14.2.19

FASCHING.



Prosit!

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.

AFTER THEY'VE TRIED EVERYTHING ELSE, PERHAPS THEY'LL DO THE RIGHT THING.

Here I stand, I can do no other.  "Few things would help students so much, or harm the core functions of education so little, as a 50% across the board cut in higher ed bureaucracy costs."

Inside Higher Ed columnists Peter Eckel and Cathy Trower might yet catch on.  "Stop Planning!"
Certainly, strategic plans are important to academic institutions. Colleges and universities invest a tremendous amount of time and effort (holding many meetings with various constituent groups on and off campus to gain input) -- and sometimes also money (for consultants) -- in their strategic plans. Once finished, there is great fanfare and publicity, often around the plan’s creative name and new, bold priorities. Plans appear in highly visible places on websites. Institutions hold retreats, often over many days, to talk about plan implementation and progress. They design and put in place new data systems to track progress and create elaborate metrics and key performance indicators. And all the while, those who lead the planning process can be heard saying, “This plan will not sit on the shelf (this time).”

Yet despite all this investment of time and resources, few strategic plans enjoy strong consensus that they are meaningful and have a real impact on the trajectory of the college or university.

Too often strategic plans fall short of serving as a guiding light for the future. Some are triumphs of form (or wordsmithing) over substance. Their key points often are expected, and they share much in common with those of similar, but also dissimilar, institutions. “Educate students for the global 21st century,” anyone? How about “Produce cutting-edge research?”

So if the results are less than impactful, then why do we invest so much in strategic planning? Trustees and faculty members wonder what all the fuss was about, why the process was so time-consuming and arduous and why, in the end, the work seems to have had so little real impact.
Perhaps because it's a phony quest for consensus, and consensus often means the most anodyne of sentiments.

I see no reason to withdraw a previous statement.  "The remedy is part Ko-Ko and part John Galt: identify the twenty percent of the deanlets and deanlings who would not be missed, and fire them."

Messrs. Eckel and Trower are writing for a house organ for business as usual, and yet wisdom is dawning.
During a recent workshop on strategy (and not planning), the following exchange occurred between an experienced administrator and one of us. “I’ve been involved in three different strategic planning efforts at my institution. And with each one we get better,” she said. “Great,” we said, “but better at what? Better as an institution or better at planning?” Her reply, sheepishly: “Ah, better at planning.”

As she realized during this exchange, the real objective shouldn’t be to improve planning, but rather to improve the institution and position it for success in the long run. Given the demands on campuses and the complexities that academic leaders face, might institutions be better served by looking at the future through some new lenses rather than reinvesting in yet another round of similar work? Thus, we have the title of this essay (which is an intentional overstatement, as we will explain below).

Strategy, as a concept, sits between mission and operational plans. And historically in higher education, it has been overlooked in conversations about each. An institutional mission statement says why a college or university exists; it’s the purpose. The better ones convey particular actions with respect to target audiences, as well as articulate outcomes. Strategy is the pathway to deliver on that mission. It is the game plan that contains answers to key questions, such as in what arenas will you engage (undergraduate, graduate; health care, humanities; liberal arts, professional; local, national, global; adult, traditional age, etc.) and how will you succeed? Operations are the steps to implement strategy and therefore deliver on the mission. Too many university strategic plans are mostly outcomes or ideals (or unfunded “wish lists”), without an articulation of strategy.
Their understanding of strategy, however, suggests deficiencies in their understanding of market competition.
Strategy is the purpose for which you will be taking these operational steps. Operations address how to do things right, whereas strategy is about the right things to do.

Articulating the right things to do is difficult work. Roger Martin, former dean of the business school at the University of Toronto, has a wonderful test about plans versus strategy. He argues that you do not have an effective strategy if you and your competitors are doing the same things. Strategy exists if some competitors choose different, if not opposite, paths. Therefore, if the opposite of your strategic choices looks stupid, then all competitors are going to have pretty much the same strategy as you, doing you little good.

For example, the opposite of “performing high-impact research”? Perform low-impact research. The opposite of “provide all students with a transformational learning experience”? Provide some students with a transformative experience or provide all students with a less than transformative experience. While each opposite may occur in practice, rarely are they stated as institutional goals. How well do the strategic choices in your institution’s plan pass this opposites test? (Most do not, but they generate a pretty good laugh.)
That's really about scale and scope. If you're making steel, and Bethlehem is making steel, and you're both making money making steel, perhaps you ought to be thinking about making your steel a little bit better and selling it at a better price,  That shouldn't have to involve consultants and facilitators and all the other trappings of repeatedly meeting, retreating, visioning, and revisioning.  Anybody seen Bethlehem Steel lately?

In higher education, the continued existence of those U.S. News guides ought to be sufficient evidence of what matriculants (or their aspirational families) perceive as the better experience, and the price (third party payments notwithstanding) it commands.  Higher education types might not want to hear about market tests, but market tests have heard about you.
Furthermore, we in higher education seem quite enamored with five-year plans. Yet unlike operational priorities, strategy is not time bound. Most strategic plans tend to adopt an artificial focus of five years (the bold ones aim for 10 years or more). What is magical about 60 months? Why should time matter more than other variables that might define strategy and its direction? (For some, the answer is simply five years of reprieve before they have to go through the planning process again.)

The environment for most universities is volatile and variable, not static and predicable; it is challenge dependent and not time dependent. Yet, most plans are time bound. Therefore, institutions either: 1) revise their plans and priorities as the world evolves during that five-year window or 2) ignore some (or most) of what is in their plans as they respond to new challenges and pursue emergent opportunities. It’s also common to hear someone say, “Culture eats strategy for lunch (or breakfast),” which is fine. But the more substantive the strategy meal, the better, yes?

The result for most institutions is that faculty members, administrators, trustees, alumni and others spend a lot of time and energy developing documents that give incomplete directions. As the roads and conditions keep changing, colleges and universities may be better served by keeping an eye on the horizon rather than trying to follow turn-by-turn signs. Think compass, not map.
Hallelujah!  "They could have listened, thirty years ago. Perhaps they hadn't thought it through back then. Now, restoring a state of good repair will be more difficult."

