few paragraphs of the article summarize a number of possible policy contradictions that affect both road advocates and transit advocates. I want to focus on the efficient pricing of high occupancy toll lanes.
The toll roads that Samuel champions have been heavily promoted by free-market transportation thinkers, and they have attracted growing interest from policy-makers. A confluence of forces puts tolls at the center of the current transportation agenda. As suburbia spreads out, people must drive farther to reach their destinations, so cars spend more time on the roads. The cost of highway construction has exploded as suburbs spread, with price tags often approaching two or three billion dollars even for roads that serve only one sector of a metropolis. State highway departments, squeezed between the growing costs of maintaining existing highways and the difficulty of raising taxes in a conservative political environment, find their ability to add road capacity falling farther and farther behind traffic congestion. Toll roads seem like an obvious solution, one consistent with the broader political climate that prefers user fees to taxes and favors privatization of public services.
The article neglects to note: and the reluctance of state or county highway commissions to use their own money to expand the road networks, and the reluctance of Congress to release moneys from the Highway Trust Fund in order to make the national government's fiscal house look less disorderly, but let's abstract from that and focus on efficiently self-financed toll roads.
In principle, the new emphasis on tolls is a long-overdue move in the direction of a more rational transportation system. The concept is unassailable; if drivers pay the full cost of the roads they use, environmentally damaging and economically costly overuse of the automobile will be discouraged. Funding better mass transit with toll revenues can advance both social equity and environment protection. These ideas have long been close to the hearts of transit advocates and environmentalists. But toll road proposals do not always accomplish in practice what tolls promise in theory. Many tolling schemes now under discussion would preserve and expand the highway lobby's subsidies rather than curbing them.
Here's a related point from testimony by Douglas Holtz-Eakin as director of the Congressional Budget Office.
If a good or service is provided free of charge, people tend to demand more of it--and use it more wastefully--than they would if they had to pay a price that reflected its cost. Hence, congestion pricing is premised on a basic economic concept: charge a price in order to allocate a scarce resource to its most valuable use, as evidenced by users' willingness to pay for the resource.(4)

Introducing congestion pricing on a crowded highway--that is, charging tolls that are higher during peak times of the day and lower during off-peak ones--has two economic effects. First, it dampens demand for the highway during the most congested periods by inducing some motorists to alter their travel plans. Some drivers will be able to modify their schedules so they use the road at less busy times. Others will find alternative routes or switch to public transit. Second, continued demand in the face of appropriate congestion pricing serves as a signal for additional investment in road capacity.(5)
But there are efficient and inefficient ways of so doing. Oliver Williamson's 1966 peak load pricing article (JSTOR) lays out the argument with some glorious Lagrangians and some intuitive diagrams. The high-occupancy toll problem (and the related problem of selling cuts in the roller-coaster line) is one in which the provider is simultaneously providing a premium service at a higher price and a congested service at a lower cash outlay, but with the people who choose the cheaper congested service incurring disutility. As a modeling exercise, the marginal commuter is indifferent between the marginal utility adjusted by the higher price of the premium service and the marginal utility adjusted by the lower price of the congested service (there are some additional subtleties involved in avoiding division by zero.) The Dissent article correctly flags a potential inefficiency.
This is especially true of the latest fad among the free marketeers, what are known as express toll lanes. These are pay lanes added to existing highways that currently don't charge tolls. Toll rates vary from hour to hour, increased at times of heavy traffic in such a way that the toll lanes never back up. The main advantage of this procedure is that the driver who pays the toll is guaranteed a fast trip; on the busy suburban highways where these lanes are under consideration, there is so much traffic that simply widening the road would not get rid of congestion. Proponents argue that express toll lanes give the consumer more choice than building additional free lanes — when you need to get somewhere in a hurry, you pay the toll; when your time is less valuable, you don't.
"More choice" is not equivalent to raising sufficient moneys over the cycle of use to cover the incremental cost of expanding the network, which is one of the constraints in Professor Williamson's Lagrangian. And thus Dissent claims a flaw in the pricing system.
These survey results suggest that the "Lexus lanes" moniker is well deserved. Who uses pay lanes is mostly determined by income. For most of the people in the free lanes, consumer sovereignty is a fiction. They haven't made a voluntary decision that their time isn't worth the price of a quicker commute. They are sitting in traffic jams because the toll exceeds what they can afford to pay.
Consumers optimize subject to budget constraints, indeed.
Even if this is true, toll lane supporters respond, the lanes still benefit lower-income drivers. Those who can't afford to use the new lanes benefit from the added road capacity tolls pay for. With the wealthy on the new lanes, fewer drivers are squeezed into the free lanes, and everyone has a faster commute. The argument is logical, but it does not fit the facts. It turns out, excepting rare circumstances, that express toll lanes added to existing highways cannot raise anywhere near enough revenue to pay for their construction cost.
That, however, means the tolls have not been designed in such a way as to satisfy the incremental cost constraint. (It does not follow that the tolls are too low. A lower toll and a somewhat lower speed in the carpool lanes may be the efficient outcome.)
In such circumstances, express toll lanes only modify the failed policy of subsidized highways so as better to preserve it. When it becomes impossible to keep traffic moving freely on all lanes, express lanes give an affluent minority the open roads that can no longer be provided for everyone. Tolls in this scheme are primarily an allocation mechanism, and only incidentally a source of revenue. Their purpose is to deter those less able to pay from using the new lanes. Only those wealthy enough to afford the tolls bypass the traffic jams, but everyone who is backed up on the free lanes gets to pay the bills.
In other words, Dissent concurs with the Paul Weyrich wing of "conservative" transportation policy that sees highway projects as a form of socialism, complete with shortages and shoddy services. The article goes on to advocate different forms of congestion charges, although it omits mention of efficient peak-load pricing of the entire road network as an alternative.
THE SPEED RESTRICTIONS ARE MISGUIDED. Illinois tax dollars have been going into signaling and crossing protection upgrades to make possible safe operation at 110 mph on the old Alton Route from Dwight to Springfield. But that speedup, which is now seven years in the making, has not yet materialized.

With new safety gates and other improvements, 126 miles of track that stretches north from Springfield is ready to whisk passenger trains about 30 miles per hour faster than they now travel.

But more than a decade after Illinois set its sights on high-speed rail, trains are still chugging along at their usual 79 miles per hour, throttled as officials reevaluate new safety technology to ensure faster trains can coexist with freight trains and cars that cross over rail lines.

Specifically,

PLAN: Boost speeds from 79 mph to 110 mph along a 280-mile corridor from Chicago to St. Louis, where trains make nine stops between Alton and Summit. Travel time would be trimmed from about 5½ hours to less than four hours.

STATUS: Crossing signals have been upgraded along the entire corridor. Along a 126-mile stretch from Springfield to south of Joliet, track has been upgraded for a smoother ride and nearly 70 four-armed safety gates have been installed at crossings.

HOLDUP: State officials are reevaluating high-tech safety systems that can automatically slow or stop trains to make sure they can coexist with slower-moving freight traffic and cars that cross rail lines.

TIMETABLE: Once an automated safety system is chosen and approved by federal regulators, trains could speed up along the improved central Illinois track. No target date has been set to begin high-speed service along that route, which would trim about 45 minutes off of the Chicago to St. Louis trip. No money is earmarked for upgrades between Springfield and St. Louis or from south of Joliet to Chicago.

COST: Illinois has spent about $80 million on rail and crossing improvements along the central Illinois stretch. Costs to complete the entire corridor are expected to be about $400 million.

