3.3.21

TAIL TRACK.

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

BRING PASSENGER SERVICE BACK TO SCRANTON?

The Erie-Lackawanna Railroad got rid of all its intercity passenger service (apart from a notionally commuter service serving Cleveland) long before Amtrak, and Conrail decided to consolidate the rail freight service on New York Central's Water Level Route, with Erie's line across the Southern Tier of New York state being the relief line.  That meant a piece of early twentieth century super railroad, the Lackawanna Cutoff in the Delaware River valley, was deemed redundant, and the tracks came up.

Passenger Rail advocates in the area might be hoping that Amtrak Joe is also Scranton Joe, and they'll print some money.
A recent study called “the “Lackawanna Cutoff Restoration Commuter Rail Study” pegs the cost at $288.93 million, far lower than the $551 million estimate in a 2006 study. U.S. Rep. Matt Cartwright, whose office helped cobble together about $1 million in local, state and federal grants to help pay for the new study, called it “inching forward” in restoring a train service.
The article includes a picture of the Paulins Kill viaduct, one of several concrete viaducts Lackawanna built, and the author no doubt hopes to see trains on it again. That is, if forty years of neglect of the drains and the foundations haven't made the viaduct no longer safe for trains.

IT'S USEFUL TO HAVE AN AUDIT TRAIL.

Various contributors to Insta Pundit have argued for paper ballots, as having the actual record of the voter's choices is reassuring in a way that auditing tallies tabulated on registers or memory chips is not.  There were, in fact, people, including Democrats, raising warnings about possible fraud-by-tampering of the screens or the tabulators, before The Narrative became "baseless allegations of election fraud."  For instance, "Millions of voters going to the polls Tuesday will cast their ballots on machines blasted as unreliable and inaccurate for two decades by computer scientists from Princeton University to Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory."  After a lengthy review of the ways the technology can go wrong, and the way rapid technological progress leads to the absence of repair parts for older devices (do you really want, dear reader, a Tyco power pack in the space station?) the article notes,
To start with, the new gold standard for voting is paper.

Voters hand-marking their own paper ballots can verify their selection before the vote is counted by a machine. If the election is close or challenged, or if software fails, a paper ballot can be used to audit results. In 2018, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine declared that elections should be using human-readable paper ballots by this year – and voting equipment without such ballots should be removed as soon as possible.
How things change.  DeKalb County currently use a fill-in-the-bubble ballot and optical scanner that would not be out of place at Educational Testing Services or any college grading center office.  Polling places have a supply of official marking pens, which are the successor to the extra-magnetic-graphite people my age or so might recall from standardized tests in elementary school.  Even that approach, which makes tabulating and reporting results relatively easy, might not be good enough.
Matt Luceen didn’t vote for former President Donald Trump in 2020, but he came to Washington last week to protest President Biden’s inauguration, saying the election was flawed.

Mr. Luceen, a supporter of Sen. Bernard Sanders, said he toted signs that read “COUNT OUR VOTES BY HAND,” and “End the charade.”

“We don’t ever really put the paper into piles and count them by hand anymore,” the 34-year-old computer programmer said. “We just trust the machines, and we shouldn’t because we have documented proof that these machines are vulnerable.”
Like everything else these days, there's a partisan split on what is least trustworthy about voting methods.
Democrats say there are too many restrictions. They want easier registration, longer voting periods and extensions of the right to vote to felons and, in some cases, those under age 18.

For Republicans, voter integrity is the priority. They point to accounts of noncitizens casting ballots, and to counties and districts where there are more voters registered than the census estimates could be possible.

Republicans say the answers lie in cleaner voting rolls and stricter ID checks. Democrats say those tactics amount to voter suppression and are designed to discourage minorities and poor people from voting.
That's a different sort of argument for another day. It's the audit trail today.  The latter-day scantron sheets came to DeKalb County around 2000.  In elections previous to that, our ballots were punch cards and each voting booth came with a template to identify which holes corresponded to which candidate or referendum, and a metal stylus to push the appropriate chad out of the punch card; and yes, because of the layout of the punch card, sometimes there were more candidates than there were spaces on one leaf of the template, giving rise to the notorious butterfly ballots.  We know from the 2000 Florida recount that a manual recount of punch cards is harder than a manual recount of scantron sheets.

But Robert Shibley jogged the memories.
It’s obvious that our election “system” cannot be trusted with either paper ballots or hackable computer voting machines. I have a solution: mechanical voting machines. 1. You can’t steal them, as they are huge and obvious. 2. You can’t hack them (without a machinist) and you certainly can’t hack them systematically. 3. It is hard to miscount with them – you literally look at the wheels on the back at the end of the night, add them up with a calculator, and call in the numbers. Done. Want a recount? Have someone else grab a calculator and look at the wheels. And don’t give me this “but they can break” stuff – if we can put in odometer in every car, I think we can handle this, and it’s not like the scanners and electronic machines aren’t breaking all the time.
In The Making of the President 1960, author Theodore White noted that Connecticut, which voted on such machines at the time, was quick to count and report the votes.  But there was no record other than those accumulator tallies of the votes. which means there's no audit trail.

The machines, though, were engineering marvels of the time.
In the late 19th-century, Jacob H. Myers invented his lever-operated “Automatic Booth” voting machine, an engineering marvel that would come to dominate American elections from 1910 through 1980.

Douglas Jones, a computer science professor at the University of Iowa, has researched the history of voting machines and concludes that Myers’ groundbreaking contraption had more moving parts than any other machine of its day, including the automobile. These early voting machines weighed hundreds of pounds, cost thousands of dollars and would be installed in the corner of the local town hall for decades.

Voting on one of these lever machines was easy. Each candidate for each race had a small lever next to his or her name and Americans voted by pulling down the levers of their chosen candidates. If they wanted to vote along a single party line, they could pull one lever that automatically selected the Republican or Democratic candidates.
I wonder if the professor ever studied mechanical interlocking plants, which have a lot of features in common with voting machines. In the same way that the railway interlocking machinery would prevent the signalman from setting up conflicting routes for trains, the voting machine would lock all other levers once the voter made a choice for an office, and if a voter split tickets, there would be dogs and tappets that would prevent the single party lever from being pulled.  In addition, if a voter pulled back the slide to cast a write-in vote, that action would lock both the slide in the open position and all the levers assigned to candidates for that office.  (To do otherwise would provide opportunities to vote for two candidates, or to cast unlimited write-in votes.)

The voter would pull a large lever to close the curtain and release all locks; pulling the lever the other way to open the curtain would register all the votes cast, advance all the accumulators, and restore the voting levers to the normal position.
But inside the machine, the vote-counting process was incredibly complex, says Jones. There were 200 or more levers on the face of the machine, and behind each lever were mechanisms that prevented the vote from being counted until the final lever was pulled (in case a voter changed their mind). The straight party levers had to be linked to every candidate lever on the ticket and none of it required a single watt of electricity.

“The only power required was muscle power to pull down the small levers to vote for candidates and then more muscle power to move the great big lever that opened and closed the curtain,” says Jones.

Unbeknownst to most voters, the action of opening the curtain on the voting booth was what finally counted the votes and reset the machine for the next voter.
Look closely at the picture of the levers on the voting machine and the picture in my linked post of the mechanical interlocking machine in Harrisburg, and note the resemblance.  Pay particular attention to the patent application diagram in this article.  Those tappets and dog bars in the locking bed are pure Saxby and Farmer.  The voting machine didn't have to be as chunky as the railroad counterpart.  On occasion, though, you'd call the maintainer.
“These machines inspired extraordinary public confidence because of their sheer physicality,” says Jones, who says that Myers’ company, Automatic Voting Machines, dominated 80 percent of the market. “But behind the scenes, it’s not clear that confidence was justified.”

