30.1.10

MORE TRAINS TO COME. Despite Illinois's parlous fiscal condition, the state has sold sufficient bonds for Governor Quinn to visit Rockford and the Quad Cities to announce capital expenditures for restored passenger train service to Dubuque via Rockford, Freeport, and Galena and to the Quad Cities. These trains will not be the speeded-up conventional trains that received federal grants under the economic stimulus rubric. I've commented on both of these services before: the Rock Island Line less frequently. The most logical routing for both of these services, assuming away issues such as competing freight operators, would be on the Overland Route, with the Rockford service diverging at Rochelle and the Quad Cities service diverging at Clinton, Iowa. That, however, would involve running passenger trains on a 110 mph-capable Union Pacific, a company that would prefer to run 70 mph intermodal trains without any interference. The routing of the Dubuque service east of Rockford is yet to be determined, but at least my fear from last July that wrangling over the route could preclude any trains is allayed for the moment. The proposal currently envisions one train a day (that was the old morning-eastward, evening-westward Black Hawk) which is unlikely to please passenger rail advocates at Northern Illinois University -- see also this post, which includes a splendid video of a 110 mph Hiawatha departing Chicago.
NOTICE OF DISCONTINUANCE. Rip Track suggests that blogging as professional medium is depreciated.
Twitter, Facebook, and to some extent even text messaging have fulfilled the need to express oneself in a way that starts to make blogging obsolete. Don't believe it? All you have to do is to check out the blogs now provided by the professionals, like Progressive Railroading. Even with the extensive website promotion, the professional graphics, and the printed word, these professionally published blogs have become the haven of certain opinionated types who live to stir up the few readers who dare to respond. Meaningful dialog is, how do they say, flamed.
The only thing worse than no traffic is too much of the wrong kind of traffic ...

29.1.10

TO THE ELBE. Jeff Shaara's World War II trilogy culminates with No Less Than Victory: A Novel of World War II. Regular readers will have seen The Rising Tide reviewed and The Steel Wave reviewed over the past three years. It just worked out that the third book in the trilogy provides Book Review No. 3. I must correct some observations from the previous reviews. I described some of the enlisted men and non-coms of Rising Tide as fictional. That's not correct: No Less Than Victory includes surviving characters in the required "where are they now" afterword -- the experiences of the men in the foxholes might be less imagined than the experiences of the commanders who also feature in the series. I also speculated, based on the presence of paratroopers in Steel Wave, on the presence of the bridge too far and of Bastogne in No Less Than Victory. Those battles received mention, but most of the action takes place on the ground, in the snow. Cold, tired, hungry, all the way to the Czech border, exactly as my dad described it. The principal characters serve with the 106th Infantry Division, an inexperienced division that acquitted itself better against what was left of Hitler's first string than anyone expected. The 87th Infantry Division, which was Sgt. Karlson's outfit, makes a cameo appearance when one of the survivors of the 106th wonders, with the 87th to his right, what it would be like to serve in General Patton's Third Army.

(Cross-posted to 50 Book Challenge.)
NOT YET THE BAR HARBOR EXPRESS. An extension of the Downeaster is among the projects receiving federal grants to speed up and expand Passenger Rail service.

Thanks to the announced $35 million grant, the Downeaster route will extend an additional 30 miles north of Portland to Brunswick, Maine, stopping along the way at the town of Freeport (site of a 24-hour LL Bean outlet store).

The grant will upgrade Pan Am's freight line between Portland and Brunswick (now a 30- to 40-mph line used by 6 trains a day between Portland and Yarmouth, and two trains a week on the 16-mile Brunswick Branch. The funds will go to installing welded rail and new ties over the route and improve 36 grade crossings.

Once the upgrades are done, travel time on the extension should take about 50 minutes. Bonus: At Brunswick, riders will have the chance to transfer to summer excursion trains to Rockport, Maine, run by the Maine Eastern.

That project is one from a Cold Spring Shops wish list. (View a Cold Spring Shops Downeaster report from the Quebec Riviera.) The Bar Harbor and the old Down Easter, complete with through sleepers from Philadelphia and New York to Rockland? Not yet.

28.1.10

THE ON WISCONSIN AND THE CANNONBALL WILL ROLL AGAIN. The Milwaukee to Madison portion of the proposed faster passenger train service linking Chicago to the Twin Cities receives funding. Midwest High Speed Rail has a summary of the winning proposals, and California High Speed Rail offers commentary, and hosts an active bull session, on the projects. Cold Spring Shops notes with pleasure that Wisconsin transportation officials were not counting unhatched chickens. Brookfield will get its station, as will Watertown and Oconomowoc. With driving times from Lake-Cook Road into central Chicago frequently exceeding one hour, a faster train serving the Lake District might attract residents seeking to do business or shop in Chicago. Additional late-evening frequencies ought to be part of the plan. I'm not troubled by the relatively slow (by German or Chinese standards) top speeds.
It's also doable with the current infrastructure, and a train service that included a few additional stops (Gurnee for Great America, Rondout for transfers to the suburban trains) would not be able to exploit 150 or 200 mph capabilities anyway. A 62 minute timing [Milwaukee downtown to Chicago Union Station] with stops at Airport, Sturtevant, Gurnee, Rondout and Glenview and 110 mph maximum speeds is feasible, at least on my computer.
If the service that our tax dollars pays for does not involve better connectivity in Chicago, however, I will not be pleased. And I must remind readers that The Milwaukee Road was toying with 60 minute non-stop timings on the Hiawathas and selected Milwaukee-Chicago trains in 1938-1939.
THE FIRST TIME AS FARCE, THE SECOND TIME AS TRAGEDY. Some athletic coach colleagues reassured me, in 1988, that the follies surrounding the much-litigated New Zealand challenge culminating in a race between a monster sloop and a catamaran that winning skipper Dennis Conner characterized as bizarre, need not trouble me, as any sport in which the equipment is essential to the performance requires an unlimited class. Perhaps not, but interested parties thereafter worked out an agreement on scantlings for the America's Cup class of racing sloops, an agreement that survived, in modified form. through the 2007 races. This year's races, should they take place, will be different. Professor Newmark quips, "The multi-billionaires have gotten to it, and the result isn't pretty." Men's Journal elaborates.
Out-of-control boats, courtroom drama, defecting crew members — the stage is set for this year’s America’s Cup regatta to be the most controversial and dangerous yet.
When sufficient contradictions arise in the existing compromise, the contest reverts to a one-off competition between the challenger with the quickest legal team and a representative of the defender club. And it is, as my colleagues correctly noted in 1988, the unlimited class.
With few design rules, the rivals have created to two giants — one a trimaran, the other a catamaran. For the first time, the winches will be driven by engines instead of men, shedding crucial pounds. Cup traditionalists may be unhappy, but speed addicts and adventure nuts will be thrilled. [Swiss defending skipper Ernesto] Bertarelli told me that it was impossible to predict what would happen. “The safety will be in the hands of the race committee,” he said.
The mechanical winches permit the crew to subject rigs to much more tension, with more potential for catastrophic failure. That's inherent in obtaining power and lightness -- put another way, a hull as sturdy as a Lake Michigan car ferry is a SLOW hull.

