31.5.10

CREATING PUBLIC SPACE. Northern Illinois University has released its plans for renovating Cole Hall. The westerly lecture hall will be upgraded, and the easterly lecture hall rebuilt to house the anthropology museum (which provides practical experience for aspiring curators) and a new computer lab. The description of the computer lab offers an instructive snippet of contemporary pedagogy as polluted by colleges of education and acronymers.

The facility, which will accommodate up to 50 students at one time, will be based on the SCALE-UP (Student Centered Active Learning Environment for Undergraduate Programs) model pioneered at North Carolina State University, and used at more than 50 universities nationwide.

The lab will provide a technology-rich atmosphere for team-based problem solving. Classes will consist of students broken down into teams seated around tables with access to computers for research and whiteboards for capturing and sharing information and ideas. At the start of a session teams will be presented with interesting questions to ponder, problems to solve or hands-on simulation exercises to complete. Students will work collaboratively to find answers, with the instructor providing prompts, comparing and contrasting the actions of different teams and guiding the teams to solutions.

Other schools have used similar facilities in classes such as physics, chemistry, math, biology, engineering and even literature. Results to date indicate that students gain a better conceptual understanding of the subject matter than their peers in traditional lecture-based classes.

I'm going to have to track down those results. Smaller classes, particularly comprising self-selected students who might enroll with like-minded friends, are likely to do better and have more emergent collaboration without the whiteboards, computer pods, and acronyms. Heck, sitting under a tree engaging in give-and-take can get the same results, and the technology-rich environment could be quill pens and papyrus for all that.
SIGN OF THE TIMES. Tigerhawk (via No Oil for Pacifists) finds an intriguing bumper sticker.



The intrigue is in where Tigerhawk spotted it.
If you've lost the Whole Foods-shopping Prius-driving voter, you've lost liberal America, and you're in trouble with your base.

At both sites, there is discussion about whether Whole Foods shoppers or Prius drivers have predictable politics, or whether the sticker identifies a feature rather than a bug.

The bigger problem for liberal America might be the failure of activist government, according to Michael Barone.

The candidate who told us his electoral victory would be seen as "the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal" is now the president who seems helpless to prevent the oil slick from spreading.

Charles Krauthammer uses the same promise to launch a more scathing observation.

Moreover, Obama has never been overly modest about his own powers.

Two years ago next week, he declared that history will mark his ascent to the presidency as the moment when "our planet began to heal" and "the rise of the oceans began to slow."

Well, when you anoint yourself King Canute, you mustn't be surprised when your subjects expect you to command the tides.

Both columnists note, correctly, that candidates for the presidency frequently overpromise, and many in the electorate and in the press have unrealistic expectations about presidential omniscience. On the other hand, undoing the mind set that goes back at least as far as the New Deal, and possibly back to the Southern Rebellion, of activist presidencies that Save The Republic, will be hard work.

RUNNING EXTRA. Mark Steyn (via Betsy's Page) sets the record straight on King Canute.

So one day, weary of being surrounded by Chris Matthews types with the legs a-tingling 24/7, Canute ordered the footmen to take his throne down to the shore and he’d command the incoming waves to stay the hell out. Just like Obama, he would steer the very currents. Next thing you know, Canute’s got seaweed in his wingtips and is back at the palace wringing out his Argyll socks. “Let all men know how empty and worthless is the power of kings,” he said, “for there is none worthy of the name, but He whom heaven, earth, and sea obey by eternal laws.”

In other words, he was teaching his courtiers a lesson in the limits of kingly power. I’m a child of the British Empire and, back in my kindergarten days, almost all the stories we were taught about kings went more or less the same way. Generations of English children learned of Alfred the Great, King of Wessex back in the 9th century. Another A-list bigshot: Winston Churchill called him “the greatest Englishman that ever lived.” One day, during a tumultuous time in the affairs of his kingdom, he passed a remote cottage and called in on the local peasant woman to rest a while. Unaware of who he was, she went off to milk the cow and told him to mind the cakes she’d left on the hearth. He was a big-picture guy preoccupied with geopolitical macro-trends and he absentmindedly let the cakes burn. She took him to task (“You’re happy to eat the cakes but too lazy to keep an eye on them”) but, upon realizing he was the king, begged a thousand pardons. “No, no,” he said. “Entirely my fault.” And there in the rude hovel he humbly turned the woman’s loaves for her.

He continues with a rebuke to the contemporary devotees of Presidential Power.

In the age of kings, we were taught that kings were human, with human failings. Now, in the age of citizen-presidents, we are taught that government has unlimited powers over “heaven, earth, and sea.” Unlike Canute and Alfred, the vanity of Big Government knows no bounds. Tim Flannery, the Aussie global warm-monger who chaired the Copenhagen climate circus a few months back, announces with a straight face that “we’re trying to act as a species to regulate the atmosphere.” Never mind anything so footling as the incoming tides, but the very atmosphere! How do you do that? Well, first, take one extremely large check. Next, add several extra zeroes to it. Then, toss it out the window. “He whom heaven, earth, and sea obey by eternal laws”? Hah! That’s chickenfeed compared to the way things are gonna be once heaven, earth, and sea are forced to submit to a transnational micro-regulatory regime.

I'm working on a longer post on the implications of the failure of the Progressive Conceit during a time that can properly be referred to as an era of Secular Crisis (the word "crisis" being too frequently ascribed now-a-days to challenges well short of secession or global war.) The idea is out there among the paid pundits, but has not been put into logical form.

SPILLING THE BEANS. Intercollegiate sport is for the experience. It has nothing to do with money. Tech Central Station's Alan W. Dowd didn't get the memo.
In short, as Sports Illustrated observes, this is "a period of high anxiety," especially for the Big East and Big Twelve, which border the Big Ten. When the Big Ten reaches across those borders, it will have a lot to do with money and market share.
Money? Market share? Somebody is going to be so crass as to suggest that college sports respond to market forces?
The New York Times reports that only 21 percent of top-division college athletic departments operate in the black. The other 89 percent of schools average deficits of $9.87 million.
That accounting might be dubious, but some conferences have better business models than others.

Big Ten athletic departments don't have to worry about big deficits, owing largely to the fact that the conference has two strong revenue streams: a healthy TV contract with ABC/ESPN (a billion-dollar deal covering 10 years) and its very own TV network (the Big Ten Network). The Chicago Tribune has done the math and concludes that each Big Ten member receives $9 million from the ABC/ESPN contract and some $8 million from the Big Ten Network. "Add revenue from bowl games, the NCAA basketball tournament and licensing, and you arrive at the estimated $22 million-a-year distribution figure." That's $22 million per member. And if the Big Ten expands, according to the Tribune, "Conference officials have seen estimates of television revenues doubling by 2015-16."

Moreover, adding a conference championship football game—an inevitability once the league expands to 12, 14 or 16—would add an estimated $15 million to league coffers.

That works out to just over a million dollars a team, not quite enough to cover the odd severance bonus. And those proliferating conference championship games will cannibalize revenue from regular season games. (It's annoying enough already that Minnesota-Wisconsin and Illinois-Northwestern often come in October and the so far sacrosanct Ohio State-Michigan has of recent years been meaningless).

Now, contrast the Big Ten's position—blessed by certain historic advantages and strengthened by forward-looking innovations like the Big Ten Network—with that of the Big East and Big Twelve.

According to the Providence Journal, the Big East generates just $4-6 million for its eight football schools. "The eight schools that don't play football in the conference...don't share a dime of football money. They pocket somewhere around $1.7 million a year from the conference." All told, the Big East earns only $33 million from television revenue.

