27.6.18

RAIL ENTHUSIAST TO RAIL PROFESSIONAL

We'll wrap up the first six months of the 2018 Fifty Book Challenge at Book Review No. 16.  David Maidment's A Privileged Journey: From Enthusiast to Professional Railwayman.  It's primarily a metaphor.  A reader might find a few insights on working with people in the corporate culture that was British Railways, in particular the survival, along with the steam locomotives, of the traditions of the Great Western as distinct from the Southern, despite these legally being regions of the same state enterprise.  It's mostly about the recollections, including those of the schoolboy train enthusiast who became a manager, and there are lots of illustrations, and, this being by a Britisher about British ferroequinology, there are platform-end logs of numbers and coach-window logs of times and speeds.

Mr Maidment has since left the employ of the railway, and founded a charity, Railway Children, for the assistance of kids living in the streets, which in East Africa and India often means scraping an existence by in the railway stations.  Royalties from the sale of Privileged Journey support that charity.

(Cross-posted to 50 Book Challenge.)

FREQUENCY AND CONNECTIVITY TRUMP SPEED.

Railway Gazette presents the report of an audit conducted by some Eurocrat on the still-not-integrated high-speed rail networks of the former NATO allies.
The [audit committee] ‘performance audit’ sought to examine long-term strategic planning, cost-efficiency in terms of construction costs, delays and cost over-runs, and ‘the sustainability and EU added value of EU co-funding’. Since 2000, the EU ‘has provided €23·7bn of co-funding to support investment in high speed rail lines’, of which almost half has gone to Spain. However, the auditors express concern that ‘there is a high risk of ineffective spending’, and warn that the EU’s target of tripling the length of high speed line by 2030 ‘will not be reached’.
In particular,
Noting that there is a trade-off between more station stops to improve catchment against end-to-end journey times, the auditors argue that trains run ‘on very high speed lines at far lower average speeds than the lines are designed to handle’. However, the criterion of ‘real speed slowest train to maximum design speed’ used to reach this conclusion is dubious as there may be some, possibly many, other trains running at higher average speeds on all or part of the route.

Suggesting that this speed differential ‘raises questions as to sound financial management’, the auditors argue that ‘the alternative solution of upgrading existing conventional lines could save billions of euros’, although it is not clear whether they have considered the disruption experienced on busy routes where such a policy has been adopted.

‘A high speed line should ideally carry nine million passengers per year to be successful’, the auditors believe, adding that on three of seven completed lines in the audit ‘the number of passengers was far lower’. They estimated that nine of the 14 routes audited ‘did not have a sufficiently high number of potential passengers in their catchment areas to be successful’.
But if you're putting in high-speed service between Stuttgart and München, one of the audited routes, is part of your strategy to shave 36 minutes off that trip to skip stops at Ulm and Augsburg?  Are you more likely to attract nine million passengers onto your trains if passengers riding Stuttgart - Augsburg, Augsburg - München, Stuttgart - Ulm, Ulm - München usw. are occupying some of the seats in addition to the seats held by the full-route passengers.  You know where I stand on this.  "At such short distances, there's not much reason to put a lot of money into a train that will spend about a third of the journey accelerating to and decelerating from 300 km/h -- and then throw in a few stops in the banlieus."  And increasing speeds to 300 km/h (I'll say 180 mph to a first approximation) doesn't necessarily buy you much time saving.  Consider a station that's well-suited, because it's on a long, straight, flat stretch of line.  Sturtevant, Wisconsin comes to mind.  Now suppose a train is capable of accelerating and braking at 3 miles per hour each second.  Twenty seconds to accelerate to sixty; forty to accelerate to 120, you can be zipping along at 180 in a minute: not bad, but you've spent all that extra money to knock just over a minute off your accelerating and braking intervals, and maybe four minutes total between Sturtevant and the Milwaukee airport station, a little better in the Glenview direction.

The benefit-cost calculations don't impress Reason's Christian Britschgi, either.
This failure looks even more galling when you compare the time saved by these high-speed rail lines to the costs of building them. In four of the lines looked at in the [audit committee] report, transportation officials spent over €100 million ($116 million) for every minute of travel time saved.

For instance, a planned German high-speed rail line is expected to get you from Munich to Stuttgart 36 minutes faster than conventional rail lines at the cost of some €13 billion ($15 billion). That shakes out to €368 million ($423 million) per minute saved. (A flight between the two cities takes 45 minutes.)

The [audit committee] report also stressed the poor coordination between European countries when building their high-speed rail lines, making for poor continent-wide connectivity and suppressing ridership.
The plane might take 45 minutes, but throw in all the airport security hassles and getting to and from the airport, and the best 1987 timings (yes, before reunification) of 150 minutes or so, with those intermediate stops for Ulm and Augsburg, don't look too bad.  Can you fly from Stuttgart to Augsburg without having to jump out of a C-47?  Frequency, connectivity, intermediate stops.

The report being Reason, who have a large blind spot in their libertarian leanings when it comes to socialism for motorists and general aviation enthusiasts, unsurprisingly use the shortcomings of the grand European Expresses (mostly sans Wagons-Lits these days) to take a dig at the perpetual cost overrun known as California High Speed Rail.  "Once promised to deliver commuters at blistering speeds straight from Los Angeles to San Francisco, California's high-speed rail will now wind through the state's Central Valley on a mix of high-speed and conventional rail tracks." I agree, the Imperial Valley L is not the best use of public moneys, and would very much prefer augmenting the conventional lines in California.  Specifically, there is a corridor service linking San Diego, Los Angeles, and Santa Barbara, with one day train as far as San Luis Obispo, as well as the Los Angeles and Seattle Coast Starlight, plus emerging Commuter Rail services centered at Los Angeles and San Diego.


There's a second corridor, connecting Silicon Valley with the East Bay communities and Sacramento, with one train running east of Sacramento to the foot of the Sierras: the territory further east being for California Zephyr sightseers; that service also includes the San Joaquin Valley trains for and from Bakersfield.  The a-building high speed tracks run alongside the San Joaquin route.  Presumably that mix of conventional and high speed rail is how the trains will get either into Emeryville or San Francisco proper.  There wasn't enough stimulus money to, for instance, dig through from Bakersfield to somewhere northeast of Los Angeles.

Likewise, if you're in San Luis Obispo, do you know the way to San Jose?  It isn't far on a map, but on the rails, there's the Cuesta Grade.
According to a chapter in the book "The Achievers" by Edson T. Strobridge and Loren Nicholson, the highest point in the Coast Line between San Francisco and Los Angeles was difficult terrain. Southern Pacific's veteran chief engineer William Hood said of the task: "the tunnel work on the Cuesta Grade is harder than the case in the Siskiyous."

According to the book "Southern Pacific's Coast Line" by John R. Signor, it was the most costly 17 miles of the line. The path from Santa Margarita to San Luis Obispo included seven tunnels in the the original design. Signor quotes the Oakland Tribune estimating the cost at $3 million, other sources from the time — including the San Luis Obispo Tribune — placed the cost at $1.5 million. Either way, it would not be cheap.
An avoiding line, even one engineered for 79 mph passenger railroading, connecting the northern and southern corridors still looks like a better use of money than any extension of the high-speed line.  A recent Passenger Train Journal story on the California trains notes that the network's average speed is about 45 mph.  That still beats drive time in a lot of the thickly settled areas.  On the north end, the train schedules pay some attention to connectivity between the San Joaquins and the Silicon Valley services.

THE TRADE WAR INTENSIFIES.

