20.9.19

TAIL TRACK.

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

WATCH THIS SPACE.

Years ago, Matt "Dean Dad" Reed teased me about all the model railroad stuff he had to wade through to go with the contrarian perspective I was providing him on higher education.  I noted that the best was yet to come.

Now he's asking a question of readers. "Wise and worldly readers who have retired, to the extent that you’re comfortable answering the question, how did you know when it was time?"

Simple.
The legislature has not chosen to fund the universities adequately, nor has it corrected the ham-handed pension reform that has driven about one-fifth of the faculty and staff, along with the institutional memory carried therein, into retirement.

The university has not chosen to properly staff the academic departments, nor has it recognized that making increased demands on the fewer remaining faculty in the absence of any merit money is unlikely to yield enthusiastic participation on committees or a harvest of high-quality publications.

And the subtle denigration of mainstream white guys as less desirable hires or as majors continues.

But I no longer have the opportunity in meetings or other forums to argue against those follies.

Nor need I be complicit in them any longer.
His column has elicited a variety of responses, some along lines I offered, some different.  As one of the commenters noted, "you don't leave a role for no role."
They left because they had other things they wanted to do, while they were still physically capable of doing them. One of my favorite people, back at CCM, told me that she knew it was time to go when she couldn’t bring herself to put quite as much into grading papers as she used to. She believed that the students deserved excellent feedback, and she could feel hers starting to slip. By my lights, she was still a star, but she was more interested in having an interesting and adventurous retirement than in becoming a steadily less effective teacher. I admired that.
Sometimes, what students understand as proper feedback differs from what the professor believes it is. But I digress.

Here's the space we're watching.


Southwest corner of the basement, July 2015, a year into retirement.



Same general area, around Thanksgiving of 2015, to provide a tail track for the staging yard going up along the west wall.  (I finally pitched that wood chair back there as beyond economical repair.)


The goal by the March Meet of 2018 was to have trains running on the continuous track up high.  I met that goal.


The Gloucester Branch will occupy the space being filled in.  I'm particular about keeping sections I want level to be level: even with a house built new for the railroad, there are some unevennesses in the floor.  Some of those structural members are left over from previous railroads.  Waste not, want not.

Sometimes, the power tools get backed up by vintage hand tools.


That spot is no longer useful for stowing tools.


Good running trains require solid roadbed.  At right, the spline in place, not yet sanded for installation of the Homasote trackbed.  The full treatment is visible at left, where a cork roadbed supports the main tracks, the better to distinguish them from the sidings.  "High iron" is a term of art for a reason.

THE ULTIMATE IN UN-SELF-AWARE ENTITLEMENT?

It all started when Atlantic scribe George Packer's kid didn't screen for Harvard Prep Day Care.
Our son underwent his first school interview soon after turning 2. He’d been using words for about a year. An admissions officer at a private school with brand-new, beautifully and sustainably constructed art and dance studios gave him a piece of paper and crayons. While she questioned my wife and me about our work, our son drew a yellow circle over a green squiggle.

Rather coolly, the admissions officer asked him what it was. “The moon,” he said. He had picked this moment to render his very first representational drawing, and our hopes rose. But her jaw was locked in an icy and inscrutable smile.

Later, at a crowded open house for prospective families, a hedge-fund manager from a former Soviet republic told me about a good public school in the area that accepted a high percentage of children with disabilities. As insurance against private school, he was planning to grab a spot at this public school by gaming the special-needs system—which, he added, wasn’t hard to do.

Wanting to distance myself from this scheme, I waved my hand at the roomful of parents desperate to cough up $30,000 for preschool and said, “It’s all a scam.” I meant the whole business of basing admissions on interviews with 2-year-olds. The hedge-fund manager pointed out that if he reported my words to the admissions officer, he’d have one less competitor to worry about.

When the rejection letter arrived, I took it hard as a comment on our son, until my wife informed me that the woman with the frozen smile had actually been interviewing us. We were the ones who’d been rejected. We consoled ourselves that the school wasn’t right for our family, or we for it. It was a school for amoral finance people.

At a second private school, my wife watched intently with other parents behind a one-way mirror as our son engaged in group play with other toddlers, their lives secured or ruined by every share or shove. He was put on the wait list.
And yet, as we'll see, the Packers (not to be confused with the ones in Green Bay) are every bit as determined as those "amoral finance people" to get their spawn the best possible start at ticking the boxes (the right high school, the right extracurriculars, the right university, the right networking opportunities.)
The system that dominates our waking hours, commands our unthinking devotion, and drives us, like orthodox followers of an exacting faith, to extraordinary, even absurd feats of exertion is not democracy, which often seems remote and fragile. It’s meritocracy—the system that claims to reward talent and effort with a top-notch education and a well-paid profession, its code of rigorous practice and generous blessings passed down from generation to generation. The pressure of meritocracy made us apply to private schools when our son was 2—not because we wanted him to attend private preschool, but because, in New York City, where we live, getting him into a good public kindergarten later on would be even harder, and if we failed, by that point most of the private-school slots would be filled. As friends who’d started months earlier warned us, we were already behind the curve by the time he drew his picture of the moon. We were maximizing options—hedging, like the finance guy, like many families we knew—already tracing the long line that would lead to the horizon of our son’s future.
I get so tired of these people, way better connected than anyone growing up within earshot of Union Pacific or Canadian Pacific, crying with their mouths full.
True meritocracy came closest to realization with the rise of standardized tests in the 1950s, the civil-rights movement, and the opening of Ivy League universities to the best and brightest, including women and minorities. A great broadening of opportunity followed. But in recent decades, the system has hardened into a new class structure in which professionals pass on their money, connections, ambitions, and work ethic to their children, while less educated families fall further behind, with little chance of seeing their children move up.

When parents on the fortunate ledge of this chasm gaze down, vertigo stuns them. Far below they see a dim world of processed food, obesity, divorce, addiction, online-education scams, stagnant wages, outsourcing, rising morbidity rates—and they pledge to do whatever they can to keep their children from falling. They’ll stay married, cook organic family meals, read aloud at bedtime every night, take out a crushing mortgage on a house in a highly rated school district, pay for music teachers and test-prep tutors, and donate repeatedly to overendowed alumni funds. The battle to get their children a place near the front of the line begins before conception and continues well into their kids’ adult lives. At the root of all this is inequality—and inequality produces a host of morbid symptoms, including a frantic scramble for status among members of a professional class whose most prized acquisition is not a Mercedes plug-in hybrid SUV or a family safari to Maasai Mara but an acceptance letter from a university with a top‑10 U.S. News & World Report ranking.
It took him long enough to get to the point, which is that the U.S. News problem exists in part because the universities less favorably ranked have created academic gulags that do little to help young people seeking a way out of that dim world, all in the name of Access.

Apparently, though, it's OK to cram access-assessment-remediation-retention and the Diversity Boondoggle down on the Deplorables, never mind the resentments that might fester.
The claim of democracy doesn’t negate meritocracy, but they’re in tension. One values equality and openness, the other achievement and security. Neither can answer every need. To lose sight of either makes life poorer. The essential task is to bring meritocracy and democracy into a relation where they can coexist and even flourish.

