31.7.08

THE LITTLE STEEL FLEET. The 2008 O Scale Convention was in Worcester, Massachusetts, which offered an opportunity to do some research for the a-building model railroad as well as to evaluate some of Amtrak's eastern operations.

The services from the Lakes to the East Coast have almost always been the weakest parts of the Amtrak network, in part because of the railroad desert the carrier inherited from Penn Central, and in part because Amtrak management can't decide whether to be a corridor operator or a cruise train operator. Thus the traveler from Chicago east has the choice of a Cardinal by way of West Virginia, a Capitol Limited by way of Washington, D.C., or the Lake Shore Limited. The first two go the long way around. The third is a pale imitation of the New York Central's eponymous train, although it offers a few more amenities than Penn Central's 98-72, a coach-only service on a comparable schedule with a snack bar east of Buffalo.

Juist before the end, Penn Central offered three eastbound trains, a morning departure from Chicago with food service that added a Buffalo-New York sleeper, a midafternoon departure loosely on the New England States schedule with sleeping cars Chicago-New York and Detroit-New York, and the aforementioned late night coach-only service. The midafternoon train, sans the Detroit section, provided the pattern for the early version of Amtrak's Lake Shore. The more recent timing surrendered to the realities of sharing The Water Level Route with the freight traffic of two railroads as well as late arrivals of the western transcontinental trains. A coast-to-coast train trip is thus possible, with connections (rather than the hotel and the substitute service, often on Amtrak's dime) almost always made in Chicago. At Chicago, the train accepts passengers at 8 pm for the 10 pm departure, with a social hour available to sleeper passengers before departure. (This gesture may itself be an economy move as it permits the Chicago Metropolitan Lounge to close at 9 pm.)

The train itself was full. (The September issue of Trains hit my mailbox and Amtrak is again in the situation of having more riders than it can handle, with the possible loss of goodwill when delayed or overcrowded or unavailable trains induce riders to look more favorably on expensive gasoline.)

Amtrak Lake Shore Limited 48, Chicago - Albany, 21-22 July 2008: Genesis locomotives 182-166, baggage 1762 (a converted coach), Viewliner sleepers 62033 Scenic View, 62047 Village View, 62005 Cape View, Amcafe 28012 reconfigured as the diner, Horizon dinette car 53509 set up as the lounge, Amfleet II coaches 25046-25003-25087-25075, deadheading traditional diner 8521. The dinette car as lounge works well for card games but less well for swiveling in one's seat to sightsee or to mingle with other passengers. Crew quarters are mixed in with the revenue space in the lead sleeping car.

Leave Chicago on time, 10 pm. South Bend 12.32.48 - 12.41.06, Elkhart 12.59.23 - 1.01.12, turn in. Sleep quite well for a train, shower time comes somewhere west of Erie, Pennsylvania (that Nickel Plate track just outside the window on the south side of the train gives the location away.) Go to breakfast at Erie, leave 8.31.15, there's a railroad museum with a South Shore 800 at North East, Pennsylvania; Buffalo 10.07.50 - 10.17.06 (an hour faster than Penn Central 98, which also had 15 minutes to turn into 72, an Empire Service train). Rochester 11.16.25 - 11.21.47, new Amtrak station grafted into the old New York Central plant, complete with moldering round-end platform canopies beyond the current boarding area, Syracuse 12.41.54 - 12.48.28.

There's time to stretch at Syracuse. This high-level platform is the boarding facilities. A proper corridor ought to have provision for simultaneous use of the station by trains in both directions.


Go to lunch after Syracuse. Table companions are wondering about falling further behind schedule, with one person worried about 45 minutes alloted to the 19 miles Schenectady to Albany. These are passengers who have come from points west on Burlington and Santa Fe lines and the experience of being 30 minutes late at Naperville and early into Chicago registers. I note that it's a 110 mph railroad on the West Albany hill.

Utica 1.47.30 - 1.51.36 (these stops would be shorter if train crews would check tickets ON train rather than as passengers board); the Adirondack Scenic has some good looking cars and some rusty projects, including Metro-North FL-9 2031 in the yard; Schenectady 3.30.55 - 3.14.35 (no double stop, why this took so long I don't know); out of Schenectady the engineer skins it back and we're into Albany at 3.37.33 versus a scheduled 3.40 arrival, and yes, I timed a few miles at 110 down the hill.


There's a new station at Albany, no doubt built at great expense, and it's well cared for, but the plant is too small. Fory-eight is in the station from 3.40 until 4.55. (That's one way to deal with serious delays further west, but it occupies one of three platform tracks for a long time at a very busy time). The concourse above the tracks is not quite large enough for all the passengers stretching their legs or transferring to an Empire Service train that leaves at 4.05 or to the Boston connecting train that leaves at 4.10 let alone to accommodate the passengers arriving on 283, the midafternoon Niagara Falls train photographed arriving. (There is potential for some connectivity here: Poughkeepsie to Pittsfield without the joys of the Taconic Parkway. There are other connection possibilities through Albany, although I will defer those until the report on the return trip.) In the picture, 244 to New York is at left on the "main" track, with 448 to Boston behind it, 283 is arriving on 1 and 48 occupies 2. There will be another arrival at 4.50, just before 48 continues to New York.

The Boston connection is one Amcafe and two long-distance Amfleet I cars, and it's full. The train gets going at 4.30.02 (has nobody studied how the British make use of platform tracks to load and go in a hurry) although the very leisurely schedule permits recovery of most of the time lost, with an expeditious stop at Pittsfield, 5.30.24 - 5.32.55, Springfield 6.46.25 - 7.04.54 and some passengers changing trains for Connecticut, and Worcester 8.11.32. The Worcester station has been restored, although there aren't a lot of tenants.


It was in much worse shape at one time.

Thus the fun of getting there. The convention, and some other railroad investigations, are ahead.

20.7.08

MARKING OFF. The French take all of July off. Posting will resume just before the end of July.

AND THE GOVERNMENT SHALL BE UPON HIS SHOULDER.

His name shall be called Wonderful Counsellor. The job description as prophesied by Isaiah and scored by Handel is only a bit more ambitious than that of President of the United States, which Gene Healy argues in The Cult of the Presidency: America's Dangerous Devotion to Executive Power is excessive enough. See page 52.
The most astute among the Progressives recognized that given the American public's latent resistance to centralized rule, a sustained atmosphere of crisis might be necessary before the presidency's promise could be fully realized. Two world wars and the Great Depression made the Progressive dream a reality, transforming the president into the focus of national aspirations, a heroic figure charged with curing the ills of national life.
The Democrats have appropriated unto themselves the "progressive" description, and it is more frequently their enthusiasts who have had high hopes if only the country gets the right president. The image of president-as-messiah long predates contemporary use by some radio talkers of that appellation for Senator Obama. I've seen that with George McGovern and Michael Dukakis and Bill Clinton and to some extent with Al Gore. But it's a Republican thing too: consider a Ronald Reagan being more aggressive in 1984 about privatizing Social "Security" and developing what we now call the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge oil field rather than building a 49-state mandate on a "Morning in America" theme. That's straight out of the "Progressives" playbook. See pages 76-77.
A remarkable film produced in 1932 and released shortly after FDR's election captured the changes in the public's orientation towards the presidency. Financed by William Randolph Hearst and starring Walter Huston, Gabriel over the White House depicts a president literally touched by an angel and empowered to heal the country and the world. The movie's fictional president, Judson C. Hammond, begins as an unflattering amalgam of Harding and Coolidge, a party hack more interested in bedding his comely assistant than in dealing with his country's ongoing economic woes.
After Hammond is gravely injured in a car crash, the archangel Gabriel visits him in the hospital. Gabriel imbues the comatose Hammond with the Holy Spirit of presidential activism. Hammond awakens from the coma, declares a state of emergency, and threatens Congress with a declaration of martial law should they refuse to pass his legislative program, which includes federally subsidized agriculture, a ban on mortgage foreclosures, and a CCC-style "Army of Construction" that will give a job to every unemployed man in America. To eradicate organized crime, Hammond authorizes a special army unit to fight gangsters, several of whom are convicted via military tribunal, then executed with the Statue of Liberty visible in the background. Toward the end of the movie, President Hammond uses a demonstration of American air power to force other world leaders to disarm, thereby ending the scourge of war. Then, with his work done, the president ascends into Heaven.
Generalizations to President Bush (43) suggesting God had charged him with the response to September 11, or to President Clinton lamenting the absence of a major economic or diplomatic crisis are left to the reader as an exercise.

