8.12.19

II. ADVENT.


This week's meditation: in several parables, the tax collector comes in for opprobrium. "Render unto Caesar" implies sacred limitations on the sovereign. Does the sentiment also imply secular limitations?

HO! HO! HO! WHO WOULDN'T GO?

The Christmas trains at Wisconsin's East Troy Electric Railroad now include on-train community singing.  This year's seasonal trains have sold out, children of all ages seem to be enjoying the ride.

Railway preservation is part business, part preservation. It's unlikely that the children would be distressed that the current operators of the museum allowed a vintage wooden interurban from Green Bay to deteriorate beyond economical repair (it would have made a wonderful companion to the well-restored Sheboygan car) and lost track of an even older streetcar body from Milwaukee (that was contracted out for repair) and now I hear similar questions raised about yet another Milwaukee streetcar.

Sometimes you have to decide what part of the collection merits conservation, and what must be de-accessioned, which is museum-speak for "discarded."  During the Festive Season, dear reader, consider supporting your local, or your favorite, preservation railways.

STANLEY FISH GETS DE-PLATFORMED.

The gods of higher education are a sardonic lot, but they do have a sense of humor, such as when the author of There's No Such Thing as Free Speech and other light classics gets shut down.
In a recent editorial for The Wall Street Journal you wrote about being disinvited from a talk at Seton Hall. What happened?

I got a call from a faculty member who is also an administrator at Seton Hall, who told me that they’re about to install a new president at the university and as part of the celebration they’re going to have a lecture series about matters of importance to campus life. Would I give the first of the lectures? I said sure, but it would depend on the date. He said he’d call me back, which he did a couple of weeks later — not to tell me a day, but that the invitation was being withdrawn.

Of course I asked why. He said that a committee, which hadn’t met in person but had communicated by email, had decided that I was not who they wanted the audience at Seton Hall to hear.
Having contributed to an academic culture in which scholarship becomes an extension of activism (or is it the other way around?) the professor lives long enough to see where that goes badly wrong.
The active life leads to going out and attempting to produce results that will alter the condition of your society. Academic life stops short of the waters of politics or of direct action in the world.

When I complain about the introduction of political stances or considerations in the academy, what I’m complaining about is the failure to recognize and be faithful to the distinctiveness of the academic task. I don’t think that is necessarily in conflict with what I say about principles. I’m just making what might be thought to be a descriptive and sociological point, rather than a deep philosophical point. This is a university space; this is what is done in universities.
Better to come around too late than never, to be cited as a Deceased Expert who Anticipated What Needed To Be Done.

The house organ for Business As Usual in higher education has not yet put the full interview behind its paywall.  The conversation touches on a number of other current topics, it will reward careful study.

THE TROLL, AFTER ALL, IS A NORSE CHARACTER.

The best way to get to the trendy electric motorcar show?  Take the trolley!  "Leave it to Swedes to come up with the politely sharp repartee rail promoters often lack by taking a vintage streetcar to a cutting edge electric automobile show."


The cars calling at the nearby tram-stop have a few more spaces for passengers, and perhaps for today's bicycles.

No word on whether the transit authority also facilitates packages travelling together, say, with a postal service streetcar, or merchandise despatch service.

4.12.19

THE MOST LOATHSOME TYPE OF PRESIDENT.

Columnist S. E. Cupp puts it bluntly.  "He is a solutionist."  Solutionists are people who suffer from the fatal conceit, with an overweening sense of "I can do it."
Solutionists are highly successful in one area and believe their natural next step is running the whole damn country.

While anyone who believes they should be president of the United States must have an outsized sense of self, the solutionist’s arrogance is boundless. Not only they seem to think they can solve all the complex socioeconomic, structural and cultural problems that have stymied brilliant scholars and political leaders for generations, they think it won’t take them all that long either.
Unfortunately, solutionists don't necessarily have much respect for institutional constraints, let alone for the possibility that complex adaptive systems tend to do what they d**n well please.
[A]ny solutionism is dangerous in that it tends to ignore or reject the necessary limitations of important systems and institutions — things like basic economics, the Constitution, the law and human nature. To the solutionist, these are just nuisances a clever workaround can easily abate.

No matter the party, good governance should recognize that the best solutions often come from individual citizens, local municipal governments and the private sector, and not the magical imagination of a single powerful man who says he has all the answers.
Ms Cupp's salary depends on being a political pundit, and not surprisingly, she has another column today praying for a third presidential party, on the grounds that "Solving problems isn't as politically profitable as keeping them broken" for the existing political class.

No, let's have less reliance on Government as the way to Solve Problems.  Bet on emergence.

David Von Drehle isn't quite there yet (perhaps his masters at Washington's Post won't have it) but perhaps he'll figure it out.
Leading Democratic theorists tend to explain their loss of the working class in terms of race, gender, patriarchy and disruption — favorite frames of reference that are necessary to understand our politics but far from sufficient. What these frames fail to capture is the practicality of working people and their hard-earned allergy to egghead notions that cannot be made to work efficiently in the field. They’ve seen just enough college grads who design server racks that can’t be bolted into place to become skeptical of self-declared “smart” people in general. And they won’t be won over by politicians with grand, impractical plans.
The house organ of the Political Class in the home base of the Political Class is unlikely to turn against the Social Engineering Vice in any systematic way any time soon. And yet if there are residents of the Swamp who begin to recognize, even dimly, that governing modestly might be governing better, the lived experience of practical people, whether they buy Carhartts or not, might well improve.

LEAD US NOT INTO PENN STATION, BUT DELIVER US FROM WISE EXPERTS.

Brown University public policy researcher Marc J. Dunkelman offers a lengthy analysis of all the ways in which New York's Pennsylvania Station was ruined and yet cannot be put back together.
Penn Station is the second most heavily trafficked transit hub in the world, trailing only Tokyo’s Shinjuku Station. The station serves more daily passengers than the region’s three huge airports (Kennedy, LaGuardia, and Newark) combined. More people pass through Penn each weekday than live in the city of Baltimore. Anyone who has passed through Penn Station over the past half-century—or who passed through it this Thanksgiving weekend—knows that the nation’s busiest transit center is a national embarrassment, a hole in the ground where the food is ratty and the waiting rooms are sparse.

