30.1.14

ARE YOU NOT SATISFIED WITH RUINING THE HUMANITIES?

A panel at the Modern Language Association proposes to ruin environmental science as well.
A panel at the Modern Language Association’s annual meeting in Chicago on environmental sustainability and its role in English literature featured Foothill College’s Scott Lankford, Geoffrey Martin of the Harry S. Truman College, Moravian College professor Theresa Dougal and University of New Hampshire graduate student Molly Hall.
It's the Modern Language Association, and the expected word-noise follows.
Martin claimed that the “metacognitive” work at community colleges remains important as the community college is now in a position to change education. He admitted that employability needs to be a bigger part of a college education and the possibility of enabling “students to move across disciplinary boundaries” should be considered more than ever. He felt there was too much “segregation between the sciences and the humanities” within the learning community and wanted to emphasize “relationship between mind, body and spirit.”
We used to have a core curriculum for that.
That decline is due in large part to the fact that humanities professors themselves reject the traditional values underlying those disciplines. As for social sciences—economics, political science, sociology—the paper should have looked at whether their scholarship is fostering analytical thinking. It is widely recognized, for example, that overemphasis on the mathematical side of economics has diminished attention to economic principles.
Indeed. Higher education has not yet learned the lesson of the railroads.  Rip up too much track, and when the traffic returns, there's no place to put it.  But the panelists at the Modern Language Association want to stand fast at their indefensible position.
Martin said that his method of teaching was influenced by something call “disciplinary literacy,” where “necessary political access needs to accompany” change and reform. His “hardly radical revisionary education” fosters “a cooperative learning environment,” but to teach this learning curriculum is “a dance of virtue [and] value.” Martin actually complained that his courses are prerequisite classes at his college, where students would find out about it after-the-fact.  He wanted to  be selected by popular demand.

He said, “We can’t run with the narrow ideology of what sustainability is,” saying that it is up to the professors to “connect those emerging fields to scholarship and learning” to eventually give students “political power in debates.” He sought out to “debunk the myth that sustainability is bourgeoisie and whiteness,” although Martin confessed that there is an “overrepresentation of whiteness and portrayals of environment.” He called this the “reality of environmental non-white engagement with the world” and said that “students need to see themselves and their communities as stakeholders in these debates” and “need to be pushed” to that knowledge.

Theresa Dougal declared that she has tried to “integrate my longstanding environmentalism into my teaching,” even when it proves difficult. She proudly “emphasizes the admirable canon of environmental literature” in her classroom, but was disappointed about the “deficiency” of “ecologically literate” students. Dougal provided anecdotes about her environmentally-conscious students becoming movers and shakers in the environmental industry, without citing statistics. She wondered aloud that “if what Al Gore said was true”, then why are the “sustainable humanities” failing to gain traction?
If the Vice President's predictions (no polar ice by 2013, to cite one) are not true, where does that leave the sustainable humanities?  And to what extent does the preachy, identity-politics tone of these panelists turn off students who might be reached by logic and content.  But when you're steeped in Roland Barthes, and coherent beliefs are mere constructs, you're screwed.
Professors and scientists must find “more environmental ways for manufacturing” because, {Molly Hall] said, “Scientists can develop and research all they want, but without engaging” others, it will fail. Hall ended her remarks and concluded that there is “a way to remain relevant in an academic culture that insists on our worthlessness.”
Good luck with that.  The fault, dear readers, lies with the over-reach of the humanities types.
The real cause of the job misery is the agenda for privatization and defunding public expenditures orchestrated by the global economic system that has been producing misery and suffering for millions of lives around the world as socioeconomic inequalities continue to magnify.
It's really very simple. Universities are failing at their mission, and the Modern Language Association is the point of origin of that failure.
Part of old America still abides by absolute truth and falsity. A door is either hung plumb or not. The calibrations of the Atlas rocket either are accurate and it takes off or inaccurate and it blows up. Noble intentions cannot make prime numbers like five or seven divisible.
Panels at the Modern Language Association can rail against market tests and deny market tests, and their disciplines and their members will continue to fail market tests for as long as the denial goes on.

A PROPER CIRCUS HAS PACHYDERMS AND A TRAIN.

Regular readers know that.

Only Ringling Barnum travel by train (two trains, actually, the red unit and the blue unit) any more.

Circus Spectacular will be bringing the tigers, and the pachyderms, to DeKalb on March 4.

The circus does not appeal to ladies and gentlemen of a certain cast of mind.
Some students and faculty are hoping a petition could stop an upcoming circus show at the Convocation Center.

Anthropology assistant professor Mitch Irwin created a petition to “Cancel the ‘Circus Spectacular’ scheduled for March 4” because it features animal performers.
There's no desperate ringmaster making too liberal a use of the bull hook, and yet there's a controversy about animal acts.
Irwin, who has worked with animals professionally, said it’s not fair for the animals to perform.

“I feel ... when we treat animals cruelly I think it’s not ethically, morally defensible now that we know how much they suffer,” Irwin said.

Circus Spectacular spokeswoman Ashley Hawkins said the circus’ animals do not suffer.

“We take care of our animals, and we don’t believe in mistreating the animals at all,” Hawkins said.

Hawkins said Circus Spectacular follows recommendations from the American Humane Society when taking care of the animals. This includes keeping the animals well fed and making sure they have enough space.

Still, Michael Wilson, senior mass media productions major, said animals have been abused at circuses, which is why he signed the petition.

“It’s just hard to wrap my mind around being an animal and having to be shoved into a truck and being transported around the country just to be gawked at,” Wilson said.

Similarly, freshman nursing major Justice Blythe, who signed the petition, said circuses do not have the proper tools to take care of wild animals.

“I would want the circus to be canceled because of the animals and the show,” Blythe said. “I think the petition would help because it would prevent people from buying tickets, at least to this show.”

Hawkins said Circus Spectacular would never make its animals do anything harmful or dangerous.

“We use verbal cues; we do not use any kind of violence against the animals. They’re basically part of our family,” Hawkins said.

Irwin said the petition will show NIU that having the Circus Spectacular perform is not supported by all staff and students.

“... I feel the university really belongs to the students, the staff and faculty who work and the alumni, and if a few people in [a] position of power made the choice that this is an acceptable thing than I think that we need to show them in numbers that a lot of us disagree,” Irwin said.
The Convocation Center has turned into a cash drain for the university.  I await a resolution from University Council and one from the Student Association requesting that circuses, religious conventions, and other politically incorrect activities be excluded from the Convocation Center, and that student fees be raised, or faculty pay increases further deferred, to make up for the revenues lost.

28.1.14

PAGING EUGENE DEBS?

Northwestern University's football players seek union representation, for reasons that echo those of railroad workers seven score years ago.
“Despite the progress [the National College Players Association] has made, college athletes continue to be subject to unjust and unethical treatment in NCAA sports despite the extraordinary value they bring to their universities,” said [association president Ramogi] Huma, a former linebacker at UCLA. “They’re too often left to pay for medical expenses during and after their college careers, they can be stripped of their scholarship for any reason, including injury.”

Huma filed the petition in Chicago on behalf of football players at Northwestern, submitting the form at the regional office of the National Labor Relations Board to recognize a new union, the College Athletes Players Association.
A railroad man who lost fingers or a hand setting the pin on nineteenth-century rolling stock would be without compensation, or without income going forward.  It's instructive that Northwestern, a university with a football team (unlike Miami of Florida, Oklahoma State, or, troublingly, North Carolina, where it's the other way around) becomes the test case.  Current Northwestern director of athletics Jim Phillips (formerly of Northern Illinois) recognizes as much.
"We are pleased to note that the Northwestern students involved in this effort emphasized that they are not unhappy with the University, the football program or their treatment here, but are raising the concerns because of the importance of these issues nationally.

