31.10.10

NOVEMBER IS MODEL RAILROAD MONTH. Some projects will take longer. These International Hobbies electric locomotives are early etched brass kits from Japan. Each type is a reasonable facsimile of a motor-generator locomotive General Electric built for the New Haven.

One switcher with a baggage car to give scale.


Two freight locomotives, bought at two different swap meets. One owner attempted to change the end platforms, but the seller had the original end platforms to permit a backward conversion to a matched set.


Each will require insulation, a gearbox, a drivetrain, and a motor before painting.
SIGN OF THE TIMES? Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel business columnist Tom Saler asks readers to Stay tuned for 'America's Next Top Economist'.

It's a little sad - and probably a bit revealing - that more people could identify Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian than William Dudley and Thomas Hoenig.

Hilton and Kardashian are famous for being, well, famous.

Dudley and Hoenig have résumés of considerable distinction. Each holds a doctorate degree in economics; serves as president of a Federal Reserve regional bank; and assists Chairman Ben Bernanke in making decisions that affect millions of lives worldwide.

On the one hand, the passage reeks of elitist smug. That rabble, how dare they go through life unaware who the people are who are making the important decisions? On the other, in a division of labor society, each of us depends on others, and the very measure of a successful division of labor is in the important decisions that happen in relative obscurity. From that perspective, the fact that, despite an economic recovery looking more like a seven-year recession, a few people can still bring home large rewards for making a train wreck of their lives is itself a measure of prosperity.

With Uncle Sam out of fiscal ammunition, monetary policy is the last line of defense against history's seemingly preordained sentence of seven years' penance for nations allowing massive credit bubbles to inflate and burst.

Fiscal policy soon will turn into a headwind, though it's debatable if any candidate for public office could be elected by forthrightly detailing the specific spending cuts and tax increases necessary just to balance the federal budget given an aging population, much less pay off the national debt.

But in an entertainment-driven culture in which realistic and critical thinking is too often in short supply, fantasy is a big seller.

Meanwhile, there will be no television cameras trained upon the 27-foot mahogany table at Fed headquarters around which Dudley, Hoenig, Bernanke and other policy-makers will gather Tuesday and Wednesday to chart the nation's economic course.

That's also a little sad, because if their deliberations were beamed into American living rooms, it would make for reality TV that really mattered.

Perhaps so, but, like a faculty meeting and unlike the over-the-top aggression portrayed in Mad Men, the deliberations would be marginally more interesting than a golf broadcast with the sound off.

The deliberations in China's central bank would be much more interesting even without translation. Dear reader, every time you hear somebody complain about China artificially undervaluing its currency, take the time to understand the monetary policy its bank must be involved in to arm-wrestle the invisible hand, and educate yourself in strategies to profit from the day the invisible hand wins.
HOW'S THAT HOPEY-CHANGEY STUFF WORKING? Tenured Radical follows up on last week's cost-cutting roundup with the latest economy measure at her employer.
Many of us at Zenith were stunned when our administrative staff received an e-mail from Human Resources telling them that the cost of their health insurance is going up dramatically: our Admin expects to pay twice what she paid last fiscal year. As their Union Steward wrote, less than a week before the election, "I was informed today by (Big HR Dude) about the Health Insurance Premiums for 2011. As you know, in our contract, our insurance is scheduled to go up 18.5% to be at a level playing field with Administration which pays 33% of the premium. BHRD informed me that the increase for the Health Insurance Premium (that goes up every year around 3-5%) will be going up 14% mostly due to the Obama Health Care Reform Act. Therefore, we will not just have an increase of 18.5% but an additional 14% increase which will be rounded off to a total of 33% increase starting January 1, 2011."
That announcement proves to be inaccurate.
As we know, the actual name of the bill is the Affordable Care Act, and the "Obama Health Care Reform Act" is a phrase disseminated by right-wingers who spread untruths about the bill to try to make vulnerable people afraid of liberal reform agendas. Having been called on this by a storm of angry emails by staff and faculty, a message arrived today saying that this was a mistake made by the Union Steward (who, as of this morning, was not responding to emails.) Big HR Dude is shocked, shocked! by this misunderstanding, and writes, "The Healthcare Reform Act" (still not the right name!) "is a factor in the cost, but a very small one.
When university professors stop drinking the Democratic Kool-Aid, we might begin to see quips such as "it is neither affordable, nor care, nor an Act," and we might see Atlas Shrugged beginning to accompany The Invisible Man or The Color Purple on the reading lists.
HOLDING THAT LINE. Packers shut out Jets, take lead in the Black and Blue. Reserve defensive unit looks impressive. Ray Nitschke is assisting with Trick or Treat at Cold Spring Shops.

27.10.10

THIRTY PILLAGING DAYS UNTIL CHRISTMAS. General Sherman's Christmas, that is. Previous Cold Spring Shops reviews of books focusing on the suppression of secession have focused on the analytics, such as the fruitful collaboration of Grant and Sherman, or the campaigning of the Army of the Tennessee. Author Stanley Weintraub gives us something different, a collection of point-of-view letters from soldiers, civilians, and correspondents illustrated with period woodcuts from Harper's Weekly. There are no spoilers in Book Review No. 25; the work provides, in one place, highlights of history as it happened. (I suppose a curious reader could find a microfilm reader in a well-equipped library and spend weeks uncovering additional nuggets: there's probably no profit by it.) We begin with the 1864 presidential election, itself historic in that no other republic with a rebellion in progress previously had held one, with the Army of the Tennessee having invested Atlanta and preparing to live off the land until it reaches the coast and links up with the Navy. We end with Savannah liberated and the Army preparing to march into South Carolina. In addition to Genl Sherman's famous present of the City of Savannah to President Lincoln, we learn that the guard forces left in Tennessee under Genl Thomas also make a present, which some wag describes as a worsted Hood.

The sources used reveal the fear of the remaining civilians as the smoke clouds on the horizon draw nearer, the contempt the Army has for the living habits of what we'd later refer to as white trash, and the ambivalence of many about both the practice of slavery and the prospects of freed blacks. Sometimes the absence of foresight is a source of whimsey: how might any of the people caught up in the march have handled knowledge that within a century a son would be born to a Kenyan and a Kansan in an offshore state, and two score and seven years later he would take the oath of office as the twenty-eighth successor to President Lincoln?

(Cross-posted to 50 Book Challenge.)
THEY PRETEND TO PAY US, WE PRETEND TO WORK. Historiann evaluates the reaction of her colleagues to the assorted cost-cutting measures at her university.
I’ve noticed the growth of a kind of resignation in my department among the tenured faculty: why rush to get that second book out and go up for promotion–there’s no money in it? We’re all turning into Alfred E. Neumans captioned by “What–me bother?” We’re not inclined to line up for volunteer work, friends–not in a world where there are no raises, and the workload for regular faculty has increased because we can’t hire new colleagues. That’s Baa Ram U.’s fix for our budget troubles: no raises since ‘08, the caps on our classes have been raised (from 40 to 44 in upper-divsion undergraduate classes), and the service burden is heavier because we keep losing faculty to retirement and other unis, so the same workload just gets shifted around to fewer people.
The ambitious people and the risk-takers are willing to jump through the tenure hoops elsewhere; the people who develop institution-specific human capital are subject to hold-up, although they're capable of pushing back by opting out.

