17.1.17

FASCHING.



Prosit!

WATCH THIS SPACE.

Facebook reminded me this morning about the state of the railroad, five years ago.


Progress as of 17 January, 2012.  Furring strips in, wall insulation going in, extra lighting in, no grid yet for the drop ceiling.


Much of the work over the next four years was to build from the northwest corner to the east and to the south.  By 12 January, 2016, the benchwork for staging and the trackage down to staging and up to the Gloucester Branch was in place, and spline for the upper level was going in through western Russian town of Zudnokhovsk.


Main line, station siding, and spur to corrective labor camp in place at Zudnokhovsk now.  Stalin never had beer delivery like this!  Passenger train headed off the Eastern Route Main Line into staging for Ipswich, Portsmouth, and points north.

THE IRREGULAR RHYMES OF HISTORY.

Dave "Voluntary Xchange" Tufte picks up a Nation interview with Yale political scientist Stephen Skowronek looking for regularities in the Black Swan event we call the Trumpening.  We'll start with the political economy of cycles, particularly cycles that are long relative to the frame of reference.
As soon as you see long cycles in a discussion, you should be very suspicious. Think about two points. How do we know there are cycles? Because we return back to where we started. How do we know there are long cycles? Because we have a huge amount of data. Skowronek’s theory is based on observing 2, maybe 3, long cycles. At the absolute limit, possibly six. Solid scientists are exceptionally skeptical of that sort of argument.
Yes, that's the fundamental flaw with cycles-of-history arguments, including those involving Fourth Turnings.  Wherever there is a pattern, there are opportunities to exploit the pattern and throw the cycle off.

What's interesting, though, is Professor Skowronek's indictment of the Cult of the Presidency.
Look, the 20th-century Progressives really screwed up the presidency in the sense that they envisioned every president as a transformative leader. So they instituted primary elections, which gave us these idiosyncratic presidential parties not beholden to any collective. Instead, they are personal organizations which feed this idea of transformational leadership. But at the same time, the Progressives rebuilt the government to create this enormous management apparatus we call the executive office of the president. So now we also expect the president to be a rational coordinator of institutions and actions throughout this massive federal government.

The problem is that those two functions don’t necessarily go together very well. How can you promise to shake the system up, to extricate the special interests and transform politics, while also being a responsible manager of the state? In the 2016 election, we saw a choice between candidates who were essentially caricatures of those two views. Hillary Clinton was all about competence and management and rational decision-making, while Trump was all about popular mobilization and disruption.
Put not excessive faith in Chief Magistrates.

SOME DAYS JUST GET WORSE.

Ringling Barnum's Blue Unit train reported terminal delay in Miami account a derailment.  "According to local sources, a Florida East Coast local was assembling the train in preparation for its departure from Miami when a switching locomotive and one of the company’s generator cars derailed. There was only minor damage reported, but the equipment remained derailed as of 2:45 p.m. local time." The first jump will be to Birmingham, Alabama, for a Thursday opening.

THE IMPORTANCE OF A STATE OF GOOD REPAIR.

Harvard's Larry Summers and Ed Glaeser go around on infrastructure.  There are several good points covered therein.  I wish to highlight one.
I was struck many years ago by the young teacher who approached me in Oakland after as Secretary of the Treasury I gave a speech about the importance of education. She said “Secretary Summers—that was a great speech.  But the paint is chipping off the walls of this school, not off the walls at McDonald’s or the movie theatre. So why should the kids believe this society thinks their education is the most important thing”  I had no good answer.

As with potentially collapsing bridges, prevention is cheaper than cure and in many cases the return on “un-derferring” maintenance far exceeds government borrowing rates.  Borrowing to finance maintenance should not be viewed as incurring a new cost but as shifting from the fast compounding liability of maintenance to the slowly compounding liability of explicit debt.  It should also be noted that inevitably one maintains what has been used, so maintenance investment is much less likely to turn out a white elephant than new infrastructure investment.
There's more to his argument than ribbon cuttings are newsworthy, painting and patching are not.  Sometimes the pressure to bring a project in "under budget" leads to corner-cutting, and that can be as subtle as a cheaper grade of paint or as serious as thinner insulation.

Note, also, sound economics is part of sound policy.  That's whether the infrastructure is the conventional public spending Professors Glaeser and Summers focus on, or private investment in such things as electric transmission lines and capacity improvements on railroads.
There is too much pork barrel and too little cost-benefit analysis in infrastructure decision making.  Projects should be required to pass cost-benefit tests and proposals like a national infrastructure bank that would insulate a larger portion of decision-making from politics should be seriously considered.  Ed Glaeser is right that new infrastructure investment in declining areas is often a terrible idea as declining population means that these areas have if anything too much infrastructure.  And Field of Dreams — “build it and they will come” approaches do not have a very good track record.  Ways should be found to make the costs of procrastination on maintenance more salient and to institutionalize resistance to low-ball cost estimates from advocates of more visionary projects.
Rent-seekers gotta seek rents.  But a Strong Towns post suggests now is an opportunity for new thinking.
Replacing a system of failing, insolvent infrastructure with an identical (but newer) system of failing, insolvent infrastructure not only doesn't solve the underlying math equation, it doesn't scale to the size of our actual national problem. We need to think differently.
The scale the post focuses on is Flint, Michigan's water mains, which originally served the dual purposes of supplying fire hydrants and supplying drinking water.

More generally, though, whenever there is talk of spending money on internal improvements, the advocates of Best Practice and the fraternity of Wise Experts are sure to follow.  That might be the worst possible thing, compounding, as it is likely to do, the decisions that brought us to where we are.  "The values of post-war American development are embedded in our current approach -- efficiency over resiliency, large up front expense over ongoing maintenance expense, comprehensive over incremental, one-size-fits-all over tactical -- and they keep us from seeing the opportunities that sit right in front of us."  Perhaps I will have to continue to object to misuses of "efficiency."  Too often, it's misinterpreted as attempting to do more with less, as in the quote.

PRESERVING THE HIGHER EDUCATION CIRCUS.

Inside Higher Ed's Joshua Kim attempts to study the demise of Ringling Barnum.
The circus, it turns out, is afflicted with the same cost disease as is higher education.

The circus can only scale so much before the circus tent gets too big, making it impossible to see the clowns.

When discussing why the circus was closing, the billionaire owner and CEO Ringling cited the show’s 12-minute tiger act:

“Try getting a 3- or 4-year-old today to sit for 12 minutes..”

Substitute “19 year old” for “3 year old”, and “lectures” for “tigers”, you can see that our higher ed challenges are not all that different from that of the circus.

How can we in higher ed avoid the fate of ‘The Greatest Show on Earth”?

First, we should definitely avoid using exotic live animals in our teaching or residential activities.  The cost of transporting lions, tigers, camels, donkeys, alpacas, kangaroos and llamas between shows proved too expensive for Ringling Brothers.  We should learn from their experience.
It was the elephants they didn't transport that hurt retention, not the camels they did transport.

I leave it to others to address the "cost disease" or nonexistent attention spans or the false economies of student-credit-hours-per-faculty, or dumbing down the curriculum.

16.1.17

WIN AND KEEP PLAYING.

