Barring signal troubles, links to any posts of substance ought to work.


Madison restaurants’ struggle for staff nears a crisis point.  Artisanal food, foodie residents, atmosphere, all the rest, and yet the working conditions aren't great.
Surya Café, a vegan spot serving smoothies, snacks and sandwiches in Fitchburg, will open a second location in the old Garver Feed Mill on Madison’s east side this summer.

When head chef Lauren Montelbano thinks about staffing it, she shudders.

“It’s terrifying,” said Montelbano, who runs her current café inside a yoga studio with four employees. “I look at how many restaurants there are in the city and the suburbs. Where does staff come from for these restaurants?
Incentives matter, even inside the thirty square miles of socialist wishful thinking surrounded by reality.
The inability of Madison-area bars and restaurants to find and keep employees has been nearing a crisis point for years. Low unemployment in Dane County (1.9 percent as of December 2018) and a proliferation of new dining spots has led to more competition for fewer workers.

Those who start a job may not stay long. As of 2017, restaurants’ annual turnover rate was 72.5 percent, compared to 46 percent for the U.S. private sector overall. (Many people move in and out of restaurant jobs on a seasonal basis, so it’s not three-fourths of a restaurant’s full-year staff turning over each year.)

Restaurant consultant Sam McDaniel has been telling clients, “retention is the most important thing in the restaurant business.”
Strip away the numerology and the business bafflegab, and what the owners have to do is make sure the staff isn't motivated to sing an old country song.
“There’s a systemic failure in the hospitality business to create good jobs,” said McDaniel, who co-founded Graft on the Capitol Square and now works at the Goodman Community Center.

“It’s a chicken and egg thing,” he said. “Are we struggling with staffing because there aren’t enough people? Or is it that jobs are not good, so people don’t want the jobs?”

Restaurants get stuck in a cycle of constantly hiring and training workers who themselves might be juggling two or three jobs. It’s expensive for the restaurants and exhausting for everyone.

Many chefs said they don’t call references anymore. Once someone is in the door, she can start immediately. Some even rehire people they don’t want to work with, because they feel they don’t have a choice.

“Most of us are in such dire need,” Montelbano said. “It’s like, do you have a pulse and can you hold a knife? Great! You have a job.”

Madison’s not alone. Staffing challenges are universal in restaurants from Denver to Baltimore. In Chicago, “a surge of new openings, a smaller pool of immigrant workers and more opportunities for cooks in non-restaurant jobs with saner hours” has stressed the industry, according to a recent Chicago Tribune story.

“The squeeze is particularly profound at small independent restaurants without the allure of big-name backing or room in their budgets to absorb higher pay.”
Saner hours and better pay. Imagine that. Or perhaps a reality check: your artisanal veggie stuff only sells when it's cheap.
Madison is short on both of those things. Restaurant closures, the sudden spike in easy-to-train concepts like poke, and dark Mondays and Tuesdays at popular restaurants and bakeries all have some connection to staffing issues.

Wages are one part of the problem, particularly for cooks. Restaurants could charge diners more, but what kind of backlash will they get if the burger goes from $8 to $10?

It’s like a game of chicken. Raise the price on the wings to pay the dishwasher an extra buck an hour and give the fry cook a week off, and see your ratings dive on Yelp. But without a decent salary, those jobs are even less attractive.

“Food and labor are so expensive,” said Caitlin Suemnicht, chief creative officer of Food Fight Restaurant Group. “Something’s gotta give. Restaurants are going to have to start charging more. We’ve been battling it to keep it down, but sooner or later prices are going to have to rise. And no one wants to be the first one.”
Nobody might want to be the first one, but the place that stays open on Monday and Tuesday with higher prices might just be on to something. Remember the fundamental logic of competitive markets: price taking is a behavior in equilibrium, but the adjustment from equilibrium to equilibrium isn't well understood, even by experienced economists.
Last October, Stephen Carroll left Brasserie V, where he started as a sous chef in 2014. To give a snapshot of the kitchen situation now, Carroll offered a chef’s litmus test.

“In the last two years the biggest difference I’ve noticed is, how many days a week or a month do I find myself in the dish pit?” said Carroll. “There was a stretch last year at BV where we didn’t go a week fully staffed. At least one time a week something would happen, someone wouldn’t show up.”

Dishwashers, like fast food counter service workers, are among the lowest paid employees in the industry. Carroll called washing dishes the “hardest and least respected (job), but it’s more integral than any other part of the restaurant. We can’t put beautiful food on dirty plates.”

Over the past few years, those in charge of restaurant hiring report scheduling interviews with people who didn’t show, cooks who worked a single shift and never returned, and a rash of no call/ no shows on all sides of the house. Carroll doesn’t think pay is the main reason for turnover.
Some of that might be a breakdown of manners, yes, and yet ...
“I think all of this comes down to the problem of, there’s too many restaurants in the city,” Carroll said. “I can’t say I’ve ever experienced anything like the situation in the last two years in the previous 15 years I’ve been in kitchens.”

As the consultant McDaniel pointed out, some restaurant jobs don’t inspire loyalty. Nationally, line cooks make an average of $25,000 a year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In the front of the house, base pay for tipped workers in Madison is $2.33/hour, which makes a difference in cold, slow months like March. Front of house pay can vary wildly based on time of year, style of restaurant and accuracy of tip reporting, but the BLS claims that waiters make only $20,000 on average per year.

“In a large chunk of the industry, both high level — what would be considered great restaurants — and your normal, run of the mill, employees are seen solely as a cost to control, and not as an asset,” McDaniel said. “After years and years, the labor force has recognized that.

“When you combine that with a robust restaurant city where there are other jobs available, there is less reason for people to stay and deal with the crap.”
College towns might be great places to locate cheap and contingent labor, and yet, capital cities might be full of legislators and bureaucrats and rent-seekers looking for an environment in which to wine and dine those public servants; then there's the financial and technology sector, and a business model that relies on cheap and contingent labor might not work out so well.
Restaurants need to “normalize” jobs with basic amenities like sick days, health insurance and vacation days, McDaniel said. In the front of the house, month-to-month or unpredictable schedules may work well for people looking for a side or summer job but not for career employees.

“Hiring and scheduling practices are not keeping up with the way people are approaching these jobs,” said Brian Hamilton, an industry veteran currently working at Brothers Three and the Ohio Tavern. “The kids these days — I know that’s a common opening — they really depend on flexibility and that’s incredibly hard sometimes.

“There are ways you can go about alleviating that as the person making the schedule, but it’s a challenge on both sides, for the employee and the employer. There’s a serious deficit of talented, driven, career restaurant people, and that’s what this business needs more of in Madison.”

Becky Schigiel is the former director of the Worker Justice Center and worked on the Just Dining Guide from 2012 to 2015. The guide, which is no longer updated, focused on working conditions in downtown Madison restaurants.

In the process of creating the guide, Schigiel noticed that some employers had grown antagonistic, aiming to “keep labor as low as possible no matter what.”

