30.4.09

THE NEW SOCIALIST DETROIT AUTOMOTIVE PROJECT. At this hour, Our President is announcing Chrysler's bankruptcy filing. He is chastising some of the creditors for insisting on being paid in accordance with the seniority of the obligations the company incurred.

The restructuring will involve Togliatti Fiat.


We have much to look forward to.

29.4.09

THE INCREMENTAL COST OF VISIBILITY. The Northern Star follows up its report on nepotism with an analysis of a $154K overdraft on the Independence Bowl. That's right, overdraft. You read it here first.
Late Friday afternoon email? Those faculty who are checking e-mail then are probably corresponding with co-authors, dealing with editors (as referee or as writer) or otherwise working on their research. That's a population not particularly likely to be impressed with a bowl opportunity (which is likely to cost the university money once the travel and entertainment expenses for senior administrators and boosters is figured in) as the outcome of a game on a school night.
I was right about the travel and entertainment expenses, as we will see. What I did not anticipate is the bonus-trading that goes on to get a conference an additional bid. For supposedly amateur sports, that have nothing to do with money, the potential for side payments is great.

The 2008-2009 college football postseason produced a record 34 bowl games. When the regular season came to an end 72 teams were left as bowl eligible. This meant four bowl eligible teams would not enter the postseason.

Of these 72 teams, 13 teams had a 6-6 record, the minimum record to reach the postseason. One of these 13 teams was NIU.

The Huskies had hoped to win their final game against Navy, as this would have given them a 7-5 record. A 7-5 record would have improved NIU’s chances at a bowl game, as the NCAA restructured the manner in which at-large bids are selected a few years ago. Bowl games are forced to take a team with a winning record for an at-large slot, before inviting a 6-6 team. This meant teams like Western Michigan, with a 9-3 record, had to be selected for an at-large bid before a 6-6 team like Notre Dame.

And it was Western Michigan that proved to be the crucial piece of the puzzle to get NIU into a bowl game.

The Broncos ultimately accepted an invitation to the Texas Bowl in Houston. At first, however, WMU wanted to accept an invitation to the Independence Bowl. The motivation, it seemed, was money.

“The net payout in Shreveport was $330,000. In Houston it was $270,000,” said MAC commissioner Rick Chryst. “Prior to any bowl invitations we wanted to take the money part off the table. I think we felt Shreveport was the best opportunity for Northern.”

NIU agreed with Chryst, feeling that if it was going to make it to the postseason, it would be in Shreveport.

“Rick [Chryst], and his staff, we relied on them to be really the kind of conference voice for us as the negotiations occurred,” said NIU Athletic Director Jeff Compher. “We feel like the more teams from our conference that go the better. We didn’t want to be the one sitting out, but we didn’t want anyone else sitting out.”

In order to convince WMU to accept the invitation to Houston, NIU agreed to give some of its revenue from the Independence Bowl to WMU. This amount was finalized at $29,380.

The university achieved some economies in lodging and transportation. (Heck, compared to Our President asking his cabinet to find one-ten-thousandth of his annual deficit in their budgets, our athletic department overachieves.) In part, the economies reflect demand for the tickets.
The athletic department originally estimated $13,109.25 for lodging for students at the game. This was reduced to $6,435.72, but only because the department originally expected to bring two busses of students to the game, yet was only able to fill one bus.
A trip to Shreveport, at Christmas. Wonder why. No private jet charters.

The Northern Star also discovers that the Athletic Department is more generous to friends of the program than Our President is to the Queen of England. (Maybe not. Boosters didn't get autographed copies of Bill Baker's -- the professor, not the announcer -- work on Wilkie Collins.)

When participating in the Poinsettia Bowl, NIU went over this limit [on the value of presents], as it gave players, coaches, donors and friends team gifts. In 2006 these gifts were an iPod Nano, an iPod Nano case, men’s/women’s watches, sweatshirt and ski cap. These gifts cost $12,000.

At the Independence Bowl, all members of the NIU football team received a Timely Watch Co. watch, New Era cap and Trek mountain bike.

Meanwhile, some colleagues and I went recruiting at the job meetings and nobody in authority has thanked us for making the effort in a search that was later suspended, let alone given us an I-pod. They did reimburse us for our rapid transit rides to the airport.

The interview elicits an infelicitous comment from athletic director Jeff Compher that concedes a positional arms race is in progress.

When examining a bowl game, Compher said the financial matters cannot illuminate the entire situation.

“You can’t explain it with the bottom line,” Compher said. “It’s an investment. If you want to compete at this level you have to be willing to invest.”

According to Compher, a bowl game helps add spirit to the campus, create the college experience, helps in recruiting future players and coaches, and adds to the student-athlete experience.

That means it ultimately pays off on the bottom line. The problem, however, is that the rent-seeking inherent in recruiting, enhancing the experience, competing at that level, and the likely strategic complementarity of Northern Illinois's new weight room with Ohio's implies the investments will never be cost-effective. The sponsors of bowl games, who do face hard budget constraints, are likely to recognize this before the athletic departments do.

[Deputy athletic director Glen] Krupica said the main change that needs to be made for the future is the athletic department needs to be more prepared from a marketing standpoint. In order to achieve this, however, he said NIU needs to know that it will be participating in the postseason earlier than it did this year.

“Hopefully we’re in a little bit better position that we’ll know we’re playing a bowl game,” Krupica said. “Our fans will then be conditioned to going to a game and to be able to float out there are some pre-sale opportunities where people can lock into tickets regardless where we go. And then in early November we lay out five options.”

Krupica and Compher see this as one of the key ways of selling more of the required allotted tickets when accepting an invitation to a bowl game. By achieving this, the pair hopes the university will no longer have to use a majority of the payout to purchase the allotted tickets.

We owe the overdraft to ourselves. Chortle.

“Maybe someday you’re not worried about defraying, but maximizing your payout,” Krupica said. “I think that’s when you start getting at the point bringing five, six, 7,000 people to a game.”

In order do to this, however, Compher said a mind set has to be created at NIU where fans expect the Huskies to go to a bowl game. This may only be the case, however, if NIU can produce better regular season records in the future. [Vice President of Finance and Facilities Eddie] Williams [USNR] said he believes there will be a reduction in bowl games in the future, as games are now struggling to find sponsors.

“I am concerned about bowls in general. There may be too many of them. There may not be enough sponsors,” Williams said. “When you are in that situation the payouts may be smaller for the non-large bowls.”

You think? Chick-fil-A's ability to finance a bowl depends on the willingness of people to buy sandwiches. (That ability apparently exceeded the ability of the peach cartel). Athletic departments can increase student fees. (It might be fun to require universities to disclose all the fees the same way a settlement statement for a real estate closing does. The difference is that those closing fees bear some relation to problems that arise in the course of a transaction. Many of our students treat the athletic fee as a sunk cost, a point that sports columnists for the Northern Star never seem to grasp when they exhort their classmates to attend the games they're paying for.)
OBSERVATION OF THE DAY. Yovani Gallardo 1, Pirates 0.

“Hitting: Gallardo. Pitching: Gallardo. Any questions?”

That was the opening statement from Brewers manager Ken Macha before adding his thoughts on Gallardo’s recent run.

“Pretty much lights out,” Macha said. “We really needed him to get that far in the game with the amount of bullpen use we’ve had recently.

“If you’re going to classify somebody an ace pitcher, that’s somebody that goes out there and tells the bullpen, ‘Take a rest for the day.’ And he certainly has done that.”

SAME OLD SAME OLD. The seventy cent cookie sale is so stale.

