26.11.13

ONCE IN AN ORBITAL PRECESSION.

Hanukkah coincides with Thanksgiving this year.  For a Thanksgiving in Wisconsin, something with cheese in it is in order.


Coin blanks, ready for cutting.


About 20 minutes later, freshly baked cheesegelt.

It's for sharing.  In the family, knowledge of Ellis Island or of Mayflower lore is probably better than knowledge of hinnukh.

In the name of all that William Brewster and Stephen Hopkins established, mazel tov!

THE HARD WAY.

It's a Northern Illinois football tradition, and today the motto replaced the player names on the backs of the jerseys.  The weather conditions (flurries, highs in the teens, gusty north winds) reinforced the mood.  All in a day's work.  The current senior class is 22-0 at Huskie Stadium (the concept of a "home game" is elastic at Northern Illinois with Soldier Field being included, or not, as the need dictates) including this evening's tilt with Western Michigan, who rolled out special jerseys with "Row the Boat" as their motto.  In tonight's winds, "Reef the t'gans" would have been proper.
The Huskies (12-0, 8-0 MAC) already had found themselves in an opportune position this week when the BCS rankings revealed they jumped past Fresno State, a fellow non-automatic qualifier battling for a BCS bowl bid.

The Huskies goals could remain as long as they simply didn't blow it against Western Michigan (1-11, 1-7). Instead they turned the game into a blowout.

Up next, the Huskies will go for their third straight MAC championship victory.

But on Tuesday night they celebrated what already had been accomplished. The 17 seniors honored before the game, not including their retiring mascot dog, were the most successful in program history.

They extended their home winning streak to 26 games. The Huskies completed their first undefeated regular season in the modern football era.
Here's the Mascot Emeritus (at left), and the new Mascot.



It was a suitably snowy environment for Diesel and Mission.  Next up, a trip to Detroit to face an opponent yet to be determined.

SNAPCOUNT.

Sergeant Karlson, when a development elsewhere in the world annoyed him, would sometimes say, perhaps in jest, "Roll out the B-52s."

He is no longer with us, but the B-52s still are.
Days after China asserted greater military control over a swath of the East China Sea to bolster claims to a cluster of disputed islands, the U.S. defied the move Tuesday as it flew two B-52 bombers through the area.

The U.S. said what it described as a training mission was not flown to respond to China's latest military maneuver, yet the dramatic flights made clear that the U.S. will not recognize the new territorial claims that Beijing laid out over the weekend.

The two unarmed U.S. B-52 bombers took off from their home base in Guam and flew through China's newly designated air defense zone, then returned to base, U.S. officials said. The bombers were in the zone for less than an hour, thundering across the Pacific skies during midday there, the officials said, adding that the aircraft encountered no problems.
Developing.

25.11.13

THE AXE REMAINS IN MADISON.

From my perspective, the only weekend football game to go completely right was the latest contest for Paul Bunyan's Axe.  Minnesota's players took exception to the traditional ritual of the winners.
Following Wisconsin's 20-7 win, the team's 10th straight in the series, the Badgers ceremonially chopped down the goalpost at the west end of TCF Bank Stadium. When they went to do the same to the goalpost at the other end of the field, they were met by Minnesota players and stadium personnel who wanted to make sure that didn't happen.

A brief skirmish ensued, with members of both teams posturing around the goalpost. Words flew between the sides, but punches did not. The Badgers ultimately pulled back and took their celebration elsewhere.
Back to the other goalpost, to pantomime chopping it down again.


Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel photograph by Rick Wood.

Given the length of the Wisconsin winning streak, it is likely that any future claiming of the Axe by the Minnesota team is going to have Gopher fans actually tearing down a goalpost, once the players have pantomimed the act.

Oddities elsewhere have contributed to Northern Illinois moving ahead of Fresno State in the BCS composite ranking.  I'm not sure exactly how the algorithm works (can it be more complicated than weighted least squares in panel data?) but Iowa's defeat of Michigan has to have helped.  Akron had a chance to hold Michigan out of the end zone late in the game.  Northern Illinois has now defeated three common opponents of Michigan: Akron, Central Michigan, and Iowa.  Somewhere in Notre Dame defeating Michigan there must be another convolution of that algorithm.

MARKET TESTS HAVE STEEP GRADING CURVES.

Two months ago, we noted the passing of Margaret Mary Vojtko, adjunct professor of French at Duquesne, and not, despite the ecclesiastical name, a member of a religious order.

More information on her career, slide into poverty, and death, has come our way.
While it’s hard to say exactly what Duquesne should have done for Vojtko in the months before she died, her case highlights the devil’s bargain universities have made by exploiting adjuncts—who, at Duquesne and elsewhere, are finally fighting back.
Marx's "industrial reserve army" might give administrators a great deal of power, but Rand's "sanction of the victim" still has some bite.  In a link-rich commentary on the Slate investigation, Historiann delivers a pep talk (Cold Spring Shops speak for some versions of a jeremiad) to any faculty member, particularly any contingent faculty member, on not eating the crap sandwich.
It’s not the responsibility of adjunct faculty to solve the problems that properly belong to the university! Adjunct faculty should tend to their own needs and interests, and to hell with your employers.  If the university you teach for has made you no commitment, then you owe it–and its students–precisely jack squat.  Please, please, please: DO NOT MAKE THE MISTAKE OF DEMONSTRATING MORE LOYALTY TO AN INSTITUTION THAN IT DEMONSTRATES TO YOU. Our employers looks after their own interests; that’s why most of us don’t have tenure-track jobs.

I agree with Anderson’s conclusion that an adjunct union recognized by the university might have helped out Vojtko, but if adjunct faculty should learn anything from the Vojtko example, it’s that no one will look out for your interests if you don’t look out for them yourself.  Think about your future, not five years down the road, but thirty-five; does your university pay into Social Security?  Does it make contributions to TIAA-CREF on your behalf?  If you never find a tenure-track job, will you ever be able to afford to retire?  What happens if (like Vojtko) you are involuntarily “retired” from adjunct teaching?
It's not quite "Withdraw your sanction."  At the margin, though, it might help turn college teaching more like a profession, than like a religious calling.
Margaret Mary Vojtko might have been happy to live like a nun, in poverty and embodying a spirit of service and sacrifice to her students.  Will you?
A comment at a College Misery post notes that having a vocation can be an excuse for management to lower salaries. "We don't need admins thinking that devotion is a substitute for pay or benefits."  Yes, how else did the Pope get all that cheap labor to staff all those abbeys?  The next commenter brings up the compensating differential.  "We'd love it more if they'd get out of our way and let us DO it, but they underpay us AND undermine us. I can accept one but not both." Underpaid and undermined. Sounds like an abusive relationship to me.

Withdraw your sanction.  Withdraw your support.

