30.1.19

AS LONG AS THERE'S NO PLACE TO GO.

Seriously, it's not a fit day out for man or beast.


The roads are passable, but the authorities are recommending that people not travel.

Amtrak have gone from reducing service out of their Chicago hub to cancelling all trains for and from Chicago.  There will be a few arrivals of long-distance trains at Chicago, otherwise Union Station will be for commuters only.  The two electrically-operated commuter lines have reduced or cancelled service.

How cold is it?

28.1.19

THE ALL-WEATHER MODE ... ISN'T.

Yes, there's a fair amount of snow at Cold Spring Shops headquarters.


Northern Illinois University have already cancelled classes and rescheduled basketball games this week in anticipation of the snow, and a cold snap that is due midweek.

Amtrak, perhaps in recognition of the difficulties winter throws at railroads, and perhaps acknowledging the parlous state of its rolling stock, has reduced its schedules for the Chicago-area regional trains.
Chicago-Milwaukee Hiawatha route: Four round trips are scheduled to operate: trains 330, 331, 334, 335, 338, 339, and 341, 342. Three round trips (trains 329 and 332, 333 and 336, 337 and 340) are cancelled Jan. 29-31.
That's the Chicago-originating train, with 329 offering the early-morning trip to Milwaukee, turning as 332, then becoming the midday 333-336 turn and the early evening 337-340 turn that ties up in Chicago. If the one rake that lays over in Milwaukee overnight breaks down, they have a problem.
Chicago-Carbondale route: Chicago to Carbondale Illini No. 393 is cancelled Jan. 28-30; Carbondale-Chicago Saluki No. 390 is cancelled Jan. 29-31. Both directions of the City of New Orleans are scheduled to operate, as are corridor trains 391 and 392.
The City runs a few hours ahead of the cancelled trains, and the 391-392 pair is the morning departure for Carbondale, turning to return to Chicago the same day.  The January 31 departure of 393 from Chicago will become the February 1 consist of 390.
Chicago-Detroit/Pontiac Wolverine route: Trains 351, 352, 353 and 354 are scheduled to operate; trains 350 and 355 are cancelled on Jan. 29-31.
The cancelled train is the morning turn out of Chicago that returns the same day. The other two consists stay in Pontiac overnight, and if those are delayed heading to Chicago, there should be spare consists available in Chicago to protect the outbound schedules.
Chicago-St. Louis corridor: Trains 301 and 304 are cancelled Jan. 29-31. All others, including the north and southbound Texas Eagle, are scheduled to operate.

All trains are scheduled to operate on the Chicago-Quincy Carl Sandburg/Illinois Zephyr route; the Chicago-Port Huron Blue Water route, and the Chicago-Grand Rapids Pere Marquette route.
In like manner to the Michigan service, 301 is the first departure for St. Louis, returning that day as 304. It appears that Amtrak are hoping for 303 to get to St. Louis in time to return as 306.

THE POWER TO TAX IS THE POWER TO DESTROY.

Vanessa Williamson seems sure that new Member of Congress Alexandria "Sandy" Ocasio-Cortez (Naïf-N.Y.) is onto something pushing for higher marginal tax rates.  "Progressive taxation should work as a corrective tax, like tobacco taxes or a carbon tax, fixing the problems created by exploitative capitalism."  But Ms Williamson could use a primer on tax elasticities.
Progressive taxation should work as a corrective tax, like tobacco taxes or a carbon tax. Sure, tobacco taxes raise some revenue for the states. But their primary purpose is to curb smoking. While a carbon tax could produce a lot of government revenue, the real point is to limit global warming pollution. In essence, corrective taxes try to put themselves out of business; if tobacco tax revenues decline because people quit smoking, or if carbon taxes stop rolling in because the economy becomes fossil-free, that is victory, not defeat.
Doesn't that depend on what the revenue objective of the tax is?  Municipalities that tax pop don't see the revenues they'd counted upon.  "Curbing obesity suggests a relatively elastic demand. Raising significant tax revenue suggests a relatively inelastic demand. Ramsey-optimality means raising that revenue with the least excess burden (deadweight loss, for the traditionalist.)"  It works the same way for tobacco taxes or carbon taxes or any other sort of taxes.
Imagine if you are a CEO, already making enough to be in the top income tax bracket. If the marginal tax rate in that bracket is 70 percent, any increase you get in pay is going to cost your company a little over three times what you’ll actually take home. The rest will go to Uncle Sam. No wonder company boards become more discerning in approving executive pay increases. High tax rates make it a lot more costly for wealthy people to fling money at one another for no reason.

This has an implication for public budgets; to the extent that individuals’ fortunes are reduced from the obscene to the merely very large, top marginal tax rates collect less revenue.

It would be an error, then, to use revenue as the sole justification for progressive taxation. This is not to say that Democrats are making a strategic mistake in pairing, rhetorically or even legislatively, big spending programs with progressive taxes. Both proposals are popular, after all.
Popular, perhaps. Intellectually coherent, not so much.
Economics is often like that, the policy-maker has to make trade-offs. It might be more productive to say "We will find this much reduction in obesity accompanied with that much additional expenditure by our poor on food a successful policy. The same reduction in obesity with more than that expenditure will not be in the public interest."
Perhaps Ms Williamson can close her eyes and chant, "Wisconsin is not a tax haven.  Indiana is not a tax haven.  The Cayman Islands are not a tax haven."  But wishing it's so doesn't make it so.  "What is the revenue yield of a privilege tax when there are no businesses subject to the tax?"

REVERSING SEVERAL SHAMEFUL ACTS OF VANDALISM.

Because the Geniuses who Designed Transportation saw a General Good in running expressways through the middle of cities, much of the richness of city neighborhoods had to go.  One such neighborhood was Milwaukee's Third Ward, in which the Italian produce businesses and Italian congregations once thrived.  Much of it was in the way of a downtown expressway interchange that had to be situated there, the better for office workers to be able to drive to their tract houses at a distance.  It was the same mind-set that led to the destruction of two High Victorian red-brick passenger train stations, both of which were in the way of that General Good.

So, too, was the Blessed Virgin of Pompeii "pink church" which at one time hosted the summer Italian festival.  There's still an Italian cultural center in the Third Ward, and the festival is part of the ethnic festival rotations at the Summerfest grounds.

The expressways?  The Geniuses are slowly being mugged by reality.

Now comes an urban infill project, living in cities again being a Thing, complete with a new church that honors the design of the old pink church.

27.1.19

WHO HID THE HOLY GRAIL IN THE HALL OF THE MOUNTAIN KING?

The latest half-season of Vikings on The History Channel is about to wrap up, perhaps with a coalition of several chieftains about to march into Kattegat and topple Ivar the Boneless.  It's got the makings of a civil war, with Ivar's brother Hvitserk and half-brother Bjorn making common cause with Harald Fairhair and assorted others on the invasion, while Ivar's other surviving brother Ubbe has bested yet another anonymous warlord in single combat, perhaps losing an eye and gaining wisdom in the bargain.

Somewhere to the west, Floki thought he had found his way here.


To his great shock, he winds up in a different opera.


I exaggerate, but only slightly. Here I thought it was Bishop Heahmund who was going to connect with the Templars and spirit the Grail off to Oak Island, but he's finding out whether St. Peter or the Valkyries are in charge.