Lever machines were mechanical, and a single missing tooth on a gear was known to cause serious miscounts that were rarely caught by election officials. And Jones says that the machines could be rigged with something as innocuous as the tip of a graphite pencil.
It's the absence of paper ballots that's the trouble. Perhaps election judges would compare total counts on the machine each hour with their tally of voters served each hour, to catch glitches.  How, though, conduct a do-over if the machinery hangs up?

New York retired its machines in 2008.
It was time for these workhorses of democracy to shuffle off. They've been breaking down. They don't provide verification that a vote actually registered (and no paper trail). And there's some evidence they might have had a little trouble counting.

Even so, we'll miss the satisfying gzrrr-CHTHUNK the machines make when you pull the lever. We just can't imagine a "ballot marking device" ever having the same appeal.
Some of the machines now swim with the fishes.  Today, though, the task is to square "in person voting, electronically" with a correspondence between votes cast and votes tallied.

THE ALAMO DID NOT COST SANTA ANA AN ARM AND A LEG.

The Mexican dictator did, however, lose a leg in a scrap with the French, and his prosthetic legs became contraband of war, and they're in Illinois.
Santa Anna's real leg was amputated after he was hit by cannon fire during a melee with the French in 1838 (the leg was interred with full military honors). In 1847, his artificial leg was captured by soldiers of the 4th Illinois Infantry, which is why it's in the Illinois State Military Museum. Santa Anna was eating lunch during a battle with the United States when the Americans surprised him, and he galloped off without his leg. The sergeant who grabbed the wooden leg exhibited it at county fairs for a dime a peek, but since 1922 it's been in the care of Illinois National Guard.
The Illinois State Military Museum is near Abraham Lincoln's tomb in Springfield.

That's the dictator's presentation leg.  His spare prosthetic is also in Illinois.  "The second limb, a humble peg leg, was reportedly later used by Lieutenant Abner Doubleday as a baseball bat. It's on display at the (former Governor) Oglesby Mansion in Decatur, and no one has tried to kidnap it, either."

It is the custom in yarning about road trips to make stuff up, and that might include the involvement of Abner Doubleday, and Vitus Bering.

For the time being, both museums are closed.

DECORATE THE STREETS FOR DECORATION DAY.

National Review's Jim Geraghty:
There are roughly 209 million adult Americans. We should be pretty close to herd immunity by the start of summer, and keep in mind that herd immunity isn’t really binary — as we get more people vaccinated, the virus will have fewer bodies to infect, and we will see cases drop steadily.

This means that, as spring turns into summer, there will be less and less justification for the pandemic restrictions in Americans’ daily life.

By the end of May, a lot of school districts have ended their school years but not all of them; if every adult in a school has access to a vaccine, there’s no good reason to keep schools closed at all. If everyone has access to a vaccine, there’s no good reason to keep businesses closed or restrict them to below their normal capacity. There’s no good reason to bar large gatherings, attendance at religious services, concerts, and sports events.

And by summer, when not being vaccinated becomes a personal choice, as opposed to situation forced by a lack of access to the vaccine, those of us who do get vaccinated are not obligated to lift a single finger to protect those who choose to not get vaccinated. We’re not going to restrict large gatherings. We’re not going to agree to wear masks or make a consistent conscious effort to remain six feet away from everyone outside our household.
Those people who are fretting about "new more contagious variations" whenever there's good news? Undermine them with mockery. "Declaring, 'We can’t allow people to go back to normal life because of the risk of new variants' is effectively declaring that we can never go back to normal life."  Such people deserve the same scorn as people who imposed that national 55 mph speed limit "to reduce our dependence on foreign oil" and when the oil cartel came undone, decided that keeping the speeds low "to reduce fatalities in crashes" was a useful pivot.

UNFILTERED DIRECT CURRENT CAN BE HAZARDOUS TO YOUR ACCESSORIES.

Most model railroads use direct current to power the trains, and for years, that direct current came from a power pack that rectified house current drawn from the mains.  In recent years, various forms of command control with walkaround throttles became the state of the art.  Those power packs still have constant-voltage terminals for the accessories, but hanging onto them could be a false economy.
It’s a rare day when I see a layout that doesn’t have a cheap train set power pack powering some accessory somewhere in a corner.  It makes me shudder every time I see it, because if it’s powering any electronics, that’s just asking for trouble.  I understand it – most model railroaders aren’t electronics people, and we’re all a little cheap and like to get every possible decade of use out of something that we can.  But it’s a bad, bad idea, and I’m here today to explain why.

The problem is that these old packs were designed to do one thing – apply track power and spin a motor – and weren’t even terribly good at that.  The “DC” that they put out can only barely be called that.  It’s full-wave rectified AC from the transformer that’s probably going through a primitive rheostat and sent straight to the output.  There’s no filtering and no regulation at all.  At low load (such as a modern piece of electronics), this means you get DC that cycles between near 0 volts and around 26-30 volts at 120 times per second, even with the “throttle” barely turned on.  Often the electronics blow up from being pushed beyond their ratings, the customer doesn’t understand why, the manufacturer and product get blamed, and nobody’s happy.   So I’m here today to explain it and tell you: throw that power pack away!
Apparently, contemporary "wall wart" power supplies are designed with solid state electronics in mind, and they're more likely to deliver filtered direct current.  It's still useful to trust but verify.  "So, in summary, if you’re thinking about using that old power pack in the junk bin to power some new electronics on your layout, please reconsider. Leave the power pack in the junk box, or send it to power pack heaven (or the nearest garbage can or recycler) and buy a modern power supply."  That might be reason to be hesitant to buy one of those vintage power packs at a swap meet, even if it's priced to sell at a few bucks.

1.3.21

CALIFORNIANS ARE NOT SERIOUS ABOUT THEIR HIGH SPEED TRAINS.

Trains has the sad news.  "Listing of the Southern California and Central Coast mountain [lion] and monarch butterfly as candidates for endangered species lists have added to the complications faced by the California High-Speed Rail Authority in planning the Bakersfield-Palmdale section of its route."  That's only the most difficult section of the line to build, getting from the valley north of Bakersfield through the mountains to the Los Angeles basin at Palmdale.  There might be some fault lines to take into account as well.

WE MUST LOOK REALITY SQUARELY IN THE FACE.

Glenn Loury confronts a weekend police blotter in Chicago.
All of the victims were black people. Sixty-three shot, six dead, one weekend, one city. Here’s the thing: reports such as this could be multiplied dozens of times, effortlessly. If a black intellectual truly believes that “Black Lives Matter,” then what is he supposed to say in response to such nauseating reports—that “there is nothing to see here?” I think not.

Violence on such a scale involving blacks as both perpetrators and victims poses a dilemma to someone like myself. On the one hand, as the Harvard legal scholar Randall Kennedy has observed, we elites need to represent the decent law-abiding majority of African Americans cowering fearfully inside their homes in the face of such violence. We must do so not just to enhance our group’s reputation as in the “politics of respectability” but mainly as a precondition for our own dignity and self-respect.

On the other hand, we elites must also counter the demonization of young black men which the larger American culture has for some time now been feverishly engaged in. Even as we condemn murderers, we cannot help but view with sympathy the plight of many poor youngsters who, though not incorrigible, have nevertheless committed crimes. We must wrestle with complex historical and contemporary causes internal and external to the black experience that help to account for this pathology. (There’s no way around it. This is pathology. The behavior in question here is not okay. That one can adduce social-psychological explanations does not resolve all moral questions.)

