27.12.17

WHAT IS HONEST NEVER SINKS.

We'll finish the Fifty Book Challenge for this year a bit short of our goal, at Book Review No. 31.  Michael McCarthy's Ashes Under Water: The SS Eastland and the Shipwreck that Shook America looks at some of the personalities involved in Eastland's capsize and the subsequent investigation.  Mr McCarthy (of Grand Haven, not to be confused with an embattled football coach with a season turned to ashes on the west shore of Lake Michigan) stays away from the technical material, much of which has already been covered, and well, by Jay Bonasinga in The Sinking of the Eastland: America's Forgotten Tragedy and by George Hilton in  Eastland: Legacy of the Titanic.  But did you know that flamboyant trial lawyer Clarence Darrow was defending architect Frank L. Wright against a Mann Act violation?  (These days, we drop people from the canon or from polite society, sometimes retrospectively, for less.  Imagine architectural history without Wright.)  And that Eastland chief engineer Joseph Erickson relied on the bit of Norse folk wisdom that provides this review with its title to ultimately be cleared of any charges stemming from the capsize?  For that matter, have you considered that water ballast might be a necessary evil in a boat that must sometimes navigate channels subject to the caprices of wind, current, and sand?  Or that Kenesaw Mountain Landis, not yet commissioner of baseball, owed his name to a lost leg?  For the more substantive stuff, read the book.

Thus did I find Ashes Under Water a useful complement to the aforementioned technical works, and thus do I close my chronicles of this most interesting year.

(Cross-posted to 50 Book Challenge.)

UNLEASH THE CONTROVERSIES.

Here I had hoped to close out the year with lighter, more cheerful fare, and yet even the football gods work against me. Packers must move on from Dom Capers.
Receivers, tight ends and running backs running free, defensive linemen jumping offside, and maybe the worst of all, quarterback Cam Newton caught on television telling linebacker Clay Matthews before the snap, “You’ve been watching film, huh? Watch this.”

“This” turned out to be Newton throwing to halfback Christian McCaffrey running uncovered over the middle for an easy touchdown while the Packers bungled a coverage they had worked on during the week.

The die is cast and McCarthy has no choice but to fire Capers and begin searching for someone who can pull together the talent the Packers have on defense.
With the Philadelphia Eagles and Minnesota Vikings riding strong defenses and replacement quarterbacks into the playoffs, and the Chicago Bears sweeping their games with the AFL teams they played this year, the discontent is only going to grow.  I'll hold off on any more football postings until next year.

TEACH THE CONTROVERSIES.

That's long been a theme of mine, as to a naive view, all this talk in economics courses about "markets" and "prices" and "firms" and "competition" is a celebration of the existing commercial orderSorry, no.

Contrast the introspection in economics with the lack of self-reflection in this lament by a zampolit from Beloit College.
Many of us are trained to see and then speak on institutional and structural systems of oppression. I have been trained specifically to see and call out institutional racism through an intersectional lens. If we are being told to just do our job, then we are. So the real question becomes, is society ready to accept the true point of an education, which is to develop a group of critically thinking, conscious citizens? Is higher education ready and capable of taking on this work?
Sorry, lady, you're guilty of affirming the consequent, rather than treating intersectionality as one among many working hypotheses, and labelling disparate outcomes as institutional racism without considering other possible, perhaps stronger explanations for those outcomes.  Put together a set of hypotheses involving intersectionality that yield clearer explanations and let the logic and content carry the day.  But that's work.  Easier to hector and deplorable-shame.
As educators, it is our job to teach students how to think critically so that they can engage with larger social issues. That is not confined to just the social sciences, but has an impact on all academic disciplines and departments. Yet as [James] Baldwin also said, society is not always that anxious to have a mass of critically thinking and engaged people, because “what societies really, ideally, want is a citizenry which will simply obey the rules of society. If a society succeeds in this, that society is about to perish.” That is why education matters more so now than ever as a location that should be unapologetically committed to developing students to become true critically engaged thinkers who learn how to apply those knowledges, methodologies and skills to locations outside spaces like this.

It is on college and university campuses, and within our classrooms and through our programming, where resistance to this encroaching normalized white supremacist ideology must be challenged. Now is not the time to side with neutrality.
Seriously? You're going to deconstruct the old rules by imposing your own rules, and saying now is not the time to consider other rules?  The good news, dear reader, is that at least one commenter at Inside Higher Ed caught the strange loop being tied.
Our goal is to have the campus and community understand what organizing and activism are, why individuals and groups participate in these practices, and what possibilities there are or can be when we engage in other ways of knowing and being. In doing so, we hope conversations and actions move away from partisanship and into understandings of what we want humanity to be. What humanity should be.
"What humanity should be." That way await the guillotines and gulags.  So it always is with people who are so wedded to their priors that to ask "what evidence would lead you to change your mind?" is heresy.

PREACH THE CONTROVERSIES.

Because of the way the televisions schedules came out for Christmas Eve, I was able to compare-and-contrast midnight mass, as recorded by NBC for rebroadcast from Vatican City, and as covered live by WGN from Chicago (and made available to cable subscribers across the United States.)

The Vatican bureaucracy, doing what it does best, appears to have circulated a rubric and suggested preaching points for the message, whether delivered by the Pontifex Maximus, by a Cardinal Archbishop, by a bishop, or by a parish priest in a remote settlement: and each has similar responsibilities, station or rank notwithstanding, during the service.

Perhaps, though, the order of worship involved that advice from Rome.  Both the Vatican and the Chicago services began with an add-on, the Christmas Proclamation, which the rules stipulate may not replace any other part of the service, although this may be chanted (both the Vatican and Chicago had people skilled in this art) or read (and in a smaller community, entrusted to the local Linus van Pelt?)  I had never heard this before, and it's intriguing.  An excerpt.  "[I]n the one hundred and ninety-fourth Olympiad; in the year seven hundred and fifty-two since the foundation of the City of Rome; in the forty-second year of the reign of Caesar Octavian Augustus, the whole world being at peace." Go tell it on the mountain. I'm probably doing the kind of thing that got my fourteenth great-grandfather tossed out of the Anglican Communion to point out that Augustus reigned forty years.

Among the readings, the Augustinian theme continues.  Luke 2, as chanted in Latin, read in English, and dramatized by Linus.  Augustus's census, when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.

In both services, there were readings and prayers in multiple languages.  On NBC, a church representative offered simultaneous translations into English.  On WGN, there were English subtitles, allowing a listener to work on his command of other languages.  I commend WGN for providing the captions rather than the voice-overs.  Alas, contemporary translations, whether closed-captioned or spoken, don't have the resonance and the rhythm of the King James Bible.  Dear reader, you cannot write good English prose without having read and listened to Shakespeare and to the King James Bible.  The committee that wrote the Revised Standard Version at least got that right.  Winston Churchill's speeches show that training.  The too-soon-departed editor of Trains, David P. Morgan, was the son of a British-born Presbyterian minister, and you could pick that up without knowing his biography.

