12.12.18

TAIL TRACK.

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

NOBODY'S FREEZING ON THE TROLLEY.

It's the time of year for Santa Claus riding the trains.  We started Advent with a video of the Christmas Parade Train re-enactment on the East Troy Electric Railroad.

Here are a few still pictures of the event there.


The Elegant Farmer station at Phantom Woods is decked for the season.


The parade train waits at East Troy for authority to make a propelling movement to Phantom Woods.

Last weekend, the Fox River Trolley Museum got into the act.

The museum make use of original interurban trackage, in their case the Aurora Elgin and Fox River.  A biking and hiking trail has replaced the tracks south of the museum line.


Adaptive reuse: the old Five Islands bridge is a new structure, using the piers of the old railroad bridge.


In the same way that the dot-com bubble left the country with a lot of capital for cheap re-use, the interurban bubble left the country with a lot of opportunities to provide bike trails.

The Kane County Forest Preserve District and the museum collaborate on running the Polar Express trains.  Reservations are almost mandatory, as the trains sell out, and museum and preserve staff make every effort to seat families and large parties together.  The seats in the Spam Cans don't flip, but there are some facing sets of seats that help.


Yes, they encourage people to wear their jammies, including the adults, and there is hot chocolate and story telling once aboard.

Time for children of all ages to take a ride.


In the Cold Spring Shops area, three of the seasonal trains run on former interurban rights-of-way.  At South Elgin and East Troy, it's original interurban trackage.  At the Illinois Railway Museum, the seasonal train is a Chicago and North Western Commuter Streamliner, with decked halls decked, running on tracks where the Elgin and Belvidere interurban once ran.  The museum got that right of way by paying back property taxes on it.


THE GOOD NEWS IS THE BAD NEWS IS WRONG.

Washington Post columnist Robert Samuelson takes on a myth.
The problem is to replace the simplistic conventional wisdom with this messy reality. It will be tough, because the status quo is more politically appealing. The story line is pointed: “The ultra-rich are destroying the middle class.”
Yes you could, as Mr Samuelson does, marshal points and figures.
By contrast with many advanced societies, income and wealth are indisputably more concentrated in the United States.

But to be useful, debate must reflect solid realities, not politically convenient sound bites. This is a challenge, because many Americans embrace the stagnation myth.

There are many reasons for this: (a) Wage gains in any year are so small, they don’t register — stagnation seems vindicated; (b) people don’t count employer- or government-provided health insurance — a big part of their compensation — because they rarely see the money; (c) political partisans on both sides have a vested interest in emphasizing stagnation — it’s a good campaign issue; and (d) income advances for most Americans are much slower today than in the past.

[Urban Institute economist Stephen] Rose hopes the facts will change opinions, but he is skeptical. “People are very closed-minded,” he said, “even though it’s so obvious that people have more and better things — especially with the whole computer-IT revolution.”
Perhaps, the choice of price indices and starting points for time series and all the econometric hazards that come in train is wonky, and perhaps the productivity gains of faster microprocessors are still as if revelations to the apostles.

The emergence of better things might be in the mundane.  Consider, for instance, how the maligned and hard-pressed millennial generation is ... rejecting American cheese.
The product, made famous by the greatest generation, devoured by boomers on the go and touted as the basis for macaroni and cheese, the well-documented love object of Gen X, has met its match with millennials demanding nourishment from ingredients that are both recognizable and pronounceable.

Don’t rely on anecdotal evidence. The data show it, too. U.S. sales of processed cheese, including brands like Kraft Singles and Velveeta, a mainstay of delicacies such as ballpark nachos, are projected to drop 1.6 percent this year, the fourth-straight year of declines, according to Euromonitor International.
The shifting demand is affecting the price of the feedstock. Who knew?
The end of the affair is also evident at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, where 500-pound barrels of cheddar -- which are used to make American cheese -- are selling at a record discount to 40-pound cheddar blocks, the cheddar that shows up on party platters. That’s because demand for the cheese in the barrels has been dwindling for years, according to Alyssa Badger, director of operations at Chicago-based HighGround Dairy.
Yes, and Little Miss Muffet is hardest hit.
American cheese isn’t the point of a lot of the barrel production, Badger said. It’s for the byproduct whey, a staple of pricey protein shakes.
Yup, probably the same principle by which raising chicken with the purpose of selling nutritious chicken breast sandwiches made wings and drumettes available for hot wings.

Look at what has happened to the grilled cheese sandwich.
Gayle Voss, owner of Gayle V’s Best Ever Grilled Cheese in Chicago, takes two slices of fresh-baked sourdough and fills them not with American cheese but with Wisconsin-made butterk√§se cheese. It’s made in small batches by farmers who know the names of their cows. It’s melty and slightly stretchy, and yes, buttery. It’s what people want these days, she said.

“I could buy preservative-filled cheese and butter,” Voss said. “But I’m all-out on supporting small businesses and offering a good, quality product, and the minute people bite into it, they know -- because it’s so good.” Pause here to imagine taking a bite of crunchy bread and melted cheese that forms a string as mouth and sandwich separate. “People want to know where their food is coming from,” she said, “and my sales reflect that.”

Voss said her husband will use Kraft Singles to whip up a quick sandwich for himself at home, something that cheeses her off. But it’s what he grew up with, she said.
Indeed. "What we want" was not the way children of Depression babies and War veterans in our G.I. Bill-mortgaged tract houses rolled.
Most Americans did. American cheese was born at a time when utility reigned. James and Norman Kraft invented processed cheese in 1916 and sold it in tins to the U.S. military during World War I. Soldiers kept eating it when they returned home and its popularity soared. It wasn’t until 1950 that Kraft perfected the slicing. Soon after came a machine that could individually wrap the slices, and in 1965, Kraft Singles were born.

Like Wonder Bread, society marveled at the uniformity of the product, the neatness of the slices, the long shelf life and its ability to stay moist even in the desert, in the middle of the summer, at noon.
Wonder Bread? Wonder what that wasHint: part of the fallout of the Hostess bankruptcy.

