31.7.15

HERE COMES THE WEEKEND.



Prosit!

CHARLOTTE REDISCOVERS THE INTERURBAN.

There's a heritage trolley line, currently operating restored streetcars. There's also a streetcar service, operated by the city transit authority, that just went into operation, supplementing an existing light rail service.  Somebody got the idea of extending the car line, running cars from downtown to the airport.
The segment of streetcar rails that opened July 14 could also handle larger, light-rail vehicles if the city finds the money to build longer train lines, transit officials say.

Today’s Gold Line streetcar is a small, 1.5-mile segment that uses replica trolley cars.

But the Charlotte Area Transit System said the existing rails could eventually handle faster, longer trains that might extend to the airport or to the Matthews.

There are no concrete plans – or funding – to build those lines.

But CATS is studying whether it could build a streetcar along Monroe Road that might eventually move into its own right-of-way adjacent to the CSX freight rail tracks. That study could be finished in 15 months.
That's exactly how city streetcar lines became side-of-the-road trolley lines and later interubans, starting about 1895.  But that evolution involved problems, and Charlotte's operators are aware of them.
The Lynx Blue Line usually operates in its own right-of-way, which allows the light-rail trains to maintain their speed.

On the southern stretch of the line, there are bridges that carry the train over busy roads such as Woodlawn and Tyvola roads. Closer to uptown, the light-rail crosses streets at grade-level, but the train has priority over cars.

The streetcar is different. It stops at red lights and has to wait for congestion to clear.

[Interim authority director Richard] Muth said the 1.5 miles of track could also handle larger trains. They could operate in their own right-of-way in the suburbs, but then merge into the existing streetcar track and move slower through uptown.

In Denver, that’s how some light-rail lines work. The trains reach high speeds in outlying areas, and then slow down and act as streetcars as they reach downtown.
Yes, the North Shore Line and The Milwaukee Electric reached their Milwaukee terminals that way.

Unattributed photograph from the Cold Spring Shops railroad archive.

That's North Third Street in Milwaukee, with the interurban train headed toward Cedarburg or Port Washington about to pass Usinger's sausage market on the near side, and Mader's restaurant on the far side.  A streetcar headed downtown approaches on the other track.  City cars and interurbans both had to obey traffic signals, and an interurban car would inevitably catch up with a city car, and the trip to the Public Service Building would get longer.

Charlotte's operators understands the challenges.
Having larger trains on Elizabeth Avenue and Trade Street could present problems, however.

One is that a longer train could create its own traffic jams by blocking intersections when it stops.

Another potential problem is time: If CATS were to operate a light-rail line or streetcar to Matthews, it would be trying to attract commuters in a hurry.

The existing streetcar line takes between 11 and 12 minutes to travel from Novant Presbyterian Medical Center to Time Warner Cable Arena. That slow travel time could make commuters wary of using the train.
Interurbans went to near-side car stops precisely to keep longer trains out of the crossings. But running city cars and interurbans on the same track requires careful scheduling.  City streets, in particular, are not good places for a third track or overtaking sidings.

30.7.15

THE OVERPURPOSED TRAIN.

Here's a Throwback Thursday impression of a daytime ride on Amtrak's Crescent last fall.  A previous Throwback Thursday got us from Washington, D.C. to Atlanta, and a recent book review featured historic Birmingham.  Next stop:  New Orleans.  No reason to book a sleeper on the day portion of the journey, and riding coach is a useful way to learn the purpose to which people put the train.

In much of the Amtrak network, there is one train a day, and if it goes any distance, many of the cities are served only by night.  Thus Minnesota and the eastern Dakotas, and I have more racked for that line.  The Crescent is a night train between the capital and Atlanta, and a day train from Atlanta to the Gulf.  When it's running late, that has to be nerve-racking for people relying on it to make a commitment.  For a vacationing ferroequinologist, having it on time or close to time is a good thing.

Amtrak 19 Crescent, Birmingham to New Orleans, 23 October 2014:  Genesis diesels 148 - 40, deadheading Amfleet II lounge 28022, Amfleet coaches 25055 - 25019 - 25111 - 25060, lounge 28019, diner 8507, Viewliner sleepers 62023 - 62019, baggage 1738.  Train is close to time.


The passenger facilities at Birmingham make use of the former baggage area in what's left of the Louisville and Nashville station.  There once was a proper Union Station but like so many in the Sun Belt, they went for redevelopment before Amtrak.  Primitive facilities or not, the waiting room is full of passengers, and a full cart-load of luggage went on the baggage car.

Scheduled departure time is 12.08; get away 12.14.  Meet 20 also close to time east of Tuscaloosa.  Tuscaloosa 1.30 - 1.33.


The station is reminiscent of the old and new Sturtevant, Wisconsin stations that several times a day have two trains in or near the platforms.  But the University of Alabama has more passenger train service than the University of Wisconsin or the University of Tennessee or Northern Illinois University.  It's midafternoon Thursday.  Perhaps there's more traffic on and off at weekends.

Train is running well although not ballast-scorching in the Milwaukee Road way.  Meridian 3.13 - 3.19.


The Meridian Union Station has enough platforms and track to be worthy of the Michigan corridor or the New England end of the Northeast Corridor, although (as is often the case) the tracks closest to the building are out of service.  Train crews change here.  Although the Meridian and Bigbee Railroad make their presence known to Amtrak passengers who look out the window, the local short lines are not in the excursion business.


The real Gulf, Mobile and Ohio railroad used to serve Meridian, and a real Gulf, Mobile and Ohio train featured in the opening scenes of In the Heat of the Night, but the Hollywood Meridian didn't look like this.  Away from Atlanta, and as we will later see, Houston and Dallas, the smaller Sun Belt cities have some of the same forlorn properties of the smaller cities of the Rust Belt.

Laurel 4.24 - 4.26, Hattiesburg 4.57 - 5.01, and the ride is turning into a University of Mississippi reunion of sorts, with more than a few passengers enroute Baton Rouge for a tilt with Louisiana State.  I wish them well -- that Wisconsin collapse in the second half earlier in the fall still rankles.  Picayune 6.02 - 6.05, Slidell 6.24 - 6.26.  Now the railroad goes to sea.


The railroad's causeway across Lake Pontchartrain has a highway bridge to its south.  I have a seat on the north side of the train, and the sun is setting.  Once into the New Orleans terminal area, there's a good deal of junctions traversed, and pulling ahead and setting back.  Arrive New Orleans 7.25, seven minutes to the good.

That part of the South never had a corridor service in the way Minnesotans or Michiganians, let alone residents of the Official Region understand it, and thus the Amtrak service simply kept what was there in 1971.  Cut the running time Birmingham to New Orleans to five hours thirty and add a second train, it just might work.  And I could win the Irish Sweep.

There's more evaluation of the Amtrak network to come.

MORE ADMINISTRATORS THAT REQUIRE WATCHING.

Chicago State University offers an instructive example of what happens when an egregiously incompetent cabal of diversity hustlers gets control of a university.  It's more important that dissent be crushed than that the students receive an education.  Sometimes it takes the force of law to protect the dissent.
Professors Phillip Beverly and Robert Bionaz sued CSU after the administration repeatedly attempted to silence the Faculty Voice, a blog they authored along with other faculty members. The blog regularly documents alleged misconduct by CSU’s top officials. After bogus accusations of trademark infringement failed to intimidate the professors into shutting down the blog, CSU hastily adopted a far-reaching cyberbullying policy to silence its critics, which it then used to investigate Bionaz for a face-to-face conversation he had with another administrator.

