28.2.09

CAUSE TO BE CHEERFUL. The scoreboard conceals a lot of drama.


Central Michigan had an early sixteen point lead, a seven point lead at halftime, a four point lead after the Huskies tied the game, a one point lead after the Huskies took their first lead, and after that everything started to work. The crowd's mood only got better when news came of a baseball win over No. 15 Missouri, and the other basketball team protected just enough of a late 10 point lead on Ball State to win No. 200 for head coach Ricardo Patton. Not bad for Senior Day.

February is off the calendar, with no snow left on the ground, no snow days, two different days with record highs, and a short stretch of almost-shorts weather at exactly the right time.
WE BUNDLE CREATIVE WITH DESTRUCTION FOR A REASON. The editorial board of the DeKalb Daily Chronicle offer good cheer to readers.

It’s easy to get down on the market. Almost all of the “news” is negative. Longing for its disaster, cable TV is stuck in neutral on the subject of the economy and its newscasters, drive-by pundits and instant economists are only too willing to bombard us with their minute-by-minute analysis on red-arrow numbers.

But if we could just take a breath and stop the madness for a moment, we might see something else. This is an intriguing time for buyers and bargain-hunters, alike.

It takes courage to cut against the grain, and there is no certainty that stock prices have hit bottom. Well before it became our happy-o-meter, the market was an indicator of our confidence in America.

Surely, companies such as and like GE, GM and the [New York] Times have positive futures ahead.

No doubt that's what the folks at the buggy whip works thought just before Oakman and Hertel created an entry in a road race, and the people celebrating the beginning of a public work known today as the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal had no cause to worry about a cornerstone laying the very same day in Baltimore of something called a railroad.

It’s foolish to imagine an America without GE appliances, Cadillacs or all the news that is fit to print.

So let’s not.

It is foolish to imagine an America in which people are not imagining ways to make do without GE appliances, Cadillacs, or all the news that's fit to print. That talk out of Warren Buffett about even better days ahead: it's betting on those imaginations being made real.

Some thirty years ago, there was a television show calling the roll of monster businesses of previous industrial epochs, now gone. It included National Lead and Baldwin Locomotive. I want to say it was on PBS, and that Ben Wattenberg narrated it. Does anybody really miss lead paint, or cinders on the wash?
BROADENING THE TAX BASE. President Obama's economists propose to change the way high-bracket filers calculate deductions.

The Obama administration hopes to tap the rich to help pay for its ambitious programs. Specifically, that would include slashing mortgage interest deductions for high-income taxpayers.

The proposal would cap at 28% the tax break for itemized deductions.

That would leave people in higher marginal tax brackets of 33% and 35% - the wealthiest Americans - with a smaller benefit from the deduction of mortgage interest, state and local taxes and other items such as charitable contributions.

The move is projected to raise $318 billion over 10 years and fits nicely with the president's campaign pledge to increase taxes only for families earning more than $250,000. Few, if any middle-income homeowners are in tax brackets of more than 28%.

On the one hand, the proposal taxes on the basis of ability to pay, and at least one observer sees horizontal equity at work.

Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, a D.C. think tank, said he was impressed with this part of the budget plan.

"It's a no-brainer for economists," he said. "Why have taxpayers been [in effect] subsidizing home payments for the highest income people in the country?"

The overwhelming majority of low and middle income people take the standardized deduction when they file their taxes [and] they receive no benefit at all from the mortgage interest deduction, said Patrick Fleenor, chief economist for the Tax Foundation.

"If you live in an inexpensive home or you're deep in your mortgage and paying little interest, you're better off taking the standard deduction," he said.

On the other hand, there are substitution effects.

Housing industry sources were disheartened by the news, saying it would put downward pressure on home prices.

"The timing couldn't be worse," said Lawrence Yun, chief economist for the National Association of Realtors.

"With the housing market still reeling from its worst downturn since the Great Depression, this is not the time to talk about raising taxes on home buyers and home owners," said Joe Robson, president of the National Association of Homebuilders, in a statement.

The plan, which wouldn't start for another two years, is intended to focus solely on high-income Americans, but its impact would be much broader, say industry sources.

Yun said it would reduce the value of high-end homes by increasing ownership costs. Potential homebuyers calculate affordability as a total outlay of funds. If the tax deduction goes down, their ownership costs rise.

But the bailout protests got their start with a newsie worked up about taxpayers covering for the overspent individual with a four-bathroom house. (That might be this era's version of the steaks paid for with food stamps.) I'll bet there are plenty of foreclosed and unsold trophy houses on the market for which the current lower price more than offsets any lost tax benefit.

For example, someone in the 35% marginal rate bracket buying a million dollar home and putting 20% down would have an $800,000 mortgage. At 6% interest, they'd be paying interest of $48,000 a year, or $4,000 of their $4,797 a month mortgage payment.

Currently, 35% of that payment - $16,800 - is tax savings, but under the new plan, only $13,440 would be, a $3,360 difference.

With a self-amortizer that difference diminishes as time passes. A lower purchase price also lowers the interest payment. Do the math. And bear in mind that builders might be quite happy to build those same houses for lower prices rather than be doing nothing at all.
THE SANCTION OF THE VICTIM. The Socialist Equality Party weighs in on aviation's strangulation of the supply of future pilots.

Since the onset of deregulation of the airlines in the late 1970s and early 1980s, airline employees have faced a relentless assault on their jobs, wages and working conditions. At the same time, airline CEOs have amassed huge fortunes.

This assault on airline workers has been promoted by Democratic and Republican politicians alike. Deregulation was initiated under the Democratic Carter administration, beginning in 1977. In 1981, the Reagan administration fired more than 11,000 striking PATCO air traffic controllers, dismissing virtually the entire fleet of professionals trained to monitor air traffic.

Bankruptcy courts have ripped up contracts. The major or "legacy" carriers have pushed to slash costs in the face of competition from smaller, low-wage, budget airlines. Thousands of pilots have lost their jobs, and those remaining have seen their wages shrink dramatically.

According to airlinepilotcentral.com, an experienced pilot on one of the "legacy" airlines earns anywhere from $156 to $197 an hour, flying an average of about 75 hours a month.

Regional pilots earn far less. One such pilot told airliners.net: "I personally make $18,000-$20,000 a year. I'm responsible for a 25,000,000-dollar airplane and fly hundreds of people safely to their destination every day... Most major airline pilots make around $100,000. The average in the regionals is closer to $50,000."

Again, I leave generalization to the reader as an exercise.

To simply fulminate about the owners' mansions is to do nothing about commercial aviation's future.

Specifically, markets are environments that check the avarice of airline owners and corporate CEOs. Deregulation did change the aviation environment from a protected monopoly in which pilots received larger monopoly rents than did autoworkers. That change had effects on the portfolios of stockholders (I speak as a onetime Pan American shareholder) and on the employment prospects of senior management.

Like any other business, aviation can learn the hard way that downsizing for its own sake loses the company its institutional memory. Unlike many other businesses, the long lead time for training pilots brings with it the possibility of major labor shortages in the near future, particularly in light of Our President's plans to spend less on fighter aircraft. (The presence of a military that offers people stick time as on the job training lowers the return on investment to a proprietary commercial piloting college, although such institutions exist.)

26.2.09

COMMUNISM IS SOVIET GOVERNMENT PLUS ELECTRIFICATION. Scratch the first two. The electrification included interurban trackless trolleys, (thanks to The Overhead Wire). Some serve hilly terrain. (Imagine The Milwaukee Electric converting the Watertown Division to trackless trolleys, but with worse roads.)
THE FINANCIAL RETURN TO COLLEGE. Some deconstruction of that average return to a degree at The Glittering Eye.
UNSUSTAINABLE. The western drought means Lake Mead, a reservoir on the Colorado River, is losing water. Las Vegas is attempting to finance new intake cribs before the existing ones are left high and dry. What was I saying about the effects of subsidized water and power?