Where is the self-respecting black intellectual to take his stand? Must he simply act as a mouthpiece for movement propaganda aiming to counteract “white supremacy”? Has he anything to say to his own people about how some of us are living? Is there space in American public discourses for nuanced, subtle, sophisticated moral engagement with these questions? Or are they mere fodder for what amount to tendentious, cynical, and overtly politically partisan arguments on behalf of something called “racial equity”? And what about those so-called “white intellectuals”? Do they have to remain mute? Or, must they limit themselves to incanting anti-racist slogans?
It's a long essay, and it will reward careful study.

George Leef observes, "I would bet that the 'progressives' choose to ignore this challenge to their hegemony."

Both essays noted by Don "Cafe Hayek" Boudreaux.

DO YOU REALLY WANT TO MAKE WATCHING PAINT DRY INTERESTING AGAIN?

Washington Examiner chief editor Hugo Gurdon asks, "Whatever happened to America's Cup?"

The best way to understand America's Cup racing over the years is as the waterborne version of Unlimited Class motor racing.  But it's a bit jarring to Mr Gurdon.
Sailing has been radically transformed since I caught the bug as an early teenager in 1970. That summer, when I was learning to plane in a sailing dingy, big, sleek sloops were racing off Newport, Rhode Island, to see who’d defend the America’s Cup, which the New York Yacht Club had won against global competition again and again without interruption for the previous 119 years. The trophy became known as the America’s Cup because no one could take it away from the Americans.
It might be more accurate to think of the "radical transformation" as, first, coming up with racing sloops that could plane on the power reach (America3 had that capability in the 1992 defense) and, later, writing the rules in such a way that souped-up planing dinghies could compete in the races.  That's long been the tradition in America's Cup racing.  In the beginning, a pilot boat called America sailed to the Solent to compete for the Fifteen Guineas' Cup in a race around the Isle of Wight.  That yacht put such a horizon job on the local boats that somebody informed Queen Victoria, "Your Majesty, there was no second place."  It's also possible that America cheated.  But, as America sailed the Atlantic to get to the race, the New York Yacht Club's rules required that any contending boat had to sail to Long Island Sound for subsequent races.  That kept Canadian boats from floating down sheltered waters on the Hudson.
But that was then, and this is now. Australia, in 1983, became the first non-American boat to win. Controversy over its winged keel led to a period when designs went haywire and totally different types of boats raced each other uselessly. A little American catamaran beat a 90-foot New Zealand monster off San Diego in the 1988 final. Teams spent most of their time in court wrangling over the rules. To prevent a repeat of that fiasco, uniformity was reimposed, but with a completely new class of boats. On March 6 this year, the latest America’s Cup finals will start off Auckland, New Zealand, where the defending hosts are challenged by Italy. Both will be racing AC75s.

These “boats” are a lot closer to the Sailrocket than to the elegant yachts of yesteryear. Like the world record holder, they lift entirely out of the water on hydrofoils, one on each side amidships, as long as the wind is 10 mph or more. Usually, only one foil is in the water, with the other hanging in the air to reduce drag. The only other part of the boat that is submerged is the rudder, which is extra long so it can reach down from the elevated stern and steer. Thus, a 75-foot boat weighing nearly 8.5 tons surges out of the water, balances on one leg, and moves at three times the speed of the wind. When these boats are up and flying, they really — fly. They’ve been recorded at 49 knots, or 56 mph, and New Zealand’s team claims to have topped 50 knots.
On occasion, qualifying races take place inland, such as in Chicago's inner harbor in 2016.  Fitting.  Those foils are technological extensions of the bilgeboards on the Inland scows, some of which had a tunnel hull to mimic the waterline profile of a catamaran, which is what the AC75 boats are, if a bit more expensive.  But by reducing your resistance you are able to move your apparent wind forward, which is the trick for getting speed out of your Laser, your Inland scow, your windsurfer, or your catamaran.  In fact, "coming about" on an AC75 is a lot like "coming about" on the Inland scow.
When tacking, they lower one foil and raise the other, looking similar to those desert lizards that avoid burning their feet by lifting them alternately off the scorching sand. But these are not land lizards. They are marine predators. With their black hulls and black triangular sails shooting over the water, they look like a velociraptor crossed with a shark fin. The sails carve the air like blades, hardly changing position whether they’re running, reaching, or close hauling. The sails are really wings, not old-fashioned canvas buckets to catch the wind. You’ll never see a spinnaker on one of these.
Why not? On a performance aircraft, the engine exists to drive the airfoil through the air. On a performance sailboat, the skipper trims the airfoil to use the air most effectively. The fundamentals of racing are still the same.
Some sailing purists complain that the AC75 races aren’t exciting because sheer speed eclipses canny tactics, and the races are sprints, only lasting 20 minutes. There is some truth in this. But the America’s Cup still pits the best race sailors in the world against each other, and they still dog each other, for example trying to force opponents to luff up and fall off their foils sluggishly onto their hulls. And then there are those supreme moments when these vast black scalpel blades are skimming over the blue of the southern Pacific, leaving motorboats floundering in their wake. If that doesn’t make your heart race at least a bit, you should check whether it is still beating.
I suppose Laser sailors don't qualify as "sailing purists."  Fine.  You can get a five-race regatta in in an afternoon and still have time to close the bar that night.  In addition, a number of those "best race sailors" have some Laser hardware in their trophy rooms.

Find an America's Cup trial near you and go watch it.  Extra props for chasing the action in your Laser.

THIS IS NOT A SANE WORLD.

I didn't use a postmodern phrase generator to produce what follows; it's straight copy and paste.
The acclaimed author Marieke Lucas Rijneveld has pulled out of translating Amanda Gorman’s poetry into Dutch, after their publisher was criticised for picking a writer for the role who was not also Black.

Dutch publisher Meulenhoff had announced Rijneveld, winner of the International Booker prize, as the translator of the Joe Biden inaugural poet’s forthcoming collection, The Hill We Climb, last week. But the move quickly drew opprobrium. Journalist and activist Janice Deul led critics with a piece in Volkskrant asking why Meulenhoff had not chosen a translator who was, like Gorman, a “spoken-word artist, young, female and unapologetically Black”.

“An incomprehensible choice, in my view and that of many others who expressed their pain, frustration, anger and disappointment via social media,” wrote Deul. “Isn’t it – to say the least – a missed opportunity to [have hired] Marieke Lucas Rijneveld for this job? They are white, nonbinary, have no experience in this field, but according to Meulenhoff are still the ‘dream translator’?”
Neither will I attempt to parse that third paragraph, nor will I acknowledge my privilege of understanding what a paragraph is.

THE ILLINOIS NATIONAL GUARD IS PROTECTING A STATE SECRET.

Margaret "University Diaries" Soltan suggests "Trump-radicalized home-grown terror cells pose a terrible threat to the nation and we need to act on this," on the basis of a report from the palace guard media.
U.S. Capitol Police plan to maintain their enhanced level of security around the Capitol at least through President Joe Biden's first official address to Congress because intelligence suggests that extremists could be planning an attack, acting Chief Yogananda Pittman said Thursday.

"We know that members of the militia groups that were present on January 6th have stated their desires that they want to blow up the Capitol and kill as many members as possible with a direct nexus to the State of the Union, which we know that date has not been identified," she told members of Congress, referring to Biden's coming first address to a joint session of Congress.

"So based on that information, we think that it's prudent that Capitol Police maintain its enhanced and robust security posture until we address those vulnerabilities going forward," she said.
That "enhanced and robust security posture" includes razor wire, fencing, presumably politically reliable armed troops including members of the Illinois National Guard, and armored personnel carriers presumably ready to ride to the rescue.  That should be more than enough to see off any action by the patriot militias, unless the potentially pissed off population is way larger than I suspect it is.  In addition, I'm dubious that the militia cells have gotten sufficiently more competent in the five months since law enforcement rolled up a plot to kidnap Michigan dictator governor Gretchen "Schlachterfrau" Whitmer, or that if law enforcement had actionable intelligence, that NBC would know much about it.