Warren "Coyote Blog" Meyer seeks clarification on the policy preferences of tariff-imposers.
Consider two trade regimes.  In Regime #1, the US charges 0% tariffs on German steel and Germany charges 0% tariffs on US steel.  In Regime #2, the US is able to charge 10% tariffs on German steel while Germany still charges 0% tariffs on US steel.  I would bet quite a bit of money that Trump would say that Regime #2 is a better deal for the US, while free traders like myself and most economists would say that Regime #1 is not only better for the world as a whole, it is better for the US.  Zero tariffs allows the division of labor and comparative advantage to all work their magic to make sure capital and productive effort in this country are employed for the highest return.  I believe from reading the comment section of this blog that there are many many people who call themselves a free trader but who would say that Regime #2 is a better deal for the US.
I'm not sure what Our President has in mind when he says "renegotiate bad deals," the best outcome might be no tariffs, or if there are tariffs, they're of equal value among trading countries.

The fallout Stateside, as U.S. companies being affected by retaliatory tariffs respond, is giving columnist S. E. Cupp an opportunity to go all H. L. Mencken about elections giving people what they deserve to get, good and hard.
Bill Maher faced some searing scrutiny over his suggestion that only economic pain would save us from President Trump.

“I feel like the bottom has to fall out at some point. And by the way, I’m hoping for it. I think one (way) you get rid of Trump is a crashing economy.” He added, “So please, bring on the recession. Sorry if that hurts people, but it’s either root for a recession or you lose your democracy.”

Despite the fact that Maher would likely be spared the brunt of that pain, he doubled down last week, saying, “If a recession is what it takes to make Donald Trump not so cute anymore, then bring it on.”

I know him personally. Maher is smart and generous — but this was dumb and needlessly cruel. What he could have suggested, though, was that Trump voters should get what they’ve been asking for — a trade war — and all the economic pain that comes with it. And it looks like they might.

In a huge rebuke of Trump’s bone-headed tariffs, iconic American motorcycle manufacturer Harley-Davidson is picking up and moving the production of its European motorcycles overseas.
"Let them eat pain, she concludes."  I wouldn't wish that on, oh, the United Auto Workers of the 1980s if somehow it was the industrial policy crowd calling for the tariffs.  Harley, let the record show, benefitted from tariffs when they almost failed in the Eighties.

Our President, meanwhile, wants to continue with the persuasion, or show business, or credible commitment to his grim strategy.
President Donald Trump took to the stage in South Carolina to assure everyone that his trade policies were not to blame.

"It's all working out great," Trump told thousands of his supporters at a campaign rally for Gov. Henry McMaster (R).

That assessment is not widely shared. If the signals from the stock market were not strong enough, more than 200 state and local Chamber of Commerce chapters sent a letter to senators on Tuesday condemning the White House's anti-trade policies. Meanwhile, Republican lawmakers in Congress are signaling that they might be ready to limit Trump's ability to unilaterally impose new trade barriers.

None of that, though, seems to be giving Trump pause. On Monday, the president took the opportunity to threaten a further escalation of his trade dispute with the European Union. In response to the Trump administration's decision to hit steel and aluminum exports from the E.U. with tariffs, the European government slapped a number of iconic American products like motorcycles and whiskey with retaliatory tariffs. The consequences of these tit-for-tat tariffs are becoming obvious, with Harley-Davidson announcing on Monday that it would shift some manufacturing jobs to Europe.

On Monday, Trump suggested once again that his administration could slap tariffs on cars and trucks imported from Europe. The Commerce Department is already engaged in an investigation of such a policy.

"They send the Mercedes, they send BMWs, they send everything. We tax them practically nothing," Trump said. "I told them, 'here's what we're gonna do. We're gonna charge a tariff on steel until such time as you straighten out your act.'"

Someone should probably have told Trump that BMW's largest manufacturing facility in the world is right there in South Carolina. The automaker's Spartanburg plant employs more than 9,000 people and produces more than 40,000 vehicles every year.

Fact-checking aside, Trump's determination to press forward with an unnecessary, counter-productive trade dispute is now facing greater headwinds from the markets, special interests, and from Republican members of Congress.

If Congress needs another reason to act, Trump gave it to them last night. The president's promise to "charge a tariff on steel until such time as you straighten out your act" belies the White House's claim that steel and aluminum tariffs are a matter of national security. This isn't just semantics. Under the terms of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962—the federal law that Trump has invoked to impose steel and aluminum tariffs—the president has the authority to impose tariffs without congressional approval, but only for national security purposes.

Trump's comments on Monday night reveal (again) that the president clearly sees the tariffs not as a national security matter, but as a means of gaining leverage over America's trading partners.
And Power Line's Steven Hayward finds a column by Irwin M. Stelzer, the same economist who edited a series of Selected Antitrust Cases handbooks, including the one I used for years, raises the possibility that the leverage just might work.  "If Trump is a cool enough player to ignore whining by some American firms, he has the chips with which to win."  Tomorrow, Mr Trump will be in Wisconsin to help break ground for the Foxconn factory.  We'll see if he hectors Harley again, or if he acknowledges the effects the tariffs are having in cranberry and ginseng country.

26.6.18

THE RAILROAD TRACK IS NO PLACE TO PLAY.

Perhaps we should phrase it differently.  Bahnanlagen sind kein Abenteuerspielplatz!

Doesn't matter what the language is, apparently young people like to take selfies on railway tracks, and when school is out, they often are in great danger.
Auch wenn Fotos im Gleis oder die Abkürzung über die Schienen auf den ersten Blick noch so verlockend und berechenbar erscheinen – hier droht ernste Gefahr! Züge können, anders als Fahrzeuge auf der Straße, Hindernissen nicht ausweichen und haben aufgrund ihrer großen Masse einen Bremsweg von bis zu 1.000 Metern.
They can't stop on a Pfennig, and they'll come at any time, on any track, in either direction.  Don't use the catenary supports as a jungle-gym either.  "Oft sei jungen Menschen gar nicht bewusst, dass der Fahrdraht eine Spannung von 15kV führe."

Thus, the German railways have their own chapter of Operation Lifesaver, complete with an office that will send safety information on request.

The railroad is working with law enforcement, advising adults to bring up their children so as not to trespass upon the railway. "Daher geht unsere dringende Bitte auch an Eltern, Erziehungsberechtigte, Lehrer, Erzieher und Sozialarbeiter, junge Menschen für mögliche Gefahren an Bahnanlagen zu sensibilisieren."

Indeed.  Take the safe course.

THE POWER OF ARBITRAGE ARGUMENTS.

Tyler "Marginal Revolution" Cowen's latest Bloomberg column, "Immigration Policy Is Hard" is able to rest his entire case on an arbitrage condition. "Basically, more and more people will leave Guatemala until the costs of leaving and staying are roughly equal."  Everything else follows from that, and you really can't talk about solving a problem, about the best you can do is make the least-unpleasant trade-off.
The U.S. could help improve conditions in the nations sending migrants, for instance by decriminalizing the drug trade to lower gang profits and violence. That would be difficult to pull off politically, to put it mildly.

Another alternative is to recognize that America is not facing a major immigration crisis and assimilation is proceeding at acceptable rates, and therefore can afford to take in more people. That is my preferred approach, but I recognize it is likely to result in more mishaps, danger and bad treatment along migration routes.

What about opening up a fully secure route for migrants to use? This also makes sense, but it’s worth thinking through what it actually means. It would be politically infeasible and logistically impractical to force all migrants to take approved routes, not least because it would require some kind of approval process to be set up outside the U.S.
I claim no original insight in a paragraph from a post last week:  there are numerous domestic policy benefits to legalization, as well as the defunding of Central American drug gangs (and Afghan poppy farmers.)
If the cause is persecution, or corruption, or drug kingpin violence back home, there's another policy lever: make the drugs legal (the demand is likely inelastic) and tax their sale such that the legal price is similar to the current street prices: that defunds the drug lords to the south, the runners who this border crackdown is intended to interdict, and the corner boys who can't shoot straight in these United States.
Easier to offer such ideas than to sell them, but perhaps after Our Political Masters have tried everything else and found all else wanting, they'll tackle the harder, but more likely to work, approach.