I've often viewed the State Line as a potential flash point in a future civil war, with Lake Michigan visible from places that can't use its water. Perhaps the West will be another such flash point.

More encouragingly, the article notes that markets allocate resources.

“People view water as a human right and expect it to be virtually free,” says Michael LoCascio at Boston-based Lux Research Inc., which analyzes water issues. “Governments respond to that, and you end up with inefficiency.”

Without price-setting markets, water that cost 33 cents a cubic meter for the first 15 cubic meters delivered to homes in Memphis, Tennessee, in June 2007 was $3.01 in Atlanta and 57 cents in Las Vegas.

That’s cheap compared with Copenhagen, where the same amount that month was $7.71 per cubic meter, [Peter] Gleick says.

The higher Atlanta price reflects the Southeastern drought.

25.2.09

WE SOLICIT YOUR ATTENTION. Friday is Orange and Black Day.
DeKalb Acting Mayor Kris Povlsen declared Friday to be "Orange and Black Day" in the city and is asking all DeKalb residents to wear orange and black as a display of pride for the DeKalb High School boys basketball team.
A small act of kindness becomes The (Missed) Shot Heard 'Round The World. DeKalb's team is collecting donations for a memorial gift to Johntell Franklin's family.
THEY ARE BEGINNING TO CATCH ON.

Give me of your train, O Talgo!
Of your speedy train, O Talgo!
Building by the rushing river,
Not by the trickling Menominee!
You a fast train will build for me,
Build a swift Talgo for training.

(Apologies to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.)

Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle is on a road trip to Spain.
Gov. Jim Doyle says he's reviewing Spain's high-speed rail systems and talking up Wisconsin manufacturers to Spanish train builders.
Doyle is in Spain through Saturday. He told Wisconsin reporters during a conference call Wednesday he took a high-speed train from Madrid to Malaga. Doyle says he talked up Wisconsin manufacturers like Milwaukee's Super Steel Corp. to Spanish officials to encourage trade.
Doyle says he made the trip to get a better sense of how high-speed rail works. He says the federal stimulus package includes money for Midwest rail and he hopes to one day see lines linking Minneapolis, Madison, Milwaukee and Chicago.
He says the trains could reach speeds of up to 125 mph.
There's no longer a West Milwaukee Shops to build the cars or a Karl F. Nystrom or Charles H. Bilty to design them.
The United States began to abandon rail travel decades ago in favor of airplanes and automobiles, a trend that killed many American suppliers of rail equipment, Doyle said. Rail, meanwhile, is as much a part of the European lifestyle as its economic model. And many European cities are better connected by rail than air, eliminating the hassles of airports while offering dining cars and swank first-class accommodations. Germany, France and Japan nurture national industries that continuously develop new generations of fast trains.
The article notes somewhat slower speeds than the Germans and French achieve. They are, however, talking about speeds that could be attained with the existing equipment and minor modifications to the infrastructure.





Note the War Bonds car on the 1939 train. Perhaps with all the government borrowing we will see its like again. Although the German ICE trains are comfortable, the dining cars do not offer steaks to order, and the first-class cars do not have rear-facing sofas and an attendant who will bring a gin-and-tonic from the tap lounge, while you watch the prairie unroll at 100 mph plus.



GETTING INTO TRAINING. Professor Palmer discovers the Ontario Corridor.

The trip takes longer than a plane trip, but door-to-door, it wasn't really much more time, once you include having to get to the airport early, clear security, change planes, hope your baggage makes the change, too, and then wait to claim your baggage, and take a cab to and from the Quebec airport.

The connections in Toronto and Montreal are quick; also, Via trains are sometimes delayed, making the connections impossible, but Via holds the connecting train to make sure people make their connections.

One noticeable negative: the roadbed between Stratford and Trono is nowhere near as smooth as the roadbed between Trono and Montreal or between Montreal and Quebec City, making it hard to read on that leg of the journey.

It was my first time on Via Rail in about 20 years or so. At that price and with that service, it probably will not be my last.

He discovers the advantages of head-end power.
There are electrical outlets next to each seat, so we were able to use our laptops and iPhones for the entire journey. I mostly listened to podcasts both ways, while Ms. Eclectic read several books.
At one time, the Amcoaches had only a few outlets, for use by the coach cleaners' vacuum cleaners. I'd bring along my TRS-80 Model 100 and get strange looks for plugging it in and working on something. Now everybody does it.
I HEARD THE NEWS TODAY, OH BOY. Sales of Atlas Shrugged increase.
SOME THINGS I WON'T GIVE UP FOR LENT. Ollie's is open.

24.2.09

FASCHING IST.

BLUE COLLAR ARISTOCRATS.

I admit to being contrarian about the myth of an industrial middle class based on union wages, convinced as I am about the evidence that the Treaty of Detroit was a division of monopoly rents temporarily possible while the automobile manufacturers of the rest of the world were recovering from a war.

I'd like readers to consider something further. Those assembly plant workers relied on the efforts of workers in other factories, possibly unionized, possibly residual claimants on the monopoly rents. Specifically, I'm referring to the workers that made the patterns and the tools and the motors and the controls. Falk. Kearney and Trecker. Nordberg. Louis Allis. Cutler-Hammer. Allen-Bradley. That was Milwaukee. If you had heavy lifting to do, Harnischfeger or Bucyrus-Erie had what you wanted.

Those things involved hard work. Let us be grateful for Harley-Davidson offering one outlet, and for Blatz and pre-chemistry Schlitz and Pabst and, horrible dictu, Miller, to help cool down.

But wherever you went, you probably would encounter a graduate of Milwaukee Trade and Technical High School for Boys, popularly Boys' Tech. (It later went co-ed. That's not my gripe. The girl worth the while can rewire her house or re-rig her sailboat.) Admission was competitive. In addition to a pre-engineering curriculum, it included specific courses in the trades and an opportunity for a young man to complete an electrical or plumbing apprenticeship during four years at Tech and a fifth year in the apprenticeship program.

Today, Tech is called Lynde and Harry Bradley School of Trade and Technology. It's in a new building paid for with Allen-Bradley money. Same purple colors and Trojan mascot. But it's become just another urban school, with all the troubles that phrase connotes, as well as all the frustration the students who are there for the trades have been expressing with the disruptive students and their off-campus buddies interfering with their ambitions.

Milwaukee radio commentator Jeff Wagner would restore the old Tech tradition.
Bradley Tech used to offer students a great education in their trades. Both of my brothers-in-law graduated from the school when it was still known as "Boy's Tech" and feel that they received a great education.
However instead of being an outstanding techical school, Bradley Tech has morphed into a dumping ground - and that's too bad.

I continue to believe that part of the problem lies in Bradley Tech's "open" design. When a fight breaks out, everybody in the school immediately knows it (and large numbers of kids - and their relatives - then jump into the fracus[c.q.]). I concede though that , as an explanation, the design issue only goes so far.

Frankly, when it comes to Bradley Tech, MPS officials need to do one of two things: fix it or fold it.

Personally, I'd like to see MPS figure out a way to get Bradley Tech back to it's [c.q.] glory days of providing a high quality education to students genuinely interested in the trades. If they can't do that though, they should just cut their losses and shut the place down.
I want to take a global view. Why take two years of community college as the minimal secondary and post-secondary job preparation for young adults, when the Milwaukee Tech model gets the craft and trade preparation done in high school or in one year beyond high school? And a Tech apprentice would grasp "couldn't carry water for a patternmaker", a gibe that too many in higher education don't.
AN OPEN LETTER TO REPRESENTATIVE BARNEY FRANK. Tonight I heard the right honorable gentleman taking Northern Trust to task for organizing a golf outing as a way of maintaining staff and depositor morale. He quipped that a golf outing didn't impress him as a way of inspiring someone to buy a certificate of deposit in that bank.

