31.5.07

WASTEFUL AND DUPLICATIVE COMPETITION.

A University Diaries post suggesting there is excess capacity in higher education points to an extended lament on the follies of access-assessment-remediation-retention thinking in higher education. The lament starts, as many stories do, with an individual, Bill Maxwell of the St. Petersburg Times, motivated by idealism.
A year before coming to Stillman [College in Tuscaloosa, Alabama], I had written a commentary for the St. Petersburg Times arguing that Historically Black Colleges and Universities, or HBCUs, remain viable. I further argued that given the increasing reliance on standardized tests to determine college admission and given the nation's conservative turn, HBCUs are needed more than ever to provide an opportunity for many young blacks who otherwise never would be able to attend college because of factors such as low standardized test scores and criminal records.
What the writer ends up discovering is that those scores and records might be indicative of something else, such as a failure either of parents or the common schools to inculcate the habits of the middle class or of the children to develop proper life-management skills. First comes the reality that kills the morale of many an idealistic faculty member.
Those of us who were teaching the required general education courses - all of us from the nation's respected universities, such as the University of Chicago, Indiana University, the University of Florida and Princeton - had to face a harsh reality. We primarily were practicing remediation.
The fault does not rest entirely with the students.
By the beginning of my second year, I would find myself alienated from most of the senior administrators and most of the longtime staff members who were responsible for the day-to-day operations of the institution.
My alienation, a colleague told me, was the result of a disease found at most HBCUs: professional jealousy. The college president hired me as the "scholar in residence" on a 10-month contract for a modest salary. Some professors resented the arrangement because they had been there for several years and were earning the same or less.
That failing is not necessarily confined to the backwaters of academe. If one aspires to be better, one ought work at attracting colleagues who are better. That's not to hold the students harmless.
Most students had book vouchers as part of their financial aid, so I told those without books to walk with me to the bookstore, a distance of about three football fields. Some did not follow me, and I tried to remember who they were.
At the store I watched students wander around, obviously trying to avoid buying the book. Only about eight wound up buying one.
I became angry that I had to deal with such a self-destructive, juvenile problem. I saw the refusal to buy the text as a collective act of defiance. I knew that if I lost this battle, I would not have any control in this class and no respect.
The next Monday, I went to class dreading a showdown. While calling the roll, I asked the students to show me their texts. Eighteen still did not have them. One said he had bought the book but left it in his dorm room "by mistake." I told him to go get it. He gathered his belongings and left. He never came to class again.
As promised, I recorded an F for all students who did not bring their texts. The last two young men from in front of King Hall walked out. I saw myself as having failed them as a professor, but I was relieved they were gone.
I also decided to take away students' excuses for not having access to the texts. I personally bought two copies of each book and put them on reserve in the library. From time to time, I would check to see who had used them. During the entire semester, the books were used only six times.
(Blackboard is useful for such keeping-track. It's very easy to see who is looking at supplementary material.)

The article notes that if the historically black schools might have at one time been viewed as equal, if separate, their status is anything but equal in the wake of civil rights reforms. The author is old enough to remember de jure segregation.
I also had caring professors who introduced the life of the mind to this kid reared as a migrant farm worker in labor camps up and down the eastern United States. My professors were intellectuals, and I wanted to be just like them. Our professors - whether we liked them or hated them - were gods, and we were to learn all we could from them.
For many of us, Wiley was the only opportunity to earn a four-year degree. Jim Crow barred us from most colleges and universities in the South, and our low ACT and SAT scores disqualified us from attending most other campuses nationwide. Wiley was our lifeline to professional success. And we knew it.
The lifeline to professional success is different today.
Stillman was typical of the overwhelming majority of other HBCUs, where white professors outnumber black professors, a trend pejoratively referred to as the "whitening" of the HBCU faculty. A major reason for this phenomenon is that mainline universities seeking ethnic diversity on their faculties heavily recruit new black Ph.D.s and specialists. Another reason is that many black Ph.D.s see teaching at the HBCU as being "drudge work" - a step down, not a step up.
Put another way, "separate but equal" was a fiction. Given what the writer discovers as the semester wears on, perhaps it is time to confront the next fiction, which is the access-assessment-remediation-retention hell Stillman becomes for him.
My colleagues and I were witnessing the result of low admission standards. Were we expecting too much of young people who scored poorly on the SAT, who were rarely challenged to excel in high school, who were not motivated to take advantage of opportunities to learn, who could not imagine where a sound education could take them?
Rather than take the difficult but proper course of raising standards, the administration becomes complicit in the students' failure.
During faculty meetings, we regularly were encouraged to treat our students as if they were our own children. We were responsible for saving them all. This was familiar terrain; a generation earlier my professors had nurtured me at two historically black colleges, Wiley in Marshall, Texas, and Bethune-Cookman in Daytona Beach. Some of them even had given me a few breaks I may not have deserved.
Such breaks are not unknown, even at institutions where greater social distance is the norm.
The bottom line was the same as it is at most HBCUs. Professors who had the best success connecting with students, especially below-average male students, emphasized friendly, personal and supportive involvement in their lives. For example, Stephen Jackson, who taught sports writing, was an effective professor because he understood the importance of winning students' trust. He even ate lunch in the cafeteria with students each day.
This style of teaching, which I grudgingly adopted, was unlike anything I had used during my previous 18 years of teaching on traditional campuses such as those of the University of Illinois at Chicago and Northern Illinois University. On those campuses, professors were respected for their achievements and position. Subject matter usually was taught without developing strong personal relationships between students and professors, and professors may not have cared if students liked them.
At Stillman, being professional but impersonal created frustration for the student and the professor. Students, especially males, liked and respected the flexible professor, and they learned when they respected the professor.
I suppose it's churlish to point out that sports writing might be a popular course, whether or not the professor makes an effort to be more accessible. For most students, that flexibility accomplishes nothing.
We treated the students, even those who disappointed us, as if they were our children. I often wondered if we were doing more harm than good with our generosity.
Mr Maxwell had his regular job to return to, which he did, with some gratitude.
In time, I realized that my standards were too high for the quality of student I had to teach. Most simply were not prepared for college-level work, and I was not professionally trained for the intense remediation they needed and deserved.
Despite the clear evidence of excess capacity in higher education, he is not ready to give up on the historically black institutions completely.
A researcher for the Education Trust, an independent policy group, said in 2005: "Instead of a certain kind of student dragging down some institutions, we could just as easily argue that some institutions are dragging down a certain kind of student."
I found that to be true. I had a handful of excellent journalism students at Stillman who all had SAT scores below 1, 000. Ebony Horton, for example, was a natural-born reporter. She had an eye for a good story, knew how to find the right sources and was a better-than-average writer. She did not, however, have classmates who shared her enthusiasm and gift for reporting. As a result, she bowed to peer pressure: She often cut corners, handed in flawed copy and missed deadlines more times than I liked.
Because she had natural skills, Ebony interned at the Tuscaloosa News and after graduation landed a full-time job with the Dothan Eagle as a general assignment reporter. Although Ebony found a good job, I am certain that we ill-served her at Stillman because we lacked a critical mass of motivated, competent students and the right facilities that would have enhanced her skills.
The same was true of Cedric Baker. Even before he graduated, the Tuscaloosa News hired him as a part-time sports reporter, where he had a byline, sometimes two, each week. Ironically, he is on Stillman's public relations staff today. I regret that we did not have an environment that could inspire Cedric to produce his best work.
Three of my other promising students withdrew after only one semester. One of them, a young man from Mississippi who was a talented reporter and photographer, said: "I can't stand it here, Mr. Maxwell. Nobody's serious. The students don't study. They just bullshit all the time, and the administration doesn't care. It's all messed up."
Let that be the epitaph for the access-assessment-remediation-retention model of higher education.

