28.8.15

TAIL TRACK.

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

THE HOLIDAY ENGINEERING POSSESSION.

The British railways will take an entire section of track out of service for repairs.  Sometimes trains detour via other routes (more easily done there than here.)  This Bank Holiday Monday, however, some tracks along the old London and North Western will be out of service, with bustitution.
Trains will not be running through Stafford with Virgin Trains, CrossCountry and London Midland services being diverted. Buses will operate between Stoke-on-Trent and Stafford calling at Stone. London Midland trains between Liverpool and Birmingham will be running between Liverpool and Crewe only. Buses will be replacing trains between Crewe and Birmingham, calling at the intermediate stations normally served by these trains.
Six years ago, when Guildex coincided with the three-day Labor Day weekend, I flew in and out of Manchester, riding some of the affected metals.  (I'm partial to changing trains at Crewe as there's a good pub trackside as well as a properly stocked bookseller.)  Wonder if the Confederate Battle Flag is still flying at a house near the junction at Stone.

LET'S EVALUATE HIM BY HIS OWN WORDS.

Here's Barack Obama, before he launched his presidential bid, seeking to Take Back America.  (Yeah, the self-styled progressives get their knickers in a twist when a tycoon issues such a call, but that may be because spelling out contrasting visions takes more time.)  Anyway, nine years on, let's put the accomplishments up against the rhetoric.
No longer can we assume that a high-school education is enough to compete for a job that could easily go to a college-educated student in Bangalore or Beijing. No more can we count on employers to provide health care and pensions and job training when their bottom-lines know no borders. Never again can we expect the oceans that surround America to keep us safe from attacks on our own soil.

The world has changed. And as a result, we've seen families work harder for less and our jobs go overseas. We've seen the cost of health care and child care and gasoline skyrocket. We've seen our children leave for Iraq and terrorists threaten to finish the job they started on 9/11.
Gasoline, cheaper, no thanks to the development of wind or solar substitutes. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is two lies for the price of one, and spinning the greater out of pocket expenses for insurance as buying superior coverage doesn't convince. Iraq was stabilized, after a fashion, and whatever discontent the Egyptian or Libyan or Syrian had with their regimes was either absent or simmering out of sight.
But while the world has changed around us, too often our government has stood still. Our faith has been shaken, but the people running Washington aren't willing to make us believe again.
Summarize in two sentences why Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders are playing so well with voters.
That if you give a speech where you rattle off statistics about the stock market being up and orders for durable goods being on the rise, no one will notice the single mom whose two jobs won't pay the bills or the student who can't afford his college dreams.
Never mind that any politician in office is going to rattle off such statistics, at least until the next correction, and never mind that the palace guard media will do everything it can to circulate them.
I've had enough of the closed-door deals that give billions to the HMOs when we're told that we can't do a thing for the 45 million uninsured or the millions more who can't pay their medical bills.
Better to make a closed-door deal exempting Nebraska from contributing to the plan, and passing the so-called Affordable Care Act in reconciliation.
Let it be said that we are the party of affordable, accessible health care for all Americans. The party that won't make Americans choose between a health care plan that bankrupts the government and one that bankrupts families. The party that won't just throw a few tax breaks at families who can't afford their insurance, but modernizes our health care system and gives every family a chance to buy insurance at a price they can afford.
No, now both the government and households get to go bankrupt. But tax preparers will not lack for work.
Let it be said that we are the party of an energy independent America. The party that's not bought and paid for by the oil companies. The party that will harness homegrown, alternative fuels and spur the production of fuel-efficient, hybrid cars to break our dependence on the world's most dangerous regimes.
Dependence broken. Frack you. And the Solyndra you rode in on.
Let it be said that we will conduct a smart foreign policy that battles the forces of terrorism and fundamentalism wherever they may exist by matching the might of our military with the power of our diplomacy and the strength of our alliances. And when we do go to war, let us always be honest with the American people about why we are there and how we will win.
We came, we bombed, Qaddafi died. What difference, at this point, does it make?
And let it be said that we are the party of open, honest government that doesn't peddle the agenda of whichever lobbyist or special interest can write the biggest check. The party who believes that in this democracy, influence and access should begin and end with the power of the ballot.
Let us draw the curtain of charity.  (Oh, go here if you want more.)

SURROGATE ANCHOR BABIES.

Higher education runs a balance of trade surplus with Red China.  So does the surrogate mom business.  Never mind what the Perpetually Aggrieved say, the United States is still the land of opportunity.  That's even a selling point for the surrogate business.
Paying Americans to carry their children allows Chinese to circumvent their home country's restrictive policies on reproduction -- surrogacy is illegal, and despite recent reforms, families still face penalties if authorities learn they have more than one child.

Another incentive: The child is automatically a U.S. citizen, and can sponsor their parents for a green card on reaching the age of 21.
Gosh, why would anyone do that?  Crony socialism plus bubble economy plus dirty air not good enough?

If these be micro-aggressions, make the most of them.

WHO YOU GONNA CALL? GOOSEBUSTERS!

Ghostbusters hit the big screen in 1984, and that fall a very successful Detroit Tigers team played the San Diego Padres in the World Series, that after a promising Chicago Cubs team did what promising Chicago Cubs teams often do.  That year, San Diego had a shutdown pitcher nicknamed "Goose" Gossage, so naturally Tiger fans of the era had to modify the movie title music as noted above.

These days, though, the Goosebusters are a team of border collies that can get the flock out.
"All we're doing is replacing on your property what's missing — a natural predator," said [Geese Police founder David] Marcks, adding that geese move elsewhere to find suitable habitat. "I can fix your problem. I can't fix Wisconsin's problem."

Border collies are used because they are the only breed that effectively scares away geese, Marcks said.

"Border collies are the smartest dogs. Their chase behavior is based on stalking," said Marcks. "Unlike a lab or retriever, they don't need the gratification of grabbing the animal and bringing it back to you."
I once watched a border collie herd sheep. No barking, no fuss, just staring the woolies down. Doesn't surprise that giving them the opportunity to go for a swim might be an effective way of scattering the honkers, if a swan isn't at hand.

