21.8.17

BRINGING THE SPECTATORS HOME.

There's a simulation of the canonical Solari Board that makes use of Amtrak train location data to show the status at various stations.  Here's a screen shot for Chicago at just before eight this evening.


The City of New Orleans will have to work its way south on the single track against the scheduled Illini (which arrived in Carbondale after totality, but could offer seats for people who wanted to stay overnight and then leave) and the extra, which was on time at eight, but reported ten minutes late as of this writing.

Coverage from Carbondale suggested that spectators at the Southern Illinois University stadium might have had an obstructed view of totality, while people just outside the fence could have seen around the clouds.

In DeKalb, the Northern Illinois University astronomy department set up some projecting telescopes, and shared some eclipse glasses around.


That's just after the eclipse began.  Shortly thereafter, some thick rain clouds moved in.  Yes, it did get dark, but attributing that to partial eclipse or to overcast is beyond my powers.  The Weather Channel coverage I went home and watched showed enthusiastic watchers in parts of Carbondale, at Clemson, and on a cruise ship out to sea.

20.8.17

WEIMAR, VIRGINIA.

I go on a road trip, in part to visit some Civil War sites (more of which anon), and the cold civil war (and that's what it is) heats up.  Latest stops, Charlottesville, which, like Weimar, is a central place for intellectual and cultural thought, and then Boston, once the Hub of the Universe.

Adam Garfinkle sees the spectre of Weimar.
Trump won the GOP nomination and then the election. The strain of irrationality has not abated but grown, sparking a dialectic of Right-Left valence that is tending ineluctably to push modest, humble, centrist, thoughtful social peacemaking energies to the margins. This is what always happens in a civil war, and America’s latest rendition seems clearly to be moving rapidly from a “cold” civil war, which we have witnessed worsening for years under the label “culture wars,” toward a “hot” civil war. This time, unless real leadership can avert it, civil war will come with no obvious spatial borders.
Michael Barone smells it.  It's the particularism, stupid.
Americans have grown increasingly accustomed to the view that your politics are determined by your racial, ethnic or gender identity. Politics is seen as a zero-sum battle for government favor. College and corporate leaders join in.
But your table's waiting in the cabaret.

Meanwhile, Our President's unwillingness to say the "presidential" things his detractors in the main press keep calling for isn't as damaging to him as those detractors would like.  Rod Dreher: "If Democrats and liberals only pay attention to the media and to each other on the statue debate, they are going to alienate a lot of people. The hostile media environment has made it very difficult for anybody to speak up for keeping the statues, even though that is a majority opinion in America. So people will keep that opinion to themselves."

And it's being stupid about being smart to marinate in the smug. "In turn, they may very well stew on it, angry at the liberal gatekeepers of respectable opinion either not caring about their opinion, or shutting them down as racists."

There's more, much more, at that column, but most of it tangential to my post.

The main point, dear reader, is that discontent with Our President's handling of the Charlottesville protests is not the same thing as a groundswell of support for impeaching him, or implementing single payer health insurance, or raising marginal tax rates, or banning football.

John Kass, in simple language.
Why did nearly half the electorate and 30 states make Donald Trump president of the United States?

Because he wasn't Hillary Clinton and her pack of cultural and media establishment elitists, who reveled in reminding forgotten Americans that they were deplorables for wanting to reclaim lost jobs and keep control of their nation's borders.

Because he wasn't part of the establishment war party endlessly seeking to spend American blood and treasure in constant and disastrous military intervention around the world.

Because he offered economic hope for a country that had been fed Barack Obama's weak platitudes, even as hope and opportunity fled, and to some extent, Trump has delivered on that.
Even so, you can't get away from Weimar.
Trump voters who cast ballots for him for other reasons -- from wanting conservatives on the Supreme Court to better trade deals -- are forced to defend themselves from the paralyzing charge of bigotry.

This is not a prescription for unifying the country, but it's been expected. It is what happens when an empire's establishment decays, infected by the cynicism of leaders over decade after decade.

The left and right become more violent and strident. Their loud declarations and counter declarations give little refuge to those in the middle. And the president's moral failure over Charlottesville helps feed it.

It is what happens with amoral men who think only in terms of themselves.
Perhaps the error is in thinking of the president as some sort of national counselor or father confessor, rather than as the chief executive of a federal government. (When you have tried everything else?)

The Democrats?  Hopeless, offers Salena Zito.
The Democratic Party brand has suffered broadly in the middle of the country in the past few years, largely on the backs of its pull left under the presidency of Barack Obama. While progressivism fit well for Democrats in urban areas, it fell flat and was widely rejected in places like Madison County.

It is not that voters liked or loved Republicans or found them more virtuous; it is that they found Democrats less aligned with their values, more likely to look down their nose at them and not at all interested in listening to their plights.

Republicans at least made it OK to be in a church pew every Sunday, own a gun for protection and hunting, and not share all of their money with everyone else.
And now things may not be looking so good for the urban areas.

RETHINKING AGGLOMERATION?

I'll never lack for stuff to reflect on.  Now comes Richard "Creative Class" Florida, perhaps coming to terms with bid-rent curves fostering de-agglomeration.  "When the rich, the young, and the (mostly) white rediscovered the city, they created rampant property speculation, soaring home prices, and mass displacement."  When "Captain Ed" Driscoll picks up Jacobin, there's something going on.

I'm not surprised.  It's likely there will be more reaction, particularly as Professor Florida's latest book comes to the stores.
He argues that the creative classes have grabbed hold of many of the world’s great cities and choked them to death. As a result, the fifty largest metropolitan areas house just 7 percent of the world’s population but generate 40 percent of its growth. These “superstar” cities are becoming gated communities, their vibrancy replaced with deracinated streets full of Airbnbs and empty summer homes.