I checked some Northern Illinois archives in preparing this post. Mr Maxwell was here a long time ago I don't recall encountering him or reading of his efforts in the mid-1980s when I arrived.
MATHEMATICAL POLITICS? Nation columnist Christopher Hayes raises, yet again, what might be gripe 2n-1 for n large about an economics based on unrealistic assumptions. There are five dissenting theses nailed to Newmark's Door. King at SCSU Scholars has put together a somewhat longer and more favorable set of reactions to the essay. From those links, let me offer a quote from Paul Krugman that pretty well sums up the value of economics, "unrealistic" theory notwithstanding.
My point isn't that neoclassical theory can do anything. But it's perfectly possible to believe in extensive market failure, demand a lot more government intervention in the economy, while still believing that maximization-plus-equilibrium is a nifty way to think about lots of problems.
That's not to say there isn't work to be done. Herbert Gintis wrote a sympathetic review (in the December 2006 Journal of Economic Literature) of Eric Beinhocker's Origin of Wealth: Evolution, Complexity, and the Radical Remaking of Economics that suggests misplaced effort in mainstream economics research, with both Walrasian general equilibrium and Tirolean (sorry, couldn't resist!) game theory turning out to be evolutionary dead ends for thinking once the principal intellectual problems were solved. There's a lot of interest in evolution and complexity, although the gains from trade between Austrians and chaotitians haven't fully been exploited.
MAIN STREET, MID-AMERICA. The Illinois Railway Museum has ambitious plans for a replica small-town main street on its grounds. There weren't a lot of small towns with trolley bus service, which is what's currently offered (selected weekends only) on that street.
CASINO SOCIALISM. It's the end of May, which means frustration for Brewer and Cub fans, as well as the annual Illinois state budget impasse. Although many commentators will note the relatively low and nearly flat 3 percent tax rate in Illinois and suggest it's a low tax state, a quick look at Illinois utility bills, let alone the preponderance of user fees (restaurant sales taxes and the out-of-state toll rates come to mind) suggests something very different. An article that suggests the latest revenue raising dodges suggests a different hypothesis. Perhaps complicated and convoluted tax codes provide smart people with opportunities to evade their taxes, so the solution is to make even more convoluted tax codes that give the illusion somebody else is paying.

Now that his plan to raise $7.6 billion by taxing businesses is in tatters, [Governor Blagojevich] told reporters that Democrats must stick together in order to keep Republicans from gaining a voice in budget negotiations.

For him, that means giving up on his gross-receipts business tax plan and joining forces with Senate President Emil Jones, D-Chicago, who wants to raise money for state programs through a massive expansion of gambling.

I hesitate to get into the complexities of tax incidence in what is likely to turn into a long post anyway, but the appeal of a gross receipts tax to the W-2 recipient filing a Form 1040 is that it appears the tax is being paid by businesses, and by taxing gross receipts, it appears as though businesses cannot avoid paying taxes by reporting losses (and I remember enough elementary accounting so as to be able to suggest that very profitable businesses can report all sorts of losses for tax purposes.) A "gross receipt" means that some consumer, often a W-2 recipient, has paid some money to the business. That's where the tax incidence complexities begin: I hesitate to assert that workers pay all taxes, but some part of the gross receipts tax payment ought properly be assigned to the worker.

Instead, legislators continue the pursuit of gambling revenues.
The gambling expansion plan was sent to the full Senate after an 8-5 committee vote Friday. The legislation would add four new casinos in the Chicago area and allow the state's existing nine casinos to add gaming positions.
An incidence analysis of gambling is even more complicated than that for the gross-receipts tax. To some extent, new casinos will divert business from existing casinos, meaning the incremental tax revenue yield might not be as large as some optimists expect. Furthermore, casino patrons are not necessarily the richest or most productive citizens. On the other hand, perhaps casino patrons are larger net users of state services. There's a research project in there for somebody.

30.5.07

QUESTION OF THE DAY. At University Diaries, a meditation on the effects of the latest series of raids on the University of Wisconsin faculty.
You don't reward your best faculty because they're your best faculty. You don't even figure out who your best faculty are until they attract offers from other schools. You make clear to faculty that intrinsic worth doesn't matter; if they want serious promotion, they have to be found worthy by other schools. Well, the peeved Pevehouse demonstrates the problem with lacking your own institutional standards of merit. You create a culture of outside-offer-mongering, which will almost certainly result in many faculty going ahead and taking the outside offers, if they're such a terrific thing as all that...
The Stiglerian in me suggests that if the tradition of raiding universities that were going through a rough patch indeed was destructive, people would have invented alternatives to it. It's going on 25 years now since California-San Diego and Duke cleaned out the Wisconsin economics department. That occured during the difficult transition from near-hyperinflation to monetary restraint and the shakeout of traditional heavy industry. (The two events are not related, denunciations of Reaganomics notwithstanding.)

Perhaps, though, there is an evolution. At one time, wasn't the academician supposed to take a vow of genteel poverty and be bound by the Old School Tie? Bust up the old-boy networks and stir in a bit of business-speak and watch colleagues turn into free agents.
DUAL-MODE RETIREMENT. The last Metro-North FL-9 has been taken out of service.


Wayne Koch photo from Trains magazine website.

A few Connecticut Department of Transportation FL-9s, externally in their New Haven colors, internally rebuilt, remain in service. There are some latter-day dual mode motors roaming the New York area as well.
WILL MICKEY MOUSE COURSES BE NEXT? Headquarters is offering faculty and staff an opportunity to register at no charge for"Service Disney Style" which is one of four distinct workshops being offered for a fee to corporate clients and friends. (Perhaps the management workshop will not be offered at the university for fear it would cause casualties. Not a few department chairmen would die laughing at the notion of "create a supportive environment.") Apparently some professional associations have gotten into the continuing education credits racket.
NO STREETCAR, NO SCHUSTERS. Now no Goldmann's.

A Milwaukee icon, the 55,000-square-foot general merchandise emporium outlasted Schuster's, Gimbels, Kunzelmann-Esser, The Grand, Singers and others on a long list of stores that once graced Mitchell St.
Don't forget Irv the Workingman's Friend!

The store catered to well-built South Siders.

Sales at Goldmann's peaked about 30 years ago at $4.5 million a year. Now the store does about $3 million a year, in part by selling large sizes and items that are hard to find elsewhere.

Men's belts, for example, go up to 70 inches. And in a world where 56K means a slow modem to most people, it's a bra size at Goldmann's, available in purple.