For more than a generation, New York’s most important gateway has been a grimy relic. Powerful figures in New York, Albany and Washington have plotted for more than three decades to redevelop the whole complex into a world-class facility. But time and again, their efforts have faltered. Today, after 30 years of talk, the station is poised for an upgrade, but the plans are less elaborate than the ones that were announced last decade. And even when the current work is complete, the station will require still more renovation just to be considered a modern facility.
There's a lot to digest in the article, it comes down to the absence of anyone with the vision of Alexander J. Cassatt and the drive of J. Edgar Thomson. "But Penn Station has actually languished at the hands of another simple reality: No one has the leverage to fix it. "  It's another inheritance from the truly most destructive generation of the modern era, the process-worshippers of the Silent Generation.  "Since the 1970s, even as progressives have championed Big Government, they’ve worked tirelessly to put new checks on its power—to pull it away from imperious technocrats who might use government to bulldoze hapless communities. "  It's enough to make a Marxist giggle (a phrase that I lifted from Trains editor David P. Morgan, who noted the rigamarole strangling Commuter Rail service in New York in the late 1950s.)

Mr Dunkelman is still a believer in the power of Governance by Wise Experts.  "To rebuild faith in the power of government to do good, responsible leaders need the power to pursue the public interest."  I fear, though, that he has really made the case that the best thing for the Wise Experts to do is to go away.

THEY'RE STILL ON THE INDEX.

That is, Northern Illinois University still have one policy, their "nondiscrimination and harassment policy" that rates a red light from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.

Several policies, including the "decorating dorm room" policies and the free speech zone, continue to rate a yellow light.  A few "freedom of expression" policies were updated in November of this year, and those pass muster as not being unduly restrictive.

Looks like another year when I write a check to the Foundation and not the university.

3.12.19

COMPLEXITY CONFOUNDS COORDINATION.

At first blush, it seems so simple.  Put yourself in the place of the Kaiser's shipbuilder.  It's a lot of trouble to sort out the tall timbers suitable for masts from among the wild growth of the boreal forests.  Wouldn't it be simpler, you muse (OK, in German) to set aside some land to plant and cultivate precisely the kind of tall timbers you need, and schnell, before the French or the English figure it out?  Or perhaps you are the Tsar's home secretary, and it occurs to you that the steppe is endless versts of similar glacial till, and devoting it all to grain will keep the masses sufficiently nourished that they won't rebel, or that they'll have some strength to keep the French or the Germans out.  Per corollary, mightn't there be lots of other opportunities for the man of system to organize and rationalize and otherwise improve the Human Condition?

The bad news, dear reader, is that there's always some Overlooked Element in all those grand plans.  Book Review No. 11 commends James C. Scott's Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed.  My opening paragraph identifies some of the foibles of Overweening Technocracy (my expression: Mr Scott uses "High Modern Authoritarianism" to refer to a similar phenomenon) that arise in his book.  Glacial till is great for growing mass quantities of staple crops, but don't try the same methods on raspberries (or arugula and kale?) or apply steppe-friendly methods to more southerly places that haven't been glaciated.  The man of system has to suppress tacit and local knowledge (see page 311 and following) and that doesn't turn out well, as we read at page 340.
What has proved to be truly dangerous to us and to our environment, I think, is the combination of the universalist pretensions of epistemic knowledge and authoritarian social planning. Such a combination has been at work in city planning, in Lenin's view of revolution (but not his practice), in collectivization in the Soviet Union, and in villagization in Tanzania.
"They all but guarantee their own practical failure."  Indeed.

In defense of the high-modernist approach, Mr Scott suggests, pages 352-353, that technocratic interventions often addressed "unjust and oppressive" existing orders (that old "good intentions" dodge?); that they often trafficked in "egalitarian, emancipatory" ideas (neglecting that the best form of emancipation might be in freedom to bet on emergence?); he notes that "dogged, day-to-day resistance" of the people subjected to the Wise Experts' schemes can cause the Experts either to be frustrated (sending in the tanks?) or to trim to local conditions.  Thus, although Mr Scott, an academic, has to make the obligatory disclaimer early on ("my bill of particulars against a certain kind of state is by no means a case for politically unfettered market coordination as urged by Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman," page 8) that disclaimer says more about his lack of understanding of Hayek or Friedman (there being no such thing as politically unfettered market coordination or anything else) than it does about his understanding of the workings of technocrats who would prefer an exemption from market tests or political fetters, although that's what turns out badly.

(Cross-posted to 50 Book Challenge.)

MODEL RAILROADING IN THE TRADITIONAL MANNER.

The Model Railroad Club of Milwaukee have been running trains in the same clubhouse, a former local passenger and express station in the Walker's Point neighborhood, since sometime in the 1930s, which is the longest tenure of any club in the same location anywhere in the world.

That previous post notes that the club's traditional third Friday of each month open day became harder to manage with the watering holes of Walker's Point growing in number and becoming more popular with casual bar-hoppers; thus the open day has become the final Sunday of each month.


That small anteroom in the rear holds a small marshalling yard that represents the Port of Milwaukee.  It's currently out of service.  The trackage is hand-laid, with old-style solenoid switch machines to direct traffic by remote control.


That yard is off the track plan to the right.  The track plan dates to around 1950, when the club rebuilt the layout for two-rail rather than outside-third-rail power distribution.  In those days, the way to provide a longer mainline run was to have what became known as the "bowl of spaghetti" track plan; here it's a continuous circuit that goes thrice around the room at left (the main entrance) and twice around the room at right (primarily yards and engine terminals) with one loop flipped to reverse direction without any annoying change of polarity.

These days, track plans provide for walk-around control, which means the second or third time around the room generally takes place at different levels.  This is more easily done with helices in the smaller scales than in O Scale.


There have been a few changes to the layout over the years; this small engine terminal is not on the plan, it's at the upper right corner of the left panel (in the front room.)  The critters are for industrial service.


Here, the flipped third loop in the front room crosses over the streetcar and interurban line.  The street trackage still works, but the interurban line to Watertown is out of service, as the trolley modellers have mostly crossed the final summit.


There are still passengers waiting for the interurban, which might be as hard to find as real Blatz, Diamond wax paper, or Burma-Shave.


Maybe that "Welcome to Cleveland" sign on a roof just north of Mitchell Field fooled this aviator.  That's an Island Airlines Tri-Motor.  The real ones still fly, but only in preservation.


Trains editor David P. Morgan referred to The Milwaukee Road as his "Christmas railroad;" that because of the longest (at the time) mainline electrification with regenerative braking and Bi-Polars (with the Trans-Siberian electrified from Moscow to Vladivostok that competition is closed for all time) and closer to home those 75 minute Hiawathas between Chicago and Milwaukee.  Amtrak might have that Hiawatha emblem on the tree, but what I want for Christmas is Free Rein to 110.


The O Scaler must improvise.  Will you look this good eighty years on?  That's the Lionel diecast Hiawatha shell from the late 1930s, with a two-rail mechanism installed.  She's still capable of rolling the passengers.