Book Review No. 28 recommends The Cult of the Presidency without hesitation, particularly to politics junkies. Any book that would point out the irony in many post-Katrina critics of President Bush effectively criticizing him for being an ineffective dictator, after execrating him for being a dictator (for holding, without trial, gangsters that hold protected category status under boutique multiculturalism?) is worth reading, agree with it or not. I'm disposed to agree with the book, because the summation at page 244 is persuasive.
Candidates' vows to heal the sick, lift up the downtrodden, and democratize the world raise expectations for the office, and renew the perennial cycle of disappointment and centralization.
What's that property of repeatedly doing the same thing and expecting different results?

(Cross-posted to 50 Book Challenge).
RUNNING OUT OF COACHES. Cold Spring Shops is not the only source of Amtrak information. The New York Times's Blog Runner has been keeping track of a number of stories. Evidently there is at least an Old Dominion version (via Trains For America) of the missing equipment story Bill Polley and I referred to last week.

Newsweek has also noticed the increased passenger volume, and takes advantage of the opportunity to perpetuate all sorts of errors.

The storybook plight of the Little Engine That Could, struggling to make it up a mountain, is a pretty apt metaphor for America's rail system. Limited access, outdated equipment and high ticket prices have been the sorry story of Amtrak, the nation's principal rail carrier, from its beginning—pushing most would-be riders to other ways of getting around. But $4-a-gallon gas and chaotic airways are working in Amtrak's favor. In an era when green is hip and mileage matters, trains can't be beat.

I kept my counsel over "Amtrak’s Midwest ridership steams ahead" in the Macomb Journal. Can't we have railroad reporting without hints of Casey Jones oiling around and Sim Webb shoveling all the coal in and Steve Broady found in the wreck with his hand on the throttle? Amtrak pushing would-be riders to other modes? Amtrak was Congress's response to the railroads' efforts to push riders to other modes, a push that Congress encouraged through its funding of highways and air service. (Because there's more payoff to ribbon-cuttings, public officials came up with the money for initial construction. The chaos is a consequence of government failure to maintain and upgrade.)

The story perpetuates another popular error.

Since the 1950s, America's vast inter-state highway system and love of the automobile has contributed to a gradual deterioration of its railroads—just as most of Europe and parts of Asia have been investing in swift and comfortable long-range trains. But duplicating those foreign systems here is not simple. Private freight railroads own most of the tracks Amtrak uses, so a broad expansion of the railways would require hundreds of billions of dollars in new infrastructure and decades of eminent domain lawsuits to acquire private lands. "We never invested in quality passenger rail travel like other countries," says Joseph Sussman, a professor of engineering and transportation systems at MIT. "It's almost impossible that the American network could ever be able to mirror those ultra-efficient models around the world."

Try this.

Since the 1980s, America's unwillingness to expand the road network has induced the railroads to upgrade their freight capabilities -- just as most of Europe and parts of Asia have been bringing in North American managers to improve their freight service. But duplicating those North American systems in Europe is not so simple. It's almost impossible that the European network could ever be able to mirror the BNSF Transcon or the Union Pacific - BNSF Powder River coal distribution system.

I could do a riff on fragmentation follies here, but that would get me too far off topic. There's a hanging curve ball begging to be hit over the left-field fence.

An expansive new system may not be in the cards, but the recent increased interest does signal hope for Amtrak to grow, especially along routes between cities that are too close to fly and, with high gas costs, too long and pricey to drive. A few hundred million dollars in improvements could bring certain routes to acceptable levels, according to Amtrak. Routes connecting Chicago to St. Paul, Atlanta to Charlotte, N.C., and San Diego to Los Angeles could replicate the speedy transit of the prized Northeast Corridor, where sleek trains running on newer tracks allow speeds up to 150 miles per hour in some zones, according to Amtrak CEO Alex Kummant. New rail cars and tracks would surely help, but trains could also run faster with newer signals installed at crossroads to stop traffic earlier. Improving station conditions in rural areas would also make the service feel more comfortable and contemporary.

Regular readers know what I'm going to say next. New readers, go here. There's no reason to spend money on signals and cars. Let's consider some of the examples. Chicago to St. Paul I've been all over for a long time. Baltimore to Boston on the Acela Express is no faster than the old Afternoon Zephyr St. Paul to Chicago.



Mike's Railway History, from which I obtained the picture, offers much of the same information I've been providing. The advantage of a train is precisely that it can make intermediate stops without an hour of landing and unloading, er, "deplaning" and boarding process and holding for takeoff. Bleah. It doesn't take advanced technology either. Left to right, in Chicago: a Hiawatha 4-4-2, a North Western 4-6-2, a Twin Zephyr, and an Alton locomotive, possibly the Lord Baltimore or Lady Baltimore for the St. Louis service. (The Great Western stack and smokebox door are deliberate flattery.) Any one of those conveyances could blow the doors off a Hummer. The Surf Line? Difficult given the canyons and beaches to run it much faster? Charlotte - Atlanta? Five hours on the Southern Railway's Southerner in 1954. But an Old Confederacy Passenger Transport Executive to operate it? Doubtful.
Critics of Amtrak, which is federally subsidized and has neither made a profit nor met ridership projections in its 37-year history, say the company should not be entrusted with the future of rail travel. Joseph Vranich—a former spokesman for the carrier who, after leaving, wrote two books criticizing the inefficiency of a federally funded passenger railroad—says that the government should stop funding the system and instead allow private operators to bid on existing tracks and equipment to provide competitive service. "If we want to have a good train system, we've got to get rid of the government monopoly on rail transport," says Vranich. Others who oppose government aid to the system, including President George W. Bush, think that private companies operating different routes could also bring down high ticket prices, which have long been a deterrent to using the service.
Again, we could do my inside-out-Europe comparison. The North American-managed freight operating companies have all sorts of trouble working with the owner of the tracks and the passenger operating authorities to offer a reliable freight service. As a Swiss colleague noted, analogies between railroads and express highways are strained at best. (You think that guaranteed delivery would work without sharp dispatching of the Z-trains?) To continue from earlier in the week, multiple passenger train operators might be less willing or less able to exchange equipment to deal with seasonal peaks. Early in Amtrak's existence, car maintainers on Eastern railroads had to adjust to unusual air conditioning systems and suspensions on ostensibly better but mechanically different cars Amtrak had purchased from the Western railroads.
Amtrak says it can handle increasing capacity along more popular corridors. All it needs, says CEO Kummant, is more money—on top of its almost $2 billion annual appropriation—to invest in additional infrastructure. A $15 billion capital-funding bill for Amtrak currently awaits agreement between both houses of Congress, and similar measures have passed both the Senate and House by veto-proof margins. Kummant says that with money in hand, the first improvement would be replacing older locomotives and rail cars with newer, more-efficient models. Existing tracks along popular travel routes could also be outfitted to accommodate higher speeds. "We're already growing incrementally," says Kummant. "And for the first time in history, the emergent transportation mode actually exists already." The earth might be relieved.
Ryan Avent takes issue with the article's focus on funding. There's merit in what he says. All the same, I have a suggestion for that next generation corridor coach.
"GET A LIFE" ISN'T QUITE THE RIGHT REACTION. A Chicago cemetery builds an ivy-covered brick wall.