The conversation continues, elsewhere.
Interestingly, back in 2008 Tenured Radical and Dr. Crazy were at odds, but now they’re singing from the same hymnal. (Keep reading the long comments thread–Dr. Crazy has more to say, and many of you are represented there, I’m sure!)
I used a Soviet description of what worker solidarity became as the evil empire imploded, Historiann invoked Mad, no doubt somewhere John Galt is chuckling.

26.10.10

MORE SADNESS. Freshman aspiring artist Antinette Keller went to the Prairie Park on October 14 to do some sketching. She has not returned. Searchers found what turned out to be human remains in the park on October 16. A vigil that turned into a memorial has taken place at the Ellington Ballroom.

Her favorite song was "Here Comes the Sun."
WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION EMPLOYED IN THE AMERICAS. Today was Economic Education Day, and I wanted something to read on the train to the meeting in Chicago. Kenneth C. Davis's America's Hidden History: Untold Tales of the First Pilgrims, Fighting Women, and Forgotten Founders Who Shaped a Nation got the nod, and it earned an enthusiastic Book Review No. 24. You've got to like a book that offers chapters titled "Isabella's Pigs" or "Warren's Toga" or "Arnold's Boot". It gets you from 1492 to the ratification of the Constitution, but it argues that the path was neither as predetermined nor as uplifting as more cheerful versions of that history would have you believe. The professionals might quibble that the incidents and people selected were cherry-picked, or their importance exaggerated, or the explanations or the parallels to today reductive or simplistic. Never mind all that, it's great entertainment. Write the critical review or the incisive and detailed evaluation some other time. I won't spill too much information, but there were Protestant dissenters with a commission to set up a colony in the New World long before 1607, and those pigs were very useful, both at identifying Jews and Moslems, and at bringing the pox and the swine flu to the colonies.

(Cross-posted to 50 Book Challenge.)
RESTORING IT WILL COST MORE. Here's the trackplan of Boston's South Station as built.


A Trains report on federal grants for various high-speed rail projects includes a rendering of the proposed restoration of Boston's South Station.


Whether trains will ever be able to pass through Boston enroute from New York, Washington, or Richmond to Portland, Brunswick or Bangor remains to be seen.
NOTHING SO INTRIGUING AS A LOST CAUSE. A few weeks ago, the sitemeter found a British weblogger who, in the course of asking if Britain scrapped steam too soon, pointed readers to a Cold Spring Shops post on the state of the steam art. There have been such discussions in the United States; in fact a Chesapeake and Ohio 4-8-4 was steamed to use on coal trains to develop performance targets for a new-style freight steam locomotive. (The subsequent implosion of OPEC made such projects less urgent, and the ability to trick an induction motor into seeing multiple frequencies took away some of steam's advantage in being able to move anything it started.)

The British discussion tends to focus on passenger power. It is true that the New York Central was unable to find much advantage in a pair of E-7 diesels over one of their super 4-8-4s. In North America, however, that's not the governing factor. No steam locomotive, not the Norfolk and Western A, neither the Union Pacific Challenger nor the Big Boy, not even the Boston and Maine R-1, could resist the power of four portholes.


Raimund Whynal photograph courtesy Trains Online

The interesting counterfactual is, what if the British had asked Electro-Motive or Nohab to scale the F-7 down to fit their loading gauge?
INFLICTING CHEMICAL BURNS IS NOT PART OF THE RECIPE. A recent lawsuit alleges use of a weapon of mass destruction at a Cleveland, Tennessee Steak 'n Shake.

Restaurants are often sued for serving customers with contaminated food or food adulterated with “foreign objects” ranging from cockroaches to condoms. But the lawsuit filed last month against a Steak 'n Shake restaurant in Cleveland, Tenn., may be the first to allege a hot-sauce injury.

While dining with his parents on Oct. 9, 2009, the suit says, Timothy Caleb Gann (who goes by Caleb) suffered a “severe physical reaction” to an order of chili mixed with what a waiter had only identified as “hot sauce.” After he was rushed to the hospital, his father called the restaurant manager who told him “the deleterious substance given to Timothy Caleb Gann had been identified as 'Mega Death Hot Sauce.'”

The product's manufacturer has claimed it “contains ingredients 500 times hotter than a jalapeño chile” and that it is "not recommended for use without dilution.” The ingredients include habañero, cayenne and chipotle chiles and one user has reported that “Just one tiny drop is fiery beyond belief.”

Blair's are a provisioner of the Cold Spring Shops commissary. Their mango-habanero Heat is pretty good, and by the Superintendent's standards, not dangerous. The Death series are somewhat more potent, and yes, one drop can inflict pain. A couple of drops on the taco filling, with some lettuce on top, can go a long way. And the skull keychain that comes with the bottle now identifies the Superintendent's jump drive.

On the other hand, a couple of drops are unlikely to improve Steak 'n Shake's chili, which is pretty tame stuff. The waiter ought be sued for adding insult to injury.

25.10.10

ONTOLOGY BEGETS TAXONOMY. The populist uprising that might have begun with Rick Santelli's mad-as-hell moment on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange floor has surely inspired a lot of chin-pulling. We shall see next week whether the national government will be sufficiently gridlocked or sufficiently transformed. Before that, though, comes the instant analysis. For the moment, the topic of a political class keeps the pixels jumping. Here's Elizabeth Scalia's assessment.
The ineducable masses begrudge the hectoring about their taste for “gas guzzlers,” from people who ride in limos. They dislike being dismissed as “provincial” or “parochial” by people who only associate with others of the same neighborhood and mindset. They are weary of being portrayed as less compassionate, less well-meaning, gosh darn it just lesser people because they believe in giving an equal-opportunity hand-up, rather than an impossible-to-sustain equal-hand-out.
That's a theme from Angelo Codevilla's The Ruling Class, reviewed here; his attempt to distinguish elites from masses is perhaps overbroad.

Charles Murray tills similar ground, arguing that there's an element of self-reinforcement of the political class.

Far from spending their college years in a meritocratic melting pot, the New Elite spend school with people who are mostly just like them -- which might not be so bad, except that so many of them have been ensconced in affluent suburbs from birth and have never been outside the bubble of privilege. Few of them grew up in the small cities, towns or rural areas where more than a third of all Americans still live.

When they leave college, the New Elite remain in the bubble. Harvard seniors surveyed in 2007 were headed toward a small number of elite graduate schools (Harvard and Cambridge in the lead) and a small number of elite professional fields (finance and consulting were tied for top choice). Jobs in businesses that provide bread-and-butter goods and services to individual Americans, which make up the overwhelming majority of entry-level openings for aspiring managers, attracted just 1.7 percent of the Harvard students who went to work right after graduation.

The column provokes an instructive response from Betsy Newmark.
They live in similar suburbs, go to similar schools, marry each other and then raise children to repeat their pattern. And the result is two different groups of people. And from Murray's description, I'm one of the New Elite.
Which doesn't deter her from regularly challenging the commonplaces of that political class.

And thus the difficulties with Mad As Hell: How the Tea Party Movement is Fundamentally Remaking Our Two-Party System, by Scott Rasmussen and Douglas Schoen. (Anybody else wonder if Mr Schoen is really Clarence "Lumpy" Rutherford? He sure resembles Lumpy's father.) Book Review No. 23 suggests that, while the pollsters have made a serious attempt to understand the fault lines in politics, ultimately a stratification based on polling data will be inconclusive. The book makes some use of Mr Rasmussen's Political Class Index, described on p. 85 as the responses to three questions.