“Yesterday’s order gives Professors Beverly and Bionaz the protection they need from a CSU administration that has shown a single-minded focus on shutting down its critics,” said Catherine Sevcenko, FIRE’s Associate Director of Litigation. “We are relieved that the court will be watching to make sure that the professors will not be sanctioned for simply expressing their views.”

The order also prohibits CSU from taking any steps to punish Professors Beverly or Bionaz without seeking a modification of the order from the court. CSU allegedly attempted to remove Professor Beverly from the university by instigating false charges against him.
Also, apparently, the diversity hustlers have taken a page from Marquette University, still seeking to rid themselves of the troublesome John McAdams, but this would be hilarious if it wasn't university administration at work. "Just before the lawsuit was filed, CSU suspended Professor Beverly for two days without pay because he had his political science seminar attend a Faculty Senate session on censorship at the university." That's the same faculty senate that the administration sought to de-recognize.

Chicago, what Democrats do.

KEEP CALLING THEM OUT.

A few days ago, Campus Reform made public a particularly silly pronouncement out of the University of New Hampshire that inter alia deemed unreflective use of the word "American" as "problematic."  The pronouncement invoked the Whorf Hypothesis, itself contested among linguists, and perhaps I might return -- once sunset comes earlier and the days turn cooler -- to its use in these Sensitivity Manifestoes, as the same hypothesis that justifies problematizing "American" can justify professors correcting grammatical errors in poorly written papers.  Take that, weenies.

What's funny (or perhaps predictable, because we're dealing with weenies) is how quickly the weenies backed down.

Earlier today, Janell Ross, writing for a Washington Post opinion site, attempted to defend business as usual by sliming Campus reform.
CampusReform.org is no ordinary college publication. It's wholly funded by the Leadership Institute, a Virginia-based nonprofit that aims to equip and train young conservative activists, journalists and future candidates, Morton Blackwell, a Reagan White House aide and the institute's founder and president, told me.
And perhaps Campus Reform doesn't matter because they only preach to the converted.
The team at CampusReform.org writes for an audience already converted to its cause or willing to be. Both Bonham and Blackwell mentioned that CampusReform.org's stories get picked up by the Drudge Report, Rush Limbaugh and Fox News. Sometimes CNN and ABC pick them up, too. Potential media appearances are one of the benefits that CampusReform.org can offer young journalists, both said.
Yes, and sunlight is the best disinfectant. Mx Ross herself sees that the guidelines are silly.
Of course, there are some suggestions in the Bias-Free Language Guide that will set more than a few eyes rolling — no matter your political affiliation.

For example, it turns to an oft-repeated ivory tower favorite that race is nothing more than a social construct. That's technically true. But some kind of language about race remains essential to understand the real world around us, much less the issues in the headlines. Another entry suggests that the term "undocumented immigrant" is preferable to the phrase "illegal alien" and explains why.
It may be preferable to the weenies, but illegal alien is resonating with a lot of people.

And the insurgent media have effects.  The president of Zoo Hampshire first distanced himself. "The president of the University of New Hampshire said Wednesday he is troubled and offended by many parts of a 'bias-free language guide' posted on the school’s website, particularly a suggestion that using the word “American” is problematic because it fails to recognize South America."  But his mugging by reality is incomplete.
“The only UNH policy on speech is that it is free and unfettered on our campuses. It is ironic that what was probably a well-meaning effort to be ‘sensitive’ proves offensive to many people, myself included.”
No, if the insurgent media hadn't pointed it out, it would likely become policy.  If you want more evidence that reduced state funding is a consequence of higher education breaking its social contract with mainstream America, read on. "State Sen. Jeb Bradley, a Republican from Wolfeboro, said he was outraged by the guide and would remember it when lawmakers next consider how much money to provide to the university."

The guide has gone down the memory hole.  Fortunately, we are not (yet) living in Stalin's Russia, and members of Zoo Hampshire's presidential commissions on the usual identity politics shibboleths have not become nameless numbers on a list that will later be misplaced.  But it's all too much, even for the sympathetic Alyssa Rosenberg, also of the Washington Post.
But as a writer and a progressive, I want to launch another objection. Guides like these often promote an absolutely terrible approach to language and writing, offering up alternatives that are simultaneously impoverished and clunky. College is absolutely a time when students will and should encounter new people, new experiences and new ways of looking at the world. But we should give them worthy language to express their newfound compassion and cosmopolitanism, rather than saddling them with awkward constructions that won’t help advance their ideas.
Not that it helps, "gay" is on its way out, in part because of the way the cartoon characters of South Park used it, and it's easy enough to put the same pejorative intonation into "person of size" that used to apply to "fatty."  And so it goes.  And Margaret Soltan of University Diaries, no reactionary, summarized the project as "[I]t takes the Orwellian business of replacing short clear simple descriptive words with long pretentious empty euphemisms to new heights."

And thus, Campus Reform performs a corporal act of mercy by calling this silliness out.

THERE ARE LIMITS TO DOING MORE WITH LESS.

For years, Northern Illinois University has been downsizing and retrenching and asking the remaining people to take on the work of the people who die, retire, or seek other offers.  Headquarters blames the state for failure to fund the universities properly.  I used to suggest that headquarters respond to the state's initiatives by raising standards and reducing enrollment.  Conditions didn't get better, so I quit retired.  That option isn't available to everybody, but unionization is.
Workers such as Jennifer Jeffries say they have not gotten pay increases in years. Jeffries started at NIU in 2011 making $10.78 an hour – just more than $21,000 a year – as an office support staffer. Three months ago, she moved into a new position where she now gets $15.68 an hour – $30,576 annually. Along the way, Jeffries said, she was denied merit raises and says she’s only at her current rate because she changed positions. Merit pay offers bumps in pay for doing a good job in your position.

“Forming ourselves as a union is at least an option to get us better pay,” Jeffries said. She also credits the unions for preserving her state pension. In May, the Illinois Supreme Court struck down the state’s 2013 pension overhaul calling the changes unconstitutional.

Angie Dybas started in her new office administrator role July 1. The 10-year NIU employee is a supervisor in the Department of English, the fifth position she’s held at the university since she started working there. Dybas said taking different positions is the only way to get more money because the university does not offer cost-of-living or other increases.

“I started here as extra help and just worked my way up. That was the only way I could get any money here,” said Dybas, who started out at $8.25 an hour. “I’ve been very concerned over the years that more and more things have been taken away from us. Our health insurance costs have gone up. We actually lose money when that happens, because we’re not getting raises. When they start increasing [the cost] of other things, that makes our paycheck go lower.”

NIU spokesman Bradley Hoey said university officials are aware of the workers’ complaints about pay: wage rates compared to other state university employees and going years without a raise. But money is tight.
The state has been stingy for years, but even in relatively prosperous years the university has been able to hire support staff relatively cheaply.  Some people have pinned their hopes on the extension of Metra service to DeKalb (no closer today than it was in the summer of 1986 when I hired out) although the long running times are likely to limit the arbitrage opportunities for DeKalb residents seeking to participate in the downtown Chicago labor markets.  But asking the remaining workers to do more and calling it productivity also has limits.
In addition to pay, the unionizing workers say they want to be heard and responded to more by university leaders. With staff reductions, on top of not receiving more money, their workloads have increased, they said.

“It’s going to give us a way to talk to the management about how important we are,” Dybas said. “It’s about time we are like the rest of the state universities and have that voice with administration where we can look at the budget numbers and tell them ‘this is what we think we deserve.’ ”

The workers are unionizing at a time when the state’s new governor has vilified unions as antagonists of Illinois’ fiscal crisis, and pushed for Illinois to a be right-to-work state. Gov. Bruce Rauner has said labor unions and their collective bargaining might fiscally doom some municipalities and school districts, including Chicago Public Schools.