Representative Frank, I'd be reluctant to buy a certificate of deposit in a bank that was mau-maued into underwriting more risky mortgages in service of some vague notion of access. Yes, my principal is insured. But I'm out the interest while that bank is being reorganized by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation.
WHAT'S THE POINT? Some publisher got the idea I'd be interested in adopting Bond Markets, Analysis and Strategies. Unlikely, but the book gives me an idea what happens when the College of Deaducation and the Pointy Haired Boss team up to organize material. (Bleah.)

What prompts tonight's post, however, is something I read about in chapter 2. Take a holding of garden variety 30 year debentures yielding 7.5%. But don't hide 'em in the safe deposit except to clip coupons. Instead, underwrite some derivative securities. Use half of them as collateral for what the trade calls a "floater". Sell a bond that pays the 30 year Treasury rate (or anything else that you fancy) plus 1%. Use the other half as collateral for an "inverse floater". Sell another bond that pays the difference between 14% and the 30 year Treasury rate. Check the math: the convex combination of the two interest rates works to 7.5%. There's a continuum of convex combinations, and thus a continuum of other derivative assets to derive. The book doesn't get into them, although there's probably some hedge-fund hustler that knows the tricks forward and backward.

The example produces a bond that pays a higher interest rate than a Treasury, with comparable safety, and another bond that pays a junk bond return, but with greater safety. It's not quite a free lunch: the inverse is a residual claimant, with its price equal to the difference between the collateral's price (relatively easy to compute) and the floater's price (more challenging but not impossible).

The book doesn't tell me what the point of creating such a pair of securities is. Presumably there is some arbitrage opportunity in the different time paths of the prices of the securities that makes incurring the costs of issue worth bearing. Readers: any ideas?
OBSERVATION OF THE DAY. Captain Chesley Sullenberger.

It is my personal experience that my decision to remain in the profession I love has come at a great financial cost to me and to my family. My pay has been cut 40 percent. My pension, like most airline pensions, has been terminated and replaced by a PBGC guarantee worth only pennies to the dollar. While airline pilots are by no means alone in our financial struggles -- I want to acknowledge how difficult it is for everyone right now -- it is important to underscore that the terms of our employment have changed dramatically from when I began my career, leading to an untenable financial situation for pilots and their families. When my company offered pilots who had been laid off the chance to return to work, 60 percent refused. Members, I attempt to speak accurately and plainly, so please do not think I exaggerate when I say that I do not know a single professional airline pilot who wants his or her children to follow in their footsteps.

I am worried that the airline piloting profession will not be able to continue to attract the best and the brightest. The current experience and skills of our country's professional airline pilots come from investments made years ago, when we were able to attract the ambitious, talented people who now frequently seek professional careers elsewhere. That past investment was an indispensable element in our commercial aviation infrastructure, vital to safe air travel and our country's economy and security. If we do not sufficiently value the airline piloting profession and future pilots are less experienced and less skilled, it logically follows that we will see negative consequences to the flying public and to our country.

The generalization is left to the reader as an exercise.
BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU ASK FOR. A correspondent alerted me, some time ago, to the bath London is going to take on the 2012 Olympics. Now comes The Sports Economist with news of waste on a massive scale from China.

I've been skeptical of Chicago's Olympic bid (despite the opportunity to argue for a restoration of 75 minute Hiawathas and 150 minute On Wisconsins) and have to wonder whether the only thing worse for Chicago than not getting the 2016 Olympics will be to get them.
FASCHING DIENSTAG.

A celebration in Johnsonville. Yes, that Johnsonville.






Prosit!

23.2.09

THE SHAPE OF THE RECOVERY TO COME. Low interest rates induce refinance applications.

Once a reasonable [current value] is in hand, would-be refinancing applicants should compare it to their outstanding principal balance on their mortgages. If the home’s value is more than 90 percent of the balance, applicants should reconsider their decision to pursue refinancing at this time, [Sycamore banker Bud] Weinstock said.

“It’s probably not going to be worthwhile,” he said.

If, however, the figure falls closer to 80 percent, he and [DeKalb banker Shelley] Rhoades said to pick up the phone and give them a call.

“There is the potential for huge savings right now,” Rhoades said. “You just need the right numbers to unlock it."

The banks are being more conservative about who gets a refinancing. Gone are the days of take-cash-out refinancing. On the other hand, I bet the people who have equity in their houses under the new rules aren't the people who splurge on the latest flat-screen televisions and other manifestations of excess. But their improved cash flow will turn into some consumption out of higher permanent income.
MODUS MORONIS. When all else fails, go to the ad hominem. Auto team drives imports. To their credit, the Detroit News (motto: all the news that can be delivered on Wednesdays) recognizes a problem.

The vehicles owned by the Obama administration's auto team could reflect one reason why Detroit's Big Three automakers are in trouble: The list includes few new American cars.

Among the eight members named Friday to the Presidential Task Force on the Auto Industry and the 10 senior policy aides who will assist them in their work, two own American models. Add the Treasury Department's special adviser to the task force and the total jumps to three.

Note that "American models" is not the same thing as "Assembled in the United States."

It doesn't matter what the task force drives. What matters is whether the task force recognizes this reality.

This is your time to beat Buicks into bullet trains, Suburbans into subways, and Hummers into hybrid buses. To borrow from your speeches, there is a moment in the life of every generation, if you are to make your mark on history, when you must tell an iconic industry that its incompetence is inoperable.

It is time, Mr. President, to take General Motors and Chrysler off taxpayer life support.

Politically, this is even more difficult than ending the Iraq war. In your very first press conference as president-elect, with Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm standing behind you with your transition economic team, you declared, "The auto industry is the backbone of American manufacturing . . . a critical part of our attempt to reduce our dependence on foreign oil."

That was nice to give them the benefit of the doubt, Mr. President, but all GM and Chrysler have done since then is connive for more time on the federal respirator, despite the flat line on the boardroom monitor. They have been on notice for months to come up with a revolutionary restructuring plan in exchange for the $17.4 billion in bailout aid it has already received.

If that assessment is correct, the legacy car companies are making about as good a case for more loans as a failing student is for an extra credit opportunity. Bygones are bygones.

22.2.09

THE (MISSED) SHOT HEARD 'ROUND THE WORLD. The boys' basketball programs at Milwaukee Madison and DeKalb are ABC News's People of the Week for February 20. The Milwaukee Bucks have invited both teams to a February 28 game. That's an easy trip for Madison; DeKalb will also be present. The DeKalb Prep Buzz weblog includes a link to coverage on ESPN.
REWRITING THE JOB DESCRIPTION. Blogs for Industry offers a different perspective on student dissatisfaction with the Harvard economics major.

This is indeed the case, if and only if the relevant ratio is students taking economics courses divided by total econ faculty, independent of how much actual teaching the faculty do. It seems unlikely to me that student satisfaction would be increased by, say, hiring 10 new econ profs who did not teach at all, or that undergraduate satisfaction would be significantly increased by hiring new faculty who only taught graduate seminar classes.

Perhaps Mankiw is holding faculty workload constant based on the idea that it is unrealistic for Harvard to renegotiate its work rules for its faculty. After all, there were some who said that this was the faculty's real problem with Larry Summers. But don't we expect rising productivity out of other segments of the economy?

To repeat: it comes down to the measure of productivity. On one hand, Harvard could add a junior seminar to the job description of each faculty member. On the other hand, new hires (who, if they're on a tenure track, already expect to be denied tenure but grasp the opportunity to do some good research) might be less willing to take Harvard's jobs; currently tenured faculty might be bid away more rapidly (yes, the bidding war Columbia and Harvard got into for Robert Barro might have epitomized the positional arms race bubble, but there's still prestige to accumulate.) Or, if Harvard did what a lot of other universities have been doing, and hired Professors of the Practice of Economics or temporary faculty not so cleverly titled for the junior seminars, perhaps the trustafarians would call Harvard out on that. (In my experience, the person who is in the front of the class is "professor" to the students, irrespective of that person's actual job title, contract status, or eligibility for health benefits. Northern Illinois has run advertisements bragging on research faculty who teach undergraduates.)