  1. Generally speaking, when it comes to important national issues, whose judgement do you trust more, the American people or America's political leaders.
    Those in the mainstream say the American people; those in the political elite say political leaders.
  2. Some people believe that the federal government has become a special-interest group that looks out primarily for its own interests. Has the federal government become a special interest group?
    Mainstreamers say yes; the political elite says no.
  3. Do government and big business often work together in ways that hurt consumers and investors?
    Mainstreamers say yes; the political elite says no.
The problem with this taxonomy is that, without further information about the intellectual background of the responders, it's incomplete. I could survey the current graduate students at the New School for Social Research and get a leaders, no, yes pattern; I could survey graduate students in public choice at George Mason and elicit a people, yes, yes pattern; I could survey members of a government employees' union and elicit a leaders, no, no pattern. The first two populations might provide technocrats for the state; the third population is supposed to pay its dues and vote for the technocrats.

The taxonomy leads to a number of bar charts purporting to show different attitudes toward tax rates, financial bailouts, or campaign contributions between Political Class people and mainstream voters. There's no analysis of margin of error or testing whether differences in the point estimates of the responses are statistically significant. I have the same complaint about other polls from other polling services that are cited throughout the book. Perhaps the authors felt a compulsion to get into print, how else explain a chart on p. 59 with one plot labelled "Excluding capital gains" and the other labelled "(need triangle info)". Or perhaps a proofreader at Harper was napping.

The populism Messrs Rasmussen and Schoen observe (p. 51) "represents the conjoining of three separate, distinct, and not easily reconcilable strands of conservatism: economic conservatism, small-government libertarians, and social conservatism." That's an uneasy coalition: the authors suggest that Father Coughlin and 1950s McCarthyism are "historical antecedents" (p. 36), although they include Huey Long or William Jennings Bryan as other possible antecedents. They also note some of the more colorful Tea Party activists: like some of the political candidates who make a virtue of their naivete, these provide easy targets for more establishment political leaders, of whatever stripe. The authors do note the organizational backers of the various Tea Party umbrella organizations, including some of the monied interests that so annoy the establishment, particularly on the left.

Those with long enough memories will recall the usefulness of Mott Foundation money in the McGovern campaign. The money might have helped Senator McGovern: without a message that appealed and opponents who demonstrated their ineptitude during the primary season it would have been mis-spent idealism. So might it be with the corporate money backing the various grassroots organization. If Arnold Kling is right, the money is reinforcing a sentiment already in the air.
But what the audience wanted to hear (and what they got from most of the other speakers) was a message that once the Republican establishment is back in power, all will be well. There is no way that I could have said that.
That's the ultimate message of Mad as Hell.

(Cross-posted to 50 Book Challenge.)
TURNING JAPANESE? Years ago, I read some stories about how the Japanese college party scene made U.S. collegians look like overachievers. The stories antedate the World Wide Web, and I didn't want to scroll through pages of x-rated links to find some obscure article someone archived. The gist of those stories was that students who qualified for admission to Japan's best universities had worked hard from pre-school to high school, and admission validated their potential for the best jobs at the leading zaibatsu. College, then, is a three- or four-year rumspringa.

Something similar might be at work in the United States.

In a recent article, Bentley MacLeod and Miguel Urquiola considered the impact of selective admissions on the value added by teaching (the accumulation of skills) and on labor market signals. They came to the conclusion that more selective admissions increases the value of the labor market signal, but it may also have negative effects on traditional teaching value added.

First, they argue, higher selectivity dilutes the “schools’ incentive to enhance productivity, since a low value added school can always enhance its reputation by being more selective.” The schools have less incentive to compete on the basis of teaching value added, since it is easier to compete on the basis of a labor market signal; that is, given the choice of improving their reputation by producing more teaching value added or improving their labor market signal, it is easier to improve the signal. Adding value to your existing students is hard work and less likely to be recognized than simply getting better students.

The second adverse effect on teaching value added is the impact on the student’s incentive to work hard. MacLeod and Urquiola find that when the student’s native ability is known to the labor market “effort cannot affect the market’s perception of one’s ability, reducing effort incentives.”

In other words, once a student has won the selective admissions tournament, he can add little to the value of that signal by working hard in college. Some students may think, “I’ve made it into Harvard, so why work to my maximum? I can coast and still get the valued Harvard degree.” If the student works less, there is less value added by his time in college.

MacLeod and Urquiola find other results stemming from selective admissions including “stratification by parental income” and “increased transmission of income inequality.” That is, wealthy families tend to have smart children, whom they manage to get into highly selective schools. The authors contend that this has a negative impact on economic mobility, which is a cornerstone of our society.

So parents’ eagerness for their children to compete for admission to elite institutions may be misplaced. A stable, high-quality student base at an elite institution does not necessarily mean the institution is adding a lot of value through its teaching. It may only mean that the parents of those high quality students are purchasing an expensive labor market signal.

Additionally, the existence of the labor market signal means that a student at this elite college has less incentive to excel than if he or she were at a less selective college. If bright students just coast through with less exertion, parents may actually do them a disservice by purchasing expensive labor market signals.

In particular, the less expensive labor market signals might be just as good.

Zac Bissonnette, a senior at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, recently published a book, “Debt-Free U,” that argues convincingly that nearly every state university can provide as deep an academic and extracurricular experience as Harvard if students seek out the best professors and activities and apply their energies there. Most undergraduates don’t do that, whether at a famous school or not.

What about those great Ivy alumni contacts? The truth is every college has influential alums, if you bother to call them. The Zuckerberg character in “The Social Contract,” who may or may not be like the real Facebook founder, becomes a billionaire not because he went to Harvard, but because he was a computer genius, a talent he developed before he got to college.

Zuckerberg seems to have figured out that Harvard wasn’t going to do much for him. He dropped out, like his fellow billionaire Bill Gates, and neither of them has reenrolled. This year’s crop of applicants will discover if they embrace all their college has to offer, no matter where it ranks on the U.S. News list, they will get far more out of it than they ever expected.

Those applicants might discover, however, that unlike at Harvard, they'll have to sit for final exams.

At about the same time the press discovered the hidden side of Japan, Inc., the country's prime minister lost himself some face with a suggestion that the United States's heterogeneous work force hampered its industry. Some observers called the prime minister ethnocentric; that might have been the case, or perhaps he was reflecting on the difficulty of instilling the habits of industry in people who had not grown up in that tradition, something not the case for the Japanese, college party scene notwithstanding. He might have had something there: the propensity of the education establishment at all levels to enable failure contributing to the social stratification. It's not so much that the rich parents produce smarter students (that assortative mating might be producing more high-functioning sociopaths) as that the rich parents bring up their kids in the habits of industry.
MAYBE NOBODY KNEW WHERE IT WAS. President Clinton was the main act at a Sunday political rally in Detroit's Renaissance High, where the turnout was not standing room only. Michigan's public policies have encouraged human capital flight for a long time, with the skilled workers responding predictably. Eric at Classical Values notes the outmigration of jobs and of people and suggests Michigan might look for pallbearers, not doctors.
RECLAIMING THE TRADITION. Milwaukee Hamilton's football team finishes second in the City Conference. Their last City Conference title was in 1982 (was the one-third of the title in 1969 the only other one) and the footballers have to look up to Ham United for repeated excellence.
SHOW US YOUR YOBBISHNESS. The Rate Your Students crowd have moved house to College Misery, where the anonymous whinges continue. Every so often, however, something useful emerges, such as this meditation on the prole cap.

