18.1.19

TAIL TRACK.

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

ALL THE CHARM OF A HIGH SCHOOL CAFETERIA.

Amtrak have modified their pathetic "Contemporary Dining Experience" (meaning box lunches in arch deluxe boxes) into a few additional hot meal options bundled into a pathetic experience.
What Amtrak is now calling “Contemporary Dining Improvements” includes three hot entrées and “deluxe breakfast choices,” up from one hot-meal choice brought back in July 2018.

Sleeping car customers can now choose the following, with meals delivered to their Bedrooms or Roomettes, “or eaten in their private dining car,” Amtrak said. Lunch and Dinner hot items are Chicken Penne Alfredo, Beef Provencal and Asian Noodle Bowl (there is a chilled item, an Antipasto Plate). Deluxe Continental Breakfast hot items are Oatmeal and a Breakfast Sandwich. (Chilled items are Muffins, Yogurt, Fresh Fruit, Hard-boiled Eggs and Cereals. Customers are also offered unlimited soft beverages, a complimentary serving of beer, wine or a mixed-drink during their trip and an amenity kit, all included in their fares.
You'd think that after a quarter century of businesses attempting to disguise a reduction of offerings as an improvement, people would be wise to it, and yet Amtrak persists.
In its report on the latest food service changes, Trains magazine said it obtained an internal Amtrak company memo outlining the changes.

One sentence in the memo may be illustrative of management’s view of dining car service: “but customers should still bus and clean the tables they have used.”

In other words, food service aboard Amtrak is more akin to a school cafeteria than a sit-down restaurant.

Passengers will even use trays or plates to take their chosen continental breakfast choices to their table or sleeping car room.

This is designed to cut down on waste, including packaging waste and uneaten food. However, passengers will be able to take as many items as they like within reason.

Of course they can also ask their sleeping car attendant to fetch their meal and bring it to the passenger’s room.
That Trains report also notes that for now, coach passengers will not have the opportunity to obtain a reservation and be seated in the dining car, something that was still the practice until that airline gang running Amtrak decided that they could curtain off first class in a more forceful way than is possible on a jet.
Now, although coach passengers still are only allowed to purchase food from the cafe car that operates in the Boston section (no snack or beverage service is available between New York and Albany-Rensselaer, N.Y), a “Deluxe Continental Breakfast” is being offered to sleeping car passengers that includes hot oatmeal and breakfast sandwich options, as well as cold hard boiled eggs, cereal, fresh fruit, yogurt, and muffins.
Perhaps they'll also pay attention to the foolishness of sustainably sourcing balsa wood for those lunch boxes only to have all that packaging thrown away.
On board passenger interviews last year revealed that there was a lot of packaging waste and unwanted food not eaten, especially at breakfast. Instead of being presented altogether in a balsa wood box, some Deluxe Continental Breakfast offerings will be displayed on two tables and others items stocked behind a counter manned by the car’s lead service attendant.
And here the raison d'etre for Amtrak included discontent with automat cars on Southern Pacific (and some Burlington trains) and Buffeteria cars replacing the full dining cars on the Hiawatha.

THE CULT OF THE CANDIDACY?

It isn't enough for some process-worshippers to place great importance on presidential politics, presidential campaigns, and whoever the current occupant of the White House is.  No, to some process-worshippers, such as RoseAnn DeMoro, the follies that are currently commencing, a year in advance of the Iowa caucuses or California primary or whatever comes first, there are essential candidates.
There are countless reasons why Bernie Sanders should run for president in the 2020 election.

But perhaps the threshold question is what if he does not run? What policy issues would be off the table? What demands for transformation would be watered down? The answer is that most progressive initiatives Sanders and his supporters have championed will never see the light of day.

Many of us have waited a lifetime for a leader with so deep a commitment to fundamental change to come along and galvanize our existing movements. While there will be a large and diverse field of candidates, the opportunity to elect someone who has dedicated his life to economic and social justice also gives us the chance to bring forth a more perfect union – one genuinely of the people, by the people, and for the people.
Seriously?

Read her list and ask yourself, how many other self-styled progressives would run, or are running on, precisely those agenda items.

Better watch yourself, Ms DeMoro, lest the third world kiddie corps that would like to take over the Democrat caucus run train on you.

DOES INTERSECTIONALITY PROVIDE THE LONGEST ROAD FROM BOURGEOIS MANNERS TO BOURGEOIS MANNERS?

Gillette recently ran a commercial that invoked contemporary sensibilities, and in so doing, they stepped in a big pile of shaving cream.

Yes, Common Dreams columnist Julia Conley approved of the message, based on the people who took the greatest umbrage.  "So-called 'men's rights activists' are mad that the shaving razor company has started a campaign calling on men to not be misogynists, jerks, and bullies."

She continues,
In fact, the ad shares a positive view of how men are capable of acting respectfully, while the company accepts responsibility for its own role in promoting images of toxic forms of masculinity in decades past.

In light of the #MeToo movement and the current political moment, the narrator says, now, "We believe in the best in men. To say the right things, to act the right way."
It being a Common Dreams column, however, there will be some unusual perspectives on what that right way is.
"Gilette should be commended for its positive message and the good it will do, but we also need to simultaneously recognize the unhealthy affect [c.q.] corporate messaging has on us and disentangle ourselves from that manipulation," wrote journalist Jared Yates Sexton, author of an upcoming book on toxic masculinity.
Cool your jets, everyone, suggests Reason's Robby Soave.
Yes, the ad invokes "toxic masculinity," an ill-defined concept sometimes deployed by the campus left in overbroad ways. But most of the ad depicts men deciding not to bully each other, harass women, or commit violence. Are these really "leftist social priorities"? Do conservatives really wish to portray them as such?
No, but his essay relies heavily on a Ben Shapiro column that notes the absence of gentlemen might be the proximate cause of men behaving badly, which the intellectualoids have turned into toxic masculinity.
We’ve maligned masculinity as a society because men are likely to do the greatest harm to others. The vast majority of violent criminality comes from males; the vast majority of sexual misconduct comes from males. But we’ve made a mistake in blaming the presence of males for that issue. It’s a massive mistake to blame “toxic masculinity” rather than recognizing that toxic masculinity is often the result of a dearth of genuine masculinity — the kind of masculinity that leads men to stick around and father their children in the first place. The alternative to masculine presence is no masculine presence — and lack of masculine presence leads to toxic masculinity, deprived men acting out of hurt and anger.
Mr Soave summarizes, "Young guys need to learn from men who treat women well and act as protectors rather than victimizers, which...is exactly what the Gillette ad called on men to do."