THE SHAMEFUL ACT OF VANDALISM.

Curbed offers a retrospective, fifty years on, of the beginning of the end of The America That Worked(TM).

FIRM, BUT NOT TYRANNICAL.

Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel columnist Alan Borsuk notes the value of both in developing students.
I have mixed feelings when I see kids being marched through a school like a line of prisoners. I know the goal is to avoid the chaos that could quickly occur otherwise, but isn't there some middle ground? Even in a stricter setting, good relationships, including some sweetness, between teachers and kids is just about essential to success.
That noted, incentives matter.
I've seen enough to convince me that pursuit of high expectations on academics can be enhanced by high expectations on a lot of other aspects of school life.
Yes. It does little good to expect excellence on the test paper in an environment that enables slovenliness elsewhere.

23.11.13

TWO HALVES.

The first half of yesterday's Wisconsin Division 3 football championship belonged to Greendale.
Greendale (13-1) set a couple of records in defeat. Junior quarterback Josh Ringelberg completed 18 of 23 passes for 270 yards, which broke the 22-year-old Division 3 yardage record by 40. A huge chunk of that came on a 97-yard touchdown pass to senior Nate Miller, the longest pass play in WIAA finals history for all divisions.
The second half belonged to Monona Grove.


Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel photograph by Mark Hoffman.

Sometimes senior leadership begins with an end-of-season disappointment.

THE FATAL CONCEIT.

Clay Shirky reflects at length on the implementation failures of the Obamacare websites.
Talking to the people who understood the technology became demeaning, something to be avoided. Information was to move from management to workers, not vice-versa (a pattern that later came to other kinds of media businesses as well.) By the time the web came around and understanding the technology mattered again, many media executives hadn’t just lost the habit of talking with their own technically adept employees, they’d actively suppressed it.
Most of the rest is elaboration.  If Scientific Management or Management by Objectives or the Cult of the MBA enabled Wise Experts to make companies more profitable, no matter what went on in the drafting room or on the shop floor, conglomerates would have become more conglomerate-like, instead of identifying and hiving off businesses that were outside their core offering, a phenomenon that contributes substantially to the volume of merger activity.  And Obamacare would be a moot point, because Soviet Communism would have come to dominate the earth.  (Chess players against golfers?  No contest.)  But to be able to think the consequences through, you have to be able to analyse all the variations, including the transpositions and the zwischenzuge.  Way too complicated for a four-bullet slide.
The preferred method for implementing large technology projects in Washington is to write the plans up front, break them into increasingly detailed specifications, then build what the specifications call for. It’s often called the waterfall method, because on a timeline the project cascades from planning, at the top left of the chart, down to implementation, on the bottom right.

Like all organizational models, waterfall is mainly a theory of collaboration. By putting the most serious planning at the beginning, with subsequent work derived from the plan, the waterfall method amounts to a pledge by all parties not to learn anything while doing the actual work. Instead, waterfall insists that the participants will understand best how things should work before accumulating any real-world experience, and that planners will always know more than workers.

This is a perfect fit for a culture that communicates in the deontic language of legislation. It is also a dreadful way to make new technology. If there is no room for learning by doing, early mistakes will resist correction. If the people with real technical knowledge can’t deliver bad news up the chain, potential failures get embedded rather than uprooted as the work goes on.
Grandmaster Kotov, early in his development as a chess-player, wrote (scroll to page 18) in his notebook, "I had worked out the following variations out at random, and was duly punished by my opponent."  On the chess-board, the mistakes are there, waiting to be made.  In politics, it might be easier to mau-mau your critics and hope for the best.
An effective test is an exercise in humility; it’s only useful in a culture where desirability is not confused with likelihood. For a test to change things, everyone has to understand that their opinion, and their boss’s opinion, matters less than what actually works and what doesn’t.
We'll not see that until politicians of all stripes truly prefer competence to ideology, and reporters consider the reason for politicians "flip-flopping" on the issues.

THE RECOGNITION I DESERVE.

Britain's Great Western Railway had the good taste to name a series of its most powerful passenger steam locomotives after Kings.  The last such built rolled out of Swindon as King Stephen.


This morning, a bout of channel-surfing led me to a new Thomas the Tank Engine hour-long adventure called "King of the Railway".  The King, or at least the protagonist, is named "Stephen".  He's an 0-2-2 with a Rocket nameplate.  (Yes, that one, but in this adventure the Duke of Sodor -- there's a full history of royalty and commoners that's probably a bit much for toddlers -- has it restored to operation to show guests around Camelot, er, Ulfstead Castle.)  One sub-plot features a rivalry between "Gordon" (a Gresley A3, but NOT Flying Scotsman, who belongs to the Sodor Railways), and "Spencer" (a Gresley A4 that belongs to a private owner, which leads "Gordon" to question whether he's a Really Useful Engine).  These products of Doncaster get into unofficial races (like those between the Century and Broad Way east from Engelwood) whilst denying that there is any racing going on.  That is, until the two of them, racing on a four track stretch of railway, are overtaken by two special express trains from the mainland for the dedication of Ulfstead Castle as an historical attraction.

Those trains are in the care of "Caitlyn", loosely a Baltimore and Ohio Streamlined President Pacific, and "Connor", more evidently a New York Central Hudson as streamlined by Henry Dreyfuss.

That ought to settle, once and for all, who had the fastest passenger steam locomotives.

21.11.13

NOVEMBER 22 COMES ON A FRIDAY.

It did, fifty years ago.

In keeping with the previous post, I offer a new way of thinking about November 22 on a Friday.
Greendale football wouldn't be the same without Keith Ringelberg and vice versa.

"When I got back from college, somebody asked me if I wanted to be an assistant," Ringelberg said. "I didn't know what that entailed, but I said sure. The relationships with the players and the coaches grow on you after a while."

Ringelberg is in his 27th season as an assistant coach at Greendale, and his twin sons, Josh and Jack, have helped the Panthers (13-0) reach the Division 3 state championship game against Monona Grove (13-0) at 10 a.m. Friday at Camp Randall Stadium.
I've had the opportunity to watch my nephew play for Greendale teams of various levels over the years, and hope to enjoy their game in Madison.

TIME TO INTER THE CAMELOT MYTH.