Making legal entry easier?  That might be something to consider, even at the expense of setting up approval offices outside the States.  (Isn't that what embassies and consulates are supposed to do? -- ed.)  And again, there's an arbitrage condition at work: where there are parallel legal tracks and illegal tracks for entering a country, the cost of obtaining legal entry affects, at the margin, the decision of a potential migrant to sneak in and hope for a future amnesty.  Here's how I wrote about it, twelve years ago.
Is it cheaper to build the fence (using the underground economy?) or to revise the laws? The existence of a rich country with both ample opportunities for entrepreneurial people and generous social services is in itself temptation to residents in countries less rich.
I based that post in part on remarks by people whose names you might know, and in part on this research (the Northern Illinois link to that paper likely long gone into the memory hole.)

Here, though, is where arbitrage comes to the rescue again: the more difficult legal entry is (the anecdotal evidence I have is that Professor Cowen's "can afford to take in more people" is in part driven by "Regularization is too d**n expensive") the more tempting running the risks to sneak in (which might include overstaying tourist visas, this focus on the southern border misses that) becomes.  As I noted, "Congress has to balance the potential burdens on social services against the cheap labor subsidies and the admission of entrepreneurial people who might not possess the verifiable credentials of a university graduate."

Thus, Professor Cowen's summation is straightforward.
Too broad a definition of asylum rights encourages potential migrants to engage in a dangerous kind of “regulatory arbitrage” as they seek the immigration status that gives their claim the maximum chance of being heard. If asylum seekers had their claims approved before they reached America, and made the journey by bus or plane, it would be safer and simpler for all concerned. If the costs of such pre-approval are too high, we can respond by simply taking in more legal immigrants.

So my grand immigration bargain looks like this: much more legal immigration, safe routes of transit, better enforcement at the border and restricted asylum rights. Right now, that seems far away. In the meantime, the problems will fester.
And here's where we were in January.
Congressional Democrats would like a clean amnesty for "Dreamers" (and perhaps for their parents as well.) Congressional Republicans might prefer to bundle the amnesty with appropriations for a stronger border fence, and perhaps additional resources for border enforcement. Our President appears to favor the bundle.
Sigh.

KEEP IT SIMPLE.

Overdesigned rotaries make motorists mad, so much so that Right Wisconsin posted an April Fool capturing the spirit in Wisconsin, a state notorious for overdoing the channeling and signage of the rotaries.
“The new roundabouts will have no exit,” said WIDOT traffic engineer Leflin Hoggslo in an announcement on Sunday, April 1. “By keeping the driver in the loop, we eliminate driver error on such questions on whether or not to use a turn signal.”

Hoggslo said he was inspired by the number of drivers who enter a roundabout but fail to exit when they should, making another complete circle around before exiting. Hoggslo also said that by reducing the number of exit options to zero that WIDOT expects the number of vehicles stopping in a middle of a roundabout waiting for other traffic to enter to be reduced dramatically.
All kidding aside, simpler is better. I give you the Strong Towns advice team trading as R. Moses.
A roundabout designed for high speed is not safe to begin with, and just gets worse when combined with unfamiliar users and multi-mode use.

On the whole, single lane roundabouts (i.e. one circulating lane) are safer than traffic signals, primarily because of their lower speeds. By now, we have a lot of roundabouts installed in this country, and the data shows that single lane roundabouts save lives and reduce injuries.

An experienced design team that can sort through many alternatives and come up with an optimum configuration is important. Where possible, do a pop-up intersection to try it out. This helps not only to refine the design but also to create community buy in. Depending on how much room is available, you might even consider creating an attraction within the roundabout, like a public plaza or fountain.

No matter how well designed or tested, though, don't expect to get public plaudits.  Many Americans are still not convinced that roundabouts are more cost-effective or beneficial for road users than other solutions, so the best for which we can often hope is tolerance.
You don't have to go the full eight lanes around the Arc de Triomphe to create attractions.  Seattle has been installing what Streetsblog call traffic circles, and the traffic trade likely call roundabouts, and I'll just use rotary, even though that might not be precise.
Each traffic circle costs about $20,000 to design and construct. Crews remove pavement to allow street trees and other vegetation to grow from soil beneath the surface of the street. The city leads the process of landscaping, often in cooperation with neighborhood residents, which is why you see so many creative touches.
I'm not sure I'd depend on a yellow reflective diamond sign to keep me safe in an Adirondack chair, even in a quiet neighborhood.

25.6.18

COMING UP THE MEDIAN.

I'm guardedly optimistic about Florida's Brightline train service, and its managers are optimistic enough to be putting in a proposal to continue west from Orlando to Tampa.  "Ostensibly, taxpayer dollars would not be used, sidestepping the reason why [Florida governor Rick] Scott struck down a similar rail proposal seven years ago."  That proposal was shovel-ready enough to merit money in the first Obama era stimulus bill, then the Democratic governor of Florida got turfed out in the same wave that flipped state-houses in Wisconsin and Ohio.

The public project for Florida got a lot of criticism at the time.  I was on board with speeding 'em up on conventional tracks, noting, "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."  Florida bullet trains, according to Bloomberg, not so much.  "By then, the first stakes will be sunk in Florida, and opponents will be mocking the Tampa-Orlando project as a ridiculous relic of a free-spending era, while supporters will be hailing it as an inspiring throwback to the days when America dreamed big and built big."  That might reflect reluctance on the part of freight carriers to introduce exotic track structures, and catenary a few feet above the stack trains.  What's pleasing for me to see is this vision being implemented, with free pop in first, er, Brightline Select, class.  "First provide a rudimentary service, with reliable connectivity and convenient frequencies."  I had something more statewide in mind, and had I been thinking more clearly, I would have had the Tallahassee-Miami and Tampa-Jacksonville trains connecting at Orlando, the way Birmingham New Street is the crossing of Britain's Cross-Country services, rather than the Jacksonville crossing I envisioned.

Whatever the political maneuverings were at the time, the Brightline proposal first came over the dispatch wire in 2012, and here we are with the proposal to use the right of way that might have been surveyed by the Democratic governor's administration now being home to privately financed trains capable of getting travellers between the amusement parks and either coast's beaches and cruise termini, and capable of playing well with stack trains.

As public lands are involved, the process-worshippers will have to hold a Solemn High Mass and assemble in conclave first.
[Florida's department of transportation] and the Central Florida Expressway Authority (CFX) received an unsolicited proposal to lease property owned by the state and CFX to build a high-speed train along Interstate 4. Based on this, FDOT is initiating an open, transparent procurement process so any private entities interested in leasing FDOT and CFX owned rights-of-way, to establish privately funded passenger rail service between Orlando and Tampa, can apply.

Governor Rick Scott said: “This is an exciting opportunity for Orlando, Tampa and our entire state. When I became Governor, the Obama administration was trying to use federal taxpayer dollars to pay for a rail connection that had an extremely high risk of overspending with no guarantee of economic growth. This is exactly what we’re seeing in California, a state which took this bad deal from Obama and in Connecticut, where taxpayers had to shell out hundreds of millions of dollars for their rail line. Our goal is for the private sector to invest in this project. Through private investment, we ensure that this major project has zero financial risk to Florida taxpayers.”
I'm not expecting any dog-in-the-manger, cartel-defending "existing service is adequate, applicant is incompetent" arguments from Amtrak or the CSX railroad.  It would be fun if Virgin Air or Carnival Princess or Disney responded to the request for proposals, but I'm not expecting that either.

