21.10.20

TAIL TRACK.

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

DAVID ALFF IS A LOUSY FERROEQUINOLOGIST.

Washington's Post gave a Buffalo researcher in the "cultural history of infrastructure" space to argue, "Joe Biden’s love of Amtrak tells us how he would govern."  I'd like to think that such a researcher might at least be able to mention en passant fellow O Scaler (and Harvard professor) John Stilgoe, but no.
Amtrak epitomizes Biden’s ideological commitments to incremental governance, dealmaking and compromise. In fact, the country’s passenger rail system owes its survival to the same brand of consensus politics Biden learned in Newcastle, Del. This conciliatory approach to getting things done, known as “the Delaware Way,” held that personal rapport could overcome partisan division and that corporate benevolence could bring about economic justice.
It is more accurate to think of Amtrak as a perpetual muddle, but I digress.
Afraid that the entire rail industry would rust into oblivion on his watch, President Richard Nixon signed into law the National Railroad Passenger Corporation in 1970. This act allowed ailing railroads to jettison their failing passenger operations in return for investing in a new “quasi-public corporation” that would run those trains in their stead. Part joint-stock company, part socialized utility, Amtrak would be responsible for patching together a new nationwide passenger network and running it at a profit — something no railroad had achieved in decades. Congress would cover operating losses temporarily until Amtrak could put trains back in the black.
There is nothing quite so permanent as a temporary arrangement. Amtrak might have been part of a federal effort to rescue the railroads: the freight part turned out OK thanks to deregulation and a consolidation of the eastern trunk lines that was only fifty years and a whole lot of false starts in the making.
With its futile profit mandate, tenuous subsidy and ragtag roster of hand-me-down trains, Amtrak struck many as a joke: a bleak parody of hapless bureaucracy and sad remnant of America’s storied railroad past. Even an Amtrak customer brochure implored riders to “please be patient. It’s going to take time.”

Against daunting odds (and Nixon’s own cynical belief that the railroad would collapse after he left office and was no longer on the hook), Amtrak survived. By slashing 50 percent of its inherited routes, Amtrak doubled down on a bare-bones system until passengers began returning. Amtrak purchased new locomotives, refurbished coach interiors and began slapping its jaunty American flag paint scheme on all trains. Between 1973 and 1976, Amtrak acquired most of the Northeast Corridor between Boston and Washington from the bankrupt Penn Central, which could no longer maintain the high-speed line’s tracks, bridges and catenary.
Professor Alff is a youngster in an English department, thus we can forgive him for not noting the Arab oil embargoes inducing passengers to return (I would expect that of a transportation economist of a comparable age), and yes, there has been a lot of money put into the Acela corridor over the years, but has he ridden a train from Buffalo to anywhere lately, or tried to get between Chicago and the Cities?  The farther you get from Delaware, the less good Amtrak looks.
In keeping with the civic corporatism that characterized the Delaware Way, Amtrak would atone for capitalistic neglect to make free enterprise work for the American public again. Funding the National Rail Passenger Corporation, Biden argued, was a matter of preserving competition in domestic travel markets prone to monopoly control by buses and planes. He predicted that Amtrak would eventually shed its subsidy to become independent. After voting for a transportation appropriations bill in 1986, Biden addressed the railroad’s naysayers: “I look forward as much as anyone to the day when Amtrak states that it no longer needs any assistance.”

Like the Postal Service, federal mortgage companies and other government-owned corporations, Amtrak has proven abhorrent to its critics as it has grown indispensable to its users. Biden would lead congressional opposition against “numerous attempts … to wreck the Amtrak System,” ranging from Reagan-era budget cuts to George W. Bush’s attempt to privatize passenger trains. He defended Amtrak’s annually-imperiled subsidy against deficit hawks, “the cement folks and the asphalt folks” who favored roads to rails and his cross-aisle friend Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who denounced Amtrak as “the great train robbery.” Critics complained that the government was over-investing in an antiquated mode of travel at a time when most Americans drove, flew and bussed between cities.
Perhaps the way forward is to, oh, introduce more capitalism into transportation, by spending less public money on uneconomic roads, and treating the productive roads as assets.  That' though, is the antithesis of whatever this civic corporatism is, or for that matter, the propensity of politicians to tax, regulate, and spend other peoples's money.
Amtrak satisfies nether a left-wing desire for radical infrastructural development nor the right’s championing of free enterprise and austere budgets. Amtrak ensures that Americans will have trains to ride. It also guarantees those machines will never be mistaken for Japanese Bullet Trains or French TGVs. An uncompromising proponent of compromise, Amtrak Joe wagers that a “leaner, cleaner, greener 21st century” requires all the trade-offs and contradictions embodied by a corporation for the people.
Now there is a ringing endorsement. (And I bet Mr Biden's chartered train had chartered catering, too, not the glorified box lunches sleeper passengers now get.) Meanwhile, in Florida the Brightline service could show Amtrak Regional a thing or two, and it's private money developing a service in Texas that might some day be mistaken for a Japanese bullet train.

CAN A FACEBOOK ALGORITHM BE DUMBER THAN MAZIE HIRONO?

Yes.  We flagged this Babylon Bee story as all in good fun, with just enough Puritan era flavor to merit circulation.

That's not how the Facebook algorithms saw it.
Facebook, Twitter, et. al. know full well that the Babylon Bee is satire. But since the Bee spoofs liberals and political correctness, their self-appointed betters in media will not tolerate such humor. So they will pick away at it little by little until (they hope) the site meets a virtual death.

However, Dillon and the rest of the crew at the Babylon Bee are standing tough. Dillon tweeted their defiance, saying that they “will not be editing the article” in order to gain Facebook’s favor.
Nor should they. There's a long insurgent tradition of mocking the intolerant Left, where the mockable stuff is a gift that keeps on giving.

That might not end well for Facebook or the other information services.
What Facebook is doing to the Bee might seem more trivial, but it’s not. The idea that you cannot even make a 45-year-old joke about a Democratic politician without losing your ability to make an income on Facebook ought to tick you off. Who’s next? Big Tech has way too much power, and they’re using it to silence conservatives on matters both serious and silly.

Who do they hire at Facebook to make these decisions? Facebook — and Twitter, and Amazon, and Google — deserve what’s eventually coming to them. Did you hear about the Justice Department’s big antitrust lawsuit filed today against Google? That’s going to take years to resolve, but I hope that both Republicans and Democrats understand that the power of Big Tech over the lives and livelihoods of ordinary Americans is a bad thing.
With respect to the hiring decisions, perhaps I'm wrongly slagging the algorithms. Might be their cheap Chinese hirelings with no cultural competence.  As far as the antitrust suit, well, sometimes those can be used as trolling operations.  The outgoing Johnson administration filed an antitrust investigation of IBM with the (fulfilled) expectation that the Nixon administration would be too cowardly to drop it, and it carried on into the Reagan administration, by which time computer technologies and telephone technologies were sufficiently entwined and networked that a monopoly in mainframes was as a monopoly of buggy whips.  In like manner, would an incoming Biden administration have to keep an investigation of Google going if for no other reason than to keep up their interventionist credibility?

THE PEOPLE BEGIN TO SAY NO.

It's easy enough to point to errors by the Credentialed Experts.