But to ask faculty, contract status or rank notwithstanding, to meet a junior seminar and put the kind of time on task such a project calls for is to ask that person to do less of something else: research, attending committee meetings, having a life. To say "productivity" without spelling out the metrics and recognizing the tradeoffs doesn't help much.

(If I'm sounding cranky, it's with reason. When I hired out here I discovered that one person was doing what two people would do at other economics departments, and that figure has now risen to three. I'm tired. And it still takes as long to get through a bluebook as it did before computers and the internet. There are 46 on the dining room table at the moment. Sure, I could work through 60 or 100, and some REMF could hail the productivity, but I can't guarantee they'd be evaluated as accurately.)

Faculty also have the option of putting more explicit terms of work in their contracts. University Diaries has a story of a University of Florida professor whose appointment letter that stipulated how many courses she would teach in a semester. A dean, claiming fiscal difficulties, has unilaterally increased that number. It has gone to arbitration. The ensuing bull session only makes me crankier, as apparently the highest-regarded economics departments regularly ask their hires to teach one course a semester, and many of the flagships ask three courses an academic year of their economists. And our administrators act surprised when people we offer the opportunity to teach five courses an academic year while doing research and working with Ph.D. students turn us down.

It doesn't help my mood any when I consider that making such specific requests as part of a startup package would have appeared rude or unseemly years ago.
SUMMONING THE ECHOES. There's joy in the Ham House.

Choruses of "Ham House" were heard coming from the bleachers of the Milwaukee Hamilton student section after a 73-45 dismantling of Milwaukee King on Friday night. The Wildcats faithful can be forgiven for a cheer that sounds a bit like an endorsement for a deli, because in recent memory there hasn't been much to get excited about in the Hamilton gym.

This season the Wildcats (15-3 overall, 10-1 City Conference) are certainly learning what winning is all about. That was pretty obvious with the way Hamilton handled the visiting Generals.

"It was probably one of the biggest wins I've had (in my whole) career, actually," said Jake Potrykus, one of three seniors on the Hamilton roster. "I don't think Hamilton has ever beaten King."

That is, if ever begins on February 5, 1972. The details are in the Cold Spring Shops archives.

The "Ham House" cheer is relatively recent. A Senior Night with an upper-division finish in the conference still possible, not for a long time.

20.2.09

FASCHING OR NO, THE CLUB CAR IS OPEN. To free up seats, Metra removed the serving areas from bar cars operating on the Milwaukee North and Rock Island lines. Regular riders have organized spontaneous saloons.

I knew that the old bar cars had been third from the train's tail end on some suburban lines, including Milwaukee District North, West and Rock Island. There was no mistaking them. Most Metra cars are funeral parlor-quiet, where an occasional cell phone ring is enough to draw dirty looks.

I took the Milwaukee North line home at a different time last week and discovered another group of bar-car regulars. They call themselves the 4:40s because that is the time their train departs Chicago. They made clear their distinction from the 3:55s, whom they described as rowdy construction workers. The 5:15s are a whole different bunch.The 4:40s included insurance agents, a union carpenter and a grocery store meat manager.

Again, vodka and cranberry juice appeared. (Is that the official North line drink or what?)

Sounds perfectly healthy to me, although a concoction of orange juice, cranberry juice and vodka would work better. If the orange juice is thick enough, one could layer the juices and make it look like a Hiawatha.

I've read stories about party time on the Milwaukee that date back to the steam era. It was dangerous to stand too close to the tracks, as the open windows were for disposing of empty beer bottles.
CAUSE FOR GOOD CHEER. The Northern Illinois University School of Music brought in jazz pianist Stefan Karlsson from the University of North Texas for a recital. During his performance, he let the audience know that The House Cafe was a great asset to the community, offering an off-campus site for student performances. The coffee is good, and regular readers know that it's also a great place for train-watching.
PUNISHED FOR DOING THE RIGHT THING. At least some of the public is reacting to the various economic stimulus plans that way.



Via Instapundit, with commentary and links.

Wizbang elaborates.
I believe that most people would support a program that helps people who are in foreclosure because of unforeseen circumstances -- layoffs, disability, death, or blatant fraud and misrepresentation by a crooked mortgage agent. But the rest of us who honestly obtained a mortgage that we could afford and who have worked to make those payments in full and on time are more than a little peeved at the thought of the government bailing out everyone in foreclosure with our tax dollars, especially those who deliberately tried to game the system and knowingly bought a house they could not afford, or lied about their finances in order to buy a home. And renters should be especially incensed.
At CNBC, Larry Kudlow continues in a similar vein.
Team Obama is rewarding bad behavior. It is enlarging moral hazard. It is expanding its welfarist approach to economic policy. And with a huge expansion of government-owned zombie lenders Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, Team Obama is taking a giant step toward nationalizing the mortgage market.
A CNBC reporter's impromptu "I'm mad as hell" moment on the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange captures the spirit of the moment. I must note, however, that the trading houses are not blameless in the moment, as their creation of ever-more-convoluted hedges and speculations has rendered the reckoning more difficult.

But by investing in failure, the Administration will also prolong the housing downturn and make financing a home purchase more difficult for future borrowers. Meanwhile, the plan isn't likely to slow the continuing decline in housing prices.

Let's focus on the plan's effect on the individual borrower. Anyone with mortgages owned or guaranteed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will be able to refinance to lower rates if his mortgage is between 80% and 105% of the value of the home. This is a sweet deal that is not available, for example, to many renters looking to buy homes now. Sadly for those who deferred the gratification of homeownership, the 20% down payment has now become industry standard. But at least their taxes will allow other people to stay in homes they can't afford.

David Brooks recognizes the problems, but suggests they are necessary evils under the circumstances.

Personally, I hate the idea of 10 guys sitting around in the White House trying to redesign huge swaths of the U.S. economy on legal pads.

But at least they seem to be driven by a spirit of moderation and restraint. They seem to be trying to keep as many market structures in place as possible so things can return to normal relatively smoothly.

And they seem to understand the big thing. The nation’s economy is not just the sum of its individuals. It is an interwoven context that we all share. To stabilize that communal landscape, sometimes you have to shower money upon those who have been foolish or self-indulgent. The greedy idiots may be greedy idiots, but they are our countrymen. And at some level, we’re all in this together. If their lives don’t stabilize, then our lives don’t stabilize.

The challenge, however, is to change conditions such that future feckless people will not repeat the fecklessness of the immediate past in expectation of yet another bailout.

The Obama administration's restraint and moderation, if that's what it is, will not impress the libertarian parts of the polity. It will not, however, be a National Review reader or a dittohead that emerges as Caiaphas calling for the crucifixion of a false messiah: Who Will Be There for Obusha When the Floor Drops Out?

Does he think it will be progressives? Well, I can only speak for myself, but one month in and I’m already feeling burned by this guy. If he continues to cater to the predatory rich in this country, leaving the rest of us holding the bag, and if he continues to shred the Constitution as if he were George Bush’s kid brother, and if he is nearly as militaristic as the Strangeloves he just ejected from office, then I really won’t care a bit if he gets smashed halfway through his first term. In fact, I might even be happy to see it happen.

It's impossible to become disillusioned if one has no illusions in the first place.

WHILE I'M IN GRADING JAIL.

Take this quiz.

