30.1.20

BETTER BY WHAT STANDARD?

As a general rule, I am skeptical of anyone claiming to be working in the cause of a better world.  "Perhaps it would be better to not think about a vision of a better world, because that way leads Process and Consensus and Expertise, which is to say, the phenomena that have brought to pass the Great Rebellion."  Not to mention that Process and Consensus and Expertise are the best possible outcomes, when the alternative is Vanguardism and Self Righteousness.

Enough of the high concepts for the month.  What sort of better world does not include French Toast in the dining car?


In the background, out of the depth of field, the pastries and containers of oatmeal that pass for a continental breakfast on the Lake Shore.  In the foreground, the 10 ounce hot cup containing hot water for mixing into the oatmeal.  Experience the taste of a better world, then, as it's a one-use cup, throw it out!

When I posted the picture on Twitter somebody commented on the sustainability of a one-use cup.  Indeed.  Serve the coffee in a proper Dolphin coffee cup, the way The Milwaukee Road did, and keep a kettle of oatmeal warm in the kitchen to serve as the passengers request.

OUCH.

The James G. Martin Center's Edward Archer characterizes grantsmanship as fostering "The Intellectual and Moral Decline in Academic Research."  In particular, "My experiences at four research universities and as a National Institutes of Health (NIH) research fellow taught me that the relentless pursuit of taxpayer funding has eliminated curiosity, basic competence, and scientific integrity in many fields."

Well, yes.
The problem, dear readers, lies not with the professor's judgement, but with the sponsored research system itself. Research is expensive. Good research is particularly so. With (in some disciplines) a rather elastic supply of teaching labor available at budget rates legislators and others holding the university's purse strings understandably seek to encourage all faculty who wish to do research to seek external funding, in order to boost default teaching loads (both course load and course size.) 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's worse than that, argues Mr Archer.
Yet, more importantly, training in “science” is now tantamount to grant-writing and learning how to obtain funding. Organized skepticism, critical thinking, and methodological rigor, if present at all, are afterthoughts. Thus, our nation’s institutions no longer perform their role as Eisenhower’s fountainhead of free ideas and discovery. Instead, American universities often produce corrupt, incompetent, or scientifically meaningless research that endangers the public, confounds public policy, and diminishes our nation’s preparedness to meet future challenges.
Even if it's not that bad, the sponsored research imperative diverts thoughtful people from playing with whatever ideas appeal to them (yes, many of them might turn out to be bad or trivial, but that's how emergence works) in order to follow what appears to be a Hot Topic (the tragedy being that by the time those grants and working papers hit the conference and journal circuits, the discipline's stars are on to other things) or to make some money.  (Margaret "University Diaries" Soltan has done yeoman service on how that goes wrong: the search string "pharma" is simply one place to start your research.)  Either way, the successful grant-getter might turn into a one-trick pony: perhaps it's a good trick, perhaps even Socially Useful (something Mr Archer doubts), and yet anything that isn't grant-worthy isn't investigated.

I suspect that Mr Archer correctly perceives a mutation of grant-seeking into another variant of the Glass Bead Game as well under way.
A number of critics, including John Ioannidis of Stanford University, contend that academic research is often “conducted for no other reason than to give physicians and researchers qualifications for promotion or tenure.” In other words, taxpayers fund studies that are conducted for non-scientific reasons such as career advancement and “policy-based evidence-making.”
That idea has been in the air for some time.
Yes, and the graduate students so trained on the taxpayer dime learn the arts of grantsmanship, and, should they be fortunate enough to land a tenure-line job, they can then write grants and recruit and develop the next generation of Amway representatives researchers.  Whether the work so funded is better than the work professors develop on their own initiative remains to be seen.
I'm glad to see others taking up the argument.

29.1.20

FREQUENCY, CONNECTIVITY, AND DEPENDABILITY.

Regional Passenger Rail is catching on in the Connecticut River Valley north of Springfield.  The day I arrived in Springfield was the day the local authorities dedicated a new high-level passenger platform serving two tracks, complete with local news coverage.  As part of the rail rebirth, the public spaces of Springfield's Union Station have been returned to use.  For years, the Amtrak facilities, such as they were, were the concourse on the south side of the building, with a ticket office upstairs.  The head building was still standing, if derelict, and it was rebuilt, with some of the public spaces put to use as waiting rooms for local and intercity buses.  (That's the same concept as Milwaukee's intermodal station using a former Milwaukee Road station.)  Now the head building is open again, and it includes some eateries and a convenience store.  (Milwaukee please copy.)


That's the recently restored and reopened north entrance.  The taxi rank is out the south door, which used to be the only entrance.  There are no more flapping card Solari boards along the Northeast Corridor, although this successor offers the same visual aspect (but with no electronic clicking to call attention.)


Note that the Vermonters headed up-river and down-river are both on time, and both due in the station ahead of the westbound Lake Shore.  That gives passengers along the river between New Haven and wherever the Vermonter originates these days the option of an all-rail ride from, for instance Hartford for Cleveland, or White River Junction for Chicago, that is, if Amtrak allow the connection.  The return trip, not so much, as the Boston section calls eastbound around 5.30 pm.  We'll see how well that augmented Hartford Line service that's currently running does.

In addition, the residents of the Pioneer Valley have been making a case for additional service west of Worcester, where the Boston suburban zone ends, to Springfield.  That's posing a number of difficulties.
Discussions are still in the early stages. The Department of Transportation has been studying six Boston-Springfield train alternatives, along with additional train or bus service to Pittsfield. The options range from sending up to six trains a day from Springfield to Worcester along existing tracks, to connect with the MBTA’s commuter rail service, to building a new high-speed line along the Massachusetts Turnpike.
Augmenting the existing rail service along the existing former Boston and Albany is not as easy as it looks, as that's a single-track railroad with passing sidings and at least one major hill between Boston and Worcester, and the Christmas-wish-bullet-train on the Turnpike right of way would have to be elevated, plus the Turnpike is up and down over those same ridges.  I wonder if anyone at the Massachusetts Department of Transportation is looking at the old Central Massachusetts line from Northampton via Amherst toward Worcester as a possibility, or if that grade has so been built on in the years since abandonment and the construction of the Quabbin and Wachusett reservoirs that the elevated line along the Turnpike is cheaper.

Let's leave that for another day and go for a train ride.  There is a direct stairway and elevator to the high-level platform serving two tracks, but passengers for the Lake Shore must use the existing stairs of the etiolated station of years past, then cross three live tracks to their platform.


That's the stock of the 4 pm train for Hartford and New Haven alongside the new platform.  With the train show in progress, I'm not the only trainspotter taking pictures.


The Vermont-bound Vermonter, four Amfleet corridor coaches and a cafe car with Business class, fairly standard rake for Amtrak's regional trains.  Yes, the diesel is pointed at Boston: the station is east of the New Haven and Boston and Maine tracks, and all through trains for or from the North Country would head in and back out, or back in and head out, depending on what the Train Director ordered.  As we've noted previously, the ruins of New York Central's former passenger infrastructure are still common along the line.  Add Springfield to Rochester, Erie, and Toledo.


Set back onto the New Haven, wait for the signal to cross the Boston and Albany, highball for the ski hills and maple groves.  We won't see that maneuver, as there's something else going on.