My wife and I are products of public schools. Whatever torments they inflicted on our younger selves, we believed in them. We wanted our kids to learn in classrooms that resembled the city where we lived. We didn’t want them to grow up entirely inside our bubble—mostly white, highly and expensively educated—where 4-year-olds who hear 21,000 words a day acquire the unearned confidence of insular advantage and feel, even unconsciously, that they’re better than other people’s kids.
Once upon a time, the common schools inculcated bourgeois habits.  No more, and that's where the troubles begin.
Our “zoned” elementary school, two blocks from our house, was forever improving on a terrible reputation, but not fast enough. Friends had pulled their kids out after second or third grade, so when we took the tour we insisted, against the wishes of the school guide, on going upstairs from the kindergarten classrooms and seeing the upper grades, too. Students were wandering around the rooms without focus, the air was heavy with listlessness, there seemed to be little learning going on. Each year the school was becoming a few percentage points less poor and less black as the neighborhood gentrified, but most of the white kids were attending a “gifted and talented” school within the school, where more was expected and more was given. The school was integrating and segregating at the same time.

One day I was at a local playground with our son when I fell into conversation with an elderly black woman who had lived in the neighborhood a long time and understood all about our school dilemma, which was becoming the only subject that interested me. She scoffed at our “zoned” school—it had been badly run for so long that it would need years to become passable. I mentioned a second school, half a dozen blocks away, that was probably available if we applied. Her expression turned to alarm. “Don’t send him there,” she said. “That’s a failure school. That school will always be a failure school.” It was as if an eternal curse had been laid on it, beyond anyone’s agency or remedy. The school was mostly poor and black. We assumed it would fail our children, because we knew it was failing other children.
Wait, what, there's some value in inculcating bourgeois habits, rather than throwing pejoratives like "code shift into white supremacy culture" around?  Unfortunately, the Wokesters are in control, and ruination follows.
At times the new progressivism, for all its up-to-the-minuteness, carries a whiff of the 17th century, with heresy hunts and denunciations of sin and displays of self-mortification. The atmosphere of mental constriction in progressive milieus, the self-censorship and fear of public shaming, the intolerance of dissent—these are qualities of an illiberal politics.

I asked myself if I was moving to the wrong side of a great moral cause because its tone was too loud, because it shook loose what I didn’t want to give up. It took me a long time to see that the new progressivism didn’t just carry my own politics further than I liked. It was actually hostile to principles without which I don’t believe democracy can survive. Liberals are always slow to realize that there can be friendly, idealistic people who have little use for liberal values.
I think that's called "mugging by reality." Matthew Continetti suggests that's just business as usual when the vanguardists get control.
Packer is too liberal, and too careful, to say whether he is willing to press charges against the corruption of American public education by radicals intent on social transformation. Time and again, radicals have displaced liberals only because the liberals, wracked with guilt, lack the will to stop them. “Watching your children grow up gives you a startlingly vivid image of the world you’re going to leave them,” Packer writes. “I can’t say I’m sanguine.”

None of us should be.
Perhaps they ought to get out of their coastal bubble, let their kids live in earshot of Union Pacific.

It's not as if inter alia Rod Dreher haven't issued warnings.
The authoritarianism and radicalism of progressive ideology has destroyed what schools are supposed to be, and, in the liberal writer’s anxious view, are kicking the supports out from underneath liberal democracy.

Is there anything that the new woke progressivism touches that it doesn’t destroy? If it weren’t for the fact that one of the parents at that school is a nationally known journalist with a prominent platform, would any of us know what a disaster the militant left has made of the nation’s largest school system, all because of identity politics?
Neo-Neocon suggests that if Mr Packer wants to continue the fight, there are people willing to stand with him.
Packer is sad and he’s bewildered. He doesn’t really know how this all came up, doesn’t connect the dots, and he doesn’t know what to do. The idea that the right has some answers never really occurs to him. I sympathize with him in his struggle, and wonder where it may ultimately lead. At the moment, the cognitive dissonance is fierce.

I didn’t really write this post to muse on the dilemma of George Packer the individual. But he’s especially interesting to me because I believe he stands for a large group of liberals who are currently wrestling with the consequences of what they supported, thinking the results would be good, and finding that the left had other and more terrible things in mind.
It promises to get more interesting, when those amoral finance people and their allegedly so refined counterparts in the chattering classes discover that there isn't anybody who knows how to fix their Tesla or their air conditioner.

DAVID BROOKS ATTEMPTS TO WRITE A KURT SCHLICHTER NOVEL.

Relax, there are no swashbuckling episodes or shoot-em-ups.  There is Elizabeth Warren rubbing Normals the wrong way.
A crisis of legitimacy swept across American politics in the second decade of the 21st century. Many people had the general conviction that the old order was corrupt and incompetent. There was an inchoate desire for some radical transformation. This mood swept the Republican Party in 2016 as Donald Trump eviscerated the G.O.P. establishment and it swept through the Democratic Party in 2020.
That's one way of looking at it.  As is anticipating that Fauxahontas is able to bring a favorable Congress in on her travois.
Warren won convincingly. The Democrats built a bigger majority in the House, and to general surprise, won a slim Senate majority of 52 to 48.

After that election, the Republicans suffered a long, steady decline. Trump was instantly reviled by everyone — he had no loyal defenders. Only 8 percent of young people called themselves conservatives. Republican voters, mostly older, were dying out, and they weren’t making new ones. For the ensuing two decades the party didn’t resonate beyond its white rural base.
Since it's not clear what "conservative" even means these days, and since the Democrat coalition is unstable, reality might not turn out to the advantage of the coastal chattering classes.
The American educated class celebrated the Warren victory with dance-in-the-street euphoria. In staffing her administration, she rejected the experienced Clinton-Obama holdovers and brought in a new cadre from the progressive left.

The euphoria ended when Warren tried to pass her legislative agenda. One by one, her proposals failed in the Senate: Medicare for all, free college, decriminalizing undocumented border crossing, even the wealth tax. Democratic senators from red states, she learned, were still from red states; embracing her agenda would have been suicidal. Warren and her aides didn’t help. Fired by their sense of moral superiority, they were good at condemnation, not coalition-building.
Here's where she doesn't use that moral superiority to issue executive orders and fracture the country.

(There's going to be a longish political science study, some day, on how electing Democrats from red states contributed to a party realignment that redounded to the benefit of Republicans and conservatives.  Expect to see "populist" a lot in that study.)
When the recession of 2021 hit, things got ugly. The failure of two consecutive presidencies had a devastating effect on American morale. It became evident that the nation had three political tendencies — conservative populism, progressive populism and moderate liberalism. None of them could put together a governing majority to get things done.
When is it going to occur to Mr Brooks and the rest of the regulars on the Sunday shows that "failed presidencies" might be desirable? That the states are not operating divisions of the federal government? That devolution, rather than a Split, might be desirable.

In Mr Brooks's scenario, we don't get the Wokesters setting up guillotines.
Before Warren, people thought of liberals and progressives as practically synonymous. After Warren, it was clear they were different, with different agendas and different national narratives.