Identify the speaker: The spirit of free enterprise, including the principle of personal responsibility ... is being eroded in the last few months.
Herbert Hoover
Franklin Delano Roosevelt
Richard Nixon
John Diefenbaker
Vladimir Putin
Ronald Reagan
Gordon Brown
pollcode.com free polls


Answer here.
OBSERVATION OF THE DAY. In the midst of a debate on the merits of a vehicle-miles-travelled tax, the Secretary of Transportation concedes that the roads do not pay their own way.

"What I see this administration doing is this — thinking outside the box on how we fund our infrastructure in America," he said.

LaHood said he firmly opposes raising the federal gasoline tax in the current recession.

The program that funds the federal share of highway projects is part of a surface transportation law that expires Sept. 30. Last fall, Congress made an emergency infusion of $8 billion to make up for a shortfall between gas tax revenues and the amount of money promised to states for their projects. The gap between money raised by the gas tax and the cost of maintaining the nation's highway system and expanding it to accommodate population growth is forecast to continue to widen.

Among the reasons for the gap is a switch to more fuel-efficient cars and a decrease in driving that many transportation experts believe is related to the economic downturn. Electric cars and alternative-fuel vehicles that don't use gasoline are expected to start penetrating the market in greater numbers.

Pay particular attention to the modifier, federal share. States and municipalities pick up the bulk of road construction and repair projects, often out of general revenues.

Regular readers will understand that objections to passenger rail based on farebox recovery are subject to scrutiny and termination with extreme prejudice on these pages. Perhaps the Secretary's recognition of this point will give pause to those not yet so enlightened.

18.2.09

WHY IT MATTERS. Charlie Sykes devoted some air time Tuesday to a story I should have been aware of.

A somber cloud hung over the [Milwaukee Madison] Knights as they played DeKalb, Ill., High School on Saturday, Feb. 7. News spread quickly that Franklin's mother, Carlitha, had died earlier that day after a five-year battle with cervical cancer. She was 39.

Madison coach Aaron Womack Jr. was in Madison's laundry room, washing the Knights' uniforms from the previous night's game, when he got the news.

"I didn't have my cell phone with me back there, so by the time I heard, the junior varsity game had already started," Womack said. "I headed straight to the hospital. Johntell, understandably, he was despondent."

Carlitha Franklin had been in remission recently. But Womack said she had begun to hemorrhage on Saturday morning - while Johntell was at Wauwatosa East High School, taking his college entrance ACT exam. By late Saturday afternoon, the decision had been made to turn off the life-support system.

At the hospital, Womack asked Franklin if he should call off that evening's game. "He said, 'No, tell the guys to go out and do their best,' " the coach said. "I told him we would, and I went back to school."

The game started late.

Franklin didn't just want to watch. He wanted to play.

"I'm a competitor. I can't just sit there and watch," he said.

Womack sent Franklin, a 6-foot-2 forward, to suit up. He returned to the cheers of the crowd - including the coaches and players from DeKalb, whose amazing display of fellowship and sportsmanship had just begun.

"I was late getting back from the hospital, and they could have called us on that," Womack said. "But they were great about it."

"We were sympathetic to the circumstances and the events," said DeKalb coach Dave Rohlman. "We even told Coach Womack that it'd be OK to call off the game, but he said we had driven 2 1/2 hours to get here and the kids wanted to play. So we said, 'Spend some time with your team and come out when you're ready.' "

Since some of Franklin's teammates had joined him at the hospital, Womack entered only eight names into Madison's official scorebook. The game began almost two hours behind schedule.

But Franklin's desire to play created another problem: The referees were required to call a technical foul against Womack for failing to list Franklin in the scorebook.

"I told the referees I knew there would be a technical," Womack said. "I put Johntell in after DeKalb called a timeout (midway through the second quarter), and the next thing I heard was DeKalb's coaches complaining that they didn't want a technical."

The rules specify a player has to shoot free throws.

During technical free throws, no other players are allowed around the free-throw lane. So Womack gathered Madison's players around his bench, on the other end of the court, and was trying to reel in their emotions when he saw something odd out of the corner of his eye:

Instead of swishing through the basket, the ball rolled slowly across the end line.

"I turned around and saw the ref pick up the ball and hand it back to the player," Womack said, "and then he did the same thing again."

Because there are situations in which a player will deliberately miss a free throw to obtain an advantage, a rule to preclude what everyone understands to be an act of courtesy will not be easy to write.
After the second shot, everyone in the gym - including all the Madison players - stood and applauded the gesture of sportsmanship.
This cross-border game is part of both teams' schedules.
This was the third straight year that DeKalb and Madison have played a non-conference game, and as in the other visits, both teams gathered for dinner afterward. "We set it up so that there were four kids to a pizza, two Madison kids and two DeKalb kids," Womack said.
The Madison coach has written an open letter to DeKalb High in the DeKalb Chronicle.

I was overwhelmed with this display of almost unheard of sportsmanship and class. As I mentioned the game was close, and any opportunity for a score would be very beneficial. As a principal, school, school district staff, and community you should all feel immense pride for the remarkable job that the coaching staff is doing in not only coaching these young men, but teaching them how to be leaders.

Also, I’d like to recognize Darius who stepped up to miss the shot on purpose. He could have been selfish and cared only for his own stats (I hope Coach Rohlman doesn’t make him run for missing the free throws).

If I am unable to coach my own son when he becomes of age, I’m moving to DeKalb and enrolling him as a Barb.

That made for an eventful week for the DeKalb boys' basketball team, who hosted Glenbard South the following Friday, in a game where the teams warmed up in red and black and Northern Illinois students and employees were admitted for free.
NEARLY UP TO MILWAUKEE ROAD STANDARDS. Infrastructure and discipline.

Amtrak trains traveling between Kansas City and St. Louis turned in a stellar on-time rate for January.

The Missouri Department of Transportation said Tuesday that the trains were on schedule 96% of the time. MoDOT credits better dispatching by Union Pacific and $400 million in track repairs that allowed the trains to move faster.

From July through October, Amtrak recorded a 62-percent on-time rate. But since then the trans-Missouri run has been performing much better, with on-time rates of 70% in November and 84% in December.

Amtrak's last comparable performance was 91% in September 2006.

In recent years, Amtrak lost riders as trains between St. Louis and Kansas City were held up by freight traffic on tracks it shares with Union Pacific.

"Trans-Missouri" is the name Passenger Train Journal editor Mike Schafer suggests for the service, which currently runs as the St. Louis Mule and Kansas City Mule. I keep thinking of the Trans-Missouri Freight Association, a classic antitrust case. But Barbecue Blues is somehow not railroady enough, Wabash's Banner Blue notwithstanding.
SOME DAYS IT STINKS EVERYWHERE. Economics departments tend to get little respect elsewhere in the university, because they resist the evidence-free pieties of the identity politics crowd, because they teach an unavoidably technical (read "hard") subject that everybody claims to understand, and because the professors are expensive hires.