Here's the Boston section of the Lake Shore: two diesels, baggage car, sleeper, Business Class cafe car, one coach.  Loadings out of Springfield will be pretty good, many of the people in the first class queue will secure an easy chair in Business Class and get their rest that way.  A four car train is a pale shadow of the old New England States, on the other hand it's an improvement over the snack-coach and diesel connection to Penn Central's Chicago, Detroit, and Toronto train of just before Amtrak: that is, the train that a Kalmbach caption writer compared with a "dejected old hound."

There's no track work going on over the Berkshires, and the train makes East Albany at about 5.30, now we wait for the New York cars to get in and the sleeper passengers have an opportunity to walk across the platform to the table car.  Plenty of time for pictures.


That's the stock of one of the Albany to New York trains waiting at right.  In time, the New York cars show up: dual mode diesel, two coaches, table car, two sleepers, baggage car.  It's going to be a full train with a lot of people bound back to Syracuse or Rochester or Buffalo; my impression the next morning is that the loads thinned out considerably overnight.  More not-quite Noodles bowls for supper.

Years ago, when the Twentieth Century and New England States ran on similar schedules across the northern tier, both were primarily sleeping car trains.  Note in this 1966 schedule that the Century overtook the States at Buffalo: that ultimately prompted New York Central to combine the trains at Buffalo.  By then both trains included coaches, and there would likely be an opportunity to cut coaches westbound or add them eastbound for those intrastate riders at the same time that the Toronto and Detroit cars were being switched out or in.  These days, though, adding or dropping coaches is a lost art for Amtrak (one car at Denver, one at the Cities, I have trouble thinking of any other.)

The ninety minutes Amtrak allow between the arrival of the Boston cars and the departure of the combined train are sufficient for a Hiawatha to cover the ground between Milwaukee and Chicago, and in that time the only switching work is to cut the motor off the New York cars, pull the Boston cars ahead and set them back on the New York cars, and now the Boston passengers who crossed the platform to the table car negotiate the crowded coaches back to their sleeper on the head end.

When there isn't track work or heavy freight traffic in progress, the passengers move out, just fine.  It's my usual sleep as practicable, don't fret too much about stops or timekeeping.  I have the impression we waited for time at Cleveland and Toledo, and into Chicago fifteen minutes to the good.

Good ride, relaxing enough, some good conversation at dinner, and yet, in the same way that there's no circus without elephants, there's no overnight train without French Toast at breakfast.

WELL, THEY SHOULD.

Today's lamentations from Inside Higher Ed include "More than 40 percent of trustees are now very concerned about the future of higher education."

Gosh, I wonder why.  Their biggest worry? "The financial sustainability of higher education institutions."  That gets picked by 42% of private college trustees and 25% of public college trustees.  Market tests are real, dear reader; and perhaps more than a few of the public college trustees might recognize that legislative forbearance for Mr Chips has limits.

The second biggest worry, "Price of higher education for students and their families," picks up 24% of the public and 25% of the private trustees.  That perhaps the students aren't developing the kind of human capital that makes borrowing against future earnings a possibility (note: I'm not saying "prudent" or "rational" let alone "desirable" to do that borrowing) might be present in some of the "Others receiving votes" category, e.g. "Public perception of the value of a college degree" or "Relevance of higher education in helping graduates obtain a better job/career" or "Incoming students' preparedness for college."

Most of the discussion in the column focuses on business practices and the challenges of being a trustee; the idea that maybe the services being rendered aren't that great any more gets short shrift.

PRICES FUNCTION TO REALLOCATE RESOURCES.

Half a year ago, we noted that Boise drivers were stuck in traffic (and the futility of providing additional road capacity to ameliorate the congestion.)

It has also long been a theme of mine that housing prices adjust such that a resident is indifferent among bundles of differently priced houses and differently painful commutes.  "In equilibrium, no, but to the extent that cars become more costly (thanks, fuel efficiency standards and crashworthiness standards) and the roads become more congested, the value of living closer to work goes up.  Thus do we get the rising rents in city centers."

That's as true in Boise as it would be in San Francisco or on Manhattan.
Affordability has worsened to the point that it is starting to stunt the Boise area’s job growth, the Realtors say, as it already has in Portland and Seattle.

“I’m beginning to sense the dropping unaffordability of Boise is beginning to hinder job-growth potential,” said Lawrence Yun, an economist for the Realtors, in a phone interview with the Idaho Statesman.

Workers may not be feeling any job-growth impact yet, because unemployment is still so low here — 2.4% in December — and help-wanted signs are prevalent. The local economy remains strong.
I think by "affordability has worsened" they're referring to people bidding up the prices of existing houses, and by "not feeling any job-growth impact" it is the people who are employed (and getting pay raises?) doing the bidding up.

Whether the price changes will induce the efficient responses remains to be seen.
Yun said housing costs could put the brakes on companies considering relocating to Idaho from California and other states with higher costs.

“If home values are very high, that also means that trying to recruit people at the same wage will be difficult,” said Yun. “They may have to offer a higher wage.”

Boise wages grew a modest 2.2% from the second quarter of 2018 to the same period in 2019, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Gosh, pay packets commensurate with the costs of living in an area? Quelle surprise!  Plus, perhaps we're seeing people migrating away from the Super Cities with rent gradients so steep nobody moves there any more.
Boise and those other areas — including Tampa, Nashville, Grand Rapids, Indianapolis, Louisville, and Columbus — need added housing inventory to make homes more affordable, Yun said.

“More supply needs to be built to change the price growth or at least stabilize it,” Yun said. “If there’s insufficient supply, that means prices will continue to rise strongly, and at some point it’s going to choke off potential buyers as it makes it a less attractive place to live.”

The number of building permits issued in Boise fell 3% last year, while nationally they increased 8%. The shortage of homes is forcing more people to rent.

Rents are rising too, partly because of demand from people who cannot afford to buy.

Like home builders, apartment builders are busy, but they’re not keeping up with demand. Since 2015, developers have built 3,581 new rental units in Ada County, bringing the total to nearly 19,000. An additional 1,542 units were under construction late last year.

Of course, fast-rising prices have an upside. They bring profits to builders, house sellers and apartment owners, and they attract new development that eventually could moderate price increases.
That is, if people are free to react to the incentives. Consider the arbitrage arguments: rental rates must also adjust in order that the equilibrium resident is indifferent between renting or owning; likewise house prices that are far in excess of the capitalized value of rents for that house are warning signs of a potential housing bubble (Hello 2007 my old friend?)

On the other hand, there might be symbioses among "smart growth" advocates, zoning boards, and incumbent homeowners, as the advocates and the boards can talk a good game about sustainability and preserving the environment and not having to impose taxes to build new schools, while the incumbent homeowners harvest the capital gains.  Until the constraints start driving potential residents and employers away.

28.1.20

WHY NOT LET NOODLES & COMPANY PROVISION THE TRAINS?

Last weekend was the Amherst Railway Society train show at the Eastern States fairgrounds outside Springfield.  The last time I was there was twenty years ago, time for a return trip.  Driving or flying?  Of course not.  My first ever train trip included The New England States, and I'm a regular rider of the Chicago to Boston service.