But continuing the security theater is desirable for the political classes.
According to January YouGov polling, 53 percent of Democrats, 56 percent of Republicans, and 57 percent of Independents "think that the biggest threat to their way of life comes from domestic enemies."

The best way to calcify those perceptions of "domestic enemies" is for a government in the hands of one political faction to start treating its opponents as insurgents. That will inevitably entail the excesses and abuses that come with turning the security services loose not just on those who have committed crimes against others, but on whole segments of society viewed as potential threats.

"Overreactions give people an incentive to become terrorists—not only by creating grievances but also by reducing the relative risks of turning to violence," Northeastern University's Max Abrahms, a professor of public policy, recently cautioned in Reason. "A standard assumption in political science is that terrorists are rational actors. Many people decide against becoming terrorists because they know that the costs to them will be severe. But if the government is going to treat innocent people like terrorists anyway, then no additional risk is incurred."
Furthermore, postponing the coot's initial presentation to a joint session of Congress because of an unspecified militia threat will play more with the masses than rolling him out for a prime time address where he will suffer a brain fart with the whole world watching.
There’s a big problem with having Joe try to deliver a ninety-minute speech at 9:00 p.m. at night without a teleprompter in front of Congress. He has trouble just making it through basic remarks before media for a few minutes, much less a speech of that length. They must be wracking their brains to figure out how they’re going to pull it off.
Heck, the coot loses the script even with a teleprompter with the largest type setting, or with index cards.  Better that the people who voted to put him there not see what they put there?  Not so fast, cautions Reason's J. D. Tuccille: "Giving Americans less reason to hate and battle each other sounds a lot more promising than deploying counterinsurgency tactics at home and risking making a bad situation much worse."

GOVERNOR PRITZKER TRAILS BY 9,933.

The geographic area and population of Illinois are both similar to those in Sweden, and there are similarities of the Chicago and Stockholm metropolitan areas.  But  Springfield politicians are hazardous to your health.  Governor J. B. Pritzker (D-Lake Geneva) continues to micromanage and destroy local businesses.

A service called Worldometers has been keeping track of coronavirus infections and deaths, disaggregated in a number of ways.

The latest report from Sweden counts 657,309 infections and 12,826 deaths.
The latest report from Illinois counts 1,187,839 infections and 22,759 deaths.

Conditions in Illinois are such that a transition to a full reopening is in order.  If I have to keep extending this post until Anthony Fauci comes to his senses, or resigns, or until the governor is primaried, or until the cows come home, I will.

Sunday evening's local news coronavirus countdown noted over two million Trump shots (in many cases, these are both doses of the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines) administered, despite the weather and governmental incompetence with the logistics.  This afternoon the idiot mayor of Chicago even sounded a little hopeful about the Johnson and Johnson shots arriving.  The statewide recovery rate is still around 98 percent.  The legislature, however, is still doing nothing to rein in the governor's ukases.

28.2.21

A GROWING WEARINESS OF ANTHONY FAUCI'S DAILY WORD SALADS.

Jeffrey Tucker sees a number of signs of spring, er, the stone rolled back from the crypt, er, the end of the corona tyranny.  Naomi Wolf and Tucker Carlson in agreement!  Slate withdrawing from The Narrative!
The people who have committed their careers and lives to this pandemic and the policies surrounding it might soon need to find a new raison d’etre. Then the clean up begins – how did this happen, who did it, how to make sure it never happens again – and does not end perhaps for decades.

It’s been fascinating to see the early drafts on the reasons why. There will be some perfunctory efforts to credit lockdowns, masks, human separation, and closures for somehow making the virus go away. The trouble is that there is no evidence of this. There is evidence for many other explanations having to do with herd immunity and “seasonality” (another way of saying the pathogen comes and then goes) and possibly more precision in testing.
Of necessity, the necessary evidence for a proper reckoning is long in the gathering and interpreting.
The reckoning will be taking place for months if not years. In the end people will be left wondering why we took such extreme measures that wrecked so many lives when the endemic equilibrium comes in time regardless of all these measures. We tried a crazy experiment in social and economic control and we are left with scant evidence that it made much difference on the virus but vast evidence that they demoralized and ruined life for billions of people.

What about the opening? There will continue to be those who will cower in fear, still dealing with the deep psychological trauma that comes from watching TV journalists scream panic for the better part of a year. But there will be an emerging majority that will be more than willing to go back to real life.
And yet, the mystery might be "why did so many people go along for so long?"
And so on goes the opening, slowly at first, then quickly, then all at once. The decisive turn is when the public returns to thinking rationally, refuses to be locked up anymore, and decides to trust themselves and the medical profession rather than the powerful elites who only pretend to manage disease. The trauma lasts, of course, but the healing also begins.

Last April, in a more naive time, I truly did imagine that these lockdowns and restrictions could not last. I had underestimated both the public panic and the government’s willingness to double- and triple-down on unworkable policies.

I also overestimated what I had previously imagined to be a widespread commitment to liberty and property that would have inspired some public revolt early on. So here we are a full year later, with the reports of lockdown carnage pouring in by the day and hour. It’s a gigantic mess, to be sure, but the end does seem to be in view, and thank goodness for that. Let the blowback begin.
I'd still like to buy the "under" on "United States mostly open at Easter," executive orders or not.

A POSITIVE POPULISM IN A TIME OF STRUGGLE FOR THE SOUL OF OUR NATION.

The Conservative Political Action Conference is in progress in Florida, rather than somewhere near the Federal Capital, in part because Florida's governor isn't a lockdown-happy tyrant.

As far as standard-issue conservatives are concerned, though, the event might as well not be happening, judging by the sparsity of coverage at National Review, contrasted to that at the various Pajamas Media or Town Hall or whoever the umbrella organization is sites.

In part, that's because there is a struggle for the soul of conservatism.  Ask yourself, dear reader, who longtime speechwriter David Frum is writing about.  "And for the leader of the Republicans? A man who is aggressive and bombastic, cutting and sarcastic, who dismisses the concerned citizens in network news focus groups as 'losers.'"  You could say, "Donald Trump," but Mr Frum wrote the preceding, for Newsweek, in 2009.
With his private plane and his cigars, his history of drug dependency and his personal bulk, not to mention his tangled marital history, Rush is a walking stereotype of self-indulgence—exactly the image that Barack Obama most wants to affix to our philosophy and our party. And we're cooperating! Those images of crowds of CPACers cheering Rush's every rancorous word—we'll be seeing them rebroadcast for a long time.
Mr Trump might be famously germ-phobic, and tee-totaling, and yet, you can bet whoever is pulling the strings for the current president will point out the private plane and the personal bulk, and the tangled marital history, and the self-indulgence.

Without the dittoheads and the Trumpians, though, there's no populist coalition.
Rush knows what he is doing. The worse conservatives do, the more important Rush becomes as leader of the ardent remnant. The better conservatives succeed, the more we become a broad national governing coalition, the more Rush will be sidelined.

But do the rest of us understand what we are doing to ourselves by accepting this leadership? Rush is to the Republicanism of the 2000s what Jesse Jackson was to the Democratic party in the 1980s. He plays an important role in our coalition, and of course he and his supporters have to be treated with respect. But he cannot be allowed to be the public face of the enterprise—and we have to find ways of assuring the public that he is just one Republican voice among many, and very far from the most important.
That gets more difficult when it's a past president who might be running for a second, non-consecutive term; on the other hand, in the reality that the past president did not earn a second consecutive term because he failed to build a coalition there might be a way to make a deal for a broader appeal, and without the reflexive cocking a snook at establishmentarian types for their food snobbery or their cocktail parties.

