31.1.17

HAVE YOU CONSIDERED BETTER DISPATCHING?

As part of the ongoing efforts to add more Hiawatha frequencies between Milwaukee and Chicago, the freight railroads would like to provide additional capacity for recessing trains, both on the former Milwaukee Road trackage used by the passenger trains and on the Union Pacific's Freight Bypass, which Canadian Pacific freight trains use from Northbrook to Bensenville to avoid obstructing commuter trains for and from Chicago.
One nearly two-mile holding track is planned between Highway 60 in Lake Forest and Rondout near Highway 176, according to the assessment. Another of approximately the same length is planned between West Lake Avenue in Glenview and Techny Road in Northbrook. The third, 1,500 feet long for Metra trains, will extend north from Greenwood Avenue in Deerfield.
The first mentioned track would involve some filling in of wetlands in the neighborhood of the old Armour estate, where the grounds of one mansion have been subdivided for the construction of multiple McMansions, but there is space along the right of way for it.  The second is along the Freight Bypass.  The shorter track will permit additional scoots to short-turn at Deerfield.  You'll note such trains in the current Milwaukee North Line schedules; these must flip back on one of the main tracks.  That can interfere with the movement of freight trains, or of late-running Empire Builders (or other long-distance Amtrak trains, should such ever occur.)

It's the siding along the Freight Bypass that appears to be aggravating the locals.  "Of particular concern in Northbrook is how long delays will be at grade crossings like Techny Road as the freights slow down and speed up because of time spent on the holding track."

To some extent, such delays can be mitigated by sharper dispatching, although I have it from sources among rail professionals that dispatching has become a lost art.  My earlier post on the sidings flap noted a number of other possibilities, including upgrading the Union Pacific Freight Bypass, and restoring the outside sidings elsewhere along The Milwaukee Road.  Maybe I should finish the computer simulation I've been working on, of speeded up service on this line, and see what happens.

For comparison, my summer 1954 Official Guide shows nine frequencies between Chicago and Milwaukee, including two westbound 75 Minute Trains and four eastbound 80 Minute Trains, including two Hiawathas.  The five extra minutes were for recovery margin.  Dispatchers could use the outside sidings at Lake, Caledonia, and Sturtevant to recess freight trains.  And in those days, there might have been less urgency about keeping the freight trains moving, as the Hours of Service Law applied at sixteen hours on call, rather than the twelve hours currently stipulated.

WORDS SHOULD MEAN THINGS.

With the coming of the new year, the banished words lists.  Lake Superior State College (their hockey team, the Soo Lakers, once won a national championship) famously has the general interest list.  Next City's Josh Cohen wants to clean up the language in regional planning (all bureaucratic organizations, particularly those in government, are notorious for abusage of language) starting with eight to ban.  Planetizen's Michael Lewyn dissents in part.
Cohen rejects the use of the term "stroad" to describe streets with fast traffic, because "for most everyone else in the world, roads and streets are synonymous and a portmanteau of them means nothing." In other words, most people don't know what a stroad is. I agree that most Americans don't know what a stroad is—but every non-obscure term was once obscure. The genius of the word "stroad" is that it conveys a one-word mental picture of something that would otherwise require a sentence to describe—a street where cars travel so rapidly as to endanger pedestrians, but which is not a limited-access highway (which means that street lights ensure constant stop-and-go traffic, thus making both pedestrians and drivers unhappy.) I wish every American knew what a stroad was, and I am happy to help lead readers in this direction!

The term "stroad" illustrates why the creation of a new word can sometimes be a good thing: it allows us to take a complex idea and describe it in one vivid word. The best "jargon words" clarify; the worst are so vague that they increase, rather than reduce, reader confusion.
The principle goes back at least to Alfred Marshall, something along the lines of it being less costly to add a new word to the language, rather than repeatedly rattling off a phrase or paragraph.  And "stroad" has an economy of expression that "Permanently Aggravating Traffic Jam and Hazard to Bikers and Walkers" does not.

TELEVISION CAN BE ASPIRATIONAL.

Chicago Tribune reporter Nina Metz compares and contrasts Chicago first-responders as portrayed on television with the reality.
How are we, as TV viewers, meant to reconcile what we see on the show with what the DOJ has spelled out in its report? Does it make you uncomfortable? That the show functions as de facto marketing for the CPD? That the network and everyone involved with the show is making big money from it? And even if it does bother you, what then? I don't necessarily think the show should be yanked off the air or radically revamped. Almost all cop shows are guilty of these fictions. Still, I'm struggling. Something doesn't sit right.
I will cop to enjoying the entire NBC Chicago lineup, Fire, P.D., Med, and I'll likely add Law to the mix once that airs.  (The Sons of Ragnar Lothbrok will by then be refitting until the fall.)  The eternal verities frequently come up in Chicago Fire, and the way the protagonists in the P.D. grapple with their frequently troubled lives (perhaps comfortable people don't go to the Police Academy or Firefighter Academy?) and keep their sanity and get the job done, plus the odd object lesson.  That Northern Illinois's Joe Minoso has one of the more interesting firefighter roles is a plus.

Reality, though, also makes for compelling drama.
The show isn't built to tackle nuance or reality, anyway. And by that I mean: The legitimate challenges and concerns of being a Chicago police officer along with the equally legitimate dysfunction, bias and lack of accountability that exists in the department as outlined by the DOJ.

The show is meant as an escape. And we need shows that offer a distraction from real world anxieties. There is value in that. But it's not so easy to swallow on "Chicago P.D." now that the elephant in the room — of widespread problems with the system itself — is now singing and dancing and introducing itself to everyone, courtesy of that DOJ report.

Ken Dowler, a criminologist at Wilfrid Laurier University in Ontario, Canada, has studied the effect police dramas have on audiences and says he's found two lines of thought. One is something called cultivation theory "which means basically, when you get constant exposure to something, it's going to lead you to believe that's the way it is … and if you look at propaganda research, if you keep throwing the message out there, over and over again and simplifying it, people are going to eventually believe it."

On the other hand, he said: "Watching a television show, you see what you want to see. So the theory is that cop shows have a very limited impact, because people already have preconceived notions. People that choose to watch these shows probably already have a favorable view of the police, whereas somebody who has firsthand experience with police corruption or brutality, they're probably not going to watch the show — or if they do, they're not going to have the same view watching it."
The point of a procedural show is to produce a happy ending, preferably in 46 minutes.  Critics of law enforcement as practiced get that.
I asked Chicago activist Ja'Mal Green, who has been outspoken about police misconduct and brutality, how this all sits with him. "I'm a very big fan of 'Chicago P.D.,'" he said. "I've watched probably every episode. I don't expect it to show exactly how police are because it's for entertainment. They really show the best parts of the Chicago Police Department to the world and when I watch, I'll be like, 'OK, that's not real.' Because of course, I'm out here fighting against the reality! But I don't jump off and be like, 'I hate this show!' because it doesn't show the real Chicago PD. I know it's still just TV. And I don't think people look at it as a documentary or something where they're really getting information, so I don't think it is hurtful for the majority of viewers.

"It could give the message that the Chicago Police Department is just amazing," he said after a moment, "catching killers every episode, solving every case, respectful and caring. Of course it's a false reality. It's not real. This is not how the Chicago Police Department is. But hopefully people that watch it just see it as television."

Bella Bahhs is also a Chicago-based activist and she has a different perspective: "I'm familiar with the show," she told me, "but I do not watch it because it is a false representation of the Chicago Police Department. There's so much work to be done, that I can not even deal with the media's role in perpetuating these images. I'm an activism organizer so I'm really on the ground and a show like this does make the work harder because the media keeps portraying police as heroes in our community."