Snuggies are a big draw, too. Retirement homes bring in busloads of residents who are delighted to be able to buy the sensible, warm cotton underpants they've worn for 70 years, said Jerry Lewis, who owns Goldmann's with [Milton] Pivar.

The current owners would prefer to retire while the business still has some value.

"It's not like we have to close," Pivar said. "We're doing some business. But there's getting to be less and less demand for a store like this.

"We're going out when the time is right. We can hold our heads up high. We don't have to say we were pushed out of business."

The new owner plans to convert part of the building into a sporting goods store.

Pivar and Lewis sold the Goldmann building for $625,000 to Don Kim, owner of Milwaukee City Sports, an athletic shoe store at the Midtown shopping center; and DK USA Development Co.

Kim plans to open a second athletic shoe store in the lower level and to lease out space on the first and second floors. He expects to spend about $2.5 million on renovations and is hoping to qualify for city assistance for the plan.

Kim plans to keep the Goldmann name on the building and will allocate space on the main floor near the front door for a Goldmann's Department Store museum that will be free and open to the public.

"I would like to keep all that tradition," Kim said.

Here's the Retro Milwaukee Goldmann's page. The quest for some tax money for the makeover does not come as a surprise. Some observers might view the Mitchell Street shopping district as "blighted." At one time the anchor stores were the Schuster's a few blocks west, which has a collection of rental stalls on the first floor and some community organization offices upstairs, and the Sears, no longer in operation as a store.

28.5.07

ADAPTIVE REUSE. The DeKalb High School a cappella singers performed at today's Memorial Day ceremonies. I wasn't able to catch most of the words, although it had a somewhat optimistic and internationalist tone to it, and it was set to Finlandia.

AVOID FOREIGN ENTANGLEMENTS? In Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic, Chalmers Johnson suggests that ceasing to do so may be required to keep the United States from going the way of the Roman Republic (not to be confused with the Roman Empire whose decline and fall continues to fascinate critics of the contemporary scene.) His summation is unsparing.
[President] Bush has unleashed a political crisis comparable to the one Julius Caesar posed for the Roman constitution. If the United States has neither the means nor the will to overcome this crisis, then we have entered the last days of the republic.
This Book Review No. 12 suggests an even more messy reality than Mr Johnson contemplates. The "imperial pathology" that he suggests infects the Republic goes beyond the optional war in Iraq, and although the Bush administration comes in for a great deal of criticism, he is unsparing of other administrations' complicity in using the Central Intelligence Agency as a latter-day Praetorian Guard, in negotiating Status of Forces agreements with other countries that allow U.S. troops to behave much like colonial occupiers that transgress local laws freely, and in putting weapons into space. Although his work makes extensive use of critics of U.S. military, and to some extent economic, policies from the left, in places he makes arguments that would appeal to libertarian sensibilities. (The "imperial presidency" is perhaps a sticking point in any attempts at coalition building. A libertarian would object to that concept on general principles. I doubt that the President's critics on the left would object to the same sort of expansion of executive power in the service of national goals more congenial to them.) That tension, however, goes back to the end of the Roman republic as well. Mr Johnson includes an instructive quote from Anthony Everitt's Cicero.
Cicero's weakness as a politician was that his principles rested on a mistaken analysis. He failed to understand the reasons for the crisis that tore apart the Roman Republic. Julius Caesar, with the pitiless insight of genius, understood that the constitution with its endless checks and balances prevented effective government, but like so many of his contemporaries Cicero regarded politics in personal rather than structural terms. For Caesar, the solution lay in a completely new system of government; for Cicero, it lay in finding better men to run the government -- and better laws to keep them in order.
Have we really learned anything in the intervening 2000 years? That's still a dispute between two different types of technocrat within the political class, both bothered by the idea that gridlocked public decision making might be a feature, not a design flaw, with one type being more willing to worship process (a great phrase I heard on the radio over the weekend) and the other type less patient with the notion of compromise.
THEN WE'RE GOING TO PAROLE IT. Memorial Day began as Decoration Day, a ceremony of placing flags and flowers at the graves of Civil War dead, and its adoption in the Union States may have been inspired by similar remembrances in the states that seceded. For today's Memorial Day post, a visit to the Vicksburg battlefield, here looking at the siege itself. The cutting off of the army in Vicksburg, as well as the trip report, are the subjects of earlier posts.

Some of the original Jackson to Vicksburg road remains in essentially its wartime condition on the east side of the battlefield park. (Did the shadow of the photographer ever get into a glass-plate negative of that era?)


The terrain favored the defender, but the defender was not able to resupply with northern troops inland and the river held by the Navy.


The defenders prepared defensive positions as best they could, although that resupply problem hampered their effectiveness.


The contemporary battlefield has a large number of position markers and monuments. Many of the states adopted a uniform design for their unit markers. This Illinois marker recognizes the Chicago Mercantile Battery, a unit that lives in reenactment.


Ohio went for variations in its unit markers, including this rendition of a Minie ball.


The states also appropriated funds for state-specific monuments. Missouri had to purchase two, one for its loyalist units and one for the rebel units, shown below.


Illinois built a large monument, modeled on the Roman Pantheon, complete with the hole in the dome. (There's some Latin term for the hole but that escapes me at the moment.)



Inside, there are plaques with the names of all the Illinois troops, including some women. A few family members of the senior officers merit mention as well.

The Wisconsin monument also lists units and their members. Although the monument does not mention the 31st nor 34th Regts in which some collateral ancestors served, elements of both regiments were at Vicksburg. The eagle atop the column honors a very specific eagle, Old Abe, who went into battle with the 8th Wisconsin and who may have inspired the 101st Airborne's shoulder patch.


At battle's end, Genl Grant accepted the surrender of the army in Vicksburg and then paroled it, rather than allocate transportation to prisoners.

27.5.07

WHAT IS THAT WHICH THE BREEZE, O'ER THE TOWERING STEEP,
AS IT FITFULLY BLOWS, HALF CONCEALS, HALF DISCLOSES?


The flag hoist for Memorial Day is presented by the Freeport Park District.


The flag, along with the North West Frontier's largest garden waterfall (it can be turned off for winter) is in Krape Park on the southwest side of town.

The park also has rental swan-boats,


and a carousel that is open for the summer.