Here's how Mr Frum saw it from 2009.  First, he proposes to take the sting out of Mr Limbaugh's notorious "I hope [Barack Obama] fails" comment.
Notice that Limbaugh did not say: "I hope the administration's liberal plans fail." Or (better): "I know the administration's liberal plans will fail." Or (best): "I fear that this administration's liberal plans will fail, as liberal plans usually do." If it had been phrased that way, nobody could have used Limbaugh's words to misrepresent conservatives as clueless, indifferent or gleeful in the face of the most painful economic crisis in a generation. But then, if it had been phrased that way, nobody would have quoted his words at all—and as Limbaugh himself said, being "headlined" was the point of the exercise. If it had been phrased that way, Limbaugh's face would not now be adorning the covers of magazines. He phrased his hope in a way that drew maximum attention to himself, offered maximum benefit to the administration and did maximum harm to the party he claims to support.
There's a lot more at the essay, but it's offered more in sorrow than anger, concluding,
On most issues, I doubt Limbaugh and I even disagree very much. But the issues on which we do disagree are maybe the most important to the future of the conservative movement and the Republican Party: Should conservatives be trying to provoke or persuade? To narrow our coalition or enlarge it? To enflame or govern? And finally (and above all): to profit—or to serve?
In like manner, the Trumpian populists and the more conventional Republicans, and more than a few Democrats, might be more in agreement than not today.  The successful formula might be one offered by Astral Codex Ten, which, in his fashion, is long, but it has a pithy abstract.  "Pivot from mindless populist rage to a thoughtful campaign to fight classism."  Both Mr Limbaugh and Mr Trump understood the enemy, although their messaging, whether it's "new castrati" or "stupid people" might not have won waverers over.
Trump managed to excite people, but you don't know how to turn his personal appeal into a new platform. Most of what he said was offensive, blatantly false, or alienated more people than it won; absent his personal magic it seems like a losing combination. You seem to have picked up a few minority voters here and there, but you're not sure why, and you don't know how to build on this success.

I hate you and you hate me. But maybe I would hate you less if you didn't suck. Also, the more confused you are, the more you flail around sabotaging everything. All else being equal, I'd rather you have a coherent interesting message, and make Democrats shape up to compete with you.
That's correct, dear reader, there are other ways of coming to the conclusion that Democrats suck than populist talk radio ways.  It's possible that he, too, falls into the food-snobbery-cocktail-party-metrofexual-aesthetics trap, but stay with the argument.
Trump stood against the upper class. He might define them as: people who live in nice apartments in Manhattan or SF or DC and laugh under their breath if anybody comes from Akron or Tampa. Who eat Thai food and Ethiopian food and anything fusion, think they would gain 200 lbs if they ever stepped in a McDonalds, and won't even speak the name Chick-Fil-A. Who usually go to Ivy League colleges, though Amherst or Berkeley is acceptable if absolutely necessary. Who conspicuously love Broadway (especially Hamilton), LGBT, education, "expertise", mass transit, and foreign anything. They conspicuously hate NASCAR, wrestling, football, "fast food", SUVs, FOX, guns, the South, evangelicals, and reality TV. Who would never get married before age 25 and have cutesy pins about how cats are better than children. Who get jobs in journalism, academia, government, consulting, or anything else with no time-card where you never have to use your hands. Who all have exactly the same political and aesthetic opinions on everything, and think the noblest and most important task imaginable is to gatekeep information in ways that force everyone else to share those opinions too.
In there, though, is a positive populist formula that well might garner votes, rather than (as we saw in the Georgia run-off elections) turn them off. "Consciously embracing the project of fighting classism would let future Republican politicians replicate Trump’s appeal without having to stoop to his tactics. It could tie together all the fractured constituencies of the Republican party."

I don't know if the proposal is offered in good faith, or if it's erudite trolling, but it's interesting.

First target: higher education.  "As it currently exists, college is a scheme for laundering and perpetuating class advantage. You need to make the case that bogus degree requirements (eg someone without a college degree can't be a sales manager at X big company, but somebody with any degree, even Art History or Literature, can) are blatantly classist."  That might require work to overturn or modify Griggs v. Duke Power, a ruling that sanctified higher education as offering nondiscriminatory methods of certifying people as qualified.  It's interesting, though, that in the midst of a defense of continued woke indoctrination in higher education, an Inside Higher Ed contributor says the quiet part out loud.  "[B]eneficiaries of privilege are wholly blind to their advantages and condescending toward those with less power."

Second target: credentialed expertise, where the holders of those prestige degrees feel entitled to condescend once they have the power.  "Democrats have invented and propped up a fake concept of expertise as a way of making sure upper-class people who can game admissions to top colleges control the discourse."  He proposes lifting restrictions on prediction markets.  There's something disturbing about being able to buy an over-under on "two million Americans dead of coronavirus by May 2020" or "half a million Americans dead with coronavirus by February 14, 2021," but then, I have more confidence in emergence, and the public health experts have been regularly wrong.

Third target: the credentialed legacy media.

Fourth target: woke indoctrination.  "If anybody asks you for your theory of racism, it should be that a lot of modern racism is a subform of classism, where people naturally assume minorities are lower class."  That scales.

WIRE THE HIGH-DENSITY FREIGHT CORRIDORS?

The Association of American Railroads went on record as opposing electrification of the freight railroads.  Perhaps that was a pre-emptive strike to keep the incoming administration's green initiatives away from at least one successful business.  That might be one way rent-seeking gets in the way of good ideas.  Railway Age contributing editor Jim Blaze suggests that electrification of some freight lines makes economic sense.
[S]tudies examined into the 1980s the potential to electrify parts of the Powder River Basin Wyoming/Montana low-sulfur coal routes. There were some favorable structured project terms evaluated, then negotiated, and very close to execution. Why? Because there were favorable joint railroad right-of-use aspects for the utility companies and available funding. The internal rates of return for a partnership of utility/railroad/financing had back then a projected rate of return greater than 25%. This was the same period when overall railroad [return on investment] on assets was less than 10-12%.

The financing venture terms in part looked like this: A partnership would spread the risks over multiple parties, not just the railroad company. A financial organization or a bank would initially have been a limited partner. The railroad company would have invested only a token amount of capital and then gradually acquired the partnership from the lenders.

The joint venture structure back then was offering to absorb the initial building cost of the catenary, the power (electricity) distribution and the power generation as a package, with the railroad to pay like a trucker does for road use. It was to be a railroad trains pay-as-you-go deal. Electric locomotive energy regeneration—putting power back into the grid through regenerative dynamic braking—was part of the cost-benefit analysis calculations.

Therefore, four decades ago, innovative railroads and outside parties were structuring interesting feasible deals for electrification.
Because most of the Powder River coal transits the windswept Great Plains to move the coal from where it is to where low-sulfur fuel has a high subjective value, the most effective way to get wind power from where it is to where the households are might have been to use the wind-source electricity in traction motors.  Electricity keeping its own books was a thing on Western railroads more than a century ago.

It's crucial, though, to install the catenary where it's most useful.  It might be that the Association is, to repeat, engaging in preemptive lobbying by arguing against electrifying the entire railroad freight network.
Back to [the association’s] 2020 paper: Its broad assertion is this: “Mandating electrification of the freight rail network is not a viable means for reducing [greenhouse gas] emissions. Proposals that would require all or part of our nation’s freight rail network to be electrified should be set aside to focus on other alternatives.”