The cops on the NBC series are certainly flawed. And the show does acknowledge that all is not perfect within the CPD. Too often, though, it comes off as lip service. When we do see unlawful use of force, it almost always comes at the hands of the tough guy sergeant (played by Jason Beghe, who is very good in the role; he's as watchable as you would want).
Lately, Mr Beghe has been doing the voice-overs for WMAQ's Consumer Complaint operation.  Not that the scammers have to be roughed up in the interrogation room, the threat of an interview for all of Greater Chicago to see is generally sufficient.

Perhaps, though, the critics of Business as Usual in Chicago would see policing as acted on television as a first step toward a proper police force.

30.1.17

COMPOUNDING THE ERROR.

On television, the Money Pit is on Oak Island, Nova Scotia.

To the transportation critics of National Review, the Money Pit is the California bullet train  (Via Newmark's Door.)
The California High-Speed Rail Authority is seven years behind schedule on the easiest-to-build Central Valley segment. Delay is deadly to an expensive and over-budget effort, as it prevents a large public constituency from coalescing to support it, while scaring off elected officials. Federal authorities blame the delays on sluggish environmental approvals (Come on, this is California! They should have seen that one coming . . . ), not acquiring the needed rights-of-way in the richest farmland in America, and not quickly processing the paperwork to unlock federal money.
It isn't helping things that this bullet train is going the Great Way Around, rather than into the thickly settled parts of the San Francisco peninsula.  Meanwhile, the Bay Area Rapid Transit might be building an extension, through Silicon Valley, and apparently they know the way to San Jose.  "BART is coming to town, tunneling a “J”-shaped route from the Berryessa station, which is scheduled to open this fall, beneath Santa Clara Street to Diridon Station, then turning north beneath Stockton Avenue and finally surfacing beyond Interstate 880 at the former Union Pacific Railroad Newhall Yard and a terminal station adjacent to Santa Clara’s Caltrain station."  It's not clear from this map of the San Jose line whether riders will be riding northward east of the bay or west of the bay.

Only now might the folly of building the Bay Area lines to an idiosyncratic wide gauge hit home.  The existing cars are long, and the lines designed for, cruising speeds of up to 70 mph.  Perhaps such a rapid transit line could also handle the bullet trains, through Silicon Valley and into San Francisco proper.

There is a precedent.


That's the Mother of All Bullet Trains, at Belmont, with Wrigley Field behind.  Back then, you'd likely have the Milwaukee Braves pennant atop the National flagstaff and the New York Yankees atop the American, and the rush hour flag hoist would be the Blue Lima.  And yes, the Electroliners would fit into the subway, if required.

Back to the National Review article, with some better news from the commuter rail area.
In Florida, an alternative vision of high-speed rail is unfolding using updated diesel-electric locomotives built by Siemens — ironically, in a Sacramento, Calif., facility. Unlike California’s all-government effort, Florida’s Brightline is a private venture, with executive leadership drawn from the hospitality industry. Brightline’s investors have raised $1 billion to use existing tracks to operate a train between Miami and West Palm Beach, reliably shaving 30 minutes off a 90-minute drive, with service starting this summer.

Brightline’s investors plan to raise an additional $1.5 billion to operate a line from Miami to Orlando. Their trains will travel at up to 125 mph on this route. By comparison, California’s vaporware electric train is supposed to hit a top speed of 220 mph in its San Jose–to–LA run, assuming political considerations would allow it to operate non-stop. It will operate at up to 125 mph in the 51 miles from San Francisco to San Jose.
Existing infrastructure is adequate for Brightline's version of the "Free Rein to 110" campaign we have championed at Cold Spring Shops.  And let's think about the cost-effectiveness.  Consider an 85 mile rail route.  Average 60 mph, make the run in 85 minutes.  Push the average speed to 120 mph, cut just over 40 minutes from the trip time.  Push the speed again, to 240 mph, now you've cut the trip time another 20 minutes.  But it's a lot cheaper to reduce the trip time from 85 minutes to 45 give or take than it will be to achieve the further reduction to 25 minutes or so.

The Brightline proposal might be part of a larger project, in which the railroad is part of a real-estate development project.  That's not implausible, in fact, that's the way a lot of Japanese passenger railroads roll.  There's an old computer game called A-Train (even back then, some wags called it Sim Trump!) that might give the hobbyist an idea how it's done.

HAVE THEY CONSIDERED ACKNOWLEDGING THEIR CUSTOMERS?

The kind of studied indolence I've sometimes griped about from the staff at Starbucks might be hurting the company.
The coffee chain reported disappointing sales growth on Thursday and partly blamed the "congestion" in its stores for prompting some people to leave without buying anything. Starbucks said the popularity of its mobile order-and-pay option, which was supposed to make getting a drink easier, has caused bottlenecks at the areas where people pick up their drinks.
Well, yes, if 'phone-it-in joins drive-by as getting preferential treatment, that's going to annoy the walk-in trade, whether it's paying cash or using a card or hackable money on the iToy.
[CEO Howard] Schultz has stressed that Starbucks is positioned to adapt. He noted that the congestion created by mobile order-and-pay is a good problem, and the company is working on operational changes in stores to alleviate the issue.
There might be something simple. Like not giving walk-up patrons lots of time to stew and choose whether to give "Claude Raines" or "Ralph Ellison" as the name to put on the label.

STRIKE UP THE STARS AND STRIPES FOREVER.

The New York Times interviews a number of local circus enthusiasts, mourning the end of Ringling Barnum as we know it.

I've seen some of their work at gatherings such as the Worldwide Circus Summit, and at circus events in Baraboo, which, along with Sarasota, are the two home bases of all things Greatest Show on Earth.


Hope to see some of you on down the road.  The models will tour again this summer.

If you can't get to a model show, find yourself a circus and go to it.

THE VALUE OF PLAYING WITH IDEAS.

Clay Routledge of an organization called The James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal offers advice to young conservatives. You Need College and College Definitely Needs You.
Education is about expanding knowledge and being exposed to new ideas, not affirming existing beliefs. Plus, many college courses have little or nothing to do with political or social ideology.

Now, I would like to speak directly to conservative students. You might not feel at home at many universities but your presence and contributions are important. The only way you are going to impact the fields that lean so far to the left is if you roll up your sleeves and get in the game. The academy is much better off intellectually when it enjoys a truly diverse marketplace of ideas.

If you don’t like the leftist cultural elite echo chambers, break down the chamber doors and chime in. If you are interested, pursue advanced degrees in the social sciences and careers in the academy. Don’t let the view that these disciplines are only for progressives hold you back.

I understand it is easier said than done. Surveys suggest you will face ostracism and discrimination. But, believe it or not, there are conservative, libertarian, classically liberal, and centrist professors out there, even in the social sciences, and they are doing outstanding work. They would welcome you, as would a growing number of academics who worry about ideological homogeneity and want to see a more intellectually vibrant academy. Surveys also indicate that, despite being in the minority, conservative academics are very happy at work.

The truth is, it is not just the case that you need college. Colleges also desperately need you. Leftist academics accuse conservatives of not sufficiently supporting science but turn a blind eye to their postmodernist colleagues who reject the entire scientific enterprise. Many of the concepts campus progressives are obsessed with such as stereotype threat, implicit bias, and microaggressions have not stood up well to empirical scrutiny but remain the foundation of social justice-oriented training programs on campus.
It's not a bad gig, if you can get it.

It's crucial, though, to know the intellectual foundations of the common-room commonplaces better than the people who unthinkingly adhere to them do.  Fortunately, this is not hard.

29.1.17

ECON PEOPLE ARE RATIONALISTS.

Margaret "University Diaries" Soltan salutes her colleagues in the dismal science.  "They’re the only professors who consistently attack big-time university football. Almost all other professors, from other departments, keep their traps shut; but there’s always some guy in economics shooting off his mouth."  Go.  Read.  Understand.