The wrangling over the rules, however, commingles institutional economics with sports economics.
The reliance on the original deed of gift, and its de minimus approach to defining the rules has allowed the race to evolve with changes in technology and economic conditions. But the absence of rules and a system of arbitration makes this game ill-suited (or perhaps only suited, depending on your point of view) for the especially aggressive combatants required to finance the competition. Moreover, a peculiar combination of one specific archaic rule governing construction of the ship, and the absence of a well designed set of rules in general, have contributed to the current bizarre [hello, Dennis!] situation.
A race as lopsided as the 1988 defense is also a possibility.
Relying on the competitors themselves to determine the rules of the game creates the potential for bargaining failure. This lawsuit-happy bunch has confirmed that prediction in spades! But it also enhances the possibility of producing a competition of minimal interest to fans. Technological dominance could result in the latter outcome next month. Certainly, the duration of the race will be shorter given the record speeds they'll be traveling at. If so, some attention might profitably be given, not to yacht design, but design of a better system for determining the rules of the race.
It's controversies such as this, and its 1988 predecessor, that make me happy to have raced Inland Scows and Lasers.

27.1.10

I PERSEVERE. Washington Post columnist Jay Mathews takes higher education to task. The fourth of his five points is this.
The best known private universities don't appreciate that they add no more to their students' lives than the much cheaper but less regarded state school across town. Going to college is a great thing, but it is the chance to learn and plan for the rest of one's life that makes the experience special, not the name on the front gate. Ivy League graduates might have an advantage seeking their first jobs. Researchers Stacy Berg Dale and Alan Krueger, however, discovered that after 20 years, people with good character traits - persistence, charm, good humor - are doing just as well, whether they went to a school like Cornell or one like Cal State Chico.
I've been making this point for years. That a national columnist sees fit to make it encourages me.
THE PROJECTS ARE SHOVEL READY. Governor Quinn visited DeKalb today to release funds for renovations of Cole Hall and the Stevens Building. The Stevens renovation will include a new 400 seat lecture hall. Last July, I wondered whether anyone would lend Illinois the money. The state has floated a bond issue from which the governor found $10.3 million (earlier estimates of this project's cost ran as high as $20 million). Construction might begin as early as this summer.
THE FEW, THE PROUD. The Touchdown Club honors Jake Coffman, Marine reservist, retired Northern Illinois defensive end.
"I heard Jake's story and it made him an easy choice to be our Male Athlete of the Year," said Touchdown Club President Curt Boster. "We deal a lot with the five-star guys and the blue-chippers, and we hear about their trials and tribulations, the things they deal with. To even compare anything in college football to Jake's story... The fact that he had a great season on the field this year put a capper on the story. It's a great story, made greater by what he did on the field and what he meant to the Northern Illinois team. That, and the passion he has for the game, is what made him our choice for this award."
Mr Coffman will be completing his degree this May.

When recounting his journey from high school through 2009, Coffman revealed the sentiments that made him the choice for the Male Athlete of the Year honor.

"Eight years ago when I joined the Marines, if you'd have told me I was going to receive an award like this, I'd have laughed in your face," he said. "I came back to play because I missed it and I loved it, not because I thought I was going to get any kind of recognition. I played because I loved it and got rewarded for sticking with it."

Despite having one more season of eligibility, the now 26-year old Coffman, who will graduate from Northern Illinois this spring with a degree in sociology, decided to make the 2009 season his last.

"I'm proud of the team and what we accomplished this year," Coffman said. "I'm proud of my teammates. I had a great time playing with the guys, seeing them grow up and perform the way they did this year. I put a lot of thought into the decision [to retire] and told my family and the coaches. This award really caps it off."

24.1.10

YOUR SAFETY INSPECTION. But first a word from our sponsor.


Image courtesy Tree Hugger.

The image came with a Midwest High Speed Rail summary of weather-related Amtrak delays. For the most part, however, the trains are getting through. Last Thursday, The Weather Channel had Paul Goodloe reporting from Flagstaff, Arizona, where three feet of snow overnight and another two feet or so expected had Interstate 40 and Interstate 17 closed and residents advised to stay put. His reporting, however, was interrupted by the sound of train horns on the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe.
LOOK FOR THE SIMPLEST EXPLANATION. Via Knowledge Problem, I have learned about Coordination Problem, a collective (or is it an emergent distributed network?) effort of several economists. One post attempts to reconcile emergent order with intelligent design, at least with respect to the emergence of the metric system.

The replacement of the Gregorian calendar and the implementation of a new system of weights and measures are two instances of rational constructivism that the French revolutionaries attempted. The idea was to use the decimal system so as to make calculation easier for time, distances, weight, etc. The meter (one ten-millionth of the distance from the Equator to the North Pole), the gram, and the liter were defined as the standard units of weights and measures (see here and here).

An article in The Economist this week relates the failed attempt during the French Revolution to implement the decimal system for time keeping. Days in the Republican Calendar were divided into ten hours, each hour into 100 minutes, each minute into 100 seconds. It didn’t catch on and Napoleon abolished the new system in 1805. He didn’t abolish the system of weights and measures however, which eventually became the International System of Units (SI) and was adopted by every nation but three (Burma, Liberia, and the United States).

The Economist article doesn’t tell us much about the interesting side of the story. Strangely it laments that SI was not adopted for the keeping of time and for the calendar, but it doesn’t explain why it failed. Why all this happened is an important question for those who regard rules as an evolutionary process in the Hayekian sense. Many libertarians in the US hate the metric system, as it represents the pinnacle of top-down state-imposed rules. Interestingly, the metric system never caught on in the US when it did in Canada and other ex-Anglo colonies such as Australia and New Zealand (as well as the rest of the world). This probably goes to show the deep cultural divide that exists between American society and the rest of the Common Wealth, especially with regard to the role of government. The costs associated with the imposition of a change in measurement units are huge. Not only people need to grasp what a meter represents compared to a foot, but also every machine that functions with the old units need to be changed or adapted.

Calendars and clocks being somewhat more common than socket wrenches or twist drills, the installed base for the second and the twelvemonth likely implies more hysteresis there than for the 10 mm as opposed to the 3/8" socket. Conversions are relatively unimportant, serving more as a device for math teachers to turn students off than for aiding in acceptance of metric units.

But for all of the careful analysis of why science uses cgs or mks, which is two-thirds of the French system, in its work, the real reason for metric's failure to catch on in the United States, despite being the official system of measurement (a Reconstruction era act of Congress) is the decimals at the foul poles during baseball's experiment with traditional and international measurements. That metric's advocates often come off as elitists incapable of carrying a gallon of water for a patternmaker or plowing six furlongs doesn't help the case.
WHERE DO I SEND THE ROYALTIES? Marginal Revolution discovers that the estate of Conan Doyle still owns certain rights to the Canon, although the legal intricacies are more of Bleak House or Dead Souls than of "A Scandal in Bohemia."


When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains,
no matter how improbable, must be the truth
.

23.1.10

I HAVE TRAINED MY MIND TO THINK. That, and that alone, ought be the objective of any university matriculant. I have discovered two excellent explications of that position, which I urge you to read and understand. Start at Easily Distracted.

Many of you have seen the moment in Glenn Beck’s interview with Sarah Palin where she struggles to name any of the Founding Fathers. Like many other teachers (or former students) I recognize the initial bullshitting in that video clip (”I like all of them!”) for a stalling tactic and as a revelation of an underlying ignorance.

What more than a few commenters still don’t seem to understand about that moment, however, is why it endears Sarah Palin to many viewers, and maybe even rouses some sympathy in people who otherwise reject her.

