28.9.17

CONTEMPLATING MONUMENTS.

A few years ago, Michael Lewis lamented the diminished aesthetics of recent public art.
As different as [Washington, D. C.'s recent Martin Luther] King and [General and President Dwight] Eisenhower memorials are, the public’s dismay in each instance has the same cause: These aren’t the men we knew. It is not easy, of course, to make a succinct statement in sculptural form of the essence of a man’s life. It is something American art has always struggled with, especially in our chronic divided loyalty between realism and idealism. But this is the least of the problems with the Eisenhower and King memorials. They fail fundamentally as monuments, not because they misunderstand the nature of their subjects, but because they misunderstand what a monument is, or should be.

As traditionally understood, a monument is the expression of a single powerful idea in a single emphatic form, in colossal scale and in permanent materials, made to serve civic life.
But iconoclasm became a thing, long before the current iconoclasm took root.
Monuments and memorials today are discursive, sentimental, addicted to narrative literalism, and asking to be judged on good intentions rather than visual coherence. This change began, ironically, with a critique of the overwrought memorials of the Victorian era. In reaction, the first generation of modern architects decided that we needed an entirely different vocabulary of monuments. So when modernism went about dislodging the structures of traditional society, culture, religion, and the political and social order, it also began dispensing with the arches and columns that paid tribute to that order. This was not easy, however, because modernism was concerned with the future and monuments are retrospective.
The challenge, as we shall see, is that "good intentions" are temporally relative and emergent.
[W]e can remember that greatness is possible. For more than a century and a half, we built monuments with spectacular success. We have only been building them badly for a generation. I look at these recent designs, which are perhaps an honest reflection of our divided and uncertain culture, and can’t help but think we can do better once more.
First, though, the division and uncertainty must proceed.

Or perhaps there has always been division and uncertainty: we just haven't considered the history.

For example, did you know the entire Minnesota State Capitol is a victory monument?


The statues are of state governors wounded in the Civil War: at left, John Johnson (not to be confused with the one from Wisconsin who works in a lumber mill); at right, Knute Nelson (who might be inspiration for Garrison Keillor's Sons of Knute?)  The figures above the frieze remind me of a group on Berlin's Brandenburg Gate, and they represent earth, air, water, and fire.  I was unable to obtain confirmation that the statues are called Eller, Larson, Page, and Marshall, but at least one person I spoke with knew the reference.

But the cladding of the Capitol was originally to be Georgia marble.  The Grand Army of the Republic, still active in Minnesota politics at the turn of the twentieth century, would not hear of it.  Minnesota was the last state into the Union before South Carolina voted to leave, and Minnesotans took a great interest in restoring the Union, oversubscribing the first call-up from Abraham Lincoln.

Walk around to the other side, near the trolley stop, though, and there's a different sort of retrospective.


Leif Erikson, lamenting another exit from the playoffs?

This statue dates to 1947, and it was paid for by the Sons of Norway.  Identity politics did not begin with the Rainbow Coalition: it's likely that this statue (and the whole Norsemen-came-first argument) is in part a response to Italian identity politics what with the Columbian Exposition and Columbus Day, and for all I know, pizza parlors.

But John Hinderaker notes that Christopher Columbus is himself the object of a monument protest in Minnesota, and can Leif be far behind?  "When all is said and done, though, it probably is true that Prince, who died of a drug overdose, better represents Minnesota’s 21st-Century values than the most intrepid explorer in the history of the world."  Ouch.  I didn't see the Columbus statue, but I can't help but wonder if Leif isn't a rebuke thereto.

Inside the Capitol, there are other paintings and monuments, including this sculpture in the House chamber.


THE TRAIL OF THE PIONEER 
BORE THE FOOTPRINTS OF LIBERTY.

Elsewhere, there are paintings depicting the arrival of Father Hennepin, and of the signing of the treaty of Traverse des Sioux, as well as several paintings of Minnesota regiments liberating Corinth and Nashville and Vicksburg and Little Rock and Missionary Ridge and holding the line at Gettysburg.

The treaty paintings, in particular, bother some viewers.  Here's a statement from the folder describing the public art in the Governor's Reception Room.
At the time they were commissioned for one of the new Capitol's grandest public spaces, they were meant to glorify, in what was then seen as an uplifting fashion, key moments in the history of Minnesota.

In the century since these eight works were created, public opinions have changed.  Some citizens now voice their reservations about what they consider distortions of the truth, but it is important to acknowledge the historical context in which all art is made.  Artists are influenced by the prevailing ideas of their day.  The Volk [Hennepin] and Millet [Treaty] paintings reveal early 20th-century perceptions of important events in the histories of both American Indians [c.q.] and explorers and settlers in the land that became Minnesota.

Noting the distortions of the past represented in the Millet and Volk paintings, some have argued that these works should be removed.  Others recognizing the historical context in which they were created and appreciate the paintings for their aesthetic quality.  Discussion of these two points of view continues.
Discussion is right and proper.  Vandalism is not.  Note, though, that arguments from context may not be working where monuments to the Confederacy are concerned, nor might those arguments work where Leif Erikson is concerned.

CALL THEM TO ACCOUNT.

At The American Interest, Andrew Michta calls out the indolent political class.
In truth, we are not witnessing a dramatic systemic change driven by conniving external forces, but a meltdown of political authority in the West caused by the relatively straightforward indolence of its political class. Our troubles are less about liberalism’s decline or the ascendancy of left or right politics. Simply put, the citizenry in the West has been frustrated for decades with its elites’ inability to deliver workable solutions to the problems of slow growth, deindustrialization, immigration, and the overall decline of self-confidence across the West.

The legitimacy, and hence stability, of the international system rests to a degree on the ability of the leading powers to deliver at home—or, simply put, to govern.
That presupposes there is something called governing, but one point at a time.
The increasingly self-selecting, self-contained nature of the political class has been at the center of the systemic dysfunction bedeviling Western democracies. It has led voters in 2016 to view with suspicion anyone connected to politics. Trump’s election is a case in point, as is Brexit, the rise of the AfD in Germany, and the progressive re-nationalization of European politics overall. At the same time, domestic institutions are increasingly characterized by sclerosis throughout the West. It has manifested itself in tandem with the growing crisis of political leadership at home. If unchecked, it will further undermine faith in state institutions, and could even delegitimize democracy itself.

Because Western elites continue to fail to deliver real solutions to problems like immigration and deindustrialization, an irreversible loss of public support for fundamentals like free trade, liberalism, and multilateralism is no longer just a theoretical possibility.
That's the reasoned case.  Then there's Kurt Schlichter.  Voters are quicker to fire underachieving leaders than used to be the case.
The ritual sacrifice of Eric Cantor was not a fluke. The election of Donald Trump was not a fluke. None of this is a fluke. We really mean it. We want change. And if you won’t give it to us, we’ll fire you and elect someone who will.
"Change," dear reader, does not mean putting your trust in Democrats.
We face an enemy that hates us, that wants us suppressed and silenced, that will do everything it can to take our First, Second, and every other Amendment’s rights from us and condemn us to a future of baking liberals’ cakes and fearing that we might be jailed for using the wrong pronoun.
He exaggerates, but only slightly.

Perhaps the place to start is by placing less faith in Governance as Solving Problems in the first place.

SUNDOWN TOWNS HIDING IN PLAIN SIGHT?