The park adjoins a country club, and the north entrance is a rather pleasant boulevard through one of the more prosperous sections of Freeport. Despite the outmigration of heavy industry and the changes in agriculture, the medium-sized cities have not turned into ghost towns.
AN ACCUMULATION OF SMALL DISADVANTAGES. The Cascade Range proved to be a source of frustration to explorers, and later railroad surveyors, seeking a path to the northwest coast of the United States. The best the hypercautious George B. McClellan (yes, the same general who had Richmond in his grasp and let it get away) could come up with was the Snoqualmie Pass, later the route left to the Milwaukee Road. The otherwise superbly-located Great Northern Railway first built a challenging set of switchbacks over the range, later supplanted by the first Cascade Tunnel. That still proved to be a choke point, and despite the use of a primitive three-phase electrification, an operational hazard, particularly when late-winter ocean-augmented snows challenged the snow teams with drifted-in cuts and lots of buildup for snowslides. Add a bit of cost-cutting in the hiring of switchmen and laborers for the snow gangs and the stage is set for an appalling railway disaster. That's the material for The White Cascade, Book Review No. 11. Had the story been fiction, a reader would quickly give up on the concatenation of bad weather forecasts, prolonged snows, equipment breakdowns, and snow-slides onto just-cleared tracks blocking the plow trains (with coal and water for resupply on the wrong side of those slides) as lame attempts by the author to manufacture tension. But (and here a good railroading yarn has in common with a real sea story that "no s***, this really happened" quality) those forecast errors, breakdowns, and slides cumulate to strand two westbound first-class trains, the Spokane-Seattle overnight train and the Twin Cities-Seattle mail train, at the Cascade Tunnel and unable for six days to proceed west. The snow, rain, chinook winds, and other acts of nature combine to produce a snowpack that collapses during a thunderstorm in an avalanche that carries away much of the town of Wellington, Washington, as well as the two trains, both held on sidetracks. After the rescue comes the rebuilding, the investigations, the recriminations, and the construction of additional snowsheds that kept the railroad relatively safe until the second Cascade Tunnel opened in 1929. The remains of the old line are available to experienced hikers as the Iron Goat Trail, with the snowsheds and tunnels off limits.
THE TREE RATS DIDN'T GET 'EM ALL. A mommy duck with a bit more success in concealing her nest takes her flock for a swim in the west drainage canal.

27 May 2007, about 3.30 pm.
AMTRAK DELAYED. Although the expanded Illinois Amtrak service attracts riders, freight-train-interference frustrations threaten repeat business.

Despite the best efforts of the Amtrak crew, a number of factors coalesced to ake [St. Louis-Chicago] Train No. 302 arrive late to Chicago on the day your Getting Around reporter went along for part of the approximately 300-mile ride.

Twenty-nine minutes were lost early in the trip as the train stood still waiting for permission to enter the territory controlled by the Kansas City Southern Railway. Amtrak conductor Mike White repeatedly tried to call a dispatcher for the Kansas City Southern in Shreveport, La., but the dispatcher did not answer his phone for almost a half hour.

The old Alton Route has been a disaster for Amtrak for some time, with a number of people fired account some horrible decisions during last December's snows. But the difficulty raising the dispatcher is evidence of a breakdown in basic discipline. PASSENGER TRAINS run on SCHEDULES. Trains are not supposed to move without CLEARANCE. The request of a PASSENGER TRAIN for CLEARANCE is one of these predictable things, almost as routine as putting the coffee on just before signing the transfer. Does it really require a FEDERAL CASE to get railroad management to manage the railroad properly?

"We have struggled with mediocre to dismal on-time performance on our three Downstate corridors," George Weber, acting bureau chief of railroads at the Illinois Department of Transportation, told Illinois House lawmakers at a hearing last month. "On the St. Louis corridor, we are lucky to have a train reach its final destination in an on-time fashion 50 percent of the time."

Weber said it may take years to achieve consistent reliable service. The main challenges include freight traffic, especially between Chicago and Joliet, the poor condition of tracks that require speed reductions in many locations and Amtrak equipment breakdowns, Weber said.

"The outcome of our efforts is not in our control," Weber said, referring to the unenthusiastic cooperation on the part of some freight railroads that contracted with Amtrak to use their rails.

Despite a 1971 federal law that requires the freight railroads to give priority to Amtrak trains, some of the freight carriers are flexing their muscles. Last year, the Canadian National Railway tried to pull out of an agreement with Amtrak to allow one of the additional round trips to St. Louis and to withhold access to the Carbondale route. The railroad subsequently backed down when U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and other lawmakers got involved.

Is it that difficult to mix passenger and freight trains, particularly with the potential for public expenditure on railroad improvements to be more cost-effective than expansion of the highway or air traffic control networks? Canadian National's reluctance to work with Amtrak does not bode well for a proposed Chicago-Rockford-Galena service.
REVEALED PREFERENCES. At Knowledge Problem, Lynne Kiesling offers the Quote of the Day:
This fact suggests the combination of low price elasticity of demand for gasoline and high elasticity of substitution between gasoline and the bundle of all other goods in household consumption. In non-econ-geek-speak, people are willing to give up other consumption to continue their gasoline consumption, even for holiday leisure travel.
No kidding. If those pickup trucks as big as a small Kenworth (which are a real pain in urban areas where they really need a turning basin rather than a side street to make a left turn) aren't making full use of their hemi-V8-Saturn VB power at 10-15 mph above the speed limit, they're lugging inland waters cabin cruisers bigger than a Gloucester lobster boat. Those land-yachts as big as a Super Scenicruiser trailing a sport-ute-as-dinghy are also out in force.

In the world of entertainment, if 500 miles at Indianapolis with some constraints on fuel use affecting the outcome isn't enough play value, there's another 600 miles at Charlotte for fans of the guzzlers.

Obligatory econ-geekery: Perhaps the current price of gasoline, adjusted for inflation, is as high as it was in the spring of 1981 (before the crude oil price decontrol kicked in) but that number only illustrates flaws with the reckoning of price indices. On a purchasing power basis, do people have to work as long to purchase a gallon of gas today as they did in 1981?
WATCH THIS SPACE.

26.5.07

IF KUHLMAN MADE BICYCLES. The Milwaukee Northern and The Milwaukee Electric Railway and Light right-of-way through much of Ozaukee County, Wisconsin, is now the Ozaukee Interurban Trail. My dad had the opportunity to ride the interurban cars on this line and he reported that the bridge at Knellsville, just north of Port Washington, was a tight fit for the electric cars. This bridge is a Gorman Thomas home run from the interstate highway, and it's a bit of a surprise to find it still in place nearly 70 years after the electric cars stopped running.


North of the bridge, the line pursues a straight if not exactly level course toward Belgium and Cedar Grove.


Just north of the Knellsville bridge is a building housing a number of light manufacturing enterprises. At one time that building was a cheese factory, and the interurban had a spur track to serve it.


These pictures are from a brief walking survey of the area. A more comprehensive bicycle ride is in order, particularly as the trail appears to use the interurban right of way along Canyon Creek, the easy climb (but still a climb) away from lake level at Port Washington.
THE LAKE NEVER GIVES UP ITS DEAD. Great Lakes diver Frederick Stonehouse offers his version of The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald. This Book Review No. 10 addresses his 2005 revision, updated to include more recent diving expeditions and documentaries. Ultimately, he notes that Fitzgerald remains "the greatest mystery on the Great Lakes." Mr Stonehouse is skeptical of the Coast Guard's conclusion that improperly-secured hatch-clamps led to the sinking. His preference is for the hypothesis that Fitzgerald bottomed near Caribou Island although he's not capable to expand on the circumstantial evidence (the broken fence rail and the list) that Michael Schumacher's Mighty Fitz suggests are consistent with excessive hogging on big waves. Although Mr Stonehouse is skeptical of explanations that rely on converging rogue waves overwhelming Fitzgerald, he does note the observation Arthur Anderson's master Bernie Cooper made about the timing of a particularly large following sea. The observations Mr Stonehouse makes about possible shortcomings in Coast Guard coverage of the northern Lakes are somewhat less helpful. In the extreme conditions that prevail at those latitudes at the end of the shipping season, helicopters will not be able to fly and larger rescue boats will still be racing against time and hypothermia, even with additional rescue stations along Lake Superior.