The Green Bay Packers last won a playoff game in Dallas at the end of 1966.


Like yesterday's game, that game started with the Packers establishing a big lead, only to have to make plays at the end to secure the win.

Conference championship game, Sunday afternoon, Atlanta.

A PROPER CIRCUS HAS A TRAIN AND ELEPHANTS.

Trains Magazine correspondents offer their tributes to the end of Ringling Barnum.

Hayley Enoch captures the magic of Circus Day, even if the train simply passes through.
For generations past, especially those before internet and television and movies became common,  the sight of the circus train meant a break from everyday monotony, the most elaborate entertainment and the most visceral representation of the wonders of the world beyond their doorstep they were likely to see. For modern people, it meant the continuation of a 146-year-old tradition, a welcome chance to photograph something beyond the ordinary autoracks and coal hoppers.
Alas, it's all too much given today's prices, and today's attention spans.
Anyone who has ever lent a hand in tourist railroad operations or private car ownership can attest that maintaining even a small fleet can be prohibitively expensive. Feld Entertainment did cite a combination of operating costs and falling attendance as the reasons behind the closure, though it did not offer any information on what specific costs involved with operating the circus had become the most untenable.

Still others voiced what was perhaps the most accurate and the least well received opinion on the reasons behind the RBB&B’s closure: Travelling circuses are just one more relic of bygone eras that have overstayed their place in our modern, digital world. Their demise was inevitable: Modern audiences are too worldly, too cynical, inundated with too many other entertainment options to appreciate the kind of entertainment that the circus offers.

The truth, as it usually is, is likely some combination of all of these factors. Whatever the exact reasons, though, the end of the circus and its two trains bring an era of entertainment and era of railroading to a close. The loss is palpable. There are jobs lost, talents and years of experience that may not find a place in other industries, an entire experience that can now only be described in the pages of history.
My social media feed filled up, over the weekend, with hopes that some or all of the circus train stock could be preserved.  It's unlikely that much will find its way into preservation, considering circumstances at Circus World and at the Illinois Railway Museum, two places that have a good deal of their collection under roof.

Editor Jim Wrinn went to Circus World, where he was not alone among media seeking the back story.
As news spread Sunday that the vaunted Ringling Brothers & Barnum and Bailey Circus will end its more than 130 year run in May, there was only one place for me to go, the Circus World Museum in Baraboo, Wis., about 2 hours west of Trains’ world headquarters. This place is hallowed ground for circus history -- the town of 12,000 today where five brothers in 1884 came up with the idea for the show that would go worldwide, the place that was once Ringling’s circus headquarters, and since 1959, the museum’s home. It is dotted with historic buildings where performers practiced and animals trained.
But the entertainment and educational functions of the itinerant circus now have substitutes.
The museum is about all American circuses, and Wisconsin is prominent in that story as the launching point of Ringling in Baraboo, P.T. Barnum in Delavan, and almost 100 other circuses across the state. Railroading, of course, plays a major role, [museum director Scott] O’Donnell said. Railroads replaced wagons and buggies in hauling the Ringling circus about 1890, and it made it possible for circuses to cover greater distances between shows. Circuses brought the world to cities from coast to coast – everything from giraffes and cotton candy, to performers from as far away as China and Hungary, and much more. America responded: businesses closed and schools shut their doors when the circus arrived. “It was like live Google search came to your town,” O’Donnell said. As many as 16,000 watched a circus show in a single day.
The animals in the menagerie might participate in the circus itself, but many (consider the hippopotamus, the giraffe, the walrus, and the badgers and wolverines) were along to show the locals what sort of exotica roamed the world.

Circus World would be happy to add some Ringling Barnum cars to their collection, but there are limits.


The Mabies -- shirt-tail relations -- also set up their circus in Delavan.

Chase Gunnoe meditates on What It All Means.
As people’s lives revolve around technology – so do the businesses in which employ them.  There is a mentality that everything we do can be improved upon if we introduce some form of technology to help execute the task. Hands-on trades skills are replaced with microchips the same as acrobats are replaced with mobile apps.
I doubt that. And yet the day may come when nobody knows how to set the valves on a steam locomotive, or how to catch the triple somersault.

THE COMMUTER TRAIN SAILS THE LIFTED TACK.

The Netherlanders are known for their windmills, and now the windmills power the trains.
All of the electric passenger trains running in the Netherlands are now powered entirely by wind. One year ahead of schedule, Dutch railway company NS announced its entire electric train fleet is running on 100-percent wind power as of January 1, 2017, ushering in a new era of green transportation. Renewable energy advocates hope the early success will inspire planners to incorporate wind-powered trains in other high-speed rail projects around the world, including some proposed in the United States.
The windiest parts of the States are also in prairie country, perhaps the best applications still remain in electrifying the Powder River and Bakken coal and oil routes.

THE BIG TOP BLOWN DOWN BY A GALE OF CREATIVE DESTRUCTION?

That appears to be Tyler Cowen, this time at his Marginal Revolution winter quarters, assessing the end of Ringling Barnum.  (But not, mind you, all itinerant circus!  Expect me to be giving the surviving truck shows free plugs once summer nears.)  He links a Chattanooga Times Free Press story about life on the road with the Ringling Barnum gold unit, a truck show.  The star of the Globe of Death (a popular show-ending motorcycle act) also worked with the pachyderms.
Alex Petrov is a Ringling Brothers star given his rare talent for racing a motorcycle across a thin, high wire. He can hold his own in the Globe of Steel, which looks like a Thunderdome death trap where three motorcyclists zoom past each other, often upside down inside the cage.

Despite his skill, Petrov has the humble, smelly task of shoveling elephant poop out of the two semi-trailers where Asia and April dwell. Petrov trains the two elephants, which requires him to park the RV he calls home next to their trailer in case they want his reassuring company in the middle of the night.

When April and Asia retire to Florida in 2018, Petrov will miss them, but he shrugs off any worry that their departure will dent circus attendance. Despite the controversy over the ethics of circus animal acts, Ringling seems able to coax a lot of people off the couch and into the tent.
The expression "doubles in brass" is a circus expression for a trouper, sometimes a laborer, with musical ability, who fills in on the sideshow band-wagon.  Not sure what role the musicians' union played in changing that.  To this day, though, you'll find the acrobats also serving as animal trainers or climbing the Spanish Web or juggling.

The itinerant circus practiced just-in-time logistics long before that became a management fad.  Still true.
[Ringling Barnum general manager Jason] Gibson describes the economic impact on Chattanooga: 40 of the 120 circus employees stay at a local hotel; 24 travel in RVs that are parked in a nearby field.

Each day, truckloads of hay and produce are hauled to McKenzie Arena to feed the animals. The circus vet banned peanuts from the elephants' diet for being too fatty but allows them an occasional loaf of unsliced bread or some marshmallows for treats. On performance days, a local caterer feeds the human employees, or they buy their meals in restaurants or grocery stores.
The two train units still operate pie cars, and some of the smaller itinerant shows featured a cookhouse.  On Carson and Barnes, it doubles as the classroom.  (The kids, and the circus is very much a family business, sit at the tables where meals are served at mealtime.)


Mooseheart, Illinois, 27 August 2011.