Sooner or later, they lose their authority.
Perhaps the only thing worse than being subjected to seemingly arbitrary and intrusive rules imposed to fight a pandemic is when those same rules fail to accomplish their goals. Instead of effective infectious disease control, you get fatigue with commands issued by officials who seem to have no idea what they're doing, as we're seeing during the COVID-19 crisis. Given the resulting pushback against ineffective, nonsensical rules, expect widespread cynicism toward official dictates to linger after the virus is history.
When Ronald Reagan cracked wise about "I'm here from the government and I'm here to help you," that came from the domain of lived experience.  "Beyond the human cost of COVID-19, government credibility is a victim of this pandemic. It's unlikely to recover anytime soon, no matter how the health crisis itself is resolved."

So mote it be.

PUT THE WRONG-THINKERS ON THE CONVEYOR.

There are all sorts of useful words to describe deep thought: inquiry, introspection, examination.  The culture studies types have to poison the language.  "I've always been skeptical about this use of "interrogate," and I was educated to understand that in order to torture the data to elicit a confession, you might want to know a few tools of statistical inference."

At Massachusetts's Wheaton College, however, if you haven't been hauled into Sensitivity Gulag, dear reader, you can keep yourself awake all night contemplating your wrong-think.  "Various recommended practices include an aspect of 'interrogation.' One step encourages educators to 'Interrogate your position' which begins with 'understanding white privilege' and 'engaging with Critical Race Theory.'"  Critical race theory is neither critical nor theoryInterrrogate that.

Our universities continue to be run by terminally stupid people.

STOP BLIGHTING YOUNG PEOPLES' LIVES.

Remember yesterday's sermon?  Today we read, "Sage experts warn of impact of Covid policies on the young."  That's not "sage" as in "wise beyond their years," rather it's a British rendering of an acronym, "Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies."  Their portfolio includes all emergencies, not one at a time, where the area specialists are supposed to contribute their local knowledge.
The were already concerns among experts about generation Z before the pandemic. A>bout 30% of children were already living in poverty, a figure that was predicted to increase.

During the pandemic, there has been a rise in the use of food banks, especially among households with children. Official data showed a dramatic deterioration in job prospects for young men in June to August 2020, with 16- to 24-year-olds accounting for almost 60% of the total fall in employment during the pandemic.

Prof Russell Viner, the president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, who is on Sage’s children’s task and finish working group, said: “This is a generation under threat. It will be catastrophically, disproportionately hit and harmed by the loss of economic and social opportunities as a direct result of the pandemic. We have taken money out of our children’s futures by racking up this huge national debt.

“We have to face up to the fact that we not only took away the protective net we throw around our children by closing schools and redeploying the children’s health workforce, but then we mortgaged off their futures for the current reality.”.
Let the record show that Britain's lockdowns, if they were intended for the good of the children, were anything but.
Viner’s comments were echoed by a second Sage member, Prof Chris Bonell from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

“There will be a negative long-term mental health, economic, and social legacy of the pandemic and the government’s response on all young people, whether they are privileged or not, and whether they were scarred during lockdown or not,” he said.

“These adversities will be played out along their whole life courses: scarring like this doesn’t just wash out – it’s permanent. This is more dramatic disruption than any generation has experienced in modern times, and so will have more dramatic and disruptive effects.”

Bonell said the government had failed to protect this generation from the direct harm it suffered as a result of its pandemic policies. “Within a few weeks of lockdown, for example, there should have been a full national programme of learning instead of leaving it to individual schools to cope,” he said.
Yes. Had the British not acted as if they were going to reprise the Plague of 1666 with smart-phones, perhaps they could have kicked that particular can down the road for two weeks.  Now come the second round of full shutdowns, after a summer of only cursory reopenings, and they're screwed.
He said the government had been aware of specific risks to the younger generation: “People were voicing their concerns but they weren’t planning for the future, even though we already had empirical evidence showing this generation would suffer increased levels of risk.

“The immediate threat was older people dying and they [the government] saw that the problems hitting the younger generation would accrue more slowly, so they could and did fail to get it properly on their radar for any sustained period of time. The help this generation needed just wasn’t delivered.”
Whether, as the sages recommend, expanding social services now will hamper a future return to work by the young people once the danger passes, remains an open question.

THE WOKE MOB COMES FOR KAMALA HARRIS'S FAMILY.

There's nothing that the woke scolds won't get upset about.
Hindu groups in the US have expressed outrage at a morphed photo of the Hindu goddess Durga with Kamala Harris’s face, after it was shared online by the vice presidential candidate’s niece.

Meena Harris, who has been very active on social media with support for her aunt Kamala for the upcoming election, said in a tweet which has now been deleted: “I am speechless, other than to say that the first day of Navratri was LIT.”

Navratri is a nine-day Hindu festival, which is currently being celebrated, to worship the feminine deity Durga. Durga is known as the goddess of war, and symbolises the victory of good over evil.

The image shared by Meena Harris, a 36-year-old lawyer, was based on one of the most famous representations of the goddess, where she is seen riding a lion and killing a demon with a trident.

Meena’s image had Kamala Harris’s face photoshopped onto Durga’s body, while the face of her lion had been replaced by the Democrat presidential candidate Joe Biden. At the bottom of the image, a small demon being slain by the goddess has been replaced by the face of president Donald Trump.

The image received strong criticism from a number of American Hindu groups, who called it offensive to their religious beliefs.
Sometimes, life is hard. Get a helmet.

That's the same advice I'd offer to any other believer, of any creed, who takes umbrage at a holy icon being modified for secular purposes, or for that matter, violating commandments against the making of graven images.  Somebody wants to celebrate the birthday of an illustrious aunt, that's all good.

20.10.20

JUST SAY NO.

It has long been a Cold Spring Shops theme that Credentialed Experts get it wrong, and ought not be granted much authority.  But they're as persistent as the Energizer Bunny.
There is, in my reading, a general tendency on the political left to acknowledge the severity of the coronavirus crisis, but then to shift immediately to the possibilities for a major societal transformation. I find this optimism commendable but not always persuasive. As much of it—understandably—seems oriented as much toward what should be as to what is, I worry about overreach. The discussion too often lacks the kind of strategic thinking we need to get to a desirable future.
That's retired Rutgers global affairs professor Frank Fischer, with the predictable prejudices of his class.
As suggested by the authoritarian measures that have been imposed, there is a serious risk of conservative forces prevailing. In any case, these forces will not go away. Given the massive unemployment, major economic disruption, and widespread social anxiety brought by the coronavirus crisis, large numbers of people will unwittingly embrace the paternalist system of a political strongman, first and foremost in the desperate effort to feed their families. In contrast to the older view that people will rise up when things get bad enough, historical sociology shows that this is more likely when lives seem to have gotten better, coupled with new possibilities worth struggling for.

Unfortunately, still missing at the moment is a powerful movement that can articulate a clear and convincing message capable of rallying sufficiently large numbers around the globe to the cause. The program of such a movement needs to include essential elements of democratic socialism, but these ideals and practices have regrettably been discredited by the majority, especially in the U.S. To be sure, Sen. Bernie Sanders generated immense interest in this alternative among young people, but this is not yet the grounds for an emerging revolution.