Note that the train hesitates at a few spots. Control is still by rotary block switches and rheostats with the operators sitting on control positions on the old steps to track level. There is a model board to cue the operators when they must select the next section, you'll see it illuminated in one of the still shots in the post.

There are no plans by the current membership to install command control.  Perhaps that will not be an issue in any event, as the younger members (who in some cases don't know yet that they will become members) will go directly to dead rail, which is to say, onboard batteries and radio control.


A retrospective "our neighbors at war."  Carl Zeidler's brother Frank was one of the founding members of the club (along with Al Kalmbach and William K. Walthers).  Both Zeidlers served as mayor of Milwaukee, Carl, as a Democrat and Frank as a Socialist.  Carl resigned his office to join the Navy and went missing in the Pacific.


More on the evolution of O Scale.  Walthers offered a 60 foot "utility coach" based on a Chicago and North Western prototype.  The originals are still around, sometimes (for instance, in the Cold Spring Shops project pile) in kit form, and Atlas O brought out a ready-to-run plastic version in its Trainman line.  You'll see some of those running here.

Then, it's time to run and catch a train, and, for the first time in over sixty years, it's possible to ride a streetcar to not far from the railroad station.


Granted, two stops from the Public Market (always a good place to stop for seafood) to the station isn't exactly a big deal, but this car also goes to the Grohmann Museum and into the Italian grocery district on the east side.

"RACIST!" IS THE LATTER-DAY VERSION OF "HERETIC!"

It matters not whether the person hurling the accusation has any basis for using it; it has the effect of immediately putting the accused on the defense, rather than requiring that the user offer evidence.

Once again, Indiana game theorist Eric Rasmusen is in trouble with the Holy Inquisition, er, the Diet of Provosts.  Because the professor, whose textbook I have used, is less secular (my choice of description: to my left I'm hearing "less enlightened" and to my right "less indoctrinated") than his colleagues and, likely, the student body.  Provost Lauren Robel would like the auto da fe to commence.
His expressed views are stunningly ignorant, more consistent with someone who lived in the 18th century than the 21st. Sometimes Professor Rasmusen explains his views as animated by his Christian faith, although Christ was neither a bigot nor did he use slurs; indeed, he counseled avoiding judgments. Rhetorically speaking, Professor Rasmusen has demonstrated no difficulty in casting the first, or the lethal, stone.
Sometimes, though, a church benefits from having iconoclasts.  It's an old struggle in higher education, does a faculty member's private beliefs affect his ability to do his job, made more complicated at a state institution where Constitutional protections hold, for now.
Adam Steinbaugh, an attorney with the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, said that Indiana’s response to Rasmusen gets “much right.” It identifies the First Amendment limitations on the university's ability to discipline faculty members for extramural comments, he said, “distinguishing offensive speech from discriminatory conduct.” In also taking disciplinary action “off the table” in the absence of such conduct, Indiana can focus on “other, more effective methods of answering speech that members of the community find offensive.”

At the same time, many others continue to call on Indiana to terminate Rasmusen. It's inevitable that his views impact the classroom, even for those students who voluntarily take his courses, they say.
That concluding sentence reads a lot like the No Indoctrination complaints of years ago, albeit with the sides reversed.  The challenge is the same, irrespective of who might be offended.
Even while praising Indiana, Steinbaugh, of FIRE, said the dean’s statement goes too far in stating, more specifically, that it "will conduct a thorough review of the courses taught by this professor for the influence of bias."

While a university can certainly address discriminatory conduct, he said, “we should be wary of the threat to academic freedom presented when administrators announce reviews into course materials for the influence of bias.”
Indeed so; I recall when I was still on duty, how the Syllabus Project (looking for excessive Marxism, or something) turned the local leftists into First Amendment purists, at least for a little.

Unsurprisingly, the now-closed comment section at Inside Higher Ed has become a food fight.

Professor Rasmusen is not backing away from the fight, and he fisks the provost.  By all means, dear reader, follow the controversy, if you must.  He opens with a modern-day version of "If this be treason, make the most of it," or perhaps it's "pound sand."  To wit, "These insults no longer have much meaning."

It's days like this that I'm happy to not have to take sides, or deal with a memorandum from headquarters praising Gaia and reminding everyone that "we must ensure a non-threatening, fair learning environment."

AN EXAM WEEK REVIEW SESSION.

The Welfare Economics Paradigm looks pretty on a blackboard, but it doesn't implement well.  Donald "Cafe Hayek" Boudreaux offers the details.
The apparent science on display seems impressive. Curves are drawn on the whiteboard to portray the difference left by free markets between marginal private cost and marginal social cost, between marginal private benefit and marginal social benefit, and the resulting failure of markets to produce socially optimal quantities of outputs and to attach to these outputs socially optimal prices.

Gazing at the curves – or, if the class is especially mathematical, studying the equations – reveals the remedial action that must be taken if society’s welfare is to be optimized. Shift this curve upward, or that one downward – or in the equations modify this coefficient that way or that coefficient this way – and, voila!, society is engineered to optimality with the aid of Scientific Economics.
By all means read, understand, react, to the essay in full. The key point, though, is that in practice there's something called the margin of error. "But these curves and equations are seldom realities on which researchers can gather actual data."  (And we generally don't burden introductory or intermediate students with a survey of econometrics before we get to welfare economics.)

Let alone that philosopher-kings don't exist outside Plato's dialogues or the early theoretical work of Joseph Stiglitz.
Yet despite more than a half-century of warnings from public-choice economists, mainstream economists continue to assume, without much apparent thought, that government officials act in a way that is categorically different from the way these same persons would act were they in the private sector: private persons are assumed to act to promote their own self-interests, while government officials are assumed to act to promote the public interest.

What, however, could be more unscientific than this assumption of dual motivations? It is justified neither by science nor by common sense, but it is crucial to the “scientific” case for government action to correct market failures.
In their absence, perhaps it's not "superstition" on the part of economists that makes the apparent default setting in textbooks the Welfare Economics Paradigm: rather, it is that selling Technocratic Advice to the governing classes raises the salaries of economists.

1.12.19

I. ADVENT.


This week's meditation: how unequal were wealth holdings in the days when Cyrenius was governor of Syria?

IF MASS TRANSIT REDUCES TRAFFIC CONGESTION, SHOULDN'T MASS PACKAGE DELIVERY ALSO DO SO?

Perhaps not, particularly in the big cities.
An Amazon order starts with a tap of a finger. Two days later — or even in a matter of hours — the package arrives.

It seems simple enough.