The author does not take up the bigger public policy question: to what extent do government rescue services constitute a form of corporate welfare for lake shippers?
PLAYING FOR LEASTER? Milwaukee Brewer manager Ned Yost isn't calculating magic numbers yet.
Yost talked about how his team battled back from deficits of 4-0 and 5-2 in that game, then added: "Plus, it is early, but the teams in your division are losing right now so that's good, too. It keeps your cushion."
On the other hand, the team that leads on Memorial Day doesn't necessarily go to the Series. In 1982, Baltimore (the team that almost overhauled the Brewers at season's end) was at a Cubs-like 21-22, and in 1957 the still-in-Brooklyn Trolley Dodgers as well as the Reds were ahead of the Braves.
TEACH THE CAMERON CRAZIES THE SIEVE CHANT. I was doing a bit of rainy-afternoon channel-surfing and came across the Cornell v. Duke match in the men's lacrosse tournament. Cornell protected a one-goal lead much of the first half, then Duke appeared to put the game away with a flurry of goals (including several that the broadcasters referred to as long-stick shots). Cornell, however, battled back, tying the game with nineteen seconds remaining. Duke won the ensuing faceoff and scored the game-winner with three seconds.

The game allows the team on offense a bit more control than a soccer or hockey team has, although teams don't get the opportunity to engage in very set-piece play in basketball or football fashion. There's lots of room behind the net for Gretzky-style plays organized from behind the goalkeeper, who has to get the puck out of his crease in four seconds, and apparently has freedom to roam upfield on offensive plays. There are power plays (of thirty seconds or a minute) that the defending team can kill by running in circles in the attacking zone (apparently the team on offense is obligated to advance into the attacking zone in ten seconds, and the commentators referred to a pro league with a shot clock.) Although players wear helmets and pads and carry sticks, the opportunities for poke-checks are limited, and there are no boards to check players into.

It's not clear to me why this game has the reputation as a prep-school preserve. The outlay for gear does not appear to be as great as it would be for hockey, and practice opportunities seem to be limited to the great outdoors (no surprise given the game's origins). Duke will play Johns Hopkins at noon Central on Monday for the title. I'm unlikely to make time to watch that game, but if other matches pop up on television on quiet afternoons, I may watch them. It's enough like hockey to make sense to me, and it has more scoring than soccer.
WHERE ARE WE? I'm borrowing a feature from Boots and Sabers.

Where are we?


Image from Multimap.com.
ADVISING THE RICH AND FAMOUS? Ask Google "where to get beluga caviar in Wisconsin" and they send you here first.

20.5.07

MARKING OFF. System improvement time, away from the Internet. Enjoy the run-up to the first week of summer. As of this posting, Paris remains at liberty.
WATCH THIS SPACE.

THERE'S THE GREAT WESTERN WAY. The last steam locomotive to leave the Swindon Works was a cartoon tank engine. I'm not sure if it qualifies as A Really Useful Engine.
Ivor was a popular cartoon during the 1960s and 1970s and has now been brought to life by a team of 20 contract engineers in a £10,000 project over six months. The locomotive was taken this month by truck to Embsay and the Bolton Abbey Steam Railway. The steam engine itself will now be moved around the country, and after Bolton Abbey; it will be transferred to the East Anglia Railway.
The concept of adaptive reuse of railway works has not expanded, in England, to include casinos, such as the one that replaced the Merrill Park roundhouse in Milwaukee.
The Swindon Works will soon be redeveloped. Plans are in place to covert the engineering works into shops and storage facilities.
What does it say about life in prosperous places that storage facilities (mini-storage units Stateside) are such a popular business opportunity? Could the drafting room in engineering be adapted for software developers or other creative types?
THE ELECTRIC PARK. The Fox River Trolley Museum now operates to a platform called Blackhawk in the John Duerr Forest Preserve alongside the Fox River. Passengers are permitted to break their journey at the park and return on a later train. This run of former Chicago Transit Authority triplex 5001 had a contingent of Cub Scouts who unloaded with a few den parents and picnic coolers on hand, restoring the tradition of the Sunday ride to the trolley park. (Streetcar companies built trolley parks in order to give the cars and crews work at weekends.)



I leave the location of ORCHARD PL. VIA SUBWAY to the reader as an exercise. (It refers to a real destination on the rapid transit.)

A North Shore steel car from 1926 was also running. One or two cars would run as Winthrop Harbor locals on weekdays. End of line formalities on interurbans aren't as involved as those on steam roads, hence the Metra line continuing to terminate at Kenosha.


The kids on board tested the whistle. It works.


In the carbarn, what the museum describes as the oldest operating interurban (Niles Car, 1902) in North America.


Railway preservation is work. Here, a 1914 baldy car, Chicago Rapid Transit 4103, in the condition it was retrieved from use as a storage car, is alongside a 1922 plushy car capable of passenger service.


Here's a gallery of Fox River Trolley Museum pictures.
WHY IT MATTERS. The DeKalb Daily Chronicle interviews retiring coach and Professor Walt Owens.

The greatest satisfaction is just meeting the people. I go to graduation every year. Going last weekend and watching the kids come in and leave four, five or six years later. Some of them look at me and say, “Coach, I made it.” This one
girl one time ran out of line and started crying because she didn't think she would make it.

Watching kids mature is fun. You mold some of them into adults.

And some you don't see mature until later.
GENOA FOR DEKALB? Work to restore Amtrak service from Chicago to Rockford, Galena, and Dubuque continues.

State legislators will meet today to discuss adding money to the 2007-08 budget to cover the cost of updating the Blackhawk rail line, according to Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari. The line, closed [to passenger trains] by the state [withdrawing its funding] in 1981, is an old Canadian National route that runs through Genoa. However, there is not a suitable structure to house a train stop in the city.

“There is a small wooden building on the CN track in Genoa, but it probably wouldn't be suitable,” said Magliari. “If people locally can build a stop, meaning the city or county, we can go from there.”

Magliari said there are still many factors that must be put into place before the train route can become a reality - the main one being funding. According to Amtrak officials, updating the CN line from Chicago to Dubuque would cost around $32 million dollars. The state also would have to set aside money to operate the train until it generates enough revenue to support itself.

“Service won't be starting tomorrow,” Magliari said. “But it is quite possible the northwest area of Illinois could have rail service in 2008 or 2009.”

The former Illinois Central line is a long way from Northern Illinois University, but that doesn't stop some public officials from pushing the connection.

Genoa City Administrator Joe Misurelli said city officials have not yet discussed building a station since the state's decision to open service on the CN line just came out on Wednesday.

“It's going to take time, but it would be a good opportunity for people out here,” said Misurelli. “My understanding is that Northern Illinois University is one of the only major universities in the state without that type of commuter system. It's very positive that the state selected the CN line.”

