24.6.18

TAIL TRACK.

Barring signal troubles, links to any posts of substance ought to work.

CIRCUS DAY.

Illinois, in its wisdom, forbids children of all ages from enjoying elephant acts.  We documented the Farewell to Elephants last September.

In Wisconsin, they're not so foolish.  Carson and Barnes played at Delavan on Saturday, and children of all ages appeared to be enjoying riding piggyback on a pachyderm.


That "Circus Saurus" reference is to this year's feature, a dynamic display of dramatic dinotheria.


There's more circus tradition here than meets the eye.  It's now an airport, but early in Wisconsin statehood, the Mabie brothers bought this land as quarters for their itinerant circus, the first of several to call Delavan home.  The Mabies are shirt-tail relatives, thus I can kinda, sorta, claim to be circus family, if only in the modelled sense.


Back to the show ... there was a problem with the air-conditioning truck, and the management decided to hold an old-school show under the Big Sky.  The weather cooperated.


The Opening Spec.  A circus performer has to be versatile, the abilities to juggle and balance and perform high above the crowd on a hoop or a rope will all come into play.


It's a circus, which means you have to suspend disbelief, for instance when the dinotheria mix it up with the cast dressed up as cave dwellers.


The show must go on, even when the elephant has to go.


Meanwhile, in Illinois, children of all ages are spared the grittier side of elephant acts.

They are not, however, spared the attack ads, in which the case of the two major party nominees for governor, have truly gone into the toilet.

Remember, dear reader, the circus, like Christmas, comes to your town but once a year.  Find yourself a circus and go to it!

See you down the road.

THE AMTRAK PENN CENTRAL MADE.

That's been a frequent theme of mine.  Passenger Train Journal offers an excerpt from "The Short, Troubled Life of Penn Central Passenger Trains" that summarizes the argument.  "Penn Central’s managers believed that passenger service west of both Buffalo, N.Y., and Harrisburg, Pa., were financially hopeless cases. Most surviving trains either offered no amenities or provided minimal food service from snack bars."  Everything else is elaboration, although the article notes twice-daily service between New York and Chicago on the former New York Central side, and three such trains, plus for a while, two New York and St. Louis trains on the former Pennsylvania side.

With pictures.

UNIVERSITIES HAVE FAILED AT THEIR MISSION.

My formulation is "are failing."  Ben Weingarten of The Federalist interviews Hoover Institute and Fresno State classicist V. D. Hanson, who renders the harsher verdict.
Well, my criticism in the last 30 years of the institution, obviously a lot of us who voiced those concerns, it fell on deaf ears. So progressive thinkers and institutional administrators within the university got their way. And now we’re sort of at the end of that experiment, and the question we have to ask is what did they give us? Well, they gave us $1 trillion in student debt. They created a very bizarre system in which the federal government — subsidized through student loans, constantly increasing tuition beyond the rate of inflation — the result of which is that we’ve had about a 200 percent growth in administrative costs, and administrators and non-teaching staff within the university. We’ve politicized the education.

So when I started there were … I think I looked in the catalog in 1984. There were things, maybe like the Recreation Department’s “Leisure Studies” course. Maybe one environmental class, “Environmental Studies.” But you take the word “studies” with a hyphen, and now that can represent about 25 percent of the curriculum. And that’s usually a rough, not always a reliable guide, to show that that class is not — it’s not disinterested. Its aim is to be deductive. We start with this premise that men are sexist, or capitalism destroys the environment, or America’s racist. Then you find the examples to fit that preconceived idea.

And the result of it is that we’ve turned out students that are highly partisan and highly mobilized, and even sort of arrogant, but they’re also ignorant … that came at a cost. They did not learn to write well. If you ask them who’s General Sherman, or what’s a Corinthian column, or who was Dante, all of the building blocks that they could refer to later in life to enrich their experience, they have no reference. And then they don’t know how to think inductively. So if you point out the contradictions in free speech the way they shout down some speakers and not others, or the way that they hate capitalism, but they love Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook, they’re not able … they haven’t been trained philosophically to account for that, because they’re indoctrinated. And it’s quite sad to see the combination of ignorance and arrogance in young people, but that’s what we’ve turned out. A lot of people who are indebted and they’re arrogant, and they’re ignorant and they’re not up to the task of moving the United States forward as a leading country in the world.

And you can see the reaction to it. We have tech schools now that grow up around these campuses, where they just say to people, “If they’re gonna cut out Western civ and they’re gonna cut out the core and politicize it, then let’s be honest. Just pay us a cheaper tuition and we’ll train you to be a nurse, or we’ll train you to be a computer encoder,” or whatever. And so, we have alternates, for-profit online alternatives, podcasts.

And so, the university failed in its mission. And it will be replaced by open free society. People are trying to find alternatives to it. And they kind of committed suicide.
Indeed. It's a wide-ranging interview: go, see why he's not distressed by Our President shaking up Business As Usual.

REDISCOVERING THE EFFICIENCY WAGE?

In Wisconsin, there are personnel managers learning what excess demand looks like.
CertainTeed, a ceiling tile manufacturer in Plymouth, is looking to broaden its production staff with part-time help as the supply of available temporary workers — and their quality — has become a bit less reliable.

We just see the increase in orders and the need to increase our production levels,” said Christine Brees, regional human resources manager. “It’s been a challenge.”

At Ability Group LLC, a home health care firm on Milwaukee’s south side, declining unemployment has made the already-difficult task of finding good employees even tougher.

“The minute a better job comes up, they’re gone, they’re somewhere else,” co-owner James Valona said. “It’s a huge problem.”

Dutchland Plastics LLC, which makes such things as kayaks, playground equipment and Yeti coolers, also has dropped its high-school-diploma requirement and last year increased wages and the number of paid holidays. Still, the growing, 280-employee Oostburg company finds its expansion constrained because it has 50 job openings.

“That’s a very large number,” CEO Randy Herman said. “That’s much higher than we’ve experienced before.”

And in Pewaukee, the crew of a Subway restaurant has been working more hours because operator Deepa Garcha has had trouble hiring additional help despite offering a higher-than-typical wage.

For a few months now, Garcha has run an ad on Indeed.com offering $10.50 an hour – more than almost any other Wisconsin Subway posting openings on the job site. As of mid-June, the position was still open.

“There have been a couple people who worked a couple days and left,” Garcha said.
The logic of the efficiency wage is that workers will not quit, because they cannot find as good a job or comparable pay elsewhere. But perhaps that's not yet what's in play, even at the plastics plant.
Despite a national unemployment rate that has been this low exactly one month in the last 48 years (April 2000), increases nationwide in total compensation in the private sector have hardly been robust. Since 2015, they’ve trended upward but still fall short of the increases of the early 2000s, a period of higher unemployment, data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics show. Total compensation includes pay and benefits.

The bureau doesn't publish total compensation figures by state. But its comprehensive census of wages in Wisconsin shows that pay increases of the last three years, in percentage terms, also lag behind the gains of the early 2000s.

It may just be that earnings haven’t yet caught up to the changing labor market and that stronger increases are yet to come, John Heywood, an economics professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, said by email.

But Heywood said some economists believe things have fundamentally changed and that we won’t return to the compensation gains of the past.

One reason for that view: Labor force participation is unusually low and so, Heywood said, there may be more slack in the labor market than the unemployment rate suggests.

Rising automation also could play a role.

“Workers may be increasingly competing with machines,” Heywood said. “This competition restrains wage increases.”