The Dallas Morning News reports that "under the Big Twelve's distribution formula, teams receive $7 million to $12 million." ESPN adds that "schools like Texas and Oklahoma, which have the majority of their games on television, receive bigger television checks than schools like Baylor and Iowa State, which are rarely televised."

A more egalitarian distribution formula, on the other hand, is contrary to antitrust laws. Oklahoma and Notre Dame led the way in establishing that.
In other words, not all schools are created equal in the Big East and Big Twelve. That feeds the green-eyed monster. And that leads some to look for greener pastures.
The Big East is more a way of packing the basketball tournament with five and six seeds. The Big Ten, for its relative financial strength, doesn't get much respect in football and basketball, although it comprises the academically strongest cluster of land-grants anywhere in the country. But leave aside whether there are five more academically strong land-grants with geographic proximity to the Midwest (Penn State's administration, to its credit, noted that the academic profile of many Penn State departments didn't approach that of departments in the traditional ten) and focus on the economics.

The critics fail to recognize conference expansion—and in some cases, conference destruction—as the natural byproduct of the evolutionary free-market system. "It is what capitalism consists in and what every capitalist concern has got to live in," Schumpeter coldly observed.

Conferences may be comprised of nonprofit institutions of higher learning, but conferences are in every way capitalist concerns. (See the dollar signs above.)

Even so, some of the strongest criticism of Big Ten expansion comes from the Big East, which recently hired former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue to help fend off the Big Ten hordes.

Tagliabue calls Big Ten expansion plans "very disruptive to everyone outside of the Big Ten." He predicts expansion is "going to have a terrible negative effect on everyone other than the schools in the Big Ten." He claims the Big Ten's desire to grow is triggering "depreciating value and a ton of negativity." He warns about "a big negative reaction out of Congress or someone else" and blames the Big Ten for forcing other conferences to drift "in artificial suspension" while the Big Ten weighs its next move.

The mind boggles at the possibility of a Big Ten expansion leading to a Congressional investigation (protecting competitors, not competition) followed by the Tea Party getting after Congress to mind its own business.

30.5.10

RECAPTURING STEAM TRADITION. Cold Spring Shops has noted Britain's efforts to build a new Peppercorn Pacific and a latter-day high-performance steam locomotive. Commentaries on both projects recommend building a genuine high-performance steam locomotive. Call it Milwaukee 106 (in Tornado tradition, take the next number above 100-105).

It has come to the Superintendent's attention that several new steam locomotives have been built in the United States. A recent addition to the steam fleet is a rendition of Central Pacific 63 Leviathan. I have to call it a rendition as it is an oil burner with modern injectors, water glasses, and air brakes. The original Leviathan is a sister of Central Pacific 60 Jupiter, shown below at left.


Photo courtesy National Park Service.

The National Park Service commissioned replicas of Jupiter and of Union Pacific 119 in order to present reenactments of the Golden Spike ceremony. The replicas originally burned propane, but have been retrofitted as wood and coal burners, and extensive research has gone into painting them properly. (The original Jupiter and Leviathan were delivered by ship to California; the replica Jupiter and 119 were delivered by truck to the Golden Spike site, the rails having been lifted during World War II.)

There are a number of original American Standard locomotives in preservation. Baltimore and Ohio's 25 William Mason is the oldest operable steam locomotive in the U.S. (what's older elsewhere?) and it may be steamed and on tour as part of the Civil War sesquicentennial. The first military attack on a railroad to destroy its logistical value might have been the Andrews Raid of 1862. The locomotive that pulled the train hijacked by the raiders, General, and the locomotive commandeered by the pursuers, Texas, are both in preservation in approximately their 1862 configuration (both served well after the war and underwent mechanical modifications). A later version of the locomotive, New York Central and Hudson River 999, a claimant to a speed record, survives in rebuilt form (smaller driving wheels) at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago.
ENOUGH TO BUY SOME SUPER DOMES AND SKYTOP LOUNGES? Unlikely, but the Secretary of Transportation has made a down payment on the Madison service, as well as preliminary work on the Bay Area to Sacramento and New York Empire Corridor lines and engineering in Florida. The stumbling block, however, might be the freight railroads. Trains (it will be embargoed for non-subscribers) reports that the Federal Railroad Administration's performance standards for the faster trains are causing some consternation among railroad management.

Railroads and direct recipients of the federal aid (mostly state departments of transportation) must agree to on-time targets for affected passenger trains. If a railroad fails to meet those targets for reasons attributable to that railroad for any calendar month, it must spend whatever amount of money is necessary to achieve compliance within two months. If that fails, a state agency can take the matter to arbitration. Ultimately, if standards are still not met, then the railroad must give back the federal government's investment, based on a sliding 20-year scale — the sooner the failure, the more the railroad must pay.

One Class I railroad already has negotiated contracts with two state DOTs for significant high speed projects targeted for federal grants. It reports that the performance standards stipulated in both agreements have already been rejected by the FRA as inadequate.
The standards run afoul of a classic common-property problem. At current, recessionary traffic levels, pathing passenger trains among the freight trains is simpler than it will be once economic growth picks up.
According to the guidelines, any train capacity created by federal high speed investments that is not immediately consumed must be reserved in part for future passenger train use. The guidelines recommend that railroads and recipients agree upon a 30-year plan for use of the capacity. This idea is complicated by the fact that freight traffic over some of the affected lines remains as much as 30 percent below pre-recession levels. One rail executive is given to believe that future capacity allocations between freight and passenger service will hinge on growth rates starting with today's depressed levels of freight traffic.
Capacity allocations can be grounds for negotiation. Union Pacific, for all its hostility to passenger trains, is willing to run scoots anywhere Metra builds a third track for them. Schedule keeping is sometimes another matter. But it should come as no surprise that capital grants come with conditions.
SOLID RIDE, GOOD PERFORMANCE. Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel car columnist Mark Savage reviews the Volkswagen Golf.
Nearly four years had passed since I'd driven a Volkswagen Golf, and my recollection was of a typically Germanic vehicle with plain interior, good handling and a somewhat harsh ride.
They're made for driving. If you want to rest while you travel, go Pullman.
Outside, the tested dark metallic blue Golf 4-door has had its lines smoothed a bit to remind you the car has been updated, a wise move that helps erase memories of 1980s VW Golfs and Rabbits.
Erase what memories? I ran a 1979 Rabbit for nine years and 140,000 miles, replaced it with a 1988 Golf I ran for 13 years and 220,000 miles, which gave way to a 2003 Golf currently with 95,500 miles on it.
On the performance end, the Golf's ride has become surprisingly pleasant. Its independent suspension front and rear has been adjusted to better suit U.S. roads. Along with its ride, the Golf's handling remains a strong point, delivering a light feel, but fairly precise steering. The car stays flat in turns and is easy to handle on the highway or in town.
Yes, and it doesn't require a baseball infield to turn around in.
VW's 170-horse, 2.5-liter I5 engine is plenty powerful, and with a manual transmission, it would likely feel peppy. The test Golf came with a 6-speed automatic transmission with Tiptronic, which allows for manual shifts. In its automatic mode, the car feels a little slow on the uptake or when coming off a corner and reapplying the gas. The shifts also are not as smooth as in some small cars. A manual would better serve the Golf.
Indeed. That 1979 Rabbit had a four-on-the-floor. My previous experience with stick shifts was not pleasant. But I got that car home, and got better. Volkswagen gear shifts are easy enough to use, although you might have to get new bushings from time to time. The Golfs have five speeds. The column suggests that the Golf is a good buy for the money. Indeed.