The message, perhaps with some advice from Pope Francis, emphasized two components of the story as told by Luke.  "No room for them in the inn" indicates Joseph, of the house and lineage of David, being rejected by his own kind.  Perhaps, although humans under the same roof as animals was the reality for most of the population until recently, and "inn" refers to a tavern with perhaps some sleeping accommodations.  Think Tabard Inn of The Canterbury Tales; or Holiday Inn with a sales convention in town during the Mad Men era; or Quality Inn in a warm climate during spring break; or Hampton Inn hosting a big wedding party.  These days, we have hospitals and clinics to keep the children, and the near-to-term moms, away from the roistering.  Not so much in an era when fresh fish might be a special treat, and the tax-collector might be even more reviled than he is today.

Speaking of fresh fish, let us reflect on the shepherds, who in this year's message are "marginalized people."  There is a special circle in hell for anyone who introduces these culture-studies terms into ordinary discourse.  But didn't anybody in Francis I's staff remember who the Great Shepherd is?  On earth, if those men are not keeping the wolves, and the Saracens, away from the flock, those loaves and fishes will have to be stretched even further.  Count your blessings, and let's at least have a message that is more attuned to realities, back in the day, and these days.

But perhaps I should not carp.  This year, there were fewer people holding up their smart 'phones to record the processional in Rome, and the one discordant note in Chicago featured a parishioner turning around to snap a selfie as the Cardinal Archbishop passed by during the recessional.  I got the sense, though, that there were a lot of people present at the Vatican for the experience.  Chicagoans who stay up late into the night are going to make a joyful noise and bring an offering, and when you have some very lively censer-swinging and the Cardinal Archbishop belting out "O come let us adore him" for the microphone to send urbi et orbi, why not?  Oh, and working "kingdom" and "power" and "glory forever" into the closing prayer.  Those used to be fighting words.

23.12.17

LOOKS LIKE CHRISTMAS.

This year's vintage trains run at prototype speeds.  There's also a tease of the serious models.


Is that hopper car empty because everyone was good, or is it going back to the mine for more coal?

Thanks to all for looking in, and to all a good night.

FROM THE RUINS OF THE NORTH STAR CONFERENCE.

Once upon a time, in a basketball universe far away, the women's teams of DePaul, Northern Illinois, Notre Dame, and Wisconsin-Green Bay played in a common conference.  (Football I know was another matter and I don't recall the details for men's basketball.)

DePaul and Notre Dame have subsequently migrated to what we understand these days as power conferences.  Wisconsin-Green Bay and a few of the other members of that North Star Conference, and something called the Association of Mid-Continent Universities (there was something prevented them from calling it a conference, too much history) now make up something called the Horizon League.  And the power in the Horizon League has been, and appears to continue to be, Wisconsin-Green Bay.
In a dramatization of the story of Green Bay women's basketball -- the mid-major of both modest means and more consecutive winning seasons (40) than any women's basketball program other than Tennessee -- a character based on [point guard Jen] Wellnitz would elicit snarky grumbling from critics.

The fourth of nine children who grew up dreading early-morning chores on a Wisconsin dairy farm? Such a die-hard Packers fan that she ignored her mother's gentle nudges to branch out and wore the same Brett Favre costume Halloween after Halloween?

In fiction it would lack a little, well, subtlety.

Except here she is. The dairy farm and Packers worship aren't the half of it.

In a city defined by football and where football is defined by the succession of quarterbacks, from Bart Starr to Favre to Aaron Rodgers, it hasn't been an easy fall. An injury that sidelined Rodgers threatens to doom the Packers. But on the other side of town, a former middle school quarterback holds the key to a 20th consecutive conference championship on the basketball court. The catalyst of a defense that helped Green Bay upset ranked Arizona State this past week and hold the Phoenix's first five opponents to fewer than 50 points, Wellnitz remains very much a product of the gridiron.
That's been the Wisconsin-Green Bay recruiting formula for years, scrappy kids off the farm.  Ms Wellnitz hails from South Wayne, which is closer to Platteville or DeKalb than to Green Bay, and if you look at a Phoenix roster you learn about places like Lena and Clintonville.

But what, exactly, does being the class of the Horizon League mean?
Jessica Lindstrom has displayed two distinct personalities during her basketball career at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay.

There’s the Lindstrom off the court, the one UWGB coach Kevin Borseth describes as the nicest person you’d ever meet. The one who Phil Roe, her former high school coach at Superior, once pointed out spent countless hours working with young girls in the community through basketball camps and practices.

Then there’s the Lindstrom on the court. The 6-foot-1 forward who fights and scratches and claws for every point and rebound. The one who figuratively wants to tear her opponent’s heart out.

She loves little kids, but even they don’t get free passes from that Lindstrom, which never was more evident than during UWGB’s 75-64 win at Dayton on Wednesday.

It was the Flyers’ annual School Day game, which is a math-related field trip for kids in elementary and middle schools around the area. They represented most of the 8,416 in attendance that day, and when they were told to get loud, they got loud. Really loud. High-pitched screams loud.
No mention of Ms Lindstrom playing hockey as a kid, which is what you'd expect in Superior.  The little kids?  They got midday away from classes, maybe some photographs with the Flyers, the way DeKalb area kids got.

Deeper in the story, we see an interesting collection of teams recruiting Ms Lindstrom.
She had offers from Wisconsin, Marquette, UW-Milwaukee, Northern Illinois, Drake and North Dakota State before committing to the Phoenix before her senior season.

It’s not often players from the state turn down an opportunity to go to Wisconsin, but Lindstrom never has once looked back and second-guessed her decision.

Along with the NCAA tournament appearances and the Horizon League championships, her team has gone 3-1 against the Badgers during her career and has established itself for now as the top program in the state.
Wisconsin?  That's been a disaster area for years.  Rockford's Stephanie Raymond turned Wisconsin down for Northern Illinois, and parlayed that into a brief professional career.  I wonder if Wisconsin are still unsuccessfully recruiting against mid-majors (or Marquette, which I think play in the Big East these days.)

But turning down Northern Illinois?  Perhaps that made sense at the time.  On the other hand, the Northern Illinois return to the Mid-American might have required the team to lift its game.  For all those comparisons in Green Bay with Tennessee's tournament history, let the record show that the one time a Pat Summitt team was one and done, it was Ball State did the done.  Yes, some years the Phoenix have flirted with making the round of sixteen.  And yes, it has taken a long time for Northern Illinois to contend in the Mid-American.  And the road will only get harder.
The good news for us fans of the MAC is that the [performance rating] really likes us so far. There are two teams inside the top 30 and 6 in the top 100. Having half the conference in the top 100 at this point in the season is an impressive stat to have. When the dust settles at the end of the year, the MAC might be getting a team or two selected to go to the NCAA tournament, and not just the automatic bid given to the MAC tournament winner.
At that writing, Northern Illinois was at 161.  And no sneaking up on teams this year, the way they could early last season.

EVERY VALLEY SHALL BE VAULTED.

German Rail completes the München to Berlin fast railroad, a project that could only be possible with the Cold War over.  The new service is time-competitive with air, and faster (and less nerve-wracking) than driving.

Trains use existing stations and urban trackage, with the fast lines giving the impression of a souped up Lackawanna Cutoff or Long Drag (to think of two rail lines where policy makers swallowed the highway lobby's blandishments.)
Three separate 187.5-mph high speed lines opened between 2006 and 2017 with three other sections of existing line connecting the new high speed lines rebuilt for operation at up to 144 mph. All the major stations on the route have also been modernized.

