28.2.19

EVERYTHING ELSE IS COMMENTARY.

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.

WOKE BEYOND PARODY.

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.

26.2.19

HISTORY RHYMES.

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.

STANDING ATHWART HISTORY, YELLING STOP?

Francis "Manhattan Contrarian" Menton apparently hasn't heard of Fabian gradualism. Progressivism: What Is The Limiting Principle?
Always (or at least, always before now) the progressive proposals to make the world perfectly just and fair have been presented one by one. Wouldn’t the world be so much more fair if we only had free (government paid) college for all? Many people look at such a proposal and think, sure, that would make things a little more fair; I guess I could get on board with it. Then, wouldn’t the world be so much more fair if we had universal (government paid) health care for all. In isolation, same reaction. Separately, wouldn’t it be great to “save the planet” by getting carbon emissions under control (by some form of government subsidy and/or command)? Addressed separately, and with no context of what other proposals may be coming, many people find themselves nodding along. With your attention diverted from the big picture, any of these proposals might get your support.
The "wouldn't it be nice" ratchet has been screwing over people much longer than that: the interstate highways, and urban renewal, and the Great Society, and the story is always the same: self-congratulation over good intentions never compensates for bad policy.  Go, read and understand Thomas Sowell's The Vision of the AnointedI'll wait.

Pace Mr Menton, it is the nature of Fabian gradualists to keep ratcheting up the crises.
Is any single Democrat ever going to say, for example, I support universal single payer health care as our first priority, and therefore, let’s be honest, we’re never going to also have total transformation of the energy system, free college, reparations, high speed rail everywhere, universal job guarantees, universal housing guarantees, and all those other things? I’ve never seen it.

I haven’t seen any Democrat, or any spokesperson for the progressive side, ever mention this issue or offer any limiting principle. Isn’t it time we started to get some answers here?
There is no limiting principle.  Unfortunately, as Ross Douthat notes, the people who call themselves conservative are not respecters of limiting principle either.
They envision a larger communitarian panoply — civic associations, religious denominations, charities and universities and private schools — which needs protection against the jealousy of a centralizing state. And they tend to assume that keeping the American corporation embedded in this communitarian system is a better way to balance productivity and innovation and public-spiritedness than just trying to regulate and micromanage businesses into good behavior.

If you wanted to summarize the intellectual uncertainties of conservatives in the Trump era, you could say that the right is trying to figure out whether the unwritten American constitution it imagines itself defending still exists. And if it doesn’t, or if it’s failing, whether that means that “limited government” as a slogan and strategy is increasingly irrelevant when it comes to shaping the society that conservatives would like America to be.
Better, perhaps, to have control of that centralizing state with a different set of guarantees?  That is, might the implicit powers of the state be desirable per se, if simply being misused by the self-styled progressives.
Is America still a deeply religious country, with strong churches and growing denominations? Are American businessmen basically public spirited, eager to compete on equal terms once government removes its heavy hand, and natural allies for a political movement wedded to patriotism and religion?

For years now conservative critics and sociologists and intellectuals have been acknowledging that the answers might be no — that the country’s once-rich associational and civic and religious life is declining and dissolving, that corporate America embraces conservative slogans to keep taxes low and unions weak but otherwise seems post-patriotic and performatively woke, that the “silent majority” of hardworking, pious, culturally conservative blue-collar families is now essentially defunct.
That might be so, and it might also be the case that the best thing for the national government to do might be to stay uninvolved, as bourgeois convention might well be robust against transgressivity.

That's not going to reassure members of the political class, let alone the legions of pundits who rely on the activity of the political class to generate column inches (or is it clickbait these days?)
But while accounts like [Tim] Carney’s acknowledge the role of economic forces — globalization, trade, deindustrialization — in the dissolution of family and community, they also tend to insist, contra liberals and our new socialist vanguard (and also contra Trump), that this cultural collapse isn’t primarily driven by economic policy decisions and can’t be reversed by public policies or programs. Instead they tend to suggest that state interventions often just replace community instead of strengthening it and cast any communitarian revival as a necessarily local project, in which government can play at best a supporting, don’t-make-matters-worse kind of role.

These kind of arguments are still in continuity, then, with the basic conservative posture of the last few generations. But there are also increasingly partisans of rupture on the right, a loose group of state-power conservatives who hint that if the Tocquevillian dream is dying then the cause of “limited government” is increasingly irrelevant — which in turn would require conservatives to become more comfortable using the power of the state, and more engaged in centralized policymaking that has specific social and cultural ends in mind.
It's likely that advocates of a more interventionist national government will use disagreements between libertarian conservatives and national greatness conservatives as a tactic to question all advocacy for limited government.

For my part, I have to wonder why, if Our Political Masters had fixed health care a few years ago, they have to fix it again.  Or why we oughtn't ask how well the Great Society worked out.

It's straightforward to conclude that centralized policy making is unlikely to work out well, no matter who is in charge.

REVEALED PREFERENCES FOR TAX HELL?

In The American Spectator, R. S. "The Other" McCain wonders whether the star-and-glitterati crowd can be nasty toward Trump voters and wearers of #MAGA hats because such people might as well live on Christmas Island, or Mars.
It’s easy for someone like Alyssa Milano to hurls insults at Catholic boys from Kentucky, because she’s never been to Covington and none of her friends in Hollywood wear MAGA hats. She hates everyone who voted for Trump, all 62.9 million of them, and this blind hatred of Republicans defines the current liberal worldview. Anyone who’s looked at the map of the 2016 election results can see how Democrats are isolated, living in like-minded enclaves. Of the 65.8 million votes Clinton won in 2016, more than a third of them, about 22.5 million, came from just six states (California, New York, Illinois, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and Virginia). The post-election boast that Clinton won the popular vote rests entirely on the lopsided majorities she got in California (a margin of about 4.3 million) and New York (by a margin of 1.7 million). It’s tautological to say that, in the places where most liberals live, most people are liberal, but the geographical concentration of Democrat voters is such that few of them actually know anything about the people who vote Republican. To liberals, therefore, those red hats with the “Make America Great Again” slogan symbolize a distant and alien tribe, and everything the liberal sees on his favorite cable-news outlets, CNN and MSNBC, tells him to hate the MAGA tribe.
That geographic separation is real, and the sorting of like voters with like is real, as is the preening of the likes of Bill Maher and his artisanal ice cream, and yet that might not be the real story.

Look again at that list of the Democrat-plurality states.  "Guess what four states had the highest percentage of leavers in 2018: 1) New Jersey, 2) Illinois, 3) Connecticut and 4) New York."

