31.7.07

INSUFFICIENT DEVELOPMENTAL LEAGUES FOR DEMOCRATS? Senator Hillary(!) Rodham Clinton thinks so.
"I'm going to be asking a new generation to serve," she said. "I think just like our military academies, we need to give a totally all-paid education to young men and women who will serve their country in a public service position."
Isn't that a form of indentured servitude? And, as National Review's John Pitney notes, there are alternatives.
But for the sake of argument, stipulate that the country needs more young people to study government and related fields. Senator Clinton is forgetting institutions that already offer the relevant coursework. We call them “colleges” and “universities.”
And sometimes, their developmental-league mission is explicit: consider the Kennedy School of Government, or the Humphrey School, or the LaFollette Institute. Whether courses at such institutions teach the public policy controversies or the New Deal handbook is a separate question. (Short form: one can present Pigouvian welfare economics or the independent regulatory commission as received wisdom or as policy approaches subject to debate.)

Betsy's Page links to a Campaign Spot post that suggests a shortage of mid-level federal officials is about as likely as a shortage of adjunct professors of English. Perhaps the colleges and universities are as effective at developing federal officials as they are at developing football players.
DECODING CROSS-CULTURAL MESSAGES. Some Britons take a dim view of a practical article of clothing.

Hooded tops have come to be viewed by some as a symbol of social disorder.

Last year the Bluewater shopping centre in Kent banned people wearing hooded tops, and said youths were using the hoods to shield their faces from CCTV cameras while committing crimes.

"We - the people in suits - often see hoodies as aggressive, the uniform of a rebel army of young gangsters," [Conservative Party leader David Cameron] is expected to say.

Must stay alert to this perception next time I go overseas. Hoodies are eminently practical, particularly on raw days with light rain, something that Britain frequently has. Over here, they're often a way of advertising one's collegiate affiliation, as well as just the thing for Saturday evening football (or the November day games.)
FROM THE SUBLIME TO THE RIDICULOUS. London's St. Pancras is not the only railroad station undergoing renovation. Milwaukee's econobox, which replaced two monuments in the St. Pancras mode (one Germanic and one Romanesque) is getting an econobox makeover. (But the underground passages to Tracks 2 and 3 as well as the almost never used passages to 4 and 5 will probably still be leaky.)
STICK TO THE MISSION. Richard Vedder at College Affordability notes a disturbing development.
McHenry County College (MCC) serves moderately affluent Chicago suburbs. It announced that it wanted to borrow $26 million to build a minor league quality baseball stadium -- seemingly on speculation. The goal is to lure a Frontier League team to play in the stadium. No team has committed to go there if the facility is built. To be sure, the stadium is ostensibly part of a larger physical fitness center, but the MCC officials are not providing details on the project (so much for transparency in the Chicago suburbs).
The Northwest Herald has more.

Under the pact, the baseball group agrees to pay at least $250,000 in annual licensing fees to the college for use of a 30-acre parcel including the stadium, parking lots and picnic areas planned for land north of the Route 14 campus.

The college also will collect 10 percent of gross revenue from ticket sales, suites, advertising and broadcasting, and other revenue sources, according to the agreement.

The pact will jump-start the college’s plan to build its $26 million health, wellness and athletic complex, which includes the 6,500-seat stadium, a fitness center and classrooms.“We see this as a creative approach to getting a much-needed facility built,” College President Walter J. Packard said. “It allows us to do it in a manner that doesn’t involve going to the taxpayers.”

College officials expect that revenue from the team will cover two-thirds of the debt to build the complex. The remaining debt will be paid through renting out the fitness center, which includes indoor basketball and volleyball courts, to traveling sports teams, Packard said.

Such creative financing might be a necessary evil in Illinois, where Governor Blagojevich, while not explicitly identifying spending on higher education as a regressive transfer, has been in a standoff with his legislature (Democrats gridlocking Democrats, forsooth!) over where to obtain the money for his state-supported health insurance plans. But luxury suites and exercise rooms? Sure, some community colleges, particularly in sunnier climes, do player development for NCAA baseball. But McHenry, one of Northern Illinois's feeder colleges?

Perhaps the transparency is missing because something more ambitious is afoot. There is a clapped-out ballfield, really suitable only for day games, not far away.
AN AESTHETE'S RAILROAD READING. The Cranky Professor has favorable impressions of the rebuilding of St. Pancras.
I've always loved those 19th century train stations - and dismissed modernist scoffers who think that there's a disjunction between the function of the shed and the decoration of the station and hotel - this shot from Flickr shows the kind of thing that sets some critics off.
London still has St. Pancras and Paddington -- King's Cross never received a proper hotel at the bunters -- and a few of the other termini, intended more for commuters, remain true to their as-built form.

In North America, the head building would generally include general offices and seating for waiting passengers, with the hotel somewhere nearby. Philadelphia's Reading Terminal is the only intact example of the concept in the United States, albeit without the tracks. (In common with St. Pancras, the tracks at Reading Terminal are above street level.) In Chicago, the head building at Dearborn Station remains.

A London Times architecture critic makes favorable remarks on the work at St. Pancras. Cranky Professor quotes at length without comment. A few comments seem in order.
William Barlow’s shed behind the hotel, the engineering feat of its day, had become so crepuscular that walking in catapulted you back to some distant time between the age of steam and the InterCity 125. It was romantic, in a way, but more Miss Havisham than Celia Johnson, its few trains trundling off to Kettering and Leicester rather anticlimactic within a stupendous building clearly meant as the start of journeys to destinations more exotic.
At one time, St. Pancras and King's Cross offered the possibility of competing concourses. Did you want the Great Northern or the Midland to Leeds? If you were headed to Edinburgh, was your preference for a non-stop Flying Scotsman, or an all day scenic ride on The Waverley by way of Carlisle? Something more dramatic, if slightly more spatially separated, used to be available along Chicago's Canal Street. Would it be a Hiawatha or Twin Zephyr off the north or south concourse of Union Station, or a Twin Cities 400 at North Western? Was your preference the Empire Builder or North Coast Limited, or a City of Portland to Portland? Or the Varsity or the Viking to Madison? A resident of West Winnetka has the choice of the Milwaukee North or the Chicago and North Western North to this day, but that's Kettering and Leicester writ small.

St. Pancras was intended for something grander.

No bones about it, Barlow and Gilbert Scott made St Pancras to be the greatest station in the land. No, not a station – a cathedral, its Gothic pointed shed, the widest single-span arch of its age, apeing lofty medieval Gothic naves, and piled high with allusive decoration to stoke the imagination, and gird the loins for the adrenalin rush of newly fast travel and the future.

Stripped of soot, all this is back with a mighty bang. It’s like digitally remastering a crackly 78, or retouching scratchy Victorians in colour. St Pancras is bright. The shed’s immense glass roof is dazzlingly clear, shedding light on to the platforms below. Its metal girders are painted what was found to be the original baby blue – demanded, no less, by its first stationmaster, who requested an artificial sky to replace nature’s original. The brick and stone of Gilbert Scott’s architectural casing is, again, almost orange bright.

The carvings are crisp: you will never see more wrestling dragons on a building. The details, right down to the mammoth Addams Family brackets and drainpipes out of a medieval torture chamber, are lavish. Whole new walls, arches and arcades, never intended by Barlow and Gilbert Scott, have been built but so dedicated has been the mimicry that you’d be hard-pressed to spot them. The building sings. And what a sweet note.

One could enter London in the royal manner, rather than scuttle in like a rat, which is the impression Penn Station or London's Euston, both "redeveloped" in the last gasp of Modernism, give. And the work is being done in order to provide additional capacity.