Fine, but let's rediscover the ancient verities, which Mona Charen notes have been deconstructed by ... the intellectualoids who brought us toxic masculinity.
By reflexively rushing to defend men in this context, some conservatives have run smack into an irony. Imagining themselves to be men’s champions, they are actually defending behavior, like sexual harassment and bullying, that a generation or two ago conservatives were the ones condemning. Sexual license, crude language, and retreat from personal responsibility were the hallmarks of the left. It was to épate la bourgeoisie that leftists chanted “Up against the wall, motherfu**ers” on college campuses. Liberals were the crowd saying,“Let it all hang out,” “If it feels good, do it,” and “Chaste makes waste.” Feminists were the ones eyeing daggers at men who held chairs or doors for them, and insisting that a “woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.”

The Left won that cultural battle. Standards of conduct for both sexes went out the window. Whereas men had once been raised to behave themselves in front of women — “Watch your language, there are ladies present” — they were instead invited to believe that women deserved no special consideration at all.

As I’ve written many times, the Me Too movement may conceive of itself as a protest of “traditional masculinity,” but that’s only because memories are short. It’s actually a protest against the libertine culture the sexual revolution ushered in. Some men are behaving really badly — harassing women, bullying each other, and failing in their family responsibilities. Some women are too, though the Me Too movement doesn’t acknowledge that aspect of things. But these behaviors are not “traditional.” They’ve always existed, of course, but they went mainstream with the counterculture, which is now the culture. In any case, everyone, left and right, who values decent behavior should be able to agree that encouraging men to be non-violent, polite, and respectful is not anti-male. It’s just civilized.
Yes, exactly as we have noted for years.  She concludes,
Conservatives should applaud that aspect of the Gillette message. Progressives, in turn, should grapple with the overwhelming evidence that the best way to raise honorable men is with two parents. We may wish it were otherwise, but fathers — as disciplinarians, role models, and loving husbands — are key to rearing happy, healthy, and responsible sons as well as self-confident, happy, and high-achieving daughters.
Power Line's John Hinderaker is less disposed to be conciliatory.
[I]t seems that the more liberals yammer about sexual harassment, rape, etc., the more harassment and rape they commit. On the whole, I would guess that men of the 50s were more honorable, on the average, than men today. For what it’s worth, the forcible rape rate per 100,000 [people] is several times higher now than it was in 1960–the golden age, I take it, of “toxic masculinity.”
Nor should militant Normals back down, all this talk of Gillette implicitly celebrating gentlemanly behavior notwithstanding.  Here's Glenn "Insta Pundit" Reynolds.
Men are used to being treated badly on TV shows and in ads, because women control most discretionary spending. But now men are even being treated badly in ads for the products they themselves buy. Advertisers thinking they can get away with that is a pretty open expression of contempt. And the contempt is being returned.
Gillette, therefore, is in a difficult place, as if they're explaining, they're losing.
Gillette is in a pickle here. They have needlessly offended customers, but apologizing for the ad would probably just make the situation worse. In the unsubtle world of corporate messaging, an apology would be read as a wholesale abandonment of the message. “Actually, we changed our minds. Sexual harassment isn’t that big of a deal. As you were!”

What Gillette can do is learn from this incident. It might even be possible to do some damage control if they think through their next step more carefully. I don’t really expect a shaving company to teach boys how to be men, but positive messaging for boys is so sorely needed right now that I’d cheerfully accept it from almost anyone with a platform.
That's Rachel Lu writing in The American Conservative, and she's apparently young enough that "restore a state of good repair" isn't in her lexicon.
Young men need discipline, today as ever, and sometimes that does call for policing of a #MeToo variety. Especially in our time, though, young men also need to be assured that they have the potential to be more than just barely controlled reprobates. It shouldn’t be too hard to send that message, because manly excellence is appealing to almost every audience. (That’s why movies and television dramas are generally well-stocked with brilliant, brave, and brawny men.) Even if it’s just corporate virtue-signaling, I’m prepared to applaud anyone who successfully persuades American boys that “you too can be excellent!” It’ll have to be better than this though. After a century of manufacturing men’s products, Gillette should know a little bit more than what it’s shown so far.
You'd think a lady writing in a conservative forum might understand that in the four thousand or years or so of human interaction we might have had a few things right before the 1960s came along.

17.1.19

FIFTY YEARS AGO.

The first attempt by the Office of High Speed Ground Transportation to outdo the Japanese at fast trains was the Metroliner project.  It was supposed to start with the fall timetable change of 1967 under auspices of The Pennsylvania Railroad.  The first round trip (yup, only one train a day each way) went into Penn Central timetables just before the inauguration of Richard Nixon.

Early in the service, Penn Central offered a North American version of royal accommodation.


The former king of England journeyed from his suite in the Waldorf-Astoria to a concert at the Kennedy Center.  A conversation with the press turned to trains, whereupon he noted that Britain did not at the time have anything that fast.  That's correct back then:  British Railways had only recently withdrawn steam locomotives, and the Beeching Report had recommended closure of a number of "redundant" railway lines, most notably the Edinburgh to Carlisle Waverley Route that saw its last train just before the first revenue Metroliner rolled.

In the intervening years, the British did electrify first the London to Glasgow West Coast Main Line, then the London to Edinburgh East Coast Main Line, as well as other principal routes, and passenger trains, both diesel and electric, have free rein to 125 all over the island.  More recently, they've undone part of the closure of the Waverley, and they never closed the Carlisle to Settle and Leeds "Long Drag," unlike the similar Lackawanna Cutoff, which the geniuses who brought us Conrail thought we could get along without.

The Metroliner cars were off the Northeast Corridor within a quarter century, a number of them continuing in service as cab-control cars on diesel trains elsewhere in the States.


Oceanside, California, 31 January 1993.

The Northeast Corridor itself is still going strong as a rail route, with hourly Acela Expresses holding down the fort.  One thing has not changed since the days of The Pennsylvania Railroad.  There is a complete ticket check leaving New York's Pennsylvania Station, just as if the New Haven were handing off or taking up a train.  Those Penn Central hands on the Metroliners would understand.