The 67-mile long section opening this month was the most complex to build as most of it cuts through — or under — the hills of the Thüringen Forest. Of the 67-mile length of the route, more than a third, or 25.6 miles, is in tunnels built for 187.5-mph operation with 7.5 miles of bridges and viaducts as well. The Erfurt to Ebensfeld section has cost about $12 billion and work was stopped for several years in the late 1990s due to a shortage of funding.

The line has been built for mixed use with freight permitted and passing loops [double-ended sidings -- ed.] to allow ICE trains to overtake freight trains. So far no freight has operated as access tolls are higher than the regular network.

Services on the new line are being operated using the existing Deutsche Bahn ICE fleet which has been fitted with cab signalling [positive train control] to operate on the new line.
The modern German style of viaduct (Miniatur Wunderland have at least one model in action) gives the impression of a minimalist Nicholson Viaduct.  But unlike the promoters of the Chicago-New York Electric Air Line (which figured in a Christmas video a few years back) they're not building a dead-straight, dead-level railroad.

Freight train operations are restricted by day, although I can report at least one delay enroute Hamburg from Nürnberg account freight train interference.

21.12.17

REMEMBERING HUNTER HARRISON.

The CSX Railroad announced last Thursday that operations guru and former Illinois Central, Canadian National, and Canadian Pacific chief E. Hunter Harrison would be taking medical leave.  He crossed the final summit on Saturday.
Harrison began his career in 1963 as a carman-oiler with the St. Louis-San Francisco Railroad, while he was still in high school. During his career, he became famous for applying the "scheduled railroad" concept to railroads to improve their operating efficiency.
The scheduled railroad concept is straightforward enough. Trains are made up of cars that are moving cargo from a shipper to a consignee.  Take care of serving the shippers, and the trains will take care of themselves.
Hunter Harrison learned railroading at the knee of a brilliant, profane Texan, William (Pisser Bill) Thompson, who was on his way to becoming VP-operations of the Frisco in the late 1960s when Hunter encountered him at Tennessee Yard in Memphis. “Young man,” said Thompson, spreading his arm toward a sea of freight cars, “what do you see out there?” “A lot of good business, Mr. Thompson,” replied Harrison. Retorted Thompson: “What? Good business? See, that’s the difference, Hunter. I see a bunch of delayed cars, and you say it’s good business.”
He took that lesson to heart, although Trains columnist Fred Frailey sees strengths and weaknesses.
Harrison learned inventory control and asset utilization. Later, within Burlington Northern’s Seattle Region, he tried before others did to run individual cars strictly by schedule, thereby getting better utilization of equipment, including locomotives. Later still, running operations at Illinois Central, he put into practice all the ideas that had been brewing within him, including balance—if you run a train east, run one west, and better yet, have them meet mid-way and swap crews, thereby ending away-from-home expenses. He later did his magic at Canadian National and Canadian Pacific, and upon his death was eight months into a remaking of CSX.

So a genius at railroad operations, yes. But was the man a genius at running a railroad? Running a railroad, after all, is about more than running trains. You have to consider retaining your customers and finding new ones, dealing with government, building high morale and on and on and on. No, he was not a genius, and in fact I would call the man merely ordinary in some aspects of being a chief executive and deficient in a few critical areas. To say this does not detract one iota from the respect I have always shown for him. We are all imperfect creatures.
His latest project, CSX,  might have posed a different set of challenges.  Back to Mr Frailey.
Did Harrison put the railroad on the right path or leave it in shambles, having ripped its practices and institutional knowledge almost to shreds while not living long enough to build a new foundation? I wish the former but suspect the latter.

His former colleague at CN and now his successor at CSX, Jim Foote, has his work cut out. I interviewed Foote in 2009 and thought him whip-smart and funny (meaning a quick thinker).  Nowhere in his background is experience in operations. And operations is where CSX now stands exposed.

Lastly, I wish Hunter Harrison had been better teaching people how to think like him than he was, through his Hunter Camps, to act like him. It’s an important distinction. In other words, you can tell me what to do (Hunter Camps) but how do I learn to think like you? Maybe that is our biggest loss.
The succession in the executive suite, or at quarterback, matters, and yet there is a lot of precision transportation that relies on alert sales agents, billing clerks, and dispatchers.

SEASON'S END.

The Green Bay Packers will not be going into Christmas with a playoff on the line.
Not with that defense. Not with that lack of commitment to the run. Not with so few impact players.

The Packers were 28 yards away from playing a third straight overtime game and possibly pulling out a season-saving victory over the Carolina Panthers on Sunday at Bank of America Stadium.

But it was just a tease because since winning Super Bowl XLV they have been neither good enough nor talented enough to do more than put up a good front week after week.

If Aaron Rodgers had led the offense to a second touchdown in less than 3 minutes and the Packers had won the coin flip in overtime and scored a touchdown to pull out a miracle victory to improve to 8-6, it would have been merely a reprieve.
Perhaps the fans and the sports pundits will express enough discontent for headquarters to address weaknesses on the team that don't involve injured quarterbacks.
It would have lasted until the Minnesota Vikings or Detroit Lions or some playoff opponent brought them back to reality with a slap in the face. They would have packed up their bags, noted how close they got again and then gotten ready to do it again.

General manager Ted Thompson’s anachronistic approach to talent acquisition has left them exposed at one specific position or area of athleticism or facet of the game at the end of every season since the Packers won their 13th championship in February 2011.

Every year it seems, they overcome a slew of injuries, rally to win the division or make the playoffs and then have their weaknesses picked at until it’s time to congratulate the opposition for moving on.
Apart from the aforementioned Super Bowl season, and the repeated failure of special teams in Seattle, those weaknesses tend to have been on defense.  Heck, it was the Packers who made Colin Kaepernick a phenomenon for a couple of years.  Just line up and tackle people.

Thus endeth an eight year run of Packers playing in the post-season.  There was one prior such run, although nobody makes much of it. Lose to Philadelphia.  Defeat New York.  Defeat New York.  Defeat Cleveland(p).  Lose to St. Louis(p).  Defeat Baltimore(d) and Cleveland.  Defeat Dallas and Kansas City(*).  Defeat Los Angeles, Dallas, and Oakland(*).

The footsteps of giants.  "There is something Lambeau and Lombardi accomplished that subsequent head coaches have not yet done."

My wish for 2018: that the Packers fix their problems on defense, and continue to pay attention to the succession at quarterback (Boy, did I miss that one, but I'm not complaining).  I still have bad memories of a battered Bart Starr coming out to attempt to salvage one more season, one more run at Bud Grant and the Vikings, only to leave more racked-up.

(p) Playoff Bowl.  Vince Lombardi referred to this game as hinky-dinky, and it vanished with the divisional alignment.

(d) Western Conference playoff game.  No tie-break formulas in those days.

(*) The anti-climactic interleague bragging rights game that only later became the Super Bowl.  I think the name for that game originated with the name of the biggest entree at Chili John's.

19.12.17

PERSISTENCE.

Northern Illinois guard Paulina Castro returns to the lineup.
“[Paulina] is inspirational,” junior guard Mikayla Voigt said as she tried to hold back tears. “The fact that she was able to keep such a positive attitude through all of that and still be such a big supporter for the team and then come back to be healthy again and able to play basketball, it’s truly a miracle. I mean I don’t think it’s anything short of that.”