“There’s this small business mentality, ‘I’m giving those people a job and they are screwing me over,’” Schigiel said. “A job is not a gift. You can’t open your doors if nobody’s washing the dishes, waiting the tables.”
On the other hand, you can't open your doors if nobody wants to wash the dishes, or if your pay packets are not career focused. Talent and drive still command a premium.
Pay for cooks has finally started to rise. Epic Systems in Verona recently posted $19 an hour for line cooks. Palette Bar & Grill, coming into Hotel Indigo, advertised $15-$17/hour for the same. Tangent, open since December, is offering up to $15/hour for night line cooks, and the newly opened Portillo’s is at $12-$15/hour for cooks.

Food Fight’s group of 19 restaurants and one bakery in the Madison area saw turnover start to slow after giving a $1/hour increase to every kitchen employee and implementing a $13/hour minimum wage for all kitchen staff. It represented an investment of $500,000 in labor.
Incentives matter.
Job boards teem with offers for cooks, servers, delivery drivers and bartenders. Not uncommon are $200 sign-on bonuses. Capitol Lakes, a retirement center downtown, posted a sign-on bonus for up to $1,000 for line cooks. Some promise no nights or five-day weeks, bus passes, paid time off after a year, dental and health insurance.
There's no discussion in the article about higher pay for those evenings and weekends, and yet, that is another margin along which to optimize. Particularly with the rent-seekers gathering after the legislative sessions close for the day.


The University of Akron would like to unzip almost half its faculty.
The University of Akron offered a buy-out to about 47 percent of faculty on Monday in an effort to balance its budget.

Taking a “voluntary separation or retirement" offer would pay a faculty member 100 percent of 2019-20 base pay, split into two installments. The employee would leave the university on May 31, 2020. The first payment would come on July 2020, the second in January of 2021.
The offer does not appear to be an attempt, in the style of a 1980s railroad, to retrench to a core system, hiving off extravagances such as the Pacific Extension of The Milwaukee Road.  "Only full-time, permanent professors not teaching in what Akron calls 'strategic investment areas' are eligible -- some 340."  At the moment, the "strategic investment areas" are law, engineering, and polymer sciences.  (Rubber is a polymer, you see.)

The university's interim president, John Green, explains his efforts in a memorandum that is a paradigm of bafflegab.  "The feedback I have received from our continuing conversations has been useful and instructive on the key challenges of making UA’s academic programs more distinctive, fostering greater faculty collaboration, and addressing our enrollment challenges to achieve financial sustainability."  It goes on in that vein, and there is an accompanying set of talking points.

Nowhere in the talking points does anyone note that the university is losing enrollments.  But George Orwell would not be surprised.
Reorganizations are usually about eliminating “redundancies.” How many people would be let go?

There is no intention for involuntary personnel reductions because of the potential reorganization proposals.
Presumably, the lump sum offer to step out of line and disappear will achieve sufficient personnel reductions.

But is anybody really reassured by what appears to be a sacrifice of rigor?
How does this help to establish “clearer, easier-to-follow, and more efficient academic pathways for students?”

As one example, many students start out believing they want to become engineers but find they are unable to meet the math requirements. Having the degree offerings from the School of Engineering Technology that currently reside in the College of Applied Science and Technology located within the proposed “College of Engineering, Science and Technology” would enable those students to continue to pursue an engineering-related degree within one college. This is the type of model used at The University of Cincinnati’s College of Engineering and Applied Science.
With apologies to John Gardner: neither their curricula nor their polymers will hold water.

But at least Akron's women's basketball squad got a participation trophy.


A vigil is no place for Frat Boy Casual.  "A man wearing a 'Make America Great Again' hat attended a vigil for victims of the New Zealand mosque shootings and was told to leave by upset mourners."

There used to be such a thing as manners, and one of the conventions was that gentlemen would remove their hats during prayers.  "On Monday, students at York University in Toronto held an on-campus vigil for victims. During the closing prayer, a young man wearing a MAGA hat appeared in the crowd."


Apparently the individual in question is in the habit of flaunting his disregard for convention, whether of the traditional kind or of the post-modern kind, around York events.

Unfortunately, the people who might have the responsibility for developing character among York's students and neighbors know neither how to simply say nyekulturny, nor how to invoke Emily Post.
Yanni Dagonas, the deputy spokesperson for York University, tells Yahoo Lifestyle:

“York is one of the most diverse and inclusive universities in Canada and our commitment to diversity and inclusion is a great strength. All community members are expected to conduct themselves in a way that promotes an atmosphere of civility, diversity, equity, and respect in their interactions with others. Our community should be able to enjoy a safe environment for work and study, free of violence, harassment, intimidation, and bullying.”

“We are guided by our values as an institution of higher education and remain committed to intellectual integrity, freedom of inquiry, freedom of expression, and equal rights and dignity for everyone,” Dagonas said. “Any student, staff or faculty member may file a complaint under the Code of Student Rights and Responsibilities (CSRR) if they feel unsafe or experience acts that are disruptive or diminish the rights and dignity of individuals.”
I suppose York, being a university, and, worse, a university located in Canada, cannot take the stance that students and faculty shall conduct themselves like ladies and gentlemen.  Too bourgeois, too binary, too triggering, not inclusive enough.



California-Merced sociologist Charlie Eaton explains How Wall Street Buys Ivy League Access.

His complaint deals with the insider dealings among eating club members, trustees of the Ivies, and fast-track partnerships on Wall Street, which he contends are more pernicious than a couple of celebrities passing their spawn off as rowers.

His essay focuses on the emergence of a new subset of the power elite, this subset equipped with the best quantitative tools money can buy and computers can simulate.
Private equity and hedge fund managers have particularly benefited from Ivy League connections, and they have returned the favor. Private equity and hedge funds hardly even existed at the beginning of the 1980s. But financial deregulation made it possible for their managers to make fast fortunes. This led to a rapid migration to the new funds from the ranks of investment banking, a profession long dominated by Ivy League graduates, according to sociologist Lauren Rivera.
The old-school ties might perpetuate limited-access highways for the well-connected, as the research he cites suggests.
My analysis of the Forbes data adds quantitative evidence to recent qualitative research by Rivera, Megan Tobias Neely and a team of researchers working with Amy J. Binder. These sociologists have shown how elite private universities foster shared identities, trust and social networks that provide advantages to their alumni in ways that have helped keep the top echelons of finance closed to women, people of color and those without degrees from the most prestigious private universities.
What might be more important, dear reader, is that the top echelons of finance are full of people with similar intellectual proclivities and shared models of reality.

Crash.  "If you have a run of events several standard deviations above the mean, and you've played your financial cards right, you're rich, but if those events start coming in below the mean, down comes your house of cards."



Higher education's spinmeisters rally around the narrative that trustees at the University of Spoiled Children and elsewhere who bought access to the rich and famous is reason to double down on faux-egalitarianism.  Start with John Warner in his "Just Visiting" page on Inside Higher Ed.
Competition is bad for education, bad for learning, bad for students, bad, ultimately, for educational institutions as well.