It’s commonly referenced that a woman makes 75 cents for every dollar a man makes, which is why at this bake sale, women paid only 75 cents for treats while men had to pay a dollar.

“The pricing may seem odd,” said Jamie Bolar, a graduate assistant for the resource center. “But I want to show the pay discrepancy for every dollar a man makes.”

The bake sale was held on Equal Pay Day. Established in 1999, Equal Pay Day is celebrated annually nationwide to raise awareness about unfair pay for women in America and is acknowledged on the fourth Tuesday in April.

We could interpret the timing as recognition that men participate in the labor force from the beginning of January and the women show up at the end of April.

28.4.09

WHO YOU KNOW. WHO KNOWS YOU. The Northern Star releases an investigation of nepotism at Northern Illinois University.

The Northern Star has received numerous persistent tips over the years about the nature of specific individuals receiving or occupying their respective positions.

Steve Cunningham, assistant vice president for human resource services, said he is aware of questions concerning connections among employees.

“I hear about it internally,” he said, referring to complaints of children working in the same realm as a parent, or friends of administrators in high-paying positions. “I’ve certainly heard over the years, ‘Why this?’ ‘Why that?’ There’s very legitimate concern for inquiry.”

Many administrators said the number of connected individuals is not uncommon.

A university is typically one of the “giant employers” in smaller communities, said Board of Trustees Chair Cherilyn Murer.

The story, in five parts, provides substance for those complaints. The paper provides a link at the end of each part to the next part. Follow the links.

It alleges no wrongdoing. Northern Illinois has been less subject to serial administrators than many neighboring universities. The academic programs are solid. The presence of extended family members bothers some observers.

Brad McMillan, the executive director of the Institute for Principled Leadership in Public Service at Bradley University, believes any employees who are related and working in the same area of a state employer creates a problem.

“We think there should be a complete ban on anybody hiring family in their sphere of influence,” McMillan said. “There’s clearly an appearance of impropriety there that needs to be avoided. It’s hard to argue that when there’s a direct line up the chain and there’s a family member hired in that chain that there’s not personal benefit.”

If you take that seriously, that's the end of hiring spouses, trailing or otherwise, particularly within the same discipline.

There's disagreement, including among local elected officials, over whether the within-family hires are wrong.

State Rep. Bob Pritchard (R-Hinckley) was not previously aware of some connections among families at NIU.

“I’ve never supported the notion. It’s definitely a bad practice,” Pritchard said. “I never thought it appropriate to hire family members for anything but a summer or temporary-type job.”

At the state level, Pritchard is familiar with connections in the workplace.

“It’s not unusual for office holders to encourage their kids to apply,” Pritchard said. “I suspect that maybe knowing someone opens some doors.”

Pritchard felt these types of hires could negatively affect morale.

“It’s wrong,” he said. “Those are the kinds of allegations that make people lose confidence in an organization. It raises judgments about the people approving those kinds of decisions.”

State Sen. Brad Burzynski (R-Clare) also did not know of the employee connections.

“I wasn’t even aware that Eddie had kids on staff,” Burzynski said. “I have to assume that they’re qualified.”

NIU employs large numbers of family members, President Peters said.

“The key is fairness, rules and attracting the best people you can,” Peters said. “We’ve had to make accommodations.”

McMillan advocates clarity in state hiring.

“Some of the recommendations we are making talk about when taxpayer money is involved in hiring a state employee. There needs to be clear job descriptions and qualifications,” he said.

There are situations where the hiring of family or friends is not necessarily a bad thing, according to William Tolhurst, an associate professor of philosophy.

“Nepotism is not always wrong,” Tolhurst said. As far as personal businesses go, “if someone hires only relatives, it may be bad for business, but it’s his business,” he said.

But at the state level, it is different, Tolhurst said. For state jobs, like working at NIU, candidates are hired on the basis of qualifications, he said. NIU is an equal opportunity employer.

One, however, within which ordinary networking enhances applicants' chances.

26.4.09

LAWS OF CONSERVATION. Composer Andrew Lloyd Webber contemplates going Galt.

Despite a rumour put around some years back, I have never contemplated leaving Britain for tax reasons. But in the 40-plus years I have been lucky enough to work here, I've seen a bit. So I must draw your attention to what is really proposed in this Budget.

Here's the truth. The proposed top rate of income tax is not 50 per cent. It is 50 per cent plus 1.5 per cent national insurance paid by employees plus 13.3 per cent paid by employers. That's not 50 per cent. Two years from now, Britain will have the highest tax rate on earned income of any developed country.

It's the tax burden I wish to address. I've seen more than a few posts and columns suggesting that national health insurance would relieve the legacy car companies of some of their burdens. At least one (I forget where) suggested that General Motors incurred costs of several thousand dollars per car in insurance premiums for current and retired employees that did not have to be borne by competitors in countries with socialized medicine. Something about that argument bothered me: there would be an income tax or a consumption tax or a payroll tax somewhere to raise the revenues for the single payer to disburse. Now comes useful clarification from Mr Webber: there's a substantial wedge between value of marginal product and take-home pay for British workers. Tax policies may be different in other countries, but those health insurance premiums have to come from somebody.

The wedge is particularly evident to self-employed.

I write this article because I fear the inevitable exodus of the talent that can dig us out of the hole we find ourselves in. It is inevitable, given that other countries are bidding for entrepreneurs. The Government must modify its proposals.

I give you this example. I have altered the details of the family I write about for obvious reasons. But the essentials are true.

Last Thursday I met with a thirtysomething guy. I absolutely depend on him in a highly technical area of theatrical production. For legal reasons he has to employ himself through his own company. Under the new tax regime, he will have to pay 13.3 per cent to employ himself before he pays himself anything. And then he will have to pay 51.5 per cent on what's left.

This is a guy at the cutting edge of his profession who works all over the world. He is in demand in every major territory where entertainment is produced. He has a young wife and two children. Last Thursday he told me that he and his wife had decided that the UK was no longer where they wanted to live.

His wife thinks the State education system is inadequate. And she fears that a bankrupt Britain will increasingly be a worse place in which to live as the horror of our present financial mess hits us all in the solar plexus.

He says that he is young enough to set up shop somewhere else. The new tax rates were the final straw. These talented young people know they will make it impossible for them to educate their kids privately in the UK.

Will we see countries offering tax holidays for immigrants of means?
GETTING THROUGH CHICAGO. The Midwest High Speed Rail Association provides a convenient link to a recent PBS News Hour story on the troubles involved in interchanging freight in Chicago, with hints of the infrastructure projects to come. The screen with the clip provides a link to a related story on the CNR purchase of the Chicago Outer Belt. In that story, the "Winnetka trench" comes up as a possible solution to conflicts between additional freight trains going around Chicago and suburban trains on the Wisconsin Division, er Northwest Line as well as with road traffic.

The story provides little history for that trench. It is a Works Progress Administration project, completed in the late 1930s, originally for the Chicago and North Western and the North Shore Line (hence those massive concrete castings lining the bike trail in the trench). The impetus for the project might have been a fatal road crossing accident.
A BACH TOCCATTA. Jan, not Johann Sebastian or C. P. E. or P. D. Q. The instruments include a piano and a steelpan. The annual steelpan concert is always occasion for good cheer. There were a few empty seats in the concert hall, unusual for that event. The director alerted us that next spring's will be on Sunday, April 25, 2010.