There will have to be filings and formal review.
Because of Brightline's unsolicited proposal, the state transportation department will respond by initiating an open procurement process. Private entities interested in leasing FDOT and the expressway authority owned rights of way to establish a privately funded passenger rail service between Orlando and Tampa will have 120 days to submit competing proposals after the request is issued.
What might come next also intrigues.
While the company remains years away from ferrying passengers from South Florida to Orlando, Brightline officials already are talking about linking such metro areas as Los Angeles and Las Vegas, St. Louis and Chicago and Atlanta and Charlotte.

During a recent interview with CNBC, Brightline backer Wes Edens, the billionaire head of Fortress Investment Group, said he envisions expanding Brightline to other U.S. cities.

"We think there's lots of city pairs that have similar characteristics, kind of too long to drive, too short to fly," Edens said.
I'll never lack for material.  Private rail projects are way more fun than election follies or academic culture.  Heck, I might find something nice to say about process worshipGo Brightline.

IGNORE PERSONAL AGENCY AND COURT THE CONSEQUENCES.

There's a place in your mind, dear reader, for considering whether your reaction to a person's situation is blaming the victim.  As an expression of empathy, yes; as Christian charity if you're so inclined, yes, although it might be wise to read Blaming the Victim (yes, it is a book) and think about the situations described and decried therein first.  In one meditation on that topic, I suggested, "Sometimes it takes a while for the implications of the content to sink in with the policymakers."  That might be where we are, with respect to the imbroglio at the Mexican border.  Herewith City Journal's Heather Mac Donald, and I suspect she's already taking a lot of stick for this passage.
Underlying this episode were several cardinal principles of left-wing activism: that favored victim groups must never be held responsible for their actions, and that policy should be made based on immediate claims of need, with no regard to long-term consequences. The reigning assumption during the family-separation meltdown was that the adults who brought children with them across the border had no responsibility for their subsequent plight. The only actor with agency was the federal government; it alone bore the blame for alien minors being placed in detention facilities. Yet the but-for cause of the child separation was the adult’s decision to cross illegally into the U.S., child in tow. If you don’t want to be separated from your or another person’s child, don’t cross the border illegally. Likewise, any whisper of immigration enforcement inside the border is inevitably greeted with cries that such enforcement would cause illegal aliens to be “fearful.” If you don’t want to fear deportation, don’t assume the risk of deportation, however slight that risk may be, by illegal entry.

Obeying the law, however, is something that must never be demanded of politically correct victims. If lawbreaking carries negative consequences, the fault lies with the legal system, not with an individual’s decision to break the law in the first place.

This principle is at work in the ongoing attacks on the criminal-justice system as well: the overrepresentation of blacks in prison is attributed to allegedly racist actors and institutions, not to lawbreaking by the criminals. Non-legal forms of distress are also covered by the no-agency rule. If single mothers experience elevated rates of poverty, the fault lies with a heartless welfare system, not with their decision to conceive a child out-of-wedlock. The father, of course, is as good as nonexistent, in the eyes of the single-mother welfare lobby. If teen mothers are stressed out, the problem lies in the absence of daycare centers in high schools.

The “progressive” solution to these dilemmas is to confer an immediate benefit on the alleged victim that will alleviate the problem in the short term, perverse incentives be damned. Illegal aliens with children must be exempt from immigration rules. The likelihood that such a policy will encourage more illegal aliens to come is out of sight, out of mind (if not covertly viewed as an affirmative good). If having more out-of-wedlock children puts a strain on a single mother’s welfare check and food stamps, then the government should increase the allotment to reflect the additional births. If that single mother and her children show up at a shelter claiming homelessness, give them an apartment. If such free housing encourages more single mothers to flood the shelter system, contract for more apartments.

Strangely, after Trump issued his recent executive order, a few media voices tentatively raised the problem of the unintended consequences of purportedly humane rules. CNN anchor John Berman asked Schiff on Thursday morning if exempting illegal aliens with children from detention “incentivized” such illegal crossings. Schiff ducked the query: “Well, it’s not a simple question as whether somebody has a child or not.” But the problem of perverse incentives will not go away. America’s loss of sovereignty over its borders and the incursion of millions of barely literate campesinos and their progeny is the result of years of victim-favoring policies that ignore personal agency and court the consequences.
There's a lot of back story before we get to those policy implications, and it's probably expecting too much of a government agency to adjudicate an asylum claim in twenty days: it being the nature of government agencies (in some jurisdictions) to make the renewal of a driving license or the claiming of unemployment benefits or the admission to a veterans' hospital an all-day (or longer chore): and the Illinois Tollway is so determined to make all cross-country travellers pay them an interest-free loan for a transponder rather than pay cash that on busy summer travel days, only one cash lane is open at the toll plazas.

But do you really think that making a system manipulable is going to discourage manipulation of it?

Power Line's Scott Johnson notes,
I can only wonder what the attitudes of average Americans are to the continuing invasion and related gaming of our immigration law. The Democrats support it. President Trump opposes it. Which side are you on, boys? Which side are you on?
For what it's worth, tougher border enforcement polls well. Just over four months until the votes are counted.

THE BURDEN OF BAD IDEAS.

More cleaning out the archives, here a Matt Walsh column from Reason, in July 2010, about the Obama administration attempting to introduce liberating tolerance, in the best Student Affairs style.
Last year the Obama administration updated Washington’s official position on what forms of expression are legal. “Whether a given category of speech enjoys First Amendment protection,” Solicitor General Elena Kagan argued in U.S. v. Stevens, “depends upon a categorical balancing of the value of the speech against its societal costs.”

In April the Supreme Court treated this cost-benefit approach to the Bill of Rights’ very first proscription on federal power with the derision it deserved. Writing for an 8-to-1 majority that overturned a 1999 law restricting depictions of animal cruelty, Chief Justice John Roberts called Kagan’s argument “startling and dangerous.” The First Amendment, he explained, “does not extend only to categories of speech that survive an ad hoc balancing of relative social costs and benefits. The First Amendment itself reflects a judgment by the American people that the benefits of its restrictions on the Government outweigh the costs.”

Kagan’s claim was a timely reminder that government, everywhere and always, seeks to balance controversial speech against various counterweights: national security, concerns about the influence of money in politics, the desire to protect society from the coarsening effects of obscenity. And if a child plays any role in the cost-benefit calculation—when school safety is supposedly at issue, or in a custody battle—the counterweight is deemed very heavy indeed.

Many, perhaps most, restrictions on speech are popular when they’re enacted. The reasons aren’t hard to understand. When your overriding goal is to prevent something most decent people find abhorrent (child pornography, corporate malfeasance, terrorism), and when distasteful speech is seen to obstruct that goal, that’s when people start to say, “Normally, I’m a First Amendment absolutist, but…”
The article is still relevant today, in light of developments both in the vulgar culture and in the policy world.  We're at a pass where keeping public officials from eating dinner or attending a movie becomes a way of expressing abhorrence of a public policy.  There's still room for the mediating institutions, free speech being about free criticism notwithstanding.
If Democrats think this crazed behavior will generate a “blue wave” in November, they are mistaken.

It is beneficial to maintain a healthy division between the public and private. Simply having First Amendment rights to hector and insult public figures online or in public doesn’t mean it is a good idea. A return to decorum would be a useful step towards restoring the notion of a personal sphere and promoting a more rational tone in our policy debates. Come on Democrats, try raising the bar.
Unfortunately, it's easy for Democrats and their allies to point to, e.g., public hectoring and insulting "crooked Hillary."  That gets us no closer to breaking out of the grim strategy equilibrium.  (That trade war isn't looking any better this week either, but that's a post for another day.)

