31.8.08

THE ADVANTAGES OF BLOCK AND TACKLE. The Laser class originally prohibited pulleys in much of the running rigging, requiring sailors to put together cats-cradles of loops and bows to create some mechanical advantage. It's much easier under the new rules, that allow some block and tackle.


Although the tropical storms are disrupting life in the southeast, the weather in the State Line has favored sailing practice, although I would have liked just one or two slightly stronger puffs to set up just one screaming reach for the season.

OUCH. The Minnesota football team, despite being material for scandal, managed to come from behind and steal a win at their rollerdome. The Goophs have matched last year's win total.
UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES. The Overhead Wire endorses a transfer from Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space.
Congress passes the Public Utility Holding Company Act. Heralded as a consumer protection milestone, it also gives utilities a quick method to drop their traction systems. This becomes one of the nails in the coffin of streetcar and interurban railroads in the U.S.
I've commented frequently on the Public Utility Holding Company Act (keep scrolling) and welcome recognition of its side consequences, particularly when it comes from sources that would ordinarily object to iconoclasm where Saint Franklin Delano Roosevelt, whose obsession with Samuel Insull led to the passage of the Act, is concerned.
A NEW REPUBLICAN AMTRAK POLICY? Alaska's governor Sarah Palin has her very own passenger railroad. The Alaska Railroad belongs to the state and it runs intercity passenger trains that are neither commuter trains nor part of the Amtrak network, using coaches (keep scrolling) that ought to be running in the Lower 48.
NO RUNS, NO HITS, ONE ERROR. The error goes to Pittsburgh's official scorer, who denies it. Milwaukee is asking Major League Baseball to review the ruling, which, no doubt, will lead to enhanced instant replay (currently in use for home runs, why not just put sensors on the foul poles?) and even sloppier officiating.

27.8.08

REGROUPING. With the start of the new academic year come some retrospectives on our troubles of last year. For new arrivals on campus and in town, there's a look at the first responders.

[De Kalb Fire Acting Chief Bruce] Harrison said Feb. 14 started as a routine day. There were training exercises, emergency calls and equipment maintenance, and people were talking about their Valentine’s Day plans, he said.

But it turned out to be a day to put into practice what fire, EMS and law enforcement officials in and near DeKalb County had practiced just a few months prior to the shootings. In October 2007, they took part in a mass-casualty exercise that included a helicopter evacuation. And an emergency plan went into effect Dec. 18 at NIU, when graffiti threatening an attack was found scrawled on the wall of a campus bathroom.

“It takes a lot of work to be a prepared community, and what we did prior to Feb. 14 prepared us well,” Harrison said. “But it doesn’t stop, and our goal is to stay ready.”

Northern Illinois University has also added reinforcements to its Public Safety Department.

Our friends from Blacksburg are helping residents cope with the long-term effects.

"We found advertising grief gatherings didn’t work,” [New River Valley Community Services executive director Harvey] Barker said about coordinating treatment efforts after students returned to Virginia Tech. “But going to where a group normally meets worked much better.”

Barker described the Virginia Tech shooting as a “pure mental health disaster.” University students, faculty, staff and their relatives were greatly affected, he said, but so were alumni, people who live in the town and anyone else with a connection to the school or the area.

“No one is untouched when something like this happens,” Barker said.

And a body of evidence — including a journal from the American Medical Association — shows that a community that doesn’t respond effectively to such a crisis could see an increase in suicides, depression, school drop-out rates and family dysfunction, Barker said.

The Northern Star has obtained an interview with investigative journalist David Vann, who is writing a book that will elaborate on the thesis of his Esquire article.
The article was written about by the Associated Press, and that story was picked up by hundreds of news outlets. I’ve received positive feedback, also, from many of Steve’s professors and friends, many of the people who are mentioned in the article. I do believe everyone wants to know the truth and the full story, as painful as that may be in various ways, and that’s why I’m also writing the book.
I have read through the article, and without access to the primary sources, and with reservations about the work appearing in Esquire, I cannot vouch for its accuracy. I can confirm, however, that the article's basis for Kazmierczak enrolling in the Illinois graduate program is accurate.
He’s just started grad classes, and now it looks like he isn’t going to be able to stay at NIU. The university has cut half the faculty from its sociology department through attrition, stripped the advanced courses, especially in criminology.
To a great extent, current course offerings, university-wide, are path-dependent. If a subject specialist, or all the subject specialists, retire or are recruited away (the former is common enough as the large cohort of professors hired as the normal school became a doctoral university retires, the latter is encouraged by headquarters' if-you-can-find-a-better-offer-we'll-consider-a-match approach to merit raises) that area becomes unavailable to students. Headquarters has twigged to the problem, although no permanent increases in faculty or reductions in entering class size have been proposed.

All is not gloomy, however. The first Huskies on Parade have been whelped. The weather has been pleasant for move-in and for the first few days of classes, with cool nights, low humidity, and enough daytime sunshine for the young ladies to leave just the right amount to the imagination. (I won't fish off the company pier, but I don't mind looking at the lake!)

This weekend, the football team travels to Minnesota. I don't object to Saturday night college football, but in a dome?
PRESERVED, AS IF IN AMBER. The professional protesters could not re-create 1968 outside the convention hall, and The American Prospect's Robert Kuttner misses 1968 inside the convention hall.

Lyndon Baines Johnson was born 100 years ago today. Besides Franklin Roosevelt, his record as a progressive Democrat is unsurpassed. Thanks to his leadership and passion, Congress enacted Medicare, Medicaid, federal aid to education, Head Start, the Job Corps, legal services for the poor, and countless other pocketbook measures that helped millions out of poverty and reinforced a secure middle class. And Johnson took immense risks to pass the three landmark civil-rights laws. It is not an exaggeration to say that without Johnson's leadership, Barack Obama would not be accepting the Democratic nomination for president this week.

But here in Denver, where podium time has been found for a mind-numbing array of obscure speakers, the day will pass without ceremony or acknowledgment. Why? In part because for many Democrats, Johnson's greatness on domestic achievements has an asterisk -- the Vietnam War, a divisive debacle too reminiscent of the Iraq War.

At one time, academic historians were in general agreement that President Lyndon Johnson would be recognized as the greatest of all presidents. A few funerals later, he's probably fallen to the stature of a minor post-Rooseveltian. Perhaps one reason is that the Great Society's record is not what the true believers would have others believe. I am on record as attributing much of the now-missed-by-self-styled-"progressives" unionized, monopolized, and cartelized 1950s to the unusual position the U.S. economy enjoyed after World War II.

Beyond that, the advocate of the Great Society has to address the more rapid decrease in poverty before the Great Society than after. This commentary suggests the criterion for the poverty rate is flawed, but it presents the diagram. Scroll down to "Poverty rates by race, 1959-2004." This essay, by Brookings's Isabel Sawhill, addresses the controversies.
The failure of the aggregate poverty rate to decline in the seventies, and its subsequent rise in the eighties, suggest to some that the War on Poverty launched by the federal government in the midsixties failed. Indeed, the incidence of poverty was as high in the late eighties as it was in the late sixties, and the average poverty rate for the eighties was 2 percentage points higher than the average for the seventies. Researchers have suggested a number of plausible explanations for these trends, including changes in the composition of households, slower economic growth, the failure of government training programs to increase the skills of the poor, and the rise of a permanently poor urban underclass. Some also argue that the income transfer policies designed to alleviate poverty have themselves helped perpetuate it. Although all of these factors have likely contributed to the problem, the relative importance of each remains somewhat unclear.
There are no easy explanations. It is, however, misleading to suggest that the Great Society "helped millions out of poverty and reinforced a secure middle class."