Check your privilege.

IT'S THE SEPARATION OF POWERS, STUPID.

There's nothing like an unconventional Trump presidency to get even self-styled progressives, usually high priests of the cult of the presidency, to rediscover enumerated and separated powers.  "The raging crescendo in the U.S. to impeach Trump or convict him of crimes is offensive."

Columnist Rick Salutin's elaboration is instructive.  "Marion Barry was a U.S. civil rights leader who got elected mayor of Washington D.C. in the ’80s. The FBI entrapped him in a crack sting and he went to jail. Then he got reelected. His slogan was, 'He isn’t perfect but he’s perfect for D.C.' Voters got the distinction."

Yes, sometimes playing to the base is a winning strategy, and Our President has already been doing so.  Perhaps that's his insurance policy. "In fact, Trump could be impeached, removed, run again in 2020 and win. It might even improve his chances."

11.12.18

MISALLOCATING PUBLIC MONEY?

Your tax dollars will be at work, attempting to fix the Chicago Circle expressway interchange.

First, there will be four more years of construction delays, with the attendant congestion.
That’s the word from the Illinois Department of Transportation, which has been rebuilding what used to be known as the Circle Interchange or, informally, the “spaghetti bowl,” since 2014. The finish date for the project had originally been projected at 2019. IDOT now expects it to be complete in 2022.

IDOT engineers warn that the biggest impact to traffic is coming in the summer of 2020, when a major ramp will need to be closed. This is the ramp from the inbound Eisenhower Expressway to the northbound Kennedy Expressway, which sees 26,000 cars a day.

Why is the project taking so long? It involves three different interstates, a constricted urban area, working around the CTA Blue Line, multiple bridges, a city water pumping station and the need to keep traffic flowing in a spot that sees 400,000 vehicles every day, said Steve Travia, engineer for project implementation at IDOT.
Not too long ago, there was a rebuild in the spaghetti bowl to move that ramp from the left side to the right side of the expressways, in order to reduce the incidence of drivers diving to the left at the last minute, something that the Wise Experts of Highway Engineering discovered was a Design Flaw a previous cohort of Wise Experts didn't see. There are still drivers diving to the right at the last minute, whether because they're clueless or because that's their strategy ...

In part the rebuilding, if that's what it is, has been delayed because other parts of the road network are past their sell-by date.
IDOT also needed to move up the rebuilding of the Interstate 55 and Lake Shore Drive interchange, because of structural problems that needed immediate attention. That meant that some of the Eisenhower work on the Jane Byrne was delayed so that the state would not have two critical access points into the city under construction at the same time, IDOT spokesman Guy Tridgell said. The I-55 work ended late last year.
Apparently, even the previous replacements of the left-side lanes wasn't enough, as they were so narrow that a disabled semi could block them.  Just another hidden subsidy to the motor carriers, and there are a lot of them on that interchange.  "The junction has been rated as the biggest freight bottleneck in the nation by the Federal Highway Administration."  How much of that is container traffic being rubbered from one railroad intermodal facility (Union Pacific and Burlington just west of there; New York Central, er, Norfolk Southern, a few miles south) to another?  And how much of that is on rubber because the railroads haven't yet gotten their act together moving containers around or through Chicago, or can't protect the cargo from the local sticky-fingers?

Apparently, though, part of being spokesman for the highway department is attempting to put a happy face on things, once the work is done, supposedly by 2021.  "Improvements to the junction are expected to reduce traffic delays by more than 50 percent, according to IDOT."

Sorry, no.

SOME VICTIMS DESERVE TO BE BLAMED.

First, some background. It's prudent to consider that people who confront difficult circumstances might respond to them differently.  In Trendy Circles, though, calling out people for Blaming The Victim can cross the line into rationalizing, excusing, or condoning dysfunction, or mau-mauing people who Don't Toe The Party Line.  "[S]ay anything about lottery outlets and thirty year old grandmothers and tribal conflicts disguised as drug wars and rampant delinquency in the big cities, and at a minimum, you're likely to be denounced for 'blaming the victim' and you might find yourself up on charges for 'dog whistling' that becomes some imagined -ism or -phobia and grounds for sanctions up to banishment."

Normals, however, are fair game no matter how difficult their circumstances become.  "Hillary Clinton Says Europe Must ‘Get a Handle’ on Migration to Thwart Populism."

Perhaps that's just gaffe-prone Hillary being gaffe-prone Hillary.  She is, after all, the failed presidential candidate who consigned a large portion of the electorate to the basket of deplorables, but that didn't really come as much of a surprise, she, also, famously touted her work as a lawyer by turning the baking of cookies into a pejorative.
With a single response in 1992 to a question about her legal career, Hillary Clinton became a radical feminist in her critics’ imagination, the Lady Macbeth who was an affront to the choices so many other women had made.

“I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas, but what I decided to do was to fulfill my profession,” she said during Bill Clinton’s first presidential campaign.

The blowback was intense and she spent weeks apologizing, saying that she respected women who chose to stay at home and raise children.
All that crack did was contribute to the discrediting of the 1970s cohort of feminists, who never did figure out how to make the case that expanding the opportunity set of women to include the law (and engineering, and aeronautics, and the rest) did not have to denigrate the stay-at-home moms as "just a housewife."  But I digress.  This is a contemporary post about gaffe-prone Hillary.
The more you pull back the layers on Hillary, you’ll see that she holds disdain for anyone who isn’t part of her inner political circle. She views conservatives as ignorant rabble who are beneath her contempt. Moreover, she sees migrants — either legal or illegal — as just a means to political ends.
Look closely, though: she's blaming the victims of Europe's open borders, which is to say the normal Europeans who have to bear the brunt of the New Dispensation.
Europe’s leaders need to send a much stronger message that they will no longer offer “refuge and support” to migrants if they want to curb the right-wing populism spreading across the Continent, Hillary Clinton warned in an interview published Thursday.