Midwinter can be a risky time to ride trains, particularly if the polar vortex and the lake effect snow are at work from Toledo onward toward Utica.  Last Thursday, though, the running was good, does that mean we are seeing a recession developing with Norfolk Southern not having enough land barges to interfere with Amtrak in the usual manner.  Thus, I think we were waiting for time at Toledo and at Cleveland (my habit on trains is to sleep whenever possible and not pay too much attention to my watch or other cues for the time of day) and likewise arrived at Albany with enough time to have done the kind of switching New York Central used to do there.

Things were not so cheerful in the air.  At my hotel I met a family also in Springfield for the show: they had planned to leave Midway around 4 pm on Friday, and their plane finally got in the air around 1 am Saturday.  Unavailability of incoming equipment at Chicago owing to weather elsewhere.  It's convenient when it works, but the air network doesn't always work.


The winter-season Lake Shore is a bare-bones train: two diesels, baggage car, Boston sleeper, Business Class and cafe car, coach, two New York coaches, table car, two New York sleepers, and a baggage car.  At Albany, the diesels and the Boston cars pull away from the New York cars, and a diesel backs on to lead those cars into Penn Station.  The train staff were making announcements all the way across New York that passengers in coaches not use the seats for luggage stories and that people traveling together sit two to a seat: it was a full train.  As an on-time Lake Shore is a mid-morning departure from Buffalo across the northern tier counties, it does a fair amount of local work.  The counterpart Penn Central trains from just before Amtrak added cars from Toronto and Detroit via St. Thomas, Ontario at Buffalo, where additional coaches might have been available to strengthen the train.


Your tax dollars have paid for these new baggage cars and table cars with a profile, and in the case of the table cars, a window arrangement that matches those of the Viewliner sleepers from thirty years ago.  There are new Viewliner sleepers under construction.  The Amfleet II coaches and the business class Amcafe car have a lower profile.  Passenger loadings in Business appeared to be healthy, perhaps people deciding an easy chair to sleep in overnight is good enough value for money given that the sleeping car fare is much higher, and the food service of a fast casual standard.


I'm using the term "table car" deliberately.  These new Viewliner "diners" have a full kitchen (mostly along for the ride on the eastern routes) and that curved casting at the end gives the impression of an old-style boat-tail observation car (an aesthetic also present in Boston and Maine and Maine Central's restaurant-lounge cars of years ago) but no proper observation or lounge would put cardboard trash boxes there.  The corridor to a sleeping car is open behind.  The only tablecloths in use are for putting away the trays the meals now come on, all that's missing is the Chipotle-style "do not throw the baskets away" notices.

What, though, about the food itself?  Jim "Trains and Travel Loomis" calls it the "Contemporary Dining Scam."  Longtime Amtrak analyst and critic Andrew Selden recently rode the Lake Shore, Springfield to Chicago (there will be a second installment of my posts dealing with my westbound ride) and wrote, not at all favorably, about the gustatory experience, in the trade journal Railway Age.
Amtrak dining car costs have traditionally been covered by a transfer of about 10% of the remarkably high sleeper accommodation charge to the dining car account. Amtrak’s Superliner dining cars can turn a profit on these fares, despite the elevated labor cost, as demonstrated by the short-lived 24-hour diner service years ago on the Sunset Limited, described here recently by Bruce Richardson. But current Amtrak management seems unaware of that history, focused instead on abating costs rather than improving overall financial results. Contemporary Dining therefore is a completely unnecessary initiative.

Management, however, lacking a meaningful or accurate internal cost accounting system or any system at all capable of gauging marginal or incremental costs of particular activities, and compensated with bonuses based in part on achieving “cost reductions,” sees the dining car accounts as a target to be slashed, rather than as a component of an overall travel experience designed to elicit repeat business at amazingly high prices, as cruise lines and airlines do (in First and Business Class). We have noted previously that customers in this segment of Amtrak’s business are its most remunerative, taking into account all of the costs of generating their revenue, as well as representing by far the largest segment of the business. Driving them off with bad service and bad food hardly seems a prudent strategy.
But asking one person to manage the kitchen, meaning zapping the portion-controlled stuff put aboard at Chicago or New York, and maybe taking it to the tables, doesn't do much for the morale of the attendant, the timeliness of the food, or tips.  Here's Mr Selden.
In the new scheme, the customer enters the dining car, eight cars back from the Boston sleeper (or just forward from the two New York sleepers), to find a delightful new CAF USA-built Viewliner dining car with 42 seats and a traditional galley, but staffed by a single employee. Depending on the employee, one may encounter different service schemes. Amtrak’s preference is that customers queue up outside the door to the galley (how customers are supposed to know this isn’t clear, as no instruction is provided), and take turns asking the one employee for the food they want, from a menu taped to the wall. In other cases, the employee may invite the customers to seat themselves at one of the ten and one-half booths (the missing one and one-half booths have been replaced by four cardboard trash bins—a hint of what’s to come), where the employee will take their order.

If ordered at the door, the customer is expected to stand in the rocking and rolling car (thank you, CSX, for the mediocre ride quality) while the employee repairs to the galley to assemble the requested items, possibly microwave some of it, and pack it all into a brown paper bag (the bags don’t fit well on the galley’s serving counter and are awkward to handle), which then is handed to the waiting customer. The customer picks up his own plastic utensils from a nearby table and then … well, is on his own to figure out whether to sit at a booth (if one is open) or wander back to his sleeping car, which might be as much as 650 feet and eight cars removed from the diner. The microwaving will surely have worn off by then. In other cases, the employee may deliver the requested “food” items without the brown paper bag to the customer at his booth.

After eating the “meal,” does the customer bus his own trash (and it’s all trash—nothing is re-usable)? Or is the sole employee expected to clean up, too? Nothing in the car instructs the customer, but to the especially observant, and to the frequent user of fast food establishments, the four cardboard trash bins may be a clue.

Does one tip the employee for this “service”?  We’ll guess that most do not (we did), any more than one tips the counter help at the Burger King.
His train must have been running closer to Christmas, as I only had to negotiate three coaches and the cafe car to the Boston sleeper. Apparently those carriers are re-usable, and one of the cars featured some table tents with the message "Conversation.  Some assembly required."  Apparently if you're one of the passengers who likes the impromptu meetups of the traditional dining car, Amtrak helps you signal that identity.

The food, though? Color Mr Selden unimpressed.
Contemporary Dining is worse, much worse, than its service envelope. There is the food itself. Bet the house that Richard Anderson has never eaten it while under way on the Lake Shore Limited (if he rides his trains at all). What is offered up to the unwitting dinner customer is a five-inch, round black plastic dish of food that can best be characterized as a $4 frozen “TV dinner” that’s been left in the microwave a few seconds too long. It is dry and flavorless, and a bit scorched around the edges. The three-inch side salad is better. Some of the entrĂ©e offerings have enough red pepper baked into them as to be inedible to many Americans. The only almost-hot offerings at breakfast are instant oatmeal and an “Egg McMuffin”-like sandwich (hint: it’s better at McDonald’s). A tiny dish of fruit and a cup of yogurt are also available, as are dry cereal boxes like you give your children, and cellophane-wrapped muffins like one sees in an airport. No fast-food chain offers food this unappetizing. It’s like the “free” breakfast at the Budget Inn motel.
What set him off was the andouille-and-shrimp rice bowl "which had so much pepper in it my wife couldn’t finish it."  It was tangy enough that I (grower of hot peppers when the weather is favorable) didn't have to amp it up with the Tabasco the carrier provides.  I suppose that the reusable carrier and the slightly more favorable food to packaging ratio of the current offerings compared with the balsa wood boxes of a year ago count for something.


