A PROPER HUB FOR A NETWORK. Midwest High Speed Rail have been following a number of proposals to provide a proper Chicago station for the faster, more frequent trains to terminate at or to run through. Amtrak has solicited proposals for improvements to the headhouse building, presumably with the expectation of generating more income from its real estate. The real challenge, however, is in providing additional platform capacity for those trains.

Today, [Union] station, which serves Metra commuter rail trains as well as Amtrak trains, is (or should be) a civic embarrassment. The traveling public must endure a maze of corridors, packed waiting rooms and the stench of train fumes. The grandly scaled waiting room, with its sky-lit, barrel-vaulted ceiling, is empty most of the time—an ironic state of affairs given the congestion elsewhere in the station. The room’s most effective use these days is as a movie set or a camera-ready backdrop for local politicians, who held a press conference on high-speed rail there Friday.

A 1991 renovation by Chicago architect Lucien Lagrange upgraded ticket counters, along with Amtrak waiting areas and baggage handling systems. But Amtrak, which owns the station through a subsidiary, runs far more short-haul trains now than it did then, so its facilities are overwhelmed. Even Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari says the situation is unacceptable. And well it should be. How do you get people to take the train instead of the plane if you’re going to treat them with such disrespect?

Union's shortcomings are the consequence of two decisions. The more recent decision, to provide commercial space above the passenger concourse (at the time it was cash-strapped private passenger train operators, not a cash-strapped quasi-public agency) in an era of declining intercity passenger trains, led to a design in which commuters would rush through the concourse to board their trains. That 1991 redesign provided separate passages for commuters from street level to trackside and a semblance of a waiting area for intercity passengers (although that area is inexplicably chopped up into a public seating area and some train-specific seating areas that are never used.) Those areas, however, are obstacle courses defined by the supporting columns for that commercial space.

We have a concourse area through which columns could be placed because of a previous decision, to build the station as a double-stub station, with ten tracks terminating at the north, thirteen tracks terminating at the south, and one through track on the river side of the station. Consequently, there's little capacity for running trains through Chicago, although Amtrak has on occasion offered such service (it has always come a cropper as late-arriving trains from the south disrupt the generally reliable Hiawatha service to Milwaukee.)

Helmut Jahn has offered a proposal to provide a few platforms for the faster trains, in space under the old Post Office that straddles the Eisenhower Expressway and Union Station's south platforms. In that space, there's room for a few run-through trains, and that station is on the other side of the expressway from the southwest corner of the Loop. The current concourse building, which was designed with the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, now has a health club upstairs. Perhaps now is the time to redevelop the concourse area, with the north and south tracks joined for the first time and the passenger facilities above the tracks, the way it's done at Philadelphia's Thirtieth Street Station.
IF IT DIDN'T EXIST, WE'D HAVE TO IMAGINE IT. The slogan of the modelers' magazine Traction and Models used to be "Knowledge is of no value unless it is shared with others." The arts of teaching and of scholarship is in presenting the knowledge in such a way that others will want to partake of it. That these are art forms is probably confirmed by the existence of multiple models of best practices, and that students and professors gripe about having to coexist with each other, and authors and referees routinely disagree. That doesn't stop practitioners from suggesting improvements in technique, or, upon occasion writing books to explain core concepts in a way more accessible than the textbook offers. (Why such books haven't displaced textbooks is itself an anomaly, but I digress.) I have on occasion hinted at my views about classroom technique, and devoted a number of posts to the class of economics readers I summarize as clever partial equilibrium tricks.

More recently, I've been following a conversation at Phi Beta Cons about effective methods of teaching mathematics. The conversation continues, with the continued false choice.
Getting a general notion of how mathematicians think may be interesting or useful to a small fraction of students, but I think most of them would be better served by actually doing some math themselves.
It's necessary to do both, as a linked American Heritage article about the folly that became New Math illustrates.

[Proponents] argued that math could be exciting if it showed children the whys of problem solving rather than just the hows. Memorization and rote were wrong. Discovery, deduction, and limited drill were the best routes to arithmetical mastery.

In practice, this meant learning how different number systems worked, that the number 9 in the decimal, or base ten, system would be the number 100 in base three. It meant learning about the set, a grouping of things: a beach as a “set” of grains of sand, for example. It meant learning the difference between a number like 7 and its representation the numeral, which could be expressed many different ways—21 minus 14, 7 times 1, VII.
The first sentence illustrates that practice, and organizing concepts, both matter. The second paragraph leads to the worst form of deconstruction: until you know the dimensions of the box, it is silly to speak of thinking outside the box. But the teachers didn't know the dimensions of the box. (The generalizations to Marxian or Freudian approaches to literary criticism are left to the reader as exercises.)

New math became a pejorative term. And because it was difficult to know if trying to understand the structure of math made it any easier, most teachers deserted discovery learning without any pangs.
In part, because they had not developed their intuition.

I wrote that previous post, and all of the preceding paragraphs, as a motivation of Book Review No. 6, Paul J. Nahin's An Imaginary Tale: The Story of i. It's been a long motivation, and -- my taste for light reading being somewhat idiosyncratic -- the review itself is going to be heavy going, even by my usual standards. You might want to skip to some other post with the observation that Imaginary Tale is useful at what it does, although its presentation is uneven.

The part of New Math, and discovery learning more generally, that I agree with is that an intellectual discipline is more useful if the learner has an opportunity to confront a challenge from which the value of a principle might be hinted at or observed. Many of the economic education lessons for K-12 work in that way, and my exercises with compounding interest and factoring (a2 + b2) had that approach in mind. (I also produced the complex conjugates a + bi and a - bi ... the dramatic convention of placing a gun on the table in the first act in order to fire it in the third.) Professor Nahin's book, which he claims is not a textbook, might nonetheless be useful as a textbook or as supplemental readings, as he makes an effort to provide some of the intuition that led to complex analysis.

It's an uneven effort. In order to do complex analysis, it helps to have an intuitive understanding of i itself (and I stole the factorization of a2 + b2 from Imaginary Tale) and e plays a prominent role. But economists have a better intuition for e than other applied and many pure mathematicians because of that interest rate connection. It's also useful to understand such things as polar coordinates, the series expansion of the trigonometric functions, vector addition, and linear algebra.

These are things that ordinary mathematics textbooks often throw at the student with little preamble or preparation. Here's how my high school calculus text, the fourth edition of Calculus and Analytic Geometry by George B. Thomas, does it.

Another useful way to locate a point in a plane is by polar coordinates. First we fix an origin O and an initial ray from O. The point P has polar coordinates r, θ, with ...
I confess that my knowledge of polar coordinates was limited to being able to transform a Cartesian pair (x,y) into a polar pair with the same origin of r = (x2 + y2)1/2, θ = arctan(y/x), and if I had a polar pair (r,θ) I could do x = r cos(θ), y = r sin(θ). Years later, Buddy Melges gave a talk at the Lake Geneva Yacht Club about speed testing the AMERICA3 fleet where he referred to "polars."