Possibly.  That's a review of a recent book, The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America.  Once upon a time, communities, particularly small towns and tony suburbs, were explicitly segregated, or sundown towns.  But it's possible to accomplish the same outcomes, without violating the civil rights laws, by careful curating of the in-migrants, as Charles Haywood suggests is standard in Oak Park, Illinois.
When I arrived, my “advisor” gave me a sheet that said, in deliberately obscurantist legalese, “We will give you listings on the basis of your race.” This blatantly illegal practice (not made legal by disclosure, either) took me aback. Why, I thought, would they do that? It did not take long for me to figure out: They wanted, and still today want, to prevent black people from clustering there (shades of the M. Night Shyamalan movie The Village), which could attract more black people who might thereby start to view Oak Park as welcoming to African Americans. So they scatter black people among white people, and they try to locate white people among black people already living in Oak Park, both to prevent clustering that might attract more black people.
Or to prevent a population mix from reaching a tipping point: the multicultural makeup that is an unstable equilibrium being hard to establish in the first place, let alone to maintain?
Non-black people (me, for example) tend to think of housing discrimination as something in the past, engineered mostly by individuals in their private capacities, though with effects in the current day. It’s more convenient to think that way, after all. Just as importantly, we tend to think that if, in some cases, the government did engage in segregation (de jure), it doesn’t anymore, so there’s little to talk about. Plus we conclude that by now the effects of private and government actions are impossible to separate. Rothstein rejects all these explanations, or rather, claims they obscure more than clarify. First, there was, until relatively recently, vastly more de jure segregation than most people are aware. Second, even if legal segregation is now gone, what we think of as de facto segregation was primarily driven by earlier de jure segregation—and therefore the government, not private choice, is almost exclusively responsible for present-day patterns of segregation, as well as the consequent multiple negative effects on African Americans in the present day. Third, because it was our government, we are all responsible for finding a solution.
Alas, though, relying on government brings in the dual burdens of enforcement and one-policy-fits all, which is likely to preclude curating incoming populations in such a way as to create stable integrated patterns ... imagine the kind of contortions that create a freshman class, applied nation-wide.

26.9.17

SUNSET FOR ELEPHANTS.

The Kelly Miller Circus made a visit to Kingston, Illinois.  It's late September, but the weather is more like mid-July, which is when the coming of the circus used to be the main event of summer in rural America.


Patrons have the opportunity to view the menagerie, and ride ponies, camels, and elephants before the show starts.  But our political masters have banned performing elephants in Illinois effective at the beginning of 2018.


No doubt our progressive betters will tell us it is for the benefit of children of all ages that they can no longer have this experience.


Cindy and Jenny take a bow, all the same.


For now, they're leaving the men and horses, hoops and garters alone.


See you down the road.

BLUNT IS NOT INCORRECT.

I'll confess to ignoring a lot of the culture-wars and political to-ing-and-fro-ing of late: in part because I can (staying current on the latest controversies not being part of the obligation of showing up prepared for class any more); in part because being able to go to touristy destinations while the weather is still good and a lot of the tourists have their kids back in school.

But the battles of ideas go on, and the Wax and Alexander essay on the value of bourgeois norms continues to take meaningful incoming.  Start with Professor Wax's colleague at the Penn law school, Jonathan Klick.  "I Don’t Care if Amy Wax Is Politically Incorrect; I Do Care that She’s Empirically Incorrect."
The real world is a messy place. Broad claims that general cultural norms obviously are the key to the good life are bound to be problematic. That doesn’t mean that arguments shouldn’t be made; it doesn’t even mean that, perhaps, some cultures aren’t better than others as judged by a particular objective function. But it does mean these debates are far from settled, and claims like those made by Rod Dreher that Wax’s critics “lack the moral courage and the common sense to affirm what everyone knows” are patently silly.

I don’t think Wax is a racist, and I don’t care if she’s not politically correct. But I do believe arguments that only take note of (or, worse yet, merely assume) convenient empirical facts while ignoring inconvenient ones deserve to be criticized. This is true when you disagree with someone’s underlying normative views, but it’s even more important when you don’t.
Yes, let's weigh the evidence. But let's not smear the messenger, which, unfortunately, is what much of the reaction to the Wax and Alexander essay does.  Yes, in social science, it is difficult to establish causation, even when casual empiricism suggests there's a correlation.  But smearing the messenger has long been part of the academic establishment's tool box.
Ultimately, all of us, including [Brookings's Isabel] Sawhill and Wax, are building on the insights of sociologist (and later Senator) Daniel Patrick Moynihan and his famous report on the state of black families, which he wrote while working for the Labor department during the Johnson administration. What is less widely known is that Moynihan wrote a private memo in a format suitable for his boss (Willard Wirtz, the Secretary of Labor) to give to President Johnson, underlining the absolute urgency of re-tooling federal policy to promote and not undermine marriage and family stability among African Americans. Moynihan argued that the decline of marriage was the “master problem,” the “principal cause” of the problems facing Black America, and he predicted that African Americans would not be able to attain equality if this problem was not addressed.

Unfortunately, Moynihan was roundly condemned as a racist for his analysis of the black family and the importance of marriage, and his advice was largely ignored. He was socially shunned by many of his colleagues at Harvard. It wasn’t until several decades later that sociologists began saying (quietly) that he was probably right. Now Wax is being pilloried for broaching the same topic — for saying that marriage and culture really really matter, and that some norms, some cultures, are more conducive to success in modern America than others. Does anyone seriously believe that all cultures are equal–either morally (including the culture of Nazi Germany) or as packages of norms and practices that are likely to lead to success?
I could add, on the more farcical side, vice president Dan Quayle and Candace Bergen's Murphy Brown: there too, logic and content came well after the mockery.  But let's be precise about "all cultures are equal" serving as a distraction, whilst "packages of norms and practices that are likely to lead to success" is a call for a lot of hard work.

Glen "Insta Pundit" Reynolds jumps in, in his weekly USA Today column, noting that higher education's deconstruction of things bourgeois or hegemonic is more of a "focus on my arguments, not on what I do" activity.
And within the academy itself, the bourgeois virtues are seldom praised but often practiced. Nobody is better at deferring gratification than a graduate student or junior professor. In their own lives, most professors are quite temperate and hardworking. Their children are almost always encouraged to work hard, go to good schools, and get good jobs, and academic parents are inclined to brag when they do. (The original “Tiger Mom,” Amy Chua, is herself a law professor.)

These same behaviors, as spelled out by professors Wax and Alexander, are even more valuable to people whose social and economic status is poor. Upper middle class families have a lot of social and financial capital to draw on when a kid flunks out, loses a job, gets pregnant outside of marriage, or gets in trouble with the law. For people with less, these experiences are likely to be disastrous and life-ruining. To suggest otherwise is to engage in a monstrous and damaging deception.
Yes, the culture of higher education is one in which young people socialized to bourgeois norms will thrive, and the oppressive nature of that socialization is material for another post on another day.

But be careful about how you point out that the absence of bourgeois values wrecks life.

You can crack wise about mullets and moonshine and incest and snake-handling and stock-car racing and otherwise dip into the Sinclair Lewis - Garrison Keillor - Hillary Clinton phrasebook and pass as informed.

But say anything about lottery outlets and thirty year old grandmothers and tribal conflicts disguised as drug wars and rampant delinquency in the big cities, and at a minimum, you're likely to be denounced for "blaming the victim" and you might find yourself up on charges for "dog whistling" that becomes some imagined -ism or -phobia and grounds for sanctions up to banishment.