I commend Vincent Bugliosi's Reclaiming History as a well-researched, well-argued demonstration that Lee Oswald, and Lee Oswald alone, killed President Kennedy.  The introduction to his book, however, perpetuates the fatal conceit of  the Celebrity Presidency that is perhaps the most troubling inheritance of those five days in November.
Since Kennedy's death, the nation has not seen, in any of his successors, [as of the 2007 publication -- ed.] his cosmopolitan intellectualism or the oratorical eloquence with which he sought to lead the nation by the power of his words.  What is also beyond dispute is the way Kennedy, the first president born in the twentieth century, inspired the young of his generation by his youthful vigor and the bold, fresh initiatives of his New Frontier, such as his Peace Corps, civil rights, and pledge to put a man on the moon.  Idealism was in the air, and the nation's capital had never seen such an invasion of young people who wanted to change the world for the better.
Perhaps Mr Bugliosi believes such things.  Perhaps including them in his introduction is necessary, the better to express empathy with readers who have trouble squaring, as many people still do, the import of the deed with the tawdriness of the criminal. The editors of National Review offer a dissenting interpretation of those same impressions.
Kennedy did not transform the country, but he did transform the presidency – largely for the worse. Combining grandiose rhetoric with shallow policy, he established the modern template of president as media hero, beginning the conversion of the office of the presidency from that of chief administrator of the federal government to the modern grotesquery it has become. The main effects of his time in the White House were to make his immediate predecessor look like Cincinnatus by comparison and to unleash the ugliness of Johnson and Johnsonism on the republic after his martyrdom at the hands of a deranged Communist.
Unfortunately, Lee Oswald's fifteen minutes of fame coincided with an era in which unresolved social tensions became incompatible with their postwar integument.  As Strauss and Howe observe in The Fourth Turning (p. 170:)
The postwar High was spent; it could not last.  A new mood was necessary -- and coming.  The spark came on November 22, 1963.  From the standpoint of history, the events of that day were critical, but not essential.  Had Oswald missed, the specifics would have been different, but the saeculum would still have carved its path.
Many commenters hint at this argument, although they fall short of noting that correlation is not causation.  Let's start with Peggy Noonan.
We talk about JFK’s death because for the 18 years leading up to that point—between the end of the war, as we used to say, and 1963—America knew placidity. Many problems were growing and quietly brewing, but on the surface America was placid, growing more affluent, and politically calm. And then this rupture, this shock, this violence, this new sense that anything can happen, history can be ripped from its rails, that security once won cannot necessarily be maintained. That our luck won’t necessarily hold.
The rupture would have come anyway, if Strauss and Howe's hypothesis is valid, although it's possible that Johnson and Johnsonism -- this being the era in which the major networks began reporting from Washington rather than listing all the reporters in Washington sending material back to New York -- was the wrong policy response to those brewing problems.
And what followed—growing political unrest, cultural spasms, riots at political conventions, more assassinations and assassination attempts—was so different from the years preceding that we couldn’t help look back at JFK’s murder as the breakpoint, the rupture. After that, things turned difficult.
President Kennedy's murder came less than a month after demolition of New York's Pennsylvania Station began, which might have been the first symptom of the end of The America That Worked(TM).
Camelot isn’t JFK. Camelot is the way we remember America before JFK died. Camelot is the America that existed, for one brief shining moment, before Lee Harvey Oswald began to shoot. a placid-seeming, even predictable place that we have not seen since.
Robert Samuelson notes "He was not a great president. He was somewhere between middling and mediocre." His elaboration, however, also focuses on the transition from The America That Worked(TM) to the Consciousness Revolution and the subsequent coarsening of the common culture that goes on to this day.
Kennedy’s assassination shattered the illusion of control. Who could imagine an American president being shot? But many unimagined events followed: race riots in Los Angeles, Detroit and other cities; a powerful antiwar movement; the assassinations of Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King; a president’s resignation (Watergate).

Camelot was that brief interlude when we thought we could impose our will. That is its magnetism. It was less an innocent time than a simplistic one. We thought we could engineer the future and discovered that the future wouldn’t cooperate. Our continuing seduction by the Kennedy narrative presumes that had he lived, the future would have been better. He would have grasped the folly of Vietnam, embraced the new youth culture and advanced civil rights. This subtext sustains the Kennedy fascination.
And, I argue, leads directly to the disaster that the Obama Presidency has become.  Perhaps, with fifty years since the event, it is time for the country to move on.  Reason's Nick Gillespie, who introduces a libertarian dissent to the Celebrity Presidency,
And if we as a nation refused to grok fully the dark side of power prior to JFK’s assassination, everybody got it by the time the Warren Commission report and the Pentagon Papers came out, Dion scored his last huge hit with “Abraham, Martin and John,” Teddy Kennedy strategically donned a neck brace, and Dick Nixon flew off to San Clemente.

Indeed, by the early 1970s, what American over or under 30 didn’t agree with the sentiments expressed in a 1971 New York Times Magazine story on youth politics co-authored by Louis Rossetto, the future cofounder of Wired magazine? “John F. Kennedy, one of the leading reactionaries of the sixties, is remembered for his famous line, ‘Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country,’” seethed Rossetto and Stan Lehr. “Today, more and more young people are instead following the advice of [author] David Friedman: ‘Ask not what government can do for you… ask rather what government is doing to you.’”
then suggests that the torch be passed to a new generation.
But after 50 years, here’s hoping that particular fever is breaking. Not because Kennedy’s assassination wasn’t a horrible event or because questions around it and the world in which it took place still linger, but because no generation should monopolize the past, present, and future to the extent the boomers have tried. At the very least, we owe our literal and figurative children the breathing space to get on with their lives as free of their parents' shadow as possible.
Perhaps some additional parallels between President Kennedy and President Obama will help the next generation move on. Let's start with Mr Kennedy's application to Harvard. (Yes, read the whole thing, in those days, dropping names appeared to be the preferred mode of getting the thick envelope.)  Particularly telling is a passage in a letter that appears to be his father calling in a favor.
Jack has a very brilliant mind for the things in which he is interested, but is careless and lacks application in those in which he is not interested.  This is, of course, a bad fault.
I'm guilty of that differential ability to focus or to become bored, and I can relate fully to a father not wanting that held against his son. But that observation might apply to Our President, who seems more at ease campaigning than in negotiating.  Might it not be the case, though, that such a focus, commendable if not desirable in a professor, a Grandmaster, coach, or division superintendent, is not compatible with the contemporary Presidency, particularly in the Manage Everything "modern grotesquery" that seems to be today's job description, and even more so in the Herbert Croly - Franklin Roosevelt - Arthur Schlesinger paradigm for a Democrat?

Our President, however, is a predictable outcome of celebrity trumping competence.  Stir in a sycophantic media, identity politics, incompetent Republican campaigns, the hubris of The Best and The Brightest, and the good-will of voters hoping to validate the Civil Rights Movement, add a dash of nostalgia for Camelot, and all follows.

Never mind that John Kennedy gets an incomplete, and Our President is a failure: a stimulus that didn't stimulate, a diplomatic "reset" that has antagonized everybody and strengthened Vladimir Putin's hand, and a health care restructuring that looks ever more like a monopsony.  Perhaps the most fitting outcome, fifty years after Lee Oswald murdered President Kennedy and Patrolman Tippit, might be the end of the cult of the Presidency and Washington Knows Best.