So what went wrong?  Mr Cowen offers six provisional hypotheses.

1. It is now cheaper to bring people to spectacular events than to have the spectacular events travel around.

Perhaps true of Ringling Barnum, which played in big-city arenas (the famous November "circus trip" of Chicago's Blackhawks and Bulls being a consequence of The Greatest Show booking the United Center, and the Chicago Stadium before that).  Not true so much of the smaller truck shows, which play county fair grounds and school practice fields, or work with the Shriners.  And the Shriners pledge, to the extent allowed by local law, to continue to offer the big cats and the performing pachyderms.

2. Kids get enough drama through social media.

Information technologies destroy attention spans.  Ringling Barnum might have "dumbed down" (to use one critic's observation) its show in response.  For all the good it did.  The smaller shows have a lot more audience participation.

3. Circus jobs stink, and it is increasingly hard to attract and retain the talent. Might there be a visa/immigration issue as well?

In fiction, on Public Broadcasting, and in life, the itinerant circus has always been a hard-knock life.  The Cole Brothers show had a number of workers from Mexico and Central America on a visa program, apparently making a case for temporary help on the circus is similar to making a case for temporary help writing code.  Performers are akin to the boomers of the steam-era railroad, I have seen what looks like the same people and the same act on different shows in different years.  All the same, you have to like living on the train (Ringling Barnum will be finding permanent homes for some of its crew) or out of a motor home for long stretches of time.

4. Circuses are mostly boring, and some of the highlights can be watched, in one form or another, on YouTube. Even as a kid I was bored by the circus I saw at Madison Square Garden, relative say to watching Fischer vs. Spassky on TV. What’s the actual drama in a circus?

Watching Ringling Barnum upstairs from Penn Station doesn't strike me as edifying, either.  At the 2015 Worldwide Circus Summit, I noted that the professionals struggled with what, exactly, they were providing.  Excessively Earnest People might have dragged the Big Apple Circus too far to the public-radio, virtue-signalling, preachy side.  Perhaps all the elephant rides at extended intermissions, and special sales of peanuts, some of the bags containing a prize, at the smaller shows, is for a reason.  Plus the audience participation, and clowns that play to the kids.

5. Fewer circus animals, including fewer or no elephants (none for Ringling since May 2016), hurts circus demand by a significant amount.

No elephants, no circus.

6. I don’t know if contemporary circuses still degrade women, the disabled, and other groups, but of course the contemporary world won’t sit still for that any more, not in any sphere of life.

There are no sideshows, if that's what this point refers to.  There still are athletic women in spangly costumes riding the elephants and performing on the Spanish Web or the trapeze.

Perhaps the itinerant circus is going to live on in the models.


We will continue to alert children of all ages to opportunities to view real circuses under Shrine auspices and otherwise.

OBAMA FAREWELL.

The New York Times gives Peter Wehner a forum.  Go, read, and understand.
Barack Obama is among the most talented campaigners we have ever seen. But as president, he failed in a manner and on a scale that damaged his party, undermined faith in the institutions of government and left the nation more riven than he found it. For most Americans, the economy has been listless. All this helped create the conditions that allowed a cynical demagogue to rise up and succeed him, one who will undo the achievements he most prizes.

In many ways Barack Obama and Donald Trump could not be more different. Mr. Obama is equable and graceful; Mr. Trump is erratic and graceless. Yet one cannot make sense of the incoming presidency without understanding the failures of the outgoing one.
Put not your faith in chief magistrates.

EXPERTS SHOULD BE SEEN AND NOT HEARD.

Last week, I suggested that, in a provocative way.

Now comes Bloomberg's Tyler Cowen, clarifying the provocation.  "Sometimes the People Need to Call the Experts."  (Yes.  If there's an invisible man on the stairs, call Ghostbusters, not Jimmy John.  Bases loaded in the last of the ninth with a one-run lead, call Rollie Fingers.)

That "sometimes," though, is highly contingent on the complexity of the challenge.  We have, for instance, a constitutional republic in part because emergence is messy, and distributed knowledge more likely to get things right.
I prefer the citizens for broad questions of policy and society. The citizens are more likely to be in touch with the concerns of everyday life, and less likely to embrace utopian schemes. They are more likely to be politically and culturally diverse. Overall, they are more conservative in both the "small c" sense of that word and the more political sense.
Expertise, on the other hand, has its value, once the problem to be worked is well-defined.
The faculty would also underestimate the backlash from the American public for their social engineering. It’s a good rule of governance that policy cannot race too far ahead of the citizenry, and I don’t view faculty as a class of people well-suited for that kind of humility.

Nonetheless, when it comes to the nuts and bolts of governance, typically I would prefer to be ruled by the Harvard faculty, even recognizing the biases of experts. They understand the importance of applying expertise to complex problems, and they realize many issues do not respond well to common-sense fixes. The citizenry usually cannot make good decisions, or for that matter expert appointments, when technocracy is required.
The "faculty" reference is to an old William Buckley quip about preferring to be ruled by Bostonians randomly selected from the 'phone book rather than by the Harvard faculty.  Given the Best and the Brightest and Vietnam and the Great Society and the health insurance reforms, that has stood up pretty well.  At root, Mr Cowen is making a case for the experts being put into well-defined boxes, and to the public watching the boxes carefully.  That appears to be Arnold Kling's point.
Joe Citizen may have less knowledge than Professor Jones, but Professor Jones could be more dangerous. That is because Professor Jones may over-estimate his suitability for telling other people what to do.

Compared with academics, business executives and military leaders have more experience with the challenge of implementing ideas. A good business executive would not take it for granted that a web site is going to work. A good general would emphasize all of the difficulties and risks of trying to shape the Middle East.
Perhaps I wasn't being so polemical after all. "The true expert might be the person who knows when it's best to leave well enough alone, rather than to intervene, to tweak, to anticipate every nuance and complexity."

HOW TO ARGUE WITH A LIBERAL, IF YOU MUST.

Dean Dad's Firemen and Closers focuses on process worship, in baseball, and elsewhere.

But he gets off the Trenchant Observation for Today, perhaps for the Season, perhaps as an example of "natural stupidity" (itself a well-chosen phrase.)  "It’s all there -- unrepresentative small sample, high emotion, pathos, and ad hominem. Everything except an actual reason."

Kind of like the attempts to preserve the so-called Affordable Care Act.

THAT SHIP SAILED LONG AGO.

I've used this title enough recently that perhaps the harbor is empty ...