Competition is wasteful and inefficient, and leads institutions to engage in deliberately obstructive practices to hide the trust [c.q] cost of attendance to students.

Competition has squeezed poorer students not just out of admission at elite private universities, but public flagships as well, as demonstrated by a report from New America Education.

Students competing for scarce slots in magnet schools or college feeders experience increased stress and anxiety. Even the winners are losing.

I’m thinking about an even larger class of those who are harmed. How about black and brown children who are subjected to emotionally abusive practices at so-called “no excuses” charter schools so they may fare better in an admissions competition that will always be stacked against them?
All the ills that Mr Warner lays off on competition are actually evidence of the absence of competition.  Competition is the discovery of improvements in the way of doing things.  That's most commonly understood as market competition with the introduction of new products and technologies and finding more creative ways of using resources.  There is also competition among jurisdictions to provide bundles of amenities that voters will support with their taxes, and governance structures more generally understood also emerge in a form of competition.

Why does nobody pay list price, and why do the recruiters mislead students and parents about what they might be on the hook for?  Might the presence of third-party money in the form of grants or loans or quasi-scholarships pay a role?  In classical political economy, competition is the outcome of arms-length transactions between parties spending their own money, with some pretty good information about who the alternative sellers or buyers are.

Why are the state flagship universities filling up with students who might otherwise have enrolled at the Ivies and the fanciest small college?  Might it be that the kind of entrepreneurial awareness that expands choices in orange juice or computer tablets (or test-prep coaching?) doesn't work when it comes to expanding capacity in higher ed itself?  (A fun aside: the chief operating officer at Wisconsin-Milwaukee quipped this morning that none of Wisconsin's state colleges and universities got caught up in this investigation.  That despite the increased interest among upscale coastal types in Madison turning Milwaukee into the campus with the most state residents enrolled.)

Might it also be that the expanding upper middle class (are there now more millionaires in the United States than there are people in Sweden?) manifests itself in excess demand for spots in the Ivies, or Michigan, or Wisconsin, or, horrible dictu, at the University of Spoiled Children and its neighbor in Westwood?  With the reluctance of the Ivies to expand their classes, or stingy legislatures not funding expansion at the state flagships, or the people running higher ed doubling down on boutique multiculturalism, is anyone surprised that a positional arms race follows?

I'll leave it to others to sort out whether that "black and brown children who are subjected to emotionally abusive practices" isn't implicitly about what we used to speak of as "culture of poverty."

Mr Warner offers some constructive suggestions, to which I'll return anon.  First, though, let's enjoy "If selective colleges were less selective, there would be less incentive to cheat to get in." The Atlantic gave somebody named Adam Harris a platform to explain.  He starts in a logical enough way, recognizing the positional arms race.
College seats, overall, aren’t scarce by any means, but seats at selective institutions are—and purposely so. Institutions typically argue that keeping a steady, reasonably sized enrollment allows them to maintain high-quality services for students: student-teacher interaction, tutoring, and a vibrant campus culture. But scarcity has the added benefit of increasing an institution’s prestige. The more students who apply, and the fewer students who get in, the more selective an institution becomes, and, subsequently, the more prestigious. And parents are clawing over one another to get a taste of the social capital that comes with that.
That's exactly the Cold Spring Shops argument. But where we contend that the way to compete is for the state flagships to spend some money on strengthening their faculties generally, and for the regional comprehensives and the mid-majors to strengthen programs that might already have a decent profile (think Northern Illinois and Western Illinois jockeying for the highest pass rate on the Illinois C.P.A. exam), what Mr Harris wants to do is to take out the competition by ... well, words fail me.
The simplest way would likely be for selective institutions to stop being so selective and enroll more students. Instead of carefully crafting admitted classes—taking a little bit of diversity and a little bit of athleticism and a little bit of legacy and mixing them into the ideal freshman stew—institutions could open their doors and serve more students, Julie Posselt, an associate professor at the University of Southern California’s Rossier School of Education, told me. (Though USC was mentioned in the suit, Posselt was unconnected to the scandal.) Selective institutions would undoubtedly take a “prestige hit” because of that, but it could alter the way parents think about college: not as social capital to be bought, but as an opportunity for learning and growth.
I doubt it. Harvard indistinguishable from Massachusetts-Boston? And parents and employers won't recognize it?
If something doesn’t change, things are likely to get worse. “The population only continues to grow. Demand for these elite schools only accelerates,” [Arizona State president Michael] Crow said. And currently, [Southern California education professor Julie] Posselt said, there is an incredible incentive to get into a selective institution—to purchase that elite credential: The labor market rewards it. “The prestige factor won’t go away until the labor market stops rewarding it.” But perhaps colleges could preempt the labor market. If elite schools enrolled more students and forfeited some prestige, maybe there wouldn’t be such angst about who does or doesn’t get into any one in particular.
Hang on, how do you stop the labor market from selecting for ability?  There might still be more corporate CEOs with Wisconsin degrees than with degrees from any one Ivy, and people attuned to the placement rates of their colleges and to the participation in their job fairs will twig to that.  In addition, there is a faculty labor market, and the Ivy that decides to go full-in on access will have entering classes that will discourage striving students and frustrate faculty.

Apparently, though, the people at Arizona State don't mind being a figure of fun in the case.
Arizona State, where Crow became president in 2002, is now a higher-education behemoth with more than 100,000 students enrolled on campus and online across the world. It was, notably, not the type of institution that these parents were trying to get their children into. In fact, one parent cited in the complaint even went as far as to ask for a “road map for success” to getting his daughter “into a school other than ASU!” Parents don’t need to use a “side door,” as William Rick Singer, a cooperating witness for the government, called it—legal or illegal—to get into an institution that is more accessible.

After I spoke with Crow, a spokesperson for Arizona State sent an email with the university’s comment on being mentioned so flippantly in the suit. “Some universities have decided the most important thing they can do is turn away deserving, qualified applicants just so they can seem more exclusive,” the spokesperson wrote. “That leads to perverse incentives and perverse actions, as we are witnessing unfold right now.”
There are likely strong departments at Arizona State, but somewhere their story isn't being told, perhaps because there's too much talk about access.  Thus, to call on another Atlantic story, this by Matthew Stewart, it's the people who haven't yet participated in the expanding upper middle class who are hard done by.
Meanwhile, the rest of America’s families haven’t got the time or money for the helicopter bills, they are much more likely to find themselves in single-parenting situations, and they have longer commutes from neighborhoods with less desirable schools. They are the ones who are counting on public schools to prepare their children for the future, and on colleges to give their children a chance to do good things. And they are the ones that this system, and the 9.9 percent, is shafting on an epic scale.

This case should open the eyes of the people who haven’t yet learned to use their families as weapons in their ongoing fight to maintain privilege. The core of the problem that emerges with rising inequality is that it makes everybody unreasonable. And it’s a very short step from unreasonable to flat-out immoral.
We don't have that unreasonableness when it comes to obtaining tablet computers, or dependable cars, or apples in March. The lesson: there's really too little competition in higher education.