That leads to an (admittedly culturally biased) exercise in developing your intuition. What is the easiest way to keep track of the velocity made good toward a windward mark by a sailboat? Straight into the wind, you go nowhere. At right angles to the wind, you're fast, but you make no velocity good toward that mark. With the wind behind you, your velocity made good is negative. On the wind, if you get too close to the wind, you're slow (that's pinching) and if your angle of attack is less acute, you're faster, (that's reaching) but not making velocity good toward the mark. The art of sailing a boat upwind is to find the right balance between pinching and reaching, so as to obtain maximum velocity made good. (Believe me, I've struggled with that balance, on rare occasions to good effect.)

Mr Melges has excellent intuition for sailing, and he didn't sound too excited about the polars: all that mattered was that he had a close-winded boat. Call that getting good effect more frequently.

The engineers wanted more precision. You sail at varying angles to the true wind and work out the boatspeed and the velocity of the boat is v. So your polar diagram has r = v and θ is your boat's angle toward the true wind, which is your initial ray. On a frictionless lake with a constant wind speed from a constant direction, your polar diagram will resemble a cardioid. (On a real lake with shifts and puffs, you have to do a lot of tests.) With the right knowledge of the laws of physics, the naval architect and the engineer can work out whether the boat's cardioid has the classic form r = k(1 - cos(θ)) where k is a positive constant that could itself reflect the hull shape. And the tacking angle that offers the best velocity made good has the maximum value of v cos(θ), which is easier to observe on the polar diagram with the aid of a see-through square.

For this exercise, it suffices to measure angles in degrees. But for what is to follow, a student has to be comfortable with radians. The idea of a radian is simple enough: it is the angle subtended by the arc of length equal to the radius of a circle. To walk all the way around the circle is thus to travel radians. That may be intuitive enough, but the website I got it from contains a classic understatement.

The reason for this is that so many formulas become much easier to write and to understand when radians are used to measure angles.
Somebody must have had reason to invent the concept. For some formulas, it's mandatory.

Although the word "radian" was coined by Thomas Muir and/or James Thompson about 1870, mathematicians had been measuring angles that way for a long time. For instance, Leonhard Euler (1707-1783) in his Elements of Algebra explicitly said to measure angles by the length of the arc cut off in the unit circle.
We're about to get to Euler, but before Euler was DeMoivre, and analysts knew that sin(θ) and cos(θ) had infinite-series expansions that only made sense in radians, and the Greek geometers had made a lot of progress with the circular functions. Provide the intuition.

Imaginary Tale provides a lot of intuition about what comes next. The student has to be comfortable with what came before, and more intuition (or some kind of discovery learning) might be helpful. For instance, express the complex number a + bi as a vector. This idea occurred to a Norwegian surveyor, Caspar Wessel, and after more thought, became the Argand diagram of calculus classes. Now the x-axis gives the real coefficient, and the y-axis the imaginary coefficient. (The mind boggles at Flatland's Edwin Abbott introducing a complex sphere -- here's a new twist on Upward, not Northward.) The fun, however, has only begun. Your polar, now, converts the Cartesian coordinates x = a, y = bi into the polar coordinate r = (a2 + b2)1/2, θ = arctan(b/a). But if I give you (r, θ) you must give me back x = r cos(θ), y = i r sin(θ).

Now, expand limn->infinity(1 + iθ/n)n = e = cos(θ) + i sin(θ). (Euler got away with one there, factoring on i and summing two different infinite series.) The Argand diagram and the infinite series expansions of the trigonometric functions and Euler's efforts with e took place separately: are there some classroom exercises for students to be able to see how each of these things might have happened? With all this at hand, consider the product i(a + bi) = -b + ai, convert to the polar form as r = (b2 + a2)1/2, θ = arctan(-a/b): multiplying a complex number by i rotates a vector by π/2 (it's really less complex than tacking a sailboat!) And there's a tantalizing linear algebra trick in the footnotes (page 81, endnote at page 244): let J be a 2x2 matrix [0 -1 : 1 0] where the colon separates each column. Then JJ = -I: a squaring operation that produces a negative identity matrix with no annoying complex numbers.

You're now ready to locate buried treasure on an island where the clues are two trees that are still standing and a gallows that has rotted away, to work out the periods of retrograde movement of the planets, and you can probably best that Very Modern Major General in cheerful use of the binomial theorem, the square of the hypotenuse and mysteries of the hyperbolic sine. "The shortest path between two truths in the real domain passes through the complex domain" (page 70) forsooth!

And thus my griping about the intellectual effort people put into parsing Dan Brown's work. Start instead with Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid, read and understand good histories of e and π, familiarize yourself with the greatest theorems. In particular, dear, reader, if you would teach mathematics (as opposed to providing training in pushing buttons on a five dollar calculator) at any level from the fourth grade up, your intuition must be first rate. (Enthusiasm for the subject is a plus, but enthusiasm without intuition will not produce learning.)

That said, I must call Professor Nahin out on some details of presentation. He tweaks (pages 162-166) an obscure British mathematician, Roger Cotes (1682-1716) of whom no less than Isaac Newton said "If he had lived we might have known something." But what Professor Cotes left us was a difficult to follow manuscript including an expression - = ln(cos(θ) + i sin(θ)) "embedded, in almost unbelievably obscure language" in a 1714 paper. Professor Nahin concludes, "His readers at the time probably simply didn't understand what Cotes meant. Let this be a lesson in the value of clear exposition!" Sometimes the exposition in Imaginary Tale is less than clear, as the presentation sometimes switches from the mathematical conventions I have been using to the forms more common in engineering (where i becomes j because Ohm preempted i (and e, but I digress), and polars become (x2 + y2)1/2/_tan-1(y/x)) for a lot of extra typesetting to no apparent gain in clarity.

(Cross-posted to 50 Book Challenge.)


TWO OUTRIGHT CITY CHAMPIONSHIPS. Only the 1971-1972 Milwaukee Hamilton team that won the state title has gone undefeated in conference.


THEY ARE CATCHING ON. USA Today picks up the Milwaukee-as-Chicago's-third-airport story.

"Nobody really wants to compete with Southwest," [AirTran CEO Bob] Fornaro says. "But the upside is they'll bring a lot of loyal Chicagoans with them. That will raise the profile of Milwaukee among Illinois residents who might not have considered the airport before."

It could also raise the profile of Milwaukee as an alternative airport for greater Chicago, much as Southwest has done for Baltimore to greater Washington, D.C., or Providence to greater Boston, says Kit Mueller, a 36-year-old technology consultant from Chicago.

Mueller, who says he travels up to 30 times a year for a combination of both work and pleasure, is a convert to Milwaukee.

Unlike the northern Illinois residents most Milwaukee airlines seek, Mueller actually lives in The Loop in central Chicago — about 90 miles from Mitchell airport. Still, he says, he prefers Mitchell over O'Hare, saying the ride to Milwaukee on Amtrak's Hiawatha line doesn't take him any longer than Chicago's Blue Line "El" train to O'Hare.

"I've been somewhat the evangelist of late," Mueller says. "Whenever we're talking travel, I'm like, 'Always check Milwaukee,' " he says, though he adds Chicago's downtown Midway is still his airport of choice.

Mueller says some people think he's crazy "at first" when he tells them he prefers Milwaukee.

"But two people have actually come with me" to Mitchell, he says, claiming they warmed to the idea after giving it a chance.

