31.7.13

LET'S RECLAIM THE CULTURE.

Gawker columnist Cord Jefferson used coverage of Surfers Gone Wild in Huntington Beach, California, to demonstrate the absurdity of racial profiling by being absurd.
A frightening and violent mob swept through the normally quiet seaside community of Huntington Beach last night following a surfing competition in the area. Businesses were vandalized and looted, portable toilets overturned, and brutal fistfights waged right out in the open. It was an ugly display and a sad day for California. But more than that, it was a reminder that we must begin to seriously consider the values of our thuggish white youth.
Where he gets deeper into parody, he's genuinely onto something.
White-on-white violence is a menace to white communities across the country, and yet you never hear white leaders like Pastor Joel Osteen, Bill O'Reilly, or Hillary Clinton take a firm stance against the scourge.

More important than white politicians are the white parents. I'd like to ask the caregivers of the children in these videos what they've been doing. When did so many white parents fall asleep at the wheel? You can complain about poor schools all you'd like, but the fact of the matter is that it's the parents of these children who are letting them leave the house looking like slobs in their baggy board shorts and Hollister t-shirts. It's the parents of these kids who are letting them listen to violent, self-destructive trash like "Anarchy in the UK" or "Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue"—performed loudly by noted conservative rocker Johnny Ramone.

As I said, I know a lot of whites don't want to hear this kind of tough talk. But as an American of color who considers himself an ally to the white community, I'm just tired of seeing young, belligerent white people disgrace themselves year after year at surfing events, horse racing infields, and Ivy League campuses. Whites in America have been out from under their European ancestors' boot heels for centuries; California specifically outlawed preferences for nonwhites in state hiring and education nearly two decades ago. So being "oppressed" is no longer an excuse for behavior like this. How long must we wait for the white community to get its act together?
I found out about this column by way of Chris Hayes, who ran with it on his evening show on Nation TV.
"You probably haven't heard much about the white riot in Huntington Beach," Hayes began. "That's because the story of white criminal culture is not a story the mainstream media will tell you. But once you scratch the surface, these stories are everywhere you look."

Hayes and Jefferson engaged in a back-and-forth that parodied several tired tropes that surface when talking heads discuss race on TV.

"There are people that are going to tell you that ... this has nothing to do with white people, it's just a few bad apples. What do you say to that?" Hayes asked.

"To that I say that if that's your actual belief then you're living with your head in the sand," Jefferson said. "I used to live in New York City and would occassionally go to Hoboken, New Jersey's St. Patrick's Day parade, and there were so many young white men there vomiting in the streets, urinating in the streets, getting in fistfights in the streets. It was a sight to be seen."
Mr Hayes ended his segment, which is available for viewing at Huffington Post, with a public service announcement along the lines of "don't rely on comfortable stereotypes."  Fair enough, even Nation TV can't be all earnest chin-pulling and metrofexual snobbery all the time.  Addicting Info's Egberto Willies takes a useful first step into the social science.
There is a systemic class and race problem. An economic system is marginalizing many leaving them without hope and outlet. Violence is generally an outcome of that irrespective of race. Minorities are disproportionately jailed or given harsher sentencing by the justice system, which has a direct effect on that family’s economy. Minorities still face discrimination in hiring whether for the job proper or wages. This furthers the generational down spiral.
Yes, and Mr Jefferson has only scratched the surface calling out white parents falling asleep at the wheel.  The Huntington Beach riot included more than a little footage of the diversity of Pacific Rim lumpenproletariat acting out; the more racialized version of thuggish white youth being Britain's Yob Nation, or any weekend at a college fraternity.  He missed the chance to call out Jersey Shore and similar celebrations of lumpenproletariat white folks behaving badly.  Or perhaps to ask whether the Zeitgeist is marginalizing all males (not just blacks or whites) by viewing them as thuggish per se.

Perhaps it is up to Mr Hayes and Mr Jefferson and others of their birth cohort to rediscover the older notions of propriety and of perversity.

THE FACULTY MUST TAKE RESPONSIBILITY.

Professor DeLong grasps the massive open online course with a six-dimensional taxonomy.
Groups (1), (3), and (5) regard the students as their enemies--or at best as their cash cows. Groups (2), (4), and (6) do not. And as I understand the lay of the land, it is groups (2), (4), and (6) that are going to drive higher education policy. The question is whether group (2) will convince groups (4) and (6) that MOOCs and their ilk as implemented by their administrators are a disaster and must be fought, or whether groups (4) and (6) will convince group (2) that with proper adult supervision administrators can be trusted to do the boring and mind-numbing committee work needed to make this thing success.

I'm betting on groups (4) and (6) myself.
Read the entire post. Groups four and six are faculty generally, or in enrollment-impacted disciplines that don't have massive reserve armies of unemployed Ph.D.s to be hired as post-graduate teaching assistants to the online broadcast professors.  Part of the proper adult supervision, however, is a few faculty members willing to participate in the mind-numbing committees, even going so far as to insist that standing curriculum committees meeting during the academic year, rather than administrative task forces sneaking things in during the summer research period, have final approval over online course offerings, catalog language, and content.

BLAME THE MELTING POLAR ICE CAP.

Lakes Michigan and Huron, which, if viewed as a single body of water, constitute the largest freshwater lake in the world, have been receding in such a way as to leave formerly waterfront property in Georgian Bay and other poverty pockets high and dry.

Climate change is at work.
The rock-solid plug that had kept Lakes Michigan and Huron in place for thousands of years had been turned to mush.

The Army Corps acknowledged that something was amiss, pointing to the relative surface levels between Michigan-Huron and Lake Erie.

Because the two systems are connected, when Michigan-Huron drops, downstream Lake Erie historically dropped similarly. But in recent decades the approximately nine-foot difference in "head" between the two had been shrinking — by as much as a foot, according to the Georgian Bay study. This meant Michigan-Huron and Erie's levels were getting closer.

Other explanations for the shrinking difference between the two systems include shifting weather patterns that sent increased precipitation over Lake Erie, as well as the ongoing, uneven rebound of the earth's crust from the last ice age; the land under the Georgian Bay region is rising in relation to areas to the south.
But attempts to make the St. Clair River shipping channel more productive, and seawalls installed by well-to-do Michiganders building their North Shore estates well north of Detroit have contributed to the problem.  Meanwhile, your tax dollars paid for a scale model of the basin, in order to test a fix that would have put an end to the river scouring the channel bottom, possibly replenishing aquifers far below.  That project was abandoned during an episode of high water in the late 1960s and early 1970s (Milwaukeeans with long memories might recall the kerfuffle over a Hoan Bridge engineered for mean water level becoming too close to the lake for the tallest lakers to get under it.)

During a period of historically low interest rates, a project to restore the channel bottom might make economic sense.  Political sense, less so.
Lana Pollack, the U.S. chairman of the Joint Commission, declined to sign the letter from her commission recommending that the governments explore what it will take to bring lake levels up and instead wrote a dissent arguing that a St. Clair restoration offers only "false hope."

She fears the project will detract the public's attention from what she sees as the real issue — climate change causing increased evaporation. Her husband is Henry Pollack, a University of Michigan scientist and member of the team of climate researchers who shared a 2007 Nobel Prize with former Vice President Al Gore.

While Pollack's fellow commissioners have recommended exploring a system that could allow more water to leave Michigan and Huron in wet years, she said the big lakes are so slow to respond to long-term weather patterns that predicting when to let that water go or when to hold it back could prove impossible.