Arguably, it is more likely that the crisis will set back progressive movements than facilitate them. People worried about their basic safety are not particularly interested in new social experiments. For many, the known system will appear to offer a safer bet. This will certainly be the case for the middle and upper echelons of contemporary society, whose fealty will enable established political and economic leaders to resume their activities with little decisive resistance.

In fact, we already see a rapid return of the old politics and the economic relations it promotes. For example, in San Francisco, the city's billionaires are fighting the efforts of the local government to address coronavirus-related problems, especially those concerning the large homeless population. In Berlin, the older mainstream lines of political contention are reappearing as the country opens up: Lufthansa gets massively bailed out, but the essential workers, jobless, and social welfare recipients receive only minimal gains.
That is an interesting bundle of points.  In the final paragraph, I wonder what he's seeing in San Francisco.  The libertarian populists in the Kurt Schlichter vein see in that homeless population the fruits of years of the self-styled progressives and their openly socialist accomplices undermining bourgeois norms, and the tech oligarchs are OK both with the druggies in the streets and the excessive lockdowns, as anyone who is anyone is already able to work from home, and attempts by those deplorables to push back against either the lockdowns or the social media censorship of dissenting views should be suppressed.  That renders the preceding paragraph perplexing: right now there is a great deal of resistance, not all of it from the so-called resistance that has been engaging in a four year temper tantrum, to the current suppression of normal activities.  Now look up to that first paragraph: the "authoritarian measures" we see in the United States are most intrusive and counterproductive in states and cities governed by the kind of people the so-called progressives argue with, and then vote for.

Never mind all that, the professor wants to sing a few more choruses of The Internationale.
We need to pursue "structural reforms" (or "non-reformist reforms"), strategically moving ahead piece-by-piece where openings present themselves. But, crucially, these moves must be structurally related to a progressive agenda: they need to ensure and facilitate additional steps forward in political pursuit of the progressive agenda.

We need to think positively, but, in the process, we must be careful not to delude ourselves into believing that we are on the cusp of a Great Transition. In a more just world, the coronavirus crisis could well open the way for a major societal transition. But we are not living in such a world and need to think strategically in light of current political conditions, taking advantage of openings that present themselves along the way. As long as we do not lose the vision of the much-needed societal transition, a strategic focus on non-reformist reforms should be a central part of the way forward.
Sorry, no. "They'll likely be back, nastier, next time."  Don't give them a next time.

WHO IS THE EQUILIBRIUM BASKETBALL PLAYER?

Duke's Michael Munger revisits the "why do basketball players make so much more than teachers" argument.  He extends the Cold Spring Shops analysis, which focuses on risk-adjusted rates of return.  Ultimately, it's about identifying where the inframarginal participants are.
If you were building an NBA team, you wouldn’t start with marginal players, you would start with the best, the diamonds. There are a few elite players, often referred to only by their first names (“LeBron,” “Giannis,” “Dirk”) that you might build a team around. Signing them first is expensive. Then as you add marginal players, the cost is less. Of course, the relevant margin is not the worst player in the NBA; it’s not even the best player who failed to make the NBA.

No, the marginal player is the one who has a negative salary, the 40 year-old guy who pays for a membership at the YMCA or college gym to play basketball. Those folks are not being paid more than teachers, because there are tens of thousands of those foul-hacking, can’t shoot with a hand in their face, smaller than baller gym rats.

Marginal basketball players are paying $65 a month to play, compared to at least $4,000 per month monthly salary for experienced teachers in most states. Basketball players are not paid more than teachers; the entire complaint is a basic confusion over an example that everyone thinks they learned, but didn’t actually understand.

As an educator myself, I am happy to grant that teachers produce value for students, and for society. But even the most marginal teacher, at the worst and least motivated public school, can’t-wait-for-retirement clock puncher, makes far more than the marginal basketball player. You can’t compare the marginal unit of water, or teachers, with diamonds. That’s a paradox we solved long ago.
As with everything else in price theory, there are opportunities to further quibble.  Are the canonical table-waiters in Manhattan or parking lot attendants in Los Angeles the marginal stars, to consider a similar winner-take-all market, although as far as I know nobody gripes about Jennifer Aniston or Barbra Streisand living way better than the junior high chorus director; or do they represent bad draws in a world of investment under uncertainty?  To really confuse the issue, how many currently-employed schoolteachers hold memberships at the Y or participate in staff lunch games at the campus recreation center?  Do you count them as marginal basketball players in the sense of Munger, or do we think of them as inframarginal non-participants in the existing equilibrium.  Finally, to tie his essay to mine, is the equilibrium basketball player the one who is indifferent between signing a development-league contract or signing a teaching contract and buying a gym membership?  Or might some other equilibrium concept be more sensible?

ANTHONY FAUCI, CARPENTER.

The doctor is taking some stick from Our President for treating everything related to the Wuhan coronavirus as a nail to be hammered down.
In increasingly vocal terms, Dr. Fauci has been separating himself from the White House and warning Americans to “hunker down” and brace for a difficult winter — a message at odds with Mr. Trump’s repeated, if false, assurances that the nation is “rounding the corner” on a pandemic that has claimed about 220,000 American lives.

“People are tired of Covid,” Mr. Trump complained on the call, which several reporters were invited into. “I have the biggest rallies I’ve ever had. And we have Covid. People are saying: ‘Whatever. Just leave us alone.’ They’re tired of it.”
The doctor appears to be taking the slagging in stride. "'It’s like in 'The Godfather' – nothing personal, strictly business as far as I’m concerned,' Fauci told Southern California AM radio station KNX1070. 'I just want to do my job and take care of the people of this country.'"  Ultimately, the president has to trade off competing objectives, and it might not be the place of the contagious disease expert to weigh those tradeoffs.

On the other hand, it might be on a contagious disease expert to pay attention to the existential depression weighing on some of our numbers, on the suicidal thoughts entertained by more than a few youngsters.  The closed businesses, or the ineptitude of the state employment security offices in getting the relief checks out are somebody else's domain, possibly the president, and he recognizes what Pajamas Media columnist Stephen Kruiser grouses about, "Maybe too many people have had their livelihoods ruined to eagerly bite at the fear-mongering bait now."

I wonder what roof the doctor will be repairing next month. "[Michigan governor Gretchen "Karen" Whitmer (D-Hell)] told host Chuck Todd that lockdowns and COVID restrictions can end, if Americans just vote for Joe Biden."  Let's see how the epidemiologists address the tradeoffs then.
It is truly stunning to listen to people like Governor Whitmer blame food pantry lines on Trump, when it is Democrat governors and other politicians keeping their economies locked down and forcing people out of work. It is even more stunning to see the amount of people actually buying that “logic.”

These are the same people who claim masks are the only things that can save us, but still refuse to open the economy and let people get back to work, now that masks are pretty much mandated everywhere. If masks are the miracle cure, then why can’t we just leave it at the current mandates and get back out there? The protesters have been free to congregate all summer and fall. The mental gymnastics required to make sense of it all are exhausting.
The winter will be difficult, or not, whether the epidemiologists see it correctly, or not, and whether the politicians like it, or not.

THE DESPERATION OF LATE-STAGE MERITOCRACY.