Meanwhile, drug addiction and gang violence have spread to the suburbs. “Much more than a crisis of cities,” he writes, “the New Urban Crisis is the central crisis of our time” — “a crisis of the suburbs, of urbanization itself and of contemporary capitalism writ large.”
Or, as I have been characterizing Chicago, as fifteen square miles of privilege surrounded by the Third World.  But in Chicago, at least there's a pop tax.

LET'S EAT LIKE IT'S 1825.

A "local food planner" in Columbus, Ohio, writes as if that's a good thing.
There are many reasons to promote local food in your community: freshness; knowing where your food came from and how it was grown; supporting local farmers; having an alternative to fruits and vegetables that were trucked across the country from California or Florida.

But one of the best reasons is economic development: keeping your food dollars in your own town, county, and state.

In Ohio, where I live, much of what we produce – notably livestock – is shipped to other states for processing. Then we buy back the finished product at a higher price. We’re exporting our food dollars to other states, even as our once-vibrant rural farm towns have been hollowed out.

This dilemma is not unique to Ohio; it’s the case in states across the land.

Until half a century ago, we didn’t have “local food.” Instead, we had “food,” much of which was raised locally, or within the state. Many places had a local slaughterhouse which bought hogs and steers from local farmers, and processed them into steaks and chops sold in local stores. At the edge of town was a truck farm that hired generations of teens in the summers to pick fruit and vegetables for local consumption. Somewhere in the county, there was probably a greenhouse that supplied off-season “hothouse” tomatoes to the region.
Where shall I begin?

Do you really want to make a chicken sandwich from scratch, dear reader?  Hmm, with the new academic year starting, maybe I'll have opportunities to beat up Student Affairs idiots with pencil privilege, or steel privilege, or chicken sandwich privilege.

Are we really worse off today than we were fifty years ago?  (No.  The purpose of all production is consumption.)

And why have the better parts of the old glass town of Lancaster become sort of a bedroom suburb of Columbus?

The "local food planner" sort of gets it, or would, if he thought it through.
Today, if every farmer in Ohio pledged to grow for local markets, and every Ohio consumer vowed to buy local, we would have hungry people and wasted food. That’s because we lack the supply chain – the processing, distribution, and marketing “infrastructure” – to move food from farm to fork. I believe institutional markets are the key to developing that infrastructure. Most institutions cannot accept, say, a truckload of lettuce fresh from the field. They want it washed and trimmed and packaged – meaning the farm itself, or a third-party business, would need to provide those services. In either case, the service would add value and create jobs.
Put another way, "eliminate the middleman" is another form of "do it yourself."  Yeah, everyone who has thought about economics beyond multipliers and simple supply and demand gets this, but even the most assiduous among you could benefit by a modicum of repetition.


Werner Schuch, Two Riders of the Thirty Years' War and Farmers, 1881, oil on canvas.
Painting from the collection of the Grohmann Museum at Milwaukee School of Engineering.

Perhaps Our Betters on Horseback had sufficient authority back in the day to insist that the harvest they confiscated be washed and trimmed before it's handed over as tribute.  These days, the deplorables, er, peasants, have the right to keep and bear arms, and it's not going down that way.  You'd better hope, dear reader, that I'm being facetious.

Perhaps there's money to be made in fragmenting food markets along the lines the "food planner" proposes.  But if so, is there really any reason for food planners existing?

Perhaps, though, the regional food planner is being an optimist.  There's always James H. Kunstler.
If you want a chance at keeping on keeping on, you’ll have to get with reality’s program. Start by choosing a place to live that has some prospect of remaining civilized. This probably doesn’t include our big cities. But there are plenty of small cities and small towns out in America that are scaled for the resource realities of the future, waiting to be reinhabited and reactivated. A lot of these lie along the country’s inland waterways — the Ohio, Mississippi, Missouri river system, the Great Lakes, the Hudson and St. Lawrence corridors — and they also exist in regions of the country were food can be grown.

You’ll have to shift your energies into a trade or vocation that makes you useful to other people. This probably precludes jobs like developing phone apps, day-trading, and teaching gender studies. Think: carpentry, blacksmithing, basic medicine, mule-breeding, simplified small retail, and especially farming, along with the value-added activities entailed in farm production. The entire digital economy is going to fade away like a drug-induced hallucination, so beware the current narcissistic blandishments of computer technology. Keep in mind that being in this world actually entitles you to nothing. One way or another, you’ll have to earn everything worth having, including self-respect and your next meal.
The good news is, we've learned enough about steam railroading and electric steelmaking and shooting accurately at 450 yards and a few other things that, even in such a scenario, we won't be reverting to the Thirty Years War or 1825 or even 1870.

LEARNING TO PASS AS UPPER MIDDLE CLASS.

It transpires that I mis-stated the absence of business guru John T. Molloy, who made a living selling advice to young people, not to the manor born, on how to present themselves as though they were.  (It helps to stay away from off-the-books tattooists.)

He's still at work, to wit:
I suggest you approach the executives you accompany to these meetings and ask them if they think you would be more effective if you wore a conservative shirt and a blue blazer when talking to the executives of client companies.  Even if they say that they would rather you look like a techie, it will show you think in terms of image and make it more likely that they will move you into a position that requires that you’re dressed better.

However, your image is not your main problem. I edit most letters that are sent to me because I want them to fit into this blog and I want them to ask questions succinctly and ask questions that are of interest to the readers of this blog.  I also clean them up just a bit when needed. I do not wish to hurt your feelings but you letter indicated that you are not familiar with standard American English.  If it was  read by someone who had no background teaching English they might think that you were ignorant and semi-literate and obviously that would dramatically affect your chances of moving into the executive ranks.
Yes, passing is hard work, but not knowing how to pass and scraping by on the margins is harder.