Moderate liberals had a basic faith in American institutions and thought they just needed reform. They had basic faith in capitalism and the Constitution and revered the classical liberal philosophy embedded in America’s founding. They inherited Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass’s millennial nationalism, a sense that America has a special destiny as the last best hope of earth.

Progressives had much less faith in American institutions — in capitalism, the Constitution, the founding. They called for more structural change to things like the Supreme Court, the Electoral College and the basic structures of the market. Trump’s victory in 2016 had served for them as proof that racism is the dominant note in American history, that the founding was 1619, not 1776. They were willing to step on procedural liberalism in order to get radical change.
That second paragraph might apply, equally, to constitutional conservatives, whether or not they got on board with Mr Trump, whether they ask for a Republican or a Libertarian ballot in the primary.
With the Republicans powerless and irrelevant, the war within the Democratic Party grew vicious. Progressives detested moderate liberals even more than they did conservatives. The struggle came to a head with another set of Democratic primaries in 2024.

The moderate liberals triumphed easily. It turns out that the immigrant groups, by then a large and organized force in American politics, had not lost faith in the American dream, they had not lost faith in capitalism. They simply wanted more help so they could compete within it.

By 2030, progressive populism burned out as right-wing populism had. The Democrats became the nation’s majority party. This party ran on a one-word platform: unity. After decades of culture, class and demographic warfare, moderate liberals defined America as a universal nation, a pluralistic nation, embracing all and seeking opportunity for all.

In a wildly diverse nation, voters handed power to leaders who were coalition-builders not fighters. The whole tenor of American politics changed.
That's perhaps the optimistic resolution of a fourth turning.

Throw in a regional war either in the Persian Gulf or the subcontinent, or those weather extremes the prophets of doom keep invoking, or a major earthquake in California or a volcanic eruption, and things might not turn out so well.

PANTSUIT ON FIRE.

Crooked Hillary Clinton must have had a bad batch of Chardonnay.  "Between 27,000 and 200,000 Wisconsinites were 'turned away' from the polls in 2016 due to lack of proper identification." When that's too much even for Politi Fact Wisconsin, one of those drive-by media initiatives that generally puts the best possible Democratic spin on contested claims and calls it fact-checking, maybe it's time for the Dowager Empress of Chappaqua to just step back from the limelight.  "Clinton’s numbers still aren’t anywhere close to accurate."  OK, that's the diplomatic way of putting things, but why should this statement from a Clinton be any different from any other statement from a Clinton?  "This is the third time we have rated claims from Clinton on the Wisconsin turnout. She’s no closer on this one than the last one."

IS IT TIME FOR A LEGISLATIVE DEATH SENTENCE?

Richard Vedder, economics emeritus from Ohio University (yes, that's another Mid-American program) welcomes California's legislative mandate that college athletes get paid.

His column, starting with commentary on a survey (recall, dear reader, that economists aren't fond of surveys) likely reflects his experience with #MACtion.  "[Students] are indifferent to college sports, think it shouldn’t have much impact on college admissibility, and that student athletes should be able to make some money over their athletic success."  Around the Mid-American, I have to wonder how many survey respondents are aware of the activity fees that support the intercollegiate sports, meaning students who use food pantries are paying for nutrition coaches for the players who might get a few bucks from their images turning up on a video game.

Substantively, Mr Vedder welcomes legislative action.
Moving from campuses to capitals, California almost certainly is going to tell the NCAA: go to hell. The Governor (Gavin Newsom) is expected to sign a bill passed with broad bipartisan support allowing students to profit off their name, image, and likeness. Mark Emmert, the head of the NCAA, who in an earlier life was president of the University of Washington, has fulminated aggressively, hinting that California schools could be shut out of national championship competition, a threat that I view as both unlikely to be approved even within the NCAA and almost certain would end that sports cartel in its current form, as it would finally lead Congress to act about this national scandal called college sports.
It's not clear how this California law applies to, say, Stanford or the University of Spoiled Children, but do you toss the Bears and the Bruins out of whatever number that Pacific conference trades under these days?

Then, for better or worse, Congress gets involved.
Meanwhile, Congress is starting to stir. Mark Walker, a Republican Congressman from North Carolina, wants to yank the NCAA’s tax-exempt status if it does not change its policy on athletes financially benefiting from their own name. My friend and colleague Dave Ridpath, president of the reformist Drake Group, tells me that there is growing interest on Capitol Hill among such Democratic stalwarts as Connecticut’s Senator Chris Murphy (who has been especially outspoken) and Florida Representative (and former university president) Donna Shalala, as well as such conservative Republicans as Ohio’s Steve Stivers, in federal intervention reducing the sleaze, anti-academic nature, and scandals miring contemporary intercollegiate athletics.
On the one hand, Donna "Queen of Clubs" Shalala is a Democrat, meaning she isn't likely ever to encounter a tax she doesn't like, particularly if it looks like "the rich" are getting soaked.  On the other hand, she earned that high sheepshead ranking by her work at Syracuse (at the time a football factory), Wisconsin (which she managed to turn into a sports factory, whilst demonstrating the value of bringing in out of state students for the parties), and Miami (I'll be polite.)

I hope Mr Vedder is aware of Representative Shalala's possible conflicts of interest.
A National Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics consisting of prestigious Americans almost entirely directly unconnected with collegiate sports is one intriguing proposal. As a former member of a federal commission myself, I am abundantly aware of their limitations, and extreme care is needed in crafting one, not allowing it to be controlled by politicians or those in the collegiate sports industry. But at the worse a piddling amount of money is wasted, and at best some good ideas can come about that preserve the peculiar American institution of intercollegiate athletic competition and its entertainment value, while reducing the excesses and the corruption associated with it. Limits need to be placed on the use of athlete’s time, control needs to reside within academic areas of universities, the NCAA needs to be neutered, team practices, season length, and coaching staffs need trimming, etc. During the Cold War, international treaties were required to control the arms race; so perhaps a “treaty” is needed via the political process to contain the arms race in intercollegiate athletics.
I'm not sure what he means by "prestigious" Americans or what "directly unconnected with collegiate sports" means. Wasn't the original conception of the regulatory commission to assemble Dispassionate Experts, meaning people who understand something about what it is they're regulating, whilst with the probity to resist the subornation that accompanies any such action?

Now, if we're going to have such a treaty, the first thing that has to go is weeknight football.

LET'S GRIDLOCK THE WILD CARD.

Never mind those election scenarios that lead to an electoral deadlock.  We've got quite the pennant race going in the National League.  Suppose, just for fun, the Brewers, Cardinals, Cubs, and Nationals all finish with the same record?  The mathematics is there, as the Cubs and Cardinals have six more games with each other, giving the Cubs a chance to catch, while the Nationals have eleven remaining games to the Central teams' nine each, and five of those are with Philadelphia, which still has a fighting chance, although in this four-way tie, the Nationals hold off the Phillies.

19.9.19

BACK IN ONE PIECE.

The Electroliner ran as a fixed-formation train, with all the attendant challenges of maintenance, or of dealing with unexpectedly large passenger loads.