And that's with limited food service (a trolley service of soft drinks and bag snacks is offered on a few trains) and timings based on 79 mph train speeds. Glenview to Milwaukee Airport in 35 minutes, and a station at Gurnee with ample parking and a shuttle service to Great America and Gurnee Mills offer yet more upside potential.

Having Mueller's endorsement is fine, but he isn't the target Chicago audience for Mitchell and its airlines.

"While Milwaukee is only 70 miles from O'Hare and 90 miles from downtown Chicago, those aren't the important numbers," says Mitchell director [Barry] Bateman. "For the majority of our customers who live in the high-income, frequent-traveler northern Illinois tier, Milwaukee is only a 45- to 50-minute drive on the interstate — the same amount of time it takes them to drive to O'Hare."

There are days, however, when 94 doesn't go that fast. I suspect, further, that AirTran and Republic (hello, Herman?) won't complain about passengers transferring from the trains. Swift of foot is Hiawatha. With each stride two miles he will measure.
PRIVATIZATION PROCEEDS APACE. Northern Illinois University trustees approve higher rates for residence halls.

Student Trustee Matt Venaas spoke in support of the housing increase.

“In these troubled economic times, I am always concerned about raising student costs,” Venaas said. “However, with [Residence Hall Association] so strongly behind the move, I have to support the goal of the increase.”

Venaas added that the increase will help cover the cost of an unfunded state mandate that requires sprinklers in all residence halls by 2013.

Jonathan Kite, president of the Residence Hall Association, explained more about the increase.

“We are in direct competition with apartments,” he said. “While we may not be able to compete in price, we certainly look to offer amenities that will attract residents. Certain fees are needed to help residents live in comfortable facilities.”

Students are exploring their opportunities to substitute.

Megan Peterson, sophomore communicative disorders major, said a fee increase will cause her to reconsider living in a residence hall.

“I probably will not live in the dorms,” Peterson said. “It’s not cheaper to live in [the] dorms.”

Michael Stang, executive director of Housing and Dining, is worried about the impact of the fee increase.

“Housing and Dining is always concerned about the impact that fee increases have on a student’s willingness or ability to remain with us in the residence halls,” Stang said.

Stang said that Housing and Dining addresses fee increases without compromising living in the residence halls.

Some Wisconsin friends joked about not being able to afford the dorms, some years ago. I'm not sure that was strictly true, considering transportation and food. But in those years, university housing was not obligated to be self-supporting in the same way.
OLD ENOUGH FOR OLYMPIC GOLD, OLD ENOUGH FOR A MOLSON GOLDEN. The International Olympic Committee has chastised the Canadian women for taking a victory lap that included some underage drinking. At least nobody has officially griped about unladylike behavior. We are, after all, talking about Canadian hockey players, possibly people who know their way around power tools better than some of the tools on the committee.

My post title invokes a corollary to a Vietnam-era policy: old enough for the draft, old enough for a draft. Prosit!

RUNNING EXTRA. Give Phil Miller a Molson Golden.


BEER. BAR-TIME. BRUSH-OFF. What happens next is not amusing.

Brian Mulder, freshman business administration major, said that, after a party Thursday night, he and some friends returned to his room in Stevenson by around 1 a.m.

Mulder said around 3:20 a.m., he and friend freshman Kevin Anderson stepped outside for a cigarette. At this time, the two saw a young woman walking toward Stevenson, allegedly followed by Zach Isaacman, 22, of Buffalo Grove.

“It looked like she was nervous or something,” Mulder said.

The young woman entered Stevenson and closed the door behind her, effectively locking Isaacman out.

Mulder said Isaacman approached Stevenson and motioned to be let in.

Mulder, president of the Stevenson North Hall Council, asked Isaacman if he lived in Stevenson, and Isaacman revealed he lived on Greek Row.

Mulder told Isaacman to return home, as there “was nothing there for him” at Stevenson.

Mr Mulder continues to recover at home.
сито! What happened to the Red Army Hockey Club of yore? The Canadian men handle the Russians roughly in Vancouver. The women shut down the Badgers Team USA for their gold medal, followed by a singing of "Norad stands on guard for thee" and victory cigars.
DED MOROZ CAN'T STOP A TRAIN. Moscow gets a lot of snow, but 63 cm in one go is a bit much. (Washington, D.C. got at least one dose that size: a new cold war?)

Drivers were asked to leave their cars at home but rail services are said to have been unaffected by the weather.

A Moscow railway spokesman said that 4,471km (2,778m) of track had been cleared of snow on Sunday.

In all, about 15,000 snow-clearing machines were deployed in the city of about 10.5 million people, backed by 8,500 dump trucks and about 5,500 street-sweeping personnel.

Is there someone in D.C. government telling Congress about a dump truck gap?


YOU HAVE TO DEVELOP YOUR INTUITION. Jane Shaw offers a false choice in the teaching of mathematics.
Should students learn about about the real world or about the beauty of abstraction? (And can the normal college student appreciate the latter?)
She links to a Robert Blumenthal essay for the Pope Center that hits at the real problem.
The one area of general education that has been almost totally ignored is mathematics. Most of the required courses are dull, pedestrian, and often repetitive of what students took in high school. At many schools College Algebra is the mathematics course that students must take. However, this course is really second-year high school algebra. It asks of students no more than they were required to do in order to graduate from high school.
The challenge, dear reader, is to develop the connection between the beauty of abstraction and the real world. Consider a simple problem. A bank pays 100% simple interest per annum. If you invest $1 now, after a year you have ... everybody get $(1 + 1) = $2. (I'm using notation to compel your mind to see the solution.) Now suppose the bank pays 100% interest, but it compounds semi-annually. If you invest $1 now, after a year you have $(1 + 1/2)(1 + 1/2) = $2.25. With me so far? How does your answer change if the bank compounds quarterly? Now your $1 compounds to $(1 + 1/4)4 = $2.44 (the bank keeps the remainder.) If a really aggressive bank offered to compound your money continuously, what would happen?

Evaluate limn->infinity (1 + 1/n)n.

The number you get, 2.7 1828 1828 45 90 45 ... is the upper bound on what the bank pays out. It's also one of the more useful concepts in applied and pure mathematics, the natural exponential base e.

Perhaps, when Mr Blumenthal makes the case for mathematics in the core, it's developing student intuition that he has in mind.
Students should be offered the opportunity to have an engaging and meaningful experience with important mathematical ideas. It isn’t easy to devise such a course for students whose mathematical background is limited, but it can be done. If we aspire to produce graduates who truly are liberally educated, it should be done.
Admittedly, the student who grasps limit is not the student whose mathematical background is limited, so to speak, but how often does a high school math teacher make a hash of the concept of limit. And how often does the high school or college algebra text simply introduce e (and its inverse, the natural logarithms) without any context at all.

Or consider some tricks with squares. It's relatively easy to see that (a + b)2 = a2 + 2ab + b2. There's a large class of problems for which the factorization a2 - b2 = (a + b)(a - b) is useful. But what do we do about a2 + b2 (besides equate it to c2?) Imagine a number i, such that (a + ib)(a - ib) = a2 + b2. You say i2 = -1? Is i algebraic or transcendental?