Meanwhile, Ivar has gone completely around the bend, declaring himself divine, having a totem pole carved in his own image, and taking his revenge on people who desecrated the idol or otherwise displeased him.

Perhaps I'm finding too many contemporary sensibilities in Vikings, but look at the banners in Ivar's great hall.


Once you see what I see, you'll have trouble unseeing it.

Let's see if there's a "Who Shot J.R?" moment to stimulate interest until the final season airs.

THERE HAS TO BE A BETTER WAY TO DO SECOND CHANCES.

Reason's Steven Greenhut argues, "Making Community College 'Free' Will Harm Serious Students."
Community college already is dirt cheap, at $46 a credit. Making it free will only assure that people who aren't particularly serious about getting an education will take up space in sought-after classes, thus making it tougher for others to get into their preferred classes. This sounds harsh, but people unwilling to invest $1,100 a year in their own education perhaps ought to find something else to do. There is nothing like spending one's own money to force people to take the coursework seriously.

There are many ways to come up with that relatively small amount and the state already waives fees for the poorest students. And adding additional student aid through Cal Grants will help some people pay for four-year universities, but one of the reasons that college tuition has soared well beyond inflation – and beyond the prices of most consumer goods—is that the aid itself is inflationary.
Let's walk that cat backwards.  The state already mandates attendance in the common schools, up to the age of sixteen or eighteen or through the tenth or eleventh grade, depending on the jurisdiction, and that benefit is sometimes ill thought of by disengaged or disruptive students, who perform poorly and wreck teacher morale.  (Teachers, like non-commissioned officers, spend eighty percent of their time on twenty percent of their charges, most of that attempting to straighten out the screw-ups.)

But consigning the kid who is a screw-up at ten or fourteen or sixteen to a life of penury and misery isn't smart either.  Thus there's the GED equivalency testing to get into a college or a trade without the benefit of a high school diploma or a hitch in the military, and sometimes that pays off, although there's still some difference in the performance of GED matriculants compared with the holders of diplomas, and that difference might reflect unobservable differences in intangible human capital.

The education establishment in the United States could sort and track youngsters starting at an earlier age, the way the Germans do, and the way high-achiever parents do when they enroll their spawn in Ivy League Prep Day Care, but perhaps part of the problem is that well-meaning policy makers have pronounced anathema on inculcating the habits of the upper middle class, which is really all that Ivy League Prep Day Care does.

At the same time, free and open admission, particularly with generous add-drop provisions, leads to the situation Mr Greenhut writes of, in which not-terribly-engaged students sign up for courses, thus causing them to be closed more quickly, then their lack of preparation lowers the general level of rigor in the courses, and then those generous drop deadlines mean no failing grades on their transcript.  I saw that often enough at Wayne State years ago.

24.1.19

SHE'S RIGHT ON THIS BIT OF HISTORY, RUSH.

Tuesday afternoon, Rush Limbaugh devoted a segment of his show to the possibility that Establishment Democrats were looking for a way to exile new Congressional sensation Alexandria "Sandy" Ocasio-Cortez (Naïf-N.Y.).
With Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, nobody would know who she is outside of New York City if it weren’t for the national Drive-By Media.

So the day’s gonna come. The day is gonna come when somebody is gonna tell somebody to take her out, and this is why so many people have been paying attention to the Democrat dinosaur leadership in the House reacting to her and this new band of Millennial freshmen that she’s leading around. Do not misunderstand something. The Democrats are thought to be unified, and they are when it comes to agenda items and objectives and their collective hatred for us.

But they’re like any other organization. There’s a pecking order, there’s a leadership, and it takes a lot of time and work and devotion and trust to get into that small leadership circle. This is one of the things that’s always amazed me about the left and journalists. The journalists have always pushed communist leaders and dictators. They’re somehow enamored of them. They envy their power. They would be the first people sent to jail in a legitimate communist takeover!

They would not be invited to all the cocktail parties and the policy discussions. They’d be packed off to jail along with their computers, typewriters, phones, and whatever else they use to report the news. They would be silenced and shut up. They’re the first to go, and they do not realize this. Well, in the Democrat Party leadership, Nancy Pelosi… I don’t care what you think of her. You may think she’s out to lunch. She may be turning a little out of it and so forth.

But make no mistake about something: She runs that place, and there’s no upstart little crumb cruncher that’s gonna come along and change that. If these upstarts go too far in challenging her, they are gonna be taught a lesson. As is the case with all young upstarts, they are fearless and think that the old people are just a bunch of old people that don’t get it anymore. Their time has come and passed, and it’s just a matter of time before they wield control of the baton from these aging dinosaurs.
Perhaps so, and yet, to borrow from Thomas Kuhn, paradigms shift one election, and sometimes, one funeral at a time.

Although Mr Limbaugh uses some comments the new representative makes about the New Deal as illustrations of her naivete, or perhaps as reasons for the Combine to talk with some friends of their friends in Carnarsie, what's really going on might be yet another attempt to extend the power of the Administrative State.
The New Deal, up until this crowd came along, was the signature achievement of the Democrat Party. It was FDR. The New Deal is what formalized the idea that Democrat voters are forever dependent on Washington and thus the Democrat Party. The new deal launched the idea that government could provide for, take care of for everybody who can’t take care of themselves and the numbers of people that can’t take care of themselves will grow exponentially as the Democrats start making the illusion they’re taking care of people.

The New Deal was the thing Democrats were the most proud of. It was the thing that sent them on to party dominance. The New Deal. FDR. You can’t find a bigger hero. And here comes this guy, Ta-Nehisi Coates, who’s also a race activist as well as being a so-called left-wing intellectual asking Ocasio-Cortez, “How we escape the perils that overtook us during the New Deal, which actually in many cases opened up a wealth gap?"
"New Deal," which Silent Generation relics have often invoked in reverential terms, as if simply saying its name turns away objections the same way a crucifix turns away the Devil, is, yes, the received rubric of Democrats, with the hagiography comprising Franklin, John, Lyndon, and Barack, while Harry, Jimmy, and Bill are faithful acolytes.

President Roosevelt, however, did have to hold together a coalition of industrial-state factory workers, academic brains trusters, and Southern Democrats, and the current insurgency of young ethnic Democrats might be the final fracture of that coalition.
Social Security was the foundational building block of the New Deal. It made people Democrats forever and for the rest of their lives. Now all of a sudden here comes these upstarts with the idea that there was some kind of wealth gap because of the New Deal. I can’t wait to hear what Ocasio-Cortez says about this.

CORTEZ: People think about reparations as reparations for slavery. But really, economically speaking, reparations are for the damage done by the New Deal and redlining because that is where we saw a compounding of the existing inequity from the legacy of slavery where we drew red lines around black communities and we said white communities will get home loans and they’ll get access to the basic bedrock of wealth in America, and this will be your heirloom.

RUSH: What?

CORTEZ: And we gave white America an heirloom that appreciated over time that people still benefit from today and we did not give that to African-American, Mexican communities, Puerto Rican communities.