WHY TRADE TESTED BETTERMENTS MATTER.

There was an interesting segment on Wednesday's NBC Nightly News about the pricing of a gene therapy that saves the vision of retinitis pigmentosa sufferers.


"The CEO says the $850,000 price tag is based on what juries have awarded someone who’s been blinded."

As a pricing strategy, it's not crazy: the perfect price discriminator, after all, extracts all the consumer surplus from buyers.  Damage awards might be a pretty good proxy for economic welfare, that is why economics students learn about the money metric utility function.

As an exercise in corporate spin, it's intriguing, as the CEO isn't indulging in the usual "compensated for taking all the risks of innovation" that Big Pharma often trots out to explain the high prices of wonderful stuff that formerly wasn't available at any price.

But extracting consumer surplus or arguing from the costs of development are warning signals of entrepreneurs addicted to somebody else's, usually insurance or taxpayer, money.  I'm sure the inventor of the motorcar or portable telephone or radar detector or any of the other conveniences of modern life would like to extract all the consumer surplus from being able to get to work faster or close that deal from anywhere or crowd the speed limit with that priority cargo.

That's why it's useful to introduce additional entrepreneurs, in order that the gains from trade can be identified and acted upon in such a way that we have an efficient allocation of resources among consumer electronics and gene therapies and all the other things that make our existence less nasty, brutish, and short.

Dear reader, whenever you encounter discussions of affordability, consider that, as is the case with drug developers and higher education's administrators, you are dealing with people who are addicted to somebody else's money, and they'd rather you try to get some of it.

GOT A PROBLEM? GET A PROGRAM. THEN GET MORE PROBLEMS.

Last April, Milwaukee's Journal-Sentinel documented a shake-out of dairy farms in America's Dairyland.  "Wisconsin lost 500 dairy farms in 2017, and about 150 have quit milking cows so far this year, putting the total number of milk-cow herds at around 7,600 — down 20% from five years ago."  The cash flow problems down on the farm arose despite dairy subsidies, and they were present before protectionist farm policies in the United States and Canada became a side-show to Our President's Democrat industrial policy tariffs by executive order.
Small dairy farms have been disappearing from the rural landscape for decades, but the problem has been compounded by a sharp decline in farm-milk prices that's now in its third year and has spread across the country.

Farm cooperatives have urged members to think twice about adding more cows to their operations when the marketplace is awash in milk. Some have even offered incentives for members to quit farming altogether.
In markets as understood in introductory price theory, lower prices are inducements for producers to produce less.  Introduce price supports, and you have a way to keep up the production even if the lower prices are not encouraging consumption.  Consumers end up holding the cheese.
Data from the Department of Agriculture show that between 2008 and 2017, milk production in the U.S. climbed 13%.

Over those same years, however, consumption has sagged — with per capita milk consumption down 14%, USDA data show.

The surplus milk gets stored as cheese. If formed into one giant wheel, the current 1.39-billion-pound cheese surplus would be about as big as the U.S. Capitol Building.

Two years ago, the Obama administration effectively bailed out the industry, when it bought up $20 million worth — 11 million pounds — of cheese, which it then used for food assistance programs. But the stockpile has grown 16% since then.
Much of that cheese stockpile is the mild cheddar that's a feed-stock for American cheese.  That makes the consequences of the dairy subsidies the quintessence of a first-world problem, which is to say, a self-inflicted first world problem.
American diets are moving away from processed cheeses like Velveeta and Kraft, and many of the nation’s leading fast and casual restaurants are trying new things. Panera, like others, has replaced American cheese in their sandwiches with a four-cheese combo made up of fontina, cheddar, monteau and smoked gouda.
Make that a first-world problem with privileged foodies, who get to posture and preen for the benefit of their woke brethren.
In part, that’s because many Americans now think processed cheese is gross, but also because they’re au fait with quality cheese from around the world. It’s hard to turn back to an indestructible fluorescent orange mess once you’ve tried brie de meaux.

“We’re seeing increased sales of more exotic, specialty, European-style cheeses. Some of those are made in the US; a lot of them aren’t,” Andrew Novakovic, a professor of agricultural economics at Cornell University told NPR this week. Since imported cheese costs more than domestic, a few blocks of the good stuff might not leave much left in the old cheese budget for anything else.
The simpler explanation is that the opportunity set is now bigger for privileged foodies.  Even those who are obnoxious about their posturing and preening.

11.1.19

RUNNING IN SOME TRAINS

The operating display track that circles the upper level of the basement sometimes functions to test and run in motive power that has sometimes been mothballed for years.  Here's a look, by way of winter fun.


Enjoy.

FROM THE SUBLIME TO THE RIDICULOUS.

High value-added activities bid up rents for favorable locations, whether anyone understands the underlying logic or not.

An eighteen-inch round pizza is more pizza than two twelve-inch round pizzas (thin crust, sausage, mushroom, and onion, on a mix of Mozzarella and Muenster please), whether anyone understands the underlying logic or not.

Perhaps Power Line's John Hinderaker is right to despair.
I am often baffled as to how so many of our fellow citizens can fail to understand basic facts of politics and economics. It is sobering to be reminded that many of them are stumped by the size of a pizza. I think liberals must understand this better than we do, which is why they generally appeal to emotion rather than reason.
Well, Little Caesars hasn't been going broke on pizza, pizza!

Perhaps not having to think about the square of the radius is part of the advance of civilization.

Now, all of a sudden, I'm hungry.

SOMETIMES, YOU CAN TEST THE HYPOTHESES.

