30.8.10

GOING THE LONG WAY AROUND. Something called the Chicago - Kansas City Expressway, which has been in the works for over 50 years, is now open (map.pdf). The Chicago end of it uses Interstate 88 through DeKalb, which adds another obscure sign to the Illinois Technology Corridor signs that also apply to the route. The DeKalb Chronicle editorialists don't know what to make of it.

Transportation officials hope the idea will catch on because it could lessen traffic on an overburdened Interstate 55 in the Chicago area and a busy Interstate 70 from St. Louis to Kansas City.

To take the new CKC Expressway from Chicago, take I-290, then I-88 west to the Quad Cities, then go south on I-74 to Galesburg, exit and meander past Monmouth, Macomb and Quincy, cross the Mississippi River at Hannibal, Mo., go west on U.S. Route 36 to I-35, then veer south to Kansas City.

The distance – 530 miles or so – is comparable to taking I-55 and I-70. Portions of the route have been rebuilt, and the traffic shouldn’t be heavy.

The expressway nomenclature misleads: most of the route is limited-access highway or Interstate Highway, but it's not all grade-separated restricted access.

The Legislature’s resolution states the cities are two of the major commercial and tourism centers of the Midwest, and, therefore, deserve to be connected.

So, will the public buy it?We’re reminded of an Abraham Lincoln quote: “How many legs does a dog have if you call the tail a leg? Four. Calling a tail a leg doesn’t make it a leg.”

Well, calling a highway the Chicago-Kansas City Expressway doesn’t make it so. For instance, imagine drivers from Kansas City encountering I-PASS lanes for the first time. That confusing experience could torpedo the whole concept.

However, properly promoted, the designation does offer the potential of more motorists and truckers stopping in our region for fuel, food and lodging.

Some expressway. Trucks in a hurry have a faster corridor already. It's called the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe, er, the BNSF Transcontinental Line by way of Galesburg, Ft. Madison, and Marceline. The line has unrealized passenger train potential as well.
GETTING THROUGH COLLEGE. Retired Marquette dean of advising Robert Neuman has trenchant observations.

College is a world very different from high school. College demands that students possess a solid, basic body of high school knowledge. They must also come equipped with the self-management skills to control the learning process.

And lastly, in college, there's no time to learn how to learn.

He's written a book, and maintains a weblog that's a candidate for College Avenue.

The money quote comes toward the end of the interview.
Much of everyday teen stress comes from being unprepared and disorganized, not having enough time, and not knowing how to handle problems. My strategies actually help relieve stress, giving teens ways to take control. Teenagers who don't learn these lessons now will become a part of the dismal statistics that universities know so well and that are becoming a topic of the national conversation. I have seen student stress firsthand in college. It's demoralizing for students and carries serious life consequences.
Indeed.
RINGING UP THOSE HOUSING VALUES. Streetcars and buses have comparable usefulness in urban transportation, but streetcars add curb appeal.

Mike Szilagyi, a planner for a Philadelphia company who maintains a website about the city's streetcar history, says the time is right for streetcars, which make downtowns more accessible and get people out of their cars. "A streetcar ride is more comfortable, more civilized," he says.

Streetcars work because they appeal to people who want to live in cities and are "proven to have the ability to attract investment," says John Smatlak of RPR Consulting, a Los Angeles company that helps plan streetcar projects.

The article opens with a favorable report on Portland, Oregon's streetcar. Yes, the streetcar might have contributed to a warehouse district becoming an entertainment district. As some of the district is in the free zone, a different incentive might be at work.

29.8.10

THE CASE FOR BLUE COLLAR ARISTOCRATS. David Foster considers the returns on human capital.
[Received wisdom] is that those hardest-hit by the recession/depression are those lacking college degrees. Viewed in the context of the Manpower study, it would seem that the real problem is not so much college-educated vs non-college educated, or blue-collar vs white-collar, but rather high-skilled vs unskilled.
The post suggests there's circular reasoning in the pursuit of a university degree.
For at least the two decades, there has been an almost religious degree of reverence paid to college degrees. The message has not been “go to college because knowledge is valuable in its own right,” or even “go to college to learn skills you will need for your career,” but rather “get a degree so you can get a good job.” The emphasis has been all on the piece of paper. And when a piece of paper is valued for the circular reason that..it is valued, then you are in a bubble, whether the pieces of paper in question are shares of stock or college degrees.
The argument is true in part, but people pay attention to what's on the piece of paper. I understand from the State of the College presentation that enrollments are down in business and up in allied health, with knock-on effects on enrollments in general education courses accordingly. Students pay attention to the return on their investment (which might not be the best strategy: studying occupational therapy because it's interesting and challenging makes sense whether the returns to investment banking are higher or lower; studying it for the return on investment only is a path to frustration).

Per corollary, labor markets have ways of allocating resources. Where there are relatively few electricians, carpenters, or welders, there will be wage premiums. To some extent, labor markets are already recognizing the shortages. Rockford Toolcraft has avoided layoffs and schedules overtime. AG Manufacturing has been ramping up production of automobile throttle components. These companies are unlikely to be pleased by school administrators who view industrial arts classes as a dumping ground for potential dropouts.

RUNNING EXTRA. In Camille Paglia's world, it's time to revalorize the trades.

The pressuring of middle-class young people into officebound, paper-pushing jobs is cruelly shortsighted. Concrete manual skills, once gained through the master-apprentice alliance in guilds, build a secure identity. Our present educational system defers credentialing and maturity for too long. When middle-class graduates in their mid-20s are just stepping on the bottom rung of the professional career ladder, many of their working-class peers are already self-supporting and married with young children.

The elite schools, predicated on molding students into mirror images of their professors, seem divorced from any rational consideration of human happiness. In a period of global economic turmoil, with manufacturing jobs migrating overseas and service-sector jobs diminishing in availability and prestige, educators whose salaries are paid by hopeful parents have an obligation to think in practical terms about the destinies of their charges. That may mean a radical stripping down of course offerings, with all teachers responsible for a core curriculum. But every four-year college or university should forge a reciprocal relationship with regional trade schools.

Market tests and market incentives are much more effective, and I fear that university faculty (whether they buy into the core curriculum or not) would still view the trade school as a place to push weak students. Decent people who can play well with ideas but fear table saws are like that.
FREDERIC BASTIAT IS IN THE DOGHOUSE. I hope Instapundit is being arch with his reference to a creepy-crawly stimulus. An entrepreneur is making a lot of money with a bed-bug sniffing dog. Bed-bugs make work for bed-bug sniffing dogs in the same way that broken windows make work for glaziers, a point that, with the five-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina including reports on the work still to be done, requires repeating.

Everything. Has. An. Opportunity. Cost.

