30.5.18

CONTEMPLATING BRIGHTLINE.

Railroad awareness is seeping into South Florida, and that's provoking commentary from people other than the usual professional railroaders or ferroequinologists.

Start with Daniel Hicks, at Medium, looking for the boost to high speed rail operation.
“All Aboard Florida capitalized on assets they already had,” said Andy Kunz, president of the U.S. High-Speed Association in Washington, D.C. “They owned the tracks, unlike California and Texas that face the challenge of acquiring land that covers hundreds of miles.”

So while it will be another 15 years before California completes its high-speed rail system, Brightline in the meantime promises to improve mass transit throughout Florida, reduce passenger car traffic between Orlando and Miami as well as provide a more sustainable alternative to road travel.

And with the private sector backing it, Kunz said that Brightline shows that high-speed, passenger rail systems do not have to become a money pit for the public sector. As a backdrop, the U.S. Congress is currently debating a significant boost to infrastructure spending.
That is, if California's bullet trains ever get built.

The role of the private sector is something Passenger Rail advocates are still getting used to.
A well-designed [transit oriented development] empowers people with a choice to walk, cycle, or use public transportation to meet their daily needs. In other words, [it] is an urban development response to the congestion, carbon emissions, and inefficiency of suburban sprawl.

“The car promise didn’t deliver,” said Kunz. “The history of urban development is compact, walkable and clustered around transit stations. Even the early suburbs were walkable. But in the 1950s, we started to orient everything around cars. Cars disperse people. Everything becomes separated. We have hit the limits of traffic congestion through commuting and highway expansion.”

As an example for Miami, Kunz pointed to the Japanese, who perfected a network of high-speed trains that drop off thousands of people at a time at local stops across the country. This has led to high-density, urban development and tremendous value creation around each station.
It might be more to the point to note that development-oriented transit is emergent, and that the Japanese rail network in part reflects railway companies that are part of real estate development interests.  I continue to wonder what sort of connectivity will emerge among Brightline, the Miami area Commuter Rail authority, and the city bus operators.  That generalizes, though: there's little connectivity among the state-supported Amtrak corridor services at the Chicago hub, let alone between Amtrak trains and the suburban trains, and I will likely see Valhalla before I see any sort of a rail pass good on all U.S. trains.

The good news is, there is a new train service, and it appears to be catching on.  Robbyn Ackner, also a Medium correspondent, likes what she sees.
Traffic in South Florida is awful. Living in Palm Beach County gives us the opportunity to be on the outskirts of the horrible traffic, while being within driving distance of so many different cities and attractions. We are about an hour to Ft. Lauderdale Airport, Hollywood and the Broward County Beaches. We’re 90 minutes to our favorite hotel in South Beach. Two hours from Naples and 2 ½ hours to Orlando. Ten minutes from Worth Avenue, one of the Worlds Most Expensive streets. Last year, #GoBrightline started running between West Palm Beach and Las Olas in Fort Lauderdale. We’ve enjoyed hopping on the train and going down there for the day, or to enjoy dinner and even go to the convention center. It’s so nice not having to deal with traffic, especially after enjoying a night out. Yesterday, Brightline began running to Miami and we were lucky enough to get one of the last tickets available for their inaugural ride.
On train, it's nice. Outside the window, though, well, the purpose of the railroad is to serve industry, and "other side of the tracks" is an expression for a reason.
Along the way, you get to see a side of road that you don’t typically see, and it’s not a pretty sight. Litter is scattered everywhere, it’s like people use the side of the railroad tracks as a dumping ground. Sadly, there is a very large homeless population anywhere you see an area that is under cover, mostly highway overpasses. I wonder if the rail system has considered those homeless people as an untapped resource who can keep the rails free of debris and then they might no longer be homeless!
Hobo jungles have long been a thing. While it is the case that a hobo is someone who will work for food, railway maintenance labor is one of the harder things a man or woman can do, particularly one out of shape.  But railroad awareness is emergent, and here's a postulant, mostly liking what she sees.
All in all we’re quite happy with the Brightline Train and look forward to many happy rides. Unfortunately, it’s not without issues, there have been several people who have lost their lives on the tracks, most thinking they can duck under the arms and beat the train as they cross the track. This is a high speed train, it’s only got 4 cars, it is so not worth losing your life over waiting for maybe 30 seconds.

My only complaint … they’ve got these really weird hand washing/drying system in the restrooms that not only sprays water, but blasts you with air and while it is supposed to only dry your hands (I assume) the blowback as the high speed air hits the edge of the sink is like a wind tunnel and it blows whatever water might be in the sink, or soap still on your hands onto you, your clothes and if you’re short like me, in your face. That kind of sucked. Hint …. use the sink in the handicap stall.
Dyson isn't going to like that. The crossing protection, though.  Mr Hicks devotes three paragraphs to it.
Quiet zones, which were part of an original agreement between All Aboard Florida and the municipalities lining the train route, are finally going into effect this month, starting in West Palm Beach. The zones are welcome relief for Rose, his guests and many other residents who have prayed for silence since the beginning of the year, when the zones were supposed to coincide with the start of the Brightline service.

All Aboard Florida paid for the zone upgrades at close to 200 intersections along its route. They have extra gates, lights, bells as well as raised medians and curbs. It was then left to each individual city to cover the cost of waivers needed from the federal government. Earlier this year, Brightline sent employees to key intersections after multiple deaths were reported along its route.

“It’s a world of difference,” said [West Palm innkeeper Rick] Rose, joking about what locals commonly refer to as the “Palm Beach Pause”, that brief moment of silence between constant jet noise or train blast. “Fifty trains a day times 26 crossings, times four train-horn blasts per crossing… that’s more than 5,000 blasts a day of up to 100 decibels per blast. Today we had none. I can finally sleep at night.”
It gets better. The state is that grand fiction, you know, and the highway lobby wants to live at the expense of the railroads, even where crossing protection is concerned.
Does passenger rail qualify as a surface transportation project? Former Rep. John Mica and nine current members of Congress say, “Of course it does.”

The answer seems self-evident, but five Republican congressmen, led by Rep. Brian Mast, argue that “surface transportation” only means roads. Mast’s district encompasses the so-called “Treasure Coast” north of West Palm Beach, Fla., through which Brightline’s Orlando-bound trains are set to run at 110 mph after Florida East Coast Railway tracks are upgraded.

The point is at issue because of attempts to deny Brightline access to private activity bond financing.
As if spending more money on roads is going to do anything about road congestion in southeastern Florida.

It gets better, though.  Representative Mica is the notorious Amtrak hater, but he represents that part of South Florida where Brightline is catching on among his constituents.

STILL UPPER VOLTA WITH ROCKETS?