Ruth S. Barrett probably has The Atlantic's bottom story of the year, unless you're one of those parents who wants to wangle an athletic scholarship to a non-revenue sport in the Ivies.  I'd say embrace the suckitude, but for a few salient passages.  She starts with a lament by sport sociologist Harry Edwards.
In 1988, the University of California sociologist Harry Edwards published an indictment of the “single-minded pursuit of sports” in Black communities. The “tragic” overemphasis on athletics at the expense of school and family, he wrote in Ebony magazine, was leaving “thousands and thousands of Black youths in obsessive pursuit of sports goals foredoomed to elude the vast and overwhelming majority of them.” In a plea to his fellow Black people, Edwards declared, “We can simply no longer permit many among our most competitive and gifted youths to sacrifice a wealth of human potential on the altar of athletic aspiration.”
I wish I had known of that quote when I was posting about the gladiator economy. Put in something about how so-called social justice pedagogy embraces illiteracy, innumeracy, and insolence in the name of diversity and we've got a positive program for improving life in the 'hood.

Later comes Ms Barrett's lament: this is what always happens in a positional arms race, but there's no reason not to review the lessons.
Even before the coronavirus pandemic brought all sports to a halt, a pall was settling over the phthalate-free turf fields of Greenwich, Connecticut, and Palo Alto, California. Over the past decade, the for-profit ecosystem that has sprouted up around athletic recruiting at top-rung universities has grown so excessively ornate, so circular in its logic, that it’s become self-defeating. More and more entrants are chasing an unchanging number of prizes. The Varsity Blues scandal exposed how hedge-funders and Hollywood B-listers were turning their progeny into football kickers and coxswains through the magic of Photoshop. But more commonly, alpha sports parents followed the rules—at least those of the meritocracy—only to discover that they’d built the 80th- or 90th-best lacrosse midfielder in the country. Which, it turns out, barely qualifies you for a spot at the bottom of the roster at Bates.
Now if only Bates, or Ohio State (one of the arms race parents the article features is confronting the reality of her fencer (!?) spawn paying in-state rates at Ohio State, the horror!) understood that they were in the same business as the Ivies.  I wish more people running higher education institutions attempted to behave as though they were, and that more parents (the kids can get fake ID at Youngstown State as easily as at Yale) would not view themselves as failures if they couldn't put an Ivy sticker on the hatchback window next to their stick family.
“Parents need to open their minds,” [college water polo association head Dan] Sharadin said. “They’re not likely to be as excited about Millersville University or Bloomsburg as Penn or Columbia. I get that. But that’s something that these families will have to come to grips with.”

“Sorry, but there’s no way in hell,” said the water-polo mom from Stamford. “What parent wants to have a child who’s going to be playing for a bottom-tier school with bottom-tier academics in the armpit of the United States? I want to be polite. But there’s no way in hell.”

Look at fencing or crew, and the trends are the same: a doubling of junior players, and flatlining collegiate openings. For lacrosse, the situation is perhaps worse, if only because the absolute number of kids playing the game is higher. Lacrosse has topped the list of the most-added high-school sports for the past seven years, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations, but again, its growth at high-status colleges has been anemic.
Bottom tier academics can be fixed, if the faculty and administration want to. On the other hand, the shake-out of country club sports, which the article documents, might be a long-running casualty of the quarantines.

WE'RE DETOURING AROUND THE GATEKEEPERS.

Tennessee law professor Glenn "Insta Pundit" Reynolds is a regular columnist for USA Today.  Generally, his column appears on Tuesday.  Not today, though.
SO USA TODAY DIDN’T WANT TO RUN MY HUNTER BIDEN COLUMN THIS WEEK. My regular editor is on vacation, and I guess everyone else was afraid to touch it. So I’m sending them another column next week, and just publishing this one here. Enjoy! This is as filed, with no editing from USAT.
Click the link for the post in full.  Let the palace guard media whack more moles!

19.10.20

DON'T LET THEM GET ANY IDEAS.

It's the Babylon Bee, so let's hope it's satire.  "State governments across America have responded with decisive action after startling reports surfaced that heart disease kills hundreds of thousands every year. In order to save lives, states have ordered all fast-food restaurants to close until we can flatten the curve of heart disease."  Problem is, self-styled progressives are so in love with their moral equivalents of war that a diet emergency lockdown or a climate emergency lockdown or something that hasn't occurred to me because thinking like a self-styled progressive isn't something I do very well might well be our future reality.

THE DRIVERS CAUGHT THE PLANNERS BY SURPRISE.

Compare and contrast the ramps on contemporary urban expressways with those of the first such highways.  Today, in thickly settled areas, there are often two lanes to each entrance ramp.  The rightmost lane only goes as far as the next exit ramp.  The next one to the left generally merges with the rightmost through lane.

In that design is an expensive lesson learned by the designers of the initial expressways.  Their expectation was that people making short trips would stay on the surface streets, and people making longer trips would be merging with the through traffic, or perhaps trading places with people ending their longer trip at the next exit.  The idea of requiring drivers to merge within the entrance ramp and then into the through lanes would have struck them as strange.  Only after the expressways opened did anyone observe that people would use the expressway from one entrance to the next exit in order to avoid a traffic light or two on the surface streets.

One of the urban expressways where that phenomenon manifested itself was Milwaukee's initial East - West Freeway.  Real inspired name, and anything but free, especially when the repair bills come due.
Rather than expanding the interstate, to actually reduce congestion and travel times [the highway department] should redesign this section of road to reduce the number of on- and off-ramps—from an astounding 26 to a more reasonable number.
Each of those ramps, many of which are still in their as-originally-conceived form, because there isn't room to provide the extra capacity you'll see on the south beltline around Madison or Indianapolis's outer belt, is a generator of serious eddies in the traffic.
[The expressway] is intended to be a controlled-access highway. Although the 3.5-mile segment that [the highway department] proposes to expand technically meets the definition of a controlled-access highway, the 26 on- and off-ramps prevent this section of highway from actually functioning like one.

As Aries van Beinum et al. show in “Macroscopic traffic flow changes around ramps,” on-ramps create an area of increased traffic turbulence from 0.12 miles upstream of the on-ramp until 0.30 miles downstream; off-ramps create an area of increased traffic turbulence for 0.75 miles upstream of the off-ramp. In this section of I-94, westbound there are six on-ramps and seven off-ramps for a massively overlapping 8.19 miles of increased traffic turbulence in a mere 3.5 miles of highway. Eastbound there are seven on-ramps and six off-ramps for a similarly massive 7.44 miles of overlapping increased traffic turbulence. Van Beinum et al. also state that “turbulence has been shown to have a negative impact on both traffic safety and traffic operations.” These conclusions should come as no surprise to anyone who has driven this section of [the expressway]

Adding to this massive traffic turbulence, "75% of the trips along this segment of [I-94] either begins or ends within the limits of the project," according to WisDOT. So travelers are just hopping on and off the highway for extremely short trips.

If [the highway department are] serious about addressing congestion on this segment of [the expressway] in an environmentally and fiscally responsible manner, they won’t add lanes. Instead, they will maintain and redesign it to have fewer on and off ramps.
Each of those ramp complexes will have a cheering section, though:  fairgrounds traffic from the west will want to keep 84th Street; from the east, that traffic will want 76th; then several of the exits east of the stadium complex tie into streets that bridge the formerly industrial Menomonee Valley.  What might be worse, the article notes, is that the highway department probably doesn't have the money to do these projects anyway.