7.8.17

MARKING OFF.


See you down the road.

YOU DON'T HAVE TO FLY YOUR LEAR JET TO NOVA SCOTIA TO SEE A TOTAL ECLIPSE OF THE SUN.

Amtrak laid on a train to Carbondale, which is as close as you can get, railroad-wise, to the locus point of greatest totality.  It sold out in less than a day, despite an oh-dark-hundred (Three a.m., to be precise) departure from Chicago, and a return from Carbondale at 5.15 pm, calling only at Champaign.)

There's apparently more to do than the usual near-campus activities in Carbondale the day of the eclipse.
[Amtrak spokesman Marc Magiliari explained] "This schedule enables a full day in Williamson County without affecting our other services.”

The return special to Chicago, train No. 398, will depart Carbondale at 5:15 p.m. one hour after the regularly-scheduled Illini, also only stopping at Champaign.

Unlike other Illinois corridor trains, the Eclipse Express will not carry pets or bicycles and won’t have business class seating, but it will have a cafĂ© car. Magliari has promised that overhead lighting in the coaches will be turned off for early morning snoozers.
But will it carry a special headboard or drumhead?

And astronomers, amateur or otherwise, have been rail-aware for months.
Amtrak’s northbound Illini, train 392, has been sold out on Aug. 21 for weeks, even after heavy demand prompted the company to add an extra coach to bring capacity up to 340. Since the special is bypassing other intermediate stations, travelers from Homewood to Gilman, Ill., and Mattoon to DuQuoin, Ill., can’t make a same-day round-trip.

If Amtrak, the state, and CN had agreed to reschedule the southbound Saluki earlier months ago, there would not be the existing imbalance of traffic on Aug 21 which made running a special train a necessity. If that happened and demand was heavy enough, extra sections could have been added to satisfy it. Between Aug. 1 and Aug 18, the northbound morning Saluki is scheduled two hours earlier to accommodate track reconstruction north of Champaign.

Although some Carbondale hotels have been sold out for nearly a year and just a handful of rooms within 100 miles of the city have been available for months, Amtrak only announced its co-sponsorship of Carbondale events on June 27. Part of the involvement includes distribution on the Express of special glasses, which are necessary to prevent permanent eye damage from viewing the sun in its partial eclipse phase. They will be given out on the southbound Express.
Let us be grateful there are enough spare coaches on hand, or enough cleverness in diagramming coaches for servicing, that Amtrak can lay on this extra train, plus a similar service on the Cascades route, which is also briefly under the band of totality.

My plan will be to hang out at the university observatory or someplace similar and watch the coverage from there.  Or perhaps rely on the nifty shadow patterns you get on the sidewalk when an eclipsing Sun shines through the trees.

INDENTURE USED TO INVOLVE PAID TRANSPORTATION.

That is, when the British Empire was populating the Haklyut Archipelago.  These days, it works differently, with state colleges conditioning free tuition on staying in state to complete a term of service.  Dumb idea, says Matt "Dean Dad" Reed.
The point of public education is to benefit everybody.  Sometimes that means sending folks off to places where their unique talents will make a better fit. That’s fine; that’s what makes the economy work.  But even if the economics turn out to be a wash, there’s a deeper ethical point here. Education is about, among other things, freedom.  If some of the peasants want to flee the land, let them. If states want to keep more of their own, and attract others from outside, let them make themselves more appealing destinations. Attract the ones who want to be there, rather than trapping the ones who don’t.
Yes, and there's no reason a state university can't run a balance of trade surplus with China, or with New Jersey or with Illinois.
Remember the Great Recession?  Imagine graduating the University of Michigan in 2009, only to be told that leaving the state would require ponying up all that past tuition, but the in-state economy simply isn’t hiring.

Conservative economist Tyler Cowen has argued, I think correctly, that people going where the opportunity is often leads to better outcomes all around. Shackling them to a depressed region isn’t likely to lead to positive outcomes.

Residency requirements, if they spread, would also greatly shift the balance of power when companies play states off against each other in bidding wars for relocations. As hard as it is to move for a job -- something I know personally -- it’s that much harder to see the job move away and know that you don’t have the option to follow it. That already happens between countries, but moves between states are much more common.  Allow capital to move but tie workers to places, and I’d expect to see ever more public funding get diverted -- whether directly, as through subsidies, or indirectly, as through tax credits or abatements -- to owners, even as wages go down.
I'm not sure that "conservative" adjective, which isn't precise with respect to Professor Cowen anyway, helps much.  Efficiency gains are more likely wherever economic agents operate under fewer constraints: that is, with more agency, and Tyler Cowen and Joseph Stiglitz and Stephen Karlson for that matter are likely to cite the same theorems in defense of that proposition.  Now, with Foxconn extracting some tax preferences from Wisconsin, even without a Wisconsin Indenture Free Tuition program in place, the states are locked in this subsidy arms race.  Now immobilize the labor force with these indentures and the states might compete to pick up the exit taxes of workers moving to the new jobs.

But Matt might want to be careful about subverting the state.
People aren’t supposed to be tools to realize goals of the state. The state is supposed to be a tool to realize the goals of people. Social contract theory isn’t new, but it’s based on an insight that still holds: the state is here to serve us, not the other way around. This kind of economic coercion, essentially kneecapping the educated young for the short-term gain of the state, is a category mistake.
The beginning of classical liberalism, anyone?

PROJECT ANALYSIS IS HARD WORK.