Mrs. Clinton said that while the decision of some nations to welcome migrants was admirable, it had opened the door to political turmoil, the rise of the right and Britain’s decision to withdraw from the European Union.
That set off critics to her left, for whom the old Democrat party isn't third-world-friendly enough.
The rise of xenophobic, right-wing extremists intent on stoking bigotry and prejudice against foreigners in Europe and elsewhere has startled observers around the world—but former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton angered critics Thursday when she revealed her belief that the onus lies with European leaders to curb migration in order to appease those same extremists, rather than to protect the rights of asylum seekers.

In an interview with the Guardian, the 2016 presidential candidate perfectly illustrated the rift between so-called centrist Democrats and progressives as she suggested Europe should end its attempts to resettle the world's 25.4 million refugees whose home countries have become unlivable due to war, unrest, and poverty—frequently thanks to actions by the U.S. and its European allies.

"I think Europe needs to get a handle on migration because that is what lit the flame" of right-wing power in Europe, Clinton told the Guardian. "I admire the very generous and compassionate approaches that were taken particularly by leaders like Angela Merkel, but I think it is fair to say Europe has done its part, and must send a very clear message—'we are not going to be able to continue provide refuge and support'—because if we don't deal with the migration issue it will continue to roil the body politic."

Clinton's comments drew immediate criticism from European leaders and progressive Americans, who in addition to calling for Democrats to stand with refugees as they exercise their internationally-recognized right to seek asylum, denounced her remarks as a capitulation to extremists like President Donald Trump and his European counterparts.
Note how easy it is to blame the developed countries, to call out misbehavior on the part of European voters, and to suggest that public officials ought not be accountable to their voters, rather than to suggest that the migrants make an effort to adopt the customs of their new home, or perhaps to work to improve conditions in their countries of origin.  "What they are actually enabling is the plundering of the first world by the third and the destruction of civilization and the engine of creation and production that has lifted most of the world population to a level our ancestors would consider unimaginable wealth."

The "populism" Mrs Clinton fears is simply popular sovereignty.  Europe isn't dealing with huddled masses yearning to breathe free.
If there was a moment when public sentiment about mass migration began to swing, as if on a hinge, it came in the days after New Years’ Eve 2015-16. Hundreds of women reported having been sexually assaulted by gangs of immigrants in the center of Cologne that night, but police took such pains to play down the attacks that news of the disorder did not reach newspapers for days. Notoriously, the city’s mayor advised women to avoid such unpleasantness in the future by keeping suspicious-looking men “at arm’s length.”
Wait, what, it's not a microaggression to lock your car doors on skeevy streets or be alert to who is on the elevator?  You can't deplorable-shame voters into going along with transnational cosmopolitanism.  "Liberalism [meaning transnational cosmopolitanism] and democracy have come into conflict. 'Populist' is what those loyal to the former call those loyal to the latter."

It might be better for Europeans, including the self-styled progressives, to use electoral means rather than to make the populists angry.
Don’t let Europe’s current round of playing pacifist dress-up fool you: This is the continent that perfected genocide and ethnic cleansing, the happy-go-lucky slice of humanity that brought us such recent hits as the Holocaust and Srebrenica.

THE historical patterns are clear: When Europeans feel sufficiently threatened – even when the threat’s concocted nonsense – they don’t just react, they over-react with stunning ferocity. One of their more-humane (and frequently employed) techniques has been ethnic cleansing.
That's Ralph Peters, who hopes that North American traditions of assimilation will still have some purchase.
The United States attracts the quality. American Muslims have a higher income level than our national average. We hear about the handful of rabble-rousers, but more of our fellow Americans who happen to be Muslims are doctors, professors and entrepreneurs.

And the American dream is still alive and well, thanks: Even the newest taxi driver stumbling over his English grammar knows he can truly become an American.

But European Muslims can’t become French or Dutch or Italian or German. Even if they qualify for a passport, they remain second-class citizens. On a good day. And they’re supposed to take over the continent that’s exported more death than any other?

All the copy-cat predictions of a Muslim takeover of Europe not only ignore history and Europe’s ineradicable viciousness, but do a serious disservice by exacerbating fear and hatred. And when it comes to hatred, trust me: The Europeans don’t need our help.
The insurgency in France shows no signs of stopping.  There are echoes of the Democratic court intellectuals in M. Macron's urban base, smugly ensconced in their coffee houses and art galleries.
They are men and women in their 30s and 40s — affluent, well-educated, in competitive jobs, able to afford the crazy rents in places like Paris, Bordeaux or Lyon.

Safe in gentrified neighborhoods, they welcome “diversity” and see themselves as morally superior. They welcomed a president in their own image, especially as he faced the National Front’s Marine Le Pen, the perfect foil, in last year’s election.
Somebody else has to live in the "changing" neighborhoods and deal with the diversity on the ground.
For years, [les d√©plorables] have seen their livelihoods threatened — by plant closures, inflation, the disappearance of public services like small train lines, hospitals, schools and local post offices. They need their cars, however old and beat-up, to drive their kids to school, to shop, to find and hold a job.

Their lives are fenced in by an ever-growing skein of nanny-state regulations. Before the fuel tax, there was the unpopular rollback of the speed limit on France’s roads to 80 kilometers (49 miles) per hour from 90 (56). The same week, bureaucrats added dozens of new requirements for vehicles, forcing many cars off the road. Macron’s government offered drivers a $4,500 bonus to buy electric cars: a Marie-Antoinette moment seen as an insult by [them].
The insurgency is apparently spreading to Belgium and the Netherlands as well.

While the thought of Brussels eurocrats cowering in their offices or pushing to get onto the last helicopter out, ominous signs proliferate in the United States as well.
Voters are searching for answers that the politicians aren't giving them. The frustration level is building and there is no consensus - no middle ground to find. It is either total victory or nothing.

Americans are generally slow to anger but one can sense a palpable unease in most of the country, from urban centers to the heartland. Meanwhile, government continues to grow and with the Democrats now in charge of the House, it is only going to get bigger.

