28.9.09

THE CHICAGO WAY. Don't mention Chicagoans for Rio. And prepare to board the gravy train.

As the organizers of Chicago’s 2016 Olympics bid sprint for the finish line, NIU Professor of Management Christine Mooney says that it’s time for local business to begin thinking about ways to become part of the Olympic team.

If Chicago gets the nod, the announcement will be the starting gun for a massive race to prepare, and local companies stand to be big winners if they act wisely, says Mooney, co-author of a paper studying how businesses can benefit from “mega events.”

Those who find ways to successfully insert themselves into the network behind events such as the Olympics can continue collecting gold long after the last medal is presented.

Or not.

The key, says Mooney, is looking beyond the finish line from the very start. “Dedicate resources to building trust so those relationships will continue after the event. Building the network is the real payoff, and you can’t assume those relationships will continue just because you worked together.”

Also, she cautions, don’t jump into the Olympic pool if it isn’t a good fit for your business. “You have to assess the costs of membership now and whether benefits outweigh the costs,” she says. “Just as an impressive Olympic performance can vault a company forward, failing can disqualify it in the future.”

A sidebar suggests the consequences of what I fear, which is Chicago taxpayers taking a large hit from the games.
If the games are a big success, you are on the winning team. If they go down in history as a boondoggle, you are forever associated with their failure.
On the other hand, to use another cliche, you took one for the team.
STOP CRYING WITH YOUR MOUTH FULL. A few entertainers and pundits call out elements of the Liberal Establishment and you'd think the Schutzbund was rounding up persons of conscience.

First Big Business, Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Bill O'Reilly, Lou Dobbs, the Religious Right, the Wall Street Journal, Mitch McConnell, and Karl Rove came for ACORN, and the Democrats did not speak out -- because they were not ACORN.
Never mind that it still takes something to beat even a bad set of policies, and a band of entertainers able to agree only that President Obama has some dubious advisors is not the same as a coherent plan for the restructuring of government. Never mind that ACORN has its roots in the welfare-rights movements of the late 1960s, and the latest set of child-prostitution videos reinforce a picture of an organization that enables vote fraud and mau-maus banks into lending to people with neither substance nor creditworthiness.

Call the roll of the rest of the Liberal Establishment, and all its identity-politics hangers on.

Then they came for the National Education Association, and the Democrats did not speak out -- because they were not the National Education Association.

Then they came for the U.S. Student Association, and the Democrats did not speak out -- because they were not the U.S. Student Association.

Then they came for the American Association of University Professors, and the Democrats did not speak out -- because they were not the American Association of University Professors.

Never mind that these organizations are complicit in the common schools and higher education breaching the social contract that once existed between them and the public. Never mind that these organizations render young people unemployable and call it inclusive education. It's easier to conjure up the totalitarians at work. Come off it.

27.9.09

THE LAST OF THE UNLIMITED PEPSI. The Melrose Park Kiddieland, which closed today, included as much Pepsi as you could stand in line for with the admission price.


I made my last visit two weeks ago, and took a few pictures. The Chicago Tribune took a few more.

25.9.09

IF YOU BUILD IT, WILL THEY COME? Trains for America recently posted a video from OnBoard Midwest purporting to show popular support for high-speed train service to Winona, Minnesota.



The video notes that two colleges in Winona have extensive enrollment from the Cities, and one person is quoted as liking the idea of six trains to Chicago.

It was not that long ago that Winona had six trains to Chicago, on two competing railroads, on timings that were sometimes competitive and sometimes complementary.

The Milwaukee Road was still running almost the same service it offered during World War II. The westbound schedule in effect at April 28, 1968 included One, The Pioneer Limited, off Chicago 10.30, Winona 4.55, arriving St. Paul 7.00. If that was too early, 55, making local stops across Wisconsin and along the Mississippi, off Chicago 11.30, offered a breakfast-time departure from Winona at 8.00, arriving St. Paul 10.40. Five, The Morning Hiawatha, off Chicago 10.30, reaching Winona at 4.21 (convenient for suitcase collegians) and into St. Paul at 6.25. Three, The Afternoon Hiawatha, left Chicago at 12.35, and on a faster schedule reached Winona at 5.26 and St. Paul at 7.15.

Going east, Six, The Morning Hiawatha, left St. Paul at 7.30, reaching Winona at 9.39 and Chicago at 2.45. A local service, 58, left St. Paul at 10.10, reaching Winona at 12.35 and LaCrosse at 1.45. This train was timed to connect with The Afternoon Hiawatha at New Lisbon. Anyone riding it end-to-end was doing so for the adventure. Two, The Afternoon Hiawatha, left St. Paul at 12.40, reaching Winona at 2.20 and Chicago at 7.25. There were no good early evening. 56, The Fast Mail, left St. Paul at 8.15 and Winona at 10.10, possibly a good option for collegians returning from home, then continuing to Chicago at 5.00. Four, The Pioneer Limited, left St. Paul at 11.20, calling at Winona at 1.12 and reaching Chicago at 7.45.

The Milwaukee Road was seeking permission to discontinue One and Four, 55 and 58, and would soon seek permission to discontinue Two and Three. Perhaps the petitions are still public record someplace, and they might include passenger counts for Winona.

The Burlington had already begun retrenching. Westbound, 21, The Morning Zephyr, often three or four cars, left Chicago at 8.15, reaching Winona Junction across the river in Wisconsin at 12.55 and St. Paul at 3.15, convenient for skipping Friday afternoon classes. The Afternoon Zephyr, 23, was combined with the Empire Builder and the North Coast Limited, leaving Chicago at 1.15, reaching Winona Junction at 6.08 and St. Paul at 8.00 with through service to Fargo and the Pacific Northwest. Fridays and Saturdays 21 was a separate train leaving Chicago at 4.55, calling at Winona Junction at 9.55 and reaching St. Paul at 11.25. That schedule might have been dictated by school schedules elsewhere on the line. An overnight service on 47, The Black Hawk, combined with The Mainstreeter and the Western Star, left Chicago at 10.30 with a 5.10 stop at Winona Junction and a 7.20 arrival at St. Paul. Coach passengers would change at St. Paul for Dakota and Pacific Northwest destinations.

Eastbound, The Morning Zephyr ran with the Empire Builder and North Coast Limited as 22, leaving St. Paul at 8.10, Winona Junction at 9.42 (and racing The Morning Hiawatha to LaCrosse) and reaching Chicago at 2.55. The Afternoon Zephyr picked up transfers off The Mainstreeter, offering a 4.25 departure from St. Paul, reaching Winona Junction at 5.47 and Chicago at 11.10, providing the early evening option missing from The Milwaukee Road's schedules. The Black Hawk took Western Star transfers out of St. Paul at 10.45 with a 12.32 stop at Winona Junction and a 7.00 arrival in Chicago.

Most of that service remained until Amtrak Day. It's possible that the rationalization of service under Amtrak auspices destroyed much of the connectivity possible in the upper Midwest, such as Crookston to Winona or St. Cloud to LaCrosse. On the other hand, the people of Winona might have withdrawn their business from the trains. In the abstract, high-speed trains have appeal. In practice, the farebox test might have a strict grading curve.
THE CASE FOR CONTENT STANDARDS. Students at a New Jersey elementary school performed a song honoring President Obama as part of Black History Month and Presidents' Day observations.



The video has not pleased the Loyal Opposition.

The CBS Political Hotsheet attempts to lower the heat.