NIU, with more than 4,000 employees, is DeKalb County’s largest employer. The university is facing a 31 percent cut in funding from the state, which university officials have said could impact personnel.
Thus far into the Illinois emergency, the university has managed to meet payroll and avoid layoffs, perhaps by limiting or forgoing pay raises. There are, evidently, limits. Union organizers are also making headway among faculty.

I doubt, though, that headquarters will look seriously at raising admission standards, reducing entering class sizes commensurate to what the faculty and staff can work with, and reducing the financial burden on incoming students by eliminating the mandatory athletics fees.

CHICAGO PASSED OVER FOR THE OLYMPICS.

But Rio's preparations are crappy.
The rehabilitation of Rio's water was supposed to be a major benefit of infrastructure spending ahead of the Games, but the relevant sanitation projects are behind schedule; the city's mayor has called the failure to follow through on cleanup plans a "shame" and a "wasted opportunity."
In China, the sailors had to sail in algae.  At the time, I asked, "What's Chinese for Everything Turns to S***?" Rio's sailing venues.

29.7.15

IN THE PUBLIC INTEREST TO LET IT CRUMBLE.

It's late July, and again Congress are dilly-dallying about re-authorizing the so-called Highway Trust Fund.  First, various guardians of the public purse have engaged in the usual maneuvering to attach irrelevant amendments to the transportation bill, hoping that their colleagues and the President will sign off on crap in their sandwich rather than go hungry.
Good luck sorting through the parliamentary details of what the Senate will do next to try and jam through a transportation bill this week before the House (which previously passed a six-month extension) goes on August recess, though you can bet that we'll see the issue cross-pollinate with such wholly unrelated issues as the Ex-Im, and Planned Parenthood funding, and Obamacare, and God knows what else (including, possibly, giving the IRS power to revoke the passports of citizens owing more than $50,000 in back taxes).
As of this morning, a relatively clean, meaning there's only transportation pork in it, bill that will inter alia extend the Highway Trust Fund for three months, might clear Congress.  And there's material for a future post buried in the story -- the federal motor fuels taxes are per unit.  With fuel prices fluctuating, ad valorem taxes may not provide sufficient resources to buy future pork, so four of our political masters propose to index the motor fuel taxes to general inflation.
The legislation, proposed by Reps. Jim Renacci, R-Ohio, Bill Pascrell, D-N.J., Reid Ribble, R-Wis., and Dan Lipinski, D-Ill., if passed, would index gas and diesel user fees to inflation. Additionally, the legislation calls for the creation of a bipartisan, bicameral Transportation Commission no later than Sept. 1, 2015.

Funding through the Highway Trust Fund comes from the federal gas tax, that hasn’t been raised since 1993. Some industry stakeholders, such as AAA, favor an increase in the federal gas taxing order to keep up with inflation while detractors argue fuel-efficient cars and the growing popularity of hybrids no longer make a tax increase viable solution.

The lack of funding has created an environment for creativity. Several states over the course of the last several years have raised the state fuel taxes to make up the difference for a lack of federal funding; others have postponed, delayed or extended projects across multiple construction seasons.
Apparently, I have to repeat myself from last summer.
Thus, if the Highway Trust Fund is worth saving, it ought to be set up in such a way as to hold the highways in trust.  Thus:  Special movement permits for any trailer exceeding 40 feet.  Permit fee to be substantially higher if the movement can be by rail over part or all of the trip.  Federal excise tax on retreaded tires.  And some money devoted to improving railroad tracks for faster trains, with the stipulation that the owning railroads be allowed to path intermodal trains at speeds of 90 or 100 mph on those tracks.
I haven't seen any arguments that would cause me to change my position. I found an interesting confession from Iowa's director of the state department of transportation, Paul Trombino.
I said the numbers before. 114,000 lane miles, 25,000 bridges, 4,000 miles of rail. I said this a lot in my conversation when we were talking about fuel tax increases. It’s not affordable. Nobody’s going to pay.

We are. We’re the ones. Look in the mirror. We’re not going to pay to rebuild that entire system.

And my personal belief is that the entire system is unneeded. And so the reality is, the system is going to shrink.

There’s nothing I have to do. Bridges close themselves. Roads deteriorate and go away. That’s what happens.

And reality is, for us, let’s not let the system degrade and then we’re left with sorta whatever’s left. Let’s try to make a conscious choice – it’s not going to be perfect, I would agree it’s going to be complex and messy – but let’s figure out which ones we really want to keep.

And quite honestly, it’s not everything that we have, which means some changes.
City Lab offer elaboration, and additional evidence that per capita miles traveled have decreased, and yet states put money into expanding the network rather than repairing the existing roads.  (That decision is not baseless, perhaps there are parts of a county or a state where human activity is stressing the existing network, and repairs are deferred or implicitly cancelled in the declining parts.)

That's just a fundamental principle of resource reallocation.
As if school districts don't cope with shrinking enrollments by furloughing teachers and closing schools? As if highway commissions don't cope with shifting populations by deferring maintenance on less-travelled roads? Tollway privatization is no panacea: a regulated toll corporation that is not allowed to earn the replacement cost of its capital will be no more use than a tollway authority that earns insufficient revenues to rebuild the roads or a highway trust fund that does not allocate funds efficiently. On the other hand, this debate might be a good one to start. The freight railroads have recently begun to earn the replacement cost of their capital. Is it too much to ask that the highway system pass a similar test?
Might further improvements be found?  In The Week, Evan Jenkins suggests "It's time to abolish the Interstate Highway System."
The most important thing that abolishing the Interstate Highway System will allow is for states to fund their highway infrastructure through tolls, which is strongly discouraged by the federal government. States would even have the option of taking the further step of privatizing their highways, as former Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels did very successfully with one road in 2006.

Eliminating federal funding would also force states to abandon needlessly wasteful projects. One consequence of the DOT's need-based funding is that it encourages states to compete for dollars by wildly overstating how much infrastructure they actually need, even as the actual need continues to decline. Tolling would further reduce infrastructure demand by encouraging carpooling, shorter commutes, and alternative modes of transportation. With the big federal dollars unavailable, states will discover surprisingly quickly how many of their crucial infrastructure projects are not actually so crucial after all.
I wish it were that simple. The road-builders and their union-scale on prevailing wage projects employees will not take too kindly to being deemed not so crucial, and until there's a coherent policy for moving freight to the rails and limiting the ability of truckers to bypass toll roads we're likely to be stuck with business as usual.  Mr Jenkins gets it.
First, we need to get more trucks off highways, since they do far more damage to the road than cars. Properly calibrated tolls should help to discourage long-haul shipping by truck, but in order for there to be an alternative, we need to beef up our rail infrastructure. The current state of rail freight in the United States is atrocious: it can take more than 30 hours for a train to pass through Chicago. A relatively small amount of investment will go a long way towards shifting more freight from the roads to the rails, thereby vastly decreasing maintenance costs for the roads we have.

