3.7.15

THE REPUBLIC ENDURES.

We struggle with the concept of liberty and the proposition of created equal, and yet we persevere.


Find a picnic and a parade, and a preservation railroad or a roller coaster or a concert, and go to it!

2.7.15

THE USUAL STORY.

A few years ago, I suggested that a Galaxi roller coaster at Old Orchard Beach once was at Pittsburgh's White Swan Park.  (A Pinterest user picked up the photo under those premises.)

When White Swan Park gave way for improved road access to a new Pittsburgh air terminal, the Galaxi there went to Joyland Amusement Park in Lubbock, Texas.

White Swan Park itself is a fitting subject for a #ThrowbackThursday.  Here's a look around the grounds in August of 1986.  (For a wallow in the past, feel free to visit the dearly departed Melrose Park Kiddieland, Hoffman's Playland and Conneaut Lake Park.  Be cheerful, though, that Waldameer Park, Knoebel's Grove, and Little A-Merrick-A are still entertaining children of all ages.)


The tariff.


Incentives matter.


Slide rules aren't the exclusive province of rocket scientists.


Ride the Mad Mouse, not quite the same thing as a Wild Mouse.


The view of the Mad Mouse from the Galaxi.


Just before the Galaxi makes the plunge.



The view of the arcade, from the Ferris wheel (genuine Jacksonville Iron, by the way.)


Where, if the carroussel or the roller coasters were too thrilling, for a quarter you could ride Muffin.  I hope some arcade bought her.

THE CRITICAL LEVEL OF CONCENTRATION.

Four airlines control 80% of the U.S. market, notes the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, and the Justice Department is looking for winks and nods or a puff of smoke.
The U.S. government is investigating possible collusion among major airlines to limit available seats, which keeps airfares high.

Seating and fares are closely intertwined, because companies lose pricing power when the industry's capacity outstrips travel demand.

The civil antitrust investigation by the Justice Department appears to focus on whether airlines illegally signaled to each other how quickly they would add new flights, routes and extra seats.

A letter received Tuesday by major U.S. carriers demands copies of all communications the airlines had with each other, Wall Street analysts and major shareholders about their plans for passenger-carrying capacity, or "the undesirability of your company or any other airline increasing capacity."

The Justice Department asked each airline for its passenger-carrying capacity both by region, and overall, since January 2010.

Justice Department spokeswoman Emily Pierce confirmed that the department is looking into potential "unlawful coordination" among some airlines. She declined to comment further or say which airlines are being investigated.
At American Thinker, Thomas Lifson suggests, too little, too late.
Faced with an American public fed up with cattle-car dense seating, extra fees for checked baggage, and perceived poor service from overworked airline employees, the Department of Justice is launching an antitrust probe of the industry, complete with subpoenas.  This is likely to be fruitless, because the airline industry has been allowed to merge itself into an oligopoly that doesn’t need to illicitly coordinate in order to keep a lid on capacity.
In his view the competition authorities went a merger or three too far.
I mourn the loss of all the vanished names of the airline industry: Continental, Northwest, U.S. Airways, TWA, even Braniff (which flamed out in a misbegotten expansion) and even more ancient carriers like Northeast.  If the DoJ wanted a non-oligopolistic industry, it should have stopped the last round of mergers.  Looking for collusion now is like closing the barn door after the horses have left.
That's been a problem since the early days of deregulation.  I recall a presentation by Alfred Kahn in Madison, in the fall of 1978, in which after he finished his overview of the joys of being inflation czar for the Carter administration, he took a few questions about the airlines.  His answers included a lament about how the Civil Aeronautics Board had hoped that the airlines would go into the alley to fight, but they went there to, er, engage in heavy petting instead.

Airlines have sophisticated ridership-management systems and code sharing, and law professors Ariel Ezrachi and Maurice Stucke are contemplating how shared computer information will change conscious parallelism doctrine.  (That's an old expression, contemporary game theorists are more likely to refer to rational cooperation.)
We are shifting from the world where executives expressly collude in smoke-filled hotel rooms to a world where pricing algorithms continually monitor and adjust to each other’s prices and market data. We are leaving the antitrust ‘no brainer’ jurisprudence for one where the ethical and legal issues are unsettled. In this new world, there isn’t necessarily any collusive agreement among executives. Each firm may unilaterally adopt its own pricing algorithm, which sets its own price. In this new world, there isn’t necessarily anticompetitive intent. The executives cannot predict if, when, and for how long the industry-wide use of pricing-algorithms will lead to inflated prices. The danger here isn’t express collusion, but tacit collusion.

The use of advanced algorithms in this scenario transforms an oligopolistic market in which transparency is limited and therefore conscious parallelism cannot be sustained to a market susceptible to tacit collusion/conscious parallelism in which prices will rise. Importantly, price increases are not the result of express collusion but rather the natural outcome of tacit collusion. While the latter is not itself illegal–as it concerns rational reaction to market characteristics–one may ask whether its creation should give rise to antitrust intervention.

With the advancement of technological developments human involvement in setting up these machines will become limited, up to a point that such actions may be determined independently by smart, self-learning machines, which learn how to operate in the market through trial and error. A self-learning machine may find the optimal strategy is to enhance market transparency and thereby sustain conscious parallelism and foster price increases. Importantly, tacit coordination—when executed—is not the fruit of explicit human design but rather the outcome of evolution, self-learning and independent machine execution. Here pricing algorithms learn through experience to maximise profit. Such machines may promote a stable market environment in which they could predict each other’s reaction and dominant strategy. An industry-wide adoption of similar algorithms may foster interdependent action, conscious parallelism, and higher prices. Interestingly, the execution of tacit collusion via algorithms does not mark the end of the spectrum of possible antitrust infringements, as advanced computers may undermine competition through more subtle means. Importantly, without evidence of a human ‘agreement’ or ‘anticompetitive intent,’ the industry-wide use of pricing algorithms may evade antitrust scrutiny under current laws.
The dynamics spelled out above are precisely how rational cooperation becomes an evolutionary stable strategy.  The parallels with the evolution of cooperation or of privilege are straightforward.

The challenge ... and it is as old as price theory ... is in establishing a principle by which the rapid discovery of information, which is one of the sufficient conditions for competitive equilibrium, becomes a facilitating practice for a cooperative equilibrium.
Such technological developments raise thought-provoking legal and ethical challenges. For instance, the increased market transparency, which often enhances competition, may in such circumstances facilitate anticompetitive effects. Enforcers may find it difficult to fine-tune antitrust policy to condemn ‘excessive’ market transparency. This may be particularly challenging when the information and data are otherwise available to consumers and traders and it is the intelligent use of that information that leads to price increases. Importantly, such unilateral use of information, which may facilitate conscious parallelism,[2] is not illegal and does not infringe Section One of the Sherman Act. [3] In other words, under current law, competition agencies may find it difficult to challenge each firm’s unilateral decision to use sophisticated algorithms to analyse market information and determine prices, even if such use results in parallel price increases, to the detriment of consumers.
Perhaps the dominant strategy for each firm is to use such an algorithm. Perhaps the dominant strategy for each algorithm is to follow a tit-for-tat strategy in the pricing of buckets of seats.  And thus rational cooperation evolves in repeated interaction.  But consumers get screwed.

READY FOR HILLARY.

It is Madison, but the turnout for a Bernie Sanders rally at the Coliseum rivaled the days when Bob Johnson and the Wisconsin Badgers got a standing ovation from a full house skating on for warm-ups.
It is clear that the progressive base of the Democratic Party is fed up with Hillary Clinton, the cozy-with-Wall-Street party insider who parlayed political connections into a nine-figure fortune after leaving the White House “dead broke.”  In fact, the big news the Clinton Campaign intended to tout on the day of Sanders’s triumph brought home the point: her campaign has managed to raise $45 million.