A Chicago man and Bohemian National Cemetery on the city's North Side are joining forces to build for Cubs fans a final resting place that looks a lot like the spot where they saw their dreams of a pennant die year after year.

Called "Beyond the Vines," the 24-foot long ivy-covered wall is designed to look like the one in dead center at Wrigley Field.

It's all on the drawing board now, but the wall is expected to be up and ready to accept fans in October -- just about the time Cubs fans are starting their annual mantra of "Wait till next year."

The design for the memorial is, well, not exactly bohemian, let alone Bohemian. Thirteenth Generation crude is more like it.

There will be a stained-glass scoreboard. And at each of the 280 niches in the wall -- "eternal skyboxes, that's what we call them," he says -- there will be an urn emblazoned with the Cubs logo.

Near each urn will be a bronze baseball card with a photograph of the deceased fan who, Mascari said, depending on the wishes of the family can be dressed up in a Cubs hat, Cubs jersey or full Cubs uniform. It could also include the dead fan's 'statistics' such as date of birth, date of death, and maybe their favorite Cubs game and favorite Cub.

There's even talk of piping in Cubs games on speakers so nobody, living or dead, will miss an inning. Not only that, but if this idea appeals to more than 280 Cubs fans, the cemetery has set aside enough land to add a right-field wall and a left-field wall.

Cub fans have a somewhat higher propensity to take their loyalties beyond this life.

If this sounds, well, crazy, urns with the logo of the Cubs and other sports teams are already on the market and the maker of those urns -- Eternal Image -- says last year that Cubs urns accounted for 10 percent of their Major League urn sales.

And nobody who saw survivors of dead Cubs fans bring photographs to the 2003 playoffs will forget the sight of them trudging home, pictures under their arms, after the Cubs once again failed to reach the World Series.

Besides, Cubs fans have for years been scattering ashes of loved ones at Wrigley Field -- a tradition immortalized by the late singer-songwriter Steve Goodman, in whose "A Dying Cub Fan's Last Request" an old man asks his own family to do just that at the "ivy-covered burial ground." Those ashes include some of Goodman's, scattered there by family and friends a year after his death.

No word from the cemetery on whether there will be Old Style (G. Heileman Brewing, Milwaukee, Wisconsin) on tap, or from the Devil on whether time spent on earth as a Cub fan can be credited against purgatory.
BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU ASK FOR. Sometimes mocking the earnest is the most effective approach. For example, the "To Be Governed" section of the March-April 2008 Cato Policy Report (.PDF) quotes Senator McCain's inclusive call to "independents, Libertarians, vegetarians, Trotskyites" under the headline TROTSKYITES PREFER TO BE CALLED NEOCONSERVATIVES, and reacts to a report on women in politics in Rwanda, Vietnam, and Cuba with ALL THOSE WHO'D LIKE TO LIVE IN RWANDA, CUBA, OR VIETNAM, RAISE YOUR HANDS. There's no shortage of material for Cato, or for any other policy report of any other point of view.

18.7.08

SOMETHING ELSE WE DON'T HAVE IN MOSCOW. That's a crack Omar Sharif as Dr. Zhivago makes when some Loyal Soviet Official asks him to diagnose a comrade. That happened frequently in those days. In the off-the-scale paranoid final years of Stalin, non-acknowledgment of things not consistent with the workers' paradise is standard operating procedure. Thus Child 44. A serial child-killer might be riding the rails from the steps of Odessa to the steppes of Central Asia. An investigator gets into trouble with his superiors by treating that possibility as a working hypothesis. Because the object of Book Review No. 27 is a mystery, that's as much as I dare reveal. I did read it very quickly, and it's not going directly to the Half Price Books pile.

(Cross-posted to 50 Book Challenge).
REHABILITATING AMFLEET. William Polley recommends the Kansas City, er, Illinois Zephyr, and the American Royal, or is it the Carl Sandburg? He's not alone in Everywhere West country. Senator Durbin has asked Amtrak president Alex Kummant for some more seats.
Durbin asked Kummant to bring five rail cars to Illinois to add capacity to those routes, as well as ones between Chicago and St. Louis and Chicago and Carbondale. Kummant has agreed to have five rail cars rehabilitated and ready for immediate use on the routes by the end of this year.
Five cars, to be pulled from the dead line at Wilmington, Delaware, or perhaps Beech Grove, Indiana, and put back in shape for probably seventy seats each on the Quincy and Carbondale trains and one St. Louis trip. We're a long way from spare commuter cars available for weekend excursions to Wisconsin Dells or that huge fleet of Pullman 12 & 1s that once hauled rich retirees to and from Florida each winter and rich kids to and from summah camp in Maine.

A related article notes intermodal developments at Galesburg.

Those Amfleet cars to be rehabilitated are thirtysomethings. Amtrak bought them to replace thirtysomething stainless steel cars built in that period of optimism about passenger trains immediately after World War II.

It's time for some new coaches for Amtrak. My vote is for those Alaskan latter-day American Flyer cars.

I hope to have pictures of some slightly smaller traditional American Flyers and 12 & 1s running by Christmas.
THE NATURE OF SCHOOL CHOICE, as explained at Atlantic Blog.
Vouchers are too big a danger not only to the teachers unions (of which the Democratic Party is a wholly owned subsidiary), but to a bipartisan coalition of well off people. Whatever would happen to their property values if their schools ceased to be the exclusive property of their wealthy suburbs and became open to just anyone?
A Scitovsky compensation in which residents of such districts receive compensation from poorer people allowed access to their schools by the voucher is a tough sell. Mortgage qualification standards thus become the method by which people act on their school choices.

17.7.08

WHAT AMTRAK INHERITED. Rising gasoline prices have stimulated ridership, prompting strengthened formations and higher fares.
"We believe the largest single reason is that people want to avoid the higher cost of driving their own vehicle," said Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari. "People are looking for options."

On the Hiawatha route, which includes seven trains from Chicago to Milwaukee daily and carries a large number of business travelers, ridership is up 22 percent, to 528,335. It rose 40 percent in June alone. The adult fare to Milwaukee is now $22 each way.

Amtrak added a 70-seat coach to the Milwaukee trains last year, but Magliari said: "These trains can be very full, and because the seats are unreserved there can be times when passengers have to stand."

Though the $22 fare to Milwaukee is more than most drivers would pay for gas, he said, the total driving cost is higher because of tolls, parking and wear on a vehicle.
There are many rail passengers and passenger rail advocates whose only knowledge of passenger service is Amtrak. From Journey to Amtrak, this map on page 8 depicts the network the day before Amtrak. Note three different ways to get from Denver to Chicago, two different ways to get from Denver to Kansas City, two different ways to get from Chicago to Detroit, and the network of Florida service.


There are a few oddities. There was train service to Winnipeg, but with a change of trains at Crookston Passenger Station. (I don't remember if that was a Burlington Northern tax protest. The carrier set up a number of stations in freight yards, outside city limits, to avoid union terminal switching charges and city property taxes.) The Green Bay to Ashland train made its last run on January 3, 1971 and was protected by a bus thereafter. The coast route Milwaukee to Green Bay to Menominee, Michigan was a Sunday only service. (I have been through numerous Chicago and North Western timetables and Official Guide listings and still don't understand where that schedule came from.) Some of the Nebraska and Wyoming service, as well as that twig east of Atlanta, was in mixed trains (a coach sometimes up front, sometimes doubling as caboose.) Note also the Baltimore to Buffalo service.

