Quotulatiousness

December 7, 2017

Fifty years since the end of the 20th Century

Filed under: Business, History, Railways, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

In early December 1967, the New York Central finally had to give up on their famous passenger train, the 20th Century Limited between New York City and Chicago. Kevin Keefe tells the sad story:

The streamlined steam locomotive New York Central Hudson No.5344 “Commodore Vanderbilt”, as it left Chicago’s LaSalle Street station pulling the 20th Century Limited.
Photo via Wikimedia

I don’t know what I was doing on the afternoon of December 3, 1967, but I know where I should have been: on the platform of Union Station in South Bend, Ind., awaiting the passage of the last westbound edition of New York Central’s legendary 20th Century Limited. That’s right, it’s been 50 years since NYC pulled the plug on what was generally considered the “world’s most famous train.” The final runs of trains 25 and 26 were unceremonious, as depicted in various photos that ran in the March 1968 issue of Trains. But “unceremonious” doesn’t begin to do justice to the westbound edition: it arrived in Chicago’s La Salle Street Station hours late due to a freight derailment the night before in eastern Ohio. Just looking at these sad images from December 2-3, 1967, you can image how relieved NYC and its president, Al Perlman, must have been to be done with the train once and for all.

The economics that drove NYC’s decision were brutal. As author Fred Frailey reported in his terrific book Twilight of the Great Trains, the Century’s traditional patrons deserted the train. “On May 20, 1967,” wrote Frailey, “the westbound Century carried but 18 people in coach, 34 in the sleepercoach (budget sleeper) and 40 in sleeping cars; its eastbound counterpart had 31 in coach, 42 in sleepercoach and 20 in the sleepers. In other words, you could have seated almost everyone in one seating in the twin-unit dining car.”

Editor David P. Morgan understood the passenger-train economics that drove Perlman to kill the Century, but in that March ’68 issue of Trains he couldn’t suppress his disgust at NYC’s cavalier behavior for the last runs: “Such a train deserved better than the noiseless euthanasia it received. Kansas doodlebugs have been lopped off with as much ceremony.”

The most poignant images of that day are images of both trains 25 and 26 pausing alongside a wet platform at Buffalo’s Central Terminal, their two observation cars that night, Wingate Brook and Hickory Creek, headed in opposite directions to die forever.

Photos of the 20th Century Limited on the final run at the link.

October 5, 2017

Out of Frame: The Real Life Wilson Fisk

Filed under: Government, History, Liberty, Media, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 12:00

Foundation for Economic Education
Published on 5 Oct 2017

Wilson Fisk is one of the most terrifying villains in the Marvel universe. Good thing he’s just fictional, right? Wrong!

In this episode of Out of Frame, we explore the real-life Wilson Fisk, a central planner from America’s not so distant past.

Learn more about Robert Moses and his greatest nemesis, Jane Jacobs at FEE: https://fee.org/articles/jane-jacobs/

September 7, 2017

QotD: The United Nations, the “ratty old sofa of geopolitics”

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Humour, Politics, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Years ago I asked my father why a ratty old sofa was still in the house. He replied simply: It’s there because it’s there. The words had a strange finality about them. Almost metaphysical in their profundity. What we were talking about was a sofa purchased years ago, used and abused by the family, and then unceremonious shunted into an obscure room when the newer model arrived. As I recall on delivery day there had been talk of carting away the ratty old sofa. The haulers had offered to take it — for a price. My father balked and so it has remained. A dusty old sofa living out its days, slowly crumbling into the parquet.

The philosophy of furnishing a suburban home is important. It reveals something about the human psyche. When we spend a lot of time and effort bringing something into our lives, we become reluctant to dispense with it. When that particular something is a big and bulky item, requiring much effort to remove, lethargy places its death grip upon it. Think of how many things in your life where you can say: It’s there because it’s there.

Gingerly moving from the life of individuals to the life of nations we run into the same problem. Things that are there because no one has bothered to get rid of them. In the dim and distant recesses of the national memory a purpose was once understood. That purpose is long done and gone. Habit and lethargy defend the otherwise indefensible. This brings us to the ratty old sofa of geopolitics: The United Nations.