"Northwestern believes that our student-athletes are not employees and collective bargaining is therefore not the appropriate method to address these concerns. However, we agree that the health and academic issues being raised by our student-athletes and others are important ones that deserve further consideration."
Compensation in kind, which is what tuition waivers and priority scheduling and a chance at playing on Sunday are, is compensation, and the lawyering-up over what constitutes an employee has only begun.

CASTLING INTO IT.

Microsoft tycoon Bill Gates recently played speed chess with World Champion Magnus Carlsen.

Business Insider offers instant analysis.

Irregular Opening

Gates         Carlsen
1. e4          Nc6

A good speed chess move.  The champion has given time and move odds, with Mr Gates having the white pieces and two minutes to the champion's 30 seconds.

2. Nf6       d5

Here Mr Gates could have transposed into the King's Indian Attack with 2 d3 followed by 3 Nd2.  The problem with such a move in speed chess is that forced tactical variations and combinations are few and far between, and the player choosing such a line risks losing on time.

3. Bd6??  Nf6

I recorded the notes off the video before Craig Newmark kindly linked to the Business Insider analysis.  That's my evaluation of the move.

Here's the chess primer from Business Insider.
You see, while his bishop is in fact protecting his king pawn, his bishop is now hemmed in with virtually nowhere to move.

His bishop is also blocking his own queen pawn, which prevents a forward move of that pawn to attack the center. And because he can't move his queen pawn forward, Gates is blocking the development of his own queen bishop.

So in one move, he puts his bishop on a horrible square, blocks his own pawn, and blocks his other bishop. A complete tactical and strategic disaster.
In speed chess, one can run out the clock with iterated moves that require the opponent to recalculate, but this move doesn't do that, particularly against the world champion.

4. ed      Qxd5!

Why not?  In master play, "come hither and let me snare you" has been a line ever since Alekhine and Nimzovitch.

5. Nc3   Qh5?!

Mr Gates has a chance to run clock with 6 Be2 followed by moving the d-pawn and activating the queen-side Bishop.

6.  O-O? Bg4

Craig Newmark:  "Bill castled, but it still didn't help."

7.  h3   Ne5!

"Either exchange or retreat, but declare your intentions."  I intend to checkmate you!

8.  hxg4 Nf6xg4!
9.  Nxe5 Qe7++

Not that 8 Nxe5 or 8 Re1 offers much relief!

27.1.14

BARACK VLADIMIROVICH VOLODIN.

The last work of the school of Tom Clancy to have had the master's approval of the final draft is Command Authority, written with Mark Greaney.  I started the 2012 Fifty Book Challenge with a review of their Locked On, in which I suspected that today's events got into the plot.  Book Review No. 2 for 2014 has little to add to that observation, particularly in light of a Soviet Russian president with background in KGB, er, CVS (no, that's a drug store, the acronyms are hard to follow at times, FSB!) that only gives interviews to sympathetic journalists, particularly leggy ones.  But with something resembling a rebellion brewing in Ukraine and the only first lady with intellectual chops remotely resembling those of Lady Catherine Ryan, M.D., F.A.C.S. nearly anointed as the Democrat nominee, perhaps the fiction is close enough to the truth to warrant a read.

I purchased the book at the W. H. Smith in North Western Station, where it was promotionally priced, and finished reading it during last Monday's train riding.

(Cross-posted to 50 Book Challenge.)

EVERYTHING OLD IS NEW AGAIN.

Glenn Reynolds's colleague Wendy Bach has a paper, "The Hyperregulatory State: Women, Race, Poverty and Support," forthcoming in the Yale Journal of Law and Feminism.

The journal title is perhaps more evidence of academic hyper-specialization.

The abstract is instructive.
The Hyperregulatory State argues that, for women who have no choice but to avail themselves of the safety net (think welfare or public housing) and who by their sheer geographic exposure to the mechanisms of government systems (think over-policing of poor communities of color, public hospitals and inner city public schools) find themselves subject to government intrusion (think child welfare agencies and the criminalization of poverty) the state does not merely fail to respond to their needs. In fact, crucial interactions between poor women and the state are characterized by a phenomena here termed regulatory intersectionality, defined as the means by which state systems (in the examples herein, social welfare, child welfare and criminal justice systems) interlock to share information and heighten the adverse consequences of unlawful, deviant, or noncompliant conduct. At every juncture these punitive mechanisms are, in effect, targeted by race, class, gender and place to subordinate poor African American women, families and communities. The state is, in this sense, hyperregulatory. This article describes in detail the specific phenomena of regulatory intersectionality and contextualizes it within a larger schema of hyperregulation. Paying careful attention to regulatory intersectionality and hyperregulation would revise the theories of vulnerability and the responsive state in two crucial and related ways. First, it serves as a practical warning. If the current social safety net is so profoundly characterized by mechanisms that interlock to impose escalating punishment, the road to a supportive state that does not function in this way is likely to be long and complicated. Second, in attempting to realize the vision of the supportive or responsive state, a crucial first step is restructuring and building support systems to enhance rather than undermine the autonomy of poor women, poor families and poor communities. If we fail to center and prioritize those realities and those tasks, then this particular and crucial part of political and legal theory is again in danger of leaving behind those who are, by virtue of race, gender, class, and place, among the most vulnerable.
To land an article in a post-modern, multi-cultural journal, you have to write that way. To make the identical point to Playboy readers, Milton Friedman puts it this way.
I remember how impressed I was, six or eight years ago, when a young man who was writing a book on welfare programs in Harlem came to see me. He said, “You know, I’ve been reading Capitalism and Freedom, where you talk about the extent to which government bureaucracy interferes with the freedom of individuals. You really don’t know the extent of this. Your freedom hasn’t been much interfered with; my freedom hasn’t been much interfered with. When do we meet a government bureaucrat? Maybe when we get a parking ticket or talk about our income taxes. The people you should have been talking about,” he said to me, “are those poor suckers on welfare. They’re the people whose freedom is really being interfered with by government officials. They can’t move from one place to another without the permission of their welfare worker. They can’t buy dishes for their kitchen without getting a purchase order. Their whole lives are controlled by the welfare workers.” And he was absolutely right. The freedom of welfare recipients is terribly restricted. Whether we’re doing this for good purposes or bad, it’s not a wise thing to do. Not if we believe that individuals should be responsible for their own actions.
It's probably good for my intellectual development that I read the Playboy interview before I read William Ryan's Blaming the Victim.  Although Ryan's book usually serves as advice to look beyond the individual to the milieu within which the individual makes choices, it also serves as a case study of how government officials interfere with peoples' freedom, or interlock to share information and heighten adverse consequences, depending on how the observer cares to describe it.

A TRENCHANT OBSERVATION FOR A CHILLY DAY.

David Peter Alan of Destination: Freedom expresses his frustration with the all-weather mode letting people down.
Joseph M. Clift, former Director of Planning for the LIRR and now Technical Director of the Lackawanna Coalition, expressed his concern about how people would perceive their transit when it cuts service on a snowy day: “This current approach to rail service after a snowfall also adds to the existing negative strategic perception that the Tri-State area is a lousy place to live, if you have a significant commute.” Sevener also noted the irony in the situation: “Ironically, it is precisely in snowy times when public agencies urge people ‘not to drive and to take public transit’!”
It's a long way from "But the railroad always runs.
"Last week, this column discussed the status of rail travel as the “all-weather mode” of transportation, and how Amtrak has not always met that standard lately. The same is true of regional and local rail operations. It is becoming more difficult to go anywhere in severe winter weather, even on rail. An informed source told this writer that transit providers would rather furnish a low level of service rather than promise more service and take a chance on being unable to deliver on that promise.