AUCTION HOUSES MIGHT BE MORE INFLUENTIAL THAN DYNAMITE.

Boston Globe columnist David Warsh comments on the recent tendency of economics Nobels to have more than a little bit to do with the everyday business of humanity.  Mr Warsh's site uses a form of archiving and indexing that I have not yet mastered, and I'm going to quote extensively and hope for the best.
A handful of developments in research economics in the early 1980s created sufficient excitement to attract the attention of journalists. As the saying goes, there were sovereigns in the air.

Paul Krugman edited a conference volume on strategic trade policy built around new ideas about economies of scale. Thomas Sargent, in “The Ends of Four Big Inflations,” suggested that the Federal Reserve Board’s battle against inflation might be less costly than was commonly thought. Paul Romer began investigating the logic of policies that might stimulate economic growth. Fynn Kydland and Edward Prescott, having already reformulated the terms by which central banking was understood, set out in “Time to Build and Aggregate Fluctuations,” to identify the driving forces behind business cycles.

And in 1982, an eight-page paper contributed by four economists who shared Stanford University connections appeared in The Journal of Economic Theory, “Rational Cooperation in the Finitely Repeated Prisoners’ Dilemma.” Interest in the evolution of cooperation had recently been stimulated by an influential paper by political scientist Robert Axelrod. The authors were concerned with the machinery by which reputations were built and preserved (or not!), Having submitted to the journal rival papers setting out ideas about the analysis of what soon would become known as sequential equilibrium, involving the application of Bayes’ rule, they were persuaded by the editor, Karl Shell, to prepare a short introduction setting out their common ground. They were quickly dubbed the Gang of Four.
The rational cooperation paper might have illustrated one of the occasionally troubling tendencies in economics, namely a lot of carefully constructed theory to the effect that such behavior was irrational, although it kept showing up in experimental settings and in real life.  Sooner or later, logic and content will win the day.
In the aftermath of last week, there was a widespread sense of jubilation. David Kreps, Wilson’s co-author on the Gang of Four, (“Reputation and Imperfect Information”), who continues to work on the wellsprings of cooperation, said Wilson’s impact on the discipline “puts him in the company of giants such as Ken Arrow and Paul Samuelson:  he is, as much as anyone, the founder of the School of Economic Theory as Engineering.” Wilson and Milgrom, along with laureates Jennifer Doudna (chemistry), and Reinhard Gentzel and Andre Ghez (both physics), will stream their lectures in December from the Swedish consulate in San Francisco.
It's more likely that economic theory as (social?) engineering will run up, sooner or later, against the propensity of complex adaptive systems to do what they d**n well please.  A better understanding of auctions, however, is useful knowledge to have.

HE MANAGED THE TRANSITION FROM THE TRANSITION ERA TO THE DIESEL ERA.

Kalmbach Publishing report the death of onetime Trains editor J. David Ingles.
After college and a stint as a newspaper reporter in Springfield, Ill., he joined the Trains staff in 1971 as associate editor. In 1987, upon the retirement of David P. Morgan, Ingles was named editor of Trains, a post he held until 1992, when he became the magazine’s senior editor. He retired from Trains as senior editor in 2005, but continued in that role for Classic Trains until 2018, when he transitioned to contributing editor, the position he held at the time of his death. At 47 years, his tenure is thought to be the longest of any Kalmbach Media employee.
Succeeding David P. Morgan as editor of Trains is the same sort of professional challenge as succeeding Vince Lombardi as coach of the Green Bay Packers. You might have noticed the Morgan references in Cold Spring Shops, and I've probably stolen a lot of features from Trains of that era in the layout and sometimes the phrasing I use.

Mr Ingles was up to the task.
Dave’s particular interests were diesel locomotives (early on, he acquired the moniker “Diesel Dave”) and the geography of railroading. Along with a handful of others who eschewed the prevailing early-1960s view that railroading’s appeal had vanished with the end of steam, he saw that diesels could be as fascinating to observers as they were important to the industry. Two of his early major features — “Christine and the Mongeese,” about the Rock Island’s eclectic diesel fleet (December 1965 Trains and “Salute to a Different Diesel,” on Alco’s PA (November 1966) — stand as landmarks.
On the Rock Island, for some reason, their small fleet of BL2s were a pack of mongeese. That's a slightly nicer term than they used on Missouri Pacific.

Classic Trains editor Rob McGonigal concludes, "The staffers — and readers — of Trains, Classic Trains, and the other Kalmbach rail titles, will benefit from his influence for years to come."

Indeed. RIP.

WE NEED MORE PEOPLE TO SAY WE AREN'T GOING TO TAKE IT.

Craig Pirrong suggests it's not so much the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic we ought be worrying out as it is "a pandemic outbreak of Munchausen’s Syndrome by Proxy which focuses its obsessions on the virus." He's an economist with some expertise in competition policy, and what follows is informed speculation.
Munchausen’s Syndrome by Proxy is a mental illness in which the sufferer fantasizes that others–usually people in their charge, such as children–are suffering from serious illness and require drastic medical intervention.

Observe what has happened over the last 7 months, and what if anything is increasing in intensity today. The obsession with Covid-19. The monomaniacal focus on “cases” (usually the result of hypersensitive tests prone to false positives), with the belief that people who test positive are sick, and huge numbers of those who become sick will die.
There are a few areas of the country that are experiencing crowded hospitals, although I fear that prematurely locking down the entire country before the virus had spread into many of those areas had something to do with what's currently going on.
Look at so many governors and mayors, e.g., Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan, Gavin Gruesome–excuse me, Newsom–in California, J. B. Pritzker in Illinois, or Tim Walz in Minnesota. (I could go on. And on. And on. Believe me.) They constantly invoke their power over you. But it’s for your own good! Trust them! Mommy is protecting you! And if you object, you will be punished! How dare you defy Mommy’s tender mercies, you ungrateful brats? If you do, you will be punished! To get your minds right and realize just what danger you are in, and why you need to listen to Mommy and do exactly as she says!
The mass psychosis, whether it's this Munchausen or something else, is likely more harmful than the virus.

ON THE LIGHTER SIDE.

Confirmation hearings have become a trial by ordeal, fortunately even Mazie Hirono isn't this ludicrous in real life.
Senator Hirono then pulled a live duck out of a massive burlap sack next to her and announced: "In addition to being a Senator, I am also quite wise in the ways of science. Everyone knows witches burn because they are made of wood. I think I read that somewhere. Wood floats, and so do ducks-- so logically, if Amy Coney Barrett weighs as much as this duck I found in the reflection pool outside, she is a witch and must be burned."

The Democrat senators nodded in solemn approval while the Republicans yelled and pounded on their desks a bunch before pouncing and booking interviews with Tucker Carlson.

Congressional aides brought in the bathroom scale from Jerry Nadler's office in order to weigh ACB against the duck. Fortunately, disaster was averted when Mitch McConnell entered the room and put a stop to the proceedings.
On the other hand, the nomination has not yet been voted out of committee, let alone voted on by the sitting Senate, so who knows?

17.10.20

ON MY WORKBENCH.