The good news is, the options are there, if you but recognize them. Here's Town Hall columnist Laura Hollis.
I am not saying that people do not get the value for their tuition dollars spent. The vast majority of schools have to supplement tuition with tax revenues (for state schools) and development dollars; tuition does not begin cover all the expenses associated with running a college or university.

Nor am I saying that schools with a historical reputation for quality no longer deserve that reputation. Most administrators and faculty take their responsibilities to the public extremely seriously, as generations of successful graduates demonstrate.

What I am saying is that there are a lot more places to receive a truly excellent education and broad-based college experience than there used to be. The “Black Friday” clamor to get your kids into the handful of institutions that comprise the top 25 is absurd and unjustified.
Mr Warner echoes that argument.  "There are thousands of institutions like [his College of Charleston, S.C.] across the country, including our community colleges which are providing educational access for many students who are the least resourced. We should be working to make the path much smoother for those folks, and if it means taking elite privates down a peg or two in the process, consider it past due payment for services already rendered."

It's actually there for the taking, but it starts by recognizing that the community colleges and the regional comprehensives and the mid-majors are in the same business as the Ivies, and they ought emphasize the degree programs with good job and professional school placements and their honors programs and their opportunities for students to get out of their comfort zones simply by interacting with their classmates.



A lot, apparently. "Felicity Huffman released on bail after allegedly bribing to get kid into college as part of sweeping admissions scandal."  She's apparently famous in some entertainment circles, and married to someone famous in some fashion circles.

The complaint also names Lori Loughlin, another celebrity who had not previously come to my attention.  Her younger kid is a real piece of work.

Pi Day update: here's the NBC clip.

Watch at 43 seconds, when she notes "I want the experience of, like, game days, partying ... I don't really care about school."  More details here.

But her parents were able to find people outside higher education with connections inside higher education to pass their spawn off as student-athletes in relatively obscure sports, or to work the disability machinery.
The allegations also extend to cheating on the SAT and the ACT. According to the indictments, those involved in the conspiracy encouraged students they were being paid to help to file papers with ACT or the College Board saying that they had learning disabilities. When they received permission to take the test under special circumstances (typically with extra time), these applicants were told to use one of two testing centers that one of the defendants said he could "control." Those taking the tests were then told to come up with fake reasons, such as a family wedding, for needing to take the exam in one of these centers, which were far from their homes. Bribes were then allegedly given to have others take the tests.
The extended time scam is nothing new.  Apparently, though, there are people willing to pay large sums of money to rig admissions to favor their kids, without calling attention to themselves by doing it the old fashioned way, making a large donation.  That suggests a population of inframarginal applicants with large consumer surpluses, and perhaps an opportunity for the institutions of higher education to appropriate some of those consumer surpluses.

Inside higher education, however, there are people whose salaries depend upon them not recognizing the incentives at work.
David Hawkins, executive director for educational content and policy at the National Association for College Admission Counseling, via email offered these thoughts on the indictments:

"This is an unfortunate example of the lengths to which people will go to circumvent and manipulate the college admission process, particularly at highly selective colleges," Hawkins said. "The activities involved are indicative of why NACAC has maintained a code of ethics since 1937, which is to ensure that those involved in college admission abide by an ethical process built on a commitment foundation of fairness, trust, responsibility and equity. We know that with such high demand, acceptance to college can drive unethical (and illegal) behavior."

Added Hawkins: "This is an extreme response to the ‘commodification’ of the college admission process -- one that is focused on college acceptance as an end unto itself, when, as NACAC members are quick to point out, the ultimate end is the development of the student at a college that is the best fit for them."
The problem, dear reader, is that the people running institutions of higher education don't recognize the clear opportunity to lift their academic profile.  Let's call the roll of the institutions involved.  "The plot involved students who attended or were seeking to attend Georgetown, Stanford, Yale, the University of California, Los Angeles, the University of San Diego, USC, the University of Texas and Wake Forest University, according to federal prosecutors."

How things change in forty years.  I recall a time when some residents of the state of Michigan resented their University of Michigan, as it admitted a relatively small undergraduate class each year, and it was tough to get into.  I recall, some years later, an article on the positional arms race college admissions had become, at least as viewed by The Wall Street Journal, in which one of the students, none of whom anyone would perceive as disadvantaged, named the University of Michigan as his safety school.  You'd think that somebody at Michigan, or Northern Illinois, or Marquette, or the mythical Ishkabibble State, would look at the kind of money involved in these bribes and calculate that it might be able to beef up a few departments, or endow a chair or two with somebody Nobel- or Fields-worthy.

But that's not the way the people running higher ed roll these days.  Consider the lede from the report filed by the house organ for business as usual.  "A wide-ranging bribery scheme is unsettling higher education, raising uncomfortable questions about the role of wealth and privilege in the admissions process."  I remember when good reporting meant reporting the facts, not necessarily introducing The Narrative.  Here, though, perhaps The Narrative is telling.  Do the people running the institutions of higher education go all-in on diversity and therapeutic culture and access-assessment-remediation-retention as a way of deflecting attention from their very own in-the-breach approach to precisely those things?  Note the reporter the Chronicle assigned to the story.  "Sarah Brown writes about a range of higher-education topics, including sexual assault, race on campus, and Greek life."  Those are the higher education beats with a higher incidence of fake news.

Watch, though, while the administrators don yet another hair shirt, and celebrate a few more diversities, and hire additional assistants-to-the-associate-vice-president for diversity and inclusion and set up more reeducation camps in the residence halls, rather than go after some of that money that's going into the acceptance black markets, because responding to incentives is class oppression, or something.

Victory Girl Toni Williams drops the hammer.
For Loughlin, Huffman, Macy and all of the other innocent until proven guilty types allegedly involved in Operation Varsity Blues, these final words. If you are guilty of these alleged crimes, shame on you. There are parents and children all over the United States who worked hard, studied, and played by the rules. But you desperate, insecure people couldn’t live with the fact that your spawn weren’t special so you allegedly cheated and took the seat of someone worthy. Now you have the varsity blues, too.
Why do institutions of higher education not simply respond to the excess demand?



The Karlson Brothers Circus train has a little trouble getting out of winter quarters.  We're well on our way to Delavan.

See you down the road.



Streetsblog's Angie Schmitt recommends a recent working paper by Iowa Law's Gregory Shill, "Should Law Subsidize Driving?"  The language in the abstract strikes me as excessively hyperbolic, e.g. "A century ago, captains of industry and their allies in government launched a social experiment in urban America: the abandonment of mass transit in favor of a new personal technology, the private automobile. Decades of public and private investment in this shift have created a car-centric landscape with Dickensian consequences."  And yet, the six major take-aways of the research ought come as no surprise to regular readers.


Well, almost.  "Enlarge and expand the Earned Income Tax Credit."  It's mostly standard stuff, involving the upper bound on earned income at which the credit goes away, but then there's the intriguing proposal that it be paid out monthly, rather than as the lump sum that goes with the income tax refund, the way things currently work.