"Some of the very same people who deny the reality of climate change being caused by our energy choices are the same people who say, 'We want you to fix this,'" Lana Pollack said. "So on the one hand they say mankind is too small to impact Mother Nature — that forces of nature are much stronger than the impacts of man. Yet they somehow turn around and say, 'OK, governments: Put a plug in — engineer something, dredge something, dig out, blow up, modify.' They don't think man is too weak to engineer a fix, but they somehow say we're not responsible for the cause."

University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee meteorologist Paul Roebber agrees controlling flows out the St. Clair could be a complex job, but he believes it is one worth exploring, especially in an era when he expects increased evaporation and precipitation cycles to bring unprecedentedly big swings in water levels.

Roebber isn't worried about preserving fluctuations essential to wetlands health.

"It's unlikely to me that the problem is really going to be that we won't have variability in lake levels," he said. "It will be that we still have too much."
Summer weather patterns appear to be more static than they used to be, most recently with Georgia and Tennessee on the brink of a border dispute over a reservoir this spring, and this summer suffering with too much rain for the peaches, peanuts, and pecans.

VALUE FOR MONEY?

A service called Affordable College Online has done some sort of return on investment calculation for better-known colleges and universities.  In Illinois, Northern Illinois University publicists like what they see.
NIU offered the third-best return on investment among all public universities in the state, and ranked 10th overall when private institutions were included. According to the authors, the average graduate from Northern Illinois University will earn about $600,000 more over the course of his or her career than an individual without a degree.
I'm not able to slide-rule the supporting numbers this afternoon, and lifetime earnings unadjusted for time of entry to workforce and profile from first hire to ultimate promotions have all sorts of potential for abuse.  The good news is that headquarters wants everyone to stay focused.
“We will be examining all of our programs to ensure that our students are not only getting the best technical skills we can impart to them, but also are developing the critical thinking and problem solving skills that will help them become leaders in business, in industry and in their communities,” [new president Douglas] Baker said.

“Ultimately,” he added, “our goal is to not only increase the return on investment our students reap in terms of dollars and cents, but also to make them better leaders and citizens.”
"Critical thinking and problem solving" are not politically correct shibboleths. Just saying.

30.7.13

TRY FREEDOM.

Book Review No. 18 is Michael Kazin's American Dreamers: How the Left Changed a Nation.  It's by an academician, and it's well-documented.  It's also readable, and, although sympathetic to the aspirations of the Left, not tendentious.  It's in the concluding passages, however, that the main message of the book, whether as a charge to traditional leftists, or as food for thought for people who err on the side of emergent order, appears.  That's after we've explored abolition, and Class Struggle, and Vanguardism, and Civil Rights, and The Counterculture.  At page 275, "The left was certainly more successful when it sought to expand personal liberty than when it struggled to advance the collective might of workers and the poor."  Collective might is an illusion.  Discuss.

Turn to page 276.
A world of freebooting capitalism has delivered neither material abundance nor social harmony to most of the world's people.  Failed states, religious wars, environmental disasters, clashes between immigrants and the native-born are common features of current history, as they were in earlier times.  But the perception that there is no alternative to chronic crisis except to somehow muddle through exacerbates the problem.
On the other hand, to hope for a vanguard to lead the masses, or to apply pressure from below to leaders, hasn't done so well.

(Cross-posted to 50 Book Challenge.)

TWO SYSTEMS OF BELIEF

The Detroit municipal bankruptcy has enough complications that people can find whatever villain they want.  The city government is either a beast to be starved or the logical outcome of ward-heeler politics.
Melissa Harris-Perry -- the same TV commentator who said Americans need to stop raising kids as if they belong to individual families -- had an extraordinary explanation for why the city of Detroit sought to declare bankruptcy last week: not enough government.

"This is what it looks like when government is small enough to drown in your bathtub, and it is not a pretty picture." She says budget-cutting Republicans threaten to transform all of the U.S. into Detroit.

What? Detroit has been a "model city" for big-government! All Detroit's mayors since 1962 were Democrats who were eager to micromanage. And spend. Detroit has the only utility tax in Michigan, and its income tax is the third-highest of any big city in America (only Philadelphia and Louisville take more, and they aren't doing great, either).
To John Stossel, Detroit is the quintessence of gimmick projects that failed.
Andrew Rodney, a documentary filmmaker from Detroit, says many bad, big-government ideas that have plagued the U.S. were tried out first in Detroit. "It's the first city to experience a lot of the planning that went into a lot of cities."

Home loan subsidies, public housing, stadium subsidies, a $350 million project called "Renaissance Center" (the city ended up selling it for just $50 million), an automated People Mover system that not many people feel moved to use (it moves people in only one direction), endless favors to unions -- if a government idea has failed anywhere in America, there's a good chance it failed in Detroit first.
In seeking to pin some of the responsibility on pro-business, tax-cutting, free-trading Republicans, David Sirota also identifies failures of corporate welfare.
For a good sense of some of the most expensive, absurd and utterly wasteful boondoggles in the Detroit area over the last few decades, read this piece from Crain’s Detroit or see this 2011 article entitled “Detroit’s Corporate Welfare Binge” by Detroit News columnist Bill Johnson. Alternately, recall this is in the heart of a region whose governments infamously spent $55 million of taxpayer money in 1975 (or a whopping $180 million in inflation-adjusted dollars) on one professional football stadium, then spent another $300 million on yet another football stadium, then sold off the original stadium for just $583,000. Or, just note that Detroit is the largest city in a state that, according to the New York Times, spends more per capita on corporate subsidies — $672 or $6.6 billion a year — than most other states.

By focusing the blame for Detroit’s bankruptcy solely on workers’ pensions, rather than having a more comprehensive discussion that includes both pension benefits and corporate giveaways, the right can engineer the political environment for the truly immoral reality mentioned at the beginning of this article — the one highlighted this week by the Associated Press story headlined “Arena Likely Still On Track, Business As Usual For Sports Teams Despite Bankruptcy Filing.” Yes, that’s correct: at the same time government officials are talking about slashing the meager $19,000-a-year pensions of workers who don’t get Social Security, those officials are promising that they will still go forward with a plan to spend a whopping $283 million of taxpayer money on a new stadium for the Red Wings.
In some ways, being a sports economist is probably more frustrating than being a climate scientist. If there is a consensus in sports economics, it is that stadium subsidies have a benefit-cost ratio ranging from minimal to negative, and yet public officials, including in cash-strapped big cities, continue to throw money at stadiums and arenas.

THERE'S A HACK FOR THAT.

Contemporary garage door openers, heating and cooling systems, and who knows what else can be remotely controlled.  If you can control it, so can somebody else.
Less attention goes to the security of the home automation system itself.

Here’s why privacy and security issues matter so much in customer-facing smart grid products and services: how likely is it that someone can hack into your home energy management system? The resourceful technology and privacy journalist Kashmir Hill gained access to eight homes, merely by doing an Internet search to see if any homes had their devices set to be discoverable by a search engine.
First, dear reader, check the instruction manual for your internet-capable appliances and strengthen the privacy. Then go read the story.

IN THE ABSENCE OF ANY ELASTICITIES?

THE HUFFINGTON POST suggests, based on an incompletely documented academic study, that increasing the pay of McDonald's employees would have a relatively small effect on the price of gutbombs.
[University of Kansas researcher Arnobio] Morelix looked at McDonald's 2012 annual report and discovered that only 17.1 percent of the fast-food giant's revenue goes toward salaries and benefits. In other words, for every dollar McDonald's earns, a little more than 17 cents goes toward the income and benefits of its more than 500,000 U.S. employees.

