31.5.12

THE RETURN OF TRANSPORTATION CARTELS?

The safety enforcers are cracking down on bus companies.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s enforcement action primarily targeted three Chinatown operations in New York and Philadelphia: Apex Bus Inc., I-95 Coach Inc. and New Century Travel Inc. The government ordered 10 bus company owners, managers and employees to cease all passenger transportation business, including selling tickets, according to a Transportation Department statement.
The crackdown is reminiscent of efforts the authorities made to ensure safe for-hire transportation by jitney operators, years ago.
Curbside bus operators, which typically sell tickets online and pick up and discharge passengers on the sidewalk, have a fatal crash rate seven times higher than terminal-based operations, the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board reported in October.

The three primary targets in the U.S. crackdown controlled a network of other companies, leading to the 26 separate shutdown orders, the transportation department said. The companies’ networks included one ticket seller, nine active bus companies, 13 companies already ordered out of service that were continuing to operate and three companies applying for permission to operate.
Among those terminal-based operations is a legacy regulated carrier, itself subject to regulation thanks to protests from passenger railroads.
Sophia Xu, who sells tickets at I-95 Coach in New York’s Chinatown at 87 Chrystie Street, said Transportation Department officials came to the shop yesterday and said the company needed to close, without explaining why.

Signs posted on the glass outside and inside at the ticket counter give a phone number to call for online ticket refunds and say people who paid cash can get refunds at the counter.

Chen Chen, a fellow ticket seller, said Chinatown buses are being unfairly targeted.

“This doesn’t happen to Greyhound,” he said, holding a Chinese-language newspaper with pictures from the shop of police he said were rude.
Greyhound's fares, the article reports, are higher than those charged by the curbside bus operators. Next a legacy bus company will invoke cream-skimming.

HYSTERIA

Forever overwrought Chris Matthews really loses it.



What does Al Gore losing the electoral vote despite successfully getting out the vote in sympathetic districts in 2000 have to do with overreaction, if any, to voter fraud today?

29.5.12

APPLIED SCIENCE.

The University of Minnesota's Institute on the Environment describes the science of renewable coal.
CSR Project 130 has a simple goal: create the world’s cleanest, most powerful passenger locomotive, proving the viability of solid biofuel and modern steam locomotive technology. The Coalition will put its technology to the test by planning to break the world record for steam locomotive speed, reaching 130 miles per hour and demonstrating the viability of this revolutionary, clean transportation technology.

The locomotive will run on torrefied biomass (biocoal), a biofuel created through an energy-efficient processing of cellulosic biomass. Biocoal exhibits the same energy density and material handling properties as coal, but unlike coal, it is carbon neutral, contains no heavy metals, and produces less ash, smoke and volatile off-gases. Since it exhibits such similar characteristics to coal, biocoal has the potential to revolutionize the way the United States generates clean electricity.
The effects of commercial production of biocoal on the freight railroad infrastructure, which exists to move existing fossil fuel coal from mine to market will provide an opportunity for all sorts of research.

I wish, though, that promoters of advanced-technology steam locomotives (the Project 130 simply being the latest; there was a serious effort in the 1980s to develop a freight locomotive, and there's a model in HO scale, for an HO modeler with a lot of discretionary income) would understand the capabilities of the competition.
Preliminary research shows that CSR’s test locomotive will cost less to maintain and less to fuel, and will exhibit greater train handling performance than any diesel-electric locomotives available today. The modern steam locomotive has relied on technology that has been neglected for decades. This is about to change. With the ability to burn biocoal efficiently and without negative impact on the environment, CSR’s modern steam locomotive will also exhibit significantly better horsepower output at higher speeds than the current diesel-electric locomotives that pull the majority of passenger trains in the United States.
Might be wise for the technical team to ask some Milwaukee Road veterans about Fast Fifteen: any world speed record Milwaukee holds for steam locomotives was quickly rendered moot by a standard prewar E-6 diesel set. Might also be wise to talk to the British, where a diesel train that might have inspired a line in an Elton John song attained something like 145 mph on a test run, and thirty years later the production version still cruises at 125 on Brunel's billiard table.

THOSE MISSING BLUE-COLLAR ARISTOCRATS.

Milwaukee used to produce them, but recession or no, there continue to be shortages of skilled tradesmen, and the recovery is going to be slower for their continued scarcity.
The latest findings come from the seventh-annual Talent Shortage Survey being released Tuesday by ManpowerGroup Inc., a globally active staffing and recruitment company that has headquarters in Milwaukee.

Manpower found that 49% of U.S. employers encounter difficulty filling "mission-critical" positions within their organizations. Topping the list for a second consecutive year was a category called "skilled trades," which includes craftsmen such as steamfitters, tool-and-die makers, construction workers, bricklayers, electricians and industrial workers.

Also appearing on the list repeatedly since it began in 2006 are trades such as engineers and information technology specialists. The most common reasons employers run into trouble include lack of available applicants, applicants looking for more pay and lack of experience.

The problem is not new around Milwaukee, where some manufacturers complain they cannot fill orders or keep pace with the economic recovery, and some even chose to expand elsewhere in the United States or at offshore sites. In a regional study last year, the seven-county Milwaukee 7 economic development group estimated that 5,600 industrial jobs went unfilled despite chronic unemployment.
Where applicants lack experience, or seek higher pay, there is something called a compensating differential for employers to consider.

LIFE IMITATES PRELIMS.

What is the effect of no-fault divorce on the labor-force participation rates of married women?

Commitments are not as credible, and paid work is insurance.
Researchers believe it’s because marriage provides “implicit social insurance” for women, who are still more likely to be the secondary income-earners in the U.S. and Europe. So in the U.S., where divorce rates are higher, “women have a higher incentive to obtain work experience in case they find themselves alone in the future,” they write. “European women anticipate not getting divorced as often and hence find less reason to insure themselves by working as much as American women.”
The substitution effect of lower marginal tax rates offsets the income effect for men.

With diagrams.  Via Andrew Sullivan.

28.5.12

CONNECTIVITY, CONSISTENCY, CONVENIENCE.

My recent train ride to Longview, Texas might have been more instructive for what it revealed about Amtrak's passenger base than it did about the railroads' ability to manage an unusual movement.

Let's start with the case for connectivity.  Amtrak's long-distance trains do not exist as entities unto themselves.  Among the passengers I met are the following journeys: New York City to San Antonio, Toronto to Dallas, Pittsburgh to Arkadelphia (family reunion), Texas points to South Bend (Notre Dame graduation), business trip Chicago to Fort Worth and return, circle tour of U. S. baseball stadiums (in coach) originating in London (yes, the one with the Queen).  I was probably the only passenger riding solely for the detour (the serious railfans putting the mileage ahead of things as mundane as submitting grades).  In Longview, an attorney who remarked on my back-pack (certainly not an accessory to accompany a business suit and a court date) noted that the Texas Eagle was conveniently timed for business in St. Louis.  Probably competitively priced, even in the sleeper.  I didn't research those fares, but what I paid for the Chicago - Longview round trip came in as less than the Chicago to Longview round trip air fare, and my parking at Elburn and Metra connection to the train is cheaper than a rental car, choose any car in the aisle or not, and a hotel, which a business trip by air would involve.  Eighteen hours each way on the train, however, may be a losing proposition commercially, the availability of cell phone service and wireless internet over much of the route or not.  But Longview to Little Rock or St. Louis might work for the business traveler, although the Little Rock to Longview is for former members of the military or early risers or devotees of the red-eye, and you avoid the tender mercies of the Transportation "Security" Administration for the most part.  As one passenger put it, he'd like the carriers to treat passengers like a guest, not a suspect.

