29.11.07

RULE K, AGAIN. I attended a one-day conference in Chicago (of which more on the weekend) and expected a fast Metra ride to Elburn in plenty of time to get home and tidy up before the Avalon Quartet concert. A trespasser had other ideas.

An pedestrian was hit by a Metra commuter train on the Union Pacific West Line railroad tracks about 5:30 this afternoon in Geneva, according to police.

The Geneva Fire Department said the unidentified pedestrian was killed. The accident was just east of the Fox River and west of Crissey Avenue.

Train No. 41, which was due to stop in Geneva before arriving in Elburn at 5:35 p.m., remains parked with about one-third of the train on the bridge.

Many of the passengers on the westbound train walked from the accident site back to the Geneva train station, according to police. Metra was to provide transportation to those passengers going beyond the Geneva stop. Those walking back to the station used the bicycle and pedestrian bridge over the river at the south end of Island Park.

Metra and Union Pacific's handling of the delay was a bit more effective than Metra's and Burlington Northern's, when the same thing happend on a train I was riding three years ago.

The train was checking for the Geneva stop when the engineer put it into emergency. The engine was on the bridge, but the hind end was feet-dry. After about 45 minutes, the crew asked all passengers to walk to the rear of the train. Their announcement was that ongoing passengers would be put on buses. The "bicycle and pedestrian bridge" is the lower deck of the railroad bridge, and our police escort led us to the Geneva station. Many of the passengers were going to detrain there anyway ... problem solved, although some dinners might have been late. There were no buses at the station, and some regular passengers (who had perviously experienced delay by railway trespass or by the hog-law) suggested there would be none. My contribution: if you see a westbound train, get on it. A railroad employee was alerted by a colleague that a westbound train was coming, which one did, and those people who hadn't phoned home for a ride got on it, with a delay of about 85 minutes to La Fox and Elburn passengers.
GETTING VINCE'S FEDORA. A professional football game with meaningful playoff implications was only available on broadcast television in Dallas, Milwaukee, and Green Bay. Everybody else had to find a tavern or a friend with satellite dish service carrying the NFL Network. Brian Goff at The Sports Economist characterizes the tussle between the league, which would prefer that its Network be made available as part of the basic cable service, and the cable carriers, who have offered to carry the Network in the sports add-on bundle as a game of chicken, where he would like at least one referee to stay out.
The [Dallas Morning News] article alludes to possible intervention over the long run by the FCC and state legislators. I can only hope that doesn't happen, other than prompting them to reduce whatever barriers to competitive entry exist. There is a marketplace out there, and it is working itself out albeit not in some kind of instantaneous, nirvana kind of way. By the way, I'll be enjoying the game on my DirectTV connection.
An editorial in USA Today suggests the league is being churlish.

Cable companies are also used to having their way — not because they are liked but because, as insulated quasi-monopolies, they don't see much advantage in being liked. In this particular dispute, however, they happen to be right. They're saving millions of non-fans from an attempt by the NFL to pick their pockets.

The reason the NFL Network is not on most cable systems is the league's arrogance. It won't let the cable companies put its channel on a premium tier, where the fans who want it would pay the NFL's premium price. The network insists that it be included in a basic package, which spreads the costs to all customers, including those who don't care a whit for football.

The NFL wants an average of 80 cents per cable subscriber per month, according to media consulting firm SNL Kagan, making it the fifth most expensive cable channel among 159. Even to the NFL's fans, that price might seem high for a network that provides about 24 hours per year of live NFL football and about 8,736 hours of filler. For people whose idea of good TV is cooking shows, it must seem downright insane.

Not to mention potentially inefficient.

Take, for example, Stigler's "A Note on Block Booking." Block booking of movies was the offer of a fixed package of movies to an exhibitor; the exhibitor could not pick and choose among the movies in the package. The Supreme Court banned the practice on the grounds that the movie companies were compounding a monopoly by using the popularity of the winning movies to compel exhibitors to purchase the losers.

Stigler disagreed and presented a simple alternative argument. If Gone with the Wind is worth $10,000 to the exhibitor and Getting Gertie's Garter is worth nothing, wrote Stigler, the distributor could get the whole $10,000 by selling Gone with the Wind. Throwing in a worthless movie would not cause the exhibitor to pay any more than $10,000. Therefore, reasoned Stigler, the Supreme Court's explanation seemed wrong.

But why did block booking exist? Stigler's explanation was that if exhibitors valued films differently from one another, the distributor could collect more by "bundling" the movies. Stigler gave an example in which exhibitor A is willing to pay $8,000 for movie X and $2,500 for Y, and B is willing to pay $7,000 for X and $3,000 for Y. If the distributor charges a single price for each movie, his profit-maximizing price is $7,000 for X and $2,500 for Y. The distributor will then collect $9,500 each from A and B, for a total of $19,000. But with block booking the seller can charge $10,000 (A and B each value the two movies combined at $10,000 or more) for the bundle and make $20,000. Stigler then went on to suggest some empirical tests of his argument and actually did one, showing that customers' relative tastes for movies, as measured by box office receipts, did differ from city to city.

Put another way, perhaps the National Football League ought consider putting its Thursday night games on pay-per-view rather than engage in transaction-cost-reducing bundling complete with cross-subsidization.

The president of the Network, however, contends that the cable services exhibit undue preference and prejudice toward their own sports channels.

This is about squashing competition. NFL Network and a handful of other independent programmers such as the Hallmark Channel and the Black Television News Channel cannot get a fair deal with Big Cable for one simple reason: We are not owned by a cable company.

Companies such as Comcast, Time Warner and Cablevision control what content gets aired, but they also own many of the channels you must buy in your cable package. Comcast puts NFL Network on an expensive sports tier that viewers have to pay extra to receive. So why is The Golf Channel in Comcast's must-buy package? Because Comcast owns The Golf Channel.

He goes on to note,

A remedy is needed to fix this market failure. Our government leaders should ensure that Big Cable cannot treat its channels better than it treats independent channels such as NFL Network and hold consumers hostage in the dispute. A neutral, third-party arbitrator should be able to step in to bring about an agreement. Six states are considering legislation to do just that, and the Federal Communications Commission is looking at the issue, too. We don't fear independent arbitration and believe that in virtually every case, it would lead to a negotiated settlement

So what is Big Cable's problem? Is it worried that its discriminatory double standard will become public knowledge?

There's no market failure here, although there may be a failure to correctly define the property rights. Early in the 20th Century, the Hepburn Act forbade railroads from favoring shipping managers with free passes and the Elkins Act forbade both rate rebates and discounts from published rates. These laws effectively ended any incentive for railroads to own shippers, thus ending the Delaware and Hudson and Reading anthracite coal holdings. (The regulatory history books are at the office, and it's been some time since I had to teach the details.) There is the possibility, however, that the cable companies will be treated as common carriers rather than vertically integrated programmers and carriers as a resolution of the dispute.

The game? As I griped last week, Thursday night football is for the Mid-American championship. Packers didn't win. I had previous plans to attend the Avalon Quartet concert, which coincided with the final public performance by the Vermeer Quartet, in Rockport, Maine, near cellist Marc Johnson's retirement home. Great performance, and a few of us were having so animated a conversation in the lobby at intermission that we missed the blinking of the lobby lights ...

28.11.07

SETTEBELLO. Wednesdays are often very busy, particularly as the pace of end-of-semester conferences picks up. (Relax, get your rest, don't panic, review your notes, come back again, we'll get through this.) The university's orchestra presented its end-of-semester concert tonight. Two works by Samuel Barber, including his Knoxville (which the orchestra of a few years ago, with different personnel and a different conductor, also offered) and the Beethoven Op. 92 in A. I can't get enough of that one. Life is good.
SELF-SELECTION. Thomas Sowell points out the error of access-assessment-remediation-retention.