Norwich Street, Town of Lake.
John Karlson photograph, September 1958.

One of the trains has been in preservation at Illinois Railway Museum.  With abandonment in 1963, continued operation in Philadelphia on a shoestring maintenance budget, and normal wear on components, the train was not operable, although it could be parked as an intact train for viewing.


A fund-raising campaign at the museum made a full rebuild of the running gear possible.  To do so, however, the train had to be disassembled.


That's a Milwaukee Electric steeple-cab behind, evidently the lead unit was pushed to Cold Spring Shops.

Over the past weekend, the train was re-assembled.  The middle units have to be placed over the trucks in the proper order.  There's still some work to be done before the train can be sent out on the demonstration railroad.


My current self will be pleased for the opportunity to offer a contrast shot.

WE DON'T MISS PHILOSOPHERS UNTIL THEY'RE GONE.

Pajamas Media types would likely report this news item as a "College Bubble Update."
St. Cloud State University is laying off eight tenured faculty members in philosophy, theater and the university library and suspending admissions to the theater major.

At the same time, it plans to hire faculty members in “growth” areas.
We've seen this movie before.  Read the report in full, the usual constituencies are staking out the usual positions.
“This particular strategy implies the significant challenges ahead of our university. It is no secret that St. Cloud State is one of many universities -- regionally and across the country -- facing several years of declines in enrollment and retention,” [university spokesman Adam] Hammer added. “Our intractable budget challenges during this same time [have] required us to consider and make hard decisions in service to the future of the university.”

Unconvinced, the university's faculty union is challenging the decision and pushing the administration to do more on its end to stem the enrollment flow. In a lengthy response to the retrenchment plan, St. Cloud State's Faculty Association wrote that sudden faculty layoffs don't build student confidence in the institution. The union also said that its contract requires the administration to consider faculty attrition, retraining and reassignment and early separation incentives prior to layoffs. A genuine meet and confer would happen next, with the faculty, before any decisions about layoffs.
More to the point, tossing fundamental liberal arts such as philosophy or music doesn't do much to build student confidence either.  It helps to at least have a simulacrum of the life of the mind, even if the clientele reveal a preference for game-day and parties.  Barbara "Library Babel Fish" Fister summarizes.
But hey, the university has high hopes it will get another $700,000 appropriated by the state to update the hockey arena that had an $18 million renovation a few years ago. I guess that shows what really matters.
Arguably, the hockey program has had its moments in the spotlight. Gutting core curricula, though, has been business as usual in higher education for going on forty years.

IS "RENT SEEKER" TOO INTELLECTUAL A TERM?

Common Dreams columnist Alan MacLeod wants to simplify the vocabulary. Russia Has ‘Oligarchs,’ the US Has ‘Businessmen.’ That's apparently a topic worthy of research by motivated ideologues.

I can't help but wonder if people use the term "oligarch" out of ideological laziness.
Yevgeny Prigozhin, Oleg Deripaska, Viktor Vekselberg, Victor Pinchuk, Roman Abramovich, Aras Agalarov: That is the full and distinctly Slavic-sounding list of people identified by CNN as “oligarchs.” Indeed, only two articles across the entire sample of 150 identified Westerners as such: one angry New York Times opinion piece (15/7/19) that creatively decried people like Elon Musk and Richard Branson as “rocket oligarchs,” and a Tucker Carlson Tonight segment (Fox News 4/2/19) in which an NRA spokesperson attacked gun control advocate Cory Booker as a “constitutional oligarch.” The rest were all from Russia or former Eastern Bloc countries.

In the 150-article sample, Russia was described as an oligarchy in 89, while Ukraine was labeled as such in 35. The word was also used in connection to other ex-Eastern Bloc states in 13 articles: Those states were Moldova (6 times), Kazakhstan (twice), Hungary (twice), Georgia (twice) and Azerbaijan (once). Guatemala was also once referred to as possessing oligarchs. In all, 98% of countries referenced in connection to oligarchs were either Russia or formerly Soviet-dominated states.

In contrast, only 1% of articles mentioned the US in connection with oligarchs, which is all the more remarkable, considering all the outlets in the sample are US-based and devote vastly more time, space and words to US issues than Eastern European ones.
We are still too close to the break-up and partial privatization of the industry of the Soviet Union, and "oligarch" is a useful term of art to refer to former Communist apparatchiki who have notional control of the means of production.  In political discourse in the States, it's a useful term of opprobrium, and when your interlocutor refers to a Koch brother or to George Soros as an "oligarch," that's likely a signal as to the priors he is arguing from, or perhaps to whether it's even worth further conversation.

LET'S TALK LIKE PIRATES.

Over the weekend, Michael Smerconish interviewed California - Los Angeles basketball player Ed O'Bannon, who has a lawsuit seeking compensation for his image as a college player on the video screens of children of all ages all around the world.


It's more wishful thinking from California.
The Fair Pay to Play Act would allow college athletes in California to sign endorsement deals; earn compensation based on the usage of their name, image and likeness; and sign all types of licensing contracts that would allow them to earn money.

The bill was passed by the state legislature earlier this week and now heads to Gov. Gavin Newsom's desk for signature.
The Utopian Wonkery(TM) has begun.
If signed into law, the Fair Pay to Play Act wouldn't go into effect until 2023. But it would have immediate implications for recruiting athletes. And while many people in sports have cheered the bill, it has also reignited a longstanding debate over whether college athletes should be paid.
In like manner to any discussion of higher education turning into some variant of the U. S. News problem, any discussion of College Sports, Inc. turns into some variant of the Power Conference problem.
One of the most vocal opponents of the California bill has been former Florida Gators quarterback Tim Tebow, who says that it would make college sports indistinguishable from the National Football League and ruin what makes college football unique.

"I know we live in a selfish culture where it's all about us, but we're just adding and piling it on to that, where it changes what's special about college football," he said on ESPN's First Take on Friday. "We turn it into the NFL where who has the most money, that's where you go."
To a large extent, that's already true: Mr Tebow was able to find an opportunity to showcase his talents in a power conference.  Introduce compensation, however, and it's not clear the Mid-American Conference (or some of the other aggregations of wannabes) can stand the strain.  Eastern Michigan, for instance, has been home to disgruntled faculty for some time now.  But, despite all financial logic, they persevere, and a year ago they got to fly the Jolly Roger at Purdue.


It's flying again this year, after Eastern Michigan looted Chief Runs-From-Huskies.  Arguably Rutgers, Purdue, and Illinois aren't exactly Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, Northwestern, and Wisconsin.

On the other hand, there's not much rum left in the Mid-American's pantry.

The power conferences are likely to object to increased player compensation as that will dry up the supply of cupcakes.  The conferences that supply the cupcakes will likely rethink their commitment to football, or risk more widespread faculty discontent.

RUNNING OUT OF POOR NEIGHBORHOODS?