Passenger Rail, who located the article, notes,
But let's not just give Passenger Rail priority, let's separate freight from passenger. There will be no true next-generation, high-speed or not, if we don't separate freight from passenger. The Illinois project isn't going to do that, and it is just a revamp.
If Illinois aspires to mimic Britain's InterCity 125 or the German diesel ICE trains, yes. But perhaps the problem is with the rules. Zephyrs and 400s and Hiawathas were routinely cruising at 110 mph (American-style high-speed rail) on jointed rail protected by semaphore signals and in the latter two fleets, with steam power. Intermodal trains routinely reach 79 mph where track conditions permit. Perhaps it is the rules, not the infrastructure, that require a revamp.
THE SECOND DRAFT OF HISTORY? I'm more familiar with John Keegan's work on naval warfare and the European wars of the early twentieth century, where he's producing the nth draft for n large. Mr Keegan is defence editor of The Daily Telegraph and in The Iraq War he makes extensive use of his colleague's first drafts as well as his own files on the travails of Mesopotamia. For Book Review No. 33 let me note that a work released early in 2004, and relying heavily on a July interview with U.S. General Tommy Franks is one that will likely be overtaken by events as the third and fourth drafts of history take shape in the War Colleges and history departments over the next few years. The parts that deal with the history of Mesopotamia as something called Iraq took shape, and the emergence of Saddam Hussein as Maximum Leader are instructive, as is the analysis of the major combat operations, where the adjective "mysterious" is often apt.

The concluding paragraphs are likely to occupy policy analysts for some time. The final event before the book went to press is the suicide of British scientist David Kelly, whose comments on possible weapons of mass destruction might have involved statements about material he was not cleared for. That episode was the harbinger of the second-guessing and recriminations to follow. Mr Keegan suggests we might have much worse to look forward to.
Thus the certainties that had inaugurated the brief and brilliant campaign to overthrow the tyranny of Saddam Hussein petered out in recrimination. Objectively the world was undoubtedly a safer place as the result of his downfall, besides being morally purged of one of the most wicked dictators of modern times. Subjectively it was even more divided than it had been when the 'war on terror' was undertaken after the atrocity of 11 September 2001. The Muslim world in general, the Arab world in particular was confirmed in its grievances, particularly that the West was prepared to use its overwhelming military superiority to keep Muslims subordinate. 'Europe', the Europe of the Franco-German plan to create a federal union strong enough to stand on terms of equality with the United States as a world power, had been humiliated by the failure of its efforts to avert the war. Liberal opinion, dominant throughout the European media and academia, strong also in their American equivalents, was outraged by the spectacle of raw military force supplanting reason and legality as the means by which relations between states are ordered.

Reality is an uncomfortable companion, particularly to people of good will. George H. W. Bush's proclamation of a new world order had persuaded too many in the West that the world's future could be managed within a legal framework, by discussion and conciliation. The warnings uttered by his son that the United States was determined to bring other enemies of nuclear and regional stability to book -- Iran, North Korea -- was found by his political opponents profoundly unsettling. The reality of the Iraq campaign of March-April 2003 is, however, a better guide to what needs to be done to secure the safety of our world than any amount of law-making or treaty-writing can offer.
Alas, a second draft of history may not be indicative of future developments.

28.9.06

ON THE INTERCHANGE TRACK. The summer's purchases of house cars have been weighted and inspected and await switching into service.


The furnace gets turned on every so often, and there's talk of frost. Look for more model reports in the weeks to come.


A pile of index cards with the maintenance records of the new cars, a spare pair of Bettendorf trucks, and the coupler height gauge.
THOSE ACCURS'D POTATO CHIPS. They don't just raise your cholesterol count.

The Dante's Inferno Test has banished you to the Third Level of Hell!
Here is how you matched up against all the levels:
LevelScore
Purgatory (Repenting Believers)Very Low
Level 1 - Limbo (Virtuous Non-Believers)Low
Level 2 (Lustful)High
Level 3 (Gluttonous)High
Level 4 (Prodigal and Avaricious)Low
Level 5 (Wrathful and Gloomy)Moderate
Level 6 - The City of Dis (Heretics)Moderate
Level 7 (Violent)Moderate
Level 8- the Malebolge (Fraudulent, Malicious, Panderers)Moderate
Level 9 - Cocytus (Treacherous)Moderate

Take the Dante's Inferno Hell Test

(Via Charlie Sykes)

27.9.06

WHY IT MATTERS. Long form: scroll down, or keep reading.

Short form, example 1, on the Sunday morning newsradio: "Northern Illinois and Notre Dame won." Winning streak, losing streak, we're doing our job on the academic side.

Short form, example 2, witnessed on campus. Student with nose in book making way along central mall.

Short form, example 3, theory class. "Can we practice with some Jacobians?" Hal Varian and David Kreps leave the nastier bits out of their texts ...
RETHINKING THE RANKINGS. An organization called Education Sector discloses some of the thinking behind its college ranking system, which the Washington Monthly picked up in August. (Via Joanne Jacobs.)

There's still some tweaking to be done. The report's executive summary notes the following.
College rankings have increasingly defined the terms of the marketplace in higher education and the message from the market is clear: wealth, fame, and exclusivity are what gets colleges and universities ahead today.
Maybe.
The college diplomas of the nation's top executives tell an intriguing story: Getting to the corner office has more to do with leadership talent and a drive for success than it does with having an undergraduate degree from a prestigious university.
(Via University Diaries.)

Professor Mankiw concurs in part and dissents in part.
Interesting spin. You could turn the numbers around and tell a different story. My very rough guess is that about 1 percent of college graduates have degrees from Ivy League schools. So that 10-percent figure means that an Ivy League graduate is about ten times more likely to become a CEO than is an average college graduate.Of course, the better chances for the Ivy League grad are largely a selection effect rather than a treatment effect, as discussed in this old article by Alan Krueger.
(A commenter provides an odd factoid: "It's also still true that there are more University of Wisconsin CEOs than any single Ivy League school CEOs. That's odd even if it's a freak." And the mercantilists in Wisconsin fret about how many graduates leave the state? Somebody has to specialize in the production of future CEOs. Might as well be Wisconsin, now that exporting hockey players to bring down an Evil Empire isn't an option.)

Re-railing the train of thought ...
Gary Randsell, the president of Western Kentucky University (WKU), is well aware of that fact. While the lion's share of public attention to higher education is focused on elite colleges and major research universities, institutions like WKU—public, regional, masters-granting institutions—are actually far more representative of higher education today. Along with community colleges, the WKUs of the world are where most college students actually go to college.
Thus the importance of the mid-majors. Don't we owe our best students the same intellectual challenges the alleged name-brand universities are supposed to present?

To some extent Mr Randsell gets it.
By today's standards, Randsell has been an unusually successful president, rapidly growing WKU's applicant pool, enrollment and endowment, recruiting new faculty and building new university facilities. “I want nationally competitive faculty,” he says. “I want nationally competitive students. I want facilities that are national or world-class in terms of technology. I want a campus that is second-to-none in beautification. You've got to compete, you've got to work hard, you've got to be doing things that continue to improve your quality, or you're going to get passed in a hurry in this business….We're going to compete in that arms race and we're going to win.”
(His appearance on "Declining by Degrees" was less encouraging.)