There are, of course, many students and professors who are in the academic world for the very serious purpose of acquiring knowledge and deepening one’s understanding of the world and oneself.

Most of my own academic career was spent in places like Cornell and UCLA, where there were scholars with distinguished reputations in their respective fields and where the student body was significantly above the national average.

Even so, there were still quite a few students, especially at UCLA, whose interest in the life of the mind was, to put it charitably, limited.

More important, the negative effect of students who are not serious can be detrimental to the education of those who are. I found this to be true in each of the five colleges and universities where I taught, as well as in each of the three universities from which I received degrees.

George Leef revises and extends.
The students who interested in academic work after high school are already going to college. Most of those who now don’t go to college aren’t well prepared for it and want to do other things. Consequently, [Richard] Vedder concludes, “If incremental state funding encourages relatively unqualified students to pursue college, the marginal attrition rate amongst those students is likely to be extremely high.” (Here, Vedder could have strengthened his argument with evidence that substantial numbers of college graduates now wind up doing jobs that don’t really require any advanced education.)
I'd add, extending some earlier posts, "the tenure-track faculty will only rarely see the rotten fruit of that harvest."

Professor Sowell raises a second point that ought to give pause to the advocates of mindless productivity measurement.

The sizes of the classes and the campuses can also have an impact. Too many people do not think through the consequences of admitting a larger number of students, including some who may not be as well qualified as the others.

When I taught an honors class in introductory economics at Cornell — a seminar with 15 students, compared to a couple of hundred students in the regular class — my department chairman urged me to expand the honors class to 30 students, “so that more students can get the advantage of the small class.”

It never seemed to occur to him that expanding the class would destroy the advantages of the small seminar.

The chairman will get a bonus for increasing the student-credit-hours-per-faculty-member.

Professor Sowell also points to a possible improvement in total factor productivity.

At both Douglass College and Howard University, where I taught the full year course in introductory economics, the second semester classes were a sheer delight because the less serious students dropped out after their experience with my grading standards in the first semester.

It was not just that the remaining students were better than the ones who left, they were better than they themselves had been in a class atmosphere that was different when influenced by less serious students.

At Amherst College, one of the classes that I taught as a visiting professor was made compulsory for graduating seniors, against my wishes, and just a couple of students with bad attitudes managed to dampen some of the other students, who were outstanding in themselves.

Retention, when it matters: up. Working conditions and faculty morale: improved. Potential for a compensating differential for faculty: there.

He, however, would not make a good famer, and perhaps he lacks the teaching vocation.

A graduate seminar that I taught at UCLA was a great experience the first year I taught it, largely because of one outstanding student who raised the level of discussion for the others. But, when I taught it the next year without that student, the results were so meager that I never taught that seminar again.

At the end of one class session I told the members of the seminar: “I have a decision to make and you gentlemen have helped me to make it.”

With that, I went on leave for two years to run a research project in Washington.

Professoring is a lot like farming, in that you're not always sure ex ante what the learning environment will be, and sometimes the sun shines and sometimes the grasshoppers flock, but you don't quit the first time you have a below-average year.
GET THE GRIPES RIGHT. Although I have little patience for individuals bent on destroying higher education from within, I have less patience with outside observers who raise illogical objections.

"The U.S.A. spends more on higher education, as a percentage of gross domestic product, than any other industrialized country, according to the Education Department." - USA Today

Bet you didn't know that. On the other hand, you very likely did know - because it's mentioned repeatedly - that this country spends more on health care, as a percentage of gross domestic product, than every other advanced country.

I'm a little too tired tonight to go through the OECD Income and Product Accounts and identify other sectors for which that is true, although I suspect that personal transportation, prepared food, and hobby equipment would also be in the "larger" category. Therefore, it's not the greatest lede, but it postpones the rhetorical question (I've been grading senior papers) for two paragraphs.

Why is spending so much on health care considered a national scandal by many commentators but the outsized spending on higher education is not?

Could part of the answer be that the health-care system is studied, analyzed and dissected by a scholarly community that simply isn't willing to apply the same critical perspective toward the institutions that sign its checks?

Unwilling to apply the same critical perspective? The columnist ought to read a few of the explicitly collegiate weblogs.
To the contrary: The self-interested consensus among academics is that this
country needs to spend far more on higher education.
That's unclear.
When health-care costs rise at double the inflation rate, intellectuals understandably knit their brows. When higher-ed costs outstrip inflation (as they do year after year), the only people who complain tend to be powerless parents and students.
No. Two separate phenomena. Health economists, in particular, have been looking for a better description of health care expenditures than "costs." The term "costs" misleads because many of the services insurers, including governments, currently pay for, such as heart transplants, smart prostheses, and erection stimulants, used to be unavailable at any price. A similar observation applies to higher education, although some of the services, such as special education and eligibility studies, ought not be offered no matter how attractive the price.

I do agree with one observation in the column, that being the deleterious effect of third-party payments on price discipline. On the other hand, where the reality of paying tuition is that nobody pays list price, it does not follow that the parents and students are powerless.
THE HOME OFFICE OF INTELLECTUAL MEDIOCRITY. Thus did Charlie Sykes, in Profscam, characterize the university's role in making the common schools less effective. A column by Doug Lynch, a vice dean in Pennsylvania's Graduate School of Education, does little to rebut the jape.
The American system of higher education is marked by incredible institutional diversity and one would assume that a key component of differentiation among all those schools would be a similar diversity of faculty. The facts suggest otherwise. For instance, some 50 percent of all faculty members are adjuncts, who often teach the exact same courses at “competing” colleges. Even among tenured faculty member, the average consumer of education would be hard pressed to differentiate “products” based on faculty. Do you think you could, without knowing the “brand,” identify a given institution on the basis of its faculty’s pedigree? Institutions trade faculty on the open market, and it is unclear that there are any real differences among the vast majority of them.
Admittedly, I'm an insider, but yes, I can distinguish a Mason public choice argument from a Wisconsin welfare economics argument from a Princeton game-theoretic argument. Calculus, on the other hand: there is no more a specific Northern Illinois way of doing calculus than there is a specific female way of knowing things. At the same time, an "open market" is an environment in which inefficient differentiation is selected out, and offerings, as the columnist notes, and prices, as I suggest here, tend to converge to a standard range of offerings and one price.

To be charitable, let's suppose the columnist never heard of the Law of One Price.

A few paragraphs later comes a howler.
Furthermore, while many colleges market continuing education courses to employers, few encourage or reimburse their own employees to take those same courses. One might argue that the sabbatical is the biggest investment a university makes, but that is limited to tenured faculty members largely and ironically, it is an unstructured professional development experience, if one followed the logic, then we ought to do away altogether with programs of study and curricula.
Nothing like building business for one's extension efforts by selling "professional development" to one's colleagues. Bleah. As far as a sabbatical being "unstructured," come off it. One has to submit a research proposal, and it had better be sufficiently original to pass muster with the review committee, and one had best turn in the working paper if one hopes to apply for another one, although your chances are better if you present the working paper at an academic conference and better still when you publish it. There are also limits to the structure. "Original research" means "We're not sure what the structure of the solution is."

The academic conference, then, becomes the real venue for scholarly development.
There appears to be a mounting trend that has many companies advocating for the worth of talent development within colleges, while colleges themselves dismiss the notion. Companies are increasingly arguing that if, for example, sending an executive to a professional development conference is not taxable, then enrolling her in a Wharton program shouldn’t be either.
Non sequitur. Conference expenses are reimbursable. I don't know what the situation is at Penn, but here, one can't claim expenses without turning in the conference paper. I have been to some conferences in Philadelphia, one of which was organized by Penn's now-closed Regional Science program, and we all spent a lot more time talking to each other about regional science, including over dinner, than we did viewing the Bell or exploring the High Speed Line.