If it's not the saeculum, perhaps the expected behavior of complex adaptive systems will make it so.

Obama voter and thoughtful public intellectual Walter Russell Mead suggests as much.
Liberal Democrats once hoped that President Obama would be the “Democratic Reagan.” What worries them now is that this may indeed be the case. President Obama may be the Democrat who ends up convincing millions of American millennials that Ronald Reagan was right, and that the progressive administrative state is neither honest nor competent enough to solve the problems of the American people.
The harder intellectual work to be done might be in establishing that emergent order and distributed networks are far more effective at overcoming difficulties than a small committee of The Best and The Brightest can ever be, even if that committee sits around a Round Table in Camelot.

TEACH THE CONTROVERSIES.

News reaches Cold Spring Shops of a movement by British undergraduates to secure an economics curriculum that does just that.
Joe Earle, a spokesman for the Post-Crash Economics Society and a final-year undergraduate, said academic departments were "ignoring the [financial] crisis" and that, by neglecting global developments and critics of the free market such as Keynes and Marx, the study of economics was "in danger of losing its broader relevance".

[Ha-Joon] Chang, who is a reader in the political economy of development at Cambridge, said he agreed with the society's premise. The teaching of economics was increasingly confined to arcane mathematical models, he said. "Students are not even prepared for the commercial world. Few [students] know what is going on in China and how it influences the global economic situation. Even worse, I've met American students who have never heard of Keynes."

In June a network of young economics students, thinkers and writers set up Rethinking Economics, a campaign group to challenge what they say is the predominant narrative in the subject.

Earle said students across Britain were being taught neoclassical economics "as if it was the only theory".

He said: "It is given such a dominant position in our modules that many students aren't even aware that there are other distinct theories out there that question the assumptions, methodologies and conclusions of the economics we are taught."

Multiple-choice and maths questions dominate the first two years of economics degrees, which Earle said meant most students stayed away from modules that required reading and essay-writing, such as history of economic thought. "They think they just don't have the skills required for those sorts of modules and they don't want to jeopardise their degree," he said. "As a consequence, economics students never develop the faculties necessary to critically question, evaluate and compare economic theories, and enter the working world with a false belief about what economics is and a knowledge base limited to neoclassical theory."
I smell a national standardised test behind those multiple choice questions. That produces something other than education irrespective of what's not being tested.  The focus of the students' objections is to the preponderance of New Classical macroeconomics in the syllabus, to the exclusion of Keynesian, Marxian, or Austrian explanations for Complex Adaptive Systems Do What They Darn Well Please.  Their complaints apply to price theory as well: it misleads to place complete faith either in Competitive Markets Allocate Resources Efficiently or in The Welfare Economics Paradigm.

Just as I hope my students understand.

Now to line up an opportunity to work with my colleagues in the Midlands on teaching the controversies, and find a house-sitter for a term?

THE HARD WAY.

The Northern Illinois University football team has only led one game wire-to-wire.  Purdue scored the first touchdown.  Eastern Michigan and Massachusetts scored first.  Ball State and Toledo both led at halftime.
The Huskies entered the half trailing for the fourth time this season and the second game in a row. They had outscored their opponents 65-13 in the second half of those first three games and outscored the Rockets 28-7 to close out the game.
The second half is there for a reason.
Standing on the “E” in the back of the Toledo end zone with the ball at the NIU 1-yard line, quarterback Jordan Lynch made a statement with a memorable Heisman moment.

Lynch orchestrated a 15-play drive that totaled 104 yards, due to a 5-yard false start penalty. The drive culminated in Lynch diving head-first into the end zone for a 1-yard touchdown to put the Huskies up two scores, 28-17, with 9:42 remaining in the fourth quarter.

On the drive, Lynch ran the ball seven times for 62 yards and converted on three huge third downs.

“We work on it every day in practice, going 99 yards, and we never flinch,” Lynch said. “We believe in the process, we believe in the journey, and we believe in the coaches’ play calling. We knew we were going to go right down and score.”
By the end of the game, most of the fans in the Glass Bowl were wearing red.



The fans present have some fun with the Purple and the Orange, both of which are blue as far as conference wins are concerned.  Somebody in promotions had signs made up for the team's first post-season destination.



Four years, four trips to the Mid-American title game.
NIU likes to consider Chicago’s Soldier Field its unofficial second home. But judging by how often the Huskies have finished the MAC season in Detroit – now each of the past four years – they should bestow that title upon Ford Field instead.

Call it Huskie Stadium Farther East.
The radio announcers were cracking wise about "Northern Illinois" being painted in the Ford Field end zone.

The Green Bay Packers have to take care of business there first.

20.11.13

ROUTE KNOWLEDGE.

The Operating Rule of the Day.
270.  A signal imperfectly displayed, or the absence of a signal at a place where a signal is normally displayed, must be regarded as the most restrictive indication that can be given by that signal.
In practice, that includes recognizing a signal and alignment of switches sending a train the wrong way, and stopping the train.
Amtrak Train 644 that left 30th Street Station for New York City accidentally ended up on the SEPTA tracks. The train actually traveled several miles before the mistake was finally caught and the train stopped at the Bala Cynwyd station.
With North American speed signalling, it is possible that an Advance Approach and a Diverging Clear might cross a train either to the Pittsburgh Subway or to the outer track of the New York Division (a routing that seems likely as 644 makes a Trenton stop and is overtaken by an Acela somewhere in New Jersey.)  It is difficult, though, for an engineer running a day train to recognize that he's being routed back toward Harrisburg, rather than toward Trenton.
It happened last Thursday and according to Amtrak, the 130 passengers on-board may have been inconvenienced but everyone was safely brought back to Philly, put on a different train and taken to New York, this second time around, without incident.

Jennifer Wallace of Tampa, FL said, “Definitely they need to investigate. I don’t think anybody should get fired but maybe disciplinary, definitely but they should look into it so it doesn’t happen again, be more cautious than anything.”

Steve Kulm, Amtrak’s Media Relations Director released a statement which read in part: “An investigation was launched and the crew has been held out of work until they can be fully debriefed and additional training can be conducted.”
That the passengers had to be put on a different train says something about the thinness of the Extra Board these days.

QUESTIONING AUTHORITY WITHOUT THE INTELLECTUAL FIREPOWER.

Ordinarily, I let the student columnists at The Northern Star vent without comment.  Today, though, comes a gripe that requires a reaction.
Four of my five class syllabi list term paper due dates followed only days later by scheduled final exams. The only logical explanation is my professors got together and decided to conspire against me. Bravo.

But in all seriousness, I cannot stand when professors assign two finals in one class. Call it a case of severe indecision or downright psychopathy, but forcing students to double their worries is too much.