27.5.10

FIND THE MISSING MARKET. Wisconsin historian and Minding the Campus columnist John F. Witte, in the course of making a case against system- or state-wide unionization of faculty, recognizes an arbitrage opportunity the universities down the pecking order haven't acted on.

Public university systems contain a range of campuses that are not at all equal. The major difference is the research component. Four-year, non-Ph.D. granting campuses may well engage in research activities and writing, but the expectations, time available, and access to funds is much reduced over the Ph.D. research campuses like UW-Madison. Two-year campuses would have even lower expectations. Further, schools and departments across campuses vary considerably in prestige and certainly pay. Medical, business and law schools have often three times the average salaries of those in the humanities, with sciences and social sciences (led by economics) in the middle. There is also considerable variance within departments, at least at major research campuses where rewards are based on differences in teaching quality, but more importantly in research productivity. Difference within campuses and departments are primarily affected by external markets for skills and quality research and internal markets based on beliefs in merit.

Teaching loads at research universities are commonly at 2 and 2: two courses of 15 to 16 weeks in each semester. That comes out to about 6.5 certain contact hours per week (150 minutes/course plus 90 minutes of office hours). If the load is 3 and 3 (on non-research campuses) add in another 2.5 hours for 9.0. Obviously there are other time commitments involved, such as preparation, grading or supervising teaching assistants. But without research, and the mentoring of graduate students that research entails, undergraduate teaching rarely comes close to a 40-hour week.

Finally, tenure standards are inherently and rightly different for different types of campuses. At Madison, approximately 50% of those hired as assistant professors ultimately receive tenure. No other work sector in the world fires as many people as American research universities. And the reason remains valid - university tenure means essentially lifetime employment and we simply cannot afford to make a mistake and end up with individuals who do little research. Thus if you believe in the ultimate value of university research, as I do, tenure practices must be protected at all costs.

Leave aside the truth, or not, about the propensity of other employers to fire people (investment bankers on the rank and yank track might be able to refute his claim with some evidence). Focus on the conclusion of that first paragraph. External markets for faculty, and for grants, and internal markets (within disciplines?) based on merit. There is also an external market for enrollment, whether it's driven by prestige or signalling or a flight to quality, and its presence, along with the excess demand for those degrees (a regular theme at Cold Spring Shops) is an incentive for some of those four-year, non-flagship institutions in a state to become more like the flagships. Whether a more uniform academic profile is an inducement to unionization or not is left to others as a project.
NOW YOU ARE BEGINNING TO CATCH ON. The dean at Anonymous Community recognizes a useful feature of economics not necessarily well known among economists.
Economists teach us that institutions exist to lower transaction costs. Yes, they're prone to all manner of pathology; longtime readers may have seen me refer to some. But if you're looking for a place that combines geographic propinquity of teachers and students, the availability of financial aid, lab and studio facilities, philanthropic support, tax support, and some level of quality control, you're looking for...a college.
The context: a reaction to a not-well-thought-out proposal that people bypass the formal higher education sector and design their own education. The greatest weakness of that proposal is in the lack of self-discipline among people that the colleges don't necessarily serve well, which would doom their efforts to bypass college and serve themselves.
If you're serious about education for the non-elite, you need institutions. The institutions need to be accountable, and open to creativity, and efficient, and changed in a host of ways that I spend most of my waking hours obsessing over and probably more that I've never even thought of. But you need them. Every serious social movement of the past two centuries has understood this. The internet has changed a lot of things, but it hasn't changed that. The rich kids may experience unbundling as liberation, and to some degree, it can be. But for the vast majority, the issue isn't that their individuality is being squelched by The Man and his distribution requirements. It's that without effective educational institutions from preschool on up, they will never get the chance to develop their skills in the first place.
The rich kids actually experience the unbundling as Brown.

26.5.10

DON'T MISS THE FIRST INNING STUCK IN TRAFFIC. Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel sportswriter Michael Hunt (via Political Environment) makes the case for the train to the game.
[Twin Cities] light rail makes its last stop about 10 feet from one of the main Target Field gates. There were all sorts of people taking it to the game, me, stadium workers, Twins fans, Brewers fans, just zipping by the stalled traffic in the morning rain. It's convenient, quick and a buck-75.

I don't want this to turn into a political debate, but it's absurd that Milwaukee doesn't have comparable public transit. I've taken the train in from the St. Louis and Cleveland airports, along with many other places. And yeah, blah, blah, somebody's gotta pay for it and all that, but save it for the political yakkers on the radio. All I know is Milwaukee, with all it has going for it, is way behind the curve in the fight that keeps its attractions unlinked by rail. They've figured it out in places like Portland, Salt Lake City, etc., so there's no reason why they can't figure it out in Milwaukee.
Particularly because Milwaukee once had streetcar service to County Stadium, and Speedrail management was pinning its hopes on Milwaukee County Stadium traffic boosting their revenues. (A route description issued to railfans in the now-infamous September 2, 1950 excursions noted the stadium site.)

The Route 10 streetcar lasted long enough to bring baseball fans to the All-Star Game and the only World Series a Milwaukee team ever won. The interurban right of way provided space for a siding to lay up cars during the game. (Did the motormen have the opportunity to watch the game from Veterans' Hill?)


The Rapid Transit Line right of way is through the current parking lots. The power line that goes from south to north of the expressway in the vicinity of the stadium marks its location.


A careful examination of this picture will show a concrete retaining wall that is still visible to spectators using the Soldiers' Home exit to the stadium.
WHAT FIRST CLASS TRAVEL LOOKS LIKE. Amtrak, sometimes with the encouragement of Congress, takes a dim view of amenities. Yes, the overnight trains include sleeping cars with dining car meals included in the fare, and yes, the sleeping cars often sell out early in the summer. Whether that reflects the paucity of sleeping cars or the decline in civility manifesting itself in the coaches is for another day.

The carrier is not averse to hauling other people's rolling stock, provided it's in running condition, and Railroading Heritage of Midwest America recently ran some weekend trips with the Super Dome and assorted first-class equipment from the Cities on Friday, returning from Chicago on the Sunday. The operator sold tickets to intermediate stations, and I bought space on the Super Dome for a quick trip to Milwaukee.


23 May 2010, somewhere near Sturtevant

The car has been extensively rebuilt inside, with utility space where the bomb bay lounge used to be and table seating upstairs, where there used to be coach seats. (There's no reason not to set up coaches with groups of seats facing tables in this fashion. There are a few British locomotive hauled trains with that configuration. Very pleasant.)

I think the last time I rode a Super Dome to Milwaukee out of Chicago Union Station, it was on the Afternoon Hiawatha, either the last hurrah for the 75 minute trains or the 78 minute train. The Empire Builder is not quite that fast, but it gave a good ride, and the trainspotters were out getting their pictures.

25.5.10

JUST RING UP THE SALE. Some time ago, I invoked Mike Royko's singlehanded victory over Radio Shack's practice of asking customers for contact information. (The column, from the late 1980s or early 1990s, wasn't archived then and it isn't archived now.) Perhaps what the company did was wait Mr Royko out. He's dead, and the last time I made a purchase at Radio Shack, the clerk asked me for an e-mail address. (You don't need to know that.) And Farm and Fleet, not, as far as I know, a business serving tourists, has its clerks asking customers for zip codes. (You don't need to know that.)

I have neither Mr Royko's writing style nor his readership, but in a small way I want to continue his tradition of businesses engaging in practices not directly related to serving consumers.
PERHAPS THEY CAN'T EXPLAIN IT EITHER. Jack Bauer gets a Presidential pardon, sort of, if he is able to hide from the GRU and from rogue elements in the U.S. government or whoever those shadowy ruling class types that suborned his father and his brother and had compromising evidence on President Logan. Rick Moran has a retrospective on the series.