ROUND UP THE USUAL ALGORITHMS!

Apparently algorithms to play prisoners' dilemma games are becoming subtle.  The Grim Strategy is apparently a blunt instrument for humans with long memories.  "Our findings suggest that in this framework even relatively simple pricing algorithms systematically learn to play sophisticated collusive strategies. The strategies mete out punishments that are proportional to the extent of the deviations and are finite in duration, with a gradual return to the pre-deviation prices."  Might make for interesting times, both in antitrust enforcement and in teaching industrial economics.

WHAT IS SEEN AND UNSEEN.

Sarah Anderson is not happy with the length of the presidential campaign season, which goes on forever.  (And I remember how unprecedented it was for George McGovern to declare sometime around Thanksgiving in 1971.)  "If You Hate Campaign Season, Blame Money in Politics."
So what can we do to avoid contests that shift politicians’ focus away from governing to endless campaigning?

We could try to compress our interminable primary process. But that wouldn’t make much difference when candidates are launching their bids a full year before the Iowa caucus.

A more effective step would be to slash the cost of competing for higher office. Candidates bolt out of the gates because they know it takes a long time to raise the mega-millions required for a White House run.
Wait, wouldn't "slashing the cost" mean even more crowded fields?

Guess what's missing from her essay?

When Expertise runs out of ideas, that's what happens.

I'M SHOWING MY AGE (AGAIN).

The Michigan Department of Transportation posted a safety warning with a seasonal theme.


Perhaps the message could be put on five small signs, with a tagline.


That's apparently too ancient a reference.

13.2.19

BLAMING THE BLAMELESS?

Mark Bauerlein makes the trenchant observation of the day.  Heck, make it the trenchant observation for whatever protected-status-month you want it to be.  "White privilege doesn’t describe a reality. It tells people how to behave."

That's provocative.  It's also accurate.
It tells white people how to behave, their first obligation being to acknowledge their own responsibility for injustice and inequality. When someone talks about white privilege, he doesn’t burden blacks, Hispanics, or Asians with changing their ways. Only whites are affected. The moment someone utters “white privilege,” it sets all the white people in the room on the defensive. Only when whites join in the attribution of white privilege, especially to themselves in a kind of show-trial or struggle-session confession, do they regain some integrity.
That's nuts.  Professor Bauerlein elaborates.
It is essential that conservatives, especially Republican politicians, understand “white privilege” in just this way—as a power move, not a sincere idea. It is not designed to communicate facts. It means to stymie and stigmatize opposition.

There’s a reason, too, that liberals have chosen this particular rhetorical weapon. It doesn’t just paralyze conservatives with a guilt trip. It steers the subject away from a condition embarrassing to liberals.

Seventy years ago, liberalism adopted the plight of African Americans as a cardinal moral mission. That’s why they so often refer to fresh controversies as “the Civil Rights issue of our time.” Back then, African-American uplift, especially in education, became a special goal that would confirm the truth and goodness of liberal philosophy and politics. And through the 1970s and ‘80s, it seemed to work as the education achievement gap closed.

But over the past two decades, the trend has stalled. On the National Assessment of Education Progress math exam, the gap for white and black 17-year-olds in 1973 was 40 points. (See Figure 4 here.) By 1992, the gap had shrunk to 26 points, a clear sign of success. Since then, however, the gap has remained at around 26 points, in spite of Goals 2000, No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, affirmative action, and other programs designed to remedy the inequity.

This is painful for liberals. They don’t know what to do about it. More money for public schools, more “cultural relevance” in the curriculum, fewer racial disparities in school punishment, no more school-to-prison pipeline . . . the liberal solutions keep coming, but nobody puts much faith in them.

Conservatives have a ready answer to the “why” question: No matter how much you improve schooling, they say, children who grow up in a single-parent household generally fare less wellthan do children in two-parent households. Educational achievement rises for children living in a stable traditional family.

But that is not the situation for most African-American kids. In 1965, when Daniel Patrick Moynihan completed his report on the black family, the rate of illegitimacy was 25 percent, which he termed a “crisis.” Today, the rate of African-American children raised in single-parent households stands at 66 percent. This family breakdown, more than any other factor among African Americans, has hampered educational progress. It has stopped liberal hopes cold.

Liberals can’t talk about the family, however. Feminism and LGBT voices won’t let them. It might sound like blaming-the-victim or downgrading single mothers or pushing “heteronormativity.” Still, they can’t ignore the educational stall, so liberals desperately need another explanation for the persistence of the achievement gap.

“White privilege” does the job well (as does “systemic racism,” another murky term). It retains the racism theme, which still frightens conservatives who worry about their “respectability.” At the same time, it is nebulous and insinuating enough to keep the targets of it off-balance.

It’s time to stop playing along. The next time conservatives face the white privilege point, they should not give it one iota of credence. Instead, they should say, “Let’s talk about something real, like the number of African-American boys who have never lived with their fathers. What happens to them, Mr. Caring Liberal?”
Yes, or what happens when you deconstruct useful institutions, or substitute high sounding slogans for sound standards?

DAVE. STOP, DAVE. PLEASE STOP, DAVE.

Fifty years ago, the moral standing of a silicon-based intelligence was the stuff of fiction.

Perhaps it's time to think more systematically about it.
Yelling at Siri, kicking a Roomba, throwing a Jibo; what it means for these to be right or wrong was the topic of a book talk with professor of media studies David J. Gunkel from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Wednesday at the 71 North space in Founders Memorial Library. The talk, titled The Right(s) Question, was based on Gunkel’s book “Robot Rights,” published by MIT Press in November 2018. The book, and talk, explored whether robots are capable of having rights, whether they should have rights and whether this is a question worth asking right now.

The first two have no easy answer, but the last is answered with a resounding yes.