Because the dining car goes to New York, the Boston sleeping car attendant collects supper orders around mid-day, and the meals are stowed in the cafe car for warming up and distribution around Pittsfield.  This is the vegetarian option.  The carrier can be reused.  Sometimes the rolls, wrapped in foil, have been warmed, and sometimes not.

The logic of this sort of food and a table car for sleeper passengers only escapes me.  Mr Selden, again.
Contemporary Dining is an unnecessary, appalling and disrespectful rejection of the company’s most lucrative passengers. It is something that appears to be designed to drive off First Class passengers, rather than incentivize repeat business. There is absolutely nothing “First Class” in “Contemporary Dining.” In the restaurant industry, this is called “Serving up moose manure and calling it chocolate pudding.”
Apparently, their research discovered that relatively few coach passengers were using the dining car. That would make sense for a dining car offering the surf-'n-turf or steak dinner or other high-end starters and mains. But -- to return to my opening question -- if these modified TV dinners are the future, why not just let Noodles cater the trains, and sell their bowls to coach passengers so inclined?

Meanwhile, the Western trains are still offering coach passengers the opportunity to buy dinner in the diner, and pancakes and sausage at breakfast!

I also regret to inform you that The Milwaukee Road will not be helping speed up the Empire Service.


I have no idea what Wisconsin was doing in East Albany.  An earlier car with that name carried the markers on a Milwaukee Express the day it ran as a second section of the preceding train in order to see how fast a Baltic could roll a train from Chicago to Milwaukee.  The timekeeping on that trip was worthy of The Milwaukee Road.

THE COLLATERAL DAMAGE OF ROAD SOCIALISM?

Waiting in line is a feature of socialism, and regular readers know it.  "Why should road socialism be different from any other socialism?"  Where there is socialism, though, there are people who attempt to escape from its aggravations.

The late Kobe Bryant and his party might well be among those people.
During his career with the Los Angeles Lakers, it was common for Bryant to travel by helicopter from his Orange County, California, home to Lakers games at Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles. It helped him avoid two-hour travel times through L.A.’s notorious traffic while also keeping his body fresh.

“It’s a nice dash of glitz, a touch of showbiz that goes well with the Hollywood sign in the hazy distance,” J.R. Moehringer wrote for GQ magazine in 2010. “But sexy as it might seem, Bryant says the helicopter is just another tool for maintaining his body. It’s no different than his weights or his whirlpool tubs or his custom-made Nikes. Given his broken finger, his fragile knees, his sore back and achy feet, not to mention his chronic agita, Bryant can’t sit in a car for two hours.”
He was a regular enough user of the helicopter that it was marked in such a way as to suggest it was his, or at least that he endorsed the operator.

The helicopter also made it easier for him to get to family events above the aggravation of traffic.
In an interview with Alex Rodriguez and Big Cat in December 2018, Bryant said using the chopper was his solution to being able to attend training as well as spend time with his family.

“I had to figure out a way where I could still train and focus on the craft but still not compromise family time,” he said.
Apparently the use of private helicopters to avoid traffic is a thing, but still relatively uncommon.

There's probably a transportation research question here, something along the lines of high occupancy toll lanes and congestion pricing being more cost-effective at alleviating road congestion than helicopter charters.

POLITICAL ACTIONS GENERATE RENTS.

Rent seekers, inevitably, seek the rents so generated.

Today's tale starts with the collision of Wisconsin's bar closing laws and the presence of drunken Democrats at what might be a contested convention in Milwaukee.
The city of Milwaukee and a variety of business interests would like bars to be open until 4:00 AM during the Democratic National Convention in July. Bars in other convention cities are often open later, and the late closing time could accommodate thirsty delegates as they leave late nights at Democratic Party events.
If bar-closing hours were a local matter, there would be no problem, but Our Political Masters are of the view that bar-closing hours should NOT be a local matter (the extension to highway speed limits or drinking ages or minimum wages or metric measurements is straightforward) and then the rent-seeking begins.
However, the proposal has to go through the state legislature for approval, and that means it has to go through former Tavern League President Swearingen’s committee. Swearingen, according to the Business Journal, is going to hold the proposal up unless he can include the unrelated issue of regulating wedding barns in the bill.
This is how seemingly innocuous appropriations bills bloat into continuing resolutions that never fund new ideas until it's almost too late, and continue to buy hay for the artillery's horses.  It's also canonical cartel behavior.
Swearingen may have a personal interest in the issue as he is the owner of a supper club in Rhinelander. For the last two years, Swearingen and the Tavern League have targeted agricultural event venues because of competition for the banquet hall business.

The Tavern League complains competition from agricultural event venues is unfair because they don’t have to get liquor licenses if they do not sell alcohol at events held on their properties. Instead, the persons renting the “wedding barn” space is responsible for providing their own alcohol.
Let's be grateful the tavern league doesn't think it unfair for me to buy a case of beer and have guests over to watch the Packers in the Super Bowl. (That is, when the Packers live up to the standard again.)

When you set up a cartel, though, which is what governmental control of tavern closing hours IS, state interest in so doing or not, you're going to have people using the powers the state grants to manage the cartel to managing the cartel.
The joining of the two issues together by Swearingen has sparked criticism. Lucas Vebber of the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL), who has worked on protecting wedding barns from Swearingen and the Tavern League, said the new effort is an old tactic.

“Combining complex, controversial issues with urgent, popular ones is a tactic as old as time,” Vebber said. “These matters deserve to be debated on their own merits.”

Steve Nagy, a board member of the Wisconsin Agricultural Tourism Association and the owner of Homestead Meadows Farm, was even more critical of Swearingen’s latest tactics.

“Convention and tourism business is an important and growing part of Wisconsin’s economy. Holding this matter hostage to a personal vendetta felt by Rob Swearingen for the loss of his banquet business to wedding barns is clearly unethical,” Nagy said in a statement to RightWisconsin on Wednesday. “Holding up the legislation extending the hours of operation of establishments serving alcohol is further illogical, given that many of these businesses are members of the Tavern League.”
Perhaps so, but having the police power of the state to limit competition will continue to be valuable, long after the Democrats have their nominee and bar hours revert to the regular time. "The Tavern League, of course, opposes allowing communities to decide for themselves how many liquor licenses they can issue, because limiting them increases the monetary value of the licenses."

Hence my suggestion, years ago, that journalism students seeking to establish a name as a reporter welcome a first assignment to the municipal licensing beat.  The petty corruption there sometimes translates into a story.  More commonly, though, you see the seamy side of "regulating in the public interest" on display.
In his statement to RightWisconsin, Nagy expressed his frustration with Swearingen’s latest attack on the wedding barn industry.

“This kind of gamesmanship represents the worst of political influence that is tainting the beauty and logic of our free enterprise system,” Nagy said. “I left communist Hungary in 1956 and came to the US as a 12-year old refugee to escape government run by greedy, self-serving, corrupt people. I hate to see it tainting our great democracy.”
Politics is about slicing up pies, whether there's an explicitly communist motive at so doing or not. Enterprise is about creating pies, and, too often, the enterprising pie creator runs afoul of existing sellers who have used politics to build storm shelters.