Finally, he said, it could be that while companies may want trained workers, fewer firms are engaging in training.
The risk of providing training is that human capital is mobile. The roundhouse foreman for The Milwaukee Road complained about that, years ago (there no longer being a roundhouse or a Milwaukee Road.) He'd take on apprentices, then would come a downturn in rail traffic, and the people he had to lay off could become blue-collar aristocrats at the machine tool works.

We're seeing a phenomenon I recall from years ago, when the Reagan recovery took hold in the suburbs of Detroit, but many of the help wanted signs were well off the bus routes.
For many residents of the most poverty-stricken areas of Milwaukee, though, jobs in Sheboygan or Kenosha might as well be on the moon.

More than 9,000 employed residents of seven high-poverty ZIP codes in Milwaukee lack vehicles to get to work, sharply limiting their job options.

“You don’t have a car, you’re screwed,” south side resident Jeffery Ziarniak said as he walked along West Mitchell Street after finishing a Friday shift for a temporary agency. “You can’t find a good job. The good jobs are out of town now.”

Ziarniak, 49, said he has spent the past two years working factory jobs for a temp service. He currently makes “9 something an hour,” he said, and pays $9 a day to the agency for transportation.

“What are you going to do?” Ziarniak asked. “You don’t have a car, you’re just going to have to deal with it. I don’t mind.”

Among efforts to connect Milwaukeeans without cars to jobs beyond the bus lines is the Joseph Project, started by Pastor Jerome Smith of Greater Praise Church of God in Christ, 5422 W. Center St. The program has placed people at several companies, including Nemak, in Sheboygan, Dodge and Waukesha counties.

But while it has grown since its launch in 2015, the Joseph Project remains small — the 140 city residents currently working at jobs they landed through the program represent a tiny slice of the working population without access to a car.
That is the same Joseph Project that former Wisconsin senator Russ Feingold characterized as crumbs.  The question I asked at the time, "Are the politicians in the Milwaukees of the country providing the environment in which [entrepreneurship and good schools] can flourish?," is still germane.

22.6.18

PRUNING THOSE BRANCH LINES.

Get away from the trunk railroads linking Paris with the major French cities, and you might have a few puddle-jumpers for the regional traffic, and increasingly you might have to drive your car or wait for the bus.
Local politicians gathered at the terminus in the northern French coastal resort of Le Tréport on June 2 to welcome the last train over the 34 km branch from Abbeville. SNCF [the national railroad] has replaced the two daily TER [the regional passenger rail authority] trains each way with buses taking 60 min instead of 40. The line has not carried freight since the 1990s.

SNCF Réseau cites the poor condition of the single-track branch as the reason for suspending rail services, insisting that €40m is needed for infrastructure renewals. Hauts-de-France region President Xavier Bertrand has offered to put up half of the money, suggesting tram-train operation as a possible way forward. However, the line crosses the regional boundary with Normandie, which has joined Hauts-de-France in funding a €73·4m refurbishment of the 104 km Beauvais – Le Tréport line on which work is about to start.

The debate over the Abbeville link has come to symbolise a much more profound concern over the future of France’s secondary lines stemming from the reforms now being taken through the legislative process. These are intended to pave the way for market liberalisation in line with the EU’s Fourth Railway Package, but have met with fierce resistance and sustained strike action by railway unions.

In his landmark report on future French railway policy issued in February, Jean-Cyril Spinetta was forthright in highlighting the fragility of France’s rural lines. Secondary railways in UIC classes 7-9 carry just 2% of passengers yet account for 15% of the railway’s cost base, he reported.
Yes, there are meaningful economies of volume and density, and those lightly-used branches likely are a resource drain.  Thus, the now going on fifty years since the Beeching Report in Great Britain, and the pruning of branch lines by merger of U.S. railroad companies, or, in the case of Conrail, by government fiat.

A passenger bus ride, however, doesn't sound any better in French than it does in English.
Leading the campaign to rethink the approach to rural lines is FNAUT, the national transport users’ lobbying group. It organised a press conference on June 8 to highlight the findings of a study it had commissioned from consultancy Trans-Missions to assess the impact of transferring rail services to road transport in rural areas. The report looked at 25 sections of the SNCF Réseau network which had been identified by FNAUT in 2014 as being ‘at risk of closure’, including Abbeville – Le Tréport.

The consultants focused their analysis on seven secondary lines which had closed since 1980, with buses replacing trains. Of these, five had subsequently reopened. This gave the opportunity to make quantitative assessments of both the impact of replacing rail with road transport (a ‘coach deficit’) and reopening and investing in secondary lines (a ‘reopening bonus’).

Key parameters included journey times, which across the seven routes increased on average from 80 min to 112 min. The report concluded that replacing trains with buses had led to a net decline in ridership of 53%, despite a notional increase in frequency from three to five trips per day across the routes studied. Of the five routes which have reopened, the study pointed to an average gain in ridership of 65%, with the 2015 reopenings of the Nantes – Pornic and Nantes – St-Gilles-Croix-de-Vie lines both recording increases of more than 100% by the time of the survey in July 2017.

FNAUT believes that while both Spinetta and some at SNCF see rural railways purely in terms of cost per passenger, there is ‘a lack of understanding about how to operate secondary lines, and no attempt at innovation’. It cannot be a surprise that ridership is poor and costs high when the trains run only two or three times per day, it argues.

In the foreword to the Trans-Missions study FNAUT suggests that ‘the rail mode is not expensive, SNCF is expensive’. It insists that ‘opening up regional passenger markets to competition should not be seen as opening the door to privatisation’, noting that the ‘regions would still be managing the specification and procurement of rail services’. However, it believes that competitive tendering could ‘pave the way for a serious reduction in overheads.’

In the meantime, FNAUT is calling for an ‘essential’ moratorium on the suspension of branch line services until more rounded socio-economic analyses have been undertaken. These should consider the potential of rail to meet local needs, ‘using infrastructure that is fit for purpose’.
Fréquence, Connectivité, Fiabilité!

THERE IS NEVER A RIGHT TIME TO BUILD A WRONG PROJECT.

Apparently, in order to remain competitive in the Big Ten, Northwestern's football program has to have an Oregon-style beachfront practice facility and coaching center.
Northwestern fared not too much better and consistently ranked low in the Big 10 Conference until Head Coach Pat Fitzgerald took over in summer 2006. He recently came off a 10-win season. As the Yahoo article describes, the university’s leaders were worried Fitzgerald would be wooed away to replace the former head coach of University of Michigan in 2011 -- which was the catalyst to the new facility.

Ultimately, Fitzgerald never interviewed with Michigan. Instead, Fitzgerald laid out to top Northwestern administrators, and a wealthy donor and trustee for which the building is named, Pat Ryan, what was "necessary from a facility perspective to change Northwestern football’s paradigm,” as the Yahoo piece says.

They accepted. Fitzgerald has subsequently signed multiple 10-year deals with Northwestern.

And the result -- the Ryan Fieldhouse and Walter Athletics Center, a 425,000 square foot-behemoth on the shore of Lake Michigan with splendorous 45-foot floor-to-ceiling windows that will house multiple athletics and some intramural teams and some administrative offices. It’s fashioned with slick toys and trappings -- curtains controlled by remote control and video cameras by joystick, a barrier to separate a practice room into two separate sides for offense and defense, a barber chair and a hot and cold tub that seats 40. Funding came from the university's fund-raising effort "We Will. The Campaign for Northwestern."

Alan K. Cubbage, a university spokesman, said to characterize the building as benefiting just football is inaccurate. He said it will be used for other teams such as women’s soccer and women’s lacrosse, and for university events, such as convocation for new students.