I'm not sure where that trick fits in Mr Blumenthal's scheme.
Students deal wtih numbers all the time, but unfortunately their only conception of numbers it that they are things you compute with. Our schooling, with its relentless emphasis on solving real-world problems, teaches us that we can use numbers to model all sorts of phenomena and that crunching these numbers can enable us to better understand real-world situations. It is unfortunate that, beyond computational applications, there is little appreciation of all that underlies the concept of numbers.
On one hand, using the result above, one can demonstrate that the product of two sums of two squares of integers can be expressed in two different ways as the sum of two perfect squares. Check it out. Is that a computational application, or the basis for deeper conceptual understanding?

Here's where I think more intuition would be useful. I referred to adding a2 to b2 to produce c2. There has to be some parable one can tell about generating the trigonometric functions. There has to be an intuitive way to get people thinking about walking around the perimeter of a circle in terms of the distance travelled from where you started -- that has to be the basis of the use of radians in the trigonometric identities and in the development of the infinite series expansions of the sine and the cosine and the wonderful result e + 1 = 0. To introduce equivalences to degrees (one radian is approximately 57o) confuses the issue. (I admit, telling the navigator to steer course - π/4 lacks the romance of Make Course 135o True, and that negative sign would drive multiculturalist conscience-cowboys with a smattering of mathematical literacy crazy.) There must, however, be a better way. I've been reading up on the theory of complex numbers recently, and there will be more to come. Study up on the implications of r = 1, θ = arctan(b/a), where, again, I am using notation to compel your mind. There will be a quiz later.
THE SEVEN-TEN SPLIT. Curlers don't like comparisons with bowling, but how else describe the Swedish shot I just saw, knocking two British stones out of the scoring area? I also confess to liking any game in which the trailing side, recognizing the inevitable, can resign the game. (Every football coach should be issued two large Kings, a white one for home games and a black one for road games, and given the option to stop the game and lay the appropriate one on its side at midfield.) The economist in me wonders if that custom would be the same if tradition obligated the loser to buy the first round.
THE REDS' RED BALL FREIGHT. My 1960 edition of World Railways includes this illustration of a 23 car refrigerator train set (two end units, 18 middle units, power car, compressor car, and rider car with wardroom, kitchen, and bunks). That doghouse closest to the camera is what passes for a caboose on the Soviet railroads. Issue the rear man a heavy coat.

Here are plans for the cars. I have the space to run it, the engine to pull it, and possibly the time to work out some tooling (custom building 23 identical underframes is otherwise a bit much).

I wonder, however, if this isn't a train ahead of its time. U.S. railroads recently brought back the red ball freight, this time as a dedicated consist from one shipper to one warehouse, avoiding time lost and damages incurred in switching. The cars have mechanical refrigeration, obviating icing stops. But each car carries its own heating and cooling equipment, raising the tare weight and increasing the maintenance load. Where a fixed consist (whether of house cars, or of container flats hauling refrigerated containers) is in use, that central power plant might make sense.
POOLING AND SEPARATING EQUILIBRIA. The dean at Anonymous Community contemplates work-life balance.

In my cohort (and the younger one), I see a much stronger impulse to separate work from home, and that strikes me as healthy. Let people lead their home lives as they see fit, and let them have time to do it. Work hard when at work, but live your life as you see fit when you go home. Let work decisions and evaluations reflect only what happens on the job.

In my faculty (and grad student) days, I was constantly frustrated that work was never really 'over.' I could always be reading more, or prepping, or grading, or trying to publish. That "sword of Damocles" feeling made for some pretty stressful times, since it seemed inescapable.

In administration, I spend waaayyyyy more time on campus than I ever did as faculty. But when I go home, for the most part, I go home. I don't make a habit of checking my work email at night, or of hanging out socially with coworkers. The sword of Damocles hangs in the office. I don't mind leaving it there. At home, I can be fully 'present' as a father. Call that 'patriarchal' if you want -- it's certainly paternal -- but being a 'present' father to my kids matters to me. If others choose to live their lives very differently, let them. As long as we can work together well, the rest strikes me as properly private.

True enough.
I'm going to go out on a limb here and suggest that educated women (and men, I want to extend the argument) might be able to force those changes more quickly by opting out.
Where opting out is opting off the 24/7 treadmill (more on that here). The kicker, however, is in that "work together well." A nest of high achievers, such as the economics department at the University of Chicago, is unlikely to be a place where work is 'over' will catch on as the norm, at least in the immediate future. And wherever the rewards go to the person who is willing to outwork the other person (whether that's reading the journals late into the night or catching the red-eye to recruit the blue-chip player or working the phones until the polls close) on-the-job is likely to continue to expand into personal time.
THE ARMORY OF SIGMA CHI. Accused Stevenson Towers gunman Zach Isaacman is held on $500,000 bond.

Isaacman filed a motion to have his bond reduced because he did not have enough money to post the necessary 10 percent to be released.

[DeKalb assistant States Attorney Stephanie] Klein believes the judge made the right decision in denying his request.

“We believe given the nature of the charges, that the bond was appropriately set,” Klein said.

According to the Chicago Tribune Tuesday, police said they found at least one AK-47 assault rifle, a revolver, a shotgun and a large amount of ammunition in Isaacman’s room in his fraternity house. A source from NIU, who asked to remain anonymous, informed the Northern Star of the weapons and the caliber of the handgun used in the shooting Friday. The Star. however, was unable to confirm this.

Curiouser and curiouser.
BASKETBALL ELIGIBILITY SCANDALS. Routine in college, becoming depressingly common in high school, even in Wisconsin, where the stakes are relatively low.

The inability to adhere to a widely known policy is going to cost Racine Park's boys basketball team its undefeated season.

On Tuesday, the Racine Unified School District announced that it expects the Panthers, who are ranked No. 2 in the state in Division 1 by the Journal Sentinel and No. 1 by The Associated Press, to forfeit some of their victories following an internal investigation into the truancy of some team members.

How many games will be lost won't be known until Wednesday, following the verification of class attendance records of some team members.

The Journal-Sentinel ranks Milwaukee Hamilton first. But the commentary on Racine Park's problems brings up Hamilton's recruiting practices (particularly open enrollment, although there's a history in the Catholic schools of tuition waivers for promising basketballers) and suggesting that sports are taking priority over learning. Yes, but we own the podium.

Milwaukee Hamilton just clinched its first outright City title since 1972. (And yes, some commenters on that article bring up the recruiting issues.) The music for tonight at Cold Spring Shops will be the Hamilton fight song.


YEAH, I'M VAMPING. Bad cold, deadlines, stacks of bluebooks, the winter just won't go away. Maybe some more substantive stuff toward week's end.
AS A COUNTRY, WE SUCK AT MATH. But we own the podium. The NBC Nightly News, shilling for its Olympic coverage when it's not covering for the Obama Administration, ran a feature tonight on special training camps for Olympic hopefuls in some of the more obscure sports where the traditional winners were Europeans. That video isn't currently available, but here's a related one featuring skiers training in the desert.