Does anyone in the Hillary campaign think they can draw ten thousand wildly enthusiastic supporters to cheer, stomp, and call out her name in an orgy of political thrills?  I suspect they are considering the question this morning, thinking that out of 16 million or so people in the Greater New York Area, perhaps ten thousand is not an insurmountable number.  In Greater Madison, with a population of 568,593 in the 2010 Census, it is certainly an impossibility.
Among the true believers on the right, it might suffice to call out the Democrats as an odd coalition of the gentry and the destitute.
The dirty secret of the Dems is that they are the party of the super-rich and the underclass, while the GOP is the party of the bourgeois – the rising small businesses, the wealth creators.  In order to fund themselves and their turnout efforts, the Dems need a skilled hypocrite like Hillary (only more convincing, as were her husband and Barack Obama), able to denounce the wealthy while Hoovering up their cash with a nod and wink.

Will the Sanders crowd willingly assent to a Hillary candidacy?  Maybe.  But I doubt they will have much enthusiasm about it, and the Dems need to wring every vote possible out of low-information, uninvolved people who on their own wouldn’t show up at the polls.
But it takes something to beat a Democrat, and the Wisconsin Republicans still seem mired in "Not a Leftist."  Yes, there's a lot of 1964, or 1932, in Democratic manifestoes.  But it's still easy for Democrats to invoke 1876 or 1896 or 1928 in the Republican message, that is, if there is a message.

RESTORING THE WINNING WAYS?

On Monday, Northern Star sports reporter Chris Loggins suggested the university's search for a new women's basketball coach to replace the resigned Kathi Bennett was taking a long time.
Although the team struggled throughout Bennett’s tenure, the resignation came as a surprise. What’s more surprising is the team has yet to find a replacement.

Under Bennett, the team went 57-93 in five seasons, and it’d be an understatement to say they under-achieved in her time. In the 2014-2015 season, the Huskies went 12-17, with an 8-10 conference record and a 2-12 record on the road. They lost seven games by double figures and never won more than two games in a row.

Why the search for a new head coach has taken so long is unclear. The team should be confident NIU can somehow find a replacement that can work towards changing its fortune. With next season’s tip off still months away, there should be little to no concern over finding a great fit.

The team hasn’t had a winning record since they went (19-12, 8-8 MAC) in the 2006-2007 season under head coach Carol Owens. A drought this long has to be broken, and maybe a coaching change is what it may take to bring a winning culture to women’s basketball at NIU.
Perhaps the team's continued difficulties have turned the position from a desirable to a difficult one.

On Tuesday, the DeKalb Daily Chronicle noted that the athletic department had a short list of two candidates.
The Northern Illinois athletic program will name its women's basketball coach on Tuesday and documents obtained by the Daily Chronicle appear to show the two finalists for the position.

According to documents obtained from Northern Illinois University via the Freedom of Information Act, Lisa Carlsen and Tasha Pointer were the only two candidates to come to DeKalb for an in-person interview – Pointer on June 22-23 and Carlsen on June 23-24.
The long list was five people.
According to the documents, five applicants were given in-person interviews with a search firm Northern Illinois was using and only two – Carlsen and Pointer – were granted in-person interviews on campus.
Later that day, the university did name Lisa Carlsen, formerly coach at Lewis University, to the job.  At the press conference, athletic director Sean Frazier made an interesting observation.
She was auditioning and she did not know she was auditioning. You know I think every athletic director in the country has a short list or know of some people. It didn’t hurt to know Coach Carlsen’s style or athletes. The fact that she was not that far away from us in Chicagoland proper. Those all things were a bonus in this process. If I didn’t know what Lewis or who Lewis was but I knew it after that game. I can tell you that much. I will say that, you know, the process, the body of work, the things that she’s been able to do in her career are extremely impressive. As we went through the process, it was clear that this was going to be a good fit.
Lewis turned out not to be a non-conference early-season bought win for Northern Illinois last fall.  But success outside of the automatic-qualifying conferences isn't the greatest recruiting point.  Moving to the Mid-American, according to the new coach, might be.
I can go out and get some of those kids that maybe I wasn’t going to be able get at Lewis, but I know who they are. I know those names. I know those programs. I know those AAU teams or whatever it is, that I can now continue to go after and I might be able to entice them now to be a Huskie at this level that maybe I wasn’t going to be able to do in getting those kids to Lewis.
We'll be watching.

MARKET TESTS HAVE STEEP GRADING CURVES.

The University of Phoenix is finding this out, notes Dean Dad, whose curriculum vitae include relevant experience.
Phoenix grew by serving a niche that traditional higher education usually ignored.  And its business model was based on three major factors: the availability of financial aid, charging more than the marginal cost of production, and feeding investor expectations.  The last two are different enough from what non-profits do that they’re often misunderstood.
Yes, unless we are talking about the few private universities that are hedge funds with a teaching division. But Phoenix didn't envision competing with them.
Phoenix hit the limits of its niche in the early 2000’s. Historically, it had required students to be at least 21 or 25, and to be employed. By being relatively selective, it was able to ensure at least some level of quality control.

But by the early 2000’s, the 90’s tech boom had subsided, and the publics were starting to make their presence felt with online and weekend programs. In other words, UoP’s niche was getting crowded. Because it only makes sense when it’s growing -- “stability” reads as “stagnation” in the capital markets -- it decided to throw the doors open to keep the growth moving. That “worked,” for a while, in the narrow sense that it allowed enrollments to keep growing for a few more years and keep investors happy. But it eviscerated what quality control the institution had. Over time, higher attrition and unhappy graduates (and employers of graduates) chipped away at the reputation. Add an administration with a bone to pick, and suddenly the underpinnings of the business model started to fail.
Excess capacity in access-assessment-remediation-retention? There might not be much open-admission community colleges can do about that, although as Dean Dad will note, they have competitive advantages.  State-supported regional comprehensives are another matter.
[Phoenix] tried to compete with community colleges, which have significant cost advantages. (At a basic level, they’re subsidized and untaxed. It’s hard to compete with that.) Instead, it could have used the boom times to focus on getting more selective and improving both retention and reputation. During the boom, they wouldn’t have had to choose between growth and improvement; they could have had both. Then, when the boom ended, they would have been in a very different market position.

In most other sectors of the economy in which for-profit and public entities compete, the for-profits take the high end and the publics take the low end. Most for-profit higher ed has focused on the low end, and now, they’re watching community colleges eat their lunch. They missed a chance to legitimize themselves.
That makes for some interesting political economy (on the one hand, Ken Galbraith bemoaned public squalor amid private opulence, while P. J. O'Rourke suggested that was the logical outcome.)  But Phoenix is not, as far as I know, resurrecting the talking points of the regulated railroads of the 1950s, whose passenger services had to compete with subsidized or tax-preferred airlines and bus operators.

On the other hand, moving upscale isn't as easy as it looks.
The much-maligned statement that they’re expecting enrollment declines actually gives me hope; it suggests that they’re in touch with reality.  Getting selective will likely cut short-term enrollment even more than otherwise, but over the long term, it’s the best chance for survival.  And frankly, if for-profits were to compete on quality and force everyone else to raise their game, there wouldn’t be much reason to object to them.
The reason U. S. News sells those rating guides is to cater to the fears of ambitious students (or perhaps of fretful parents) that what looks like a promising place to enroll is just another sub-prime party school.  Phoenix competing on quality?  While not offering prospective faculty the opportunities to work with high-achieving undergraduates, doctoral students, and to perform research?  Let me know how that works out.

1.7.15

THE NECESSITY OF CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE.