“Yes, we anticipate that Ryan Fieldhouse and the Walter Athletic Center will provide a real boost for the football program, as they will provide terrific facilities in an unmatched location, right on the shore of Lake Michigan,” Cubbage wrote in an email. “But the building also will benefit thousands of other Northwestern students, faculty and staff.”
In fairness, Pat Fitzgerald was a linebacker on some successful Northwestern teams coached by Gary Barnett, although the high point of the program might still be a Rose Bowl loss in those years to the University of Spoiled Children.  On the other hand, the convocation center dodge is common around the Mid-American Conference, although there the label generally applies to a generally empty basketball arena.  Then there's Northwestern's recent experience playing Northern Illinois, which somehow makes do with an indoor practice building that would not be out of place housing a rolling mill.  That might be more fitting at Northwestern, where the United Steelworkers have attempted to unionize the footballers.

The positional arms races will go on, until somebody opts out.

THE BEST WAY TO GET MORE TRUMP?

Matthew Continetti suggests that the efforts of Official Washington, the Front Row Kids, the Democrat-Academic-Entertainment-Media Complex to deflect from their own failings might be what brought the Insurgency on in the first place.  "Official Washington fixates on Trump rather than the imperfections in American economy, society, culture, and foreign policy that it neither recognized nor addressed in time to prevent his rise."  For being so smart, the Front Row Kids are pretty dumb.
Trump's gravitational pull is such that he causes his opponents to overplay their hands. In effect, he trolls them into adopting positions so far out of the mainstream that they become self-discrediting. Take, for example, the crisis at the southern border. With the policy of family separation, Trump found himself on the wrong side of a 70/30 issue. His administration spent a lot of time explaining, which in politics means you are losing an argument. But within days the president went on offense by signing an executive order and urging Congress and the courts to regularize asylum and detention law. The Democrats? They quickly found themselves arguing for releasing anyone who crosses the border illegally with a child—not only a dumb idea, but also one that would incentivize future crossings and even child trafficking.
Wamp-womp.

Mr Continetti might be a fan of Our President.  J. H. Kunstler is not, but he's even less a fan of the Front Row Kids.
One also can’t fail to notice that this latest hysteria was ginned up the very same week that the Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz and FBI Director Christopher Wray testified in congress about the gross and astounding misconduct in the executive suites of those sister agencies — literally a bastion of the Resistance (or Deep State bureaucracy). Some kind of giant worm is turning in that circle of the three-ring-circus US politics has become. A lot of the characters who politicized the FBI — turned it into a chop-shop for election campaign shenanigans — will be headed for grand juries and some of them maybe even jail.
Wait, what, "Lock Her Up" might not be just cathartic release at a rally of Deplorables?  When a man with a world view in many ways orthogonal to that of Kurt Schlichter sees the same thing Mr Continetti does?
Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer failed to offer up any alternative legislative plan for sorting out these children differently. One can infer in the political chatter emanating from the Offendedness Cartel that immigration law is ipso-facto cruel and inhuman and that the “solution” is an open border. In theory, this might play to the Democratic Party’s effort to win future elections by enlisting an ever-growing voter base of Mexican and Central American newcomers. But it assumes that somehow these newcomers get to become citizens, with the right to vote in US elections — normally an arduous process requiring an application and patience — but that, too, is apparently up for debate, especially in California, where lawmakers are eager to enfranchise anyone with a pulse who is actually there, citizen or not.
Interesting times, indeed.  Now comes Charlie "Never Trump" Sykes, who in his latest Weekly Standard column sees a New Cruelty where once there was a New Deal, but who a few weeks ago saw the Left losing its mind.  (Maybe there are times when you are right, dear reader, to think that everyone else has lost his mind and you alone are sane.)
Levitz’s piece is bracing, because it is so candid in its insularity, intellectual bigotry, and closed-mindedness. That makes it valuable as an artifact of the mindset that has done so much to alienate conservatives from much of the media and that has contributed so much to the ghettoization of our political discourse. Not surprisingly, when you tell roughly half of the country that they are benighted bigots whose ideas are no even worth hearing, they go elsewhere.

And we’ve seen how that works out.
Now comes Power Line's John Hinderaker, proposing that the Front Row Kids haven't been given enough wedgies lately.  "Maybe one of these days, liberals will no longer be able to count on the assumption that we are more civilized than they are."  That is, Normals will no longer be cowed by hectoring, condescension, or deplorable-shaming.

YOUR GOAL OUGHT BE NOT TO ISSUE RETRACTIONS AND CLARIFICATIONS.

Former Amtrak engineer and longtime ferroequinologist Doug Riddell has the bad reportage of things that run on rails in mind, but his observation ought be germane to anyone who makes a living covering the news.  "One of my journalism professors, a dyed-in-the-wool newspaper editor, used to admonish us to remember that news is like cement. You get one chance to get it right before it begins to harden. Then, you’re stuck with whatever you’ve created."  Too often, what the self-styled reporters create are contributions to The Narrative, where national affairs are concerned, and reality is clarified a few days later, on page 27, in six-point type in the Corrections and Clarifications section.  That might be why Our President's accusations of "fake news" have such purchase.

When it comes to coverage of motor vehicles getting in the way of trains, there's little interest in those clarifications.  "On June 8, the Associated Press reported that Virginia authorities had indicted a garbage truck driver on charges of involuntary manslaughter and driving under the influence, after he allegedly drove into the path of an Amtrak charter train carrying Republican members of Congress, near Charlottesville."  At the time of the collision, which made national news because of the prominence of the passengers, and likely the presence of the Washington press corps (and perhaps because the mind boggles at the thought of the rail-hostile Republicans chartering a train?) the story contributed to an erroneous perception that Amtrak is not a safe mode of travel.
As far as John Q. Public was concerned, the story died two or three days following the crash—another deadly Amtrak crash—as such accidents are almost always characterized, regardless of the circumstances. (And here, I’m not singling out Amtrak. When there’s a trespasser strike or crossing fatality, as long as a train is involved, it’s always a deadly railroad accident.)

As coverage of the tragedy unfolded, the average person heard or read that the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) had been called in, so there must have been something really wrong. A local reporter interviewed neighbors who vouched for the character of the truck driver and swore on their family Bibles that the flashing lights and gates either weren’t working, or that they were known to be unreliable. The inference drawn was that those big railroads were cutting corners again to save a buck. There were reports that the train was speeding, so if it had been operated properly, it should have stopped short of the public road crossing and the accident could have been avoided.

What’s wrong with Amtrak anyway? That was the general takeaway from the coverage for the better part of three days.
The Board investigate all railroad collisions and the findings, sometimes issued years later, are public record. Mostly it's boring stuff, makes one wonder why a commuter train has to be held for two or three hours each time somebody trespasses on the tracks or runs around a crossing gate.

What happens next, though, is not amusing.
The adrenalin rush to be first isn’t always matched by determination to be accurate.

Even more frightening, these stories develop and touch down as suddenly as a Kansas tornado. They dominate the news with intensity for 24 hours, and then miraculously disappear. People only retain the initial burst of information. Weeks later, after rational minds and careful examination of the facts have reached well-founded conclusions and plausible explanations, the results show up with little fanfare, much like a note in a bottle washed up on the shore.
That might be the logic behind Rush Limbaugh's characterization of a drive-by media. Or in the case of railroad reporting, it's a drive-addled media unwittingly, for example, contributing to a perception that trespassers upon the railway are somehow blameless.

20.6.18

BAYEUX CATHEDRAL SERIES.