Last summer, I raised the possibility that people participating in high-value-added activities might be bidding up urban rents.
Two principles of land use immediately emerge.  First, activities that command the highest price Pi have a ceteris paribus advantage in bidding for any parcel of land.  Second, activities that encounter higher transportation costs lose advantage at greater distances.  Thus, in the two-century old model, dairy products command a high price and spoil (we're before mechanical refrigeration or railroads, recall) quickly, thus those will be closest to the city, but dairies will be out-bid by timbering or cornfields or ranching.
That's straightforward, as is the extension I suggested.
But will we ever see a central business district that generates so much in the form of locational rents, in the presence of so small a transportation cost, for knowledge or financial industries (and there are reasons to suspect that it will be knowledge or financial industries, not manufacturing) that the service businesses get priced out, and the only land devoted to housing of any kind is at a distance, as appears to be happening in San Francisco, but not yet in Chicago?
What's fun is going through Tyler Cowen's roundup of economics conference papers where he thought this was worth posting.
I estimate a spatial equilibrium model to show that the rising value of high-skilled workers’ time is an important driving force behind the gentrification of American central cities. I show that the increasing value of time raises the cost of commuting and exogenously increases the demand for central locations by high-skilled workers. While change in value of time is an initial force behind gentrification, its effect is substantially magnified by endogenous amenity improvement. The model implies that welfare inequality in the recent decades increases by more than the rise in earnings inequality if the forces behind gentrification are considered.
As those amenities are competing with the high-value-added employees and the networking creatives in their entrepreneurial districts, there are likely opportunities for additional research on the limitations to either the rents or the amenities.

WHY COMPENSATING DIFFERENTIALS ARE A THING.

Years ago, it was television-savvy students who alerted me to "Deadliest Catch" when I brought up the topic of risky occupations.  The crabbing season is short, apparently it makes for compelling reality television, and the sea will do its best to kill you even when the cameras aren't rolling.
Discovery has released a statement following the tragic news that a Dungeness crab fishing boat was involved in a fatal accident Tuesday night. The Mary B II capsized while crossing the Yaquina Bay bar in Newport, Ore., killing three fishermen onboard. Despite earlier reports, the boat was never featured on Discovery Channel’s Deadliest Catch: Dungeon Cove.

“We feel deeply saddened by the news, as we feel part of the crabbing community,” the network tells Yahoo in a statement. “Our thoughts and prayers go out to their families and the entire community during this difficult time.”

The Mary B II asked for a Coast Guard escort while crossing the bar, when the three fisherman went into the water. According to local news station KGW8, the bar was closed to all boats except those with licenses, like the Mary B II, due to the weather conditions. Authorities say crews faced 12- to 14-foot waves as they tried to rescue those on board. James Lacey, 48, Joshua Porter, 50, and the boat’s skipper, Stephen Biernacki, 50, were found dead.
RIP.

POUR ENCOURAGER LES AUTRES?

What is true of admirals is sometimes true of football coaches.  "Beyond concerns about an overly simplistic (and obsessively rigid) offensive philosophy, [former coach Mike] McCarthy will (or at least should) have to answer tough questions about how and why complacency descended onto the Packers under his watch."

It's been coming for some time, according to that article.
During the 2016 season, quarterback Aaron Rodgers complained openly about a lack of energy on the sidelines. Not long after that, he bemoaned the absence of a healthy fear of getting fired if players weren’t doing their jobs.

Both gripes trace to the head coach, and Rodgers’ willingness to openly comment on those dynamics were interpreted by some (us) as a passive-aggressive tug-of-war between Rodgers and McCarthy.
Sports pundits have to follow such things, their salaries depend on it. But it had to have been bad, I mean, Cold Spring Shops picked up the story last summer, in the midst of a pennant race.

10.1.19

SPEAKING OF DEMSETZ AUCTIONS.

They're coming to regional rail in France.
Issued by the Ministry of Environmental Transformation & Sustainability and to be published this week in the Official Journal of the European Union, the [solicitiation] covers the Nantes – Bordeaux and Nantes – Lyon services currently operated by SNCF Mobilités as part of the Trains d’Equilibre du Térritoire network of conventional inter-city trains. These two routes are among eight TET services still specified by central government rather than regional authorities, and SNCF’s operating agreement with the state runs until 2020.

The ministry says that the [solicitation] marks the start of the first competitive tendering process under the national railway reform programme which was passed into law in June 2018. This is intended to ensure that France complies with the provisions of the EU’s Fourth Railway Package.
It appears that the tenders will accompany the purchases of new rolling stock on different lines.
The ministry is clear that for now the tendering process applies only to the two TET routes specified. This is because the rolling stock on both routes has recently been renewed, and this will be made available for use by the winning bidder. Future tendering of other state-managed TET services would only take place once fleet and infrastructure enhancements have been completed ‘over the coming years’. The government plans to select a single operator to run both services under a public service contract, insisting that there will be no on-rail competition.

The government says that ‘it has complete confidence in the quality of the bids that will be presented’. The operating contract is expected to come into effect from 2022.

‘We are not trying to get rid of SNCF’, a spokesman for the ministry told local media on January 9. ‘All the bidders have an equal chance of winning. We want to see the tendering process lead to more quality for passengers, more trains being run and more innovation, but also a reduction in costs — why not? But the latter is not the dominant criterion. There is no logic in “social dumping”.’
"No on-rail competition" means we won't have situations like those on British metals, where the passenger bound up from Newcastle might have the choice of a Virgin Group or Central Trains or whoever the operator is.  What intrigues there is that carrier-issued tickets are good only on that carrier's trains, but a rail pass or multiple-city ticket is valid on any train.

THE CASE FOR TRADE-TESTED BETTERMENTS.

Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel columnist Jim Stingl discovers that insurance companies pay for colonoscopies on the basis of the code by which they are ordered. "How can one colonoscopy be entirely covered by insurance because it's deemed to be a preventive screening and the next cost us thousands of dollars out of pocket because it's labeled slightly more ominously as diagnostic?" It's a Through the Looking Glass version of Ronald Coase's "Theory of the Firm" in which one of the principal costs of avoiding the price mechanism is determining who has the primary right to avoid.
"Minutes before swallowing the gallon of colon blast, I got a call from my insurance company telling me that my copay would be $3,100. Gulp. Turns out I am now flagged and any colonoscopies from this day forward will be considered diagnostic, not screening," [Journal-Sentinel reporter Meg Kissinger] said.

"When I challenged the nurse on this, she told me that they hate this policy and blamed it on the insurance people. The insurance people told me it was the government, which I took to be code for Obamacare," she said.

The doctor scheduled to perform the test actually is employed by Madison Medical Affiliates, which gives patients a one-page guide to screening versus diagnostic colonoscopies. In short, it says screening applies only to tests done every 10 years and with no evidence or previous history of polyps, cancer and such.

The guide offers an excellent piece of advice to us patients who, let's face it, need to be informed advocates for our own health care these days: "Know the difference and what your insurance pays for."