Two observations. First, some reports I have seen have suggested that "Jesus Loves the Little Children" is the same tune as "Battle Hymn of the Republic" (which is some older tune, also used in "John Brown's Body.") The first tune, which might have been composed by an eight-year old, borrows a line ("Red, Yellow, Black or White, All are equal in his sight")
from "Jesus Loves the Little Children", which uses the tune of "Tramp, Tramp, Tramp," a prisoners' song that Union prisoners probably used to get under the skin of their rebel guards. The second song uses "Battle Hymn," a tune well suited to third-grade parodies ("Mine eyes have seen the glory of the burning of the school ...")

Second, and more substantively, I trust that the youngsters will have an opportunity to grasp the complexities of that "Equal work means equal pay" line. The content standards of the Council for Economic Education, which provide teachers with material to meet their state benchmarks, include income determination among fourth, eighth, and twelfth grade students. These materials shy away from engagement with comparable worth, probably wisely. Experts in the economics of work and pay tend to discover that income differences reflect differences in human capital and attachment to the labor force, this despite the academic culture's willingness to reward research that would find residual discrimination against women and selected ethnic groups. (The formulas that some people use to determine comparable worth tend to diverge on weighting pink-collar jobs.) I suppose it would be churlish to ask a tenured elementary school teacher in a unionized district to justify the difference between her compensation and the compensation cobbled together by an adjunct lecturer of freshman composition at four community colleges. Churlish, but entertaining.

24.9.09

THE RED LIGHT GAME.

The August Speech Code of the Month: Northern Illinois.

The September Speech Code of the Month: Idaho.

The 1,000th home football game at Huskie Stadium, this Saturday: Idaho at Northern Illinois.

Cold Spring Shops hopes for a Huskie win on the field, and further wishes to be able to report that Northern Illinois University abandons its unconstitutional free speech zone policy and changes its rating from Red Light to Green Light before Idaho does.
SHIFTING RESOURCES. Betsy's Page recommends a City Journal article that details the cost advantage small-country health ministries obtain by negotiating off-peak prices for pharmaceuticals.
One reason for America’s drug dominance (though far from the only one) is America’s unsocialized medicine. Here, with the exception of a few programs like Medicaid and the VA system, the government doesn’t regulate the price of drugs, so when a company invents something big—the latest miracle cancer drug, say—it strikes it rich, making its executives hunger for more. Take away the profit motive, as government-run medicine often does by forcing drug companies to sell at discounted prices, and innovation will dry up.
The article refers to another City Journal article suggesting that France's health ministry obtains below-cost prices for U.S. pharmaceuticals, with the companies making up the losses by raising prices in the U.S. I suspect there's something wrong with that claim: a U.S. company that does not get the French contract, or says no to the French monopsonist, will be able to profitably undercut the price the company that gets the French contract posts to make up its losses. I'll read that article and follow up later.

Mrs Newmark expresses her reservations about government monopsonists suppressing future inventions by reducing the rewards.
If the profit motive is removed from the American market through government regulation of health care programs trying to lower costs by negotiating lower drug prices, the drug companies will respond by doing less of that expensive research and development. And the result will be the loss to all of mankind of future new medicines. We won't know about what we have lost. No one knows of the discoveries unmade. And that is one of the main reasons why I am so strongly against the sort of governmental tinkering with our medical industry that the Democrats are espousing. For we know that if the government becomes the major supplier of health care, there will, surely as night follows day, be governmental edicts coming out about the prices that they're willing to reimburse drug companies for expensive drugs. And gradually, the companies will stop their research into new medicines.
On the other hand, there might be an infinitely elastic supply of grant-grubbing academicians willing to undertake the research, leading to a different set of conflicts of interest in the medical colleges. There will be no shortage of Public Choice dissertations in that event, as researchers compare the profits of private businesses in a third-party-payment environment with the indirect cost returns to medical colleges in a rent-seeking environment.
SUBVERT THE DOMINANT PARADIGM. David French offers advice to college activists.

First, be creative. Too many college activists look at one or more standard paths to influence. Want to write? Start a blog, maybe get a column in your student newspaper, write an op-ed or two, intern at a conservative publication, and let talent (and fate) take its course. More politically partisan? Intern with a legislator, become a staffer, work for the right campaign, and let talent (and fate) take its course. There's nothing wrong with these tracks, of course, but they're well-worn, highly competitive, and — quite frankly — not all that transformational. If James and Hannah had merely written a column about ACORN, would they have accomplished anything?

Second, pick your targets wisely. This is where James and Hannah's true genius emerges. In ACORN, they targeted an institution that (1) is widely known to be corrupt but (2) is zealously protected by the Left and the legacy media. Such an environment positively breeds the kind of mindset on display on the videos. People who feel invulnerable do foolish things. Because the legacy media hasn't closely scrutinized leftist organizations, any number of institutions — from foundations to faculty departments to professional organizations to prominent activist groups — are ripe for the plucking.

Third, be brave. It took no small amount of guts for James and Hannah to pull this off. While they were never in any physical danger, their actions were certainly more "up close and personal" than sitting behind a keyboard and hammering out a blog post, or standing in a crowd at a tea party, or helping a congressman craft legislation.

Deconstruct the deconstructors, indeed.

23.9.09

AN OPPORTUNITY FOR THE MIDDLE CLASS. Tonight, a doubleheader. Book Reviews No. 37 and No. 38 focus on the lives of young people in the positional arms races, or not. Alexandra Robbins, who we last saw hanging out on Sorority Row, spent a year among the senior class in Bethesda, Maryland, with road trips to Winnetka, Illinois and other poverty pockets, to produce The Overachievers: The Secret Lives of Driven Kids. It's a relatively small sample, and its generality isn't guaranteed. The picture it paints of stressed-out teens whose college choices are generally limited, whether by internal standards or neighborhood effects, to the Usual Suspects. And yes, a few of them come apart when they don't get their first choices, and a few of them come apart when they do. It's all baffling to somebody who has been gainfully employed from the age of seventeen (Coastie, sophomore year: "Why are you self-supporting?" Grosse Pointe Dukie, more recently: "What about your student loans?" Not applicable.) to see young people whose greatest blessing might be the opportunity to be introspective so concerned with ticking off the next Must-Do on the checklist. Ms Robbins notes that a lot of those Must-Dos Don't. Impress. and she concludes with some suggestions for young people and their parents.

In the meantime, ambitious young people of more modest means might be able to find gainful and challenging work filling in where the trustafarians break down or burn out.

That is, if they don't fall into the traps detailed in Mark Bauerlein's The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future (Or, Don't Trust Anyone Under 30.) We'd believe you if you didn't shout so much. There are multiple causes: internet technologies that allow anyone to publish without benefit of peer review, social networking that allows people to hang out with friends at any time, including when they might be working or studying, inclusive education that poses little challenge and does little preparation for the life of the mind, or the responsibilities of business. There are two salient facts a reader ought understand. First, Professor Bauerlein is on the Emory faculty. That's a wannabe private institution that Ms Robbins's Bethesdans view as a safety school, if at all. Indulged, disappointed trustafarians do not world-beaters make. Second, he finished the book just before the fall 2008 reckoning in the financial markets. The parallels between the indulged, disengaged, not-challenged collegians of the early Oh-Ohs and the indulgent, tripping, do-your-own-thing collegians of the early Sixties who become the enablers of the current crop must include the belief shared by both cohorts that there would be good jobs for anyone with a semblance of decent credentials. The over-reach of the Great Society and its aftermath taught a few of us differently. The lessons of the Great Recession will be written down in another forty years.