Castro continues to maintain a positive attitude, as she is now contributing both on and off the court. Carlsen said Castro taught her and the entire team a life lesson during her journey.

“It gets better,” said Castro. “You know there are days when you feel like ‘wow, this sucks’, but it gets better and that is something that I learned. You learn to appreciate even the smallest of things when you don’t know how the next day is going to go. I think that is why basketball was such an escape for me was because I just learned to appreciate it so much more.”
Just go read the story.

A DIFFICULT DAY ON THE CASCADE CORRIDOR.

Amtrak train 501, making its first trip on an avoiding line intended to speed up the Seattle to Portland services, apparently went into a curve in advance of a junction too fast.  Jim "Travel & Trains" Loomis lost two fellow Passenger Rail advocates in the wreck.
I have just learned that the Rail Passengers Association lost two members in yesterday’s derailment: Jim Hamre, an elected member of our Board of Directors, and Zack Wilhoite, an RPA member. There are no adequate words.
His post also notes a number of complaints serious ferroequinologists raise about press coverage of things that run on rails.
There is the unbelievable irony of this event occurring to the very first train on the very first day that this new stretch of track was open. That alone is reason enough for suspecting foul play.

The cause of the event will be found and if it proves to be a true accident–human error, if you will– rightly or wrongly, blame will be assigned and some poor bastard’s life will be ruined.

In reporting on the accident—and, yes, I acknowledge that the media is under pressure to get the information out there as quickly as possible—there is nevertheless an obligation to get the facts right. For minutes and then hours, media reports kept referring to this as a “high-speed” train and to the line itself as “high-speed”. Dammit! Wrong and wrong again.

As I understand it, the crash occurred just as the train was entering a brand new stretch of track, the purpose of which being to permit Amtrak trains to run at somewhat higher speeds than conditions on the previous route would permit. You can bet that investigators will be going over the first 100 yards or so of that track with the proverbial fine tooth comb. Don’t expect a definitive report to be coming out soon. But when it does—just one guy’s gut opinion—I suspect there will be evidence of foul play. Damn!
The early evidence is of a train going too fast into a speed restriction of thirty mph for the curve over the bridge, and there is a speed restriction of 42 mph for Talgo trains where this route ... not a new railroad by any means, rather a former Northern Pacific track that has been in place since at least the 1920s, joins the seaside route that Amtrak, and most of the heavy coastal freight traffic, has been using.  Amtrak's passenger trains will be joining the Tacoma area Sound Transport commuter trains on this line, which might have been reprofiled for faster running.


Point Defiance bypass project map retrieved from Washington State Department of Transportation.

Note: not a new line, definitely not a German Neubaustrecke (there will be occasion to celebrate one of those in a day or so) and certainly not a high-speed line by German standards, by Acela standards, or by the standard set by The Milwaukee Road in Wisconsin, eighty years ago.

Let me quote from a booklet of safety instructions issued by the Elgin Joliet and Eastern Railway in August, 1953.  "All the safety appliances that could be installed would be of no value, unless you have safe men to operate them."  So what is keeping the engineer from doing what he is supposed to be doing?  "'How is it that a train was going 80 miles an hour,' Savannah Guthrie asks, 'around a curve where the speed limit was 30?'"

Yes, it is likely that people will make much of the absence of Positive Train Control on this line, or even of the control equipment on the new diesel that will probably be written off.


Unattributed AP photograph retrieved from Daily Mail.

Why, though, would a train operator not be aware that the end of the fast running and the upcoming junction with the original route was nearby.  As I asked in the aftermath of the derailment account excessive speed of a Spanish Talgo train, "passengers are trusting the engineer to have sufficient route knowledge that he's made the proper brake application in advance of an approaching junction."  We ought be grateful that the Talgo cars in use in North America protect passengers more effectively.

Also, apparently, a local official viewed with alarm the introduction of 79 mph passenger trains through his community, and those fears were also raised by officers at a nearby military installation.

What sort of a world do we live in, when a 79 mph train raises safety fears at a military base?


Afternoon Hiawatha at Camp McCoy, Wisconsin, summer 1964.
Kent Kobersteen photograph scanned from Scribbins, The Hiawatha Story,  page 120.

Despite the derailment, the provision of additional routes for diesel trains good for 110-125 mph (as the above picture illustrates, this was routine a half century ago) remains a productive use of infrastructure money, private and public.

CRUISING THE WEB.

Check out "Monday's Child is Full of Links."  Props for a well-timed frack you, a reference to "Progressive Finishing Schools," and a reference to the Unicorn State.  Enjoy.

16.12.17

TAKING STOCK.

Almost a year into the Trump presidency, and how stand things?

Declare victory and leave the social media to others, urges Victor Hanson.
[P]ersonal dueling with journalists, celebrities and politicians is not only becoming superfluous, but it is now distracting Trump's audiences from a growing record of achievement.

Nine months ago, critics left and right were writing off Trump as an irrelevant buffoon without a clue of what to do in the White House. They predicted perennial sloth and inaction.

Not now. Trump's Cabinet and judicial appointments, executive orders and deregulation measures are systematically overturning the progressive Obama project.

Abroad, the Trump national security team has recalibrated U.S. foreign policy from an apologetic recessional to engaged, principled realism.
Yes, those accomplishments are making some people mad, but there is a substantial overlap among those people and people who were weak on communism, who are soft on counterterrorism and crime, who offer misguided education policies.
Republican politicians once grumbled about the utopian Paris climate accord but never thought of doing much about it. Trump, like him or hate him, summarily withdrew America from the agreement -- and shrugged off the ensuing green outrage.

Members of Congress occasionally expressed support for the recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel -- but on the expectation that no barnstorming candidate would ever dare to officially recognize Jerusalem as such if elected president.

Prior to 2017, conventional economic wisdom dictated that the Dow Jones industrial average would not soon climb above 22,000, that the unemployment rate in peacetime could not fall to 4 percent, and that the GDP could not grow at an annual rate of 3 percent. All those shibboleths have either been blown up or may yet be blown up in 2018.
The real test of this administration will come when the stock market correction or recession or both occur.

Andrew Klavan suggests that the good might be as much symbolic as substantive.
Donald Trump — a political neophyte, a New York loudmouth who plays fast and loose with the truth, a massive egotist and a not altogether pleasant human being — has delivered conservatives one of the greatest years in living memory and has made our government more moral in the process. The left and many on the right didn't see it coming because they hate the man. And because they didn't see it coming, they won't see that it's come.
That's right, more moral.
Trump has made our government more moral by making less of it: fewer regulations, fewer judges who will write law instead of obeying the law, fewer bureaucrats seeking to expand the power of their agencies, less money for the government to spend on itself. He has made government treat us more fairly and equally by ceasing to use the IRS and Justice Department for political ends like silencing enemies and skewing elections.

This is what moral government looks like. And if every male senator in America is grabbing the buttocks of some unsuspecting female while, at the same time, voting for more limited and less corrupt government, the senators are immoral, yes, but the government is more moral. That is why we should never let the leftist press game us with scandal hysteria, but should keep focused on voting in those who will help fulfill government's moral ends.

Trump has delivered conservatives an astoundingly successful year and made the government more moral in the process. You don't have to like him, to salute him. I salute him. Well done.
I'd be more optimistic if Our President, or some future president, vetoed some expansion of government power with an "I cannot find the line in the Federal Constitution that authorizes ..."