In one of those fits of New Deal liberalism that has cost America so much in treasure — and occasionally blood — it was resolved after the Second World War that world peace would be secured by creating a council of nations. This was suppose to be a new and improved version of the League of Nations. The much maligned League had been set-up after the First World in a fit of Wilsonian liberalism. It too was designed to secure world peace. Rather than junk the original concept entirely the United Nations simply tweaked it. As generations of history textbooks have wisely explained the neo-league had a Security Council which recognized the reality of Great Power politics.

[…]

The UN has been far more successful than the League of Nations in one very important way: It has survived. The most important thing for any bureaucracy is to survive. Accomplishing its intended goal is secondary if not outright dangerous. If the War on Poverty had been won why would we need three-quarters of the federal government? If complete world peace existed then the UN would look even more pointless than it does now.

The key to the UN’s survival has been one thing: Guilt tripping the United States. Suggesting that if the US failed to fund the UN it would lead to war and devastation through out the globe. Financially the UN cannot survive without American largesse. Diplomatically it exists at the sufferance of the American government, occupying prime Manhattan real estate in defiance of economics and common sense. Had they put the General Assembly building in Newark perhaps the foreign diplomats would have all gone home by now.

Richard Anderson, “The Greatest Waste of Money On Earth”, The Gods of the Copybook Headings, 2015-09-29.

July 19, 2017

Conducting business in DC isn’t like some stagnant backwater like NYC

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Government, Humour, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

It’s no wonder that Il Donalduce‘s squad of family members and friends are finding all the quicksand in the DC swamp — there are rules of conduct inside the Beltway that you must know and obey to get things done:

The Trump family is no doubt canny about the dog-eat-dog landscapes of the Manhattan real estate lagoon. But when the Trumps arrived in Washington, as political novices they entered an entirely new swampland, with which so far they remain unfamiliar. Their transition down the coastal corridor is sort of like leaving a Florida bog of alligators and water moccasins and thereby assuming one is de facto prepared to enter the far deadlier Amazon jungle of caimans, piranhas, and Bushmasters.

Here, then, are some Beltway Swamp rules:

1) Improper Meetings. Always meet in his/hers jets, “accidentally” nose to nose on the airport tarmac. Style mitigates unethical behavior. When caught, claim the discussions centered around “grandchildren.” In contrast, never go to any meeting with a Russian anything. If one must meet a foreign official for dubious reasons, then a revolutionary Cuban, Iranian, or Palestinian is always preferable.

[…]

3) Opposition Research. The more outlandish and impossible the charge, the more it will be believed or at least aired on CNN. Rumored sex without substantial deviancy is not necessarily compelling (e.g., urination is a force multiplier of fornication). As a general rule, ex-intelligence officers-turned-private investigators and campaign hit men are both the most lurid and least credible.

4) Leaking. Assume that those who collect intelligence also are the most likely to leak it, the FBI director not exempted. The more the deep state recalls the excesses of J. Edgar Hoover, the more it exceeds them. Expect every conversation, email, and text to show up on the desk of one’s worst enemy—at least for a few seconds before being leaked to the press. The more a journalist brags on airing a supposedly smoking-gun leak, the less the public cares. In sum, leaks are more likely to be fabrications than improperly transmitted truths.

[…]

6) The Deep State. Signing legislation into law or issuing executive orders does not equate to changes in government policy. Assume that almost any new law or reform can be nullified by cherry picking a liberal judge, serial leaking, or through bureaucratic slowdowns by careerist and partisan bureaucrats. The deep state works with those who rapidly grow the government; it seeks to destroy those who grow it slowly. The most powerful man in Washington is a federal attorney. With a D.C. jury and an unlimited budget and staff, he can bankrupt most anyone with dubious charges, on the assurance that when they are dropped or refuted, the successful defendant is ruined and broke while his failed government accuser is promoted. The more conservative the target, the more likely his lawyer should be liberal.