Gunkel began the talk by explaining the four possible positions to the first two questions, combinations of robots can/can’t have rights and robots should/shouldn’t have rights. All positions are plausible, but none are without flaws. A common thread runs through arguments against these views: humans cannot help but grow attached to some artifacts, like a cherished guitar or a Stradivarius violin. In the case of robots, humans often project sentience onto the machines and treat them as if they have a moral obligation to them, even knowing full well the robots don’t have sentience.
Robots might not yet have sentience, but you don't want to learn, the hard way, that a silicon-based intelligence is capable of acting in self-defense.

What Gunkel calls for is a conceptual reboot — a fundamental challenge to the current theories of the world, humanity, robots and ethics.

This reboot is unavoidable, whether in the next few years or at the moment robots achieve sentience, possibly decades from now. Robots will have to be considered for personhood — even if for nothing other than to fit into the legal system, just as corporations were granted legal personhood so courts knew what to do with them.
"Although you and Frank took great precautions to keep me from hearing you, I could see your lips move."
Robots aren’t quite there yet, but the time will come when robots’ resemblance to humanity is too striking to ignore and when kicking a Roomba may be a little more than kicking a vacuum. It’s better to ask the hard questions now than leave it for an unsuspecting future.
Particularly when even the geniuses at the H.A.L. plant and Mission Control didn't anticipate it, but the movie director did.

12.2.19

REDISCOVERING THE NICKEL PLATE?

Freight cars don't make money sitting around in yards.  Norfolk Southern seem to be rediscovering that truth.
Norfolk Southern is taking a two-pronged approach to operational changes as it adopts Precision Scheduled Railroading.

First, it’s redesigning local service from scratch using a process that it has dubbed clean-sheeting. Second, NS will begin making systemwide operating changes that affect road trains once the first round of clean-sheeting is completed in June.

The idea, NS officials said during the railroad’s investor day on Monday, is to have local operating officials make terminals and first- and last-mile service more efficient and reliable. Then the Atlanta-based network planning and optimization group will put the new TOP21 operating plan into action, linking the local service with road trains.
I still don't understand Precision Scheduled Railroading well enough to offer an intuitive explanation.

To a first approximation, it recognizes a power rule at work.  One-fifth of the origin-destination pairs of carloads account for four-fifths of the traffic.  Get that traffic organized properly, and the railroad becomes more fluid.

Strip away all the business jargon and neologisms, though, and you have a concept that the terminal superintendent at Peoria or Buffalo would recognize.
Senior Vice President of Transportation Mike Farrell says the principles of clean-sheeting include departing on time; switching cars within six hours; right car, right block, right train; and work safely.

The six-hour switching goal creates a sense of urgency, he says.

The redesign of local service involves customers from the get-go, unlike the way Precision Scheduled Railroading was implemented at railroads led by the late E. Hunter Harrison.

“We’re not doing it to our customers, we’re doing it with our customers,” says Farrell, who has experience with Harrison’s operating model while working at both Canadian National and Canadian Pacific.

One of the key changes is increasing local service frequency to daily across much of the system, which reduces the amount of time cars sit in yards as well as the number of cars on line.

“No one at Norfolk Southern intends for a single carload of customers’ freight to sit in our yard when it could be at their dock,” says Ed Elkins, vice president of industrial products.

In Youngstown, Ohio, for example, a merchandise customer’s 150 cars ate half the capacity of a yard when it had local service three days per week. “There were cars everywhere,” says Floyd Hudson, superintendent of the Pittsburgh Division.
Hunter Harrison's version of Precision Scheduled Railroading included penalties for shippers or consignees holding cars over the weekend rather than unloading them promptly, and his management didn't mind if some customers went to trucks.  The concept, also, is a way to trim railroad capacity.  If there are fewer cars waiting around in yards, perhaps there don't have to be as many tracks in the yards.  But then the railroad is too tightly-coupled to be resilient against breakdowns, or in the face of increased traffic.

That Nickel Plate terminal superintendent, however, would understand the logic of moving the cars at Youngstown.  If Erie couldn't move the cars, Baltimore and Ohio or The Pennsylvania Railroad or Pittsburgh and Lake Erie probably had a line, and a siding, nearby, that could.

The service improvements, under whatever guise, are incomplete.
Not all customers have experienced this sort of improvement. A merchandise shipper tells Trains News Wire that the promised daily service has yet to materialize and the five-day service his facilities receive is prone to missed switches, released loads that aren’t pulled, and incorrect delivery of empties.

NS officials have said clean-sheeting remains a work-in-progress, with a first pass done on half of the terminals on the system.

Clean-sheeting has improved operations within terminals, officials say.

It has virtually eliminated the rehumping of cars at the classification yard at Allentown, Pa., for example.

The service redesign also enabled NS to reduce pullback assignments at Enola Yard, outside Harrisburg, Pa., from three per shift to just one. The pullback jobs shuttle between the classification yard and forwarding yard, where they assemble outbound trains.

“With clean-sheeting you can do things you never thought were possible,” says Josh Lafferty, who was an assistant superintendent of the Harrisburg Division before being named superintendent of the Pocahontas Division.
That's probably the Peoria terminal superintendent dressing somebody down about all that re-humping (the point of a hump yard being to sort incoming cuts into outgoing cuts in one trip) and pull-backs (if the cars are properly sorted in the first place, at worst you might have to double two or three together into a train in the departure yard), clean sheets or not.

HE MAY WAIT FOREVER IN THE STREETS OF BOSTON.

That is, if Charlie gets off the MTA, and he's got lots of opportunities to get caught on the MTA, er, MBTA, what with light rail, subways, trolley buses, commuter rail, plus Amtrak service to the north and south and lots of walkable residential areas AND all the intellectual firepower of Harvard, MIT, BU, BC, Tufts and the Mother Church of Christ, Scientist near to hand.  And yet, the worst gridlock in the US is in Boston.
Analyst Trevor Reed said the Inrix ranking shows how quickly traffic deteriorates during rush hour. A smaller, older, and more compact region such as Boston, he said, simply just wasn’t built to handle a sudden influx of cars.