23.4.09

CONNECTING TRAINS. Chris Lawrence weighs in on Passenger Rail.
My view, as always, is that all of these promised lines are of little value if they are not connected to the transportation system that most Americans already use: airports and their associated amenities like safe long-term parking and the rental car counter.
A flyer who is able to use BWI or EWR or MKE might be able to dispense with the long-term parking and the rental-car counter. There's room for further improvement.
And one federal law we ought to change, to hasten the integration between high speed rail and air travel, is the prohibition on using federal passenger facility fees on building rail stations at airports. The smart airports will build rail stations so they can keep the profitable long-haul flights and shift the short-haul flights to rail. Unfortunately, federal law prohibits that, and hopefully that will change.
Particularly with plans such as the Twin Cities service calling at the Madison airport. What's next, the Fox Cities extension stopping at Wittman Field? (That's actually less outrageous than avoiding downtown Madison as the Twin Cities service envisions).

The strength of the train is in supplanting short-haul air travel (distances less than 500 miles). A Hiawatha gets from Glenview to Milwaukee Airport in the time it takes for an O'Hare departure to do boarding process and safety inspection and taxi-out and prepare for take-off. Downtown to downtown, it's not unknown for the drive to O'Hare or to Lake-Cook Road to consume an hour.

That strength is reinforced by short-haul train travel (on the Northeast Corridor, think New Haven - Philadelphia or Schenectady - Rochester, in the Midwest think Champaign - Homewood or Kalamazoo - Royal Oak.) Something similar is at work in Spain, where the high speed trains function more like a regional rail.

The AVE [it means bird, it's an acronym for Lightweight, Rapid, Comfortable or something] was originally designed to compete with the airplane for commutes between major cities around 300 miles apart. But the biggest, and least expected, effect of the AVE has been on the smaller places in between.

Perhaps the most striking example is Ciudad Real, a scrappy town 120 miles south of Madrid in Castilla-La Mancha which, Mr. Ureña says, "had completely vanished from the map." In medieval times, the town was a key stopover point on the route between the two of most important cities of the time, Córdoba and Toledo. But the railway and the highway south later bypassed the town, and Ciudad Real began to wither.

Now it has an AVE station that puts it just 50 minutes away from Madrid, and Ciudad Real has come alive. The city has attracted a breed of daily commuters that call themselves "Avelinos." [That conjures impressions of flying pigs, but I digress] The AVE helped attract a host of industries to Ciudad Real, and the train is full in both directions.

(Via California High Speed Rail). In Spain, however, the Avelinos do not have to contend with flying pigs of another kind, or stack trains, or coal trains, or, being located west of the Bug River, serious freight trains. There's no reason a memory-pattern passenger service couldn't be mixed with freight trains, particularly the intermodals and the auto-racks.
TEMPERING PRINCIPLE WITH PRACTICALITY. The Overhead Wire suggests that rapid transit advocates transcend ideology.
After the passing of Paul Weyrich, I was wondering if there would be anyone to take up the mantle of conservatives and livable communities.
Consider Why Conservatives Should Care About Transit.
It might seem as if nothing could be less important to social conservatives than transportation. The Department of Health and Human Services crafts policies that affect abortion, the Department of Justice and the Federal Communications Commission play crucial roles in determining how prevalent obscenity is in our society, but the Department of Transportation just funds highways, airports, and railroads, or so the usual thinking goes. But decisions about these projects and how to fund them have dramatic and far-reaching consequences for how Americans go about their lives on a day-to-day basis. Transportation decisions have the power to shape how we form communities, families, religious congregations, and even how we start small businesses. Bad transportation decisions can destroy communities, and good transportation decisions can help create them.
What intrigues about the paragraph is that conservatism, as the columnist understands it, is the Welfare Economics Paradigm with a different set of prohibitions and corrective taxes. But the notion of road-building-as-encouraging-social-pathology intrigues. (There's nothing new: the intra-city expressways and housing projects clustered the indigent black population that it didn't displace. At the time, some people used a form of rhyming slang, turning urban renewal into Negro removal.)
Sadly, American conservatives have come to be associated with support for transportation decisions that promote dependence on automobiles, while American liberals are more likely to be associated with public transportation, city life, and pro-pedestrian policies. This association can be traced to the ’70s, when cities became associated with social dysfunction and suburbs remained bastions of ‘normalcy.’ This dynamic was fueled by headlines mocking ill-conceived transit projects that conservatives loved to point out as examples of wasteful government spending. Of course, just because there is a historic explanation for why Democrats are “pro-transit” and Republicans are “pro-car” does not mean that these associations make any sense. Support for government-subsidized highway projects and contempt for efficient mass transit does not follow from any of the core principles of social conservatism.
I wasn't aware there were core principles of social conservatism, a phrase suggesting more of a role for conscious direction and less of a role for emergent order, but we can let that go for now.
A common misperception is that the current American state of auto-dependency is a result of the free market doing its work. In fact, a variety of government interventions ensure that the transportation “market” is skewed towards car-ownership.
Ayup (and hence The Overhead Wire invoking Paul Weyrich).
We often hear complaints that transit systems do not earn profits. This is true (with a few exceptions), but this does not mean that transit systems are a waste of money. When was the last time you heard someone complain about how a local road never manages to turn a profit? If we held roads and transit projects to similar standards of profitability, we would build very few roads indeed.
No. As a first approximation, we can use the quality of a jurisdiction's roads as an indicator of the jurisdiction's effectiveness at serving constituents. Detroit, where some streets are reverting to prairie for lack of maintenance or of traffic, is a limiting case of government failure. It is no accident, however, that mayors of the less-functional jurisdictions are often the loudest advocates of national infrastructure bills, compelling everyone to bear a small share of their irresponsibility.
Transportation infrastructure is a public good, and few dispute that the government should play an active role in providing it. In spite of the problems with thinking about transit as if it were business, however, transit- and pedestrian-oriented transportation projects would actually benefit if transportation decisions were guided entirely by market forces, because the pro-automobile biases in current policies at the local, state, and federal levels, would be eliminated.
No, transportation infrastructure is a club good with congestion, and severe transaction costs to implementing marginal cost pricing. Thus the Highway Trust Fund gets its money from tie-in sales (rubber tires and gasoline functioning as meters for road use) whilst toll-booths limit the use of a relatively few major routes. The local road budget still uses the Monopoly (TM) way: "You are assessed for street repairs. $15 per house. $40 per hotel." I think those were the numbers. Tax breaks for the rich, forsooth. To think of more businesslike ways to finance roads might make building 21st century interurbans look sensible.

A Greater Greater Washington reaction piece extends.
UNATTRACTIVE EVEN TO SERIAL ADMINISTRATORS. The faculty senate of Chicago State University, an outpost of access-assessment-remediation-retention along the Metra Electric, votes no confidence in their current trustees.

Chicago State University faculty took the unusual step Tuesday of asking Gov. Pat Quinn to remove the university's board of trustees.

The unanimous request from the Faculty Senate, which comes days before trustees plan to announce their decision on the next university leader, also asks Quinn to stop the board from hiring a president.

Chicago State faculty and students have argued they were excluded from the presidential search process and have criticized the two finalists as local political insiders. On Friday, 13 of the 15 members of the campus' search advisory committee resigned in protest.

University Diaries approves.
A plaything of hacks, Chicago State University has apparently been kicked around one too many times for its long-suffering faculty. They’ve only just evicted President Elnora Daniel - a party girl with a penchant for long, university-subsidized Caribbean cruises - and now the school’s hopeless board of trustees wants to unload another hack on them.
Further north, a serial administrator returns to academic consulting, presumably to help generate the next way to keep the faculty tired and distracted.

After months of controversy concerning her leadership, the embattled chancellor of the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point will step down May 31, officials announced Thursday.