28.8.10

WHY IT MATTERS. Northern Star columnist Aaron Brooks offers advice to new students.
Basically, stay involved. NIU is a great university, and if you make the most of it you can get the same education as some ninny paying $40K a semester in tuition at Harvard.
The dean of Liberal Arts made his State of the College presentation Friday afternoon, wherein he expressed a wish to offer each student an opportunit to participate in research or an internship or study abroad and another wish that students not be priced out of these opportunities, something that might be difficult in a political environment that views higher education as job preparation and the marginal benefits to a degree as purely private.
USES FOR YOUR WEEKEND PASS. Courtney Crowder of the Chicago Tribune suggests a few scoot excursions. The column gives the fares and running times for a trip beginning in Chicago. Many of the excursions are doable at weekends, on the weekend pass, starting from anywhere on the Metra system, if you're willing to devote the better part of a day and evening to it. The Evanston dining scene and the Kenosha lakefront are good ideas any time, although the Kenosha lakefront is more active in summer. Weekends are probably better times to do the Green Bay Trail riding, detraining at Braeside.
This is the stop for those wanting to bike the Green Bay trail. The entrance to the trail is just off the Braeside parking lot and stretches up to Lake Bluff. The trail goes through mostly forests and has very few road crossings, but part of the trail is gravel. The Green Bay trail offers connections to many other trails, including the North Shore bike trail and the Des Plaines river trail, which can take you all the way into Wisconsin or west to Mundelein.
Ah, for the days when you could ride a North Shore Line interurban along the grade separation through Winnetka, past Lake Forest College, all the way to Milwaukee or west to Mundelein.

But as a pioneer of the use of abandoned interurban rights-of-way for bike trails (in those days I was trespassing) I fully endorse the use of interurban rights-of-way as bike trails.
MEAN REVERSION. The oceans continued to rise, the planet failed to heal itself, civil society broke down in Canada and the United States, and after a conflict of unspecified origin and duration in which some part of the continent is rendered uninhabitable more permanently than Carthage a new tyranny has emerged in which a capitol district somewhere in the Rockies exacts tribute from twelve inhabitable districts that exist, apparently (the social scientist in me is going to rise up angry shortly), as providers of different kinds of resources for the capitol. It is time for The Hunger Games, Year 74.

Imagine Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery" (a short story unaccountably popular with high-school literature teachers) to select participants in Ultimate Survivor with no immunity challenges, no tribal councils, no holds barred, the dimensions of the cage subject to change without notice, and nominations to be voted off more permanent than they are on Top Shot.

So much for the plot. I want to devote Book Review No. 20 to the dubious social science. We have a remote capital made possible by a science in which insects can be weaponized, birds trained to be stool pigeons, gene-splicing is slightly less sophisticated than that of Jurassic Park, holding sway over a continent with a regional division of labor more rigid than the one the late unlamented Soviet Union attempted to impose on its Central Asian republics, and in the aftermath of unspecified ecological, economic, and political collapse. (I suspect the concept of post-apocalyptic exists because thinking through the cause, duration, and consequences of apocalypse itself are too much like work.)

Yet we meet none of the brains or muscle behind this tyranny. The capitol appears full of glitterati, nancy-boys, corrupt officials, and unspecified wealthy patrons who can bestow gifts on the game-players when they're not betting on the outcome of the game. (Author Suzanne Collins does not name the money unit for these bets: I suggest quatloos.) The game itself occupies the capital for a great deal of each year, and work in the satrapies apparently stops for the duration.

The book is the first of a trilogy, in which the survivors of the game inspire a rebellion. I'm not sure whether to invest in the rest of the series to see how this revolution plays out, although that might be a quick way to rack up book reviews toward the fifty. The society as Hunger Games reveals it is unstable enough as to be unsustainable. Perhaps, if you'd like a real world model, you might consider the implications of 1991 - 1917 = 74.

(Cross-posted to Fifty Book Challenge.)
THE LAWS OF PHYSICS ARE IMMUTABLE. It's Instalanched: the Gateway Arch is corroding.
Topped out in 1965, the Arch is made up of triangular sections — a carbon steel interior and stainless steel exterior — stacked and welded one atop the next. Concrete reinforces the lower half of each leg.

"It is possible that corrosion at welds or at contaminated areas
is taking place aggressively," one report said.

The investigation noted a repainted area inside the south leg. "Failure of the original paint layer in this area may have been due to rusting of the steel," the report said.

It suggested taking core samples of the metal for testing, but warned that, "Removal of stainless steel from the Arch will be controversial and will require planning and much discussion."

Water intrusion has long been an issue. "Condensation in the
legs has been there since day one," [Jefferson Memorial deputy superintendent Frank] Mares said.
Stainless steel and carbon steel are chemically different enough that an electrolyte between them induces electrolysis. Concrete absorbs water: there's your electrolyte.

If the designers of the arch were in the same social circles as managers of the Missouri Pacific Railroad, they might have been alert to the problem as they designed the arch. One reason most of Amtrak's initial purchases, including the baggage cars and dining cars still running, are Budd Shotwelded cars, is that by 1971 the stainless-steel clad Pullman and American Car and Foundry cars running on Missouri Pacific and a number of other railroads had serious corrosion of their inner shells. The inner shells were Cor-Ten carbon steel, there was a layer of insulation between the inner and outer shells, and the outer shells were stainless steel panels. As built, they were as shiny as Budd's cars, but with exposure to the elements, they turned into 85 foot long voltaic cells. Missouri Pacific were aware of the problem before Amtrak came into being.
GETTING INTO TRAINING. Amtrak has placed orders for new single-level baggage (55), baggage-dormitory (25), dining (25), and sleeping cars (25) on the Viewliner pattern for use on southern and eastern trains. With the Lake Shore Limited doing the Penn Central Chicagoan only a little better in the area of food service, the southern trains using Shotwelded dining cars off the mid-century reequipping of Hill Lines trains as long as the wizards of Beech Grove can keep them rolling, and contemporary single-level baggage cars rebuilt from Shotwelded coaches of the same vintage, these purchases are overdue. The Viewliner sleeping cars have more generous in-room storage space than the Superliner cars on western lines (in part because there is otherwise idle space at the top of the rooms that the Superliner profile precludes) as well as windows for the passenger in the upper. The carrier explains the purchase of baggage-dormitory cars as freeing up revenue space currently set aside for crew use in the sleeping cars. That Amtrak is recognizing the potential for offering a high-end service (even with prices for room and meals somewhat greater than airfare plus space in a mid-grade hotel) is encouraging.

It's also encouraging to see construction commence on the extension of Downeaster service to Brunswick, Maine. A day trip from Boston to Old Orchard Beach or Portland is currently possible, will the new service allow Boston preppies to make a day trip to Freeport for their L. L. Bean fix?

The extension restores a service severed around 1960, when Maine Central's preference to run locomotive-hauled trains capable of moving passengers, mail and express conflicted with Boston and Maine's preference to run rail diesel cars moving passengers only.

25.8.10

CAN'T WE COME UP WITH A BETTER VERB? A Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel article on Wisconsin's reprise of the On Wisconsin begins "The state is steaming ahead with establishing a federal high-speed rail line, projecting it will commit $300 million this year - far more than the roughly $50 million in spending previously announced. " A different article from Wisconsin (via Trains for America) has Scott Walker trying to build steam opposing the Obama administration's faster train initiative, and a television station (also via Trains for America) headlines a report on ridership increases: Amtrak Chugs Toward Record-Breaking Year.

Steam excursions are fun, and a big steam locomotive in action brings the spectators to trackside. But as far as I know, none of the faster trains will be bringing back Atlantics and Baltics good for 125. Members of the press: kindly report on the successes of actually existing railroading, not on something filtered through Thomas the Tank Engine or The Little Engine that Could.
TEMPORAL EXCESS. The faithful will be called to prayer in Mecca with the help of the world's new largest four-faced tower clock.
For nearly half a century, Milwaukee has boasted the world's largest four-sided clock high up on the Allen-Bradley tower.