I've long had a formula for identifying Distressed Communities: {TAN. NAILS. TATTOO. CHECK CASHING. DOLLAR + wildcard}.  That seems to be the consensus among a variety of policy papers and news articles.  Consider this City Lab essay.
Dollar stores have succeeded in part by capitalizing on a series of powerful economic and social forces—white flight, the recent recession, the so-called “retail apocalypse”—all of which have opened up gaping holes in food access. But while dollar store might not be causing these inequalities per se, they appear to be perpetuating them. The savings they claim to offer shoppers in the communities they move to makes them, in some ways, a little poorer.
"Reminders of blight," suggests Rachel Siegel.
In cities, dollar stores trade in economic despair, with many residents saying they are a vital source of cheap staples. But as the stores cluster in low-income neighborhoods, their critics worry they are not just a response to poverty — but a cause. Residents fear the stores deter other business, especially in neighborhoods without grocers or options for healthful food. Dollar stores rarely sell fresh produce or meats, but they undercut grocery stores on prices of everyday items, often pushing them out of business.
There might be other reasons why grocers avoid some neighborhoods, but I digress.  Make them go away, and the rougher parts of Cleveland will cease to be food deserts.
[Sixth ward councilman Blaine] Griffin also complains that dollar stores have little to no selection of fresh food and most carry processed foods at inflated prices. They employ fewer workers at lower wages and often face class action suits for violating fair labor laws, he said.

“We believe there is a proliferation of these dollar stores that are going up in poorer minority communities. We want to provide more healthy options for the people in our communities,” said Griffin.
Why have those trade-tested betterments not emerged?  Oh, sorry, that sounds like victim-blaming.

It's not just the big cities, though.  Now the smaller communities that had their local merchants cleaned out by a Wal-Mart Super Center half a tank of gas away have fretful residents who see in the entry of the dollar stores yet another threat to the local merchants.
At the Pembine Food Depot, a northwoods grocery store tucked alongside a crook in Highway 141 about 15 miles south of the Michigan state line, owner Tim Potterville has some good things going.

His Bloody Mary snack sticks are popular. His deli cook whips up old family recipe dishes like the “Fabi” — ground beef, cabbage and onions over potatoes, fried in an electric skillet. And his meat counter may be the only one in Wisconsin offering “Al Capone Roast” (boneless pork butt stuffed with mozzarella, black olives, hard salami, mushrooms and Potterville’s homemade Italian sausage).

But where Pembine Food Depot used to feature Frito-Lay snacks on two end caps — the Boardwalk of grocery-store real estate — sales have dropped so much that Potterville has exiled the chips to less-prominent mid-aisle territory.
Unless it's hunting season or there's good powder in the Porcupine Mountains, though, there might be little reason to stop in Pembine, which, like much of the North Woods, has been emptying out ever since the original forests were logged over and the potato fields proved to be hard going.
The communities and neighborhoods Dollar General seeks out often are those that are hurting.

Its core customers are low- and fixed-income households, and Dollar General locates its stores accordingly, the publicly traded company said in its most recent annual report to securities regulators.
Policy makers, predictably, want to cut out the symptom without addressing whatever is causing the poverty.
Advocates have argued that expanding the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program to dollar stores—and loosening the nutrition standards of what authorized retailers must provide, as the Trump administration has proposed — will make a neighborhood less attractive to a Whole Foods or a Kroger, ensuring that it stays a food desert forever. Research shows that dollar stores create fewer jobs than small grocery stores, sell products that are not actually much more affordable than those at Walmart or Costco, and push out full-service grocery stores.

Aside from keeping better-stocked competitors away, the stores themselves harm communities by peddling snacks and soda, some anti-hunger groups claim. "The fear is with more and more of these retailers authorized to get SNAP, that you might spend more of your dollars at these stores because they are so close to you, but they don't offer the kinds of foods you need to do grocery shopping," says Julia McCarthy, senior policy associate with the Center for Science in the Public Interest. "You might buy a soda with that money. Or you might end up buying cheese whiz or beef jerky because those are the only things available."
Forgive me two impertinences. First, the history of grocery shopping has been a movement toward more self-service, whether it's selecting the products or checking out or stocking the shelves (does anybody slag on Aldi for simply cutting the tops off cartons?) Second, as long as the rules prohibit the use of food stamps or other forms of assistance in purchasing some items, other items will emerge as liquid assets.

Never mind that, an Institute for Local Self Reliance finds in the dollar stores "An Invasive Species in America’s Left-Behind Places."
“Essentially what the dollar stores are betting on in a large way is that we are going to have a permanent underclass in America,” Garrick Brown, a researcher with the commercial real estate firm Cushman & Wakefield, toldBloomberg last year.

Alongside urban black neighborhoods, another place the dollar chains think they will find enduring poverty is rural America. Small towns have been battered by corporate consolidation. Mergers have triggered plant closures. Agribusiness giants have slashed farmers’ incomes. As a result, rural communities have experienced little in the way of new business and job growth during the current economic recovery, new data show.

This follows two decades in which Walmart’s super-charged growth left small-town retail in shambles. By building massive, oversized supercenters in larger towns, Walmart found it could attract customers from a wide radius. Smaller towns in the vicinity often suffered the brunt of its impact as their Main Street retailers weakened and, in many cases, closed.

Today the dollar chains are capitalizing on these conditions, much like an invasive species advancing on a compromised ecosystem.

Local grocers that survived Walmart are now falling to Dollar General. “This has become the number one challenge of grocery stores,” says David Procter, an expert on community development and director of the Rural Grocery Initiative at Kansas State University.
The technocratic impulse manifests itself.
Fortunately, some have started connecting all of these dots and are beginning to see dollar stores as both a symptom of larger economic trends and a cause of additional economic despair. With this knowledge, these communities are identifying strategies to control the growth of dollar stores and restore a more balanced local economy.
It's not to the strategies I wish to speak. Rather it is, first, to the possibility that the enterprises that identify a distressed neighborhood are the symptoms, not the cause.
[Dollar stores] aren’t trying to be the kind of everything store that puts every mom-and-pop store under the sun out of business; you’ll never buy a lawn mower at your local Dollar General. They don’t gobble up land and deliver the kind of catastrophically low tax value per acre that pushes our towns into decline—or at least, they aren’t quite as bad on paper as that behemoth Sam’s Club at the edge of town. And in some cases, dollar stores seem to fill essential community needs in urban food deserts and thinly populated rural communities where a full-service grocery might not make sense; even if they don’t have fresh food, those discount-aisle cans of soup are certainly better than nothing, right?

But according to a new report from the Institute for Local Self Reliance, (q.v.) the dollar store model isn’t just another cheap place to pick up toilet paper. It’s a symptom of some of the most pernicious forms of neighborhood decline—and, ILSR argues, it’s actually speeding that decline in a race to extract the last traces of wealth from failing communities.
Not so fast: the dollar stores might have some purpose. "Dollar Trees are not grocery stores and were never meant to me. The do carry some food, but the bulk of their real estate is not devoted to food, and the food items they do carry are not easily perishable and therefore can be shelved for a long time."  It's the absence of fresh food that's aggravating the aggravated, and that absence has been the reality in the poorer quarters for a long time.