Linda Bunnell, who was appointed chancellor in 2004, became the public focus of attention after she failed to report an accident in her state vehicle in February. Community anger over the incident brought to the surface a long-simmering battle among Bunnell, the UW-Stevens Point Foundation and some of the school's major donors.

The student government gave Bunnell a vote of no-confidence in early April, citing the traffic incident, the foundation relationship and Bunnell's travel spending.

The chancellor's farewell statement is predictable.
"We can all be proud of our university's many accomplishments in recent years," Bunnell said in a prepared statement. "UW-Stevens Point is now ready and poised to proceed to the next level."
What would that level be, and what's the plan? There's mission creep, and there's serious repositioning. The statement doesn't specify.

22.4.09

TONIGHT'S RAILROAD READING. We pause from our analysis of speeded-up passenger trains to consider historical experience with fast passenger trains. The following passage is from "Speed", a preface to The Hiawatha Story reprinted from the May 1961 issue of Trains, written by longtime Milwaukee passenger agent Jim Scribbins.
For me it will always be most vividly illustrated by Milwaukee Road No. 100 when the E7's on the head end were permitted free rein to 100 miles per hour.
There's a lot of meaning in the numerology. Hiawatha is a felicitous name for Milwaukee's streamliners, although there was sentiment for naming the trains after Lloyd's rating system where 100 A 1 was best. A wiser head saw infelicitous comparisons with a steak sauce. The numbers 100-101 went to the trains, the A to the motive power, two super 4-4-2s numbered 1 and 2.

The Great Western Railway did renumber 4009 Shooting Star, upgraded to a Castle, as 100 A 1 Lloyds.

The Milwaukee subsequently renumbered the (afternoon) Hiawathas as 2 and 3 to free 101 for the City of San Francisco east of Omaha, in a vain attempt to cultivate more of Union Pacific's freight traffic. The Morning Hiawathas were speeded-up versions of 5 and 6, the Day Expresses, and kept the same numbers.
The voice on the p.a. ("The Hiawatha is now arriving on the eastbound track, way down near the highway for Portage, Madison, and Watertown, alongside the shelter for . . .") is muffled by the approaching speedster. Its air horns sound a couple of off-note chords — E7's slide by, brake shoes sparking, bell ringing. Porters in the vestibules of the two head coaches beckon, for time is precious. Before a seat is reached, one hundred folks from the "Valley" have been loaded and an almost imperceptible motion starts the train.
The writer is boarding at New Lisbon. At the time, the (afternoon) Hiawathas were at the station at nearly the same time, connecting with the North Woods Hiawatha for Wausau and points north, with heavy mail and express train 58 set off for 100's passage. Connectivity is an important part of any corridor. There was a Wausau service, connecting latterly with Five and Six, until the Fall of 1970. All that remains of the New Lisbon passenger rail plant is the wye the North Woods turned on, still useful for turning steam excursions.

Rapid loading is an important feature of a train. There's more than one door to board through, tickets are inspected on board, and there are no seat belts to inspect prior to the highball. It's the antithesis of boarding process.
The roar of 4000 horses digging in echoes back. Though it is uphill most of the way, the first 7 miles is negotiated in only 6 minutes 45 seconds from the dead stop. Over the top, No. 100 seems to leave the rails and glide gently in space . . .
My readings of Railway have taught me about even time, the distance at which a passenger train first achieved a mile-a-minute average from its start. That was a matter of pride for a Streak off King's Cross or a Duchess from Euston or a King from Paddington. The fastest scheduled steam timing, however, was Six between Sparta and Portage. (With 100 making the Valley connection and 58 handling the mail, there was no reason for a Tomah or New Lisbon stop by Six.)
Keeonk keeonk onk kee — onk. "Marchowsky's" crossing, and the homes of Mauston flash by, almost blurred; a slight bounce at the double street crossing at the edge of the depot platform, and again, the sensation of being just above the rails, not on them. A moderate lurch on the curve east of town, then down the speedway with occasional bits of gravel hitting the coach floor. Moving now. The 10.6 miles to Lyndon are clocked in 6 minutes 25 seconds. Averaging 99.2. More gravel. The EMD's horn continually emits its raucous warning in advance of sandy little side roads. Suddenly — no advance indication — the brakes take hold . . . speed drops from near 100 to about 70 — there's a bit of a jolt and the left edge of the coach elevates appreciably on the first of the series of curves along the Dells.
When I last rode this route, in 1985, there still was a Marachowsky store in Mauston. There are no references to one online these days. In 1985 the Soo Line had just acquired The Milwaukee Road, and the stretch through Mauston was a work zone. This passage (yes, I've known it for a long time) nagged at me as we plodded along the onetime speedway. The curves at the Dells are still there. Bear in mind that Six's fastest scheduled steam timing included a slack for those curves, as well as a slack for the climb up to Tunnel City west of Tomah, and a climbdown into Tomah.
In seconds the brakes release, the Hi is free. But not for long. A second, more severe application accompanied by the echo of steel pressing steel reduces speed to 40 through the reverse curve and across the high bridge: Wisconsin Dells. Off the span, the impatience of two pairs of V-12s becomes known.
The Morning Hiawatha made the Dells stops, and at summers, a Second Five using idle suburban train equipment would return as a Second 100 for day-trippers. The E series of passenger diesels were a survival of early passenger locomotive design, where 900 hp was about the best one could expect of a single prime mover. The engines became more powerful, but the two-engine design remained the same. Thus, no records for most power in one engine (that would be Fairbanks-Morse with 2400 hp in an opposed-piston package here, and English Electric's 3300 hp in the triple-opposed-piston Deltic taking over for the Streaks) in a passenger locomotive, but one of those V-12s could fail and the train would be in on time or near time anyway. Perhaps the next generation of high-speed diesel trains will use genset diesels, although modern sound- and pollution-suppressors will likely mute the impatience.

Within a mile speed is back in the 80's and increasing.

Again the train is like the wind, rushing violently along, overtaking and passing every vehicle on the passing highway.

That's Highway 16. There are stretches where the Ford-era Amtrak Hiawatha at 70 would overtake the 55 mph vehicles on the Interstate, which is in sight of the tracks near Lyndon. Ah, to blow the doors off the SUVs with a A or an F7.

Eight miles to go.

"Portage will be next in about five minutes. Change for Madison."

Three miles out, speed still in the 90's. Now only 8000 feet left . . . the roar ahead subsides, the fleet Indian swoops beneath the highway overpass, brakes take hold on the long curve. Remarkably smooth brakes, no rough stuff, nothing spilled.

Thirty-five at the west end of the platform.

Twenty passing the operator's bay.

"Keep back, folks. Let 'em off, please."

The contemporary proposal, of which more anon, will not require a change to a motor train at Portage (or the shuttle bus that used to go to Columbus) for Madison. We have to talk about changing at Madison Airport for Madison.
NO WONDER I'M OVERTIRED. Perhaps it's the nature of professors, particularly the contrarian ones, to gripe about administrative bloat. Does Phi Beta Cons linking to The Newspaper of Record make it so?

The growth in support staff included some jobs that did not exist 20 years ago, like environmental sustainability officers and a broad array of information technology workers. The support staff category includes many different jobs, like residential-life staff, admissions and recruitment officers, fund-raisers, loan counselors and all the back-office staff positions responsible for complying with the new regulations and reporting requirements college face.

“A lot of it is definitely trying to keep up with the Joneses,” said Daniel Bennett, a labor economist and the author of the center’s report. “Universities and colleges are catering more to students, trying to make college a lifestyle, not just people getting an education. There’s more social programs, more athletics, more trainers, more sustainable environmental programs.”