Don't be fooled by the network of service in Ohio and Indiana. Much of that was Penn Central coach-only service, which one author of the era characterized as "grubby one-coach-and-a-flexi-van" trains. What the map doesn't illustrate is what had already gone. At one time there was an extensive service, offered by the likes of Rock Island and Frisco and Missouri-Kansas-Texas and Burlington and Missouri Pacific linking Kansas City and St. Louis to Texas and Oklahoma points as well as to Memphis and Birmingham and New Orleans, and a Front Range service from Denver to Texas points including Dallas and Houston. These areas, which were not thickly settled in those pre-air-conditioning days, offered scant support for passenger trains. We now know much of that territory as the Sun Belt, but the railroad tradition might well be prehistory.
THE RETURN OF THE BOWLING ALLEY CAR. The Chicago Transit Authority is using an old method of dealing with additional riders.


Under an experiment announced Wednesday, the Chicago Transit Authority plans to remove all the seats on some cars of rush-hour trains to jam in more riders who otherwise would be left behind on crowded rail platforms.

There's nothing new in this, as these photos from Chicago's Rapid Transit, Volume I, page 138 illustrate. These are the Metropolitan West Side's 2756-2781 of 1898-1899 construction, with the exterior of 2766 as rebuilt and the interior of 2756 as built with walkover seats and as rebuilt with more standee straps and longitudinal seating. (What happened to the Logan Square Vaudeville Theater? Horlick's Malted Milk is still available.)


The more things change.
Up to about 90 riders can sit or stand in each car on most standard CTA trains. By yanking out seats and eliminating the aisle, an additional 25 to 50 passengers could be crammed into each car, officials estimated.
The change illustrates a number of problems, some good, some not so good.
"I usually carry my laptop, and when I can't put it down, my back hurts," said Brown Line rider Abigail Szymonik, 29, at the State/Lake station.
It won't get any easier as you get older, toots.
But the reasons behind the change signal good news for the CTA: ridership is up, due in large part to soaring gasoline prices. But the extra fares from carrying more riders don't begin to cover the transit agency's operating costs, said CTA chairwoman Carole Brown.
The article notes that a new, unfunded state mandate to transport senior citizens at no charge has boosted ridership without revenues. The Legislature's failure to pass a capital spending bill also hampers the carrier.
In addition, the CTA cannot buy all the new rail cars it needs until the state comes through with new capital funding for transit, [Brown] said.
That legislative impasse has also put renovation of the Stevens Building and the modifications to Cole Hall on hold.

The carrier's reduced-seating plan might be a throwback to the Frank J. Sprague, Charles Tyson Yerkes era, but authority president Ron Huberman does not intend to import Asian notions of crush-loading.

The CTA began considering alternative seating several years ago when it tested a train car with more center-facing seats.

About 400 rail cars being built for the CTA will have some aisle-facing seats. They are set for delivery in 2010.

How far the experiment goes will depend on customer response, said Huberman, whose solution is a tacit nod to Japan's strategy for handling commuter congestion.

In Tokyo, uniformed "subway pushers" cram people inside overcrowded trains. The workers, called oshiya, or pushers, are assigned to every downtown station. Even when the rail cars seem full, the oshiya aggressively stuff additional passengers through the doors.

Huberman assured CTA riders that he is not looking to Asia or the Third World for ideas. He said CTA customers won't be asked to ride on the roofs of trains, as riders frequently do in India.

With overhead wire gone from the Evanston and Skokie lines, train surfing would not expose riders to the risks those Indian (and Brazilian) riders routinely run.
BUN SEED SESAME A ON ONIONS PICKLES CHEESE LETTUCE. McDonald's have asked customers to augment their own Big Mac repositioning efforts, as part of the 40th birthday of the Big Mac. (Does it surprise anyone that the sandwich is entering middle age about the same time the Thirteenth Generation is?)

The official reason is this year's 40th anniversary of the Big Mac, but the then-and-now cultural similarities are not entirely lost on the company.

"That might be coincidental—unhappily, maybe, but coincidental," said Marlena Peleo-Lazar, chief creative officer for McDonald's U.S.A. The contest, she said, was dreamed up in the spirit of summer fun and the hamburger's birthday. "Big Mac is just an iconic product for us, and it is a customer favorite," she said.

Of course, there are huge differences between today's world and the one that existed when the jingle first appeared. In 1974, people were busy following President Richard M. Nixon's downfall and tracking whether it was an odd- or an even-numbered day, when gas-buying was restricted based on license plates.

The article notes there is no cash prize for the winner, and that "the majority of the entries are hip-hop." More evidence that either Middle America or McDonald's have drifted?

SAUCE SPECIAL PATTIES BEEF ALL TWO.
ON THE LIGHTER SIDE. My little sister, China. (Via Greg Mankiw)
IF YOU'RE SO SMART, WHY AREN'T YOU RICH? The full economic significance of this question is elaborated here. Michael Giberson of Knowledge Problem applies the underlying principle in reacting to The Latest From The Best and The Brightest Bipartisans.
The letter purports to advise us of a "long-term energy crisis", i.e., they believe they can foresee the energy economy over the next many years and know something about the steps that should be taken to better prepare us for the future that they can foresee. My question is where were these foresighted individuals five years ago? Did they see $140 plus oil? Did they forecast $4/gallon gasoline? If not, should we believe them now? (If yes, then maybe I should shut up.)
Here's the Energy Information Administration's Annual Energy Outlook for 2007.
The AEO2007 reference case remains optimistic about the long-term supply potential of non-OPEC producers. In the reference case, increased non-OPEC and OPEC supplies are expected to cause a price decline from 2006 levels to under $50 per barrel (2005 dollars) in 2014. After that, a gradual rise in oil prices, averaging 1.1 percent per year in constant dollar terms or about 3.0 percent in nominal terms, is expected through 2030. The AEO2007 reference case world oil price in 2030 is $59 per barrel in 2005 dollars, or about $95 per barrel in nominal terms.
With a disclaimer.
Any long-term projection of world oil prices is highly uncertain. Above-ground factors that contribute to price uncertainty include the extent of access to oil resources, investment constraints, the economic and other objectives of countries where major reserves and resources are located, the cost and availability of substitutes, and economic and policy developments that affect the demand for oil. Below-ground factors contributing to oil price uncertainty include the extent of reserves and resources and the physical and engineering challenges of producing oil.
Is anyone aware of these Great Experts lending money for oil exploration, or for wind farms?
TRAIN THEM UP IN THE RIGHT WAY. An American Thinker essay calls out sloppy carriage.
Not too long ago the unshaven look became the norm. Now, multiple face piercings are a plus in some industries (albeit not in the industries involving electrical work). The simple civility of showing respect to others by respecting your appearance - which has been replaced by so-called "fashion" - has been lost. Apparently the need has arisen for our populace to express themselves by how closely they can mimic the homeless.
The balance of the column is this evening's ETTS(*) moment.

Critical Mass recommends an American Conservative article urging the redemption of the dinner hour.
Renewing the culinary culture, and restoring the kinds of values that are necessary for the proper functioning of a healthy republic, is not the sort of thing that can be left to activists, environmentalists, and government bureaucrats. This is a conservative cause if ever there was one, and it is going to have to begin at home. The revolution is coming. And it’s sure to be delicious.
Dressing properly and eating properly transcend ideologies. Comb your hair. Tuck in your shirt. Sit up straight. Don't be a Noise with Legs.
THE LIMITS ON CONSUMER SOVEREIGNTY. An Easily Distracted meditation, "The Manufacture of Culture," seeks the deeper significance in a spat between a disgruntled coffee drinker and the owner of the coffee house. The disgruntled customer makes his discontent clear.

Maybe condescending service from a patronizing millenial at a DC coffee shop isn’t news to anyone else. But the only way I’m ever coming back to Murky Coffee in Arlington is if I’m carrying matches and a can of kerosene.