Conclusion: there is much Amtrak can do to encourage passengers to take journeys on multiple trains.  Much more, that is, than timing the east coast trains to arrive at Chicago in the morning and depart in the late evening, with the west coast trains leaving and arriving from midafternoon on.  (The Lake Shore Limited  deliberately has a late evening departure from Chicago so as to protect connections from late-running Western trains, and even with the timings, a Capitol Limited that was close to time at South Bend ran into the all-too-common Norfolk Southern freight train tangle west of there, and a few passengers transferring to the Eagle expressed dismay at not being able to visit the Art Institute or the Skydeck during their anticipated layover.)

Next, consider the consistency.  Amtrak 22 Texas Eagle, Longview to Chicago via C&EI detour, 17-18 May 2012: diesel 114, transition sleeper 39026, sleeper 32057, diner 38021, buffeteria car 37009, coaches 31042-34062-31003.  Hot but dry temperatures at Longview and dry rail.  Train arrives 6:23, my space in lower level of 32057, an unrebuilt car, conductor checks coach tickets and assigns passengers to seats at trackside, all passengers boarded and train in motion at 6:32.

Longview is the station where Amtrak passengers from Houston and Shreveport transfer from buses.  Frequently, a large contingent of passengers from these destinations makes the connection here.


The connecting passengers do not delay the train inordinately, and in a world where United Airlines has ended pre-boarding for families with small children and other air carriers have begun charging fees to obtain blocks of seats together and generally acting unfriendly toward family groups, perhaps the trackside seating assignments are a way to keep families together (an announcement as I'm settling into my room, after being informed I have a 7 pm dinner reservation, asking passengers to move to their assigned seats, suggests as much).  But airlines have a boarding process and load through one door.  Trains have multiple doors and car attendants so as to get passengers on board more expeditiously.



The consist this evening is a substitute consist, with the buffeteria car substituting for the usual Sightseer Lounge, and a standard diner substituting for the buffeteria car.  The usual crew for a Cross Country Cafe is assigned to the diner, which means seating in one end of the car only, the other end being commandeered for the crew office, and the spartan "Express Menu" with neither a steak option or the delicious lamb shanks of the outward trip on offer.  The train makes its crew-change stop at Marshall at 6:58; dinner call is at 7, train pulls ahead for passengers 7:04, stops 7:08, plenty of time for the imitation of an airline boarding process and waiting for time for an on-time departure at 7:30.  Too much padding in the schedule.  The half-chicken is decent, although my table-mates at breakfast the next morning make invidious comparisons to McDonald's.  Texarkana 8:45 - 8:50, again waiting for time, take what remains of the half-bottle of wine to my room, sack out.  Awake on the approach to St. Louis, shower is unoccupied, train arrives St. Louis approximately 6:45, as the water supply in the shower is about to give out.


Note the water supply not connected to the sleeping car.  The water tanks were not filled in St. Louis, and  when things go wrong, the wrongs sometimes compound.    Pull ahead 7:35 to place the coach doors close to the stairs, take on Chicago passengers, go 7:55.  Breakfast call (with a small crew able to serve only half the tables, a short wait list is still nearly an hour wait.)  Running well through Hillsboro and Nokomis; westbound freight waiting at Ohlman 9:34; stop 9:38, freight does not begin to move.  Conductor announces the freight train has a broken air hose that has to be repaired.  Tablemates willing to keep talking, we move to buffeteria car to continue conversation.

The railroads have reduced their expenditures in a number of ways over the years.  One economy was to convert sections of two or more tracks to one track with centrally-controlled sidings.  When it works well, it pays off, but when it breaks down, well, you miss that second track the New York Central once had here.  Another economy was to reduce through train crews to two people, and replace the caboose with a radio-equipped sensor to monitor brake pressure through the train.  But when that sensor notes a loss of brake pressure, the train stops, but the sensor can't walk forward with a replacement hose and the tools to do the change.  That's up to the conductor, forward with the engineer.  Or perhaps a carman from the mechanical department, if a radio-equipped pickup truck is nearby and the tracks are close to a road.  If it's an Amtrak train, its crew can help with the repair.  Train 22 reverses at 10:45.  Reverse movement again at 11:12.  Move forward again at 11:13.  Absence of water in the sleeper noted by the car attendant.  Compressed air toilets still flush, but in the adjacent car, the toilets don't flush, although there is running water for the sinks (but not for showers).  Reverse again at 11:34.  Pull ahead at 11:36; freight now also moving!  Dining car had originally intended to make first lunch call at 10:30 in anticipation of a close-to-time arrival in Chicago; subsequently announces that the first lunch call will be at noon.  That's something else for Amtrak to work on: the hours of operation of food service cars, whether diners or lounges, suggest that getting the books closed out before the train reaches the end of its run matters more than serving passengers.  The French toast and coffee were good, and they'll last until dinnertime.  Stop at east end of Ohlman siding 11:39, go 11:41.  Westbound manifest  holding at Pana, stop for switch 11:53, go 11:54.  Pass Findlay Junction 12:14, pass eastbound manifest 12:48; the shame of a digital camera is that one can't do grab shots of a prototype undecorated EMD switcher Tuscola or the current incarnation of 8080 at Villa Grove.  Tuscola 12:50, Villa Grove 1 pm; meet westbound stacks 1:05; attendant apologizes for failure to water car.  (Our train might have been scratched together in San Antonio, but the attendant told me that he first had to prepare all the rooms for a quick turnaround in Chicago as 58, a request later countermanded to stripping the bedding from all rooms prior to a move to Brighton Park for servicing.)  Pass Ellis 1:35, onto two main tracks at Woodland Junction 2:02, Watseka 2:08.  Time to meditate on the absence of the Georgian and the Dixie Flagler.  The last long-distance departure of the night from Union Station is a bus to Atlanta.   Crete 2:58, pass a manifest, stop Steger 3:01; 21 by at 3:02, cross over 3:02, pass CSX autoracks 3:07, pass UP covered hoppers 3:10; Thornton Junction 3:16, Chicago terminal dispatchers assiduous in moving us along, roll through the 80th Street complex 3:40.


Again, digital camera shutter lag.  Just before I took this picture, Michigan train 353, benefitting from the 110 mph running in Michigan, sailed past 22, arriving about 30 minutes ahead of its scheduled time.  Stop Harrison St. 4:05, arrive Union Station a minute or two later.  Somehow I manage to hustle to North Western Station in time to catch the 4:11 semi-fast, first stop Elmhurst.  (Didn't have to run, although my lower legs protested for the rest of the weekend.)

Not bad for an impromptu trip.  Amtrak would likely have a lot more friends if the timekeeping, running times, connectivity, and consistency of the sleeper and food service improved, judging by the comments from passengers.

BY THEIR FRUITS SHALL YE KNOW THEM.

"Be careful what you wish for" is a recent thesis nailed to Newmark's Door.  (I can't resist the Martin Luther reference, kinna hurra or not).  It's all about the folly of Utopian Wonkery, and each of the cited references is worth a visit.  The Trenchant Observation of the Day, or perhaps the Cassandra Award, goes to Victor Davis Hanson.
[F]or 30 years we have been lectured to death about global warming, the brilliant Ivy League technocrats, the genius of Keynesian borrowing, the need for multiculturalism in the White House, if only we had open borders, why lawyers and academics need to be in charge — all on the “what if” presumption that no one in his right mind would let any of the above become gospel. And so we had the constant liberal whine, “if only.…” Now we have it in the flesh, and in cathartic fashion Obama is going to purge us of that unhinged temptation for another generation.
Or not: the Permanent Republican Majority came a cropper sometime between Weapons of Mass Destruction and Terry Schiavo.  Legal pads are still relatively cheap, and with Waterloo Maple it's still easier to design worlds that cannot exist and prove the necessity of Corrective Taxation or Subsidy or Second-Best Intervention in those worlds in ways that reduce to Pithy Soundbites.