I suppose being prosperous enough to be able to throw such resources into developing Olympians is a blessing, but will the human capital that makes such resources possible be forthcoming in the future?
REVEALED PREFERENCES. The Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Association now seeds the state basketball tournament.

Milwaukee Hamilton scored a key victory over the weekend and it didn't even take the court.

The Wildcats' boys basketball team, which is ranked No. 1 in the state by the Journal Sentinel, received the No. 1 seeding in the Greenfield Sectional, ahead of Racine Park, which is undefeated and ranked No. 1 in the state by the Associated Press. As the top-seeded team, the Wildcats received a first-round bye in the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association tournament, which begins March 2.

Do I detect a bit of crowing at the Journal-Sentinel? Seriously, though, seeding the tournament is a step in the wrong direction. What's next, a selection show where the likely top seeds have an assembly and the likely also-rans go on with algebra? The old format, in which the strongest South Side team then had to play the survivor out of the south suburbs for the regional, and the strongest surviving Racine-Kenosha-Burlington area teams in the sectional, at least introduced something resembling rivalry in the early rounds of the tournament.


AT THE END OF A DIFFICULT WEEK, SOMETHING GOOD. Toledo brought their best-in-the-Mid American 10-2 record to DeKalb.

Toledo coach Tricia Cullop has just received a technical foul, with a double-digit Northern Illinois lead and time slipping away.

Toledo did make a run, but the clock ran out on them, and the victory conditions for a custard treat at Culver's are satisfied.

This was the Pink Zone game at Northern Illinois, and the players are celebrating and assembling for the handshakes.


AN OBSERVATION THAT GENERALIZES. Minding the Campus columnist K. C. Johnson evaluates the extreme use of access-assessment-remediation-retention at SUNY-Binghamton, for short-run basketball success.
The use of "diversity" to excuse the admission of underqualified basketball players was, of course, the height of cynicism. But in the contemporary college environment, the Athletic Department's strategy is understandable. A basic premise of the "diversity" movement in higher education is that academic qualifications need to take a back seat to the prospective student's "diversity" qualifications. In this respect, the Binghamton story simply took the "diversity" argument to its logical, if absurd, extreme.
For tonight's exercise, substitute students wherever you see basketball players.
WHEN SHERLOCK HOLMES ISN'T AVAILABLE. The New York Police Department prompts its officers to be observant.
The databases are fed, in part, by arrest reports; officers are instructed to take detailed notes and enter them into a computer program that moves the information to a large server.
You can't see it if you don't look for it.
AN ODD START TO THE MORNING. News stations reported somebody taken to hospital from the Stevenson Towers with a gunshot wound. The broadcasts generally mentioned the February 2008 shootings, as if there was a connection. The university went to what headquarters calls lockdown, but which makes more sense as confined to quarters. Classes and other business began as usual at 8 am. (I hope the early shift was able to punch in to prepare breakfast in the dorms and the student center.) The university's statement treats the event as an isolated incident.

By evening, the university and law enforcement had released the names of the injured man and the suspect, both Northern Illinois students. The suspect, not a resident of Stevenson, confronted other students. The Daily Chronicle report suggests a confrontation in Stevenson, but the evening news report suggests it took place outside, and the suspect was drunk.

More details as they become available.


THE TRAIN SUPPLANTS THE PLANE. Here's a perspective from the Chicago Sun-Times.
It is, I hope, widely understood that the carbon footprint of flying is very high. What might not be as widely understood is that the shorter routes tend to be the least efficient routes. On a short flight, the extra fuel-consumption of take-off and landing is shared out among fewer route miles.

And further, aircraft are less efficient flying through the denser air closer to the surface, and more efficient when they reach "cruising altitude". And of course, when flying from, say, Atlanta to Charlotte NC, or Columbus OH to Chicago, you spend the bulk of the flight either climbing to cruising altitude or descending from it.

And under present conditions, HSR [high-speed rail] demand focuses on trips of one to three hours, which are all short-haul flights in terms of flying. So not only can HSR be powered by sustainably generated electricity (either from the outset for 220mph Express HSR, or as part of ongoing upgrades, for 110mph Emerging HSR) ... but the flights they will replace are those that have a higher carbon footprint per route mile than the average for flying.
The environmental considerations are a plus for the trains. The relative inefficiency of those puddle-jumper planes sounds about right.
The commuter airline business model is unsustainable. And in the time it takes a passenger to make the schlep from security to one of the distant terminals, a passenger train leaving from a suburban Atlanta station could be as far as Columbia, S.C. enroute Raleigh or Birmingham enroute New Orleans.
Airlines have a boarding process, through one door. (I'm having flashbacks to those pigs toiling up the ramp in The Jungle.) Railroads have uniformed train crew at several doors, and All Abooooard!

The article takes a long time to note that connecting either of the Chicago airports to a Midwestern high speed rail network is difficult, because both airports are a long way from the most logical corridors.

The Milwaukee airport is another matter.
Mitchell has emerged as one of the country's fastest-growing airports by becoming a flashpoint for discount competition. It reported record passenger numbers in each of the last three months of 2009, a year when many other big U.S. airports saw steep declines.

Helping drive Mitchell's popularity is AirTran Airways, which believes the airport can be bigger still. The discount airline says it can help turn Mitchell into a long-sought third Chicago airport, joining O'Hare and Midway.

Sound crazy?

Not so, says AirTran, which has steadily expanded its Milwaukee hub the last five years.

"Part of our strategy is to reach down into that northern Illinois area," AirTran CEO Bob Fornaro says. "Within 60 miles of Milwaukee, there are about 3½ million people. Part of the market certainly extends into northern Chicago. So we think there's a lot of potential from north Chicago."

Mitchell Airport director Barry Bateman estimates that nearly a million of Milwaukee's 8 million passengers come from Illinois.

AirTran isn't the only carrier operating out of Milwaukee that has its eye on travelers from Chicago's north suburbs and has thoughts of making the airport one they'd embrace. Midwest Airlines, which also operates a hub at Milwaukee, does, too.
And six or seven times a day a Hiawatha calls at the airport. Seventy-eight miles and 74 minutes away from Chicago, 60 miles and 52 minutes away from Glenview. Sometime in the near future, 46 miles and 31 minutes away from Watertown. (Don't get me started on that "emerging" HSR. Give me 15A and 15B and a rake of nine coaches, a Super Dome, a cafe car, a parlor, and a Skytop Lounge -- or anything you see in these pictures -- and I'll get those Air Tran transfers to Glenview in 40 minutes.)


THE HIAWATHA, OR THE VIKING? The sparring between LaCrosse and Eau Claire over which route will be selected for the continuation of the Chicago to the Twin Cities high speed line beyond Madison makes the evening news. La Crosse already has the trains.
The [La Crosse] route follows Amtrak's Empire Builder route from Madison through Tomah. It runs into La Crosse and across the Mississippi River. The route heads north through Winona, Red Wing, and into St. Paul. It's known as the river route.

Supporters say it only makes sense that La Crosse be the choice since it already has the Amtrak service.