There are five stations now housed in the building, where once there was one: the First Capital Connect line to Brighton and Bedford, deep underground; the Midland Mainline to Sheffield, and, from 2009, the North Kent line to Margate, both housed in the shed behind Barlow’s (feeble in comparison, but at least neat and simple); five Tube lines; and the new Eurostar terminal.

[Architect Alistair] Lansley’s trick has been to keep such complexity simple. Each mini-station has its own quarter, sewn together by one main aisle – the Arcade – and two transepts. The Arcade runs north to south and is cut, with English Heritage’s blessing, like a canyon below the original station’s platform level, with vistas up to the roof, 37m (121ft) above. The transepts run east to west, one through the original building, the other, in use for a couple of years now, where it meets the new shed. The cross-section is as simple as the plan.

A station that's integral with the surrounding neighborhood, much like Grand Central Terminal in New York, which caters to a great deal of foot traffic not headed to or from a train, is better able to avoid "redevelopment." Compare Chicago's Union Station, which was redone with the expectation that commuters would be headed directly to work or to their trains, or the misconceived Bicentennial "visitor center" that once mutilated Washington Terminal.
By making the building for the first time porous north to south and east to west at ground level, St Pancras is no longer a barrier, but integral to the street pattern. By making it attractive, with a farmers’ market, a gastropub (the Sir John Betjeman), independent stores and the much-heralded longest champagne bar in the world, hard against the trains under Barlow’s roof, it becomes a place in which to linger, not speed through. It becomes a civilised place, as it was in Barlow’s day, when station tea was served in porcelain, not polystyrene.
I do wish, however, that experts on topics other than railroads limit their editorializing.
British rail is glamorous again, and just in the nick of time, too, as cheap flights start to lose their lustre. The French may have the TGV, the greatest train network in the world and warm buttery croissants waiting for you when you arrive. But we’ll always have St Pancras. And a pork pie and a pint in the Sir John Betjeman.
I feel a clinic on serious railroading coming on.
EXPANDING THAT OUTER SUBURBAN SERVICE. I asked for it, is there a possibility I will get it?
The major rail improvements being proposed for the region include signal system upgrades, additional track and restructuring the line in Chicago where it intersects the Milwaukee West line, Milwaukee North line and North Central line. The crossing is the busiest in northeastern Illinois, Metra officials said, reported the Tribune.
The Tribune article offers background.

Kane County transportation officials are lining up behind an effort by Metra to secure the federal funding needed to greatly improve capacity and speed on its Union Pacific West line between Chicago and Elburn.

The 44-mile commuter rail line, which serves 62 communities in Cook, DuPage and Kane Counties, handles about 29,000 passenger trips a day on 59 trains. The aim of the proposed $441 million upgrade is to allow service to expand to as many as 80 trains a day and to increase the number of express trains from 20 to 30 daily.

Elsewhere in Destination: Freedom is a useful visual comparing gasoline taxes in the U.S. with those used (sometimes) to fund passenger railroads elsewhere.

Public details are sketchy. I'm intrigued by the plans to improve Western Avenue interlocking, a busy crossing where the former Chicago and North Western from (DeKalb) Elburn and Geneva has to get to the north of the former Milwaukee Road tracks with trains from Seattle, Milwaukee, Fox Lake, Antioch, and Elgin.
A QUESTION FOR TODAY. Cassandra at Villainous Company contemplates A War We Just Might Win.
Between the Democrats' shameless revisionism on events leading up to the war, their transparent lying about the Clinton adminstration's tacit approval of torture long before 9/11, and the media's flagrantly dishonest coverage of the Surge, is it really the Bush adminstration that should be worried about its credibility?
Tiger Hawk expands on the domestic political implications.
So what are we to make of it when O'Hanlon and Pollack say that we could still turn it around in Iraq? Lefties will argue that both are desperate to save themselves from the "inevitable" verdict of history, that they supported an incompetent president in the waging of an illegal war. At least some lefty bloggers think that this article so discredits them that they should be banned from future Democratic administrations. This argument invites a couple of questions, though: Why turn optimistic now after years of having attacked the Bush administration's handling of the war hammer and tongs? Why advocate continuation of the war into 2008, a state of affairs which all Democratic presidential aspirants are desperate to avoid for political reasons? O'Hanlon and Pollack know -- just as John Edwards does -- that their future in Democratic party policy circles requires contrition and penance for their original position on Iraq. This article clearly works against their professional self interest -- a groveling denunciation of the surge would have been much better for their prospects in the next administration -- so perhaps O'Hanlon and Pollack are more credible than the average analyst. Maybe Pollack and O'Hanlon just believe that in war intellectual honesty is more important than their next position in government.
Wretchard at Belmont Club contemplates the military implications.
My own guess is that by attacking al-Qaeda, the US took engaged not only the most fanatical force in Iraq but the one with the most powerful narrative. And by shrewdly matching kinetic warfare with political warfare, organizing the victims of al-Qaeda's depredations, it brought the myth down to earth. As long as al-Qaeda remained an "idea" it might be regarded as invincible, a mystical will o' the wisp. But once this mystical force was forced to materialize in Iraq, it became embodied in the likes of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and his henchmen, who, viewed up close, turned out to be nothing more than brutal gangsters of the lowest and most sadistic type instead of latter day Companions of the Prophet. Even Zawahiri, despite his pretensions to refinement, could not avoid discrediting himself as he proved unable to resist threatening to gouge people's eyes out if they did not follow his bidding. It is said that no man is a hero to his own valet. Familiarity with the genuine article brought disillusionment, contempt and finally hatred for al-Qaeda.
His conclusion, however, is not cheerful.
But whenever US forces are withdrawn the information war must go on. Because the one great probability in the Middle East is that each failed creed gives rise to a new one. The same Six Day War which discredited Nasserism simultaneously launched its successor movement. Radical Islamism harnessed the tide of disillusionment and redirected it to its purposes. And as Al-Qaeda falls in esteem in the Muslim world from its post-September 11 halcyon days, other ideologues will probably attempt to fashion a new movement based on its carcass. That's why the information war should go on until politics in the Middle East is transformed from a sequence of messianic movements to practical endeavor. Until then the victories on Iraq's battlefields will be temporary.
Is there a Middle Eastern pejorative equivalent to "acting white?"

30.7.07

CULTURE-STUDIES FOLLIES. The dean at Anonymous Community hosts group therapy for nerds. His meditation is inspired by a New York Times article with this howler.
Mary Bucholtz, a linguist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, has been working on the question for the last 12 years. She has gone to high schools and colleges, mainly in California, and asked students from different crowds to think about the idea of nerdiness and who among their peers should be considered a nerd; students have also “reported” themselves. Nerdiness, she has concluded, is largely a matter of racially tinged behavior. People who are considered nerds tend to act in ways that are, as she puts it, “hyperwhite.”
Give. Me. A. Break. In economics, we shy away from explanations based on preferences, because just about anything can be explained by appeal to a strong preference, and we are careful about constructing transaction costs arguments, because it's easy enough to attribute any inefficiency wedge to costly information. Cultural arguments appear to have the same plasticity.
As a linguist, Bucholtz understands nerdiness first and foremost as a way of using language. In a 2001 paper, “The Whiteness of Nerds: Superstandard English and Racial Markedness,” and other works, including a book in progress, Bucholtz notes that the “hegemonic” “cool white” kids use a limited amount of African-American vernacular English; they may say “blood” in lieu of “friend,” or drop the “g” in “playing.” But the nerds she has interviewed, mostly white kids, punctiliously adhere to Standard English. They often favor Greco-Latinate words over Germanic ones (“it’s my observation” instead of “I think”), a preference that lends an air of scientific detachment. They’re aware they speak distinctively, and they use language as a badge of membership in their cliques. One nerd girl Bucholtz observed performed a typically nerdy feat when asked to discuss “blood” as a slang term; she replied: “B-L-O-O-D. The word is blood,” evoking the format of a spelling bee. She went on, “That’s the stuff which is inside of your veins,” humorously using a literal definition. Nerds are not simply victims of the prevailing social codes about what’s appropriate and what’s cool; they actively shape their own identities and put those codes in question.
Please. I could probably eavesdrop on random conversations in the historically white neighborhoods of M'waukee or Chicago and catch a dropped "g" on ANY participle in the first five minutes. As far as the "punctilious" use of proper forms, that's simply one of the Habits of Highly Effective People. I've emphasized this phenomenon, repeatedly.

