31.3.12

BEING SPUN.

It's time for college basketball's final rounds, which means the cartel trots out the participants in the non-revenue sports to brag on the great benefit playing a sport provides in the classroom.  And Oceania has always been at war with Eastasia, although Joseph Nocera of the New York Times finds much to dislike in this year's public service announcement.
Is it true that black male athletes have a higher graduation rate than other students? It is not. The N.C.A.A. has created several other Orwellian concepts, such as an Academic Progress Rate, which allows it to use data to create the illusion that athletes are doing better academically than their peers.

But Richard Southall, who directs the College Sport Research Institute at the University of North Carolina — along with two colleagues, E. Woodrow Eckard of the University of Colorado-Denver and Mark Nagel at the University of South Carolina — have done rigorous studies that show the opposite. In comparing college basketball players with their true peer group — full-time college students — their data show that the athletes are 20 percent less likely to graduate than nonathletes. They also parsed the data by race: of the teams in this year’s March Madness, for instance, the black athletes are 33 percent less likely to graduate than nonathletes.

When we spoke this week, Southall directed me to an obscure link he had stumbled upon at the N.C.A.A.’s Web site. It consists of a series of short briefings prepared by the N.C.A.A. staff for its incoming president, Mark Emmert. (Emmert, the former president of the University of Washington, took the reins at the N.C.A.A. in April 2010.) I clicked through to a section called “Protecting the Collegiate Model.” It read, in part: “The consistent use of the term — with the steady drumbeat of what it means — can be an effective constraint on practices that threaten to estrange intercollegiate athletics from higher education.” In other words, pound the message home, over and over. Just like that ad does.
Josef Goebbels, Mark Emmert, Ministry of Truth.
The N.C.A.A. has its own equivalents. Athletes Are Students. College Sports Is Not About Money. Graduation Is The Goal.

Enjoy the Final Four.
James Joyner concurs in part and dissents in part.
The bottom line, then, is that the fairytale that the NCAA is pushing about student-athletes as well-rounded individuals who represent the best of what college is supposed to be about is actually true–except for the sports that people are watching and create the need for the NCAA’s propaganda. The players on the soccer, tennis, gymnastics, swimming, rugby, rowing, lacrosse, softball, golf, and other teams are much more likely than their non-athlete peers to be great students who go on to great things. The sham, not surprisingly, is with the teams where there’s a multi-billion dollar incentive to create one.
Yes, and a lot of those sports are upscale compared to the so-called revenue sports, with talented players who might have taken on extracurriculars as an application-enhancer.  (Call the roll of the strong lacrosse, field hockey, rowing, golf, and tennis programs.)  Then consider the cynicism of the advertisement favorably comparing "African-American graduation rates" inside and outside sports.  Eligibility trumps affirmative action.

Now comes Enterprise Rent-a-Car featuring former college athletes who have subsequently secured employment with that company.  Are we seeing indirect confirmation of excessive credentialism at work? There's a lot of human capital development that happens on the job.

PLAYING THE DOMINANT STRATEGY, BADLY?

The University of Illinois has been revealed as a candy store for legislators, and its faculty has discovered that reasserting some authority over feckless administrators is a more promising strategy than  ... using the net outflow of students to Michigan or Wisconsin as an excuse to starve Northern Illinois and the other state universities of resources.  It's the perfect time to clean house in the basketball programs.
Illinois – as the state’s flagship institution – resembles a quagmire of revolving presidents, questionable administrative decisions, politics, egos, agendas and I haven’t started with intercollegiate athletics. While it is not with state tax dollars, in an extremely difficult and stressful economic time for higher educational funding in this state, Thomas is firing and hiring like its a Monopoly game. Perception or reality? Probably some of both. With the recent bad press, is it just me, or is the media doing a hatchet job on Illinois, or are the Illini imploding on themselves?
That's retired Northern Illinois sports information director Mike Korcek, showing irritation at coverage of Chief Can't-Skate-With-Badgers hiring a new men's basketball coach from Ohio of the Mid-American.
Groce, who had coached at the Mid-American Conference program since 2008, asked for an average of $1.375 million annually over eight years ($11 million), while Illinois offered about $1.2 million per year for a five- or six-year contract, sources said.

Groce made $307,985 per season and it had been reported the most Ohio could offer was $500,000 annually.
Thus does the Mid-American continue to be a developmental league for the power conferences. Coaches that produce a history of wins over teams in the stronger conferences get hired away, and as long as their methods of identifying prospects is portable, those coaches might be able to live long and prosper in those conferences.  Presumably Mr Groce and Illinois came to a mutually agreeable sum.

Economics question: in what way would the introduction of the star protege and tenure system of the academic departments into sports change the opportunities for advancement of coaches?

Illinois has also hired Wisconsin-Green Bay coach Matt Bollant, a steal at $330,000 a year plus performance bonuses, for the women's team.
Bollant will have the larger task of turning around a team that went 11-19 last season. He has already identified the current roster’s shortcomings — the same flaw he exposed in his matchup against Illinois last season.

“They were very athletic, but they weren’t a very good passing team,” Bollant said. “There were times when (Karisma) Penn was open inside and they couldn’t get her the ball. It doesn’t matter what offense you run, it’s only as good as your ability to pass and shoot.”

Bollant admitted that he does not expect Illinois to have immediate success but believes that changing the culture in the program will lead to success on the court and, eventually, in recruiting.

“If we can become the 10th-ranked team in the country here, where we can go recruiting-wise is pretty exciting.”
Bowling Green coach Curt Miller signed with Indiana under similar circumstances, for much less than Bob Knight or Tom Crean money.  The order-of-magnitude difference between coaching salaries for men's teams and women's teams isn't discouraging the men from going after jobs in both flavors of team.
In 1972, when Title IX was passed, women coached more than 90 percent of women's teams. By 1978, that number had already dipped to 58.2 percent. This year, it's down to 42.9 percent, according to the most recent survey by Brooklyn College professors emerita R. Vivian Acosta and Linda Jean Carpenter. That figure has hardly budged over the past six years.

But while some experts may consider this holding pattern a victory, the raw numbers say otherwise. Since 2000, NCAA programs have added 1,774 women's head coaching jobs. Men have filled 1,220 of the openings.

Women have entered the rest of the workforce at all levels and now make up 57 percent of college students. Sports are bigger than ever for them too, with an average of 8.73 women's teams per school.

And yet female coaches continue to be sidelined. Stanford women's basketball coach Tara VanDerveer is only half-joking when she says, "We'll have a female president -- and one woman coaching women's college basketball."
(Via Women's Hoops.) The Washington Monthly had a brief print article on precisely that late 1970s change, some thirty years ago.  At the time, the article suggested men were going after the Title IX jobs as a way of keeping some sort of collegiate experience on their resumes, perhaps with a view toward moving into jobs with the men's teams.  The more recent article suggests there is very little of that sort of crossing going on.  Just one more complication: the star protege and tenure system might be a track for the best students of the best professors getting their first tenure-track job at the most highly regarded departments, but there might be parallel tracks elsewhere in the pecking order.