"It is the most successful long distance train service in the whole Amtrak system," says Jim Hill, coordinator of the Empire Builder High Speed Rail Coalition. "So you're building on success. All solid business models start with building on success."
Strictly speaking, the La Crosse route picks up the current Empire Builder route at Portage. But you have to like the name of the coalition's coordinator. The Mississippi River routing poses challenges to going fast, however.
High speed rail would require upgrades to existing tracks. They are currently designed to handle speeds of 80 miles an hour. A high speed line requires the capability to handle 110 miles an hour. Some analysts believe it may cost anywhere from $2-4 million per mile to replace the tracks.
There are a lot of curves on the River Division west of La Crosse, and the best a steam-powered Hiawatha could do there was short sprints in the low 80s with checks for the curves and the towns. East of La Crosse, the tracks were once capable of 110, although to provide more miles of that speed requires extensive earth moving through the ridge between Sparta and Tomah, and some line relocations near the Wisconsin Dells.

Eau Claire advocates base their case on congestion on nearby I-94.

"We see the bottlenecks on I-94 crossing the St. Croix River at Hudson, so we know the demand is there," says [high-speed rail advocate] Scott Rogers.

If the interstate is being over-used, Rogers says the current track is definitely underutilized. A hand full of freight trains come through Eau Claire on any given day. A high speed passenger rail line would mean 6-8 round trips daily.

Many years ago, a fairly high speed passenger and freight line ran through the area according to Rogers.

Fairly high speed is an understatement. The problem policymakers face is that one route cannot serve both cities, and a network of lines connecting in the Camp Douglas area would drive the highway lobby and their shills nuts, that despite Interstates 90 and 94 dividing not far from there.

Closer to home, there is a tussle over whether the Dubuque service should run via Genoa or via Belvidere, complicated by whether the goal should be more frequent commuter train service or the Amtrak service to the North West Frontier. What intrigues about the possibility of Metra operating commuter trains is that once DeKalb County becomes part of the Metra tax district (yes, the Passenger Rail authority collects taxes) the Overland Route through DeKalb becomes eligible for Metra trains.
IN CASE LENIN HAS TO HUSTLE TO THE FINLAND STATION. Instead of a sealed coach, he can ride Allegro.

By the end of 2010, high-speed Allegro trains produced by Alstom will start running between St Petersburg and Helsinki. This service will reduce the journey time between the two cities from 6 to 3.5 hours.

The high-speed Allegro trains will replace the Sibelius and Repin trains currently operating between Helsinki and Moscow. The launch of the Allegro service will allow the number of journeys between Russia and Finland to be gradually increased.

The artwork, and the specifications, suggest souped-up Electroliners.
Each Allegro train has seven carriages, and total capacity of 344 passengers. The Allegro can reach a speed of 220 km/h, but thanks to the body tilt of up to 8 degrees, the effect of the centrifugal force will be minimized when rounding curves, ensuring maximum comfort for passengers. The train will also include seats for physically impaired passengers, a children’s play area, and places for passengers with pets. The entire train will be non-smoking.



THE HEART OF THE MATTER. The Political Environment on government officials complaining about federal capital grants for trains obligating the state to cover operating expenses.
Questions never asked when it comes to the operating costs of highways - -including repairs, patrolling, plowing - - and then the inevitable replacement or expansion.
What he said.
SOMETIMES, ONE HAS TO BE PATIENT. In the summer of 1984, my mom moved to Green Bay and we discovered the Bay Beach Amusement Park. It was a collection of vintage Jacksonville Iron along with the fastest amusement park trains I'd ever seen (painted Chicago and North Western with obvious Hiawatha styling on the coaches, go figure) and a classic bumper car with the spring-loaded boards. Rides were 10 cents each. We were curious about why such a bargain was operating in a city park, so we asked at the park office. A citizen had deeded the rides to the city with the provision that the rides be priced at 10 cents. I asked if there were any plans for a roller coaster.

Not at that time, but now ...

Bay Beach Amusement Park not only pays its own way but pours hundreds of thousands of dollars into the city coffers each year, making it one of the city's biggest money makers, city officials say.

A roller coaster would only help that, they say.

Specifically, the Zippin Pippin, on the National Register as the last public place Elvis Presley was seen alive. I've ridden it, it's a good mid-sized 'coaster, currently dormant in Memphis.

The Green Bay Press-Gazette likes to move stories behind a subscription wall, but if you act quickly, you'll see the Bay Beach tariff (50 cents for the train and the Jacksonville Iron, 25 cents for the kiddie rides) and a photo gallery of the Pippin in the Memphis snow.

A celebration in Johnsonville. Yes, that Johnsonville.



COMING TO TERMS. Keep following University Diaries for the latest information on the accused Huntsville murderer. At 11-D, the commentary includes an instructive headline. Going Postal on the Tenure Review Committee. The metaphor is getting old, given the tendency of disaffected workers in other occupations to take frustrations out on co-workers.
Eight years of graduate school. Seven years getting tenure. Then told to go away and don't come back. In a crappy job market. By people with less credentials than you. Oh, I can see how that could push a borderline personality over the edge.
A high school classmate is now a supervisor with the Postal Service in Milwaukee, one of the sorting facilities in which a fatal shooting took place. For his sake, and for the sake of the responsible postal workers, consider a different expression.

The dean at Anonymous Community suggests that people view the situation dispassionately, resisting the temptation to see what they want to see.

Regular readers know that I consider the tenure system unethical, and that I've specifically taken it to task for the "up or out" moment of decision. That position isn't terribly popular in higher ed, but there it is.

But to use this case to argue against the tenure system strikes me as way out of bounds. This isn't about a typical, predictable consequence of the tenure system. It's about someone who has killed before, killing again.

I concur with the second paragraph and dissent from the first. Up or out is also a feature of the military. The lieutenant who takes a long time to screen for captain is unlikely to screen for admiral. Is it no accident that higher education started to lose its edge about the same time reformers (of various persuasion) began to undo (whether in the name of access or in the name of parsimony) the norm of tenure track appointments?
COLLEGE TEACHING IS ACTING. There are seventeen useful theses (Cold Spring Shops practices at least eleven of them) nailed to Newmark's Door this day. The concluding observation is salient, even if an editor might gripe about him burying the lede.
When I started teaching I thought that I was an educator who, if things went well, would at least occasionally entertain. Today I think I'm an entertainer who, if things go well, at least occasionally educates. I think the switch has made me more effective, and I'm pretty sure it's made me happier.
RETURNING TO THE FOX RIVER. A number of interurbans from the Aurora Elgin and Fox River and Chicago Aurora and Elgin electric lines that were preserved at the Columbia Park and Southwestern trolley museum and mobile home park rapid transit system have been repatriated. The Illinois Railway Museum will be receiving two wood cars, 36 and 319, a Pullman steel car, 409, and two St. Louis curved-side postwar cars, 451 and 460 (the first and last of that series.) The museum will be able to operate two four-car Roarin' Elgin trains, one in wood, and one in steel. The Fox River Trolley Museum will receive another St. Louis, 458, as well as a car returning to its home rails, 304, a car that later served the Shaker Heights Rapid Transit, from where it was sold to Columbia Park.

Both museums will welcome your cash contributions, as moving these cars and returning them to good running order doesn't happen by magic.



TOGETHER FORWARD. The Northern Star interviews friends and families of Catalina and Gayle and Dan and Ryanne and Juliana. The Daily Chronicle interviews recipients of the Forward Together Forward scholarships, friends of the university, and university officials.