The interpretation the folks at Education Sector draw is also less encouraging.
President Randsell's comments illustrate just how fiercely successful leaders will compete on whatever terms the marketplace demands—and they suggest how little the terms of today's marketplace have to do with how well students are taught, how much they learn, whether they graduate, and whether they succeed in their future lives.
The higher education premium is a premium to human capital formation, not an incentive to acquire a signal. "Nationally-competitive" is a statement about success in teaching, learning, and graduating. Why apologize for these things, or for paying a premium price for premium professors, or for charging a premium price for the opportunity to study with such professors and sharpen your brains with premium classmates?
Because today's rankings reward institutions for wealth, many college presidents are no longer national intellectual leaders but narrowly focused fundraisers-in-chief. Because rankings reward institutions for their “scholarly” reputations, colleges recruit faculty who are distinguished in research even if their teaching skills are sub-par. Because the current rankings reward colleges for selective admissions and high freshman SAT scores, more scholarships are going to wealthy, high-achieving applicants, instead of the lower-income students who need financial aid the most.
Isn't it possible to address the defects in the U.S. News rankings and provide some content at the same time. Endowment: what's that? Again the canard: excellent researcher, indifferent teacher. Again the gripes about merit scholarships. See here on the real scandal in higher education, here on the excess capacity devoted to remediation and retention, which I'm tempted to refer to as high school with beer bongs, and here on the resulting social waste. One more time: what's wrong with bolstering retention by screening out individuals who are more likely a priori not to make it through? (And don't fob them off on the trade schools!)
The failure of the U.S. News rankings to provide colleges with incentives to improve the quality of their teaching is one reason why studies have found that many American collegians aren't learning what they need to know. In a recent report on college-student literacy, for example, the Washington, D.C.-based American Institutes for Research revealed that only 38 percent of graduating seniors could successfully perform tasks like comparing viewpoints in two newspaper editorials.
It strikes me as exceedingly cumbersome to lay off on a newsmagazine what might more logically be charged to the failure of the common schools to do their work in the first place, or to the failure of the access-assessment-remediation-retention culture in the academy to say Enough to those common schools.
What the U.S. News rankings do, in effect, is confirm the status of colleges and universities that by virtue of their prestige are valuable to students irrespective of the quality of the education they provide. Students could get a rotten education at Harvard and Yale and they would still be ahead of the game because Ivy League degrees have so much cache.[c.q.]
One wishes people who represent themselves as researchers of higher education would be familiar with the Spielberg Effect.
But the vast majority of college students—almost 90 percent—don't attend selective colleges and universities. They attend institutions that don't have the status to open doors for their graduates on the basis of name alone. Instead, what matters to these students is the quality of the education that they receive.
No argument. But rather than grouse about a newsmagazine's ranking system and raise false objections to merit scholarships, why not recognize higher education's real credibility problem, summarized in coreless curricula and inflated grades?
THE METROPOLITAN AND NORTHWESTERN L. The Chicago Transit Authority has released two concepts for the Circle Line. Neither envisions extending the northern end to a connection with the Ravenswood branch or a southern extension that would restore the Stockyards branch.

26.9.06

ANOTHER SUNNY DAY IN PARADISE. The Northern Illinois University Libraries sent a team of photographers out for a DeKalb Sesquicentennial tribute. The full gallery is in the library lobby. Here's a sampler.


Maybe some of my own once the leaves start turning.
RULES WRITTEN IN BLOOD. Consider a test track that is used by only one experimental train. Dispatching and track occupancy rules are irrelevant, right? Wrong.

As many as 23 people may have been killed when the Transrapid magnetically levitated train collided with a maintenance vehicle on a large test track near the town of Lathen in northwest Germany on this Friday morning. The test track is 31.5 km long in total. The collision happened at 9:40 AM local time.

The three-car train was on a demonstration run with 29 passengers, mostly engineers and other technical and management personnel from the German gas and electric utility company RWE as well as employees of the mag-lev test track company IABG..

A rolling scaffold-like structure use for maintenance of the track, all of which is elevated above the ground in a forested area outside of this town near the German border with Holland, was apparently left forgotten on the track when the demonstration run started. The Mag-Lev train collided with the maintenance vehicle at an estimated speed of 200 km/h (124 mph). The train is capable of reaching 400 km/h on this track.

Railroad melodramas of the silent film era would find great comedy in a character animatedly pumping a handcar to stay ahead of an onrushing express. That's art, not life. One does not leave maintenance of way equipment, whether it is a handcar or an inspection truck or the rail grinding train or a maglev truing machine on a live track without protection of a track and time permit ("Track One, MA to CO, 10:30 am to 11:15 am, SHK") or a Form B work order. The railroads figured this out the first time a locomotive ran down a work horse, sometime before the Charles Minot era. The default premise is that if the track is capable of carrying a train, it is a live track. ("Expect movements on any track at any time in either direction.")

Even with modern protections, bad things can happen. I have a commercial videotape of a control-car ride on a Milwaukee North Line scoot in which the engineer describes a novice Union Pacific track inspector who requested track and time on the east track of their Skokie Valley line immediately before taking possession of the east track of the Canadian Pacific, a mile or so west. He bailed out just before a northbound Hiawatha nailed his truck.

One does not leave maintenance equipment "forgotten" on a live track. It is a shame that the boffins at Transrapid conceived of a research laboratory that happened to be a railroad without contemplating the possibility of work equipment occupying the track, or of unscheduled demonstration trains leaving the station without ascertaining that all expired work permits had been properly closed out. That neglect of basic premises of safe operation has ended 23 lives needlessly early. Spare a moment's thought for the families.

SECOND SECTION: The Transportationist.
Taking the long view, it should be remembered that all new transportation technologies have growing pains, some like the first train crash are overcome (the opening ceremonies of George Stepheson's Rocket on the Liverpool and Manchester Railway railway killed MP William Huskisson from Liverpool (September 15, 1830). However, some like the Hindenberg crash on May 6, 1937, doom the technology.
The "growing pain" in question is one that could have been anticipated, and that it occurred suggests a lack of experienced railroaders on the laboratory's safety team.

25.9.06

MOZART LIKED BIRDS. So quipped Maestro Brett Mitchell between the first and second movements of Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 23 in A when some twit was a bit slow to turn off a mobile phone. (A concert is an opportunity to shut the rest of the world off for a while. Leave the shackles at home. Do you think we're really impressed that you're doing business during intermission?)

The concerto was the Philharmonic's 250th birthday offering for Mozart, and it was sandwiched between Shostakovich Centennial items the Festive Overture and the Symphony No. 5 in d. The Philharmonic previously performed the Fifth in 1992. (How many conductors and how many performers have rotated through since then?) The program notes describe the second movement as a "village dance gone wrong" possibly after "one drink too many" which is not bad: I envision a clapped-out boardwalk with a badly out-of-round carroussel. They also confirmed that the impression I have in the third movement of a procession of Orthodox monks at a funeral is accurate. Prior to the performance, Conductor Mitchell announced that the orchestra would use a slow tempo in the symphony's coda (there is some controversy over the metronome marks) because Shostakovich wrote in Testimony that the finale is "as if someone were beating you with a stick and saying, 'Your business is rejoicing, your business is rejoicing.'"

It is worth remembering exactly what genuine tyranny is.
LOOKING FOR THE SIMPLEST EXPLANATION. Marquette Warrior located a macroeconomic outlook composed by Wisconsin's Donald Nichols, a James Tobin student who was a bit perplexed by some movements in gasoline prices.
Yet, recently we have seen $3.00 gasoline. This is way above what one would expect to find if crude oil costs $65 per barrel. Historically, $3.00 gasoline would be expected if crudewere to cost $2.15 per gallon. But $2.15 per gallon of crude x 44 gallons to the barrel means that crude would then cost about $95 per barrel!
The joys of putting together a macroeconomic forecast on short notice! "Historically" refers to a price path along which shocks are discounted accurately and expected gains from trade are identified and acted upon. As Professor Nichols noted elsewhere in his paper, Hurricane Katrina affected the supply in the short run, and in the presence of inelastic demands and supplies in the short run, large price movements in response to small supply shocks are no surprise. But the Nichols Outlook anticipates a return of gasoline prices to the low $2 per gallon range.
For the future, if crude prices remain near $65 per barrel and taxes remain near 50 cents on the gallon, I would expect gasoline prices to be about $2.35 nationally, and $2.43 in Wisconsin. Gasoline prices of $2.35 per gallon will not disturb the ongoing economic recovery.
Econobrowser (via Knowledge Problem) is thinking along similar lines.