29.3.12

IT'S TERRIBLE THAT THIS EVENT HAPPENED TO THEM.

David Vann's Last Day on Earth: A Portrait of the NIU School Shooter is his attempt to come to terms with  difficult times in his own life by attempting to understand something about how access to guns plus being troubled might have led to tragedy.  His work takes issue with some of the conclusions in the university's own evaluation of Steven Kazmierczak's state of mind.  In writing the book, he had access to material the university either did not use or did not have permission to use.  Book Review No. 9 will note only that some of Mr Vann's interpretations of the evidence are at variance with interpretations Cold Spring Shops sources close to the case have offered, and that some of his conjectures about Mr Kazmierczak's motivations might be colored by priors or prejudices the author might have developed in the East Bay.  At the time the book came out, its very publication, and the author including DeKalb on his book tour, were topics of some controversy around these parts.  The title to this post, however, comes from the concluding pages, in which Mr Vann describes the university as "a community of generous, smart, warm people" who also have had to come to terms with a terrible event that can neither define the institution nor be wished away.

(Cross-posted to 50 Book Challenge.)

THE NEGLECTED ENTREPRENEUR.

And thus does this parable break down.
Let’s imagine ourselves as belonging to a remote valley population that survives on water supplied by groundwater reserves. As a society we have collectively decided to send the best and brightest to use their ingenuity to find the reserves and dig efficient wells that can sustain the population. They consider it a proud public service. As a result of population growth and technological advancement, more wells are dug farther and farther from the valley. The society subsequently grants a charter to a group of businessmen to incorporate and manufacture electric cars to transport people to and from the wells. Again, this is considered to be for the good of the population: people need access to water. These businessmen are allowed to behave according to classical market principles whereby profits incentivize efficiency. Higher efficiency means better access water which is essential for survival.
How did we collectively make that decision? Was the development of wells also undertaken according to classical market principles, or was some other institutional arrangement at work?  Did the best and the brightest take this work out of the goodness of their heart, or in pursuit of their own gain?  And did they set up institutions by which their credentials as the best and the brightest water-finders were validated?
As time passes, the population continues to grow and technology continues to advance. It becomes increasingly clear that the most efficient way to facilitate water access to the population is to a construct a high speed train that the entire population can use. Since it’s a train, it would eliminate the need for each person to purchase an electric car. When you need water, all you would need to do is hop on the Aquatrak. People would rather concern themselves with creative endeavors and personal relationships than how they’re going to afford an electric car. Water is essential to human life, so implementing the Aquatrak is pretty obvious, right?
Yes, and it might have occurred to one of the water engineers to become a merchant of power and provide that train. (The parable parallels exactly the development of the electric interurban railways with that modification.)
Wrong, because we forgot about the owners of Megawatt Motors. We let them incorporate and accumulate profit which became an addiction. They became wealthy enough to bribe our leaders and chief decision-makers. They couldn’t let Aquatrak develop or they would lose all their business. It doesn’t matter if all of their employees stand to benefit greatly from the better access to water. The profit distribution at the top would inexorably decline.

Eventually people get unruly and uncooperative as their collective sympathy kicks in upon witnessing the poor go without electric cars and the thirsty go without water. To check the unrest, Megawatt Motors allows for the construction of Aquatrak. They refuse to fund it, but they demand that only the poor and the old can use it. This, too, starts to unsettle the savage population so they stipulate that you can get on the train if you’re about to die from thirst, but those wonderful people we sent to dig the wells are going to have to pay for it which makes them jaded and cynical. Everyone else needs to buy a car if they want water.
That argument presupposes government provision of Aquatrak. Under the conditions stipulated in the parable, an entrepreneur, including a major shareholder in a car company, could have set up the railroad.  And the shareholders in Megawatt Motors might have been reduced to lobbying for a bailout.

Thus, a parable supposedly about a cheap single payer universal health insurance operation becomes a parable about how corporate welfare deprives consumers and taxpayers of choices they otherwise might have had, but for the constraints imposed by regulation undertaken allegedly for your own good.

THE SECOND TIME AS FARCE?

Phil Longman suggests that the Civil Aeronautics Board be resurrected.
Until 1978, U.S. policy viewed airline service as a "public convenience and necessity." The Civil Aeronautics Board assigned routes, set fares and ensured that airlines remained modestly profitable.

This regulatory regime had problems, but fares did fall dramatically thanks largely to technological innovation. DC-8s and other mass-market jets during the 1960s and early '70s vastly expanded such popular tourist destinations as Florida's Disney World and the Caribbean. By 1977, 63% of Americans older than 18 had taken a trip on an airplane, up from 33% in 1962.
We've recited some of the "problems" he alludes to previously, and his reference to mass-market jets brings up one of the perverse incentives of regulation: where carriers cannot compete in price, they compete in other dimensions, one of them being the more rapid replacement of serviceable propellor aircraft with jets simply to secure a competitive advantage.  And more people might have been flying because the country was getting richer and the same government that was running the air cartel was strangling the passenger railroads.
Indeed, after adjusting for shifts in energy prices, a 1990 Economic Policy Institute study found that airline fares fell more rapidly in the 10 years before 1978 than afterward. Under deregulation, the government has allowed giant airline mergers, such as Southwest/AirTran and United/Continental, that cause monopolistic prices on many routes.
Alfred Kahn, shortly after leaving the Civil Aeronautics Board, did gripe that he introduced competition in order for the airlines to compete, not to cooperate.  (His metaphor, involving cats and alleys, was somewhat more colorful).  And yes, the emergence of the hub-and-spoke network and the tendency of major carriers to fort up at hub airports took a number of economists by surprise.
A new national policy on airlines is in order, as even the industry itself is starting to realize. We need a regulatory regime that provides balanced, reasonably priced service to metropolitan areas that don't happen to be hubs, while also guarding against monopolistic combinations that harm the public and ruinous competition that leaves the industry financially unsustainable. Americans did this before we fell for the false promise of airline deregulation, and we can do it again.
Those are precisely the bromides by which the transportation cartels took place in the first place, and the support of the airline industry for such regulation comes from an order of men whose interest is different from and opposite to that of the public.  A short proposal in USA Today does not change that reality.

THE POLITICAL ECONOMY OF THE HUNGER GAMES.

It remains a topic for research.  A disciple of Leon Trotsky, not surprisingly, finds missed opportunities and contradictions.
Granted that The Hunger Games is a book for young readers, a good deal of material, including Katniss’ reactions, is treated ham-fistedly. There is no question left open as to how Katniss feels at practically any given moment, and many passages end with a bare restatement of what has already been made obvious.

The world and the situation in which Katniss finds herself are ripe with possibilities for deeper commentary, but so many of those possibilities are dissipated as the reader or viewer becomes swept up in the steady piling up of corpses. No definite positions are taken on a great many issues.