We've seen the BL2 in its natural habitat, pulling a milk train.  If you're modelling New England, it's mandatory to have a BL2 or two on hand, either on a milk train where it might match the streamlined Borden milk tank cars, or hauling potatoes out of Aroostook County.


The locomotive also powered the rush shipment of toilet paper we noted at toward the end of the fourteen days to slow the spread.  You might have noticed some rough running in that train, as well as, if you're looking closely, additional trackage in the area illustrated above.

That locomotive has held up pretty well for a bargain purchase.  I found it at a swap meet in Indianapolis, sometime around 1990.  Somebody had taken the old Atlas F unit chassis from around 1970, extended it a few scale feet, and added a flywheel, then put that chassis under the body, a Britannia metal casting from Locomotive Workshop.  Total price was either $25 or $50: at the time, Locomotive Workshop had been asking more than $50 just for the unassembled castings, add your own chassis.  Why do I know?  Because I have one of those as well.  As I said, moving milk and potatoes. Stay tuned.

The Atlas drive unit is pretty good if you don't ask too much work of it, but all the internal gears are plastic, and the gear axles are plastic, and part of the gear frame which is a plastic casting, and those are prone, eventually, to shearing.  That might be part of the rough running in the video I alluded to.  Look closely at the picture above, though, and note the side frames are missing from the trucks.  Also plastic, also held in place with pins that are subject to shearing, or some rough handling by your Superintendent. Time for an upgrade.


Over the years, I have acquired a number of the P&D Hobbies power trucks, suitable for their line of F units, for powering or repowering the Red Caboose GP7 or GP9 kits, and they're adaptable to other uses as well.  For some reason, although Atlas had those original F units built with that odd plastic power truck suspended from above, the chassis have a slot cast into them, at just the right place to put in a 1/4" or 5/16" brass crossbearer drilled for the P&D truck mounting screw.  When it's all done, it will be a more reliable running diesel, and there are decals on hand to make this one a Bangor and Aroostook, in the primarily gray with blue and yellow stripes, and generally on potatoes.

AN EXCURSION TO THE UTOPIA OF SCOLDING.

Strong Towns participant Arian Horbovetz decries The Cost of Convenience.  He might be more believable if he didn't signal his virtue so loudly.
With this in mind, let’s be fine with parking a quarter-mile away and getting some exercise on the way to our destination. Let’s pay a little extra to shop at our local market. If we all work a little harder and a little smarter, we can overcome the temptation of convenience culture and reclaim our community strength by doing what is more difficult.
I suppose parking at the perimeter of the Wal-Mart parking lot is selling out.
[I]t’s not just cars. It’s megastores like Walmart that, ironically, we welcome into our rural and suburban worlds on the promise of jobs and inexpensive merchandise—when what we get in reality is a monopolistic machine that pays unlivable wages and makes it impossible for small businesses to compete. The end result is actually a loss of American jobs and a culture that is built around a one-stop-shop solution that is highly subsidized and simultaneously damaging to local economies.
As with anything else, in moderation. We are all underemployed compared with our ancestors of 1820 (and even 1920) and it's probably a good thing.
And yet, in a country of perpetual chest-thumping, relentlessly championing the illusion of toughness and grit, we look for the closest parking space at the gym. We curse the driver that takes an extra second to make a left turn, delaying us during our commute. We berate the local business that doesn’t have the “in-and-out” convenience parking we ravenously crave. American “strength” is suddenly brought to its knees when we can’t find a parking space within a few hundred feet from our destination.
Because hectoring and scolding and deplorable-shaming is cathartic in urbanist circles, even if it only elicits an Amen! from the choir.

DIFFERENT UNDERSTANDINGS OF WHAT A STATE OF GOOD REPAIR IS.

I'm old enough to remember the closing days of The America That Worked(TM).  I was home from school eating lunch when I heard that JFK was shot.  At the same time, I was launching my academic career during the era that Ross Douthat understood as his good old days.
Noah Smith, the economics writer for Bloomberg and an edge-of-Generation-Xer (born in 1980), offered the beginnings of [an analysis of contemporary conservative ideology] last week on Twitter. The formative world of Gen X, he pointed out, was one of Republican dominance in presidential politics, evangelical revival in American religion and diminishing social conflict overall. “Xers grew up in a nation that was rapidly stabilizing under conservative rule,” he writes, suggesting that many Americans now in midlife associate the G.O.P. with that stability and the subsequent trends pushing the country leftward with disorder and decline.

To Smith’s list of Gen X-ian distinctives I’d add a few more: the conservative influence of John Paul II’s papacy for Generation-X Catholics, the seemingly positive trendlines on race relations (visible in polls of African-Americans as well as whites) from the 1990s through the early Obama years and the effects of the Reagan and Clinton economic growth spurts, which enabled my generation to enter adulthood under more prosperous conditions than the Great Recession-era landscape that hobbled millennials.

A critique of Gen X conservatism that started from this framework wouldn’t accuse my cohort of nostalgia for the racial or religious landscape of the 1950s; we don’t remember it, and we don’t want it to return.
On the other hand, they're aware at some level of the chaos that accompanied the end of the American High.
Generation X enjoys a certain bourgeois realism about what sustains human societies, what choices in your 20s will make you happiest in your 40s, that’s absent from the very-online progressivism of the young. There is an emotivism and narcissism that millennial liberalism and boomer liberalism seem to share, and in strong doses it’s poison for institutions. The ironic communitarianism of Gen-X conservatism probably isn’t the perfect antidote, but it may be all we’ve got.

And Gen X conservatives come by their hostility to emotivist liberalism honestly, because many of us grew up amid its wreckage. “Xers have little collective memory of either instability or liberalism,” Smith suggests, but that part of his analysis is wrong. To grow up in the ’70s or ’80s was to come of age just after liberalism’s last high tide, and to see evidence of its failures all around — from the urban blight and ugliness left by utopian renewal projects to the adult disarray and childhood misery sowed by the ideology of sexual liberation in its Hefnerian phase.

Americans younger than us have seen a lot of elite failure in the last 20 years, much of it conservative or centrist, and the idea of voting Republican, let alone for Trump, because of liberalism’s dangers seems to many of them absurd.

But what Generation X conservatives remember is not a distant past, nor an unlikely future. Their Trump support may be a folly, but their concern for what comes next is earned.
Yes, and there are a few of their next-elders (too young to have ridden that first, Hefnerian, wave, too old to have become the first latchkey kids) who see in this death tussle between the freaks and the straights that we call electoral politics who see echoes of those earlier failures of liberalism all over the contemporary political scene.

THE ADVENTURE OF THE PRINCELING'S LAPTOP.

Which state actor would stand to gain by planting a story that would reinforce this narrative?


Reason's Robby Soave notes,
It's a story that merits the attention of other journalists, political operatives, national security experts, and also the public at large—not least of all because there are serious questions about its accuracy, reliability, and sourcing. And yet many in the media are choosing not just to ignore the story, but to actively encourage others to suppress any discussion of it.
As are prominent Democrats, including Connecticut senator Chris Murphy.  "Joe Biden - and all of us - SHOULD be furious that media outlets are spreading what is very likely Russian propaganda."  Let us suppose, for the sake of argument, that it is a disinformation operation.  The provenance of the information is, shall we say, skeevy.
According to the New York Post, the email was obtained from the hard drive of a computer that may or may not have belonged to Hunter Biden. Someone allegedly gave the laptop to a computer repair store owner in Delaware in 2019. The FBI took possession of the laptop in December 2019, according to the New York Post — but not before the store owner copied the hard drive and sent it to former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, an attorney for President Donald Trump
But if you're a state actor (as opposed to a free agent), what have you done to cultivate a near-blind computer repairman to serve as the cutout? What capabilities are you revealing by putting together what appear to be pretty good messages between known actors?  What do you stand to gain by making a likely future president (based on current polling) appear to be a grifter dealing with China for favors?  Is this course of action likely to be beneficial to Russia?