PRIVILEGE-CHECKING IN MADISON.

Women's Hoops picks up a story that a basketball game in the People's Republic of Madison wasn't exactly a celebration of diversity.
After the Madison East Lady Purgolders basketball team beat Middleton High School 75-63 on Monday, the players' celebration was cut short by an insensitive social media post.

A Middleton player posted the following comment to her Instagram page: “I would say good game but a good game doesn’t involve intentionally trying to hurt two of our players and then laughing about it like it was a funny joke. Be aggressive not violent!! Thanks #youregonnaworkforusanyways.”

The Instagram page has been deleted.
Of course it has.

East High is in the industrial section of Madison, between the Ray-O-Vac factory and Oscar Mayer packing plant, and not far from Monona Yard on the railroad.  Well, maybe was, I think the battery factory and the packing house are both closed now.

Middleton is a suburb to the west of Madison.  Tories to windward.  And apparently the politically correct attitudes of the University and high level state employees haven't filtered down to all the spawn of Middleton and Cross Plains residents.  Or perhaps behaving like a deplorable is the only way to rebel these days.

28.1.17

TEN YEARS AGO.

A visit to the Rockford snow sculpting competition.

That year, as this year, early January was too warm for the competition, but toward the end of the month the organizers were able to get the event in.  Techniques for manufacturing blocks of snow and keeping them from melting have improved; ten years ago the source of blocks was snow scooped off runways at the airport.

Some years, the contest date has to be changed account cold weather, either because the crystallized snow is too brittle to work, or because there's a risk to the sculptors.

Go here for a photo gallery.

THE TRENCHANT OBSERVATION OF THE DAY.

Samuel Hammond of the Niskanen Center contemplates classical liberalism.  Free inquiry requires rules of inquiry.
At some point, a liberal norm goes from being merely pragmatic to being an internalized value that transcends time and place. Nonetheless, emphasizing the discovered versus the invented distinction is important to avoid what F.A. Hayek called “rational constructivism,”  or the belief that the authority of liberal norms comes from an abstract theory or argument, independent of the internal recognition of society’s participants. To think otherwise gives social planners permission to redesign society in accord with pure reason, often with calamitous results.
I've been battling away at this idea for years, but never so concisely.  Plus:  "Liberal norms were discovered, not invented, through a process of social evolution. Forgetting this can lead one to overestimate our ability to redesign society, even along more libertarian dimensions."  Thus, should the fanatics get the upper hand, and a new dark age descend, the evolutionary advantages we've already discovered may still have a fighting chance to emerge again.

That said, there are still a lot of weeds for that essay to get into, and it deserves careful study.

SMALL BEGINNINGS.

The first public performance by the Ringling Brothers, and Billy Rainbow the Hippocapra, took place in McGregor, Iowa.  Baraboo, and the partnership with Barnum and Bailey, came later.  "By Alf T.’s estimates, over 100 McGregorites enjoyed the circus, which included tumbling acts by all the brothers, trapeze and ring performances, and juggling by Al, who broke a number of plates, much to the delight of the crowd."  It's always better with elephants, but as long as there are jugglers and aerialists there will be circus.

THINGS AREN'T ALWAYS AS GRIM AS THEY SEEM.

The Central Waters Brewery in Amherst, Wisconsin, have a special issue brew that's on sale for one day, and one day only.   "Buying a $15 ticket allows fans to purchase 22-ounce bottles of the brewery's special bourbon barrel-aged beer called 19, for the brewery's 19th anniversary. A bottle costs $15 and ticket holders can buy up to six bottles."  This sort of event is popular at several craft breweries.  "Central Waters isn't the only brewery that holds a daylong event around a specific beer. Three Floyds near Chicago hosts Dark Lord Day, and Surly Brewing in Minneapolis has Darkness Day."

It's encouraging to encounter a few taverns that have more imagination than three kinds of light beer and a headache-in-a-keg pale ale on tap.  Prosit!

27.1.17

TEN YEARS AGO.

Cold Spring Shops had not yet committed to moving to new quarters, and the mockup of a steel mill was proceeding apace at the old house.


That's the high line for the blast furnace mocked up in the background, and one of the small radius Atlas snap-switches in the foreground.

I'm almost ready to mock up the high line for the blast furnace on the new railroad, plus get the tracks in place for the open hearth.


First, some carpentry work getting more uprights in place for the track, which will be at three elevations in here.

PUBLIC AND PRIVATE CAPITAL.

The first tranche of public spending on internal improvements might include money for two railroad projects in Chicago, continued redevelopment of Union Station and further upgrades to the main stem of the Northwestern Elevated north of Wrigley Field, which contemporary riders understand as the Red (Howard) and Purple (Evanston) Lines.  Both of these projects will offer politicians ribbon-cutting opportunities, and I fully expect some ankle-biter to suggest that easier rapid transit access to the River North area, where there is a Trump Tower, is somehow contrary to the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution.

Missing, however, is any mention of public moneys for the 75th Street Corridor Improvement project, one of several upgrades to the existing Chicago railroad network that, while less splashy than an upgraded passenger terminal or a return of the Evanston Express, have the potential to pay off with much less capital tied up in inventories and fewer shipments delayed in transit.

Among the investor-owned railroads, BNSF will be spending about US$3.4bn on maintaining a state of good repair whilst preparing to serve new shippers.
The projects included in this part of the plan will primarily be for replacing and upgrading rail, rail ties and ballast (which are the main components for the tracks on which BNSF trains operate) and maintaining its rolling stock. This year’s maintenance program will include approximately 20,000 miles of track surfacing and/or undercutting work and the replacement of about 600 miles of rail and nearly 3 million rail ties.

Rounding out the plan will be $400 million for expansion projects, $100 million for the implementation of positive train control and $400 million for locomotives, freight cars and other equipment acquisitions.
The company has allocated about $190 million for network improvements in Illinois.  Some of the rolling stock money will be spent in state as well.

SEVEN DAYS OF TRUMP.

Better policies and worse behavior, notes National Review's Jim Geraghty.  "The 2016 presidential race between Clinton and Trump is now followed by a different kind of race: one between Trump’s decisions and his behavior. His policies should make the country better, if not universally recognized as “great again.” But his temperament, lack of impulse control, and tendency to blurt out the first thought that pops into his mind will embarrass the country, generating needless controversies and an endless series of distractions from any good news."  Betsy Newmark concurs.
In the balance I like more rather than less of the policies he's enunciated since he became president. I like or am fine with most of his nominees. I am excited about his possible Supreme Court nominations. His behavior often appalls me. But we don't live in the world of the ideal so I have to judge against what the alternative might have been. Sure, I would have preferred a Scott Walker, Marco Rubio, or Ted Cruz in the Oval Office right now, but that wasn't my choice. Compared to Hillary Clinton and the policies she would have been pushing now and the nominations she would have wanted, I'm heaving a big sigh of relief. That doesn't mean that I won't keep criticizing when Trump's behavior appalls.
Perhaps, though, the president's transgressive behavior is stiffening the spines of his voters.  That appears to be what American Thinker's Russ Vaughn is seeing.
One of the most frequent criticisms conservatives voice regarding liberals is the dripping condescension with which they deign to engage their opponents in political discourse.  It's like a directional speech defect – liberals don't talk to, but rather talk down when speaking to conservatives, and if you possibly miss the scornful contempt in their word and tone, it's usually accompanied by a visible backup cue, a knowing little smile of superiority that's there to make it perfectly clear, bubba, that you are one dumb, misinformed, knuckle-dragging primitive.  That derisive smile is always there when they are listening, usually moving from side-to-side as the head is being shaken slightly to convey the sneering certainty that you're just simply never going to get this, bumpkin.  It's beyond your flag-worshiping, gun-loving, Bible-thumping flyover yokel comprehension.
That is, until Tucker Carlson has one of the Smug on, and wipes the smirk off zir face.