Thus, if McDonald's executives wanted to double the salaries of all of its employees and keep profits and other expenses the same, it would need to increase prices by just 17 cents per dollar, according to Morelix.
Neglecting capital-labor substitution, or consumers who respond to incentives, yes.

SECOND SECTION.  Just One Minute links, and elaborates.

EMULATE VLADIMIR KOLOZORKIN.

We met Mr Kolozorkin yesterday, explaining the discipline of the locomotive engineer to the fourth estate.

Contrast the proper practice of the craft of running an intermodal train with what appears to be unfolding in the investigation of last week's fatal Talgo derailment in Spain.
[Engineer] Francisco Jose Garzon Amo was speaking to members of staff at the state-owned railway company, Renfe, they added.

Crash investigators had opened the train's "black-box" data recorder to find the cause of the crash, which left 79 people dead.

Moments before the accident the train was travelling at a speed of 192km/h (119mph), the court said in a statement.

Investigators say the brakes were activated shortly before the crash.

The speed limit on the sharp bend where the train derailed was set at 80km/h (49mph).

"Minutes before the train came off the tracks he received a call on his work phone to get indications on the route he had to take to get to Ferrol. From the content of the conversation and background noise it seems that the driver consulted a map or paper document," a court statement said.
Turn to Rule 214.
Train orders must be read promptly upon receipt by those to whom they are addressed. Conductors must, when practicable, obtain an understanding of all train orders before they are acted upon.
That noted, passengers are trusting the engineer to have sufficient route knowledge that he's made the proper brake application in advance of an approaching junction.

"I'M GUESSING THEY ALL VOTE DEMOCRAT."

The Cold Spring Shops position on poverty and education advocates for inculcating the habits of the middle class, beginning in kindergarten, if not before.

I may be the optimist.
Concurrently, we need to model good behavior. Prince William and Kate Middleton should use their position and their visibility to hammer home the truth that solid families are the model to be emulated instead of merely one option in a smorgasbord of equally valid familial arrangements.
On the other hand, perhaps the column is anecdotal evidence that trickle-down works. It surely has with the dissolute behavior of many athletes, entertainers, and politicians.

29.7.13

LAND BRIDGES AS MARCO POLO WOULD KNOW THEM.

The New York Times reports on a Hewlett-Packard container train across the steppes of Central Asia.  The railroad's loading gauge precludes double-stacking, and containers must be trans-loaded at the China-Kazakhstan border, and again at the western borders of the former Soviet Union.  And "riding shotgun" isn't just something out of old movies.

But in railroading, some things are the same, the world over.  Diesels, for example, don't have sleeper cabs.
There were no bunks for sleeping, or even bathrooms. Just as the Pony Express of the American West relied on a series of riders to carry the mail, the H.P. train relies on a new driver, assistant driver and guards to board the locomotive at stops every three or four hours. Even the locomotives are replaced with fresh ones every third or fourth stop. At each stop, railway guards dressed in black or military fatigues hustle up and down the train, checking the cars for signs of tampering. Over the course of each three-week journey, more than 100 drivers and guards board the train.

To [engineer Azamat] Kulyenov and [assistant engineer Alexander] Nemtzev, the Silk Road is an abstraction, a little-remembered historical detail studied in school. Mr. Nemtzev, who grew up in easternmost Kazakhstan, remembered how he would play with little plastic trains as a boy and yearned to drive real trains someday. “I’ve never wanted to do anything else,” he said as the headlights traversed a vast emptiness. We traveled for nearly an hour at one point without illuminating a single house, car or person anywhere near the tracks.

An hour after sunset, Mr. Kulyenov and Mr. Nemtzev were replaced by the next pair of drivers. Vladimir Kolozorkin, 52, took over as the main driver. With a gray crew cut and an uncanny ability to distinguish complex patterns of railway signal lights at enormous distances, he greeted visitors with a gruff warning that rules strictly prohibited distracting the driver in any way.

But he mellowed as the hours passed, saying that he remembered from his early boyhood in eastern Kazakhstan how camel caravans, a fixture on the Silk Road for two millenniums, had still traveled to mountain villages.
"Eagle eye" is railroading slang for the engineer, and in Beskol or in Barstow, safety is of the first importance.

PERFECTING THE CARTEL.

Reason have been covering a Federal Motor Carrier Administration (one of the saplings under the trunk of the now-toppled Interstate Commerce Commission) safety order that put Fung Wah Bus out of business.  We're no longer in the era of pure-dee Regulation In The Public Interest, under which the incumbents could block the entry of new carriers by arguing in the alternative.  The existing service is adequate.  If additional service is required, the existing carriers are capable of providing it.  The applicant is not competent to provide service.

Some things never change.
The government initiative also fits the classic pattern in which regulation destroys politically weak businesses to the benefit of the politically strong like Greyhound, Coach USA, and Peter Pan, which have seen their market share grow. Most of Fung Wah’s employees and its owner were Chinese immigrants lacking the language skills and legal muscle required to navigate all the red tape. And Fung Wah is only the best-known victim of this onslaught. On May 31, 2012, the Federal Department of Transportation shutdown 26 bus companies in a single day, and since then it has forced an additional 15 closures. Many of those companies were owned by Chinese immigrants. The American Bus Association, a trade association that primarily represents the large corporate carriers, has cheered the government on.
The startup bus companies could have taken a page from the playbook of the startup bus companies at the beginning of the motor age.  Look at this 1936 timetable cover from the Cold Spring Shops research archives.


In 1936, Maine Central and Boston and Maine had a common management, thus the Flying Yankee and Constitution-class Pacific on the right panel.  In those days, the New England rail carriers also operated airliners (precursors of Northeast Airlines; Trans-America Transportation was a Pennsylvania Railroad creation that became Trans World Airlines) and their own motor buses, and the timetable notation "bus service in substitution" took on more than one meaning.

The railroad's bus services competed with an earlier generation of curbside-pickup carriers.
The long-distance busing industry was originally dominated by small scrappy companies competing fiercely to win over customers, only to become a government-protected cartel with declining ridership and all the competitive spirit of Ma Bell. A half-century later, busing returned to its glorious origins, but today it’s in danger becoming a ward of the state once more.

In the 1910s, the very first American bus companies started picking up passengers on main streets all across America. There were few barriers to entry; entrepreneurs without much capital could buy or lease a motorcoach and then start doing regular pick-ups in front of a hotel or on a street corner.

Within a few years, local governments intervened to protect established companies from new competition. By 1925, most states required that bus companies apply for permission to service particular routes. The Motor Carrier Act of 1935 put the federal Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) in charge of regulating bus travel. The ICC did everything from set ticket prices to grant established companies the exclusive right to operate between certain cities.
That regulation, some of it at the behest of railroads seeking protection of their revenues from ruinous and destructive, or unfettered, or unfair competition, included restrictions on the air and bus divisions of railroad corporations.
Protected from competition, bus companies grew indifferent to the changing tastes of their customers. Americans relocated to the suburbs, while car and air travel exploded in popularity. As inner-city depots became dangerous and decrepit, bus companies failed to alter their business models. After World War II, U.S. bus travel fell by half in just a decade and then it kept declining.

The industry languished for the next half century. In 1982, President Reagan deregulated intercity bus travel, which cleared the way for new companies to get into the business and start fighting to win back passengers, but for the next decade and a half not much changed. Then in the late 1990s, a group of immigrants from Fujian Province, China reinvented the bus industry in New York City's Chinatown. These entrepreneurs brought busing back to its roots of picking up passengers right off the street instead of from a traditional station. (The Chinatown bus companies became known as curbside carriers.) Once again, pretty much all you needed to start a bus company was a bus.