Will the next economic downturn see Americans from both parties taking to the streets? I wouldn't rule it out at all.
Particularly if, as I fear, the Democrats and their enablers in entertainment, the news services, and higher education continue to be down for blaming victims if they happen to be privileged for the wrong reasons.

FRATRICIDE.

National Public Radio take incoming from their audience left.
There are dozens of reports detailing how Amazon’s shipping policies negatively effects [c.q.] both the environment and workers, but one wouldn’t have any idea either was a concern after listening to NPR’s sexed-up report (Morning Edition, 11/21/18, “Optimized Prime: How AI and Anticipation Power Amazon’s 1-Hour Deliveries.”

The report, detailing the “Artificial Intelligence” behind Amazon’s delivery systems, relies entirely on interviews with Amazon flacks. The only people Amazon operations; Jenny Freshwater, director of software development; and Amazon VP Cem Sibay. No outside parties were sought for comment, let alone anyone remotely adversarial, such as labor organizers or environmental activists.

Indeed, the words “labor,” “worker” or “employee” are nowhere to be found in the six-minute report: Christmas packages simply deliver themselves with the help of brilliant Amazon execs and this mysterious AI technology. If Amazon’s marketing department wrote and produced a segment on their AI technology for NPR, it’s difficult to see how it would have been any different.
The use of public money to support propaganda hipster content STEM recruiting material for the host universities is censorship per se.  That's true whether it's "Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting" or "News Busters" grousing about the content your tax dollars are paying for.

BABY, IT'S COLD OUTSIDE.

Apparently hoar-frost is a rare thing.


That was the view across the decorative pond before the fog lifted on Monday.  Intrepid photographers who ventured out after the fog burned off, but before the ice melted, were able to get some spectacular pictures.

10.12.18

THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS FREE PARKING.

Everything has an opportunity cost.
For years, urbanists have argued that parking minimums create more problems than they solve. The promotion of parking, they argue, encourages unnecessary vehicle ownership and makes infill development more expensive and sometimes impractical. Land that could be put to productive use often sits idle as parking lots, with many of the spaces empty except for a few seasonal periods of peak use, such as the Christmas shopping season. These parking requirements raise costs for developers, who pass them on to occupants. One University of California, Los Angeles study found that, around the country, 700,000 renters who don’t have cars are nevertheless paying for parking to the tune of $440 million a year.
Not only that, constraining land use to provide for parking leads to higher prices for the property available for other uses.
In Over-the-Rhine, parking mandates had caused perverse development decisions, with usable buildings sitting vacant because of the cost of adding parking -- or being torn down for lots to satisfy parking requirements for projects located blocks away. Developers of dozens of projects had requested waivers, suggesting the system wasn’t working. “[The new rules] make development, especially small business development, a little bit easier,” says Philip Denning, a Cincinnati development official. “There’s one less box you have to check.”

The changes were approved by the city council only in September, but already neighborhood associations in other parts of Cincinnati are asking whether parking minimums can be abolished or reduced in their sections of town. Knowing that commercial developments would benefit the most -- and that residents would be mad if they were forever having to circle around to find a space -- the city implemented a residential permit parking system for Over-the-Rhine. “I always encourage cities to think about both the off-street and on-street parking requirements,” Gabbe says. “If you’re reducing the off-street parking requirements, you have to actively manage street parking.”
Actively managing street parking can mean prices, or it can mean enforcing resident-only-by-permit street parking in thickly settled neighborhoods (which includes a few areas of DeKalb, believe it or not) and it can mean informal enforcement such as the Chicago custom of "dibs."

It's not going to be easy weaning residents off of their free parking, though.
It could soon become impossible to find free parking for a night out in Downtown Indianapolis.

The City-County Council's Democratic leadership on Monday introduced a proposal that would standardize parking meter hours across the city and extend the enforcement hours on nights and weekends. The proposal would effectively eliminate free parking during popular event times in areas including Downtown and Broad Ripple.
Prices function to allocate scarce resources. The article also notes that Indianapolis lawmakers would like to reduce speed limits on downtown streets, and eliminate right turns on red lights in the central business district.  All this despite there being no streetcars to compel residents to use.

Dear reader, do you remember this?  "Perhaps the location rents are a consequence of political decisions, such as devoting space to expressways and to parking, these have the effect of taking land out of use for locational-rent-generating activities at the same time that they make working together possible.  Yes, even San Francisco, according to Devon Zuegel."

Truly, truly, I say unto you, even San Francisco.
San Francisco has become the first major US city to propose stripping out minimum parking requirements for new housing, according to city supervisor Jane Kim who introduced (pdf) the legislation on Nov. 16. San Francisco’s 1950s parking rules had remained virtually unchallenged until the 1970s oil crisis prompted it to rethink its strategy. Today, the city is already restricting parking under its “transit-first” policy. This week’s proposed change, which will be voted on by the city’s board next week, will effectively formalize that policy city-wide.
Yes, unlike Indianapolis, the government would like to force as many people onto transit as they are able, but eliminating parking minimums might release land for housing and restaurants, thus helping flatten the bid-rent curves.
All of this parking is the result of a slight misunderstanding. For more than half a century, the Institute of Transportation Engineers has had parking standards for buildings so developers can predict traffic needs. There are exact parking recommendations for everything from apartment buildings (1.6 spaces for every unit) to convents (0.1 spaces per residing nun) to fast-food restaurants (9.95 parking spaces for every 1,000 square feet). These suggestions not only rested on statistically dubious data (pdf), they were never intended to guide parking policy in cities. Their availability, and deceptive precision (pdf), meant they were often taken out of context from development plans meant for new, greenfield sites.

That’s been disastrous. Developers have been directed to spend billions of dollars on asphalt lots and garages that have deadened the life of downtowns, and wildly overestimated actual parking needs.
The error probably generalizes to those greenfield sites as well.

Bet on emergence, and, wherever possible, be guided by trade-tested betterments.

IS THERE NOTHING THE RUSSIANS CAN'T DO?

First it was supposed hacking of the 2016 presidential election.