A transformative week for the self-styled progressives, but ominous portents proliferate.
So, again, while the silly prancers prance and the idiotic dancers dance on the streets of DC, San Francisco, and Seattle, the White House bathes in the gay colors of the rainbow flag, our President lectures us on the evils of the Confederacy, and the Rebel flag gets ripped down from monuments across the South, ISIS & Co. continue their march toward an Islamic Caliphate--one in which, please note, gays do not get married, they get thrown from tall buildings or hanged from cranes. While it apparently takes a delusional white guy shooting up a black church to get our President concerned about the deaths of Christians, or as he once labelled them "bible clingers," ISIS and pals such as Boko Haram have no problem slaughtering hundreds of Christians and bragging about it. Nary a peep from the Obama misadministration, but as long as the Islamists don't fly the Rebel battle flag, I guess it's OK.
Yes, as long as Hard America will forgive Prancing America the insults and the snobbery and the defense of failed policies as Good Intentions and bail them out, again.  Now comes Sultan Knish, suggesting to disgruntled readers it is time to Be the Best Saboteur You Can Be.
We're the underdogs. We're the political guerrillas. This is not our system. It's their system.

Our job is to make it run as badly as possible.
And Michael Kennedy of Chicago Boyz proposes a new symbol for the insurrection.  As a commenter notes, "Nothing is more energizing among rebels than taking a symbol calculated to give offense and kicking the general public in the teeth with it. Epater la bourgeoisie; this is the red-neck and flyover country version." Perhaps so, although eleven years ago I was noting similar portents.  How much disgruntled neglect is a polity capable of handling?

EASIER TO BE RADICAL WITH TENURE.

Another day, another professor of victim studies called out for being excessively provocative on social media.  This time it's sociologist Zandria Robinson, whose statements got the attention of Katherine Timpf of National Review.  Professor Robinson has since left Memphis to pursue other opportunities.
The University of Memphis has been mostly silent in the last month as conservative bloggers and publications have criticized Zandria Robinson, until recently an assistant professor of sociology at the university.

But on Tuesday afternoon, the university posted an 11-word comment on Twitter: “Zandria Robinson is no longer employed by the University of Memphis.” The university declined to say anything more, such as whether she had been fired and, if so, why.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Robinson's defenders took to social media to denounce her apparent firing. After a few hours, Robinson shared a post with some friends saying that she had not been fired, but had accepted a job elsewhere a few weeks ago. Faculty members at Memphis confirmed this.

But while Robinson has found a new employer, she has become a new cause in a culture war going on about the online comments of black women in academe, and specifically in sociology. To conservative critics, the issue is statements that they consider outlandish and racist (specifically, anti-white). To many sociologists, of a variety of races and ethnicities, black women who challenge white dominance are having their words and ideas taken out of context, are being flooded with hateful email -- and are at risk of having their careers disrupted.
It is sociology. There are, however, ways to challenge perceived dominance by, for instance, publishing research in refereed journals, or, by teaching the controversies in a proper fashion, preferably using more than 140 characters and striking a balance between the provocative and the prosaic.  And publishing research in refereed journals is part of the professor's mission, one which Donald Downs and John Sharpless argue in Politico is the part academic tenure protects. "Without tenure protections, professors like us who fight for free speech and liberty—values Walker himself espouses—could be even more at risk of being targeted on college campuses for our beliefs." Not, note, for making provocative statements on social media.  For investigating inconvenient truths.
Outnumbered and often targeted for our beliefs by members of the campus left, constitutional conservatives like us—who take individual liberty, freedom of speech and academic freedom very seriously—have long relied on tenure to protect our right to dissent and to preserve the free exchange of ideas in academia.
That protection once kept Richard T. Ely and John R. Commons on faculty, and it will protect insurgent sociologists once race-class-gender and culture studies become research dead ends.
It’s no wonder conservatives in our state legislatures, rightly or wrongly, think our universities—not just Wisconsin—are liberal insane asylums under the control of the inmates. We know for a fact that many legislators are reacting to the intellectual intolerance they believe reigns on campus. But if indeed campuses are rife with liberal-progressive and politically correct orthodoxy, why expose on-campus critics of that liberal hegemony to greater chance at banishment?
That hegemony, too, will pass, and then it will be the insurgent sociologists making the case for free exchange of ideas.

IS ANYBODY SURPRISED?

The common schools of the People's Republic of Madison go for kinder, gentler, fewer consequences for acting out in the halls.  A former teacher's assistant isn't happy with what comes next.
Toki Middle School gives evidence to any negative notion one may have about the condition of the Madison Public Schools under its new discipline policy. I spent the year there as a special education assistant, and witnessed daily the failures of this policy, which was first implemented this past school year. The Behavior Education Plan is intended to keep students in the classroom — learning — by reducing the number of out-of-school suspensions and expulsions. But the result is that classrooms are out of control, and so very little learning can take place. Teachers can't teach when they're constantly dealing with behavior problems. Toki is on its knees, and if things don’t change it will soon be on its back.
When a paid-up member of the education establishment suggests the new policy is enabling dysfunction, perhaps people will pay attention.
Toki is not a bad school because it has bad kids. Our aim should not be to blame the students, but to protect them. The students are not the reason a school fails; they’re the ones damaged by its failure. Toki’s students are suffering from a lack of boundaries. Kids who are already in trouble — or moving steadily toward it — are learning that their actions do not have consequences.

There are so many fights, so many kids skipping class and running around the halls (and we know the success of a school can be judged by its hallways), that most bad behavior is overlooked. Bad behavior is the norm. And so the conduct of these students is only occasionally addressed at all.

You won’t hear a Toki student say, “You better stop; a teacher’s coming.” It doesn’t matter that a teacher’s coming; there’s nothing the teacher can do.

Toki’s atmosphere is tense with violence. When young people in crisis are in a place with no control, no discipline and no consequences, violence does happen. I believe that if things don’t change soon, fatal violence will occur in that building. This is a dramatic statement, but not an exaggerated one.
What's either disturbing or, in a perverse way, amusing, is that the young hellions know enough about proper behavior to recognize that they're being enabled.
I asked a number of students at Toki, students who were regularly behaving very poorly, what they were going to do when they left Toki, when they could no longer get away with everything. They told me they would be better when they weren't at Toki. They said they acted the way they did at school because they knew they could. These students will be as good as we expect them to be, and we're doing them a disservice, preparing them only for failure, when we allow what is bad in them to choke out what is good in them. We must provide boundaries. We must teach them, lovingly and graciously, that actions have consequences. If we really believe they are capable of goodness, then we must hold them to that standard.
I hope the author is right. More likely, we're seeing the future cohorts of flash-mobs rampaging through malls in training.

Madison's Capital Times investigates the school system's indiscipline policies.  The fingerprints of Pacific Educational [c.q.] Group or some similar foolishness are present.
Reflecting a national trend, the Madison School District revamped its discipline policy to move away from “zero tolerance” policies in an effort to stop practices that pulled too many students out of the classroom. A disproportionate number of those students suspended and expelled were African-American.

The new discipline policy emphasizes fostering emotional growth instead of punishment. The policy prescribes a series of progressive “time-out” procedures, which critics say does not stop problem behavior.

“It’s important we don’t divorce schools’ instructional work from the work they are doing to respond to student behavior –they go hand in hand,” she said. “The more students are engaged in high quality instruction that is relevant to their daily lives, the fewer problems we have.
Those are the good intentions. The outcomes, not so much.
Toki principal Nicole Schaefer said she has been working toward a less punitive method of dealing with behavior issues since taking the reins of the school eight years ago, so adoption of the new plan district-wide did not mean big changes at her school.
That's the spin from the office. In the halls, there's a different reality.
Some teaching veterans say the relationship between students and their teachers has changed dramatically in recent years.

That’s what Marguerite Ward, who worked as a special education assistant at Toki for 23 years before retiring this year, said she observed.

“I can’t even explain how it deteriorated so badly,” Ward said. “When I first started, no student even thought of swearing at an adult. When I left, it was a common everyday occurrence and nothing ever happened.”

Ward said that the response to misbehavior at Toki changed when Schaefer became principal, and consequences for misbehavior are no longer sufficient.