In a Vox interview (and by all means read and understand it in full) economist Glenn Loury calls for, well, sound social science.
We are conditioned by our environment and our genetic inheritance and our social context, and yet there's no possibility for morality unless we presume the possibility of agency. ... We have to assume that people, despite being socially conditioned, nevertheless exercise free will, albeit within constraints.

Then it becomes a practical question whether single-parent families, in which 70 percent of African-American children live, is rightly thought of as a social phenomenon over which we have control if it's thought of as the inheritance of Jim Crow slavery and American racism. Are the structures of African-American social life the derivative consequences of the political and economic history of African Americans, or are they subject to being reshaped and reformed and remade in an image that we will for ourselves and our progeny? The latter is the stance I'm taking. The alternative is a bleak moral landscape for me.
Indeed so. Although hurling an insult like "blaming the victim" works as a virtue signal, or perhaps a privilege check, before that became a term of art, its invocation carries a subtext, which is the victim has no agency.

That cannot end well.  Enter James Kunstler, on a race among the ruins.
That super-refined scholarly nation-within–a-nation is also mostly walled off from the more unappetizing realities of what an American-style First-World 21st Century Environment actually is. In fact, that very “environment” is mostly characterized by a breakdown of just about everything that might promote the formerly eternal verities. It has been accompanied move-for-move by a breakdown in economic relations that leaves a big chunk of the national demographic peon-ized, bereft of work that is either meaningful or pays enough to support a family, and places them at the mercy (actually, there is no mercy) of gigantic, dishonest, avaricious companies and public institutions driven by stupid crypto-religious ideologies.

Oddly, the personal economic calamity represented by that trend is mirrored on the Ivy League campuses where a tiny elite cadre of tenured professors enjoys immunity from both impoverishment and real critical thinking, while an ever-expanding corps of serf-like adjunct teachers does all the heavy-lifting in the classrooms and struggles to pay the light bill — and a new breed of diversity deans and other administrative hierophants feeds gluttonously at the trough of the college loan racket.

The main criticism of Amy Wax’s prescription for cultural improvement is that it’s simply not possible to go back to the economically stable world of the 1950s that supported the roster of human virtues she wants to bring back online. It may be so, alas, but that still doesn’t obviate the basic value of behavioral norms. And deep down in their dark Gnostic hearts, the Social Justice Commissariat must agree. Otherwise, why would they be promoting so strenuously the exemplary earnest behavior of the DACA “Dreamers.”
Mr Kunstler is reversing cause and effect. It was the virtues that supported the broadly shared prosperity, or so Professors Wax and Alexander appear to be suggesting, and it is their absence (with the connivance, as Mr Kunstler correctly notes, of the administrative hierophants and their appropriation of things third world, plus the entertainment-media complex going all in on the transgressions) that is leaving a lot of the national demographic peon-ized.

And restoring the virtues that support the prosperity might be the next saecular task.  David Brooks may be indulging in click-bait suggesting that Donald Trump and Abbie Hoffman have a few things in common, but dig into his thesis.
All that matters is that Trump is shredding the culture and ending the dominance of the meritocratic establishment.

He continually goes after racial matters in part because he’s a bigot but also in part because multiculturalism is the theology of the educated class and it’s the leverage point he can most effectively use to isolate the educated class from everyone else.

He is so destructive because his enemies help him. He ramps up the aggression. His enemies ramp it up more, to preserve their own dignity. But the ensuing cultural violence only serves Trump’s long-term destructive purpose. America is seeing nearly as much cultural conflict as it did in the late 1960s. It’s quite possible that after four years of this Trump will have effectively destroyed the prevailing culture. The reign of the meritocratic establishment will be just as over as the reign of the Protestant establishment now is.
"Multiculturalism" is a phony theology, and the fruits of the meritocratic establishment, or more precisely, the failures of their Grand Schemes are all around us.  That might cause Mr Brooks to wet his well-creased trousers, but so be it.
Of course Donald Trump is a buffoon. Buffoonery is his most effective weapon. Because of him, a new culture will have to be built, new values promulgated and a new social fabric will have to be woven, one that brings the different planets back into relation with one another.

That’s the work of the next 20 years.
Emergence is messy. Bet on the evolutionary stability.

25.9.17

TODAY'S RAILROAD READING.

India's First Post, and Marginal Revolution, both make use of "ferroequinology."

Regular readers know the word: let the rest of the world catch on.

They take it seriously on the subcontinent.
Every year, railfans across India meet at an event hosted by the Indian Railways Fan Club Association (IRFCA). The one stop destination for railfans, IRFCA was started with few rail fans in United States discussing Indian trains over e-mail in 1989. With the spread of the internet in recent years, the group now boasts of 10,000 plus members spanning across continents. Railfans share their collective passions for history, photography, travel, scheduling, and engineering around railways on the website’s forum and schedule informal ‘railfanning’ sessions.

They have also documented just about everything to do with the Indian Railways — locomotives, signaling, operations, rolling stock, books and research, tracks, loco sheds, zones, freight, technical documents, its history, and maps. IRFCA maintains a complete database of locomotives running all across India, with technical specifications. In fact, the IRFCA picture gallery features a collection of the finest pictures ever of Indian Railways.

Some of the railfans tend to know train timetables by heart. They can determine when and where a locomotive was manufactured with just a glance at the serial number; recognise the sound of a WAP-7 locomotive horn from kilometers away; and recall when a particular stretch of track was built, electrified, doubled or even closed.

Once in a year, railfans across India meet at any pre-decided place where they discuss everything related to railways. They also have sessions and presentations, which covers technical topics, railway photography, trips, travelogues and much more.
Their work is more difficult, as the photography of trains is illegal in India.  (Arguably, that's consistent: photography of trains from public property is legal in the United States, but there are lots of local authorities, not to mention meddlesome busybodies, who didn't get the memo, and they might give a ferroequinologist a hard time.)

But preservation, and conventions?  Yep.

You can't post too many pictures of Silver Pilot.


Illinois Railway Museum, 17 September 2017.

Here's an old model of a sister unit, Silver Bullet, rendered in cast bronze.


Indianapolis O Scale show, 22 September 2017.

THE FOOTBALL BUBBLE IS DEFLATING.

John Kass notes the feedstock of new players is dwindling.
To witness the death of the multibillion-dollar National Football League, you really don't need to see sportswriters wringing their hands over the moral dilemma of covering America's Roman circus of brain trauma.

And you don't need to watch multimillionaire football stars, pampered for most of their lives, ostentatiously disrespecting the American national anthem, kneeling, their raised fists in the air.

You don't need to see the desperation in the NFL's television commercials: actresses in team gear, holding snack trays to feed their (virtual) extended team-gear-wearing families, as the NFL begs middle-class women to mother their game before it dies.

You don't have to do any of that to see how football is dying.

All you have to do is go out to a youth football field, as I did on Sunday morning, and talk to parents and coaches.
And that's before Aaron Hernandez's autopsy became public, and Our President injected himself into the ostentatious disrespect of The Star Spangled Banner.

But the signs are there, the signs are there.
You really think the NFL is worried about young athletes? If so, they'd have changed the rules years ago, abandoning face masks, enlarging the ball to make it difficult to throw, switching to one platoon football.
And yet, the Rockford television stations, which would put the story of a Chicago Cub pitcher carrying a perfect game against the White Sox into the ninth inning hitting a walk-off home run (because they'd use the designated hitter on the south side) that breaks up the Sox pitcher's no-hitter behind a story involving a high school cross country team that's running in the state championship, have been, during their high school football training camp reporting, featuring teams that have gone from eleven to seven on a side, and there are some new teams reflecting consolidations among high schools.  In both situations, it's fewer kids going out for football, despite the shot at more than fifteen minutes of fame on local television.