RUSH: Oh, man, this is news. The Democrats abandoned people of color in the New Deal? You young-uns out there may not realize the blasphemy that she just said. The New Deal was the Democrat Party’s signature achievement. Before the Great Society and all the other garbage that LBJ did, the New Deal was the gold standard. Now here comes this bunch claiming that it left out African-Americans, that it left out Puerto Ricans, that it left out Mexicans, and it gave the heirloom to white Americans, and…
The Democratic coalition was primarily Americans of European extraction. Thus the Davis-Bacon Act might have been a compromise to safeguard union rights nationwide, without antagonizing those Southern politicians who might otherwise have denounced any protection of organized labor as communistic.  The federally funded demonstration greenbelt communities were, explicitly, sundown towns.  There's a notorious example, to this day, of a real wall, as well as more than one implicit wall, separating Detroit from its northern suburbs.

Now, if the representative is ready to clean up the political machines that have contributed to the continued privation in the more diverse districts of the country, good for her.

I'm not sure that she is.
The inequities, the legacy of slavery drew red lines around the black communities? And they say Trump doesn’t know what he’s talking about? Red lines around the black…? She doesn’t even know what a red line is! We drew red lines around the black community? You can find them on the map. She’s probably saying she’s go looking for the red lines around Harlem. They’re there. You’ll see ’em if you get the right map.

White communities will get home loans and they’ll get access to the basic…? Does she not even know what caused the financial crisis in 2008? It was mortgages for people that couldn’t pay them back, and this access to money for home loans will be your heirloom and we gave white America an heirloom that appreciated over-time…? So people that have anything didn’t work for it. It was given to them by the New Deal, but the New Deal shafted minorities.

Folks, you get people like Brokaw or Pelosi or any of the other of ’em hearing this and this is panic time. “We can’t allow this…” I mean, the Republicans haven’t been able to damage the New Deal, and the New Deal was a disaster for America. Don’t misunderstand. It was an absolute disaster! Because it created the whole idea… The purpose of the New Deal was to create Democrat voters in perpetuity. The New Deal was to Americans as illegal immigration is to the Democrats today.

It was about creating a permanent underclass that would forever vote Democrat by giving ’em just enough to not have to eat medicine for food, just enough, just enough to keep ’em out there and voting Democrat for maybe a couple of more crackers next year, all the while blaming Republicans for not giving you five crackers when the Democrats can come up with three. So it was about creating a permanent Democrat majority via creating a permanent underclass, and they’re redoing the New Deal here with amnesty for illegal immigrants.

But she’s coming along and ripping the whole concept of the New Deal as racist. Ha-ha. Republicans can’t even get away with this, and we’ve tried. Okay. There’s one more, and this is the piece de resistance. Talking here to Ta-Nehisi Coates interviewing Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and I’ve warned everybody that the millennial population of this country has been poisoned. They’ve been propagandized and brainwashed that the nation is ending, the world is.
Mr Limbaugh is an entertainer with a political point of view, not a student of urban policy.  Had he done more show preparation, he might have found "Washington Forced Segregation on the Nation" in Reason.
When Franklin Roosevelt became president, the nation was facing a desperate housing shortage. Many black and white working families lived in neighborhoods that, while integrated, could rightly be described as slums. To improve the quality of housing, as well as to provide jobs for construction workers, one of the first New Deal agencies, the Public Works Administration (PWA), demolished housing in many such integrated neighborhoods and built explicitly segregated housing instead. The policy created racial boundaries where they had not previously existed or reinforced them where they had taken root, giving segregation new government sanction. In Atlanta's "Flats," the government demolished a neighborhood that was about half white and half black to build a public housing project for whites only, with a separate project for African Americans farther away. In St. Louis' DeSoto-Carr neighborhood, housing in a similarly mixed neighborhood was demolished to build a project for African Americans only, with a separate project for whites built in a different part of the city.

This, it should be emphasized, was not primarily a program for the South or border states. In Northern and Midwestern states, the federal government's New Deal programs and local housing agencies worked together to create segregated patterns that have persisted for generations. In his autobiography, The Big Sea, the African-American poet and novelist Langston Hughes described going to high school in an integrated Central Cleveland neighborhood where his best friend was Polish and he dated a Jewish girl. The PWA cleared housing in that area to build one project for whites and another for African Americans. In Cambridge, Massachusetts, the Central Square neighborhood between Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology was about half white and half black at the beginning of the 1930s. The federal government demolished integrated housing there to create two racially separated projects.
The proper point of disagreement with the representative over housing policy is over what is to take the place of the failed government policies, more khrushchobas in the best Soviet fashion, or more commercial freedom and less restrictive zoning.

The Great Society programs, whether you call them urban renewal or model cities, only compounded the situation the representative is referring to.
Urban public housing combined with FHA-subsidized whites-only suburbs to create a "white noose" around urban black families that persists to this day. Every metropolitan area suburbanized in the mid-20th century, with all-white subdivisions surrounding an urban core where African Americans were concentrated. In 1968, the Fair Housing Act permitted African Americans to access previously white neighborhoods, but it prohibited only future discrimination, without undoing the previous 35 years of government-imposed segregation.

This had not just social but economic consequences as well. In suburbs such as Levittown, Lakewood, and San Lorenzo, houses in the 1940s and '50s sold for about $100,000 (in today's inflation-adjusted currency), twice the national median income. FHA and Veterans Administration amortized mortgages made such homes affordable for working-class families of either race, but only whites were allowed. Today, all are technically welcome, but homes in these places can sell for $400,000 (or more), seven times the national median income—unaffordable to working-class families of either race. Consequently, whites who suburbanized with federal protection in the mid-20th century gained $300,000 (or more) in equity that could be used to pay for a child's college education, care for their elderly parents, subsidize their own retirement income, cover medical expenses or other unforeseen economic emergencies, or bequeath wealth to children and grandchildren, who then had down payment funds for their own homes. Black families and their offspring, who largely remained in cities as renters, gained no such security.

Although average African-American family incomes today are about 60 percent of average white family incomes, average African-American household wealth is only about 10 percent of average white household wealth. This enormous disparity is almost entirely the result of unconstitutional federal housing policy in the last century, which explains a good part of the racial inequality that we see all around us.
Perhaps the best thing for the government to do is to go away, or at least to do less.  Dear reader, that's an opportunity to fracture the Democrat's current unstable coalition of urban poor and high-status gentry more effectively than anything the self-styled progressives try.  " If our racial separation stems from millions of individual decisions, it is hard to imagine the millions of private steps it would take to undo it. But if we learn and remember that residential segregation results primarily from forceful and unconstitutional government policy, we can begin to consider equally forceful public action to reverse it."

Meanwhile, if the acolytes of government intervention recognize that President Obama ought not be in the hagiography, as on his watch "[t]he American electorate responded [in 2010, 2014, and 2016] by delivering important losses for the Democrat Party at every single level of government," and that President Roosevelt was just another compromiser keeping the emergent majority down for another fifty years, we might be in for interesting times, and for the possibility of trying new approaches to governance, including governing less intrusively.

PASS THE POPCORN.

Caitlin Flanagan summarizes the Zeitgeist in one sentence.  "You know the left has really changed in this country when you find its denizens glorifying America’s role in the Vietnam War and lionizing the social attitudes of the corporate monolith Procter & Gamble."  She's being imprecise to make a point, which is that "Vietnam-era veteran" is currently a protected class, in part because of Our Intellectual Betters regretting having behaved badly going on sixty years ago, in order to send less-privileged contemporaries off to war, and more importantly because returning veterans were hard done by, unofficially by those same Intellectual Betters, and more officially by the very same government that was supposedly building a Great Society.  As far as Gillette is concerned, their managers are likely making the same mistake their contemporaries made half a century ago, that of confusing the noisy radical protesters with all the young people of the era.  Fifty years ago, ten years ago, today, "making a national virtue out of transgressiveness leads to madness."