For further reading, the Institute for Research on Poverty has provided a compendium of recent research under an "Understanding Poverty" rubric.
ILLINOISTAN? I recently referred to the khanate on Lake Michigan. Now come the editorial writers for the DeKalb Chronicle with Nepotism: a mockery of democracy.
Lipinski, Stroger, Jones. Now, more than ever, Illinois politics is a family business. And by taking such good care of their children, politicians are treating the rest of us like second-class citizens.
Despite those family ties, we're still waiting for a state capital budget. (A spat between the governor and his father-in-law contributes to its delay.) Its absence manifests itself in more frequent Metra delays account deferred maintenance, and in the continuing uncertainty about the classroom building to take the place of Cole Hall.

Despite the failure of these primarily Democratic families to do the state's business, the state's electorate is probably ready to award the state's electoral votes to a scion of Cook Khanate.
GET SOMEBODY ELSE. It's anonymous, but supposedly a first-person reaction by an adjunct who, upon discovering he is insufficiently respectful of access-assessment-remediation-retention, tells headquarters to take this job and shove it.

26.8.08

A FRIVOLOUS VERSION OF VEBLEN? The Wall Street Journal's Robert Frank (not to be confused with Cornell's economist, who on occasion researches similar topics) has a weblog called The Wealth Report. He has also written a book, Richistan, whose subtitle, A Journey Through the American Wealth Boom and the Lives of the New Rich, promises more than it delivers. (So often it is with writers who think the plural of "anecdote" is "data" and that two observations a "trend" makes. Sorry, Book Review No. 37 is going to be cliched, but I'm really not in the mood for profound criticism tonight. Apparently the modest life styles of millionaires, as documented in The Millionaire Next Door, are modest because a million doesn't buy what it used to. Or so a quick visit to the gated communities and private resorts and yacht showrooms suggests. It takes a billion to get into Richistan, and that billion often comes from a business startup that the owner sells to a corporation for a large sum of money. That dynamic has been recognized in business journalism at least since "Adam Smith's" Supermoney, albeit the acquiring corporation is no longer a conglomerate, the source of the supermoney in those days, at least as long as the accountants could perpetuate the rising pattern of earnings right up to bankruptcy day. (I'm borrowing shamelessly from Supermoney for that passage.) That, however, is not the focus of Richistan. It's where the money goes: to gaudy yachts and trophy houses to house trophy wives who have to be appeased. Not a pretty picture, but in all likelihood, a small sample.

(Cross-posted to 50 Book Challenge.)
GOVERNMENT FAILURE? Hurricane recovery confronts low literacy rate.
Three years after Katrina, residents of New Orleans are still buried in a blizzard of government paperwork. But for thousands of storm victims seeking federal aid, the challenge is made more difficult by a little-known obstacle: More than 40 percent of the city's adults lack the literacy skills to comprehend basic government forms. And recovery programs have done little to ease the burden.
That 40 percent is a substantial number of people.

Rachel B. Nicolosi, program director for the Literacy Alliance of Greater New Orleans, estimates that as many as 100,000 people from New Orleans may have had assistance delayed, or they never applied for help at all, because they could not read the documents.

"It's a paramount issue. The rules are almost indecipherable for everyone," said Davida Finger, a staff attorney for Loyola University's New Orleans College of Law, which has helped 1,000 people seek rebuilding aid, nearly all of whom had trouble understanding the forms.

Simplicity is not necessarily a virtue.

But some government officials say too much plain language can leave out vital information.

"I concede the point that those who are functionally illiterate, they would have challenges with any form," said Brian Sullivan, a spokesman for the Department of Housing and Urban Development. He said the agency has trained all of its 37 staff members in New Orleans to help "those with literacy disabilities."

The National Adult Literacy Survey indicates that 25 percent of U.S. adults read at the lowest functional level, meaning, for example, that they can locate an expiration date on a driver's license but cannot fill out most motor-vehicle forms.

The failure of the government schools to produce literacy is in some cases deliberate.

The papers were so confusing that Thomas Wright drove three hours from Mississippi to talk to Road Home outreach workers.

Wright, a retired auto mechanic, graduated from high school in the 1950s and later took shop classes to get his mechanics' license. But when it came to the Road Home forms, he had to enlist friends.

"I needed help from educated people," said Wright, who is black and remembers the segregation of the city school system.

"We got your second-hand books, with half the pages torn out," he said.

The government schools of that era deliberately slighted Mr Wright. What excuse the deaducation establishment will offer for younger people also slighted remains to be seen.
Wright's generation is not the only one that's struggling. According to the Louisiana Department of Education, 42 percent of students who graduated from high school in New Orleans in 2004 had "unsatisfactory" English scores. And more than one in 10 students dropped out of high school.
I award Quote of the Day to the reaction of one man so slighted.

[Henry Lee] Burton, who earns $24,000 a year as a Wal-Mart tire shop worker, said the only assistance he received was a $3,500 payout from his renter's insurance. Two years passed before he could gather up the courage to go to the office and tell his agent he did not fully understand letters from the insurance company.

Now he has a different plan: to learn to read well enough so he does not need help.

"It's something I've always wanted to do and something I need to do," he said. "You really can't depend on the government anyway. You have to do it yourself."

I have the Democratic Convention going as background noise. So far, despite this being Hillary's night, nothing about The Village equipping its young people with the Habits of Effective People, something the New Orleans and Louisiana governments clearly failed to do.
AMERIKA ERWACHE. Oops, a different little megalomaniac.
INCENTIVES TO EXPLORE? An American Thinker article presents a chart that suggests a summertime bubble in crude oil and natural gas prices, the popping of which would discomfit would-be tsars and caudillos.
A major fall of oil prices to pre-run-up levels would severely cut the income of Russia, not to mention the oil states of the Gulf and Hugo Chavez.
To accompany the data, consider two differing perspectives on the incentives to develop new oil sources. First consider Jon Basil Utley in Reason:

In fact, the world oil shortage is political, not geological. In the U.S., the government makes it virtually impossible to drill in new areas offshore. In Nigeria, civil strife has shut down major production. In Libya and Iran, Washington effectively blockaded and isolated the nations for years to inhibit new production. In Iraq, of course, the U.S. destroyed much of the infrastructure since the first Gulf war in 1991 and then blockaded reconstruction. In nations such as Russia and Mexico nationalism and corruption curtail increased production.

Outside of developed Western countries, the single largest reason for oil "shortages" is government incompetence and ownership of the subsoil rights so that landowners don't benefit from oil discoveries. In Patagonia, Argentina (a nation with abundant oil), I was told how it was common for landowners to try to hide any evidence of oil seepages from underground, lest the government oil company come in and ruin their lands with no benefit to themselves. Private mineral rights ownership is the reason some 90 percent of all oil wells drilled have been in the U.S. Scientific advances and innovative engineers keep coming up with ways to both discover new fields and keep old ones in production almost indefinitely.

Note that discovering new fields and extending the production of old ones presuppose permanently higher crude prices, as these reserves are uneconomic to recover at lower prices.

