29.11.12

ADDITIONAL CAPACITY FOR THANKSGIVING.

The Alton Route segment between Dwight and Pontiac, in Illinois, once again supports 110 mph running, just in time for the traffic heading over the river and through the woods.  A lot of that traffic is collegians bound for Chicago, on the Alton Route from Illinois State and neighboring universities.  (Somehow we make do at Northern Illinois without a train, although it's frustrating watching stack trains go by at 70 mph and wondering what if.)  Passenger loadings were high.  Because there is no large pool of spare equipment, the Chicago area corridor service is mostly reserved, and reservations were hard come by.
The biggest bottleneck in the Midwest is also on Sunday, when all five Chicago to St. Louis trains (including the Texas Eagle) are sold out between the endpoints; only the early morning departure is available on Wednesday. All Lincoln Service trains are running with five Amfleet I or Horizon coaches instead of the usual four. The situation is much better on Michigan’s Wolverine corridor than it has been in past Thanksgivings.
In the Chicago area, Amtrak assigned additional cars to the Chicago-Milwaukee Hiawatha service, including a full-length lounge car offering table space for groups or card players, and the one remaining full-length dome car, a former Great Northern car giving its best impression of a Super Dome Hiawatha.  (For a short time after the discontinuance of the Olympian Hiawatha, Super Domes were assigned as cafe-lounge cars on Madison and Milwaukee corridor trains.)

The carrier also demonstrated an almost British capability to service and turn consists quickly, with an additional round trip on the Quincy line provided by turning the 10.20 arrival of the Illinois Zephyr as a relief train leaving at 11.30, returning to Quincy in time to cover the 5.30 departure of the Carl Sandburg for Chicago.  Some additional trains on the Michigan corridor turned back at Kalamazoo, laying over at the Kalamazoo station on Amtrak's own tracks.  Passengers purchased the additional seats very quickly once the new trains were announced.
Amtrak added 20 additional frequencies out of Chicago between Nov. 21 and Nov. 26. Although most extras were on the Amtrak-owned Wolverine route to and from Kalamazoo and Ann Arbor, Mich., two extra trains also operated on the Illinois Zephyr-Carl Sandburg corridor between Chicago and Quincy, Ill. Instead of making of only two trips at the beginning and end of the day on Nov. 25, each set of equipment made a midday return journey.

Extra train No. 385 left Chicago at 11:30 a.m., less than an hour after No. 380 arrived from Quincy. It departed on time and carried more than 300 passengers, mostly students returning to colleges in western Illinois. One Horizon coach was held empty for passengers boarding west of Chicago; by the second stop at suburban Naperville, every seat was taken and conductors were scrambling to help passengers boarding further west at Plano and Mendota find seats. Train No. 385, like most short-distance Midwest trains over Thanksgiving weekend, operated with five coaches, one more than the regular consist, and a business class/café car. Of the 25 regional and long-distance trains departing Chicago on Nov. 25 (excluding the non-reserved Chicago-Milwaukee Hiawathas), only eight had any seats remaining at the time of departure.
I decided it was worth getting up early on the Sunday so as to be able to observe this rare Passenger Extra in action. Business class seating was available at the time I placed my reservation, but those seats were all occupied by the time the train left.

I'd previously ridden this route to the end of regular service at Quincy, as well as on the Missouri wye trackage used by trains running with one diesel, and by the Nebraska Zephyr.  The amenities of Quincy are at some distance from the station.  Thus the excursion turns at Macomb.

It used to be that one went to the department stores on State Street (or Fifth Avenue, or Wisconsin Avenue) to look at the animated displays in the windows.  We now make do with simulacra in the concourse of North Western Station, er, the Ogilvie Transportation Center.


The virtue of holding a Business Class ticket is that it allows use of the Metropolitan Lounge at Chicago's Union Station, far (until train time) from the madding crowd that fills the lame excuse for a concourse, with the overflow herded into the waiting room.  The stockings will be hung by the chimney with care.


I had plenty of reading material packed, but unaccountably not my notepad or pencil.  Thus, this report will not feature any train timings.  The consist was a matched set of Horizon cars topped and tailed by Genesis diesels: 31 - 54511 -54541 - 54532 - 54528 - 54574 - 54140 - 32.  Paint a yellow stripe above the windows on the Business Class end of 54140 and a Britisher would know where to go for first class.  The train was given a number 385 but not a name in the original announcement, although it was posted as "Carl Sandburg" on the monitors and departure board at Union Station.  Given the preponderance of passengers ticketed for Macomb, you could call it the "Leatherneck Zephyr."   The idea of holding coaches closed for boarding down the line dates to the traditional railroads.  Gone, however, is the custom followed by Illinois Central of parking more coaches than the train will require in Chicago, loading the coaches from the diesel back, then, when train time arrives, cutting the remaining coaches for following trains.


At Plano, some bar patrons might be relying on the horses' instincts to get them home.  That's not something you see every day in a smaller town.

A substantial number of passengers disembarked at Galesburg, where a Burlington Hudson observes the comings and goings of contemporary Zephyrs.


The bulk of the load left the train at Macomb.  Behind the camera and across the tracks were the city buses, lined up and awaiting passengers.  Many people decided to walk to their quarters at Western Illinois, which is across the tracks ahead of the camera.


I headed into the business district looking for some chow.  The town common was decorated for the holidays, as was this courthouse.


Nearby, an establishment called Chick's On the Square was open, serving sandwiches with sides, cold bock beer on tap, and football on the various televisions.  People were still returning to campus and many of the downtown businesses were closed for a long weekend.

The return train, using the same consist as the outward, with no wye move in West Quincy, was close to time and well-patronized for the return to Chicago.  It arrived in time for a connection to the last train to Kalamazoo, something Amtrak probably would not encourage, although there's no reason Midwestern railroads can't restore the tradition that a fifteen-minute connection at Union Station ought to be nominal performance.

ADMITTED WITH AN ASTERISK. GRADUATED WITH AN ASTERISK IF AT ALL.

It's no surprise that Michael Barone would write approvingly of a book questioning the effectiveness of preferential admissions, using the opportunity to take on the higher education establishment.
Mismatch is a story of good intentions gone terribly awry. [Law professor Richard] Sander and [journalist Stuart] Taylor document beyond disagreement how university admissions offices’ racial quotas and preferences systematically put black and Hispanic students in schools where they are far less well prepared than others.

As a result, they tend to get low grades, withdraw from science and math courses, and drop out without graduating. The effect is particularly notable in law schools, where large numbers of blacks and Hispanics either drop out or fail to pass the bar exam.

This happens, Sander and Taylor argue, not because these students lack ability, but because they’ve been thrown in with students of exceptional ability — the “mismatch” of the authors’ title. At schools where everyone has similar test scores and levels of preparation, these students do much better. And they don’t suffer the heartache of failure.
Standard stuff for National Review readers, along with the expected denunciation of "civility" enforcement that renders criticism of preferential policies as illegal per se, along with the usual hope that the accumulating evidence of universities failing at their mission will lead to an end for business as usual.

The business as usual crowd will have a more difficult time with a similar comparison penned by Leonard Pitts.
Indeed, for all the talk about the so-called "reverse racism" of affirmative action, I have long argued that the real problem with it -- and the reason it needs an expiration date -- is that it might give African-American kids the mistaken idea they carry some inherent deficiency that renders them unable to compete with other kids on an equal footing.

We should be wary of anything, however well-intentioned, however temporary, that conveys that impression to our children. I am proof we have been doing just that for a very long time. And it burns -- I tell you this from experience -- to realize people have judged you by a lower standard, especially when you had the ability to meet the higher one all along. So this "interim" cannot end soon enough.