There are a lot of Americans who themselves wonder why they need to know who the Founding Fathers were, or why The Scarlet Letter matters.

The ramrod forms of authority that simply replied “Because I said so” and had the power to enforce that authority have dissipated, stabbed to death by a thousand tiny cuts from Animal House to Paolo Friere. Good riddance. The problem is, however, that educators haven’t arrived at a substitute rationale that’s both persuasive and pervasive.

For multiple reasons, a subset of which has provided me with ample material over the years. Professor Burke's post considers other subsets of those reasons, and the ensuing bull session is instructive. Read it all. Consider this.
The harder job is explaining to sales representative or fast food manager or civil engineer why humanistic knowledge is useful. Mostly that’s harder because of existing pedagogy, not because it’s an intrinsically difficult argument. Many of us (K-12 and higher education) don’t teach to utility either because we philosophically reject the appeal to utility as vulgar and reductive or because we’re struggling to work from a dog’s breakfast of administrative mandates and ed-school jargon about the usefulness of humanistic knowledge.
I'll leave for another day whether the teaching is bad because core courses are not the glamour assignments, or because the trendy research either in pedagogy or in the sociology of knowledge, broadly considered, questions the utility of core concepts.

For now, consider an omnibus post at University Diaries. Follow all the links, but be guided by this.
[The university] takes young people who are not yet liberally educated in a serious and disciplined way, and it trains them in rigorous forms of thinking even as it introduces them to the best which has been thought and said. But this model assumes an open-minded person, eager to uncover, grapple with, and organize the profoundest historical, aesthetic, philosophical, theological, mathematical, and scientific material.
A commenter identifies what might be the fundamental problem, as well as the fundamental explanation for Governor Palin's appeal to the incurious.
Oversimplifying, you can divide people into the curious, life-of-the-mind sort–never more than 10% of the population–and the incurious, like this author. The incurious belong in trade schools, not universities, both because they shouldn’t have to spend money on an education they don’t want and because they ruin the classes for the curious.
I'd like to see an expression other than "trade school" for career development of the intellectually incurious, because I don't want the intellectually incurious becoming workplace hazards. I'll also note -- admittedly, based on a very small sample -- that the vocational side of higher education sometimes breaks down at the very workforce preparation that too many in our calling have surrendered to. After a bad day at the office, my dad, who trained newly-hired engineers for a large industrial control company, would gripe that my brother and I, neither engineering students, had a better grasp of circuit theory than newly-hired electrical engineers from highly regarded universities.
RECLAIMING THE TRADITION. Milwaukee Hamilton's basketball team defends its gym.

On one of the more mundane days of the week, Milwaukee Hamilton came up with two huge defensive stops in the last 60 seconds and won a conference thriller against Milwaukee Washington, 65-63.

The showdown between Hamilton, ranked third in the Division 1 state poll and first in the Journal Sentinel area rankings, and perennially strong Washington attracted a sellout crowd to the Hamilton gym - and Milwaukee Bucks rookie guard Brandon Jennings.

With pictures. Although I'm dismayed with the basketball program participating in holiday tournaments in the south, I'm hopeful there will not be an eligibility scandal this season.
AACHEN USED TO BE AIX-LA-CHAPELLE. Professor Munger notes that in West Prussia, particularly near Köln, what we refer to as Fasching is Karneval. Some traditions come from the Holy Roman Empire. Cold Spring Shops observes Fasching because that's what the University of Wisconsin does. Once upon a time -- and contemporary student affairs directors well might cringe at this -- the Friday immediately before Fasching Dienstag was occasion to provide numerous bands (from polka to alternative rock) at both the Memorial Union and at Union South, and to offer a free shuttle bus complete with a cash keg of Pabst at the rear of the bus.

19.1.10

TONIGHT'S RAILROAD READING. The four busiest passenger train stations in the midwest are Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Louis, and Normal, Illinois. (Those figures probably reflect only Amtrak loadings: does the new commuter rail service in the Cities call at Midway Station?)

Normal Mayor Chris Koos traveled the approximately 135 miles to Chicago on Friday to participate in a conference that Gov. Pat Quinn called to improve passenger and freight rail operations in Illinois, and to be prepared to get off on a fast start when $8 billion in federal stimulus grants for high-speed rail are awarded to the states sometime before spring.

The meeting offered Koos the opportunity to spread the word about a downtown renewal program in Normal that includes building a modern transportation terminal in the town's central business district and surrounding it with office-residential redevelopment that is designed for people to walk, ride a bus or pedal a bike to where they are going instead of drive a vehicle.

The centerpiece of the Uptown Normal Renewal Plan is a new transportation center that will offer multiple travel choices -- Amtrak on the Lincoln Service and Texas Eagle routes; interstate and regional buses to other Illinois cities as well as destinations in Indiana, Missouri and Iowa; local cabs serving the town as well as the Central Illinois Regional Airport; and shuttle buses to O'Hare International Airport and Midway Airport in Chicago.

A new Marriott hotel and conference center opened late last year about 100 yards from the Amtrak stop. When the transportation center is built, "the walk from the hotel will be 50 yards," Koos said."It gives people the opportunity to come into a community for a conference, get off the train, go to the hotel, spend two or three days in a lively business district and never see a car the whole time," he said.

But the redevelopment program, which was started in 1999, is only about one-third complete. It needs an economic lift that a statewide rail modernization program can help provide, officials said."One hundred ten mile an hour trains would cut the travel time from Normal to Chicago to 1 hour 45 minutes," Koos said. "It's so important to getting us closer to the Chicago region."

That's not much of an improvement on the two hour timings the Gulf Mobile and Ohio's Abraham Lincoln and Alton Limited, which called only at Joliet, offered in 1954. Because much of the potential Bloomington - Normal traffic might originate in the southwestern suburbs, better connections between Metra and the Amtrak service, and more frequent service, will help, particularly if the plan is to provide a network of trains making possible, for example, easier movement between Bloomington and Kalamazoo or South Bend or Milwaukee.

Then comes Paul Kennedy, with more ambitious ideas.
This artery-clogging phenomenon of millions of cars stuck on so-called highways is also to be observed in many other cities across the globe; but that is hardly a consolation. It simply suggests that, as the world’s population rises from around 6.5 billion to around 9 billion by mid-century, existing assumptions about dependency on the automobile will need to change.

The growing difficulties of traveling by air within one’s own country are even more obvious, and were so even before the latest terrorist incident, even before the 9/11 attacks. The challenge of getting to the airport, checking in two hours early, going through security, learning of delays and cancellations, retrieving one’s luggage afterward, then collapsing exhaustedly at one’s destination, seems to rise holiday by holiday, year by year.

So, why not think more ambitiously? And start with some obvious routes, such as Chicago-New York (1,160 kilometers.)? A proper high-speed-train system would give hard-pressed air travelers a real alternative to the car and the plane. It is being done elsewhere. Domestic flights between Hamburg in northern Germany and Munich (612 kilometers) are shriveling because the high-speed trains do it better.
That's an old proposal, perhaps made better by the provision of direct service to Cleveland and Buffalo or Pittsburgh (there is the little problem of the Alleghenies, something that Hamburg - Munich doesn't have to contend with). Professor Kennedy is going the Chicago - New York Electric Air Line better, however, suggesting a five- or six-hour trip, and he sees the utility of such a service in China. The highway congestion is something that matters. But Passenger Rail advocates must understand that railroading, North American style, is the best in the world at hauling goods, something Coyote Blog (via Photon Courier) spells out for his readers.