What intrigues, though, is that now Dollar General would like to set up shop in Milwaukee's upscalish Third Ward.
Dollar General Corp. wants to open one of its new small-format DGX stores at 329-331 N. Broadway, just south of East St. Paul Avenue. Two empty storefronts there total around 4,800 square feet, according to listing broker Transwestern.

But a newly formed group, Third Ward Advocates, is running a petition drive opposing those plans.

"We don't believe their business model belongs in the Third Ward," said Doug McDonald, general manager of Mod Gen, A Modern General Store, 211 N. Broadway.

The DGX convenience store format, which includes a focus on packaged salads and sandwiches, could use Dollar General's buying power to undercut the prices of food items sold at the nearby Milwaukee Public Market, said McDonald, who's helping lead the opposition.
Rent-seekers gotta seek rents.  Do the eateries at the Milwaukee Public Market sell their wares at such high prices that shoppers will substitute?  Or, are there sufficient shoppers in the Third Ward who wouldn't be caught dead at the Dollar General that the market's vendors have nothing to fear?  Somehow, for instance, the Red Elephant and at least one other independent coffee house coexist with a Starbucks that is strategically located along the east side of Water Street.

What's intriguing is that the Dollar General store is not your standard bunker-in-a-parking-lot on the edge of town.
The DGX stores include a soda fountain, coffee station and grab-and-go sandwiches.

They also include "a limited assortment of grocery offerings, pet supplies, candies and snacks, paper products, home cleaning supplies and an expanded health and beauty section," according to Dollar General.

"The store also is expected to feature items not typically found in quick-trip stores including a carefully-edited assortment of home, electronics and seasonal offerings," the company said in its announcement.
Put another way, there are neighborhoods where the standard bunker-in-a-parking-lot isn't going to draw.  The best way to have the regular customers where they live and some new customers where they shop (catch that "carefully-edited!") is to have more than one sort of store.  Maybe that middle-class-vanishing-upwards evolution is concentrating some minds at Dollar General.

NOTICE OF DISCONTINUANCE POSTED?

Jim Loomis of Trains and Travel appears to have posted the preliminary petition.
Compared to eight or ten years ago, it’s been taking me a lot longer to come up with copy of acceptable quality for one of these posts. More and more I’ve had to work at finding just the right word or phrase to finish a sentence or complete a thought. It’s been frustrating, as you can imagine.

Of course I have complained about it to my doctor. “There’s nothing wrong with you,” he said, “that being 60 again wouldn’t fix.”  Well, hell … I already knew that! His intent, of course, was to help me bring things into focus.

I’m not sure how often I’ll be posting here in the months ahead. I guess it will depend on whether or not I have something worth saying and if I can get it written and posted without spending hours endlessly fussing with it. Please do check back every so often.

In the meantime, it’s clear to me that through this insignificant little blog, more than a few of us have become friends. And for that I am forever grateful.
Thank you. And it's on the ferroequinologists among us, dear reader, to keep the pressure on Amtrak and it's paymasters in Washington to offer a proper National Network.

I'd appreciate your help applying pressure on the owners of the highways to treat their assets as the income-earning properties they are.

18.9.19

IT'S NOT YOUR GRANDFATHER'S ARMY.

Years ago, molded plastic toy soldiers came in green, representing the Greatest Generation and the War the parents of children now of a certain age fought.  Or perhaps they came in blue or gray, as the Civil War Centennial was upon us.  Whatever color the resin, though, the figures were army men.

A contemporary six-year-old girl wanted some contemporary toy soldiers.


It's interesting that she still refers to "army men," and that many of the play-sets still refer to historic events such as D-Day, although there appear to be castings using a resin suggesting desert camo.

I'll let others chew over the semiotics of young girls asking toy companies for military role models such as female officers and bazooka (or will the casting be of a TOW missile) shooters.

If all goes well, the blended platoons might be in stores for Christmas.

And note, the young lady who requested female troops wanted them in proper colors. "'Some girls don't like pink, so please can you make army girls that look like women?' the young girl wrote. 'I would play with them every day and my friends would to!'"

Well, good.  Lionel's pink "girls train" was a flop when it came out, as those girls of the American High who wanted a train understood that there were no pink steam locomotives.  And the desert camo ought to mollify the purists who note that there were no female bazooka shooters at Bastogne.

WHERE ARE THE VULGAR MARXISTS?

Robert Freeman is of the view that a lot of people throw the term "socialism" around in such a way as to render it meaningless.  "So, let’s get over the infantile smear words. I won’t be calling my opponent a butt-head. If he wants to call me a socialist, you know what level that’s at."  He's probably right about that, although with all the sectarian variations of socialism lurking somewhere to the left of George McGovern and his heirs and assigns, he's likely to be excommunicated from the next gathering of Trotskyists.

That might not matter, as it is moving the national Democrats he's after.  "Socialism is when people come together in an economy to solve common problems that none of us could solve on our own."  Oh, goodness, a joint-stock corporation can accomplish a lot of that, and in such a way as to harvest some trade-tested betterments (meaning people see signals of where resources ought go.)

It's interesting, though, that the heirs to the people who made the most noises about the evils of the American High are now among the most vocal at claiming credit for it happening.
Anybody here ever driven on an Interstate highway?  That’s socialism.  It was everybody in the economy solving a really important problem—how to move about the country efficiently—that that none of us could have solved on our own.  It was the creation of Dwight D. Eisenhower, a Republican president.

Oh, and by the way, it set off the greatest expansion of the economy in the history of the country.  It made possible the staggering panoply of culture we know of as “suburbia.”  It was the Golden Age of American Capitalism, catalyzed by a capitalist president enacting a socialist policy.
Sorry, no.
Anybody here ever used the Internet?  That was created by a government agency, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.  The technology itself was invented during the Nixon administration.  Nixon was a Republican president.  It was turned on by the same agency in 1983, under Ronald Reagan, another Republican president.  That is socialism.

Anybody here ever been made safer by the military, or felt safer knowing that police or fire or first-responder services were there?  That’s people coming together to solve problems that none of us could solve on our own.  Socialism.

Anybody here ever fly on an airplane?  Guess what, your safety was guaranteed by thousands of standards set by the FAA, and by air traffic control, run by the same agency.  Socialism.  Anybody here ever used prescription drugs, or drunk water or breathed air or eaten food that was made cleaner or safer by government rules and standards?  Guess what?  That’s socialism.
I wonder what kind of incoming he's going to take from his left for saying the military or the police or fire or air traffic control are proper uses of public funds.

Apparently he's never heard of rent seeking.
Here’s the truth:  if we’re going to make good policy, we need to ask how we distinguish good socialism from bad socialism.  Because that’s the real problem we face today.

We’re not going to stop socialist interventions in the economy because without them, a capitalist economy collapses.  But so many of the bad things in our economy come from the rich using the government to make themselves richer, but at the expense of everybody else.

That’s bad socialism, because is doesn’t help the vast majority of the people.  It only helps those with money who can afford to buy politicians.  Any of you ever bought a politician, had him write legislation just to make you, personally, richer?  I didn’t think so, but that’s how bad socialism works.