21.5.10

PRODUCTIVITY FOLLIES. A senior professor writes an Inside Higher Ed column in which he sees the injustice in higher education's increased reliance on cheap and contingent labor, particularly for the core courses.
As everyone in academe now knows, the professoriate has experienced a radical transformation over the past few decades. These enormous changes have occurred so gradually, however, that they are only now beginning to receive attention. The general public has remained largely unaware of the staffing crisis in higher education. As contingent colleagues around the country came to outnumber the tenured faculty and as they were assigned an ever larger share of the curriculum, they became an inescapable fact of academic departmental life.
An elaboration of great length turns into a call for action. What's missing in his call is an analysis of the competitive conditions in the academic market.
It is time that more tenured faculty woke up to the fact that their entire professional existence, replete with their comfortable incomes, their fascinating research, their coveted sabbaticals, their agreeable teaching loads of less labor-intensive and more satisfying courses — all this is made possible by the indispensable efforts of a million ad-cons doing so much more for so much less. Equitable compensation, health and retirement benefits, opportunities for advancement and professional development: all these should be available for everyone in higher education and are long overdue. Since teachers’ working conditions equal students’ learning conditions, it is a truly deplorable message we are sending our students! With more than 70 percent of our college teachers lacking any kind of job security, academic freedom has largely disappeared from our colleges, drastically lowering the overall educational quality.
What lowers overall educational quality is the failure of the institutions perceived as second- or third-tier to systematically work on improving their competitive positions. Administrators and far too many faculty members accept that their institution will never be as well regarded as Harvard or Wisconsin or what have you and simply surrender, never mind that the willingness of those highly regarded institutions to reject lots of students in order to appear more selective creates a ready pool of students who deserve to be challenged by their second-choice, or their safety, universities. There's a Crooked Timber post (via 11-D, also worth a look) that raises the possibility the status quo in higher education leaves all sorts of inefficiencies.
[T]here is more market pressure these days than there used to be on institutions which are non-elite and non-selective: they increasingly have to compete with providers (like the University of Phoenix) which have low costs, high quality control, and are concerned with meeting the demands of workers who have particular learning needs (and, as they don’t point out, while this might have good effects on the quality of teaching it might have not so good effects on exactly what gets taught). But selective, elite institutions (especially the 140 or so colleges and Universities that are most selective) are really selling a credential, not the learning that comes along with it.
The lost opportunity: the competition for the non-elite and non-selective ought not be with Phoenix and the like, the competition ought to be to provide a respectable alternative to the allegedly selective schools, with better working conditions for faculty to boot.
KITBASHING ON A LARGE SCALE. The past several months of Railway have featured a protracted investigation into whether the last steam locomotive built by British Railways, 9F Decapod 92220 Evening Star, actually is using the chassis of 92203 (known now as Black Prince and resident on the Gloucestershire Warwickshire Railway, excellent reuse of some sacred initials). The owner of 92203 has informed the magazine that some components of his locomotive are stamped 92220. A sidebar at page 37 of the April 27 issue includes a claim that the running gear under alleged steam speed champion Mallard is also a substitution, as Mallard was discovered upon retirement to have a frame crack.

I learned that the British version of the Vermont grandfather's axe is "Irishmen's axe" (original, but on its second head and third handle). Part swapping among steam locomotives is common in practice (and the British will be hard pressed to get some of their steam restorations up and running without it.) But preservationists -- the article involves listed buildings -- have standards that, if taken seriously, would render any preserved steam locomotive as a replica.
A guiding concept of cultural resource management throughout the Western world is that the retention of original or early material is essential to the integrity and significance of the resource. "Is this Grandfather's axe?". We may ask the question? Not if it has had two new blades and three new handles since his lifetime! It may look like Grandfather's axe. It may work like Grandfather's axe. It may be an exact replication of Grandfathers axe. But it is not the genuine article.
Strictly speaking, any steam locomotive that has had its tires and flues renewed would not be the genuine article by that standard. By the same token, any interurban or streetcar that has been reupholstered or had its motors rewound would not be the genuine article.

20.5.10

THE CASE FOR SOCIAL DISTANCE. An Inside Higher Ed column on college profanity policies, or not, gets to the heart of the matter.

"If you stand in a financial aid office and scream and scream and scream, that's not a First Amendment issue, that disrupts the office," said W. Scott Lewis, associate general counsel of Saint Mary's College, in Indiana, and president of the Association for Student Conduct Administration.

Lewis gives seminars for many colleges through the National Center for Higher Education Risk Management, and he said that a consistently popular topic is how to train faculty members to manage their classrooms in ways that enable them to be respected by students. "We don't train faculty members on that," he said. "They are trained to be great physicists and political scientists, not on how to manage a
classroom."

Several societal trends appear to be related to an increase in student rudeness, Lewis said. Many students these days "have a sense of entitlement, backed at times by their parents," many more have mental health issues, and many feel significant stress over the economy. Adding to these factors, he said, many professors say that they don't feel they are even "allowed" to challenge rude behavior.

While Lewis doesn't want them to challenge the behavior through the student disciplinary system, he said that faculty members can promote civility. He said that they should talk about expectations on the first day of class and in the syllabus, making expectations clear. "You need to talk about rights and responsibilities," he said.

Some professors go too far, Lewis said, in removing the distance between themselves and their students, and this is part of the problem. "You need to establish your role as a professor, and that means not having students use your first name, but calling you Professor or Dr.," he said.

Similarly, attire sends a message, he said. "If you show up for class in cargo shorts and a ratty polo shirt, you may feel that you are being one of the students. Well, you may accomplish that and become a peer" who doesn't get the same respect as a professor, he said. (Lewis, who still teaches, said that in front of a class, "I would be, at worst, in business casual.")

Not everyone agrees, although the bull session is civil enough.
TRACTOR WATCH. Recent grandfather Brett Favre promises the Southern Mississippi baseball team that he will return to the Vikings if the team makes the College World Series.
RULE BRITANNIA. Britain's Freightliner now has some C37ACWWs from General Electric (that's the American locution, the manufacturer's label is PH37ACmi -- why they couldn't just use U37C escapes me) shoehorned into the British loading gauge. The diesels do have GE's distinctive radiator wings, and these look more like Flying Nuns than some of the U-boats that first earned that nickname. Or perhaps somebody will recall the veranda appellation from an earlier generation of General Electric super-freight locomotives.


Freightliner reported that the first run featured 70001 pulling "30 wagons" with 60 containers from the Port of Felixstowe. It's possible that some of those Maersk containers have ripped across Illinois at 70 mph on a 100 platform rake topped and tailed by multiple C44ACWs (again, why not call them U44Cs?)

The numbering of these diesels is intriguing. According to Railway, a first digit of 7 or 8 indicates an electric locomotive, and, indeed, there was a class of electric locomotives (O. V. S. Bulleid experimentals, apparently) that went to scrap before any of them could be painted into Class 70. The U-boats were originally to be Class 68. There was, if you will, an earlier British Seventy series, the 7P Britannia Pacifics.

The nomenclature might be moot in any event, as Railway also reports that some European Union directive will require standard 11 digit numbers for all railroad rolling stock, where the first six digits indicate type of stock and type of service. Feh. BM 75026 XM or RPRX 208 RS, let alone MILW 105 F7 or UP 844 FEF are exactly as transparent and don't involve more number combinations than those required to keep track of all the stars that are known to Jodrell Bank. But perhaps the European Union will go the way of the euro, or perhaps the European Union will find a designated operator. Union Pacific comes to mind: they've resurrected CMO for a series of grain hoppers and they could resurrect LBSC for bulk cement containers.