Even the Guinness World Records book and Wikipedia say so. London's punier Big Ben has been eating our dust all these years.

But, alas, our affectionately nicknamed Polish moon has been eclipsed. A much bigger four-sided clock just went up in Mecca, and I don't mean the former Milwaukee Arena version of MECCA.

Arabia cleaned our clock with its Abraj Al Bait Towers, a.k.a. Mecca Royal Clock Hotel Tower, which overlooks Mecca's Grand Mosque, the holiest site in Islam and a destination for millions of Muslims.

They didn't just beat us by a little. Their clocks, which started operating this month in time for Ramadan, are by most accounts about 140 feet in diameter. Ours are 40.2 feet.
The tower might also be the world's tallest minaret.
Milwaukee's four clock faces are illuminated by hundreds of fluorescent tube lights, which is how they came to be called the Polish moon at a time when the neighborhood was predominantly that ethnicity. The lights were doused during the energy crisis in 1973, but turned back on the following year after boaters on Lake Michigan complained that they missed the navigation aid.

The Mecca clocks have 2 million LED lights, plus 21,000 green and white lights that flash five times a day and call the faithful to pray. In Arabic script, the clocks say, "In the name of Allah."

The Allen-Bradley clock probably reminds people it's time for church, too, but it's just as likely that it summons the thirsty to neighborhood taverns.

The Saudis seemed most interested in besting Great Britain with this clock and intent on making Mecca the new time standard in place of Greenwich Mean Time. Most of the news reports I found online hardly mention Milwaukee's clock at all.

Big Ben's clock is a mere 23 feet in diameter on a tower reaching 316 feet. The story is that Allen-Bradley didn't include bells in its design so Big Ben could accurately claim it's the world's largest chiming four-sided clock.
It would have been hard to one-up "This is London" with those chimes on the Beeb in any case. The St. Stephen Tower (the proper name for the tower that houses the clock, and the bell, which is what Big Ben refers to) is taller than the Allen-Bradley tower at 240 feet. Above the clock, however, is a lounge for corporate functions that offers an excellent view of Greater Milwaukee. The opening scenes of The Hindenburg were filmed from there. But a bell? A factory whistle would not have been out of place, although Allen-Bradley signalled lunch breaks and shift changes with bells that also served as a kind of intraplant telegraph. I remember a lot of requests for whoever had call sign 2-2-4.
FAREWELL, EXCESS. The market for McMansions is thin, and none too soon for one commentator.
Add to the names sprawling square footage, fireplaces, media rooms and jacuzzi tubs, and your delusions of grandeur just got a lot more delusional.

The cure? A dose of reality. Electricity has gone up 12% nationally in the last three years; natural gas 43%, making utility bills for such huge houses prohibitive. Meanwhile, real estate as a whole is down: The National Association of Home Builders and the National Association of Realtors report sales of newly built homes fell 11.2% in the first four months of the year compared to last year, while sales of existing houses fell 5.7%. And finally, the prices of these homes create a further road block: several hundred thousand to several million is just not a comfortable price range for most Americans now, particularly with interest rates creeping up.
Perhaps we are seeing a re-evaluation of conspicuous consumption, or voluntary simplicity without the compulson of sumptuary laws. On the other hand, productivity gains in construction make bigger houses cheaper relative to other goods, thus the average size of a new house tends to increase during periods of economic expansion. Moreover, as long as there are gold diggers, there will be sugar daddies looking to build gilded cases for the trophies they have solicited.

24.8.10

BEFORE TRAFFIC LIGHTS. Voluntary Xchange found a movie featuring traffic on San Francisco's Market Street a few days before the earthquake.




It appears as if Market Street is served only by cable cars, and unless a large number of passengers are waiting, passengers get on and off on the fly. The boulevard of steel, with the streetcar tracks in the curb lanes, appears to begin at Geary Street. The way horse teams and horseless carriages go wherever they please will give pause to anyone who gripes about contemporary Illinois motorists, and at least one bicyclist takes a long chance.
NO STACK TRAINS IN CHINA. The trucks just back up.

The traffic jam is due largely to construction on the highway, which is supposed to go on for another month at least (ouch). Drivers stuck in the congestion, many of them truck drivers, would rather wait it out than take detours and pay more in gas. And to make matters worse, vendors from surrounding towns are gouging prices: "Instant noodles are sold at four times the original price while I wait in the congestion," one driver told Xinhua News Agency.

As s***ty as this traffic jam sounds, it's not the longest on record. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the longest traffic jam in history was 109 miles long between Lyon and Paris on one day
in 1980.

(Via Newmark's Door).

Perhaps it is no accident that one of the first grande vitesse lines in France runs between Paris and Lyon. Just sayin'. French truck drivers, however, can only envy our stack trains.
FORTY YEARS. A few members of the procommunist left antiwar movement decided it was time to stop talking about Defense Department sponsored research in Sterling Hall and do something about it.
For the next 25 years, until the Oklahoma City bombing, Sterling Hall would rank as the worst domestic terrorism act in the United States. For many who heard the explosion at Sterling Hall that warm morning of Aug. 24, 1970, it was much more.
The aftereffects of the bombing are still visible in Sterling Hall's brickwork. The bombing induced people of all political persuasions to become more prudent in their dissent or in their enthusiasm for celebrating or suppressing dissent, developments that would be welcome now, preferably without another act of domestic terrorism.
VON RYAN'S EXPRESS IN PEACETIME? A Milan train ends up in Zurich, without any help from Frank Sinatra.

The overnight Salvador DalĂ­ train, which departed from Barcelona in Spain on Sunday, was scheduled to arrive in the Italian city early the following day – but it ended up almost 150 miles away in the Swiss financial centre due to a points switch error.

The train, run jointly by the Spanish train operator Renfe and the French SNCF, completed the first part of its journey without incident, arriving in Lyon as scheduled. As usual, it was part of a convoy including another train, the Pau Casals, which was destined for Zurich.

However, rail workers then confused the destinations, sending the Zurich-bound service towards Milan, and the Milan-bound train towards Zurich.

There's something wrong with this story. If the engineer with Swiss route knowledge inadvertently gets on the Italian section, he's not paying attention very closely. If he properly gets on his train, and the dispatcher gives him the wrong route, he stops short of the signal (or creeps up just enough to knock down the signal) and gets on the radio. The dispatcher, or if there's an interlocking tower, the leverman, sets the switches correctly (memo to journalists: in North America, we have switches, the British have points) and the train proceeds. The cars of a train are a consist, not a convoy. If the engineer is on the wrong train, there's nobody paying very close attention to the consists and the crewing at the station.
A spokesperson for the SNCF confirmed that an error had taken place in Lyon, without specifying the reasons for the mistake.
That makes sense. The rules examiner is not very happy, and the legal department might have some work to do. (Via Trains for America.)

23.8.10

GETTING THE MODEL RIGHT.