AAR relies in part on a study from 2016, when there was no “off the shelf” near-zero-emission locomotive technology sufficient for North American linehaul freight service. But the study encouraged additional research.

As to a government mandate of electrification? Let’s agree that would indeed be premature.
How hard would it be to start engineering with the General Electric series of rectifier freight motors for Virginian, The Pennsylvania Railroad, Black Mesa and Lake Powell and the like, or to scale Austrian or Swedish freight motors for North American use?  Mr Blaze concurs, "Full electrification requires less testing since there is railway electrification already in place worldwide. That body of evidence should not be ignored, should it?"  In addition, we're getting better at running beyond the wires than we were in the 1930s, and the onboard battery locomotive has gone from concept to prototype.

26.2.21

TODAY'S GLOOMY FORECAST.

James "Long Emergency" Kunstler wonders how long the scam can go on.
How long will it be before the public realizes that Mr. Biden is being strictly concealed from view by his managers? And how long can they keep it up? A few more weeks, maybe, I’d guess. What did they think they were doing when they engineered the election of this empty suit, this blank cartridge, this political mannequin, this man-who-isn’t-there? Of all the hundred-million-odd adults over 35-years-of-age in this country, they picked this empty vessel to lead in a year of obvious crisis?

Apparently so — an act so collectively insane it makes you shudder to think about it. Like, the Democratic Party really thought this was a good idea? And who’s calling the shots behind this false front? Some committee chaired by Susan Rice? With directives coming into the Oval Office by messenger from Barack Obama’s Kalorama fortress, with, say, Eric Holder, Rahm Emmanuel, David Axelrod, John Brennan, and a few others charting the daily play-by-play?

So, you suspect that something weird like that is going on? I sure do. And I also suspect that when the truth comes out, the Democratic Party will have to face some pretty harsh music. Just the other day the public learned that 30 House Democrats are seeking to limit Mr. Biden’s sole authority over the launch codes for our nuclear missile arsenal. That doesn’t sound like a vote of confidence. Does White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki look like a cornered animal going about her daily briefings? The ongoing spectacle of the missing head-of-state is inching beyond embarrassing.

And then, what do the people of this country think when it becomes necessary to throw the switch on the 25th Amendment and remove poor Ol’ Joe from office on account of being simply unfit to continue serving? I’ll tell you what they’ll think: that the Democrats knowingly put an unfit man in high office. They’ll understand that they got played, scammed, hustled. They’ll be mighty pissed off. They may seek to learn a bit more about exactly how this happened, especially the sketchy mechanics of the November 3rd vote that put Ol’ Joe in the White House. Even some Democrats may demand answers. Of course, the cruelest scene in this scenario will be the big manufactured hoo-hah celebrating Kamala Harris as the first female president — which in itself may be difficult to pull off, since so many Democrats have declared there’s no such thing as two sexes.

Meanwhile, you better pray for the bond market and, in turn, the equities markets, and, in turn, the whole shootin’ match of the economy (whatever remains of it, that is). Yesterday the benchmark ten-year US Treasury peeked above the dangerous 1.5 percent mark. What this tells you is that world is expecting the dollar to go down substantially and with that, the value of US Bonds, which foreign holders will seek to dump on a market not eager to buy them up, meaning the Federal Reserve will have to step in and buy them, meaning they will have to create a shitload of new dollars out of thin air to do that, which will drive down the purchasing power of each dollar, which will further inflame the world’s urge to dump devaluing US bonds — a vicious feedback that could crash the banking system just as Covid 19 begins fading away to nothing.

Oh, and note: rising interest rates on US Treasuries will force the government to pay much more to service our massive debts. That will negate any of the fiscal ambitions of Kamala Harris’s shadow government — unless the committee running America decides to utterly destroy the US Dollar. The bait-and-switch game playing out in the White House is just an overture to all that.
Let's suppose for the sake of argument that it wasn't voter fraud that put the coot over the top; that Donald Trump was his own worst enemy. There's still plenty of evidence that the palace guard media covered for him, whether by not asking enough questions about that basement campaign, or by not bothering with reporting on his family ties to China.

There's also a research question lurking in that prediction about the coming hyperinflation. Devotees of modern monetary theory rely on two things being true: it's a reserve currency being created at the banks, and the government's taxes absorb much of the money that might otherwise be spent in Weimar lunch break fashion.  Might the Wuhan coronavirus shutdowns be performing as if they are taxes, and which of the following might follow?  On one hand, their lifting is as if a tax cut, and the hyperinflation follows?  On the other, might some of the national government's boffins know this, and they'll keep the shutdowns in place, or lift them very slowly accordingly?  If so, will stagflation in the Jimmy Carter mode be what follows?

WHAT WAS I SAYING ABOUT THE GROWTH PONZI SCHEME?

Strong Towns contributor Nathan Hawryluk makes my point that city governments ought be symbiotic rather than parasitic on commerce.
[Strong Towns founder] Charles Marohn has suggested cities should focus less on density as an objective and more on the ratio between private investment and public investment. Traditionally, private investment led to public investment. Private investment is essential to maintaining public infrastructure. Marohn thinks financially stable cities should strive for “a target ratio of private investment to public investment of somewhere between 20:1 on the risky end and 40:1 on the secure end.”
That way, perhaps the assessments for street repair are sustainable, rather than likely to drive residents and businesses out.


It's on the city fathers to be prudent, though, and budget for maintenance, in order that the infrastructure doesn't crumble for lack of repair.
Cities, like homeowners saving for their inevitable roof repair, could collect or save enough money each year to prepare to replace their infrastructure when its lifespan ends. As these figures from pages 15 and 17 of our infrastructure status report shows, the City manages $84.7 billion of infrastructure. How much should we be saving annually to make sure we can replace that infrastructure when the time comes?
That suggests homeowners, also, ought be prudent.


Unfortunately, too often city governments hope for some future "stimulus" or "infrastructure" package to make all the contingent liabilities go away.  That way lies nasty reality checks.  "Philip K. Dick wrote, 'Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.'”

NEERA TANDEN IS A NASTY PIECE OF WORK.

That's my truth, and it has nothing to do with Republicans pouncing.  Perhaps her supporters in the Senate can guilt-trip a Republican or two with the usual whataboutism ("Donald Trump sends nasty tweets") or deplorable-shaming (objecting to the installation of a "woman of color" or "former welfare recipient") without engaging the substance..

It's a little harder to convince the left fringe of the Democrat coalition.  Norman Solomon argues,
Most corporate media outlets have depicted President Biden’s effort to win Senate confirmation of Neera Tanden as a battle to overcome Republican hypocrisy about her “mean tweets,” name-calling and nasty partisanship. But there are very important reasons to prevent Tanden from becoming the Office of Management and Budget director. They have nothing to do with her nasty tweets and everything to do with her political orientation.
It's time for the Bock beers to hit the stores, and the corporatist on communist fratricide in the coot's Congressional majority promises to be epic.
Tanden has a record as one of the most anti-progressive operators among Democratic Party movers and shakers. Long enmeshed with corporate elites, she has been vehemently hostile to the Bernie Sanders wing of the party. Progressive activists have ample cause to be alarmed at the prospect of her becoming OMB director—one of the most powerful and consequential positions in the entire Executive Branch.
That's pretty heady stuff, one self-styled progressive going after an alpha dog at the "Center for American Progress" for not being progressive enough. I repeat, epic. It's interesting, though, to see how Mr Solomon perceives the Swamp.
Much of the left has a strong aversion to Tanden. Days ago, Common Dreams reported on “her history of pushing cuts to Social Security, disparaging Medicare for All and other popular ideas, and raising money from massive corporations.” As president of the Center for American Progress, she sought and received between $1.5 million and $3 million in donations from the United Arab Emirates monarchy; later, CAP remained silent about a bipartisan congressional resolution to end the U.S. government’s assistance to the continual Saudi-UAE warfare killing huge numbers of Yemeni civilians.