Using that 60 cents benchmark, a retail gasoline price below $2.20 a gallon appears to be quite reasonable to anticipate.

So why are gasoline prices coming down so dramatically? There are important seasonal factors in U.S. gasoline prices, which are higher in the summer due to summer fuel requirements and greater gasoline demand. Everyone always seems as shocked when prices go up in the spring as when they come down in the fall, even though to some extent that same pattern is repeated every year.

But the simplest explanation for the price fluctuations appears to be equilibrating properties of competitive markets, not some kind of political business cycle at work. And in the Marquette Warrior post, a testable hypothesis.

[Conspiracy buffs] claim it’s just the fact that an election is coming up. Supposedly, the oil companies want the Republicans to win, and are holding down the price to help them.

Of course, since prices are low right now, we would not be surprised to see them go up after the election. But then, likely, they will go down again.

That's if the oil companies are part of a vast right wing conspiracy to tweak a political business cycle. But if Professor Nichols and the energy economists are correct, absent any undiscounted supply or demand shocks, there will be no noticeable movements in crude oil or gas prices immediately before or immediately after the election, although there will be a noticeable movement up as refiners adjust production to the summer gasoline blends and attempt to anticipate the travel season equilibrium price.
FRITZ THE PLUMBER WAS A PROFESSIONAL. Joanne Jacobs notes middle-class jobs going begging in Scotland.
Scotland has high rates of youths "not in education or employment" and a shortage of plumbers. Britain is importing skilled blue-collar workers from Eastern Europe. "The Polish plumber" is in high demand.
The Scots are rethinking elementary education, in a way that raises the spectre of tracking.
The move is a radical attempt to deal with the thousands of demotivated school-leavers who head into the workplace without either qualifications or job skills.
It smacks, however, of the traditional academician's attitude, usually expressed by someone who couldn't carry water for a patternmaker, that those who dislike or aren't up to algebra or close reading are somehow cut out to wire your house and weld your car.

David Lonsdale, spokesman for the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) in Scotland welcomed the proposal.

"Employers tell us that too many school-leavers lack the basic skills required to be productive in the workplace, so the First Minister's plan to improve standards in basic literacy and numeracy and give youngsters the chance to learn a trade, sounds spot on," he said.

But unions were scathing. David Eaglesham, general secretary of the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association, said: "This is all about election posturing and not about education. It is the worst form of selection."

He added: "It is an arbitrary process. You are doing these kids down in a big sense. There is no reason why plumbers shouldn't do poetry.

"They have their whole life to learn a trade and there is no reason why the whole breadth of the curriculum is shut off just because they are going to go for a trade. It is going back to the bad old days."

I repeat: the more serious problem is in thinking that people who can't do poetry are somehow suited to be plumbers. Fritz the Plumber managed both.
LOCAL KNOWLEDGE. The winds came up Sunday for the Melges 17 championship.
Day 2 had the forecast of big wind and that was getting the racers excited. It doesn’t take much breeze for these boats to plane, so the fleet was excited. There were many wipeouts in the days racing, but the boat is easily righted and sailed dry, which lets you get back racing fairly quickly after any capsizes. The regatta championship was coming down to a race between two boats. With four races on the last day, well run by PRO Mike Sherin, the fleet was tired, but each and every sailor whether it went well or poorly had a big smile on their face after ripping around in these fun boats. Overall champions for the second year in a row were Art Brereton and Harry Melges, closely followed by Andy and Iggy Labanauskas.
I have enough toys, right?
This event had teams coming from just about everywhere. The teams ranged in ages from young to old and you had both women and men skipper and crew combinations. Young guys sailing light and some heavier teams out racing as well. The boat is light, only 300lbs all rigged and ready. The 17's have a roller furling jib, large roached mainsail and an asymmetrical spinnaker with a dousing tube. These boats are certainly fast. They are sailed like a scow, but have the feel of a very fast skiff. Practice and organization is the key to this boat and it was evident that the teams that have been racing these boats from the beginning were the teams to beat.
Hmmm ...

24.9.06

READY TO DO GENERAL EQUILIBRIUM.


Edgeworth Box, core.



Five faces are solved. What must be true of the sixth face?
NOT SEEKING ALIENATED POETS. The editorial board at the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel notes that middle class jobs are going begging.

Bucyrus International, for example, the South Milwaukee maker of heavy equipment for the surface mining industry, has 300 openings for welders and machinists - a result of its healthy business with China and India. But the company is having a hard time finding enough people willing to do jobs that pay on average $22 an hour.

But it's not just Bucyrus. A study released last month by the Center for Workforce Development at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, found that work force quality was the top concern of area manufacturers. An annual survey of business executives by the lobbying group Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce found similar results.

If the current wave of shortages is a concern, it's likely that an even larger one is about to crash ashore. Baby boomers are beginning to retire, which will hit manufacturers particularly hard. As an example, most skilled workers at Bucyrus are in their 50s, says the company's top executive, Timothy Sullivan. The region may be short thousands of workers in the coming years.

Memo to academic advisors: Befuddled area studies and general education majors can't carry water for a patternmaker. Heck, a lot of tenured professors couldn't carry water for a patternmaker.
A CENTENARY. Composer Dmitri Shostakovich, born September 25, 1906. The University Philharmonic has a suitable tribute prepared for Monday evening.
SWEEP AT HOME, FLOP ON THE ROAD. Between the five game home winning streak at the beginning of the Brewers' season and the five game home winning streak at the end, the baseball gods have placed the road trip.
THE PRINCIPLE OF SUBSTITUTES AT WORK. What sleet or snow or gloom of night could not do, electronic mail and electronic funds transfer can do. There are fewer blue letter boxes for the couriers to call at on their appointed rounds.

If a box is earmarked for removal or relocation, a 30-day notice is posted on the box that informs users how to argue against the planned removal.

"For the vast majority of the 300 boxes that we've removed, we have had little or no response," [Milwaukee postal district manager David Martin] said.

You mean revealed preference works too?
THE GREEN BAY 400. Better news from Michigan. The Detroit Lions always tormented Vince Lombardi and Mike Holmgren. New Packer coach Mike McCarthy celebrated his first win in Detroit, where Brett Favre passed for career touchdowns 400, 401, and 402, and the defense managed to hang on.

23.9.06

A DIFFERENT KIND OF FAST BOAT. Residents of Marinette, Wisconsin and Menominee, Michigan put aside whatever differences they might have had over college football (although the Central Time Zone part of Michigan is in many ways an extension of Wisconsin, there are a few loyal to that unimaginative band with a good football team attached) to christen USS Freedom, the first of a new generation of littoral combat ships, which in best military form will be referred to hereafter as LCS.

A fast, agile, and high-technology surface combatant, Freedom will act as a platform for launch and recovery of manned and unmanned vehicles. Its modular design will support interchangeable mission packages, allowing the ship to be reconfigured for antisubmarine warfare, mine warfare, or surface warfare missions on an as-needed basis. The LCS will be able to swap out mission packages pierside in a matter of hours, adapting as the tactical situation demands. These ships will also feature advanced networking capability to share tactical information with other Navy aircraft, ships, submarines and joint units.

Freedom is the first of two LCS seaframes being produced. Freedom is an innovative combatant designed to operate quickly in shallow water environments to counter challenging threats in coastal regions, specifically mines, submarines and fast surface craft. The LCS is capable of speeds in excess of 40 knots and can operate in water less than 20 feet deep.