A COMMUTER DISCOUNT?

How else characterize a recent Northern Illinois University scholarship?  It's based on geography, not necessarily merit.
One of those tools is a $4,000 scholarship for local high school students who have at least a 2.75 cumulative grade-point average.

“Local students grow up hearing about NIU, and they drive by the campus,” said Anne Hardy, director of NIU’s scholarship office. “This is really giving them the opportunity to see NIU as a choice for higher education.”

The DeKalb County scholarship program started in 2011, and 61 local students enrolled at NIU with the scholarship last year.

Hardy expects as many as 90 students to enroll with the scholarship this fall semester. She said NIU officials won’t know how many students will attend until September, when fall enrollment numbers have been calculated.

Hardy said NIU stepped up its local recruiting efforts through the scholarship program because many local students have chosen to attend community college before entering a four-year school.

“[Community college] is a great choice for many students, but we also wanted to make NIU an affordable option,” she said.

She said students who attend four-year universities as freshmen are immersed in student culture early on rather than as a junior.
A 2.75 in high school? Some of the critics of the common schools who see grade inflation everywhere are likely to be non-plussed: that 2.75 is last century's failing.

More seriously, though, the university has grappled for years with the Illinois Articulation Initiative.  It prevents the kind of game-playing four-year and two-year colleges engage in to increase tuition yields to the inconvenience of students.  At the same time, the four-year institutions face a challenge in filling the general education classes that common wisdom has subsidize the upper division courses, and an economic incentive might be more effective than general education clusters or marketing the student culture (too often, alas, frats 'n football) as a way of bringing freshmen and sophomores on board.

CHAMPION OF THE RIGHT?

It's rare that Wisconsin politics make Illinois look good, but America's Dairyland is into the second year of recalls.

Recall, if you must, the carping the pundits of the right engaged in when Our President rolled out his re-election slogan, Vpereds, er, Forward.  (I've heard Our President say "together forward" but as yet he is not short-listed for our College of Law.)

In Wisconsin, though, current governor Scott Walker is using the expression "forward" (in red letters, no less) with reference to progress in job growth and fiscal stability, and branding the self-styled progressives seeking to fire him as the backward-looking wreckers.  The self-styled progressives take umbrage.

RAILWAY PRESERVATION.

A screen-grab from the Illinois Railway Museum web-camera.


In the foreground: an air-conditioned Chicago and North Western Commuter Streamliner.  There's nothing quite like seeing one's work-a-day conveyance in a museum to make one feel old.  Approaching the station on One: the Nebraska Zephyr, also air-conditioned, and in good enough shape to make occasional sojourns onto the mainline railroads.  Waiting on Two is Leviathan, a replica Civil-War era American Standard.  There are several other replicas of Gilded Age locomotives in steam, and enough Super Power era steam locomotives in preservation that our restoration money goes into returning those to steam rather than building replicas of the ones that were lost, as the British are wont to do.

FOURTH TURNING ALERT.

Via Media sees symptoms of the continuing third-worldization of the West.
That the survey is global offers Americans a small degree of comfort; certain corporate cultures abroad are known for their tolerance of shady behavior, and we can hope that the figures for American business are a little better. But that is no cause to be smug. A pervasive culture of dishonesty in business is more than a nuisance; it is a threat. There are always a few bad apples out there, but if we reach a tipping point where enterprise is habitually and routinely dishonest, the world will grow nasty and poor with surprising speed.

A pervasive culture of dishonesty forces everyone to deal defensively and to think only of the very short term. Systemic dishonest exacts huge costs; it also leads to a commercial environment where avaricious lawyers and ham-handed regulators have the upper hand.
He correctly recognizes the source of the rot, and the consequences of allowing it to spread and calling it inclusion.
We need teachers, headmasters, principals and college presidents and deans who are ready to stand up for (and be held accountable by) serious moral standards beyond the tepid green PC pablum that substitutes for serious ethical and religious discourse in many contemporary educational institutions.

Tolerance of unethical personal and business behavior among the rich and the powerful needs to be recognized for what it is: a deadly threat to all we hold most dear.
Amen.

LEARNING TODAY, LEADING TOMORROW.

That's the latest Northern Illinois University tagline, part of the marketing and branding that obsesses full-time administrators who don't have classes to prepare for.  A similar tagline didn't work for the University of Houston, but something similar works for Griffith (Indiana) Middle School, with farcical results.
Students who have the misfortune to attend school here have virtually no speech rights, pursuant to vague, arbitrary anti-bullying and intimidation rules that include such cryptic provisions as a ban on "innuendos," for which they may be suspended or expelled. They are subject to rules against using or possessing profanity, pornography or obscenity that include a breathtakingly vague prohibition of "other inappropriate materials" and a ban on "using or writing derogatory written materials." I suppose they could be disciplined for reading this post, which intentionally derogates Griffith School administrators.
I wonder if there are full-time administrators in Griffith who prowl the social media for infractions by students for whom they don't have to prepare classes.

THE STAKES ARE SO SMALL.

Yet corruption diffuses into collegiate women's basketball.

Baylor runs the table with its East German center, yet accepts sanctions for recruiting irregularities.
[Baylor coach Kim] Mulkey was stripped of two scholarships and forbidden from recruiting off campus this July. Which will hardly dissuade other coaches from employing the same tactics. What are a couple of lost scholarships and a month off the road compared with 40-0 and a national championship banner, with another one likely next season? The conclusion is that it’s entirely worth it to cheat.
Eastern Michigan displaces Toledo or Bowling Green as the power in the Mid-American, yet becomes the subject of an investigation into "tame violations".
[T]he team had regularly gone over the NCAA rule of no more than four hours per day and 20 hours per week of basketball related activities (practice, film, games).
Graduate programs generally limit students with 20 hour assistantships to nine credits per semester. Presumably basketball players take up to eighteen undergraduate credits a semester so as to graduate in four years.  The end to which some people will go -- just to win the Mid-American and become one-and-done in the national tournament.  The coach has resigned.

The previous day, Michigan's Kevin Borseth left Ann Arbor to return to the Green Bay Phoenix.

27.5.12

ORDER, COUNTER-ORDER.

Apparently there wasn't enough disorder in The Battle of the Crater as interpreted by historians Newt Gingrich and William R. Forstchen, so they took their historical novel so-titled and re-titled it as To Make Men Free.  Whatever.  The book takes its original title from an attempt by the Army of the Potomac to end the siege of Petersburg by undermining a critical fort and dropping it into a pit.  The new title probably refers to the prominent role of United States Colored Troops in preparing for the follow-on attack.

Book Review No. 15 will refer to the work as Battle, as it was by that title that I bought and read the hardback version.  I wonder if the book serves more as an allegory of Washington intrigue than as military history, no matter the title on the cover.  The usual maxim in military matters has a thousand fathers for victory, but the failure of the plan to drop the fort is clearly not an orphan: senior generals and senior engineers and more than a few quartermasters were involved.  I'm not conversant enough with the eastern campaigns to recommend a good analysis of the Battle of the Crater for comparison purposes.  Fortunately for the Union effort, the Confederacy was losing the war faster than the Federals could win it, with the failure at the Crater being followed almost immediately by the surrender of Atlanta.