The claim that The Hunger Games “is an action-packed ode to freedom that any small-government conservative will love” or “any Tea Party sympathizer should cheer” (Washington Examiner) is largely wishful thinking. However, the author’s confusion is perhaps summed up by this: on her list of favorite books, Collins includes Émile Zola’s Germinal, the 1885 novel centering on a French miners’ strike that socialist-minded workers hold dear, and Lord of the Flies, William Golding’s morbid tale about a group of boys stuck on a deserted island, meant to show the rottenness of human nature.

Collins and [director Gary] Ross have not sufficiently challenged themselves or their readers and viewers, and the results are correspondingly patchy.
Perhaps so, but the coexistence of a technically advanced ruling class with a backward and repressed working class defies the imagination.  Matt Yglesias (via Economics Education) attempts to provide the necessary imagination, but even he comes up short when the more advanced districts come up.
Collins wisely avoids going into detail about what life is supposed to be like in Districts specializing in luxury goods or electronics. It’s difficult to have a thriving economy in electronics production without a competitive market featuring multiple buyers and multiple sellers.

Absent market competition, personal computers never would have disrupted the mainframe market and the iPhone and Android never would have revolutionized telecommunications. Entrenched monopolists have no interest in developing new technologies that shake things up. It’s difficult to get real innovation-oriented competitive markets without secure property rights, and exceedingly difficult to have secure property rights without some diffusion of political power. That needn’t mean real democratic equality—a standard the United States and Europe didn’t meet until relatively recently—but it does mean fairly broad power-sharing, as the U.S. has had from the beginning.
Thus the mystery. These are the districts that provide the "Career Tributes". Imagine your worst nightmares about high school jocks and obnoxious Greek-letter organization members, but now vying for the honor of being chosen for the ultimate reality show. It is difficult to conceive of technically advanced districts producing jocks and frat rats, but without geeks and rebels.

28.3.12

THE RETURN OF PASSENGER RAILROADS?

A Forbes article suggests Railroads, Republicans Muscling Out Amtrak.  Read the article carefully, though, and it appears as if the freight railroads would like to have the kind of control over scheduling and reliability that comes from common mechanical standards, dispatching, and scheduling.  On the upgraded Chicago to St. Louis line, an Amtrak train that breaks down will make passengers who expect a fast dependable trip unhappy (might as well stay with the tender mercies of the air carriers and the security screeners) and delay the priority merchandise that's also taking advantage of the improved rights of way.

In Florida, the Florida East Coast seeks to resurrect the Speedway to the Sun.
Its parent company just announced detailed marketing and engineering studies to test the feasibility of operating passenger trains between Miami, Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach, and Orlando on a for-profit basis, requiring little or no government capital. The bottom 200 miles would be over existing FEC tracks. Forty miles of new railroad would be required to bridge the gap between Cocoa and Orlando.

What gives this idea credibility is one man: Gene Skoropowski. He gained a measure of fame for engineering the runaway ridership growth aboard Amtrak trains between San Jose, Oakland, and Sacramento, Cal., as executive director of the Joint Powers Board. He “retired” from that job two years ago, moved to Florida, and looked for new challenges.

Oh boy, did he ever. Skoropowski emailed friends about a month ago that he had become senior vice president for passenger development of the Florida East Coast. I assumed that meant arranging for Florida to underwrite commuter trains between Jupiter and Miami, and helping Amtrak to route its trains down the coast from Jacksonville. No, Gene has something far different and far bigger in mind. “You’re going to have to ask someone else about commuter trains,” he told me over the phone when I reached him.

The press release announcing All Aboard Florida, as this enterprise is called, talks of 110-mph trains. That would be in the future, Skoropowski says. Initially hourly service would be conducted at 79 mph south of West Palm Beach and perhaps at 110 in places between there and Cocoa. The 40 miles of new track are candidates for 125-mph running. In addition, FEC would need to be double-tracked. That’s not as difficult as it seems, he insists. “The FEC once was double track, and all the subballast and the bridges are still there.” At 79 mph, Skoropowski adds, the trip could be made in 3¼ hours. The Acela between Boston and New York City requires 3 hours and 25 minutes.

The figure of $1 billion to launch All Aboard Florida strikes me as too little. I’m thinking at least twice that amount, but what do I know?. “We’ll need a couple more months to say with certainty that this is feasible,” Skoropowski added, but his tone of voice seemed to say, trust me, it can work. “This is one of the most heavily traveled corridors in the country, and I’m not talking about having to pay for a 200-mph right of way. Moreover, we already own the railroad.”
Much of the existing traffic on Florida East Coast is intermodal, and container trains cruising at 90 play well with passenger trains at 110 or 125.

More here.

IT'S FOR YOUR OWN GOOD.

Adam Smith was famously skeptical about affecting to trade for the public good.  That doesn't stop people from so doing.
[T]here’s always a good reason to take your freedom away — your health, the poor, your evil opinions, the lousy way you raise your kids — and never a reason to preserve freedom except the love of freedom itself. Thus, so often, the people destroying the American way of life are actually nice people who just want to help.
Never mind that the reform being so proposed imposes constraints that might preclude subsequent improvements on the way people do things from taking place, or create incentives for people to opt out of what is being done for their own good.

The conversation of the hour is about mandatory purchases of health insurance, but there is accumulating evidence that mandatory separation of commercial from investment banking, and mandatory deposit insurance, contribute to the instability of the financial services.

I'M TOO BUSY TO COMMENT.

A Washington Post columnist suggests that professors are underworked and overpaid.

Roundups of responses at Kids Prefer Cheese and Outside the Beltway and Inside Higher Education.

Let's take seriously the metric the columnist uses for determining work: time actually spent in front of students.

Compared to closers -- or Tony LaRussa spot relievers -- in baseball, or kicking specialists in football, professors are overworked and underpaid.  Discuss.

TACK TO THE BASE, THEN PURSUE YOUR GOALS.

Charles Krauthammer offers the Trenchant Observation of the Day.
Etch-A-Sketch is a problem for Romney, this is the President himself saying, 'I'll be unleashed. I can govern hard left. I can do all this reset stuff in the future unmolested.' That's his way of telling people, 'you may have no idea what my agenda in the second term is going to be, but let me tell you, the Russians, it's going to be pretty hard left.
So it might be, but it takes more than Not-Obama to persuade people to deny Our President a second term.

26.3.12

NEVER MIND THE NCAA.

Students at Northern Illinois University have obtained recognition for something called an Ultimate Tazer Ball club.
[Spokesman Robert] Lausch said the NIU club is strictly an awareness organization and will not play the sport. The group will promote the sport, watch it and attend UTB-related events.

“We are an awareness organization,” Lausch said. “We will not be running around campus tazing each other.”

Lausch said the club will not hold UTB-sanctioned events on- or off-campus. UTB games might be at NIU in the future, he said.
Yes, there is a governing body for Ultimate Tazer Ball, and the mind boggles at the possibilities of combining the rules of Tazer Ball and Hunger Games.