“When you have older street networks like Boston, they clog much faster than in a city that was built around the automobile,” Reed said. “It doesn’t lend itself well to moving vehicles.”
Thus, Boston might be a traffic jam all day, but because it's a small metro area, people are stuck in traffic for 100% of a commute that lasts at most fifteen minutes. In the Chicago area, people might be stuck in traffic for 25% of an hour-long commute.  For traffic congestion, Chicago is not the Second City.
INRIX's scorecard finds Boston to be the most congested city in the country. Drivers there spend 164 hours (nearly a full week) in rush hour traffic each year. A close second is Washington, D.C., where commuters are losing 155 hours to gridlock.

Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, and Seattle fill out the rest of the top six in INRIX's rankings—which weigh time lost to congestion against a city's population—with drivers in these metros wasting between 128 and 138 hours a year in traffic. On average, commuters are losing 97 hours a year because of congestion.

INRIX develops these rankings by comparing travel times during peak hours to those during free flow conditions when there is no traffic. The difference between the two figures is the amount of time lost to traffic congestion.
There has to be a way to capture the effect of congestion on housing prices in central cities.  Chicago's Gold Coast high-rise condominiums, for example, might be even more valuable because they're at best a short, if aggravating, drive, or a quick, if sometimes hazardous, L train ride, to the Loop, relative to larger quarters in the suburbs, which, when things go wrong, can be several hours drive away.
The INRIX report cites research showing that whatever the levels of traffic congestion, people are generally only willing to spend one hour a day commuting—half an hour each way—with most people moving closer to work to cut down on travel times.

The more congestion limits where you can travel within that 30 minutes, as well as the employment and leisure opportunities you'll be able to comfortably access — limiting the advantages of living in an urban area in the first place.

Congestion, says Baruch Feigenbaum, a transportation analyst at the Reason Foundation (the nonprofit which publishes this website) is at its core a supply and demand problem. "Congestion is when you have more people than you have road space," Feigenbaum tells Reason, saying that the problem is a mix of adding congestion pricing to current road space and adding new lane miles.

The idea behind congestion pricing—variable tolls that rise and fall depending on the number of cars on the road—is that by charging drivers for the space they take up, they can be incentivized to take less congested routes or to travel in off-peak hours when traffic is lighter, improving road conditions for everyone.
Road commissions could apply congestion pricing to existing roads, and that might obviate the additional lanes, but that's for another day. (In Boston, where could you put the additional lanes, but I digress.)
"Cities that have not been investing in their roadways at all, and not building any new lane capacity, are very high up on this list compared to their overall [population] size," Feigenbaum tells Reason. Road-adverse Seattle, he notes, is the 15th largest U.S. metro area by population, but manages to have the sixth-most congested roads, and travel speeds in the inner city nearly as low as New York City.

By contrast, Houston—the fifth largest metro in the U.S. and one that has continued to add more roadways to accommodate its growing population—ranks 13th on INRIX's scorecard.

Expanding roadways is not a cure all for congestion. More lanes can induce more driving, meaning more trips are taken but actual traffic flows stay about the same. Measures of roadway congestion can also understate urban mobility if a city has well-functioning transit options. INRIX's gives London as an example of a place where congestion has gotten much worse, but expanding transit options may well have increased overall urban mobility.

Feigenbaum says that transit can play a role in improving mobility in some American cities, provided it's the riders, not the taxpayers in general, that are paying for it. Improving congestion, however, he says, requires treating road space more like normal market goods, where prices rise and fall, and supply expands to meet demand.
The benefit principle? For roads (or other infrastructure)?  There's a generalization to other government services, left as an exercise.

THE EFFECT OF DENYING COHERENT BELIEFS.

Commentary's Christine Rosen nails it.
At the same moment the culture is bemoaning “the death of truth,” we are also being instructed that we must understand others and achieve empathy when they say things that may not be true—so long as what they are saying is “their truth.”

Perhaps conditioned by decades of personal memoirs, overwrought first-person essays, and reality television on the one hand, and identity politics on the other, citations of “my truth” are now taken as evidence of integrity when someone is questioned about his or her claims. Any challenge you might issue immediately becomes a challenge to that person’s identity, not merely a critique of his or her behavior. And if the person in question has a minority identity, or is a feminist, any challenge you might issue will likely instantly condemn you as a bigot.
Yes, that's the culture of malignant intolerance, and, yes, it is also the last refuge of scoundrels.

The best thing to do might be to tell your condemners to pound sand.

YOUR TAX DOLLARS AT WORK.

Seen on Twitchy:  "NPR would like your thoughts and feelings for its upcoming series on masculinity."

Best response: "Please submit your thoughts, so that we can hand-pick responses that fit neatly into our predictable and pre-determined narrative."

CULTURAL APPROPRIATION?

There are dining cars on German trains, even 'though a long train journey is four hours or so.

The menus change out every so often.  Recently the featured item was chili con carne.  With a dollop of sour cream.  That prompted a discussion on international ferroequinologist Twitter over whether sour cream is proper in chili con carne.  It is.  That's common in cantinas Stateside, and the sour cream is a way of garnishing soljanka.

Meanwhile, Amtrak passengers get to be grateful that there might be some hot food in the Contemporary Dining Experience.

Fred Harvey wept.

10.2.19

WHAT WAS I SAYING ABOUT TENURE MUSIC?

Thank you, Tyler Cowen.


Yee-yee-haw-yee-yee-haw-yee-haw-haw-yee-haw-yee.

A MISPLACED MISSION.

I thought I could introduce this post as what comes up during football's equivalent of the hot stove league, but apparently there's something called Alliance of American Football to continue the competitions well into spring training.

That might divert attention from the latest attempts to rationalize competition in college football, where, once again, the Mid-American Conference, or some parts of it, are on not-so-secret probation.