Put another way, rosy corporate scenarios are not the same thing as cost-benefit analyses.
The economic impact study that provided this figure came with a high status logo on its cover, too, that of the global accounting and consulting firm EY.

Given that big number, though, it’s still far from a no-brainer for Wisconsin public officials to jump up and claim credit for this one. That’s because the economic impact would be the same if Foxconn paid for everything with its own money. And it’s not going to.

There could be more than $3 billion of Wisconsin taxpayer subsidies thrown into the project. Could all that subsidy, spread around a thousand Wisconsin businesses, generate twice as many good jobs as the Foxconn project?

What the people of Wisconsin needed was a cost-benefit analysis to answer that question. What they got was Foxconn’s economic impact study — and few things are as useless as one of those when trying to make a good decision.

But these impact studies are enduringly popular. A huge number is exactly what promoters are eager to pitch when they go looking for taxpayer money.

“Our lawmakers, if they ever hear of an economic impact study, they should just recoil in fear,” said John Spry, economist and finance professor at the University of St. Thomas. “They are being hoodwinked.”

No one bothers to teach students in economics how to do one of these, Spry said, because it’s hard to justify an analysis that omits the very fundamental idea of how much a rational person would be willing to pay for whatever benefit they got. He described, with genuine exasperation, some memorable economic impact studies he has seen crop up in recent years.
To the contrary, being able to assess opportunity costs is exactly what economics students learn to do; and more than a few young men rushed into their capstone papers eager to tout stadium subsidies, only, once it dawned on them that they ought not generalize from their own enthusiasm, to figure out just how little economic benefit a facility open only in summer, or for eight to ten games in fall, produced.

The same sorts of arguments apply, where a new flat screen factory is concerned.
For economists like Timothy Bartik of the W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research in Michigan, one big unanswered question is what other beneficial use the state could put $200 million a year to, rather than mailing it to the home office of a global electronics manufacturer.

The state might miss out on the economic benefits of having that $200 million go into K-12 education. Or maybe the Foxconn subsidies get funded by higher individual income taxes, costing the state the economic impact of money that won’t be spent on home improvements, new cars or other household items.

The way you get to a bottom line on this kind of choice is to do a cost-benefit analysis. They sound costly and complex to do, but the concept is really no more complicated than just the “Is spending this money worth it?” exercise that business owners do all the time.

No business owner would be happy with just an economic impact study. Imagine the boss receiving a recommendation from the CFO to build a new facility for all the great benefits it would provide, but the memo didn’t quite get around to saying it would also cost $10 million to build.
That last is true in part: what is the return on investment from that $10m?  Likewise, it appears as though the company's "economic impact study" claims "We're going to hire 10,000 people" and a proper cost-benefit analysis asks "From where?" and "In this factory's absence, what might those people otherwise be doing?"  But we have to push the discussion further.  Sure, some of those Foxconn employees might be living in Illinois, and they're going to pay Illinois income taxes.  But in the absence of a Foxconn plant employing Illinoisans, will there be welfare migration into Wisconsin as Illinois continues to come apart.  And thus do capstone papers not write themselves.

DON'T GIVE THEM ANY IDEAS.

Brian Joondeph proposes, I think with tongue in cheek, that college admissions criteria mimic those used for immigration.
Colleges have admissions requirements. In other words, their admission is skill-based with a point system reflecting grades, SAT scores, extracurricular activities, accomplishments, recommendations and a language proficiency test in the form of one or more essays. Suppose colleges waived all such requirements and opened their classrooms to any and all who wanted to attend?
That's kind of how it works once you get away from the hundred or so institutions claiming to be in the U. S. News top ten, but I digress.  But where immigration is all about reuniting families, there might be analogues in higher education admission.
Why not for Harvard too? Buffy is admitted to the incoming freshman class. She is a straight A student with exceptional board scores. She was captain of the lacrosse and softball teams. She started a small business while in high school, sold it to Google, used the proceeds to fund an AIDS treatment clinic in Africa, and in her spare time tutors the homeless. Her college essay was published in The Atlantic. On the point system, she was a slam dunk admission.

Her brother Biff, on the other hand, flunked 10th grade, never took the SATs, spent 6 months in jail for larceny, has a cocaine problem, and is Hepatitis C positive. Shouldn’t he automatically be admitted to Harvard by virtue of being Buffy’s brother? Suppose Biff is married to Candy, who he met in a Vegas strip club. Candy started working in the adult industry after 9th grade. She is quite accomplished and skillful, but not in the way Harvard admissions committees prefer. She would automatically be admitted along with Biff.

As would her mother Tiffany, only 14 years older than Candy, working as a waitress, believing that a Harvard degree would improve her lot in life. Once Tiffany is at Harvard, she can bring her brother Billy Bob, currently working in a Mississippi junkyard. And so on and so on.
I suspect the intersectionality types could fill up hundreds of screens with lines and lines of pomo-babble on just how wrong the above is, or how awful it is that there is, like, no way Biff is going to find himself in that pass, because privilege, and thus unlikely to encounter Candy in Vegas, although he might take liberties with her at a lacrosse team party.

BETWEEN THE PROPHET AND THE HERO IS THE NOMAD.

As in between Franklin Roosevelt and John Kennedy there is Dwight Eisenhower; or, in fiction, between Obi-Wan Kenobi and Luke Skywalker there is Han Solo.  So, too, is it with the Thirteenth Generation (although, in the current state of things, the Baby Boomers visions aren't all that great, and the Millennials' commitments are far from heroic.)
Born between about 1965 and 1980, Generation X came of age in the 1980s and early 1990s. The oldest members of this cohort remember Watergate as children; the youngest are still forming their families today. Most became politically aware during the Reagan-Bush or Clinton years. They are more conservative than millennials and less partisan than boomers. Their outlook was shaped by a childhood defined by broad-based domestic prosperity, slow but steady technological progress, relative racial harmony and social stability, and the Cold War triumph over the Soviet Union.