A maintained hypothesis at Cold Spring Shops holds that the popularity of league tables such as the U.S. News ranking of universities is a response to an excess demand for perceived quality that less highly regarded universities might consider emulating. Two articles in The Washington Monthly back to college issue corroborate the hypothesis in part. First up, a critical examination (via University Diaries) of George Washington University apparently doing more for the symbolism than for the substance.
Today George Washington, like many “up-and-coming” second-tier schools—American University, New York University—is ruinously expensive. After decades of offering a low-cost education, GW took a sharp turn upmarket in the late 1980s under the presidency of Stephen Joel Trachtenberg. The university went on a high-class building spree, financed by a dizzying series of tuition increases. When Trachtenberg took office, undergraduate tuition was $14,000—below average for a private, four-year college. By the time he left in 2007, it had mushroomed to $39,000 a year (or, including fees and room and board, a whopping $50,000)—making GW the most expensive school in the United States.
What Trachtenberg understood was that perception is reality in higher education—and perception can be bought. “You can get a Timex or a Casio for $65 or you can get a Rolex or a Patek Philippe for $10,000. It’s the same thing,” Trachtenberg says. The former president gambled that students who couldn’t quite get into the nation’s most exclusive colleges—and who would otherwise overlook a workmanlike school like the old GW—would flock to a university that at least had a price tag and a swank campus like those of the Ivy Leagues. “It serves as a trophy, a symbol,” he says. “It’s a sort of token of who they think they are.”
What’s amazing is that this strategy worked.
The article strongly suggests the perception is symbolism, not necessarily substance.
Welcome to today’s increasingly elite higher education system, where lavish campuses, high tuition, and huge undergraduate debt loads have become the norm. In dogged competition for affluent, high-scoring students, today’s second-tier colleges aim to achieve higher prestige by aping the superficial characteristics of America’s traditionally elite schools. Indeed, there are few alternatives for ambitious administrators. “If you want to rise, you try to do the things that make you look like Harvard,” says David Labaree, a professor of education at Stanford University. “It’s hard to take a different path.”
That path, however, comes with tradeoffs. On the one hand, position can be purchased (whether more cheaply than football visibility remains an open question).
Today GW, once a nonentity in national rankings, is rated the fifty-third-best university in America by U.S. News—sitting just outside the magazine’s “tier one,” the exclusive club of great American schools.
On the other hand, there's little evidence that the university's higher visibility is producing stronger students.
It would be one thing if GW and schools like it were trying to break the Ivy League’s monopoly on prestige by offering demonstrably better educations. But there’s very little evidence that the quality of GW’s academic program has risen in step with its tuition rates. When I asked GW if I could see the results of its Collegiate Learning Assessment, a study of institutional academic progress that the Council for Aid to Education, a nonprofit, has carried out at hundreds of schools, the university did not respond. This isn’t unusual; most institutions keep their CLA results closely concealed and actively resist efforts to allow consumer comparisons on that basis. But that leaves precious few markers of academic quality by which to measure such schools.
In football, when Boise State beats Nebraska or Northern Illinois beats Maryland, people notice.

Second, an article about higher education's dropout factories (via Minding the Campus) reinforces another Cold Spring Shops contention, that open-access universities with less-than-collegiate course offerings reinforce social stratification.
With its tree-lined campus and gleaming new steel and glass convocation center, Chicago State certainly looked impressive. But within his first month there, [Blue Island resident] Nestor [Curiel] wanted to leave. Advisers in the engineering department seemed clueless about guiding him to the right courses, insisting that if he wanted to take programming he first needed to enroll in a computer class that showed students how to turn on a monitor and operate a mouse. (Nestor required no such training.) The library boasted a robot that retrieved books, but Nestor would have preferred that it simply stay open past eight p.m., since class sometimes ended at nine p.m. or later, leaving him without a useful place to study or do research before going home. Trash littered the classrooms and grounds, and during class many of the students would simply carry on conversations among themselves and ignore the instructors—or even talk back to them. Nestor was appalled. “It was like high school, but I was paying for it,” he says.
Mr Curiel's college board scores probably suffered from the service Chicago's Eisenhower High School provided him. Chicago State is a retention pond so noisome its trustees are embarrassed.
Only with the help of two dedicated instructors—Shuming Zheng, an engineering professor, and Thomas Kuhn, a physics lecturer—was Nestor able to finish his pre-engineering credits as planned. Fortunately, this allowed him to transfer to a superior school, the University of Illinois at Chicago, with a $5,000 scholarship.
UIC, adjacent to the city’s downtown, is just fifteen miles north of Chicago State, but felt like a world away. Nestor marveled over the smoothness of the operation. At Chicago State, he had been forced to work hard to find help. At UIC, on the first day of each of his classes, professors provided lists of tutors. Chicago State had offered no meaningful job assistance. At UIC, the engineering department was sending out regular e-mails about internships and other opportunities.
Nestor is certain that the two years at Chicago State put him behind. In his first semester at UIC, he failed a math class, finding it difficult to match the faster pace and heavier workload. (He retook the class, however, and passed.) It’ll take him five years, rather than four, to get his degree. But he says he feels invigorated by the challenges. “It’s hard, but it feels like everybody’s trying to help you,” he says. “You didn’t get that sense at Chicago State.”
Illinois-Chicago might be a commuter university with the urban mission and first-generation focus; it also has faculty members who do serious research. The job description makes a difference.
According to a study from the Consortium on Chicago School Research (CCSR), which looked at twenty different colleges in the Chicago area, kids who graduate from a Chicago public high school with a grade point average of 3.5 have a 37 percent chance of graduating from Chicago State. Those with the same grades who attend UIC have a much better chance of graduating—56 percent. And for those with a 3.5 GPA who attend Northwestern, just north in Evanston, the completion rate is 89 percent. Even schools all around the country with student profiles as challenging as that of Chicago State—that is, schools with mostly African American and Latino students from low-income backgrounds—have overall graduation rates that are many times higher.
Nestor’s experience of educational incompetence at the college level isn’t just a Chicago phenomenon. Nationwide, low-income minority students are disproportionately steered toward colleges not where they’re most likely to succeed, but where they’re most likely to fail.
Cold Spring Shops is not the only place where observers take a dim view of excess capacity in access-assessment-remediation-retention.
If we want better outcomes in higher education, we need to hold dropout factories like Chicago State accountable in the same way the Obama administration proposes to hold underperforming high schools accountable: transform them—or shut them down.
There's a lot more in the article, including a strong suggestion that enabling students because they face tough challenges or have poor life-management skills is not the best strategy.
As Melissa Roderick, lead author of the Consortium on Chicago School Research report, asks, “How could a child who gets a 4.0 in an urban school system and has high performance in an urban school system and has managed our environment and overcome their poverty, overcome their race, suddenly become a different person in three months who can no longer perform?”
It’s important to note that most students who drop out of college don’t fail out of college. They leave because they don’t perceive that the educational benefit of college exceeds the substantial expense of time and money—especially not when it’s coupled with indifferent bureaucracies that pride themselves more on inane complexities than actually helping students. But when students are given high expectations and good teaching to match, they succeed academically. And when they succeed they’re more likely to keep succeeding and eventually earn a degree.
The worst colleges also tend to plead ignorance as to how to get better. But the strategies employed by colleges that successfully graduate at-risk students aren’t particularly groundbreaking. Researchers have been documenting effective methods of preventing dropouts for decades. Most are commonsensical: pay attention to students, and give them the support they need. When Chicago State couldn’t give Nestor advice about tutors, it wasn’t failing to use “best practices.” It was failing to be minimally competent.
That's not quite "Somebody in Authority Sees It the Same Way". It's refreshing all the same.