Now it's riling up the Third Estate.  "France opened a probe into possible Russian interference behind the country’s Yellow Vest protests, after reports that social-media accounts linked to Moscow have increasingly targeted the movement."

I suppose social media provide propagandists with prodigious platforms compared with scratchy shortwave signals from Radio Moscow, and yet the agitprop so promulgated seems amateurish.  "Russia has been criticized for using social media to influence elections in the U.S. and elsewhere. Attempts to use fake news reports and cyberattacks to undercut the 2017 campaign of French President Emmanuel Macron failed, but Russian-linked sites have pushed questionable reports of a mutiny among police, and of officers’ support for the protests."

I suppose as long as unexpected things happen, there will be people whose first instinct is to look for a grassy knoll.

WE WANT BETTER CHOICES.

Salena Zito takes stock of the recent string of mid-term repudiations of the party of the sitting President.
Between the time Barack Obama took the oath of office in 2009 and the time Donald Trump took the oath in 2017, Democrats lost nearly 1,000 congressional, state House, and Senate seats in nearly every nook and cranny in the country. They also lost the majorities in the state legislatures, governors' offices, and statewide elected offices.

Two years into the Trump presidency, Democrats swung nearly 380 — about one-third — of those state House and Senate seats back into their column. They also flipped seven governors' seats their way as well as 40 congressional House seats, additionally regaining several of the statewide elected offices.
We're likely to see such gridlocking phenomena as long as "voters think a vote for one of the Other than Democrat, Other than Republican candidate is a futile and stupid gesture."

The problem, Ms Zito contends, is that Professional Politicians' Salaries depend on them interpreting continued participation in the false binary as a "mandate."
American voters, in particular independent voters who actually deliver these swings back and forth between parties, keep sending Washington a message with their votes. And Washington keeps misreading that message.

It tells us in part that these rapid and large swings show a disconnected middle that feels a distrust with both parties and an allegiance to none.

But the magnitude and frequency of these swings tell us something more important: Nothing seems to be working. Voters keep telling politicians to follow through on their promise of a broad shared prosperity and an end to the culture wars. But politicians hear: Let’s get the band back together and put on an ideological road show.
The best thing the politicians could do, whether in service of broadly shared prosperity or ending the culture wars, might be to go away. But how can a professional politician get the message and step out of line and disappear?  Particularly if their court intellectuals offer apologetics for their continued rule.  Sorry, no.  "Fulfilling the aspirations expressed in the Preamble of the Constitution–notably devoid of references to blood-and-soil nationalism–should suffice for any principled American conservative."

There might be more at stake:  Ms Zito's column doesn't say "new equilibrium" or "transition from equilibrium to equilibrium" and yet, that might be where we find ourselves.
Curt Nichols, political science professor at Baylor University in Texas, cautions that these swings aren’t really waves in the way we think of a wave. In fact, he says very few elections, perhaps one in every 30 years or so, are so "wave-like" in that they wipe out the previous political order.

“Rather, most elections occur within the boundaries of the status quo. They, therefore, simply represent the electorate’s attempt to swing politics back to equilibrium after events or actions drive them akilter,” he said.

Reinforcing the notion that each party gets it wrong when they think voters have come back home to them when they win.

So if you believe, as he does, that the election of 2008 was one of those rare status-quo-shifting (i.e. true wave) electoral contests, then everything that has happened since then makes sense in terms of seeking a return to equilibrium.

“In today’s Age of Obama, politics has shifted so that the new center of the Democratic Party (its natural equilibrium) is in a space that is both friendlier to the interests of new economy billionaires and those with progressive values than was true during the Reagan Revolution Era,” he said.

“The new Democratic status quo thus leans to support Silicon Valley type cutthroat capitalism and #MeToo identity politics,” Nichols explained.

When Democrats stray from this center toward the extreme, as they did shortly after Obama was elected and in the wake of nominating Hillary Clinton for president, the electorate pushes back and tries to return to equilibrium.

“Then, you get the Republican electoral victories of 2010 and 2016, which were not — strictly speaking — wave elections,” he said.

When the GOP strays too far away from its own new center, which is more mildly populist than the past (in terms of championing Main Street economics and traditional values), the electorate again attempts to return the country to its equilibrium. Hence, the outcome of the recent midterm election.

“While embracing a quasi-socialist agenda may fire up the imagination of left-wing activists and historically challenged youth alike, it is far from the center of today’s status quo and will backfire for Democrats at the ballot box,” warned Nichols.

And looking ahead?

“Whatever happens in 2020, it is probably going to be best not to think of the outcome in terms of a wave election but, rather, an attempt to return to equilibrium,” said Nichols.
Don't we first have to understand what that equilibrium might be. The California-style electorate of Silicon Valley and identity politics is an unsustainable coalition.  The old "liberal international order" that emerged by accident after the War, and that thought the collapse of the Soviet Empire on its watch endorsed their world view is fractured, perhaps irreparably.

As far as that identity-politics, quasi-socialist option?  It takes something to provide an opportunity for voters to coalesce on an equilibrium, and that's still missing.  Consider this diatribe on the occasion of George H. W. Bush's funeral.
On issue after issue ― taxes, abortion, voting rights, civil liberties, terrorism, deregulation ― Trump holds positions essentially identical to those of Bush. Not on everything, of course. It’s impossible to imagine Bush acting as cruelly or capriciously as Trump has on immigration, or trade or the rights of journalists, for example.

Yet it’s just as difficult to see how we would have gotten to Trump without going through Bush. Without his lying about intelligence to justify the Gulf War, his questioning whether atheists should be considered patriots or even citizens, his saying yes to the Willie Horton ad, his calling Michael Dukakis a “card-carrying member of the ACLU” or his turning a deaf ear to the desperate pleas of tens of thousands of AIDS sufferers.
There's a lot more in a similar vein but it reads more like doubling down on identity politics and continuing the culture wars.  Is more polymorphous perversity really the way to expand a coalition of disaffected voters?  Is more dysfunction masquerading as authenticity really the best way to celebrate diversity?  Is sucking all the joy out of the Festive Season in the name of tolerance going to win many voters over?