(Cross-posted to 50 Book Challenge.)

MAYBE NOT SO LOST A CAUSE AFTER ALL.

Although the British are reuniting the six surviving Gresley Streaks for the 75th anniversary of a claimed speed record set by one member of the class, that record may not be safe for all time, in the same way that American League hitting records for pitchers, or Roman chariot racing records, are.


Railroad Picture Archive photo from Jeff Carlson.

That looks like a new candidate for the Scrap Line column header, but it's potentially a lively corpse.
A new Minneapolis-based organization, the Coalition for Sustainable Rail today announced plans to rebuild and modify ex-Santa Fe 4-6-4 No. 3463 into “the world’s first carbon-neutral higher-speed locomotive.” The engine was built by Baldwin in 1937 and has been on display in Topeka, Kan., since 1956. The group has already acquired the locomotive from the Great Overland Station Museum and Education Center in Topeka.
The locomotive is the last surviving 84" driver Hudson in the United States (the representatives from The Milwaukee Road going to scrap in the early 1950s, and the representatives from Chicago and North Western surviving in ore-thawing service until the early 1960s, when they also went for scrap.)

It is therefore fitting that a seven-foot drivered 4-6-4 with technical support in the Twin Cities be rebuilt to burn cleaner fuel ... and set a new steam speed record?
Seeking to develop a high profile and prove its technology, the group plans to use a modified 3463 in an attempt to break the world speed record for a steam locomotive, operating it at speeds up to 130 mph. It has named the venture “CSR Project 130.”
The plan appears to be serious.
Once its modernization is complete, CSR 3463 will have little in common with the smoke-belching steam engine it once was. Featuring a gas-producer combustion system, improved steam circuit, modernized boiler, low-maintenance running gear and steam-powered electric generator (to power the passenger train), CSR anticipates 3463 will be able to pull a passenger train with electric-like performance for less than the cost of diesel-electric locomotives. In order to further prove the viability of biocoal and modern steam technology, CSR plans to test the locomotive in excess of 130 miles per hour, out-performing any existing diesel-electric on the market and breaking the world steam speed record. In light of this achievement, CSR has named this endeavor: “Project 130.”
Keep in mind, though, dear reader, that a Milwaukee F-7 spun the dynamometer at Pennsylvania's Altoona test plant at 140 mph.

Steam dreaming aside, let's see how this project progresses.  After two years of frustration with the extension and upgrade of the Hiawatha service, something new in midwestern railroading appeals.

LIBERATING TOLERANCE IS INTOLERANCE.

Canada has hate speech laws too creepy even for Salon, and Quebec has now added a law requiring protesters to designate their free speech zones in advance.  A Montreal brewery has turned its annual sale of a special beer into a protest of the law.

Cold Spring Shops has long been on record against university free speech zones.  Maybe when tolerant, compassionate university administrators consider the implications of students protesting tuition hikes being turned into criminals because all of Quebec is a prohibited speech zone, they might rethink whether free speech zones are means to provide respect for all points of view.
The passing of Law 78 is a direct attack on the freedom of assembly and the right to protest. It not only bans unpermitted marches or any unpermitted gathering of more than 50 people, but the vaguely worded “special law” also threatens to levy enormous fines against organizers, unions and potentially anyone who participates in an unpermitted assembly. The law comes in response to the growing popularity of the student movement and can be read as as symptom of the government’s inability to control the movement; it is a sign that in some ways the students are winning. In fact, since its passage last Friday, the nightly marches have only gotten larger as more people see the struggle expanding from the single issue of university tuition to a broader one that includes the right to protest and the suppression of dissent.
Whether that dissent generalizes to California, where tolerant, compassionate administrators preach respect for diversity until they encounter some, remains to be seen.

STRESS.

The homefront is sometimes the toughest test for Special Forces.
Indeed, the long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have pushed many troops to their limits, with a spillover effect in military families that can test relationships and often end them. Even as the war in Afghanistan winds down, special operations troops — including Delta Force, Navy SEALs, Green Berets and Army Rangers— are expected to continue playing a crucial role, fighting at a high tempo.
The article is instructive. Read and understand. The Special Forces are also working with Olympians, who are getting a new idea what tough training is about.
"These guys are extremely motivated," Kenneth Andreasen, U.S. Sailing's high performance director and head coach, says of his sailors. "Having the Navy SEALs here is amazing. They have the training, the background, and (the athletes) have respect for them.

"The biggest part of this is the mental side of it — that they don't quit, that they keep on going. That's the biggest lesson."

When asked whether these sessions are at all similar to actual SEALs training, one of the SEALs says, "It's really not that close a comparison."
Special Forces work with Olympians in part as a way of recruiting fit, motivated people to the Special Forces. Whether the stresses an Olympic effort might put on a person's private life are comparable with the stresses of a military career is left to the reader as an exercise.

IT IS UP TO THE PROFESSOR TO MAINTAIN STANDARDS.

At Inside Higher Education, John Warner, deputising for Oronte Churm, reacts to Janice Fiamenco's Unteachables post.  Mr Warner concurs with a Cold Spring Shops diagnosis in part, then dissents in part.
It would be hard-to-impossible to argue that the “everyone gets a trophy” mentality hasn’t resulted in some, let’s say, excesses of self-esteem that occasionally rear themselves in ugly ways in the classroom. I don’t think this concern is limited to traditionalists or conservatives, however, as you can hear this lament in the hallways of the most liberal of institutions.

I think it’s just as reasonable, however, to argue that the attitude of entitlement is rooted in the corporatization of higher education, where a degree is a commodity, and students (and parents) are customers.
There's plenty of blame to go around, but you'd think that higher-education-as-business might recognize what the graduate programs in business do, namely, that the customers are the employers who hire tables at the job fairs, not the students.

Keep reading, though.
Ultimately, though, that debate isn’t all that interesting to me. Whatever the cause, many of us agree on the result that winds up in our classrooms.

What piqued my interest is her conclusion that these students are somehow “unteachable,” because my experience is the opposite, and the notion that today’s generation of students is somehow any more “unteachable” than any other is total horseshit.
Indeed. Teaching is a lot like farming, although the growing season begins in late August.
When I look at my classroom at the start of each semester, particularly in a freshman writing course, I realize that I’m looking at a room of people who, in reality, don’t really know what it is we’re there to do.

I know this because I was them. My hunch is that Professor Fiamengo was not. Professor Fiamengo is assuming our students to be familiar with things they can’t possibly know, or, even on her own terms, are too warped by their progressive educations to understand.

If our students don’t know something we think they should, it is our job to teach them.
The column is instructive, particularly for beginning professors, heck, for veteran professors who would like to encourage student achievement without shamelessly becoming undemanding (which the students will see through in any event.)
When it comes to grading, I tell them that grammar and mechanics and accuracy count because in this class, the ideas are inseparable from the way they are expressed. I explain my attendance policy (there isn’t one), my loathing of cell phones, why I don’t allow computer-aided note taking, what to do if they miss class. I briefly describe all the assignments they’ll be doing. I inform them of my teaching philosophy, of my grading standards, and even the historical distribution of grades in the class.

In sum, I inform them of all the things that I believe are important in the course and discipline we are studying, and I am inviting them on board the train as it leaves the station.

Does everyone get on board? Of course not. Do I still get disgruntled and upset students in my office? Of course I do. But when they’re there, it’s not to try to move me toward their standard, it’s to understand what they should be doing differently to succeed at mine, something I’m willing to spend as much time as necessary doing.