June 2, 2017

QotD: Daytime TV

Filed under: Media, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

I’m writing this sentence (who can say where I’ll be in an hour) at the Brooklyn Diner off Times Square (the pastrami frittata is fantastic!). I’m about a block away from the set of Good Morning America, where hundreds of decent, normal Americans are willingly turning themselves into meat props for a three-hour spectacle, two hours and forty-five minutes of which is dedicated to something someone named Kanyé said about someone else; the troubling rise in Pilates injuries; J-Lo’s ass; and breaking news of a puppy making friends with a stuffed toy — from someone’s Facebook page somewhere out in America. I don’t actually know that’s what’s on today’s show, but I’m pretty confident it’s not that far off either.

I don’t mean to single out Good Morning AmericaThe Today Show is equally vapid. It’s just that Good Morning America is fresh in my mind because I happened to watch an hour or so of it earlier this week while waiting for my car at the shop. I would have blown my brains out, but the show depleted my IQ so rapidly I couldn’t manage even the most rudimentary tasks. I got so dumb, Debbie Wasserman Schultz could have beaten me at checkers. But I did learn how Victoria Beckham struggles to have it all as a working mom. I don’t know how she does it. She’s a trooper.

And then there was the long segment on Suzy Favor Hamilton, the courageous former Olympic runner who married her college sweetheart, won a bunch of medals, started a family and a business, and then, “after one night with a Vegas call girl,” decided to become a hooker herself. “That light-bulb moment in my head, wow, why shouldn’t I get paid for sex?” she told GMA’s Lara Spencer. We then learn that her husband knew all about her moonlighting in Vegas, but he disapproved, as all decent husbands would, don’t ya know. You can read all about it in her new book (and so can her daughter). Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that — there’s a book. Contain your surprise.

Now, I’m not going to get all judgey here — because that would be wrong. Hamilton says she had serious mental-health problems, and that certainly seems more than plausible. Besides, we live in an age where having addictions, conditions, disorders, and issues is often a moral get-out-of-jail-free card. I have my own “issues” with that. But that’s a topic for another day.

[…]

And that was that. Hamilton betrayed her family and then compounded that “hurt” by splashing it all across the country — and somehow in a matter of seconds this becomes proof of her heroic struggle. She will have to live with this, but it was worth it because another journalist pandering to an interview subject said something that may or may not be true.

I’m not a big consumer of bipolar tell-alls, but I kind of feel like there are already more than a few out there and that it’s possible — just possible — the genre didn’t need one more, at least this one more. I’m sure this book helped someone, somewhere. But I resent the idea that somehow we’re all expected to celebrate this woman’s struggle and honesty and heroism and blah blah blah. And if we don’t celebrate it, not only are we the bad guys, but our judgmentalism makes her more of a hero.

It seems to me that if you don’t want people to judge you, maybe you shouldn’t herd your demons onto a public stage like they’re contestants in a beauty pageant?

Yeah, maybe her book will help someone out there. But maybe her top priority should be helping her family? I’d bet the book tour isn’t doing that.

Jonah Goldberg, “Our Culture Makes a Virtue Out of Victimhood”, National Review, 2015-09-18.

May 9, 2017

QotD: Wage floors and rent ceilings

Filed under: Economics, Government, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

[Progressives] tend to favor policies such as New York City’s rent controls, and the new $15 minimum wage being gradually phased in in some western cities. I like to think of these policies as engines of meanness. They are constructed in such a way that they almost guarantee that Americans will become less polite to each other.

In New York City, landlords with rent controlled units know that the rent is being artificially held far below market, and thus that they would have no trouble finding new tenants if the existing tenant is unhappy. So then have no incentive to upgrade the quality of the apartment, or to quickly fix problems. They do have an incentive to discriminate against minorities that, on average, are more likely to become unemployed, and hence unable to pay the rent. Or young people, who might damage the unit with wild parties.

Wage floors present the same sort of problem as rent ceilings, except that now it’s the demanders who become meaner, not the supplier. Firms that demand labor in Los Angeles in the year 2020 will be able to treat their employees very poorly, and still find lots of people willing to work for $15/hour.