Baruch Pletner of Tsarizm wonders if the Soviet Union couldn't win for winning.
Russia will spend millions of dollars to put up yet another WWII victory parade in the Red Square. Tanks will rumble and jets will fly overhead. Nuclear-capable ballistic missiles will slowly crawl past the same old mausoleum with the same old corpse inside. But what about the people watching? Some are clinging to old glory. Many are beginning to see the absurdity of celebrating in superpower style victory over countries that are now vastly more prosperous than their own. Russia is a poor country that does not even have the technological and business expertise to exploit its own natural resources, letting foreign powers do it instead, akin to the literal banana republics of early 20th century Central America. Russia has roughly half the population it had a hundred years ago and in many metrics such as consumer goods production has yet to reach pre-revolutionary levels or levels that were achieved by Stalin’s GULAG slave labor in the 1930’s. In all ways that count, Russia is the sole loser of the Second World War.
In part, that lower Russian population is the consequence of, well, the Captive Nations counting some of that population as their own.  There's more, though.
There can be no doubt that among all the major participants in WWII both in the European and the Pacific theatres, now, seventy-three years later, Russia is by far the least developed, the least prosperous, and the most likely to occupy top positions on all the wrong lists. Drug and alcohol abuse, infant mortality, expected lifespan for women and especially men, GDP per capita, income per capita, you name it, Russia is at or near the bottom of all major countries. Forget about the US, Britain, France, Italy, Germany, and Japan. Even those WWII combatants that were back then entirely marginal like Poland, Czech Republic, Romania, Hungary, and above all China have left Russia in the dust.
Yes, and the two "most powerful passports," in the sense of visa-free, or visa-upon arrival, access to countries, are those issued by Japan (189 countries) and Germany (188 countries.)  But when the Russian boosters are talking up their country's arsenal, the sense one gets is of ... Upper Volta with rockets.
The size and reach of Russia’s nuclear arsenal make it the only country that can destroy the U.S. in half an hour. Without Russia’s cooperation, efforts to contain the proliferation of nuclear weapons—whether among countries or non-state actors—are bound to fail. Also, whether Russia enters a full-blown military-political alliance with China will have far reaching consequences for the future of the global order. And the list goes on: Moscow’s cooperation remains essential in preventing Afghanistan from relapsing into a failed state, where the likes of al-Qaeda and ISIS could thrive again, plotting to attack the Western world. Russia has veto power on the U.N. Security Council, which allows Moscow to block any decision the U.S. may want adopted there. Russia’s potential as a spoiler, therefore, is difficult to exaggerate. Russia is also the largest country in the world, and transit through its territory—particularly as Arctic ice melts—can be important not only for the global economy, but also for American security, as the U.S.-led campaign in Afghanistan once showed. Finally, Russia has been the largest supplier to the world’s energy market for much of the past decade, and while the U.S. is increasingly self-sufficient in gas and oil, its European allies are not. Russia’s ability to impact all these issues of vital importance to the U.S. and its allies is to a large extent determined by its national capabilities—specifically, whether they are growing or shrinking. As important, America’s and other great powers’ policies toward Russia, and vice versa, are largely determined by how these countries’ leaders view Russia—as a rising power or a declining one.
At least the authors aren't trotting out statistics on steam locomotive production or the volume of open-hearth steel cast.

But watch the Victory Day parades, not in Moscow, but elsewhere in the old Soviet Union.  Here's the one from Occupied Königsberg, er, Kaliningrad.  The city name is itself a throw-back:  Mikhail Kalinin was the Old Bolshevik latterly with a Colonel Sanders goatee who managed to stay on the good side of Stalin through purges and war.


The format of the parade is the same whether it's the big one in Moscow or the tribute to the Hero City of Leningrad, or anywhere else on 9 May (the German capitulation having taken place early that morning, Moscow time).

But check out the surroundings.  The town square has a Soviet victory column, with a relatively recent gold-domed Orthodox church to show who is in charge.  The generals who address the troops before the march-past are riding around in cut-down station wagons reminiscent of late 1950s Fords, complete with the wide whitewall tires.  The pace troops, who provide the spacing for the marching units, are not as sharp in their high-kicking and post-taking as their counterparts in Moscow.  The form is there, but the execution of the parade looks mechanical (and I can't rule out that the producers aren't looping some of the footage, such that coverage of the parade runs the same hour-plus as the Moscow parade.)

Perhaps it's when the bear is hungriest that it is most dangerous.

29.5.18

RUNNING OUT OF OTHER PEOPLES' MONEY?

Malaysia's credit rating is shot, and their government is taking a long, hard look at a planned electrified high speed rail line between Kuala Lumpur and Singapore.
Recently elected Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad vowed on May 28 to cancel the Kuala Lumpur – Singapore high speed rail project, with the Chinese-backed East Coast Rail Link also set to be dropped.

Mahathir told local media that a number of major projects would come under immediate review as part of efforts to control Malaysia’s substantial national debt. Despite the air corridor between Kuala Lumpur and Singapore being one of the world’s busiest, Mahathir said the high speed line was ‘unnecessary’ and too expensive. Although Singapore’s Land Transport Authority has yet to receive any formal notice of withdrawal from the bilateral agreement governing the scheme, Mahathir added that his government would look to reduce the financial penalties that would be payable to the Singapore government in the event of the project being cancelled.

The high speed line would have offered an express service between Kuala Lumpur and Singapore taking 90 min, while six intermediate stations served by fast regional trains were also envisaged.
There are meter-gauge lines in Malaysia, and the Kuala Lumpur to Singapore line is not yet double tracked (two main tracks?) or electrified: perhaps those incremental improvements ought be put in place first, the way the Japanese did it (not building the New Tokaido line until the electrified, two-track existing Cape gauge line was congested), and unlike the way California is doing it.  (Who is going to defund California?)  Or perhaps the prime minister is taking a page from Wisconsin governor Scott Walker's playbook, and killing the project, never mind the transition costs.

THE QUEST FOR SUBSTANCE.

Minding the Campus offers today's nugget of good news.  "College for Everyone? Even the Left Has Doubts."  There's a lot of nuance in that "doubts" and yet read the article and follow the links.
The old view was that “access” to college would change everything. The poor and dispossessed would become financially secure and self-possessed. A college education could and would transform the prospects for myriad individuals shut out of the American dream and would at the same time transform America by tearing down barriers of race and class, and by making the nation more competitive on the world stage.

None of this was ever plausible. It was a species of magical thinking that confused cause and consequence. People carry umbrellas in the rain. But carrying an umbrella won’t make it rain. Most successful people have college degrees. But awarding college degrees doesn’t make people successful.

Achieving worldly success involves quite a few things. If the economist Bryan Caplan’s analysis in his recent book The Case against Education, is to be trusted, high on the list is the signal that the graduate is willing and able to conform to social expectations. Middle-class students who complete college may have a built-in advantage in their willingness to conform. The American middle-class these days certainly doesn’t send legions of 17-year olds off to college who have read deeply or widely, who know much about their civilization, or command well-honed skills in writing, mathematics, history, or any other traditional subject. But they excel at conformity. Ask what they think on any social or political issue, and they will answer with the uniformity of a Roman legion declaring loyalty to Caesar.