The camera freed artists from the constraints of being able to represent people and objects accurately to earn a living.  As I understand it, in the pre-photography era one way for a client to signal his great wealth was to commission a portrait with two hands showing, hands being the most difficult part of the human anatomy to represent accurately.  (Might even be true, look closely at President Obama's official portrait.)  The emulsion in the camera was indifferent to whatever was exposed to light.

Thus came all the various approaches to painting, the "isms" if you will, which the gallery director aboard Regal Princess explained to me served as a classification function for art historians and for interior decorators.  Thus, for instance, a painter can render the impression of a scene under different kinds of light and the term "impressionist" conserves on transaction costs for the decorator.  Or the painter can capture the essential elements of a scene using primary colors, and perhaps that is "expressionist" (or, this being an academic convention, you'd rather call it fauvist or dadaist, or argue with me for playing fast and loose with the categories!)

That noted, let me illustrate a feature in my latest digital camera, a relatively straightforward Canon Power Shot SX620 HS.  What it took Claude Monet years of work to do, an algorithm can do with one setting and one push of the shutter.


Natural light


Algorithmically modified light.


Fish-eye filter.

Then I took the algorithmically altered light and ran that picture through an old Seattle Film Works "posterize" function.


There are probably fancier programs out there that permit distorting the images and otherwise messing with them.  All the techniques of the art world, but without ever having to clean up?

SEEKING A COOPERATIVE EQUILIBRIUM?

Game-theoretic models of cooperation are more robust at making sense of sustaining cooperation once it emerges than they are at dealing with restoring cooperation once it's broken down.  In the Popular Perspective, there's a much-misunderstood strategy called Tit For Tat, in which a player cooperates on the first round, then does to other players at time t what other players did to them at time t-1.  That strategy has no memory, thus, although it works well when it encounters other cooperative players, it is not helpful at leading others back to being cooperative once somebody defects.  And defection is a thing.

Thus, typically, the serious student of game theory will quickly learn about the equilibria in repeated games involving the grim strategy, in which once somebody defects, the player defected upon will never again cooperate.

Thus, the fundamental problem of starting a trade war, as Paul Krugman notes.
I didn’t really think we were going to have a trade war. What I thought would happen, instead, was a bit of kabuki: America’s major trading partners would make cosmetic concessions – perhaps with some lucrative payoffs to Trump businesses on the side – that would let Trump proclaim a “win”, and trade would go on much as before.

The reason I expected this relatively benign outcome wasn’t that Trump would get or take good advice. It was, instead, the expectation that big money would talk: corporations have invested trillions based on the assumption that an open world trading system, permitting value-added chains that sprawl across national borders, was going to be a permanent fixture of the environment. A trade war would disrupt all these investments, stranding a lot of capital, and I thought big business would get either manage to get that message through to Trump or at least get it through to Republicans in Congress, who would act to limit his room for maneuver.
That is, all Our President's pronouncements about being screwed by other countries' imports was cheap talk, but talk that might change the behavior of other countries in symbolic rather than substantive ways.  Instead, it's beginning to look a lot like tit for tat.
So far we’ve had only small skirmishes in what might be the looming trade war, but the effects don’t seem trivial to soybean farmers already facing sharp price cuts and steel users already facing much higher costs. If the trade war happens, expect to see many, many more stories like this.

O.K., there’s no certainty that any of this will happen. In fact, I still find it hard to believe that we’re really going to go down this path. But I also don’t have any plausible stories about what’s going to make Trump stop, or induce other big players to give in to his demands.
Put simply: once cooperation breaks down, restoring it is hard.
Bart Oosterveld, director of the Global Business & Economics Program at the Atlantic Council, said the tariffs would “benefit a few at the cost of many.”

“If you are still working in Youngstown, Ohio, and your plant shut down a few years ago and it reopens, you have your job back and it make you happy and everybody else’s prices for a variety of things from cars to cameras to tractors for the farmers go up slightly – but not to the degree that will make people change their vote,” he said.

Oosterveld said there is “confusion and anger” in Europe surrounding the Trump administration’s use of the “national security argument” to make the case for the tariffs.

“You don’t really expect that argument to be used against long-term allies,” he said. “In the background, in Germany, there’s concern about how this might affect the car industry over time.”

Marczak said that Canadians “overall” share Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s “outrage” over the tariffs.

“It’s similar with Mexico, too. I mean, Mexico is an incredible ally of the United States, a national security partner of the United States,” he said. “For both of our North American allies, this is really seen as an affront. Justin Trudeau announced a dollar-for-dollar retaliation and he announced a comprehensive list of countermeasures.”
Cato's Dan Ikenson suggests that there might be a relatively straightforward restoration of cooperation.
Congress abandons its legislation to block [imported electronics from] ZTE, which gets back in business (with conditions); the U.S.-China tariff war is called off; China signs purchasing orders for $100 billion to $200 billion of U.S. exports; the steel and aluminum tariffs on Canada, Mexico, and the EU are removed; and the NAFTA negotiations are restarted and concluded before the midterms. This gives Trump two major pyrrhic victories that will reinforce his greatness to his base.

Seems to me these are the only outcomes that could remotely explain (if not justify) the ride Trump is taking us on. I see it as misguided, but not irrational.
That appears to be the logic of Our President's court intellectuals, if you permit me an impertinence: it's not about tariffs for their own sake, it's about tariffs as a way of convincing the other trading partners to rewrite the international trade agreements in ways that look more favorable to United States commercial interests.  (Or, funnily, you get the kind of industrial policy that the likes of Barry Bluestone and Robert Kuttner and Robert Reich were peddling in the 1980s.)

DISENTANGLING CHICAGO.

Although a shipment of freight can cross the country without being transloaded, if the car has to go through Chicago, it's likely to be detained there a few days, not because its papers aren't in order, rather because the trackage, to this day, is a legacy of the days of a hundred Class I railroads, fifty-car steam freight trains, and telegraphy.  Thus, for instance, if Norfolk Southern have a train at Elkhart of cars destined for points west of North Platte, Nebraska (used to be, the railroads used intuitive symbols such as ELNP-1 for such a thing)  Elkhart has to talk to South Chicago, South Chicago has to talk to Belt Junction, Belt Junction has to talk to Ash Street, Ash Street has to talk to Kedzie, Kedzie has to talk to God.  Until Elkhart's prayer is answered the prudent thing for the Norfolk Southern dispatcher to do might be to release the train, because there's an ELBN going to Cicero that wants to get out behind, once Elkhart can talk to Lumber Street ...  That train, however, ought not proceed too close to Chicago as while it's waiting the local sticky-fingers can give the cargo a going over.

Thus, the westbound trains stack up on the westbound track, and eastbound trains that would like to get into Elkhart, preferably before the crews' Hours of Service expire creep along the eastbound, and if it's time for the overnight Amtrak trains to leave, that makes for cranky passengers.

The relief for the passenger trains might be on some convoluted, freight-only tracks in the vicinity of 75th Street.  Currently, that Elkhart to North Platte has to cross another busy freight line at a place called Belt Junction.  A few overpasses in the right place, and a new track arrangement, and movements through Belt Junction are easier.  (Ash Street is another story for another day.)
The 75th Street [reconstruction] will eliminate Belt Junction, one of the most congested rail chokepoints in the region, which sees 32 Metra and Amtrak and 98 CSX, Union Pacific, Norfolk Southern, Canadian Pacific and Belt Railway of Chicago freight trains per day. When complete, it will eliminate 18,500 annual passenger hours of delay by removing conflicts between freight and commuter trains, increase capacity at Chicago Union Station, decrease train idling, improve air quality in the surrounding neighborhoods and replace or rehabilitate 36 viaducts for increased mobility.
The Amtrak presence at this crossing is the Indianapolis service, and the suburban trains off the old Wabash will get a path into LaSalle Street Station, freeing up platform space on the south side of Union Station either for additional Amtrak regional trains, or for more Naperville Zephyrs.