But here, returning to Mr Welch's old column, is where things stood, eight summers ago.
Suppressing peaceful speech to prevent potential violence is a kind of pre-emptive heckler’s veto. We saw it in another context that same month, when Comedy Central heavily censored a South Park episode that depicted the prophet Muhammad. We see it when partisans try to silence the opposition and when the government weighs the costs and benefits of free expression.

The good news is that the Roberts Court so far is shaping up as a strong defender of the First Amendment. The bad news? Just before this issue went to press, Obama announced as his next Supreme Court appointment the same person who proposed that outrageous “categorical balancing” test for free speech: Elena Kagan. Here’s hoping some vigorous political speech influences the selection process.
So here we are, where the Orders of the Day are "give us what you want, or you shall have no supper."

Meanwhile, there may or may not be "categorical balancing" in the selection of test cases by the American Civil Liberties Union.  I've long been skeptical of their efforts.  A recent development involving the First Amendment doesn't do much to change my mind.  Wendy Kaminer asserts that categorical balancing exists.
The American Civil Liberties Union has explicitly endorsed the view that free speech can harm “marginalized” groups by undermining their civil rights. “Speech that denigrates such groups can inflict serious harms and is intended to and often will impede progress toward equality,” the ACLU declares in new guidelines governing case selection and “Conflicts Between Competing Values or Priorities.”
The union responds, not quite.
We are a multi-issue organization, and some cases may present conflicts, such as between gay rights and religious freedom, privacy and women’s rights, or speech rights and equality. The guidelines, which have been distributed to all ACLU staff members, are explicitly designed to help affiliates and national staff think through various factors in case selection decisions.

Kaminer claims the guidelines change our policy. But the guidelines clearly state that they do not “change ACLU policy, which is set by the Board.” They reaffirm our view that free speech rights “extend to all, even to the most repugnant speakers — including white supremacists — and pursuant to ACLU policy, we will continue our longstanding practice of representing such groups in appropriate circumstances to prevent unlawful government censorship of speech.” Nothing in the guidelines supports Kaminer’s claim that “free speech has become second among equals.”

Kaminer objects to any acknowledgement that speech can cause harm. But that is simply a recognition of fact, and denying it flies in the face of lived experience and ignores the costs of free speech. All rights come with costs, from privacy to due process to the right against compelled self-incrimination. Acknowledging this hardly means one lacks commitment to the rights. It simply recognizes the stakes. The guidelines do not suggest that the ACLU should not represent a speaker because his speech causes harm. Rather, they “attempt to identify the kinds of questions that ought to be considered, the processes for their consideration, and the measures that can help mitigate the harms to competing interests.” We will continue to represent those expressing offensive and harmful views, but we as an organization also insist on our right to condemn a speaker’s views even as we defend the right to express them.
There's nothing quite like lawyerly equivocation, is there? The board still sets policy, and the staff that select test cases get to decide what the "appropriate circumstances" for taking a case is.  That's not quite repression of wrong-think, although it is a way to withdraw support for wrong-think.  "Normally, we're First Amendment absolutists, but ..."

24.6.18

CIRCUS DAY.

Illinois, in its wisdom, forbids children of all ages from enjoying elephant acts.  We documented the Farewell to Elephants last September.

In Wisconsin, they're not so foolish.  Carson and Barnes played at Delavan on Saturday, and children of all ages appeared to be enjoying riding piggyback on a pachyderm.


That "Circus Saurus" reference is to this year's feature, a dynamic display of dramatic dinotheria.


There's more circus tradition here than meets the eye.  It's now an airport, but early in Wisconsin statehood, the Mabie brothers bought this land as quarters for their itinerant circus, the first of several to call Delavan home.  The Mabies are shirt-tail relatives, thus I can kinda, sorta, claim to be circus family, if only in the modelled sense.


Back to the show ... there was a problem with the air-conditioning truck, and the management decided to hold an old-school show under the Big Sky.  The weather cooperated.


The Opening Spec.  A circus performer has to be versatile, the abilities to juggle and balance and perform high above the crowd on a hoop or a rope will all come into play.


It's a circus, which means you have to suspend disbelief, for instance when the dinotheria mix it up with the cast dressed up as cave dwellers.


The show must go on, even when the elephant has to go.


Meanwhile, in Illinois, children of all ages are spared the grittier side of elephant acts.

They are not, however, spared the attack ads, in which the case of the two major party nominees for governor, have truly gone into the toilet.

Remember, dear reader, the circus, like Christmas, comes to your town but once a year.  Find yourself a circus and go to it!

See you down the road.

THE AMTRAK PENN CENTRAL MADE.

That's been a frequent theme of mine.  Passenger Train Journal offers an excerpt from "The Short, Troubled Life of Penn Central Passenger Trains" that summarizes the argument.  "Penn Central’s managers believed that passenger service west of both Buffalo, N.Y., and Harrisburg, Pa., were financially hopeless cases. Most surviving trains either offered no amenities or provided minimal food service from snack bars."  Everything else is elaboration, although the article notes twice-daily service between New York and Chicago on the former New York Central side, and three such trains, plus for a while, two New York and St. Louis trains on the former Pennsylvania side.

With pictures.

UNIVERSITIES HAVE FAILED AT THEIR MISSION.

My formulation is "are failing."  Ben Weingarten of The Federalist interviews Hoover Institute and Fresno State classicist V. D. Hanson, who renders the harsher verdict.
Well, my criticism in the last 30 years of the institution, obviously a lot of us who voiced those concerns, it fell on deaf ears. So progressive thinkers and institutional administrators within the university got their way. And now we’re sort of at the end of that experiment, and the question we have to ask is what did they give us? Well, they gave us $1 trillion in student debt. They created a very bizarre system in which the federal government — subsidized through student loans, constantly increasing tuition beyond the rate of inflation — the result of which is that we’ve had about a 200 percent growth in administrative costs, and administrators and non-teaching staff within the university. We’ve politicized the education.

So when I started there were … I think I looked in the catalog in 1984. There were things, maybe like the Recreation Department’s “Leisure Studies” course. Maybe one environmental class, “Environmental Studies.” But you take the word “studies” with a hyphen, and now that can represent about 25 percent of the curriculum. And that’s usually a rough, not always a reliable guide, to show that that class is not — it’s not disinterested. Its aim is to be deductive. We start with this premise that men are sexist, or capitalism destroys the environment, or America’s racist. Then you find the examples to fit that preconceived idea.

And the result of it is that we’ve turned out students that are highly partisan and highly mobilized, and even sort of arrogant, but they’re also ignorant … that came at a cost. They did not learn to write well. If you ask them who’s General Sherman, or what’s a Corinthian column, or who was Dante, all of the building blocks that they could refer to later in life to enrich their experience, they have no reference. And then they don’t know how to think inductively. So if you point out the contradictions in free speech the way they shout down some speakers and not others, or the way that they hate capitalism, but they love Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook, they’re not able … they haven’t been trained philosophically to account for that, because they’re indoctrinated. And it’s quite sad to see the combination of ignorance and arrogance in young people, but that’s what we’ve turned out. A lot of people who are indebted and they’re arrogant, and they’re ignorant and they’re not up to the task of moving the United States forward as a leading country in the world.

And you can see the reaction to it. We have tech schools now that grow up around these campuses, where they just say to people, “If they’re gonna cut out Western civ and they’re gonna cut out the core and politicize it, then let’s be honest. Just pay us a cheaper tuition and we’ll train you to be a nurse, or we’ll train you to be a computer encoder,” or whatever. And so, we have alternates, for-profit online alternatives, podcasts.

And so, the university failed in its mission. And it will be replaced by open free society. People are trying to find alternatives to it. And they kind of committed suicide.
Indeed. It's a wide-ranging interview: go, see why he's not distressed by Our President shaking up Business As Usual.

REDISCOVERING THE EFFICIENCY WAGE?