The earned income credit might not be a negative income tax as Robert Lampman or Milton Friedman would have it, and there might be some troubling details in implementation, and yet, its endorsement by economists of varying strains might, just might, be evidence of its usefulness compared with other policy proposals.


The sensational tease is "Senators grill Big Pharma executives about Soaring Drug Prices."

Understandable grandstanding, by the politicians and the newsies alike.

Senator Stabenow (D - Mich.): "I think you charge higher prices here because you can, and American taxpayers are subsidizing all of you."  Well, duh.  It's unlikely that anybody holding the title of Senator, or of Representative, is going to see that voter welfare might be improved by the government, oh, reducing its involvement.


Victor Hanson is an historian, and he offers perspective.  Fifty years ago, national politics might have been even more fraught than it is today, and yet the Republic carried on.
America is such a huge and diverse country, and so abundantly endowed with natural and human resources, that it is capable of achieving unprecedented scientific, economic and technological breakthroughs even as its social fabric is tearing apart.

Or, put another way, while the media highlights crime, protests, grievances and civil disorder, a majority of Americans still go to work unbothered each day.

And in a rare society with a free market, constitutional government and individual freedom, people continue to do amazing things even amid the utter chaos around them.
Back in the day, the institutional chaos might have been genuine.

Today much of it is trumped up.  Decide for yourself, dear reader, whether or not that is a pun.


Multiply-failed presidential hopeful "Crooked" Hillary Clinton went to the voting rights rally in Selma, Alabama.  Rather than fake her southern roots "feelin' no ways tahrd," she went full screech-owl whingeing about having had Wisconsin's electoral votes stolen.
"I was the first person who ran for president without the protection of the Voting Rights Act. I’ll tell you, it makes a really big difference. And it doesn’t just make a difference in Alabama and Georgia. It made a difference in Wisconsin, where the best studies that have been done said somewhere between 40,000 and 80,000 people were turned away from the polls because of the color of their skin, because of their age, because of whatever excuse could be made up to stop a fellow American citizen from voting."
(You'll have to find the video-tape of her rant yourself, we don't present tenure music or anything else that assaults the ears.)

Sadly, no.
In one of our earlier items, we cited the perspective of Barry Burden, director of the Elections Research Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He noted that Trump earned almost the same number of votes in Wisconsin as did Mitt Romney, the 2012 GOP nominee.

"Clinton, in contrast, earned 238,000 fewer voters than did Obama," he told us at the time. "It would be a mistake to attribute essentially all of that decline to the voter ID requirement."
"Earned 238,000 fewer voters" strikes me as a backhanded way of saying "likely antagonized voters," but I digress.

Four Pinocchios and a Pants on Fire for one claim.  Oh, and the Voting Rights Act is more accurately understood as a piece of Reconstruction legislation, five score years or so after Appomattox.  Wisconsin, as a Union state, is not subject to that law.  Not bad for a day's work, Grandma.



A change of pace this year, the introduction of the 2019 Nubbel.

Looks like a few Jägerbombs might have been served.

Sober times to come.


Should I gripe about the headline, "Full steam ahead for Austria's night trains," as Austria's main lines are almost all electrically operated?

Or should I quote from the article, and then gripe?
From early evening onwards, the departures board at Vienna's Hauptbahnhof station becomes a roll call of destinations to whet the appetite of any globetrotter: Venice, Rome, Zurich, Berlin, Warsaw...

It's an unusual sight in a continent where budget airlines and faster trains have become the norm and led to the closure of many slower overnight routes.

But Austria's state railway company ÖBB is looking to expand its network.

It already runs 26 such routes, either on its own or in partnerships with other operators.

In late 2016, ÖBB bought the night train operation of its German counterpart Deutsche Bahn, which was looking to offload a department it judged insufficiently lucrative.

Around 60 percent of DB's overnight routes were preserved, including a revamped Vienna-Berlin service which started a few months ago.

Pointing to the "moderate growth" in passenger numbers -- more than 1.4 million used the services in 2018 -- ÖBB has ordered 13 new trains equipped with state-of-the-art sleeper carriages.
Contrast that with Amtrak, where the people in charge have never had a coherent vision of their overnight services, nor are they serving that trade well today.  The article notes some challenges in operating train services across national borders -- some of those destinations are outside the Schengen zone, but there is no longer an Iron Curtain, and there's a common currency these days -- as well as the expense of a fleet of special cars, and doing laundry.  Somewhere George Pullman and Fred Harvey are cringing.

The value of the overnight trains, though, is the same as the value of the day trains: they make intermediate stops.
Among those preparing to board at Vienna station to spend a night on the rails on a recent evening, some told AFP they had chosen a night train with the environment in mind.

"It's a small gesture, and it won't stop me taking the plane for my holiday in Madagascar this autumn, but it's better than nothing," said Austrian traveller Yvonne Kemper.

David, a 42-year-old from Germany, said he was using the Hamburg service because he needed to get to Göttingen in Germany for a business trip -- a medium-sized town which, typically, is served by night trains but has no airport.

ÖBB spokesman Bernhard Rieder explained that Austria's attachment to night trains is down to "a tradition stemming from Austria's mountainous terrain, which limited the development of high-speed lines".
Göttingen might well be better served by the continental rail network than, say, Garden City, Kansas, or Klamath Falls, Oregon, both still on the Amtrak national network; let alone Iron Mountain, Michigan, or Lake Placid, New York, which last had sleeping car service half a century ago.


Sarah Hoyt summarizes the position of the Militant Normals.
[Democrats] don’t realize how much they’re scaring most of this country. They don’t understand how much we fear and loathe the faces they’ve revealed for decades, and particularly since Hillary lost: the praise of socialism, their reluctance to condemn even Venezuela, their crazy desire for not having borders and being open to invasion, their general hatred of America and hatred of all Americans.

Even if the media soft-pedaled it, most of us understood perfectly that Mr. Obama loathed America to the point of hating our flag.

And most of us saw in his presidency the perfect example of what happens when you elect a president who hates the country he leads.

We knew that to elect Hillary was to put in power the rest of the program of our destruction and we didn’t want that.
I inserted "Democrats" as the subject of that passage. I could have used "The Credentialed Elite." That appears to be who she's after in a subsequent excerpt.
For decades, regardless of the party nominally in power, our polity had been in the hands of those who at best thought America was uncouth and needed reform, and at worst hated us and wanted to bring us low among the nations of the world. Open borders, ever-multiplying regulations that stopped our economy cold and sent jobs overseas, destructive welfare policies that actively made it punitive to stay together as a family. It goes on.
All it would take is a few members of that Credentialed Elite to step up and refute that "uncouth and needed reform," but their continued silence in the face of the socialist takeover of the Democrats is persuasive.

Or (one could hope) perhaps the Credentialed Elite is as the Great and Powerful ... wizard of Oz.


George Will would have you believe that getting people onto rapid transit is something elitists do, but Streetsblog begs to differ. "‘Elitist’ Duke Kills Rail Project That Durham Spent 10 Years Planning." Why?
On the precipice of an important federal deadline, Duke announced on Wednesday that it would not sign an agreement granting the 17.7-mile Durham-Orange light rail project access to land owned by the university. The decision blocks planners from applying for $1.2 billion in federal construction funding that they almost certainly would have gotten.