Meg shared the story with her family doctor, who commiserated with her but urged her to shell out the money for the test. It's hard to argue against a procedure that catches cancer early.
Yes, although we haven't gotten into whether "the government" refers to Wisconsin rules, which involve a state that opted out of Obamacare in part, or what the risk premium is for follow-up procedures after five years, which is the recommended practice in the case of some polyps, or for that matter, what the opportunity cost of a colonoscopy is, irrespective of the surgeon, the operating studio, or the condition of the patient.  What matters, though, is that those market tests are absent.  Should they be?
It all seems so arbitrary, like charging more to check the brakes on your car because they happen to be squeaking. Why not just call every medical screen a diagnostic and save the insurance companies zillions of dollars on the backs of their customers?
Once upon a time, the automobile repair shops had this manual of standard service times, which meant there was a line item for "hours required to check squeaking brakes" broken down by make, model, and year. That, at least was semi-public information.

These days, the automotive analogy might be connecting the computer to read the codes your check engine light has stored in memory.  At some shops, there's one of those standard service fees to connect the computer and retrieve the codes.  Other shops might just connect the computer while they're changing your oil (no later than the earlier of 5,000 miles or six months) and let you know what they find, or you can go to some of the auto parts stores and they'll do the readout for you.

Admittedly, that's not quite snaking a camera into a tight spot, and yet must the insurers and bureaucrats circumscribe the discretion of surgeons in the way the car technician would bridle at?

SWARMS OF OFFICERS, HARASSING OUR PEOPLE AND EATING OUT THEIR SUBSTANCE.

Nobody would have mistaken candidate Donald Trump as a libertarian.  Two years into his presidency, though, the partial government shutdown, or insider theater, or p*ss*ng contest among leaders of the political class, or whatever it is, is inspiring at least a few observers to start asking whether maybe all those bureaucrats are useful.

Pajamas Media's Michael Walsh invokes that passage from the Declaration of Independence, then notes that the furloughed Feds aren't doing a lot to secure those unalienable rights.  "[T]he longer Donald Trump wrangles with his two superannuated cartoon antagonists, Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, the stronger the president's position becomes. This despite the Democrat Media's insistence that the shutdown is a terrible thing, costing the lives of (as usual) untold women, children, and minorities." Indeed, even the attempts by the Palace Guard Media to draw comparisons with restructuring private sector companies fail to convince him.  "One would think that these numbers only serve to prove how unconscionably large the federal government has become, but of course that's not the way the Democrats and their fellow travelers near Times Square see it. The employer of last resort must stay in business to keep hiring more and more people for more and more positions in the metastasizing bureaucracy, where lifetime employment is very nearly a constitutional guarantee."

Moreover, perhaps enough air travellers are wise to the security theater that they're not ready to agree with Chuck, Nancy, and their willing accomplices in the legacy media that the only thing worse than being groped by Transportation Security after waiting in a long line is to not have any Transportation Security gropers on hand.  "Given that the world is a better place when TSA employees and other government minions don't do their jobs, and some are already seeking alternative employment, what a great opportunity to shut down their agencies, shrink the government, and make everybody's lives a little better!"  Yes, that's Reason correspondent J. D. Tuccille, and yet, does his platform invalidate his closing argument, "Without even turning to the larger federal apparatus, isn't a widespread sick-out among government workers sounding like a pretty attractive idea right about now?"

But wait ... don't we have to keep the national government open to protect us against ... rogue beer?  Dear reader, read the entire article.  It's not that somebody is secretly enforcing Reinheitsgebot (not with all those headache-in-a-glass pale ales everywhere) or that the Lavender Spice Light forthcoming for Valentine's Day might poison somebody.

Rather ... it's that the labels might be incomplete or inaccurate.  (Is there anything involving food that the Obamas didn't ruin?)  "While the [Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau]'s main responsibility is collecting alcohol taxes—and don't worry, it's still doing that during the shutdown—the bureau is also charged with ensuring that beers, wines, and spirits accurately communicate details like the amount of alcohol by volume (ABV) and the mandatory Surgeon General's warning. Without government approval, the drinks those labels envelope can't be sold." And yes, the absence of a GS-12 in the labelling section has the potential to ruin Valentine's Day. "At Atlas Brew Works in Washington, D.C., a brand new apricot IPA might have to be dumped because it's already fermenting in the tanks but there's no timetable for getting approval from the TTB." I may not like your apricot headache in the glass, but, hey, in these United States of America, your right to drink it ought not be infringed.  Or, for that matter, if you want that Lavender Spice Light.  "In 2016, for example, a Minnesota-based brewery was told it could not sell a beer made with lavender extract, sunflower oil, and dates as 'LSD Ale.' The exact same product, though, is perfectly legal to be sold under the name 'Lavender Sunflower Date Honey Ale,' which is what Indeed Brewing Company ended up calling it. By any other name, right?"Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and ask ourselves, each time we hear that something can't be done because some bureaucrat is furloughed, whether there might not be a work-around, including working without that bureaucrat completely.
Breweries and wineries know what information they are supposed to include on their labels; if they fail to do that, let the TTB get involved. That's how most other government agencies regulate consumer goods anyway. Better yet, do away with the TTB entirely and let the Federal Trade Commission enforce the beer label requirements if breweries fail to note the ABV of their brews.

The TTB is exactly the type of government agency that a shutdown should make us reconsider. When it's operational, it causes problems. When it's shut down, it causes other problems. Let's get rid of it.
Yes, and identify other nests of paralysis-by-analysis, and root them out.

SUMMON THE SMALL PLATOONS OF CIVIL SOCIETY.

The public library of Sycamore, Illinois, home to the regional history collection of photographs, is an honest-to-Andrew Carnegie structure that doesn't stand up to the prairie zephyrs like it once could.  "Wind gusts of 45 mph. Original windows installed 114 years ago. Turns out, the upstairs windows of the historical wing of the Sycamore Public Library were overmatched."

There might be some money in the Illinois state budget to help with repairs.  There are opportunities for local residents and visitors to pitch in.  "Coins for Carnegie Drive has been set up and that patrons can donate at the library." In addition, the prairie version of the bean supper is coming. "An all-you-can-eat BBQ dinner also is planned for 4 to 8 p.m. March 1 at the VFW, 121 S. California St., and proceeds will go toward the project, [library director Monica] Dombrowski said."

9.1.19

I SPOKE TOO SOON.