THEY'RE SO INCLUSIVE THEY CAN'T TEACH ANYTHING.

(Apologies to Yogi Berra.)  How else, though, characterize a decision by a curriculum committee at Yale to cease offering a fairly standard art history course, Renaissance to Modern, because there aren't enough role models, or something.
According to The Yale Daily News, the art department has decided that the class might make some students uncomfortable due to the "overwhelming" whiteness, maleness, and straightness of the artists who comprise the Western canon (though that last label may be dubious). Indeed, the focus on Western art is "problematic," course instructor Tim Barringer told the student newspaper.

"I want all Yale students (and all residents of New Haven who can enter our museums freely) to have access to and to feel confident analyzing and enjoying the core works of the western tradition," said Barringer. "But I don't mistake a history of European painting for the history of all art in all places."
Indeed not, and there's a relatively straightforward way of expanding the coverage, say, by starting around the twelfth century and mixing in other forms of religious art with the altarpieces and ikons, and ending with the invention of photography, which freed the artist from the commercial obligations of making accurate portraits to keep the patrons satisfied.

That way, though, there's no opportunity to have purity tests, or to teach potted political economy.
In its final iteration, the course will "consider art in relation to questions of gender, class and race and discuss its involvement with Western capitalism," according to the latest syllabus. Art's relationship to climate change will also be a "key theme."

"I'm really looking forward to seeing what works the students come up with to counteract or undermine my own narratives," said Barringer.

Art students who wish to master the Western canon will still find plenty of other courses that satisfy their interests. But the removal of the introductory course makes it difficult for non-majors with a casual interest in the subject to study it.

"My biggest critique of the decision is that it's a disservice to undergrads," one student, Mahlon Sorensen, told The Yale Daily News. "If you get rid of that one, all-encompassing course, then to understand the Western canon of art, students are going to have to take multiple art history courses. Which is all well and good for the art history major, but it sucks for the rest of us."
If I were still involved in curriculum committees and catalog revisions, it's likely I'd react a little bit like the defender of a cartel to any introduction of sociology or economics, the latter being my former department's responsibility, and I might raise a few questions about the Medieval Warm Period in the works presented.  I might also note that the canon of art prior to photography is likely very different from what sorts of experiments caught on after photography, and my version of the new course would likely satisfy Mr Sorensen's curiosity.  That, plus you really can't do impressionism and American primitive and cubism and all the other schools, or is it marketing ploys, that emerged once the tyranny of depicting things relatively as they were ceased to be an imperative.

Here's Reason's Robby Soave, summarizing.
But diversity by addition is vastly preferable to diversity by subtraction. When a university eliminates an introductory art class because a tiny number of ideologues object to the whiteness and maleness of it all, it feels like they are declining to teach history because some people don't like what happened. The West's outsized influence on the events of the last several centuries may very well be problematic, but that doesn't mean it isn't real.
Somebody had to have an outsized influence on the events of the last several centuries, would you rather it be predatory animals or space invaders, rather than inquisitive humans?

But is it really the purview of art historians to offer potted political economy simply to make uninformed youngsters comfortable with their prejudices?  Commentary's Christine Rosen correctly points out that doing so likely turns off more potential students than it recruits, and it's likely to end badly.
There will also always be someone who will be offended by something, of course. The difference today is the enthusiasm with which institutions themselves (which once defended the display and teaching of controversial works) are dismantling their own cultural capital in response to such perceived offenses.
Dismantling their cultural capital, and depriving the students they're supposedly preparing to Rule The World of the opportunity to play with ideas without getting hurt.  That, too, is likely to end badly.

THE TRENCHANT SOCIAL SCIENCE OBSERVATION OF THE CENTURY.

It's Pajamas Media's Richard "Belmont Club" Fernandez, on the difficulty nuanced structured governing paradigms have dealing with complexity.  "In our complex 21st-century world, centralized institutions are too weak to cope with emergent events. It is man—ordinary, adaptable, individual, deplorable man who must be called upon to help."

His context is the virus that is plaguing Wuhan, China.  Whether it's a biological weapon experiment gone bad, or a parasite adapting to a new host is irrelevant. Events continue to surprise us, and distributed networks of knowledge will likely have an advantage over all the collectives of Existing Experts.

How many times must I tell you to bet on emergence?

23.1.20

USE IT UP, WEAR IT OUT, MAKE IT DO, OR DO WITHOUT.

I've griped previously about products that are "cheaper to toss and replace, rather than troubleshoot and repair."  Seriously, when a farm tractor comes with an end user license agreement???

The right-to-repair laws I allude to have not yet become a thing.  Nonetheless, there are market tests. "Farmers Are Buying 40-Year-Old Tractors Because They're Actually Repairable."  Perhaps after the manufacturers see their latest rolling computers gathering dusts in showrooms, they'll catch on.
When a brand new John Deere tractors breaks down, you need a computer to fix it. When a John Deere tractor manufactured in 1979 breaks down, you can repair it yourself or buy another old John Deere tractor. Farming equipment—like televisions, cars, and even toothbrushes—now often comes saddled with a computer. That computer often comes with digital rights management software that can make simple repairs an expensive pain in the ass. As reported by the Minnesota StarTribune, Farmers have figured out a way around the problem — buying tractors manufactured 40 years ago, before the computers took over.

“There’s an affinity factor if you grew up around these tractors, but it goes way beyond that,” Greg Peterson, founder of the farm equipment data company Machinery Pete told StarTribune. “These things, they’re basically bulletproof. You can put 15,000 hours on it and if something breaks you can just replace it.”
Well, good.
A Nebraska area auctioneer sold off 27 older model John Deere tractors in 2019. The old work horse tractors are so popular that one with low mileage can sell for tens of thousands of dollars. A 1980 model with 2,147 hours of use sold for $43,500. A 1979 model sold for $61,000.

That’s a lot of cash, but it’s still cheaper than a new model which can run between $100,000 and $150,000. The price is nice, but avoiding the computer components of the newer models saves money in the long run.
Interestingly, the socialist hopefuls for the Democrat nomination are the only two aspirants to national office the story indicates as advocating right to repair laws.  I have to wonder, though, what sort of business strategy selling a more advanced product with a higher first cost and higher future maintenance costs when a less advanced product with lower maintenance costs is currently available.  Thus, a tractor is materially different from a portable computer or a smart 'phone.

PHARISEES, SADDUCEES, AND THE SANHEDRIN, OH MY!

I'm reluctant to endorse Kurt Schlichter's hypothesis that liberals and their lackeys want people who don't see things their way dead, and yet a series of commentaries that hit cyberspace during the Festive Season give me pause.  First up, Common Dreams regular Chris Hedges, who has long been calling for some sort of insurrection, makes a number of points about the ongoing impeachment that well might be right wing talking points, although his primary point is that the credentialed elite won't give up their powers voluntarily.
No party or elected official dares defy the military-industrial complex or other titans of the deep state. The Democrats through impeachment have no intention of restoring constitutional rights that would curb the power of the deep state and protect democracy. The deep state funds them. It sustains them in office. The Democrats are seeking to replace the inept and vulgar face of empire that is Trump with the benign and decorous face of empire that is Joe Biden.
The kindest thing Mr Hedges can come to say about Our President is that he's not exactly an effective face of empire, vulgarian or not. "This truth binds half the country to Trump, who although a con artist and himself flagrantly corrupt, at least belittles and mocks the ruling elites who have betrayed us."