That's still the case today.  Here's Ms Flanagan, cautioning the Shapers of (Coastal) Opinion.
I am prompted to issue my own ethics reminders for The New York Times. Here they are: You were partly responsible for the election of Trump because you are the most influential newspaper in the country, and you are not fair or impartial. Millions of Americans believe you hate them and that you will causally harm them. Two years ago, they fought back against you, and they won. If Trump wins again, you will once again have played a small but important role in that victory.
Indeed.

REFEREES ARE LESS ACCURATE BECAUSE THEY HAVE REPLAY REVIEW.

Over the weekend, the Los Angeles Rams survived the conference title game in New Orleans, aided, it would seem, by a penalty not called.
Drew Brees' third-down pass to Tommylee Lewis fell incomplete with less than two minutes remaining in regulation, but only because Nickell Robey-Coleman committed obvious pass interference. However, the officials did not throw a flag, and the Saints were forced to settle for a field goal.
In the afterwards, defensive back Robey-Coleman noted that he was looking around in fear for a penalty flag, and the National Football League office advised Saints head coach Sean Payton that the referees missed the call.

That, of course, has provoked a lot of discussion about expanding the set of plays that are subject to challenge, or that might be subject to review by the High Priests of the Clickers late in the game.

Please, anything but additional opportunities for further review.  The games go on long enough, and a factoid that I saw someplace earlier this week noted that "only 37%" of calls that were challenged were reversed on review.

Put another way, almost four of ten calls that prompt a review are incorrect calls.  Yes, the referees' union argues that the referees are evaluated for accuracy.  All the same, I can't help but suspect that in the absence of replay review, there would be fewer controversial calls because the opportunity to make a decision and have it clarified on appeal would no longer be present.  Think of it as a corollary to the Peltzman effect.

IT IS NEITHER AMAZING, NOR COLOSSAL, NOR A SYLLABUS.

It's too darned long.
If you’re a faculty member, you’ve spent the last few weeks preparing your syllabus for the spring semester. You’ve updated the document and added a little to it. This latest round of edits may have pushed your syllabus another page longer — most now run about five pages, though nearly every campus has lore of some that exceed 20.

Lamentations about syllabus bloat started emerging about seven years ago in moods ranging from nostalgia to bemusement to curiosity to irritation to full-blown ideological critique. Based on 20 years of serving on curriculum committees and working with academics across the disciplines on teaching, I agree that, yes, the typical syllabus has now become a too-long list of policies, learning outcomes, grading formulas, defensive maneuvers, recommendations, cautions, and referrals. As a writing-center director who has encouraged instructors to add a pitch for tutoring services, I’m complicit.

About a year ago I started asking students how much they typically read of a multipage syllabus. Most told me they simply stop reading on Page 2. Even the high achievers rolled their eyes at long syllabi.
I would hope it is "especially" the high achievers.  Conditions of carriage are for ships at sea in times of war and unimaginative process worshippers.
My preference for a shorter syllabus started inching in this direction about six years ago when a cluster of faculty members who regularly teach the same course in my department shared their course materials with me. I found all of their syllabi to be smart and dutiful — but one stood out because it read like an invitation to a party, even as it promised just as much intellectual rigor as the others and articulated clear ground rules.

My syllabus, by contrast, read more like a mortgage. I was trying to cover every contingency. The core problem, I realized, was that I was thinking of the syllabus as a contract. Indeed, that seems to be the default metaphor of syllabus design, and multiple pages amplify the effect.
Multiple pages apparently have led to a new convention, syllabus week, and perhaps faculty recovering some of their classroom time for, oh, teaching and learning, might be a favorable development.
I’ve noticed a pleasantly jarring effect when I hand out my own syllabus on a single sheet of paper (with information on the back and front). Students flip it over a few times, as if looking for hidden pages. They look up, expecting more. When we review it together, there are no faces behind screens, and we move through it pretty swiftly. (For me, syllabus review is never the centerpiece of the first day of class — I give it about 10 minutes and then move on to the reading assignment I have sent students in advance … but that’s a topic for another column.)
The balance of the essay anticipates most of the objections the process-worshippers will raise; if you are still facing the classroom, read and understand and trim your course outline, and make constructive use of your course management platform.

Yes, dear reader, I did say course outline.
The two-pager still includes my major readings, themes, and assignments. It is akin to the abbreviated table of contents we find in some books. This approach allows students to see the basic shape of the semester and for me to explain why I do what I do much better than a detailed grid of weekly readings and assignments does. The more simplified initial approach takes us closer to the etymology of "syllabus," which came from a misreading of Latin sittybas, from Greek sittuba for parchment label, title slip, or table of contents.
Bingo.

23.1.19

IT'S ANOTHER SNOW DAY TODAY.

Would have been nice to have had some of the snow a month ago, to accent all the houses that were lit up.

We're just that much closer to the trains of summer, though.


Enjoy.

RESPECT THE LAWS OF CONSERVATION IN ECONOMICS.

Mat Yglesias, currently one of the elder statesmen at Vox, revisits Elizabeth Warren's The Two-Income Trap.
It’s an important read as the 2020 campaign begins because it offers unvarnished insight into the evolution of Warren’s thinking as she moved from being a Republican in the mid-1990s to the left-wing Democrat we know today. The policy ideas she espoused 15 years ago are considerably smaller-scale than the platform she’s developed over the past decade, but the diagnosis that's led her to her current positions are all right there in the book — a book that argues that the fundamental structure of the American economy has shifted in a way that loads the dice against middle-class families.

She also frames the issue in some unusual and provocative ways that could end up hurting her with feminists or, more optimistically, broadening her political appeal to reach swaths of working-class America that are open to a progressive economic agenda but more inclined toward traditional views on family life.
Hm, once upon a time we lived that world (sort of) as the American High just after the War.  But one part of the economic agenda fifty years ago came into conflict with family life.
Warren’s central argument in the book is that this rise in household income was almost entirely driven by the increase in the number of two-earner families. And adding income by adding a second worker, she argues, has very different economic implications than rising pay for a single worker. In practice, the book says, the increasing ubiquity of two-earner households leaves families in more precarious financial circumstances with more brittle budgets that were more prone to tip over into insolvency if a problem cropped up.

The basic thesis that middle-class Americans need help is a lot less controversial today than it was when Warren wrote the book, but the fact that she was thinking along these lines in the mid-aughts is crucial to understanding her worldview: To her, America’s economic problems have roots that far predate the Great Recession and that require something much more fundamental than a macroeconomic recovery.
Indeed it did.  Mr Yglesias's summary of the Warren and Tyagi argument is instructive.

First, "The addition of a second earner means, in practice, a big increase in household fixed expenses for things like child care and commuting."  That change, by itself, is not necessarily fatal to the increased labor force participation of women.  But the Indifference Principle is going to arise somewhere.  Increased labor force participation by women means increased demand for child care and commuting means the prices of those services get bid up, even if Our Political Masters try strategies, whether subsidizing the day care and the expanded roads, or bringing in illegal immigrant nannies.  We can discuss, another day, how much of that household fixed expense used to be the unpriced marital services under the old dispensations.  We'd best not disregard it.