CRUEL FEBRUARY IN HUNTSVILLE. University Diaries has been following developments there, with additional observations at her Inside Higher Ed column.

Northern Illinois University offers condolences.

On behalf of the NIU community, our students, faculty and staff, we offer our heartfelt sympathy and condolences to President Williams and the University of Alabama in Huntsville family. We share your pain and your loss, having personally experienced the profound grief you are encountering on this tragic day.

President Peters has spoken with President Williams and has offered prayers and support from our NIU family during this difficult time.

PRESERVING THE ANCIENT ARTS. Professor Mary Grabar notes the suicide of literary criticism.

"Who are you kidding?" I wanted to get up and ask the English professor who was giving a talk at the South Atlantic Modern Language Association convention in November. He was analyzing a graphic novel, the spaces between panels, the line widths of the panels, the lettering inside the "speech bubbles."

Maybe he was trying to keep his job in a field that by job postings indicates increasing irrelevance. Students are leaving English departments in droves. "This is a profession that is losing its will to live," proclaimed William Deresiewicz, former English professor himself, in 2008 in the pages of the Nation, no less.

It's been a death by slow suicide. The reference to "spaces" coming from the podium was the same kind of self-abusive parsing, I had seen applied by deconstructionists in the 1990s when I was a graduate student. The depressed patient, failing to see any worth in his work, had leveled the greatest works to "texts." Reading between the lines of "text" has evolved into reading the gaps between panels: "Lots of stuff happens in that silent space," said the professor.

The other English professors and graduate students in the audience nodded in complicit agreement, knowing that to acknowledge his intellectual nakedness would reveal their own. Or maybe they've really convinced themselves they're clothed in real scholarship.

Perhaps, though, the traditional forms survive away from the workshops and the refereed journals. But the practitioners don't realize that they're using the traditional forms, if the title of tonight's Book Review No. 5, Secrets of The Lost Symbol: The Unauthorized Guide to the Mysteries Behind The Da Vinci Code Sequel. It's a cumbersome title, and literary criticism, particularly if it's applied to the works of dead authors, is by definition unauthorized. (I'd conjecture that only a very poor author would leave program notes, as it were, behind in a notebook for some future researcher to discover and quote from.)

I've already reviewed The Lost Symbol, and a few years ago ran a doubleheader reviewing The Da Vinci Code and Cracking the Da Vinci Code, a work in the same spirit (there being, apparently, plenty of commercial opportunities for anthologies of literary criticism, or approximations to the traditional forms, if the object of criticism is a Dan Brown page-turner.) The comments I made there apply in approximately the same measure to Secrets. I note only that there's a lot of intellectual talent either going to waste or seeking commercial, rather than academic, recognition uncovering the hidden meanings in Mr Brown's work; the myth of Someone In Authority has great staying power; there are more than a few New Age reactionaries who like the idea of a more spiritual time in which life was Nasty, Poor, Brutish, and Short (the discovery of Laws of Nature means doubts about a God in Heaven); and bright people can still engage some of these ideas and perhaps enlighten their readers.

(Cross-posted to 50 Book Challenge.)
PEOPLE SEE WHAT THEY WANT TO SEE. Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel columnist James E. Causey watches the Super Bowl commercials and sees henpecked men. Huffington Post writers Jehmu Greene and Shelby Knox evaluate the same commercials and see misogyny everywhere. I think I was watching the same commercials as they were, and what I saw were the interactions of crude men and shallow women who richly deserved each other.
FEDERAL CAPITAL GRANTS COME WITH A CATCH. Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker accordingly objects to going forward with the Passenger Rail service to Madison.

The county executive, a Republican candidate for governor, said he might back the high-speed rail idea if "there was a model that could be shown where it was self-sufficient, where the operating costs were covered by the users." He acknowledged that also was unlikely.

Walker warned against hidden costs linked to the line, which he said ultimately could lead to cannibalizing other state transportation projects or prompt some new tax or fee. "There's no appetite for a tax increase," Walker said.

The article does not report whether Mr Walker objected to receiving Highway Trust Fund monies, which pay for some upgrades of arterial highways, which in turn encourage suburban development that calls for property taxes to provide and maintain the local roads. (Take a very long view: the Highway Trust Fund paid for Interstates 90 and 94, which diverted sufficient traffic from the 400s and Hiawathas that the railroad companies removed the signalling that permitted the 100 mph running, which made the trains less time-competitive with the Interstates, and that culminated in a spiral that led to the end of all the trains except the ones Amtrak ended up underwriting. The service that remains west of Milwaukee is what happens when the government preserves a day train across the Northern Tier with a service base in Chicago.)
Walker said he was concerned the operating costs for the rail line would take away money intended for road and bridge projects. The state's application for the federal railroad aid estimated operating subsidy costs at $7.5 million a year for the Milwaukee to Madison link and $8.1 million for upgraded service on the existing Hiawatha line between Milwaukee and Chicago, according to the state's application for federal high-speed rail money. The annual subsidy would grow to $28 million for both links by 2022.
So make the Interstates toll roads. In particular, bill the trucks for the full incremental cost of congestion and more rapid depreciation they cause, then work with CPR to share the cost of two tracks all the way to LaCrosse with additional recessing sidings at strategic locations. (There's room near Caledonia at a location I remember as A-68, and room near New Lisbon for lots of infrastructure.)
[Walker] also questioned the basic premise of the line, saying the ticket cost likely would be too high to attract enough riders. [He] said the fast trains wouldn't be as swift as driving a car, when factoring in time needed to get to the Amtrak station in Milwaukee and time to get from a proposed rail station at the Madison airport to the state Capitol or other Madison destinations.
For people in Milwaukee or Brookfield with business at the Capitol or the University that's true. The value of the line, however, is in getting Madisonians to Mitchell Field or Glenview for O'Hare or for getting Racine and Kenosha area collegians (or Badger fans) to Yahara Station, and I hope Somebody In Authority is considering a station in Gurnee or perhaps Wadsworth for easy connectivity to Great America and the outlet malls on both sides of the State Line.
IS THIS HOW ICE AGES BEGIN? There's measurable snow in each of the contiguous 48 states.

Forget red and blue — color America white. There was snow on the ground in 49 states Friday. Hawaii was the holdout.

It was the United States of Snow, thanks to an unusual combination of weather patterns that dusted the U.S., including the skyscrapers of Dallas, the peach trees of Atlanta and the Florida Panhandle, where hurricanes are more common than snowflakes.

More than two-thirds of the nation's land mass had snow on the ground when the day dawned, and then it snowed ever so slightly in Florida to make it 49 states out of 50.

Weather, the article notes, is not the same thing as climate. All the same, there is glaciation on the landscape as far south as Cincinnati. Enthusiasts were looking at the peaks of Hawai'i's volcanoes in hopes of making it 50 of 50.
RENEWING OLD ACQUAINTANCES. Last year, the DeKalb at Milwaukee Madison basketball game received national attention for a human interest story involving two missed technical fouls. The teams alternate visits, and some DeKalb High games do take place at the Convocation Center.
If the DeKalb - Milwaukee Madison series continues, with alternating home games, the 2009-2010 game will be in DeKalb. Maybe an opportunity to fill the Convocation Center?
Not that game, however. It was at the high school, with plenty of seats in the gym. Madison scored a three point basket for an early lead, it was all DeKalb after that.