But to deliver Amazon orders and countless others from businesses that sell over the internet, the very fabric of major urban areas around the world is being transformed. And New York City, where more than 1.5 million packages are delivered daily, shows the impact that this push for convenience is having on gridlock, roadway safety and pollution.

Delivery trucks operated by UPS and FedEx double-park on streets and block bus and bike lanes. They racked up more than 471,000 parking violations last year, a 34 percent increase from 2013.
Put another way, the mass transit vehicles get reserved spaces, while the mass parcel delivery vehicles have to make do as best as they can, on roads that are not rationed by price.
While the rise of ride-hailing services like Uber has unquestionably caused more traffic, the proliferation of trucks has worsened the problem. As a result, cars in the busiest parts of Manhattan now move just above a jogger’s pace, about 7 m.p.h., roughly 23 percent slower than at the beginning of the decade.

Neighborhoods like Red Hook, Brooklyn, are being used as logistics hubs to get packages to customers faster than ever. At least two million square feet of warehouse space is being built in New York, including what will be the largest center of its kind in the country. Amazon added two warehouses in the city over the summer.
Gosh, that Manhattan traffic was moving at all of about ten or eleven m.p.h. at the beginning of the decade, which was also during that era of macroeconomic torpor we call the Obama recovery.

I wonder if anybody remembers that, years ago, the Brooklyn shore, as well as its New Jersey counterpart, was railroad freight yards, car float docks, and lighter terminals.  "Officials are racing to keep track of the numerous warehouses sprouting up, to create more zones for trucks to unload and to encourage some deliveries to be made by boat as the city struggles to cope with a booming online economy."  Everything old is new again, including household deliveries.  "Households now receive more shipments than businesses, pushing trucks into neighborhoods where they had rarely ventured."

That must be contemporary box trucks and parcel vans, there has been a United Parcel Service (today's UPS) running brown parcel cars for my entire conscious existence; those might be bigger today, although I've seen some shrinkage of the size of the delivery vans of late, and I'm also old enough to remember milk delivery trucks (some of which, I'm told, had a most unforgiving clutch, but perhaps that was one way that the drivers could leave 'em idling and run to the milk box to swap out the empty bottle for a full bottle, and hope the lady of the house had rinsed out the empty first) bringing fresh milk daily or a few times a day.  Those milk trucks were a source of despair to people of a technocratic and coordinating bent, as you'd have Golden Guernsey and Gehl and Sealtest trucks roaming the same neighborhood each day, and perhaps there's some of that same thinking about Fed Ex and UPS and Amazon and the Postal Service in like manner roaming those neighborhoods, and yet, that's why people who study logistics make the big bucks, making sure those vans carry a remunerative load of milk or general merchandise and get where they're going in a timely fashion.

There are people thinking systematically about the incentives and the opportunity costs.
“Right now, yes, absolutely: More traffic is induced on net by the online purchasing behavior that we’re seeing,” Anne Goodchild, a civil and environmental engineer who directs the Supply Chain Transportation and Logistics Center at the University of Washington, told Wired.

If your single online order replaces a trip to the mall, there is probably no gain in congestion. But if four people in your neighborhood order online and that brings four different trucks into the neighborhood, which must stop in areas that are not designed for truck parking, thereby slowing other traffic, or even blocking the street, then congestion worsens, the experts say.

In the end, online ordering and the expected two-day or less delivery windows is actually increasing the number of vehicles on the road, and making them less efficient as they drive from neighborhood to neighborhood, day after day.
On the other hand, those four people are making use of a shared parcel van, and the net effect might be fewer trips to the mall or big-box store, although in a thickly settled area with narrow streets, there's going to be some congestion.  Your tract-house neighborhood probably handled all those milk trucks at the same time that Dad was driving off to work (that being the way we rolled in those days) without the manifestations of road rage we see today.  Note, though, that echo of the "duplicative service" argument in that concluding paragraph.  Meanwhile, the people to whom Freight Waves speaks would likely complain that congestion pricing or other permits for residential deliveries are further impositions on the knights of the stroad.

There's other research in progress.
[Rensselaer Polytechnic transportation scholar José] Holguín-Veras’s particular expertise is understanding why our favorite means of avoiding online shopping — is making gridlock worse. After all, when we buy on the net and virtualize our carts, aren’t we all avoiding driving? Shouldn’t that make traffic better?


In a word: No, Holguín-Veras says. We create a truck trip each time we click that enticingly convenient “Buy” icon. And we click that button a lot. The old way of shopping lists and a single car trip to the mall or the market to make multiple purchases is fading away. Now we are lured by unlimited free shipping — and next-day and same-day delivery — to impulse-buy one item at a time, spread out over many days and many separate truck deliveries.
Because "unlimited free shipping" often comes bundled with a membership, we might be seeing a variation on the effect of an entry fee and no additional cost that is present at some amusement parks and all-you-can-eat buffets.  It's possible to qualify for the free shipping by making a list and buying a lot at one time, and there's generally a tariff under which the conventional shipping is cheaper and slower, exactly as any railroad traffic man would tell you.

Perhaps, if the policy makers really want to decongest their roads, they ought look at ways to make the expedited free shipping less attractive either to the online merchants or to the shopper.
Goodchild says consumers can do their part, too, by easing up on the single-item same-day and one-day deliveries when buying online. Instead, she says, make a list and purchase multiple items at a time, then choose the shipping option that allows sufficient time for those items to be combined and delivered in one shipment.

Now for the bad news: At the moment, there are few compelling financial reasons for companies or consumers to make any of these traffic-fixing changes. In fact, the incentives are so out-of-whack that online retailers are willing to lose money on free shipping just to keep up with the competition. If Amazon offers it, so must Walmart, Nordstrom, Macy’s and Target. The true cost of free shipping and peak-hour deliveries — bad traffic, more smog, greenhouse gas emissions, wasted resources — is not reflected in our online shopping carts.

It will take an unprecedented level of cooperation between the private sector, government, labor and consumers to fix this mess with meaningful financial incentives — and leadership at the top that makes it a national priority. We can still have our convenience with a few tweaks that, in the long run, will be better for our economy, our commutes, our health and our climate.
Unprecedented? Contrasted with the Pacific Railroad? The mobilization for a two-ocean war?

A mess? Contrasted with secession?  The great credit contractions of the late 1920s or mid-2000s?

Perhaps the way forward is to rely less on leadership at the top and more on emergence.

THE AXE RETURNS TO MADISON.

We had to give props to former Northern Illinois player and coach P. J. Fleck and his University of Minnesota eleven a year ago.

The Wisconsin Badgers again have an overall lead in the series (there's a reason, dear reader, the old version of On Wisconsin included "Run the ball 'round Minnesota," that wasn't always a given) and the Axe will occupy the vacant trophy case that was prominent in the locker room as a reminder.


Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel photo by Mark Hoffman.

Yes, a few Wisconsin fans journeyed to the Cities, where once again both the Gophers and Vikings play outdoor football.

A long enough rivalry, though, ought to come out about even despite some teams having runs of success.  The almost six score and ten meetings between Wisconsin and Minnesota currently is there, and in the century of the Bears and Packers playing, the number of wins is about equal, as are the total points scored by each team.

27.11.19

GIVE THE CRANKY LEFTISTS TURKEY AND SOME MISTLETOE.

It continues to appear that killing the buzz at Thanksgiving is the woke thing to do, and, predictably, there's a new buzz-killer at work.  "[George Washington U. historian David] Silverman explains the reasoning behind treating Thanksgiving as a 'Day of Mourning,' including that it supposedly typically 'celebrates a myth of colonialism and white proprietorship of the United States,' and encourages Americans to 'rethink' how we 'tell the history of Thanksgiving.'"

I bet he's a real fun guest, but being annoying and preachy has become a thing among the self-styled progressives. "Every year, it's important to pause and recognize how much we have to be angry about."

Joel Kotkin dissents.
It’s the task of older generations to remind their successors that although the country and the world clearly faces great challenges, they indeed do have much to be grateful for, starting with the fact that America and the world is now enjoying the largest growth in affluence in its history. Indeed, in the face of decades of apocalyptic predictions of energy and food shortages by the green zealots, both are remarkably abundant by historical standards.
To use the language the youngsters understand, it's up to the elders to say "check your privilege."
If the notion of gratitude is fading among the young, it is in part because the previous generation has done a poor job of communicating the blessings with which we have been endowed. If the Puritans, freezing in the New England fall and simply relieved not to be starving, could feel gratitude about the world, perhaps we, living in unimaginable physical comfort and freedom, should take the hint and emulate them.
Exactly. Thanks for looking in.

DECK THE HALLS.

The Thanksgiving travel rush is underway, and it's time to think about trains under the Christmas tree.


That's the Great Hall at Chicago Union Station.  Look closely, the ornaments on the tree are emblems of the "fallen flag" railroads.  You'll find Amtrak and Metra and the contemporary carriers as well.


It's Polar Express season.  The full-sized Polar Express does not have a steam locomotive.  Amtrak, however, are getting some additional miles out of their SPV2000 diesel multiple unit cars, which never quite lived up to expectations.  They're now set up as entertainment cars.


Polar Express operations bring modifications to Amtrak's operating practices.  The Hiawathas use tracks 1 or 3, on the west side of the north train shed, perhaps to hide the Polar Express boarding area from prying eyes.  Passengers for Polar Express trips use a passageway provided for mail and express to the loading platform at right.  The passengers walking to the concourse have just gotten off an eastbound Hiawatha on track 3.


The Sunday immediately past was not a good day for the California Zephyr.  The final regional trains of the evening have not yet been reported as delayed, and some children will be getting a late night on the final Polar Express of the evening.  The trains will operate until December 29.

MORE EVIDENCE THE SUBURBS WERE NOT BUILT TO A FINISHED STATE?

Strong Towns contributor Jeff Lemieux considers Greenbelt, Maryland, one of the New Deal prototype residential communities.
Greenbelt, Maryland, was born in the 1930s. We are one of three “green belt” towns planned to create employment and provide housing during the Great Depression. The town design was more utopian than traditional, with sweeping sidewalks and pedestrian underpasses leading from houses to the community core.

During World War II, the town expanded to provide housing for defense workers; in the 1950s, the federal government sold the whole town to its residents, who continue to own the homes as a cooperative. The landscaping has now matured into a tremendous canopy of trees, and much of the original green belt surrounding the historic town center has been set aside from development as a forest preserve.
Greendale, Wisconsin, the westernmost of the concept communities, was farther from a smaller city center, and its downtown was not as built up as Greenbelt.  Unlike in Greenbelt, the shopping centers and the stroads developed on the periphery of the original town center, and there was space between that town center and the county's extensive network of parks and parkways for the tract houses to be built.

Both such suburbs, however, have some potential for additional evolution, although the usual Strong Towns mind-set is: not easy.  "Greenbelt as a whole is far from a traditional, walkable design. Many parts of Greenbelt are not suitable for easy incremental redevelopment. As a result, we will need to watch our maintenance expenditures very carefully and keep a close eye on state and county funding streams."  That's likely true almost everywhere, and it's a situation that's likely to continue as long as the prevailing wisdom for urban forms is that rapid transit, whether by bus or some sort of rail, must be sustained out of farebox receipts, whilst general tax revenues maintain the roads.

REVERSING THE SUB-PRIMING OF HIGHER EDUCATION?

My first university job was at Wayne State, which was setting the pace for access-assessment-remediation-retention before that became a thing more commonly (and not to the advantage of the higher education enterprise generally.)

New university president M. Roy Wilson might be heading a turnaround (if so, and if the rest of the higher education establishment thinks the same way, that might be desirable), or perhaps he's lost the confidence of his trustees.
While divisions among board members have recently come to a head, tensions have been boiling up for months now, starting in December 2018 with the vote to extend Wilson’s contract, which some members felt was rushed.

Efforts to strike a deal between the university’s medical school and the Henry Ford Health System fell apart, the University Physician Group has declared bankruptcy, doctors are suing the university, and the university’s accrediting agency found that a board member was trying to operate the university behind the [c.q.] Wilson’s back -- and that's not even all of the issues.

Meanwhile, Wayne State has won a second award from the [Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities, the old NASULGC]. The university’s troubled graduation rates are improving faster than anyone else in the country, and its African American graduation rate has tripled.

Wilson, a medical doctor who has served as a deputy director at the National Institutes of Health and in several administrative positions at medical schools, was hired by Wayne State in 2013. He has been praised for turning the university around after a 2010 report from the Education Trust found that Wayne State had one of the largest racial achievement gaps in the country.
Your tax dollars at work in Detroit's public schools, there's a fix for that.  I'm having trouble figuring out what's at stake, what goes on in the undergraduate programs can be unaffected by whatever is going on in the medical programs.
From the outside, the situation seems like “a couple of kids in the playground having a fight,” said James Finkelstein, a professor emeritus of public policy at George Mason University who researches university presidents.

The difference is what’s at stake: the reputation and future of the university, which affects faculty, staff and students.

“I can’t recall many situations where a board and a president have been more at odds with one another than what you’re seeing play out at Wayne State right now,” Finkelstein said.
"Kids in a playground" brings to mind "the stakes are so small," and yet, there might be much more than meets the eye.