As we all know, straight to the front is how to wear a ******* ball cap. It’s sober, serious, respectable (maybe even indoors) and classic. It shields your eyes and face from the sun. It has a purpose and an historical precedent. Anything other than this, and you are on my **** list, which is written in nearly indelible ink:

Slightly to the side is irreverent and irritating.

90-degrees crooked deserves a HUGE smack, and basically tells the world that you’re a half-witted jerkoff.

100% backwards calls for banishment to a brutal penal colony where you--the utter *******--will serve a life sentence of hard labor and daily torture. It not only looks stupid and abjectly *********, but doesn’t even allow you to burn rubber in your 1980’s Mustang without having to lean forward in your seat.

Add to this some apical tilt of the cap as it lists to port or starboard, almost falling off of the wearer's head, and you've got a recipe for a thoroughly infuriating absurdity that is better off ceremoniously burned on the campus quad than worn on a human head.

Then there’s the brim itself. It used to be normally curved. Then it became extremely curved in the 90’s. Now it’s ******* FLAT, leaving the wearer looking even more stupid than ever. Leave on a couple of those round, silver stickers and you’ve got a recipe for a Grade A ********* who should probably just be expelled on sight. Maybe they use the flat brim as a shelf for their energy drinks.

Over the top, crabby, mean-spirited, quite possibly elitist and classist, anonymous, and yet oddly refreshing.

22.10.10

MARINATE IN THE SMUG. Charlie Sykes found a get-out-the-vote message from One Wisconsin Now.

GO ROLL YOUR OWN PENSION. I see an endorsement from Kids Prefer Cheese, and in scrolling around, discover that the state retirement age is an eligibility condition, not a mandate.
Waiting for the state's permission is not the only possible option. I don't want to work until I'm 67 either and have taken a series of steps to try and insure that I won't have to, whatever Uncle Sam may do to his official "retirement age".
The post also notes that a state action that takes effect gradually is one that people will be able to adapt to.
Third, is this action [the French raising the retirement age from trois-vingt to trois-vingt-deux] being phased in over time or does it just hit everyone at once? If I was 59.5 and planning to retire, I'd be seriously pissed. At age 44, Odile [a protesting French schoolteacher] still has a chance to make financial decisions that would allow retirement at 60 instead of 62 (or 65 instead of 67).
The increments to the Social Security retirement age take effect over time for precisely that reason.
CONSIDER THE OPPORTUNITY COSTS. National Public Radio fires analyst Juan Williams and the resulting hue and cry has included calls for Congress to end its annual subsidy to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. The National Taxpayers Union issues one such call.
If Congress truly desires to restore fiscal responsibility and accountability to Washington, public broadcasting is a good place to start. This issue isn’t any more critical today than it was four months ago. It’s just more visible, more relevant, which we’re hoping paves the way for past-due Congressional action. We’re not concerned with the politics of it all. We’re looking out for taxpayers, and we believe defunding CPB is the right thing to do.
A service called Bullfax picks up what appears to be a Matthew Yglesias call for privatizing government radio and television, on the grounds that it can pass the market test.

Meanwhile, over at Reason Jesse Walker has an excellent piece about why the CPB never actually gets de-funded—conservatives just like to wield this threat in order to intimidate public broadcasters into changing their programming decisions.

Note that conservative politicians lacked principled opposition to the CPB during the Bush years when they were in a position to do something about it. After all, that coincided with their period of maximal influence over the system. Then, once Juan Williams got fired conservatives rediscovered their principled objections as part of one of their periodic fits of anti-anti-racist passion. At the end of the day, this repeating farce and the leverage it gives the right over NPR mostly strikes me as reason to favor moving toward privatization. NPR is a major 21st century media success story and I think that if given a reasonably scheduled phase-out of government support could certainly find a way to keep operating and then be free of political interference.

Such a call also makes political sense. The use of government funds to provide radio and television programming is censorship per se, whether the commentators are vetted by a Republican, Democratic, Libertarian, or Socialist advisory board.

There are likely to be defenders of government radio and television who will repeat arguments about how cheap the service is, and how winding it up will have no effect on the deficit.
Finally, the actual cost of public broadcasting is minuscule in comparison with other "public" activities. In fiscal 1995 the total federal operating budget for the CPB is $286 million, while $200 million yearly is allocated to military bands. The CPB’s $286 million is about one-fiftieth of 1 percent of the federal budget (the defense budget takes up 16.6 percent). The federal subsidy of CPB comes to less than one tax dollar per citizen; the subsidy for Japan’s public broadcasting system is 20 times as much.
The Japanese have been doing a good job destroying their economy for going on 20 years: is their example one to emulate? I'd start worrying about the military bands if their repertoire shifted to Preussens Gloria or the Hoch und Deutschmeister Marsch, otherwise the expenditure strikes me as reasonable.

Radio and television infrastructure, which can be privatized, however, is using funds that could be used to provide other sorts of infrastructure, something that might be defensible either under constitutional provisions or by the precedent of building internal improvements. Compare and contrast $400 m a year for public broadcasting with $120 m a year to provide sleeping car service on Amtrak. I think I just found $280 m a year for other improvements in the Passenger Rail system, improvements that might reduce future government expenditure on highways that will be congested during construction season and after they open.

21.10.10

STEALING FROM THE CHILDREN. I sometimes think I'm living in the worst place in the world, judging by the pronouncements the candidates for elective office fling at each other. There are a number of tight elections in Illinois, and with control of the state legislature as well as of the Congress at stake, the intensity of advertising is high.

One candidate, not in my Congressional district, hired pensioners to criticize her opponent for proposing to raise the eligibility age for Social Security. Steve Chapman has some fun with her in a Chicago Tribune column.
Rep. Debbie Halvorson, D-Ill., has an ad in which one old person after another angrily scolds her Republican opponent, Adam Kinzinger, for proposing to raise the retirement age. Their thoughtful critiques include such lines as "Don't you dare!" and "Keep your hands off my Social Security!"
Her opponent proposes to gradually raise the eligibility age for young people, something that makes sense, while maintaining pensions for current pensioners, something that seems just. (Heck, Franklin Roosevelt's team set up Social Security in such a way that half the taxpayers would never collect any benefits, because by the time they were eligible, they would be dead. We'd have to move the retirement age past three score and ten to preserve that feature.)

The good news is we're all living longer. The bad news is we can't afford to retire with any semblance of comfort unless we work more years to provide the funds for our leisure years. A higher retirement age is unavoidable, unless we all volunteer to shuffle off to the graveyard ahead of schedule.

The normal retirement age is already scheduled to rise to 67 by 2022. Even if it were slowly bumped up to 70, future retirees would enjoy higher living standards than current ones. Eugene Steuerle, an analyst with the center-left Urban Institute, says this change would allow median lifetime benefits per person "to increase from about $250,000 for today's people in their 50s to $360,000 for their 10-year-old kids."

The story for Americans who are now retired or verging on retirement is even less scary, since the higher retirement age would not apply to them. The changes in Medicare would mean only that their benefits would not grow quite as rapidly as they would have otherwise.

Says Steuerle, "Purely from self-interest, the elderly should lobby for Social Security reform because no other budget revision so totally exempts them from sharing the pain of deficit reduction."

Maybe Halvorson, Kirk and other pandering politicians will run ads featuring unhappy fourth-graders saying, "Keep your hands off that Social Security check I'll collect when I get old" and "Don't mess with the Medicare benefits I'm going to need in 2070."