The print edition of today's Northern Star included a photograph from a weekend Quidditch match between Northern Illinois and Augustana.  Yes, that sport also has a governing body.

Mr Lausch's reference to "running around campus tazing each other" might be a veiled reference to Humans  vs. Zombies, another sport in progress without any sanction (in any sense of that word) from the NCAA.

A FAILURE TO MAKE THE CASE.

Destination: Freedom analyzes the rollback of Passenger Rail in Wisconsin.
Robert Ash, a Wisconsin resident and retired rail manager who spent his career at Amtrak and Metra (commuter rail in Chicago), said that Wisconsin transportation officials were “caught off guard” and failed to convince the public that the proposed line would not only prove useful for intra-state travel, but would also connect to other corridors in the region at Chicago.

Royce Williams is a Madison resident, and also a Board Member of the Wisconsin Association of Railroad Passengers (WisARP). He pushed for the new line, but says now that nothing can be done to get a train that would serve his city. He blames the Obama Administration for attempting to sell the proposal as a “high-speed rail” project, saying: “People would ask me if the trains would go 150 miles per hour [240 km/hr] and I had to say no.” Williams also criticized other members of the rail advocacy community, saying that the NARP (the National Association of Railroad Passengers, of which he is a Council member) should have made it clear that the proposed project would not be true HSR; that it would have brought a new conventional rail corridor to Wisconsin.

Williams acknowledged that the business community in Milwaukee wants the trains between Milwaukee and Chicago to keep operating, but said that a regional approach would be needed to expand rail in the Mid-west. He criticized the Mid-West High-Speed Rail Association for concentrating on their vision of HSR, instead of pushing for conventional passenger trains. According to Williams, the region needs a system of electrified rail lines that would carry passenger and freight trains at 110 miles (175 kilometers) per hour. “That would improve mobility and save on fuel,” he said.
Cold Spring Shops readers will recognize the arguments in the first two paragraphs quoted.

The third paragraph simply sows the seeds of another needless policy wrangle, the next time rising energy prices, crumbling highways, and residential development combine to put Passenger Rail back in the conversation.  There's no need to spend money on electrified trackage (which requires greater traffic densities) as long as one knows how to gear a diesel locomotive for 117 mph.

YOU GET WHAT YOU PAY FOR.

Including basketball officiating, or not.
The NCAA pays officials less for the NCAA tournament than they make a lot of the time in the regular season. The bigger conferences pay officials between $2,500 and $3,000 per game, out of which they must pay their expenses. Thus, [association supervisor of officials John] Adams’s net number of about $2,000 per game. During the NCAA tournament, officials are paid $1,200 the first weekend, $1,400 the second weekend and $2,000 if they make the Final Four, with the NCAA paying their expenses.
The promiscuous use of replay to do everything including determining how many tenths of a second remain on the clock cannot be an inducement to get the call right the first time.

(Via Women's Hoops, showing mild astonishment that poor officiating in the men's tournament gets noticed.)

23.3.12

THE YOUNG PERSON'S GUIDE TO THE APOCALYPSE.

The movie version of The Hunger Games has opened to great popular acclaim.  (In my more cynical moments, I view the concept's popularity as the unspoken naughty wish that a real-world Survivor would have real-world non-survivors.)  I had occasion to read the first book, and skimmed through the next two over coffee at Borders (before Borders went away), but read neither of those carefully enough to include them in the Fifty Book Challenge.  Now comes Lois Gresh with The Hunger Games Companion.  It's explicitly written for younger readers, and Book Review No. 8 will accordingly cut the author a great deal of slack for not attempting a rigorous treatment of the social dynamic by which a rise in the oceans and unspecified other fractures of the social order lead to the emergence of a tyranny with the most primitive division of labor and the most degenerate of ruling classes.  (It's unlikely that even the most imaginative Marxist could visualize the accumulation and repression that would lead to such contradictions, without perpetual crises of the existing order.)  Companion is more successful in explaining to readers that many of the nasty features of the Hunger Games world existed -- in the case of tributes, in mythology; gladiatorial combat, in Rome; instruments of torture, ubiquitous; explosives disguised as toys, Soviet Union in Afghanistan (oops, missed opportunity, not the only one!)  The author notes a number of other oddities in the post-apocalyptic world, including the absence of religion or prayer, and the probably shrunken population.  All the children of the coal mining district can be assembled in one town square for the lottery: perhaps the coal mining district is modelled on a Soviet corrective labor camp?  The book might have some value in the middle school classroom as supplementary reading in social studies.  The political economy of the Hunger Games world remains a topic for research.

(Cross-posted to 50 Book Challenge.)

DAVE BRISTOL AND GENE MAUCH, REDUX.

There are no bad baseball teams, only bad managers.  If Napoleon didn't say it, Yogi Berra probably did.  Nonetheless, the tradition in baseball is that when a team does badly, the manager gets fired.  (No matter that one of the pitchers is a head case, the shortstop doesn't concentrate, and an outfielder ignores the take sign.  I'm talking about you, Chicago Cubs.)  But the two gentlemen named in the title served as serial managers in major league baseball, never mind the relative infrequency of pennants on their resume.  And a more successful manager, Sparky Anderson, once told a Detroit reporter that he wasn't concerned about having a bad season and being fired by the Tigers because he effectively had tenure.

A similar phenomenon might be at work in university administration.

A few weeks ago, Cold Spring Shops hailed an assertion of professorial authority at the University of Illinois. "What's encouraging about the article is news of faculty resistance to enrollment initiatives, branding, and directives that originate from the president rather than from the faculty."

The president in question, Michael Hogan, will be resigning to return to faculty, which used to be the tradition among university presidents.  (The increases in pay for going into the presidency have increased since the Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain era, but faculty pushback against serial administrators has also intensified.)  It's amusing that the Chicago Tribune coverage of developments in Urbana refers to a faculty "mutiny."  It's more accurate for the Tribune to write of a reassertion of responsibility by the faculty for carrying out the core function of the university, and Cold Spring Shops, impending retirement or not, will remain on the alert for other instances in which the faculty, whether an institution's most highly regarded, or not, reclaims what is properly its responsibility, and its authority, from the usurpations of serial administrators.

What's intriguing, however, is that Michael Hogan is really Gene Mauch in a different kind of uniform.  A commenter at University Diaries points to Inside Higher Ed's coverage of Mr Hogan's departure.  There were clues that something was wrong at ZooConn, but that candidate had prior experience at a state flagship, land-grant institution.
Some faculty critics and higher education observers say Hogan’s problems at both institutions represent a broader failing of the presidential search process, in which boards are so eager to secure experienced presidents that they are willing to overlook flaws and too concerned with protecting the anonymity of candidates to properly vet them.

Labor economists have documented that, in professions such as entertainment and management, previous experience is overvalued. Boards would prefer someone who has demonstrated some level of competency rather than take a risk on someone not working out, and they are willing to pay large salaries for that experience.