As was mentioned in this column last week, [link added by the Superintendent] rail travel has its “foul weather friends” as the crews on the old New Haven Railroad called them a half-century ago. Both Amtrak and local rail providers have these riders; people who only take the train on snowy or severely-rainy days. Still, the more people who ride even occasionally, the better a reputation the transit provider has. If a transit agency can operate its railroad at or near full capacity even in the worst weather, everybody can rely on it to take them where they want to go, when they want to go there. Given the recent difficulties that essentially all transit providers have had with getting enough funding during the past several years, it appears to be in their interest to assure all potential riders that they can deliver service in any kind of weather.
"Getting enough funding" is a problem in resource allocation.  You can't efficiently fund for something other than conditions of ordinary demand (in Chicago, the lack of funding for the expressways changes what ordinary ridership on Metra looks like, and the parking charges downtown lead to full trains at weekends) but it's easier to note that the train in the station has sufficient cars to take care of the regular riders, and it's standing room only, but it will leave on time and run close to time.

THEY'LL TURN US INTO PAUPERS BECAUSE WE'RE EASIER TO PLEASE.

To the libertarian, an image out of Atlas Shrugged.


Werner Schuch, Two Riders of the Thirty Years' War and Farmers, 1881, oil on canvas.
Painting from the collection of the Grohmann Museum at Milwaukee School of Engineering.

Robert Reich has his own ideas about how the dynamic worked.

"First, the working class is paralyzed with fear it will lose the jobs and wages it already has."

In Secretary Reich's world, it's union busting and globalization at work, not regulation and rent-seeking.

"Second, students don’t dare rock the boat."

The activism of the Sixties was against a background of total victory in World War II and a Cold War economy that kept the military-industrial complex in work.

"Reformers and revolutionaries don’t look forward to living with mom and dad or worrying about credit ratings and job recommendations."

Let alone antagonizing the current tenured radicals by seeming to appear too conservative?

"Third and finally, the American public has become so cynical about government that many no longer think reform is possible."

Phrased slightly differently, "How's that hopey-changey stuff working out?"

And yet, the commentariat cannot let Chris Christie's traffic jam or Hillary Clinton's nomination alone.  Might the governing class opt to do more by doing less?

RETURNING TO LARAMIE.

Union Pacific have successfully moved Big Boy 4014 from Pomona's fairgrounds (Fairplex?  That's so 1980s) to a maintenance base in Colton.


Railway and Locomotive Historical Society.

The Big Boy will be available for public viewing, each of the next two weekends.
Big Boy, also known as engine No. 4014, will be on public view at Union Pacific’s Colton yard from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Feb. 1-2 and Feb. 8-9, said Union Pacific spokesman Aaron Hunt.  Visitors should enter the rail yard at 19100 Slover Ave. in Bloomington.

“Visitors will be permitted in the display area for No. 4014 only. There will be no other rail yard access,” he said.
The locomotive still must be moved dead-in-tow to the steam shops in Wyoming, where Union Pacific contemplate five years of work converting her to burn oil and restoring her to steaming condition.

26.1.14

THE RAILROAD ALWAYS RUNS.

In immoderate weather, things can go wrong.  Conditions in the State Line are similar to those the weekend the North Shore Line quit, and the South Shore Line has already cancelled trains east of Michigan City, substituting a bus.  No service to Hudson Lake.  The funky f - Stops on signal.  Use light at night stations are long gone.  Metra has alerted riders to expect delays.
Trains will be operating at reduced speed, if necessary, to reduce stress on the rails, and boarding is expected to be slower due to the low temperatures, so passengers should allow extra time, Metra said.
With the schools mostly closed, and authorities ranging from the TV weathercasters to government officials recommending that everyone stay home ("shelter in place" having taken on a different meaning now-a-days), there are likely to be fewer foul weather friends on the rails.

Amtrak have also annulled a number of regional trains.
The following trains will not be running Monday: Lincoln Service trains No. 300, 301, 306 and 307 running between Chicago and St. Louis; Hiawatha Service trains No. 329, 332, 333, 336, 337 and 340 running between Chicago and Milwaukee; Wolverine Service trains No. 350 and 355 running between Chicago and Detroit; Illinois Zephyr & Carl Sandburg trains 382 and 383 running between Chicago and Quincy and the Saluki & Illini trains No. 392 and 393 running between Chicago and Carbondale.
On the St. Louis line, the first departures in the morning and the last departures of the evening from each end of the line will not run. On the two university corridor lines, the evening schedules in each direction will not run. Better plan for an overnight in Chicago if you're holding a ticket on the morning up trains; likewise make plans to lay over if you were planning a day trip out of Chicago.  In issuing these annulments, Amtrak avoids having to annul or run extremely late a train account crew rest, or unavailability of equipment that's still out on the line. That's probably the rationale for annulling 350-355, a turn that originates in Chicago and returns from Pontiac. The Milwaukee line cancellations are the trips of the rake that begins the day in Chicago.

HACK, HACK.

Now it's Michaels Arts and Crafts whose records might have been visited by identity thieves.

Michaels clerks ask shoppers for their electronic mail address at checkout.  Perhaps the best reason for the company not to do so is that customers can legitimately say "No, I don't want some teenager in Piter with a 'fridge full of vodka getting it."

STURTEVANT IS BETTER CONNECTED THAN CINCINNATI.

Jim Loomis both operates Travel and Trains and writes the All Aboard rail travel guide.  In the course of revising the guide, he muses on the Most Beautiful Passenger Rail Stations With Few or No Trains.
In 2013, a total of 15,213 passengers arrived or departed the Cincinnati station on the Cardinal. The train runs three days a week in each direction, so that’s six trains a week, times 52 weeks, or a total of 312 arrival/departures. Total number of passengers divided by total number of trains equals 48.76.

In other words, over an entire year, an average of about 49 people got on or got off every time the Cardinal pulled into Cincinnati.  All things considered, that’s damn  impressive!
That's as opposed to the approximately 61,000 passengers boarding at Sturtevant, Wisconsin, in 2006.  Sturtevant residents have Milwaukee's airport about a 20 minute drive or 15 minute train ride to the north, and O'Hare an hour-plus to the south.

Cincinnati residents have less train service than Erie, Pennsylvania, another overnight stop served by a single Amtrak train.  At least the Lake Shore runs daily.

Mr Loomis puts it simply: double the frequency, triple the ridership.

24.1.14

DEVELOPING THOSE YOUNG ARTISTS.

The Economics Concepts Poster Contest now has a December 31 filing date, and the 2013-2014 gallery will be released sometime after spring break, weather cooperating or not.  Metra Rail have continued theirs.  Because of the immoderate weather that has been plaguing the area, the closing deadline is now February 14.  (A train running that late would lose its timetable authority.)

I DON'T WANT TO PLAY TWENTY QUESTIONS JUST TO BUY STUFF.

It's long been a gripe of mine that store clerks ask customers for their zip codes (give 90210 or something equally implausible).  Some stores have become more brazen, asking for 'phone numbers (212-736-5000 is a good way of sowing confusion) or email addresses (myob@kgb.ru) or a postal address.

The good news is, people who believe in privacy have won class-action suits in California and Massachusetts against corporations imitating the Ministry of the Interior.
In Massachusetts, a single law firm has filed at least seven ZIP code class actions in the past 10 months, with three of them — against Kohl's, J.C. Penney and Williams-Sonoma — naming the same customer as plaintiff.
The article also offers an instructive observation from Marquette Law's Bruce Boyden.
Frequent-shopper cards, which don't fall under the statutory restrictions on credit-card purchases, provide a rich lode of data on the specific purchases by specific customers.

"A lot of consumers don't realize this, but when you sign up for those discount cards and then you use them, you're essentially trading your personal information in return for a few cents off, or a dollar off, the products you're buying," Boyden said. "It's not something they're giving away for free. You're engaged in a transaction there."
I've taken to declining such offers by growling, "No thanks, I already have the government tracking me." Usually it's good for a smile.

WHY WORK EXPANDS BEYOND THE AVAILABLE TIME.

(Apologies to Northcote Parkinson.)



EVERYTHING OLD IS NEW AGAIN.

Here's how the British protected Buckingham Palace from Fatso Hermann's Luftwaffe:


Wikimedia Commons image from Royal Air Force, photographer unknown.

