Adolf Hitler himself countermanded one of Heinz Guderian's principles of armored warfare, with the intention of more quickly dividing the Allied forces in Belgium from those in France in order to prepare an encirclement of the remaining French armies south of the Somme, in order to avoid a replay of 1914-1918.  It worked.  Whether that countermand made Hitler sure enough of his instincts as to make him contemptuous of his generals when the military situation got worse historian Ronald Powaski doesn't say.  His Lightning War: Blitzkrieg in the West, 1940, tonight's Book Review No. 12, is a readable, relatively short account of the proper implementation of the Schlieffen Plan.  (First, you make a temporary alliance with the Russians.)  The accounts from the Belgian, British, French, German, and Netherlands point of view appear in their turn.  There are several useful maps.  Professor Powaski is careful about drawing inferences about missed opportunities, the most significant event being the British evacuation of Dunkirk.  Yes, another Hitler countermand arises.  All the same, Dunkirk was close enough to Britain for the Royal Air Force to contest the skies, for the Royal Navy to operate under cover of British shore defences, and perhaps the British were losing the war faster than the Germans could win it, dashing panzer columns notwithstanding.

(Cross-posted to 50 Book Challenge.)


It's easier for hack journalists to repeat soundbites than to analyze the facts.  Here, Rachel Maddow finds meaning in the comparison of medians. The video is not for the faint of heart.

Kay Hymowitz notes that those median differences conceal tough tradeoffs, and more generous family leave policies in Scandinavia accompany countries with differences in median income by sex.  (Note carefully: "accompany" carries no implication of cause or effect.)

But it's so much easier to smirk, "Listen, this is not a math is hard type of conversation."  Republican strategist Alex Castellanos's response, "If so, every greedy businessman in America would hire only women, save 25% and be hugely profitable" ought be deployed whenever misconceptions about pay inequities come up.  But to the women of the fevered brow, passing a law with a high-sounding title means there is a problem and it has been fixed.
But given that some of us believe that women are getting paid less than men for doing the same work, there is something called the Fair Pay Act.  There was a court ruling that said the statute of limitations, if you're getting paid less than a men, if you're subject to discrimination, starts before you know that discrimination is happening, effectively cutting off your recourse to the courts.  You didn't know you were being discriminated against.  You can't go.

The first law passed by this administration is the Fair Pay Act. 
That the short title says it is such an act does not make it such an act. That is where market tests do come in.


Although Wisconsin's almost-finished and not-quite-big-enough Talgo trains may never turn a wheel in revenue service in the midwest, Illinois and California are combining their purchase of coaching stock for the accelerated service on Illinois lines out of Chicago and augmented California service.
The $551 million request for proposals was announced by the Federal Railroad Administration, which is coordinating a California-led effort to purchase standardized bi-level rail fleets for use on Amtrak routes in California, Illinois, Michigan, Missouri, Indiana and potentially Iowa.

California will acquire 42 of the 130 new rail cars, which will be equipped with seating on two levels, WiFi and other customer amenities, officials said. The Midwest states will share use of 88 rail cars.
The existing California cars, on the San Diego and Bay Area services, are impressive. They're also capable of giving Britain's long-serving 43 Class Inter-City 125 trains a run for their money.
Existing Amtrak locomotives would be used initially to propel the new rail cars at speeds of up to 110 mph.

Bids will be let later to purchase new high-performance diesel locomotives capable of sustaining 125 mph, as well as for single-level passenger cars, officials said.
That "propel" might be a solecism, or it might anticipate push-pull operation. Is it too much to hope that the California cars might not go faster with a dual-mode electric under catenary?


The University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee provides college for more Wisconsin residents than Madison does.  It has long been the Cold Spring Shops position that UWM continue to raise its academic posture, rather than reposition itself in the sports world.

Nothing, though, has the staying power of a bad idea.
A 30,000-enrollment school must be called the University of Milwaukee for proper athletic branding. It certainly doesn't hurt in places such as Memphis, Cincinnati, Louisville, Houston and Pittsburgh.
Pittsburgh has a long academic tradition, it's across the street from Carnegie-Mellon, which also has a long academic tradition, and Pittsburgh's Cathedral of Learning inspired the Stalinist pile that houses Moscow State University.  If that's part of the branding, fine.  There are solid academic programs at the other institutions, although these names usually come up in late February or early March as "good basketball schools," not necessarily a compliment.

It's not enough, though, to raise the basketball profile.
Finally - and this is where the new [athletic director] cannot be afraid of butting heads with small-thinkers in this town - UWM should restore football.

Adjacent Shorewood High School is almost ready-made for a small, start-up non-scholarship program. Have a fundraiser for bleachers that would seat about 5,000. Better yet, find a stadium that is about to be razed and buy its seats on the cheap.

Hire UW-Whitewater coach Lance Leipold, who has built the best Division III program in the country. He does it without scholarships and with players from suburban Milwaukee, Madison and Northern Illinois. You're telling me he couldn't make it work at a place that deserves to be called the University of Milwaukee?
Thus does the quest to become the next Northern Illinois which aspires to be the next Boise State, never mind the expense, begin.

Those secondhand seats?  Look for the latest high school to upgrade its athletic plant.



Genl U. S. Grant famously described his 1864 Overland Campaign with a line, "I propose to fight it out on this line if it takes all summer."  That campaign took more than the summer, but ended the war, at a lower human toll than that levied by his predecessors in the east.  Twenty years later, the now past-President Grant lent his name to a Ponzi scheme (as events transpired) set up by Gilded Age hustlers Ferdinand Ward and James D. Fish.  The Ponzi scheme unraveled, and Mr Grant contracted a cancer.

To provide his survivors with an income, he, in partnership with Mark Twain, contracted to write his memoirs.  Grant's Final Victory: Ulysses S. Grant's Heroic Last Year, is the account of that writing.  Book Review No. 11 will note that it is a lot more.  Samuel Clemens, for instance, deserted to Nevada from a Missouri Rebel unit that was being pursued by the 21st Illinois Regt, then under the command of Col Grant.  President Grant expressed regret about the conquest of the Southwest from Mexico, and anticipated the potential of the U.S. as a world military and commercial power.  The reader will also learn of a Presidential appointment of a three-year-old grandson to West Point (yes, there was a Genl Ulysses Grant in service in both World Wars) and of other contemporary military histories of the Civil War that might make for instructive reading.

(Cross-posted to 50 Book Challenge.)


Waukesha County clerk Kathy Nickolaus does not fit the profile of an urban ward-heeler.  Several vote counts from Waukesha, however, have looked like something the elder Mayor Daley would have organized.
Nickolaus drew criticism last year during a tight state Supreme Court race when she announced nearly two days after the election that she failed to include 14,000 votes from Brookfield in her unofficial totals. The error helped lead to a statewide, taxpayer-financed recount and flipped what appeared to be a close loss for Justice David Prosser to a 7,000-vote victory.

A state Government Accountability Board investigation found Nickolaus violated state law in how she reported election results, but without criminal intent.

Results have been slow in other races, as well. During the April 3 election, Nickolaus failed to post timely election results online and update them periodically for the public, as promised.
She will not be standing for re-election.