The US has not been “asleep” — at least the private individuals who drive progress have not. We have had huge revolutions in transportation over the last decades during the same period that European nations were sinking billions of dollars into pretty high-speed passenger rails systems for wealthy business travelers. One such revolution has been containerization, invented here in the US and quickly spreading around the world. Containerization has revolutionized shipping, speeding schedules and reducing costs (and all the while every improvement step was fought by the US and certain local governments). To the extent American businesses are not investing today, it has more to do with regime uncertainty, not knowing what new taxes or restrictions are coming next from Congress, than any lack of vision.

I would argue that the US has the world’s largest commitment to rail where it really matters. But that is what private actors do, make investments that actually make sense rather than just gain one prestige (anyone know the most recent company Warren Buffet has bought?) The greens should be demanding that the world emulate us, rather than the other way around. But the lure of shiny bullet trains and grand passenger concourses will always cause folks like [Huffington Post contributor Joel] Epstein to swoon.

We've been consistent advocates for the freight railroads, and regular readers know the story of containers. We will note, however, that a railroad network capable of moving 618 containers in a 3.5 mile long train at speeds of up to 70 mph is a network with a great deal of potential for moving people. The advantage, however, might be in relatively short trips in metropolitan areas where the expressways are clogged and the cost of additional highway capacity is great, and between medium-sized cities subject to the tender mercies of hub-and-spoke air carriers.
WHAT RELIEF LOOKS LIKE. Brian Williams of NBC's Nightly News correctly recognized it.


According to Insta Pundit, the French aren't as perceptive as the legacy media.
France accused the US of “occupying” Haiti on Monday as thousands of American troops flooded into the country to take charge of aid efforts and security. Yeah, that’s what it is. Jeez. Perhaps the French can send their own aircraft carriers, floating seaports, and massive logistical teams, then. Oh, wait . . . .
He reminds readers of this.

" See, this is why George Bush is so dumb, theres a disaster in the world and he sends an Aircraft Carrier..."

After which he and many of my Euro collegues laughed out loud.

and then they looked at me. I wasn't laughing, and neither was my Hindi friend sitting next to me, who has lost family in the disaster.

I'm afraid I was "unprofessional", I let it loose -

"Hmmm, let's see, what would be the ideal ship to send to a disaster, now what kind of ship would we want?

Something with its own inexhuastible power supply?

Something that can produce 900,000 gallons of fresh water a day from sea water?

Something with its own airfield? So that after producing the fresh water, it could help distribute it?

Something with 4 hospitals and lots of open space for emergency supplies?

Something with a global communications facility to make the coordination of disaster relief in the region easier?"

Go. Read. Understand.

17.1.10

COMPARE AND CONTRAST. It's likely that I will watch the latest day of 24, although after recently observing Sherlock Holmes take down a somewhat more plausible cabal than the one Jack Bauer's late brother and father were involved in, I'm compiling a list of reasons Sherlock Holmes would be a better counter-terrorism agent than Jack Bauer. The action is taking place in New York. It's likely that Holmes, a regular user of the Metropolitan, would know the best subway routing from his quarters to the counter-terrorism unit's new headquarters, as well as the best disguises to get his witness there intact. I'm guessing that New York's traffic is going to figure in one of the subsequent plot complications, particularly if the action moves off Manhattan. It's a lot easier to master the Metro-North and Amtrak schedules than it is the whole of Bradshaw's, and the next train to Chappaqua or to Princeton Junction will be faster than those suburban assault vehicles your tax dollars pay for. You've got to like a pugilist who visualizes the effects of a combination before delivering it (one reviewer of the movie evidently missed numerous references to Mr Holmes's boxing talents in Conan Doyle's Canon) and the improviser who is able to jam up a doomsday machine or a meat saw with a pipe stem, and without a stressed call to tech support. And Mr Holmes got Inspector Lestrade into the plotters' inner circle. There's always a mole in the government agency (I have some suspects already) that Mr Bauer has to help identify.

Feel free to add to the list, in the Suggestion Box.
FASTER, PLEASE. I hope Wisconsin officials aren't counting unhatched chickens.

Wisconsin officials are confident enough their high speed rail plan will be funded that they're already meeting with contractors to build it, the Milwaukee Business Journal has reported. The state's department of transportation has applied for a piece of the $8 billion President Obama inserted into last year's stimulus bill to begin running fast trains between Milwaukee and Madison.

"We are aggressively planning the work so the corridor can be operating by Jan. 1, 2013," said John Oimoen, the agency's project manager for the line.

More than 200 companies participated in a Jan. 5 conference on the subject at Waukesha County Technical College to learn about contracting opportunities.

The high speed proposal is to operate as an extension of the current Chicago-Milwaukee Hiawatha Amtrak service. It would use Canadian Pacific tracks from Milwaukee to Watertown, Wis., then use state-owned tracks from Watertown to Madison. The state-owned portion of the line is currently in a dilapidated condition and will require major upgrades. Capacity would also likely need to be added to the CP-owned portion of the line.

This is a project in which I have more than a passing interest.
LET THE EUROPEANS TREMBLE. When will they have intermodal trains over there like the United States has?

It won't go down as the longest train in the world, or even the U.S., but at 3.5 miles in length, Union Pacific's IDILBF-08 was just one heckuva train. It left the Dallas intermodal ramp at 10:08 a.m. Friday, Jan. 8, and made it in one piece and without major problems to Long Beach, Calif., at 4:45 p.m. two days later.

UP spokesman Tom Lange says the 18,061-foot, 15,498-ton train was assembled to test acceleration, braking, and the continuity of distributed power radio control, in addition to rail and wheel wear. Some of the 618 containers contained export goods, and the remainder were empties.

Nine General Electric ES44ACs powered this monster, three on the point and three more two-locomotive sets of power after each 100 or so container platforms, in distributed power mode. As far as acceleration and braking go, IDILB should have proven a star performer. Two and a half horsepower per trailing ton is more than enough to reach track speed of 70 mph across the desert. Brakes could be set or released simultaneously from four points on the train.

California interests worry about possible consequences.
The state Public Utilities Commission raced a team of personnel to Imperial County on Saturday to monitor the train as it wound its way toward the Inland Empire. The train originally left Texas on Friday night and reached its ultimate destination, a large intermodal facility near the Port of Long Beach, on Sunday.
Apparently, U.S. manufacturing isn't finished yet.
The train, which carried furniture, clothing, electronics and other goods for export from Texas, was the longest ever assembled by Union Pacific, Lange said. Among other benefits, he said, such trains could remove hundreds of trucks from the road and save fuel compared to other modes of cargo transportation. Trains up to 12,500 feet—a little over two miles long—already are operated in the Los Angeles area, he said.
A distributed power configuration means one engineer, in the lead unit, controls all the trailing units, no matter where they are placed in the train. That's going to bother the Brotherhoods.

“Nobody I know of in the railroad industry ever has run a train this size,” said Tim Smith, state legislative chairman for the union.

“We’re not trained for it. The longer the train, the more you have to consider the curvature of tracks...starting and stopping.”

The job is probably easier with distributed power, where the engineer can put some units in power mode and others in dynamic brake mode, and keep it running, than it was in the days of cab-forwards communicating by whistle signals. There were more dues-paying Brotherhood members on those cab-forwards. There's something compelling about three-plus miles of stacks rolling at 70 mph.

As far as the longest freight trains, that record is still Australian.