“It’s very unrealistic not to have consequences. It leaves kids really unprepared for the real world, where if you come in late every day you lose your job, and if you swear at your boss, you lose your job,” Ward said.
It's Madison, though, and there are people not yet prepared to be mugged by reality.
At least some students have noticed a difference in the classroom environment this year. Angie Hubbard, president of the Toki PTA, reported that her 8th-grade daughter asked her why some kids were allowed to disrespect the class and teacher by using their phones without consequences, like having to leave the room.

“I think she felt the school didn't have enough money to do something about them. She ultimately felt sorry for those kids because she felt they were not going to do well in high school,” Hubbard said. “I am happy she wasn't influenced by their behavior as she may have been if she were younger.”
Elsewhere around the school system, there are some success stories, and some genuinely scary behavior.

30.6.15

WHAT IS THE COMPELLING STATE INTEREST?

Walter Russell Mead responds to the Supreme Court making marriage rights uniform countrywide with a suggestion that the term marriage is overworked, attempting to serve both sacred and secular purposes.
I’m personally of the view that there is a major distinction between religious marriage and civil marriage. There are lots of civil marriages that various religious groups do not accept, and that is as it should be. Insofar as the question is whether gay couples should have a right under civil law to enter into a legally recognized and legally defined partnership, I would agree with the Court that the law should leave this choice to the people involved.

At the same time, the civil law does not and should not have the power to compel religious groups to recognize as religious marriages civil unions that violate the canons of their faith. Nor should religious institutions be required to open their facilities for the use of wedding ceremonies that violate their ideas about what a marriage is. If a Catholic church only wants to hold Catholic weddings, that is the church’s decision to make, not the Court’s.

As to social policy—whether providing legal recognition and social acceptance to same-sex couples is good for society or bad for it—that’s a question that we just can’t answer yet. The widespread acceptance of adult homosexuality is genuinely new in Western society. (The ancient Romans and Greeks would have opposed gay marriage between adult men as a terrible perversion.) We will have to see how it works out in practice.

In the interim, social policy ought to focus on strengthening the non-gay marriages (without discriminating against or excluding gay marriages from social benefits or legal recognition). It’s clear that those marriages—especially for lower middle class and lower class people of all races—are in bad shape indeed. If it turns out that opening civil marriage to gay couples makes pro-marriage policy less contentious, then even hardcore religious opponents of gay marriage might end up taking some comfort from this ruling.
The simplest way out might be to limit government, according to Reason's Sheldon Richman.  "Let’s get something out of the way at the start: the state—even if it should exist—should not be involved in marriage."  It's not that simple, as Mr Richman goes on to explain, but on libertarian grounds the national government ought be protecting equal treatment under the laws.  That turns the issuance and honoring of marriage licenses into a straightforward use of the full faith and credit clause, Justice Scalia notwithstanding.
The five Justices who compose today’s majority are entirely comfortable concluding that every State violated the Constitution for all of the 135 years between the Fourteenth Amendment’s ratification and Massachusetts’ permitting of same-sex marriages in 2003. They have discovered in the Fourteenth Amendment a “fundamental right” overlooked by every person alive at the time of ratification, and almost everyone else in the time since.
At ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment, there was no fundamental right to a driving license, as there were no driving licenses.  At the same time, a transient's driving license is valid during transit, but a person changing states of residence has to qualify for the new state's driving license.  That has not been the case with marriage licenses, although a couple changing residence is subject to the new state's tax code and community property rules.  Word has reached Cold Spring Shops of an attempt -- perhaps guerrilla litigation? -- to compel all states to issue and honor concealed carry permits.  And as I am assembling this post, Reason weighs in with a subversion of the tax code.

Leaving the constitutional conjectures to others more competent to weigh the legalities, let's consider the possibility of institutions evolving to conserve on transaction costs.  There's a lengthy essay in The Freeman by Steven Horwitz laying out several hypotheses about the evolution of marriage and family.  The money quote comes early in the essay.
The love-based marriage represented the progressive influence of individualism on the culture, having already conquered the economy through capitalism and the polity through constitutional democracies.

As many of the economic and political functions of the family moved out of the household and women and children moved back in, new functions arose to fill the vacuum. Increasingly families became concerned with psychological and emotional fulfillment, and childhood underwent perhaps the largest change.
In Professor Horwitz's analysis, creative destruction also midwives same-sex marriage.
The slow acceptance of the idea of same-sex marriage is the culmination of two of the capitalism-driven trends we have already identified. First, economic growth made it possible for men and women to survive outside the institution of the family. As the historian of sexuality John D’Emilio argues, it was the wage labor created by capitalism that made the notion of “gay identity” possible. Separating the ability to earn income from the heterosexual family meant it was possible to live one’s life as a homosexual in a way that had never been possible before. The gradual increase in social visibility of first gays then lesbians over the twentieth century reflects the shift in marriage and the family from an economic to a psychological institution, again made possible by capitalism.

Second, as emotional fulfillment became a central function of marriage, it should come as no surprise that gays and lesbians would want to participate. When romantic and sexual attraction become the reasons to get married and stay together, what, argue gays and lesbians, differentiates their relationships from heterosexual ones? When the number of childless couples continues to grow and when more heterosexual couples have children through adoption or artificial reproduction, what differentiates them from same-sex couples?
But that turns the civil institution -- as opposed to the religious sacrament -- of marriage into a contractual agreement (with no-fault divorce, it's notarized dating) for the benefit of adults.  Thus, a question I raised years ago, still stands.  "Implicitly, it is the state, and not the culture, that is protecting the interests of children. Doesn't that imply a competence for the state in protecting the interests of children that it has not demonstrated when it comes to providing education, or school lunches, or safe neighborhoods?" (National Review has redesigned their website, and the links in that post no longer work.)

But treating legal marriage as a contractual arrangement for the benefit of adults doesn't sit well with everyone.  Here's Ryan Anderson in a First Things symposium.
No, marriage isn’t just a private affair; marriage is a matter of public policy because marriage is society’s best way to ensure the well-being of children. State recognition of marriage acts as a powerful social norm that encourages men and women to commit to each other so they will take responsibility for any children that follow.

Redefining marriage to make it a genderless institution fundamentally changes marriage: It makes the relationship more about the desires of adults than about the needs—or rights—of children. It teaches the lie that mothers and fathers are interchangeable.
Perhaps so, although that train wreck happened long ago. "Put another way, the culture is doing just fine in protecting children -- in neighborhoods where the adults act responsibly, and not so well -- in neighborhoods where the adults don't."  In the same symposium -- scroll past a lot of E-T-T-S lamentations, Melinda Selmys argues that the way to demonstrate the evolutionary advantage of an institution is to demonstrate the evolutionary advantage.
The challenge, then, is for advocates of the traditional family to stop wringing their hands over the SCOTUS decision and blaming the gays for the demise of the family, and to focus instead on renewing the practice of sacramental marriage by building up communities of support so that the traditional understanding of marriage will become practicable and attractive again.
Think there's a lot of self-segregation now? It's likely to become more pronounced.

Likewise, there's a lot of lamentation in the National Review symposium, although Jennifer Roback Morse, who has a background in utility regulation, appears to be suggesting that a compelling state interest in keeping track of parentage cannot be wished away.
Parenthood will no longer be considered a natural reality to be recorded by the government but the creation of the state for the benefit of adults.

Some children will have a legally recognized right to know both of the parents. Other children will be blocked by the state from knowing both parents.

Some children will have three or more people named as parents on their birth certificates.

Parenthood by contract among interested parties will become legally enforceable by the states.

Third-party reproduction will continue unregulated and unabated. By the time people figure out that this is a human-rights abuse, it will be so widespread and entrenched that it will be extremely difficult to root out.
Or the evolutionary advantages of respecting bourgeois convention will be so clear that polymorphous perversity will collapse of its own internal contradictions?

RECRUIT, RED-SHIRT, AND DEVELOP.

That has been the model for the Wisconsin men's basketball team.  It's a team concept in which discipline trumps talent.  In the Big Ten, there are sports pundits recommending the approach for Penn State and Minnesota.  But now long-time coach Bo Ryan has announced his retirement -- with a little bit of urging from athletic director Barry Alvarez to make another tournament run and perhaps develop a successor.