There's a lengthy, by InstaPundit standards, discussion of The Paternalistic Impulse.  "See, the thing is, some people say that people aren’t clever enough to plan for their own retirement. But what makes anyone believe that people can then be clever enough to plan for other people’s retirements?"  That's long been a Cold Spring Shops theme.  (So long, in fact, that some of the links in those posts are probably dead.)

Call the roll: we have the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation as government insurance against managers of private pension funds putting all the money into one company's stock, or using the pension money as a piggy-bank.  That's exactly what Congress has been doing with the "Social" "Security" "Trust Fund" for these many years.  In Illinois, the legislature has been writing IOUs to the various state employee pension funds, so as to secure resources for their pet projects, and those IOUs have become more and more suspect.

The discussion at InstaPundit concludes, "As I say, if people are too dumb to plan for their own retirements, they’re probably too dumb to plan for other people’s, too. And certainly there’s no evidence that the folks in Washington are any less dumb than the public at large."

When you have eliminated the impossible ...


Walter Hudson summarizes in three paragraphs the case for Tea Partiers and Occupiers to make common cause.
Government is force. That is its essential and exclusive quality. Government has the unique capacity to lawfully coerce behavior. When that capacity is unmoored from justice, it becomes available to the highest bidder. That is what has happened in America. Lobbyists and donors are lined up to purchase the initiation of force against their economic and political competitors. Winners get to wield a club with which to bludgeon others into submission. Losers are S.O.L.

That is why constitutionally limited government is so important, and why Tea Partiers are so enamored with the Founding and all its historical trappings. Limiting the state’s power to strictly defined roles prevents regulatory capture and other forms of cronyism.

If Occupiers really want to defang corporate lobbyists, they should defang Washington. Some of them may eventually come to realize that.
Those paragraphs are part of a longer essay. The rest, though, is elaboration.


Yes, markets are environments in which there are incentives to reduce costs and seek productivity gains.  They are also environments in which scarce resources get reallocated to more rewarding uses.

Professor Craig Maher, a Wauwatosa resident with a post at Wisconsin-Oshkosh (hey, Wisconsin, do you regret not restoring the Valley 400?) recognizes one of the incentives speed-ups and pay freezes gives to ambitious people.
Since joining the UW-Oshkosh faculty, I have done all that is expected of a good academic. I consistently receive strong student evaluations, I publish consistently and on topics particularly germane to my course responsibilities in the MPA Program - public budgeting and finance. I was promoted to associate professor and will be promoted to the highest academic rank, full [c.q.] professor, at the end of this semester. My research was recognized in 2011, when I was awarded a highly coveted Endowed Professorship.

In addition to professional pursuits, I have been active in the Wauwatosa community, where I successfully ran for elective office in 2004 and 2008 (receiving more than 80% of the vote in 2008). My children are in Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts; my oldest daughter is in an after-school program called Kids Who Care, where the students interact with residents in a local retirement home.

The point of this is to highlight how much this city and area mean to my family and me, and any decision to leave would need to be significant.

As a faculty member, I have not had a salary increase in at least four years. In fact, my take-home pay today is lower than it was in 2009. The current political climate is such that I am reluctant to tell people what I do for a living because my profession is perceived as a drain on the state, that faculty are lazy and that they are paid exorbitant salaries.

As any smart professional would do, I finally decided that personal attachment can only go so far, so I tested the market and was recently hired at Northern Illinois University. The program I am joining is much stronger (nationally ranked), the salary is much better and the benefits are comparable.

My question is: If I was put in a position where I felt I needed to leave Milwaukee and Wisconsin, what does that say about the future of the UW System faculty?

It is widely known that UW System faculty are compensated well below faculty at comparable universities elsewhere. The response historically has been that a portion (never all) of the difference is made up on the benefits side (health insurance and pension). The changes this year now make the gap even greater. I worry about what that means for retention of top faculty in the UW System.
We're glad to welcome new colleagues, although I hope Professor Maher negotiated a good starting package, as Northern Illinois has sometimes frozen pay, apart from making counter-offers to outside offers.  Headquarters is receptive to the observation that "if you can get a better offer, we'll match it" forces the people most likely to receive such offers to cast about for offers, and there have been occasional raises, and, thus far, no layoffs or furloughs.  On the other hand, we've had a lot of retirements, as uncertainty about the future of the state pension funds, and a change in the benefit formula going forward, has induced people to cash in now.

Commenters to Professor Maher's column note that Northern Illinois is a larger university, and the program he is joining, public administration, is one of the country's best.  All true, and both of those things were true long before the football program got noticed.  That's no reason for complacency in Wisconsin.  Start treating attrition as "those people would have left anyway" and do nothing about the working conditions, watch a change in the criteria by which you define "would have left anyway."  In markets, resources are reallocated from less rewarding and less productive to more rewarding and more productive uses.



California's bullet train service might go into operation sooner, and more cheaply.
Some of the cost and time savings will come from a “blended” approach to rail construction, merging the new bullet trains with existing commuter lines. It would involve upgrading commuter rail in L.A. and in the San Francisco Bay Area while building the initial HSR line in the Central Valley as planned using federal funds.  Los Angeles gets linked to the Central Valley first, then San Francisco in a following phase.
The blended approach, however, involves changes of trains, an inconvenience to passengers, until the entire high-speed line is in place. That will discourage passengers. On a through train, you may be late, but you will get to your destination. On a train that makes connections, you may be late, and fail to make your connection. Sometimes that's adventurous, when a failed six minute connection in Cologne requires an improvised search for quarters in Brussels. But as a regular business proposition, it is something to be avoided.  The editorial writers of the Sacramento Bee are satisfied with the changes of trains, at least for now.
From Merced to Burbank, no longer would passenger trains, like Amtrak's San Joaquin, have to share travel with BNSF or Union Pacific freight lines – which have a maximum speed of 79 miles per hour.

This dedicated tracking not only would improve passenger service, it would free up freight capacity south of Merced. And no longer would passengers have to take a bus from Bakersfield to Burbank – because the only rail line is a busy, slow Union Pacific freight line over the Tehachapi Mountains. High-speed rail would have its own tracks.

In that first phase, the system also would connect, through a "blended system" to existing  – making the cost to build the larger network a lot cheaper. Riders would jump off high-speed rail at Burbank and on to Metrolink to get to Los Angeles. As High-Speed Rail Authority chairman Dan Richard said, "That beats the hell out of the car trip" – and with future improvements would beat airplane travel.

In our region, passengers would see improvements in Amtrak's San Joaquin rail service between Sacramento and Merced – improving speeds from 79 mph to 125 mph. Passengers from the Sacramento region would be able to get to greater Los Angeles with a single transfer, cutting travel time from what is now almost eight hours to just over five hours – competitive with car travel.
The suggested 125 mph speed on the new line suggests either best-practice diesel trains, or electrification. The commuter lines are not electrified, although the Peninsula commute service may be electrified as part of the Passenger Rail upgrades.  Transfers between faster intercity trains and suburban trains presumably take place at the end of electrified zones.

That involves unnecessary inconvenience for passengers.  Railroads have, for a long time, looked for ways to run an electric locomotive beyond the wires, either with an onboard power plant or with a battery.