(Cross-posted to 50 Book Challenge.)

TAKING STOCK.

Northern Illinois president John Peters recently delivered his tenth State of the University address. At the time of his hire, I had been referring to the university as one of the better-kept secrets in the state. (Yes, I gripe a lot, but there's a lot that's good that goes on here.)



We're probably not so well-kept a secret any more, in part thanks to a BCS run that on the one hand generated some interest in the university (and yes, I enjoyed it, and recently noted a rare road win against the Big Ten) but on the other hand might have skewed the interest to the party-school, beer-and-circus demographic; and in part after a difficult day in February in which the goodwill Greater Chicago and the State Line showed toward us might have continued in the True North campaign meeting its fundraising goals. Despite the difficult economy, the university met its enrollment targets, with 3,033 incoming freshmen and a total enrollment of 24,424. The Economics Department was downsized with a university of 18,500 students in mind a few years ago, which means I'm probably not done griping.

The speech notes other points of pride. The university is a member of the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities, hence my frequent use of the phrase land-grants and mid-majors. There are four new doctoral programs, including physics and geography. With the Argonne National Laboratory and Fermilab close by, those programs make sense.

Some parts of the university's position are less cheery. The state's precarious finances may mean the end of the Monetary Assistance Program, a voucher for state residents that is good at any state-located college or university. In less parlous times, the state universities objected to this program as taking money away from the public universities. (The generalization to government K-12 schools objecting to vouchers is left to the reader as an exercise.) President Peters's tone has changed.
Since I’ve been using a 10-year time frame for the rest of this speech, allow me to invoke that device here. Nothing in my 10 years at NIU has made me angrier – or more alarmed – than this. Nearly a third of our current undergraduates face the very real possibility of being unable to return in the spring.
That's the party line, and the editorial board at the Northern Star has endorsed it. On the other hand, because the vouchers are good at Loyola or DePaul or Northwestern as well as at Northern Illinois or Illinois State or Clout-Corruptistana, some recipients might substitute toward Northern Illinois.

The speech suggests the end of the vouchers is part of a more generalized breach of the social contract.
Our biggest challenge today is the same one that greeted me upon my arrival in June of 2000; quite simply, it is the disinvestment of our state in higher education. When I came here, the state portion of our budget had plummeted to somewhere around 40 percent. Today it is less than 26 percent. There is a breach in the social contract that has for 150 years defined higher education as a public good. Today, as battles rage in state capitals across our country, higher education is cast as a private benefit instead of an investment we all make in our future.
That this passage comes toward the end of the speech, after a recitation of accomplishments including fundraising for a new building for the College of Business and some new athletic facilities, after a list of technology commercialization successes, after the creation of new agreements with community colleges in which holders of technical associates degrees are able to earn baccalaureate degrees in allied health and homeland security, suggests a loose definition of the expression "public good." The marginal spillover benefits of these functions are likely small.

The universities, including Northern Illinois, have broken the social contract themselves. At one time, the purpose of state aid to higher education was to identify poor but determined young people and aid their transition to a more rewarding existence, whether financially or intellectually. When just over half of those freshmen finish within six years, something's broken. The university's response: expanded diversity efforts. George Leef anticipates the outcome.
The truth is that we lure a large number of students into college who are academically weak and disengaged. Quite a few of them drop out, but quite a few manage to graduate—and then end up in rather mundane jobs that almost any high-school student could learn. Bureau of Labor Statistics data confirm that significant percentages of workers with college degrees are doing jobs that only call for on-the-job training.
They do, however, help the university service the debt on the arena and the parking deck while they're enrolled, which at least one Cold Spring Shops source suggests is the real reason for those enrollment targets in the mid-twenties.
CLOUTED OUT. University of Illinois president B. Joseph White resigns.

22.9.09

NECKS ON THE BLOCK. Anne Nelson's Red Orchestra, reporting what she's learned about organized resistance to the Third Reich that involved a few people who held responsible positions in the government. It makes for an instructive Book Review No. 36 during a run of incivility in U.S. politics that is tame by our standards and free of any real danger from not-so-petty tyrants. Most of the principal characters lost their heads. Among them were an economist, Arvid Harnack, who once studied with John R. Commons at Wisconsin, and his wife, born Mildred Fish, a graduate of the University of Wisconsin, and an air officer, Harro Schulze-Boysen, who had an open marriage with the intriguingly named Libertas.

The Red Orchestra (German counterintelligence referred to what we understand as cells as orchestras) drew heavily from Weimar Germany's artistic and intellectual circles. The book thus has plenty of material on marital infidelity and other transgressive behavior, including avant-gardism for the sheer shock value, of the kind that drives some people to support authoritarians. On the other hand, the protagonists demonstrate depth that's missing from the likes of Alec Baldwin or the Dixie Chicks or Kanye West.

As self-styled progressives of the 1920s, the protagonists understandably are enthusiastic about communism. That proves to be their undoing. Mr Harnack is privy to the Reich's plans for industrial mobilization (too little, too late) and Lt. Schulze-Boysen has the deployment and tasking orders for Fall Barbarossa. Soviet intelligence botches the delivery of radios (I learned that the BBC's Beethoven sign-on was a bad choice for opening forbidden broadcasts), refuses to believe the signals they do receive, and, when the invasion comes, issues a call for help sufficiently well-detailed for Gestapo decoders to round up the full orchestra.

(Cross-posted to 50 Book Challenge.)
THE BEGINNING OF WISDOM. The dean at Anonymous Community anticipates a relatively simple problem, circulating information in the event of a flu outbreak.
The ideas with real value are the ones that can survive heterogeneous behavior and compliance over time. Those ideas almost always fall short of the best behavior, but they have the unique virtue of being useful. The best individual performers may find the rules a bit underwhelming, and I salute them for that. They're right. But asking everyone to be perfect (or civic-minded, or virtuous, or altruistic, or...) just doesn't work.
A commenter grasps the underlying idea.
Most successful systems involving semi-independent actors are sustainable but less perfect than they could be.
That's something that economists have long learned to understand.
Interestingly, freeing individuals to pursue their interests is likely the best practical/realitic approach to what, at first blush, seems like a classical case for collective action.
(Tonight's example observed nailed to Newmark's Door.)

Now to get that idea across to individuals who argue that health care reform requires compelling people who correctly evaluate an insurance purchase as a bad bet to buy that insurance anyway, and creating a monopoly issuer of insurance that will somehow find a risk manager who will make fewer mistakes than risk managers at competing duopolists or oligopolists do, and do that better job for less money.
WHEN INCIVILITY RIDES THE RAILS. Chicago Tribune travel reporter Josh Noel seeks refuge on a train.
I'm in my seat in a dim Amtrak car, beside an aromatic guy and in front of a woman who speaks so loudly into her cell phone that she must assume everyone is interested in her conversation. Likewise, a row ahead, a man using one of those walkie-talkie phones shares both ends of his conversation about when he will arrive in St. Louis.
He's trapped with those products of non-judgementalism on the Texas Eagle, which offers refuge not necessarily available on all trains.

I rise and push through the cabins, looking for I'm not sure what, passing travelers sprawled in sleep or surly in their sardined experience. Four cars later my eyes go wide. I have found my oasis. Its name is the Super Liner Sightseer Lounge Car.