Second, "Much of the money that American second earners bring in has been gobbled up, in practice, by zero-sum competition for educational opportunities expressed as either skyrocketed prices for houses in good school districts or escalating tuition at public universities."  It doesn't have to be zero-sum competition, bidding up the prices of houses in good school districts might be reason for school districts less well thought of, or universities not atop the U.S. News league tables to lift their game, but then, haven't I been griping about failures in education at any level to do so for years?  But it does have to be the case that those additional incomes manifest themselves in bid up prices for the additional services.  "You do have school choice, provided you're willing to pay the premium for the house in the better school district. And the right preschool? No wonder the younger kids have no imagination ... they've not had the chance to develop one."

Third, "[W]hile the addition of the second earner has not brought in much gain, it has created an increase in downside risk by eliminating an implicit insurance policy that families used to rely on."  That's the stuff of Bedwell and Dellinger fiction wherein the wife of the laid-up railroader takes in washing or boarders to tide the household over.
Bad things have always happened to families from time to time. In a traditional two-parent, one-earner family, there was always the possibility that mom could step up and help out when trouble arose.

“If her husband was laid off, fired, or otherwise left without a paycheck,” Warren and Tyagi write, “the stay-at-home mother didn’t simply stand helplessly on the sidelines as her family toppled off an economic cliff; she looked for a job to make up some of that lost income.” Similarly, if a family member got sick, mom was available as an unpaid caregiver. “A stay-at-home mother served as the family’s ultimate insurance against unemployment or disability — insurance that had a very real economic value even when it wasn’t drawn on.”
Let's note, though, that the world of boarding houses and the steam railroad wasn't that idyllic, even when the extra board was turning over regularly and the men weren't getting hurt.  Nor was it particularly conducive to capital formation.  The same thing is true today.
But most families, of course, didn’t build up big financial cushions. The main financial savings vehicle for the American middle class was the owner-occupied home in the good school district. But the only way to tap that asset is to sell it and move someplace less desirable, disrupting children’s lives and risking a tumble out of the middle class.
Or scrimp along and hope to cash in once the children launched. Check that mid-twentieth-century fiction, dear reader, you won't find many twenty-something kids roosting in the basement.

Mr Yglesias notes, though, that a social milieu less celebrative of transgressivity might be of value to the pluggers and strivers.
But the book does connect with social conservative concerns on a number of levels. First and foremost, it is grounded in a realistic portrayal of the fact that most people have jobs rather than careers and that for most modern mothers, working is less a choice than a practical economic necessity. Second, from the title of the book on down, it is focused clearly on the problems of normative two-parent middle-class families and how to facilitate their existence and comfort rather than dwelling on the arguably more acute concerns of marginalized groups. Last and by no means least, the whole premise of the book is that having and raising children is an important activity that should be valued by society — taking issue with both free market dogma and the notion that family life is just a lifestyle choice on par with pet ownership or a hobby.
At The Week, Matthew Walther extends that argument.

How many ways do I have to point out that you deconstruct institutions, particularly those of long standing, at your peril?

WHY ECONOMISTS STRESS OPPORTUNITY COSTS.

It's a lesson I have to repeat every so often.
Third-party payers such as insurers and government-guaranteed lenders attenuate the pressure to discover prices.  It's that phenomenon that causes me to cringe whenever somebody speaks of containing health care "costs."  I still have no idea why a passive stretching device rents for $120 a month out of network but $40 in network, or what determines the network, but I sure got familiar with those terms and those bills, and a nice refund of a copay once the insurers sorted it out.
Matt "Dean Dad" Reed gives me occasion to repeat it.
Folks who follow higher ed policy debates know that price and cost are not the same thing. But most people don’t. So, a brief foray into “explainer” blogging follows.

Price is what a college charges. Cost is what a college spends.
To a first approximation, yes, although in the absence of price discovery, both in the quoting of tuitions and in the hiring of deanlets, it's incomplete.

Perhaps, as Dean Dad puts it, you offer a discount on tuitions as a way to produce a larger cohort of Clear Thinkers, which might have a spillover benefit or two.
[At state-supported colleges and universities] price is a fraction of cost by design.  The point of charging less than the cost of provision is to provide access for people of modest means, and to encourage people more generally to go to college.  It’s based on a judgment that higher education is enough of a social good that it’s worth discounting at the individual level. Given the way that income tends to track over the life cycle, discounting during the early low-income years is a practical necessity for many. 
In addition, there's an information problem: there is no capital market that will underwrite borrowing against future lifetime earnings, as nobody knows who the high earners will be fifteen to thirty years hence, which precludes creating a portfolio of contingent claims to underwrite student loans.  On the upside, that makes it difficult for universities to quote tuitions in such a way as to extract the present value of future earnings of the high earners, although the scramble to get into the Ivies might be creating conditions under which that's possible.  Sometimes, the legislators who fund the state colleges and universities toy with latter-day indentures, the better to capture in the form of future taxes the current tuition subsidies inherent in those discounts.

Perhaps we can stipulate that on the revenue side, colleges and universities compete, in the form of amenities, financial aid packages, and reputation, all of which has at least some effect on limiting tuitions.

That competition, however, might be distorted precisely by the presence of third-party providers, whether of subsidies or loan guarantees or in the form of alumni donations.  That's an effect the dean misses in his discussion of the follies of cost containment for its own sake.
I bring this up because I periodically hear that tuition increases are signs of out-of-control spending.  They can be, but frequently, they’re efforts to compensate for losses in other kinds of support. Put differently, they’re attempts to save the quality of the institution from an austerity-driven death spiral.  Contrary to popular belief, they may not be signs of bad management; depending on circumstances, they may represent responsible stewardship.
Perhaps that's true in the community college and regional comprehensive universe, where the out-migration of population and the continuing deterioration of the common schools are concentrating the minds of legislators and state boards of higher education, who might have to close entire campuses as a consequence of their counties or districts or states losing out in the competition among jurisdictions.

I submit, though, that there is no factor-minimal cost function for higher education, in part because there are insufficient incentives for the people in charge to discover them.

22.1.19

AFTER THEY'VE TRIED EVERYTHING ELSE?

Perhaps our thought leaders will see the logic of bourgeois manners.

Over the weekend, the angry voices who see in the Media Narrative a steady diet of Fake News, or who might be willing to believe that the Angry Left and their lackeys in the Establishment want Normals dead had little reason to rethink their priors.

That's got David Brooks thinking about something more substantive than the crease in Barack Obama's trousers.
The Covington case was such a blatant rush to judgment — it was powered by such crude prejudice and social stereotyping — I’m hoping it will be an important pivot point. I’m hoping that at least a few people start thinking about norms of how decent people should behave on these platforms.

It’s hard to believe that people are going to continue forever on platforms where they are so cruel to one another. It’s hard to believe that people are going to be content, year after year, to distort their own personalities in service to a platform, making themselves humorless, semi-blind, joyless and grim.
It probably came to this years ago, when the Ruling Class's enablers first in the academy, later in journalism, and finally in entertainment, figured out that they could dress up their hectoring, condescending, and deplorable-shaming as Respectable Opinion.  No sooner did the humorless, joyless, and grim Hillary Clinton concede the presidential election than did all of her fans on social media decide it wasn't enough to be upset, no, they started scolding or otherwise being nasty to anybody who wasn't fully in on the wake.  As the social media platforms are property of Hillary fans, the owners were less careful about enforcing any sort of decorum than, oh, any owner of a sports bar is whenever the tournament of the current season is under way.