I just ordered my usual summertime pick-me-up: a triple shot of espresso dumped over ice. And the guy at the counter looked me in the eye with a straight face and said “I’m sorry, we can’t serve iced espresso here. It’s against our policy.”

It gets testier from there.

The owner responds.

I suppose some sort of two-cents is warranted here.

Okay, we don't do espresso over ice. Why? Number one, because we don't do it. Number two, because we don't do it. Mostly for quality reasons. Also, because more than half the time, it's abused (Google "ghetto latte").

We have some policies at murky coffee. No sleeping in the shop. If you're asleep, you'll be tapped on the shoulder and asked not to sleep in the shop. We've had to ban a customer because of his chronic napping.

No modifications to the Classic Cappuccino. No questions will be answered about the $5 Hot Chocolate (during the months we offer it). No espresso in a to-go cup. No espresso over ice. These are our policies. We have our reasons, and we're happy to share them.

To others reading this I will say that if you don't like the policies, I respectfully recommend that you find some other place that will give you what you want, or select something that we can offer you.

In the comments, he makes clear that in his business, there are some things a customer ought not request.
Every customer is a welcome guest. But even welcome guests can overstep their bounds, and demanding that we give you something that we say that we can't or won't is overstepping your bounds for sure. I can pretty much guarantee that we spend more time and energy on making our espresso as great as can be, than anyone else in the DC area. That said, not everyone's gonna love it. Such is life. We have our standards. You're more than welcome to partake in it, and you're completely free not to. We'll keep doing our best (and that includes giving good customer service).
Put simply, "I'm paying for this coffee and I want it made this way" is not dispositive. The generalization to "I'm paying for this course and I want it taught this way" follows, albeit not directly. Randy Pausch notes (and I've seen this comparison used by others) that professor :: student is as fitness trainer :: weight loser. We, too, have our standards.

15.7.08

QUODLIBET. There is a passage in the third movement of Charles Ives's Second Symphony in which a quotation of the second movement of Johannes Brahms's First Symphony becomes something that sounds a little like God Bless America atttempting to become a fugato, followed by the "crown thy good" stanza of America the Beautiful. But the timing isn't right, with the Ives symphony a turn of the 19th-20th century composition, God Bless America premiering in 1918 with the more familiar Kate Smith version a 1938 re-release. America the Beautiful dates to 1893 and it's set to a Samuel A. Ward hymn tune of 1882. This analysis from the Yale Music Library suggests the similar-sounding Beulah Land as Ives's source. (Ives made frequent use of that tune.) I've also some work to do. The sourcing for the second movement makes no mention of When I Survey the Wondrous Cross, which makes an 1812 Overture-like appearance at the end. The musicologists apparently know that as HAMBURG.
RETHINKING PARADISE DRIVE. Professor Mankiw finds an endorsement of Pigouvian taxation in the Los Angeles Times.

Cheap gas is unfair. Driving creates huge social costs in the form of traffic, health-damaging pollution and global warming that aren't suffered solely by the person buying the gasoline. Governments usually set up idiotic systems to offset such social costs (emissions trading, ethanol subsidies, taco truck regulations) instead of forcing individuals to pay for their own mess by adding a tax to remedy the imbalance. That kind of tax -- the most fair kind, really -- is called a Pigovian tax, and its use is why gas costs $8 to $10 a gallon in Europe, where they have fewer road deaths even though they drive like complete idiots.

If the U.S. were to slowly jack up gas taxes until we're in the $8 range, life would be better. We'd not only be safer and have reduced greenhouse-gas emissions, we'd probably be happier too. Studies show that the only thing that consistently increases personal happiness is social interaction; high gas prices have led to real estate prices falling faster in suburbs and exurbs than in cities, so we may soon have more content downtown-dwellers. Those same studies show that the thing that makes people least happy is commuting, and telecommuting is way up this year. We could use the tax revenue to fund public transportation. And we'd go back to the days when driving a car was a way to show people what a rich jerk you were. In other words, we would no longer need SUVs for that.

I've sometimes floated the transportation-tax idea with people who ask me why we don't have the kinds of trains "they have in Europe." They're not talking about nodding-donkey railbusses or anemic freight trains, but I digress. I usually preface my answer with "we could have them in five years, but you're not going to like the how," and then proceed to lay out my $4 a gallon passenger train tax on gasoline.

The columnist demonstrates an awareness that the transition is unlikely to be easy.
We spent 50 years using government money to build the freeways that led to the driving-centric, mall-rat lifestyle I grew up with, so it will surely take decades more to restructure our society into something better. And as bummed as I am to pay a lot for gas, it's a fair price for improving society. I also think government should look into some kind of heavy taxation on Facebook usage.
On the other hand, a Philadelphia Daily News columnist seems positively giddy about making those transitions.

No doubt about it, there's a lot of bad news. But as the cliché has it, every cloud has a silver lining.

The high price of gasoline has done what years of dire warnings have failed to do - get Americans to change their driving habits.

Air and water pollution? Global warming? Sending our dollars to unfriendly countries and corrupt regimes? That wasn't enough to get our attention. Now that the money is coming out of our pockets, Americans are doing what environmentalists and others have been urging for years: saving energy.

The gas crisis has generated a fundamental shift in attitude. A friend recently told me she used to do errands whenever she thought of them. "Now I combine them, and map them all out so I don't drive extra miles," she said. "And I walk whenever I can. I've made it part of my exercise routine."

More cars have their windows open and the air-conditioning off, despite the heat. People are carpooling to work and school. College students who live off campus are enrolling in online classes to save on the commute. GM has stopped making the once wildly popular Hummers.

No surprise to regular readers that the Law of Demand and the Principle of Complements are in introductory economics classes for a reason. I include just a little bit of transaction costs, including adjustment costs in the mix simply to alert people that those so-easily-effected-on-the-board curve shifts do impose pain on people.

The Principle of Substitutes appears to work as well, more effectively than the imprecations of we-know-better-than-thou public servants.

"Soaring gas prices are driving some motorists to try bicycles instead," PennDOT spokeswoman Jenny Robinson confirmed.

"The agency's official mission is to reduce traffic congestion. But we don't have control over drivers' behavior," Robinson added. "Market forces are effectively accomplishing that." PennDot itself has only recently started an internal ride-share board for its employees.

SEPTA [the Philadelphia-area transit authority, which owns the closest thing to an interurban east of South Bend] ridership is up 5 percent from a year ago, with Regional Rail up 11 percent. "Those are highs we have not experienced for 25 years," said SEPTA's Felipe Suarez. Most of that growth, he said, can be attributed to gas prices.

We also have a confession of speculation, comrades.
In 2004, when my husband turned in his Lexus for a Toyota Prius, friends thought he was crazy. Now they think he was prescient - he gets more than 40 mpg! People are lining up to buy hybrid cars.
Prescient is ex-post correct speculation. Ex-post incorrect is broke. Maybe, contra our Los Angeles columnist, the dork-mobile becomes the rich-jerk mobile. (I should talk, with nearly 30 years of Rabbit or Golf ownership. Whether that is a speculation or a hedge is left to the reader as an exercise.)

The post concludes with probably the wrong lessons about public policy.

For decades, Detroit made big cars, arguing that people wanted them. Now they can't get rid of them. The automakers lobbied unsuccessfully to stop recent legislation that would have raised automobile fuel efficiency standards and lowered emissions.

We need to seize the momentum for change and invest more in public transit and the development of alternative forms of energy. Reward American innovation, not consumption.