The propensity of some researchers within the cultural-studies ambit to suggest commonalities between "whiteness" and what I call the Habits of Highly Effective People troubles me. It's not too difficult for a more malevolent observer to extrapolate from those commonalities to put together a message along the lines of "It is the Nature of the Other to Have Bad Habits." Do we really want to go there?

SECOND SECTION: At American Thinker, Jerome J. Schmitt talks smack.

The article does not mention the true common characteristic of nerds: they are numerate, i.e. conversant in the language of mathematics - an odd omission for a linguist. This omission can be explained by the fact that Berkeley-style multi-culturalism is threatened by numeracy, the development of which is the hallmark of Western Civilization and the historical wellspring of western economic and military success. Consequently, it is incumbent on multi-culturalists to discredit whenever and wherever possible those who are numerate.

In sum, I believe that this article and study reveal a lot more about the racial bigotry and monomania of the NY Times and swaths of the liberal arts and social sciences than it does about nerds.

"It is the Nature of the Other to Have Bad Habits," forsooth. Is it really "Berkeley-style multi-culturalism" that is threatened by "numeracy?"
IT'S SUPPOSED TO BE DIFFICULT. The Wisconsin Sports Bar puts the National League Central pennant race in perspective. The Cubs missed an opportunity to go percentage points ahead.
THE HIGHEST GREEN. Destination: Freedom reports an expansion of the Downeaster service. Track improvements now permit a 150 minute schedule for the 115 somewhat curvy miles between Boston and Portland, with eight intermediate stops. In the best Boston and Maine tradition, there is an almost completely different Sunday schedule. The service frequency and timings compare favorably with the best of the streamliner era, in which the Kennebec, Pine Tree, and Flying Yankee had a two-hour non-stop schedule. The northbound Pine Tree, a noon departure, was a relatively short train, with through coaches to Aroostook County and coastal Maine destinations. Those extensions are not yet to be seen.

26.7.07

ARE THERE TRAILER PARKS IN BRITAIN?

Schoolteacher Francis Gilbert takes a cut at a larger social phenomenon, attempting in Yob Nation to offer a prima facie case that the bad habits of the hustler and the slacker have become the norm in British culture. I don't know enough of the country's history to evaluate all of the claims in the work, which appears to find yobbery everywhere. (Did you know that John Bull is the Father of All Yobs?) This Book Review No. 26 suggests that Thirteenth Generation crudity has made its way to Britain. Mr Gilbert attempts to make the case that the well-to-do have aped some of the self-destructive behaviors that used to be confined to the poorer quarters, although his evidence is of the anecdotal and unsystematic type. Thus, for example, the aggressive, sometimes drug-charged style of the securities trader and the initiation rituals of the officer corps become of a piece with the brawling of Geordies with Scousers in the terraces. (Ah, soccer, the sport of choice of eight year old U.S. girls, and of Third World males.) Recently retired Prime Minister Tony Blair rates a yob tag, with Mr Gilbert suggesting his relationship with "consigliere" Alastair Campbell sharing an inner outlook in common. Binge drinking and the rabbit culture become, in Mr Gilbert's estimation, the norm for social life among collegians and young professionals. Bristol's gentrified riverfront, with numerous nightspots, takes on a "bleak, sour mood" at bar time. (I did spend a Saturday evening in a hotel near that riverfront, and although it sounded like quite the party, it didn't sound that unpleasant, although I was still a bit out of phase with the clock and opted to turn in early.) The impression the bar staff has of the collegians brings to mind the Rate Your Students fodder who will not do a lick of work but will push every button to wheedle a higher grade. "You find yourself engaged in an argument with one of them for 15 minutes to half an hour, if you won't let one of them in." So just say no and summon the bouncer faster. (I did notice a lot of "staff wanted" posters in windows of waterfront establishments. Perhaps there is a mismatch between pay and working conditions.) Ayia Napa, in Cyprus (where the Greeks and Turks continued World War I by proxy) appears to be a British version of Panama City or South Padre, complete with "Girls Gone Wild" material. Mr Gilbert does not draw the plausible connection between welfare entitlements and the yob life, although one of his sources laments that more of Britain's skilled trades are being done by immigrants, legal and illegal, from the former Soviet bloc. But, to repeat myself, the steering of young men who exhibit yobbish tendencies to trade school ought not be the default policy prescription.

Mr Gilbert's policy prescriptions, although incompletely supported by the stories he puts together, strike me as sensible. First, he suggests that the destructive lifestyles of the rich and famous (are you listening, Michael Vick, Lindsay Lohan, Newt Gingrich, Barry Bonds, Britney Spears, Paris Hilton?) ought not receive the affirmation they often do. Here, the book might have been strengthened by appeals to more rigorous social science, should such work exist, on the casual causal relationship between the antics of famous people and the mores of the hippie commune and the trailer park. Second, he suggests that the schools more aggressively inculcate the habits of the middle class (to put it in the North American locution I regularly use.) Again, although he draws on reports of classroom management difficulties colleagues have encountered, and some of his other books suggest a discontent with the teacher's lot, Mr Gilbert puts together an incomplete case. Finally, he suggests a tougher criminal justice system, with greater reliance on anti-social behavior orders (usually involving a more rigorous house arrest than Paris Hilton almost got away with.) There has to be a great deal of social science addressing the effectiveness of that regimen.

I must add an anecdotal note of my own. Often, the markers of a "yob" appear to be sneakers, which the British call "trainers," hooded sweatshirts, and ballcaps, often with the bill askew. That description would fit more than a few good and decent U.S. collegians, and some of Mr Gilbert's problem might rest in decoding the cross-cultural messages. On my visits to Britain, the attempts of the young to ape North American dress and speech amuse. All too often, the youngsters know some of the words, but they don't get the music. But frequent use of the less imaginative four-letter words is a sign of social deficiency, there as well as here.
QUESTION OF THE DAY. Ralph Peters:
Do our politicians really want to help al Qaeda regain its balance?
Only in the United States could victory be an orphan. (Via Betsy's Page.)
MOVEMENT HEAVIES. Not improved by age. (Not safe for work.)
QUOTE OF THE DAY. Erin O'Connor:
The University of Colorado was right to fire Ward Churchill, for the reasons I've laid out here. But it's still possible to be very wrong about why Colorado was right. Sean Hannity was way wrong last night when he interviewed Churchill's lawyer. Hannity actually came right out and argued that Churchill should have been fired for his 9/11 comments--an uninformed and ill-advised argument that only cheapens the care with which groups such as ACTA and FIRE have differentiated between the wrongful persecution of Churchill for his speech (both groups defended him) and the rightful investigation of his scholarly conduct (which was done with scrupulous attention to his due process rights).
At one time a dean or department head might have a heart-to-heart with a faculty member about his or her obligation to make public comments judiciously. But it was understood that the faculty member's scholarship respected the highest standards of probity.