Their behavior has mugged Rod Dreher by reality.
I’ve been so busy here that I’ve not been able to follow the continuing fallout over the Covington Catholic boys and the terrifying thing that has happened to them. We now know that Nathan Phillips, the elderly Native American guy, flat-out lied about what happened — and the media fell for it. The Covington boys became international hate figures instantly (I say “international” because people here in Dublin were talking about it).

They were not guilty. At all. And yet, the moral insanity of this story continues to astonish.
I suspect Kurt Schlichter is going to be in fine form Thursday, and not because of the Formerly and Yet Again Los Angeles Rams playing in the Super Bowl.  Mr Dreher isn't quite yet in Schlichter territory.  But wait.
I was telling my Irish friends last night that it’s impossible to overstate how powerful this event is going to be for right-of-center Americans. It’s even more powerful than the Kavanaugh debacle, in terms of showing how so many progressive elites are driven by vicious contempt for those not like themselves — especially white male Christians. It’s not a crime to dislike preppy white Catholic boys in MAGA hats. But to attempt to destroy them, on the basis of faked “evidence”?

I would like to remind our left-wing friends that when Trump is re-elected in 2020 on the strength of votes by people who have been frightened by the prospects of liberals and progressives in power, think of the Covington boys, and what was done to them. As in the Kavanagh mob action, the left tried to destroy because the hate figures symbolized people they loathe: white, male, Christian conservatives. At least in the Kavanaugh case, there was a chance that he was actually guilty. It took almost no time to prove that these boys were not guilty. And yet, even after evidence vindicated them, many on the left continue the hatred. Because it feels so good.
That's the same left that would like to attenuate or repeal the Second Amendment, but I digress.
In the cab from the hotel to the airport, I got in touch with my inner Thomas Friedman, and talked to the cab driver, an older white Irishman. He told me that he thinks Donald Trump is “a dangerous man,” but “I’ll tell you, political correctness has gone too far. He’s right about that.” Get this: an Irish cab driver doesn’t like Trump at all, but thinks he’s necessary, because the forces lined up against him are too powerful and malign. This morning, at least, I have come around to his way of thinking. Yesterday, someone made the point in my hearing that Trump has no regard at all for the truth, but the Buzzfeed report the other day, and now the national left-wing freakout over the Fake News of the Covington Catholic boys shows that despite its pretensions, many liberal elites don’t care for the truth either.

The cab driver talked about the Yellow Vests protests in France. He said they’re starting in Ireland, but he doesn’t know how far they’ll go. “We’ve got to do something in this country,” he said. “The people who run it are ruining the place. The inequality is something. They’re only out for themselves.” He denounced the ruling class bitterly.
It could be worse. Much worse. Dov Fischer notes it might not be the Angry Left that's on the side of the angels, either.
Because conservatives — social conservatives, theological conservatives, political conservatives — slept for the past half-century, we ceded too much of value to the Left. That which makes America great continues to be the values associated with conservatism. People from all over the world who try to enter our country, whether legally or otherwise, are not marching in caravans because they seek the life of Ferguson, Missouri or Detroit, Michigan. They want the America of wealth, of safety and low crime, of economic prosperity and limited governmental interference.
That's encouraging, as it might be the case that the Democrat strategy -- if that is in fact the Democrat strategy -- of importing pliable voters to keep voting for soak-the-rich taxes and expanded public assistance -- might backfire.

The balance of his essay, however, is anything but encouraging.

HALL MONITOR SYNDROME.

Put another way, it's the tendency of self-styled problem solvers to forget not to be stupid about being smart.  "Elizabeth Warren is Hillary Clinton reborn, and they’re both unlikable, because they’re both inauthentic scolds who suffer from hall monitor syndrome."  That might be the highlight of a Sultan Knish post,  or maybe he's just warming up.
Likable people are people we might enjoy having fun with. Unlikable people ruin other people’s fun.

Elizabeth Warren has a likability problem because it’s hard to imagine her liking anyone. It’s all too easy to imagine her turning that look, which owes nothing to the Cherokee, but much to some dour Swedish ancestors hardened by centuries of exposure to freezing winds and colorless skies, upon us.

Warren, like the authentic hard-core progressive, doesn’t like people. She sees them as problems to be solved. Unlike Hillary, she isn’t animated by a free-floating bitterness and resentment. And probably doesn’t have a flow chart of enemies or voodoo dolls of everyone who ever thwarted her on a shelf.

But hating the human race less than your 2016 candidate does not a 2020 candidate make.

Lefties succeed when they pretend to like people. The best of them, like Obama and Hillary’s better half, are narcissists who thrived on the adulation of the campaign trail. But Warren doesn’t like people. Until recently, she avoided doing interviews. Her campaign debut had the frenzied desperation of careful planning. Unlike her rivals, she avoided people, until she had to grit her teeth and dive in all the way.
What, only a year now until the Iowa caucus?

BEER IS FOR CHUGGING.

I've griped, before, about any reference to a railroad project "chugging along," and yet the fourth estate persists.  "Cascadia Interstate High-Speed Rail Authority Chugging Toward Legislative Approval."

It's not about buying land and laying tracks, as the process worshippers have to do their thing first.
The legislation would provide up to $3.25 million in biennial appropriations through 2021 to establish the authority in partnership with the State of Oregon and Province of British Columbia. The move takes Seattle a step closer to one-hour train trips to Portland and Vancouver, British Columbia.

“Feasibility studies show that our region has the critical mass of a growing population, the muscle mass of a great economy and the traffic problems to justify a system like this,” the Governor’s Office said. “The development of a new ultra high-speed corridor authority will take this project to the next level.”

The legislation specifies that the interstate high-speed rail authority would be charged with developing an organizational structure that operates harmoniously across two states, a province, and an international boundary. The structure would need to address issues like governance, operations, contracting requirements, jurisdictional laws and regulations, and the powers of the authority.
It's an ambitious map, with a north-south line from Vancouver, B.C. to Eugene, Ore.; and an east-west line following the old Northern Pacific route from Spokane via Pasco and Yakima to Seattle.  At least the legislators are making no little plans.
Recommendations from the authority would need to be submitted to the governor and state legislature no later than June 30, 2020 on any laws, regulations, or agreements necessary to achieve corridor development. As a basic framework to deliver a regional high-speed corridor, the authority would need to build upon results from a business case study, which is currently in development, and ensure that whatever high-speed rail technology is ultimately chosen will be capable of reaching at least 250 miles per hour at top speed.
When the Germans built their fast passenger train lines, they tunnelled through a lot of hilly country. The existing north-south service has some curvy stretches at sea level, and skirts a number of volcanic ridges on the inland sections.

You might have seen the terrain headed inland on a truck commercial a few years ago.


Eagles' Nest, 11 May 1957
John Karlson photograph.

The location is in Montana.  The Washington portions of The Milwaukee Road's electric operation were as rugged, and featured similar trestles, cuts, and tunnels.  Northern Pacific's Stampede Pass line was similarly challenging.  Let's see what comes out of the recommendations.

THE HAYEK SIDEWALK PLAN.