These days, microprocessors allow for smaller radars and stand-off triangulation for missile defenses.
Starting this fall, two blimps will float at 10,000 feet over the Army's Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland in an attempt to develop a defense for the nation's capital against cruise missiles fired from ships offshore.
Microprocessors also, notes Insta Pundit, allow for higher-resolution cameras high in the skies.
The Army, though it did not rule out the possibility of mounting these cameras, reportedly said it has no current plans to install them.

The Washington Post reported that the Army said in a letter to the newspaper that it did not conduct a Privacy Impact Assessment because there is no intention of collecting any personally identifiable information.
Yes, and in an era of "stroke of the pen, law of the land," the absence of a limitation on government's powers bothers civil libertarians.
Officials insist they have no plans to put cameras on the blimps, but Christopher Calabrese of the ACLU points out there's no law against it.

"Right now there are no rules," he said. "There's nothing that bars us from having high-powered cameras monitoring our every public movement."
With the proliferation of security cameras, haven't the citizenry implicitly consented to be followed?

23.1.14

WHERE GAINS FROM TRADE EXIST, ARBITRAGE PROFITS WILL BE EARNED.

There's a long post up at Common Dreams by Adam Parsons of Share the World's Resources on something called the Sharing Economy.  The logic of sharing seems straightforward enough: consider all the commuters' automobiles sitting idle for hours at park-'n-ride lots or near workplaces, while people queue for buses; or all those lawnmowers idle in garages except when they all come out at 6 am on Saturday.
According to most general definitions that are widely available online, the sharing economy leverages information technology to empower individuals or organisations to distribute, share and re-use excess capacity in goods and services.
Let me translate. Institutions emerge to conserve on transaction costs.  Strip away the business jargon and psycho-babble, however, and leaven the environment with an anti-capitalist ethos, and troubles begin.
Perhaps sharing really is fast becoming a counter-cultural movement that can help us to value relationships more than things, and offer us the possibility of re-imagining politics and constructing a more participative democracy, which could ultimately pose a challenge to the global capitalist/consumerist model of development that is built on private interests and debt at the cost of shared interests and true wealth.

On the other hand, critics are right to point out that the sharing economy in its present form is hardly a threat to existing power structures or a movement that represents the kind of radical changes we need to make the world a better place. Far from reorienting the economy towards greater equity and a better quality of life, as proposed by writers such as Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, Tim Jackson, Herman Daly and John Cobb, it is arguable that most forms of sharing via peer-to-peer networks are at risk of being subverted by conventional business practices. There is a perverse irony in trying to imagine the logical conclusion of these trends: new models of collaborative consumption and co-production that are co-opted by private interests and venture capitalists, and increasingly geared towards affluent middle-class types or so-called bourgeois bohemians (the ‘bobos’), to the exclusion of those on low incomes and therefore to the detriment of a more equal society. Or new sharing technology platforms that enable governments and corporations to collaborate in pursuing more intrusive controls over and greater surveillance of citizens. Or new social relationships based on sharing in the context of increasingly privatised and enclosed public spaces, such as gated communities within which private facilities and resources are shared.
Compare the common swimming pool in a wealthy gated community or a sundown suburb with a common swimming pool in a city with a shrinking tax base, and then visualize the tension between "better world" and "equal society".  Then throw in the profit opportunities from providing time-shares or car-shares or rent-a-bikes or what have you.  The commercially sustainable parts of the counter-culture get bought off.

Sven Eberlein's "Sharing for Profit" offers a similar lament.
I know that making money and clever marketing is the holy grail of capitalism, and one could argue that rebranding rentals as shares might ultimately help to bring a more collaborative attitude into the mainstream, just as driving a hybrid may lead to a deeper ecological understanding or buying a yoga mat could be the gateway into spirituality.

But is this rising tide of popularity and commercialization really going to lift all the smaller boats that carry the more sublime meaning of sharing? Will it make us more generous and compassionate? Inspire us to listen to each other more intently? Come together in the town square more frequently? Commit random acts of kindness?
No. But hectoring people isn't going to, either.

I SEE THE RICH, I SEE THE POOR.

The gap grows in-between.  (Apologies to Peter Schickele.)

University Diaries: not impressed that Western Ontario trustee Kevin O'Leary looks on the bright side of the 85 richest people holding more wealth than the world's 3.5 billion poorest people.

Cafe Hayek: the consumption gap between the richest people and the middle class has narrowed since 1965.

On Monday, I brought along Herbert Croly's Progressive Democracy to read on the train.  Got sidetracked by a discounted copy of Command Authority, the last work from the school of Tom Clancy.

Got far enough into Croly, though, to catch a reference he made to a widening gap between the wealthiest Americans and everybody else.

I suspect the tensions between the "decreased absolute poverty" and "increased relative poverty" arguments will go on until Miami freezes over, or the Big Crunch.

A CASE FOR ENUMERATED AND LIMITED POWERS?

Longtime populist commentator and former Texas Railroad Commissioner Jim Hightower inadvertently (?) identifies the incentive for the rent-seekers with the most rent to gain to seek public office.  Yes, our Members of Congress are richer than the average constituent.
The harsh reality is that most Americans are no longer represented in Washington. Chances are that their own members of Congress don't know any struggling and worried people, share nothing in common with them and can't relate to their real-life needs. Thus, Congress is content to play ideological games with such basics as health care, minimum wage, joblessness, food stamps and Social Security.
Yes, and those games include preserving conditions in which constituents who remain in poverty become essential to the re-election of their representatives. Keep reading.
One danger that such wealth brings is that many who have it become blinded to those who don't. So, the news that most of our congress critters are now in the millionaire class speaks volumes about why this institution of American democracy is so undemocratic. It has been striving ceaselessly to provide more government giveaways to Wall Street bankers, corporate chieftains and other super-wealthy elites, while striving just as mightily to enact government takeaways to harm middle-class and poor families.
Limit the ability of government to generate rents, limit the ability of rent-seekers to dissipate them?  Read the comments, and note the deep skepticism of a self-selected set of commenters about any of the usual nostrums, such as campaign finance reform or entirely federally-funded elections or Hillary!

When you have eliminated the impossible ...

DON'T WE CALL IT THE LAW OF DEMAND?

A New York Times article on excessive electronic mail cites a technology journalist who thinks about the role of information technology on productivity.
“It’s behavioral economics 101,” said Clive Thompson, author of a new book, “Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better” and an occasional contributor to The New York Times Magazine. “You make it easy for people to do something, they will do more of it.”
Perhaps it is picking theoretical nits for me to offer that "behavioral economics" is a term of art referring to Economics as if Agents are Not Rational Maximizers. The Law of Demand is the quintessence of Theory Based on Rational Maximizers.  The conclusion, however, is spot on.  It's much less burdensome to type and cc: or bcc: large numbers of people than it used to be to type a letter and carbons, let alone to send a wire, or to respect the discipline of 19 EAST CPY 3.
In the past, with physical letters, people put thought into what they were going to write before they sent it, [SquareOne (c.q.) founder Branko] Cerny said. With digital, it’s send first, think later.
In business, the gains from being able to communicate with more people more rapidly get dissipated by the costs of managing the volume.  In higher education, the gains from being able to seek advice from a professor or an advisor without waiting for office hours get dissipated by the resulting profundity of the questions following a power rule with the bulk of questions being relatively unprofound, often eliciting an irritated "check your course outline" from the person so beleaguered.

20.1.14

TRAINS GOT THROUGH IN ALL WEATHERS.