That point escapes former Texas Railroad Commissioner Jim Hightower, who should know better.
Sure, global demand is on the increase, but under free market “law,” supply is supposed to rise to meet that need, thus holding consumer prices stable. However, here comes Oligopoly #1: oil producers. OPEC is the chief monkey wrench controlling the world’s flow of crude, and its members have refused to get off their ample rumps to ratchet up production enough to make a difference. Saudi Arabia alone could expand its output by two million barrels a day, but even presidential groveling has not moved the oil kingdom to take dramatic action. Twice this year, George W. flew there to hold hands with King Abdullah (literally—there are pictures!) and beg him to open the spigots, only to be rejected. Hold hands, yes; play footsie, no.
Cute, but wrong at the beginning and incomplete at the end. The conflation of a movement along a supply curve (increased demand implies excess demand at the old equilibrium price; a higher price is an incentive to buyers to conserve and to sellers to produce more) with a shift of the supply curve, the most charitable interpretation of "rise to meet that need, thus holding consumer prices stable" that I can come up with, is a common error among beginners that is all too often committed by pundits and policymakers. Moreover, the threat of entry can be a powerful inducement for participants in an existing collusion to defect. I think it takes a Texas Railroad Commission to prevent that defection. Mr Hightower appears to have forgotten.
Enter Oligopoly #2: oil refiners. These would be the same gentlemen who sang that free market ode to Congress. Interestingly, the refiners don’t really want crude prices to come down, because they also happen to be oil producers—ExxonMobil, for example, produces more oil than any OPEC member except Saudi Arabia and Iran.
Yes, a seller will be displeased to see the price of its product fall, but so what? Markets are environments in which resources flow to more profitable uses. It's not Exxon-Mobil that's blocking a vote on offshore oil drilling in Congress or maintaining those Iberian land-ownership rules in Patagonia.
While more expensive crude does raise Big Oil’s cost of making gasoline, so what? Thanks to a rash of mergers waved through by Washington in the past dozen years, gasoline refining and marketing are in the oligopolistic grasp of ExxonMobil, Shell, BP, and ConocoPhillips. Even as oil executives were lecturing Congress about how the free market works, they were slashing output at their refineries in order to hold supply down and jack up prices.
Last time I checked, domestic oil refining was a medium-concentrated market, one in which no further mergers would pass muster with the antitrust authorities. It's also a market that's vulnerable to price competition from newly developed sources.
SIGN OF THE TIMES? With the start of the new academic year comes survival training for lecture halls.
Hundreds of colleges across the nation have purchased a training program that teaches professors and students not to take campus threats lying down but to fight back with any "improvised weapon," from a backpack to a laptop computer.
A Metropolitan Community College (Kansas City, Mo.) professor suggests an equivalence between this training and tornado and fire preparedness.

25.8.08

SENATOR BIDEN'S ACELA. Infinite Regress reacts favorably to a frequent train rider on the Democratic ticket. Illinois Review (via Reverse Spin) is less impressed.
Indeed, had it not been for my shortsightedness in getting a regular ticket, Senator Biden would have traveled in what was essentially a private rail car. No wonder he is the number one supporter of taxpayer support of the nation’s bankrupt passenger train industry.
First class as hideaway for the influential may be the reason for Acela. Consider this Washington Monthly article that criticizes Acela for being an expensive way to run a train not a lot faster than the steam-powered Yankee Clipper that yet attracts the Powers That Be.

The bartender says that travelers are choosing Acela Express for other reasons.

Acela draws a different sort of trade, he said, gesturing around, implying that his train was expensive enough for the busy business traveler to escape crying kids, fat guys chomping on smelly sandwiches, or grandmas brandishing an endless ream of photos. Indeed, Acela just doesn't have room for those guys. It has only 304 seats, compared to 700 on the European TGV trains---another reason the tickets cost so much. By granulating its audience through fares that grow to nearly match the airlines,' Amtrak has made Acela a kind of rolling gated community, a clean, comfortable place where business can be conducted.

There's a somewhat longer passage at p. 123 of John Stilgoe's Train Time that makes the same point.
Acela offers an intellectual feast to any sociology-minded passenger, especially in first class. The train is relatively expensive to ride and its food service exorbitant, for all that the food tends to be good. When the train is not full, business-class passengers drawn to each other by visual cues -- similar books, Blackberries or other wireless devices, even upscale shopping bags or European newspapers -- often strike up conversations; they may change seats or walk to the snack car together for muffins or sandwiches or wine. The alert eavesdropper discovers that seat changes often lead to the exchange of telephone numbers or business cards. Certain recurrent phrases float through conversations, usually relating to the decided superiority of Acela trains over ordinary Amtrak ones or the freedoms offered by unassigned seats. Strangers remark to one another how discerning Acela passengers are, something that matters more and more as the sun goes down and windows become mirrors that reveal much about what money buys. Perhaps making connections among like-minded others matters a great deal to passengers in their twenties, not only in terms of career or business but socially. Acela rolls like a private club, its tickets the price of entry, and hosts a definable cohort of well-dressed, upwardly mobile men and women in their late twenties.
I could carp that tax dollars are going to underwrite first-class services contrary to the intent of the original Amtrak legislation, but that's not the point of what is becoming Book Review No. 36. Train Time's subtitle is Railroads and the Imminent Reshaping of the United States Landscape. I'm tempted to suggest that if you want the full review, all you have to do is be a regular reader of Cold Spring Shops, because the ideas in Train Time often turn up in my posts. Sometimes that's been a direct use of the material. John is an O Scaler and we have on occasion compared notes on things that run on 12" = 1' rails as well as things that run on 1/4" = 1' (or on occasion 7 mm = 1') rails. Much of the information in Train Time is in plain sight for the ferroequinologist. But a ferroequinologist with a Harvard professorship is privy to conversations among movers and shakers contemplating, for example, abandoned railway grades that have commercial potential, either for commuter lines or for new freight corridors in a way that a faculty member at a mid-major is not. Thus, one line of analysis in the book. In like manner, access to the Eastern Establishment permits confirmation of hypotheses about the ability of the well-off to buy privacy that can be formulated but not easily tested using public material such as old train timetables. I'll cut John some slack for mis-stating some of the details of the Maine service. (It is no accident that an all-sleeping car Bar Harbor Express ran until 1960, and conspiracy buffs will have to reconsider their belief in a ruling class in that Patrick McGinnis was able to gut that service, first on the New Haven and then on the Boston and Maine, without disappearing.) That quest for privacy also offered the entrepreneurial a chance to identify future sites for residential or industrial development, the observation platform of a private car offering a much better view than that available from a jet.

The first-class train is not the only instrument of reshaping, particularly in an era of rising fuel prices that will pinch regional and local air carriers. There is also the potential for bulk freight and for express, two types of traffic that are incompatible with each other and to some extent with the passenger trains. Train Time suggests (and it's easy enough for a researcher to follow up) that much of the intermodal freight network continues the old railway express business in a new guise. That Penn Central used to have van trains with MAIL symbols and that Chicago and North Western timetabled their Falcon trains as First Class was not for show: these were inheritors of the Overland Mail tradition if without express messengers and armed postal clerks. (These, too, we might see again, if regional airports close and keeping reserve planes up all night just in case a little too much "absolutely, positively" cargo hits the counter in Chico or Chicago gets too expensive. A train with a crew that can sort and set off parcels at intermediate stops, often without stopping, can get it to a lot of places overnight.) Professor Stilgoe concludes by suggesting that many of the dot.com profits are being invested, or being held to be invested, in new railroads.

Now, if we could get rid of those cartel-era speed restrictions (and the book has some insights on who made those happen. Hint: the public roads are not safe for 100 mph driving, and faster trains increase the shortest-possible-profitable-hop for airplanes.)

(Cross-posted to 50 Book Challenge).
TEACH THE CONTROVERSIES. A Chicago Tribune editorial refers to the one-off tax rebates as False stimulus.
How do we know? Because we just tried it. In February, faced with a mortgage crisis and a housing bust, our leaders in Washington agreed on a $168 billion package, consisting mostly of $1,200-per-family rebate checks that went out in the spring. Today, it's clear that expensive palliative solved nothing.

Harvard's Martin Feldstein, the head of the National Bureau of Economic Research, was one of the many economists who urged this sort of program last winter. But in a recent article in The Wall Street Journal, he announced that he was wrong.