Yahoo Sports pundit Pat Forde suggests we are witnessing the "end of an old-school era."  But read on, and you see that perhaps not.
Ryan is simply unrivaled when it comes to player development and finding prospects who fit his unique system.

I checked the Rivals.com team recruiting rankings going back to 2003. In that 13-class span, this is how many times Wisconsin has been ranked in the top 25 (and later top 30): zero.

Yet Ryan's teams have played in the NCAA tournament every year since he arrived in Madison in 2001 (14 years running), won at least 23 games 11 times and had double-digit Big Ten wins 13 times. They are recession-proof. And they've made a lot of hotshot recruiters look bad by comparison.

Patience and long-term growth. They've become the Bo Ryan brand – and this is a guy who predates that corporate buzzword by a few decades. He's an unhurried program builder, and also an unhurried tactician.

The Badgers have been a famously deliberate (sometimes outright dawdling) team under Ryan. They chronically rank in the 300s in tempo rankings. Yet Ryan has found players who embrace that style and flourish within it, while endlessly frustrating impatient opponents.

Wisconsin has always run more clock. Made more passes. Made more cuts. And inevitably short-attention-span defenses crack and give up something.

But beyond tempo there is another eternal tent of Bo's system: don't beat yourself. Don't throw the ball away (Wisconsin led the nation in 2014-15 in lowest turnover percentage, and has ranked in the top five nationally in that category seven years in a row). Don't put the other team on the foul line (Wisconsin led the nation in lowest free-throw rate this past season). Simple stuff in theory, harder to do in practice.
Simple stuff to do in theory. The harder the practice, though, the easier it is to do so in the game.  Discipline trumps talent.  Thanks, coach, and On! Wisconsin!

TURNING THE ALBUM'S LEAVES.

The 11-D weblog is closed, but the links are still active, including this reference to research on the prestige of research.  "No academic journal pays its authors for their work, but there is a pecking order among these journals for prestige." So how many months off their lives would the economists surveyed give up for a publication?
Specifically, the average study participant was willing to give up 0.77 years for a paper published in the American Economic Review, but only 0.55 years for the Quarterly Journal of Economics, 0.42 years for the Review of Economic Studies, and 0.38 years for the European Economic Review.
The study itself earned its three authors some pages in Economic Inquiry.  I scrolled through the paper.  The survey invitees -- the authors solicited authors from only a few journals -- were few, and more than a few invitees declined with extreme prejudice.  I suspect, therefore, that we are unlikely to see a generalized followup study on the quality-adjusted prestige years value of Economic Inquiry or Marquette Business Review, let alone what the proper correction for co-authors is.

29.6.15

IF YOU THINK COMMUTING IS EXPENSIVE NOW ....

Continuing to treat the roads as "free" isn't going to help.
Elected officials and transportation professionals generally agree on the nation's intensifying traffic congestion but are divided about how to address it.

The Obama administration leans heavily toward getting people out of their vehicles, a solution preferred by many urban planners. New highway lanes aren't enough, the theory goes, because they will simply attract drivers who had been taking other routes and encourage more sprawl. Soon congestion will be as bad as ever.
Yes, and the Homestead Act and mortgage interest deductions and elbow room are normal goods. And North Americans are still behaving as if they are prosperous, the best efforts of Democrats to the contrary notwithstanding.
Census data on commuting show that between 1980 and 2013, the proportion of workers driving alone to work increased from 64% to 77%. Carpooling dropped from 20% of trips to 10%, and public transit declined slightly from 6% of trips to 5%. Nearly all the growth in commuting traffic can be attributed to the growth in commutes by private vehicle.

According to a new poll by the Associated Press-GfK, a slight majority of Americans still prefer living in a single-family house in the suburbs or a rural area with more land, even if it means driving long distances to get to work or run errands.

The share of Americans who prefer suburban or rural living — 53% — is identical to the share who say the government should increase spending to build and improve roads, bridges and interstate highways.
The problem, as the article goes on to explain, is that such government spending implies government taxation, and voters are reluctant to raise local taxes, let alone authorize changes to the excise taxes that allegedly pay for the highways.  (And let's not get into the tax preferences granted to congestion-generating businesses such as sports teams or retailers.)

Meanwhile, a Texas entrepreneur continues to hope to build, with investor money, a high-speed railroad linking Houston and Dallas.

There is no discussion, in the article or in accompanying comments, of whether this railroad will be built with sufficient clearance for auto-racks and double-stacks.  Unless this railroad generates enough traffic for Shinkansen-like headways at all hours of the day, there will be capacity for time-sensitive freight traffic.  And there's plenty of room for improvement of the passenger rail services in Texas.

INCENTIVES MATTER.

I used to have a professional interest in the way employee benefits, which function as a wedge between the value of the marginal product and the take-home pay of a worker, might change working hours.  In a unionized environment, such as the legacy automobile companies of the 1980s, that wedge might also induce employers to hire fewer workers and schedule more overtime.

Now comes the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (two lies in one title, anyone?) with a different set of incentives.  Betsy Newmark identified two commentators who suggest, in a world with less union coverage of working hours, a new set of incentives.

First up, Lawrence Kudlow identifying the wedge.
Because of Obamacare, there’s an additional 0.9% Medicare tax on salaries and self-employment income, a 3.8% tax increase on capital gains and dividends, a cap on health-care flexible spending accounts, a higher threshold for itemized medical-expense deductions, and a stiff penalty on employer reimbursements for individual employee health-policy premiums.
Some of these provisions are a lump-sum charge that apply to a worker, and they'd have the same effect on hiring (reduced) and overtime (increased) as the fringe benefits of a United Auto Workers contract. But there's a further wrinkle, in that the provisions apply differently to part time workers and to employers with small work-forces.
The business mandates and penalties imposed by Obamacare when small firms hire a 50th employee or ask for a 30-hour workweek are so high that firms are opting to hold employment to 49 and hours worked to 29. Lower employment and fewer hours worked are a double death knell for growth.

The [Bureau of Labor Statistics] sheds light on this: Although part-time work has fallen during the recovery, to 7 million from around 9 million, it hovered around 4 million during the prior recovery. Part-time employment, which as a share of total employment peaked at around 20% in 2010 and has slipped to about 19%, hovered around 17% during most of the prior expansion. Obamacare?

Everybody is complaining about the low labor-force participation rate and the equally stubborn reduction in the employment-to-population rate. But why are we surprised? Obamacare is effectively paying people not to work.
Might work better as a testable hypothesis phrased as "does the law favor hiring part-timers?"  If you're daring enough, you might also want to investigate the data for an effect on overtime among the remaining full-time workers, or salaried workers.
University of Chicago economist Casey Mulligan argues that Obamacare disincentives will reduce full-time equivalent workers by about 4 million principally because it phases out health-insurance subsidies as worker income increases. In other words, Obamacare is a tax on full-time work. After-tax, people working part time yield more disposable income than working full time.

Mr. Mulligan calculates that both explicit and implicit marginal tax rates within Obamacare may rise to near 50% as the law discourages those who attempt to climb the ladder of success. National prosperity and economic growth are again the victims.
There are other dissertation topics hiding in Mr Kudlow's column, should you, dear reader, be seeking one.  I want to focus on those non-convexities.  Let us turn to Robert E. Moffit.
The complicated insurance subsidy program itself has been a mess. H&R Block reported that about two thirds of subsidy recipients had to repay money back to the government because they got bigger than allowable subsidies. With the individual mandate, the administration has been granting lots of exemptions to insulate most of the uninsured from any penalty. That’s rather predictable; after all, even candidate Barack Obama argued that an individual mandate was unfair and unenforceable.

As for the employer mandate—another fractured cornerstone of Obamacare—the administration has delayed it for one year. Even liberal supporters now want to repeal it, fearing damage to the labor markets.
There's much more for future research in that column.  Does it come as a surprise that if you authorize Medicare and Medicaid with powers Wal-Mart or the most grasping monopsonist of literature could only dream of, that the effect would be reduced provision?