Today's Destination: Freedom includes a guest commentary on Amtrak's difficulties when January happens.
This writer took the Lake Shore from New York to Chicago during this time of year, over ten years ago. Conditions were somewhat similar to two weeks ago. It was the coldest night that upstate New York had experienced in twenty years, and the entire railroad in the region came to a standstill, because of a broken rail near Syracuse. It took hours for a track crew to get to the affected area and repair the track, in sub-zero cold. The train lost more and more time, until it finally arrived in Chicago at 10:05 p.m., not a.m.; over twelve hours behind schedule. The crews did the best they could throughout the trip, and they performed well under highly adverse conditions. There was no food left on the train, but Amtrak had some subs delivered, to feed the hungry passengers and crew. There was blowing snow underfoot in the vestibules. The toilets did not work, because the water lines froze. Fortunately, the train stopped long enough at each station to give everybody “bathroom breaks” during the extra-long trip.

Amtrak was not responsible for the broken rail, or the time it took to repair it. Amtrak also did what it could to provide some emergency rations when the regular food was gone, and Amtrak deserves credit for doing that. The other problems came with the equipment: diaphragms between cars with space that allowed blowing snow to enter, and water lines in the restrooms that froze because they were exposed to the cold.

It is now at least ten years later. The equipment has not changed, although it has gotten older. There is still room for blowing snow to get into the vestibules on the Amfleet II long-distance coaches, and there are still complaints about restrooms that must be bad-ordered when the water lines freeze. Nobody deserves the blame for these equipment failures except Amtrak. It should not be terribly difficult to retrofit cars with improved diaphragms or insulation to keep water lines in the restrooms from freezing. It may not be possible to do that on all of the long-distance cars in the Eastern fleet this year, but it should be possible to add these modifications to each car when it is taken into the shop for an overhaul. Amtrak has known for at least ten years that these deficiencies exist, and that they degrade the quality of a trip severely. There is no reasonable excuse for these deficiencies to continue to exist for this long.
We can lay some of that responsibility off on the leaner and meaner freight railroads, and the use of continuous welded rail.  When there were maintenance crews based every twenty miles or so, and racks of 39 foot rail at every agency station, track restoration could be done more quickly.

I'd like to raise the possibility that contemporary technology is not as up to extreme weathers as older railroad technology was.  Take the automatic doors on Amfleet cars (please).  Lots of moving parts to freeze or fracture or otherwise make crews' work more difficult.
Can the Chicago maintenance base keep its varied array of cars running through the cold Chicago winter? Are the Amfleet cars which are used for the Lake Shore and other long-distance trains that originate in New York sufficiently winterized? The same question also applies to the Horizon and Amfleet cars that operate from the Chicago hub to places like Detroit and St. Louis.

Amtrak cannot control winter weather or the overcrowding on host railroads that results from freight congestion, but it can control its maintenance practices and equipment utilization. Amtrak owes it to its customers to make sure that its management and maintenance practices live up to reasonable standards for the environment in which the trains operate. If Amtrak does that, we can all be sure that any winter-related cancellations or delays are not Amtrak’s fault. In that event, it will be time to look elsewhere, maybe toward the host railroads, for a solution.
The point of the Chicago maintenance base was to replace inadequate coach yards maintained by The Milwaukee Road, for trains to the north, and the yards of The Pennsylvania Railroad and the Burlington for trains headed south.  All Amtrak trains use a rebuilt yard where the Pennsylvania yard was.  The Milwaukee and Burlington yards are bases for Metra trains laying over by day.  As far as the Horizon cars go, those, unaccountably, do not have storm doors at the end, and Amtrak, to the extent possible, place an Amfleet car with a storm door at each end of a Horizon rake.  Not pretty, but it keeps the elements out.

Metra's performance during the coldest of the cold days has drawn the ire of Chicago Tribune editors.
No one expects flawless service during unusually severe weather. But frigid temperatures and piles of snow are not exactly freak occurrences in northern Illinois. By any reasonable standard, Metra has failed its customers.

Those in charge acknowledge the problems, which they attribute to factors mostly beyond their control.
Perhaps so.   But commuter railroads have long been aware of their foul weather friends, and the increased riding in the face of difficult operating conditions has long meant delayed trains and unhappy passengers.  There's a different attitude among the railroads, and the Passenger Rail authorities, these days.


Boston and Maine Railroad advertisement, late 1940s.
Reproduced from page 115 of Fisher, Vanishing Markers.

For additional context, see "The Railroad Explains" at pages 137-143 of Neal, High Green and the Bark Peelers.

Into the early 1950s, many Boston and Maine commuter trains were rakes of wooden coaches heated by a pot-bellied stove, hurried along by hand-fired Pacifics and Moguls, and on some routes signalled to proceed by a switch-tender running a fishnet float up a pole.  Highball!  (Yes, the man-cave will have models thereof.)  Not terribly modern, but put a plow pilot on the Mogul in November and take it off at Patriots' Day, and it gets through.

Staff Metra, or Amtrak, or the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority at 1950 levels, though, and listen to the tax-payers carp.

Today was a school holiday, which I observed with a bit of train riding.  I'm pleased to report that the Metra trains were running on time, or close to time, with full rakes of coaches, and that the arrival and departure boards at Union Station showed more Amtrakers on time or close to time than not.  The switch heaters appeared to be in good order.

19.1.14

TRACTION IN PRESERVATION.

As I type this post, San Francisco's Municipal Railway prepares to shut down its cable and historic trolley car lines, and replace the trackless trolleys with buses.


Milan streetcars on Market Street, San Francisco.  Trackless trolley at far left.
San Francisco Chronicle photograph by David Paul Morris.

The football game may be in Seattle.  Because the Seahawks embargoed sales of tickets to California, there may be a lot of 'Niner fans in the Bay Area with cause to celebrate, or to gripe.
Don't plan on riding San Francisco's cable cars downtown or the historic F-Market streetcars Sunday afternoon during the 49ers' playoff game or into the night. And don't expect the city's electric trolley buses to show up at all on game day.

That's because Muni wants to protect its historic cable cars and streetcars from overzealous fans, vandals and other troublemakers who might get a bit too rowdy after the Niners win - or lose - in Seattle. It also wants to protect revelers from hurting themselves.
Buses, whether ordinary diesel, or hybrid, are expendable.

That's something backers of light rail, or of heritage trolley lines, might want to keep in mind.  Tourists and shoppers don't go to your town for its buses.

PHONY SOLIDARITY.

The editors of the Chicago Tribune are unimpressed by the efforts of Chicago State University's administration to shut down an annoying but proper weblog maintained by dissident faculty who seek to restore academic integrity to a mismanaged university.
Not surprisingly, CSU's attempts to muzzle the profs are driving traffic to the blog instead.

You'd think the blog's allegations — unchallenged by the lawyers — would merit investigation by the university's trustees, or by Gov. Pat Quinn, who appoints the board members. But they remain willfully Clueless. With a capital C.
To add to troubles in the expense-preference playpen that Chicago State adminstrators are creating, Tribune editors are of the view that interim provost Angela Henderson submitted to the University of Illinois at Chicago a doctoral dissertation not her own.
These days it's easy to lift someone else's work, accidentally or on purpose, through the miracle of cut and paste. But it's also easy to get caught, thanks to plagiarism-detection software. [Chicago State historian Robert] Bionaz ran Henderson's thesis through one such program, which flagged the similarities.

Tribune reporter Jodi S. Cohen ran a similar check and asked three independent experts to review the paper.

"It is not sloppiness here or there, or plagiarism here or there, it is quite often," said Tricia Bertram Gallant, editor of a book on academic ethics. "It is clear that this work is problematic enough that it needs to be looked at and perhaps withdrawn."

Teddi Fishman, director of the International Center for Academic Integrity at Clemson University, said the examples ranged from "really sloppy or poor citation" to "quite problematic."

Daniel Wueste, director of the Rutland Institute for Ethics, also at Clemson, noted "significant problems" that suggest Henderson lacks "a full and complete understanding of academic protocols and scholarly expectations."

"That is a problem if that person is provost of a university," Wueste said. Exactly.

For UIC, the question is whether its doctoral students are held to the same standards as the average high school sophomore.