But some progressive organizations have voiced support for Tanden’s nomination, turning a blind eye to such matters as her close fundraising ties with corporate elites, Big Tech, Wall Street, Walmart, health insurers and military contractor Northrop Grumman. Yet ties like that would create foreseeable conflicts of interest in the top OMB job, which oversees regulatory processes across the federal government.
How shocking, that an earlier generation of self-styled progressives set up an administrative state sufficiently wonky and sufficiently complicated that rent-seeking insiders would ultimately get control of it.

How amusing, dear reader, that the current generation of self-styled progressives would rather vote for a president somebody with a half-century of experience managing the swamp, than for one who sought to drain that swamp.  They're going to have to argue with somebody either way, and there are probably more areas of common cause between populists of the left and populists of the right than there are with corporatists and communists.
It was not a good sign when a usually-laudable progressive organizer told CNN viewers that Tanden should be confirmed. And—given Tanden’s record of opposing Medicare for All, opposing a $15 federal minimum wage and advocating for collaboration with Republican leaders in potential cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid—something is seriously amiss when a leading advocate for women’s health rights urges confirmation.

In a tweet last week, [abortion advocate organization] NARAL’s president Ilyse Hogue called Tanden “a committed progressive” and added: “How about assessing her work, competence and vision instead the tone her tweets? Stop sinking good women because they are outspoken.”

Oddly, the director of the excellent Revolving Door Project, Jeff Hauser, publicly defended Tanden days ago, telling the New York Times: “The last decade has seen mediocre or worse cabinet appointments rubber-stamped by the Senate with regularity. It is unconscionable that the rare exception to that norm might be based on feelings hurt by imprudent tweets and suggests that senators vote more on egos than substance.”

I contacted Hauser for clarification, since it seemed that he was using the hypocrisy of Senate Republicans to justify support for Tanden’s nomination. In effect, he appeared to be adding some drops of WD-40 to hinges on the particular revolving door that Tanden is trying to move through.
The Seventeenth Amendment had the effect of turning senators into glory-seeking egomaniacs rather than representatives of the interests of their States.  If the self-styled progressives get it good and hard, let it be said that the judgements of the people are true and righteous.
At RootsAction, which has been working to defeat Tanden’s nomination, my colleague Jeff Cohen has a very different perspective than what can be heard from Tanden’s enablers: “We’ve opposed Tanden not because of her ‘mean tweets’ but because of her close funding relationships with corporate titans and foreign governments. What's stunning is the silence from Senate Democrats about the potential conflicts of interest raised by her decade of aggressive fundraising from powerful interests.”

That kind of silence, whether from the U.S. Senate or from big-budget progressive groups, could dangerously help the Biden administration to do its worst instead of its potential best.
To repeat, I'm going to have to buy more beer.

TODAY'S MOST PUNGENT PUTDOWN.

Ben Shapiro dismantles the notion of "telling your truth."
The narrative is important, say the media. Thus, we must characterize overt lies that ruin lives as a "sense of personal truth." But in reality, there is no "personal truth." There is only the truth, and your opinion -- or in this case, your overt lies
I had this formulation years ago. "Put another way, Wellesley's hegemonic discourse is good. Anybody who raises difficult questions is bad."  What is it about the Seven Sisters colleges, anyway?  That post was about Wellesleyans (not to be confused with Wesleyan Methodists) simultaneously cancelling ideas they disagreed with while denying they were cancelling anything.  Mr Shapiro's wisdom arises in the wake of Smith College types validating the oppression of their matriculants by disrespecting the hired hands.

24.2.21

THERE MUST NOT HAVE BEEN SEVERE WINTERS IN FRANCE.

In the early days of Amtrak, the carrier sought to spiff up its Chicago area corridor service with a few off-the shelf French-made turbotrains, which were French to the buffers and screw couplings between cars, and the SNCF labels on the ash trays.

Puetz Road, 17 August 1981.

I'll admit to liking the trains, although my schedule at the time didn't allow for much joy-riding during the winter, when, as Kevin Keefe related, when things went wrong, they went wrong.
Each five-unit RTG trainset consisted of a pair of power cars, each with a 1,140 h.p. Turbomecca turbine; two coaches; and what was called a bar/grill. These were fixed-consist trains, so they had very little operational flexibility, something that would come back to bite them later. But they offered a smooth, fast ride, with huge picture windows that contrasted sharply with the rifle slots of an Amcoach. I liked the Turboliners, especially the way they sounded like a Learjet when they went whining past my apartment, leaving a trail of kerosene scent lingering in the air.

My story begins in the late morning of December 31, 1977. My wife Alison and I were living in Niles, Mich., where I was working for the South Bend Tribune and moonlighting as managing editor of Passenger Train Journal. We had arranged to meet friends that evening in Detroit for a New Year’s Eve celebration. The schedule was perfect: take Amtrak train 350 out of Niles at 10:35 a.m. and arrive in Detroit at 2:25 p.m., with plenty of time to make our dinner reservation at the Fox & Hounds restaurant in Bloomfield Hills.

What we didn’t plan on was a heavy snowstorm. The French trains had already demonstrated they had problems in the Midwestern winter when snow clogged their air intakes, as evidenced by Doug Leffler’s photo here of a dead Turboliner at Albion, Mich., the year before. We had read news accounts of Turboliners breaking down in heavy snow, and that afternoon the forecast called for more. In a brilliant burst of foresight, Alison packed a couple of blankets for our trip.
One of the drawbacks of self-contained trains is frequently that the prime mover also provides the heat, and when the turbine fails, chills follow.
We were rolling along at 60 mph somewhere west of Marshall, enjoying the snow flying past our window, when the turbines suddenly began to wind down and the train came to a stop in the middle of frozen cornfields. Before long the crew announced that train 350 was unable to be revived. We were told we’d have to wait for train 352, following some three hours behind us out of Chicago. There was no way, apparently, for Amtrak to get buses to us.

So, there we sat. It became an ordeal. With the engines down, the batteries gradually faded, along with the lights. It didn’t take long for the interior to get uncomfortably cold, although thanks to our blankets we were in better shape than our fellow passengers. As I recall, the train was crowded; I’m sure Amtrak’s crew was getting an earful from a lot of people. I tried to roll with it, but as a PTJ staffer I found the whole thing embarrassing.

Finally, with the late afternoon light fading across the barren countryside, we heard an approaching train come up alongside. Thank goodness this stretch of Conrail’s former New York Central remained double-track territory. It was train 352, equipped with conventional coaches and a trusty E unit. Steam-heated equipment never looked so welcome.
Amtrak later converted the better conventional coaches to electric heat, relying on the prime mover to run a suitable generator. (That also made possible the onboard power strips today's travelers make use of.)

In the days before mobile 'phones, modifying travel plans required creativity.
We tried to rescue our evening as best we could. Our friends had the presence of mind to head west to Ann Arbor, where they alerted the crew and tracked us down via the p.a. system. Safely off the train, we headed out into the night to find a less memorable alternative to the Fox & Hounds; we’d blown past our reservation long before.
I never made it to the Fox and Hounds in the Detroit area; if memory serves, one Jimmy Hoffa had a memorable lunch there.

LET'S RESTORE PRIMITIVE COMMUNISM.