Sarah Hoyt is also about the punching back at the Smug.
The problem with this is not that the cold war has gone hot.  It hasn’t.  I think instinctively that’s what the left fears.  They’ve been doing all this stuff to keep us down with the understanding there were few of us and most very old, and now a preference cascade has revealed we were just lying to them.  They’re afraid we’re going to, at the very least, do to them what they’ve been doing to us.  And they might be right on that.  But of course they can’t say that.  They can’t say “I’m afraid I won’t get job perks for mouthing the right opinions” or “I’m afraid that my job won’t promote me because of my aggressive SJW blackmail.”  Instead, they have to exaggerate their fears into extermination camps and women losing their right to vote, and other insanity that everyone (probably in their hearts of hearts even they) knows is insanity.

Hence the insurgence of the pussy hatters.  (BTW they’re calling it three million — rolls eyes — yeah, there MIGHT have been three million all over the country, many of them elderly women who don’t seem to be quite sure what they were protesting or why, or old progressives recreating sixty eight out of sheer nostalgia, but that’s counting the not-women not-march on not-Washington (since it had to take all self identified women, it was more of a stroll, and most of them never went near DC) )  They think if they make a big display of force, we’ll be scared to do to them as they’ve been doing onto us.

They don’t realize it’s having the other effect.  Because they are protesting, essentially, against election results, they have NO moral high ground.  People watching can only think they’ve lost their minds.
Well, the one thing the preening virtue-signallers can't stand is to be laughed at, which is precisely why they must be laughed at.
What the heck are they protesting, with their symbolic genitalia hats, anyway? All they can do is make themselves sound crazy by associating themselves with the crazy.

In other words, the people calling them the Trump 2020 dancers are more right than not.

Also, btw, three million?  In a country of three hundred million, where we probably have fifty million aging hippies who long to recreate sixty eight?  And countless vile prog teachers who dragged their classes to this thing?  Three million?  We laugh at your puny numbers, your vile smugness, your crazy assumption of moral rightness.  And the vast majority who won’t answer polls or play your games anymore, laughs with us.

The fury of the left is the fury of someone playing by the rules, who has done everything that has ever worked before and yet finds themselves getting the opposite results of what they wanted.  It often happens in societal change.

We are now, actually, and openly in a situation of Civil Cold War.  The right has its own power to punish those who offend them, and who thought they were insulated by taking the command positions in the culture (often by skulduggery and by paying more attention to politics than competency, which is why every field the left takes over gets cacked.)  Are you going to boycott us?  We’ll counter boycott and take you down.  Or worse, we’ll buycott.  Remember Chick Fil A?  It should have been a warning sign to the left.  But it wasn’t.
The virtue-signallers thought that they, and only they, could play by the rules of "We're Offended" and "That's Not Funny."  But as Kurt Schlichter notes, it's up to Normal Americans to support the better policies, and to call out the Worse Behavior of the Trump protesters.
You can bet that any time three or more lunatics in their naughty bit hats gather together there’ll be a CNN Breaking News Alert on America’s overwhelming rejection of President Trump. But there are things we can do to complicate their plan to make America ungovernable – remember, their goal is to tire America out with constant crises such that normals give up on self-government and cede power to Team Nasty.

One is to keep the pressure on the GOP to perform. At the end of the day, President Trump succeeds if he keeps his promises to kill our enemies, build a wall, deep six O-care and, most of all, get the economy going for everyone, not just hipsters and tech titans. There are fewer GOP squishes than there were, but Hatch, McCain and Little Lord Lindsey aren’t facing election for awhile so we can expect antics. Keep the pressure on, because we keep power only if the GOP keeps its promises.
And -- consistent with Sarah Hoyt's point, go to war as if it's a cultural cold war.
Do we enjoy having a hyper-politicized culture? No, but we’ll enjoy having a hyper-politicized culture run by these man-hating, sharia-tolerating, abortion-loving, non-trash picking up bunch of pinko libfascists even less. Yeah, boycotts and stuff are unseemly – so what? No more unilateral disarmament. They need to learn there is a price for political posturing that insults and disrespects us – and that price must be pain. It’s the only way they will learn.
And perhaps Mr Trump, in his tweets and public statements, is baiting the freakazoids into freaking out.  That appears to be the sentiments of this Ace of Spades post.
I literally don't care what Donald Trump does because nothing he can do is worse than what they've already done.

Donald Trump isn't the bully; he only insults and abuses people in power who have attacked him. They're the fucking bullies. The left, with their smears, their witch hunts, their slanders, their insults, their riots, their violence, and their weaponizing of the federal bureaucracy.

There aren't any rules anymore because the left only applies them one way. And in doing so, they've left what once was a civil compact between the two parties in smoldering ruins.

I have no personal investment in Donald Trump. He is a tool to punish the left and roll back their ill-gotten gains, no more and no less. If he succeeds even partially in those two things, then I'll consider his election a win.

Further, I no longer have any investment in any particular political values, save one: The rules created by the left will be applied to the left as equally and punitively as they have applied them to the right. And when they beg for mercy, I'll begin to reconsider. Or maybe not.
What have I been saying, all along, about the danger of deconstructing institutions?  Did the smart people who transgressed the rules really think that the people whose instincts were to play by the rules would always do so, even after accumulating evidence that doing so wasn't working out so well?

CURATING THE MODEL RAILROAD.

Meet William Davidson, the General Superintendent of Transportation and Chief Track Walker at the Museum of Science and Industry.
Nevertheless, the United States of William Davidson, tells other stories, some anticipated, many not. There are condos and grizzly bears and annoying beachgoers. Gene Kelly swings from a lamppost and dances in the rain on a small town street corner. There are spots were our dream life breaks through to our everyday life. And there are places where religion seems to rear its head: a woman emerges from a municipal building and squints upward at the sky and appears to be in a fainting swoon. There is at least one video store left in business in the USWD, and in a reminder of economic inequality, a neighborhood playground sits mere steps from a factory. The majority of the residents of the USWD appear to be largely white though racial and ethnic diversity can be seen in places throughout. On the steps of a train station, there is a man wearing a sandwich board around his neck that says (though the lettering is way too small and distant for average museumgoers to read): "Equal Rights for All."

There is a dead body floating facedown in the Calumet River. Been there for years.

The USWD is a divided country, an incomplete place, bookended by tall buildings. "Selectively compressed" is how Davidson sees the nation.
Selective compression is what model railroading is all about. Plus sight gags, for the alert observer.  (Oh, the things you'll see at Hamburg's Miniatur Wunderland, if you look hard enough.  But I can't tell you here, this is a G-rated post.)  When you build a railroad in a heavily trafficked gallery, with balconies for viewing from above, there are in addition maintenance challenges the home model railroader doesn't face.
Homeland security is a part of the job. Vandalism is a struggle, he said. Say there's a large group of kids and one teacher to watch them — he rolled his eyes at the thought. "People derail our trains frequently. Kids lean over the railing, derail the trains. Debris falls from the balcony above, derails the trains. Gum wrappers, nickels, pennies derail trains. People throw money at trains. This layout is 15 years old. You have to be vigilant."
And when the trains are running, all day, every day (except for the holiday closures) there's a lot of track cleaning and locomotive maintenance to do.
Davidson's hands are scrunched close to his face. His eyeballs are comically large behind his magnifying eyeglasses, outfitted with pen lights at the temples. He was operating on a derailed train. "It's an investigation," he said. "Something's throwing it off track. It's derailing by the apple orchard, all day long."

He worked in silence.