The columnist concludes,
More important, if colleges want to be perceived as part of the solution rather than a major cause of the looming crisis, they must examine their culture and policies to better align them with what we collectively know to be true — that access to knowledge and talent is the key to a future society that is both just and wise.
Pure wordnoise. The crisis, if indeed it is a crisis, is in the abandonment of the higher in higher education.
COMPLICITY, COMPOUNDED. Last week, I asserted,
[F]aculty reluctance to meet those introductory classes is faculty complicity in access-assessment-remediation-retention: there's no entry level quality control, no reward for the faculty to do so, and posting whinges on anonymous weblogs appears to be sufficient release.
Wisconsin's Donald Downs, elaborating on Delaware's re-education camps, notes that faculty tend to ignore the totalitarianism of Student Affairs.

In The Diversity Machine (2002), for example, Frederick Lynch provided a detailed portrait of numerous interlocking national programs designed to promote diversity and attitudinal change, almost all of which were run by non-faculty personnel. The University of Michigan, for example, had about 100 such programs (this is not a misprint), but the faculty tended to ignore them because they applied to areas outside of the faculty's main concern. As long as such programs did not jeopardize faculty research, no problem. In The Shadow University, Harvey Silverglate and Alan Kors also provide many examples of violations of academic freedom committed by administrative staff in the name of pet causes. Despite these and other works, public concern remains targeted at faculty members, not staff.

A few years ago I served on a speech code committee that ultimately led to the abolition of the university's faculty speech code. The committee consisted of faculty, students, and staff. One of the things that struck me during this year-long service was the posture of the staff members toward academic freedom and free speech. With one outstanding exception, the staff members evidenced little concern about the effects broad speech codes can have on the intellectual honesty and integrity of the classroom. Their experiences and professional agendas simply did not prepare or predispose them to take academic freedom all that seriously. This was not the case for faculty members on the committee, including those who supported some sort of code.

He goes on to note,
It will be interesting to follow the plight of the residence life program at the University of Delaware now that it has the full attention of the faculty. Will the faculty exercise its fiduciary responsibility to defend the principles of free thought that comprise the core of liberal education, or will it eschew the burden of this responsibility out of indifference or fear? Nothing I have said here is meant to get faculty members off the hook for supporting such programs as Delaware's. Nor is it my intention to reflexively criticize university staff. After all, universities would grind to an immediate halt without its valued staff members. The problem is those staff members who promote agendas that threaten the truth-seeking mission of the university.
I fear, however, that as long as the senior professors are relatively free to pursue their research, while the armies of adjuncts on term contracts can be mau-maued into going along with the Diversity Boondoggle's gutting of learning in the name of access, and the beneficiaries of access figure out on their own that college is not for them and never darken a professor's door, the senior professors will have scant incentive to defend either free thought or the core of liberal education.

The astonisher is that as many students get through, successfully, as they do, take five to seven years though it may. In the military, the recruit first faces a career non-commissioned officer. In railroading, the student engineman quickly gets to know the crusty road foreman. In the university, eighteen year olds get psychological "treatment" from twenty year old housefellows and introductory calculus from twenty-five year old graduate assistants who have yet to prove a theorem of their own. Experience, literally, is the greatest teacher, and for many students, the teacher with the steepest grading curve, at least until dormies get put on Double Secret Probation for harboring unsustainable thoughts.

I offer these observations to provoke Professor Downs, who notes,
It might be time to look more closely at the problem of faculty neglect as a distinct problem, and at the factors and forces that contribute to this neglect - above and beyond active faculty perpetration or complicity. I hope to do so in a future essay.
Developing.

27.11.07

EMERGING CORRIDORS. Casper-Cheyenne-Denver-Pueblo-Albuquerque, anyone? The idea is to use the Joint Line for passenger trains and build an avoiding line through empty country to the east for the freight. Here I go again...
To earn the high-speed designation from the Federal Railroad Administration, the train must exceed 90 miles per hour for at least 75 percent of the time.
Pull June 1954 Official Guide off shelf, thumb to the rear third, locate C&S-FW&D schedule on page 1040: Texas Zephyr 21 off Denver 12.01 arrive Colorado Springs (74.5 mi.) 1.40 Pueblo (118.5 mi.) 2.28. The Twin Zephyr it isn't. Page forward to Union Pacific entry at page 852 (you can identify the younger ferroequinologists or the freight train fans by their unfamiliarity with the organization of the Guide.) Running times just over an hour Denver to Greeley (52 miles) for named trains that avoid Cheyenne. Again, though: faster timings doable with the existing infrastructure.

Memo to Federal Railroad Administration: integrate over this speed curve.
FROH, FROH, WIE DIE BEIDEN SONNEN FLIEGEN. Just in time for Beethoven's birthday, the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra is performing the d minor, Op. 125 as part of the full symphony cycle (will there be recordings?) Some people don't like the "Turkish Music."
Beethoven bent, folded and mutilated Classical forms at will and worked at a megalomaniacal scale that led the way to Wagner. The raucous passage that opens and recurs in the finale came to be called the "horror fanfare" ("schreckensfanfare") even by its German admirers. Many commentators found the "Turkish" episode, with its cymbal and triangle, vulgar.
I like that section. It puts me in mind of a German drinking song, with a hint of oom-pah music from the contra-bassoon.

26.11.07

A FORM OF TENURE, AFTER ALL. Here's Texas A&M's Jim Hu last Saturday.
Faculty like to complain about how much their schools pay the football coach, but this week reminds us that coaches don't have tenure. In addition to Dennis Franchione resigning here at TAMU, there are now openings at Michigan, Nebraska, Baylor, and Ole Miss, with more probably to come.
By Monday, the coaching position is filled. Apparently replacing a president who becomes SecDef is more challenging.

Priorities! Football coach fired Friday, replaced today. President leaves a year ago and we're still waiting. What the heck... maybe this will push the process along; wouldn't want the new President to have to fire and hire a coach right away... right? Grasping for good reasons...

Anyway, former Packers HC and current Texans asst. Mike Sherman was just announced as the 28th head coach. Sherman was an assistant here twice with RC Slocum before going to the pros.

Packer players are pleased for their former coach. Owen Robinson elaborates on the implications for A&M.
I know that many Wisconsinites don’t have a lot of love for Mike Sherman (even though he was 57-39 with the Packers, won the NFC North 3 times, and went to the playoffs four times) but I’m happy to see him coming to College Station to be the head coach of the Aggies.
There's that fourth-and-a-country-mile in Philadelphia...

When he was there under R. C. Slocum as the offensive line coach, the Aggies were doing well. Much of this, if you remember, was because of a great running game led by.... you guessed it.... a great offensive line. His NFL coaching career has been pretty decent - not great - but pretty decent. But college coaching and NFL coaching are very different.

Plus, there are some intangible things that I like about Sherman. He is well respected and liked by the A&M athletic program, the alumni, etc. He is associated with some glory years for A&M football. This should help with recruiting and such. Also, Sherman is just a good guy. After the Fran years of questionable ethics, it’ll be good to see an honorable guy on the sidelines again.

This is a good thing for A&M. Then again… talk to me again in four years.

But if he's out after four years, he'll likely be offensive coordinator somewhere else. Tenure, in effect.

"Probably more to come" is accurate. Northern Illinois is now searching, with Joe Novak choosing to call it a career.

"I feel good about this decision," Novak said. "It's time. It's the right time for me personally, for my wife [Carole] and family, and for this program. Everyone says you know when it's time and this is it for me.