And yet, we must not let the Pajamas Media, Town Hall, and the rest cheerlead for a new cult of the presidency.  The mediating institutions still matter.  Kurt Weyland and Raul L. Madrid explain.
Liberal democracy in the United States will survive the challenges and risks that populist leadership poses. Certainly, Trump will continue to transgress norms of accountability and civility during his term, but he is unlikely to effect lasting changes, enshrine them in institutional reforms, and thus do more than temporary damage to liberal democracy. The U.S. system, sustained by a pluralist civil society, has great resilience. In fact, there is a good chance that the new President’s norm violations may generate a liberal-democratic backlash that will reaffirm these principles after Trump’s departure, and perhaps even strengthen their institutional protection.

How can Donald Trump advance his agenda? Populist leaders commonly employ confrontation and foment polarization. To prove their boldness and charisma, they act like attack dogs. They deliberately seek enemies in order to induce their followers to offer intense support. As is evident in his Twitter barrages, President Trump has consistently used this contentious strategy. This approach has its advantages. Because Trump cannot easily expand his backing, given the high levels of partisan polarization in the United States and the absence of an acute economic crisis, it makes sense for him to solidify the support he does have by attacking enemies.

But this confrontational approach also has substantial downsides. After all, the system of checks and balances puts a large premium on negotiation and compromise if a President wants to get his measures approved by Congress and to survive challenges in the courts. The cost of confrontation is especially high because President Trump does not fully control the GOP delegation in Congress. By turning his ire not only against Democrats, but against the Republican leadership as well, he risks antagonizing legislators whose support he needs. No wonder that, so far, Trump has established a very meager legislative record. Moreover, this legislative weakness may set him up for political failure. His problems in steering his bills through Congress not only generate a sensation of government paralysis, they also limit his ability to provide benefits to his supporters, for instance via substantial tax cuts for middle- and lower-middle class people.
If you are of the temperament that views "getting legislation passed" as not necessarily equivalent to "governing" that might not be all bad.

Look for lighter fare, infrequently, until Twelfth Night.

LET'S DECLARE IDIOCY A FORM OF INTELLECT.

Civility is oppression.  Seriously.
Through an analysis of interview data, [Northern Iowa researchers C. Kyle Rudick and Kathryn B. Golsan] generated 3 categories describing whiteness-informed civility (WIC): (a) WIC functions to create a good White identity, (b) WIC functions to erase racial identity, and (c) WIC functions to assert control of space. These thematic concepts show how WIC is characterized by logics of race-evasion, avoidance of race-talk, and exclusion of people of color. The authors conclude by offering ways for instructors to interrogate WIC through classroom practices informed by critical communication pedagogy.
The article is from Taylor and Francis, a publishing outfit that provides @RealPeerReview no end of material.  And of course, dear reader, any scholar who uses "interrogate" as if some institutional concept ought be dragged into the Lubyanka for round-the-clock questioning and then dispatched with a small pistol.

So how does this oppression take place?
Students who indicated that they “treat everyone the same way” were accused of trying to create a “good White identity,” according to Rudick and Goslan’s analysis.

“First, participants stated that they tried to avoid talking about race or racism with students of color to minimize the chance that they would say something ‘wrong’ and be labeled a racist,” the professors report. “Another way that participants described how they tried to be civil when interacting with students of color was to be overly nice or polite.”

White students who make an extra effort to be nice to students of color, Rudick and Goslan claim, are merely upholding “white privilege” and “white racial power.”
That used to be called "good manners." But when you're deconstructing institutions, never mind that you might be deconstructing civilization at the same time.  Or, if you're Mr Rudick, that might be a desirable outcome.
I am critical communication scholar who studies how power, privilege, and oppression are constructed and marshaled through everyday communicative performances. Specifically, I focus on how communication that occurs within and across educational contexts (e.g., K-12 public schools and higher education) functions to (re)produce our shared social realities. My research and teaching interests are predicated upon my strong belief that contemporary society is rife with inequalities and that it is my (your, our) ethical duty to imagine and pursue a life of freedom, equality, and harmony. My primary mode of activism is through research and teaching, where I encourage ideas that are counter to oppressive logics such as classism, racism, and sexism (to name a few). Please send me a message if you would like to discuss my work further.
Because it's so much better to (re)invent our social realities ab initio, ad infinitum.  Give the kid props, though, for putting such an obvious content warning on his home page.

But that's probably not the most egregious academic outrage of the week.  For that we must recognize Purdue's Donna Riley, for whom rigor is oppressive. (Yup, more treats from Taylor and Francis.)
Rigor accomplishes dirty deeds, however, serving three primary ends across engineering, engineering education, and engineering education research: disciplining, demarcating boundaries, and demonstrating white male heterosexual privilege. Understanding how rigor reproduces inequality, we cannot reinvent it but rather must relinquish it, looking to alternative conceptualizations for evaluating knowledge, welcoming diverse ways of knowing, doing, and being, and moving from compliance to engagement, from rigor to vigor.
I'll paraphrase Hank Rearden. Run along, punk. Come up with an alternative conceptualization to evaluate a heat of steel.

No wonder Commentary's Warren Treadgold bemoans "The Death of Scholarship."
In applying postmodernist theories repetitively and uncritically to every subject under the sun, leftist scholars necessarily arrive at the same few stale conclusions time and again. It is only the rigor and honesty of traditional scholarship that allow for the flourishing of new knowledge. And in effectively barring that practice from universities, postmodernist scolds have fashioned and ennobled a regime of obscurantism.
Don't say I didn't warn you, or that Common Cause's John Gardner didn't notice the rot, years ago.

Let Power Line's Steven Hayward bring the smack.
[M]ost of the so-called “new knowledge” in the humanities is, simply put, crap. And the increasing narrowness if not irrelevancy of large swaths of academic social science (including, sadly, economics in too many cases) is leaving students cold. (See: Any of my “academic absurdity” posts here, which I could file on an hourly basis if I wanted to.)
Indeed. I limit my cataloging of academic atrocities, in part to keep my spirits up.  But as long as Taylor and Francis proliferate those trendy journals, Campus Reform and Real Peer Review and the rest are unlikely to be idle.

LAVENDER'S BLUE, DILLY DILLY.

The culture-studies types have completely ruined the art of social criticism.

It thus falls to the economists to keep it alive.
I laughed so hard to the point of nearly crying. This one ad brilliantly calls out the snobbery of craft brew culture and all the pomp that goes with it. Nowhere does it make a direct pitch for Bud Light. It just says exactly what we think but never say: Bud Light is a people’s beer, and that’s just fine because now the people rule.

So embedded in this commercial is a bit of the story of the rise of capitalism itself. It was the marketing principle that flipped history. No longer would the elite of the past determine the tastes of the kingdom and the way resources would be used. There would be mass production for the masses of people. It was a revolution in history, and one that would never stop.

And from a marketing point of view, this commercial deals directly with Bud Light’s real competition in the craft brew industry, which is making inroads by the day. Bud Light obviously cannot claim to have a better product. And guess what? Everyone knows that. Everyone knows what a Bud Light is: it is a beer-like drink that is watery but let’s you drink a six pack in an evening without any great disaster the next day. Sorry snobs, but the people like this feature.
He's right about the near-beer properties of light beer, you know.