This time, it's Slate's Michelle Goldberg, suggesting that more Democrats question Mr Trump's legitimacy.  She crosses the line from dissent into moonbattery.
Trump lost the popular vote; he is president-elect only because the country values fidelity to the democratic process over popular democracy itself. (The Constitution, it turns out, may in fact be a suicide pact.) If the process itself was crooked—if Trump’s campaign colluded in any way with Russia—his legitimacy disappears. If he scorns the Constitution by, say, violating the Emoluments Clause, it disappears as well. A president who lost the popular vote, who may have cheated to win the Electoral College, and who will be contravening the Constitution the second he’s sworn in is due neither respect nor deference.
There's plenty of social-media-mockworthy material in there, and no doubt, the usual suspects will be swapping the usual banter.  It's her peroration, though, that interests me.
Nobody knows where this is all going. Democrats particularly are in a difficult position, because they want to uphold basic political norms, but doing so alone, while the other side shamelessly flouts them, puts them at a constant disadvantage. The peaceful transition of power is a cherished value of our democracy. But it’s not the only value, or the highest one. It should not require us to sleepwalk into authoritarianism. If the price for preserving our democracy is pretending that our would-be god-king-emperor has clothes, then it’s already rotted beyond repair.
Democrats becoming defenders of Social Norms and Rules of Procedure?  Democrats going cold turkey on the Cult of the Presidency, which has been their thing perhaps since Woodrow Wilson and surely since Franklin Roosevelt?  Democrats engaging in a close reading of the Federal Constitution?  Seriously?  Are you kidding me?

WHY SHOULD THE INVESTIGATION TAKE SO LONG?

When it's a tie at the railroad crossing, you lose.  Then comes the Coroner, and the investigation: Crossing Accident = Four-Hour Delay.  That's my experience, too, although Metra will sometimes transfer passengers to another train, or if the fatality occurs close enough to a station that the Powers That Be consider it safe for the passengers to walk to that station and catch the next train (which will likely be in the queue behind the stopped train) there.

Is it really necessary for the train, and its passengers, to be on the scene until the first responders decide they've gathered all the information?

15.1.17

NO ELEPHANTS, NO CIRCUS.

Last year, Ringling Barnum put their elephants out to pasture, probably in the face of ever-more-intrusive regulatory measures in the big cities, and despite peer-reviewed evidence that circuses are not inherently detrimental to the welfare of elephants.

This year, Ringling Barnum itself will be headed to the grassy lot.
The owner of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus told The Associated Press that the show will close forever in May.

The iconic American spectacle was felled by a variety of factors, company executives say. Declining attendance combined with high operating costs, along with changing public tastes and prolonged battles with animal rights groups all contributed to its demise.

“There isn’t any one thing,” said Kenneth Feld, chairman and CEO of Feld Entertainment. “This has been a very difficult decision for me and for the entire family.”
Feld Entertainment's other itinerant shows will continue. For how much longer? Read this about contemporary attention spans, and be very afraid.
“The competitor in many ways is time,” said Feld, adding that transporting the show by rail and other circus quirks — such as providing a traveling school for performers’ children— are throwbacks to another era. “It’s a different model that we can’t see how it works in today’s world to justify and maintain an affordable ticket price. So you’ve got all these things working against it.”

The Feld family bought the Ringling circus in 1967. The show was just under 3 hours then. Today, the show is 2 hours and 7 minutes, with the longest segment — a tiger act — clocking in at 12 minutes.

“Try getting a 3- or 4-year-old today to sit for 12 minutes,” he said.
There are other itinerant circuses, dear reader, and come summer, one will likely be pitching a Big Top on a fairgrounds or school practice field near you.  And some will have elephants.

But I never imagined that the Karlson Brothers Circus train would be running while Ringling Barnum's is not.


As long as there is a Karlson Brothers Circus, it will travel by rail.


There will be lions (and tigers)


And bears (oh, my!)


And a prodigious parade of powerful pachyderms, plenty of work for the man with the scoop shovel, and Huskies on guard.


Children of all ages are as interested in the motion of the steam locomotive as they might be about the animals, or the sight gags scattered about the lot!

Find yourself a circus and go to it.

THAT SHIP SAILED LONG AGO.

Deadspin's Hamilton Nolan takes the occasion of Mr Trump's press conference of last week to note, This Is Why You Don't Kiss The Ring.
Ethical guidelines exist for a reason. Norms exist for a reason.

The reason is not “Jerks who think they’re smarter than us trying to control our lives from on high.” The reason is that human history is long, and all of the mistakes that could possibly be made have been made, and at a certain point people figured out that following some common sense rules could prevent us from making the same dire mistakes over and over again. Mistakes that come from human nature. Mistakes like: allowing powerful people to use their powerful positions to make money for themselves, or allowing powerful people to use their powerful positions to squelch legitimate dissent, or allowing powerful people to use their powerful positions to flout the very ethical guidelines and norms that prior people in powerful positions established to keep people in powerful positions in check.
Perhaps "Make America Great Again" will be in the rediscovery of the Constitutional separation of powers, in a new birth of dissent, and, shall we hope, in the restoration of bourgeois conventions.
We are all coming to realize that our civil society institutions may not be strong enough to protect the flawed but fundamentally solid democracy that we thought we had. We are witnessing the rise to power of a leader who does not care about norms. Since these norms were created to prevent political, social, economic, and cultural disasters, we do not need to wonder how this will end. It will end poorly.
Mr Nolan might be eight years late to the realization, or perhaps a quarter-century late, but let us recognize what has dawned on him.
Our society and our institutions are simply not set up to deal with someone who is fully prepared to flout all of our norms of good behavior. Our system, to a large degree, relies on social sanction rather than laws to prevent powerful people from getting too far out of line. When our most powerful person is willing to ignore all of that, there is not much in place to stop him. The normalization process is well underway. The pomp and circumstance and deference will only increase after the inauguration. The press and the Congress are the only two institutions standing between a dangerous man and total power. They must both realize this is not the time to salute and grovel. This is not the time to fall into familiar patterns of default respect for someone who does not himself respect the responsibility to the public that he has been given. This is the time for them to rise to the occasion. And the occasion is a fight for civil society.
Let us be grateful that he didn't put "norms of good behavior" in sneer quotes.

Let us be grateful that he wrote "not set up to deal" rather than "constructed."

Let us hope that he recognizes the ways in which "social sanction" is emergent, and, rightly understood, confers evolutionary advantage on people who interact under its formal and informal procedures.

If, at the same time, a Trump presidency is occasion to "scrub off some of the ridiculous luster" that has accompanied the Cult of the Presidency, let it be so.

POP IS A LIQUID ASSET.

The New York Times interprets a government report on where the taxpayers' food stamp money goes.
The findings show that the No. 1 purchases by SNAP households are soft drinks, which accounted for 5 percent of the dollars they spent on food. The category of ‘sweetened beverages,’ which includes fruit juices, energy drinks and sweetened teas, accounted for almost 10 percent of the dollars they spent on food. “In this sense, SNAP is a multibillion-dollar taxpayer subsidy of the soda industry,” said Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University. “It’s pretty shocking.”

For years, dozens of cities, states and medical groups have urged changes to SNAP, or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, to help improve nutrition among the 43 million poorest Americans who receive food stamps. Specifically, they have called for restrictions so that food stamps cannot be used to buy junk food or sugary soft drinks.

But the food and beverage industries have spent millions opposing such measures, and the U.S.D.A. has denied every request, saying that selectively banning certain foods would be unfair to food stamp users and create too much red tape.
Read the entire article, and note the Wise Experts Being Fretful about the People in Their Charge spending their money foolishly on pop rather than on More Nutritious Things.  Ah, the technocratic impulse, and the continued conceit that somehow there is an Order of People Born Booted And Spurred to Ride the Rest of Humanity.  (And it's For Your Own Good, so Do as I Say.)