Because ultimately, you do not fix education by lowering the bar. You do it by lifting the kids.
Commencing in kindergarten, or before. Enough of rationalizing dysfunctional behavior as some sort of transgressive behavior.

GET AN ADMINISTRATION WORTHY OF OUR STUDENTS.

The editorial board of The Northern Star expresses its lack of confidence in the vice president of finance and facilities.
[Eddie] Williams heads the Finance and Facilities division. According to the Finance and Facilities website, he’s responsible for bond revenue financial operations, Budget and Planning, computer support services, the Convocation Center, Employee Services and Human Resources Development, Institutional Research, Materials Management, the Department of Police and Public Safety, and Parking Services, among other things.

As someone who supervises these departments, he should know what is happening within them and he should know if there have been any breaches of ethics or protocol among the employees working in them. It’s his job.

Several employees from one department under Williams’ purview have been put on administrative leave for various allegations.
Among the departments reporting to Finance and Facilities are the University Police and Materials Management, both subjects of recent investigations.

26.11.12

LOW WAGES IMPLY AND ARE IMPLIED BY LOW PRODUCTIVITY.

Labor markets have a supply side and a demand side, and Paul Krugman suggests that employers who whinge about the quality of the help might have their pay packets and job descriptions to blame.
Whenever you see some business person quoted complaining about how he or she can’t find workers with the necessary skills, ask what wage they’re offering. Almost always, it turns out that what said business person really wants is highly (and expensively) educated workers at a manual-labor wage. No wonder they come up short.

And this dovetails perfectly with one of the key arguments against the claim that much of our unemployment is “structural”, due to a mismatch between skills and labor demand. If that were true, you should see soaring wages for those workers who do have the right skills; in fact, with rare exceptions you don’t.

So what you really want to ask is why American businesses don’t feel that it’s worth their while to pay enough to attract the workers they say they need.
An analysis of labor conditions in Chicago-area Internet businesses might be observing precisely that outcome.
While job creation may come as good news to the nearly 400,000 unemployed workers in the Chicago area, some people in the industry question the quality of the jobs that have been created post-recession. Designers, engineers and programmers used to be the positions associated with Internet companies, but experts say that most of these new jobs are low-skill and entry-level, often in sales or distribution.

Outplacement expert John Challenger, of Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc., went as far as comparing these entry-level tech jobs to factory jobs in the Industrial Era.

“While they might be cleaner and safer, these tech jobs are still low-skill jobs that are in demand,” Challenger said. Essential, but not necessarily high profile, much of the Internet’s job growth is due to the demand for these positions.

Chicago-based Groupon Inc. is an example of a company that hires primarily in its sales division. Roger Coakley is a former employee of the “daily deal” company that has hired a slew of workers since its launch in 2008. He was at the company for more than a year when he left in November 2011, looking for a “higher quality job experience.”

“It’s not a bad entry-level position for kids straight out of college, but they should expect terrible hours and unrealistic quotas,” said Coakley who started at the company after several other sales positions. “My job was based on cold-calling vendors in Charlotte, people I couldn’t even talk to face to face. I was making hundreds of calls a day and getting hung up on regularly.”

Also discouraging, Coakley said, was the lack of a career path. “The problem is that there’s not a lot of potential to move up,” he said.
A few years ago, short-term thinking in business led to the loss of institutional memory, as older middle managers seemed like a good source of savings by way of down-sizing.  The current round of short-term thinking is likely to prevent the development of institutional memory of any kind.

THE CASE FOR MORE ECONOMICS, NOT LESS.

Let us suppose, for the sake of discussion, that environmental decay exists, and that exhaustible resources mean genuine constraints.
Author and environmentalist Richard Heinberg drives home this point in his book, “The End of Growth,” making a compelling -- and I would argue readily apparent – case that that the world and everyone in it is subject to environmental limits. And unless we are willing to recognize and come to terms with the fatal flaw of conventional economics and its primary article of faith -- that these limits don’t exist and that anything can be replaced for the right price – it’s game over.

The current “financial crisis,” is only a symptom of a much deeper disease – one whose manifestations are being experienced (and are in full evidence) all over the world: Our lives and livelihoods are being wrecked, not just by debt, but by resource depletion, accelerating climate change and environmental devastation.

Those lives and livelihoods won’t be “saved” unless and until we reconcile this deeper dilemma.
I'd like to know where this conventional economics that ignores the limits to economic growth, or disregards incentives to conserve resides. "When an energy source that’s got half the carbon emissions effect also gets cheaper in absolute terms as well as relative to coal, economic and environmental benefits are aligned". But there's no opportunity to engage in radical vanguardism if the healing of the planet happens one substitution at a time.

THE FUNDAMENTALS MATTER.

Middle-class people often have university degrees, own houses, and hold steady jobs.  Professor Mead suggests that expanding access to college, and to mortgages, fails, absent the talent to get and hold a job.
Twice in a row, well intentioned federal policies aimed at helping low income people make it into the middle class have spectacularly backfired and imposed ruinous losses on exactly the people in our society who can least afford them. The answer isn’t to stop thinking about how to help low income people do better in life, but it’s clear that some of our basic policy assumptions need to be rethought.
As part of a meditation on misguided mandates on community college, the dean at Anonymous, er, Pioneer Valley Community notes, "Growth requires investment."  Investment requires return on investment.
Colleges could also tweak their admissions procedures and/or programmatic offerings to avoid the highest-risk students.  This would be easy enough to do, and it would pay off in higher course completion rates and graduation rates.  It wouldn’t have to do anything conspicuous, either; right now, there’s a heroic amount of behind-the-scenes work that goes into helping students who need it the most.  Sacrifice some of that to budget cuts, let those students vanish, and the rates improve.  Of course, that would also fly in the face of community colleges’ reason to exist.  
Too often, though, that heroic work is doing the jobs the high schools, and in some instances, the common schools (via) failed to do.
In my high school, teachers were a little too lenient on their assignments and didn’t take the students seriously. I don’t necessarily blame the teachers, especially since I saw the unmotivated students they were dealing with. But to expect the same type of behavior from the rest of the students isn’t fair.
The greater crime is to lend unmotivated students money to continue to be unmotivated, and earn meaningless degrees in college. Continuance of that policy only continues the positional arms race, in which parents bid up the prices of houses in good school districts, and universities compete in amenities so as to be able to soak a few such students at full fare so as to retain their high status in the national rankings.

RECLAIMING CIVILIZATION.

Passenger trains, including rush-hour Metra Commuter Streamliners, and Amtrak's corridor trains, offer riders The Quiet Car.  There are still clueless or excessively self-absorbed people who either don't pay attention to the house rules or didn't notice.
Not long ago a couple across the aisle from me in a Quiet Car talked all the way from New York City to Boston, after two people had asked them to stop. After each reproach they would lower their voices for a while, but like a grade-school cafeteria after the lunch monitor has yelled for silence, the volume crept inexorably up again. It was soft but incessant, and against the background silence, as maddening as a dripping faucet at 3 a.m. All the way to Boston I debated whether it was bothering me enough to say something. As we approached our destination a professorial-looking man who’d spoken to them twice got up, walked back and stood over them. He turned out to be quite tall. He told them that they’d been extremely inconsiderate, and he’d had a much harder time getting his work done because of them.

“Sir,” the girl said, “I really don’t think we were bothering anyone else.”

“No,” I said, “you were really annoying.”

“Yes,” said the woman behind them.