26.11.19

HE BURIED THE LEDE.

Donald "Cafe Hayek" Boudreaux recently issued "Twenty Crazy Beliefs on Economics and Politics." The principal message comes at the end. "Why does the goal of restraining the power of government in all areas of life have so little political clout given that confidence in government is at historic lows?"  The nineteen items preceding it are special cases.  Read it and enjoy it all the same.

PICTURES FROM AN INSTITUTION.

I ripped off the title of a so-called campus novel, which genre might be better understood as dystopian fiction, but without the dubious political economy.


Part of preparing future teachers is apparently mastering the techniques of effective bulletin board design, something that might be delegated to the students as group projects.  Fitness Education Methods students take turns.  Their projects rotate each week, and seasonal themes are common.


Here, the theory of Spelling is a Social Construct and Grading Grammar is Oppressive collides with the practice of Show Me Your Competence.  How much confidence would you have, dear reader, in a trainer or teacher who doesn't know one of the principal terms of his or her art?  The acronym, which might be more easily pronounced if you speak Klingonese, refers to the Illinois Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance.  (Spelling and Oxford commas optional.)


The university recently showed "Exploring Aspects of War," including this collage with an anti-war advertisement from 1939 (I don't know if the producing organization was pacifist always, or pacifist as long as the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact was in effect) and high school yearbook photos.  "The exhibition explores how the visual arts have served to document, promote, memorialize, process healing, critique and protest war and military action."


Possibly the artist's description, or perhaps a curator's commentary.


Protest art is, shall we say, more provocative than propaganda art, even though each cautions against loss in a different way.


Again, might either be the artist's description, or curator commentary.


A bit of a surprise, intersectionality applies to biker veterans.  Curator commentary, apparently.


A poster inside a larger walk-in exhibit based on a Vietnam-era camouflaged shelter.  The message might question the rally-behind-the-flag-in-this-together exertions of war leaders; it strikes me as equally applicable to the dynamics of virtue signalling and cancel culture.


A Hefty bag serves as a virtue signal.  It's performance art, dear reader.  The university art museum is at the west end of the first floor of Altgeld Hall, the principal administration building.  The fundraising and development offices are at the east end of the first floor.  The closest restrooms to those offices were recently repurposed as all-gender-expression rooms, apparently showing solidarity with the alphabet people being as important to fundraising as the panelled walls and carpeted floors.

CHALLENGES POORLY FORESEEN?

I recently pulled out my well-worn copy of Theodore H. White's Breach of Faith to see what, if any, commentary he offered on the angry reaction by Richard Nixon's voters to those [expletive deleted] redacted [inaudible] transcripts.  (Not much: Mr White is more a chronicler of Official Washington than of Public Opinion in his works.)  I must make one correction to my posts:  Richard Nixon thought Lyndon Johnson's vanity taping system wasn't good enough, and he had a better vanity taping system installed, along with some controls to turn them on and off that might have had some role in what followed.

What interested me, though, were some of the observations, Mr White always devoting some of his chronicling to the Other Stuff occupying Official Washington whilst scandal, or, more commonly, a President being made, is under way.  I had forgotten, for instance, that he had offered an explanation of the role of the economist that I really liked.  "Economists are very much like reporters -- and as necessary.  The best of them can tell you exactly where you are, the exceptional ones can tell you how you got there -- but none can predict how you go from where you are to where you want to get."  I made money off that one for years.

But long before we got to that, we read about a crop failure.  "The 1974 drought in the Midwest, some American scientists thought, might conceivably be only a cyclical phenomenon, but they had other reasons to believe that it might be a harbinger of a longer cycle, one of those millennial changes that transform deserts to gardens, forests to deserts, dooming ports to become landlocked cities, or changing coastal plains into underwater fish warrens."  The notion of "anthropogenic" had not yet arisen, whether because that science was still rudimentary or because the dirigiste impulse had more convenient expressions is for a different historian.

Technocracy was still a Good Thing, then, that despite a generation gap between G.I. generation leaders and the most vocal and privileged of the early baby boomers that well have midwived Watergate itself.  The Victory Dividend, though, was still generally a Good Thing, those war protesters wanting to devote more of the resources going to prosecuting the limited war in Vietnam to Nobler Purposes.
All planning, both public and private, was bottomed [c.q.] on this assumption of limitless, ever-growing prosperity. The prosperity invited fancies, dreams, ideas that had seemed unreal only a few years earlier. Economic growth incubated a mood of experiment, and so, in all forms of life -- social, governmental, corporate, private -- experiments began. Few of the experimenters could foresee the consequences of their planning and successes.
Success is harder to absorb than failure. Failure leaves things as they are; success changes the conditions of life and brings new, undreamed-of problems -- above all, in politics.

Looking backward, one could pick up the thread of experiment - success - new - crisis almost anywhere in the early 1950's, and each thread interwove with another.
One of these days, I'd like to see people use "crisis" more prudently. A state leaves the Union? Crisis. A road is congested? Annoying.  Particularly, as each annoyance ratchets up the calls for Government Action.

"All such problems locked on the President's desk."

"Every group had to press its leverage in Washington, by fair means or foul."

Perhaps that was the lesson, a quarter-century after Victory that was after fifteen years of Hard Times.  "The experience of those twenty years between 1932 and 1952 had taught millions of Americans that when they talked of power, power meant Washington."  Never mind that Richard Nixon himself struggled to square two conflicting ideas.  "He held, as a leadership credo, that the President must control the government personally; but he held, as a political credo, that the Federal government must get rid of most of those controls -- social, administrative, economic -- which the Democrats had so long concentrated in Washington."

That hasn't gotten any better in the half century since, and the administrative state might well have entrenched itself further, no matter which party holds the Executive or the Legislative.

I wonder, also, whether Mr White could defend this passage today.
In America, however, "patriotism" is one of the old-culture words, like "motherhood," "honor," "family," "flag," and embarrassing to intellectuals. The patriotism of most Democrats is as deep and genuine as that of most Republicans; but Democrats hesitate to campaign on the theme, for it exposes them to the mockery of the thinking and university classes to whom they normally appeal for guidance and support.
A dozen campaign seasons ago, it's unlikely that those "thinking and university" classes would endorse the scorn national Democrats have recently shown ("bitter clingers" or "mean country" or "deplorables") toward those old-culture voters.

Perhaps, one of these years, we will come to understand the implications of "The Presidency had become a job of paralyzing complexity and bloated power" and ask whether the White House really ought be the "center of action" for "the price of your milk" or the school curriculum or the hangnail you're suffering from.

THE SUBURBAN ENVIRONMENT IS EMERGENT.