For Chicago State, there's a bigger question: Do those academic standards apply to the person whose job is to enforce them?
At an expense-preference playground run by diversity hustlers, however, the default response is to double down on the hustle.
The issue of race is coming. Two days ago, one of my colleagues reported that Watson criticized a group of African American faculty members for not coming to the defense of both Henderson and Cheri Sidney. I think Watson’s stance here illustrates perfectly the man’s manipulative and cynical propensities. One of the features of the Watson administration has been its persistent failure to understand this school’s students and faculty. Ignoring the fact that Chicago State students are hard-working, discerning and intelligent men and women, Watson and his minions have demonstrated that they view them as a bunch of weak-minded fools who are in thrall to the faculty. Watson’s behavior toward the faculty oozes contempt. In his view, we are rubes who will swallow any nonsense the administration dishes out. In fact, how dare we question any of the proclamations and decrees that come down from Mt. Olympus? Watson’s ham-handed recent attempt to split the faculty along racial lines is an appeal for support for his destructive behavior from a group of people who, in my estimation, have little in common with him professionally.
Old trick. Detroit mayor Coleman Young used to dismiss any public mention of shortcomings in the governance of Detroit as the work of racists.  Thus did Detroit become a city residually inhabited by the destitute.  Mayor Young antagonized white folk of any class, and the shortcomings of government drove middle- and upper-class people of all colors out.  Chicago State faculty still have the voice option, to accompany whatever exit option academicians hold in a job market rendered less favorable by the public's discovery of higher education's massive sub-prime sector.
[Chicago State president] Wayne Watson has done nothing scholarly since receiving his Ph.D. in 1972. His teaching experience is negligible. In contrast, the African American faculty at Chicago State consistently distinguish themselves in teaching and in their scholarly pursuits. They honor their responsibilities to the university and the community by their service to both. In comparison with Angela Henderson, they actually earned their advanced degrees. Finally, if the African American faculty feel that anyone on this campus should be defended, they are sufficiently articulate to formulate their own arguments. They do not require instruction on how or what to think.
Higher education's subprime sector means lousy working conditions for faculty, with no public interest being served thereby.
In truth, this wretched scenario has produced victims. The students, current and past, of Chicago State University are victims; the school’s staff, faculty and administrators are victims; the citizens and taxpayers of the state of Illinois are victims, and persons who respect the standards and values of higher education are victims. Angela Henderson is not a victim. She brought this disgrace upon herself.
As the Tribune notes, Illinois-Chicago must also look for self-inflicted wounds.

MORE TO POVERTY THAN THROWING MONEY AT IT.

The University of Wisconsin has long been home to an Institute for Research on Poverty.  New graduate students arriving without financial aid would hear the wisecrack, "Talk to the poverty people.  They have lots of money."  The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel profiles Timothy Smeeding, a Wisconsin Ph.D. a few years before mine, who currently directs the Institute.

Ronald Reagan or Paul Ryan notwithstanding, it's not exactly the case that poverty won.
Smeeding has a more nuanced view.

"It's not exactly a war that we lost (or that) we fought the war on poverty and poverty won," he said. "It's that the economy has turned against less-skilled people and people at the bottom of the barrel socially. Those people are having a harder time."

"The answer is jobs, but we don't have enough jobs, especially for them," he added. "The jobs we're creating are part-time service-sector jobs that don't pay enough. So we have these programs, food stamps or SNAP, the earned income credit, and they are really saving people's bacon. They're keeping the poverty rate far below (what it) would have been."
There is, in fact, a complicated research question lurking in that response. Goods at Wal-Mart are cheaper, food at McDonald's is cheaper, parking is cheaper because labor is cheaper. What are the distributional or tax incidence consequences?  Get back to me in ten years with your answer.
Smeeding is from Buffalo, N.Y., the oldest in a family of five. His dad was a union carpenter. His mother was a homemaker. He said he grew up in a neighborhood of "cops, firemen, Irish Catholic people."

One of his neighbors was Tim Russert, the late broadcast journalist. Smeeding attended Canisius High School and credits the teachers there for most everything he has ever done.

"Otherwise, I'd still be in south Buffalo with my buddies," he said.

As a kid, he held various jobs, including delivering newspapers, working at a hardware store and a supermarket. Before becoming an academic, he delivered mail, worked on the railroad and tended bar in Detroit.

He spent six months at General Motors Institute, the forerunner of Kettering University, intending to be an engineer. But he didn't like it.

Eventually, he found his way back to Buffalo and earned an undergraduate degree in economics at Canisius College. After a year in a master's program in economics at the University of Connecticut, he came to study at Madison in 1971, starting as a summer research assistant in the Institute for Research on Poverty.

Robert Haveman, who directed the poverty institute in the early 1970s, oversaw Smeeding's doctoral research. Haveman recalled that Smeeding, a big man with a striking voice, could be heard long before he arrived for a meeting as he stopped and chatted with colleagues.
There's that "talk to the poverty people" at work.

But back up ... Canisius High and Canisius College.  Not Buffalo's public schools.  Venue notwithstanding, it takes teachers who recognize the talent in their students.  They're less likely to recognize that talent in disruptive students.  And teachers burdened with disparate impact mandates that constrain their ability to discipline disruptive students are going to miss the Tims (Russert or Smeeding) among them.
Smeeding acknowledged that sometimes the research can get depressing, especially lately, because of the slack labor market.

"There are a lot of desperate people out there," he said.

The answer to poverty, he said, "is a good job for most able-bodied people."

The middle class is also getting squeezed he added. Kids who thought they might follow in the footsteps of their parents into factory jobs are hitting a dead end.

"I think Americans can tolerate a lot of inequality of outcome, but they want their kids to have a chance," Smeeding said.

"Americans also believe in equality of opportunity. And we don't have that now. The kid who starts at the bottom has a harder time — than when I was a kid — moving their way up. They're not going to follow my path, walk into a plant, a construction job and join the middle class."
Yes, recent skill biases in technical change have not favored a strong back and a weak mind.  Economics can take you a long way, but at the end, it's not money, it's mind-set.
Through his years of research, Smeeding said, he has "come to believe that work is an important value, an American value."

Smeeding added, "I've come to realize when I want to talk about helping poor people, it's better to talk about promoting economic independence and self-reliance, which is what we want in the end, rather than fighting poverty."
Indeed.

NYET FOTOGRAFIER!

Cold Spring Shops has long defended the right of ferroequinologists to photograph trains.  It is not illegal to photograph trains.  It is Stupid Corporate Policy to have security officers ask questions of ferroequinologists as the Executive Train passes.  Depressingly, though, local officials continue to treat photographers of rail infrastructure as Dangerous People whose names must be placed on a list that is likely to be leaked the next time a government data-base gets released to Wiki Leaks, or is hacked.
"The 9/11 mentality that there are terrorists everywhere has the potential to intrude on everybody's constitutional rights," says Laurie Levenson, a professor of criminal law at Loyola Law School and a former federal prosecutor. "And I don't even think it's effective law enforcement. You can end up getting so much information that most of it is not useful and you're missing the needle in the haystack."
Round up the usual railfans!

Those guys at flight school who aren't doing touch-and-go reps?  Nothing to see.

Those guys wisecracking in Russian as they buy Fourth of July supplies?  Is this a great country, or what?

18.1.14

NO LONGER THE ALL WEATHER MODE?

With January comes cold weather, and with cold weather come difficulties for passenger carriers.  Chicago's Metra, however, tried everybody's patience.
For the first time since the onset of last week's perilous weather, Metra's top management turned out publicly Tuesday in a bid to repair the agency's image, battered by weather-induced delays, cancellations and most recently shortages of passenger cars.

But passenger satisfaction didn't appear to be on the rise on some lines.

Maintenance issues that have necessitated the removal of many cars on the three busy Union Pacific lines have caused crowding of passengers and many fares going uncollected, problems officials said would be fixed by Friday.

As many as 29 cars were out of service Monday, most on the UP North, Northwest and West lines. On Tuesday that number was cut to 11 on the UP lines, Metra said. Worn brakes and malfunctioning doors caused most of the problems, officials said.