With fuel at $1.50 a gallon, many people are going to want those land yachts. (I've had that conversation with many of my colleagues. It never had anything to do with suburban machismo.) At $4 or $5 a gallon, many people are going to want something else. But there are depressingly many commentators who would have you believe that opening the Outer Continental Shelf or the Arctic Ocean to exploration (both of which I endorse) will bring back that $1.50 a gallon unleaded regular. Unlikely. If those sources were worth developing at those lower prices, the political pressure to permit it would have been present at those lower prices. Permanently higher gasoline prices are also where the reward to innovation will come from -- not from public investments. Battery-electric cars and other technologies do not make economic sense without permanently higher gasoline prices. Perhaps at a sufficiently high gasoline price the maglev enthusiasts will look for the surveys of the Chicago-New York Electric Air Line.

(I suppose, as a pedantic note, I ought add that the purpose of all innovation is consumption. We teach the Principle of Derived Demand for a reason. And as a note on transaction costs, a Pigouvian tax on Facebook use that included a rebate to professors whenever somebody went there during a class might not be Pareto or Kaldor improving.)
I SHOULD CONSIDER SELLING CARBON OFFSETS. The Heritage Foundation weblog is not happy with proposed Environmental Protection Agency greenhouse standards, including one for lawnmowers that contemplates
“[E]ach application could require a different unit of measure tied to the machine’s mission or output– such as grams per kilogram of cuttings from a “standard” lawn for lawnmowers and grams per kilogram-meter of load lift for forklifts.”
The commentary notes,
If one considers all the non-road greenhouse gas emitting sources that need to be regulated, this would not only be a daunting task that would require a great deal of time and human capital, but it would also be very costly.
I suppose in a costless-information world, such regulation would already exist, perhaps in the form of an assignment of liability. In that costless-information world, it would be profitable for me to sell carbon offsets each time I use the battery-assisted reel mower, which is either powered by me or recharged with nuclear kilowatt-hours from Byron.

14.7.08

THE WORLD IS TOO MUCH WITH US.

For Book Review No. 26, a quick look at David Brooks's On Paradise Drive: How We Live Now (And Always Have) in the Future Tense. It overgeneralizes. It's probably overtaken by events. Start at page 3.
That means we have a huge mass of people who not only don't live in the cities, they don't commute to the cities, go to movies in the cities, or have any significant contact with urban life. They are neither rural, nor urban, nor residents of a bedroom community. They are charting a new way of living.
Perhaps that way was made possible by cheap oil, and it's unsustainable, or perhaps its current existence will influence the innovations to be induced by no-longer-cheap oil. Mr Brooks focuses on how that mass came to be.
It's as if Zeus came down and started plopping vast towns in the middle of the farmland and the desert overnight. Boom! A master planned community. Boom! A big-box mall! Boom! A rec center, pool, and four thousand soccer fields! The food courts come first, and the people follow.
His focus is on who follows, and who stays behind.
This suburban supernova subtly affects every place in America. The cities and inner-ring suburbs are affected because only certain kinds of people get left behind. Quite often the people who stay are either the very poor, because they can't afford to move, or the very rich, because they can afford to stay and live well in upscale enclaves.
And he goes exploring the new suburbs, which have the logic of Von Thünen rings. From page 5:
If you were to judge by the literature of the past century, nobody is happy in suburbia.
But driving through the suburbs, one sees the most amazing things: lesbian dentists, Iranian McMansions, Korean megachurches, nuclear-free-zone subdevelopments, Orthodox shtetls with Hasidic families walking past strip malls on their way to Saturday-morning shul.
At some point in the past decade, the suburbs went quietly berserk. As if under the influence of some bizarre form of radiation, everything got huge. The cars got huge, so heads don't even spin when a mountainous Hummer comes rolling down the street. The houses got huge. The drinks at 7-Eleven got huge, as did the fry containers at McDonald's. The stores turned into massive, sprawling category-killer megaboxes with their own climactic zones. Suburbia is no longer the land of ticky-tacky boxes on a hillside where everything looks the same. It is the land of the gargantuoids.
That's what cheap oil will do for you, and in its passing, the jumbo executive box houses (built plain so as to be $300K houses rather than $0.5m McMansions) and Hummers will sell at distress prices to the once and future poor, and McDonald's will do even more repositioning. What we may have in Paradise Drive is a look at the Thünen rings just before the party ended. From the central place, we pass through "bike-messenger land", home to the edgy and bounded by the left-behind zone of the urban poor. The next ring is the "crunchy suburbs" where the edgy with children live, the "professional zones" (better characterized as "yuppie hell?"), the "immigrant enclaves" where the maltimed traffic lights and 1950s-social-critic fodder commercial spaces remain, the "suburban core", and "the exurbs." Mr Brooks clearly specifies his focus on the middle-class and better-off segments of contemporary life, although he suggests there is not so much social division or social stratification as there is a lack of awareness about how others live. In that, his presentation differs from Paul Fussell's Class, a lamentation about Prole Drift in early 1980s life, although both works generalize extensively about how associational communities live.

But Mr Brooks's real focus, pace Wordsworth, is on the very correctness of getting and spending. Page 90:
America's image is to the world what southern California's image is to the rest of America. When many foreign observers look at America, they see the culture of Coca-Cola, McDonald's, Disney, boob jobs, Bart Simpson, and boy bands. They see a country that invented Prozac and Viagra, paper party hats, pinball machines, commercial jungles, expensive orthodontia, and competitive cheerleading.
Not that there's anything wrong with that. There's also religious belief, a "mighty Achievatron" for the raising of children, too little time to play, a great deal of effort in the promotion of products and the shopping for them, aggregating to the pursuit of a dream, or as Mr Brooks puts it, "A History of Imagination." Hence the "future tense" in the subtitle. Whether that imagination will adapt to the new energy realities or the coming due of contingent liabilities remains to be seen. Wordsworth would probably see those McMansions and Hummers as laying waste our powers. Mr Brooks would likely envision a new manifestation of Zeus, or perhaps a new kind of radiation, at work.

(Cross-posted to 50 Book Challenge).
PROVOCATION OF THE DAY. Pajamas Media's Helen Smith deals with a question from a never-married man who finds the questions some married women ask odd.
Finally, the single man might look like he is having too much damn fun. If other men see this as a possibility — that a single life is a good one — they might not need women so desperately and women who count on sexuality as power over men won’t have as much to work with: if men don’t care if they have a woman or not, they can’t be controlled and/or manipulated as well.
That's intriguing, as an observation by a woman. She continues,

In conclusion, as long as a single man is miserable or looking desperately for Ms. Right, he is not seen as a threat, but merely an example of what could happen to a man who is not lucky enough to be hooked up with a good woman. But if single men are happy with their lot, not looking for any one woman and maneuvering their life fine on their own, they might cause trouble for those married women who need men to want women more than anything else. If men can make it on their own, the power these women wield will be limited and their own husband may wonder what he is missing out on. Or perhaps it is as simple as “misery loves company.” Maybe the married woman is miserable herself and wants others to join her. Why should others be having a good time when she is not?

So Jim, I would suggest you keep doing what makes you happy and not worry too much about what married women (or men!) think about your status. A simple, “I love being single” might suffice in response to being questioned — you don’t owe anyone an explanation for how you wish to live your life.

Over-analysis, perhaps, as the bull session will suggest.
THE POLICE BLOTTER. We can't expect the beachgoing Professor Soltan to keep track of all the sports crime in the Mid-American. (Although Toledo's president Lloyd Jacobs seeks to turn the academic divisions into a credentialing service, it's apparently business as usual in sports.) Red and Black Attack report Bowling Green and Kent State footballers charged with burglary. (Side note: Army joining the Mid-American? Does that mean Northern Illinois can't use our howitzer any more?)
YOU MIGHT BE A SPECULATOR. Market Power's Phil Miller does an excellent riff on Jeff Foxworthy. Meanwhile, airline presidents (also major recipients of corporate welfare) have sent e-mails to their frequent flyers inviting them to write Congress seeking redress from, you guessed it, oil speculators. Division of Labour's Robert Lawson offers a pungent reply (aw, NUTS! already having been used) while Organization and Market's Dick Langlois suggests the airline presidents' thinking is anachronistic but not creative.
Apparently, fear of secretive foreigners plays as well in the age of The Da Vinci Code as it did in the age of da Vinci. I invite you to do what I did: use their system to send a message contrary to what the airlines wish you to say.
He posted a suggested riposte.
SAYING NO TO CORPORATE WELFARE. The motive of a railroader pointing out the negative benefit-cost ratio of highway spending does not make the ratio less negative.