Second, we need to provide a path forward for auto-dependent cities and suburbs. While the Obama administration already proposed an ambitious high-speed rail plan in 2009, the exorbitant costs involved leave it unlikely to be realized anytime soon. Instead, we should focus on making better use of existing passenger rail infrastructure, which is far too often surrounded by parking lots instead of residences and workplaces. To this end, we should set up a fund to incentivize transit-oriented development by subsidizing low-parking, high-density projects near regional rail and rapid transit.
Regular readers will recognize in the second paragraph the Cold Spring Shops "Free Rein to 110" campaign for a network of frequent, connecting regional and suburban trains using existing motive power and coaching stock.  The first paragraph is a vain hope unless highway commissioners don't create highways that will be torn up by heavy trucks bypassing the toll roads.  In the Northeast, anyone who has used Interstates 84, 81, or 80 knows of what I speak: those roads are not tolled, but much of Interstate 95 and all of the Pennsylvania Turnpike and New York Thruway are.  Closer to Cold Spring Shops headquarters, the Illinois Tollway is able to extract its tribute from much of the freight traffic headed into or near Chicago, but look at the conditions of the U.S. highways and the in-city expressways.  And I wonder how much of that traffic is headed from nearby warehouses or factories to container terminals in Chicago because of the difficulties railroads have in getting containers or container trains through Chicago (and don't get me started on oil and ethanol trains waiting to get through).

That traffic has to be contributing to the wear and tear on Interstate 65 in northwest Indiana, and to the deterioration of Milwaukee's interchanges (get past the Politico intrusion of presidential politics and focus on the infrastructure).
As the transportation bill takes center stage on Capitol Hill this week, we’re hearing plenty of impassioned speeches about the woeful state of American infrastructure, about the failure of our political system to invest in the future of our nation. But taxpayer-funded megaprojects like the Marquette and the Zoo are obvious reminders that America still does invest mightily in transportation infrastructure. It’s less obvious what all that investment is achieving, and for whom it’s being achieved. For all the debate over how much money to spend on transportation and how to raise the money, there’s been much less debate about how the money should be spent. When so much cash and concrete gets poured into the spaghetti bowl of freeways around Milwaukee, other needs tend to get neglected.

Today, we spend more than five times as many federal dollars on roads as we spend on public transit. We spend more building new road capacity than we spend fixing existing roads. Those priorities affect the competitiveness of our economy, the sustainability of our environment, the livability of our cities, and the mobility of the poor, not to mention the amount of time we spend banging our fists on our steering wheels in traffic and the likelihood that our bridges will collapse. But most of our transportation choices aren’t made in Washington. Congress is mostly a pass-through, funneling cash to states with relatively few strings attached.
It's too late to do much about the Marquette interchange, which the state recently rebuilt at great expense.  The article does a before-and-after illustration of the effects of that interchange on downtown.  But their picture of pre-expressway Milwaukee misses the most significant casualties of the expressway.  We lost quite possibly the best railroad corridor service of the time, privately operated or otherwise, thanks to misguided public policy.

Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel image retrieved 29 July 2015 from Politico.

By the looks of things, the picture dates from the mid-1930s with construction of either the Safety Building or the County Court House beginning two blocks west of the Milwaukee Auditorium.  Just out of view to the lower left: the right of way of the Rapid Transit Line, which the Expressway Commission appropriated after its abandonment in 1951 for the original East-West Freeway.  Just out of view at lower right, adjacent to the Schroeder Hotel (still present, it's a Hilton) is the Milwaukee Terminal of the North Shore Line.  Among the reasons the railroad petitioned to abandon: the costs it would incur modifying tracks entering the Terminal to make way for extensions of the East-West Freeway.  A little further out of the picture is the Everett Street Depot of The Milwaukee Road, which had to go in order for the west throat tracks to be replaced with an entrance ramp for the Marquette Interchange complex.  Along the lakefront, the North Western Depot had to go in order to provide space for a freeway that was built only in part (a lightly traveled elevated road over the municipal piers, and a bridge over the harbor entrance that when Lake Michigan is high is an obstacle to navigation, and don't get me started on the St. Lawrence Seaway, I want to post this tonight.)

But it is the reconstruction of the Zoo interchange that I want to address.
The Zoo is Wisconsin’s oldest and busiest interchange, carrying more than half the state’s freight, and one of the toughest to navigate. State transportation officials calculated that simply rebuilding it would cost about $900 million, but they settled on a $1.7 billion alternative that will add lanes, soften curves and widen shoulders. They believe the work will reduce accidents dramatically, while easing congestion that currently adds about five to seven minutes to the average rush-hour commute.

“The Zoo can’t handle what it’s being asked to handle now, and it’s only going to get worse,” says [Patrick] Goss, who was a transportation aide to former Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson before he began lobbying for the state’s road builders. “Sure, it’s a high-cost project, but you can’t take shortcuts with this kind of thing.”
That's intriguing, given that the Zoo is evidence of the expressway builders taking shortcuts earlier.  Look carefully at this map of the wished-for expressway system, circa 1970.  Under that system plan, commuters from the upscale northwestern suburbs in Washington, Ozaukee, and Waukesha counties would be able to head downtown either on the Zoo and East-West expressways, as they currently do, or to use the Fond du Lac expressway, which never got east of a few blocks west of the also-decayed Capitol Court Shopping Center, to choose one of several planned but never built expressways either downtown or to the factories that used to be along the railroads and river valleys.  Those planned expressways are not likely ever to be built.

Thus the Zoo interchange handles more than the intended volume of commuters from the northwest suburbs, plus a lot of that truck traffic which might be coming from points west and northwest of Milwaukee that way rather than through Madison in order to reduce exposure to Illinois tolls.

Perhaps there is a better way, and Reason's Robert Poole proposes one such way.
Toll financing requires heavy traffic to support it.

There is also an important political implication of these findings. All but six states could finance Interstate modernization on their own, without federal funding. Few people realize that although federal gas taxes paid for 90 percent of the initial construction costs, these highways are owned by the states and operated by state Transportation departments. Since Congress has no realistic strategy for coming up with the trillion dollars an Interstate modernization program would require, states are going to need to step up to the plate.

There's only one obstacle to states taking on this responsibility. The original 1956 legislation still prohibits tolls on "existing" highway lanes. But it's perfectly legal for states to (1) convert carpool lanes to express toll lanes, and (2) add tolled lanes to the existing free lanes on Interstates.

In 1998, Congress enacted a pilot program to test tolled Interstate reconstruction. The law permits three states to each rebuild one Interstate highway using toll financing. Missouri, North Carolina, and Virginia won the three slots, but none has been able to gather enough legislative or public support to implement its project. North Carolina, for example, decided that Interstate 95 was its most-urgent candidate for reconstruction and widening. But people who live near I-95 objected strenuously to being singled out to pay tolls when their fellow citizens in, say, Charlotte would be able to use Interstate 77 for free. Virginia, after a similar backlash, proposed charging tolls only at the border with North Carolina, which would exempt all local users of I-95 from paying tolls. However, this would reduce expected revenues to below the amount needed to reconstruct the highway.

The trucking industry has been the primary opponent of expanded use of tolling on Interstates. It has some valid reasons to be concerned. Several of the states that applied for slots in the pilot program were intending to charge tolls far in excess of what would be required to reconstruct the single Interstate authorized under the program. Pennsylvania was rejected twice because it was clear its proposed tolling of Interstate 80 was intended not just to refurbish that one highway but also to generate about half a billion dollars per year to bail out transit systems across the state. Other highway user groups, such as AAA, have also mounted opposition to Interstate tolling. AAA's New York division has litigation in the works against the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, for example, over the agency's use of toll revenues to rebuild the World Trade Center.
Transportation is a derived demand, and without destinations, including office towers, what's the point of having roads, whether privately owned, publicly maintained out of general revenues, or maintained by tolls.  And the transportation economist in me suggests that Mr Poole doth protest too much about making users pay.  Consider four objections he raises.

1. There would be no value added for users if tolls were simply imposed on existing, unimproved lanes.

By that logic, any introduction of high-occupancy toll lanes (the so-called Lexus lanes) is an error.  Congestion pricing functions to allocate demand, and with care, can yield revenues to cover the long run incremental costs of maintenance or capacity expansion.