At the centennial of the Armistice, I noted, "We rarely hear Serious People rolling out the Moral Equivalent of War in support of other Grand Public Constructions these days, and yet the mind-set in Official Washington and on the Sunday shows is still the same: some federal agency should be doing more, and smarter, and harder." Now comes newly-sworn-in Member of Congress Alexandria "Sandy" Ocasio-Cortez (Naïf-N.Y.) having a good wallow in the past.
“None of these things are new ideas,” she explained on the campaign trail last October. “What we had was an existential threat in the context of a war. We had a direct existential threat with another nation; this time it was Nazi Germany and the Axis, who explicitly made the United States as an enemy.”

“We chose to mobilize our entire economy and industrialized our entire economy, and we put hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people to work in defending our shores and defending this country,” Ocasio-Cortez continued. “We have to do the same thing in order to get us to 100 percent renewable energy, and that’s just the truth of it.”
That "Axis" included the Empire of Japan, and "defending this country" included confining citizens of Japanese ancestry in camps, as well as more than a little additional scrutiny of citizens and resident aliens of Latin American ancestry, just in case they were a little close to Francisco Franco or Il Duce or Der Führer.  Balance that, please, against any feel-good stories about integrating combat regiments in Germany toward the end of the war and creating an office of Navajo code-talkers in the air force.

That mobilization included a Manhattan Project, to create nuclear weapons in order to get 100 percent victory.  I have yet to see any discussion of nuclear generating stations, including breeder reactors, which are likely to be part of any 100 percent renewable energy enterprise from the representative.  I know that such things are in the policy shops, somewhere.  Thirty years ago, when I first worked with the Department of Energy on acid precipitation and climate change, I tentatively raised the ideas of nuclear power as part of the tool-kit.  My supervisor assured me that yes, those ideas were part of the discussion, if, perhaps they were being approached in rather a gingerly way.

Even if Congressional Democrats are serious about Green Energy Independence, perhaps Jonah Goldberg is correct, we should have none of it.
[T]he important point is that ever since philosopher William James coined the phrase the “moral equivalent of war,” American liberalism has been recycling the same basic idea: The country needs to be unified and organized as if we are at war, but not to fight a literal battle. The attraction stems from what John Dewey called “the social possibilities of war” — the ability to reorganize and unify society according to the schemes of planners and experts.

This was the through line of 20th-century liberalism, and now 21st-century liberalism, too. Wilson’s war socialism, FDR’s New Deal, Harry Truman’s Fair Deal, John F. Kennedy’s New Frontier, Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society, Jimmy Carter’s declaration that the energy crisis was a “moral equivalent of war,” and Barack Obama’s “new foundation for growth,” with his Thomas Friedman-inspired talk about “Sputnik moments”: It’s all the same idea gussied up as something new.
Precisely. It's always an excuse to ratchet up government activity, because Nanny says it's for Your. Own. Good. Isn't that special?

YOU DON'T CONCEAL ACADEMIC FAILURE BY SILENCING THE PEOPLE WHO POINT IT OUT.

Chicago State University, dropout factory, expense-preference playground for diversity hustlers, getting schooled in First Amendment rights for faculty.
CSU, a public university, agreed to pay Philip Beverly and Robert Bionaz $650,000 and revise the unconstitutional policies that prompted the lawsuit.

On July 1, 2018, Bevery and Bionaz filed suit after CSU ordered them to shut down a faculty-run website that had criticized the administration. Administrators had alleged that this criticism violated the university's policy against cyberbullying, and one public relations director even filed a harassment complaint against Bionaz. These were obvious violations of the faculty's rights; the hurt feelings of university PR officials do not trump the First Amendment.
Thirteen down, another Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (they can use your contributions, tax code or no) lawsuit to follow.  "After each victory, FIRE will target another school — sending a message that unless public colleges obey the law, they will be sued."  Good.

Professor Bionaz is declaring victory and returning to his desk.
After twice threatening the blog with legal action, after lying about the blog's violation of non-existent university trademarks, after lying about a variety of other matters, after ham-handed attempts by the Watson cabal to inveigle various administrators to file false sexual harassment charges, the university's feeble defense predictably failed to stop the lawsuit. Thus, the university faced the prospect of a trial which would have featured a defense by two notable liars having to tell their ridiculous lies on the stand. Kudos to President Scott for finally putting an end to this farce.

None of this had to happen. Soon after we filed the suit, the Illinois Attorney General's Office floated a potential settlement which would have resulted in a modification of the two unconstitutional policies (Computer Usage and Cyberbullying) and the payment of $60,000 in damages and attorney's fees for our attorneys. Rather than accept this reasonable offer, Watson decided to fight, replacing the Attorney General with a private law firm, whose efforts resulted in this loss, the modification of the policies, and an estimated $1.5 million price tag. After all, it wasn't his money.

So the university must once again pay the price for Wayne Watson's incompetence, his vindictiveness, his mendacity. Hopefully, the settlement indicates that at least someone responsible for administering this school will actually put the university's interests first.
We'll see. Margaret "University Diaries" Soltan is not yet ready to make nice with the local Little Rocket Man.
[Chicago State] has disappeared as a university (few students attend; almost no one graduates) but continues to thrive as a taxpayer-sponsored kleptomania/litigation machine. Corruption, virtually the only game on campus (uh, plus basketball, must be kept quiet in order to sustain itself, so the school’s constantly suing or threatening to sue students, professors, and administrators who tell the truth about what’s going on. CSU loses the suits, of course, and has to pay (the good people of Illinois have to pay) big settlement and legal costs.
The "basketball" reference is to the near-invisibility of the women's basketball program, which recently hired in a successful coach out of Rock Valley College to improve the team. A coach with previous community college experience might be a good fit for an open-admissions public university, and yet playing at the division I level is a different world.  Consider the end of December, when Chicago State hosted Brown (on their home visit tour for their Illinois recruits) just after Christmas, after paying a visit to Northern Illinois just before.  Let's say that Chicago State learned a lot from an experienced and determined Northern Illinois team.

Now, if university administrators will learn that attempting to silence dissident faculty who maintain weblogs is going to run them afoul of an experienced and determined Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.

8.1.19

THANK YOU, HUNTER HARRISON?

On-time performances on the Illinois Central mini-corridor are not impressive.
[T]he City of New Orleans departed Champaign an average of 42 minutes late northbound but just 19 minutes late southbound.