The question, though, is, as voters catch on (as they will) that states cannot cease to be tax hells by becoming even more of a tax hell, will they migrate to other states and bring their metrofexual preferences with them?  And migrate they will.
Last fall, Connecticut, Illinois and New Jersey voters elected mega-rich Democratic Govs. Ned Lamont, J.B. Pritzker and Phil Murphy, who have promised to sock it to the rich -- the ones who haven't yet left. In Illinois, Pritzker would eliminate the state's constitutionally protected flat tax so that he can raise the income tax on the rich by as much as 50 percent. After raising income taxes three times in the last five years, Connecticut's legislature now wants to raise the sales tax rate. No one in any of these progressive states even dares utter the words tax cut. In just one decade, New York lost 1.3 million net residents; Illinois 717,000, New Jersey 516,000 and Connecticut 176,000. California has lost 929,000.
The victims might remove their sanction, and their businesses, but will they rethink their political beliefs?

25.2.19

CAPTURING THE ESSENTIAL ELEMENTS.

Children of all ages will notice. Shrewsbury model railroader’s circus train is accurate, down to the elephant dung.  In the story, that's an HO scale model of part of the Ringling Barnum train.
Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey ended its run in 2017. [Model builder John] Rezuke recalled seeing a little girl from a circus family with her puppy on the last circus train to visit Worcester that year. Her family had lived on the train traveling from show to show across the country, he said. “That’s what they called home,” he said. “Broke my heart.”

As it happened, he had started building the train shortly before Ringling Bros. announced it would be giving its final performances after 146 years. “When I knew about that, I wanted to bring this train into existence,” said Mr. Rezuke, a member of the North Shore Model Railroad Club and the Circus Model Builders Association.

The HO-scale train is 1/87th the size of the real thing, he said. “The real train was about 61 cars in length, including stock cars for the elephants and all sorts of other animals,” he said. “It had cars to house all the performers, a generator car to supply power, and a dining car called the Pie Car where they ate their meals. Wagons carried all the supplies they needed to put on the show.”
No elephants, no circus.


That's just a shameless plug.  The Karlson Brothers Circus will be opening the 2019 tour in Delavan early in March.

See you down the road.

ILLINOIS IS A GOOD PLACE TO BE FROM.

I'd say, pass the popcorn, but the latest bit of feel-good legislation out of Springfield is chasing the popcorn out.
Ryan Hopper, owner of Hopper's Poppers and an Oregon resident, said this is the last week the store at 422 W. State St. in Sycamore will be open. He said he is closing up shop in Sycamore and eventually in Oregon because Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker recently approved a statewide $15 minimum wage by 2025.

Hopper said three months ago, he and his wife Stephanie were looking at adding a third location for Hopper's Poppers in Roscoe – which would bring him closer to his five-location goal for the business. But the minimum wage hike and Illinois's notoriously high property taxes solidified the decision for his family to continue their business ventures outside Illinois.

“Our taxes added up and everything was just really starting to go against being able to make a living,” Hopper said.
For the time being, the family will provide the popcorn at the Sycamore Theatre, although longer term, the popcorn might be on the road.
Hopper said he's aware that he could just own the one store in Oregon, be happy and make an OK living with his wife, Stephanie, and his three children, who are all 8 or younger.

"But at the age that I’m at, I feel like I would benefit from taking my business somewhere else,” Hopper, 34, said.

Hopper said he also factored that his children aren't very integrated into the school system yet. He said he also has been looking at moving to North Carolina, home of a lower state income tax, lower property taxes and a lower minimum wage.

"I could open up almost three stores compared to the one I could have here" in Illinois, Hopper said.
For now, there will be a taco truck storefront replacing the Sycamore popcorn stand.  Perhaps that's a line of business more easily automated.

DON'T GET UPPITY.

The Milwaukee Brewers got to within three outs of a World Series last year, in part thanks to some creative use of the pitching staff.  "The terminology in Milwaukee is 'first out-getter,' and pitch counts are less important than outs recorded, and hitters deprived of opportunities to see a pitcher's style."

In the opinion of pollster Nate Silver, creative use of the bullpen is ruining baseball.
The issue isn’t really with relievers who face just one hitter at a time. In fact, LOOGYs — Left-handed One-Out Guys — are already fading in popularity as teams realize that if a pitcher isn’t good enough to face multiple hitters in a row, he may not belong in the bullpen pecking order at all.

Instead, the problem concerns teams that use a parade of relievers who enter the game from the sixth inning onward and throw the hell out of the ball, knowing they’ll probably max out at one inning at a time. (The Yankee bullpen is a prime example.) You might call these pitchers OMGs: One-inning Max-effort Guys. They can be incredibly, game-changingly effective, but they aren’t necessarily all that skilled.

In fact, the whole problem is that OMGs are a renewable resource, with no real constraints on supply. Teams can take failed starters with two decent pitches and, after some weeding out, turn them into OMGs who will strike out 25 or 30 percent of the batters they face, provided they only have to throw one inning every second or third day.
That answers a question I raised last fall about pitcher preparation. "The act of throwing a hundred pitches, give or take, to record eighteen to 21 outs, every fourth or fifth day, is different from the act of throwing forty to fifty pitches to record six to nine outs every second or third day."  Baseball teams still have a roster limited to 25 players, and you can't stock up on max-effort guys, and there are limits to swapping pitchers by sending one to the outfield.

But is it really ruining baseball to have designated out-getters?  Mr Silver thinks so, although he rests his analysis on a correlation of declining baseball attendance with increasing strikeouts, where the out-getters are able to be more effective.
It’s not just a coincidence that relief pitcher usage and strikeout rate are correlated in this way. When you take a starter and use him in relief — especially in a short stint that typically lasts only an inning or so — his strikeout rate will be usually be higher, and sometimes a lot higher. You can also expect him to throw harder and to use a more dangerous repertoire consisting of more fastballs and sliders.
Thus it's time for baseball to re-think its roster rules, and limit the number of slots for pitchers (no more than ten, plus one position player designated as "emergency pitcher") and a few other rule changes.

In good policy-wonk style, what Mr Silver wants to do is "change teams' overall attitudes toward pitcher usage."  The problem with any sort of wonkery is it leads to unintended consequences.

For now, the Milwaukee Brewers are back in training camp, and we'll see how their initial out-getter approach works.

24.2.19

BREAKING IN SOME BIG POWER.

The White Christmas we didn't have has given way to what looks like at least six more weeks of winter beyond Ground Hog Day.

That's OK as long as there is work to be done on the railroad.


I'm getting things ready for the upcoming Open Days during the March Meet.

IT TAKES TWO TO TANGO.

Norfolk Southern's senior vice president of transportation Mike Farrell explains Norfolk Southern's implementation of precision scheduled railroading.  "We’re not doing it to our customers, we’re doing it with our customers."  It sounds like Norfolk Southern are, in fact, rediscovering Nickel Plate High Speed Service. "Now NS trains are moving faster, cars are spending less time in yards, and the railroad has fully embraced its own version of an operating model it once dismissed."