“Any profession where the ability of inexperienced workers is subject to much uncertainty, and where performance on the job is to a large extent publicly observable, is a likely candidate for market failure in the discovery of talent,” wrote Marko Terviö, an economist at Aalto University in Finland, in a paper entitled “Superstars and Mediocrities: Market Failure in the Discovery of Talent.” “This market failure would manifest itself as a bias for hiring mediocre incumbents at excessive wages.”

Terviö even notes that college and university presidents are ripe for this type of failure. He quotes Raymond Cotton, a Washington lawyer specializing in contracts for college and university presidents, as saying, “What all universities are trying to do is find a successor who has been someplace else as president.” Throughout the Illinois search, board members repeatedly said they were looking for someone who had held a similar role.
Yeah, that La Russa kid is promising, but he's had no prior managerial experience. Let's go with Mauch.

YOUR RIGHT TO BUY $6 GAS AND STEW IN TRAFFIC.

A Madison Capital Times report documents the power of delay to impede improvements in the Midwestern passenger rail network.
Despite Wisconsin's refusal to participate in the project, Minnesota officials want to forge ahead on a $2.4 billion plan to straighten the tracks, add a parallel track where needed, and run six trains a day at a top speed of 110 mph, which is the limit on tracks that carry freight. That should cut at least an hour off the Milwaukee-Twin Cities trip, making it competitive with driving.

"That's at least two to four years down the road," says Dan Krom, director of passenger rail service for the Minnesota Department of Transportation. "And at that point in time, if we don't have a willing partner to the east we can't move forward."
I would hope that top speeds of 110 could cut more than an hour off the Milwaukee-Twin Cities train trip, which, these days, is only slightly faster than the timing made by accommodation trains 55 and 58.  For comparison, 1954 schedules offered the through passenger a choice of six different Chicago-Twin Cities trains by way of Milwaukee, plus another three by way of East Dubuque and Rochelle.  (The graphics on that old post are due for maintenance.)

All Wisconsin currently wants to do is restore, approximately, the Amtrak service that was in place as early as November, 1971, although this iteration isn't going to have any dome-parlor cars or twelve-wheel dining cars.
Prior to [Republican Scott] Walker's election [as governor], Wisconsin's passenger rail plan was to be the culmination of what was a bipartisan dream, more than 25 years in the making, to connect Wisconsin with eight other Midwestern states through a network of high-speed rail lines. The infusion of federal money put that dream on the brink of reality. Madison officials, giddy with excitement, set themselves to the task of planning the redevelopment of two downtown blocks around the proposed train station, including a hotel, a public market, and a multimodal transportation hub.

The excitement is gone, the plans on indefinite hold. The dream — at least as long as Walker is governor — is dead.

Just to get a flavor of the change in the state's direction, here's Ron Adams, Wisconsin Department of Transportation's railroad and harbor section chief, in March 2009, when prospects of landing a huge federal high-speed rail grant were bright: "Our objective will be to get funding to bring high-speed rail service to Madison."

Here he is two weeks ago, explaining Wisconsin's paltry efforts toward expanding passenger rail: "We're talking with Minnesota about participating in a feasibility study with Amtrak about a second frequency between Chicago and the Twin Cities," adding, "and that's it."

At a time when high gas prices and an expanding rail network have boosted Amtrak ridership to over 30 million, Wisconsin has gone from being a leader in passenger rail planning to a spoiler. Like so many issues, high-speed passenger rail service, once a bipartisan goal, has become an intensely partisan issue, with Democrats and Republicans lining up behind competing visions of the future of transportation in America.
It's not about Democrats and Republicans, it's about what's the most effective deployment of public funds for internal improvements.  (The article is rich in wonkish detail, should you wish to inform yourselves.)  Michigan's governor gets it, the article notes, and there is sentiment in northwestern Illinois to connect the proposed return of train service to Rockford, Freeport, Galena, and Dubuque to the proposed Minnesota service using tracks along the Mississippi River to establish the Chicago-Twin Cities service using little or no trackage in Wisconsin.

DIVISIONS AMONG THE ELITES.

The bourgeois confronts the bohemian, as summarized by Marquette Warrior.
Liberals resent mass affluence. The believe they are entitled to live better than other people, but ordinary Americans live in nice houses, own big cars, drive in from the suburbs to work and go where they want to go.

They vote against gay marriage and sometimes elect Republicans.

They are, in other words, uppity.

Since elitist liberals have trouble distinguishing themselves by consuming more than ordinary Americans, they have to distinguish themselves by consuming differently.

Thus they despise the vulgar affluence of the masses, while consuming politically correct luxuries. Hybrid cars. Fair Trade coffee. Exotic cuisines.

And of course they deride the tastes of ordinary Americans, whose affluence and political power they resent.
It's a broad, categorical statement, and as such, probably incorrect in different ways to different observers.

And yet, it captures why Republican attempts to paint Our President, and the Liberal Establishment, and the Legacy Media, and much of the academy as arrogant snobs resonates with a substantial part of the electorate.

THE RAPID TRANSIT IS NO PLACE TO PLAY.

Boy, 14, dies after touching third rail.
Preliminary information indicated that the boy was trying to get down to the tracks for an unknown reason when he made contact with the electrified third rail.
Sadness in a family yet to be identified, and commuters delayed while the first responders do their work.

21.3.12

THE TRAINS THAT MAY NEVER ROLL.

Wisconsin's Talgo trains, complete with food service cars, are ready for acceptance testing.


Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel photograph by Angela Peterson.

On a party-line vote, the legislative Joint Finance Committee voted against allocating funds for building a maintenance base for the trains.  The trains may or may not enter service, depending on on how willing either Talgo or the state is to allow itself to be held up.
Immediately after the vote, Transportation Secretary Mark Gottlieb issued a statement saying, "Today's decision to not provide funding for the permanent rail maintenance facility means that the state will be unable to put the Talgo trains into revenue service. We hope to work cooperatively with Talgo to resolve any outstanding contractual issues in a mutually satisfactory way. Existing rail service on the Hiawatha route, using Amtrak equipment, will continue without interruption."

But Talgo Vice President Nora Friend said the new trains still could enter service later this year, using the temporary maintenance base that has been set up at Talgo's north side manufacturing plant. She said that would give the state and the company until 2014 to work out a solution for a permanent base.
Wisconsin governor Scott Walker has concurred with the committee, despite the prospect of a lawsuit.