The absence of train service at Northern Illinois University might be traced to the Union Pacific's 1955 decision to move its Chicago trains to the Milwaukee Road, also through Genoa. That left the Chicago & North Western with one round-trip a day between Clinton, Iowa and Chicago at Amtrak Day, and the North Western quite successfully obtained Amtrak's cooperation in not putting trains on any of its lines. Union Pacific now own the tracks through DeKalb, and they've also been quite effective at resisting Amtrak expansion.
WINE FROM IOWA, CHEESE AND CAVIAR FROM WISCONSIN. Lifestyles of the rich and famous, catered from Lake Winnebago sturgeon, as well as shovelnose sturgeon in the Upper Mississippi River.

Today, they are one of the few remaining species of sturgeon that can still be commercially harvested for the caviar trade. Overfishing and poaching have caused sturgeon populations to plummet around the world. And recent bans on caviar from the Black and Caspian seas have pushed the price for the Boardmans' roe to around $50 a pound.

That's a bargain for a delicacy that retails in some places for upwards of $20 an ounce.

"We've been told ours are the best eggs they get," [fisherman] Denny [Boardman] says of the Russians who drive five hours from Chicago to buy whatever the cousins can harvest.

And so, for six weeks each spring, as the sturgeon swim upstream to spawn, the two set out on their near-daily ritual amid some of the most breathtaking scenery in Wisconsin.

The product is about the same, whether from the Caspian or from the Mississippi.

Jim [Boardman] pauses to pull a pail of finished roe from the freezer. Cleaned and devoid of the fat, it glistens with a kind of exotic beauty. He appears both proud of his work and mystified by the fascination with this expensive delicacy.

"I've ate it. It's no big deal," he says, lifting his shoulders in a shrug.

"It's kind of salty - tastes fishy."

Ayup.

The article notes that the Mississippi sturgeon fishery might also have to be closed to commercial fishing.

19.5.07

THE MERC'S INTERNS IN 2015. In an effort to boost the visibility of its economic education efforts, the Illinois Council on Economic Education obtained some support from Edward Jones Investments and Castle Bank to run a DeKalb County Stock Market Game challenge. The local press took an interest in the effort, complete with league tables. Although the past spring has been a relatively easy time to make money going long in stocks, one still has to exercise a bit of judgement in order to earn more money than other teams, all of whom are also exercising their judgement.

Thursday evening, the winning teams were guests of the University at a short awards reception. Yes, there were a few remarks by adults and a few adults recognized. Most of the time was allotted to student presentations.

Yes, they're learning how to make Power Point presentations at a young age.


In microcosm, this team looks like Illinois looks like America. Good logic picking their stocks too.

The Stock Market simulation does not run long enough for a strategy of holding a diversified portfolio to beat a portfolio heavy in a few overachieving stocks. On the other hand, the virtual accounts the students manage include virtual commissions for each trade, making the cost of managing a less balanced portfolio lower. Teams generally identify four or five stocks.


Novamerican Steel appears to be what I understand as a steel service center. With just-in-time custom production becoming commercially mandatory, just-in-time delivery of small lots of steel looks like a good idea.

It doesn't hurt to do research on local companies. Although this stock didn't perform all that well, the logic in buying it is impeccable.


Sometimes, you can see a lot just by watching, such as the crowds at Buffalo Wild Wings.


Despite Exelon pleading poverty, investors appear not to be pessimistic about its immediate future.
WHIFFERDILLS. A series of posts at Voluntary Xchange put Wally Schirra's contribution to the space program in context. Commander Schirra's commitment to precision with Sigma 7 secured him a slot on the Gemini project.

He ended up on the A list for the next program, Gemini. By that point, of the original 7 astronauts, 2 had been grounded for medical reasons (Shepard and Slayton), 1 had been grounded for political reasons (Glenn wouldn't be allowed to risk his life a second time), and 2 were B listed for being perceived as flippant either on their mission (Carpenter) or on the ground (Cooper).
(Gosh, did Senator Glenn get himself un-grounded for political reasons?)

The post I found most intriguing was that for Gemini.

Space travel is extraordinarily costly, and it is always cheaper if you have less weight. The NASA plan from 1962 had been for lunar orbit rendezvous: basically to throw stuff away along the way. The Moon mission would be composed of 4 big parts: 1) a launch rocket to get the other 3 pieces on their way, 2) a lunar orbiter to launch the other two down to the moon, 3) a lander, and 4) a return vehicle consisting of the top half of the lander. The last would be jettisoned too, after rendezvous with the orbiter, which would return to Earth on its own.

So, basically, if rendezvous and docking weren't proved possible with Gemini, the design that NASA was already committed to wouldn't work. On the other hand, the Russians were always pursuing the direct ascent or Earth orbit rendezvous of huge rockets. They never were able to make it both big, and workable, so in a very real sense the race to the Moon was over with the working out of rendezvous and docking on Gemini 6 and 8. Of course, no one knew that at the time.

Coupling and uncoupling a space train, which the good people at NASA refer to as "docking" and "undocking," is no easy feat.

So anyway, you have to get two craft into the same spot in the same orbit. Sounds easy. It isn't. The problem starts if they are in the same orbit but different spots. Ahh, you say, just have the one in front hit the brakes, and ouila, rendezvous. But, orbital mechanics doesn't work that way. When you hit the brakes you drop down to a lower (and different) orbit; when you speed up you go to a higher one. To further complicate things, doing either changes the shape of your orbit: hitting the gas stretches it out, while hitting the brakes flattens it.

What you have to do is this. First off, don't let anyone touch the gas or brakes in the one spacecraft. Then the other spacecraft either has to start in a higher orbit and hit its brakes to drop down to the other craft, or it has to start in a lower orbit and hit the gas to rise up to meet the other ship.

But, it gets worse. I know this sounds crazy, but when you hit the brakes (to slow down), you drop into a lower orbit where gravity makes you go faster. Alternatively, hitting the gas actually slows you down.

Commander Schirra did not do the flying. Gemini and Apollo Astronaut Mike Collins's Carrying the Fire describes rendezvous and docking from the pilot's point of view. The usual Gemini solution was for the trailing ship to catch up in a lower orbit, then do a burn to simultaneously rise to a higher orbit and slow down, although if one were not careful, one would wind up in a spiral around the path of the leading ship, which the astronauts referred to as a "whifferdill," and one would use a lot of fuel recovering from that maneuver. (Perhaps part of learning how to use the Force is mentally training yourself not to make a whifferdill, although that appears to be a standard maneuver on an x-wing fighter??) Some of the scarier moments in the Gemini missions involved rendezvous and docking maneuvers, particularly with those supposedly-passive Agena target vehicles.

Without the ability to rendezvous and dock, the space program would be in a position where a safe landing on the moon is possible (our British railroading colleagues had a maneuver called the "slip coach" that generalizes to orbital mechanics) but the safe return part wouldn't work. As track-planning guru John Armstrong noted, the British never worked out a way to couple the slip-coaches to expresses on the move.

Then comes Apollo, where one of the early lessons learned is that of being able to cooperate under trying conditions.

What did go wrong was the health of the astronauts - all of whom developed colds during the trip. This made them all testy, with each other and with mission controllers back on Earth.