Lackawanna tri-power locomotive 3501, somewhere in New Jersey.
Railroad Magazine photograph. 
Scanned from p. 302 of Middleton, When the Steam Railroads Electrified.

In 1930, the state of the art was a locomotive with electric motors energized by the overhead wire, or by a battery recharged by an onboard diesel-powered generator.  Hermann Lemp had recently worked out the control system that prevented the electric motors, which draw maximum current at startup, from stalling out the diesel engine.  A hybrid that could go from battery to diesel-energized motors was not in the card.

Locomotive builders have learned a few things in the past eighty years.  New Jersey Transit operate a fleet of dual-mode locomotives, originally purchased with the intent of operating through trains from the never-electrified Erie lines into Penn Station, a project that has been set back by the cancellation of the new North River tunnels into the sub-sub-basement of Penn Station.  The carrier still sees possibilities for dual mode operation of commuter trains.
"This kind of equipment never existed; this is the first of its kind," [Martin E.] Robins, director emeritus of the Alan M. Voorhees Transportation Center at Rutgers University [and retired from New Jersey Transit], said as he eyed a dual-powered locomotive on Track A at Newark Penn Station. "There were years when it was said this kind of a locomotive could never be built."

Transit officials say the locomotives will allow for more one-seat rides for the thousands of passengers who now must transfer between trains.

At the Wayne Transit Center, for example, passengers travelling to New York City now ride a diesel-powered train for 10 minutes to Montclair State University. Then, after a 16-minute wait, they board an electric-powered train and ride 59 minutes to New York Penn Station because a diesel train can’t be operated in the tunnels to New York.
By "this type of locomotive, he's presumably referring to a locomotive capable of sustained running either in electric or diesel-electric mode. New Haven (now Metro-North in Connecticut) and Long Island have such locomotives, capable of drawing power from the third rail for short distances, then having extended range in diesel mode, and British Rail's Southern Region had locomotives with a short range in diesel mode, as was the case for Lackawanna's two tri-power units.

The applicability of such power to California is evident.  Electrify the Peninsula commute zone and the high-speed lines with the same voltage and frequency, then equip the diesel with sufficient fuel capacity to cover the non-electrified parts, and offer a single seat service, with a mode change during a station stop.


A recent review of David Lindsay-Abaire's Good People suggests "The American theater rediscovers class."  Presumably that's about theater for money, as theater for tenure has been all about Race and Class and Gender for a long time.  The message of the play, however, might have an interpretation other than the Theoretically Correct version.
Mike’s young, African-American wife—a literature professor at Boston University—first mistakes Margie for one of the party-rental crew come to pick up tables and glasses. As soon as Kate realizes her mistake, her social graciousness kicks in. She invites Margie to stay for wine and cheese—much to Mike’s dismay—and even eventually offers her a job as their daughter’s babysitter, a prospect that her husband rejects out of hand.
The Theoretically Correct perspective is one in which people who live in glass bubbles don't understand how others live.
Class perceptions, stereotyping and divisions permeate every scene and almost every moment. Good People is a telling portrait of “miserable” poor white working-class Americans encountering the world of the “comfortable” professional class (words used throughout the play).
Perhaps so, but the attitude shift of the representative of the Coastal Elite on discovering she is interacting with another representative of the Coastal Elite reminds me of a story, "Boil the Best Tea!", that I read long ago.  An abbot who forgets his manners learns a lesson that persists to this day.

Or, as the Pennsylvania Railroad put it, "it's nice to be important, but it's more important to be nice."



With final exams approaching, we hope that our students have taken an education from their midterms and class projects, and are prepared to match or exceed their efforts so far.

In business, the grading curve is somewhat steeper, and there are scant opportunities to wheedle a higher grade out of the professor.  (I'm not sure whether the use of electronic mail makes for more wheedling, or less.  It's easier to send a message, rather than lurk around the professor's office to "discuss" a grade, but it's also easier to send a quick "no.")  Thus, some companies go out of business, and some companies adjust.  The Renaissance of American Steel is about the companies, some legacy steel producers in the U.S. and Canada, some in other countries, that made the adjustment to the world economic recovery after World War II.  It's an academic work, from Oxford University Press, but Book Review No. 10 recommends it anyway.  The authors note both the tendency of Big Steel's management to leave well enough alone and to buy labor peace, and later to make use of all the management fads of the latter years of the twentieth century, without irony or overanalysis.  The focus is on the success stories, including some startup companies, and it went into print in 1996, before the latest round of consolidations in the legacy steel companies.  It's an instructive introduction to the recent evolution of an industry that was once basic to the rest of manufacturing, and remains useful in the so-called information economy.

(Cross-posted to 50 Book Challenge.)


A Newmark's Door posting brings to our attention the University of California at Merced, which the American Spectator characterizes as Boondoggle U.  California has a tiered system of higher education, with the most favored high school graduates guaranteed a slot in the University of California system, the next-most-favored (or perhaps the high school social set) being eligible for the California State system, and everybody else eligible for community college and perhaps a second shot at the four-year degree.  There is jockeying among the tiers, with some of the California State universities raising their academic profile, and within the University of California, some campuses are more equal than others.
Under California law all high school seniors in the state who either rank in the top 9 percent of applicants as measured by grades and standardized-test scores, or in the top 9 percent of their own high school classes, are entitled to automatic admission to one of the UC campuses. Beyond that minimum threshold, the admissions process can be highly competitive, with the system’s flagship campus, the 36,000-student UC Berkeley, and its most sought-after campus, the 40,000-student, Beverly Hills-adjacent UCLA, garnering the most applications and able to pick and choose among their would-be freshmen, accepting perhaps one out of four.

The applicants rejected by the UC campuses where they applied go into the referral pool, for admission to safety-net campuses with empty freshman slots. For several years UC Riverside, located in the heart of the Inland Empire smog belt 50 miles east of downtown Los Angeles, shared reserve-pool status with UC Merced at the bottom of the heap. Nowadays, UC Riverside has plenty of takers. It is reasonably close to L.A., and the recession makes its $12,000-a-year tuition (standard at all UC campuses) look like a bargain compared with that of private colleges in Southern California. That leaves UC Merced as “the Rodney Dangerfield of the system,” as one professor whom I interviewed phrased it. Indeed, until UC Merced slightly altered its acceptance process last year to focus on students who expressed actual interest in attending, it was not unusual for high school seniors feeling depressed because they didn’t get into Berkeley to find themselves surprised by “Congratulations!” letters from a campus of whose existence, much less location, they might not have been entirely aware.
Merced is a city of contrasts. The article suggests the Valley never recovered from being Grapes of Wrath country.  And yet, there are possibilities.
A once-fine-looking Main Street is a bricolage of busy ethnic restaurants and vacant storefronts. The grandest structure, an Art Deco movie palace called the Mainzer Theater, has been empty since 2006. The residential neighborhoods adjacent to downtown abound with stucco-coated classic California bungalows with square-pillared front porches. They would be ripe objects for gentrification somewhere else. But most of Merced’s potentially gentrifying middle class long ago migrated to the city’s northern outskirts, and many of the old neighborhoods left behind bear all the indicia of rural poverty: bedraggled yards, graffiti, multiple pickup trucks cramming driveways and front lawns (a sign of high per-room population density), and hastily built fortress-fences that signal gangs and theft nearby. Merced’s claims to stature these days seem to rest on its billing itself as the “Gateway to Yosemite”—though the national park is a good 90 miles to the northeast—and the city’s recently won honor as a station stop on California’s controversial and yet-to-be-built high-speed rail line, whose anticipated $98 billion price tag suggests it may never come into being.