22.8.10

STREETCAR HEADWAYS. The Illinois Terminal interurban follows the special train, in which a Burlington Northern Executive F provides the power, a string of suburban coaches deputises for Annie and Clarabel, and Thomas goes peep, peep. Must be the end of summer.


Image downloaded from Illinois Railway Museum webcam.

Thomas is wrapping up his visit to Illinois, and Sentimental Journey and a number of vintage biplanes are bringing the sounds of freedom to DeKalb.
IS A FOOTBALL REPUTATION MORE CHEAPLY BUILT THAN AN ACADEMIC REPUTATION? University Diaries quotes from a Miami Today article noting that athletic department spending per student-athlete is often an order of magnitude greater than academic spending per student.

But to have any impact, administrations and trustees must get on board right now, before the first [Florida International] and [Miami, Florida] games of the season — and before sports further drain diminishing university funds.

With the economic downturn, there never was a better time to rebalance growing disparities between sports and academic spending.

There has to be a research project in here someplace. The U. S. News league tables are out, with the usual suspects in the top ten or twenty. There's not much overlap between those league tables and the recently released pre-season football polls. Here's the research anomaly: Boise State, a relative newcomer to the college football stratosphere has, for the first time, garnered enough votes in the preseason polls to have a realistic shot, should its football team go unbeaten, to play in the so-called national championship game. (There is a lot of path-dependence in the football playoff system, and last year's undefeated team faced the double disadvantage of entering the season as the favorite from a relatively weak conference, giving it too low a start to earn a shot at Alabama or Texas). That's an anomaly because it took Boise a relatively short time to develop a reputation in football. Developing an academic reputation strikes me as much harder: administrations have to commit to competing for stronger faculty; department chairmen and existing faculties have to be willing to hire people who are objectively better scholars than they are, and at tenure time to view their records as a feature, not a threat; graduate students have to lift their games; undergraduates have to be socialized to approach college as something more serious than a five-year party.

The football route to national prominence might be cheaper and easier.
THE STRENGTH OF THE MACROECONOMY IS THE UPPER BOUND. A public pension plan can be no stronger. Here's No Oil for Pacifists.

I'm not saying there's no risk associated with stocks and bonds. But at least you own them--you have no right to Social Security benefits, which can be changed or eliminated by future legislation. And would you invest in a corporation that admits it will lose money within five years and run out of capital just over 20 years later? Even a mediocre stock market may be better.

Simply put, Social Security is unsustainable. So, which is more prudent? Or the Ponzi Scheme? Which is the greater gamble?

Extensive cross-references provided there.
WITHOUT A STOP AT WILLIMANTIC. I'm borrowing from some publicity doggerel of the old New York and New England Railroad, which operated an exclusive vestibuled train between Boston and New York City by way of Hartford and northeastern Connecticut. That train offered an improvement on previous services that required New York passengers to ride the Long Island Rail Road to somewhere on Long Island Sound, where they caught a boat to a Connecticut port.

Convoluted though those routings appear, compared to Amtrak's current Shore Line, which includes two stretches of 150 mph running on some straight stretches in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, they might have been ahead of their time. The Philadelphia Inquirer (via Midwest High Speed Rail) reports on a proposal by University of Pennsylvania students to avoid the most congested and curviest parts of the current Northeast Corridor by tunnelling under Long Island Sound and going to Boston by way of Hartford ... but north of Willimantic.

19.8.10

THE PAST AND THE FUTURE. I detrained from the Coast Starlight at Sacramento to visit the California State Railroad Museum. The group from the O Scale Convention was arriving around 10 am on one of the Capitol Corridor trains. That provided some time to check luggage, find a coffee shop, stroll over to Old Sacramento, and link up with the tour there. The convention organizers arranged a visit to the museum's backshops, which use two Southern Pacific shop buildings that have only recently been sold by Union Pacific to the museum. Some historic pieces of Southern Pacific rolling stock will stay with the museum. Behold the prototype double stack container car.


A short turntable remains. The complex had a longer turntable for cab-forwards but that's long gone. I hope there will be some way to incorporate this turntable into the public part of the museum, as there is no more railroady ritual than moving a steam locomotive onto the table, turning it, and moving it to its next assignment. It's even more impressive as the opening or closing act of the day at the museum, if the museum has a roundhouse. On the other side of the turntable is the prototype of the stack-pack automobile car. It didn't offer enough advantages over the circus-loading triple deck cars to catch on.


Most of the museum's repair work takes place in the building to the right; the stock requiring work is in the building on the left. The transfer table was the last piece of electrified railroad on Southern Pacific after Pacific Electric dieselized.

The heavy repair shop is guarded by this 0-2-2-0 Mouser.

The storage building, where some work does go on, is an expansion of Central Pacific's 1868 shop building. The brick wall with arched windows here thus antedates the Golden Spike.

The repair buildings are not open to the public. Hard hats, signed releases, closed-toe shoes please. In the background is a Santa Fe locomotive that participated in Death Valley Scotty's 1905 cross-country dash.

The curator explained that, like grandfather's axe, the 1010 underwent numerous rebuildings, and only the number plate might have been present on that 1905 run.

There are other steam locomotive projects in the shop, including this Southern Pacific 2-6-0, with Vanderbilt tender, and a lot of work to do.


This Prairie Tank dates to the middle 1870s. It might have been the first commute locomotive (to use the Southern Pacific locution) in the Bay Area. It has a very small boiler, which the water tanks almost completely hide.

The most famous face in dieseldom, and a good look at the framing of a cab unit.


The museum, on occasion, offers train rides along the Old Sacramento riverfront in these coaches that pay tribute to a Southern Pacific paint job and a local interurban.

At the entrance to the museum building are several working signals, including this Griswold model. The stop sign no longer rotates, but the bell rings and the lights flash. (The Illinois Railway Museum has restored an interurban Griswold with the smaller lights, it will protect toddlers from streetcars on the upcoming Thomas open day.)

There are a number of steam locomotives inside. Indoor photography of large black objects is difficult. One of the rotating displays is a collection of toy trains, and other early twentieth-century toys to give some context. Check out those zeppelins and Meccano sets. (While you're at it, visit the Futurama article and listen for those references to floating rotating dirigible hangars and autogiro pads on the tops of buildings ... coming by 1960!)


Some toy trains are properly large scale models. Here's a one-off, with a passenger train behind.


The display cases include a number of classic O gauge trains. Here's an original Lionel 262E in excellent condition, with the extra flags, and a Marklin electric.


After Lionel bought Ives, the Lionel 257 steam locomotive and the second series of 603-604 passenger cars became the Ives line. I believe the Ives line later became the O-27 offering of smaller, tight-radius equipment.



This display case didn't register, until a docent pointed it out. Lionel's apple green, with cream trim and dark green roof. There are such cars at Cold Spring Shops headquarters. (That's a Lionel 257 pulling the train.)


I'll risk publishing one photo of a full-sized locomotive, just to demonstrate that the full-sized C. P. Huntington did not have Blomberg leading and trailing trucks.