CNN columnist Scott Jenning takes a more nuanced view.
Donald Trump wasn't elected to fit in with these people — the political, intellectual class -- to make them happy, or to become one of them. He was elected to break them. And that's apparently what he's done.

Donald Trump will be the third president in American history to be impeached by the House of Representatives.

And honestly, that's just fine with Trump's supporters. What better evidence is there that you've shaken Washington to its core when the minders of a system you've come to despise are leveling the gravest punishment the system permits against the very President who is doing the shaking up?

We can lawyer this to death, but for many Americans this comes down to a simple observation -- Trump said he was going to rattle their cages, and by golly they seem rattled.
Not to mention, he's fund-raising off the impeachment, and going to Davos to turn over the money-changers tables, or at least mock them for excess process and insufficient employment.

He concludes with several sad predictions.
That partisanship is more important than policymaking? That House Democrats have no confidence in their party's ability to beat Donald Trump in an election?

And, perhaps most alarmingly, that impeachment — once reserved for the gravest of situations — is now just another tool to inflict damage on their political opponents.
The funniest thing I heard all weekend was a quip to the effect that Congress has a very low approval rating, lower than even replay officials, and perhaps more obstruction of Congress might be desirable.

The more troubling possibility is that future Congresses might hold over future presidents the threat of articles of impeachment whenever that president invokes national security or executive privilege.  Think I'm kidding?  Late Tuesday night, the Senate tabled an amendment proffered by the Democrats that would have authorized the sergeant at arms of the Senate (backed up by jackbooted government thugs if necessary?) to compel former ambassador and national security advisor John Bolton to give testimony.  That's supposedly necessary because the usual dance of subpoena - invocation of executive privilege - court decision is too slow.

Our Political Masters, though, notes J. D. Davidson of The Federalist are losing their patience with those uppity Normals.
Because we the people have, by electing Donald Trump, proven ourselves incapable of governing ourselves. We can’t be trusted with such a momentous responsibility, and so we should defer to the expert careers officials who know better. This is really the ultimate aim of left-wing ideologues: to protect the people from themselves and look out for their best interests, whether they like it or not.
He uses a different Roman era reference, "[L]ately it seems our unelected officials think of themselves less as public servants and more as a Praetorian Guard." Praetorians, Pharisees, either way it's people who decided that preserving their privileges by screwing ordinary people was a pretty good gig.  That is, until the masses show up with pitchforks, torches, tar, and feathers.

22.1.20

THINGS WILL GO ON BADLY, JUST AS THEY HAVE BEFORE.

Reason's Nick Gillespie suggests that the national nightmare will continue.  "Come the end of the Senate trial that starts today, Trump will almost certainly still be in office, Democrats and Republicans will hate each other even more, and trust and confidence in Washington will be even lower than it already is."

The problem, he notes, is that the usual suspects in the usual venues will see in this manifestation of government failure a case for ... reforming and expanding the powers of government.
Again and again—and in countries all over the world—declines in trust of government correlate strongly with calls for more government regulation in more parts of our lives. "Individuals in low-trust countries want more government intervention even though they know the government is corrupt," explain the authors of a 2010 Quarterly Journal of Economics paper. That's certainly the case in the United States, where the size, scope, and spending of government has vastly increased over exactly the same period in which trust and confidence in the government has cratered. In 2018, I talked with one of the paper's authors, Andrei Shleifer, a Harvard economist who grew up in the Soviet Union before coming to America. Why do citizens ask a government they don't believe in to bring order? "They want regulation," he said. "They want a dictator who will bring back order."
Put another way, emergence is likely to produce better results, but emergence, being messy, is scary.

YOU CAN SAY NO AND UPHOLD STANDARDS WITHOUT ELABORATION.

A British columnist called Vicky Spratt decries "The Dangerous Rise Of Men Who Won’t Date 'Woke' Women."  Apparently a British entertainer called Laurence Fox has stepped into it.
Laurence Fox – who you perhaps only knew as Billie Piper’s ex-husband because you’ve never seen Lewis (what?) – does not date “woke” women who he believes are being taught that they are “victims”, irrespective of whether they are right or not. He thinks that it’s “institutionally racist” to tell the story of the First World War in a racially diverse way, irrespective of the fact that Sikh soldiers absolutely fought for Britain. And he also doesn’t believe in white privilege, irrespective of the fact that he works in a painfully undiverse industry, was privately educated and comes from a wealthy acting family which is nothing short of a dynasty.
Sound the alarms, commence the deplorable shaming!
Fox is denying racism and sexism, irrespective of whether or not they exist. It’s nothing short of gaslighting. It’s all very Donald Trump. And as you would expect, the whole debacle has lit a fire under anti-woke poster boy Piers Morgan while gaining Fox thousands of extra Twitter followers.

I could go over all the things he’s said; I could use data to prove how wrong he is; I could express concern for his mental health (after all, who really enjoys arguing on Twitter?); I could make jokes about his behaviour. But all of that would be to seriously miss the point.

There’s nothing funny about the things Fox – or Wokey McWokeface as he now wants to be known – is saying. It’s also not particularly sad. It’s dangerous. He is just one very privileged man, and as a result of said privilege, has been given a platform. And he has used that platform to legitimise a bigger backlash against diversity and progress which is unfolding every single day in less public corners of the internet.

Not wanting to date “woke” women, far from being laughable, is actually one of the more insidious aspects of it. Spend an afternoon on any major dating app and you’ll come across (generally white) men saying openly sexist and misogynistic things.
The columnist knows these things because she recently had a bad experience with an online matching service.

The good news is people like her generally come with warning labels.  Gentlemen, you don't have to post annoying requests like "no psychos."  You also don't have to continue with a match that will only go nowhere.

Let the cads stay home nursing their beers, and the wokesters stay home nurturing their cats.

20.1.20

THE END OF THE INTERURBAN ERA.

The last full day of operations of the North Shore Line was 20 January, 1963.

I've offered (autobiographical) retrospectives over the years.

The Chicago Tribune posted its own retrospective.

The first photograph is historic for reasons the captioner might not know.


Unattributed photograph retrieved from Chicago Tribune.

This Milwaukee Limited is loading passengers at the Dempster Street station in Skokie.  The station building still stands, it has subsequently been moved a few yards away from the tracks, and it's home to a coffee shop.  Look closely and you'll see a stack for a coal stove on several of the cars.  In later years, many cars received electric heat, but not lead car 765, as it was wrecked in a level crossing accident at State Line Road, and subsequently written off for scrap.

The slideshow captures the essential elements of the North Shore Line, including its use as the "Flying Streetcar," with the last load of boots returning to Great Lakes at the end of liberty, on the last night the railroad ran.  I can't vouch for that picture, that night was bitter cold and the recruits are in their summer whites.  Perhaps the reference is to the last train of the night.

HOW DARE YOU BE RICH?

The propagandists of Oxfam would like to guilt-trip the Ruling Class at their upcoming gathering in Davos, Switzerland. "Our broken economies are lining the pockets of billionaires and big business at the expense of ordinary men and women. No wonder people are starting to question whether billionaires should even exist."