“See,” the man explained gently, “this is how it works. I’m the one person who says something. But for everyone like me, there’s a whole car full of people who feel the same way.”
Reader responses to the article included this gem.
Recently on an Amtrak train, a fellow passenger across the aisle from me in the Quiet Car was involved in an animated cellphone conversation about a real estate transaction. The conductor came through and said: “Sir, I must ask that you refrain from using your cellphone. You are in the Quiet Car.”

Annoyed, he looked up and said: “I can’t hear you. I’m on the phone.”
I wouldn't be surprised if there's a similar anecdote in Metra's "On the Bi-Level" newsletter, which would be good for several months worth of by-play between riders and the editor.

The article suggests that the Quiet Car serves as a sort of separating equilibrium, in which the mannerly people sit there, and the rabble sit in the other cars.  (Now, if Amtrak would put proper first-class, formerly parlor cars, on its trains, rather than a half-car's worth of wider seating at one end of the snack bar car, perhaps we could do some real research.)
The Quiet Car is the Thermopylae, the Masada, the Fort McHenry of quiet — which is why the regulars are so quick with prepared reproaches, more than ready to make a Whole Big Thing out of it, and why, when the outsiders invariably sit down and start in with their autonomic blather, they often find themselves surrounded by a shockingly hostile mob of professors, old ladies and four-eyes who look ready to take it outside.

Eventually I found myself on the wrong side of the fight. I was sitting in my seat, listening to music at a moderate volume on headphones and writing on my laptop, when the man across the aisle — the kind you’d peg as an archivist or musicologist — signaled to me.

“Pardon me, sir,” he said. “Maybe you’re not aware of it, but your typing is disturbing people around you. This is the Quiet Car, where we come to be free from people’s electronic bleeps and blatts.” He really said “bleeps and blatts.”

“I am a devotee of the Quiet Car,” I protested. And yes, I said “devotee.” We really talk like this in the Quiet Car; we’re readers. “I don’t talk on my cellphone or have loud conversations — ”

“I’m not talking about cellphone conversations,” he said, “I’m talking about your typing, which really is very loud and disruptive.”

I was at a loss. I learned to write on a typewriter, and apparently I still strike the keyboard of my laptop with obsolete force. “Well,” I said, trying to figure out which of us, if either, was the jerk here, “I don’t think I’m going to stop typing. I’m a writer; I sit in here so I can work.”

He was polite but implacable. “If you won’t stop, I’ll have to talk to the conductor,” he said.

Looking around, I saw that the Quiet Car wasn’t crowded; there were plenty of empty seats. “I’m not going to leave the Quiet Car,” I told him, “but since it’s bothering you, I will move to another seat.” He thanked me very courteously, as did the woman in front of me. “It really was quite loud,” she whispered.

When the train came to my stop I had to walk by his seat again on my way out. “Glad we could come to a peaceful coexistence,” I said as I passed. He raised a finger to stay me a moment. “There are no conflicts of interest,” he pronounced, “between rational men.” This sounded like a questionable proposition to me, but I appreciated the conciliatory gesture. The quote turns out to be from Ayn Rand. I told you we talked like this in the Quiet Car.
Ronald Coase rides the rails, forsooth.

18.11.12

NOVEMBER IS MODEL RAILROAD MONTH.

The first test train rolls.

ANACONDA.

I've long admired James McPherson's Battle Cry of Freedom, and commend it to any reader curious what happened in the Civil War whose sesquicentennial is currently in progress.  Professor McPherson recently finished War on the Waters: The Union & Confederate Navies, 1861-1865.  Book Review No. 29 is an enthusiastic recommendation.  The subject is likely to appeal more to the dedicated Civil War aficionado, rather than the novice, as the focus is of necessity narrower, and on occasion, obscure.  It is useful, however, for students of the era to recognize that without Ericsson and Farragut and Porter and Welles, the more famous clashes involving Grant and McClellan and Sherman, and Forrest and Johnston and Lee, might have turned out differently.  For it was the western river navies and western armies that developed, respect for the independence of each service's chain of command notwithstanding, techniques of combined arms that secured control of the navigable rivers, as well as the Gulf ports, reducing rebel exporters to moving their goods to the remaining ports over rudimentary roads and railroads.  Furthermore, the very success of rebel blockade runner ships proved to be evidence of the success of the Federal embargo (a blockade being maintained by one country at war against another).  The only ships that could slip past the coastal squadrons were the blockade runners, which, of necessity, had to export high-value cotton and import high-value armaments.  When the supply of anthracite coal ran out ...

(Cross-posted to 50 Book Challenge.)

TRYING TIMES.


The Chicago Tribune offers a round-up of the troubles in the Northern Illinois University bureaucracy coinciding with a presidential search.
Wanted: A visionary leader to oversee the state's third-largest public campus, where two high-ranking administrators recently resigned in disgrace, eight employees face felony theft charges and the campus police chief — once hailed a hero for his swift response to a 2008 shooting spree that left six people dead — has been placed on leave amid questions about concealed evidence in a rape case. Budget currently includes more than $15,000 per week for suspended employees who are still being paid.
Headquarters suggests that on balance, the university presidency is an opportunity.
The university's academic strengths include business, education and art. It has one of the 10 largest teacher preparation programs in the country, and its art school produces more art teachers than any other school in the state. Unlike the state's other regional public universities, NIU also has a law school.

It's those amenities and rankings that will attract the next president and prospective students, despite the recent troubles, NIU officials said.

"There are so many great things going on at NIU right now. I think the good far outweighs the challenges," said Kathryn Buettner, vice president for university relations.
Among those challenges: fifty-year-old classroom buildings with leaking roofs, worn floor tile, and insufficient dry-erase markers for the whiteboards that were installed, at great expense, along with space-consuming computer consoles that contribute to the Power Pointlessness of too many classes.

It is true that great things are going on, including a steel band about to celebrate its fortieth anniversary. Today's concert included settings of "The Star-Spangled Banner", "In the Mood", and "In the Hall of the Mountain King" for solo or ensemble steel pan.  A recording of a Wind Ensemble performance might be more suitable to tonight's story, though.


The business of the university goes on, administrative side-show or not.
In recent months, however, the school has endured a series of scandals that have seemingly overshadowed its brightest spots. There's been nearly as much news coverage of the administrative turmoil as of the university's football team, which recently won its third consecutive Mid-American Conference West championship.

None of the scandals has involved NIU's academic departments, meaning the vast majority of students and faculty have seen no disruption to their daily routines on campus or in their classrooms. But faculty senate President Alan Rosenbaum said he worries that the negative publicity — which many professors consider overblown — could have a detrimental effect on efforts to recruit.

"There are some problems, but the university is confronting them and doing its best to correct them," Rosenbaum said.
Yes, if "doing its best" includes cancelling the few faculty searches that the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences saw fit to authorize for this year. The College has a substantial cohort of new hires in the past year or two, as many of the long-time faculty members have reached retirement age. The size of the faculty continues to fall.
Todd Latham, president of the university's Supportive Professional Staff Council, said the negative publicity — along with the state's serious financial troubles and broken pension system — are a constant concern among NIU employees. He worries that the problems, particularly at the state level, could make the university less attractive to potential president candidates.

"We want to compete on a national level," he said. "Do we feel the public eye heavily upon us? Yes, we do. We know the general public is looking at us, and they should. As employees, we need to do our best to help attract the best students, faculty and now university president as possible."
Developing.

RUNNING EXTRA.  The alumni members of the presidential search committee respond.
We seek a leader with vision, courage, entrepreneurial spirit and good Midwestern common sense who will be attracted to a great public university located in one of the most vibrant, dynamic regions of the state and nation, a university that has seen tremendous growth in key areas.
Greater Chicago may continue to thrive, Democratic politicians or not, public universities or not.  Take care of the supply of dry-erase markers, and the faculty and the honor students will take care of themselves.