Or might there be some reason for people to vote with Donald Trump or the Bushes, older or younger, in favor of less burdensome taxes, of honest elections, of toughness on crime, terrorism, and communism, on trade-tested betterments, something that the Silicon Valley and identity politics types aren't offering a better choice?

THE STARS COME OUT AT HAMILTON HIGH.

The occasion was the school retiring Kevon Looney's basketball jersey.  A few of his current team-mates showed up.
The group of Warriors, which included MVPs Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry and all-stars Klay Thompson and DeMarcus Cousins, sat near Looney, with some taking videos of their teammate and others eating chips.

The event started in the school library, where Looney answered questions from students and looked at yearbook photos. That's when his teammates, in a complete surprise to the students in the room, appeared.
Let the record show those are the Golden State Warriors, not a reference to the Marquette Warriors.

The chips might have helped as these Warriors got their sole win of the season over the host Milwaukee Bucks.

The library doesn't look much changed from when I used to use it, sometime in the final third of the twentieth century.
Looney scored 2,122 points in his time at Hamilton, where he became one of the top recruits nationally in the class of 2014. In his senior year, Looney averaged 27.9 points, 12.7 rebounds, 8 blocks and 7 assists per game and was named Mr. Basketball by the Wisconsin Basketball Coaches Association and the state's boys Gatorade Player of the Year.
His team did not win a state championship.

The 2009-2010 team was the favorite to win the championship, going into the finals at Madison.

To this date, the sole state basketball championship for Milwaukee Hamilton came in 1972.

9.12.18

8.12.18

YOU CAN WALK AWAY FROM IT IF YOU WANT.

Emeritus psychologist Michael Morris inadvertently makes the case for buying your advisor a train set.

Develop a retirement elevator speech?  Isn't the point of being retired not having to come in to the office?  "Emeritus" is not Latin for "doing for free that which I used to be paid to do."

Stay on your university's distribution lists?  Administrative ukases were too much of a time-suck when complying with them mattered.  Let the people who must be burdened with them be burdened with them.

Curb feelings of loneliness?  If that advice is based on the contents of your electronic mail in-box, you have a deeper problem, dear reader.

Stay involved in your discipline or your field if you wish to do so and if the circumstances are favorable?  One of the benefits of being retired is that you can write for your web journal or the local newspaper or a hobby magazine.  Also see above on what "emeritus" does not mean.

Enjoy the moment?  That's burying the lede.

Find a hobby?  Way ahead of you.


Look closely at that train.  The locomotive, caboose, and all the busy freight cars are lettered for model railroads.  You won't find a New Haven or Pennsylvania or Santa Fe or any other carrier ever indexed in Moody's or the Official Guide in that consist.  Arguably, I had a fifty year head start on academicians who might buy a train set ...

To get it into this shape, though, I had to get rid of all the administrative clutter that used to be in my electronic in-box.

Downsize?  Yeah, that's not going as fast as I would like, but there are things to give to Goodwill or recycle.

Indulge your guilty pleasures?  My guilty pleasure is mocking excessively earnest people.

Which brings us to ...
Finally, go to lunch occasionally with your former grad students and colleagues. If you’re lucky, some of the students will tell you that you made a positive difference in their lives. Colleagues, on the other hand, are likely to spend a lot of time gossiping about the bizarre logic that has characterized recent decision making by the university’s administration. Please let them vent, because after lunch they’ll be returning to a campuswide meeting on budget cuts affecting the toilet paper supply, while you’ll be heading home to do some nonscholarly reading.
Yup, I've done that from time to time. Morale is shot.

If your students haven't bought you a train set, find a new guilty pleasure!

RIGHTS OVER EVERYTHING.

The Union Pacific Railroad participated in President Bush's recent funeral, operating a special train from a team track in Spring, Texas, outside Houston, to College Station, for the late president's interment at his Presidential Library on the Texas A&M campus.

I don't know how the railroads provide for special movements these days.  Back in the era of dispatchers and train sheets, there would be an entry for POTUS EXTRA 4141 EAST.

The diesel in question has a special paint scheme, honoring President Bush and his library.  The first temporary exhibit at the library depicted Railroads and Westward Expansion, and the former president was intrigued enough by 4141 that he requested a cab ride, which was granted, during which he was able to take the throttle, under the watchful eye of the Road Foreman of Engines.

There's nothing quite like a public railroad move to throw off the journalists.  During the motorcade from Houston to Spring, I wish I had a nickel each time a pressie referred to 4141 as a "train."  On social media there are people wondering who operates the train.  Amtrak?  No, the host railroad.  Amtrak was the host railroad for the 2009 Obama-Biden victory train.

Union Pacific, however,  is capable of rolling out more dome cars for one special movement than Amtrak own.

Contemporary movements of presidents by rail inspire investigations into historic movements of presidents by rail, and Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman on Ferdinand Magellan come up.  So, too, do urban legends, such as President Roosevelt's armored train below the Waldorf-Astoria HotelSorry, no.

BOWING OUT GRACEFULLY.

Former Green Bay Packer coach Mike McCarthy bought a full page advertisement in several Wisconsin newspapers to say "Thank You, Fans."


That's a screen shot.  The full advertisement is available at the Journal-Sentinel story.

That's despite Packer fans being perhaps more vocal than Packer management in wanting a coaching change, starting four or five seasons ago.

That's despite football being a business subject to market tests, which Our Intellectual Betters tell us is somehow less democratic than being in public service subject to electoral tests.

In politics, though, it's apparently OK to scold the electorate for not giving Our Political Masters the Results They Want.
People who weren’t political junkies were hungry for a non-politician, particularly one who spoke about bringing jobs back to long-forgotten places. The fact that Trump was not a traditional politician giving speeches that all the rest were giving was a plus. They weren’t being gaslighted (psychologically manipulated), they were going along on the ride.
That sounds like a lot better reason than, oh, questioning a coach's decision to "sit on a twelve point lead" in Seattle.  If anything, in the 2016 presidential election, it was Mrs Clinton attempting to sit on a twelve point lead, and wondering why it wasn't bigger.