Speaking of tyranny and poverty stemming from dumb economics, here's today's winner.
The path to an ecological civilization is paved by reclaiming the commons—our common home, the Earth, and the commons of the Earth family, of which we are a part. Through reclaiming the commons, we can imagine possibility for our common future, and we can sow the seeds of abundance through "commoning."

In the commons, we care and share—for the Earth and each other. We are conscious of nature’s ecological limits, which ensure her share of the gifts she creates goes back to her to sustain biodiversity and ecosystems. We are aware that all humans have a right to air, water, and food, and we feel responsible for the rights of future generations.

Enclosures of the commons, in contrast, are the root cause of the ecological crisis and the crises of poverty and hunger, dispossession and displacement. Extractivism commodifies for profit what is held in common for the sustenance of all life.
Explain why, if we took that literally, we would all be poorer.
Air is a commons.

We share the air we breathe with all species, including plants and trees. Through photosynthesis, plants convert the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and give us oxygen. “I can’t breathe” is the cry of the enclosure of the commons of air through the mining and burning of 600 million years’ worth of fossilized carbon.

Water is a commons.

The planet is 70% water. Our bodies are 70% water. Water is the ecological basis of all life, and in the commons, conservation creates abundance. The plastic water bottle is a symbol of the enclosures of the commons—first by privatizing water for extractivism, and then by destroying the land and oceans through the resulting plastic pollution.

Food is a commons.

Food is the currency of life, from the soil food web, to the biodiversity of plants and animals, insects and microbes, to the trillions of organisms in our gut microbiomes. Hunger is a result of the enclosure of the food commons through fossil fuel-based, chemically intensive industrial agriculture.
Run along, punk. Go undo the efforts of generations of your forebears who saw how life on the commons was nasty, brutish, and short.

Here's today's runner-up.
We have been able to ignore and damage the commons without acknowledging the consequences for far too long. But now, the press of human population and the rise of industrialism make the question urgent: how will we own our shared resources? How will we protect them for the benefit of all? There are no more frontiers to run away to, and no more pretending that what we do on one piece of property has no effect not only on neighbours next door but on ecosystems hundreds of miles away. In my great-great-grandparents’ time, a driving question for European immigrants or descendants was how to gain the freedom granted by private property. For our future, it’s not just a question of who owns the earth, but how.

The commons are just what they sound like: land, waterways, forests, air. The natural resources of our planet that make life possible. Societies throughout history have continually relied on varying systems of commons usage that strove to distribute essential resources equitably, like grazing and agricultural land, clean water for drinking and washing, foraged food, and wood for fuel and building. As far back as 555 CE the commons were written into Roman law, which stated outright that certain resources belonged to all, never owned by a few: ‘By the law of nature these things are common to mankind – the air, running water, the sea and consequently the shores of the sea.’
In the absence of property rights as we understand them, do we have any idea how equitably Roman resources were shared, Augustus's tax enrollments notwithstanding?  But those are among the more coherent messages of that essay.  Dear reader, make whatever sense you can of this: "If we’re to take environmental problems seriously, legal and societal understanding must reinstate the principle that a landowner’s freedom is restricted by the right of that owner’s neighbours to enjoy their own property undisturbed, and by a duty to leave the commons unharmed."  If it's mine, it's not held in common.  If it's yours, it's not held in common.  If it's held in common, it is both yours and mine, or neither of ours.

COMING TO TERMS WITH GOVERNMENT FAILURE.

I really should clean out my bookmarks, as some of the articles I linked almost a year ago probably have counterparts making the same arguments right now, which ought tell you something.  Let's start with Reason's Shikha Dalmia, "Public Health Authorities Have Failed America at Every Level."  Some of those early failures might have been pardonable (if we speak of a "novel" coronavirus, doesn't that mean the boffins aren't going to have it well scouted?) but some of the news hasn't aged well.In early March, when private testing had yet to come up to speed and public labs were the only game in town, the [Food and Drug Administration]issued a directive requiring the [Centers for Disease Control] to retest every positive coronavirus result by these labs before certifying it. This meant that for several crucial weeks, America's coronavirus tally was lagging and everyone was underestimating how bad things were. Worse, it meant that lab resources and chemical agents, which have been in acutely short supply, couldn't be used for new tests. The FDA was apparently afraid that false positives would make the spread look worse than it was.

It wasn't just global and national authorities who screwed up. Many state and local authorities performed poorly too. Just look at New York, the worst hit state in the country.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is trying to turn himself into the hero of the republic with his straight talk at press briefings about just how dire things are in New York. But in early March, like Trump, Cuomo and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio publicly and repeatedly underestimated the seriousness of the outbreak and overestimated their ability to cope with it. De Blasio even urged city residents to go about their daily business without changing their behavior. Meanwhile, in a rare joint press conference the two held, Cuomo bragged: "Excuse our arrogance as New Yorkers—I speak for the mayor also on this one—we think we have the best health care system on the planet right here in New York."

The two were blasé not just in their words but in their actions. They both promised that health investigators would track every person who had come in contact with the first two confirmed victims—a woman who had returned from Doha and a New Rochelle lawyer—but they failed to fully follow through, The New York Times reports. Both lagged as well in seeing the need for social distancing. San Francisco and Ohio closed their schools on March 12 when the former had only 18 confirmed cases and latter a mere five. De Blasio waited another few days, until his city's case count touched 329.

Just as [World Health Organization head] Tedros and Trump will admit no misgivings about their initial handling of the situation, neither will the New York duo. Cuomo insists that he took action that everyone at the time regarded as "premature." And de Blasio pooh-poohs critics with the usual bromides about "hindsight" being perfect.

There's plenty of blame to go around, but will anyone take any responsibility?
Notice how false positives went from something to be downplayed to something to be played up, particularly the way the dictatorial governors relied on positivity rates to tweak their ukases. Notice also that nobody in authority is going to take responsibility. It is on the voters to turf the dictatorial officials out, and, as many of those officials are Democrats, it would be desirable for Republicans to offer a pragmatic, libertarian-populist choice, which is to say, a vision of a new birth of freedom. "Not Cuomo" or "Not Pritzker" or "Not Evers" isn't going to be enough.

The same day, Reason's Jacob Sullum weighed in on the failure of the public health boffins to make tradeoffs.  When Mr Sullum and Princeton's bioethicist Peter Singer are in agreement, we are in unusual times.
Singer forthrightly questions "the assumption…that we have to do everything to reduce the number of deaths." That assumption is manifestly wrong, as reflected in the decisions that government agencies make when they assess the cost-effectiveness of health and safety regulations—decisions that routinely take into account not just the deaths that might be prevented but the resources expended to do so. Those assessments assign a large value to preventable deaths, but the value is not and cannot be infinite.

"At some point," Singer says, "we are willing to trade off loss of life against loss of quality of life. No government puts every dollar it spends into saving lives. And we can't really keep everything locked down until there won't be any more deaths. So I think that's something that needs to come into this discussion. How do we assess the overall cost to everybody in terms of loss of quality of life [and] loss of well-being as well as the fact that lives are being lost?"
But if you're an expert on infectious diseases, you might get a pass.  "I suspect, as well, that as anxiety, depression, substance abuse, and addiction are not infectious diseases in the sense of Fauci, the good doctor is less than competent to trade off those costs against the benefits of mask up, shut up, have no fun, and no holiday gatherings."

Brit Hume is having none of it.  "Remember: his job is to fight the Covid outbreak. He has no responsibility for children’s mental health or education. The economy is someone else’s problem. So are missed cancer screenings, suicides and other collateral damage from lockdowns etc."

Exactly.  It's on the people, though, to say "enough" to the boffins and the dictatorial governors.

The weather is improving: look for widespread outbreaks of people having fun.