And the advert, of course, had to be set in England, because Reinheitsgebot!


But hey, even in a beer commercial there might be some hidden meanings.  "In the real world, it is the local craft brews that broke the monopoly control of the old-world domestics, to add some free-market competition to a stagnant industry. And that makes this ad even more special, with Bud Light trying to recapture the legitimacy of its dominant market position."

Noted on Newmark's Door.

Prosit!

13.12.17

ARCH DELUXE.

Norfolk Southern have replaced a vintage girder bridge at Portageville, New York, with a photogenic arch bridge.


Norfolk Southern Corporation photograph retrieved from Trains, THE Magazine of Railroading.

Higher, faster, stronger.
The $75 million bridge replaces the former Erie Railroad Portageville Bridge, an often-photographed iron-and-steel landmark built in 1875. It stands more than 230 feet above the Genesee River in New York’s Letchworth State Park.

...

The new span, built 75 feet south of the old truss bridge, allows NS to run industry-standard 286,000-lb. cars over the Southern Tier line, up from the current 273,000-pound limit. Trains can move across the bridge at 30 mph, up from 10 mph on the old span.

The line carries about a dozen trains per day and is a key link in Norfolk Southern’s route to New England from the west. It also handles some freight bound for Canada and northern New Jersey.
No passenger trains will be delayed. The Norfolk Southern main line between Chicago and New York City uses the old New York Central between Chicago and Cleveland, the old Nickel Plate between Cleveland and Buffalo, and the Southern Tier is the former Erie-Lackawanna line, via Binghamton, and then some odd routing that avoids either Scranton and Port Jervis.

Apparently, railroad infrastructure can receive public moneys, even in Trump-unfriendly jurisdictions.
The bridge was funded through a public-private partnership among Norfolk Southern, the New York State Department of Transportation, and the Federal Highway Administration.

At 2:20 p.m. Monday, Norfolk Southern’s 36T, an eastbound merchandise train running from Buffalo to Allentown, Pa., with stops in Corning and Binghamton, N.Y., became the first to run across the new bridge.

“This is a very exciting day for Norfolk Southern and for the future of freight rail service in New York’s Southern Tier region,” said James A. Squires, NS chairman, president and chief executive “The successful completion of this bridge is an excellent demonstration of how the public and private sectors can work together on freight transportation projects that generate significant public benefits and are vital to U.S. commerce. It’s also a testament to Norfolk Southern’s robust bridge program and the ingenuity of engineers and railroaders.”

“The new Portageville Bridge complements the beauty of Letchworth State Park while providing safer, more efficient freight rail service,” said New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo. “Through a combined effort with Norfolk Southern, government leaders and the public, we have built a modern arch bridge which will support economic growth in the region and continue our drive to strengthen and modernize transportation infrastructure across the state for generations to come.”
The old bridge will be removed. As the railroad passes through a state park, and ferroequinologists have been taking pictures of trains here for years, local authorities are looking forward to enhanced tourism and recreational activities on the river.  "The bridge’s arch design minimizes the railroad’s environmental footprint in the Genesee River Gorge and complements the scenic vistas found in Letchworth State Park."

THE FACULTY ARE THE STEWARDS OF THE UNIVERSITY.

That has long been my stance, and a recent (Instalanched) essay by two exiles from Evergreen State College explains, in detail, why that must be the case.
In 2015, Evergreen hired a new president. Trained as a sociologist, George Bridges did two things upon arrival. First, he hired an old friend to talk one-on-one to members of our community — faculty, staff, and students. We talked about our values and our visions for the college. But the benefit of hindsight suggests that he was looking for something else. He was mapping us, assessing our differences, our blind spots, and the social tensions that ran beneath the surface. Second, Bridges fired the provost, Michael Zimmerman. The provost, usually synonymous with the vice president for academics, is the chief academic officer at an institution of higher education. Zimmerman would have disapproved of what Bridges had in mind and would have had some power to stop it. But he was replaced by a timid (though well-liked) insider who became a pawn due to his compromised interim status and his desire not to make waves.

Having mapped the faculty and fired the provost, Bridges began reworking the college in earnest. Surprise announcements became the norm as opportunities for discussion dwindled.
That the faculty couldn't raise more objections to the purging of the provost, or take steps in committees and faculty councils to stop the usurpations, suggested the faculty had long ago abdicated powers that were properly theirs.  And faculty, no matter how radical their politics, might be the fiercest protectors of the curriculum, if they'd but have kept those powers.
The president took aim at what made Evergreen unique, such as full-time programs. He fattened the administration, creating expensive vice president positions at an unprecedented rate, while budgets tightened elsewhere due to drops in student enrollment and disappearing state dollars. He went after Evergreen’s unparalleled faculty autonomy, which was essential to the unique teaching done by the best professors.

All of this should have been alarming to a faculty in which professors have traditionally viewed administrative interference in academic matters with great suspicion. But Bridges was strategic and forged an alliance with factions known to be obsessed with race. He draped the “equity” banner around everything he did. Advocating that Evergreen embrace itself as a “College of Social Justice,” he argued that faculty autonomy unjustly puts the focus on teachers rather than students, and that the new VP for Equity and Inclusion would help us serve our underserved populations. But no discussion was allowed of students who did not meet the narrow criteria of being “underserved.” Because of the wrapping, concerns about policy changes were dismissed as “anti-equity.” What was in the nicely wrapped box turned out to be something else entirely.
That's how it has always worked.  Dress the usurpations up in pet projects that the faculty might be disposed to go along with anyway, particularly if those projects carry names such as "diversity" or "equity" or "multiculturalism."  Then, once the precedent for usurping is there, start behaving like a boss.
[T]he “Equity Council” that [the president] had appointed and empowered shifted into high gear. It produced a document laden with proposals that tear at the foundations of a liberal arts college. It recommended, for example, using “diversity and equity in the criteria for prioritizing faculty hires.” As is clear from the minutes of the council’s meetings, this goes well beyond affirmative action, which is itself illegal in the state of Washington. Taken to its logical conclusion, this policy would mean hiring no more artists, or chemists, or writing faculty, or any faculty, really, unless their research or training could be defended on the grounds of “equity.” That would spell the end of the liberal arts college.
Excellence is overrated.  (Oh, wait, that's a post for another day.)  "Equity," however, is whatever the people who have the power think it should be.  But the administrative sycophants among the faculty went along (was it so they could continue to be invited to the right parties?)
These faculty members and their accomplices in the administration are primarily at fault. They are the adults. At an institution of higher education, it is the faculty’s job to teach, not to preach; to educate, not indoctrinate. Some of the students who became protesters will be paying off their loans for years, and for what? They were let down by an institution that imposed and nurtured grievance and propaganda rather than educating and conferring knowledge. Evergreen handed them temporary power, an intoxicating thing, instead of establishing boundaries and legitimately empowering them with insight and wisdom.
Or, to use Matt "Dean Dad" Reed's formulation, the faculty often serve as Burkean conservatives.  The search function at his site is bloggered right now, so I can't cite an illustration of him using the phrase more in sadness than in anger (the faculty often being the saucer that cools off overheated administrative initiatives).  Meanwhile, the students were rendered unemployable because they never had to confront the evidence that might induce them to rethink their priors.  And the authors had only one national news outlet to tell their side of the story.  Tucker Carlson on Fox News, forsooth.
Left and Right historically disagree on the extent of current inequities in the system, and on the wisdom of solution making. Those on the Left tend to focus on the inequities in the system; those on the Right tend to argue for personal responsibility. The Left tends to see structural unfairness, and is inclined to intervene. The Right tends to see a landscape of opportunity, and fears the unintended consequences of new initiatives. Both positions have merit and, despite the frequent tenor of conversations between factions, they are not mutually exclusive. Wisdom is likely to emerge from the tension between these worldviews, uniting good people around the value of a fair system that fosters self-reliance as it distributes opportunity as broadly as possible.
Yes, but that takes work. Work involves standards of performance. And standards of performance well might be oppressive.  But the absence of standards is more oppressive.