I think it’s time professors decide on only one terrible way to stress their students to near death instead of toying with their psyches with final exams and papers.

Maybe it’s my fault for being an English major, but the reason I chose writing was to avoid testing.
The intellectual argument is "Start the paper earlier and use writing time as concept-review time. Then the final exam uses mental muscles you've already developed."

Perhaps, though, the only argument that will work is "Want fries with that?"

Miss some things I will not.

WHY IT MATTERS.

Erika Sanchez discovers that a resource-starved high school in a downwardly mobile community can do the right thing, without apology.
My high school, which is located in a working class Latino suburb bordering Chicago, was overpopulated, underfunded, and in my opinion, incredibly stifling. Needless to say, I resented going there. I felt we were disenfranchised and were not given the same opportunities that affluent schools provided their students.

I should have realized how lucky I really was when I was in college, however. Unlike many of my classmates, I cranked out papers with little difficulty because I knew how to synthesize information and formulate an argument. Writing a thesis statement was a freaking breeze. But at the time I had no idea that these skills were a luxury.

It wasn't until I reunited with my teacher that I realized I actually received a decent education compared to many students today. I had several talented and passionate teachers who had not been entirely bogged down by a bunch of inane educational requirements. No Child Left Behind hadn't completely ruined our already failing education system. My teachers taught me how to analyze and question texts and write thesis statements. I was taught the symbolism of the Mississippi River in Huckleberry Finn. I was taken on after school field trips to movies, poetry readings, and plays. Some of them even encouraged me to question authority. If it weren't for some of these teachers, I never would have become a writer.

But that has all changed now. According to my teacher, budget cuts have made field trips nearly impossible. Not only that, teachers are now so bogged down by administrative nonsense and standardized testing requirements, that it's very difficult to teach children anything but the rote memorization of information. I hear complaints like these all the time from my friends and family members who are teachers. While they are passionate about what they do, they are not given the agency or resources to flourish and engage their students in higher levels of discourse.

One of my family members is a teacher at our former high school and he is frequently exasperated by the efforts devoted to standardized testing.
All of those efforts, simply demonstrating that No Child Gets Ahead is the dual proposition to No Child Left Behind. When those children turn up in college as young adults, it's clear that All Children Have Been Left Behind.
Whether it be No Child Left Behind or Common Core, the problem lies in manufactured learning. In teaching English at the university level, I have noticed that students are often ill prepared for the demands of higher education. Students who are used to multiple choice tests lack the skills and the confidence to formulate their own complex opinions and interpretations. It is irresponsible to have these students graduate without the proper skills to succeed.

Rigid curriculums that focus on right and wrong answers teach children to see the world in binaries. These methods don't encourage creativity or innovation. I fear that our deeply flawed education system will produce generations of people who lack critical thinking skills. How can students be expected to become highly skilled or passionate about anything when they're asked to simply regurgitate information? What kind of choices will they make in their adult lives when they have never been taught how to look at the nuances and complexities of situations? Who will have the tools to question authority? Who will question the status quo? How will we compete with other countries when our younger generations have not been encouraged to develop their inquisitiveness and engage with the world?

I fear that our system is failing children by encouraging them to be mindless consumers. High tests scores do not make someone well-educated or well-rounded and memorizing facts does not equal intelligence. Public education should not be a commodity, but a foundation for children to at least have the possibility of succeeding in the world.
The economist in me notes that any decision to allocate resources, and any social interaction that involves incentives, leads us into commodity space.  Thus, the same argument might be phrased as "Public education fails to deliver the foundation from which children can build success in the world."  I note, also, that children can acquire the behavior of "mindless consumers" by observing.  To the extent that the common schools enable mindless behavior (Wikipedia!  Search engines! Databases!  Sports!) they undermine those foundations.  But saying No and enforcing standards is hard work.

18.11.13

ROLL OUT THE BIG BOY.

The beginning of Big Boy 4014's move to Cheyenne merited television coverage.


The locomotive will be pulled by the current 4014, a diesel, once it reaches Union Pacific's rails.

I still maintain these are the good old days of railroading.  The return of steam locomotives only makes them better.  In addition to 4014, Trains reports that the New England Steam Corporation hopes to return Maine Central 470, a Pacific on the Atlantic Coast, to operation.  The locomotive has been displayed outside even longer than 4014, although, like 4014, it received some care before being put on display outside the railroad's Waterville shops.  Overseas, HRH The Prince of Wales has given his assent to naming a replica Gresley P-2 2-8-2 Prince of Wales.
These 2-8-2 locomotives were the most powerful express passenger locomotives to operate in the U.K., designed by Sir Nigel Gresley to haul 600-ton trains on the arduous Edinburgh, Scotland, to Aberdeen route. The P2 company is building the seventh member of this class and will demonstrate how the design can be fully realized through use of modern computer design and modelling techniques, enabling it to deliver its full potential hauling passenger trains at high speed across the national network. It is estimated that $8 million will be needed to build No. 2007 over 7-10 years, with funds being raised through public subscription. The formal launch of the project will take place in February 2014.
The P2 Steam Corporation hope to take advantage of commonalities between the P2 and the Peppercorn A1.
The P2 is the most frequently requested locomotive The A1 Steam Locomotive Trust has been asked to build next. In addition to its striking looks, incredible power and undoubted glamour it also has around 70% commonality with Tornado, including the boiler, tender and many other detailed fittings. However, the design was never fully developed and the locomotives failed to reach their full potential. The Trust has therefore conducted a feasibility study into the construction of a new Gresley P2, to be numbered 2007 as the next in the series.
Standardisation, as the British would have it, is useful. On The Pennsylvania Railroad, the same boiler made steam for the G5s 4-6-0 and the H9s and H10s 2-8-0, and a larger boiler served the K4s 4-6-2 and the L1s 2-8-2.  Sir Nigel Gresley would do no less.

LIFE-MANAGEMENT DEFICIENCIES.

Via Media, without further comment. "Many [young workers] lack common sense about workplace life, including the importance of punctuality, time management, and good communication with co-workers."

WE'RE STUCK WITH WEEKNIGHT FOOTBALL.