18.5.10

WHAT WE'VE LOST. A Classic Trains article featuring the work of longtime railroad publicist Wallace W. Abbey includes a sidebar on photographic technique. When he won the Railway and Locomotive Historical Society photography award in 2003, his statement included this.
Ask Wally about his cameras and he'll neglect to mention the early box and primitive 35-millimeter types. Believing as he does that the photographer makes the picture, not the camera, he's likely to recall his favorite tools as the Automatic Genuflex and the Iambic Pentameter.
Author John Gruber comments, "Those educated before the 1960s will recognize the wit that devised these puns."
NO LONGER ENDANGERED. The Erie Island snake is no longer endangered, thanks in part to the efforts of Kristin Stanford, who had a segment on Dirty Jobs, and her advisor Rich King.

They are among the recipients of this year's Recovery Champion awards from the Fish and Wildlife Service.

The snakes have an appetite for round gobies, one of the less welcome transients in the lakes. Now if they had an appetite for Asian carp fingerlings and could be introduced to the I&M canal...
CROOKED NUMBERS. I was doing yard work and kept hearing loudspeaker announcements from the baseball field. It was a rematch of last week's UWM game, with the same result, only more lopsided and without a roof to retract.
BADGERBALL IN THE CONVOCATION CENTER? Kathi Bennett, onetime Indiana head coach and until recently a Wisconsin assistant, will take over for Carol Owens.
HAS IT REALLY BEEN THIRTY YEARS?

18 May 1980. Off to Madison to pick up a large diploma folder.

To find the material that earned the diploma that goes in the folder, see The Review of Economics and Statistics and Journal of Regional Science.

17.5.10

A MACROECONOMICS PRIMER. Paul Krugman writes an instructive column to the effect that These United States are not Greece.

Both nations have lately been running large budget deficits, roughly comparable as a percentage of G.D.P. Markets, however, treat them very differently: The interest rate on Greek government bonds is more than twice the rate on U.S. bonds, because investors see a high risk that Greece will eventually default on its debt, while seeing virtually no risk that America will do the same. Why?

One answer is that we have a much lower level of debt – the amount we already owe, as opposed to new borrowing – relative to G.D.P. True, our debt should have been even lower. We’d be better positioned to deal with the current emergency if so much money hadn’t been squandered on tax cuts for the rich and an unfunded war. But we still entered the crisis in much better shape than the Greeks.

Some day, someone will provide a convincing investigation of the relationship between tax rate cuts and government revenues. The Bush Administration, however, did miss an opportunity to sell war bonds after September 11.

Even more important, however, is the fact that we have a clear path to economic recovery, while Greece doesn’t.

The U.S. economy has been growing since last summer, thanks to fiscal stimulus and expansionary policies by the Federal Reserve. I wish that growth were faster; still, it’s finally producing job gains – and it’s also showing up in revenues. Right now we’re on track to match Congressional Budget Office projections of a substantial rise in tax receipts. Put those projections together with the Obama administration’s policies, and they imply a sharp fall in the budget deficit over the next few years.

That's a testable hypothesis. No doubt some of Professor Krugman's political adversaries will call him out should that sharp fall not materialize. Materialize or not, some good macroeconomics dissertations should be forthcoming around 2015, if there are any universities left.

Greece, on the other hand, is caught in a trap. During the good years, when capital was flooding in, Greek costs and prices got far out of line with the rest of Europe. If Greece still had its own currency, it could restore competitiveness through devaluation. But since it doesn’t, and since leaving the euro is still considered unthinkable, Greece faces years of grinding deflation and low or zero economic growth. So the only way to reduce deficits is through savage budget cuts, and investors are skeptical about whether those cuts will actually happen.

It’s worth noting, by the way, that Britain – which is in worse fiscal shape than we are, but which, unlike Greece, hasn’t adopted the euro – remains able to borrow at fairly low interest rates. Having your own currency, it seems, makes a big difference.

That argument, by the way, is the basis for a Jane Jacobs proposal to have regional currencies rather than one U.S. dollar. Michigan or Illinois or California can't devalue relative to Texas or North Dakota under the customs and currency union called The United States. The transactions costs inherent in exchange rates, however, must be weighed against the rigidities of a common currency union.

Professor Krugman concludes with some policy proposals that, while internally consistent, leave aside the possibility of further marketization of health and retirement accounts as an alternative to the economies claimed by advocates of government-managed reform.
REVEALED PREFERENCES. A collection of Advanced Placement bloopers has been nailed to Newmark's Door. "Transcendentalists wanted to control the intercontinental railroad industry." Chortle.

Meanwhile, the Highland Park school board does not have the Arizona basketball tournament controversy on tonight's agenda, because converting the athletic fields from grass to artificial turf is more urgent than, oh, the message sent when spending resources on artificial turf or trips to holiday basketball tournaments is more important than preparing advanced placement students for advanced placement examinations.

Disclosure: the school of origin of the advanced placement bloopers is confidential.
UNION PATHETIC. The Superintendent has not been impressed with Union Pacific's hostility to passenger trains, repeatedly calling readers' attention to the existence of a railroad currently capable of handling 80 mph intermodal trains and 110 mph passenger trains (with a few revisions in the rules, which is cheaper than revising the signalling) west from Chicago toward Cedar Rapids and Omaha. Now comes a story out of California (via Destination: Freedom) in which Union Pacific objects to sharing its right of way with California's bullet trains.
In the April 23 letter, officials of Omaha-based Union Pacific reportedly said the high-speed passenger trains would interfere with their freight business and could lead to unsafe conditions. They also said they would resist efforts by the state to obtain the land through power of eminent domain.
Union Pacific's problem might be that there will be a track running along its right of way that its freight trains can't use. The carrier has been cooperative with Passenger Rail authorities that are willing to build additional tracks for them, and sometimes those additional tracks lead to improved on-time performance for passenger trains. But it took some wrangling between Union Pacific and Metra until the carrier stopped treating the third main to Elburn as additional capacity to hold freight trains out of the yard. Now imagine a track or two dedicated to fast passenger trains with no connecting crossovers. The anxiety level is already rising in Omaha.
STONEWALL IT, PLEAD COVER UP, [inaudible]. President Clinton Taylor is regretting allowing former President Nixon Logan the opportunity to rebuild his image by brokering a peace treaty Suvorov's biggest debacle. She's managed to violate the Constitutional rights of a Fox News reporter (tonight's Democratic wishful thinking) in order to get her hands on what she hopes is the only record of GRU complicity in sabotaging the peace process (as if a peace process isn't per se self-sabotaging). With a five-star hotel turned into a killing field for Soviet agents, a traffic jam in the Fourth Avenue tunnel that's backed up to Jackson Heights with a rumble that has broken out in dead and wounded Secret Service agents, and the Fox newsroom occupied by jackbooted government thugs just before Sean Hannity's radio show is about to start, good luck with that!

16.5.10

DISCOURAGING JOB-HOPPING. New University of Illinois president Michael Hogan has a Termination by Employee clause in his contract.
Hogan, the son of a meatpacker and the first in his family to graduate from college, will take over July 1 at a salary of $620,000. Hogan is expected to sign a 5-year contract pending approval by trustees next week. After five years, he will be eligible for $225,000 in retention pay.
This bonus differs from the provision in Northern Illinois football coach Jerry Kill's contract, in which the payment he receives upon voluntary separation (whether reflecting a better offer or a parting of the ways) diminishes with time.