The car shortages were a source of numerous complaints from riders. Commuters reported being crammed onto trains that were missing as many as four cars.
The laws of physics are immutable, and slowing a train implies friction between wheel and brake-shoe, and colder metal is more brittle.  Managers credit staff for their efforts.
Interim Executive Director Donald Orseno, flanked by other Metra officials, was apologetic Tuesday for the inconveniences that passengers have been experiencing but insisted that Metra took every step possible to combat the paralyzing cold and obstinate snow.

"Everything we did was an extraordinary challenge due to the conditions," said Orseno, addressing members of the Chicago Transportation Research Forum, other transit advocates and the news media at Metra's headquarters. "We had to go from Plan A to Plan B to Plan C."

Overall, Metra's employees performed a "Herculean effort," said Orseno, a 30-year veteran of the commuter rail agency who started off operating locomotives.
Union Pacific, however, made no friends by deciding to convert a Wisconsin Division local to a Crystal Lake express, herding passengers for destinations short of Crystal Lake off the train at Clybourn, a set of open platforms at the junction of the Wisconsin Division and the Milwaukee Division, with the promise of space on a following train five minutes behind.  That train also encountered troubles leaving the station, turning up 30 or 45 minutes (sources vary) later.
Regarding an incident Jan. 6 on the UP Northwest Line during which scores of passengers were left at the open platform at the Clybourn stop in subzero temperatures, Orseno put the blame on the Union Pacific employees who run the line. Top UP officials "were deeply disturbed the decision was made. That will not happen again," Orseno said. "Metra is very sorry for the inconvenience."

Metra board members who attended the session Tuesday stood behind Orseno and the other officials.

"He and his team have been doing an outstanding job," said board member Norman Carlson, who represents Lake County.   Added board member John Plante of Wilmette: "No plan can encompass every eventuality."

Still, veteran riders like [Wisconsin Division commuter Clayton reacted with skepticism, saying cold weather is normal in Chicago.

"I thought after 150 years of railroads being in existence, they should have this stuff figured out by now," Clayton said. "Blame whatever you'd like. Regardless, it's an excuse."
Yes, once upon a time, the railroads might have run late in inclement weather, but run they did. The unthinkable is no longer unthinkable.
It was so cold Jan. 6, board member Don De Graff questioned if Metra should have even provided train service.

“Public schools were closed. Most businesses were closed....There was a significant amount of justification for contemplating whether we should have been open at all,’’ said De Graff, who also serves as South Holland mayor. “Are we advocating, by being open, that people travel?”

Drawing the most heat was a decision by UP on Jan. 6 to dump dozens of passengers from the Ogilvie Transportation Center at the unprotected Clybourn station so the train could run, unscheduled, express to Crystal Lake. Another Metra train was supposed to be five minutes behind, but it, too, was delayed by sub-zero weather problems.

“That is a big black mark,’’ [Metra board member Arlene] Mulder, former mayor of Arlington Heights, told UP Friday. “This is something no one is ever gonna forget. It’s just lucky no one had a serious backlash personally.’’

[Union Pacific's David] Connell said the decision to suddenly run the train express was a “tactical” one made “with the best of intentions.’’

“I can’t apologize intensely enough for that event,’’ Connell said.

One of the dumped passengers, Mary Fain, 51, of Jefferson Park, told the Chicago Sun-Times Friday she’s still mad about being abandoned for some 45 minutes in record-breaking cold with about four dozen other passengers. Several elderly gentlemen were on the platform, she said. One girl’s face was so “scarlet” from the bitter cold and wind it looked “painful,’’ she said.

“It was the stupidest thing ever — in the world,’’ Fain said. “Every time I hear Metra say it’s `apologizing for this inconvenience,’ I want to say, `How many times are you going to say that before you start doing something about it?’ ”

Under prodding from board members that UP should not be able to make such a decision — particularly about bitter cold weather — without informing Metra, Connell agreed to discuss setting up a protocol for when Metra should be brought into the loop. UP runs trains under contract with Metra.

Metra Board member Jack Schaffer said he wanted it “in writing” that UP practices would be changed so “we never have another Clybourn incident.’’
I propose that the negotiations, and the resulting protocol, also cover the operation of scoots during thunderstorms. I exaggerate only slightly when I observe that a thunderstorm in Rockford ties up the Galena Division (my Elburn service) until there are clear skies in Elkhart, Indiana.

That's a H--l of a way to run a Railroad!

NEVER BEFORE HAVE SO MANY HAD SO MUCH WHILE STILL WANTING MORE.

The New York Post's Karol Markowicz gets that bon mot off in the course of a chastisement of the owner of a business catering to upscale moms who is rediscovering the frugality of the Thirties.  The concluding paragraphs of the Markowicz column suggest that rising inequality coexists with a positional arms race.  "In a world where we talk about 'inequality' as the greatest problem we face, of course we support each other’s need to have as much stuff as our friends and neighbors." That's the only point with which the business owner is likely to agree.
My mission was to make life easier for new moms when I opened in 1996. Now this neighborhood is filthy with baby haircutting/toy shops, clubs, babyccino cafes, baby DJ lessons, $600 baby proofing companies and cooking lessons for nannies -- and I no longer feel comfortable here as I struggle to pay my bills. It's become a neighborhood of excess and ease while I have sunk into poverty. Here I am, the owner of a shop in the epi-center of the [upscale] baby universe, and I can't make my rent.
The owner is quitting business. She speculates that a new owner might be able to make the business successful by putting some money into it (and raising prices?)  There, though, is where the economics comes in.
I just want people to know how some of us are hiding in plain sight, serving you with a smile while our gut lurches with hunger and anxiety. I am putting Boing Boing up for sale, and the next person will use social media and about $30,000 to turn my well-loved shop into a great, successful highly profitable business. That person just isn't me.
Or the well-to-do might find themselves in the position of the well-to-do in the transition from the Gilded Age to the era of Fordist manufacturing. The butlers and footmen found more gainful employment elsewhere.  What intrigues, though, is that many people viewed the avarice of the industrialists of the Gilded Age as impolite or un-American.  Railroaded author Richard White recently made a presentation at Northern Illinois based on work he is doing for the Gilded Age portion of The Oxford History of the United States.  (I own several already and plan to add Professor White's to the library.)  Note the conclusion of Michael Kazin's New York Times review of Railroaded.
The railroad barons wielded more power than other businessmen in the Gilded Age. But their behavior revealed a trait they shared with many of their fellow citizens: too much was never enough.
That sentiment is compatible with today's mind-set: whether you call it keeping up with the Joneses, or engaging in positional arms races, or being a dutiful citizen staving off recession the way Franklin D. or Maynard Keynes or Dwight Eisenhower or George W. Bush or Lee Iacocca would have it, it seems as settled a norm as white spats and Arrow collars.  Professor White's analysis of the Gilded Age is going to come as a surprise to many.  The aspirations of the yeoman farmers, mechanics, and merchants were to achieve a level of comfort, not necessarily to die with the most toys.  I have to rethink an old post in light of that analysis.
Get enough people in responsible positions [questioning work for its own sake] and the 24/7 treadmill begins to crumble. And perhaps it won't take 135 years. Why 135 years? Consider this picture. We are looking at my second great-grandparents and their children. This picture dates to the early 1870s.
The Francis Hopkins family certainly might think of a world in which people complain about sixty hours as the nearest thing on Earth to Heaven.  Their aspirations, however, might have been to no more than ownership of 160 acres free and clear, with a frame house and a windmill pump replacing a log cabin and a windlass well.  What intrigues, though, is that the popular term for that aspiration was "competence", which connoted "sustainable."

Enter the environmentalists, stage left.
While neoclassical economists pose the consumption-leisure tradeoff as a choice made by individuals, whether or not people work in the first place is clearly determined by decisions made at a society-wide level.