The nearest city of any size is Fresno, population 495,000, 54 miles south of Merced on Highway 99 and the largest urban center in the San Joaquin Valley. Fresno is in many ways Merced writ large: 40 percent Hispanic, plagued by gang violence, and with a deserted downtown pockmarked with parking lots where since-razed retail stores and office buildings once stood. (On my Monday morning visit to downtown Fresno the only visible sidewalk activity was a Service Employees International Union picket.) To get to a real city with urban glamour—and urban white-collar jobs—you have to drive two and a half hours and 130 miles across the Coast Range to San Francisco.
Yes, but Fresno State has a successful mid-major football program, despite a losing encounter to the next Boise State on Boise State's field.  Is a spot at an obscure University of California system campus more or less desirable than a spot at a California State campus with football visibility?  "Nothing spreads the word to young people, across the country, than athletics."

It's those transportation options I wish to address.  Fresno and Merced have several trains daily to Sacramento and to Oakland (the Amtrak timetable suggests changing to the Bay Area Rapid Transit at Richmond for San Francisco.)  Those trains go no farther east than Bakersfield, where the existing rail line, shared by Union Pacific and BNSF, tackles the Tehachapi Pass.  Today's service is almost as frequent than the Valley enjoyed in 1954, when Santa Fe offered four trains a day between Bakersfield and Oakland, with a connecting bus Los Angeles to Bakersfield, and Southern Pacific had one day and two overnight trains originating or terminating in Los Angeles, and a big improvement over what remained at Amtrak Day.  Merced is along a proposed first stage of the California High Speed Rail project, a line from Chowchilla to Bakersfield, that opponents fear will be a waste of money.  At least one California-Merced student likes the idea of faster trains to the big cities.  Union Pacific is on record opposing the plan, although its freight interests might be at stake.
[Union Pacific] said the authority’s plans are “incomplete and contradictory,” adding that the drawings of the track alignment show “unmistakable encroachments” on Union Pacific property. “Union Pacific will not surrender or convey any property that could be used to support freight railroad operations,” the statement said.

[California High Speed Rail] Authority spokeswoman Rachel Wall said it has a good relationship with Union Pacific. “We are working to plan the state’s high speed rail system in a way that ensures their future growth potential is preserved and that the safety, security and reliability of their freight operations remain intact,” Wall told the [Los Angeles] Times.

The high speed line would extensively utilize BNSF Railway property. In its comments to the authority, BNSF said it “remains willing to discuss and explore” allowing the high speed trains onto its right of way. But until the impact on its freight operations is known, the company said, it is not willing to agree that the plans are acceptable.
I suspect that James J. Hill or Fred Gurley would be able to reach agreement with somebody who proposed to provide capacity that would permit faster operation of intermodal and red-ball produce trains along with the passenger trains, and a passenger rail corridor capable of 125 mph operation with diesels has promise. But ultimately, those trains have to get to the coastal population centers.  The Sacramento Bee understands that providing passenger capacity on roadways and airways also involves costs.
Californians weighing the multi-billion-dollar cost of high-speed rail and improved conventional rail also have to consider the alternative – the cost of expanding the state's highways or building new airports. This latest plan makes it ever-more-clear that many details remain to be worked out – and any estimates will have to be continually revisited. This remains high-risk.
But a bad rail plan is not an improvement on the status quo, maltimed traffic lights and security screening notwithstanding.  Slowly, a plan that might work is taking shape.
The plan combines the existing commitment to proceed with construction of the first rail segment in the Central Valley with near-term actions aimed at upgrading rail facilities at both ends of the proposed LA-to-SF high-speed line. Specifically, the so-called “bookend” strategy will involve “blending” high-speed rail service with commuter rail service in existing Bay Area and Southern California rail corridors.

At the northern end of the line, between San Francisco and San Jose, bullet trains would share track with Caltrain commuter trains. Both would benefit from new investments in electrification, signaling systems, bridge replacements, passing tracks and grade crossings elimination. Similar type of improvements would be introduced at the Los Angeles/Orange County/San Diego ends of the line, benefitting LA’s Metrolink and other Southern California commuter rail and transit systems.

Improving the urban “bookends” of the system will make it possible to increase the speed of local commuter trains and thus bring immediate benefits to large segments of California’s urban population. It will be a good investment whether or not the overall $98 billion high-speed rail project ever goes forward, said Will Kempton, chief executive of the Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA) and Chairman of the independent Peer Review Group advising the High Speed Rail Authority.
Improvements to the commuter train operations will be beneficial to more people. The bullet trains of Europe and China and Japan get the attention, but most of the ridership is on commuter trains and puddle-jumpers.  Destination: Freedom reports that the latest plan (.pdf) has been approved by the Authority.  The bookending and the blending will not work, however, if passengers have to change trains.

We'll take up the concept of through service in a subsequent post.


The columnist correctly identifies the effect of excessive process on getting anything done.
And, finally, the huge expansion of the federal government, and the increasing importance of money in politics, have hugely expanded the number of special-interest lobbies and their ability to influence and clog decision-making.

Indeed, America today increasingly looks like the society that the political scientist Mancur Olson wrote about in his 1982 classic “The Rise and Decline of Nations.” He warned that when a country amasses too many highly focused special-interest lobbies — which have an inherent advantage over the broad majority, which is fixated on the well-being of the country as a whole — they can, like a multilimbed octopus, choke the life out of a political system, unless the majority truly mobilizes against them.

To put it another way, says [historian Frank] Fukuyama, America’s collection of minority special-interest groups is now bigger, more mobilized and richer than ever, while all the mechanisms to enforce the will of the majority are weaker than ever. The effect of this is either legislative paralysis or suboptimal, Rube Goldberg-esque, patched-together-compromises, often made in response to crises with no due diligence. That is our vetocracy.
But in Thomas Friedman's world, stronger governance, not a rollback of governance, is the way out of the vetocracy.  Daniel J. Mitchell reacts.
This is a facepalm moment. Friedman begins his column by complaining that our system is sclerotic and that this makes it hard for politicians to enact more laws, yet he then admits that our system is sclerotic because government is too big already. And it goes without saying (but I’ll say it anyway) that Friedman wants to make government even bigger – which is why he’s complaining about gridlock in the first place!
InstaPundit, in proper terse fashion, summarizes in one sentence. "If the federal government can’t keep the President’s bodyguards from drinking and whoring on duty, how likely is it to be able to run anything competently?"

Meanwhile, Pejman Yousefzadeh finds another Thomas Friedman column that carries the Utopian Wonkery(TM) to excess.
 I still hope Michael Bloomberg will reconsider running for president as an independent candidate, if only to participate in the presidential debates and give our two-party system the shock it needs.
The conceit of the governing class, whether in elected office, in the higher ranks of the civil service, or as court intellectuals in the academy, is that getting the Right People and the Proper Policies in place will Secure the Blefsings of Technocracy to Ourselves and to Our Pofterity.