What I am doing, is offering them access to a kind of power, a freedom, agency over themselves and the world.
I like the reference to getting on the train. Some years ago I heard someone offering two different visions of teaching styles, using the 'bus as a metaphor.  Do you keep the 'bus on time, or do you make sure the people get on the 'bus?  It's a rare semester that I don't apologize to a class for scheduling too much stuff, then cut out a topic or a reading, rather than cause unnecessary stress.  The main material is challenging enough, whether I get through all the subtleties or not.

20.5.12

ELIMINATE THE IMPOSSIBLE.

The Excessively Complex, too, particularly if you wish to solve mysteries.  First read The Sherlock Holmes Handbook: The Methods and Mysteries of the World's Greatest Detective.  It's Book Review No. 14.  The contents will be left to the reader as an exercise.  I did like one of the Holmes quotes from the end of the work.  From "The Adventure of the Copper Beeches" comes a theme for a model railroad display now a-building.  "The lowest and vilest alleys in London do not present a more dreadful record of sin than does the smiling and beautiful countryside."  Why else would Holmes and Watson be coming and going from Paddington Station or Victoria Station.

(Cross-posted to 50 Book Challenge.)

RECALLING THE ZIPPER.

The Chicago and Eastern Illinois Railroad provided a Chicago connection for Louisville and Nashville passenger trains to New Orleans, Atlanta, and Florida destinations.  For a time, the carrier also offered its own passenger train between Chicago and St. Louis.  This service included a day train called The Zipper (connecting downstate with a motor train called The Egyptian Zipper to Thebes) and a night train called Silent Knight.  These trains all vanished with the coming of Amtrak, although Amtrak's Floridian returned to C&EI rails, missing Louisville,  for a few months in 1974 and 1975.

In the 1960s, the railroad became a takeover candidate, with both Missouri Pacific and Louisville and Nashville seeking a Chicago entrance for their freight trains.  The resolution involved what Trains magazine referred to as the wishbone, with Missouri Pacific taking ownership of lines south and west of Woodland, Illinois, Louisville and Nashville taking ownership of lines south and east, and the carriers jointly owning the two-track mainline north of Woodland into the Chicago area.  Subsequently, Missouri Pacific became part of Union Pacific, and Louisville and Nashville part of CSX Transportation, but the joint operation remains.

Thus, when Amtrak and Union Pacific have engineering work on the Alton Route through Bloomington and Springfield, there is a detour route available for passenger trains.  Typically the Texas Eagle for beyond St. Louis detours, with the St. Louis corridor trains turning at Springfield, or replaced by buses.

This spring, there have been several such detours, often announced well-in-advance, as improvements on the Alton to make possible 110 mph operation proceed.  One such detour took place just after the end of the academic year, and I took advantage of the information to secure sleeper space to Longview, Texas, which seemed like a good place to spend a day and turn back.

A rider with a greater taste for adventure can attempt a turnback in Dallas, although there's not much time in town between trains, and the margin for error in case of trains running late is too small.  Another possibility is to ride the detour only, with an overnight in St. Louis, or create a Chicago - St. Louis - Kansas City - Chicago circle tour out of it, with ample time for sightseeing or dining in either St. Louis or Kansas City (the trains aren't frequent enough to create blocks of time during business hours in both cities.)  In October, 2010, rail enthusiasts Otto Dobnick, Dave Ingles, and Rick Moser did the St. Louis turn on a previous announced detour.  Their trip log is amply illustrated.

An Amtrak detour has ample potential for adventure, simply because of the day-to-day challenges (which also affect freight trains) of getting a train from Chicago's Union Station to the operating railroad.  My use of the locution "Chicago area" reflects those challenges.  Amtrak dispatchers regularly use backward induction to get a train out of Chicago, first asking the CSX or CNR or Norfolk Southern dispatcher if he'll take a train; upon getting that commitment telling the dispatcher of the line connecting to CSX or CNR or NS that the train will be able to move to that line; then work backward in like manner until the line connecting to Union Station has accepted the train, and then the train moves on time.  When the dispatchers haven't worked together in that manner, trains can wait, and wait, and wait, as was my experience in the summer of 2001 when a Cardinal headed for Washington, D.C. was held off the CSX line to Indianapolis until the dispatcher could find a path for it.

Amtrak 21 Texas Eagle, Chicago to Longview, Texas via C&EI detour, 16-17 May 2012: diesel 53, transition sleeper 39008, sleeper 32018, buffeteria car 37010, Sightseer Lounge 33031, coaches 31044-31010-34041.  Seasonable temperatures and dry rail.  Space in lower level of 32018.  Go 1.45, stop at coach yard, go 1.53, easy transition from PRR to C&WI, also used by Metra's Southwest trains and Amtrak's Cardinal; stop at 80th St 2.25, freight train crossing, go again 2.30; stop 2.35 pm at 115th St.


Here's 22 with 164 and 8 cars, both trains move at 2.38, pass milepost 16 at 2.42; stop Dolton (now on ex-C&EI trackage not used by other Amtrak trains) 2.52 "awaiting a signal", go 3.10.  From here our progress is mostly at 60 mph and freight trains are generally out of the way.  Pass Watseka (TP&W crossing) 4.17; Woodland Junction 4.23, overtake stack train 4.50; dinner call at five; overtake mixed goods 5.22, Villa Grove 5.30, pass Tuscola (IC crossing) 5.40.

I made mention of a buffeteria car.  That's a Milwaukee Road locution.  Amtrak calls its reconfigured dining cars "Cross Country Cafe" cars, and one such car served as the dining car on this night's 21.


One end is set up as a self-service area and an attended buffet.  The other end is set up as a diner, and there are apparently different configurations of these cars.  The point of this configuration is either to offer a dining service with a smaller crew, as is being done on this run, or to offer an economy food service out of the buffeteria.  Despite the economy setup, the diner offers a deluxe menu, with steaks grilled to order, or lamb shanks, or chicken, or a few other items, and apart from the vegetarian special, patrons can choose either potatoes or rice.  Fewer people are served at each seating than is possible with a fully-staffed Superliner diner, although we will see the carrier introducing other economies, including seating in half the diner, in subsequent reports.  Out of view to the left is the table commandeered by the crew for their mobile office.  There has to be a better way of providing crews with a work space than a practice that gives lounge patrons the impression that the train exists for the benefit of the crew.

Pass Findlay (where the Egyptian Zipper used to connect with the Zipper) 6.12, pass Pana (which used to be where the C&EI used New York Central double track into St. Louis, and the crossing of the Illinois Central Charter Line) 6.34, meet eastbound stacks Hillsboro 7.03, Vierling Junction 7.50, Venice 8.10, arrive St. Louis 8.31.


The hotel and assorted other buildings block any view of the Gateway Arch.  There's time for a stroll, and for smokers to smoke, and the locomotive to be fueled and the southbound passengers to board.  Leave St. Louis 8.55, room made down, shower at Texarkana 6.30 on the 17th, pass Atlanta 7.10, protracted station work at Marshall hand-throwing switches, recrewing, then taking passengers, leave 8.14, arrive Longview 8.39, almost on time.


Longview is where the Amtrak passenger destined for Houston or for Shreveport changes to a bus.  There's more to say about Longview, and about the value of connectivity among the long-distance Amtrak trains, to come.

YOU ARE PAID TO SAY NO AND UPHOLD STANDARDS.