Perhaps, though, the real portent is a recent agreement between Wisconsin and Old Notre Dame.
This series would be an easy sell for both fan bases; the city of Chicago is filled with alumni of both schools, while Green Bay is about a five hour drive from South Bend, Indiana (depending on Chicago traffic). Another added historical bonus is the Packers’ historical connection to the Fighting Irish; the Packers’ initially wore blue and gold as a tribute to Notre Dame’s uniforms because team founder Curly Lambeau had attended the university.

Stay tuned for more details and projected dates, but football fans in the Midwest should start getting excited about the prospect of another thrilling college football game at the greatest pro football stadium on Earth.
That's right, one game on the Frozen Tundra of Lambeau Field, where the University of Wisconsin Marching Band put on at least one halftime show (and hangs around for the Fifth Quarter) each season for the entertainment of Packer fans, and another game at the Chuckholed Prairie of Soldier Field, where the decorations might read Northern Illinois, but the attendance is overwhelmingly Iowa or Wisconsin (or any of the other Big Ten universities).

But Notre Dame scheduling a major opponent away from Touchdown Jesus?  They've always drawn well at home, and it used to be that Notre Dame would defect from whatever college football cartel the Oklahomas and Texases and Ohio States and Universities of Spoiled Children cobbled together, because they'd get a better division of the revenue going it alone.

Follow the money, or the lack thereof.

24.9.17

FAST TRAINS DON'T REQUIRE FANCY INFRASTRUCTURE.

A recent 10 things you never knew about train travel in Germany in The Local Germany includes this.
In 1933, "the Flying Hamburger" sped from Berlin to Hamburg in less than two hours. The sheer pace of the diesel-powered locomotive signaled the death knell for steam powered trains. Even today, the high-speed train between the two cities is not a huge amount quicker, taking 1 hour and 43 minutes.

In 1936, a Flying Hamburger broke the 200 km/h barrier, dashing between the two cities at a top speed of 205 km/h.
Regular readers know that this is how that's done.  But the Germans could excite those traction motors too:
Das Wunder der neuen Zeit ist 42 Meter lang, flüsterleise und unverschämt schnell. Tausende Berliner jubeln, als der violett-elfenbeinfarbene Dieseltriebzug am 15. Mai 1933 um 8.02 Uhr morgens rauchend und sonor brummend den Lehrter Bahnhof in Berlin zu seiner Jungfernfahrt verlässt. Auch auf der Fahrtstrecke säumen Zuschauer die Schienen, belagern Brücken und Bahnsteige. Nur zwei Stunden und 18 Minuten später erreicht der zweiteilige Zug den Hamburger Hauptbahnhof; beim Einlaufen begrüßt ihn auch hier eine große Menschenmenge.
That 42 meter, two-unit train set summons memories of the ACF Motorailer diesel cars that were overshadowed by Budd's Zephyrs and Flying Yankee.

Fortunately, at least one of the Fliegende Hamburger sets is in preservation.


Berlin, 23 July 2001, excursion from Leipzig Station to Spreewald and return.

And here's a set in motion.


I wonder if, on those mainline excursions, they're given free rein to what the motors will allow.  Like this.



THE CASE FOR A PROPER BALANCE SHEET.

It's likely, as James Kunstler has suggested, that Our President struck a deal with House and Senate Democratic leadership to raise the debt ceiling as a credible commitment to the financial markets.  (Such an action was necessary anyway, because the flood insurance trust fund was at its borrowing limit, and in order for the flood insurance trust fund to borrow more money, the Treasury has to borrow the money.)
The event is converging with the US government running out of money this fall without new authority to borrow more by congress voting to raise the US debt ceiling. Perhaps the emergency of Hurricane Harvey and its costly aftermath will bludgeon congress into quickly raising the debt ceiling. If that doesn’t happen, and the debt ceiling is not raised, the federal government might have to pretend that it can pay for emergency assistance to Texas and Louisiana. That pretense can only go so far before government contractors balk and maybe even walk.

Ordinarily, failure to raise the debt ceiling would lead to a government shut-down, including hurricane recovery operations, unless the president invoked some kind of emergency powers. That would be decisive action, but it could also be the beginning of something that looks like a full-out dictatorship. Powers assumed are often not surrendered when the original emergency is over. And what would the president use for money if a substantial enough number of congresspersons and senators are prompted by their distaste for Mr. Trump to drag out the process of financially re-liquefying the government? (And nevermind even passing a budget.)
But you don't have to rush out yet, dear reader, to stock the fallout shelter with fresh hard-tack, and make sure there are hollow-points for the pistols.
The message from the debt ceiling stalemate to the bond market would be that the US can no longer be relied on to pay its debts. Interest rates on US Treasury paper would have to go up as the long-lost concept of risk returned to the bond scene. People and institutions will not be induced to hold bonds unless the yield is recalibrated to the actual risk. Of course, in the mysterious world of bonds (i.e. securitized debt), the price of bonds goes down as interest rates rise. Meaning a lot of current holders of bonds would be hammered if they tried to sell. Rates rising would also spell big trouble for corporations and governments who have to make regular interest payments to bond-holders. A rate rise to as little as 3 percent on US Treasury bonds could spin the country into comprehensive bankruptcy.
Why not?

That's my case for a proper balance sheet.  The going concern value of the United States is an accounting abstraction, and yet, the country is a long way from bankruptcy.  "The Federal Reserve said Thursday Americans' net worth rose 1.8% to $96.2 trillion in the April-June quarter. Stock portfolios and mutual funds jumped $1.1 trillion. Home values climbed $600 billion."  That rising tide is not lifting all the boats.  "[R]oughly 75% of the $1.8 trillion increase in assets went to benefit just 10% of the population, who also account for roughly 76% of America's financial net worth."  Thus, a good chunk of the population is still in debt.

But the Treasury is a long way from not being able to service the borrowing.

On the other hand, the government of Barbuda, debt ceiling or no, does not have the money (or the borrowing capacity?) to make repairs to the island's houses and roads, which were seriously damaged by Hurricane Irma.  Immediately after the storm, surviving residents were moved to neighboring Antigua.
[Ambassador to the United States Robert] Sanders says the world must step up and help Barbuda.

“We are a small island community — the gross domestic product of Antigua is $1 billion a year,” he says. “We cannot afford to take on this responsibility by ourselves. Barbuda is not just a disaster, it’s a humanitarian crisis. We are hopeful that the international community will come to our aid, not because we’re begging for something we want, but because we’re begging for something that is needed.”

Right now, initial estimates suggest that Barbuda will need about $200 million to recover. Antigua and Barbuda will create a sustainable development plan for rebuilding Barbuda, Sanders says, adding that he hopes the global community will provide humanitarian recovery aid.

“We have declared a state of emergency in Barbuda because it is a complete disaster and uninhabitable,” he says. “We cannot cope with our own resources alone.”
Actor Robert DeNiro is leading a crowd-funding campaign, and it appears that the major hotels are on their own financing their rebuilding.

Yes, Thomas Friedman's old recommendations to short countries might have been flip, and yet, accurate estimates of going concern values for countries or not, that is what we sometimes see.

20.9.17

CHAVISMUS PROBABLY BANS 4-H.

That's too bad, as Venezuela's latest attempt to deal with the food desert their country has become (thanks to the miracles of socialism) is to encourage citizens to breed rabbits.