25.7.07

THE PSEUDO-INDIAN, REFUTED. University of Colorado victim studies hustler and serial plagiarist Ward Churchill has been given his walking papers. Pirate Ballerina, a site that has concentrated on Mr Churchill's incendiary statements and his subsequent exposure as a low-level fraud, has continuing coverage. Two posts at Phi Beta Cons call for extended commentary. My favorite retired administrator, Peter Wood, takes perhaps too rosy a view of the fallout.
First, it shines light on the bogus "scholarship" that often passes for legitimate academic credentials in fields like ethnic studies. De-legitimizing the academic Left will take more than one scandal, but this is one of those scandals that will stick. Colleges and universities across the country that have winked at the intellectual trash put forward in lieu of scholarship by some of their ideologue professors now have something to worry about.
Although I have characterized Mr Churchill as a fourth-rate Barrington Moore, it behooves critics of the academy to focus on departures from scholarly integrity rather than to fuss too much about junk-think. Face it, in fifty years is anybody going to give a rip about the structure, conduct, or performance of twentieth-century heavy industry, even when the policy implications are non-trivial?

The project of rooting out genuine academic fraud (where it exists, and where the fraudster hasn't called attention to himself) is not as easy as Mr Wood makes it look.
Third, it kicks over the idea, argued by many of Churchill's supporters, that his academic "work" shouldn't be subject to scrutiny because...well, they gave lots of reasons. Because he was a popular teacher. Because he had come under scrutiny in the first place because of his political opinions. Because he would sue the University. Because everything he did was to advance a good cause. Knocking down all of these excuses and evasions was a good thing because it makes it easier for colleges and universities all over the country to knock them down again the next time they are offered—and they will be.
A lot of academic research involves scholars beavering away in obscure thickets where -- perhaps -- a reviewer will recognize that something doesn't look right. And sometimes there are great temptations to fudge. It would have been very easy for me to submit tables of regression results from runs that were approximately converged, and nobody would have been the wiser (the referee comments I receive tend to focus on specification or interpretation, not on sign or significance) and the papers would have been in the pipeline faster, but I chose to do the right thing and do some sensitivity checking and run all estimators to convergence, and to report my convergence criteria. My internal standards of honesty were all that stood between the reader and stinky results. We count on other researchers to be similarly honest -- particularly where regression analysis or simulation is involved. Mr Churchill betrayed that fundamental value. The case ought not be treated as license to root out troublesome scholars who make ideologically inconvenient statements.

David French notes that the greater damage has been done by the tendency of the professoriate to defend the indefensible among them.
The radical academic left could hardly have chosen a worse standard-bearer. An under-qualified, arguably fake Native American with a long history of not just plagiarism and other forms of academic fraud, but also a disturbing tendency to threaten and intimidate his critics, it turned out that Churchill was the kind of person who could only exist within the coddling atmosphere of either a radical activist organization or a university ethnic studies department (as if those things are different).
In his view, the self-preservation of the diversity hustlers has made all of higher education look bad.
Churchill’s dogged fight to keep his job only reinforced to many Americans the notion that faculty view themselves as a breed apart – entitled to lucrative lifetime employment no matter what they do. And that may well end up as the lasting legacy of the Churchill case: the tipping point that led an increasing number of ordinary Americans to view the academy as an out-of-control, disconnected bastion of spoiled and petulant entitlement. The academic left decries the “chilling effect” of Churchill’s termination, but the only individuals who should feel “chilled” are those professors publicly spewing deranged invective at that same time that they conceal a professional past rife with fraud and abuse. No, the real (and important) legacy of the Churchill case is that he became the most famous professor in America, and he was the worst possible ambassador for an academy that is under ever-increasing scrutiny.
That scrutiny is likely to make my job more difficult. The fault lies with departments and colleges that aren't explicit about the tradeoff they're making between superficial diversity and academic integrity. These ought not be mutually exclusive.

BY THEIR FRUITS.

Has it been forty years since the Summer of Love and the Detroit Riots? Let us be grateful for herpes, AIDS, no-fault divorce, no stigma for bastardy, crude entertainment, and the death of self-restraint. Let us thank those forward thinkers who celebrate transgressiveness, no matter where it may lead, never mind that young people in general have to go to greater extremes to shock their elders, that the "deindustrialization" of Detroit and other machine age cities might have been accelerated by the unwillingness of entry level workers to show up for work, let alone be competent on the job, that some of the Detroit kids entering kindergarten in September 1967 are grandparents today (and that some of the fortysomething men might not even know it.)

22.7.07

QUOTE OF THE DAY. Union Pacific's director of media operations James Barnes.
"Our train crews are traumatized by these incidents because they can't do anything - they can't stop on a dime.”
The article notes that too many drivers and pedestrians contine to take their chances with the trains.
LOOKING FOR A WAY OUT. Barry Turner's Countdown to Victory supplements The Fall of Berlin 1945, reviewed here, and The Last Battle, in presenting the history of the Western Front from just before the Ardennes campaign to Germany's surrender. This Book Review No. 25 suggests that the book will be of greater interest to readers seeking a deeper understanding of the Western Front. Last Battle suffices as an overview of both fronts. Countdown offers much more by way of recollections of front line soldiers and civilians, whether in the liberated, occupied, or German territories. Those parts of Western Europe not quite evacuated by the Germans but not yet liberated by the Allies were not pleasant for civilians stuck there for lack of safe places to flee to. Yes, the major land campaigns (cutting off the Bulge, crossing the Rhine, surrounding the Ruhr) receive discussion, but not of the unit-history or "this unit moved here" variety.
IT'S SUPPOSED TO BE DIFFICULT. A Diamondback win in Chicago and a Brewer win in the final San Francisco game leave the Brewers 3 1/2 games ahead on July 22, with a 55-43 record. The earlier start to the season shows up in the comparative standings. In 1982, the Brewers, at 54-37, were 1/2 game ahead of Boston, and 5 games ahead of Baltimore, the team that ran out of season before it could catch up. When the North Shore Line was still running, the Braves, at 53-38, were a game ahead of St. Louis and Brooklyn and 2 ahead of Cincinnati. The Cubs were 21 1/2 games behind.
DEVELOPING A CORRIDOR. Princeton, Illinois, is a scheduled stop for both of the Chicago-Quincy train pairs as well as for the Southwest Chief (which, when it's close to time offers a midday option to Chicago as well as an early evening departure.) Friday evening, a late-running eastbound California Zephyr stopped briefly.


On the markers, the last operating heavyweight Pullman in the U.S., Dover Harbor, configured as six double bedrooms and a buffet lounge.

Both of the evening corridor trains were a bit off the advertised. The eastbound turned up first, two or three minutes after its 7.48 departure. While it was taking up about ten and setting down four or five, the westbound, due at 7.40, showed up.


The railroad is reverse-signalled. As far as I know First Great Western have not taken over the Illinois franchise. The station attendant did direct passengers to the correct tracks for these trains. No attendant was on hand earlier in the afternoon for the Chief. Boarding passengers picked the traditional westbound platform only to have Three show up on the south main. The conductor noticed, and respotted the train at the crosswalk. Everybody appeared to take the situation in stride.

Princeton made the effort to present some dreaming spires in order to set the mood for the release of the latest Harry Potter story.


I discovered this event two years ago, when I'd headed to Princeton for Beef and Ag Night (nothing quite like a cookout, and sometimes somebody else oughta do the cooking) and stumbled into Wizard's Alley. The city offered the same agriculture and magic lineup this past weekend.