The idea was to put money into the pockets of consumers, who would spend it, providing a needed infusion to companies that make and sell goods and services. But Feldstein says it didn't work. "Recent government statistics show that only between 10 percent and 20 percent of the rebate dollars were spent," he wrote. "The rebates added nearly $80 billion to the permanent national debt but less than $20 billion to consumer spending."
The editors then offer analysis, purportedly their own.
That's not really surprising. When workers get a wage or salary increase, they spend more than before because they know they can afford it. But when people get a modest one-time windfall, they usually put most of it in the bank or use it to pay off debts.
That analysis, however, is not original. It's the permanent income hypothesis (more technical exposition here) that figures prominently in Milton Friedman's Nobel credentials.

And hence, it gives me an opportunity to weigh in on the controversy over the University of Chicago's proposed Milton Friedman Institute, which draws opposition based on perceived inequities in departmental funding and perceived support for oppressive Third World governments.

After the last year of protests, meetings and mud slinging over the under funding of graduate students in the Humanities and Social Sciences, we were all rather dismayed to discover that although the good ol’ powers that be can’t afford to give us health care, they can afford to build a whopping great big new centre for the economists. Because those guys are in such a precarious position they need a little extra cash.

Aside from being pissed off at the unfairness of it, though, there are some more fundamental objections to the new centre. There are other departments at the UoC that have great reputations, but all of us carry this collective milestone round our neck that threatens to disrupt and discredit us at any moment: the reputation of the Chicago School of Economics. That the new centre will be actively continuing the work, as well as baring the name, of Milton Friedman has been a bit of a kick in the teeth.

I suppose a workshop on "Empirical Support for the Permanent Income Hypothesis" at the institute would dismay the opponents of the center, for not paying sufficient attention to those grievances.

The center also draws opposition based on perceived influence-selling.
Friedman, of course, was one of the twentieth century's most influential and controversial economists, an extoller of free market power and a hater of governmental regulation. Fittingly, the university plans to underwrite the institute's cost with donations from the private sphere; perhaps less fittingly, those who contribute more than one million dollars will have the right to participate in the institute's academic deliberations.
As another aside, I've never understood this "hater of governmental regulation" line of argument. Pointing out the inefficiencies of excessively precise attempts to regulate, such as the certificates of public convenience and necessity that midwived empty trucks running in opposite directions on the same road does not generalize to abolishing the right-of-way rules for roads. And although Professor Friedman did mention transport and telecommunication regulation in Free to Choose, we're really talking about the work of Ronald Coase and Richard Epstein and Sam Peltzman more than that of Milton Friedman when we get into unanticipated and unintended consequences of such regulation.

There are further reactions to the objections to the proposal at the Semi-Daily Journal, and two roundups at Truth on the Market. Ilya Somin of Volokh Conspiracy observes,
I teach at the George Mason University School of Law. That doesn't lead anyone to assume that I or the university as a whole endorse Mason's opposition to the Constitution or his other political views. Everyone understands that the university is named after Mason to honor his achievements, not to express agreement with his opinions.
There is a crucial distinction here: presumably one does not have to place special emphasis on George Mason's objections to the Constitution in a constitutional law class. A macroeconomics working group at the Milton Friedman Institute, on the other hand, would be remiss not to consider the permanent income hypothesis or A Monetary History of the United States. By the same token, it would be remiss not to consider possible repercussions from big-bang privatizations, whether of Chilean public pensions or of Soviet steel firms.

There are further reactions to the debate at The Torch and University Diaries and from Sherman Dorn, who notes,

The faculty point out that the investment of $200 million in this new entity will privilege a certain view of markets associated with Friedman, a point that seems to be without too much controversy. But they talk about it in terms of "the interests of equity and balance" and ask the university "to provide roughly equivalent resources for critical scholarly work that seeks out alternatives to recent economic, social, and political developments."

The point could be sharpened by talking about the academic losses involved in the massive investment in a single perspective: Isn't behavioral economics one of the most exciting fields in economics and one that will be entirely ignored by the Milton Friedman Institute? To put the issue in standard neoclassical language, the opportunity cost of building the Milton Friedman Institute is the investment not going into building up the university's economics research in other areas, including behavioral economics, public economics, and so forth. To me, it seems like a deliberate institutional risk to put so much of one's resources into a single academic approach to any field.

I'm sympathetic to arguments that those "alternatives to recent economic, social, and political developments" are the default position in much of the rest of the academy, despite their empty empirical content, although it is not my intent to refight the culture wars tonight.

On the other hand, to suggest that a Milton Friedman Institute would offer no research opportunities for behavioral or public economics is to demonstrate only a superficial understanding of Milton Friedman's, or Chicago's, economic thinking.
THE TORCH HAS BEEN PASSED. Chicago's promoters continue to make the case for the 2016 Summer Olympics. A Milwaukee radio station suggests setting the events to the north. The United States representatives earned high marks for sportsmanship, with basketball's "redeem team" being praised for their support for other teams.

On the lighter side, a Chicago Tribune article proposes scaling the medals, based on the ease of the sport. The 100m sprint rates the smallest medal?? On the other hand, "Sure it takes great vision and steady nerves, but so does needlepoint" perfectly characterized the 10-meter air pistol competition. Olympic gold?? The stakes are ordinarily a teddy bear at the midway. I think, though, that decathlon ought to rank ahead of balance beam. I'd have to look up the name of this year's champion, from the U.S. Once upon a time (Bob Mathias, Bruce Jenner) that winner got a Wheaties box or (Rafer Johnson) to advise Bobby Kennedy. To be sure, balance beam is challenging, but the description, "The field measures a stingy 10-centimeters wide and is obscured by your feet. Every movement counts—and is scrutinized under a spotlight with thousands of spectators staring down at you. One slip of the pinky toe and …" misses one thing. I recall a commentator during the all-around competition noting that eventual beam champion Shawn Johnson got marked down for not looking enough like a gymnast. Over the weekend, I observed a barrow competition that used similar criteria ("this pig is a bit narrow in the middle.") In the former case, the configuration of the competitor ought not affect the evaluation of the competitor's maneuvers. In the latter case the configuration of the competitor affects how much bacon the competitor brings home.

There's a difference. But then, I've developed skepticism about a number of those judged displays that have become Olympic events. I think it goes back to "8.9, 9.1, and an 8.2 from the Soviet judge." Didn't matter if that was figure skating or gymnastics.

24.8.08

HELPING THE SCHOOL HEAL. Zach Seward and his brothers continue their studies at Northern Illinois. Tim Mayerbock has left the football team although as far as I know he is continuing his studies. Classes resume Monday.
THE SOUNDS OF FREEDOM. The Arizona Commemorative Air Force's Sentimental Journey returned to DeKalb for this year's Cornfest, which relocated to the airport.


A short ride was on offer for a consideration of $425.



I understand all the arguments for a radar-invisible plane that you can't hear coming. All the same, I imagine a German, hearing a few hundred of these coming his way, and knowing there was little he could do (and nothing Fatso Hermann could do) about it had to concentrate the mind.
NOT RAILROAD AWARE? When Senator Obama introduced Senator Biden as his vice-presidential pick, he praised Senator Biden for his regular "lonely train ride" from Washington, D.C. to Wilmington, Delaware. That's as lonely as an Acela Express can be. (I'm surmising that the senator uses the Acela Express, probably in First at the urging of his protection detail.) Acela Express timings Washington - Wilmington are 72 minutes to 77 minutes, depending on whether that train stops at New Carrollton (Capital Beltway) and on the presence of commuter trains. That's not a bad commute: your Boston techie with a place in Grafton or your Chicago option trader from Geneva has more minutes on the train, as does your New York Master of the Universe riding the by-subscription parlor car to the Hamptons.