In a statement by Edward Hamberger, President and CEO of Association of American Railroads and Richard F. Timmons, President of American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association, on proposals to increase truck size and weight limits, both presidents said they were opposed to increases.

“According to the U.S. Department of Transportation,” the statement continued, “trucks weighing over 80,000 pounds pay only about half of their highway cost responsibility. Longer and heavier trucks — unless accompanied by sharp increases in taxes — would exacerbate this inequity and, based on a U.S. Department of Transportation study, divert between 100 and 225 million tons of freight annually from rail to highways.”

In addition, by moving this much additional freight by highway, the service would require the consumption of between 500 million and 1.1 billion additional gallons of diesel fuel, producing 1.6 to 3.8 million tons of additional pollutants and 5.6 to 12.3 million tons of additional carbon dioxide each year.

Diverting these volumes to highways would also increase traffic congestion, cause highways and bridges to deteriorate more rapidly, and make it more difficult for railroads to invest the money needed to expand the capacity of the nation’s freight rail network, given the subsidy to larger trucks.

Note that "deteriorate more rapidly." The existing trucks are pounding the interstates to pieces, and, where tolls are in place, their uneconomic bypass of the toll roads is wrecking the state and U.S. highways.

12.7.08

OPUS POSTHUMOUS. Sometimes a doctoral dissertation enjoys commercial success. In the early 1960s, O. Edward Cunningham submitted to the faculty of Louisiana State University a careful reading of primary sources participating in the 1862 western rivers campaign. Recently his colleagues Gary D. Joiner and Timothy B. Smith made some amendments to the record and had it commercially published as Shiloh and the Western Campaign of 1862. I have long maintained that the Western armies determined the outcome of the Rebellion by early 1863. Shiloh offers much evidence that can be interpreted in that way, although author Cunningham makes no such claim. Book Review No. 25 commends this work to any student of the Civil War. It reads quite well, particularly given its origins as a doctoral dissertation, and, as an Amazon reviewer noted, the footnotes are footnotes, with Joiner and Smith's additions properly identified. The dissertation has long been known to the staff at the National Battlefield Park, and the editors give as their reason to publish it its originality, both as a piece of research in which the author made extensive use of primary sources including war letters, diaries, and regimental histories, as well as his own walking of the battlefield. (There is a quip about the industrial economist being someone who has never been on a factory floor, perhaps there is something parallel about the military historian. As someone with extensive factory floor experience, both as paid labor and as guest, I liked this guy even before I got into the book). The research is also original in its interpretation of events at Shiloh. The maps are also very good. (That's another of my gripes. Many military history books have maps with all the right unit symbols but little geographic context. The unit symbols in Shiloh are idiosyncratic, but the geographic context is good, although it helps that I have also walked that battlefield.)

The book offers a lot of detail, without being overwhelming. One is at the headquarters and in the trenches. There is analysis of the plans and counter-plans (including, on the Union side, the errors of Genls Sherman, Grant, and Lew Wallace, and on the Rebel side, the possible excess optimism of Genl Beauregard. We could do with fewer references to "the Creole." Small gripe.) There is also the incident in which Major John Wesley Powell (as in Grand Canyon expedition and Lake Powell) has his arm shot off, and the scared rabbit that decides an entrenched soldier is the best cover during one of the bombardments.

That this dissertation is successful and readable is in part reason that subsequent dissertations might be obscure and recondite. Once an Edward Cunningham has done the original pass through the primary sources to put together an analysis of the campaign and the battle, subsequent historians working with those sources will have to make some other use of them, such as attempting to uncover racist attitudes (or not) on the part of Union (or rebel, not necessarily respectively) soldiers or evidence of adultery or attitudes of false consciousness, or with a slightly different Zeitgeist, evolution of religious belief.


(Cross-posted to 50 Book Challenge).
CORPORATE WELFARE IS NOT A RIGHT. Rising fuel prices have provoked truckers' protests in a number of places. One such protest took place in the United States. A commentary notes that independent truckers are themselves speculators.

Each owner-operator makes his own truck payments and buys his own fuel. No large corporate entity is available to support these drivers.

While their truck payments are fixed by purchase contracts, their fuel costs are not. Many truckers have fixed carrier contracts. Most will have provisions for cost of fuel increases; others will be hard pressed to survive.

A "fixed carrier contract" secures work for a truck owner. It is, however, a speculation that the price of fuel will not increase (if it decreases, the owner-speculator profits by it.) The commentary makes no mention of who buys the right of way. Perhaps truckers in Nigeria, South Korea, and Spain, where price protests recently took place, also are asking for relief from their erroneous speculations.

Apparently truck operators take the provision of their rights-of-way by others as an entitlement, if this news from India is representative.
Union leaders say millions of truck drivers have gone on strike across India to protest rising fuel prices and road tolls, in a move that could paralyze much of the Indian economy.
Nothing focuses the mind quite like being taken off the dole.
The All India Motor Transport Congress represents 4.8 million truckers. It is demanding lower taxes on diesel and the repeal of a recent hike in toll road fees, which they say are eliminating profits.
There is no discussion of the effect of truck weight on Indian roads in the article.

The Trotskyite World Socialist Web Site expresses its solidarity with the petty bourgeoisie of New Zealand.
On Friday, July 4, some 4,400 truck drivers across New Zealand took part in a mass protest over the rising cost of diesel fuel and increased road user charges for heavy vehicles. Truck convoys descended on all major centres during early morning peak-hour traffic, with an estimated 2,000 in Auckland, and hundreds in Whangarei, Tauranga, Hamilton, Rotorua, Wellington, Nelson, Christchurch, Dunedin and Invercargill. Drivers also turned out to protest in many smaller towns.
There's the expected discussion of the bourgeois state taking benefits away from the working class, but no discussion of the effect of truck weight on New Zealand roads.

The national action was organised in less than three days in response to the Labour government’s decision to increase RUCs overnight after it had previously agreed to a month’s notice. [Transport Minister Annette] King labelled the protest “outrageous” while remaining silent on the massive fuel costs faced by the drivers. At the same time, she justified the government’s increase by insisting that drivers pay “their fair share” toward the upkeep of the country’s roads.

For ordinary people around the country the protest tapped into a deep reservoir of popular resentment against the Labour government which, after nine years in office, is presiding over devastating attacks on the conditions of daily life.

A commentary from Radio Netherlands (in English) offers a roundup of additional fuel-price protests as well as sensible observations.
ABSORBING BARRIERS. Fortune does a business history of Tesla Motors. The story vindicates the Hotelling principle of exhaustible resources in that a backstop technology requires a permanently higher price for the resource being exhausted.

That the Tesla exists at all is a small miracle. For car geeks it has long seemed that electric vehicles are the car of the future - and always will be. First tinkered with in the 1800s, the electric vehicle (or EV) had its fate sealed with the invention by 1900 of the internal-combustion engine, which was cheaper and could travel much farther than any battery-powered model. There was another flurry of EV development during the energy crisis of the 1970s, and again in the early '90s because of a series of regulatory guidelines governing emissions. But by the late '90s, California had defanged the electric-vehicle portion of its zero-emissions mandate and soon after, GM (GM, Fortune 500), Toyota (TM), Honda (HMC), and Ford (F, Fortune 500) all shut down their EV programs. The most dramatic end would come for GM's EV1, when the Detroit automaker famously ripped the cars away from ecstatic owners and sent them to the crusher, as detailed in the film Who Killed the Electric Car?