27.8.15

FINDING THOSE BLUE COLLAR ARISTOCRATS.

For #ThrowbackThursday, some reflections on what practicing a trade involves, and why it's a serious form of human capital development.  Start with Instapundit, reinforcing a regular theme:
I should note, though — as several readers have pointed out — that you can’t just “decide” to go into skilled trades any more than you can just decide to become a lawyer or a doctor. It varies, of course, but most trades take years of practice and a considerable degree of native talent. But it’s certainly true, as [Intel's Andy] Grove notes and as others have said, that we’ve systematically undervalued such work for the past 50 years or more.
"Undervalued" is an understatement. Mr Grove correctly points out that developing human capital takes work, and resources.
Most people don’t even realize the need for more highly trained workers. The assumption remains that technical education is for less intelligent people. The first item cut from educational budgets is vocational education. People are required to be suitably trained for their work requirements, and yet the classes that are required for this are cut to the bone. In some instances, students are halfway through the course when funding is cut and then they are sent home. We create a damned obstacle course for people who want to work!
That's a second obstacle course, after the first obstacle course, which Eric Scheie of Classical Values correctly calls out as a misperception.
While the universities are filled with [aspirants to the clerisy], local community colleges are inundated with white working class kids seeking to obtain for themselves what they failed to get from the public schools: basic literacy and numeracy — and job skills which are of actual use in the real world.

Aside from the irony that anyone with a high school degree should have to go to college in order to learn to read and write, a perfect example of a valuable real-world skill is welding. Public school teachers (who reflect the view of the educrat class) tend to hold such “dirty” and “dangerous” work in disdain, and they steer kids away from it. Guidance counselors attempt to push them into universities where they go into a lifetime of debt for worthless degrees that impart zero job skills. But some of the kids are smarter than that. They realize that if you have a skill that is worth something in the real world, you can actually feed your family.

They also know something that the Occupy movement (often holders of useless degrees) has missed: that the educational system’s institutional bias against promoting real world skills has led to shortages — in some instances not of jobs, but of skilled workers to fill them. Such as welders.
Insert the obligatory reminders that it's a waste to have to pay for high school twice, and that academicians who hold the trades in disdain are probably afraid of power tools.  I persevere.

IT IS CORPORATE WELFARE FOR ROADHOGS.

Writing at Trains and Travel, Jim Loomis notes the conjuring trick by which the motor carriers have presented themselves as the quintessence of small business, while attaching themselves firmly to the public teat.
Why does the trucking industry have such influence in Congress? Well, first of all, regulators can only enforce the rules that politicians pass into law. And then there’s the Supreme Court decision that said there is no limit to the size of campaign contributions that can be made to members of Congress by corporations and industry lobbyists.
True, but not relevant. The motor carriers receive a great deal of public largesse in the form of roads they damage without liability, and in the form of freedom to intrude into almost all neighborhoods without special movement permits.

Perhaps among one segment of rail advocates, it suffices to gripe about the Tea Party or Donald Trump or whoever the boogeyman is today. But that's not the real problem.
And as we head for another election year, we’re still hearing angry people complaining that government … especially the federal government … is intruding into our lives. Too much regulation, they yell. Government isn’t the solution, it’s the problem. Don’t tread on me … yadda-yadda-yadda.
In this instance, the trucks are treading on people, too often literally. Big Government is the facilitator, and Big Government is socializing the costs (the congestion, the crashes, the pounding of roads and bridges to pieces) while privatizing the profits (the allegedly cheaper goods the big trucks, half full onr not, make possible at the big box stores.
And while the rest of us do our best to be informed and come to conclusions based on facts, the politicians — not all, but a lot of them — just vote the way they’re told by the lobbyists for the big banks and the defense contractors and the pharmaceutical companies. And, of course, the trucking industry.
Yes, and have you considered the implications of "enumerated and limited powers?"
It’s probably just a question of time before enough of the knee-jerk anti-government jerks stop yelling and actually take a look around. It just better not take too long.
Feel better, now? Like anything else, deconstructing crony capitalism takes thought and work. But we can reduce it to a bumper sticker.

It's the rent-seeking, stupid.

And The Trucks Are Killing Us in the Grey Lady illustrates precisely how rent-seeking works.
The trucking industry, through its chief trade group, the American Trucking Associations, insists that it needs longer work weeks and bigger vehicles so that more trucks will not be needed on the road, which it says could result in more accidents. That logic is laughable, but Congress seems to be buying it.

The industry also bases its opposition to safety-rule changes on money, saying that increasing costs will hurt profits and raise rates for shippers and, ultimately, consumers.
Pricing resources properly, second-best arguments notwithstanding, provides incentives to allocate resources efficiently.  But recognizing that even larger trucks will translate into even more congested traffic and more fatalities, shifting the cost of delivery from consumers (let the beneficiary bear the burden) to whoever happens to be run over or simply delayed a few more minutes enroute to or from work.

I have to wonder, though, why are motor carriers simultaneously griping about a truck driver shortage whilst subjecting drivers to longer hours and less wieldy vehicles?  What good does it do to be more highly paid if you have no time to spend it?

26.8.15

THERE'S NO LIMIT TO WHAT PEOPLE WILL COLLECT.

It's summer, which means it's time for the steam threshing machines to show their stuff.  Nose around the grounds, and you sometimes find other obscure things for people to collect.


Word reaches Cold Spring Shops of retired civil engineer Ed Metka, who has quietly been purchasing old streetcars.  He also bought the former Berwind-White hopper car shop in Windber, Pennsylvania, to keep the fleet under roof.  It transpires he is the source of the original cars now running in Kenosha.  His cars are on offer for other heritage trolley lines -- might that be a way for Milwaukee's Downtown Circulator to get stock? -- and some of the older cars in rough shape can still supply parts for new-old streetcars.