The title of longest U.S. freight goes to the 500-car train of loaded coal run by Norfolk & Western (now Norfolk Southern) on Nov. 15, 1967, between Iaeger, W.Va., and Portsmouth, Ohio. It measured almost 21,425 feet and weighed 48,584 tons.

Guinness World Records says BHP Iron Ore ran the world's longest train. On June 21, 2001, a 24,119-foot train carried 82,262 tons of iron ore from Newman to Port Headland, 171 miles, in Western Australia.

The Pennsylvania Railroad and Norfolk and Western both experimented with long coal trains in the mid-1960s, and both carriers thought better of it. I'm not surprised that Union Pacific, the developer of the 4-12-2 and the simple articulateds and the turbines and the double diesels, would want to exploit the capabilities of distributed power in this way.
PAT ROBERTSON, NYEKULTURNY. The best rebuttal to his explanation of the Port-au-Prince earthquake.

I appreciate the shout-out. And you make God look like a big mean bully who kicks people when they are down, so I'm all over that action. But when you say that Haiti has made a pact with me, it is totally humiliating. I may be evil incarnate, but I'm no welcher.

The way you put it, making a deal with me leaves folks desperate and impoverished. Sure, in the afterlife, but when I strike bargains with people, they first get something here on earth -- glamor, beauty, talent, wealth, fame, glory, a golden fiddle. Those Haitians have nothing, and I mean nothing. And that was before the earthquake.

Haven't you seen "Crossroads"? Or "Damn Yankees"? If I had a thing going with Haiti, there'd be lots of banks, skyscrapers, SUVs, exclusive night clubs, Botox -- that kind of thing. An 80 percent poverty rate is so not my style. Nothing against it -- I'm just saying: Not how I roll.

Probably too many hard words in Doctor Faustus for the preacher.

16.1.10

GREATLY DIMINISHED RETURNS TO PARTIAL EQUILIBRIUM ANOMALIES. Book Review No. 2 is Super Freakonomics: Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes, and Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance. That last part of the subtitle is really an endorsement of profiling. That somebody chooses to buy life insurance, Watson, is evidence the buyer does not intend a spectacular exit from this life. The absence of such insurance is not proof of terrorist intent, but in combination with other things, some of which remain classified, might be.

Most of the book, however, is devoted to the same sort of well-established anomalies whose treatment I found wanting in Freakonomics, and that has provided material for a number of competing books. It's time for something more substantive than another reminder about the Law of Unintended Consequences. Congress passes a law banning lead in metal toys, and Chinese manufacturers switch to cadmium instead. (Cadmium is in the same column of Mendeleyev's Periodic Table as zinc and mercury. There has to be a reason for that substitution, can we talk about relative prices?) What cracked me up, however, was the two Steves griping about how too many other researchers, including Malcolm Gladwell in Outliers, reviewed here, had crowded their own work on age effects out of the research conversation. Social scientists have been aware of these effects for some time. See Barnsley and Thompson, Birthdate and Success in Minor Hockey: The Key to the NHL in the Canadian Journal of Behavioral Science in 1988, and Hurley, Lior, and Tracze, A Proposal to Reduce the Age Discrimination in Canadian Minor Hockey, in Canadian Public Policy in 2001. The economics problem, which to the best of my knowledge has not yet been investigated, is whether organized sport is leaving talent unused in an inefficient way in the setting of eligibility dates. In Canadian youth hockey, the eligibility date is January 1, meaning that when the season begins in October, the youngest players in a tryout have the October to December birthdates and the greatest disadvantage competing for slots. But those players would be at least as good, or marginally better than, the January kids in the immediately-younger tryouts. Why not set the eligibility date for October of the previous year, or for July? It's not as easy as it looks: organized baseball in the States has an August 1 eligibility date, with pitchers and catchers reporting in February ...

Perhaps I'm jaded by being a working economist, or perhaps it's my familiarity with Sherlock Holmes. There's an instructive chapter on the work of a Viennese physician who wondered why moms and babies delivered by physicians died more frequently than those attended by midwives. Give me data, Watson ... But if you know the evolution of scientific medicine, even this chapter might not be sufficiently instructive to induce you to buy the book.

(Cross-posted to 50 Book Challenge.)
WHY IT MATTERS. I repeat, as I must: higher education must be higher, and the land-grants and the mid-majors must be more like the Ivies and less like the diploma mills. Consider, first, a Neal Gabler column in the Boston Globe. Here's his gloomy conclusion.
So here’s the bottom line for all those exceptional middle-class and lower-class high school seniors who will doubt their own worth when the near-inevitable rejection letters arrive [from the top of the food chain]: The fault, dear Brutus, lies not in you. The fault lies in the system, and the system isn’t going to change, because it benefits the people it is designed to benefit - people who understand how much a real meritocracy would threaten their power.
On the one hand, get everything you can out of the university that accepts you, whether it's Wisconsin or Northern Illinois or even ZooMass or ZooConn. On the other hand, understand this: the power of that Establishment is circumscribed by the tendency of complex systems to behave as complex systems do.

Mr Gabler's column was picked up by Minding the Campus, where Charlotte Allen suggests that the for-profit diploma mills the mid-majors and regional comprehensives see as a competitive threat exist only to suckle on government financial aid.
For-profit schools can offer genuine value: classes tailored to students' work schedules, merciful freedom from the political-correctness indoctrination that is a feature of much nonprofit education. But if they had to earn their income from their students' own hard-earned money, they might have the incentive to do much more. They might consider packaging rigorous, top-quality, efficiently delivered instructional units that would guarantee the competence of anyone who passed those courses. How about preparing accountants to pass the CPA exam? Turning out crackerjack electricians and computer guys? Developing an online calculus course so good that students at the Ivies would buy it? The current federal slush-fund system for financing higher education rewards filling classrooms with bodies and wasting unqualified young people's time. For-profit colleges will come into their own only when their focus shifts from boosting enrollment to making their degrees items of value. Then, enrollment will take care of itself.
Maybe. When it comes to producing CPAs and computer guys, Northern Illinois does that. Online calculus? It's really better done with audience participation, I don't care where.

I'd be more optimistic if I didn't fear that traditional higher education exists more to convert federal financial aid dollars into cash for beer 'n circus.
GETTING THE MESSAGE RIGHT. The DeKalb Park District has an outdoor pool that is nearly life-expired. Because of tax-limitation laws, the district must obtain permission, by a referendum, to issue bonds to finance construction of a new pool (on the district's website are the fact sheet and a concept plan, both as .pdf documents). The concept the district came up with is for a small water park, something that didn't sit well with most of the citizens who spoke at a recent public forum.

What the district might have missed is a simple bit of economics. In order to keep the current pool usable might involve an expenditure of up to $5 million, and replacement is still required. The incremental cost of a replacement pool allows the district to avoid some of those expenses, let alone the trouble finding the money, as I don't see a referendum for a maintenance bond going very far, and perhaps a replacement pool doesn't have to include the rafting river and multiple waterslides.
SETTING UP TO MEET THE CHALLENGE. First design a train room, then design a house to fit the train room. The design includes a straight shot from the garage down to the train room. That makes a large library possible along the stairwell wall.



It's a library large enough to call for a proper book cart, on which the material for meeting this year's Fifty Book Challenge (and some other material) currently resides. Some of the material will not make the cut to stay in the collection, and it will be off to Half Price Books. Sometimes the stuff that doesn't make my cut commands a pretty good price there. Go figure.