"Overall, it's been a wonderful ride," he continued. "There have been good days and bad days, but a lot more good than bad. I'm leaving the program in better shape than I found it, which you always want to do. We accomplished some things, but there are some things we didn't get done, too."

Novak departs with a career record of 63-75 after a 2-10 2007 season with a junior-laden, injury-riddled team. From the middle of the 1999 campaign through the end of the 2006 season, his Huskies won 58 of 90 (64.4 percent) of their games, won or shared the MAC West Division title four times, made two bowl appearances [2004 Silicon Valley Classic and 2006 San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl] and played in the league's championship game in 2005. Northern Illinois was one of just 18 programs in the nation, and the only team not affiliated with a Bowl Championship Series conference, to post seven straight winning seasons from 2000-06.

Elsewhere on the merry-go-round, the Packers might be raiding the Big 11 Ten for a chief executive.
IT'S ALLEGEDLY PRODUCTIVITY. Yes, the student-credit-hours-per-faculty member is high, but the learning is negative.

Most remarkably, when it comes to teaching not just “facts” but conveying to students the scientific approach to problem-solving, research shows that students end up thinking less like professionals after completing [mass lecture] classes than when they started.

“In a very real way, you’re doing damage with these courses,” [Colorado Nobel Laureate Carl] Wieman, now a leading voice for reform, said in a recent interview.

State and federal policymakers are clamoring for more accountability and better graduation rates, and if faculty don’t step up, bureaucrats might. The National Center for Academic Transformation estimates that the 25 most common college courses — in subjects such as economics, English, psychology and the sciences — account for 35 percent of four-year college enrollment nationally.

I'm reminded of the craftsman's aphorism: good, fast, or cheap, pick any two.

I've been tempted to put together a long-term plan for an economics department in a medium-sized mid-major. Lets figure twenty sections each of income theory and price theory (principles of macro and micro, if you will) of not exceeding 35 students plus a full slate of upper-division classes and sufficient advisors to guide up to 200 capstone theses per semester. Works out to an economics faculty of about 45. My department is currently at 14.
MORE BROKEN CARDAN SHAFTS. Destination: Freedom hails the newest world's most powerful diesel locomotive.
The modern and angular looking Voith Maxima 40 CC has a power rating of 3,600 kilowatts, or almost 5,000 horsepower. It uses an automatic hydraulic transmission for coupling the engine to the drive wheels, unlike competing diesel locomotives offered by EMD; Bombardier, Siemens and Alstom, which employ a traction generator coupled to AC asynchronous drive motors via an electronic propulsion control unit.
"Modern and angular looking translates as "butt-ugly." (View picture.)

Those "competing diesel-[electric] locomotives" currently max out at 4400 horsepower with a single prime mover. Let's not forget the 6000 horsepower SD90MAC from Electro-Motive and AC6000CW (and a double-ender for China) from General Electric (with a German prime mover) that proved to be unwieldy even for large North American trains. Those are still the record-holders for most powerful single-engine diesels.

It's not the first time people have gotten carried away with diesel-hydraulics. The Germans have relied on them for years. The Western Region of British Railways was so impressed as to adapt several German designs for their purposes. The Southern Pacific was sufficiently intrigued by the idea of 4000 horsepower with one prime mover to purchase a total of 18 Krauss-Maffei ML-4000 diesels that didn't last very long.

25.11.07

TONIGHT'S RAILROAD READING. Megan McArdle has doubts about the Northeast Corridor.

This post reminds me of another discussion I was recently in: why is America's high-speed rail so dreadful? The Acela delivers you, at enormous added expense, to Boston one hour ahead of the regional. On the DC-to-NY run, the added benefit is 10-15 minutes.

The answer is that the Acela uses existing track, which is twisty, the better to serve every congressional district between here and Boston. Real high speed rail needs to be fairly straight, for the same reason you don't take hairpin turns at 120 mph in your car.

Of course, if we were not going to build high speed rail, the sensible thing to do was not to have a high-speed program at all. Instead we got the dreadfully expensive, yet basically useless, Acela.

It has nothing to do with public choice. The existing track is twisty because it was stitched together out of numerous older railroads, many of which were optimized to the technology of the 1840s, and which originally existed to haul manufactured goods from town to port. The Washington to New York still uses Civil War era routes and tunnels through Baltimore that are almost that old. The electrification on that segment was added during the Depression, using Reconstruction Finance Corporation money. It was enough of an improvement to handle the logistics of World War II. But a high speed line? No. In Depression and War, the fastest and most flexible corridor service in the world was Chicago to St. Paul via four different routes.

The New York to New Haven is primarily a commuter railroad that became electrically operated (primarily to comply with Manhattan smoke ordinances) early in the twentieth century. North of New Haven, there is a state-of-the-art electrical distribution system, but the rights of way date to railroading's Pleistocene era. Most of Rhode Island was still empty in those days, making straight line operation possible and providing today's racetrack for the Acela. But the right of way suitable for a high speed line is ... that of Interstate 95. The New Haven Railroad once acquired sufficient real estate for a faster line through Connecticut and western Rhode Island, but, to obtain temporary succour, it sold that real estate to the turnpike authority and then turned a freight profit hauling building materials.

Tyler at Marginal Revolution extends.
I've also heard that freight railways crowd the lines and Amtrak doesn't pay a high enough prices for access; the freight services had, way back when, pledged to the government to give Amtrak trains priority but of course that kind of cheap talk is not enough to get the job done; here is some relevant background, and more here.
That's true in some parts of the country, but most emphatically not the Northeast Corridor. The trackage belongs either to Amtrak or to the Metro-North Commuter Railroad. Apart from some factories between Newark, N.J. and Newark, Del. the gross product originating is software and lobsters that don't fill many freight trains. Elsewhere, yes, some of the freight carriers are not not cooperative with Amtrak, or have lost sight of the discipline of timetable operation.

The friends of rail transportation offer a different perspective.
Invest in densely populated corridors first, focusing on the creation of an effective and efficient commuter rail system; pump money into high speed rail, which has proven attractive to riders; and give Amtrak a dedicated funding source, in much the same way that highways and airports have dedicated funding streams (the gas and ticket taxes, respectively).
Sure, one can apply the old Welfare Economics Paradigm. Sometimes, however, one might have to apply some old thinking to new problems. Everybody acts as if "high speed rail" means dedicated rights-of-way with electric trains and Strangelovian signalling and dispatching and expensive upgrades of the infrastructure. It's possible, however, to obtain many of the benefits of increased speed simply by amending some of the Federal Railroad Administration rules to permit faster operation on existing tracks and signals.
QUOTE OF THE DAY. Harvard's Henry Louis Gates.
The historical basis for the gap between the black middle class and underclass shows that ending discrimination, by itself, would not eradicate black poverty and dysfunction. We also need intervention to promulgate a middle-class ethic of success among the poor, while expanding opportunities for economic betterment.
The provocation for the observation is a Pew survey.
"African Americans see a widening gulf between the values of middle class and poor blacks, and nearly four-in-ten say that because of the diversity within their community, blacks can no longer be thought of as a single race," according to a study released Tuesday by the Pew Research Center.
That conclusion leads to a bit of chin-pulling. There's nothing new in envisioning social divisions within the clunky aggregates (Anybody remember when the Slavic and Italian "races" were distinct from the English and the Nordic?) that white or black or brown represent. The culture-studies types have their race and class typologies as a way of identifying multiple sources of what they would view as oppression. The expression "white trash" refers to one aggregate of self-oppressed people: there is a pejorative that uses the adjective "street" to refer to another. Professor Gates's observation is instructive, in that it suggests that some of the oppression is self-inflicted. He has more in a similar vein.
The sad truth is that the civil rights movement cannot be reborn until we identify the causes of black suffering, some of them self-inflicted. Why can’t black leaders organize rallies around responsible sexuality, birth within marriage, parents reading to their children and students staying in school and doing homework?
Columnist Juan Williams has misgivings.