But there's a simpler explanation.  In Hillbilly Elegy, J. D. Vance notes the presence of a cash economy based on ... the resale of pop.  (That's an en passant observation, most of the attention he gets is for the Broader Lessons about Enabling Dysfunction.)  The cash economy, though, is real.
Deputies said it highlights tax dollar waste and food stamp abuse blatantly in the public eye.

People said it's not unusual for some to come to the grocery store with food stamps in hand, buying case after case of soda and then turning around, driving up the street and selling it to someone else for half the price.

The sheriff's department said just like anything on the black market, stores buy the soda because it's a discount deal and there's an opportunity to make money.

"My opinion is this: is that it's cheap," Witten said.

A closer look at the sheriff's video shows a man rolling a dolly stacked with cases of soda into a store. Seconds later, the video shows him back outside to take two more cases from the trunk of a car.

The Martin County Sheriff told us he witnessed a woman with a West Virginia license plate pull up in the white car.

It was filled with those very cases of pop.

Witten said this is what he and others see when a food stamp recipient pawns soda.

"On a daily basis, if I had to, on a daily basis, I'd say probably two to three," Witten told WSAZ.
As a store of value, it's not as good as cash, but it's more durable than milk, and it probably has a broader resale market than condensed soup.

The public policy challenge, dear reader, is as old as organized charity.  The almoner, whether an eleemosynary institution, or a government agency, can provide assistance in cash, where the risk is that the beneficiary will spend the cash in ways the donor doesn't like, or assistance in kind, where the constraints imposed on the beneficiary can leave him in a worse place than he would be absent the assistance.  Want to read more: check out Aaron and von Furstenberg, "The Inefficiency of Transfers in Kind: The Case of Housing Assistance" or Hoynes and Schanzenbach, "Consumption Responses to In-Kind Transfers: Evidence from the Introduction of the Food Stamp Program" or Smeeding, "The Antipoverty Effectiveness of In-Kind Transfers" (they're relatively inefficient at reducing poverty) or Thurow, "Cash Versus In-Kind Transfers," in which he spells out the interaction of donor and donee.  "From the donee's perspective, unrestricted cash transfers maximize utility."  Economist readers will likely recognize these names as established scholars on Matters Poverty.

But a world in which some parts of the Governing Class have reservations about recipients of transfer payments spending them wrongly whilst other parts have reservations about recipients of tax cuts spending them wrongly, there's going to be some in-kind assistance.  Plus efforts by the recipients thereto to expand their opportunity sets.  Put simply, for some transactions, a person has to have cash.
The problem with the selling of food stamps is that we aren’t sure what the sellers will be buying with their cash. Most of us are sympathetic when we hear about a woman who sells her food stamps to buy diapers, which you can’t buy with food stamps. Even if that activity is illegal, many of us do not find it to be quite so immoral.  But because the sale of food stamps is a contract of adhesion that mother, and many like her, is able to buy a lot fewer diapers than she normally would be able to after selling her food stamps. And we fear that she won’t be using it to buy diapers at all but to buy alcohol or drugs.

This is a legitimate fear. Changing the program to one that is purely cash assistance would allow recipients to use the money on anything they want to. That is both the benefit and the drawback of that change. They may choose to buy diapers or electricity, or they may buy vodka. There would be no way to effectively control their spending if the benefit was pure cash.
Note how that final sentence grants the premise that Wise Experts Know Better how people should be spending their money.  Like everything else in public policy, there are trade-offs.  "The types of needs that the poor have here in America almost require the use of cash rather than food stamps alone. Even so, Americans struggle with how to balance our values: concern for the poor and the promotion of the entrepreneurial spirit."

THOSE SECOND THOUGHTS.

There's accumulating evidence that the do-your-own-thing Sixties didn't turn out so well, first for the scrupulous and mannerly, later for the players who thought it a better dispensation.

I'd rather frame it as "deconstruct emerged institutions of long standing at your own risk."  If you'd prefer something harsher, consider "Society made accommodations for men and women to invest in the next generation rather than living lives of pointless and empty hedonism. This model worked for literally thousands of years. In the traditional world, a man would willingly give his entire life to take advantage of this decade or so of a woman’s life."

There's got to be some high concept stuff about wasting assets and credible commitments, but I'll leave that work to the next generation of price theorists.

12.1.17

RAILS TO TRAILS TO RAILS.

Work continues on the extension of South Shore Line interurban service to Munster, Indiana.  The art of issuing transfers is not yet lost.
Five trains destined for Chicago will head north, and one will come south from the city, during morning rush hour, and the same number will run in the opposite directions during evening rush hour. Twelve more trains will shuttle passengers between Munster and Hammond during non-peak hours, and 20 trains will make the Munster-Hammond run on Saturdays and Sundays.
Read on, though, and call the roll of fallen flag railroads, now available to exercise enthusiasts.
West Lake Corridor's use of the old Monon Railroad right-of-way has implications for the Monon hike and bike trail and, to a lesser degree, the Erie Lackawanna trail, requiring moving portions of them and relocating the Monon trail bridge over the Little Calumet River.

The preferred route would overlay about 5,000 feet of the existing Monon trail between Fisher Street in Munster and Douglas Street in Hammond, and about 320 feet of the Erie Lackawanna trail near downtown Hammond, according to the [environmental impact statement].

Crossing the railroad to get to or from the trail would be limited to at-grade street crossings, according to the [statement].

The railroad would cross the Pennsy Greenway trail at the Maynard Junction flyover in Munster, which begins north of Superior Avenue and continues to Fisher Street. A culvert or similar structure would provide clearance for the trail under the rail flyover.
In railroad terms, the Monon for Indianapolis and Louisville and the Erie-Lackawanna for Hoboken divide near the State Line interlocking, which will be just west of the new Hammond Gateway station (and South Shore recently improved passenger facilities at the existing Hammond station) whilst the Pennsy Greenway trail is the old Panhandle for Pittsburgh via Richmond, Indiana.

Electric cars may be running on the Munster line by 2020.

COMMODIFICATION IS A PREREQUISITE FOR PRICE DISCOVERY.

It's the policy wonk attitude that health services, whether delivered by people or packaged in a pill, ought not be viewed as a commodity that gets in the way of bending the cost curve, or any other goals of the misnamed and perhaps to be replaced "Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act."  National Review's Ben Shapiro, after a shorter version of "You looted its effects and blanked out its cause," lays out the case for more price discovery in medicine.
[M]edical care is a commodity, and treating it otherwise is foolhardy. To make a commodity cheaper and better, two elements are necessary: profit incentive and freedom of labor. The government destroys both of these elements in the health-care industry. It decides medical reimbursement rates for millions of Americans, particularly poor Americans; this, in turn, creates an incentive for doctors not to take government-sponsored health insurance. It regulates how doctors deal with patients, the sorts of training doctors must undergo, and the sorts of insurance they must maintain; all of this convinces fewer Americans to become doctors. Undersupply of doctors generally and of doctors who will accept insurance specifically, along with overdemand stimulated by government-driven health-insurance coverage, leads to mass shortages. The result is an overreliance on emergency care, costs for which are distributed among government, hospitals, and insurance payers.
Yeah, that partial monopsony works so well for Medicare and Medicaid, and the full monopsony works so well in South Africa and Venezuela.