(Cross-posted to 50 Book Challenge.)

13.1.10

INSUFFICIENT EVIDENCE TO GIVE UP MY HYPOTHESIS. You must remember this.
Suppose beer 'n circus isn't an aberration, it's the mission?
Now comes a Washington Post column (via University Diaries) where the penny is about to drop.
Yet, there is no sense that Tennessee officials were disappointed in [football coach Lane] Kiffin; rather, they were devastated to lose him [to the University of Spoiled Children, where alumni have success at flouting the law]. They should have known what they were getting into from the terms of his six-year contract: Had the school decided to fire Kiffin, it would have had to pay him $7.5 million under a buyout clause, yet for breaking his contract, Kiffin will owe the university just $800,000, which he can pay in installments over 36 months. Either Athletic Director Mike Hamilton can't read, or he took a huge gamble on Kiffin, and lost.
The columnist doesn't yet see the obvious.
The trouble is that too many administrators are unwilling to do the hard work of controlling their costs, and their impulses. Hiring Kiffin is an attempt at an easy fix. It's a lot easier than taking the time for a real coaching search, and hiring someone less illustrious who is willing to build slowly, and the right way. Especially if an athletic director is in fear of falling behind in recruiting wars, and their potential effect on the BCS bottom line.
My supposition looks better all the time.
I'M NOT QUITTING MY DAY JOB. The Northern Star discovers that Cash for Clunkers has subsequent consequences.

“It was a joke,” said Jose Teddy, owner of DeKalb Auto Sales, 730 E. Lincoln Highway. “It hurt smaller dealerships that didn’t take part in it, and it took away the opportunity to purchase a car from a small dealer.”

Teddy said he believes he would feel the effects of Cash for Clunkers for the next two years.

Subsidy for purchase of new car induces substitution at the margin away from a used car. And cars are durable, postponable goods.

“There are good and bad arguments with it,” said Ben Manning of Brad Manning Ford, 402 Manning Drive. “A good aspect would be that it did generate some business and got the gas guzzlers off the road.”

Manning also said there were certain aspects of the program that yielded negative outcomes.

“There was a bunch of business put into one month,” Manning said.

All that business in one month meant that cash flow wouldn’t stay at a steady pace over the following months, Manning said. “The government was holding off paying back the money, and dealers had to float the $3,500 and $4,500 trade-in credits which messed up our money,” Manning said.

The national government is almost as illiquid as Illinois?
WE KNOW NORTHWESTERN DOESN'T SKATE. The trustafarians had no opportunity to yell "Just like football" either.
DEFINING DEVIANCY DOWN. Body art is still a warning label.

Here's a new aphorism: "The more body art you have, the more likely you are to be involved in deviance."

So says Jerome Koch, a sociologist with Texas Tech University's "Body Art Team" -- true moniker -- which surveyed 1,753 students at four colleges and found a correlation between multiple tattoos or piercings and "deviant behavior."

The severally inked or poked at the unnamed Midwestern and Southern colleges said they engaged in, roughly speaking, more promiscuity, more drug use, more binge drinking, more arrests and more cheating on academics than their peers.

The research team has been studying tattoos and piercing since 1999; its latest study will be printed in The Social Science Journal in March and was first reported in Miller-McCune magazine, which tracks academic research.

Multiple becomes larger, as people not predisposed to make trouble also purchase such markers.

"The people I see on a regular basis that get tattooed are some of the nicest, most well-mannered people," [Chicago tattooist Timothy] Gooding said. "I see college kids, screaming, yelling, fighting on a regular basis. Those are not my kids."

Koch doesn't necessarily disagree. He says what the study really demonstrates is how body art going mainstream has upped the ante for those who would treat it as more of a subculture.

Positional arms races are like that. Beatle haircuts once shocked people.
WE WILL KEEP WORKING. No furloughs at Northern Illinois University.

Though furloughs do not appear to be a possibility this semester, the future remains cloudy, [university president John] Peters said.

“I don’t contemplate it for this fiscal year. Will we need it in the future? I don’t know. I don’t think so. I don’t think it gets you what you need,” he said. “Next year it could be something to consider.”

The ultimate factor in whether NIU must turn to furloughs — or even more drastic measures — depends on the state’s ability to pay its bills, Peters said.

“If the state gives us payments, we’ll be OK,” he said. “The best thing that can happen is for the state to fulfill its obligations.”

The governor's state of the state address, today, offered little reassurance.
SUNDAY! SUNDAY! SUNDAY! Drag strip announcer Jan C. Gabriel, who came up with the reverberating announcement that always heralded drag racing, died, on Sunday.

The reverb schtick was popular enough for somebody to parody it with a church commercial I used to hear on Dr. Demento.

11.1.10

CONFRONT THOSE LIMITATIONS. Consider the possibility that myths of powerful cabals with secret knowledge afford people the opportunity to duck taking responsibility for their own lives, or to sustain their faith in Wise Experts who will take those responsibilities for them.

Certainly the secret knowledge myth has legs. A long time ago in a galaxy far away, the masters struggled for control of the Force. Somewhere in the Rhine is a lump of gold that, if forged into a ring worn by someone who renounces love, confers mastery over the universe. Dan Brown's The DaVinci Code and The Lost Symbol have masters of ancient secrets attempting ... something ... perhaps only letting Mr Brown show off his knowledge of architectural arcana. And Sherlock Holmes has to foil those Sith Rite Masons.

Perhaps, though, the reaction to that David Brooks column on elites and anti-elites is the same myth, in wonkier form. Recognize that no secret cabal of Wise Experts (or Jedi Masters, or Illustrious Potentates) exists, and no simple corpus of Organizing Knowledge exists. Per corollary, those very public Establishment figures lack any such corpus. But they pretend that they do. See Chicago Boyz for an elaboration on that point.
IT'S WORSE THAN I FEARED. King Banaian follows up on my observations about principal components estimators.

Most social scientists thing of its use as a bit of a dark art largely because -- at least where I've used it -- the results are fragile (in the statistical sense of that word.) It's easy enough nowadays to run principal components, as Iowahawk shows, but it's also quite easy to change one item included in the list of proxy variables and get quite different results. Any social scientist who does statistics and has used PCA knows this (I talked to as many as I could find when I did the central bank independence and economic freedom papers. Most were not economists, because economists are even more leery of PCA than political scientists or sociologists.) What I did not know was that it was the method used to append the pre-1850 temperature data to the graph. It increases my skepticism to know this was the method they used.

Note, this doesn't make the scientists arguing for global warming wrong; it only means I want to see the raw data and run lots of permutations of the proxy variable list. Not providing that data or, worse, destroying it makes me suspicious, however.

Apparently, sensitivity analysis (which takes more work) is the researcher's best check for robustness -- there is no diagnostic statistic available as part of the standard regression output.
EVERYTHING OLD IS NEW AGAIN. Boston's South Station, as built, had lots of tracks, including a lower level loop for more rapid turning of electric trains that never came.


The track plan is from my copy of Passenger Terminals and Trains, which I am pleased to see is available in a new paperback edition from the University of Michigan.

The current station occupies approximately the upper third of the building, although the food court and the bus station occupy some of the Atlantic Avenue footage and some of the old freight house site. The tracks along the Fort Point Channel, and some of the concourse on that side (in Boston, they called it the midway) have been replaced by the Stone and Webster Building (or whatever successor corporation is there now) and a postal annex.