There has to be a research project in here someplace.
COLLEGE PREPARATION. The dean at Anonymous Community seeks advice on teaching financial literacy to collegians. His request is of more than academic interest as we, too, are under some kind of unfunded state mandate to assess or develop financial literacy in our students. (The unfunded mandate reference is a high university official's characterization.) The time to begin equipping youngsters to handle money is before they start playing with money for keeps, as in when they whelp kids or get into the workforce or take out student loans. Financial Fitness for Life proposes to get the youngsters started in kindergarten.

Now that today's public service announcement is posted, on to matters of economic substance in the dean's message.

I'm consistently struck at the disconnect between "what's supposed to be true" and "the real world."

For example, if you use the 'retirement planners' online, you'll routinely see statements like "assuming an 8 percent return..." Over the past ten years, the average return on the IRA I opened in 1998 has been...wait for it...negative. Not just after inflation, either; literally (or 'nominally') negative. One could argue that twelve years is a small sample, but it's a significant fraction of the average adult's working life, and I would have been better off putting the money in a coffee can. So telling young people that stocks always pay off over the long term just seems very...twentieth century. Assuming an 8 percent annual return, I'd have at least twice as much as I actually have. That must be a lovely world.

Why would somebody use an online retirement planning site? But the underlying analysis is not unsound: that 8 percent annual return even works for people who entered the work force just before the Great Depression and stayed in the work force and in the market for ... wait for it ... thirty years. The harder lessons to learn are those involving balancing risk and impatience. An investor, for example, can take profits out of stocks near a secular high, convert the cash into less risky assets, and preserve capital relative to the stock market as it corrects, to reinvest near a secular low. But nobody knows how to recognize highs or lows. And identifying reliable companies to invest in is work.
I grew up hearing that renting was throwing your money away. That position was sustainable until about 2003.
What rendered that position unsustainable was the foolishness of lenders offering interest-only mortgages they expected to back out of house price appreciation, and borrowers expecting to refinance into a 15 year fixed once the house appreciated enough.

Again, that takes work. And the financial pros appreciate the point. I recently helped judge the finals of the Illinois Personal Finance Challenge, which involved team competitions and a quiz bowl, all hosted by the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago. One guest speaker at lunch was a young man from Goldman Sachs who got his start in investing in high school. I had a chance to talk with him briefly, and he was gracious when I noted one of my objectives was to equip high schoolers to ask difficult questions about some of his company's more notorious financial products.
I've heard and read that you should "pay yourself first" and set aside, say, ten percent of income in savings. But what does that actually mean? Is that ten percent after the retirement deduction? (If so, we're really talking twenty percent.) And when you're just starting out and making next to nothing, just how realistic is that? Do you know what young men are charged for car insurance?
Some time ago, the dean scoffed at the idea of salting away the latte money each day, as it isn't really a lot of money. It is, however, money salted away, and it might be salted away to help meet the car insurance premium, although putting it in a place that's harder to get at such as an individual retirement account is wiser. And when you're just starting out and making next to nothing, should you be buying the state's lottery tickets? Perhaps I should not rest until state lottery outlets are not disproportionately in poor neighborhoods (at one time, something like half of Michigan's lottery terminals were in Detroit.)

15.5.10

PERKS. Metra executive director Phil Pagano cashed out vacation days to advance himself nearly half a million dollars, for reasons that may never come to light. Metra's procedures for responding to suicide by train were on his body. Mr Pagano chose to walk in front of a McHenry branch train. There are three round trips weekdays on this branch; perhaps he was making a statement about Metra's procedures, which I have discovered delay passengers for hours, by choosing to delay relatively few passengers. Or perhaps there are still trains on the McHenry branch (the truncated end of the Williams Bay line) because they call closest to the executive director's mansion. That's not unknown in railroading: the Flying Yankee streamliner ran as the Cheshire to Bellows Falls and White River Junction in part to get Boston and Maine president Edward S. French to his Vermont home at weekends.
THIS FASCINATING SPORTS BUSINESS. Nicholls State's administration spent a lot of money channeling their inner Trotsky purging their inner Rebel redesigning their logo. A mascot is redesigned, a point is made. For all the good it did their sports program. University Diaries reports that Nicholls finished last (.pdf) in the country in men's basketball attendance. The sports editor at the Daily Comet (the mascot is a colonel, what's up with the comet) uses the news as an opportunity to chastise his classmates for their apathy.

One of the biggest joys of being a college student is to support your
university’s athletic teams.

Nicholls employees should also experience that joy by supporting the student-athletes they teach. If a student-athlete does well in your class, return the favor by helping cheer them onto victory in football, volleyball, basketball or whatever sport they play.

It seems students, faculty, staff, alumni and sports fans around the area would rather do anything put support the student-athletes at Nicholls.

I'm well familiar with columns of this sort. Despite the occasional BCS run and a series of bowl appearances and the odd bid to the basketball tournament, seats at Northern Illinois games are easy to come by right up to game time, and Northern Star columnists have essayed similar guilt trips on students.

University Diaries, however, proposes that universities run their athletic business like ... a business.
Do you know how often UD has read people making the argument that coaches should be paid the way they’re paid because after all, and it’s really too bad because after all we’re a university and all, but after all you’re just not gonna get large numbers of people to show up for a chemistry lecture, are you?… Seems only fair to reverse the argument. If you’re not going to get large numbers of people to show up for your games, maybe you should consider changing the funding flow.
Sometimes, evidence of the bubble deflating comes from obscure places. The payment argument is incomplete, as star chemistry professors can supplement their income by writing textbooks or consulting or working on grants, but the value-of-marginal-product argument is spot on.
DIG DOWN TO REPAIR THE COUNTRY ROADS. The Transportationist picks up a Virginia proposal to turn a section of Interstate 95 into a toll road. The project description identifies shunpike routes, at least one of which is likely to be pounded to pieces by trucks should tolling go into effect. Other segments of Interstate 95 -- it's built in a thickly settled part of the country with few parallelling expressways -- are already toll roads. Virginia's proposal, however, appears to be a way of taxing interstate commerce. That's little different from Illinois doing so with its Chicago-centric tollways. If you're headed from Milwaukee to St. Louis or Indianapolis to Minneapolis you can avoid some or all of the toll roads, but if you're headed from Wisconsin to Indiana or Iowa to Michigan you're stuck.
THE ESSENCE OF SPEED AND ELEGANCE. A Toyota Avalon commercial (via Streetfire) positions the car as the best option when a classy train is unavailable to take you to town.


A company based in Japan, home of the original bullet trains, shows potential buyers a classy train that looks a lot like this.


The 1939 Hiawatha was the fastest thing on rails, and arguably the most elegant of the streamliners.
I GENERALLY GRIPE ABOUT ACRONYMS. I'll make an exception when an honors student in computational software describes his project as Human Electronic Music Instruction Overlay, because you can almost sing the title to the opening bars of Schumann's Rhenish Symphony.

14.5.10

AT THE BASE OF CAPITOL HILL. The proposed faster train service from Chicago to the Twin Cities via Madison envisioned a Madison station near the airport, which would be a weak location for a station if the service gets provided in increments, with Chicago to Madison being set up first. The latest revision to the proposal has trains terminating near the Monona Terrace complex. (Underground parking that close to a lake??) Isthmus columnist Marc Eisen (via Political Environment) sees the rail corridor as providing greater prosperity on the east side of Madison. Ultimately, though, a single train line linking Chicago with the Twin Cities and throwing in a reversal of direction in Madison is, in chasing two hares, going to catch neither.
THE CONSTRUCTED RIGHT OF PHILOSOPHER-KINGS. Blogs for Industry proposes an explanation of why academicians tend to be court intellectuals for expanded government.
American central planning will elevate people like us to the nomenklatura of planners. Roosevelt, after all, drew many of the New Deal team from Academia, and the idea of the "Best and the Brightest" running the country has been part of the post-JFK view of the Democratic party. Many of my friends have been giddy about the science backgrounds of some of the appointments, especially Steve Chu at Energy, but also the biologists who advise Obama on science.
The court intellectuals, however, often fail to make the best case for their work. Sometimes, the Philosopher King Himself also fails.