IDENTITY POLITICS IS TOO MUCH FOR LEON TROTSKY'S DISCIPLES.

Here's a World Socialist Web Site commentary on the excesses of "authenticity".
It is asserted that one must be black to understand the “black experience.” This, of course, has a corollary: namely, that one must be white to understand the “white experience.” Among the conclusions that flow from this premise is the contention that white teachers, who cannot understand blacks, should not be allowed to teach African-American students, and black teachers should be prevented from teaching whites.

This racialist standpoint, if taken to its logi[c]al conclusion, suggests that there should be separate white and black television and radio stations, newspapers, schools, universities, etc. It complements the arguments of those who say the races should be separated from one another all down the line.
I'm not sure what "logical conclusion" means in any argument not posed as mathematics, but otherwise, there's little to disagree with in the above, which is a shorter objection to the fetishization of otherness so popular among the Perpetually Aggrieved.  The next observation is a stretch, logical extension or not. "Starting from a similar premise, i.e., the supposedly incompatible life experiences of the two races, outright segregationists argue that is it unfair to the new generation to allow intermarriage." I'm not sure whether that's old-style segregation, now using postmodern logic, or new-style segregation, based on intersectionality and authenticity.


There's food for thought in what comes next.
It is not difficult to see how the racialist world view of supposedly liberal and “left” academics and journalists leads in the direction of the murderous and hate-filled dogmas of the Ku Klux Klan and similar outfits.

The fact that one individual’s racial identity became the all-consuming focus of the American media illustrates the complete disjuncture between the preoccupations of the privileged middle-class intelligentsia, along with journalists, pundits and politicians—which they seek to impose on popular consciousness—and the reality of American society, which is riven by class divisions.
Yes, it's possible that the current generation of white supremacists are made angry by the doctrines of self-despising multiculturalism ... the social science is preliminary.  I doubt, though, that an analysis at a socialist forum is going to note that class divisions are more severe than necessary precisely because the self-styled progressives have enabled dysfunction in poor neighborhoods and the common schools therein, calling it authenticity or cultural competence, and blighted the hopes of matriculants to college by admitting unprepared students and calling it access.

CHRIS HEDGES'S E-T-T-S MOMENT.

Where have all the small platoons of civil society gone?
Public lectures, church services, labor unions, Veterans of Foreign Wars halls, Masonic halls, Rotary clubs, the Knights of Columbus, the Lions Club, Grange Hall meetings, the League of Women Voters, Daughters of the American Revolution, local historical societies, town halls, bowling leagues, bridge clubs, movie theater attendance (at a 20-year low), advocacy groups such as the NAACP and professional and amateur theatrical and musical performances cater to a dwindling and graying population. No one is coming through the door to take the place of the old members. A generation has fallen down the rabbit hole of electronic hallucinations—with images often dominated by violence and pornography.
For Mr Hedges, it's corporate totalitarianism providing the narcotics that once were the province of state totalitarians.
Totalitarian societies, including our own, inundate the public with a steady stream of propaganda accompanied by mindless entertainment. They seek to destroy independent organizations. In Nazi Germany the state provided millions of cheap, state-subsidized radios and then dominated the airwaves with its propaganda. Radio receivers were mounted in public locations in Stalin’s Soviet Union; and citizens, especially illiterate peasants, were required to gather to listen to the state-controlled news and the dictator’s speeches. These totalitarian states also banned civic organizations that were not under the iron control of the party.

The corporate state is no different, although unlike past totalitarian systems it permits dissent in the form of print and does not ban fading civic and community groups. It has won the battle against literacy. The seductiveness of the image lures most Americans away from the print-based world of ideas.
I concur in part and dissent in part.  Yes, it's hard to find younger model railroaders, or ferroequinologists, or bowlers or bridge-players (outside the ranks of hedge fund managers?)  And the movie theaters are not responding well to pay-per-view and online streaming and other ways to see it when you want, with whom you want, with home-made popcorn.  I have given up on the local movie house, in reaction to having to sit through commercials during the dead time between screenings and then enduring another half hour of commercials from the announced start time of the feature until the feature actually starts.

But apart from the NAACP, which has become a voter-mobilization auxiliary for the Democrats, the institutions Mr Hedges names have been demonized by the self-styled progressives as exclusionary (Masons, Moose, Eagles, Rotary and Kiwanis) if not downright retrograde (American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Sons or Daughters of the American Revolution, fundamentalist churches.)  Mr Hedges can't even resist a dig at Traditional America in introducing the stock-car racers as an example of the virtual and alienated crowding out the actual and social.
The steady decline of the white male heaven that is NASCAR—which has stopped publishing the falling attendance at its tracks and at some speedways has begun to tear down bleachers—is ominous. It is the symbol of a captive society.
Perhaps, perhaps, one day, even in the fever swamps of the identity-politics left, someone will recognize that good intentions don't lead to good results.  After thirty or forty years of calling out the stock car racers for their casual sexism (those babes in Daisy Dukes) or environmental insensitivity (souped up automobiles with big engines) or retrograde attitudes (those rebel battle flags in the tailgating area) perhaps there's more at work than a few young adults shackled to their devices, nicht wahr?

Mr Hedges, be careful what you ask for.
We must leave our isolated rooms. We must shut out these images. We must connect with those around us. It is only the communal that will save us. It is only the communal that will allow us to build a movement to resist. And it is only the communal that will sustain us through mutual aid as climate change and economic collapse increasingly dominate our future.
What happens, though, when that connection takes the form of a conservative insurgency?

ALLAH AND STALIN WILL IT.

Ralph Peters weighs in on the scrubbing of the historical record.
[W]hat outrages the American Left? The horrific destruction? The breathtaking slaughter? No. Our Left has gone to the barricades over the prospect of a Southern working stiff putting a Confederate Battle Flag decal on his pickup truck.

I’ve always hoped that at least some of the Left’s stirring rhetoric about human dignity and culture was sincere, but my hope has become considerably less audacious. How can the Left look away from the comprehensive destruction and atrocities perpetrated by the Islamic State? Do brown lives matter only when deaths can be blamed on American drones?
Yes. Pride weekend is all about legal marriage from coast to coast. Never mind what the caliphate does when it finds practicing homosexuals. Talk about privilege.
For all of their profound differences, the Islamic State and the Left have one purpose in common: They want to wipe out history so they can write it anew to support their utopias, the perfected societies of their inhuman fantasies.

The Islamic State destroys wondrous monuments to prevent “pagan worship,” to purify Islam and restore the caliphate to a state of perfection it never possessed. Aiming at a less puritanical, if equally rule-bound utopia, the American Left has all but destroyed the teaching of history in our schools, scorning facts in favor of paternalistic condescension toward minorities.
None of it will end well. There might be another 500 years of Dark Ages, though.

25.6.15

TODAY'S RAILROAD READING.

The Daily Record pays a visit to a serious garden railroad in the Borderlands.  The builder, Gordon Ross, uses the proceeds from open days to support good works.
His model railway is based on the historic Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway, a pioneering freight railway that stretched from Kansas into Mexico.

As well as trains decorated in the Santa Fe colours, he also has a dazzling array of engines, ranging from famous British classics to children’s favourite Thomas the Tank Engine.
It appears to be O Scale, based on the proportions of trains and people in the video.

There are parts of the Santa Fe that run left-handed, including much of the line through coyote-and-roadrunner country.  The railroad dialect in the Borderlands, likewise.

A HISTORY LESSON FOR ANN COULTER.

A few nights ago, she took a dig at South Carolina's governor Haley, then defended the battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia as "no greater army that took the field."  Perhaps that army bought the rebellion three more years, but in those three years Genls Grant and Sherman were able to carry out Gideon Welles's Anaconda Plan and compel the surrenders of the remaining armies of the field.  As far as that southern legend, the real bull-headed Suvorov of the eastern campaign was Genl Lee, and the greatest army on the field was the Army of the Tennessee, which the Prussians feared and studied while they were studying how to load wagons on flatcars, an idea perfected by the circus.