But it was the opposite pattern for the state-funded Illini and Saluki.

The northbound Saluki left average of 24 minutes late northbound but 49 minutes late southbound.

The northbound Illini was, on average, 35 minutes late northbound and 37 minutes late southbound during 2018.

The News-Gazette report said many of the delays could be attributed to host railroad Canadian National. Amtrak contends CN is one of its worst host carrier with freight trains delaying Amtrak on 90 percent of the trips made on the route via Champaign.

Amtrak contends that CN contributes an average of 26 minutes of delay per day.

But some of the delays are also caused by longer than scheduled loading and unloading of passengers.
I wonder if Amtrak's conductors are holding things up by opening fewer doors and by checking tickets on the platform.

As far as Canadian National's contribution, well, there are people who look at the wide rights-of-way that used to carry two tracks and asking whether or not there is a way to add dedicated tracks.
Amtrak does have the authority to purchase right of way and build its own tracks, said Rick Harnish, who is the executive director of the Midwest High Speed Rail Association.

And there is plenty of space to add a set of tracks to replace that set that was removed by the Canadian National Railroad.
Usual story: there's no money for that sort of infrastructure.

But why did CNR remove the second track?  Answer: it wasn't CNR at all, it was Illinois Central, as part of controversial railroad executive E. Hunter Harrison's proof of concept for freight railroading, which involves identifying freight cars that are standing still, locomotives that aren't pulling their weight, and track that is lightly used, and removing it.  Thus, the second track from Chicago to Carbondale, the cab signalling good for 100 mph running, and maybe the sharp old-school dispatching had to go.

But performance on the freight side of Illinois Central looked good enough to investors that Mr Harrison got additional gigs at Canadian National, Canadian Pacific, and CSX.

IT'S ALWAYS A GOOD QUESTION TO ASK.

Mary Schmich of Chicago's Tribune, "What are we teaching children now that we’ll look back on as ignorance?"

Unfortunately, it comes at the end of a column slagging on the American High, or, as I sometimes call it these days, the Second Era of American Greatness.
The America of my childhood was a great land in many ways, but it was full of bigotry and bunk.

When I think back on all the crazy things taught to children of my generation, by adults who were poorly taught themselves, I marvel that a country steeped in so much ignorance has advanced as much as it has.

The ignorance hasn’t vanished. There remain people raised in the America of my childhood who cling to the ridiculous things we were taught.
I've heard variations on this complaint, sometimes in shorter form, and sometimes in longer form, and it tends to reduce to "Let's slag on everything that was present then, because there were a few things wrong," rather than "Let us identify opportunities to make that union more perfect and to secure the blessings of liberty to more of us and all of their posterity."  It's a mind-set in which the staged comity of "Ozzie and Harriet" becomes an excuse to nuke the nuclear family.  "In that world — the world of 'Ozzie and Harriet,' 'Leave it to Beaver' and 'Father Knows Best' — almost all the people on TV were white, except Amos ’n’ Andy, two black sitcom characters who lived in Harlem."

When you deconstruct something, you might want to think carefully about what you put in its place, particularly when what you put in its place doesn't work so well.  "There is already too much nostalgia in our society for a past that had virtues but also had terrible vices."

That's National Review's David French, noting the absence of gentlemen in modern life, which is probably more important than the absence of recent optimistic Christmas songs.

Apparently, though, hailing the opportunities to expand the bounty and the good cheer aren't as important as noting that the "peach" crayon (which, if I recall correctly, was only in the deluxe 64 color package, always viewed around our house as an extravagance) used to be the "flesh" crayon, and therefore the entire era was tainted.

I suppose we should be grateful we're not teaching our children that diet pills and liposuction cure bulimia.

ILLINOIS HAS AN OPEN PRIMARY.

You'd think the writers at the University of Chicago student newspaper would know that.

Apparently attempting to reveal the president of the university as some kind of secret Republican is more fun.

The primary election is an attempt by self-styled good government types of a century ago to shift some of the power to select candidates from party insiders to voters.  Thus, voting in a primary election involves requesting a party-specific ballot.  In Illinois, a voter declares by making such a request at the check-in desk.  There is no such thing as a list of "registered" Republicans or Democrats, the way there is in other states.   Party operatives of all parties (in principle, you could have a libertarian primary in Illinois) prefer the closed primary, as crossover voting is a way for hard-core voters of one party to frustrate candidates of another party.

That might well be what the university's president, Robert Zimmer, did.  He's reported as having voted in the 2008 Democratic primary (recall, dear reader, that both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton had roots in Illinois) and then in the 2016 Republican primary, where a crossover Democrat might want to help Donald Trump win on the theory that he would be easy to defeat, or a Never Trump Republican still had a choice.

The  Maroon article is getting slagged in its comment section.

AN OVERLOOKED PRICE THEORIST PASSES.

Peter Boettke of Coordination Problem honors Harold Demsetz as a champion of price theory and the Economic Way of Thinking.  His essay raises the possibility of intellectual common ground between price theorists, as commonly understood, and market-process theorists.
It is all about the analytics of price theory, and in particular the role that relative prices play in guiding exchange and production decisions.  It is wrong to insist the position articulated in economics so perceived is one that continually asserts that whatever is, is efficient (that is the tight prior of Stigler and Becker), as opposed to an insistence that individuals are not persistently stupid, that they will be creative and clever in seeking out the mutual gains from trade, and thus that there is always in operation an evolution towards a solution that must be appreciated and studied.  The mantra, if there is one, is not "efficiency always", but "where are the deals?; what bargains can be struck between actors?"  Economics in the hands of these economists is about exchange and the institutions within which exchange takes place.  Prices are never merely a sufficient statistic that is reflected in a unique vector in a deterministic system of competitive equilibrium.  Prices are not a parameter in this work, prices are instead continually adjusting and communicating to economic actors critical information that guides them in making the appropriate adaptations required to realize productive specialization and peaceful social cooperation.