Janice Fiamengo of Ottawa dreads encounters with incompetent grade-grubbers.
Meetings about bad grades are uncomfortable not merely because it is unpleasant to wound feelings unaccustomed to the sting. Too often, such meetings are exercises in futility. I have spent hours explaining an essay’s grammatical, stylistic, and logical weaknesses in the wearying certainty that the student was unable, both intellectually and emotionally, to comprehend what I was saying or to act on my advice. It is rare for such students to be genuinely desirous and capable of learning how to improve. Most of them simply hope that I will come around. Their belief that nothing requires improvement except the grade is one of the biggest obstacles that teachers face in the modern university. And that is perhaps the real tragedy of our education system: not only that so many students enter university lacking the basic skills and knowledge to succeed in their courses — terrible in itself — but also that they often arrive essentially unteachable, lacking the personal qualities necessary to respond to criticism.
Yes, that behavior is learned, and yes, there is much to say about so-called progressive education depriving young people of the reality checks they will encounter only later, in harsher forms. And yet, it is your duty as a professor to say no and uphold standards.  Catching up on technical papers or your reading, and writing your own technical papers is also part of the job, but without the saying no, tactfully, to incompetent grade-grubbers, there is no reputation for selectivity to exploit when your research competes with that of others.

THE LIMITATIONS OF GOVERNMENT.

We have from time to time observed the maturation of Tom Brokaw.  In 2007 came a conjecture.
There was enough of a consensus that a midwestern graduate of a state university and a graduate of one of the Ivies could hold the same positions. In Boom, however, Mr Brokaw repeatedly (is it unwittingly?) suggests that shared consensus was one of an out-of-touch elite.
By August 2011, in the middle of Our President's contrived debt-ceiling crisis, came evidence that Mr Brokaw was beginning to recognize reality mugging him.  His The Time of Our Lives might have also been recognition that Reliance on Washington has reached its limits, although in that book he still keeps the notion of a Vital Progressive Center alive.

On May 6, while Cold Spring Shops was occupied with end-of-the-semester preparations, Mr Brokaw might have encountered Reality, perhaps on the road to Red Wing.  Some instructive observations to Meet the Press followed.  So far Mr Brokaw hasn't been sent to the stake, but he's living dangerously.
I've been all over the country in the last three weeks.  And with all due respect to the president, there's a real wariness out there.  They've gone from having pneumonia now to having a kind of strong virus when they look at the economy.  And you could use that old phrase, you know, "Fool me once, that's your fault, fool me twice, it's my fault."  I think that the country has felt that they've been through these kind of false up-ticks two or three times now in the last couple of years.  And they're waiting.
In a following paragraph, he keeps the hope of a Vital Progressive Center alive, but it's become a false hope among the voters.
The other point of it is, David, that wherever I went, people feel excluded from the process.  They think that it's now been concentrated on two extremes of the two parties.  And a big part of the middle feels left out, that they don't have a voice in it anymore.  So they're turning their backs on Washington and just worrying about what's going on where they are.
It will take future historians to lay to rest, for once and for all, the false magic of compromise. (See Three-Fifths Compromise and Missouri Compromise for existing examples.)  In the present troubles, a dispassionate analysis of the compromise creating majority-minority districts, meaning safe seats for Democrats, in such a way that Republicans can also create safe seats.   As a consequence, the median voter in a Democratic or Republican primary is a very different person from a median voter nationwide, and representatives in Congress have little basis for understanding contending perspectives, as they've had no incentive to learn them.

The Washington press corps, in Mr Brokaw's view, is no longer an advocate for the people.
I've been-- as I've gone around the country, a lot of people say to me, "What's happened with the press?  What's happened with political coverage in America?  We don't feel connected to it."

And then I was out on the road when the White House Correspondent Center popped up again.  And I looked at the C-SPAN coverage and read all the accounts of it.  And if there's ever an event that separates the press from the people that they're supposed to serve symbolically, it is that one.  It is time to rethink it.  You know, it's-- look, I think George Clooney's a great guy.  I'd like to meet Charlize Theron.

But I don't think the big press event in Washington should be that kind of glittering event where the whole talk about is Cristal champagne, taking over the Italian Embassy, who had the best party, who got to meet the most people.  That's another separation between what we're supposed to be doing and what the people expect us to be doing.  And I think that the Washington Press Corps has to look at that.  And by the way, I'm a charter member of the White House Correspondents Association.  I was there early on and often, and often enjoyed it.  But it's gone beyond what it needs to be.
It has been my hope that someone will run for president with the objective of lowering expectations: no longer Chief Operating Officer of The Economy and Commander in Chief of the Free World and Father Confessor and Keeper of the Down Pillows. Perhaps, though, the leading indicator will be from the press, in the form of one of the Sunday shows returning to a studio in New York City, or even Los Angeles, rather than Washington, or, more encouragingly, setting up in Chicago.

THE LIMITS OF FLY-BY-WIRE.

Designers can build safeguards into planes, but the mechanical assistants can only be designed with experience in mind.  Sometimes that experience comes the hard way.
Airline pilot Denny Fitch was hitching a ride home on a DC-10 in 1989 when heard an explosion somewhere in the back of the jet. He soon made his way to the cockpit to see if the crew needed help.

Inside, he found three men desperately trying to keep the giant plane in the air after losing all hydraulic power needed to control direction and altitude. Fitch took a seat in the only space available – the floor – and helped operate some of the only equipment still working – the wing engines – to try to land the aircraft carrying nearly 300 people.
Mr Fitch survived that crash, and his recent obituary reminds readers that he bought himself and some of the passengers additional years of life.
When the crippled plane crash-landed in Sioux City, Iowa, more than half of the passengers survived – one of the most admired life-saving efforts in aviation history.

After the accident, aviation experts conducted simulations in which test pilots and trainer pilots tried to land similarly stricken aircraft.

"I'm not aware of any that replicated the success these guys had," said Mike Hamilton, a United pilot who flew with Fitch. None of the simulator pilots were able to make a survivable landing.

"Most of the simulations never even made it close to the ground," Hamilton said.

And the teamwork of Fitch and the others on the flight deck is still a model for the industry.

15.5.12

SO MUCH FOR CONNECTIVITY.

As part of the security measures for the NATO Summit taking place in Chicago over the weekend, Metra is prohibiting large luggage and drinks on trains for the duration.

The last day of the conference will be Monday, May 21, and it will surely be an ugly Monday with no morning coffee on the trains.  (Because of heavy passenger loadings, the bar cars have all been converted for passenger use.  I wonder if the ban also applies to the one remaining subscription parlor car.)

On Saturday and Sunday, there may be Amtrak passengers connecting to and from Metra, and their luggage has to be left at Union Station, or ???  (As if the Metra or Amtrak schedules pay much attention to connectivity anyway.)

NO CHILD GETS AHEAD.

Ralph Nader contemplates the social waste that is the United States recruiting the best and the brightest from other countries.
Our companies need these skills. The foreigners have these skills and we want them here where they can flourish, and create profits and jobs. Never mind that our country has plenty of people waiting to have the same opportunity. By reducing tuition barriers, overcoming historic discrimination (e.g. lack of women engineers), reducing the 40 percent dropout rate from colleges, and working with youngsters on a one-on-one basis so that they are not left behind or skewered by misguided multiple-choice standardized test regimens, are all great ways to reach out to Americans.

Also, what about having ready and able specialists here who may have to be paid more than their overseas counterparts? These Silicon Valley corporations are making huge profits, pay few taxes, and receive subsidies known as R & D tax credits.