Then he spoke: "You work beyond your means. Model railroading is still a hobby where people like to work from scratch to build or enhance, and I do too, but we are working with trains that weren't intended to run the way we run them. You have to learn to bend metal and learn how to reuse and recycle parts. These trains, we have them running all day and they weren't designed to run eight, nine hours a day, 363 days a year, longer if we have holidays hours or a corporate event or a sleepover event or it's just a summer day, with summer hours. The parts are just plastic, man. Any part can go. Nature of the beast. Shafts break and wheels go. I am always cleaning debris out of the assemblies."

When Davidson talks trains he inspires confidence. A member of the Windy City Model Railroad Club (and a fixture of that community), he keeps connections, drawing on the know-how of others for cheap, believable tweaks to his nation. He's also fiscally frugal, and quick to react: The worst disaster since he's been here came when a baby dropped a Little Mermaid from the balcony. Prairie Town took the brunt. One building was damaged, another flattened. Trains derailed, scenery was destroyed. "It was a doll but it might as well have been lead weight," Davidson said. And yet, instead of growing cautious, Main Street was renamed Ariel Lane. Where there had been ruin, new businesses were added, buildings went up, and Prairie Town flourished.
Then there are the challenges of keeping a museum display relevant, something that contributed to the removal of the classic O Scale Museum and Santa Fe that used to be on display.
An actual coast to actual coast diorama, New York to Los Angeles, was a possibility, but didn't tell the right story of how resources were transported. He also decided the train set "should reflect today's America," and so in the 15 years since his exhibit was installed, the texture of its neighborhoods have changed. Edge closer to big cities, the racial mix of its tiny figures grows more diverse. Prairie Town, a backwater in 2002, now boasts a Mexican restaurant. Even gentrification has come to the train set: One of the evocative old factories on Chicago's West Side was reinvented as Algren Avenue Lofts. There is humor now: Dracula stalks the top of the Crain Communications Building, and Hulk stands on Lake Street. A skunk breaks up a picnic in the Rockies. And as in life, a slightly jaundiced view of institutions can be felt. The only insurance business is "Minimalist Insurance." Which is bad, because occasionally disaster strikes the USWD.
Disaster is always just a few minutes after museum opening away, as the article explains. But the trains roll, and the development of additional interactive exhibits and vignettes goes on.

19.1.17

PREPARE AS IF TO FACE CONNECTICUT.

We've noted the recent successes of the Northern Illinois women's basketball squad, including a fast start in the conference and a gaudy 90 points per game on average.  That fast start included road wins against strong Kent State and Toledo teams.  After those road trips, a home stand, commencing with Akron, naught in five conference games, and a low team scoring average.

Trap game.
The usually high-scoring Huskies struggled from the floor and suffered their first conference loss in a 84-55 defeat to Akron on Wednesday afternoon at the NIU Convocation Center.

The loss snapped a six-game winning streak for the Huskies.
At least one player took an education from the outcome.
“Credit to Akron, they put on a [heck] of a show,” [sophomore Courtney] Woods said. “They shot the crap out of the ball, and I don’t think we knew how to react to that because I think we felt like we could walk in and come out with a 20-point win.”
The game was still manageable early in the third quarter.  On any given Wednesday ...

DEMOCRATIZING TRANSGRESSION IS NOT A GOOD IDEA.

Daniel Gordon of ZooMass participates in a forum on populist revolt organized by The Critique.  By all means, read the essay, and note the suggestions offered therein to academicians, particularly of the culture-studies bent.  You might start by taking your postmodern skepticism seriously.
Indeed, a common point between academic and media analysis is the tendency to “unmask” an ideological opponent. To unmask is to reveal a delusion beneath a political or intellectual claim. To unmask is to presuppose that there is no principled basis for debate. There is nothing to understand besides the error of the other. The presence of difference of opinion attests only to the existence of false-consciousness, not to the existence of a question that admits more than one answer.
Put another way, if you interrogate (to use another academic term of art I despise) the practice rigorously enough, the Manipulating Ruling Class will confess.  The unmasking is often the confession of a tight prior, e.g. existing institutions exist solely to confer privilege to favored people, Trump voters are deplorable.  But sometimes when you get done digging through the Haufen Mist, there's no pony in there.

And the institutions are civilization, and the deplorables recognize that something is broken.
One finds an idiom that is novel to many of us in the academy but that raises important problems in an acute fashion. Above all, the alt-right draws intellectual vigor from its emphasis on the need for limits and borders. Given the commitment on the part of some Leftist intellectuals and politicians to a borderless world–not only in matters of immigration and trade but in matters of sexuality and morality—the alt-right’s concern about the consequences of a borderless society registers a real need to have a national debate about how far we can go: how far can we push the frontiers of transgressive thinking and action without destroying our own freedom? With its emphasis on borders, the alt-right has managed to articulate some of the most important philosophical issues of our time.
Precisely.  Welcome to the conversation.
The existentialist affirmation of the nothingness underlying all commitments, of the arbitrariness of all choices, including even those that are guided by our previous choices, is now part of our political culture. This is not the skepticism of Montaigne, Hume, and Burke, which lends itself to disciplined and gradual modes of extending our outer and inward conversations through, for example, the intensive study of Great Books and the prolonged exploration of foreign languages and cultures. It is a childish wish to defer all binding self-definitions and to experience liberation from constraint at every moment of one’s existence. It is a rejection of pronouns and of every social grammar. The Brexit vote in turn rejected this nihilism. It affirmed the conservative principle that there is nothing wrong with being attached to something in particular. Likewise, the alt-right is a victorious reaction against what is too often – and mistakenly – called the “identity politics” of the Left. For what is in question today is just the opposite: the explosion on the Left of anti-identity politics.
Yeah, when you deny coherent beliefs of any kind, you get incoherence. Hence the public intellectuals of the left having so many problems explaining Sanders voters crossing over to Trump.  What is it, forty, fifty years since the normals and the hippies started hurling insults like "uptight" and "perpetual adolescent" at each other.  Yes, a social grammar implies constraints, but the absence of a grammar ...  There is much more, questioning the commonplaces of the common room, and by all means, read and understand it all.

I want to refer to a more explicitly political post by The Federalist's David Marcus, "Progressives Destroyed Normalcy And Now They’re Shocked Trump Isn’t Normal."  Note, he is by no means spiking the football here.  The most interesting part of the Trump presidency will be the efforts of constitutional conservatives, bourgeois tories, and sensible people of the left to find common cause.  Perhaps social norms will be a good place to start.
In Donald Trump, with his admittedly dangerous, devil-may-care attitude, progressives have stumbled upon the value of conserving norms and traditions. A president just doesn’t say these awful things about his opponents and the media. A president doesn’t tweet attacks at enemies late at night. A President doesn’t put a controversial figure like Steve Bannon a few doors down from the Oval Office.

But here’s the thing: it’s too late. We are way past that now. The Left let its freak flag fly. We all saw it. No normal is the new normal and there is no clear way back from that.
In case you missed it on the Cold Spring Shops bulletin board, read it there.
Cultural norms are self-imposed limitations on speech and actions, meant to preserve peace and order in a society. It is like a stream with banks that allow our public discourse to flow responsibly. When that stream is broadened and deepened, dangerous ideas flow in from both sides.
That's where we currently find ourselves.  "A big part of what conservatives are meant to conserve is decency, decorum, and respect. We should oppose shouting expletives at those we disagree with."  Note, Mr Marcus did not rule out all trash-talking a priori.  That might still be the most effective way to counter the condescension, the censoriousness, the certitude that the self-styled progressives like to use.