In Wisconsin, there are personnel managers learning what excess demand looks like.
CertainTeed, a ceiling tile manufacturer in Plymouth, is looking to broaden its production staff with part-time help as the supply of available temporary workers — and their quality — has become a bit less reliable.

We just see the increase in orders and the need to increase our production levels,” said Christine Brees, regional human resources manager. “It’s been a challenge.”

At Ability Group LLC, a home health care firm on Milwaukee’s south side, declining unemployment has made the already-difficult task of finding good employees even tougher.

“The minute a better job comes up, they’re gone, they’re somewhere else,” co-owner James Valona said. “It’s a huge problem.”

Dutchland Plastics LLC, which makes such things as kayaks, playground equipment and Yeti coolers, also has dropped its high-school-diploma requirement and last year increased wages and the number of paid holidays. Still, the growing, 280-employee Oostburg company finds its expansion constrained because it has 50 job openings.

“That’s a very large number,” CEO Randy Herman said. “That’s much higher than we’ve experienced before.”

And in Pewaukee, the crew of a Subway restaurant has been working more hours because operator Deepa Garcha has had trouble hiring additional help despite offering a higher-than-typical wage.

For a few months now, Garcha has run an ad on Indeed.com offering $10.50 an hour – more than almost any other Wisconsin Subway posting openings on the job site. As of mid-June, the position was still open.

“There have been a couple people who worked a couple days and left,” Garcha said.
The logic of the efficiency wage is that workers will not quit, because they cannot find as good a job or comparable pay elsewhere. But perhaps that's not yet what's in play, even at the plastics plant.
Despite a national unemployment rate that has been this low exactly one month in the last 48 years (April 2000), increases nationwide in total compensation in the private sector have hardly been robust. Since 2015, they’ve trended upward but still fall short of the increases of the early 2000s, a period of higher unemployment, data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics show. Total compensation includes pay and benefits.

The bureau doesn't publish total compensation figures by state. But its comprehensive census of wages in Wisconsin shows that pay increases of the last three years, in percentage terms, also lag behind the gains of the early 2000s.

It may just be that earnings haven’t yet caught up to the changing labor market and that stronger increases are yet to come, John Heywood, an economics professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, said by email.

But Heywood said some economists believe things have fundamentally changed and that we won’t return to the compensation gains of the past.

One reason for that view: Labor force participation is unusually low and so, Heywood said, there may be more slack in the labor market than the unemployment rate suggests.

Rising automation also could play a role.

“Workers may be increasingly competing with machines,” Heywood said. “This competition restrains wage increases.”

Finally, he said, it could be that while companies may want trained workers, fewer firms are engaging in training.
The risk of providing training is that human capital is mobile. The roundhouse foreman for The Milwaukee Road complained about that, years ago (there no longer being a roundhouse or a Milwaukee Road.) He'd take on apprentices, then would come a downturn in rail traffic, and the people he had to lay off could become blue-collar aristocrats at the machine tool works.

We're seeing a phenomenon I recall from years ago, when the Reagan recovery took hold in the suburbs of Detroit, but many of the help wanted signs were well off the bus routes.
For many residents of the most poverty-stricken areas of Milwaukee, though, jobs in Sheboygan or Kenosha might as well be on the moon.

More than 9,000 employed residents of seven high-poverty ZIP codes in Milwaukee lack vehicles to get to work, sharply limiting their job options.

“You don’t have a car, you’re screwed,” south side resident Jeffery Ziarniak said as he walked along West Mitchell Street after finishing a Friday shift for a temporary agency. “You can’t find a good job. The good jobs are out of town now.”

Ziarniak, 49, said he has spent the past two years working factory jobs for a temp service. He currently makes “9 something an hour,” he said, and pays $9 a day to the agency for transportation.

“What are you going to do?” Ziarniak asked. “You don’t have a car, you’re just going to have to deal with it. I don’t mind.”

Among efforts to connect Milwaukeeans without cars to jobs beyond the bus lines is the Joseph Project, started by Pastor Jerome Smith of Greater Praise Church of God in Christ, 5422 W. Center St. The program has placed people at several companies, including Nemak, in Sheboygan, Dodge and Waukesha counties.

But while it has grown since its launch in 2015, the Joseph Project remains small — the 140 city residents currently working at jobs they landed through the program represent a tiny slice of the working population without access to a car.
That is the same Joseph Project that former Wisconsin senator Russ Feingold characterized as crumbs.  The question I asked at the time, "Are the politicians in the Milwaukees of the country providing the environment in which [entrepreneurship and good schools] can flourish?," is still germane.

22.6.18

PRUNING THOSE BRANCH LINES.

Get away from the trunk railroads linking Paris with the major French cities, and you might have a few puddle-jumpers for the regional traffic, and increasingly you might have to drive your car or wait for the bus.
Local politicians gathered at the terminus in the northern French coastal resort of Le Tréport on June 2 to welcome the last train over the 34 km branch from Abbeville. SNCF [the national railroad] has replaced the two daily TER [the regional passenger rail authority] trains each way with buses taking 60 min instead of 40. The line has not carried freight since the 1990s.

SNCF Réseau cites the poor condition of the single-track branch as the reason for suspending rail services, insisting that €40m is needed for infrastructure renewals. Hauts-de-France region President Xavier Bertrand has offered to put up half of the money, suggesting tram-train operation as a possible way forward. However, the line crosses the regional boundary with Normandie, which has joined Hauts-de-France in funding a €73·4m refurbishment of the 104 km Beauvais – Le Tréport line on which work is about to start.

The debate over the Abbeville link has come to symbolise a much more profound concern over the future of France’s secondary lines stemming from the reforms now being taken through the legislative process. These are intended to pave the way for market liberalisation in line with the EU’s Fourth Railway Package, but have met with fierce resistance and sustained strike action by railway unions.

In his landmark report on future French railway policy issued in February, Jean-Cyril Spinetta was forthright in highlighting the fragility of France’s rural lines. Secondary railways in UIC classes 7-9 carry just 2% of passengers yet account for 15% of the railway’s cost base, he reported.
Yes, there are meaningful economies of volume and density, and those lightly-used branches likely are a resource drain.  Thus, the now going on fifty years since the Beeching Report in Great Britain, and the pruning of branch lines by merger of U.S. railroad companies, or, in the case of Conrail, by government fiat.

A passenger bus ride, however, doesn't sound any better in French than it does in English.
Leading the campaign to rethink the approach to rural lines is FNAUT, the national transport users’ lobbying group. It organised a press conference on June 8 to highlight the findings of a study it had commissioned from consultancy Trans-Missions to assess the impact of transferring rail services to road transport in rural areas. The report looked at 25 sections of the SNCF Réseau network which had been identified by FNAUT in 2014 as being ‘at risk of closure’, including Abbeville – Le Tréport.

The consultants focused their analysis on seven secondary lines which had closed since 1980, with buses replacing trains. Of these, five had subsequently reopened. This gave the opportunity to make quantitative assessments of both the impact of replacing rail with road transport (a ‘coach deficit’) and reopening and investing in secondary lines (a ‘reopening bonus’).

Key parameters included journey times, which across the seven routes increased on average from 80 min to 112 min. The report concluded that replacing trains with buses had led to a net decline in ridership of 53%, despite a notional increase in frequency from three to five trips per day across the routes studied. Of the five routes which have reopened, the study pointed to an average gain in ridership of 65%, with the 2015 reopenings of the Nantes – Pornic and Nantes – St-Gilles-Croix-de-Vie lines both recording increases of more than 100% by the time of the survey in July 2017.

FNAUT believes that while both Spinetta and some at SNCF see rural railways purely in terms of cost per passenger, there is ‘a lack of understanding about how to operate secondary lines, and no attempt at innovation’. It cannot be a surprise that ridership is poor and costs high when the trains run only two or three times per day, it argues.