This is by no means to discount the elite students who are on fire with intellectual ambition, or the practically-minded students who are on fire with their determination to earn degrees in finance, engineering, or the hard sciences. These are, together, the graduates of American colleges and universities who drive the “lifetime earnings” premium through the roof. They are, however, a minority, and mostly they are from the middle-class.
No kidding.  But just watch the advocates for Business as Usual spin that "excel at conformity" as just another manifestation of privilege.  That's fine, they'll self-deconstruct.

GENO AURIEMMA'S HORIZON LEAGUE PROBLEM?

The column is by John Adams, a sports pundit working out of Knoxville, calibrate your jive-detectors accordingly.
You might wonder that because UConn has been so dominant for so long that last-second losses in consecutive Final Four semifinals suggest one of sports’ greatest dynasties has suddenly lost its edge.

Never mind that UConn has lost only two games in the past two seasons. Or that it still has the game’s preeminent coach in Geno Auriemma.

When you win four consecutive national championships — as the Huskies did from 2013-2016 — the slightest shortcoming is magnified. And another game-winning shot, like the one Notre Dame’s Arike Ogunbowale hit against them, seemingly takes on historical significance.
Yes, losing on a buzzer-beater in the round of four at the national tournament sounds like a good problem to have.  Read on, though, he might be on to something.
The American Athletic Conference is too weak to properly prepare the Huskies for the NCAA tournament — unless they have overwhelming talent, as they did recently when they could entrust the game to superstar Breanna Stewart for four seasons.

They can schedule big-time non-conference opponents as they always have, but for most of January and February the Huskies are winning by laughable margins over AAC opponents. Meanwhile, other teams — like Notre Dame — are getting better through encounters with tougher conference opponents.
Conference memberships come, and conference memberships go, but being the class of a weak conference means ... what?

Meanwhile, outside the power conferences, the final mid-major rankings for 2017-2018 include three Mid-American teams among the top 25, with a fourth receiving votes.  The performance test, though, is breaking through to the round of sixteen, or eight.

27.5.18

DECORATION DAY.

The holiday we understand as Memorial Day began as Decoration Day, referring to the placement of flowers and other tributes at the graves of Civil War dead.


Shiloh, 1994.

The war dead now rest overseas as well.


Normandy, 2018.

Their brothers-in-arms, also at rest, also remembered by their families.


Commonwealth cemetery, Normandy, 2018.

Initially, the dead of the Allies and of the Axis were interred together.  After the War, the victorious powers established their own cemeteries.  A veterans' organization for Germans cares for the German graves.


German cemetery, Normandy, 2018.

Many of the German dead are unknown, and unlikely to be identified.  Their individuality is noted on the markers, though, unlike at Shiloh, where Union dead are, wherever possible, identified, and buried with other members of their units, whilst many Confederate dead rest in mass graves marked only with a count, e.g. "Thirty Confederate Dead."


Wisconsin regiment, Shiloh, 1994.

Other countries have their own decoration traditions and days set aside for the practice.


German cemetery, Normandy, 2018.



You may have been the enemy but you were human no less and we commemorate you for fighting for your country.

From Katie and Ashton on behalf of Woodland Middle School.

In Rememberance.


Taps, and flag lowering, Normandy.

WILL STUART SAUNDERS WIN THE ARGUMENT?

To this day, the Amtrak we have is the Amtrak the member railroads left taxpayers with.  Thus, for example, Penn Central worked with the federal Office of High Speed Ground Transportation to establish what we understand today as the Acela corridor, and it continued the frequent corridor service New York Central had sold to New York state authorities as a way to get rid of long-distance service beyond Buffalo.

Penn Central staff were working on a similar plan to replace long-distance service on former Pennsylvania Railroad lines, and west of the Alleghenies more generally, with short regional trains on the Empire Corridor model.  Mr Saunders, the Penn Central chairman, reportedly walked into the meeting where this project was to be presented, said, "Kill the d**n trains," and left.

Railway Age's Lyndon Henry suggests that the spirit of Mr Saunders possesses the current Amtrak management.  "After 48 years of providing long-distance passenger train services, is Amtrak preparing to scuttle these operations and dismantle its National Network? That nightmare prospect, long desired for decades by anti-passenger-rail politicians, now seems a real and perhaps imminent possibility."  He notes,
One of my own sources elaborates that a working group within the agency is mulling the possibility of converting long-distance train routes into fragments of “stand-alone” segments, not more than 400 miles in length—effectively rendering long-distance travel by rail between many cities and among smaller communities intolerably arduous to impossible.

Disparaging longer routes, Amtrak CEO Anderson often cites the relatively low proportion (under 10%) of end-to-end long-distance travelers to disparage National Network trains. But this ignores the cumulative percentages of passengers that traverse overlapping segments among the hundreds of intermediate cities and towns. And, as the MHSRA/RPA data paper points out, even those end-point-to-end-point trips shouldn’t be denigrated: “Consider that the people who travel the entire distance between Chicago and Los Angeles account for just 8% of passengers but 20% of the route’s total revenue.” The paper emphasizes that “the economic benefits of attracting people who travel long distances is substantial.”
Yes, but under the Current Dispensation, only Acela passengers deserve amenities. Sleeping car passengers can order take-out.

The problem of the national network, though, is that it is held together by over-purposed long distance trains.  Here's how Mr Henry breaks it down.
Far more than any other mode, Amtrak provides interconnectivity for hundreds of smaller communities nationwide, linking them with one another and with larger urban centers. In the apt observation of MHSRA/RPA, Amtrak’s long-distance trains “bring economically viable mobility to rural areas and small towns, many of which are becoming more isolated from major cities as regional airline and intercity bus service disappears.”

Amtrak’s National Network services provide a viable option to personal car travel in ever-more-congested traffic, America’s increasingly crowded air travel system, and deteriorating intercity motor coach services. Moreover, for a significant proportion of the population (I’ve seen estimates over 30%), particularly many seniors and mobility-impaired travelers, transport by private cars or commercial airplanes is difficult, dangerous, or simply impossible.
Yes, and the surviving bus routes can also be dangerous, as are the regional air carriers, that is, if there are any. The late Mike Potemra, literary editor of National Review, made a cross-country listening tour through the Greyhound archipelago once.

But you might more effectively build ridership by, oh, through-routing the 400 mile trains and stitching together some longer routes, or maybe by adding a few 400 mile trains to existing routes.  My candidates:  Chicago-Kansas City, Chicago-Twin Cities.  Oh, and run the long-distance trains reliably and frequently.  Like this.

Trains columnist Fred Frailey has a few ideas of his own on how to combine those stand-alone segments and protect the national network.  "How would you rearrange today’s long-distance network without adding more than 700 train miles per day (that’s the same as a 350-mile round trip, the distance from Cleveland to Chicago)? You can’t touch the Northeast Corridor trains or the state-supported services."  What he comes up with, among other things, is a restoration of the early 1990s Broadway Limited and Capitol Limited splitting or combining at Pittsburgh, and the Nebraska Zephyr leaving off the remnant of the Kansas City Zephyr at Galesburg, if without the spiffy articulated train.