"Recovery of manned and unmanned vehicles." I suspect that refers to helicopters and variations on Predator.
THE RACING SCOW EVOLVES. For years, the Inland Lake Yachting Association sanctioned competition in a variety of racing scows, ranging from the 40 foot Class A sloop and the 28 foot Class E, both of which are capable of pulling waterskiers, through the 20 foot Class C catboat and Class M-20 sloop, to the 16 foot singlehanded (except in heavy air) Class MC catboat and doublehanded Class M sloop. In recent years, the A and E fleets have enjoyed greater popularity, the M-20 has morphed into the I-20, and the builders have ceased production of the Class M. A few true believers continue to participate in the Class M invitational and championship regattas.

There appears to be a worthy successor to the Class M in the form of the Melges 17, a 17-foot (d'oh!) doublehanded sloop that incorporates a number of America's Cup inventions including extensive use of carbon fiber, the curved roach high-aspect mainsail, and asymmetrical spinnakers. (Blogger now lets readers click on these pictures to see bigger pictures.)


The Melges 17 Championship visited the Lake Geneva Yacht Club. Despite the weather mayhem all around us, there was no wind Saturday afternoon and ample opportunity to look at the boats and catch up on sailing news. Alas, no action shots, although I had an invitation to help out on observe from the race committee boat if they did race.

Class C and M champion Jane Pegel is impressed with the Melges 17's responsiveness to wind conditions. (She is quite formidable at adjusting the M Scow to any change in conditions, and many is the Lake Geneva, nay Inland, sailor she's blown past by adjusting more accurately to a wind shift.) To her eyes, the Seventeen reacts more quickly to wind changes, both accelerating and decelerating. That might keep the less-adaptive skippers closer, but the more alert and more adaptive skipper should still win.

The Seventeen is a bilgeboard scow, but the when-all-else-fails-pull these handles are not part of the boat's rig. No doubt legions of M and MC crews who have had to sit on those handles will appreciate the less-cluttered crew positions. But I'm going to have to look at this boat more closely with a view toward possible sources of complexity. (On a Laser, everything is in plain sight, and the new rules that allow pulleys instead of a cats-cradle of loops and knots on the boom vang and outhaul make adjustments somewhat easier to execute, although one must still remember to release all those settings for downwind before bearing off!)


A roller-furler jib, and a retractable spinnaker pole.


Intriguing boat ... I have enough toys, right?
FOUR BITS LESS TUPPENCE BUYS A MEDIUM POP. The student center food service at Northern Illinois has a fall promotion in which the price of a medium cup of pop is based on the Huskies' scoring in the previous game. I asked a cashier, "If the Huskies win a game 3-0, will we see 3 cent pop?" Yes, but as the Talk Like a Pirate inspired title notes, today's results were a 48-14 drubbing of Indiana State, whose losing streak continues. (I can sympathize with Indiana State fans. There was a long losing streak here in the late 1990s, and the California Bowl team of 1983 was not able to end Northwestern's losing streak.)

A local sportswriter offered some keys to victory.
1 - Establish dominance early. Division I-AA teams have meant trouble to the Huskies in the Joe Novak era. The Sycamore can put points on the board. Letting ISU get confidence with an early score or strong defensive effort must be avoided.
Is a fumble return for a touchdown on Indiana State's first series sufficient?

2 - Force turnovers. It will be hard for Indiana State to mount a challenge if they commit costly turnovers.

3 - Be aggressive. The Huskies need to show some bark on defense and attack the Sycamores.

See above.
4 - Spread the wealth. This should be the ideal game to let some of the inexperienced players on the offense get some confidence, which will help the Huskies down the road.
I was on travel and listening on the radio, but it appears as if the starters were resting most of the second half.

Now comes a three-game road trip including the premiere of ESPN's Sunday Night [College Style] Football, which has nothing to do with money. Amateur sport and all that.

Wisconsin did not fare as well in Ann Arbor, despite a good start. Elsewhere, Nevada (current athletic director Cary Groth held that job at Northern Illinois for years) better than Northwestern, and, in a game that would have more import in basketball, Connecticut defeats Indiana, who will be Wisconsin's next opponent.
SUPPLY CURVES SLOPE UPWARDS. At Rip Track, evidence that for railroad contractors and suppliers, these might be the Good Old Days.

-Class One Railroads are buying things like never before! Everybody that I talk with is crazy busy! I know I am, which is one reason my posts are more infrequent. So, if you were making widgets as fast as you can, and one customer is buying almost everything you can make, but here comes another customer who requires this-that-and-the-other to be happy, you will ask yourself, why put up with the hassle here? Case in point: For some time, railroad material suppliers have filled their production schedules with work obtained by winning bids from Agencies. Suppliers put up with the associated aggrevation in order to cut overhead with full production. Now, Class One Railroads are claiming all of that once-excess production. And, I don't know any supplier who would rather deal with an Agency than a Railroad.

-Not only that, but US Suppliers are being courted by foreign concerns! And these people are more than willing to purchase a quality US-made product without anywhere near the problems that must be dealt with when working with a domestic concern. That means nothing but more pressure on production.

Here's what it boils down to: Production capacity is not increasing; production demands are increasing. The result will be, believe it or not, that suppliers can begin to select their customers!

Put another way, those customers who are prepared to fork over more of their expected consumer surplus to the vendors will be the ones who walk home with the bread, or the trackage. (Traders are price takers in equilibrium, but out of equilibrium all manner of strange things happen.) Whether the increase in demand will be of sufficient magnitude and duration to call forth additional capacity (yes, those short-run and long-run supply curves and the LeChatelier-Samuelson effects are for real) remains to be seen.
AND AGAIN FOR FUN. Brewers 13, Giants 12 on Fan Appreciation Night.

They appreciated the Brewers going through their entire batting order in the first inning to turn a 4-0 deficit into a 5-4 lead, and another nine-batter inning in the eighth to turn a looming 12-10 loss into victory.

They appreciated Hall hitting a two-out single to drive in the tying run. They especially appreciated Jeff Cirillo, who turns 37 today, hustling to second to beat a force-play throw with two out in the eighth, enabling the deciding run to score.

Perhaps best of all, the outcome relieved them of the question of whether they appreciated Barry Bonds' performance: two doubles, home run No. 733 and six RBI that seemingly put the Giants in command.

"Wow!" Brewers manager Ned Yost said when it was all over.

Indeed.

22.9.06

NOTHING LIKE A HOPELESSLY MOOT POINT.

The debate over the true world's fastest steam locomotive continues.
I put my money alongside that of [a different] Steve, with the A class Atlantics, (when on a lightweight train). Second comes 05 002, probably equal with the F7s, only the F7s did it more often! And then dear old Mallard. She strugggled down Stoke Bank at 125 mph, and no more than that according to her designer, Sir Nigel Gresley. And then collapsed in a heap at Peterborough and was towed into Kings Cross by...what else...an Atlantic!!!! Sadly not one of the Milwaukee A class, that may have done some damage on the way!
That post continues,
But who gets the last laugh? Why Mallard of course. All the others have long since gone to the cutters torch!

As if that's not enough, search the state of Wisconsin from Peshtigo to Potosi and from Trego to Pleasant Prairie and the only streamlined steamer you'll find is a Gresley Streak!

The Cold Spring Shops champion, based on this evidence, is illustrated. The discussion lays out the case.

The first run very briefly mentions an A class on test with a 6 car, 310 ton train that, "on practically level track......(reached) a maximum speed of 125 mph"

The second run, which for the present I have taken to be another test run, this time with an F7 Hudson, saw 550 tons taken over 4.5 miles at an average of 120 mph, with a maximum of 125 mph. This again is reported as being on "practically level track" This may well be the same run that is briefly mentioned by Brian Reed in his Locomotive Profiles that covers these locos.