12.12.17

MAKING CHRISTMAS GREAT AGAIN.

Move it downtown.  Start with the department store music.
Many of these songs were written during the immediate postwar period of optimism, cultural unity, and thriving Main Street economics. It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas mentions all the classic signs of the holiday—the carols, the bells, the snow—but the first thing it portrays is “the five and ten (variety store) glistening once again with candy canes and silver lanes aglow.” The song then conveys the excitement of Christmas as toys appear “in every store.”

It’s clear that the role of these local shops and their front window displays goes far beyond shopping. They not only provide all the toys needed for presents and gifts (the entire third verse of the song) but are an essential part—if not the most central aspect—of the holiday ambiance.
Yes, with the kids making their list and checking it twice.  "Some of that was still in place in the last days of The America That Worked(TM), it being a family ritual, come early December, for everyone to scrub up, spiff up, and head Downtown to do the Christmas shopping, and enjoy a meal at the Boston Store restaurant."  Mom, Dad, grandparents, siblings, schoolteacher, school gift exchange, check, check, check.
Today, however, we’ve lost this unique part of the season. Whether it’s the constant sale of toys at our big retailers, or the year-round availability of holiday products through the internet, there is nothing actually special about shopping at Christmas. And it’s not just the experience we’ve lost—there is now less joy in the products that we buy. Every gift from a big-box store is tainted with the knowledge that it is one of a million copies, while “artisan” gifts brought from small shops are so profligate with campiness (organic blueberry goat’s milk soap) that buying them becomes a smug competition in who can spend the most money on the oddest item.

The very layout of the typical auto-centric American suburb also quietly kills the spirit of Christmas. Everything leading up to the holiday has become stressful and hectic, while still being glum and uninspired. The mall and the big-box stores feel even more depressing around the holidays, as you walk through an expanse of parked cars in the cold and snow. There’s no reward for your misery: Target and Wal-Mart still feel the same when you get inside, except that they’re probably more crowded. You’ve been here a thousand times before and you’ll be back next Tuesday to return the gifts you didn’t want and pick up toilet paper. This cheerless shopping experience is underpinned by the knowledge that your dollars are not staying in the community but are being vacuumed out to Wall Street.
When an American Conservative writer uses a "buy local" talking point, dear reader, you know there's an E-T-T-S moment at hand.  "Do we want our children to associate Christmas with spending hours at the mall or lazily clicking through Amazon? Or do we want them to realize that our physical structures can be part of their heritage and have a lasting impact for generations?"

Unfortunately, the era of the department-store sponsored Christmas parade (sometimes involving a train) is gone, apart from Macy's in New York City, the national telecast of which has deteriorated into celebrity newscasters interviewing celebrity entertainers while all the sisters and cousins and aunts of the kids marching in the parade strain for a glimpse of their high school's colors or a few bars of the parade songs.

WHEN HIGHER EDUCATION BREAKS THE SOCIAL CONTRACT.

That's a central element of Richard Vedder and Justin Strehle's Case for Taxing College Endowments.
There are two good reasons why the endowment tax makes sense to some politicians. First, public attitudes toward universities have distinctly soured in recent years. What the public perceives as outrageous student behavior, feckless university leadership, and excessive tuition fees has combined with a growing hostility by Republican lawmakers angered over the large political donations and public criticism that academics have made attempting to oust them from office. Lawmakers are growing tired of feeding the mouths that bite them. Revenues raised by taxing colleges can modestly help fund other tax reductions that lawmakers want to make, which are probably economically beneficial to the well over 90 percent of the population living outside the Ivory Towers of Academia.

Second, our econometric examination of college endowments suggests a large portion of endowment income is dissipated in relatively unproductive fashions, financing a growing army of relatively well-paid university administrators and giving influential faculty low teaching loads and high salaries. We estimate that roughly only about 15 cents out of each additional dollar of endowment income goes to lower net tuition fees (published tuition fees—sticker prices– are much higher at highly endowed schools, but those schools also give more scholarship aid). When a newly endowed scholarship is created, schools typically either reduce their student aid support from other funds or raise sticker prices to capture some of the newly funded endowment resources for other purposes.
I've been fighting with Business as Usual along lines suggested in the first paragraph for years: no surprise there.  The second paragraph, referring to empirical work not otherwise cited or acknowledged in their essay, raises the unsurprising point that money is fungible.

Continuing, though, perhaps taxing endowments is another way of reducing the regressive transfers inherent in higher education as currently understood.
A healthy portion of [endowment returns and other subsidies] are used to provide higher salaries or other perks such as hiring lots of new administrative assistants such as more assistant deans, “sustainability coordinators” or “diversity officers” to perform irksome jobs or meet politically correct objectives such as fighting global warming or achieving the optimal skin colorization of the students and faculty. As endowments rise, so do full professor salaries and the numbers of professors serving a given number of students. To a considerable extent, endowments are a successful rent-seeking scam of the power brokers within universities.

At public universities, subsidies are provided by state governments that usually are less than $1,000 a student but are occasionally higher. The five highest state appropriation levels per student among the 13 public Big Ten universities range between $10,000 and $15,000, equal to the amount that would be provided by an endowment of $250,000 per student where the annual spending rate is four to six percent of the endowment principal. Thus, the GOP excise tax on endowments takes effect only at institutions where endowment spending is generally well above the public subsidies provided at state universities.
Now, if we could get the land-grants and mid-majors to recognize that they are in the same business as the Ivies, and turf out all the irksome special education impedimenta that keep U.S. News selling those ratings ...

WASTE NOT, WANT NOT.

Last year, DeKalb Iron and Metal and the city kept a ton of used Christmas lights out of landfills.

This year, the recycling drive will last to the beginning of February.
To prevent used holiday lights from ending up in landfills, the DeKalb County Health Department will be partnering with the DeKalb Iron and Metal Co. for the Holiday Lights Recycling Program.

The program, in its seventh year, will run through Feb. 2. All string lights and extension cords are accepted.
"String lights" refers to those new series-wired miniature lights (sometimes light-emitting diodes) that can be a pain to troubleshoot.


Maybe it's my New England and South Side of Milwaukee upbringing, but tossing extension cords?

Tree is in its 45th season, string of battery-powered light emitting diodes pushing 15, some of the ornaments are as old as I, and the vintage trains will be making their presence shortly.

THE BIGGEST CIVIL RIGHTS ISSUE OF OUR TIME.