The governor can take care of herself.  Something along the lines of "I don't need advice from Ann Coulter on how to be American."

ANOTHER REGRESSIVE TRANSFER?

Our roads don't pay for themselves.  The user fees and tolls don't come close to meeting maintenance and resurfacing expenses, let alone provide for the raising of capital for new roads.  Repeat with me: no mode of transportation pays for itself.

HENRY VIII, ISLAMIC STATE, THE CHEKA, THE NINTH U.S. ARMY, AND LATTER-DAY RECONSTRUCTION.

Fay Voshell, a theologian and contributor to American Thinker, attempts to place the sudden withdrawal of official sanction for the Confederate battle flag in historical context.
What is occurring even as this piece is being written is a modern version of the frenzied iconoclasm of the past.  Today’s leftists are much like the zealots who attacked cathedrals during the Reformation, knocking the heads off statues, destroying relics, breaking stained glass windows and even stripping paint from church walls.  The iconoclasts believed they were purifying the church from idolatry and heresy by so doing.

In like manner, the religion of the Left is seeking the destruction of symbols, statues and paintings representing what they believe to be an unmitigated racist world view diametrically opposed to the doctrines of the pure church of liberalism.

Consequently, what may be at stake is the distinct possibility of a panicky purge of the history of the American South.  A purge is to be achieved by eliminating anything that calls forth memory of the Confederacy.
What's that witticism about history being written by the winners.  But rewriting the record does not, of necessity, equate to rushed and sloppy thinking.
We have seen excesses of panicky and irrational historical revisionism and iconoclasm from time immemorial.

Whether it was Thutmose III’s desecration of Hatshepsut’s statues and the attempt to eliminate any memory of the woman pharaoh; or the attempt during France’s Reign of Terror to eliminate the aristocracy and the Church, including a plan to blow up Notre Dame; or Stalin’s attempt to remove all traces of the Romanoff dynasty, including the complete destruction of the Russian Orthodox Church; or Mao Tse Tung’s Red Guards, who attempted to eliminate Western, including Christian, influence from Chinese culture, as well as ancient Chinese culture itself -- the motives have always the same: destroy any offensive symbols of historical events that indicating beliefs differing from the reigning cultural powers.  Only one viewpoint is to be permitted.  Only “pure” symbols reflecting the viewpoint of ideologues is to be taught.  Into the bonfire of vanities with fripperies that reflect heretical views.

In sum, the mentality of the ancient Edomites toward Jerusalem currently appears to be among those of the Left:  “Tear it down.  Tear it down to the foundations.”  No stone must be left untouched until the entire memory of a hated past is completely eliminated.
I'm surprised she didn't invoke the caliphate, laying waste to antiquities all over Asia Minor.  But the Army of Northern Virginia's battle flag is hardly a frippery reflecting heretical views, and its reappearance in the past fifty years is anything but an innocent rediscovery of a lost regional tradition.  Sometimes, as Winston Churchill notes, a bad idea has to disappear.
We know it will be hard; we expect it to be long, we cannot predict or measure its episodes or its tribulations. But one thing is certain, one thing is sure, one thing stands out stark and undeniable, massive and unassailable for all the world to see. We cannot see how deliverance will come or when it will come, but nothing is more certain that every trace of Hitler's footsteps, every stain of his infected, corroding fingers will be sponged and purged and, if need be, blasted from the surface of the earth.
Which the Ninth Army documented, in the case of Hitler's totems.

TAKE THEORY SERIOUSLY.

Noahpinion surveys the state of the empirical economist's art.
Empirical economics is a more and more important part of economics, having taken over the majority of top-journal publishing from theory papers. But there are different flavors of empirical econ. There are good old reduced-form, "reg y x" correlation studies. There are structural vector autoregressions. There are lab experiments. There are structural estimation papers, which estimate the parameters of more complex models that they assume/hope describe the deep structure of the economy.

Then there are natural experiments. These papers try to find some variation in economic variables that is "natural", i.e. exogenous, and look at the effect this variation has on other variables that we're interested in.
We might be seeing some attempts to explicitly test implications of theory (the flexible functional forms that I used at the beginning of my career being such: were those an evolutionary dead end or something to return to later?)  Or we might be seeing attempts to better make sense of observations where the theory is missing or conflicted.
It's possible to view structural econometrics as sort of a halfway house between the old, theory-based economics and the new, evidence-based economics. The new paradigm focuses on establishing whether A causes B, without worrying too much about why. (Of course, you can use quasi-experimental methods to test structural models, at least locally - most econ models involve a set of first-order conditions or other equations that can be linearized or otherwise approximated. But you don't have to do that.) Quasi-experimental methods don't get rid of theory; what they do is to let you identify real phenomena without necessarily knowing why they happen, and then go looking for theories to explain them, if such theories don't already exist.
The way in which economists do what they think of economics might be changing, in a way that a lot of critics of the excess mathematization of the discipline will welcome.
The rise of quasi-experimental methods shows that the ground has fundamentally shifted in economics - so much that the whole notion of what "economics" means is undergoing a dramatic change. In the mid-20th century, economics changed from a literary to a mathematical discipline. Now it might be changing from a deductive, philosophical field to an inductive, scientific field. The intricacies of how we imagine the world must work are taking a backseat to the evidence about what is actually happening in the world.
Read the essay carefully, though, there are still pitfalls confronting the researcher who is hoping for a research infrastructure supporting the downloading of information from a web-site, and a regression package to come up with the expected signs and significance.  It's never been that easy, and it isn't going to get easier.

24.6.15

EXCESSIVE MALICE, INSUFFICIENT CHARITY.

With all the recent attention to the Confederate Battle Flag, let's devote Book Review No. 13 to an attempt to explain why the Lost Cause wasn't reconstructed, for all time, about the same time President Grant left office.  A. J. Langguth, a retired journalist, attempts an explanation in After Lincoln: How the North Won the Civil War and Lost the Peace. His approach is different, organizing most of the chapters as a year in the life of an influential figure of the times, e.g. Charles Sumner in 1865; Rutherford B. Hayes in 1876; then comes Jim Crow in 1877.    Some of the influential figures are Radical Republicans, some are advocates of the Lost Cause.  Some things never change: intellectual Bostonians had the same knack for antagonizing the rest of the country in the aftermath of the Civil War that they have today.  And so it goes on.

There's a social science hypothesis that occurred to me in reading the book: might Jim Crow have been a logical development from the end of the three-fifths compromise?  As a consequence of full citizenship for freedmen, the rebellious states gained seats in the House of Representatives.  Why not, then, do everything possible to disenfranchise the freedmen, so that the existing political establishment can continue to have the benefit of proxy voting without the expense of buying slaves?  That's too narrow an hypothesis for a book of broader scope, and yet, has anyone written a dissertation or a monograph to that question?

(Cross-posted to 50 Book Challenge.)

REDISCOVERING THEIR INTERURBAN ROOTS.

Commuter Rail operators and light-rail rapid transit lines are providing space, sometimes dedicated, sometimes shared with the wheelchair anchoring space, for bicycles.  Thus a passenger -- not necessarily a commuter, as the timetables may forbid bicycle loadings during the rush hours -- isn't limited to park-and-ride, or to where the feeder buses go.

But the Last Interurban does not yet do so.  The timetable clearly notes, Bicycles are Prohibited.  The fine print issues an exception for folding bicycles that can be wrapped in a bag and stowed in the overhead luggage racks.  Those are for foldable strollers and ordinary luggage, of which there is a lot, particularly on the South Bend trains.

The Chicago Sun-Times reports that The Last Interurban is notorious among bicycle riders.
A Chicago bike advocacy group is calling out the railroad company that operates the South Shore Line between South Bend and Chicago because it’s the only commuter line in the nation that doesn’t allow passengers to bring their bicycles aboard.