Then it was time to leave. Amtrak California kindly set aside space in one coach for the convention party. I did not have time to walk the train before departure. Capitol Corridor service train 543, leave Sacramento 3:34; Davis 3:47 - 3:49; Suisun - Fairfield 4:11 - 4:13; good viewing conditions of the mothball fleet.


That passenger train in the middle ground is probably Capitol Corridor 536, although I've not worked out the split-grade track arrangement in the area. Those mothballed ships are beginning to decay.


Martinez 4:31 - 4:34; Richmond 4:58 - 4:59; Berkeley 5:06 - 5:07, lots of on and off traffic, passengers awaiting the East Bay commuter trains; Emeryville 5:10 - 5:14, Jack London Square 5:22 - 5:27, Coliseum 5:35 - 5:39, not a baseball night; Hayward 5:47 - 5:51; Fremont 6:05 - 6:06; Santa Clara 6:25. California's commuter and intercity trains impress: roomy equipment, frequent headways, hight load factors. Time to get into model railroad mode.

(to be continued)
AFTER THE FOURTH TURNING. Some time ago, I purchased Eugene Linden's The Future in Plain Sight: Nine Clues to the Coming Instability. I looked at some of it, then set it aside, only recently did I pick it up and finish it. Book Review No. 19 refers to the 1998 hardback edition; a 2002 paperback version changes the subtitle to read The Rise of the "True Believers" and Other Clues to the Coming Instability. In making that revision at that time (perhaps motivated by Osama bin Laden and the Religious Right) he missed the mark. One of the Fourth Turning catalysts is a financial collapse, triggered by a 2006 victory by a populist party in the U.S. elections. The other catalysts include climate change and nasty viruses and bacteria. We see some of the catalysts of global secular crisis, we read references to some unpleasant wars and epidemics that shape the world of 2050, which is what we read about: financiers, farmers, and advertisers in what remains of the developed world; elsewhere people eke out a living somehow. The cause-and-effect is missing. It's interesting to see the seeds of another saeculum in the writing: the younger people in the London and New York offices, with no memory of the difficulties from which the existing, modest, austere social order came, begin to chafe at some of its conventions.

(Cross-posted to 50 Book Challenge.)
FIND THOSE GAINS FROM TRADE. Yesterday, I linked to K. C. Johnson taking on the American Association of Colleges and Universities for taking on the American Council of Trustees and Alumni for emphasizing the liberal arts rather than career preparation and diversity awareness. Now comes the Council, elaborating on some of the state university systems that earned high marks while working with the Association. First, Tennessee.

It is Tennessee State, not Vanderbilt, that requires a college-level math class of all students, as well as survey classes in literature and US history. Thus, it is Tennessee State, not Vanderbilt, that gets an "A" grade in our report.

Credit for that "A" goes to the Tennessee State faculty and administration for holding their students to high standards. A big assist, though, goes to the State's Board of Regents. The Board created core curriculum standards that apply to all of the schools they govern. The result: the five Board of Regents schools (East Tennessee, Middle Tennessee, Memphis and Austin Peay are the others) earn two "A"s and three "B"s. Of the seven requirements ACTA looked for in the study, the Tennessee Board of Regents schools required an average of 5.4, compared to 3.3 at Tennessee's other institutions.

Furthermore, since the Board of Regents requires a similar general education core at the thirteen community colleges it oversees, they have streamlined transfers between the system's two- and-four year schools. Effective, efficient core curricula improve educational quality while lowering cost of instruction. The basic general education core that every student needs can be delivered much more cost effectively than the array of boutique courses so often offered in lieu of a well-defined core.

Cheaper, more effective, and fostering competitiveness to boot!
As Charles Manning, Chancellor of the Tennessee Board of Regents System, explained to us: "I have worked hard, along with my colleagues, to ensure every graduate of our universities receives a solid general education. A strong core curriculum has been important in every generation, but in today's environment of global competition, it has never been more vital."
I'll leave the misconception about competitiveness in a global economy for another time. Human capital is human capital.

Next, California.

WhatWillTheyLearn.com shows that it's often the most prestigious colleges that do the poorest job of providing a broad-based general education core. For an example, consider the contrast between the famous University of California system and blue-collar Cal State.

While most Cal State schools earn a "B," none of the ten UC schools earn higher than a "C" -- and five earn an "F." Every CSU school requires a college-level science class, and 75% require college-level work in math. In contrast, only four of the ten UC schools require science and only two require math.

The less-highly-regarded universities are in the same business as the more-highly-regarded competitors and ought to act accordingly.
The economy of the last few years has encouraged a lot of consumers to bypass expensive brand names in favor of cheaper, but just as good, generics. The customers of California's higher education might want to join that trend.
Implicitly: the generics have to be just as good. The beginning of wisdom for the Association is to recognize as much, and end its complicity in keeping the poor poor.
ENOUGH ALREADY. It must be the summer silly season, with the so-called ground zero mosque supplanting the shark attack stories. Even Peter Beinart, in a defense of traditional American values of freedom and tolerance, mischaracterizes the community center as a mosque.
Once upon a time, Republicans were so confident that the vast majority of Muslims preferred freedom to jihad that they believed the U.S. could install democracy in Iraq within months. Now, confronted with a group of Muslim Americans who want to build a cultural center that includes Jews and Christians on the board (how many churches and synagogues do that?), GOP leaders call them terrorists ...
I suggest it's more accurate to compare a cultural center with, oh, a Jewish community center (swimming pools! gym! day camp! Reform, Conservative, Orthodox can mingle and match without hiring Yenta) in which a few gentiles on the board of directors or the charity committee spins no yarmulkes.

As far as the cultural center as a stalking horse for sharia law, well, there might have at one time been communist cells in Lower Manhattan, but it was the late unlamented Soviet Union that complained about filthy lures from the west. Then there's John F. Kennedy, who some people feared was a stalking horse for the Vatican. After his murder, some of us learned a different version of the Our Father. Not long after that murder, Pope Paul VI made the meatless Friday volitional (the fish fry tradition hereabouts lives on, but the only orthodoxy is lake perch). In the Roman Catholic Church's scheme of things, it was only a very short time from the opening of the first McDonald's, and an even shorter time from McDonald's debuting the Filet 'O Fish, for the Pope to issue that edict. Could a fast-food fish fry be the ultimate embarrassment to the Holy See? (Yeah, it's impressionistic social science, but I dare you to falsify my hypothesis!)
Remember when George W. Bush and his neoconservative allies used to say that the “war on terror” was a struggle on behalf of Muslims, decent folks who wanted nothing more than to live free like you and me? Remember when Karen Hughes paid millions to produce glitzy videos of Muslim Americans testifying about how free they were to practice their religion in the USA?
Bring on the filthy lures from the west!

18.8.10

WE HAVE WORK TO DO. The American Council of Trustees and Alumni rates Northern Illinois University's general education requirements as failing. Composition is required; by the standards the Council uses, the university's mathematics and science requirements, while present, are not sufficient.

In my hitches as professor of record in the Capstone class (I explain this to curious majors as an attempt to do on the cheap what a New England private college would call a senior honors thesis) I have wished for the opportunity to time-slip the English Department, a wish that others have shared.