Internal politics of NASA are hard to decipher, but none of the three astronauts on this mission ever flew again. This seems harsh, but it is sensible. Part of what was being tested was the ability to get along with everyone while spending 1-2 weeks in what amounts to a sub-compact car with two other guys who aren't bathing.

The tolerance of the astronauts was really a key issue in the Apollo program; this turned out to be critical for Apollo 13, which was severely disabled about 80% of the way to the Moon. In that case, a "lifeboat plan" which had been made under the assumption of carrying two men back over two days had to be modified on the fly to bring 3 guys back over a 4 day period.

Currently, our Mars project planners are contemplating sending couples on interplanetary missions, for what seem like eminently sensible reasons. (Houston, we request 30 minutes radio silence for a rendezvous-and-docking.) What happens, though, if one of those couples decides, somewhere near the asteroid belt, to call it quits?
OUR NEIGHBORS AT PLAY. Stephanie Raymond files a dispatch from training camp.


Unattributed Northern Illinois University photograph.

Her dispatch mentions making time for homework. Despite having a full schedule of workouts and practice, Ms Raymond arranged to finish her spring classes. The womens' basketball team has a tradition of academic achievement, and nearly everybody who suits up graduates.

18.5.07

PLAY VALUE. Most of the trains I've been running recently are cleanup trains. That doesn't rule out a bit of creative anachronism. Enjoy.

ENJOY THE WEATHER. The last few days have featured desert-like temperature swings with warm days and cool nights.


It's intersession and there's very little foot traffic through central campus.
A FIRST TIME FOR EVERYTHING. A little known curse enters baseball lore, introduced with the disclaimer, "[T]his is the only post I’ve linked to thus far with a tag of 'ferroequinology'." The comments to that post suggest that the expression "permalinks are Bloggered" is not yet ready for the scrap line.

17.5.07

RED IN TOOTH AND CLAW. Once exams end, traffic through campus diminishes enough that the local wild animals can go hunting.


I'm not sure whether a 'coon, polecat, or 'possum got into the duck's nest, or maybe one of the muskrats or hedgehogs that inhabit the drainage system. On Monday there was a rather plum tree rat sitting in the ashtray. Squirrels developing a taste for duck eggs?
WHY IT MATTERS. New Census reports describe what looks like America.

A better bellwether might be Illinois. It's the most average state, according to an Associated Press analysis of data from the Census Bureau.

Illinois is the fifth largest state, with a big city in Chicago, rolling countryside in the south and a lot of sprawling suburbs. And it has Peoria, which, it turns out, really is a barometer of America's preferences. Many companies continue to use the city in central Illinois as a test market, taking literally the adage about how things play there.

The article makes a pitch for using Illinois as the first presidential primary state. I have a more modest pitch in mind: take Illinois as the United States in microcosm. Now consider Northern Illinois University as a prototype for state-supported higher education in microcosm. On average, and above average, the students and faculty are fine. In my view, it's incumbent on the administration and the legislature to do right by the students and faculty and set the pace for the country.
STAND UP FOR WHAT YOU BELIEVE IN. I have no reason to doubt the veracity of yet another anonymous whinge.

I will continue to be involved in education and learning because the prostitution of our education system angers me to no end.

Rapid growth in student body and tuition revenue while increasing the layers of bureaucracy, increasing faculty workloads (see letter to Dean below), and adopting the latest greatest trends will lead to adverse selection in the student body and faculty attrition. From what I have seen you do not seem to be the kind of person who would voluntarily reduce academic standards, and pay heed to student needs to the exclusion of faculty needs; however, those around you seem to have a slightly different agenda. We are a society enslaved by benchmarks. Be careful how they are used - garbage in, garbage out. You give me hope that this institution may have better things in store.

The particulars enumerated deeper in the post do not surprise. All the same, such laments are less credible for being anonymous gripes against unnamed college officials. Where things go wrong, I cannot stress enough the importance of enumerating specifics and naming names.

14.5.07

SCHOOL'S OUT FOR THE SUMMER.


No, I didn't sound the horn!

The locomotive, from the East Troy Electric Railroad, is equipped with an extension cord. The reel holds several hundred feet of heavy-duty cable, and the pole below the window has a hook that goes over the trolley wire, permitting short moves onto sidings that don't have trolley wire.

The North Shore Line had two locomotives equipped with storage batteries. Those were able to move somewhat farther from the wire, and on at least two occasions, they helped a steam locomotive on a connecting railroad start a heavy train.
THE EAST COAST MAIN LINE. Word reaches Cold Spring Shops of a plan to build a North American style high-speed railroad.

CSX, the transportation giant that was formed from the Baltimore & Ohio, Chesapeake & Ohio, Western Maryland, Louisville & Nashville, Seaboard Coast Line Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac and others, is proposing a 1,200 mile Miami-Washington super corridor that would greatly expand shipping and passenger rail capacity and, for the first time in the history of American railroads, eliminate 100% of at-grade crossings along the route, Trains Magazine reported this past week.

Driven in part by a US Department of Transportation program for interstate corridor development, the project would permit passenger train operations at 110 miles per hour and freight operations at 50-70, reports the magazine, both of which represent order-of-magnitude improvements over current practices.

I would hope the infrastructure would permit faster operation of intermodal trains such as the Tropicana specials (expedited fruit trains did not go away with the steam locomotive.)

If CSX is selected, it has a plan for turning its Washington-Miami line into a corridor of the future, according to Steve Dunham, chairman of the board of directors of the Virginia Association of Railway Patrons.

“CSX would complete a third track between Washington and Richmond, except where major, expensive projects are needed in Ashland Va., where two tracks run down the middle of the main street; Fredericksburg, Va., with its crossing of the Rappahannock River and elevated track above four streets; and the bridges over Aquia Creek and the Potomac River. The second step would be to tackle those bigger, more expensive projects,” reports the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

“The third step would be to build the additional track between Washington and Miami and to close or create alternatives for the 1,700 grade crossings. “The D.C. to Richmond Third Track Feasibility Study provides the path for completion” of the project north of Richmond, Jay Westbrook, CSX assistant vice president for public-private partnerships, said. The study calls for completing the capacity-expansion projects funded in 2000. The last piece of that group of improvements is to construct about seven more miles of third track north of Springfield and just south of the Potomac River.

A third track is often sufficient for North American style rail capacity enlargements, as bidirectional centralized traffic control and predictable directional peaks, particularly in commuter territory, turn the railroad into two-tracks-in-the-peak-direction, one track against the flow. (On the other hand, Union Pacific would use the third track for parking more freight trains.) The proposal calls for some public money to upgrade the railroad, something that policymakers are more receptive to as they come to understand that the highway network cannot handle anticipated increases in freight traffic. Public money is already being used to replace a second main track on the Southern Railway line (now Norfolk Southern) between Greensboro and High Point in North Carolina, to expedite passage of the Crescent, Carolinian, and Piedmont. The upgrade to the CSX represents an improvement on the old high-speed Atlantic Coast Line mainline from Richmond to Florida. The downsizing Southern and Seaboard Coast Line engaged in in the early 1970s might have made sense as short-term policies, but their long-run consequences could prove to be expensive.
A COMMON PROPERTY PROBLEM. The Black and Caspian Sea fisheries have not been well-managed, and Wabash caviar is replacing Beluga at the receptions of the well-to-do.