We do have the alternative of working more intensively and living more simply to accumulate those funds. That approach defies the logic of the backward-bending supply curve of labor. Betsy Newmark notes that in France, where the backward-bending supply curve is an article of faith, they'd have to add 20 years to the current retirement age to restore the social contract of the New Deal.
As the WSJ points out, the average life expectancy in France is 81.5 years now. So those protesting are angry that they will have to work a couple of more years to gain close to 20 years of government-paid benefits. When declining demographics are added to rising unemployment among the young, the funding picture for those benefits is increasingly stark.
The current proposal to raise the retirement age of trois-vingt to trois-vingt-deux has some calling for the tumbrils and guillotine.
The World Socialist Web Site urges workers to organize committees of action independent of the unions and the existing parties in order to fight for a general strike to bring down the Sarkozy government and replace it with a workers’ government.
That's an interesting suggestion for a country in which the costs of adding a worker mean a high rate of unemployment.
THE BURSTING OF THE SPORTS BUBBLE. Professional basketball is the perfect metaphor for cultural decay fostered by entertainment excess and conspicuous consumption. And it's losing money. Nonetheless, a CBS Sports article characterizes the upcoming season as "NBA's most successful season ever -- albeit, one awash in red ink." With payrolls cut by a third, and underperforming franchises closed.

We have much to look forward to.
STOP ENABLING FAILURE, YOU'LL GET LESS OF IT. A link line-up at 11-D includes the New York Times discovering renewed sociological interest in the culture of poverty (at Cold Spring Shops, otherwise known as the failure of K-12 to develop the habits of the middle class in all students.)
For more than 40 years, social scientists investigating the causes of poverty have tended to treat cultural explanations like Lord Voldemort: That Which Must Not Be Named.
The article catalogs a number of research projects, investigating different dimensions of the way people respond to income poverty. It's worth careful study.

The article has already inspired a number of reactions. Here's The Atlantic Monthly's Ta-Nehisi Coates.
I suspect that a large part of the problem, when we talk about culture, is an inability to code-switch, to understand that the language of Rohan is not the language of Mordor. I don't say this to minimize culture, to the contrary, I say it to point how difficult it is to get people to discard practices which were essential to them in one world, but hinder their advancement into another. And then there's the fear of that other world, that sense that if you discard those practices, you have discarded some of yourself, and done it in pursuit of a world, that you may not master.
Mr Coates has the tragic vision, when it comes to developing those middle class habits.
The streets are like any other world--we all assume an armor, a garment to suit that world. And indeed, in every world, some people wear the armor better than others, and thus reap considerable social reward. In the main, it's been easy for me to discard the armor of West Baltimore, because I wore it so poorly. I was never, as they say, truly built for the streets. And still, even I struggled to take it off. But I know others who were masters. (My own brother, for instance.) Inducing them, and those in between, to change class, to trade their plate for robes, to trade the broad-sword for a spell-book, is the real work.
At Minding the Campus, veteran sociologist Jonathan B. Imber sees The Forty-Year Failure of American Sociology, suggesting that a discipline's taboos enabled the culture of the streets, by making the very work of inducing that class change more difficult.
The sin of [Edward] Banfield and [Daniel Patrick] Moynihan was to criticize not only the role of government but more importantly the loss of values it destroyed. It was not about anything intrinsic to any group by virtue of its race or ethnicity. The loss of motivation to emulate middle-class values was at the heart of a debate about the validity of those values. The progressive vocabulary included routine declarations of the need for radical change, which was, looking back now, more a challenge to those values than it was an endorsement of expanded government.
That radical change, in Professor Imber's view, includes the emergence of a dominant paradigm of subverting the dominant paradigm, never mind the effect that paradigm has on public policies that wreck the lives of real people.

In retrospect, once the vilification of Edward Banfield and Daniel Patrick Moynihan had succeeded, the specter of political correctness would seemingly forever enforce silence among the job-holders of academe, content with going with the flow by avoiding controversy whenever possible and by not challenging the pieties of Great Society notions. Forty years along, the breast-beating of the sociologist, Douglas Massey (quoted in Cohen's article), is what should be described as a day late and a dollar short when he concludes: "We've finally reached the stage where people aren't afraid of being politically incorrect."

Massey's statement is unbelievably ironic insofar as sociology has consistently been the dungeon of politically correct thought. The other social sciences are beset with incidents of such thought, but a younger generation of social scientists promises to break the lockstep long led unofficially by sociology's relentless criticisms of "conservative" ideas. The sensitivity to appearing to be in "support" of, much less in the camp of, any idea or any group considered conservative is by far one of the most galvanizing reflexes of solidarity among my generation of sociologists. Their inhibitions and anxieties about being even remotely associated with "the other side" is one of the more entertaining features of academic bird-watching. It would be fascinating to learn from Massey how he thinks "we've finally reached the stage" he apparently now applauds. The most obvious answer remains precisely the resistance to the irrelevant imperialism that much of sociology and its elite supporters have promoted during the past forty years.

Although Thomas Sowell is not reacting to the Times article, his National Review essay makes the same point.

Yet today, attempts to get black or Hispanic youngsters to speak the language of the society around them are decried by multiculturalists. And any attempt to get them to behave according to the cultural norms of the larger society is denounced as “cultural imperialism,” if not racism.

The multicultural dogma is that we are to “celebrate” all cultures, not change them. In other words, people who lag educationally or economically are to keep on doing what they have been doing — but somehow have better results in the future than those they had in the past. And, if they don’t have better results in the future, it is society’s fault.

His policy prescription: change, don't celebrate, cultures that foster underachievement.

Stop enabling failure, you'll get less of it.
DERIVATIVE SCHOLARSHIP? The 2010 Nobel Memorial Prize for economics goes to Peter Diamond, Dale Mortensen, and Christopher Pissarides. King Banaian wonders if we haven't recognized that work before.
I thought "what was it George Stigler was awarded for?" Of course, Stigler received his award almost 30 years ago, but the story is quite similar.
Perhaps so, but Diamond's work on equilibrium price distributions and Mortensen's work on labor market matching provided sufficient extensions of Stigler's insight to make it into leading journals. Would Nobel committees use awards to make a statement about the wider world?

The goal, I think, was to say something about current high unemployment in the U.S. and Europe, perhaps to suggest that it's quite natural and a result of search. But we live in a world where search costs are falling, not rising. Labor mismatch problems can involve information, but not necessarily.

Still, as I said Friday, the pattern of lingering unemployment after recessions is not new. I just doubt it's a search issue.

Arnold Kling is also unpersuaded by search or matching arguments, although the parable he offers of an extremely fine division of labor suggests it might be, particularly as this recession appears to have given managers the opportunity to combine several job descriptions in one job, and hoping to find a person with those skill sets desperate enough to take it.
SINCE YOU BROUGHT IT UP. Two Northern Star writers debate sobriety at football games.
Another homecoming has come and gone. The broken beer bottles have been cleaned up and the fans have sobered up. Unfortunately, I find the fact that there were so many bottles to clean up disgusting.
Yes, the tailgating area did look like the aftermath of a left-wing protest. The discarded cans and bottles merit further discussion.
No sober person wants to deal with the aftermath of a liquored-up fan base, but the fact of the matter is that most of the average college football fan's emotion on game day is fueled by that delicious Keystone Light. How else can the students keep up their voices for four quarters? I dare you to try that without some dizzy water in your veins.
Dizzy water? The modal discarded can held some kind of light beer, otherwise known to Wisconsin expats as water.