That, however, is not the supposedly rail-friendly nominee-to-be's most egregious mischaracterization of the railroads. Credit there goes to an observation about China that Riehl World View has pounced on.
Their ports, their train systems, their airports are vastly superior to us now, which means if you are a corporation deciding where to do business you’re starting to think, “Beijing looks like a pretty good option."
Yes, China is installing high-speed rail from Pekin to the coast, but for business logistics, that might not be determinative. This is the China that, to save money, equipped its new Jingpeng Pass route with steam locomotives (keep scrolling) cascaded from other lines. A few of those steam locomotives have since found new homes to raise railroad awareness in the U.S. And yes, China has recently built a mountain-climbing railroad into Tibet (keep scrolling). That railroad uses General Electric diesels, built in Erie, Pennsylvania, where the manufacturer has lots of expertise providing power to lift far more tonnage over Horseshoe Curve or Sherman Hill or Cajon Pass or Marias Pass.

21.8.08

COOK KHANATE. State Senate Majority Leader Emil Jones is the latest Cook County public official to anoint a son or daughter as successor (the succession having been ratified by allied khans and pakhans.) John Kass of the Chicago Tribune provides the history.
THEY DIDN'T TAG TRAINS IN SINGAPORE. Get caught, get caned. Europe is another matter.

While other tourists were sightseeing in Europe this summer, Jim Clay Harper and Danielle Bremner spray-painted their way across the continent, police say.

Investigators suspect the couple put their respective graffiti tags — "Ether" and "Dani" — on train cars in London; Madrid, Spain; Paris; Frankfurt and Hamburg, Germany, and elsewhere starting in May. When they flew home this week, police officers greeted them with handcuffs.

Bremner was arrested at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport on a warrant alleging a graffiti spree that caused tens of thousands of dollars in property damage to New York's transit system. She was being held there Thursday while awaiting extradition to New York.

Harper pleaded not guilty on Wednesday to related charges of felony criminal mischief and burglary after being arrested at John F. Kennedy International Airport. He was released without bail.

Not guilty. I'm surprised the culture-studies weenies haven't already protested the censorship of an authentic art form.

In this case, the charges are felonies because of the degree of damage they are accused of causing.

Bremner, 26, a native New Yorker who attended the Fashion Institute of Technology and also goes by the tag "Utah," has been under investigation for nearly two years, Cooper said. After putting her under surveillance, investigators learned that she was dating Harper, another member of a graffiti underground known for hyping its exploits by posting photos on the Internet, he said.

Harper, 23, of Chicago, was a member of Made U Look, a graffiti crew notorious for plastering a parked subway train top to bottom with a Monopoly board game motif during an overnight raid in late 2006, Cooper said.

"No piece of that train was left uncovered," he said.

Perhaps if the transit authorities would stop selling whole-train advertising space they'd have a better case against what is vandalism, no matter what some latte-sipping aesthetes would have you believe. And perhaps if the latte-sipping aesthetes would stop defining "art" by "context" and "celebrating transgressivity" there'd be less temptation to treat car sides as rolling MFA exhibitions.
I WANT THOSE AMERICAN FLYER CARS. Senator Durbin has become an advocate for expanding Amtrak.

The Democrat's proposal includes seeking authorization for Amtrak to issue up to $2.8 billion in bonds annually to pay for such projects. He also says he'd like to see Illinois as one of the centers of a rejuvenated industry.

Durbin spoke today in Chicago between meetings with Amtrak president Alex Kummant.

Kummant says ridership is expected to boom further from around 25 million riders a year now to 50 million in ten years.

He says that means Amtrak's current fleet of 1,500 passengers cars and 400 locomotives would have to double.

Here are my candidate cars (keep scrolling). I'd like to see more sleepers, club cars, and consideration of dome cars.

The Chicago - Rockford - Dubuque train is part of this expansion.
SAIL TO THE SHIFT. Laser sailor Anna Tunnicliffe did, to win Olympic Gold.

The quality of the sailing competition is as good as ever, despite the lack of wind and the polluted water. On the other hand, a collection of competitions that includes an event for what I knew as spider bikes is a degraded competition. What's Chinese for Everything Turns to S***?
SELLING THE OPPORTUNITY TO DISENGAGE? In the Wall Street Journal, Charles Murray claims For Most People, College Is a Waste of Time.

The BA acquired its current inflated status by accident. Advanced skills for people with brains really did get more valuable over the course of the 20th century, but the acquisition of those skills got conflated with the existing system of colleges, which had evolved the BA for completely different purposes.

Outside a handful of majors -- engineering and some of the sciences -- a bachelor's degree tells an employer nothing except that the applicant has a certain amount of intellectual ability and perseverance. Even a degree in a vocational major like business administration can mean anything from a solid base of knowledge to four years of barely remembered gut courses.

The solution is not better degrees, but no degrees. Young people entering the job market should have a known, trusted measure of their qualifications they can carry into job interviews. That measure should express what they know, not where they learned it or how long it took them. They need a certification, not a degree.

The Pope Center's George Leef concurs.

Throughout our whole educational system, we are “asking too much from those at the bottom, asking the wrong things from those in the middle, and asking too little from those at the top,” he maintains. From kindergarten to college and from the smartest students to the dullest, our education system underperforms.

What is the matter with higher education in America? The main problem is that most students go to college because they think it’s the best or only path to a good job. Unfortunately, Murray argues, it hardly ever makes sense to go to a traditional four-year college simply to acquire vocational skills: “For the student who wants to become a good hotel manager, software designer, accountant, hospital administrator, farmer, high school teacher, social worker, journalist, optometrist, interior designer, or football coach, four years of class work is ridiculous."

I dissent in part from this line of thinking. I will not go so far as to concur with two dissenters Inside Higher Ed retained to rebut Mr Murray. First up, Kevin Carey, very much of the deaducationist establishment, as evidenced by his internally inconsistent piece. Here's what might be the peroration.
It’s wrong to say that too many students are going to college. Too few are going, particularly those from disadvantaged communities. The history of American education is one long series of decisions to open up the halls of academia to students who, at the time, were looked down upon as undeserving. The naysayers have been disproven, over and over again. More broadly, our nation has long had an usually open economy and education system, one that puts a premium on second and third chances and shies away from giving the government power to shut citizens out of educational opportunities based on some imperfect estimate of “ability.” Again, the wisdom of this philosophy in hindsight seems clear.
That language about disproving the naysayers fails to convince in the face of the high proportion of matriculants in remedial classes, the high attrition rate, administrative handwringing about retention, and the replacement of the B.A. with the M.A. as the credential for more responsible jobs. (Is there any other business that gets away with selling a defective product and then selling an upgrade in the same way that education has allowed the high school diploma to become a ticket for time served, the baccalaureate to become all too often the new high school diploma, and the master's degree possibly producing what the baccalaureate once represented?)

Concurrently, the deaducationist establishment has helped keep the disadvantaged communities disadvantaged, by turning Habits of Effective People into socially-constructed technologies of control. When lottery winners blow through their winnings in a short time and return to their poor state, it's a habit of mind, not a lack of money, that has put them there.

Robert Perry of the South Dakota Board of Regents (nothing like trolling the bottom of the academic food chain to refute Mr Murray, who is questioning the privileges at the top) continues.