I suppose part of being part of a pathological elite is never having to be self-aware.
The media elites like to think people were suckered because it is less painful than Democrats admitting how tone deaf they have become. Do they really think blaming voters is the best path back to electoral success?

So, here we are two years out and liberal media anchors are still trying to figure out what went wrong in the last presidential election. Here’s a hint for them – it isn’t because they were just too darn smart.
We've been pointing out the failures of the Wise Experts at least as far back as the 2004 presidential cycle.

Let's take stock.

World War II ends in 1945.

The Berlin Wall comes down in 1989, and the Soviet Union goes out of business at the end of 1991.

The Green Bay Packers last won the Super Bowl in February, 2011.

Are general managers of football teams more responsive to their public than public officials are?

7.12.18

A CORRECTION.

Last week we incorrectly described the timing of Thanksgiving, "as early as the 17th and no later than the 23d."

Let's not rush the shopping season more than it already is.  "In fact, the earliest that Thanksgiving can possibly fall is November 22, which is what it was this year. (Fun fact: the latest it could ever fall is on November 28, and that's when it will take place next year.) "

Good thing, though, that I got the fall plowing and haying done on Black Friday.

THE GHOST OF CHRISTMAS PRESENTS.

Self-checkout or not, the beginning of the 21st century has not been kind to retail.


That's the now closed Boston Store in downtown Milwaukee.  Toward the end of operation, it conducted retail activities at the ground and second floor, and the chain's offices were somewhere upstairs, as were loft apartments.
The two-level store that stands today at 4th and Wisconsin, while bright and attractive, is a tiny fraction of what once was eight floors of merchandise offering virtually everything a machinist at Falk or an office clerk at Schlitz could want: records and tapes in the basement; wine, liquor and men's apparel on the first floor; women's and teen fashions on the second and third levels; furniture on the fourth; appliances and hardware on the fifth; domestics on the sixth; and a golf shop, a ski shop and "Harry's Cafe" on the top floor.
There used to be buildings along Wisconsin Avenue between Fourth and Fifth streets, although I've been away so long that I don't recall what was there last.  With the Midwest Center (or whatever it is now) across the Avenue and the latest incarnation of the Milwaukee Arena (replaced for basketball first with the Bradley Center and then with the Fiserv Forum: meanwhile, the monstrosity atop Penn Station in New York persists) you'd think this real estate would be valuable for something other than a parking crater.

It also used to be the case that the picture windows would have animated displays, and the halls and stairways would be decked.


Not this Christmas.

Here's how it used to be.


A version of this jingle would air each Festive Season, starting after Thanksgiving.  You're hearing a later version, as it does not mention the "monorail train" that used to decorate the toy department.  The "Secret Gift Shop" on the second floor was an interesting service, in which younger children would bring their gift lists and store employees would assist the kids in completing the list, then boxing up the stuff in specially marked boxes.

Perhaps contemporary kids can take advantage of some sort of online service to accomplish the same thing.

THEY NEVER LEARNED NOT TO BE STUPID ABOUT BEING SMART.

Don't say I haven't called attention to the obnoxious condescension of Democrats and their spear-carriers in education, entertainment, and journalism.

It's nowhere near enough.  Take Hawaii senator Mazie Horono.  Victory Girl Nina Bookout is laughing through her tears.  "Senator Mazie Hirono at least had the smarts to inform us that the Democrats think we are all dumb. So there’s that."

David Catron extends.  "It is true that Democrats are afflicted by an irresistible urge to tell everyone how smart they are, even while proposing something stupid. "

By all means, read the articles for elaboration, or just get the picture:


Why is Donald Trump president?

Left to right:  "You didn't build that."  "Mean country."  "What the meaning of 'is' is."  "Basket of deplorables."  Malaise.  (I know, he didn't use the word, but it stuck.)

Meanwhile, the usual claque at the usual place is up to its usual foolishness.  "Yet the figure who [Washington Post columnist Eugene] Robinson declared irrelevant was the subject of much of the MSNBC show's A-block."

That, dear reader, is the quintessence of being stupid about being smart.

A MOST INTRIGUING MAP.

Atlanta's Business Chronicle notes the proposed route expansions for Virgin Rail Brightline in the United States.
Brightline, America's first new major private intercity passenger railroad in over a century, launched service between Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach, Florida, in May 2018. It plans to expand to Orlando and Tampa. Pending the closing of the previously announced XpressWest acquisition and receipt of necessary federal approvals, it also plans to begin next year building a railway to connect Las Vegas to Southern California.

In its Nov. 16 IPO filing, Virgin Trains USA named the 240-mile Atlanta-Charlotte route, with an 8.4 million population, as one of eight U.S. expansion corridors. These cities “possess what we believe are key attributes for a successful intercity rail network using existing infrastructure,” it said.
There is potential elsewhere in the Southeast.  Note that my map did not consider Atlanta-Savannah-Jacksonville and beyond, but perhaps investors with real money at stake will.  I'm also intrigued that Virgin Rail Brightline might want to get involved in Texas, where there are some electrified high-speed rail proposals involving Japanese and French railroaders.

Now, might Amazon be interested in participating in a latter day Amazon Railway Express?

VOX DOES THE TIME WARP.

Kaitlyn Tiffany doesn't like self-checkout stations.
Far from novelty or spon-con child’s game, self-checkouts pop up everywhere now: at the new Target in Barclays Center where I buy my useless seasonal objects and knockoff Urban Outfitters clothes; at the CVS where I buy my disgusting seasonal candy; at the Panera Bread where I buy a seasonal autumn squash soup and half a grilled cheese. I’ve heard they are in grocery stores throughout the city, but I refuse to look.