Mr Yousefzadeh makes a game out of mocking that conceit.  I'll take a pet Cold Spring Shops theme and run with it.
I fear that not even an independent presidential run by Michael Bloomberg will shock the system enough to get the traffic lights in DeKalb synchronized.
Or, put in Instapundit form.  If the government can't time the traffic lights on one thoroughfare, how likely is it to run anything bigger competently?


The Northern Star provides a history of the third building of the State Teachers College, Williston Hall.

It went into service as the women's dorm.

Scanned from Volume 4, Page 109 of Hopkins Stolp Peffers's
Aurora-Elgin Area Street Cars & Interurbans.

The distinctive arched windows are taking shape.  The materials are being unloaded from boxcars delivered by the DeKalb-Sycamore Interurban, which also operated an electric park on the southwest outskirts of Sycamore.  (Thus Electric Park Avenue.)

The college took its parietals seriously.
“We’d walk them around and they would tell us stories about when they lived here,” [Shevawn] Eaton [who has a job title longer than the excerpt] said. “At night, the girls would check in and had to be in a certain time. They would ring a doorbell and if they were a minute late, they said they might get kicked out. That’s how serious it was back then.”
Apparently, though, not so onerous as to be reason for a large protest.



Northern Illinois president John Peters sees a dream become concrete.
Ultimately, Peters thought that if NIU was going to be serious about its sports, the school would need an indoor practice facility to shield itself from the weather and give teams other training options. A building that would benefit each of NIU's athletic programs.

Saturday was another step in Peters' vision becoming a reality, with the ceremonial groundbreaking of the Kenneth and Ellen Chessick Practice Center, which will be built on the field north of the Jeffrey and Kimberly Yordon Center.
Donors have contributed all but $800K of the building's estimated construction cost, $9.5m.

I suppose the academic departments ought to do their own capital campaigns, in order to deal with roof leaks and crumbling concrete and worn-out ceilings.
"We have high expectations because private donors are investing a lot of money, it's a priority with the university," Peters said. "We want competitive programs that draw interest.

"Nothing spreads the word nationally to young people, across the country, like athletics."
Maybe.  Boise State comes up in the enthusiasm.  A post on a prior football achievement offers background on what Boise has to offer in the library and the classroom.  Suffice it to say that new quarters for the theater program and a new concert hall and more visibility for the faculty might also bring in those out-of-state students the university seeks to attract.


Baby Boomers may be taking their pensions or walking away, financial crunch or no.


Two insightful, or disturbing, Trenchant Observations from this morning's Washington Week in Review.  (No, not the truthfully-named PBS show, rather all the current events programming on the major networks all of which contribute to the atmosphere of Crisis Calling For More Federal Action.)

First up, on Fox News Sunday, Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman describing the antics of Secret Service agents in Colombia.  Twice.  "College students away on spring weekend."  Ouch.

Next, Washington Post opinionator E. J. Dionne, on Meet the Press.  "Government can accomplish great things."  Scandals thus "feed doubt" in particular about Progressive Initiatives.



In higher education, the dominant strategy for ambitious academics is to cheat.
To survive professionally, scientists feel the need to publish as many papers as possible, and to get them into high-profile journals. And sometimes they cut corners or even commit misconduct to get there.

To measure this claim, Dr. [Ferric C.] Fang [editor of Infection and Immunity] and Dr. [Arturo] Casadevall [also an editor] looked at the rate of retractions in 17 journals from 2001 to 2010 and compared it with the journals’ “impact factor,” a score based on how often their papers are cited by scientists. The higher a journal’s impact factor, the two editors found, the higher its retraction rate.

The highest “retraction index” in the study went to one of the world’s leading medical journals, The New England Journal of Medicine. In a statement for this article, it questioned the study’s methodology, noting that it considered only papers with abstracts, which are included in a small fraction of studies published in each issue. “Because our denominator was low, the index was high,” the statement said.

Monica M. Bradford, executive editor of the journal Science, suggested that the extra attention high-impact journals get might be part of the reason for their higher rate of retraction. “Papers making the most dramatic advances will be subject to the most scrutiny,” she said.

Dr. Fang says that may well be true, but adds that it cuts both ways — that the scramble to publish in high-impact journals may be leading to more and more errors. Each year, every laboratory produces a new crop of Ph.D.’s, who must compete for a small number of jobs, and the competition is getting fiercer. In 1973, more than half of biologists had a tenure-track job within six years of getting a Ph.D. By 2006 the figure was down to 15 percent.
Academic publication is subject to confirmation biases and to data mining, which can lead to error that must be corrected.

The push for academic prestige is taking a toll on new faculty, Casting Out Nines's Robert Talbert asserts.
I’ve heard many stories of faculty colleagues who routinely spend 90+ hours a week doing work, and seeing spouses and family only for an hour or so a day at the dinner table before disappearing to grade or work in the lab until 2 AM. And these stories are not from people in R1 universities — quite often they’re working in small liberal arts colleges and regional universities. It seems not to depend on the size or type of the institution.

Small liberal arts colleges can actually be some of the worst offenders in this. In some places, faculty quality gets implicitly tied to the degree to which one sacrifices freedom and time — faculty who volunteer to teach 16+ credits a semester and stay on campus doing review sessions until 11pm are seen as “more caring” than those faculty who don’t. And as I discovered last year during my job search, there’s a shocking mission creep among SLAC’s toward a more research-intensive focus among new faculty, with some positions advertising for people with strong research backgrounds in specialized technical areas with the expectation of conducting large-scale undergraduate research on top of a 4/4 teaching load. A colleague recently said to me that small liberal arts colleges can eat productive people alive, and I’m beginning to believe it.

At some point, if this continues, two things are going to happen.

First, faculty are simply going to burn out and be of no use either in the classroom or in research, or else they’ll just walk away from the profession, and the only people left to teach those courses will be people who are either professionally or emotionally incapable of doing a good job. Or they’ll be staffed by careerists who have made an art of strategically making pedagogical choices that are better for the professor than they are for the students while making students happy enough in the moment not to notice.

Second, the Ph.D. pipeline will dry up as smart young people with the desire to work in higher ed will realize that it will boil down to a choice between their career and the rest of their lives, and choose the latter.
Perhaps the small colleges seek to improve their position, or perhaps those hard-working professors do.  As long as it's fun, or opportunities to improve one's position, ambitious people will work.  A Times Higher Education report cautions that the academic vocation is reverting to vows of poverty and chastity, but without the reward on earth as it is in Heaven.
[University College Dublin's Kathleen] Lynch believes that "the carelessness of education" (and a consequent distortion of research agendas) has its origins in a "classical Cartesian" determination to keep emotion out of scholarly work, and in "positivist norms" based on "the separation between fact and value", but thinks the trend is being greatly intensified by the "new managerialism". Today's "idealized worker", as a result, is "one that is available 24/7 without ties or responsibilities that will hinder her or his productive capacities. She or he is unencumbered and on-call, even if not 'at work'."