THAT PRESUPPOSES THE PRESENCE OF A TRAIN.

A Washington Post report warns The U.S. is choking on its traffic and it’s going to get worse. Building additional roads to accommodate the expected population growth, particularly in already thickly settled areas is a fool's errand.  Information technologies will help, but only up to a point.
Say you’re commuting in from Manassas: Your computer looks at your calendar, sees that it’s a regular commute day and that the weather’s going to be terrible so traffic is going to be bad, and there’s already been a big crash on I-66,” he said. “So, your computer goes out and finds the VRE train schedule and the bus schedule, and here’s the Metrorail schedule and where it drops you off. So, at 5:45, you’re shaved and showered and your computer presents you with your travel options for today.
Yes, that helps, provided there's a feeder bus that runs to the station, and dependable service on the commuter railroad.  Well, maybe the suburban trains, unlike the city cars, are a subsidy to the middle class or upper-middle class.  But we'll not see an end to dangerous, jammed roads, until the authorities require special movement permits for any 53 foot trailer.  The 55 mph speed limit and citizens' band radio gave the motor carriers this image of yeomen of the road that is wholly undeserved.

SQUALOR IS WHAT DEMOCRATS DO.

Neurosurgeon and presidential aspirant Ben Carson suggests the Black Lives Matter movement consider the real source of pain in the 'hood.
We don't want a plan to give us public housing in nice neighborhoods. We want an end to excuses for schools that leave us without the means to buy our own houses where we choose to live. We want the skills needed to compete, not a consolation prize of Section 8, Food Stamps and a lifetime of government paperwork.
Go, read, and understand.  He also calls out the school boards, the entertainment industry, and the Republicans.

REMEMBERING NATE ROSENBERG.

Peter Boettke of Coordination Problem honors the recently departed author of How the West Grew Rich: The Economic Transformation of the Industrial World.
Nathan Rosenberg was a masterful economist -- he thought clearly, and he wrote clearly.  I expect we will continue to learn from his clear thinking for generations to come.
If you haven't read and understood How the West Grew Rich be very careful venturing opinions about political economy.

THE CASE FOR PATIENCE.

Insta Pundit picked up a story of battery scientists who were looking for a way to extend the life of lithium-ion batteries.
Today’s lithium-ion batteries typically rely on graphite anodes to offer a long lifespan. Rechargeable battery performance declines and eventually falls off a cliff (becomes unusable) due to those anodes repeatedly expanding and contracting as lithium ions migrate during the cycle of charging and discharge. Lithium compounds build up on the electrodes during this process then break off during the expansion and contraction. This exposes the surface of the electrode and over time decomposes it to the point of failure.

A better alternative to using graphite for the anodes would be aluminum, but aluminum expands and contracts too much during each cycle. If scientists could stop that happening, we’d have much better performing batteries.
Sometimes, it pays to leave your project on the workbench for a while.
Dr Wang Changan of Tsinghua University and Dr Li Ju of MIT have been working together to stop the oxide coating that forms on the surface of aluminum nanoparticles when it is exposed to air. Their idea was to soak the nanoparticles in a sulfuric acid and titanium oxysuplphate mix, which would dissolve the aluminum oxide and replace it with titanium oxide.
Not the kind of thing you'd want to leave unattended.
Achieving the new outer coating required a set time of soaking. The accident occurred when Wang and Li forgot to remove one batch of the nanoparticles from the soaking process. That batch ended up soaking for several hours longer than intended with the result being the sulfuric acid and titanium oxysulfate mix leaked into the 50nm nanoparticles and dissolved some of the aluminum inside. What this left was a nanoparticle with a 4nm outer shell of titanium hydroxide and an inner 30nm “yolk” of aluminum.

Rather than discarding this forgotten batch, they decided to test it by building batteries using these particles. It turns out they have potentially solved the problem of using aluminum for the anodes in the battery. The extra long soak meant the anodes did not expand and contract, in fact they created a battery that over 500 charge/discharge cycles retained up to four-times the capacity of the equivalent graphite anode batteries. These batteries last considerably longer in terms of usable lifespan and, according to MIT, can hold up to three-times the energy.
And aging these aluminum eggs scales up.

IT TOOK YEARS

TO PERFECT

FOR YOU

A RECHARGEABLE CELL

THAT'S DURABLE TOO


And ripping off a Burma-Shave jingle is fitting.  The Verse by the Side of the Road relates that the research team at the Burma-Vita Company struggled to bring a dependable brushless shaving cream to market, with a number of failed product launches, and over three hundred formulas that didn't work out.  Fortunately, they kept good notes, as there was a jar of formula One Forty-Three that had languished on a shelf for a couple of months, and in its aged form gave a good shave.

25.8.15

RAMSEY-SUBOPTIMAL?

Is nobody teaching the inverse-elasticity rule any more?  Earlier this year, I noted a U.S. News article detailing the difficulties of sin taxes.  Stated simply.
Perhaps the demand for pop is relatively inelastic, and the tax pays for the additional health programs the city expects to provide for the widebodies.  Perhaps that's a private-public bundle.  But if the tax induces all sorts of substitutions, there are neither revenues for the health programs, nor the widebodies making use of the health programs.
Here's a Daily Caller report, still slow on the uptake.
Berkeley’s pioneering soda tax is failing to hit consumers as much as public health advocates had hoped, with stores only passing on 22 percent of the tax to customers.