Next up: the Civil War re-enactment (which is quite well done) on October 13-14.

20.7.07

THEY CAME OVER BERLIN WITH ESCORTS. That convinced Hermann Goering that he truly could be called Mayer. That's only one of the multiple marvelous tidbits in Masters of the Air, billed as the story of the U.S. Army Air Forces "bomber boys" although most of the coverage is of the Eighth Air Force, based in England, which became the most destructive air force flying by war's end. I could make Book Review No. 24 into a midi-dissertation. There's insufficient time. Buy it. Read it. Enjoy it. Masters is a readable and comprehensive survey of all aspects of the air campaign, including the disagreements between the Royal Air Force and the U.S. Army over proper bomber doctrine, the costs of the campaign, the lessons learned in blood, the experiences of the populations under the bombs, the effect on the German economy, and the suffering of the prisoners, particularly at war's end when the Germans couldn't work out whether the propaganda value of prisoners was greater as hostages, tokens for amnesty, or corpses. Economist Paul Baran, football coach Tom Landry, and Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach make cameo appearances. Chuck Yeager escapes from prison to destroy a jet. The book makes the best effort I have seen to learn the fates of Joseph Kennedy the younger and Glenn Miller. Author Donald L. Miller scores an extra point by referring to John Kenneth Galbraith as "notoriously immodest." Professor Galbraith's strategic bombing survey comes in for some stick as well. Although neither British nor U.S. doctrine worked as intended, the combined weight of the air offensive sufficed to break Germany's economy, which, in addition to being based on plunder so as to minimize domestic sacrifices (even after the cities started burning), was still an early Machine Age economy based on coal and railroads. Author Miller suggests that more rapidly repeated visits to the rail centers would have aggravated Germany's logistical problems more rapidly. That's the luxury of victory. The bomber campaign did keep troops and artillery tied down in Germany and the occupied nations to the west of sufficient weight to have hampered the Soviet counterattacks and prolonged the war. Despite the bad weather and serious losses ("stop-loss" in World War II meant your tour that was supposed to end after 25 completed missions would then end after 30, or 35, or 40, and not many of the early crews returned home alive) the air-suppression and logistics campaigns did achieve their objectives in time for the invasions. And General Doolittle, who became the Eighth's commander in the Pacific, declined an opportunity to send his unit's new B-29s against Japan just before the surrender for bragging rights. The unit had nothing left to prove.
SUFFRAGE IS THE HEALTH OF THE STATE? I had the opportunity yesterday to attend a John Lott book talk (and purchase Freedomnomics on the cheap). There will be a review shortly. A vignette from the talk: a man from the audience noted an Ann Coulter review provocatively claiming "Women shouldn't vote." Mr Lott, whose website acknowledges that review, noted that his research, establishing a positive relationship between votes for women and spending by government, also lends support to the feminist argument that women indeed had interests not represented by male proxies.
COLLEGE AFFORDABILITY NOT AN ISSUE? Two summers ago, I noted a preponderance of roller-coaster operators in the Wisconsin Dells from the Former Soviet Bloc. A USA Today article notes a secular downtrend in labor force participation by teenagers.
Labor force participation among teens in June peaked in 1978, when 67.7% of Americans ages 16 to 19 were working or looking for work. Data have been collected since 1948.
To some extent the change is a consequence of extended school years. Some districts are going to later summer dismissal and earlier summer returns, and some students are making up deficiencies. But the imperative to work one's way through college is diminished by greater household wealth.

Household net worth has risen swiftly in recent years, in part because of strong stock market gains. That has given parents the ability to save more for college and has taken pressure off kids to sock away money for school, LaSalle Bank chief economist Carl Tannenbaum says.

"A lot more … families have been much more actively involved in saving for college than ever before," he says.

(Trapped in a positional arms race, or engaging in a flight to quality? Discuss.)

The presence of those Bulgarian roller coaster operators suggests a bit more at work than the article suggests.

"Competition from foreign immigrants and older workers for jobs previously held by teenagers has steadily intensified," says Mark Zandi, Moody's Economy.com chief economist. Seeing such competition, teens may just give up trying to work.

A number of economists say if kids stay in school, they, and the economy, could benefit. "As long as these people are studying properly and getting something from their education, when they do enter the labor force, they will be more qualified, and in the long term, more productive," Global Insight U.S. economist Nigel Gault says.

The amusement parks have to go through channels to obtain the work permits for immigrant workers. Perhaps the direction of causation is the other way around. Whether the students who have parental assets will exert themselves at university or become fodder for the likes of Phantom Prof or Rate Your Students, or whether something will stick years later, remains to be seen.

19.7.07

WAR IS CRUELTY. Frederick Taylor's Dresden: Tuesday 12 February 1945 is intended as a contribution to the efforts to refine war by arguing that the city was sufficiently a military target to merit inclusion in Bomber Command's targeting list. This Book Review No. 23 scorns such efforts. Had Genl Sherman had the ability to "burn and destroy an enemy industrial center" (the mission order) without first having to march there and invest it and then consider supplying the garrison, he no doubt would have used it. That the author might have felt obligated to enter into what is of interest primarily to fellow-traveling elements of the chattering classes (the Communist governors of Dresden adopted with little amendment the Nazi line that a cultural artifact had been laid waste by barbarians, with Josef Goebbels's failure to include the destruction of a converted chocolate factory in wartime propaganda later corrected by the maker of the baby milk plant shirts, with a little help from the Communists of Saxony) does not surprise: one has to write for the book review crowd in order to receive reviews. The value in the book, apart from the evidence of Dresden's use as a military center, is in some new perspectives on two topics.

First, yes, the first British wave of bombing was quite effective. Within fifteen minutes, the damage sufficient to set the old city on fire was done. Follow-on forces noticed that the target area was pretty well on fire and chose targets of opportunity in undamaged parts of the city. Mr Taylor suggests that the fire did not have to spread as virulently as it did. In other German cities that received a similarly effective first strike, residents left their cellars (against orders) to put out the incendiary bombs and limit the spread of the fire. In Dresden, residents did not do so. Mr Taylor does not offer an explanation, although failure to hear the all-clear, fatally loyal adherence to orders, or fear of the motion-sensor explosives the British were adding to some incendiaries as a counter-countermeasure are possibilities. Once again, emergent order shows an advantage over waiting for Someone in Authority to take charge. (Did the British government or that of London discourage the Friends of St. Paul's from their firewatch?)

Second, the book offers a more favorable interpretation of "impress the Soviets" than many of the chattering classes, projecting their own fears give it. The Red Army didn't begin fighting outside Soviet soil until 1944, and some in the Soviet command took a dim view of a Western Front that gave the impression of a few air attacks and only in favorable weather while there was heavy fighting not far from Moscow and all around Leningrad. (A novel titled KG 200 suggests there might have been similar rivalries between the RAF and the USAAF, with a sardonic version of "Flying Fortress at Forty Thousand Feet" implying ineffective dropping of light ordnance from great altitudes.) The objective of the February bomber offensive was to impede the German ability to reinforce the eastern front with troops withdrawn from the west in the hopes of inviting a separate peace. At this, it succeeded to some extent and briefly (railroaders have a lot of practice dealing with derailments and washouts, and a bomb crater is manageable) although the main effect might have been to show German soldiers on the Oder River a pillar of fire where Dresden used to be. Genl Sherman would have understood ... imagine a rebel from Georgia or South Carolina besieged at Petersburg when news reaches the trenches that the Army of the Tennessee is at large somewhere east of Atlanta.
ROUND AND ROUND ON VIEWPOINT DIVERSITY AND TENURE. A recent Zogby Interactive survey on tenure and academic bias is the subject of an extended bull session at Inside Higher Ed. Peter Wood, my favorite former college administrator, offers an extended response (via Phi Beta Cons) to some of the bull session bulls*******s.
I CLAIM NO CREDIT. Tim Hall at Where Worlds Collide reports that the Virgin Trains Cross Country routes have been awarded to Arriva Trains.
Not sure about their proposed livery, which looks rather dull compared with the striking Virgin Trains red and silver. The Voyagers are allegedly going to be refurbished with more luggage space (about bloody time) and more seats (where?), and a few superannuated HST sets will be resurrected to augment the fleet.
More seats by taking apart some of the sets to make longer trains? Note, though, that the trains are going to the new franchise operator, which is as I would have expected. Thus another bit of corporate spin (the lender didn't finance longer trains account the relatively short franchise) fails the market test.