They were raised with the expectation of inheriting a world at peace, enforced by the global supremacy of the US military, but also a world in which sexual relations were haunted by the specter of AIDS. They were taught in school that doing drugs was dangerous, premarital sex was to be avoided and there were, in fact, just two genders.The US divorce rate peaked in the early 1980s, just as the oldest Xers entered their teen years. Their mothers entered the workforce en masse. Many became so-called latchkey kids — independent, resilient, slightly cynical. Perhaps jaded by these experiences, Xers got married later than their parents did but have stayed married longer. Like millennials today, Xers were once slandered as sullen, withdrawn and difficult to please.

The charges didn’t stick. As adults, according to the University of Michigan’s Longitudinal Study of American Youth, Xers have become “active, balanced and happy.”
And yet, the Thirteeners fought Desert Storm, supposedly to settle things in the Gulf once and for all, the way their saecular antecedents, the Lost Generation, fought the War to End All Wars.  Oh, wait.
Some say that, in America, everything works out in the end. These optimists put their full faith in the American system — representative democracy, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, free markets, free minds, liberty and justice for all; or, alternatively, in the arrival of a political Superman to put us back on course. Sometimes, though, no Superman can be found, and an entire generation of Americans must step into the breach. It’s happened before.
Yes, and there have to be pragmatic managers to moderate the conceits of the prophets and the heroes alike.  "Don't get cocky, kid" and all that.

NEVER COMPLAIN, NEVER EXPLAIN.

Thirty ways to conserve your sanity.  An example: "Other people do not have to approve of your motives for your life choices to be valid." Another: "Conforming to [others expectations of you] keeps you small." Much more at the link.

STOP MISAPPROPRIATING STATE PROPERTY.

Judge stops NIU from paying rest of ousted president's severance package.
A DeKalb County judge Friday barred Northern Illinois University from paying the remainder of ousted President Doug Baker's severance package while the court considers whether school trustees violated the law when they approved the deal.

But Baker — who left in June after the release of a state report alleging improper spending during his tenure — already has received most of his money, including a $450,000 payment to end his contract a year early and another $137,500 to resign from his tenured position at the business school.

NIU will not have to claw the money back under the ruling by Circuit Judge Bradley Waller, university officials said. Instead, while the case is still pending, the school will withhold any remaining reimbursements for legal expenses Baker incurred during his 4-year tenure.
The deal by which Mr Baker stepped out of line and disappeared might not have been properly announced in the trustees' order of business.
According to the suit, the board typically holds an open session at the meetings and follows that with a closed session. But on June 15, it said, the board departed from that practice and reserved one item on the agenda for a second open session, after the closed session, which lasted more than seven hours.
The announcement of Mr Baker's resignation thus was made public, but only for the curious who also had time to hang around for the seven hours of closed sessions. And as far as I know, no white smoke or black smoke was vented from Altgeld Hall before the second open session.

4.8.17

A SLOW RAILROAD DIES FASTER THAN A FAST ONE DOES.

And freight operations guru Hunter Harrison appears to be destroying CSX Railroad in order to save it.
From Indianapolis comes word today that CSX decided against closing Avon Yard and moving its work to Hawthorne Yard. Hawthorne had been the finest yard on the Pennsylvania Railroad—in 1910. It was in sad shape before CSX spent millions recently to make it partially viable. Now the decision is to keep Avon open, just to shut down its hump yard later this week and flat switch cars. Earlier, a bevy of locomotives had appeared at Avon, assigned to empty yard tracks and haul everything to other yards, such as Louisville, Cincinnati and Willard, Ohio. Customers may get those cars in a week or two.

Three investment analysts have polled CSX customers since the start of last week. With each survey, the percentage of CSX customers who say they are diverting business grows. The most recent to report was Jason Seidl of Cowen & Company. He says half of the customers not captive to CSX are handing off carloads to rival Norfolk Southern. What really struck me was the anger that customers expressed to Seidl about CSX. A sample: “Service has declined to the point that it appears CSX is trying to drive my plant out of business. I have missed customer orders and been forced to idle my plant numerous times due to failure to get service. The only answers we get are basically, ‘That’s tough. Get used to it.’ The situation is untenable, and I am actively looking to switch my business elsewhere wherever possible, as soon as possible.”

Heard enough? As of last week, the only portion of CSX that seemed to operate normally and close to scheduled times was across the Water Level Route in upstate New York, between Buffalo and Selkirk. Today?
Perhaps it's possible to cut your way to prosperity, although the stockholders are going to have to be patient.  Or perhaps CSX is too much a jumble of railroads for anyone to make sense of.

GOING UNARMED TO THE COLD CIVIL WAR.

Keep doubling down on the identity politics, Democrats.
Progressives see Democratic efforts to move on from the divisive culture wars that typified Barack Obama’s second term and Balkanized the electorate as a subtle rebuke of their myopic Identitarian obsession. They’re observant. Apparently, they’re not going to take their abandonment lying down.
Fine, how many seats in Congress does Hollywood, and Martha's Vineyard, and Chicago, have?

ILLINOIS IS WHAT DEMOCRATS DO.

Or, in the case of Cook County maharajah Toni Preckwinkle, what Lord North would do.  We find it in the public interest that Our subjects pay a pop tax.  Don't even think about that due process, peasants!
According to Crain's Chicago Business, Preckwinkle's lawyers will try to extract a crushing $17 million from the Illinois Retail Merchants Association, a private interest group that represents retail stores. The group had challenged her tax in court, arguing that it was unconstitutionally arbitrary.
Watch, though, when the retail merchants stop doing business in Cook County, for former president Valerie Jarrett and school lunch expert Michelle Obama to complain about a growing "food desert."