The Great Recession I just mentioned is a stunning, almost unimaginable example of bad socialism.  It was caused by native capitalist greed and by bought politicians loosening the regulations on banks making mortgage loans.  The banks went crazy, loaning trillions of dollars to people who they knew would never be able to make the payments.  You might reasonably ask, why did they do it?
It's the rent-seeking, stupid, and the True Believers will remind readers that as long as there is private ownership of some means of production, the state becomes the executive committee of the capitalist class, and what Mr Freeman is pushing is at best conservative or bourgeois socialism "desirous of redressing social grievances, in order to secure the continued existence of bourgeois society."

It's useful, dear reader, to read and understand The Communist Manifesto, if for no other reason than to discover all the False Doctrines that are competing with Marx and Engels's vision.  It's also useful to read it to discover that bourgeois society ought not continue, as "The modern laborer, on the contrary, instead of rising with the progress of industry, sinks deeper and deeper below the conditions of existence of his own class.  He becomes a pauper, and pauperism develops more rapidly than population and wealth."

Fortunately, no.  But that rising inequality trope is a central theme in all the Democrats' presidential fora.  Whether they intend it or not, they're channelling their inner Marx.

CHUCK TODD GIVES THE GAME AWAY.

Politics is pro westling.  Are you going to believe me, or Chuck Todd?

Here's last Sunday's Meet The Press.  (I watch it, so you don't have to.)  After a long prologue that might have brought up some of the controversies from the Democrat forum just past, the first guest is Beto O'Rourke.  Here's Mr Todd's first question, if that's what you want to call it, to him.
Look, Senator -- Republican Senator Pat Toomey, from Pennsylvania, you heard the Chris Coons comment there, at the end of the, end of that package, there. And Pat Toomey tweeted the following. "I agree with Chris Coons. This is an awful and extreme idea. Thankfully, there's not enough support in Congress to do it. But with this rhetoric, undermines and hurts bipartisan efforts to actually make progress on common-sense gun-safety efforts, like expanding background checks." He went on the record, Congressman. A few other Democrats have gone with blind quotes. There's a lot of hand wringing about what you said, agreeing with your sentiment but concerned that the rhetoric is going to actually backfire. What do you say?
Play the tape if you'd like: it sounds a lot like the suck-up sports correspondent leading the losing coach on. You know the drill: tough afternoon, that replay review went against you ...

Later comes this, also in a gentle tone.
Explain your change of heart. You describe -- to be a bit harsh here, what you just said about, sort of, the weakness of Washington, you used to be one of those members of Congress who used to advocate this very careful wording on guns. Where did you go wrong?
Then the skateboarder gets plenty of time to deliver a full answer.

Next up, another Democrat hopeful, Cory Booker, and another leading question in a gentle tone.
Before I get into some of the specifics of this campaign, I want to quote something from Maureen Dowd's column this morning in the New York Times. She writes about sort of the larger issue of watching the debate. Headline says, "Are Democrats doomed?" And she writes this: "It's a paradox wrapped in an oxymoron about a moron. Trump's faux authenticity somehow makes the Democratic candidates seem more packaged, more stuck in politician speak."

You and I were discussing this before. This debate process isn’t -- it's very rigid. Lots of people on stage and all of that. Are you concerned -- she seems concerned about the picture that the country is seeing right now of the Democratic Party. Are you?
Just once I'd like somebody ... probably a panelist, as it would be a career killer for a candidate to say so ... to note that the 2019 World Series field hasn't yet been determined, and perhaps it would behoove the networks to ignore the presidential election and concentrate on summer reruns.

But again, Mr Booker gets the controversy led to him as if the fourth-highest card in the suit.
But do you worry that you're scaring -- that either you're doing one of two things: overpromising something that can't be delivered or -- and at the time also scaring independents who are fiscally frightened by it?
And so it goes.

After the panel chews over assorted process things, it's time for the main event, Representative Liz Cheney of Wyoming.
Let me start with sort of a 30,000-foot look at the world right now. India and Pakistan are warning of a nuclear confrontation over Kashmir. Turkey is poised to choose Russia over NATO, which it joined almost 70 years ago. And Japan and South Korea are in a trade war and have terminated their intelligence-sharing pact. These are allies I'm speaking of here. Do you feel as if the globe is more stable with President Trump as commander in chief now than it was three years ago?
That seems like a reasonable question, although, when you play the tape, you hear the truculent tone.  The representative generally is able to finish her statements (perhaps Face the Nation's Margaret Brennan set too egregious an example), but as we continue the conversation, we get Mr Todd's Kinsley gaffe.  "Sorry, I hate interrupting over satellite, because it sounds -- it can sound ruder than it's intended to be."

"Ruder than it's intended to be."  Priceless.

AN OPPORTUNITY TO DO SOME COMMUNICATION STUDIES?

Regular readers know the drill.  "I tend to cringe whenever I read corporate-speak that attempts to sugar-coat an abuse as an improvement."  (Generally, there's some wordnoise that translates as "to provide better service, we're offering fewer options and raising prices."  Or maybe it's gutting the institutional memory.)

In "Take a Ride on the Amtrak Spin Train," Craig "Amtrak in the Heartland" Sanders says Enough!
Amtrak, like any other company, is seeking to portray what customers might see as a negative as actually being a positive.

So rather than speak about cost cutting and reducing labor expenses, it instead frames the changes as serving the needs of its passengers without saying what those are.

The news release follows standard public relations practice of focusing on something that is, arguably, of value to a customer while avoiding calling attention to changes that take away something else of value.

It is a standard public relations marketing strategy if you are taking something away to instead focus on something of value you are offering instead.
As a working hypothesis, I offer, Businesses pull this crap because they think they can get away with it.

There's an opportunity for research here:  Can they?

14.9.19

LEIPZIGER BOOGIE.

Nope, not something I discovered for Oktoberfest.  Rather, it's motivated by that copyright suit a band called Spirit brought against Led Zeppelin.  I remember only enough music theory to be dangerous, but I recall something about intervals, sequences, arpeggios, and a few other building blocks that are common to compositions.  Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page argued similarly.
In 2016, Page testified that his chord progression in the song is a common one, comparing "Stairway" to a "Mary Poppins" song, "Chim Chim Cher-ee." He said the chord sequences "are very similar because that chord sequence has been around forever."

The jury found "Stairway to Heaven" and "Taurus" were not substantially similar, according the 9th Circuit ruling.

But U.S. District Judge R. Gary Klausner failed to advise jurors that while individual elements of a song such as its notes or scale may not qualify for copyright protection, a combination of those elements may if it is sufficiently original, 9th Circuit Judge Richard Paez said.

Klausner also wrongly told jurors that copyright does not protect chromatic scales, arpeggios or short sequences of three notes, the 9th Circuit panel found.
Gosh, does that mean an ostinato can be copyrighted?  If so, the pioneers of boogie-woogie might owe the Bach estate some money.  "Defined by a walking bass line—a repeating sequence of notes that propels the rhythm forward—boogie woogie is the music of movement, perfect for a road trip through the glorious Piney Woods where the style originated."

The form might also be the origin of the expression "back beat."