Berkeley, Calif. was the first city in the nation to vote for a soda tax, with supporters arguing the higher price would cut consumption of sugary drinks and help tackle obesity. The law took effect in March and forced distributors to pay a 1 cent tax per ounce of soda. However, Berkeley’s store owners have refused to play ball and have only passed on a fraction of the price increase to consumers.
There's more work, coming out of Cornell University's College of Human Ecology, which suggests economists who understand tax incidence will never lack for work.
“In light of the predictions of the proponents of the tax, as well as in light of the previous research, we expected to see the tax fully passed through to consumers,” said [John] Cawley, professor of policy analysis and management and of economics in Cornell’s College of Human Ecology. “In contrast, we find that less than half, and in some cases, only a quarter of it is. This is important because the point of the tax was to make sugar-sweetened beverages more expensive so consumers would buy, and drink, less of them.”
Oy. Please copy the following into your notebook.
Raising significant tax revenue suggests a relatively inelastic demand. Ramsey-optimality means raising that revenue with the least excess burden (deadweight loss, for the traditionalist.)
It gets better.
So-called “sin taxes” are designed to improve public health by discouraging people from purchasing unhealthy products. Smoking rates, for instance, have plummeted in the United States in recent decades partly due to federal, state and local taxes that have driven up cigarette costs. Berkeley officials hoped that the soda tax would raise prices and lead residents to avoid energy-dense sugar-sweetened beverages, considered a culprit for high rates of obesity and chronic disease.
But if consumption rates fall, prices will rise by less than the full amount of the tax. This isn't the Maximum Principle, people.  And, if I don't have enough to be aggravated about, there's this.
“There is an economic rationale for taxes when consumption of the good imposes negative externalities, and obesity costs taxpayers billions each year in medical care costs in the U.S.,” Cawley said. “A sugar-sweetened beverage tax is a very narrow approach to internalizing the external costs of obesity, because there are many other food and drink items that are also energy dense and lack nutritional value. But to the extent such a tax helps internalize the external costs, there is an economic rationale for it.”
Strictly speaking, it's bundle pricing, not externality. The stuff that makes you fat is stuff that lands you in hospital, and metering the use of the stuff that makes you fat might be more efficient than allocating general revenues to the hospitals and clinics.

IT REGISTERS. THIS IS WHAT INSURRECTION LOOKS LIKE.

Apparently some fraternity members at Virginia's Old Dominion University, a powerhouse sailing college, decided to hang three over-the-top banners from their house.  It baited university president John Broderick into the usual sputtering dudgeon.
I am outraged about the offensive message directed toward women that was visible for a time on 43rd Street. Our students, campus community and alumni have been offended.

While we constantly educate students, faculty and staff about sexual assault and sexual harassment, this incident confirms our collective efforts are still failing to register with some.
On one level, we can respond to this as just another atrocity by the Thought Police, which appears to be how Robby Soave takes it at Reason.
Some frat brothers are eager to have sex with girls—is this surprising? Have universities become so squeamish that students confessing their desire for sex are guilty of some kind of crime? The banners are suggestive and classless, but they’re not obscene.

Associating the banners with sexual assault, as Broderick did in his statement, is a considerable exaggeration. Sigma Nu members certainly didn’t threaten anyone with sexual assault; putting up some mildly suggestive signs does not constitute an act of violence. The banners don’t even clear the sexual harassment bar. They aren’t severe, pervasive, objectively offensive, or directed at anyone in particular.
Or perhaps it's an opportunity, as Insta Pundit suggests, either to make a federal case out of it, or to heighten the contradictions.
My advice to these fraternity guys: (1) Immediately complain to the Department of Education and the Department of Justice that you’re being targeted because of your race and sex, and denied your First Amendment rights. No, nothing will come of this, but that’s not the point. The process is the punishment. (2) Sue on the same grounds. (3) The real killer: Go to the Virginia Legislature and tell them they should cut Old Dominion’s budget. Come prepared with figures on the number of administrators on campus now, versus 10 and 20 years ago. File freedom of information requests and get the travel expense figures for the folks in the administration. Look over them for suspicious and large expenditures. (You’ll find them!) Make a big stink about those.

Administrative bloat leads to large numbers of “student life” educrats without enough to do, so they’ve created a quasi-police-state to fill the time. State legislators are looking for things to cut anyway, and higher ed doesn’t have the clout it used to have. This will hurt them more than anything else you can do.
That second paragraph reinforces the idea that higher education has broken the social contract with the states that fund it, or perhaps aligned itself too closely with a failing political ideology, both of which have merit.

Or perhaps, as Adam Steinbaugh of Popehat suggests, in reacting, the university overdoes it.
Moreover, at the end of the day, requiring the removal of offensive banners won't change the underlying behavior.  It just makes it less likely that people will know who these guys are.

Rather, if Old Dominion is to regulate isolated incidents of speech, it would be better to force these guys to leave the banners up, so everyone recognizes these idiots for who they are. Remove all doubt.
Perhaps, although the simpler explanation might be that the only way for frat boys to subvert the dominant paradigm is to deliberately do something that's seriously over the top.  (That's two plot events in Animal House.)


Once upon a time, that was just a brand of motor oil.  The sign is so over-the-top in-your-face these days that even a weblogger with Unionist sympathies might find a place for one in the garage.  Perhaps that's what Sigma Nu had to do, come up with the most aggressive way of saying no to the prevailing ethos.  Dr. Helen seems to be capturing that spirit.
If women and white knight university presidents are too fragile for this type of prank, they should have their own free standing universities (asylums) where they can live in a bubble filled with other people just like them filled with unicorns and butterflies. These people are idiots and the frat guys are freedom fighters. Fight the good fight and stand up for free speech, even if it is offensive.
Might be even simpler than that: the Perpetually Aggrieved are so easily goaded that baiting them into such overreaction is sport.  It's not, Mr Broderick, that your indoctrination failed to register.  It's that your indoctrination is so over-the-top silly that the only sane response is over-the-top mockery.

OUR CLUELESS RULING CLASS.

Christopher Chantrill lays down the smack.
We conservatives have known it forever, but now ordinary Americans are coming to realize it. Our modern ruling class sucks.

Our ruling class worries endlessly about far-right extremism and nationalism but is too vapid and pompous to realize that ordinary people don't go for extremism and nationalism unless the ruling class has messed up -- like after World War I with the Great Depression and right now with a fragile economy and unassimilated immigrants flooding many western cities.
Some specifics.
Our clueless ruling class spends thirty years forcing banks to flood the country with “affordable housing” mortgages, and then blames the bankers when the bubble bursts.