They even provide an animated graphic. (Am I rude to ask how many billionaires might have been involved in making the graphic possible?)



Are there any questions?

Yes.  First, might it be possible that on average, each of the world's 4.6 billion people might have been made more than $2,136.55 better off by trades over the years it has taken for those 2,153 billionaires to emerge?

Second, why aren't those billionaires seeking even more money hiring that cheap labor in Africa?

Third, what could you do in the days of the Pharaohs to accumulate $10,000 (or its equivalent in shekels or talents or drachma or what have you) each day in the first place?  What magic is at work, and in what way is it more powerful than compound interest?

Fourth, in what way does "unpaid care work" differ from "Father earns, Mother keeps house?"  (How much trouble can I get into extending that argument? )

Fifth, might there be more efficient ways of discovering (jobs can never be created) those 117 million new jobs than by using government (including the institutions of the Davos international order) as tax collector and middleman?

Not for the Common Dreams types.
In a statement from the Independent Commission for the Reform of International Corporate Taxation that acknowledged Oxfam's latest figures on global wealth inequality, commissioner Magdalena SepĂșlveda warned that "if multinationals—and the super-rich—do not pay their fair share of taxes, governments cannot invest in access to education, healthcare, and decent pensions, or take measures to mitigate and adapt to the climate crisis."
Doesn't that presuppose that there are functioning governments, and people making money in the first place? Perhaps that's the case in the developed world, but in the impoverished places, the places under military or kleptocratic rule, in places where religious law overrules Scottish Enlightenment values?

OBVIOUSLY A MAJOR MALFUNCTION.

I won't put this Inside Higher Ed passage in the same category of understatement as my title, which experienced readers will recognize from the day Challenger exploded.
Evergreen’s enrollment started dropping after the end of the financial crisis. To be sure, many colleges are dealing with low enrollment because of declining birth rates that have resulted in fewer Americans of traditional college age. But at Evergreen, enrollment has dropped by 1,000 students since 2017, to about 2,900, indicating something else might be at play. Of course, the strong progressive bent on campus might be a turn-off to some, especially after student protesters made national news in 2017 for occupying the president's office and calling for a professor to be fired.
The so-called progressives are learning another lesson, one that you'd think their older mentors might have raised, namely, that the only thing worse than grades and class ranks is the absence of grades and class ranks.
Now courses have been reorganized around 11 “paths of study,” with themes like political economy, math and computer science, food and agriculture, and Native American and indigenous programs. All courses will now be marked with their level, from introductory to advanced. The college, which has traditionally had a curriculum that changes every year, will now commit to a five-year plan of offerings.
That "political economy" course of study is probably heavy on Marx and light on Ricardo or Ely, but that's why we have school choice at the college level.

Read on, though, and note that history rhymes.
George Bridges, president of the college, said the student population at Evergreen now wants different things out of college than students who may have attended Evergreen in past decades. Evergreen’s acceptance rate is about 97 percent. The student population now has a high number of first-generation college students and military veterans. About half of all students are transfers from community colleges.

“They have a very different vision of what college would be and have different needs,” Bridges said. “They want to leave Evergreen with a degree they can use in a career, in a market,” and that’s explicable to employers. Students who attended in past decades grew up in a different economic climate, he said, and weren't seeking such specific outcomes.
Put another way, you can imagine no market tests, but you'd better conduct yourself as if your graduates are subject to market tests.

WHAT WOULD WE EVER DO WITHOUT EXPERTS?

Two chroniclers of the Coastal Establishment, Philip Rucker and Carol Leonnig, have a new book out that will make the Credentialed Wise comfortable with their prejudices.  Here's how they describe a meeting Our President had with assorted Military Brass in the Sanctum Profanum in the Pentagon.  "One hundred fifty-​­two years after Lincoln hatched plans to preserve the Union, President Trump’s advisers staged an intervention inside the Tank to try to preserve the world order."  It continues, characterizing Our President as somewhere between misinformed and deliberately obtuse.
Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, Director of the National Economic Council Gary Cohn, and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had grown alarmed by gaping holes in Trump’s knowledge of history, especially the key alliances forged following World War II. Trump had dismissed allies as worthless, cozied up to authoritarian regimes in Russia and elsewhere, and advocated withdrawing troops from strategic outposts and active theaters alike.
Read on, though, and it sounds a lot like members of the Permanent Government chastising this outsider for daring to question The Way Things Are. "Rather than getting him to appreciate America’s traditional role and alliances, Trump began to tune out and eventually push away the experts who believed their duty was to protect the country by restraining his more dangerous impulses."  That's the conclusion, but perhaps the way in which the Experts delivered their message contributed.
Mattis devised a strategy to use terms the impatient president, schooled in real estate, would appreciate to impress upon him the value of U.S. investments abroad. He sought to explain why U.S. troops were deployed in so many regions and why America’s safety hinged on a complex web of trade deals, alliances, and bases across the globe.

An opening line flashed on the screen, setting the tone: “The post-war international rules-based order is the greatest gift of the greatest generation.” Mattis then gave a 20-minute briefing on the power of the NATO alliance to stabilize Europe and keep the United States safe. Bannon thought to himself, “Not good. Trump is not going to like that one bit.” The internationalist language Mattis was using was a trigger for Trump.
The reporters can't quite say "the presenters condescended to the deplorable," but read on and judge for yourself. "Trump appeared peeved by the schoolhouse vibe but also allergic to the dynamic of his advisers talking at him. His ricocheting attention span led him to repeatedly interrupt the lesson. He heard an adviser say a word or phrase and then seized on that to interject with his take."

The first observation Our President could have made is something along the lines of "look what all that complexity has gotten you."  Granted, not his style, but look at the fruits of nuance.
Trump mused about removing General John Nicholson, the U.S. commander in charge of troops in Afghanistan. “I don’t think he knows how to win,” the president said, impugning Nicholson, who was not present at the meeting.

[General Joseph] Dunford [the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff -- Ed.] tried to come to Nicholson’s defense, but the mild-mannered general struggled to convey his points to the irascible president.

“Mr. President, that’s just not . . .,” Dunford started. “We’ve been under different orders.”

Dunford sought to explain that he hadn’t been charged with annihilating the enemy in Afghanistan but was instead following a strategy started by the Obama administration to gradually reduce the military presence in the country in hopes of training locals to maintain a stable government so that eventually the United States could pull out.
New president, new orders. The biggest mistake George W. Bush made after September 11 might have been to renounce his renunciation of nation-building wars: it doesn't matter whether it is he or Barack Obama saying "as they stand up, we stand down." Didn't happen, won't happen.  If you're a devotee of the permanent government, as Daily Beast writer Jamie Ross appears to be, it's more evidence that the current president is not competent.
One senior official summed up the meeting: “We needed to change how he thinks about this, to course correct... They were dismayed and in shock when not only did it not have the intended effect, but he dug in his heels and pushed it even further on the spectrum, further solidifying his views.”
I recall a famous course correction from nearly thirty years ago, namely President Clinton becoming upset that the financial markets (f***ing bond traders) could put a stop to any of his attempts to introduce Robert Reich and Hillary Rodham style socialism.  He triangulated, he got re-elected, he got serviced by Monica, and yet there were mutterings around the common room and in the pages of The Nation or The Progressive about "best Republican president ever."