The third run has more detail. The Baron states that in June 1942 engine 101 took 14 cars at 680 tons over the 85.6 miles from Chicago to Milwaukee in 65 minutes start to stop. The most relevant part of this run were the 48 miles, (pass to pass), reported to have been covered in 27 mins 20 seconds at an average speed of 105.4 mph. Discounting the impact of a 90mph restriction the net average was 107 mph!

Baron Gerard Vuillet also refers to the fact that the same distance 85.6 mile distance from Chicago to the Milwaukee stop was covered in 1943 with a 780 ton train in 63 minutes, with an apparent maximum of just 102.5 mph! He also states that the fastest A class Atlantic run over that route was in 59 minutes, but presumably with a much lighter train than hauled by the F7s.

I note again: moot. By 1943 the diesels were beginning to take charge of the Hiawathas, and although those topped out at 117 mph, on occasion they'd do the Milwaukee-Chicago leg in just under an hour.
3 HOURS 55 MINUTES. Virgin smashes Glasgow-London speed record.
Today’s record was set by the 12:37 special Pendolino from Glasgow Central to London, with over 400 passengers on board, which arrived at Euston station at 16:32. It was the first non-stop run between Glasgow and London since 1949, and the first ever sub-four hour southbound Glasgow to London journey.
The paragraph about the train's environmental impact is instructive.
The nine-car 439-seat electric Pendolino emits a carbon footprint of only 28 grammes per kilometre compared to the 215 grammes per kilometre of a BMW Three Series five-seat car. Its regenerative braking system returns up to 1,500 kWh of electricity to the power lines through reverse thrust traction motors. This means that Virgin Trains' 53-strong train fleet returns some 17 percent of the power used back to the network.
The grammes per kilometre of that Stanier Pacific in full cry in 1949 is left to the reader as an exercise. The reference to electricity keeping its own books, forsooth! is also instructive. The Milwaukee's Rocky Mountain Division boxcabs returned about 12 percent of the power to the grid.
Virgin Trains’ Chairman Sir Richard Branson said: “This record run has demonstrated the real potential of the upgrading of the West Coast Main Line and the state-of-the-art Virgin Pendolino trains. It has also raised over £30,000 for Heaven’s Angels and I would like to thank everyone who has supported the Heaven’s Angels campaign - Virgin Trains’ staff, the staff and readers of The Railway Magazine who promoted the train and our partners at Network Rail and ALSTOM for all helping us to achieve a new Glasgow to London speed record”.
Well done!

21.9.06

COMPARE AND CONTRAST. Michael Novak, via Instapundit:

What the Pope was lecturing on, in his modest, quiet, careful way was the crucial role of reason. His triple play consisted in using reason to get three different runners out at three different bases.

He told Christians and other religious people that reason is indispensable for disciplining religious faith. As he put it in an earlier lecture, it is important for reason to take the toxicity out of religion.

He told secularists, who define reason solely as science and limit it to empirical knowledge, that their grasp of reason does them an injustice by its narrowness. This tunnel vision cuts them off from many forms of human understanding and insight. It also prevents them from having reasoned conversation with that vast majority of the world’s people who are religious.

Finally, practically as an aside — as if he had intended to make a double play, then saw an opportunity to make a third out — he also tried to save the honor of Islam as a religion that once had a high and civilizing tradition of reason (and in many quarters still does). He tried to do this by pointing out that those in Islam’s midst who are seen daily preaching and practicing violence are injuring the faith’s good name.

Rob Kall, via Charlie Sykes.

Ratzinger is not stupid. Including the reference to the passage that has incited Muslim anger was no accident. It was a calculated, intentional strategy designed to help George Bush and the Republicans in the 2006 elections, just like the Catholic church systematically helped Bush and the Republicans in the 2004 elections, through Cardinals and Bishops who attacked Kerry.

The Vatican has become a partner with the republicans, so they coordinate, come the final stretch of election time, to make things happen, make statements, take positions that help the Republicans.

They help the republicans because the Republican positions on birth control, abortion, stem cells, gay marriage, pre-marital sex are closest to the Roman Catholic Church's positions.

By firing up an angry Muslim response, a predictable response after the cartoon episode earlier in the year, the Pontiff in red has created a media situation that makes nervous soccer Moms and quick to ignite Christian nationalists rev up their fear, their xenophobia and... their loyalty to the Republicans-- who not too deeply beneath the surface-- are racist, anti-Muslim, anti non-Christian.

To spell it out, it seems that the Pope intentionally drew an angry, violent, anti-Catholic, possibly anti-Christian response from Muslims on the street in the Arab world. This makes great TV-- burning the Pope or Christians in Effigy, threats to terror Bomb the Vatican and Catholic Churches. This is designed to raise the hackles of American Christians, to intensify the fear of Muslim terrorism, to boost the belief that there are 1.1 billion Muslims plotting against Americans.

Good night.
ON THIS WE AGREE. The dean at Anonymous Community characterizes the academic nonaggresion pact as the "real scandal of higher education."
A small but non-zero number of faculty have decided to exploit this quirk of our industry, and establish a sort of arms-control agreement with students. I won't ask much of you, and you won't bad-mouth me. In certain programs, people can make careers doing this.
We may be at different parts of the food chain, and the experience of an economist dealing with aspiring accountants, engineers, and the occasional pre-med or pre-law (read the full text of the Standard Oil case, 221 U.S. 1 (1911) and then ask me for a reference letter!) is different from that of an administrator at a two-year college, but on this, no disagreement.

The non-aggression pact has been present for a long time and as a commenter notes, at a wide variety of colleges and universities. I had some earlier thoughts on the phenomenon here, with links to a number of related posts elsewhere, and here, with the suggestion that at research universities the nonaggression pact might be a Nash equilibrium.
The payoff to a student who would like to ski rather than attend class or study is larger given that the professors are dealing in inflated grades anyway. Thus if the reward to a professor is r and the reward to a student is s, both r(research,ski) > r(advise,ski) and s(ski,research) > s(inquisitive,research) . Neither the students nor the professors have cause to regret their actions, given the actions of the professors and the students, which means the students and the professors are using their Nash equilibrium strategies.
In Profscam, Charlie Sykes suggests multiple causes. First, at p. 84:
But the gut (easy course) is not an aberration in the modern university: It is the inevitable byproduct of the professoriate's desire to expend as little time and energy on teaching combined with the imperative of keeping classrooms stocked with warm tuition-paying bodies. Nor is this limited merely to the lower end of the academic spectrum.
On the other hand, p. 85 suggests other forces are at work.
The pressure to open admissions, argue Professors [William] Rau and [Paul] Baker, is academe's "original sin."

"Perhaps Socrates or Jesus Christ could educate this range of students, but most faculty cannot walk on water, nor do they care for the taste of hemlock," they wrote. But given the "grinding, impervious logic" of the numbers game, academia must make compromises. Among the first things to go, the authors argue, are any introductory textbooks "written at a 12th-grade reading level or above. ... Since students can vote with their feet, introductory courses are typically geared to keep the bottom quarter of the skill range from fleeing in panic."

The numbers game also virtually dictated the collapse of standards within the classroom itself. "If two-thirds of the students do not possess the skills necessary for professional success," wrote Professor David Berkman, a former chairman of a journalism department at an urban university, "there is no way you can flunk out a number anywhere near that percentage. There is simply too much intimidation in the academic environment. This is especially true for junior -- meaning untenured -- faculty members who teach many of the lower division courses where the bulk of the weeding out should take place. ... No junior instructor [c.q.] who wishes to gain tenure will flunk out 67 percent of an introductory course." The result, charges Berkman, is rampant pandering.
And yet truth will out, if higher education's defect rate has any information content. But isn't there an enormous waste of resources in letting people decide over five or six or seven years that higher education really isn't for them, particularly in an environment where there is excess demand for the fifty or so institutions claiming to be in the U.S. News Top Twenty?
IMPOSSIBLE TO BE EVERYWHERE. The Iowa Interstate Railroad recently took delivery of two Chinese-built QJ mudsuckers, one each built in 1985 and in 1986.