I've seen some Facebook conversations to the effect that the absence of serious general education requirements is no big deal: what matters is career development in the major. David French rebuts that proposition.

After all, IT managers belong to the same republic as poets, and it’s worthwhile for both parties to have gained a common set of critical-thinking skills and to participate in our civil society with at least a core knowledge about our history and culture. We’re all voters — at the very least — and we have a responsibility to cast that vote intelligently, in a way that considers not just perceived short-term gain but also long-term political and cultural trends.

I fear, however, that the drive to return to a core curriculum may meet an unconquerable foe in the “college for everybody” movement. As colleges reach out to the great mass of Americans, they do so as essentially glorified vocational schools, the place where you go to get a good job. A college education becomes a bullet point on a resume and not an end in itself. And as the costs skyrocket, students chafe at spending thousands of dollars on courses that simply don’t fit within their plan.

He suggests that a core curriculum offers economies of standardization, thus turning what he sees as the necessity of cost-cutting midwiving the virtue of a core. I participated in some efforts to link general education courses thematically -- the dean framed it as a way to build freshman and sophomore enrollment that combined a distinctive presentation of courses with an appeal to self-interest (the more vocational degrees being slightly more effective at landing entry-level jobs; the promotions to corporate level being more likely to go to liberal arts majors) -- while not cutting into the cafeteria menu of distribution requirements, something that might not appeal to colleagues who advocate a multiplicity of narrowly focused courses.

The focus on vocational credentials turns the less-highly regarded universities into replicators of social stratification, according to K. C. Johnson. [Hyperlinks added by the Superintendent.]

Is the AAC&U really suggesting that colleges and universities should orient their universities around what they're "hearing" from "employers"? What of the ideal of a liberal education? Or the obligation of public colleges and universities to train future citizens capable of participating in the nation's civic life?

Apparently a vocational education is acceptable for the kind of non-Ivy League students that the AAC&U targets. I also suspect that these unnamed "employers" that have criticized ACTA's approach to [the Association's] Debra Humphreys are also telling the AAC&U that colleges and universities should reorient their curricula to focus exclusively on "diversity."

Access-assessment-remediation-retention. Keeping the Poor Poor.

17.8.10

REALITY CHECKS. The Social Security Administration has been paying benefits for 75 years, and Our President assures us it's a Good Thing and Worthy of Preservation.
One thing we can’t afford to do though is privatize Social Security – an ill-conceived idea that would add trillions of dollars to our budget deficit while tying your benefits to the whims of Wall Street traders and the ups and downs of the stock market.
Before I get into the substance of his argument, I offer a Law of Conservation from James C. Capretta in National Affairs.
There is a mathematical limit to what any pay-as-you-go pension system can churn out in benefits, as the implied real rate of return for the average worker over the long run cannot exceed the sum of population growth and real productivity improvement in the economy. Put simply, what comes in must keep pace with what goes out. In practice, this means that what will be affordable in the future will depend entirely on the size of the future work force relative to the size of the retiree population, and on the capacity of that work force to produce marketable goods and services.
Stock markets exist to value capacity, and to allocate capital to augment capacity. Government tax revenues depend on the exchanges that produce sales, profits, and wages. President Obama, therefore, is being disingenuous when he invokes market risk to argue against private retirement accounts.
A few years ago, we had a debate about privatizing Social Security. And I’d have thought that debate would’ve been put to rest once and for all by the financial crisis we’ve just experienced. I’d have thought, after being reminded how quickly the stock market can tumble, after seeing the wealth people worked a lifetime to earn wiped out in a matter of days, that no one would want to place bets with Social Security on Wall Street; that everyone would understand why we need to be prudent about investing the retirement money of tens of millions of Americans.
Prudent about investing retirement money? Professor Krugman has Our President's back.
Social Security has been running surpluses for the last quarter-century, banking those surpluses in a special account, the so-called trust fund. The program won’t have to turn to Congress for help or cut benefits until or unless the trust fund is exhausted, which the program’s actuaries don’t expect to happen until 2037 — and there’s a significant chance, according to their estimates, that that day will never come.
Professor Krugman's use of so-called is highly significant. I give you Dave Lindorff, advocate of Social Security.
What [Professor Krugman] fails to mention is that the Trust Fund has all been stolen (okay, technically borrowed) by the federal government to fund its own annual deficits, and given the national attitude towards taxes, it will never be repaid. That's why the right is able to create a panic by falsely claiming that Social Security is going to go "bankrupt" when current workers' Social Security taxes can no longer pay for the benefits of current retirees.
Mr Lindorff, we will see, would like to preserve Social Security. One can use the "stolen, technically borrowed" argument, as well as the need for revenues to cover the borrowing, in a case that Social Security is a Ponzi scheme. Changing the tax rate, or the tax base, or the retirement age, doesn't revoke the law of conservation. Here's Our President's pledge.
Seventy-five years ago today, Franklin Roosevelt made a promise. He promised that from that day forward, we’d offer – quote – “some measure of protection to the average citizen and to his family against ... poverty-stricken old age.” That’s a promise each generation of Americans has kept. And it’s a promise America will continue to keep so long as I have the honor of serving as President.
That promise is only as good as the macroeconomy's ability to produce gains from trade that can be taxed.

Here's Mr Lindorff.
And now, as a day of reckoning approaches, they pretend it's all our fault. They say we want too much in benefits, or that we want to retire too early. But the truth is, we deserve decent retirement income, and we deserve to retire at 65 or even 62. In fact, if we hang onto our jobs until 70 or 72, as these hacks and the lobbyists for corporate American want us to do, it'll just be that harder for our kids to get jobs and move out of the house!
I detect a version of the lump-of-labor fallacy, in which one person must quit a job in order for another person to take it. As far as deserving a decent retirement income, again, that's only as good as the macroeconomy's ability to produce gains from trade that can be turned into future claims. It doesn't matter whether you call it a Social Security trust fund or a Wall Street investment account.
This is not about a private pension fund that's going bust. It's about a public pension program that has been raided, that has never been adequate, and that needs to be bolstered now by a tax on the rich. Nothing elaborate mind you. They just need to pay at the same rate that the rest of us do.
Here, too, he's counting on the macroeconomy to make people rich enough to pay more in taxes.
HOW GREEN IS MY FOOTPRINT? Knowledge Problem presents comparisons of person-miles per gallon for various forms of passenger or freight transportation. I really must look into selling carbon offsets for the days I bike or walk to the office. Heck, I'll economize on transaction costs and sell them to myself, for use on rainy or snowy days.
TOO JADED? A stop in Spokane prompted a question about world's fairs. Virginia Postrel has the answer.
Americans long ago consigned world’s fairs to the toy box of history. Once celebrated as showcases of world cultures and windows into the future, these grand expositions lost their glamour sometime during the Johnson administration. Like Space Food Sticks and Jonny Quest, they are fondly remembered — at least by those over 50 — but a bit ridiculous: all that ethnocentricism, naive internationalism, and technological good cheer. The last one to warrant much attention was Montreal’s Expo ’67, from which the now-defunct baseball team took its name. (Sorry, Seville ’92.) Our cynical culture is done with world’s fairs.
The essay continues, though, by suggesting that prospertity, not cynicism, is the cause.
The more affluent, well-traveled, and media-saturated the audience, the harder it is to impress. World’s fairs are designed for people from homogeneous cultures who are still impressed by electricity and foreigners. In 2010, that means the Chinese.
With a fair in progress in Shanghai. For those of us with disposable income, electricity and foreigners are a mouse click and a Fed Ex box away.