In the foreword to the Trans-Missions study FNAUT suggests that ‘the rail mode is not expensive, SNCF is expensive’. It insists that ‘opening up regional passenger markets to competition should not be seen as opening the door to privatisation’, noting that the ‘regions would still be managing the specification and procurement of rail services’. However, it believes that competitive tendering could ‘pave the way for a serious reduction in overheads.’

In the meantime, FNAUT is calling for an ‘essential’ moratorium on the suspension of branch line services until more rounded socio-economic analyses have been undertaken. These should consider the potential of rail to meet local needs, ‘using infrastructure that is fit for purpose’.
Fréquence, Connectivité, Fiabilité!

THERE IS NEVER A RIGHT TIME TO BUILD A WRONG PROJECT.

Apparently, in order to remain competitive in the Big Ten, Northwestern's football program has to have an Oregon-style beachfront practice facility and coaching center.
Northwestern fared not too much better and consistently ranked low in the Big 10 Conference until Head Coach Pat Fitzgerald took over in summer 2006. He recently came off a 10-win season. As the Yahoo article describes, the university’s leaders were worried Fitzgerald would be wooed away to replace the former head coach of University of Michigan in 2011 -- which was the catalyst to the new facility.

Ultimately, Fitzgerald never interviewed with Michigan. Instead, Fitzgerald laid out to top Northwestern administrators, and a wealthy donor and trustee for which the building is named, Pat Ryan, what was "necessary from a facility perspective to change Northwestern football’s paradigm,” as the Yahoo piece says.

They accepted. Fitzgerald has subsequently signed multiple 10-year deals with Northwestern.

And the result -- the Ryan Fieldhouse and Walter Athletics Center, a 425,000 square foot-behemoth on the shore of Lake Michigan with splendorous 45-foot floor-to-ceiling windows that will house multiple athletics and some intramural teams and some administrative offices. It’s fashioned with slick toys and trappings -- curtains controlled by remote control and video cameras by joystick, a barrier to separate a practice room into two separate sides for offense and defense, a barber chair and a hot and cold tub that seats 40. Funding came from the university's fund-raising effort "We Will. The Campaign for Northwestern."

Alan K. Cubbage, a university spokesman, said to characterize the building as benefiting just football is inaccurate. He said it will be used for other teams such as women’s soccer and women’s lacrosse, and for university events, such as convocation for new students.

“Yes, we anticipate that Ryan Fieldhouse and the Walter Athletic Center will provide a real boost for the football program, as they will provide terrific facilities in an unmatched location, right on the shore of Lake Michigan,” Cubbage wrote in an email. “But the building also will benefit thousands of other Northwestern students, faculty and staff.”
In fairness, Pat Fitzgerald was a linebacker on some successful Northwestern teams coached by Gary Barnett, although the high point of the program might still be a Rose Bowl loss in those years to the University of Spoiled Children.  On the other hand, the convocation center dodge is common around the Mid-American Conference, although there the label generally applies to a generally empty basketball arena.  Then there's Northwestern's recent experience playing Northern Illinois, which somehow makes do with an indoor practice building that would not be out of place housing a rolling mill.  That might be more fitting at Northwestern, where the United Steelworkers have attempted to unionize the footballers.

The positional arms races will go on, until somebody opts out.

THE BEST WAY TO GET MORE TRUMP?

Matthew Continetti suggests that the efforts of Official Washington, the Front Row Kids, the Democrat-Academic-Entertainment-Media Complex to deflect from their own failings might be what brought the Insurgency on in the first place.  "Official Washington fixates on Trump rather than the imperfections in American economy, society, culture, and foreign policy that it neither recognized nor addressed in time to prevent his rise."  For being so smart, the Front Row Kids are pretty dumb.
Trump's gravitational pull is such that he causes his opponents to overplay their hands. In effect, he trolls them into adopting positions so far out of the mainstream that they become self-discrediting. Take, for example, the crisis at the southern border. With the policy of family separation, Trump found himself on the wrong side of a 70/30 issue. His administration spent a lot of time explaining, which in politics means you are losing an argument. But within days the president went on offense by signing an executive order and urging Congress and the courts to regularize asylum and detention law. The Democrats? They quickly found themselves arguing for releasing anyone who crosses the border illegally with a child—not only a dumb idea, but also one that would incentivize future crossings and even child trafficking.
Wamp-womp.

Mr Continetti might be a fan of Our President.  J. H. Kunstler is not, but he's even less a fan of the Front Row Kids.
One also can’t fail to notice that this latest hysteria was ginned up the very same week that the Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz and FBI Director Christopher Wray testified in congress about the gross and astounding misconduct in the executive suites of those sister agencies — literally a bastion of the Resistance (or Deep State bureaucracy). Some kind of giant worm is turning in that circle of the three-ring-circus US politics has become. A lot of the characters who politicized the FBI — turned it into a chop-shop for election campaign shenanigans — will be headed for grand juries and some of them maybe even jail.
Wait, what, "Lock Her Up" might not be just cathartic release at a rally of Deplorables?  When a man with a world view in many ways orthogonal to that of Kurt Schlichter sees the same thing Mr Continetti does?
Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer failed to offer up any alternative legislative plan for sorting out these children differently. One can infer in the political chatter emanating from the Offendedness Cartel that immigration law is ipso-facto cruel and inhuman and that the “solution” is an open border. In theory, this might play to the Democratic Party’s effort to win future elections by enlisting an ever-growing voter base of Mexican and Central American newcomers. But it assumes that somehow these newcomers get to become citizens, with the right to vote in US elections — normally an arduous process requiring an application and patience — but that, too, is apparently up for debate, especially in California, where lawmakers are eager to enfranchise anyone with a pulse who is actually there, citizen or not.
Interesting times, indeed.  Now comes Charlie "Never Trump" Sykes, who in his latest Weekly Standard column sees a New Cruelty where once there was a New Deal, but who a few weeks ago saw the Left losing its mind.  (Maybe there are times when you are right, dear reader, to think that everyone else has lost his mind and you alone are sane.)
Levitz’s piece is bracing, because it is so candid in its insularity, intellectual bigotry, and closed-mindedness. That makes it valuable as an artifact of the mindset that has done so much to alienate conservatives from much of the media and that has contributed so much to the ghettoization of our political discourse. Not surprisingly, when you tell roughly half of the country that they are benighted bigots whose ideas are no even worth hearing, they go elsewhere.

And we’ve seen how that works out.
Now comes Power Line's John Hinderaker, proposing that the Front Row Kids haven't been given enough wedgies lately.  "Maybe one of these days, liberals will no longer be able to count on the assumption that we are more civilized than they are."  That is, Normals will no longer be cowed by hectoring, condescension, or deplorable-shaming.

YOUR GOAL OUGHT BE NOT TO ISSUE RETRACTIONS AND CLARIFICATIONS.

Former Amtrak engineer and longtime ferroequinologist Doug Riddell has the bad reportage of things that run on rails in mind, but his observation ought be germane to anyone who makes a living covering the news.  "One of my journalism professors, a dyed-in-the-wool newspaper editor, used to admonish us to remember that news is like cement. You get one chance to get it right before it begins to harden. Then, you’re stuck with whatever you’ve created."  Too often, what the self-styled reporters create are contributions to The Narrative, where national affairs are concerned, and reality is clarified a few days later, on page 27, in six-point type in the Corrections and Clarifications section.  That might be why Our President's accusations of "fake news" have such purchase.