The Chinatown operators also figured out a way to win over customers that had eluded the established carriers for decades: charge really low prices. In short order, companies like Greyhound, Peter Pan, and Coach USA started opening their own curbside services, and today intercity busing is the fastest growing form of intercity transit in the U.S.
It helps to be computer-savvy and flexible in your travel plans, as the latest generation of 'bus companies eschews printed timetables, let alone stations with helpful agents to sell tickets and check your baggage.

This Reason TV commentary includes archival footage of the early 'bus operators, including the Hibbing, Minnesota establishment that became Northland Greyhound.



Greyhound might have been the upstart in the 'Twenties, it's now part of the establishment.

26.7.13

GOING TOO FAST FOR CONDITIONS.

A Spanish Talgo train took an 80 km/h (50 mph) curve at well in excess of the posted limits, and bad things happened.
The train is one of the new Class 730 bi-mode 'Alvia' units which are fitted with ETCS, and the accident is the first involving a European high speed line. However, it was later revealed that ETCS was not fitted to this section of line.

Spain's last major rail disaster was in 1972 when 77 people were killed in a derailment in Andalusia.
"ETCS" is European for augmented Positive Train Control, which is an attempt to create a continent-wide method of pacing and spacing trains, and bi-mode is an Iberian update on Joe and the Sputniks.
In 2012, Renfe began converting 15 of its 2006-2009 era electric Talgo sets into dual-mode equipment by adding a diesel engine. This enabled the trains to operate beyond electrified territory. The first of the converted trained entered service in mid-2012 between Madrid and northwest Spain.
A London Daily Mail report on the derailment suggests the engineer had a bit of the ballast-scorcher in him.  Lots of pictures, and there's security-camera video of the train derailing that is not for the faint of heart.  The employee timetable for the line is unambiguous that train crews must reduce speed to 80 km/h at kilometer post 84.2, with a further slack to 70 at post 85.0, which appears to be a junction.

Spare a moment's thought for the casualties of this wreck, and their families and friends.

North American crashworthiness standards are not inefficient per se.

GUS MAHLER GETS IN ON THE ACT.

The House of Windsor, after all, descends from the Battenbergs.
Arriving to a royal fanfare, a beaming 'Prince William' burst into the Fountains Abbey pub, situated opposite St Mary’s Hospital where the Duchess of Cambridge gave birth, announcing “Everyone, the Royal Baby has just been born”. He then treated pub patrons to a drink on the house in celebration.

The imaginative landlord at the Fountains Abbey surprised both the team and guests by organising the spoof scene after hearing the news that the royal baby had been born at the hospital opposite.

William spent up to an hour in the pub handing out the free drinks, signing autographs and posing for pictures. In homage to the royal arrival, the pub also set up an easel in the pub offering guests the chance to leave well-wishes for the real Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge.
That's enough time to perform the entire "Titan" for background music. Prosit!

24.7.13

BIG STEAM.

Union Pacific have purchased Big Boy 4014 from the Southern California Chapter, Railway and Locomotive Historical Society in order to return it to running condition.


Railway and Locomotive Historical Society.

Railway explains for overseas readers the significance of this project.
"Our steam locomotive program is a source of great pride to Union Pacific employees past and present," said Ed Dickens, senior manager - Union Pacific Heritage Operations. "We are very excited about the opportunity to bring history to life by restoring No. 4014."

Twenty-five ‘Big Boys’ were built exclusively for Union Pacific Railroad, the first of which was delivered in 1941. The locomotives were 132 feet long and weighed 1.2 million pounds. Because of their great length, the frames of the ‘Big Boys’ were "hinged," or articulated, to allow them to negotiate curves. The massive engines normally operated between Ogden, Utah, and Cheyenne.
The Big Boys were capable of rolling 100 car refrigerator blocks at expedited speeds across the Continental Divide. We've seen 3985 on a stack train and the Ringling Barnum circus train. I look forward to reporting on 4014 returning to the Red Ball Express.

GOVERNMENT FAILURE.

Several commentators have responded to Paul Krugman's political economy of the slow-motion crash of Detroit.  (That's distinct from the regional economics I responded to.)

Here's Via Media.
Detroit didn’t just wither in the face of changing economic conditions. It failed to adapt. Motor City is littered with dumb “recovery” ideas like the grandiose and badly named “Renaissance Center” in the dead heart of downtown. Race baiting politics by corrupt hacks who cynically invoked racial stereotypes and stoked hatred to build popular support for criminal rule (a milder, home-grown style of the politics of Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe) made a bad situation much worse. The soft bigotry of low expectations meant that neither federal nor state prosecutors intervened until very late as the thieves looted the ruins. The civil rights establishment kept its eyes devoutly averted and its lips firmly sealed as a generation of fraudsters ruined the city, wrecked the pension system, turned city administration into a swamp of ineffective and corrupt failure, and denied a generation of schoolchildren any serious educational opportunity.

Is all this really “just one of those things?” Is it the fault of “free markets” that felons and race baiters looted Detroit when they should have been crafting a recovery? Krugman is normally a fan of financial market regulation. Surely a system that allows public union leaders and political hacks to lie to workers about the safety of their pensions cries out for regulation of some kind?

America’s rapidly changing economy is by nature going to leave some people coughing in its dust, but there’s no denying that it was people who cheated on and lied to the citizens of Detroit.
A longtime friend who worked in regional planning remarked on the propensity of Detroit to try gimmicks: the historic trolley, the People Mover, the Poletown Cadillac works, the push for casinos. It's probably too harsh to suggest the civil rights establishment said and did nothing in that era; it may be more accurate to say that people who had ambitions, no matter their ancestry or their politics, opted to exit rather than stay and attempt to change the established ways.

Jonathan Tobin weighs in along similar lines.
Krugman is right to say that there are always winners and losers in a free economy. Every city has its own story and Detroit’s is one that is particularly heavy on bad luck as well as mismanagement. But his Adam Smith-style warning that anyone could wind up being the buggy-whip manufacturer of the future ignores the factor that powerful unions and their political protectors play in exacerbating such problems. His claim that Detroit’s situation is the result of chance rather than primarily the result of “fiscal irresponsibility and/or greedy public employees” simply isn’t credible.

A bailout of Detroit sets a precedent that can’t be repeated elsewhere because there just isn’t enough money to pay for every city that will eventually face similar problems. The wake up call that Detroit is sending Americans is one Krugman and other liberals would like us to ignore because they are confident that the federal leviathan, controlled by Democrats and fed by liberal assumptions, will always be able to squeeze enough cash out of productive citizens to pay for the left’s follies. They won’t face the truth about this because to do so would require Americans to do some hard thinking about a society where virtually everyone has their snouts in the collective trough of big government and thereby is a stakeholder in its survival in its current form. But what Greece showed Europe and what Detroit tells Americans is that sooner or later the well of public funds will run dry if obligations to liberal constituent groups continue to grow unchecked. And when that happens it is exactly the little guys who are hurting in Detroit who will be forced to suffer for Krugman’s ideology.
That sounds like Margaret Thatcher's quip about "running out of other people's money." But neither Jonathan Tobin nor Paul Krugman have commented on the possible influence of Old Industrial State thinking, in which high-paying work for strong backs would always be there.  To some extent, that influence is missing from Steven Rattner's proposal that bailing Detroit's government out is a federal responsibility.
No one likes bailouts or the prospect of rewarding Detroit’s historic fiscal mismanagement. But apart from voting in elections, the 700,000 remaining residents of the Motor City are no more responsible for Detroit’s problems than were the victims of Hurricane Sandy for theirs, and eventually Congress decided to help them.