There is no relegation in college sports, which means that the also-ran teams in a power conference (and the logic of a zero-sum tournament is that there will be also-rans) can be enabled to continue their losing ways, or perhaps can recruit and change their losing ways.
A team like 2-10 Arkansas, for instance, receives the same allocated monies (~$43M/season) from the conference and the Playoff committee as would SEC Champion Alabama, while most MAC schools struggle to run their entire athletic programs with maybe half that money, as most MAC schools average around $20M for a budget... assuming they’re not running at a deficit.
Running at a deficit, or running on student fees and a little help from the development office, is business as usual in the Mid-American, and no athletic director entrusted with a Mid-American program is going to want to give up football, because there are just enough Saturdays in September for Mid-American teams to clean house at guarantee games.  "[W]hen Northern Illinois, or any other Mid-American team, does better against a common opponent than a Big Ten team does, the people in Knute Rockne's backyard who want to keep offering football, even on a school night, will suggest there is enough success given the constraints so as to not abandon the enterprise."

I'd feel better about the Mid-American programs working on visibility in football, as Hustle Belt columnists Kenneth Bailey and James H. Jiminez write, if the "made it" mentality applied elsewhere around the conference universities.
As long as schools look upon the FBS as the symbol of having “made it”, they won’t be making the tough decisions in the immediate future. However, given the pressures on the schools for other reasons, they may have to decide the FBS is no longer worth the effort, especially if Power Five conferences don’t see the benefit of having their Group of Five peers in the room.
That is: we can hold our own with Minnesota or Nebraska or Maryland or Alabama or Purdue or Northwestern on the field.  Let's see if we can do that in the journals, in the placement of our students, in the awards garnered by our faculty.

Sorry, no.  "A faculty and shared-governance working group has created new drafts of the university mission, vision and values statements, and now invites members of the university community to comment on their work."

Why?  Because.
Holly Nicholson, co-chair of the NIU Mission Review and Revision Working Group, said administrators felt an update to the existing statements was needed.

She said the team has been discussing proposals with various faculty and staff and have considered many different outlooks for the update.

“It’s a great opportunity for NIU to differentiate ourselves,” Nicholson said. “We dove deep into what makes NIU special and how we can set ourselves apart from other universities, as well as using our mission, vision and values to inform all our strategic planning going forward.”
The last time the administrators imposed this burden on faculty was ... all of seven years ago, and all we have to show for it is a lousy pennant.


Oh, there's a bit more here, but if you go looking for how well the actual measured up to the hoped for, you might have a better chance of finding the Holy Grail in the Oak Island Money PitI tendered my resignation two years into that vision and mission.  " It occurs to me, though, that having the departments properly staffed so that students are able to complete their schedules without having to deal with irregular offerings either of foundational courses or key electives, might pay off in retention and completion to orders of magnitude greater than more money in student affairs."

Apparently not.  It's more important, apparently, to carefully distinguish mission from vision from values.  I kid you not.  "One of the first challenges for the working group was differentiating between mission, vision and values."

I'd feel better if these geniuses actually came up with something constructive.

Sorry, no.

Here's the mission to be debated in University Council, that is, if there is any shared governance left.  "NIU strives to be an agent for social progress and personal growth in service to our broader community."

Anodyne statements that might include contemporary virtue-signalling language strike me as the antithesis of either progress or growth.  There are enough promising young people enrolled that "service to our broader community" transcends "would you like fries with that?"  Can't they do better?

Now the vision.  "NIU empowers students through excellent instruction and engaged learning experiences to prepare them for meaningful lives and careers. We create knowledge and engage in artistry that will benefit the region, state, nation and world."

At least in football, there are hopes of beating Power Five opponents, qualifying for bowl games, and, occasionally, winning one.  The academic aspirations are, again, anodyne, and there's nothing about participating in the intellectual conversation on the same terms as the state flagships and the Ivies.  Beating them in sports, sure.  Having your articles on their reading lists, crickets.  Placing your graduates in their graduate programs?  It's been done.

The values?  Inclusion and respect, curiosity and creativity, ethics and integrity, service and stewardship.  They left out "thrifty, brave, clean, reverent."  I'm snarking, but again, I'm seeing an effort that's more about having the right phrases for the approval of accrediting agencies than about "becoming the university of choice" or "strengthening the majors" or any of the other things that continue to be the reason for U.S. News to sell those guides.

Perhaps I should not be surprised.
When any social arrangement is a construction, it can be deconstructed, and the sub-plot that ought to make readers angriest is the one in which serial administrators serially bring in their own retinues of assistant-tos, facilitators, and consultants to replace the strategic plans and mission statements of the previous administrators, after much work by the previous assistant-tos, facilitators, and consultants that distracted the faculty from doing what faculty ought be doing, namely having original thoughts and challenging students and each other with those thoughts. (But, Professor Ginsberg argues, there are ample opportunities for administrators to play on faculty sympathies with underdogs by framing some of the usurpations as in the service of diversity or equity or inclusion or access. Why more observers haven't caught on that academic prestige rests in part on bad writing not getting published, or bad dissertations not being defended, or weak students not graduating, or -- keeping March Madness in mind -- bad teams getting a play-in game at best escapes me.)
The Vision 2020 is two university presidents ago.  In another six or seven years, there is likely to be another round of administrative imperialism and academic destruction, all to keep the language of the vision and mission consistent with what everybody else is doing.  Even if what everybody else is doing isn't working.

THERE WAS A GOOD HOCKEY GAME LAST TUESDAY.

Oh, was I supposed to watch a speech?  Andrew J. Bacevich says don't bother.
Let me confess to dozing off during President Trump’s interminable State of the Union address on Tuesday evening. The offense is one that I vow never to repeat. To ensure that I keep that vow, henceforth, I’ll just skip the event altogether. In doing so, this much is for certain: I won’t be missing anything.

When I was a kid, the annual calendar included several televised events that we considered mandatory viewing, among them the Kentucky Derby, the Indianapolis 500, the Miss America Pageant, and the Charlie Brown Christmas special. Watching them was akin to a patriotic duty.

The annual SOTU was similarly classified, its importance unquestioned. We believed—and perhaps back then that belief was not entirely baseless—that the president’s assessment of the nation’s and the world’s condition meant something. It demanded thoughtful consideration. We believed further that his proposed agenda actually had some bearing on the future of American politics.