Rod Dreher, after a survey of a series of commentaries in a similar vein (funny, isn't it, how the people who used to live by picking a target, personalizing it, and making it play by its own rules don't like receiving such treatment) warns that things are likely to be unpleasant for some time.
I certainly don’t believe that the left was all sunshine and cupcakes before Trump came along. No reader of this blog can think that. But it’s clear to me from Trump’s behavior — first in the way he treated his Republican competitors — that he has crossed some significant lines. And it profited him greatly to do so; that’s why he’s going to be our president as of Friday. The gloves are going to be off everywhere going forward, in a way we haven’t seen in a long, long time.
Let it be occasion to campaign until the freak flags are furled!

A CLOCK THAT OUGHT BE TURNED BACK?

Virginia Postrel (via Insta Pundit) contemplates ways to Make the Greatest Stores Great Again.  They might have been dinosaurs, of a piece with the elegant ocean liners, the Pump Room, all-Pullman streamliners.  "People would want to shop in small stores with focused inventories, where they could find what they wanted on a quick lunch break, or, like me, they’d order from catalogs."  True in part, not true in part, and catalog ordering is no longer tied to the annual wish-book, thick enough to hang on a nail for reuse and recycling.  But now, in place of the shops around the public square, you have the shops under General Growth's roof.
Eating out is buying stuff along with a positive experience -- while saving time on chores such as grocery shopping and doing dishes.

Contrary to what you might suppose, shopping-center vacancy rates have been steadily falling since 2008, thanks in large part to food. Restaurant expansions account for increasing amounts of space, and malls have begun turning to food halls as anchor tenants. These are large spaces where customers can eat varied, high-quality meals or take-home grocery items such as artisanal bread, fresh produce, or gourmet meats and cheeses.
These days, it's emergent, with the likes of General Growth taking care of the logistics.  But that's what Marshall Field or Gimbel used to do.
Department stores weren’t always dull places to buy things less efficiently than you can online. In the early days, their wonders included elegant tearooms, suitable for ladies who’d never frequent saloons. Stores held concerts and fashion shows. They provided playgrounds and nurseries. They gave all sorts of lessons, from bicycle riding in the 1890s to bridge and mah-jongg decades later. They displayed original artworks. In many and varied ways, they wrapped their goods, many of them themselves new and exotic, in experiences. “One came now less to purchase a particular article than simply to visit, buying in the process because it was part of the excitement, part of an experience that added another dimension to life,” writes the historian Michael B. Miller in Bon Marché: Bourgeois Culture and the Department Store, 1869–1920.
Some of that was still in place in the last days of The America That Worked(TM), it being a family ritual, come early December, for everyone to scrub up, spiff up, and head Downtown to do the Christmas shopping, and enjoy a meal at the Boston Store restaurant.  (What contemporary Milwaukeeans miss ... there still is a Boston Store, making do with part of the bottom two floors of the original store.)  And you could look at the gadgets on the Lionel train displays, way fancier and beyond the budgets of most of the shoppers.  (I blame the cult of the MBA for the end of the train displays.  Some genius noted that there were trains left over after the end of the Christmas season, decided that the stock would be made available to Arlan's and Atlantic Mills, where it was stocked on shelves at everyday low prices.  Families went to the department stores to look at the displays, found the stuff available at lower prices off the shelf at the discounters, bought it there.  Then, inevitably, something broke.  What happens next is not amusing.)

There is, still, a social experience to going shopping, which operators of today's emergent, distributed-network department stores might be discovering.
For retailers and their landlords, the future lies in giving customers a place to socialize and learn. Spending time with friends, meeting new people, and acquiring hands-on skills aren’t as enjoyable online. The challenge today is to recreate the old excitement for a new era, selling not exotic merchandise and unfamiliar culture but the pleasures of human contact and physical presence.
There's another component, though. People, particularly the upscale high achievers Ms Postrel runs amid, have to figure out how to get their work done in thirty hours a week, rather than striving, striving, striving, and racking up those sixty hour weeks and rushed meals.

TAKING STOCK

Right Wisconsin's James Wigderson bids adieu to the Obama Presidency.  Not the worst, not even close to the worst.
President James Buchanan surely ranks as the worst. Buchanan allowed the South to secede, allowing those states to take military assets that would later be used in the Civil War. Congress even refused to pay for Buchanan's presidential portrait.

Woodrow Wilson inflicted upon the country the income tax and widespread repression at the end of his second term. Rutherford B. Hayes took office after the infamous Compromise of 1877 when the Republicans agreed to end Reconstruction by withdrawing federal troops from the South in exchange for control of the White House. Andrew Jackson agreed to the Indian Removal Act of 1830 which caused the Trail of Tears for the Cherokee Indians. Richard Nixon was nearly impeached for misconduct in office, and we're still paying for his domestic policies today.
Yes, and James Buchanan had all that experience, both as a Representative and a Senator from a large state, and as Ambassador to the Court of St. James and Secretary of State.  Plus he farmed out the First Lady duties.  And if you think Richard Nixon helped create a swamp in Washington, what do you suppose preceded Reconstruction and Jim Crow and affirmative action?  Like Mr Buchanan, Mr Obama took office toward the end of a saecular Unraveling, and yet, his effects might be more easily reversed.
Obama didn't preside over a civil war, although race relations actually got worse during his time in office and police departments feel besieged by liberal politics. He didn't get impeached, although his administration was hardly scandal-free. Obama is not the "worst president ever."

But his domestic policies can be graded a failure on the Obama standard. Instead of the transformative figure he hoped to become, Obama's policies should be swept away by a Republican congress that achieved success when it ran against the Obama agenda.
That is, if that Congress and the incoming President can get down to business.  We should have some clues as to that eventuality in twelve hours or so.

17.1.17

WATCH THIS SPACE.

Facebook reminded me this morning about the state of the railroad, five years ago.


Progress as of 17 January, 2012.  Furring strips in, wall insulation going in, extra lighting in, no grid yet for the drop ceiling.


Much of the work over the next four years was to build from the northwest corner to the east and to the south.  By 12 January, 2016, the benchwork for staging and the trackage down to staging and up to the Gloucester Branch was in place, and spline for the upper level was going in through western Russian town of Zudnokhovsk.


Main line, station siding, and spur to corrective labor camp in place at Zudnokhovsk now.  Stalin never had beer delivery like this!  Passenger train headed off the Eastern Route Main Line into staging for Ipswich, Portsmouth, and points north.

THE IRREGULAR RHYMES OF HISTORY.

Dave "Voluntary Xchange" Tufte picks up a Nation interview with Yale political scientist Stephen Skowronek looking for regularities in the Black Swan event we call the Trumpening.  We'll start with the political economy of cycles, particularly cycles that are long relative to the frame of reference.
As soon as you see long cycles in a discussion, you should be very suspicious. Think about two points. How do we know there are cycles? Because we return back to where we started. How do we know there are long cycles? Because we have a huge amount of data. Skowronek’s theory is based on observing 2, maybe 3, long cycles. At the absolute limit, possibly six. Solid scientists are exceptionally skeptical of that sort of argument.
Yes, that's the fundamental flaw with cycles-of-history arguments, including those involving Fourth Turnings.  Wherever there is a pattern, there are opportunities to exploit the pattern and throw the cycle off.

What's interesting, though, is Professor Skowronek's indictment of the Cult of the Presidency.
Look, the 20th-century Progressives really screwed up the presidency in the sense that they envisioned every president as a transformative leader. So they instituted primary elections, which gave us these idiosyncratic presidential parties not beholden to any collective. Instead, they are personal organizations which feed this idea of transformational leadership. But at the same time, the Progressives rebuilt the government to create this enormous management apparatus we call the executive office of the president. So now we also expect the president to be a rational coordinator of institutions and actions throughout this massive federal government.