Now we see the grossest of contradictions. We have an agency for International Development (USAID), economists and politicians saying that developing countries desperately need these same skills or what they call “human capital.” They need engineers for their transportation, hydraulic and soil systems, physicists for their universities and modern industries, physicians for their sick and injured, nurses for hospital care, public health specialists for eradicating systemic diseases, and entrepreneurs to jumpstart businesses that deal directly with the necessities of life. Through many columns, the globetrotting Tom Friedman has urged developing countries to retain such native talent to build their economies. Yet he has also written that students from abroad receiving U.S. PhDs in the hard sciences be given immediate permanent U.S. residence en route to citizenship. Well, you can’t have it both ways. There is not a large surplus of such talent that we can drain them from developing countries building their own societies.
It's up to education policy makers in the United States to develop that human capital, rather than do things that impede its development, including the obsession with standard tests.  At the same time, it ought to be policy, or practice, in the United States to continue to build that city on the hill, and if that city on the hill attracts talented people from other countries, so be it.

WELCOME VISITORS.

The road to Cold Spring Shops is nailed to Newmark's Door.  Hello, and thanks.

LOSING THE POSITIONAL ARMS RACE.

The longer the wait from the end of the season, the more expensive it gets to keep the football team in camp.
In 2010, Northern Illinois had to wait two weeks between its loss in the Mid-American Conference Championship game and its victory against Fresno State in the Humanitarian Bowl in Boise, Idaho.

This past season, the Huskies had more than a month from their MAC title win in Detroit on Dec. 2 to the GoDaddy.com Bowl victory over Arkansas State on Jan. 8 in Mobile, Ala. That also meant players had to spend more time on campus and more money on meals. 
Helping kick off Mardi Gras in the cradle of Mardi Gras might have been fun, but the bowl revenues weren't that great.  Selling wins to Big Ten teams with large alumni bases in Chicago isn't always lucrative enough.
NIU received $431,680 in total revenue from the GoDaddy.com Bowl. Total expenses were $593,238, which resulted in the loss.

The internal athletic funds used to cover the loss include revenue from the Huskies’ game against Wisconsin at Soldier Field on Sept. 17, 2011.

NIU received about $850,000 in revenue from the Solider Field contest, NIU spokeswoman Donna Turner told the Daily Chronicle on Wednesday. That number falls short of expectations of $1 million. Wisconsin was paid the first $1 million in revenue, with NIU keeping whatever revenue was left, according to the game contract.

Included in the revenue figure from the GoDaddy.com Bowl was the $400,000 payout the school received from the MAC, as well as $31,680 in ticket revenue. NIU sold 738 tickets. The school distributed 1,708 tickets, which included free tickets for students and player comps.
Headquarters is of the view that the football visibility is worth it.

Just under three months to the next season, which will begin in Chicago, with Iowa playing the role of the visiting team.

10.5.12

DONE.

Union Pacific celebrates its sesquicentennial.  There's a steam train touring the railroad's historic territory (not including North Western and Missouri Pacific and the other lines that have subsequently become part of the system).

May 10 is significant to the carrier's history, as on that day in 1869, the last spikes were driven.


Happy 143d to the Transcon, and let the stack trains roll.  (And the coal.  And the corn.  And the pigs.  And the ethanol.)

GET RID OF THE TRAFFIC LIGHTS.

The Transportationist introduces naked streets.
In 2007, the Dutch city of Drachten did away with street lights in 20 four-way intersections, installing traffic circles instead. The shift caused a dramatic decline in the number of traffic-related deaths: one intersection went from 36 in the four years before the shift to two the year after. And vehicles now cross the junction 20 second faster.

"The idea is to create space where there is mild anxiety among everyone so they all behave cautiously. No one thunders along at 30mph on a high street thinking that they have priority," Owen Paterson, the Dutch Transport Minister, told Jalopnik. "Instead of the State laying down the rules, we need to give responsibility back to road users."
I hesitate to generalize from a small sample, but a few days ago a traffic light with a 90 second cycle was on the blink.  That 90 second cycle includes the left arrow, common in Illinois.  A lot of cars can back up in 90 seconds, particularly if the left arrow is in effect for the better part of a minute itself.  But cars don't arrive at that corner in packs because these aren't the busiest streets in town, and because it isn't near a shopping center with its out-of-synchronization access signals that generate packs of traffic.  So when the light is on the blink, drivers treat the flashing reds as a four-way stop, and with relatively infrequent arrivals of cars at the corner, wait times are a few seconds instead of up to two minutes.   Something similar might be at work to the advantage of drivers arriving at those Drachten rotaries.

A related article notes that there is a right way and a wrong way to time the traffic lights, in those areas where the traffic might be heavy enough to require signalling.
David Goldberg of Transportation for America says timed signals can be dangerous if they encourage drivers to speed through lights, and force pedestrians to wait too long for an opportunity to cross. He, like Flocks, is an advocate of systems like HAWK, which empower pedestrians to cross safely.

Flocks says timed lights can work if they're used correctly. She warns against systems that encourage drivers to speed up to get through as many lights as they can.

But some lights are designed to incentivize the opposite, she says. The key is the timing. If traffic lights are designed so that you have to speed a little to get through them all, then that's what drivers will do. But some cities have a system in place that punishes speeding drivers. Drivers going five to ten miles over the speed limit are stopped every third light. If you're going exactly the speed limit, you'll cruise down the road.
Those lights that favor the speeders are probably accidentally timed, if at all. There used to be several stretches of Warren Avenue in Detroit that somebody going 40 or faster could get a green at Grand and sail all the way to Wayne State without stopping, while somebody obeying the posted 30 (never enforced, even in those days) would encounter reds at each controlled corner. I encountered a stretch of U.S. 1 from Trenton to New Brunswick where I in my rental car was behaving myself and the locals were going 65 to 70 and making all the greens while, once again ...

Pedestrians are likely to be safer if the engineers make the effort to time the greens to encourage adherence to the speed limit, rather than putting signals in haphazardly with speeding-encouraging patterns that regular drivers discover.

SELECTIVE OUTRAGE.

The Perpetually Aggrieved in the academy can get annoying voices silenced.   It doesn't follow that the Perpetually Aggrieved refrain from stereotyping or in-group references in order to provide good examples for debating controversy.
What Riley did do was express a viewpoint on a very sensitive and controversial topic in academia, and a huge chunk of academia mobilized not simply to argue with Riley about the issue, but to ensure that she no longer had a platform upon which to express her opinions. It wasn't enough to simply convince people that they were right and the dissenter was wrong; as in so many FIRE cases, the dissenter had to be silenced in favor of those with the "right" opinions. Until our higher education culture rids itself of this compulsion, it will continue to poorly serve our students and our society at large.

The petition urging The Chronicle to fire Riley ended with the words "Viva civility!" If, in America, "civility" comes to represent banishing your opponents from the field of debate rather than debating them openly and fairly, this nation is going to have a very serious problem.
Liberating tolerance isn't that liberating, is it?

INTERCOURSE BECOMES CLOTHED WITH A PUBLIC INTEREST WHEN IT AFFECTS THE PUBLIC AT LARGE.

You get headlines like that when an economist schooled in public utility economics encounters a National Review editorial calling for a restrictive view of marriage.
The only good reason to have marriage laws in the first place — to have the state recognize a class of relationships called “marriage” out of all the possible strong bonds that adults can form — is to link erotic desire to the upbringing of the children it can produce.

We have already gone too far, in both law and culture, in weakening the link between marriage and procreation. To break it altogether would make the institution of marriage unintelligible. What possible governmental interest is there in encouraging long-term commitments with a sexual element, just as such?
A previous editorial addresses objections other commentators raised to that position.  A sentence toward the end raises a critical question. "The symbolic message of inclusion for same-sex couples — in an institution that makes no sense for them — would be coupled with another message: that marriage is about the desires of adults rather than the interests of children." Implicitly, it is the state, and not the culture, that is protecting the interests of children.  Doesn't that imply a competence for the state in protecting the interests of children that it has not demonstrated when it comes to providing education, or school lunches, or safe neighborhoods?