Our clueless ruling class spends half a century flooding the west with immigrants and playing identity politics with them. Then it is shocked, shocked when the voters start flocking to candidates that promise to put a stop to it.
And he's less than impressed with Jeff Greenfield's chin-pulling.
Yet now, all of a sudden, veteran Jeff Greenfield is called out to worry about the Obama policy legacy? Now, despite all assurances, voters all across the west are rebelling against the failed establishment political parties?

Now, all of a sudden, our ruling class sits uneasily on its administrative throne?
Yes, but social engineering looks so easy on a chalkboard.

WHERE HAVE ALL THE STREETCARS GONE?

Apparently the Roger Rabbit legend, otherwise known as the National City Lines canard, lives on.  Well, give Vox credit for Joseph Stromberg, discrediting it.  If it reads a lot like "The Economics of the Pernambuco Tramway," it should.
Because of these factors, some streetcar companies began going into bankruptcy as early as the 1920s, when they were still their cities' dominant mode of transportation. Huge costs and the falling value of fares forced them to cut back on service, steadily pushing people to the convenient, increasingly affordable automobile.

As they fought to stay alive during the Great Depression, many companies invested in buses, which were cheaper and more flexible. Initially they operated mainly as feeder systems to bring commuters to the end of lines, but as time went on, they began to replace some lines entirely.

That wasn't enough to save most of these companies, especially as city, state, and federal governments pumped more and more money into roads.
Easier to demonize the traction magnates and subject them to regulation. But perhaps the development of personal transit will undo any transportation company.  Note that the jitney operators who sold seats in their automobiles had to be regulated as taxi companies, and with smart 'phones, jitney operators don't have to cruise the streetcar routes to find riders.


To the usual list of reasons, add government complicity in creating the suburbs, and a related Vox essay suggests that transit systems are part of the Welfare State, not necessarily for all citizens in the same way schools or libraries might be.

AVOID THE STRAIN, TAKE THE TRAIN.

The second coming of the Cleveland Browns had a preseason game in Rochester, which, in the airline network, is a "You can't get there from here" destination.  Management thus chartered an Amtrak train.
“To me, it’s the best way to go,” coach Mike Pettine said. “It’s an airplane minus being way above the ground and having people search your bags.”

A bus trip to Rochester would have taken five hours. Pettine said he thought the team charter plane might have had a hard time landing in Rochester, so rather than fly to Buffalo and then board a bus, the Browns went with the train.
Props to Amtrak for locating sufficient coaching stock to protect a passenger extra.


Brian Hartline Instagram photo retrieved from Destination: Freedom.

#ThisIsAFirst for the current iteration of the Browns, wouldn't the original team have had several opportunities to go by rail?

23.8.15

SUMMER'S END.

Rain overnight, and the morning's blue norther hints at what is to come as sunsets creep earlier.

At the Illinois Railway Museum, the second weekend of Day Out With Thomas wraps up.


Look closely at that capture from the Spaulding Tower web camera.  Thomas has a recently redecorated coach on the head pin.  Percy is on another rake of vintage coaches.  At the far end, the power is the Frisco Russian Decapod, 1630.

WE HAVE BEEN SCAMMED, AND WE KNOW IT.

Everything else is commentary, argues Alex Castellanos at CNN.  Sample.
The reality is that Americans have paid both political parties for the utopia of European-lite government. We have the largest government we've ever had, and yet it governs nearly nothing. Not our economy, which is stagnant. Not our place in the world, where we have lost respect. Not our fiscal affairs, where we have been rendered destitute. Not our borders, made of smoke. Not our health care, rendered increasingly unaffordable by a cynically named "Affordable Care Act." The list of big, old, factory-like government's broken promises is unending. Everything Washington's elite said they would deliver, from better race relations and peace in our inner cities, to stability abroad, ends up both a larger challenge and more expensive.
Read and understand.

DON'T MESS WITH THE UNITED STATES.

It transpires that the three young men who took down a train robber, er, jihadi, on the Amsterdam - Paris Thalys had military experience in branches other than the United States Marines.  "Still American badasses" notes Insta Pundit.  In his USA Today column, he extends.  If you see something, do something.

21.8.15

THEY WILL FIND THE TRAINS ARE GUARDED BY UNITED STATES MARINES.

Somebody picks the wrong Thalys train to act out. "Britain's Daily Mail reports that three unarmed U.S. Marines disarmed the man, who was carrying an AK-47 rifle and a knife, when he began to attack passengers on the car." Semper Fi.

SQUALOR IS WHAT DEMOCRATS DO.

Here, courtesy Business Insider, are the most thickly-settled counties, which together hold half the enumerated population.


Business Insider graphic.

Now comes political pundit Jeff Greenfield, who gets a lot more air time as the presidential fields take shape (and when I was a kid, The Making of the President 1960 had the national campaign beginning only after the World Series ended -- these days the World Series can run beyond Election Day, but that's just fine with the commentariat, as the next campaign begins immediately after Election Day) and the legacy talk heats up.  Here's Our President's legacy.  Barack Obama will leave his party in its worst shape since the Great Depression—even if Hillary wins.The Democratic leadership is principally Silent Generation relics and first-wave Baby Boomers. Read the article for the specifics, or consider this map.

Voters appear to be rejecting the Democrats, even (especially?) in the thickly settled states, notably except California, Illinois, and New Jersey.  Here's Mr Greenfield attempting to explain.
You have to go back to the Great Depression and the Watergate years to find so dramatic a reversal of fortunes for a party. And this time, there’s neither a Great Depression nor a criminal conspiracy in the White House to explain what has happened.
Never attribute to malice that which might be more simply explained by incompetence.

CONSTRUCTIVE ECCENTRICITY.