Although I gripe, I can understand the mind-set of others, particularly at mid-majors where people have trouble grasping something other than a safety-school, maintain enrollment model. Now comes news of similar troubles at Harvard.
An editorial in the Harvard Crimson, the student newspaper, notes:
The economics department is perennially plagued with abysmal satisfaction ratings and high student-to-faculty ratios.
It is true that student satisfaction is lower in economics than in most other departments at the university and that student-faculty ratios are higher. I have been told, however, that if you do a regression of a department's student satisfaction on its student-faculty ratio, the economics department is right on the regression line. This fact suggests that our student satisfaction is low precisely because the student-faculty ratio is high.
No doubt, somewhere in Cambridge sits an REMF with a spreadsheet detailing precisely how enrollment-impacted the economics department is, and how high its cost per student credit hour is, and how far from the threshold for a new hire those figures place it.
The Crimson editorial implores the econ department to take action to prevent the elimination of the junior seminar program. But that will prove hard to do with existing resources. If the student-faculty ratio is the ultimate problem leading to low satisfaction with the econ major, and I believe that it is, there are two ways to improve the situation: Increase the number of economics faculty or decrease the number of economics students.
Perhaps there is a Pareto improvement for the economics department. Simply estimate the elasticity of Harvard's selectivity rating with respect to standards for admission to the major. Fewer majors, lower student-to-faculty ratio, forsooth! That's not an option in a state university, particularly if enrollments are necessary for debt service.
I am confident we in the economics department would be happy to hire more faculty if only the university would allocate us more faculty slots. In a world of finite resources, the question becomes, where would those faculty slots come from? I would be eager to hear from the students which departments they think should shrink.
The preceding illustrates why I'm not wholly unsympathetic to people who would have universities run more like businesses. The steam division of Union Pacific has to make a business case each year for keeping 844 and 3985 choo-choo'in around the west. That decision doesn't necessarily take resources away from the intermodal department of the freight division: the steamers pay for the Alemite guns and the stackers pay for the Imperial Walkers. It doesn't have to follow that an additional hire for economics means an anthropologist gets cut off.
If there are administrative departments that could be reduced or eliminated, that could make room for more faculty. Or, following Brandeis, we could sell off some of the collection in the university art museum! Universities like people, face tradeoffs. If the university is to provide more small classes in econ, it will need to provide less of something else. Right now, I do not see the university administration making substantial efforts to find more resources for the economics department. Sadly, we are not a major priority.
I hear you, Brother Mankiw.

Limiting enrollments isn't easy, either.

Right now, despite the low satisfaction reported on student surveys, economics is the most popular major. The economics department could reduce the number of students by making econ a selective major (e.g., you would need a certain grade in ec 10) or by raising requirements (e.g., every major would have to take multivariate calculus and linear algebra).

Many faculty in the economics department would object to trying to reduce the number of students because we think it is great that so many students choose to major in economics. But if the students make this choice, and the university fails to allocate resources to increase faculty and bring the student-faculty ratio closer to the university average, then it seems almost inevitable that students will leave the major with a below average level of satisfaction.

But those student-credit-hours-per-faculty-member and cost-per-credit-hour metrics will satisfy the REMFs.

I'll note one other thing: throughout my career, a task I have a lot of difficulty with is breaking graduate students of the habit of automatically taking derivatives. Yes, you could raise the math prerequisites, but do you want to?
LET THE RULING CLASSES TREMBLE. I think Michael Lind is friendly to the Coastal Liberal Establishment. But he has a warning for that Establishment.
As more Americans lose their jobs and their homes, as more businesses crater and banks topple, popular anger is rising like a wall of water over a suddenly quiet beachfront resort. You’d think that the Democrats in Washington would be aware of the danger. After all, the massive expansion of Great Society spending in the 1960s, followed by the stagflation of the 1970s, allowed the marginal conservative movement to tap populist anger and dominate American politics for a generation. Substitute stimulus for Great Society and years of possible “stag-deflation” for stagflation, and you have a scenario in which the Obama’s overwhelming majority could collapse as quickly as LBJ’s.
History lesson: Lyndon Johnson had the Kennedy assassination and the conscience of the country going for him. Barack Obama has the good wishes of the civil rights era going for him, with a smaller majority in the House and the Senate, and a capital strike bolstered by economic and political thinking that could be trumped by invoking the New Deal in 1964, but no longer.
OBSERVATION OF THE DAY. Joanne Jacobs.
Most students now assume they’ll go on to college. But the C, D and F students (and some of the B students) will find they lack the skills to pass college courses or qualify for apprenticeships.
We used to say "couldn't carry water for a patternmaker" and it's useful for the education establishment to understand that fobbing the intellectually weak or disengaged students off on shop class is a misuse of resources.

I'll be returning to this point later in the week.
PRESIDENT OBAMA, THE ORGANIZATION, OBLOQUY. Interim Senator Roland Burris has a recovered memory episode, after he votes for the interim spending bill. Atlantic Blog has a roundup of press reaction, with comments.
PEGGING THE CURMUDGEON METER. Sustainable Times calls it down on the Latest Big Thing in retro food experiences.

Sonic, of course, is an anachronism, a dinosaur, in fact, a symbol of much that is wrong with the way we do things.

Its business model is to sell junk food to people who are too lazy to get out of their cars: it’s either drive-thru or drive-in.

I have to admit, I was secretly amused to see the three first commandments of our modern society so blatantly united in one single location:

1) Eat junk food, lots of it; it’s cheap and has all the food groups the average American wants: salt, sugar, fat.

2) Let’s not move more than we have to; drive everywhere; don’t get out of the car unless we really, really have to go make room for more junk food.

3) Let the car engine idle while we fatten up; gas is cheap again anyway, and isn’t that why our soldiers die in the Middle East: to protect our oil supplies, so we can waste gasoline here? And let’s not worry about air pollution: with that way of life, we won’t live long enough to see its consequences. Our children might. Unless they sit in the car with us getting schooled in the same way of life.

Via Waxing America.

16.2.09

GETTING INTO TRAINING. Destination: Freedom breaks down the passenger rail and mass transit components of the economic stimulus act.

As I understand it, the $1.3 billion for Amtrak is capital funding. I don't have any specifics on what that capital might be. I suggest that there's value in coach seats. (The Acela Expresses are pushing 10 years old, the glorified commuter cars called the Horizon Fleet and the Amfleet II cars nearing the quarter-century, the Superliners nearly thirty, and the Amcoaches and Metroliner cab cars in middle age.)

The bill is called economic stimulus. Does that mean a builder somewhere has passenger coach plans ready to be assembled? I have my candidates. Does Hunter Biden know that Sarah Palin has newer passenger coaches than Amtrak has?

Then comes the much larger sum for development of high-speed rail. Sorry to repeat myself, but high-speed rail in many parts of the country, including the Arklatex and Greater Chicago projects the bill has in mind, is a relatively simple matter. Post the 79 mph track for 110 or 120 and post the curves REDUCE TO 90 MPH. More importantly, though, the high-speed rail proposal has some opponents claiming a public choice dynamic at work, with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's Disneyland to Las Vegas being part of the project. (Disneyland is Walt Disney's vision of an arcadian America that might never have been and Las Vegas a tribute to the power of wishful thinking augmented by subsidized water and power.) The Overhead Wire calls all passenger rail advocates to fact-check the polemicists, with more details at The Transport Politic.

The capital appropriation and the high-speed money do not provide for Amtrak operating funding, something that has been and remains an annual exercise in political brinkmanship. Trains proposes that the political brinkmanship has to end before Amtrak (and the rest of the national transportation policy) can be fixed. There's a short version of the proposal at the Richmond Times-Dispatch with additional commentary at Trains for America.
With stronger awareness about the environment and the economic benefits of greater transportation options, it seems that more politicians are correctly starting to talk about passenger rail in terms of “investments,” like they have have about highways for decades.
Where politicians are involved, however, the public choice dynamic, or pork-barrelling, or log-rolling is a real possibility. The same issue of Trains that includes the Amtrak reform proposals runs an editorial warning against the restoration of the North Coast Hiawatha. That train, along with the first Lake Shore and the Turbotrain to Parkersburg, West Virginia, were pet projects of Mike Mansfield, the Democratic Majority Leader, and Harley Staggers, a long-time Member of Congress who may have redeemed himself with the Staggers Act, deregulating the freight railroads.

The Disneyland and North Eastern is something to be watched for, as it will ruin passenger rail's credibility. Other additions to the national network will provide material for another day.
SIGNS FOR DIFFICULT TIMES. Founders Library has some World War II and Cold War artifacts on display.

I suppose, if people make a virtue of doing without butter or sugar in periods of prosperity, making do without is less than a hardship.


I've had plenty of practice cultivating the victory garden during the long boom. The seed packets are in the hardware stores.