Scott Sumner, “How bad government policies make us meaner”, Library of Economics and Liberty, 2015-08-25.

April 21, 2017

The oddly appropriate subtext to New York’s “Fearless Girl” statue

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Media, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

In the New York Post, Nicole Gelinas points out that Mayor De Blasio has set a precedent that might well come back to bite the city (the example she cites would be “Black Lives Matter protesters want a statue of police brutalizing a black man in front of One Police Plaza”. She also explains why the statue highlights an uncomfortable detail about the role of women on Wall Street:

The “Fearless Girl” statue faces the Arturo Di Modica “Charging Bull” on Wall Street (Wikipedia)

But the bigger problem with Fearless Girl is that it casts stereotypes in bronze: Men do important things, and women get in the way.

The bull is the primary actor: He is charging. The girl’s job is to impede him. This is how Wall Street has long worked — and it’s changing, but slowly.

Take the management committee of State Street’s parent company. Of its 14 members, two are women. One, the chief administrative officer, is a top regulatory official. The other is the human-resources chief and “citizenship officer.”

On Goldman Sachs’ 33-member management committee, five of our women — at least four of whom are in similar, growth-restraining positions.

Yes, growth-restraining: These are great jobs and require deep skill. But they’re bureaucratic rather than entrepreneurial. If a department head — a man — wants to start up a new unit, it’s the regulatory experts who will say, no, you can’t.

Similarly, a trading head may want to hire someone — but the human-resources chief nixes it.

Indeed, the area of “compliance” — which sounds like an S&M activity but has to do with ensuring that the bank and its employees don’t launder money, steal or do other bad things — is where women have done well.

[…]

This work is necessary. A company can’t grow if it’s convicted of money-laundering or if its employees are thieves (in theory).

But it’s also the depressing age-old relationship: A man wants to do something fun and cool, like take the children paragliding before they’ve had a proper breakfast. His wife says, “But honey, the kids have band practice today, and maybe we should save the money for the mortgage.”

Fearless Girl fails in another way. It’s terrific to have courage and fight important battles. But it’s not a good idea — for men, women or children — to be recklessly fearless.

Fear is a good thing. If a bull is charging you, according to the farming manuals, the best thing to do is what you instinctively do: get out of the way. If you don’t pick your battles, you’ll lose them.

December 25, 2016

Repost – “Fairytale of New York”

Filed under: Media, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Time:

“Fairytale of New York,” The Pogues featuring Kirsty MacColl

This song came into being after Elvis Costello bet The Pogues’ lead singer Shane MacGowan that he couldn’t write a decent Christmas duet. The outcome: a call-and-response between a bickering couple that’s just as sweet as it is salty.

December 18, 2016

QotD: The new Whitney Museum in New York City

Filed under: Humour, Media, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

On a recent visit to New York City, I had the opportunity to walk around the exterior of the new Whitney Museum, built at a cost of $442 million. It is a monument of a kind: to the vanity, egotism, and aesthetic incompetence of celebrity architects such as Renzo Piano, and to the complete loss of judgment and taste of modern patrons.

If it were not a tragic lost opportunity (how often do architects have the chance to build an art gallery at such cost?), it would be comic. I asked the person with whom I was walking what he would think the building was for if he didn’t know. The façade — practically without windows — looked as if it could be the central torture chambers of the secret police, from which one half expects the screams of the tortured to emerge. Certainly, it was a façade for those with something to hide: perhaps appropriately so, given the state of so much modern art.

The building was a perfect place from which to commit suicide, with what looked like large diving boards emerging from the top of the building, leading straight to the ground far below. Looking up at them, one could almost hear in one’s mind’s ear the terrible sound of the bodies as they landed on the ground below. There were also some (for now) silvery industrial chimneys, leading presumably from the incinerators so necessary for the disposal of rubbishy art. The whole building lacked harmony, as if struck already by an earthquake and in a half-collapsed state; it’s a tribute to the imagination of the architect that something so expensive should be made to look so cheap. It is certain to be shabby within a decade.