Racism, stereotypes and segregation laws long enforced the idea of a single black race by keeping down black people no matter their education and class. But just over 50 years after the Brown v. Board of Education decision set in motion the modern civil rights movement, with a unified black America pressing for political and social equality, there are significant numbers of people with dark skin, and racial discrimination battles, who say black people do not have enough common experiences and values to be thought of as one race.

This phenomenon is occurring inside black America as values held by black and white Americans are becoming more similar, according to 72 percent of whites and 54 percent of blacks. But the people who share values are middle-class blacks and whites. The black poor are the ones being left out, and they know it.

Consider: The black people most likely to say that blacks no longer share values across class lines have only a high school diploma or less education (37 percent), or they are lower-income (39 percent). Those most likely to say that all black people have many common values are college-educated blacks (78 percent) and black Americans who have incomes of more than $100,000 (66 percent).

But 70 percent of the same well-educated black people also acknowledge that they see values increasingly "diverging" between the black poor and middle class. That's different from the responses to a 1986 poll in which all classes of black Americans said differences over values were not diffusing the common black experience. Today both middle-class and poor blacks agree that racism is still a big issue for any black person. But they admit that the divide over values is splitting the community.

That phenomenon is not limited to rich or poor blacks, or rich or poor whites, or rich or poor Americans. One of the Thomas Friedman books suggests that a commodity trader in Chicago has more in common with a commodity trader in Manila than with a tractor assembler in Milwaukee. Class divides may or may not be more difficult to transcend today than they used to be. They are present, however, and there are right and wrong ways to address them.
For colleges, I'd say pick a level of subsidy you can sustain, and do it right. Instead of bringing in, say, two hundred students, and supporting them almost-but-not-quite-enough, bring in one hundred and do right by them. (Six hours of work-study a week? Okay. Thirty hours of Wal-Mart a week? Not okay.) And in 'doing right,' accept that some will still fail. Some people are drama-prone, and will find ways to find fault with whatever level of help they're given. At some point, you need to be able to say, with a clear conscience, there. This much is what we're willing to do; the rest is up to you. What that level would be in any given setting will vary, and that's fine.
And the Habits of Highly Effective People matter.
As a manager of people, I've noticed that the weather is always worse at some people's houses than others', even when it isn't. Some people manage to run into awful traffic every single day, even while their colleagues who take the same routes somehow get to work on time. And some people are just perpetually crabby, no matter how many of their grievances get addressed. You can't control how other people feel, or how they choose to live their lives. You need to decide what institutional conditions need to be addressed so that people with reasonable drive and life skills will have a genuine shot at success, and call it good. There will always be some who will condemn your efforts as inadequate, based on their own life drama, and some will even call you horrible names and question your personal integrity in the process.
Read the rest of the post, and the comments.
TAKING SEMIOTICS TOO SERIOUSLY. Tom McMahon, whose eponymous weblog is a friendly connection, rearranged a lame bumper sticker to suggest that the recommended action might not always be so easy. Milwaukee radio talker (and critic of higher education) Charlie Sykes liked the effort so much he posted it to his higher traffic site. The folks behind the original bumper sticker took offense. A full-scale weblog spat has broken out. Shark and Shepherd have a good summary of the first few days of skirmishing. Marquette Warrior, another friendly connection, suggests that the folks taking offense themselves give offense. Paul Noonan at The Electric Commentary, yet another friendly connection, suggests (via a tu quoque argument) that Mr Sykes is selective in his defense of freedom of expression. The spat has continued through the long weekend. There's a continuing discussion on Sykes Writes, and longtime Madison and Milwaukee policy maven Jim Rowen has been raising numerous counterarguments.

I do think, and I repeat, that he's in a hypocritical position because of his earlier battle with Miller Brewing over its participation in a tasteless and offensive advertisement.

If you're going to get offended about someone misusing religious symbolism (a Last Supper image), then don't praise and defend others who are doing the same thing (tampering with the Islamic Crescent and playing with the Star of David).

So be consistent, or risk being labeled a hyprocrite.

Maybe.
This is a classic Red Herring since whether the accuser is guilty of the same, or a similar, wrong is irrelevant to the truth of the original charge. However, as a diversionary tactic, Tu Quoque can be very effective, since the accuser is put on the defensive, and frequently feels compelled to defend against the accusation.
I'll let others work out whether both rearrangements rise to the same level of sacrilege, or whether we have yet another case study in Free Speech for Me -- But Not for Thee. The good news is that the spat has, so far, been confined to bytes and pixels, rather than bites and pistols.

24.11.07

A NEW TRAVELING TROPHY. Northern Illinois and Ball State will be playing for ownership of ... a cornstalk.

After discussions between the schools and in honor of one of the Huskies' and Cardinals' oldest, and closest, league rivalries, the teams will vie for "The Bronze Stalk" starting with the 2008 contest. The schools will seek a corporate sponsor for the rivalry and the trophy will go to the winner of the football game each year.

A model of the trophy, which is being designed by local DeKalb artist and nationally-recognized sculptor Renee Bemis, will be on display Saturday at Huskie Stadium when Northern Illinois and Ball State meet in the final game of the regular season for both teams. The trophy will depict several cornstalks in tribute to the locales of both universities. DeKalb, Illinois and Muncie, Indiana are cities located just outside of the major metropolitan areas of Chicago and Indianapolis, respectively, which are famously surrounded by corn fields. The wooden base of the trophy will feature the Ball State Cardinals' logo on one side and the Northern Illinois Huskies' logo on the other.

What, no Mason jar?

The trophy will begin its service in the custody of Ball State, who held on for a win this afternoon. Will the team that wins it from the other team sprint across the field to take it and then take a victory lap, the way the winner of the Axe does?
WANT TO BUY A WARBIRD? Get one from Courtesy Aircraft Sales in Rockford. The inventory includes some jets.
CHEERFUL NEWS. The Superintendent has learned that two of the three Milwaukee-area members of the 2007 All-American Marching Band that opens the Macy's parade are from the recently-re-started Milwaukee Hamilton band.
A PROPER ANCHOR FOR A CORRIDOR. The editorial writers at the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel are hailing, complete with a video, the rebuilding of the Union Passenger Station as an Intermodal Terminal. They continue to indulge in wishful thinking about the future.
If 110-mph train service is established to Madison, Chicago, the Twin Cities and Green Bay, those trains would stop at the station.
Regular readers know that my standard for the Chicago service begins at 75 minutes, Milwaukee to Chicago. Amtrak once asked the Postal Service to change the description of the Hiawatha Baltics on a commemorative postage stamp because general knowledge of a steam train capable of 125 mph speeds put the carrier in a bad light.
If the KRM Commuter Link is built, the station would be part of a line serving workers, students and shoppers from the southern suburbs, Racine, and Kenosha, where passengers could transfer to Chicago's Metra trains.
The benefits of that interconnectivity are not clear. South Siders and south suburban residents have the airport station, and Racine and Kenosha riders have a large paid parking lot at Sturtevant. What's the point of transferring to Metra and getting into Chicago not much faster than a Shore Line local on the North Shore Line got you there until the summer of 1955?
MAGIC(G.B.) = 2. Packers come from behind, stuff and mount Lions.

Since the Packers began league play 87 years ago, they have had a better record than 10-1 after 11 games only one time. That was 1929, their first championship season, when Curly Lambeau's legions played to a 0-0 draw on the road against the Frankford Yellowjackets after 10 straight victories.