Every Amtrak train has some sort of lounge car, but this one is different. It is wide, it is bright, it is serene. The air is better. The light is better. Everything is better. Eight blue booths sit at one end, and at the other, about 30 seats -- some individual, some love seats.

And here is the best part: the windows. They go from floor to ceiling -- past the ceiling, actually. They curve into the ceiling, which opens the car brilliantly. At the peak of day, when the regular seats are dim and crowded, light pours in here. By late afternoon, when everything turns golden outside, it turns golden in here too, the warm rays and long shadows flitting in and out while America flies by: green fields, brown farms, weathered silos, crooked trees, creaky farms, rusting pickups and brick homes with aboveground pools out back.

Only a few Amtrak trains offer the Sightseer Lounges, and more than a few trains (the Hiawathas, the Harrisburg trains, and some Albany trains) make do with at best a trolley service of beverages and snacks, and the cafe cars on some of the other trains get commandeered by self-important types who turn tables into cubicles, or by the train crew.

Any policy discussion of Amtrak ought treat the amenities as an essential element. In the Northeast, the Acela Expresses, which offer only business and first class at premium fares, effectively segregate the well-heeled and those put off by transgressive Easterners (but I repeat myself) from the less-well-heeled and the transgressive, who make do with the regional trains, or the commuter expresses. On the transcontinental trains, I have encountered people who speak of making great financial sacrifices to ride sleeper rather than share the coaches with passengers who lack decorum. Congresses have on occasion reduced Amtrak's budget to encourage the carrier to downgrade the food service or to scale back the sleeping car offerings. That's an error: people who understand what first class is are potential Amtrak passengers and supporters. Ideally, some of the people setting up cubicles in the dinette might be enticed to buy a first class seat, or a day roomette.

21.9.09

THE JOYS OF SCRATCHBUILDING. Some years ago, I acquired the components for a working model of a Gresley Streak honorably preserved in Green Bay: Martin Finney locomotive and tender kits, Alan G. Harris wheels and motor, custom name and number plates. State of the art stuff for the late 1990s. Now comes Sunset Models offering a ready-to-run, DCC-ready model of the same locomotive, and for a comparable price.

At one time, I was also playing with a Disney program called "Coaster" that offered a number of standard design elements (think snap-track on a computer). I got as close as I could to something resembling the famous Crystal Beach Cyclone. Some of the elements couldn't be replicated well, and the virtual review panel that the game provided to evaluate the coaster didn't like it very much.

Now comes a company called No Limits Coaster that has created a believable simulation of the Cyclone. There are a number of uploads of the ride. Here's one with suitable background music.



Crystal Beach Cyclone simulation on You Tube.

Watch the track change banking from right-handed to left-handed as the train crosses under the approach to the station. It was on that section that many riders suffered broken ribs, as their rib-cages came into contact with the elbows of a seat-mate hanging on for dear life.
SEARCHING FOR BOBBY FISCHER. An intriguing Hungarian connection, via InstaPutz.
SO SOON OLD, SO LATE SMART. Stanley Fish comes to grips with the failure of inclusive education.
By all the evidence, high schools and middle schools are not teaching writing skills in an effective way, if they are teaching them at all. The exception seems to be Catholic schools. More than a few commentators remembered with a mixture of fondness and pain the instruction they received at the hands of severe nuns. And I have found that those students in my classes who do have a grasp of the craft of writing are graduates of parochial schools.
Higher education becomes the remedy of last resort.
I cannot see, however, why a failure of secondary education relieves college teachers of a responsibility to make up the deficit. Quite the reverse. It is because our students come to us unable to write clean English sentences that we are obligated to supply what they did not receive from their previous teachers. No doubt this obligation constitutes a burden on an already overworked labor force, but (and this is one of those times a cliché can acquire renewed force), somebody has to do it.
The Blogger search function is still Bloggered. Take it on faith that I've suggested billing the high schools for the remedial classes in math and writing.

I'm pleased that the column shows evidence of Professor Fish's intellectual growth.

First, you must clear your mind of the orthodoxies that have taken hold in the composition world. The main orthodoxy is nicely encapsulated in this resolution adopted in 1974 by the Conference on College Composition and Communication: “We affirm the students’ right to their own patterns and varieties of language — the dialects of their nurture or whatever dialects in which they find their own identity and style.”

Of course, as a matter of law students have the right to any dialect they choose to deploy (although in some small cities where the “English Only” movement has succeeded in the ballot box, linguistic rights have been curtailed). The issue is whether students accorded this right will prosper in a society where norms of speech and writing are enforced not by law but by institutional decorums. If you’re about to be fired because your memos reflect your “own identity and style,” citing the CCC resolution is not going to do you any good.

That's a roundabout way of saying "rendered unemployable by their inclusive education." Thanks. He continues with a corrective to the fads of tenured radicals (if one permits me a mixed metaphor).
Behind the resolution is a theoretical argument. Linguistic forms, it is said, are not God-given; they are the conventional products of social/cultural habit and therefore none of them is naturally superior or uniquely “correct.” It follows (according to this argument) that any claim of correctness is political, a matter of power not of right. “If we teach standardized, handbook grammar as if it is the only ‘correct’ form of grammar, we are teaching in cooperation with a discriminatory power system” (Patricia A. Dunn and Kenneth Lindblom, English Journal, January, 2003).
The discriminatory power system that makes possible fat paychecks to Dunn and Fish and Lindblom, but what the heck.

Statements like this one issue from the mistake of importing a sociological/political analysis of a craft into the teaching of it. It may be true that the standard language is an instrument of power and a device for protecting the status quo, but that very truth is a reason for teaching it to students who are being prepared for entry into the world as it now is rather than the world as it might be in some utopian imagination — all dialects equal, all habit of speech and writing equally rewarded.

You’re not going to be able to change the world if you are not equipped with the tools that speak to its present condition. You don’t strike a blow against a power structure by making yourself vulnerable to its prejudices. Even as an exercise in political strategy, “having conversations with students about linguistic systems and democratic values” (V.F. Kinloch, “Revisiting the Promise of Students’ Right to Their Own Language,” CCC 57:1, September 2005) strikes me as an unlikely lever for bringing about change; as a strategy for teaching writing, it is a disaster.

And if students infected with the facile egalitarianism of soft multiculturalism declare, “I have a right to my own language,” reply, “Yes , you do, and I am not here to take that language from you; I’m here to teach you another one.” (Who could object to learning a second language?) And then get on with it.

That the student's so-called first language might be a signal of unpreparedness for the adult world isn't an issue, apparently, but recognizing that what Professor Fish calls the prejudices of the power structure, and what I'd interpret as the signals of ability to deal honestly and effectively with others, matter, is progress.

RUNNING EXTRA. At Minding the Campus, Emory's Mark Bauerlein suggests it's extraordinary progress.
Remember that Fish has lived and worked in academia for five decades, with career stops in Berkeley, Johns Hopkins, and Duke, roles in noted institutions such as the School of Criticism and Theory, and important defenses against the National Association of Scholars and the Sokal Hoax. In other words, he has remained at the top of an animated and erratic profession, one without objective standards of worth. Keep in mind that in the humanities you are what people say of you. They review you for promotion and your writings for publication, and their word is final. It's a clubby, tribal world filled with people preoccupied with one another. They exclude and include, gossip and congregate.
Read and understand.