On average, public colleges have about 8 employees per 100 students, and private colleges about 9, according to the report.

The center referenced is the Center for College Affordability and Productivity.
Critics will surely defend this increase with claims of a changing college missions that call for athletic dominance, environmental sustainability, diversity, and the like. Those are noble social goals, but the problem is that every college in the nation has been playing follow-the-leader, which has resulted in an explosion in labor costs, without consideration of the student's and public's ability to continue supporting these ambitions with tuition dollars and subsidies. This increase in the labor force to meet new (and discretionary) goals is at least partially responsible for the soaring tuition levels, which is leading to public discontent with the higher education establishment.
I've maintained a simpler explanation for that discontent, one, however, that is not inconsistent with turfing out the purveyors of crying towels, assessors of the obvious, and diversity hustlers.
FOUNDATIONS MATTER. I have maintained that introductory economics ought not be a survey of the Ph.D. theory sequence. Now comes Virginia's Mark Edmunson (via Minding the Campus) suggesting something similar for literature.

If I could make one wish for the members of my profession, college and university professors of literature, I would wish that for one year, two, three, or five, we would give up readings. By a reading, I mean the application of an analytical vocabulary — Marx's, Freud's, Foucault's, Derrida's, or whoever's — to describe and (usually) to judge a work of literary art. I wish that we'd declare a moratorium on readings. I wish that we'd give readings a rest.

This wish will strike most academic literary critics and perhaps others as well as — let me put it politely — counterintuitive. Readings, many think, are what we do. Readings are what literary criticism is all about. They are the bread and butter of the profession.

The beginning of wisdom, in teaching economics to new students, is recognizing that there is much benefit in understanding the concepts, without getting into the Kuhn-Tucker conditions and subgame perfection that is what economics professors do.

So too, with teaching literature to new students.
In my view — a view informed by, among others, William Blake, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Matthew Arnold — the best way to think of a literary education is as a great second chance. We all get socialized once. We spend the first years of our lives learning the usages of our families, our neighborhoods, our religions, our schools, and our nations. We come to an understanding of what's expected: We come to see what the world takes to be good and bad, right and wrong. We figure out ways to square the ethics of our church with the ethics of our neighborhood — they aren't always the same, but one reason that religions survive and thrive is that they can enter into productive commerce with the values present in other spheres of life. Kids go to primary school so that they can learn their ABC's and math facts, certainly. But they also go to be socialized: They go to acquire a set of more or less public values. Then it's up to them (and their parents) to square those values with the home truths they've acquired in their families. Socialization isn't a simple process, but when it works well, it can produce individuals who thrive in themselves and either do no harm to others or make a genuine contribution to society at large.
Wouldn't hurt for those individuals to understand something about scarcity, opportunity costs, tradeoffs, the margin. Wouldn't hurt for those common schools to inculcate the Habits of Effective People either.
But primary socialization doesn't work for everyone. There are always people — how many it's tough to know, but surely a minority — who don't see their own natures fully reflected in the values that they're supposed to inherit or assume. They feel out of joint with their times. The gay kid grows up in a family that thinks homosexuality is a sin. The young guy with a potent individualistic streak can't bear the drippy collectivism foisted on him by his ex-hippie parents and his purportedly progressive school. The girl who is supposed to be a chip off the old legal block and sit some day on the Court only wants to draw and paint; the guy destined (in his mom's heart) for Princeton is born to be a carpenter and has no real worldly ambitions, no matter how often he's upbraided.
Wasn't I just talking about tradeoffs? Including the Faustian bargain called Living Up to the Wrong Expectations?

To be young is often to know, or to sense, what others have in mind for you and not to like it. But what is harder for a person who has gone unhappily through the first rites of passage into the tribe is to know how to replace the values she's had imposed on her with something better. She's learned a lot of socially sanctioned languages, and still none of them are hers. But are there any that truly might be? Is there something she might be or do in the world that's truly in keeping with the insistent, but often speechless, self that presses forward internally?

This, I think, is where literature can come in — as can all of the other arts and in some measure the sciences, too. By venturing into what Arnold memorably called "the best that has been known and thought," a young person has the chance to discover new vital possibilities.

I'll stop quoting. Go. Read and understand. I'll be here when you get back.
THE MISSION IS BIGGER THAN THE PERSONALITY. Milwaukee chancellor Carlos Santiago is on the short short list for the Florida International post. He's in the position of don't-take-it-spend-the-rest-of-your-life-asking-why.
"It certainly is earlier than I had anticipated," Santiago said. "The question that both myself and (my wife) Azara struggled with is, is this the right time to do it? The answer we came up with was, you never can predict when these opportunities would rise. And a year from now, would the FIU opportunity be there? And the answer would be no. That was a real deciding factor."
He makes the point I headlined.

Santiago said that if he leaves, Milwaukee needs to continue to pursue the vision of research growth.

"I think we've got some good things started in Milwaukee, and what's important is that they have continuity. This is not about a chancellor. To me that's the most important thing is that if this plays out, that the vision will continue."

With senior administrators, coaches, and more than a few grant-getting professors being job-hoppers these days, not everybody agrees. Consider James Rowen.

Santiago, however, is in the middle of ambitious expansion plans in Milwaukee and its environs, and has convinced the state and donors to contribute heavily to new, research-oriented programs; his unequivocal signal that he wants to be elsewhere does undercut his planning as long as he's here.

No one likes to feel as if they were merely a stepping stone, thus stepped on.

What matters is that there be a critical mass of professors, and a few deans, who support the mission no matter who currently occupies the chancellor's office. It's when the serial administrators serially modify the mission, so as to establish their bona fides with the latest management fads (student-centeredness, diversity, multiculturalism, sustainability, active learning, six-four and pick 'em) that the morale goes in the hopper. Milwaukee's plans will be fine provided the next chancellor, should that be required, and the faculty, agree that long term success lies in being more like Wisconsin than like a diploma mill.

20.4.09

NO THANKS. The editorial board of the Northern Star rejects concealed carry.

Students shouldn’t have to feel like they have to take the law into their own hands.

Our society implements police and other law-enforcement officers because civilians are not properly equipped with the knowledge to eradicate dangerous situations.

If the legislation passes, what are students supposed to do; sit in class with their hand on their holster in case the worst happens?

It’s an impractical solution to an admittedly hard problem to solve but lawmakers are going to have to come up with a better solution than arming more people.

It will involve the implementation of more law enforcement and security officials in high-traffic areas.

Metal detectors may need to be installed in campus buildings and obviously more money will need to be spent.

The challenge that faces lawmakers is coming up with reasonable solutions that will lower the threat of school shootings and make students feel safer in the classroom; arming students is not the solution.

We don't have the metal detectors. We do have some special forces. At Phi Beta Cons, Robert VerBruggen, generally favorably disposed to concealed carry, noted, "I wrote about the NIU shooting in the Spectator here; I'm doubtful concealed carry would have stopped that one."
GETTING THERE THE SENSIBLE WAY. Popular Mechanics sounds out John Stilgoe on Passenger Rail.

While Amtrak could potentially upgrade the speeds of its existing California-based trains to 110 miles per hour (from a 79-mph average), at that speed they won't get travelers from San Francisco to Los Angeles in 2-1/2 hours—as fast as an airplane would if you count time for check-in, security and transport from airports to city centers. Still, the price for the bullet train line is far higher than all available funds from the stimulus. This project will need at least $27.5 billion ($12 billion to $16 billion in federal dollars, $9 billion from bonds raised by the state of California and $6.5 to $7.5 billion in private capital) just for the first phase—building track that will run from San Francisco to Anaheim (San Diego and Sacramento are not included in this phase). The total cost for the project is estimated to be between $40 billion and $45 billion.