The Active Transportation Alliance recently announced that it was lobbing the ignominious Broken Spoke Award at the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District, which operates the interstate rail line.
Streetsblog reports that the carrier has heard the request, but doesn't know how to honor it.
The South Shore isn’t currently planning to buy new cars, but they’re exploring options, [marketing and outreach director John] Parsons said. Most of the agency’s capital budget is earmarked for installing Positive Train Control, a federally mandated safety system that automatically brakes trains when operators drive too fast for conditions or lose control.

Last year, bids for a PTC system for the South Shore came in at three times over budget, according to Parsons. NICTD is currently reviewing a second round of bids and determining how much of the capital budget would have to be spent on the system. “In the long term, we certainly want to buy additional [rail cars],” he said. “We need additional capacity. Used equipment may become available.”

At a recent NICTD board meeting, consultants proposed adding a bike-specific train car to only two train runs a day: one per rush hour. However, Parsons said this isn’t the only possible scenario. The number of bike cars per day would depend on how many older cars could have seats removed to make room for bike racks, he said. Another X factor is that not all South Shore trains make the the full run to South Bend. Some are split or combined at Michigan City, Indiana.
Presumably, the used equipment does not include the Samuel Insull era combination cars.


75th Street, Chicago, 28 April 1977
Marty Bernard photograph from Chicago, South Shore and South Bend group.

By the late 1970s, the interurban was running whatever cars were serviceable, including two cars with baggage compartments, or none, and the timetable didn't identify baggage-carrying trains.  At one time, that was the discipline, and almost all South Bend trains had one of these cars on the east end, thus you could check your bicycle through to South Bend, or any intermediate station where the baggageman would meet the train.

There is a work-around available, should the transit district consider it.
The Active Transportation Alliance’s south suburban outreach manager Leslie Phemister, who attended the board meeting, told me that the train line could immediately begin accepting bikes if they allowed cyclists to use unoccupied wheelchair spaces on the cars.

Since it’s difficult to carry a bike onto South Shore train cars at stations that don’t have level boarding, Phemister proposes that the ADA-accessible stops should also be designated on the schedule as bike-friendly stations. At these stops, cyclists could simply roll their bikes from the platform into the center door of the car to the wheelchair space.

“We’re not going to pit a bicycle rider against a passenger in a wheelchair, competing for spaces,” Parsons responded. It’s true that, if a wheelchair user needed the space, the bike rider would need to leave the car. However that’s the way things work on Metra, which has successfully accommodated cyclists for a decade.

Parsons added that the South Shore’s ADA spaces aren’t large enough to hold a standard bicycle, although he declined to provide a photo illustrating that point. If that truly is the case, perhaps a seat or two could be removed on some cars, and those cars could be labeled with bike symbols.

Bottom line: If NICTD management really has the will to accommodate cyclists, they’ll find a way. The other roughly two dozen U.S. commuter lines have all come up with solutions. It’s time for the South Shore to stop making excuses, put on their thinking caps, and come up with a short-term plan for accepting bicycles.
It's probably too much to hope for a return of emergency package service and combination cars in the next order of new interurbans.

THE UNRAVELING.

Victor Davis Hanson contemplates the end-stage of identity politics trumping E Pluribus Unum.
Symbols, flags, organizations, and phrases that emphasize racial difference and ethnic pride are no longer just fossilized notions from the 1960s; they are growing fissures in the American mosaic that now threaten to split the country apart — fueling the suspicion of less liberal and more homogeneous nations that the great American experiment will finally unwind as expected.
We've encountered those suspicions before.  There's a reason old Benjamin Franklin said, "a republic, if you can keep it."

LESS HEADROOM, LESS FUEL USAGE?

The international air transportation cartel, which once had to hold a high-level meeting to define what constituted a "sandwich" for nourishment of transatlantic coach passengers, now seeks to define down the size of a "cabin OK" carry on bag.  It's all in the interest of enhanced service.  But sometimes, even corporate-speak reveals the truth.
No one is asking anybody to replace their carry-on bags with Cabin OK bags. Passengers can continue to use their current luggage without restriction.

But today, passengers run the risk that when cabin space is used up, some luggage will need to go into the hold (typically free of charge).

Cabin OK bags could eliminate that risk on aircraft of 120 seats or more.

Furthermore, airlines will continue to have differing maximum sizes for cabin bags. What is acceptable on one might not be acceptable on another. However, a Cabin OK bag will meet all carriers' maximum size.
The dirty little secret, dear reader, is that with the airlines charging to stow your baggage in the hold, the dominant strategy especially for frequent travellers who have repackaged their toiletries according to the latest security ukases, is to bring along the largest possible carry-on, or even a slightly over-size carry-on, because the good folks at the ramp will stow your stuff, as the cartel's statement notes, free of charge.  Thus you avoid the stowage fee yet get your stuff stowed below.

The editorial board at USA Today hoists the protest flag.
Major bag-makers such as Tumi, Delsey and Samsonite are "all interested in this." Well, no duh. ​Having already sold millions of bigger bags, luggage companies could get the chance to sell millions more.

Would passengers be stuck with tinier carry-on bags forever? No, no, soothes Windmuller: "If and as the major aircraft manufacturers install larger bins, we might be able to accept larger bags." Wow. Nice job of passing the buck to Boeing and Airbus.

Th airlines created this problem, and they — not their customers — should fix it. Carriers could do that by making the first checked bag free and by enforcing their existing size limits. They could also stop checking oversized bags for free at the gate, which makes fliers who obey the rules and pay the fees feel like chumps.

More immediately, though, they shouldn't try to tell passengers that something disruptive, inconvenient and expensive is actually in the fliers' best interest.
Props, especially, for calling out the tendency of businesses -- not just air carriers -- to make their services worse whilst, without any shame, claiming they are making improvements, and for abolishing the checking fees, which would be less annoying than adding an up-charge for checking at the gate.

We might as well define our pension plan as "win the lottery" as hope for air carriers to buy planes with larger bins.  The IATA is the air carriers' cartel, people.  The cartel would like to restrict output, reduce operating costs (as in defining the sandwich down) and raise prices.  Thus a smaller "cabin OK" bag is a way of getting the airframe manufacturers to think of providing less space for baggage in the cabin, meaning in the stowage bins and under the seats.  Gosh, smaller bins, lower seats, reduce the diameter of the fuselage, then spin it as energy conservation.

Here's an anonymous editorial in the DeKalb Chronicle that gets it right.
Most domestic carriers charge passengers $25 or more to check a suitcase for every one-way trip, so it’s no wonder the industry wants to divert more luggage to a plane’s hold. Evidently 2014’s record profits weren’t big enough, while airfares were the highest since 2003.

Yet these baggage fees, which inflate the price of a ticket, lead many passengers to drag ever-bigger bags onto the plane and jam them into overhead bins, thereby adding to the time it takes everyone to board.

Major U.S. airlines say carry-on bags must be no more than 22 inches tall, 14 inches wide, and 9 inches deep. The International Air Transport Association proposes the allowance be reduced to 21.5 by 13.5 by 7.5 inches. The numbers don’t look very different, but do the math: It’s 21 percent fewer cubic inches. Some major international carriers – Lufthansa, Air China, Emirates, Qatar and Pacific – say they would use the proposed limits.

If smaller carry-ons will lead to less boarding time and less wrestling in the aisle with bulky suitcases, travelers may not mind the new restrictions. But that presumes that airlines’ gate employees will weed out bags that exceed the limit. At a time of low customer service, that’s a big if.
Won't happen. The air carriers seem determined to drive passengers to the rails, where a rail alternative exists, by making loading and unloading so painful and protracted that it squanders whatever speed advantages the plane has once it gets in the air. Now, if you build a thinner fuselage, can you change the wings and save even more fuel by cruising more slowly. Spin it as another energy saving.