"I'll say this," [head coach Mike] McCarthy said. "It was a true gut-check for our football team. This team has arrived as far as playing well in all three phases. For us to step up the way we did today, I thought was impressive."

Next up: another Thursday game, this time in Dallas. (What's up with these Thursday night games? Are the teams playing for the Mid-American title?)

20.11.07

MARKING OFF. Happy Thanksgiving. President Bush's Thanksgiving message notes that Berkeley Plantation in Virginia has a serious claim to the first official Thanksgiving (is "for what we are about to receive let us be thankful" unofficial?) A year ago, I sat down with some family members and designed the new house, starting with the train room (hey, is that a second random thing?) This year, I'm in it.

Thanks, readers, for looking in.
JUST SLIGHTLY AHEAD OF THE CURVE, AGAIN. A Hit and Run post on "food miles" makes the following observation.
By extension, walking to the big "industrial" supermarket in your neighborhood may be most responsible food choice you can make.
Two weeks until the Schnuck's opens a quarter mile from here. Others may look at it, and at my neighborhood of new houses, and call it "sprawl." I call it five minutes saved on the bike ride to and from the office, as well as a shorter walk to the nearest coffee house and in the near future a grocery in walking distance. The funky downtown coffee house with a great view of the railroad is a bit farther away.

I expect to get a lot of exercise preparing the new Victor E. Garden. It will be bigger than the old one, but I've got to start from scratch converting the mix of clay and compacted spoil that comprises my backyard. There won't be many food miles walking out back to harvest stuff.
SMUG ALERT. Via Greg Mankiw (a bit obvious with the vanity plates, Professor?), a Harvard Crimson article on faculty preferences in cars. There's nothing quite like establishing a dominant paradigm to subvert the dominant paradigm.
Priuses are common, suspected Porsche owners don’t want to be interviewed, and, as for the most academic of automobiles? It’s the Subaru Forester.
Isn't the Forester sort of a baby SUV?

King at SCSU Scholars notes there's more conformity at one of the self-proclaimed Harvards of the South.
I am reminded of this conversation on EconTalk where Mike Munger tells of a meeting of Duke department chairs. Everyone has a Prius or other hybrid. Next to last comes up the chair of chemistry, who argues that hybrid cars may use more energy (though less fuel) than gas vehicles. (Here's one report explaining why that might be so.) The chemist is then asked what he drives. "Oh, I drive a Prius, but that's just because you have to if you're gonna be a faculty member."
The Crimson article mentions one prominent nonconformist on the Harvard faculty.

“I drive a Chevy,” John R. Stilgoe proclaims. “It makes me sound like a common man.” The famously quirky visual and environmental studies professor says his black ’96 Suburban helps him blend into rural America on his annual summer field trips into the heartland.

He’s also quick to note that he doesn’t actually drive his massive SUV (city fuel economy: 11-12 miles per gallon) to campus—just from his house south of Boston to a train station. “If you reduce your carbon footprint at the house, you can drive whatever you want,” Stilgoe says.

The article doesn't tell you that John is an O Scaler who is pretty handy with a razor saw.

For the record, I am a faculty member who does not drive a Prius. If I ever get around to identifying eight random things as I've been tasked to do, one of the entries will be that I have purchased three new cars so far, a 1979 Volkswagen Rabbit that I used for 140,000+ miles, a 1988 Volkswagen Golf that I used for 220,000+ miles, and a 2003 Volkswagen Golf that's a relative youngster at 67,000+ miles.
WASHINGTON MONUMENT SYNDROME. That's the public-choice dynamic, noted at opinion journals as diverse as National Review, Reason, and Washington Monthly, in which a government agency reacts to a proposed budget reduction (in some cases, a smaller than usual increase in the appropriation) by eliminating a relatively cheap but visible and popular service. The short form is "closing the Washington Monument," although I'm not sure the National Park Service has ever done so.

Something similar may be at work in the academy's increased reliance on contingent faculty.

“We have to contend with increasing public demands for accountability, increased financial scrutiny and declining state support,” said Charles F. Harrington, provost of the University of North Carolina, Pembroke. “One of the easiest, most convenient ways of dealing with these pressures is using part-time faculty,” he said, though he cautioned that colleges that rely too heavily on such faculty “are playing a really dangerous game.”

Mark B. Rosenberg, chancellor of the State University System of Florida, said that part-timers can provide real-world experience to students and fill gaps in nursing, math, accounting and other disciplines with a shortage of qualified faculty. He also said the shift could come with costs.

The article appears to be conflating two things: in nursing and accounting, the practitioneer who picks up one class as a way of supplementing the income from his or her day job (or, in engineering, to be able to talk shop with junior engineers in competing companies without violating the antitrust laws) is a perpetuation of the honorable tradition of the adjunct professor as a nonacademician with a bit of the vocation, but in many of the other disciplines the adjunct faculty are attempting to make a career out of multiple part-time jobs, while retaining some expectation of a tenure-track job. Much of the article is about the travails of such wanderers, as well as of the students who take classes from the wanderers.

“Really, we are offering less educational quality to the students who need it most,” said Ronald G. Ehrenberg, director of the Cornell Higher Education Research Institute, noting that the soaring number of adjunct faculty is most pronounced in community colleges and the less select public universities. The elite universities, both public and private, have the fewest adjuncts.

“It’s not that some of these adjuncts aren’t great teachers,” Dr. Ehrenberg said. “Many don’t have the support that the tenure-track faculty have, in terms of offices, secretarial help and time. Their teaching loads are higher, and they have less time to focus on students.”

Dr. Ehrenberg and a colleague analyzed 15 years of national data and found that graduation rates declined when public universities hired large numbers of contingent faculty.

Several studies of individual universities have determined that freshmen taught by many part-timers were more likely to drop out.

“Having an adjunct in a course is not necessarily bad for you, but having too many adjuncts might be,” said Eric P. Bettinger, an economics professor at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland.

Students say they can often tell when a professor is part-time. Mike Brennan, a sophomore at the University of Michigan, Dearborn, said the courses taught by adjuncts tend to be more basic and the exams less challenging. “They have so many classes that they give tests that are easier to grade,” Mr. Brennan said.

Carly Matkovich, a senior at the university, said she had bonded more with her part-time teachers, in part because they have more practical experience. But it is usually hard to find time to talk with them outside class. “They’re never around,” Ms. Matkovich said. “It does make me feel kind of cheated.”

Trust the economists to get it right. Now we have to start educating the fourth estate about total factor productivity.

At some departments the proportion of faculty who are tenured is startlingly low. The psychology department at Florida International University in Miami has 2,400 undergraduate majors but only 19 tenured or tenure-track professors who teach, according to a department self-assessment. It is possible for a psychology major to graduate without taking a course with a full-time faculty member.

“We’re at a point where it is extreme,” said Suzanna Rose, a psychology professor who said she stepped down as department head in August, primarily because she could not hire as many tenure-track professors as she thought the department needed. “I’m just very concerned about the quality.”

Ronald Berkman, the provost at Florida International, disputed her numbers, saying the psychology department has 23 professors who are tenured or tenure track and 5 full-time teachers on contracts. The department is conducting a search for three more tenure-track professors, Dr. Berkman said.

“Which is not to say that they don’t need more, which they do,” he said.

In particular, students will switch majors when they run into trouble completing their schedules.

Right now, a friend of mine is a journalism graduate student trying to land an internship with a newspaper. A question that pops up at every interview – the question that almost blocked him from his graduate program altogether – is, “If you’re so interested in journalism, why were you an English major in college?”

It’s because your chances of getting into the journalism class you want or need are about the same as my chances with Natalie Portman. So my friend traded in a useful major that’s near-impossible to nail down for an easy-to-schedule major that’s borderline useless for his intended career. With scenarios like that playing out, one could almost jump to the conclusion that the school doesn’t care about our education and just wants our money.