Grantland's Holly Anderson interviews Mid-American commissioner John Steinbrecher.
The difference was, our midweek games concentrated on one month primarily, the month of November. If you schedule it right, you end up playing out your conference race on national TV. And now because of the BCS, there are generally national implications with these games.
That calls for a bit of good luck, Eastern Michigan playing Western Michigan would feature two teams working through rough patches; Buffalo playing Akron might be entertaining or not. There's a lot of play value in Northern Illinois at Toledo, but one such game, in which lots of points were scored, featured lots of empty seats at the Glass Bowl.  Never mind that students and faculty might have other plans.
I in no way want to suggest anytime you miss class that it's not important, but of all the sports we have, and in our conference we offer championships in 23 sports, football players miss the least amount of class. We actually have a league policy, implemented by the athletic directors, that the home-team athletes have to attend class the day of the game. It's part and parcel of what goes along with college athletics, the travel involved, but there really is minimal missed class time. Some of the bigger questions are whether hosting a midweek game causes disruption to the rest of the campus, and can you manage that.
I've noticed that one parking lot which used to be posted as "Football Parking After 4.30" (with leaflets placed on cars advising students and staff to plan to park elsewhere on game night) is now posted "No Football Parking". The next evening home game will be on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. The University used to end classes at noon on Wednesday. About ten years ago they ended classes at 10 pm on that Tuesday. We'll see how many fans stick around for the game.  Now other conferences are rolling out evening games (Thursday and Friday, mostly), and Mr Steinbrecher thinks it's worth it.
It's why I think we've had programs starting to take it and grow with it now and building national brands. I would contend that programs like Northern Illinois and Toledo are national brands now. It's facilitated some national recruiting in ways we did not have open to us before, and the results are showing themselves on the field.
A Daily Chronicle analysis suggests the results show up off the field as well.
Each game on ESPN provides commercial slots for both participating institutions on the broadcast. According to Brad Adgate, research director at Horizon Media, these spots usually cost $3,500.

Beyond the pure monetary value of TV ads, Adgate says there are many other positive attributes that benefit the university beyond its football team.

"It helps in recruiting, it helps with the alumni, it helps with the overall sports program," Adgate said. "You're going to apply to a school you've heard of, rather than one you haven't heard of. There's a recognition factor that helps in elevating the prestige of the school and putting it on the radar of a high school student. There's a lot of different positives that can result from being on ESPN."
Provided the high school student is an individual who can benefit from college. Recognition as a good place for mid-week parties is not the same thing as recognition for creative faculty, perhaps in numbers commensurate with the enrollments.

I'm tempted to give the last word on weeknight football in November to our meteorologist, who, in advance of the Ball State game, advised spectators to dress as if they were attending a January game in Green Bay or Chicago.

14.11.13

FOOTBALL ON A SCHOOL NIGHT.

Still not the best idea. Better, though, to wake up (hung over, in some cases?) after a victory.
At the end of the third quarter, the Huskies (10-0, 6-0 MAC) and the Cardinals (9-2, 6-1 MAC) were deadlocked at 27-27. From there on out it was all Huskies.

The Huskies dominated the fourth quarter, finding the end zone on three occasions. NIU out-scored the Cardinals 21-0 in the final period.
Fourteen of those points came in the final minute and a half. If the offense is attempting to run out the clock, and the defenders don't tackle, a back doesn't run out of bounds. If a defender intercepts a pass with a clear path to the end zone, that defender doesn't run out of bounds.



Imaginative signs are part of the tradition, particularly with the television crews present.  The Huskie bomber hats are a recent development.  Next they'll come with storage compartments in the fashion of Stuffies.

THE PASSENGER FLOW IS STILL OBSTRUCTED.

Longtime readers know that Chicago Union Station is difficult to navigate.  Given a large enough budget, that can be fixed.
Whenever the Chicago real estate market heats up, proposals to add an office tower above the Great Room on the west side of the station arise.  Why not do something productive, and provide an office tower with a proper concourse above the tracks?  (Yes, that's a somewhat more challenging project, as none of the current north-end tracks line up with the corresponding south-end tracks.  Make no small plans.)
Unfortunately, the current planners have neither the will nor the wallet.
Effectively, [a recent planning report] said, the nation's third-largest railroad terminal — "a level of passenger traffic that would rank it among the 10 busiest airports in the U.S." — needs lots of work if it is to handle today's passenger load, much less a projected 40 percent increase in trains by 2040.

Riders can testify to that. The once grand and sprawling intercity rail hub is now a chaotic barn, home to Amtrak trains, Metra trains and a funny sort of shopping center that goes up and down and mostly just gets in the way. Try getting around the station, especially when it's busy and you're swimming upstream. And try finding CTA buses, which are located in different spots, all of them far from el stations.

"Expansion of Union Station is key to the future of office growth downtown," says the planning council's Peter Skosey. "Union Station is at capacity now."

To deal with that, the plan sketched out in broad strokes a variety of fixes, some rather modest and others quite expensive, such as a new subway line under Clinton Street. Probably the most feasible were widening platforms that are used for freight and reclaiming old mail platforms that extend south of the station under a high-rise but still are usable. Each of them is in the $100 million-plus range, though officials say reconfiguring the concourse would cost only $50 million or so. But building a brand new station is rated at at least $500 million.
None of those projects, however, have a highly-placed sponsor in Chicago's government.

THE INSURRECTION CONTINUES.

The most recent report from the dissident faculty weblog Chicago State's expense-preference hustlers still hope to silence is a roundup of reaction from higher education's most visible observers.
Maybe faculty around the country are just expressing how sick and tired they are of phoney administrators and their "corporate models" of governance (forget the shared part).
The post's author expresses surprise that the American Association of University Professors and the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education picked up the story.  The former organization retains some commitment to the concept of faculty being the right and proper stewards of the university.  The latter has been all over administrative excess -- more frequently used to squelch student expression -- for years.

TWELVE STRIKES.

And an ace.  For an encore, the gentleman catches a foul ball at spring training.

12.11.13

NOW IS NOT THE TIME TO GO WOBBLY.

The University of Connecticut appears to be thinking about raising its academic profile, and in so doing, hopes to tighten up community college transfers.  From immediately north, the dean at Pioneer Valley Community objects.
Over the last couple of years, the state government in Connecticut has sent a clear set of messages to the various sectors of higher education.  It has poured unprecedented money into the flagship research university, UConn, while forcing austerity on community and state colleges.  It even took the unprecedented step of legislating a statewide remediation policy for the community colleges, going so far as to ignore the recommendations of the people on whose research the change was allegedly based.

Apparently, the lesson UConn learned from these moves is that it’s special.  It’s acting to pull up the drawbridge and separate itself from the community and state colleges, while taking a few swift kicks at them for good measure.
It might be a mistake for Connecticut to limit community college transfers.  The institutional research I'm aware of out of Northern Illinois is that transfer students outperform continuing students as juniors and seniors -- there are probably as many explanations as there are reviewers of the evidence -- and that might generalize to Connecticut.