The problem is that those two functions don’t necessarily go together very well. How can you promise to shake the system up, to extricate the special interests and transform politics, while also being a responsible manager of the state? In the 2016 election, we saw a choice between candidates who were essentially caricatures of those two views. Hillary Clinton was all about competence and management and rational decision-making, while Trump was all about popular mobilization and disruption.
Put not excessive faith in Chief Magistrates.

SOME DAYS JUST GET WORSE.

Ringling Barnum's Blue Unit train reported terminal delay in Miami account a derailment.  "According to local sources, a Florida East Coast local was assembling the train in preparation for its departure from Miami when a switching locomotive and one of the company’s generator cars derailed. There was only minor damage reported, but the equipment remained derailed as of 2:45 p.m. local time." The first jump will be to Birmingham, Alabama, for a Thursday opening.

THE IMPORTANCE OF A STATE OF GOOD REPAIR.

Harvard's Larry Summers and Ed Glaeser go around on infrastructure.  There are several good points covered therein.  I wish to highlight one.
I was struck many years ago by the young teacher who approached me in Oakland after as Secretary of the Treasury I gave a speech about the importance of education. She said “Secretary Summers—that was a great speech.  But the paint is chipping off the walls of this school, not off the walls at McDonald’s or the movie theatre. So why should the kids believe this society thinks their education is the most important thing”  I had no good answer.

As with potentially collapsing bridges, prevention is cheaper than cure and in many cases the return on “un-derferring” maintenance far exceeds government borrowing rates.  Borrowing to finance maintenance should not be viewed as incurring a new cost but as shifting from the fast compounding liability of maintenance to the slowly compounding liability of explicit debt.  It should also be noted that inevitably one maintains what has been used, so maintenance investment is much less likely to turn out a white elephant than new infrastructure investment.
There's more to his argument than ribbon cuttings are newsworthy, painting and patching are not.  Sometimes the pressure to bring a project in "under budget" leads to corner-cutting, and that can be as subtle as a cheaper grade of paint or as serious as thinner insulation.

Note, also, sound economics is part of sound policy.  That's whether the infrastructure is the conventional public spending Professors Glaeser and Summers focus on, or private investment in such things as electric transmission lines and capacity improvements on railroads.
There is too much pork barrel and too little cost-benefit analysis in infrastructure decision making.  Projects should be required to pass cost-benefit tests and proposals like a national infrastructure bank that would insulate a larger portion of decision-making from politics should be seriously considered.  Ed Glaeser is right that new infrastructure investment in declining areas is often a terrible idea as declining population means that these areas have if anything too much infrastructure.  And Field of Dreams — “build it and they will come” approaches do not have a very good track record.  Ways should be found to make the costs of procrastination on maintenance more salient and to institutionalize resistance to low-ball cost estimates from advocates of more visionary projects.
Rent-seekers gotta seek rents.  But a Strong Towns post suggests now is an opportunity for new thinking.
Replacing a system of failing, insolvent infrastructure with an identical (but newer) system of failing, insolvent infrastructure not only doesn't solve the underlying math equation, it doesn't scale to the size of our actual national problem. We need to think differently.
The scale the post focuses on is Flint, Michigan's water mains, which originally served the dual purposes of supplying fire hydrants and supplying drinking water.

More generally, though, whenever there is talk of spending money on internal improvements, the advocates of Best Practice and the fraternity of Wise Experts are sure to follow.  That might be the worst possible thing, compounding, as it is likely to do, the decisions that brought us to where we are.  "The values of post-war American development are embedded in our current approach -- efficiency over resiliency, large up front expense over ongoing maintenance expense, comprehensive over incremental, one-size-fits-all over tactical -- and they keep us from seeing the opportunities that sit right in front of us."  Perhaps I will have to continue to object to misuses of "efficiency."  Too often, it's misinterpreted as attempting to do more with less, as in the quote.

PRESERVING THE HIGHER EDUCATION CIRCUS.

Inside Higher Ed's Joshua Kim attempts to study the demise of Ringling Barnum.
The circus, it turns out, is afflicted with the same cost disease as is higher education.

The circus can only scale so much before the circus tent gets too big, making it impossible to see the clowns.

When discussing why the circus was closing, the billionaire owner and CEO Ringling cited the show’s 12-minute tiger act:

“Try getting a 3- or 4-year-old today to sit for 12 minutes..”

Substitute “19 year old” for “3 year old”, and “lectures” for “tigers”, you can see that our higher ed challenges are not all that different from that of the circus.

How can we in higher ed avoid the fate of ‘The Greatest Show on Earth”?

First, we should definitely avoid using exotic live animals in our teaching or residential activities.  The cost of transporting lions, tigers, camels, donkeys, alpacas, kangaroos and llamas between shows proved too expensive for Ringling Brothers.  We should learn from their experience.
It was the elephants they didn't transport that hurt retention, not the camels they did transport.

I leave it to others to address the "cost disease" or nonexistent attention spans or the false economies of student-credit-hours-per-faculty, or dumbing down the curriculum.

16.1.17

WIN AND KEEP PLAYING.

The Green Bay Packers last won a playoff game in Dallas at the end of 1966.


Like yesterday's game, that game started with the Packers establishing a big lead, only to have to make plays at the end to secure the win.

Conference championship game, Sunday afternoon, Atlanta.

A PROPER CIRCUS HAS A TRAIN AND ELEPHANTS.

Trains Magazine correspondents offer their tributes to the end of Ringling Barnum.

Hayley Enoch captures the magic of Circus Day, even if the train simply passes through.
For generations past, especially those before internet and television and movies became common,  the sight of the circus train meant a break from everyday monotony, the most elaborate entertainment and the most visceral representation of the wonders of the world beyond their doorstep they were likely to see. For modern people, it meant the continuation of a 146-year-old tradition, a welcome chance to photograph something beyond the ordinary autoracks and coal hoppers.
Alas, it's all too much given today's prices, and today's attention spans.
Anyone who has ever lent a hand in tourist railroad operations or private car ownership can attest that maintaining even a small fleet can be prohibitively expensive. Feld Entertainment did cite a combination of operating costs and falling attendance as the reasons behind the closure, though it did not offer any information on what specific costs involved with operating the circus had become the most untenable.

Still others voiced what was perhaps the most accurate and the least well received opinion on the reasons behind the RBB&B’s closure: Travelling circuses are just one more relic of bygone eras that have overstayed their place in our modern, digital world. Their demise was inevitable: Modern audiences are too worldly, too cynical, inundated with too many other entertainment options to appreciate the kind of entertainment that the circus offers.

The truth, as it usually is, is likely some combination of all of these factors. Whatever the exact reasons, though, the end of the circus and its two trains bring an era of entertainment and era of railroading to a close. The loss is palpable. There are jobs lost, talents and years of experience that may not find a place in other industries, an entire experience that can now only be described in the pages of history.
My social media feed filled up, over the weekend, with hopes that some or all of the circus train stock could be preserved.  It's unlikely that much will find its way into preservation, considering circumstances at Circus World and at the Illinois Railway Museum, two places that have a good deal of their collection under roof.

Editor Jim Wrinn went to Circus World, where he was not alone among media seeking the back story.
As news spread Sunday that the vaunted Ringling Brothers & Barnum and Bailey Circus will end its more than 130 year run in May, there was only one place for me to go, the Circus World Museum in Baraboo, Wis., about 2 hours west of Trains’ world headquarters. This place is hallowed ground for circus history -- the town of 12,000 today where five brothers in 1884 came up with the idea for the show that would go worldwide, the place that was once Ringling’s circus headquarters, and since 1959, the museum’s home. It is dotted with historic buildings where performers practiced and animals trained.
But the entertainment and educational functions of the itinerant circus now have substitutes.
The museum is about all American circuses, and Wisconsin is prominent in that story as the launching point of Ringling in Baraboo, P.T. Barnum in Delavan, and almost 100 other circuses across the state. Railroading, of course, plays a major role, [museum director Scott] O’Donnell said. Railroads replaced wagons and buggies in hauling the Ringling circus about 1890, and it made it possible for circuses to cover greater distances between shows. Circuses brought the world to cities from coast to coast – everything from giraffes and cotton candy, to performers from as far away as China and Hungary, and much more. America responded: businesses closed and schools shut their doors when the circus arrived. “It was like live Google search came to your town,” O’Donnell said. As many as 16,000 watched a circus show in a single day.
The animals in the menagerie might participate in the circus itself, but many (consider the hippopotamus, the giraffe, the walrus, and the badgers and wolverines) were along to show the locals what sort of exotica roamed the world.