America is just as much about aiding those less fortunate as it is about personal responsibility. Government does this in so many ways; why shouldn’t it help Detroit rebuild itself?

Many call for scaling back the city to fit realistic population projections. While logical, the potential for downsizing Detroit is limited because the city’s population didn’t flee from just one neighborhood; the departures were scattered, requiring Detroit to deliver services across a geographic area the size of Philadelphia, with less than half the population. Further cuts will surely come, but in some key areas, like public safety and blight removal, Detroit needs to spend more, not less.
There's a big difference between being caught, along with your neighbors, in the path of a hurricane, and observing your neighbors decamping for better pastures yet choosing to stay. Yes, a million small decisions led to the relatively depopulated neighborhoods that remain. Isn't the same thing true in the farm belt?  To some extent, the city has been clearing entire blocks and turning off the utilities for years: might some devolution into smaller village governments be helpful?

INCENTIVES MATTER.

There's a congestion tax on motor vehicles coming into some parts of London, and commuter train crush loadings are common.
Hundreds of thousands of people are forced to stand on over-crowded trains every day, with some carriages more than 65 per cent over-capacity.

The government warned train companies they had to do more to tackle the problem when commuters keep facing inflation-busting rises in fares.

More than a third of trains arriving into London Waterloo in the morning rush hour were over-crowded, latest figures showed.

The number of rail journeys has doubled since rail privatisation, from 735million in 1994-95 to 1.5billion in 2012-13.

But much of the increase has been accommodated by squeezing even more people into packed commuter services into Britain’s biggest cities.

New figures from the Department for Transport show more than 100,000 London-bound rail commuters - a fifth of the overall total - had to stand at the busiest times of the morning rush-hour.
A table accompanying the article shows that a number of extended suburban services including Portsmouth to London and Birmingham to London are regularly overcrowded.

The use of fixed-formation trains probably precludes easy strengthening of consists for peak loads, and the tight loading gauge prevents the use of gallery cars.  But those improvements can only work so far.  In Chicago, bilevel formations often stretch the length of the passenger platforms, including the extra-long ones the Chicago and North Western provided for the Overland Limited of days long gone.

New York's Grand Central Terminal and Pennsylvania Station similarly runs out of platform space during the busiest hours.

The London Telegraph coverage of the overcrowding report considers policy implications.
Passengers on First Great Western, the line running out of Paddington, fared worst of all, with rush hour services carrying an average of seven per cent more commuters than the trains’ official capacity, including standing.

As previously disclosed by The Daily Telegraph, commuters on the most crowded services are travelling in conditions which would be illegal under EU animal welfare laws.

Even though the latest figures from the Department for Transport, covering 2012, represent an improvement on the previous year, they will still cause outrage among commuters who can pay several thousand pounds a year for their season ticket and are facing another year of above inflation fare rises.
Are passengers as important as pigs?

Seriously, though, are commutation fares in Britain inefficiently low?
"These statistics show rail is vital to the economy, getting millions of people to work every day. But it also shows many commuters are faced with an unacceptable combination of overcrowded trains and spiralling ticket prices,” said Richard Hebditch, Campaigns Director, Campaign for Better Transport.

“Government needs to give rail passengers a fair deal by ending above inflation ticket price hikes and making sure franchise holders tackle overcrowding."
Tackled by whom? Blank-out.
Bob Crow, the leader of the RMT transport union, blamed the private train operators for commuters’ plight.

“While passengers are forced to pay through the nose to stand, crammed in on sweltering, overcrowded trains, the private companies running these services are making huge profits in the safe knowledge that the whole racket of rail privatisation is a one-way ticket to the bank,” he said.

“Until our railways are run as a public service, under public ownership and control, this scandal of the British paying the highest fares in Europe to travel on some of the worst services will continue unchecked.”

Norman Baker, the local transport minister added:"Climbing on to a very crowded train is an unpleasant experience and I sympathise with passengers using these services.

"I urge train operators to do what they can on these particular trains. The Department is working closely with the industry to ensure this issue is tackled.”
Unfortunately, there may be no spare multiple-units to augment the formations, and there may be no platform space at Waterloo or Paddington or even Marylebone to handle either the longer trains, or additional trains.  Arguably, though, the commutation fares are still cheaper than the alternative including parking charges and congestion-zone permits, whilst not high enough to finance additional rolling stock let alone enlarged stations.

POTEMKIN RETENTION?

George Leef at Phi Beta Cons links to a complaint from a former employee of Winston-Salem State University that suggests shying away from raising an institution's academic profile to boost enrollments backfires.
Because of WSSU’s low graduation rate, school officials had to decide whether to change its admission standards and move to attract a higher quality of student, or to lower course standards to make it appear that students were more successful. During faculty and staff meetings, this was discussed and the chancellor stated that he did not want to change the “look” of WSSU. Raising admission standards would mean fewer students on campus and therefore less state money flowing in.

The path the administration took was to make it seem as though students were doing better. Of course, there was no official statement to that effect, but I realized that was the case after faculty members began to share their concerns and frustration with me.

Many stated that they were under pressure to decrease the material in the courses and increase the passing rates. They feared that they would be released if they didn’t. Other faculty members expressed concern that students were held to different standards depending on their race. Some said that they thought school officials were changing grades they had entered.

Although those complaints were disturbing, I had no proof and I had to operate as if they were only rumors.
That's where market tests matter. If employers send recruiters to job fairs, and graduate programs accept your seniors, stay the course. It doesn't require assessors or counselors or rubrics to steer that course, only a faculty committed to doing the right thing, and a decanal order that doesn't undermine the faculty.

AN OPEN DAY WITH GRAMPA IN THE FUTURE?

Britain's Prince Charles paid a visit to Yorkshire in part to endorse the National Railway Museum's celebration of Mallard's 1938 speed test.


Unattributed Easy Branches Travel News photograph.

The prince had to return to London for some family business later in the day.  The article notes he has more than a passing interest in things that run on rails.
Prince Charles is a keen rail enthusiast and earlier this year took a trip on the London Underground to celebrate 150 years of the Tube.

He also test drove a London Underground train at Bombardier’s train building factory in Derby in February.
He also spent some time in the cab, er, on the footplate of a Stanier Pacific assigned to the Royal Train somewhere in the northwest.

We await the breach of protocol when the new Prince of Cambridge says "There's the Great Western Way, and the wrong way."

23.7.13

6025.

The staff of Fiddler's Green Motive Power Depot at Merrill Park welcome the new Prince of Cambridge.



SHARING THE RISKS.

Paul Krugman channels his inner regional economist to call for sensible responses to Detroit's municipal bankruptcy.
Sometimes the losers from economic change are individuals whose skills have become redundant; sometimes they’re companies, serving a market niche that no longer exists; and sometimes they’re whole cities that lose their place in the economic ecosystem. Decline happens.

True, in Detroit’s case matters seem to have been made worse by political and social dysfunction. One consequence of this dysfunction has been a severe case of “job sprawl” within the metropolitan area, with jobs fleeing the urban core even when employment in greater Detroit was still rising, and even as other cities were seeing something of a city-center revival. Fewer than a quarter of the jobs on offer in the Detroit metropolitan area lie within 10 miles of the traditional central business district; in greater Pittsburgh, another former industrial giant whose glory days have passed, the corresponding figure is more than 50 percent. And the relative vitality of Pittsburgh’s core may explain why the former steel capital is showing signs of a renaissance, while Detroit just keeps sinking.

So by all means let’s have a serious discussion about how cities can best manage the transition when their traditional sources of competitive advantage go away. And let’s also have a serious discussion about our obligations, as a nation, to those of our fellow citizens who have the bad luck of finding themselves living and working in the wrong place at the wrong time — because, as I said, decline happens, and some regional economies will end up shrinking, perhaps drastically, no matter what we do.