At the same time, to continue in a Sherlockian mode, there are some dogs that aren't barking.  The usual way for Democrats to deal with inconvenient information is to deny the allegation first, then slime the messenger, and change the subject after that.  Mr Biden, last night, went straight to sliming the messenger.

At the risk of pulling at too many threads, am I noticing more prominent Democrats losing their temper with the press of late?

WE WOULD KNOW IF RAGNAR LOTHBROK'S SONS GOT TO THE UPPER PENINSULA.

There's new evidence of globalization before the Age of Steam nailed to Newmark's Door.  "Centuries before Columbus, Vikings came to the Western hemisphere. How far into the Americas did they travel?"  We have pretty good evidence of Viking settlements in Newfoundland (insert joke about sundials carved a half hour off here).
Digging at the site for seven summers from 1961 to 1968, the [Norse archaeologists Helge and Anne Ingstad] concluded that it was indeed a Viking settlement. The excavators found evidence of iron-working: a work shed with an anvil and a large stone, iron fragments, and slag. The working of gold, copper and arsenic occurred elsewhere in the Americas in the year 1000 but, because no one else in the Americas worked iron, the archaeologists reasoned that outsiders – quite possibly the Norse – had to be doing the smelting.
And that, dear reader, suffices to establish my claim.
By travelling on trade routes from [another dig in Maine] Goddard site westward, into North America, the Vikings might have made their way deeper into the interior of the continent than people realise. Their possible routes reveal something important about the extent to which the Americas were connected in the year 1000, long before Columbus’s 1492 arrival in Hispaniola. They might have even reached as far as Mexico.

The most likely route to Mexico from the Goddard site ran through the Mississippi Valley. It would have been a long and difficult journey, and no evidence survives of anyone – or any single object – making the entire trip, but ongoing excavations and breakthroughs in scientific testing have demonstrated that a continent-wide trade network connected the major settlements of North America.
The connection between the upper Great Lakes and Mexico is well known, there are the Mississippian settlements including Cahokia and Aztlan, and ... sheer serendipity ... a museum docent in Longview, Texas, who was working with some grade school kids the day I dropped in on their historical museum ... had a few moments to confirm the existence of such a trade route from the Lakes to south of the Rio Grande.
Excavations at Cahokia have produced solid evidence of long-distance trade. Mica, a flaky mineral that catches the light, came from the Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina, and copper was sourced from Lake Superior. The Cahokians also imported conch and whelk shells from the Gulf of Mexico.

Archaeology rarely reveals exactly how or in what way one society influenced another. Scholars have long wondered whether the Cahokians and the Maya had any direct contacts; the intensive cultivation of corn, which originated in Mexico, underlay the Cahokia population explosion of 1050 CE, and its open plazas and mounds, as well as its satellite towns, resemble similar earthworks in Maya cities.
What does that have to do with Vikings? Not much, and the article shifts focus to drawings of planked sailing ships in Mayan buildings, and speculation about longships blown far off course.  On the other hand, if a Viking had accompanied a Skraeling on walkabout into the interior, and gotten to the Copper Country, he would almost surely have recognized the red rocks that were near the copper mines.

GRADING OUR PRESIDENT.

David Bahnsen submits his report card.  "I think there are areas in which he deserves an A+ (judges and life), a B (taxes), a C (China), a D (foreign policy), and an F (spending). That, my friends, is not a 4.0 GPA – it is about a 2.5. Better than Obama. Better than Hilary [c.q.]. Better than Biden. But in policy only, a 2.5, not a 4.0."  Is a B-/C+ good enough to get a second term?  You decide.  Note, there's no grade for "managing the response to the Wuhan coronavirus."
With everything I have said above, you may conclude that my criticisms of some policy, some personnel, and some personal character, that I would not vote for him. But the fact of the matter is that if I lived in a battleground state, I could and I likely would. Some of my dear conservative friends disagree with me here, and that is okay. And this is sort of the bottom line of my whole article. It is time we have a little empathy for those who feel they must vote for Trump, considering the alternative; and it is time some of you have a little empathy for those who feel they can’t vote for Trump, considering … There is ample prima facie support for both positions where just the tiniest amount of grace and understanding are present. After the election I will write substantially more about this, but the most impassioned among us are not ready to hear it yet. All I can say is I understand why a conservative would not vote for him, and I understand why one would. I do not believe either conclusion can be called wrong in the spectrum of options available to a thoughtful voter.

But I would have 100x more understanding of the pro-Trump voter if it was accompanied by skepticism, criticism, and eye rolls. What I learned the last four years is that “the lesser of two evils” does not stay there; once one says, “he’s better than Hilary [c.q.],” it is an inevitable slope towards defending the indefensible. And I want to publicly say that President Trump has never done anything in his life or presidency that has grieved me as much as seeing conservatives defend what they know cannot be defended – all from a starting point of, “he’s better than Hilary.” They are right, by the way – the country is better off with his petulance and incompetence and three Supreme Court nominees than it would be with Hilary [c.q.] and her competent execution of an evil ideological agenda.
There is much more at the link. On the other hand, this being in part an economics weblog, we have Business Insider's Anthony L. Fisher suggesting Republican professionals are skeptical.  "Republicans have marched in lockstep with President Donald Trump ever since he ripped out the free-market-supporting, limited-government-espousing soul of the GOP in 2016, replacing it with a proudly ignorant, willfully sadistic, ultranationalist populism."  Whether that is the Swamp rendering its verdict, or an accurate characterization of Our President's style is up to voters to decide.

This year, the bundles being compared are petulance and incompetence and a list of nominees to the judiciary on the Trump side, and who knows what kind of execution of what parts of the Democrats' ideological agenda from Mr Biden and Mrs Harris.

LEARN HOW NOT TO BE STUPID ABOUT BEING SMART.

Inside Higher Ed contributor and Heterodox Academy founder Debra Mashek contemplates the end of the world.
[N]o matter who wins the United States presidential election on Tuesday, Nov. 3 (or perhaps months later, if we find ourselves in a state of postelection uncertainty, some (not all) students, faculty and staff on our campuses will be disappointed.

Here’s the thing about living in a pluralistic democracy and learning on pluralistic campuses: there are individuals all around us who think and feel differently than we do. While this viewpoint diversity is a net positive when it comes to learning, solving the world’s most pressing problems and exposing falsehoods, it can be difficult to understand or connect with political “others” who herald from an opposing tribe. But we must remember that, unlike many other places in the world, we have certain freedoms and rights that are protected by the very democracy that can at times be incredibly frustrating. And, yes, disappointing.
Maybe the poobahs running (ruining?) higher education ought recognize that, rather than running woke hothouses and celebrating their third-word-o-philia and their embrace of transgressivity, but I digress.
I’m flashing back to four years ago, when my campus was in meltdown, even as some of the handful of conservative faculty, staff and students I knew were pulling me aside to share privately their enthusiasm about the outcome of the election. I’m flashing back to my office hours, where others were visibly shaken, in tears as they worried about whether they’d be able to stay in the United States or would be cast aside because of their gender, race or sexual orientation. And I’m flashing back to election night, as I sat alone on my bed watching the returns, drinking way too much wine and sobbing.