One of the writers knows something of life beyond the Cheddar Curtain.
Call me a prude, Andrew, but where I come from, north of the Illinois border, people will at least put their trash near the receptacle if it is full. The mess left behind for workers to clean up was not located in a respectable gathering area, but instead apparently dropped wherever people let go. When I went for a walk Sunday morning (yes, the a.m.), the remnants of the previous afternoon's activities were littered across Parking Lot K and the open field next to Huskie Stadium.
Perhaps that explains one of the screensaver announcements in the computer labs, the one that suggests students not treat the lab like it was their room ...

20.10.10

OVERNIGHT, EVERY NIGHT. That was the Denver Zephyr slogan, and it offered a more business-friendly schedule with a late afternoon departure and a 10 am arrival, apparently tolerable in an era when sending a visiting consultant or other high official was a costly and rare event. The California Zephyr had a more touristy schedule with an early evening departure from Denver and a midafternoon arrival in Chicago. Amtrak's version is marginally slower than the private railroad's version.

The ride that began in Emeryville on July 3 and transited the Rockies on July 4 winds up on a rainy day. Morning comes with the noise of the train crossing a river. Looks like the Missouri, open the door, there's an Omaha paper outside, must be Iowa outside the window. Shower, breakfast time, stop Creston 7:44 (close to time); Osceola 8:25 (still at breakfast, skimpy notes, still on time), pick up provisions to provide fresh fruit to all coach passengers. Again the carrier's efforts to compensate for mechanical failures in the Sightseer Lounges is commendable, but a lounge service for coach passengers that doesn't have life-expired air conditioning would be preferable.

There's been a lot of rain. This park west of Ottumwa is underwater.


Rising waters did force detours of the Zephyr onto the Union Pacific through DeKalb a few times late in July and early in August. Ottumwa 10:15:43 - 10:26:43, rains affecting our timekeeping; Mt. Pleasant 11:28:10 - 11:33:43; lunchtime; dining car is down to the hamburger and one or two other entrees and out of childrens' meals; Burlington about 12:20; rain lets up on the Illinois side, held west of the Galesburg station 12:56; last smoke stop Galesburg, arrive 12:59:38.


The Burlington 4-6-4 and a few cars are Galesburg's railroad museum, which (along with a swap meet) are the rail interest at Galesburg Railroad Days. Leave Galesburg 1:03:43.

The hill on the horizon is the tailings pile from the Cherry Mine, site of one of Illinois's most deadly mine fires. In those days, mine illumination was a candle or a lantern at the seam face, and transportation used 0-2-2-0 hayburners. One account of the fire reported a load of hay for the mules on fire, initially so small a fire that Anybody could have put it out, but Everybody thought Somebody Else was going to put it out, and Nobody put it out, and 259 miners died.


Princeton 1:53:32 - 1:53:59; stop Montgomery 2:49, Five by with 147 - 202 - one bag, nine Superliners (same 4 sleepers, 3 coaches, diner, lounge as my Six), moving again 2:52, Naperville 3:08:10 - 3:10:13; unimpeded run into Chicago Union Station, arrive on track 30 3:45:56. Metra is running the holiday schedule, the next train back to Elburn is the 4:40 all-stopper, but because everybody is treating July 5 as a holiday, there's no parking meter enforcement at Elburn and my 10 day parking permit is good for eleven days. Now to work on the train projects that came home with me.

19.10.10

THE E-T-T-S MOMENT AT AMC. James Lileks sees it in Mad Men.
It’s a thoughtful disquisition on the days before the counterculture began its transformation of the post-war order, and also a soap with exquisite production values.Consider the disquisition.Drink, smoke, look good in a Brooks Brother suit with a skinny tie or a chic dress, trade repartee, listen to Brubeck on the stereophonic record player. Be one of those people the hippies killed off. Be swank. Be sharp.

This was the appeal of Mad Men when it premiered — unapologetic daytime substance abuse, old-line patriarchal values with a splash of va-va-voom sexiness, Joanie’s hips ringing back and forth like the toll of the Liberty Bell. The rough beast of Betty Friedan was still slouching towards New Rochelle to be born. Kennedy was alive.
But Pennsylvania Station came down and first President Kennedy, then Senator Kennedy, were murdered, and The America that Worked(TM) had to be deconstructed for its sins, rather than have its redeeming features extended, which was the original civil rights vision.

18.10.10

FOURTH TURNING ALERT. Maureen Dowd is uncomfortable, Commentary's Jennifer Rubin is enjoying it.
The tough girls have not only given a clear alternative to the whiny victimhood of Dowd and her fellow gender-grievance-mongers; they have redefined political feminism. You can gain power, win the respect and affection of fellow citizens, and be pro-free market, pro-guns, and pro-life (the unholy trinity of the left).
(Via InstaPundit)
THE BONFIRE OF THE HUMANITIES. University Diaries extends the conversation.
In the Guardian, a philosophy professor distinguishes between training and higher education.
Instruction leaves a person trained and better informed – but otherwise unaltered. To stand at the threshold of an education, by contrast, is to stand poised before the possibility of an achieved formation and temper of mind which widens perspectives and matures the power of critical judgment. It is this that we commend when we commend education for itself. To be educated is to stand in a critical and creative relationship to ideas, crucially through contact with teachers, who exemplify in their words and demeanour the life of the mind.

If a university has a soul it is to be found here, in the engagement of teachers with their students, in the critical transmission of ideas, including ideas about human nature, that their students have to struggle with and grasp, a struggle that shapes their souls. But this education is becoming more fugitive and teachers less available through a terrible absence of mind, as the ideas that inform the policy and practice of universities slowly eat into their soul.
At University Diaries, the fact that education is not for everybody is a reality.
Not everyone wants it. It sounds weird, intrusive, unpleasant. Plenty of people want to go to football games and learn accounting, and professors aren’t proselytizers.
Some administrators see in the absence of interest in education a business opportunity.

The dean at Anonymous Community, a veteran of a proprietary college, reacting to Stanley Fish reacting to SUNY Albany's self-inflicted restructuring of the humanities, has the best response.
You can’t water down the bottles [an Eighties metaphor for concealing the disappearance of content] forever without fundamentally changing what’s inside them. Albany decided to toss some bottles to save the rest. It’s a debatable choice, but certainly a defensible one, and it offers at least the appeal of abandoning a strategy that has failed for forty years. It also offers the appeal of maintaining quality control -- and yes, jobs -- in the departments that remain.
That's an echo of an observation the Great Northern Railroad's Ralph Budd once made on the passenger train. It was the window through which the world viewed the railroad, and it should either be kept clean, or covered with a dark shade.

On the Great Northern, the choice of the window to cover reflected the cost of providing the service. Thus half of the Twin Ports trains came off, and the Red River, and the Dakotan, but the Winnipeg Limited and the Western Star lasted right up to Amtrak day. According to Doctor Cleveland, that approach doesn't work so well in higher education.
So, when you hear people talking about how the American university needs to be "transformed" and how outdated models need to be swept away, or how universities should be run "more like a business," remember that this is what is being proposed: a shift to the lowest-cost instruction available, and an emphasis on "productivity" in terms of easily measurable units, such as credit hours and credentials, rather than on difficult-to-quantify questions like student learning. Teaching students to speak another language is expensive. Certifying that they sat through a language class can be very cheap indeed.The operation of the free market, which will supposedly make universities innovative and forward-thinking, actually produces more old fashioned big lectures, in which a single faculty member can be paid to teach several hundred students at once. That format is enormously inefficient in terms of student learning; big lectures are clearly less effective than small-group teaching in every field, but when the lecturer is teaching history or economics schools can call the results good enough. This is about economics, rather than teaching economics.