Journal-Sentinel editors question the decision.
There is a real benefit to upgrading Amtrak's Hiawatha service. The route is among the fastest-growing in the nation, carrying nearly 800,000 passengers last year. And the train set, built at Talgo's north side factory in the 30th St. Industrial Corridor, was providing jobs for city residents.
The legislators defend their action, in doing so continuing one error while confirming a point we've long been making.
Those trains were meant to be built for a less than high-speed rail line between Madison and Milwaukee at great taxpayer expense. Gov. Scott Walker smartly turned away one-time federal funding for a train people didn't want and couldn't afford. The federal funding wouldn't have touched the long-term costs of maintaining and operating the train that wouldn't have saved commuters any time and would cost taxpayers in perpetuity. It was a boondoggle we couldn't afford.
If those trains were really intended to run only between Madison and Milwaukee, with through passengers changing in Milwaukee, the Wisconsin project was poorly conceived. On the other hand, if the trains were intended to run from Madison to Chicago, the project was poorly sold, and the choice of a short fixed-formation train even more dubious.
Since the trains wouldn't be used for the Madison-to-Milwaukee line, the trains had to go to Amtrak's Hiawatha line. Unfortunately, the trains are too small to meet ridership demands for that line, which means we would need to build even more cars that are more expensive to operate on the Hiawatha line. It's throwing good money after bad. For the sake of the taxpayers in Wisconsin, it was time to go back to the table and work on a deal that would better protect taxpayers.

We made the decision in the Joint Finance Committee like any family would - by looking at the numbers. In early December, the committee passed a motion to ask the Department of Transportation for a full analysis of the taxpayer cost of running the Talgo trains and opening a permanent maintenance facility for 20 years vs. the cost of running the current Amtrak trains. The difference made last week's decisions an easy one for Wisconsin taxpayers.
Meanwhile, Milwaukee to Chicago travelers will continue to make do with the beverage cart service on the existing, aging Horizon and Amfleet coaches.


Milwaukee Road photograph from the Trains Magazine collection.

At one time, passengers on the Chicago-Twin Cities line had a flexible formation train with coach, parlor, dining, and tavern service, and as that service grew, the original equipment cascaded to other services, including Madison-Milwaukee trains, some of which connected with Hiawathas or other corridor trains in Milwaukee, and some of which ran through to Chicago.

(NOT) CLOSE ENOUGH FOR GOVERNMENT WORK.

A ballot that is 1/16" too wide does not fit the scanner.
An issue emerged when reports of up to 2,000 improperly sized ballots came from Winnebago county. The ballots were made 1/16 of an inch too big and could not be feed into the tabulation machine, according to the Rockford Register Star.

The oversized ballots were remade by hand with the voter’s selections transferred onto the proper ballots by a contingent of five Democratic and five Republican representatives from Winnebago county.
Transcription onto properly-sized ballots fed into the counting machines turned out to be faster than creating a tally sheet and counting the votes by hand.  Ballots trimmed with a paper-cutter were rejected by the counting machine.

Local lore has it that when DeKalb County went to the scanning machines, the punch-card stylus voting templates that we previously used went to notoriety in Florida, home of the butterfly ballot and the hanging chad.

13.3.12

BUILDING YOUR RESUME BY TRASHING YOUR PREDECESSOR'S.

Book Review No. 7 will be Benjamin Ginsberg's The Fall of the Faculty: The Rise of the All-Administrative University and Why It Matters.  Much of the substance of the book appears in briefer form here, with commentary here.  It doesn't surprise that University Diaries "finds Ginsberg more convincing," given that many of his illustrations of administrative overreach involve the commercialization of research in engineering, pharmaceuticals, medicine, and computer applications (it would take another book to deal with the rot in the income sports).

The source of higher education's troubles with administrators might be in the absence of intellectual foundations for a coherent defense of what higher education ought to be doing.  When any social arrangement is a construction, it can be deconstructed, and the sub-plot that ought to make readers angriest is the one in which serial administrators serially bring in their own retinues of assistant-tos, facilitators, and consultants to replace the strategic plans and mission statements of the previous administrators, after much work by the previous assistant-tos, facilitators, and consultants that distracted the faculty from doing what faculty ought be doing, namely having original thoughts and challenging students and each other with those thoughts.  (But, Professor Ginsberg argues, there are ample opportunities for administrators to play on faculty sympathies with underdogs by framing some of the usurpations as in the service of diversity or equity or inclusion or access.  Why more observers haven't caught on that academic prestige rests in part on bad writing not getting published, or bad dissertations not being defended, or weak students not graduating, or -- keeping March Madness in mind -- bad teams getting a play-in game at best escapes me.)

I've attempted to capture some of the flavor of Professor Ginsberg's writing.  The titles he turns up for assorted functionaries will make a beleaguered professor smile and should give pause to even the most committed defender of administrative prerogatives.  But those prerogatives ought to be limited.  Turn to page 204.
Most deanlets, left to themselves, are content to wile [c.q.] away their days meeting and retreating.  They represent a growing threat to the university but do not appear to be an immediate threat to its management or academic priorities.  But, appearances are deceiving.  New numbers create new possibilities.  The existence of large numbers of deanlets gives ambitious senior administrators the tools with which to manage the university with minimal faculty involvement and to impose their own programs and priorities on the campus.  Like other potentially destructive instruments, armies of staffers pose a threat by their very existence.  They may seem harmless enough at their tiresome meetings but if they fall into the wrong hands, deanlets can become instruments of administrative imperialism and academic destruction.
The remedy is part Ko-Ko and part John Galt: identify the twenty percent of the deanlets and deanlings who would not be missed, and fire them.

(Cross-posted to 50 Book Challenge.)

LESS DISTRESSED MATERIAL AT THE RECEIVING DOCK.

The Northern Star produced a three-article report on the Illinois applicant pool and the matriculant pool at Northern Illinois.  The State of Illinois now requires all eleventh graders to take the ACT, and tax-supported test preparation seems to have a positive effect.  The applicant pool, statewide, looks stronger on paper, something that enrollment managers view favorably.
Brian Hemphill, vice president for Student Affairs and Enrollment Management, also noted in an email interview that individual motivation impacts a student’s success in college.

On average, however, he said student quality impacts retention rates, graduation rates and overall student performance.

“I think it speaks to the overall NIU experience in that good students want to be here and we offer programs and service that appeal to those students,” said Kitty McCarthy, associate vice president for Enrollment Management.

Hemphill also said student quality is important to NIU because it will help with other Vision 2020 goals of increasing the number of students who study at NIU from locations in southern and central Illinois and will help increase overall enrollment.
Vision 2020 is the designation for the current strategic plan, at least until sufficient administrative interest in revision of the vision manifests itself (I'm not kidding with that phrasing, by the way).  The challenge facing Northern Illinois, as well as universities at the other cardinal points of the compass, and Illinois State and the  various branches of University of Illinois, is that each university currently has or currently plans to go after more of the academically stronger high school graduates.  But that pool is shrinking, and it's subject to precisely the same dynamic that depletes fisheries.
Over the past seven years, the number of students graduating high school each year in 23 Northern counties in Illinois has been increasing, according to the 2010-2011 NIU Fact Book. That number was expected to peak in 2011 at 132,129 students graduating, a 21.9 percent increase since 2004. The growth is projected to now slow through 2020, with fewer students graduating high school in Northern Illinois in 2020 than 2011.