But with repeal and replace possibly in the works in Congress, it's time to eliminate the third-party middlemen, as Pajamas Media's Tony Corvo explains.
The single thread that connects the examples above, and there are hundreds of more examples out there, is the elimination of a third-party payer. This is at the heart of how the free market works, in that, the two parties actually invested in the transaction of goods or services and determine the prices. That’s why a can of corn costs less than a dollar and LASIK is affordable to nearly all who might want it.
We could toss the corn and ethanol subsidies at the same time, but I digress. Why, though, dear reader, ought the advocates of single payer or continuance of the existing bureaucratic nightmare be exempt from having to explain why many cosmetic procedures, including nearsightedness correction, not to mention pills the greatest hazard to use appearing to be a four-hour stiffie, go down in price whilst medicines and procedures covered by the health care regulations, do not.

National Review's James C. Capretta suggests ways to introduce the price discovery into medicine.
  1. Grandfather existing coverage under Medicaid, under the assumption that people will earn their way off public assistance in time.
  2. Reform Medicaid as the safety-net insurer.
  3. Retain tax credits for households that buy insurance, rather than have it bundled with employment.
  4. Modify the tax preference for employer-paid insurance plans.
  5. More flexible health savings accounts.
  6. Automatic enrollment in employer-paid insurance plans.
Read the essay for the details.

I'd like to see more discussion of interstate sales of insurance, particularly of catastrophic care coverage, and greater commercial freedom in the provision of treatments for annoying but not catastrophic conditions.

FORMERLY UNAVAILABLE AT ANY PRICE.

Don Boudreaux reflects on the first generation of talking computers and other modern marvels.
Google Home is no mere toy. It's got an amazingly high-quality speaker, making Google Home also a great music system. But even if you insist on regarding Google Home — or its competitor, Amazon's Echo — as little more than an elaborate knickknack, the very fact that our economy makes such knickknacks available at affordable prices testifies to our economy's astonishing wealth. Only an extraordinarily wealthy society can afford to devote significant amounts of resources and human creativity to the development and production for mass distribution of elaborate knickknacks.

Yet ironically, Americans' immense prosperity in 2017 is revealed most vividly in riches that are difficult to see if you aren't looking for them. Most of what makes Americans today materially far richer than Americans of 1987 are things that are so familiar now that we take them for granted. Consider just some of the goods and services that were unavailable to ordinary Americans 30 years ago: individual-serve coffee-makers (“Keurigs”), high-definition televisions, downloadable and streaming music, movies and TV shows, Lasik surgery, Viagra, smartphones, GPS navigation, laptop computers, the Internet.

Each of these items was attention-grabbing when first introduced. But they all became so widespread so quickly that they are today part of our landscape.

Even more hidden from view are smaller innovations that were either nonexistent or very rare 30 years ago. One of my favorites is plastic garbage bags, each with its own internal drawstring.

An even better relatively small innovation involved beer. Most beer in 1987 was mass-produced stuff that, brewed with a taste to be drinkable by nearly everyone, had a taste that was distinctive and interesting to no one. Today, of course, store shelves bend under the weight of a seemingly infinite variety of delicious craft-brewed beers and ales.

So grab your favorite brew and raise a glass to the human ingenuity and free markets that continue to increase our prosperity.
In Bier ist auch etwas.  In this instance, the case of beer is a wagon-load of tradeoffs.  The mass-produced stuff was also a paradigm of the false economies of productivity, and the light stuff, well, that might have started as a way of getting in on the fitness enthusiasm that accompanied a shift to desk work rather than tasks involving heavy lifting, and then it became a way of selling colored water in blue cans to dumb guys.  And, no doubt, the behavioral economists and the sort of conscience-cowboys who get upset about too many choices of deodorant will likely object to all those varieties of beer, particularly when so many taverns curate the offerings as Bud Light, Coors Light, Miller Lite, and the local headache in a glass.

As far as the coffee is concerned, I'll still use an old-school stovetop percolator.

But when it comes to consumer electronics, shall we sing the praises of digital command control on model railroads?  No more selecting cabs, no more running into a different train's block.  On the other hand, the possibility of collision is enhanced, and sometimes the time-sharing of command requests produces interesting outcomes.  And the new-style batteries for all those portable devices make the possibility of radio-controlled battery-powered trains real.

11.1.17

MAKING THE MAIN TRAIN GREAT AGAIN.

Cold War II is on, and tanks are moving by rail, this time across Germany to Poland.


Bremerhaven, 2015.  DPA photo retrieved from The Local Germany.

How things have changed.  The troops and their armour have linked up.  "U.S. soldiers also arrived in Wrocław, a city in southwest Poland in which a key NATO and Polish airbase is located."  That used to be Breslau, back when the MAIN Train (for Military Authorization Identification Number) looked like this.


New York Central Headlight photograph retrieved from Kingly Heirs troop train web page.

In the current mobilization, the U.S. tankers will be practicing in Poland, and elsewhere along what we used to understand as the Russian Front.
The troops will rotate training in Bulgaria, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania and Slovakia for the next nine months. The regional training exercises are also designed to test how U.S. forces respond on short notice to a possible conflict with Russia.

"This is a tangible sign of the United States' commitment to maintaining peace on this continent," Maj. Gen. Timothy McGuire, deputy commanding general of the U.S. Army Europe, said in a statement. "It is a sign of the U.S. commitment to this alliance and to peace and prosperity in Europe."
The Russians are likely to see these exercises, taking place in five of the former fraternal socialist countries and three former Soviet Socialist Republics, somewhat differently.  (Makes me wonder who is interested in portraying incoming U.S. president Donald Trump as a Russian stooge of some kind, but that's well outside my area of expertise, and above my pay grade -- what is the pay grade for emeritus faculty?)

But the deployment of forces isn't the same as it was three score and thirteen years ago.
A Bundeswehr (German army) spokesperson told the Märkische Oderzeitung that trains with a total length of 14 kilometres will be needed to transport all the tanks.

“From January 7th until January 14th, three trains will transport the military equipment every day,” he said.

According to the Bundeswehr, most of the tanks will be transported by train. But military convoys will pass through Hamburg, Lower Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt and Brandenburg
Fourteen kilometers, 140 football fields, six flat cars to a field, 840 flat cars. Back in the day, that would be an afternoon at North Platte.  Three trains a day, doesn't begin to account for the train sheet on Horse Shoe Curve.  And the movements went on like that for the duration.

ECONOMICS, THE DISMAL SCIENCE.

Brookings's Clifford Winston argues that there's more to infrastructure than throwing money at hero projects.
“Trying to spend our way out of infrastructure troubles is misguided,” Winston argues. “We need to make more efficient use of the infrastructure we have now, and then think carefully about additional spending using cost-benefit analysis.”

Before Winston will even talk about spending more on roads, for example, he wants to talk about who is using them and when. And he’s passionate about changing prices to reduce congestion and better pay for wear and tear.

Trucks, he says, should pay a per axleweight tax to encourage more axles and thereby greatly reduce wear. Congestion pricing should be used to encourage better traffic flow, starting with HOT lanes that combine car pools and tolls into one lane. HOT lanes use scanning technology so drivers never need to slow down, and prices rise and fall based on congestion.