Susan Woodward Remembers Armen Alchian.  There's the Jack Hirshleifer approach to price theory, and the Armen Alchian way.
Hirshleifer approached price theory as geometry. Lay out the axioms, prove the theorems. And never introduce a new idea, especially one like “rent” that collides with standard usage, without a solid foundation. The Alchian approach is more exploratory. “Oh, here’s an idea. Let’s walk around the idea and see what it looks like from all sides. Let’s tip it over and see what’s under it and what kind of noise it makes. Let’s light a fire under it and just see what happens. Drop it ten stories.” The books were complements, not substitutes.
Yes, it's useful to be able to do both. But never lose sight of opportunity cost, specialization, and arbitrage.

FALSE PRODUCTIVITY.

I've been suggesting almost as long as I've been running the Cold Spring Shops that labor supply curves are backward-bending, and that there may be no point in people making a lot of money without any opportunity to have a life.  Let's start in July, 2004.
Presumably the set of social institutions that involved Dad working, Mom minding the kids, and parents staying together for the sake of the children, which takes advantage of the Say Aggregation Principle to ensure that one wage earner could support a family, and which makes unilateral dissolution of marriage less attractive, are not the set of social institutions envisioned in these discussions. There are, however, other institutional changes to consider, including reduced reliance on the treadmill career path, which might in fact be productivity enhancing as people might have less reason to look for ways out of productive but extremely time-consuming jobs. (Regular readers will correctly note that I have played this tune before: perhaps with sufficient notes on the horn the walls will come tumbling down.)
In higher education, the crumbling of the walls might have been midwived by the feminists, but the general principle is still valid.
How then to balance the income effect of greater prosperity, which works in favor of shorter and more flexible working hours independently of any explicit policy, against the competition effect, in which the individuals willing to work harder (the most independent men and women, for the most part?) will get to the prizes first? The French solution of legislating a shorter work week has not been particularly successful.
But we see the same challenges in the private sector.
I wonder, though, whether some of the discouraged workers of the ongoing Great Reset are using the straitened economic circumstances as occasion to say no to the most demanding employers. What's the point of doing the work of four people for twelve hours a day on half your previous salary if "downgrading your expenses" doesn't rule out Internet access or a functioning car or clothing for the kids?
And there are limits to how far a company can apply the tournament model to its staff.  Dean Dad asks the pertinent question.
If the recent New York Times piece about Amazon is at least substantially correct, it sounds like working conditions at Amazon are somewhere between a reality show and Logan’s Run. The Times piece -- which Jeff Bezos denies is accurate -- suggests that Amazon uses its extreme secrecy to enable extreme arbitrariness in how it treats its own people. In the absence of any worker protections at all, hard-charging people are chewed up and spit out quickly. The system will work as long as it’s growing. When it starts contracting, though, the fall will be fast and hard. It’s one thing to put up with cruelty when there’s something in it for you; it’s quite another when the best to be hoped for is to squeeze a little more time out.
Yes, and if you're going to put in the hours of an entrepreneur for a salary, in a country that at least gives lip service to entrepreneurship ...

Here, via USA Today, is an essay by Dustin Moskovitz of Facebook recognizing that the labor-leisure tradeoff is real.
Many people believe that weekends and the 40-hour workweek are some sort of great compromise between capitalism and hedonism, but that’s not historically accurate. They are actually the carefully considered outcome of profit-maximizing research by Henry Ford in the early part of the 20th century. He discovered that you could actually get more output out of people by having them work fewer days and fewer hours. Since then, other researchers have continued to study this phenomenon, including in more modern industries like game development.

The research is clear: beyond ~40–50 hours per week, the marginal returns from additional work decrease rapidly and quickly become negative. We have also demonstrated that though you can get more output for a few weeks during “crunch time” you still ultimately pay for it later when people inevitably need to recover. If you try to sustain crunch time for longer than that, you are merely creating the illusion of increased velocity. This is true at multiple levels of abstraction: the hours worked per week, the number of consecutive minutes of focus vs. rest time in a given session, and the amount of vacation days you take in a year.
To which I add, there is nothing magic about 40 hours. The old formula was eight hours for work, eight hours for family, eight hours for sleep.  Yes, there will still be hard-charging people willing to outwork everybody else, never mind the cost.  But part of being able to live better than a cave man is more down time than a cave man enjoyed, and as we are able to live better than a Mad Man, perhaps we ought have more martini time than the Mad Men enjoyed.

Here's Mr Moskovits.
My intellectual conclusion is that these companies are both destroying the personal lives of their employees and getting nothing in return. A candidate recently deciding between Asana and another fast growing company told me that the other team starts their dinners at 830pm to encourage people to stay late (he’s starting here in a few weeks). I also hear young developers frequently brag about “48 hour” coding sprints. This kind of attitude not only hurts young workers who are willing to “step up” to the expectation, but facilitates ageism and sexism by indirectly discriminating against people who cannot maintain that kind of schedule.
The most charitable interpretation of that job description is that people will have accumulated enough of a nest egg to retire by 35 or 40, but there's insufficient evidence of that labor-leisure tradeoff being common.

PROJECTION?

Just after the Republican debate early in August, I raised the possibility that Democrat national committee head Debbie "Blabbermouth" Schultz might have been saying more about her party's field.
This is the same Debbie Blabbermouth Schultz who saw in the relatively few Republican debates a good thing, as it spared likely Republican voters a lot of gaffes. But the also-rans apparently want their shots at the Dowager Empress of Chappaqua.
Give Kirsten (The Silencing) Powers props for getting to the heart of the matter.
Following the first GOP debate, Democratic National Committee Chairman Debbie Wasserman Schultz disingenuously quipped to a reporter, "I sort of feel for my counterpart Reince Priebus because it’s pretty clear why they did everything they could to shrink the number of debates and shrink the exposure."

You know who else shrunk the number of debates? Democrats. Wasserman Schultz seems to be telling us why: Hillary Clinton can’t handle the exposure.
Yes, although it's clear somebody has been coaching the Dowager Empress. Every so often she starts out in Full Seventies Strident, then catches herself and dials it back to Slightly Condescending.