Credit Trump with exposing the absurdity of such expectations. Granted, I am only able to judge from the speech’s first 30 minutes or so, but what I heard was vapid, cliché-ridden, and embarrassingly devoid of substantive content. Except as fodder for comedians, it was without value.
Apparently a kid named Trump owned the internet, for nodding off in the Distinguished Guests' box on a school night.

Me?  The resurgent Chicago Blackhawks put up a crooked number in Edmonton in the third.  I dipped into the after-speech food fight on opinion television, where the usual suspects retreated to the usual corners.

In one corner:  the Democrats, particularly their female senators and representatives, behaved badly.
Rather than demonstrate that women politicians on a combative national stage can govern in a sober and diplomatic way, female Democrats in Congress—don’t call them ladies—unfortunately are playing into the very stereotypes that they claim to want to disprove. They are moody, petulant, and impulsive. When confronted about their bad ideas or egregious remarks, these Cycle Sisters rage about sexism and racism rather than respond in good faith. They have profanity-laced temper tantrums and emotional breakdowns in public.

Their collective mood is so foul and unpredictable that one feels almost compelled to give them a box of chocolate donuts, a dose of Midol, and send them to bed with a heating pad.
That temper tantrum has been going on in social media without interruption ever since Donald Trump carried Wisconsin.  The women of the fevered brow in the Democrat caucus think they're playing to their base.  "The drive to force pretty girls to cover up and reduce their employment opportunities is designed to force them into the loving embrace of the white-clad, scowling Handmaids Crew."


The base, though, is people for whom bad manners are simply an expression of authenticity.  "At one point, Nancy Pelosi, my actual Patronus, pulled out a stack of papers and started reading it while Trump spoke, a living embodiment of the phrase 'LOL whut?!'"  Plus the ironic in-your-face hand clap.

Mr Bacevich suggests watching Bonanza reruns rather than the Speech from the Throne.  Hockey doesn't take the night off, even if Lord Stanley is among the special guests.

SUBVERTING THE DOMINANT PARADIGM.

Walter Williams, the former head of the economics department at George Mason, has long been delightfully contrarian, for instance authoring The State Against Blacks, which, its title notwithstanding, encourages people to see exactly what their no-doubt well-intentioned interventions accomplished; and he later deputised for Rush Limbaugh during the Festive Season, describing his appearances as "Black By Popular Demand."  It's not surprising that he'd offer a column asking, "Is Reality Optional?"  You know I'm going to endorse it.  Because He. Went. There.
Suppose a college honored the right of its students to free themselves from biological determinism and allowed those with XY chromosomes to play on teams formerly designated as XX teams. What if an "unenlightened" women's basketball team refused to play against a team with a starting five consisting of 6-foot-6-inch, 200-plus-pound XYers? The NCAA should have a rule stating that refusal to play a mixed-chromosome team leads to forfeiture of the game. It's no different from a team of white players refusing to play another because it has black players.
I don't have the background in abnormal psychology or medicine to be able to engage arguments about how people who claim to be Napoleon don't get cannon and a map of Russia aren't germane to treating crossers, or how we understand that diet pills and liposuction don't cure bulimia.

I have, however, long entertained a wicked thought that someday, somewhere, there is a basketball coach who will end the dominance of Connecticut, or perhaps Stanford or Notre Dame, by recruiting a few male-to-female crossers who can really crash the boards.

5.2.19

FAILING THEIR MARKET TESTS.

Brian Rosenberg, president of Macalester College, which once had the chops, or something, to induce failed presidential hopeful Eugene McCarthy to hold down a faculty gig there, takes to the house organ for business as usual in higher education to decry a widening stratification in higher education.  "Applications are up, and acceptance rates down, at the nation’s most selective colleges and universities, as the number of students applying for early admission there continues to climb."

Ah, the U. S. News problem.  Unfortunately for the Hampshires and Antiochs (and Macalesters?) of this world, there might not be enough matriculants to make payroll.  "According to a recent survey of admissions leaders, a majority of colleges and universities do not expect to fill their new classes by June 1. Meanwhile, Columbia University had an acceptance rate of 7 percent in 2018."  The regional comprehensives are getting hammered, as well, with the retrenchment at Wisconsin - Stevens Point meriting mention.

It's just another opportunity to trot out the class struggle, or something.  "Telling students at Hampshire or Stevens Point that we are living in a golden age is a bit like telling teachers in Los Angeles that life is good because Jerry Jones, owner of the Dallas Cowboys, recently bought a $250-million yacht. Great news — it has two helipads."

There's a lot more wrong with Los Angeles than the failure of the Rams, the typhus outbreak, and the crappy public schools, none of which would be made any better if Mr Jones didn't buy that yacht, or if he deeded ownership of the Cowboys to the Archdiocese of Dallas and an American Legion post.  But Mr Rosenberg's feelings evidently trump facts.
Just as a healthy middle class has been shrinking in the United States for decades, so too has what we might call the "middle class" of higher education. A few institutions — the Ivy League, the most prestigious liberal-arts colleges, a few public flagships — have long been wealthier and more selective than their peers. But not long ago, places like Beloit, Earlham, and Stevens Point were solvent and serving an important purpose by educating — usually very well — those students who were not candidates for MIT or Amherst. The student populations on the less-storied campuses, not to mention the millions who attended community colleges, historically black colleges, and small, rural institutions, were generally less affluent and more diverse than those at Princeton. Providing them with a college degree was, and is, arguably a more important social good than the work done by the ultraprestigious colleges, most of whose students have a range of excellent options from which to choose.
Yes, and once upon a time those institutions actually delivered higher education. Or, in the case of Wisconsin State at Stevens Point, and Northern Illinois Teachers College, their mission was preparing school teachers.
It's ultimately about the common schools inculcating the habits of the middle class, isn't it? Followed by the land-grants and the mid-majors recognizing that they are in the same business as the Ivies, and understanding that one promising kid recruited by a Harvard or Amherst away from Stevens Point or Colorado State or Northern Illinois or Ball State is still going to leave a substantial population of "gems" who deserve better than access-assessment-remediation-retention or a subprime party school.
These days, maybe not so much. It's not so much that the hundred institutions claiming to be among the top twenty in the U. S. News league tables are doing some token diversification as it is that the other institutions have neglected their work. Here's Mr Rosenberg. "It is admirable that elite institutions now admit more students of color and more first-generation students than they did a decade ago. But these numbers will always represent a minuscule percentage of their enrollment, and we should not deceive ourselves into thinking that the problem of unequal access will or can be solved by Harvard."