The planning the university is doing, however, is pretty standard.  Connecticut has rounded up the usual suspects as peer institutions for comparison.  Some of those institutions appeared in a Northern Illinois internal review of the economics department.  There's nothing wrong with a northeastern state flagship institution wanting to compare itself with Rutgers or Iowa State or Ohio State.  In these plans and reviews, it's customary to identify institutions that it would be good to be spoken of in the same sentence with.  That choice, however, troubles our colleague in Pioneer Valley.
[T]he chief academic officer at UConn issued a memo advocating a new, much lower cap on transfer credits for UConn students.  (The five top feeder colleges for transfer credits to UConn are all community colleges within Connecticut.)  The memo goes out of its way to label community college courses as “easier and cheaper” than the UConn courses for which students substitute them.  The same memo refers, revealingly, to “aspirant institutions” for comparison, naming Northwestern and Duke specifically, and making the point that those “aspirant institutions” allow fewer transfer credits than UConn.

The memo does not mention that Northwestern and Duke are private, and UConn is public.
The ownership shouldn't matter. Connecticut is in the same business as Northwestern and Duke; it recruits athletic coaches against Northwestern and Duke and those coaches recruit athletes against Northwestern and Duke.

Don't Connecticut students deserve the same intellectual challenges as those at Northwestern and Duke?  Don't faculty members deserve the same working conditions?  Perhaps the transfer policy is the wrong place to begin strengthening the academics, but let's not fall into the trap of we-can't-compete-with-Northwestern-so-let's-not-bother.  I'm not sure what the current state of Connecticut's economics department is, but building one comparable with Ohio State or Minnesota is little different from building one comparable with Northwestern or Duke.

Perhaps doing so will solve some of the problems of retention and completion that trouble too many college administrators, and it has the potential to improve faculty morale.  In the comments to Dean Dad's post is link to a recent Pro Publica interview with recently retired Miami of Ohio president James Garland.  Miami took steps to raise its profile, which involved making tradeoffs.
The fact that we did have selective admissions with high-ability students meant we were not burdened with the problems of having many poorly prepared students. That steered us more in the direction of the mission of a private university.

We were able to focus more on students who had a fairly narrow range of academic qualifications, and so that meant that we didn’t have to have remedial programs or have a lot of courses at different levels for students with different backgrounds or levels of preparation. That was much more private-like than public-like in terms of mission.
I'm not sure when the function of a state-funded university became institution of last resort for anybody.  Years ago, the state university systems of Wisconsin provided sufficient space somewhere for any Wisconsin resident who finished in the top half of his or her high school class.  The universities made their entrance requirements clear, and if freshman courses functioned as weeders, so be it.  The president notes that competition in amenities might be an arms race that erodes academic standards.  Fine. Be selective and don't worry so much about the amenities.  At the margin, does the presence of a climbing wall in the exercise center affect enrollments at MIT or Caltech or Chicago?

In his concluding observations, though, Mr Garland fails to get to the root causes of the public universities' difficulties.  First, he notes the tension between serving an upscale population and achieving diversity, as it is currently understood.
The problem that we had was we had this reputation as a tony, upper-middle class school. Part of the problem we had was the sense that there would be a kind of socio-cultural mismatch -- that low-income students and students from disadvantaged backgrounds would come and would feel uncomfortable because it was all upper-middle class kids from the suburbs. We spent a lot of money trying to make ourselves more hospitable for students from minority backgrounds or disadvantaged backgrounds. Our challenge was more of a cultural challenge than an economic challenge.

The other problem we had was that we had selective admissions. Students from disadvantaged backgrounds tended to have low SAT scores and come from second- and third-tier high schools and they lacked the rigorous high-school training. There was a general feeling that the really well qualified minority students or the disadvantaged students who had competitive academic credentials would basically get picked off by private universities that had more money to spend.
There's a hodge-podge of points for you. A private university with more money to spend polishing diamonds in the rough gets a more diverse campus. The student who benefits from the additional resources might have a better life.  A Miami that tries to be just like every other mid-major produces neither, as he notes.
I think there’s a crisis in higher education. I think it’s a very severe crisis.

I see a large majority of public universities, the non-flagships, are sort of living hand-to-mouth right now. And they live off their meager state appropriations and their physical plants are getting run down and their faculty are discouraged. I don’t think they’re fulfilling the kind of opportunities that Americans expect from their colleges and universities.

At the other end of public spectrum, the selective publics are just getting more and more and more expensive. And they’re pricing out large segments of the American population.
Yes, and the Miami model, or an optimistic interpretation of what Connecticut is doing, is that additional capacity that matches the academic profiles of the most selective publics produces additional opportunities -- and bargains -- for those segments of the population, and it might improve faculty morale.  In 35 years in this calling, I do not recall a colleague ever griping about a bright student or chastising a class for working too hard.

IF YOU LIKE YOUR HEALTH CARE PLAN, YOU CAN KEEP IT(*).

That statement has been parsed, and scrapped over, all over the blogosphere since the rollout of the federal health care exchanges.

The most sensible attempt at clarifying the fine print might have been by longtime Brookings analyst Henry Aaron.
To see why, imagine a new law enacted to promote food purity. As it is being debated, you are told: “If you like what you eat, you can keep on eating it.” The new law takes effect, and one day, you find that the market no longer carries certain foods you have been buying. As it happens, those products included elements found to be bad for your health. The pure food act barred their use.

Obamacare is analogous to the pure food law. It bars certain common practices of insurance companies that most people find unacceptable at best, outrageous at worst.
Those practices, including differential pricing for males and females, for people with pre-existing conditions, and for people of different ages might be logical, despite the logic being harsh, and as such those practices are qualitatively different from passing adulterated food off as nutritious.

Tyler Cowen raises a number of other questions, contemplation of which will reward careful study.  In part, the exchanges, and the government-approved insurance policies that subscribers have been able to buy, often interfere with existing relationships between provider and patient, particularly where specialists are concerned.  There has to be a way to end the rigidities of in-network or out-of-network reimbursement, no matter what the insurance contracts are.
How many of these people know that their new policies (if and when they can get them) will cover the same providers?  How can these people find out that information — now — in an easily verified manner?  And if they have to switch providers, how long will it take before their previous treatments are back up and running at an acceptable level?  What kind of publicly available information is available on this question?  Might their current providers start neglecting them, even before coverage is up, figuring they are “out the door” in any case?
It's trouble enough identifying a new physician or dentist in a new town, or when the existing people retire. Having to shop for a new one because the insurance coverage changes means unnecessary trouble. Having to shop for a new one because the insurer is behaving like a monopsonist means unnecessary trouble.

NOT THE BEST NEWS TO AWAKEN TO.

When Chicago's News Radio 780 comes on in the morning, and the first story to register on my consciousness is a request by administrators at Chicago State University to dissident faculty members that they take down a weblog, citing copyright infringement, it doesn't matter which side of the bed I got up on.

We've dealt with Chicago State before.  "Chicago State is a retention pond so noisome its trustees are embarrassed."  It's administrators fancy themselves the second coming of TASS.  "Blogs and even Twitter or Facebook posts might have to be approved by the public relations division at the university, the Tribune reported."