In practice, it's rediscovering that concentrating on single-consignment freight trains can make for a clogged railroad.
A lot of what [Norfolk Southern] is doing is standard [precision scheduled railroading] stuff. For example, NS had optimized train services for each of the major business groups: intermodal, unit trains, autos and merchandise. Squires says this made sense for each of those groups, but not for the railroad as a whole, resulting in too much complexity. The new operating plan, TOP21, will be one network, not four. You may find an underfilled intermodal train hauling 50 stranded grain cars, in other words. Or to quote John Friedmann, VP of network operations: “By looking at Norfolk Southern as one network, things that were invisible to us in the past suddenly will become visible. Train 23G, going from Louisville, Ky., to Norfolk, Va., primarily hauls intermodal traffic. But now it carries coal as well. You see, in the Knoxville area, it took the small mines there almost a week to generate enough coal to fill out a unit train. And since train 23G was going through Knoxville anyway, it stops and picks up this coal, 15 cars at a time, saving locomotives and crews. And it gets the coal from Knoxville to Norfolk in less than 24 hours. This. . . is about finding efficiencies that were invisible to us when we operated four networks.”

An interesting change described by Mike Wheeler, the chief operations officer: Whereas train length used to be the focus, now it is train weight. The baseline is 6,400 tons, and NS plans to increase that number steadily, and this will help the railroad get more productivity out of its locomotives (something not accomplished by train length).
If that sounds like a throwback to the era of 70-ton cars and five thousand ton trains, if with bigger cars and longer trains, it does. As does the way you keep the yards fluid.
Run trains on time, switch cars in six hours, put each car on the right train and in the right block and do it all safely. Farrell, a Harrison protégé who spent more than a year consulting at NS before getting his current gig, said this: “For 14 months, I told this organization to run trains on time. For 14 months they told me they had no power, had no crews. I said you have plenty of power, plenty of crews. It’s just how you’re managing the resources. Within 48 hours of my announcement to this position, we went from 40 percent on time train performance [departures] to 85 percent. What changed? The level of expectation.”
To the extent that the railroad is balancing train workings, it has the opportunity to balance crew workings as well, with the benefit of being able to schedule some trains and crews in such a way that many crews are at home every night.  It sounds like contemporary information technology makes keeping track easier than it was in the days of telegraph sounder, train sheet, and wheel report.
There is a Cloud-based solution that requires very little effort, since everyone from train planners to train dispatchers are already in communication with one another by one means or another. Create a Cloud platform and require real-time inputs from all management functions that affect train origination and movement. Delays, route changes and deadheads, whether planned or unplanned, can adversely affect the availability of well-rested train crews.

However, arm them with an app, linked to the platform that collects and processes train movement and crew availability information, and railroads should be able to predict individual work events at least eight hours in advance of when people would be required to report for duty. Fewer would miss work opportunities, and many would report for duty more-well-rested and capable of performing their assigned work for shifts that can extend for up to twelve hours.

There are safety and economic benefits for all involved. Think about that.
The railroad is still going to run at all hours, though, and some of those know-eight-hours-in-advance calls will still be for a three a.m. departure from Minot or North Platte in the winter.

IT'S JUST A WAY TO ANTAGONIZE PEOPLE OF GOOD WILL.

The better part of a month after serial fabulist Jussie Smollett's story unraveled, GQ's Joshua Rivera was still shilling for full employment for diversity hustlers.
Whiteness in 21st century America has an endgame, and it is this: to divest itself from the shame of its power, while working to revive the fear it needs in which to thrive. And there is work being done, work done by panels of respectable-seeming men and women on cable news networks dismissing the red MAGA hat as innocuous, work done by politicians who continue to openly lie about the danger immigrants pose to Americans while choosing to ignore that almost all violent extremist crime is committed by right-wing terrorists, by the refusal to acknowledge that bigotry is alive and well, perpetrated by racists and homophobes targeting people like Smollett, criminals who have no qualms in sharing what motivates them. Hate needs to sign its work. That's how hate persists.

The assault of Jussie Smollett is not an isolated incident. Americans who do not fit the white, straight, male, or Christian mold of the ruling class are being targeted with concerning regularity, in synagogues and churches and nightclubs. The perpetrators are not all white, but they are cultivated in a culture built to reward the narrow slice of Americans that have lives that mirror those of the powerful and largely disregard the misfortune of those who do not.
Mr Rivera was venting the day after the story first made the news, and, as that news was the kind of story that made a lot of people comfortable with their prejudices, it's understandable that he wrote what he wrote.

His editors at GQ, however, offered a curious justification for leaving the column for all to see.
Editor's Note, 2/22: In the original version of this piece, published January 29, before allegations that actor Jussie Smollett had perpetrated a hoax, GQ made two errors in editorial judgment. We failed to clearly present the post as an opinion piece. And we regret applying unfounded political motivations to then-breaking news with the original headline: "The Racist, Homophobic Attack on Jussie Smollett Is Far-Right America's Endgame." We have altered the headline, but have otherwise left the original post unaltered.

Update, 2/21: Jussie Smollett was arrested this morning on charges of falsifying a police report.

Update, 2/20: This story is fast-moving and we're keeping an eye on the news as it develops. Read a complete timeline of events here.
Instead of sliming only "far-right" America, the editors fret about all of America.  Presumably they'll next issue a call for "dialogue" which any Normal understands as simply an opportunity for Morale Conditioners to hector and deplorable-shame.

It's not going to work.  Normals are wise to the scam.  Wilfred Reilly even wrote a book about the scam.
Doing research for a book, Hate Crime Hoax I was able to easily put together a data set of 409 confirmed hate hoaxes. An overlapping but substantially different list of 348 hoaxes exists at fakehatecrimes.org, and researcher Laird Wilcox put together another list of at least 300 in his still-contemporary book Crying Wolf. To put these numbers in context, a little over 7,000 hate crimes were reported by the FBI in 2017 and perhaps 8-10% of these are widely reported enough to catch the eye of a national researcher.
That is, there are still people behaving badly, and the fix is straightforward.  But a straightforward fix does not guarantee work, or the opportunity to preen and posture while working, to the diversity hustlers.
[T]he motivations of many hoaxers are honorable if misguided. In college campus hate hoax cases (Kean College, U-Chicago), the individuals responsible almost invariably say that they staged incidents to call attention to real incidents of racist violence on campus. Certainly, the media giants that leap to publicize hate crime stories later revealed to be fakes, and the organizations that line up to defend their “victims” — the Southern Poverty Law Center, Black Lives Matter, CAIR — think that they are providing a public service by fighting bigotry.
Those organizations might be making people with already tight priors comfortable with their prejudices, but every time they uncritically accept a too-gaudy-to-be-true story, they're simply antagonizing people who might otherwise be disposed to be helpful.

TO REDUCE THE RENT-SEEKING, REDUCE THE RENT-GENERATING.

It doesn't hurt to repeat the message, this time by Steven Greenhut in Reason.  "Maybe we can all embrace a reform idea that would actually work: reducing the size and power of government. Sadly, that is the one idea that will frighten the kind of politicians and activists who support campaign-finance reform." Yes, because the kind of politician or good-government type who thinks campaign finance reform will end corruption likely believes in unicorns.  "Get away from the Platonic world, and perhaps the most realistic view of taxing and spending might be: under carefully controlled circumstances, and as far from me as practicable."  Mockable pretensions are stock-in-trade for good-government types.  "Too much money in politics" without "too much reliance on government," q.e.d.