20.9.09

SAVOR THE MOMENT. The Indianapolis O Scale swap meet took place on Saturday. I have a few more treasures, of which more as the opportunity arises. Purdue hosted the Northern Illinois football team in an early game. The Huskies took a lead in the first half, and protected it down the stretch, including a fake punt in the shadow of their goal line to keep possession late in the game.


Northern Illinois president John Peters leads the chorus.
DeKalb Daily Chronicle photo by Beck Diefenbach.

That made for some interesting radio listening on the road home.
THE MAKING OF THE PRESIDENT: 2008. The late Theodore H. White produced a series of these titles covering 1960 to at least 1972. (The opening chapter of The Making of the President: 1960 offers an overview of the timing of voting, state-by-state that is still instructive in interpreting those midafternoon exit polls.) Dan Balz and Haynes Johnson precede the table of contents in The Battle for America 2008: The Story of an Extraordinary Election with a quote from Making: 1960. The book that follows is very much in the White tradition, albeit with each party's nomination presented as a separate book-within-the-book, rather than the protagonists appearing in sequence. Everybody knows the outcome, which precludes Book Review No. 35 from giving any spoilers. I'm not sure whether my sensibilities have shifted or if Messrs. Balz and Johnson are more open with their Eastern Liberal Establishment prejudices than Mr White was. That the dust jacket includes photographs of Jon Stewart and Tina Fey along with some of the more obvious principal characters suggests the possibility. That Saturday Night Live's send-ups of press treatment of the Democratic candidates receive context that its lampooning of Sarah Palin does not reinforces it. On the other hand, the reportage presents enough self-inflicted chaos in the Clinton organization to suggest that Rush Limbaugh's "Operation Chaos" might have had little or no effect: the writing, however, makes no mention of the role of talk radio, and little mention of the role of internet politics, in the primary and the campaign.
(Cross-posted to 50 Book Challenge.)
THE IMMEDIATE AND THE SUBSEQUENT CONSEQUENCES. A few weeks ago the Northern Star offered dueling colums on Cash for Clunkers. In its defense, one columnist considers the immediate consequences.

Cash for Clunkers shook many hands while driving away the dark cloud that lingered over the U.S. economy.

Of course, it helped the auto industry by selling cars, but in selling those cars, it insured that 2010 models would be produced, instead of a market flooded by 09 models. Cash for Clunkers also helped the related industries of steel, freight and financial services, while paying lip service to the environmental lobby.

The critical column gets by with a little help from Cold Spring Shops.

Cars are postponable purchases. Cash for Clunkers caused consumers, who would have been willing to hold on to their vehicles for another six months, year or even two years, to enter the car market now.

Thus, car sales rose dramatically during the summer. But over the next couple of fiscal quarters, or even years, new car sales will be at lower rates.

“What you’ve really done is moved some purchases further in time,” said Stephen Karlson, NIU Associate Professor of Economics, who was in Detroit during the 1982 recession. “You replace it now, but now these people have new cars that they can keep running into the future. So short-term, it does clear inventory out. But long-term you have to be careful about expecting any long-term positive effect for the car companies.”

The column offering a defense of the program identified some people who, while not trading in their older cars, received an opportunity to repair them using parts that could legally be resold from the clunkers.
[One such person has] a 1995 Pontiac Bonneville that has 189,000 miles on it. [She] had to have it in for service yesterday and out of the eight things that needed to be fixed on it, seven of them could be found at a junk yard because of the abundant Cash for Clunker cars. Out of the seven things that could be recycled from a junked car, five of them were out of date parts and were no longer available.
Some older cars that might otherwise be replaced in the next year or so will therefore remain in service.

This means cars with failing emissions, safety issues and more will stay on the road for a longer time.

“Some of those older things are going to hang around longer,” Karlson said. “You might have to start thinking, ‘Does it really make sense to scrap out usable existing cars, when that might have the effect of keeping other clunkier cars, where people don’t have the resources to trade them in, on the road longer?’”

Which, precisely, is what a cascade of repair parts from clunker to clunker accomplishes.

RUNNING EXTRA. In the Boston area, still a recession.
Nationwide, customers snatched up 700,000 new cars, most of them foreign-made, and the government ended up paying out nearly $3 billion toward the purchases. But from the start, analysts predicted that Cash for Clunkers would not boost sales for the year. September’s sales swoon seems to be making their case. Car sales are usually slow after Labor Day, but because of the recession consumers this year are especially reluctant to say yes to major purchases. To make matters worse for dealers, most are still waiting for voucher reimbursements.
(Via Drudge.)
YOU NEVER LOSE. Sometimes time runs out on you. I'm imagining Vince Lombardi's reaction to somebody false-starting with three seconds to go.

17.9.09

ANAKIN ABRAMOWICZ ABIFF. I just received Dan Brown's latest, The Lost Symbol, and finished it very quickly (before even sending payment off to the book club.) Because the work is a mystery, Book Review No. 34 will eschew spoilers, although the title of the review captures the main plot elements, particularly for readers familiar with Mr Brown's previous work. I will confess to cracking up at some of Harvard's Professor Robert Langdon's classroom management techniques, and to dissatisfaction with the premise of the mystery he has to solve. Whenever, dear reader, you begin to think that long-lived organizations that cloak themselves in ritual and mystery are custodians of powerful or disturbing knowledge, listen to One Tin Soldier and remember that Oz never did give nothing to the Tin Man That he didn't, didn't already have, and then get to work developing your own powerful or disturbing knowledge.

(Cross-posted to 50 Book Challenge.)
DYNAMIC AUGMENT. The latest issue of Railway includes an article on reckoning horsepower and related topics. A sidebar compares steam with diesel power calculations.
In the BR steam era, the improved drafting and valve-setting arrangements on locomotives such as A4s, 'Princess Coronations' and 'Kings' enabled peak performances often well exceeding 2,000 dbhp and steam locos could therefore, with decent coal and a good crew, out-perform early diesel-electric designs such as the 2,000 hp English Electric Type 4s (Class 40s).
The joys of Not Invented Here. Imagine:


That's a GP7 knockoff demonstrating in Scandinavia.

When the first 6,000 hp diesels rolled out of Erie and London, Ed King noted in Trains that 1,000 hp per axle had been achieved with steam before 1920 with the Pennsylvania E6 4-4-2.

The Railway sidebar continues
Although magnificent, Gresley's A4s would never be able to meet the constant intense 125 mph all-day running of todays HSTs or Class 91s, however much we may like to dream. Track force levels would also be a problem with steam traction at high speeds.

The maintenance of good permanent way is also essential for 100mph-plus operational speeds.
On The Milwaukee Road, which had steam power capable of sustained running at such speeds (and keyboard ferroequinologists continue to research that), the Roadmaster asked engineers to not exceed 100, and the Fast Fifteen and its successors were much easier on the tracks while permitting similar timings.

The main article notes that brake horsepower (or shaft horsepower) is not determinative of power at the rails.
Traction control technology has revolutionised the haulage power of locomotives -- the Class 59 demonstrated very effectively this technique, outperforming much heavier, higher-powered diesels when introduced in the early-1990s.
The concept scales up: put the guts of an SD70MAC in a shell that fits the British loading gauge.


They make impressive models too, here on Invergeachy at the recent Gauge O Guild exhibition.