It’s beginning to look like we should have taken the other New Deal. We need to explicitly shift toward working less — to reorient the consumption-leisure tradeoff towards the latter on a social level — and share the work that remains more evenly. The sociologist Juliet Schor says we could work four-hour days without any decline in the standard of living; similarly, the New Economics Foundation proposes we could get by on a twenty-one-hour workweek. Meanwhile, David Rosnick and Mark Weisbrot suggest that the US could cut energy consumption by 20 percent by shifting to a schedule more like Western Europe’s, with thirty-five hour workweeks and six weeks of vacation — certainly not a panacea, but hardly impoverishing for a start. In a study of industrialized nations over the past fifty years, Schor, Kyle Knight, and Gene Rosa find that shorter working hours are correlated with smaller ecological footprints.

While making people work shitty jobs to “earn” a living has always been spiteful, it’s now starting to seem suicidal. So perhaps it’s time to reclaim job-killing environmentalism, this time not as a project that demonizes workers, or even work — but rather, as one that rejects work done for its own sake. Instead of stigmatizing, criminalizing, and imprisoning the unemployed and “non-industrious poor,” perhaps we should see them, as David Graeber suggests, as the “pioneers of a new economic order” — one where we all work and consume less, and have more time for other pursuits.
The farmers and mechanics and merchants of the early Gilded Age would understand.  For the social scientist, however, it means one more place to look for early evidence of an emergent phenomenon.

HO-JO-TO-HOOOOO!!!!

Chicago's Lyric Opera schedules Wagner's Ring des Nibelungen, first with one opera a season in 2016, culminating with three offerings of the full cycle in 2020.
Lyric launched this artistic campaign with a bang Friday, snaring the world’s most-talked about future Bruennhilde, American soprano Christine Goerke, for role of the sky-riding valkyrie who has inspired 135 years of serious and satirized tough women in breastplates and heads topped by horned helmets.
Yes, and she sings at the end of the opera, as Valhalla crashes and burns and the Rhine overflows its banks. Keep the wisecracks to yourself.
Nearly as anticipated is the casting of American bass-baritone Eric Owens in his debut as Wotan, leader of the gods and Bruennhilde’s father.
The Chicago Tribune's appropriately named John von Rhein offers additional details.
Every aspect of the tetralogy — from the singers to the creative team to the conductor, orchestra and chorus — must be of the highest international caliber. Otherwise, why bother?

Perhaps for that reason, Lyric Opera has ventured Wagner's monumental epic as a full cycle only twice in its 59-year history. That was in 1996 and again in 2005 when the late August Everding's production — complete with Rhine maidens on bungee cords and Valkyries bouncing on trampolines — played to sold-out houses at the Civic Opera House.
Yes, and the Ring offers all sorts of opportunities to engage in creative staging:  Nibelheim in a freight tunnel under the Chicago River, the forge for the Ring at Goose Island, Valhalla in Tribune Tower with a rainbow bridge to the south bank, Casey and Mills putting out the Magic Fire, the Gibichungen in City Hall, Brunnhilde riding a cow that kicks a lantern over at the end.

I'm NOT making this UP, you know!
“Ring” cycles of every conceptual and visual description have popped up around the world in recent seasons, most notably last year when the music world celebrated Wagner's bicentennial. In 2013 the Metropolitan Opera revived director Robert Lepage's $16-million, high-tech, glitch-prone production, the first segment of which appeared in 2010-11. Last year also brought an even more controversial new “Ring” by German theater director Frank Castorf at the Bayreuth Festival, the Wagner holy of holies, in Germany.

Without referencing either the Met or the Bayreuth “Ring” productions directly, in a separate interview, Lyric general director Anthony Freud promised that Lyric's new version of the Wagner saga about gods, dwarfs and mortals vying for possession of an all-powerful ring, will adhere to Wagnerian basics, rather than machinery and special effects.

“Over recent years and in a variety of places,” he said, “the ‘Ring' has been dominated by technology and special effects, to the extent that (they have) become an end in themselves. What I want from our new production is something that will be spectacular visually but ultimately will be a narrative-based exploration of both text and subtext: a production within which the music, the characters, their relationships, their emotions and the narrative can come to really vibrant life. David (Pountney) is absolutely at one with me on that.”
First, though, comes the Midwestern premiere of Mieczyslaw Weinberg's "The Passenger," a 1967 composition that has only been performed since 2010.
Weinberg, a Polish Jew, was the only member of his family to survive the Holocaust, fleeing on foot from Warsaw to Russia after the Nazi invasion of Poland in 1939. But his troubles were far from over. Throughout the rest of his life in Russia he suffered repeated official attacks for his modernist musical leanings and for being Jewish. His friend, composer Dmitri Shostakovich, wrote letters on his behalf to obtain his release from prison. Shostakovich later wrote that he considered “The Passenger” to be a “perfect masterpiece.”

Weinberg remained prolific despite his political travails, living long enough (he died in 1996) to compose 25 symphonies, 17 string quartets and numerous other works. “The Passenger” was based on the 1962 novel of the same name by Zofia Posmycz, a Polish Catholic who survived Auschwitz. Alexander Medvedev's libretto was written in Russian but Lyric will present the text in Polish, Russian, German, French, Yiddish and English, per Pountney's belief that the inmates of the Nazi death camp depicted in the opera should sing in their own languages.

The plot concerns Liese, a former Nazi overseer at a concentration camp, who believes she sees her former prisoner, Marta, on a ship sailing from Europe to Brazil, where Liese hopes to escape her wartime past. Much of the opera is told in flashback and is set to brooding music of considerable lyrical power.

16.1.14

CLOISTERED ACADEMICS.

The Hundred Reasons NOT to Go to Graduate School is up to #92, which recognizes that there is a fine line between calling and obsession.  It ends with a link to "Get A Life" at the Chronicle of Higher Education.
A fascination with one’s discipline makes a faculty member productive and inspiring, but an obsession with one’s scholarship can discourage the development of leisurely pursuits or the formation of friendships outside of the academy. While I’d be hard pressed to imagine that faculty members in their 40s and 50s would be willing to attend a “Get a Life (Before It’s Too Late)” seminar, I think this is a topic worth discussing.

Do you think having interests outside of work helps or harms one’s professional success? Is there any way to help highly driven faculty members achieve a little balance in their lives?
As with any other issue in resource allocation, there are tradeoffs.
One still highly productive faculty member well north of 70 summed up the struggle well when he said, “It’s not about the money. I just don’t know what I’d do in the morning. I don’t have any hobbies and I don’t have any friends who aren’t here. This is really all I have. Does that make me pitiful?”
Depends on what the author means by productive. Knowledge is of no value unless it is shared with others, and this individual has the potential to share rich insights.

I don't anticipate any trouble finding things to do.

RECALLING WALTER OI

Steve Landsburg recalls his long-time colleague, who crossed the final summit at Christmas Eve.

Professor Oi's Disneyland Dilemma, or, more precisely, anomalies at the amusement park gate, have interested me ever since I discovered that some amusement parks have more fascinating and complicated pricing schemes than they have roller coasters.  Perhaps, in retirement, I will have time to engage this problem without having to deal with administrivia or grading and work out a satisfactory resolution.

Professor Landsburg, however, notes that Professor Oi took his greatest pride in helping to end the military draft, which is a canonical illustration of allocative inefficiency.
In 1967, people were still making the ridiculous claim that an army of underpaid draftees is cheaper than an all-volunteer force — based, apparently, on the ridiculous assumption that the cost of a soldier is well measured by his paycheck. But of course this isn’t true. The social cost of putting, say, a carpenter in the army is that we have one less carpenter doing civilian work. That’s true whether you pay him one dollar a year or a million.
It is useful to keep that argument in mind, as well as a related argument by Milton Friedman that a military of volunteers is a military more careful with soldiers' lives.  Allocative efficiency, however, is not the only goal, and it will be up to the newest cohorts of economists to continue the debate.