20.2.19

WHOSE PRIORS GET REVISED?

Sorry, I remember only enough about Bayesian updating to be dangerous, and yet the kind of conscience-cowboy who fakes a hate crime to raise consciousness provides evidence to the person whose prior beliefs are dubious about such things to revise those prior beliefs more strongly, and those actions weaken the prior beliefs of anyone who has some confidence that hate crimes exist and remains receptive to evidence.

A mini-dissertation continues below the jump.

IT'S A DIFFERENT SORT OF VOCATIONAL TRAINING.

Matt "Dean Dad" Reed would like to remove the stigma he perceives as attached to the community colleges.
Why pay thousands of dollars a year in tuition to send your kid to a private high school if the result is getting into the same college he could have attended coming from your local public school?  Community college stigma is part of what private high schools sell, whether consciously or not. Deprive them of that, and you threaten their reason to exist. You can expect them to respond accordingly.
We've long been in general agreement about the foolishness of the positional arms race that accompanies the sale of U. S. News guides, although we perceive the image problem the community colleges and the regional comprehensives have differently.

But there's a flaw in his argument about the absence of the practical arts in the Ivies.  In particular, Princeton is a short train ride from his current posting, and serves as a useful foil.
Over a hundred years ago, Thorstein Veblen noted that the prestige of a college was in inverse proportion to its usefulness. He suggested that the ability to indulge in uselessness was a sign of wealth and power, both of which bring prestige with them. That’s why you can major in economics at Princeton, but you can’t major in business there. (He even carried the insight over to clothing. Ties are utterly useless and kind of fragile; you can’t really work with your hands while wearing one. Therefore, by wearing one, you are advertising that you don’t have to get your hands dirty. Their prestige is a function of their uselessness. I consider this reason #763 to get rid of ties entirely, but that’s another post.) The more prestigious the college, the fewer “vocational” programs it offers.  Community colleges fare miserably on that index, since most of them are “comprehensive,” meaning that they offer both vocational and transfer programs. The mere presence of the Automotive Tech program, in this view, tars the English department by association.  Elite places don’t like to get their hands dirty.
I finished the Ph.D. at a young age, and the tie did work well as a badge of rank, right up to the day I retired. Had I taken a job that led to a Roadmaster or Road Foreman position on a railroad, the tie would stay as well.

It's that remark about economics as somehow less vocational (as far as I can tell) than business.  In the Ivies, which like to use the old trivium and quadrivium model in undergraduate programs, an undergraduate business program is rare.  But the value of an economics degree from Princeton is precisely as a vocational program, if, perhaps in the sense of a priestly vocation.  Study Ito processes with Avinash Dixit and that group, and your first posting might be a short New Jersey Transit ride to Wall Street, where you can hire out at a hedge fund and give people the business until the black swans fly.  Study monetary history with Ben Bernanke or his successors, and the Federal Reserve is a fast Amtrak ride to the south, and there are lots of classmates, and members of the eating clubs, and past professors to work with and give people the business.  If you have the mathematical chops, you can study taxation theory with Joe Stiglitz and that group, and if you're successful enough at assuming an omniscient central planner, you might be able to assist (primarily Democratic) Members of Congress at giving people the business.

It's probably helping the community colleges, and the regional comprehensives, mid-majors, and land grants that the Anointed Experts have fouled up so gloriously.
Happily for community colleges, that distinction is starting to fray. As the cost of higher education escalates far beyond what most families can pay, and entry-level salaries remain largely stagnant, the middle- and upper-middle-classes are starting to look at the employability of a given college’s graduates. After a century of being under suspicion, ‘usefulness’ is starting to gain some respect.
Has it been a century of decline for the useful degrees?  I suspect not: the rationale for the land-grant colleges and the converted teachers colleges has always been about the practical arts.  The U.S. News problem, however, is self-inflicted.  "The deeper problem, though, is that higher education has lowered itself unevenly, in ways that make social stratification worse."

On the railroad, you set the expectation that the freight yard be empty of cars at the end of the shift.  There are analogous expectations to set in higher education.

19.2.19

DOWNSIZING IS A FALSE ECONOMY.

No doubt there is a business guru somewhere who will complain that two leads, and two switch engines, working Ash Fork, Arizona, are at least one switch engine too many.


The crew at left has pulled set-out cars off a westbound through freight train, and once the crew at right sets the tank cars over to the Houston block being assembled for pickup by an eastbound through freight, they will run around and spot the cars at the industries.  There's a second track for spotting those covered hoppers at top left.  The crew at right will return to the east end of the yard to spot industries there.  Meanwhile the switch crew that works the passenger station will have a few minutes to assemble a transfer of cars for Williams that you see to the immediate right of the tank cars.

At shift's end, all the outbound cars have left, either on through trains or on the Williams transfer, and all the inbound cars are spotted for unloading.


Freight cars don't make money sitting around in yards.

We'll look at how the real railroads have to re-learn this lesson in a future post.

LOOK WHO WANTS TO GET OUT OF THE ARMS RACE.

I'm no fan of state or local governments waving subsidies at manufacturers or sports teams.
Wisconsin is chasing jobs with tax benefits, and throwing tax benefits at factories will turn out as badly as throwing tax benefits at big-box stores and sports teams.  But the reason states engage in such behavior is that doing so might be a dominant strategy, and you look good when your strategy works.
Arms race, dominant strategy, prisoners' dilemma. The way out is to find a way to cooperate. "Lawmakers in at least a half-dozen states are considering forming a compact in which they would agree to end efforts to lure companies with tax incentives."

Look, though, at who participates.  "A similar version to New York's bill is also making its way through the Arizona and Illinois legislatures, while lawmakers in other states, including Connecticut, Florida, Massachusetts and New Jersey, are considering introducing such legislation."  Does the expression "tax hell" come to mind?  Particularly, tax hell, with one way of softening the blow to taxpayers gone?
The provision limiting state and local tax deductions at $10,000 wiped away a preferential treatment for high earners in those states, and helps explain why about 20 percent of filers will either get no benefit or see an actual hike in their federal tax bills. The resulting rush for the exits is putting pressure on government budgets in New York, New Jersey and elsewhere while creating a real-estate boom in Florida and other low-tax states.