Don Surber, whose loyalties are clearly with Our President, offers a different perspective.  That visit to the Sanctum Profanum, and the prepared presentations?
It is called condescension. Pentagon officials thought they knew more about geography than a man who built skyscrapers and resorts around the world.
That's a deflection: it's possible to have expertise in estimating the value of concrete and not grasp the utility of a garrison at Fort Sumter, but Our President is on stronger constitutional grounds rejecting the counsel of the Wise Experts.
The first thing a recruit learns in basic training is the chain of command. At the top is the commander-in-chief, the President of the United States. I do not care how many stars you have, the president is the commander-in-chief.
New president, new commander's intentions.
President Trump is in charge. They don't like it.

They are not dealing with another pushover president. That is the whole problem in Washington. None of the GS-18s or flag officers seem to understand that they ran the country wrong. The people elected Donald John Trump president to grab the bureaucrats by the eyeteeth and shake them.
Put another way, he's not going to triangulate just because the foreign service equivalents of the bond traders want him to.

The difference might be this: if President Clinton went ahead with his original intentions, we'd have had the macroeconomic torpor fifteen years before we got it.  If President Trump caves to the rent-seekers of the international order, he doesn't get re-elected, impeachment or not.

He might have had good reason to disregard those experts, anyway (with or without those denunciations of wimps and babies.)  Jacob Sullum expands.  "Three men with little or no foreign policy experience entered an office where they were surrounded by experts, and they quickly shed their initial skepticism of military intervention. If you think that skepticism was naive, that was a welcome development. But the consequences suggest otherwise."

Mr Sullum wrote that essay in the immediate aftermath of Iran's terror master Soleimani being stricken from the duty roster.  Connecticut senator Chris Murphy predictably sought a partisan advantage that seems to have been overtaken by events (do the current rulers of Iran want to be the first Persian potentates to lose a fleet since Xerxes?); his faith in experts might well be misplaced.
Murphy is right that we should worry about a president with little knowledge of the world whose military decisions are driven by anger or domestic political considerations. But it's not clear to me that such a president poses a bigger danger than the experts who have been disastrously wrong more times than we can count.
Indeed, each time Our President disregards or takes issue with the Wise Experts, he's keeping a campaign promise.

EVERYBODY KNOWS WHAT THE STANDARD IS.

The Green Bay Packers earned a spot in the playoffs, a division title, a first-round bye, and a second drubbing in Santa Clara.  I'm hearing none of the "at the beginning of the season, if someone had told you" subjunctive stuff that often accompanies teams that chronically underachieve or that mount a surprising run.  Rather, the sports talkers and radio callers are wishing for regime change in the defensive coaching staff, and there are even people thinking about the succession at quarterback.  That might be a good thing, in the long run people hit what they aim at, and aiming at "good enough" isn't good enough.

Bart Starr was not Vince Lombardi's first quarterback.

19.1.20

WHY NOT JUST ASK THE DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION FOR ANOTHER MAIN TRACK?

Craig "Amtrak in the Heartland" Sanders evaluates the possible return of passenger trains to the Dixie Line.  "A Serious Proposal or Just a Talking Point for Public Consumption?"
The appearance of Ray Lang, Amtrak’s senior director of government affairs, at a meeting of the Tennessee House Transportation Committee was significant for a number of reasons, but two in particular stand out.

First, it was the first time Amtrak has named a specific route that fits the criteria that Anderson and Gardner have been talking up.

That route would link Atlanta and Nashville, but Lang also talked about extending a pair of Midwest corridor trains to Memphis.

Second, it offered concrete proof that Amtrak expects state and local governments to pay for its vision of the future of rail passenger travel.

It is not clear why Amtrak chose Tennessee as the opening act for what promises to be lengthy process.

Perhaps Amtrak has quietly sounded out other states on their interest in ponying up money for new rail passenger service and we just haven’t heard about it.

Or perhaps Amtrak projects the Tennessee routes as among the most likely to succeed.

The news reports out of the Volunteer State generally portrayed a favorable reception to Amtrak’s proposals with some legislators speaking well of the prospect of rail passenger service where none exists now.

Atlanta and Nashville have never been linked by Amtrak and Tennessee’s capitol has been off the Amtrak route network since the Floridian makes its final trips between Chicago and Florida in early October 1979.
In fact, Tennessee lost most of its passenger train service before Amtrak even became a thing, with the New York and Chattanooga Pelican (yes, there was a Chattanooga Choo-Choo although it never left The Pennsylvania Station at a quarter to four, nor did it serve breakfast in either of the Carolinas) and the Chicago and Atlanta Georgian gone by the end of the 1960s.  The less we say about the Floridian (hammered by bad Penn Central and Conrail track across Indiana, for a time combined with a Louisville to Orlando Auto-Train, and generally slow and undependable) the better.

But adding more lanes to Interstate 75 through that southern spur of the Appalachians is a losing proposition.
Other players in the process will also play a role in whether the trains operate.

Chief among them is would-be host railroad CSX.

CSX’s Covington fired a warning shot across the bow in saying, “introducing passenger trains to heavily used freight lines will be a complex, costly process.

“And I understand that you guys are hearing from your constituents about the crowded roads, and you’re obviously looking for solutions to that. But we want to make sure you do it in a way to make sure it doesn’t backfire and divert freight off the rails and onto the highways.”

That’s another way of saying that CSX will demand some very expensive infrastructure improvements as the price of agreeing to host the trains.

More than likely the price tag for those projects will be more than state lawmakers are willing to pay for a service that Amtrak said will lose money.
Whatever that additional cost will be, it is likely to be less than the losses the state highway commissioners incur each day that they persist in not treating their roads like assets.  Perhaps CSX might consider a more favorable attitude as well.  Union Pacific are getting a very fine intermodal corridor out of the upgrade of the Alton Route, and faster trailer and container movements from Mexico toward the Great Lakes that aren't battering the old Route 66 (yes, I know, that's Interstate 55) are the very opposite of a backfire.

The former Illinois Central might also benefit from an attitude adjustment.
Another player will be the Illinois Department of Transportation, which funds the trains now operating between Chicago and Carbondale, Illinois, that Amtrak has proposed extending to Memphis.

Amtrak spokesman Magliari said it would be relatively easy to have the southbound Saluki and northbound Illini serve Memphis because Amtrak already has crews based in Carbondale who operate the City of New Orleans on host railroad Canadian National between Carbondale and Memphis.

But what looks easy or even possible on paper may not be so in practice. IDOT will want assurance that its interests won’t be harmed in any rescheduling of the trains.

An unknown about the additional service to Memphis is whether the state of Kentucky would be willing to help fund trains that run through their state.
That's yet another undoing damage that Amtrak previously contributed to: some years ago, the agency raised no objection to Canadian National removing the cab signals and one of the main tracks on the old Main Line of Mid-America, turning a 100 mph railroad into just another 79 mph line with a lot of freight train interference; and Amtrak inherited the vestiges of an Illinois Central corridor service in which several overnight trains between Chicago and New Orleans became day trains between Chicago and Memphis.

Frequency, connectivity, dependability.  Better, though, to be talking about the possibility of such things rather than lamenting their absence.