2. States could divert toll revenue to other purposes.

So what?  Money is fungible.  Perhaps improvements to commuter rail service or conduits for telecommunication and electricity or the municipal swimming pool keep residents from fleeing.

3. People would have to pay fuel taxes and tolls for the same highway, which would in effect be double taxation.

Ever hear of a three-part tariff?  As it is, many people pay property taxes, fuel taxes, and tolls, all of which contribute to providing the roads they use (or stew in traffic on) under the existing regime.

4. Traffic would be diverted to parallel roadways.

Happens anyway.  Happens even without tolls, as people adjust their behavior to perceived congestion conditions.

Now perhaps, as Mr Poole concludes, there's opportunity to move toward a more market-based regime of highway funding.
This would represent a substantial move back toward the original users-pay/users-benefit principle that has largely been discarded under the current federal highway and transit program. It's also the only game in town for ensuring that these critically important highways can be modernized to continue their vital function in the 21st century, notwithstanding the liberal dream of shifting freight from truck to rail and people from cars to high-speed trains. What's more, shifting responsibility for Interstate modernization from the federal government to the states would represent a significant (and achievable) first step toward devolving the overgrown federal transportation program.

And since toll-financed Interstates are ideal projects for long-term public-private partnerships, this plan could be used to begin converting major highways from the state-socialist enterprises they are today into market-oriented utilities, like those that furnish us with everything from electricity to the Internet. For libertarians, what's not to like?
The freight railroads are investor-owned (and often hostile to Passenger Rail operators.)  Why shouldn't the trucking companies also bear the full cost of providing rights-of-way, the way the freight railroads already do.  Might there be a way for the trucking companies to help pay for improvements to the Chicago area rail network in exchange for expedited handling of intermodal trains from railroad to railroad?  I know the railroad companies are looking for more effective ways of anticipating and pathing run-through trains.

THE LOCOMOTIVES ARE NOT NECESSARILY RE-ENACTORS.

The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Museum will host a Civil War re-enactors camp the first weekend in October.  In steam will be a tank engine and a replica of an 1837 Norris Patent Locomotive.

On occasion, the museum will fire up William Mason, which is a genuine 1856 steam locomotive.


William Mason passes the Federal camp.  Photographer unattributed.
Retrieved 29 July 2015 from the William Mason Flickr page.

IS ANYBODY REALLY SURPRISED?

A few months ago, The Nation's Michelle Goldberg expressed her dismay with what she termed gentrification of higher education, in the course of which she contrasted Arizona's response to smaller state appropriations (fancier residence halls, recreational facilities, recruitment of upscale if not necessarily academically ambitious students from other states) with that of Arizona State.
Providing luxury accommodations to attract high-SES students is not the only answer to budget cuts. Schools can also simply try to educate more people, taking advantage of economies of scale. That’s what Arizona State University, one of the largest public universities in the country, is doing. Located in Phoenix, just over 100 miles from the University of Arizona, the school touts itself as a model of public/private fusion; the new book written by its president, Michael Crow, and ASU professor William Dabars is titled Designing the New American University.
Go for the volume, and substitute virtual facilitators for real professors.
In the face of this defunding, ASU increased revenues by bringing in many more students. Since 2002, when Crow joined ASU, undergraduate enrollment has risen by nearly 50 percent and graduate enrollment by 39 percent. The school has made headlines for the expansion of its online-education program, which enrolls 13,000. Last year, ASU announced a partnership with Starbucks, in which the company would reimburse employees for their tuition at ASU online; so far, 2,000 workers have signed up. In April, the university unveiled its new “Global Freshman Academy,” a group of 12 MOOCs, or massive open online courses. Students pay $45 to register and can wait until after final exams before deciding whether to pay tuition and receive course credits, ensuring they won’t be in debt if they’re not academically successful. Anyone who completes eight classes can enter ASU as a sophomore.
Ms Goldberg writes with her audience in mind, and her audience is willing to put up with Dilbert moments for the right reasons.
Yet if you strip away the grating corporate speak, Crow is serious when he talks about expanding access. He rails against the “elitism” of top-tier American colleges and universities, writing that their “exclusivity suggests nothing so much as the persistence in American higher education of the class prerogatives historically associated with the social patterns of Britain.” Crow is rightfully proud of the fact that under his leadership, his school’s student body has come to reflect the demographics of the state. Between 2002 and 2013, the number of African-American students at ASU grew by 107 percent, and the number of Hispanic students grew by more than 130 percent. Over the same time period, the number of students coming from families earning less than $20,000 increased from 219 to 919.

“One of the things that sounds like a sound bite, but I’ve actually witnessed it: We’re making all these inroads in populations that are not privileged,” says Mark Lussier, chair of ASU’s English department. Recently, he says, he was speaking to someone at the University of Michigan, who insisted: “‘You can’t have access and excellence. You just can’t. It’s impossible.’ But I think the evidence is there that this is the sort of model that can work. Whether it can work in all states, all stripes, I don’t know. I do think it’s a pretty good model for here. Most people think of scale as a problem, but actually I think it’s been beneficial to us.”
Really? (Via College Insurrection.)  (It's more dismaying to have the Secretary of Education simultaneously referring to the (private) value of a credential and to higher education as a public good.)  But there's nothing in either the Arizona numbers or the Nation article to suggest that U.S. News will stop selling those rankings.

CAPTURING THE ESSENTIAL ELEMENTS.

At Marginal Revolution, E. Glen Weyl tackles the meaning of price theory.
This process eventually brought me to my own definition of price theory as analysis that reduces rich (e.g. high-dimensional heterogeneity, many individuals) and often incompletely specified models into ‘prices’ sufficient to characterize approximate solutions to simple (e.g. one-dimensional policy) allocative problems. This approach contrasts both with work that tries to completely solve simple models (e.g. game theory) and empirical work that takes measurement of facts as prior to theory.
Thus, price theory as practiced:
To illustrate my definition I highlight four distinctive characteristics of price theory that follow from this basic philosophy. First, diagrams in price theory are usually used to illustrate simple solutions to rich models, such as the supply and demand diagram, rather than primitives such as indifference curves or statistical relationships. Second, problem sets in price theory tend to ask students to address some allocative or policy question in a loosely-defined model (does the minimum wage always raise employment under monopsony?), rather than solving out completely a simple model or investigating data. Third, measurement in price theory focuses on simple statistics sufficient to answer allocative questions of interest rather than estimating a complete structural model or building inductively from data. Raj Chetty has described these metrics, often prices or elasticities of some sort, as “sufficient statistics”. Finally, price theory tends to have close connections to thermodynamics and sociology, fields that seek simple summaries of complex systems, rather than more deductive (mathematics), individual-focused (psychology) or inductive (clinical epidemiology and history) fields.

I trace the history of price theory from the early nineteenth to the late twentieth when price theory became segregated at Chicago and against the dominant currents in the rest of the profession. For a quarter century following 1980, most of the profession either focused on more complete and fully-solved models (game theory, general equilibrium theory, mechanism design, etc.) or on causal identification. Price theory therefore survived almost exclusively at Chicago, which prided itself on its distinctive approach, even as the rest of the profession migrated away from it.

This situation could not last, however, because price theory is powerfully complementary with the other traditions.
I don't know that price theory, even in the Chicago tradition (which is more about tight priors and rigorous tracing out of the implications of priors than about descriptive analysis, or applied mathematics) became segregated, or simply donned new clothing.  For instance, the University of Wisconsin renamed its Intermediate Price Theory course as Intermediate Microeconomics, but there weren't major changes in the catalog description.  And George Stigler himself, in the preface to the fourth edition of The Theory of Price, (I'd better take care of my copy, there's meaningful resale value in it) writes, "Microeconomics is the mature, stable corpus of economic theory, and its continuity is a reflection of its innumerable and infinitely varied successful applications."