Throw in the fact that some Democrat-controlled states, especially Illinois and New Jersey, already face huge problems with their civil-service pension funds and it’s obvious that the blue-state model is ­undergoing a major stress test.
The editorial board at New York's Times haven't caught on yet.
Blame also needs to be assigned, of course, to a system in which powerful corporations can milk billions in tax benefits out of cities and states to locate facilities, without any added investment in infrastructure, schools and other benefits. Amazon, one of the richest companies in the world, run by the richest man in the world, had held a nationwide contest in which governments scraped together enough entitlements to satisfy it, even as those same cities struggled to fortify corroding infrastructure and stave off a housing crisis that has pushed the middle class to the brink and forced the poor into homeless shelters.
Catch that Divine Passive? "Blame needs to be assigned." As if Klaatu and Gort decreed that New York would be a tax hell.
Mssrs. Cuomo and de Blasio should have better prepared for what was in store, since their constituents are maybe more worried about housing, subways and the cost of living than in job creation alone. In fact, it’s partly thanks to the failure of these elected leaders to seriously address the subway and housing crises that Amazon was met by some with such visceral anger and anxiety. If they’d better anticipated that reaction, they might have worked with the company to address these issues, and win local buy-in before things went off the rails. Then, together with Amazon, they could have helped the city diversify its economy and leverage the power of a tech giant to help solve big problems. It’s an opportunity lost. May it also be a lesson learned.
Don't lay that "subway crisis" off on Amazon. The Pennsylvania Railroad built the North River and East River tubes and Pennsylvania Station and Sunnyside Yard in about five years. Fifteen years ago, there's a Cold Spring Shops post on the Second Avenue Subway that has not yet replaced the long-gone Third Avenue Elevated.

By all means, yes, let's get rid of corporate welfare, it's a bigger money-suck than the national endowments.  Let's also stop pretending that a federal deduction for state and local taxes is somehow a good thing because it lessens the pain of living in a tax hell.

WHAT DO THEY HAVE TO LOSE?

Northern Illinois University enrollment is down more than 5 percent since last spring.

Don't worry, they have a mission, a vision, and values.
NIU recently released its five-year Strategic Enrollment Management Plan in an effort to attract and retain students. The plan looks to increase diversity and expand online education opportunities in hopes to increase enrollment up to 17,0000-18,000 by 2023.

"When we released our five-year Strategic Enrollment Management Plan, we expect that total enrollment will decline for another year or so before starting to climb again,” said Sol Jensen, NIU Vice President for Enrollment Management, Marketing and Communications.
I'm doubtful.

Perhaps it's time to try something else.  There's more than one way to beat Yale at their own game.


The language in the new mission, vision, and values statements might mollify the craziest Student Services types at Yale or Oberlin, but maybe being competitive in the classroom and the journals would bring in the students.

We don't hammer on Middlebury (or Oberlin, or Yale) for enabling their snowflakes.

We hammer on Middlebury in order that Northern Illinois (or Delaware, or Nebraska) not enable snowflakes.

And yet, business as usual in higher education seems to be doing anything other than raising expectations, and all the time fretting about how higher expectations are hostile to Access or Diversity.  What do they have to lose trying something else.

Lifting their game hasn't been tried, and yet Texas historian Steven Mintz, while preaching the old-time religion, doesn't see what's right in front of him.
The need for advanced education will not abate. It will intensify. The United States has been distinctive in distributing educational opportunity more widely than any other country. Tough love, creative destruction, and economic consolidation may help spread material well-being.

But this process poses a genuine threat to our educational ecosystem, where consolidation will only serve to lessen opportunity and reinforce the class divisions that are already contributing to deepening economic disparities, stagnating household incomes, and political polarization.
The excess capacity is in access-assessment-remediation-retention.  What does Texas have to lose, trying to be more like Michigan?  What does Northern Illinois have to lose, trying to be more like Texas?

THE DUST HAD NOT YET SETTLED AT PENN STATION.

New York City's Singer Building came down in 1967, to make way for a new office tower to be used by U. S. Steel.  There's a lesson about creative destruction in there somewhere, with Singer sewing machines still being a thing, and U. S. Steel no longer the country's largest steel producer.
The first decade of the 20th century was a sparkling time in American construction. Nowhere was its spirit more intense than in downtown New York, an aging colonial seaport that was fast becoming a center of industrial capitalism. Here, among winding narrow blocks, a Whitmanesque neighborhood of brick row houses and Protestant steeples was rapidly evolving into a concrete labyrinth of elegant white towers and steam-damp canyons. New York, with each new spire, signaled that America would no longer defer to Europe. Now, the future was being charted on this side of the Atlantic.

The Singer Building was an icon of this moment. Rising 612 feet above Broadway (at the corner of Liberty Street) its sheer ambition was proved by a fleeting reign as the world’s tallest building. Its artfulness was established by use of neoclassical and Renaissance design elements at a novel scale. And its authenticity was grounded in local industry: Manhattan then was a maze of textiles. Its industrial fabric comprised cloth workshops and showrooms, its tenements housed armies of piece workers and seamstresses, and its labor unions were dominated by needle-trades employees. For the city’s skyline to be topped off by a maker of industrial sewing machines was a perfect fit.
I recently learned that Milwaukee's City Hall, which is still standing, for a few years was the world's tallest building; it continued to hold the "city's tallest" honor until the late 1960s.  So many others are gone.  Office towers of the pre-air-conditioning era had to have setbacks and recesses in order to provide for light and ventilation, and they also owed some of their design to a common-law doctrine called Ancient Lights, which we might loosely interpret as "your right to cast shadows ends at my lot line."
Keeping with the patterns of traditional urbanism, the lower floors formed street walls that extended along the sidewalks of Broadway and Liberty Street. This preserved the enclosure of adjacent streets. By day, the tower allowed sunlight to reach the streets below. Clad with neoclassical details and finished in stone and red brick, it rose much higher than the 14-story base to a height of 612 feet. The rounded spire was topped off with a bright lantern that pierced the night sky, signaling the city’s center, like a tall candle, to the surrounding harbor and hills.
In common with many commercial and industrial buildings of the era, including the still-a-building Pennsylvania Station, the public spaces brought some of the pomp of European cathedrals and palaces into a new civic order. "The main hall was a deep arcade of finely sculpted plaster, polished brass, and perfectly hued blocks of Italian marble. Heavily decorated, the space was reminiscent of traditionally sacred architecture in Europe: an early affirmation (to be repeated) of the almost religious place of commerce in the heyday of industrial America."

Alas, though, expertise gave us urban renewal.
The Singer’s fate represented a darker but no less historic moment in the life cycle of American cities—a harsh counterpoint to the rich, artful optimism that had glinted through the fading years of the Gilded Age in the works of men like Ernest Flagg. The loss of the Singer was but a single point in an unfolding narrative of urban destruction that also included (in New York, alone) the demolition of the neoclassical Pennsylvania Station in 1963, the unceremonious wrecking of the Metropolitan Opera House in 1967, and the years-long decline of the Art Deco masterpieces along the Grand Concourse in the Bronx.

Today, Americans have grown more cautious; when it comes to old buildings, we now have laws at our disposal that allow us to designate and preserve what we value. Yet the enactment of such laws, at such a late stage, illustrates how the Singer’s fate coincided with another milestone: an end to the idea that American industry might be trusted to build permanent things, without answering to the deeper values of law or community or tradition. Not only buildings, but individual lives, entire cities, had been built around American industries that projected permanence at one point in the 20th century—only to be gone in a fleeting instant. The fate of the Singer, and everything else, dashed what we now know to have been a naïve hope: a belief that the most audacious commercial efforts to produce something lasting would not, one day, fall prey to the intrinsic transience of commerce.
Yes, there's a lot of destructive faddishness in business, but there's plenty of blame to share around when it comes to judging popular culture by the monuments it has destroyed.