The project does use Federal money: no doubt, somewhere, there are killjoy Members of Congress who view "infrastructure" as "roads" and "airways" only.  Fewer delays to freight trains and a few street overpasses mean fewer delays to Chicago area motorists, too.
As this video explains, only one train can move through the area at a time, while trains from all other directions wait and cause cascading backups. For instance, westbound Norfolk Southern freight trains must stop and wait on a main line miles away, clogging up tracks that Amtrak trains rely on.

These fixes will let trains on different lines flow freely through the area, removing miles of backups. Without trains waiting on Norfolk Southern’s main line along Lake Michigan, the 14 daily Amtrak trains to Michigan and the East Coast should see less delays. Amtrak’s Hoosier State and Cardinal trains pass through the east side of the 75th Street junction and should also be improved.
There is still a lot of legacy physical plant in Chicago to straighten out.  The railroads, and Chicago interests more generally, see enough promise in improving the junctions and eliminating the crossings to have pooh-poohed the Great Lakes Basin belt railroad proposal.

STOP DEFINING DYSFUNCTION DOWN.

Calling a behavior a less judgmental name doesn't make it any less bad.

Here's City Journal's Bob McManus, with the reinforcements.
Indeed, not since “the homelessness crisis” blossomed a generation ago to constrain honest discussions of substance addiction, disintegrating families, deinstitutionalization, and an explosion of common vagrancy has artful rhetoric so successfully obscured facts, law, and sound public policy. Then (as now) it was deemed judgmental—a grave sin—to censure personal choices or behavior. The problem, advocates and the media insisted, was lack of a home, and it was up to government to provide one. Since then, billions have been spent on housing and other programs, to no discernible long-term positive effect—and it is still all but impossible to have a serious public discussion about the addled, the addicted, and the socially dysfunctional.

Fast forward to America’s southern border, where—advocates and the media contend—children routinely are “ripped” from their mothers’ arms, shunted off to “cages,” and pretty much traumatized for the rest of their lives. Once again, facts and context are optional; politically opportunistic rhetoric drives what little debate is allowed, and meretricious politicians like Cuomo get away with simply making stuff up. Never mind that the policies now at issue date at least to the Obama administration, even if the circumstances have changed. Or that the alternative to separation is a choice between jailing the children with their illegal-alien parents, or allowing those parents free passage into the country.

That last point, of course, is the fundamental element in the debate: is America to have control of its borders, or not?  Once again, euphemism obscures the issues; when “illegal alien” morphed into “undocumented immigrant” in the popular lexicon, the debate was largely over. After all, immigrants are American icons—isn’t that where we all came from?—whereas illegals are a nettlesome law-enforcement problem. And as was the case with the socially dysfunctional, if you label problems as something other than what they are, you can ignore the issues they raise.

Meanwhile, is there a more delightful attention-deflector in America discourse than the word “undocumented?” Every other country on the planet requires passports, entry papers, work permits, and the like, but on America’s southern borders, just tell the immigration agents that you left your “documents” in your other suit, and everything is cool. Or so the advocates, and especially the media, would have it. But “illegal alien” is precisely the correct term because it speaks directly to the debate’s core issue: territorial integrity, the basis for national sovereignty. Without that, there can be no meaningful rule of law—and without that, every place becomes a sanctuary city, and eventually an MS-13 gang war.
Even without that worst-case evolution at the end of the passage, he's onto something.  Yes, the self-styled Enlightened People are going to invoke "blaming the victim" and all their other attempts to change the subject by hectoring or deplorable-shaming the messenger.  They can pound sand.

IT ALL COMES FROM THE SAME PLANT, DOESN'T IT?

I hesitate to use the expression, pissing contest, but how else characterize this?
You may want to grab drink before tuning into this news, beer lovers: a Pabst Blue Ribbon shortage may be on the horizon.

CNBC reported this week that the iconic brew and MillerCoors are heading to court in November, as Pabst has filed a half-billion dollar lawsuit against the powerhouse brewery.

According to the outlet, the two are feuding over a reported breach by MillerCoors in a "decades-old" agreement that the Keystone beer maker would brew Pabst's legacy beers, including the iconic PBR, until 2020.

Though the current deal offers multiple options for renewal, MillerCoors reportedly wants out, due in part to a dwindling beer market, according to Food & Wine.
These might be the best years since before pasteurization and prohibition for aficionados of the locally-brewed beers, but this consolidation is turning out poorly.  It's been a matter of labelling the cans for a long time, dear reader.  "Pabst, along with Schlitz, Old Milwaukee, Old Style, Stroh's, and in a fine twist, Pabst, are all produced using excess capacity at Miller Brewing."

There is an old school option.  "If the two parted ways, Pabst would be in a tight position to find a new brewery, or build a brewery of its own, two equally difficult options that could 'potentially' lead to a 'dreaded shortage' of the beloved brew, the outlet claims." The original Pabst plant, not far from Marquette University in downtown Milwaukee, has long gone for gentrifiers, although the buildings still stand, and you can quaff something there.

19.6.18

IN SUPPORT OF THAT GRAND FICTION.

Book Review No. 15 is The New Serfdom: The Triumph of Conservative Ideas and How to Defeat Them.  I acquired that in Oxford, on my recent overseas excursion.  The title suggests original thought; but then, The Road to Serfdom was a polemic, and authors Angela Eagle and Imran Ahmed are Labour Party stalwarts, so perhaps I should not be disappointed that the riposte to the New Serfdom is the same-old, same-old.  Or perhaps I was jaded, after watching the state-run broadcasting company report on misdiagnoses by the National Health Service affecting prostate cancer and multiple sclerosis whilst over there (on the positive side, while I was there it appeared that both Commons and Lords had stirrings of what we would understand Stateside as Article I powers) to read through New Serfdom to find the National Health Service upheld as a shining example of Collective Action For All.  But I held off on writing this review until after recent root canal treatments.

What, then, is the road from serfdom, apart from ticking the Labour boxes on election day?  That, too, strikes me as anticlimactic.  Because Prime Minister Thatcher questioned the reification of society, the authors, unsurprisingly, assert "there is such a thing as society."  There are membership subscriptions therein: they call them taxes.  (I'm partial to the formulation, "taxes are the price we pay for our failure to civilize society;" I am prepared to be reasoned out of that position; Eagle and Ahmed haven't done so.)  They conclude, calling for a healthy, ethical society.  While common institutions undoubtedly confer evolutionary advantage upon adherents, the Scandinavian nostrums they (in common with some Stateside politicians) would like to emulate might not extend or scale to polities that are not so obviously extended families the way Iceland, for instance, is.

(Cross-posted to 50 Book Challenge.)

OFF TO THE HOP.

The Trolley Dodger was also present for the open day at Milwaukee's new streetcar shop.  In addition to attending the festivities, he took a drive around the Fashionable East Side looking at the right of way (you'll even see the Chipotle in the John Ernst Cafe building if you scroll through) which will feature safety islands, something once provided for streetcar passengers, but once the motor buses took over, passengers got kicked to the curb.  He also ventured to East Troy where a more traditional Milwaukee streetcar was running.

DID PAUL KRUGMAN INSPIRE DONALD TRUMP?