That backdrop makes the story of the Tesla all the more remarkable. The car was conceived by Eberhard, an engineer, serial entrepreneur, and inventor (his name is on battery-cooling, electric motor, and power electronics patents filed by Tesla Motors). He was convinced that if he could outfit an existing sports car chassis with loads of laptop batteries, it would be feasible to build and he'd find plenty of buyers among the speed-loving, planet-conscious Silicon Valley set and beyond. But given that he had zero experience in the auto world and that gas was at a relatively cheap $1.50 a gallon, Eberhard, 48, couldn't find a VC firm willing to give him enough to build the car.

That $1.50 a gallon in the late '90s is not relatively cheap, in constant dollars that is all-time cheap. Although the prototype cars of the 1970s might have gone to the junker, the research notes did not go to the memory hole. Permanently higher gasoline prices, however, are a precondition to commercial development of electric vehicles.

Sometimes, it helps to offer a product that appeals to early adopters despite higher first cost and higher operating cost.

Driving the streets of Palo Alto that year, [project engineer Martin Eberhard] began to notice that the same driveways that held a Prius (or "dork mobile," as he liked to call it) often also had a Porsche 911 or other luxury sports car.

"It was clear that people weren't buying a Prius to save money on gas - gas was selling close to inflation-adjusted all-time lows," says Eberhard, a tall, thin man with a mop of graying hair and a nervous, foot-tapping energy. "They were buying them to make a statement about the environment." So why not, he reasoned, allow this deep-pocketed clientele to make that statement driving a car that exceeded the performance of a Porsche?

I'll leave it to others to work out the sociology of inner-dork meets inner-reptile. The article goes on to study the engineering problems, one of the most serious being the heat given off by discharging batteries. That's the one surprise of my battery-assisted reel mower (that's my inner show-off showing). If I do use the battery extensively, the battery pack gets hot and it takes about two hours for it to return to ambient temperatures after use. The manual advises me not to recharge the battery pack while it is warm to the touch.

A memo to hybrid and electric car designers: build a power train that will handle a small trailer. I looked at the Priuses in 2002, while gas was still relatively cheap, but opted not to buy one when the dealer was adamant about any evidence of a trailer hitch voiding the warranty. (Apparently at least one sailboat owner he was aware of took that risk.)
YOU CAN INSTALL A BETTER WINDOW. A Mises Economics Blog post (via The American Mind) calls out a Boston Globe article that appears to rehabilitate the broken window fallacy.
"When something is destroyed you don't necessarily rebuild the same thing that you had. You might use updated technology, you might do things more efficiently. It bumps you up," says Mark Skidmore, an economics professor at Michigan State University. "Disasters help people think about things differently."
The Mises Blog rebuttal raises the usual objection.
As J. Henderson has remarked:, "Using this logic, the federal government should spur greater growth and technological development by regularly and frequently bulldozing random homes and businesses across the country."
That's not quite what the Globe article, or the research itself, suggests.
Studies have found that earthquakes in California and Alaska helped stir economic activity there, and that countries with more hurricanes and storms tend to see higher rates of growth. Some of the most recent work has found a link between disasters and subsequent innovation.

The study of the economics of disasters remains a small field, with few major papers. And skeptics charge disaster economists with oversimplifying enormously complex economic systems and seeing illusory effects that stem only from the crudeness of the available economic measuring tools.
Further into the article come the clarifications.
To critics of this line of thinking, the problem is that it is, at best, a partial picture. It ignores, they argue, the fact that the money and labor that go into post-disaster rebuilding are simply being redirected from other productive uses.

"If you're a carpenter, a trash remover, a physician, you may be made better off, but the things that those producers would have otherwise produced are not going to be produced," says Donald Boudreaux, an economics professor at George Mason University. "Over any reasonably relevant period of time, society is not made wealthier by destroying resources," he adds. If it were, "Beirut should be one of the wealthiest places in the world."

The research on longer-run effects, its supporters argue, is less vulnerable to this criticism, because the key factor is not merely new stuff but better stuff. In this model, disasters perform the economic service of clearing out outdated infrastructure to make way for more efficient replacements - Mother Nature's contribution to what the Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter famously called capitalism's "creative destruction." The economy, as it recovers, actually becomes more productive than it was before, and some economists argue that the effect can be seen decades after the disaster.
Sometimes, the replacement work simply replaces recently-done work. We saw that in Love's Park, where a tavernkeeper who recently bought a new floor has to buy another new floor. The longer-term effects are more difficult to analyze. Absent a disaster, there are two forces always at work: the option value in continuing to use existing technology, and the gain from replacing it with the newest technology. (The option value is one explanation for a business continuing to use a depreciated asset despite the availability of better replacements. It's a manifestation of economic hysteresis, a macroeconomic term of art that has since been applied to microeconomic phenomena.) During the early 1980s, a simple form of that argument offered the simplest explanation for U.S. heavy industry not replacing its factories after World War II. Thus the Japanese and the Germans had state-of-the art heavy industry courtesy of the Marshall Plan. But there had to be easier ways to replace an old factory than to pattern-bomb it.

The Skidmore and Toya article highlighted in the Globe's coverage is behind the JSTOR wall at Economic Inquiry. Here's the abstract.
In this article, we investigate the long-run relationships among disasters, capital accumulation, total factor productivity, and economic growth. The cross-country empirical analysis demonstrates that higher frequencies of climatic disasters are correlated with higher rates of human capital accumulation, increases in total factor productivity, and economic growth. Though disaster risk reduces the expected rate of return to physical capital, risk also serves to increase the relative return to human capital. Thus, physical capital investment may fall, but there is also a substitution toward human capital investment. Disasters also provide the impetus to update the capital stock and adopt new technologies, leading to improvements in total factor productivity. Copyright 2002, Oxford University Press.
No mention of economic hysteresis, and incomplete analysis of regression to the mean. Developing countries are likely to grow more rapidly than developed countries, disasters or not, because they have been spared much of the cost of identifying the proper first-generation technologies.
GET TO THE HEART OF THE MATTER. A Chronicle of Higher Education column on faculty infighting elicits a to-the-point summation from Tightly Wound.
Again, an entertaining article, partly because of the unintentional humor provided by an english professor taking 20 paragraphs to say "the battles are so fierce because the stakes are so low." Hee.
Hee.
MANY HOMERS BEFORE HOMER. Thus does a colleague characterize the origins of the legends of Mediterranean antiquity. Thus, also, with the Serenity Prayer.
For more than 70 years, the composer of the prayer was thought to be the Protestant theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, one of modern Christianity's most towering figures. Niebuhr, who died in 1971, said he was quite sure he had written it, and his wife, Ursula, also a prominent theologian, dated its composition to the early 1940s.
The pastor well might have written one version down, but there's an older oral tradition.

Now, a law librarian at Yale, using new databases of archival documents, has found newspaper clippings and a book from as far back as 1936 that quote close versions of the prayer. The quotes are from civic leaders all over the United States — a YWCA leader in Syracuse, N.Y., a public school counselor in Oklahoma City — and are always, interestingly, by women.

Some of them refer to the prayer as if it were a proverb, while others appear to claim it as their own poetry. None of them attribute the prayer to a particular source. And they never mention Reinhold Niebuhr.

An article about the mystery of the prayer, by Fred R. Shapiro, associate library director and lecturer at Yale Law School, who edited "The Yale Book of Quotations," will be published next week in the Yale Alumni Magazine, an independent bimonthly publication. It will be followed by a rebuttal from [Revd Niebuhr's daughter Elisabeth] Sifton.

The prayer is part of Alcoholics Anonymous work. Their site includes a history alluding to the existence of those other Homers.