In a letter [PDF], University top brass blamed the decision on concerns about impacts of the light rail line to its hospital from electromagnetic and electronic interference and construction vibration.
If it wasn't the vibration, it was likely to be something else.  "GoTriangle, the agency advancing the project, says the concerns are just the latest in a six-year laundry list from Duke that project leaders have addressed."

The university is supposedly a nest of Concern for the Marginalized, but that's not how they come across.  "Durham City Councilman Charlie Reece said university officials are out of touch with the needs of the community, especially lower-income residents."

That's likely true of university trustees.  "The decision seemed to be made primarily be three university executives: Duke President Vincent Price, Executive Vice President Tallman Trask III, and Health Affairs Chancellor Eugene Washington were the only signatories on the letter to GoTriangle."  Isn't that redolent of the Social Register?

The faculty, not so much.
The Faculty Union demanded that University leadership continue the project. Earlier this week, more than two dozen faculty and staff signed a letter urging the University to grant the project access.

Duke climate scientist Drew Shindell told Streetsblog on Wednesday that the decision flies in the face of the University’s stated concerns about climate change and about the health of the community.
This is a university where the faculty once rushed to judge their lacrosse team as a way of signalling their Concern for the Marginalized.  Fool me once, shame on you ...

It's also interesting to see a tool of the rent-seekers being deployed against rent-seekers.
Another City Councilman, Mark-Anthony Middleton, echoed the “elitist” rhetoric in a statement to the News Observer, and urged the city to use eminent domain to acquire the needed land.

“How can the very economic trajectory of our region be determined by one wealthy, private landowner?” he asked.
Sometimes a politically connected landowner exerts clout to exercise eminent domain.  Now for a real puzzler: does one private landowner have better knowledge about how best to use the land than a state actor, which is the logical basis for eminent domain?


Might be wise (as well as lucky) to have an extra pączek or two this morning, as the discipline of fasting during Lent will be more real with a protracted winter in progress.

The German version is called Berliner, the Austrian version Krapfen.  Enjoy, then reflect. “You don’t have to be Polish to like pączki.”



It isn't enough that this year's polar vortex has caused Amtrak to cancel all train services out of Chicago, and induced news reporters to set their tracks on fire.  A recent upgrade to the signalling at Union Station also went wrong.
The trouble stemmed from communications issues with Amtrak's automated system, spokesman Marc Magliari said. Crews had to shift to manual control of the signals and track switches, which "leads to delays," he said.

"In my time here, which is now about 18 years, I have not seen a signal control system outage of this duration," Magliari said at a media briefing in the afternoon. "We want to make sure that we apologize to our customers, to Metra's customers and others for the inconvenience."

"Operating safely is our priority. There's no choice between operating safely and operating quickly," Magliari said.

The problem cropped up at 8:35 a.m., turning later commutes into marathons. Trains between Union Station and Western Station were briefly halted around 9:45 a.m. Frustrated commuters reported sitting in rail cars for nearly three hours.
What was the problem that cropped up?
U.S. Sen Dick Durban [c.q.] (D-Ill.) says the problem that disrupted signal systems at Chicago Union Station was caused when “a worker fell on a circuit board, which turned off the computers and led to the interruption of service that went on all day long.” Durbin learned this, the Daily Herald reports, when he spoke with Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson about the incident.

Anderson issued a statement Friday saying human error had caused the problems that disrupted traffic in and out of Union Station for about 12 hours, apologizing for the problem and promising to appoint “a veteran Amtrak executive” to improve performance in Chicago.
Given Mr Anderson's past record of gutting service and calling it improvement, we have reason to be skeptical.
Durbin said the fall wasn’t the only problem that led to the service disruption.

“The most important error they made was to decide to do a server upgrade to their computers during peak hours of service. This should be done in the middle of the night when only a handful of trains are running.”

Durbin wasn’t the only member of the Illinois congressional delegation concerned about Thursday’s incident. Congressman Dan Lipinski, a Democrat whose district includes a number of Metra-served communities southwest of Chicago, issued a statement saying Amtrak’s apology “is only a start. There are many questions Amtrak needs to answer and then fixes need to be made as soon as possible.” Lipinski, chairman of the House Subcommittee on Rail, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials, said he will meet with Anderson next week.
You'd think Illinois Democrats would understand that you don't call a technician in overnight, not at Chicago railroad union scale rates.  Gotta problem widdat?

Not only that, Amtrak give the impression of being more interested in anything but running trains.  Look at this photograph of the main waiting room during the evening rush hour.

Chicago Sun-Times photograph by Nader Issa retrieved from the Daily Herald.

Yes, the north end of the waiting room is cordoned off.  For a squash tournament.  "A four-walled glass court surrounded by bleachers has been constructed at the north end of the Great Hall to accommodate the Professional Squash Association’s world championships tournament, being held this week through March 2."  Perhaps the weather-related cancellations of the regional trains, which sometimes marshal passengers in the main waiting room account overcrowding in the airport-style boarding lounge that replaced a proper train concourse fifty years ago, make the marquee events easier to get to.  First class passengers?  Possibly expendable as well.
Amtrak is happy to earn revenue by renting out parts of the facility to help pay the $22-million cost of renovating the famous Great Hall and its 219-foot-long skylight, Magliari said.

“We believe there’s a market for the Burlington Room, the Legacy Club and parts of the Great Hall,” Magliari said.
That's a revenue-enhancement too far for Chicago Tribune architecture critic Blair Kamin.
To beleaguered commuters, the event must seem like Amtrak, the station’s owner, is fiddling with Roman-inspired architecture while they do a slow burn.

Every weekday, in the dismal underground east of the Great Hall, commuters run a gantlet of low ceilings and narrow corridors that lead to packed platforms. The crush is so bad that some riders complain that they never know if they’ll be able to make it to their train on time.

Is this any way to run a railroad station — Roman imperial grandeur for the few, a rat maze for the many?
Metra is a tenant at Union Station, and Amtrak behaving like a vaudeville landlord is nothing new. Will some corporate flack brag on the Enhanced Boarding Experience?

Chicago Sun-Times photograph by Nader Issa retrieved from Daily Herald.

Amtrak hope to be able to improve the concourse area once the waiting room is finished, and once money becomes available.
Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said [engineering consulting company] Arup created conceptual designs for future work on platforms, concourses, and tracks. As funding becomes available, he added, having those designs ready will create “a better way forward.”

Perhaps, but it would be better if the public could see the designs in order to assess them: Are the plans grandiose or practical? Would they improve the traveler’s experience? And how would they be funded?