There aren't enough tracks in the remaining station for the expanding commuter service, and a resurgent Amtrak service (I'm still holding out for hourly Acela service the length of the Corridor.) Massachusetts wants to put some of the tracks back.

Boston Globe reporters Casey Ross and Noah Bierman wrote January 8 that instead of the private development project, “Massachusetts will try to buy the entire 16-acre US Postal Service mail-sorting facility near South Station in Boston, and use the property to significantly expand commuter rail service for the region.”
The railroad promoters of the late nineteenth century gave us the infrastructure to provide the freight and passenger service shippers and Passenger Rail authorities would like to offer today. Look for other transportation projects to restore trackage that was ripped up as an economy measure from 1960 to about 1980.

10.1.10

CONSIDERING THAT TECHNOCRATIC ESTABLISHMENT. Start with David Brooks.

The public is not only shifting from left to right. Every single idea associated with the educated class has grown more unpopular over the past year.

The educated class believes in global warming, so public skepticism about global warming is on the rise. The educated class supports abortion rights, so public opinion is shifting against them. The educated class supports gun control, so opposition to gun control is mounting.

The story is the same in foreign affairs. The educated class is internationalist, so isolationist sentiment is now at an all-time high, according to a Pew Research Center survey. The educated class believes in multilateral action, so the number of Americans who believe we should “go our own way” has risen sharply.

A year ago, the Obama supporters were the passionate ones. Now the tea party brigades have all the intensity.

The tea party movement is a large, fractious confederation of Americans who are defined by what they are against. They are against the concentrated power of the educated class. They believe big government, big business, big media and the affluent professionals are merging to form self-serving oligarchy — with bloated government, unsustainable deficits, high taxes and intrusive regulation.

Let's break this down. Global warming? The evidence is, shall we say, not as compelling today as it was a year ago. Abortion? With ultrasound images as clear today as they have become? Gun ownership? First-responders are dealing with budget cuts too. The international community? Chuckle. The concentrated power of the educated class? The real education takes place in the public high schools, in the land-grants, in the mid-majors, and the track record of the commentariat and the process-worshippers, and the hedge-fund hotshots is dismal.

Armed and Dangerous has a simpler explanation for the public loss of faith in the Credentialed Establishment.

When I look at the pattern of failures, I am reminded of something I learned from software engineering: planning fails when the complexity of the problem exceeds the capacity of the planners to reason about it. And the complexity of real-world planning problems almost never rises linearly; it tends to go up at least quadratically in the number of independent variables or problem elements.

I think the complexifying financial and political environment of the last few decades has simply outstripped the capacity of our “educated classes”, our cognitive elite, to cope with it. The “wizards” in our financial system couldn’t reason effectively about derivatives risk and oversimplified their way into meltdown; regulators failed to foresee the consequences of requiring a quota of mortgage loans to insolvent minority customers; and politico-military strategists weaned on the relative simplicity of confronting nation-state adversaries thrashed pitifully when required to game against fuzzy coalitions of state and non-state actors.

Charles Murray and Richard Herrnstein argued tellingly in their 1994 book The Bell Curve that 20th-century American society had become a remarkably effective machine for spotting the cognitively gifted of all socioeconomic and racial backgrounds and tracking them into careers that would maximize their output. They pointed out, though, that the “educated class” produced by this machine was in danger of becoming self-separated from the mass of the population.

And deluded by their schooling, to believe that they had sufficient tacit knowledge. To continue the complexity argument, Complex Adaptive Systems Tend to Do What They Damn Well Please.

Or read Will Collier.

Out here in the hinterlands, we're well aware that you and your Ivy League buddies believe that you are the only actual educated people on the planet, but you ought to have learned somewhere along the way that belief in an idea does not turn that idea into reality. Asserting as much, to borrow a line from the late John Hughes, just makes you look like an ass.

What Brooks, with his touching faith in "pragmatic federal leaders with professional expertise" doesn't want to talk about, of course, is just how badly the Ivy League class has failed over the past couple of decades. All those rows of degrees from Harvard didn't keep a pack of Brooksian elites--mostly members of the Democratic Party--from running Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac straight into the toilet, and taking the private economy with them. Hiring out of the Ivies also didn't save Lehman Brothers or AIG from doing remarkably stupid things with other people's money.

Don't you suppose that if those people were as smart as they thought they were, they'd be rich?

Rick Moran notes, however, that serious policy reform will require well-reasoned counterarguments.

The clashing interests of 300 million people coupled with the enormous complexity of governing such a diverse, multi-racial, mutli-cultural society makes the kind of simple minded conservatism promoted by Limbaugh and his admirers a shadow reality, existing outside of time and out of sync with the cares and concerns of ordinary people. They are for regression, not conserving anything. And their failure to accept America as it is rather than how they wish it to be makes them worse than irrelevant in promoting conservatism; they are a hindrance.

I believe these two currents of history - the coming primal thrust of jihad and the battle to wrest conservatism from fakirs like Limbaugh, Hannity, Palin, and others will test us in ways not experienced since the late 1970’s when there was the perception that the world was closing in around us and the Soviets were on the road to victory. That time also saw the final ascendancy of “movement” conservatism as a revolutionary political force.

That movement conservatism featured an alliance of the religious and the libertarian elements to challenge Communism, a false religion for some and bad economics for others. The extension for today will be left to the voters as an exercise. That a diverse society might be better served by a common set of rules, rather than a mushy-nonjudgementalism, gives cause for cheerfulness.
SECURING THE PEACE. I've frequently referred to the United States from 1945 to 1965 as The America That Worked(TM), and, where possible, identified authors who did not describe the secular challenges to that order as unambiguously desirable. The 2010 Fifty Book Challenge entries will continue that theme, offering Joseph C. Goulden's The Best Years: 1945-1950 as Book Review No. 1. The book came out in 1976, and Mr Goulden's biography notes contributions to Harper's and The Nation, admittedly before those magazines went nuts, as well as investigative reporting on AT&T and the Gulf of Tonkin. What makes the work instructive is his reluctance to apply hindsight to the time he describes, from the surrender of Japan to the beginning of the Korean War. Thus, although he devotes sections to the consumer economy and the popular culture, he leaves the subsequent sneering at what emerged later in the Eisenhower administration for readers to discover in John Kenneth Galbraith or Vance Packard. Each section begins with a recollection of his adolescence in Marshall, Texas, and his recognition that something is wrong with de jure segregation surfaces, but the reader will have to find out what transpired elsewhere. The tension between the credentialed Establishment and the benighted masses, manifesting itself in the emergence of Whittaker Chambers, Joseph McCarthy, and Richard Nixon as prominent anticommunists is present, but Mr Goulden resists the temptation to say much about their subsequent implosions. And perhaps that is a good thing, as in 1976, the crackup of Soviet-style communism and the Warsaw Pact was not in any of the Serious People's prognostications. The contemporary reader might read the history, more or less as it happened, of the end of the World War II alliance and the development of that counter-Establishment, and reflect on whether a similar dynamic might be at work, with Sean Hannity and Sarah Palin among the early critics of an overweening government, and a crackup of the technocratic Credentialed Establishment that will come.

(Cross-posted to 50 Book Challenge.)
THE SITH RITE MASONS. I will recommend Sherlock Holmes, despite the centrality of a conniving cabal whose rituals one might deduce from the post title. Irene Adler, the V. R. in bullet pockmarks, and the South Eastern Railway make appearances, and the ending suggests the game is still afoot.