16.9.09

OBSERVATION OF THE DAY. Yale is not a trade school.
Karl Marx got a few things wrong, but he was right that economics drive history. So too, our most important public policy debates revolve around questions of how to distribute resources and intervene in markets — questions of which economics is the ultimate arbiter. So our Socratic duty to know our world and our humanitarian duty to improve it both require us to understand economics. But economics is so popular, we suspect, at least in part because many people think it will help them in a future career.
Leave aside for the moment the conceit embedded in that "humanitarian duty to improve it." (Perhaps a few minutes with Adam Smith will provide a corrective, or at least a dash of humility.) Yale is not the only not-a-trade-school that has become a trade school, according to the columnist.
Over the summer I met a banker and recent Notre Dame graduate at (I confess) a Harvard Club event. He told me he loved modern theology and Renaissance literature. But he had also always wanted to be a Manhattan financial elite. If he majored in literature or theology at Notre Dame, interviewers would have asked him, “Why not finance?” So he majored in finance — which has now become one of the largest majors at a university once devoted to the contemplative life. He now claims that nothing he learned from his major has benefited him in his job. Many like him forwent a liberal arts education for the sake of something that only benefited them for three interviews. Ideally, he could have used his four years at Notre Dame to enrich his appreciation of theology and literature, while still getting an elite job afterwards.
I'm not sure what sort of equilibrium a take-the-right-courses-despite-them-providing-no-job-skills is. Presumably high grades in a proper theology and literature sequence would also be a signal of high ability. If attendance at elite colleges provides neither immediately useful human capital nor an obvious signal, what are those colleges providing? (Via Minding the Campus.)
STRELNIKOV! An obscure state university that spends money on a new mascot design for its sports programs in the middle of a recession is probably not in the very best of hands. Pity poor Nicholls State, in Louisiana, named for a rebel colonel named Tillou Nicholls, who had an arm shot off at Shiloh. The university administration decided that now would be a good time to retire a mascot that they perceived as perpetuationg slavery, rebellion, and Confederate nostalgia.

The replacement design, which didn't come for free, didn't impress everybody.


Now comes a followup from University Diaries quoting a letter to the editor that got it about right.
I must admit that when I viewed the new Colonel Tillou mascot for the first time my own thoughts were of a Bolshevik cavalryman from the Russian Civil War. The politically correct forces claim they began a campaign to replace the old mascot in an effort to improve the university’s image. Unfortunately, the new mascot conjures up an image of a murderous Red Army dragoon slashing his way through a Ukrainian village. This is definitely not an improvement on the university’s image. Instead, it tarnishes the school and everyone associated with it. This whole experience should finally demonstrate the folly of political correctness and its various progeny.
That shadow, or scar, or whatever, on Tovarish Tillou's cheek reminds me of Tom Courtenay's character in Dr. Zhivago slashing his way across Siberia. A mascot is redesigned, a point is made.
A BELATED CELEBRATION. Yes, it's a school night. I'm hoisting a Sprecher anyway. Cubs hoist the Lima flag. The much anticipated successor to Sid Luckman, er, Jack Concannon, er, Rudy Bukich, er, Jim McMahon, er, Jim Harbaugh played Pick Three, Pick Four with the Packers on the weekend.



The Milwaukee Light Engineering Society had an open day this weekend, with a Cold Spring Shops product in the proper colors for the occasion. Life is good.

9.9.09

TRIPLE NINES. Some people like those calendar days with odd or rare patterns in them. A news report this morning told of a couple who asked for nine gifts for a 9 pm wedding. Here's ferroequinology's contribution.


Museum of Science and Industry photograph.

The Museum's description of this locomotive, which has been rebuilt extensively from its 1893 form, probably erroneously credits it with a top speed of 112.5 mph. The first steam locomotive to achieve a creditable 100 had number 6402, a combination of digits not otherwise interesting for calendar junkies.
PUNISHED FOR BEING COOPERATIVE. Tenured Radical breaks down the phenomenon.
Therefore, it is a not infrequent phenomenon that those who work hardest for the institution reap the fewest material benefits because they publish at a slower pace. Ironically, they often acquire tremendous respect from those other colleagues who are working equally hard, are viewed as really good citizens, capable people, and the sort who you really want to have around when solving a problem, running a tenure case, or starting up a new project. If you are an energetic, responsible teacher, you will also feel the love. Students will be drawn to you, and will beg to enroll in your classes: as a reward for your achievements in the classroom, you will have higher enrollments, more students wanting you as an advisor, and more recommendations to write.

The rewards inherent to being respected by others, and the feeling of being truly valuable to an enterprise, is seductive, and for good reason. Colleges and universities could not get the work done without people like you-- particularly since they are unwilling to set expectations for those who do less than their share of the teaching and advising, or who are indifferent to how others inside the university perceive them. And most important -- you can have a career as a writer without an academic appointment. But many of us fought our way through a difficult job market, often taking jobs that were less prestigious than we might have wanted, and in places we wouldn't live by choice, because we are committed to a teaching life. If you love students, when they also seem to love you, on what grounds would you send them away?

But -- do you need to learn to Just Say No? Alas, yes. But how would that happen?

Well first of all, I have to tell a brutal truth that administrators and faculty colleagues know but cannot, for a variety of reasons, publicly acknowledge: those of us who overwork are covering up for and enabling those who under perform. Most universities have no mechanism for forcing tenured people teach better, teach more, show up at office hours, give students responsible advice about their program of study, or do the committee work they have been assigned.
That's the diagnosis, and in a world of specialization by comparative advantage, it's efficient (that's not a pejorative in economics) to have a division of labor. The breakdown of the problem, however, includes a variety of causes.
Some people do a ton of work -- others, not so much. I have colleagues who are at their desks five days a week; I have colleagues that come in once a week. I have colleagues who work into the summer to get everything done; I have colleagues who give an exam a week or so before the semester ends and leave the country.

If any attention is called by those who are working hardest to those who are making themselves unavailable, shrieks about academic freedom, child care, and commuting rend the land (despite the great number of people with small children, or who are in commuting relationships, who do manage to come to work.) At the risk of annoying the hard-working parents who do come to work and carry a fair load with the rest of us, I need to ask: if you have a child and I don't, and we get paid the same salary, why am I doing your work for you? I didn't have children because I wanted the time: instead, I got no child and I got no time. You get someone to help you navigate the nursing home, I'll end up with a big bottle of Klonopin mixed in a bowl of ice cream.
The post provided material for the dean at Anonymous Community, who notes the incentives.
As long as people are immune to the consequences of shirking, service (and other obligations) will fall primarily on the good sports. Over time, they'll pay a price in their own careers for helping their employer. As TR correctly notes, this is an absurd situation. The least public-spirited are rewarded, and the most are punished. Play that out over time, and I'd be shocked if it didn't get absurd.

If we're serious about distributing the work equitably, then let's stop enabling some to drop it all on their colleagues. Yes, it's easy to blame The Administration for allowing imbalances to happen, but not allowing them to happen requires actually having some tools. If I tried to sanction -- let alone dismiss -- a tenured professor for shirking college service, I wouldn't even make it out of HR. So I don't. And that's why some people 'enable' (perfect word!) others to shirk.
The comments to the post illustrate that tenure is not necessarily the cause of shirking nor is shirking confined to higher education.

One phenomenon that comes up in the discussion at both posts is that of the faculty member who does a bad job at something as a way of not being assigned to that task again. (Required courses and college-wide committees are excellent venues for this strategy). It is within the purview of department heads to send such people back to those tasks, with some combination of inducements and possible sanctions, as a way of discouraging that behavior.
YOUR TAX DOLLARS AT WORK. The Space Shuttle and Space Station orbit above Davis Hall.