THE CHRONICLE OF NO LONGER HIGHER EDUCATION.

Katherine Mangan's reporting on the changing nature of high school classes remedial courses in college will do nothing to hurt the sales of those U. S. News guides.
At a time when growing numbers of first-generation, minority, and older adult students are going to college, the California State University system, the nation’s largest public-university system, this year eliminated all freestanding remedial courses. Next year, the state’s entire community-college system will do the same. The moves, which are being watched by reformers and instructors nationwide, will have especially far-reaching consequences for open-access colleges and those that accept the vast majority of students who apply.
Is it too much to ask that the people who want to influence higher education stop treating the nontraditional students as somehow less capable.  "It is a libel to think of first-generation or non-traditional as synonymous with less capable of handling college work."

Yes, there are students who hit college with less intellectual capital, but how often might that be the consequence of bad decisions they made earlier, or bad work beginning in grammar school?  Let's pay careful attention to the following descent from the lofty to the mundane.
What will happen to the returning adult whose last math class was three decades ago, the immigrant for whom English is a second language, or the first-generation student overwhelmed with work and family obligations? Will they finally get the chance they deserve to succeed in college, as the reformers would argue, or is needed support being pulled out from under them?

When Christy Stevens enrolled in Pellissippi State Community College in Tennessee more than two decades after graduating from high school, calling her math rusty would be an understatement.

“I graduated from high school with a general-studies degree — no advanced classes, no geometry or trigonometry, no algebra, no nothing,” she said. At 18, she became a single parent and worked two jobs, trying on and off over the next several years to attend college classes.
On the one hand, that "became a single parent" suggests a student who is the passive casualty of external forces; on the other hand, we are about second chances, and she noted that having the option of a refresher course in mathematics would have been useful.  Verily I say unto you, "So lean on K-12 to counteract the class polarization by holding all students, beginning in kindergarten, to the standards of the middle class. And bill the high schools for the work you're doing that they should have done. Hard budget constraints have a way of focusing the mind."  And yet I note,
The underdogs argument is a reason for the community colleges and mid-majors and land-grants to offer precisely the same intellectual challenges to their students that the fifty claimants to the top ten claim to do. The second chances argument is more complicated. On one hand, some people take the right lessons from a mugging by reality. On the other, some drop-outs and stop-outs are made of different stuff.
But there are depressingly many matriculants who require a lot of second, third, nth challenges.
Nationally, nearly two-thirds of entering community-college students and more than one-third of those starting at less-selective four-year colleges are found to be not ready for college-level math or English classes, according to a report by the Community College Research Center at Columbia University’s Teachers College. Traditionally, these students have been directed to remedial classes they have to pay for, but don’t get academic credit for. One study by the center found that, of students referred to three levels of remedial math, only 17 percent completed the sequence within three years. For reading, the rate was 29 percent.

The result has been a push to find ways for students to speed through remediation or bypass it altogether.
Maybe after they've tried everything else, they'll consider this.
Perhaps the most effective way to keep overall education costs down is to insist that the high schools do their job correctly, in order that the community colleges and state universities don't have to do it for them.  Then we can tackle the tradeoff inherent in asking all taxpayers to pay more in order to convert the more promising of today's poor people -- that's the implicit message of first-generation-and-underrepresented -- into tomorrow's rich people.
Yes, there might be ways for all the geniuses in higher education to come up with clever pedagogies, and yet, is it too much to ask that the common culture inculcate bourgeois habits and the common schools do their job?
The demographic challenges facing colleges have raised the stakes on getting underprepared students up to speed as quickly as possible. Shrinking numbers of 18-year-olds have forced many open-access colleges to step up their recruitment of older adults, veterans, and others who have been out of school for years. The economic downturn that many are expecting could send more older adults back to college. In states with shrinking applicant pools or free community-college tuition, less-selective four-year colleges are having to dig deeper into their applicant pools to fill their seats. Meanwhile, growing numbers of underrepresented-minority students pose equity challenges for colleges since, statistically, black and Hispanic students are far more likely to end up — and get stuck — in remedial classes.
The house organ for business as usual in no longer higher education has to emphasize the identity politics argument, the better to keep the diversity hustlers in work.  Turf them out.  The students who arrive with less intellectual capital were underserved long before they sent their applications in.
Some students arrive perplexed by fractions and relying on calculators. “What do you want me to do with a student who doesn’t understand the number line, reads at a fourth-grade level, and can’t write a complete sentence?” [Rebecca Goosen, associate vice chancellor for college preparatory [c.q.] at San Jacinto College in Texas] asked. Despite a robust system of corequisite support that involves two instructors for 20 students circulating, answering questions, frequently testing, and giving nightly homework, “we’ve had to take students out of co-rec because they weren’t going to survive,” Goosen said.
Perhaps, although Ms Goosen's salary depends on a steady flow of unprepared students, even she will recognize that the fourth grade teachers ought be held responsible. "'I hope the train doesn’t crash down the road because we’re putting students who really struggle, especially in math, in classes they can’t handle,' she said."

It's time to pass the popcorn when the faculty in justice studies (it's not sociology, it's not law, who knows what it is?) are bridling at the Distressed Material in the incoming classes.
James Daniel Lee, a professor and chair of justice studies at San Jose State University, won’t accept students who aren’t ready for college-level math. His department was given the option to offer supplemental instruction for those were weren’t ready. Otherwise, unprepared students who wanted in would have to sign up for other tutoring offered by the university.

“I told them all we’re not going to participate,” he said. “Send me students who are ready for math.” He worries that faculty members will feel pressured to lower academic standards. High failure rates could jeopardize their own jobs, he said, especially given policy makers’ intense focus on the corequisite shift.

Math skills are crucial in his field. Crime-scene investigators have to know how to measure skid marks, for instance. "I’m concerned that in a few years, our employers are going to say, ‘Your students don’t know math. We can’t trust you as a source of our talent.’"
You can fudge a drug test. You can fake a placement test. You can't fake a market test.

If that's not enough reason to pass the popcorn, look what happens to politically correct euphemism.
The National Association for Developmental Education is considering a name change for the same reason. In 1984, it removed the word “remedial” from its title to emphasize the broader umbrella of developmental education, which includes tutoring, advising, time-management tips, and other supports.

Now, even the term “developmental,” which many still associate with stand-alone remedial courses, carries baggage some practitioners are eager to ditch. Doing so could allow the group to rebrand itself and appeal to new audiences, they argue.
Here I stand, I can do no other. "Perhaps what is required is for strong voices in higher education to say Enough to doing the work of the high schools, because the high schools failed to do their work."

As far as "remedial" becoming "developmental," let us note that Marc Anthony, coming to bury Caesar, referred to Brutus as an honorable man.  I fear I smear those honorable people who profess to run Student Services.

TURF THEM OUT.

Steve "Big Questions" Landsburg has a provocative suggestion.
According to Democratic congressional leadership, [it's stupid to fund] the border wall.