[Our President's] dripping condescension is easily missed by those who share his view of the protests and the protesters. And the way the crowd of supporters laughed along amplifies the image of out-of-touch elites who think they know better than you.

Second, his background of being from Chicago doesn't help. Face it, Chicago conjures misallocation of resources and magnified corruption a lot more than, say, the good government reputations of Wisconsin or Minnesota.

But the reaction is not even close to being just about the President. The Tea Partiers look at the stimulus and the bailouts and see misallocation of resources and magnification of corruption there as well. Incompetent reporting of "jobs saved or created" didn't help. Nor did the way health care was passed, regardless of its actual merits or lack thereof.

That's relatively tame. Legal Insurrection is more blunt.
WHY THE FOURTH TURNING HAPPENS. A Victor Davis Hanson article in National Review correctly specifies the dynamics.
An entire generation nursed on socialism as a birthright — with no direct memory of the hardship of the Depression, World War II, the postwar rebuilding, or the fault lines from left-right violence in Spain, Italy, and Greece — will very soon be “asked” to give much of it up. As the statist economy goes, so too will go much of the European posturing about state-subsidized radical environmentalism, pooh-poohing of Islamic radicalism, and holding up of the bogeyman of American imperialism. Those were always pipe-dream ideologies of an affluent and subsidized populace. They are certainly luxuries beyond the means of a far poorer, far angrier citizenry that now must live in the unkind world.
It is when those who have not had the opportunity to experience the past that they are condemned to repeat it. Some long-wave models of financial cycles propose a similar dynamic.
AMID THE CONTROVERSY, MISPLACED PRIORITIES. Former Alaska governor Sarah Palin criticized the Highland Park school board for taking the girl's basketball team out of a holiday tournament in Arizona. A current and former player did a segment on Sean Hannity's TV show. Betsy's Page raises some questions about the board's decision.

In all the give-and-take about the board's decision, everybody takes it as routine that a high school girl's basketball team makes a trip out of state to play in a holiday tournament. I don't care that the players are selling a lot of cookies to raise money for the trip. I do care that the high schools are letting the sports crowd out the academics. Will Highland Park be sending the science club to Cape Canaveral for the final Shuttle launch, or the math club to Madison's Grand Integrator competition?

13.5.10

TEACH AS IF YOU MIGHT BE PREPARING TOMORROW'S LEADERS. You probably are. I sometimes say that Northern Illinois University students have to work twice as hard as people at Harvard do to achieve half the recognition, but fortunately, that is not difficult. A Rate Your Students gripe makes the same point, if indirectly.

Letter U students were sent into the world lacking degree-related skills. The students were hired by employers with expectations that were NOT met. It happened too often and too long. Now the employers have come to know what to expect from a Letter U grad. As a result, these companies do not hire from Letter U. Or if they do, they do not hire Letter U students for the jobs that there degrees should entail. To many Letter U grads (undergraduate AND GRADUATE) are working as Administrative Assistants.

Because Letter U has history, the students aren’t always aware of the Letter U’s current reputation among other employers (although some of the alumni are, and they are NOT happy.) So the students don’t realize that their degree that isn’t going to get them as far as they may think (unless they work for Company G.) Because education IS an investment, and an EXPENSIVE investment, I think it’s a damn shame when it doesn’t enhance a student’s career options.

I used to think that a University was defined by its instructors, its programs, and/or its mission. But I’ve come to the realization that a University is actually defined by its GRADUATES. And every time we pass someone that doesn’t deserve to pass, or we graduate someone that doesn’t have the skills and knowledge expected for the degree we GAVE them, we weaken the reputation of ALL of our graduates. And we do a LONG-TERM, and expensive, disservice to those students who have actually earned their grades and their degree.

Letter U and Company G refer respectively to a (possibly invented) highly regarded university and major employer for which a Letter U degree is a ticket to employment.
THE ADVANTAGE OF A RETRACTABLE ROOF. Wednesday was a good day to disappear and take in two baseball games.


Wisconsin-Milwaukee invited Northern Illinois to be the visiting team in a Miller Park game. Here is how Northern Illinois sports information described it.

Just like another team with a shade of red before them did, the Northern Illinois Huskies defeated a Milwaukee baseball team under a closed roof at Miller Park Wednesday. With the help of back-to-back home runs in the fifth inning and a strong effort on the mound by Jake Hermsen, NIU took down the Milwaukee Panthers 5-3 at Miller Park, home of Major League Baseball's Milwaukee Brewers.

After watching the Atlanta Braves take a 9-2 noon contest over the Brewers, the Huskies (20-28) and Panthers (23-21) took the field 45 minutes later. In its third game in a professional stadium this season, NIU improved to 2-1 in pro parks with its first win in as many tries at Miller Park and second in as many attempts against the Panthers this season.

Alex Jones hit an inside-the-park home run and Jordin Hood followed with a get up, get up to the UWM bullpen. There were probably more Northern Illinois fans than UWM fans at the game. Although a UWM player also homered, Bernie Brewer was not available to slide for him.
WHEN DO YOU COUNT A STATE AS VISITED? USA Today columnist Craig Wilson considers some criteria. I cannot count Alaska on any criterion, unless flying over it counts. I have passed through Idaho and Oregon on trains without disembarking, stepped off of trains and made purchases in the station in Montana and North Dakota, and used highway rest areas in South Carolina and Alabama (call it a little payback for the cradle of secession and hosting the first national capital of rebellion.) By any criterion, I can count the other 43 plus the District of Columbia.

I have a similar quandary for countries. I have passed through Wales on trains, stepped off a train in France and changed trains (with a purchase of bratwurst and magazines) in Germany and changed planes in Tokyo without ever leaving the transit lounge.
WHERE ARE THE DEMOCRATS' BABES? A Rosemont gentlemans' club holds a Sarah Palin look-alike contest. The Chicago Tribune has pictures that might not be safe for work.

10.5.10

A CRUEL WAY TO LEAVE. Train crews can survive collisions with automobiles or with pedestrians. Walking away from the nightmares is more difficult. Chicago's Metra has an extensive safety program, including poster contests for grade schoolers. The winners have their artwork on the weekend passes.

Metra authorities, in their efforts to help focus public awareness on accidental deaths and suicides involving trains, provided the Tribune with records and wide access to train crews and safety officials.The railroad spent more than $1 million this year on an expanded safety campaign in the media as well as at schools and other institutions in the communities.

"A good deal of money is spent on the Operation Lifesaver program each year, and I'm concerned that we're not making a big enough impact," says Metra Chairman Jeffrey Ladd. "I don't know how we get the message across more effectively."

Last year, an Operation Lifesaver representative went to 8th-grader Kelly Nelson's school. "We addressed 276 children about not crossing over tracks and to listen and look for trains," says Metra executive director Philip Pagano. "We went back to the school this year too."

That's the same Philip Pagano who, rather than go to a meeting at which he faced discipline for misappropriation of funds, stood in front of a train.

Despite the locomotive's squealing brakes and piercing air horn, Pagano stood firm in the middle of the tracks. He looked the engineer right in the eye.

He was killed instantly.

At the scene, authorities found Pagano's wallet and a copy of Metra's procedures for a service disruption after a suicide, sources said.