17.11.12

NOT YET FREE REIN TO 110.

A few people did turn out for an Illinois Department of Transportation public forum on the forthcoming restoration of Passenger Rail service to the Quad Cities.
Railroad representatives nearly outnumbered interested residents during an open house hosted by the Illinois Department of Transportation regarding additional Amtrak service from Chicago to the Quad Cities on Wednesday.
That characterization seems gratuitously pejorative. Most of the seats were occupied for the 4.30 pm presentation. The representatives made additional presentations at 5.30 and 6.30.


The trains were originally to be running sometime in 2014, although indecision among Iowa politicians has an Illinois-only service expected to commence in 2015.
The $222 million project, funded in part by $45 million from the state of Illinois, is set to begin construction in spring 2014, and [Illinois Department of Transporation project manager Todd] Popish said the state is ready to sign a contract for new bi-level railcars with the Rochelle manufacturing plant, Nippon-Sharyo. The bulk of the funding is from the federal government.
The sun sets over Illinois's Lake Mendota, behind the list of project objectives.


The coaches to be used will be part of a larger purchase by Illinois, Michigan, and California of cars similar to the current California Corridor cars.  (I still think a string of these cars, or at least the business class and cafe cars, ought to be named after Greek and Roman gods and goddesses.)


We're looking at a rake of the first generation California coaches calling at Santa Clara - Great America, offering a walking connection to the Santa Clara and San Jose light rail line that also serves Mineta Airport and the hotel that hosts O Scale West.

I did raise the question of connectivity between the two west Illinois lines.  Because the Quad Cities service will have a morning and afternoon departure each way, a passenger headed from Rock Island or Geneseo to Galesburg or Macomb or the other way should have the opportunity to connect at Princeton without a long wait.  Mr Popish did mention the importance of frequency to connectivity, citing the Milwaukee line.  Thus, somebody headed from Davenport to Battle Creek or Geneseo to Champaign probably still has to contemplate a few hours in Chicago.
The track needs to be upgraded along what is now the Iowa Interstate System from just west of Wyanet to the Quad Cities. The construction includes improvements to rail yards, a layover, two new stations and improved signaling and communication.
One of the attractive features of the Quad Cities line is that it uses the existing passenger-heavy Way of the Zephyrs between Chicago and a junction to be built near Wyanet.


That green band at upper right of the map is the Hennepin Canal recreational area, adaptive reuse of an Illinois River to the Mississippi short-cut that was never big enough for the barges that emerged.

West of Wyanet, the Rock Island Line is remarkably straight until it gets into the Rock River valley where it joins the Mississippi River.


Somebody is recording the proceedings.  The small print describes the road crossing protection and planned improvements, if any.  The sticky notes are for residents who might wish to comment on the plan to make a comment.  The railroad is a tangent from the Wyanet junction to a curve through Sheffield, not planned to be a stop, and another tangent practically to the east limits of Silvis.
When complete, the new line will reach top speeds of 79 mph, short of the high-speed rail proposed for the Chicago to St. Louis corridor. John Schwalbach, an engineer with IDOT’s contractor URS, said the IAIS can only support top speeds of 40 mph now and upgrading beyond 79 mph would be a billion-dollar project.

Initiating service at 79 (mph) is a good step,” Schwalbach said. “It gives us an opportunity to gauge the interest level. High speed is great, but let’s get some predictable schedules going.”
That answer arose in response to a citizen question about getting the 110 mph speeds. The full response to that question included the encouraging observation that none of the planned improvements to the Rock Island Line would preclude future upgrading to 110 mph track. Mr Schwalbach is correct, though, that having dependable schedules and connectivity come first.

A TRENCHANT OBSERVATION FOR THE TIMES.

Daily Chronicle columnist and Northern Illinois colleague Jason Akst summarizes the investigation of wrongdoing within the University Police.
It’s a running joke on campus that every time the “castle crowd” tweaks the organizational chart, administrators (already the highest paid people at NIU) get paid more money.

That needs to stop.

Nobody is laughing.




Or singing?

THUS DOES THE VOCABULARY CHANGE.

In another generation, the expression "whitebread" will likely be devoid of historical context.
Hostess, whose roster of brands dates as far back as 1888, hadn't invested heavily in marketing or innovation in recent years as it struggled with debt and management changes.

As larger competitors inundated supermarket shelves with an array of new snacks and variations on popular brands, Hostess cakes seemed caught in a bygone time. The company took small stabs at keeping up with Americans' movement toward healthier foods, such as the introduction of its 100-calorie packs of cupcakes.
Among the casualties: Ding Dongs, those chocolate hockey pucks; Snowballs, a special lunch treat back in elementary school; and Wonder Bread, building strong bodies twelve ways.  It's that last item that lent itself to the mild pejorative implied in "whitebread": namely, without much style, originality, or soul.

The failure of the company?  Check for the usual cast of characters.
Hostess, based in Irving, Texas, said it was saddled with costs related to its unionized workforce. The company had been contributing $100 million a year in pension costs for workers; the new contract offer would've slashed that to $25 million a year, in addition to wage cuts and a 17 percent reduction in health benefits.

Management missteps were another problem. Hostess came under fire this spring after it was revealed that nearly a dozen executives received pay hikes of up to 80 percent last year even as the company was struggling. Although some of those executives later agree to reduced salaries, others including former CEO Brian Driscoll had left the company by the time the pay hikes came to light.

Then, last week, thousands of members of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union went on strike after rejecting the company's latest contract offer. The bakers union represents about 30 percent of the company's workforce.

By that time, the company had reached a contract agreement with its largest union, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, which this week urged the bakery union to hold a secret ballot on whether to continue striking. Although many bakery workers decided to cross picket lines this week, Hostess said it wasn't enough to keep operations at normal levels.

The company filed a motion to liquidate Friday with U.S. Bankruptcy Court. The shuttering means the loss of about 18,500 jobs. Hostess said employees at its 33 factories were sent home and operations suspended. Its roughly 500 bakery outlet stores will stay open for several days to sell remaining products.

In a statement, the bakery union said Hostess failed because the six management teams over the past eight years weren't able to make it profitable not because workers didn't make concessions.
The product brand names and recipes probably still have some value, and Twinkies and many of the other products will likely be back, under new ownership.  Once upon a time, Hostess was part of the Continental Baking division of the notorious conglomerate ITT, which also owned a vending machine company.  And therein hides a tale.  One summer a vending machine in the lobby of the old Mackenzie Hall at Wayne State University failed, and an unfortunate customer (not me) discovered that Twinkies can, indeed get moldy.

EMERGENCY FAST PACKAGE EXPRESS.

Before FedEx, there was the Railway Express Agency, which moved expedited shipments of goods and parcels on passenger trains.   The tradition lives on with Amtrak.
The Amtrak train -- normally called "The Crescent" but today dubbed "The Train of Hope" -- arrived at Newark Pen[n] Station just before 1 p.m., carrying 27 pallets of diapers, canned goods, cleaning products, blankets, batteries flashlights and everything else volunteers in Slidell, many of them victims of Hurricane Katrina, could think of.

"We got the idea at about midnight last Thursday," said Kim Bergeron, the director of cultural and public affairs for Slidell, a city of about 30,000 located 34 miles northeast of New Orleans.
Some things have changed. Slidell is the first of a number of unstaffed flag-stop stations for Amtrak's Southern Crescent, thus the good people of Slidell had to schlep their shipment to New Orleans for loading on the baggage car.  The tariff stipulates that "items heavier than 50 lbs (23 kg) must be on a pallet."  The goods could be delivered to Newark Penn or to New York Penn, but express shipments cannot originate at New York Penn.  Odd.  The baggage rooms and freight elevators of the original station are still in place, well out of the view of the dashing commuters.