This kind of hefty price tag has experts outside California thinking twice about a future American landscape full of high-speed trains. The U.S. doesn't need new 200-mph-train routes to divert passengers from airlines, says John Stilgoe, Harvard professor and author of Train Time. Stilgoe believes that there will be a huge resurgence in train travel in the next fifty years, without high-speed projects that require entirely new track to be laid down. His research models, based on real-world travel patterns, show that "a lot of people want to travel at [speeds no faster than] 100 miles an hour for distances up to 150 miles," he says. "Improving the current train infrastructure, and in some places really upgrading it (so there can be Acela trains between cities like Chicago and St. Louis or between San Francisco and L.A.) can be done with existing technology."

Cliff Black, Amtrak's head of communications agrees. "Absolute top speed is not as important as reduction in operating time," Black says. "An incremental speed improvement from 79 mph, which is our normal top speed outside the Northeast, to 110 mph will give us many hours of reduced running time over a broad spectrum of routes."

I've referred to Professor Stilgoe's work previously. I'm pleased to see that incremental, feasible improvements to existing passenger trains is emerging as Amtrak's preferred option.
GETTING THERE THE HARD WAY. A Destination: Freedom columnist travels from near New York to Fredericksburg. By train. But not Amtrak. The gaps in the commuter rail service? He took a bus.

The first train to Fredericksburg on Virginia Railway Express (VRE) is an “early getaway” train that leaves at 12:55 pm ($9.75). VRE is essentially a “peak-hour-only” commuter service. My train arrived shortly before 2:30 pm. Total travel time from New York City was 15 hours, and the regular fare for the trip is $63.15. Had I left New York on Amtrak Train #67 at 3:15 am, my fare would have been $76.00, and the trip would have taken 5 hours and 20 minutes.

Had I wished to go further, I could have taken two local buses from Fredericksburg to downtown Richmond in the late afternoon, operated by Richmond’s GRTC. Instead of going to Richmond, I stayed in Fredericksburg for a few hours. I enjoyed my visit, but I was glad to take Train #66 north in the early evening. The trip to Boston took less time than my trip from New York to Fredericksburg, although it was not as adventurous as the southbound trip had been.

With some cooperation on scheduling and fares, the Northeast’s commuter rail providers, from the “T” around Boston to VRE in Virginia, could provide useful and economical service to all points along the Amtrak NEC Line. The trains would not be as fast as Amtrak, but the trip would be much faster than mine with better connections and integrated scheduling. It makes sense to provide such services.. As long as Amtrak fares on the NEC are high, budget-conscious travelers will want a less expensive alternative to Amtrak, even if the trip takes longer.

Years ago, there was a Trains sidebar describing a similar trip, early in the Amtrak era, using the commuter train operators where possible, Amtrak otherwise, from Boston to Washington. Today, West Coast commuters also have the option of travelling from the Mexican border to Santa Barbara entirely on suburban trains, again with some long layovers. I have to wonder about devoting an extra ten hours to saving thirteen bucks, however. Somebody that destitute won't be traveling at all.

That's not to say the commuter services aren't without value. On a few occasions, I've parked for free in Metuchen and ridden the Pennsy, er, New Jersey Transit, into Manhattan, at somewhat less expense than Amtrak out of Metropark.

The commuter services might also supplement Amtrak for tourists. I like the British railpass. It doesn't matter whether I'm on First or Virgin or Central or whoever is currently operating the West Yorkshire Passenger Transport Authority, my pass is good on all trains. In the States, the Amtrak rail pass is good only on Amtrak (with space reservations required). Is it that difficult to honor them on the commuter trains as well, so that a visitor might be able to go to the Hamptons or South Bend or Fox Lake or Arlington Park on the same pass that gets the visitor from New York to Chicago?
CONDOLENCES. Dean Dad remembers his dad.

19.4.09

A DAY FOR BEING HELPFUL. Saturday was NIU Cares Day and there were student teams at work all over town. The girl in this picture got some help with the yard work from some collegians.


DeKalb Chronicle photograph by Elena Grimm.

[Joe] Riguad cleared toys and leaves from his yard Saturday with his 4-year-old daughter, Iliana, as five members of NIU's Pi Sigma Epsilon planted flowers and raked. Having lived in DeKalb for five years, he said he was surprised when he was approached by city officials about the program.

"Having someone else do my yard, I feel like that's cheating," was his first thought, he said. "But I don't know any other places I've lived that do something like this. It really shows the value the city puts on their city."

Student volunteer Cristy Sagun found some value, too.

"My parents are not going to believe me when I tell them what I'm doing," she said as she raked leaves. Gardening is not Sagun's forte, and it would surprise her green-thumb parents to know she volunteered her time to do just that.
I saw members of both basketball teams at work in the parkways, clearing the winter's litter from the banks of the drainage ditches. (There may be names for these waterways, but I haven't learned them yet).

Saturday was also electronics recycling day. I spent an hour waiting in a long line of cars to offload some batteries and life-expired compact fluorescent bulbs and a monitor, and some dead mice. The city promised the electronics would go to a responsible scavenger, not some Chinese toxic pile. That noted, the carbon footprint of all those idling cars (with more than a few big pickups and sport-utes) might have more than offset whatever benefit keeping the toxics out of the waste stream provides.
LOOK FOR THE SIMPLEST EXPLANATION. In the New York Times, Nicholas Kristof refers to work with policy implications for educational achievement and income inequality.

If intelligence were deeply encoded in our genes, that would lead to the depressing conclusion that neither schooling nor antipoverty programs can accomplish much. Yet while this view of I.Q. as overwhelmingly inherited has been widely held, the evidence is growing that it is, at a practical level, profoundly wrong. Richard Nisbett, a professor of psychology at the University of Michigan, has just demolished this view in a superb new book, “Intelligence and How to Get It,” which also offers terrific advice for addressing poverty and inequality in America.

Professor Nisbett provides suggestions for transforming your own urchins into geniuses — praise effort more than achievement, teach delayed gratification, limit reprimands and use praise to stimulate curiosity — but focuses on how to raise America’s collective I.Q. That’s important, because while I.Q. doesn’t measure pure intellect — we’re not certain exactly what it does measure — differences do matter, and a higher I.Q. correlates to greater success in life.

Intelligence does seem to be highly inherited in middle-class households, and that’s the reason for the findings of the twins studies: very few impoverished kids were included in those studies. But Eric Turkheimer of the University of Virginia has conducted further research demonstrating that in poor and chaotic households, I.Q. is minimally the result of genetics — because everybody is held back.

“Bad environments suppress children’s I.Q.’s,” Professor Turkheimer said.

I came across the column by way of a Balloon Juice post taking issue with Andrew Sullivan, and indirectly, with Charles Murray.

So I haven’t actually read that Bell Curve book, largely because I think it’s very unlikely that a single “intelligence quotient” measure exists in any meaningful way and because I think that human beings like to do things like invent bogus measures of superiority, pretend that what is being measured is hereditary, and then use these findings to justify the status quo. I did glance through this summary of the book and was stunned that the last item was ominously titled “A Place for Everyone“.

So, let me ask: do people like Sully and Murray actually believe that they and their friends are members of a genetic “cognitive elite” and that some portion of the rest of the population belongs in a “more lavish version of the Indian reservation”? Or am I simplifying things.

I got just past halfway through Bell Curve and got bored. I've reacted less than favorably to Mr Murray's more recent work, particularly when he's unable to grasp the implications of a power law (almost all the children will be below average ...) Back to Mr Kristof.