  • The U.S. Department of Labor reports that the country needs more graduates if we are to keep up with, let alone lead, other nations in the global economy.
  • By the end of the next president’s first term, there will be three million more jobs requiring bachelor’s degrees and not enough college graduates to fill them.
  • 90 percent of the fastest growing job categories, including software engineers, physical therapists, and preschool teachers, 60 percent of all new jobs, and 40 percent of manufacturing jobs will all require some form of postsecondary education.
I'm skeptical of those "compete in the global economy arguments," thanks to some careful work by Paul Krugman in Pop Internationalism. There's no necessary connection between U.S. employers wanting to hire more degree holders and degree holders from U.S. universities filling those jobs; indeed the brain drain from underdeveloped to developed countries is pushed by the corruption and political incompetence of the source countries and pulled by the failure of the host countries' education system to do the job. Consider also the possibility that those elementary school teacher shortages reflect the horrible working conditions and poor pay for people who haven't already walked away from what passes for teacher education these days.

Continuing in a less polemical vein, that third point concedes ("some form of postsecondary education") Mr Murray's main point. The same is true of the elaboration in the paragraph that follows.
We need more, not fewer university and community college graduates, even in rural states like mine. South Dakota’s aging population will require 30 percent more health care workers in the coming decades — and those workers will require degrees. We’re also facing a teacher shortage; educators of all levels need postsecondary education to successfully command and manage a classroom, let alone impart wisdom on elementary and secondary students. Our state also lacks accountants, and the industry has informed us that tomorrow’s professionals will require 150 hours of postsecondary education to successfully complete the Certified Public Accountant’s exam.
I wonder, also, whether Mr Perry's assessments of South Dakota's higher education square with this expectation.
Higher education allows people of all backgrounds to hone their writing, reading, cognitive and critical thinking skills that enable them to actively participate as citizens. Not everyone who completes a four-year degree will be able to write like William Faulkner — and some may argue that’s a good thing. But the papers students have to research and write in college are valuable and marketable experiences to future employers who need workers who can craft memos, reports and strategic plans, all valuable skills in the knowledge economy. Moreover, people with postsecondary degrees also tend to be healthier, are more productive throughout their work lives, are more engaged in their communities, more philanthropic and are less likely to be involved in crime.
All true, at one time. Many of those writing, reading, cognitive and critical thinking skills used to be the responsibility of the high schools. Thirty or forty years of access-assessment-remediation-retention has taken the onus off the high schools, and the universities' efforts to do the high schools' work are uneven at best.
BUYING THE RIGHT TO DISENGAGE. Slacker logic from Canada.

Second year Concordia University commerce student Matthew Pitts bought his first laptop three years ago — already ancient in computer years — and it is his steady companion. Pitts said it’s not always classroom business being conducted behind the laptop.

“Sure, there’s some Facebooking going on and checking e-mail, but if you want to do that in class, fine. After all you’re paying for the course so if you fail because you goofed off in class with your laptop instead of paying attention, whose fault is it?”

Margaret Soltan calls that a stupid argument.

This is a popular line among US college students too. Let’s recall what’s wrong with it.

Chances are your parents, not you, are paying for your college education. Chances are we, the taxpayers, are helping them out. The image of the rugged individualist assuming the blame for his or her class fuckupery is attractive but false. Lots of other people end up paying for the waste of a good college that you represent.

On moving-in day we offer the following advice to new and returning students.
Your professor’s awareness that you and others in the room are ignoring everything she attempts to offer is galling, upsetting, distracting. When she calls on you, your eyes have a soft heavy something that tells her you’ve been sucking an online nipple. She finds the pathos of this depressing, and it’s beginning to affect her teaching.
When we call our students out for paying more attention to their electronic shackles than to the course, it's business, not personal.
BRIDGE OUT. The Keslinger Road bridge over the Kishwaukee River failed Wednesday afternoon. Although the bridge is close to a pipeline construction zone, it is speculation at this time whether earth movement or extra wear from construction traffic contribute to the failure.

The Coltonville and Old State Road bridges are next to be replaced.

19.8.08

AUGMENTING RAILROAD AWARENESS. With higher fuel prices and air carrier retrenchments, where there's a passenger train, there will be people. When the passenger train has a steam locomotive, there will also be spectators. June's rains forced a postponement of the Milwaukee 261 reprise of the Wisconsin Dells excursion from late June until last weekend. There was a bit of rain on Sunday morning, but most of the ride was under sunny conditions. This engine was never streamlined, although the solid pilot does add a hint of speed, and it contrasts well with the stays on the Sixth Street viaduct.


We made a good start from Milwaukee and a good assault of the ridge west of Wauwatosa. The dispatcher sent us on the more steeply-graded line which caught many Brookfield-area trainspotters by surprise. (Your best bet to railfan a rare move is to wait at Elm Grove or at Brookfield rather than attempt to outguess the dispatcher on the split-grade.) Then we started to roll, as this video of Oconomowoc attests.



This trip, unlike the one offered two years ago, did not make servicing stops in Columbus, or at Portage westbound. We did stop in the Wyocena siding to adjust sticking brakes. Despite that stop, the train reached Wisconsin Dells five minutes before the planned 11.30 arrival. Here's the traditional view of a Hiawatha leaving Wisconsin Dells. I was at lunch when the eastbound Empire Builder went through. It reached Chicago five minutes late that Sunday.



The 261 organization has now supplied information about those Boston and Maine-looking coaches. They are Pennsylvania Railroad Congressional series coaches that Amtrak rebuilt as 76 seat "Clocker" cars for the service that officially wasn't commuter trains between New York and Philadelphia.

There's enough time in the Dells for one of the short boat cruises, or a leisurely lunch, but not both. The way the train and the railroad performed, a faster timing or a timing with a later Dells departure are possible. One of the passengers, a gentleman with railroad experience, told me Canadian Pacific was extending sidings and replacing the second track on the line west of Brookfield.

The New Lisbon trip appeared to be well-patronized, and it returned with time to spare to board and get underway for Portage, where a servicing stop had been planned.

A passenger pointed out this crime scene facing the tracks across Oneida Street. There's no such thing as getting away from it all.


Once the servicing is finished, the train leaves Portage. It is fitting that the servicing stop is at Portage, which was the east end of the fastest scheduled steam timing in the world, Sparta to Portage with the Morning Hiawatha.



We took siding west of Watertown for a freight train. At Nashotah, the westbound Empire Builder was waiting for us. We probably put on quite the show for its passengers. The show continued past Pewaukee Lake. Look closely, you'll see the pirate on a pier, and some new rip-rap suggesting the severity of the rain in June.



Despite some extremely slow running from Hawley Road east to Milwaukee, our arrival was at 5.25 against the expected 6 pm. Chicago passengers, if any, would have been able to catch the 5.45 Hiawatha.

Thus ended a pleasant late-summer train ride, and some of the train crew were talking about seeing us all next year.
FIFTY-FOUR-FORTY, NO FIGHT; THIRTY-SIX-THIRTY, BIG FIGHT. I suspect Peter the Great, who fought Livonians, Poles, and Swedes to secure his window to the West, would have appreciated How the States Got Their Shapes, which earns an enthusiastic Book Review No. 35 despite some of author Mark Stein's quirky asides about public policy.

Although many of the European powers had established colonies by 1650, the areas of North America that were actively supplying resources to their mother countries were small compared to the areas that the European powers had explored. The explorations suggested that those areas ought be claimed, and the claims backed up by force if necessary. Thus, this Encarta map shows the situation as of the mid-eighteenth century, by which time the British had tossed the Dutch out of North America and held temporary possession of Spanish Florida.



The outlines of the Mississippi Valley states are present along the river, which makes sense, and a natural frontier between continental powers provides a logical boundary between sovereign yet United States. (I suppose we should be grateful there's no Prussian colony in the Mississippi Valley, the thought of a country-and-western version of Wacht am Rhein boggles the mind!) But look west. The Russian territory looks something like Oregon and Washington. There's logic to that. The Russians and the Spanish implicity agreed to send their respective shipments westward through the Puget Sound and the San Francisco Bay watersheds, and when the British moved into Russian claims, their diplomats concluded agreements with Spain to divide at 42o N. Lat., today's California-Oregon border, and with Russia to divide at 54o 40' N. Lat., the southern tip of Alaska.