I was looking in the archives for something else, and I found this.
The incentives for North Korea are clear. There's no point in playing nice — it will bring neither aid nor security. It needn't worry about American efforts to isolate it economically — North Korea hardly has any trade except with China, and China isn't cooperating. The best self-preservation strategy for Mr. Kim is to be dangerous. So while America is busy with Iraq, the North Koreans should cook up some plutonium and build themselves some bombs.
The old link no longer works, although the 2003 column is still available from the New York Times.

CONGRESS CAN FIX THIS.

That's National Review's Rich Lowry, contemplating the children detained at the southern border.

That's also, likely, why an easy resolution won't be forthcoming.

Bear in mind, dear reader, that it is the government detaining people.  Thus, the red tape proliferates.
When a migrant is prosecuted for illegal entry, he or she is taken into custody by the U.S. Marshals. In no circumstance anywhere in the U.S. do the marshals care for the children of people they take into custody. The child is taken into the custody of [Health and Human Services, the Welfare part of Health, Education, and Welfare], who cares for them at temporary shelters.

The criminal proceedings are exceptionally short, assuming there is no aggravating factor such as a prior illegal entity or another crime. The migrants generally plead guilty, and they are then sentenced to time served, typically all in the same day, although practices vary along the border. After this, they are returned to the custody of ICE [Customs and Border Patrol].

If the adult then wants to go home, in keeping with the expedited order of removal that is issued as a matter of course, it’s relatively simple. The adult should be reunited quickly with his or her child, and the family returned home as a unit. In this scenario, there’s only a very brief separation.

Where it becomes much more of an issue is if the adult files an asylum claim. In that scenario, the adults are almost certainly going to be detained longer than the government is allowed to hold their children.

That’s because of something called the Flores Consent Decree from 1997. It says that unaccompanied children can be held only 20 days. A ruling by the Ninth Circuit extended this 20-day limit to children who come as part of family units. So even if we want to hold a family unit together, we are forbidden from doing so.

The clock ticking on the time the government can hold a child will almost always run out before an asylum claim is settled. The migrant is allowed ten days to seek an attorney, and there may be continuances or other complications.

This creates the choice of either releasing the adults and children together into the country pending the ajudication of the asylum claim, or holding the adults and releasing the children. If the adult is held, HHS places the child with a responsible party in the U.S., ideally a relative (migrants are likely to have family and friends here).
Is anybody surprised that the folks who couldn't launch a health exchange web-site or issue a driving license in a timely fashion or admit veterans to the hospital can't expedite a request for asylum? (If it were refugees from a Communist country, would the delays be that long?)

So far, I haven't seen anyone suggesting that the governments of Central American countries are attempting a Cloward-Piven overload of the southern border, which might not be necessary given that Our President is going to do what he promised to do wherever possible, in this case provide Normals with a gated community.  But the opportunity to do so is present.
Why try to hold adults at all? First of all, if an asylum-seeker is detained, it means that the claim goes through the process much more quickly, a couple of months or less rather than years. Second, if an adult is released while the claim is pending, the chances of ever finding that person again once he or she is in the country are dicey, to say the least. It is tantamount to allowing the migrant to live here, no matter what the merits of the case.
That is, the children plus the existing rules plus border enforcement on the cheap add up to a lower cost way to get into the country without permanent documentation: then wait for a subsequent amnesty.

Thus, Mr Lowry's first point, "Family units can go home quickly," is likely moot.  I'm not sure whether the pro-Trump or anti-Trump media would be quicker to run the story of a parent joyfully reunited with a child and then boarding a bus (or Trump Force One: that plane is currently underemployed, isn't it?) south.  I bet, though, that it's not happening.  His second point, "There is a better way to claim asylum," is true but likely irrelevant.  The United States is still the land of opportunity, and there are still influential people of a variety of political leanings who like (pick your explanation) future voters or cheap domestic and yard care help.  Mr Lowry elaborates,
Every indication is that the migrant flow to the United States is discretionary. It nearly dried up at the beginning of the Trump administration when migrants believed that they had no chance of getting into the United States. Now, it is going in earnest again because the message got out that, despite the rhetoric, the policy at the border hasn’t changed. This strongly suggests that the flow overwhelmingly consists of economic migrants who would prefer to live in the United States, rather than victims of persecution in their home country who have no option but to get out.
If the cause is persecution, or corruption, or drug kingpin violence back home, there's another policy lever: make the drugs legal (the demand is likely inelastic) and tax their sale such that the legal price is similar to the current street prices: that defunds the drug lords to the south, the runners who this border crackdown is intended to interdict, and the corner boys who can't shoot straight in these United States.

His third point,  "There is a significant moral cost to not enforcing the border," is the heart of the matter.  Members of Congress, in both parties, have non-trivial constituencies that depend on the status quo continued.

GOOD QUESTION.

Joanne Jacobs: "Instead of fighting over who gets in to a handful of elite schools, why not create more high-quality high schools?"  She's referring to the college preparatory high schools of New York City, but that's a task worthy of school superintendents everywhere.  Yes, a few manufacturers of granite counter-tops might have to rethink their business model.

The generalization to higher education is straightforward.

THE FINE LINE BETWEEN ARCHAEOLOGY AND THEFT.

An explorer investigates a ruin and finds an artifact that merits conservation.

The ruin is the Michigan Central station and office tower in Detroit.  The artifact, a clock.
The Henry Ford museum in Dearborn received a phone call Friday afternoon saying that the depot clock existed and wanted to "go home."  Museum officials immediately contacted Ford Motor Land Development Corp. and The Ford Archives.

Within hours, text messages were exchanged with the "donor," said Dave Dubensky, chairman and CEO of Ford Land. Ford bought the train station, which closed in 1988 and became a symbol of Detroit's ruin, from the Moroun family and has plans to restore the building.
You'll find the artifact wrapped in swaddling cloth and propped up in an alley.  "The clock is one of hundreds of antiques and decorative parts stolen from the 18-story Beaux arts structure, which opened in 1913 and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975."  That would have been easy enough to do.  After Conrail moved most of its offices elsewhere, the upper floors were full of all sorts of paperwork left behind primarily by Penn Central and New York Central traffic department staff, and after Amtrak closed the station, the entire building was effectively scavenging grounds for thirty years.

18.6.18

REBUTTING STUART SAUNDERS.

The current management at Amtrak appears bent on turning the long-distance trains into something slightly roomier than an intercity bus, perhaps in order to focus on being a corridor-style operation.

That's not playing well with Passenger Rail advocate Jim Loomis.
The Amtrak brain trust refers to this new service as “contemporary dining”. Personally, I resent that. It’s nothing but a transparent attempt to make us feel better about continuing to pay top dollar for our overnight train travel experience, but getting less.

The Amtrak decision makers don’t understand that you can’t have ”the dining car experience” while eating a Cobb Salad sitting by yourself in a roomette. It’s having a glass of wine with your dinner, enjoying a decently prepared meal when you want to eat, not at 5:30 because that the most convenient time for the dining car crew. It can be done! In fact, it has been done!
That's typical business-speak, attempting to spin downgraded offerings as "serving customers better."  Perhaps, on the Lake Shore, there's a case for modifying the eastbound schedule so as to offer effectively an early-morning day train east of Cleveland and through the Northern Tier of New York, but the westbound schedule still calls for dinner alongside the Hudson.