The story is still developing.

THE OUTLINES OF THE FOURTH TURNING.

The Worthy House appears to be a group effort offering reviews of recent books.  It's instructive reading: a number of the reviews offer a world view similar to Kurt Schlichter's, but without the invective.

In a recent review of Dreamland, a Sam Quinones analysis of the opiate outbreak, a writer called Charles notes, "Renewing America would require both neutering [the Credentialed Insider] ruling class and remaking the [particularly white] underclass—both extremely tall orders."

Yes, and such renewal and remaking will be more likely to work out if it is emergent.

LIVING AT THE EXPENSE OF OTHERS.

There's nothing quite like making something "free" to make it expensive.  The latest such story: subsidized day care in Berlin.
Elise Hanrahan should be at work today, but instead she’s standing in a Berlin café, trying to jiggle her one-year-old baby Marta to sleep.

US-born Hanrahan had intended to return to her role as a digital humanities researcher, and also begin her PhD, earlier this year when her year of maternity leave was up. But the critical lack of places in Berlin daycare centres (Kindertagesstätte, or Kita for short) has meant that parents like her have ended up off work with their kids instead.

The meetings and events Hanrahan’s office had scheduled for her return have had to be cancelled. And she can’t even tell her boss when she’ll be back.

On top of that, Hanrahan’s family is struggling to make rent. German employers are required to hold mothers’ jobs open for three years once they go on maternity leave, but after the first year maternity pay comes to an abrupt end, whether the family has secured a childcare spot or not.

“It’s really upsetting for our family,” says Hanrahan. “Not just the money that we’re losing, because I’m now on unpaid maternity leave, but also the consequences for my career. It’s significant.”
What the government subsidizes, it gets more of, excess demand for Kita edition.
Spokeswoman for the Senate for Education, Youth and Family Iris Brennberger says the city is currently about 2,500 Kita spots short: “that’s the difference between places that are on offer right now and children who have a Kita-Gutschein,” or document which enables a family to claim free childcare.

However, not all families apply for this voucher in advance, which means the real figure may be much higher. Brennberger says that currently there are 220,000 children aged 0-6 living in Berlin, but just 170,000 Kita places. Of course, many new babies stay at home, and children are not required to be in educational care until the age of three. But since August 2016, Berlin babies have been entitled to at least four years’ free Kita, so it is a popular choice.
Yes, and the market for privately-provided child care is likely subject to the arbitrage conditions, such that there is somewhere a formerly working now mom who is indifferent between engaging a private provider or working full time as a mom.  Or, somehow, Berlin authorities have to come up with incentives to staff those spots.
One thing the union, authorities and parents all seem to agree on is that the crisis is driven by staff shortages. Some Kitas have free spaces for children, but not enough staff available to take care of them.

Parents have reported being asked to collect their children early or even keep them at home when the childcare centres are short-staffed. The instability puts a strain on working parents, but Hanrahan says it’s important to acknowledge the pressure teachers are under as well. “The teachers’ interests are our interests.”

Hanrahan says the group’s hope is that better pay and working conditions will attract more teachers to the profession and enable them to do a better job under less pressure.
That has always been the fundamental tradeoff in the political economy of day care.  It's still high-income parents contracting child rearing out to poorer domestic workers, whether we call them nannies or day-care staff.

DON'T GIVE UP ON THE UNIVERSITIES.

So urges Reason's Ira Stoll, recalling two public intellectuals who had academic posts.
If politicians do see any value in academia it tends to be as high-tech incubators, with laboratories spawning computer-science or biotech startups. Humanities and social sciences are derided. Senator Marco Rubio campaigned for president in 2016 by denouncing philosophy majors. Even President Barack Obama had to apologize in 2014 after questioning the value of art history degrees. Students are increasingly avoiding history and English and instead choosing statistics, computer science, engineering, or applied mathematics.

Conservatives complain that today's universities aren't producing scholars like [Richard] Pipes or [Bernard] Lewis, or that those who do manage to get doctorates wind up working at magazines or think tanks instead of finding tenure-track academic jobs at prestigious institutions. If so, the examples of Lewis and Pipes make the case for engagement, rather than writing off academia altogether.

Even presidents and prime ministers who win elections based partly on popular reactions against coastal elites, after all, need ideas and staff. One of President Trump's foreign policy aides, Fiona Hill, is a former student of Pipes. President Trump's secretary of state, Michael Pompeo, tweeted, "Bernard Lewis was a true scholar & great man. I owe a great deal of my understanding of the Middle East to his work. He was a man who believed, as I do, that Americans must be more confident in the greatness of our country, not less." Vice President Cheney made a special trip to Philadelphia in 2006 to celebrate the 90th birthday of Lewis.
That second paragraph suggests the engagement has to be both ways: are the think-tanks hiring second- or third-rate scholars, or are the academic departments encouraging self-selection?

A HOLIDAY TRADITION PERSISTS, PRECARIOUSLY.

Between sugar subsidies raising the price of candy ingredients in the States, and free trade agreements reducing tariffs on manufactured goods imported to the States, it has been a tough quarter century for candy manufacturers, including the old New England Confectionery Company, which used to produce its NECCO wafers in Wisconsin.

The wafers ("the communion wafer of candy"), Valentine hearts, and Clark bars might still be with us, if perhaps again originating in the Midwest.
The Ohio-based Spangler Candy Co. had the winning $18.83 million bid for the New England Confectionery Co., or Necco, at a federal bankruptcy auction in Boston.

The deal from the company that makes Dum Dums lollipops will most likely ensure a future, at least in the short term, for some of the nation’s most familiar candies.

“They’re a crowd favorite,” said Chris Baker, who sells Necco candies at his Old Country Store & Emporium in Mansfield, Massachusetts. “I like to see our traditions continue. Any time we lose one, it’s a loss for all of us. And this is something that everybody’s had a million times.”

Necco’s court-appointed bankruptcy trustee, Harry Murphy, said the company’s suitors were mainly interested in its “sugar line” – its tubes of wafers, sheets of candy dots, and the conversation hearts popular on Valentine’s Day for phrases such as BE MINE.

The future of Necco’s other products – including the chocolate Sky Bar, the Clark Bar and peanut butter-flavored Mary Jane chews – remains unclear, he said. The company would continue to be run out of its longtime headquarters in Revere, just north of Boston.
Hm, with marijuana becoming legal, that Mary Jane brand might be more valuable for its rights than for its sugar highs.

24.5.18

THE CIVILIZED WAY TO THE GOLF COURSE.

The Michigan Department of Transportation and Amtrak will be running a special train Saturday, to the Senior PGA tournament in Benton Harbor.
The train will depart from Chicago at 7:05 a.m. CT (transit connections and paid parking) and Hammond-Whiting at 7:30 a.m. CT (free parking), to arrive at Harbor Shores at 10:23 a.m. ET. The departure time from Harbor Shores is 7:16 p.m. ET, arriving at Hammond-Whiting at 8:08 p.m. CT and Chicago at 8:41 p.m. CT. A limited number of Amtrak tickets are available for travel on May 26 only. Book early for the best fares.
A day return ticket is $33; I'm not sure what that "best fares" is about.