The New Haven lightweight experimentals also had striking red liveries.

18.7.07

THERE IS A SIMPLER EXPLANATION. David Talbot's Brothers: The Hidden History of the Kennedy Years returns to the possibility that President John and Attorney General Robert Kennedy had enemies sufficiently displeased as to arrange their deaths. The author, a sixteen-year-old campaign volunteer in 1968, writes from the perspective of a true believer frustrated by the murders and by other events. The tone becomes clear early on. Consider this passage from page 36.

John Kennedy, however, was no Adlai Stevenson. The party's liberal wing -- regally presided over by the sainted widow of the Democrats' gloried past, Eleanor Roosevelt, hated him for it, scorning Kennedy as slick and vague -- "a gutless wonder," in Harry Truman's bitter formulation. Mrs. Roosevelt wondered, with reason, how the author of Profiles in Courage, a book extolling political leaders who put principle ahead of expediency, could have avoided taking a stand against McCarthyism, the greatest threat to American democracy of the day. ...

But the Kennedy family had no interest in being beautiful losers like Adlai Stevenson, whose inevitable defeats were embraced by liberals as confirmation of their own natural superiority. ...

In his 1960 presidential race, John Kennedy faced the most cunning and dirty politician on postwar America's national stage, Richard Nixon. JFK beat him by playing every bit as dirty -- and more important, by grabbing the war club that Republicans like Nixon used to beat Democratic contenders, and using it against "Tricky Dick" instead. Kennedy stunned Nixon by thumping his chest louder than his opponent on the nuclear arms race and on Cuba.

That's where the troubles began. Mr Talbot never makes a case for who arranged the Kennedy murders, but the usual stew of strict anti-communists in the Central Intelligence Agency, disaffected mobsters deprived of their casino revenues, and hangers-on in the military industrial complex is on the stove. That stew has long been a popular dish at the cafes where left-wing paranoia feeds, and there's even a metaphor for the faction fight within the ruling class, with the "Cowboys" (noveau riche business interests in Texas pulling the strings of inter alia Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, and George H. W. Bush) dueling with the "Yankees" (the old Eastern Establishment) for very high stakes. In some versions, the Kennedy murders and Watergate are skirmishes within that war.

According to Mr Talbot, the murders put a "curse" on the United States.

Years would go by, and no new leader would appear to take the country to the same heights.

"We've been on an endless cycle of retreat ever since the Kennedys," [presidential speechwriter Richard] Goodwin remarked. "A retreat not just from liberal ideals, but from that sense of excited involvement in the country. I was asked by a magazine once what I thought John Kennedy's greatest contribution was, and I said, 'He made us feel that we were better than we thought we were.' That was the big loss. There's so much a president can do to inspire a nation -- it's hard to even remember that nowadays. I mean JFK just liberated an enormous energy in the country. And Bobby would have done even more, I think."

I take the stance that "activist president" can be a force for great harm as well as the great good Mr Goodwin claims, and that a president really ought to stick to the job description. This Book Review No. 22 will thus be somewhat unsympathetic to the message. One need look no further than Lyndon Johnson, who at one time was touted by academic historians as the greatest domestic president of the 20th century, for achieving in civil rights and public assistance legislation John Kennedy would never have aspired to while continuing Cuba and Vietnam policies Mr Talbot asserts he would have changed, for an example of a failed activist president.

The book provides evidence of a truly scary inner circle, with people far more unbalanced than the poseurs who populate Boomsday. (I can sometimes arrange reviews to set the stage for reviews.) We meet ABC reporter Lisa Howard, who obtains an exclusive interview with Fidel Castro and seduces or is seduced by him. She later becomes politically active campaigning against Robert Kennedy when he sought the Senate seat from New York, for which ABC fired her (the main press taking a stand against partisan reporters, forsooth) and then takes a fatal dose of sleeping pills. We also meet Mary Pinchot Meyer, presidential cushion as well as sister-in-law to Ben Bradlee of the Washington Post and former wife of CIA heavy Cord Meyer. We learn that the Kennedy brothers suggested some of their Hollywood friends make a movie of Seven Days in May so as to help the White House obtain some leverage against forces within the military-industrial complex for whom no expenditure against the Red Menace is excessive. I suspect the more I learn about any presidential inner circle, Democratic or Republican, Ivy League or Big Ten, the more convinced I will be of the necessity of holding any president to those Constitutionally defined duties.

The book suggests both Kennedy brothers were more open to a rapprochement with Cuba than their public pronouncements during 1960-1963 suggest, although additional documentation would be helpful. Ditto for any references to a change in Vietnam policy.

What, then, about the murders. The Cold Spring Shops position is that Lee Oswald did the shooting in Dallas. Mr Talbot is not quite capable of refuting that claim. He notes,
[Kennedy confidantes Ken] O'Donnell and [Dave] Powers, both World War II veterans, distinctly heard at least two shots come from the grassy knoll area in front of the motorcycle. But when they later told this to the FBI, they were informed that they must be wrong.
Without more disclosure of the advisors' war records, Mr Talbot has not made the case that they were sufficiently conversant with urban fighting as to be able to identify the source of the shot, rather than of an echo. That his book mentions General Edwin Walker as a white-supremacist agitator quite active in raising opposition to integration, in order to support his case that the Kennedy brothers feared a military coup, but fails to mention the shot Lee Oswald fired at General Walker's house with the same rifle later used to kill President Kennedy suggests a cherry-picking of evidence.

What, then, of Robert? The afternoon of November 22, he muses that "they" might have wanted him dead, but not Jack, presumably because "they" had more reason to be rid of an aggressive Attorney General, or perhaps of a keeper of unpleasant secrets, than of a president. The simplest explanation is that on November 22, there was no "they," only Lee Oswald.

Robert's murder, however, is more complicated. On a book talk with Milt Rosenberg, Mr Talbot noted that he and Warren Commission counsel Gerald Posner get along quite well, despite Mr Posner's Case Closed providing the most convincing published demolition of the various November 22 conspiracy theories. Mr Talbot went on to note that Mr Posner favors further investigation of Robert's murder. In Brothers, he mentions that more bullets were recovered from Robert than Sirhan Sirhan's gun held. On the one hand, that raises the possibility of a second gunman. On the other, Robert Kennedy left the Ambassador ballroom through the kitchen rather than through the announced exit route. Another target of opportunity?
UPDATING THE RAIL DIESEL CAR. I have referred to the Virgin Voyagers, not entirely favorably, as a pale update of the New Haven Comet train. Although the Voyager uses airframe construction techniques (common in railcar construction these days) it has an engine under each car turning a power plant supplying the traction motors under each car. The more apt update is of a Rail Diesel Car but with a diesel-electric rather than a diesel-mechanical power plant on each unit. The New Haven Roger Williams train, specially modified Rail Diesel Cars configured with mock diesel noses on each end, might be the best comparison. The two nose units and a middle unit of the Roger Williams made it into preservation.