When it comes to coverage of motor vehicles getting in the way of trains, there's little interest in those clarifications.  "On June 8, the Associated Press reported that Virginia authorities had indicted a garbage truck driver on charges of involuntary manslaughter and driving under the influence, after he allegedly drove into the path of an Amtrak charter train carrying Republican members of Congress, near Charlottesville."  At the time of the collision, which made national news because of the prominence of the passengers, and likely the presence of the Washington press corps (and perhaps because the mind boggles at the thought of the rail-hostile Republicans chartering a train?) the story contributed to an erroneous perception that Amtrak is not a safe mode of travel.
As far as John Q. Public was concerned, the story died two or three days following the crash—another deadly Amtrak crash—as such accidents are almost always characterized, regardless of the circumstances. (And here, I’m not singling out Amtrak. When there’s a trespasser strike or crossing fatality, as long as a train is involved, it’s always a deadly railroad accident.)

As coverage of the tragedy unfolded, the average person heard or read that the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) had been called in, so there must have been something really wrong. A local reporter interviewed neighbors who vouched for the character of the truck driver and swore on their family Bibles that the flashing lights and gates either weren’t working, or that they were known to be unreliable. The inference drawn was that those big railroads were cutting corners again to save a buck. There were reports that the train was speeding, so if it had been operated properly, it should have stopped short of the public road crossing and the accident could have been avoided.

What’s wrong with Amtrak anyway? That was the general takeaway from the coverage for the better part of three days.
The Board investigate all railroad collisions and the findings, sometimes issued years later, are public record. Mostly it's boring stuff, makes one wonder why a commuter train has to be held for two or three hours each time somebody trespasses on the tracks or runs around a crossing gate.

What happens next, though, is not amusing.
The adrenalin rush to be first isn’t always matched by determination to be accurate.

Even more frightening, these stories develop and touch down as suddenly as a Kansas tornado. They dominate the news with intensity for 24 hours, and then miraculously disappear. People only retain the initial burst of information. Weeks later, after rational minds and careful examination of the facts have reached well-founded conclusions and plausible explanations, the results show up with little fanfare, much like a note in a bottle washed up on the shore.
That might be the logic behind Rush Limbaugh's characterization of a drive-by media. Or in the case of railroad reporting, it's a drive-addled media unwittingly, for example, contributing to a perception that trespassers upon the railway are somehow blameless.

20.6.18

BAYEUX CATHEDRAL SERIES.

The camera freed artists from the constraints of being able to represent people and objects accurately to earn a living.  As I understand it, in the pre-photography era one way for a client to signal his great wealth was to commission a portrait with two hands showing, hands being the most difficult part of the human anatomy to represent accurately.  (Might even be true, look closely at President Obama's official portrait.)  The emulsion in the camera was indifferent to whatever was exposed to light.

Thus came all the various approaches to painting, the "isms" if you will, which the gallery director aboard Regal Princess explained to me served as a classification function for art historians and for interior decorators.  Thus, for instance, a painter can render the impression of a scene under different kinds of light and the term "impressionist" conserves on transaction costs for the decorator.  Or the painter can capture the essential elements of a scene using primary colors, and perhaps that is "expressionist" (or, this being an academic convention, you'd rather call it fauvist or dadaist, or argue with me for playing fast and loose with the categories!)

That noted, let me illustrate a feature in my latest digital camera, a relatively straightforward Canon Power Shot SX620 HS.  What it took Claude Monet years of work to do, an algorithm can do with one setting and one push of the shutter.


Natural light


Algorithmically modified light.


Fish-eye filter.

Then I took the algorithmically altered light and ran that picture through an old Seattle Film Works "posterize" function.


There are probably fancier programs out there that permit distorting the images and otherwise messing with them.  All the techniques of the art world, but without ever having to clean up?

SEEKING A COOPERATIVE EQUILIBRIUM?

Game-theoretic models of cooperation are more robust at making sense of sustaining cooperation once it emerges than they are at dealing with restoring cooperation once it's broken down.  In the Popular Perspective, there's a much-misunderstood strategy called Tit For Tat, in which a player cooperates on the first round, then does to other players at time t what other players did to them at time t-1.  That strategy has no memory, thus, although it works well when it encounters other cooperative players, it is not helpful at leading others back to being cooperative once somebody defects.  And defection is a thing.

Thus, typically, the serious student of game theory will quickly learn about the equilibria in repeated games involving the grim strategy, in which once somebody defects, the player defected upon will never again cooperate.

Thus, the fundamental problem of starting a trade war, as Paul Krugman notes.
I didn’t really think we were going to have a trade war. What I thought would happen, instead, was a bit of kabuki: America’s major trading partners would make cosmetic concessions – perhaps with some lucrative payoffs to Trump businesses on the side – that would let Trump proclaim a “win”, and trade would go on much as before.

The reason I expected this relatively benign outcome wasn’t that Trump would get or take good advice. It was, instead, the expectation that big money would talk: corporations have invested trillions based on the assumption that an open world trading system, permitting value-added chains that sprawl across national borders, was going to be a permanent fixture of the environment. A trade war would disrupt all these investments, stranding a lot of capital, and I thought big business would get either manage to get that message through to Trump or at least get it through to Republicans in Congress, who would act to limit his room for maneuver.
That is, all Our President's pronouncements about being screwed by other countries' imports was cheap talk, but talk that might change the behavior of other countries in symbolic rather than substantive ways.  Instead, it's beginning to look a lot like tit for tat.
So far we’ve had only small skirmishes in what might be the looming trade war, but the effects don’t seem trivial to soybean farmers already facing sharp price cuts and steel users already facing much higher costs. If the trade war happens, expect to see many, many more stories like this.

O.K., there’s no certainty that any of this will happen. In fact, I still find it hard to believe that we’re really going to go down this path. But I also don’t have any plausible stories about what’s going to make Trump stop, or induce other big players to give in to his demands.
Put simply: once cooperation breaks down, restoring it is hard.
Bart Oosterveld, director of the Global Business & Economics Program at the Atlantic Council, said the tariffs would “benefit a few at the cost of many.”

“If you are still working in Youngstown, Ohio, and your plant shut down a few years ago and it reopens, you have your job back and it make you happy and everybody else’s prices for a variety of things from cars to cameras to tractors for the farmers go up slightly – but not to the degree that will make people change their vote,” he said.

Oosterveld said there is “confusion and anger” in Europe surrounding the Trump administration’s use of the “national security argument” to make the case for the tariffs.

“You don’t really expect that argument to be used against long-term allies,” he said. “In the background, in Germany, there’s concern about how this might affect the car industry over time.”

Marczak said that Canadians “overall” share Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s “outrage” over the tariffs.

“It’s similar with Mexico, too. I mean, Mexico is an incredible ally of the United States, a national security partner of the United States,” he said. “For both of our North American allies, this is really seen as an affront. Justin Trudeau announced a dollar-for-dollar retaliation and he announced a comprehensive list of countermeasures.”
Cato's Dan Ikenson suggests that there might be a relatively straightforward restoration of cooperation.
Congress abandons its legislation to block [imported electronics from] ZTE, which gets back in business (with conditions); the U.S.-China tariff war is called off; China signs purchasing orders for $100 billion to $200 billion of U.S. exports; the steel and aluminum tariffs on Canada, Mexico, and the EU are removed; and the NAFTA negotiations are restarted and concluded before the midterms. This gives Trump two major pyrrhic victories that will reinforce his greatness to his base.

Seems to me these are the only outcomes that could remotely explain (if not justify) the ride Trump is taking us on. I see it as misguided, but not irrational.
That appears to be the logic of Our President's court intellectuals, if you permit me an impertinence: it's not about tariffs for their own sake, it's about tariffs as a way of convincing the other trading partners to rewrite the international trade agreements in ways that look more favorable to United States commercial interests.  (Or, funnily, you get the kind of industrial policy that the likes of Barry Bluestone and Robert Kuttner and Robert Reich were peddling in the 1980s.)