The problem, dear reader, is that the citizens are struggling with a choice Michael Moore made a movie about.  Pets, or meat?

You can enter your rabbits at the county fair.


Kane County Fair, 2006.

You can warn spectators that your bunnies are always looking for a handout.


DeKalb County Fair, 2017.

You can provide information about what those bunny ears mean.


Sheboygan County Fair, 2017.

You can dress 'em up and have a fashion show.


Walworth County Fair, 2013.

You can let city kids pretend that they, too, are bunny farmers.


Walworth County Fair, 2015.

And sometimes you can treat your rabbits like a cash crop.


Boone County Fair, 2011.

I recall attending the Kendall County Fair a few years ago and observing packets of rabbit jerky on sale in the rabbit building.  Probably a good thing bunnies can't read.

THAT KUDZU IS THERE FOR YOUR OWN GOOD.

Clemson's Bruce Yandle, famous in political economy for his "bootleggers and Baptists" description of the administrative state (put briefly, Baptists are shocked to find there is bootlegging going on, demand Government Do Something, and incumbent bootleggers benefit because Government Bans Competition) has now come up with another good metaphor.  The regulatory kudzu is strangling initiative in the private economy.

Kudzu is a government-introduced invasive species, brought in precisely because its aggressive growth makes it a better cover crop than a quick-growing catalpa tree.
Kudzu vines grow so rapidly, as much as 60 feet in a growing season or two feet a day, that soon those eroded fields that had been unfit for the plow became vine-covered fields that could not be plowed.

The vines recognized no fence lines. Along with farmers' fields, everything was fair game, including telephone poles, abandoned homes and barns, and even unpaved roads and byways. Eventually, in 1997, after 40 years of kudzu conquest, Congress placed the vine on the federal noxious weed list. It is now being poisoned. In spite of the effort to take back the soil, kudzu still prevails in many areas.
The stuff is so prolific that, worst case scenario, a bad bout of continental warming will be followed by the winter wheat crops of the Dakotas and the prairie provinces being crowded out.  I think I've had to yank out a plant or two in my back yard, fortunately there are no power poles for the stuff to crawl up in this neighborhood.

But perhaps Our President, while he's keeping the barking moonbats occupied looking at his social media accounts, is uprooting the kudzu in the swamp.
Trump's new rule stating that two old regulations must be removed for any new one places a heavy burden on regulators, and it has the potential to lighten the regulatory load we all carry. In recent years, the number of Federal Register pages that announce new and modified rules has grown by more than 200 pages per day, 365 days a year.

It's high time we cut back some kudzu. But there's more to the Trump executive order. When the cost of planting the new rule is weighed against the cost relief of pulling two different rules, the net difference must be no more than zero. In other words, the implied "regulatory budget" is zero. Of course the entire two-for-one process will be subject to the Administrative Procedures Act, which means that due process and opportunities for citizens to respond will be preserved.
Sometimes freedom emerges from darkness.  "This will have a tremendous positive impact on business and job creation. The media has failed to notice this but that’s not a surprise, is it?"

Let the record show that a Congress, and the executive departments given broad powers by various legislation, can sometimes add by subtracting.  "Congressional lawmakers have gone all in on President Trump's bid to slash Obama-era regulations, targeting $19 billion in rules and the elimination of enough red tape to free up 5,200 federal workers, according to a new analysis."

In the past year, that work has rolled back about a year of stagnation-inducing Hope and Change.

Let the record show, however, that there are some business interests who would rather behave like cartelized bootleggers.  Or cartelized greenies.
Mr. Trump’s exit [from the Paris climate accords] suggests that we might be observing the start of a new chapter in America’s environmental saga—a disturbance in how the Bootlegger-Baptist framework normally functions to support costly environmental regulations. But do not bet against the environmental coalition in the longer term. It is, after all, strong, well organized, and loaded with deep-pocket bootleggers. And remember, the market is the ultimate environmental regulator, and market forces seem to be calling for a cleaner world.
Yes, and market forces less constrained by incumbent-favoring regulations and subsidies might be more effective at producing a cleaner world, not to mention a world where the kudzu won't take over the winter wheat fields.

MAKING BETTER USE OF SCRAP.

That's part of the creative destruction by which the steel minimills displaced the geographically disfavored integrated steel mills.

But some of those integrated mills reduced their locational disadvantages the same way, a century or more ago.

Here's the long version of that story.

There's a shorter version, courtesy the Association for Iron and Steel Technology.

PRICES FUNCTION TO ALLOCATE DEMAND.

The salaries of some government officials ... it's the Highway Department I'm looking at today ... depend on them ignoring reality.  The latest foolishness, raising the registration fee on electric and hybrid cars and trucks to collect in one lump sum what they're not collecting at the pump.  Kea Wilson for Strong Towns goes after Missouri, but the same foolishness is infecting Wisconsin lawmakers.  I can't make this stuff up.  "If what we want are safe roads that we can afford to repair, why on earth would we incentivize drivers to buy gas guzzling vehicles—which skew towards the heaviest vehicles most capable of causing extensive road damage—rather than light, fuel efficient vehicles that might help keep that pavement intact for longer?"

The reality:  registration fees and excise taxes don't even come close to covering the full cost of roads, and a reality-based accounting might lead to the highway commissioners choosing to close some roads, or let them revert to cattle paths.  Missouri might be a good place to start.  "Missouri has the 7th largest number of highway miles in the nation and the 46th lowest revenue per mile for maintenance, mostly because our largest source of funding depends on a bottom-of-the-barrel gas tax of just 17 cents per gallon."

But sticking it to the metrofexuals might appeal on some gut level.
It’s a radical thing, to re-imagine the world you live in, especially if that world is made of highly permanent concrete highway ramps that you can sail onto without ever paying a toll, just like you’ve done your entire life. It might be even more difficult to reimagine this world for a member of the working poor who has no choice, it seems, but to drive alone every day in their busted SUV that was the only car they could get, just to get themselves between their three jobs that barely allow them to make make ends meet. From that perspective, of course you’d want the snob with the fancy limited edition Tesla to pay more at the DMV. Low income drivers need those roads to survive. And if they have to pony up even a penny more, they won’t be able to make rent.

But pause for a minute, and look beyond that knee-jerk fear, and you’ll find that the solutions our DOTs are offering us might make life even worse for that poor driver, and for all of us. The hefty registration fee on the Nissan Leaf might patch a budget pothole for a day, but it won’t address the yawning chasm as the rest of our overbuilt road network continues to crumble—and meanwhile, we just incentivized more heavy, gas-guzzling cars to get on the road and accelerate the problem even faster.
That "need the road to survive" is also the argumentum ad misericordiam that precludes tolling.  Never mind that tolling permits the analogue to farebox recovery plus it's flexible enough to give people incentives to change the timing of their trips.
We could keep the gas taxes in our cities, where the land tax per acre actually pays for most of the limited asphalt we lay down. But when we look to fund a highway, why not consider road tolls over taxes, especially on premium fast lanes, which would establish a common-sense feedback loop that would encourage people to drive less and make sure the long-road truckers who damage our roads most are paying more of the bill? And in the city, why not look into a tax on vehicles miles travelled rather than on gasoline?