The important thing is not to let the discussion get hijacked, Greek-style. There are influential people out there who would like you to believe that Detroit’s demise is fundamentally a tale of fiscal irresponsibility and/or greedy public employees. It isn’t. For the most part, it’s just one of those things that happens now and then in an ever-changing economy.
The small nitpick is that Pittsburgh is surrounded on all sides by rivers and mountains, while there are miles of alluvial plain to the north and west of Detroit to aid the job sprawl.  The greater nitpick is that now and then has been ever-changing for over fifty years.
As almost always happens in booms, people began thinking it would never end. The Big Three let labor costs climb until by the end of the decade the average car's price had tripled from two decades before. Two-car families began to look for a cheaper, no-frills purchase for that second car.

Their solution came in a funny-looking but economical and reliable German car, the Volkswagen Beetle. By 1960, annual foreign car sales in the United States jumped tenfold to nearly 500,000 as Detroit exports fell by 100,000. The loss of those sales to foreign competition gave the auto industry its first jolt in a decade. Detroit lost 50,000 jobs by 1960. Smaller domestic manufacturers like Packard and Hudson went under.

Even the Big Three were affected. The workforce at Chrysler's four Detroit plants dropped by half to 23,000 by the end of decade. The boom was over.
More precisely, Packard and Hudson became part of American Motors, with George Romney attempting to differentiate his company's products from the Big Three's gas-guzzling dinosaurs, but that company never had the funds to build a proper assembly plant on a Wisconsin cornfield rather than make use of cast-off mattress factories and Nash plants.

More recently, Representative John Conyers has merited mention in my Rogues Gallery of ward-heeler politicians who cast the blame everywhere else, rather than address the root causes of their constituents' misery.  He's still at it.
Conyers warned long ago that free-trade policies would devastate American cities, and he’s been a steady advocate for investment in urban America. But now, he says, Congress needs to recognize and respond to the risks that arise when municipalities are in crisis.
In particular, the nation-state becomes the new fiction by which everyone attempts to live at the expense of everyone else.
Conyers is interested in examining the role that financial distress and bankruptcy pressures play in assaulting pension rights and in hastening the privatization of essential public services. As Conyers notes, the pressure to privatize is often at odds with the public interest in transparency and the long-term stability of communities.

There are already plenty of politicians stepping up to say what Washington can’t do in response not just to Detroit’s needs but also to those of hundreds of cities and counties nationwide. But that’s austerity talking, not common sense. Common sense says that the federal government, which has played a part in undermining the economic prospects of American cities, needs to start playing a useful role.

No matter what that role is, there will be those who call it a “bailout.” In reality, it’s a smart investment not just in cities but also in the American people. After all, as Congressman [Dan] Kildee reminds us, “While you can dissolve a corporation through bankruptcy, you cannot simply ‘dissolve’ a place where hundreds of thousands of people live, work and raise their families.”
Perhaps not all at once, but the dissolution, particularly where productive people are concerned, has been going on for years.
Those cities which have heeded the call of the Times and other downtown papers and maintained a commuter tax (such as Philadelphia, Newark, Detroit), continually number among the worst performing and most consistently bankrupt urban areas in the nation. Philadelphia was in fact the first city in the country to impose a commuter tax, back in 1939, and it has not been a notable success there.
I got into a little trouble at Wayne State suggesting (deviating from the party line) that a city referendum to raise the commuter tax, and only the commuter tax, while leaving the residential income tax rates the same, was the unproductive people voting themselves benefits at the expense of the unproductive people. The city's rationale was that commuters availed themselves of police protection and the like while they were working in town.  Today, there is no police protection, and there are fewer productive commuters to tax.
The city rewards anyone who can’t escape its boundaries — more than a million people have since 1950, when it had 1.8 million residents — with stifling taxes in a futile attempt to keep up with spending. It has the highest per capita tax burden in Michigan, despite the low per capita income of its residents. It can’t even collect its taxes well. An Internal Revenue Service audit called its tax system “catastrophic.”

None of this is the product of the “creative destruction” of capitalism; it is the destructive destruction of corrupt statism.
That's the same city tax system that paid staffers to recalculate to the penny tax returns submitted with figures rounded to the dollar. I think that netted them 31 cents on the final return I filed there.  It is difficult to review the evidence and not agree with Via Media.
Progressive politicians, wonks, and activists can only blame big corporations and other liberal bogeymen for so long. The truth is that corrupt machine politics in a one-party system devoted to the blue social model wrecked an entire city and thousands of lives beyond repair. The sooner blues come to terms with this reality, the greater chance other cities will have of avoiding Detroit’s fate.
It is difficult to be optimistic when the ominous signs have been accumulating for half a century.

DOING THE PENNSYLVANIA RAILROAD BETTER.

Travel and Trains comments on the Northeastern Indiana Passenger Rail Association proposal for a passenger train connecting Columbus with Chicago by way of Kenton and Fort Wayne.
It’s 300 miles from Columbus, Ohio, to Chicago, and a lot of people are making that trek every day… not just from Columbus, but from cities large and small along the way. Fort Wayne, Indiana, for example. Or Gary, Indiana.

The trouble is, it’s a terrible drive. People in Columbus make the trip to Chicago by going through Indianapolis or by way of Fort Wayne. But either way it’s more than 350 miles and takes a little over six hours … and that’s assuming ideal traffic conditions.

Flying is an option, but not a particularly attractive one. There are all the usual hassles and frustrations, of course; the fare is more than $100 each way; and you’ll end up at O’Hare and have the additional expense of getting into downtown.
The proposed three hours and change running time requires substantial infrastructure improvements, or perhaps a resurrection of T1 duplex drives. It would, however, be a substantial acceleration over The Pennsylvania Railroad's summer 1954 schedules, in which The Fort Hayes and The Union required eight to nine hours by way of Piqua, Logansport, and Crown Point (with ample time provided for mail and express handling).

Because the proposal makes use of CSX trackage (the former Pittsburgh Fort Wayne and Chicago to somewhere east of Lima, and a former Toledo and Ohio Central line via Kenton into Columbus), the likelihood of bus bridges during summer maintenance season is great.

WHY IT MATTERS.

A lengthy, often autobiographical essay in Inside Higher Education indeed spells out the stakes for higher education.
I spent nine years teaching at a public university. For most of that time, I was running an interdisciplinary program at the very heart of the humanities. We were charged to grow an "honors-style" major, with small classes, lots of writing, and intense faculty and student interactions. In short, to create the experience of a small liberal arts college -- an experience I know well – within a 35,000-student university. Our capacity to grow was the result of a clever administrator, who – in the face of a statewide budget freeze – added on an additional fee for incoming students, and used that vast pot of money to shift growth toward the emerging interdisciplines. But this "honors-style" dream was chipped away slowly by the annual news reports of state budget cuts. We were pressed to create bigger courses, to put "fannies in the seats." We ended our enhanced foreign language requirement because it kept our major count down. We were encouraged to open up our enrollments, to create a big survey course at the front end of the major, a course that became so large that we had to trim off the writing requirement and give multiple-choice exams. We spent hours on assessment data, all required by the state higher education board, and less and less, as a consequence on students.