One of my favorite eateries likes to play country-style boogie-woogie, and a number of the tunes on the play-list remind me of this.


The clip features a scrolling score that clearly reveals that walking bass line.

Now it's time to get to a real Oktoberfest.

Prosit!

SETTLING FOR THE MINIMUM CONTRACT?

Today's not-to-be-regular Saturday bridge column (the last one running early in August) illustrates the value of understanding the bidding conventions one's partner (and one's opponents) are using.  It's another screen capture from the simulation, with the North bot responding to my One Club opening.


Fifteen high-card points and a favorable distribution is still not good enough for Two Clubs.  North has fourteen high-card points plus stoppers in all the suits, perhaps that's its reason for jumping to Three No Trump.  For all his length in Hearts, East has only seven high-card points, and everybody passes.

Perhaps that's an instance of mauering, there's a reason the bridge teachers and their books devote so much time to the art of the bid.  With a human partner and some shared knowledge, perhaps we would have gone 1♣ : 3NT : 4♣ (let's hope that's enough to determine the suit) : 4NT (asking for aces): 5♥ (noting two) and perhaps we get to 6♣ or 6NT.  Or perhaps not.  If the partner bot has all the other aces, 5NT asks for Kings, which means that after 6♦, showing two, we're probably in 6NT.

Because the North hand first selected No Trump, the opening lead of the ♥K (almost top of a sequence) comes from East.  Clearly, if West had the Ace, the defense runs sufficient Hearts to set any slam contract.

In one of the hypothetical Club contracts, I'm not sure what the West lead would have been.  Not that it matters.  Count the winners in North's hand: two Spades, one Heart, two Diamonds, three Clubs and down one, although with eleven Clubs to work with, once the Club suit is established (after at most two leads) there are plenty of resources to discard all those other losers.  Note how conveniently all the long holdings other than Clubs are in North's hand.

So it went: take the ♥A, cash the high Spades and Diamonds, finishing, because one way to develop the habit of leading from low to high is to do it even when the outcome is forced, with the ♦9 on the board to the ♦A, followed by the ♣10 to clean out the low Clubs, the ♣Q to the Four on the board, to unblock the suit (there is nothing so frustrating as having a string of high cards and no way to get to them) and the Six to the Jack on the board, and then cash the rest of them (or one could hit the "Claim" button on the simulation at this juncture to reel in the final five tricks.)

CHASING THE PRODUCTIVE PEOPLE OUT.

That's part of what Illinois's Democrats do, with knock-on effects at Northern Illinois University.
After falling 560 students, NIU has reached its lowest fall enrollment since at least 1986, according to data released Wednesday.

The ten-day count of enrollment for this fall was 16,609 students. Fall 2018 had an enrollment of 17,169.

The university’s Strategic Enrollment Management Plan, a five-year, three-goal plan to increase enrollment, released in January 2019, projected a Fall 2019 enrollment of 16,748 students.
Why should this five year plan be any different from any other five year plan?

Headquarters, however, wants to go on with business as usual. "The administration’s plan projects enrollment growth starting next year, if recruitment and retention objectives are met."

I'm not optimistic.  The ominous signs have long been present.

This morning, Michael Smerconish took time out from the presidential debate follies to hold forth on the access-buying scandal and assorted other ills of higher education, including the supposed unaffordability.  Alas, I didn't catch the name of the guest, and the segment is not yet up on his channel.  The conversation proceeded along lines like these.
Flagship universities often have high graduation rates and good post-college outcomes for students, [policy researcher Mamie] Voight said, making them a good vehicle for social mobility.

But flagships "are not following through on that promise," she said, because they aren't providing affordable, accessible education for low- and middle-income students. This results in some students taking out large loans, working long hours while attending school and facing difficulty covering basic needs such as food, all of which can lead to poorer outcomes for the students. Other students may opt for a less expensive college with fewer supports, or forgo college altogether.
It's on the mid-majors and the regional comprehensives to prepare their matriculants for good post-college outcomes.  Mr Smerconish suggested it was also on the state legislatures to properly fund their state universities, something the Inside Higher Ed column also notes.  "Most states' funding for public higher education has yet to rebound from the Great Recession, which triggered tuition hikes and reliance on out-of-state or international students to balance budgets." It's been our experience in Illinois far longer than that.  He concluded by suggesting that it was up to the states to come up with the money, rather than the middle classes.  Unfortunately, that means relying on taxes, and it is the middle classes who pay a lot of the taxes, particularly in Illinois (and any other state heavily reliant on sales, excise, and property taxes, and on user fees such as tolls and the various items on utility bills) and the same people are being soaked, whether in higher tuitions and fees or in higher taxes.

Although I was not able to find Mr Smerconish's segment, I found The Role of State Policy in Promoting College Access and Success, and it's possible that my library privileges will get me a look at it for less than $48. Perhaps I'll look at it.  (For those of you who doubt my carping about third-party payments driving up posted prices in higher education, note that $50 will get you many a paper-bound all-color picture book covering a departed railroad.)

VERY LATE UPDATE:  The guest is Caitlin Zaloom, and the clip is now up.

EVERYTHING OLD IS NEW AGAIN.

In the early days of the so-called War on Poverty, I recall stories, generally offered by advocates of more Federal Action, of states whose welfare benefits were a bus ticket to Detroit.  Judge for yourself, dear reader, what the subtext therein was.

Now comes Sarah Hoyt, reporting that in Woke Seattle, the benefit to people camping in the streets is a bus ticket out of town.
The concept of sending homeless people back to where they say they’re from or may have support has been in place for decades in parts of the US struggling to get people off the streets. Big cities like San Francisco and New York and smaller communities like West Palm Beach, Florida, have such programs.

The city of Seattle and community organizations already offer free bus tickets as part of their broader approach to homelessness. Reagan Dunn, a council member in King County, where Seattle is located, wants to go a step further by creating a stand-alone bus ticket program that will emphasize “family reunification.”
It's likely that many of the potential clients of this program are on the streets because their family has previously disowned them ...
Dunn said his plan targets roughly 1,000 homeless people who said they wanted to reconnect with family as officials counted 11,200 people living in shelters or outdoors in King County one night in January.

Seattle officials say its homelessness diversion program allows people to determine how the city can best help them, whether that’s deposit money for rental housing, car repairs or finding a way to return home for long-term support if it’s “a safe and realistic solution.”

“Seattle’s diversion program is not focused on one solution — such as transportation home when it is outside of Seattle. Our program is person-centered, client-driven and provides a diverse array of support,” said Kamaria Hightower, a spokeswoman for Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan.

Dunn, who represents part of the wealthy Seattle suburb of Bellevue and the southeastern corner of Washington’s most populous county, said his pilot program would be better funded and promoted than the city’s piecemeal approach. He said the money would come from reserves.

“We have the highest homelessness rate per capita because we’re promoting failed policies,” said Dunn, who opposes combining county homelessness services with Seattle. “We don’t need more government to promote Seattle-centric policies.”

It’s not clear what strings would be attached to his proposed bus ticket program, which would have to be approved by the County Council.
The welfare-rights organizations and their willing accomplices have yet to weigh in.