Although Strong Towns members argue that one of the contributing causes of municipalities going broke is a suburban infrastructure "built to a finished state" (and therefore not easily adapted or re-purposed), reality is that even the markers of sprawl, such as look-alike outlets in drive-alike environments, whether in Portland or Phillipsburg or Peoria or Paraparaumu, have themselves emerged.  There's even American Conservative infrastructure columnist Addiston Del Mastro claiming,  "Why We Should Preserve Old Diners And Motels."  The early ones anticipated contemporary suburban forms, but even those were not immune from rising land values.
The reality is that most of this “historic” suburban architecture was built at a time when there was plenty of cheap and seemingly infinite greenfield land along what were then relatively recent highways. Many places that were sparsely developed with diners and motels are now densely built commercial corridors, and real estate values and property taxes make it difficult to justify running low-value businesses out of single-story buildings on sizable lots. There is a reason why drive-in theaters, garden centers and nurseries, and small kiddie amusement parks are some of the first legacy businesses to go up for sale as an area densifies.

Beyond all this, some would dispute that a 1950s diner or motel even counts, or can count, as “historic.” History, for them, is not a slightly different building style used within living memory, but something hallowed and ancient, civilizational in importance. As much as I like neon, I can’t make that strong a claim about it.
I've documented the demise of the kiddielands (and the replacement of the metropolitan amusement park with the regional theme park) and the change of scale by which the exurban shopping center had the footprint of a contemporary strip mall, and the single big box store combines all the services of those independent stores.

The dynamic of decline is what Strong Towns contributor Tim Wright sees as the fatal flaw of the current retail clusters along the stroads and at the major interchanges.
The reputation of outlet malls, strip shopping centers, and big box stores is often not a good one—at least, not as they age. The once-shiny outlet mall with high-end outlets is replaced by a second-tier shopping center, maybe one that resells goods from other stores, and eventually the trend continues as an even lower-intensity store takes a lease in the third generation. To use Strong Towns lingo, they were built to a “finished state” and then slowly decayed, instead of built in a way that could be—or was intended to be—incrementally improved and adapted.
I don't know, there are several re-purposed stores and strip malls in DeKalb, and there are lots of vacant storefronts that might be subject to decay. Unfortunately, there are few examples left of the more idiosyncratic local designs that Mr Del Mastro concentrates on.
In an era before massive hotel, restaurant, and retail chains, every highway and every town had its own unique, and often fantastically overbuilt, signs and buildings. At a certain point, they become part of the fabric of their communities. When they’re all replaced by brand-centric chain architecture, the place loses something real, or rather, the sense that it is a place is damaged. The memories of older residents are severed from today. There is a sense of dislocation. This may ultimately have to yield to more pressing concerns like housing, but it’s still something real, more than mere preference.

This is what people mean when they complain that “everywhere looks the same.” It is true that suburban sprawl is a common form, but so is the American small town. From Maine to Maryland to Michigan to California, the small town is a recognizable entity.

The complaint of sameness indicates that recently-built places all feel the same—that there are no local geographic or cultural markers. Home Depot doesn’t even include the old “Your State’s Home Improvement Warehouse” tagline on its facades anymore.

There is also probably an untapped market for businesses in restored or preserved “retro” buildings. From cassette tapes and records to cartridge-based video games to exterior-corridor motels, everything old is new again.
I can think of at least two kinds of those markets: one for the vanishing first generation of national chains, where Howard Johnson's orange roof or McDonald's slanted roof and arches or Holiday Inn's big neon arrow indicated a level of standardization; another for those idiosyncratic local touches such as the Wadhams pagoda gasoline station or the Stuckey's southern style front porches.

None of these, though, were built to a finished state.  "In the same way that the American High built environment emerged piecemeal, whatever comes next is also likely to take shape piecemeal, although some experiments might be more successful than others."  So, too, to whatever adaptations to changing land prices or improved electronic commerce or delivery drones flying off trains comes next.

GOODS ARE PHYSICAL, RIGHTS ARE METAPHYSICAL.

Just don't bother Congressional sensation Alexandria "Sandy" Ocasio-Cortez (Naïf-N.Y.) with such high-concept stuff, she's on a roll.
Like public roads, schools, and libraries, Ocasio-Cortez said, public housing should be recognized as a public good funded by taxpayers, particularly the wealthiest people and corporations.

"It is possible and it's not that we deserve it because it's a handout," the congresswoman said. "People like to say, 'Oh, this is about free stuff.' This is not about free stuff... These are public goods."

Ocasio-Cortez won applause from members of the audience for her plan, including one who shouted of housing, "It is a human right!"
You'd think that somebody who supposedly studied some economics in college would grasp "nonexclusive and nonrivalrous," which is relevant, to, oh, her being able to live-post a cooking lesson from her quarters without some random welfare recipient exercising his rights.  Or perhaps the one time she wanted to look up the concept in the reserve collection, somebody else had signed it out and she couldn't be bothered to go back for it later.

How many times will we have to reiterate that governments provide all sorts of goods and services for private consumption, that is, usage is exclusive and rivalrous, and asserting that the good or service is a "right" and meriting taxpayer support, which is to say, some constituents live at the expense of others does not somehow turn it into a collective consumption good.

Kevin Williamson suggests that such wishful thinking does not speak well, either of the politicians who encourage such learned helplessness, or of the constituents who believe calling something a right magically produces it.  "The rhetoric of benefits as rights cultivates just the opposite attitude, one of learned helplessness, not in response to extraordinary challenges but in the face of the ordinary business of life. That attitude of helplessness is of great benefit to a certain stripe of politician. It is not good for people or countries."

Exactly, but if the representative suggested to her constituents that they had an obligation, as fellow citizens, to be competent, she'd be back to tending bar in a Brooklyn minute: that is, if the Common Dreams types didn't pillory her as a victim-blaming reactionary and exile her to the Flyover first.

23.11.19

GOING INTO SYNDICATION.

Jonathan Gewirtz and David Foster of Chicago Boyz have invited me to participate in their web journal.  From time to time I will be offering commentary there, with my practice limited to education, political economy, and transportation.  Note, though, that that's still a pretty broad portfolio.

The first such post is The Inclusive Symbolism Crowds Out the Intellectual Substance, which first appeared on Cold Spring Shops.  I've tweaked the latter post to provide for the same sort of section breaks.  By all means, dear reader, keep looking in at the Shops, as the travelogues, train stories, sports, and the other fun stuff, even going down three doubled, will be here and only here.

WHY AN ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE CAN'T PLAY BRIDGE?

Chess-playing computers have trouble handling quiet positions, although their capabilities are apparently great where complicated tactical variations are concerned.