There's plenty of compost ready to go, and some of last year's leaves ready to be tilled in once the ground thaws.
OBSERVATION OF THE DAY. The America That Worked(TM) was less structured in one important way.
Thirty years ago, the "going out to play" culture coexisted with other culturally sanctioned forms of independence for even very young children: Kids as young as 6 used to walk to school on their own, for instance, or take public buses or -- gulp -- subways. And if they lived on a school bus route, their mommies did not consider it necessary to escort them to the bus stop every morning and wait there with them.
My mom tells me I rebelled at being escorted by her and my sister as early as the second day of kindergarten. (If I thus deprived my sister of her walk, sorry.)

It is all different now.
But today, for most middle-class American children, "going out to play" has gone the way of the dodo, the typewriter and the eight-track tape. From 1981 to 1997, for instance, University of Michigan time-use studies show that 3- to 5-year-olds lost an average of 501 minutes of unstructured playtime each week; 6- to 8-year-olds lost an average of 228 minutes. (On the other hand, kids now do more organized activities and have more homework, the lucky devils!) And forget about walking to school alone. Today's kids don't walk much at all (adding to the childhood obesity problem).
But it's all for the children. Not.
Increasingly, American children are in a lose-lose situation. They're forced, prematurely, to do all the un-fun kinds of things adults do (Be over-scheduled! Have no downtime! Study! Work!). But they don't get any of the privileges of adult life: autonomy, the ability to make their own choices, use their own judgment, maybe even get interestingly lost now and then.
Via Boing Boing.

15.2.09

CAN SUMMER BE FAR AWAY?

Brewer batteries are in training camp. The Brewers and Amtrak are working to build ridership.
The Milwaukee Brewers today announced a new promotion designed in part to give Brewers' fans a chance to cheer their team on at Wrigley Field just as Chicago Cubs fans do at Miller Park.
The team and Amtrak announced details of an away game trip that includes a train trip to Chicago and special T-shirts for the Sept. 17 game between the Brewers and the Cubs at Wrigley Field.
The promotion is being called Miller Park South. Here's how it will work: On Feb. 20, the Cubs will put individual tickets on sale. The first 100 fans who bring their game ticket for that Sept. 17 game will receive a voucher for a free, round-trip ticket on the Amtrak-Hiawatha train to that day's game.
Along with the free train ride, fans will get a special Miller Park South T-shirt.
After the first 100 transportation vouchers are issued, the Brewers will provide the next 1,500 fans that bring their Sept. 17 game ticket to Miller Park’s “Big League Blast” retail store with a free Brewers-branded Miller Park South – September 17, 2009 T-shirt.
On Sept. 17, Amtrak Hiawatha Train 334 will depart from the Milwaukee Intermodal Amtrak station at 11 a.m. and from the Milwaukee Airport station at 11:10 a.m., with a return trip from Chicago at 8:05 p.m. on Amtrak Hiawatha Train 341. Travel time for the full route (one-way) is only 89 minutes. Upon pick-up of a transportation voucher set, each fan will also receive a map with directions to Wrigley Field. Additional information will be posted on Feb. 20 at the Brewers' Web site and the AmtrakHiawatha Web site. The start time for the Sept. 17 game is 1:20 p.m.
The promotion isn't playing real well with the commenters at the Journal-Sentinel post.

The train-ride part of it is kludgy. Brewer fans have to purchase a ticket from the Cubs (perhaps by making a trip to Chicago) and redeem it in Milwaukee. The promotion is limited to 100 seats, no doubt for cost reasons, but unless the Amtrak capital spending in the stimulus package has identified full-size Atlas cars ready-to-run and we don't have to wait for Christmas, those 100 additional passengers well might overload the train.

They then have to make their way to This Property Is Condemned, in Yuppie Hell. The train arrives at 12.29, if all is well. That allows just enough time to walk east to State Street and ride the Dan Ryan - Howard line north to Addison and maybe be there in time for the first pitch. (Too bad there's not a North Shore Line: the 11.00 Electroliner set down at Wilson at 12.31, and it was not unknown for trains to set down at Addison. Getting it to pick up at Grange Avenue, just northeast of the Airport Station, was another matter).

I did get a kick out of that "only 89 minutes". Yes, when you have to contemplate an hour to the Lake Forest Oasis, another half hour to the interchange near O'Hare, and potentially another hour plus from O'Hare to This Property is Condemned, that sounds attractive. Regular readers will know, however, that the figure of merit for Milwaukee to Chicago is 75 minutes.
A DIFFICULT DAY. That was evident from observing people, from conversing with people, from my own state of mind. We took time to thank the first responders and to award the first Forward, Together Forward scholarships.
Seventy-one students applied for the scholarships. Criteria were based on academics, achievements, community service, extracurricular activities, employment experience, hobbies and special interests.

“Rather than doing something purely on academics, we really felt it should be university-wide and a celebration of the character of those students we lost,” said Mallory Simpson, president of the NIU Foundation. “They were all collectively and individually phenomenal people.”
The first recipients are Deanna Bach (a composer!), Jacqueline Do, Scott Hudek, Justin Kuryliw, and Grace Weidner.

The memorial garden will include five granite panels with the motto and the names and some benches. Cole Hall is behind the camera to the left.


It seemed a logical place to leave candles after the vigil.


Nobody organized the candle placement, it happened. This woman is one of the last people to leave one in the planters outside Cole Hall.


The art gallery in the student center contained a number of items, including the 9-11 Quilt.


Students at St. Hilary School in Ohio made this for a school in New Jersey where many students lost parents at the Trade Center. Those students sent it to a school in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. From New Orleans it went to the Amish school in Pennsylvania, where the parents made the box, in the hope that the troubles of the world could be contained, before the students there sent it to Virginia Tech. Virginia Tech entrusted it to Northern Illinois.

Virginia Tech also set up six message boards that have not previously been shown publicly at Northern Illinois. They were set up at the reception (including hot chocolate with marshmallows) after the evening vigil.


This banner came from a DeKalb elementary school.


The University of Illinois message board includes an aspiring social scientist.


At the art gallery was a loop of television news clips, including an ABC News "Citizen of the Week" recognizing Northern Illinois University for getting back to business so quickly last year. Perhaps part of it was a brave face. Perhaps it was Midwestern reticence. The editorial board of the DeKalb Daily Chronicle considers these things.

NIU went above and beyond its duty in planning for this day of reflection. More than a dozen events were held including a commemoration ceremony, a concert, a memorial mosaic, a time capsule, an art exhibit, a video montage, a scholarship luncheon and a candlelight vigil.

Some would argue that it’s all a bit much. All this memorializing can be painfully overwhelming. But it’s necessary. We need to remember all that was lost on that cold February day. Not only did we lose the lives of five young people, but we lost our sense of security and innocence. Never before did we believe that such violence could happen here. We were wrong.

The editors suggest it's time to move on. Perhaps so, now that the university and the neighborhood have had an opportunity to release the sadness behind that show of fortitude ABC News observed.

13.2.09

52 WEEKS. My suggestion for the "summarize in one word" project was "goodwill," an idea that occurred to me that evening,and which was reinforced by the continued kindness of people in DeKalb and Sycamore and elsewhere in the state. Thursday afternoon included a 3 pm balloon release organized by Huskies United.


Northern Star photo by Sean Curl.

The release included more balloons than organizers had planned for.
Huskies United secretary Ryan Sego said they weren’t supposed to have 500 balloons originally.“We were going to have just five balloons, because we didn’t have enough helium,” Sego said. “But an employee from Airgas donated us enough helium to have 500 balloons, which was really great of him.”
The weather cooperated: unlike last year, when we had already lost time to more than one snow day, and when the snow hung around for all of January and February and well into March, we've had a stretch of above-freezing temperatures including a few records in the 50s and 60s. The Avalon Quartet was able to present its February performance: Beethoven, Ives, and Janacek.