The second draw is cool stuff: the celebration of recent material advances and a glimpse of those to come. In the words of those who organized the Century of Progress world’s fair in Chicago in 1933, expos try to “tear away the veil that shrouds the future.” Over the years, world’s fairs have introduced visitors to such new technologies as neon lights, x-ray machines, nylon, television, and various robots, not to mention ice cream cones and Belgian waffles.

They’ve also reminded visitors how far living standards have risen. In its famous 1964 Carousel of Progress (later relocated to Disneyland), General Electric depicted vignettes of American homes from the 1880s, before electric conveniences, concluding with a gadget-filled contemporary Christmas. In Shanghai, the Chinese and Irish pavilions make the same point with the same basic technique, walking visitors through Chinese living rooms from 1978 to 2008 and Irish kitchens from rural farmhouse to luxurious urban home. The scenes may show the past, but they portend a better future — what the Carousel of Progress song called a “Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow.” For Chinese fairgoers, as for earlier generations of Americans, the gee-whiz enthusiasm that cynics dismiss as naivetĂ© is actually a rational response to recent experience.

That vibrant future, however, was planned, rationalized, top-down (much as the arrangement of exhibits on the midway is). As far as the Carousel of Progress, there was something sad about the 1960s vintage home, in which Mom and Dad and the kids had all sorts of General Electric appliances, but they'd packed the grandparents, who, as residents of the earlier vintage homes, delivered a line about things being as good as they ever could get, setting up the appliance commercial in the final act.

Here the [Shanghai] Expo betrays another reason Americans gave up on world’s fairs. Their vision of progress started to seem both socially obnoxious and empirically false.

Twentieth-century expositions increasingly embodied fashionable ideas of social planning. They came to stand for a controlled and predictable version of progress: the dream of a civilization built from scratch, designed — or at least rearranged — according to an expert ideal of order. Or as the Century of Progress motto put it, “Science Finds, Industry Applies, Man Conforms.”

General Motors’s Futurama exhibit at the 1939 New York World’s Fair turned this idea into a seductive and memorable experience, as visitors soared over a miniature world of superhighways and high-rise, self-contained cities. “No matter what I had heard about the Futurama,” recalls the protagonist of E.L. Doctorow’s World’s Fair, “nothing compared with seeing it for myself: all the small moving parts, all the lights and shadows, the animation, as if I were looking at the largest most complicated toy ever made! . . . It was a toy that any child in the world would want to own. You could play with it forever.” The Futurama was enticing because visitors never considered what it might feel like to be someone else’s toy.

That vision did give America interstate highways and a trip to the moon. But it also sparked a backlash. In the 1960s, the New Left and the Goldwater Right, hippies and hackers, personal liberation movements and historic preservationists all rebelled against the tyranny of expertise. Within a few years, Robert Moses, the New York infrastructure and planning czar who ran the 1964 World’s Fair, had gone from city-building hero to neighborhood-wrecking villain.

Suffice it to say there is no Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution stop on the Carousel of Progress. Note also that the 1964-1965 Futurama was not that much different from its 1939 incarnation. Was General Motors going stale even then?

16.8.10

EACH TUB STANDS ON ITS OWN BOTTOM. Destination: Freedom comes to terms with the reality that Tolls for Road Improvement mean Tolls for Road Improvement.

Last week, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania was hit with the reality that, under federal law, tolls collected on Interstate 80 could not be used to fund other planned highway and transit projects, and the hand-wringing and recriminations began.

But the outcome of the decision should have been no surprise to state lawmakers. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood made it perfectly clear that, under the pilot program that was enacted to allow states to collect tolls on federally funded interstates, all revenue collected was required to be used to improve only the highway being tolled. In Pennsylvania’s case, that would mean that only I-80 could benefit from I-80 tolls.

Lawmakers should have known this back in 2007 when they passed the Act 44 transportation funding bill, essentially pinning their hopes on the idea that Washington would apparently bend the rules and allow them to use the money accrued from the I-80 tolls to pay for any number of road and bridge projects in the state, in addition to funding municipal transit agencies.

To the extent that tolls on the interstate highways induce substitutions toward the freight railroads, which of late have been earning enough to attract new capital, and toward passenger train operators, which at one time were competitive with less-subsidized and slower forms of personal transportation, we will probably see efficiency gains.

And what's this about paying for other road and bridge projects? I was under the impression that the road network was self-supporting.

15.8.10

I'LL OUTWORK YOU. I'LL ALSO OUTEARN YOU. Inside Higher Ed publishes another whinge about how difficult it is to keep house and establish your scholarly reputation.

We were teaching, working at administrative jobs, finishing up our dissertations, and also working hard on our marriages/partnerships. At that time, neither of us had children but we both knew that we wanted to find time to add a kid or two to the mix and we also knew that something was going to have to give.

Both of us were immersed in reading, research, and writing – in what Nicholas Carr calls “deep thinking.” We found that we had little time for taking care of our partners, cleaning our houses, and cooking fabulous dinners. We needed a “wife” to help us with the caretaking. We found that we could not do it all.

For many of us, this “wife” no longer exists. As a feminist, I am happy to see the demise of the subservient and self-sacrificing “wife.” Although I have made a wise decision in selecting a partner who does his fair share of the caretaking, he is not a wife and neither am I. Perhaps we are both demi-wives, doing the caretaking as a team.

On one level, the whinge is a confession of ignorance about the efficiency gains from specialization and division of labour. Within a household, however, division of labour is something to be negotiated prior to forming that household.

On another level, the whinge is a waste of pixels. There is no reason that success in the academy is any different from success in doing dot.com startups or competing at the highest levels of a sport or performing with the Chicago Symphony or for that matter keeping the Union Pacific Railroad fluid. David French offers some new lawyers a useful anti-whinge.

I told them that they should not be “that guy” or “that girl” who leaves their colleagues at a critical moment because their kid’s soccer game is just So. Darn. Important. “That guy” makes people like me miss OUR kids’ games to make up for their lost work. “You’re in a community,” I said, “A community made up of your fellow lawyers, paralegals, and the secretaries, and you have responsibilities to that community just as you do to your next-door neighbor, to your fellow church members, or to any other part of the world."

I didn’t stop there. “Lawyers work hard. They just do. There’s no magic bullet for the balanced lifestyle — whatever a balanced lifestyle means — instead, make sure your spouse and children are on the same page with you, that you’re united in your family’s collective and individual callings, and that you support each other as you confront the financial world, or any other part of the world you engage."

Read and understand. Note, especially, the passage that emphasizes the necessity of negotiating a division of labour.
I think every family has to ultimately ask itself: Are we rangers or hobbits? It really is a family decision, by the way. If a wife wants to live in Hobbiton and the husband heads out to the wild lands, resentment builds in both directions, children feel abandoned without higher purpose, and marriages dissolve in acrimony and bitterness. Stay in the shire until the parents are unified in heart and mind and willing to take on the wild.
And grasp the proposition that other people might be bearing some of the burden of your balance, by taking on the work you have shirked.