People from Slidell enlisted the cooperation of Amtrak, and mayors of several metro New Jersey cities organized their constituents to off-load and distribute the goods.

The news report suggested 20 arrived Newark on time or a little ahead of schedule.  Well done.

15.11.12

SATURDAY IS FOR COLLEGE FOOTBALL.

Former Northern Illinois sports information director Mike Korcek strengthens his case.
Only the [Mid-American Conference] hierarchy and league administrators can explain this continued nine-year TV experiment with ESPN - trading the traditional college football Saturday for midweek games in November and the exposure. Seeing some of the sparse crowds in Mid-Am stadiums live or on TV, I don’t know if the price is right.

No disrespect, but maybe some of the league presidents should sit outside with the loyal, but shivering fans on these nights. It’s cold, dark, and clammy in Huskie Stadium at 8 p.m. in mid-November. This is not Honolulu.
The aluminum bleachers are for the little people. The REMFs have skyboxes, or perhaps those north-end rec rooms behind the balcony of the locker room.

(Go here for the previous version of Mr Korcek's case.)

Toledo Blade columnist Dave Hackenberg concurs.
There was some guy sitting in his recliner in Little Rock who heard UT had a top-25 team, flipped on his TV, saw large swaths of empty seats on the screen, and figures we’re a lousy sports town. And after halftime, when a lady in Golden, Colo., put her feet up with a Coors Light and her knitting, those swaths had turned into entire sections.

This is not a lousy sports town. It is a lousy time to play a college football game.

It was nonetheless entertaining. Gracious, the teams combined for 577 yards of offense in the first half alone.
In order to get Toledo, the pre-season favorite, additional prime-time exposure, the Wednesday night game sent the Rockets to DeKalb.
[Northern Illinois quarterback Jordan] Lynch threw for 296 yards and two touchdowns in the third quarter, completing 13 of 15 attempts. Amazingly, the Huskies gained 347 yards in the quarter without facing a third down.
It ended as a hard-fought game, with Northern Illinois defending the West Division title.

The Blade also explained to its readers how things have changed, football-wise, at Northern Illinois.
After a 1-10 debut season, the Huskies celebrated their return to the MAC in 1997 by going 0-11.

“That had to be the worst team in major college football,” [retired coach Joe] Novak recalled. “We had to do some weeding out.

“It wasn’t pretty.”

But NIU insiders could see baby steps.
I leave readers to work out for themselves what might have been, had headquarters encouraged its faculty to make some baby steps and stay the course, rather than constantly burdening the academic endeavor with pet projects and fads.  Football progress somehow proceeds without revisiting the mission statement or drafting new strategic plans.
It was gradual, but early in the 2002 season the Huskies were ready to make a major move. They started 1-3, but followed with seven straight wins before a 33-30 loss to Toledo cost them an outright MAC West title and a trip to the league championship game.

In 2003, the Huskies beat No. 14 Maryland on national TV, then Alabama and Iowa State en route to a 7-0 start and a No. 10 slot in the BCS standings. But before it was over NIU dropped a 49-30 decision at Toledo and, in a great injustice, was not even selected for a bowl game.

Northern Illinois ended a two-decade bowl drought the following year and Novak got his only win against [Toledo] in 2005, a 35-17 decision at the Glass Bowl that paved the way to a MAC title game berth.

Since that 1-3 start in ’02, the Huskies are 86-47 overall and 63-22 in MAC play under Novak and his successors, Jerry Kill and Dave Doeren.

In the late 1990s Huskie Stadium was a ghost town — moms, dads, and girlfriends — even on game days; now it is a tough ticket and one of the MAC’s more hostile stages for opponents. Every NIU player and coach who walks into the Yordon Center, the team facility at one end of the stadium, should thank Novak.
Arguably, that 2002 season should have begun 2-2 (not the first time or the last time questionable officiating affected the outcome of a game), and it's probably more fun to have the play value of a good football program rather than a questionable one, or a corrupt one.  Also, arguably, capital investments in improved locker rooms and indoor practice facilities are not capital investments in classroom buildings with leaking roofs.  Those apparently get repaired when the building inspector condemns them.

TRIVIUM ET QUADRIVIUM.

The Pope Center's Jay Schalin, arguing in the affirmative.
For a long time, academia has been hesitant to make judgments about what knowledge is the most valuable. As a result, many general education programs are of little value. Our institutions of higher learning can, and should, do better.
That's his closing argument. Read his case, and pay careful attention to the cogent dissenting views in the comments.

WHAT DEAN WORMER COULD NOT DO.

Chico State University president Paul Zingg has cracked down on all his fraternities, zoo or otherwise.
During a 45-minute meeting with about 250 campus Greeks today, Chico State University President Paul Zingg suspended all sorority and fraternity activities due to the alcohol-overdose death of a fraternity pledge and other matters.

There are 26 fraternities and sororities with about 1,200 members at Chico State.

Addressing about 250 students at noon in the Bell Memorial Union Auditorium, an angry Zingg said fraternity members don't get a "pass" when they "stand by idly and watch a brother gulp down 21 shots for his 21st birthday and then let him pass out in his own vomit."

When it's noticed he's not responsive and call for help, Zingg said, "you don't get a pass for calling 9-1-1 in a situation like that."
University Diaries sees in the culmination of double-secret probation the chance to re-set the campus culture.
She believes, as she wrote in the background post she linked to in her first paragraph, that all current Chico State students must be told to leave. All must transfer. A new class of students will then be admitted to a campus with permanently shut down fraternities and sororities.
One could devoutly wish that there also be a re-set of the faculty mind-set.  Something along the lines of "Your job is to say No and uphold standards, and as a credible commitment, Chico is closing all the student service offices whose primary function is to enable underachievers."

THE PECULIAR POLITICS OF THE DRIFTLESS AREA.

Professor Munger finds some unusual electoral geography in the middle of some unusual physical geology.
This is beginning to resemble a Stephen King novel, or H.P. Lovecraft. What’s going on in them thar hills?  You might argue the blue extends a bit further south into Illinois, but that’s probably the Quad cities area, which is somewhat more industrialized.  The mysterious blue farm counties almost perfectly match the Driftless Area.
I'll let the political analysts work on the voting patterns. The economic geography is not rural in the usual sense of large fields worked by immense equipment, because there are no large fields.

Here, on the Illinois end of the Driftless Area, is the Apple River Canyon.


It offers camping, parking, and some moderately challenging, although not long, hiking trails.

On the northeastern side, overlooking The Route of The Hiawathas at Camp Douglas, is Castle Rock, which looks like something for a coyote to stand on while looking for a roadrunner to drop an anvil on.


The former Chicago and North Western line from Madison to Wyeville that used to cross The Milwaukee Road here is now a bicycle trail.

Nearby is the single largest complex of railroad tunnels in Wisconsin, three of which have since been adapted to another bicycle trail.  Most of the railroad tunnels in Wisconsin and Illinois are in the Driftless Area.  You'll also find Devil's Lake State Park and other natural wonders.