Put another way, the culture is doing just fine in protecting children -- in neighborhoods where the adults act responsibly, and not so well -- in neighborhoods where the adults don't.  Maybe it's time for the editors at National Review to unbundle government from culture, or Caesar from Christ?

9.5.12

UNIVERSITIES ARE FAILING AT THEIR MISSION.

The house organ for Business as Usual in Higher Education invites journalist Naomi Schafer Riley to participate in their Brainstorm forum, and she says some unkind things about area studies dissertations,  and the Perpetually Aggrieved do what they perpetually do, so the editor continues Business as Usual in the expected way.  Constructive self-criticism is collegial these days.
Since Brainstorm was created five years ago, we have sought out bloggers representing a range of intellectual and political views, and we have allowed them broad freedom in topics and approach.  As part of that freedom, Brainstorm writers were able to post independently; Ms. Riley’s post was not reviewed until after it was posted.

I realize we have made mistakes. We will thoroughly review our editorial practices on Brainstorm and other blogs and strengthen our guidelines for bloggers.
Long Live Comrade Stalin.

Minding the Campus has a list of recommended readings, from a variety of perspectives, on the post and the subsequent reaction.

Peter Wood, who holds the title of Most Favorite Administrator at Cold Spring Shops, has not yet been purged from the Innovations forum, but he's clearly showing sectarian and deviationist tendencies.  (Sorry, that doesn't sound so good in English.  There's a reason the murderer in Crime and Punishment is named Raskolnikov.)
So why did Riley’s opinion arouse such fury? It fell within the category of unspeakable observations in higher education—unspeakable because to voice them is almost certain to provoke outrage. The outrage is all the hotter because many people share Riley’s view that “black studies” and its variants are intellectually shallow and academically superfluous. To criticize, let alone mock, fields like this touches on higher education’s troubled conscience.

And higher education’s conscience is troubled because of the history behind such fields. Their rise owes less to signal intellectual accomplishments than to university administrators seeking to appease vocal constituencies. We have a collective pretense that the fields (black studies being the preeminent example) that combine identity group solidarity, a program of social change, and a fair amount of advocacy are “real” academic disciplines. It is impolite to call such pretenses into question because doing so unsettles some of the tacit agreements that undergird identity politics in American higher education.
Political correctness contributing to the failure of higher education? Where did we hear that first?

But the people calling for Ms Riley to be purged and exiled do a more effective job of illustrating those failings.  Poet Gina Barreca, hoping not to have to provide a Creative Response to Just Criticism, offers an uncreative response whose ending disclaimer fails to impress Benjamin Plotinsky, who has a real Ph.D. from a real university.
What I can say is that, as poetry, it’s an embarrassing failure — the work of a writer who doesn’t understand the first thing about verse, comic or not. The first stanza is a badly scanning limerick. The second and third stanzas abruptly change the meter and rhyme scheme to something resembling Lewis Carroll’s The Hunting of the Snark. The final stanza shifts abruptly again: It’s a quatrain with an AABB rhyme scheme and four lines of anapestic tetrameter. The one formal characteristic that unites the poem is how badly it scans throughout; I’d call your particular attention to the lines beginning “Where no one paid her” and “Poor NSR chewed off,” both of which utterly fail to be the anapestic trimeter that they’re supposed to be.
I suppose, though, that because his reaction is in National Review, it can be dismissed as so much bourgeois formalism.  So too must it be with The Wall Street Journal, which has called the house organ of Business as Usual the Comical of Higher Education.
That last sentence encapsulates the intellectual corruption of academia, a profession that ought to encourage intellectual adventurousness, not pander to those who are unable to withstand the "distress" of having their ideas challenged. But we've been irremediably cynical about academia since our undergraduate days. In our own field of journalism, however, we still recoil at a display of perfidy.

It is sometimes a useful exercise to take the things that people say at face value, especially when that is counter to their intended construction. Let's apply that technique to McMillen's post from last night.

According to McMillen--whose bio informs us she has been with the Chronicle for over a decade and has been its top editor for nine months--she was ignorant of the publication's "basic editorial standards" until a thousands-strong mob set her straight in the course of seeking to silence one of her writers.
Subsequently,the Journal goes after The Cravenness of Higher Education.
It is hard not to note the context in which Ms. McMillen dismissed Naomi Riley for committing speech.  Now more than ever, too many college graduates discover that their expensive higher educations send them into a modern workplace with skills that few employers want or need.  The graduates sit home, unemployed and unemployable.  Meanwhile, back inside the school walls, the Chronicle of Higher Education stands ready to eliminate any writer who causes distress to the modern generation of scholars who teach these students.
I invite the Journal's recruiting team to one of our job fairs.  Perhaps they're paying too much attention to the culture wars in the Ivies, and a visit to the land-grants and the mid-majors might counteract the daily running of the Occupy gauntlet of spoiled kids that is coloring their attitudes.

A FISH WITHOUT A BICYCLE.

As long as Julia has Barack Obama, she can get by without a man.

There's a hilarious send-up of the presentation, which has been laughed unto scorn all over the internet, at Reason.  Here's Jennifer Rubin, unimpressed by those fish.  "I would briefly note the irony of the liberal feminists’ idealized single woman: no husband and utterly dependent on government. This is progress?" She endorses a William Bennett reaction.
Julia's entire life is defined by her interactions with the state. Government is everywhere and each step of her life is tied to a government program. Notably absent in her story is any relationship with a husband, family, church or community, except a "community" garden where she works post-retirement. Instead, the state has taken their place and is her primary relationship.
Indeed so, but Mr Bennett notes it takes something more substantive than Not Obama to replace Our President. "Conservatives must be able to provide Julia an alternative vision for a better future. Without it, Julia might have nowhere else to turn but to the government, and that is nothing to laugh about." Puts the continuing Culture War circuses in perspective, doesn't it?

CHICAGO, WISCONSIN.

An instructive book titled How the States Got Their Shapes explains that Pennsylvania, Indiana, Illinois, and Minnesota all received special consideration by Congress in obtaining a Great Lakes coast.

In Illinois, a man named Nathaniel Pope merits mention on a historical marker, located on approximately the original Wisconsin border, Plankinton, er, Ogden Avenue.
Along Route 34 between Somonauk and Sandwich is the Sannauk Forest Preserve, and in the middle of that 72-acre woodlands is a state historical marker placed there in 1989. It reveals how this county and 13 others in northern Illinois almost ended up in Wisconsin. I just came across this bit of trivia last week and went to the library to learn more about Nathaniel Pope’s influence on Illinois.
It's possible that Mr. Pope, and not the elder Mayor Daley, invented the Illinois tradition of keeping dead people on the voting rolls, in his case in order to have sufficient people enumerated within the borders of the proposed state to qualify as a state.  But in so doing, he created a free state with a southern boundary south of Richmond, Virginia.
[Pope] wrote an article for the Western Intelligencer newspaper explaining his maneuvers in Congress. It turned out to be a brilliant plan because it gave Illinois a better foothold on the Great Lakes to help commerce, added thousands of acres of fertile farmland, and because half the population lived in this northern section, it later proved valuable in assuring the state would vote to stay in the Union and oppose slavery.
Perhaps in that transaction is the beginning of the Chicago and Downstate split. South of Plankinton, er, Ogden Avenue, Illinois takes on a more southern tone, complete with loyalties to the Cardinals rather than the Cubs or White Sox.  Cairo, however, had great value as a jumping-off place for Grant and Sherman.