"Digital Diary''

'Elite' schools should boycott US News college rankings

Boycott US News Ranking Racket

From Robert Whitcomb’s “Digital Diary,’’ in GoLocal24.com

The US News & World Report college-rankings system is one reason that the already intense American race for admission to “elite colleges’’ has gotten so much worse in the past few decades and helped lead to the current college-admissions scandals. And yet all institutions, even the ones lumped together as, for example, members of the Ivy League, are so different that comparing them is the old apples-to-oranges problem.

The nation’s most famous universities would help cool this corrupting status race by refusing to cooperate with US News– stop sending them data, etc. Boycott US News! The Ivy League, MIT, the University of Chicago, Duke, the most prestigious state universities, etc., have the gravitas and power to help stem these college-admissions scandals. They can and should do what they can to weaken the power of US News’s lucrative and crooked rating business.

Bobwhites went with the farms

Northern Bobwhite.

Northern Bobwhite.

From Robert Whitcomb’s “Digital Diary,’’ in GoLocal24.com

I remember as a kid often hearing the distinctive call of the Northern Bobwhite – “Bob White! Bob White!’’ But I haven’t it much in recent decades, and have wondered why.

Robert Tougias has explained the disappearance in a charming essay in The (New London) Day, headlined “Recalling when bobwhites flourished here’’ {in Connecticut and by implication across southern New England}: Bobwhites like pastureland and brushland and, Mr. Tougias wrote, “nested within overgrown weedy fencerows and sapling-covered waysides {a lovely word}’’. That explains why I often heard these birds when I was a kid in the ‘50s: There was a working farm across the road from our house and three or four others not far away in what was then a small, semi-rural town. No more. McMansions now loom in some of those former fields, surrounded by second-growth woods.

The exit of the Northern Bobwhites is yet another example of how endlessly humans change nature around them.

As farms have disappeared in New England and their pastures and other fields with them, to be replaced by woods and housing, the numbers of this species in the region have sharply declined, though, Mr. Tougias wrote, you can still find them on Cape Cod “within the pitch pine woodland edges.’’

To read his essay, please hit this link.

Springfield may have some fiscal lessons for other old cities

Springfield Armory Museum, in the former Main Arsenal of the Springfield Armory.

Springfield Armory Museum, in the former Main Arsenal of the Springfield Armory.

Adapted from Robert Whitcomb’s “Digital Diary,’’ in GoLocal24.com

‘A piece in Governing.com by Alan Greenblatt may hold some lessons for other financially struggling New England cities, such as Providence. This is about Springfield, Mass., now best known for having a big new casino (which will not help the city in the long run). It’s also well known for the Basketball Hall of Fame (the sport was invented there), as the longtime site of gun making, for both the military and private sector, and as the boyhood home of Theodor Seuss Geisel (aka Dr. Seuss).

After 18 years of deficits and a deteriorating tax base, a state control board took over Springfield’s government in 2004. The board restructured municipal departments, and, Mr. Greenblatt reports, “laid off employees and ran a rigorous performance program, using data to keep track of what was going on. Mayor Domenic Sarno, first elected in 2007, has helped put into place real-time accounting systems when changes are called for.’’

Thus the city’s finances have been stabilized and its credit ratings have risen.

Meanwhile, law enforcement has been improved, as have the schools, with high-school graduation rates up 56 percent over the past few five years (but how much of this involves “social promotions’’ ?) and, probably more important, the dropout rate has been halved.

And CRRC, a rail-car manufacturing plant, has opened, with about 150 workers, all of them well paid in varying degrees and, unlike the plus-300 and mostly low paid workers at the MGM Springfield Casino, making a useful product instead of a service that spawns crime and other social problems.

Springfield still has plenty of problems, especially poverty, but things are much, much better these days. It has some lessons for other old cities.

To read the Governing.com piece, please hit this link.

The Millennials' Manhattan


From Robert Whitcomb's "Digital Diary,'' in GoLocal24.com

I was in Manhattan a couple of days the other week and seeing all those young adults (some are friends of mine) on the sunny streets brought back memories of when I lived in New York, in the ‘70s. Most of them seemed to be in their twenties, recently out of college and at least looked and sounded ambitious and not yet soured by the claustrophobia and stress that accompany life in the city and that ultimately drives out a lot of people when they enter their thirties. The sight of a bunch of young lawyers with the name of their corporate firm, “Davis Polk,’’ on their T-shirts and probably headed for an obligatory softball game in Central Park sort of crystallized my nostalgia as I gazed at the gleaming towers, too many now occupied by Russian oligarchs and other flight capitalists.

When I lived there, “The City,’’ as we still call it, was falling apart for various reasons, some affecting all large American cities, some unique to New York. Crime was high, the subways were a mess (and  mostly un-air-conditioned), strikes were frequent and many big employers were fleeing the city for Fairfield County, Conn.

Still, because of demographic changes, huge Reagan-era incentives for Wall Street, stronger mayors and an unexpected increase in younger Americans’ appreciation of the joys of city life, New York came back and is a hell of a lot spiffier now than it was 40 years ago. But you can see a few signs that it’s sliding again – there’s more graffiti and more bums than just a few years ago, when Michael Bloomberg was mayor, and the current mayor, Bill DiBlasio does not, shall we say, have the reputation for competence and integrity that Bloomberg had and has.

The city’s Achilles heel is its over-dependence on finance. Artificial intelligence and big New York banks’ drive to lower costs by moving major operations to cheaper places threaten to shrink the city’s greatest wealth creator.

The most surprising thing I saw on a sidewalk: A bike whose frame was made of wood.


The West should circle the wagons.

Adapted from Robert Whitcomb's Nov. 3 "Digital Diary'' column in GoLocal 24.

In  one of the nuttier episodes in the trade wars,  the government of Wallonia, the poorer, French-speaking part of Belgium, held up for days a trade deal between the European Union and Canada. Finally, concessions were made to the Walloons aimed at protecting their farmers and Rust Belt-style businesses from being hit hard by competition with multinational companies, and the pact was signed.

The Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), which backers predict will boost trade by 20 percent between Canada and the E.U., will now go into effect.

I can understand the opposition of many people in Europe and the U.S. to international trade that seems to have benefited the elite and not the middle class, but we should be expanding trade within the West as much as possible to strengthen the world’s core of democracy, human rights (including labor rights) and environmental protection. It’s trade with police state China that has done the most damage. Cut U.S. trade with China, Russia and other dictatorships as much as possible and boost it with Western Europe,  Canada, Australia, NewZealand, as well as with India, Japan and Taiwan and a few other non-Western nations that share many of our democratic values.

Western nations need to circle the wagons and do as much as they can to  better compete with China and other dictatorships.  We need a free-trade zone with all the Western democracies. That doesn’t mean a larger version of the European Union, which, with its noneconomic elements, is quite something else. Rather we need, first off,  what used to be called the “European Common Market’’ expanded to include the U.S. and Canada while boosting NATO to stop Russian aggression.

Will Putin admirer  (and debtor?) and "free-trade'' foe President-elect Donald Trump come to recognize this?