13.11.12

THE COLLAPSE OF HIGHER EDUCATION

Rutgers sociology professor Jackson Toby, whose works we have encountered previously, comes out of retirement to teach a seminar course only to discover what his previous testing methods hath wrought.
As a professor of sociology at Rutgers University, I taught large lecture courses for years, basing grades on multiple-choice tests. So only after retiring, and offering to teach a small seminar for free, did I discover something important about student writing: it was awful.The short weekly papers turned in by my seminar students showed overwhelming shortcomings in the structure and expression of basic ideas, plus a Niagara of errors in spelling, punctuation, and grammar. Perhaps a third of the students averaged five to ten errors per page. They had computers equipped with spell-check, but that function couldn't prevent wrong word usage. Many couldn't keep straight when to use "there," rather than "their" or "they're," "threw" instead of "through," "sight" instead of "site," "aloud" instead of "allowed," "Ivy" instead of IV (intravenous), and "stranglers" instead of "stragglers."
It's possible, as he goes on to argue, that these students were not properly prepared beginning with elementary school.

His essay does not contemplate the possible deleterious effect of fill-in-the-circles tests as a productivity enhancer.  What the university does not emphasize does not get developed.  The proliferation of high-stakes fill-in-the-circles tests commencing as early as the third grade serves to further de-emphasize proper writing.  It comes as no surprise that the kids might think that their text-message argot is proper writing.
Some students disregarded spell-check warnings and used the misspelled words anyway, probably because spelling correctly took too much time, and they were not ashamed to let wrong spellings go.  The underlying problem I believe, is that a lot of students did little, if any, reading outside of course requirements, emails, and social media communications.   And since language is a crucial tool for thinking, they tended to be sloppy thinkers.  My students in the spring of 2003, were majoring in sociology or psychology; some were planning to become teachers.  The economy in 2003 was still quite good, so they probably got jobs despite their spelling, grammatical, and punctuation deficiencies and began paying off their student loans.  Then the economy worsened, so employers could afford to be more choosy.
Thus comes the reckoning.
Typical college dropouts leave college because they are bored trying to learn things they cannot understand or don't want to understand.  Like some of the students in my seminar, attending college won't help them read or write better and thereby make them more employable. Certain problems they faced in earlier educational settings -- such as a lack of family encouragement or ineffective instruction -- are insurmountable.

In some cases, however, their deficiencies were self-inflicted.  They did not pay enough attention in classes; they sometimes cut classes.  Their most important misstep was that they probably did not read books outside of school unless they were required to read them for school assignments -- and often not then.  Instead, they watched TV programs, played sports or computer games and socialized with friends. It is unlikely for such students to profit intellectually from going to college.  Remediating deficiencies in college is enormously difficult. It requires a commitment from underprepared students for self-improvement that most are unwilling to make.

Contrary to the mantra that everyone should go to college and that the main obstacle is inadequate financial support from governments, students have to be fairly well prepared for higher education by the time they arrive on the college campus.  Such preparation must begin much earlier in students' lives, including convincing them that education has to be taken seriously if they aspire to interesting, well-paid jobs.  Parents are more effective than teachers at instilling this message.  Unfortunately, not all parents have their children's education at the top of their agendas, especially parents with meager educations or serious personal problems.  Poverty alone does not prevent parents from promoting high educational aspirations in their children.
No, it's not poverty alone. The bubble in which more affluent children grow up is not necessarily an environment conducive to developing high educational aspirations.

MISPLACED PRIORITIES.

DeKalb Chronicle sportswriter Steve Nitz weighs the gains and losses of Wednesday Night Football.
Students may not be able to attend the game because of a night class. It’s tougher for fans with full-time jobs to get out to the stadium. Players miss class as well.

However, like it or not, that’s life in the Mid-American Conference.

And I know it’s unpopular among Northern Illinois fans, but I’ll come out and say it – midweek games are ultimately a positive for NIU and the rest of the MAC.
Never mind that the student college experience suffers, and the alumni aren't able to connect with friends or mix business with pleasure, and local businesses don't get as much pre-game dinner and post-game imbibing trade.  It's all about the television exposure.
When the game is over, there’s a good chance NIU actually gets some play on SportsCenter, when the Huskies have to compete with pointless NBA games rather than the rest of college football.

Playing during the week isn’t perfect, and the 8 p.m. start time Wednesday is pretty unfortunate. A normal 7 p.m. slot would help. However, such is life in the MAC, something Huskies head coach Dave Doeren certainly understands.

“In our conference it’s just something you have to do, and it’s part of our television package. At the end of the day, it’s what’s best for the university and the program to be on national television as much as possible,” Doeren said during Monday’s MAC coaches teleconference. “So, there’s certain things that you can’t really get bent out of shape about because nobody’s going to listen, and all it does is help you anyway. So we’re excited to be on ESPN Wednesday night.”
Never mind that by any objective market test, the weeknight games fail.  The weather forecast is for a taste of winter.  Expect to see a lot of empty seats as the cameras pan around the stadium.

There is also a public forum on Passenger Rail to the Quad Cities nearby.  It's my plan to attend that, and raise the possibility of Free Rein to 110 on another Illinois line.

10.11.12

FOUR MORE YEARS.

Interpret the image as you wish.


TROUBLE, AMIDST THE FOOTBALL HOOPLA.

We note the death of Northern Illinois University freshman David Bogenberger, a June graduate of Palatine High School.  Mr Bogenberger was active in Distributive Education Club of America in high school.  The organization is accepting memorial donations.

Mr Bogenberger departed this life from the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity house, under circumstances that have led to the chapter being temporarily suspended.
DeKalb Police Lt. Jason Leverton said there were no obvious signs of foul play and no suspicious circumstances surrounding the death. Leverton said police found evidence of alcohol use near Bogenberger’s body, and they know he was one of several students invited to the fraternity house Thursday night.
The university has also placed police chief Donald Grady on administrative leave, appointing Bill Nicklas the acting director of the department.

These reassignments are a consequence of a sexual misconduct case involving a university police officer, unrelated either to underage drinking on fraternity row or to the coffee fund.

5.11.12

THE PERILS OF REPOSITIONING.

The thought process of some university administrators must run something like this:  Flagship universities are visible in football.  There are lots of people in the stadium six or seven Saturdays in the fall.  So let's get some football visibility and play in a big stadium.

It hasn't worked so well for the University of Massachusetts.
For generations, the University of Massachusetts Marching Band has rallied students before the football team’s home games by parading through campus, horns wailing, flags spinning, drumline popping.

No longer. The tradition will end Saturday morning when the band’s 350 musicians board a convoy of motor coaches for a two-hour trek to the school’s home opener — at Gillette Stadium.

The journey to Foxborough, by far the longest commute to a home game in American college sports, will signal a turning point in the 130-year history of UMass football — a test of whether relocating the school’s home games to an NFL stadium nearly 100 miles away and investing millions of dollars to try to catapult the state’s flagship university into the gilded realm of big-time college football is visionary management or a misguided gamble.

The fact is, no one foresees a financial bonanza anytime soon. Amid the turbulent currents of major college football, UMass leaders have crafted a blueprint for the upgrade that aims to limit the risks of a potential failure but offers little promise of a significant payoff through at least 2020, according to a Globe review.

Any notion of UMass joining Boston College and the University of Connecticut in the rarefied ranks of big-time college football will have to wait. Amid the funding crunch in higher education, UMass has embraced a humbler goal: reducing its annual investment in football.
A check of the sports archive of the Boston Globe failed to turn up any reporting of the Minutemen's most recent game, although there were stories about Boston College and Harvard.  In the midwest, the big city dailies report on the fortunes of Badgers and Boilermakers and Hoosiers and Wildcats and Wolverines, and the Chicago Sun-Times had the story of that most recent game, at Northern Illinois, as did the Chicago Tribune.
Massachusetts looked like it didn’t belong on the same field, and the Huskies scored at will in a 63-0 victory. It was NIU’s first shutout since 2008 against Eastern Michigan.
Massachusetts-friendly coverage out of Northampton wasn't sympathetic.
In the second half, UMass made it past the Huskies’ 43-yard line just once, and that drive early in the third quarter ended when Northern Illinois recovered a fumble by Michael Cox.