Theodore Dalrymple, “A Monument to Tastelessness: The new Whitney Museum looks like a torture chamber”, City Journal, 2015-04-22.

December 14, 2016

Econ Duel: Why Is the Rent So Damn High?

Filed under: Economics, Government, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 13 Dec 2016

This week: Matt Yglesias and Tyler Cowen in a brand new Econ Duel.

Next week: Another Econ Duel! Scott Sumner and Larry White will take on monetary policy.

You’ve no doubt heard it before: the rent is too damn high!

In major cities across the United States, rent prices have been skyrocketing for some time. As a percentage of median income, rent is much higher for those that choose city life over suburbia.

But why are rental prices in these cities so expensive, and what can we do about it?

It’s a classic case of supply and demand: lots of people want to move to big cities because of the opportunities they afford. Naturally, they demand housing. But the supply is often short due to many factors, from geography to regulations. What does economics tell us happens when there’s a lot of demand, but not so much supply? Prices rise. As a consequence, many people are priced out of pursuing the lucrative opportunities available in major cities.

Coastal cities, like San Francisco and New York, have obvious geographical restrictions on building “out.” One way to deal with this problem is to build upwards with more skyscraper housing. This often isn’t feasible due to regulations on building heights, density, parking requirements, etc. But these regulations could be lessened or removed, allowing big cities to become denser and lowering rent prices. Lifelong city-dweller Matt Yglesias discusses this approach in this Duel.

On the other side, Tyler Cowen, who has always lived in the suburbs, argues that allowing cities to become denser may only provide a short-term solution. As more people move in, the cities become more productive with higher incomes for their inhabitants. And the rents rise again.

Of course, we’ve merely skimmed over the arguments here, and you’ll have to watch the Econ Duel to get the full picture! Check it out and let us know in the comments who you think makes a better case.

June 22, 2016

The art of the “dog whistle”

Filed under: Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Scott Alexander on the horribly anti-semitic dog whistle that cost Ted Cruz the Republican presidential nomination (or something):

Back during the primary, Ted Cruz said he was against “New York values”.

A chump might figure that, being a Texan whose base is in the South and Midwest, he was making the usual condemnation of coastal elites and arugula-eating liberals that every other Republican has made before him, maybe with a special nod to the fact that his two most relevant opponents, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, were both from New York.

But sophisticated people immediately detected this as an “anti-Semitic dog whistle”, eg Cruz’s secret way of saying he hated Jews. Because, you see, there are many Jews in New York. By the clever strategem of using words that had nothing to do with Jews or hatred, he was able to effectively communicate his Jew-hatred to other anti-Semites without anyone else picking up on it.

Except of course the entire media, which seized upon it as a single mass. New York values is coded anti-Semitism. New York values is a classic anti-Semitic slur. New York values is an anti-Semitic comment. New York values is an anti-Semitic code word. New York values gets called out as anti-Semitism. My favorite is this article whose headline claims that Ted Cruz “confirmed” that he meant his New York values comment to refer to Jews; the “confirmation” turned out to be that he referred to Donald Trump as having “chutzpah”. It takes a lot of word-I-am-apparently-not-allowed-to-say to frame that as a “confirmation”.

Meanwhile, back in Realityville (population: 6), Ted Cruz was attending synagogue services at his campaign tour, talking about his deep love and respect for Judaism, and getting described as “a hero” in many parts of the Orthodox Jewish community” for his stance that “if you will not stand with Israel and the Jews, then I will not stand with you.”

But he once said “New York values”, so clearly all of this was just really really deep cover for his anti-Semitism.

June 20, 2016

AL STEWART TOUR in NYC interview w/PAVLINA

Filed under: Britain, Media, Wine — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Published on 18 Jun 2016

Hey! I’m with Folk Singer/Songwriter AL STEWART in NYC at THE CITY WINERY! We talk greatest hits like the iconic YEAR OF THE CAT song, JOHN LENNON, todays world and happenings, his singing style, working with ALAN PARSONS, and MORE! Check out Al’s site for latest info and albums:) The Pavlina Show airs on radio stations across the nation:)

May 29, 2016

New York City through the eyes of a young German visitor

Filed under: USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

The anonymous author visited New York City recently, having visited many other US cities, and recorded the disappointment of seeing the Big Apple in real life:

I expected NYC to be at least somewhat of a modern and shiny skyscraper city. The secret capital of the US – and – maybe the world. I expected something at least iconic.