In the short term, Amtrak can upgrade passengers’ experience by carrying out a key aspect of its vision for Union Station: It has moved a variety of functions, including its Metropolitan Lounge, as well as Amtrak ticketing and waiting areas, from the concourse building into the headhouse. Those moves, the railroad has said, will allow it to carve out room in the concourse so corridors can be widened, sightlines opened, and street-level entrances made more spacious.
Drive away enough passengers with weather-related cancellations and box lunches and the exercise is moot. The owners of Chicago Union Station allowed the concourse building to be destroyed as they expected to be serving only commuters once the long-distance trains disappeared.
Amtrak’s view, in essence, is that it had to fix the Great Hall before it could fix the concourse building.

With the restoration of the Great Hall essentially complete, it’s time for the railroad to finally deliver on that promise.
Which will be finished first, another improvement of passenger flow in the concourse, or a solid-state interlocking at Western Avenue?


To Jeffrey C. Isaac, whether you get hauled off in a tumbril or a Stolypin car probably doesn't matter.
I think it is a huge error to exaggerate the differences separating "democratic socialists" like Sanders and "progressive liberals" like Elizabeth Warren. And while I think vigorous debate about principles and policies is essential, I think it is also a huge error for these debates to become acrimonious or to become centered on abstract labels rather than concrete principles and policies. For it will be necessary, at some point in the summer of 2020, for all of the contestants to come together behind the winner of the primary, in order to defeat Trump and his Republican enablers. This will not be the end of debate, for the 2020 election will not be the last election—hopefully!—and democracy is an ongoing and unfinished project. But it will be the time to put some of the most heated debates on temporary hold, and to work together to support a Democratic victory.

As a left liberal who retains some sense of connection to his neo-Marxist roots—and who rejoined Democratic Socialists of America, after a 20-year hiatus, on the day after Trump's election—I personally lean in the general direction of Sanders and Warren, whose platforms are the most "left" of the many Democratic contenders.
Bully for you, Jeffy.  The good news is, the voters might not be so receptive.  "I am painfully cognizant of the fact that while there is much discontent, and while the left has made headway in some important quarters, American society in 2019 is not fertile ground for democratic socialism."

But in his world, he'd rather acknowledge the Cult of the Presidency, rather than confront socialism's record.
More importantly, the American state is being governed—or rather, mal-governed—by an aspirational fascist who, while he has no majority, does have a very strongly mobilized base, and has the power to create emergencies, and is doing his best to wage a campaign of vicious red-baiting.

In short, there are no guarantees that Trump will be defeated in 2020. He might well win, through some combination of an orchestrated crisis, a highly mobilized base, i.e., his mob, and acrimonious divisions among his opponents.
Perhaps that carping about "aspirational fascists" and the fretting about red-baiting will distract the true believers from the moonbattery among them. Did I say moon-battery? Call the roll, Jeffy.
While fine high-profile left candidates like [Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez] and Rashida Tlaib won in November, most of the Blue Wave involved centrist victories. That is a fact.

While the Democratic party now includes socialists and must respect these socialists, it is not yet, and is not likely to ever be, a socialist party. This means that it has many currents, and leaders, who are not socialist and who do not believe in socialism. These currents, and leaders, need to be recognized for what they are. And leftists and socialists who are now working inside the Democratic party and supporting leftist Democratic leaders like Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez need to understand that they need to argue with and sometimes challenge these other leaders, but also must work with them, and in all probability work in a context in which it is these leaders, and not the leftists, who will have the upper hand. This is simply how the balance of forces leans in the Democratic party—and until the U.S. adopts a different form of representation, and becomes a multi-party system, the Democratic party is where the action is on the left when it comes to national politics.
He misunderstands the governance of the United States. National politics isn't supposed to be one-policy-fits-all; the Tenth Amendment is explicit on this point. California and Connecticut and Illinois can become tax hells, whether or not they are explicitly socialist.  Those states can also be cautionary tales for the other states, where people might be aware of the socialist scam.
"Wow, a socialist who was elected on her promises to work 'for the people' is suddenly telling everyone she's in charge and they have to listen to her? That's really weird," said one man in Portland who dropped his world history class in high school. "I would have thought socialists never suddenly transform into power-hungry maniacs as soon as they get their first high from telling people what to do."

"It's just, I've never heard of that happening in the past, say, 100 years or so," he added before he had to return to his Starbucks shift, wrapping his work apron around his hammer and sickle T-shirt.
That's parody: even in Illinois, Starbucks have become more committed to good consumer service.

Even the leftists who would like to hijack the Democrats still have to respect bourgeois norms.  "But they have no reason to expect the many Democratic leaders and voters who are not on the left to agree with them. The debate within the Democratic party has shifted to the left, and this is good."

Maybe.  Is it really only three months until the first debates of the presidential nominating season?  Bleah.


A German radio station broadcasts a report from Milwaukee.  "Wenn Menschen in ein anderes Land kommen, dann bringen sie auch ihre Kultur mit und vor allem auch ihre Esskultur."  It's about importing customs, and food, from the Old Country.  In particular, it's a report recognizing the anniversary of the founding of Fred Usinger's sausage emporium with free bratwurst and all the trimmings and trappings.

The reporter seemed particularly taken by the emporium itself, in all its late nineteenth-century glory.

A few of the other landmarks of Old World Third Street also figured in the report.

"Deutsche Gemütlichkeit" in Milwaukee, sicher!



Michael Munger has good advice for policy wonks.
Don’t focus so much on the fact that the proposed solution won’t work.  Instead, grant the premise: “Yes, X (poverty, unemployment, poor education) is a problem, you are right. We agree about that.  But I think that your solution will do more harm than good.  If you really want to solve Problem X, research has shown that we should [Y].”
It gets more challenging when doing Y gets you some of good thing X but troubling consequence Z is also likely to follow.

The best you can do, perhaps, is to sigh, and try, and persevere.

That's all for February.


It's generally Cold Spring Shops practice not to pick on student journalists, but we make an exception for Chico State student newspaper columnist Rachael Bayuk's "White privilege is real. Stop acting like it’s not."

Arguably, she, and her newspaper, are getting lit up in the comments, probably after the insurrectionist websites circulated her story.  And perhaps she's simply writing talking points that she acquired at Morale Conditioning 099 or however Student Affairs brainwashes indoctrinates inculcates doubleplusgoodthink in new students.
If you want to say something like: “I don’t know why I can’t have those hair braids, I like them,” stop. Think about how privileged this sounds. Why should you get to wear a style and be complimented on it, while a black woman who does it can be labeled as “ghetto” or see her job prospects damaged just from wearing the braids that are part of her culture?
It's likely there's more information content than those braids at work, and cultural appropriation is an empty concept anyway. Don't read me, read her.
We don’t get to pick and choose what’s okay and what isn’t. That’s what colonialism has been doing for centuries-picking and choosing all the parts white, dominant culture likes and discarding the rest. Well, we should stick to box tea and lederhosen and stop injecting ourselves into places we don’t belong.
Wait, what, box tea and lederhosen???

If you're wearing lederhosen, you'd better know how to Schuhplattler, or perform Ein Prosit, or Gloria.

It's unlikely that you're sipping box tea.