But the Minutemen’s overall production wasn’t the only thing that bothered [coach Charley] Molnar. It also was seeing Huskies defensive linemen run down the field uncontested, tacklers not wrapping up and other signs that effort was lacking.

“I think some of the guys started to think about the trip home, getting out of DeKalb,” Molnar said. “Today, I was a little bit disappointed. I don’t think every guy played until the end of the game.”

In the last month, UMass has had a rash of injuries and suspensions that have hurt an already thin squad.

“We’ve had our fair share of adversity and trials and tribulations that we’ve had to overcome,” [quarterback Mike] Wegzyn said. “But I think, as a group, we needed to grow from that and build from that.”

Saturday’s loss showed that the Minutemen are a lot further from winning their first game in the Football Bowl Subdivision than they thought.
Growing pains for a team only recently realigned out of Division II, or whatever it's called these days.  The Mid-American Conference is having a pretty good year, with Toledo, Northern Illinois, Ohio, and Kent State all receiving votes in the polls, and each of those teams having beaten a team from a power conference.  I was surprised, though, that the Massachusetts game was on tape delay Saturday.  A high school playoff game was on the air live.  Go figure.  And the radio broadcaster, in commenting on the slim attendance (below 12,000 in the stadium) noted that the high school playoffs were in full swing.

We may be looking at another year of football success on the field, and financial stress off the field.

NOTICE OF DISCONTINUANCE.

The North Shore Line received permission to quit business fifty years ago.  The annual reunion of railroad employees has continued since then.  It, too, is ending.  Because of the railroad's perilous condition, many of the employees on payroll at the end were in their twenties.  Do the math.
Service ended almost 50 years earlier, in January 1963, on the electric interurban railroad. The North Shore Line was known for its fast Electroliners and every hour, on the hour service between Chicago and Milwaukee.

John Horachek, Arcadia, Ind., said it was time to retire the event. Horachek, along with the reunion committee consisting of David and Julie Myers, Don and Maxine Kennedy, Betty Oleson, Tom Jervan, and John Horachek planned the reunions. Horachek worked for the North Shore for about two years and was collector on the last train out of Milwaukee. The long-running gathering is a tribute to the enduring family spirit among employees.

John Giove, CEO of the Milwaukee Transit Archives & Museum bestowed an award on Horachek for his service in organizing the reunion. In acknowledging the plaque, Horachek told the audience he was glad to help get everyone together.
The people with a living memory of The North Shore Line are getting older, and fewer.

Enough of the rolling stock remains to provide a believable impression of what the interurban era was all about.


Illinois Railway Museum photograph.

I think, though, that the cause of railway preservation will be strengthened by the inclusion of the contemporary light rail and streetcar operations, particularly in the Intermountain West where interurbans were relatively rare, in the programs of historical societies and the preservation efforts of museums.

DRIP, DRIP, DRIP.

The current State's Attorney for DeKalb County requests an investigation of the Northern Illinois University police department.
On the eve of the election, DeKalb County State's Attorney Clay Campbell asked state police to investigate the Northern Illinois University Police Department for withholding evidence favorable to an NIU officer accused of raping a student.

A judge ruled Friday that NIU police intentionally hid statements from witnesses who said the alleged victim told them she had a consensual sexual relationship with then-NIU police officer Andrew Rifkin. Rifkin's defense attorney asked Judge Robbin Stuckert to throw out the charges because of it; Stuckert is expected to announce her decision Friday.

Campbell did not attend Friday's hearing, but said that after reading the transcript, he decided NIU police's conduct warranted an outside investigation. He is asking state police to target NIU Police Chief Don Grady and the entire police department.

Meanwhile, NIU President John G. Peters asked state police to review and help with all of NIU police's pending investigations as state police saw fit.
Note: this is a new investigation. It is not, as far as I know, collateral damage of the coffee fund.


Because it's election season, the Democrat seeking the State's Attorney post has his own request.
Richard Schmack, the Democrat opposing Campbell in today's state's attorney election, argued the state's attorney's office also should be investigated. Schmack said the issue partly involved the communication between the two agencies, although he emphasized he did not know if either agency had acted inappropriately.

“Clearly what happened in court is a result of the interplay between the state's attorney's office and the NIU police," Schmack said.

Campbell said he would cooperate with a state police investigation, even if it led to his own office.
Some commenters on the story are suggesting the timing of the investigation is politically motivated.

Developing.  Or just another day in Illinois.

YOB NATION IN PRIME TIME.

In the aftermath of Sandy's rearrangement of the New Jersey coast, I decided to check out the MTV Jersey Shore show, but not for long.  There's only so much foul-mouthed drunk-in-the-morning Thirteenth Generation crude I can take.

New York Post television critic Linda Stasi was thinking systematically about the same thing, at the time the show appeared.
Yes, I'm talking about "Jersey Shore," a show in which Italian-Americans are stereotyped (clearly at the urging of its producer) into degrading and debasing themselves -- and, by extension, all Italian-Americans -- and furthering the popular TV notion that Italian-Americans are gel-haired, thuggish, ignoramuses with fake tans, no manners, no diction, no taste, no education, no sexual discretion, no hairdressers (for sure), no real knowledge of Italian culture and no ambition beyond expanding steroid-and silicone-enhanced bodies into sizes best suited for floating over Macy's on Thanksgiving.
She's not mellowed over the past three years.
Deena is so depressed, drunk and demented that her parents should institutionalize her instead of letting her go to the shore one more time.
I think that's the girl who arrived drunk at a bar when it opened, and whined about the lack of meatballs, before talking a beachfront arcade operator into giving her a spiked beachball. The other cast members are similarly inspiring.
JWoww is beginning to get that Britney Spears banged-up, one cocktail over the line look. Vinny is suffering from anxiety attacks. Ronnie must have been fooling around in the science lab because he’s gone from the Missing Link to full-on ape, while his girlfriend, Sammi, is behaving like an abused spouse in training.

And Pauly D? He is in a crisis, I think. One day his hair looks like a short stack at the diner and the next like he’s wearing a felt crown.

It’s all so tragic.

Years of making themselves into substance-abusing morons and public-place-urinating menaces is coming to an end.

They are no longer clueless, idiot kids without manners or education. Now they are adult idiots without manners and they just look, well, sad and desperate.
Ideas have consequences, people.  Britain's Yob Nation might be the trickling down of Bad Habits of the Rich and Famous to the petty bourgeoisie and the lumpen-proletariat, and something similar might be behind the crudity of the Jersey Shore cast.

In the academy, though, Thirteenth Generation crudity with an ethnic edge becomes yet another transgressiveness to celebrate.
According to Donald Tricarico, a sociology professor at City University of New York/Queensborough, "Guido is a slur, but Italian kids have embraced it just as black kids have embraced the N word. In the same way that radical gays call themselves queer."

Tricarico has been researching Guidos for over 20 years and has put out academic papers with titles such as "Youth Culture, Ethnic Choice, and the Identity Politics of Guido," "Guido: Fashioning An Italian-American Youth Style," and "Dressing Up Italian Americans For The Youth Spectacle: What Difference Does Guido Perform?"

There's no date stamp on when the term Guido came into play, but Tricarico theorizes that it very well may have originated as an insult from within the Italian-American community, confering inferior status on immigrants who are "just off the boat." It clearly references non-assimilation in its use of a name more at home in the old homeland. In fact, in different locales, the same slur isn't Guido: in Chicago the term is "Mario" and in Toronto it goes by "Gino." Guido is far less offensive, among Italian-Americans, than another G word, which is also used in the names of countries in equatorial west Africa.