Not surprisingly, some of us left, hoping to find somewhere else something rather like what we’d experienced as young adults, some place where we could do for every student what had been done for us.
The neglected part of access-assessment-remediation-retention is the institution's failure to retain faculty that have options. Hugh Akston is running a roadside diner in the Bakken.
Today’s jobs might not be yesterday’s, but they still require the ability to write and speak clearly, to analyze evidence and form opinions, to solve problems with research, to reach an informed opinion and to persuade others, through a presentation of logic or facts or material, that your opinion is worth their attention. This is what higher education is supposed to do. Fulfilling this mission requires an attention to scale, and a commitment to making it possible for faculty and students to work together closely. In the big and small publics – the great post WWII laboratories of social mobility, from which [David] Brooks and his cohort are so greatly distanced – we simply can no longer teach these skills or create this scale of interaction.  And if these centers of gravity fail, everything else will, too.

This should make ordinary Americans angry. It used to be that my story could be your sons' and daughters' story, but not any longer. Don’t blame the teachers in the classroom, though. They still work as hard as they can – they still drink too much coffee, still drive beat-up cars, still occasionally mismatch their socks – to deliver sparkling lectures, to rouse students to believe in the passionate study of humanity, to expand their intellectual horizons. And they try very hard to work closely with students in need, students with talent, and students who seem to want more. Don’t blame the administrators either.  Most of them are simply trying to stave off the very worst consequences of this transformation. Blame the folks with the budget ax. And blame those who vote them in.
Put another way, the logic of do more with less is the logic of positional arms races that are not likely to end well for the constituents who vote for legislators that see in the university a chance to harvest resources for other purposes.

There have to be unexploited gains from trade, somewhere.

FOURTH TURNING ALERT.

A Washington Examiner analysis of a recent Pew poll suggests the masses are figuring out how rent-seekers work.
Pew also found that not only do a majority of swing voters agree with the statement that “government regulation of business does more harm than good,” but a majority of Republicans also agreed with the statement that there is “too much power in the hands of a few big companies.”

There is a growing, and accurate, belief in America that government and private sector elites are conspiring to use government power to capture as much of America’s wealth as possible. Some enterprising politician is going to find a way to tap into that sentiment successfully.
Polling guru Nate Silver finds something similar at work.
The Tea Party movement also has some lineage in libertarian thinking. Although polls suggest that many people who participate in the Tea Party movement have quite socially conservative views, the movement spends little time emphasizing those positions, as compared with economic issues.
Nobody's saying "mugged by reality" yet.

GONE.

Ryan Braun is suspended without pay for the season.



Michael Hunt administers the scolding.
It's my job to write that the tarnished golden boy, by his acceptance of responsibility for involvement with performance-enhancing drugs, is a cheater, a liar and a self-righteous one at that for his deceitful speech at spring training last year that pointed the finger at everybody except the one who bore the most accountability.

With all of his natural ability he chose to take a shortcut to gain an unfair competitive advantage that may have included getting a contract from the Brewers that still has $133 million remaining. He makes them look bad and he let down a lot of people — his fans, his admirers, the game and, most of all, his teammates — by unnecessarily dragging the organization through more than 18 months of uncertainty that hung like bad air over the Menomonee Valley.
Cardinal, Cub, Pirate, and Red bleacher creatures will contribute their own bad air in the 2014 season.

22.7.13

THE CRAFT OF DOING ECONOMICS.

A New Yorker profile of Paul Krugman focuses on the evolution of his politics.  There are a few passages that describe Professor Krugman's evolution from history major to trade theorist.  First, economics is about capturing the essential elements of a problem in as parsimonious a way as possible without being tautological or trivial.
Economics, he found, examined the same infinitely complicated social reality that history did but, instead of elucidating its complexity, looked for patterns and rules that made the complexity seem simple. Why did some societies have serfs or slaves and others not? You could talk about culture and national character and climate and changing mores and heroes and revolts and the history of agriculture and the Romans and the Christians and the Middle Ages and all the rest of it; or, like Krugman’s economics teacher Evsey Domar, you could argue that if peasants are barely surviving there’s no point in enslaving them, because they have nothing to give you, but if good new land becomes available it makes sense to enslave them, because you can skim off the difference between their output and what it takes to keep them alive. Suddenly, a simple story made sense of a huge and baffling swath of reality, and Krugman found that enormously satisfying.
The evolution of voluntary exchange and emergent cooperation involves a more subtle version of the same phenomenon, leaving for future research whether skimming output is accomplished by force or by exchange. But it's about the essential elements.
Translating unmappable facts into economic discourse, it turned out, was what Krugman was better at than anyone else: he could take an intriguing notion that had come up in real-world discussions, pare away the details (knowing just what to take out and what was essential), and refine what was left into a clean, clever, “cute” (as he liked to put it), and simple model. “It’s poetry,” Kenneth Rogoff, an economist at Harvard, says. “I mean, you go back to his first book and there was this beautiful chart about what the Volcker contraction did to output that swept aside so much—he just drew this little graph which really cleared the air. I’ve heard economists use the word ‘poet’ in describing him for decades.”

Krugman’s theories of trade and economic geography are still taught everywhere. “I think there’s a pretty good case to be made that the stuff that I stressed in the models is a less important story than the things that I left out because I couldn’t model them, like spillovers of information and social networks,” he says. But failure to represent reality accurately is rarely a fatal flaw in an economics model—what’s valued is the model’s usefulness as an analytic tool.
The capturing of essential elements proceeds in steps. Look at the graphs and figures in The American Economic Review in the 1940s and compare what's been added in the past seventy years. The introduction of information spillovers and social networks is keeping the current crop of economists busy.  The task for the senior faculty is to protect the thinking time of the younger economists in order that the progress continues.
But it’s been a long time—years now—since he did any serious research. Could he, still? “I’d like to get back to it,” he says. “I’m craving the chance to do some deep thinking, and I haven’t been doing a lot of that. I guess doing the really creative academic work does require a state of mind that’s hard to maintain throughout your whole life. Even Paul Samuelson—the bulk of the stuff you read from him is before he was fifty. There was an intensity of focus that I had when I was twenty-six that I won’t be able to recapture at fifty-six. You develop your habits of mind, and to a point that’s a good thing, because you learn ways to work, but it does mean that you’re less likely to come up with something really innovative. Even if I weren’t doing all this other stuff, I don’t think I’d be producing a lot of breakthrough papers. There’s crude stuff: if I do have some brilliant academic insight, what are they going to do, give me a Nobel Prize? . . . When I was younger, when I figured something out there was this sense of the heavens parting and the choirs singing that I don’t get now. And that’s life.”

For someone else, this loss might be a devastation, but even though for thirty years thinking deeply about economics was all Krugman really cared about, he has let it pass out of his life without regret. “I think he’s happy,” his friend Craig Murphy says. “A much happier person now than when we first met him. He feels like he’s done good things, and they’re greater than what he expected when he was young. If there is sadness in him at all, I think it is a tiny core of profound sadness of the kind that the Buddha understood—that we probably can’t use human rationality to make the world all better, and it would be really nice if we were able to.”
That's also a point the freshwater economists get, often phrased (with thanks to Professor McCloskey), "If you're so smart, why aren't you rich?"

GETTING THE ROUTES RIGHT.

Megan McArdle commented, about two years ago, on the likely folly of high-speed rail in Florida.
There is a case for rail in the United States.  It works in the Northeast Corridor, and it might well be possible to grow it organically to other areas--south from Washington, west from New York.  Perhaps it will even work in California.  But to make it work, we need to get away from demonstration projects, and start with the projects that make good economic sense.  If we do a couple of those, we may inspire more imitators across the country.  But if we insist on building trains to nowhere because they're so darn easy to build, we're not going to inspire anything but contempt.
In Florida, which currently makes do with the remnants of Seaboard Coast Line's Silver Meteor and Silver Star, and is awaiting a return of the Gulf Wind, er, Sunset Limited east of New Orleans, the most effective demonstration project might be a thrice-daily conventional service, perhaps patterned on Britain's Cross-Country network, with one route running Tallahassee - Miami and another running Tampa - Jacksonville, with cross-platform connections available in Jacksonville.