Another proven intervention is to tell junior-high-school students that I.Q. is expandable, and that their intelligence is something they can help shape. Students exposed to that idea work harder and get better grades. That’s particularly true of girls and math, apparently because some girls assume that they are genetically disadvantaged at numbers; deprived of an excuse for failure, they excel.

“Some of the things that work are very cheap,” Professor Nisbett noted. “Convincing junior-high kids that intelligence is under their control — you could argue that that should be in the junior-high curriculum right now.”

"Intelligence is something they can help shape." Perhaps that's an invocation of James Heckman's work on the effect of noncognitive skills. Perhaps that's my Habits of Effective People obsession in a different form. I'll give a Harvard man the last word.
For the long term, government policy should focus on turning less-skilled people into more-skilled people, because, regardless of what you’ve read in the newspaper, education remains the best antidote against unemployment.
BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU ASK FOR. Milwaukee chancellor Carlos Santiago is among thirteen finalists (that's the short list?) for the presidency of Florida International.

Tom Luljak, vice chancellor for university relations at UWM, said Saturday that Santiago is proud of the progress the university has made and greatly enjoys living and working in Milwaukee.

"While he has found his position to be immensely satisfying, the opportunity at Florida International is one that he feels he needs to explore," Luljak said.

The opportunity is not necessarily about money.

University of Wisconsin System President Kevin Reilly said Saturday that he offered to recommend a pay raise for Santiago when he found out Thursday that Santiago would be a finalist. But Santiago asked Reilly not to do that because his decision about FIU would not be about money, but the type of choice that "tugs at the heart."

Santiago is paid $300,550 a year, which is to rise to $307,355 in June. Reilly offered to raise Santiago's salary to the maximum of his range, $363,223.

According to the Miami Herald report, the next FIU president will receive a compensation package worth as much as $680,000 - about $50,000 more than the current president.

Reilly said Santiago was drawn to Florida International's strong tradition of serving Hispanic populations and its location near relatives and Puerto Rico.

"We value him and really want him to stay," Reilly said. "The regents and I want to do everything in our authority to keep him."

It may be about academic mission as well.

The Florida International student body is 59% Hispanic, and the school ranked first in the nation among four-year colleges for awarding bachelor's and master's degrees to Hispanic students in a 2008 survey conducted by The Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education magazine.

The school has more than 38,000 students and 1,000 full-time faculty members. It has a strong research mission, with about $108 million in external research funding in 2006-'07. UWM, meanwhile, has about 29,000 students and spends some $40 million on research.

The position, should he take it, is not without challenges, in sports, and in administration.

18.4.09

A RECOVERING REPUBLICAN. Mike Munger reminds Raleigh tax protestors that debt is future taxes.


Sisu's coverage of the Boston tax protest has been Instalanched. I like this picture.

THE ISLANDS AND BAYS ARE FOR BUCCANEERS. I don't have to make stuff up. Reality is more imaginative. Beaver Island Buccaneers, ye scurvy dogs.
Lake Michigan, it turns out, once had its own pirates—lumber pirates, Prohibition-era booze pirates and even religious pirates.
ARR, ain'a hey?
GIVE THEM FREE REIN TO 110. I've been making the case for faster conventional trains in the Midwest, and they might happen.

Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin are working with Amtrak to increase train speeds from the 79 m.p.h. top speed in most locations to 110 m.p.h., which is the maximum that can be safely handled by Amtrak's existing locomotives and coaches. Speeds higher than that would require elaborate barriers to prevent accidents between trains and vehicles at railroad crossings.
The cost-effective policy might involve more grade separations, although such projects can be more effective than barriers. (On the other hand, Britain's East Coast Main Line still has a few occupation crossings, with a telephone to obtain permission to herd sheep across the tracks. These crossings also provide stiles for pedestrians to cross the right-of-way-fence.)

Chicago Tribune columnist Mary Schmich quotes President Obama.

"Imagine," Obama said Thursday, "boarding a train, in the center of a city, no racing to an airport and across a terminal, no delays, no sitting on the tarmac, no lost luggage, no taking off your shoes."

"Imagine," he said, "whisking through towns at speeds over 100 miles an hour, walking only a few steps to public transportation, and ending up just blocks from your destination."

Mr President, do you really want to imagine the Depression era?



The context for the chart is here. In 1938, a passenger detraining in Milwaukee could walk a few steps to the Public Service Building and board a car for Waukesha or Soldiers Home or, for a few more months, East Troy, destinations not served directly by The Milwaukee Road.

Ms Schmich characterizes the plans as modest.

What [President] Obama outlined on Thursday isn't quite so exciting. The government will distribute $8 billion to develop 10 high-speed rail systems around the country. Chicago would be one hub. In Illinois, we'll be lucky to speed the trains up to 110 miles per hour, which is slower than European and Japanese fast trains.

On one hand, that's a lot of money to restore train timings that were routine in the Steam Era. On the other hand, faster and more frequent trains will build ridership, particularly if the money devoted to roads goes to in-kind rebuilds of the existing roads, rather than adding road capacity. (In-kind rebuilds mean subjecting drivers to construction-season congestion that reverts to non-construction-season congestion when the rebuilds are done.)

Closer to DeKalb, the passenger rail possibilities include a day train through Belvidere, Rockport, Freeport, and Galena to Dubuque. That restores a passenger train to the Galena and Chicago Union (Chicago's first railroad) although it requires the cooperation of the passenger-hostile Union Pacific.

The project languished until earlier this year, when the federal stimulus package — known as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act — passed with money for Amtrak projects. Meanwhile, Gov. Pat Quinn made a push for a long-delayed state capital plan that could come together this summer.

State officials will send an application for stimulus money when guidelines come out this summer. The goal is for stimulus money to pay for most of the project, with a capital plan filling any gap. Local officials may have to fund new train stations.

It’ll take two construction seasons to get the rails ready, and at least that long for Amtrak to refurbish old cars to put on the new route, something that’s also being funded by the stimulus package.

I'm uneasy about calling these projects economic stimulus. They're capital investments, possibly with benefit-cost ratios greater than one, and a proper accounting for public borrowing would create assests to offset the liabilities implied by the government bonds. I'd also like to see a new fleet of day coaches -- perhaps these -- to supplement the Amfleet and Horizon cars. The oldest Amcoaches are older now than the newest legacy coaches that Amtrak bought in 1971-1972 were.

The Belvidere routing sends the trains further away from DeKalb and Sycamore. The historic routing to Dubuque passed through Genoa.

"We're not funding it so if the federal government feels it's better to go in another direction, what more can I say?" [Genoa mayor Todd] Walker said. He also said that it was hard to gauge community support for the project.

There is a preference revelation problem here, in that residents might be more favorably disposed to having train service if somebody else pays for it (the national government, holders of Illinois bonds) although they might not act on that disposition by riding the trains. Something like that might be bothering Reason's Nick Gillespie.

If you're the president of the United States and you're talking about goddamn traffic jams and you're proposing high-speed rail as anything other than an unapologetic boondoggle that will a) never get built and b) never get built to the gee-whiz specs it's supposed and c) be ridden by fewer people than commuted by zeppelin last year, you've got real problems, bub. And by extension, so do we all.

Reality checks. First, never mind the gee-whiz specs. Give the existing trains free rein to 110. Increase the frequencies. Provide reliable connectivity. In Chicago, the hourly commuter trains on Saturdays now routinely offer six car consists, all cars working, all cars comfortably full, in part because if the expressway congestion doesn't get you, twenty bucks to park for the first half hour will. (Yes, that's routine on Saturdays. At summer peaks, Burlington and North Western services regularly offer relief trains, often on faster schedules leaving five minutes ahead of the regular train, making their first stop fifteen to twenty miles down the line.)