When the house organ for the freight railroads gives space to a Passenger Rail advocate to identify Amtrak's false economy, you know something's wrong.  Once upon a time, in a galaxy far away, the Sunset Limited (!) had dining service available all day.
Sleeping car passengers felt more pampered, and received more value for their accommodation fares. Coach passengers also dropped into the diner during the overnight hours and spent money if they were restless in their coach seats. After the lounge car closed at the traditional time, many patrons not yet ready to retire for the evening would come into the 24-hour dining car and continue to purchase an evening drink, often accompanied by a purchased food choice.

Passengers entraining or detraining at major stations overnight, such as San Antonio, and, at the time, Houston, often patronized the diner for something to eat before detraining, or as a place to settle down a bit and enjoy a snack if they had just boarded. Either way, it was a winner for the dining car.

Amtrak often points a finger at dining car labor costs, and wants to find ways to cut labor expenses. After running the numbers on these 24-hour experiments, and then taking annual dining car numbers for the Crescent and City of New Orleans and crunching them to see what it would take to make the dining cars at least break even, the end result was, with some tweaking here and there, the dining cars could become a profit center instead of purely a cost center. In short, labor was not the problem. Lack of focus on best use of dining cars and improving them was the problem.
Further, if in cutting costs, you antagonize passengers and cut revenues further, you're not improving the business, although if you're on the road to liquidation, you're closer.  The editor of Railway Age devoted space to a Transport Workers Union statement -- note, not a formal grievance -- making precisely that point.
“We have been told by our members that passengers already are expressing their dissatisfaction with the upcoming service and meal plan changes,” the unions said. “Our members are on the frontlines, and they know that passengers view the current dining service as part of the experience of riding a train through the country along a long-distance route. Our members are proud to provide this service and care about its quality because they understand that it contributes to passengers’ experience. Maintaining the current high-quality service is important to attracting passengers to Amtrak, and it’s central to our members’ livelihoods.

“We demand Amtrak President Richard Anderson reverse his decision and stop these cuts. We pledge to do everything in our power to preserve these jobs and the unique Amtrak dining experience.”

Amtrak responded to Railway Age’s request for comment with the following statement:

“We are undertaking changes on the dining service to provide higher quality food with a modern service pattern that allows people to order what they want and have it provided when they want. People who want to dine in a communal way can keep that. People who want privacy or to work on their laptops while they’re dining, can dine in that way. We’re putting the decision-making into our customer’s hands, vs. dictating to our customers how they have to accept their food.

“Amtrak sleeping car customers have always had the ability to choose to be served in their bedrooms and roomettes, and this model makes that choice easier by offering a selection of meals that are made fresh and are readily enjoyed by customers in their sleeping compartments or at tables in a private area only for sleeping car customers. These food service cars were infrequently used by coach customers.

“A hot meal option will be coming at a future date as we are gathering feedback from our customers to understand preferences.”
Not necessarily in order:  what was I saying about sugar-coating a service reduction as "offering better service?"  If you like your doctor communal dining, you can keep your doctor communal dining.  You'll get your hot meal option when Hell freezes over.  The full dining cars gave way to those Diner Light and Cross Country Cafe cars with limited seating, and the paucity of reservations left to the coach passengers once the sleeper passengers made their reservations, along with the high prices on the full meals, probably discouraged the coach passengers.  Finally, Amtrak does not ban carry-on food, although only sleeper passengers can legally bring their own booze aboard.  (Pass the paper bag that holds the bottle, feel the wheels rumblin' 'neath the floor.)

In Trains, Malcolm Kenton lodges a protest.
If passenger rail is to survive and thrive in the USA, train operating companies need to find ways to pad the revenue column, and not just shrink the cost column. As evidenced in the other hospitality industries, firms have to spend money up front to create a more desirable product in order to increase revenues long-term. The way to address complaints about the limits of a product offering is to offer the customer more options, not fewer. Even if a change that substantially alters the quality of the overall product is made in response to customer requests, if a company’s most loyal existing customers see it as a cheapening of the product, then it is not, in sum, an improvement.

Which brings me back to the boxed meals. For what they are, they aren’t bad — a touch above what a similar cold meal would be on an international flight. The fruit in both the dinner and breakfast boxes was fresh, the muffin and banana bread had the right consistency, and quinoa and edamame salad and Kind and Kashi bars are welcome additions to Amtrak’s offerings. I would have applauded the introduction of some of these items in addition to traditional dining car fare — but not as a replacement.

When one has grown accustomed to cooked-to-order hot meals served in a comfy rolling restaurant setting, enjoyed with fellow passengers, this feels like a downgrade. Something of what gives American train travel its soul is missing. I realize that joining strangers for a meal on a train is not everyone’s cup of tea, which is why sleeping car passengers have always had the option of having their meal served in their rooms.

But now on the Capitol Limited and Lake Shore Limited, the former diner — now a sleeping car passenger lounge where passengers may choose to eat their boxed meals minus tablecloths, silverware and other accoutrements — feels sterile. Without the imposition of community seating, one feels awkward seeking to strike up a conversation with other passengers, so those traveling together tend to keep to themselves.
It appears that on the Capitol, the community dining area is the former cafe end of the Cross Country Cafe, with the snack service being returned to the lower level of the Sightseer Lounge.  But no French toast option for breakfast?  Sad.

Finally, Railway Age provides a platform to longtime Passenger Rail champion Andrew Selden to offer a different sort of rebuttal to Stuart Saunders, and his intellectual heirs in Amtrak.
Amtrak’s strongest single train, in market share, output and average trip length, is the one that serves the least populated, second-longest and most remote market in the entire system—the Empire Builder. This one route encompasses more origin/destination city pairs than some airlines’ entire networks.

Automobiles win the market share battle everywhere, for three reasons inherent in the technology: They are private, and comfortable up to a point; have “infinite” frequency and network (they go exactly when you want, and exactly where you want); and, to most users, the cost is measured subjectively only in incremental out-of-pocket cost, not fully-allocated costs that underlie some common-carrier pricing. These factors make it extremely difficult for any mode to compete with cars for any intercity travel. In any distance range under 1,500-2,000 miles, cars win 90% or greater market share.

Automobile dominance is not uniform, however, in all markets. Cars win higher market share in shorter distance travel. The greatest competitive challenge for rail occurs where the appeal of the car’s attributes (comfort, network, cost) is the strongest, in the 100-500 mile range.

Trips shorter than 100 miles statistically aren’t even “intercity” travel by standard definition. Trips longer than 400-500 miles are harder to do in one day, the car becomes less comfortable, and the value of the “infinite network” is diluted. The car’s advantage declines with distance, but not linearly; the advantage drops off abruptly after 400-500 miles. But cars own the short-to-intermediate market, even in the densest corridors.

Amtrak’s strongest single train, in market share, output and average trip length, is the one that serves the least populated, second-longest and most remote market in the entire system—the Empire Builder. This one route encompasses more origin/destination city pairs than some airlines’ entire networks.

Automobiles win the market share battle everywhere, for three reasons inherent in the technology: They are private, and comfortable up to a point; have “infinite” frequency and network (they go exactly when you want, and exactly where you want); and, to most users, the cost is measured subjectively only in incremental out-of-pocket cost, not fully-allocated costs that underlie some common-carrier pricing. These factors make it extremely difficult for any mode to compete with cars for any intercity travel. In any distance range under 1,500-2,000 miles, cars win 90% or greater market share.

Automobile dominance is not uniform, however, in all markets. Cars win higher market share in shorter distance travel. The greatest competitive challenge for rail occurs where the appeal of the car’s attributes (comfort, network, cost) is the strongest, in the 100-500 mile range.