Making sure your students get the classes they need isn’t some obscure pet project that can be tackled at leisure. It’s an essential function of this institution, and something that can damage people’s futures if it isn’t fixed quickly.

A little history: the journalism majors are fortunate to have journalism classes to be closed out of. Fifteen years ago, the state board of higher education attempted to cram-down a "rationalization" of the state universities under the misleading rubric of "priorities, quality, and productivity." (In those days, the business fad was to come up with an acronym with a "Q" in it someplace, and thus demonstrate your commitment to a superior product. Pure symbolism over substance.) Among the intended "economies" was the abolition of the journalism degree along with a few other "not socially useful" programs. Journalism continues to function, albeit at a reduced output, and I cannot reject the hypothesis that schedule-completion hassles are the Washington Monument syndrome at work: inconvenience the students sufficiently, and perhaps they and their parents will gripe to the legislature and Springfield will cough up the cash.

The administration, however, engages in rent-seeking of its own. Here's a University Diaries quip about the revealed preferences of Florida International's administration. At 11-D, Laura makes a connection to the family policy problems inherent in Adjunct U.

One class can consume about 20 hours per week devoted to lecturing, lecture prep, grading, and student conferences. Over the course of a semester, adjuncts, many of whom have spent a decade in graduate school, make less than a worker at McDonald's. Tuition for one student in the class exceeds their pay.

Adjuncts live in the shadows of universities teaching Intro to History and writing classes and survive on ramen noodles and coffee. Universities, which have been tauted as bastions of liberal thought, turn a blind eye to this injustice in their midst, because nobody really wants to teach Intro to History or those writing classes. How many of those adjuncts are women with children who don't have the freedom to relocate to tenure track opportunities across the country?

That's another Ancient and Honorable tradition of the academy: employing the faculty spouse, for many years the wife, as office help or technician. Expanded labor force participation by women disrupts that arrangement. I would note further that faculty reluctance to meet those introductory classes is faculty complicity in access-assessment-remediation-retention: there's no entry level quality control, no reward for the faculty to do so, and posting whinges on anonymous weblogs appears to be sufficient release.

A commenter proposes an adverse consequence.
Making everyone adjunct means all teaching and no research. No research -- in partnership with the executive branch's attempts to kill science -- puts an end to the one thing the US still excels at. How to demote a nation in two easy generations!
I'm not sure that's true -- industry and some parts of the government continue to sponsor applied (rather than basic) research. I suggest, however, that a university in which nobody is attempting to expand the frontiers of knowledge, because everybody is busy reading somebody else's prepared slides, isn't really a university.

19.11.07

QUOTE OF THE DAY. University Diaries.
Good whores and good professors offer a physical presence that’s worth your time and that, in its effects, can’t be duplicated by internet porn or distance learning. The devotion to intellectual seriousness and excellence, the ethos of disinterested curiosity, the communication of the attractiveness of cultural values through one’s complex sensibility, the modeling of intellectual agility and the pleasures of the mind generally through spontaneous, energetic, challenging, face to face dialogue… these are the things professors teach at the same time they teach a certain content.
Go. Read. Understand.
REVEALED PREFERENCES. Students struggle with mathematics because there's insufficient social justice in the pedagogy, which is not the same thing as insufficient social justice in the content.

Paul Ernest, a professor at Exeter University's school of education and lifelong learning, argues that traditional teaching methods disadvantage ethnic minority pupils, girls, students with special needs and those from poor backgrounds, and that considerations of social responsibility should be applied to maths teaching.

"I disagree with people who think that mathematics is neutral and value-free," he says. "It is human made, therefore culturally influenced, and this makes social justice central and relevant in mathematics.

"We need to think of different ways of contextualising maths to take multi-culturalism, racism and sexism into account. Students need to see that everyone owns maths, and that many countries have had their roles in the development of the subject downplayed. We need to make maths more democratic and discursive, so they are not afraid to suggest wrong answers." As Ernest readily accepts, this last suggestion demands a total rethink of teaching styles, as one of the main problems students come across in maths is precisely that an answer is simply either right or wrong. And it's hard to get round that. Whereas an essay can allow for shades of opinion and degrees of understanding, most school - and even undergraduate - maths doesn't throw the subject open to these nuances.

Well, no, eix = cos(x) + i sin(x), not give or take a hyperbolic tangent.

I suppose it's churlish to point out that it's precisely the parts of the world where there's a premium on the skills of the symbolic analyst that this conversation is taking place, perhaps because there's a migration of people from parts of the world where that premium is absent to where that premium is present.

I know it's too much work deconstructing the full argument. Via Joanne Jacobs, I offer an Education Gadfly retort worthy of General MacAuliffe.
I'LL TAKE PUBLIC FIGURES FOR $500, ALEX.

The answer is:
We're floundering in a quagmire in Iraq. Our strategy is flawed, and it's too late to change it. Our resources have been squandered, our best people killed, we're hated by the natives and our reputation around the world is circling the drain. We must withdraw.
Who is ...
WHY WE TEACH COST-BENEFIT ANALYSIS. Destination: Freedom makes common cause with opponents of tax-limitation policies sold under the rubric "taxpayer bill of rights."

‘Taxpayer Bill of Rights’, or TABOR, ballot measures attempt to place tight caps on state and local revenues. These caps limit public sector spending and investment based on a formula linked to population growth and inflation. Voter approval is typically necessary to override the caps. The measure sounds reasonable but ignores the nature of investment and on-going operational expenses for many public services. TABOR has become a favorite tool for some libertarian and conservative anti-government activists.

These measures can have dramatic and disastrous effects on the ability of states and communities to deal with an array of infrastructure improvements and investments. In 1992, Colorado became the first, and remains the only, state to adopt a TABOR amendment. Despite its robust growth and relatively high per capita income, a recent study ranked Colorado 35th in transportation funding, sixth-worst in the nation on highway and transportation maintenance. The state received a “D+” from the American Society of Civil Engineers for the condition of its infrastructure. In 2005, Colorado voters decided to place a temporary moratorium on TABOR in order to invest in needed transportation and other projects.

I suspect advocates of tax-limitation would use the vote as evidence that the law is working: the rent-seekers who otherwise would enjoy untrammelled access to the public purse must convince voters that the transportation projects are indeed useful. The American Society of Civil Engineers, after all, has a membership whose salaries often depend on a steady stream of government spending on bridges, road widenings, and housing projects.
ON THE LIGHTER SIDE. Betsy's Page finds a marvelous animation of "Battle of New Orleans" using Lego figures.
FACTOR-AUGMENTING TECHNICAL CHANGE. Via Charlie Sykes, an early-1990s version of 24, complete with a hippiesh Jack Bauer. Watch it and reflect on what instantaneous communication used to be.

18.11.07

MINNESOTA'S TAX DOLLARS AT WORK. You can buy a proper playing field. Atmosphere is another matter.

During his [recruiting] visit last fall, [David] Gilreath watched UW beat Penn State, 13-3, in front of a boisterous crowd of 81,777. He had never experienced such an atmosphere in the Metrodome, except when Wisconsin fans flooded the stadium.

"The Metrodome is kind of boring," Gilreath said. "I went to Gopher games since I was in the ninth grade. I thought that was loud. I thought that was nuts.

"Then I came here. . . . It was crazy. My mouth dropped."

Minnesota is scheduled to play just one more season in the sterile Metrodome, which is off campus. An on-campus, open-air stadium, which will seat about 50,000 fans, is set to open in 2009.

The last game at the Dump this season was properly the last game for Minnesota and Wisconsin, the latter retaining ownership of the Axe and awaiting a bowl invitation.