The Northern Star put together a special issue (the link activates a .zip script). As part of their coverage, they asked the families if they'd be willing to remember their children, and obtained responses (in the order the website provides them, Gayle Dubowski, Catalina Garcia, Julianna Gehant, Ryanne Mace, Dan Parmenter.) Their recollections tell of internship and study-abroad opportunities, practice teaching, and student organizations, in short, great potential lost.
TALKING ABOUT MY GENERATION. A USA Today columnist seeks to put me in the same cohort as President Obama.

I coined the term "Generation Jones" for this large cohort born between 1954 and 1965. It's a generation that includes the new president, me and 53 million other Americans. Jonesers have long been lumped with Boomers simply because we arrived during the same long post-World War II spike in births. But generations arise from shared formative experiences, not head counts, and the two groups evolved with dramatic differences. Our background is just as distant from Generation Xers'. We fill the space between Woodstock and Lollapalooza, between "Turn on, tune in, drop out" and "Just Say No," and between Dylan going electric and Nirvana going unplugged. Jonesers have a unique identity separate from Boomers and GenXers. An avalanche of attitudinal and behavioral data corroborates this distinction. Generational self-identification is particularly compelling. When polled, those in this age group identify not with Boomers or GenXers, but overwhelmingly with this generation in between.

So who are we? We are practical idealists, forged in the fires of social upheaval while too young to play a part. The name "Generation Jones" derives from a number of sources, including our historical anonymity, the "keeping up with the Joneses" competition of our populous birth years, and sensibilities coupling the mainstream with ironic cool. But above all, the name borrows from the slang term "jonesin' " that we as teens popularized to broadly convey any intense craving.

The Jones runs deep in us. It arose from our 1960s childhoods. While the Boomers were out changing the world, Jonesers were still in elementary school — wide-eyed, not tie-dyed. That intense love-peace-change-the-world zeitgeist stirred our impressionable hearts. We yearned to express our own voice. By the time we came of age and could take the stage, though, a decade of convulsions had left the nation fatigued. During the game we'd been forced to watch from the sidelines, and passage into college and careers came only after the final gun had long since sounded.

The Boomers had their opportunity, and the GenXers weren't around soon enough to bear witness. Neither was left jonesin'. But the actual children of the 1960s yearned for something more. Our unrequited idealism has bubbled beneath the surface ever since.

That's one perspective. (If you hear an echo of the Port Huron Statement in that second paragraph, you probably intuit that I'm going to object to the column's premises.) From my perspective, that of a senior member of that cohort who finished high school relatively young, some of this doesn't ring true. Yes, the people who came of age later could characterize their experience as "after the final gun" (or perhaps after the party had ended). But the attitude of many of the older cohort of Baby Boomers had the attitude Milton Friedman summarized as good things taken for granted, evils blamed on The System, but The System was a social construction that could be changed and rearranged without disrupting the continued provision of the good things.

Some part of that cohort never went along with that mind-set, and some who did later went shopping at The Great Indoors.

What generation produced the current leaders in business, industry and politics, those who have held the reins of power for the past decade and a half? We need look no further than the last 16 years in the White House, the terms of Clinton, who represents his generation at its hedonistic best, and Bush, who represents the same generation at its my-way-or-the-highway best. Still, I’m a touch less cynical about them than the media who reported on their administrations. I see neither man as motivated by evil intentions. How can we blame Clinton for saying he “never had sex with that woman” or Bush for his weapons-of-mass-destruction argument for invading Iraq? After all, both were part of the generation reared on Dr. Benjamin Spock’s grand theories, children counseled and coddled, rarely punished for being wrong or irresponsible or held accountable for lying.

I can’t pin dates of birth on all the leaders of industry and finance, but the current CEOs of the big three in Detroit were born post-WWII, as were Jeff Skilling, Michael Milken and the guy who ran Home Depot into the ground and walked away tens of millions richer. Governor Rod Blagojevich, that Baby Boomer wunderkind from Illinois, took office in his late 40s and by his early 50s wore waders in his office to navigate the swamp of corruption he’d built. Boards of directors hand out bonuses to CEOs for demonstrating ineptitude, engaging in irresponsibility or practicing outright deceit. Did I mention the ends-justify-the-means generation?

But the leaders are only partially to blame. Baby Boomers, look in the mirror. What do you see? Someone figuring out how to turn a house after two years into a 50 percent profit?Or use its equity as an ATM? Someone who borrows against his home to pay cash for that BMW in the driveway, the one he really doesn’t need? Our system of politics and business encourages self-serving irresponsibility by rewarding it.

True, the Boomer generation gave us its share of accomplished, legitimate entrepreneurs, artists, musicians and inventors, but even achievements such as “Hotel California” and the wonders of the dot-com aren’t enough to overcome the vapid aspirations of those who idolize Madonna and her ilk. Now that they have plunged the country into a financial crisis that may end up as epic as the Great Depression, the Boomers can hand matters over to their offspring, who hopefully will be prove themselves the next great (well, good) generation.

Even as one of their own, Barack Obama, prepares to tackle this economic crisis, don’t be optimistic those in their early 40s will do better. They have been long misguided, ferried as they were from school to soccer games to karate lessons. The wisdom best passed on to Gen X is that there is no Great Indoors and never was. Not even the bones of a Swell Indoors will be left as a metaphor for Baby Boomer failure. Start change by ridding the language of the word “great,” discard it along with “awesome” and all words associated with the Dr. Spock syndrome. Revive the language of the generation that won WWII. Restore humble words such as “grit,” “integrity,” “diligence,” “honor,” “responsibility,” “sacrifice” and especially “accountability” to the social vocabulary. Let Boomer hyperbole vanish along with the merchandise the scavengers fled with when The Great Indoors finally closed.

That will require President Obama to say no to his own party, in which the Speaker of the House is a very early Baby Boomer and the Senate Majority Leader a member of the Silent Generation, quite possibly the most spoiled and indulged generation in U.S. history.

I'll give the last word to Peggy Noonan.

We hire politicians to know what to do about empty stores, job loss, and "Retail Space Available." But they don't, and more than ever we know they don't.

And there's something else, not only in Manhattan but throughout the country. A major reason people are blue about the future is not the stores, not the Treasury secretary, not everyone digging in. It is those things, but it's more than that, and deeper.

It's Sully and Suleman, the pilot and "Octomom," the two great stories that are twinned with the era. Sully, the airline captain who saved 155 lives by landing that plane just right—level wings, nose up, tail down, plant that baby, get everyone out, get them counted, and then, at night, wonder what you could have done better. You know the reaction of the people of our country to Chesley B. Sullenberger III: They shake their heads, and tears come to their eyes. He is cool, modest, competent, tough in the good way. He's the only one who doesn't applaud Sully. He was just doing his job.

This is why people are so moved: We're still making Sullys. We're still making those mythic Americans, those steely-eyed rocket men. Like Alan Shepard in the Mercury rocket: "Come on and light this candle."

But Sully, 58, Air Force Academy '73, was shaped and formed by the old America, and educated in an ethos in which a certain style of manhood—of personhood—was held high.

What we fear we're making more of these days is Nadya Suleman. The dizzy, selfish, self-dramatizing 33-year-old mother who had six small children and then a week ago eight more because, well, she always wanted a big family. "Suley" doubletalks with the best of them, she doubletalks with profound ease. She is like Blago without the charm. She had needs and took proactive steps to meet them, and those who don't approve are limited, which must be sad for them. She leaves anchorwomen slack-jawed: How do you rough up a woman who's still lactating? She seems aware of their predicament.

Any great nation would worry at closed-up shops and a professional governing class that doesn't have a clue what to do. But a great nation that fears, deep down, that it may be becoming more Suley than Sully—that nation will enter a true depression.

What was I saying about the effects of enabling fecklessness?