8.9.09

EVALUATING THE CASE. Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel columnist Patrick McIlheran suggests it's wasteful to spend money speeding up passenger trains.

States already have submitted plans for more than $100 billion in train projects. And a private group favoring high-speed rail released a study this summer of what genuine bullet trains on one route would cost. Answer: Gulp.

Because what governors are planning isn't high-speed rail. The Midwest plan is for diesel trains that can go up to 110 mph, about what steam locomotives did across Wisconsin in the 1930s. Nice, but train backers point out that's mere normal speed in Europe or Japan. "I am shocked by the timidness of America," Andy Kunz, head of the U.S. High Speed Rail Association, told a newspaper.

In presenting the arguments that way, the columnist limits the policy options. Yes, European high-speed is faster. It's also more expensive. At the margin, a restoration of the 1938 timetables ("Speeding Up The Rails") might suffice to divert traffic from the roads and the airways to make the project worthwhile. A much faster service provides very little in the way of reduced running times, particularly on the shorter than end-to-end journeys that are passenger rail's greatest strength. ("Reliability More Important Than Rapidity") That steam locomotives could achieve such timings ("Applied Hiawatha Research") on jointed rail protected by semaphore signals also suggests the current regulations governing signalling and track structure are excessive. On the other hand, freight railroads operating long freight trains without cabooses also see advantages in positive train control systems that let crews know exactly where the tail end of a stopped train is, suggesting possibilities for strengthening the railroad network.

If you really want to lure riders, say backers, trains ought to exceed 200 mph. The Midwest High Speed Rail Association hired engineers to cost out such a line linking St. Louis to Chicago. Like high-speed rail in Europe, it would use a dedicated line - no freight mixing with light, fast trains. It would bypass towns and have no road crossings. It would be electric.

And it would cost $11.5 billion. That's one 305-mile line. Did you want to go somewhere else, too?

The association, which sees this as a reasonable price to replace a 65-minute flight with a two-hour ride, isn't overestimating. At $38 million a mile, it's on the low end of what the Government Accountability Office guessed. Assume a similar price in denser southeastern Wisconsin, and this implies that real high-speed rail from Milwaukee to Madison would cost $2.6 billion. Chicago-Minneapolis would be $15 billion.

The airlines dissipate all the time advantage of a 550 mph jet over even a 100 mph train by checking passengers through security, loading and unloading through one door, diverting or delaying when a thunderstorm moves through, and setting passengers down at some distance from their destination. Railroad stations exist in central business districts and have a relatively small footprint near office parks.

Yes, well, freeways cost a fortune, too: The state's twice-a-century rebuild of I-94 southward is $2 billion.

But freeways carry many more people. Even in the European Union, rife with 200-mph trains and $5-a-gallon gas, cars carry 76% of passenger travel, trains 5.8%. That's down from 8% since 1980, even as Europe built irresistible trains. Cars' share is up.

Air, bus, and rail do compete for a relatively small share of total passenger miles. The way in which these modes compete is in providing relatively cheap additions to capacity, compared to the cost of providing sufficient roads to replace the trains and planes. A fast train is an expensive way to get to the grocer or the day-care, errands that account for some of those automotive passenger miles. On the other hand, providing additional expressway, arterial, and parking capacity in Chicago or London or Tokyo to provide for the intercity and commuter rail passengers would be more expensive than finding additional capacity on the existing tracks. On the weekend, some of the British I talked with described efforts in London and Paris and other European cities to discourage driving into the city and encourage rail use. Chicago, without any special legislation, experiences the same effect by market pricing of downtown parking and a reluctance to build new expressways. A lot of drivers shift to Metra and the Transit Authority.

And freeways bring in paying customers. Cars pay more in fuel and other taxes than is spent on building and keeping highways. The feds reckoned in 2004 that for every 1,000 miles traveled, cars paid $1.79 more in taxes than their roads consumed in public money.

Passenger trains took in $210 of net subsidy for every 1,000 passenger miles, that report found. While air-travel taxes, other economists say, cover the costs of airports and traffic control, fares don't cover trains' operating costs, much less the cost of tracks.

That's why costly roads differ from costly rails. "The users of (roads) willingly pay the capital costs as well as the operating costs," said transportation scholar Bob Poole of the nonpartisan Reason Foundation. "That just makes them a different category."

Fundamentally, road and air infrastructure is funded by taxes on road and air travelers. Rail infrastructure is funded by taxes on road travelers. Non-users pay in a way they don't for roads.

Not quite. Read the report. (Page 13)
The estimates in this report include net federal subsidies to passenger transportation for highway, air, transit, and intercity railroad transportation. Subsidies to passenger transportation by state and local government are not included. The data for highway are further subdivided into net federal subsidies to autos, motorcycles, pickups and vans; school buses; transit buses; and intercity buses. Subsidies to air transportation are also presented separately for commercial air carriers and general aviation.
Without the counties and the municipalities maintaining the side streets out of general tax revenues, drivers have a more difficult journey to the roads that receive federal matching funds (roads that they share with trucks, "It's Corporate Welfare".) Some cost estimates can be done on an incremental cost basis, others require allocation of common or joint costs. Yes, improvements in the rail network are costly. It does not have to follow that improvements in the road network are cost-effective, or that the current allocation of resources to transportation infrastructure is efficient.
QUOTE OF THE DAY. A Harvard man wants to be pushed.
And as far as day-to-day disincentives for underperformance are concerned, student organizations take the cake. Skip your reading for a section and risk an awkward moment with a teaching fellow. Skip out on your responsibilities for an extracurricular, and risk derision or excommunication by your peers: You’re lazy. You’re not willing to sacrifice like everybody else. You’re a flake. That’s accountability. That is personal. Those who say that it’s up to students to make sure they are having a challenging academic experience miss the point: engaging meaningfully with course material shouldn’t be an option; it should be demanded across the board. There must be keener reasons to treat assignments seriously; keener deterrents for not doing so.
Via Newmark's Door.
INCENTIVES MATTER. One of Britain's train operating companies, London Midland, does not require train crews to work Sundays, although volunteers receive additional pay. Almost all train crews marked off on September 4, to show their dissatisfaction with a reduction of the increment from double pay to one-and-two-thirds. Other operating companies also face possible strikes.

It's a bit much for me. Passenger train jobs are so predictable. Weekend turns as part of the job description allow crews the opportunity to plan at least some weekends (or trade weekends with colleagues when special events arise). A freight train crew is subject to call at any time, and when the harvest is coming, the power companies are building their winter reserves, and Christmas containers are arriving at the ports, any time is often on its rest.

7.9.09

THOSE OPPORTUNITY COSTS. The final story on tonight's NBC Nightly News lamented the impending closure of the Melrose Park Kiddieland.


The reportage makes it clear: the offer a developer made for seventeen acres not too far from several major rail terminals and O'Hare was enough to overcome any sentimentality from the owners. The park's last weekend of operation will be September 26-27, with a by-invitation closing ceremony October 4.
5-4-3. I Don't Know to What to Who. McGehee to Lopez to Fielder.

Looper got Aaron Rowand to slap a sinker down the third-base line. Casey McGehee, playing near the bag, picked the ball and stepped on the base for the first out.

"I knew we were going to have a chance," said McGehee, who followed his part in the play with a run-scoring single in the sixth. "Playing on the line, ball right there at third base. I knew we had a chance. I was just hoping I didn't bounce it to Felipe. I didn't give him the best feed in the world."