Image courtesy Steam Train Diaries.

As part of the sesquicentennial of the bridging of the Mississippi River, the locomotives were in steam to the great delight of Quad Cities boosters. Over the weekend, some excursions ran east along the Hennepin Canal to Bureau, where the trains could be wyed. Adding to the excitement, North Star Rail's super 4-8-4, Milwaukee 261, participated.



Look how quickly Wikipedia picks up such things.


Tripleheaded SD90MACs or whatever variant on C60AC-9 GE calls its top-of-the-line diesel these days can walk off more expeditiously with whatever the yardmaster can cobble together. But tripleheaded steam really brings the public to trackside. (I'm not smart enough to figure out how to tap that enthusiasm for the Steam Age to develop awareness that in many ways, THESE are the Good Old Days of railroading. Is anybody at Union Pacific or BNSF or Iowa Interstate making that effort?)
YOU SHOVEL 15,000 TONS AND WHAT DO YOU GET? If you're the last operating giant stripping shovel, honorable retirement in a mining museum to be established right where you broke down.

The last of its breed, Silver Spade carried on alone until April 19 when it suffered a serious breakdown. Nineteen of 100 rollers fell out of place between the shovel's stationary bottom and its revolving top, resulting in the shovel's demise.

The rollers weigh about 800 pounds each and are the size of a quarter keg of beer. Replacing them would be a big, expensive job, said Kent Henschen, Bucyrus marketing manager.

At some point, it's not worth the money to rebuild old machines when the new technology is better, he said.

Marginal analysis, forsooth!
NOW IT'S JUST FOR FUN. Brewers 1, Cardinals none. There's Sprecher in the 'fridge for the weekend.
DRAW YOUR OWN CONCLUSIONS.



Spiegel image via Google Images.


If it rants like an Aryan, and it gooses like an Aryan ...

Is there a Farsi version of Gott erhalte Franz der Kaiser?

20.9.06

GOING FOR A SPEED RUN. The October issue of Railway hit my mailbox this afternoon with news that a Virgin Trains fundraiser using a Pendolino to attempt to run Glasgow - London Euston (401 miles) in less than four hours has sold out. (Railway has even less online content than Trains but the Cold Spring Shops research department was able to ferret out some online discussion of the project.)

The train will run this Friday 22 September and a progress report will be available this weekend.

That brings up a question: has there ever been a longer nonstop run than the Burlington's 1015 mile Chicago-Denver Zephyr test runs eastbound in 1934 and westbound in 1936? (Average speeds were around 77 mph for both runs if memory serves, with the westbound, using one of the Denver Zephyr sets actually a bit faster than the eastbound.)
BADGER FANS ARE GETTING FIRED UP, as this search string indicates. The first verse you seek is here.
TWO-FOUR-SIX-EIGHT! ORGANIZE AND SMASH THE STATE! Kathleen Parker attempts to make sense out of the senseless.
Contrary to what fanatics have insisted, the pope was as critical of the West as of Islam, if not more so. While Islam suffers from faith without reason, he said that Western culture suffers from reason without faith.

His point was that the two cultures cannot enter into a productive dialogue unless they both recognize that faith and reason are inextricably bound. Islam has to drop its sword and the West has to make room for the divine.

Pope Benedict's view is that by ignoring faith, the West--but especially Europe--is ill-equipped to engage a culture that is so firmly entrenched in faith.

"A reason which is deaf to the divine and which relegates religion into the realm of subcultures is incapable of entering into the dialogue of cultures," he said. Likewise, a faith-based culture that abhors reason cannot engage in civilized discourse or advance the goal of harmony.
Harmony, however, is not what the Islamofascists or their willing accomplices among the boutique multiculturalists seek. And it's not clear that the "West" is as attuned to reason as Ms Parker suggests. Consider Betsy's Page, where a recommendation of an Anchoress post suggests that the heirs to the Weather Underground have a blind spot when it comes to Islamofascist rage.
Why should they be interested in dialogue when they can be successful rioting?
Remember all those university administrators of the 1960s who praised the crazies among their charges for their "idealism?" By their fruits shall ye know them.
SO MUCH FOR THE "A" TRAIN. The powers that be at the Chicago Transit Authority found a novel way to make talk of skip-stop expresses on the L go away.

So call it a huge coincidence, or call it what it is. Either way, Getting Around called on the CTA in last Monday's column to bring back skip-stop semi-express train runs to help restore some semblance of on-time service. All trains did not make stops at all stations under the skip-stop system that the CTA used successfully until it was phased out in 1995 on the Red Line, the Blue Line and the Brown Line.

CTA officials responded that such a low-cost quick-fix was not practical--not even temporarily--on any of the CTA's rail lines. The CTA eliminated skip stops, at zero cost, due to declining ridership. Today, ridership has rebounded while service has plummeted to record lows.

Although the popular skip-stop service has been gone for more than a decade, many of the old skip-stop signs, designating stations as stops for "A" trains, "B" trains or both, were left untouched.Immediately after last Monday's column appeared, however, the signs got a touch-up. Actually, it was more like a whitewash.The CTA sent crews to rail platforms across the city to paint over the skip-stop designations, first with a white primer, then with bright red paint.

Embarrassment eradicated, right? Maybe, except for the lethargic train service still encountered by 500,000 CTA train riders each day.

Spin, spin, spin.

Stations along the O'Hare and Forest Park branches of the Blue Line, the Loop elevated system and the Red and Blue Line subways had their outdated skip-stop signs "retouched" last week, CTA spokeswoman Sheila Gregory said Friday.

Gregory insisted it was part of routine maintenance, coming 11 years after the end of skip-stop service."While crews were out on the system cleaning graffiti earlier this week, they touched up the paint on all of the signs in need, including the A/B signs," Gregory said, adding that the cost of the paint job is "difficult to quantify."

CTA officials apparently see no rush to go after the low-hanging fruit--such as introducing economical operational solutions--while modernization of the system creeps ahead for many years.

To the chagrin of anybody who will be commuting on the CTA today, next week or several years from now, Gregory said:

"There is no quick fix to increased travel times. ... Even as the existing slow zones are addressed, new ones will continue to appear."

I'm tempted to go looking for relics of the North Shore Line along the L, and will advise if any of those were missed by the cleanup.
OUR NEIGHBORS AT WAR. Kosovo, DeKalb, Baghdad and return.
Donald Grady, the chief of the NIU Police Department, will depart for Washington, D.C. this weekend to be briefed before he is deployed to Baghdad in early October, where he will remain for the next year.
Best wishes, Chief, on your sabbatical."
I will still be intimately involved with everything that happens here at the department and at the university," Grady said. "I will continue to have daily interaction with the police department. We will hold daily conference calls, and I'll be checking and responding to e-mails."
And to a safe return.
"I'm concerned for him, because I don't want to see him go to one of the hottest areas of the planet," [Lieutenant Darrell] Mitchell said. "However, I'm also very proud."
GODSPEED ATLANTIS. Atlantis OK'd for Landing Despite Debris.

NASA officials said their best guess was that the object was a plastic filler placed in between thermal tiles which protect the shuttle from blasting heat. A second mystery object was spotted several hours later, midday Tuesday, by Burbank. But NASA said it appeared to be a garbage bag, which would unlikely be a damage risk.

During Wednesday's inspections, the astronauts spotted three more pieces of floating debris. Jett described the objects as two rings and a piece of foil. He told Mission Control the first object, about 100 feet from the shuttle, was "a reflective cloth. ... It's not a solid metal structure."