One could almost expand this into a kind of conspiracy theory. Think, for example, of a remote rural American campus where there are few other attractions to prevent people from working all their waking hours. While universities have monastic origins, it is neither realistic nor legal to create a higher education institution employing only celibate men. Yet the next best thing to an academic without any emotional or sexual ties to "distract" them is someone whose partner or spouse lives thousands of miles away and who is either childless or has managed to subcontract all her, or more likely his, "care work" to others. Many universities are de facto staffed by such people.
No conspiracy is required if ambitious people are willing to do the work, deferring gratification or finding other outlets for their leisure time. The article suggests that higher education will face a staffing problem, if holding any kind of an academic job involves too much sacrifice of a private life.


The Pope Center enlists two economists from Ball State.  Cecil Bohanon for the affirmative.
Economists in an academic setting have the unique ability and obligation to offer good economic analysis. Heaven knows there are many non-economists quite willing to offer bad economic analysis. Indeed, most issues discussed on a college campus cry out for economic insights. Providing these insights is part of our job, even if we are not likely to persuade everyone of the wisdom of our thinking. All we can do is offer educational opportunities—we cannot assure they will be appreciated. But we know they will not be appreciated if they are not aired.
He suggests the effort is for nought, to the extent that the students are unprepared.
Economic lessons do not come easy to most; mastering economic concepts requires discipline and effort far beyond that usually exerted in other principles-level courses. To mix some metaphors, economists may be called to cast our bread on the waters but we should not be casting our pearls to the swine. Well, maybe not swine—but at least not to the unprepared. Nevertheless, I do not see economists primarily as technicians for policy wonks, but rather as critics and educators ever mindful of Fredrich Hayek’s words that “the curious task of economics is to demonstrate to men how little they really know about what they imagine they can design.”
That task can be made simpler if the professor treats an introduction to economics as an introduction to economics, rather than an opportunity to present dozens of figures and thousands of concepts (yes, somebody did once count all the concepts in one of those macro-micro hardbacks to come up with those numbers).

Marilyn Flowers, for the negative, appears to be struggling with the nature of that opportunity.
Every graduate would have to pass a course in economics. Many of today’s students would find that very hard to do given the level of rigor currently present in most economics courses.

There are two possible responses.  One is to let the economics course weed out 20 percent or more of matriculates.  The other is to lower the level of rigor so that more students can pass.  Given that tuition and fees account for ever-increasing proportions of college revenues, the pressure to keep students in college and collect their money as long as possible is irresistible.  The resulting pressure on economics faculty to “dumb down” their courses will also be irresistible. Most students don’t want tough courses, and we in higher education tend to give them what they want.  We already have too many “easy” courses in the curriculum.  A requirement that all students pass an economics course will only add to the problem.
There's nothing wrong with state universities using introductory courses (calculus or organic chemistry or economics or logic) as weeders. At the same time, it doesn't follow that stripping out some of those figures and most of those concepts is dumbing down the course.  Opportunity cost is fundamental, and Robert Frank's 2005 column on whether teaching faculty gets it is still current.  Scarcity, trading for mutual gain, and specializing by comparative advantage are also fundamental, and there are ways to make sure that beginners get these ideas, none of which are in any way trivial.

I'm hopeful that the New York Times forum on teaching economics didn't air on April Fool's Day for that reason.


Spring cleaning is different now that consumer electronics can't go to the dump.
DeKalb Police directed traffic that lined West Dresser Road during the first few hours of the recycling event. [Genoa resident] Kathy Sheahan said she counted about 80 cars during the half-hour wait to drop off a few TVs, computer monitors, a word processor, cellphones and batteries. Springmire said Saturday was the second recycling event where police helped with traffic.

Two 53-foot semitrailers and a box trailer filled up quickly, with one-and-a-half trailers filled by about 10 a.m. Advanced Technology Recycling in Pontiac was the recycling agency that hauled electronics away.
Math problem: is the carbon footprint of all those cars (including more than a few sport-utes, pickups, and vans) moving up in the queue a net environmental loss, compared to the materials recovered by the recycling company?

A goodly number of monitors and computer towers were on those trailers by 10 am.  What does that say about the durability of motherboards, or about the effect of new software and operating systems on the replacement rate of new computers?


A beach off the main roads along the Wisconsin River is a clothing-optional beach, but devotees don't want it becoming a reprise of sex, drugs, and rock-'n-roll.


Daisy Grewal of Stanford presents a roundup of research that suggests "I got mine" is part of the difference.
Those who hold most of the power in this country, political and otherwise, tend to come from privileged backgrounds. If social class influences how much we care about others, then the most powerful among us may be the least likely to make decisions that help the needy and the poor. They may also be the most likely to engage in unethical behavior.
A New York Times forum on the role of morality, or the lack thereof, on Wall Street offers a variety of further perspectives.



The Fifty Book Challenge has welcomed a goodly number of new members, and some of them have been ambitious at getting their fifty books for 2012 read in the first quarter.  I continue to play along, and there's a realistic hope of fifty by the end of the year, but if not, well, that's a mountain I've already climbed.  Herewith the first quarter summary, with links to detailed reports at the Challenge.  Some books are particularly good (+), others particularly bad (-).
  1. Locked On, 11 January 2012.
  2. Death of the Liberal Class, 12 January 2012.
  3. Shoveling Fuel for a Runaway Train: Errant Economists, Shameful Spenders, and a Plan to Stop Them All, 29 January 2012.
  4. Degrees of Inequality: Culture, Class, and Gender in American Higher Education, 30 January 2012.
  5. A Nation of Moochers: America's Addiction to Getting Something for Nothing, 12 February 2012.
  6. Five Days That Shocked the World: Eyewitness Accounts from Europe at the End of World War II, 3 March 2012 (+).
  7. The Fall of the Faculty: The Rise of the All-Administrative University and Why It Matters, 13 March 2012.
  8. The Hunger Games Companion, 23 March 2012.
  9. Last Day on Earth: A Portrait of the NIU School Shooter, 29 March 2012.
I'll start a new bookworm.


(Cross-posted to European Tribune and 50 Book Challenge.)


In California, money is so tight that Daniel Luzer of Washington Monthly's College Guide asserts it's cheaper for a middle-class student to attend Princeton rather than Cal State.  That is, if Princeton would have such a student.  Once upon a time, California's public universities were designed to serve different populations: the best of the best would have space at Berkeley or UCLA (motto: On! Wisconsin!) or San Diego or Davis, and the remainder of the top third, or top half, or what have you, of high school graduates would have a space at one of the California State campuses.

Over the years, those distinctions have blurred, enough so that the latest Instapundit college bubble update is the end of a graduate student tuition subsidy, although affected graduate students will be eligible for loans.  Because graduate students are not eligible for several forms of financial aid, the policy may lead to fewer graduate students enrolled.  The received wisdom, according to the house organ for business as usual, is that the presence of graduate students acts as a stimulus for faculty research.  Jane S. Shaw offers a selection of quotes from that article, suggesting that professorial preference for offering graduate seminars  steals resources from the undergraduate programs.

The more fundamental problem, however, is whether the graduate and undergraduate programs in the California State system are offering programming useful to students and conducive to faculty morale.  The Cold Spring Shops position has long been that raising the academic profile of a university is desirable, because there is excess demand for degrees from well-regarded institutions, and the current list of 100 claimants to be among the top 25 institutions does not produce enough graduates to meet the economy's demand for human capital.