Michael Munger provides a useful introduction to the emergence of institutions.
We often think of “law” and “legislation” as being synonyms, but F.A. Hayek famously argued that there are important differences. If we start with individual habits, or patterns of behavior that have become so commonplace that we act almost without thinking, we can understand much of the daily lives of individuals.

Habits that are shared might be called “customs,” informal rules that might be written down nowhere. These are agreements, in the sense that we all agree that is the way we do things, even though we never actually sat down and signed anything.
After much struggle, I came up with a working definition of "institutions" as those informal or formal conventions by which people would structure their interactions. Professor Munger's essay fills in some of the missing steps, by which the informal conventions become codified.  That's easier to write down than it is to implement.
Those customs, if they consistently lead to useful outcomes, are “laws.” They are discoverable by experience and emerge in the form of traditions. But it is useful to write them down so that they can be enforced more effectively and can be easily learned by new generations. Laws that are written down are rules, commands, and prohibitions we call “legislation.”

The problem is that legislation need not arise from law at all. Legislation is any procedures that a set of political actors use to command citizens or restrict their actions. The idea of a speed limit (although see Germany’s autobahns!) is probably both a law and legislation. A rule that protects a company from the scolding winds of competition just because government actors own stock in that company is legislation, but it violates the obvious law against artificial privileges in capitalism.

The “rule of law,” for Hayek at least, is a situation where all legislation simply codifies and illuminates the law. There may be many laws that are not legislation (some are just “manners,” and needn’t be legislated), but in an ideal rule-of-law system there is no legislation that is not also a law.
There, dear reader, things get more difficult, as we are only recently thinking about the logic of institutional emergence, whilst the governance structures we inherit date to the emergence of civilization, which is to say codifying the relationship between the hunters, farmers, and craftsmen who make stuff and the soldiers who defend the operatives and the thinkers who forecast the eclipses and the bad weather.  Somewhere, there is a line between the warlord partially constrained and the government deriving its just powers from the consent of the governed, but that's not a bright line.  The will to power of the warlord, or the will to power of the astrologer, is still there.  "The reason this is important is that Hayek was rightly concerned about the conceit common in 'experts' and legislators that they know what is best for everyone else."

To steal from the old "Best of the Web" in The Wall Street Journal, "What Would We Ever Do Without Experts?"

Maybe, we think more like opportunity seekers than like problem solvers.
I often illustrate this with what I call the Hayek Sidewalk Plan. Imagine that a new university has been built, and you are on the committee charged with laying out the sidewalks. What would you do?

You might walk around, look at aerial maps of the campus, and draw lines to try to guess where people will want to walk. Or you might want to have a purely aesthetic conception of the problem, and put the sidewalks in places or in patterns that are pleasing to the eye as you look out the windows of the administration building.

But all of that is legislation. No individual, or small committee of individuals, could possibly have enough information or foresight to be able to know in advance where people are going to want to walk. After all, universities are peopled by broadly diverse groups, with heterogeneous plans and purposes. People are often willing to walk on the sidewalks, if that serves their purpose at that point. But you probably don’t want to build a sidewalk from every doorway to every other doorway on the campus.

What would a law look like, in this setting? No one person, after all, has any effect walking on the grass, and all the different plans and purposes, taken one at a time, contain no information that you can use. But there is a physical manifestation of the aggregation of all these plans and purposes working themselves out over time. I don’t intend to make a path, and neither do you. But if enough of us, over time, find it useful to walk in the same place to accomplish our own idiosyncratic purposes, a visible record of the shared pattern emerges: a muddy path.

So, the law for the Hayek Sidewalk Plan committee will be discoverable if we adjourn for six months or so and then have a drone take some overhead photographs. It is clear now where people, acting as individuals but observable together in the shared result called a muddy path, want the sidewalks to be placed. And the task of the committee is simply to “legislate” by paving the muddy paths.

If we think of the process of discovering law as “looking for the muddy paths,” and legislation as “paving the muddy paths,” we have a simple but quite powerful way of thinking about the rule of law.
It doesn't have to be laying out the sidewalks at a new university, the approach Professor Munger describes is precisely how the Physical Plant at the University of Wisconsin (and a few other universities not named Northern Illinois) approaches the installation of sidewalks when new buildings go up.

I'm not sure, though, what a debate between opportunity seekers and problem solvers resolves as, as long as the problem solvers have their "moral equivalent of war" (recalling, dear reader, that the history of governance involves a warlord who drove off the barbarians and a holy man who anticipated a hurricane) as a basis for clinging to their powers.

YOU CAN'T BEAT THE BEACH.

That's a mid-1980s slogan for the late, lamented Crystal Beach Amusement Park, which, like many amusement parks in tourist country, was sitting on land more valuable as condominiums or outlet malls than for a summer of thrills, arcades, and sugary treats.

Score one for Green Bay, in which a public-private partnership involving the Green Bay Packers might mean the restoration of a beach at Bay Beach Amusement Park, to go with the Zippin' Pippin' roller coaster, which might be there (in part, unless you believe in butterflies) because a visiting tourist made a suggestion 35 years ago.

It appears as though the beach, once it's restored, will be part of the city park, and the amusement park has no admission fee, with attractions on a pay-as-you ride basis.

Beachfront roller coasters on the Great Lakes.  Life is good.

21.1.19

THE AIRLINE GANG STILL WANTS TO CURTAIN FIRST CLASS OFF.

Yes, Amtrak have restored something resembling a dining car with a menu on the eastern overnight trains, but it's a private club with the amenities of a high school cafeteria.
Yes, in addition to the new menu, apparently the dining cars are back on these two trains. This time, however, they are for the exclusive use of people in the sleepers. Coach passengers will not be allowed in the diner, but welcomed to the Cafe car where they can purchase—well, you know, the same-old-same-old.

As to the new arrangement, I confess I don’t know what to think. As appetizing as the new entrées appear to be, these meals are still prepared off-site and heated on board. And barring coach passengers from the dining car? What kind of message does that send?

It’s hard to believe, but it does appear that Amtrak’s top management (i.e.: Anderson, Gardener, et al) did not expect such a universally hostile reaction to their “contemporary dining” venture.. which means they still do not understand why people like me choose to travel on long-distance trains. Shouldn’t that be a prerequisite for those key jobs?
That train left the station a long time ago, probably about the same time the business school types figured that Wise Experts with the Current Buzzwords could manage anything, whether it was a railroad or a steel company or a machine tool works.

CREATIVE DESTRUCTION.

Give Arian Horbovetz the Trenchant Observation of the Day.
In your city, the number of options for good food and booze has likely increased significantly over the last 10 years. But since our median incomes haven’t doubled, or even close, the amount of money we allocate for eating and drinking out has obviously not increased enough to support them all. Instead, we will likely see a virtual “survival of the shiniest” as the new and hip trends overtake the old standbys.

And this is nothing new in urban commerce, especially with regard to the restaurant and bar scene. Evolution has always been a part of this dynamic. It is, however, something we often take for granted. As our options for a night out grow and increase, be it a sporting event, a bar crawl or an incredible Farm-To-Table dinner, our budgets to enjoy all that our cities have to offer likely do not. The more plausible reality is that we simply take our money that we used to spend in a few places and we spend it in a few others, a scenario that will obviously lead to the untimely end for many of our longstanding options.