The number of prospective students is not only declining in Northern Illinois - the number of public high school graduates in the Midwest is projected to decrease 6 percent between 2007 and 2020, according to a report released by the National Center for Education Statistics in September.

Kitty McCarthy, associate vice president for Enrollment Management, said NIU will see increased competition to recruit students because of the population decline.

“In Illinois, schools like NIU wanting to grow [are] competing for a shrinking pool, and then you combine that with some of the out-of-state and even for-profit competition, and it will be fierce,” she said.

McCarthy said universities have been preparing their recruitment strategies for this increased competition.

“This population decline has been on everyone’s radar,” she said. “... Everyone’s been in a building mode, and it’s going to continue.”
Whether the competition for stronger students will continue as the pool becomes smaller, or whether one of the universities will emphasize access in preference to other criteria for admission, or whether we will see another round of retrenchments, with retired or raided faculty not being replaced, is yet to be determined.

PENNY-WISE, POUND FOOLISH.

Work continues on the extension of Amtrak's Downeaster service beyond Portland to Brunswick.  The existing service is, as Cold Spring Shops wished, attracting additional riders and drawing compliments for timely and courteous service.

Residents of Brunswick, however, don't like the idea of a train terminal in their backyards.
Residents of Brunswick have concerns about the impacts of the facility. At a town council meeting on February 28, Patricia Quinn, Executive Director of the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority (NNEPRA) presented a detailed explanation of the facility and the efforts to mitigate noise, pollution and vibration concerns which the Brunswick West Neighborhood Group continues to raise. Many of the group’s members spoke in opposition to the facility or the data presented.
Until a fueling station for the diesels and a facility for cleaning coaches and restocking the cafe cars is in place, Brunswick trains will either run through from Boston or originate as a turn out of Portland to head to Boston.  That defeats two of the advantages of a train, frequency and connectivity.  When we speak of connectivity, that includes being able to make connections to Acela services in Boston and to Maine Eastern summer trains in Brunswick.

HO-HO-B-H-O-G-8-SUMMIT'S-GOTTA-GO.

Lyndon Baines Johnson, onetime darling of the self-styled progressives as the most effective president at passing the right kind of legislation, couldn't run for re-election in 1968, and stayed away from the Democratic convention in Chicago because of outrage to his left.

Barack Hussein Obama, who occasionally draws kudos from contemporary self-styled progressives for effectively getting health care, infrastructure, and pay equalization bills through Congress, has to move the economic summit from Chicago because of outrage to his left.

The heirs to the Youth International Party declare victory.
Ministerial meetings and summits like the G8 have increasingly been held at remote locations to lessen the likelihood of mass protests, which have become common venues for democracy and global justice activists to mobilize around. When the G8 was last in the U.S., it was hosted at the isolated and luxurious Sea Island Resort in Georgia.

The institutional violence and anti-democratic nature of NATO-G8 is again affirmed by Obama’s unilateral decision to move the G8 summit. Neither of these bodies allow for the people to participate directly in crafting the policies that affect so many and to characterize the talks as needing protection from interruption—as HR 347 does by criminalizing the protesting of persons or events under Secret Service’s direction—reveals the authoritarianism of the system. Without provocation, it is unlikely that the state will outright suppress the Occupy movement with direct violence. Rather, the state needs the force of the law to protect itself from protest and civil unrest, particularly when that defiance is nonviolent and more difficult to counter.
Dig it, they stopped the pigs, made them run and hide.
“They realized they [G8] couldn’t actually put on their little show of power,” Bill Ayers told a group of about 50 people at the Golden Frog Cafe in an appearance hosted by the Foundation for a United Front. “It’s a defeat for them and a victory for the people’s movement.”
In the same interview, Mr Ayers regrets not having gotten to know Our President better.

History doesn't repeat, but sometimes the rhymes surprise.

12.3.12

THE TYRANNY OF THE HIGHLIGHT REEL.

Here's Cold Spring Shops, on the degeneration of basketball, two election cycles ago.
Very few men's teams (unless they are coached by a Bennett) understand what these things mean. For "low standards of athleticism," substitute "presence of transition defense, precluding breakaway dunks by a bucket-hanger." Very few men's teams (same disclaimer) get this either. That leaves as "drama and excitement" the typical men's game (including in the NBA), characterized as 36 (or 44) minutes of no defense and individual improvisation, followed by 30 minutes to play the remaining four minutes, in which the leading team plays no defense and the trailing team commits fouls.
Now comes Minneapolis Star-Tribune sports pundit Patrick Reusse, interviewing St. Louis coach Rick Majerus, who has a similar assessment.
"We've taken some good things from the NBA -- shot clock, three-pointer, now the charge-block cup painted on the floor -- but we've also taken things that make it not as pretty of a game," Majerus said.

"It's more a 1-on-1 game, more a pick-and-roll game, and that's the pro influence. There are also very few big men, and we have more of a premium on the three-ball than ever.

"Overall, the three has been good for our game, but that's only when the right guys are taking those shots. You go into any gym now, and watch kids from 7 to 17, and they all gravitate to the three-point line. Even the kids that can't shoot are out there throwing up threes.

"The middle [-range] game is gone. The players we get in college -- it's about the dunk, the three and, more subliminally, about me as an individual. No bad intentions, just kids that want to do it by themselves."

Majerus had Andre Miller as his point guard with Utah's national runner-up. The other prominent point guard in Salt Lake City at the time was John Stockton.

"Stockton and Andre made the pass, they took the open shot, and if they got to the basket, they laid it in," Majerus said. "One factor in the lower scoring we have now is that there are more missed layups than ever. Everyone is trying to style the layup."
As an exercise, keep track of how many blown bunnies contribute to the busting of your brackets.

(Via Newmark's Door, where you'll also find a discerning list of excellent posts from econobloggers.)

MINDLESS QUANTIFICATION.

Cornell economist Robert Frank analyzes the positional arms race among universities that aspire to high status, and the students who seek to enroll there.
Because of the bitter competition for those premium salaries, elite educational credentials are often a precondition for even landing a job interview. With so many applications for every vacancy, many consulting firms and investment banks , for example, now consider only candidates from a short list of top-ranked schools.

Degrees from those schools clearly open doors. For example, more than 40 percent of the 2007 graduating class at Princeton landed one of the most highly sought prizes: a position in the lucrative financial services industry.
For all the good that did: all those geniuses had exactly the same preparation for the surprises that hit their sector.  At least a few universities, however, recognized the excess demand for academic prestige and worked to lift their game.
Their main strategy has been to bid more aggressively for the most distinguished researchers, which explains not only the rapid salary growth for top faculty members in the last several decades, but also the fact that teaching loads at many elite schools have decreased by more than 25 percent. Similar, albeit smaller, changes in salaries and workloads have percolated throughout higher education.