First provide a rudimentary service, with reliable connectivity and convenient frequencies.
If you are going to install one, you should be reasonably certain that there will be people around with an interest in riding your train.  After all, a train running mostly empty emits a lot of carbon.

I am a fan of train projects when those projects start with a problem that might be solved by a train, and then work forward to the train.  The problem is that in America, those routes are difficult to build, because they're places where there's already a lot of stuff.  Rights of way are expensive and time-consuming to obtain, and the project is bound to be blocked by well-organized NIMBYs.

And so the idea seems to have become to build trains where it's possible to build trains, and hope that development follows.  But trains succeed where they are better than some alternative form of transportation.  In the case of Tampa to Orlando, they're worse than a car, and there isn't even any air travel to replace; in the case of Fresno-to-Bakersfield, it may be better than a car for a few passengers, but there are too few passengers to make the trains better than cars for the environment.
Then start adding cars, followed by frequencies.  Thus does the Hiawatha go from four round trips of three cars each to seven round trips of six cars each, the Downeaster return Passenger Rail to Brunswick, and the Bay Area and Beach Boys corridors of California get new cars.

IT'S CALLED SYSTEM IMPROVEMENT TIME.

At Inside Higher Ed, Joshua Kim considers going cold turkey on electronic mail.  He's right about one thing.
You will be shocked at how many e-mails that you are cc'd on. By how many e-mails that don't really seem that urgent when read 8 or 9 days after they were sent, but that you would have dropped everything to answer had you been online.  You will wonder how you ever get anything done if you get so many e-mails in a day. The sheer volume of marginally useful and still time consuming e-mails will make you wonder if we have created our own digital torture devices.  You will think about how you got yourself in a situation where you feel the need to constantly check your various screens and devices for new e-mail messages.
"Marginally useful" is an optimality condition. Lower the marginal cost of sending the inquiry, and it should come as no surprise that less marginally beneficial inquiries get through.  Keep that theorem in mind as you evaluate Mr Kim's summation.
The truth is that we work so much because our work is interesting.

We stay in constant contact because constant contact is the new way that people work.

Going offline for an extended period of time is neither desirable or feasible.    You will try to convince your colleagues to give it a shot, and mostly you will fail.
In the academy, part of doing interesting work is giving yourself the thinking time to get the ideas right, or mostly right, rather than being perpetually distracted by the latest virus-laden attachment from some deanlet or information technology manager.

20.7.13

ALEXANDER CASSATT'S LEGACY.

Boarding processes are for livestock and airline passengers.  Slate's Matthew Yglesias suggests Amtrak can do better by its passengers.
At [Washington] Union Station there's a bizarre process where they list a gate instead of a track. The gate is a door and the door is closed. Outside the closed door there is a long snaking line. You wait in line, and then eventually the door opens. Then everyone shows their ticket to an agent, walks through an ante-chamber of some kind, and only then do you reach the platforms.

The ticket-checking is completely superfluous because you could walk to any platform once you're out there. But it's also unnecessary because conductors check the tickets on the trains anyway. But then you walk to the appropriate platform and board the train that's waiting for you.
I wonder what Mr Yglesias would make of Chicago, where they list a boarding area, then a track, and tickets must be shewn to pass from the general waiting area to the gate, beyond which there are all sorts of ushers shepherding passengers to their track and only their track. I'm not sure about ticket-lifting. Sleeper passengers have their tickets scanned in the Metropolitan Lounge. On the other hand, sometimes passengers on the St. Louis trains have their tickets checked multiple times.

He followed up his complaint about excessive complexity in boarding trains with a description of an old ferroequinologist's dodge at New York's Pennsylvania Station.
I wrote about the bizarre boarding process that Amtrak uses at Union Station in Washington, which naturally prompted many people to comment to me about the situation at Penn Station in New York, which is also weird. But something a lot of people don't know is that at Penn Station there's actually a loophole that lets you avoid some of the terribleness of Amtrak. What people normally do is stand around in the holding pen depicted above, waiting for their train's track number to be announced.
The "holding pen" is yet more space carved out of the main concourse.


Slate photograph, no photographer credited.

Before The Pennsylvania Railroad sold the air rights over Penn Station to stave off the creditors for another five years, the holding pen looked like this.



The benches in the picture had to be relocated from the waiting rooms to provide space for the reservation computer servicing the ticket clamshell in the Great Room.  The iron railings gave way to the shatterproof glass as part of Amtrak's efforts to make the rats' maze look more contemporary.

The ferroequinologist's dodge is the same as it was in the days when arrival times were chalked on a blackboard on the arrival concourse.
But what you actually want to do is go down the staircase that's just sitting there in the middle of the holding pen, where you'll find some very old CRT screens displaying track information.
Those old CRT screens, for the use of redcaps awaiting incoming Florida trains, and the few intrepid souls going Pullman on the Lake Shore, replace a small Solari board that replaced the blackboard. The ritual is the same.
This puts you on an intermediate level between the tracks and platforms and the mainstream waiting area. And if you wait here for your track to be announced, you'll find that you can proceed directly to a platform entrance with no crowds and no line.
Amtrak may have responded to Mr Yglesias's gripes about mindlessly imitating the airlines, or the drovers, and he's less than impressed with their response.

The usually sensible Jim Loomis offers a defense of Amtrak's big-city station rigamarole that's less than sensible.
But can we not agree that there are those out there among us who, sadly, cannot match what I’m willing to concede are Yglesias's superior intellectual standards? Consider, for example, a not-so-hypothetical elderly woman -- frail, a bit unsteady, and wearing a hearing aid. She speaks several languages fluently, but minimal English. She knows it’s close to her train’s departure time, but she's confused, fails to hear or understand the boarding announcements, and goes down the wrong escalator. She ends up dazed and panicky … and on the wrong platform.

Thankfully, an alert Amtrak employee spots the confused woman, checks her ticket, and determines that her train is close to departing, but on another track. He speaks briefly into his radio, then escorts the woman up an escalator, across the concourse, and down another escalator to her train.
So to reduce the frequency of misdirected passengers, we inconvenience everybody?  It's only at Penn Station that a passenger can get to a train from the arrival concourse without shewing a ticket.  And our hypothetical elderly woman has to somehow wind up on the Long Island, rather than the Amtrak, level of the station in order to go down to the wrong track.

It, by the way, does not get any easier for passengers at Galesburg.
There may be no problem in letting 14 passengers walk out onto the platform to wait for the Southwest Chief in Galesburg, Illinois, but quite another if it’s in Penn Station and 184 people are waiting to board an Acela high-speed train headed for Washington.
Under current Amtrak operating practices, those boarding passengers still have to shew tickets to the conductor or collector at trackside, and the station staff is insufficient to handle more than one train at a time.  That led to an interesting situation on the September 23 trip of the Nebraska Zephyr.  A number of passengers booked tickets to Galesburg on the excursion, returning on Four.  The excursion was running late, Four was close to time, and it took some negotiating by the Amtrak conductor on the Zephyr to get it into the station first, in order for the Chicago passengers to make their return connection (rather than wait for 384 around seven that evening).  And with all the disembarking and boarding passengers for the Zephyr, we'd best hope that hypothetical elderly lady holding a coach ticket on Four wasn't too baffled by the herd of photographers, spectators, and passengers surrounding that time machine.