The challenge in contract bridge is in acting on incomplete information to reach a playable contract.  Some bids, such as any No Trump opening, communicate specific point counts and generally deny a long suit.  The five-card major convention says something about the length of a suit, albeit with some uncertainty about the point counts involve.

Then there are the preemptive bids, and that way can lie disaster, as in this example.


Perhaps I shouldn't have overcalled with that Four Diamonds, and perhaps it might have been prudent after that to let the defender bots attempt that Four Hearts rather than bid game myself.  But what ever prompted the algorithm to bid a slam in Diamonds?  East bot bets, "You can't make that."

Indeed not.  West leads the King and continues with the Nine, that falling under my Four.  I can create a void in Spades, cashing the Ace, and attempting a finesse of the Queen.  Yup, the King is in the West.  (That's another probability point: expect the highest outstanding honors to be in opposite hands, rather than in the same hand.)  Club Six, I duck in dummy expecting the Ace, the Ten picks that up.  Then East attempts to cash the Ace, well, I'm void in that and have a convenient Five to promote.  Now I can rattle off the rest of the tricks leading trumps, although note the opportunity to cover the Six with the Nine to lead the Jack back to another ruff.

Ten tricks, which is to say, my preempt would have won, but bidding for more was a mistake.

TRUTH IN TIMETABLING.

Craig "Amtrak in the Heartland" Sanders notes that Amtrak once apologized for its unreliable trains.



He notes,
Shown is a schedule for Amtrak’s Broadway Limited from the mid 1970s. Penn Central was still the host railroad and its tracks west of Pittsburgh were not in great condition.

Therefore Amtrak placed a notice that the schedules were slower than PC was required to provide but faster scheduled were not possible at this this time.

Left unsaid was that PC was in bankruptcy proceedings and couldn’t afford to fix its tracks.
I remember, the fall after the Conrail takeover, reeling off mile after mile across Ohio and Indiana at track speed.  The conductors were even OK with some Dutch-door riding.

Note, though, the circuitous routing of the Washington section by way of Philadelphia.  Once upon a time, The Pennsylvania Railroad would send the through trains southeast from Harrisburg, by way of either the Northern Central with a reversal at Baltimore, or along the Atglen and Susquehanna.  That ultimately led to the restoration of the Capitol Limited, first as a rerouted Washington section of the Broadway via Cumberland, later as its own train and the Broadway being replaced by a (not-guaranteed) connection to the coach train at Pittsburgh.

Those fast tracks across Ohio and Indiana?  Conrail decided they could do without them, another reason for the Broadway to go away ... and a Capitol Limited serving Cleveland??  One track is still there, though, sometimes hosting big intermodal trains, and perhaps they're the fastest way to Columbus.

These days, though, Amtrak deals with perpetually late trains by lengthening the schedules.

OUR NEIGHBORS AT WAR.

One of the principal characters in the recent big screen depiction of The Battle of Midway, Aviation Machinist Mate, First Class Bruno Gaido, was portrayed as a wise guy from the boroughs who got his fatalistic attitude from his skyscraper riveter uncle.

In reality, he was from Milwaukee.
Born in 1916, Gaido graduated from Lincoln High School in 1934 and worked for a time at a Milwaukee County-run farm where he occasionally smuggled home a live chicken in his coat for his family's dinner table.

He enlisted in the Navy in October 1940, perhaps to seek adventure, his nephew said. In January 1941 he was assigned to the Enterprise as part of a carrier dive-bombing unit.

"My dad was a good friend of Uncle Bruno. He said he was a real happy guy, the kind of kid you could never get mad at," Bortolotti recalled. "My dad said he was the best craps shooter, dice shooter, he had ever seen. Uncle Bruno never walked away from a dice game without money in his pocket."

During the Battle of Midway in early June 1942, Gaido was in the rear seat of a Dauntless dive bomber piloted by Ensign Frank O'Flaherty of Nevada that was part of a squadron attacking Japanese aircraft carrier Kaga. The American dive bombers crippled the carrier, forcing the Japanese navy to scuttle it.
The machinist mates often doubled as tail gunners when the planes sortied.  That subjected them to the same risks of being shot down or capture as the pilots.

RUSHING CHRISTMAS IS A THING.

Perhaps it's not the happiest season of all, particularly for economists getting ready for the job meetings.

The early warnings now come around Labor Day, when the close-outs of charcoal and gas grills and patio furniture give way to the first stirrings of candy canes and silver lanes.

DeKalb Chronicle general manager Eric Olson would just as soon embrace it.
Christmas has expanded far beyond 12 days, first pushing to the day after Thanksgiving. It now seems poised to engulf the entire month of November.

Some homes in my neighborhood have had Christmas lights on display for at least the past two weeks. They’re playing Christmas music at grocery and shoe stores. My wife and I visited friends last weekend, and their Christmas tree already was up, stockings hanging above the fireplace.

The early adopters are unapologetic. They like Christmastime. They like the songs, they like the decorations and you know, it’s their house, their store, their front yard.

They also have a celebrity spokesperson in Mariah Carey, who this year posted a video on Instagram declaring that Nov. 1 is the start of the Christmas season.
Why not? Ms Carey is likely cashing royalty checks for her Christmas tunes, which Music Choice Seasonal started right after Hallowe'en. (Their offerings are more seasonal in the fall, a few patriotic airs around Labor Day, some filler, then the fun starts with Oktoberfest.)
It’s kind of hard to argue with them. Especially this year, given that it’s been snowing since Halloween and Thanksgiving comes as late as the calendar will allow.

The lights look pretty in the dark. The tree and decorations are pleasant. If, as the song says, “it’s the most wonderful time of the year,” then why not start earlier?

I admit I’ve caught myself enjoying the songs playing in the stores.

This is how change sneaks up on you. Consensus builds quietly. Then one day what seemed like a crazy idea – like putting your Christmas tree up Nov. 2, legalizing marijuana or letting teachers carry guns – seems less off the wall.

The Yuletide may be gaining strength, but I’m conservative on this matter. If you’re taking a poll, put me down for no Christmas until after Thanksgiving.
That's how emergence works. Sometimes the idea catches on. Sometimes people have to be mugged by reality. The jury is still out on armed teachers or legal pot or a number of other things.

I can do without the early snow, as, apparently, can the farmers.  Some of the corn is still bedraggled and snow-covered on the stalks, and there have been a few fires in drying sheds.  Not good.

At Cold Spring Shops, the seasonal lights, such as they are, don't go on until the first Sunday of Advent, and they're off and away at Three Kings.  I'm hoping to have a new video of the traditional trains sometime in December.