In both instances, long-travelling poor drivers would have to pay more, but it wouldn’t be any more brutal on them than our current system, which does nothing to disincentivize the constant road construction and extended development patterns that put that poor drivers’ three jobs miles and miles apart from one another in the first place. And while we’re at it, we could take small, incremental steps to make our development pattern more dense and human-scaled, so we wouldn’t have to pour so much money and debt into propping up a road system that simply doesn’t, and will never, create enough wealth to sustain itself, and makes a lot of us pretty miserable in the process.
Tolling might also induce substitutions, starting, for instance, with ride-share drivers soliciting commuters. Yes, you might have to break up the bus cartels along the way.

Or perhaps transit authorities might be willing to add services and extend routes, as the substitutions have the potential to make full farebox recovery of costs a thing.

THE CASE FOR BILLING THE HIGH SCHOOLS.

The Big Remedial Apple.  Nothing but Distressed Material at the once-highly-regarded City University of New York.  And the Distressed Material pays a remediation tax.
have to waste their first semester, or even their first full year or longer, learning the skills and knowledge they didn’t get from the city Department of Education, even though it graduated them.

Time spent on remediation also eats up students’ limited resources — the grants, scholarships, loans or personal savings they’d counted on for higher education.

Too many quit before they’re caught up — and others never finish college after starting so far behind.
I had the policy response to habitually irresponsible high school districts years ago, and I have yet to be argued out of it.

Being mugged by reality might be a thing, even in New York City, where the risk of a real mugging is real.
Last year, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz said the city Department of Education should absorb the costs of these kids’ remediation: Why let it get away with sticking the students with the cost of its failures?

And the full “remediation tax” is higher still: This report doesn’t count the cost to kids who try to make it in the workplace without basic skills.

By the city’s own reckoning, only 35 percent of its high-school graduates last year were college- and career-ready.
First, identify the districts that are failing to prepare their graduates.

I'm still waiting for that first university to follow up with a bill.

But I can wait.  Business as usual isn't working.

19.9.17

WHEN THE TRAIN STOPS COMING.

I've suggested that advocates of Regional Rail consider an expansion of the Chicago-area corridor services as far afield as Fargo to the north, Cleveland to the east, and Memphis to the south.

Today, a meditation on the ways you used to be able to go to Fargo.  It starts at Fergus Falls, which a rail enthusiast at a threshing bee suggested I explore.

A secondary main line of Northern Pacific once connected Wadena, Minn. to Jamestown, N. Dak and onward to Leeds by way of Fergus Falls.  The passenger trains quit coming a long time ago, and there's little use for station agents to round up grain hoppers and cattle cars these days.

The solid brick station remains, though, as a pub.


The Burlington Northern, er BNSF, branch line is still in service.

Great Northern got rid of its secondary main line by way of St. Cloud, Sauk Center, and Fergus Falls after the merger.  The trackage between Fergus Falls and the Red River now belongs to the Otter Tail Valley Railroad, a Genessee and Wyoming property.  The Great Northern station is now Otter Tail general offices.


The sign advises, "No trespassing.  Please do not walk on the platform."  You'll note I honored the request.  The platform looks ready for the Winnipeg Limited to roll in and unload mail and express later that night.

Speaking of the Winnipeg Limited, this line was used by passenger trains almost until the coming of Amtrak.  Great Northern's version of the Empire Builder used the main line through Willmar and the Surrey Cutoff between Fargo and Minot.  The Western Star sometimes used that routing, although sometimes it would use the Sauk Center - Fergus Falls routing in one direction. But the Star was paired with another train, the Dakotan, that would use the other routing.  And the Star had a connecting train between Great Falls and Havre in Montana.  Furthermore, the Star connected with Burlington's overnight Black Hawk (and The Milwaukee Road's Pioneer Limited) for Wisconsin points and Chicago.  And the Dakotan ran as far as Minot by way of Grand Forks, Devils Lake, and Williston (as in the North Dakota oil patch.)

Thus, a passenger could start in Chicago and get to any Minnesota or North Dakota destination with a change of trains in St. Paul or perhaps Fargo; and, if one had enough endurance, ride to Great Falls.  Or change to a Northern Pacific day train between Fargo and Winnipeg; this also lasted almost to the merger.

The Winnipeg Limited was an overnight train that also handled blocks of tour sleeping cars (this experience is still possible today, with cars moving on Amtrak or Canadian trains) for and from the Canadian Rockies.  Its schedule permitted connections to the Morning Zephyr or from the Afternoon Zephyr at St. Paul; again, until 1970, riders could choose the Morning Hiawatha or Afternoon Hiawatha, although no self-respecting Great Northern man would sell that ticket to Chicago or LaCrosse.  Milwaukee or Watertown, maybe.

And most of these trains made connections at St. Paul with Rock Island trains for Kansas City or St. Louis.  All gone a few years before Amtrak, but a passenger could go from the Dakotas to the Southwest without going through Chicago.  Headed for California?  That Great Northern man will send you to Portland.

Today's convoluted Empire Builder routing attempts to protect a great deal of this service, not so well in my view.  No, you can't get to Winnipeg any more, and Burlington wants to keep the passenger trains off the Surrey Cutoff to expedite the containers, grain, and oil.

The platform is painted to keep passengers away from the coaches, because for a while the Otter Tail Valley ran excursion trains.  That doesn't happen any more, but they at least have a proper buggy on hand.


I was informed a former Great Northern station was in use as a residence not far from the tracks.


Find the Our Lady of Victory school and look for a building that looks like a repurposed railway station.

Fergus Falls is county seat, and a Federal District Court sits here.  The city hall has a real New England look to it.


The general offices of the Otter Tail Power Company are also in town, not far from a hydroelectric dam that might still be spinning a turbine or two.


As long as we're on this nostalgia trip, forty years ago I was rummaging through issues of the National Electric Rate Book to figure out the provisions of automatic fuel price adjustment clauses in utility tariffs.  And after wading through lots of entries with mundane corporate titles such as Central Illinois Light and Wisconsin Public Service, to encounter a Metropolitan Edison (let's have some Orthodox plain-chant at 440 Hz, please) or an Otter Tail Power Company spices up the day.  Yes, it exists, and yes, it did post a fuel adjustment, which we had to tweak for its use of hydroelectric power.

To the east, the impetus for the trip, a visit to the Lake Region Pioneer Threshermen's Association show grounds, where they are running a narrow-gauge French tank engine repatriated after the war.


Too bad nobody preservation-minded glommed onto a streamlined German Pacific that I understand was brought across by the Transportation Corps for evaluation.


The train is calling at a former Great Northern depot moved to the show grounds from Dalton.  Note that Laker is a Soo Line name, but the Soo Line also got in on the Winnipeg trade, handling through cars off owner Canadian Pacific eastbound and Chicago and North Western westbound.

The threshermen didn't have to move the building too far, as the old line, which is now the Lake Region Trail, crossed the driveway to the show grounds.


I'll throw in one action shot from the threshing bee.  First time I've seen a sawmill powered by two traction engines.  The one closer to the camera made a lot more noise, perhaps it was picking up most of the load.


I have to remark on those northern skies.  In the summer, is it the angle of the sun, or the absence of pollutants, that makes them such a clear blue?

Next, a visit to a station that lost its passenger trains on Amtrak day and recently regained them.


That's the concourse of the Saint Paul Union Depot.  I took a few other pictures, but much of the interior is really dark.  The stairs lead to track level, but intercity buses call at those platforms.  Passenger service uses platforms just off the end of the concourse.  Double stack trains require more overhead clearance, you know.