In researching this post, I came across this.

I continue to endorse these high-speed rail plans, but the Sprecher stays in the cooler until the cartel-era speed restrictions are repealed and the track upgrading begins.

The Sprecher is still in the cooler.

OBSERVATION OF THE DAY. University Diaries.
Try being an English professor. Utility functions sounds like a breath of fresh air...
The context is a Francis Fukuyama essay that lacks internal coherence. I propose to revise and extend. Better is the enemy of good enough. Academic tenure as we understand it is one response to a tradeoff (protecting the academy from popular fads of the day, at the expense of creating self-referential and sometimes irresponsible hierarchies). Its abolition would present another tradeoff, of unknown nature. Call that a known unknown.

16.4.09

WE'RE IN THE SAME BUSINESS AS MICHIGAN. The New York Times does a feature on Arizona State's ambitions colliding with economic realities.
But this year, [Arizona State president Michael] Crow’s plans have crashed into new budget realities, raising questions about how many public research universities the nation needs and whether universities like Arizona State, in their drive to become prominent research institutions, have lost focus on their public mission to provide solid undergraduate education for state residents.
That research-focus-shortchanges-undergraduates seems to be a common theme in these articles.
“What’s happening, everywhere, is what’s happening to Michael Crow,” said Jane Wellman, executive director of the Delta Project on Postsecondary Costs, Productivity and Accountability, an organization that studies spending by colleges and universities. “The trend line is states disinvesting in higher education.”
Disinvestment, however, is not the same thing as productivity or accountability.
“Universities aspire to prestige,” Ms. Wellman said, “and that is achieved by increasing selectivity, getting a research mission and having faculty do as little teaching as possible, not by teaching and learning, and taking students from Point A to Point B.”
I'd be more convinced that the prestige aspiration was misguided if Harvard or Michigan reported empty seats and development officers scrambling to recruit and retain students. That leads me to question an observation the Times reporter makes.
So it is a real question how many public research universities the nation can afford, and what share of resources should go to less expensive forms of education, like community colleges.
Economists recognize trade-offs, and the reporter has some sense of them.
Finding the right balance between improving academic quality and serving state residents is not easy.
The problem, however, is one of treating the two as equivalent, not in tension. It's simple, really. Insist that the elementary schools inculcate the Habits of Effective People. Bill the high schools for remedial courses in college. Stop enabling failure with the access-assessment-remediation-retention approach to college. Recognize that if professors wanted to do special education, they would have obtained special education certificates, not research degrees. Do all of those things, and I can pipe down, and Cold Spring Shops will be all things that run on rails, all the time. Well, less of the time. Look for more things that run on rails after the semester ends.

As a side note to the press: perhaps interview a few professors. The article suggests undergraduates at R1 institutions and the wannabes have little access to tenured professors. There are many scheduled office hours that I can use to catch up on reading or scribble a few lines of derivation, and I suspect my experience generalizes. The students have to make the effort. (I don't know if I'm excessively conscientious, setting some office hours at times I know aren't prime time for classes.)

Timothy Burke comments.

I agree with the basic thrust of the article, which was to suggest that the conventional formula for building a top-tier R1 just isn’t sustainable when you multiply it by 50 states, that there’s room for a few public university systems to build that kind of institution but that they don’t make sense as a generalized aspiration.

So go back to the hypothetical scenario: you’re a new president and you want to build up a public institution, and not just have it be a under-resourced, haphazardly organized, third-order imitation of the University of Michigan that is mostly seen by regional communities as the provider of football and basketball. That you want to think about how to combine public mission and excellence without trying to stuff your faculty full of supposedly world-class researchers.

I'm not persuaded. Yes, the supposedly world-class researcher criterion is probably overrated, and it can produce the kind of great-in-seminar, lousy-in-classroom research star that gives the education part of higher education (all the way back to Profscam, if not earlier) a bad name, as well as the Glass Bead Game in which a faculty member at a wannabe can claim that a large number of derivative papers in Rivista Internazionale Numere Due di Bovini is at least as prestigious as a breakthrough in American Economic Review. Those difficulties are small, however, compared to the problem the dean at Anonymous Community picks up.
Research universities exist to produce breakthroughs, and they pay the bills with adjuncts and football; I get that. Elite SLACs sell exclusivity and high standards; I get that, too. Schools with specific religious niches or curricular foci justify their existences by their differences from everyone else. Community colleges exist to provide the basics for either transfer or work. But the 'comprehensive' midtier public college that tries to be a little of everything strikes me as doomed. I can't help but wonder if some of the animus directed at administrators in the four-year colleges derives from their personification of what's really a very confused mission. You have an opportunity to hire one of the world's leading specialists in nuclear basketweaving; she's brilliant, well-published, and utterly incomprehensible. Do you hire her? At Flagship U, yes. At a cc, no. (So much for 'meritocracy'!) At a midtier school trying to raise its profile? Uh, maybe...
He starts to unpackage the problem. (I would note that the community college is being meritocratic, as well as helpful. A good researcher ... without a tenure-track appointment at an R1 or wannabe ??? ... in a teaching environment is unlikely to be happy, let alone meritorious of the job.)
As barriers to entry keep coming down in all areas of life, I just don't see the “all things to all people” model as sustainable. When people have so many options, the way to stand out is to pick a particular niche and do that really well.
The confused mission at the mid-major is simply a misunderstanding of the market. Recession or no, the waiting lists are still for the Northwesterns or Michigans. There's room for more of the comprehensives to emulate those models. There may even be a social-justice argument (as a left perspective would have it) for doing so: do the first-generation kids and the returning adults and the place-bound people deserve to be fobbed off on the access-assessment-remediation-retention muddle?

Or the false economy at Western Ontario.
There is a report that some of the senior admins here think that even having a ranking of 64 is too high for a university whose overall ranking in the world is somewhere between 100 and 150. They think this department is too good and commands too many of the university's resources. They see that top new PhDs in economics draw big salaries at top schools, and so they want us to hire lesser people and fall in the rankings.
Do the math. We'd be quite happy to pass Western Ontario in the economics league tables even if by default, particularly with the skimpy resources we have. But to deliberately move the university downscale, which is what happens when you derate the top departments in your faculties, makes no sense in light of the waiting lists.
IT'S A FEATURE. On the left, Anti-Obama Rebellion Poses Risk for the GOP.

At least since the days of Ronald Reagan, Republicans have thrived on the anti-spend, anti-tax message-despite the fact GOP presidents have presided over major expansions of the deficit.

Today, however, the economic climate is far different, as evidenced by the election, in which voters picked a do-more, spend-more presidential candidate over a do-less, cut-taxes candidate.

The one element in the conservatives' message that pollsters say could resonate down the road is government spending. While most voters seem to support the idea of a surge in outlays now, there is concern about deficits stretching into the future.

The same essay notes that a populist movement opposed to the policies of a sitting president is a risk to that presidency. That the risk does not necessarily imply a higher return to Republicans is not a bad thing.

On the right, Republicans Should Not Be Rejoicing Quite Yet.
So what do these people want? While labeled a “tax protest” by many media outlets, the most common items mentioned by those attending and speaking were bailouts, runaway spending, the growing deficit, “generation theft” (i.e., passing on an unsustainable debt to their children and grandchildren), and a loss of personal accountability.
All I can do is remind readers that framing all of public policy as Democrats and Republicans and decisions taken in the capital is a fallacy of insufficient alternatives.