The British had designs for all of North America, which were evident in this British map from 1755.


King Charles II set the boundary between Virginia and North Carolina at 36o 30' N. Lat., to give Virginia all of Chesapeake Bay and North Carolina all of Albemarle Sound, thereby permitting each colony to tax its own seaborne commerce. That boundary thus becomes the Kentucky-Tennessee state line, and it much later separates Missouri from Arkansas and figures in defining the Oklahoma and Texas panhandles. (For the Republic of Texas to annex itself to the United States as a slave state, it had to be south of 36o 30' N. Lat. under the still-in-force Missouri Compromise.) The map is somewhat less precise to the north, where Connecticut also claimed a Western Reserve all the way to the Mississippi, and where there were no islands east of Isle Royale (the British negotiator of the 1783 treaty didn't know that, but Benjamin Franklin did). Those colonial boundaries, however, existed to hem in the Puritans (a king named Charles would have good reason to do that) and to keep New Hampshirites from coveting Canada, particularly the recently conquered French Canada. Then came the War of Independence, which gave Vermont the opportunity to declare its independence from New York.

And thus thirteen colonies become thirteen states, with some of British North America ceded as the Northwest Territory. That boundary became 49o N. Lat. west of Lake of the Woods (and thus the closest thing to a U.S. enclave in Canada), a parallel that would ultimately be the international boundary to Puget Sound. The former colonies agreed to turn some of their claims to the territories into potential new states, which Congress expected to be a source of additional tax revenues (Mr Stein does not revisit that hypothesis in light of the Homestead Act) as well as of additional pro- or anti-slavery delegations in Congress.

East of the Mississippi River, Congress struck a balance between equalizing opportunities and simplifying governance; thus the Pennsylvania Corridor to Lake Erie (again, let us be grateful there were no German colonies) as well as lake access for Indiana, Illinois, and Minnesota. The promoters of the Illinois Territory obtained the northern border they did in order to be able to build canals to the Great Lakes, bounded by free states, rather than depend on shipping goods down the Mississippi River through slave states. Where boundaries deviate from rivers, these tend to follow parallels or meridians from locations beyond which the river no longer crosses that parallel or meridian, precluding isolated pieces of a state with inconvenient access for law enforcement. And, come the Civil War, the West Virginians, who tended to be mountaineers outvoted in the legislature by proxy-buying slaveholders (the perverse logic of the three-fifths compromise at work) used the inconvenience posed by Genl McClellan's first command to follow Vermont's example during the War of Independence and leave Virginia.

To the west, the principles still applied, although with more focus on equalizing outcome. King Charles's line ends with Oklahoma, and the panhandle using the 37th parallel permits three four-degree or four three-degree states from that parallel to the Canadian boundary. Congress also intended that states cover six or seven degrees of longitude, subject to administrative constraints (which included fencing in Mormons, no doubt to the amusement of the ghosts of King Charles II and King George II, separating the miners from the farmers, and keeping jurisdictions on the same bank of the river.) Only in Colorado and Wyoming did the other constraints not govern, permitting two states that look rectangular on a Mercator projection.

The exceptions to the Western grid pattern turn out to be only Texas and California, which were originally independent republics that sought membership (shall I say Anschluss?) in the Union without going through the steps from territorial status to statehood that Congress had set up.

The book was a treat to read, despite the author's occasional internally-inconsistent asides about public policy and the wisdom of Congress. That noted, I have two gripes. First, a bit more technical material would help in places. Consider the western border of Maine, which, rather than follow the 71st meridian north from the source of the Salmon Falls River, runs two degrees west of (magnetic?) north for 120 miles. Mr Stein explains (p. 123)

The problem with "just north" is that the earth is not flat. If this boundary were truly due north, its line would appear curved on a flat map. To compensate, boundaries were often stipulated as some few number of degrees east or west of north.

That curvature is an artifact of the projection being used. On a Mercator projection, a meridian bears true (rather than magnetic) north and it appears as a straight line. On other projections, straight lines pose challenges, particularly where variation of longitude is concerned.

My second gripe is with the organization of the book. Alphabetical order is traditional at political conventions, as well as convenient to the casual reader who will pick up the book and flip to his or her home state. It works less well for the serious reader, who is continually encountering reminders to consult "DON'T SKIP THIS" (a prologue explaining some but not all of the colonial treaties and Congressional compromises that gave the map its structure) or "For more details turn (forward or backward) to CONNECTICUT." A presentation of states in the order by which their territories were created would make more sense. It then becomes a matter of elimination how the Dakotas or Oklahoma or Arizona or for that matter Wisconsin come to be.

(Cross-posted to 50 Book Challenge).

CAN'T CARRY WATER FOR A PATTERNMAKER. No matter how many times I explain this, somebody screws it up.
Businesses and unions face the challenge of "overcoming the perception that blue-collar trades offer less status, money and chance for advancement than white-collar jobs, and that college is the best investment for everyone."

Showing its business aspect, an IBEW local has produced a YouTube video that encourages young people to consider electrical apprenticeship rather than college. Pretty good advice.
Let's take a closer look at the source.
Since January, the U.S. has lost 463,000 jobs. Residential construction and manufacturers that rely primarily on the U.S. market have been hit especially hard.

But the energy industry is hard up for workers who, among other things, can make precision welds, fit pipes for pipelines and oil refineries, and understand the complex electrical wiring in modern power plants. Though the weak housing market has idled many workers who did similar jobs for home builders, their skills often aren't sharp enough to make the cut.
Something tells me the corner-cutters and excuse-mongers that provide Rate Your Students material will be dangerous to themselves and anyone else nearby in any work that involves power tools or electricity or large engines. Heck, a lot of honor students and professors are dangerous to themselves in such situations.
OBSERVATION OF THE DAY. University Diaries.
“You have a much more serious deer problem there than we do here, because you don’t allow hunting.”
"There" refers to the oh-so-gun-free Bethesda, Maryland, and "here" refers to the Adirondacks.
KISHWAUKEE RIVER CLEARED OF ALLIGATORS. The hunter prefers not to be identified.
The small alligator that has been evading DeKalb County Animal Control officers for weeks was caught Tuesday afternoon by an area resident, animal control warden Dan Berres said.

The animal, which had been described as a young alligator about 3 feet long, was caught near where the Northern Illinois University lagoon empties into the Kishwaukee River about 1 p.m. Tuesday. It was first sighted about three weeks ago in the same area, and subsequent sightings were also in that part of the river, Berres said.

“Someone had some sort of weighted net and decided to go out looking for it,” Berres said. “He went out and tossed it and got lucky, then he called us and said he’d caught the alligator.”

18.8.08

IN A LAND THAT'S KNOWN AS FREEDOM, HOW CAN SUCH A THING BE FAIR? Won't you please write to Chicago for the help that you can bring.
Please consider contacting the president of the University of Illinois system, B. Joseph White, to ask him to take immediate public steps to insure the safety of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge records, to release the identity of the collection’s donor, and above all to swiftly make the collection available.
That's the president of the University of Illinois system,

If you ask his staff to help you, will they turn the other ear?

More details of the library's unwillingness to share are here. The archive is bound and gagged.
The Special Collections section of the Richard J. Daley Library agreed to let me read them, but just before I boarded my flight to Chicago, the top library officials mysteriously intervened to bar access. Circumstances strongly suggest the likelihood that Bill Ayers himself may have played a pivotal role in this denial. Ayers has long taught at UIC, where the Chicago Annenberg Challenge offices were housed, rent-free. Ayers likely arranged for the files of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge to be housed in the UIC library, and may well have been consulted during my unsuccessful struggle to gain access to the documents.
Open up the door!