Associated Press photo courtesy Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.
EXPERIENCE AND CUNNING SUPPLEMENTED BY YOUTH AND ABILITY. Vinnie Testaverde has retired and unretired and today he led the Carolina Panthers into Lambeau to face Brett Favre and the Packers, who prevailed.
SALES TAX MEANS SALES TAX. That goes for the Wisconsin football program, too.
Wisconsin athletics director Barry Alvarez asked lawmakers Wednesday to help his department avoid a potentially huge tax liability.

The [Wisconsin] Department of Revenue is threatening to start collecting the sales tax on donations made to Badgers’ athletics by people trying to qualify for season tickets, Alvarez said. His department would owe $400,000 in the first year and up to $2 million if the tax is collected retroactively to 2001, he said.

The Badgers’ legendary former coach testified in favor of a bill that would specifically exempt such donations from the sales tax. Fans would still pay the sales tax on the face value of the tickets.

“The failure to enact (the bill) would have an immediate negative financial impact on the Athletic Department,” Alvarez said.

An Assembly committee voted 11-0 for the bill after a 45-minute hearing. A similar plan failed to pass the full Legislature last session.

The department started requiring donations for preferential seating at football, men’s and women’s basketball and hockey games several years ago as part of a plan to get its “financial house in order,” Alvarez said.

The school charges up to $250 for Wisconsin football season ticket holders and smaller premiums for other sports. The payments are required for 38,000 seats at Camp Randall and 6,500 at the Kohl Center, Alvarez said.
Bingo. "Required donations are not donations."
IT'S HARD TO WIN A HAND OF LEASTER. Northern Illinois moves from #4 in the Bottom Ten to beyond the waiting list.

17.11.07

OUR NEIGHBORS AT WAR. Remembering Specialist Ashley Sietsema, Illinois National Guard and Northern Illinois University.
QUOTE OF THE DAY. Life choices are not interchangeable.
"This is the dark underbelly of cohabitation," said Brad Wilcox, a sociology professor at the University of Virginia. "Cohabitation has become quite common, and most people think, 'What's the harm?' The harm is we're increasing a pattern of relationships that's not good for children."
The article goes on to note that Professor Wilcox's observation is not yet consensus among practitioners.

14.11.07

PAGING LOTKE AND VOLTERRA. Predator cycles are part of the balance of nature.
It is a desperate - and likely endless - fight to protect the delicate ecology of the world's first national park, home to a rogue colony of Lake Michigan lake trout that biologists believe was illegally planted in Yellowstone Lake by self-serving anglers hungry for bigger trout to fry.
That is, until the bigger trout population falls into a Malthusian trap.
A model of biological evolution is considered, based on Lotke-Volterra population models (ecological interaction), with mutation being modelled by introducing new species with random ecological connections. It is found that the system evolves away from the ecological equilibrium point to a sort of steady-state balancing extinction with speciation.
That's the scientific version. The popular version goes like this.

Lake trout belong in Lake Michigan. The big lake gets out of whack without a top predator to cull its schools of smaller prey fish, including pesky alewives. But overfishing, pollution and an onslaught of invasive species combined to wipe out the king of the Lake Michigan food chain about 50 years ago.

Today, Lake Michigan lake trout are hatchery-raised and, like a dose of antibiotics, dispensed annually to help keep swarms of prey fish in check.

But in an absurd twist of ecological irony, it's a different story in Yellowstone.

In Yellowstone, Lake Michigan lake trout are the disease.

Read the rest of the story. It's depressing.

I also found this predator cycle simulation that appears to provide an online interactive application.
THERE WERE HIAWATHA PARADE FLOATS. The Hiawatha Room posts this picture of one built for the 1941 American Legion convention in Milwaukee. It appears to be parked between two of the support buildings at West Milwaukee Shops.


There are some differences between it and the mystery relic, but there are similarities.

In other Hiawatha nostalgia, consider the in-progress restorations of Coffee Creek and a 1948 leg-rest coach.

13.11.07

COLLEGIATE MODERN. Ogg Hall. Looks like the same furniture that was in the place in 1971.

REVEALED PREFERENCES. An anonymous professor at an ambitious Southern flagship university raises a familiar gripe.
Lost in the shadows of the administration's grandiose vision are the basic necessities of professional life. The real work of the university takes place on the ground -- in the classroom, the library, and the faculty office. And those of us on the ground doing the work should be equipped with the shovels and boots our dusty work requires.
Sometimes the working conditions are no better elsewhere. Everything this columnist notes is also daily reality in at least one enrollment-impacted department in a mid-major.

And there you have it, the list of vague values that propel this institution forward, punctuated with the ubiquitous exclamation point that is the hallmark of [Big Southern's] proclamations: Diversity, Excellence, Rankings.

What do any of those labels really measure? And what do they really mean? How do they translate into the material conditions of my professional existence? The buzzwords stubbornly resist embodiment in mundane -- yet crucial -- items like adequate supplies of departmental letterhead, functional furniture, clean corridors, reliable e-mail systems, and, yes, soap in the bathrooms.

When my classes are at full enrollment, there are so many students and so many desks that my instructional space at the front of the room is reduced to a rectangle -- no more than a foot in width and 3 feet in length -- in which I pace like a caged animal back and forth before my students. I could gain another foot of space by moving the overhead projector, but that easy solution evades me as the projector is literally chained to the front wall.

But who wouldn't want to achieve greatness, or the illusion thereof, on the cheap?

The biggest obstacle -- not only for myself but for the realization of the university's ambitions -- is the great disparity between its abstract mission statement and the material requirements of the teachers and scholars for whom the mission is a mandate.

The administration wants BSU to become one of the "top" institutions in the country, and to achieve that goal with facilities that are outdated, overcrowded, and ill-maintained, and with technologies that are unreliable, obsolete, and often unavailable.

I note this column in light of the Northern Illinois strategic plan, of which more perhaps next week.
MAKING THE CASE FOR A CORRIDOR. The editors of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel hope to harvest a few spillover benefits, no doubt at somebody else's expense, from a Chicago Olympiad.

In addition, the Olympics bid could finally jump-start long-overdue improvements in rail transportation, including the possibility of a high-speed rail link between the two cities.

On that score and others, Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker and the congressional delegations need to read from the same playbook. A seamless and reliable transportation system is key.

That is, if the International Olympic Committee awards the 2016 summer games to Chicago. Whether that happens or not, there are developments on the Hiawatha corridor. The aesthetes at the paper have been down on the 1960s design of the Milwaukee station for some time. That station has received a makeover, and architecture critic Whitney Gould suggests there can never be enough of that Penn Station-style open space in a railroad station.

Gone are those elongated, cartoonish arches and that overbearing porte-cochère. Gone is the silly bell tower. No more broken doors and stick-on bathroom tile.

In their place is a luminous atrium that extends the building 30 feet north to the street, adding 7,500 square feet of space to the waiting area. Architect Greg Uhen has created a soaring, 50-foot-high room whose lively structural elements - crisscrossing white beams - express the sense of movement and connection embodied in a terminal for trains, buses and, perhaps someday, commuter and light rail (a prospect that seems less far-fetched as oil prices edge toward $100 a barrel).

Those arches ("modern renaissance" on the outside, echoed over the ticket windows inside) were state of the art in 1965, and that "silly bell tower" was characterized by Trains as "a nod to its 1886 predecessor" which had a full clock tower. The porte-cochere came in handy for transferring to taxis on a rainy day, as well as honoring a Milwaukee Road tradition (see the new and old Sturtevant stations, as well as Milton, or Richland Center with its canonical porte-cochere.) All the same, the station upgrade is good to see.




Let me take this occasion to remind readers, and Journal-Sentinel editorialists, what speeds used to be routine on that railroad.