But if you have a few too many gin and tonics at the nineteenth hole, the train will get you back to Chicagoland.  (That Hammond-Whiting station is near the lakefront casino hotels, was that part of the plan?)

YOU CAN'T PROTECT INEFFICIENCY.

The steel tariffs haven't done much for Youngstown.
Trump's tariff policy overlooks the fact that it was technology, not trade, that drove the decline of steel towns like Youngstown. According to a studypublished by the American Economic Review in 2015, the steel industry lost 75 percent of it's workforce between 1962 and 2005, even though the amount of steel produced by American mills actually increased during that period.

The population of Youngstown peaked at 170,000 in the 1930s. Today, fewer than 65,000 people live there. Tariffs won't reverse the economic and cultural trends driving that 80-year decline, but they will do a lot of damage to other industries that could help fill the gap. A projection released by the Trade Partnership, a Washington-based pro-trade think tank, says Trump's steel and aluminum tariffs will cause 146,000 net job losses—five jobs lost for every job gained.

"If protectionism could bring back neighborhoods, and nuclear families, and life-long employment, it'd be well worth discussing," Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) said Wednesday during a discussion of trade issues at the Heritage Foundation. "It is fundamentally cruel to lie to people and say 'by government policy, we're going to make your communities stable again.'"
The link to the Princeton paper is broken. Here is the American Economic Association's archive.  From the abstract, " The sharp increase in the industry's productivity is linked to this new technology through two distinct mechanisms: (i) the mere displacement of the older technology (vertically integrated producers) was responsible for a third of the increase in the industry's productivity, and (ii) increased competition, due the minimill expansion, drove a productivity resurgence at the surviving vertical integrated producers and, consequently, the productivity of the industry as a whole."

Put bluntly, the big steel firms had to be mugged by reality.  Although some minimill operators attempted to use rolling mills, or mill buildings, in the Youngstown area, building new recycling plants closer to the markets (steel scrap being a less localized material than ore or coal) was part of the resurgence.

THAT AFFIRMATIVE ACTION ASTERISK.

It's real, proposes San Diego law professor Gail Heriot.  To increase the proportion of protected class individuals in technical majors, lower admission standards translate into disproportionately higher attrition rates.  "Decades ago, well-meaning administrators at selective college and universities resolved to “do the right thing” by extending preferential treatment to under-represented minorities in admissions. One of the consequences of that policy has been systematically low college grades for most of the supposed beneficiaries of that preferential treatment"

Now, you can correct for that by assigning grades preferentially, and a professor of information sciences at the University of Akron did just that, awarding female students a grade bump, which Kat Timpf flagged as yet another way to put an affirmative action asterisk on a transcript.  "If employers knew that women routinely got higher grades just because they were women, they might start to assume that any woman with a STEM degree may not have actually deserved that degree."

Truth to tell, I'm surprised this Akron professor did this, let alone announced it publicly.  I spent a few minutes looking for a grade appeal policy somewhere on the Akron website, and found zip.  I bet, though, that such a policy exists, in order for students to obtain recourse against arbitrary and capricious grading (the Northern Illinois terminology) or being judged by a standard different from that applied to other students in the course (that's also Northern Illinois terminology.)  The grade bump is arbitrary (applicable only to women) and capricious (does a woman who aces the course get a bump?) and any male student, or any female student who aces the course, can claim to have been judged by a different standard.

Now that the policy is public, does that make Akron more competitive or less competitive in placing graduates?

DO WE HAVE TO REDISCOVER THE CORE VERITIES AB INITIO?

In "Five Ways America's Success is Ruining Our Culture," John Hawkins suggests it will come to that.  "The only thing worse than never achieving your dreams is to achieve all of them and then have no idea what to do next. That’s the dilemma Americans face today, even though most of us don’t realize it."

His column alludes to the great privilege the social justice warriors enjoy today, which is to say, the privilege of calling out microaggressions. "You can’t be Rosa Parks because we’ve already had a Rosa Parks. You can tell yourself that you would have been a Freedom Rider standing up for racial equality, but you can’t actually be a Freedom Rider. So, like Don Quixote, we have large numbers of people in one of the least patriarchal and racist countries on earth who create imaginary patriarchies, racist plagues and largely imaginary versions of enemies that they can fight so they can feel like heroes that they’ll never be."

He continues, contemplating the waging of war in an apologetic fashion.
We should win, but we should have lawyers to discuss the legalities of each strike before the troops in the field make it. We should win, but we should have rules of engagement that give our enemies huge advantages over our own troops because we’re afraid we’ll accidentally kill a civilian while targeting people that want to fly planes into our buildings. We’ve mentally accepted a world where we’re held to a standard no other nation on earth is expected to live up to even as we shrug our shoulders as our enemies break every rule of war.
I think that's an echo of Nagasaki Syndrome.

But fear not.  History rhymes.
Germany is supposed to be the economic powerhouse of Europe, its financial leader, and its trusted and responsible political center. Often it plays those roles superbly. But recently, it’s been cracking up—in a way that is hauntingly familiar to its European neighbors. On mass immigration, it is beginning to terrify the nearby nations of Eastern Europe. On Brexit, it bullies the British. On finance, it alienates the southern Europeans. On Russia, it irks the Baltic States and makes the Scandinavians uneasy by doing business with the Russian energy interests. And on all matters American, it increasingly seems incensed.
Those kids in Normandie better enjoy their sand-pails while they can.

23.5.18

SMALL BEGINNINGS.

Boston's Commuter Rail authority will be selling weekend passes.
Beginning June 9, the $10 weekend fare will be valid for all Commuter Rail zones from the first scheduled Saturday trip through the last scheduled Sunday trip. The $10 fare will be available on the mTicket mobile app, on board trains, and at ticket windows at North, South, and Back Bay Stations. The special fare applies to customers age 12 and above; paying adults can bring 2 children under 12 for free.
It's an experimental service, which will expire at Labor Day. (Shades of the seasonal Bar Harbor and East Wind of days gone by.)

Metra's weekend pass is available all year 'round, there are even special three day passes for some of the holiday weekends.  Perhaps someday in Bean Town.

Oh, there is additional fine print.  "The fare does not apply to the CapeFlyer, operated through a partnership with the Cape Cod Regional Transit Authority, or special-event trains."  The Metra weekend pass is not good on the South Shore, or the Hiawatha.

IF I HAD A HAMMER.

At least Inside Higher Ed's diversity pundit Eboo Patel is thinking about the American Creed.
As Jane Addams wrote, “We know instinctively that if we grow contemptuous of our fellows and consciously limit our intercourse to certain kinds of people whom we have previously decided to respect, we not only tremendously circumscribe our range of life, but limit the scope of our ethics.”