Circus World would be happy to add some Ringling Barnum cars to their collection, but there are limits.


The Mabies -- shirt-tail relations -- also set up their circus in Delavan.

Chase Gunnoe meditates on What It All Means.
As people’s lives revolve around technology – so do the businesses in which employ them.  There is a mentality that everything we do can be improved upon if we introduce some form of technology to help execute the task. Hands-on trades skills are replaced with microchips the same as acrobats are replaced with mobile apps.
I doubt that. And yet the day may come when nobody knows how to set the valves on a steam locomotive, or how to catch the triple somersault.

THE COMMUTER TRAIN SAILS THE LIFTED TACK.

The Netherlanders are known for their windmills, and now the windmills power the trains.
All of the electric passenger trains running in the Netherlands are now powered entirely by wind. One year ahead of schedule, Dutch railway company NS announced its entire electric train fleet is running on 100-percent wind power as of January 1, 2017, ushering in a new era of green transportation. Renewable energy advocates hope the early success will inspire planners to incorporate wind-powered trains in other high-speed rail projects around the world, including some proposed in the United States.
The windiest parts of the States are also in prairie country, perhaps the best applications still remain in electrifying the Powder River and Bakken coal and oil routes.

THE BIG TOP BLOWN DOWN BY A GALE OF CREATIVE DESTRUCTION?

That appears to be Tyler Cowen, this time at his Marginal Revolution winter quarters, assessing the end of Ringling Barnum.  (But not, mind you, all itinerant circus!  Expect me to be giving the surviving truck shows free plugs once summer nears.)  He links a Chattanooga Times Free Press story about life on the road with the Ringling Barnum gold unit, a truck show.  The star of the Globe of Death (a popular show-ending motorcycle act) also worked with the pachyderms.
Alex Petrov is a Ringling Brothers star given his rare talent for racing a motorcycle across a thin, high wire. He can hold his own in the Globe of Steel, which looks like a Thunderdome death trap where three motorcyclists zoom past each other, often upside down inside the cage.

Despite his skill, Petrov has the humble, smelly task of shoveling elephant poop out of the two semi-trailers where Asia and April dwell. Petrov trains the two elephants, which requires him to park the RV he calls home next to their trailer in case they want his reassuring company in the middle of the night.

When April and Asia retire to Florida in 2018, Petrov will miss them, but he shrugs off any worry that their departure will dent circus attendance. Despite the controversy over the ethics of circus animal acts, Ringling seems able to coax a lot of people off the couch and into the tent.
The expression "doubles in brass" is a circus expression for a trouper, sometimes a laborer, with musical ability, who fills in on the sideshow band-wagon.  Not sure what role the musicians' union played in changing that.  To this day, though, you'll find the acrobats also serving as animal trainers or climbing the Spanish Web or juggling.

The itinerant circus practiced just-in-time logistics long before that became a management fad.  Still true.
[Ringling Barnum general manager Jason] Gibson describes the economic impact on Chattanooga: 40 of the 120 circus employees stay at a local hotel; 24 travel in RVs that are parked in a nearby field.

Each day, truckloads of hay and produce are hauled to McKenzie Arena to feed the animals. The circus vet banned peanuts from the elephants' diet for being too fatty but allows them an occasional loaf of unsliced bread or some marshmallows for treats. On performance days, a local caterer feeds the human employees, or they buy their meals in restaurants or grocery stores.
The two train units still operate pie cars, and some of the smaller itinerant shows featured a cookhouse.  On Carson and Barnes, it doubles as the classroom.  (The kids, and the circus is very much a family business, sit at the tables where meals are served at mealtime.)


Mooseheart, Illinois, 27 August 2011.

So what went wrong?  Mr Cowen offers six provisional hypotheses.

1. It is now cheaper to bring people to spectacular events than to have the spectacular events travel around.

Perhaps true of Ringling Barnum, which played in big-city arenas (the famous November "circus trip" of Chicago's Blackhawks and Bulls being a consequence of The Greatest Show booking the United Center, and the Chicago Stadium before that).  Not true so much of the smaller truck shows, which play county fair grounds and school practice fields, or work with the Shriners.  And the Shriners pledge, to the extent allowed by local law, to continue to offer the big cats and the performing pachyderms.

2. Kids get enough drama through social media.

Information technologies destroy attention spans.  Ringling Barnum might have "dumbed down" (to use one critic's observation) its show in response.  For all the good it did.  The smaller shows have a lot more audience participation.

3. Circus jobs stink, and it is increasingly hard to attract and retain the talent. Might there be a visa/immigration issue as well?

In fiction, on Public Broadcasting, and in life, the itinerant circus has always been a hard-knock life.  The Cole Brothers show had a number of workers from Mexico and Central America on a visa program, apparently making a case for temporary help on the circus is similar to making a case for temporary help writing code.  Performers are akin to the boomers of the steam-era railroad, I have seen what looks like the same people and the same act on different shows in different years.  All the same, you have to like living on the train (Ringling Barnum will be finding permanent homes for some of its crew) or out of a motor home for long stretches of time.

4. Circuses are mostly boring, and some of the highlights can be watched, in one form or another, on YouTube. Even as a kid I was bored by the circus I saw at Madison Square Garden, relative say to watching Fischer vs. Spassky on TV. What’s the actual drama in a circus?

Watching Ringling Barnum upstairs from Penn Station doesn't strike me as edifying, either.  At the 2015 Worldwide Circus Summit, I noted that the professionals struggled with what, exactly, they were providing.  Excessively Earnest People might have dragged the Big Apple Circus too far to the public-radio, virtue-signalling, preachy side.  Perhaps all the elephant rides at extended intermissions, and special sales of peanuts, some of the bags containing a prize, at the smaller shows, is for a reason.  Plus the audience participation, and clowns that play to the kids.

5. Fewer circus animals, including fewer or no elephants (none for Ringling since May 2016), hurts circus demand by a significant amount.

No elephants, no circus.

6. I don’t know if contemporary circuses still degrade women, the disabled, and other groups, but of course the contemporary world won’t sit still for that any more, not in any sphere of life.

There are no sideshows, if that's what this point refers to.  There still are athletic women in spangly costumes riding the elephants and performing on the Spanish Web or the trapeze.

Perhaps the itinerant circus is going to live on in the models.


We will continue to alert children of all ages to opportunities to view real circuses under Shrine auspices and otherwise.

OBAMA FAREWELL.

The New York Times gives Peter Wehner a forum.  Go, read, and understand.
Barack Obama is among the most talented campaigners we have ever seen. But as president, he failed in a manner and on a scale that damaged his party, undermined faith in the institutions of government and left the nation more riven than he found it. For most Americans, the economy has been listless. All this helped create the conditions that allowed a cynical demagogue to rise up and succeed him, one who will undo the achievements he most prizes.

In many ways Barack Obama and Donald Trump could not be more different. Mr. Obama is equable and graceful; Mr. Trump is erratic and graceless. Yet one cannot make sense of the incoming presidency without understanding the failures of the outgoing one.
Put not your faith in chief magistrates.