Tricarico traces the mainstreaming of the term Guido to what he frames as a "moral panic" racing through the media in relation to a 1989 racial incident in the predominantly Italian neighborhood of Bensonhurst in Brooklyn. But he pinpoints the real birth of the Guido subculture to the 1970s. If the movement has any guiding icon, it's young John Travolta and his many incarnations: Tony Manero in Saturday Night Fever, Vinnie Barbarino in Welcome Back, Kotter and Danny Zuko in Grease. Today, there are message boards for self-described Guidos and Guidettes to chatter (www.njguido.com). "It's a way to be a part of popular culture for kids who aren't invited to the party," Tricarico says. "It is defiant. It's identity politics," he explains. "It's a cultural movement, but it's about consumption, not ethnicity."

"'Guido' has become the name of a lifestyle," says Fred Gardaphè, Distinguised Professor of Italian American Studies at the John D. Calandra Italian American Institute at Queens College. "Guido itself is not a derogatory name." He explains its origins from a stereotype: "It's a real handsome, uneducated kid who gets by on his charm and his looks and doesn't really have much going for him." But, says Gardaphè, the wave of negative response to Jersey Shore come from what he calls "irony deficiency" in the Italian-American community. These peacocking kids, he says, come from a long history of exaggerated characterizations in Italian culture.

"The major key to Italian-American culture is something called 'bella figura,'" says Gardaphè. "It basically means, to put on a show so people don't know the real you. If you're poor, you make them think you're rich. If you're rich, you make them think you're poor." For an immigrant people emerging from a history of foreign conquerors and a lack of a nation-state (till 1870), says Gardaphè, "It's all about protection."
That's all useful to know.

All the same, it's hard to contemplate the erosion of the U.S. middle class without suggesting that transgressiveness or edginess for its own sake is a self-inflicted wound, particularly for young people without the support a Britney Spears or a Prince Harry can fall back upon.

THINGS THAT MAKE YOU SAY D'OH!

College is hard.  Student success involves high schools that recognize reality.
About 4 out of 10 students at four-year colleges fail to earn a degree within six years – and timely completion rates at two-year schools are even lower.

But what if high schools had a better recipe for preparing their students to stay in college? The National School Boards Association released a study Thursday afternoon highlighting some key ingredients: more advanced math courses, challenging courses such as Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB), and better academic advising.

If students are exposed to those factors – even if they don’t earn high scores on the course exams – they are more likely to continue college after their first year, a point at which many drop out, the study notes.
The research evaluates the progress of students from varying backgrounds, and concludes that rigor plus good advising is productive, no matter the circumstances of the student.

I believe that's another reason for policy makers not to indulge in the soft bigotry of low expectations.

4.11.12

WATCH THIS SPACE.

Temporary tracks into the northwest corner of the train room.  The sub-roadbed is not ready yet for permanent installation of tracks.  A test train might be running by Thanksgiving.


That's more gluing and clamping of the spline sub-grade going on along the north wall.

HABIT GETS YOU KILLED.

It's been nearly three months since I last posted to the Fifty Book Challenge.  There is a stack of books awaiting the filing of a report, although it's unlikely we'll see the fifty this year.

Book Review No. 28 is the recent No Easy Day: The Firsthand Account of the Mission That Killed Osama bin Laden.  It is that account, subject to the vetting done by the author and assorted civilian and military authorities.  It's also an instructive look at the inter-service rivalries that persist, and at the intra-service rivalries (would you believe the Pacific Coast and Atlantic Coast SEAL Teams do some things differently)?

The title of the post refers to a maxim among railroaders that Osama never heard.  If you build a hideout close to a Pakistani military facility, the Pakistani military flies helicopters nearby.  The sound of an approaching helicopter, particularly a stealthy one that sounds like it's farther away, is just more background noise.  Oops.

(Cross-posted to 50 Book Challenge.)

MARSHALLIAN AND WALRASIAN STABILITY.

As long as the demand curve slopes downward, and the supply curve slopes upward, an equilibrium perturbed will be an equilibrium restored.  In the presence of excess demand at the old price after perturbation, the equilibrium is restored at a higher price.

Let the perturbation be the consequence of a negative supply shock and a positive demand shock, though, and the higher price makes people unhappy.  Thus we see allegations of price gouging, and states passing anti-price-gouging laws.  There's not as much consensus among economists of the efficiency-enhancing properties of price movements as one might suspect, either.

FINDING THOSE MISSING MEN AND WOMEN.

At Labor Day, Mike "Dirty Jobs" Rowe, when he wasn't helping Fiona pitch Fords, posted an open letter to Governor Romney suggesting that his plan to put people back to work treat the trades with more respect.
Pig farmers, electricians, plumbers, bridge painters, jam makers, blacksmiths, brewers, coal miners, carpenters, crab fisherman, oil drillers…they all tell me the same thing over and over, again and again – our country has become emotionally disconnected from an essential part of our workforce.  We are no longer impressed with cheap electricity, paved roads, and indoor plumbing. We take our infrastructure for granted, and the people who build it.

Today, we can see the consequences of this disconnect in any number of areas, but none is more obvious than the growing skills gap. Even as unemployment remains sky high, a whole category of vital occupations has fallen out of favor, and companies struggle to find workers with the necessary skills. The causes seem clear. We have embraced a ridiculously narrow view of education. Any kind of training or study that does not come with a four-year degree is now deemed “alternative.” Many viable careers once aspired to are now seen as “vocational consolation prizes,” and many of the jobs this current administration has tried to “create” over the last four years are the same jobs that parents and teachers actively discourage kids from pursuing. (I always thought there something ill-fated about the promise of three million “shovel ready jobs” made to a society that no longer encourages people to pick up a shovel.)

Which brings me to my purpose in writing. On Labor Day of 2008, the fans of Dirty Jobs helped me launch this website. mikeroweWORKS.com began as a Trade Resource Center designed to connect kids with careers in the skilled trades. It has since evolved into a non-profit foundation – a kind of PR Campaign for hard work and skilled labor. Thanks to a number of strategic partnerships, I have been able to promote a dialogue around these issues with a bit more credibility than my previous resume allowed.
Apparently the governor responded to the pitchman, who has campaigned with the governor without officially endorsing him.  We note that developing blue-collar aristocrats is worth doing, particularly for those jobs that cannot be offshored or outsourced.  We also note that a four-year (or plus) degree is not necessarily a ticket away from doing dirty jobs, particularly if marine biology is involved.

I wonder, though, if Mr Rowe is helping pitch Fords rather than Dodge Rams or GMC pickups in part because Ford was not a recipient of the most recent round of corporate welfare for the legacy car companies.

FOURTH TURNING ALERT.

London Telegraph commentator Tim Stanley has an elegy for the New Deal.
There was a significant moment in the second debate when a citizen asked Romney how he would distinguish himself from George W Bush. Romney said, “President Bush and I are different people, and these are different times.” He cited differences over aid to small business, balancing the budget, energy policy and relations with China. Remarkably, Obama then jumped in to defend Bush. “George Bush didn't propose turning Medicare into a voucher," the Prez said. "George Bush embraced comprehensive immigration reform … George Bush never suggested that we eliminate funding for Planned Parenthood.”
In the commentator's view, the Republican ticket represents a recognition that the New Deal, Vital Progressive Center is unsustainable. That's probably true, as most of what people point to as the successes of Good Government in the aftermath of World War II are the peace dividend earned by the destruction of the productive capacity of much of the developed world during that war.