Throw government off the train (planes and automobiles)

The current state of our passenger rail system in particular and our transportation policy in general points out the hypocrisies of both Left and Right. The Left, like Bernie Sanders, wants more Amtrak, except that his brand of politics killed off passenger rail in back in the 1920s and through the rest of the century. The Right wants to end subsidies for passenger rail but not for the other modes of transportation that their constituencies typically use, and it so happens most of those voters come from places that were built up after we killed off passenger rail. 

Me, I’m tired of seeing Amtrak and passenger rail as a political football. Government must get out of the transportation business, and these constant, never-ending battles is exactly why. Level the playing field, return it all to private enterprise, and we’ll all be fighting each other for a seat on the train.

There is a popular notion at large, part of a sort of phantom “bi-partisan” centrist conviction, that the degradation of American infrastructure, exemplified by the backwardness of our trains and airports, too, is a failure of the American political system. We all should know that it is bad to have our trains crowded and wildly inefficient—as Michael Tomasky points out, fifty years ago, the train from New York to Washington was much faster than it is now—but we lack the political means or will to cure the problem. In fact, this is a triumph of our political system, for what is politics but a way of enforcing ideological values over merely rational ones? If we all agreed on common economic welfare and pursued it logically, we would not need politics at all: we could outsource our problems to a sort of Saint-Simonian managerial class, which would do the job for us.

Source: The Plot Against Trains – The New Yorker

Gopnick fails to mention that fifty years ago, that faster train was run by a private company on privately owned land.

Get on board or just get out altogether

Meanwhile, a $17 million increase request from the Obama administration for the safety and operations budget of the Federal Railroad Administration, which includes funding for positive train control, was denied by the appropriations subcommittee. The budget was held level at $186 million.

Source: The Price We Pay for Conservative Scorn of Amtrak |

My position on Amtrak is pretty clear. If the government insists on staying in the transportation business, then it is incumbent upon it to preserve, fully fund, and build upon Amtrak or some other public entity responsible for a nationwide passenger rail system. Otherwise, sell off not only Amtrak, but the highways, bridges, airports, and seaways. If that ever happens, everyone will be fighting me for a seat on the train.

More government run amok, lawn care edition

Except that I don’t grow a lawn. I grow mulch.

A new proposal is on the table in South Hadley. If it passes at Saturday’s town meeting, residents could face fines of $100 a day if their grass is taller than 6 inches. The idea is to encourage residents to keep up their property’s appearance.

Source: If you do not take care of your lawn you could face a fine |

Curbing Government

A friend and I have exchanged emails lately about my town’s requirement that I directly pay for repairs to my sidewalk and curbing in the public right-of-way — a looming prospect here. While not solely peculiar to Pennsylvania, I don’t think most towns impose this upon property owners. After all, we do pay real estate taxes, and here in our town, we pay ridiculous amounts of them. In fact, a similar town in Massachusetts typically levies a rate of one-third what we pay. Surrounding towns are no better. We pay higher taxes than my friends in Massachusetts and yet theirs include such services as trash pickup, sidewalk maintenance as well as the schools, police, and fire department.

My friend went off on a tangent, expressing his frustrations with government taxation in general. As a Canadian, he understands better than most about the imposition of extreme tax rates, which in Canada mostly pay for a shrinking amount of their much-ballyhooed health care coverage. As he explains most eloquently: Continue reading

The Randy Regimen

This has got to go.

About a couple of years ago, I decided to get serious about my weight. I had finally tipped the scales at about 215 pounds, and I figured that at 50-something, it was now or never. At only one other point in my adult life had I made a similar decision, and that happened in the second semester of my freshmen year at college. Like a true cliché, I put on the “freshmen 15″ requiring me to buy pants another inch larger in the waist than my previous pair. In a few months, I went from 180 pounds to 155, going into my sophmore year without any fear of walking around shirtless.

This time, I faced a greater challenge. Older, with a slower metabolism, and with a daily routine that kept me in a desk chair most days, I needed to make some fundamental changes to my lifestyle. I wanted to lose 40 pounds, and it started with a simple thought:

Continue reading

SNL at 40: The Boomers’ Last Guffaw

I downloaded the SNL app on the day after the Fortieth Anniversary Show aired last Sunday. If you’re a fan with a smartphone, the app won’t disappoint. They have done an amazing job archiving 40 seasons of sketches. I spent the better part of yesterday watching a lot of show I missed over that time, in particular the 1980 disaster season with Jean Doumanian. (Yes, it was pretty bad.)

The app allows you to browse through each season, and then tap on a cast member to show all the sketches that in which they appeared. It’s amazingly comprehensive, but NBC limits use of the app to your smartphone only. It doesn’t allow you send the video to your AppleTV (or equivalent) and no iPad version. So, this isn’t a communal experience, which ranks as the app’s biggest flaw.  Continue reading

I like football, hate the NFL.

This advertising relationship runs both ways. The NFL funnels about $800,000 a year to various military charities through its “Salute to Service” program—a pittance for a multi-billion dollar operation that pays its commissioner $44 million annually—and in return the league gets to drape itself in hollow pro-soldier branding.

via Super Bowl XLIX as a Case Study in the Mechanics of Pro-War Propaganda – Hit & Run :

The Peter Project

Peter ChoyceFor reasons not fully understood, even to me, I have taken on a very special project called Peter Choyce. I first became aware of Peter during his days as a college-radio disc jockey for WZBC in Boston. Today, he’s a recovering addict living in Knoxville, Tennessee, subsisting on the generosity of the taxpayer and a few dear friends, who like me, see something very special in Peter, and who think the world would be a lesser place without a voice like his. I’ve taken on this project purely for selfish reasons. I get access to Peter’s fantastic archive of radio shows, and I get ground floor access to what might become one of the most amazing come-back stories ever.

My fascination with college radio began, ironically enough, just about the time I left college. The early 1980s saw the beginning of the end for “progressive rock” radio, a time when musically savvy DJs enjoyed some autonomy in the studio. Much of the nascent “New Wave” movement got airplay on these stations, but those that played someone as “radical” as Elvis Costello soon became as rare as hen’s teeth. By the mid-1980s, the commercial radio landscape had devolved into the wasteland of classic rock and top-40 schtick that still festers today.

So, if you loved music, and sought out new music, you sought refuge in college radio. Western Massachusetts, as it happened, provided a fertile music scene thanks to the many colleges up and down the Connecticut River valley, especially from those centered around Amherst-Northampton. When I moved to Boston in 1984, I mistakenly believed things would get even better. College radio in western Massachusetts consisted mainly of relatively low-powered, student-run stations that rarely stuck to any particular format. The kids played what they wanted for the most part in two-to-three-hour blocks. Their inexperience was part of the “charm” of it all, but from this I discovered some amazing music. Continue reading

Another click of the ratchet

Once again, we see the not-so-invisible hand of government setting us up for yet another major economic disruption. And then, we can expect people of a certain political stripe call for greater government involvement to bail us out of the mess they helped to make.

The problem we face today, however, is that financial institutions, flush with easy Fed money have become heavily invested in the oil industry – just as prior to 2008, financial institutions, flush with Fed money, poured money into housing. If the oil industry contracts, the losses will extend deeply into the financial sector and the other bubble industries that have grown up around the industry in recent years.

via Blog | Mises Institute.


Get out from under the thumb

We even take it all for granted. In reality, the ground is shifting beneath our feet. Those in power feel it, and it scares them. The innovation can be slowed, but it can’t be stopped, much less reversed. This great transformation is already underway.

via Fifty More Ways to Leave Leviathan : The Freeman : Foundation for Economic Education.