9.1.10

TO REMEMBER. There will be a 3 pm wreath laying and a 6 pm candlelight vigil on February 14.
OUR NEIGHBORS AT WAR. Elizabeth Hanson, intelligence officer, economics major.

She attended Maine's Colby College at the time of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, an event that may have helped shape her career path. The attacks prompted Hanson, an economics major, to review the relationship between religion and economics in her senior year.

Her provocatively titled effort, "Faithless Heathens: Scriptural Economics of Judaism, Christianity and Islam," picked up threads from Christianity's Bible, Judaism's Torah and Islam's Quran, and examined the major monotheistic religions' approach toward economics.

Hanson wasn't a typical economics student who viewed her degree as a ticket to a lucrative job in the financial sector, said Michael Donihue, a professor who oversaw her independent study project, similar to a senior thesis.

"There are some who come into economics because they're interested in making money," he said. "Others want to look at the world in a different way."

Donihue said he was surprised to learn she was working in Afghanistan.

"She wasn't the superstar student that you'd get in a textbook sense but she had an intellectual curiosity and this interest in looking beyond the textbook," he said. "She wasn't very interested in the raw data, but the behaviors behind it."

DEVELOPING LOCALLY. The University of Wisconsin at Green Bay used to put a basketball team on the court from which all of the players were in receiving distance of WNFL (1440 AM). More recently, they've been recruiting in enemy territory.
"Overall, I think everyone -- almost everyone, I should say -- in Green Bay are Packers fans," junior Kayla Tetschlag, a native of nearby Sheboygan, explained of the origins of the current strife. "We recently got a few Minnesota and Illinois recruits which, sadly, are Vikings and Bears fans. So now we have a little rivalry going on among the team. But it's all in good fun."
But what does it mean to be best in the Horizon League? Once upon a time, Green Bay and DePaul and Northern Illinois jockeyed for supremacy in the North Star Conference, and later the Mid-Con. (All this realignment, in amateur sports that have nothing to do with money?) DePaul subsequently decamped for the Big East, where they jockey with Notre Dame and Connecticut, and Northern Illinois returned to the Mid-American.
All right, as far as disharmony goes, it's more Osmonds than the Clash. Truth be told, this simply isn't a program that does drama. It's a model of stability on the fringes of the sport's mainstream, a program that never had a losing season since moving to Division I more than 20 years ago and which has made 12 consecutive postseason appearances, including nine NCAA tournaments.
The article notes that a loss in the Horizon League tournament tends to mean at best a trip to the invitational tournament, something also true for the Mid American (although those regular season runners-up are capable of surprises.)

(Via Women's Hoops.)
PURDUE CAN'T SKATE. It's another basketball game?

8.1.10

ARE THERE NO ALL WEATHER MODES? King Banaian was also recruiting in Atlanta (where we managed to get out before the weather there turned really miserable). It took him longer to get out than he would have liked.
Is there a law that says when the temperature in any part of the old Confederacy gets below 35 degrees that all transportation ceases to function? It is clear but cold at Atlanta right now, and I have sat at the gate for my plane, scheduled for 10:24 departure, since 9:30. It is now 11:45. The plane is just now leaving Mobile (they say.) What?
My Airtran ride to Midway was full, and close to time, although some of the neighboring business travelers were grumbling about the reservation desk offering earlier standby trips that turned out to be oversold, giving them long waits at the airport. It makes one nostalgic for the old Georgian, which in the summer of 1951 would have left Atlanta at 6.30 with three Chicago sleepers, reaching Chicago at 9.05 the next morning; unfortunately by then there were no mid-day locals to DeKalb on the Chicago and North Western or to Sycamore on the Chicago Great Western. A passenger bound for St. Cloud would reach there just before midnight on the Northern Pacific's North Coast Limited, after a long layover in Chicago. Today's train service falls short in a number of ways. First, Atlanta to Chicago is via Washington, D.C. with an overnight stay there, or an adventurous routing by way of New Orleans. Second, the carrier is not making many friends with its cancellations in the prairies. The Empire Builder has been hampered across North Dakota (subscription required).
The Builder operates between Chicago and Seattle, with a section to Portland, Ore., that splits off at Spokane, Wash. Amtrak canceled the train, as it didn't want to risk equipment breakdowns caused by sub-zero temperatures in Montana, North Dakota, and Minnesota.
The California Zephyr has also encountered heavy snowpacks in Nebraska.
Blizzard conditions and heavy snow in central Nebraska resulted in the cancellation of Thursday's and Friday's westbound California Zephyr out of Chicago. Its eastbound counterparts from Emeryville, Calif., were held overnight in Denver and turned to become the next day's train.
Tuesday's departure from Emeryville had a particularly difficult time, first bucking the snow in Nebraska and then tangling with a pickup truck in Iowa.

7.1.10

THE RETURN OF THE RED BALL FREIGHT. Today, I was reviewing some page proofs at the local Starbucks when a short rake of matching large ARMN refrigerator cars rolled westbound. The most recent issue of Trains told me what I was seeing: the return move of the Produce Railexpress, a dedicated service operated by Union Pacific, CSX, and Railex to move perishables, including peppers and wine, from two gathering terminals at Wallula, Washington and Delano, California to a distribution center near Rotterdam Junction, New York.

The train is allowed 70 mph where track conditions permit, mechanical refrigeration means no pauses at icing docks, and the absence of any enroute classification means times competitive with single-driver trucks at rates competitive with dual-driver trucks as well as less exposure of the lading to the shocks of switching. Cars can be added or dropped from the consists as originating traffic warrants, providing an advantage over the integral train.

The ARMN reporting marks are Union Pacific's version of what used to be American Refrigerator Transit, a joint venture of Missouri Pacific and Wabash with cars dedicated to moving vegetables and sides out of the breadbasket.

A string of identical white refrigerator cars, most of them heavily graffitied, doesn't have the charm of the old billboard reefers.


On the other hand, the old car-service rules involved a lot of empty car movement, as, for example, the Swift car bringing sides of meat to Gloucester had to return to Winona empty, while the NEFX car that loaded at Gorton to make sure the Legion posts in Wisconsin could have their fish fries might bring a load of window frames back to New England. And the switching and pauses to ice damaged the lading, and meant more inventory tied up in transit.
NO CHANCE TO MATRICULATE AT BERKELEY. Betsy's Page has the Trenchant Observation of the Week. It might summarize the world we live in.
LaShawn Barber points to this story out of Berkeley where Berkeley High School is considering getting rid of all their lab science classes because not enough black students sign up for them. Yup, that's the way to address the race gap - dumb down the white students. Just what we need to prepare students for jobs in the 21st century.
The college-prep track at high schools used to include at least one Carnegie Unit in lab science, at the request of the universities. And people wonder why social stratification seems to get worse.
NECESSITY IS THE MOTHER OF INVENTION. The dean at Anonymous Community comments on thoughts by Miami's James Garland on the ongoing financial crisis, or failure to pass the market test, depending on your perspective, in higher education. The book he's been reading, Saving Alma Mater, seems worthy of consideration for this year's Fifty Book Challenge. The real gem, however, is in the comments.
The blessing of this year was that we were finally encouraged to flunk people out of our school who, because of their remedial status, never should have been allowed to be there in the first place.
I'd rather have administrators recognizing that higher education ought to be higher for its own sake, but if budget constraints concentrate the mind, so much the better.