I spoke with a gentleman at the state capitol who mentioned Minnesota's interest in a second train for and from Chicago.  Contemplate this station, which once hosted the world's fastest and most comprehensive corridor service (to Chicago) as well as transcontinental trains of four railroads and regional service to Omaha, Kansas City, St. Louis, and the Twin Ports, and reflect on how much work there is to be done.

But at least there is train service here, and the morning I was there, the eastbound Builder got away on time.

The Chicago Great Western's station at Red Wing has been without trains for a long time.  But substantial brick buildings have all sorts of promise for adaptive reuse.


Saw that, had to stop and get a late breakfast!

The Milwaukee Road had secured the riverfront at Red Wing first, thus Chicago Great Western had to engage in a lot of mountain railroading to get into Red Wing by way of a branch, continuing on to Rochester by way of Zumbrota.

FORTY YEARS AGO.

Salena Zito remembers the day LTV Steel blew out the furnaces in Youngstown.
It was just before 7 a.m., and the fog that had settled over the river was beginning to lift. As the sun began to streak through the mist, the men made their way into the labyrinth of buildings where they worked.

In the next hour, their lives would change forever.

From then on, this date in 1977 would be known as Black Monday in the Steel Valley, which stretches from Mahoning and Trumbull counties in Ohio eastward toward Pittsburgh. It is the date when Youngstown Sheet and Tube abruptly furloughed 5,000 workers in one day.
It would be scant consolation to these men that the closures of steel mills all up and down the Mahoning and Monongahela valleys was creative destruction at work, a shakeout of suboptimally small plants at less advantageous locations.


Campbell Works plant gate with open-hearth shop behind.

The younger people of Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Michigan might have seen the closings and thought about seeking their fortunes elsewhere.  The people who had made their life plans with the expectation that the mills would always be there, not so much, and at first, policy makers weren't too worried.
News reports from the days and weeks following Black Monday showed that the White House, larger business community and economic experts were detached from the potency of what was happening here. They thought the overall economic impact was exaggerated, that it would not be the calamity [H. K. Porter rolling mill hand Gary] Steinbeck and everyone else in Youngstown knew it would be.

“No one never calculated the cultural tragedy as part of the equation either,” Steinbeck said. “They didn’t just dismantle the old mills, they dismantled the societal fabric of what made Youngstown Youngstown.”
The troubles of 1977 might have been foreseen as long ago as the end of the war,  and yet when they hit, they hit hard.
The events of Black Monday forever changed not only the Steel Valley, but her people and eventually American culture and politics. Just last year the reverberations were felt in the presidential election when many hard-core Democrats from this area broke from their party to vote for Donald Trump, a Republican who promised to bring jobs back to the Heartland.

Even today, after the election, the Washington establishment still hasn’t processed or properly dissected its effects. Economic experts predicted that the service industry would be the employment of the future. Steelworkers were retrained to fill jobs in that sector, which was expected to sustain the middle class in the same way that manufacturing did.

It did not. According to a study done by the Midwest Center for Research, the average salary of a steelworker in the late 1970s was $24,772.80. Today, according to the most recent Bureau of Labor Statistics data, the median household income in the Mahoning Valley is $24,133.

There was also a push for Americans to be more mobile. Lose your job in Youngstown? Fine, move to Raleigh or Texas. No one calculated that the tight-knit people of Youngstown didn’t want to leave their town.
It wasn't just Donald Trump: the Reagan administration did a few things to protect domestic steel producers (and domestic steel consumers, particularly the legacy automobile companies.)  But Japanese cars and Korean, later Chinese, steel, wasn't the main threat to the legacy steel companies.

There are still good jobs in steel, but the minimills are located closer to markets: to the extent that the minimills are producing long products, they're more likely to be along navigable rivers (thus look to Arkansas and Louisiana for your H-sections.)  The legacy steel companies failed to take the challenge from the minimills seriously.  As I noted a year ago, "steel consumers gained, but some communities and many steel workers, lost."

YOU HAVE TO PAY ATTENTION TO THE CONTAGION.

At Outside the Beltway, Steven Taylor suggests that drawing inferences about the breakdown of intellectual integrity in higher education because a few of the usual suspects (Oberlin, Reed, Missouri, Virginia) are enabling the usual derangements is a "small N inference."

Perhaps so, or perhaps these are the most visible carbuncles.  Consider what's going on at Boise State, which serves as a prototype for football excellence without academic money or student achievement.  A political scientist suggests that arguments against constraints on gender crossing follow logically from arguments against constraints on sex roles, and that (of course!) rubs the director of diversity, Francisco Salinas, the wrong way.
Salinas’s explanation concludes with another leap: “Not every person who agrees with [political scientist Scott] Yenor’s piece is likely to become an espoused Neo-Nazi, but likely every Neo-Nazi would agree with the substance of Yenor’s piece.” Note the pure demagoguery in the word “espoused.” The director of student diversity and inclusion insinuates that a Boise State professor and those who are persuaded by his descriptive account of the professed aims and principles of the feminist and transgender movements are Nazis, either closeted or avowed. The missing premise of Salinas’s statement, of course, is that social conservatives like Yenor share with Nazis a disregard for human dignity. That slanderous premise turns the truth on its head.

Salinas’s non sequitur provides the perfect illustration of a troubling trend: the effort by some students, administrators, and faculty to shut dissenting voices up through intimidation and name-calling.
It's so much easier to claim offense than it is to suggest, here are the ways in which the thesis is badly supported.  But that's work.  Easier to deflect, to question motives, to use the vocabulary introduced by Sinclair Lewis and Herbert Croly.
Refutation requires engagement with ideas, and a striving to understand the truth. From it arise norms of civility, good faith among interlocutors, and a willingness to consider the merits of different arguments. It is easier to denounce without disputation, to assume someone is wrong without bothering to discover whether they are wrong or demonstrating how they are wrong.

The intellectual winds blowing in Idaho are ominous.
Thus, dear reader, small sample or not, Rod Dreher is correct to ask, "What the hell is wrong with Boise State University? What is wrong with American universities?"

18.9.17

HONORED FOR TRASHING THEIR NEIGHBORS.

My recent excursion through the 94th latitude of Minnesota took me through Sauk Center, hometown of Sinclair Lewis.  Despite his role in giving generations of pajama boys a vocabulary to sneer at the yeomanry, his old town recognizes his work.


Yes, that's a reference to the famous Main Street.  (Read the plot summary and imagine Hillary Rodham in Arkansas, circa 1975.)

But what Mr Lewis and other now-celebrated writers of that era emphasized set the tone for the political divisions we see today.  Here's Michael Barone.
The immediate effect of [World War I] was characterized by enormous disorder and disillusion ... This disillusion, as Jon Lauck has written in From Warm Center to Ragged Edge and Fred Siegel in The Revolt Against the Masses, resulted in a revulsion among intellectuals and writers against middle-class America and against the progressivism they had only recently believed in, notable especially in the journalism of ... H. L. Mencken and in popular postwar fiction.  Sinclair Lewis made sport of the midwestern small town in Main Street and Babbitt, while F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway almost totally ignored the midwestern places where they grew up as rich kids ... .
We could toss Sherwood Anderson into the mix, and perhaps a few other novelists and poets of the era, without losing the generality of Mr Barone's continuation.
This revolt showed a contempt for many of the advances of Midwest civilization set in motion by the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 and the Yankee reformist impulse ... In effect the intellectuals were spurning the midwestern culture promoting education, advancing equal rights for blacks and women, and encouraging family stability, hard work, delayed gratification, and civic involvement.  There was also a mostly forgotten encouragement of high culture.
Yes, some of that passage sounds contradictory, and parts dated; read Mr Barone's essay in full to see his logic, or where he might go astray.