Which language – the multiculturalism that speaks principally of white privilege and systems of oppression, or the multiculturalism that speaks optimistically of American inclusiveness and welcome – is a more useful tool to bang the world into shape?
Hectoring, condescending, privilege-checking, deplorable-shaming: contributing to more Trump? “Every time I turned on the TV, there’s a Democrat calling me a racist and I just got tired of it.”  The generalization to campus diversity tsars is straightforward.

Assimilation is a multi-directional, emergent phenomenon, and it might be wise for diversity pundits, particularly recently-arrived diversity pundits, to remember this.  "You're here because where you left, things sucked. Have you considered that things don't suck here because we got a few things right?"

Mr Patel is correct to speak of inclusiveness and welcome: that's the country buying into its new arrivals.  It's also important for the new arrivals to buy into the country.  Banging things into shape is for drop forges.

DOESN'T FRENCH PHARMA HAVE A PRIMA FACIE DUMPING CASE?

The head of the Ariane Group doesn't like trade-tested betterments.
[Alain]Charmeau expressed frustration with SpaceX and attributed its success to subsidized launches for the US government.

When pressed on the price pressure that SpaceX has introduced into the launch market, Charmeau's central argument is that this has only been possible because, "SpaceX is charging the US government 100 million dollar per launch, but launches for European customers are much cheaper." Essentially, he says, launches for the US military and NASA are subsidizing SpaceX's commercial launch business.
Isn't the same thing true of sales by U.S. pharmaceutical companies to the health services of the supposedly enlightened social democracies?

But wait, it gets better.
"Let us say we had ten guaranteed launches per year in Europe and we had a rocket which we can use ten times—we would build exactly one rocket per year," he said. "That makes no sense. I cannot tell my teams: 'Goodbye, see you next year!'"

This seems a moment of real irony. Whereas earlier in the interview Charmeau accuses the US government of subsidizing SpaceX, a few minutes later he says the Ariane Group can't make a reusable rocket because it would betoo efficient. For Europe, a difficult decision now looms. It can either keep subsidizing its own launch business in order to maintain an independent capability, or it can give in to Elon Musk and SpaceX, and Jeff Bezos and Blue Origin. Charmeau seems to have a clear view of where he thinks the continent should go.
Once upon a time, it was state-subsidized steel mills, and later, state-subsidized airlines.  If other countries want to rip up their economies to provide me with cheaper stuff ...

22.5.18

THE TRENCHANT OBSERVATION OF THE DAY.

Penn's Jonathan Zimmerman, contemplating the Tom Wolfe of Hooking Up and I Am Charlotte Simmons.  "We're trying to be casual about sex but serious about consent, and it isn't working. So long as campus sex remains a game of status and competition, it will also contain elements of violence and coercion. And there’s nothing sexy about that, either."  Precisely.

21.5.18

PRIVILEGE IS CIVILIZATION.

Maybe, instead of writing another mini-dissertation, I should simply illustrate.

Here is my favorite picture from last month's excursion.


OMAHA, 26 APRIL 2018
Children playing with their sand pails, Vierville-sur-mer.

I saw similar scenes elsewhere.  (There are more detailed photo albums at my Facebook page, if you're curious.)


UTAH, 26 April 2018
School trip experiencing a ride on a Higgins boat, La Madeleine.


GOLD, 27 April 2018
Seaside at Arromanches.

Remnants of Port Winston, or MULBERRY B, at sea.


SWORD, 27 APRIL 2018
Windsurfer, low tide, Colleville-sur-Plage.


JUNO, 27 APRIL 2018
Former strongpoint, more children playing in the sand.


A family outing to Pointe-du-Hoc.


A family portrait at Longues-sur-Mer.


THESE ENDURED ALL AND GAVE ALL THAT JUSTICE AMONG NATIONS MIGHT PREVAIL AND THAT MANKIND MIGHT ENJOY FREEDOM AND INHERIT PEACE.

That is the peace those young people inherited.

Your privilege knapsack, dear reader, contains institutions and conventions that have conferred evolutionary advantages to adopters, and they have been secured by the efforts of people who came before.


Saalfeld, Germany, June 1945John Karlson photograph.

"We are always in danger of losing them," notes psychologist Steven Pinker, in an interview with Reason's Nick Gillespie.  By all means, read and understand the interview.  Professor Pinker concludes, "We have made accomplishments. They're precious, we're always in danger of losing them, and what will happen going forward depends very much on the choices that we make now."

Do we really want those kids to have to experience Occupation and Liberation all over again?

LOOKING FOR A MARKET TEST.

Tonight's feel-good story at the end of NBC's nightly news features a former debt collector who continues to buy accounts receivable at a discount only to retire the debts using charitable contributions.


The Good Samaritan is able to buy these accounts for pennies on the dollar.  Currently, the charity is reviewing the case files, and delivering good news to some people, but not taking applications from indebted patients for relief.

What sort of margin are health care businesses maintaining in their prices, in order for such deep discounting to be possible?  What is the role of third-party payments, or of quasi-perfect price discrimination, in establishing that margin?  Are those discounts representative of the factoring of receivables in other lines of business?

There is no shortage of interesting research questions, in health economics, or in any other kind of economics.

20.5.18

NOT QUITE A NATIONAL RAIL NETWORK?

My recent brief encounter with the French railroads was a diesel rail car, Cherbourg to Bayeux.


The electrification is for the service to Paris.  There are no TGV trains running to Cherbourg.

Again, my luck is with me.  The intermittent job actions French railroaders are staging included the 26th and 27th of April, not the 25th.  Perhaps it was the round of Blue Ribbons I bought in Chicago, or perhaps the bottle of wine the travel agent stood me to, that I shared at table shipboard on the first formal night, that kept the Gods of the High Iron smiling on me.  Vacationers day-tripping out of Paris for the various Normandy destinations were not so lucky.

When it runs, though, the French passenger rail service is primarily a Paris-centered service.  A number of the regional lines are long gone.  For example, the station at Bernières-sur-mer is now the tourist office.


We did the same thing at Woods Hole, with the same results.  The French refer to the Normandy landings as le choc, and on high summer days the traffic through the seaside towns, such as Bernières, at the centre of the Canadian effort on JUNO, likely is shocking.  The regional rail can be convenient.

The good news is, we've rediscovered rail travel to Old Orchard Beach and parts of the Jersey Shore, and perhaps Floridians will do so.

REVEALED PREFERENCES?

The Rock Valley College softball team recently won their fifth straight national championship (in the National Junior College Athletic Association, that is) defeating along the way a Brookdale, New Jersey, squad (sorry, Matt) then taking down top-seed Herkimer College.  It's mostly local kids, and it's unlikely any of them grew up in the hothouse environment of kid sports turning pro that Time lamented a going on a year ago.