University Diaries issues a call to arms.
UD trusts free speech advocates are all over this one. I’d say it’s an outrage, but everything about CSU is outrageous and it still syphons huge tax dollars from the poor citizens of Illinois. So it’s wasted breath.
Wasted or not, CSU Faculty Voice earns a stop on College Avenue.  The most recent entries include the request from the university's general counsel to please shut up, as well as ample evidence that the university, in addition to being a dropout factory and a noisome retention pond, is an expense-preference playground for diversity hustlers.

THIS MAY EXPEDITE SERVICE.

It appears to be policy at a Starbucks with a drive-through window to service those calls first, even if it means three or four staffers will look directly at a just-arrived walk-in customer without acknowledging his presence.

A competitor is rolling out a robo-barista.
Ever stood in line at a Starbucks or some other cafe and wondered why, in the year 2013, you can’t just send in your order 10 minutes early via an app on your phone, and pick it up as soon as you walk in? Briggo has such an app. It asks you to log in, so it can memorize your order and payment information, which enables one-click coffee ordering. Or you can order a coffee for a friend. And use the app to check out how long the wait is for a drink. Fifteen minutes? Just complete your order now, while you’re walking across campus—it will be ready by the time you arrive. Hit another button to announce on Facebook that you’ll be at the Briggo kiosk by 9:30, and hey, who wants to meet up?
The article notes that Starbucks have a lot of employee turnover (a corporate policy that seems to mandate ignoring or deferring walk-in customers can't help), and that there is a continuum of coffee-robots between the Briggo machine and the institutional canteen machine that is fifty years old and still going strong.

3.11.13

DO I HEAR AN ECHO?

Insta Pundit recommends a Susan Dench column on feminism undermining itself.  Her article echoes, or channels, or reiterates points that have been current for a quarter century.  Is the Bangor Daily News a bigger platform than the Badger Herald?

THE BRITISH COLLEGE BUBBLE?

World Socialist Web Site coverage of a one day strike by British university lecturers and supportive staff has the expected invocations of marketisation and austerity.  Reality, however, is more subtle.
Anya Louis, a lecturer at Hallam University in Sheffield, England had been on the picket line earlier in the day and said, “I’m happy about how few went through the picket lines. It’s been a good start. Enough is enough.

“This is not just about the pay—that’s the tagline. It’s about working conditions, performance related pay, zero contract hours. Teaching is one of the top three professions with the most stress related illness—teaching, social work and nursing.

“There is so much interference in what is being taught from people who don’t know anything about learning. If you talk to people in the National Health Service it’s exactly the same.

“There is a huge tension where everyone is an individual and is unique and learns best in different ways. The drive to standardisation creates the exact opposite.”
Standardisation is the dual proposition to universal access. Discuss.

WE DESERVED BETTER.

Subaru's "Redressing Room" commercial, which I characterized as dumb, has been missing from the airwaves for the past couple of months.  I have continued to look, in vain, for evidence that the disability lobby has found another way to enable bad behavior by medicalizing it.  I did, however, find a Commercials I Hate thread in which the moderates were calling for the little hellion to be spanked.

Perhaps it's a small victory for sanity.

Meanwhile, Subaru have released a more upbeat advert in which a tween has outgrown her safety seat.  Much better.

THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT.

It helps the original Sherlock Holmes solve "Silver Blaze" and it recurs in the 21st century "Unnatural Arrangement".

It's also apropos of the silence of some of the so-called progressive websites on the difficulties The Best and The Brightest are encountering rolling out the federal insurance exchanges.  Ordinarily I can count on somebody to instinctively support Democrats, but I'm seeing in that silence a signal of independence.

LOSING THE POSITIONAL ARMS RACE.

Margaret Soltan has harsh words for beer-'n-circus at the University of Massachusetts. "They play the role of the freaks of this blog, the frenzied teetering muttering mad uncles of the American university family." That's after students celebrated the Red Sox win in the World Series in the way they're accustomed to.

Enjoying football victories is another matter.  Massachusetts has to have enough attendance, in a sufficiently large stadium, to qualify as a Division I, er, Football Bowl Subdivision team.  Damned if they do, damned if they don't.
Whether the team plays future games on campus will depend on how well it does at Gillette Stadium, the site of all UMass home games in 2012 and 2013.

"The more success we have in Foxborough, ironically, the less chance there would be of returning to McGuirk," [athletic director John] McCutcheon said.

But the option will exist, if current renovation plans come to fruition. McCutcheon said UMass is committed to the plan, but that it is in the preliminary phase.

"We are in a transitional period. By 2014, the plan is to have an upgraded campus facility that could host some games," he said.

UMass is undertaking a $20 million McGuirk improvement project. Seating will be expanded from 17,000 to 25,000, with a comprehensive training facility built at the stadium's north end.

McCutcheon said a major fundraising effort is aimed at paying for the project. If the full amount is not raised, "some debt service'' will be incurred by the university, he said.
If that sounds familiar, it should. The Mid-American Conference, which Massachusetts have joined, itself is on and off of the college football cartel's watch list for inadequate attendance.  Thus, to put more entertaining teams on the field, conference athletic departments have been upgrading their weight rooms and adding indoor practice facilities.  Huskie Stadium seats about 25,000 fans, and a new indoor practice facility just opened.  So Massachusetts has to have one.

Never mind that at their most recent home game in Foxborough, many ZooMass fans were at the Red Sox victory parade in Boston.  By game's end, a majority of the fans were Northern Illinois backers.


David Butler II for USA Today Sports courtesy Chicago Tribune.

Northern Illinois fans aren't as geographically ubiquitous as Wisconsin or Green Bay Packer fans.  The paid attendance at the game (won 63-19 by Northern Illinois) was listed as around 10,000, although maybe a fifth of those were actually present.

I was able to listen to the end of the game on Chicago's AM 670, which reaches western Ohio on a good day.  The fan enthusiasm wasn't audible on the radio, although they come through loud and clear on the ESPN video.

WE DESERVE BETTER.

I just returned from a road trip to purchase O Scale equipment at the Cleveland swap meet.

Now that Indiana and Ohio allow 70 mph running, the trip is less enervating than it was at 55 mph.  It's even worth the higher tolls, although the truck congestion is sometimes annoying (less so at weekends, though).

But the people in charge of road repair continue to epitomize "the public be damned".  It's now November, and the work ought to be put away for winter.  That doesn't stop repair crews from taking a lane out of service and positioning orange barrels for miles, and posting work zone speed limits, when there is no evidence of work in progress, no evidence of curing concrete, no evidence of equipment staged to be put to use after dark, when the pleasure travelers are abed.

They get away with it only because we don't squawk loudly enough or frequently enough.