(And yes, I take pleasure in using Graham Nash's lyrics to structure my post.)
IS BERTRAND COMPETITION FOR MEN EVOLUTIONARILY STABLE? That question goes unanswered in Tim Harford's The Logic of Life, reviewed here. Now comes Dr. Helen, the beneficiary of a nepotistic instalanche, proposing a more colorful version of the Bertrand competition. There are dissenting perspectives in the ensuing bull session. There's something missing in a mating model in which the sole criterion for a match is the willingness of the providers in excess supply to put out, to put it bluntly. Shouldn't an excess supply of women at colleges be an incentive for intellectually active women, or women of high integrity, to signal those characteristics as well?

15.8.08

SING, SING, SING. I'm sure most of my readers could identify the Benny Goodman piece that's still popular with collegiate pep bands (and I've heard a steel band arrangement of it on campus.) For your listening pleasure, here's the original.
LESSONS APPLIED. Book Review No. 34 is Jeff Shaara's The Steel Wave, the second of a planned three novels of World War II. His previous The Rising Tide, reviewed here, follows some real and some fictional characters from North Africa into Italy. Many of the principal characters are now preparing for the cross-Channel invasion, which will come. The story begins with an intelligence-gathering raid on the Normandy coast and it ends with Field Marshal Erwin Rommel's suicide. Some of the principal characters, historical and imagined, are dead, and some are preparing for the next set of battles. As several of the main characters are paratroopers, the third book, if there is to be one, will likely make readers aware of the bridge too far and of Bastogne.

(Cross-posted to 50 Book Challenge).
I HEAR YOU WENT UP TO SARATOGA. The Boston connection to the Lake Shore had an extra car, the former Port of Vancouver, a Great Northern Railway parlor-observation once used on the Seattle - Vancouver Internationals, now running as City of Spokane, on the hind end on July 29. (The Boston extension of the Lake Shore also had this car on July 22, although conditions were not conducive to photography that day).



The car was still sitting in the Albany yard when 49 departed, on time, for Chicago. Sleeper passengers are served dinner at Albany. My tablemates were speculating on whether the car was carrying passengers for the races. Possible, but unlikely. The Boston train arrives in Albany just before the evening Rutland train, which would go to Saratoga, although that train arrived and left with no effort of a switcher to cut the car off 449 and add it to that train. The Montreal to New York train and an Empire Service train also showed up at Albany, and, once again, the limitations of the new Albany station were evident. If somebody at Amtrak or the New York Department of Transportation ever got serious about tightening the schedules and providing connections, there wouldn't be space in the station for the trains or for the passengers.

The potential is there. The Boston train arrives in time for a passenger to ride Springfield to Saratoga or Pittsfield to Rutland, if the passenger is patient (drive time, even with a refreshment stop someplace, is faster even though those journeys are the long way around on the interstates). The reverse connection is available, although with a LOOOOONG layover in Rensselaer (the downside of Albany-Rensselaer is it's distance from urban amenities, perhaps what Penn Central had in mind when it moved out of the Albany station). A passenger intending to ride the rails from Montreal to Chicago and points west also has the option (there no longer being any kind of cross-border connection Detroit - Windsor or Port Huron - Sarnia) of connecting in Albany, but the reverse connection is not available (the best one can do is to transfer to the Maple Leaf in Buffalo and spend the night in Toronto as the overnight Cavalier is long gone from the timetable). If I had the power to send Amtrak administrators to detention, I'd make the miscreants write "The value of a passenger service is in the intermediate community pairs that can be served directly or with reliable and rapid connections by multiple trains" a hundred times or so.

So to the trip: there wasn't a lot of time to write down car numbers and I opted to turn in early, although the planking at level crossings and the alignment of the switch frogs (oddly, in the straight direction) contributed to a restless night. Schenectady 7.25.16 - 7.31.03 (check the tickets ON the train!), Utica 8.45.27 - 8.48.03, Syracuse 9.38.23 - 9.46.30, on 30 July and on Norfolk Southern it's slow orders across western Ohio; Bryan 7.48.28 - 7.51.20, Waterloo 8.13.06 - 8.14.45, Elkhart 9.05.21 - 9.06.45 (if there's no longer a crew change here, why not consolidate the stations at the still-standing downtown South Bend station?), South Bend 9.39.45 - 9.42.18, more slow running, arrive Chicago 10.30.23 Central.

I've turned up a few other weblog train reports. Here's a recent ride from Detroit to Chicago with the tease of a continuation to St. Louis ("The value of a passenger service ...") and an installment of a ride on the California Zephyr.

DEJA VU. During last night's all-around gymnastics event, where the gold and silver medals went to U.S. competitors after a closely contested event, the commentators were griping about the judging, Nellie Kim (in some kind of official capacity) was offering technical advice to the judges, and a strong Russian performance led one of the commentators to observe that the Russian program had regained some of its swagger.

In the same week that the Prison House of Nations seeks a restoration of its suzerainty in the khanates, that, dear reader, may be no accident.
WE CAN'T BLAME THIS ON GLOBAL WARMING? There's an alligator in the Kishwaukee River.

Forget the urban legend about alligators in the sewer. There's a real crocodilian swimming in the Kishwaukee River.

“It's true. We've seen it,” said Bob Drake, director of environmental health at the DeKalb County Health Department. “It's just a little bitty thing, only about 3 feet long, that somebody let go.”

Although exotic pets (whatever that means) are illegal, that doesn't stop people from buying them (and sometimes getting more than they bargain for).

We have yet to record a 90 degree day this summer. Animal control officers hope to bring the 'gator in before the Gales of November do their work.
PHOTO FINISH. In tonight's Olympic swimming, Michael Phelps overtook Milorad Cavic at the wall. The 0.01 second margin of victory represents the tolerance of the equipment. It was really close, and the outcome called forth a protest from the Serbian coach. There apparently was conclusive visual evidence to uphold the victory. Mr Cavic apparently counted on enough momentum to win, while Mr Phelps took what the announcers called a "half stroke." The 'fly doesn't look conducive to quick alterations in one's motion, undoubtedly the swimmers do work on such things.

Also at the pool, Cesar Cielo Filho's free-throw-shooter ritual worked well enough for him to win again.

14.8.08

GOD HELPS THOSE WHO HELP THEMSELVES. Postings are slow tonight as I'm switching attention between the Olympics (one might as well kick back a bit the night before contracts start) and the internet. In one of the swimming sprints, Brazilian Cesar Cielo Filho crossed himself a couple of times before racing (he won that heat). I remember when that was a habit of more than a few high school basketball players at the free throw line.
POLITICAL ECONOMY STILL MATTERS. Hunter Lewis's Are the Rich Necessary? Great Economic Arguments and How They Reflect Our Personal Values offers a partial case. This Book Review No. 33 is less-than-impressed as the treatment is uneven and the organization is backwards. Toward the end, the author offers a cursory survey of what he terms "competing economic value systems" he classifies as "equalitarianism, fraternalism, reciprocalism, philanthropism." The classification draws contrasts too strong, as any system of economic organization includes elements of all four. The four concepts themselves have fuzzy boundaries and they cannot be treated as disjoint. They might have worked more effectively toward the beginning, as a way of structuring the contested areas, which are poverty, inequality, the profit motive, and government (with both fiscal and monetary dimensions). The point-counterpoint approach is instructive as a first approximation, although some arguments receive more careful structuring than others, something that might not be immediately obvious to an inexperienced reader. It's thus not useful as an introductory reader, although some of the material will be useful to experienced lecturers or to advanced students.

(Cross-posted to 50 Book Challenge).