And yet, there might be something about the Rockford sports stories that's not a good thing.  I've previously griped about the nature of sports coverage on Rockford television, slightly reworded, it's like this.  "Rockford television stations 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 [of the seventh game of the World Series] 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."  In the ongoing basketball playoffs, it was the Toronto Raptors, not the nearby Milwaukee Bucks, getting what little coverage there is in a year the Bulls are working on their golf, because a Rockford Auburn graduate now wears a Raptor jersey.  And senior signing day is generally a sports thing, not an academic thing.

Meanwhile, Rockford is still dealing with a twenty-year-old Money magazine "worst city in America" ranking and a more recent "third most miserable" from Forbes.

To borrow from another fairly recent post, Rockfordians can enjoy the decline, and follow the next crop of rising softballers.

What we don't reward, we get less of.

DELAY IS THE DEADLIEST FORM OF DENIAL.

Yesterday, we noted that six years elapsed from Florida East Coast thinking about a passenger train from Miami to West Palm Beach and perhaps beyond.

Eleven years ago today, readers saw a post about plans to return a passenger train between Chicago and Dubuque, perhaps on its historic Illinois Central routing, perhaps on a hybrid routing.

Those tracks remain freight service only today.  There's plenty of blame to go around. Railroad companies that think the tracks must rest for six hours between trains, or perhaps they fear being crowded out by the passenger train operators.  Civic boosters who want the train a few miles closer to their town.  Politicians who have strange ideological ideas about trains.

Those caveats noted, it is difficult not to think that public provision with the attendant procedural complexities impedes the development of Passenger Rail services in places where it's not practical to fly, and the roads are no fun.

19.5.18

THE DAWNING OF RAILROAD AWARENESS.

We first noted Florida East Coast's plans to build a passenger railroad six years ago.  Focus, dear reader, on this.  "Much of the existing traffic on Florida East Coast is intermodal, and container trains cruising at 90 play well with passenger trains at 110 or 125."  Later that year, I offered further analysis.
It's intriguing that the operator wants to be freed of Congressional meddling with Amtrak, which is the cynic's interpretation of "exempt from federal oversight." The stipulation that the new trackage will be Passenger Service Only likely calms fears at the CSX Railroad of freight competition. The absence of joint ticketing, or any mention of connectivity, troubles me. The value of a Passenger Rail network is in being able to make connections. Admittedly, Amtrak's Florida service is a pale shadow of what Seaboard Coast Line operated almost up to 30 April 1971, and the Miami to Orlando service has more promise as a boat train connecting cruise ship passengers to the theme parks and Grapefruit League stadia.
That service is now up and running as Brightline.  As of yet, there are no plans to run tracks into Port Everglades Quay (that place is big enough that you'd probably have to install moving sidewalks to provide connections, particularly to the voyages catering to older folks.)

Today, Brightline began revenue operations into Miami, and the local media are intrigued by this for-profit rail service that, because it is not run by a transit authority, can offer amenities, such as a terminus that has all the features of a proper terminus.
Once completed, the mixed-use development will include large swaths of retail space — including a food hall and a grocery store — two office buildings and 800-plus residential units. One office building, Three MiamiCentral, was completed in February, while a second one — Two MiamiCentral — will have tenants moving in this summer. Brightline passengers can park their cars at a newly built garage nearby.

By 2019, Brightline will share a 50-foot platform with Tri-Rail at MiamiCentral. Further into the future — a MiamiCentral spokeswoman couldn't say when — crews will build a sky bridge directly into the Miami-Dade Government Center Metrorail and Metromover stations.
Perhaps the idea is that Brightline passengers will park in West Palm or Fort Lauderdale or ultimately Orlando and ride to Miami, or perhaps Florida East Coast, well, technically, Fortress Investments, anticipate balanced loadings with Miamians reverse-commuting to the north.  But they're still learning about Passenger Rail in Florida, and there will be a learning curve.

At the same time, this Miami station summons the echoes of Grand Central Terminal or Union Station in Chicago.
One of the stars of Miami Central will be Central Fare, the 50,000-square-foot food hall slated to debut in the fall, which will feature restaurants 800 Degrees Woodfired Kitchen, Kuenko, Rosetta Bakery and others. Anchoring the food marketplace will be Monger, a 10,000-square-foot restaurant to be opened by celebrity chefs and brothers Bryan and Michael Voltaggio, known for their stints on "Top Chef."

Elsewhere in the multi-use property, Einstein's Bros. Bagels will open up a downtown location this summer, Parliament cafe and Joe & The Juice will come in spring and Starbucks will welcome customers in early 2019.

Brightline, whose trains can reach speeds of 79 mph, advertises roughly 30-minute trips from Miami to Fort Lauderdale, and hour-long rides from Miami to West Palm Beach. Service will expand to Orlando in the future, although construction has already begun.
Some of the right of way toward Orlando, as well as an expressway median in the Tampa direction, once figured in an Obama-era stimulus project that a subsequent Florida political establishment stopped.  The political economy of private passenger trains will no doubt occupy us in the future.

For now, let's enjoy the play value. Your political masters do.
The ribbon-cutting ceremony [at Miami Central] was attended by members of the U.S. House of Representatives Transportation and Infrastructure Committee including Chairman Bill Shuster, Congresswoman Grace Napolitano, and Congresswoman Frederica Wilson.

Other political players in attendance included Congressman Carlos Curbelo, Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, and Lieutenant Governor Carlos López-Cantera along with Christina Crespi, acting executive director, Miami DDA; Nitin Motwani, managing principal of Miami Worldcenter, and Bob Swindell, CEO of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Alliance.
Miami Central is most likely the finest terminus in the city's experience.  Florida East Coast's station in the era of Champions and Dixie Flaglers was a modest frame building in the shadow of the county courthouse.

There surely has been the buzz around the opening of the Miami service, occurring, as it has, the day the House of Windsor cements its alliance with the House of Weinstein, and ladies' hat fanciers could also gather for a horse race in Maryland.  "As of Thursday morning, tickets were still available on the 7 a.m. weekend trains departing West Palm Beach for the Miami station. There were also seats on the 9 p.m. Saturday train and on the 7 p.m. Sunday train, both traveling from West Palm to Miami."  We'll see what happens when the novelty wears off: those fixed formations of three coaches and a club car making eight round trips a day are not eleven-car Naperville Zephyrs on twenty minute headways.  That's okay.  "The Cold Spring Shops position, however, is that incremental improvements -- where incremental can mean getting rid of those post-war Interstate Commerce Commission regulations that ended 110 mph running on block-signalled railroads with jointed rail -- will build ridership in such a way that subsequent upgrades to bullet trains make more sense."

Generalizations are beyond the "left to the reader as an exercise" stage.
The Brightline will connect Miami with service that already links Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach. It hopes to attract traditionally train-resistant South Florida commuters by reducing travel time between Miami and Fort Lauderdale to about 30 minutes, and also offering lounges, food service and free Wi-Fi. A one-way ticket initially will cost $10 compared with a trip on Uber that can cost $40 or more.