Harold Demsetz was a practitioner of UCLA price theory par excellence.  He challenged the prevailing orthodoxy in microeconomic analysis and public policy that was emerging in the wake of the Samuelsonian revolution in economics. He developed a dynamic understanding of market competition, putting emphasis on conditions of entry and exit rather than on market structure. In addition, his work constantly drew attention to the creative adaptations and adjustments that economic actors engage in throughout a competitive economy, the multiple margins of adjustment that individuals, as buyers and sellers, engage in through the market, and how alternative institutional arrangements impact competitive behavior.
True enough about those relative prices, there are probably graduate students who during their time at Northern Illinois had nightmares about (1) relative prices matter, (2) payoffs are equal at the margin, and (3) bygones are forever bygones.  And true enough, as well, the lament among economists of the UCLA and Virginia traditions that the Powers that Be in the discipline had insufficient respect for the best practitioners there.  "There's an element of complaint present, as well, in [Arnold Kling's] observation that the late Alchian Allen and the still-living Harold Demsetz had worked on similar contracting problems, using a more literary form of price theory. But the prize goes to the work that more precisely delineates the conditions under which the phenomenon is present."

So, too, it might be with the Harold Demsetz idea that I engaged with somewhat frequently.
Starting with his work in the late 1950s, Demsetz began challenging the then prevailing orthodoxy concerning monopolistic power, natural monopoly, and industrial structure. In his 1968 paper “Why Regulate Utilities?”, for example, he made the critical point that: “we have no theory that allows us to deduce from the observable degree of concentration in a particular market whether or not price and output are competitive” (Demsetz 1968: 59-60). This paper would argue that we do not need to regulate utilities to curb monopoly power provided that there is vibrant competition for the field among potential providers of the service.
When the same argument came out of Princeton in a more mathematical form, under the rubric of contestable markets, adherents of the UCLA and Virginia traditions understandably raised objections about those models simply reinventing Demsetz auctions.  That credit-claiming might have missed the point, which is that "provided there is vibrant competition among potential providers" is a tougher condition in practice than it might be on paper.  "The highway, like an electrical grid or a railroad line, is a specific asset that can be wasted by the operator, absent sufficient safeguards for proper performance (and the British are still struggling with the proper safeguards when several franchise holders are operating trains on the same tracks) and the incumbent operator can learn things in the act of running the property that will confer it an advantage over other bidders when the franchise is rebid." The periodic operating-franchise follies that arise on British metals suggest the failure of that condition to hold is not trivial.

And yet, the idea of putting monopoly rights up for bid is not outrageous per se.  RIP.

THE TUNE-UP COMMENCES.

The Green Bay Packers apparently will introduce Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur as the team's fifteenth head coach.

The last time we documented a coaching change in Green Bay was thirteen seasons ago.  History rhymes.
A year ago, these pages were following the regime change in Green Bay, and suggesting that more recriminations were in order. Packer management brought in Ted Thompson as general manager, redefining then head coach and general manager Mike Sherman's portfolio as head coach and vice-president. Mr Thompson subsequently hired Miami's defensive coordinator Jim Bates as defensive coordinator. For all the troubles the Packers had this year, in many losses the margin of defeat was an interception return for a touchdown or a missed field goal. Some of the other troubles were recurrences of troubles in the 2004 season.
I can't vouch for all of the links in that excerpt.  Note, though, that history rhymes: in 2017 comes a new general manager and a new defensive coordinator, many of the losses in 2018 were close, and several involved blown leads late in the game.

Thus, Mr LaFleur arrives as the latest successor to Curly Lambeau, Vince Lombardi, Mike Holmgren, and Mike McCarthy.  It's still one of the toughest gigs in football.  "It has been a difficult task for Mike Holmgren and Ray Rhodes and Mike Sherman and Mike McCarthy to do their work with the footsteps of giants behind them."


In just over a month, pitchers and catchers will report.

Come late summer, though, well, the standard in Green Bay is still five championships in six championship games in eight seasons.

7.1.19

SUBVERT THE INTERSECTIONAL PARADIGM.

It's the end of the festive season, which means the winter tunes, such as "Winter Wonderland" and "Jingle Bells" and "Sleigh Ride" and "Baby, It's Cold Outside" are out of the rotation until Hallowe'en.

In light, though, of the controversy over the last named tune (a controversy that Jaya Saxena labels "boring as hell") and with the playlists reverting to form: as a Northern Star columnist also unimpressed by the controversy noting, "Some of the Top 40 Hit Songs talk about sex and use explicit language, yet they are on the radio, and no one is banning them. Like the song F*** You by Cee Lo Green, the explicit version of the song uses the F-word many times and yet no one calls to ban it." There's probably an opportunity for radio stations to push the envelope by, oh, introducing the weather forecast on those days you know are going to come between now and Easter, with ...


Enjoy. It's just over a month until pitchers and catchers report.

WHAT'S MONGOLIAN FOR "19 WEST COPY THREE"?

Emily "I Ride the Harlem Line" Moser went on a summer trip to Mongolia, to encounter throwback railroading.
In our previous post we got to see some trains around the Kholt area, this time we visit the small platform (complete with an old, abandoned signal house on the hill above), and get a chance to meet the local dispatcher. Trains through this area aren’t using any type of Centralized Traffic Control, instead a local dispatcher controls the siding outside, and when a train arrives nearby, heads outside to visually report its passage and log the consist’s rear car number and time of passage. On the station platform is a small, raised raised spot which the dispatcher stands on to observe the passing train.
The local train director (translating into steam-era North American terminology) has a small model board to control the turnouts at each end of the Kholt siding.

There has to be a Mongolian family name that translates as Sand, and our Eddie Sand would surely be at home inspecting the train as it rolls by and wiring the OS to the dispatcher.  It works the same way in Kholt as it used to work in Holt, Calif., on the Santa Fe, and surely the soul of the Mongolian railroad resides on a mountain pass, just as Harry Bedwell would have it.

I wonder if the train directors also serve as general agents selling tickets and arranging the setting out of stock cars in the lambing season.

But enjoy the vintage railroading while you can, as centralized traffic control with a dispatch office in Ulanbataar is on the way.

PITCH PERFECT.

Chicago mayoral hopeful William "Bugsy" Daley (yup, of the Daley dynasty) is campaigning for the South Side vote by proposing the Dan Ryan Expressway be renamed for Barack Obama.

Whether such a step is even possible under Illinois law isn't clear.

Cold Spring Shops, however, endorses the idea.  Why?  First, he didn't build it.  Second, the perpetually sluggish traffic is a metaphor in metal of the macroeconomic torpor of the Obama presidency.  Third, on occasion contemporary community organizers draw attention to South Side grievances by obstructing traffic thereon.