Now when I landed at JFK moldy carpets and a worn down airport greeted me. I took the train to Manhattan that overpasses ghettos.

I could not believe how loud and shaky the subway was. The awful state of maintenance. How extremely dirty it is. How bad signs are placed. How counterintuitive everything is made.

Everything must have been great some decades ago but was never kept well. There was no good way to get from one part of the city to another. Taxis are stuck and the subway is disgusting. Buses are worse.

The smell. When I think of NYC I no longer think of lawyers in suits on a rooftop terrace. I think of the strong smell of death – of rotten rat meat.

The garbage. Everywhere. On the streets. I mean black sacks full of garbage to be picked up in few hours stinking and leaking.

How unimpressive 5th Av is. Or Times Square.

The skyline is really not so impressive or iconic if you have been to Hong Kong or other places.

I was amazed by the the awful German translations on the large signs of the 9/11 sight. I always thought that this was a place of big importance and that NYC would not use Google translator to greet the world when they are visiting to show respect.

You might think that I am exaggerating and describing things that one could look over. Maybe. But I am just trying to justify my disappointment.

H/T to Never Yet Melted for the link.

May 24, 2016

QotD: The battle of the crony capitalists

Filed under: Government, Politics, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

I am not sure that many politicians are good on this score, but Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are likely as bad as it gets on crony capitalism. Forget their policy positions, which are steeped in government interventionism in the economy, but just look at their personal careers. Each have a long history of taking advantage of political power to enrich themselves and their business associates. I am not sure what Cruz meant when he said “New York values”, but both Trump and Clinton are steeped in the New York political economy, where one builds a fortune through political connections rather than entrepreneurial vigor. Want to build a new parking lot next to your casino or start up a new energy firm — you don’t bother with private investors or arms length transactions, you go to the government.

Warren Meyer, “2016 Presidential Election: Battle of the Crony Capitalists”, Coyote Blog, 2016-05-13.

March 1, 2016

QotD: Tall building mania

Filed under: Economics, History, Quotations, Railways — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

This is a sign of growing maturity on the part of the United States. Many of these super-tall building projects make little economic sense, but are completed to validate the prestige of emerging nations, like teenage boys comparing penis sizes. Grown men are beyond that behavior, just as are grown-up nations. I discussed this in the context of rail a while back at Forbes. In that case, it seems everyone thinks the US is behind in rail, because it does not have sexy bullet trains. But in fact we have a far more developed freight network than any other country, and shift of transport to rail makes a much larger positive economic and environmental impact for cargo than for rail. It comes down to what you care about — prestige or actual performance. Again choosing performance over prestige is a sign of maturity.**

The US had a phase just like China’s, when we were emerging as a world economic and political power, and had a first generation of successful business pioneers who were unsure how to put their stamp on the world. So they competed at building tall buildings. Many of the tallest were not even private efforts. The Empire State Building was a crony enterprise from start to finish, and ended up sitting empty for years. The World Trade Center project (WTC) was a complete government boondoggle, built by a public agency at the behest of the Rockefeller family, who wanted to protect its investments in lower Manhattan. That building also sat nearly empty for years. By the way, the Ken Burns New York documentary series added a special extra episode at the end after 9/11 on the history of the WTC and really digs in to the awful crony and bureaucratic history of that project. Though Burns likely did not think of it that way, it could as easily be a documentary of public choice theory. His coverage earlier in that series of Robert Moses (featuring a lot of Robert Caro) is also excellent.

** I have always wondered if you could take this model further, and predict that once-great nations in decline (at least in decline relative to their earlier position) might not re-engage with such prestige projects, much like an aging male seeking out the young second wife and buying a Porche.

Warren Meyer, “This is a GOOD Sign for the United States”, Coyote Blog, 2015-01-15.

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