It doesn't matter what you call it.  Exchange, arbitrage, indifference, opportunity cost.  The economist who grasps these things better will write better and teach better.

A LONG WAY FROM 19 EAST COPY THREE.

It's now possible to keep track of trains by remote control and send the track warrants directly to the engineer and conductor.
Iowa Pacific Holdings (IPH), which owns eight railroads across the U.S. and the U.K., has selected RailComm’s computer-aided dispatch system to operate its six railroads located in U.S. territory that run under the GCOR and NORAC rule sets, RailComm announced July 28, 2015.
The system is being deployed to control unsignalled main line trackage.  For years, there have been dispatcher simulations available to hobbyists to control virtual trains on a computer.  The generalization to real railroads seems straightforward.  Note, though, the computer-aided dispatch still requires the train crews to read and understand the warrants and control the speed of the train.

28.7.15

VULCAN'S PLANTATION.

Birmingham, Alabama, drew a difficult resource portfolio in the Minerals Lottery.  Although there were commercially useful deposits of iron ore, coal, and limestone close-by, which would seem to confer a locational advantage, those deposits were not as good as Pennsylvania coal or Minnesota ore.  And thus, although the major steel companies established integrated mills around Birmingham, the principal metal-working of the area was iron products.  Much of that iron was smelted in the Sloss Furnaces, the subject of W. David Lewis's ethnography, or perhaps history of technology, Sloss Furnaces and the Rise of the Birmingham District:  An Industrial Epic.  Instructive reading for Book Review No. 15.

I chose the title of this review deliberately.  Vulcan stands watch over Sloss Furnaces, and sharp-eyed visitors to his park can pick out the locations of the steel plants, working or abandoned, integrated or mini-mill.


Birmingham is also home to the jail from which Rev. King wrote his famous letters, and the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute is across the street from the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, where the bombing death of three girls got the rest of the country to notice the Civil Rights protests in progress.


There are two historic walks leading from the church and the institute into downtown Birmingham, with explanatory markers, if you want to think of them as secular stations of the cross, you're not mistaken.  Well worth your time, particularly on a pleasant afternoon.


And the Industrial Epic makes clear that there is a connection between the merchant pig iron business and the official repression of Birmingham's black population.


Behind me, one of the two furnaces and cast-houses that has been cleaned up and equipped with walkways safe for the recreational visitor.  To the end, much of the casting was done in the traditional way, with iron diverted from a runner (the sow) into trenches dug in sand (to cast the pigs).

One of the engineers at Sloss, Edward A. Uehling, patented a pig-casting machine in 1895.  Images copied from pages 206-207.


That's a precursor of a two-strand continuous casting machine.  Note in Fig 1. that Mr Uehling did not have use of a bottom-tapping slide-gate ladle at D for a continuous cast into the tundishes at E.  He also gave a lot of thought to keeping the iron from sticking to the mold, a challenge that contemporary metallurgical engineers still face.

But continuous casting of uniform quality pigs is not compatible with supplying merchant iron to a variety of foundries.  In some cases, the foundryman has to break the pig and look at its microstructure before deciding what to cast.  Some iron will only be good for sash-weights, some can be cast into cookware, others will be suitable for steam-heating radiators or engine blocks.  And the early Iron Age method of tapping the furnace and directing the metal through the sows and into pigs produces that kind of variety.  But to support the artisanal foundries, somebody has to dig sand for the sows and pigs and walk carefully through the cooling iron to retrieve the pigs and then re-set the sand, which is still cooling.  And thus the connection of Sloss and the Civil Rights campaign.

Prior to emancipation, the iron plantation relied heavily on slave labor.  After emancipation, former slaves and their descendants could be kept on the casting floor by Jim Crow or by the prison system ... if I had wanted to stir people up, I could have referred to Vulcan's Gulag where the use of prisoners sentenced to hard labor is concerned.

But it was neither the end of Jim Crow nor the rise of environmentalism that led to Sloss closing, rather it was the shrinkage of the merchant iron business to something more explicitly artisanal than industrial.  There is evidently an artisanal foundry in the cast-house not open to the public, but it procures its iron elsewhere.


I bought the book and a large cast-iron bottle opener at the museum shop.  Had there been more space in my luggage, I might have added a skillet to the haul.

(Cross-posted to 50 Book Challenge.)

MILWAUKEE IS WHAT DEMOCRATS DO.

Wisconsin governor Scott Walker recently tossed his hat in the ring, and the Perpetually Aggrieved at Madison's misnamed Progressive don't like what he's done, or what he has in mind for the country.  But it's not enough to note the relatively slow economic recovery of the state or the way his staff attempted to mangle the Wisconsin Idea.  Oh, no, all the elements of the Grievance Coalition must get their red meat.
Listening to Walker rev up the Waukesha crowd, in the heart of rightwing talk radioland, where the politics of divide and conquer got their start, was instructive.

Just as Donald Trump got a bump for calling a spade a spade with his racist attack on Mexican immigrants, Walker, in his announcement, was speaking to a strain of race-baiting in the white suburbs of Milwaukee that has played a significant role in his political rise.

What do voter ID, drug tests for food stamps recipients, warnings about Islamic terrorists coming for your children, Castle Doctrine, and concealed carry have in common? They all appeal to paranoid white voters who want to put black and brown people in their place.

The Obama presidency has exposed a bitter strain of race hatred in American politics, and Republicans, including Walker, are dancing with the devil when they play to their racist base.

In Walker’s case, it has been easy to miss. The crowds of 100,000 protesters who came out to oppose his attack on unions were mostly white. When he “stood up” to the teachers and firefighters and snowplow drivers of Wisconsin, there was no obvious racial subtext.

But as Alec MacGillis wrote in a terrific cover story for The New Republic, Walker’s rise, and the whole rightwing takeover of Wisconsin politics, has been fueled by the very powerful and explicitly racist radio talkers from the suburbs of Milwaukee.

And in his announcement speech, you could hear Walker tuning up the dog whistle for that same group.

“America is great. And it’s not too late. We have to start leading again,” he told the adoring crowd.
That the Milwaukee Public Schools are failing to teach, and that many Milwaukee neighborhoods are no longer safe for people of any color is irrelevant. And that the economic stimulus failed to stimulate, and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is two lies for the price of one vote doesn't matter.  Better for the supposed claimants to the mantle of Robert LaFollette to tune up the dog whistle for their pack of hounds.
The upward redistribution of wealth and the apparent abandonment of a social contract with the people by the government of Wisconsin over the past four years has taken a toll on our schools, our water, our local governments’ ability to maintain basic public services, and many people’s ability to earn a living and raise healthy children. How much further can struggling communities can be degraded before they push back in a meaningful way?
Scott Walker, Donald Trump, a different sort of push-back.

FASTER, PLEASE

More from the backlog of posts planned but not necessarily implemented.  Here is Tamar Lewin in the New York Times, from 2 March 2011.  Public Universities Seek More Autonomy as Financing From States Shrinks.  Her focus is on the state flagship campuses, precisely where market tests are most likely to be at work.
The public universities say that with less money from state coffers, they cannot afford the complicated web of state regulations governing areas like procurement and building, and that they need more flexibility to compete with private institutions.
Yeah, attempt to impose crappy working conditions on star professors, and they'll walk.  And U.S. News don't sell campus ratings to prospective students seeking transparency in the commissary's  procurement procedures.  I've been working this argument for years, regularly holding the view that an academic administration ought be worthy of its best students.  But it's a differing perspective that gets Ms Lewin's attention.
Many education experts say public universities deserve greater autonomy, now that the bulk of their support no longer comes from the state. But they worry that the shift could lead universities to stray from their mission of giving state residents access to affordable higher education.