Every spring, fishermen wait for a peculiar-looking fish to swim up the Wabash River between southern Illinois and Indiana.

The shovelnose sturgeon, a prehistoric survivor covered with bony plates and wearing a strip of barbs down its back, is plentiful in the river and lives up to 60 years.

Scientists worry that the decline of another type of sturgeon could mean trouble for the shovelnose, North America's smallest sturgeon.

The shovelnose and its eggs have become increasingly popular in the caviar trade because the beluga sturgeon, which produces the most popular caviar, has declined because of overfishing in the Black and Caspian seas. The United States and other countries restrict or ban the import of beluga caviar. Now states are beginning to look for ways to protect the shovelnose.

The shovelnose appears to be a different sturgeon from the Great Lakes sturgeon, also a source of North American caviar. In Wisconsin's Lake Winnebago, the fish can only be taken with a spear.
Because the fish are late maturing, any decline in the population of adult fish could take decades to rebuild, said Fred P. Binkowski, a senior scientist at the Great Lakes Water Institute at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee who raises sturgeon in his lab and is beginning to stock them in rivers feeding Winnebago.
Some people are working to reintroduce them to other Wisconsin waters. The effort takes on greater urgency with the discovery of viral hemorrhagic septicemia virus in Lake Winnebago.
Scientists figured it was only a matter of time before the fish virus moved from Huron and Erie to Lake Michigan, but to suddenly jump to one of Wisconsin's most heavily fished inland lakes is a surprise. Though in some respects, it's not a shock, since hardcore walleye anglers will sometimes fish the western basin of Lake Erie before pulling their boat trailers to the Winnebago system.
(Hail, hail to Michigan, the cesspool of the west?)

The effect on Winnebago's lake sturgeon, the largest population in North America with an estimated 36,000 to 37,000 adults, is unknown. For the first time, sturgeon speared in February during the annual harvest were tested for [the virus] because of concern about the virus moving through the Great Lakes, said Ron Bruch, [Wisconsin's Department of Natural Resources'] sturgeon expert.

The tests came back negative, but Bruch said that because the virus is most active when water temperatures are between 40 and 60 degrees, he wonders if the 33-degree water temperature during the February sturgeon season could have affected test results.

"That's what I have to find out - would it even show up in a wintertime testing?" he said.

Bruch plans to contact fisheries biologists who monitor lake sturgeon populations elsewhere to see if there is any evidence that sturgeon can become infected.

ANOTHER GIANT PASSES. Alfred D. Chandler, 1918-2007.
Before Mr. Chandler, the bulk of business histories were morality plays that portrayed executives as heroic or damnable. He helped redirect the field toward dispassionate analysis of the anatomy of business. He emphasized the transformative power of technology as railroads and the telegraph spawned big business. These corporations needed what Mr. Chandler called "a new subspecies of economic man -- the salaried manager."
In some ways, Professor Chandler made formal the dynamics of industrial development that Karl Marx grappled with, sometimes unsuccessfully, in Das Kapital.
Mr. Chandler developed this theme most famously in "The Visible Hand: The Managerial Revolution in American Business" (1977), which won the Pulitzer Prize for history and the Bancroft Prize. His thesis was that managers, functioning as a "visible hand," had replaced the "invisible hand" of Adam Smith's free market in allocating resources.
I've long been a fan of The Visible Hand, and my one-minute summary is a regular feature in my antitrust class. Put simply, the large industrial enterprise that became the engine of accumulation in Das Kapital and the possible motivation for antitrust laws required the convergence of four elements: sufficient mechanization to permit large-batch, high-volume, continuous production, sufficient transportation so as to be able to get that volume into the hands of buyers, sufficiently rapid communication that customer orders and management requests could be passed through the organization in time to respond properly to opportunities or correct errors before they proved fatal, and sufficiently clever managers to recognize opportunities and errors and give the appropriate instructions. It's not really a replacement of the invisible hand, although the coexistence of top-down clockwork organizations ("lumps of power," in Ronald Coase's phrasing) with self-organizing markets continues to present economists with research questions. And yes, those four elements could converge in such a way as to make a factory capable of producing more stuff than the consumers could buy. Inventory management appears to have provided business with a way out that doesn't necessarily involve the accumulation of surplus value and the periodic crises of overproduction and accumulation superficial readers of Das Kapital point to.

My library also holds Professor Chandler's Scale and Scope, and I have read through it, although I must confess that nothing stuck with me in quite the same way Visible Hand did, certainly not in class presentations. The title refers to two core concepts of industrial organization, the first referring to advantages in producing a single output in a larger facility (greater production rates and volumes) and the second referring to advantages of producing multiple outputs. There are even some very rigorous ways of thinking about economies of scale in firms with economies of scope, including something called the transylvanian cost function. At one time my empirical research on multi-product firms was pretty state of the art, but the work involved in getting data together proved daunting. I see the struggle continues.
GOING THROUGH BOSTON. I scanned this map from my well-used copy of Edward Hungerford's A Railroad for Tomorrow, a 1945 effort that contemplated one national railroad system with de-luxe transcontinental passenger trains and multi-purpose boxcars for the freight. (The Great Northern "hopper bottom" box and the Soviet counterpart are inferior substitutes for the stack car for containers and the rotary-coupler gon for coal.) One idea that might have more potential is the creation of a cross-Boston suburban train service.


There is a serious proposal for such an improvement in Boston's current service.
IN THE FINAL FOUR. The Recording IndustryAssociation of America goes after collegiate downloaders. At the moment, the association is focusing on the most aggressive free riders, at least one of whom could use a mugging by reality.

But the students coughing up the cash question why they're the ones getting in trouble.

"They're targeting the worst people," said [Nebraska] freshman Andrew Johnson, who also settled for $3,000. "Legally, it probably makes sense, because we don't have the money to fight."

Johnson got his e-mail in February, with the recording industry group's first wave of letters targeting college students. He had downloaded 100 songs on a program called LimeWire using the university network.

The money to settle came from the 18-year-old's college fund. He'll work three jobs this summer to pay back the money.

Johnson compares what he did to people driving 5 miles per hour over the speed limit.

"It's not like I downloaded millions of songs and sold them to people," Johnson said.

That sounds like the kind of individual who provides the anonymous faculty whinge sites with material. Or perhaps a case study in chutzpah. I have to wonder, however, how effective the industry's efforts to request payment at $7.87 a tune will be.

The top collegiate offenders include Ohio University, with 100 students being asked to settle out of court or face trial, South Florida with 81, and Tennessee and Northern Illinois at 78 currently offered the settlement. Public Affairs staff are not sure why the university made this final four.
"We're really puzzled about that," says [assistant vice president for public affairs Melanie] Magara. "We really don't know why NIU has been targeted. We're puzzled because we feel we've done a good job educating students. We feel we've been really proactive about it."
That may be the case. We don't know how many people would be receiving letters had the university not let students know use of university computers to download music was against the rules. I leave it to the reader as an exercise to work out the implications of the title "assistant vice president for public affairs" as well as of the use of "proactive."