Trips shorter than 100 miles statistically aren’t even “intercity” travel by standard definition. Trips longer than 400-500 miles are harder to do in one day, the car becomes less comfortable, and the value of the “infinite network” is diluted. The car’s advantage declines with distance, but not linearly; the advantage drops off abruptly after 400-500 miles. But cars own the short-to-intermediate market, even in the densest corridors.
Again, not necessarily in order: some years ago, a Passenger Rail advocate, might even have been Mr Selden, suggested that the passenger rail operators (thinking, broadly, of the Commuter Rail authorities as well as Amtrak), intercity bus operators (this was some years ago) and airlines might have more profitably gone after the 97% or so of passenger miles that people made in their own or as riders in their family car, rather than fighting over the other three percent.  The Builder is an overpurposed train that will take you to the middle of nowhere, and the interstates are pretty far away.  Those hundred mile trips?  On Long Island, that gets you to the Hamptons, a commuter operation.  In Chicago, that's an interurban ride to South Bend or a Hiawatha ride to Milwaukee.  The out-of-pocket costs include Chicago's parking charges: if you drive to Chicago and you don't know where to look, the parking charges for your jaunt will exceed the train fare, they'd even exceed the extra fare for a seat in a Skytop Lounge parlor car or Brightline Select, if we had those things here.

That 400 to 1500 mile range intrigues, though.
Empirically, rail does far better in a different segment, achieving much higher market share. This is the submarket where trip lengths exceed the comfort range of cars, and approach the range where air competes more effectively.

This submarket is in the range of 400- to 1,500-mile average trips. Here, rail competes best and always achieves its highest market share (in corridors where the service is offered). Rail’s market share in longer distance markets is often 5% to 6%, three times rail’s market share in any short distance corridor. A train that overlaps several such markets is inherently more efficient, productive and competitively successful than one that only overlaps several 100- to 300-mile markets. In longer-distance markets, rail’s average trip is twice the entire length of most short corridors.

Empirical demonstration of this phenomenon is abundant. The long-distance group is commercially and competitively much stronger than any short corridor, in market share, output and load factor. The long distance trains produce annually half-again the output of the entire [Acela corridor]. They recover their own capital and operating costs, and have by a very wide margin the lowest subsidy cost, per passenger, per passenger-mile and in the aggregate, in the entire national network. Amtrak told Congress these trains will contribute a positive operating margin this year of $423 million, reducing the corporate deficit and subsidy need by that amount.

Long distance trains also have average trip lengths that closely match the average trip length in domestic aviation (at about 750 miles), another proof that rail competes quite well with air and motor vehicles in longer-distance markets. These trains are also the country’s most undercapitalized, because their load factor is consistently so high that they are statistically nearly sold-out. They are incapable of organic growth for lack of added investment in capacity (inventory).
And yet, those are the trains Stuart Saunders wanted to be rid of, a half-century ago, and those are the trains the current management of Amtrak wishes to remove the amenities from.

CHEAPER TO PATCH THE POTHOLES THAN TO REPLACE THE PIZZAS?

Perhaps Domino's replace the damaged pizza guarantee got somebody in the company thinking about doing something about the road conditions that might have gotten some of the pizzas damaged.

That's got the unimaginative complaining about how subversive an act that is.
This feels like something from a William Gibson cyberpunk dystopia novel, where the government has become so weak and useless, private corporations have been taking over the basic upkeep of the nation. But it’s not a William Gibson novel, there’s no plucky protagonist with some sort of cybernetic implant, it’s just America in 2018, with crumbling roads that Domino’s has decided to fix. For the sake of the pizzas.

Domino’s is tired of their innocent pizzas, who only wish to serve humankind, being beaten all to hell by poorly-maintained roads. They even have a websitethat shows, in graphic, pizza-box-cam detail, what brutal hell pizzas are put through when their delivery vehicle impacts a pothole.
It is a subversive act. Remember, maybe six years ago, Barack Obama riffing off Elizabeth Warren, about the importance of government? "You didn't build that" and such.
To remedy this, Domino’s has been hiring work crews to repair potholes in a number of cities, including Burbank, California (five holes fixed), Bartonville, Texas (eight holes), an impressive 40 holes fixed in Milford, Delaware, and an astounding 150 potholes filled in Athens, Georgia.

It’s not entirely altruistic, of course. Domino’s tags every filled pothole with their logo and the tagline “OH YES WE DID.”
Athens, Georgia, is home to a professional football team masquerading as a college, and I'm not surprised there are a lot of opportunities to fill potholes there.

Or perhaps the unimaginative engage in wishful thinking.
Roads exist to service people's transportation needs, whether that's getting to and from work, schlepping freight between cities, or, yes, delivering freshly cooked pizza. Aligning the funding of roads with the purposes they're used for would make infrastructure more responsive to the end user.

Moving to a more user-focused highway system could look like something radical, such as selling or leasing whole urban highways to private companies (as they've done in Santiago, Chile), or it could look a bit more mundane, such as spending people's gas tax dollars on actually building and maintaining the roads they drive on.

Either option would be far different from how the public sector manages our roads in a lot of states, says Baruch Feigenbaum, a transportation expert with the Reason Foundation (the nonprofit that publishes this website).

"In some states the road conditions are terrible," says Feigenbaum, speaking of interstate highway conditions. "There hasn't been much of new capacity, and in terms of offering in terms of what we would call services" like towing, car repair, and food and drink options at rest stops. (Federal law prohibits the commercialization of interstate rest stops.)

These poor conditions often result from politicians siphoning money away from road infrastructure that people actually use to build out bike lanes and transit systems that politicians would prefer them to use.
Money is fungible, and spending public money on internal improvements is a political act per se.  There might be inefficiently much spending on roads relative to those bike lanes and transit systems (and second and third tracks on railroad trunk lines to expedite 110 mph passenger trains) irrespective of what appears to be happening to the so-called highway trust funds.  Maybe the best thing for the government to do with transportation capital is do less, which is what at least one city manager in Delaware thinks is the case anyway.

Apparently the prospect of Domino's delivering road toppings gets even the staff of the Foundation for Economic Education thinking sloppily.
Roads have historically been viewed as a public good, which is defined as a product or service that is provided to citizens exclusively by governments, ensuring use is accessible to all. This has led many to believe that the government is the only entity capable of road management. And even though toll roads and other forms of private thoroughfares exist as living examples, there are many who cling to the government’s monopoly on roads. But there are multiple problems with this viewpoint.
Governments might have taken a monopoly on the provision of roads and waterways as a way of conserving on the transaction costs of paying tribute to opportunistic robber barons or trolls, or perhaps as a way of making possible the deployment of troops and the delivery of the mail: that is, internal improvements as a defensible function of government.  But somebody trading in economic education ought grasp the canonical public, or collective consumption, good, as one that is costly to produce yet its consumption is nonexclusive and nonrivalrous.  Toll booths provide the exclusivity, traffic jams are evidence of the rivalry.  Thus, again, maybe the best thing for the government to do with transportation capital is less.  The demand for roads is derived from the demand for inter alia pizzas, and the preconditions for market provision of roads are present.

A STYLISH CHICKEN COOP RETURNS TO THE RAILS

The Patron Saint of Traction must have been looking over former Chicago Lake Shore and South Bend wood interurban No. 73, a Niles car.  The car was in a wreck on the Lake Shore, was subsequently rebuilt for work train service on the South Shore, became a summer house, and it's now being restored to its interurban form.  One of the craftsmen on the project is O Scaler Glen Guerra, who also has the rebuild of Sheboygan wood interurban No. 26 to his credit.