Fortress Investment Group, which owns the Brightline, hopes it can be a model for other cities on routes too far to drive but too short to fly. This is “the same trip that I’ll take hopefully with the mayors from Dallas and Houston and Atlanta and Charlotte and St. Louis and all the other places we want to be,” said Wes Edens, Fortress’s co-founder and co-chief executive officer.
Passenger Rail advocates in Indiana are taking notice.  With most of the Indiana corridors having one end in Chicago, and the freight railroad tangle in Chicago being what it is, improving the Indianapolis service or restoring a direct train to Columbus might take more work and more money than restoring the second track on Florida East Coast to Cocoa or Jacksonville.  But there's nothing like a successful project, particularly in the face of evidence that adding more lanes to an interstate or putting in fancier traffic lights or rotaries doesn't really provide motoring convenience.

Now if the good folks at National Review might discover that Brightline is a private venture.  "Mounting problems may end high-speed-rail projects in California and Texas."  The California project illustrates the hazards of throwing good money after bad.
California’s transportation planners, who never encountered a boondoggle they couldn’t embrace, pressed on despite mounting costs and construction delays. In 2015, desperate to beat a deadline that would have meant the end of federal funding, they began construction on a 119-mile segment of track in the state’s sparsely settled Central Valley. Fewer than 3 percent of the train’s potential riders live along that portion of the route, but backers believed that if they built the Central Valley segment, the sunken costs would convince state legislators to find money for the remaining segments.
Unfortunately, as we have noted before, that's a good way to celebrate the centennial of the abandonment of the Chicago - New York Electric Air Line.

They continue, praying that sanity (or the Gods of the Motor Age) will prevail in Texas.
Let’s hope that California’s sad experience informs residents of another mega state before they run off the rails building their own high-speed railway.  Private investors in Texas have created a Texas Central Railway (TCR) project that they promise will deliver a $10 billion bullet train. They pledge that the train will speed passengers along the 240-mile corridor between Houston and Dallas in under 90 minutes.  The project would use the same equipment made famous by Japan’s Shinkansen bullet-train line. The train’s boosters claim that it will have the economic impact  equivalent to “hosting 180 Super Bowls.”

Learning from California’s cost overruns, Texas’s Train Trippers have vowed not to use any federal, state, or local tax money for construction. If they can’t strike deals with property owners along the route, they will ask for eminent-domain powers to seize the land. It’s a virtual certainty they would need those powers, since nine of the eleven counties the train would run through have gone on record opposing it.
The Brightline project raises the possibility of doing faster Passenger Rail by increments.  What happens to the traditional political divisions when a consortium of trucking companies, a power company, and a railroad propose to build, using investor funds, a truck-only highway with a two track railroad good for 125 mph operation in the median?  Heck, let's build that railroad in such a way that it can handle stack trains after the passengers are all at home.

And let's put to rest the canard author John Fund repeats, about the United States not being thickly settled enough for fast, frequent passenger trains.
I have traveled on high-speed trains in China, Germany, France, and Sweden. In densely populated countries with crowded air corridors, they are a pleasant, safe, and justifiable way to travel. But we should recognize that a continental nation like the U.S. isn’t as suited for them and that our environmental laws make construction very difficult and time-consuming.

We would be far better off to follow the example of most industrialized countries by transferring our nation’s air-traffic-control system to a public-private partnership that could more quickly introduce new technology and reduce airport delays. A bill to do just that was endorsed last year by both airlines and the union of air-traffic-control operators, but it got bogged down in Congress. Let’s work on improving what we know makes sense — reliable inter-city air transportation — before chasing the costly delusion of high-speed rail.
The United States has crowded, unpleasant air corridors (maybe Mr Fund has enough miles in to travel first class?) and the best air traffic control in the world is no help when the snow flies or the nymphocumulus clouds sound off.  Is it the environmental laws, or is it process-worship in Washington or trespassers who see a faster passenger train as a hazard to their distracted wandering, that slow construction?  Note, also, that you can put in new traffic control systems and more runways, such as at Chicago's O'Hare, and yet, the neighbors will object to that work.

Finally, that "continental nation isn't as suited."  That's not the same thing as not suited.  Was it really nine years ago I wrote this?  "Rivet-counting department: some parts of France are more thickly settled than Florida, but the most thickly-settled parts of Florida offer nice flat stretches of raceway for Champions and Orange Blossom Specials."

Well, here we are.  Back in the day, the Champions were on Florida East Coast, now home to the various Bright Color fleet trains.  The Orange Blossom Special -- yes, bluegrass musicians, there's a prototype for everything -- was on Seaboard metals, currently home to Amtrak and the Tri Rail service south of West Palm, running a mile or two to the west.

Score one for Cold Spring Shops.  Now, about doing something similar with the Alton Route, or the Hiawatha line, which runs right through Wisconn Valley.

18.5.18

LONELY WATERS.

There's a lot of seaborne commerce, and there's also a lot of ocean.  Time to make the jump from Ponta Delgada to Cherbourg.

First, note the pragmatic use of portholes on Regal Princess.


The hull is as the designers intended, this is not a modernized upper works grafted onto an older hull, the way Milwaukee Clipper is a tear-down and rebuild of Juniata.

The second day out of Florida, there was a freighter following a similar course to avoid one of the cyclonic storms still disrupting air travel and bringing snow to the Great Lakes and the Official Region.


Two days later, another cruise ship passed astern and to starboard.


The day before landfall at Ponta Delgada, this bulk carrier crossed close aboard ahead and to port.


I estimate this ship's closest approach as a mile or two, although judging distances on the water is difficult (one reason overly optimistic swimmers tire and drown).

Mostly, though, it was calm seas and water, water everywhere.  I didn't see any of the floating islands of plastic junk that mariners are reporting.  Princess were doing their part to limit the damage, by not issuing straws with drinks.


On the run into the Channel, our course came under one of the air corridors.  If you're in a hurry, you're up there.


That, though, is one of the mysteries of cruising.  Tablemates, in the course of making conversation, would ask about my flight from Chicago, given the crappy weather we'd been having.  Then I mentioned that I had already been in cruise mode, Chicago to Washington to Fort Lauderdale.  Invariably:  how long did that take?  (It's cruise mode: does it matter?)  If all goes well: leave Chicago on Thursday, Washington on Friday, and there's time for a margarita Saturday night prior to shipping out on the Sunday.  But if that Thursday connection goes awry ...

The fliers, however, had their stories of misrouted baggage being delivered to their hotel rooms at 1 am on the Sunday, or of connections by way of Chicago or other northeastern hub airports being disrupted, and I sure saw a lot of people scurrying aboard in the last hour before the gangway came in.  It's as if the sailing is a way to recombobulate from the joys of not-quite-instantaneous-or-dependable air travel.

After ten days at sea, it's time to take leave of Regal Princess, at Cherbourg.


High speed catamaran ferry Normandie Express (a bigger, faster version of our Lake Express) is making way for the Princess.

A few days before this adventure started, news reached Cold Spring Shops of job actions on the French railways.  Stay tuned.