You're going to need a Doppelbock before you read her next paragraph.  Set it down, though, and swallow first.
Our society has adopted celebrations from Mexican culture only to gentrify them. We mash them up beyond recognition until all they become are excuses to drink and wear “funny” (racist) costumes. There is not a single thing funny about racism. The systematic oppression and crude depictions of people of color is unacceptable.
Boy, she sounds like a lot of fun on St. Patrick's day. (Oops, better run to Confession Constructive Self-Criticism and do my Hail Maos before the wokescolds try to pillory me.)

I wonder if Californians have gentrified Oktoberfest, and if they even observe Oktoberfest, if the local Bavaria soccer collective does fund raisers.

I repeat, because repeat I must, "give these kids an America to buy into, and an America that buys into these kids, and we'll be OK."

Those poor True Believers at Chico State, not so much.
Being an ally is being willing to fight along side them for the fair treatment they have not been afforded. Being an ally is being willing to be shot with pepper balls at rallies. Being an ally is using this privilege to make a change and not demanding recognition for it.

Let’s stop saying things aren’t fair, or they are racist when we aren’t invited to something. Our voices have rung through these mountains for far too long. It’s time we hold the megaphone up for the people who need to be heard.
Be careful what you ask for.

That is all.



One of the primary causes of Amtrak legislation in 1970 was a Penn Central proposal to replace all of its long-distance (which mostly ran overnight) trains with daytime-only, short-distance trains.  Outside of the Northeast, with what later became the Boston - Washington Acela route, and the New York - Albany - Buffalo Empire Service, that would have meant whatever remaining passengers there were might have to change trains in Buffalo (traveling Rochester to Ashtabula) or Cleveland (Erie to Toledo) or Pittsburgh (Johnstown to Mansfield) and if you were headed from Crestline to Mattoon, well, you were already sod-out-of-luck.

A year ago, the Penn Centralling of Amtrak was still a theoretical possibility.  "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."

It's now the plan.
The Wall Street Journal reported today that [Amtrak] will reveal as early as next month its plan to redesign the route structure outside of the Northeast Corridor, with emphasis on the fast-growing South and West. The idea is to run trains between big city pairs in these regions during the times of day that people travel—in other words, during daylight. This comes with a problem for many of you: Many if not most of the long-distance trains along these corridors would be sacrificed.
The plan, if that is a plan, is a warning to Jim "Trains and Travel" Loomis, that he ought be careful what he asks for.
Long-distance train travel is an enjoyable experience for us. We enjoy the changes in the passing scenery. We enjoy the time away from whatever responsibilities or concerns we face in our daily routines. We enjoy the interaction with other passengers over meals in the dining and lounge cars.

But most of us no longer expect too much from the experience. We’ve become tolerant of our trains often running late. We’re forgiving of the short-staffed dining car crews and we miss the on board amenities. It always seemed to me that the souvenir coffee mugs and the complimentary toiletries and the newspaper slipped under my door during the night was Amtrak’s way of saying, “We know you’d be there by now if you had chosen to fly.”

We travel by long-distance train because we enjoy the entire experience. And because we enjoy it, we’re willing to pay for it. But I do believe many of us who routinely choose to travel in sleeping cars are coming to resent it when Amtrak increases fares while cutting corners at our expense.

If there’s one thing about those of us who travel in sleepers I wish the current Amtrak decision-makers would really grasp, it’s this:

We don’t really need you, so stop pissing us off!
Amtrak's response: find a cruise train, or book that flight.
Stephen Gardner, Amtrak’s senior executive vice president commercial, marketing and strategy—is that a long enough title for you?—telegraphed exactly what’s in store during a 30-minute presentation at Rail Trends in New York City in November. Stephen didn’t lay out any specific suggestions, but he did state the problem. I’m going to skim you through his presentation.

“We’re looking at a different America. They do not live half in the city and half in the country. Now the vast majority live in major metropolitan areas. And those metro areas are shifting. The Northeast will be a net loser. Where growth is happening is in the South, Mountain West and West. And guess who lives in those metro areas? It’s Millennials, by far. [Gardner later states that Millennials are grossly underrepresented on long-distance trains.] What this creates is a mismatch between population density, transportation demand and our current network.

“The question is whether we can adapt and serve these markets. . . .Texas and Florida are two of the biggest and fastest growing states. We have negligible service. How do we get passenger rail in those markets? We have a bunch of products there that aren’t working.

“The vast majority of trips are short distance. And 85 percent come from the top metro areas. . . .Long distance trains will always be a key part of our business. But the vast majority of the riders of these trains go less than 600 miles. . . .Only 8 percent of the coach passengers go the whole distance. Only 250,000 people purchase a sleeper in our network, a very small group. Our long distance trains are being used for shorter distances, in our corridors. . . .We have a shrinking long-distance business over time. As a proportion of our ridership it gets smaller. Poor on-time performance is a huge liability, and we need better equipment and food. We have to appeal to a broader group of folks than just retirees who have the luxury of taking a trip once a year. . . . We are trading route miles for passenger trips by serving a lot of route miles but not a lot of people.”
But if they're going to divide the passenger routes, oughtn't they pay more attention to how well the regional trains make connections?  It's an old gripe of mine, but setting up the Chicago area corridors to suit the freight train pathing of the host railroads isn't going to help build the regional business.  Try it: can you get from Kalamazoo to Bloomington or Macomb in a day?  Milwaukee to Ann Arbor?  Indianapolis to anywhere?

If you're going to generalize the concept, perhaps it's wise to consider traffic flows.
What Gardner implied then and what the Journal reported today are that Amtrak wants to serve more people with the subsidy it receives from the federal government. The article used an example from my blog: Divide the City of New Orleans into daylight trains between Chicago and Memphis and Memphis and New Orleans. Also mentioned was Charlotte-Atlanta by daylight. At Rail Trends, Gardner lamented there is no Amtrak service between Dallas and Houston.
In some ways, that's reinventing an old service along Illinois Central, where a number of Chicago - New Orleans trains became Chicago - Memphis trains, and some of the Chicago - Memphis trains became Chicago - Carbondale trains, and a vestige of that service remains after Illinois spent some money on a second train.

Charlotte to Atlanta, as an extension of existing regional service in North Carolina.  It has possibilities, but will Norfolk Southern go along?  Dallas to Houston?  That currently involves a change of trains at San Antonio, and the Houston train runs only three days a week.  Might the private sector get the job done first?

There are additional sources of amusement, some of them involving regulatory takings, and the attempts of the freight railroads to be compensated.
Amtrak’s experience in starting new services or increasing frequencies is that it must pay to expand capacity on host railroads. Usually the bill is a Christmas wish list submitted by the Class I, CSX Transportation and Union Pacific being the worst offenders. Still, it’s their property and their capacity that Amtrak seeks to soak up.

The other problem is legal. These new trains would be almost all under 750 miles in length, and by current law the states they traverse are required to pay for them. Unless Amtrak thinks it can perform this magic (or unless I am missing something), there needs to be some change in federal law to let Amtrak run such trains as part of its national system. Amtrak’s authorization must be renewed by Congress in 2021, and this is probably where everything will be hashed out.
Looks like I won't lack for material.