They're being spared the view of pitchforks and torches that they deserve, though, because tax sanity is as close as Wisconsin, or Indiana.
Cook County residents understand that Preckwinkle tried to play them for chumps by claiming the sweetened beverage tax was for the public's health. No, it's for the politicians' revenues.

From Wilmette to Calumet City, residents have been waking up. If only Preckwinkle understood the unrest. People resent public officials, unable to control their spending, exploiting the simplest of pleasures. A soda from the convenience store. A coffee with fancy whipped cream.

Preckwinkle didn't get the anger a few months ago when taxpayers absorbed what was about to happen. By siccing county lawyers on merchants stuck with collecting her tax, she shows she still doesn't get the anger now.
Keep it up, Chicago.  What is the revenue yield of a privilege tax when there are no businesses subject to the tax?

END STATE-SANCTIONED DISCRIMINATION.

The Trump administration might be investigating academic affirmative action, or, as the deanlets and deanlings would have it, curating an entering class that sings the proper liberal music.  Get the government out of the collegiate discrimination racket, suggests Reason's David Harsanyi.

But the real disadvantage faced by protected-status applicants is a government-provided disadvantage.
None of this is to dismiss the obstacles that many African-American and Hispanic kids have to overcome like being forced to attend failing schools and dealing with poverty. This puts them at an immediate and sometimes crippling disadvantage. This destructive problem can only be fixed in the public school system, not in the admissions process.
Yes, and the public school system ought be, well, schooling students for success, rather than, say, fretting about disproportionate suspensions for disengaged students.

TO UNDERSTAND GOLF IS TO UNDERSTAND TRUMP.

Condescend much, Robert Lipsyte?
For successful greedheads and their wannabes, golf is the most sacred of sports, the symbol of all that is retrograde and exclusionary in American life. There’s far more to golf, however, than mere inequality or a history of institutional racism and sexism. Golf is also a waste of space and water, and a sinkhole for chemicals poisoning the local aquifer. Think of all the organic vegetables that could be grown on those swards or the walking trails and wildlife sanctuaries that could be established. Think of the affordable housing that could be built on that land. There has to be a better use for the millions of dollars that will be squandered this year on overpriced golf duds and equipment, lessons, playing fees, and memberships in the latest trendy clubs (that these days often have you-know-who’s name on them in large golden letters).

Golf is marketed as a test of character -- especially of those business school values of focus, perseverance, and self-improvement. A golf course is laid out as a hero’s journey.  You strike out from the tees (usually at different distances from the hole for men and women) onto a long carpet called a “fairway” that winds among natural “hazards” to be avoided: small ponds, sand traps, patches of undergrowth representing the oceans, deserts, and jungles that must be colonized or conquered on your 18-hole journey to capitalistic triumph.  (Golf nomenclature, including “par” and “lie,” which is where the ball comes to rest after a shot, is too vulnerable to mockery to be addressed here.)
Eight years of culture studies wasted on this guy, who rattles on interminably for another sixteen paragraphs, and for all his experience interrogating jock culture appears still to be clueless about differences in upper body strength between women and men.

3.8.17

BUYING INTO AMERICA?

Victor Hanson suggests that, rather than Donald Trump's election heralding a white identity politics as countervailing force to all the other identities politic, we might be witnessing a rediscovery of assimilation.
The startling 2016 presidential election weakened the notion of tribal identity rather than a shared American identity. And it may have begun a return to the old idea of unhyphenated Americans.

Many working-class voters left the Democratic Party and voted for a billionaire reality-TV star in 2016 because he promised jobs and economic growth first, a new sense of united Americanism second, and an end to politically correct ethnic tribalism third.
In a world of Oppression Olympics and empty intersectionality and trans-exclusionary radical feminists, that might even be good for the identity politics crowd.  Or perhaps the identity politics crowd can offer something fun to the folks outside the tribe.
In the 19th century, huge influxes of Irish and German immigrants warred for influence and power against the existing American coastal establishment that traced its ancestry to England. Despite their ethnic chauvinism, these immigrant activist groups eventually became indistinguishable from their hosts.

Then and now, the forces of assimilation, integration and intermarriage make it hard to retain an ethnic cachet beyond two generations -- at least without constant inflows of new and often poor fellow immigrants.
I disagree, in part. Everybody can be Irish in mid-March, particularly in Chicago and a few other big cities.  Then everybody can #GetYourDeutschOn from August into October.


As I noted at the time, "give these kids an America to buy into, and an America that buys into these kids, and we'll be OK."

It's really up to Mr Hanson to come up with something more fun than Ikea, or lutefisk.
The strained effort to champion the victimized tribe can turn comical. In the 1960s, my family still tried to buy Swedish-made Volvo automobiles and Electrolux vacuum cleaners. But it proved hopeless to cling to a fading Swedish heritage.

For all the trendy talk of the salad bowl and the careerist rewards of hyping a multicultural ancestry, America still remains a melting pot of diverse races, ethnicities and agendas.
A hint:  Skol translates as Prosit!

I'll give Mr Hanson an optimistic last word, though. "'Them' is out, and 'us' is back in."  Yes, and Polonia and Bavaria refrain from re-litigating the Polish Corridor.

TIME TO RECLAIM COHERENT BELIEFS?

Duke historian Nancy McLean recently published a book, supposedly alleging that Virginia political economy guru James Buchanan was really a tool of neo-confederates and the non-nautical Koch Brothers.  Suffice it to say that the book is a hatchet job, designed more to make Atlantic readers and culture-studies types comfortable with their prejudices, and there's enough error and response thereto in it to keep Don "Cafe Hayek" Boudreaux busy tracking it all down: just keep scrolling.