McGehee was talking about second baseman Felipe Lopez, who handled the low throw for the second out, avoided the runner and fired to first.

"I really wasn't thinking about it until I threw it to 'P,' " Lopez said. "When I threw it, I was like, 'Oh my God, a triple play.' "

Fielder stretched and caught Lopez's throw about a step before Rowand hit the bag to complete the fifth triple play in team history.

Figures. Go on a road trip and the local teams do something exotic. Northern Illinois at Wisconsin for the football opener sounded exciting too.

On a day when several Big Ten football teams struggled against lesser non-conference opponents, the University of Wisconsin appeared poised to open its season with a workmanlike victory over a well-coached Northern Illinois team Saturday night at Camp Randall Stadium.

Several miscues in the final quarter by UW - on offense, defense and special teams - allowed the 16 ½-point underdog Huskies to chip away at a 22-point deficit with two touchdowns before UW free safety Chris Maragos came up with a huge fourth-down pass break-up to preserve a 28-20 victory.

This week Francis Stroup, composer of the Huskie Fight Song, celebrates his 100th birthday. Forward, Together Forward.
MAKING CONNECTIONS. The Gauge O Guild's annual exhibition sometimes coincides with Labor Day weekend, making a weekend trip with the balance of the Monday to recover possible. This year qualified as sometimes.

It's easy enough to get to the exhibition from DeKalb: drive to O'Hare, catch the 5.40 American Airlines to Manchester, ride the rails to Telford. Ticketing still involves -- despite fragmentation, privatization, and the failure of some operating companies -- one coupon honored by any of the connecting operators. When I purchased tickets, I received a suggested itinerary based on the next available train: Get on the Crewe train for Crewe ... at Crewe, Get on the Birmingham N St train for Wolverhampton. The itinerary did not name the carriers. A timetable I created for myself online shews that the Crewe train is Northern Rail, the Birmingham N St. train is Virgin Trains, and the Holyhead train setting down at Telford is Arriva Trains Wales. (Two puddlejumpers spliced by a latter-day Aerotrain.) Presumably the carriers have ways of dividing the revenue. It's very easy for the traveler, much more convenient than attempting to travel from, say, Elburn to Ravinia Park on Metra, or Orland Park to Wisconsin Dells using Metra and Amtrak. I've suggested (see "The Case for a Rail Pass") that the passenger train operators in the U.S. work on improving interline ticketing, and the train rides give me occasion to repeat my call.

The exhibition included traders with intriguing items to buy, some of which came back with me. This item, on the swap meet (called Bring and Buy there) table, did not.


It is not a Boston and Maine scrimshaw car from the mid-nineteenth century.

An island country is not conducive to building basements, which leads to smaller portable layouts, some configured for disassembly and transport. One featured the helper grades of Dainton Bank near Plymouth.


Westminster Hall brings passengers uphill. I didn't work out which direction was up to London. This train is about to enter the tunnel. On the other side of the tunnel is a small freight yard. The gathering offered ample time to swap stories with people from all over the world.

Birmingham New Street figured in a few news stories that weekend, of which more, perhaps, later this week.

3.9.09

MARKING OFF. Seven years, effective Saturday. That "content provided sporadically" has become nearly 9,000 posts. Time for a brief sabbatical.

UNEASY FROM THE BEGINNING.

William L. O'Neill wrote Coming Apart: An Informal History of America in the 1960s. Although the author shared the prejudices of coastal intellectuals (opening the book with the usual cavils about the 1950s) his analysis is more careful, giving readers doubts early on about the received wisdom of the era, particularly about the powers of an activist President. If I wanted to do Book Review No. 33 as a sentence, that sentence might be Beware Activist Presidents and the People who Call For Them. As a first attempt at interpretation (the book has a 1971 publication date and the August 1970 Sterling Hall bombing might be the last event noted) it identifies some of the ideas of the era that came to grief, and is prescient about the reasons that happened. Some of the commonplaces of the era, however, didn't stand up so well. A sidebar on Ralph Nader veers into transportation aesthetics (p. 126)
In a way, automobiles were central to the national economy precisely because they were so costly and wasteful. Public transit was cheaper, safer, and more efficient, but however widespread it became it could never, for just those reasons, puff up the economy as autos did. American prosperity was based on waste -- disposable containers, annual model changes, and planned obsolescence. Even a change from internal-combustion engines to other forms of automotive power would threaten it. The very fact that electric- or steam-powered automobiles would be simpler to operate told against them. No manufacturer wanted to make propulsion systems that would earn him less money. And if even by some miracle a suitable vehicle were devised, how could people be induced to use it?
All those college-educated, socially and environmentally conscious young people and all those technocrats, more than a few of whom were accused of selling out when they entered middle age as yuppies, and nobody anticipated a series of oil shocks in which precisely that miracle car would make its inventor a lot of money and provide the inducement for people to use it. That's where Detroit's first post-World War II crisis began. There's a passage (p. 153) on William Buckley's campaign to become New York's mayor that, while taking the obligatory digs at what passed for conservatism in those days, effectively concedes that Mr Buckley had the policy mix that would ultimately fix the Big Apple. The analyses of the tensions among New Leftists, minority-power revolutionaries, hippies and Hell's Angels make for fascinating reading. Professor O'Neill underestimated the capacity of self-despising academics to resolve the conflict between rooting out racism and sharing rewards: in that conflict is the roots of whiteness studies and the blaming of people who look like me for all our remaining ills.

The professor's website lists books such as The American High (the 1945-1960 period I refer to as The America That Worked), published 1986, and The New Left, published 2001. I'm tempted to read them and provide reviews. From 1984 or so to 2001, the country put much of the Sixties silliness aside. Perhaps the professor demonstrates similar growth.

(Cross-posted to 50 Book Challenge.)
I HAVE TO FINISH THE ALGEBRA. Carpe Diem reports that Southwest Airlines has joined Six Flags in selling cuts in the line. The model also applies to high-occupancy toll roads. I think it's a matter of establishing several Kuhn-Tucker conditions. Just have to sit down and do it.
ART IMITATES LIFE IMITATES ART. I purchased one of these at a recent flea market.




Link, if embedded video doesn't work.

The song has a basis in fact.
Most accounts give the origin of the song as a wayfarers' inn in Piercebridge on the border of Yorkshire and County Durham called the George Hotel. The hotel was owned and operated by two brothers called Jenkins, and in the lobby was an upright longcase clock. The clock kept perfect time until one of the brothers died, after which it lost time at an increasing rate, despite the best efforts of the hotel staff and local clockmakers to repair it. When the other brother died, the clock stopped, never to go again. It is said that in 1875 Henry Clay Work visited the hotel and based "My Grandfather's Clock" on the stories he heard there.
The hotel's website features the clock. It has great potential as a conversation piece.

"This clock isn't running."

"That's right, mate, it stopped, short, never to go again, when the owner died."

One source had neither Jenkins brother marrying, suggesting that poet Henry Clay Work used artistic license to give a life-cycle structure to the poem. No doubt the experts on such things would point out the formulaic structure and lack of deep symbolism and consign it to the realm of doggerel. I doubt, however, that any of the assaults on the rules of good grammar and punctuation that pass for contemporary poetry will change the vocabulary. Instead of longcase clock or floor clock or whatever other adjectives one might have used to refer to such a thing, English speakers know it as a grandfather clock.