Thus, to the extent that California State system universities are raising their academic profile, in order that applicants denied admission at Davis or San Diego or Berkeley get an academic challenge consistent with their preparation, and to the extent that the graduate programs contribute positively to that raising, the loss of those resources from the graduate programs will be a dis-service to the undergraduate students, and faculty morale will suffer.

On the other hand, if the graduate programs are offered as a polite fiction by which ambitious -- by third world standards -- seekers of green cards can obtain an advanced degree as first step toward that green card -- without having to engage in any leading-edge scholarship -- perhaps with the complicity of faculty who like the cachet of a graduate program but don't like doing the work required to publish in the leading journals -- the defunding of graduate students is a required step toward ending that polite fiction, and an opportunity for faculty members demoralized by the dominance of Berkeley rejects in their graduate programs to call for more careful screening of incoming graduate students in the first place.  Then, perhaps, faculty will be able to use their leading-edge skills in their graduate seminars.


Fossil-Fuel Subsidies Are the Real Job Killers.

But we are the ones fighting to put people back to work and ensure that we have a sustainable economy for generations to come. The oil and gas industry may have an army of 786 lobbyists, but we tally in the hundreds of thousands.
Let us hope these people are not fighting for the economy that was sustained for generations that preceded.

That's a great-granduncle of mine, making a living selling Watkins products out of a horse-drawn carriage somewhere in Minnesota or the Dakotas, late in the nineteenth century, before the Standard Oil Trust and Henry Ford destroyed the jobs of all the coachmakers and farriers that kept Watkins on the roads.
 According to the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts–Amherst, investment in a green infrastructure program would create nearly four times as many jobs as an equal investment in oil and gas.
That's a winning proposition, provided it's not a return to those thrilling days of yesteryear when sustainable technology meant recycling the manure onto the crops and the bones of the broken-down horses into adhesives.


Some time ago, Going Underground reported on a record-setting effort by a visitor to Chicago who rode the entire Chicago L in nine hours, 36 minutes, 33 seconds.  There's an online community, competing for bragging rights to covering all rail lines of a city's rapid transit system in the fastest possible time.  The London record is 16 hours, 29 minutes, 13 seconds, but that does not include the Docklands Light Railway and the Overground, as the Underground does not run owl cars, and a rider will not be able to include those parts of the network and complete all lines before curfew.

In New York City, the record is something less than 24 hours, and completing it in a record time requires careful planning so as to be able to take advantage of the owl cars that do operate.  Years ago, a contestant on "To Tell The Truth" claimed to have ridden the entire system on one fare.

That's not feasible in Chicago, because of the placement of paid-fare areas at Dempster Street on the Skokie service and at Linden in Wilmette.  There is, however, a new Chicago record.  Nine hours, eight minutes.  Set by Chicagoans.  It's possible that the Briton who recorded the 9:36:33 would have done the entire system in a faster time had he not been fooled by the bus-to-train transfer somewhere on one of the expressway median lines.  Local knowledge is useful.

In that same article comes the felicitous description of the Northwestern Elevated main line as a "miniature train highway."  Too bad there were no Electroliners or sailors' specials going by at great speeds on the outer tracks.



A friend of the Democrats named Hilary Rosen makes a comment on CNN about the lifestyles of the rich and famous.
Rosen argued that, as the wife of a multimillionaire, Ann Romney’s experience wasn’t typical of most working mothers. Her suggestion that Romney didn’t work sparked instant online rebuke.
Republicans argued back, and several high Obama Administration officials, including Mrs Obama, issued rebukes.  A clarification Ms Rosen issued later did not surprise me.
“This isn’t about whether Ann Romney or I work. Other women of some means can afford to make a choice to stay at home and raise kids,” said Rosen on CNN. “Most women in America, let’s face it, don’t have that choice. They have to be working moms and home moms and that’s the piece that I am not hearing from the Romney camp. Instead everybody’s attacking me, that’s fine. Attack me. But it does not erase his woeful record on this issue.”
Time for a refresher course on the Say Aggregation Principle.  "Thus, to hope that a family can "get by" on one income with current levels of labor force participation by women is to hope that the laws of conservation in economics don't work." It has less to do with Republican policies, or the lack thereof, than it has to do with increases in labor force participation by women, which, at the margin, bids up the prices of goods and services.  And sometimes women opt out of the labor force because it's not worth it.

Perhaps it's time for Ms Rosen to have a conversation with Elizabeth (Two Income Trap) Warren.


The biggest protest in the history of Northern Illinois occurred fifty years ago.  It didn't involve seating at a lunch counter or corporate complicity with a war effort.
It’s 1962 at NIU.

All women must return to their residence by 10 p.m. daily. All dorms are single-sex buildings; opposite sex is only allowed in the lobby. Students over 21 wanting to live off-campus must live in approved housing by the university. Any women that live off-campus must have a housemother.

Today, restrictions like these may seem unreal, but in 1962, they were something NIU students thought were worth fighting.

On April 13, 1962, just 50 years ago, an estimated 1,500 to 2,000 students gathered outside of Swen Parson Hall in protest for action.
Those rules stick with you. I started university in 1971, and my mom, in all innocence, inquired where the "boundaries" were (these referring to parts of town where students, especially women alone or in groups, dare not go). Long gone.  (But we were cautioned about girls removing their shoes in our rooms.)

What intrigues is that the protest organizer, retired Daily Chronicle editor Barry Schrader, sees the social media as an impediment to collective action.
Schrader said he believes there isn’t as much student activism anymore because everyone has been “lulled into complacency” by the digital age.

“They stare at the computer all day long, they’re texting on their iPads, iPods and iPhones,” Schrader said. “It’s taking a lot of the individuality out of the student life.”

Associate Economics Professor Stephen Karlson said protests can be seen throughout the past of the United States. This country had civil rights demonstrations, protests of the Vietnam War, and more recently the Occupy movement, Karlson said. He said the successfulness of protests is a matter of interpretation.

“There are no segregated lunch counters any more, people who object to voter identification laws rely on legal precedent settled in the Voting Rights Act of 1962, [c.q.] and the war in Vietnam became unpopular with the general public,” Karlson said.
There were observers of the student protest scene of the late 1960s and early 1970s who saw too much uniformity in the style of the protesters.


First, design a train room, then put a house over it.

Despite a number of setbacks over the past four years, here comes the drop ceiling.  First tracks will be in place in this corner of the room.



Cool pictures at Voluntary Xchange.  Top one shows items that allowed the technophile of 1980 to do things that were imagined but not practicable in 1950.  Bottom one shows the platform for doing all those things today.  Less stress on the landfills today.


Railway notes that at the beginning of the current Elizabethan Era, a locomotive numbered 70013 was a steam locomotive named Oliver Cromwell.  There's a new, unnamed 70013 on British metals, and it comes from Erie.


Milwaukee's Bradley Center is getting old for a basketball arena, and the editors of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel suggest that failure to replace it would be costly.
The Bradley Center has value. The Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce said the facility generates $95 million in direct revenue each year and has a gross economic impact of $204.5 million right now. But today's NBA facilities need to generate money all year round through team shops, restaurants and luring top-notch concerts.