A thesis nailed to Newmark's DoorLawsuit shows California public schools where fifth graders are taught at kindergarten level and kids can’t read.
The lawsuit accuses the government of failing to assure basic literacy levels in California public schools, thus undermining the state constitution’s education guarantees. It offers yet another window into the way many public schools are run. It details classes where around half the students don’t have basic reading skills, examples of fifth graders taught using kindergarten materials, and teachers who “are forced to rely on audio and video content to provide students access to other subjects.” The state has previously identified an urgent need to deal with literacy issues, but has never implemented the plan, per the suit.
It's likely some defenders of the government schools will blame school funding formulas and Proposition Thirteen from forty years ago, and yet one can't help but suspect a substitution of trendy pedagogies for eternal verities is contributing.

A GIANT LIPOSUCTION SOUND?

A Nasty, Nafta-Related Surprise: Mexico’s Soaring Obesity.  Reality is more subtle: the human physique evolved through millennia of starvation, and only recently has cheap, plentiful food become common. "Across the world, trade deals have made food more affordable and accessible. A major selling point for the World Trade Organization, founded in 1995, was that it would relax trade barriers so “food is cheaper” — though such deals can also influence diet for the worse."  By all means, read the article.  Then read and understand Don "Cafe Hayek" Boudreaux's response.  "Are you prepared to criticize increasing prosperity – and perhaps to implicitly endorse policies that prevent increasing prosperity – because some people use their greater access to a wide variety of goods and services to make choices that offend the sensibilities of intellectuals?"  Not to mention food that might taste better, as the article notes.  "On a recent Sunday, the Ruiz brothers went to Sam’s Club to stock up for the restaurant. They like the expansive meat section with marbled beef that is often cheaper than the sinewy cuts sold by local butchers."

MARKET TESTS ARE SUBTLE.

And Oberlin might be getting an education.
Oberlin College has been showing signs of strain as leaders of the well-off liberal arts college in Ohio seek to close a multimillion-dollar budget deficit driven by lower-than-expected enrollment this year.

The strain became evident most recently when The Oberlin Review, the college’s student newspaper, obtained and published a letter written this summer by two faculty members objecting to a salary freeze. The letter, which the student newspaper published Friday as Oberlin’s Board of Trustees was scheduled to meet, said it is “inadequate and depressing that neither the board nor the administration has the leadership or imagination to address this crisis in any way other than by eliminating raises for faculty and staff.”

But the publication of the faculty letter was just the latest in a string of moves by a college grappling with a structural budget deficit.
It might be simply a shrinking pool of traditional students, along with a market premium for quality faculty, stressing the finances.
In response to the enrollment and budget issues, the board approved a plan to hold nonunion salaries at current levels for the coming year, [board chairman Chris] Canavan said in the June email. Doing so would not eliminate the deficit but would make a significant difference without cutting essential services and positions.

Not all faculty would agree with that assertion. Some have argued a pay freeze will lead to a loss of talent at Oberlin as professors pick other, better-paying jobs. Such a trend would hurt educational quality, an essential service for a college.

The board also asked administrators, faculty and staff members to find ways to shrink the structural deficit by bringing in more revenue or cutting spending. The goal laid out was to cut 5 percent of the cumulative budget over the coming 10 years.

“The enrollment shortfall is a sign that Oberlin’s long-term financial model must change with the times,” Canavan said in the June email. “The cost of running institutions like Oberlin gets more expensive every year, while the pool of high school graduates, which grew steadily beginning in the mid-’90s, will stay flat over the next decade. We must spend the next few years making important decisions that will ensure Oberlin’s financial strength well into the future. These decisions must be made thoughtfully and with broad consultation.”
At the margin, though, Oberlin's product differentiation efforts might be hurting enrollments.
Conservative news outlets have delighted in Oberlin’s struggles. The college is generally considered one of the most liberal institutions in the country, and it is regularly the target of conservative media, some of the more extreme of which have attributed the college’s enrollment declines to politics. But they provided little in the way of firm evidence to support that link.

Nonetheless, Oberlin has found itself at the center of several politically charged events of late. The Associated Press recently reported that Oberlin has been sued by bakery owners who accuse the institution and a dean of slandering their bakery as a racist establishment following a shoplifting case in 2016 -- a charge the institution and dean denied. This fall, the college also put in place a policy under which it will not send out email notifications about hateful fliers unless there is suspicion of immediate danger or a larger pattern.
Sometimes, what is unseen is as salient as what is seen. It is unlikely that anybody is going to tell a pollster or a guidance counselor, "Oberlin comes off as too full of crazies."  On the other hand, it is easy enough to send in applications to institutions other than Oberlin, for whatever reason, and leave it to the admissions office to puzzle out the reasons, or to engage in wishful thinking.

11.12.17

TO REALLY FOUL THINGS UP REQUIRES A COMPUTER.

At the macro level, it's Norfolk Southern's artificial intelligence dispatching that renders Amtrak's Lake Shore Limited Late For Sure.

At the micro level, it's Amtrak's new internet reservation front end, which, in the manner of all hyped business improvements, is a bodge.
I can’t explain exactly why, but I had a terrible time with the new “improved” Amtrak web site. Admittedly, there are six segments in all, but it took me forever to get it all done.

My return includes a Boston-to-Chicago segment and this gave me the chance to see if I could perhaps save a little money and avoid some inconvenience, too. For those who don’t know, the westbound Lake Shore Limited starts out with two sections: Train 49 originating in New York City’s Penn Station and Train 449 originating from Boston’s South Station. The two sections meet in Albany, New York and proceed to Chicago as one train from there.
This combining of trains is a survival from Penn Central days, well, actually New York Central, which, without telling anybody, started combining The New England States and The Twentieth Century Limited at Buffalo, in the summer of 1967.  And, thanks to contemporary rules governing the adding and cutting of passenger cars in trains, the sleepers of the two parts are at opposite ends of the train.
The Boston section consists of one Viewliner sleeping car, several coaches, and a lounge car serving snacks and drinks. Half of this car is configured with Business Class seating. The New York section has five or six coaches and what AmtraK calls a “Combined Diner/Lounge”. The trouble is—and, OK, I’ll admit it’s a minor issue unless you have trouble moving about a moving train—after leaving Albany, passengers in the Boston sleeper have to make their way through six or seven coaches in order to get their dinner in the Diner/Lounge car.
It's not so minor an issue when the Boston sleeper has a number of older and slower-moving passengers in it. On my trip, we got to cross the platform to the diner (a little cooperation between the sleeper attendant and the dining car crew) but we had to organize a team to get everybody back to the sleeper after dinner, which involved a walk from Schenectady to Utica.
So this time, instead of booking a roomette all the way in the Boston sleeper, I made two separate reservations: the first, a seat in Business Class from Boston to Albany; the second, a roomette in the New York section from Albany to Chicago.

True, in Albany I’ll have to gather up my belongings and relocate to the Viewliner sleeper, but I should have only one car between me and the diner. I saved $7.60 on the combined fares, too. Altogether, a small, but satisfying triumph, as long as I overlook the fact that it probably took me more than an hour on the new Amtrak web site to make it all happen.
Am I being churlish to suggest that the $7.60 represents the difference between the cup of tea offered to business class riders and the full lunch (OK, a sandwich) that the sleeper passengers get upon departing Framingham?

On the other hand, without the Century and its accompanying mystique, would we have a Lake Shore, or an Amtrak, at all?