Professor McLean can get away with it, however, because The Narrative.
Her libertarian critics' responses are important and necessary, but they are not sufficient as long as they assume a modernist framework and make modernist arguments.

Two generations of postmodernism have laid the sub-cultural groundwork within which books like MacLean's can get published by university presses, and that groundwork enables MacLean and her fans to simply set aside concerns for objectivity and double-down on their subjective commitments.

That postmodern philosophical groundwork must also be challenged, uprooted, and replaced.
The good news, dear reader, is that even experiments against reality eventually collide with reality.

FIRST, LEARN NOT TO BE STUPID ABOUT BEING SMART.

The American Conservative's Noah Millman sees a crisis in the existing political institutions.
The challenge for those who oppose Trump isn’t to convince the American people that Trump presents a threat to democracy, or to wean them off the thrill of a reality show roller coaster in Washington. The challenge is to win back the trust of people who have tuned them out entirely.

The fact is that liberalism has always been an elite rather than a popular ideology, and we shouldn’t panic that our democracy will collapse if large numbers of Americans want to restrict speech they don’t approve of. What we should worry about is the mutual alienation between ordinary Americans and the elites that inevitably man the institutions of the state and civil society. That’s what fuels populism, whether of the left or the right. And populism by its very nature cannot build institutions, cannot govern, even if the populist leader is more competent than Trump is.
Arguably, governance, irrespective of guiding ideology, is the work of elites, but some elites are, or give the impression of being, more responsive to the wishes of their constituents, and the current incarnation of liberalism is too heavy on the scolding, the patronizing, the hectoring, the condescending, the Voxing.  I'm not so worried about populist impulses being effective at building institutions, because institutions are emergent anyway.  I'm more worried about people hanging onto the existing institutions, even when (as is the case with much of the New Deal structure) it is no longer useful.

With that in mind, here is a Roger Kimball checklist on taking stock of a Trump presidency.
  1. His judicial appointments. Is he keeping his promise to nominate judges and justices in the mold of Antonin Scalia?
  2. Regulation. Is he keeping his promise to roll back burdensome and counterproductive regulation?
  3. Immigration. Is he keeping his promise to get a handle on illegal immigration?
  4. The military. Is he keeping his promise to upgrade the U.S. military and give it greater flexibility in responding to threats to our national security?
  5. Energy. Is he reversing the Obama administration’s various strictures on America’s ability to harvest its own energy resources?
  6. Jobs. Is he working to create an environment that is job-friendly for American workers?
  7. Obamacare. Is he working to repeal and replace Obamacare?
  8. Taxes. Is he working to cut taxes?
  9. Making American Great Again. This is more amorphous but not therefore indiscernible. What has Trump done about the virus of political correctness and the ideology of identity politics? What’s the mood of the country?
My assessment, arguably with incomplete information:
  1. Off to a good start.
  2. Off to a good start; hope to have something more detailed once the festival season ends.
  3. There's anecdotal, impressionistic evidence from the neighborhood to that effect.
  4. Too soon to tell, and outside my area of expertise.
  5. I'm seeing a lot of frac sand cars moving on the Troy Grove line and the Overland Route.
  6. Too soon to tell, although with a Dow 22000 is the #resistance really betting on a recession?
  7. I'm totally disappointed.  Recent Republican mailings don't even ask about health.
  8. Too soon to tell, and that's going to take an effective Congress.  Effective is not the same thing as "clear the calendar to go on vacation."
  9. Higher education continues to double down on microaggressions and toxic masculinity.
I would add to the list that Ambassador Haley at the United Nations is an excellent pick, and if he's identified a possible shatterer-of-that-highest-glass-ceiling, I would not be displeased.

SOCIAL ENGINEERING IS AVOIDABLE.

Just go read it.

While you're at it: Order emerges from the bottom up and not the top down.

Just go read that too.

And count your blessings you don't live in Venezuela.

WINNERS, WHINERS, AND LOSERS.

In higher education, it's labs, ladders, and laggards.  Somehow, despite the continuous administrative follies, Northern Illinois University gets to brag about being a leader.
[The Brookings] study evaluated 342 selective, public, four-year universities and identified which institutions serve as “ladders” or “labs.” Additionally, 70 public institutions, including NIU, were categorized as “leaders” in both research and social-mobility objectives.

NIU ranked 58th on the leaderboard. One other state public institution, the University of Illinois System, also was identified as a leader, coming in at No. 61.

The report specifically focused on research and social mobility, calling those criteria “the two most celebrated purposes of the American public university system.”

“Combining the two datasets allows us to estimate the share of America’s selective, public, four-year universities that succeed in promoting opportunity, producing research, both or neither,” the authors said in their report.

Just 20 percent of the universities studied managed to accomplish both objectives—to be both ladders and labs.

“This recognition highlights exactly what distinguishes NIU from other universities in Illinois and elsewhere—our commitment to providing students from all walks of life with a higher education experience that engages them in knowledge creation,” NIU Acting President Lisa Freeman said.
Isn't it time to let the faculty do its work, rather than coming up with ever more intrusive methods of data collection, and ever more time spent on administrivia?

Why am I asking these questions?  Because on occasion I'll catch up with colleagues who are still in the trenches, and this, along with the scandals from headquarters and the lack of pay raises, without fail comes up.

1.8.17

SKEPTICISM ABOUT WISCONN VALLEY.