“There is a real tension between serving the public needs, on one hand, and doing what they have to do to ensure that their institution can compete in the marketplace,” said Jane Wellman, executive director of the Delta Cost Project.

Ms. Wellman is particularly critical of the trend toward splitting flagships like the University of Wisconsin-Madison, which generally have the biggest research grants, the most alumni support, the best faculty and students and the most political clout, from the rest of the state’s higher education system.

“Madison seceding from the union sends the message, ‘We’re not like you, we’re better than you, we’re going to cut our own deal,’” she said. “They may be better and different, but they still have a responsibility to assert a leadership role rather than cut their own deal.”
That ship sailed years ago, people.
Wisconsin or Illinois are reasonable substitutes for Harvard or Stanford (perhaps not for long, considering recent developments) that attracts more applications from the coasts. Do the administrators at Milwaukee or Northern Illinois simply tell frustrated Badgers or Runs-from-Huskies that their institutions are good enough, or do they make the efforts to provide comparable intellectual challenges?
It's only gotten worse for the University of Wisconsin system lately.  But the default position in higher education, four years ago, and today, is still to stand by college-for-all, never mind that U.S. News sell those guides to prospective students who don't want to get mired in the swamps of access-assessment-remediation-retention and potted microaggression and trigger warning foolishness.
Some education policy experts warn that states cannot solve the problems of financing higher education one institution at a time. They caution that giving special treatment to the flagship without considering the needs of the whole system and the less-prepared students who attend community colleges — is likely to backfire over the long term.
In what way backfire? The solicitude for disengaged and unprepared matriculants is what's provoking the push-back against business as usual in the first place.  The issue is standards.
On one hand, don't kick out somebody in good standing for lack of money. On the other hand, don't give the high schools bailouts for their own failures to inculcate proper habits of mind and comportment. That way lies full employment for the pushers of crying towels and the assessment of the obvious and all the other drags on the real mission of higher education. Where there excess capacity in safety schools, excess demand for prestige degrees, and inefficiently many students in college coexist, there must be improvements on business as usual.
There I stood seven years ago. There I stand today. I'd really like to be able to point to concrete improvements upon business as usual, whether in seven days or seven months or seven years.

27.7.15

THOSE LAWS OF CONSERVATION IN ECONOMICS.

For years, I've been directing readers' attention to the backward-bending labor supply curve and the Say Aggregation Principle as suggesting a change in the labor force participation habits, particularly for higher income individuals or households.
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?
This American Interest discussion of the reduced labor-force participation of "elite women" does not suggest I should rethink my hypotheses.
So while the surveys might seem to vindicate the conservative view that many women would opt for part time work or full-time motherhood if given the choice, they also highlight the fact that this choice is not actually available to the majority of the population—in part because of economic inequality and the lack of social support for low-income mothers. And while they might seem to vindicate the feminist view that true parity in the workplace will come about through government intervention and cultural reform, this view is complicated by the fact that even the most high-achieving women, with the most resources at their disposal, in the most socially progressive generation in history, are planning to put their careers on hold to care for their children.
It's precisely along the upper reaches of the offer curve that the income effect begins to dominate the substitution effect.  And the bourgeois conventions of Mom, Dad, and the kids are more likely to be honored among, well, the bourgeoisie.  Thus, as stuff becomes relatively cheaper ...
Ultimately, the survey data support the narrative Charles Murray put forward in his 2012 blockbuster book, Coming Apart: that the cultural habits of privileged Americans are looking less and less like those of Americans in the working and middle classes. Whether you are a libertarian or a liberal, a feminist or a conservative, that trend should be a cause for concern.
Reason, apparently, for me to stick to my stances that the common schools ought be inculcating bourgeois habits and that the trendy cult of authenticity is enabling dysfunctional behavior, to the disadvantage of the authentically poor.

THE BECLOWNING CONTINUES.

When the Sillies destroy Roman and other pre-Mohammed monuments, the culturati call it vandalism.

When the Perpetually Aggrieved pronounce anathema on the Northern Virginia battle flag or Jefferson-Jackson Day or a monument to Cecil Rhodes, that's just Social Progress.

Fortunately, we have Reason's Brendan O'Neill referring to the Sillies as "whackjobs" and the Perpetually Aggrieved as "young hotheads."  And he calls out one of the favorite weenie words of the culturati.
Problematic is to the intolerant PC brigade what "haram" is to Islamists — it's used to brand things that are wicked, and which should ideally be No Platformed or Safe Spaced out of existence. The activists' casual conflation of speech with violence—or rather, of walking by a statue with feeling assaulted—speaks to the terrifying Orwellianism that has much of the Western student body in its grip.
I can't speak for the Islamists, but when I hear an academic weenie use "problematic" I translate it as, "I don't like this but would prefer not to debate the aesthetics or the moral system." Put another way, it's an empty attempt to sound educated. Let the beclowning continue.

WHEN THE INDUSTRY CATCHES ON.

People respond to incentives.  Does it come as any surprise that, when airlines impose baggage-checking fees, that passengers will attempt to cram their stuff into the overhead bins?
The dirty little secret, dear reader, is that with the airlines charging to stow your baggage in the hold, the dominant strategy especially for frequent travellers who have repackaged their toiletries according to the latest security ukases, is to bring along the largest possible carry-on, or even a slightly over-size carry-on, because the good folks at the ramp will stow your stuff, as the cartel's statement notes, free of charge.  Thus you avoid the stowage fee yet get your stuff stowed below.
Peter Hannaford of The American Spectator notices.
Charging for bags became standard procedure in 2008 for most airlines (Southwest is an exception) when they figured it could contribute to the profits that had long eluded them.

Human nature being what it is, more people then decided to tote their bags aboard. Alas, many aircraft don’t have enough bin space. For example, the 737-900 has 180 seats but only bin space for 125 roll-on bags. Result: a last-minute rush before takeoff for flight attendants to tag the surplus bags for stowage in the cargo bay.

At a recent symposium, Virgin America’s CEO David Cush said, “We give away the most valuable space on the airplane—the overhead bin (but) we charge for the least expensive space—the belly.” A simple solution would be to reverse this arrangement. It would reduce hectic bin stuffing and chaos just before takeoff. If that is too radical for the airlines, another solution would be to forego some of their now solid profits and drop charges for checked bags.
D'oh!  (Although having the purser collecting rent for the use of the overhead space is just another way to make loading and unloading an aircraft more painful.)

A NEW BACH DRINKING SONG.

This one didn't turn up in a forgotten archive in Leipzig or Vienna.

Rather, it is a Jan Bach setting of Eugene Field's "Clink," recently recognized by Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia as best choral composition.

I heard echoes of "Fill up the flowing steins again with foam on every lip."

26.7.15

CUTTING UP JACKPOTS.

Circus people, like any other cadre of co-workers, occasionally gather to swap yarns, which are sometimes embellished and elaborated in the re-telling, particularly if there are adult beverages being passed around.  Long-time impresario Paul Binder of the Big Apple Circus committed some of his tales to print in Never Quote the Weather to a Sea Lion And Other Uncommon Tales, which I'll commend to you tonight in Book Review No. 14.  (Half a year, half a year, half a year onward, and we'll see about the fifty ...)

By all means read the stories, there's that no s***, this really happened flavor that makes a good jackpot.  Three brief takeaways to the aspiring circus owner.  First, even well-trained animals will respect their instincts.  Second, the one-ring circus has to put its best performance forward at each change of acts, there's no distracting the spectators with a lot of action to conceal a pedestrian part of the show.  Third, without a good transportation department, even the most well-prepared of itinerant circus will come to grief.