Losing the Bucks would mean losing 41 games that bring thousands of people to downtown Milwaukee. Losing an NBA franchise is devastating. Officials are often left with the burden of finding a new tenant or tenants to replace those home dates. If they can't fill those dates, they are left with the decision of what to do with a mostly empty facility.
It's too small a facility, and too far from the tracks, to be of any use in competing for the $2 billion the railroad companies spend annually on equipment including locomotives, freight cars, and computers (three things Milwaukee industry used to produce).  Admittedly, I'm piling on, but leave it to a local economist to point out that the economic benefits of big time sports are not that big time.
A rational decision requires a serious cost-benefit analysis that recognizes the "opportunity cost" of taxpayer money - i.e., the best of the alternative ways of spending this money, which may well be the option of leaving the dollars in taxpayers' pockets (which does run the risk of the team leaving town).

If we expect a new arena to foster economic growth, then evidence from other cities should be rather convincing. It is not. Economists such as John Siegfried and Andrew Zimbalist and others find no significant difference in per-capita income growth in cities with and without such arenas. Much higher rates of personal income growth are associated with high school graduation rates and spending for public safety.

Milwaukee's economic growth might more fully benefit from increased expenditures on K-12 math and science education or from beefing up support for the city's other educational, entertainment and cultural activities.

Since the money to fund an arena must come from higher taxes or reduced services, a massive investment in a new arena may crowd out more growth-promoting investments. In such a circumstance, the arena may actually be a drag on economic growth potential.

Small-market teams such as the Bucks compete with larger-market teams for players; but it is the large-market teams that set the salaries. To meet these competitive requirements, small cities not only build arenas but also offer NBA team owners as much of the auxiliary revenue - money spent by fans for food, parking and sports paraphernalia - as possible. As a result, we should not expect much spillover revenue to the local economy.
Everything has an opportunity cost.  But to local politicians, having a basketball arena has an appeal that, oh, a maintenance base for faster, more frequent passenger trains lacks.


Carl from Chicago looks at the effect of rising gasoline prices on driving behavior.
In the suburbs of Chicago you typically drive long distances during the normal course of the day. For instance it is over 30 miles from the Chicago loop downtown to Naperville each way. Since you probably will be driving around a bit when you get there, it is reasonable to think that you might burn 3-4 gallons of gas depending on traffic and mileage, along with $5 in tolls (depending on the route you take). If you figure that gas is $5 / gallon, then that round trip just cost TWENTY DOLLARS. Note that this analysis doesn’t consider the wear and tear on your car… this is just the incremental cost of the journey.

I remember growing up that $20 was a lot of money. You could live for a few days with $20 in your pocket (just the occasional fast-food meal, some gas, etc…). Now you spend $20 EVERY TIME YOU GET IN THE CAR.

This type of taxation does severely punish the “working” poor. It doesn’t punish the poor who aren’t working nearly as much, because they can take the laborious time to use whatever public transportation is available. The working poor, on the other hand, are essentially “on the clock” and if you are near or a bit above minimum wage you are probably taking home maybe $10 / hr after taxes. Thus the trip from Naperville (or a nearby suburb) to and from Chicago just took up TWO HOURS of your working time.
The residents of Naperville, if they have day jobs in the Loop, at least have the opportunity of riding the Naperville Zephyrs, which are time and cost-competitive with driving, even before one considers parking charges in the city.  Residents of other suburbs don't have access to as many express train options, but they are riding.  But commutes from suburb to suburb are still most convenient by road, high gasoline prices and mal-timed traffic lights notwithstanding.


The Kishwaukee River is clean enough to be habitat for shellfish.  They're protected, so don't look for any locavore clam chowders.  But there used to be bigger game fish taken out of that water.



Economics is about incentives.  The rest is commentary.

For allocating the use of a telephone network, a bridge, or a roller coaster, it's in use, but not always well understood or well liked.  It's a more radical notion when universities use it to ration space, but it's now being tried in California.  It's implementation does not get the incentives right for the faculty.

A few years ago, a course that I offered regularly regularly sold out the week registration opened, or within a few weeks of its opening.  Then, as predictably as the electric bill, would come the week before classes and the special pleading ... the individuals who desperately needed to get into the section so as to be able to graduate would send an electronic mail (there's nothing like lowering the cost of communication to induce special pleading) or on occasion call on the 'phone or the really brazen ones would hang out at the classroom door just before class and beg to be admitted.

I turned the situation into an exercise: let's price the course according to load.  First 25 registrants pay a low rate, next 15 registrants a higher rate.  The department was capping enrollments at 40.  Next 10 registrants would pay an even higher rate, and I'd get a cut.  Additional registrants beyond 50 would get in, but at an even higher rate, and I'd get a bigger cut.  Discuss.

At Santa Monica College, the proposed priority pricing plan provoked protest, which the local authorities probably handled badly.  But when one has a problem of allocating scarce resources among competing uses, somebody is going to be disappointed.
Faced with severe and ongoing state cuts, a public institution has very few choices.  It can cut its offerings -- the ‘enrollment cap’ solution that most of California has adopted.  It can water down its quality, as many colleges have.  It can narrow its focus and do fewer things, but commit to still doing them well.  And it can raise prices to maintain breath and quality.

I can imagine arguments on behalf of any of those.  The enrollment cap maintains quality while controlling costs, but at the expense of access.  Across-the-board dilution lets everyone in and maintains range, but defeats the purpose of education in the first place.  Narrowing the menu of options maintains quality and cuts costs, but it sends students who want certain programs to other places.  Or you can raise prices enough to cover costs, which is what has been proposed at Santa Monica.
I cannot give that analysis full marks, as it does not fully consider the incentives to the faculty.  Expanded access and diluted quality really refer to the same thing, which is providing the faculty poorer working conditions while depriving motivated students of the challenge a higher education ought offer.  Narrowing the menu does not maintain quality, as the resulting attrition of faculty can cause programs to be closed through a concatenation of retirements, or through faculty in currently popular disciplines exploring options elsewhere.  Higher prices that do not show up in pay packets also corrode morale.


Via 11-D, analysis of how Title IX expanded basketball coaching opportunities for men.  There's little evidence of men using their stints with women's teams as entry to the men's game, contrary to belief 30 years ago.


Destination: Freedom reports, with a mix of surprise and pleasure, on the possibility of Florida East Coast becoming a passenger carrier.  The United Rail Passenger Alliance has additional background information, including a link to All Aboard Florida, the project website.

The Alliance report contemplates Florida choosing not to deal with Amtrak, calling the agency a middleman between a state Passenger Rail authority and the operating carrier.  It's been the case for some time that states seeking additional intercity trains have had to provide the funding under the 403(b) provision of the legislation creating Amtrak, and California (successfully) and Wisconsin (less so) have purchased their own rolling stock.  There's no reason, though, why a state department of transportation can't deal directly with a railroad, or contract with a railroad to operate trains.  There's a reason why commuter coaches in Chicago have BNSF Railroad letterboards, complete with traditional Zephyr typefaces.  Metra contracts with Burlington to run those dinkies.

With a little imagination, it does not have to be Amtrak, or Metra, providing the intercity service to Rock Island or Rockford.