It didn’t occur to me then to draw on my academic training to offer my students tools for navigating the choppy waters -- in part, I suppose, because the storm kicked up suddenly while I was floating out at sea in a small rowboat.
The whole point of academic training is to recognize when you are standing into unfamiliar waters and how best to handle them. Ask the generations of students who I cautioned, when they asked a question we weren't yet ready to deal with, about "sailing outside the breakwater without a life jacket."

The columnist is now in the workshop facilitating business, and, not surprisingly, offers an infomercial for facilitating workshops.  It has come to this, though, because too many in the education business have neglected a fundamental principle.  "Our opportunity as educators -- our responsibility, really -- is to help them, and ourselves, grow and engage regardless of who wins."  To continue the salty metaphors, that ship sailed a long time ago.

16.10.20

SEVENTY HAUNTING DAYS UNTIL CHRISTMAS.

The Christmas ghost story is a tradition, so why not?


Yes, it's two weeks to Hallowe'en, and there's an election, a penny for the old guy, the beginning of Karneval, and Thanksgiving before the Festive Season properly commences.  I just hope the gremlins that are gumming up the internet today are not the ghosts of posts yet to come.

INSTITUTIONS DESTROYED IN THE SERVICE OF BAD IDEAS.

I repeat myself, because repeat myself I must.  "It has long been a maxim of mine that the end result of intellectual traditions that deny coherent beliefs of any kind is incoherence."  I'm the optimist.  "The lesson in all these debacles [to domestic and international institutions, whether of entertainment, diplomacy, politics, or scholarship -- Ed.] is that anywhere ideology trumps science, public service, history, art and entertainment, ruin surely follows."

WHY ECONOMISTS USE DATA ENVELOPMENT METHODS.

I received a communication from my power company that. I suppose, should make me feel good.  "You used 7% less than your efficient neighbors." Specifically, between August 24 and September 22, when there were no days I had occasion to use either the air conditioner, or the furnace, I used 490 kWH, while the "efficient neighbors" used on average 528 kWh. "You’re compared with 90 homes an average of 4 mi from you that are a similar size (1,722 sq. ft.) and have gas heat. Efficient neighbors are the most efficient 20% of this group."  That means somebody in the neighborhood got a notification that would translate as being the most efficient inefficient neighbor.

As a motivational tool, however, telling only those people who are frontier efficient might not work well.  On the other hand, since people have some idea what they are paying for power, is it sensible to suggest that people who use more power are somehow acting inefficiently?

THIRTY YEARS OF PAINFULLY ACCUMULATED ADVANTAGES DESTROYED IN SIX MONTHS.

We saw that coming five months ago.  Millions had risen out of poverty. Coronavirus is pulling them back.  Not surprisingly, woke propagandists like Kenny Stancil draw the wrong inferences.
As the Covid-19 pandemic and corresponding economic upheaval threaten to push up to 150 million people into extreme poverty by 2021, in-depth reporting Thursday from the Associated Press showed that the coronavirus crisis is also undermining two decades of gains against child labor in the developing world, where an entire generation of impoverished children lacking access to safe education opportunities are being driven by economic necessity to work alongside their parents or in place of unemployed caretakers.

Progressive author and commentator Nathan Robinson said Thursday on social media that the dire situation demonstrates the depravity of the global economic system and its inability to guarantee the well-being of all the world's inhabitants despite there being more than enough resources to do so. "Capitalism is monstrous," he said.
Reality is monstrous, and reality has long made it difficult for people to secure their well-being. It's trade-tested betterments that made it possible for late adopters of industrial technology to participate in that general increase in living standards (albeit if in closely-coupled fragile logistical networks.)  Before those betterments, child labor was everybody's reality.  Angry rhetoric doesn't change that.
"With classrooms shuttered and parents losing their jobs, children are trading their ABC's for the D of drudgery," wrote MarĂ­a Verza, Carlos Valdez, and William Costa in AP. "Reading, writing, and times tables are giving way to sweat, blisters, and fading hopes for a better life."

The journalists provide numerous examples of what potentially millions of children around the globe are doing now instead of going to school: "Children in Kenya are grinding rocks in quarries. Tens of thousands of children in India have poured into farm fields and factories. Across Latin America, kids are making bricks, building furniture, and clearing brush."
Brick-making, furniture-crafting, and brush-clearing were occupations in the era of Pharaoh, but nobody had any idea what a "better life" might look like. The current crop of kids, for the time being deprived of their schooling and their consumer electronics, at least have some idea what a better life looks like. If their minds are not polluted with social justice posturing, they might be able to figure out how to get it back, once the contagion passes. The contagion, too, shall pass. I'm less optimistic about bad ideas in political economy.

EVERYTHING WE LIKE GOES AWAY.

There has been a miniature railroad circling Lions Park in Waterman.  The project might be best known for its Holiday Lights Train, which has added illuminations each year.


The operators have added on decorations, year on year.  When some secular progressives, er, grinches trashed displays they might have found triggering, a community funding effort helped restore a state of good repair.  A Christmas Riviera lit up.


The seasonal trains also included Easter Bunny specials.


The state's quarantine measures precluded any Easter Bunny trains on any preservation or miniature railroad during 2020.  Advancing age happens to all people, quarantines or not, and the owners have decided to retire and sell the railroad.
The Waterman and Western Railroad has chugged around the track one last time at Lions Community Park in Waterman. It has been sold and will be moved to a Southern Indiana location.

Pete and Charleen Robinson, commonly known as the train’s engineer and his wife, are retiring.
I wonder if the illuminated miniature WSPY radio tower (look in the distance) will stay in Waterman or go with the trains and the illuminations to Indiana.


Thanks to Pete and Charleen for sharing their enthusiasms with their neighbors.

12.10.20

TODAY IN LEFTIST ATROCITY PROPAGANDA.

A convoy of pickup trucks becomes the second coming of the Second Armored Division.
Muscle car drivers displaying Trump flags marauded through the city and its environs in a show of intimidation on Sunday that apparently had police backing — one day after a person driving an SUV assault car drove into a crowd of peaceful Black Lives Matter protesters on Fifth Avenue, injuring several people.

The weekend of terror began on Saturday night, when a driver targeted peaceful cyclists towards the end of a StreetridersNYC event in Manhattan.
The two events are unrelated, but why let that get in the way of dialing the fear up? "Hours later, Long Island residents were shocked to see a motorcade of cars — most with Trump flags unfurled — on the Long Island Expressway. One witness said Nassau County police officers — in uniform — were cheering on the side of the road."  There's a food fight going on in the comments, although as far as I can tell, nobody is dumping Ruby Tuesday soup on anybody else.

We know how the oh-so-woke cycling crowd views pickup trucks ... don't ask them about Trump boat parades.