Winston also argues that roads should be built from more durable materials that require more upfront investment in the long run, and new roads need to be built with autonomous vehicles in mind.

Autonomous vehicles, he argues, will expand the highway capacity — cars can get closer together, traffic flow will improve, and they won’t rubberneck at accidents. (Ironically, autonomous vehicles also threaten whole sectors of employment, from trucking and delivery to taxis.)

“The engineering mentality of just spending more money is not sustainable or efficient,” Winston said.

Winston also favors privatization where possible, and he hopes that private sector technologies will push government infrastructure to make needed changes.

“Pigs are going to fly before these guys do this,” Winston said. “This is stuff we’ve been talking about forever. They’re just not going to do it. Status quo bias is just very powerful.”

To be clear, Winston is not saying that major infrastructure spending is not in order. He is simply arguing that any money spent should be part of a comprehensive plan, not political expedience.

In addition to not spending money without a plan, a core argument of economists like Winston is that infrastructure will be best maintained and improved when it internalizes the cost of use. That is, users should be paying now for their share of both congestion and wear and tear, with user fees directed to replacements and upgrades.
Count among the status quo bias the resistance in states that don't yet have turnpikes to implementing tolling.  Now, if the freight railroads and the Higher Speed Trains people can get their act together, perhaps we'll have more intermodal corridors to get the trailers, no matter how many axles, off the roads.

A FISKING.

Our President gave his farewell address in Chicago yesterday.  (The Detroit Red Wings made their one appearance in Chicago as well, that's what I listened to.)

American Thinker's Ed Straker suggests some of Mr Obama's juxtapositions are, well, strange.

The commentariat have been working on their valedictories.  Perhaps a summary in the next week.

9.1.17

GET THE SOCIALIZATION RIGHT.

Glenn "Insta Pundit" Reynolds may be making a case for school choice, but he's really making a case for bourgeois conventions.
The other day I noticed a series of tweets from photographer Chris Arnade, who specializes in portraits of the parts of America that aren’t doing well. Arnade stressed that the big source of inequality in America is cultural, rather than economic. The values that are extolled by what he calls the “front row kids” who run things (Joel Kotkin calls them the “gentry liberals) are those associated with fancy education, and it’s hard to get ahead without knowing them.
Hang on, wherever there are rows, there are front rows and back rows, including in Winnetka or Naperville or Chappaqua or Fox Point. There's something else at work.
You’re not going to acquire that polish in the public schools if you’re poor. Public schools are sold as promoting equality, but in practice they’re more likely to reinforce inequality.  People with money move to “good” neighborhoods, and they do it “for the schools.” People without money generally live in “bad” neighborhoods, where the schools aren’t very good and probably won’t teach their kids what they need to know to get ahead.
But the people without much money who get the value of bourgeois convention do what they can to give their kids the chance to interact with others similarly inclined.
Even without vouchers, many public school systems are in trouble because parents see that they are inferior, and scrimp, save, and maneuver to get their kids into better places. Since the kids whose parents care that much about their education tend to be the better students, their departure makes the public schools noticeably worse, leading to further departures. As I noted in my book, The New School, in a number of cities this has led to school closings and teacher layoffs, as failing public schools can’t retain enough students to stay in business. As black Atlanta educator Nikita Bush says, “people are starting to realize that public education in America was designed for the masses of poor, and its intent has been to trap poor people into being workers and servants. If you don’t want that for your children, then you look for something else.”
I suspect that the government schools aren't even doing that sort of workforce preparation well, which is why my formulation is "rendered unemployable by government schools and the minimum wage."

THE SOURCE OF THE PINK LADY.

For years, the observant ferroequinologist could identify Chicago and North Western tracks by the pink quartzite ballast that was quarried near North Freedom, Wisconsin.


There's a bit of Pink Lady mixed in here, the front yard of the Mid-Continent Railway Museum at North Freedom.

With the Union Pacific takeover, the remaining tracks are being reballasted, maintenance requirements permitting, with Union Pacific standard ballast.  The quarry is in a geologically significant area that is now a state natural area.
The trail starts on the west side of Highway 136, just north of Rock Springs. There's a small parking area on the east side of the highway next to an artesian well that local residents still use.

To join up with the trail, cross the road and skirt the gate. Follow the trail spur to the left to travel up to the base of the cliff. Look for the remnants of an old quarry blast shelter before following the trail back to the main trail, which continues along the cliff face past another small blast shelter and ends back at the highway across from another small wayside.

The wayside marks Van Hise Rock, a rock monolith that was designated a National Historical Landmark in 1997. The quartzite outcrop is a perfect, compact model of the geological forces that were at work in the area, and is named for former University of Wisconsin professor and president Charles Van Hise, who used it to prove his theories of structural and metamorphic geology. Those concepts would become the principles of structural geology.
The trails are unimproved, without railings in places that are slippery when wet. Better to do your exploring in the summer, but be alert for rattlesnakes.

GETTING BEYOND YALE AND OBERLIN.

Wisconsin professor of public affairs Donald P. Moynihan responds, possibly to the criticism a Whiteness Studies course being offered for his campus has been getting from the legislature, with a suggestion that participants in the Curriculum Wars, whatever their arguing stance, pay attention to what's going on in the community colleges, the regional comprehensives, the mid-majors and the land-grants.
If you truly believe that a university should be a place where people are empowered to pursue a fearless sifting and winnowing of ideas and evidence that benefit us all, I have a simple request: Look at the bigger picture beyond a few elite private institutions. For those of us who teach where most American students are educated, actual triggers are a more relevant danger than trigger warnings. Safe spaces are less threatening than shutting down teaching and research spaces.
That's a little bit of the standard academic posturing: the Wisconsin Legislature has been exercising its fiscal authority with respect to the university in ways that might be pinching business as usual, and that "actual triggers" is a virtue signal.  (Are you safer in the North Woods of Wisconsin during deer season, with six hundred thousand heavily armed people, many of whom are members of the National Rifle Association, or somewhere in the part of Chicago that is not Wrigleyville, the Magnificent Mile, or the Loop, where there are fewer heavily armed people?)

But he's right about asking the legislators to chill.
Policy makers who accuse students of weakening campus speech should lead by example. Free speech on campus has survived and will survive challenges from students and other members of civil society. Its fate is much less certain when the government decides to censor discomforting views.
I'd be more encouraged if he'd at least acknowledge that the conscience-cowboys of Student Affairs are not, shall we say, exemplars of disinterested and free-ranging inquiry.  And that sort of inquiry is more important, the farther one gets from the top of the U.S. News league tables.