I saw a self-checkout in the Urban Outfitters in Herald Square and almost called the ACLU: Some lucky employee sits on a stool near the self-checkout stations and does nothing but remove ink tags from things before you buy them? Sure. What is a person if not just a slightly more dexterous arm than the ones that robots so far have?
She'd be a real fun date at a Christmas party, wouldn't she?
I am not alone in fearing self-checkout. John Karolefski, a self-proclaimed undercover grocery shopping analyst who runs the blog Grocery Stories and contributes to the site Progressive Grocer, tells me, “I’m in a lot of supermarkets around the country. I watch people. I can tell you that I’ve been in stores where the lines that have cashiers are very, very long, and people are a little upset, and there are three or four self-checkout units open and nobody is using them.

“Wouldn’t the shopper be better served, customer service improved, if those weren’t there?” he asks. I’m not arguing. “Why do I want to scan my own groceries?” he asks. I have no idea! “Why do I want to bag my own groceries?” he asks. An equally reasonable question with no reasonable answer. The simple solution, he points out, would be to hire enough cashiers to serve the number of customers that typically shop at the store. I agree, and this seems very obvious.
I can't resist.

Of course, a Tiffany would want enough cashiers to serve the number of customers that typically shop at a store, and there is a price point for that.

News flash: it's not Wal-Mart's price point.
Self-checkout is sold to us as a high-tech upgrade, but that’s just adding insult to injury — eliminating jobs by making people who have jobs do more jobs. When Walmart installs a new self-checkout, it’s not “automating” the process of checkout; it’s simply turning the register around, giving it a friendlier interface, and having the shopper do the work themselves.
Yes, eliminate-the-middleman, whether it is the farmer (thus greengrocers) or the warehouseman (thus big box retail) or the clerk (thus self-service shelves) or the cashier (thus the unexpected items in the bagging area) is a form of do-it-yourself, and apparently the do-it-yourself grocer offers enough benefits that people take advantage of the shorter wait times, occasional (or not-so-occasional) hiccups notwithstanding.

There's something else I'd note.  Sometimes what makes the attended checkout lines so long is the retailer's insistence on playing 20 Questions with everyone.  The robot stations generally just sell me my stuff.

6.12.18

SO TO HONOR HIM.

Usual protocol when national figures lie in state in the Rotunda is that the hall be cleared when current or former presidents or some other Distinguished Visitors enter.

Tuesday night, though, with wait times of up to five hours in conditions that were chilly for Washington, former president George W. Bush requested that the public be allowed to continue to enter.



He and his brother, former Florida governor Jeb Bush, also took the time to circulate through the room, thanking people for coming.



Over the past two days, I dipped into the C-Span coverage of the public passing through the Rotunda.

What struck me was that despite the apparently large crowds, the pace of people was not rushed, and there were lots of kids, with Mom or Dad able to pause and explain something, and the kids generally getting a clear view from the roped-off area.  On occasion, there would be Catholic school kids in their blazers pausing to watch and genuflect.

Lester Holt signed off NBC Nightly News yesterday with a selection of clips in that vein.


That is all.

THE LATTER DAY FAST MAIL.

Once upon a time, the Post Office expedited first class mail by picking up and kicking off mail sacks on the fly.


Now comes Amazon, intending to automate the sorting and the delivery to your front porch.



The full patent application includes details of the mechanized Railway Post Office in a container.

I suspect technology enthusiasts are making too much of the plans.
The idea is that the train does the long-haul travel, while the hubs would serve as repairing hubs for UAVs that launch from the train for local deliveries, and return for maintenance and further delivery pickups. It's quite clever, and evident of Amazon's strong focus on creating a powerful drone-delivery system of their own.

The publicly available patent calls these hubs "Ground-based mobile maintenance facilities for unmanned aerial vehicles" which "may be coupled to locomotives, container ships, road tractors or other vehicles, and equipped with systems for loading one or more items onto the aerial vehicle, and for launching or retrieving the aerial vehicle while the intermodal vehicles are in motion." This expands upon the idea of using railroad infrastructure and widens the concept to a far broader scope. Amazon is planning on finalizing not only the land and the air, but the sea, as well.

It makes sense—a container ship could launch deliveries before reaching the coast, as soon as it geographically makes sense to send UAVs off. There would be no waiting for the ship to dock or unload hundreds of containers with massive cranes. Amazon is clearly pressing forward with the concept of a nationwide system of drone delivery, and we'll surely hear of more such patents from them in the near future.
Yes, a container ship could launch at sea, if Amazon's special containers were all at the top of the above-decks stacks.

Read through, though, and contemplate the possibilities for rigorously timed train operations.
Instead of providing stationary warehouses to store frequently purchased items in populous areas, Amazon could use a system of moving warehouses and drone stations- launching a delivery drone when they are closest to the desired destination.
Presumably the factories are still fixed locations: will Amazon be integrating backwards? But in populated areas, perhaps you're updating something like this, with battery-powered streetcars or buses?


Perhaps my imagination isn't creative enough, but wouldn't the logistics be simpler if the mobile warehouses and metropolitan delivery vehicles were operating according to a set schedule?
It would require a sophisticated computing system to monitor and maintain the fleet, determine correct launching points, and determine “rendevous” points for the drones’ return.  The patent describes a “maintenance vehicle” which “comprises a plurality of batteries, at least one robotic arm and at least one system for launching an aerial vehicle or retrieving the aerial vehicle within a compartment of the first intermodal maintenance vehicle…”  The robotic arm, it seems, is to help change batteries.  The idea behind the patent is twofold: first that product might be stored in moving warehouses, and second that the delivery drones could be maintained and repaired in the same moving warehouse.  Using standard freight containers would allow the transportation method to change as appropriate.
Will each of these mobile warehouses be attended by a drone mechanic?

If you can contemplate delivering parcels in this way, you can also contemplate receiving parcels.
The patent points out also that the system could be engineered in reverse, to receive deliveries.  If successfully implemented and widely adopting, [c.q.] the idea of moving delivery stations could have an impact well beyond Amazon.
Yes, just as Railway Express and the Railway Post Office helped deliver manufactured goods to the hinterlands, a century ago.