This is a radical new stance for the congressional leadership, which last year rejected the Trump administration’s bid to cut roughly $300 million a year from the budgets of the National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities. Assuming a 3% interest rate, that’s a present value of about $10 billion — enough to fund two border walls. (Take that, you pesky Canadians!).

One could argue that a border wall is not only stupid but a grotesque symbol of xenophobia. One could equally well argue that a National Endowment for the Arts is not only stupid but a grotesque symbol of government overreach and the politicization of everything.

Refusing to fund the wall is a good thing. Agreeing to defund the National Endowments would have been roughly twice as good a thing — and a whole lot easier, since the president was already on board. And there’s a lot of low-hanging fruit that would be at least an order of magnitude better. (I’m looking at you, Department of Commerce!).
Drain the swamp.

The national endowments, in particular?  They exist in order for taxpayers to validate the aesthetic preferences of the cultural establishment.  "External funding, however, involves the possibility of the principal investigator doing work that supports the agenda of the sponsor. That's not the same thing as doing research for its own sake."  It would be more honest for the creative types to seek genius grants or take Beethoven's approach of asking for a lifetime stipend.

14.2.19

THERE IS NEVER A GOOD TIME TO BUILD THE WRONG PROJECT.

California governor Gavin Newsom will finish the a-building section of high speed railroad in the Central Valley, but the continuations to San Francisco or Los Angeles are on hold.
“Let’s be real,” he says. “The project as currently planned would cost too much and, respectfully, take too long. Right now, there isn’t a path to get from Sacramento to San Diego, let alone from San Francisco to L.A. I wish there were,” the San Francisco Gate reports.

Instead of completing the intended route, pegged at $77 billion to build in the next decade, Newsom wants to finish tracks between Bakersfield and Merced in the Central Valley. Roadbed construction, including several massive bridges, is nearly complete on the initial Fresno-Madera segment.

“Abandoning high speed rail entirely means we will have wasted billions and billions of dollars with nothing but broken promises...and lawsuits to show for it.,” he claims. He intends to make use of the investments already made rather than send $3.5 billion in federal funds back to Washington, D.C.
That's a sunk cost fallacy at work. It's also the logic of Federal money.  When Wisconsin governor Scott Walker scrapped the extension of the Hiawatha service to Madison, whatever operating subsidies he didn't commit the state to might have been exceeded by the breach-of-contract damages to Talgo, the builder of the trains for the project, and when his secretary of transportation asked if he could apply the Federal money allocated to rails to fixing the highways instead, the Secretary of Transportation said no.  Republican governor in Wisconsin, Democrat president, reverse the roles today, same problem.

The political posturing has begun, with the usual suspects entrenching in the usual way.  "Celebrate, don’t mourn, the end of what’s always been a bad plan."  That's Scott Shackford in Reason, who elaborates,
Californians are just going to be left with a train in the middle of some of the more rural parts of the state because the Newsom administration doesn't want to have to repay the federal funding.

Whatever may come next, this is happy news for most California citizens. Voters approved a ballot initiative in 2008 that set aside a $10 billion bond to begin the project of building a high-speed rail line from Los Angeles to San Francisco with the promise that more funding would come through from the feds or from private sources, that the train would not require subsidies to operate, and that it would help fight climate change.

But it didn't take long for all those claims to be shown as unlikely, especially the costs. President Barack Obama's administration did provide $3.5 billion in stimulus funding under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, but the project otherwise saw little additional outside financial support. The train's cost ballooned from $64 to $77 billion (and it would likely end up well over $100 billion if actually completed). The construction on the first leg began in the middle of California, near Fresno, and it wouldn't even link Los Angeles to San Francisco until 2029.
There's a fair amount of spiking the political football accompanying the announcement.
The decision to end the project after the current construction is finished is, of course, a big blow to former Gov. Jerry Brown. This train was his pet project and he undoubtedly saw it as his legacy. No matter how much evidence was presented that the whole deal was a big boondoggle that would leave taxpayers holding the bag, Brown didn't waver.

But the announcement is also a bit of a kick in the teeth for the proposed Green New Deal by progressive Democrats in Congress. The Green New Deal, pushed by lawmakers like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), heavily leans on the idea that high-speed rail could be used to link cities and ultimately reduce the use of air travel. It was a wholly unrealistic plan for any number of logistical reasons, as Joe Setyon explained last week. Newsom killing off the project's expansion also implicates the massive costs of the lawmakers' proposals.

And Newsom is no fiscal conservative. In all likelihood, he wants to use the money he'll save from not building the train on other big progressive aims, like single-payer health care coverage or propping up the state's overextended pension system for public employees. As bad as they are, those aims are at least preferable to an absurdly overpriced makework project intended to line certain people's pockets at the expense of the taxpayers.
Twitchy gets in on the fun.  "It really does seem like Nancy Pelosi’s had just about enough of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. And who could blame her? If you were Nancy Pelosi, wouldn’t you want to very publicly stick it to AOC right about now?"  Constitutional separation of powers is still a thing, thus they issue a disclaimer.  "We may never know if Nancy Pelosi was indeed responsible for the project’s derailment, but one thing’s for sure: We’re enjoying this immensely."

At Right Wisconsin, they're enjoying California asking for the Wisconsin stimulus money that they have now decided isn't productive enough to justify spending more.
After Wisconsin turned down the federal money for a  so-called “high speed rail” line between Milwaukee and Madison, California gladly took the money. Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett complained about Governor Scott Walker’s decision by thinking of the federal government as Santa Claus.

“My congratulations to the workers in California and Florida. As a result of this decision, you will have a merry Christmas,” the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported Barrett saying at the time. “I’m just sad the same won’t happen here in Wisconsin.”

(Florida would later kill its “high speed” rail project, too.)
It's more realistic to note that Florida is still going forward with faster passenger trains, if under the Virgin Brightline banner, and with rolling stock that seems well suited for the California project.  "Some of the right of way toward Orlando, as well as an expressway median in the Tampa direction, once figured in an Obama-era stimulus project that a subsequent Florida political establishment stopped.  The political economy of private passenger trains will no doubt occupy us in the future."  I wonder if the people at Virgin Rail would be interested in a franchise to run the California service.

We'll see, though.  The Virgin Rail public offering for its North American services is off again.  There's another public deadline involved.  Apply now or forever lose your cash.

The Right Wisconsin folks are more interested in told-ya-so than in any analysis of the railroad projects.
If high-speed rail can’t make it in population dense California, what made anyone think it could work in Wisconsin?