A freer, more economically "rational" market does not produce higher-quality goods in this example, or lower prices. Rather, it leads to lower-quality instruction for increasing prices, with a few flashy deluxe items, such a spring semester in Milano for monolinguists, which exact a hefty price premium for the shopping experience. Welcome to the 21st century.
Economic analysis of those business decisions suggests the cost- and service-cutting will be a mistake, particularly at institutions in the middle of the prestige pecking order. The downsizing mania in business led to the extinction of institutional memory at major firms, a cost saving measure that worked right up to the day something happened that those eager young downsizers had no prior experience with. In the university, the value of the U.S. News rankings will increase, as people will flee to more highly rated institutions. Whether that strategy produces additional value is a matter for another day.
THE CASE FOR PRIVATE RETIREMENT ACCOUNTS. Betsy's Page remarks on Our President calling for a $250 Social Security supplement in a year when the benefit formula calculates no cost of living adjustment.
What's the use of having rules for determining when seniors get a COLA increase if politicians will just keep advocating handing out checks anyway?
Mutual funds and annuities have formulas for distributing earnings that cannot be amended without a shareholder vote. It's possible for dissident shareholders to solicit proxies to change those formulas, and I suppose it's possible for people to campaign for the board of directors with the promise of changing the formula. The incumbent management, however, cannot unilaterally distribute extra benefits.
PLAYING FOR LEASTER. The Packers have not been playing well, nor have division or conference rivals.

No one in the NFC is better than 4-2 and only the New York Giants have a winning streak longer than two games.

In the North, the Bears had a chance to put three games between them and the Packers (including the tiebreaker) and they lost at home to the Seattle Seahawks, 23-20.

The Packers are a bruised and battered team and if they don't get healthy, both in the training room and on offense, it won't matter much what the rest of the NFC is doing.

Ten games to go.

17.10.10

A FEEBLE SUCCESSOR TO THE DOMELINER. The idea for the dome car occurred to an Electro-Motive Division vice president who observed Colorado's Glenwood Canyon from the cab of a freight diesel, and who sketched some ideas later put into metal as the General Motors Train of Tomorrow. Burlington had the first revenue service dome coaches, and its Twin Zephyrs and California Zephyr might have been the most famous trains with multiple dome cars.

Amtrak's contemporary California Zephyr uses the Burlington and Rio Grande routing east of Salt Lake City, and its schedule still provides for daylight transit of the mountain ranges, if the trains are on time.

It's Independence Day, and the ride that began in Emeryville on July 3 has included a pleasant night's sleep, with sunrise and a quick shower somewhere in the neighborhood of Castle Gate, Utah. The diner has made a call for breakfast. First station stop of the day is Helper, Utah, 7:32 - 7:34, during breakfast. Green River, Utah, close to time at 8:51:31 - 8:51:58. Independence Day is a good day to be rafting, here on a placid part of the Colorado River near Utaline.


The Sightseer cars that replaced the dome cars offer some operating efficiencies, however, at the expense of the opportunity to look ahead and behind the train, and when the air conditioning fails, it can get unpleasant under that expense of glass. The air conditioning did fail at 10:36.

Arrive Grand Junction 11:03:51, chance to stretch, the old station building is receiving a new roof but has a for sale sign on it; there's a convenience store in an adjacent building for passengers to stock up on snacks and beverages.



Leave Grand Junction 11:18:34; stop in the freight yard 11:23 to inspect circuit breakers in Sightseer Lounge, no luck, leave 11:34.

Before it gets too hot in the car, here's a look at the Colorado River through one of the ridges west of Glenwood Springs.


Nearer to Glenwood Springs, the Rio Grande built along the north bank of the river, and the Colorado Midland built along the south bank. The Midland is long gone, but traces of the grading remain.


Glenwood Springs 1:13 - 1:29, major festivities in progress downtown. Lunchtime. The dining car is beginning to report stockouts of some food items. Pass Dotsero 2:05.


River rafters are enjoying this piece of the upper Colorado River. It's also time to work on my broken parts.


The gadget is a Joint Active Systems product that progressively stretches tight muscles and other connective tissue. That arm still has a long way to go. At the end of July, the therapist tried a technique from ASTYM that has me moving a lot better, with the ability to bang out text more quickly, and I'm able to achieve flexion up to the limits of the gadget.

Take siding at Range 2:25; Five by 2:36, on the move again 2:37.

A number of the rafters treat the train as an opportunity to render a two-cheek salute, here are two somewhere along the Dotsero Cutoff.


Pass Orestod 3:16, now running on the old Denver and Salt Lake. The railroad uses a number of increasingly tight canyons with increasingly difficult rafting conditions to attain the Continental Divide.



Granby 4:40 - 4:41; Winter Park 5:06 - 5:11 (smoke those cigarettes quickly); transit Moffat Tunnel 5:24 - 5:33.

Before the Moffat Tunnel was opened, the Denver and Salt Lake crossed the Rockies on a series of grades, switchbacks, and horseshoe curves called the Giants' Ladder. Scars from that excavation remain on the side of the mountain. Thanks to the National Park Service guides who remained in the Sightseer Lounge despite the rising temperatures to provide narration and take questions.


There's foul weather moving in on the eastern slope, which will provide rain to augment Denver's water supply. The transition from mountain to plains coming into Denver is as abrupt as anything in railroading.


It's raining heavily in Denver. The train reverses into the Denver station, passing this bus garage with a sightseeing trolley in the style of a Milwaukee Electric deck roof interurban.


The new Coors Field is right next to the Denver station. (Help me out: the original Elitch Gardens was destroyed for some other sports complex?)


Arrive Denver 7:09:00, set back onto sleeper 32058 with Denver passengers 7:14; conductor gives OK to unload passengers 7:17. Take on passengers plus delivery of pizza for coach passengers. Amtrak's arrangements to provide complimentary food to coach passengers when the lounge car fails are commendable. Lounge cars that aren't worn out are probably more cost-effective.

Six now has the three sleepers from Emeryville on the head end, and the Denver sleeper behind the three coaches. There's something reassuring about a train with more sleepers than coaches, even allowing for the crew space in the lead sleeper.

Leave Denver 7:51 in a heavy rain; conductor announces that because of the holiday, no delays for freight train interference or track work are expected, but there is a possibility of weather-related delays.

Fort Morgan, Colorado, 9:05:40 - 9:07:14; despite the threat of rain, the town fireworks display is in progress. Mentally, it's 10 pm Central time, there's a bottle of wine to accompany another session with the gadget and time to call it a night.

(to be continued)

15.10.10

IT'S A COMMUTER TRAIN, NO MATTER WHO OPERATES IT. California officials hope to turn segment of Pacific Surfliner into commuter train.

With $25 million from a local tax measure, officials are looking to partner with the California Department of Transportation and Amtrak to retime two Pacific Surfliner trains so that they arrive in Santa Barbara to accommodate a typical workday.

According to local officials, the high cost of housing in Southern California has forced people to move north to Ventura County, where homes are more affordable, and then commute to jobs in Santa Barbara. More than 15,000 people are estimated to commute from Ventura County to Santa Barbara per day.