Madison's life didn't get easier, as they returned to Milwaukee for a snow day and a visit from Milwaukee Hamilton on Friday.



TWO DAYS OF PLAY-IN GAMES. Phil Miller finds a Columbia Tribune sports columnist who might be exaggerating to make a point, but who gets the elephantiasis of the bracket exactly right.

The play-in game is like the appendix of the tournament. You can live with it but don’t need it. And you wouldn’t want 32 appendices, which is the way it would work with a 96-team bracket. The top 32 teams — the only ones with a prayer of winning the tournament — would get a bye and the other 64 would square off in two days of televised tedium before the bracket is reduced to something that can comfortably fit on a sheet of 8½-by-11 paper.

What this is about, of course, is television dollars. The NCAA can opt out of its current 11-year, $6 billion deal with CBS and secure an even more lucrative contract, probably with ESPN. The tournament becomes a bigger cash cow if there is more of it to love.

The biggest proponents of expansion are coaches, who have a vested interest in keeping their own jobs and seeing the lousy coaches they can dominate keep their jobs, too. They complain that only 19 percent of the 347 teams in Division I make the tournament, which means the coaches of the other 81 percent risk losing their jobs.

To which, I would reply, Bill Self wouldn’t save his job if he regularly squeaked into a 96-team tournament as a No. 24 seed. But if it makes you feel better, you’re all winners. You all get a ribbon. Except you, Alcorn State, with your 0-24 record. You’ve really let yourself go.

Only a few teams each year have legitimate gripes about missing the tournament. They are usually midmajor schools that win their regular-season conference title and get upset in their conference tournament. But they had a chance to win their conference tournament. Schools in every conference except the Ivy League — whose regular-season champion gets an automatic bid — have a fighting chance to win their way in to the NCAA Tournament regardless of how crappy they’ve played the previous four months.

At The Sports Economist, Professor Miller lays out the tradeoffs.
One of the tradeoffs the NCAA needs to consider is the simultaneous increase and decrease in interest this would cause. The expanded tournament would redistribute the bubble, putting some teams on it and taking others off it. Is the net marginal effect on fan interest positive?
More to the point, where would the advertising revenue boost come from, if the play-in games had fewer viewers than the public access channel, and if the round of 32 had on average more mismatches?
In addition, this proposal would lead to a basketball version of grade inflation. While getting an A is great for the individual student, it's not necessarily true if everyone gets A's (the fallacy of composition). A given grade no-longer reflects the willingness and ability of a student to do quality work.
That's a longer way of stating my "But does 'made the seventh game' [the play-in round] say anything about a coach that 'finished in the middle of the conference' doesn't?"
Similarly, the more teams that get into playoffs, the less interesting the playoffs become. This also has to be accounted for when thinking about the net marginal effect on overall fan interest.
That's the probable lower ratings for the play-in and round of 32 at work. There's a further substitution effect at work, one that is hard to tease out. But sports fans have budget constraints. More tournament games on offer has the potential of reducing attendance at regular season games. And the players have to work harder for no more pay.
THE ECONOMISTS PREVAIL IN THE END. Minding the Campus presents an excerpt from Rutgers sociologist Jackson Toby's The Lowering of Higher Education in America. Its focus is on the beer-'n-circus aspect of state universities, which appears, based on the football and basketball polls, to be Rutgers's primary mission. Professor Toby doesn't like what that mission does to the students. He sees value in restoring the tradition of working your way through college.

On the other hand, working for pay may contribute to the academic seriousness of the college culture rather than detracting from it if student reports are to be believed. I am referring not only to students in work-study programs whose work consists of helping a professor with his research. Students who take menial jobs in the college dining hall of or the building maintenance operation often say that having the discipline of a job helps them to organize their time more efficiently, including time for studying. If students working for pay would not take their academic responsibilities more seriously if they had no job, their employment is not an impediment to higher education. Paradoxically it may even help by getting them out of places where they would otherwise goof off. I do not know of empirical studies that could throw light on this issue.

By dint of numbers, the goof-off students may have more impact on the cultural atmosphere of most college campuses than serious students who are trying to learn as much as possible. Perhaps public policy can change this, at least marginally, by providing more incentives for serious students and fewer incentives for goof-off students.

There is room for movement in this direction, particularly as the costs of beer-'n-circus and the waste of access-assessment-remediation-retention clash with un-bubbled endowments and falling tax revenues.


THE MANAGEMENT GETS MORE OF WHAT IT CHOOSES TO MEASURE. Whether it chooses to measure the right thing is another matter.
[Dr. Crazy, who I have reason to believe is at a not-quite mid-major, extending an argument by Wesleyan's Tenured Radical] notes in passing the different understandings of 'productivity' that underlie the work speedup. More students per class increases the tuition generated per professor, at least in the short run; that's one version of 'productivity.' More students per class decreases the amount of individual attention the professor can really give, which leads to a decline in the quality of feedback; that's another version of 'productivity.' Both versions are internally valid, but they don't necessarily mesh with each other. And that's where the real problem is.
I think I've sung that song before.
Once again, higher education emulates the railroads. Whether the fault lies with the legislators or with their willing accomplices in university administration, the obsession of whoever is calling the shots with cost per degree or student credit hours per professor is emulating the Chicago Great Western's emphasis on gross ton miles per train hour.
(I've since changed the template, the extended argument, with pictures, is here.) The deeper problem in higher education, however, is precisely that there is excess capacity in access-assessment-remediation-retention. The following is not a quote from me.
Worse, some students actually prefer classes that don't ask very much of them. (If you doubt the truth of this, spend a day at in-person registration, just listening.) The mutual non-aggression pact between an instructor who doesn't ask very much and students who'd rather not be bothered is one of the open secrets of American higher ed, and it fits short-term institutional needs disturbingly well. There's a reason that Rocks for Jocks and Physics for Poets still exist.
You produce more student credit hours to divide by whatever base you're using by not challenging the students; your retention rate is higher if fewer students get reality checks. Never mind that those metrics simply keep the positional arms race going and help U.S. News sell more of those annual guides. Never mind that your job fairs only fill up when the economy is vibrant.
The endemic conflict is that beyond a minimal level, and outside of the elites, there's no economic incentive for the institution to do better than okay in the classroom. Once you understand that, the rest follows. (There's a moral imperative, but that's a different issue.) For a college that's struggling to stay afloat financially, the short-term cost of stuffing a few extra seats into each class is dwarfed by the tangible and immediate tuition gain (or labor saving). You can blame pinheaded administrators for that if you want to, but you'd be missing the point; the math is what the math is. When the college is flush, it's possible to make a choice to have your cake and eat it too; when the college is strapped, though, the contradiction is unavoidable.
That assumes away the market test for the college. One of these days a state board of higher education is going to look at the graduation rates and job placement records of its universities, colleges, and community colleges, and ask if all of them are necessary. I won't rule out that happening in Illinois first.