REDISCOVERING THE TRADITIONS.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar objects to the Bachelor and Bachelorette series of mating tournaments on television.  The rot he notices began to set in long ago.
Rather than a triumph for increased gender respect it could be a symptom of a greater social problem: the replacement of sturdy realistic romantic love that might last a lifetime with the flimsy bedazzled imposter with the shelf life of a loaf of Wonder Bread. There are many lucrative business reasons for the pimping out of unrealistic romantic love in American popular culture, but the plastic face of it is the trendy Bachelor and Bachelorette franchise. As entertaining as these shows are (and they really are compelling fun), there is an insidious darkness beneath the fairytale pabulum they are serving up.
Compelling fun, in the same sense that going to the demolition derby is compelling fun. And Mr Abdul-Jabbar sounds all the proper themes, as approved by the set of Deep Thinkers for whom lookism is a thoughtcrime.
The shows’ mantra repeated by most castmembers that “everyone deserves love” ain’t necessarily so. You’re not even in the running for love unless you fit a very narrow ideal of Ken and Barbie doll physical beauty. These shows promote the scorched-earth effects of raising females to be continually judged physically above all other attributes and then measured against impossible physical standards that has marginalized a majority of girls and women — and made billions for the beauty products, clothing, and cosmetic surgery industries. Even youthful Amanda Stanton, 26, admits to using Botox.

The real crime is the lack of intellectual and appearance diversity, which leaves the contestants as interchangeable as the Mr. Potato Head parts. The lack of racial diversity has already been commented on.
Well, yes, it sucks to be any kind of a thinker or to exercise any kind of restraint, when it's the superficial that goes on display in prime time, even if the contestants aren't ready.
But equally harmful as the cartoonish physical and mental restrictions has been the romanticizing of love as a mystical process that creates unrealistic expectations. Worse, they encourage an urgency to falling in love or else being kicked off the show and labeled a loser in society, unworthy of love. This can send a message that those not in a relationship need to hurry up and find someone — anyone — or else face an unforgiving expiration date of love worthiness.

The cruel result is people on these shows are so anxious to be in a relationship that they trick themselves into thinking they’re in love. Contestants on these relationship game shows are competing for a prize, the same as contestants on The Price Is Right. But is that prize love or a relationship? There’s a significant difference and that difference contributes to why America has high divorce (53%) and adultery (30%) rates. From observing the three most recent incarnations of this show — The Bachelor (Ben Higgins), The Bachelorette (JoJo Fletcher) and Bachelor in Paradise—it’s clear that being in a relationship is the goal. Love is the word they use to justify their need and to disguise their choices because no one is permitted to question their convoluted decisions and self-deceptions when the word love is used.
Pajamas Media's Lauren Spagnoletti also goes full social-construction on the reality shows.
Maybe shining a spotlight on this reality show is unfair. It's just television, right? It's simply entertainment. But we live in a world that idealizes the images that surround us. We see young girls trying to attain the beauty standards of the models they see in advertisements by developing dangerous eating habits and unhealthy body images. Younger generations are turning to their idols in television and film to learn how to go about their lives. "Entertainment" quickly becomes something with a lot more weight to it.
Let's add even more weight.  Thirty years ago, a Badger Herald editorial suggested the relationship carroussel worked out well only for the people attractive, superficial, or nasty enough to screen for reality television.
Today the only victors in the sexual revolution are those men and women who are good-looking and clever enough to enjoy multiple partners with a minimum of emotional and financial commitment. The dowdy and the not-so-clever (or not-so-unscrupulous) are used by the well-endowed and find loneliness and frustration where, in a previous generation, they would probably have been able to start families.
It's come to the pass where even the good looking, superficially clever, and unscrupulous become exemplars as if in a morality play, and even people for whom the new dispensation appears to provide a favorable correlation of forces are having second thoughts.

Perhaps in two thousand years some of the institutions that emerged, until the Deep Thinkers saw fit to deconstruct them, conferred evolutionary advantages.

8.1.17

WIN AND KEEP PLAYING.

A fifteen-win Green Bay Packer season came to an abrupt end at Lambeau Field in January 2012, when the team was booed off the field at halftime, just after the New York Giants completed the Hail Mary touchdown.

The boo-birds were out early in the game today, with the Giants leading, but the halftime Hail Mary went from Aaron Rodgers to Randall Cobb.  A Twitter poster in Detroit recognized what was to come, and come it did.


Time to go 1-0 this week.
“Adversity is inevitable in this game. It comes almost every game, comes every season. The good teams overcome it and use it as a weapon,” said veteran guard T.J. Lang. “You hit that adversity point and we’ve been through it a lot. We understand how to respond.”

The seven teams remaining have been put on notice.
Divisional round, Sunday afternoon, Dallas.

CALGARY TO SALMON ARM WITH THE HOLIDAY TRAIN.

Photographer Neil Zeller posted another set of pictures of the Canadian Pacific Holiday Train.

He earlier posted the Thunder Bay to Winnipeg segment, and Dave "Voluntary Xchange" Tufte curated the highlights.

For this part of the trip, call the roll of Canadian Pacific lore.
My mind was exploding with ideas for photos on this day of the trip. Morant's Curve, the Continental Divide, the Spiral Tunnels, Field, Yoho Park, Rogers Pass, Stoney Creek Bridge, Connaught Tunnel, and on and on. On top of this already over-the-top scenery, it was a true winter wonderland out there, with snow bending the trees over from the weight of recent snowstorms.
And substantial sums of money and in-kind contributions to the food banks along the way.

Hope to file another report come the 2017 Festive Season.

EXPERTS SHOULD BE NOT SEEN AND NOT HEARD.

USA Today unleashes pundits David Mastio and Jill Lawrence to trade fours about the message of that ridiculous New Yorker cartoon.  Here's Ms Lawrence, for the defense. "The experts might not always be right. They might sometimes be smug. They might even be out of touch. But we need them."  Among you, dear readers, there might be a few who have been in more than one meeting where the peacocking and straining at gnats moves you to scream, Hold! Enough!, or to stuff coffee grounds in your ears.  And Mr Mastio, for the prosecution.  "The fact is that “the experts” too often have a parochial view that looks at Washington power and policy through a narrow lens, most often leaving out the way high-minded theory can become brutal reality." Yes. Complex adaptive systems tend to do what they darn well please.

Why, then, do I suggest that experts be out of sight, and out of earshot?

Because, in their proper place, they can use their expertise in the service of others.  In the proper places, Ms Lawrence has the idea.  "Obviously, experts sometimes make mistakes. It’s inevitable in a country and a world of increasingly complex and interconnected problems. But that doesn’t mean novices are going to do better." As does Mr Mastio.  "I’d be so much happier in a world where we could trust the experts. Set it and forget it, I say."  Put another way, when the experts are doing their jobs properly, you don't have to cuss out the referee or make invidious comments about the train delayer.

In life, though, we get too many incompetent calls and too much video review.  Or a train that leaves Chicago on time and is three hours late at South Bend.  Perhaps some of that is the consequence of a do more with less mentality.  The true expert might be the person who knows when it's best to leave well enough alone, rather than to intervene, to tweak, to anticipate every nuance and complexity.

SUMMON THE ECHOES.

Northern Illinois hosted pre-season Mid-American favorite Ohio Bobcats on Saturday.


Yes, some celebration after the handshakes is in order.  The team continues to be among the top scoring teams in the country.  Helen at Women's Hoops Blog suggests it's time to "keep an eye on Northern Illinois."  Take care of business at home.  As the report notes, "The players for the Northern Illinois women's basketball team don't remember the last time the Huskies started conference winning their first three games. It's because they weren't born yet."