No, nor can Harvard alone do the job.  The U. S. News problem exists in part because some of that "vanishing middle class" has vanished upward and because some of the applications that make the rejection rates at the Ivies what they are are coming in from middle-class students in places that didn't previously have middle classes, and those applicants pay full fare at the state flagship universities.  Meanwhile, diversification for its own sake too often deteriorates into lowered expectations.
The real issue might not be the number of students a professor teaches, but the caliber of the students taught. "We're all in the same business, and the rubric of low-net-worth-first-generation-minority-nontraditional-access does not have to be a low-level expectations trap."  Too often, though, it is.  And the locus of financially unsustainable and educationally counterproductive tendencies in education includes everything that goes on before the kids hit college.  How, though, to persuade the universities that the strategy to deal with tight state budgets is to not apologize for being selective?
It might be too late for Stevens Point.  "Not to be too blunt, but what happens when somebody in Madison takes a look at three regional campuses (Eau Claire, Menomonie, and Stevens Point) within a few miles of each other and suggests a consolidation to one campus might be in order?" Macalester?  Might Mr Rosenberg's problem be a variation on a phenomenon I witnessed in high school?  "The social set weighed the relative merits of Oshkosh and Whitewater."  Those tiny acceptance rates at Harvard or Columbia?  Go after those students, already.

Or recognize that there might be excess capacity in higher education.
Some will argue that struggling colleges have only themselves to blame for not coming up with a more sustainable economic model. Others will argue that what we are witnessing is simply an inevitable disruption of an outdated industry. Both of those arguments have some merit, though the fact remains that right now we have no obvious and equally effective replacements for good colleges that disappear. Allowing colleges to die makes sense only if we have something as good or better to replace them.
I heard the same sorts of arguments about Chrysler (twice, now, in my lifetime) and Youngstown SteelAnybody seen Bethlehem Steel, lately?  I suspect we'll manage without Hampshire or Macalester or Evergreen State.

4.2.19

THE TRANSACTION COSTS ARE NOT TRIVIAL.

Five years ago, we noted Jeremy Rifkin hoping for improved information technologies leading to reduced pressure on resources as households didn't all have to have one of every possible convenience.
The distributed, collaborative nature of the Internet allows millions of people to find the right match-ups to share whatever they can spare with what others can use. This is a different kind of economy -- one far more dependent on social capital than market capital. And it's an economy that lives more on social trust rather than on anonymous market forces.
Duplicate stuff, whether it's lawnmowers or back yard swimming pools or kitchen appliances, has long been a talking point of the environmentalist left, although the idea of easier sharing thanks to reduced transaction costs also appeals to the libertarian Mike Munger.  "In Tomorrow 3.0, homes will contain vastly less stuff. By definition, they continue to contain some people."

Perhaps so, and yet the ability of people to hire transportation rather than own a car isn't reducing the fleet of cars on the road.
The report in the Daily Bruin revealed anew that Uber, Lyft, Via and the like are massively increasing car trips in many of the most walkable and transit friendly places in U.S.

It comes after a raft of recent studies have found negative effects from Uber and Lyft, such as increased congestion, higher traffic fatalities, huge declines in transit ridership and other negative impacts. It’s becoming more and more clear that Uber and Lyft having some pretty pernicious effects on public health and the environment, especially in some of the country’s largest cities.
Yes, and people who want to buy a car in order to get into the ride-sharing business might want to think carefully about the idle time involved.
The promise of companies such as Uber and Lyft was that they would “free” city dwellers to sell their cars or not acquire them in the first place. And car ownership has declined among higher wage earners.

But a University of Chicago study found the presence of Uber and Lyft in cities actually increases new vehicle registrations. That’s because the companies encourage lower-income people to purchase cars, even advertising in some markets how people should put that new car to use — as an Uber.

For every mile a Uber or Lyft car drives with a passenger, it cruises as many miles — if not more — without a passenger, a practice known in the industry as “deadheading.” Estimates of total deadheading time vary from 30 percent to as much as 60 percent.

Uber and Lyft’s policies make this worse by encouraging drivers to constantly circle to reduce wait times for users, according to John Barrios, the researcher at the University of Chicago, who has studied Uber and Lyft.
Let's suppose that a practical autonomous car is feasible. How much deadheading and circling will the owner of a fleet of such cars be happy with?

Oh, and the existing taxi companies and transit authorities have their own fiefdoms to protect.  Thus, in San Francisco, which is to say, in the citadel of Information Technology, the taxi medallion is back.  But only for taxis serving the airport.  There's a loophole in the regulations big enough to drive a jitney through.

IT APPEALS NOT TO THE HEAD, NOR THE HEART, NOR (ESPECIALLY) THE EARS.

National Review's Nicholas M. Gallagher attempts to say something nice about Claude Debussy.
Debussy’s music is often referred to as “impressionist.” This metaphor works well, not only for the nature of the music (which sometimes carries tunes but more often only outlines them) but also for its place in history. Like impressionist art, Debussy’s music looks back to the traditional methods that came before it but also forward to the near-dissolution of the art form that followed in the 20th century, with all that accompanied it — most notably, the alienation of traditional mass audiences, a self-reinforcing snobbishness, and a (very belated) sense, even among elites, that it all may have resulted in a dead end.
I call that contemporary stuff tenure music, and it neither passes the hearing test at Cold Spring Shops nor market tests in the wider world, all that intellectualizing about "composers with their ears set further forward" or "not letting the ears rest in an easy chair" notwithstanding.