Fifteen more months of this?

FINIS TO PLANNED OBSOLESCENCE.

This Toyota commercial is cute.


Years ago, only Volkswagen bragged on the durability of Beetles.  Now kids put money aside for their first car.

20.8.15

NO SECOND TRAIN TO THE CITIES OR BEYOND.

For a while in the early years of Amtrak, passengers in the Chicago and Twin Cities via Milwaukee corridor had the choice of two trains.  The best offerings reprised loosely the Morning and Afternoon Hiawatha schedules, toward the end there was a day trip each way and the overnight North Star for and from Superior.  The service suffered from timekeeping, as the other schedules were the east end of the transcontinental Empire Builder and North Coast Hiawatha service, and one of the ways Amtrak made the trains worth traveling again on no money was to get rid of the spare coaches and power that would have protected the schedule east of the Cities.

But the second train, possibly continuing to St. Cloud or Fargo or Grand Forks, is an idea that will not go away.
Encouraged by ridership that has doubled over the past decade and standing-room-only conditions on some trains, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation is studying a plan to add three express trains on its Hiawatha route between Milwaukee and Chicago, boosting the number of round trips a day from seven to 10.

The express trains would skip two local stops, serving only Union Station in Chicago, Mitchell International Airport on Milwaukee’s south side, and downtown Milwaukee. Train speeds would also be increased to 90 mph.

“The department really feels that people are becoming aware of the Hiawatha service and its convenience, and are looking for alternative modes of transportation,” WisDOT spokesman Brock Bergey tells the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “The Hiawatha service continues to grow, and the department is very interested in making sure we can meet the needs and desires of the traveling public,” he says.

After Wisconsin DOT completes a draft of it study in a few months, two public hearings will be scheduled in Wisconsin and Illinois, after which a final plan will be submitted to the Federal Railroad Administration. If approved, the proposal will move to design and construction phases.

Also being studied is a second daily train on the Empire Builder’s Chicago-Twin Cities route. Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari tells the Journal Sentinel ridership grew by 16 percent from 2011 to 2012. “A second round-trip is a significant improvement for passengers by providing more same-day trips without overnight stays and by making it more likely our scheduled arrivals and departure times meet their travel needs,” Magliari says.

A draft of a feasibility study by Amtrak should be available in December. The second train would terminate in St. Cloud, Minn., a crew change point for Amtrak about 70 miles west of Minneapolis.
I'm still waiting for those additional Hiawatha schedules and the 60 minute train between the airport and Chicago Union Station.  It's the additional service beyond that generates the buzz.
Ridership on a second Amtrak train from St. Paul to Chicago could exceed 150,000 passengers a year, but Minnesota and Wisconsin would have to pay for operating shortfalls, a new rail study concluded.

The study, commissioned by Amtrak at the request of Minnesota and Wisconsin state transportation agencies and the city of La Crosse, comes in the midst of metro-area rancor over transit funding. It projects $46.4 million in equipment purchases, as much as $175 million in railroad improvements and about $6.6 million a year in state-financed subsidies to cover the difference between ticket revenue and the costs of operating a second train.

The current, once-a-day Amtrak train that crosses Minnesota “provides little schedule flexibility to travelers in the corridor,” the study concluded.

“Obviously anything we can do to expand service to our residents will help with economic development,” said Washington County Commissioner Karla Bigham, who has taken a lead on east metro transportation issues. “Businesses really do want additional options to have multimodal transportation to move their services and goods.”

If money is found to finance a second line, the train most likely would run from Union Depot in St. Paul to Chicago, although future extensions to Minneapolis and St. Cloud would also be considered. The proposal is independent of discussions about starting high-speed rail service to Chicago.
Frequency and connectivity matter. Plus amenities. The wish-list adds more amenities to a corridor train than the Europeans generally offer.
Under that scenario, trains would leave St. Paul daily and would consist of two diesel locomotives, four bi-level coaches, two bi-level snack coaches and two bi-level “cab coaches,” accommodating as many as 270 passengers, the study said.
Forgive me the impertinence, but that sounds a lot like a Chicago and North Western Bi-Level 400 Streamliner,  Two diesels and two cab coaches suggest a rake of diesel - two coaches - snack coach - cab coach, and that ought to have seats for nearly 400 pasengers.


And a Thomas Lifson tribute to Sinclair Lewis's Main Street and Sauk Centre, Minnesota, mentions the rail corridor that used to go there.

Great Northern Railway tribute page image.

Call the roll:  Empire Builder and Western Star for and from Seattle, Winnipeg Limited for and from Winnipeg, Red River and Dakotan for and from eastern North Dakota points.

We're going to have to wait.
The study concluded that the route between St. Paul and Chicago is the most feasible for initial service with potential extensions to Minneapolis and St. Cloud. It recommends an environmental review of the project, which would have a robust public involvement component and provide eligibility for federal funding. MnDOT, WisDOT and LaCrosse County are determining how to fund this step.

The study includes an assessment of schedules, ridership, revenue, infrastructure investments, operating costs, and equipment needs associated with adding a second daily train between Minnesota and Chicago. It assumes the second round trip train would use the same route the Empire Builder.

Annual ridership on the additional daily train, with a morning departure from Chicago and a mid-day departure from St. Paul, is estimated at about 155,000 passengers. This is an increase from the current Empire Builder ridership of about 104,000 between St. Paul and Chicago, with departures from St. Paul in the morning and Chicago in the afternoon.

There are anticipated capital investment costs for infrastructure capacity improvements, with a planning level cost estimate of about $95 million for the Chicago to St. Paul scenario. The St. Cloud and Minneapolis scenarios had higher infrastructure costs. If new equipment is used, there would be an additional $46.4 million cost.