It is on that spurning of the midwestern culture that I wish to concentrate.  If the disillusioned writers of the Lost Generation provided a vocabulary for the posturing and preening to sneer at the yeomanry, that posturing and preening might have given the yeomanry reason to mock their presumptive betters.  And there might be an entire year of this Lost Generation virtue-signalling in high school literature class: what better way to antagonize the future farmers and mechanics and shopkeepers?

Thus, that the yeomanry might, as Joan C. Williams notes, have animus against "professionals" without being per se against becoming wealthy reflects simply this antagonism.  "Professionals" refers to the teachers pushing that Lost Generation stuff, as well as the people who went off to the fancy colleges and came back all full of themselves and putting on airs.  Becoming wealthy is what a responsible farmer or mechanic or shopkeeper does.

And there are plenty of ways for people who are full of themselves to put on airs.  Let Benjamin Schwarz list a few:
This consumption comes in two forms. One is tangible (the right greens purchased at the right market, the right street food purchased from the right food truck, the right handbag purchased at the right boutique, the right house purchased in the right neighborhood). The intangible form includes the right indie music, day school, college, and grad program. Either way, consumption becomes the dominant means of self-definition. So it’s not as surprising as it first appears that studies scholarly and satirical—such as Sharon Zukin’s Point of Purchase, Richard Florida’s Rise of the Creative Class, David Brooks’s Bobos in Paradise, Christian Lander’s Stuff White People Like, Lisa Birnbach’s True Prep, and Charles Murray’s Coming Apart — have largely defined this educated elite by probing what it buys and what those purchases signify.

In The Sum of Small Things, Elizabeth Currid-Halkett, a professor of urban planning at the University of Southern California, has refined this exercise by synthesizing up-to-date information on elite spending in a handful of cities—including New York, Boston, Atlanta, Chicago, Seattle, San Francisco, and Los Angeles—which she defines as “the geographical lens through which we can observe the consumption habits of the new elites.” Subjecting those spending preferences to fine-grained analysis, she has, partially unintentionally, presented a dark picture of this elite (which she calls the “aspirational class”).
Why "dark?"
That cup of Intelligentsia coffee may “only” cost five dollars, but learning about it in the first place depends on prizing the judgment of certain cultural tastemakers (again, say, the New York Times and those right-thinking podcasts), and on possessing a worldview that attaches a particular value and virtue to a particular container of hot liquid. Acquiring that cultural capital is, itself, a rarefied and usually expensive endeavor, because it involves a lengthy and complex process of what the sociologists call cultural and social formation: The peculiar cachet that the educated class attaches to that cup of coffee is far more likely to elude the daughter of an insurance adjuster brought up in Lansing, Kansas (a middle-class suburb of Kansas City), who attended the local high school and Kansas State, than it is the daughter of a screenwriter raised in uber-achieving north-of-Montana-Avenue Santa Monica, who attended the Harvard-Westlake School and Yale. Thus, buying that cup of coffee—or that organic cotton t-shirt, or that subscription to Harper’s — signifies a class identity that the purchase, in turn, reinforces.

Currid-Halkett’s analysis of the means of forming that identity reveals its superficiality. For example, as The Sum of Small Things establishes, many of the elite’s purchases are made in the name of protecting the environment. But the notion that self-denial—rather than buying things to gratify oneself—might better serve that end seems absent from the elite worldview.
Put another way: when a Thorstein Veblen or a Ken Galbraith writes about conspicuous consumption, all must understand that it's the Babbitts (or, to use a Mencken term, the "booboisie") being mocked.

And Sauk Center honors another local boy who made his reputation mocking, perhaps more gently, his former neighbors.


That's the Cold Spring Shops staff car at the trail crossing.  The buildings to the left background are for the county fair, which is not fenced.  The yeomanry show off their animals there.

The trail itself uses a former Great Northern Railway line that carried passenger trains almost to the coming of Amtrak.  (The ferroequinology post is still in preparation.)


But in Mr Keillor's mockery is the mind-set of his audience.  What point is there to living in Edina, or Eden Prairie, or Santa Monica, if the women aren't all strong, the men aren't all good looking, and the children aren't all above average?  That's why we have Milwaukee or Muncie or Sioux Falls.

And therein lies the continuing quest for the Confederacy of the Frustrated.  Smug begets anger, and anger perhaps begets Donald Trump, and the cosmopolitans become ever more alienated from the provincials, and perhaps, as Mark Bauerlein argues, it's one more re-litigation of the 1960s.
Liberalism has waged combat in this way ever since the Culture Wars erupted in the 1960s. Liberals and leftists forever altered sex roles, marriage, and childrearing, changed the meaning of patriotism, and expelled religion from the public square. When traditionalists stood up and shouted “Stop!” liberals accused them of benighted or cynical gamesmanship, of ginning up another Culture War. Their own radical actions they regarded as the steady march of history, the natural advance of freedom.

The strategy is simple. Broken marriages, unwed mothers, abortion, sex change operations, all of that is normal. It’s the religious believers, the Trump voters, who are the attackers, when they identify social pathologies, and even when they simply want to be left alone.

This is classic passive-aggression. Starting a battle does not fit the liberal self-image of tolerance, and so each skirmish had to be the other side’s fault.

But the game has run its course. Too many people have felt the sting of liberal censure, and they don’t believe they deserved it. They know whom the aggressors really are, and right now their favorite recourse is to vote for Donald Trump.
I suspect the condescension and the censure of the yeomanry began well before the 1960s: only the intensity of the censure changed.  Babbitt becomes Neanderthal becomes bitter clingers becomes basket of deplorables, and bourgeois becomes a general purpose insult: but the our-aspirations-are-better is still the same.

And so the insurgency goes on.  I've been to a number of threshing events, and it's rare to see a participant in the parade of vintage vehicles making an explicitly political statement.  Here is one, though, from the Lake Region Pioneer Threshermens' Association gathering in Dalton, Minnesota.


The show is a long way from Fargo or Sioux Falls, and yet it might be worth the trip.  Among other things, they re-enact a proper thresherman's dinner (the noon meal, for you clueless coasties) of hot dish and jello salad with store coffe, and there's a steam train calling at an honest to Yim Hill Great Northern depot.

Then there's a straw poll I saw at the Sheboygan County Fair.


That's a Republican fund-raiser.  The Democrats also had a booth, but their fund-raising was a cookie jar labelled "Donations" ("contributions" being too fraught a term, and "favors" being too Illinois a term) and their message was a rewrite of a famous Barry Goldwater passage (as if anyone under sixty even remembers the original) that, translated into insurgent-speak reads "Extremism in defense of public assistance is no vice; moderation in pursuit of other people's money is no virtue."

But that was at least within the bounds of normal political discourse.  Here's what the state Democrats had at the Wisconsin State Fair.


"Decency" is too bourgeois a thing.  Well, credit Leah Singer for saying something positive about life in Terre Haute (where Indiana State University were hiring.)
Never does one ask about the low cost of living that is allowing us to pay off the mountain of debt we accrued in California. And never does one ask about my fellow community members, who are running successful businesses, enriching the city's arts and making a difference for the local environment.

As I got to know my new Midwest home, I realize how living in a bubble and subscribing to the Middle America stereotypes is truly damaging to this country.
Indeed.

Makes me wonder how much of that stereotyping comes from an uncritical reading of Main Street or binge-listening to Prairie Home Companion monologues.