That it's an evolutionary dead end for composers as well occurs to Mr Gallagher.
Debussy was part of a generation that revolted against the admittedly ossified musical norms of late-19th-century European music, just as the impressionists had against the strict conventions of “academic” art. Both in the process opened the door to questioning the very underpinnings of their art form that had endured for centuries — figurative representation in one case; tonality and the standard modes in the other. This is why, despite a number of obvious stylistic differences, Raphael’s The Marriage of the Virgin (1504) and Henry Ossawa Tanner’s The Annunciation (1898) look much more similar to each other than either does to Matisse’s View of Notre-Dame (1914). Similarly, it’s why Vivaldi’s Four Seasons and Verdi’s Falstaff (1893) sound more alike than either does to Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire (1912). Impressionists such as Debussy (who ironically hated the term that has been almost universally applied to him) or Monet provided transitional bridges between the old way and the new.

World War I seemed to confirm the results of experiments that composers such as Debussy, Schoenberg, and others had been conducting at the turn of the 20th century: The modern world simply could not be expressed by old methods. Particularly as far as World War I goes, there’s a great deal of truth to this. It can be seen in modernism, as in the very title of World War I art such as Claggett Wilson’s Flower of Death — The Bursting of a Heavy Shell — Not as It Looks, but as It Feels and Sounds and Smells. It can be heard in works such as Britten’s War Requiem (written after World War II, but partly in response to the World War I poetry of Wilfred Owen, which it quotes at length.) These works feel much more right as ways to depict the universe-shattering carnage of the Great War than any traditional method does. And indeed, in the immediate aftermath of World War I, French artists would reject Debussy as not going far enough. (He has since been restored to his rightful place as a genius and a father of modernism.)

Other trends reinforced this perception of inevitable, necessary movement toward the modern styles. The enormous factories of the second industrial revolution that dwarfed the individual, the pollution, the noise, the smoot and clang that filled the cities — all endorsed, indeed perhaps demanded, the kind of music that had broken with traditional notions of tone, tune, and even beauty.

Meanwhile, other potential paths seemed blocked. World War I and a host of lesser conflicts discredited musical nationalism along with its more malignant varieties. There was an element of chance and individual genius: Who knows what may have happened if, after Puccini died in 1924, there had been another master to pick up the baton of Italian lyric opera, as he had from Verdi. Instead, the series of movements — modernism, postmodernism, minimalism, etc. — that rejected traditional tonalities and forms would take over more and more of the cultural landscape.
I suppose the overturning of the liberal international order the Great Powers imposed upon Napoleon being exiled to St. Helena might be occasion for angsty behavior by creative types (angsty behavior being perhaps a defining characteristic of the creative), and yet the creative types have only a right to create, not necessarily a right to be appreciated for their efforts.
It’s common to blame rock-and-roll for the decline of classical music, but this is snobbery and evasion as much as anything else. Traditional theater, for instance, managed to survive the advent of television in considerably better shape.

Ah, but what about the ghosts of Beethoven and Van Gogh, who are always summoned to defend the modern composer? So what if the music isn’t popular? Wasn’t Beethoven’s Third Symphony (Eroica) initially disliked? Well yes, it received some bad reviews — for about two minutes. Within a few years, it was rightfully popular; soon it was universally recognized as the masterwork that it is. Whereas it has been over a century since the appearance of Pierrot Lunaire — and the public doesn’t seem to have gotten the message yet.

All of this has been increasingly difficult to deny. About two years ago, Anthony Tommasini, the New York Times’ music critic, wrote a brave piece that more or less asked if the last hundred years have all been a big mistake. Increasingly, in fitful experiments focused less on theory and more on audience enjoyment (what a shocking concept), composers are struggling for a way out. (So far, it must be said, without the level of success needed for an epochal turnaround.)

Yet a funny thing has happened. Even as the revolutionary modernist techniques became conventions, then clichés — even as passionate cries about responding to a changed world became customary pieties — the world changed again. The disruption of the industrial revolution has been tamed by everything from computers to environmentalism to new production processes that shrank factories. The last generation that can remember major-power conflict is passing. And in areas such as the culture wars, manners — which is to say, harmony — seem increasingly a preoccupation. All has changed — except classical music. At a production level, to be sure, opera may be in as good a position as it has been in recent memory. But in terms of composition — in terms of spirit — classical music has remained mired in trends that are no longer new, or daring, or popular.
Yes, although (as is often the case with resurgencies) the Trendy Styles of the Sclerotic Establishment are not necessarily what everyone is working on any more.

It's a side benefit that the artsy establishment is of a piece with that part of the policy establishment with a history of being soft on crime, soft on communism (when that was a thing) and soft on counterterrorism.
The highbrow Left — which has been in the driver’s seat in cultural criticism for some time now — has singularly failed to find a way out of this mess. It is too enmeshed in the institutionalized world that produces such work and too attached to the nostrums that surround and justify it. (There is an odd resemblance between the pieties that justify the administrative state and those that justify modern music — both correlated by their shared fondness for a period when the modern highbrow center-Left took control of certain commanding heights.) And it has a problem that derives less from politics than from the fact that it’s an establishment. It has absorbed that snobbishness — inherited from composers such as Schoenberg and refined in the academized world of modern composers — that leads critics to look down on even fans of classical music as the unwashed masses. This is how you wind up with critics confessing after 30 years of writing that there might be something to the Star Wars music, surprised to realize that this is because, rather than despite, its popularity.
Yes, to use Mr Gallagher's formulation, the concluding tunes of Beethoven's Fidelio and William Walton's Battle of Britain and John Williams's The Empire Strikes Back sound more like each other than not.  Moreover, to riff off Mr Gallagher's closing arguments, there's a Professor Peter Schickele quip about how one of his works was a success because "everybody went out whistling the tunes."  It's possible to do that with some J. S. Bach and some Debussy, but with a lot of the tenure music, no way.