Jim "The Political Environment" Rowen is not pleased that there is not a passenger train to move techies between the Madison area and Pleasant Prairie.  He's right about that, but the failure of the train is a failure of its advocates to note that extending an existing service from Milwaukee to Madison increases the number of possible trips among intermediate stops.  That let a few Milwaukee radio talkers mischaracterize the extension as a new service for the benefit of lawyers and lobbyists.

But there's something in a longer Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel article that merits further analysis.
If Foxconn landed tomorrow, it would siphon tech talent from existing employers, leaving gaping holes throughout the region in one information technology department after another. Wage inflation would be inevitable, particularly for high-tech positions, as would be a new breed of long-distance commuter drawn from Chicago and Madison, who would spend hours every day on I-94, business leaders concur.
Foxconn will not be landing tomorrow, which will give real estate hustlers opportunities to plat and build new clusters of Executive Boxes and McMansions with Lake Michigan water mains, for the tech wizards who would rather not spend a second shift on the roads.  Not to mention, that some workers might be enticed away from Silicon Valley with the right pay packets and house prices.

That might not necessarily be a bad thing.
As disruptive as it might be, some cheer a rare opportunity to jolt the economic ecosystem.

“I say bring it on,” said Jeff Joerres, who retired in 2015 as chief executive of ManpowerGroup, a multinational Milwaukee-based staffing and recruitment service that matches job candidates with employers.

To dismiss Foxconn because it would cause disarray and inconvenience would relegate the region to status quo, “which is a pretty dangerous place to be,” Joerres said.
On the other hand, to attract such a different sort of business with massive tax inducements brings dangers in train.
Great for Foxconn, almost certainly, but not for most of the people of Wisconsin, Matthew Mitchell, a senior researcher with the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, says.

"With enough subsidies," Mitchell tells Reason, "you could get orange growers to relocate to Wisconsin."
Arguably, the parity formula that supports cheese prices as a function of distance from Eau Claire, Wisconsin, works the same way.  But I digress.  Although I'm no fan of factory-chasing subsidies, here we have an information technology company that seeks to locate somewhere other than Silicon Valley, or Greater Boston, or the Illinois Research and Technology Corridor, and the dominant strategy for a state that wants to get in on the action might be to offer some tax breaks.

It's less encouraging, though, to contemplate these investments as hedges against a future trade war.
The high public cost of each job is evidence the Foxconn project is not suited to area. "The last thing a region wants in order to prosper is a bunch of firms that aren't really suited for the region," Mitchell says.

Cato trade policy expert Dan Ikenson agrees. The Foxconn deal has less to do with creating prosperity in Wisconsin and more to do with President Trump's potential to crack down on trade.

"Foxconn is hedging against a U.S.-China trade war which it feels is increasingly likely," Ikenson says. "If it's stuck in Shenzhen snapping iPhones together and there is a trade war, they could be jeopardy."

Having a manufacturing plant in the United States would allow Foxconn to ship its goods to its American customers without the fear of being hit with tariffs says Ikenson.
We can produce smart 'phones in Wisconsin in a Foxconn factory.  Or we can produce smart 'phones in Wisconsin in a dairy.  The trade war will hurt dairy operators.

MEXICO WILL PAY FOR THE COPPER.

That's an ancient trade route, from Michigan's Copper Country by way of Elkhart Lake, Aztalan, Cahokia, Longview; and there's a similar prehistoric pyramid near Vicksburg on the east side of the Great River.  (The generic name, "Mississippian pyramid builders" is there for a reason.)  It's more likely that a conch shell wound up in a Wisconsin burial pit as a trade good, than that ancient astronauts buried it there.

OUCH.

I hesitate to pick on student journalists, but I can't let this Northern Star commentary pass.
Human Resources officials distributed an email to university employees Friday informing them payroll will see the effects of the state tax increase beginning with Monday’s payment, meaning faculty and staff are going to take an immediate hit because of the actions of state lawmakers.

The withholding rate is being increased from 3.75 to 4.95 percent, which will be reflected in employees’ decrease in post-tax wages. It also may mean additional income tax may be owed for the 2017 tax year, according to the email.

Though the tax hike, which was made effective July 1, is what allowed lawmakers to finally pass a full budget after nearly three endless, tight years without complete appropriations, it’s sad to see the reality of the increase — a reality in which faculty and staff are repaying the debt of incompetent lawmakers.
Arguably a number of my colleagues, good Donk court intellectuals that they are, will accept the additional withholding as in the public interest.  They might also suggest to students that without the tax increases, there might be no financial aid, and fewer classes on offer.

INSIDER INTUITION.

Philosopher Shannon Sullivan, affiliated with one of the basketball schools of the Carolinas, proposes that the expression "white privilege" is imprecise.
This article introduces the concept of white priority and challenges the false universalism built into the concept of white privilege. Proceeding from the perspective of "trash crit," the article analyzes white domination from the perspective of poor and working class white people. While racial advantages exist for poor and working class white people, the concept of white privilege does not capture them well. The concept of white priority—the sense of coming before another, of not being at "the bottom of the well" (Derrick Bell)—is needed to help America grapple with race and class in a post-Obama era.
I'm not sure what this trash crit refers to, probably a new name for an old line of social science inquiry.  Think attempts to understand the Klan, any time in the twentieth century, or coming to grips with the union-busting George Wallace appealing to blue-collar northerners, something that echoes this day.

The College Fix quotes the professor as not yet having developed any testable implications.  "As for proof that white priority exists, Sullivan stated she does not exactly have any, noting 'white priority is not something that can be empirically verified or disproven.'"

Perhaps, there being a division of labor in the academy, it is not the place of philosophers, or social theorists viewed generally, to contemplate the testable implications, or to argue a prima facie case that yes, here is a useful way of thinking about social stratification.

But if you want to sort through some testable implications, start here, then go here.

You're welcome.