For the proposal to work, there has to be enough of a central business district in Santa Barbara to make the train service a useful option, and the expense of providing additional expressways into those hills has to be great.
Amtrak operates two Pacific Surfliner trains that arrive in Santa Barbara every day. Currently, one Surfliner train arrives in Santa Barbara at 10:12 a.m. and leaves Santa Barbara at 4:31 p.m. Such a time is felt to be impractical for people who have traditional 8-5 work schedules. Officials are looking at a two-year pilot program to measure whether the retimed trains would carry a significant amount [c.q.] of passengers.
The Superintendent conjectures that the passenger loadings would increase, substantially. It's frequently standing room only on the 6 am Hiawatha from Milwaukee and the 5.08 pm return from Chicago. These run as six-car trains (oh, for the stock to roll out eight or nine coaches plus a Super Dome with downstairs bar, or perhaps a buffeteria car, or a first-class car). The Capitol Corridor service in California appears to do a great deal of commuter business (the late afternoon departure I rode from Sacramento to Santa Clara had a lot of on-and-off business from Martinez onward). Advocates of the planned restoration of the Black Hawk base their traffic projections on commuting patterns.

Once upon a time, Amtrak ostensibly was not in the commuter train business. I'm pleased to see that deception dissolving.
THE SUICIDE OF THE HUMANITIES. The latest efficiency measure in the State University of New York system elicits commentary from K. C. Johnson at Minding the Campus.
George Philip deserves a prominent place in any 2010 academic hall of shame. The SUNY Albany president recently terminated the university's French, Russian, Italian, Classics, and Theater departments, citing financial concerns. That Albany purports to be a quality university (and is, in fact, one of SUNY's better branches) makes Philip's move all the more unjustifiable.
Professor Johnson's essay is a reaction to a Stanley Fish column in the New York Times, a newspaper that once characterized the demolition of Pennsylvania Station as a "shameful act of vandalism"; in the same editorial suggesting that our era would be judged by the monuments we destroyed. So let it be with the humanities.

At nytimes.com, Stanley Fish appropriately excoriates Philip's decision, and astutely analyzes many of the reasons for the situation in which humanities departments currently find themselves. Among them---the decline of core curricula, which Fish notes "has happened in part because progressive academics have argued that traditional disciplinary departments were relics from the past kept artificially alive by outmoded requirements."

Alas, Fish's proposed solution to the crisis in the humanities at public universities requires all but ignoring the conduct of the academy over the past generation. He writes, "The only thing that might fly --- and I'm hardly optimistic --- is politics, by which I mean the political efforts of senior academic administrators to explain and defend the core enterprise to those constituencies --- legislatures, boards of trustees, alumni, parents and others --- that have either let bad educational things happen or have actively connived in them.

"And when I say 'explain,' I should add aggressively explain --- taking the bull by the horns, rejecting the demand (always a loser) to economically justify the liberal arts, refusing to allow myths (about lazy, pampered faculty who work two hours a week and undermine religion and the American way) to go unchallenged, and if necessary flagging the pretensions and hypocrisy of men and women who want to exercise control over higher education in the absence of any real knowledge of the matters on which they so confidently pronounce."

Let's leave aside Fish's highly dubious, implied assumption that the crisis in the humanities can be blamed on "legislatures, boards of trustees, alumni, parents and others." None of these groups have been primarily responsible for the hiring or curricular decisions of humanities departments over the past two generations.

Instead, consider Fish's demand that representatives of the academy engage ("aggressively" if necessary) politicians, trustees, alumni, and parents. That would be a reasonable response to the crisis in the humanities---except for the fact that over the past decade in particular, defenders of the academic status quo have gone out of their way to refuse to engage politicians, trustees, alumni, and parents. Indeed, from the MEALAC crisis at Columbia to the Group of 88 at Duke, we have consistently been presented with the argument that academic matters are the exclusive province of the academic majority, and that, in essence, academic freedom means the freedom of academics from outside criticism. Having chosen to wall off the academy from the outside world, the academic majority now has to face the consequences of its actions.

Professor Fish makes a few other points worthy of commentary.
For someone of my vintage the elimination of French was the shocker. In the 1960s and ’70s, French departments were the location of much of the intellectual energy. Faculty and students in other disciplines looked to French philosophers and critics for inspiration; the latest thing from Paris was instantly devoured and made the subject of conferences. Spanish was then the outlier, a discipline considered stodgy and uninteresting.
I believe Camille Paglia used the phrase "French rot." Prescient, she was.
And indeed, if your criteria are productivity, efficiency and consumer satisfaction, it makes perfect sense to withdraw funds and material support from the humanities — which do not earn their keep and often draw the ire of a public suspicious of what humanities teachers do in the classroom — and leave standing programs that have a more obvious relationship to a state’s economic prosperity and produce results the man or woman in the street can recognize and appreciate. (What can you say to the tax-payer who asks, “What good does a program in Byzantine art do me?” Nothing.)
Does the tax-payer go to church?


St. Isaac's Church, Yaroslavl, Russia, July 1997

Where did the convention of portraying saints with halos originate? In what way does ancient religious art influence contemporary art, including the transgressive stuff that gets juried and tenured these days?
But keeping something you value alive by artificial, and even coercive, means (and distribution requirements are a form of coercion) is better than allowing them to die, if only because you may now die (get fired) with them, a fate that some visionary faculty members may now be suffering. I have always had trouble believing in the high-minded case for a core curriculum — that it preserves and transmits the best that has been thought and said — but I believe fully in the core curriculum as a device of employment for me and my fellow humanists.
Doing push-ups or hitting the blocking sled on three or practicing scales or evaluating bordered Hessians or applying multiple coats of sanding sealer while working through the grades of sandpaper are a form of coercion too, but the best athletes or musicians or economic theorists or model railroaders respect their necessity. So let it be with the core curriculum.
LEAD US NOT INTO PENN STATION, BUT DELIVER US FROM CHRIS CHRISTIE? Trains (behind paywall) reports that New Jersey governor Chris Christie might be reconsidering his decision to cancel the North River Tunnel to Nowhere, a decision Destination: Freedom supports while several of the New York commentariat oppose.

Trains also reports that Amtrak and the shades of Samuel Rea invite passengers to a birthday party. The basement of the Madison Square Garden is celebrating its centennial. The platforms and some of the stairways to track level are original Pennsylvania Station, and a few glass blocks and tile driveways remain, if you know where to look. Behind the sheetrock in the obstacle course that serves as waiting room and train concourse are a few of the latticed columns that supported the roof of the original trainshed. (A few years ago, one such column was an impromptu art gallery, with photographs of the original concourse posted on the sheetrock.)

Beginning at 9:15 a.m., the public is invited to enjoy rare photo imagery, artifacts, and other items commemorating the station’s history, including the role Amtrak plays in the history of passenger rail travel. Representatives from Amtrak and its other Penn Station partners, NJ Transit and Long Island Rail Road, will be on hand as well as author Lorraine Diehl (“The Late, Great Pennsylvania Station”).
Passengers are still able to board first-class trains to Washington or Boston, North Jersey Coast locals, limiteds (change at Jamaica) to the Hamptons, and they're now able to ride a few trains to destinations on the Lackawanna Electric, but there's no Chattanooga Choo-Choo at a quarter to four, and no 5 pm departure of the Broadway Limited, into Chicago in sixteen hours.