That correction noted, the Voyager, as seen here in Reading, still strikes me as ill-suited to long distance services.


The First Great Western Adelante sets, which are the real provocation of the post, do give the impression of an updated Roger Williams, with the bulldog noses replaced by the curved noses favored on the more recent commuter train diesels, and the radiators recessed in the roof.

A unit is about to cross over to the fast line at Reading.


First Great Western use these units on the fast outer suburban service up from Oxford, and I had occasion to ride one to London. The seat spacing and baggage racks are spacious enough to do credit to a longer-distance train.

Such a unit, if it could meet North American strength standards, would be quite right for an outer suburban service from DeKalb to Chicago (calling at Elburn, Geneva, Wheaton, Elmhurst rather than Didcot, Reading, Slough at the same approximate distances) or for the Rockford to Chicago corridor. One wonders if it would take a $2 per gallon train tax on gasoline to make such projects possible. For comparison, a liter of gasoline was selling for 97 pence or so while I was in England.)

17.7.07

RESPECT THE JOB DESCRIPTION. A USA Today analysis suggests the next President will have a difficult time.

Among pressing issues left on the table: What's next in Iraq. How to restore America's reputation around the world. Whether to extend tax cuts that expire in 2010. What to do about Medicare's looming shortfall. And how to complete the job of helping the Gulf Coast recover from Hurricane Katrina.

No new president gets a clean slate — global politics and the economy don't run in neat four-year cycles — but presidential scholars say the unfinished business Bush will leave for his successor is unprecedented since at least World War II.

"I can't think of a single modern president about to bequeath to his successor such a difficult agenda and such a damaged presidency," says Paul Light of New York University.

Perhaps the problem lies with unrealistic expectations for the President. Start with the job description.

The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States; he may require the Opinion, in writing, of the principal Officer in each of the executive Departments, upon any subject relating to the Duties of their respective Offices, and he shall have Power to Grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offenses against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment.

He shall have Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur; and he shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, Judges of the supreme Court, and all other Officers of the United States, whose Appointments are not herein otherwise provided for, and which shall be established by Law: but the Congress may by Law vest the Appointment of such inferior Officers, as they think proper, in the President alone, in the Courts of Law, or in the Heads of Departments.

The President shall have Power to fill up all Vacancies that may happen during the Recess of the Senate, by granting Commissions which shall expire at the End of their next Session.

Only Iraq, among the items noted by the newspaper, falls strictly within the President's purview. President Bush has deviated from precedent dating to Thomas Jefferson, in which the United States would respond to Islamic primitives either by beating on them until they went away for a while or by entering into alliances of conveniences. Perhaps a candidate who would do more than simply pull out a Constitution on the stump, but who would commit himself to reviving the tradition of a veto phrased "I cannot find that Passage in the Federal Constitution which authorizes me to sign this" is in order.

That, however, does not appeal to the aspirants or the potential critics.

Presidential candidates from both parties, including some who promise a sharp break from Bush's policies, say that reality has influenced how they campaign and constrained what they propose.

All the major Democratic contenders fault Bush not only for the decision to invade Iraq but also for a war strategy they say has lengthened the conflict and multiplied its costs. With the federal budget surpluses he inherited now turned to deficits, he has made it more difficult to finance ambitious domestic initiatives that might reflect a successor's signature.

Among the Democrats, former North Carolina senator John Edwards says dryly in an interview that budget deficits from Bush's tenure make it "more challenging" to finance his own priorities on poverty and health care.

Among Republicans, Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback doesn't fault Bush for his response to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, saying the threat from Islamic terrorists inevitably was going to be faced by a series of presidents. Even the conservative senator says, however, Bush should have done more to reach a political solution in Iraq and build bipartisan support for the war at home.

"That's going to be another thing for the next president: structuring a bipartisan long-view strategy," Brownback says. "You cannot conduct a war with one party for it and one party against it."

The press of immediate problems makes it difficult to persuade voters to even consider big plans for the future, Brownback says, such as his proposal for a 10-year national campaign to end cancer deaths.

Ambitious domestic initiatives? Outlawing cancer? I cannot find that Passage ...

The problem, dear reader, rests with the perception that the President is somehow a combination of Daddy and St. Ignatius Loyola.

The presidents most highly regarded by history are those who took over in troubled times and negotiated them with skill. Franklin Roosevelt followed Herbert Hoover amid the Great Depression and then led the nation during World War II. Ronald Reagan is credited with restoring America's resilience after the Iranian hostage crisis and oil shocks of Jimmy Carter's tenure.

"I think the last president to have as much danger and opportunity was when Roosevelt got elected in 1932," [Delaware Senator Joseph] Biden says. "The next president — I mean this literally, not figuratively — has a chance to change the world, to put the world on a different trajectory than it is on now."

Repeat with me: complex adaptive systems do pretty much what they d**n well please. Such expectations are only going to be frustrated. Neither Franklin Roosevelt nor Ronald Reagan were at all well regarded two years into their first terms, and, although both won overwhelming re-election, both had miserable second terms.
GETTING THE METRIC RIGHT. Via University Diaries, a St. Petersburg Times editorial that summarizes the errors in simplistic productivity measures.

The results reveal themselves on every campus. The student-faculty ratio is now the second worst in the nation, with some classes at the University of South Florida held in movie theaters. The instructional cost per degree is the lowest in the nation. Five of the 11 universities rank among the 30 largest in the nation.

"For too long, many of our leaders, often with the best of intentions, have pretended that high quality, broad access and successful degree completion are possible on a shoestring budget," chancellor Mark Rosenburg wrote to the Board of Governors. "Our students deserve the best we can offer. They are not getting it."

No doubt, some administrators and legislators will point to those low instructional cost per degree and high student credit hours per (adjunct?) faculty members as achievements. The Times editors disagree.
The students and families who count on Florida's universities deserve more, and Gov. Crist is in a position to join them in this battle. Those in the Legislature who cast university officials as the enemy of university students are engaging in pointless political distortion. The adversary here is not the Board of Governors. It is a legislative apathy that is drowning higher education in cut-rate ambitions.
Once again, higher education emulates the railroads. Whether the fault lies with the legislators or with their willing accomplices in university administration, the obsession of whoever is calling the shots with cost per degree or student credit hours per professor is emulating the Chicago Great Western's emphasis on gross ton miles per train hour. It made for some impressive looking trains (one a day each way, analogous to those lectures in cinemas) but in the end the railroad became a bike trail.
GETTING INTO THE PENNANT RACE. Monday night was Scout Night at Miller Park. Lots of Scouts parading around the field before the game.


The Brewers won the game and continue to protect their lead over the Cubs.

There was a little excitement on the train ride home. A trucker hauling a concrete tube to a power plant work site had a shifting load that bashed the Highway 20 overpass.
The bridge remains open to railroad traffic, but trains — including the Amtrak trains running on that double-track line — will only be allowed to run at 10 miles per hour until railroad officials can figure out repairs, according to Sturtevant’s acting director of public safety, Capt. Sean Marschke.
The Amtrak trains, other than the Empire Builder, are either preparing to stop at the Sturtevant station or departing from it, which will not affect timekeeping too seriously. My train arrived in Chicago in plenty of time to make the connection to the next Elburn train out.

The bridge-bash gives me opportunity to speak of a Soviet invention I saw along the Trans-Siberian. There is a solidly anchored I-beam a few meters either side of the railroad overpasses which will create serious havoc with any out-of-gauge truck. Perhaps U.S. railroads ought consider such measures.