He also left an apparent suicide note at his Crystal Lake home, McHenry County Sheriff Keith Nygren said.

"I'm shocked at the whole thing," said Doug Davidson, an official with the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen. "He would definitely know the impact it would have on the engineer and others on the train. You question whether he was making a conscious statement to the world."

Send your condolences to Mr Pagano's family, and spare a moment to wish the unnamed train engineer well.
WILDCAT TRADITION. This season, the Milwaukee Hamilton softball team is making noise in the City Conference.
LET YOUR FINGERS DO THE WALKING. Jack Bauer gets the information out of one of President Logan's Russian colleagues by performing an emergency tracheotomy. He got his hands on the Russian by exploiting the usual GRU counterintelligence procedures. Now comes a conversation in which President Logan will spill his guts, perhaps not voluntarily.

4.5.10

THE SHROUD OF TURIN. The Overhead Wire offers a challenge to foes of light rail transit whose objection is to the visual pollution of the catenary.


The picture is from the light rail lines of Turin, Italy.
It's called, spot the wires. Sure are ruining this nature scene for everyone!
One of the comments to the posts recalls a complaint I saw somewhere, possibly in the print version of The New Electric Railway Journal, about the propensity of light rail systems to install heavy catenary as if a Japanese bullet train or a GG-1 was going to roll into National City or South Hills.

Directly-suspended trolley wire, however, was standard practice on U. S. streetcar lines. Herewith the West Allis branch of Route 10 in Milwaukee, with an inbound car about to cross Blue Mound Road. The car is on what was once the interurban line into Milwaukee, and Miller Park will someday be constructed behind the photographer's right shoulder.


But directly suspended trolley wire need not mean urban boulevard lines operating at low speeds, as in Turin, or on those bits of Route 10 that ran alongside the Menomonee River Parkway in Wauwatosa or at roadside and on the old interurban route in West Allis.


We are at Racine, Wisconsin, in the fall of 1958. This is a particularly difficult part of the North Shore Line, as it is uphill both ways out of Racine station, and the nearest substations, at some distance, will be straining as a 'Liner and three heavy steels get under way at the same time.
HE STOOD THERE LIKE THE HOUSE BY THE SIDE OF THE ROAD. Remembering Ernie Harwell's description of a called third strike.
THE INERTIA IS NOT IN THE DRIVE TRAIN. Nailed to Newmark's Door is an excerpt from Tom Vanderbilt's Traffic (reviewed here).
SUVs are hugely costly to society. Because they are long and sluggish, they spend much more time getting rolling from a stop at a red light. This is one reason that our city traffic has slowed down. SUV drivers sit higher from the optical rush of the road so they are more likely to speed (just as you wouldn’t have a strong sensation of speed in an airplane 1000′ above the ground, though the airplane is moving at 4X the speed of a car). SUV drivers in at least two countries studied are less likely to wear seatbelts, more likely to be talking on a mobile phone, and less likely to have both hands on the wheel. They crash constantly and are statistically less safe than a minivan that is lighter weight. . . .
Any dinghy sailor can tell you that a little bit of engine is frequently an attempt to compensate for a lack of seamanship. Per corollary ...
DISTURBING THE PEACE PROCESS. President Nixon Logan's notion of detente includes planting his own Soviet mole in the counter-terrorism unit. The Soviets' own mole, Natasha Fatale, had a hush-a-boom squirreled away, but she couldn't keel moose Jack Bauer before he keeled her. Now the GRU, the CTU, and quite possibly the Council on Foreign Relations, or whoever those secretive ruling class dudes are, are all chasing Jack Bauer. Somehow enough characters have to survive to make the movie possible. Or perhaps Agent Walker is really Kenny, or she learned how to fake death from her cousin.

1.5.10

THE PRICE OF A POSITIONAL ARMS RACE. The Northern Star reported details of coaches' salaries and contracts as their final investigative report of the year. The reporting is of the just-the-facts variety. It's up to readers to make invidious comparisons about coaching salaries compared to faculty and staff salaries. The Cold Spring Shops position is that coaches cannot expect to do any better on average than professors, taking relative risk, tenure policies, and the large reserve army of hopeful coaches riding blocking sleds at the likes of East Millpond Township High in New Hampshire, and that knowledge of the opportunity cost of the sports programs is desirable. Readers are free to evaluate those opportunity costs for themselves.

The article reports on provisions in coaching contracts for voluntary separations by the coaches.

Another change produced by the extension came in the “Termination by Employee,” section of the original contract.

[Head football coach Jerry] Kill’s original contract stated that if he resigned his position of NIU’s head football coach to assume a coaching position at another university, his buyout would be the remaining salary owed to him by the university. In the extension, this buyout was changed to a tier system.

“I think what we were trying to do there is if you’re going to give a person more time here, and they’re very successful, you don’t want there to be a disincentive for them,” [athletic director Jeff] Compher said. “They’re going to have other opportunities.”

If Kills resigns from NIU prior to the conclusion of the 2009-10 or 2010-11 academic year there must be a one-time payment of $500,000. If Kill resigns prior to the conclusion of the 2011-12, 2012-13 or 2013-14 season a one-time payment of $400,000 must be made. Finally, if Kill resigns prior to the conclusion of the 2014-15 season a one-time payment of $300,000 must be made.

This buyout is different if Kill assumes a position with an NFL team.

If Kills resigns from NIU prior to the conclusion of the 2009-10 or 2010-11 academic year there must be a one-time payment of $200,000. If Kill resigns prior to the conclusion of the 2011-12, 2012-13 or 2013-14 season a one-time payment of $150,000 must be made. Finally, if Kill resigns prior to the conclusion of the 2014-15 season a one-time payment of $100,000 must be made.

I recall theoretical research from years ago making the case for golden parachutes for failed managers, as a way of mitigating the damage such a manager could cause by fighting his termination while continuing to fail as a manager. But a separation bonus for being raided by another university, or a smaller separation bonus for being raided by the pros? The first-order effect of that provision is for the raiding team to lower its offer. Or am I missing something?

The same day this story broke, women's basketball coach Carol Owens resigned.

Citing a need for more balance in her life, Northern Illinois women’s basketball coach Carol Owens resigned on Thursday.

“I want to focus more on my personal life, and what those things are, I feel like they’re private,” Owens said. “They’re things that I hold dear to my heart.”

Owens said she would take a break from coaching to reflect and stop putting things off in her personal life that she felt like she had put on the back-burner in her five seasons at NIU. She said her health is fine.

“There’s no worries there, but I am getting older,” Owens said.

I've frequently noted that Corporate America's usual bargain, we'll pay you a lot and suck out all your time, is one that requires the sanction of the victim, and that people with talent can roll that bargain back by refusing to play. Or perhaps, taking a page from the coaches' playbook, and insisting on a "Termination by Employee" clause.

Ms Owens, however, has the right idea. When it stops being fun, it's time to walk away, positional prestige or not.
PERHAPS THE DEAN OF STUDENTS IS NOW THE CRUISE DIRECTOR. I believe the dean at Anonymous Community suggested that job description. But how else characterize the apparent endorsement of the Campus Carnival by the Division of Student Affairs and Enrollment Management? (There's something Freudian in that title, but I'll exploit it later.)

Northern Illinois University invented homecoming. Are we now the first university to offer a semester-end carnival?

The weather wasn't as fine as yesterday's forecast anticipated, and relatively few people were on the midway at midafternoon.


A few older and more adventurous riders gave the Zipper a workout.


The Dragon Coaster, well, a junior version of a ride with a famous name, entertained the younger set.


Sometimes you'll see the tots going no-hands on this ride.