And yes, I enjoyed the yarn about the troubles the circus had moving an antique wagon on a flatbed trailer.  You put a thing with wheels on another thing with wheels and connect it to a third thing with wheels.  Indeed.  That also describes a circus train.  But read the book to understand why the yarn is worth retelling.

(Cross-posted to 50 Book Challenge.)

GOVERNMENT FAILURE.

The coalition of urban gentry and welfare recipients that is taking over the Democrats is causing consternation among Democrats in the rest of the country.
“The national Democratic Party’s brand makes it challenging for Democrats in red states oftentimes and I hope that going forward, the leaders at the national level will be mindful of that and they will understand that they can’t govern the country without Democrats being able to win races in red states,” said Paul Davis, who narrowly failed to unseat Republican Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback last year.

Davis and his ilk were partly victims of a historically dismal year for Democrats, who saw their gubernatorial ranks fall to 18. Their candidates were weighed down by perceptions that President Barack Obama was too liberal. Now, Democrats in red states are worried that the party’s shift toward an even more polarizing, populist tone could turn off the swing voters they need to mount a comeback in 2015 and 2016, when a handful of GOP-tilted states with Democratic governors are on the ballot.
There's a different sort of populist tone in Republican circles, but there are Serious Democrat Thinkers who recognize that a coastal party cannot hope to maintain majorities in House or Senate.  But some of those Serious Thinkers still fail to understand their opponents.
One Democratic operative who works with gubernatorial candidates argued that the Democratic Party must avoid a slide into factionalism that mirrors the rise of the tea party on the right.

“The Democratic Party cannot become what the Republican Party is today – a fractured party with the tea party crazies on one side and the libertarian loonies on the other,” the operative said. “We have to be able to embrace all.”
There's common ground among libertarians and Taxed Enough Already activists. Specifically, Activist Government has grown too big, spent too much, and quashed too many incentives.
Democrats hope to prevail in the 2016 elections by pounding the income gap. But at least one major group on the short end of that equation isn’t buying that the handout party has the right answers.

Blue collar white voters believe the Republican Party is better equipped to make the economic system more fair by an overwhelming margin, according to a new Washington Post poll.

In the survey of non-college educated whites, 50 percent had more faith in GOP policies, while 29 percent favored the Democratic strategy.

These are among the workers hit hardest by the economic shifts of the past quarter century, and in particular by the failed polices of the Obama administration.
In columnist Nolan Finley's estimation, it's the failure of Gentry Class policies that is motivating these heirs to the Reagan Democrats, not the racial animus or false consciousness that Democrat court intellectuals would appeal to.
They’re looking for the opportunity to take care of themselves and their families. They want jobs, not another Big Government giveaway designed to replace the paychecks Democratic policies have killed.

They’ve lost faith — if they ever had any — in the government’s ability to solve their problems. And who can blame them?

Blue collar workers have lost ground under Obama’s wealth transfer schemes. His policies haven’t helped the poor and working class, and haven’t much hurt the rich. During the president’s tenure, the gaps between rich and poor have widened. All he’s done is explode the size of government and enrich the political class.

Democrats won’t win these working white voters with campaigns built on class resentment and Robin Hood promises, and they may not be able to convince other blue collar workers to buy into more of the same failed strategies.

Because this rather large and often neglected group of voters doesn’t want more government. They want more and better jobs. And so far, Democrats haven’t proved they can deliver.
There's more to that government failure than an economic stimulus too constrained by environmental sensitivities and rent-seeking or a health insurance reform that is still not evidently an improvement in economic welfare.

In some ways, the current Administration makes the case for the futility of technocracy in the best possible way.  Harvard Law, Kennedy School, Rhodes Scholars, supermajorities of the social science faculties at universities prestigious and plebeian, and yet six years of economic stagnation and social decay.  If The Best and Brightest can't make it happen, would it be better to unleash the second string?  No.  Regulations and taxes destroy value.
Politicians may hope that their interventions create more winners than losers, but that is wishful thinking because their decisions are based on no more than guesswork.

Liberals might assume that the government has an advantage in tackling society's problems because it is such a powerful institution. But because it uses coercion to raise funds and impose its will, the government tends to make bad decisions, entrench them, and drag the whole economy down.
Yes, although it takes the right mix of wit and wisdom ... both unfortunately missing in the opposition ... to make a positive case for trying freedom.

I SUPPORT YOUR RIGHT TO GRILL OUT.

Spanferkel and rotisserie chicken at Milwaukee's German Fest.


Yes, there was plenty of beer on tap and oom-pah music to dine by.

24.7.15

PUSH BACK, OR FIGHT BACK, OR MOCK.

Lloyd Marcus has confidence that social justice warriors are capable of introspection.
Guys, what on earth did you expect? You created this monster. For decades you've strove to convince blacks that America hates them. You've taught white kids to hate the founders of their country and to feel guilty for their actions. You've really done a number on white males. Youths black and white think American white males are the spawn of Satan.
That's hyperbolic. But the self-cannibalization of the Perpetually Aggrieved and their ever-more-amusing Oppression Olympics is very real. As Mr Marcus notes, time to keep fighting.  But the radical middle (better known as what used to be Mainstream America) is in play, according to Matthew Continetti.
These voters don’t give a whit about corporate tax reform or TPP or the capital gains rate or the fate of Uber, they make a distinction between deserved benefits like Social Security and Medicare and undeserved ones like welfare and food stamps, their patriotism is real and nationalistic and skeptical of foreign entanglement, they wept on 9/11, they want America to be strong, dominant, confident, the America of their youth, their young adulthood, the America of 40 or 30 or even 20 years ago. They do not speak in the cadences or dialect of New York or Washington, their thoughts can be garbled, easily dismissed, or impugned, they are not members of a designated victim group and thus lack moral standing in the eyes of the media, but still they deserve as much attention and sympathy as any of our fellow citizens, still they vote.

What the radical middle has seen in recent years has not given them reason to be confident in our government, our political system, our legion of politicians clambering up the professional ladder office to office. Two inconclusive wars, a financial crisis, recession, and weak recovery, government failure from Katrina to the TSA to the launch of Obamacare to the federal background check system, an unelected and unaccountable managerial bureaucracy that targets grassroots organizations and makes law through diktat, race riots and Ebola and judicial overreach. And through it all, as constant as the northern star, a myopic drive on the part of leaders in both parties to enact a “comprehensive immigration reform” that would incentivize illegal immigration and increase legal immigration despite public opposition.
He's letting the Beltway pros in on the reasons for Donald Trump appealing to Republican voters, but he's also suggesting that Vermont's Senator Sanders might pick up crossover Republicans.
That Trump is not a conservative, nor by any means a mainstream Republican, is not a minus but a plus to the radical middle. These voters are culturally right but economically left; they depend on the New Deal and parts of the Great Society, are estranged from the fiscal and monetary agendas of The Economist and Wall Street Journal. What they lack in free market bona fides they make up for in their romantic fantasy of the patriotic tycoon or general, the fixer, the Can Do Man who will cut the baloney and Get Things Done. On social questions their views tend toward the moderate side—Perot was no social conservative, either. What unites them is opposition to elites in government, finance, culture, journalism; their search for a vehicle—whether it’s a political party or an outspoken publicity maven—that will displace the managers and technocrats and restore the America of old.
Pundits might dismiss Senator Sanders's invocation of the Eisenhower era at their peril, although a sixties leftist is an unlikely tribune of The America That Worked(TM).