Yet no matter how much universities might spend in pursuit of elite status, only 10 percent at any moment can end up in the top 10 percent.
Since the top 10 percent do not provide enough graduates to fill all the high-status jobs, the quest for stronger academic programs is not futile. The problem, however, is getting misinformed stakeholders to do the right thing.
Richard H. Thaler, a former colleague at Cornell and another contributor to the Economic View column, once remarked about an unsuccessful candidate for a faculty position, “What his résumé lacked was five bad papers.” By that, he meant that while the candidate had published several papers containing enough genuinely important ideas to satisfy any rational hiring committee — more than could be said of most faculty members — he had too few to satisfy the bean counters, who fretted about how uninformed outsiders might react to the appointment.
The column concludes with a suggestion that increasing marginal tax rates might do something to stem the competition for credentials.  Perhaps so, but another interpretation of widening salary gaps among graduates of different majors and different universities might be an overproduction of content-free degrees.

IT'S THE ECONOMY, STUPID.

According to Michael Barone, Governor Romney isn't saying it in exactly that way, but the bourgeoisie might be receptive all the same.
I sense that affluent voters find Romney a kindred spirit — articulate but politically awkward, self-disciplined and successful, able to make a sharp argument but polite. He’s conservative on cultural issues, but in a way that reminds me of the 18th century Englishwoman’s gravestone noting approvingly that “she was religious without enthusiasm.”

Barack Obama’s appeal to high-education and young voters in the Virginia, North Carolina, and Indiana primaries carried over into the general election. He carried all three in November, though none was a target state in 2000 or 2004.

Will Romney’s appeal to high-education and high-income voters carry over to the general election, too? That’s not clear.
Whether the so-called values voters who vote their beliefs rather than their pocketbooks will turn out for a Republican in November, or stay home, also remains to be seen.

THE WEAKNESS OF A FIXED-FORMATION TRAIN.

We've been following the purchase and rollout of Wisconsin's Talgo trains, which, to their credit, will have food service, but, to their disadvantage, are fixed formations of idiosyncratic stock.  Now comes news that the trains, as designed, will have insufficient seats for the Hiawatha passenger loading.
"It should be noted that the capacity of the state-owned Talgo passenger rail cars is less than that of the Amtrak-owned cars currently used in the Hiawatha service," says a footnote on the last page of an eight- page memo from the state Department of Transportation. "Currently, capacity is an issue on the current service on peak-period trains. The lower capacity of the state-owned trains will limit ridership and revenues at some point. Addressing the capacity issue will require the purchase of additional passenger cars from Talgo."

Amtrak says the Hiawatha is its most heavily used Midwestern route and the sixth-busiest in the nation. Last year, ridership grew 4% to a record 823,163, the first time it cracked the 800,000 mark.
A Trains report has Wisconsin officials debating whether to scrap the trains rather than put them in service. A simpler expedient might be to sell those trains to the Pacific Northwest service and buy some additional cars as part of the Illinois and Michigan car order, which will be for a Midwestern version of the California Corridor cars, which in California include a food service and a business class version.  (It's too much to ask, probably, for an updated version of the Super Dome as a lounge car.)

THE FLEXIBILITY OF ENTITLEMENTS.

These stories are both Instalanched.  One is a bona fide request to Canada's Human Rights Commission, citing oppressive provisions that require cars be parked in back.  The other is a probably parodic expansion of the list of employer mandates a proper health care policy ought include.

Living at the expense of others, indeed.

8.3.12

TO REMEMBER.

Neptunus Lex, retired naval aviator, flying to the end.

SEEKING INDIANA JONES?

He retired from Northern Illinois University to seek ever-larger fish.

ADVERSE SELECTION?

The Chicago Tribune attempts a Lorenz curve for public school suspensions.
African-American students comprised three-quarters of school suspensions in 2009-10, the year data was collected for the national civil rights survey. Latino students made up 42 percent of CPS' enrollment but 20 percent of the suspensions. White students, who represented less than 10 percent of district enrollment, made up 3 percent of suspensions.
The article notes that the students of African descent comprise about half the district's enrollment. The focus of the article is on alleged disparate effects of punishment on school completion, to which the realist might note that sinners are disproportionately represented in Hell, at the same time that it notes other differences within and among schools.
Although student discipline remains a thorny issue for CPS officials, the federal study shows African-American and Latino students in Chicago have better access to rigorous study, such as Algebra II, than minorities in other large cities.

It also shows Chicago's elementary school teachers at work in largely black and Latino schools are paid better than teachers in predominantly white schools in the city, while high school teachers earn significantly less than peers in largely white schools.
A government report offers additional detail.

NOT A TRAIN THEY WOULDN'T TAKE.

The Diamond Jubilee celebrations begin with a train ride.



The article suggests the royal party engaged first-class space on a regular train to Leicester (the 10.15 ex-St. Pancras, which appears to be a Midlands multiple unit train of some sort.)  Shame a Skytop Lounge or dome sleeper with a master suite doesn't fit the loading gauge.

3.3.12

WHAT WERE YOU DOING WHEN HITLER SHOT HIMSELF?

In Five Days That Shocked the World: Eyewitness Accounts from Europe at the End of World War II, Nicholas Best collects reminiscences from individuals, many of whom later became famous.  Book Review No. 6 recommends the work, for its pacing, readability, and no end of surprises, unless you're already a devotee of World War II arcana.  Jimmy Carter and Jack Kennedy make cameo appearances.  So does a sympathetic officer in the U.S. Army, who takes Benito Mussolini's wife in protective custody, allowing her son to become brother-in-law to a hungry girl the world later knows as Sophia Loren.  Alexandr Solzhenitsyn is already in another kind of protective custody.  Josef Ratzinger and Karol Wojytila have slipped away, at some risk, from respectively conscripted service and forced labor, anticipating a return to their devotions at seminary.  And Adolf Hitler's nephew William is in the Navy.  That's the U. S. Navy.  Fascinating collection of stories.

(Cross-posted to 50 Book Challenge.)

A GOOD PLACE TO BOARD A TRAIN.

Trains correspondent Fred W. Frailey likes Portland's station.
So that’s my nominee for best urban passenger station. Not too big, not too small for what’s demanded of it, but just right. It’s older than just about every other city passenger station in the U.S. without feeling old. Convenient to the city it serves and right next to the tracks. In other words, practically perfect in every way.
It's possible to board trains going long distances (Chicago, Los Angeles) and corridor trains to Eugene or Seattle there. The through-station layout is reminiscent of the long-lost Milwaukee stations. The Cold Spring Shops evaluation of the station dates from two summers ago.

I DON'T WANT TO PLAY TWENTY QUESTIONS.

I'm doing your company a favor by purchasing your goods or services.  I'm not interested in signing up for your own charge card (a single-store charge card is so 1948) or your frequent buyer club no matter how much money I'll allegedly save by signing up.   I prefer retailers that let me make my purchases and go without a lot of delay at the register.

Are you listening, Barnes and Noble? Carmike Cinemas?  Carson Pirie Scott?

And Farm and Fleet, Office Max, Penney's: my zip code is none of your business.