The study estimates annual state operating support for the Chicago to St. Paul initial service would be approximately $6.6 million. The cost share among the funding parities for the service would be determined at a later date.
Contributing to the cost: the railroads might be using public money as a way of restoring capacity they once destroyed.
I’m all for railroads, in this instance mainly Canadian Pacific, being adequately compensated for running passenger trains on their lines. And if this route had no existing service, the $95 to $175 million might make more sense. But seriously, that kind of money to add two four-car, one diesel trains on an existing Amtrak route? Granted, the railroad is different from the 1970s and early 1980s when there were two Amtrak trains on the route: the Milwaukee Road was double track from Chicago to the Twin Cities. CP reduced it to single track CTC from just west of Milwaukee to Hastings, Minn., in the 1990s. Still, it’s not exactly a route that can’t handle two more Amtrak trains a day. So while railroads should certainly be paid to make some upgrades for more sidings and lengthening existing ones, the millions the study says will be needed seem way out of whack.

But those high prices are not really the railroads fault. One railroad manager told me because of provisions in the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008, that when railroads contemplate additional passenger service today they must consider how they are going to keep those trains on time, all the time. To do so, they “gold plate” any study on rail passenger service, including everything but the kitchen sink to make sure they can run those trains on time without interfering with freight service. The result is a huge run up in infrastructure cost estimates as compared to the past.

There is another factor at play, and probably the biggest one of all: politics. Love it or hate it, conservative politicians largely control the U.S. today. Some see the need for rail passenger service, but most don’t because of the cost of what they see as an expensive government program, and a belief that if passenger trains can’t make money so the private sector can run them, they are not needed.
Particularly when the rent-seekers in the highway lobby start griping about subsidized competition for the trucks and intercity busses that are pounding the roads.  Thus we wait and wait for the improved rail service.

I'M NOT IMAGINING THE CONGESTION AND OVERCROWDING.

Apparently, I've always lived in or near thickly settled areas.


Business Insider graphic.

Read into the map whatever you wish about, e.g., the electoral map, or the potential for enhanced Passenger Rail service beyond the Official Region.

BETTER PAY, BETTER WORKING CONDITIONS.

School districts that skimp on those things have trouble hiring or retaining teachers.  Let us be thankful that the Grey Lady catches on.
Across the country, districts are struggling with shortages of teachers, particularly in math, science and special education — a result of the layoffs of the recession years combined with an improving economy in which fewer people are training to be teachers.

At the same time, a growing number of English-language learners are entering public schools, yet it is increasingly difficult to find bilingual teachers. So schools are looking for applicants everywhere they can — whether out of state or out of country — and wooing candidates earlier and quicker.
Dig down, and you discover that the better pay and working conditions -- job ladder tournaments notwithstanding -- are in the private sector, particularly for people with the STEM degrees.

PENNY-WISE, POUND FOOLISH.

I've long been skeptical of fixed-formation tilting trains on a relatively flat railroad such as The Milwaukee Road serving Chicago, Milwaukee, and points beyond.  And the special agreement by which former Wisconsin governor Jim Doyle brought a Talgo assembly plant to Milwaukee only gave his opposition more reason to squelch the deal.  We know since then that current governor Scott Walker ended work on upgrading the Hiawatha service and extending it to Madison, and that he (and his legislature) ended up spending more money for a partial upgrade of the Milwaukee service and cancelling the Talgo contracts.  Two trains for Oregon and Washington were assembled in Milwaukee, as were two more intended for the current Hiawatha service (until somebody figured out -- they could have seen it here first -- that even a longish Talgo doesn't have enough seats to be a Hiawatha, particularly that 5.08 ex-Chicago.)

The breach-of-contract litigation is over, and Wisconsin's Department of Transportation, at great expense, has no further obligation to take or to maintain the two trains.
Wisconsin taxpayers will end up paying $9.7 million more for two state of the art train sets — for a total of roughly $50 million — but leave the trains with their Spanish manufacturer, under the settlement of a nearly 3-year-old lawsuit.

The settlement, which still needs to be approved in court, ends a political saga going back half a decade.

The bizarre and expensive outcome for Wisconsin — paying for a product but not keeping it or ever using it — reflects the depth of the political disagreement in which Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle signed, and then GOP presidential candidate and Gov. Scott Walker nixed, a no-bid contract with Talgo Inc. for trains from Madison to Milwaukee and then on to Chicago
Wisconsin taxpayers are also on the hook for a new basketball arena and an upgrade -- running into many millions of dollars -- to the Zoo interchange, which, when upgraded, will not get basketball fans downtown any faster than they currently get there.  Nor, for that matter, will Chicago - Milwaukee - Madison traffic get through there any more quickly.  The benefit-cost ratio of the rail upgrade might well have been higher.

NO MATTER HOW BAD THINGS ARE IN ILLINOIS, THEY CAN ONLY BE WORSE IN CHIAPAS?

Here's the view of Illinois as a magnet, from the perspective of the American Legislative Exchange Council roundup of rich states, poor states.  From their perspective, it really sucks to be Minnesota, Vermont, or New York.

DEFUND THE LEFT.

Wesleyan University is notorious as a hot-house for radical chic, but shutting down the remaining fraternities might be inducing alumni to shut their checkbooks. "Our year-over-year giving has fallen to the low 40% to high 30% range…[and] we had approximately 400 [sic] fewer donors than the prior year (9,712 v. 10,209) due primarily to the number of alumni who did not renew their gifts."  Sex-drugs-'n-rock-'n-roll, but only in the commune?

LEX LUTHOR'S LAIR.

Voluntary Xchange alerts readers to the underground complex that accompanies the air rights developments above Grand Central Terminal and the throat trackage.  There's one urban legend that part of Franklin Roosevelt's armored train is still parked under the Waldorf-Astoria.  There's also a backup power supply for the electric trains, that I got into in August 2001 along with an assemblage of O Scalers.


During World War II, this complex was protected by armed soldiers.  There's nothing that secret any more, but I bet mine was one of the last groups to be shown around down there.