When then-Gov. Jim Doyle approved the less-than high speed rail plan between Milwaukee and Madison, the federal government was going to spend $810 million for a train that would have run (57 mph on average) slower than traffic between the two cities and would have terminated at Madison’s airport. When critics mocked the idea of anyone wanting to take the train only to end up outside of the city, the end location was quickly changed to a location in downtown Madison, demonstrating that the plan for the train was not well thought out.
In part, neither the California nor the Wisconsin plans were well-thought out. Under the terms of the non-stimulus stimulus plan (thanks, Obama) only "shovel ready" projects could be built, meaning plans, or perhaps pipe dreams, for which the environmental clearances were already in place.  In California, only the open country portion of the coastal route, through a relatively sparsely settled part of the state, qualified (and could be built with the available money.)  That's not necessarily a bad idea, but nobody thought too carefully about connecting that part of the railroad with existing rail service into the Bay Area, particularly on the west side of the bay, or into Los Angeles.  The Madison extension of the Hiawatha service had a much better chance.
[T]he point that is being missed by residents of southeastern Wisconsin is that the extension isn't simply to serve the Milwaukee-Madison market. The extension creates a matrix of sub-corridors aside from just Milwaukee-Madison. Madison, Watertown, and (if they got a station) Oconomowoc residents will be able to take the train to the Milwaukee County Airport Amtrak station to catch a flight. (This station is currently the most popular between Chicago and Milwaukee, with the exception of Chicago). Waukesha County residents could catch their trains at a Brookfield station and ride through to Chicago instead of driving to the Milwaukee Airport Amtrak station (which is what many west suburban residents do now to catch a train to Chicago; the airport Amtrak station is easier to deal with than downtown Milwaukee).
The California line, which will be completed, is not (yet) being set up as an extension of any train service, whether it's regional, Amtrak California, or Virgin Brightline.  A special correspondent for Railway Age notes that seven procedural things, most of them reflecting constraints imposed by granting agencies that had no idea what they were dealing with, or thinking that they Had. To. Do. Something, sent the train out of the depot with flat wheels and ineffective brakes.  Makes the machinations of C. P. Huntington and Oakes Ames look public spirited.  "It's the process, stupid," notes Daniel Herriges for Strong Towns.  Or perhaps it's the stupid process.

Unfortunately, there's some cheerleading in Streetsblog California that suggests the governor and the California Passenger Rail advocates are drinking the same beer devotees of stadium subsidies drink.
To those critics who say California should stop building it, [Governor Newsom] said, “Abandoning high-speed rail entirely means we will have wasted billions of dollars with nothing but broken promises and lawsuits to show for it.”

“And by the way,” he added, “I am not interested in sending $3.5 billion in federal funding back to Donald Trump. Because that’s what it would take.”

Even though there is currently no clear path for high-speed rail to connect Sacramento and San Diego, “let alone from San Francisco to L.A.,” he said. “We do have the capacity to complete a high-speed rail link between Merced and Bakersfield.”
That's two lessons learned from Wisconsin, where Governor Walker did have to send the money back, and where the breach of contract suits have probably eaten up all the operating subsidy the state avoided paying.

What comes next, though, is not cause for optimism.
Newsom clapped back at critics who call a Central Valley project a “train to nowhere.” “I think that’s wrong, and I think that’s offensive,” he said. “The people of the Central Valley endure the worst air pollution in America, as well as some of the longest commutes. And they have suffered too many years of neglect from policymakers here in Sacramento. They deserve better.”

The cities of the Central Valley are, he said “more dynamic than many realize.” The region is renowned for agriculture, but is also “hungry for investment, a workforce eager for more training and good jobs…. who deserve a fair share of our state’s prosperity.”

“High-speed rail is more than a train project,” he said. As a tool for economic transformation, it could help “unlock the economic potential” and create the “backbone of a reinvigorated Central Valley.”

Meanwhile, he plans to make immediate governance changes. “We’re going to hold contractors and consultants accountable to explain how taxpayer dollars are spent – including change orders, cost overruns, even travel expenses. It’s going online, for everybody to see,” he said, calling it a “new day” for the program.
Dilly, dilly.

What, then, do we do with the Merced - Bakersfield Electric Air Line?  The Midwest High Speed Rail Association has thoughts.
The California High Speed Rail Authority is looking at two options for initial operations of Central Valley segment before the tunnels [required to reach San Francisco and Los Angeles] are constructed.

One option is to create a high-speed demonstrator in the Central Valley that runs at 220 mph and is contrained to the high-speed track. Passengers would change to other trains or buses at Bakersfield and Merced.  This should be a high priority.

The other is to reroute the current Oakland/Sacramento–Bakersfield Amtrak San Joaquin trains to the new line.

With the right train equipment, California wouldn’t have to choose one or the other: it could do them both and do them better.

That means moving past the binary of conventional vs. high-speed rail. It means following the Interstate Highway model where sections of high-speed highway were added to the existing network over a 40 year period. It means unifying the high-speed line with the existing Amtrak and commuter rail systems.It will require a train design that operates at high-speeds on high-speed track and smoothly at conventional speeds on freight track.
Does that sound like Cold Spring Shops, seven years ago?  "Electrify the Peninsula commute zone and the high-speed lines with the same voltage and frequency, then equip the diesel with sufficient fuel capacity to cover the non-electrified parts, and offer a single seat service, with a mode change during a station stop."  There's a dual-mode locomotive running on New Jersey Transit.  It's a Siemens product, just like the all-diesel Chargers on the Chicago regional routes and Brightline.
The right train will be able to switch quickly from electric to diesel operation, and its suspension will need to be flexible enough for freight tracks but stable enough for high speeds. A lightweight trainset will accelerate faster and take turns more nimbly on conventional tracks than our current trains—meaning it will slash transit times, even without going faster speeds.

If such trains were in use on the Amtrak San Joaquin and ACE commuter routes, they could travel faster over existing tracks. More importantly, they could join the high-speed line at Merced and really open the throttle to create a same-seat, high-speed ride from the Bay Area and Sacramento to Bakersfield.
Perhaps, ultimately, into Los Angeles, and to a connection with the Las Vegas service? Let's see if California officialdom works on that line into Los Angeles, because a fast line through the Central Valley getting to the Bay Area at Emeryville won't generate a lot of traffic.

One of these days, though, the deferred maintenance on the roads is going to come due.  Here's a Trains analysis.
The nation’s collective political unwillingness to view and fund passenger rail investments on an equal footing with highway and transit projects means priorities are free to change with state administrations; this was the case when both Wisconsin and Florida Republican governors rejected President Obama’s federal high speed rail money. However, California’s about-face occurred within the same political party.
Four years ago, I wrote, "[T]here's opportunity to move toward a more market-based regime of highway funding."  In the midst of a City Journal polemic, primarily spiking the football, Joel Kotkin and Wendell Cox note,  "Of the many high-speed rail lines built in the developed world, only two (Tokyo-Osaka and Paris-Lyon) have ever been profitable, and in each case highway tolls for the same routes exceed $80 one-way, making high-speed rail in those cases an economical consumer choice. California, the green heart of the resistance, has met fiscal reality; reality won."

This round, perhaps, but highway tolls in the $80 range might be what it takes to keep the Interstates in a state of good repair.  Meanwhile, a Passenger Rail network with diesel trains running at 110 to 125 or 140 mph in open country will offer almost all the time savings of the bullet trains, and at a much lower first cost.  Never argue with a rectangular hyperbola.

The road pricing part of transportation policy will be for another day.