15.7.07

CORNWALL, WISCONSIN. Perhaps with a bit of lingering travel fatigue and a cold, a road trip wasn't the smartest thing to do, but the travelling conditions were conducive. Here, near the settlement of Lead Mine, Wisconsin, is a historical marker summarizing the mining industry of the early nineteenth century. There was a great deal of digging for relatively little metal, if I understand what the guides at a mining museum in nearby Shullsburg told me. The ethanol fields are somewhat more productive. Our benchmark for the corn is "knee high by the fourth of July." The corn wall in the background would obstruct the view of an elephant, that is, if the Ringling Brothers would take them on a road trip from Baraboo or Delavan.


Behold the flatlands of Illinois. There is some topography in the North West Frontier, but this view, looking southeast from just south of the State Line, is on the south slope of Charles Mound, claimed to be the highest elevation in Illinois. It's really quite underwhelming. Somebody has built an aerie on a hill immediately north of the Cheddar Curtain that looks down onto Charles Mound.


There are a few book reviews and posts of greater intellectual content to come, sometime this week. Thanks for your continued interest.
INTERNAL COMBUSTION. The propane-powered heritage trolley in Rockford, which operates on a stretch of former Milwaukee Road trackage on the right bank of the Rock River, is out of commission after a hydraulic system fire damaged the car.

The car station bears a sign, "Rockford and Interurban."
THE HABITS OF EFFECTIVE PEOPLE. The primary reason for my trip overseas was to participate in an Oxford Round Table originally intended to address education strategies for serving children of poor families but ultimately dealing with a more eclectic range of topics. One of the policy problems that participants addressed, only gingerly, was the most effective way of socializing youngsters without sending the message that their current habits were not conducive to success.

It's not much easier in the workplace, where, once again, body art has the potential to be a job-killer.
Once associated with drunken sailors, felons and Hells Angels, tattoos have gone nearly mainstream, putting employers in a bind. How to write rules that won't alienate un-hip customers on the one hand or eliminate talented workers on the other?
Perhaps one ought to start by understanding who is currently making the rules.

In many cases, grooming policies are being set by members of a generation known for letting it all hang out.

"The baby boomers had hair out to the ceiling, cut jeans, ripped clothes that they washed sometimes," said Mark Mehler, co-founder of CareerXroads, a New Jersey recruiting and consulting firm.

Here. We. Go. Again. "Baby boomer" neither implies nor is implied by "hippie." Do the research. In the 1972 election a majority of the 18-21 voters voted for Richard Nixon, and the concept of so self-evidently a Thirteenth Generation consultant passing judgement on the majority who were not damn-hippies amuses. I'm visualizing a thirtysomething widebody with the two-day shadow goatee going gray and the tattoos fading and sagging. Sure you want to go there?

The logic, and the within-generation divide, are as they were in the Sixties.

Nearly 50% of Americans between 21 and 32 have at least one tattoo or a piercing other than in an ear, according to a 2006 study by the University of Chicago and Northwestern University. Men and women alike say their tattoos make them feel sexy and rebellious, a 2003 Harris Poll found, while the unadorned of both genders see body art as unsightly and think those with tattoos and piercings are less intelligent and less attractive.

For Tumbleweed Day Camp in L.A., this divide can cause headaches. Although counselors' body art tends toward ladybugs or Asian characters for "luck," some parents complain that the inked and pierced don't look like appropriate role models. But Director John Beitner said that if he adopted a no-tattoo policy, he would lose excellent candidates for the camp's 120 counseling jobs.

Conformity in rebellion, forsooth! And again, the market test: the camp that shows a preference for the un-mutilated may have to pay a price for indulging in its preferences. State, and discuss, the obvious generalization.

Because body mutilations are not as easily reversible as long hair or bad hygiene, the article notes there is a thriving industry in removing messages that send the wrong signal. On the other hand, there's nothing like a good performance to obtain indulgence from those who would otherwise object.

Financial planner Eric Cohen is having none of that. His boss at A.G. Edwards & Sons Inc. in Torrance is untroubled by the dragon that sometimes pokes out from Cohen's shirt cuff.

The 37-year old got the tattoo, which envelops his right forearm, in 1996 when he was working as a hotel concierge. "I still love it," he said.

When he interviewed with A.G. Edwards seven years ago, Cohen made sure to keep the dragon under wraps. He kept it covered during his first few years on the job.

Now, a string of solid performance reviews behind him, Cohen sometimes goes to work in short sleeves. "My boss is a relaxed kind of guy," he said. Besides, "it gets warm in here."

In the late Sixties and early Seventies, a poster popular in Madison showed Albert Einstein on a wild-hair day with a caption to the effect that what was under it mattered. Good sentiments, but the onus is still on the rebel to perform.

12.7.07

SERIOUS RETRO RAILROADING. The St. Ives Bay Line offers a taste of old-style branch line railroading along Cornwall's Atlantic Coast. There's quite a serious climb out of the station and through the ridge in the distance. The branch was the last piece of Great Western seven-foot gauge track to be built. Conditions are definitely less summery than they might be at Sleeping Bear Dune let alone San Juan Capistrano, but a few brave souls are swimming.


The branch joins the Great Western main line at St. Erth, where a tower (signal box there) with armstrong levers controls the switches (points) and lower quadrant semaphores. Note the allergy of a British railroad to a facing-point switch.


That's not the remnants of abandoned track at right, it's a split-point derail (catch points) intended to prevent any unauthorized use of the main line by a switch engine, or, worse, a car set into motion by the wind.

Every so often, there's a twanging of the control wires and a semaphore clatters to "clear" (which is pulling "off" there and "on" here.) It's a bit disconcerting to see a signal at clear with the entire train behind it, as here, but the semaphore can be used to alert the crew of a passing train to trouble even after it has accepted the signal, and the lever is returned to normal only after the train crew is not able to see it.


There's no doubt whose station this once was. Once upon a time, a section of the Cornish Riviera Express would reverse here to be taken directly to St. Ives, which must have been some stunt on a steeply-graded line with little in the way of terminal facilities (today, it's a platform with ticketing machine and fencing).


Down the line at Penzance, the evening sleeper train to London Paddington has been placed at the station. Although that diesel has a very British number 57 605 and name Totnes Castle, inside it is an Electro-Motive diesel. It sounds like a train ought to.


Cross-posted at European Tribune.
NO OBJECTIONS. The summer edition of the Northern Star reports further on Vatican: The Board Game, recommended here.

While [game developer and retired historian] Dr. Haliczer did not specifically consult any Catholic authorities during his research, the Rev. Godwin Asuquo of the Newman Catholic Student Center said in an e-mail that "in today's world, people use games to teach and some of them could convey good moral and truthful lessons."

He added that Dr. Haliczer could check with a diocesan office for a NIHIL OBSTAT, an official approval by a delegated censor of the Roman Catholic Church to publish a work dealing with faith or morals. This would essentially authenticate in the eyes of the Church the accuracy of the game and its lessons.

Not quite.
The "Nihil Obstat" and "Imprimatur" are official declarations that a book or pamphlet is free of doctrinal or moral error. No implication is contained therein that those who have granted the Nihil Obstat and the Imprimatur agree with the content, opinions or statements expressed.
(I sometimes wish for a good Hymnal Gothic typeface on Blogger to set quotations such as the above.)

The explanation goes on to suggest that in some minds, there is the equivalent of grade inflation in the issuance of imprimata.
When buying books on religious and spiritual matters, seek out those books written before Vatican II and which have the "Imprimatur," or those books which are known to be written by solidly orthodox traditional Catholics. Otherwise, be wary and take the book with a grain of salt.