NASA downplayed the discovery of Wednesday's objects, saying the fact that no problems were found with the shuttle was more important.

All the same, the absence of a contingency plan is troubling.
NASA's main concern was the status of the all-important heat shield, because a damaged shuttle skin led to the 2003 demise of the shuttle Columbia. NASA had not worked on a contingency plan of parking the shuttle at the international space station for astronauts' safe haven, but would not have ruled that out if serious damage had been found.
"Houston, we have a problem."

"Roger, Atlantis. Park at the Space Station."

"Err... there's a Soyuz in the loading zone."

"Atlantis, copy. Stand by."

RUNNING EXTRA: Atlantis made a nominal landing around sunrise. The current space program conjures up memories of the early days when everything was sequenced to establish first an orbital capability, then rendezvous and docking, then a Moon mission. Mercury launches tended to feature lengthy holds, and re-entry nervousness accompanied John Glenn's mission, as well as Apollo XI (first time jitters) and Apollo XIII.
BUCCANEERS ON THE KISH. Yar, and supersize me Fish'n-More!

19.9.06

THE CESSPOOL OF THE WEST. Yes, Michigan has a Lake Erie coastline, but this Rich Lowry column in National Review suggests that "perfect petri dish of failed policies" (an Ann Coulter line) might best describe Michigan.
Liberals dissatisfied with the Bush economy have, through the wonders of federalism, an alternative. They can move to Michigan. The state represents a rough approximation of ideal liberal economic policy. It is heavily unionized, taxed, and regulated in a failed attempt to close its eyes to the dynamic forces of the market and globalization all around it.
Pile on:

Michael LaFaive of the Mackinac Center calls Michigan “the France of North America.” Economically competitive states might have a personal income tax, or corporate income tax, or sales tax — Michigan has all three. It has long been the only state with a European-style, value-added tax — the Single Business Tax. A company can be in bankruptcy and still have a tax liability, making Michigan a bad state even to lose money in. In a 2002 filing for relief from the tax, General Motors explained that it would operate at a loss, but one of its projects would still create a $7 million-a-year tax liability.

Michigan recently repealed the Single Business Tax effective at the end of 2007, but has punted the decision about how to replace it. A relative moderate, Gov. Granholm has resisted general tax increases, but levied new fees, sin taxes and other “revenue enhancers.” The state still insists on trying to target tax incentives and other special breaks to favored businesses, in a doomed replay of 1970s-era industrial policy.

Ouch. But again, Michigan's problems are a legacy of the Old Industrial State.
It used to be that unions could force unnaturally high wages and benefits on U.S. manufacturers, and the costs would be passed along to consumers. Those were the days prior to globalization when the U.S. auto industry had a lock on the domestic market and experienced little international competition. It was inevitable that Michigan would find the new competition disruptive, but not that it would react to it so poorly.
Consider an economy with a monopoly productive sector and a competitive productive sector, and one input supplied by a monopoly and another supplied competitively. Identify the allocative inefficiencies. Now turn the monopolies competitive. Evaluate. (This question is probably a bit much even for the advanced theory class, but stay tuned.)

Jay Reding (flag hoist: Sean Hackbarth) draws some policy implications.

Michigan is one of the states that has no one to blame but itself for its incredible economic failure. Michigan assumed that a single industry would be enough to support its entire economic base — and that’s never true. The combination of technological change and foreign competition has altered the economics of the auto manufacturing industry in fundamental ways. The economic and political control exercised by the unions ensured that Michigan’s government remained largely wedded to that one industry.

Just as only a fool would invest their entire savings into one thing, an economy based on one single industry is constantly under threat. As Lowry points out, Michigan’s high-tax, low-growth policies are now coming home to roost in a state that’s seen massive job losses due to poor public policy. He’s also right in pointing out that Michigan is a state that has done nearly everything that liberals think would make the US economy stronger — and it simply hasn’t worked.

Michigan’s lack of economic diversity, punitive levels of taxation, and incredible inflexibility have caused innumerable suffering as workers lose their jobs and are forced to move to states with more opportunities who don’t embrace the same set of failed policies. The lesson here is obvious: those states that attempt to enact the same set of principles risk coming to the same negative outcomes.

Michigan continues to lead the U.S. in outmigration. That's been going on since the late 1970s. (I count as a wash: Madison to Wayne State in 1979, Wayne to Northern Illinois in 1986.) The Mackinac Center, however, is pinning its policy prescriptions on weak analysis.

There are many reasons people move, but it is probably easiest to sum all of them up with one word: opportunity.

Unfortunately, the official response to the Michigan Malaise is more government interference in the private economy and increased spending in areas like higher education. This spending, we are told, will create more knowledgeable workers who will stay in Michigan and solve our problems.

But proponents offer very little in the way of hard evidence to substantiate this claim. Research by economist Richard K. Vedder, on the other hand, shows that even when a state "invests" more in post-secondary education, the result is the same — a relative decline in economic opportunity.

In his book "Going Broke by Degree: Why College Costs Too Much," Vedder details his research findings on higher education spending. Vedder employed statistical modeling techniques to look for a relationship between spending on higher education and the economic growth of a state. He found such a relationship, and it was negative — that is, the more a state spent on universities, the lower the state’s rate of economic growth.

Vedder backed his empirical findings with case studies specific to Michigan. Writing for the Mackinac Center in late 2004, he said: "The statistical results are confirmed by case studies. For example, compare Michigan with the two other largest Midwestern industrial states, Illinois and Ohio. Of the three states in fiscal 1980, Michigan spent the largest proportion of its personal income on state universities (one-third more than Illinois, for example). Over the next two decades, Michigan dramatically increased its already above-average commitment to universities, so that it had the sixth-highest proportion in the nation by 2000."

Of these states, Illinois had the smallest subsidies and the highest growth in per-capita income from the late 1970s until 2002. Michigan was the exact opposite, with high spending and lower growth. Moreover, low subsidies did not deter Illinois residents from pursuing post-secondary education. In 2000, the ratio of college students was higher in the Land of Lincoln than in either Ohio or Michigan, according to Vedder.

Shiver me timbers, there are drawbacks in attempting to capture 25 years of creative destruction in two data-points. One state has a manufacturing economy dominated by motor vehicle assembly. The other has a diversified economy including much of the financial and logistical infrastructure for Michigan. Does it surprise that the incentives to finish high school and attend university are different?

The balance of trade in higher education obsesses policymakers in the upper Midwest, as my beggar-thy-neighbor series of posts points out. University administrators throughout Wisconsin fret about graduates accepting jobs out-of-state, particularly in Illinois (but did any of their campuses see fit to offer me a post as space-cadet-theorist-in-residence?) and Amtrak's Michigan corridor service exists to transport flatlanders to Kalamazoo and Ann Arbor.

The comparison of Michigan with Illinois misleads in another way. Consider Michigan, Michigan State, Wayne State, and Michigan Tech. At one time Michigan attempted to maintain four research universities in-state. There are also three Mid-American members and a number of regional state universities and colleges. (It was clear that Wayne was going to lose out to the other three in the retrenchments that were in progress 20 years ago.) Public policy in Illinois has tended to favor Illinois at Urbana as the research university, with perhaps a few specialty programs in Chicago. But there's enough discontent among students good enough for Illinois who don't get in, and their parents, that Northern, Southern, and Illinois State can make the case to be additional research comprehensive universities. But that public policy has not maintained academic departments in Urbana at the same level that Ann Arbor has managed to maintain, let alone competitors that could be viewed in the same way as Michigan and Michigan State. Question: if not for Michigan, State, Tech, and Wayne, would the exodus from Michigan have been worse? Different question: How much Illinois human capital is being developed in Madison and Ann Arbor and East Lansing and Kalamazoo?

RUNNING EXTRA: More context at Voluntary Xchange.