This concept is especially important to understand when we talk about casinos, large scale entertainment districts, and the subsidizing of entertainment options. Ultimately, these new and shiny things will simply split our budgets further, putting a greater hurt on other local business owners. When we talk about growth, or an increase in “vibrancy,” we have to be very conscious about where the energy (in this case, patrons) is coming from. There is only so much financial and temporal fuel for growth and change in our communities, so when talking about growth, we must be cognizant of what is growing and what is just being redistributed.
That doesn't change just because tax money is being used to pick winners, or, more frequently these days, to keep the current sports team from leaving.

HAVE WE GAINED ANYTHING IN EIGHT YEARS?

In the course of cleaning out clutter (mostly, alas, at a geologic pace) I found a Chicago Sun-Times column by Steve Hundley who argues "Osama bin Laden is dead, and it's time to declare mission accomplished in Afghanistan."  That column is beyond the reach of a cursory online search (at least using my skills) although a Huffington Post roundup of reactions that is still available offers a few remarks in a similar spirit.

Mr Huntley does not say "declare victory" and his post invokes a few threats of years past, including Al-Qaida in Yemen, the Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt, and the usual suspects working with Iran.

Toward the end of the column, he asks,
If Afghanistan collapses into chaos, so be it.  If nearly 10 years of nation building at the cost of thousands of U.S. casualties and billions of dollars hasn't put it on the path to modern nationhood, how will the sacrifice of more American lives and financial treasure do the job?
His concluding paragraph, however, ought be sobering.
If Afghanistan collapses in ruins, it might be an object lesson for other nations harboring terrorists:  This is what happens to your country if it's used as a base to attack and kill Americans.  If fact, that might do more to protect American lives than all the nation building taxpayers can no longer afford.
That presupposes Afghanistan is a country.  I like the description somebody -- was it Richard "Belmont Club" Fernandez -- made of Afghanistan as the space on the map where there are no countries.

But with the Permanent Establishment still unhappy about Our President wanting to bring troops home from Syria and other outposts of Jihadistan, it's worth asking whether, at the margin, the additional nation building efforts achieved anything.  A column by Jerrod A. Laber in The American Conservative will reward careful study.
The paradox of preventive war is that military success is distinct from strategic success. You can best your opponent in battle, but that doesn’t mean you have reached a political solution that creates the conditions for lasting security and peace. Instead, engaging in preventive conflict can incentivize the very behavior it seeks to prevent, creating the conditions for less security in the future.
Indeed so. I make no claims to even armchair strategist status, and yet, could we treat relatively recent events as making a case for the continued garrisoning of Charlottesville with a regiment of Sheridan's cavalry, seven score and fourteen years after the liberation of Richmond and the surrenders of Lee and Johnston to respectively Grant and Sherman?

20.1.19

SPEAKING OF THOSE PRE-EMPTIVE TRAIN CANCELLATIONS.

Because of the snowstorm that came through Friday evening, the Mid-American Conference postponed or moved up the start times of much of the weekend basketball schedule.

The storm itself delivered about six inches of snow in DeKalb.  After the storm comes the polar air.


The roads are in tolerable winter driving condition, and there's a basketball game to get to.

A NUDGE FROM SALENA ZITO?

She departs from her more usual Rust Belt coverage of industrial populism and cookie tables to call out Amtrak for forgetting that a train is not an airplane, even when that might be a major impediment to riding the train between Pittsburgh and the Nation's Capital.
Thanks to sharing the line with freight, that almost always means a 20-90 minute delay in leaving. Then there's the nearly eight-hour trip, twice what it takes me to drive there. Flying would only take an hour.

So why ride the rails? For starters, there's the joy of looking out your window to swaths of the countryside you’d never see if you were flying over them or cruising along the Pennsylvania Turnpike.
Where, sometimes you see the ruination of smokestack America, and sometimes you see the resurgence.

Where, until recently, you had the opportunity as a coach passenger to go aft to the dining car at first call for breakfast.
The post office in Meyersdale, Pa., is charming. The decay of the old brewery in Smithton, Pa., is hauntingly beautiful. The rapids of the Youghiogheny at Ohiopyle, Pa., are breathtaking. So are the sleepy little towns like Hyndman, Pa., and Paw Paw, W.Va., where the "long, long, short, long” warning whistle of the train at each crossing echoes off the mountains that surround these valley towns.

What happens inside the train matters as well. One of the true charming parts of the ride is the dining car experience. It isn’t just the warm, buttery grits and the crisp bacon. It is the people you meet because of the communal dining.

It was there on the Friday before former President Barack Obama’s first inauguration that I met African-Americans traveling from as far as California by train to attend his inauguration. From veterans of the civil rights movement to young people caught up in his aspirational rhetoric, we were all sitting, conversing, sharing stories, and experiences.

Last Monday, when I boarded the train for the first time this winter, I discovered the warm, buttery grits were no longer an option, replaced by a tub of yogurt and granola. In a box. Dinner now came in a box. So did lunch. Gone were the crisp, white tablecloths, and gone were the people who always cheerfully made whatever meal you wanted.
Gone, too, were the passengers to converse with: her essay includes a photograph of a vast, empty Cross Country Cafe. Like this.


That's from my August trip, westbound, facing away from the pantry and trash bins.

She joined the ranks of disaffected travellers, taking up their complaints with the manglement.
My first reaction was: If I wanted to be treated the way I am on an airline, I would take one. I took to Twitter and Facebook to express my disappointment in my best mom tone.

A call to Amtrak at first met deflection. As is the norm with spokesmen these days, they declined to talk and tried to insist I put my questions in email.

Persistence, however, done courteously, sometimes does prevail. Apparently I wasn't the only objector. Amtrak returned to hot meals by this past Wednesday.

The crisp, white tablecloths and the jobs have not returned. In fact, a month ago, employees held a small rally in D.C. to protest the dining service changes and the threat of outsourcing the 1,700 union food and beverage jobs.

Change is inevitable. Change is important. But it is often spurred by erroneous assumptions.

As Peggy Noonan commented on Twitter, “Amtrak’s new management thinks trains are planes. A lot of us are on the train because we don’t want to be on the plane.”
Yes, and the mind-set that trains are planes extends to the pre-emptive cancellation of train service in the Official Region in advance of an incoming snowstorm.

Ms Zito has also added her voice to that of Passenger Rail advocates who have for some time suggested that current Amtrak president Richard Anderson and some of the other members of that Delta crowd take cross-country train rides and sound out the passengers.

At least for now, on the long-distance trains west of Chicago, there are still dining cars with white tablecloths and passengers who appreciate good food and conversation.

ECONOMISTS NEVER LACK FOR WORK.

Columbus Alive columnist Rob Moore invokes settled social science to prevent the local professional soccer squad from robbing more taxpayers.  "A highly respected poll of economists conducted last year found 24 major economists agreeing that stadium subsidies will cost taxpayers more than the economic benefits they generate. Only one economist dissented. This isn’t quite 'existence of climate change' level consensus, but it’s pretty close."

It's probably a higher level of consensus, as "climate change" per se is present as long as there are sun-spots, and the earth following an elliptic orbit of variable eccentricity whilst precessing on its axis.  There's probably more variation, particularly among economists, about the policy proposals Our Political Masters have in mind for the anthropogenic components of climate change, than there is about the rent-seeking generated by stadium subsidies.